I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (7 page)

“So then. The two of you were listening,” their father said, linking his hands behind his back and gazing down discerningly at them.

Knowing that at times silence was the best response, neither child replied as he looked back and forth at each of them.

“Since you have obviously heard the news, what do you think, Jane?” he suddenly asked his daughter as Margery moaned.

“It seems I must go if you wish Edward to go,” she meekly replied.

“Petulant girl!” her mother screeched. “This is an impossible situation! You are bound to ruin this for all of us once people realize whose sister you are!”

The taste of this new cruel barb was bitter on Jane’s tongue as she tried not to react, watching her own mother serve it up to her,
full of disappointment. Still, Jane looked back and forth to each of her parents and waited silently, stifling the urge to burst into tears before a pronouncement was given or a decision made.

“I must sell it, then, mustn’t I?” Margery resolved. “’Tis the only thing of value I have in this world, the only tangible memory of the life I used to have. But I must surrender it now.”

“Give an inch to take a mile,” John countered with his customary calm. “Think of what we might gain through Edward.”

“Or what we might lose through Jane.”

The next silence was long and awkward, stretching out for what felt like an eternity. Jane squeezed her linked hands, determined still to push back the hurt along with the press of tears at the corners of her eyes.

“Oh, very well, John,” her mother finally groaned in concession. “Go up to London. Sell the thing if you can. But pray, make certain you do it quietly. ’Tis bad enough that the Seymours of Wiltshire must stoop so low. But for Edward I believe I would do anything—even sell the only thing of measure I have in this world,” Margery proclaimed as Thomas and Jane stood motionless before her.

The two were quickly dismissed, and Thomas, Jane, and Elizabeth went to the apple orchard to watch the villagers who had been hired to pick the last of the ripe fruit from the trees. “I cannot believe you are going to France in the train of the king’s sister. ’Tis a miracle,” Thomas whispered to Jane.

Elizabeth, who was too young to be interested at all in this latest turn of events, was noisily eating an apple as she watched, happily biting and chewing and swinging her short legs back and forth from a wooden bench placed at one end of the orchard.

“I do not wish to go,” Jane replied with a glimmer of anguish in her overly wide blue eyes.

“Why on earth not? There will be music and dancing and elegant food. You shall have new dresses and new shoes, and you shall make new friends!”

“In case you’ve not noticed, Tom, I make enemies far more quickly than friends,” she countered. “I am not quite good at being with people.”

“You are good with me,” Thomas countered loyally.

“You’ve got to like me; you’re my brother.”

“’Tis not true at all. I don’t like Elizabeth nearly so much as you.”

Their younger sister looked at them with a small pout before she lost interest in their debate and went back to the remains of her apple.

“I’m frightened, Tom. What if I make a mistake? What if they realize I am not like them, not a nobleman’s daughter? I’ll not dare to open my mouth or someone might discover the truth about me. Then Mother would be more angry with me than she is now!”

“She is only jealous you get to meet the princess and she does not. I always hear her telling father how she was meant for better things than a life out here in the countryside, and about the poet who nearly married her.”

Realizing that was probably true, Jane did not argue the point. “I shall needs be very quiet, though, remain in the background as much as I can, just as she has spent my whole life telling me to do.”

“’Twould be a good idea. And I am certain Edward will help you.”

Jane grimaced. “I shall feel fortunate if he even acknowledges me at all. Edward is like Mother, meant for better things.”

“Perhaps you are as well,” Thomas offered. In spite of herself, Jane smiled.
Better things.
Impossible as that was, it was a pleasant thing for a little girl to dream about. Although she really could not
imagine what sort of future might be better than her quiet and secure life here at Wolf Hall.

It took eight days, with not a moment to spare, for Jane’s and Edward’s wardrobes to be cobbled together; everything was cut, sewed, hemmed, ornamented, and beaded swiftly once their father sold the brooch for a goodly enough sum. Their mother, in a sullen, serious state, went about the task of organizing everything, finding and paying seamstresses, tailors, and jewelers nearby. She did not laugh or smile and there was not a single expression of excitement shown for what her children were about to embark upon.

