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Undeceived

John Heywood

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The Rivals








At the very moment when the king was pronouncing, in a voice almost
exultant, Anne Askew's sentence of death, one of the king's cavaliers
appeared on the threshold of the royal chamber and advanced toward the
king.

He was a young man of noble and imposing appearance, whose lofty bearing
contrasted strangely with the humble and submissive attitude of the
rest of the courtiers. His tall, slim form was clad in a coat of mail
glittering with gold; over his shoulders hung a velvet mantle decorated
with a princely crown; and his head, covered with dark ringlets, was
adorned with a cap embroidered with gold, from which a long white
ostrich-feather drooped to his shoulder. His oval face presented
the full type of aristocratic beauty; his cheeks were of a clear,
transparent paleness; about his slightly pouting mouth played a smile,
half contemptuous and half languid; the high, arched brow and delicately
chiselled aquiline nose gave to his face an expression at once bold and
thoughtful. The eyes alone were not in harmony with his face; they were
neither languid like the mouth, nor pensive like the brow. All the
fire and all the bold and wanton passion of youth shot from those dark,
flashing eyes. When he looked down, he might have been taken for a
completely worn-out, misanthropic aristocrat; but when he raised those
ever-flashing and sparkling eyes, then was seen the young man full
of dashing courage and ambitious desires, of passionate warmth and
measureless pride.

He approached the king, as already stated, and as he bent his knee
before him, he said in a full, pleasant voice:

"Mercy, sire, mercy!"

The king stepped back in astonishment, and turned upon the bold speaker
a look almost of amazement.

"Thomas Seymour!" said he. "Thomas, you have returned, then, and your
first act is again an indiscretion and a piece of foolhardy rashness?"

The young man smiled. "I have returned," said he, "that is to say, I
have had a sea-fight with the Scots and taken from them four men-of-war.
With these I hastened hither to present them to you, my king and lord,
as a wedding-gift, and just as I entered the anteroom I heard your voice
pronouncing a sentence of death. Was it not natural, then, that I, who
bring you tidings of a victory, should have the heart to utter a
prayer for mercy, for which, as it seems, none of these noble and proud
cavaliers could summon up courage?"

"Ah!" said the king, evidently relieved and fetching a deep breath,
"then you knew not at all for whom and for what you were imploring
pardon?"

"Yet!" said the young man, and his bold glance ran with an expression of
contempt over the whole assembly--"yet, I saw at once who the condemned
must be, for I saw this young maiden forsaken by all as if stricken
by the plague, standing alone in the midst of this exalted and brave
company. And you well know, my noble king, that at court one recognizes
the condemned and those fallen into disgrace by this, that every one
flies from them, and nobody has the courage to touch such a leper even
with the tip of his finger!"

King Henry smiled. "Thomas Seymour, Earl of Sudley, you are now, as
ever, imprudent and hasty," said he. "You beg for mercy without once
knowing whether she for whom you beg it is worthy of mercy."

"But I see that she is a woman," said the intrepid young earl. "And a
woman is always worthy of mercy, and it becomes every knight to come
forward as her defender, were it but to pay homage to her sex, so fair
and so frail, and yet so noble and mighty. Therefore I beg mercy for
this young maiden!"

Catharine had listened to the young earl with throbbing heart and
flushed cheeks. It was the first time that she had seen him, and yet she
felt for him a warm sympathy, an almost tender anxiety.

"He will plunge himself into ruin," murmured she; "he will not save
Anne, but will make himself unhappy. My God, my God, have a little
compassion and pity on my anguish!"

She now fixed her anxious gaze on the king, firmly resolved to rush
to the help of the earl, who had so nobly and magnanimously interested
himself in an innocent woman, should the wrath of her husband threaten
him also. But, to her surprise, Henry's face was perfectly serene and
contented.

Like the wild beast, that, following its instinct, seeks its bloody prey
only so long as it is hungry, so King Henry felt satiated for the day.
Yonder glared the fires about the stake, at which four heretics were
burned; there stood the scaffold on which the Countess of Somerset had
just been executed; and now, within this hour, he had already found
another new victim for death. Moreover, Thomas Seymour had always been
his favorite. His audacity, his liveliness, his energy, had always
inspired the king with respect; and then, again, he so much resembled
his sister, the beautiful Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife.

