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   Chapter 5 VToC

When Knighthood Was in Flower By Charles Major Characters: 19473

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

An Honor and an Enemy

A day or two after this, Brandon was commanded to an audience, and presented to the king and queen. He was now eligible to all palace entertainments, and would probably have many invitations, being a favorite with both their majesties. As to his standing with Mary, who was really the most important figure, socially, about the court, I could not exactly say. She was such a mixture of contradictory impulses and rapid transitions, and was so full of whims and caprice, the inevitable outgrowth of her blood, her rank and the adulation amid which she had always lived, that I could not predict for a day ahead her attitude toward any one. She had never shown so great favor to any man as to Brandon, but just how much of her condescension was a mere whim, growing out of the impulse of the moment, and subject to reaction, I could not tell. I believed, however, that Brandon stood upon a firmer foundation with this changing, shifting, quicksand of a girl than with either of their majesties.

In fact, I thought he rested upon her heart itself. But to guess correctly what a girl of that sort will do, or think, or feel would require inspiration.

Of course most of the entertainments given by the king and queen included as guests nearly all the court, but Mary often had little fêtes and dancing parties which were smaller, more select and informal. These parties were really with the consent and encouragement of the king, to avoid the responsibility of not inviting everybody. The larger affairs were very dull and smaller ones might give offense to those who were left out. The latter, therefore, were turned over to Mary, who cared very little who was offended or who was not, and invitations to them were highly valued.

One afternoon, a day or two after Brandon's presentation, a message arrived from Mary, notifying me that she would have a little fête that evening in one of the smaller halls and directing me to be there as Master of the Dance. Accompanying the message was a note from no less a person than the princess herself, inviting Brandon.

This was an honor indeed-an autograph invitation from the hand of Mary! But the masterful rascal did not seem to consider it anything unusual, and when I handed him the note upon his return from the hunt, he simply read it carelessly over once, tore it in pieces and tossed it away. I believe the Duke of Buckingham would have given ten thousand crowns to receive such a note, and would doubtless have shown it to half the court in triumphant confidence before the middle of the night. To this great Captain of the guard it was but a scrap of paper. He was glad to have it nevertheless, and, with all his self-restraint and stoicism, could not conceal his pleasure.

Brandon at once accepted the invitation in a personal note to the princess. The boldness of this actually took my breath, and it seems at first to have startled Mary a little, also. As you must know by this time, her "dignity royal" was subject to alarms, and quite her most troublesome attribute-very apt to receive damage in her relations with Brandon.

Mary did not destroy Brandon's note, despite the fact that her sense of dignity had been disturbed by it, but after she had read it slipped off into her private room, read it again and put it on her escritoire. Soon she picked it up, reread it, and, after a little hesitation, put it in her pocket. It remained in the pocket for a moment or two, when out it came for another perusal, and then she unfastened her bodice and put it in her bosom. Mary had been so intent upon what she was doing that she had not seen Jane, who was sitting quietly in the window, and, when she turned and saw her, she was so angry she snatched the note from her bosom and threw it upon the floor, stamping her foot in embarrassment and rage.

"How dare you watch me, hussy?" she cried. "You lurk around as still as the grave, and I have to look into every nook and corner, wherever I go, or have you spying on me."

"I did not spy upon you, Lady Mary," said Jane quietly.

"Don't answer me; I know you did. I want you to be less silent after this. Do you hear? Cough, or sing, or stumble; do something, anything, that I may hear you."

Jane rose, picked up the note and offered it to her mistress, who snatched it with one hand, while she gave her a sharp slap with the other. Jane ran out, and Mary, full of anger and shame, slammed the door and locked it. The note, being the cause of all the trouble, she impatiently threw to the floor again, and went over to the window bench, where she threw herself down to pout. In the course of five minutes she turned her head for one fleeting instant and looked at the note, and then, after a little hesitation, stole over to where she had thrown it and picked it up. Going back to the light at the window, she held it in her hand a moment and then read it once, twice, thrice. The third time brought the smile, and the note nestled in the bosom again.

