The Prince's Visit by Horace Scudder

It was a holiday in the city, for the Prince was to arrive. As soon as the cannon should sound, the people might know that the Prince had landed from the steamer; and when they should hear the bells ring, that was much the same as being told that the Mayor and Aldermen and City Councillors had welcomed the Prince, by making speeches, and shaking hands, and bowing, and drinking wine; and that now the Prince, dressed in splendid clothes, and wearing a feather in his cap, was actually on his way up the main street of the city, seated in a carriage drawn by four coal-black horses, preceded by soldiers and music, and followed by soldiers, citizens in carriages, and people on foot. Now it was the first time that a Prince had ever visited the city, and it might be the only chance that the people ever would get to see a real son of a king; and so it was universally agreed to have a holiday, and long before the bells rang, or even the cannon sounded, the people were flocking into the main street, well dressed, as indeed they ought to be, when they were to be seen by a Prince.

It was holiday in the stores and in the workshops, although the holiday did not begin at the same hour everywhere. In the great laundry it was to commence when the cannon sounded; and "weak Job," as his comrades called him, who did nothing all day long but turn the crank that worked a great washing-machine, and which was quite as much, they said, as he had wits to do, listened eagerly for the sound of the cannon; and when he heard it, he dropped the crank, and, getting a nod from the head man, shuffled out of the building and made his way home.

Since he had heard of the Prince's coming, Job had thought and dreamed of nothing else; and when he found that they were to have a holiday on his arrival, he was almost beside himself. He bought a picture of the Prince, and pinned it up on the wall over his bed; and when he came home at night, tired and hungry, he would sit down by his mother, who mended rents in the clothes brought to the laundry, and talk about the Prince until he could not keep his eyes open longer; then his mother would kiss him and send him to bed, where he knelt down and prayed the Lord to keep the Prince, and then slept and dreamed of him, dressing him in all the gorgeous colors that his poor imagination could devise, while his mother worked late in her solitary room, thinking of her only boy; and when she knelt down at night, she prayed the Lord to keep him, and then slept, dreaming also, but with various fancies; for sometimes she seemed to see Job like his dead father,—strong and handsome and brave and quick-witted,—and now she would see him playing with the children, or shuffling down the court with his head leaning on his shoulder.

To-day he hurried so fast that he was panting for want of breath when he reached the shed-like house where they lived. His mother was watching for him, and he came in nodding his head and rubbing his warm face.

"The cannon has gone off, mother," said he, in great excitement. "The Prince has come!"

"Everything is ready, Job," said his mother. "You will find all your things in a row on the bed." And Job tumbled into his room to dress himself for the holiday. Everything was there as his mother had said; all the old things renewed, and all the new things pieced together that she had worked on so long, and every stitch of which Job had overlooked and almost directed. If there had but been time to spare, how Job would have liked to turn round and round before his scrap of looking-glass; but there was no time to spare, and so in a very few minutes he was out again, and showing himself to his mother.

"Isn't it splendid!" said he, surveying himself from top to toe, and looking with special admiration on a white satin scarf that shone round his throat in dazzling contrast to the dingy coat, and which had in it an old brooch which Job treasured as the apple of his eye. Job's mother, too, looked at them both; and though she smiled and did not speak, it was only—brave woman!—because she was choking, as she thought how the satin was the last remnant of her wedding-dress, and the brooch the last trinket left of all given to her years back.

"If you would only have let me wear the feather, mother!" said Job, sorrowfully, in regretful remembrance of one he had long hoarded, and which he had begged hard to wear in his hat.

"You look splendidly, Job, and don't need it," said she, cheerfully; "and, besides, the Prince wears one, and what would he think if he saw you with one, too?"

"Sure enough," said Job, who had not thought of that before; and then he kissed her and started off, while she stood at the door looking anxiously after him. "I don't believe," said he, aloud, as he went up the court, "that the Prince would mind my wearing a feather; but mother didn't want me too. Hark! there are the bells! Yes, he has started!" And Job, forgetting all else, pushed eagerly on. It was a long way from the laundry to his home, and it was a long way, too, from his home to the main street; and so Job had no time to spare if he would get to the crowd in season to see the grand procession, for he wanted to see it all,—from the policemen, who cleared the way, to the noisy omnibuses and carts that led business once more up the holiday streets.

