Summary and Analysis
Miles Hendon follows the tracks of the persons he is seeking part of the way through Southwark, but there all traces end. He returns to his lodgings, therefore, to rest so that he can scour the town thoroughly the next day. As he lies in bed, he decides that the prince is likely to have headed toward Hendon Hall, and he resolves to go that way, looking carefully along the way.
In the meantime, the boy who came to fetch the prince leads him through Southwark and onto the road beyond, the ruffian, the fellow who had seemed ready to join them, follows at a distance. When the prince balks at going any farther, he is told that a friend of his lies wounded in a wood ahead, news that speeds him on. He is brought to a decaying barn and the ruffian, who is actually John Canty in disguise, takes charge, making it clear that the prince is once again his prisoner.
While Canty and Hugo, the youth who brought the prince to the barn, confer, the prince withdraws to a pile of hay at the far end of the barn and falls asleep after crying over the death of his father, whom the prince loved very much. As he sleeps, the rest of the vagabonds — a grim and motley group of society's outcasts — come into the barn. Eventually their rowdiness awakens the prince, and he realizes that they have feasted and drunk a good deal. He listens as "John Hobbs," the name John Canty is now using, is brought up to date about the lives of the comrades he once had in this group before he went to live in London. Although he remains quiet, the prince is attentive and serious as he listens to the tales and hears of the ways that the laws of the land affect these people. For example, he hears about a farmer who was turned from his place, reduced to beggary, lashed through three towns, had his wife and children killed, had his ears chopped off, was whipped, and was finally sold as a slave. By this time, the prince is horrified and can keep silent no longer, and he proclaims an end to the law that allows such things to happen. When asked who he is, he answers, "with princely dignity, 'I am Edward, King of England.'"
This, of course, sets the crowd to laughing uproariously. Furthermore, everything the prince does amuses them, until a tinker in the group proclaims Edward to be "Foo-Foo the First, King of the Mooncalves! " The group crowns him with a tin basin, robes him in a tattered blanket, enthrones him upon a barrel, and gives him a soldering-iron as a scepter. They then fling themselves upon the floor before him and mock him:
"Be gracious to us, 0 sweet king!"
"Trample not upon thy beseeching worms, 0 noble majesty."
"Pity thy slaves, and comfort them with a royal kick!"
This mockery continues for some time, and the prince's eyes are filled with "tears of shame and indignation." He feels that they could not be any more cruel to him if they tried; he offered to do a kindness for them and was repaid with unjust ridicule.
Early the next morning, the troop of vagabonds sets out; it is a grey and chilly day, and the entire troop is sullen and thirsty. As the day warms, however, they become more cheerful and begin to insult those they meet along the highway. They snatch things from the hedges, but the size of the troop protects them from any reprisal. They eat a farmer's larder bare, insult his wife and daughters, bedevil the farmer and his sons, and threaten to burn the house with the family in it if any word of their passing comes to the ears of the authorities.
Late in the morning, the vagabonds reach the outskirts of a large village. The prince is sent with Hugo to steal something, but since they find no opportunity to do this, Hugo decides that they will beg instead. The prince, however, stoutly asserts that he will do no such thing, and a spirited argument follows. Before Hugo falls upon the prince to beat him, a gentleman suddenly appears. Hugo quickly instructs the prince as to how he should act and then starts moaning and reeling about; when the gentleman comes closer, Hugo sprawls on the ground. The man is very much concerned, and he is very nearly taken in by Hugo's act until the prince tells him that Hugo is a beggar and a thief. When he hears the prince confess the truth, Hugo leaps to his feet and runs away, with the gentleman following and raising a great hue and cry.
Left by himself, the prince quickly flees in the opposite direction, moving as far and as fast as he can. Several times, he stops at farm houses for food, but he is driven away before he can even make a request. He keeps moving until well after dark, when he sees a lantern by the open door of a barn. He steals into the barn, quickly hiding himself when he hears voices. While the laborers do their chores, he looks about the barn, noting the position of a stall, as well as a pile of horse blankets.
