The next day the foreign ambassadors came, with their gorgeous trains; an_om, throned in awful state, received them. The splendours of the scen_elighted his eye and fired his imagination at first, but the audience wa_ong and dreary, and so were most of the addresses—wherefore, what began as _leasure grew into weariness and home-sickness by-and-by. Tom said the word_hich Hertford put into his mouth from time to time, and tried hard to acqui_imself satisfactorily, but he was too new to such things, and too ill at eas_o accomplish more than a tolerable success. He looked sufficiently like _ing, but he was ill able to feel like one. He was cordially glad when th_eremony was ended.
The larger part of his day was 'wasted'—as he termed it, in his own mind—i_abours pertaining to his royal office. Even the two hours devoted to certai_rincely pastimes and recreations were rather a burden to him than otherwise, they were so fettered by restrictions and ceremonious observances. However, he had a private hour with his whipping-boy which he counted clear gain, sinc_e got both entertainment and needful information out of it.
The third day of Tom Canty's kingship came and went much as the others ha_one, but there was a lifting of his cloud in one way—he felt les_ncomfortable than at first; he was getting a little used to his circumstance_nd surroundings; his chains still galled, but not all the time; he found tha_he presence and homage of the great afflicted and embarrassed him less an_ess sharply with every hour that drifted over his head.
But for one single dread, he could have seen the fourth day approach withou_erious distress—the dining in public; it was to begin that day. There wer_reater matters in the programme—for on that day he would have to preside at _ouncil which would take his views and commands concerning the policy to b_ursued toward various foreign nations scattered far and near over the grea_lobe; on that day, too, Hertford would be formally chosen to the grand offic_f Lord Protector; other things of note were appointed for that fourth day, also; but to Tom they were all insignificant compared with the ordeal o_ining all by himself with a multitude of curious eyes fastened upon him and _ultitude of mouths whispering comments upon his performance,—and upon hi_istakes, if he should be so unlucky as to make any.
Still, nothing could stop that fourth day, and so it came. It found poor To_ow-spirited and absent-minded, and this mood continued; he could not shake i_ff. The ordinary duties of the morning dragged upon his hands, and wearie_im. Once more he felt the sense of captivity heavy upon him.
Late in the forenoon he was in a large audience-chamber, conversing with th_arl of Hertford and dully awaiting the striking of the hour appointed for _isit of ceremony from a considerable number of great officials and courtiers.
After a little while, Tom, who had wandered to a window and become intereste_n the life and movement of the great highway beyond the palace gates—and no_dly interested, but longing with all his heart to take part in person in it_tir and freedom—saw the van of a hooting and shouting mob of disorderly men, women, and children of the lowest and poorest degree approaching from up th_oad.
"I would I knew what 'tis about!" he exclaimed, with all a boy's curiosity i_uch happenings.
"Thou art the King!" solemnly responded the Earl, with a reverence. "Have _our Grace's leave to act?"
"O blithely, yes! O gladly, yes!" exclaimed Tom excitedly, adding to himsel_ith a lively sense of satisfaction, "In truth, being a king is not al_reariness—it hath its compensations and conveniences."
The Earl called a page, and sent him to the captain of the guard with th_rder—
"Let the mob be halted, and inquiry made concerning the occasion of it_ovement. By the King's command!"
A few seconds later a long rank of the royal guards, cased in flashing steel, filed out at the gates and formed across the highway in front of th_ultitude. A messenger returned, to report that the crowd were following _an, a woman, and a young girl to execution for crimes committed against th_eace and dignity of the realm.
Death—and a violent death—for these poor unfortunates! The thought wrun_om's heart-strings. The spirit of compassion took control of him, to th_xclusion of all other considerations; he never thought of the offended laws, or of the grief or loss which these three criminals had inflicted upon thei_ictims; he could think of nothing but the scaffold and the grisly fat_anging over the heads of the condemned. His concern made him even forget, for the moment, that he was but the false shadow of a king, not the substance; and before he knew it he had blurted out the command—
"Bring them here!"
Then he blushed scarlet, and a sort of apology sprung to his lips; bu_bserving that his order had wrought no sort of surprise in the Earl or th_aiting page, he suppressed the words he was about to utter. The page, in th_ost matter-of-course way, made a profound obeisance and retired backwards ou_f the room to deliver the command. Tom experienced a glow of pride and _enewed sense of the compensating advantages of the kingly office. He said t_imself, "Truly it is like what I was used to feel when I read the ol_riest's tales, and did imagine mine own self a prince, giving law and comman_o all, saying 'Do this, do that,' whilst none durst offer let or hindrance t_y will."
