Tom Canty, left alone in the prince’s cabinet, made good use of his opportunity. He turned himself this way and that before the great mirror, admiring his finery; then walked away, imitating the prince’s high-bred carriage, and still observing results in the glass. Next he drew the beautiful sword, and bowed, kissing the blade, and laying it across his breast, as he had seen a noble knight do, by way of salute to the lieutenant of the Tower, five or six weeks before, when delivering the great lords of Norfolk and Surrey into his hands for captivity. Tom played with the jewelled dagger that hung upon his thigh; he examined the costly and exquisite ornaments of the room; he tried each of the sumptuous chairs, and thought how proud he would be if the Offal Court herd could only peep in and see him in his grandeur. He wondered if they would believe the marvellous tale he should tell when he got home, or if they would shake their heads, and say his overtaxed imagination had at last upset his reason.
At the end of half an hour it suddenly occurred to him that the prince was gone a long time; then right away he began to feel lonely; very soon he fell to listening and longing, and ceased to toy with the pretty things about him; he grew uneasy, then restless, then distressed. Suppose some one should come, and catch him in the prince’s clothes, and the prince not there to explain. Might they not hang him at once, and inquire into his case afterward? He had heard that the great were prompt about small matters. His fear rose higher and higher; and trembling he softly opened the door to the antechamber, resolved to fly and seek the prince, and, through him, protection and release. Six gorgeous gentlemen-servants and two young pages of high degree, clothed like butterflies, sprang to their feet and bowed low before him. He stepped quickly back and shut the door. He said—
“Oh, they mock at me! They will go and tell. Oh! why came I here to cast away my life?”
He walked up and down the floor, filled with nameless fears, listening, starting at every trifling sound. Presently the door swung open, and a silken page said—
“The Lady Jane Grey.”
The door closed and a sweet young girl, richly clad, bounded toward him. But she stopped suddenly, and said in a distressed voice—
“Oh, what aileth thee, my lord?”
Tom’s breath was nearly failing him; but he made shift to stammer out—
“Ah, be merciful, thou! In sooth I am no lord, but only poor Tom Canty of Offal Court in the city. Prithee let me see the prince, and he will of his grace restore to me my rags, and let me hence unhurt. Oh, be thou merciful, and save me!”
By this time the boy was on his knees, and supplicating with his eyes and uplifted hands as well as with his tongue. The young girl seemed horror-stricken. She cried out—
“O my lord, on thy knees?—and to me!”
Then she fled away in fright; and Tom, smitten with despair, sank down, murmuring—
“There is no help, there is no hope. Now will they come and take me.”
Whilst he lay there benumbed with terror, dreadful tidings were speeding through the palace. The whisper—for it was whispered always—flew from menial to menial, from lord to lady, down all the long corridors, from story to story, from saloon to saloon, “The prince hath gone mad, the prince hath gone mad!” Soon every saloon, every marble hall, had its groups of glittering lords and ladies, and other groups of dazzling lesser folk, talking earnestly together in whispers, and every face had in it dismay. Presently a splendid official came marching by these groups, making solemn proclamation—
“IN THE NAME OF THE KING!
Let none list to this false and foolish matter, upon pain of death, nor discuss the same, nor carry it abroad. In the name of the King!”
The whisperings ceased as suddenly as if the whisperers had been stricken dumb.
Soon there was a general buzz along the corridors, of “The prince! See, the prince comes!”
Poor Tom came slowly walking past the low-bowing groups, trying to bow in return, and meekly gazing upon his strange surroundings with bewildered and pathetic eyes. Great nobles walked upon each side of him, making him lean upon them, and so steady his steps. Behind him followed the court-physicians and some servants.
Presently Tom found himself in a noble apartment of the palace and heard the door close behind him. Around him stood those who had come with him. Before him, at a little distance, reclined a very large and very fat man, with a wide, pulpy face, and a stern expression. His large head was very grey; and his whiskers, which he wore only around his face, like a frame, were grey also. His clothing was of rich stuff, but old, and slightly frayed in places. One of his swollen legs had a pillow under it, and was wrapped in bandages. There was silence now; and there was no head there but was bent in reverence, except this man’s. This stern-countenanced invalid was the dread Henry VIII. He said—and his face grew gentle as he began to speak—
“How now, my lord Edward, my prince? Hast been minded to cozen me, the good King thy father, who loveth thee, and kindly useth thee, with a sorry jest?”
Poor Tom was listening, as well as his dazed faculties would let him, to the beginning of this speech; but when the words ‘me, the good King’ fell upon his ear, his face blanched, and he dropped as instantly upon his knees as if a shot had brought him there. Lifting up his hands, he exclaimed—
“Thou the King? Then am I undone indeed!”
This speech seemed to stun the King. His eyes wandered from face to face aimlessly, then rested, bewildered, upon the boy before him. Then he said in a tone of deep disappointment—
“Alack, I had believed the rumour disproportioned to the truth; but I fear me ’tis not so.” He breathed a heavy sigh, and said in a gentle voice, “Come to thy father, child: thou art not well.”
Tom was assisted to his feet, and approached the Majesty of England, humble and trembling. The King took the frightened face between his hands, and gazed earnestly and lovingly into it awhile, as if seeking some grateful sign of returning reason there, then pressed the curly head against his breast, and patted it tenderly. Presently he said—
“Dost not know thy father, child? Break not mine old heart; say thou know’st me. Thou dost know me, dost thou not?”
“Yea: thou art my dread lord the King, whom God preserve!”
“True, true—that is well—be comforted, tremble not so; there is none here would hurt thee; there is none here but loves thee. Thou art better now; thy ill dream passeth—is’t not so? Thou wilt not miscall thyself again, as they say thou didst a little while agone?”
