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The Question of the Seal

ABOUT five o’clock Henry VIII awoke out of an unrefreshing nap, and muttered
to himself, ‘Troublous dreams, troublous dreams! Mine end is now at hand; so
say these warnings, and my failing pulses do confirm it.’ Presently a wicked
light flamed up in his eye, and he muttered, ‘Yet will not I die till he go before.’
His attendants perceiving that he was awake, one of them asked his pleasure
concerning the Lord Chancellor, who was waiting without.

‘Admit him, admit him!’ exclaimed the king eagerly.
The Lord Chancellor entered, and knelt by the king’s couch, saying: ‘I have
given order, and, according to the king’s command, the peers of the realm, in
their robes, do now stand at the bar of the House, where, having confirmed the
Duke of Norfolk’s doom, they humbly wait his majesty’s further pleasure in the
matter.’ The king’s face lit up with a fierce joy. Said he: ‘Lift me up! In mine own
person will I go before my Parliament, and with mine own hand will I seal the
warrant that rids me of-’

His voice failed; an ashen pallor swept the flush from his cheeks; and the
attendants eased him back upon his pillows, and hurriedly assisted him with
restoratives. Presently he said sorrowfully: ‘Alack, how have I longed for this
sweet hour! and lo, too late it cometh, and I am robbed of this so coveted chance.
But speed ye, speed ye! let others do this happy office sith ‘tis denied to me. I
put my great seal in commission: choose thou the lords that shall compose it, and
get ye to your work. Speed ye, man! Before the sun shall rise and set again, bring
me his head that I may see it.’ ‘According to the king’s command, so shall it be.
Will’t please your majesty to order that the Seal be now restored to me, so that I
may forth upon the business?’ ‘The Seal! Who keepeth the Seal but thou?’ ‘Please
your majesty, you did take it from me two days since, saying it should no more
do its office till your own royal hand should use it upon the Duke of Norfolk’s
warrant.’ ‘Why, so in sooth I did; I do remember it.... What did I with it!... I am
very feeble.... So oft these days doth my memory play the traitor with me.... ‘Tis
strange, strange-’ The king dropped into inarticulate mumblings, shaking his
gray head weakly from time to time, and gropingly trying to recollect what he
had done with the Seal. At last my Lord Hertford ventured to kneel and offer
information ‘Sire, if that I may be so bold, here be several that do remember with
me how that you gave the Great Seal into the hands of his Highness the Prince of
Wales to keep against the day that-’ ‘True, most true!’ interrupted the king.
‘Fetch it! Go: time flieth!’ Lord Hertford flew to Tom, but returned to the king
before very long, troubled and empty-handed. He delivered himself to this
effect: ‘It grieveth me, my lord the king, to bear so heavy and unwelcome
tidings; but it is the will of God that the prince’s affliction abideth still, and he
cannot recall to mind that he received the Seal. So came I quickly to report,
thinking it were waste of precious time, and little worth withal, that any should
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