'Just imagine,' Jane Seymour says. 'Any night there is a moon, one might look out of the window and see him, tugging away and complaining all the while. Fortunately I do not believe in ghosts.'
'More fool you, sister,' Tom Seymour says. 'They'll creep up on you, my lass.'
'Still,' Henry says. He mimes a javelin throw: though in the restrained way one must, at a supper table. 'One clean blow. He must have had a good throwing arm, King Edgar.'
He says he, Cromwell: 'I should like to know if this tale is written down, and if so, by whom, and was he on oath.'
The king says, 'Cromwell would have had the earl before a judge and jury.'
'Bless Your Majesty,' Sir John chuckles, 'I don't think they had them in those days.'
'Cromwell would have found one out.' Young Weston leans forward to make his point. 'He would dig out a jury, he would grub one from a mushroom patch. Then it would be all up with the earl, they would try him and march him out and hack off his head. They say that at Thomas More's trial, Master Secretary here followed the jury to their deliberations, and when they were seated he closed the door behind him and he laid down the law. "Let me put you out of doubt," he said to the jurymen. "Your task is to find Sir Thomas guilty, and you will have no dinner till you have done it." Then out he went and shut the door again and stood outside it with a hatchet in his hand, in case they broke out in search of a boiled pudding; and being Londoners, they care about their bellies above all things, and as soon as they felt them rumbling they cried, "Guilty! He is as guilty as guilty can be!"'
Eyes focus on him, Cromwell. Rafe Sadler, by his side, is tense with displeasure. 'It is a pretty tale,' Rafe tells Weston, 'but I ask you in turn, where is it written down? I think you will find my master is always correct in his dealings with a court of law.'
'You weren't there,' Francis Weston says. 'I heard it from one of those same jurymen. They cried, "Away with him, take out the traitor and bring us in a leg of mutton." And Thomas More was led to his death.'
'You sound as if you regret it,' Rafe says.
'Not I.' Weston holds up his hands. 'Anne the queen says, let More's death be a warning to all such traitors. Be their credit never so great, their treason never so veiled, Thomas Cromwell will find them out.'
There is a murmur of assent; for a moment, he thinks the company will turn to him and applaud. Then Lady Margery touches a finger to her lips, and nods towards the king. Seated at the head of the table, he has begun to incline to the right; his closed eyelids flutter, and his breathing is easeful and deep.
The company exchange smiles. 'Drunk with fresh air,' Tom Seymour whispers.
It makes a change from drunk with drink; the king, these days, calls for the wine jug more often than he did in his lean and sporting youth. He, Cromwell, watches as Henry tilts in his chair. First forward, as if to rest his forehead on the table. Then he starts and jerks backwards. A line of drool trickles down his beard.
This would be the moment for Harry Norris, the chief among the privy chamber gentlemen; Harry with his noiseless tread and his soft unjudging hand, murmuring his sovereign back to wakefulness. But Norris has gone across country, carrying the king's love letter to Anne. So what to do? Henry does not look like a tired child, as five years ago he might have done. He looks like any man in mid-life, lapsed into torpor after too heavy a meal; he looks bloated and puffy, and a vein is burst here and there, and even by candlelight you can see that his faded hair is greying. He, Cromwell, nods to young Weston. 'Francis, your gentlemanly touch is required.'
Copyright © 2012 by Hilary Mantel
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