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|The Prince and the Pauper||Mark Twain|
Chapter XV. Tom as King.
|Page 5 of 7||
This was an argument of tremendous force in that superstitious day. Tom felt that the thing was settled; if evidence was worth anything, this poor fellow's guilt was proved. Still he offered the prisoner a chance, saying--
"If thou canst say aught in thy behalf, speak."
"Nought that will avail, my King. I am innocent, yet cannot I make it appear. I have no friends, else might I show that I was not in Islington that day; so also might I show that at that hour they name I was above a league away, seeing I was at Wapping Old Stairs; yea more, my King, for I could show, that whilst they say I was TAKING life, I was SAVING it. A drowning boy--"
"Peace! Sheriff, name the day the deed was done!"
"At ten in the morning, or some minutes later, the first day of the New Year, most illustrious--"
"Let the prisoner go free--it is the King's will!"
Another blush followed this unregal outburst, and he covered his indecorum as well as he could by adding--
"It enrageth me that a man should be hanged upon such idle, hare-brained evidence!"
A low buzz of admiration swept through the assemblage. It was not admiration of the decree that had been delivered by Tom, for the propriety or expediency of pardoning a convicted poisoner was a thing which few there would have felt justified in either admitting or admiring--no, the admiration was for the intelligence and spirit which Tom had displayed. Some of the low-voiced remarks were to this effect--
"This is no mad king--he hath his wits sound."
"How sanely he put his questions--how like his former natural self was this abrupt imperious disposal of the matter!"
"God be thanked, his infirmity is spent! This is no weakling, but a king. He hath borne himself like to his own father."
The air being filled with applause, Tom's ear necessarily caught a little of it. The effect which this had upon him was to put him greatly at his ease, and also to charge his system with very gratifying sensations.
However, his juvenile curiosity soon rose superior to these pleasant thoughts and feelings; he was eager to know what sort of deadly mischief the woman and the little girl could have been about; so, by his command, the two terrified and sobbing creatures were brought before him.
"What is it that these have done?" he inquired of the sheriff.
"Please your Majesty, a black crime is charged upon them, and clearly proven; wherefore the judges have decreed, according to the law, that they be hanged. They sold themselves to the devil-- such is their crime."
Tom shuddered. He had been taught to abhor people who did this wicked thing. Still, he was not going to deny himself the pleasure of feeding his curiosity for all that; so he asked--
"Where was this done?--and when?"
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