The Declaration





Thomas Seymour returned to Catharine. She still lay there with closed

eyes, pale and motionless.



He gazed on her long and steadily; his eyes drank in, in long draughts,

the sight of this beautiful and noble woman, and he forgot at that

moment that she was a queen.



He was at length alone with her. At last, after two years of torture, of

resignation, of dissimulation, God had granted him this hour, for which

he had so long yearned, which he had so long considered unattainable.

Now it was there, now it was his.



And had the whole court, had King Henry himself, come right then, Thomas

Seymour would not have heeded it; it would not have affrighted him. The

blood had mounted to his head and overcome his reason. His heart, still

agitated and beating violently from his furious ride and his anxiety for

Catharine, allowed him to hear no other voice than that of passion.



He knelt by the queen and seized her hand.



Perhaps it was this touch which roused her from her unconsciousness. She

raised her eyes and gazed around with a perplexed look.



"Where am I?" breathed she in a low tone.



Thomas Seymour pressed her hand to his lips. "You are with the most

faithful and devoted of your servants, queen!"



"Queen!" This word roused her from her stupor, and caused her to raise

herself half up.



"But where is my court? Where is the Princess Elizabeth? Where are all

the eyes that heretofore watched me? Where are all the listeners and

spies who accompany the queen?"



"They are far away from here," said Seymour in a tone which betrayed

his secret delight. "They are far away from here, and need at least an

hour's time to come up with us. An hour, queen! are you aware what that

is to me? An hour of freedom, after two years of imprisonment! An hour

of happiness, after two years of daily torture, daily endurance of the

torments of hell!"



Catharine, who had at first smiled, had now become grave and sad.



Her eye rested on the cap which had fallen from her head and lay near

her on the grass.



She pointed with trembling finger to the crown, and said softly,

"Recognize you that sign, my lord?"



"I recognize it, my lady; but in this hour, I no longer shrink back at

it. There are moments in which life is at its crowning point, and when

one heeds not the abyss that threatens close beneath. Such an hour is

the present. I am aware that this hour makes me guilty of high treason

and may send me to the block; but nevertheless I will not be silent.

The fire which burns in my breast consumes me. I must at length give it

vent. My heart, that for years has burned upon a funeral pyre, and which

is so strong that in the midst of its agonies it has still ever felt

a sensation of its blessedness--my heart must at length find death or

favor. You shall hear me, queen!"



"No, no," said she, almost in anguish, "I will not, I cannot hear you!

Remember that I am Henry the Eighth's wife, and that it is dangerous to

speak to her. Silence, then, earl, silence, and let us ride on."



She would have arisen, but her own exhaustion and Lord Seymour's hand

caused her to sink back again.



"No, I will not be silent," said he. "I will not be silent until I have

told you all that rages and glows within me. The Queen of England may

either condemn me or pardon me, but she shall know that to me she is not

Henry the Eighth's wife, but only the most charming and graceful, the

noblest and loveliest woman in England. I will tell her that I never

recollect she is my queen, or, if I do so, it is only to curse the king,

who was presumptuous enough to set this brightly sparkling jewel in his

bloody crown."



Catharine, almost horrified, laid her hand on Seymour's lips. "Silence,

unhappy man, silence! Know you that it is your sentence of death which

you are now uttering? Your sentence of death, if any soul hears you?"



"But no one hears me. No one save the queen, and God, who, however, is

perhaps more compassionate and merciful than the queen. Accuse me then,

queen; go and tell your king that Thomas Seymour is a traitor; that he

dares love the queen. The king will send me to the scaffold, but I

shall nevertheless deem myself happy, for I shall at least die by your

instrumentality. Queen, if I cannot live for you, then beautiful it is

to die for you!"



Catharine listened to him wholly stupefied, wholly intoxicated. This

was, for her, language wholly new and never heard before, at which her

heart trembled in blissful awe, which rushed around her in enchanting

melodies and lulled her into a sweet stupefaction. Now she herself

even forgot that she was queen, that she was the wife of Henry, the

bloodthirsty and the jealous. She was conscious only of this, that

the man whom she had so long loved, was now kneeling at her side. With

rapture she drank in his words, which struck upon her ear like exquisite

music.



Thomas Seymour continued. He told her all he had suffered. He told her

he had often resolved to die, in order to put an end to these tortures,

but that then a glance of her eye, a word from her lips, had given him

strength to live, and still longer endure these tortures, which were at

the same time so full of rapture.



