Chapter VI. Tom receives instructions.
Tom was conducted to the principal apartment of a noble suite, and made to sit down — a thing which he was loth to do, since there were elderly men and men of high degree about him. He begged them to be seated also, but they only bowed their thanks or murmured them, and remained standing. He would have insisted, but his 'uncle' the Earl of Hertford whispered in his ear —
"Prithee, insist not, my lord; it is not meet that they sit in thy presence."
The Lord St. John was announced, and after making obeisance to Tom, he said —
"I come upon the King's errand, concerning a matter which requireth privacy. Will it please your royal highness to dismiss all that attend you here, save my lord the Earl of Hertford?"
Observing that Tom did not seem to know how to proceed, Hertford whispered him to make a sign with his hand, and not trouble himself to speak unless he chose. When the waiting gentlemen had retired, Lord St. John said —
"His majesty commandeth, that for due and weighty reasons of state, the prince's grace shall hide his infirmity in all ways that be within his power, till it be passed and he be as he was before. To wit, that he shall deny to none that he is the true prince, and heir to England's greatness; that he shall uphold his princely dignity, and shall receive, without word or sign of protest, that reverence and observance which unto it do appertain of right and ancient usage; that he shall cease to speak to any of that lowly birth and life his malady hath conjured out of the unwholesome imaginings of o'er-wrought fancy; that he shall strive with diligence to bring unto his memory again those faces which he was wont to know — and where he faileth he shall hold his peace, neither betraying by semblance of surprise or other sign that he hath forgot; that upon occasions of state, whensoever any matter shall perplex him as to the thing he should do or the utterance he should make, he shall show nought of unrest to the curious that look on, but take advice in that matter of the Lord Hertford, or my humble self, which are commanded of the King to be upon this service and close at call, till this commandment be dissolved. Thus saith the King's majesty, who sendeth greeting to your royal highness, and prayeth that God will of His mercy quickly heal you and have you now and ever in His holy keeping."
The Lord St. John made reverence and stood aside. Tom replied resignedly —
"The King hath said it. None may palter with the King's command, or fit it to his ease, where it doth chafe, with deft evasions. The King shall be obeyed."
Lord Hertford said —
"Touching the King's majesty's ordainment concerning books and such like serious matters, it may peradventure please your highness to ease your time with lightsome entertainment, lest you go wearied to the banquet and suffer harm thereby."
Tom's face showed inquiring surprise; and a blush followed when he saw Lord St. John's eyes bent sorrowfully upon him. His lordship said —
"Thy memory still wrongeth thee, and thou hast shown surprise — but suffer it not to trouble thee, for 'tis a matter that will not bide, but depart with thy mending malady. My Lord of Hertford speaketh of the city's banquet which the King's majesty did promise, some two months flown, your highness should attend. Thou recallest it now?"
"It grieves me to confess it had indeed escaped me," said Tom, in a hesitating voice; and blushed again.
At this moment the Lady Elizabeth and the Lady Jane Grey were announced. The two lords exchanged significant glances, and Hertford stepped quickly toward the door. As the young girls passed him, he said in a low voice —
"I pray ye, ladies, seem not to observe his humours, nor show surprise when his memory doth lapse — it will grieve you to note how it doth stick at every trifle."
Meantime Lord St. John was saying in Tom's ear —
"Please you, sir, keep diligently in mind his majesty's desire. Remember all thou canst — SEEM to remember all else. Let them not perceive that thou art much changed from thy wont, for thou knowest how tenderly thy old play-fellows bear thee in their hearts and how 'twould grieve them. Art willing, sir, that I remain? — and thine uncle?"
Tom signified assent with a gesture and a murmured word, for he was already learning, and in his simple heart was resolved to acquit himself as best he might, according to the King's command.
In spite of every precaution, the conversation among the young people became a little embarrassing at times. More than once, in truth, Tom was near to breaking down and confessing himself unequal to his tremendous part; but the tact of the Princess Elizabeth saved him, or a word from one or the other of the vigilant lords, thrown in apparently by chance, had the same happy effect. Once the little Lady Jane turned to Tom and dismayed him with this question, —
"Hast paid thy duty to the Queen's majesty to-day, my lord?"
Tom hesitated, looked distressed, and was about to stammer out something at hazard, when Lord St. John took the word and answered for him with the easy grace of a courtier accustomed to encounter delicate difficulties and to be ready for them —
"He hath indeed, madam, and she did greatly hearten him, as touching his majesty's condition; is it not so, your highness?"