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John Heywood

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John Heywood








After so much care and excitement, the king needed an hour of recreation
and amusement. Since the fair young queen was seeking these far away
in the chase, and amid the beauties of Nature, Henry must, no doubt,
be content to seek them for himself, and in a way different from the
queen's. His unwieldiness and his load of flesh prevented him from
pursuing the joys of life beyond his own halls; so the lords and ladies
of his court had to bring them hither to him, and station the flitting
goddess of Joy, with her wings fettered, in front of the king's
trundle-chair.

The gout had that day again overcome that mighty king of earth; and a
heavy, grotesque mass it was which sat there in the elbow-chair.

But the courtiers still called him a fine-looking and fascinating man;
and the ladies still smiled on him and said, by their sighs and by their
looks, that they loved him; that he was ever to them the same handsome
and captivating man that he was twenty years before, when yet young,
fine-looking, and slim. How they smile upon him, and ogle him! How
Lady Jane, the maiden otherwise so haughty and so chaste, does wish to
ensnare him with her bright eyes as with a net! How bewitchingly does
the Duchess of Richmond, that fair and voluptuous woman, laugh at the
king's merry jests and double entendres!

Poor king! whose corpulency forbids him to dance as he once had done
with so much pleasure and so much dexterity! Poor king! whose age
forbids him to sing as once he had done to the delight both of the court
and himself!

But there are yet, however, pleasant, precious, joyous hours, when the
man revives some little in the king; when even youth once more again
awakes within him, and smiles in a few dear, blessed pleasures. The king
still has at least eyes to perceive beauty, and a heart to feel it.

How beautiful Lady Jane is, this white lily with the dark, star-like
eyes! How beautiful Lady Richmond, this full-blown red rose with the
pearl-white teeth!

And they both smile at him; and when the king swears he loves them, they
bashfully cast down their eyes and sigh.

"Do you sigh, Jane, because you love me?"

"Oh, sire, you mock me. It would be a sin for me to love you, for Queen
Catharine is living."

"Yes, she is living!" muttered the king; and his brow darkened; and for
a moment the smile disappeared from his lips.

Lady Jane had committed a mistake. She had reminded the king of his wife
when it was yet too soon to ask for her death.

John Heywood read this in the countenance of his royal master, and
resolved to take advantage of it. He wished to divert the attention of
the king, and to draw it away from the beautiful, captivating women who
were juggling him with their bewitching charms.

"Yes, the queen lives!" said he, joyfully, "and God be praised for it!
For how tedious and dull it would be at this court had we not our fair
queen, who is as wise as Methuselah, and innocent and good as a new-born
babe! Do you not, Lady Jane, say with me, God be praised that Queen
Catharine is living?"

"I say so with you!" said Jane, with ill-concealed vexation.

"And you, King Henry, do you not say it too?"

"Of course, fool!"

"Ah, why am I not King Henry?" sighed John Heywood. "King, I envy you,
not your crown, or your royal mantle; not your attendants or your money.
I envy you only this, that you can say, 'God be praised that my wife is
still alive!' while I never know but one phrase,'God have pity, my
wife is still alive!' Ah, it is very seldom, king, that I have heard a
married man speak otherwise! You are in that too, as in all things else,
an exception, King Henry; and your people have never loved you more
warmly and purely than when you say, 'I thank God that my consort is
alive!' Believe me, you are perhaps the only man at your court who
speaks after this manner, however ready they may be to be your parrots,
and re-echo what the lord high-priest says."

"The only man that loves his wife?" said Lady Richmond. "Behold now
the rude babbler! Do you not believe, then, that we women deserve to be
loved?"

"I am convinced that you do not."

"And for what do you take us, then?"

"For cats, which God, since He had no more cat-skin, stuck into a smooth
hide!"

"Take care, John, that we do not show you our claws!" cried the duchess,
laughing.

