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John Heywood

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King Henry The Eighth








Catharine was not deceived. The doors were opened, and on the threshold
appeared the lord marshal, with his golden mace.

"His majesty the king!" whispered he, in his grave, solemn manner, which
filled Catharine with secret dread, as though he were pronouncing the
sentence of death over her.

But she forced a smile and advanced to the door to receive the king. Now
was heard a thunder-like rumble, and over the smoothly carpeted floor
of the anteroom came rolling on the king's house equipage. This house
equipage consisted of a large chair, resting on castors, which was
moved by men in the place of horses, and to which they had, with artful
flattery, given the form of a triumphal car of the old victorious Roman
Caesars, in order to afford the king, as he rolled through the halls,
the pleasant illusion that he was holding a triumphal procession, and
that it was not the burden of his heavy limbs which fastened him to
his imperial car. King Henry gave ready credence to the flattery of his
truckle-chair and his courtiers, and as he rolled along in it through
the saloons glittering with gold, and through halls adorned with
Venetian mirrors, which reflected his form a thousandfold, he liked
to lull himself into the dream of being a triumphing hero, and wholly
forgot that it was not his deeds, but his fat, that had helped him to
his triumphal car.

For that monstrous mass which filled up the colossal chair, that
mountain of purple-clad flesh, that clumsy, almost shapeless mass, that
was Henry the Eighth, king of merry England. But thae mass had a head--a
head full of dark and wrathful thoughts, a heart full of bloodthirsty
and cruel lusts. The colossal body was indeed, by its physical weight,
fastened to the chair. Yet his mind never rested, but he hovered, with
the talons and flashing eye of the bird of prey, over his people, ever
ready to pounce upon some innocent dove, to drink her blood, and tear
out her heart, that he might lay it, all palpitating, as an offering on
the altar of his sanguinary god.

The king's sedan now stopped, and Catharine hastened forward with
smiling face, to assist her royal husband in alighting.

Henry greeted her with a gracious nod, and rejected the proffered aid of
the attendant pages.

"Away," said he, "away! My Catharine alone shall extend me her hand, and
give me a welcome to the bridal chamber. Go, we feel to-day as young and
strong as in our best and happiest days, and the young queen shall see
that it is no decrepit graybeard, tottering with age, who woos her, but
a strong man rejuvenated by love. Think not, Kate, that I use my car
because of weakness. No, it was only my longing for you which made me
wish to be with you the sooner."

He kissed her with a smile, and, lightly leaning on her arm, alighted
from his car.

"Away with the equipage, and with all of you!" said he. "We wish to be
alone with this beautiful young wife, whom the lord bishops have to-day
made our own."

At a signal from his hand, the brilliant cortege withdrew, and Catharine
was alone with the king.

Her heart beat so wildly that it made her lips tremble, and her bosom
swell high.

Henry saw it, and smiled; but it was a cold, cruel smile, and Catharine
grew pale before it.

"He has only the smile of a tyrant," said she to herself. "With this
same smile, by which he would now give expression to his love, he
yesterday, perhaps, signed a death-warrant, or will, to-morrow, witness
an execution."

"Do you love me, Kate?" suddenly said the king, who had till now
observed her in silence and thoughtfulness. "Say, Kate, do you love me?"

He looked steadily into her eyes, as though he would read her soul to
the very bottom.

Catharine sustained his look, and did not drop her eyes. She felt that
this was the decisive moment which determined her whole future; and this
conviction restored to her all her self-possession and energy.

She was now no longer the shy, timid girl, but the resolute, proud
woman, who was ready to wrestle with fate for greatness and glory.

"Do you love me, Kate?" repeated the king; and his brow already began to
darken.

"I know not," said Catharine, with a smile, which enchanted the king,
for there was quite as much graceful coquetry as bashfulness on her
charming face.

"You know not?" replied Henry, astonished. "Now, by the Mother of God,
it is the first time in my life that a woman has ever been bold enough
to return me such an answer! You are a bold woman, Kate, to hazard it,
and I praise you for it. I love bravery, because it is something I so
rarely see. They all tremble before me, Kate--all! They know that I am
not intimidated by blood, and in the might of my royalty I subscribe a
death-warrant with the same calmness of soul as a love-letter."

