In these summer days there was much faring abroad in the broad lands to north and to south of the Pontefract Castle. The sunlight lay across moors and uplands. The King was come with all his many to Newcastle; but no Scots King was there to meet him. So he went farther to northwards. His butchers drove before him herds of cattle that they slew some of each night: their hooves made a broad and beaten way before the King’s horses. Behind came an army of tent men: cooks, servers, and sutlers. For, since they went where new castles were few, at times they must sleep on moorsides, and they had tents all of gold cloth and black, with gilded tent-poles and cords of silk and silver wire. The lords and principal men of those parts came out to meet him with green boughs, and music, and slain deer, and fair wooden kegs filled with milk. But when he was come near to Berwick there was still no Scots King to meet him, and it became manifest that the King’s nephew would fail that tryst. Henry, riding among his people, swore a mighty oath that he would take way even into Edinburgh town and there act as he listed, for he had with him nigh on seven thousand men of all arms and some cannon which he had been minded to display for the instruction of his nephew. But he had, in real truth, little stomach for this feat. For, if he would go into Scotland armed, he must wait till he got together all the men that the Council of the North had under arms. These were scattered over the whole of the Border country, and it must be many days before he had them all there together. And already the summer was well advanced, and if he delayed much longer his return, the after progress from Pontefract to London must draw them to late in the winter. And he was little minded that either Katharine or his son should bear the winter travel. Indeed, he sent a messenger back to Pontefract with orders that the Prince should be sent forthwith with a great guard to Hampton Court, so that he should reach that place before the nights grew cold.
And, having stayed in camp four days near the Scots border — for he loved well to live in a tent, since it reawoke in him the ardour of his youth and made him think himself not so old a man — he delivered over to the Earl Marshal forty Scots borderers and cattle thieves that had been taken that summer. These men he had meant to have handed, pardoned, to the Scots King when he met him. But the Earl Marshal set up, along the road into Scotland, from where the stone marks the border, a row of forty gallows, all high, but some higher than others; for some of the prisoners were men of condition. And, within sight of a waiting crowd of Scots that had come down to the boundaries of their land to view the King of England, Norfolk hanged on these trees the forty men.
And, laughing over their shoulders at this fine harvest of fruit, gibbering and dangling against the heavens on high, the King and his host rode back into the Border country. It was pleasant to ride in the summer weather, and they hunted and rendered justice by the way, and heard tales of battle that there had been before in the north country.
But there was one man, Thomas Culpepper, in the town of Edinburgh to whom this return was grievous. He had been in these outlandish parts now for more than nineteen months. The Scots were odious to him, the town was odious; he had no stomach for his food, and such clothes as he had were ragged, for he would wear nothing that had there been woven. He was even a sort of prisoner. For he had been appointed to wait on the King’s Ambassador to the King of Scots, and the last thing that Throckmorton, the notable spy, had done before he had left the Court had been to write to Edinburgh that T. Culpepper, the Queen’s cousin, who was a dangerous man, was to be kept very close and given no leave of absence.
And one thing very much had aided this: for, upon receiving news, or the rumour of news, that his cousin Katharine Howard — he was her mother’s brother’s son — had wedded the King, or had been shown for Queen at Hampton Court, he had suddenly become seized with such a rage that, incontinently, he had run his sword through an old fishwife in the fishmarket where he was who had given him the news, newly come by sea, thinking that because he was an Englishman this marriage of his King might gladden him. The fishwife died among her fish, and Culpepper with his sword fell upon all that were near him in the market, till, his heel slipping upon a haddock, he fell, and was fallen upon by a great many men.
He must stay in jail for this till he had compounded with the old woman’s heirs and had paid for a great many cuts and bruises. And Sir Nicholas Hoby, happening to be in Edinburgh at that time, understood well what ailed Thomas Culpepper, and that he was mad for love of the Queen his cousin — for was it not this Culpepper that had brought her to the court, and, as it was said, had aforetime sold farms to buy her food and gowns when, her father being a poor man, she was well-nigh starving? Therefore Sir Nicholas begged alike the Ambassador and the King of Scots that they would keep this madman clapped up till they were very certain that the fit was off him. And, what with the charges of blood ransom and jailing for nine months, Culpepper had no money at all when at last he was enlarged, but must eat his meals at the Ambassador’s table, so that he could not in any way come away into England till he had written for more money and had earned a further salary. And that again was a matter of many months, and later he spent more in drinking and with Scots women till he persuaded himself that he had forgotten his cousin that was now a Queen. Moreover, it was made clear to him by those about him that it was death to leave his post unpermitted.
But, with the coming of the Court up into the north parts, his impatience grew again, so that he could no longer eat but only drink and fight. It was rumoured that the Queen was riding with the King, and he swore a mighty oath that he would beg of her or of the King leave at last to be gone from that hateful city; and the nearer came the King the more his ardour grew. So that, when the news came that the King was turned back, Culpepper could no longer compound it with himself. He had then a plenty of money, having kept his room for seven days, and the night before that he had won half a barony at dice from a Scots archer. But he had no passport into England; therefore, because he was afraid to ask for one, being certain of a refusal, he blacked his face and hands with coal and then took refuge on a coble, leaving the port of Leith for Durham. He had well bribed the master of this ship to take him as one of his crew. In Durham he stayed neither to wash nor to eat, but, having bought himself a horse, he rode after the King’s progress that was then two days’ journey to the south, and came up with them. He had no wits left more than to ask of the sutlers at the tail of the host where the Queen was. They laughed at this apparition upon a haggard horse, and one of them that was a notable cutpurse took all the gold that he had, only giving him in exchange the news that the Queen was at Pontefract, from which place she had never stirred. With a little silver that he had in another bag he bought himself a provision of food, a store of drink, and a poor Kern to guide him, running at his saddle-bow.
He saw neither hills nor valleys, neither heather nor ling: he had no thoughts but only that of finding the Queen his cousin. At times the tears ran down his begrimed face, at times he waved his sword in the air and, spurring his horse, he swore great oaths. How he fared, where he rested, by what roads he went over the hills, that he never knew. Without a doubt the Kern guided him faithfully.
For the Queen, having news that the King was nearly come within a day’s journey, rode out towards the north to meet him. And as she went along the road, she saw, upon a hillside not very far away, a man that sat upon a dead horse, beating it and tugging at its bridle. Beside him stood a countryman, in a garment of furs and pelts, with rawhide boots. She had a great many men and ladies riding behind her, and she had come as far as she was minded to go. So she reined in her horse and sent two prickers to ask who these men were.
And when she heard that this was a traveller, robbed of all his money and insensate, and his poor guide who knew nothing of who he might be, she turned her cavalcade back and commanded that the traveller should be borne to the castle on a litter of boughs and there attended to and comforted until again he could take the road. And she made occasion upon this to comment how ill it was for travellers that the old monasteries were done away with. For in the old time there were seven monasteries between there and Durham, wherein poor travellers might lodge. Then, if a merchant were robbed upon the highways, he could be housed at convenient stages on his road home, and might afterwards send recompense to the good fathers or not as he pleased or was able. Now, there was no harbourage left on all that long road, and, but for the grace of God, that pitiful traveller might have lain there till the ravens picked out his eyes.
And some commended the Queen’s words and actions, and some few, behind their hands, laughed at her for her soft heart. And the more Lutheran sort said that it was God’s mercy that the old monasteries were gone; for they had, they said, been the nests for lowsels, idle wayfarers, palmers, pilgrims, and the like. And, praise God, since that clearance fourteen thousand of these had been hanged by the waysides for sturdy rogues, to the great purging of the land.
In the part of Lincolnshire that is a little to the northeastward of Stamford was a tract of country that had been granted to the monks of St Radigund’s at Dover by William the Conqueror. These monks had drained this land many centuries before, leaving the superintendence of the work at first to priors by them appointed, and afterwards, when the dykes, ditches, and flood walls were all made, to knights and poor gentlemen, their tenants, who farmed the land and kept up the defences against inundations, paying scot and lot to a bailiff and water-wardens and jurats, just as was done on the Romney marshes by the bailiff and jurats of that level.
And one of these tenants, holding two hundred acres in a simple fee from St Radigund’s for a hundred and fifty years back, had been always a man of the name of Hall. It was an Edward Hall that Mary Lascelles had married when she was a maid at the Duchess of Norfolk’s. This Edward Hall was then a squire, a little above the condition of a groom, in the Duchess’s service. His parents dwelled still on the farm which was called Neot’s End, because it was in the angle of the great dyke called St Neot’s and the little sewer where St Radigund’s land had its boundary stone.
But in the troublesome days of the late Privy Seal, Edward Hall had informed Throckmorton the spy of a conspiracy and rising that was hatching amongst the Radigund’s men a little before the Pilgrimage of Grace, when all the north parts rose. For the Radigund’s men cried out and murmured amongst themselves that if the Priory was done away with there would be an end of their easy and comfortable tenancy. Their rents had been estimated and appointed a great number of years before, when all goods and the produce of the earth were very low priced. And the tenants said that if now the King took their lands to himself or gave them to some great lord, very heavy burdens would be laid upon them and exacted; whereas in some years under easy priors the monks forgot their distant territory, and in bad seasons they took no rents at all. And even under hard and exacting priors the monks could take no more than their rentals, which were so small. They said, too, that the King and Thomas Cromwell would make them into heathen Greeks and turn their children to be Saracens. So these Radigund’s men meditated a rising and conspiracy.
But, because Edward Hall informed Throckmorton of what was agate, a posse was sent into that country, and most of the men were hanged and their lands all taken from them. Those that survived from the jailing betook themselves to the road, and became sturdy beggars, so that many of them too came to the gallows tree.
