A grave and bearded man was found to cup her. He gave her a potion composed of the juice of nightshade and an infusion of churchyard moss. Her eyes grew dilated and she had evil dreams. She lay in a small chamber that was quite bare and had a broken window, and the magister ran from room to room begging for quilts to cover her.
It was nobody’s affair. The Lord Privy Seal, her uncle, the Catholics, and the King were still perturbed about Anne of Cleves, and there were no warrants signed for Katharine’s housing or food. All the palace was trembling with confusion, for, when the Queen had been upon the point of setting out from Rochester, the King was said to have been overcome by a new spasm of disgust: she was put by again.
The young Earl of Surrey, a cousin of Katharine’s, gave Udal contemptuously a couple of crowns towards her nourishment. Udal applied them to bribing Throckmorton, the spy who had been with Privy Seal upon the barge, to inscribe on his lord’s tablets the words: ‘Katharine Howard to be provided for.’ Udal made up his courage sufficiently to speak to the Duke, whom he met in a corridor. The Duke was jaundiced against his niece, because her cousin Culpepper had fallen upon Sir Christopher Aske, the Duke’s captain who had kept the postern. It had needed seven men to master him, and this great tumult had arisen in the King’s own courtyard. Nevertheless, the Duke sent his astrologer to cast Katharine’s horoscope. He signed, too, an order that some girl be found to attend on her.
Udal filled in the girl’s name as Margot Poins, the granddaughter of old Badge, of Austin Friars. Even among these clamours his tooth watered for her, and he gave the order to young Poins to execute. The young man rode off into Bedfordshire, where his sister had been sent out of the way to the house of their aunt. He presented the order as in the nature of a writ from the Duke, and amongst Lutherans in London a heavy growl of rage went up — against Norfolk, against the Papists of the Privy Council, and, above all, against Katharine Howard, whom they called the New Harlot.
Katharine, having taken much nightshade juice, was raving upon her bed. The leech became convinced that she was possessed by a demon, because the pupils of her eyes were as large as silver groats, and her hands picked at the coverlets. He ordered that thirteen priests should say an exorcism at the door of her room, and that the potion of nightshade — since it might inconvenience without dislodging the fiend inhabiting her slender body — should be discontinued.
Udal sought for priests, but having no money, he was disregarded by them. He ran to the chaplain of the Bishop of Winchester. For the clergy upheld or ordained by Archbishop Cranmer were held to be less efficacious in matters of witchcraft and possession. Just then Cromwell had triumphed, and Anne of Cleves was upon the water coming to the palace.
Bishop Gardiner’s chaplain, a fat man, with beady and guileless eyes sunk in under an immense forehead, imagined that Udal’s visit was a pretext for overhearing the words of rage and discomfiture that in that Papist centre might be let drop about the new Queen. For Udal, because Privy Seal had set him with the Lady Mary, passed amongst the Papists for one of Cromwell’s informants, and it amused his sardonic and fantastic nature to affect mysterious denials, which made the fiction the more firmly believed and gave to Udal himself a certain hated prestige. The chaplain answered that in the present turmoil no such body as thirteen clergymen could be found.
‘But the lady shall be torn in pieces,’ Udal shrieked. Panic had overcome him. Who knew that the fiend, having torn his Katharine asunder, might not enter into the body of his Margot, who was already at her bedside? His lips quivered with terror, his eyes smiled furiously, he wrung his hands. He swore he would penetrate to the King’s Highness’ self. Udal was a man who stuck at nothing to gain a point. He had heard from Katharine that the King had spoken graciously to her, and he swore once more that she was the apple of the King’s eye, as well as a beloved disciple of Privy Seal’s.
‘Be sure,’ he foamed, ‘they shall be avenged on a Gardiner and his crew if you let her die.’
The chaplain said impassively: ‘God forbid that we, who are loyal to his Highness, should listen to these tales you bring us of his lechery!’ They had there a new Queen, their duty was to her, and to no Katharine Howard. The bishop’s clergy were all joyfully setting to welcome the lady from Cleves, they had no time to waste over a leman’s demons. It overjoyed him to refuse Privy Seal’s man a boon on the plea of loyalty to the new Queen. Nevertheless, he went straight to the presence of the bishop, and told him the marvels that Udal had reported.
‘The man is incontinent and a babbler,’ the chaplain said. ‘We may believe one tenth.’
‘Well, you shall find for once how this wench is housed and where,’ his master answered moodily. ‘God knows what we may believe in these days. Doubtless the Nuntio of Satan hath a new plot in the hatching.’ Making these enquiries, the chaplain came upon the backwash of Udal’s reports that the King loved some leman. Some lady, somewhere — some said a Howard, some a Rochford, some would have it a Spanish woman — was being hidden up, either by the King, by the Duke of Norfolk, or by Privy Seal. God knew the truth of these things: but similar had happened before; and it was certain that the Cleves woman had been for long kept dangling at Rochester. Perhaps that was the reason. His Highness had his own ways in these matters: but where there was smoke, generally fire was to be found. The chaplain brought this budget back to Bishop Gardiner. Gardiner swore a wild oath that, by the bones of the Confessor, they had unmasked a new plot of Satan’s Legate, the Privy Seal. But, by the grace of God, he would counter-plot him.
Udal, who had started all these rumours, had run to get the help of a Dean of Durham, with whom formerly he had had much converse as to the position of the Islands of the Blest. He never found him; the palace was in confusion, with the doors all open and men running from room to room to ask of each other how far it might be safe to be extravagant in their demonstrations of joy at the coming of the new Queen.
All night long, from about dusk, the palace rang with salvos of artillery, loud shouts and the blowing of horns: the windows glowed duskily now and again with the light of bonfires that leapt up and subsided. Margot Poins, who was used to rejoicings in the City, set the heavy wooden bar across the door in Katharine Howard’s room, turned the immense key in the rusty lock, and opened to no knocking until the day broke. There were shouts and stumblings in the corridor outside and the magister himself, very intoxicated and shrieking, came hammering at the door with several others towards one in the morning.
Katharine could walk by noon to the lodging that had at last been assigned to her by Privy Seal’s warrant. The magister, having got himself soundly beaten the night before, was still sleeping away the effects of it, so she and Margot stayed for an hour in solitude. Voices passed the door many times, and at last a Master Viridus entered stealthily. He was one of the Lord Cromwell’s secretaries, and he bore a purse. His name had been Greene but he had translated it to give a more worshipful sound. His eyes were furtive and he moved his lips perpetually in imitation of his master; wore a hooded cap, and made much use of the Italian language.
‘Bounty is the sign of the great, and honourable service ensureth its continuance,’ he said in a dry and arrogant voice. ‘This is my Lord Privy Seal’s vails. My lord hath gone to his own house.’
He presented the purse of gold, and peered round at the room which, following the warrant, had been assigned by a clerk from the Earl Marshal’s office.
‘I thank your lord, and shall endeavour to deserve his good bounty,’ Katharine said. The nightshade juice being left two days behind she had the use of her eyes and much of the stiffness had gone out of her wrist.
‘Your ladyship had much the wiser,’ he answered. He lifted the hangings and, under pretence of examining into her comfort, peered into the great Flemish press and felt under the heavy black table to see if it had a drawer for papers. Cromwell had been forced, following the King’s command, to give Katharine her place. But he had no love for Howards, and already the maids of the Lady Mary were a mutinous knot. Viridus was instructed to keep an attentive eye upon this girl — for they might hang her very easily since she was outspoken; or, having got her neck into a noose, they could work upon her terror and make her spy upon the Lady Mary herself. None of the Lady Mary’s women were housed very sumptuously, but in this room there were at least an old tapestry, a large Flemish chair, a feather bed in a niche like an arched cell over which the hangings could be drawn, and a cord of wood for the fire. He hummed and hawed that workmen must come to bring her better hangings, and a servitor be found to keep her door. A watch was to be set on her; the women who measured her for clothes would try to discover whom she loved and hated, and the serving man at her door would report her visitors.
‘My lord hath you very present in his mind,’ Viridus said.
She was commanded to go on the Saturday to the house in Austin Friars, where my lord was preparing a great feast in the honour of the Queen.
Katharine said that she had no dress to go in.
‘A seemly decent habit shall be got ready,’ he answered. ‘You shall sit in a gallery in private, and it shall be pointed out to you what lords you shall speak with and whom avoid.’ For ‘com’ è bella giovinezza’ . . . How beautiful is youth, what a pleasant season! And since it lasted but a short space it behoved us all — and her as much as any — to make as much as might be whilst it endured. The regard of a great lord such as Privy Seal brought present favours and future honours in the land, honours being pleasant in their turn, when youth is passed, like the mellow suns of autumn. ‘Thereby indeed,’ he apostrophised her, ‘the savour of youth reneweth itself again and again. . . . “Anzi rinuova come fa la luna,” in the words of Boccace.’
Her fair and upright beauty made Viridus acknowledge how excellent a spy upon the Lady Mary she might make. Papistry and a loyal love for the Old Faith seemed to be as strong in her candid eyes as it was implicit in her name. The Lady Mary might trust her for that and talk with her because of her skill in the learned tongues. Then, if they held her in their hands, how splendid a spy she might make, being so trusted! She might well be won for their cause by the offer of liberal rewards, though Privy Seal’s hand had been heavy upon all her kinsfolk. These men of Privy Seal’s get from him a maxim which he got in turn from his master Macchiavelli: ‘Advance therefore those whom it shall profit thee to make thy servants: for men forget sooner the death of a father than the loss of a patrimony’— and either by threats or by rewards they might make her very useful.
She had been minded to mock him in the beginning of his speech, but his dangerous pale-blue eyes made her feel that if he were ridiculous he was also very powerful, and that she was in the hands of these men.
Therefore she answered that youth indeed was a pleasant season when health, good victuals and the love of God sustained it.
He surveyed her out of the corners of his eyes.
‘Seek, then, to deserve these good things,’ he said. He stayed some time longer directing her how she should wear her clothes, and then in the gathering dusk he dwindled stealthily through the door.
‘It is to make you like a chained-up beast or slave,’ Margot said to her mistress.
‘Why, hold your tongue, coney, after today,’ Katharine answered, ‘the walls shall hear. I am a very poor man’s daughter and must even earn my bread if I would stay here.’
‘They could never tie me so,’ Margot retorted.
Her mistress laughed:
‘Why, you may set nets for the wind, but what a man will catch is still uncertain.’
It was cold, and they piled up the fire, waiting for some one to bring them candles.
A tall and bulky figure, with a heavy cloak cast over one shoulder in the Spanish fashion, but with a priest’s cap, was suddenly in the doorway.
‘Ha, magister,’ Katharine said, knowing no other man that could visit her. But the firelight shone upon a heavy, firm jaw that was never the magister’s, on white hands and in threatening, steadfast eyes.
‘I am the unworthy Bishop Gardiner, of Winchester,’ a harsh voice said. ‘I seek one Katharine Howard. Peace be with you in these evil days.’
Katharine fell upon her knees before this holy man. He gave her his blessing perfunctorily, and muttered some words of the exorcism against demons.
‘I am even cured,’ Katharine said.
He sent Margot Poins from the room, and stood in the firelight that threw his great shadow to shake upon the hangings, towering above Katharine Howard upon her knees. He was silent, as if he would threaten her, and his brooding eyes glowed and devoured her face. Here then, she thought, was the man from the other camp descending secretly upon her. He had no need to threaten, for she was of his side.
He said that a Magister Udal had reported that she stood in need of Christian aid, and, speaking Latin with a heavy voice, he interrogated her as to her faith. The times were evil: many and various heresies stalked about the land: let her beware of trafficking with them.
Kneeling still in the firelight, she answered that, so far as was lawful, she was a daughter of the Church.
He muttered: ‘Lawful!’ and looked at her for a long time with brooding and fanatical eyes. ‘I hear you have read many heathen books under a strange master.’
She answered: ‘Most Reverend, I am for the Old Faith in the old way.’
‘A prudent tongue is also a Christian possession,’ he muttered.
‘Nay there is no one to hear in this room,’ she said.
He bent over her to raise her to her feet and holding before her eyes his missal, he indicated to her certain prayers that she should recite in order to prevent the fiend’s coming to her again. Suddenly he commanded her to tell him how often she had conversed with the King’s Highness.
Gardiner was the bitterest of all whom Cromwell had to hate him. He had been of the King’s Council, and a secretary before Cromwell had reached the Court, and, but for Cromwell, he might well have been the King’s best minister. But Cromwell had even taken his secretaryship; and he was set upon having Privy Seal down all through those ten years. He had been bishop before any of these changes had been thought of, and by such Papists as Katharine Howard he was esteemed the most holy man in the land.
She told him that she had seen the King but once for a little time.
‘They told me it was many times,’ he answered fiercely. ‘Should I have come here merely to chatter with you?’
There was something sinister and harsh even in the bluish tinge of his shaven jaws, and his agate-blue eyes were sombre, threatening and suspicious.
She answered: ‘But once,’ and related the story very soberly.
He threatened her with his finger.
‘Have a care that you speak truth. Things will not always remain in this guise. I come to warn you that you speak the King with a loyal purpose. His Highness listens sometimes to the promptings of his women.’
‘You might have saved your journey,’ she answered. ‘I could speak no otherwise if he loved me.’
He gazed involuntarily round at the hangings as if he suspected a listener.
‘Your Most Reverence does ill to doubt me,’ Katharine said submissively. ‘I am of a true house.’
‘No house is true save where it finds its account,’ he answered moodily. He could not believe that she spoke the truth — for he was unable to believe that any man could speak the truth — but it was true she was poorly housed, raggedly dressed and hidden up in a corner. Nevertheless, these might be artifices. He made ostentatiously and disdainfully towards the door.
‘Why, God keep you,’— he moved his fingers in a negligent blessing —‘I believe you are true, though you are of little use.’ Suddenly he shot out:
‘If you would stay here in peace your cousin Culpepper must begone.’
Katharine put her hand to her heart in sudden fear of these men who surrounded her and knew everything.
‘What hath Tom done?’ she asked.
‘He hath put a shame upon thee,’ the bishop answered. He had fallen upon Sir Christopher Aske: he had been set in chains for it, in the Duke’s ward room. But upon the coming of the Queen the night before, all misdemeanants had been cast loose again. Culpepper had been kept by the guards from entering the palace, where he had no place. But he had fallen in with the Magister Udal in the courtyard. Being maudlin and friendly at the time, he had cast his arms round the magister’s neck claiming him for a loved acquaintance. They had drunk together and had started, towards midnight, to find the chamber of Katharine Howard, Culpepper seeking his cousin, and the magister, Margot Poins. On the way they had enlisted other jovial souls, and the tumult in the corridor had arisen. ‘These scandals are best avoided,’ the bishop finished. ‘I have known women lose their lives through them when they came to have husbands.’
‘I could have calmed him,’ Katharine said. ‘He is always silent at a word from me.’
Gardiner stood pondering, his head hanging down. His eyes, hard and blue, flashed at her and then down again at the floor.
‘They told me you were the King’s good friend,’ he said, resentfully. ‘Your gossip Udal told my chaplain, and it hath been repeated.’
‘They will talk where there are a many together,’ Katharine answered; ‘the magister is a notorious babbler and will have told many lies.’
‘He is a spy of Privy Seal’s and deep in his councils,’ Gardiner answered gloomily.
A heavy wind that had arisen hurled itself against the dark casement. Little flaws of cold air penetrated the room, and the bishop pulled his cap further down over his ears.
