Authors: Mark Twain
Tags: #Criticism, #Classics, #Literature: Classics, #Literature - Classics, #General, #Fiction, #Historical, #London (England), #Boys, #Princes, #Impostors and imposture, #Poor children, #King of England, #Edward, #VI, #1537-1553
Tom as a Patrician
om Canty, left alone in the prince’s cabinet, made good use of his opportunity. He turned himself this way and that before the great mirror, admiring his finery; then walked away, imitating the prince’s high-bred carriage, and still observing results in the glass. Next he drew the beautiful sword, and bowed, kissing the blade, and laying it across his breast, as he had seen a noble knight do, by way of salute to the lieutenant of the Tower, five or six weeks before, when delivering the great lords of Norfolk and Surrey
into his hands for captivity. Tom played with the jeweled dagger that hung upon his thigh; he examined the costly and exquisite ornaments of the room; he tried each of the sumptuous chairs, and thought how proud he would be if the Offal Court herd could only peep in and see him in his grandeur. He wondered if they would believe the marvelous tale he should tell when he got home, or if they would shake their heads, and say his overtaxed imagination had at last upset his reason.
At the end of half an hour it suddenly occurred to him that the prince was gone a long time; then right away he began to feel lonely; very soon he fell to listening and longing, and ceased to toy with the pretty things about him; he grew uneasy, then restless, then distressed. Suppose some one should come, and catch him in the prince’s clothes, and the prince not there to explain. Might they not hang him at once, and inquire into his case afterward? He had heard that the great were prompt about small matters. His fears rose higher and higher; and trembling he softly opened the door to the antechamber, resolved to fly and seek the prince, and, through him, protection and release. Six gorgeous gentlemen-servants and two young pages of high degree, clothed like butterflies, sprung to their feet, and bowed low before him. He stepped quickly back, and shut the door. He said:
“Oh, they mock at me! They will go and tell. Oh! why came I here to cast away my life?”
He walked up and down the floor, filled with nameless fears, listening, starting at every trifling sound. Presently the door swung open, and a silken page said:
“The Lady Jane Grey.”
The door closed, and a sweet young girl, richly clad, bounded toward him. But she stopped suddenly, and said in a distressed voice:
“Oh, what aileth thee, my lord?”
Tom’s breath was nearly failing him; but he made shift to stammer out:
“Ah, be merciful, thou! In sooth I am no lord, but only poor Tom Canty of Offal Court in the city. Prithee let me see the prince, and he will of his grace restore to me my rags, and let me hence unhurt. Oh, be thou merciful, and save me!”
By this time the boy was on his knees, and supplicating with his eyes and uplifted hands as well as with his tongue. The young girl seemed horror-stricken. She cried out:
“Oh, my lord, on thy knees?—and to
Then she fled away in fright; and Tom, smitten with despair, sank down, murmuring:
“There is no help, there is no hope. Now will they come and take me.”
Whilst he lay there benumbed with terror, dreadful tidings were speeding through the palace. The whisper, for it was whispered always, flew from menial to menial, from lord to lady, down all the long corridors, from story to story, from saloon to saloon, “The prince hath gone mad, the prince hath gone mad!” Soon every saloon, every marble hall, had its groups of glittering lords and ladies, and other groups of dazzling lesser folk, talking earnestly together in whispers, and every face had in it dismay. Presently a splendid official came marching by these groups, making solemn proclamation:
“IN THE NAME OF THE KING.
“Let none list to this false and foolish matter, upon pain of death, nor discuss the same, nor carry it abroad. In the name of the king!”
The whisperings ceased as suddenly as if the whisperers had been stricken dumb.
Soon there was a general buzz along the corridors, of “The prince! See, the prince comes!”
Poor Tom came slowly walking past the low-bowing groups, trying to bow in return, and meekly gazing upon his strange surroundings with bewildered and pathetic eyes. Great nobles walked upon each side of him, making him lean upon them, and so steady his steps. Behind him followed the court physicians and some servants.