Most of the land was granted to the Sieur Throckmorton with the abbey’s buildings and tithe barns. But the Halls’ farm and another of near three hundred acres were granted to Edward Hall. Then it was that Edward Hall could marry and take his wife, Mary Lascelles, down into Lincolnshire to Neot’s End. But when the Pilgrimage of Grace came, and the great risings all over Lincolnshire, very early the rioters came to Neot’s End, and they burned the farm and the byres, they killed all the beasts or drove them off, they trampled down the corn and laid waste the flax fields. And, between two willow trees along the great dyke, they set a pole, and from it they hanged Edward Hall over the waters, so that he dried and was cured like a ham in the smoke from his own stacks.
Then Mary Lascelles’ case was a very miserable one; for she had to fend for the aged father and bedridden mother of Edward Hall, and there were no beasts left but only a few geese and ducks that the rebels could not lay their hands on. And the only home that they had was the farmhouse that was upon Edward Hall’s other farm, and that they had let fall nearly into ruin. And for a long time no men would work for her.
But at last, after the rebellion was pitifully ended, a few hinds came to her, and she made a shift. And it was better still after Privy Seal fell, for then came Throckmorton the spy into his lands, and he brought with him carpenters and masons and joiners to make his house fair, and some of these men he lent to Mary Hall. But it had been prophesied by a wise woman in those parts that no land that had been taken from the monks would prosper. And, because all the jurats, bailiffs, and water-wardens had been hanged either on the one part or the other and no more had been appointed, at about that time the sewers began to clog up, the lands to swamp, murrain and fluke to strike the beasts and the sheep, and night mists to blight the grain and the fruit blossoms. So that even Throckmorton had little good of his wealth and lands.
Thus one morning to Mary Hall, who stood before her door feeding her geese and ducks, there came a little boy running to say that men-at-arms stood on the other side of the dyke that was very swollen and grey and broad. And they shouted that they came from the Queen’s Highness, and would have a boat sent to ferry them over.
The colour came into Mary Hall’s pale face, for even there she had heard that her former bedfellow was come to be Queen. And at times even she had thought to write to the Queen to help her in her misery. But always she had been afraid, because she thought that the Queen might remember her only as one that had wronged her childish innocence. For she remembered that the maids’ dormitory at the old Duchess’s had been no cloister of pure nuns. So that, at best, she was afraid, and she sent her yard-worker and a shepherd a great way round to fetch the larger boat of two to ferry over the Queen’s men. Then she went indoors to redd up the houseplace and to attire herself.
To the old farmstead, that was made of wood hung over here and there with tilework with a base of bricks, she had added a houseplace for the old folk to sit all day. It was built of wattles that had had clay cast over them, and was whitened on the outside and thatched nearly down to the ground like any squatter’s hut; it had cupboards of wood nearly all round it, and beneath the cupboards were lockers worn smooth with men sitting upon them, after the Dutch fashion — for there in Lincolnshire they had much traffic with the Dutch. There was a great table made of one slab of a huge oak from near Boston. Here they all ate. And above the ingle was another slab of oak from the same tree. Her little old step-mother sat in a stuff chair covered with a sheep-skin; she sat there night and day, shivering with the shaking palsy. At times she let out of her an eldritch shriek, very like the call of a hedgehog; but she never spoke, and she was fed with a spoon by a little misbegotten son of Edward Hall’s. The old step-father sat always opposite her; he had no use of his legs, and his head was always stiffly screwed round towards the door as if he were peering, but that was the rheumatism. To atone for his wife’s dumbness, he chattered incessantly whenever anyone was on that floor; but because he spoke always in Lincolnshire, Mary Hall could scarce understand him, and indeed she had long ceased to listen. He spoke of forgotten floods and ploughings, ancient fairs, the boundaries of fields long since flooded over, of a visit to Boston that King Edward IV had made, and of how he, for his fair speech and old lineage, had been chosen of all the Radigund’s men to present into the King’s hands three silver horseshoes. Behind his back was a great dresser with railed shelves, having upon them a little pewter ware and many wooden bowls for the hinds’ feeding. A door on the right side, painted black, went down into the cellar beneath the old house. Another door, of bars of iron with huge locks from the old monastery, went into the old house where slept the maids and the hinds. This was always open by day but locked in the dark hours. For the hinds were accounted brutish lumps that went savage at night, like wild beasts, so that, if they spared the master’s throat, which was unlikely, it was certain that they would little spare the salted meat, the dried fish, the mead, metheglin, and cyder that their poor cellar afforded. The floor was of stamped clay, wet and sweating but covered with rushes, so that the place had a mouldering smell. Behind the heavy door there were huge bolts and crossbars against robbers: the raftered ceiling was so low that it touched her hair when she walked across the floor. The windows had no glass but were filled with a thin reddish sheep-skin like parchment. Before the stairway was a wicket gate to keep the dogs — of whom there were many, large and fierce, to protect them alike from robbers and the hinds — to keep the dogs from going into the upper room.
Each time that Mary Hall came into this home of hers her heart sank lower; for each day the corner posts gave sideways a little more, the cupboard bulged, the doors were loth to close or open. And more and more the fields outside were inundated, the lands grew sour, the sheep would not eat or died of the fluke.
‘And surely,’ she would cry out at times, ‘God created me for other guesswork than this!’
At nights she was afraid, and shivered at the thought of the fens and the black and trackless worlds all round her; and the ravens croaked, night-hawks screamed, the dog-foxes cried out, and the flames danced over the swampy grounds. Her mirror was broken on the night that they hanged her husband: she had never had another but the water in her buckets, so that she could not tell whether she had much aged or whether she were still brown-haired and pink-cheeked, and she had forgotten how to laugh, and was sure that there were crow’s-feet about her eyelids.
Her best gown was all damp and mouldy in the attic that was her bower. She made it meet as best she could, and indeed she had had so little fat living, sitting at the head of her table with a whip for unruly hinds and louts before her — so little fat living that she could well get into her wedding-gown of yellow cramosyn. She smoothed her hair back into her cord hood that for so long had not come out of its press. She washed her face in a bucket of water: that and the press and her bed with grey woollen curtains were all the furnishing her room had. The straw of the roof caught in her hood when she moved, and she heard her old father-inlaw cackling to the serving-maids through the cracks of the floor.
When she came down there were approaching, across the field before the door, six men in scarlet and one in black, having all the six halberds and swords, and one a little banner, but the man in black had a sword only. Their horses were tethered in a clump on the farther side of the dyke. Within the room the serving-maids were throwing knives and pewter dishes with a great din on to the table slab. They dropped drinking-horns and the salt-cellar itself all of a heap into the rushes. The grandfather was cackling from his chair; a hen and its chickens ran screaming between the maids’ feet. Then Lascelles came in at the doorway.
The Sieur Lascelles looked round him in that dim cave.
‘Ho!’ he said, ‘this place stinks,’ and he pulled from his pocket a dried and shrivelled orange-peel purse stuffed with cloves and ginger. ‘Ho!’ he said to the cornet that was come behind him with the Queen’s horsemen. ‘Come not in here. This will breed a plague amongst your men!’ and he added —
‘Did I not tell you my sister was ill-housed?’
‘Well, I was not prepared against this,’ the cornet said. He was a man with a grizzling beard that had little patience away from the Court, where he had a bottle that he loved and a crony or two that he played all day at chequers with, except when the Queen rode out; then he was of her train. He did not come over the sill, but spoke sharply to his men.
‘Ungird not here,’ he said. ‘We will go farther.’ For some of them were for setting their pikes against the mud wall and casting their swords and heavy bottle-belts on to the table before the door. The old man in the armchair began suddenly to prattle to them all — of a horse-thief that had been dismembered and then hanged in pieces thirty years before. The cornet looked at him for a moment and said —
‘Sir, you are this woman’s father-inlaw, I do think. Have you aught to report against her?’ He bent in at the door, holding his nose. The old man babbled of one Pease–Cod Noll that had no history to speak of but a swivel eye.
‘Well,’ the grizzled cornet said, ‘I shall get little sense here.’ He turned upon Mary Hall.
‘Mistress,’ he said, ‘I have a letter here from the Queen’s High Grace,’ and, whilst he fumbled in his belt to find a little wallet that held the letter, he spoke on: ‘But I misdoubt you cannot read. Therefore I shall tell you the Queen’s High Grace commandeth you to come into her service — or not, as the report of your character shall be. But at any rate you shall come to the castle.’
Mary Hall could find no words for men of condition, so long she had been out of the places where such are found. She swallowed in her throat and held her breast over her heart.
‘Where is the village here?’ the cornet said, ‘or what justice is there that can write you a character under his seal?’
She made out to say that there was no village, all the neighbourhood having been hanged. A half-mile from there there was the house of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, a justice. From the house-end he might see it, or he might have a hind to guide him. But he would have no guide; he would have no man nor maid nor child to go from there to the justice’s house. He set one soldier to guard the back door and one the front, that none came out nor went beyond the dyke-end.
‘Neither shall you go, Sir Lascelles,’ he said.
‘Well, give me leave with my sister to walk this knoll,’ Lascelles said good-humouredly. ‘We shall not corrupt the grass blades to bear false witness of my sister’s chastity.’
‘Ay, you may walk upon this mound,’ the cornet answered. Having got out the packet of the Queen’s letter, he girded up his belt again.
‘You will get you ready to ride with me,’ he said to Mary Hall. ‘For I will not be in these marshes after nightfall, but will sleep at Shrimpton Inn.’