Jane did not come off so well, for her mistress did not speak to her until she called her in that evening to make her toilet. By that time Mary had forgotten about the note in her bosom; so when Jane began to array her for the dance, it fell to the floor, whereupon both girls broke into a laugh, and Jane kissed Mary's bare shoulder, and Mary kissed the top of Jane's head, and they were friends again.

So Brandon accepted Mary's invitation and went to Mary's dance, but his going made for him an enemy of the most powerful nobleman in the realm, and this was the way of it.

These parties of Mary's had been going on once or twice a week during the entire winter and spring, and usually included the same persons. It was a sort of coterie, whose members were more or less congenial, and most of them very jealous of interlopers. Strange as it may seem, uninvited persons often attempted to force themselves in, and all sorts of schemes and maneuvers were adopted to gain admission. To prevent this, two guardsmen with halberds were stationed at the door. Modesty, I might say, neither thrives nor is useful at court.

When Brandon presented himself at the door his entrance was barred, but he quickly pushed aside the halberds and entered. The Duke of Buckingham, a proud, self-important individual, was standing near the door and saw it all. Now Buckingham was one of those unfortunate persons who never lose an opportunity to make a mistake, and being anxious to display his zeal on behalf of the princess stepped up to prevent Brandon's entrance.

"Sir, you will have to move out of this," he said pompously. "You are not at a jousting bout. You have made a mistake and have come to the wrong place."

"My Lord of Buckingham is pleased to make rather more of an ass of himself than usual this evening," replied Brandon with a smile, as he started across the room to Mary, whose eye he had caught. She had seen and heard it all, but instead of coming to his relief stood there laughing to herself. At this Buckingham grew furious and ran around ahead of Brandon, valiantly drawing his sword.

"Now, by heaven! fellow, make but another step and I will run you through," he said.

I saw it all, but could hardly realize what was going on, it came so quickly and was over so soon. Like a flash Brandon's sword was out of its sheath, and Buckingham's blade was flying toward the ceiling. Brandon's sword was sheathed again so quickly that one could hardly believe it had been out at all, and, picking up Buckingham's, he said with a half-smothered laugh:

"My lord has dropped his sword." He then broke its point with his heel against the hard floor, saying: "I will dull the point, lest my lord, being unaccustomed to its use, wound himself." This brought peals of laughter from everybody, including the king. Mary laughed also, but, as Brandon was handing Buckingham his blade, came up and demanded:

"My lord, is this the way you take it upon yourself to receive my guests? Who appointed you, let me ask, to guard my door? We shall have to omit your name from our next list, unless you take a few lessons in good manners." This was striking him hard, and the quality of the man will at once appear plain to you when I say that he had often received worse treatment, but clung to the girl's skirts all the more tenaciously. Turning to Brandon the princess said:

"Master Brandon, I am glad to see you, and regret exceedingly that our friend of Buckingham should so thirst for your blood." She then led him to the king and queen, to whom he made his bow, and the pair continued their walk about the room. Mary again alluded to the skirmish at the door, and said laughingly:

"I would have come to your help, but I knew you were amply able to take care of yourself. I was sure you would worst the duke in some way. It was better than a mummery, and I was glad to see it. I do not like him."

The king did not open these private balls, as he was supposed, at least, not to be their patron, and the queen, who was considerably older than Henry, was averse to such things. So the princess opened her own balls, dancing for a few minutes with the floor entirely to herself and partner. It was the honor of the evening to open the ball with her, and quite curious to see how men put themselves in her way and stood so as to be easily observed and perchance chosen. Brandon, after leaving Mary, had drifted into a corner of the room back of a group of people, and was talking to Wolsey-who was always very friendly to him-and to Master Cavendish, a quaint, quiet, easy little man, full of learning and kindness, and a warm friend to the Princess Mary.