For Jane, the days before their departure for France were filled with fear, sleeplessness, and endless trepidation. She was nothing like these girls into whose midst she was about to be thrown. She would be with girls who could certainly only be worse than those who had chased her into Savernake Forest. Young ladies in Princess Mary’s retinue would be educated, well versed in how to wound her. The only saving grace was that somewhere nearby, her rescuer, William Dormer, would be there. As the days had gone on, she could not quite remember what he looked like, since they had met only that once, but she felt certain that if she ever saw him again, she would remember him. Beyond that, Jane could not think of much else positive about going to France.

When the day came to depart for Dover, where Jane and Edward would join the other attendants, Jane did not want to get out of bed. She could hear the commotion downstairs; shoe heels, heavy footfalls, trunks and bags hitting the floor, irritated sighs, huffing, and whispers. There were no sounds of joy or excitement. She put her pillow over her head to stave it all off, but the low muffled sounds
broke through the feathers anyway. It was the drumbeat of her future coming for her, loud, relentless, frightening.

When the door to her bedchamber was thrown open suddenly, she gave up, tossed the pillow aside, and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She ran her hands through her newly growing hair, which she could still feel sticking out in the places where her mother had cut it. Jane stifled an urge not to burst into tears yet again. A moment later, her mother threw open the heavy draperies, and morning sunlight poured like water into the dark paneled room.

“Very well, Jane, so it is your turn. Edward is dressing and his last few articles are packed up. Now to you. Since everyone in this house has been enlisted to a task to see Edward prepared, I have engaged our groundskeeper’s daughter today to see you dressed and ready in time to join him,” Margery announced matter-of-factly to her daughter. “Lucy, this is my daughter Jane. Help her with a minimum of fuss. Is that clear?”

Jane felt the blood drain from her face as she looked directly into the eyes of one of the girls who had caused the travesty she faced every morning in the looking glass. It was a horrifying moment. To her surprise, Lucy’s expression now was not its usual one of arrogance. Slightly older, certainly prettier, she stood in the doorway, her young face blanched and full of dread that the tables had turned. Jane quickly realized it was Lucy who feared
her
. It was clearly not her idea to have come here. Would Jane say anything to reveal Lucy’s guilt? That question was sharply written beneath the freckles on her two rosy cheeks.

Retribution was a fast friend, Jane thought as she planted her feet on the cold wood floor, trying not to feel a small bit of satisfaction at the girl’s expression of discomfort. Both of them knew in that moment that Jane now had the power. Jane knew Lucy was
looking at her chopped hair—the incriminating evidence of her crime in the forest—and Jane’s realization of it was like a silent punctuation mark between them.

Quiet power was a new and heady sensation to Jane.

Both girls waited to make a move until Lady Seymour had left the room. Jane was sorry to see her mother go for the first time in a long time, wishing she could have silently taunted Lucy a bit longer with the uncertainty of what she might reveal to the mistress of the manor. It was Lucy who advanced first. Her steps were as tentative as her other movements were careful.

“You might have told your lady mother,” Lucy spoke softly.

“I considered it.”

“She could well have relieved my father of his duty. My family desperately needs the income.”

“I suppose,” she deferred, waiting a moment to continue. “But then why did you mean to frighten me and chase me like that into the forest as you did? You have always been spiteful to me.”

Lucy lowered her eyes with uncharacteristic humility and what looked like a tiny flash of fear. It was suddenly awkward for both of them in the tense silence, with all of the commotion beyond the door as the two young girls continued to regard each other, knowing what they both knew, neither of them saying it outright.

“I suppose it is that I have nothing, and I was angry that you have everything,” Lucy replied with cutting simplicity.

“Everything except my hair,” Jane answered, still unable to imagine the ridicule with which she would be greeted in France once she was seen without her hood.

“Was it because of me that they did that to you?”

“I was not to go into the forest,” Jane answered flatly.

Another silence fell between the two of them. Lucy glanced
around nervously, her gaze landing on the collection of headdresses and gowns folded and tucked inside the open wooden traveling chest beneath the leaded windows. “And yet look at that fine silk hood with the tiny pearls. What a beautiful thing. If such a thing belonged to me, I would never take it off, so no one would see my hair anyway.”