‘My Lord Privy Seal would send my cousin to Calais where there is fighting to come,’ Katharine said.
Gardiner raised his head sharply at Cromwell’s name.
‘You speak sense at the end,’ he muttered. To him too it had occurred that if she was to be the King’s peaceably, this madman must begone. If Cromwell wished this lover of this girl out of the way, the reason was not obscure.
‘A man of his hath been here this very day,’ Katharine said.
‘Privy Seal learned whoremastering in Italy,’ Gardiner cried triumphantly. ‘He saw signs that his Highness inclined to you. Have a care for your little soul.’
‘Why, I think Privy Seal had no such vain imagination,’ Katharine answered submissively. She would have laughed that the magister’s insane babblings should have raised such a coil; but Gardiner was a man esteemed very saintly, and she kept her eyes on the floor.
‘Give thou ear to no doctrines of Privy Seal’s,’ he answered swiftly. ‘Thy soul should burn: I will curse thee. If the King shall offer thee favours for thy friends come thou to me for spiritual guidance.’
She opened amazed and candid eyes upon him.
‘But this is a folly,’ she said. ‘A King may regard one for a minute, then it is past. Privy Seal would not bring me up against the King.’
He flashed his gloomy blue eyes at her, suspecting her, and still threatening.
‘I know how Privy Seal will plot,’ he said passionately. ‘Having failed with one woman he will bring another.’
He clenched his hands angrily and unclenched them: the wind moaned for a moment among the chimney stacks.
‘So it is!’ he cried, from deep down in his chest. ‘If it were not so, how is there all this clamour about his Highness and a woman?’
‘Most Reverend,’ she said, ‘there is no end to the inventions of Magister Udal.’
‘There is none to the machinations of the fiend, and Udal is of his councils,’ he said. ‘Be careful, I tell you, for your soul’s sake. Cromwell shall come to you offering you great bribes. Have a care I say!’
She attempted to say that Udal had no voice at all in Privy Seal’s councils, being a garrulous magpie that no sane man would trust. But Gardiner had crossed his arms and stood, immense and shadowy, in the firelight. He hissed irritably between his teeth when she spoke, as if she interrupted his meditation.
‘All the world knows Udal for his spy,’ he said, sombrely. ‘If Udal hath babbled, God be thanked. I say again: if Privy Seal bring thee to the King, come thou to me. But, by the Grace of Heaven, I will forestall Privy Seal with thee and the King!’
She forbore to contradict him any more; he had this maggot in his head, and was so wild to defeat Privy Seal with his own tool.
He muttered: ‘Think you Privy Seal knoweth not the King’s taste? I tell you he hath seen an inclination in him towards you. This is a plot, but I have sounded it!’
She let him talk, and asked, with a malice too fine for him to discern:
‘I should not shun the King’s presence for my soul’s sake?’
‘God forbid,’ he answered. ‘I may use thee to bring down Privy Seal.’
He picked up a piece of bark from a faggot beside the fire and rolled it between his fingers. She stood looking at him intently, her lips a little parted, tall, graceful and submissive.
‘You are more fair-skinned than any his Highness has favoured before,’ he said in a meditative voice. ‘Yet Cromwell knows the King’s tastes better than any man.’ He sank down into her tall-backed chair and suddenly tossed the piece of bark into the fire. ‘I would have you walk across the floor, elevating your arms as you were the goddess Flora.’
She tripped towards the door, held her arms above her head, turned her long body to right and left, bent very low in a courtesy to him, and let her hands fall restfully into her lap. The firelight shone upon the folds of her dress and in the white lining of her hood. He looked at her, leaning over the arm of the chair, his blue eyes hard with the strenuous rage of his new project.
‘You could take a part in an Italian interlude? A masque?’
‘I have a better memory of the French or Latin,’ she answered.
‘You do not turn pale? Your knees knock not together?’
‘I think I blush most,’ she said seriously.
He answered, ‘You will be the better of a little colour,’ and began muffling his face with his cloak.
‘See you, then,’ his harsh voice commanded. ‘You shall see their Highnesses at Privy Seal’s house on the Saturday; but they shall see you at mine on the Tuesday. If you are good enough to serve the turn of Privy Seal, you may be good enough to serve mine. The King listens sometimes to the promptings of his women. I will teach you how you may bring this man down and set me in his place.’
She reflected for a moment. ‘I would well serve you,’ she said. ‘But I do not believe this fable of the King, and I have no memory of Italian.’ She talked of being the Lady Mary’s servant, or that she must get her lady’s leave.
His brows grew heavy, his eyes threatening and alarming beneath their heavy lids.
‘Be you faithful to me,’ he thundered. Even his thin and delicate hands seemed to menace her. ‘Retain your obedience to your Faith. Your duty is to that, and to no earthly lady before that.’
Her eyes were cast down, her lips did not move. He said, harshly, ‘It will go ill with you if it become known to Cromwell I have visited you. Keep this matter secret as you love your liberty. I will send you the words you shall say by a private bearer. After, maybe, his Highness shall safeguard you, I admonishing him. But the Lady Mary shall bid you obey me in all things.’
He opened the door and put his head out cautiously. Suddenly he drew it back and said in Latin, ‘Here is a spy.’ He did not flinch, but advanced into the corridor, keeping his back to the servitor whom already Master Viridus had sent to keep her door. Gardiner fumbled in his robes and pulled out his missal. He turned the pages over, and, speaking in a feigned and squeaky voice, once more indicated to her prayers against the visitations of fiends. Reading them aloud, he interspersed the Latin of the missal with the phrases, ‘You may pray to God he have not seen my face. Be you very silent and secret, or you are undone. I could in no wise save you from Cromwell unless the King becomes your protector.’ He finished in the vulgar tongue. ‘I pray my prayers with you may have availed to give you relief. But a simple priest as myself is of small skill in these visitations. You should have sent to some great Churchman or one of the worshipful bishops.’
‘Good Father Henry, I thank you,’ she answered, having entered into his artifice. He went away, feigning to limp on his right knee, and keeping his face from the spy.
At the corner of the corridor Margot Poins, an immense blonde and gentle figure in Lutheran grey, stood back in the hangings. The Magister Udal leant over her, supporting himself with one hand against the wall above her head and one leg crossed beneath his gown.
‘Come you into my room,’ Katharine said to the girl; and to the magister, ‘Avoid, man of books. I will have no maid of mine undone by thee.’
‘Venio honoris causa,’ he said pertly, and Margot uttered, ‘He seeks me in wedlock,’ in a gruff, uncontrolled voice of a great young girl’s confusion, and immense blushes covered her large cheeks.
Katharine laughed; she was sorely afraid of the serving man behind her, for that he was a spy set there by Viridus she was very sure, and she was casting about in her mind for a device that should let her tell whether or no he had known the bishop. The squeaky voice and the feigned limp seemed to her stratagems ignoble and futile on the part of a great Churchman, and his mania of plots and counter-plottings had depressed and wearied her, for she expected the great to be wise. But she played her part for him as it was her duty. She spoke to the girl with her scarlet cheeks.
‘Believe thou the magister after he hath ta’en thee afore a priest. He hath sought me and two score others in the cause of honour. Get you in, sweetheart.’
She pushed the girl in at the door. The serving man sat on his stool; his shock of yellow hair had never known a comb, but he had a decent suit of a purplish wool-cloth. He had his eyes dully on the ground.
‘As you value your servitorship, let no man come into my room when I be out,’ Katharine said to him. ‘Saving only the Father Henry that was here now.’
The man raised expressionless blue eyes to her face.
‘I know not his favours,’ he said in a peasant’s mutter. ‘Maybe I should know him if I saw him again. I am main good at knowing people.’
‘Why, he is from the Sheeres,’ Katharine added, still playing, though she was certain that the man knew Gardiner. ‘You shall know him by his voice and his limp.’
He answered, ‘Maybe,’ and dropped his eyes to the ground. She sent him to fetch her some candles, and shut the door upon him.
The Queen came to the revels given in her honour by the Lord Privy Seal. Cromwell had three hundred servants dressed in new liveries: pikemen with their staves held transversely, like a barrier, kept the road all the way from the Tower Steps to Austin Friars, and in that Lutheran quarter of the town there was a great crowding together. Caps were pitched high and lost for ever, and loud shouts of praise to God went up when the Queen and her Germans passed, with boys casting branches of holm, holly, bay and yew, the only plants that were green in the winter season, before the feet of her mule. But the King did not come. It was reported to the crowd that he was ill at Greenwich.
It was known very well by those that sat at dinner with her that, after three days, he had abandoned his Queen and kept his separate room. She sat eating alone, on high beneath the dais, heavy, silent, placid and so fair that her eyebrows appeared to be white upon her red forehead. She did not speak a word, having no English, and it was considered disgusting that she wiped her fingers upon pieces of bread.
Hostile lords remarked upon all her physical imperfections, which the King, it was known, had reported to his physicians in a writing of many pages. Besides, she had no English, no French, no Italian; she could not even play cards with his Highness. It was true that they had squeezed her into English stays, but she was reported to have wept at having to mount a horse. So she could not go a-hawking, neither could she shoot with the bow, and her attendants — the women, bound about the middle and spreading out above and below like bolsters, and the men, who wore their immense scolloped hats falling over their ears even at meal-times — excited disgust and derision by the noises they made when they ate.
The Master Viridus had Katharine Howard in his keeping. He took her up into a small gallery near the gilded roof of the long hall and pointed out to her, far below, the courtiers that it was safe for her to consort with, because they were friends of Privy Seal. His manner was more sinister and more meaning.
‘You would do well to have to do with no others,’ he said.
‘I am like to have to do with none at all,’ Katharine answered, ‘for no mother’s son cometh anigh me.’
He looked away from her. Down below she made out her cousin Surrey, sitting with his back ostentatiously turned to a Lord Roydon, of Cromwell’s following; her uncle, plunged in his silent and malignant gloom; and Cromwell, his face lit up and smiling, talking earnestly with Chapuys, the Ambassador from the Emperor.
‘Eleven hundred dishes shall be served this day,’ Viridus proclaimed, seeming to warn her. ‘There can no other lord find so many plates of parcel gilt.’ His level and cold voice penetrated through all the ascending din of voices, of knives, of tuckets of trumpets that announced the courses of meat and of the three men’s songs that introduced the sweet jellies which only Privy Seal, it was said, could direct to be prepared.
‘Other lordings all,’ Viridus continued with his sermon, ‘ha’ ruined themselves seeking in vain to vie with my lord. Most of those you see are broken men, whose favour would be worth naught to you.’
Tables were ranged down each side of the great hall, the men sitting on the right, each wearing upon his shoulder a red rose made of silk since no flowers were to be had. The women, sitting upon the left, had white favours in their caps. In the wide space between these tables were two bears; chained to tall gilt posts, they rolled on their hams and growled at each other. From time to time the serving men who went up and down in the middle let fall great dishes containing craspisces, cranes, swans or boars. These meats were kicked contemptuously aside for the bears to fight over, and their places supplied immediately with new. Other serving men broke priceless bottles of Venetian glass against the corners of tables, and let the costly Rhenish wines run about their feet.
This, the Master Viridus said, was intended to point out the wealth of their lord and his zealousness to entertain his Sovereigns.
‘It would serve the purpose as well to give them twice as much fare,’ Katharine said.
‘They could never contain it,’ Viridus answered gravely, ‘so great is the bounty of my lord.’
Throckmorton, the spy, enormous, bearded and with the half-lion badge of the Privy Seal hanging round his neck from a gilt chain, walked up and down behind the guests, bearing the wand of a major-domo, affecting to direct the servers when to fill goblets and listening at tables where much wine had been served. Once he looked up at the gallery, and his scrutinising and defiant brown eyes remained for a long time upon Katharine’s face, as if he too were appraising her beauty.
‘I would not drink much wine with that man listening at my back. He came from my country, and was such a foul villain that mothers fright their children with his name,’ Katharine said.
Viridus moved his lips quickly one upon another, and suddenly directed her to observe the new Queen’s head-dress, broad and stiffened with a wire of gold, upon which large pearls had been sewn.
‘Many ladies will now get themselves such headdresses,’ he said.
‘That will I never,’ she answered. It appeared atrocious and Flemish-clumsy, spreading out and overshadowing the Queen’s heavy face. Their English hoods with the tails down made the head sleek and comely; or, with the tails folded up and pinned square like flat caps they could give to the face a gallant or a pensive expression.
‘Why, I could never get me in at the door of the confessional with such a spreading cloth.’
Viridus had his chin on the rail of the gallery; he gazed down below with his snaky eyes. She could not tell whether he were old or young.
‘You would more prudently abandon the confessing,’ he said, without looking at her. ‘My lord is minded that ladies who look to him should wear such.’
‘That is to be a bond-slave,’ Katharine cried indignantly. He looked round.
‘Here is a great magnificence,’ he uttered, moving his hand towards the hall. ‘My Lord Privy Seal hath a mighty power.’
‘Not power enow to make me a laughing-stock for the men.’
‘Why, this is a free land,’ he answered. ‘You may rot in a ditch if you will, or worse if treasonable actions be brought home to you.’
Down below, wild men dressed in the skins of wolves, hares and stags ran round the tethered bears bearing torches of sweet wood, and a heavy and languorous smoke, like incense, mounted up to the gallery. Viridus’ unveiled threat made the necessity for submission come once more into her mind. Other wild men were leading in a lion, immense and lean as if it were a fawn-coloured ass. It roared and pulled at the golden chains by which the knot of men held it. Many ladies shrieked out, but the men dragged the lion into the open space before the dais where the Queen sat unmoved and stolid.
‘Would your master have me dip my fingers in the dish and wipe them on bread-manchets as the Queen does?’ Katharine asked in a serious expostulation.
‘It were an excellent action,’ Viridus answered.
There was a brazen flare of trumpets so that the smoke swirled among the rafters. Men with brass helmets and shields of brass were below in the hall.
‘They are costumed as the ancient Romans,’ Katharine said, lost in other thoughts.
Suddenly she saw that whilst all the other eyes were upon the lion, Throckmorton’s glare was again upon her face. He appeared to shake his head and to bow his immense and bearded form. It brought into her mind the dangerous visit of Bishop Gardiner. Suddenly he dropped his eyes.
‘You see some friends,’ Viridus’ voice asked beside her.
‘Nay, I have no friends here,’ Katharine answered.
She could not tell that the bearded spy’s eyes were not merely amorous in their intention, for such looks she was used to, and he was a very vile man.
‘In short,’ Viridus spoke, ‘it were an excellent action to act in all things as the Queen does. For fashions are a matter of fashion. It is all one whether you wipe your fingers on bread-manchets or on napkins. But when a fashion becometh general its strangeness departeth and it is esteemed fit for a King’s Court. Thus you may earn your bread: this is your duteous work. Observe the king of the beasts. See how it shall do its duty before the Queen, and mark the lesson.’ His voice penetrated, low and level, through all the din from below. Yet the men dressed like gladiators advanced towards the dais where the Queen sat eating unmoved. The lion before her growled frightfully, and dragged its keepers towards the men in brass. They drew their short swords and beat upon their shields crying: ‘We be Roman traitors that war upon this land.’ Then it appeared that among them in their crowd they had a large mannikin, dressed like themselves in brass and running upon wheels.
The ladies pressed the tables with their hands, making as if to rise in terror. But the mannikin toppling forward fell before the lion with a hollow sound of brass. The lean beast, springing at its throat, tore it to reach the highly smelling flesh that was concealed within the tunic, and the Romans fled, casting away their shields and swords. One of them had a red forked beard and wide-open blue eyes. He brought into Katharine’s mind the remembrance of her cousin. She wondered where he could be, and imagined him with that short sword, cutting his way to her side.
