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He had a hard time of it, but did not know it. It was the sort of time that all the
Offal Court boys had, therefore he supposed it was the correct and comfortable
thing. When he came home empty-handed at night, he knew his father would
curse him and thrash him first, and that when he was done the awful
grandmother would do it all over again and improve on it; and that away in the
night his starving mother would slip to him stealthily with any miserable scrap
of crust she had been able to save for him by going hungry herself,
notwithstanding she was often caught in that sort of treason and soundly beaten
for it by her husband.
No, Tomís life went along well enough, especially in summer. He only begged
just enough to save himself, for the laws against mendicancy were stringent, and
the penalties heavy; so he put in a good deal of his time listening to good Father
Andrewís charming old tales and legends about giants and fairies, dwarfs and
genii, and enchanted castles, and gorgeous kings and princes. His head grew to
be full of these wonderful things, and many a night as he lay in the dark on his
scant and offensive straw, tired, hungry, and smarting from a thrashing, he
unleashed his imagination and soon forgot his aches and pains in delicious
picturings to himself of the charmed life of a petted prince in a regal palace. One
desire came in time to haunt him day and night; it was to see a real prince, with
his own eyes. He spoke of it once to some of his Offal Court comrades; but they
jeered him and scoffed him so unmercifully that he was glad to keep his dream
to himself after that.
He often read the priestís old books and got him to explain and enlarge upon
them. His dreamings and readings worked certain changes in him by and by.
His dream-people were so fine that he grew to lament his shabby clothing and
his dirt, and to wish to be clean and better clad. He went on playing in the mud
just the same, and enjoying it, too; but instead of splashing around in the
Thames solely for the fun of it, he began to find an added value in it because of
the washings and cleansings it afforded.
Tom could always find something going on around the Maypole in Cheapside,
and at the fairs; and now and then he and the rest of London had a chance to see
a military parade when some famous unfortunate was carried prisoner to the
Tower, by land or boat. One summerís day he saw poor Anne Askew and three
men burned at the stake in Smithfield, and heard an ex-bishop preach a sermon
to them which did not interest him. Yes, Tomís life was varied and pleasant
enough, on the whole.
By and by Tomís reading and dreaming about princely life wrought such a
strong effect upon him that he began to act the prince, unconsciously. His speech
and manners became curiously ceremonious and courtly, to the vast admiration
and amusement of his intimates. But Tomís influence among these young people
began to grow now, day by day; and in time he came to be looked up to by them
with a sort of wondering awe, as a superior being. He seemed to know so much!
and he could do such marvellous things! and withal, he was so deep and wise!
Tomís remarks and Tomís performances were reported by the boys to their