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now I see! ragged outcast as he is, he must have served in the palace before his
reason went astray; yes, he must have helped in the very kitchen of the king
himself! I will test him.’ Full of eagerness to prove her sagacity, she told the king
to mind the cooking a moment-hinting that he might manufacture and add a
dish or two, if he chosethen she went out of the room and gave her children a
sign to follow after. The king muttered: ‘Another English king had a commission
like to this, in a bygone time-it is nothing against my dignity to undertake an
office which the great Alfred stooped to assume. But I will try to better serve my
trust than he; for he let the cakes burn.’

The intent was good, but the performance was not answerable to it; for this king,
like the other one, soon fell into deep thinkings concerning his vast affairs, and
the same calamity resulted-the cookery got burned. The woman returned in
time to save the breakfast from entire destruction; and she promptly brought the
king out of his dreams with a brisk and cordial tongue-lashing. Then, seeing
how troubled he was over his violated trust, she softened at once and was all
goodness and gentleness toward him.

The boy made a hearty and satisfying meal, and was greatly refreshed and
gladdened by it. It was a meal which was distinguished by this curious feature,
that rank was waived on both sides; yet neither recipient of the favor was aware
that it had been extended. The goodwife had intended to feed this young tramp
with broken victuals in a corner, like any other tramp, or like a dog; but she was
so remorseful for the scolding she had given him, that she did what she could to
atone for it by allowing him to sit at the family table and eat with his betters, on
ostensible terms of equality with them; and the king, on his side, was so
remorseful for having broken his trust, after the family had been so kind to him,
that he forced himself to atone for it by humbling himself to the family level,
instead of requiring the woman and her children to stand and wait upon him
while he occupied their table in the solitary state due his birth and dignity. It
does us all good to unbend sometimes. This good woman was made happy all
the day long by the applauses she got out of herself for her magnanimous
condescension to a tramp; and the king was just as self-complacent over his
gracious humility toward a humble peasant woman.

When breakfast was over, the housewife told the king to wash up the dishes.
This command was a staggerer for a moment, and the king came near rebelling;
but then he said to himself, ‘Alfred the Great watched the cakes; doubtless he
would have washed the dishes, too-therefore will I essay it.’ He made a
sufficiently poor job of it; and to his surprise, too, for the cleaning of wooden
spoons and trenchers had seemed an easy thing to do. It was a tedious and
troublesome piece of work, but he finished it at last. He was becoming impatient
to get away on his journey now; however he was not to lose this thrifty dame’s
society so easily. She furnished him some little odds and ends of employment,
which he got through with after a fair fashion and with some credit. Then she set
him and the little girls to paring some winter apples; but he was so awkward at
this service that she retired him from it and gave him a butcher-knife to grind.
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