He looked around him and added —
‘I will have three of your geese to take with us,’ he said. ‘Kill me them presently.’
Lascelles looked after him as he strode away round the house with the long paces of a stiff horseman.
‘Before God,’ he laughed, ‘that is one way to have information about a quean. Now are we prisoners whilst he inquires after your character.’
‘Oh, alack!’ Mary Hall said, and she cast up her hands.
‘Well, we are prisoners till he come again,’ her brother said good-humouredly. ‘But this is a foul hole. Come out into the sunlight.’
She said —
‘If you are with them, they cannot come to take me prisoner.’
He looked her full in the eyes with his own that twinkled inscrutably. He said very slowly —
‘Were your mar-locks and prinking-prankings so very evil at the old Duchess’s?’
She grew white: she shrank away as if he had threatened her with his fist.
‘The Queen’s Highness was such a child,’ she said. ‘She cannot remember. I have lived very godly since.’
‘I will do what I can to save you,’ he said. ‘Let me hear about it, as, being prisoners, we may never come off.’
‘You!’ she cried out. ‘You who stole my wedding portion!’
He laughed deviously.
‘Why, I have laid it up so well for you that you may wed a knight now if you do my bidding. I was ever against your wedding Hall.’
‘You lie!’ she said. ‘You gar’d me do it.’
The maids were peeping out of the cellar, whither they had fled.
‘Come upon the grass,’ he said. ‘I will not be heard to say more than this: that you and I stand and fall together like good sister and goodly brother.’
Their faces differed only in that hers was afraid and his smiling as he thought of new lies to tell her. Her face in her hood, pale beneath its weathering, approached the colour of his that shewed the pink and white of indoors. She came very slowly near him, for she was dazed. But when she was almost at the sill he caught her hand and drew it beneath his elbow.
‘Tell me truly,’ she said, ‘shall I see the Court or a prison? . . . But you cannot speak truth, nor ever could when we were tiny twins. God help me: last Sunday I had the mind to wed my yard-man. I would become such a liar as thou to come away from here.’
‘Sister,’ he said, ‘this I tell you most truly: that this shall fall out according as you obey me and inform me’; and, because he was a little the taller, he leaned over her as they walked away together.
On the fourth day from then they were come to the great wood that is to south and east of the castle of Pontefract. Here Lascelles, who had ridden much with his sister, forsook her and went ahead of the slow and heavy horses of that troop of men. The road was broadened out to forty yards of green turf between the trees, for this was a precaution against ambushes of robbers. Across the road, after he had ridden alone for an hour and a half, there was a guard of four men placed. And here, whilst he searched for his pass to come within the limits of the Court, he asked what news, and where the King was.
It was told him that the King lay still at the Fivefold Vents, two days’ progress from the castle, and as it chanced that a verderer’s pricker came out of the wood where he had been to mark where the deer lay for tomorrow’s killing, Lascelles bade this man come along with him for a guide.
‘Sir, ye cannot miss the way,’ the pricker said surlily. ‘I have my deer to watch.’
‘I will have you to guide me,’ Lascelles said, ‘for I little know these parts.’
‘Well,’ the pricker answered him, ‘it is true that I have not often seen you ride a-hawking.’
Whilst they went along the straight road, Lascelles, who unloosened the woodman’s tongue with a great drink of sherry-sack, learned that it was said that only very unwillingly did the King lie so long at the Fivefold Vents. For on the morrow there was to be driven by, up there, a great herd of moor stags and maybe a wolf or two. The King would be home with his wife, it was reported, but the younger lords had been so importunate with him to stay and abide this gallant chase and great slaughter that, they having ridden loyally with him, he had yielded to their prayers and stayed there — twenty-four hours, it was said.
‘Why, you know a great deal,’ Lascelles answered.
‘We who stand and wait had needs have knowledge,’ the woodman said, ‘for we have little else.’
‘Aye, ’tis a hard service,’ Lascelles said. ‘Did you see the Queen’s Highness o’ Thursday week borrow a handkerchief of Sir Roger Pelham to lure her falcon back?’
‘That did not I,’ the woodman answered, ‘for o’ Thursday week it was a frost and the Queen rode not out.’
‘Well, it was o’ Saturday,’ Lascelles said.
‘Nor was it yet o’ Saturday,’ the woodman cried; ‘I will swear it. For o’ Saturday the Queen’s Highness shot with the bow, and Sir Roger Pelham, as all men know, fell with his horse on Friday, and lies up still.’
‘Then it was Sir Nicholas Rochford,’ Lascelles persisted.
‘Sir,’ the woodman said, ‘you have a very wrong tale, and patent it is that little you ride a-hunting.’
‘Well, I mind my book,’ Lascelles said. ‘But wherefore?’
‘Sir,’ the woodman answered, ‘it is thus: The Queen when she rides a-hawking has always behind her her page Toussaint, a little boy. And this little boy holdeth ever the separate lures for each hawk that the Queen setteth up. And the falcon or hawk or genette or tiercel having stooped, the Queen will call upon that eyass for the lure appropriated to each bird as it chances. And very carefully the Queen’s Highness observeth the laws of the chase, of venery and hawking. For the which I honour her.’
Lascelles said, ‘Well, well!’
‘As for the borrowing of a handkerchief,’ the woodman pursued, ‘that is a very idle tale. For, let me tell you, a lady might borrow a jewelled feather or a scarlet pouch or what not that is bright and shall take a bird’s eye — a little mirror upon a cord were a good thing. But a handkerchief! Why, Sir Bookman, that a lady can only do if she will signify to all the world: “This knight is my servant and I his mistress.” Those very words it signifieth — and that the better for it showeth that that lady is minded to let her hawk go, luring the gentleman to her with that favour of his.’
‘Well, well,’ Lascelles said, ‘I am not so ignorant that I did not know that. Therefore I asked you, for it seemed a very strange thing.’
‘It is a very foolish tale and very evil,’ the man answered. ‘For this I will swear: that the Queen’s Highness — and I and her honour for it — observeth very jealously the laws of wood and moorland and chase.’
‘So I have heard,’ Lascelles said. ‘But I see the castle. I will not take you farther, but will let you go back to the goodly deer.’
‘Pray God they be not wandered fore,’ the woodman said. ‘You could have found this way without me.’
There was but one road into the castle, and that from the south, up a steep green bank. Up the roadway Lascelles must ride his horse past four men that bore a litter made of two pikes wattled with green boughs and covered with a horse-cloth. As Lascelles passed by the very head of it, the man that lay there sprang off it to his feet, and cried out —
‘I be the Queen’s cousin and servant. I brought her to the Court.’ Lascelles’ horse sprang sideways, a great bound up the bank. He galloped ten paces ahead before the rider could stay him and turn round. The man, all rags and with a black face, had fallen into the dust of the road, and still cried out outrageously. The bearers set down the litter, wiped their brows, and then, falling all four upon Culpepper, made to carry him by his legs and arms, for they were weary of laying him upon the litter from which incessantly he sprang.
But before them upon his horse was Lascelles and impeded their way. Culpepper drew in and pushed out his legs and arms, so that they all four staggered, and —
‘For God’s sake, master,’ one of them grunted out, ‘stand aside that we may pass. We have toil enow in bearing him.’
‘Why, set the poor gentleman down upon the litter,’ Lascelles said, ‘and let us talk a little.’
The men set Culpepper on the horse-cloth, and one of them knelt down to hold him there.
‘If you will lend us your horse to lay him across, we may come more easily up,’ one said. In these days the position and trade of a spy was so little esteemed — it had been far other with the great informers of Privy Seal’s day — that these men, being of the Queen’s guard, would talk roughly to Lascelles, who was a mere poor gentleman of the Archbishop’s if his other vocation could be neglected. Lascelles sat, his hand upon his chin.
‘You use him very roughly if this be the Queen’s cousin,’ he said.
The bearer set back his beard and laughed at the sky.
‘This is a coif — a poor rag of a merchant,’ he cried out. ‘If this were the Queen’s cousin should we bear him thus on a clout?’
‘I am the Queen’s cousin, T. Culpepper,’ Culpepper shouted at the sky. ‘Who be you that stay me from her?’
‘Why, you may hear plainly,’ the bearer said. ‘He is mazed, doited, starved, thirsted, and a seer of visions.’
Lascelles pondered, his elbow upon his saddle-peak, his chin caught in his hand.
‘How came ye by him?’ he asked.
One with another they told him the tale, how, the Queen being ridden towards the north parts, at the extreme end of her ride had seen the man, at a distance, among the heather, flogging a dead horse with a moorland kern beside him. He was a robbed, parched, fevered, and amazed traveller. The Queen’s Highness, compassionating, had bidden bear him to the castle and comfort and cure him, not having looked upon his face or heard his tongue. For, for sure then, she had let him die where he was; since, no sooner were these four, his new bearers, nearly come up among the knee-deep heather, than this man had started up, his eyes upon the Queen’s cavalcade and many at a distance. And, with his sword drawn and screaming, he had cried out that, if that was the Queen, he was the Queen’s cousin. They had tripped up his heels in a bed of ling and quieted him with a clout on the poll from an axe end.
‘But now we have him here,’ the eldest said; ‘where we shall bestow him we know not.’
Lascelles had his eyes upon the sick man’s face as if it fascinated him, and, slowly, he got down from his horse. Culpepper then lay very still with his eyes closed, but his breast heaved as though against tight and strong ropes that bound him.
‘I think I do know this gentleman for one John Robb,’ he said. ‘Are you very certain the Queen’s Highness did not know his face?’
‘Why, she came not ever within a quarter mile of him,’ the bearer said.
