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The Prince and the Pauper, Part 9.

Mark Twain

  Produced by David Widger


  by Mark Twain

  Part 9.

  Chapter XXXII. Coronation Day.

  Let us go backward a few hours, and place ourselves in Westminster Abbey,at four o'clock in the morning of this memorable Coronation Day. We arenot without company; for although it is still night, we find thetorch-lighted galleries already filling up with people who are wellcontent to sit still and wait seven or eight hours till the time shallcome for them to see what they may not hope to see twice in their lives--the coronation of a King. Yes, London and Westminster have been astirever since the warning guns boomed at three o'clock, and already crowdsof untitled rich folk who have bought the privilege of trying to findsitting-room in the galleries are flocking in at the entrances reservedfor their sort.

  The hours drag along tediously enough. All stir has ceased for sometime, for every gallery has long ago been packed. We may sit, now, andlook and think at our leisure. We have glimpses, here and there andyonder, through the dim cathedral twilight, of portions of many galleriesand balconies, wedged full with other people, the other portions of thesegalleries and balconies being cut off from sight by intervening pillarsand architectural projections. We have in view the whole of the greatnorth transept--empty, and waiting for England's privileged ones. We seealso the ample area or platform, carpeted with rich stuffs, whereon thethrone stands. The throne occupies the centre of the platform, and israised above it upon an elevation of four steps. Within the seat of thethrone is enclosed a rough flat rock--the stone of Scone--which manygenerations of Scottish kings sat on to be crowned, and so it in timebecame holy enough to answer a like purpose for English monarchs. Boththe throne and its footstool are covered with cloth of gold.

  Stillness reigns, the torches blink dully, the time drags heavily. But atlast the lagging daylight asserts itself, the torches are extinguished,and a mellow radiance suffuses the great spaces. All features of thenoble building are distinct now, but soft and dreamy, for the sun islightly veiled with clouds.

  At seven o'clock the first break in the drowsy monotony occurs; for onthe stroke of this hour the first peeress enters the transept, clothedlike Solomon for splendour, and is conducted to her appointed place by anofficial clad in satins and velvets, whilst a duplicate of him gathers upthe lady's long train, follows after, and, when the lady is seated,arranges the train across her lap for her. He then places her footstoolaccording to her desire, after which he puts her coronet where it will beconvenient to her hand when the time for the simultaneous coroneting ofthe nobles shall arrive.

  By this time the peeresses are flowing in in a glittering stream, and thesatin-clad officials are flitting and glinting everywhere, seating themand making them comfortable. The scene is animated enough now. There isstir and life, and shifting colour everywhere. After a time, quietreigns again; for the peeresses are all come and are all in their places,a solid acre or such a matter, of human flowers, resplendent invariegated colours, and frosted like a Milky Way with diamonds. Thereare all ages here: brown, wrinkled, white-haired dowagers who are able togo back, and still back, down the stream of time, and recall the crowningof Richard III. and the troublous days of that old forgotten age; andthere are handsome middle-aged dames; and lovely and gracious youngmatrons; and gentle and beautiful young girls, with beaming eyes andfresh complexions, who may possibly put on their jewelled coronetsawkwardly when the great time comes; for the matter will be new to them,and their excitement will be a sore hindrance. Still, this may nothappen, for the hair of all these ladies has been arranged with a specialview to the swift and successful lodging of the crown in its place whenthe signal comes.

  We have seen that this massed array of peeresses is sown thick withdiamonds, and we also see that it is a marvellous spectacle--but now weare about to be astonished in earnest. About nine, the clouds suddenlybreak away and a shaft of sunshine cleaves the mellow atmosphere, anddrifts slowly along the ranks of ladies; and every rank it touches flamesinto a dazzling splendour of many-coloured fires, and we tingle to ourfinger-tips with the electric thrill that is shot through us by thesurprise and the beauty of the spectacle! Presently a special envoy fromsome distant corner of the Orient, marching with the general body offoreign ambassadors, crosses this bar of sunshine, and we catch ourbreath, the glory that streams and flashes and palpitates about him is sooverpowering; for he is crusted from head to heel with gems, and hisslightest movement showers a dancing radiance all around him.