‘That sight is allegorically to show,’ Viridus was commenting beside her, ‘how the high valour of Britain shall defend from all foes this noble Queen.’
The lion having reached its meat lay down upon it.
Katharine remembered that Bishop Gardiner said that her cousin must be begone. She tried to say to Viridus: ‘Sir, I would fain obey you in these things, but I have a cousin that shall much hinder me.’
But the applause of the people below drowned her voice and Viridus continued talking.
Let it be true that the Queen, being alone, showed amongst their English fineries and nicenesses a gross and repulsive strangeness. But if their ladies put on her manners she should no longer be alone, and it would appear to the King and to all men that her example was both commended and emulated. It was a matter of kingcraft, and so the Lord Privy Seal was minded and determined.
‘Then I will even get myself such a hat and tear my capons apart with my fingers,’ Katharine said.
‘You had much the wiser,’ he answered.
The hall was now full of wild men, nymphs in white gowns, men bearing aspergers with which to scatter perfumes, and merry andrews, so that the floor could no longer be seen. A party of lords had overset a table in their efforts to get to the nymphs. The Queen was schooled to go out behind the arras, and the ladies, laughing, calling to each other and to the men at the other tables, and pinning up their hoods, filed out after her.
‘I shall do my best to please your master and mine,’ Katharine said. ‘But he must even help me, or I can be no example to emulate, but one at whom the finger of scorn is likely to be pointed.’
Viridus paused before he led his charge from the gallery. His pale-blue eyes were more placable.
‘You shall be well seconded. But have a care. Dally with no traitors. Speak fairly of your master’s friends.’ He touched her above the left breast with a claw-like finger. ‘The Italian writes: “Whoso mocketh my love mocketh also mine own self.”’
‘I mock none,’ Katharine said. ‘But I have a cousin to be provided for that neither you nor I shall mock with much safety if he be sober enough to stand.’
He listened to her with his hand upon the door of the gallery: his air was attentive and aroused. She related very simply how Culpepper had besieged her door —‘He came to London to help me on my way and to seek fortune in some war. I would that a place might be found for him, for here he is like to ruin both himself and me.’
‘We have need of good swordsmen for an errand,’ he said, in an absorbed voice.
‘There was never a better than Tom,’ Katharine said. ‘He hath cut a score of throats. Your lord would have sent him to Calais.’
‘Why, there are places other than Calais where a man may make a fortune.’
Something sinister in his brooding voice made her say:
‘I would not have him killed. He hath made me many presents.’
He looked at her expressionlessly:
‘It is very certain that you can not serve my lord with such a firebrand to your tail,’ he said. ‘I will find him an errand.’
‘But not where he shall be killed,’ she said again.
‘Why,’ he said slowly, ‘I will send him where he will make a great fortune.’
‘A great fortune would help him little,’ she answered. ‘I would have him sent where he may fight evenly matched.’
He laid his hand upon her wrist.
‘He is in as much danger here as anywhere. This is not Lincolnshire, but an ordered Court.’— A man drew his sword with some peril there, for there were laws against it. If men came brawling in the maids’ quarters at nights there were penalties of losing fingers, hands, or even heads. And the maids themselves were liable to be whipped. — He shook his head at her:
‘If your cousin hath so violent an inclination to you I were your best friend to send him far away.’
It was in his mind that if they were to breed this girl to be a spy they must keep her protected from madmen. Something of mystery in his manner penetrated to her quick senses.
‘God help me, what a dangerous place this is!’ she said. ‘I would I had never spoken to you of my cousin.’
He eyed her solemnly and said that if she were minded to wed this roaring boy they might both, and soon, earn fortunes to buy them land in a distant shire.
The young Poins, in his scarlet and black, drew his sister into a corner of the hall in which the gentry of the Lords that were there had already dined. It was a vast place, used as a rule for hearing suitors to the Lord Privy Seal and for the audit dinners of his tenantry in London. On its whitened walls there were trophies of arms, and between the wall and the platform at the end of the hall was a small space convenient for private talk. The rest of the people there were playing round games for kissing forfeits or clustered round a magician who had brought a large ape to tell fortunes by the Sortes Virgilianæ. It fumbled about in the pages of a black-letter Æneid, and scratched its side voluptuously: taking its own time it looked at the pages attentively with a mournful parody of an aged sage, and set its finger upon a line that the fates directed.
‘Here’s a great ado about thee,’ Poins said, laughing at his sister. ‘Thy name is up in this town of London.’
He had come in the bodyguard of the Queen, and had made time to slip round to old Badge’s low house behind the wall in order to beg from his grandfather ten crowns to pay for a cloak he had lost at cards.
‘Such a cackle among these Lutherans,’ he mocked at Margot. ‘Heard you no hootings as your lady rode here behind us of the guard?’
‘I heard none, nor she deserveth none,’ Margot answered. ‘For I love her most well.’
‘Aye, she hath done a rape on thee,’ he laughed. ‘Aye, our good uncle hath printed a very secret libel upon her.’ He began to whisper: Let it not be known or a sudden vengeance might fall upon their house. It was no small matter to print unlicensed broadsides. But their moody uncle was out of all fear of consequences, so mad with rage. ‘He would have broken my back, because I tore thee from his tender keeping.’
‘Sure it was never so tender,’ Margot said. ‘When was there a day that he did not beat me?’ But he would have married her to his apprentice, a young fellow with a golden tongue, that preached every night to a secret congregation in a Cripplegate cellar.
‘Why, an thou observest my maxims,’ the boy said, sententiously, ‘I will have thee a great lady. But uncle hath printed this libel, and tongues are at work in Austin Friars.’ It was said that this was a new Papist plot. Margot was but the first that they should carry off. The Duke and Bishop Gardiner were reported to have signed papers for abducting all the Lutheran virgins in London. They were to be led from the paths of virtue into Catholic lewdnesses, and all their boys were to be abducted and sent into monasteries across the seas.
‘Thus the race of Lutherans should die out,’ he laughed. ‘Why they are hiding their maidens in pigeon-houses in Holborn. A boy called Hugh hath gone out and never come home, and it is said that masked men in black stuff gowns were seen to put him into a sack in Moorfields.’
‘Well, here be great marvels,’ Margot laughed.
He shook his red sides, and his blue eyes grew malicious and teasing:
‘Such a strumpet as thy lady,’ he uttered. ‘A Papist Howard that is known to have been loved by twenty men in Lincoln.’
Margot passed from laughter into hot anger:
‘It is a marvel God strikes not their tongues with palsy that said that,’ she said swiftly. ‘Why do you not kill some of them if you be a man?’
‘Why, be calmed,’ he said. ‘You have heard such tales before now. It is no more than saying that a woman goes not to their churches to pray.’
A young Marten Pewtress, half page, half familiar to the Earl of Surrey, came towards them calling, ‘Hal Poins.’ He had black down upon his chin and a roving eye. He wore a purple coat like a tabard, and a cap with his master’s arms upon a jewelled brooch.
‘They say there’s a Howard wench come to Court,’ he cried from a distance, ‘and thy sister in her service.’
‘We talk of her,’ Poins answered. ‘Here is my sister.’
The young Pewtress kissed the girl upon the cheek.
‘Pray, you, sweetheart, unfold,’ he said. ‘You are a pretty piece, and have a good brother that’s my friend.’
He asked all of a breath whether this lady had yet had the small-pox? whether her hair were her own? how tall she stood without high heels to her shoon? whether her breath were sweet or her language unpleasing in the Lincolnshire jargon? whether the King had sent her many presents?
Margaret Poins was a very large, fair, and credulous creature, rising twenty. Florid and slow-speaking, she had impulses of daring that covered her broad face with immense blushes. She was dressed in grey linsey-woolsey, and wore a black hood after the manner of the stricter Protestants, but she had round her neck a gilt medallion on a gold chain that Katharine Howard had given her already. She was, it was true, the daughter of a gentleman courtier, but he had been knocked on the head by rebels near Exeter just before her birth, and her mother had died soon after. She had been treated with gloomy austerity by her uncle and with sinister kindness by her grandfather, whom she dreaded. So that, coming from her Bedfordshire aunt, who had a hard cane, to this palace, where she had seen fine dresses and had already been kissed by two lords in the corridors, she was ready to aver that the Lady Katharine had a breath as sweet as the kine, a white skin which the small-pox had left unscarred, hair that reached to her ankles, and a learning and a wit unimaginable. Her own fortune was made, she believed, in serving her. Both the magister and her brother had sworn it, and, living in an age of marvels — dragons, portents from the heavens, and the romances of knight errantry — she was ready to believe it. It was true that the lady’s room had proved a cell more bare and darker than her own at home, but Katharine’s bright and careless laughter, her fair and radiant height, and her ready kisses and pleasant words, made the girl say with hot loyalty:
‘She is more fair than any in the land, and, indeed, she is the apple of the King’s eye.’ Her voice was gruff with emotion, but, suddenly becoming very aware that she was talking to a strange young gentleman who might scoff, she seemed to choke and put her hand over her mouth.
Brocades for dresses, perfumes, gloves, oranges, and even another netted purse of green silk holding gold had continued to be brought to their chamber ever since Privy Seal had signed the warrant, and, it being about the new year, these ordinary vails and perquisites of a Maid of Honour made a show. Margot believed very sincerely that these things came direct from the King’s hands, since they were formally announced as coming of his Highness’ great bounty.
She reported to young Pewtress, ‘And even now she is with the Lord Privy Seal, who brought her to Court.’
‘He will go poaching among our Howards now,’ Pewtress said. He stood considering with an air of gloom that the Norfolk servants imitated from their master, along with such sayings as that the times were very evil, and that no true man’s neck was safe on his shoulders. ‘Pray you, Sweetlips, tell no one this for a day until I have told my master. It may get me some crowns.’ He pinched her chin between his thumb and forefinger. ‘I will be your sweetheart, pretty.’
‘Nay, I am provided with a good one,’ Margot said seriously.
‘You cannot have too many in this place. Take me for when the other’s in gaol and another for when I am hung, as all good men are like to be.’ He turned away lightly and loosened one of his jewelled garters, so that his stockings should hang in slovenly folds to prove that he was a man and despised niceness in his dress.
‘I would that you be not too cheap to these gentry,’ her brother said, with his eyes on Pewtress.
‘I did naught,’ she answered. ‘If a gentleman will kiss one, it is uncourtly to turn away the cheek.’
‘There is a way of not lending the lip,’ he lectured her. ‘I shall school you. A kiss here, a kiss there, I grant you. But consider that you be a gentleman’s child, and ask who a man is.’
‘He was well enough favoured,’ she remonstrated.
‘In these changing days many upstarts are come about the Court,’ he went on with his lesson. ‘Such were not here in the old days. Crummock hath wrought this. Seek advancement; pleasure your mistress, who can advance you; smile upon the magister, who, being advanced, can advance you. Speak courteous and fair words to any great lords that shall observe you. So we can rise in the world.’
‘I will observe thy words,’ she said submissively, for he seemed to her great and learned; ‘but I like not that thou call’st me “you.”’
‘Why, these be grave matters,’ he replied, ‘and “you” is graver than “thou.” But I love thee well. I will take thee a walk if the sun shine tomorrow.’ He tightened his belt and took his pike from the corner. ‘As for your lady; those that made these lies are lowsels. I could slay a score of them if they pressed upon you two.’
‘I would not be so spoken of,’ Margot answered.
‘Then you must never rise in the world, as I am minded you shall,’ he retorted, ‘for, you being in a high place, eyes will be upon you.’
Nevertheless, Katharine Howard heard no evil words shouted after her that day. Pikemen and servitors of Cromwell were too thick upon all the road to the Tower, where the courtiers took barge again. Cromwell made very good order that no insults should reach the ears of such of the Papist nobles as came to his feast; they would make use with the King of evil words if any such were shouted. Thus the more dangerous and the most foul-mouthed of that neighbourhood, when the Court went by, found hands pressed over their mouths or scarves suddenly tightened round their throats by stalwart men that squeezed behind them in the narrow ways, so that not many more than twenty heads on both sides were broken that day; and Margot Poins kept her mouth closed tight with a sort of rustic caution — a shyness of her mistress and a desire to spare her any pain. Thus it was not until long after that Katharine heard of these rumours.
Katharine was in high good spirits. She had no great reason, for Viridus had threatened her; the Queen had rolled her large eyes round when Katharine had made her courtesy, but no words intelligible to a Christian had come from the thick lips; and no lord or lady had noticed her with a word except that, late in the afternoon, her cousin Surrey, a young man with a sleepily insolent air and front teeth that resembled a rabbit’s, had suddenly planted himself in front of her as she sat on a stool against the hangings. He had begun to ask her where she was housed, when another young man caught him by the shoulder and pulled him away before he could do more than bid her sit there till he came again. She had been in no mood to do that for her cousin Surrey; besides, she would not be seen to speak much with a Papist henchman in that house. He could seek her if he wanted her company, so she went into another part of the hall, where they were all strangers.
Except for the mere prudence of pretending to obey Viridus until it should be safe to defy him and his master, she troubled little about what was going to happen to her. It was enough that she was away from the home where she had pined and been lonely. She sat on her stool, watched the many figures that passed her, marked fashions of embroidery, and thought that such speeches as she chanced to hear were ill-turned. Her sister Maids of Honour turned their backs upon her. Only the dark girl, Cicely Elliott, who had gibed at her a week ago, helped her to pin her sleeve that had been torn by a sword-hilt of some man who had turned suddenly in a crowd. But Katharine had learnt, as well as the magister, that when one is poor one must accept what the gods send. Besides, she knew that in the Lady Mary’s household she was certain to be avoided, for she was regarded still as a spy of old Crummock’s. That, most likely, would end some day, and she had no love for women’s chatter.
She sat late at night correcting the embroidery of some true-love-knots that Margot had been making for her. A huckster had been there selling ribands from France, and showing a doll dressed as the ladies of the French King’s Court were dressing that new year. He had been talking of a monster that had been born to a pig-sty on Cornhill, and lamenting that travel was become a grievous costly thing since the monasteries, with their free hostel, had been done away with. The monster had been much pondered in the city; certainly it portended wars or strange public happenings, since it had the face of a child, greyhound’s ears, a sow’s forelegs, and a dragon’s tail. But the huckster had gone to another room, and Margot was getting her supper with the Lady Mary’s serving-maids.
‘Save us!’ Katharine said to herself over her embroidery-frame, ‘here be more drunkards. If I were a Queen I would make a law that any man should be burnt on the tongue that was drunk more than seven times in the week.’ But she was already on her feet, making for the door, her frame dropped to the ground. There had been a murmur of voices through the thick oak, and then shouts and objurgations.
Thomas Culpepper stood in the doorway, his sword drawn, his left hand clutching the throat of the serving man who was guarding her room.
‘God help us!’ Katharine said angrily; ‘will you ruin me?’
‘Cut throats?’ he muttered. ‘Aye, I can cut a throat with any man in Christendom or out.’ He shook the man backwards and forwards to support himself. ‘Kat, this offal would have kept me from thee.’
Katharine said, ‘Hush! it is very late.’
At the sound of her voice his face began to smile.
‘Oh, Kat,’ he stuttered jovially, ‘what law should keep me from thee? Thou’rt better than my wife. Heathen to keep man and wife apart, I say, I.’
