I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (13 page)

“I regret to say that is the case, yet both send their sympathies for your loss.”

He could tell she knew he was not telling the truth by the way the corners of her mouth twitched just slightly, then lengthened into a cautious, knowing smile. He was not old enough yet to have become an accomplished liar.

“Well, you must join us at the manor now in their place. There shall be food and wine to sustain you for your ride home. I insist. It really is the least I can do for your show of kindness. And you remember my daughters, who can, no doubt, keep you better company than I,” she said, eagerly glancing around for them. A moment later, she drew them both over with a firm tug.

They turned at the same time. William was surprised that he knew Jane at once—her pale, smooth skin, close-set eyes, and still slightly round face. The girl next to her must be her younger sister. Her eyes, like their mother’s, were vivid, like blue glass reflecting the sun, he thought. They weren’t as deep as Jane’s searching eyes, yet still, he felt himself stir at the way her dress flared out at her hips and came to a tight pointed V at the bottom of her plastron. William swallowed and looked away, embarrassed at the effect of this ripening adolescent girl’s body on his own.

“Master Dormer, allow me to present my daughter Elizabeth,” Lady Seymour declared proudly. “She has just mastered her lessons on the virginal. Perhaps while you are in residence here in Wiltshire, we can prevail upon you to come and hear her play.”

“’Twould be my pleasure.” William nodded to the younger Seymour sister, yet fully aware of Jane still standing beside her, unannounced. He realized then that there would be no introduction.

“Hello, Jane,” he said anyway, surprising himself, drawing her eyes and holding her gaze with his own. “Do you remember me?”

“How could I ever forget you, Master Dormer?” she coyly replied.

She did not quite blush as she spoke his name, yet William saw a sudden shade of rose. The blush defined the soft bones of her cheeks before fading.

Lady Seymour looked back and forth between them discerningly. “Ah, yes. Indeed. Jane. The two of you would have met in France. That’s right.” Her bland tone made the sentence sound like an afterthought and not a particularly pleasant one. “Since Elizabeth did not go to France, perhaps, Master Dormer, you shall be kind enough to tell her all about it while we dine,” Jane’s mother suggested, stepping between him and Elizabeth.

“’Twould of course be my pleasure as well,” he said with well-schooled grace and a perfunctory nod.

Then Lady Seymour’s eyes lit again. It reminded him of a wildcat seizing prey. “Oh, there he is. Come along, Elizabeth; there is someone else to whom you must be introduced.” She quite suddenly and firmly clutched her daughter’s arm above the wrist and twisted it, drawing her forward just before they disappeared into the crowd of guests waiting for their horses or litters in front of the little stone church.

When William glanced back, Jane had turned and stepped away from him as well.

“Wait!” He heard the desperation in his own voice as he reached out to grab her arm. He did not quite catch her, but his fingers brushed her arm and he felt her warm, pliant skin beneath the thin layer of her satin sleeve. She looked at him with slight surprise, eyes wide and, as always, impossible to decipher. “I was hoping to see you here,” he confessed awkwardly, surprising himself.

“You have not been back in Wiltshire for a long time,” she said suddenly, studying him.

“We’ve spent most of our time at Eythrope. But when I have been here it seems you are not, at least not at any of the celebrations, like May Day or New Year in the village. I confess, I have looked for you.”

“I am always here. I have not left Wolf Hall since I returned from France.”

“You sound as if you like it that way.”

“I believed that I did. For a while.”

He tipped his head. “And now?”

“Well, there were the children to look after before. But now—”

“Ah, there you are!” The female voice coming between them then was sudden but familiar. It was Lucy Hill, her face and smile as bright as if she had just come from running through a field. William had seen her from time to time since the incident in the forest when they were younger, so he knew her well enough. She always seemed to appear out of nowhere, as she had done just now, always smiling, always wanting to stay by his side. Her ruddy-cheeked expression held an open invitation, although to what, William was never quite certain.

“May I ride with you back to Wolf Hall?” Lucy asked him flirtatiously. “’Tis a rather long walk this time of day, so I would be grateful for the courtesy of a companion.”