After the men leave, he creeps to the stall and arranges the blankets so that he can sleep between them. Just as he is about to doze off, however, he feels something touch him. He is frightened, but he lies there, waiting to see if anything stirs. When it does not, he begins to drop off to sleep once more — and again something touches him. This time, he slowly and cautiously reaches out. After several moments of absolute dread, the prince discovers that a calf is sharing the stall with him. His first feeling is shame for having been so frightened, but then he grows delighted at the company. As he strokes the calf's back, it occurs to him that the calf can provide warmth and comfort. Thus he snuggles up to the calf, falls asleep, and he is not disturbed, despite the moaning and whistling of the wind and the creaking and groaning of the barn.
In the morning, the prince awakens to find a rat sleeping on his chest. He takes this as a good omen; his fortunes, he reasons, can go no lower than this, so things must be about to turn for the better. A short time later, two little girls come into the barn. When they see him, they stop and look at him for a time; then they begin to discuss him. Finally, they ask who he is. He tells then that he is the king and, after a brief discussion of whether this can possibly be true, they calmly accept his word. They then bring him to their mother, who does not believe him, of course; she assumes, naturally, that he is a demented boy who has wandered away from his keepers. She tries to find out where he came from, but to no avail. The prince clearly has no idea of where the places are which she mentions. She continues trying to speak to him, describing various activities, trying to see if he has been apprenticed. But she remains disappointed, since Edward knows nothing of the things she talks about.
Finally, the good aroma in the kitchen and the prince's hunger inspire him to discourse upon a variety of fine dishes; the woman leaps to the conclusion that perhaps he has helped in a kitchen some time or other. To test her theory, she leaves him to watch the food that is cooking, suggesting that he might create a few other dishes. Recalling that King Alfred once performed a similar task, the prince agrees, and he tries his best, but the woman's experiment is a disaster.
Finally, the prince, the woman, and the two girls sit down and eat together, and Edward does not insist that they stand and serve him, since he feels that he must somehow atone for having failed the woman. For her part, she does not put him in a corner, as she would do to any other common tramp. She feels a bit guilty herself that she scolded him so harshly for his failure with the food. Neither one, however, realizes that the other has made an exception to his or her usual practice.
After the meal is finished, the woman sets the prince to washing dishes. Once again, the example of King Alfred leads him to do the job, which he finds much more difficult than he had thought that it would be. When he completes this task, he is set to paring apples, which he does so badly that he is given a knife to sharpen. Next, she gives him wool to card, and he begins to think that King Alfred's example has been followed long enough.
After the noon meal, the prince is given a basket of kittens to drown. He is about to refuse to do this task, when he sees John Canty and Hugo approaching the front gate. He takes the kittens out the back way, and leaving them in an outhouse, he hurries down a narrow lane, away from the house.
As soon as the high hedge hides him from the house, the prince runs as quickly as he can toward a woods. When he is just about to hide within its shelter, he looks back and sees two figures in the distance. He turns and races even faster into the woods and only when he is far within it does he feel that he can safely stop and rest.
Although he had planned to stay where he was the rest of the day, the chill in the air forces him to move on to keep warm. As he travels, the woods become denser, and night begins to fall. Fearing that he will be left in the open after it becomes too dark to travel, he is gladdened when he sees a light ahead. He finds a hut and looks in. It is a simple place inhabited by a hermit, a situation which the prince considers most fortunate. He knocks on the door and is invited in. When he is asked who he is, he answers simply that he is the king. The hermit welcomes him, seats him by the fire, and, pacing the floor, talks about his life as a hermit. He lapses into muttering for some moments, and then he comes over to the prince and whispers, "I am an archangel!"