‘Then it is a great charity of the Queen to show mercy to a man she hath never seen,’ Lascelles answered absently. He was closely casting his eyes over Culpepper. Culpepper lay very still, his begrimed face to the sky, his hands abroad above his head. But when Lascelles bent over him it was as if he shuddered, and then he wept.
Lascelles bent down, his hands upon his knees. He was afraid — he was very afraid. Thomas Culpepper, the Queen’s cousin, he had never seen in his life. But he had heard it reported that he had red hair and beard, and went always dressed in green with stockings of red. And this man’s hair was red, and his beard, beneath coal grime, was a curly red, and his coat, beneath a crust of black filth, was Lincoln green and of a good cloth. And, beneath the black, his stockings were of red silk. He reflected slowly, whilst the bearers laughed amongst themselves at this Queen’s kinsman in rags and filth.
Lascelles gave them his bottle of sack to drink empty among them, that he might have the longer time to think.
If this were indeed the Queen’s cousin, come unknown to the Queen and mazed and muddled in himself to Pontefract, what might not Lascelles make of him? For all the world knew that he loved her with a mad love — he had sold farms to buy her gowns. It was he that had brought her to Court, upon an ass, at Greenwich, when her mule — as all men knew — had stumbled upon the threshold. Once before, it was said, Culpepper had burst in with his sword drawn upon the King and Kate Howard when they sat together. And Lascelles trembled with eagerness at the thought of what use he might not make of this mad and insolent lover of the Queen’s!
But did he dare?
Culpepper had been sent into Scotland to secure him up, away at the farthest limits of the realm. Then, if he was come back? This grime was the grime of a sea-coal ship! He knew that men without passports, outlaws and the like, escaped from Scotland on the Durham ships that went to Leith with coal. And this man came on the Durham road. Then. . . .
If it were Culpepper he had come unpermitted. He was an outlaw. Dare Lascelles have trade with — dare he harbour — an outlaw? It would be unbeknown to the Queen’s Highness! He kicked his heels with impatience to come to a resolution.
He reflected swiftly:
What hitherto he had were: some tales spread abroad about the Queen’s lewd Court — tales in London Town. He had, too, the keeper of the Queen’s door bribed and talked into his service and interest. And he had his sister. . . .
His sister would, with threatening, tell tales of the Queen before marriage. And she would find him other maids and grooms, some no doubt more willing still than Mary Hall. But the keeper of the Queen’s door! And, in addition, the Queen’s cousin mad of love for her! What might he not do with these two?
The prickly sweat came to his forehead. Four horsemen were issuing from the gate of the castle above. He must come to a decision. His fingers trembled as if they were a pickpocket’s near a purse of gold.
He straightened his back and stood erect.
‘Yes,’ he said very calmly, ‘this is my friend John Robb.’
He added that this man had been in Edinburgh where the Queen’s cousin was. He had had letters from him that told how they were sib and rib. Thus this fancy had doubtless come into his brain at sight of the Queen in his madness.
He breathed calmly, having got out these words, for now the doubt was ended. He would have both the Queen’s door-keeper and the Queen’s mad lover.
He bade the bearers set Culpepper upon his horse and, supporting him, lead him to a room that he would hire of the Archbishop’s chamberlain, near his own in the dark entrails of the castle. And there John Robb should live at his expenses.
And when the men protested that, though this was very Christian of Lascelles, yet they would have recompense of the Queen for their toils, he said that he himself would give them a crown apiece, and they might get in addition what recompense from the Queen’s steward that they could. He asked them each their names and wrote them down, pretending that it was that he might send each man his crown piece.
So, when the four horsemen were ridden past, the men hoisted Culpepper into Lascelles’ horse and went all together up into the castle.
But, that night, when Culpepper lay in a stupor, Lascelles went to the Archbishop’s chamberlain and begged that four men, whose names he had written down, might be chosen to go in the Archbishop’s paritor’s guard that went next dawn to Ireland over the sea to bring back tithes from Dublin. And, next day, he had Culpepper moved to another room; and, in three days’ time, he set it about in the castle that the Queen’s cousin was come from Scotland. By that time most of the liquor had come down out of Culpepper’s brain, but he was still muddled and raved at times.
On that third night the Queen was with the Lady Mary, once more in her chamber, having come down as before, from the chapel in the roof, to pray her submit to her father’s will. Mary had withstood her with a more good-humoured irony; and, whilst she was in the midst of her pleadings, a letter marked most pressing was brought to her. The Queen opened it, and raised her eyebrows; she looked down at the subscription and frowned. Then she cast it upon the table.
‘Shall there never be an end of old things?’ she said.
‘Even what old things?’ the Lady Mary asked.
The Queen shrugged her shoulders.
‘It was not they I came to talk of,’ she said. ‘I would sleep early, for the King comes tomorrow and I have much to plead with you.’
‘I am weary of your pleadings,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘You have pleaded enow. If you would be fresh for the King, be first fresh for me. Start a new hare.’
The Queen would have gainsaid her.
‘I have said you have pleaded enow,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘And you have pleaded enow. This no more amuses me. I will wager I guess from whom your letter was.’
Reluctantly the Queen held her peace; that day she had read in many ancient books, as well profane as of the Fathers of the Church, and she had many things to say, and they were near her lips and warm in her heart. She was much minded to have good news to give the King against his coming on the morrow; the great good news that should set up in that realm once more abbeys and chapters and the love of God. But she could not press these sayings upon the girl, though she pleaded still with her blue eyes.
‘Your letter is from Sir Nicholas Throckmorton,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘Even let me read it.’
‘You did know that that knight was come to Court again?’ the Queen said.
‘Aye; and that you would not see him, but like a fool did bid him depart again.’
‘You will ever be calling me a fool,’ Katharine retorted, ‘for giving ear to my conscience and hating spies and the suborners of false evidence.’
‘Why,’ the Lady Mary answered, ‘I do call it a folly to refuse to give ear to the tale of a man who has ridden far and fast, and at the risk of a penalty to tell it you.’
‘Why,’ Katharine said, ‘if I did forbid his coming to the Court under a penalty, it was because I would not have him here.’
‘Yet he much loved you, and did you some service.’
‘He did me a service of lies,’ the Queen said, and she was angry. ‘I would not have had him serve me. By his false witness Cromwell was cast down to make way for me. But I had rather have cast down Cromwell by the truth which is from God. Or I had rather he had never been cast down. And that I swear.’
‘Well, you are a fool,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘Let me look upon this knight’s letter.’
‘I have not read it,’ Katharine said.
‘Then will I,’ the Lady Mary answered. She made across the room to where the paper lay upon the table beside the great globe of the earth. She came back; she turned her round to the Queen; she made her a deep reverence, so that her black gown spread out stiffly around her, and, keeping her eyes ironically on Katharine’s face, she mounted backward up to the chair that was beneath the dais.
Katharine put her hand over her heart.
‘What mean you?’ she said. ‘You have never sat there before.’
‘That is not true,’ the Lady Mary said harshly. ‘For this last three days I have practised how, thus backward, I might climb to this chair and, thus seemly, sit in it.’
‘Even then?’ Katharine asked.
‘Even then I will be asked no more questions,’ her step-daughter answered. ‘This signifieth that I ha’ heard enow o’ thy voice, Queen.’
Katharine did not dare to speak, for she knew well this girl’s tyrannous and capricious nature. But she was nearly faint with emotion and reached sideways for the chair at the table; there she sat and gazed at the girl beneath the dais, her lips parted, her body leaning forward.
Mary spread out the great sheet of Throckmorton’s parchment letter upon her black knees. She bent forward so that the light from the mantel at the room-end might fall upon the writing.
‘It seemeth,’ she said ironically,‘that one descrieth better at the humble end of the room than here on high’— and she read whilst the Queen panted.
At last she raised her eyes and bent them darkly upon the Queen’s face.
‘Will you do what this knight asks?’ she uttered. ‘For what he asks seemeth prudent.’
‘A’ God’s name,’ Katharine said, ‘let me not now hear of this man.’
‘Why,’ the Lady Mary answered coolly, ‘if I am to be of the Queen’s alliance I must be of the Queen’s council and my voice have a weight.’
‘But will you? Will you?’ Katharine brought out.
‘Will you listen to my voice?’ Mary said. ‘I will not listen to yours. Hear now what this goodly knight saith. For, if I am to be your well-wisher, I must call him goodly that so well wishes to you.’
Katharine wrung her hands.
‘Ye torture me,’ she said.
‘Well, I have been tortured,’ Mary answered, ‘and I have come through it and live.’
She swallowed in her throat, and thus, with her eyes upon the writing, brought out the words —
‘This knight bids you beware of one Mary Lascelles or Hall, and her brother, Edward Lascelles, that is of the Archbishop’s service.’
‘I will not hear what Throckmorton says,’ Katharine answered.
‘Ay, but you shall,’ Mary said, ‘or I come down from this chair. I am not minded to be allied to a Queen that shall be undone. That is not prudence.’
‘God help me!’ the Queen said.
‘God helps most willingly them that take counsel with themselves and prudence,’ her step-daughter answered; ‘and these are the words of the knight.’ She held up the parchment and read out:
‘“Therefore I— and you know how much your well-wisher I be-upon my bended knees do pray you do one of two things: either to put out both these twain from your courts and presence, or if that you cannot or will not do, so richly to reward them as that you shall win them to your service. For a little rotten fruit will spread a great stink; a small ferment shall pollute a whole well. And these twain, I am advised, assured, convinced, and have convicted them, will spread such a rotten fog and mist about your reputation and so turn even your good and gracious actions to evil seeming that — I swear and vow, O most high Sovereign, for whom I have risked, as you wot, life, limb and the fell rack ——”’
The Lady Mary looked up at the Queen’s face.
