Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The True Prince and the Feigned One
By Mark Twain (1835–1910)
 
From ‘The Prince and the Pauper’

AT last the final act was at hand. The Archbishop of Canterbury lifted up the crown of England from its cushion and held it out over the trembling mock king’s head. In the same instant a rainbow radiance flashed along the spacious transept; for with one impulse every individual in the great concourse of nobles lifted a coronet and poised it over his or her head—and paused in that attitude.  1
  A deep hush pervaded the Abbey. At this impressive moment a startling apparition intruded upon the scene—an apparition observed by none in the absorbed multitude, until it suddenly appeared, moving up the great central isle. It was a boy, bare-headed, ill shod, and clothed in coarse plebeian garments that were falling to rags. He raised his hand with a solemnity which ill comported with his soiled and sorry aspect, and delivered this note of warning:—  2
  “I forbid you to set the crown of England upon that forfeited head. I am the king!”  3
  In an instant several indignant hands were laid upon the boy, but in the same instant Tom Canty, in his regal vestments, made a swift step forward and cried out in a ringing voice:—  4
  “Loose him and forbear! He is the king!”  5
  A sort of panic of astonishment swept the assemblage, and they partly rose in their places and stared in a bewildered way at one another and at the chief figures in this scene, like persons who wondered whether they were awake and in their senses or asleep and dreaming. The Lord Protector was as amazed as the rest, but quickly recovered himself and exclaimed in a voice of authority:—  6
  “Mind not his Majesty, his malady is upon him again—seize the vagabond!”  7
  He would have been obeyed, but the mock king stamped his foot and cried out:—  8
  “On your peril! Touch him not, he is the king!”  9
  The hands were withheld; a paralysis fell upon the house; no one moved, no one spoke; indeed no one knew how to act or what to say, in so strange and surprising an emergency. While all minds were struggling to right themselves, the boy still moved steadily forward, with high port and confident mien; he had never halted from the beginning; and while the tangled minds still floundered helplessly, he stepped upon the platform, and the mock king ran with a glad face to meet him, and fell on his knees before him and said:—  10
  “O my lord the king, let poor Tom Canty be first to swear fealty to thee, and say, ‘Put on thy crown and enter into thine own again!’”  11
  The Lord Protector’s eye fell sternly upon the new-comer’s face; but straightway the sternness vanished away, and gave place to an expression of wondering surprise. This thing happened also to the other great officers. They glanced at each other, and retreated a step by a common and unconscious impulse. The thought in each mind was the same: “What a strange resemblance!”  12
  The Lord Protector reflected a moment or two in perplexity; then he said, with grave respectfulness:—  13
  “By your favor, sir, I desire to ask certain questions which—”  14
  “I will answer them, my lord.”  15
  The duke asked him many questions about the court, the late king, the prince, the princesses,—the boy answered them correctly and without hesitating. He described the rooms of state in the palace, the late king’s apartments, and those of the Prince of Wales.  16
  It was strange; it was wonderful; yes, it was unaccountable—so all said that heard it. The tide was beginning to turn, and Tom Canty’s hopes to run high, when the Lord Protector shook his head and said:—  17
  “It is true it is most wonderful—but it is no more than our lord the king likewise can do.” This remark, and this reference to himself as still the king, saddened Tom Canty, and he felt his hopes crumbling under him. “These are not proofs,” added the Protector.  18
  The tide was turning very fast now, very fast indeed—but in the wrong direction; it was leaving poor Tom Canty stranded on the throne, and sweeping the other out to sea. The Lord Protector communed with himself—shook his head; the thought forced itself upon him, “It is perilous to the State and to us all, to entertain so fateful a riddle as this; it could divide the nation and undermine the throne.” He turned and said:—  19
  “Sir Thomas, arrest this— No, hold!” His face lighted, and he confronted the ragged candidate with this question:—  20
  “Where lieth the Great Seal? Answer me this truly, and the riddle is unriddled; for only he that was Prince of Wales can so answer! On so trivial a thing hang a throne and a dynasty!”  21
  It was a lucky thought, a happy thought. That it was so considered by the great officials was manifested by the silent applause that shot from eye to eye around their circle in the form of bright approving glances. Yes, none but the true prince could dissolve the stubborn mystery of the vanished Great Seal—this forlorn little impostor had been taught his lesson well, but here his teachings must fail, for his teacher himself could not answer that question—ah, very good, very good indeed; now we shall be rid of this troublesome and perilous business in short order! And so they nodded invisibly and smiled inwardly with satisfaction, and looked to see this foolish lad stricken with a palsy of guilty confusion. How surprised they were, then, to see nothing of the sort happen—how they marveled to hear him answer up promptly in a confident and untroubled voice and say:—  22