It was time to open the ball, and, from my place in the

musicians' gallery, I could see Mary moving about among the guests, evidently looking for a partner, while the men resorted to some very transparent and amusing expedients to attract her attention. The princess, however, took none of the bidders, and soon, I noticed, she espied Brandon standing in the corner with his back toward her.

Something told me she was going to ask him to open the dance, and I regretted it, because I knew it would set every nobleman in the house against him, they being very jealous of the "low-born favorites," as they called the untitled friends of royalty. Sure enough, I was right. Mary at once began to make her way over to the corner, and I heard her say: "Master Brandon, will you dance with me?"

It was done prettily. The whole girl changed as soon as she found herself in front of him. In place of the old-time confidence, strongly tinged with arrogance, she was almost shy, and blushed and stammered with quick coming breath, like a burgher maid before her new-found gallant. At once the courtiers made way for her, and out she walked, leading Brandon by the hand. Upon her lips and in her eyes was a rare triumphant smile, as if to say:

"Look at this handsome new trophy of my bow and spear."

I was surprised and alarmed when Mary chose Brandon, but when I turned to the musicians to direct their play, imagine, if you can, my surprise when the leader said:

"Master, we have our orders for the first dance from the princess."

Imagine, also, if you can, my double surprise and alarm, nay, almost my terror, when the band struck up Jane's "Sailor Lass." I saw the look of surprise and inquiry which Brandon gave Mary, standing there demurely by his side, when he first heard the music, and I heard her nervous little laugh as, she nodded her head, "Yes," and stepped closer to him to take position for the dance. The next moment she was in Brandon's arms, flying like a sylph about the room. A buzz of astonishment and delight greeted them before they were half way around, and then a great clapping of hands, in which the king himself joined. It was a lovely sight, although, I think, a graceful woman is more beautiful in La Galliard than any other dance, or, in fact, any other situation in which she can place herself.

After a little time the Dowager Duchess of Kent, first lady in waiting to the queen, presented herself at the musicians' gallery and said that her majesty had ordered the music stopped, and the musicians, of course, ceased playing at once. Mary thereupon turned quickly to me:

"Master, are our musicians weary that they stop before we are through?"

The queen answered for me in a high-voiced Spanish accent: "I ordered the music stopped; I will not permit such an indecent exhibition to go on longer."

Fire sprang to Mary's eyes and she exclaimed: "If your majesty does not like the way we do and dance at my balls you can retire as soon as you see fit. Your face is a kill-mirth anyway." It never took long to rouse her ladyship.

The queen turned to Henry, who was laughing, and angrily demanded:

"Will your majesty permit me to be thus insulted in your very presence?"

"You got yourself into it; get out of it as best you can. I have often told you to let her alone; she has sharp claws." The king was really tired of Catherine's sour frown before he married her. It was her dower of Spanish gold that brought her a second Tudor husband.

"Shall I not have what music and dances I want at my own balls?" asked the princess.

"That you shall, sister mine; that you shall," answered the king. "Go on master, and if the girl likes to dance that way, in God's name let her have her wish. It will never hurt her; we will learn it ourself, and will wear the ladies out a-dancing."

After Mary had finished the opening dance there was a great demand for instruction. The king asked Brandon to teach him the steps, which he soon learned to perform with a grace perhaps equaled by no living creature other than a fat brown bear. The ladies were at first a little shy and inclined to stand at arm's length, but Mary had set the fashion and the others soon followed. I had taken a fiddler to my room and had learned the dance from Brandon; and was able to teach it also, though I lacked practice to make my step perfect. The princess had needed no practice, but had danced beautifully from the first, her strong young limbs and supple body taking as naturally to anything requiring grace of movement as a cygnet to water.

