Meantime Miles was growing sufficiently tired of confinement and inaction.
But now his trial came on, to his great gratification, and he thought he coul_elcome any sentence provided a further imprisonment should not be a part o_t. But he was mistaken about that. He was in a fine fury when he foun_imself described as a 'sturdy vagabond' and sentenced to sit two hours in th_tocks for bearing that character and for assaulting the master of Hendo_all. His pretensions as to brothership with his prosecutor, and rightfu_eirship to the Hendon honours and estates, were left contemptuousl_nnoticed, as being not even worth examination.
He raged and threatened on his way to punishment, but it did no good; he wa_natched roughly along by the officers, and got an occasional cuff, besides,
for his irreverent conduct.
The King could not pierce through the rabble that swarmed behind; so he wa_bliged to follow in the rear, remote from his good friend and servant. Th_ing had been nearly condemned to the stocks himself for being in such ba_ompany, but had been let off with a lecture and a warning, in consideratio_f his youth. When the crowd at last halted, he flitted feverishly from poin_o point around its outer rim, hunting a place to get through; and at last,
after a deal of difficulty and delay, succeeded. There sat his poor henchma_n the degrading stocks, the sport and butt of a dirty mob—he, the bod_ervant of the King of England! Edward had heard the sentence pronounced, bu_e had not realised the half that it meant. His anger began to rise as th_ense of this new indignity which had been put upon him sank home; it jumpe_o summer heat, the next moment, when he saw an egg sail through the air an_rush itself against Hendon's cheek, and heard the crowd roar its enjoyment o_he episode. He sprang across the open circle and confronted the officer i_harge, crying—
"For shame! This is my servant—set him free! I am the—"
"Oh, peace!" exclaimed Hendon, in a panic, "thou'lt destroy thyself. Mind hi_ot, officer, he is mad."
"Give thyself no trouble as to the matter of minding him, good man, I hav_mall mind to mind him; but as to teaching him somewhat, to that I am wel_nclined." He turned to a subordinate and said, "Give the little fool a tast_r two of the lash, to mend his manners."
"Half a dozen will better serve his turn," suggested Sir Hugh, who had ridde_p, a moment before, to take a passing glance at the proceedings.
The King was seized. He did not even struggle, so paralysed was he with th_ere thought of the monstrous outrage that was proposed to be inflicted upo_is sacred person. History was already defiled with the record of th_courging of an English king with whips—it was an intolerable reflection tha_e must furnish a duplicate of that shameful page. He was in the toils, ther_as no help for him; he must either take this punishment or beg for it_emission. Hard conditions; he would take the stripes—a king might do that,
but a king could not beg.
But meantime, Miles Hendon was resolving the difficulty. "Let the child go,"
said he; "ye heartless dogs, do ye not see how young and frail he is? Let hi_o—I will take his lashes."
"Marry, a good thought—and thanks for it," said Sir Hugh, his face lightin_ith a sardonic satisfaction. "Let the little beggar go, and give this fello_ dozen in his place—an honest dozen, well laid on." The King was in the ac_f entering a fierce protest, but Sir Hugh silenced him with the poten_emark, "Yes, speak up, do, and free thy mind—only, mark ye, that for eac_ord you utter he shall get six strokes the more."
Hendon was removed from the stocks, and his back laid bare; and whilst th_ash was applied the poor little King turned away his face and allowed unroya_ears to channel his cheeks unchecked. "Ah, brave good heart," he said t_imself, "this loyal deed shall never perish out of my memory. I will no_orget it—and neither shall THEY!" he added, with passion. Whilst he mused,
his appreciation of Hendon's magnanimous conduct grew to greater and stil_reater dimensions in his mind, and so also did his gratefulness for it.
Presently he said to himself, "Who saves his prince from wounds and possibl_eath—and this he did for me—performs high service; but it is little—it i_othing—oh, less than nothing!—when 'tis weighed against the act of him wh_aves his prince from SHAME!"
Hendon made no outcry under the scourge, but bore the heavy blows wit_oldierly fortitude. This, together with his redeeming the boy by taking hi_tripes for him, compelled the respect of even that forlorn and degraded mo_hat was gathered there; and its gibes and hootings died away, and no soun_emained but the sound of the falling blows. The stillness that pervaded th_lace, when Hendon found himself once more in the stocks, was in stron_ontrast with the insulting clamour which had prevailed there so little _hile before. The King came softly to Hendon's side, and whispered in hi_ar—
"Kings cannot ennoble thee, thou good, great soul, for One who is higher tha_ings hath done that for thee; but a king can confirm thy nobility to men."
He picked up the scourge from the ground, touched Hendon's bleeding shoulder_ightly with it, and whispered, "Edward of England dubs thee Earl!"
Hendon was touched. The water welled to his eyes, yet at the same time th_risly humour of the situation and circumstances so undermined his gravit_hat it was all he could do to keep some sign of his inward mirth from showin_utside. To be suddenly hoisted, naked and gory, from the common stocks t_he Alpine altitude and splendour of an Earldom, seemed to him the las_ossibility in the line of the grotesque. He said to himself, "Now am _inely tinselled, indeed! The spectre-knight of the Kingdom of Dreams an_hadows is become a spectre-earl—a dizzy flight for a callow wing! An' thi_o on, I shall presently be hung like a very maypole with fantastic gauds an_ake-believe honours. But I shall value them, all valueless as they are, fo_he love that doth bestow them. Better these poor mock dignities of mine, tha_ome unasked, from a clean hand and a right spirit, than real ones bought b_ervility from grudging and interested power."
The dreaded Sir Hugh wheeled his horse about, and as he spurred away, th_iving wall divided silently to let him pass, and as silently closed togethe_gain. And so remained; nobody went so far as to venture a remark in favou_f the prisoner, or in compliment to him; but no matter—the absence of abus_as a sufficient homage in itself. A late comer who was not posted as to th_resent circumstances, and who delivered a sneer at the 'impostor,' and was i_he act of following it with a dead cat, was promptly knocked down and kicke_ut, without any words, and then the deep quiet resumed sway once more.