The Queen was at Hampton, and it was the late autumn. She had been sad since they came from Pontefract, for it had seemed more than ever apparent that the King’s letter to Rome must be ever delayed in the sending. Daily, at night, the King swore with great oaths that the letter must be sent and his soul saved. He trembled to think that if then he died in his bed he must be eternally damned, and she added her persuasions, such as that each soul that died in his realms before that letter was sent went before the Throne of Mercy unshriven and unhouselled, so that their burden of souls grew very great. And in the midnights, the King would start up and cry that all was lost and himself accursed.
And it appeared that he and his house were accursed in these days, for when they were come back to Hampton, they found the small Prince Edward was very ill. He was swollen all over his little body, so that the doctors said it was a dropsy. But how, the King cried, could it be a dropsy in so young a child and one so grave and so nurtured and tended? Assuredly it must be some marvel wrought by the saints to punish him, or by the Fiend to tempt him. And so he would rave, and cast tremulous hands above his head. And he would say that God, to punish him, would have of him his dearest and best.
And when the Queen urged him, therefore, to make his peace with God, he would cry out that it was too late. God would make no peace with him. For if God were minded to have him at peace, wherefore would He not smoothe the way to this reconciliation with His vicegerent that sat at Rome in Peter’s chair? There was no smoothing of that way — for every day there arose new difficulties and torments.
The King o’ Scots would come into no alliance with him; the King of France would make no bid for the hand of his daughter Mary; it went ill with the Emperor in his fighting with the Princes of Almain and the Schmalkaldners, so that the Emperor would be of the less use as an ally against France and the Scots.
‘Why!’ he would cry to the Queen, ‘if God in His Heaven would have me make a peace with Rome, wherefore will He not give victory over a parcel of Lutheran knaves and swine? Wherefore will He not deliver into my hands these beggarly Scots and these atheists of France?’
At night the Queen would bring him round to vowing that first he would make peace with God and trust in His great mercy for a prosperous issue. But each morning he would be afraid for his sovereignty; a new letter would come from Norfolk, who had gone on an embassy to his French friends, believing fully that the King was minded to marry to one of them his daughter. But the French King was not ready to believe this. And the King’s eyes grew red and enraged; he looked no man in the face, not even the Queen, but glanced aside into corners, uttered blasphemies, and said that he — he! — was the head of the Church and would have no overlord.
The Bishop Gardiner came up from his See in Winchester. But though he was the head of the Papist party in the realm, the Queen had little comfort in him. For he was a dark and masterful prelate, and never ceased to urge her to cast out Cranmer from his archbishopric and to give it to him. And with him the Lady Mary sided, for she would have Cranmer’s head before all things, since Cranmer it was that most had injured her mother. Moreover, he was so incessant in his urging the King to make an alliance with the Catholic Emperor that at last, about the time that Norfolk came back from France, the King was mightily enraged, so that he struck the Bishop of Winchester in the face, and swore that his friend the Kaiser was a rotten plank, since he could not rid himself of a few small knaves of Lutheran princes.
Thus for long the Queen was sad; the little Prince very sick; and the King ate no food, but sat gazing at the victuals, though the Queen cooked some messes for him with her own hand.
One Sunday after evensong, at which Cranmer himself had read prayers, the King came nearly merrily to his supper.
‘Ho, chuck,’ he said, ‘you have your enemies. Here hath been Cranmer weeping to me with a parcel of tales writ on paper.’
He offered it to her to read, but she would not; for, she said, she knew well that she had many enemies, only, very safely she could trust her fame in her Lord’s hands.
‘Why, you may,’ he said, and sat him down at the table to eat, with the paper stuck in his belt. ‘Body o’ God!’ he said. ‘If it had been any but Cranmer he had eaten bread in Hell this night. ‘A wept and trembled! Body o’ God! Body o’ God!’
And that night he was more merry before the fire than he had been for many weeks. He had in the music to play a song of his own writing, and afterwards he swore that next day he would ride to London, and then at his council send that which she would have sent to Rome.
‘For, for sure,’ he said, ‘there is no peace in this world for me save when I hear you pray. And how shall you pray well for me save in the old form and fashion?’
He lolled back in his chair and gazed at her.
‘Why,’ he said, ‘it is a proof of the great mercy of the Saviour that He sent you on earth in so fair a guise. For if you had not been so fair, assuredly I had not noticed you. Then would my soul have gone straightway to Hell.’
And he called that the letter to Rome might be brought to him, and read it over in the firelight. He set it in his belt alongside the other paper, that next day when he came to London he might lay it in the hands of Sir Thomas Carter, that should carry it to Rome.
The Queen said: ‘Praise God!’
For though she was not set to believe that next day that letter would be sent, or for many days more, yet it seemed to her that by little and little she was winning him to her will.
Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, had builded him a new tennis court in where his stables had been before poverty had caused him to sell the major part of his horseflesh. He called to him the Duke of Norfolk, who was of the Papist cause, and Sir Henry Wriothesley who was always betwixt and between, according as the cat jumped, to see this new building of his that was made of a roofed-in quadrangle where the stable doors were bricked up or barred to make the grille.
But though Norfolk and Wriothesley came very early in the afternoon, while it was yet light, to his house, they wasted most of the daylight hours in talking of things indifferent before they went to their inspection of this court. They stood talking in a long gallery beneath very high windows, and there were several chaplains and young priests and young gentlemen with them, and most of the talk was of a bear-baiting that there should be in Smithfield come Saturday. Sir Henry Wriothesley matched seven of his dogs against the seven best of the Duke’s, that they should the longer hold to the bear once they were on him, and most of the young gentlemen wagered for Sir Henry’s dogs that he had bred from a mastiff out of Portugal.
But when this talk had mostly died down, and when already twilight had long fallen, the Bishop said —
‘Come, let us visit this new tennis place of mine. I think I shall show you somewhat that you have not before seen.’
He bade, however, his gentlemen and priests to stay where they were, for they had all many times seen the court or building. When he led the way, prelatical and black, for the Duke and Wriothesley, into the lower corridors of his house, the priests and young gentlemen bowed behind his back, one at the other.
In the courtyard there were four hounds of a heavy and stocky breed that came bounding and baying all round them, so that it was only by vigilance that Gardiner could save Wriothesley’s shins, for he was a man that all dogs and children hated.
‘Sirs,’ the Bishop said, ‘these dogs that ye see and hear will let no man but me — not even my grooms or stablemen — pass this yard. I have bred them to that so I may be secret when I will.’
He set the key in the door that was in the bottom wall of the court.
‘There is no other door here save that which goes into the stable where the grille is. There I have a door to enter and fetch out the balls that pass there.’
In the court itself it was absolute blackness.