‘Will you not listen to the pleadings of this man?’ she said.
‘I will so reward Lascelles and his sister as they have merited.’ the Queen said. ‘So much and no more. And not all the pleadings of this knight shall move me to listen to any witness that he brings against any man nor maid. So help me, God; for I do know how he served his master Cromwell.’
‘For love of thee!’ the Lady Mary said.
The Queen wrung her hands as if she would wash a stain from them.
‘God help me!’ she said. ‘I prayed the King for the life of Privy Seal that was!’
‘He would not hear thee,’ the Lady Mary said. She looked long upon the Queen’s face with unmoved and searching eyes.
‘It is a new thing to me,’ she said,‘to hear that you prayed for Privy Seal’s life.’
‘Well, I prayed,’ Katharine said, ‘for I did not think he worked treason against the King.’
The Lady Mary straightened her back where she sat.
‘I think I will not show myself less queenly than you,’ she said. ‘For I be of a royal race. But hear this knight.’
And again she read:
‘“I have it from the lips of the cornet that came with this Lascelles to fetch this Mary Lascelles or Hall: I, Throckmorton, a knight, swear that I heard with mine own ears, how for ever as they rode, this Lascelles plied this cornet with questions about your high self. As thus: ‘Did you favour any gentleman when you rode out, the cornet being of your guard?’ or, ‘Had he heard a tale of one Pelham, a knight, of whom you should have taken a kerchief?’— and this, that and the other, for ever, till the cornet spewed at the hearing of him. Now, gracious and most high Sovereign Consort, what is it that this man seeketh?”’
Again the Lady Mary paused to look at the Queen.
‘Why,’ Katharine said, ‘so mine enemies will talk of me. I had been the fool you styled me if I had not awaited it. But ——’ and she drew up her body highly. ‘My life is such and such shall be that none such arrow shall pierce my corslet.’
‘God help you,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘What has your life to do with it, if you will not cut out the tongues of slanderers?’
She laughed mirthlessly, and added —
‘Now this knight concludes — and it is as if he writhed his hands and knelt and whined and kissed your feet — he concludeth with a prayer that you will let him come again to the Court. “For,” says he, “I will clean your vessels, serve you at table, scrape the sweat off your horse, or do all that is vilest. But suffer me to come that I may know and report to you what there is whispered in these jail places.”’
Katharine Howard said —
‘I had rather borrow Pelham’s kerchief.’
The Lady Mary dropped the parchment on to the floor at her side.
‘I rede you do as this knight wills,’ she said; ‘for, amidst the little sticklers of spies that are here, this knight, this emperor of spies, moves as a pillow of shadow. He stalks amongst them as, in the night, the dread and awful lion of Numidia. He shall be to you more a corslet of proof than all the virtue that your life may borrow from the precepts of Diana. We, that are royal and sit in high places, have our feet in such mire.’
‘Now before God on His throne,’ Katharine Howard said, ‘if you be of royal blood, I will teach you a lesson. For hear me ——’
‘No, I will hear thee no more,’ the Lady Mary answered; ‘I will teach thee. For thou art not the only one in this land to be proud. I will show thee such a pride as shall make thee blush.’
She stood up and came slowly down the steps of the dais. She squared back her shoulders and folded her hands before her; she erected her head, and her eyes were dark. When she was come to where the Queen sat, she kneeled down.
‘I acknowledge thee to be my mother,’ she said, ‘that have married the King, my father. I pray you that you do take me by the hand and set me in that seat that you did raise for me. I pray you that you do style me a princess, royal again in this land. And I pray you to lesson me and teach me that which you would have me do as well as that which it befits me to do. Take me by the hand.’
‘Nay, it is my lord that should do this,’ the Queen whispered. Before that she had started to her feet; her face had a flush of joy; her eyes shone with her transparent faith. She brushed back a strand of hair from her brow; she folded her hands on her breasts and raised her glance upwards to seek the dwelling-place of Almighty God and the saints in their glorious array.
‘It is my lord should do this!’ she said again.
‘Speak no more words,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘I have heard enow of thy pleadings. You have heard me say that.’
She continued upon her knees.
‘It is thou or none!’ she said. ‘It is thou or none shall witness this my humiliation and my pride. Take me by the hand. My patience will not last for ever.’
The Queen set her hand between the girl’s. She raised her to her feet.
When the Lady Mary stood high and shadowy, in black, with her white face beneath that dais, she looked down upon the Queen.
‘Now, hear me!’ she said. ‘In this I have been humble to you; but I have been most proud. For I have in my veins a greater blood than thine or the King’s, my father’s. For, inasmuch as Tudor blood is above Howard’s, so my mother’s, that was royal of Spain, is above Tudor’s. And this it is to be royal ——
‘I have had you, a Queen, kneel before me. It is royal to receive petitions — more royal still it is to grant them. And in this, further, I am more proud. For, hearing you say that you had prayed the King for Cromwell’s life, I thought, this is a virtue-mad Queen. She shall most likely fall! — Prudence biddeth me not to be of her party. But shall I, who am royal, be prudent? Shall I, who am of the house of Aragon, be more afraid than thou, a Howard?
‘I tell you — No! If you will be undone for the sake of virtue, blindly, and like a fool, unknowing the consequences, I, Mary of Aragon and England, will make alliance with thee, knowing that the alliance is dangerous. And, since it is more valiant to go to a doom knowingly than blindfold, so I do show myself more valiant than thou. For well I know — since I saw my mother die — that virtue is a thing profitless, and impracticable in this world. But you — you think it shall set up temporal monarchies and rule peoples. Therefore, what you do you do for profit. I do it for none.’
‘Now, by the Mother of God,’ Katharine Howard said, ‘this is the gladdest day of my life.’
‘Pray you,’ Mary said, ‘get you gone from my sight and hearing, for I endure ill the appearance and sound of joy. And, Queen, again I bid you beware of calling any day fortunate till its close. For, before midnight you may be ruined utterly. I have known more Queens than thou. Thou art the fifth I have known.’
She added —
‘For the rest, what you will I will do: submission to the King and such cozening as he will ask of me. God keep you, for you stand in need of it.’
At supper that night there sat all such knights and lordlings as ate at the King’s expense in the great hall that was in the midmost of the castle, looking on to the courtyard. There were not such a many of them, maybe forty; from the keeper of the Queen’s records, the Lord d’Espahn, who sat at the table head, down to the lowest of all, the young Poins, who sat far below the salt-cellar. The greater lords of the Queen’s household, like the Lord Dacre of the North, did not eat at this common table, or only when the Queen herself there ate, which she did at midday when there was a feast.
Nevertheless, this eating was conducted with gravity, the Lord d’Espahn keeping a vigilant eye down the table, which was laid with a fair white cloth. It cost a man a fine to be drunk before the white meats were eaten — unless, indeed, a man came drunk to the board — and the salt-cellar of state stood a-midmost of the cloth. It was of silver from Holland, and represented a globe of the earth, opened at the top, and supported by knights’ bannerets.
The hall was all of stone, with creamy walls, only marked above the iron torch-holds with brandons of soot. A scutcheon of the King’s arms was above one end-door, with the Queen’s above the other. Over each window were notable deers’ antlers, and over each side-door, that let in the servers from the courtyard, was a scutcheon with the arms of a king deceased that had visited the castle. The roof was all gilded and coloured, and showed knaves’ faces leering and winking, so that when a man was in drink, and looked upwards with his head on his chair back, these appeared to have life. The hall was called the Dacre Hall, because the Lords Dacre of the North had built it to be an offering to various kings that died whilst it was a-building.
Such knights as had pages had them behind their chairs, holding napkins and ready to fill the horns with wine or beer. From kitchens or from buttery-hatches the servers ran continually across the courtyard and across the tiled floor, for the table was set back against the farther wall, all the knights being on the wall side, since there were not so many, and thus it was easier to come to them. There was a great clatter with the knives going and the feet on the tiles, but little conversing, for in that keen air eating was the principal thing, and in five minutes a boar or a sheep’s head would be stripped till the skull alone was shown.
It was in this manner that Thomas Culpepper came into the hall when they were all well set to, without having many eyes upon him. But the Lord d’Espahn was aware, suddenly, of one that stood beside him.
‘Gentleman, will you have a seat?’ he said. ‘Tell me your name and estate, that I may appoint you one.’ He was a grave lord, with a pointed nose, dented at the end, a grey, square beard, and fresh colours on his face. He wore his bonnet because he was the highest there, and because there were currents of air at the openings of the doors.
Thomas Culpepper’s face was of a chalky white. Somewhere Lascelles had found for him a suit of green and red stockings. His red beard framed his face, but his lips were pursed.
‘Your seat I will have,’ he said, ‘for I am the Queen’s cousin, T. Culpepper.’
The Lord d’Espahn looked down upon his platter.
‘You may not have my seat,’ he said. ‘But you shall have this seat at my right hand that is empty. It is a very honourable seat, but mine you may not have for it is the Queen’s own that I hold, being her vicar here.’
‘Your seat I will have,’ Culpepper said.
The Lord d’Espahn was set upon keeping order and quiet in that place more than on any other thing. He looked again down upon his platter, and then he was aware of a voice that whispered in his ear —
‘A’ God’s name, humour him, for he is very mad,’ and, turning his eyes a little, he saw that it was Lascelles above his chair head.
‘Your seat I will have,’ Culpepper said again. ‘And this fellow, that tells me he is the most potent lord there is here, shall serve behind my chair.’