"But now, queen, now my strength is exhausted, and it is for you to give

me life or death. To-morrow I will ascend the scaffold, or you shall

permit me to live, to live for you."



Catharine trembled and looked at him wellnigh astounded. He seemed so

proud and imperative, she almost felt a fear for him, but it was the

happy fear of a loving, meek woman before a strong, commanding man.



"Know you," said she, with a charming smile, "that you almost have the

appearance of wishing to command me to love you?"



"No, queen," said he, proudly, "I cannot command you to love me, but I

bid you tell me the truth. I bid you do this, for I am a man who has the

right to demand the truth of a woman face to face. And I have told you,

you are not the queen to me. You are but a beloved, an adored woman.

This love has nothing to do with your royalty, and while I confess it to

you, I do not think that you abase yourself when you receive it. For

the true love of a man is ever the holiest gift that he can present to

a woman, and if a beggar dedicates it to a queen, she must feel herself

honored by it. Oh, queen, I am a beggar. I lie at your feet and raise

my hands beseechingly to you; but I want not charity, I want not your

compassion and pity, which may, perhaps, grant me an alms to lessen my

misery. No, I want you yourself. I require all or nothing. It will not

satisfy me that you forgive my boldness, and draw the veil of

silence over my mad attempt. No, I wish you to speak, to pronounce my

condemnation or a benediction on me. Oh, I know you are generous and

compassionate, and even if you despise my love and will not return

it, yet, it may be, you will not betray me. You will spare me, and

be silent. But I repeat it, queen, I do not accept this offer of your

magnanimity. You are to make me either a criminal or a god; for I am a

criminal if you condemn my love, a god if you return it."



"And do you know, earl," whispered Catharine, "that you are very cruel?

You want me to be either an accuser or an accomplice. You leave me

no choice but that of being either your murderess or a perjured and

adulterous woman--a wife who forgets her plighted faith and her sacred

duty, and defiles the crown which my husband has placed upon my head

with stains, which Henry will wash out with my own blood and with yours

also."



"Let it be so, then," cried the earl, almost joyfully. "Let my head

fall, no matter how or when, if you but love me; for then I shall still

be immortal; for a moment in your arms is an eternity of bliss."



"But I have already told you that not only your head, but mine also,

is concerned in this matter. You know the king's harsh and cruel

disposition. The mere suspicion is enough to condemn me. Ah, if he knew

what we have just now spoken here, he would condemn me, as he condemned

Catharine Howard, though I am not guilty as she was. Ah, I shudder at

the thought of the block; and you, Earl Seymour, you would bring me to

the scaffold, and yet you say you love me!"



Seymour sunk his head mournfully upon his breast and sighed deeply. "You

have pronounced my sentence, queen, and though you are too noble to tell

me the truth, yet I have guessed it. No, you do not love me, for you see

with keen eyes the danger that threatens you, and you fear for yourself.

No, you love me not, else you would think of nothing save love alone.

The dangers would animate you, and the sword which hangs over your head

you would not see, or you would with rapture grasp its edge and say,

'What is death to me, since I am happy! What care I for dying, since I

have felt immortal happiness!' Ah, Catharine, you have a cold heart

and a cool head. May God preserve them both to you; then will you pass

through life quietly and safely; but you will yet be a poor, wretched

woman, and when you come to die, they will place a royal crown upon your

coffin, but love will not weep for you. Farewell, Catharine, Queen

of England, and since you cannot love him, give Thomas Seymour, the

traitor, your sympathy at least."



He bowed low and kissed her feet, then he arose and walked with firm

step to the tree where he had tied the horses. But now Catharine

arose, now she flew to him, and grasping his hand, asked, trembling and

breathless, "What are you about to do? whither are you going?"



"To the king, my lady."



"And what will you do there?"



"I will show him a traitor who has dared love the queen. You have just

killed my heart; he will kill only my body. That is less painful, and I

will thank him for it."



Catharine uttered a cry, and with passionate vehemence drew him back to

the place where she had been resting.



"If you do what you say, you will kill me," said she, with trembling

lips. "Hear me, hear! The moment you mount your horse to go to the king,

I mount mine too; but not to follow you, not to return to London, but to

plunge with my horse down yonder precipice. Oh, fear nothing; they will

not accuse you of my murder. They will say that I plunged down there

with my horse, and that the raging animal caused my death."