‘I trow we may talk very well without lights,’ he said. ‘Come into this far corner.’
Yet, though there was no fear of being overheard, each of these three stole almost on tiptoe and held his breath, and in the dark and shadowy place they made a more dark and more shadowy patch with their heads all close together.
Suddenly it was as if the Bishop dropped the veil that covered his passions.
‘I may well build tennis courts,’ he said, and his voice had a ring of wild and malignant passion. ‘I may well build courts for tennis play. Nothing else is left for me to do.’
In the blackness no word came from his listeners.
‘You too may do the like,’ the Bishop said. ‘But I would you do it quickly, for soon neither the one nor the other of you but will be stripped so bare that you shall not have enough to buy balls with.’
The Duke made an impatient sound like a drawing in of his breath, but still he spoke no word.
‘I tell you, both of you,’ the Bishop’s voice came, ‘that all of us have been fooled. Who was it that helped to set on high this one that now presses us down? I did! I! . . .
‘It was I that called the masque at my house where first the King did see her. It was I that advised her how to bear herself. And what gratitude has been shown me? I have been sent to sequester myself in my see; I have been set to gnaw my fingers as they had been old bones thrown to a dog. Truly, no juicy meats have been my share. Yet it was I set this woman where she sits. . . . ’
‘I too have my griefs,’ the Duke of Norfolk’s voice came.
‘And I, God wot,’ came Wriothesley’s.
‘Why, you have been fooled,’ Gardiner’s voice; ‘and well you know it. For who was it that sent you both, one after the other, into France thinking that you might make a match between the Lady Royal and the Duke of Orleans? — Who but the Queen? — For well she knew that ye loved the French and their King as they had been your brothers. And well we know now that never in the mind of her, nor in that of the King whom she bewitches and enslaves, was there any thought save that the Lady Royal should be wedded to Spain. So ye are fooled.’
He let his voice sink low; then he raised it again —
‘Fooled! Fooled! Fooled! You two and I. For who of your friends the French shall ever believe again word that you utter. And all your goods and lands this Queen will have for the Church, so that she may have utter power with a parcel of new shavelings, that will not withstand her. So all the land will come in to her leash. . . . We are fooled and ruined, ye and I alike.’
‘Well, we know this,’ the Duke’s voice said distastefully. ‘You have no need to rehearse griefs that too well we feel. There is no lord, either of our part or of the other, that would not have her down.’
‘But what will ye do?’ Gardiner said.
‘Nothing may we do!’ the voice of Wriothesley with its dismal terror came to their ears. ‘The King is too firmly her Highness’s man.’
‘Her “Highness,”’ the Bishop mocked him with a bitter scorn. ‘I believe you would yet curry favour with this Queen of straw.’
‘It is a man’s province to be favourable in the eyes of his Prince,’ the buried voice came again. ‘If I could win her favour I would. But well ye know there is no way.’
‘Ye ha’ mingled too much with Lutheran swine,’ the Bishop said. ‘Now it is too late for you.’
‘So it is,’ Wriothesley said. ‘I think you, Bishop, would have done it too had you been able to make your account of it.’
The Bishop snarled invisibly.
But the voice of Norfolk came malignantly upon them.
‘This is all of a piece with your silly schemings. Did I come here to hear ye wrangle? It is peril enow to come here. What will ye do?’
‘I will make a pact with him of the other side?’ the Bishop said.
‘Misery!’ the Duke said; ‘did I come here to hear this madness? You and Cranmer have sought each other’s heads this ten years. Will you seek his aid now? What may he do? He is as rotten a reed as thou or Wriothesley.’
The Bishop cried suddenly with a loud voice —
‘Ho, there! Come you out!’
Norfolk set his hand to his sword and so did Wriothesley. It was in both their minds, as it were one thought, that if this was a treason of the Bishop’s he should there die.
From the blackness of the wall sides where the grille was there came the sound of a terroring lock and a creaking door.
‘God!’ Norfolk said; ‘who is this?’
There came the sound of breathing of one man who walked with noiseless shoes.
‘Have you heard enow to make you believe that these lords’ hearts are true to the endeavour of casting the Queen down?’
‘I have heard enow,’ a smooth voice said. ‘I never thought it had been otherwise.’
‘Who is this?’ Wriothesley said. ‘I will know who this is that has heard us.’
‘You fool,’ Gardiner said; ‘this man is of the other side.’
‘They have come to you!’ Norfolk said.
‘To whom else should we come,’ the voice answered.
A subtler silence of agitation and thought was between these two men. At last Gardiner said —
‘Tell these lords what you would have of us?’
‘We would have these promises,’ the voice said; ‘first, of you, my Lord Duke, that if by our endeavours your brother’s child be brought to a trial for unchastity you will in no wise aid her at that trial with your voice or your encouragement.’
‘A trial!’ and ‘Unchastity!’ the Duke said. ‘This is a winter madness. Ye know that my niece — St Kevin curse her for it — is as chaste as the snow.’
‘So was your other niece, Anne Boleyn, for all you knew, yet you dogged her to death,’ Gardiner said. ‘Then you plotted with Papists; now it is the turn of the Lutherans. It is all one, so we are rid of this pest.’
‘Well, I will promise it,’ the Duke said. ‘Ye knew I would. It was not worth while to ask me.’
‘Secondly,’ the voice said, ‘of you, my Lord Duke, we would have this service: that you should swear your niece is a much older woman than she looks. Say, for instance, that she was in truth not the eleventh but the second child of your brother Edmund. Say that, out of vanity, to make herself seem more forward with the learned tongues when she was a child, she would call herself her younger sister that died in childbed.’
‘But wherefore?’ the Duke said.
‘Why,’ Gardiner answered, ‘this is a very subtle scheme of this gentleman’s devising. He will prove against her certain lewdnesses when she was a child in your mother’s house. If then she was a child of ten or so, knowing not evil from good, this might not undo her. But if you can make her seem then eighteen or twenty it will be enough to hang her.’
‘Well, I will say I heard that of her age,’ he said; ‘but ye had best get nurses and women to swear to these things.’
‘We have them now,’ the voice said. ‘And it will suffice if your Grace will say that you heard these things of old of your brother. For your Grace will judge this woman.’
‘Very willingly I will,’ Norfolk said; ‘for if I do not soon, she will utterly undo both me and all my friends.’
He reflected again.
‘Those things will I do and more yet, if you will.’
‘Why, that will suffice,’ the voice said. It took a new tone in the darkness.