The Lord d’Espahn took up his knife and fork in one hand and his manchet of bread in the other. He made as if to bow to Culpepper, who pushed him by the shoulder away. Some lordlings saw this and wondered, but in the noise none heard their words. At the foot of the table the squires said that the Lord d’Espahn must have been found out in a treason. Only the young Poins said that that was the Queen’s cousin, come from Scotland, withouten leave, for love of the Queen through whom he was sick in the wits. This news ran through the castle by means of servers, cooks, undercooks, scullions, maids, tiring-maids, and maids of honour, more swiftly than it progressed up the table where men had the meats to keep their minds upon.
Culpepper sat, flung back in his chair, his eyes, lacklustre and open, upon the cloth where his hands sprawled out. He said few words — only when the Lord d’Espahn’s server carved boar’s head for him, he took one piece in his mouth and then threw the plate full into the server’s face. This caused great offence amongst the serving-men, for this server was a portly fellow that had served the Lord d’Espahn many years, and had a face like a ram’s, so grave it was. Having drunk a little of his wine, Culpepper turned out the rest upon the cloth; his salt he brushed off his plate with his sleeve. That was remembered for long afterwards by many men and women. And it was as if he could not swallow, for he put down neither meat nor drink, but sat, deadly and pale, so that some said that he was rabid. Once he turned his head to ask the Lord d’Espahn —
‘If a quean prove forsworn, and turn to a Queen, what should her true love do?’
The Lord d’Espahn never made any answer, but wagged his beard from side to side, and Culpepper repeated his question three separate times. Finally, the platters were raised, and the Lord d’Espahn went away to the sound of trumpets. Many of the lords there came peering round Culpepper to see what sport he might yield. Lascelles went away, following the scarlet figure of the young Poins, working his hand into the boy’s arm and whispering to him. The servers and disservers went to their work of clearing the board.
But Culpepper sat there without word or motion, so that none of those lords had any sport out of him. Some of them went away to roast pippins at the Widow Amnot’s, some to speak with the alchemist that, on the roof, watched the stars. So one and the other left the room; the torches burned out, most of them, and, save for two lords of the Archbishop’s following, who said boldly that they would watch and care for this man, because he was the Queen’s cousin, and there might be advancement in it, Culpepper was left alone.
His sword he had not with him, but he had his dagger, and, just as he drew it, appearing about to stab himself in the heart, there ran across the hall the black figure of Lascelles, so that he appeared to have been watching through a window, and the two lords threw themselves upon Culpepper’s arm. And all three began to tell him that there was better work for him to do than that of stabbing himself; and Lascelles brought with him a flagon of aqua vitæ from Holland, and poured out a little for Culpepper to drink. And one of the lords said that his room was up in the gallery near the Queen’s, and, if Culpepper would go with him there, they might make good cheer. Only he must be silent in the going thither; afterwards it would not so much matter, for they would be past the guards. So, linking their arms in his, they wound up and across the courtyard, where the torchmen that waited on their company of diners to light them, blessed God that the sitting was over, and beat their torches out against the ground.
In the shadow of the high walls, and some in the moonlight, the serving-men held their parliament. They discoursed of these things, and some said that it was a great pity that T. Culpepper was come to Court. For he was an idle braggart, and where he was disorder grew, and that was a pity, since the Queen had made the Court orderly, and servants were little beaten. But some said that like sire was like child, and that great disorders there were in the Court, but quiet ones, and the Queen the centre. But these were mostly the cleaners of dishes and the women that swept rooms and spread new rushes. Upon the whole, the cooks blessed the Queen, along with all them that had to do with feeding and the kitchens. They thanked God for her because she had brought back the old fasts. For, as they argued, your fast brings honours to cooks, since, after a meagre day, your lord cometh to his trencher with a better appetite, and then is your cook commended. The Archbishop’s cooks were the hottest in this contention, for they had the most reason to know. The stablemen, palfreniers, and falconers’ mates were, most part of them, politicians more than the others, and these wondered to have seen, through their peep-holes and door-cracks, the Queen’s cousin go away with these lords that were of the contrary party. Some said that T. Culpepper was her emissary to win them over to her interests, and some, that always cousins, uncles, and kin were the bitterest foes a Queen had, as witness the case of Queen Anne Boleyn and the Yellow Dog of Norfolk who had worked to ruin her. And some said it was marvellous that there they could sit or stand and talk of such things — for a year or so ago all the Court was spies, so that the haymen mistrusted them that forked down the straw, and meat-servers them with the wine. But now each man could talk as he would, and it made greatly for fellowship when a man could sit against a wall, unbutton in the warm nights, and say what he listed.
The light of the great fires grew dull in the line of kitchen windows; sweethearting couples came in through the great gateway from the grass-slopes beneath the castle walls. There was a little bustle when four horsemen rode in to say that the King’s Highness was but nine miles from the castle, and torchmen must be there to light him in towards midnight. But the Queen should not be told for her greater pleasure and surprise. Then all these servingmen stood up and shook themselves, and said —‘To bed.’ For, on the morrow, with the King back, there would surely be great doings and hard work. And to mews and kennels and huts, in the straw and beds of rushes, these men betook themselves. The young lords came back laughing from Widow Amnot’s at the castle foot; there was not any light to be seen save one in all that courtyard full of windows. The King’s torchmen slumbered in the guard-room where they awaited his approach. Darkness, silence, and deep shadow lay everywhere, though overhead the sky was pale with moonlight, and, from high in the air, the thin and silvery tones of the watchman’s horn on the roof filtered down at the quarter hours. A drowsy bell marked the hours, and the cries and drillings of the night birds vibrated from very high.
Coming very late to her bedroom the Queen found awaiting her her tiring-maid, Mary Trelyon, whom she had advanced into the post that Margot Poins had held, and the old Lady Rochford.
‘Why,’ she said to her maid, ‘when you have unlaced me you may go, or you will not love my service that keeps you so late.’
Mary Trelyon cast her eyes on the ground, and said that it was such pleasure to attend her mistress, that not willingly would she give up that discoiffing, undoing of hair, and all the rest, for long she had desired to have the handling of these precious things and costly garments.
‘No, you shall get you gone,’ the Queen said, ‘for I will not have you, sweetheart, be red-lidded in the morning with this long watching, for tomorrow the King comes, and I will have him see my women comely and fair, though in your love you will not care for yourselves.’
Standing before her mirror, where there burned in silver dishes four tall candles with perfumed wicks, Katharine offered her back to the loosening fingers of this girl.
‘I would not have you to think,’ she said, ‘that I am always thus late and a gadabout. But this day’— the Queen’s eyes sparkled, and her cheeks were red with exaltation —‘this day and this night are one that shall be marked with red stones in the calendar of England, and late have I travailed so to make them be.’
The girl was very black-avised, and her face beneath her grey hood — for the Queen’s maids were all in grey, with crowned roses, the device that the King had given her at their wedding, worked in red silk on each shoulder — her face beneath her grey hood was the clear shape of the thin end of an egg. She worked at the unlacing of the Queen’s gown, so that she at last must kneel down to it.
Having finished, she remained upon her knees, but she twisted her fingers in her skirt as if she were bashful, yet her face was perturbed with red flushes on the dark cheeks.
The Queen, feeling that she knelt there upon her loosened gown and did not get her gone, said —
‘Please you let me stay,’ the girl said; but Katharine answered —
‘I would commune with my own thoughts.’
‘Please you hear me,’ the girl said, and she was very earnest; but the Queen answered —
‘Why, no! If you have any boon to ask of me, you know very well that tomorrow at eleven is the hour for asking. Now, I will sit still with the silence. Bring me my chair to the table. The Lady Rochford shall put out my lights when I be abed.’
The girl stood up and rolled, with a trick of appeal, her eyes to the old Lady Rochford. This lady, all in grey too, but with a great white hood because she was a widow, sat back upon the foot of the great bed. Her face was perturbed, but it had been always perturbed since her cousin, the Queen Anne Boleyn, had fallen by the axe. She put a gouty and swollen finger to her lips, and the girl shrugged her shoulders with a passion of despair, for she was very hot-tempered, and it was as if mutinously that she fetched the Queen her chair and set it behind her where she stood before the mirror taking off her breast jewel from its chain. And again the girl shrugged her shoulders. Then she went to the little wall-door that corkscrewed down into the courtyard through the thick of the wall. Immediately after she was gone they heard the lockguard that awaited her without set on the great padlock without the door. Then his feet clanked down the stairway, he being heavily loaded with weighty keys. It was the doors along the corridor that the young Poins guarded, and these were never opened once the Queen was in her room, save by the King. The Lady Rochford slept in the anteroom upon a truckle-bed, and the great withdrawing-room was empty.
It was very still in the Queen’s room and most shadowy, except before the mirror where the candle flames streamed upwards. The pillars of the great bed were twisted out of dark wood; the hangings of bed and walls were all of a dark blue arras, and the bedspread was of a dark red velvet worked in gold with pomegranates and pomegranate leaves. Only the pillows and the turnover of the sheets were of white linen-lawn, and the bed curtains nearly hid them with shadows. Where the Queen sat there was light like that of an altar in a dim chapel, for the room was so huge.
She sat before her glass, silently taking off her golden things. She took the jewel off the chain round her neck and laid it in a casket of gold and ivory. She took the rings off her fingers and hung them on the lance of a little knight in silver. She took off her waist where it hung to a brooch of feridets, her pomander of enamel and gold; she opened it and marked the time by the watch studded with sable diamonds that it held.