  Let us change the tense for convenience. The time drifted along--onehour--two hours--two hours and a half; then the deep booming of artillerytold that the King and his grand procession had arrived at last; so thewaiting multitude rejoiced. All knew that a further delay must follow,for the King must be prepared and robed for the solemn ceremony; but thisdelay would be pleasantly occupied by the assembling of the peers of therealm in their stately robes. These were conducted ceremoniously totheir seats, and their coronets placed conveniently at hand; andmeanwhile the multitude in the galleries were alive with interest, formost of them were beholding for the first time, dukes, earls, and barons,whose names had been historical for five hundred years. When all werefinally seated, the spectacle from the galleries and all coigns ofvantage was complete; a gorgeous one to look upon and to remember.

  Now the robed and mitred great heads of the church, and their attendants,filed in upon the platform and took their appointed places; these werefollowed by the Lord Protector and other great officials, and these againby a steel-clad detachment of the Guard.

  There was a waiting pause; then, at a signal, a triumphant peal of musicburst forth, and Tom Canty, clothed in a long robe of cloth of gold,appeared at a door, and stepped upon the platform. The entire multituderose, and the ceremony of the Recognition ensued.

  Then a noble anthem swept the Abbey with its rich waves of sound; andthus heralded and welcomed, Tom Canty was conducted to the throne. Theancient ceremonies went on, with impressive solemnity, whilst theaudience gazed; and as they drew nearer and nearer to completion, TomCanty grew pale, and still paler, and a deep and steadily deepening woeand despondency settled down upon his spirits and upon his remorsefulheart.

  At last the final act was at hand. The Archbishop of Canterbury liftedup the crown of England from its cushion and held it out over thetrembling mock-King's head. In the same instant a rainbow-radianceflashed along the spacious transept; for with one impulse everyindividual in the great concourse of nobles lifted a coronet and poisedit over his or her head--and paused in that attitude.

  A deep hush pervaded the Abbey. At this impressive moment, a startlingapparition intruded upon the scene--an apparition observed by none in theabsorbed multitude, until it suddenly appeared, moving up the greatcentral aisle. It was a boy, bareheaded, ill shod, and clothed in coarseplebeian garments that were falling to rags. He raised his hand with asolemnity which ill comported with his soiled and sorry aspect, anddelivered this note of warning--

  "I forbid you to set the crown of England upon that forfeited head. I amthe King!"

  In an instant several indignant hands were laid upon the boy; but in thesame instant Tom Canty, in his regal vestments, made a swift stepforward, and cried out in a ringing voice--

  "Loose him and forbear! He IS the King!"

  A sort of panic of astonishment swept the assemblage, and they partlyrose in their places and stared in a bewildered way at one another and atthe chief figures in this scene, like persons who wondered whether theywere awake and in their senses, or asleep and dreaming. The LordProtector was as amazed as the rest
, but quickly recovered himself, andexclaimed in a voice of authority--

  "Mind not his Majesty, his malady is upon him again--seize the vagabond!"

  He would have been obeyed, but the mock-King stamped his foot and criedout--

  "On your peril! Touch him not, he is the King!"

  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 sostrange and surprising an emergency. While all minds were struggling toright themselves, the boy still moved steadily forward, with high portand confident mien; he had never halted from the beginning; and while thetangled 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 kneesbefore him and said--

  "Oh, my lord the King, let poor Tom Canty be first to swear fealty tothee, and say, 'Put on thy crown and enter into thine own again!'"