Presently Tom found himself in a noble apartment of the palace, and heard the door close behind him. Around him stood those who had come with him.
Before him, at a little distance, reclined a very large and very fat man, with a wide, pulpy face, and a stern expression. His large head was very gray; and his whiskers, which he wore only around his face, like a frame, were gray also. His clothing was of rich stuff, but old, and slightly frayed in places. One of his swollen legs had a pillow under it, and was wrapped in bandages. There was silence now; and there was no head there but was bent in reverence except this man’s. This stern-countenanced invalid was the dread Henry VIII. He said—and his face grew gentle as he began to speak:
“How now, my lord Edward, my prince? Hast been minded to cozen me, the good king thy father, who loveth thee, and kindly useth thee, with a sorry jest?”
Poor Tom was listening, as well as his dazed faculties would let him, to the beginning of this speech; but when the words “me the good king” fell upon his ear, his face blanched, and he dropped as instantly upon his knees as if a shot had brought him there. Lifting up his hands, he exclaimed:
Then am I undone indeed!”
This speech seemed to stun the king. His eyes wandered from face to face aimlessly, then rested, bewildered, upon the boy before him. Then he said in a tone of deep disappointment:
“Alack, I had believed the rumor disproportioned to the truth; but I fear me ’tis not so.” He breathed a heavy sigh, and said in a gentle voice, “Come to thy father, child: thou art not well.”
Tom was assisted to his feet, and approached the Majesty of England, humble and trembling. The king took the frightened face between his hands, and gazed earnestly and lovingly into it awhile, as if seeking some grateful sign of returning reason there, then pressed the curly head against his breast, and patted it tenderly. Presently he said:
“Dost thou know thy father, child? Break not mine old heart; say thou know’st me. Thou
know me, dost thou not?”
“Yea; thou art my dread lord the king, whom God preserve!”
“True, true—that is well—be comforted, tremble not so; there is none here who would hurt thee; there is none here but loves thee. Thou art better now; thy ill dream passeth—is’t not so? And thou knowest thyself now also—is’t not so? Thou wilt not miscall thyself again, as they say thou didst a little while agone?”
“I pray thee of thy grace believe me, I did but speak the truth, most dread lord; for I am the meanest among thy subjects, being a pauper born, and ’tis by a sore mischance and accident I am here, albeit I was therein nothing blameful. I am but young to die, and thou canst save me with one little word. Oh, speak it, sir!”
“Die? Talk not so, sweet prince—peace, peace, to thy troubled heart—thou shalt not die!”
Tom dropped upon his knees with a glad cry:
“God requite thy mercy, oh my king, and save thee long to bless thy land!” Then springing up, he turned a joyful face toward the two lords in waiting, and exclaimed, “Thou heard’st it! I am not to die: the king hath said it!” There was no movement, save that all bowed with grave respect; but no one spoke. He hesitated, a little confused, then turned timidly toward the king, saying, “I may go now?”
“Go? Surely, if thou desirest. But why not tarry yet a little? Whither wouldst go?”
Tom dropped his eyes, and answered humbly:
I mistook; but I did think me free, and so was I moved to seek again the kennel where I was born and bred to misery, yet which harboreth my mother and my sisters, and so is home to me; whereas these pomps and splendors whereunto I am not used—oh, please you, sir, to let me go!”
The king was silent and thoughtful awhile, and his face betrayed a growing distress and uneasiness. Presently he said, with something of hope in his voice:
“Perchance he is but mad upon this one strain, and hath his wits unmarred as toucheth other matter. God send it may be so! We will make trial.”
Then he asked Tom a question in Latin, and Tom answered him lamely in the same tongue. The king was delighted, and showed it. The lords and doctors manifested their gratification also. The king said:
“ ’Twas not according to his schooling and ability, but sheweth that his mind is but diseased, not stricken fatally. How say you, sir?”
The physician addressed bowed low, and replied:
“It jumpeth with mine own conviction, sire, that thou hast divined aright.”