‘Now for you, Sir Henry Wriothesley,’ it said. ‘These simple things you shall promise. Firstly, since you have the ear of the Mayor of London you shall advise him in no way to hinder certain meetings of Lutherans that I shall tell you of later. And, though it is your province so to do, you shall in no wise hinder a certain master printer from printing what broadsides and libels he will against the Queen. For it is essential, if this project is to grow and flourish, that it shall be spread abroad that the Queen did bewitch the King to her will on that night at Pontefract that you remember, when she had her cousin in her bedroom. So broadsides shall be made alleging that by sorcery she induced the King to countenance his own shame. And we have witnesses to swear that it was by appointment, not by chance, that she met with Culpepper upon the moorside. But all that we will have of you is that you will promise these two things — that the Lutherans may hold certain meetings and the broadsides be printed.’
‘Those I will promise,’ came in Wriothesley’s buried voice.
‘Then I will no more of you,’ the other’s words came. They heard his hands feeling along the wall till he came to the door by which he had entered. The Bishop followed him, to let him out by a little door he had had opened for that one night, into the street.
When he came back to the other two and unfolded to them what was the scheme of the Archbishop’s man, they agreed that it was a very good plan. Then they fell to considering whether it should not serve their turn to betray this plan at once to the Queen. But they agreed that, if they preserved the Queen, they would be utterly ruined, as they were like to be now, whereas, if it succeeded, they would be much the better off. And, even if it failed, they lost nothing, for it would not readily be believed that they had aided Lutherans, and there were no letters or writings.
So they agreed to abide honourably by their promises — and very certain they were that if clamour enough could be raised against the Queen, the King would be bound into putting her away, though it were against his will.
In the Master Printer Badge’s house — and he was the uncle of Margot and of the young Poins — there was a great and solemn dissertation towards. For word had been brought that certain strangers come on an embassy from the Duke of Cleves were minded to hear how the citizens of London — or at any rate those of them that held German doctrines — bore themselves towards Schmalkaldnerism and the doctrines of Luther.
It was understood that these strangers were of very high degree — of a degree so high that they might scarce be spoken to by the meaner sort. And for many days messengers had been going between the house of the Archbishop at Lambeth and that of the Master Printer, to school him how this meeting must be conducted.
His old father was by that time dead — having died shortly after his granddaughter Margot had been put away from the Queen’s Court — so that the house-place was clear. And of all the old furnishings none remained. There were presses all round the wall, and lockers for men to sit upon. The table had been cleared away into the printer’s chapel; a lectern stood a-midmost of the room, and before the hearth-place, in the very ingle, there was set the great chair in which aforetimes the old man had sat so long.
Early that evening, though already it was dusk, the body of citizens were assembled. Most of them had haggard faces, for the times were evil for men of their persuasion, and nearly all of them were draped in black after the German fashion among Lutherans of that day. They ranged themselves on the lockers along the wall, and with set faces, in a funereal row, they awaited the coming of this great stranger. There were no Germans amongst them, for so, it was given out, he would have it — either because he would not be known by name or for some other reason.
The Master Printer, in the pride of his craft, wore his apron. He stood in the centre of the room facing the hearth-place; his huge arms were bare — for bare-armed he always worked — his black beard was knotted into little curls, his face was so broad that you hardly remarked that his nose was hooked like an owl’s beak. And about the man there was an air of sombreness and mystery. He had certain papers on his lectern, and several sheets of the great Bible that he was then printing by the Archbishop’s license and command. They sang all together and with loud voices the canticle called ‘A Refuge fast is God the Lord.’
Then, with huge gestures of his hands, he uttered the words —
‘This is the very word of God,’ and began to read from the pages of his Bible. He read first the story of David and Saul, his great voice trembling with ecstasy.
‘This David is our King,’ he said. ‘This Saul that he slew is the Beast of Rome. The Solomon that cometh after shall be the gracious princeling that ye wot of, for already he is wise beyond his years and beyond most grown men.’
The citizens around the walls cried ‘Amen.’ And because the strangers tarried to come, he called to his journeymen that stood in the inner doorway to bring him the sheets of the Bible whereon he had printed the story of Ehud and Eglon.
‘This king that ye shall hear of as being slain,’ he cried out, ‘is that foul bird the Kaiser Carl, that harries the faithful in Almain. This good man that shall slay him is some German lord. Who he shall be we know not yet; maybe it shall be this very stranger that to-night shall sit to hear us.’
His brethren muttered a low, deep, and uniform prayer that soon, soon the Lord should send them this boon.
But he had not got beyond the eleventh verse of this history before there came from without a sound of trumpets, and through the windows the light of torches and the scarlet of the guard that, it was said, the King had sent to do honour to this stranger.
‘Come in, be ye who ye may!’ the printer cried to the knockers at his door.
There entered the hugest masked man that they ever had seen. All in black he was, and horrifying and portentous he strode in. His sleeves and shoulders were ballooned after the German fashion, his sword clanked on the tiles. He was a vision of black, for his mask that appeared as big as another man’s garment covered all his face, though they could see he had a grey beard when sitting down. He gazed at the fire askance.
He said — his voice was heavy and husky —
‘Gruesset Gott,’ and those of the citizens that had painfully attained to so much of that tongue answered him with —
‘Lobet den Herr im Himmels Reich!’
He had with him one older man that wore a half-mask, and was trembling and clean-shaven, and one younger, that was English, to act as interpreter when it was needed. He was clean-shaven, too, and in the English habit he appeared thin and tenuous. They said he was a gentleman of the Archbishop’s, and that his name was Lascelles.
He opened the meeting with saying that these great strangers were come from beyond the seas, and would hear answers to certain questions. He took a paper from his pouch and said that, in order that he might stick to the points that these strangers would know of, he had written down those questions on that paper.
‘How say ye, masters?’ he finished. ‘Will ye give answers to these questions truly, and of your knowledge?’
‘Aye will we,’ the printer said, ‘for to that end we are gathered here. Is it not so, my masters?’
And the assembly answered —
‘Aye, so it is.’
Lascelles read from his paper:
‘How is it with this realm of England?’
The printer glanced at the paper that was upon his lectern. He made answer —
‘Well! But not over well!’
And at these words Lascelles feigned surprise, lifting his well-shapen and white hand in the air.
‘How is this that ye say?’ he uttered. ‘Are ye all of this tale?’
A deep ‘Aye!’ came from all these chests. There was one old man that could never keep still. He had huge limbs, a great ruffled poll of grizzling hair, and his legs that were in jerkins of red leather kicked continuously in little convulsions. He peered every minute at some new thing, very closely, holding first his tablets so near that he could see only with one eye, then the whistle that hung round his neck, then a little piece of paper that he took from his poke. He cried out in a deep voice —‘Aye! aye! Not over well. Witchcraft and foul weather and rocks, my mates and masters all!’ so that he appeared to be a seaman — and indeed he traded to the port of Antwerp, in the Low Countries, where he had learned of some of the Faith.
