Hendon retired to the place indicated — it was a recess sunk in the palace wall, with a stone bench in it — a shelter for sentinels in bad weather. He had hardly seated himself when some halberdiers, in charge of an officer, passed by. The officer saw him, halted his men, and commanded Hendon to come forth. He obeyed, and was promptly arrested as a suspicious character prowling within the precincts of the palace. Things began to look ugly. Poor Miles was going to explain, but the officer roughly silenced him, and ordered his men to disarm him and search him.
"God of his mercy grant that they find somewhat," said poor Miles; "I have searched enow, and failed, yet is my need greater than theirs."
Nothing was found but a document. The officer tore it open, and Hendon smiled when he recognised the 'pot-hooks' made by his lost little friend that black day at Hendon Hall. The officer's face grew dark as he read the English paragraph, and Miles blenched to the opposite colour as he listened.
"Another new claimant of the Crown!" cried the officer. "Verily they breed like rabbits, to-day. Seize the rascal, men, and see ye keep him fast whilst I convey this precious paper within and send it to the King."
He hurried away, leaving the prisoner in the grip of the halberdiers.
"Now is my evil luck ended at last," muttered Hendon, "for I shall dangle at a rope's end for a certainty, by reason of that bit of writing. And what will become of my poor lad! — ah, only the good God knoweth."
By-and-by he saw the officer coming again, in a great hurry; so he plucked his courage together, purposing to meet his trouble as became a man. The officer ordered the men to loose the prisoner and return his sword to him; then bowed respectfully, and said —
"Please you, sir, to follow me."
Hendon followed, saying to himself, "An' I were not travelling to death and judgment, and so must needs economise in sin, I would throttle this knave for his mock courtesy."
The two traversed a populous court, and arrived at the grand entrance of the palace, where the officer, with another bow, delivered Hendon into the hands of a gorgeous official, who received him with profound respect and led him forward through a great hall, lined on both sides with rows of splendid flunkeys (who made reverential obeisance as the two passed along, but fell into death-throes of silent laughter at our stately scarecrow the moment his back was turned), and up a broad staircase, among flocks of fine folk, and finally conducted him into a vast room, clove a passage for him through the assembled nobility of England, then made a bow, reminded him to take his hat off, and left him standing in the middle of the room, a mark for all eyes, for plenty of indignant frowns, and for a sufficiency of amused and derisive smiles.
Miles Hendon was entirely bewildered. There sat the young King, under a canopy of state, five steps away, with his head bent down and aside, speaking with a sort of human bird of paradise — a duke, maybe. Hendon observed to himself that it was hard enough to be sentenced to death in the full vigour of life, without having this peculiarly public humiliation added. He wished the King would hurry about it — some of the gaudy people near by were becoming pretty offensive. At this moment the King raised his head slightly, and Hendon caught a good view of his face. The sight nearly took his breath away! — He stood gazing at the fair young face like one transfixed; then presently ejaculated —
"Lo, the Lord of the Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows on his throne!"
He muttered some broken sentences, still gazing and marvelling; then turned his eyes around and about, scanning the gorgeous throng and the splendid saloon, murmuring, "But these are REAL — verily these are REAL — surely it is not a dream."
He stared at the King again — and thought, "IS it a dream . . . or IS he the veritable Sovereign of England, and not the friendless poor Tom o' Bedlam I took him for — who shall solve me this riddle?"
A sudden idea flashed in his eye, and he strode to the wall, gathered up a chair, brought it back, planted it on the floor, and sat down in it!
A buzz of indignation broke out, a rough hand was laid upon him and a voice exclaimed —
"Up, thou mannerless clown! would'st sit in the presence of the King?"
The disturbance attracted his Majesty's attention, who stretched forth his hand and cried out —
"Touch him not, it is his right!"
The throng fell back, stupefied. The King went on —
"Learn ye all, ladies, lords, and gentlemen, that this is my trusty and well-beloved servant, Miles Hendon, who interposed his good sword and saved his prince from bodily harm and possible death — and for this he is a knight, by the King's voice. Also learn, that for a higher service, in that he saved his sovereign stripes and shame, taking these upon himself, he is a peer of England, Earl of Kent, and shall have gold and lands meet for the dignity. More — the privilege which he hath just exercised is his by royal grant; for we have ordained that the chiefs of his line shall have and hold the right to sit in the presence of the Majesty of England henceforth, age after age, so long as the crown shall endure. Molest him not."
Two persons, who, through delay, had only arrived from the country during this morning, and had now been in this room only five minutes, stood listening to these words and looking at the King, then at the scarecrow, then at the King again, in a sort of torpid bewilderment. These were Sir Hugh and the Lady Edith. But the new Earl did not see them. He was still staring at the monarch, in a dazed way, and muttering —
"Oh, body o' me! THIS my pauper! This my lunatic! This is he whom I would show what grandeur was, in my house of seventy rooms and seven-and-twenty servants! This is he who had never known aught but rags for raiment, kicks for comfort, and offal for diet! This is he whom I adopted and would make respectable! Would God I had a bag to hide my head in!"
Then his manners suddenly came back to him, and he dropped upon his knees, with his hands between the King's, and swore allegiance and did homage for his lands and titles. Then he rose and stood respectfully aside, a mark still for all eyes — and much envy, too.
Now the King discovered Sir Hugh, and spoke out with wrathful voice and kindling eye —
"Strip this robber of his false show and stolen estates, and put him under lock and key till I have need of him."
The late Sir Hugh was led away.
There was a stir at the other end of the room, now; the assemblage fell apart, and Tom Canty, quaintly but richly clothed, marched down, between these living walls, preceded by an usher. He knelt before the King, who said —
"I have learned the story of these past few weeks, and am well pleased with thee. Thou hast governed the realm with right royal gentleness and mercy. Thou hast found thy mother and thy sisters again? Good; they shall be cared for — and thy father shall hang, if thou desire it and the law consent. Know, all ye that hear my voice, that from this day, they that abide in the shelter of Christ's Hospital and share the King's bounty shall have their minds and hearts fed, as well as their baser parts; and this boy shall dwell there, and hold the chief place in its honourable body of governors, during life. And for that he hath been a king, it is meet that other than common observance shall be his due; wherefore note this his dress of state, for by it he shall be known, and none shall copy it; and wheresoever he shall come, it shall remind the people that he hath been royal, in his time, and none shall deny him his due of reverence or fail to give him salutation. He hath the throne's protection, he hath the crown's support, he shall be known and called by the honourable title of the King's Ward."
The proud and happy Tom Canty rose and kissed the King's hand, and was conducted from the presence. He did not waste any time, but flew to his mother, to tell her and Nan and Bet all about it and get them to help him enjoy the great news.