The Lord Privy Seal was beneath a tall cresset in the stern of his barge, looking across the night and the winter river. They were rowing from Rocheste_o the palace at Greenwich, where the Court was awaiting Anne of Cleves. Th_lare of the King's barge a quarter of a mile ahead moved in a glowing patc_f lights and their reflections, as though it were some portent creeping in _laze across the sky. There was nothing else visible in the world but th_arkness and a dusky tinge of red where a wave caught the flare of ligh_urther out.
He stood invisible behind the lights of his cabin; and the thud of oars, th_oluble noises of the water, and the crackling of the cresset overhead had, too, the quality of impersonal and supernatural phenomena. His voice sai_arshly:
'It is very cold; bring me my greatest cloak.'
Throckmorton, the one of Cromwell's seven hundred spies who at that time wa_is most constant companion, was hidden in the deep shadow beside the cabin- door. His bearded and heavy form obscured the light for a moment as he hurrie_o fetch the cloak. But merely to be the Lord Cromwell's gown-bearer was i_hose days a thing you would run after; and an old man in a flat cap—th_hancellor of the Augmentations, who had been listening intently at th_oor—was already hurrying out with a heavy cloak of fur. Cromwell let it b_ung about his shoulders.
The Chancellor shivered and said, 'We should be within a quarter-hour o_reenwich.'
'Get you in if you be cold,' Cromwell answered. But the Chancellor wa_uivering with the desire to talk to his master. He had seen the heavy Kin_ush stumbling down the stairs of the Cleves woman's lodging at Rochester, an_he sight had been for him terrible and prodigious. It was Cromwell who ha_ade him Chancellor of the Augmentations—who had even invented the office t_eal with the land taken from the Abbeys—and he was so much the creature o_his Lord Privy Seal that it seemed as if the earth was shivering all th_hile for the fall of this minister, and that he himself was within an inch o_he ruin, execration, and death that would come for them all once Cromwel_ere down.
Throckmorton, a giant man with an immense golden beard, issued again from th_abin, and the Privy Seal's voice came leisurely and cold:
'What said Lord Cassilis of this? And the fellow Knighton? I saw them at th_tairs.'
Privy Seal had such eyes that it was delicate work lying to him. Bu_hrockmorton brought out heavily:
'Cassilis, that this Lady Anne should never be Queen.'
'Aye, but she must,' the Chancellor bleated. He had been bribed by two of th_leves lords to get them lands in Kent when the Queen should be in power.
Cromwell's silence made Throckmorton continue against his will:
'Knighton, that the Queen's breath should turn the King's stomach against you!
Dr. Miley, the Lutheran preacher, that by this evening's work the Kingdom o_od on earth was set trembling, the King having the nature of a lecher… .'
He tried to hold back. After all, it came into his mind, this man was nearl_own. Any one of the men upon whom he now spied might come to be his maste_ery soon. But Cromwell's voice said, 'And then?' and he made up his mind t_mplicate none but the Scotch lord, who was at once harmless and unliable t_e harmed.
'Lord Cassilis,' he brought out, 'said again that your lordship's head shoul_all ere January goes out.'
He seemed to feel the great man's sneer through the darkness, and was coldl_ngry with himself for having invented no better lie. For if this invisibl_nd threatening phantom that hid itself among these shadows outlasted Januar_e might yet outlast some of them. He wondered which of Cromwell's innumerabl_ll-wishers it might best serve him to serve. But for the Chancellor of th_ugmentations the heavy silence of calamity, like the waiting at a bedside fo_eath to come, seemed to fall upon them. He imagined that the Privy Seal hi_imself in that shadow in order to conceal a pale face and shaking knees. Bu_romwell's voice came harsh and peremptory to Throckmorton:
'What men be abroad at this night season? Ask my helmsmen.'
Two torchlights, far away to the right, wavered shaking trails in the wate_hat, thus revealed, shewed agitated and chopped by small waves. Th_hancellor's white beard shook with the cold, with fear of Cromwell, and wit_uriosity to know how the man looked and felt. He ventured at last in a fain_nd bleating voice:
What did his lordship think of this matter? Surely the King should espous_his lady and the Lutheran cause.
Cromwell answered with inscrutable arrogance:
'Why, your cause is valuable. But this is a great matter. Get you in if you b_old.'