‘Be still. It is very late. You will shame me,’ she answered.
‘Why, I would not have thee shamed, Kat of the world,’ he said. He shook the man again and threw him good humouredly against the wall. ‘Bide thou there until I come out,’ he muttered, and sought to replace his sword in the scabbard. He missed the hole and scratched his left wrist with the point. ‘Well, ’tis good to let blood at times,’ he laughed. He wiped his hand upon his breeches.
‘God help thee, thou’rt very drunk,’ Katharine laughed at him. ‘Let me put up thy sword.’
‘Nay, no woman’s hand shall touch this blade. It was my father’s.’
An old knight with a fat belly, a clipped grey beard and roguish, tranquil eyes was ambling along the gallery, swinging a small pair of cheverel gloves. Culpepper made a jovial lunge at the old man’s chest and suddenly the sword was whistling through the shadows.
The old fellow planted himself on his sturdy legs. He laughed pleasantly at the pair of them.
‘An’ you had not been very drunk I could never have done that,’ he said to Culpepper, ‘for I am passed of sixty, God help me.’
‘God help thee for a gay old cock,’ Culpepper said. ‘You could not have done it without these gloves in your fist.’
‘See you, but the gloves are not cut,’ the knight answered. He held them flat in his fat hands. ‘I learnt that twist forty years ago.’
‘Well, get you to the wench the gloves are for,’ Culpepper retorted. ‘I am not long together of this pleasant mind.’ He went into Katharine’s room and propped himself against the door post.
The old man winked at Katharine.
‘Bid that gallant not draw his sword in these galleries,’ he said. ‘There is a penalty of losing an eye. I am Rochford of Bosworth Hedge.’
‘Get thee to thy wench, for a Rochford,’ Culpepper snarled over his shoulder. ‘I will have no man speak with my coz. You struck a good blow at Bosworth Hedge. But I go to Paris to cut a better throat than thine ever was, Rochford or no Rochford.’
The old man surveyed him sturdily from his head to his heels and winked once more at Katharine.
‘I would I had had such manners as a stripling,’ he uttered in a round and friendly voice. ‘I might have prospered better in love.’ Going sturdily along the corridor he picked up Culpepper’s sword and set it against the wall.
Culpepper, leaning against the doorpost, was gazing with ferocious solemnity at the open clothes-press in which some hanging dresses appeared like women standing. He smoothed his red beard and thrust his cap far back on his thatch of yellow hair.
‘Mark you,’ he addressed the clothes-press harshly, ‘that is Rochford of Bosworth Hedge. At the end of that day they found him with seventeen body wounds and the corpses of seventeen Scotsmen round him. He is famous throughout Christendom. Yet in me you see a greater than he. I am sent to cut such a throat. But that’s a secret. Only I am a made man.’
Katharine had closed her door. She knew it would take her twenty minutes to get him into the frame of mind that he would go peaceably away.
‘Thou art very pleasant to-night,’ she said. ‘I have seldom seen thee so pleasant.’
‘For joy of seeing thee, Kat. I have not seen thee this six days.’ He made a hideous grinding sound with his teeth. ‘But I have broken some heads that kept me from thee.’
‘Be calm,’ Katharine answered; ‘thou seest me now.’
He passed his hand over his eyes.
‘I’ll be calm to pleasure thee,’ he muttered apologetically. ‘You said I was very pleasant, Kat.’ He puffed out his chest and strutted to the middle of the room. ‘Behold a made man. I could tell you such secrets. I am sent to slay a traitor at Rome, at Ravenna, at Ratisbon — wherever I find him. But he’s in Paris, I’ll tell thee that.’
Katharine’s knees trembled; she sank down into her tall chair.
‘Whom shalt thou slay?’
‘Aye, and that’s a secret. It’s all secrets. I have sworn upon the hilt of my knife. But I am bidden to go by an old-young man, a make of no man at all, with lips that minced and mowed. It was he bade the guards pass me to thee this night.’
‘I would know whom thou shalt slay,’ she asked harshly.
‘Nay, I tell no secrets. My soul would burn. But I am sent to slay this traitor — a great enemy to the King’s Highness, from the Bishop of Rome. Thus I shall slay him as he comes from a Mass.’
He squatted about the room, stabbing at shadows.
‘It is a man with a red hat,’ he grunted. ‘Filthy for an Englishman to wear a red hat these days!’
‘Put up your knife,’ Katharine cried, ‘I have seen too much of it.’
‘Aye, I am a good man,’ he boasted, ‘but when I come back you shall see me a great one. There shall be patents for farms given me. There shall be gold. There shall be never such another as I. I will give thee such gowns, Kat.’
She sat still, but smoothed back a lock of her fair hair that glowed in the firelight.
‘When I am a great man,’ he babbled on, ‘I will not wed thee, for who art thou to wed with a great man? Thou art more cheaply won. But I will give thee. . . . ’
‘Thou fool,’ she shrieked suddenly at him. ‘These men shall slay thee. Get thee to Paris to murder as thou wilt. Thou shalt never come back and I shall be well rid of thee.’
He gave her a snarling laugh:
‘Toy thou with no man when I am gone,’ he said with sudden ferocity, so that his blue eyes appeared to start from his head.
‘Poor fool, thou shalt never come back,’ she answered.
He had an air of cunning and triumph.
‘I have settled all this with that man that’s no man, Viridus; thou art here as in a cloister amongst the maids of the Court. No man shall see thee; thou shalt speak with none that wears not a petticoat. I have so contracted with that man.’
‘I tell thee they have contrived this to be rid of thee,’ she said.
His tone became patronising.
‘Wherefore should they?’ he asked. When there came no answer from her he boasted, ‘Aye, thou wouldst not have me go because thou lovest me too well.’
‘Stay here,’ she said. ‘I will give thee money.’ He stood gazing at her with his jaw fallen. ‘Thou art a drunkard and a foul tongue,’ she said, ‘but if thou goest to Paris to murder a cardinal thou shalt never come out of that town alive. Be sure thou shalt be rendered up to death.’
He staggered towards her and caught one of her hands.
‘Why, it is but cutting of a man’s throat,’ he said. ‘I have cut many throats and have taken no harm. Be not sad! This man is a cardinal. But ’tis all one. It shall make me a great man.’
She muttered, ‘Poor fool.’
‘I have sworn to go,’ he said. ‘I am to have great farms and a great man shall watch over thee to keep thee virtuous. They have promised it or I had not gone.’
‘Do you believe their promises?’ she asked derisively.
‘Why, ’tis a good knave, yon Viridus. He promised or ever I asked it.’
He was on his knees before her as she sat, with his arms about her waist.
‘Sha’t not cry, dear dove,’ he mumbled. ‘Sha’t go with me to Paris.’
‘No, no. Bide here,’ and passed her hand through his ruffled hair.
‘I would slay thee an thou were false to me,’ he whispered over her hand. ‘Get thee with me.’
She said, ‘No, no,’ again in a stifled voice.
He cried urgently:
‘Come! Come! By all our pacts. By all our secret vows.’
She shook her head, sobbing:
‘Poor fool. Poor fool. I am very lonely.’
He clutched her tightly and whispered in a hoarse voice:
‘It were merrier at home now. Thou didst vow. At home now. Of a summer’s night. . . . ’
She whispered: ‘Peace. Peace.’
‘At home now. In June, thou didst. . . . ’
She said urgently: ‘Be still. Wouldst thou woo me again to the grunting of hogs?’
‘Aye, would I,’ he answered. ‘Thou didst. . . . ’
She moved convulsively in her chair. He grasped her more tightly.
‘Thou yieldest, I know thee!’ he cried triumphantly. He staggered to his feet, still holding her hand.
‘Thou shalt come to Paris. Sha’t be lodged like a Princess. Sha’t see great sights.’
She sprang up, tearing herself from him.
‘Get thee gone from here,’ she shivered. ‘I am done with starving with thee. I know thy apple orchard wooings. Get thee gone from here. It is late. I shall be shamed if a man be seen to leave my room so late.’
‘Why, I would not have thee shamed, Kat,’ he muttered, her strenuous tone making him docile as a child.
‘Get thee gone,’ she answered, panting. ‘I will not starve.’
‘Wilt not come with me?’ he asked ruefully. ‘Thou didst yield in my arms.’
‘I do bid thee begone,’ she answered imperiously. ‘Get thee gold if thou would’st have me. I have starved too much with thee.’
‘Why, I will go,’ he muttered. ‘Buss me. For I depart towards Dover to-night, else this springald cardinal will be gone from Paris ere I come.’
‘Men shall make us cry, in the end, steel our hearts how we will,’ she said to Margot Poins, who found her weeping with her head down upon the table above a piece of paper.
‘I would weep for no man,’ Margot answered.
Large, florid, fair, and slow speaking, she gave way to one of her impulses of daring that covered her afterwards with immense blushes and left her buried in speechless confusion. ‘I could never weep for such an oaf as your cousin. He beats good men.’
‘Once he sold a farm to buy me a gown,’ Katharine said, ‘and he goes to a sure death if I may not stay him.’
‘It is even the province of men — to die,’ Margot answered. Her voice, gruff with emotion, astonished herself. She covered her mouth with the back of her great white hand as if she wished to wipe the word away.
‘Beseech you, spoil not your eyes with sitting to write at this hour for the sake of this roaring boy.’
Katharine sat to the table: a gentle knocking came at the door. ‘Let no one come, I have told the serving knave as much.’ She sank into a pondering over the wording of her letter to Bishop Gardiner. It was not to be thought of that her cousin should murder a Prince of the Church; therefore the bishop must warn the Catholics in Paris that Cromwell had this in mind. And Bishop Gardiner must stay her cousin on his journey: by a false message if needs were. It would be an easy matter to send him such a message as that she lay dying and must see him, or anything that should delay him until this cardinal had left Paris.
The great maid behind her back was fetching from the clothes-prop a waterglobe upon its stand; she set it down on the table before the rush-light, moving on tiptoe, for to her the writing of a letter was a sort of necromancy, and she was distressed for Katharine’s sake. She had heard that to write at night would make a woman blind before thirty. The light grew immense behind the globe; watery rays flickered broad upon the ceiling and on the hangings, and the paper shone with a mellow radiance. The gentle knocking was repeated, and Katharine frowned. For before she was half way through with the humble words of greeting to the bishop it had come to her that this was a very dangerous matter to meddle in, and she had no one by whom to send the letter. Margot could not go, for it was perilous for her maid to be seen near the bishop’s quarters with all Cromwell’s men spying about.
Behind her was the pleasant and authoritative voice of old Sir Nicholas Rochford talking to Margot Poins. Katharine caught the name of Cicely Elliott, the dark maid of honour who had flouted her a week ago, and had pinned up her sleeve that day in Privy Seal’s house.
The old man stood, grey and sturdy, his hand upon her doorpost. His pleasant keen eyes blinked upon her in the strong light from her globe as if he were before a good fire.
‘Why, you are as fair as a saint with a halo, in front of that jigamaree,’ he said. ‘I am sent to offer you the friendship of Cicely Elliott.’ When he moved, the golden collar of his knighthood shone upon his chest; his cropped grey beard glistened on his chin, and he shaded his eyes with his hand.
‘I was writing of a letter,’ Katharine said. She turned her face towards him: the stray rays from the globe outlined her red curved lips, her swelling chest, her low forehead; and it shone like the moon rising over a hill, yellow and fiery in the hair above her brow. The lines of her face drooped with her perplexities, and her eyes were large and shadowed, because she had been shedding many tears.
‘Cicely Elliott shall make you a good friend,’ he said, with a modest pride of his property; ‘she shall marry me, therefore I do her such services.’
‘You are old for her,’ Katharine said.
‘Since I have neither chick nor child and am main rich for a subject.’
‘Why, she is happy in her servant,’ Katharine said abstractedly. ‘You are a very famous knight.’
‘There are ballads of me,’ he answered complacently. ‘I pray to die in a good tulzie yet.’
‘If Cicely Elliott have her scarf in your helmet,’ Katharine said, ‘I may not give you mine.’ She was considering of her messenger to the bishop. ‘Will you do me a service?’
‘Why,’ he answered, with a gentle mockery, ‘you have one tricksy swordsman to bear your goodly colours.’
Katharine turned clean about to him and looked at him with attention, to make out whether he might be such a man as would carry her letter for her.
He returned her gaze directly, for he was proud of himself and of his fame. He had fought in all the wars that a man might fight in since he had been eighteen, and for fifteen years he had been captain of a troop employed by the Council in keeping back the Scots of the Borders. It was before Flodden Field that he had done his most famous deed, about which there were many ballads. Being fallen upon by a bevy of Scotsmen near a tall hedge, after he had been unhorsed, he had set his back into a thorn bush, and had fought for many hours in the rear of the Scottish troop, alone and with only his sword. The ballad that had been made about him said that seventeen corpses lay in front of the bush after the English won through to him. But since Cromwell had broken up the Northern Councils, and filled them again with his own men of no birth, the old man had come away from the Borders, disdaining to serve at the orders of knaves that had been butchers’ sons and worse. He owned much land and was very wealthy, and, having been very abstemious, because he came of an old time when knighthood had still some of the sacredness and austerity of a religion, he was a man very sound in limb and peaceable of disposition. In his day he had been esteemed the most graceful whiffler in the world: now he used only the heavy sword, because he was himself grown heavy.
Katharine answered his gentle sneer at her cousin:
‘It is true that I have a servant, but he is gone and may not serve me.’ Yet the knight would find it in the books of chivalry that certain occasions or great quests allowed of a knight’s doing the errands of more than one lady: but one lady, as for instance the celebrated Dorinda, might have her claims asserted by an illimitable number of knights, and she begged him to do her a service.
‘I have heard of these Errantry books,’ he said. ‘In my day there were none such, and now I have no letters.’
‘How, then, do you pass the long days of peace,’ Katharine asked, ‘if you neither drink nor dice?’
He answered: ‘In telling of old tales and teaching their paces to the King’s horses.’
He drew himself up a little. He would have her understand that he was not a horse leech: but there was in these four-footed beasts a certain love for him, so that Richmond, the King’s favourite gelding, would stand still to be bled if he but laid his hand on the great creature’s withers to calm him. These animals he loved, since he grew old and might not follow arguments and disputations of hic and hoc. ‘There were none such in my day. But a good horse is the same from year’s end to year’s end. . . . ’
‘Will you carry a letter for me?’ Katharine asked.
‘I would have you let me show you some of his Highness’ beasts,’ he added. ‘I breed them to the manage myself. You shall find none that step more proudly in Christendom or Heathenasse.’
‘Why, I believe you,’ she answered. Suddenly she asked: ‘You have ridden as knight errant?’
He said: ‘For three weeks only. Then the Scots came on too thick and fast to waste time.’ His dark eyes blinked and his broad lips moved humorously with his beard. ‘I swore to do service to any lady; pray you let me serve you.’
‘You can do me a service,’ she said.
He moved his hand to silence her.
‘Pray you take it not amiss. But there is one that hates you.’
‘Perhaps there are a many; but do me a service if you will.’
‘Look you,’ he said, ‘these times are no times of mine. But I know it is prudent to have servitors that love one. I saw yours shake a fist at your door.’
‘A man?’ She looked at Margot, who, big, silent and flushed, was devouring the celebrated hero of ballads with adoring eyes. He laughed.
‘That maid would kiss your feet. But, in these days, it is well to make friends with them that keep doors. The fellow at yours would spit upon you if he dared.’
