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Chapter 15


Chapter XV. Tom as King.

The next day the foreign ambassadors came, with their gorgeous
trains; and Tom, throned in awful state, received them.  The
splendours of the scene delighted his eye and fired his
imagination at first, but the audience was long and dreary, and so
were most of the addresses--wherefore, what began as a pleasure
grew into weariness and home-sickness by-and-by.  Tom said the
words which Hertford put into his mouth from time to time, and
tried hard to acquit himself satisfactorily, but he was too new to
such things, and too ill at ease to accomplish more than a
tolerable success.  He looked sufficiently like a king, but he was
ill able to feel like one.  He was cordially glad when the
ceremony was ended.

The larger part of his day was 'wasted'--as he termed it, in his
own mind--in labours pertaining to his royal office.  Even the two
hours devoted to certain princely 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,
since he got both entertainment and needful information out of it.

The third day of Tom Canty's kingship came and went much as the
others had done, but there was a lifting of his cloud in one way--
he felt less uncomfortable than at first; he was getting a little
used to his circumstances and surroundings; his chains still
galled, but not all the time; he found that the presence and
homage of the great afflicted and embarrassed him less and less
sharply with every hour that drifted over his head.

But for one single dread, he could have seen the fourth day
approach without serious distress--the dining in public; it was to
begin that day.  There were greater matters in the programme--for
on that day he would have to preside at a council which would take
his views and commands concerning the policy to be pursued toward
various foreign nations scattered far and near over the great
globe; on that day, too, Hertford would be formally chosen to the
grand office of Lord Protector; other things of note were
appointed for that fourth day, also; but to Tom they were all
insignificant compared with the ordeal of dining all by himself
with a multitude of curious eyes fastened upon him and a multitude
of mouths whispering comments upon his performance,--and upon his
mistakes, if he should be so unlucky as to make any.

Still, nothing could stop that fourth day, and so it came.  It
found poor Tom low-spirited and absent-minded, and this mood
continued; he could not shake it off.  The ordinary duties of the
morning dragged upon his hands, and wearied him.  Once more he
felt the sense of captivity heavy upon him.

Late in the forenoon he was in a large audience-chamber,
conversing with the Earl of Hertford and dully awaiting the
striking of the hour appointed for a visit of ceremony from a
considerable number of great officials and courtiers.

After a little while, Tom, who had wandered to a window and become
interested in the life and movement of the great highway beyond
the palace gates--and not idly interested, but longing with all
his heart to take part in person in its stir 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 the
road.

"I would I knew what 'tis about!" he exclaimed, with all a boy's
curiosity in such happenings.

"Thou art the King!" solemnly responded the Earl, with a
reverence.  "Have I your Grace's leave to act?"

"O blithely, yes!  O gladly, yes!" exclaimed Tom excitedly, adding
to himself with a lively sense of satisfaction, "In truth, being a
king is not all dreariness--it hath its compensations and
conveniences."

The Earl called a page, and sent him to the captain of the guard
with the order--

"Let the mob be halted, and inquiry made concerning the occasion
of its movement.  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 the multitude.  A messenger returned, to
report that the crowd were following a man, a woman, and a young
girl to execution for crimes committed against the peace and
dignity of the realm.