  The Lord Protector's eye fell sternly upon the new-comer's face; butstraightway the sternness vanished away, and gave place to an expressionof wondering surprise. This thing happened also to the other greatofficers. They glanced at each other, and retreated a step by a commonand unconscious impulse. The thought in each mind was the same: "What astrange resemblance!"

  The Lord Protector reflected a moment or two in perplexity, then he said,with grave respectfulness--

  "By your favour, sir, I desire to ask certain questions which--"

  "I will answer them, my lord."

  The Duke asked him many questions about the Court, the late King, theprince, the princesses--the boy answered them correctly and withouthesitating. He described the rooms of state in the palace, the lateKing's apartments, and those of the Prince of Wales.

  It was strange; it was wonderful; yes, it was unaccountable--so all saidthat heard it. The tide was beginning to turn, and Tom Canty's hopes torun high, when the Lord Protector shook his head and said--

  "It is true it is most wonderful--but it is no more than our lord theKing likewise can do." This remark, and this reference to himself asstill the King, saddened Tom Canty, and he felt his hopes crumbling fromunder him. "These are not PROOFS," added the Protector.

  The tide was turning very fast now, very fast indeed--but in the wrongdirection; it was leaving poor Tom Canty stranded on the throne, andsweeping the other out to sea. The Lord Protector communed with himself--shook his head--the thought forced itself upon him, "It is perilous tothe State and to us all, to entertain so fateful a riddle as this; itcould divide the nation and undermine the throne." He turned and said--

  "Sir Thomas, arrest this--No, hold!" His face lighted, and he confrontedthe ragged candidate with this question--

  "Where lieth the Great Seal? Answer me this truly, and the riddle isunriddled; for only he that was Prince of Wales CAN so answer! On sotrivial a thing hang a throne and a dynasty!"

  It was a lucky thought, a happy thought. That it was so considered bythe great officials was manifested by the silent applause that shot fromeye to eye around their circle in the form of bright approving glances.Yes, none but the true prince could dissolve the stubborn mystery of thevanished Great Seal--this forlorn little impostor had been taught hislesson well, but here his teachings must fail, for his teacher himselfcould not answer THAT question--ah, very good, very good indeed; now weshall be rid of this troublesome and perilous business in short order!And so they nodded invisibly and smiled inwardly with satisfaction, andlooked to see this foolish lad stricken with a palsy of guilty confusion.How surprised they were, then, to see nothing of the sort happen--howthey marvelled to hear him answer up promptly, in a confident anduntroubled voice, and say--

  "There is nought in this riddle that is difficult." Then, without somuch as a by-your-leave to anybody, he turned and gave this command, withthe 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 theplace better than you--and, close down to the floor, in the left cornerremotest from the door that opens from the ante-chamber, you shall findin the wall a brazen nail-head; press upon it and a little jewel-closetwill fly open which not even you do know of--no, nor any soul else inall 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--fetchit hither."

  All the company wondered at this speech, and wondered still more to seethe little mendicant pick out this peer without hesitancy or apparentfear of mistake, and call him by name with such a placidly convincing airof having known him all his life. The peer was almost surprised intoobeying. He even made a movement as if to go, but quickly recovered histranquil attitude and confessed his blunder with a blush. Tom Cantyturned upon him and said, sharply--

  "Why dost thou hesitate? Hast not heard the King's command? Go!"

  The Lord St. John made a deep obeisance--and it was observed that it wasa significantly cautious and non-committal one, it not being delivered ateither of the kings, but at the neutral ground about half-way between thetwo--and took his leave.

  Now began a movement of the gorgeous particles of that official groupwhich was slow, scarcely perceptible, and yet steady and persistent--amovement such as is observed in a kaleidoscope that is turned slowly,whereby the components of one splendid cluster fall away and jointhemselves to another--a movement which, little by little, in the presentcase, dissolved the glittering crowd that stood about Tom Canty andclustered it together again in the neighbourhood of the new-comer. TomCanty stood almost alone. Now ensued a brief season of deep suspense andwaiting--during which even the few faint hearts still remaining near TomCanty gradually scraped together courage enough to glide, one by one,over to the majority. So at last Tom Canty, in his royal robes andjewels, stood wholly alone and isolated from the world, a conspicuousfigure, occupying an eloquent vacancy.