Katharine said carelessly:
‘Let him even spit in his imagination, and I shall whip him.’
The old knight looked out of the door. He left it wide open, so that no man might listen.
‘Why, he is still gone,’ he said. He cleared his throat. ‘See you,’ he began. ‘So I should have said in the old days. These fellows then we could slush open to bathe our feet in their warm blood when we came tired-foot from hunting. Now it is otherwise. Such a loon may be a spy set upon one.’
He turned stiffly and majestically to move back her new hangings that only that day, in her absence at Privy Seal’s, had been set in place. He tapped spots in the wall with his broad and gentle fingers, talking all the time with his broad back to her.
‘See you, you have had here workmen to hang you a new arras. There be tricks of boring ear-holes through walls in hanging these things. So that if you have a cousin who shall catch a scullion by the throat. . . . ’
Katharine said hastily:
‘He hath heard little to harm me.’
‘It is what a man swears he hath heard that shall harm one,’ the old knight answered. ‘I meddle in no matters of statecraft, but I am sent to you by certain ladies; one shall wed me and I am her servant; one bears my name and wedded a good cousin of mine, now dead for his treasons.’
‘I am beholden to Cicely Elliott and the Lady Rochford. . . . ’
He silenced her with one of his small gestures of old-fashioned dignity and distinction.
‘I meddle in none of these matters,’ he said again. ‘But these ladies know that you hate one they hate.’
He said suddenly, ‘Ah!’ a little grunt of satisfaction. His fingers tapping gently made what seemed a stone of the wall quiver and let drop small flakes of plaster. He turned gravely upon Katharine:
‘I do not ask what you spoke of with that worshipful swordsman,’ he said. ‘But your servitor is gone to tell upon you. A stone is gone from here and there is his ear-hole, like a drum of canvas.’
Katharine said swiftly:
‘Take, then, a letter for me — to the Bishop of Winchester!’
He started back with a little exaggerated pantomime of horror.
‘Must I go into your plots?’ he asked, blinking and amused, as if he had expected the errand.
She said urgently:
‘I would have you tell me what Englishman now wears a red hat and is like to be in Paris. I am very ignorant in these matters.’
‘Then meddle not in them,’ he said, ‘for that man is even Cardinal Pole; one that the King’s Highness would very willingly know to be dead.’
‘God forbid that my cousin should murder a Prince of the Church, and be slain in that quarrel,’ she answered.
He started back and held his hands over his head.
‘Why, God help you, child! Is that your errand?’ he said, deep from his chest. ‘I meddle not in this matter.’
She answered obstinately:
‘Pray you — by your early vows — consent to carry me my letter.’
He shook his head bodingly.
‘I thought it had been a matter of a masque at the Bishop of Winchester’s; or I had never come nigh you. Cicely Elliott hath copied out the part you should speak. Pray you ask me no more of the other errand.’
‘For a great knight you are a friend only in little matters!’
He uttered reproachfully:
‘Child: it is no little matter to act as go-between for the Bishop of Winchester, even if it be for no more than a masque. How otherwise does he not send to you direct? So much I was ready to do for you, a stranger, who am a man that has no party.’
She uttered maliciously:
‘Well, well. I thought you came of the better times before our day.’
‘I have shewn myself a good enough man,’ he said composedly. He pointed one of his fingers at her.
‘Pole is not one that shall be easily slain. He is like to have in his pay the defter spadassins of the two. I have known him since he was a child till when he fled abroad.’
‘But my cousin!’ Katharine pleaded.
‘For the sake of your own little neck, let that gallant be hanged,’ he said smartly. ‘You have need of many friends; I can see it in your complexion, which is of a hasty loyalty. But I tell you, I had never come near you, so your cousin miscalled me, a man of worth and credit, had these ladies not prayed me to come to you.’
She raised herself to her full height.
‘It is not in the books of your knight-errantry,’ she cried, ‘that one should leave one’s friends to the hangman of Paris.’
The large figure of Margot Poins thrust itself upon them.
‘A’ God’s name,’ said her gruff voice of great emotion, ‘hear the words of this valiant soldier. Your cousin shall ruin you. It is true that he will drive from you all your good friends. . . . ’ She faltered, and her impulse carried her no further. Rochford tapped her flushed cheek gently with his glove, but a light and hushing step in the corridor made them all silent.
The Magister Udal stood before the door blinking his eyes at the light; Katharine addressed him imperiously —
‘You will carry a letter for me to save my cousin from death.’
He started, and leered at Margot, who was ready to sink into the ground.
‘Why, I had rather carry a bull to the temple of Jupiter, as Macrobius has it,’ he said, ‘meaning that. . . . ’
‘Yet you have drunk with him,’ Katharine interrupted him hotly, ‘you have gone hurling through the night with him. You have shamed me together.’
‘Yet I cannot forget Tully,’ he answered sardonically, ‘who warns me that a prudent man should be able to moderate the course of his friendship, even as he reins his horse. Est prudentis sustinere ut cursum. . . . ’
‘Mark you that!’ the old knight said to Katharine. ‘I will get my boy to read to me out of Tully, for that is excellent wisdom.’
‘God help me, this is Christendom!’ Katharine said, bitterly. ‘Shall one abandon one that lay in the same cradle with one?’
‘Your ladyship hath borne with him a day too long,’ Udal said. ‘He beat me like a dog five days since. Have you heard of the city called Ponceropolis, founded by the King Philip? Your good cousin should be ruler of that city, for the Great King peopled it with all the brawlers, cut-throats, and roaring boys of his dominions, to be rid of them.’ She became aware that he was very angry, for his whisper shook like the neigh of a horse.
The old knight winked at Margot.
‘Why this is a monstrous wise man,’ he said, ‘who yet speaks some sense.’
‘In short,’ the magister said, ‘If you will stick to this man, you shall lose me. For I have taken beatings and borne no malice — as in the case of men with whose loves or wives I have prospered better than themselves. But that this man should miscall me and beat me for the pure frenzy of his mind, causelessly, and for the love of blows! That is unbearable. To-night I walk for the first time after five days since he did beat me. And I ask you whom you shall here find the better servant?’
His thin figure was suddenly shaking with rage.
‘Why, this is conspiracy!’ Katharine cried.
‘A conspiracy!’ Udal’s voice rose up into a shriek. ‘If your ladyship were a Queen I would not be a Queen’s cousin’s whipping post.’ His arms jerked with the spasms of his rage like those of a marionette.
‘A shame that learned men should be so beaten!’ Margot’s gruff voice uttered.
Katharine turned upon her.
‘That is what made you speak e’ennow. You have been with this flibbertigibbet.’
‘This is a free land,’ the girl mumbled, her mild eyes sparkling with the contagious anger of her lover.
The old knight stood blinking upon Katharine.
‘You are like to lose all your servants in this quarrel,’ he said.
Katharine wrung her hands, and then turned her back upon them and drummed upon the table with her fingers. Udal caught Margot’s large hand and fumbled it beneath the furs of his robe: the old knight kept his smiling eyes upon Katharine’s back. Her voice came at last:
‘Why, I will not have Tom killed upon this occasion into which I brought him.’
Rochford shrugged his shoulders up to his ears.
‘Oh marvellous infatuation,’ he said.
Katharine spoke, still with her back turned and her shoulders heaving:
‘A marvellous infatuation!’ she said, her voice coming softly and deeply in her chest. ‘Why, after his fashion this man loved me. God help us, what other men have I seen here that would strike a straight blow? Here it is moving in the dark, listening at pierced walls, swearing of false treasons ——’
She swept round upon the old man, her face moved, her eyes tender and angry. She stretched out her hand, and her voice was pitiful and urgent.
‘Sir! Sir! What counsel do you give me, who are a knight of honour? Would you let a man who lay in the cradle with you go to a shameful death in an errand you had made for him?’
She leaned back upon the table with her eyes upon his face. ‘No you would not. How then could you give me such counsel?’
He said: ‘Well, well. You are in the right.’
‘Nearly I went with him to another place,’ she answered, ‘but half an hour ago. Would to God I had! for here it is all treacheries.’
‘Write your letter, child,’ he answered. ‘You shall give it to Cicely Elliott tomorrow in the morning. I will have it conveyed, but I will not be seen to handle it, for I am too young to be hanged.’
‘Why, God help you, knight,’ Udal whispered urgently from the doorway, ‘carry no letter in this affair — if you escape, assuredly this mad pupil of mine shall die. For the King ——?’ Suddenly he raised his voice to a high nasal drawl that rang out like a jackdaw’s: ‘That is very true; and, in this matter of Death you may read in Socrates’ Apology. Nevertheless we may believe that if Death be a transmigration from one place into another, there is certainly amendment in going whither so many great men have already passed, and to be subtracted from the way of so many judges that be iniquitous and corrupt.’
‘Why, what a plague. . . . ’ Katharine began.
He interrupted her quickly.
‘Here is your serving man back at last if you would rate him for leaving your door unkept.’
The man stood in the doorway, his lanthorn dangling in his hand, his cudgel stuck through his belt, his shock of hair rough like an old thatch, and his eyes upon the ground. He mumbled, feeling at his throat:
‘A man must eat. I was gone to my supper.’
‘You are like to have the nightmare, friend,’ the old knight said pleasantly. ‘It is ill to eat when most of the world sleeps.’
Cicely Elliott had indeed sent her old knight to Katharine with those overtures of friendship. Careless, dark, and a madcap, she had flown at Katharine because she had believed her a creature of Cromwell’s, set to spy upon the Lady Mary’s maids. They formed, the seven of them, a little, mutinous, babbling circle. Their lady’s cause they adored, for it was that of an Old Faith, such as women will not let die. The Lady Mary treated them with a hard indifference: it was all one to her whether they loved her or not; so they babbled, and told evil tales of the other side. The Lady Rochford could do little to hold them, for, having come very near death when the Queen Anne fell, she had been timid ever since, and Cicely Elliott was their ringleader.
Thus it was to her that one of Gardiner’s priests had come begging her to deliver to Katharine a copy of the words she was to speak in the masque, and from the priest Cicely had learnt that Katharine loved the Old Faith and hated Privy Seal as much as any of them. She had been struck with a quick remorse, and had suddenly seen Katharine as one that must be helped and made amends to. Thus she had pinned up her sleeve at Privy Seal’s. There, however, it had not been safe to speak with her.
‘Dear child,’ she said to Katharine next morning, ‘we may well be foils one to another, for I am dark and pert, like a pynot. They call me Mag Pie here. You shall be Jenny Dove of the Sun. But I am not afraid of your looks. Men that like the touch of the sloe in me shall never be drawn away by your sweet lips.’
She was, indeed, like a magpie, never still for a minute, fingering Katharine’s hair, lifting the medallion upon her chest, poking her dark eyes close to the embroidery on her stomacher. She had a trick of standing with her side face to you, so that her body seemed very long to her hips, and her dark eyes looked at you askance and roguish, whilst her lips puckered to a smile, a little on one side.
‘It was not your old knight called me Sweetlips,’ Katharine said. ‘I miscalled him foully last night.’
Cicely Elliott threw back her head and laughed.
‘Why, he is worshipful heavy to send on a message; but you may trust his advice when he gives it.’
‘I am come to think the same,’ Katharine said; ‘yet in this one matter I cannot take it.’
Cicely Elliott had taken to herself the largest and highest of the rooms set apart for these maids. The tapestries, which were her own, were worked in fair reds and greens, like flowers. She had a great silver mirror and many glass vases, in which were set flowers worked in silver and enamel, and a large, thin box carved out of an elephant’s tusk, to hold her pins; and all these were presents from the old knight.
‘Why,’ she said, ‘sometimes his advice shall fit a woman’s mood; sometimes he goes astray, as in the case of these gloves. Cheverel is a skin that will stretch so that after one wearing you may not tell the thumbs from stocking-feet. Nevertheless, I would be rid of your cousin.’
‘Not in this quarrel,’ Katharine answered. ‘Find him an honourable errand, and he shall go to Kathay.’
Cicely threw the stretched cheverel glove into the fire.
‘My knight shall give me a dozen pairs of silk, stitched with gold to stiffen them,’ she said. ‘You shall have six; but send your cousin in quest of the Islands of the Blest. They lie well out in the Western Ocean. If you can make him mislay his compass he will never come back to you.’
‘I think he would come without compass or chart. Nevertheless, I will send me my letter by means of your knight to Bishop Gardiner.’
Cicely Elliott hung her head on her chest.
‘I do not ask its contents, but you may give it me.’
Katharine brought it out from the bosom of her dress, and the dark girl passed it up her sleeve.
‘This shall no doubt ruin you,’ she said. ‘But get you to our mistress. I will carry your letter.’
Katharine started back.
‘You!’ she said. ‘It was Sir Nicholas should have it conveyed.’
‘That poor, silly old man shall not be hanged in this matter,’ Cicely answered. ‘It is all one to me. If Crummock would have had my head he could have shortened me by that much a year ago.’
Katharine’s eyes dilated proudly.
‘Give me my letter,’ she said; ‘I will have no woman in trouble for me.’
The dark girl laughed at her.
‘Your letter is in my sleeve. No hands shall touch it before mine deliver it to him it is written to. Get you to our mistress. I thank you for an errand I may laugh over; laughter here is not over mirthful.’
She stood side face to Katharine, her mouth puckered up into her smile, her eyes roguish, her hands clasped behind her back.
‘Why, you see Cicely Elliott,’ she said, ‘whose folk all died after the Marquis of Exeter’s rising, who has neither kith nor kin, nor house nor home. I had a man loved me passing well. He is dead with the rest; so I pass my time in pranks because the hours are heavy. To-day the prank is on thy side; take it as a gift the gods send, for tomorrow I may play thee one, since thou art soft, and fair, and tender. That is why they call me here the Magpie. My old knight will tell you I have tweaked his nose now and again, but I will not have him shortened by the head for thy sake.’
‘Why, you are very bitter,’ Katharine said.
The girl answered, ‘If your head ached as mine does now and again when I remember my men who are dead; if your head ached as mine does. . . . ’ She stopped and gave a peal of laughter. ‘Why, child, your face is like a startled moon. You have not stayed days enough here to have met many like me; but if you tarry here for long you will laugh much as I laugh, or you will have grown blind long since with weeping.’
Katharine said, ‘Poor child, poor child!’
But the girl cried out, ‘Get you gone, I say! In the Lady Mary’s room you shall find my old knight babbling with the maidens. Send him to me, for my head aches scurvily, and he shall dip his handkerchief in vinegar and set it upon my forehead.’
‘Let me comb thy hair,’ Katharine said; ‘my hand is sovereign against a headache.’
‘No, get you gone,’ the girl said harshly; ‘I will have men of war to do these errands for me.’
Katharine answered, ‘Sit thee down. Thou wilt take my letter; I must ease thy pains.’
‘As like as not I shall scratch thy pink face,’ Cicely said. ‘At these times I cannot bear the touch of a woman. It was a woman made my father run with the Marquis of Exeter.’
‘Sweetheart,’ Katharine said softly, ‘I could hold both thy wrists with my two fingers. I am stronger than most men.’
‘Why, no!’ the girl cried; ‘I may not sit still. Get you gone. I will run upon your errand. If you had knelt to as many men as I have you could not sit still either. And not one of my men was pardoned.’
She ran from the room with a sidelong step like a magpie’s, and her laugh rang out discordantly from the corridor.
The Lady Mary sat reading her Plautus in her large painted gallery, with all her maids about her sewing, some at a dress for her, some winding silk for their own uses. The old knight stood holding his sturdy hands apart between a rope of wool that his namesake Lady Rochford was making into balls. Other gentlemen were beside some of the maids, toying with their silks or whispering in their ears. No one much marked Katharine Howard.
