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John Heywood

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The Intercession








"And now, Kate," said the king, when all had withdrawn, and he was again
alone with her, "now let us forget everything, save that we love each
other."

He embraced her and with ardor pressed her to his breast. Wearied to
death, she bowed her head on his shoulder and lay there like a shattered
rose, completely broken, completely passive.

"You give me no kiss, Kate?" said Henry, with a smile. "Are you then yet
angry with me that I did not comply with your first request? But what
would you have me do, child? How, indeed, shall I keep the crimson of my
royal mantle always fresh and bright, unless I continually dye it anew
in the blood of criminals? Only he who punishes and destroys is truly
a king, and trembling mankind will acknowledge him as such. The
tender-hearted and gracious king it despises, and his pitiful weakness
it laughs to scorn. Bah! Humanity is such a wretched, miserable thing,
that it only respects and acknowledges him who makes it tremble. And
people are such contemptible, foolish children, that they have respect
only for him who makes them feel the lash daily, and every now and then
whips a few of them to death. Look at me, Kate: where is there a king
who has reigned longer and more happily than I? whom the people love
more and obey better than me? This arises from the fact that I have
already signed more than two hundred death-warrants, [Footnote: Tytler,
p. 428. Leti, vol. i, p. 187.] and because every one believes that,
if he does not obey me, I will without delay send his head after the
others!"

"Oh, you say you love me," murmured Catharine, "and you speak only of
blood and death while you are with me."

The king laughed. "You are right, Kate," said he, "and yet, believe me,
there are other thoughts slumbering in the depths of my heart, and
could you look down into it, you would not accuse me of coldness and
unkindness. I love you truly, my dear, virgin bride, and, to prove it,
you shall now ask a favor of me. Yes, Kate, make me a request, and,
whatever it may be, I pledge you my royal word, it shall be granted you.
Now, Kate, think, what will please you? Will you have brilliants, or a
castle by the sea, or, perhaps, a yacht? Would you like fine horses, or
it may be some one has offended you, and you would like his head? If so,
tell me, Kate, and you shall have his head; a wink from me, and it
drops at your feet. For I am almighty and all-powerful, and no one is
so innocent and pure, that my will cannot find in him a crime which will
cost him his life. Speak, then, Kate; what would you have? What will
gladden your heart?"

Catharine smiled in spite of her secret fear and horror. "Sire," said
she, "you have given me so many brilliants, that I can shine and glitter
with them, as night does with her stars. If you give me a castle by the
sea, that is, at the same time, banishing me from Whitehall and your
presence; I wish, therefore, for no castle of my own. I wish only to
dwell with you in your castles, and my king's abode shall be my only
residence."

"Beautifully and wisely spoken," said the king; "I will remember these
words if ever your enemies endeavor to send you to a dwelling and a
castle other than that which your king occupies. The Tower is also a
castle, Kate, but I give you my royal word you shall never occupy that
castle. You want no treasures and no castles? It is, then, somebody's
head that you demand of me?"

"Yes, sire, it is the head of some one!"

"Ah, I guessed it, then," said the king with a laugh. "Now speak,
my little bloodthirsty queen, whose head will you have? Who shall be
brought to the block?"

"Sire, it is true I ask you for the head of a person," said Catharine,
in a tender, earnest tone, "but I wish not that head to fall, but to be
lifted up. I beg you for a human life--not to destroy it, but, on the
contrary, to adorn it with happiness and joy. I wish to drag no one to
prison, but to restore to one, dearly beloved, the freedom, happiness,
and splendid position which belong to her. Sire, you have permitted me
to ask a favor. Now, then, I beg you to call the Princess Elizabeth to
court. Let her reside with us at Whitehall. Allow her to be ever near
me, and share my happiness and glory. Sire, only yesterday the Princess
Elizabeth was far above me in rank and position, but since your
all-powerful might and grace have to-day elevated me above all other
women, I may now love the Princess Elizabeth as my sister and dearest
friend. Grant me this, my king! Let Elizabeth come to us at Whitehall,
and enjoy at our court the honor which is her due." [Footnote: Leti,
vol. i. p. 147. Tytler. p. 410.]

The king did not reply immediately; but in his quiet and smiling air
one could read that his young consort's request had not angered him.
Something like an emotion flitted across his face, and his eyes were
for a moment dimmed with tears. Perhaps just then a pale, soul-harrowing
phantom passed before his mind, and a glance at the past showed him the
beautiful and unfortunate mother [Footnote: Ann Boleyn] of Elizabeth,
whom he had sentenced to a cruel death at the hands of the public
executioner, and whose last word nevertheless was a blessing and a
message of love for him.

He passionately seized Catharine's hand and pressed it to his lips. "I
thank you! You are unselfish and generous. That is a very rare quality,
and I shall always highly esteem you for it. But you are also brave and
courageous, for you have dared what nobody before you has dared; you
have twice on the same evening interceded for one condemned and one
fallen into disgrace. The fortunate, and those favored by me, have
always had many friends, but I have never yet seen that the unfortunate
and the exiled have also found friends. You are different from these
miserable, cringing courtiers; different from this deceitful and
trembling crowd, that with chattering teeth fall down and worship me
as their god and lord; different from these pitiful, good-for-nothing
mortals, who call themselves my people, and who allow me to yoke them
up, because they are like the ox, which is obedient and serviceable,
only because he is so stupid as not to know his own might and strength.
Ah, believe me, Kate, I would be a milder and more merciful king, if the
people were not such an utterly stupid and contemptible thing; a dog,
which is so much the more submissive and gentle the more you maltreat
him. You, Kate, you are different, and I am glad of it. You know, I have
forever banished Elizabeth from my court and from my heart, and still
you intercede for her. That is noble of you, and I love you for it, and
grant you your request. And that you may see how I love and trust you,
I will now reveal to you a secret: I have long since wished to have
Elizabeth with me, but I was ashamed, even to myself, of this weakness.
I have long yearned once again to look into my daughter's large deep
eyes, to be a kind and tender father to her, and make some amends to her
for the wrong I perhaps may have done to her mother. For sometimes, in
sleepless nights, Anne's beautiful face comes up before me and gazes at
me with mournful, mild look, and my whole heart shudders before it.
But I could not confess this to anybody, for then they might say that I
repented what I had done. A king must be infallible, like God himself,
and never, through regret or desire to compensate, confess that he is a
weak, erring mortal, like others. You see why I repressed my longing and
parental tenderness, which was suspected by no one, and appeared to be
a heartless father, because nobody would help me and make it easy for
me to be a tender father. Ah, these courtiers! They are so stupid, that
they can understand only just what is echoed in our words; but what
our heart says, and longs for, of that they know nothing. But you know,
Kate; you are an acute woman, and a high-minded one besides. Come, Kate,
a thankful father gives you this kiss, and this, ay, this, your husband
gives you, my beautiful, charming queen."





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Previous: The Rivals



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