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when he should be left to himself. He also noted the position of a pile of horse-
blankets, midway of the route, with the intent to levy upon them for the service
of the crown of England for one night.

By and by the men finished and went away, fastening the door behind them and
taking the lantern with them. The shivering king made for the blankets, with as
good speed as the darkness would allow; gathered them up and then groped his
way safely to the stall. Of two of the blankets he made a bed, then covered
himself with the remaining two. He was a glad monarch now, though the
blankets were old and thin, and not quite warm enough; and besides gave out a
pungent horsy odor that was almost suffocatingly powerful.

Although the king was hungry and chilly, he was also so tired and so drowsy
that these latter influences soon began to get the advantage of the former, and he
presently dozed off into a state of semi-consciousness. Then, just as he was on
the point of losing himself wholly, he distinctly felt something touch him. He
was broad awake in a moment, and gasping for breath. The cold horror of that
mysterious touch in the dark almost made his heart stand still. He lay
motionless, and listened, scarcely breathing. But nothing stirred, and there was
no sound. He continued to listen, and wait, during what seemed a long time, but
still nothing stirred, and there was no sound. So he began to drop into a drowse
once more at last; and all at once he felt that mysterious touch again! It was a
grisly thing, this light touch from this noiseless and invisible presence; it made
the boy sick with ghostly fears. What should he do? That was the question; but
he did not know how to answer it. Should he leave these reasonably comfortable
quarters and fly from this inscrutable horror? But fly whither? He could not get
out of the barn; and the idea of scurrying blindly hither and thither in the dark,
within the captivity of the four walls, with this phantom gliding after him, and
visiting him with that soft hideous touch upon cheek or shoulder at every turn,
was intolerable. But to stay where he was, and endure this living death all night-
was that better? No.

What, then, was there left to do? Ah, there was but one course; he knew it wellhe
must put out his hand and find that thing!

It was easy to think this; but it was hard to brace himself up to try it. Three times
he stretched his hand a little way out into the dark gingerly; and snatched it
suddenly back, with a gasp-not because it had encountered anything, but
because he had felt so sure it was just going to. But the fourth time he groped a
little further, and his hand lightly swept against something soft and warm. This
petrified him nearly with fright-his mind was in such a state that he could
imagine the thing to be nothing else than a corpse, newly dead and still warm.
He thought he would rather die than touch it again. But he thought this false
thought because he did not know the immortal strength of human curiosity. In
no long time his hand was tremblingly groping again-against his judgment, and
without his consentbut groping persistently on, just the same. It encountered a
bunch of long hair; he shuddered, but followed up the hair and found what
<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library - Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

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