"Do it anyhow, my lady! I will then make a cross, and ye will disappear.
For devils, you well know, cannot endure the sight of the holy cross,
and ye are devils."

John Heywood, who was a remarkably fine singer, seized the mandolin,
which lay near him, and began to sing.

It was a song, possible only in those days, and at Henry's voluptuous
and at the same time canting court--a song full of the most wanton
allusions, of the most cutting jests against both monks and women; a
song which made Henry laugh, and the ladies blush; and in which
John Heywood had poured forth in glowing dithyrambics all his secret
indignation against Gardiner, the sneaking hypocrite of a priest, and
against Lady Jane, the queen's false and treacherous friend.

But the ladies laughed not. They darted flashing glances at John
Heywood; and Lady Richmond earnestly and resolutely demanded the
punishment of the perfidious wretch who dared to defame women. The king
laughed still harder. The rage of the ladies was so exceedingly amusing.

"Sire," said the beautiful Richmond, "he has insulted not us, but
the whole sex; and in the name of our sex, I demand revenge for the
affront."

"Yes, revenge!" cried Lady Jane, hotly.

"Revenge!" repeated the rest of the ladies.

"See, now, what pious and gentle-hearted doves ye are!" cried John
Heywood.

The king said, laughingly: "Well, now, you shall have your will--you
shall chastise him."

"Yes, yes, scourge me with rods, as they once scourged the Messiah,
because He told the Pharisees the truth. See here! I am already putting
on the crown of thorns."

He took the king's velvet cap with solemn air, and put it on.

"Yes, whip him, whip him!" cried the king, laughing, as he pointed to
the gigantic vases of Chinese porcelain, containing enormous bunches
of roses, on whose long stems arose a real forest of formidable-looking
thorns.

"Pull the large bouquets to pieces; take the roses in your hand, and
whip him with the stems!" said the king, and his eyes glistened with
inhuman delight, for the scene promised to be quite interesting. The
rose-stems were long and hard, and the thorns on them pointed and sharp
as daggers. How nicely they would pierce the flesh, and how he would
yell and screw his face, the good-natured fool!

"Yes, yes, let him take off his coat, and we will whip him!" cried the
Duchess of Richmond; and the women, all joining in the cry, rushed like
furies upon John Heywood, and forced him to lay aside his silk upper
garment. Then they hurried to the vases, snatched out the bouquets, and
with busy hands picked out the longest and stoutest stems. And loud were
their exclamations of satisfaction, if the thorns were right and sharp,
such as would penetrate the flesh of the offender right deeply. The
king's laughter and shouts of approval animated them more and more,
and made them more excited and furious. Their cheeks glowed, their eyes
glared; they resembled Bacchantes circling the god of riotous joviality
with their shouts of "Evoe! evoe!"

"Not yet! do not strike yet!" cried the king. "You must first strengthen
yourselves for the exertion, and fire your arms for a powerful blow!"

He took the large golden beaker which stood before him and, tasting it,
presented it to Lady Jane.

"Drink, my lady, drink, that your arm may be strong!"

And they all drank, and with animated smiles pressed their lips on
the spot which the king's mouth had touched. And now their eyes had a
brighter flame, and their cheeks a more fiery glow.

A strange and exciting sight it was, to see those beautiful women
burning with malicious joy and thirst for vengeance, who for the moment
had laid aside all their elegant attitudes, their lofty and haughty
airs, to transform themselves into wanton Bacchantes, bent on chastising
the offender, who had so often and so bitterly lashed them all with his
tongue.

"Ah, I would a painter were here!" said the king. "He should paint us a
picture of the chaste nymphs of Diana pursuing Actaeon. You are Actaeon,
John!"

"But they are not the chaste nymphs, king; no, far from it," cried
Heywood; laughing, "and between these fair women and Diana I find no
resemblance, but only a difference."

"And in what consists the difference, John?"

"Herein, sire, that Diana carried her horn at her side; but these fair
ladies make their husbands wear their horns on the forehead!"