Death--and a violent death--for these poor unfortunates!  The
thought wrung Tom's heart-strings.  The spirit of compassion took
control of him, to the exclusion of all other considerations; he
never thought of the offended laws, or of the grief or loss which
these three criminals had inflicted upon their victims; he could
think of nothing but the scaffold and the grisly fate hanging 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;
but observing that his order had wrought no sort of surprise in
the Earl or the waiting page, he suppressed the words he was about
to utter.  The page, in the most matter-of-course way, made a
profound obeisance and retired backwards out of the room to
deliver the command.  Tom experienced a glow of pride and a
renewed sense of the compensating advantages of the kingly office.
He said to himself, "Truly it is like what I was used to feel when
I read the old priest's tales, and did imagine mine own self a
prince, giving law and command to all, saying 'Do this, do that,'
whilst none durst offer let or hindrance to my 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-filled with noble folk and finery.  But Tom was
hardly conscious of the presence of these people, so wrought up
was he and so intensely absorbed in that other and more
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 a mixture 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 and escorted 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; the guard took position
behind Tom's chair.  Tom scanned the prisoners curiously.
Something about the dress or appearance of the man had stirred a
vague memory in him.  "Methinks I have seen this man ere now . . .
but the when or the where fail me"--such was Tom's thought.  Just
then the man glanced quickly up and quickly dropped his face
again, not being able to endure the awful port of sovereignty; but
the one full glimpse of the face which Tom got was sufficient.  He
said to himself:  "Now is the matter clear; this is the stranger
that plucked Giles Witt out of the Thames, and saved his life,
that windy, bitter, first day of the New Year--a brave good deed--
pity he hath been doing 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, I did get a hiding
by the hand of Gammer Canty which was of so goodly and admired
severity that all that went before or followed after it were but
fondlings and caresses by comparison."

Tom now ordered that the woman and the girl be removed from the
presence for a little 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 rescuer of 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 brave heart--na--na, I mean he hath the LOOK of it!"

The prisoner clasped his hands together with sudden energy, and
wrung them despairingly, at the same time appealing imploringly to
the 'King' in broken and terrified phrases--

"O my lord the King, an' thou canst pity the lost, have pity upon
me!  I am innocent--neither hath that wherewith I am charged been
more than but lamely proved--yet I speak not of that; the judgment
is gone forth against me and may not suffer alteration; yet in
mine extremity I beg a boon, for my doom is more than I can bear.
A grace, a grace, my lord the King! in thy royal compassion grant
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.  As soon as he could recover his wits he cried out--

"Have thy wish, poor soul! an' thou had poisoned a hundred men
thou shouldst not suffer so miserable a death."

The prisoner bowed his face to the ground and burst into
passionate expressions of gratitude--ending with--

"If ever thou shouldst know misfortune--which God forefend!--may
thy goodness to me 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
ferocious doom?"

"It is the law, your Grace--for poisoners.  In Germany coiners be
boiled to death in OIL--not cast in of a sudden, but by a rope let
down into the oil by degrees, and slowly; first the feet, then the
legs, then--"

"O prithee no more, my lord, I cannot bear it!" cried Tom,
covering his eyes with his hands to shut out the picture.  "I
beseech your good lordship that order be taken to change this law-
-oh, let no more poor creatures be visited with its tortures."

The Earl's face showed profound gratification, for he was a man of
merciful and generous impulses--a thing not very common with his
class in that fierce age.  He said--

"These your Grace's noble words have sealed its doom.  History
will remember it to the honour of your royal house."

The under-sheriff was about to remove his prisoner; Tom gave him a
sign to wait; then he said--

"Good sir, I would look into this matter further.  The man has
said his deed was but lamely proved.  Tell me what thou knowest."

"If the King's grace please, it did appear upon the trial that
this man entered into a house in the hamlet of Islington where one
lay sick--three witnesses say it was at ten of the clock in the
morning, and two say it was some minutes later--the sick man being
alone at the time, and sleeping--and presently the man came forth
again and went his way.  The sick man died within the 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 symptoms but by poison."

Weighty evidence, this, in that simple age.  Tom recognised its
formidable nature, 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 testified that 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 BY POISON--and more, that a stranger
would give it--a stranger with brown hair and clothed in a worn
and common garb; and surely this prisoner doth answer woundily to
the bill.  Please your Majesty to give the circumstance that
solemn weight which is its due, seeing it was FORETOLD."

This was an argument of tremendous force in that superstitious
day.  Tom felt that the thing was settled; if evidence was worth
anything, this poor fellow's guilt 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; so also 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, that whilst 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 as well as he could by adding--

"It enrageth me that a man should be hanged upon such idle, hare-
brained evidence!"