This, thought I, is my opportunity to teach Jane the new dance. I wanted to go to her first, but was afraid, or for some reason did not, and took several other ladies as they came. After I had shown the step to them I sought out my sweetheart. Jane was not a prude, but I honestly believe she was the most provoking girl that ever lived. I never had succeeded in holding her hand even the smallest part of an instant, and yet I was sure she liked me very much; almost sure she loved me. She feared I might unhinge it and carry it away, or something of that sort, I suppose. When I went up and asked her to let me teach her the new dance, she said:

"I thank you, Edwin; but there are others who are more anxious to learn than I, and you had better teach them first."

"But I want to teach you. When I wish to teach them I will go to them."

"You did go to several others before you thought of coming to me," answered Jane, pretending to be piqued. Now that was the unkindest thing I ever knew a girl to do-refuse me what she knew I so wanted, and then put the refusal on the pretended ground that I did not care much about it. I so told her, and she saw she had carried things too far, and that I was growing angry in earnest. She then made another false, though somewhat flattering, excuse:

"I could not bear to go through that dance before so large a company. I should not object so much if no one else could see-that is, with you-Edwin." "Edwin!" Oh! so soft and sweet! The little jade! to think that she could hoodwink me so easily, and talk me into a good humor with her soft, purring "Edwin." I saw through it all quickly enough, and left her without another word. In a few minutes she went into an adjoining room where I knew she was alone. The door was open and the music could be heard there, so I followed.

"My lady, there is no one to see us here; I can teach you now, if you wish," said I.

She saw she was cornered, and replied, with a toss of her saucy little head: "But what if I do not wish?"

Now this was more than I could endure with patience, so I answered: "My young lady, you shall ask me before I teach you."

"There are others who can dance it much better than you," she returned, without looking at me.

"If you allow another to teach you that dance," I responded, "you will have seen the last of me." She had made me angry, and I did not speak to her for more than a week. When I did-but I will tell you of that later on. There was one thing about Jane and the new step: so long as she did not know it, she would not dance it with any other man, and foolish as my feeling may have been, I could not bear the thought of her doing it. I resolved that if she permitted another man to teach her that dance it should be all over between us. It was a terrible thought to me, that of losing Jane, and it came like a very stroke upon my heart. I would think of her sweet little form, so compact and graceful; of her gray, calm eyes, so full of purity and mischief; of her fair oval face, almost pale, and wonder if I could live without the hope of her. I determined, however, that if she learned the new dance with any other man I would throw that hope to the winds, whether I lived or died. St. George! I believe I should have died.

The evening was devoted to learning the new dance, and I saw Mary busily engaged imparting information among the ladies. As we were about to disperse I heard her say to Brandon:

"You have greatly pleased the king by bringing him a new amusement. He asked me where I learned it, and I told him you had taught it to Caskoden, and that I had it from him. I told Caskoden so that he can tell the same story."

"Oh! but that is not true. Don't you think you should have told him the truth, or have evaded it in some way?" asked Brandon, who was really a great lover of the truth, "when possible," but who, I fear on this occasion, wished to appear more truthful than he really was. If a man is to a woman's taste, and she is inclined to him, he lays up great stores in her heart by making her think him good; and shameful impositions are often practiced to this end.

Mary flushed a little and answered, "I can't help it. You do not know. Had I told Henry that we four had enjoyed such a famous time in my rooms he would have been very angry, and-and-you might have been the sufferer."

"But might you not have compromised matters by going around the truth some way, and leaving the impression that others were of the party that evening?"

That was a mistake, for it gave Mary an opportunity to retaliate: "The best way to go around the truth, as you call it, is by a direct lie. My lie was no worse than yours. But I did not stop to argue about such matters. There is something else I wished to say. I want to tell you that you have greatly pleased the king with the new dance. Now teach him 'honor and ruff' and your fortune is made. He has had some Jews and Lombards in of late to teach him new games at cards, but yours is worth all of them." Then, somewhat hastily and irrelevantly, "I did not dance the new dance with any other gentleman-but I suppose you did not notice it," and she was gone before he could thank her.

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