"I cannot grant you this favor, Thomas," said the king. "Justice must
not be hindered in her course, and where she has passed sentence, mercy
must not give her the lie; and it was the justice of your king which
pronounced sentence at that moment. You were guilty, therefore, of a
double wrong, for you not only besought mercy, but you also brought an
accusation against my cavaliers. Do you really believe that, were this
maiden's cause a just one, no knight would have been found for her?"

"Yes, I really believe it," cried the earl, with a laugh. "The sun of
your favor had turned away from this poor girl, and in such a case your
courtiers no longer see the figure wrapped in darkness."

"You are mistaken, my lord; I have seen it," suddenly said another
voice, and a second cavalier advanced from the anteroom into the
chamber. He approached the king, and, as he bent his knee before him, he
said, in a loud, steady voice: "Sire, I also beg mercy for Anne Askew!"

At this moment was heard from that side of the room where the ladies
stood, a low cry, and the pale, affrighted face of Lady Jane Douglas was
for a moment raised above the heads of the other ladies. No one noticed
it. All eyes were directed toward the group in the middle of the room:
all looked with eager attention upon the king and these two young men,
who dared protect one whom he had sentenced.

"Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey!" exclaimed the king; and now an
expression of wrath passed over his countenance. "How! you, too,
dare intercede for this girl? You, then, grudge Thomas Seymour the
pre-eminence of being the most discreet man at my court?"

"I will not allow him, sire, to think that he is the bravest," replied
the young man, as he fixed on Thomas Seymour a look of haughty defiance,
which the other answered by a cold, disdainful smile.

"Oh," said he, with a shrug of his shoulders, "I willingly allow you, my
dear Earl of Surrey, to tread behind me, at your convenience, the path,
the safety of which I first tested at the peril of my life. You saw that
I had not, as yet, lost either my head or my life in this reckless under
taking, and that has given you courage to follow my example. That is a
new proof of your prudent valor, my Honorable Earl of Surrey, and I must
praise you for it."

A hot flush suffused the noble face of the earl, his eyes shot
lightning, and, trembling with rage, he laid his hand on his sword.
"Praise from Thomas Seymour is--"

"Silence!" interposed the king, imperatively. "It must not be said that
two of the noblest cavaliers of my court have turned the day, which
should be one of festivity to all of you, into a day of contention. I
command you, therefore, to be reconciled. Shake hands, my lords, and let
your reconciliation be sincere. I, the king command it!"

The young men gazed at each other with looks of hatred and smothered
rage, and their eyes spoke the insulting and defiant words which their
lips durst no longer utter. The king had ordered, and, however great
and powerful they might be, the king was to be obeyed. They,
therefore, extended their hands to each other, and muttered a few low,
unintelligible words, which might be, perhaps, a mutual apology, but
which neither of them understood.

"And now, sire," said the Earl of Surrey, "now I venture to reiterate my
prayer. Mercy, your majesty, mercy for Anne Askew!"

"And you, Thomas Seymour, do you also renew your petition?"

"No, I withdraw it. Earl Surrey protects her; I, therefore, retire, for
without doubt she is a criminal; your majesty says so, and, therefore,
it is so. It would ill become a Seymour to protect a person who sinned
against the king."

This new indirect attack on Earl Surrey seemed to make on all present a
deep but very varied impression. Here, faces were seen to turn pale,
and there, to light up with a malicious smile; here, compressed
lips muttered words of threatening, there, a mouth opened to express
approbation and agreement.

The king's brow was clouded and troubled; the arrow which Earl Sudley
had shot with so skilful a hand had hit. The king, ever suspicious and
distrustful, felt so much the more disquieted as he saw that the greater
part of his cavaliers evidently reckoned themselves friends of Henry
Howard, and that the number of Seymour's adherents was but trifling.

"These Howards are dangerous, and I will watch them carefully," said the
king to himself; and for the first time his eye rested with a dark and
hostile look on Henry Howard's noble countenance.

