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ignorant lad, and mayhap was driven hard by hunger, for these be grievous
times for the unfortunate; mark you, he hath not an evil face-but when hunger
driveth-Good woman! dost know that when one steals a thing above the value
of thirteen pence ha’penny the law saith he shall hang for it?’ The little king
started, wide-eyed with consternation, but controlled himself and held his peace;
but not so the woman. She sprang to her feet, shaking with fright and cried out:
‘Oh, good lack, what have I done! God-a-mercy, I would not hang the poor thing
for the whole world! Ah, save me from this, your worship-what shall I do, what
can I do?’ The justice maintained his judicial composure, and simply said:
‘Doubtless it is allowable to revise the value, since it is not yet writ upon the

‘Then in God’s name call the pig eightpence, and heaven bless the day that freed
my conscience of this awesome thing!’ Miles Hendon forgot all decorum in his
delight; and surprised the king and wounded his dignity by throwing his arms
around him and hugging him.

The woman made her grateful adieux and started away with her pig; and when
the constable opened the door for her, he followed her out into the narrow hall.
The justice proceeded to write in his record-book. Hendon, always alert, thought
he would like to know why the officer followed the woman out; so he slipped
softly into the dusky hall and listened. He heard a conversation to this effect: ‘It
is a fat pig, and promises good eating; I will buy it of thee; here is the
eightpence.’ ‘Eightpence, indeed! Thou’lt do no such thing. It cost me three
shillings and eightpence, good honest coin of the last reign, that old Harry that’s
just dead ne’er touched nor tampered with. A fig for thy eightpence!’ ‘Stands the
wind in that quarter? Thou wast under oath, and so swore falsely when thou
saidst the value was but eightpence. Come straightway back with me before his
worship, and answer for the crime!- and then the lad will hang.’ ‘There, there,
dear heart, say no more, I am content. Give me the eightpence, and hold thy
peace about the matter.’

The woman went off crying; Hendon slipped back into the courtroom, and the
constable presently followed, after hiding his prize in some convenient place.
The justice wrote a while longer, then read the king a wise and kindly lecture,
and sentenced him to a short imprisonment in the common jail, to be followed
by a public flogging. The astounded king opened his mouth and was probably
going to order the good judge to be beheaded on the spot; but he caught a
warning sign from Hendon, and succeeded in closing his mouth again before he
lost anything out of it. Hendon took him by the hand, now made reverence to
the justice, and the two departed in the wake of the constable toward the jail.
The moment the street was reached, the inflamed monarch halted, snatched
away his hand, and exclaimed: ‘Idiot, dost imagine I will enter a common jail
alive?’ Hendon bent down and said, somewhat sharply: ‘Will you trust in me?
Peace! and forbear to worsen our chances with dangerous speech. What God
wills, will happen; thou canst not hurry it, thou canst not alter it; therefore wait;
<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library - Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

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