'Careful,' he says. 'The king favours Weston.'
'Then he'll favour him when he's got a flat head,' Rafe says. They scuffle and push each other out of the way, trying to be the first to stamp Francis flat. Rafe opens a window and both stoop for leverage, hoisting the phantom across the sill. Gregory helps it over, unsnagging its jacket where it catches, and with one shove drops it head first on the cobbles. They peer out after it. 'He bounces,' Rafe observes, and then they dust off their hands, smiling at him. 'Give you good night, sir,' Rafe says.
Later, Gregory sits at the foot of the bed in his shirt, his hair tousled, his shoes kicked off, one bare foot idly scuffing the matting: 'So am I to be married? Am I to be married to Jane Seymour?'
'Early in the summer you thought I was going to marry you to an old dowager with a deer park.' People tease Gregory: Rafe Sadler, Thomas Wriothesley, the other young men of his house; his cousin, Richard Cromwell.
'Yes, but why were you talking to her brother this last hour? First it was chess then it was talk, talk, talk. They say you liked Jane yourself.'
'Last year. You liked her last year.'
'If I did I've forgot.'
'George Boleyn's wife told me. Lady Rochford. She said, you may get a young stepmother from Wolf Hall, what will you think of that? So if you like Jane yourself,' Gregory frowns, 'she had better not be married to me.'
'Do you think I'd steal your bride? Like old Sir John?'
Once his head is on the pillow, he says, 'Hush, Gregory.' He closes his eyes. Gregory is a good boy, though all the Latin he has learned, all the sonorous periods of the great authors, have rolled through his head and out again, like stones. Still, you think of Thomas More's boy: offspring of a scholar all Europe admired, and poor young John can barely stumble through his Pater Noster. Gregory is a fine archer, a fine horseman, a shining star in the tilt yard, and his manners cannot be faulted. He speaks reverently to his superiors, not scuffling his feet or standing on one leg, and he is mild and polite with those below him. He knows how to bow to foreign diplomats in the manner of their own countries, sits at table without fidgeting or feeding spaniels, can neatly carve and joint any fowl if requested to serve his elders. He doesn't slouch around with his jacket off one shoulder, or look in windows to admire himself, or stare around in church, or interrupt old men, or finish their stories for them. If anyone sneezes, he says, 'Christ help you!'
Christ help you, sir or madam.
Gregory raises his head. 'Thomas More,' he says. 'The jury. Is that truly what happened?'
He had recognised young Weston's story: in a broad sense, even if he didn't assent to the detail. He closes his eyes. 'I didn't have a hatchet,' he says.
He is tired: he speaks to God; he says: God guide me. Sometimes when he is on the verge of sleep the cardinal's large scarlet presence flits across his inner eye. He wishes the dead man would prophesy. But his old patron speaks only of domestic matters, office matters. Where did I put that letter from the Duke of Norfolk? he will ask the cardinal; and next day, early, it will come to his hand.
He speaks inwardly: not to Wolsey, but to George Boleyn's wife. 'I have no wish to marry. I have no time. I was happy with my wife but Liz is dead and that part of my life is dead with her. Who in the name of God gave you, Lady Rochford, a licence to speculate about my intentions? Madam, I have no time for wooing. I am fifty. At my age, one would be the loser on a long-term contract. If I want a woman, best to rent one by the hour.'
Copyright © 2012 by Hilary Mantel
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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