Nearing four in the afternoon. The scene was just outside the
walls of London. A cool, comfortable, superb day, with a brilliant
sun; the kind of day to make one want to live, not die. The
multitude was prodigious and far-reaching; and yet we fifteen
poor devils hadn't a friend in it. There was something painful
in that thought, look at it how you might. There we sat, on our
tall scaffold, the butt of the hate and mockery of all those
enemies. We were being made a holiday spectacle. They had built
a sort of grand stand for the nobility and gentry, and these were
there in full force, with their ladies. We recognized a good
many of them.
The crowd got a brief and unexpected dash of diversion out of
the king. The moment we were freed of our bonds he sprang up,
in his fantastic rags, with face bruised out of all recognition, and
proclaimed himself Arthur, King of Britain, and denounced the
awful penalties of treason upon every soul there present if hair
of his sacred head were touched. It startled and surprised him
to hear them break into a vast roar of laughter. It wounded his
dignity, and he locked himself up in silence. Then, although
the crowd begged him to go on, and tried to provoke him to it
by catcalls, jeers, and shouts of
"Let him speak! The king! The king! his humble subjects hunger
and thirst for words of wisdom out of the mouth of their master
his Serene and Sacred Raggedness!"
But it went for nothing. He put on all his majesty and sat under
this rain of contempt and insult unmoved. He certainly was great
in his way. Absently, I had taken off my white bandage and wound
it about my right arm. When the crowd noticed this, they began
upon me. They said:
"Doubtless this sailor-man is his minister--observe his costly
badge of office!"
I let them go on until they got tired, and then I said:
"Yes, I am his minister, The Boss; and to-morrow you will hear
that from Camelot which--"
I got no further. They drowned me out with joyous derision. But
presently there was silence; for the sheriffs of London, in their
official robes, with their subordinates, began to make a stir which
indicated that business was about to begin. In the hush which
followed, our crime was recited, the death warrant read, then
everybody uncovered while a priest uttered a prayer.
Then a slave was blindfolded; the hangman unslung his rope. There
lay the smooth road below us, we upon one side of it, the banked
multitude wailing its other side--a good clear road, and kept free
by the police--how good it would be to see my five hundred horsemen
come tearing down it! But no, it was out of the possibilities.
I followed its receding thread out into the distance--not a horseman
on it, or sign of one.
There was a jerk, and the slave hung dangling; dangling and hideously
squirming, for his limbs were not tied.
A second rope was unslung, in a moment another slave was dangling.
In a minute a third slave was struggling in the air. It was
dreadful. I turned away my head a moment, and when I turned back
I missed the king! They were blindfolding him! I was paralyzed;
I couldn't move, I was choking, my tongue was petrified. They
finished blindfolding him, they led him under the rope. I couldn't
shake off that clinging impotence. But when I saw them put the
noose around his neck, then everything let go in me and I made
a spring to the rescue--and as I made it I shot one more glance
abroad--by George! here they came, a-tilting!--five hundred mailed
and belted knights on bicycles!
The grandest sight that ever was seen. Lord, how the plumes
streamed, how the sun flamed and flashed from the endless procession
of webby wheels!
I waved my right arm as Launcelot swept in--he recognized my rag--
I tore away noose and bandage, and shouted:
"On your knees, every rascal of you, and salute the king! Who
fails shall sup in hell to-night!"
I always use that high style when I'm climaxing an effect. Well,
it was noble to see Launcelot and the boys swarm up onto that
scaffold and heave sheriffs and such overboard. And it was fine
to see that astonished multitude go down on their knees and beg
their lives of the king they had just been deriding and insulting.
And as he stood apart there, receiving this homage in rags,
I thought to myself, well, really there is something peculiarly
grand about the gait and bearing of a king, after all.
I was immensely satisfied. Take the whole situation all around,
it was one of the gaudiest effects I ever instigated.
And presently up comes Clarence, his own self! and winks, and
says, very modernly:
"Good deal of a surprise, wasn't it? I knew you'd like it. I've
had the boys practicing this long time, privately; and just hungry
for a chance to show off."