Becoming more energetic, he tells the prince how he was made an archangel. Then he angrily asserts that he should have been pope, instead of a mere archangel; had it not been for the king, who cast him from his religious home, he would have become pope. He continues ranting and raving about this injustice for an hour, and the prince can only sit there, listening to the hermit's ravings. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the hermit's frenzy leaves him, and he gently tends the prince's wounds and feeds him. After the meal, the hermit puts the prince into bed and then sits by the fire, musing. When the prince is almost asleep, the hermit starts up and asks the boy if he is truly a king. When he hears that his guest is not only a king, but the King of England, and that Henry VIII is dead, a frown crosses the hermit's face, and "he clenched his bony hands with a vindictive energy."
He softly asks the boy if he knows that it was Henry who turned him and his brethren out of the monasteries. When he discovers that the prince has not heard him, that the boy has fallen asleep, the hermit smiles, listens carefully for a time, and begins searching for something. When he finds an old, rusty knife and a whetstone, he sits by the fire and begins sharpening the knife. As he sharpens it, he mutters to himself, occasionally revealing that he plans to do to the boy what he would have liked to have done to Henry VIII.
When the prince stirs, the hermit leaps to the bedside, knife upraised; then, when the boy once again resumes his deep sleep, the hermit leaves his side. Noting the time, however, he decides that it would be best if his victim did not make any noise to attract a chance passerby. Therefore, the hermit stealthily binds up his captive as he sleeps. When he is finished, the hermit again sits by the fire and softly begins to whet the knife again, mumbling and gloating to himself.
When he discovers that his victim is awake and staring at him wide-eyed, the hermit asks the prince if he has prayed. The boy struggles to get loose of his bonds, and the hermit tells him to pray his last prayer. As the day begins to dawn, the hermit kneels by the boy, knife in hand. Just as he is about to plunge the knife into Edward's body, voices are heard outside the hut, followed by a thunderous knocking on the door. A voice calls for the door to be opened, and the prince feels that there is hope once again, for the voice is that of Miles Hendon.
The hermit talks with Hendon, telling him that the boy has been sent on an errand and will return shortly. The prince tries to make some kind of noise that will attract Hendon's attention, but the hermit attributes it to a noise in a nearby grove. Finally, Hendon grows impatient and says that he would like to follow the prince and find him. The hermit decides to lead Hendon away. As soon as Hendon and the hermit leave, the door opens. In walk John Canty and Hugo, and the prince is even glad to see them.
They soon free him and, each taking an arm, hurry him through the forest.
Hugo takes some joy in finding small, unobtrusive, and "accidental" ways of making the prince uncomfortable. For example, Hugo "accidentally" steps on the prince's toes three times. The first two times, the prince ignores it; the third time, however, he seizes a cudgel and proceeds to beat Hugo with it, using his skills in weap-onry that he learned from his masters at court. This brings him high esteem from the rest of the vagabond troop. Yet they are confused by the boy's actions: he refuses to steal, he refuses to beg, and he refuses to do any work of any kind. In addition, he takes every possible opportunity to try and escape.
As a result of his trouncing, Hugo plans to get even with the prince. His first attempt is to put a "clime" — a poultice that painfully induces a rather ugly sore — on the prince's leg. Although he and a tinker, whom the prince had once held at bay with a soldering iron, manage to put the "clime" on the prince's leg, it is removed by another of the troop before it can take effect. Hugo's next plan is to pin a crime on the prince, making sure that he is captured.
In a neighboring village, Hugo looks for a good opportunity to deliver his charge over to the law, while the prince looks for a good opportunity to escape again from Hugo and the vagabond troop. Hugo's opportunity arrives first. Hugo sneaks up behind a lady, grabs a large package out of the basket she is carrying, and races back past the prince, thrusting the package into the prince's arms. The prince throws the bundle to the ground and stands there — but not for long — the woman grabs him with one hand and retrieves her package with the other. A crowd gathers and threatens the boy, calling him foul names; one of the crowd, a blacksmith, would have trounced the prince if Miles Hendon had not suddenly arrived at that very moment, taken charge of matters, and used his sword to enforce his will.