She glided to her lady and kissed the dry hand that lay in the lap motionless. Mary raised her eyes from her book, looked for a leisurely time at the girl’s face, and then began again to read. Old Rochford winked pleasantly at her, and, after she had saluted his cousin, he begged her to hold the wool in his stead, for his hands, which were used to sword and shield, were very cold, and his legs, inured to the saddle, brooked standing very ill.
‘Cicely Elliott hath a headache,’ Katharine said; ‘she bade me send you to her.’
He waited before her, helping her to adjust the wool on to her white hands, and she uttered, in a low voice:
‘She hath taken my letter for me.’
He said, ‘Why, what a’ the plague’s name . . . ’ and stood fingering his peaked little beard in a gentle perplexity.
Lady Rochford pulled at her wool and gave a hissing sigh of pain, for the joint of her wrist was swollen.
‘It has always been easterly winds in January since the Holy Blood of Hailes was lost,’ she sighed. ‘In its day I could get me some ease in the wrist by touching the phial that held it.’ She shivered with discomfort, and smiled distractedly upon Katharine. Her large and buxom face was mild, and she seemed upon the point of shedding tears.
‘Why, if you will put your wool round a stool, I will wind it for you,’ Katharine said, because the gentle helplessness of the large woman filled her with compassion, as if this were her old, mild mother.
Lady Rochford shook her head disconsolately.
‘Then I must do something else, and my bones would ache more. But I would you would make my cousin Rochford ask the Archbishop where they have hidden the Sacred Blood of Hailes, that I may touch it and be cured.’
The old knight frowned very slightly.
‘I have told thee to wrap thy fist in lamb’s-wool,’ he said. ‘A hundred times I have told thee. It is very dangerous to meddle with these old saints and phials that are done away with.’
Lady Rochford sighed gently and hung her head.
‘My cousin Anne, that was a sinful Queen, God rest her soul . . . ’ she began.
Sir Nicholas listened to her no more.
‘See you,’ he whispered to Katharine. ‘Peradventure it is best that Cicely have gone. Being a madcap, her comings and goings are heeded by no man, and it is true that she resorteth daily to the Bishop of Winchester, to plague his priests.’
‘I would not speak so, being a man,’ Katharine said.
He smiled at her and patted her shoulder.
‘Why, I have struck good blows in my time,’ he said.
‘And have learned worldly wisdom,’ Katharine retorted.
‘I would not risk my neck on grounds where I am but ill acquainted,’ he answered soberly. He was all will to please her. The King, he said, was coming on the Wednesday, after the Bishop of Winchester’s, to see three new stallions walk in their manage-steps. ‘I pray that you will come with Cicely Elliott to watch from the little window in the stables. These great creatures are a noble sight. I bred them myself to it.’ His mild brown eyes were bright with enthusiasm and cordiality.
Suddenly there was a great silence in the room, and the Lady Mary raised her head. The burly figure of Throckmorton, the spy, was in the doorway. Katharine shuddered at the sight of him, for, in her Lincolnshire house, where he was accounted more hateful than Judas who betrayed the Lord, she had seen him beat the nuns when the convents had been turned out of doors, and he had brought to death his own brother, who had had a small estate near her father’s house. The smile upon his face made her feel sick. He stroked his long, golden-brown beard, glanced swiftly round the room, and advanced to the mistress’s chair, swinging his great shoulders. He made a leg and pulled off his cap, and at that there was a rustle of astonishment, for it had been held treasonable to cap the Lady Mary. Her eyes regarded him fixedly, with a granite cold and hardness, and he seemed to have at once a grin of power and a shrinking motion of currying favour. He said that Privy Seal begged her leave that her maid Katharine Howard might go to him soon after one o’clock. The Lady Mary neither spoke nor moved, but the old knight shrank away from Katharine, and affected to be talking in the ear of Lady Rochford, who went on winding her wool. Throckmorton turned on his heels and swung away, his eyes on the floor, but with a grin on his evil face.
He left a sudden whisper behind him, and then the silence fell once more. Katharine stood, a tall figure, holding out the hands on which the wool was as if she were praying to some invisible deity or welcoming some invisible lover. Some heads were raised to look at her, but they fell again; the old knight shuffled nearer her to whisper hoarsely from his moustachioed lips:
‘Your serving man hath reported. Pray God we come safe out of this!’ Then he went out of the room. Lady Rochford sighed deeply, for no apparent reason.
After a time the Lady Mary raised her head and made a minute, cold beckoning to Katharine. Her dry finger pointed to a word in her book of Plautus.
‘Tell me what you know of this,’ she commanded.
The play was the Menechmi, and the phrase ran, ‘Nimis autem bene ora commetavi. . . . ’ It was difficult for Katharine to bring her mind down to this text, for she had been wondering if indeed her time were at an end before it had begun. She said:
‘I have never loved this play very well,’ to excuse herself.
‘Then you are out of the fashion,’ Mary said coldly, ‘for this Menechmi is prized here above all the rest, and shall be played at Winchester’s before his Highness.’
Katharine bowed her head submissively, and read the words again.
‘I remember me,’ she said, ‘I had this play in a manuscript where your commetavi read commentavi.’
Mary kept her eyes upon the girl’s face, and said:
‘Why, it signifies,’ Katharine said, ‘that Messenio did well mark a face. If you read commetavi it should mean that he scratched it with his nails so that it resembled a harrowed field; if commentavi, that he bethumped it with his fist so that bruises came out like the stops on a fair writing.’
‘It is true that you are a good Latinist,’ Mary said expressionlessly. ‘Bring me my inkhorn to that window. I will write down your commentavi.’
Katharine lifted the inkhorn from its hole in the arm of the chair and gracefully followed the stiff and rigid figure into the embrasure of a distant window.
Mary bent her head over the book that she held in her hand, and writing in the margin, she uttered:
‘Pity that such an excellent Latinist should meddle in matters that nothing concern her.’
Katharine held the inkhorn carefully, as if it had been a precious vase.
‘If you will bid me do naught but serve you, I will do naught else,’ she said.
‘I will neither bid thee nor aid thee,’ Mary answered. ‘The Bishop of Winchester claims thy service. Serve him as thou wilt.’
‘I would serve my mistress in serving him,’ Katharine said. ‘He is a man I love little.’
Mary pulled suddenly from her bodice a piece of crumpled parchment that had been torn across. She thrust it into Katharine’s free hand.
‘Such letters I have had written me by my father’s men,’ she said. ‘If this bishop should come to be my father’s man I would take no service from him.’
Katharine read on the crumpled parchment such words as:
‘Be you dutiful . . .
I will not protect . . .
You shall be ruined utterly . . .
You had better creep underground . . .
Therefore humble you . . . ’
‘It was Thomas Cromwell wrote that,’ the Lady Mary cried. ‘My father’s man!’
‘But if this brewer’s son be brought down?’ Katharine pleaded.
‘Why, I tore his letter across for it is filthy,’ Mary said, ‘and I keep the halves of his letter that I may remember. If he be brought down, who shall bring his master down that let him write so?’
‘If this tempter of the Devil’s brood were brought down there should ensue so great an atonement from his sorrowful master whom he deludes. . . . ’
Mary uttered a ‘Tush!’ of scorn and impatience. ‘This is the babbling of a child. My father is no holy innocent as you and your like feign to believe.’
‘Nevertheless I love you most well,’ Katharine pleaded.
Mary snapped her book to. Her cold tone came back over her heat as the grey clouds of a bitter day shut down again upon a dangerous flicker of lightning.
‘Do as you will,’ she said, ‘only if your head fall I will stir no finger to aid you. Or, if by these plottings my father could be got to send me his men upon their knees and bearing crowns, I would turn my back upon them and say no word.’
‘Well, my plottings are like to end full soon,’ Katharine said. ‘Privy Seal hath sent for me upon no pleasant errand.’
Mary said: ‘God help you!’ with a frigid unconcern, and walked back to her chair.
Cromwell kept as a rule his private courts either in his house at Austin Friars, or in a larger one that he had near the Rolls. But, when the King was as far away from London as Greenwich, or when such ill-wishers as the Duke of Norfolk were in the King’s neighbourhood, Cromwell never slept far out of earshot from the King’s rooms. It was said indeed that never once since he had become the King’s man had he passed a day without seeing his Highness once at least, or writing him a great letter. But he contrived continually to send the nobles that were against him upon errands at a distance — as when Bishop Gardiner was made Ambassador to Paris, or Norfolk sent to put down the North after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Such errands served a double purpose: Gardiner, acting under the pressure of the King, was in Paris forced to make enemies of many of his foreign friends; and the Duke, in his panic-stricken desire to curry favour with Henry, had done more harrying, hanging and burning among the Papists than ever Henry or his minister would have dared to command, for in those northern parts the King’s writ did not run freely. Thus, in spite of himself the Duke at York had been forced to hold the country whilst creatures of Privy Seal, men of the lowest birth and of the highest arrogance, had been made Wardens of the Marches and filled the Councils of the Borders. Such men, with others, like the judges and proctors of the Court of Augmentations, which Cromwell had invented to administer the estates of the monasteries and escheated lords’ lands, with a burgess or two from the shires in Parliament, many lawyers and some suppliants of rank, filled the anterooms of Privy Seal. There was a matter of two hundred of them, mostly coming not upon any particular business so much as that any enemies they had who should hear of their having been there might tremble the more.
Cromwell himself was in the room that had the King’s and Queen’s heads on the ceiling and the tapestry of Diana hunting. He was speaking with a great violence to Sir Leonard Ughtred, whose sister-inlaw, the widow of Sir Anthony Ughtred, and sister of the Queen Jane, his son Gregory had married two years before. It was a good match, for it made Cromwell’s son the uncle of the Prince of Wales, but there had been a trouble about their estates ever since.
‘Sir,’ Cromwell threatened the knight, ‘Gregory my son was ever a fool. If he be content that you have Hyde Farm that am not I. His wife may twist him to consent, but I will not suffer it.’
Ughtred hung his head, which was closely shaved, and fingered his jewelled belt.
‘It is plain justice,’ he muttered. ‘The farm was ceded to my brother after Hyde Monastery was torn down. It was to my brother, not to my brother’s wife, who is now your son’s.’
Cromwell turned upon the Chancellor of the Augmentations who stood in the shadow of the tall mantelpiece. He was twisting his fingers in his thin grey beard that wagged tremulously when he spoke.
‘Truly,’ he bleated piteously, ‘it stands in the register of the Augmentations as the worshipful knight says.’
Cromwell cried out, in a studied rage: ‘I made thee and I made thy office: I will unmake the one and the other if it and thou know no better law.’
‘God help me,’ the Chancellor gasped. He shrank again into the shadow of the chimney, and his blinking eyes fell upon Cromwell’s back with a look of dread and the hatred of a beast that is threatened at the end of its hole.
‘Sir,’ Cromwell frowned darkly upon Ughtred, ‘the law stands thus if the Augmentation people know it not. This farm and others were given to your late brother upon his marriage, that the sister of the Queen might have a proper state. The Statute of Uses hath here no say. Understand me: It was the King’s to give; it is the King’s still.’ He opened his mouth so wide that he appeared to bellow. ‘That farm falleth to the survivor of those two, who is now my son’s wife. What judge shall gainsay that?’ He swayed his body round on his motionless and sturdily planted legs, veering upon the Chancellor and the knight in turn, as if he challenged them to gainsay him who had been an attorney for ten years after he had been a wool merchant.
Ughtred shrugged his shoulders heavily, and the Chancellor hastened to bleat:
‘No judge shall gainsay your lordship. Your lordship hath an excellent knowledge of the law.’
‘Why hast thou not as good a one?’ Cromwell rated him. ‘I made thee since I thought thou hadst.’ The Chancellor choked in his throat and waved his hands.
‘Thus the law is,’ Cromwell said to Ughtred. ‘And if it were not so Parliament should pass an Act so to make it. For it is a scandal that a Queen’s sister, an aunt of the Prince that shall be King, should lose her lands upon the death of her husband. It savours of treason that you should ask it. I have known men go to the Tower upon less occasion.’
‘Well, I am a broken man,’ Sir Leonard muttered.
‘Why, God help you,’ Cromwell said. ‘Get you gone. The law takes no account of whether a man be broken, but seeketh to do honour to the King’s Highness and to render justice.’
Viridus and Sadler, who was another of Cromwell’s secretaries, had come in whilst Privy Seal had been speaking, and Cromwell turned upon them laughing as the knight went out, his head hanging.
‘Here is another broken man,’ he said, and they all laughed together.
‘Well, he is another very notable swordsman,’ Viridus said. ‘We might well post him at Milan, lest Pole flee back to Rome that way.’
Cromwell turned upon the Chancellor with a bitter contempt.
‘Find thou for this knight some monk’s lands in Kent. He shall to Milan with them for a price.’
‘Now we shall soon have these broken swordsmen in every town of Italy between France and Rome. Such a net Pole shall not easily break through.’
‘It were well he were done with soon,’ Cromwell said.
‘The King shall love us much the more; and it is time.’
‘Why, there will in two days be such a clamour of assassins in Paris that he shall soon bolt from there towards Rome,’ Viridus answered. ‘It will go hard if he escape all our Italy men. I hold it for certain that Winchester shall have reported to him in Paris that this Culpepper is on the road. Will you speak with this Howard wench?’
Cromwell knitted his brows in uncertainty.
‘It was her cousin that should clamour about this murder in Paris,’ Viridus reminded him.
‘Is she without?’ Cromwell asked. ‘Have you it for certain that she hath reported to my lord of Winchester?’
‘Winchester’s priest of the bedchamber hath shewn me a copy of the letter she wrote. I would have your lordship send some reward to that Father Michael. He hath served us in many other matters.’
Cromwell motioned with his hand that Sadler should note down this Father Michael’s name.
‘Are there many men in my antechambers?’ he asked Viridus, and hearing that there were more than one hundred and fifty: ‘Why, let this wench stay there a half-hour. It humbles a woman to be alone among so many men, and she shall come here without a sound clout to her back for the crush of them.’
He began talking with Sadler about two globes of the world that he had ordered his agent to buy in Antwerp, one for himself and the other for a present to the King. Sadler answered that the price was very high; a thousand crowns or so, he had forgotten just how many. They had been twelve years in the making, but the agent had been afraid of the greatness of the expense.
‘Tush; I must have the best of these Flemish furnishings.’
He signed to Viridus to send for Katharine Howard, and went on talking with Sadler about the furnishing of his house in the Austin Friars. He had his agents all over Flanders watching the noted masters of the crafts to see what notable pieces they might turn out; for he loved fine carvings, noble hangings, great worked chests and other signs of wealth, and the money was never thrown away, for the wood and the stuffs and the gold thread remained so long as you kept the moth and the woodlouse from them. To the King too he gave presents every day.
Katharine entered by a door from a corridor at which he had not expected her. She wore a great head-dress of net like the Queen’s and her dress was in no disarray, neither were her cheeks flushed by anything more than apprehension. She said that she had been shown that way by a large gentleman with a great beard. She would not bring herself to mention the name of Throckmorton, so much she detested him.
Cromwell answered with a benevolent smile, ‘Aye, Throckmorton had ever an eye for beauty. Otherwise you had come scurvily out of that wash.’
He twisted his mouth up as if he were mocking her, and asked her suddenly how the Lady Mary corresponded with her cousin the Emperor, for it was certain she had a means of writing to him?