A loud peal of laughter from the gentlemen, a yell of rage from the
ladies, was the reply of this new epigram of John Heywood. They arranged
themselves in two rows, and thus formed a lane through which John
Heywood had to pass.

"Come, John Heywood, come and receive your punishment;" and they raised
their thorny rods threateningly, and flourished them with angry gestures
high above their heads.

The scene was becoming to John in all respects very piquant, for these
rods had very sharp thorns, and only a thin linen shirt covered his
back.

With bold step, however, he approached the fatal passage through which
he was to pass.

Already he beheld the rods drawn back; and it seemed to him as if the
thorns were even now piercing his back.

He halted, and turned with a laugh to the king. "Sire, since you have
condemned me to die by the hands of these nymphs, I claim the right of
every condemned criminal--a last favor."

"The which we grant you, John."

"I demand that I may put on these fair women one condition--one
condition on which they may whip me. Does your majesty grant me this?"

"I grant it!"

"And you solemnly pledge me the word of a king that this condition shall
be faithfully kept and fulfilled?"

"My solemn, kingly word for it!"

"Now, then," said John Heywood, as he entered the passage, "now, then,
my ladies, my condition is this: that one of you who has had the most
lovers, and has oftenest decked her husband's head with horns, let her
lay the first stroke on my back." [Footnote: Flogel's "Geschichte der
Hofnarren," p.899]

A deep silence followed. The raised arms of the fair women sank. The
roses fell from their hands and dropped to the ground. Just before so
bloodthirsty and revengeful, they seemed now to have become the softest
and gentlest of beings.

But could their looks have killed, their fire certainly would have
consumed poor John Heywood, who now gazed at them with an insolent
sneer, and advanced into the very midst of their lines.

"Now, my ladies, you strike him not?" asked the king.

"No, your majesty, we despise him too much even to wish to chastise
him," said the Duchess of Richmond.

"Shall your enemy who has injured you go thus unpunished?" asked the
king. "No, no, my ladies; it shall not be said that there is a man in my
kingdom whom I have let escape when so richly deserving punishment. We
will, therefore, impose some other punishment on him. He calls himself
a poet, and has often boasted that he could make his pen fly as fast
as his tongue! Now, then, John, show us in this manner that you are no
liar! I command you to write, for the great court festival which takes
place in a few days, a new interlude; and one indeed, hear you, John,
which is calculated to make the greatest growler merry, and over which
these ladies will be forced to laugh so heartily, that they will forget
all their ire!"

"Oh," said John dolefully, "what an equivocal and lewd poem it must be
to please these ladies and make them laugh! My king, we must, then, to
please these dear ladies, forget a little our chastity, modesty, and
maiden bashfulness, and speak in the spirit of the ladies--that is to
say, as lasciviously as possible."

"You are a wretch!" said Lady Jane; "a vulgar hypocritical fool."

"Earl Douglas, your daughter is speaking to you," said John Heywood,
calmly. "She flatters you much, your tender daughter."

"Now then, John, you have heard my orders, and will you obey them? In
four days will this festival begin; I give you two days more. In six
days, then, you have to write a new interlude. And if he fails to do
it, my ladies, you shall whip him until you bring the blood; and that
without any condition." Just then was heard without a flourish of
trumpets and the clatter of horse-hoofs.

"The queen has returned," said John Heywood, with a countenance beaming
with joy, as he fixed his smiling gaze full of mischievous satisfaction
on Lady Jane.

"Nothing further now remains for you to do, but dutifully to meet your
mistress upon the great staircase, for, as you so wisely said before,
the queen still lives."

Without waiting for an answer, John Heywood ran out and rushed through
the anteroom and down the steps to meet the queen. Lady Jane watched him
with a dark, angry look; and as she turned slowly to the door to go and
meet the queen, she muttered low between her closely-pressed lips: "The
fool must die, for he is the queen's friend!"





Next: The Confidant

Previous: The Queen's Friend



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