But Thomas Seymour, who wished only to make a thrust at his old enemy,
had at the same time decided the fate of poor Anne Askew. It was now
almost an impossibility to speak in her behalf, and to implore pardon
for her was to become a partaker of her crime. Thomas Seymour had
abandoned her, because, as traitress to her king, she had rendered
herself unworthy of his protection. Who now would be so presumptuous as
to still protect the traitress?

Henry Howard did it; he reiterated his supplication for Anne Askew's
pardon. But the king's countenance grew darker and darker, and the
courtiers watched with dread the coming of the moment when his wrath
would dash in pieces the poor Earl of Surrey.

In the row of ladies also, here and there, a pale face was visible, and
many a beautiful and beaming eye was dimmed with tears at the sight of
this gallant and handsome cavalier, who was hazarding even his life for
a woman.

"He is lost!" murmured Lady Jane Douglas; and, completely crushed
and lifeless, she leaned for a moment against the wall. But she soon
recovered herself, and her eye beamed with bold resolution. "I will try
and save him!" she said to herself; and, with firm step, she advanced
from the ladies' ranks, and approached the king.

A murmur of applause ran through the company, and all fares brightened
and all eyes were bent approvingly on Lady Jane. They knew that she
was the queen's friend, and an adherent of the new doctrine; it was,
therefore, very marked and significant when she supported the Earl of
Surrey in his magnanimous effort.

Lady Jane bowed her beautiful and haughty head before the king, and
said, in her clear, silvery voice: "Sire, in the name of all the women,
I also beseech you to pardon Anne Askew, because she is a woman. Lord
Surrey has done so because a true knight can never be false to himself
and his ever high and sacred obligation: to be the protector of those
who are helpless and in peril is enough for him. A real gentleman asks
not whether a woman is worthy of his protection; he grants it to
her, simply because she is a woman, and needs his help. And while I,
therefore, in the name of all the women, thank the Earl of Surrey for
the assistance that he has been desirous to render to a woman, I unite
my prayer with his, because it shall not be said that we women are
always cowardly and timid, and never venture to hasten to the help of
the distressed. I, therefore, ask mercy, sire, mercy for Anne Askew!"

"And I," said the queen, as she again approached the king, "I add my
prayers to hers, sire. To-day is the feast of love, my festival, sire!
To-day, then, let love and mercy prevail."

She looked at the king with so charming a smile, her eyes had an
expression so radiant and happy, that the king could not withstand her.

He was, therefore, in the depths of his heart, ready to let the royal
clemency prevail for this time; but he wanted a pretext for this, some
way of bringing it about. He had solemnly vowed to pardon no heretic,
and he might not break his word merely because the queen prayed for
mercy.

"Well, then," said he, after a pause, "I will comply with your request.
I will pardon Anne Askew, provided she will retract, and solemnly abjure
all that she has said. Are you satisfied with that, Catharine?"

"I am satisfied," said she, sadly.

"And you, Lady Jane Douglas, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey?"

"We are satisfied."

All eyes were now turned again upon Anne Askew, who, although every
one was occupied by her concerns, had been entirely overlooked and left
unnoticed.

Nor had she taken any more notice of the company than they of her. She
had scarcely observed what was going on about her. She stood leaning
against the open door leading to the balcony, and gazed at the flaming
horizon. Her soul was with those pious martyrs, for whom she was
sending up her heart-felt prayers to God, and whom she, in her feverish
exaltation, envied their death of torture. Entirely borne away from the
present, she had heard neither the petitions of those who protected her,
nor the king's reply.

A hand laid upon her shoulder roused her from her reverie.

It was Catharine, the young queen, who stood near her.

"Anne Askew," said she, in a hurried whisper, "if your life is dear to
you, comply with the king's demand."

She seized the young girl's hand, and led her to the king.

"Sire," said she, in a full voice, "forgive the exalted and impassioned
agony of a poor girl, who has now, for the first time, been witness of
an execution, and whose mind has been so much impressed by it that she
is scarcely conscious of the mad and criminal words that she has
uttered before you! Pardon her, then, your majesty, for she is prepared
cheerfully to retract."