Katharine flushed all over her face with relief and her heart stilled itself a little. Here at least there was no talk of the Tower at once for her, because she had written a letter to Bishop Gardiner. She answered that that day for the first time she had been in the Lady Mary’s service.
He smiled benevolently still, and holding out a hand in a little warning gesture and with an air of pleasant reasonableness, said that she must earn her bread like other folks in his Highness’ service.
‘Why,’ she answered, ‘I have been marvellous ill, but I shall be more diligent in serving my mistress.’
He marked a distinction, pointing a fat finger at her heart-place. In the serving of her mistress she should do not enough work to pay for bodkins nor for sewing silk, since the Lady Mary asked nothing of her maids, neither their attendance, their converse, nor yet their needlework. Such a place asked nothing of one so fortunate as to fill it. To atone for it the service of the King demanded her labours.
‘Why,’ she said again, ‘if I must spy in those parts it is a great pity that I ever came there as your woman; for who there shall open their hearts to me?’
He laughed at her comfortably still.
‘You may put it about that you hate me,’ he said. ‘You may mix with them that love me not. In the end you may worm yourself into their secrets.’
Again a heavy flush covered Katharine’s face from the chin to the brow. It was so difficult for her to keep from speaking her mind with her lips that she felt as if her whole face must be telling the truth to him. But he continued to shake his plump sides as if he were uttering inaudible, ‘Ho — ho — ho’s.’
‘That is so easy,’ he said. ‘A child, I think, could compass it.’ He put his hands behind his back and stretched his legs apart. She was very pleasant to look at with her flushings, and it amused him to toy with frightened women. ‘It is in this way that you shall earn his Highness’ bread.’ It was known that Mary had this treasonable correspondence with the Emperor; in the devilish malignancy of her heart she desired that her sacred father should be cast down and slain, and continually she implored her cousin to invade her father’s dominions, she sending him maps, plans of the new castles in building and the names of such as were malevolent within the realm. ‘Therefore,’ he finished, ‘if you could discover her channels and those channels could then be stopped up, you would indeed both earn your bread and enter into high favour.’
He began again good-humouredly to give her careful directions as to how she should act; as for instance by offering to make for the printers a fair copy of the Lady Mary’s Commentary upon Plautus. By pretending that certain words were obscure to her, she should find opportunities for coming suddenly into the room, and she should afford herself excuses for searching among his mistress’s papers without awakening suspicions.
‘Why, my face is too ingenuous,’ Katharine said. ‘I am not made for playing the spy.’
He laughed at her.
‘That is so much the better,’ he said. ‘The best spies are those that have open countenances. It needs but a little schooling.’
‘I should get me a hang-dog look very soon,’ she answered. She paused for a minute and then spoke earnestly, holding out her hands. ‘I would you would set me a nobler task. Very surely it is shameful that a daughter should so hate the father that begat her; and I know the angels weep to see her desire that the great and noble prince should be cast down and slain by his enemies. But, sir, it were the better task to seek to soften her mind. Such knowledge as I have of goodly writers should aid me rather to persuade her heart towards her father; for I know no texts that should make me skilful as a spy, but I can give you a dozen from Plautus alone that do inculcate a sweet and dutiful love from daughter to sire.’
He leered at her pleasantly.
‘Why, you speak sweetly, by the book. If the Lady Mary were a man now. . . . ’
The hitherto silent men laid back their heads to laugh, and the Chancellor of the Augmentations suddenly rubbed his palms together, hissing like an ostler. But, seeing her look became angry and abashed, Cromwell stopped his sentence and once more held out a finger.
‘Why, indeed,’ he said, gravely, ‘if you could do that you might be the first lady in the land, for neither the King nor I, nor yet all nor many have availed there.’
‘Surely there is a way to touch the heart of this noble lady, and by long seeking I may find.’
‘Well, you have spoken many words,’ Cromwell said. ‘This is a great matter. If you shall achieve it, it shall be accounted to you both here and in heaven. But the other task I enjoin upon you.’
She was making sorrowfully to the door, and he called to her:
‘I have found your cousin employment.’
The sudden mention made her stop as if she had been struck in the face, and she held her hand to her side. Her face was distorted with fear as she turned to answer:
‘Aye. I knew. He hath told me. But I cannot thank you. I would not that my cousin should murder a prince of the Church.’ She knew, from the feeling in her heart and the cruel sound of his voice that he had that knowledge already. If he wished to imprison her it could serve no turn to fence about that matter, and she steadied herself by catching hold of the tapestry with one hand behind her back. The faces of Cromwell’s three assistants were upon her, hard, sardonic and grinning.
Viridus said, with an air of parade:
‘I had told your lordship this lady had flaws in her loyalty.’ And the Chancellor was raising his hands in horror, after the fashion of a Greek Chorus. Cromwell, however, grinned still at her.
‘When the Queen Katharine died,’ he said slowly, ‘it was a great relief to this realm. When the late Arch Devil, Pope Clement, died, the King and I were mad with joy. But if all popes and all hostile queens and princes could be stricken with devils and dead tomorrow, his Highness would rather it were Reginald Pole.’
Katharine understood very well that he was setting before her the enormity of her offence: she stood still with her lips parted. He went on rehearsing the crimes of the cardinal: how he had been educated by the King’s high bounty: how the King had offered him the Archbishopric of York: how he had the rather fled to the Bishop of Rome: how he had written a book, accusing the King of such crimes and heresies that all Christendom had cried out upon his Highness. Even then this Pole was in Paris with a bull from the Bishop of Rome calling upon the Emperor and the King of France to fall together upon their lord.
‘I would well he were dead. But not by my cousin. They should take my cousin and slay him.’
Cromwell had arranged this scene very carefully: for his power over the King fell away daily, and that day he had had to tell Baumbach, the Saxish ambassador, that there was no longer any hope of the King’s allying himself with the Schmalkaldner league. Therefore he was the more hot to discover a new Papist treason. The suggestion of Viridus that Katharine might be made either to discover or to invent one had filled him with satisfaction. There was no one who could be more believed if she could be ground down into swearing away the life of her uncle or any other man of high station. And to grind her down thus needed only many threats. He infused gradually more terror into his narrow eyes, and spoke more gravely:
‘Neither do I desire the death of this traitor so hotly as doth his Highness. For there be these foul lies — and have you not heard the ancient fool’s prophecy that was made over thirty years ago: “That one with a Red Cap brought up from low degree should rule all the land under the King. (I trow ye know who that was.) And that after much mixing the land should by another Red Cap be reconciled or else brought to utter ruin”?’
‘I am new to this place,’ Katharine said; ‘I never heard that saying. God help me, I wish this man were dead.’
His voice grew the more deep as he saw that she was the more daunted:
‘Aye: and whether the land be reconciled to the Bishop of Rome, or be brought to utter ruin, the one and the other signify the downfall of his Highness.’
The Chancellor interrupted piously:
‘God save us. Whither should we all flee then!’
‘It is not,’ Viridus commented dryly, ‘that his Highness or my lord here do fear a fool prophecy made by a drunken man. But there being such a prophecy running up and down the land, and such a malignant and devilish Red Cap ranting up and down the world, the hearts of foolish subjects are made to turn.’
‘Idiot wench,’ the Chancellor suddenly yelped at her, ‘ignorant, naughty harlot! You had better have died than have uttered those your pretty words.’
‘Why,’ Cromwell said gently, ‘I am very sure that now you desire that your cousin should slay this traitor.’ He paused, licked his lips and held out a hand. ‘Upon your life,’ he barked, ‘tell no soul this secret.’
The faces of all the four men were again upon her, sardonic, leering and amused, and suddenly she felt that this was not the end of the matter: there was something untrue in this parade of threats. Cromwell was acting: they were all acting parts. Their speeches were all too long, too dryly spoken: they had been rehearsed! This was not the end of the matter — and neither her cousin nor Cardinal Pole was here the main point. She wondered for a wild moment if Cromwell, too, like Gardiner, thought that she had a voice with the King. But Cromwell knew as well as she that the King had seen her but once for a minute, and he was not a fool like Gardiner to run his nose into a mare’s nest.
‘There is no power upon earth could save you from your doom if through you this matter miscarried,’ he said, softly: ‘therefore, be you very careful: act as I would have you act: seek out that secret that I would know.’
It came irresistibly into Katharine’s head:
‘These men know already very well that I have written to Bishop Gardiner! This is to hold a halter continuously above my head!’ Then, at least, they did not mean to do away with her instantly. She dropped her eyes upon the ground and stood submissively whilst Privy Seal’s voice came cruel and level:
‘You are a very fair wench, made for love and such stuff. You are an indifferent good Latinist who might offer good counsel. But be you very careful that you come not against me. You should not escape, but may burrow underground sooner than that. Your Aristotle should not help you, nor Lucretius, nor Lucan, nor Silius Italicus. Diodorus Siculus hath no maxim that should help you against me; but, like Diodorus the Dialectician, you should die of shame. Seneca shall help you if you but dally with that fool thought who sayeth: “Quaeris quo jaceas post obitum loco? Quo non nata jacent.” Aye, thou shalt die and lie in an unknown grave as thou hadst never been born.’
She went, her knees trembling half with fear and half with rage, for it was impossible to imagine anything more threatening or more arrogant than his soft, cruel voice, that seemed to sound for long after in her ears, saying, ‘I have you at my mercy; see you do as I have bidden you.’
Watching the door that closed upon her, Viridus said, with a negligent amusement:
‘That fool Udal hath set it all about that your lordship designed her for the recreation of his Highness.’
‘Why,’ Cromwell answered, with his motionless smile of contempt for his fellow men, ‘it is well to offer bribes to fools and threats to knaves.’
The Chancellor bleated, with amazed adulation, ‘Marvel that your lordship should give so much care to such a worthless rag!’
‘An I had never put my heart into trifles, I had never stood here,’ Cromwell snarled at him. ‘Would that my knaves would ever come to learn that!’ He spoke again to Viridus: ‘See that this wench come never near his Highness. I like not her complexion.’
‘Well, we may clap her up at any moment,’ his man answered.
The King came to the revels at the Bishop of Winchester’s, for these too were given in honour of the Queen, and he had altered in his mind to let the Emperor and Francis know that he was inclined to weaken in his new alliances. Besides, there was the newest suitor for the hand of the Lady Mary, the young Duke Philip of Wittelsbach, who must be shown how great were the resources of the land. Young, gay, dark, a famous warrior and a good Catholic, he sat behind the Queen and speaking German of a sort he made her smile at times. The play was the Menechmi of Plautus, and Duke Philip interpreted it to her. She seemed at times so nearly human that the King, glancing back over his shoulder to note whether she disgraced him, could settle down into his chair and rest both his back and his misgivings. Seeing the frown leave his brow all the courtiers grew glad behind him; Cromwell talked with animation to Baumbach, the ambassador from the Schmalkaldner league, since he had not seen the King so gay for many days, and Gardiner in his bishop’s robes smiled with a black pleasure because his feast was so much more prosperous than Privy Seal’s had been. There was no one there of the Lady Mary’s household, because it was not seemly that she should be where her suitor was before he had been presented to her.
The large hall was lit with tapers at dusk and hung with ivy and with holly; dried woodruff, watermint and other sweet herbs were scattered about the floors to give an agreeable odour; the antlers of deer from the bishop’s chase in Winchester were like a forest of dead boughs, branching from the walls, some gilded, some silvered, some supporting shields emblazoned with the arms of the See, of the bishop, of the King or of Cleves; an army of wood-pigeons and stock-doves with silver collars about their necks was at one time let fly into the hall, and the swish of their wings and afterwards their cooing among the golden rafters of the high ceiling made pleasing sound and mingled with the voices of sweet singing from the galleries at each end of the hall, near the roof. The players spoke their parts bravely, and, because this play was beloved among all others at the Court, there was a great and general contentment.
For the after scene they had a display of theology. There were three battles of men. In black with red hats, horns branching above them and in the centre a great devil with a triple tiara, who danced holding up an enormous key. These stood on the right. On the left were priests in fustian, holding enormous flagons of Rhenish wine and dancing in a drunken measure with their arms round more drunken doxies dressed like German women. In the centre stood grave and reverend men wearing horsehair beards and the long gowns of English bishops and priests. Before these there knelt an angel in flame-coloured robes with wings like the rainbow. The angel supported a great volume on the back of which might be read in letters of gold, ‘Regis Nostri Sapientia.’
The great devil, dancing forward, brandishing his key, roared that these reverend men should kneel to him; he held out a cloven foot and bade them kiss it. But a venerable bishop cried out, ‘You be Antichrist. I know you. You be the Arch Devil. But from this book I will confound you. Thank God that we have one that leads us aright.’ Coming forward he read in Latin from the book of the King’s Wisdom and the great devil fell back fainting into the arms of the men in red hats.
The King called out, ‘By God, goodman Bishop, you have spoken well!’ and the Court roared.
Then one from the other side danced out, holding his flagon and grasping his fat wife round the waist. He sang in a gross and German way, smacking his lips, that these reverend Englishmen should leave their godly ways and come down among the Lutherans. But the old bishop cried out, ‘Ay, Dr Martinus, I know thee; thou despisest the Body of God; thou art a fornicator. God forbid that our English priests should go among women as ye do. Listen to wisdom. For, thank God, we have one to lead us aright!’
These words spread a sudden shiver into the hall, for no man there knew whether the King had commanded them to be uttered. The King sat back in his chair, half frowning; Anne blinked, Philip of Wittelsbach laughed aloud, the Catholic ambassadors, Chapuys and Marillac, who had fidgeted in their seats as if they would leave the hall, now leant forward.
‘Aye,’ the player bishop called out, ‘our goodly Queen cometh from a Court that was never yet joined to your Schmalkaldners, nor to them that go by your name, Dr Martinus, thou lecher. Here in England you shall find no heresies but the pure and purged Word of God.’
Chapuys bent an aged white hand behind his ear to miss no word: his true and smiling face blinked benevolently. Cromwell smiled too, licking his lips dangerously; Baumbach, the Schmalkaldner, understanding nothing, rolled his German blue eyes in his great head like a pink baby’s, and tried to catch the attention of Cromwell, who talked over his shoulder to one of his men. But the many Lutherans that there were in the hall scowled at the floor.
The player bishop was reading thunderous words of the King, written many years before, against married priests. Henry sat back in his round chair, grasping the arms with his enormous hands.
‘Why, Master Bishop,’ he called out. The player stopped his reading and looked at the King, his air of austerity never leaving him. Henry, however, waved his hand and said no more.
This dreadful incident caused a confusion in the players: they faltered: the player Lutheran slunk back to his place with his wife, and all of them stood with their hands hanging down. They consulted among themselves and at last filed out from the room, leaving the stage for some empty minutes bare and menacing. Men held their breath: the King was seen to be frowning. But a quick music was played from the galleries and a door opened behind. There came in many figures in white to symbolify the deities of ancient Greece and Rome, and, in black, with ashes upon her head, there was Ceres lamenting that Persephone had been carried into the realms of Pluto. No green thing should blow nor grow upon this earth, she wailed in a deep and full voice, until again her daughter trod there. The other deities covered their heads with their white skirts.