‘Why,’ Lascelles said, ‘be ye not contented with our goodly King?’
‘Never was a better since Solomon ruled in Jewry,’ the shipman cried out.
‘Is it, then, the Lords of the King’s Council that ye are discontented with?’
‘Nay, they are goodly men, for they are of the King’s choosing,’ one answered — a little man with a black pill-hat.
‘Why, speak through your leader,’ the stranger said heavily from the hearth-place. ‘Here is too much skimble-skamble.’ The old man beside him leaned over his chair-back and whispered in his ear. But the stranger shook his head heavily. He sat and gazed at the brands. His great hands were upon his knees, pressed down, but now and again they moved as if he were in some agony.
‘It is well that ye do as the Lord commandeth,’ Lascelles said; ‘for in Almain, whence he cometh, there is wont to be a great order and observance.’ He held his paper up again to the light. ‘Master Printer, answer now to this question: Find ye aught amiss with the judges and justices of this realm?’
‘Nay; they do judge indifferent well betwixt cause and cause,’ the printer answered from his paper.
‘Or with the serjeants, the apparitors, the collectors of taxes, or the Parliament men?’
‘These, too, perform indifferent well their appointed tasks,’ the printer said gloomily.
‘Or is it with the Church of this realm that ye find fault?’
‘Body of God!’ the stranger said heavily.
‘Nay!’ the printer answered, ‘for the supreme head of that Church is the King, a man learned before all others in the law of God; such a King as speaketh as though he were that mouthpiece of the Most High that the Antichrist at Rome claimeth to be.’
‘Is it, then, with the worshipful the little Prince of Wales that ye are discontented?’ Lascelles read, and the printer answered that there was not such another Prince of his years for promise and for performance, too, in all Christendom.
The stranger said from the hearth-place —
‘Well! we are commended,’ and his voice was bitter and ironical.
‘How is it, then,’ Lascelles read on, ‘that ye say all is not over well in the land?’
The printer’s gloomy and black features glared with a sudden rage.
‘How should all be well with a land,’ he cried, ‘where in high places reigns harlotry?’ He raised his clenched fist on high and glared round upon his audience. ‘Corruption that reacheth round and about and down till it hath found a seedbed even in this poor house of my father’s? Or if it is well with this land now, how shall it continue well when witchcraft rules near the King himself, and the Devil of Rome hath there his emissaries.’
A chitter of sound came from his audience, so that it appeared that they were all of a strain. They moved in their seats; the shipman cried out —
‘Ay! witchcraft! witchcraft!’
The huge bulk of the stranger, black and like a bull’s, half rose from its chair.
‘Body of God!’ he cried out. ‘This I will not bear.’
Again the older man leaned solicitously above him and whispered, pleading with his hands, and Lascelles said hastily —
‘Speak of your own knowledge. How should you know of what passes in high places?’
‘Why!’ the printer cried out, ‘is it not the common report? Do not all men know it? Do not the butchers sing of it in the shambles, and the bot-flies buzz of it one to the other? I tell you it is spread from here into Almain, where the very horse-sellers are a-buzz with it.’
In his chair the stranger cried out —
‘Ah! ah!’ as if he were in great pain. He struggled with his feet and then sat still.
‘I have heard witnesses that will testify to these things,’ the printer said. ‘I will bring them here into this room before ye.’ He turned upon the stranger. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘if ye know not of this, you are the only man in England that is ignorant!’
The stranger said with a bitter despair —
‘Well, I am come to hear what ye do say!’
So he heard tales from all the sewers of London, and it was plain to him that all the commonalty cried shame upon their King. He screamed and twisted there in his chair at the last, and when he was come out into the darkness he fell upon his companion, and beat him so that he screamed out.
He might have died — for, though the King’s guard with their torches and halberds were within a bowshot of them, they stirred no limb. And it was a party of fellows bat-fowling along the hedges of that field that came through the dark, attracted by the glare of the torches, the blaze of the scarlet clothes, and the outcry.
And when they came, asking why that great man belaboured this thin and fragile one, black shadows both against the light, the big man answered, howling —
‘This man hath made me bounden to slay my wife.’
They said that that was a thing some of them would have been glad of.
But the great figure cast itself on the ground at the foot of a tree that stretched up like nerves and tentacles into the black sky. He tore the wet earth with his fingers, and the men stood round him till the Duke of Norfolk, coming with his sword drawn, hunted them afar off, and they fell again to beating the hedges to drive small birds into their nets.
For, they said, these were evidently of the quality whose griefs were none of theirs.
The Queen was walking in the long gallery of Hampton Court. The afternoon was still new, but rain was falling very fast, so that through the windows all trees were blurred with mist, and all alleys ran with water, and it was very grey in the gallery. The Lady Mary was with her, and sat in a window-seat reading in a book. The Queen, as she walked, was netting a silken purse of a purple colour; her gown was very richly embroidered of gold thread worked into black velvet, and the heavy day pressed heavily on her senses, so that she sought that silence more willingly. For three days she had had no news of her lord, but that morning he was come back to Hampton, though she had not yet seen him, for it was ever his custom to put off all work of the day before he came to the Queen. Thus, if she were sad, she was tranquil; and, considering only that her work of bringing him to God must begin again that night, she let her thoughts rest upon the netting of her purse. The King, she had heard, was with his council. Her uncle was come to Court, and Gardiner of Winchester, and Cranmer of Canterbury, along with Sir A. Wriothesley, and many other lords, so that she augured it would be a very full council, and that night there would be a great banquet if she was not mistaken.
She remembered that it was now many months since she had been shown for Queen from that very gallery in the window that opened upon the Cardinal’s garden. The King had led her by the hand. There had been a great crying out of many people of the lower sort that crowded the terrace before the garden. Now the rain fell, and all was desolation. A yeoman in brown fustian ran bending his head before the tempestuous rain. A rook, blown impotently backwards, essayed slowly to cross towards the western trees. Her eyes followed him until a great gust blew him in a wider curve, backwards and up, and when again he steadied himself he was no more than a blot on the wet greyness of the heavens.
There was an outcry at the door, and a woman ran in. She was crying out still: she was all in grey, with the white coif of the Queen’s service. She fell down upon her knees, her hands held out.
‘Pardon!’ she cried. ‘Pardon! Let not my brother come in. He prowls at the door.’
It was Mary Hall, she that had been Mary Lascelles. The Queen came over to raise her up, and to ask what it was she sought. But the woman wept so loud, and so continually cried out that her brother was the fiend incarnate, that the Queen could ask no questions. The Lady Mary looked up over her book without stirring her body. Her eyes were awakened and sardonic.
The waiting-maid looked affrightedly over her shoulders at the door.