  Now the Lord St. John was seen returning. As he advanced up themid-aisle the interest was so intense that the low murmur of conversationin the great assemblage died out and was succeeded by a profound hush, abreathless stillness, through which his footfalls pulsed with a dull anddistant sound. Every eye was fastened upon him as he moved along. Hereached the platform, paused a moment, then moved toward Tom Canty with adeep obeisance, and said--

  "Sire, the Seal is not there!"

  A mob does not melt away from the presence of a plague-patient with morehaste than the band of pallid and terrified courtiers melted away fromthe presence of the shabby little claimant of the Crown. In a moment hestood all alone, without friend or supporter, a target upon which wasconcentrated a bitter fire of scornful and angry looks. The LordProtector called out fiercely--

  "Cast the beggar into the street, and scourge him through the town--thepaltry knave is worth no more consideration!"

  Officers of the guard sprang forward to obey, but Tom Canty waved themoff and said--

  "Back! Whoso touches him perils his life!"

  The Lord Protector was perplexed in the last degree. He said to the LordSt. John--

  "Searched you well?--but it boots not to ask that. It doth seem passingstrange. Little things, trifles, slip out of one's ken, and one does notthink it matter for surprise; but how so bulky a thing as the Seal ofEngland can vanish away and no man be able to get track of it again--amassy golden disk--"

  Tom Canty, with beaming eyes, sprang forward and shouted--

  "Hold, that is enough! Was it round?--and thick?--and had it letters anddevices graved upon it?--yes? Oh, NOW I know what this Great Seal isthat there's been such worry and pother about. An' ye had described it tome, ye could have had it three weeks ago. Right well I know where itlies; but it was not I that put it there--first."

  "Who, then, my liege?" asked the Lord Protector.

  "He that stands there--the rightful King of England. And he shall tellyou himself where it lies--then you will believe he knew it of his ownknowledge. Bethink thee, my King--spur thy memory--it was the last, thevery LAST thing thou didst that day before t
hou didst rush forth from thepalace, clothed in my rags, to punish the soldier that insulted me."

  A silence ensued, undisturbed by a movement or a whisper, and all eyeswere fixed upon the new-comer, who stood, with bent head and corrugatedbrow, groping in his memory among a thronging multitude of valuelessrecollections for one single little elusive fact, which, found, wouldseat him upon a throne--unfound, would leave him as he was, for good andall--a pauper and an outcast. Moment after moment passed--the momentsbuilt themselves into minutes--still the boy struggled silently on, andgave no sign. But at last he heaved a sigh, shook his head slowly, andsaid, with a trembling lip and in a despondent voice--

  "I call the scene back--all of it--but the Seal hath no place in it." Hepaused, then looked up, and said with gentle dignity, "My lords andgentlemen, if ye will rob your rightful sovereign of his own for lack ofthis evidence which he is not able to furnish, I may not stay ye, beingpowerless. But--"

  "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 morningback again, every hap just as it happened. We talked--I told you of mysisters, Nan and Bet--ah, yes, you remember that; and about mine oldgrandam--and the rough games of the lads of Offal Court--yes, youremember these things also; very well, follow me still, you shall recalleverything. You gave me food and drink, and did with princely courtesysend away the servants, so that my low breeding might not shame me beforethem--ah, yes, this also you remember."

  As Tom checked off his details, and the other boy nodded his head inrecognition of them, the great audience and the officials stared inpuzzled wonderment; the tale sounded like true history, yet how couldthis impossible conjunction between a prince and a beggar-boy have comeabout? Never was a company of people so perplexed, so interested, and sostupefied, before.