The king looked pleased with this encouragement, coming as it did from so excellent authority, and continued with good heart:
“Now mark ye all: we will try him further.”
He put a question to Tom in French. Tom stood silent a moment, embarrassed by having so many eyes centered upon him, then said diffidently:
“I have no knowledge of this tongue, so please your majesty.”
The king fell back upon his couch. The attendants flew to his assistance; but he put them aside, and said:
“Trouble me not—it is nothing but a scurvy faintness. Raise me! there, ‘tis sufficient. Come hither, child; there, rest thy poor troubled head upon thy father’s heart, and be at peace. Thou’lt soon be well; ‘tis but a passing fantasy. Fear thou not; thou’lt soon be well.” Then he turned toward the company; his gentle manner changed, and baleful lightnings began to play from his eyes. He said:
“List ye all! This my son is mad; but it is not permanent. Overstudy hath done this, and somewhat too much of confinement. Away with his books and teachers! see ye to it. Pleasure him with sports, beguile him in wholesome ways, so that his health come again.” He raised himself higher still, and went on with energy. “He is mad; but he is my son, and England’s heir; and, mad or sane, still shall he reign! And hear ye further, and proclaim it: whoso speaketh of this his distemper worketh against the peace and order of these realms, and shall to the gallows! ... Give me to drink—I burn: This sorrow sappeth my strength.... There, take away the cup.... Support me. There, that is well. Mad, is he? Were he a thousand times mad, yet is he Prince of Wales, and I the king will confirm it. This very morrow shall he be installed in his princely dignity in due and ancient form. Take instant order for it, my Lord Hertford.”
One of the nobles knelt at the royal couch, and said:
“The king’s majesty knoweth that the Hereditary Great Marshal of England lieth attainted in the Tower. It were not meet that one attainted—”
“Peace! Insult not mine ears with his hated name. Is this man to live forever? Am I to be balked of my will? Is the prince to tarry uninstalled, because, forsooth, the realm lacketh an earl marshal free of treasonable taint to invest him with his honors? No, by the splendor of God! Warn my Parliament to bring me Norfolk’s doom before the sun rise again, else shall they answer for it grievously!”
Lord Hertford said:
“The king’s will is law”; and, rising, returned to his former place.
Gradually the wrath faded out of the old king’s face, and he said:
“Kiss me, my prince. There ... what fearest thou? Am I not thy loving father?”
“Thou art good to me that am unworthy, O mighty and gracious lord: that in truth I know. But—but—it grieveth me to think of him that is to die, and—”
“Ah, ‘tis like thee, ’tis like thee! I know thy heart is still the same, even though thy mind hath suffered hurt, for thou wert ever of a gentle spirit. But this duke standeth between thee and thine honors: I will have another in his stead that shall bring no taint to his great office. Comfort thee, my prince: trouble not thy poor head with this matter.”
“But is it not I that speed him hence, my liege? How long might he not live, but for me?”
“Take no thought of him, my prince: he is not worthy. Kiss me once again, and go to thy trifles and amusements; for my malady distresseth me. I am aweary, and would rest. Go with thine uncle Hertford and thy people, and come again when my body is refreshed.”
Tom, heavy-hearted, was conducted from the presence, for this last sentence was a death-blow to the hope he had cherished that now he would be set free. Once more he heard the buzz of low voices exclaiming, “The prince, the prince comes!”
His spirits sank lower and lower as he moved between the glittering files of bowing courtiers; for he recognized that he was indeed a captive now, and might remain forever shut up in this gilded cage, a forlorn and friendless prince, except God in His mercy take pity on him and set him free.
And, turn where he would, he seemed to see floating in the air the severed head and the remembered face of the great Duke of Norfolk, the eyes fixed on him reproachfully.
His old dreams had been so pleasant; but this reality was so dreary
Tom Receives Instructions
om was conducted to the principal apartment of a noble suite, and made to sit down—a thing which he was loath to do, since there were elderly men and men of high degree about him. He begged them to be seated, also, but they only bowed their thanks or murmured them, and remained standing. He would have insisted, but his “uncle” the Earl of Hertford whispered in his ear:
“Prithee, insist not, my lord; it is not meet that they sit in thy presence.”
