Soon gossip and rumour were rampant across Sicily. Autolycus heard some gentlemen in tavern talking about at certain vital events they had witnessed.
"Tell me, sir, were you present at this revelation?" Autolycus asked.
"I was," said the gentleman, "I was at the opening of the casket. And I heard the Old Shepherd tell how he found it. After the amazement we were ordered out of the chamber. Only I also thought I heard the shepherd say he found not only the casket but the child too."
"I would dearly love to know the identity of its parents," Autolycus said.
"My account of this is hesitant. But I perceived in King Leontes and Camillo something more than just excitement. They seemed almost ready to sob, looking at each other in dismay. Their silence spoke volumes. Every gesture told a story. But even the wisest observer couldn't be sure if this was joy or sorrow, but it certainty provoked extreme reactions. Here comes a gentleman who should know more. Any news, Rogero?"
"Celebrations everywhere!" Rogero said. "The oracle is fulfilled- the King's daughter has been found. It's so amazing troubadours and jesters can't even sing about it! Oh, here comes Lady Paulina's steward. He can tell us more. How goes it now, sir? This news which is called true is so like a fairy story, that the truth of it is suspect. Has the King found his heir?"
"Yes," Paulina's steward said. "True, if ever truths were made true by evidence. What you will hear about will convince you. The evidence found with the child is overwhelming. The scarf of Queen Hermione, her jewel about the infant's neck, the letters written by Antigonus found with the child, and known to be in his hand. And of course the resemblance in the girl to her mother. The obvious quality of nobleness which stems from her breeding, and a host of minor things all proclaim her with certainty to be the King Leontes' daughter. Did you see the reconciliation of Leontes and Polixenes?"
"No," Rogero said anxious to hear an account of it.
"Then you missed something that had to be seen. There you would have seen one joy crown another. Sorrow was delighted to leave them! The tears of joy! the King, being ready to leap out of himself for joy at finding his daughter, sobbed for her mother and asked Polixenes for his forgiveness, and then embraced his son-in-law, then again worrying he still has his daughter hugs her even closer to him. He also thanked the Old Shepherd, who stood stunned like a sculpture from another age. I have never heard of any event that so defied and exceeded description."
"Do you know," asked Rogero, "what became of Antigonus, who took the child to Bohemia?"
"Still like a fairy story which continues even when the listeners are sleeping, he was torn to pieces by a bear. The shepherd’s son told us this and although he seems a bit simple he does have Antigonus’ ring and handkerchief. And poor Paulina has identified them."
"What became of the boat and the sailors?" the first gentleman asked.
"Wrecked the same instant Antigonus was devoured by the bear, the Old Shepherd's son saw the ship go down. All those involved in taking the child to Bohemia were lost when she was found. Oh, the turmoil of conflicting emotions that gripped Paulina! She had one eye drooped in loss and the other rejoicing that the oracle was fulfilled. She hugged the Princess close, as if to shield her from any future danger."
"The dignity of this act," said the first man, "was worth the audience of kings and princes, for such were those who saw it."
"One of the prettiest touches of all," Paulina's steward added, "and that which brought me to tears was the account of Hermione's death, and the brave manner in which she accepted her fate was recollected by the King. His daughter listened with attention until her tears, which could have been of blood, flowed. Even the most cold hearted person would have sobbed. If all the world had seen it the world would have shared the woe."
"Have they returned to the palace?" the first man asked.
"No, the princess hearing of a life-size statue of her mother in the keeping of Paulina- a piece many years in the making by Julio Romano- asked to be taken to see it. So perfect is this rendition of Hermione that the sculptor could do Nature's job. The apparent resemblance to Hermione is so amazing that anyone who knew Hermione would speak to it and expect an answer. With her cherished memory they have gone to see the statue."
"I guessed Paulina had something important afoot," Rogero said, "for she has privately visited that studio two or three times a day since the death of Hermione. Shall we complete the celebration by joining them?"
"Who would forego the chance of seeing this?" the first man said. "With every wink of the eye some new miracle unfolds. Our absence makes us lacking in knowledge. Let's go."
The gentlemen left to go the palace and already Autolycus' mind was plotting.
"Now, had I not a bit of my former life in me, would opportunity drop on my head? I brought the old man and his son to the Prince's ship. I told Florizel I had heard them talk of a casket and I know not what, since Florizel was rather attached to the Old Shepherd's daughter, as he took her to be. Oh, but as she was very seasick, and he was going that way too due to the fierce conditions, the mystery remained undiscovered. But 'tis all the same to me, for had I revealed this secret the good of it would have outshone my other discredits, and I have a reputation to keep! Look, here come those I have inadvertently rewarded. And already they are blossoming in their fortune."
"Come, boy," said the Old Shepherd, "I am past fatherhood, but your sons and daughters will all be born aristocrats."
"You are well met, sir," Clown said on seeing Autolycus. "You declined to fight with me the other day because I was not a gentleman born. Look at these clothes! Tell me you still think I’m not a gentleman born. Tell me I’m lying and we’ll see what happens."
"I know you are now, sir, a gentleman born."
"Yes, and I have been for the past four hours."
"And so have I, boy," the Old Shepherd reminded his son.
"So you have, but I was a gentleman born before my father because the King's son took me by the hand, and called me brother, and then the two kings called my father brother; and then the Prince my brother and the Princess my sister called my father father. And so we wept, and they were the first gentleman-like tears ever we shed."
"May we live, son, to shed many more."
"Aye, or else it would be hard luck, being in so preposterous a state as we are now," Clown said , meaning prosperous.
"I humbly beg you," Autolycus said, "to pardon me all the faults I committed against Your Worship and to give a good report to the Prince, my master."
"Son, do, for we must be gentle, now we are gentlemen."
"You will amend your ways?"
"Yes, if it pleases Your Worship."
"Give me your hand. I will swear to the Prince you are as honest and true as any in Bohemia."
"You may say it, but don’t swear it," the Old Shepherd said
"Not swear it, now I am a gentleman? Let peasants and soldiers say going around swearing it."
"What if it isn’t true, son?"
"If it be never false, a true gentleman may swear it on behalf of his friend and I'll swear to the Prince you are brave fellow in a fight, that you don't drink and I know that you don't fight when you are drunk, but you would be a brave chap if you were drunk. That I’ll swear."
"I will prove so in all I can, sir."
"Yes, prove you are a brave fellow by any means. If I do not wonder how you behave when you are drunk, not being a fighter, trust me not. Oh, I forgot, the kings and their heirs, our kin, are going to see the Queen's image. Come, follow us- we'll be your good masters.”
Autolycus followed them, barely able to hide a grimace.