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|The Prince and the Pauper||Mark Twain|
Chapter X. The Prince in the toils.
|Page 2 of 6||
The Prince looked into her face, and said gently--
"Thy son is well, and hath not lost his wits, good dame. Comfort thee: let me to the palace where he is, and straightway will the King my father restore him to thee."
"The King thy father! Oh, my child! unsay these words that be freighted with death for thee, and ruin for all that be near to thee. Shake of this gruesome dream. Call back thy poor wandering memory. Look upon me. Am not I thy mother that bore thee, and loveth thee?"
The Prince shook his head and reluctantly said--
"God knoweth I am loth to grieve thy heart; but truly have I never looked upon thy face before."
The woman sank back to a sitting posture on the floor, and, covering her eyes with her hands, gave way to heart-broken sobs and wailings.
"Let the show go on!" shouted Canty. "What, Nan!--what, Bet! mannerless wenches! will ye stand in the Prince's presence? Upon your knees, ye pauper scum, and do him reverence!"
He followed this with another horse-laugh. The girls began to plead timidly for their brother; and Nan said--
"An thou wilt but let him to bed, father, rest and sleep will heal his madness: prithee, do."
"Do, father," said Bet; "he is more worn than is his wont. Tomorrow will he be himself again, and will beg with diligence, and come not empty home again."
This remark sobered the father's joviality, and brought his mind to business. He turned angrily upon the Prince, and said--
"The morrow must we pay two pennies to him that owns this hole; two pennies, mark ye--all this money for a half-year's rent, else out of this we go. Show what thou'st gathered with thy lazy begging."
The Prince said--
"Offend me not with thy sordid matters. I tell thee again I am the King's son."
A sounding blow upon the Prince's shoulder from Canty's broad palm sent him staggering into goodwife Canty's arms, who clasped him to her breast, and sheltered him from a pelting rain of cuffs and slaps by interposing her own person. The frightened girls retreated to their corner; but the grandmother stepped eagerly forward to assist her son. The Prince sprang away from Mrs. Canty, exclaiming--
"Thou shalt not suffer for me, madam. Let these swine do their will upon me alone."
This speech infuriated the swine to such a degree that they set about their work without waste of time. Between them they belaboured the boy right soundly, and then gave the girls and their mother a beating for showing sympathy for the victim.
"Now," said Canty, "to bed, all of ye. The entertainment has tired me."
The light was put out, and the family retired. As soon as the snorings of the head of the house and his mother showed that they were asleep, the young girls crept to where the Prince lay, and covered him tenderly from the cold with straw and rags; and their mother crept to him also, and stroked his hair, and cried over him, whispering broken words of comfort and compassion in his ear the while. She had saved a morsel for him to eat, also; but the boy's pains had swept away all appetite--at least for black and tasteless crusts. He was touched by her brave and costly defence of him, and by her commiseration; and he thanked her in very noble and princely words, and begged her to go to her sleep and try to forget her sorrows. And he added that the King his father would not let her loyal kindness and devotion go unrewarded. This return to his 'madness' broke her heart anew, and she strained him to her breast again and again, and then went back, drowned in tears, to her bed.
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