"Oh, you are a great king," murmured Catharine. Henry did not notice
her. He was wholly buried in one of those self-contemplations to which
he so willingly surrendered himself, and which generally had for their
subject his own greatness and superbility.

"Yes," continued he, and his eyes, which, in spite of his corpulency
and his extremely fleshy face, were yet large and wide open, shone more
brightly. "Yes, they all tremble before me, for they know that I am
a righteous and powerful king, who spares not his own blood, if it is
necessary to punish and expiate crime, and with inexorable hand punishes
the sinner, though he were the nearest to the throne. Take heed to
yourself, therefore, Kate, take heed to yourself. You behold in me the
avenger of God, and the judge of men. The king wears the crimson, not
because it is beautiful and glossy, but because it is red like blood,
and because it is the king's highest prerogative to shed the blood of
his delinquent subjects, and thereby expiate human crime. Thus only do
I conceive of royalty, and thus only will I carry it out till the end
of my days. Not the right to pardon, but the right to punish, is that
whereby the ruler manifests himself before the lower classes of mankind.
God's thunder should be on his lips, and the king's wrath should descend
like lightning on the head of the guilty."

"But God is not only wrathful, but also merciful and forgiving," said
Catharine, as she lightly and shyly leaned her head on the king's
shoulder.

"Just that is the prerogative of God above kings; that He can, as it
pleases Him, show mercy and grace, where we can only condemn and punish.
There must be something in which God is superior to kings, and greater
than they. But how, Kate, you tremble, and the lovely smile has vanished
from your countenance! Be not afraid of me, Kate! Be always frank with
me, and without deceit; then I shall always love you, and iniquity will
then have no power over you. And now, Kate, tell me, and explain to me.
You do not know that you love me?"

"No, I do not know, your majesty. And how should I be able to recognize,
and know, and designate by name what is strange to me, and what I have
never before felt?"

"How, you have never loved, Kate?" asked the king with a joyful
expression.

"Never. My father maltreated me, so that I could feel for him nothing
but dread and terror."

"And your husband, child? That man who was my predecessor in the
possession of you. Did you not love your husband either?"

"My husband?" asked she abstractedly. "It is true, my father sold me to
Lord Neville, and as the priest had joined our hands, men called him
my husband. But he very well knew that I did not love him, nor did he
require my love. He needed a nurse, not a wife. He had given me his name
as a father gives his to a daughter; and I was his daughter, a true,
faithful, and obedient daughter, who joyfully fulfilled her duty and
tended him till his death."

"And after his death, child? Years have elapsed since then, Kate. Tell
me, and I conjure you, tell me the truth, the simple, plain truth! After
the death of your husband, then even, did you never love?"

He gazed with visible anxiety, with breathless expectation, deep into
her eyes; but she did not drop them.

"Sire," said she, with a charming smile, "till a few weeks past, I
have often mourned over myself; and it seemed to me that I must, in the
desperation of my singular and cold nature, lay open my breast, in order
to search there for the heart, which, senseless and cold, had never
betrayed its existence by its stronger beating. Oh, sire, I was full of
trouble about myself; and in my foolish rashness, I accused Heaven of
having robbed me of the noblest feeling and the fairest privilege of any
woman--the capacity of loving."

"Till the past few weeks, did you say, Kate?" asked the king, breathless
with emotion.

"Yes, sire, until the day on which you, for the first time, graciously
afforded me the happiness of speaking with me."

The king uttered a low cry, and drew Catharine, with impetuous
vehemence, into his arms.

"And since, tell me now, you dear little dove, since then, does your
heart throb?"