A cry of amazement burst from Anne's lips, and her eyes flashed with
anger, as she dashed the queen's hand away from her.

"I retract!" exclaimed she, with a contemptuous smile. "Never, my lady,
never! No! as sure as I hope for God to be gracious to me in my last
hour, I retract not! It is true, it was agony and horror that made me
speak; but what I have spoken is yet, nevertheless, the truth. Horror
caused me to speak, and forced me to show my soul undisguised. No, I
retract not! I tell you, they who have been executed over yonder are
holy martyrs, who have ascended to God, there to enter an accusation
against their royal hangman. Ay, they are holy, for eternal truth had
illumined their souls, and it beamed about their faces bright as the
flames of the fagots into which the murderous hand of an unrighteous
judge had cast them. Ah, I must retract! I, forsooth, am to do as did
Shaxton, the miserable and unfaithful servant of his God, who, from
fear of earthly death, denied the eternal truth, and in blaspheming
pusillanimity perjured himself concerning the holy doctrine. [Footnote:
Burnet, vol. i, p. 341] King Henry, I say unto you, beware of
dissemblers and perjurers; beware of your own haughty and arrogant
thoughts. The blood of martyrs cries to Heaven against you, and the time
will come when God will be as merciless to you as you have been to the
noblest of your subjects! You deliver them over to the murderous flames,
because they will not believe what the priests of Baal preach; because
they will not believe in the real transubstantiation of the chalice;
because they deny that the natural body of Christ is, after the
sacrament, contained in the sacrament, no matter whether the priest be
a good or a bad man. [Footnote: Ibid.] You give them over to the
executioner, because they serve the truth, and are faithful followers of
the Lord their God!"

"And you share the views of these people whom you call martyrs?" asked
the king, as Anne Askew now paused for a moment and struggled for
breath.

"Yes, I share them!"

"You deny, then, the truth of the six articles?"

"I deny them!"

"You do not see in me the head of the Church?"

"God only is Head and Lord of the Church!"

A pause followed--a fearful, awful pause.

Every one felt that for this poor young girl there was no hope, no
possible escape; that her doom was irrevocably sealed.

There was a smile on the king's countenance.

The courtiers knew that smile, and feared it yet more than the king's
raging wrath.

When the king thus smiled, he had taken his resolve. Then there was with
him no possible vacillation or hesitation, but the sentence of death was
resolved on, and his bloodthirsty soul rejoiced over a new victim.

"My Lord Bishop of Winchester," said the king, at length, "come hither."

Gardiner drew near and placed himself by Anne Askew, who gazed at him
with angry, contemptuous looks.

"In the name of the law I command you to arrest this heretic, and hand
her over to the spiritual court," continued the king. "She is damned and
lost. She shall be punished as she deserves!"

Gardiner laid his hand on Anne Askew's shoulder. "In the name of the law
of God, I arrest you!" said he, solemnly.

Not a word more was spoken. The lord chief justice had silently followed
a sign from Gardiner, and touching Anne Askew with his staff, ordered
the soldiers to conduct her thence.

With a smile, Anne Askew offered them her hand, and surrounded by the
soldiers and followed by the Bishop of Winchester and the lord chief
justice, walked erect and proudly out of the room.

The courtiers had divided and opened a passage for Anne and her
attendants. Now their ranks closed again, as the sea closes and flows
calmly on when it has just received a corpse. To them all Anne Askew was
already a corpse, as one buried. The waves had swept over her and all
was again serene and bright.

The king extended his hand to his young wife, and, bending down,
whispered in her ear a few words, which nobody understood, but which
made the young queen tremble and blush.

The king, who observed this, laughed and impressed a kiss on her
forehead. Then he turned to his court; "Now, good-night, my lords and
gentlemen," said he, with a gracious inclination of the head. "The feast
is at an end, and we need rest."

"Forget not the Princess Elizabeth," whispered Archbishop Cranmer, as he
took leave of Catharine, and pressed to his lips her proffered hand.

"I will not forget her," murmured Catharine, and, with throbbing heart
and trembling with inward dread, she saw them all retire, and leave her
alone with the king.





Next: The Intercession

Previous: King By The Wrath Of God



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