Throckmorton appeared noiselessly at his elbow, whilst the Chancellor wa_umbling: 'God forbid I should be called Lutheran.'
The torches, Throckmorton said, were those of fishers who caught eels off th_ud with worms upon needles.
'Such night work favours treason,' Cromwell muttered. 'Write in my notebook,
"The Council to prohibit the fishing of eels by night."'
'What a nose he hath for treasons,' the Chancellor whispered to Throckmorto_s they rustled together into the cabin. Throckmorton's face was gloomy an_ensive. The Privy Seal had chosen none of his informations for noting down.
Assuredly the time was near for him to find another master.
The barge swung round a reach, and the lights of the palace of Greenwich wer_ike a flight of dim or bright squares in mid air, far ahead. The King's barg_as already illuminating the crenellated arch at the top of the river steps. _urst of torches flared out to meet it and disappeared. The Court was then a_reenwich, nearly all the lords, the bishops and the several councils lying i_he Palace to await the coming of Anne of Cleves on the morrow. She ha_eached Rochester that evening after some days' delay at Calais, for th_inter seas. The King had gone that night to inspect her, having been given t_elieve that she was soberly fair and of bountiful charms. His courteous visi_ad been in secret and in disguise; therefore there were no torchmen in th_ardens, and darkness lay between the river steps and the great centra_ateway. But a bonfire, erected by the guards to warm themselves in th_ourtyard, as it leapt up or subsided before the wind, shewed that tall towe_ale and high or vanishing into the night with its carved stone garlands, it_tone men at arms, its lions, roses, leopards, and naked boys. The livin_ouses ran away from the foot of the tower, till the wings, coming towards th_iver, vanished continually into shadows. They were low by comparison, gable_ith false fronts over each set of rooms and, in the glass of their small- paned windows, the reflection of the fire gleamed capriciously from unexpecte_hadows. This palace was called Placentia by the King because it was pleasan_o live in.
Cromwell mounted the steps with a slow gait and an arrogant figure. Under th_iver arch eight of his gentlemen waited upon him, and in the garden th_orches of his men shewed black yew trees cut like peacocks, clipped hedge_ike walls with archways above the broad and tiled paths, and fountains tha_leamed and trickled as if secretly in the heavy and bitter night.
A corridor ran from under the great tower right round the palace. It was ful_f hurrying people and of grooms who stood in knots beside doorways. The_lattened themselves against the walls before the Lord Privy Seal's processio_f gentlemen in black with white staves, and the ceilings seemed to send dow_oulded and gilded stalactites to touch his head. The beefeater before th_oor of the Lady Mary's lodgings spat upon the ground when he had passed. Hi_ard glance travelled along the wall like a palpable ray, about the height o_ man's head. It passed over faces and slipped back to the gilded wainscoting; tiring-women upon whom it fell shivered, and the serving men felt their bowel_urn within them. His round face was hard and alert, and his lips move_easelessly one upon another. All those serving people wondered to see hi_ead so high, for already it was known that the King had turned sick at th_ight of his bedfellow that should be. And indeed the palace was only awake a_hat late hour because of that astounding news, dignitaries lingering in eac_ther's quarters to talk of it, whilst in the passages their waiting me_upplied gross commentaries.
He entered his door. In the ante-room two men in his livery removed his oute_urs deftly so as not to hinder his walk. Before the fire of his large room _air boy knelt to pull off his jewelled gloves, and Hanson, one of hi_ecretaries, unclasped from his girdle the corded bag that held the Priv_eal. He laid it on a high stand between two tall candles of wax upon the lon_able.
The boy went with the gloves and Hanson disappeared silently behind the dar_apestry in the further corner. Cromwell was meditating above a fragment o_laming wood that the fire had spat out far into the tiled fore-hearth. H_ressed it with his foot gently towards the blaze of wood in the chimney.
His plump hands were behind his back, his long upper lip ceaselessly caresse_ts fellow, moving as one line of a snake's coil glides above another. Th_anuary wind crept round the shadowy room behind the tapestry, and as i_uivered stags seemed to leap over bushes, hounds to spring in pursuit, and _rowned Diana to move her arms, taking an arrow from a quiver behind he_houlder. The tall candles guarded the bag of the Privy Seal, they fluttere_nd made the gilded heads on the rafters have sudden grins on their faces tha_epresented kings with flowered crowns, queens with their hair combed back o_o pillows, and pages with scolloped hats. Cromwell stepped to an aumbry, where there were a glass of wine, a manchet of bread, and a little salt. H_egan to eat, dipping pieces of bread into the golden salt-cellar. The face o_ queen looked down just above his head with her eyes wide open as if she wer_mazed, thrusting her head from a cloud.
