Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Talbot Baines Reed > Text of Arthur Of Brittany, The Boy Who Should Have Been King Of England

A short story by Talbot Baines Reed

Arthur Of Brittany, The Boy Who Should Have Been King Of England

Title:     Arthur Of Brittany, The Boy Who Should Have Been King Of England
Author: Talbot Baines Reed [More Titles by Reed]

The fierce storm beats down on the gloomy Norman Castle of Falaise, in a deep dungeon of which lies imprisoned the boy Prince Arthur, lawful heir to the crown of England, but now, alas! a helpless victim of the cruelty and injustice of his bad uncle, John Plantagenet, the usurper of his throne. The thunder peals so loudly, and the wind rages so angrily, that Hubert de Burgh, the warden, does not for a long time distinguish the sound of a knocking and shouting at the outer gate of the castle. Presently, however, in a lull of the wind, his ears catch the noisy summons, and he instantly gives orders to his men to let down the drawbridge, and admit the new-comers. These were three in number: one attired as a king's messenger, and mounted on a richly caparisoned horse; the other two in the garb of common men, and on foot. When they had come into the presence of the warden, the king's messenger said--

"I am charged by His Majesty King John of England to deliver to you this letter, and require your faithful discharge of its commands."

So saying, he handed to Hubert de Burgh a sealed letter, which the latter eagerly broke open and read. As he read, his face clouded. It was a long letter, and couched in vague terms, but its substance was this. That whereas the peace of England and of King John's possessions in France was constantly being disturbed by the partisans of the young Prince Arthur, desiring to see him king instead of his uncle, and taking up arms to enforce their claim, it was necessary, in order to put an end to this rebellion, that the young prince should be rendered unfit for governing; and as no people would be likely to choose a blind boy for their king, Hubert de Burgh was instructed to have Arthur's eyes put out; and the two men who had arrived with the king's messenger were come, so the letter said, to carry out this design.

Hubert de Burgh said nothing as he put by the letter, and dismissed his three visitors from his presence. Cruel man as he had been, his heart had still some pity left, and he shrank from obeying his master by so brutal an act of cruelty upon the innocent boy in his charge.

However, the order of the king was peremptory; and if the deed must be done, thought he, the sooner the better.

So he ordered the two villains to get ready their instruments, and follow him to the dungeon.

"Stay here," said he, as they reached the young prince's door, "while I enter alone and prepare him for his fate."

So those two set down their fire and the red-hot irons, and waited outside for their summons.

When Hubert entered the dungeon, the poor boy was just waking from a sleep. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, being dazzled by the light which Hubert carried in his hand.

"You are welcome," said he (for Arthur, with so few to love him, loved even his surly, though not unkind, jailor). "I have been in my dreams away in merry England, where I thought I was living in a beautiful palace, with food and servants, and rich clothing, and that there was a crown on my head. And so it shall be some day, Hubert, when I get my rights; and then because you have not been as unkind to me as some in my adversity, you shall be a great and rich man. But why look you so solemn? What ails you?"

The warden stood silent for some moments before he spoke, and then his voice was thick and hoarse.

"Prince," he said, "take your last look on the light, for you may never see it again."

The boy sprang from his bed, and seized Hubert by the knees.

"What! Are they going to kill me? Must they take away my life?"

"Not so," said Hubert; "it is not thy life that is required, but thine eyes." And as he spoke he stamped on the floor, as the signal to those two who waited without to enter.

At sight of their horrid instruments, the cords which were to bind him, and the cruel faces of the executioners, Arthur fell on his knees and implored mercy of the stubborn Hubert.

It was a strange and pitiful sight to see that weak and helpless boy kneeling, and with tears entreating that stout old warrior, whose bosom heaved and whose ringers twitched, and whose face winced, as he listened; while the two others stood motionless, grasping their irons and cords, ready for the word of command to step forward and do their cruel deed.

But the cries and entreaties of the helpless and beautiful prince prevailed. Hubert wavered and hesitated; he bade the men advance, and then bade them withhold; he looked at the prince, and he looked at the glowing irons; he pushed the suppliant from him, and then suffered him to cling to him. The executioners themselves were moved to pity, and lay down their instruments. Finally, with a mighty effort, the warden yielded, and said, "Retire, men, and take with you your tools, till I require you." Then turning to Arthur, he said, "Prince, thou shalt keep thy sight and thy life while I am by to protect thee." And the rough hand of the old warrior stroked the hair of the weeping boy as it might have been his own son's.

The answer that Hubert de Burgh sent back that day by the king's messenger was an earnest appeal for mercy on behalf of his young and now beloved charge.

But King John was a stranger to all feelings of pity, and his vengeance was quick and dreadful. Foiled of his cruel design upon the eyesight of his hapless nephew, he determined now to have his life. So he ordered him to be removed from Falaise, and the custody of the humane De Burgh, to the castle of Rouen, under whose walls flowed the waters of the River Seine. But the prince did not remain long there. One night a jailor entered his dungeon, and, waking him from his sleep, ordered him to follow him. The boy obeyed in silence, as the jailor conducted him down the winding staircase which led to the foot of the tower, beside which the Seine flowed. A boat was waiting at the bottom, in which sat two men. The torch of the jailor cast a sudden glare over the dark waters, and by its light Arthur recognised, with horror and despair, in one of the two the cruel features of his Uncle John. It was useless for him to pray and entreat; it was useless for him to struggle or cry out. They dragged him into the boat, and held him fast as she drifted under the shadow of those gloomy walls into mid stream. What happened then no one can tell; but had any listened that still, dark night, they might have heard a boy's wild cry across the waters, and then a dull, heavy splash--and that was all.

The story is that of those two, King John with his own hand did the foul deed. However that may be, Arthur of Brittany was never even heard of more.

[The end]
Talbot Baines Reed's short story: Arthur Of Brittany, The Boy Who Should Have Been King Of England