I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (15 page)

Jane looked up at him as he sat up and drew his knees to his chest, both of them still buried deep within the tall, moving grass. She heard the broken tone in his voice. “We should not have sinned so boldly,” she said, not entirely certain what she was hoping for him to say.

“Have you changed your mind about marriage to me?” he asked.

“My mother has always told me that a girl who allows a man to take liberties with her body will never become a proper wife, no matter what he says at first.”

Before he could respond again, both of them heard Francis Bryan’s call from across the field. Swiftly, he drew her to her feet and helped her straighten her dress. She tried not to look at the little stain on his codpiece, but it was even worse looking into the guilty expression in his eyes. It had been a few precious moments that had felt like a lifetime. Though she felt guilty as well, she was changed by them. Changed by William Dormer, because she was in love with him.

As she knew in her heart he would, William left Wiltshire the next morning for Buckinghamshire without a word, and Edward and Anthony Ughtred left as well to rejoin the king at Greenwich.

The air turned cold with the close of summer and the beginning of autumn. In the months that followed the deaths of Anthony and Margery, Jane’s life returned to the mundane routine she had always followed at Wolf Hall. With no young siblings to care for, she now spent her time praying, sewing, reading, and waiting for some message to come from William to confirm what she already had trouble believing had ever happened.

But it never came, as somehow she knew it would not. Clearly Margery Seymour had been right with her warning, and that was simply that.

Chapter Five

1525

Wolf Hall

N
early eight years after the funeral Mass, Sir Anthony Ughtred formally requested the honor of Elizabeth Seymour’s hand in marriage. The gentleman had corresponded with Jane’s father for those long and frustrating years and, apparently finding no one else to his liking, at last put forward the request. The house was filled with excitement from Lady Seymour to the servants. At last there was to be a marriage, and an important one.

“Perhaps the king will come for the wedding! They are to be married up north in Marlborough, which is close enough to His Majesty’s palace at Ampthill,” Margery dreamily mused as they gathered near the drawing room fire and a cold rain blew heavily against the drapery-covered windows.

“That is as unlikely a fantasy to come true as our dear Jane finding herself a husband,” John Seymour sniped once his elder daughter had left the room. “What are we to do about her? She will soon be twenty and has no prospects at all. ’Tis something of an embarrassment to the family.”

“I have put in as many hints in my letters to Sir Francis as I dare,
but he proposes no one for her. He has already agreed to take Thomas on, which is of far greater benefit to us than a husband for Jane.”

“I suppose having our two sons at court and one of our daughters well married is more than we dared hope anyway,” John conceded.

Outside the dining hall, Jane turned away from the scene and leaned against the paneling as though she were a fly on the wall, taking in the mindless insults without reaction. She was an embarrassment. A failure. Yet her parents only gave voice to what she already believed of herself. Her dalliance that afternoon with William only underscored what she lacked. She was an unmarried girl of an advanced age with no suitors and no future.

As the years had passed, Jane forced herself to think of William less and less and to forgive herself by degrees for having, in that one adolescent moment, given in to pleasure. She had been foolish, but no one knew what she had done. That at least was a blessing from which to learn. There would always be that corner of her soul that no one really knew—the part of herself she would guard now even more fiercely—particularly from her parents.

“If I must listen to another word about our dear Elizabeth and her wonderful future, I do believe I shall climb the stairs and hurl myself off the roof!”

Jane heard her brother’s declaration and turned to see him enshrined in the shadows of a little alcove nearby. Just then, she saw Lucy’s plump face, eyes half closed in pleasure, lips parted, hovering near Thomas’s face. Jane quickly turned the corner into the hallway before they could see her, and peered around the corner. Her brother’s slim torso was pressed up against Lucy’s, and her hands were in his hair. When she realized what they were doing, a little gasp escaped Jane’s lips and she turned back to the cool hall, where
her parents’ conversation surrounded her once again, drowning out the sounds of her brother’s passion.

By the time Thomas came out of the alcove, straightening his doublet, her parents were debating what kind of flowers Elizabeth should weave into her hair on her wedding day.

“Do you love her?” Jane asked her brother. From the corner of her eye she could see Lucy slip away back into the kitchen, straightening her hood.

“She helps pass the time; ’tis only that,” he answered unapologetically. “Until I can be on my way to something better.”

“I had no idea you were interested in girls.”

“Let us just say that I am not so interested as my body is. Lucy is willing to overlook the distinction.”

The comment, flippantly spoken, felt like a small, sharp weapon digging into a corner of her heart. Jane’s mind wound very quickly, like silk thread leading back to its spool, to a memory with William. Clearly she had been for him what Lucy was for her brother now. He might not have taken her maidenhead that day, but she had never stopped feeling that she had given him her virtue, which made her feel oddly defensive now of the poor groundskeeper’s daughter.

“Even so, do you speak tenderly to her sometimes? Tell her things she wants to hear?”

Thomas shifted his weight, and a floorboard creaked beneath his shoes, but their parents continued to prattle on unaware in the dining hall nearby. Thomas scanned her face, then gave up and simply shrugged.

“’Tis nasty business, sister, our animal needs. A blessing, perhaps, that you are not to be faced with any of that.”

A blessing that she was ordinary looking, he meant. A gift from God that she would find no husband and not know the great burden
of a man’s powerful arousal or the full weight of his passion. Her humiliation flared, but she pressed it back. This must be exactly how William felt about her. Hers had been a childish fantasy. His had been a man’s need, precisely as Mother had warned. She was angry with herself and humiliated, even after eight years.