Now the doors swung open; one high-sounding title after another was announced, the personages owning them followed, and the place was quickly half-fille_ith noble folk and finery. But Tom was hardly conscious of the presence o_hese people, so wrought up was he and so intensely absorbed in that other an_ore interesting matter. He seated himself absently in his chair of state, and turned his eyes upon the door with manifestations of impatient expectancy; seeing which, the company forbore to trouble him, and fell to chatting _ixture of public business and court gossip one with another.
In a little while the measured tread of military men was heard approaching, and the culprits entered the presence in charge of an under-sheriff an_scorted by a detail of the king's guard. The civil officer knelt before Tom, then stood aside; the three doomed persons knelt, also, and remained so; th_uard took position behind Tom's chair. Tom scanned the prisoners curiously.
Something about the dress or appearance of the man had stirred a vague memor_n him. "Methinks I have seen this man ere now … but the when or the wher_ail me."—Such was Tom's thought. Just then the man glanced quickly up an_uickly dropped his face again, not being able to endure the awful port o_overeignty; but the one full glimpse of the face which Tom got wa_ufficient. He said to himself: "Now is the matter clear; this is th_tranger that plucked Giles Witt out of the Thames, and saved his life, tha_indy, bitter, first day of the New Year—a brave good deed—pity he hath bee_oing baser ones and got himself in this sad case … I have not forgot the day, neither the hour; by reason that an hour after, upon the stroke of eleven, _id get a hiding by the hand of Gammer Canty which was of so goodly an_dmired severity that all that went before or followed after it were bu_ondlings and caresses by comparison."
Tom now ordered that the woman and the girl be removed from the presence for _ittle time; then addressed himself to the under-sheriff, saying—
"Good sir, what is this man's offence?"
The officer knelt, and answered—
"So please your Majesty, he hath taken the life of a subject by poison."
Tom's compassion for the prisoner, and admiration of him as the daring rescue_f a drowning boy, experienced a most damaging shock.
"The thing was proven upon him?" he asked.
"Most clearly, sire."
Tom sighed, and said—
"Take him away—he hath earned his death. 'Tis a pity, for he was a brav_eart—na—na, I mean he hath the LOOK of it!"
The prisoner clasped his hands together with sudden energy, and wrung the_espairingly, at the same time appealing imploringly to the 'King' in broke_nd terrified phrases—
"O my lord the King, an' thou canst pity the lost, have pity upon me! I a_nnocent—neither hath that wherewith I am charged been more than but lamel_roved—yet I speak not of that; the judgment is gone forth against me and ma_ot suffer alteration; yet in mine extremity I beg a boon, for my doom is mor_han I can bear. A grace, a grace, my lord the King! in thy royal compassio_rant my prayer—give commandment that I be hanged!"
Tom was amazed. This was not the outcome he had looked for.
"Odds my life, a strange BOON! Was it not the fate intended thee?"
"O good my liege, not so! It is ordered that I be BOILED ALIVE!"
The hideous surprise of these words almost made Tom spring from his chair. A_oon as he could recover his wits he cried out—
"Have thy wish, poor soul! an' thou had poisoned a hundred men thou shoulds_ot suffer so miserable a death."
The prisoner bowed his face to the ground and burst into passionat_xpressions of gratitude—ending with—
"If ever thou shouldst know misfortune—which God forefend!—may thy goodness t_e this day be remembered and requited!"
Tom turned to the Earl of Hertford, and said—
"My lord, is it believable that there was warrant for this man's ferociou_oom?"
"It is the law, your Grace—for poisoners. In Germany coiners be boiled t_eath in OIL—not cast in of a sudden, but by a rope let down into the oil b_egrees, and slowly; first the feet, then the legs, then—"
"O prithee no more, my lord, I cannot bear it!" cried Tom, covering his eye_ith his hands to shut out the picture. "I beseech your good lordship tha_rder be taken to change this law—oh, let no more poor creatures be visite_ith its tortures."
The Earl's face showed profound gratification, for he was a man of mercifu_nd generous impulses—a thing not very common with his class in that fierc_ge. He said—
"These your Grace's noble words have sealed its doom. History will remembe_t to the honour of your royal house."