‘Past eleven,’ she said, ‘if my watch goes right.’
‘Indeed it is past eleven,’ the Lady Rochford sighed behind her.
The Queen sat forward in her chair, looking deep into the shadows of her mirror. A great relaxation was in all her limbs, for she was very tired, so that though she was minded to let down her hair she did not begin to undo her coif, and though she desired to think, she had no thoughts. From far away there came a muffled sound as if a door had been roughly closed, and the Lady Rochford shot out a little sound between a scream and a sigh.
‘Why, you are very affrighted,’ the Queen said. ‘One would think you feared robbers; but my guards are too good.’
She began to unloosen from her hood her jewel, which was a rose fashioned out of pink shell work set with huge dewdrops of diamonds and crowned with a little crown of gold.
‘God knows,’ she said, ‘I ha’ trinkets enow for robbers. It takes me too long to undo them. I would the King did not so load me.’
‘Your Highness is too humble for a Queen,’ the old Lady Rochford grumbled. ‘Let me aid you, since the maid is gone. I would not have you speak your maids so humbly. My Cousin Anne that was the Queen ——’
She came stiffly and heavily forward from the bed with her hands out to discoif her lady; but the Queen turned her head, caught at her fat hand, put it against her cheek and fondled it.
‘I would have your Highness feared by all,’ the old lady said.
‘I would have myself by all beloved,’ Katharine answered. ‘What, am I to play the Queen and Highness to such serving-maids as I was once the fellow and companion to?’
‘Your Highness should not have sent the wench away,’ the old woman said.
‘Well, you have taken on a very sour voice,’ the Queen said. ‘I will study to pleasure you more. Get you now back and rest you, for I know you stand uneasily, and you shall not uncoif me.’
She began to unpin her coif, laying the golden pins in the silver candle-dishes. When her hair was thus set free of a covering, though it was smoothly braided and parted over her forehead, yet it was lightly rebellious, so that little mists of it caught the light, golden and rejoiceful. Her face was serious, her nose a little peaked, her lips rested lightly together, and her blue eyes steadily challenged their counterparts in the mirror with an assured and gentle glance.
‘Why,’ she said, ‘I believe you have the right of it — but for a queen I must be the same make of queen that I am as a woman. A queen gracious rather than a queen regnant; a queen to grant petitions rather than one to brush aside the petitioners.’
She stopped and mused.
‘Yet,’ she said, ‘you will do me the justice to say that in the open and in the light of day, when men are by or the King’s presence demands it, I do ape as well as I may the painted queens of galleries and the stately ladies that are to be seen in pictured books.’
‘I would not have had you send away the maid,’ the old Lady Rochford said.
‘God help me,’ the Queen answered. ‘I stayed her petition till the morrow. Is that not queening it enough?’
The Lady Rochford suddenly wrung her hands.
‘I had rather,’ she said, ‘you had heard her and let her stay. Here there are not people enough to guard you. You should have many scores of people. This is a dreary place.’
‘Heaven help me,’ the Queen said. ‘If I were such a queen as to be affrighted, you would affright me. Tell me of your cousin that was a sinful queen.’
The Lady Rochford raised her hands lamentably and bleated out —
‘Ah God, not to-night!’
‘You have been ready enough on other nights,’ the Queen said. And, indeed, it was so much the practice of this lady to talk always of her cousin, whose death had affrighted her, that often the Queen had begged her to cease. But to-night she was willing to hear, for she felt afraid of no omens, and, being joyful, was full of pity for the dead unfortunate. She began with slow, long motions to withdraw the great pins from her hair. The deep silence settled down again, and she hummed the melancholy and stately tune that goes with the words —
’When all the little hills are hid in snow,
And all the small brown birds by frost are slain,
And sad and slow
The silly sheep do go,
All seeking shelter to and fro —
Come once again
To these familiar, silent, misty lands ——‘
‘Aye,’ she said; ‘to these ancient and familiar lands of the dear saints, please God, when the winter snows are upon them, once again shall come the feet of God’s messenger, for this is the joyfullest day this land hath known since my namesake was cast down and died.’
Suddenly there were muffled cries from beyond the thick door in the corridor, and on the door itself resounding blows. The Lady Rochford gave out great shrieks, more than her feeble body could have been deemed to hold.
‘Body of God!’ the Queen said, ‘what is this?’
‘Your cousin!’ the Lady Rochford cried out. She came running to the Queen, who, in standing up, had overset her heavy chair, and, falling to her knees, she babbled out —‘Your cousin! Oh, let it not all come again. Call your guard. Let it not all come again’; and she clawed into the Queen’s skirt, uttering incomprehensible clamours.
‘What? What? What?’ Katharine said.
‘He was with the Archbishop. Your cousin with the Archbishop. I heard it. I sent to stay him if it were so’; and the old woman’s teeth crackled within her jaws. ‘O God, it is come again!’ she cried.
The door flung open heavily, but slowly, because it was so heavy. And, in the archway, whilst a great scream from the old woman wailed out down the corridors, Katharine was aware of a man in scarlet, locked in a struggle with a raging swirl of green manhood. The man in scarlet fell back, and then, crying out, ran away. The man in green, his bonnet off, his red hair sticking all up, his face pallid, and his eyes staring like those of a sleep-walker, entered the room. In his right hand he had a dagger. He walked very slowly.
The Queen thought fast: the old Lady Rochford had her mouth open; her eyes were upon the dagger in Culpepper’s hand.
‘I seek the Queen,’ he said, but his eyes were lacklustre; they fell upon Katharine’s face as if they had no recognition, or could not see. She turned her body round to the old Lady Rochford, bending from the hips so as not to move her feet. She set her fingers upon her lips.
‘I seek — I seek ——’ he said, and always he came closer to her. His eyes were upon her face, and the lids moved.
‘I seek the Queen,’ he said, and beneath his husky voice there were bass notes of quivering anger, as if, just as he had been by chance calmed by throwing down the guard, so by chance his anger might arise again.
The Queen never moved, but stood up full and fair; one strand of her hair, loosened, fell low over her left ear. When he was so close to her that his protruded hips touched her skirt, she stole her hand slowly round him till it closed upon his wrist above the dagger. His mouth opened, his eyes distended.
‘I seek ——’ he said, and then —‘Kat!’ as if the touch of her cool and firm fingers rather than the sight of her had told to his bruised senses who she was.
‘Get you gone!’ she said. ‘Give me your dagger.’ She uttered each word roundly and fully as if she were pondering the next move over a chequer-board.
‘Well, I will kill the Queen,’ he said. ‘How may I do it without my knife?’
‘Get you gone!’ she said again. ‘I will direct you to the Queen.’
He passed the back of his left hand wearily over his brow.
‘Well, I have found thee, Kat!’ he said.
She answered: ‘Aye!’ and her fingers twined round his on the hilt of the dagger, so that his were loosening.
Then the old Lady Rochford screamed out —
‘Ha! God’s mercy! Guards, swords, come!’ The furious blood came into Culpepper’s face at the sound. His hand he tore from Katharine’s, and with the dagger raised on high he ran back from her and then forward towards the Lady Rochford. With an old trick of fence, that she had learned when she was a child, Katharine Howard set out her foot before him, and, with the speed of his momentum, he pitched over forward. He fell upon his face so that his forehead was upon the Lady Rochford’s right foot. His dagger he still grasped, but he lay prone with the drink and the fever.
‘Now, by God in His mercy,’ Katharine said to her, ‘as I am the Queen I charge you ——’
‘Take his knife and stab him to the heart!’ the Lady Rochford cried out. ‘This will slay us two.’
‘I charge you that you listen to me,’ the Queen said, ‘or, by God, I will have you in chains!’
‘I will call your many,’ the Lady Rochford cried out, for terror had stopped up the way from her ears to her brain, and she made towards the door. But Katharine set her hand to the old woman’s shoulder.
‘Call no man,’ she commanded. ‘This is a device of mine enemies to have men see this of me.’
‘I will not stay here to be slain,’ the old woman said.
‘Then mine own self will slay you,’ the Queen answered. Culpepper moved in his stupor. ‘Before Heaven,’ the Queen said, ‘stay you there, and he shall not again stand up.’
‘I will go call ——’ the old woman besought her, and again Culpepper moved. The Queen stood right up against her; her breast heaved, her face was rigid. Suddenly she turned and ran to the door. That key she wrenched round and out, and then to the other door beside it, and that key too she wrenched round and out.
‘I will not stay alone with my cousin,’ she said, ‘for that is what mine enemies would have. And this I vow, that if again you squeak I will have you tried as being an abettor of this treason.’ She went and knelt down at her cousin’s head; she moved his face round till it was upon her lap.
‘Poor Tom,’ she said; he opened his eyes and muttered stupid words.
She looked again at Lady Rochford.
‘All this is nothing,’ she said, ‘if you will hide in the shadow of the bed and keep still. I have seen my cousin a hundred times thus muddied with drink, and do not fear him. He shall not stand up till he is ready to go through the door; but I will not be alone with him and tend him.’
The Lady Rochford waddled and quaked like a jelly to the shadow of the bed curtains. She pulled back the curtain over the window, and, as if the contact with the world without would help her, threw back the casement. Below, in the black night, a row of torches shook and trembled, like little planets, in the distance.
Katharine Howard held her cousin’s head upon her knees. She had seen him thus a hundred times and had no fear of him. For thus in his cups, and fevered as he was with ague that he had had since a child, he was always amenable to her voice though all else in the world enraged him. So that, if she could keep the Lady Rochford still, she might well win him out through the door at which he came in.