"Queen, take good heed, consider well what you say!" exclaimed Thomas

Seymour, his countenance clearing up and his face flaming with delight.

"Bear in mind that your words must be either a condemnation or an

avowal. I wish death, or your love! Not the love of a queen, who thinks

to be gracious to her subject, when for the moment she elevates him

to herself; but the love of a woman who bows her head in meekness and

receives her lover as at the same time her lord. Oh, Catharine, be well

on your guard! If you come to me with the pride of a queen, if there be

even one thought in you which tells you that you are bestowing a favor

on a subject as you take him to your heart, then be silent and let me

go hence. I am proud, and as nobly born as yourself, and however love

throws me conquered at your feet, yet it shall not bow my head in

the dust! But if you say that you love me, Catharine, for that I will

consecrate my whole life to you. I will be your lord, but your slave

also. There shall be in me no thought, no feeling, no wish that is not

devoted and subservient to you. And when I say that I will be your lord,

I mean not thereby that I will not lie forever at your feet and bow my

head in the dust, and say to you: Tread on it, if it seem good to you,

for I am your slave!"



And speaking thus, he dropped on his knees and pressed to her feet his

face, whose glowing and noble expression ravished Catharine's heart.



She hent down to him, and gently lifting his head, looked with an

indescribable expression of happiness and love deep into his beaming

eyes.



"Do you love me?" asked Seymour, as he put his arm softly around her

slender waist, and arose from his kneeling attitude.



"I love you!" said she, with a firm voice and a happy smile. "I love

you, not as a queen, but as a woman; and if perchance this love bring us

both to the scaffold, well then we shall at least die together, to meet

again there above!"



"No, think not now of dying, Catharine, think of living--of the

beautiful, enchanting future which is beckoning to us. Think of the

days which will soon come, and in which our love will no longer require

secresy or a veil, but when we will manifest it to the whole world, and

can proclaim our happiness from a full glad breast! Oh, Catharine, let

us hope that compassionate and merciful death will loose at last the

unnatural bonds that bind you to that old man. Then, when Henry is no

more, then will you be mine, mine with your entire being, with your

whole life; and instead of a proud regal crown, a crown of myrtle shall

adorn your head! Swear that to me, Catharine; swear that you will become

my wife, as soon as death has set you free."



The queen shuddered and her cheeks grew pale. "Oh," said she with a

sigh, "death then is our hope and perhaps the scaffold our end!"



"No, Catharine, love is our hope, and happiness our end. Think of life,

of our future! God grant my request. Swear to me here in the face of

God, and of sacred and calm nature around us, swear to me, that from the

day when death frees you from your husband you will be mine, my wife, my

consort! Swear to me, that you, regardless of etiquette and unmindful

of tyrannical custom, will be Lord Seymour's wife, before the knell for

Henry's death has died away. We will find a priest, who may bless our

love and sanctify the covenant that we have this day concluded for

eternity! Swear to me, that, till that wished--for day, you will keep

for me your truth and love, and never forget that my honor is yours

also, that your happiness is also mine!"



"I swear it!" said Catharine, solemnly. "You may depend upon me at all

times and at all hours. Never will I be untrue to you; never will I have

a thought that is not yours. I will love you as Thomas Seymour deserves

to be loved, that is with a devoted and faithful heart. It will be my

pride to subject myself to you, and with glad soul will I serve and

follow you, as your true and obedient wife."



"I accept your oath!" said Seymour, solemnly. "But in return I swear

that I will honor and esteem you as my queen and mistress. I swear to

you that you shall never find a more obedient subject, a more unselfish

counsellor, a more faithful husband, a braver champion, than I will be.

'My life for my queen, my entire heart for my beloved'; this henceforth

shall be my motto, and may I be disowned and despised by God and by you,

if ever I violate this oath."



"Amen!" said Catharine, with a bewitching smile.



Then both were silent. It was that silence which only love and happiness

knows--that silence which is so rich in thoughts and feelings, and

therefore so poor in words!



The wind rustled whisperingly in the trees, among whose dark branches

here and there a bird's warbling or flute-like notes resounded. The

sun threw his emerald light over the soft velvety carpet of the ground,

which, rising and falling in gentle, undulating lines, formed lovely

little hollows and hillocks, on which now and then was seen here and

there the slender and stately figure of a hart, or a roe, that, looking

around searchingly with his bright eyes, started back frightened into

the thicket on observing these two human figures and the group of horses

encamped there.



