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.





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