"Yes, sire, it throbs, oh, it often throbs to bursting! When I hear your
voice, when I behold your countenance, it is as if a cold tremor rilled
through my whole being, and drove all my blood to the heart. It is as
though my heart anticipated your approach before my eyes discern you.
For even before you draw near me, I feel a peculiar trembling of the
heart, and the breath is stifled in my bosom; then I always know that
you are coming, and that your presence will relieve this peculiar
tension of my being. When you are not by me I think of you, and when I
sleep I dream of you. Tell me, sire, you who know every thing, tell me,
know you now whether I love you?"

"Yes, yes, you love me," cried Henry, to whom this strange and joyous
surprise had imparted youthful vivacity and warmth. "Yes, Kate, you
love me; and if I may trust your dear confession, I am your first love.
Repeat it yet again; you were nothing but a daughter to Lord Neville?"

"Nothing more, sire!"

"And after him have you had no love?"

"None, sire!"

"And can it be that so happy a marvel has come to pass? and that I have
made, not a widow, but a young maiden, my queen?"

As he now gazed at her with warm, passionate, tender looks, Catharine
cast down her eyes, and a deep blush covered her sweet face.

"Ah, a woman's bashful blushes, what an exquisite sight!" cried the
king, and while he wildly pressed Catharine to his bosom, he continued:
"Oh, are we not foolish and short-sighted men, all of us, yes, even we
kings? In order that I might not be, perhaps, forced to send my
sixth wife also to the scaffold, I chose, in trembling dread of the
deceitfulness of your sex, a widow for my queen, and this widow with
a blessed confession, mocks at the new law of the wise Parliament, and
makes good to me what she never promised." [Footnote: After Catharine
Howard's infidelity and incontinency had been proved, and she had atoned
for them by her death, Parliament enacted a law "that if the king or his
successors should intend to marry any woman whom they took to be a clean
and pure maid--if she, not being so, did not declare the same to the
king, it should be high treason: and all who knew it; and did not reveal
it, were guilty of misprision of treason."--"Burnet's History of the
Reformation of the Church of England." London, 1681 (vol. i, p. 313)]

"Come, Kate, give me a kiss. You have opened before me to-day a happy,
blissful future, and prepared for me a great and unexpected pleasure.
I thank you for it, Kate, and the Mother of God be my witness, I will
never forget it."

And drawing a rich diamond ring from his own finger, and putting it upon
Catharine's, he continued: "Be this ring a remembrancer of this hour,
and when you hereafter present it to me, with a request, I will grant
that request, Kate!"

He kissed her forehead, and was about to press her more closely in his
arms, when suddenly from without was heard the dull roll of drums, and
the ringing of bells.

The king started a moment and released Catharine from his arms. He
listened; the roll of drums continued, and now and then was heard in the
distance, that peculiar thundering and yet sullen sound, which so much
resembles the roar and rush of the sea, and which can be produced only
by a large and excited mob.

The king, with a fierce curse, pushed open the glass door leading to the
balcony, and walked out.

Catharine gazed after him with a strange, half-timid, half-scornful
look. "I have not at least told him that I love him," muttered she. "He
has construed my words as it suited his vanity. No matter. I will not
die on the scaffold!"

With a resolute step, and firm, energetic air, she followed the king to
the balcony. The roll of drums was kept up, and from all the steeples
the bells were pealing. The night was dark and calm. All London seemed
to slumber, and the dark houses around about stood up out of the
universal darkness like huge coffins.

Suddenly the horizon began to grow bright, and on the sky appeared
a streak of fiery red, which, blazing up higher and higher, soon
illuminated the entire horizon with a crimson glow, and even shed its
glaring fiery beams over the balcony on which stood the royal pair.
Still the bells clanged and clamored; and blended with their peals was
heard now and then, in the distance, a piercing shriek and a clamor as
of thousands and thousands of confusedly mingled voices.

Suddenly the king turned to Catharine, and his countenance, which was
just then overspread by the fire-light as with a blood-red veil, had now
assumed an expression of savage, demoniacal delight.

"Ah," said he, "I know what it is. You had wholly bewildered me, and
stolen away my attention, you little enchantress. I had for a moment
ceased to be a king, because I wished to be entirely your lover. But
now I bethink me again of my avenging sovereignty! It is the fagot-piles
about the stake which flame so merrily yonder. And that yelling and
clamor indicate that my merry people are enjoying with all their soul
the comedy which I have had played before them to-day, for the honor of
God, and my unimpeachable royal dignity."

