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Undeceived

John Heywood

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The Confidant








The queen was just ascending the steps of the great public staircase,
and she greeted John Heywood with a friendly smile.

"My lady," said he aloud, "I have a few words in private to say to you,
in the name of his majesty."

"Words in private!" repeated Catharine, as she stopped upon the terrace
of the palace. "Well, then, fall back, my lords and ladies; we wish to
receive his majesty's mysterious message."

The royal train silently and respectfully withdrew into the large
anteroom of the palace, while the queen remained alone with John Heywood
on the terrace.

"Now, speak, John."

"Queen, heed well my words, and grave them deep on your memory! A
conspiracy is forged against you, and in a few days, at the great
festival, it will be ripe for execution. Guard well, therefore, every
word you utter, ay, even your very thoughts. Beware of every dangerous
step, for you may be certain that a listener stands behind you! And
if you need a confidant, confide in no one but me! I tell you, a great
danger lies before you, and only by prudence and presence of mind will
you be able to avoid it."

This time the queen did not laugh at her friend's warning voice. She was
serious; she even trembled.

She had lost her proud sense of security and her serene confidence--she
was no longer guiltless--she had a dangerous secret to keep,
consequently she felt a dread of discovery; and she trembled not merely
for herself, but also for him whom she loved.

"And in what consists this plot?" asked she, with agitation.

"I do not yet understand it; I only know that it exists. But I will
search it out, and if your enemies lurk about you with watchful eyes,
well, then, I will have spying eyes to observe them."

"And is it I alone that they threaten?"

"No, queen, your friend also."

Catharine trembled. "What friend, John?"

"Archbishop Cranmer."

"Ah, the archbishop!" replied she, drawing a deep breath.

"And is he all, John? Does their enmity pursue only me and him?"

"Only you two!" said John Heywood, sadly, for he had fully understood
the queen's sigh of relief, and he knew that she had trembled for
another. "But remember, queen, that Cranmer's destruction would be
likewise your own; and that as you protect the archbishop, he also will
protect you with the king--you, queen, and your FRIENDS."

Catharine gave a slight start, and the crimson on her cheek grew deeper.
"I shall always be mindful of that, and ever be a true and real friend
to him and to you; for you two are my only friends: is it not so?"

"No, your majesty, I spoke to you of yet a third, of Thomas Seymour."

"Oh, he!" cried she with a sweet smile. Then she said suddenly, and in a
low quick voice: "You say I must trust no one here but you. Now, then,
I will give you a proof of my confidence. Await me in the green
summer-house at twelve o'clock to-night. You must be my attendant on a
dangerous excursion. Have you courage, John?"

"Courage to lay down my life for you, queen!"

"Come, then, but bring your weapon with you."

"At your command! and is that your only order for to-day?"

"That is all, John! only," added she, with hesitation and a slight
blush, "only, if you perchance meet Earl Sudley, you may say to him that
I charged you to greet him in my name."

"Oh!" sighed John Hey wood, sadly.

"He has to-day saved my life, John," said she, as if excusing herself.
"It becomes me well, then, to be grateful to him."

And giving him a friendly nod, she stepped into the porch of the castle.

"Now let anybody say again, that chance is not the most mischievous and
spiteful of all devils!" muttered John Heywood. "This devil, chance,
throws in the queen's way the very person she ought most to avoid; and
she must be, as in duty bound, very grateful to a lover. Oh, oh, so
he has saved her life? But who knows whether he may not be one day the
cause of her losing it!"

He dropped his head gloomily upon his breast, when suddenly he heard
behind him a low voice calling his name; and as he turned, he saw the
young Princess Elizabeth hastening toward him with a hurried step. She
was at that moment very beautiful. Her eyes gleamed with the fire of
passion; her cheeks glowed; and about her crimson lips there played a
gentle, happy smile. She wore, according to the fashion of the time,
a close-fitting high-necked dress, which showed off to perfection the
delicate lines of her slender and youthful form, while the wide standing
collar concealed the somewhat too great length of her neck, and made her
ruddy, as yet almost childish face stand out as it were from a pedestal.
On either side of her high, thoughtful brow, fell, in luxurious
profusion, light flaxen curls; her head was covered with a black velvet
cap, from which a white feather drooped to her shoulders.

She was altogether a charming and lovely apparition, full of
nobleness and grace, full of fire and energy; and yet, in spite of her
youthfulness, not wanting in a certain grandeur and dignity. Elizabeth,
though still almost a child, and frequently bowed and humbled by
misfortune, yet ever remained her father's own daughter. And though
Henry had declared her a bastard and excluded her from the succession
to the throne, yet she bore the stamp of her royal blood in her high,
haughty brow; in her keen, flashing eye.