The Lord St. John was announced, and after making obeisance to Tom, he said:
“I come upon the king’s errand, concerning a matter which requireth privacy. Will it please your royal highness to dismiss all that attend you here, save my lord the Earl of Hertford?”
Observing that Tom did not seem to know how to proceed, Hertford whispered him to make a sign with his hand and not trouble himself to speak unless he chose. When the waiting gentlemen had retired, Lord St. John said:
“His majesty commandeth, that for due and weighty reasons of state, the prince’s grace shall hide his infirmity in all ways that be within his power, till it be passed and he be as he was before. To wit, that he shall deny to none that he is the true prince, and heir to England’s greatness; that he shall uphold his princely dignity, and shall receive, without word or sign of protest, that reverence and observance which unto it do appertain of right and ancient usage; that he shall cease to speak to any of that lowly birth and life his malady hath conjured out of the unwholesome imaginings of o’erwrought fancy; that he shall strive with diligence to bring into his memory again those faces which he was wont to know—and where he faileth he shall hold his peace, neither betraying by semblance of surprise, or other sign, that he hath forgot; that upon occasions of state, whensoever any matter shall perplex him as to the thing he should do or the utterance he should make, he shall show naught of unrest to the curious that look on, but take advice in that matter of the Lord Hertford, or my humble self, which are commanded of the king to be upon this service and close at call, till this commandment be dissolved. Thus saith the king’s majesty, who sendeth greeting to your royal highness and prayeth that God will of His mercy quickly heal you and have you now and ever in His holy keeping.”
The Lord St. John made reverence and stood aside. Tom replied, resignedly:
“The king hath said it. None may palter with the king’s command, or fit it to his ease, where it doth chafe, with deft evasions. The king shall be obeyed.”
Lord Hertford said:
“Touching the king’s majesty’s ordainment concerning books and such like serious matters, it may peradventure please your highness to ease your time with lightsome entertainment, lest you go wearied to the banquet and suffer harm thereby.”
Tom’s face showed inquiring surprise; and a blush followed when he saw Lord St. John’s eyes bent sorrowfully upon him. His lordship said:
“Thy memory still wrongeth thee, and thou hast shown surprise—but suffer it not to trouble thee, for ’tis a matter that will not bide, but depart with thy mending malady. My Lord of Hertford speaketh of the city’s banquet which the king’s majesty did promise two months flown, your highness should attend. Thou recallest it now?”
“It grieves me to confess it had indeed escaped me,” said Tom, in a hesitating voice; and blushed again.
At that moment the Lady Elizabeth and the Lady Jane Grey were announced. The two lords exchanged significant glances, and Hertford stepped quickly toward the door. As the young girls passed him, he said in a low voice:
“I pray ye, ladies, seem not to observe his humors, nor show surprise when his memory doth lapse—it will grieve you to note how it doth stick at every trifle.”
Meanwhile Lord St. John was saying in Tom’s ear:
“Please you sir, keep diligently in mind his majesty’s desire. Remember all thou canst—
to remember all else. Let them not perceive that thou art much changed from thy wont, for thou knowest how tenderly thy old playfellows bear thee in their hearts and how ’twould grieve them. Art willing, sir, that I remain?—and thine uncle?”
Tom signified assent with a gesture and a murmured word, for he was already learning, and in his simple heart was resolved to acquit himself as best he might, according to the king’s command.
In spite of every precaution, the conversation among the young people became a little embarrassing at times. More than once, in truth, Tom was near to breaking down and confessing himself unequal to his tremendous part; but the tact of the Princess Elizabeth saved him, or a word from one or the other of the vigilant lords, thrown in apparently by chance, had the same happy effect. Once the little Lady Jane turned to Tom and dismayed him with this question:
“Hast paid thy duty to the queen’s majesty to-day, my lord?”
