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| Home | Reading Room The Prince and the Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper
by Mark Twain

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Chapter XVI

The State Dinner.

The dinner hour drew near--yet strangely enough, the thought

brought but slight discomfort to Tom, and hardly any terror. The

morning's experiences had wonderfully built up his confidence; the

poor little ash-cat was already more wonted to his strange garret,

after four days' habit, than a mature person could have become in

a full month. A child's facility in accommodating itself to

circumstances was never more strikingly illustrated.

Let us privileged ones hurry to the great banqueting-room and have

a glance at matters there whilst Tom is being made ready for the

imposing occasion. It is a spacious apartment, with gilded

pillars and pilasters, and pictured walls and ceilings. At the

door stand tall guards, as rigid as statues, dressed in rich and

picturesque costumes, and bearing halberds. In a high gallery

which runs all around the place is a band of musicians and a

packed company of citizens of both sexes, in brilliant attire. In

the centre of the room, upon a 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 bearing a tablecloth, which, after they have both kneeled

three times with the utmost veneration, he spreads upon the table,

and after kneeling again they both retire; 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, and placed

what was brought upon the table, they too retire with the same

ceremonies performed by the first; at last come two nobles, richly

clothed, one bearing a tasting-knife, who, after prostrating

themselves three times in the most graceful manner, approach and

rub the table with bread and salt, with as much awe as if the King

had been present." {6}

So end the solemn preliminaries. Now, far down the echoing

corridors we hear a bugle-blast, and the indistinct cry, "Place

for the King! Way for the King's most excellent majesty!" These

sounds are momently repeated--they grow nearer and nearer--and

presently, almost in our faces, the martial note peals and the cry

rings out, "Way for the King!" At this instant the shining

pageant appears, and files in at the door, with a measured march.

Let the chronicler speak again:--

"First come Gentlemen, Barons, Earls, Knights of the Garter, all

richly dressed and bareheaded; next comes the Chancellor, between

two, one of which carries 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 King himself--whom, upon his

appearing, twelve trumpets and many drums salute with a great

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, and on his right and left march his guard

of honour, his fifty Gentlemen Pensioners, with gilt battle-axes."

This was all fine and pleasant. Tom's pulse beat high, and a glad

light was in his eye. He bore himself right gracefully, and all

the more so because he was not thinking of how he was doing it,

his mind being charmed and occupied with the blithe sights and

sounds about him--and besides, nobody can be very ungraceful in

nicely-fitting beautiful clothes after he has grown a little used

to them--especially if he is for the moment unconscious of them.

Tom remembered his instructions, and acknowledged his greeting

with a slight inclination 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 the least embarrassment; for to eat with one's cap on was

the one solitary royal custom upon which the kings and the Cantys

met upon common ground, neither party having any advantage over

the other in the matter of old familiarity with it. The pageant

broke up and grouped itself picturesquely, and remained bareheaded.

Now to the sound of gay music the Yeomen of the Guard entered,--

"the tallest and mightiest men in England, they being carefully

selected in this regard"--but we will let the chronicler tell about it:--

"The Yeomen of the Guard entered, bareheaded, clothed in scarlet,

with golden roses upon their backs; and these went and came,

bringing in each turn a course of dishes, served in plate. These

dishes were received by a gentleman in the same order they were

brought, and placed upon the table, while the taster gave to each

guard a mouthful to eat of the particular dish he had brought, for

fear of any poison."

Tom made a good dinner, notwithstanding he was conscious that

hundreds of eyes followed each morsel to his mouth and watched him

eat it with an interest which could not have been more intense if

it had been a deadly explosive and was expected to blow him up and

scatter him all about the place. He was careful not to hurry, and

equally careful not to do anything whatever for himself, but wait

till the proper official knelt down and did it for him. He got

through without a mistake--flawless and precious triumph.

When the meal was over at last and he marched away in the midst of

his bright pageant, 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 dining in public it was an ordeal

which he would be glad to endure several times a day if by that

means he could but buy himself free from some of the more

formidable requirements of his royal office.



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