Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 2

  • 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.'
  • 'You say?'
  • '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.