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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 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 besides 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.*(4) His question was answered with grave respect, and no surprise
manifested. When he had finished his dessert, he filled his pockets with nuts;
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