Jane glanced over at the chest herself and saw the hood to which Lucy had referred. She hadn’t even noticed it before now, for all of her fears. At that moment, Jane was not interested in dresses or shoes or headdresses or dancing or banquets. Right now, all she wanted in the world was to remain safely home with Thomas and her other siblings, where there was no chance to be made sport of; go on playing in the fields beneath the broad blue canvas of sky; and fall asleep to the chirp of the crickets, sheltered from the darker side of the world by her brothers and sisters, who loved her as she was. Even Mother’s predictable criticism seemed preferable to the unknowns in France that lay so frighteningly before her. It was then that she noticed the slightly frayed hem and the tea-colored stain on the bodice of Lucy’s dress. Suddenly, as they faced each other, the resentment Jane had felt gentled itself into a small surge of compassion. She understood about envy because she felt that with Edward, who would always be their mother’s favorite child.

“Would you like to try it on?” Jane surprised herself by asking as she pointed to the delicate pearl-dotted hood.

Lucy’s pretty freckled face paled. “’Twould not be proper. Someone might see.”

“You heard my mother. She is very busy preparing my brother Edward for our journey. ’Twas why she brought you to me. So she would not need to be bothered about it.”

Lucy glanced down at the open traveling chest and the blue silk
and pearl headdress placed temptingly on top. She took a step forward, then stopped. “You wouldn’t tell?”

“I didn’t tell about the forest.”

“I fear I should not be able to take it off if I did.”

Jane went to the trunk and pulled out the coveted article herself, then handed it to Lucy, who wore her hair swept into a plain beige-colored knit caul. She did so with total sincerity, an offering of peace from one child to another.

“I am to help you dress, not help myself to your things,” Lucy reminded her with a declining gesture.

“’Twould only be for a little while,” Jane encouraged with a slight smile, feeling far more empathy now than anger, knowing she was about to leave Wiltshire on a grand adventure and Lucy would still be here back in her plain dress and caul. Jane had never had a friend beyond the bounds of Wolf Hall. She was certain that William Dormer did not count because he was a boy, but perhaps Lucy might be her first.

“What will you wear when you leave here today? This?” Lucy asked as her eyes settled on a dress of robin’s egg blue silk ornamented with lace and edged with tiny pearls to match the headdress. “Oh, ’tis very grand,” Lucy said.

“The dress is too tight and the lacing pinches.”

Lucy began to glance around the room, first for the undergarments, the embroidered cambric chemise, petticoats, and stockings. Beside them sat a neat new pair of beige slippers with blue beadwork across the tops.

“’Tis all of it fit for a princess,” said Lucy, moving cautiously toward the collection.

“No matter what I wear, ’tis bound to be dreadful. I really do not want to go.”

“I believe I would happily die to take your place!”

“Then I wish you could.”

“Your brother will be there to watch over you, though. Master Dormer as well.”

“You fancy him, don’t you?” Jane asked of their neighbor as Lucy helped her slip the chemise over her head.

“He’s the handsomest boy I’ve ever seen. Do you not agree?”

“I have really only ever seen my brothers, so I don’t suppose I really know what I think of other boys,” said Jane, suddenly realizing the truth.

After the petticoats were on and fitted, Jane went to the blue silk hood, drew it up a second time, and placed it onto Lucy’s head over the plain mesh caul. Lucy made a little gasping sound as she went to see herself in the looking glass. She was smiling at her reflection, but Jane saw tears shining brightly in her eyes. Then, after a moment, with the matching gown still lying between them, Lucy said in a voice that was uncharacteristically fragile, “I am sorry for how the girls and I sported with you those times. I knew not how nice you were.”

There were a great many things neither of them knew about the world, Jane thought, looking at her own elegant silk hood, which was like nothing even she had ever worn. It was meant to be worn at court, but now it lay on the head of the groundskeeper’s daughter, whom, up until yesterday, Jane was quite certain she hated. Life certainly seemed full of surprises.

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