"Who is it? WHAT is it? Who art thou, manikin?"
The boy stood unconfused in the midst of all those surprised and questioning eyes, and answered with princely dignity —
"I am Edward, King of England."
A wild burst of laughter followed, partly of derision and partly of delight in the excellence of the joke. The King was stung. He said sharply —
"Ye mannerless vagrants, is this your recognition of the royal boon I have promised?"
He said more, with angry voice and excited gesture, but it was lost in a whirlwind of laughter and mocking exclamations. 'John Hobbs' made several attempts to make himself heard above the din, and at last succeeded — saying —
"Mates, he is my son, a dreamer, a fool, and stark mad — mind him not — he thinketh he IS the King."
"I AM the King," said Edward, turning toward him, "as thou shalt know to thy cost, in good time. Thou hast confessed a murder — thou shalt swing for it."
"THOU'LT betray me? — THOU? An' I get my hands upon thee — "
"Tut-tut!" said the burley Ruffler, interposing in time to save the King, and emphasising this service by knocking Hobbs down with his fist, "hast respect for neither Kings NOR Rufflers? An' thou insult my presence so again, I'll hang thee up myself." Then he said to his Majesty, "Thou must make no threats against thy mates, lad; and thou must guard thy tongue from saying evil of them elsewhere. BE King, if it please thy mad humour, but be not harmful in it. Sink the title thou hast uttered — 'tis treason; we be bad men in some few trifling ways, but none among us is so base as to be traitor to his King; we be loving and loyal hearts, in that regard. Note if I speak truth. Now — all together: 'Long live Edward, King of England!'"
"LONG LIVE EDWARD, KING OF ENGLAND!"
The response came with such a thundergust from the motley crew that the crazy building vibrated to the sound. The little King's face lighted with pleasure for an instant, and he slightly inclined his head, and said with grave simplicity —
"I thank you, my good people."
This unexpected result threw the company into convulsions of merriment. When something like quiet was presently come again, the Ruffler said, firmly, but with an accent of good nature —
"Drop it, boy, 'tis not wise, nor well. Humour thy fancy, if thou must, but choose some other title."
A tinker shrieked out a suggestion —
"Foo-foo the First, King of the Mooncalves!"
The title 'took,' at once, every throat responded, and a roaring shout went up, of —
"Long live Foo-foo the First, King of the Mooncalves!" followed by hootings, cat-calls, and peals of laughter.
"Hale him forth, and crown him!"
These and twenty other cries broke out at once! and almost before the poor little victim could draw a breath he was crowned with a tin basin, robed in a tattered blanket, throned upon a barrel, and sceptred with the tinker's soldering-iron. Then all flung themselves upon their knees about him and sent up a chorus of ironical wailings, and mocking supplications, whilst they swabbed their eyes with their soiled and ragged sleeves and aprons —
"Be gracious to us, O sweet King!"
"Trample not upon thy beseeching worms, O noble Majesty!"
"Pity thy slaves, and comfort them with a royal kick!"
"Cheer us and warm us with thy gracious rays, O flaming sun of sovereignty!"
"Sanctify the ground with the touch of thy foot, that we may eat the dirt and be ennobled!"
"Deign to spit upon us, O Sire, that our children's children may tell of thy princely condescension, and be proud and happy for ever!"
But the humorous tinker made the 'hit' of the evening and carried off the honours. Kneeling, he pretended to kiss the King's foot, and was indignantly spurned; whereupon he went about begging for a rag to paste over the place upon his face which had been touched by the foot, saying it must be preserved from contact with the vulgar air, and that he should make his fortune by going on the highway and exposing it to view at the rate of a hundred shillings a sight. He made himself so killingly funny that he was the envy and admiration of the whole mangy rabble.
Tears of shame and indignation stood in the little monarch's eyes; and the thought in his heart was, "Had I offered them a deep wrong they could not be more cruel — yet have I proffered nought but to do them a kindness — and it is thus they use me for it!"