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The Prince and the Pauper(Chapter29)

2006-08-22 22:52

  Chapter XXIX. To London.

  When Hendon's term of service in the stocks was finished, he was released and ordered to quit the region and come back no more. His sword was restored to him, and also his mule and his donkey. He mounted and rode off, followed by the King, the crowd opening with quiet respectfulness to let them pass, and then dispersing when they were gone.

  Hendon was soon absorbed in thought. There were questions of high import to be answered. What should he do? Whither should he go? Powerful help must be found somewhere, or he must relinquish his inheritance and remain under the imputation of being an impostor besides. Where could he hope to find this powerful help? Where, indeed! It was a knotty question. By-and-by a thought occurred to him which pointed to a possibility——the slenderest of slender possibilities, certainly, but still worth considering, for lack of any other that promised anything at all. He remembered what old Andrews had said about the young King's goodness and his generous championship of the wronged and unfortunate. Why not go and try to get speech of him and beg for justice? Ah, yes, but could so fantastic a pauper get admission to the august presence of a monarch? Never mind——let that matter take care of itself; it was a bridge that would not need to be crossed till he should come to it. He was an old campaigner, and used to inventing shifts and expedients: no doubt he would be able to find a way. Yes, he would strike for the capital. Maybe his father's old friend Sir Humphrey Marlow would help him——'good old Sir Humphrey, Head Lieutenant of the late King's kitchen, or stables, or something'—— Miles could not remember just what or which. Now that he had something to turn his energies to, a distinctly defined object to accomplish, the fog of humiliation and depression which had settled down upon his spirits lifted and blew away, and he raised his head and looked about him. He was surprised to see how far he had come; the village was away behind him. The King was jogging along in his wake, with his head bowed; for he, too, was deep in plans and thinkings. A sorrowful misgiving clouded Hendon's new- born cheerfulness: would the boy be willing to go again to a city where, during all his brief life, he had never known anything but ill-usage and pinching want? But the question must be asked; it could not be avoided; so Hendon reined up, and called out——

  "I had forgotten to inquire whither we are bound. Thy commands, my liege!"

  "To London!"

  Hendon moved on again, mightily contented with the answer——but astounded at it too.

  The whole journey was made without an adventure of importance. But it ended with one. About ten o'clock on the night of the 19th of February they stepped upon London Bridge, in the midst of a writhing, struggling jam of howling and hurrahing people, whose beer-jolly faces stood out strongly in the glare from manifold torches——and at that instant the decaying head of some former duke or other grandee tumbled down between them, striking Hendon on the elbow and then bounding off among the hurrying confusion of feet. So evanescent and unstable are men's works in this world!——the late good King is but three weeks dead and three days in his grave, and already the adornments which he took such pains to select from prominent people for his noble bridge are falling. A citizen stumbled over that head, and drove his own head into the back of somebody in front of him, who turned and knocked down the first person that came handy, and was promptly laid out himself by that person's friend. It was the right ripe time for a free fight, for the festivities of the morrow——Coronation Day——were already beginning; everybody was full of strong drink and patriotism; within five minutes the free fight was occupying a good deal of ground; within ten or twelve it covered an acre of so, and was become a riot. By this time Hendon and the King were hopelessly separated from each other and lost in the rush and turmoil of the roaring masses of humanity. And so we leave them.

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