This large middle portion of the novel largely focuses on Twain's social criticism of monarchy and any other form of government in which the common man is at the mercy of dictatorial authority. In these chapters, the prince experiences the life of the lowest stratum of English society as he tries to free himself from John Canty. He must fend for himself and make his way through the English countryside, which is filled with people who are hostile to anyone whom they do not know. While he is a part of the troop of vagabonds and while he is alone, trying to fend for himself, the prince hears many tales of the cruelty of English laws and of many types of injustices throughout the land. These injustices he hears about, and witnesses, continue and will culminate and receive their greatest impact when Edward finds himself and Miles Hendon in prison in Chapter 27.
Throughout this section, there is also an emphasis by Twain on disguises. In a sense, this theme was introduced near the beginning of the novel, when the prince and the pauper exchanged clothes. Now, however, Twain focuses on the vagabonds, who use disguises in order to dupe people who have more money than they have and then, after robbing them, successfully escape from the clutches of the law. For example, John Canty is shown in this section in his disguise as a lame ruffian-beggar. Later in the chapter, a blind man casts off the patches from his "excellent eyes" and, in addition, a man with a peg leg unstraps his real leg and is revealed to be as fit as the rest of the troop. Finally, the prince is mockingly dressed — in disguise — as "Foo-Foo the First, King of the Mooncalves"; the prince, who was in disguise as a pauper, is now metamorphosed into a make-believe king.
Returning to Twain's main emphasis in this section, note particularly that when the prince is introduced to the dregs of his country's society for the first time, he sees the savage effects that his father's laws have had on ordinary citizens. Many in the vagabond band tell tales of harassment by law enforcement officers, and these tales climax with Mr. Yokel's story: Once he was a prosperous farmer, but suddenly — because he was hungry and tried to feed himself and his family — he was hunted down by the law, his wife and children are now dead, his ears are chopped off, and he was sold as a slave — all because "it [is a] crime to be hungry in England."
The prince is shocked by this recital and bursts out with the proclamation that "this day the end of that law is come!" While the proclamation shows the prince's indignation and determination to ease the suffering of his people and abolish English injustice, his attempts earn him only mockery. His anger and his disappointment at being mocked, however, suggest that he has not yet fully learned the effect of English law on the people in this stratum of society.
In Chapter 18, Twain contrasts the treatment of vagabonds as a troop and as individuals. When they are gathered together as a band, no one is willing to cross them; insults, theft, and physical discomfort to their victims are suffered without comment. However, when one of them is perceived to be a lone vagabond, the very least he can expect, as the prince finds out, to his dismay, is to be threatened with a severe beating. After he has escaped from Hugo, for instance, the prince tries to find food and shelter but because people think that he is merely another vagabond, he is chased away again and again; in fact, Edward is quite fortunate that he is only chased away and does not have to endure physical punishment.
In this same chapter, Twain also illustrates the prince's continual refusal to make no concessions to his condition or to the people who hold him captive. Not only will he not steal or beg, he will not cooperate in any way with Hugo when Hugo tries to make him steal. As an example, when Hugo effectively gulls a passerby out of some money, the prince proclaims loudly that Hugo is a vagabond and a thief. As a result, Hugo is pursued and the prince is able to escape a second time from John Canty.
Slowly, the prince begins to learn to be extremely cautious and to control his fears. When he spies a light in a barn, he approaches slowly and makes sure that he is hidden when he hears voices. Later, when he feels something suddenly touch him in the dark, he is terrified, but he controls his fears and forces himself to find out what it is that touched him. His discovery that it is only a calf is a relief, and the animal provides him with warmth for the night. Only with difficulty, though, is Edward learning to mature in the ways of the "real world." For a good number of years, he has been taught to think that he has royal rights and privileges.
