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In a little while the measured tread of military men was heard approaching, and
the culprits entered the presence in charge of an under-sheriff and escorted by a
detail of the king’s guard. The civil officer knelt before Tom, then stood aside;
the three doomed persons knelt also, and remained so; the guard took position
behind Tom’s chair. Tom scanned the prisoners curiously. Something about the
dress or appearance of the man had stirred a vague memory in him. ‘Methinks I
have seen this man ere now... but the when or the where fail me’- such was
Tom’s thought. Just then the man glanced quickly up, and quickly dropped his
face again, not being able to endure the awful port of sovereignty; but the one
full glimpse of the face, which Tom got, was sufficient. He said to himself: ‘Now
is the matter clear; this is the stranger that plucked Giles Witt out of the Thames,
and saved his life that windy, bitter first day of the New Year-a brave, good
deedpity he hath been doing baser ones and got himself in this sad case... I have
not forgot the day, neither the hour; by reason that an hour after, upon the stroke
of eleven, I did get a hiding by the hand of Gammer Canty which was of so
goodly and admired severity that all that went before or followed after it were
but fondlings and caresses by comparison.’

Tom now ordered that the woman and the girl be removed from the presence for
a little time; then addressed himself to the under-sheriff, saying: ‘Good sir, what
is this man’s offense?’ The officer knelt, and answered: ‘So please your majesty,
he hath taken the life of a subject by poison.’ Tom’s compassion for the prisoner,
and admiration of him as the daring rescuer of a drowning boy, experienced a
most damaging shock.

‘The thing was proven upon him?’ he asked.
‘Most clearly, sire.’ Tom sighed, and said: ‘Take him away-he hath earned his
death. ‘Tis a pity, for he was a brave heartna-na, I mean he hath the look of it!’
The prisoner clasped his hands together with sudden energy, and wrung them
despairingly, at the same time appealing imploringly to the ‘king’ in broken and
terrified phrases: ‘Oh, my lord the king, an thou canst pity the lost, have pity
upon me! I am innocent-neither hath that wherewith I am charged been more
than but lamely proved-yet I speak not of that; the judgment is gone forth
against me and may not suffer alteration; yet in mine extremity I beg a boon, for
my doom is more than I can bear. A grace, a grace, my lord the king! in thy royal
compassion grant my prayer-give commandment that I be hanged!’ Tom was
amazed. This was not the outcome he had looked for.

‘Odds my life, a strange boon! Was it not the fate intended thee?’ ‘Oh, good my
liege, not so! It is ordered that I be boiled alive!’ The hideous surprise of these
words almost made Tom spring from his chair.

As soon as he could recover his wits he cried out: ‘Have thy wish, poor soul! an
thou had poisoned a hundred men thou shouldst not suffer so miserable a
death.’ The prisoner bowed his face to the ground and burst into passionate
expressions of gratitude-ending with: ‘If ever thou shouldst know misfortune-
which God forbid!- may thy goodness to me this day be remembered and
requited!’ Tom turned to the Earl of Hertford, and said: ‘My lord, is it believable
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