Page:Female Prose Writers of America.djvu/468

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Vacated some time since by the king, it was now occupied by his rival in power, the aspiring Cromwell; and although the hour was so late, the vast pile was still illuminated. Having gained speedy access to the main building, the visitors were admitted by a servant in the gorgeous livery of the fallen monarch. Heath requested to be shown to an ante-room, while Alice solicited to be conducted without previous announcement to the presence of his master. After a moment’s hesitation on the part of the servant, which, however, was quickly overcome by her persuasive manner, he conducted her through various spacious halls, and up numerous flights of stairs, till, pausing suddenly before the door of a chamber, he knocked gently. As they waited for an answer, the accents of prayer were distinctly audible. They were desired to enter; the servant threw open the door, simply announcing a lady. Alice entered, and found herself alone with Cromwell.

The apartment was an ante-room attached to the spacious bed chamber formerly belonging to the king. It was luxuriously furnished with all the appliances of ease and elegance suitable to a royal withdrawing room. Tables and chairs of rose-wood, richly inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, were arranged in order around the room; magnificent vases of porcelain decorated the mantel-piece; statues from the chisel of Michael Angelo stood in the niches; and pictures in gorgeous frames hung upon the walls.

There, near a table, on which burned a single-shaded lamp, standing upright, in the attitude of prayer, from which he had just been interrupted, stood the occupant. For an instant, as she lingered near the door, and looked upon his figure, which bore so strongly the impress of power, and felt that on his word hung the fate of him for whom she had come to plead, she already feared for the success of her mission, and would fain almost have retracted her visit. But remembering the accents of prayer she had heard while waiting without, she considered that her purposed appeal was to the conscience of one whom she had just surprised, as it were, in the presence of his Maker, and took courage to advance.

“May I pray thee to approach and be seated, madam, and unfold the object of this visit?” said Cromwell, in a thick, rapid