“Well, I have my horse…”

“Thank you, Master Dormer,” she said without skipping a beat. “A ride with you on the back of your horse would be a grand adventure. I saw him when you arrived. He
is
a beauty.”

William glanced at Jane, but she had looked away, the moment between them extinguished. They could not be more different from one another, he thought. Jane, Elizabeth, and Lucy, these three girls
from Wiltshire. But only one of them made him wonder what was going on behind the deep pools of her indecipherable eyes. And to William Dormer, that made all the difference in the world.

He was just as she remembered.

Jane had few things of her own, but the childhood memory of the golden-haired boy and those startling eyes belonged only to her.

After dinner, Jane watched how her mother honed in with razor-sharp precision on the guest who had accompanied their brother from court. Elegant Sir Anthony Ughtred had been the impressively important captain of the king’s ship
Mary James
and Marshall of Tournai. He also looked as old as their father. He had a neat graying triangular beard and dark rings beneath his eyes, probably from too much war. His teeth were yellow and there was hair in his nostrils, but he was distinguished beyond measure. A wealthy man, with no wife, Ughtred had met Edward during a skirmish with the Scottish at the border town of Berwick, and they had become fast friends, particularly when Ughtred discovered his new friend had a beautiful and very young sister. By the time the marzipan and hippocras were served, Jane saw that all thought of William Dormer had vanished from Margery Seymour’s mind in favor of a bigger, more rare fish that had suddenly landed on her little Wiltshire shore.

“Will she be forced to marry someone so old, do you think?” William asked Jane, who was standing near the fire as two boys from Marlborough played a gentle duet on a flute and recorder to entertain them. The afternoon had turned chilly in spite of the fire, and Jane held her hands up to the glow from the warming flames.

“There shall be little choice when she comes of age, if Mother decides. Which is how it is for nearly everything.”

He bit back a smile. As the musicians played, Sir Anthony was
regaling the collected guests with the story of how he had once been forced by orders to refuse the king’s own pregnant sister, Margaret, safe passage to Berwick back from Scotland. The power of it, he told them pompously, was as enormous as the burden on his conscience. The guests sat in rapt attention, no one noticing William and Jane, especially not Elizabeth, who was gazing up at Sir Ughtred with what looked like childish adoration.

“I fear our mothers are no different,” William said quietly. “Mine fancies the king’s own daughter, the little princess Mary, is going to be brought to me like a Christmas goose one day. Rather like your very young sister has been paraded out for Sir Anthony.”

Jane could not help it. The image made her smile. She felt her cheeks warm as he looked at her, smiling, too. “If I did not find the humor in it, it would all be awfully intolerable. I have never found much humor here. Safety, yes, but not much to make me smile.”

He tipped his head. “
I
made you smile.”

“I suppose you did.”

“Do you know what you told me the last time I saw you?”

“Do
you
?” She was surprised. “That was an awfully long time ago.”

“Three years, and every word of it, actually. You said you fancied village life, surrounded by your books, to the complications you saw at court. You said the world confounded you.”

“Impressive. I had forgotten about that.”

“Everything about you was memorable to a lonely boy of thirteen with no brothers or sisters.”

“Now your recall has turned to flattery.”

“’Tis only the truth, Jane. All I wanted back then was someone to talk with who actually listened to me. I remember the sensation quite vividly, in fact. You had this extraordinarily soothing way
about you, even then, that made you seem safe and interesting as well.”

“I was frightened of the world back then. Certainly I was frightened of Lucy and then afterward of the dark-haired Mistress Boleyn.”

“I saw you as eminently dignified, not affected by whatever peril Lucy Hill or Mistress Boleyn had in mind for you.” He smiled encouragingly, remembering some of the cruel laughter of the other pages in France over the embarrassing blunder with Jane’s headdress. But to him she had never seemed to lose her pride. “Even as a forlorn little girl on that day in Savernake Forest, your dignity seemed to prevent you from capitulation. You appeared equally confident in France.”

“Curious, how one is perceived,” she said with a sigh.