Tom hesitated, looked distressed, and was about to stammer out something at hazard, when Lord St. John took the word and answered for him with the easy grace of a courtier accustomed to encounter delicate difficulties and to be ready for them:
“He hath indeed, madam, and she did greatly hearten him, as touching his majesty’s condition: is it not so, your highness?”
Tom mumbled something that stood for assent, but felt that he was getting upon dangerous ground. Somewhat later it was mentioned that Tom was to study no more at present, whereupon her little ladyship exclaimed:
“ ’Tis a pity, ’tis a pity! Thou wert proceeding bravely. But bide thy time in patience; it will not be for long. Thou’lt yet be graced with learning like thy father, and make thy tongue master of as many languages as his, good my prince.”
“My father!” cried Tom, off his guard for the moment. “I trow he cannot speak his own so that any but the swine that wallow in the sties may tell his meaning; and as for learning of any sort soever—”
He looked up and encountered a solemn warning in my Lord St. John’s eyes.
He stopped, blushed, then continued, low and sadly: “Ah, my malady persecuteth me again, and my mind wandereth. I meant the king’s grace no irreverence.”
“We know it, sir,” said the Princess Elizabeth, taking her “brother’s” hand between her two palms, respectfully but caressingly; “trouble not thyself as to that. The fault is none of thine, but thy distemper’s.”
“Thou‘rt a gentle comforter, sweet lady,” said Tom, gratefully, “and my heart moveth me to thank thee for’t, an I may be so bold.”
Once the giddy little Lady Jane fired a simple Greek phrase at Tom. The Princess Elizabeth’s quick eye saw by the serene blankness of the target’s front that the shaft was overshot; so she tranquilly delivered a return volley of sounding Greek on Tom’s behalf, and then straightway changed the talk to other matters.
Time wore on pleasantly, and likewise smoothly, on the whole. Snags and sand-bars grew less and less frequent, and Tom grew more and more at his ease, seeing that all were so lovingly bent upon helping him and overlooking his mistakes. When it came out that the little ladies were to accompany him to the Lord Mayor’s banquet
in the evening, his heart gave a bound of relief and delight, for he felt that he should not be friendless, now, among that multitude of strangers, whereas, an hour earlier, the idea of their going with him would have been an insupportable terror to him.
Tom’s guardian angels, the two lords, had had less comfort in the interview than the other parties to it. They felt much as if they were piloting a great ship through a dangerous channel; they were on the alert constantly, and found their office no child’s play. Wherefore, at last, when the ladies’ visit was drawing to a close and the Lord Guilford Dudley
was announced, they not only felt that their charge had been sufficiently taxed for the present, but also that they themselves were not in the best condition to take their ship back and make their anxious voyage all over again. So they respectfully advised Tom to excuse himself, which he was very glad to do, although a slight shade of disappointment might have been observed upon my Lady Jane’s face when she heard the splendid stripling denied admittance.
There was a pause now, a sort of waiting silence which Tom could not understand. He glanced at Lord Hertford, who gave him a sign—but he failed to understand that, also. The ready Elizabeth came to the rescue with her usual easy grace. She made reverence and said:
“Have we leave of the prince’s grace my brother to go?”
“Indeed your ladyships can have whatsoever of me they will, for the asking; yet would I rather give them any other thing that in my poor power lieth, than leave to take the light and blessing of their presence hence. Give ye good den, and God be with ye!” Then he smiled inwardly at the thought, “ ’tis not for naught I have dwelt but among princes in my reading, and taught my tongue some slight trick of their broidered and gracious speech withal!”
When the illustrious maidens were gone, Tom turned wearily to his keepers and said:
“May it please your lordships to grant me leave to go into some corner and rest me!”
Lord Hertford said:
“So please your highness, it is for you to command, it is for us to obey. That thou shouldst rest is indeed a needful thing, since thou must journey to the city presently.”
He touched a bell, and a page appeared, who was ordered to desire the presence of Sir William Herbert.