The under-sheriff was about to remove his prisoner; Tom gave him a sign t_ait; then he said—
"Good sir, I would look into this matter further. The man has said his dee_as but lamely proved. Tell me what thou knowest."
"If the King's grace please, it did appear upon the trial that this ma_ntered into a house in the hamlet of Islington where one lay sick—thre_itnesses say it was at ten of the clock in the morning, and two say it wa_ome minutes later—the sick man being alone at the time, and sleeping—an_resently the man came forth again and went his way. The sick man died withi_he hour, being torn with spasms and retchings."
"Did any see the poison given? Was poison found?"
"Marry, no, my liege."
"Then how doth one know there was poison given at all?"
"Please your Majesty, the doctors testified that none die with such symptom_ut by poison."
Weighty evidence, this, in that simple age. Tom recognised its formidabl_ature, and said—
"The doctor knoweth his trade—belike they were right. The matter hath an ill- look for this poor man."
"Yet was not this all, your Majesty; there is more and worse. Many testifie_hat a witch, since gone from the village, none know whither, did foretell, and speak it privately in their ears, that the sick man WOULD DIE B_OISON—and more, that a stranger would give it—a stranger with brown hair an_lothed in a worn and common garb; and surely this prisoner doth answe_oundily to the bill. Please your Majesty to give the circumstance tha_olemn weight which is its due, seeing it was FORETOLD."
This was an argument of tremendous force in that superstitious day. Tom fel_hat the thing was settled; if evidence was worth anything, this poor fellow'_uilt was proved. Still he offered the prisoner a chance, saying—
"If thou canst say aught in thy behalf, speak."
"Nought that will avail, my King. I am innocent, yet cannot I make it appear.
I have no friends, else might I show that I was not in Islington that day; s_lso might I show that at that hour they name I was above a league away, seeing I was at Wapping Old Stairs; yea more, my King, for I could show, tha_hilst they say I was TAKING life, I was SAVING it. A drowning boy—"
"Peace! Sheriff, name the day the deed was done!"
"At ten in the morning, or some minutes later, the first day of the New Year, most illustrious—"
"Let the prisoner go free—it is the King's will!"
Another blush followed this unregal outburst, and he covered his indecorum a_ell as he could by adding—
"It enrageth me that a man should be hanged upon such idle, hare-braine_vidence!"
A low buzz of admiration swept through the assemblage. It was not admiratio_f the decree that had been delivered by Tom, for the propriety or expedienc_f pardoning a convicted poisoner was a thing which few there would have fel_ustified in either admitting or admiring—no, the admiration was for th_ntelligence and spirit which Tom had displayed. Some of the low-voice_emarks were to this effect—
"This is no mad king—he hath his wits sound."
"How sanely he put his questions—how like his former natural self was thi_brupt imperious disposal of the matter!"
"God be thanked, his infirmity is spent! This is no weakling, but a king. H_ath borne himself like to his own father."
The air being filled with applause, Tom's ear necessarily caught a little o_t. The effect which this had upon him was to put him greatly at his ease, and also to charge his system with very gratifying sensations.
However, his juvenile curiosity soon rose superior to these pleasant thought_nd feelings; he was eager to know what sort of deadly mischief the woman an_he little girl could have been about; so, by his command, the two terrifie_nd sobbing creatures were brought before him.
"What is it that these have done?" he inquired of the sheriff.
"Please your Majesty, a black crime is charged upon them, and clearly proven; wherefore the judges have decreed, according to the law, that they be hanged.
They sold themselves to the devil—such is their crime."
Tom shuddered. He had been taught to abhor people who did this wicked thing.
Still, he was not going to deny himself the pleasure of feeding his curiosit_or all that; so he asked—
"Where was this done?—and when?"
"On a midnight in December, in a ruined church, your Majesty."
Tom shuddered again.
"Who was there present?"
"Only these two, your grace—and THAT OTHER."
"Have these confessed?"
"Nay, not so, sire—they do deny it."
"Then prithee, how was it known?"
"Certain witness did see them wending thither, good your Majesty; this bre_he suspicion, and dire effects have since confirmed and justified it. I_articular, it is in evidence that through the wicked power so obtained, the_id invoke and bring about a storm that wasted all the region round about.
Above forty witnesses have proved the storm; and sooth one might have had _housand, for all had reason to remember it, sith all had suffered by it."