“Do you suppose we might speak again sometime?” he asked her.

Jane thought a moment. She was not certain what she would have to talk about with a handsome and worldly older boy, or why anyone who looked like William Dormer would want to hear it. But there was a powerful connection when their eyes met. A silent invitation to something more.

It seemed dangerous, wildly spontaneous, certainly wrong, and thus, truly perfect.

“Without a proper chaperone, I see not how we could meet.”

“Perhaps,” he conceded, glancing around at the chattering guests. “I think your mother approves of me, though.”

“She approves of Sir Anthony more.”

“True,” William chuckled. “Perhaps if she knew not that we were meeting?”

Jane felt herself smile in surprise. No one in the room even knew they were speaking to each other, nor did they care, for all of the
attention focused on Elizabeth and Edward—the great hopes of the Seymour family. For the first time in her life, Jane was actually happy to feel invisible.

“Yes, perhaps if she knew it not.”

“Might she not know tomorrow, say, around noon?”

Jane fought back a complicit smile, realizing more fully then how handsome he was in his walnut-colored satin doublet with shimmering gold braid.

“At two o’clock she always lies down for a nap, and I always read.”

“What do you always read?” She heard in his voice that he truly did want to know.

“These days I mostly read from
The Imitation of Christ.
It has always made me feel hopeful.”

“Verily, you have every reason to hope, Jane,” William said, and in spite of being young and knowing nothing of men or boys, she knew that he meant far more than he was saying.

Across the room, with a full glass of wine in his hand, Francis Bryan took in the scene beside his cousin Edward Seymour.

“My, my, has our young Jane hooked a fish, do you think?”

Edward had not been watching his sister, a girl he had barely noticed when they were children. She had never been of any consequence to him, nor was she now. He was at Wolf Hall only because his mother had written to him several times over the past year, imploring him to look for an important match for his more comely sister, Elizabeth, and a means of introducing them. Tragic as death was, it had provided his mother with what she craved, so he had come home. Next, he would need to find a way to bring Thomas to court with him. They were his tasks as the eldest son. But all in good
time, Edward reminded himself. Rome was not built in a day, nor would his own empire be.

“Jane has not enough bait to catch
that
fish.” Edward chuckled. “The Dormers are very prosperous indeed, and he is the sole heir.”

“Perhaps the bait tastes sweeter than it looks.” Francis Bryan snickered unkindly.

“Do be realistic, cousin. There is no honey on those lips, only prayer.”

“Still.” Francis shrugged. “The boy seems rather drawn to her. ’Tis often the quiet ones who surprise the most. Untouched virtue doesn’t hurt.”

“Not at King Henry’s court. Predictability seems to win the day there.”

“Perhaps. I only mean you must keep an open mind and show a bit of creativity. You must be more like your brother, Thomas, in that regard.”

“Little Tom?” Edward sniffed uncharitably.

“I have been at court a long time, my boy, and I have learned what to look for. I can spot cunning at a mile’s distance, which I see every time I am here in the way he deals with your mother and father, getting what he pleases from both. Remember, I learned at the hand of our noble king himself. Do not be so drawn in by the head of the serpent that you forget the power of the tail, Edward.”

Edward did not understand at all. And he was more than a little irritated that he was suddenly being condescended to. He saw little potential in his younger brother, albeit his very handsome younger brother, and even less in a sister whose best feature was her hands. But he must not let that show for all his father’s cousin had so generously provided for him. Edward was not certain why he should bother with pretending that Jane had a future with anyone. She
certainly was not going to make an important match, or probably ever leave Wolf Hall. That a neighbor boy was chatting with her to pass the time meant absolutely nothing at all. Edward was most certain of that.

The next morning Jane woke before dawn. She lit a candle and held her book up to the light until she could read the words. She had been too nervous to sleep much at all, scenes playing over and over in her head. She had been plagued all night by what she might say later to make herself sound even remotely interesting to a boy like William Dormer. He was probably just being charitable in asking her to meet him. That, and nostalgic for the voyage they had once shared together. Yes, of course that was all it was.

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