The dinner hour drew near—yet strangely enough, the thought brought but sligh_iscomfort to Tom, and hardly any terror. The morning's experiences ha_onderfully built up his confidence; the poor little ash-cat was already mor_onted to his strange garret, after four days' habit, than a mature perso_ould have become in a full month. A child's facility in accommodating itsel_o circumstances was never more strikingly illustrated.
Let us privileged ones hurry to the great banqueting-room and have a glance a_atters there whilst Tom is being made ready for the imposing occasion. It i_ spacious apartment, with gilded pillars and pilasters, and pictured wall_nd ceilings. At the door stand tall guards, as rigid as statues, dressed i_ich and picturesque costumes, and bearing halberds. In a high gallery whic_uns all around the place is a band of musicians and a packed company o_itizens of both sexes, in brilliant attire. In the centre of the room, upo_ raised platform, is Tom's table. Now let the ancient chronicler speak:
"A gentleman enters the room bearing a rod, and along with him another bearin_ tablecloth, which, after they have both kneeled three times with the utmos_eneration, he spreads upon the table, and after kneeling again they bot_etire; then come two others, one with the rod again, the other with a salt-
cellar, a plate, and bread; when they have kneeled as the others had done, an_laced what was brought upon the table, they too retire with the sam_eremonies performed by the first; at last come two nobles, richly clothed,
one bearing a tasting-knife, who, after prostrating themselves three times i_he most graceful manner, approach and rub the table with bread and salt, wit_s much awe as if the King had been present."
So end the solemn preliminaries. Now, far down the echoing corridors we hea_ bugle-blast, and the indistinct cry, "Place for the King! Way for th_ing's most excellent majesty!" These sounds are momently repeated—they gro_earer and nearer—and presently, almost in our faces, the martial note peal_nd the cry rings out, "Way for the King!" At this instant the shinin_ageant appears, and files in at the door, with a measured march. Let th_hronicler speak again:—
"First come Gentlemen, Barons, Earls, Knights of the Garter, all richl_ressed and bareheaded; next comes the Chancellor, between two, one of whic_arries the royal sceptre, the other the Sword of State in a red scabbard,
studded with golden fleurs-de-lis, the point upwards; next comes the Kin_imself—whom, upon his appearing, twelve trumpets and many drums salute with _reat burst of welcome, whilst all in the galleries rise in their places,
crying 'God save the King!' After him come nobles attached to his person, an_n his right and left march his guard of honour, his fifty Gentleme_ensioners, with gilt battle-axes."
This was all fine and pleasant. Tom's pulse beat high, and a glad light wa_n his eye. He bore himself right gracefully, and all the more so because h_as not thinking of how he was doing it, his mind being charmed and occupie_ith the blithe sights and sounds about him—and besides, nobody can be ver_ngraceful in nicely-fitting beautiful clothes after he has grown a littl_sed to them—especially if he is for the moment unconscious of them. To_emembered his instructions, and acknowledged his greeting with a sligh_nclination of his plumed head, and a courteous "I thank ye, my good people."
He seated himself at table, without removing his cap; and did it without th_east embarrassment; for to eat with one's cap on was the one solitary roya_ustom upon which the kings and the Cantys met upon common ground, neithe_arty having any advantage over the other in the matter of old familiarit_ith it. The pageant broke up and grouped itself picturesquely, and remaine_areheaded.
Now to the sound of gay music the Yeomen of the Guard entered,—"the talles_nd mightiest men in England, they being carefully selected in thi_egard"—but we will let the chronicler tell about it:—
"The Yeomen of the Guard entered, bareheaded, clothed in scarlet, with golde_oses upon their backs; and these went and came, bringing in each turn _ourse of dishes, served in plate. These dishes were received by a gentlema_n the same order they were brought, and placed upon the table, while th_aster gave to each guard a mouthful to eat of the particular dish he ha_rought, for fear of any poison."
Tom made a good dinner, notwithstanding he was conscious that hundreds of eye_ollowed each morsel to his mouth and watched him eat it with an interes_hich could not have been more intense if it had been a deadly explosive an_as expected to blow him up and scatter him all about the place. He wa_areful not to hurry, and equally careful not to do anything whatever fo_imself, but wait till the proper official knelt down and did it for him. H_ot through without a mistake—flawless and precious triumph.
When the meal was over at last and he marched away in the midst of his brigh_ageant, with the happy noises in his ears of blaring bugles, rolling drums,
and thundering acclamations, he felt that if he had seen the worst of dinin_n public it was an ordeal which he would be glad to endure several times _ay if by that means he could but buy himself free from some of the mor_ormidable requirements of his royal office.