  “There is naught in this riddle that is difficult.” Then, without so much as a by-your-leave to anybody, he turned and gave this command with the easy manner of one accustomed to doing such things: “My lord St. John, go you to my private cabinet in the palace,—for none knoweth the place better than you,—and close down to the floor, in the left corner, remotest from the door that opens from the ante-chamber, you shall find in the wall a brazen nail-head; press upon it and a little jewel-closet will fly open, which not even you do know of—no, nor any soul else in all the world but me and the trusty artisan that did contrive it for me. The first thing that falleth under your eye will be the Great Seal—fetch it hither.”  23
  All the company wondered at this speech, and wondered still more to see the little mendicant pick out this peer without hesitancy or apparent fear of mistake, and call him by name with such a placidly convincing air of having known him all his life. The peer was almost surprised into obeying. He even made a movement as if to go, but quickly recovered his tranquil attitude and confessed his blunder with a blush. Tom Canty turned upon him and said sharply:—  24
  “Why dost thou hesitate? Hast not heard the king’s command? Go!”  25
  The lord St. John made a deep obeisance—and it was observed that it was a significantly cautious and non-committal one, it not being delivered at either of the kings, but at the neutral ground about half-way between the two—and took his leave.  26
  Now began a movement of the gorgeous particles of that official group which was slow, scarcely perceptible, and yet steady and persistent,—a movement such as is observed in a kaleidoscope that is turned slowly, whereby the components of one splendid cluster fall away and join themselves to another—a movement which little by little, in the present case, dissolved the glittering crowd that stood about Tom Canty and clustered it together again in the neighborhood of the new-comer. Tom Canty stood almost alone. Now ensued a brief season of deep suspense and waiting—during which even the few faint-hearts still remaining near Tom Canty gradually scraped together courage enough to glide, one by one, over to the majority. So at last Tom Canty, in his royal robes and jewels, stood wholly alone and isolated from the world, a conspicuous figure, occupying an elegant vacancy.  27
  Now the lord St. John was seen returning. As he advanced up the mid-aisle, the interest was so intense that the low murmur of conversation in the great assemblage died out and was succeeded by a profound hush, a breathless stillness, through which his footfalls pulsed with a dull and distant sound. Every eye was fastened upon him as he moved along. He reached the platform, paused a moment, then moved toward Tom Canty with a deep obeisance, and said:—  28
  “Sire, the Seal is not there!”  29
  A mob does not melt away from the presence of a plague-patient with more haste than the band of pallid and terrified courtiers melted away from the presence of the shabby little claimant of the crown. In a moment he stood all alone, without friend or supporter, a target upon which was concentrated a bitter fire of scornful and angry looks. The Lord Protector called out fiercely:—  30
  “Cast the beggar into the street, and scourge him through the town—the paltry knave is worth no more consideration!”  31
  Officers of the guard sprang forward to obey, but Tom Canty waved them off and said:—  32
  “Back! Whoso touches him perils his life!”  33
  The Lord Protector was perplexed in the last degree. He said to the lord St. John:—  34
  “Searched you well?—but it boots not to ask that. It doth seem passing strange. Little things, trifles, slip out of one’s ken, and one does not think it matter for surprise; but how so bulky a thing as the Seal of England can vanish away and no man be able to get track of it again—a massy golden disk—”  35
  Tom Canty, with beaming eyes, sprang forward and shouted:  36
  “Hold, that is enough! Was it round?—and thick?—and had it letters and devices graved upon it?—Yes? Oh, now I know what this Great Seal is, that there’s been such worry and pother about! An ye had described it to me, ye could have had it three weeks ago. Right well I know where it lies; but it was not I that put it there—first.”  37
  “Who then, my liege?” asked the Lord Protector.  38
  “He that stands there—the rightful king of England. And he shall tell you himself where it lies—then you will believe he knew it of his own knowledge. Bethink thee, my king—spur thy memory—it was the last, the very last thing thou didst that day before thou didst rush forth from the palace, clothed in my rags, to punish the soldier that insulted me.”  39
  A silence ensued, undisturbed by a movement or a whisper, and all eyes were fixed upon the new-comer, who stood with bent head and corrugated brow, groping in his memory among a thronging multitude of valueless recollections for one single little elusive fact, which, found, would seat him upon a throne—unfound, would leave him as he was for good and all—a pauper and an outcast. Moment after moment passed—the moments built themselves into minutes—still the boy struggled silently on, and gave no sign. But at last he heaved a sigh, shook his head slowly, and said, with a trembling lip and in a despondent voice:—  40