'Why, I have outlived three queens,' he said to himself, and his round fac_esignedly despised his world and his times. He had forgotten what anxiet_elt like because the world was so peopled with blunderers and timid fool_ull of hatred.
The marriage with Cleves was the deathblow to the power of the Empire. Wit_he Protestant Princes armed behind his back, the imbecile called Charle_ould never dare to set his troops on board ship in Flanders to aid th_ontinual rebellions, conspiracies and risings in England. He had done it to_ften, and he had repented as often, at the last moment. It was true that th_arriage had thrown Charles into the arms of France: the French King and h_ere at that very minute supping together in Paris. They would be makin_reaties that were meant to be broken, and their statesmen were hatching plot_hat any scullion would reveal. Francis and his men were too mean, too silly, too despicable, and too easily bribed to hold to any union or to carry out an_olicy… .
He sipped his wine slowly. It was a little cold, so he set it down beside th_ire. He wanted to go to bed, but the Archbishop was coming to hear how Henr_ad received his Queen, and to pour out his fears. Fears! Because the King ha_een sick at sight of the Cleves woman! He had this King very absolutely i_is power; the grey, failing but vindictive and obstinate mass known as Henr_as afraid of his contempt, afraid really of a shrug of the shoulder or _mall sniff.
With the generosity of his wine and the warmth of his fire, his thoughts wen_any years ahead. He imagined the King either married to or having repudiate_he Lady from Cleves, and then dead. Edward, the Seymour child, was hi_reature, and would be king or dead. Cleves children would be his creation_oo. Or if he married the Lady Mary he would still be next the throne.
His mind rested luxuriously and tranquilly on that prospect. He would b_erpetually beside the throne, there would be no distraction to maintain _oothold. He would be there by right; he would be able to give all his mind t_he directing of this world that he despised for its baseness, its jealousies, its insane brawls, its aimless selfishness, and its blind furies. Then ther_hould be no more war, as there should be no more revolts. There should be n_ore jealousies; for kingcraft, solid, austere, practical and inspired, shoul_eep down all the peoples, all the priests, and all the nobles of the world.
'Ah,' he thought, 'there would be in France no power to shelter traitors lik_rancetor.' His eyes became softer in the contemplation of this Utopia, and h_oved his upper lip more slowly.
Now the Archbishop was there. Pale, worn with fears and agitation, he came t_ay that the King had called to him Bishop Gardiner and the more Catholi_ords of the Council. Cranmer's own spy Lascelles had made this new report.
His white sleeves made a shivering sound, the fur that fell round his neck wa_isplaced on one shoulder. His large mouth was open with panic, his lip_rembled, and his good-natured and narrow eyes seemed about to drop tears.
'Your Grace knoweth well what passed to-night at Rochester,' Cromwell said. H_lapped his hands for a man to snuff the candles. 'You have the commo_eport.'
'Ah, is it even true?' The Archbishop felt a last hope die, and he choked i_is throat. Cromwell watched the man at the candles and said:
'Your Grace hath a new riding mule. I pray it may cease to affright you.'
'Why?' he said, as the man went. 'The King's Highness went even to Rochester, disguised, since it was his good pleasure, as a French lord. You have seen th_ady. So his Highness was seized with a make of palsy. He cursed to his barge.
I know no more than that.'
'And now they sit in the council.'
'It seems,' Cromwell said.
'Ah, dear God have mercy.'
The Archbishop's thin hands wavered before the crucifix on his breast, an_ade the sign of the cross.
The very faces of his enemies seemed visible to him. He saw Gardiner, o_inchester, with his snake's eyes under the flat cap, and the Duke of Norfol_ith his eyes malignant in a long, yellow face. He had a vision of the King, _uge red lump beneath the high dais at the head of the Council table, his fac_uffused with blood, his cheeks quivering.
He wrung his hands and wondered if at Smithfield the Lutherans would pray fo_im, or curse him for having been lukewarm.
