Chapter 7





Chapter VII. Tom's first royal dinner.

Somewhat after one in the afternoon, Tom resignedly underwent the
ordeal of being dressed for dinner.  He found himself as finely
clothed as before, but everything different, everything changed,
from his ruff to his stockings.  He was presently conducted with
much state to a spacious and ornate apartment, where a table was
already set for one.  Its furniture was all of massy gold, and
beautified with designs which well-nigh made it priceless, since
they were the work of Benvenuto.  The room was half-filled with
noble servitors.  A chaplain said grace, and Tom was about to fall
to, for hunger had long been constitutional with him, but was
interrupted by my lord the Earl of Berkeley, who fastened a napkin
about his neck; for the great post of Diaperers to the Prince of
Wales was hereditary in this nobleman's family.  Tom's cupbearer
was present, and forestalled all his attempts to help himself to
wine.  The Taster to his highness the Prince of Wales was there
also, prepared to taste any suspicious dish upon requirement, and
run the risk of being poisoned.  He was only an ornamental
appendage at this time, and was seldom called upon to exercise his
function; but there had been times, not many generations past,
when the office of taster had its perils, and was not a grandeur
to be desired.  Why they did not use a dog or a plumber seems
strange; but all the ways of royalty are strange.  My Lord d'Arcy,
First Groom of the Chamber, was there, to do goodness knows what;
but there he was--let that suffice.  The Lord Chief Butler was
there, and stood behind Tom's chair, overseeing the solemnities,
under command of the Lord Great Steward and the Lord Head Cook,
who stood near.  Tom had three hundred and eighty-four servants
beside these; but they were not all in that room, of course, nor
the quarter of them; neither was Tom aware yet that they existed.

All those that were present had been well drilled within the hour
to remember that the prince was temporarily out of his head, and
to be careful to show no surprise at his vagaries.  These
'vagaries' were soon on exhibition before them; but they only
moved their compassion and their sorrow, not their mirth.  It was
a heavy affliction to them to see the beloved prince so stricken.

Poor Tom ate with his fingers mainly; but no one smiled at it, or
even seemed to observe it.  He inspected his napkin curiously, and
with deep interest, for it was of a very dainty and beautiful
fabric, then said with simplicity--

"Prithee, take it away, lest in mine unheedfulness it be soiled."

The Hereditary Diaperer took it away with reverent manner, and
without word or protest of any sort.

Tom examined the turnips and the lettuce with interest, and asked
what they were, and if they were to be eaten; for it was only
recently that men had begun to raise these things in England in
place of importing them as luxuries from Holland. {1}  His
question was answered with grave respect, and no surprise
manifested.  When he had finished his dessert, he filled his
pockets with nuts; but nobody appeared to be aware of it, or
disturbed by it.  But the next moment he was himself disturbed by
it, and showed discomposure; for this was the only service he had
been permitted to do with his own hands during the meal, and he
did not doubt that he had done a most improper and unprincely
thing.  At that moment the muscles of his nose began to twitch,
and the end of that organ to lift and wrinkle.  This continued,
and Tom began to evince a growing distress.  He looked
appealingly, first at one and then another of the lords about him,
and tears came into his eyes.  They sprang forward with dismay in
their faces, and begged to know his trouble.  Tom said with
genuine anguish--

"I crave your indulgence:  my nose itcheth cruelly.  What is the
custom and usage in this emergence?  Prithee, speed, for 'tis but
a little time that I can bear it."

None smiled; but all were sore perplexed, and looked one to the
other in deep tribulation for counsel.  But behold, here was a
dead wall, and nothing in English history to tell how to get over
it.  The Master of Ceremonies was not present:  there was no one
who felt safe to venture upon this uncharted sea, or risk the
attempt to solve this solemn problem.  Alas! there was no
Hereditary Scratcher.  Meantime the tears had overflowed their
banks, and begun to trickle down Tom's cheeks.  His twitching nose
was pleading more urgently than ever for relief.  At last nature
broke down the barriers of etiquette:  Tom lifted up an inward
prayer for pardon if he was doing wrong, and brought relief to the
burdened hearts of his court by scratching his nose himself.

His meal being ended, a lord came and held before him a broad,
shallow, golden dish with fragrant rosewater in it, to cleanse his
mouth and fingers with; and my lord the Hereditary Diaperer stood
by with a napkin for his use.  Tom gazed at the dish a puzzled
moment or two, then raised it to his lips, and gravely took a
draught.  Then he returned it to the waiting lord, and said--

"Nay, it likes me not, my lord:  it hath a pretty flavour, but it
wanteth strength."

This new eccentricity of the prince's ruined mind made all the
hearts about him ache; but the sad sight moved none to merriment.

Tom's next unconscious blunder was to get up and leave the table
just when the chaplain had taken his stand behind his chair, and
with uplifted hands, and closed, uplifted eyes, was in the act of
beginning the blessing.  Still nobody seemed to perceive that the
prince had done a thing unusual.

By his own request our small friend was now conducted to his
private cabinet, and left there alone to his own devices.  Hanging
upon hooks in the oaken wainscoting were the several pieces of a
suit of shining steel armour, covered all over with beautiful
designs exquisitely inlaid in gold.  This martial panoply belonged
to the true prince--a recent present from Madam Parr the Queen.
Tom put on the greaves, the gauntlets, the plumed helmet, and such
other pieces as he could don without assistance, and for a while
was minded to call for help and complete the matter, but bethought
him of the nuts he had brought away from dinner, and the joy it
would be to eat them with no crowd to eye him, and no Grand
Hereditaries to pester him with undesired services; so he restored
the pretty things to their several places, and soon was cracking
nuts, and feeling almost naturally happy for the first time since
God for his sins had made him a prince.  When the nuts were all
gone, he stumbled upon some inviting books in a closet, among them
one about the etiquette of the English court.  This was a prize.
He lay down upon a sumptuous divan, and proceeded to instruct
himself with honest zeal.  Let us leave him there for the present.




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