As she now stood before John Heywood, she was not, however, the haughty,
imperious princess, but merely the shy, blushing maiden, who feared to
trust her first girlish secret to another's ear, and ventured only with
trembling hand to draw aside the veil which concealed her heart.

"John Heywood," said she, "you have often told me that you loved me; and
I know that my poor unfortunate mother trusted you, and summoned you as
a witness of her innocence. You could not at that time save the mother,
but will you now serve Anne Boleyn's daughter, and be her faithful
friend?"

"I will," said Heywood, solemnly, "and as true as there is a God above
us, you shall never find me a traitor."

"I believe you, John; I know that I may trust you. Listen then, I will
now tell you my secret--a secret which no one but God knows, and the
betrayal of which might bring me to the scaffold. Will you then swear
to me, that you will never, under any pretext, and from any motive
whatsoever, betray to anybody, so much as a single word of what I am now
about to tell you? Will you swear to me, never to intrust this secret
to any one, even on your death-bed, and not to betray it even in the
confessional?"

"Now as regards that, princess," said John, with a laugh, "you
are perfectly safe. I never go to confession, for confession is a
highly-spiced dish of popery on which I long since spoilt my stomach;
and as concerns my deathbed, one cannot, under the blessed and pious
reign of Henry the Eighth, altogether know whether he will be really a
participant of any kind, or whether he may not make a far more speedy
and convenient trip into eternity by the aid of the hangman."

"Oh, be serious, John--do, I pray you! Let the fool's mask, under
which you hide your sober and honest face, not hide it from me also. Be
serious, John, and swear to me that you will keep my secret."

"Well, then, I swear, princess; I swear by your mother's spirit to
betray not a word of what you are going to tell me."

"I thank you, John. Now lean this way nearer to me, lest the breeze may
catch a single word of mine and bear it farther. John, I love!"

She saw the half-surprised, half-incredulous smile which played around
John Heywood's lips. "Oh," continued she, passionately, "you believe
me not. You consider my fourteen years, and you think the child knows
nothing yet of a maiden's feelings. But remember, John, that those girls
who live under a warm sun are early ripened by his glowing rays, and are
already wives and mothers when they should still be dreaming children.
Well, now, I too am the daughter of a torrid zone, only mine has not
been the sun of prosperity, and it has been sorrow and misfortune which
have matured my heart. Believe me, John, I love! A glowing, consuming
fire rages within me; it is at once my delight and my misery, my
happiness and my future.

"The king has robbed me of a brilliant and glorious future; let them
not, then, grudge me a happy one, at least. Since I am never to be a
queen, I will at least be a happy and beloved wife. If I am condemned
to live in obscurity and lowliness, at the very least, I must not be
prohibited from adorning this obscure and inglorious existence with
flowers, which thrive not at the foot of the throne, and to illuminate
it with stars more sparkling than the refulgence of the most radiant
kingly crown."

"Oh, you are mistaken about your own self!" said John Heywood,
sorrowfully. "You choose the one only because the other is denied. You
would love only because you cannot rule; and since your heart, which
thirsts for fame and honor, can find no other satisfaction, you would
quench its thirst with some other draught, and would administer love as
an opiate to lull to rest its burning pains. Believe me, princess, you
do not yet know yourself! You were not born to be merely a loving wife,
and your brow is much too high and haughty to wear only a crown of
myrtle. Therefore, consider well what you do, princess! Be not carried
away by your father's passionate blood, which boils in your veins also.
Think well before you act. Your foot is yet on one of the steps to the
throne. Draw it not back voluntarily. Maintain your position; then,
the next step brings you again one stair higher up. Do not voluntarily
renounce your just claim, but abide in patience the coming of the day of
retribution and justice. Only do not yourself make it impossible, that
there may then be a full and glorious reparation. PRINCESS Elizabeth may
yet one day be queen, provided she has not exchanged her name for one
less glorious and noble."

"John Heywood," said she, with a bewitching smile, "I have told you I
love him."

"Well, love him as much as you please, but do it in silence, and tell
him not of it; but teach your love resignation."

"John, he knows it already."

"Ah, poor princess! you are still but a child, that sticks its hands in
the fire with smiling bravery and scorches them, because it knows not
that fire burns."

"Let it burn, John, burn! and let the flames curl over my head! Better
be consumed in fire than perish slowly and horribly with a deadly chill!
I love him, I tell you, and he already knows it!"