"The stake!" cried Catharine, trembling. "Your majesty does not mean
thereby to say that right yonder, men are to die a cruel, painful
death--that the same hour in which their king pronounces himself happy
and content, some of his subjects are to be condemned to dreadful
torture, to a horrible destruction! Oh, no! my king will not overcloud
his queen's wedding-day with so dark a veil of death. He will not wish
to dim my happiness so cruelly."

The king laughed. "No, I will not darken it, but light it up with bright
names," said he; and as, with outstretched arm, he pointed over to the
glaring heavens, he continued: "There are our wedding-torches, my Kate,
and the most sacred and beautiful which I could find, for they burn to
the honor of God and of the king. [Footnote: "Life of King Henry the
Eighth, founded on Authentic and Original Documents." By Patrick Fraser
Tytler. (Edinburgh, 1887, p. 440.)] And the heavenward flaring flames
which carries up the souls of the heretics will give to my God joyous
intelligence of His most faithful and obedient son, who, even on the
day of his happiness, forgets not his kingly duty, but ever remains the
avenging and destroying minister of his God."

He looked frightful as he thus spoke. His countenance, lit up by the
fire, had a fierce, threatening expression; his eyes blazed; and a cold,
cruel smile played about his thin, firmly-pressed lips.

"Oh, he knows no pity!" murmured Catharine to herself, as in a paroxysm
of anguish she stared at the king, who, in fanatical enthusiasm, was
looking over toward the fire, into which, at his command, they were
perhaps hurling to a cruel, torturing death, some poor wretch, to the
honor of God and the king. "No, he knows no pity and no mercy."

Now Henry turned to her, and laying his extended hand softly on the back
of her slender neck, he spanned it with his fingers, and whispered in
her ear tender words and vows of love.

Catharine trembled. This caress of the king, however harmless in itself,
had in it for her something dismal and dreadful. It was the involuntary,
instinctive touch of the headsman, who examines the neck of his victim,
and searches on it for the place where he will make the stroke. Thus had
Anne Boleyn once put her tender white hands about her slender neck,
and said to the headsman, brought over from Calais specially for her
execution: "I pray you strike me well and surely! I have, indeed, but a
slim little neck." [Footnote: Tytler, p. 382] Thus had the king clutched
his hand about the neck of Catharine Howard, his fifth wife when
certain of her infidelity, he had thrust her from himself with fierce
execrations, when she would have clung to him. The dark marks of that
grip were still visible upon her neck when she laid it on the block.
[Footnote: Leti, vol. i, p. 193]

And this dreadful twining of his fingers Catharine must now endure as
a caress; at which she must smile, which she must receive with all the
appearance of delight.

While he spanned her neck, he whispered in her ear words of tenderness,
and bent his face close to her cheeks.

But Catharine heeded not his passionate whispers. She saw nothing save
the blood-red handwriting of fire upon the sky. She heard nothing save
the shrieks of the wretched victims.

"Mercy, mercy!" faltered she. "Oh, let this day be a day of festivity
for all your subjects! Be merciful, and if you would have me really
believe that you love me, grant this first request which I make of you.
Grant me the lives of these wretched ones. Mercy, sire, mercy!"

And as if the queen's supplication had found an echo, suddenly was heard
from the chamber a wailing, despairing voice, repeating loudly and in
tones of anguish: "Mercy, your majesty, mercy!" The king turned round
impetuously, and his face assumed a dark, wrathful expression. He
fastened his searching eyes on Catharine, as though he would read in her
looks whether she knew who had dared to interrupt their conversation.

But Catharine's countenance expressed unconcealed astonishment. "Mercy,
mercy!" repeated the voice from the interior of the chamber.

The king uttered an angry exclamation, and hastily withdrew from the
balcony.





Next: King By The Wrath Of God

Previous: The Queen And Her Friend



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