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Chapter 15 Tom as King

  • 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."