  “I call the scene back—all of it—but the Seal hath no place in it.” He paused, then looked up, and said with gentle dignity, “My lords and gentlemen, if ye will rob your rightful sovereign of his own for lack of this evidence which he is not able to furnish, I may not stay ye, being powerless. But—”  41
  “Oh folly, oh madness, my king!” cried Tom Canty in a panic; “wait!—think! Do not give up!—the cause is not lost! nor shall be, neither! List to what I say—follow every word—I am going to bring that morning back again, every hap just as it happened. We talked—I told you of my sisters, Nan and Bet—ah yes, you remember that; and about my old grandam—and the rough games of the lads of Offal Court—yes, you remember these things also; very well, follow me still, you shall recall everything. You gave me food and drink, and did with princely courtesy send away the servants, so that my low breeding might not shame me before them—ah yes, this also you remember.”  42
  As Tom checked off his details, and the other boy nodded his head in recognition of them, the great audience and the officials stared in puzzled wonderment; the tale sounded like true history, yet how could this impossible conjunction between a prince and a beggar boy have come about? Never was a company of people so perplexed, so interested, and so stupefied before.  43
  “For a jest, my prince, we did exchange garments. Then we stood before a mirror; and so alike were we that both said it seemed as if there had been no change made—yes, you remember that. Then you noticed that the soldier had hurt my hand—look! here it is, I cannot yet even write with it, the fingers are so stiff. At this your Highness sprang up, vowing vengeance upon that soldier, and ran toward the door—you passed a table—that thing you call the Seal lay on that table—you snatched it up and looked eagerly about, as if for a place to hide it—your eye caught sight of—”  44
  “There, ’tis sufficient!—and the dear God be thanked!” exclaimed the ragged claimant, in a mighty excitement. “Go, my good St. John,—in an arm-piece of the Milanese armor that hangs on the wall, thou’lt find the Seal!”  45
  “Right, my king! right!” cried Tom Canty; “now the sceptre of England is thine own; and it were better for him that would dispute it that he had been born dumb! Go, my lord St. John, give thy feet wings!”  46
  The whole assemblage was on its feet now, and well-nigh out of its mind with uneasiness, apprehension, and consuming excitement. On the floor and on the platform a deafening buzz of frantic conversation burst forth, and for some time nobody knew anything or heard anything or was interested in anything but what his neighbor was shouting into his ear, or he was shouting into his neighbor’s ear. Time—nobody knew how much of it—swept by unheeded and unnoted.—At last a sudden hush fell upon the house, and in the same moment St. John appeared upon the platform and held the Great Seal aloft in his hand. Then such a shout went up!  47
  “Long live the true king!”  48
  For five minutes the air quaked with shouts and the crash of musical instruments, and was white with a storm of waving handkerchiefs; and through it all a ragged lad, the most conspicuous figure in England, stood, flushed and happy and proud, in the centre of the spacious platform, with the great vassals of the kingdom kneeling around him.  49
  Then all rose, and Tom Canty cried out:—  50
  “Now, O my king, take these regal garments back, and give poor Tom thy servant his shreds and remnants again.”  51
  The Lord Protector spoke up:—  52
  “Let the small varlet be stripped and flung into the Tower.”  53
  But the new king, the true king, said:—  54
  “I will not have it so. But for him I had not got my crown again—none shall lay a hand upon him to harm him. And as for thee, my good uncle, my Lord Protector, this conduct of thine is not grateful toward this poor lad, for I hear he hath made thee a duke”—the Protector blushed—“yet he was not a king; wherefore, what is thy fine title worth now? To-morrow you shall sue to me, through him, for its confirmation, else no duke, but a simple earl, shalt thou remain.”  55
  Under this rebuke his Grace the Duke of Somerset retired a little from the front for the moment. The king turned to Tom, and said kindly:—  56
  “My poor boy, how was it that you could remember where I hid the Seal, when I could not remember it myself?”  57
  “Ah, my king, that was easy, since I used it divers days.”  58
  “Used it,—yet could not explain where it was?”  59
  “I did not know it was that they wanted. They did not describe it, your Majesty.”  60
  “Then how used you it?”  61
  The red blood began to steal up into Tom’s cheeks, and he dropped his eyes and was silent.  62
  “Speak up, good lad, and fear nothing,” said the king. “How used you the Great Seal of England?”  63
  Tom stammered a moment in a pathetic confusion, then got it out:—  64
  “To crack nuts with!”  65
  Poor child, the avalanche of laughter that greeted this nearly swept him off his feet. But if a doubt remained in any mind that Tom Canty was not the king of England and familiar with the august appurtenances of royalty, this reply disposed of it utterly.  66
  Meantime the sumptuous robe of state had been removed from Tom’s shoulders to the king’s, whose rags were effectually hidden from sight under it. Then the coronation ceremonies were resumed; the true king was anointed and the crown set upon his head, whilst cannon thundered the news to the city, and all London seemed to rock with applause.  67
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.