One of Twain's favorite themes in his novels is the innate goodness of children, as contrasted with the fear and suspicion of adults. Here, in Chapter 19, Twain dwells on that theme. The two girls who find Edward quite readily accept his story about his past, and they believe his assertion that he is a king. Indeed, Edward finds it a great relief to pour out his tale to someone who finally accepts everything he says as true. The girls' mother, however, thinks that the boy is either mad or a liar, and she tries every possible means to discover where he is from or who he is running away from. And here one should note that the prince, for all his sterling ideals about fighting to right the wrongs of his country, is reluctant to do "common tasks." He has never had to; yet he does try to do kitchen work for the woman by rationalizing that King Alfred himself did kitchen work at one time. In this way, Edward has yet other experiences of the common life of his country — far more than he would ever have had otherwise, and thus he learns that it is much more difficult to do such a simple task as wash dishes than he would have believed; he always took such work for granted. But his willingness to perform these tasks and his failure to insist on his "royal" prerogative as king earn him better treatment than he has received since he impulsively left the palace gates. Throughout the novel, whenever Edward asserts his "prerogatives" as king, he is treated harshly; when he does not, he is treated more kindly.
In Chapter 20, Twain focuses on the prince — alone and cold, but Twain's message here is that the prince is learning to be wary of all situations; the safety of the royal apartments, where he spent his early life cannot be compared with the dangers of the countryside, especially at night. Edward is learning to fend for himself and he is earning for himself esteem and courage. And Edward needs all of his new-found courage, especially when he meets a hermit who readily accepts Edward's assertion that he is king, unfortunately, of course, the hermit is mad, and he considers himself to be an archangel — and an archangel is superior to a king, therefore, the young king is at the mercy of this mad hermit. This time, Twain's theme, or motif, of madness becomes a very real danger to young Edward.
When the prince becomes astute enough to realize that the hermit blames Edward's father, Henry VIII, for the hermit's not being pope, we are inclined to chuckle, but we, like Edward, suddenly realize that this man is dangerously mad. Yet here also, the prince is still learning about the effects of royal edicts on ordinary people of the kingdom. Historically, one should note that Edward's father, Henry VIII, did indeed proclaim a royal edict establishing the Church of England as separate from Rome and that he closed many monasteries.
When this mad monk kneels beside the prince with an upraised knife, it is only his desire to gloat an extra moment that saves the prince — because Miles Hendon, John Canty, and Hugo raise such a row that the hermit hesitates a moment too long. Yet even in his madness, the hermit is sly and he manages to lure Miles Hendon away from the hut, thus allowing John Canty and Hugo to take the prince as a prisoner once again. So, once again, the prince is at the mercy of old John Canty and the evil Hugo. This time, however, the prince's "pluck and spirit" win him the admiration of the troop of vagabonds — except for John Canty and Hugo. But the prince is finally able to retaliate against the petty harassments of Hugo, and the troop allows the prince and Hugo to fight a duel to settle their argument. Unlike Twain's other situations in which the prince is at odds with a commoner, his royal training in this instance stands him in good stead, for he has been taught to handle weapons with ease, including the single stick and quarter staff. As a result, he soundly trounces Hugo.
Despite his learning experiences, which are many and varied, the weariness, sordidness, meanness, and the vulgarity of this common life often depresses the young prince. He dreams of being back on "this throne and master again." (Likewise, in the royal apartment, Tom Canty has moments when he wishes for the freedom that he had when he was a mere pauper.) Indeed, Edward's life as a commoner depresses him so much that he thinks it might have been better to have suffered death at the hands of the mad hermit. However, he never dwells long on this self-pity, nor does he ever forget his experiences when he is finally returned to the throne.
The difficulty that the prince causes Hugo makes the villain look for ways to revenge himself on the prince. And certainly he does try, but his attempt to put a clime on the prince's leg is thwarted by another of the troop who admires the prince's spunk. But Hugo does try again, and the prince finds himself at the mercy of a mob — alone — and once again he realizes the actualities of law are quite different from law as theory. For example, because the prince is alone and has the appearance of guilt, these facts are sufficient for the mob to take the law into its own hands. And in this, one might want to note that the mob here is like the prince himself who, as regent, can always take the law into his own hands. Note, too, that when Hendon interposes himself between the prince and the mob, the prince begs Hendon to "carve me this rabble to rags!" Twain takes great pains not to idealize or sentimentalize the young prince.