He had a few moments to himself, and then a slim lad of about twelve years of age was admitted to his presence, whose clothing, except his snowy ruff and the laces about his wrists, was of black,-- doublet, hose, and all. He bore no badge of mourning but a knot of purple ribbon on his shoulder. He advanced hesitatingly, with head bowed and bare, and dropped upon one knee in front of Tom. Tom sat still and contemplated him soberly a moment. Then he said--

"Rise, lad. Who art thou. What wouldst have?"

The boy rose, and stood at graceful ease, but with an aspect of concern in his face. He said--

"Of a surety thou must remember me, my lord. I am thy whipping- boy."

"My WHIPPING-boy?"

"The same, your Grace. I am Humphrey--Humphrey Marlow."

Tom perceived that here was someone whom his keepers ought to have posted him about. The situation was delicate. What should he do?--pretend he knew this lad, and then betray by his every utterance that he had never heard of him before? No, that would not do. An idea came to his relief: accidents like this might be likely to happen with some frequency, now that business urgencies would often call Hertford and St. John from his side, they being members of the Council of Executors; therefore perhaps it would be well to strike out a plan himself to meet the requirements of such emergencies. Yes, that would be a wise course--he would practise on this boy, and see what sort of success he might achieve. So he stroked his brow perplexedly a moment or two, and presently said--

"Now I seem to remember thee somewhat--but my wit is clogged and dim with suffering--"

"Alack, my poor master!" ejaculated the whipping-boy, with feeling; adding, to himself, "In truth 'tis as they said--his mind is gone--alas, poor soul! But misfortune catch me, how am I forgetting! They said one must not seem to observe that aught is wrong with him."

"'Tis strange how my memory doth wanton with me these days," said Tom. "But mind it not--I mend apace--a little clue doth often serve to bring me back again the things and names which had escaped me. (And not they, only, forsooth, but e'en such as I ne'er heard before--as this lad shall see.) Give thy business speech."

"'Tis matter of small weight, my liege, yet will I touch upon it, an' it please your Grace. Two days gone by, when your Majesty faulted thrice in your Greek--in the morning lessons,--dost remember it?"

"Y-e-s--methinks I do. (It is not much of a lie--an' I had meddled with the Greek at all, I had not faulted simply thrice, but forty times.) Yes, I do recall it, now--go on."

"The master, being wroth with what he termed such slovenly and doltish work, did promise that he would soundly whip me for it-- and--"

"Whip THEE!" said Tom, astonished out of his presence of mind. "Why should he whip THEE for faults of mine?"

"Ah, your Grace forgetteth again. He always scourgeth me when thou dost fail in thy lessons."

"True, true--I had forgot. Thou teachest me in private--then if I fail, he argueth that thy office was lamely done, and--"

"Oh, my liege, what words are these? I, the humblest of thy servants, presume to teach THEE?"

"Then where is thy blame? What riddle is this? Am I in truth gone mad, or is it thou? Explain--speak out."

"But, good your Majesty, there's nought that needeth simplifying.- -None may visit the sacred person of the Prince of Wales with blows; wherefore, when he faulteth, 'tis I that take them; and meet it is and right, for that it is mine office and my livelihood." {1}

Tom stared at the tranquil boy, observing to himself, "Lo, it is a wonderful thing,--a most strange and curious trade; I marvel they have not hired a boy to take my combings and my dressings for me-- would heaven they would!--an' they will do this thing, I will take my lashings in mine own person, giving God thanks for the change." Then he said aloud--

"And hast thou been beaten, poor friend, according to the promise?"

"No, good your Majesty, my punishment was appointed for this day, and peradventure it may be annulled, as unbefitting the season of mourning that is come upon us; I know not, and so have made bold to come hither and remind your Grace about your gracious promise to intercede in my behalf--"

"With the master? To save thee thy whipping?"

"Ah, thou dost remember!"

"My memory mendeth, thou seest.

The Prince and the Pauper Page 37

Mark Twain

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