A low buzz of admiration swept through the assemblage.  It was not
admiration of the decree that had been delivered by Tom, for the
propriety or expediency of pardoning a convicted poisoner was a
thing which few there would have felt justified in either
admitting or admiring--no, the admiration was for the intelligence
and spirit which Tom had displayed.  Some of the low-voiced
remarks 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 this abrupt imperious disposal of the matter!"

"God be thanked, his infirmity is spent!  This is no weakling, but
a king.  He hath borne himself like to his own father."

The air being filled with applause, Tom's ear necessarily caught a
little of it.  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 thoughts and feelings; he was eager to know what sort of
deadly mischief the woman and the little girl could have been
about; so, by his command, the two terrified and 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 curiosity for 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 bred the suspicion, and dire effects have since confirmed and
justified it.  In particular, it is in evidence that through the
wicked power so obtained, they did 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 a thousand,
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
scoundrelism over 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 wisdom of this question.  The sheriff, however, saw nothing
consequential in the inquiry; he answered, with simple directness-
-

"Indeed did she, your Majesty, and most righteously, as all aver.
Her habitation was swept away, and herself and child left
shelterless."

"Methinks the power to do herself so ill a turn was dearly bought.
She had been cheated, had she paid but a farthing for it; that she
paid her soul, and her child's, argueth that she is mad; if she is
mad she knoweth not what she doth, therefore sinneth not."

The elderly heads nodded recognition of Tom's wisdom once more,
and one individual murmured, "An' the King be mad himself,
according to report, then is it a madness of a sort that would
improve the sanity of some I wot of, if by 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, my lord?" asked Tom, turning to a learned judge.

"The law doth not permit a child to make or meddle in any weighty
matter, good my liege, holding that its callow wit unfitteth it to
cope with the riper wit and evil schemings of them that are its
elders.  The DEVIL may buy a child, if he so choose, and the child
agree thereto, but not an Englishman--in this latter case the
contract would be null and void."

"It seemeth a rude unchristian thing, and ill contrived, that
English law denieth privileges to Englishmen to waste them on the
devil!" cried Tom, with honest heat.

This novel view of the matter excited many smiles, and was stored
away in many heads to be repeated about the Court as evidence of
Tom's originality as well as progress toward mental health.

The elder culprit had ceased from sobbing, and was hanging upon
Tom's words with an excited interest and a growing hope.  Tom
noticed this, and it strongly inclined his sympathies toward her
in her perilous and unfriended situation.  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
needful words, 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 a general, though unexpressed, desire to get out
of the place--all of which was lost upon Tom, who was dead to
everything but the proposed cataclysm.  Seeing a 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 touch thee.  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 a storm--it mattereth not how small a one--I require
nought great or harmful, but indeed prefer the opposite--do this
and thy life is spared--thou shalt go out free, with thy child,
bearing the King's pardon, and safe from hurt or malice from any
in the realm."

The woman prostrated herself, and protested, with tears, that she
had no power to do the miracle, else she would gladly win her
child's life alone, and be content to lose her own, if by
obedience to the King's command so precious a grace 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 gifted with the devil's functions, she had not stayed a
moment to call her storms and lay the whole land in ruins, if the
saving of my forfeit life were the price she got!  It is argument
that other mothers are made in like mould.  Thou art free,
goodwife--thou and thy child--for I do think thee innocent.  NOW
thou'st nought to fear, being pardoned--pull off thy stockings!--
an' thou canst make me a storm, thou shalt be rich!"

The redeemed creature was loud in her gratitude, and proceeded to
obey, whilst Tom looked on with eager expectancy, a little marred
by apprehension; the courtiers at the same time manifesting
decided discomfort and uneasiness.  The woman stripped her own
feet and her little girl's also, and plainly did her best to
reward the King's generosity with an earthquake, but it was all a
failure and a disappointment.  Tom sighed, and said--

"There, good soul, trouble thyself no further, thy power is
departed out of thee.  Go thy way in peace; and if it return to
thee at any time, forget me not, but fetch me a storm." {13}


Mark Twain