“I pray thee of thy grace believe me, I did but speak the truth, most dread lord; for I am the meanest among thy subjects, being a pauper born, and ’tis by a sore mischance and accident I am here, albeit I was therein nothing blameful. I am but young to die, and thou canst save me with one little word. Oh speak it, sir!”
“Die? Talk not so, sweet prince—peace, peace, to thy troubled heart—thou shalt not die!”
Tom dropped upon his knees with a glad cry—
“God requite thy mercy, O my King, and save thee long to bless thy land!” Then springing up, he turned a joyful face toward the two lords in waiting, and exclaimed, “Thou heard’st it! I am not to die: the King hath said it!” There was no movement, save that all bowed with grave respect; but no one spoke. He hesitated, a little confused, then turned timidly toward the King, saying, “I may go now?”
“Go? Surely, if thou desirest. But why not tarry yet a little? Whither would’st go?”
Tom dropped his eyes, and answered humbly—
“Peradventure I mistook; but I did think me free, and so was I moved to seek again the kennel where I was born and bred to misery, yet which harboureth my mother and my sisters, and so is home to me; whereas these pomps and splendours whereunto I am not used—oh, please you, sir, to let me go!”
The King was silent and thoughtful a while, and his face betrayed a growing distress and uneasiness. Presently he said, with something of hope in his voice—
“Perchance he is but mad upon this one strain, and hath his wits unmarred as toucheth other matter. God send it may be so! We will make trial.”
Then he asked Tom a question in Latin, and Tom answered him lamely in the same tongue. The lords and doctors manifested their gratification also. The King said—
“’Twas not according to his schooling and ability, but showeth that his mind is but diseased, not stricken fatally. How say you, sir?”
The physician addressed bowed low, and replied—
“It jumpeth with my own conviction, sire, that thou hast divined aright.”
The King looked pleased with this encouragement, coming as it did from so excellent authority, and continued with good heart—
“Now mark ye all: we will try him further.”
He put a question to Tom in French. Tom stood silent a moment, embarrassed by having so many eyes centred upon him, then said diffidently—
“I have no knowledge of this tongue, so please your majesty.”
The King fell back upon his couch. The attendants flew to his assistance; but he put them aside, and said—
“Trouble me not—it is nothing but a scurvy faintness. Raise me! There, ’tis sufficient. Come hither, child; there, rest thy poor troubled head upon thy father’s heart, and be at peace. Thou’lt soon be well: ’tis but a passing fantasy. Fear thou not; thou’lt soon be well.” Then he turned toward the company: his gentle manner changed, and baleful lightnings began to play from his eyes. He said—
“List ye all! This my son is mad; but it is not permanent. Over-study hath done this, and somewhat too much of confinement. Away with his books and teachers! see ye to it. Pleasure him with sports, beguile him in wholesome ways, so that his health come again.” He raised himself higher still, and went on with energy, “He is mad; but he is my son, and England’s heir; and, mad or sane, still shall he reign! And hear ye further, and proclaim it: whoso speaketh of this his distemper worketh against the peace and order of these realms, and shall to the gallows! . . . Give me to drink—I burn: this sorrow sappeth my strength. . . . There, take away the cup. . . . Support me. There, that is well. Mad, is he? Were he a thousand times mad, yet is he Prince of Wales, and I the King will confirm it. This very morrow shall he be installed in his princely dignity in due and ancient form. Take instant order for it, my lord Hertford.”
One of the nobles knelt at the royal couch, and said—
“The King’s majesty knoweth that the Hereditary Great Marshal of England lieth attainted in the Tower. It were not meet that one attainted—”
“Peace! Insult not mine ears with his hated name. Is this man to live for ever? Am I to be baulked of my will? Is the prince to tarry uninstalled, because, forsooth, the realm lacketh an Earl Marshal free of treasonable taint to invest him with his honours? No, by the splendour of God! Warn my Parliament to bring me Norfolk’s doom before the sun rise again, else shall they answer for it grievously!”
Lord Hertford said—
“The King’s will is law;” and, rising, returned to his former place.
Gradually the wrath faded out of the old King’s face, and he said—
“Kiss me, my prince. There . . . what fearest thou? Am I not thy loving father?”
“Thou art good to me that am unworthy, O mighty and gracious lord: that in truth I know. But—but—it grieveth me to think of him that is to die, and—”
“Ah, ’tis like thee, ’tis like thee! I know thy heart is still the same, even though thy mind hath suffered hurt, for thou wert ever of a gentle spirit. But this duke standeth between thee and thine honours: I will have another in his stead that shall bring no taint to his great office. Comfort thee, my prince: trouble not thy poor head with this matter.”
“But is it not I that speed him hence, my liege? How long might he not live, but for me?”
“Take no thought of him, my prince: he is not worthy. Kiss me once again, and go to thy trifles and amusements; for my malady distresseth me. I am aweary, and would rest. Go with thine uncle Hertford and thy people, and come again when my body is refreshed.”
Tom, heavy-hearted, was conducted from the presence, for this last sentence was a death-blow to the hope he had cherished that now he would be set free. Once more he heard the buzz of low voices exclaiming, “The prince, the prince comes!”
His spirits sank lower and lower as he moved between the glittering files of bowing courtiers; for he recognised that he was indeed a captive now, and might remain for ever shut up in this gilded cage, a forlorn and friendless prince, except God in his mercy take pity on him and set him free.
And, turn where he would, he seemed to see floating in the air the severed head and the remembered face of the great Duke of Norfolk, the eyes fixed on him reproachfully.
His old dreams had been so pleasant; but this reality was so dreary!
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