“When do you leave to join Sir Francis?” she asked her brother, needing to change the subject from the thing that could not be changed.

“Just after the wedding. He will be attending and we shall leave together for Richmond Palace straight afterward.”

They had not seen Sir Francis for more than a year, but he still wrote to the family regularly of his grand adventures with the king, and all the rousing gossip from court. King Henry had tired now of poor Mary Boleyn, who had grown up after her time in France only to find her way to the royal bed in the days after Jane had gone back to Wolf Hall. Mary’s well-known tryst with the king was still a surprise. She had seemed so innocent, far too simple for a king with a reputation like Henry’s.

Although didn’t the English proverb say that still waters run deep? Jane tried to remember. Had Sir Francis not said the same of her? Was Jane still water, with her secret passion for a lost love about which no one even knew?

Court was like that, a magical, exciting world, full of such grand secrets.

“I envy you, you know,” Jane said.

The taste of the confession on her lips was a bitter one.

Thomas smiled at her, which helped a little. He always helped. While she admired Edward from afar, and the pedestal on which she put him remained intact, he was a virtual stranger, and there really was no one in the world she loved now more than Thomas.

“You told me once you wanted nothing so much as to be home here at Wolf Hall, not a place like King Henry’s court.”

“I was a child then,” she countered.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child,”
he replied, as though finishing her thought by recounting the verse from Corinthians. It was one their priest had them recite so often as children that it came quickly to them both. So many things bound them—their blood, their history, their parents’ ambition. And now, like Edward, Anthony, Margery…Elizabeth, Thomas was going away, and she could not bear it.

“Look here,” he said, chucking her fondly beneath the chin as her eyes filled with tears she rarely let anyone else see. “What’s that face? There is something more going on in that head of yours than sorrow at my leaving, is there not?”

Oh, if there were anyone in the world she could tell, it would be Thomas, Jane thought. But stubbornly, defensively, once again, she pushed away her thoughts of disappointment over William, which had begun to darken with time. That day had never happened, she told herself now. She was no longer a child and she must put away childish things. She would live at Wolf Hall under the care of her parents, then would eventually become their caretaker. William would be at Eythrope. It was the end of her story—and the end of theirs. But resigning herself to that future seemed almost as difficult as pretending she had never cared for William Dormer at all.

In the little stone groundskeeper’s cottage, across the pathways beyond the pond and beside the gate, Lucy began the ritual by drawing the small wooden box from beneath her bed. Her father would be gone for hours yet, out mending a pastureland fence, and the Seymour girls did not need her, so she was free with her time.
And her secrets.

Lucy liked the guilty pleasure knowing the letter was here. It was like a potent elixir, running her eager fingers over the neatly penned words, feeling him inside of them. Even all these years later, the process filled her with a kind of excitement that had no equal. Long ago, Lucy had stopped surrendering to the guilt of stealing it…or simply not delivering it.

She opened the letter once again. As she did, she thought about William’s firm hand touching the same slip of paper as if it were the column of her own neck, fingers catching on the vein that pulsed hot with her desire for him.
William…
It had always been him, since they were children. How envious she had been of his concern for Jane that day in Savernake Forest. She remembered the feeling even now.

At first the letter smelled of musk, or so she had thought. She had taken to pressing the page to her nose so often that her mind convinced her it still did.

Of course I shall deliver it to Mistress Seymour. No one shall know about it. You can trust me. We are friends now. I promise we are.

She could hear herself—her promise, the spoken lie—even now.

Greedily, she had read it, taking each nauseatingly pleading word for Jane’s heart into her own. The words wounded her, each one like a drop of life’s blood flowing out of her veins because he cared for someone else. He probably did not even know that she cared.

Please know, dearest Jane, that I meant every word I said. The promise I made is carved upon my heart. It may take some time to win my parents over because they are sending me this morrow to Eythrope to handle
our family’s affairs there, but they both know I am firmly committed to our betrothal. I pray that as the sun rose, you woke with no misgivings over the liberties we took with each other yesterday, as, at least on my part, they were an act of total commitment to you, my sweetheart. You are what I want, you are all that I want. I know it now as I write this, and I shall know it forever. You are different, special, wonderful. Please write back to me to assure me I did not offend you with my touch yesterday. If I am given no reply it can only mean you have changed your mind over my forward advances. I know not how my heart will survive, but I trust the things we said to each other, and the kisses between us forged a union that will last forever. I must believe that. So write swiftly; we can trust Lucy to bring me your response…

Trust. Not
love
. Tears fell. They always did.

The ritual had become as natural as eating or sleeping.

She took some comfort in knowing that William had not written again after that, at least not through her.
Tell me, Lucy, has she said nothing? Sent nothing?
Upon his return to Wiltshire a fortnight later, he had sought her out to ask. Then again a month after that.
Shall I take her another letter for you anon, sir? Thank you, Lucy, but no. I’ve been given my answer…

Perhaps, like a change of the season, his interest in Jane was a phase he had passed through as a young man, Lucy reasoned. She had seen him just last month at Idsworth House, a grown man now, when she had gone there to help with some extra mending. The
Dormers did not maintain a full staff of servants at their summer home, so help from the village was occasionally sought. William would never know how Lucy had pleaded with her father, threatening suicide if he did not comply and find some way to place her among the temporary staff.

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