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When Knighthood Was in Flower By Charles Major Characters: 16691

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A Rare Ride to Windsor

The princess knew her royal brother. A man would receive quicker reward for inventing an amusement or a gaudy costume for the king than by winning him a battle. Later in life the high road to his favor was in ridding him of his wife and helping him to a new one-a dangerous way though, as Wolsey found to his sorrow when he sank his glory in poor Anne Boleyn.

Brandon took the hint and managed to let it be known to his play-loving king that he knew the latest French games. The French Duc de Longueville had for some time been an honored prisoner at the English court, held as a hostage from Louis XII, but de Longueville was a blockhead, who could not keep his little black eyes off our fair ladies, who hated him, long enough to tell the deuce of spades from the ace of hearts. So Brandon was taken from his duties, such as they were, and placed at the card table. This was fortunate at first; for being the best player the king always chose him as his partner, and, as in every other game, the king always won. If he lost there would soon be no game, and the man who won from him too frequently was in danger at any moment of being rated guilty of the very highest sort of treason. I think many a man's fall, under Henry VIII, was owing to the fact that he did not always allow the king to win in some trivial matter of game or joust. Under these conditions everybody was anxious to be the king's partner. It is true he frequently forgot to divide his winnings, but his partner had this advantage, at least: there was no danger of losing. That being the case, Brandon's seat opposite the king was very likely to excite envy, and the time soon came, Henry having learned the play, when Brandon had to face someone else, and the seat was too costly for a man without a treasury. It took but a few days to put Brandon hors de combat, financially, and he would have been in a bad plight had not Wolsey come to his relief. After that, he played and paid the king in his own coin.

This great game of "honor and ruff" occupied Henry's mind day and night during a fortnight. He feasted upon it to satiety as he did with everything else; never having learned not to cloy his appetite by over-feeding. So we saw little of Brandon while the king's fever lasted, and Mary said she wished she had remained silent about the cards. You see, she could enjoy this new plaything as well as her brother; but the king, of course, must be satisfied first. They both had enough eventually; Henry in one way, Mary in another.

One day the fancy struck the king that he would rebuild a certain chapel at Windsor; so he took a number of the court, including Mary, Jane, Brandon and myself, and went with us up to London, where we lodged over night at Bridewell House. The next morning-as bright and beautiful a June day as ever gladdened the heart of a rose-we took horse for Windsor; a delightful seven-league ride over a fair road.

Mary and Jane traveled side by side, with an occasional companion or two, as the road permitted. I was angry with Jane, as you know, so did not go near the girls; and Brandon, without any apparent intention one way or the other, allowed events to adjust themselves, and rode with Cavendish and me.

We were perhaps forty yards behind the girls, and I noticed after a time that the Lady Mary kept looking backward in our direction, as if fearing rain from the east. I was in hopes that Jane, too, would fear the rain, but you would have sworn her neck was stiff, so straight ahead did she keep her face. We had ridden perhaps three leagues, when the princess stopped her horse and turned in her saddle. I heard her voice, but did not understand what she said.

In a moment some one called out: "Master Brandon is wanted." So that gentleman rode forward, and I followed him. When we came up with the girls, Mary said: "I fear my girth is loose."

Brandon at once dismounted to tighten it, and the others of our immediate party began to cluster around.

Brandon tried the girth.

"My lady, it is as tight as the horse can well bear," he said.

"It is loose, I say," insisted the princess, with a little irritation; "the saddle feels like it. Try the other." Then turning impatiently to the persons gathered around: "Does it require all of you, standing there like gaping bumpkins, to tighten my girth? Ride on; we can manage this without so much help." Upon this broad hint everybody rode ahead while I held the horse for Brandon, who went on with his search for the loose girth. While he was looking for it Mary leaned over her horse's neck and asked: "Were you and Cavendish settling all the philosophical points now in dispute, that you found him so interesting?"

"Not all," answered Brandon, smiling.

"You were so absorbed, I supposed it could be nothing short of that."

"No," replied Brandon again. "But the girth is not loose."

"Perhaps I only imagined it," returned Mary carelessly, having lost interest in the girth.

I looked toward Jane, whose eyes were bright with a smile, and turned Brandon's horse over to him. Jane's smile gradually broadened into a laugh, and she said: "Edwin, I fear my girth is loose also."

"As the Lady Mary's was?" asked I, unable to keep a straight face any longer.

"Yes," answered Jane, with a vigorous little nod of her head, and a peal of laughter.