‘Well, your brother shall not come in here,’ the Queen said. ‘What would he have done to you?’
‘Pardon!’ the woman cried out. ‘Pardon!’
‘Why, tell me of your fault,’ the Queen said.
‘I have given false witness!’ Mary Hall blubbered out. ‘I would not do it. But you do not know how they confuse a body. And they threaten with cords and thumbscrews.’ She shuddered with her whole body. ‘Pardon!’ she cried out. ‘Pardon!’
And then suddenly she poured forth a babble of lamentations, wringing her hands, and rubbing her lips together. She was a woman passed of thirty, but thin still and fair like her brother in the face, for she was his twin.
‘Ah,’ she cried, ‘he threated that if I would not give evidence I must go back to Lincolnshire. You do not know what it is to go back to Lincolnshire. Ah, God! the old father, the old house, the wet. My clothes were all mouldered. I was willing to give true evidence to save myself, but they twisted it to false. It was the Duke of Norfolk . . . ’
The Lady Mary came slowly over the floor.
‘Against whom did you give your evidence?’ she said, and her voice was cold, hard, and commanding.
Mary Hall covered her face with her hands, and wailed desolately in a high note, like a wolf’s howl, that reverberated in that dim gallery.
The Lady Mary struck her a hard blow with the cover of her book upon the hands and the side of her head.
‘Against whom did you give your evidence?’ she said again.
The woman fell over upon one hand, the other she raised to shield herself. Her eyes were flooded with great teardrops; her mouth was open in an agony. The Lady Mary raised her book to strike again: its covers were of wood, and its angles bound with silver work. The woman screamed out, and then uttered —
‘Against Dearham and one Mopock first. And then against Sir T. Culpepper.’
The Queen stood up to her height; her hand went over her heart; the netted purse dropped to the floor soundlessly.
‘God help me!’ Mary Hall cried out. ‘Dearham and Culpepper are both dead!’
The Queen sprang back three paces.
‘How dead!’ she cried. ‘They were not even ill.’
‘Upon the block,’ the maid said. ‘Last night, in the dark, in their gaols.’
The Queen let her hands fall slowly to her sides.
‘Who did this?’ she said, and Mary Hall answered —
‘It was the King!’
The Lady Mary set her book under her arm.
‘Ye might have known it was the King,’ she said harshly. The Queen was as still as a pillar of ebony and ivory, so black her dress was, and so white her face and pendant hands.
‘I repent me! I repent me!’ the maid cried out. ‘When I heard that they were dead I repented me and came here. The old Duchess of Norfolk is in gaol: she burned the letters of Dearham! The Lady Rochford is in gaol, and old Sir Nicholas, and the Lady Cicely that was ever with the Queen; the Lord Edmund Howard shall to gaol and his lady.’
‘Why,’ the Lady Mary said to the Queen, ‘if you had not had such a fear of nepotism, your father and mother and grandmother and cousin had been here about you, and not so easily taken.’
The Queen stood still whilst all her hopes fell down.
‘They have taken Lady Cicely that was ever with me,’ she said.
‘It was the Duke of Norfolk that pressed me most,’ Mary Lascelles cried out.
‘Aye, he would,’ the Lady Mary answered.
The Queen tottered upon her feet.
‘Ask her more,’ she said. ‘I will not speak with her.’
‘The King in his council . . . ’ the girl began.
‘Is the King in his council upon these matters?’ the Lady Mary asked.
‘Aye, he sitteth there,’ Mary Hall said. ‘And he hath heard evidence of Mary Trelyon the Queen’s maid, how that the Queen’s Highness did bid her begone on the night that Sir T. Culpepper came to her room, before he came. And how that the Queen was very insistent that she should go, upon the score of fatigue and the lateness of the hour. And she hath deponed that on other nights, too, this has happened, that the Queen’s Highness, when she hath come late to bed, hath equally done the same thing. And other her maids have deponed how the Queen hath sent them from her presence and relieved them of tasks ——’
‘Well, well,’ the Lady Mary said, ‘often I have urged the Queen that she should be less gracious. Better it had been if she had beat ye all as I have done; then had ye feared to betray her.’
‘Aye,’ Mary Hall said, ‘it is a true thing that your Grace saith there.’
‘Call me not your Grace,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘I will be no Grace in this court of wolves and hogs.’
That was the sole thing that she said to show she was of the Queen’s party. But ever she questioned the kneeling woman to know what evidence had been given, and of the attitude of the lords.
The young Poins had sworn roundly that the Queen had bidden him to summon no guards when her cousin had broken in upon her. Only Udal had said that he knew nothing of how Katharine had agreed with her cousin whilst they were in Lincolnshire. It had been after his time there that Culpepper came. It had been after his time, too, and whilst he lay in chains at Pontefract that Culpepper had come to her door. He stuck to that tale, though the Duke of Norfolk had beat and threatened him never so.
‘Why, what wolves Howards be,’ the Lady Mary said, ‘for it is only wolves, of all beasts, that will prey upon the sick of their kind.’
The Queen stood there, swaying back as if she were very sick, her eyes fast closed, and the lids over them very blue.
It was only when the Lady Mary drew from the woman an account of the King’s demeanour that she showed a sign of hearing.
‘His Highness,’ the woman said, ‘sate always mute.’
‘His Highness would,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘He is in that at least royal — that he letteth jackals do his hunting.’
It was only when the Archbishop of Canterbury, reading from the indictment of Culpepper, had uttered the words: ‘did by the obtaining of the Lady Rochford meet with the Queen’s Highness by night in a secret and vile place,’ that the King had called out —
‘Body of God! mine own bedchamber!’ as if he were hatefully mocking the Archbishop.
The Queen leant suddenly forward —
‘Said he no more than that?’ she cried eagerly.
‘No more, oh your dear Grace,’ the maid said. And the Queen shuddered and whispered —
‘No more! — And I have spoken to this woman to obtain no more than “no more.”’
Again she closed her eyes, and she did not again speak, but hung her head forward as if she were thinking.
‘Heaven help me!’ the maid said.
‘Why, think no more of Heaven,’ the Lady Mary said, ‘there is but the fire of hell for such beasts as you.’
‘Had you such a brother as mine ——’ Mary Hall began. But the Lady Mary cried out —
‘Cease, dog! I have a worse father, but you have not found him force me to work vileness.’
‘All the other Papists have done worse than I,’ Mary Hall said, ‘for they it was that forced us by threats to speak.’
‘Not one was of the Queen’s side?’ the Lady Mary said.
‘Not one,’ Mary Hall answered. ‘Gardiner was more fierce against her than he of Canterbury, the Duke of Norfolk than either.’