And, first, when he moved to come to his knees, she whispered —
‘Lie down, lie down,’ and he set one elbow on to the carpet and lay over on his side, then on his back. She took his head again on to her lap, and with soft motions reached to take the dagger from his hand. He yielded it up and gazed upwards into her face.
‘Kat!’ he said, and she answered —
There came from very far the sound of a horn.
‘When you can stand,’ she said, ‘you must get you gone.’
‘I have sold farms to get you gowns,’ he answered.
‘And then we came to Court,’ she said, ‘to grow great.’
He passed his left hand once more over his eyes with a gesture of ineffable weariness, but his other arm that was extended, she knelt upon.
‘Now we are great,’ she said.
He muttered, ‘I wooed thee in an apple orchard. Let us go back to Lincolnshire.’
‘Why, we will talk of it in the morning,’ she said. ‘It is very late.’
Her brain throbbed with the pulsing blood. She was set to get him gone before the young Poins could call men to her door. It was maddeningly strange to think that none hitherto had come. Maybe Culpepper had struck him dead with his knife, or he lay without fainting. This black enigma, calling for haste that she dare not show, filled all the shadows of that shadowy room.
‘It is very late,’ she said, ‘you must get you gone. It was compacted between us that ever you would get you gone early.’
‘Aye, I would not have thee shamed,’ he said. He spoke upwards, slowly and luxuriously, his head so softly pillowed, his eyes gazing at the ceiling. He had never been so easy in two years past. ‘I remember that was the occasion of our pact. I did wooe thee in an apple orchard to the grunting of hogs.’
‘Get you gone,’ she said; ‘buy me a favour against the morning.’
‘Why,’ he said, ‘I am a very rich lord. I have lands in Kent now. I will buy thee such a gown . . . such a gown. . . . The hogs grunted. . . . There is a song about it. . . . Let me go to buy thy gown. Aye, now, presently. I remember a great many things. As thus . . . there is a song of a lady loved a swine. Honey, said she, and hunc, said he.’
Whilst she listened a great many thoughts came into her mind — of their youth at home, where indeed, to the grunting of hogs, he had wooed her when she came out from conning her Plautus with the Magister. And at the same time it troubled her to consider where the young Poins had bestowed himself. Maybe he was dead; maybe he lay in a faint.
‘It was in our pact,’ she said to Culpepper, ‘that you should get you gone ever when I would have it.’
‘Aye, sure, it was in our pact,’ he said.
He closed his eyes as if he would fall asleep, being very weary and come to his desired haven. Above his closed eyes Katharine threw the key of her antechamber on to the bed. She pointed with her hand to that door that the Lady Rochford should undo. If she could get her cousin through that door — and now he was in the mood — if she could but get him through there and out at the door beyond the Big Room into the corridor, before her guard came back. . . .
But the Lady Rochford was leaning far out beyond the window-sill and did not see her gesture.
Culpepper muttered —
‘Ah; well; aye; even so ——’ And from the window came a scream that tore the air —
‘The King! the King!’
And immediately it was as if the life of a demon had possessed Culpepper in all his limbs.
‘Merciful God!’ the Queen cried out. ‘I am patient.’
Culpepper had writhed from her till he sat up, but she hollowed her hand around his throat. His head she forced back till she held it upon the floor, and whilst he writhed with his legs she knelt upon his chest with one knee. He screamed out words like: ‘Bawd,’ and ‘Ilcock,’ and ‘Hecate,’ and the Lady Rochford screamed —
‘The King comes! the King comes!’
Then Katharine said within herself —
‘Is it this to be a Queen?’
She set both her hands upon his neck and pressed down the whole weight of her frame, till the voice died in his throat. His body stirred beneath her knee, convulsively, so that it was as if she rode a horse. His eyes, as slowly he strangled, glared hideously at the ceiling, from which the carven face of a Queen looked down into them. At last he lay still, and Katharine Howard rose up.
She ran at the old woman —
‘God forgive me if I have killed my cousin,’ she said. ‘I am certain that now He will forgive me if I slay thee.’ And she had Culpepper’s dagger in her hand.
‘For,’ she said, ‘I stand for Christ His cause: I will not be undone by meddlers. Hold thy peace!’
The Lady Rochford opened her mouth to speak.
‘Hold thy peace!’ the Queen said again, and she lifted up the dagger. ‘Speak not. Do as I bid thee. Answer me when I ask. For this I swear as I am the Queen that, since I have the power to slay whom I will and none question it, I will slay thee if thou do not my bidding.’
The old woman trembled lamentably.
‘Where is the King come to?’ the Queen said.
‘Even to the great gate; he is out of sight,’ was her answer.
‘Come now,’ the Queen commanded. ‘Let us drag my cousin behind my table.’
‘Shall he be hidden there?’ the Lady Rochford cried out. ‘Let us cast him from the window.’
‘Hold your peace,’ the Queen cried out. ‘Speak you never one word more. But come!’
She took her cousin by the arm, the Lady Rochford took him by the other and they dragged him, inert and senseless, into the shadow of the Queen’s mirror table.
‘Pray God the King comes soon,’ the Queen said. She stood above her cousin and looked down upon him. A great pitifulness came into her face.
‘Loosen his shirt,’ she said. ‘Feel if his heart beats!’
The Lady Rochford had a face full of fear and repulsion.
‘Loosen his shirt. Feel if his heart beats,’ the Queen said. ‘And oh!’ she added, ‘woe shall fall upon thee if he be dead.’
She reflected a moment to think upon how long it should be ere the King came to her door. Then she raised her chair, and sat down at her mirror. For one minute she set her face into her hands; then she began to straighten herself, and with her hands behind her to tighten the laces of her dress.
‘For,’ she continued to Lady Rochford, ‘I do hold thee more guilty of his death than himself. He is but a drunkard in his cups, thou a palterer in sobriety.’
She set her cap upon her head and smoothed the hair beneath it. In all her movements there was a great swiftness and decision. She set the jewel in her cap, the pomander at her side, the chain around her neck, the jewel at her breast.
‘His heart beats,’ the Lady Rochford said, from her knees at Culpepper’s side.
‘Then thank the saints,’ Katharine answered, ‘and do up again his shirt.’
She hurried in her attiring, and uttered engrossed commands.
‘Kneel thou there by his side. If he stir or mutter before the King be in and the door closed, put thy hand across his mouth.’
‘But the King ——’ the Lady Rochford said. ‘And ——’
‘Merciful God!’ Katharine cried out again. ‘I am the Queen. Kneel there.’
The Lady Rochford trembled down upon her knees; she was in fear for her life by the axe if the King came in.
‘I thank God that the King is come,’ the Queen said. ‘If he had not, this man must have gone from hence in the sight of other men. So I will pardon thee for having cried out if now thou hold him silent till the King be in.’
There came from very near a blare of trumpets. Katharine rose up, and went again to gaze upon her cousin. The dagger she laid upon her table.
‘He may hold still yet,’ she said. ‘But I charge you that you muzzle him if he move or squeak.’
There came great blows upon the door, and through the heavy wood, the Ha-ha of many voices. Slowly the Queen moved to the bed, and from it took the key where she had thrown it. There came again the heavy knocking, and she unlocked the door, slowly still.
In the corridor there were many torches, and beneath them the figure of the King in scarlet. Behind him was Norfolk all in black and with his yellow face, and Cranmer in black and with his anxious eyes, and behind them many other lords. The King came in, and, slow and stately, the Queen went down on her knees to greet him. The torch-light shone upon her jewels and her garments; her fair face was immobile, and her eyes upon the ground. The King raised her up, bent his knee to her, and kissed her on the hands, and so, turning to the men without, he uttered, roundly and fully, and his cheeks were ruddy with joy, and his eyes smiled —
‘My lords, I am beholden to the King o’ Scots. For had he met me I had not yet been here. Get you to your beds; I could wish ye had such wives ——’
‘The King! the King!’ a voice muttered.
Henry said —
‘Ha, who spoke?’
There was a faint squeak, a dull rustle.
‘My cousin Kat ——’ the voice said.
The King said —
‘Ha!’ again, and incredulous and haughty he raised his brows.
Above the mirror, in the great light of the candles, there showed the pale face, the fishy, wide-open and bewildered eyes of Culpepper. His hair was dishevelled in points; his mouth was open in amazement. He uttered —
‘The King!’ as if that were the most astonishing thing, and, standing behind the table, staggered and clutched the arras to sustain himself.
Henry said —
But Katharine whispered at his ear —
‘No; this my cousin is distraught. Speak on to the lords.’
In the King’s long pause several lords said aloud —
‘The King cried “Treason!” Draw your swords!’
Then the King cast his cap upon the ground.
‘By God!’ he said. ‘What marlocking is this? Is it general joy that emboldens ye to this license? God help me!’ he said, and he stamped his foot upon the ground —‘Body of God!’ And many other oaths he uttered. Then, with a sudden clutching at his throat, he called out —
‘Well! well! I pardon ye. For no doubt to some that be young — and to some that be old too — it is an occasion for mummeries and japes when a good man cometh home to his dame.’
He looked round upon Culpepper. The Queen’s cousin stood, his jaw still hanging wide, and his body crumpled back against the arras. He was hidden from them all by wall and door, but Henry could not judge how long he would there remain. Riding through the night he had conned a speech that he would have said at the Queen’s door, and at the times of joy and graciousness he loved to deliver great speeches. But there he said only —
‘Why, God keep you. I thank such of you as were with me upon the campaign and journey. Now this campaign and journey is ended — I dissolve you each to his housing and bed. Farewell. Be as content as I be!’
And, with his great hand he swung to the heavy door.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08