'Why, goodman gossip,' Cromwell said compassionately, 'we have been neare_eath ten times.' He uttered his inmost thoughts out of pity:—All this he ha_waited. The King's Highness by the report of his painters, his ambassadors, his spies—they were all in the pay of Cromwell—had awaited a lady of modes_emeanour, a coy habit, and a great and placid fairness. 'I had warned th_lmains at Rochester to attire her against our coming. But she slobbered wit_cstasy and slipped sideways, aiming at a courtesy. Therefore the King was ho_ith new anger and disgust.'
'You and I are undone.' Cranmer was passive with despair.
'He is very seldom an hour of one mind,' Cromwell answered. 'Unless in tha_our those you wot of shall work upon him, it will go well with us.'
'They shall. They shall.'
'I wait to see.'
There seemed to Cranmer something horrible in this impassivity. He wished hi_eader to go to the King, and he had a frantic moment of imagining himsel_unning to a great distance, hiding his head in darkness.
Cromwell's lips went up in scorn. 'Do you imagine the yellow duke speaking hi_ind to the King? He is too craven.'
A heavy silence fell between them. The fire rustled, the candles again neede_nuffing.
'Best get to bed,' Cromwell said at last.
'Could I sleep?' Cranmer had the irritation of extreme fear. His master seeme_o him to have no bowels. But the waiting told at last upon Cromwell himself.
'I could sleep an you would let me,' he said sharply. 'I tell you the Kin_hall be another man in the morning.'
'Ay, but now. But now… .' He imagined the pens in that distant room creakin_ver the paper with their committals, and he wished to upbraid Cromwell. I_as his policy of combining with Lutherans that had brought them to this.
Heavy thundering came on the outer door.
'The King comes,' Cromwell cried victoriously. He went swiftly from the room.
The Archbishop closed his eyes and suddenly remembered the time when he ha_een a child.
Privy Seal had an angry and contemptuous frown at his return. 'They have kep_im from me.' He threw a little scroll on to the table. Its white silence mad_ranmer shudder; it seemed to have something of the heavy threatening of th_ing's self.
'We may go to bed,' Cromwell said. 'They have devised their shift.'
'They have temporised, they have delayed. I know them.' He quote_ontemptuously from the letter: 'We would have you send presently to ask o_he Almain Lords with the Lady Anne the papers concerning her pre-contract t_he Duke of Lorraine.'
Cranmer was upon the point of going away in the joy of this respite. But hi_esire to talk delayed him, and he began to talk about the canon law and pre- contracts of marriage. It was a very valid cause of nullity all the doctor_eld.
'Think you I have not made very certain the pre-contract was nullified? Thi_s no shift,' and Cromwell spoke wearily and angrily. 'Goodman Archbishop, dr_our tears. To-night the King is hot with disgust, but I tell you he will no_ast away his kingdom upon whether her teeth be white or yellow. This is n_oman's man.'
Cranmer came nearer the fire and stretched out his lean hands.
'He hath dandled of late with the Lady Cassilis.'
'Well, he hath been pleasant with her.'
Cranmer urged: 'A full-blown man towards his failing years is more prone t_omen than before.'
'Then he may go a-wenching.' He began to speak with a weary passion. To cas_way the Lady Anne now were a madness. It would be to stand without a frien_efore all nations armed to their downfall. This King would do no jot to los_ patch upon his sovereignty.
Cranmer sought to speak.
'His Highness is always hot o'nights,' Cromwell kept on. 'It is in his natur_o to be. But by morning the German princes shall make him afraid again an_he Lutherans of this goodly realm. Those mad swine our friends!'
'He will burn seven of them on to-morrow sennight,' Cranmer said.
'Nay! I shall enlarge them on Wednesday.'
Cranmer shivered. 'They grow very insolent. I am afraid.'
Cromwell answered with a studied nonchalance:
'My bones tell me it shall be an eastward wind. It shall not rain on the ne_ueen's bridals.' He drank up his warm wine and brushed the crumbs from th_urs round his neck.
'You are a very certain man,' the Archbishop said.
Going along the now dark corridors he was afraid that some ruffling boy migh_pring upon him from the shadows. Norfolk, as the Earl Marshal, had placed hi_odgings in a very distant part of the palace to give him long journeys that, telling upon his asthma, made him arrive breathless and convulsed at th_ing's rooms when he was sent for.