The Lady Mary said —
‘Myself I did hear the Duke of Norfolk say, when I was drawn to give evidence, that he begged the King to let him tear my secrets from my heart. For so did he abhor the abominable deeds done by his two nieces, Anne Boleyn and Katharine Howard, that he could no longer desire to live. And he said neither could he live longer without some comfortable assurance of His Highness’s royal favour. And so he fell upon me ——’
The woman fell to silence. Without, the rain had ceased, and, like heavy curtains trailing near the ground, the clouds began to part and sweep away. A horn sounded, and there went a party of men with pikes across the terrace.
‘Well, and what said you?’ the Lady Mary said.
‘Ask me not,’ Mary Lascelles said woefully. She averted her eyes to the floor at her side.
‘By God, but I will know,’ the Lady Mary snarled. ‘You shall tell me.’ She had that of royal bearing from her sire that the woman was amazed at her words, and, awakening like one in a dream, she rehearsed the evidence that had been threated from her.
She had told of the lascivious revels and partings, in the maid’s garret at the old Duchess’s, when Katharine had been a child there. She had told how Marnock the musicker had called her his mistress, and how Dearham, Katharine’s cousin, had beaten him. And how Dearham had given Katharine a half of a silver coin.
‘Well, that is all true,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘How did you perjure yourself?’
‘In the matter of the Queen’s age,’ the woman faltered.
‘How that?’ the Lady Mary asked.
‘The Duke would have me say that she was more than a young child.’
The Lady Mary said, ‘Ah! ah! there is the yellow dog!’ She thought for a moment.
‘And you said?’ she asked at last.
‘The Duke threated me and threated me. And say I, “Your Grace must know how young she was.” And says he, “I would swear that at that date she was no child, but that I do not know how many of these nauseous Howard brats there be. Nor yet the order in which they came. But this I will swear that I think there has been some change of the Queen with a whelp that died in the litter, that she might seem more young. And of a surety she was always learned beyond her assumed years, so that it was not to be believed.”’
Mary Lascelles closed her eyes and appeared about to faint.
‘Speak on, dog,’ Mary said.
The woman roused herself to say with a solemn piteousness —
‘This I swear that before this trial, when my brother pressed me and threated me thus to perjure myself, I abhorred it and spat in his face. There was none more firm — nor one half so firm as I— against him. But oh, the Duke and the terror — and to be in a ring of so many villainous men. . . . ’
‘So that you swore that the Queen’s Highness, to your knowledge, was older than a child,’ the Lady Mary pressed her.
‘Ay; they would have me say that it was she that commanded to have these revels. . . . ’
She leaned forward with both her hands on the floor, in the attitude of a beast that goes four-footed. She cried out —
‘Ask me no more! ask me no more!’
‘Tell! tell! Beast!’ the Lady Mary said.
‘They threated me with torture,’ the woman panted. ‘I could do no less. I heard Margot Poins scream.’
‘They have tortured her?’ the Lady Mary said.
‘Ay, and she was in her pains elsewise,’ the woman said.
‘Did she say aught?’ the Lady Mary said.
‘No! no!’ the woman panted. Her hair had fallen loose in her coif, it depended on to her shoulder.
‘Tell on! tell on!’ the Lady Mary said.
‘They tortured her, and she did not say one word more, but ever in her agony cried out, “Virtuous! virtuous!” till her senses went.’
Mary Hall again raised herself to her knees.
‘Let me go, let me go,’ she moaned. ‘I will not speak before the Queen. I had been as loyal as Margot Poins. . . . But I will not speak before the Queen. I love her as well as Margot Poins. But . . . I will not ——’
She cried out as the Lady Mary struck her, and her face was lamentable with its opened mouth. She scrambled to one knee; she got on both, and ran to the door. But there she cried out —
‘My brother!’ and fell against the wall. Her eyes were fixed upon the Lady Mary with a baleful despair, she gasped and panted for breath.
‘It is upon you if I speak,’ she said. ‘Merciful God, do not bid me speak before the Queen!’
She held out her hands as if she had been praying.
‘Have I not proved that I loved this Queen?’ she said. ‘Have I not fled here to warn her? Is it not my life that I risk? Merciful God! Merciful God! Bid me not to speak.’
‘Speak!’ the Lady Mary said.
The woman appealed to the Queen with her eyes streaming, but Katharine stood silent and like a statue with sightless eyes. Her lips smiled, for she thought of her Redeemer; for this woman she had neither ears nor eyes.
‘Speak!’ the Lady Mary said.
‘God help you, be it on your head,’ the woman cried out, ‘that I speak before the Queen. It was the King that bade me say she was so old. I would not say it before the Queen, but you have made me!’
The Lady Mary’s hands fell powerless to her sides, the book from her opened fingers jarred on the hard floor.
‘Merciful God!’ she said. ‘Have I such a father?’
‘It was the King!’ the woman said. ‘His Highness came to life when he heard these words of the Duke’s, that the Queen was older than she reported. He would have me say that the Queen’s Highness was of a marriageable age and contracted to her cousin Dearham.’
‘Merciful God!’ the Lady Mary said again. ‘Dear God, show me some way to tear from myself the sin of my begetting. I had rather my mother’s confessor had been my father than the King! Merciful God!’
‘Never was woman pressed as I was to say this thing. And well ye wot — better than I did before — what this King is. I tell you — and I swear it ——’
She stopped and trembled, her eyes, from which the colour had gone, wide open and lustreless, her face pallid and ashen, her mouth hanging open. The Queen was moving towards her.
She came very slowly, her hands waving as if she sought support from the air, but her head was erect.
‘What will you do?’ the Lady Mary said. ‘Let us take counsel!’
Katharine Howard said no word. It was as if she walked in her sleep.
The King sat on the raised throne of his council chamber. All the Lords of his Council were there and all in black. There was Norfolk with his yellow face who feigned to laugh and scoff, now that he had proved himself no lover of the Queen’s. There was Gardiner of Winchester, sitting forward with his cruel and eager eyes upon the table. Next him was the Lord Mayor, Michael Dormer, and the Lord Chancellor. And so round the horse-shoe table against the wall sat all the other lords and commissioners that had been appointed to make inquiry. Sir Anthony Browne was there, and Wriothesley with his great beard, and the Duke of Suffolk with his hanging jaw. A silence had fallen upon them all, and the witnesses were all done with.
On high on his throne the King sat, monstrous and leaning over to one side, his face dabbled with tears. He gazed upon Cranmer who stood on high beside him, the King gazing upwards into his face as if for comfort and counsel.
‘Why, you shall save her for me?’ he said.
Cranmer’s face was haggard, and upon it too there were tears.
‘It were the gladdest thing that ever I did,’ he said, ‘for I do believe this Queen is not so guilty.’