"Then drop back with me," I responded.

The princess looked at us with a half smile, half frown, and remarked: "Now you doubtless consider yourselves very brilliant and witty."

"Yes," returned Jane maliciously, nodding her head in emphatic assent, as the princess and Brandon rode on before us.

"I hope she is satisfied now," said Jane sotto voce to me.

"So you want me to ride with you?" I replied.

"Yes," nodded Jane.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I want you to," was the enlightening response.

"Then why did you not dance with me the other evening?"

"Because I did not want to."

"Short but comprehensive," thought I, "but a sufficient reason for a maiden."

I said nothing, however, and after a time Jane spoke: "The dance was one thing and riding with you is another. I did not wish to dance with you, but I do wish to ride with you. You are the only gentleman to whom I would have said what I did about my girth being loose. As to the new dance, I do not care to learn it because I would not dance it with any man but you, and not even with you-yet." This made me glad, and coming from coy, modest Jane meant a great deal. It meant that she cared for me, and would, some day, be mine; but it also meant that she would take her own time and her own sweet way in being won. This was comforting, if not satisfying, and loosened my tongue: "Jane, you know my heart is full of love for you-"

"Will the universe crumble?" she cried with the most provoking little laugh. Now that sentence was my rock ahead, whenever I tried to give Jane some idea of the state of my affections. It was a part of the speech which I had prepared and delivered to Mary in Jane's hearing, as you already know. I had said to the princess: "The universe will crumble and the heavens roll up as a scroll ere my love shall alter or pale." It was a high-sounding sentence, but it was not true, as I was forced to admit, almost with the same breath that spoke it. Jane had heard it, and had stored it away in that memory of hers, so tenacious in holding to everything it should forget. It is wonderful what a fund of useless information some persons accumulate and cling to with a persistent determination worthy of a better cause. I thought Jane never would forget that unfortunate, abominable sentence spoken so grandiloquently to Mary. I wonder what she would have thought had she known that I had said substantially the same thing to a dozen others. I never should have won her in that case. She does not know it yet, and never shall if I can prevent. Although dear Jane is old now, and the roses on her cheeks have long since paled, her gray eyes are still there, with their mischievous little twinkle upon occasion, and-in fact, Jane can be as provoking as ever when she takes the fancy, for she is as sure of my affection now as upon the morning of that rare ride to Windsor. Aye, surer, since she knows that in all these years it has changed only to grow greater an

d stronger and truer in the fructifying light of her sweet face, and the nurturing warmth of her pure soul. What a blessed thing it is for a man to love his wife and be satisfied with her, and to think her the fairest being in all the world; and how thrice happy is he who can stretch out the sweetest season of his existence, the days of triumphant courtship, through the flying years of all his life, and then lie down to die in the quieted ecstasy of a first love.

So Jane halted my effort to pour out my heart, as she always did.

"There is something that greatly troubles me," she said.

"What is it?" I asked in some concern.

"My mistress," she answered, nodding in the direction of the two riding ahead of us. "I never saw her so much interested in any one as she is in your friend, Master Brandon. Not that she is really in love with him as yet perhaps, but I fear it is coming and I dread to see it. She has never been compelled to forego anything she wanted, and her desires are absolutely imperative. They drive her, and she is helpless against them. She would not and could not make the smallest effort to overcome them. I think it never occurred to her that such a thing could be necessary; everything she wants she naturally thinks is hers by divine right. There has been no great need of such an effort until now, but your friend Brandon presents it. I wish he were at the other side of the world. I think she feels that she ought to keep away from him before it is too late, both for his sake and her own, but she is powerless to deny herself the pleasure of being with him, and I do not know what is to come of it all. That incident of the loose girth is an illustration. Did you ever know anything so bold and transparent? Any one could see through it, and the worst of all is she seems not to care if every one does see. Now look at them ahead of us! No girl is so happy riding beside a man unless she is interested in him. She was dull enough until he joined her. He seemed in no hurry to come, so she resorted to the flimsy excuse of the loose girth to bring him. I am surprised that she even sought the shadow of an excuse, but did not order him forward without any pretense of one. Oh! I don't know what to do. It troubles me greatly. Do you know the state of his feelings?"

"No," I answered, "but I think he is heart-whole, or nearly so. He told me he was not fool enough to fall in love with the king's sister, and I really believe he will keep his heart and head, even at that dizzy height. He is a cool fellow, if there ever was one."