Suddenly this quiet was interrupted by the loud sound of the hunter's

horn, and in the distance were heard confused cries and shouts, which

were echoed by the dense forest and repeated in a thousand tones.



With a sigh the queen raised her head from the earl's shoulder.



The dream was at an end; the angel came with flaming sword to drive her

from paradise.



For she was no longer worthy of paradise. The fatal word had been

spoken, and while it brought her love, it had perjured her.



Henry's wife, his by her vow taken before the altar, had betrothed

herself to another, and given him the love that she owed her husband.



"It is passed," said he, mournfully. "These sounds call me back to my

slavery. We must both resume our roles. I must become queen again."



"But first swear to me that you will never forget this hour; that you

will ever think upon the oaths which we have mutually sworn."



She looked at him almost astounded. "My God! can truth and love be

forgotten?"



"You will remain ever true, Catharine?"



She smiled. "See, now, my jealous lord, do I address such questions to

you?"



"Oh, queen, you well know that you possess the charm that binds

forever."



"Who knows?" said she dreamily, as she raised her enthusiastic look

to heaven, and seemed to follow the bright silvery clouds which were

sailing slowly across the blue ether.



Then her eyes fell on her beloved, and laying her hand softly upon

his shoulder, she said: "Love is like God--eternal, primeval, and ever

present! But you must believe in it to feel its presence; you must trust

it to be worthy of its blessing!"



But the hallooing and the clangor of the horns came nearer and nearer.

Even now was heard the barking of the dogs and the tramp of horses.



The earl had untied the horses, and led Hector, who was now quiet and

gentle as a lamb, to his mistress.



"Queen," said Thomas Seymour, "two delinquents now approach you! Hector

is my accomplice, and had it not been that the fly I now see on his

swollen ear had made him raving, I should be the most pitiable and

unhappy man in your kingdom, while now I am the happiest and most

enviable."



The queen made no answer, but she put both her arms around the animal's

neck and kissed him.



"Henceforth," said she, "then I will ride only Hector, and when he is

old and unfit for service--"



"He shall be tended and cared for in the stud of Countess Catharine

Seymour!" interrupted Thomas Seymour, as he held the queen's stirrup and

assisted her into the saddle.



The two rode in silence toward the sound of the voices and horns, both

too much occupied by their own thoughts to interrupt them by trifling

words.



"He loves me!" thought Catharine. "I am a happy, enviable woman, for

Thomas Seymour loves me."



"She loves me!" thought he, with a proud, triumphant smile. "I shall,

therefore, one day become Regent of England."



Just then they came out on the large level meadow, through which they

had previously ridden, and over which now came, scattered here and there

in motley confusion, the entire royal suite, Princess Elizabeth at the

head.



"One thing more!" whispered Catharine. "If you ever need a messenger to

me, apply to John Heywood. He is a friend whom we can trust."



And she sprang forward to meet the princess, to recount to her all the

particulars of her adventure, and her happy rescue by the master of

horse.



Elizabeth, however, listened to her with glowing looks and thoughts

distracted, and as the queen then turned to the rest of her suite, and,

surrounded by her ladies and lords, received their congratulations, a

slight sign from the princess called Thomas Seymour to her side.



She allowed her horse to curvet some paces forward, by which she and the

earl found themselves separated a little from the rest, and were sure of

being overheard by no one.



"My lord," said she, in a vehement, almost threatening voice, "you have

often and in vain besought me to grant you an interview. I have denied

you. You intimated that you had many things to say to me, for which we

must be alone, and which must reach no listener's ear. Well, now, to-day

I grant you an interview, and I am at last inclined to listen to you."



She paused and waited for a reply. But the earl remained silent. He only

made a deep and respectful bow, bending to the very neck of his horse.

"Well and good; I will go to this rendezvous were it but to blind

Elizabeth's eyes, that she may not see what she never ought to see. That

was all."



The young princess cast on him an angry look, and a dark scowl gathered

on her brow. "You understand well how to control your joy," said she;

"and any one to see you just now would think--"



"That Thomas Seymour is discreet enough not to let even his rapture be

read in his countenance at this dangerous court," interrupted the earl

in a low murmur. "When, princess, may I see you and where?"



"Wait for the message that John Heywood will bring you to-day,"

whispered Elizabeth, as she sprang forward and again drew near the

queen.



"John Heywood, again!" muttered the earl. "The confidant of both, and so

my hangman, if he wishes to be!"





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