‘God of His mercy bless thee, Cranmer,’ he said, and wearily he touched his black bonnet at the sacred name. ‘I have done all that I might when I spoke with Mary Hall. It shall save me her life.’
Cranmer looked round upon the lords below them; they were all silent but only the Duke of Norfolk who laughed to the Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor, a burly man, was more pallid and haggard than any. All the others had fear for themselves written upon their faces. But the citizen was not used to these trials, of which the others had seen so many.
The Archbishop fell on his knees on the step before the King’s throne.
‘Gracious and dread Lord,’ he said, and his low voice trembled like that of a schoolboy, ‘Saviour, Lord, and Fount of Justice of this realm! Hitherto these trials have been of traitor-felons and villains outside the circle of your house. Now that they be judged and dead, we, your lords, pray you that you put off from you this most heavy task of judge. For inasmuch as we live by your life and have health by your health, in this realm afflicted with many sores that you alone can heal and dangers that you alone can ward off, so we have it assured and certain that many too great labours and matters laid upon you imperil us all. In that, as well for our selfish fears as for the great love, self-forgetting, that we have of your person, we pray you that — coming now to the trial of this your wife — you do rest, though well assured we are that greatly and courageously you would adventure it, upon the love of us your lords. Appoint, therefore, such a Commission as you shall well approve to make this most heavy essay and trial.’
So low was his voice that, to hear him, many lords rose from their seats and came over against the throne. Thus all that company were in the upper part of the hall, and through the great window at the further end the sun shone down upon them, having parted the watery clouds. To their mass of black it gave blots and gouts of purple and blue and scarlet, coming through the dight panes.
‘Lay off this burden of trial and examination upon us that so willingly, though with sighs and groans, would bear it.’
Suddenly the King stood up and pointed, his jaw fallen open. Katharine Howard was coming up the floor of the hall. Her hands were folded before her; her face was rigid and calm; she looked neither to right nor to left, but only upon the King’s face. At the edge of the sunlight she halted, so that she stood, a black figure in the bluish and stony gloom of the hall with the high roof a great way above her head. All the lords began to pull off their bonnets, only Norfolk said that he would not uncover before a harlot.
The Queen, looking upon Henry’s face, said with icy and cold tones —
‘I would have you to cease this torturing of witnesses. I will make confession.’
No man then had a word to say. Norfolk had no word either.
‘If you will have me confess to heresy, I will confess to heresy; if to treason, to treason. If you will have me confess to adultery, God help me and all of you, I will confess to adultery and all such sins.’
The King cried out —
‘No! no!’ like a beast that is stabbed to the heart; but with cold eyes the Queen looked back at him.
‘If you will have it adultery before marriage, it shall be so. If it be to be falseness to my Lord’s bed, it shall be so; if it be both, in the name of God, be it both, and where you will and how. If you will have it spoken, here I speak it. If you will have it written, I will write out such words as you shall bid me write. I pray you leave my poor women be, especially them that be sick, for there are none that do not love me, and I do think that my death is all that you need.’
She paused; there was no sound in the hall but the strenuous panting of the King.
‘But whether,’ she said, ‘you shall believe this confession of mine, I leave to you that very well do know my conversation and my manner of life.’
Again she paused and said —
‘I have spoken. To it I will add that heartily I do thank my sovereign lord that raised me up. And, in public, I do say it, that he hath dealt justly by me. I pray you pardon me for having delayed thus long your labours. I will get me gone.’
Then she dropped her eyes to the ground.
Again the King cried out —
‘No! no!’ and, stumbling to his feet he rushed down upon his courtiers and round the table. He came upon her before she was at the distant door.
‘You shall not go!’ he said. ‘Unsay! unsay!’
She said, ‘Ah!’ and recoiled before him with an obdurate and calm repulsion.
‘Get ye gone, all you minions and hounds,’ he cried. And running in upon them he assailed them with huge blows and curses, sobbing lamentably, so that they fled up the steps and out on to the rooms behind the throne. He came sobbing, swift and maddened, panting and crying out, back to where she awaited him.
‘Unsay! unsay!’ he cried out.
She stood calmly.
‘Never will I unsay,’ she said. ‘For it is right that such a King as thou should be punished, and I do believe this: that there can no agony come upon you such as shall come if you do believe me false to you.’
The coloured sunlight fell upon his face just down to the chin; his eyes glared horribly. She confronted him, being in the shadow. High up above them, painted and moulded angels soared on the roof with golden wings. He clutched at his throat.
‘I do not believe it,’ he cried out.
‘Then,’ she said, ‘I believe that it shall be only a second greater agony to you: for you shall have done me to death believing me guiltless.’
A great motion of despair went over his whole body.
‘Kat!’ he said; ‘Body of God, Kat! I would not have you done to death. I have saved your life from your enemies.’
She made him no answer, and he protested desperately —
‘All this afternoon I have wrestled with a woman to make her say that you are older than your age, and precontracted to a cousin of yours. I have made her say it at last, so your life is saved.’
She turned half to go from him, but he ran round in front of her.
‘Your life is saved!’ he said desperately, ‘for if you were precontracted to Dearham your marriage with me is void. And if your marriage with me is void, though it be proved against you that you were false to me, yet it is not treason, for you are not my wife.’
Again she moved to circumvent him, and again he came before her.
‘Speak!’ he said, ‘speak!’ But she folded her lips close. He cast his arms abroad in a passion of despair. ‘You shall be put away into a castle where you shall have such state as never empress had yet. All your will I will do. Always I will live near you in secret fashion.’
‘I will not be your leman,’ she said.
‘But once you offered it!’ he answered.
‘Then you appeared in the guise of a king!’ she said.
He withered beneath her tone.
‘All you would have you shall have,’ he said. ‘I will call in a messenger and here and now send the letter that you wot of to Rome.’
‘Your Highness,’ she said, ‘I would not have the Church brought back to this land by one deemed an adult’ress. Assuredly, it should not prosper.’
Again he sought to stay her going, holding out his arms to enfold her. She stepped back.
‘Your Highness,’ she said, ‘I will speak some last words. And, as you know me well, you know that these irrevocably shall be my last to you!’
He cried —‘Delay till you hear ——’
‘There shall be no delay,’ she said; ‘I will not hear.’ She smoothed a strand of hair that had fallen over her forehead in a gesture that she always had when she was deep in thoughts.