On he shambled, knocking against the flag-stones, and nearly precipitating himself down areas and unguarded passage-ways. He was now in a cross street, which would bring him before long into the main street, and he even thought he heard the distant music and the cheers of the crowd. His heart beat high, and his face was lighted up until it really looked, in its eagerness, as intelligent as that of other people quicker witted than poor Job. And now he had come in sight of the great thoroughfare; it was yet a good way off, but he could see the black swarms of people that lined its edges. The street he was in was quiet, so were all the cross streets, for they had been drained of life to feed the great artery of the main street. There, indeed, was life! upon the sidewalks; packed densely, flowing out in eddies into the alleys and cross streets, rising tier above tier in the shop-fronts, filling all the upper windows, and fringing even the roofs. Flags hung from house to house, and sentences of welcome were written upon strips of canvas. And if one at this moment, when weak Job was hurrying up the cross street, could have looked from some house-top down the main street, he would have seen the Prince's pageant coming nearer and nearer, and would have heard the growing tumult of brazen music, and the waves of cheers that broke along the lines.

It was a glimpse of this sight, and a note of this sound, that weak Job caught in the still street, and with new ardor, although hot and dusty, he pressed on, almost weeping at thought of the joy he was to have. "The Prince is coming," he said, aloud, in his excitement. But at the next step, Job, recklessly tumbling along, despite his weak and troublesome legs, struck something with his feet, and fell forward upon the walk. He could not stop to see what it was that so suddenly and vexatiously tripped him up, and was just moving on with a limp, when he heard behind him a groan and a cry of pain. He turned and saw what his unlucky feet had stumbled over. A poor negro boy, without home or friends, black and unsightly enough, and clad in ragged clothing, had sat down upon the sidewalk, leaning against a tree, and, without strength enough to move, had been the unwilling stumbling-block to poor Job's progress. As Job turned, the poor boy looked at him beseechingly, and stretched out his hands. But even that was an exertion, and his arms dropped by his side again. His lips moved, but no word came forth; and his eyes even closed, as if he could not longer raise the lids.

"He is sick!" said Job, and looked uneasily about. There was no one near. "Hilloa!" cried Job in distress; but no one heard except the black, who raised his eyes again to him, and essayed to move. Job started toward him.

"Hurrah! hurrah!" sounded in the distant street. The roar of the cheering beat against the houses, and at intervals came gusts of music. Poor Job trembled.

"The Prince is coming," said he; and he turned as if to run. But the poor black would not away from his eyes. "He might die while I was gone," said he, and he turned again to lift him up. "He is sick!" he said again. "I will take him home to mother!"

"Hurrah! hurrah! there he is! the Prince! the Prince!" And the dull roar of the cheering, which had been growing louder and louder, now broke into sharp ringing huzzas as the grand procession passed the head of the cross street. In the carriage drawn by four coal-black horses rode the Prince; and he was dressed in splendid clothes and wore a feather in his cap. The music flowed forth clearly and sweetly. "God save the king!" it sang, and from street and window and house-top the people shouted and waved flags. Hurrah! hurrah!

Weak Job, wiping the tears from his eyes, heard the sound from afar, but he saw no sight save the poor black whom he lifted from the ground. No sight? Yes, at that moment he did. In that quiet street, standing by the black boy, poor Job—weak Job, whom people pitied—saw a grander sight than all the crowd in the brilliant main street.

Well mightst thou stand in dumb awe, holding by the hand the helpless black, poor Job! for in that instant thou didst see with undimmed eyes a pageant such as poor mortals may but whisper,—even the Prince of Life with his attendant angels moving before thee; yes, and on thee did the Prince look with love, and in thy ears did the heavenly choir and the multitudinous voices of gathered saints sing, for of old were the words written, and now thou didst hear them spoken to thyself,—

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

"For whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me."

Weak Job, too, had seen the Prince pass.