"Well, then, love him, but, at least, do not marry him!" cried John
Heywood, surlily.

"Marry!" cried she, with astonishment. "Marry! I had never thought of
it."

She dropped her head upon her breast, and stood there, silent and
thoughtful.

"I am much afraid I made a blunder, then!" muttered John Heywood. "I
have suggested a new thought to her. Ah, ah, King Henry has done well in
appointing me his fool! Just when we deem ourselves the wisest, we are
the greatest fools!"

"John," said Elizabeth, as she raised her head again and smiled to him
in a glow of excitement, "John, you are entirely right; if we love, we
must marry."

"But I said just the contrary, princess!"

"All right!" said she, resolutely. "All this belongs to the future;
we will busy ourselves with the present. I have promised my lover an
interview."

"An interview!" cried John Heywood, in amazement. "You will not be so
foolhardy as to keep your promise?"

"John Heywood," said she, with an air of approaching solemnity, "King
Henry's daughter will never make a promise without fulfilling it. For
better or for worse, I will always keep my plighted word, even if the
greatest misery and ruin were the result!"

John Heywood ventured to offer no further opposition. There was at this
moment something peculiarly lofty, proud, and truly royal in her air,
which impressed him with awe, and before which he bowed.

"I have granted him an interview because he wished it," said Elizabeth;
"and, John, I will confess it to you, my own heart longed for it. Seek
not, then, to shake my resolution; it is as firm as a rock. But if you
are not willing to stand by me, say so, and I will then look about
me for another friend, who loves me enough to impose silence on his
thoughts."

"But who, perhaps, will go and betray you. No, no, it has been once
resolved upon, and unalterably; so no one but I must be your confidant.
Tell me, then, what I am to do, and I will obey you."

"You know, John, that my apartments are situated in yonder wing,
overlooking the garden. Well, in my dressing-room, behind one of the
large wall pictures, I have discovered a door leading into a lonely,
dark corridor. From this corridor there is a passage up into yonder
tower. It is unoccupied and deserted. Nobody ever thinks of entering
that part of the castle, and the quiet of the grave reigns throughout
those apartments, which nevertheless are furnished with a magnificence
truly regal. There will I receive him."

"But how shall he make his way thither?"

"Oh, do not be concerned; I have thought over that many days since; and
while I was refusing my lover the interview for which he again and again
implored me, I was quietly preparing everything so as to be able one
day to grant it to him. Today this object is attained, and today have
I fulfilled his wish, voluntarily and unasked; for I saw he had no more
courage to ask again. Listen, then. From the tower, a spiral staircase
leads down to a small door, through which you gain entrance into the
garden. I have a key to this door. Here it is. Once in possession of
this key, he has nothing further to do but remain behind in the park
this evening, instead of leaving the castle; and by means of this he
will come to me, for I will wait for him in the tower, in the large room
directly opposite the staircase landing. Here, take the key; give it to
him, and repeat to him all that I have said."

"Well, princess, there remains for you now only to appoint the hour at
which you will receive him there."

"The hour," said she, as she turned away her blushing face. "You
understand, John, that it is not feasible to receive him there by day,
because there is by day not a single moment in which I am not watched."

"You will then receive him by night!" said John Heywood, sadly. "At what
hour?"

"At midnight! And now you know all; and I beg you, John, hasten and
carry him my message; for, look, the sun is setting, and it will soon be
night."

She nodded to him with a smile, and turned to go.

"Princess, you have forgotten the most important point. You have not yet
told me his name."

"My God! and you do not guess it? John Heywood, who has such sharp eyes,
sees not that there is at this court but a single one that deserves to
be loved by a daughter of the king!"

"And the name of this single one is--"

"Thomas Seymour, Earl of Sudley!" whispered Elizabeth, as she turned
away quickly and entered the castle.

"Oh, Thomas Seymour!" said John Heywood, utterly astounded. As if
paralyzed with horror, he stood there motionless, staring up at the sky
and repealing over and over, "Thomas Seymour! Thomas Seymour! So he is
a sorcerer who administers a love-potion to all the women, and befools
them with his handsome, saucy face. Thomas Seymour! The queen loves him;
the princess loves him; and then there is this Duchess of Richmond, who
will by all means be his wife! This much, however, is certain, he is
a traitor who deceives both, because to both he has made the same
confession of love. And there again is that imp, chance, which compels
me to be the confidant of both these women. But I will be well on my
guard against executing both my commissions to this sorcerer. Let him at
any rate become the husband of the princess; perhaps this would be the
surest means of freeing the queen from her unfortunate love."