‘This is what I would say,’ she uttered. And she began to speak levelly —
‘Very truly you say when you say that once I made offer to be your leman. But it was when I was a young girl, mazed with reading of books in the learned tongue, and seeing all men as if they were men of those days. So you appeared to me such a man as was Pompey the Great, or as was Marius, or as was Sylla. For each of these great men erred; yet they erred greatly as rulers that would rule. Or rather I did see you such a one as was Cæsar Julius, who, as you well wot, crossed a Rubicon and set out upon a high endeavour. But you — never will you cross any Rubicon; always you blow hot in the evening and cold at dawn. Neither do you, as I had dreamed you did, rule in this your realm. For, even as a crow that just now I watched, you are blown hither and thither by every gust that blows. Now the wind of gossips blows so that you must have my life. And, before God, I am glad of it.’
‘Before God!’ he cried out, ‘I would save you!’
‘Aye,’ she answered sadly, ‘today you would save me; tomorrow a foul speech of one mine enemy shall gird you again to slay me. On the morrow you will repent, and on the morrow of that again you will repent of that. So you will balance and trim. If today you send a messenger to Rome, tomorrow you will send another, hastening by a shorter route, to stay him. And this I tell you, that I am not one to let my name be bandied for many days in the mouths of men. I had rather be called a sinner, adjudged and dead and forgotten. So I am glad that I am cast to die.’
‘You shall not die!’ the King cried. ‘Body of God, you shall not die! I cannot live lacking thee. Kat —— Kat ——’
‘Aye,’ she said, ‘I must die, for you are not such a one as can stay in the wind. Thus I tell you it will fall about that for many days you will waver, but one day you will cry out — Let her die this day! On the morrow of that day you will repent you, but, being dead, I shall be no more to be recalled to life. Why, man, with this confession of mine, heard by grooms and mayors of cities and the like, how shall you dare to save me? You know you shall not.
‘And so, now I am cast for death, and I am very glad of it. For, if I had not so ensured and made it fated, I might later have wavered. For I am a weak woman, and strong men have taken dishonourable means to escape death when it came near. Now I am assured of death, and know that no means of yours can save me, nor no prayers nor yielding of mine. I came to you for that you might give this realm again to God. Now I see you will not — for not ever will you do it if it must abate you a jot of your sovereignty, and you never will do it without that abatement. So it is in vain that I have sinned.
‘For I trow that I sinned in taking the crown from the woman that was late your wife. I would not have it, but you would, and I yielded. Yet it was a sin. Then I did a sin that good might ensue, and again I do it, and I hope that this sin that brings me down shall counterbalance that other that set me up. For well I know that to make this confession is a sin; but whether the one shall balance the other only the angels that are at the gates of Paradise shall assure me.
‘In some sort I have done it for your Highness’ sake — or, at least, that your Highness may profit in your fame thereby. For, though all that do know me will scarcely believe in it, the most part of men shall needs judge me by the reports that are set about. In the commonalty, and the princes of foreign courts, one may believe you justified of my blood, and, for this event, even to posterity your name shall be spared. I shall become such a little dust as will not fill a cup. Yet, at least, I shall not sully, in the eyes of men to come, your record.
‘And that I am glad of; for this world is no place for me who am mazed by too much reading in old books. At first I would not believe it, though many have told me it was so. I was of the opinion that in the end right must win through. I think now that it never shall — or not for many ages — till our Saviour again come upon this earth with a great glory. But all this is a mystery of the great goodness of God and the temptations that do beset us poor mortality.
‘So now I go! I think that you will not any more seek to hinder me, for you have heard how set I am on this course. I think, if I have done little good, I have done little harm, for I have sought to injure no man — though through me you have wracked some of my poor servants and slain my poor simple cousin. But that is between you and God. If I must weep for them yet, though I was the occasion of their deaths and tortures, I cannot much lay it to my account.
‘If, by being reputed your leman, as you would have it, I could again set up the Church of God, willingly I would do it. But I see that there is not one man — save maybe some poor simple souls — that would have this done. Each man is set to save his skin and his goods — and you are such a weathercock that I should never blow you to a firm quarter. For what am I set against all this nation?
‘If you should say that our wedding was no wedding because of the precontract to my cousin Dearham that you have feigned was made — why, I might live as your reputed leman in a secret place. But it is not very certain that even at that I should live very long. For, if I lived, I must work upon you to do the right. And, if that I did, not very long should I live before mine enemies again did come about me and to you. And so I must die. And now I see that you are not such a man as I would live with willingly to preserve my life.
‘I speak not to reprove you what I have spoken, but to make you see that as I am so I am. You are as God made you, setting you for His own purposes a weak man in very evil and turbulent times. As a man is born so a man lives; as is his strength so the strain breaks him or he resists the strain. If I have wounded you with these my words, I do ask your pardon. Much of this long speech I have thought upon when I was despondent this long time past. But much of it has come to my lips whilst I spake, and, maybe, it is harsh and rash in the wording. That I would not have, but I may not help myself. I would have you wounded by the things as they are, and by what of conscience you have, in your passions and your prides. And this, I will add, that I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of my cousin Culpepper or of any other simple lout that loved me as he did, without regard, without thought, and without falter. He sold farms to buy me bread. You would not imperil a little alliance with a little King o’ Scots to save my life. And this I tell you, that I will spend the last hours of the days that I have to live in considering of this simple man and of his love, and in praying for his soul, for I hear you have slain him! And for the rest, I commend you to your friends!’
The King had staggered back against the long table; his jaw fell open; his head leaned down upon his chest. In all that long speech — the longest she had ever made save when she was shown for Queen — she had not once raised or lowered her voice, nor once dropped her eyes. But she had remembered the lessons of speaking that had been given her by her master Udal, in the aforetime, away in Lincolnshire, where there was an orchard with green boughs, and below it a pig-pound where the hogs grunted.
She went slowly down over the great stone flags of the great hall. It was very gloomy now, and her figure in black velvet was like a small shadow, dark and liquid, amongst shadows that fell softly and like draperies from the roof. Up there it was all dark already, for the light came downwards from the windows. She went slowly, walking as she had been schooled to walk.
‘God!’ Henry cried out; ‘you have not played false with Culpepper?’ His voice echoed all round the hall.
The Queen’s white face and her folded hands showed as she turned —
‘Aye, there the shoe pinches!’ she said. ‘Think upon it. Most times you shall not believe it, for you know me. But I have made confession of it before your Council. So it may be true. For I hope some truth cometh to the fore even in Councils.’
Near the doorway it was all shadow, and soundlessly she faded away among them. The hinge of the door creaked; through it there came the sound of the pikestaves of her guard upon the stone of the steps. The sound whispered round amidst the statues of old knights and kings that stood upon corbels between the windows. It whispered amongst the invisible carvings of the roof. Then it died away.
The King made no sound. Suddenly he cast his hat upon the paving.
KATHARINE HOWARD was executed on Tower Hill, the 13th of February, in the 33rd year of the reign of KING HENRY VIII.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08