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The elderly heads nodded recognition of Tom’s wisdom once more, and one
individual murmured, ‘An the king be mad himself, according to report, then it
is a madness of a sort that would improve the sanity of some I wot of, if by the
gentle providence of God they could but catch it.’ ‘What age hath the child?’
asked Tom.

‘Nine years, please your majesty.’ ‘By the law of England may a child enter into
covenant and sell itself, my lord?’ asked Tom, turning to a learned judge.

‘The law doth not permit a child to make or meddle in any weighty matter, good
my liege, holding that its callow wit unfitteth it to cope with the riper wit and
evil schemings of them that are its elders. The devil may buy a child, if he so
choose, and the child agree thereto, but not an Englishman-in this latter case the
contract would be null and void.’ ‘It seemeth a rude unchristian thing, and ill
contrived, that English law denieth privileges to Englishmen, to waste them on
the devil!’ cried Tom, with honest heat.

This novel view of the matter excited many smiles, and was stored away in
many heads to be repeated about the court as evidence of Tom’s originality as
well as progress toward mental health.

The elder culprit had ceased from sobbing, and was hanging upon Tom’s words
with an excited interest and a growing hope. Tom noticed this, and it strongly
inclined his sympathies toward her in her perilous and unfriended situation.
Presently he asked: ‘How wrought they, to bring the storm?’ ‘By pulling off their
stockings, sire.’ This astonished Tom, and also fired his curiosity to fever heat.
He said eagerly: ‘It is wonderful! Hath it always this dread effect?’ ‘Always, my
liege-at least if the woman desire it, and utter the needful words, either in her
mind or with her tongue.’ Tom turned to the woman, and said with impetuous
zeal: ‘Exert thy power-I would see a storm.’ There was a sudden paling of
cheeks in the superstitious assemblage, and a general, though unexpressed,
desire to get out of the place-all of which was lost upon Tom, who was dead to
everything but the proposed cataclysm. Seeing a puzzled and astonished look in
the woman’s face, he added, excitedly: ‘Never fear-thou shalt be blameless.
More-thou shalt go free-none shall touch thee. Exert thy power.’ ‘O, my lord the
king, I have it not-I have been falsely accused.’ ‘Thy fears stay thee. Be of good
heart, thou shalt suffer no harm. Make a storm-it mattereth not how small a one-
I require naught great or harmful, but indeed prefer the opposite-do this and
thy life is spared-thou shalt go out free, with thy child, bearing the king’s
pardon, and safe from hurt or malice from any in the realm.’ The woman
prostrated herself, and protested, with tears, that she had no power to do the
miracle, else she would gladly win her child’s life alone, and be content to lose
her own, if by obedience to the king’s command so precious a grace might be

Tom urged-the woman still adhered to her declarations. Finally, he said: ‘I think
the woman hath said true. An my mother were in her place and gifted with the
devil’s functions, she had not stayed a moment to call her storms and lay the
whole land in ruins, if the saving of my forfeit life were the price she got! It is
<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library - Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

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