NEARING four in the afternoon.
The scene was just outside
the walls of London. A cool,
comfortable, superb day, with
a brilliant sun; the kind of
day to make one want to live, not die. The multitude
was prodigious and far-reaching; and yet we fifteen
poor devils hadn't a friend in it. There was something
painful in that thought, look at it how you might.
There we sat, on our tall scaffold, the butt of the hate
and mockery of all those enemies. We were being
made a holiday spectacle. They had built a sort of
grand stand for the nobility and gentry, and these were
there in full force, with their ladies. We recognized a
good many of them.
The crowd got a brief and unexpected
dash of diversion out of the
king. The moment we were freed
of our bonds he sprang up, in
his fantastic rags, with face
bruised out of all recognition,
and proclaimed himself Arthur,
King of Britain, and denounced
the awful penalties of treason
upon every soul there present
if hair of his sacred head were
touched. It startled and surprised
him to hear them break into a
vast roar of laughter. It wounded
his dignity, and he locked himself
up in silence. then, although
the crowd begged him to go on,
and tried to provoke him to it
by catcalls, jeers, and shouts
"Let him speak!
The king! The king! his humble
and thirst for words of wisdom
out of the mouth of their master
his Serene and Sacred Raggedness!"
But it went for nothing. He
put on all his majesty and sat
under this rain of contempt and
insult unmoved. He certainly
was great in his way. Absently,
I had taken off my white bandage
and wound it about my right arm.
When the crowd noticed this,
they began upon me. They said:
this sailor-man is his minister
-- observe his
costly badge of office!"
I let them go on until they
got tired, and then I said:
"Yes, I am
his minister, The Boss; and
to-morrow you will
hear that from Camelot which
I got no further. They drowned
me out with joyous derision.
But presently there was silence;
for the sheriffs of London, in
their official robes, with their
subordinates, began to make a
stir which indicated that business
was about to begin. In the hush
which followed, our crime was
recited, the death warrant read,
then everybody uncovered while
a priest uttered a prayer.
Then a slave was blindfolded;
the hangman unslung his rope.
There lay the smooth road below
us, we upon one side of it, the
banked multitude wailing its
other side -- a good clear road,
and kept free by the police --
how good it would be to see my
five hundred horsemen come tearing
down it! But no, it was out of
the possibilities. I followed
its receding thread out into
the distance -- not a horseman
on it, or sign of one.
There was a jerk, and the slave
hung dangling; dangling and hideously
squirming, for his limbs were
A second rope was unslung,
in a moment another slave was
In a minute a third slave was
struggling in the air. It was
dreadful. I turned away my head
a moment, and when I turned back
I missed the king! They were
blindfolding him! I was paralyzed;
I couldn't move, I was choking,
my tongue was petrified. They
finished blindfolding him, they
led him under the rope. I couldn't
shake off that clinging impotence.
But when I saw them put the noose
around his neck, then everything
let go in me and I made a spring
to the rescue -- and as I made
it I shot one more glance abroad
-- by George! here they came,
a-tilting! -- five hundred mailed
and belted knights on bicycles!
The grandest sight that ever
was seen. Lord, how the plumes
streamed, how the sun flamed
and flashed from the endless
procession of webby wheels!
I waved my right arm as Launcelot
swept in -- he recognized my
rag -- I tore away noose and
bandage, and shouted:
"On your knees,
every rascal of you, and salute
Who fails shall sup in hell to-night!"
I always use that high style
when I'm climaxing an effect.
Well, it was noble to see Launcelot
and the boys swarm up onto that
scaffold and heave sheriffs and
such overboard. And it was fine
to see that astonished multitude
go down on their knees and beg
their lives of the king they
had just been deriding and insulting.
And as he stood apart there,
receiving this homage in rags,
I thought to myself, well, really
there is something peculiarly
grand about the gait and bearing
of a king, after all.
I was immensely satisfied.
Take the whole situation all
around, it was one of the gaudiest
effects I ever instigated.
And presently up comes Clarence,
his own self! and winks, and
says, very modernly:
of a surprise, wasn't it? I
knew you'd like it. I've
had the boys practicing this
long time, privately; and just
hungry for a chance to show off."