Henry. Dost thou know me, Nanny, in this yeoman’s dress? ‘Sblood! does it require so long and vacant a stare to recollect a husband after a week or two? No tragedy-tricks with me! a scream, a sob, or thy kerchief a trifle the wetter, were enough. Why, verily the little fool faints in earnest. These whey faces, like their kinsfolk the ghosts, give us no warning. Hast had water enough upon thee? Take that, then: art thyself again?
Anne. Father of mercies! do I meet again my husband, as was my last prayer on earth? Do I behold my beloved lord — in peace — and pardoned, my partner in eternal bliss? it was his voice. I cannot see him: why cannot I? Oh, why do these pangs interrupt the transports of the blessed?
Henry. Thou openest thy arms: faith! I came for that. Nanny, thou art a sweet slut. Thou groanest, wench: art in labour? Faith! among the mistakes of the night, I am ready to think almost that thou hast been drinking, and that I have not.
Anne. God preserve your Highness: grant me your forgiveness for one slight offence. My eyes were heavy; I fell asleep while I was reading. I did not know of your presence at first; and, when I did, I could not speak. I strove for utterance: I wanted no respect for my liege and husband.
Henry. My pretty warm nestling, thou wilt then lie! Thou wert reading, and aloud too, with thy saintly cup of water by thee, and — what! thou art still girlishly fond of those dried cherries!
Anne. I had no other fruit to offer your Highness the first time I saw you, and you were then pleased to invent for me some reason why they should be acceptable. I did not dry these: may I present them, such as they are? We shall have fresh next month.
Henry. Thou art always driving away from the discourse. One moment it suits thee to know me, another not.
Anne. Remember, it is hardly three months since I miscarried. I am weak, and liable to swoons.
Henry. Thou hast, however, thy bridal cheeks, with lustre upon them when there is none elsewhere, and obstinate lips resisting all impression; but, now thou talkest about miscarrying, who is the father of that boy?
Anne. Yours and mine — He who hath taken him to his own home, before (like me) he could struggle or cry for it.
Henry. Pagan, or worse, to talk so! He did not come into the world alive: there was no baptism.
Anne. I thought only of our loss: my senses are confounded. I did not give him my milk, and yet I loved him tenderly; for I often fancied, had he lived, how contented and joyful he would have made you and England.
Henry. No subterfuges and escapes. I warrant, thou canst not say whether at my entrance thou wert waking or wandering.
Anne. Faintness and drowsiness came upon me suddenly.
Henry. Well, since thou really and truly sleepedst, what didst dream of?
Anne. I begin to doubt whether I did indeed sleep.
Henry. Ha! false one — never two sentences of truth together! But come, what didst think about, asleep or awake?
Anne. I thought that God had pardoned me my offences, and had received me unto Him.
Henry. And nothing more?
Anne. That my prayers had been heard and my wishes were accomplishing: the angels alone can enjoy more beatitude than this.
Henry. Vexatious little devil! She says nothing now about me, merely from perverseness. Hast thou never thought about me, nor about thy falsehood and adultery?
Anne. If I had committed any kind of falsehood, in regard to you or not, I should never have rested until I had thrown myself at your feet and obtained your pardon; but, if ever I had been guilty of that other crime, I know not whether I should have dared to implore it, even of God’s mercy.
Henry. Thou hast heretofore cast some soft glances upon Smeaton; hast thou not?
Anne. He taught me to play on the virginals, as you know, when I was little, and thereby to please your Highness.
Henry. And Brereton and Norris — what have they taught thee?
Anne. They are your servants, and trusty ones.
Henry. Has not Weston told thee plainly that he loved thee?
Anne. Yes; and ——
Henry. What didst thou?
Anne. I defied him.
Henry. Is that all?
Anne. I could have done no more if he had told me that he hated me. Then, indeed, I should have incurred more justly the reproaches of your Highness: I should have smiled.
Henry. We have proofs abundant: the fellows shall one and all confront thee. Aye, clap thy hands and kiss thy sleeve, harlot!
Anne. Oh that so great a favour is vouchsafed me! My honour is secure; my husband will be happy again; he will see my innocence.
Henry. Give me now an account of the moneys thou hast received from me within these nine months. I want them not back: they are letters of gold in record of thy guilt. Thou hast had no fewer than fifteen thousand pounds in that period, without even thy asking; what hast done with it, wanton?
Anne. I have regularly placed it out to interest.
Henry. Where? I demand of thee.
Anne. Among the needy and ailing. My Lord Archbishop has the account of it, sealed by him weekly. I also had a copy myself; those who took away my papers may easily find it; for there are few others, and they lie open.
Henry. Think on my munificence to thee; recollect who made thee. Dost sigh for what thou hast lost?
Anne. I do, indeed.
Henry. I never thought thee ambitious; but thy vices creep out one by one.
Anne. I do not regret that I have been a queen and am no longer one; nor that my innocence is called in question by those who never knew me; but I lament that the good people who loved me so cordially, hate and curse me; that those who pointed me out to their daughters for imitation check them when they speak about me; and that he whom next to God I have served with most devotion is my accuser.
Henry. Wast thou conning over something in that dingy book for thy defence? Come, tell me, what wast thou reading?