"He certainly is different from other men," returned Jane. "I think he has never spoken a word of love to her. He has said some pretty things, which she has repeated to me; has moralized to some extent, and has actually told her of some of her faults. I should like to see anyone else take that liberty. She seems to like it from him, and says he inspires her with higher, better motives and a yearning to be good; but I am sure he has made no love to her."

"Perhaps it would be better if he did. It might cure her," I replied.

"Oh! no! no! not now; at first, perhaps, but not now. What I fear is that if he remains silent much longer she will take matters in hand and speak herself. I don't like to say that-it doesn't sound well-but she is a princess, and it would be different with her from what it would be with an ordinary girl; she might have to speak first, or there might be no speaking from one who thought his position too far beneath hers. She whose smallest desires drive her so, will never forego so great a thing as the man she loves only for the want of a word or two."

Then it was that Jane told me of the scene with the note, of the little whispered confidence upon their pillows, and a hundred other straws that showed only too plainly which way this worst of ill winds was blowing-with no good in it for any one. Now who could have foretold this? It was easy enough to prophesy that Brandon would learn to love Mary, excite a passing interest, and come off crestfallen, as all other men had done. But that Mary should love Brandon, and he remain heart-whole, was an unlooked-for event-one that would hardly have been predicted by the shrewdest prophet.

What Lady Jane said troubled me greatly, as it was but the confirmation of my own fears. Her opportunity to know was far better than mine, but I had seen enough to set me thinking.

Brandon, I believe, saw nothing of Mary's growing partiality at all. He could not help but find her wonderfully attractive and interesting, and perhaps it needed only the thought that she might love him, to kindle a flame in his own breast. But at the time of our ride to Windsor, Charles Brandon was not in love with Mary Tudor, however near it he may unconsciously have been. He would whistle and sing, and was as light-hearted as a lark-I mean when away from the princess as well as with her-a mood that does not go with a heart full of heavy love, of impossible, fatal love, such as his would have been for the first princess of the first blood royal of the world.

But another's trouble could not dim the sunlight in my own heart, and that ride to Windsor was the happiest day of my life up to that time. Even Jane threw off the little cloud our forebodings had gathered, and chatted and laughed like the creature of joy and gladness she was. Now and then her heart would well up so full of the sunlight and the flowers, and the birds in the hedge, aye, and of the contagious love in my heart, too, that it poured itself forth in a spontaneous little song which thrills me even now.

Ahead of us were the princess and Brandon. Every now and then her voice came back to us in a stave of a song, and her laughter, rich and low, wafted on the wings of the soft south wind, made the glad birds hush to catch its silvery note. It seemed that the wild flowers had taken on their brightest hue, the trees their richest Sabbath-day green, and the sun his softest radiance, only to gladden the heart of Mary that they might hear her laugh. The laugh would have come quite as joyously had the flowers been dead and the sun black, for flowers and sunlight, south wind, green pastures and verdant hills, all were riding by her side. Poor Mary! Her days of laughter were numbered.

We all rode merrily on to Windsor, and when we arrived it was curious to see the great nobles, Buckingham, both the Howards, Seymour and a dozen others stand back for plain Charles Brandon to dismount the fairest maiden and the most renowned princess in Christendom. It was done most gracefully. She was but a trifle to his strong arms, and he lifted her to the sod as gently as if she were a child. The nobles envied Brandon his evident favor with this unattainable Mary and hated him accordingly, but they kept their thoughts to themselves for two reasons: First, they knew not to what degree the king's favor, already marked, with the help of the princess might carry him; and second, they did not care to have a misunderstanding with the man who had cut out Adam Judson's eyes.

We remained at Windsor four or five days, during which time the king made several knights. Brandon would probably have been one of them, as everybody expected, had not Buckingham related to Henry the episode of the loose girth, and adroitly poisoned his mind as to Mary's partiality. At this the king began to cast a jealous eye on Brandon. His sister was his chief diplomatic resource, and when she loved or married, it should be for Henry's benefit, regardless of all else.

Brandon and the Lady Mary saw a great deal of each other during this little stay at Windsor, as she always had some plan to bring about a meeting, and although very delightful to him, it cost him much in royal favor. He could not trace this effect to its proper cause and it troubled him. I could have told him the reason in two words, but I feared to put into his mind the thought that the princess might learn to love him. As to the king, he would not have cared if Brandon or every other man, for that matter, should go stark mad for love of his sister, but when she began to show a preference he grew interested, and it was apt sooner or later to go hard with the fortunate one. When we went back to Greenwich Brandon was sent on a day ahead.

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