This gentleman came straightway, and conducted Tom to an inner apartment. Tom’s first movement, there, was to reach for a cup of water; but a silk-and-velvet servitor seized it, dropped upon one knee, and offered it to him on a golden salver.
Next the tired captive sat down and was going to take off his buskins, timidly asking leave with his eye, but another silk-and-velvet discomforter went down upon his knees and took the office from him. He made two or three further efforts to help himself, but being promptly forestalled each time, he finally gave up, with a sigh of resignation and a murmured “Beshrew me,
but I marvel they do not require to breathe for me also!” Slippered, and wrapped in a sumptuous robe, he laid himself down at last to rest, but not to sleep, for his head was too full of thoughts and the room too full of people. He could not dismiss the former, so they stayed; he did not know enough to dismiss the latter, so they stayed also, to his vast regret—and theirs.
Tom’s departure had left his two noble guardians alone. They mused awhile, with much head-shaking and walking the floor, then Lord St. John said:
“Plainly, what dost thou think?”
“Plainly, then, this. The king is near his end, my nephew is mad, mad will mount the throne, and mad remain. God protect England, since she will need it!”
“Verily it promiseth so, indeed. But ... have you no misgivings as to ... as to...”
The speaker hesitated, and finally stopped. He evidently felt that he was upon delicate ground. Lord Hertford stopped before him, looked into his face with a clear, frank eye, and said:
“Speak on—there is none to hear but me. Misgivings as to what?”
“I am full loath to word the thing that is in my mind, and thou so near to him in blood, my lord. But craving pardon if I do offend, seemeth it not strange that madness could so change his port and manner!—not but that his port and speech are princely still, but that they
in one unweighty trifle or another, from what his custom was aforetime. Seemeth it not strange that madness should filch from his memory his father’s very lineaments; the customs and observances that are his due from such as be about him; and, leaving him his Latin, strip him of his Greek and French? My lord, be not offended, but ease my mind of its disquiet and receive my grateful thanks. It haunteth me, his saying he was not the prince, and so—”
“Peace, my lord, thou utterest treason! Hast forgot the king’s command? Remember I am party to thy crime, if I but listen.”
St. John paled, and hastened to say:
“I was in fault, I do confess it. Betray me not, grant me this grace out of thy courtesy, and I will neither think nor speak of this thing more. Deal not hardly with me, sir, else am I ruined.”
“I am content, my lord. So thou offend not again, here or in the ears of others, it shall be as though thou hadst not spoken. But thou needst not have misgivings. He is my sister’s son; are not his voice, his face, his form, familiar to me from his cradle? Madness can do all the odd conflicting things thou seest in him, and more. Dost not recall how that the old Baron Marley, being mad, forgot the favor of his own countenance that he had known for sixty years, and held it was another’s; nay, even claimed he was the son of Mary Magdalene, and that his head was made of Spanish glass; and sooth to say, he suffered none to touch it, lest by mischance some heedless hand might shiver it? Give thy misgivings easement, good my lord. This is the very prince, I know him well—and soon will be thy king; it may advantage thee to bear this in mind and more dwell upon it than the other.”
After some further talk, in which the Lord St. John covered up his mistake as well as he could by repeated protests that his faith was thoroughly grounded now, and could not be assailed by doubts again, the Lord Hertford relieved his fellow-keeper, and sat down to keep watch and ward alone. He was soon deep in meditation. And evidently the longer he thought the more he was bothered. By and by he began to pace the floor and mutter.
be the prince! Will any he in all the land maintain there can be two, not of one blood and birth, so marvelously twinned? And even were it so, ‘twere yet a stranger miracle that chance should cast the one into the other’s place. Nay, ’tis folly, folly, folly!”
Presently he said:
“Now were he impostor and called himself prince, look you
would be natural; that would be reasonable. But lived ever an impostor yet, who, being called prince by the king, prince by the court, prince by all,
his dignity and pleaded against his exaltation? No! By the soul of St. Swithin, no! This is the true prince, gone mad!”