He was silent, and still gazed up thoughtfully at the sky. "Yes," said
he then, quite cheerfully, "thus shall it be. I will combat the one
love with the other. For the queen to love him, is dangerous. I will
therefore so conduct matters that she must hate him. I will remain her
confidant. I will receive her letters and her commissions, but I will
burn her letters and not execute her commissions. I am not at liberty to
tell her that the faithless Thomas Seymour is false to her, for I have
solemnly pledged my word to the princess never to breathe her secret to
any one; and I will and must keep my word. Smile and love, then; dream
on thy sweet dream of love, queen; I wake for thee; I will cause the
dark cloud resting on thee to pass by. It may, perhaps, touch thine
heart; but thy noble and beautiful head--that at least it shall not be
allowed to crush; that--"

"Now, then, what are you staring up at the sky for, as if you read there
a new epigram with which to make the king laugh, and the parsons rave?"
asked a voice near him; and a hand was laid heavily on his shoulder.

John Heywood did not look round at all; he remained in the same
attitude, gazing up steadily at the sky. He had very readily recognized
the voice of him who had addressed him; he knew very well that he who
stood near him was no other than the bold sorcerer whom he was just then
cursing at the bottom of his heart; no other than Thomas Seymour, Earl
of Sudley.

"Say, John, is it really an epigram?" asked Thomas Seymour again. "An
epigram on the hypocritical, lustful, and sanctimonious priestly rabble,
that with blasphemous hypocrisy fawn about the king, and are ever
watchful how they can set a trap for one of us honorable and brave men?
Is that what Heaven is now revealing to you?"

"No, my lord, I am only looking at a hawk which hovers about there in
the clouds. I saw him mount, earl, and only think of the wonder--he
had in each talon a dove! Two doves for one hawk. Is not that too
much--wholly contrary to law and nature?"

The earl cast on him a penetrating and distrustful look. But John
Heywood, remaining perfectly calm and unembarrassed, continued looking
at the clouds.

"How stupid such a brute is, and how much to his disadvantage will his
very greediness be! For since he holds a dove in each claw, he will not
be able to enjoy either of them; because he has no claw at liberty with
which to tear them. Soon as he wishes to enjoy the one, the other will
escape; when he grabs after that, the other flies away; and so at last
he will have nothing at all, because he was too rapacious and wanted
more than he could use."

"And you are looking after this hawk in the skies? But you are perhaps
mistaken, and he whom you seek is not above there at all, but here
below, and perchance quite close to you?" asked Thomas Seymour
significantly.

But John Heywood would not understand him.

"Nay," said he, "he still flies, but it will not last long. For verily
I saw the owner of the dovecot from which the hawk has stolen the two
doves. He had a weapon; and he, be ye sure of it--he will kill this
hawk, because he has robbed him of his pet doves."

"Enough, enough!" cried the earl, impatiently. "You would give me a
lesson, but you must know I take no counsel from a fool, even were he
the wisest."

"In that you are right, my lord, for only fools are so foolish as
to hearken to the voice of wisdom. Besides, each man forges his own
fortune. And now, wise sir, I will give you a key, which you yourself
have forged, and behind which lies your fortune. There, take this key;
and if you at midnight slip through the garden to the tower over yonder,
this key will open to you the door of the same, and you can then
without hesitation mount the spiral staircase and open the door which is
opposite the staircase. Behind that you will find the fortune which you
have forged for yourself, sir blacksmith, and which will bid you welcome
with warm lips and soft arms. And so commending you to God, I must
hasten home to think over the comedy which the king has commanded me to
write."

"But you do not so much as tell me from whom this message comes?" said
Earl Sudley, retaining him. "You invite me to a meeting and give me a
key, and I know not who will await me there in that tower."

"Oh, you do not know? There is then more than one who might await you
there? Well, then, it is the youngest and smallest of the two doves who
sends you the key."

"Princess Elizabeth?"

"You have named her, not I!" said John Heywood, as he disengaged himself
from the earl's grasp and hurried across the courtyard to betake himself
to his lodgings.

Thomas Seymour watched him with a scowl, and then slowly directed his
eyes to the key that Heywood had given him.

"The princess then awaits me," whispered he, softly. "Ah, who can
read it in the stars? who can know whither the crown will roll when it
tumbles from King Henry's head? I love Catharine, but I love ambition
still more; and if it is demanded, to ambition must I sacrifice my
heart."





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Previous: John Heywood



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