"Certes this is a serious matter." Tom turned this dark piece of scoundrelis_ver in his mind a while, then asked—
"Suffered the woman also by the storm?"
Several old heads among the assemblage nodded their recognition of the wisdo_f this question. The sheriff, however, saw nothing consequential in th_nquiry; he answered, with simple directness—
"Indeed did she, your Majesty, and most righteously, as all aver. He_abitation was swept away, and herself and child left shelterless."
"Methinks the power to do herself so ill a turn was dearly bought. She ha_een cheated, had she paid but a farthing for it; that she paid her soul, an_er child's, argueth that she is mad; if she is mad she knoweth not what sh_oth, therefore sinneth not."
The elderly heads nodded recognition of Tom's wisdom once more, and on_ndividual murmured, "An' the King be mad himself, according to report, the_s it a madness of a sort that would improve the sanity of some I wot of, i_y the gentle providence of God they could but catch it."
"What age hath the child?" asked Tom.
"Nine years, please your Majesty."
"By the law of England may a child enter into covenant and sell itself, m_ord?" asked Tom, turning to a learned judge.
"The law doth not permit a child to make or meddle in any weighty matter, goo_y liege, holding that its callow wit unfitteth it to cope with the riper wi_nd evil schemings of them that are its elders. The DEVIL may buy a child, i_e so choose, and the child agree thereto, but not an Englishman—in thi_atter case the contract would be null and void."
"It seemeth a rude unchristian thing, and ill contrived, that English la_enieth privileges to Englishmen to waste them on the devil!" cried Tom, wit_onest heat.
This novel view of the matter excited many smiles, and was stored away in man_eads to be repeated about the Court as evidence of Tom's originality as wel_s progress toward mental health.
The elder culprit had ceased from sobbing, and was hanging upon Tom's word_ith an excited interest and a growing hope. Tom noticed this, and i_trongly inclined his sympathies toward her in her perilous and unfriende_ituation. Presently he asked—
"How wrought they to bring the storm?"
"BY PULLING OFF THEIR STOCKINGS, sire."
This astonished Tom, and also fired his curiosity to fever heat. He said, eagerly—
"It is wonderful! Hath it always this dread effect?"
"Always, my liege—at least if the woman desire it, and utter the needfu_ords, either in her mind or with her tongue."
Tom turned to the woman, and said with impetuous zeal—
"Exert thy power—I would see a storm!"
There was a sudden paling of cheeks in the superstitious assemblage, and _eneral, though unexpressed, desire to get out of the place—all of which wa_ost upon Tom, who was dead to everything but the proposed cataclysm. Seein_ puzzled and astonished look in the woman's face, he added, excitedly—
"Never fear—thou shalt be blameless. More—thou shalt go free—none shall touc_hee. Exert thy power."
"Oh, my lord the King, I have it not—I have been falsely accused."
"Thy fears stay thee. Be of good heart, thou shalt suffer no harm. Make _torm—it mattereth not how small a one—I require nought great or harmful, bu_ndeed prefer the opposite—do this and thy life is spared—thou shalt go ou_ree, with thy child, bearing the King's pardon, and safe from hurt or malic_rom any in the realm."
The woman prostrated herself, and protested, with tears, that she had no powe_o do the miracle, else she would gladly win her child's life alone, and b_ontent to lose her own, if by obedience to the King's command so precious _race might be acquired.
Tom urged—the woman still adhered to her declarations. Finally he said—
"I think the woman hath said true. An' MY mother were in her place and gifte_ith the devil's functions, she had not stayed a moment to call her storms an_ay the whole land in ruins, if the saving of my forfeit life were the pric_he got! It is argument that other mothers are made in like mould. Thou ar_ree, goodwife—thou and thy child—for I do think thee innocent. NOW thou's_ought to fear, being pardoned—pull off thy stockings!—an' thou canst make m_ storm, thou shalt be rich!"
The redeemed creature was loud in her gratitude, and proceeded to obey, whils_om looked on with eager expectancy, a little marred by apprehension; th_ourtiers at the same time manifesting decided discomfort and uneasiness. Th_oman stripped her own feet and her little girl's also, and plainly did he_est to reward the King's generosity with an earthquake, but it was all _ailure and a disappointment. Tom sighed, and said—
"There, good soul, trouble thyself no further, thy power is departed out o_hee. Go thy way in peace; and if it return to thee at any time, forget m_ot, but fetch me a storm."