Anne. This ancient chronicle. I was looking for someone in my own condition, and must have missed the page. Surely in so many hundred years there shall have been other young maidens, first too happy for exaltation, and after too exalted for happiness — not, perchance, doomed to die upon a scaffold, by those they ever honoured and served faithfully; that, indeed, I did not look for nor think of; but my heart was bounding for any one I could love and pity. She would be unto me as a sister dead and gone; but hearing me, seeing me, consoling me, and being consoled. O my husband! it is so heavenly a thing ——
Henry. To whine and whimper, no doubt, is vastly heavenly.
Anne. I said not so; but those, if there be any such, who never weep, have nothing in them of heavenly or of earthly. The plants, the trees, the very rocks and unsunned clouds, show us at least the semblances of weeping; and there is not an aspect of the globe we live on, nor of the waters and skies around it, without a reference and a similitude to our joys or sorrows.
Henry. I do not remember that notion anywhere. Take care no enemy rake out of it something of materialism. Guard well thy empty hot brain; it may hatch more evil. As for those odd words, I myself would fain see no great harm in them, knowing that grief and frenzy strike out many things which would else lie still, and neither spurt nor sparkle. I also know that thou hast never read anything but Bible and history — the two worst books in the world for young people, and the most certain to lead astray both prince and subject. For which reason I have interdicted and entirely put down the one, and will (by the blessing of the Virgin and of holy Paul) commit the other to a rigid censor. If it behoves us kings to enact what our people shall eat and drink — of which the most unruly and rebellious spirit can entertain no doubt — greatly more doth it behove us to examine what they read and think. The body is moved according to the mind and will; we must take care that the movement be a right one, on pain of God’s anger in this life and the next.
Anne. O my dear husband! it must be a naughty thing, indeed, that makes Him angry beyond remission. Did you ever try how pleasant it is to forgive any one? There is nothing else wherein we can resemble God perfectly and easily.
Henry. Resemble God perfectly and easily! Do vile creatures talk thus of the Creator?
Anne. No, Henry, when His creatures talk thus of Him, they are no longer vile creatures! When they know that He is good, they love Him; and, when they love Him, they are good themselves. O Henry! my husband and king! the judgments of our Heavenly Father are righteous; on this, surely, we must think alike.
Henry. And what, then? Speak out; again I command thee, speak plainly! thy tongue was not so torpid but this moment. Art ready? Must I wait?
Anne. If any doubt remains upon your royal mind of your equity in this business: should it haply seem possible to you that passion or prejudice, in yourself or another, may have warped so strong an understanding — do but supplicate the Almighty to strengthen and enlighten it, and He will hear you.
Henry. What! thou wouldst fain change thy quarters, ay?
Anne. My spirit is detached and ready, and I shall change them shortly, whatever your Highness may determine.
Henry. Yet thou appearest hale and resolute, and (they tell me) smirkest and smilest to everybody.
Anne. The withered leaf catches the sun sometimes, little as it can profit by it; and I have heard stories of the breeze in other climates that sets in when daylight is about to close, and how constant it is, and how refreshing. My heart, indeed, is now sustained strangely; it became the more sensibly so from that time forward, when power and grandeur and all things terrestrial were sunk from sight. Every act of kindness in those about me gives me satisfaction and pleasure, such as I did not feel formerly. I was worse before God chastened me; yet I was never an ingrate. What pains have I taken to find out the village-girls who placed their posies in my chamber ere I arose in the morning! How gladly would I have recompensed the forester who lit up a brake on my birthnight, which else had warmed him half the winter! But these are times past: I was not Queen of England.
Henry. Nor adulterous, nor heretical.
Anne. God be praised!
Henry. Learned saint! thou knowest nothing of the lighter, but perhaps canst inform me about the graver, of them.
Anne. Which may it be, my liege?
Henry. Which may it be? Pestilence! I marvel that the walls of this tower do not crack around thee at such impiety.
Anne. I would be instructed by the wisest of theologians: such is your Highness.
Henry. Are the sins of the body, foul as they are, comparable to those of the soul?
Anne. When they are united, they must be worse.
Henry. Go on, go on: thou pushest thy own breast against the sword. God hath deprived thee of thy reason for thy punishment. I must hear more: proceed, I charge thee.
Anne. An aptitude to believe one thing rather than another, from ignorance or weakness, or from the more persuasive manner of the teacher, or from his purity of life, or from the strong impression of a particular text at a particular time, and various things beside, may influence and decide our opinion; and the hand of the Almighty, let us hope, will fall gently on human fallibility.
Henry. Opinion in matters of faith! rare wisdom! rare religion! Troth, Anne! thou hast well sobered me. I came rather warmly and lovingly; but these light ringlets, by the holy rood, shall not shade this shoulder much longer. Nay, do not start; I tap it for the last time, my sweetest. If the Church permitted it, thou shouldst set forth on thy long journey with the Eucharist between thy teeth, however loath.
Anne. Love your Elizabeth, my honoured lord, and God bless you! She will soon forget to call me. Do not chide her: think how young she is.
Could I, could I kiss her, but once again! it would comfort my heart — or break it.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57