No one heeded this show very much in the hall, for the whispers over what had gone before never subsided again that day. Men turned their backs upon the stage in order to talk with others behind them, and it was generally agreed that if this refurbishing of old doctrines were no more than a bold stroke of Bishop Gardiner’s, Henry at least had not scowled very harshly upon it. So that, for the most part, they thought that the Old Faith might come back again; whilst others suddenly remembered, much more clearly than before, that Cleves was a principality not truly Lutheran, and that the marriage with Anne had not tied them at all to the Schmalkaldner’s league. Therefore this shadow of the old ways caused new uneasiness, for there was hardly any man there that had not some of the monastery lands.
The King was the man least moved in the hall: he listened to the lamentations of Mother Ceres and gazed at a number of naked boys who issued suddenly from the open door. They spread green herbs in a path from the door to the very feet of Anne, who blinked at them in amazement, and they paid no heed to Mother Ceres, who asked indignantly how any green thing could grow upon the earth that she had bidden lie barren till her daughter came again.
Persephone stood framed in the doorway: she was all in white, very slim and tall; in among her hair she had a wreath of green Egyptian stones called feridets, of which many remained in the treasuries of Winchester, because they were soft and of so little value that the visitors of the monasteries had left them there. And she had these green feridets, cut like leaves, worked into the white lawn, over her breasts. In her left arm there lay a cornucopia filled with gold coins, and in her right a silver coronet of olive leaves. She moved in a slow measure to the music, bending her knees to right and to left, and drawing her long dress into white lines and curves, until she stood in the centre of the green path. She smiled patiently and with a rapt expression as if she had come out of a dream. The wreath of olive leaves, she said, the gods sent to their most virtuous, most beauteous Queen, who had brought peace in England; the cornucopia filled with gold was the offering of Plutus to the noble and benevolent King of these parts. Her words could hardly be heard for the voices of the theologians in the hall before her.
Henry suddenly turned back, lifted his hand, and shouted:
Persephone’s voice became very audible in the midst of the terrified hush of all these people, who feared their enormous King as if he were a wild beast that at one moment you could play with and the next struck you dead.
‘— How happy is England among the nations!’ The voice rang out clear and fluting like a boy’s. ‘Her people how free and bold! Her laws how gentle and beneficent, her nobles how courteous and sweet in their communings together for the public weal! How thrice happy that land when peace is upon the earth! Her women how virtuous, her husbandmen how satiated, her cattle how they let down their milk!’— She swayed round to the gods that were uncovering their heads behind her: ‘Aye, my masters and fellow godheads: woe is me that we knew never this happy and contented country. Better it had been there to dwell than upon high Olympus: better than in the Cyclades: better than in the Islands of the Blest that hide amid the Bermoothean tempest. Woe is me!’ Her expression grew more rapt; she paused as if she had lost the thread of the words and then spoke again, gazing far out over the hall as jugglers do in performing feats of balancing: ‘For surely we had been more safe than reigning alone above the clouds had we lived here, the veriest hinds, beneath a King that is five times blessed, in that he is most wealthy and generous of rewards, most noble of courage, most eloquent, most learned in the law of men, and most high interpreter of the law of God!’
Seeing that the King smiled, as though he had received a just panegyric, a great clamour of applause went up in the hall, and swaying beneath the weight of the cornucopia she came to the King over the path of green herbs and boughs. Henry reached out his hands, himself, to take his present, smiling and genial; and that alone was a sign of great favour, for by rights she should have knelt with it, offered it and then receded, giving it into the arms of a serving man. She passed on, and would have crowned the Queen with the silver wreath; but the great hood that Anne wore stood in the way, therefore she laid it in the Queen’s lap.
Henry caught at her hanging sleeve.
‘That was a gay fine speech,’ he said. ‘I will have it printed.’
Little ripples of fear and coldness ran over her, for her dress was thin and her arms bared between the loops above. Her eyes roved round upon the people as if, tall and white, she were a Christian virgin in the agonies of martyrdom. She tried to pull her sleeve from between his great fingers, and she whispered in a sort of terror:
‘You stay the masque!’
He lay back in his chair, laughing so that his grey beard shook.
‘Why, thou art a pert baggage,’ he said. ‘I could stay their singing for good an I would.’
He looked her up and down, commanding and good-humouredly malicious. She put her hand to her throat as if it throbbed, and uttered with a calmness of desperation:
‘That were great pity. They have practised much, and their breaths are passable sweet.’
The godheads with their beards of tow, their lyres and thunderbolts all gilt, stood in an awkward crescent, their music having stopped. Henry laughed at them.
‘I know thy face,’ he said. ‘It would be less than a king to forget it.’
‘I am Katharine Howard,’ she faltered, stretching out her hands beseechingly. ‘Let me go back to my place.’
‘Oh, aye!’ he answered. ‘But thou’st shed thy rags since I saw thee on a mule.’ He loosed her sleeve. ‘Let the good men sing, ‘a God’s name.’
In her relief to be free she stumbled on the sweet herbs.
It was a dark night into which they went out from the bishop’s palace. Cressets flared on his river steps, and there were torches down the long garden for those who went away by road. Because there would be a great crowd of embarkers at the bishop’s landing place, so that there might be many hours to wait until their barge should come, Katharine, by the office of old Sir Nicholas, had made a compact with some of the maids of honour of the Lady Elizabeth; a barge was to wait for them at the Cross Keys, a common stage some ten minutes down the river. Katharine, laughing, gay with relief and gladdened with words of praise, held Margot’s hand tight and kept her fingers on Sir Nicholas’ sleeve. It was raining a fine drizzle, so that the air of the gardens smelt moist even against the odour of the torches. The old knight pulled the hood of his gown up over his head, for he was hoarse with a heavy cold. It was pitch black beyond the gate house; in the open fields before the wall torches here and there appeared to burn in mid-air, showing beneath them the heads and the hoods of their bearers hurrying home, and, where they turned to the right along a narrow lane, a torch showed far ahead above a crowd packed thick between dark house-fronts and gables. They glistened with wet and sent down from their gutters spouts of water that gleamed, catching the light of the torch, like threads of opal fire on the pallid dove colour of the towering house-fronts. The torch went round a corner, its light withdrew along the walls by long jumps as its bearer stepped into the distance ahead. Then it was all black. Walking was difficult over the immense cobbles of the roadway, but in the pack of the crowd it was impossible to fall, for people held one another. But it was also impossible to speak, and, muffling her face in her hood, Katharine walked smiling and squeezing Margot’s hand out of pure pleasure with the world that was so fair in the midst of this blackness and this heavy cold.
There was a swishing repeated three times and three thuds and twists of white on heads and shoulders just before her. Undistinguishable yells of mockery dwindled down from high above, and a rush-light shone at an immense elevation illuminating a faint square of casement that might have been in the heavens. Three apprentices had thrown down paper bags of powdered chalk. The men who had been struck, and several others who had been maltreated on former nights, or who resented this continual ‘prentice scandal, began a frightful outcry at the door of the house. More bags came bursting down and foul water; the yells and battlecries rolled, in the narrow space under the house-fronts that nearly kissed each other high overhead, and the crowd, brought to a standstill, swayed and pushed against the walls. Katharine lost her hold of the old knight’s sleeve, and she could see no single thing. She felt round her in the blackness for his arm, but a heavy man stumbled against her. Suddenly his hand was under her arm, drawing her a little; his voice seemed to say: ‘Down this gully is a way about.’
In the passage it was blacker than the mouth of hell, and her eyes still seemed to have in them the dazzle of light and triumph she had just left. There was a frightful stench of garbage; and it appeared to be a vault, because the outcry of the men besieging the door volleyed and echoed the more thunderously. There came the sharp click of a latch and Katharine found herself impelled to descend several steps into a blackness from which came up a breath of closer air and a smell of rotting straw. Fear suddenly seized upon her, and the conviction that another man had taken the place of the old knight during the scuffle. But a heavy pressure of an arm was suddenly round her waist, and she was forced forward. She caught a shriek from Margot; the girl’s hand was torn from her own; a door slammed behind, and there was a deep silence in which the heavy breathing of a man became audible.
‘If you cry out,’ a soft voice said, ‘I will let you go. But probably you will lose your life.’
She had not a breath at all in her, but she gasped:
‘Will you do a rape?’ and fumbled in her pocket for her crucifix. Her voice came back to her, muffled and close, so that she was in a very small cellar.
‘When you have seen my face, you may love me,’ came to her ears in an inane voice. ‘I would you might, for you have a goodly mouth for kisses.’
She breathed heavily; the click of the beads on her cross filled the silence. She fitted the bar of the crucifix to her knuckles and felt her breath come calmer. For, if the man struck a light she could strike him in the face with the metal of her cross, held in the fist; she could blind him if she hit an eye. She stepped back a little and felt behind her the damp stone of a wall. The soft voice uttered more loudly:
‘I offer you a present of great price; I can solve your perplexities.’ Katharine breathed between her teeth and said nothing. ‘But if you draw a knife,’ the voice went on, ‘I will set you loose; there are as good as Madam Howard.’ On the door there came the sound of soft thuds. ‘That is your maid, Margot Poins,’ the voice said. ‘You had better bid her begone. This is a very evil gully; she will be strangled.’
‘Go and fetch some one to break down this door.’
The voice commented:
‘In the City she will find none to enter this gully; it is a sanctuary of outlaws.’
There was the faintest glimmer of a casement square, high up before Katharine; violence and carryings off were things familiar to her imagination. A hundred men might have desired her whilst she stood on high in the masque. She said hotly:
‘If you will hold me here for a ransom, you will find none to pay it.’
She heard the soft hiss of a laugh, and the voice:
‘I would myself pay more than other men, but I would have no man see us together.’
She shrank into herself, and held to the wall for comfort. She heard a click, and in the light of a shower of brilliant sparks was the phantom of a man’s beard and dim walls; one tiny red glow remained in the tinder, like an illuminant in a black nothingness. He seemed to hold it about breast-high and to pause.
‘You had best be rid of Margot Poins,’ the musing voice came out of the thick air. ‘Send her back to her mother’s people: she gets you no friends.’
Katharine wondered if she might strike about eighteen inches above the tiny spark: or if in these impenetrable shadows there were a very tall man.
‘Your Margot’s folk miscall you in shameful terms. I would be your servant; but it is distasteful to a proper man to serve one that hath about her an atmosphere of lewdness.’
Katharine cursed at him to relieve the agony of her fear.
The voice answered composedly:
‘One greater than the devil is my master. But it is good hearing that you are loyal to them that serve you: so you shall be loyal to me, for I will serve you well.’
The spark in the tinder moved upwards; the man began to blow on it; in the dim glimmer there appeared red lips, a hairy moustache, a straight nose, gleaming eyes that looked across the flame, a high narrow forehead, and the gleam of a jewel in a black cap. This glowing and dusky face appeared to hang in the air. Katharine shrank with despair and loathing: she had seen enough to know the man. She made a swift step towards it, her arm drawn back; but the glow of the box moved to one side, the ashes faded: there was already nothing before she could strike.
‘You see I am Throckmorton: a goodly knight,’ the voice said, laughing.
This man came from Lincolnshire, near her own home. He had been the brother of a gentleman who had a very small property, and he had had one sister. God alone knew for what crime his father had cursed Throckmorton and left his patrimony to the monks at Ely — but his sister had hanged herself. Throckmorton had disappeared.
In that black darkness she had seemed to feel his gloating over her helplessness, and his laughing over all the villainies of his hateful past. He was so loathsome to her that merely to be near him had made her tremble when, the day before, he had fawned over her and shown her the side door to Privy Seal’s room. Now the sound of his breathing took away all her power to breathe. She panted:
‘Infamous dog, I will have you shortened by the head for this rape.’
‘It is true I am a fool to play cat and mouse,’ he answered. ‘But I was ever thus from a child: I have played silly pranks: listen to gravity. I bring you here because I would speak to you where no ear dare come to listen: this is a sanctuary of night robbers.’ His voice took on fantastically and grotesquely the nasal tones of Doctors of Logic when they discuss abstract theses: ‘I am a bold man to dare come here; but some of these are in my pay. Nevertheless I am a bold man, though indeed the step from life into death is so short and so easily passed that a man is a fool to fear it. Nevertheless some do fear it; therefore, as men go, I am bold; tho’, since I set much store in the intervention of the saints on my behalf, may be I am not so bold. Yet I am a good man, or the saints would not protect me. On the other hand, I am fain to do their work for them: so may be, they would protect me whether I were virtuous or no. Maybe they would not, however: for it is a point still disputed as to whether a saint might use an evil tool to do good work. But, in short, I am here to tell you what Privy Seal would have of you.’
‘God help the pair of you,’ Katharine said. ‘Have ye descended to cellar work now?’
‘Madam Howard,’ the voice came, ‘for what manner of man do you take me? I am a very proper man that do love virtue. There are few such philosophers as I since I came out of Italy.’
It was certain to her now that Privy Seal, having seen her thick with the Bishop of Winchester, had delivered her into the hands of this vulture. ‘If you have a knife,’ she said, ‘put it into me soon. God will look kindly on you and I would pardon you half the crime.’ She closed her eyes and began to pray.
‘Madam Howard,’ he answered, in a lofty tone of aggrievement, ‘the door is on the latch: the latch is at your hand to be found for a little fumbling: get you gone if you will not trust me.’
‘Aye: you have cut-throats without,’ Katharine said. She prayed in silence to Mary and the saints to take her into the kingdom of heaven with a short agony here below. Nevertheless, she could not believe that she was to die: for being still young, though death was always round her, she believed herself born to be immortal.
The sweat was cold upon her face; but Throckmorton was upbraiding her in a lofty nasal voice.
‘I am an honourable knight,’ he cried, in his affected and shocked tones. ‘If I have undone men, it was for love of the republic. I have nipped many treasons in the bud. The land is safe for a true man, because of my work.’
‘You are a werewolf,’ she shuddered; ‘you eat your brother.’
‘Why, enough of this talk,’ he answered. ‘I offer you a service, will you take it? I am the son of a gentleman: I love wisdom for that she alone is good. Virtue I love for virtue’s sake, and I serve my King. What more goeth to the making of a proper man? You cannot tell me.’
His voice changed suddenly:
‘If you do hate a villain, now is the time to prove it. Would you have him down? Then tell your gossip Winchester that the time approaches to strike, and that I am ready to serve him. I have done some good work for the King’s Highness through Privy Seal. But my nose is a good one. I begin to smell out that Privy Seal worketh treasonably.’
‘You are a mad fool to think to trick me,’ Katharine said. ‘Neither you nor I, nor any man, believes that Privy Seal would work a treason. You would trick me into some foolish utterances. It needed not a cellar in a cut-throat’s gully for that.’
‘Madam Spitfire,’ his voice answered, ‘you are a true woman; I a true man. We may walk well together. Before the Most High God I wish you no ill.’
‘Then let me go,’ she cried. ‘Tell me your lies some other where.’
‘The latch is near your hand still,’ he said. ‘But I will speak to you no other where. It is only here in the abode of murder and evil men that in these evil times a man may speak his mind and fear no listener.’
She felt tremulously for the latch; it gave, and its rattling set her heart on the jump. When she pulled the door ajar she heard voices in the distant street. It rushed through her mind that he was set neither on murder nor unspeakable things. Or, indeed, he had cut-throats waiting to brain her on the top step. She said tremulously:
‘Tell me what you will with me in haste!’
‘Why, I have bidden your barge fellows wait for you,’ he answered. ‘Till cock-crow if need were. They shall not leave you. They fear me too much. Shut the door again, for you dread me no more.’
Her knees felt suddenly limp and she clung to the latch for support; she believed that Mary had turned the heart of this villain. He repeated that he smelt treason working in the mind of an evil man, and that he would have her tell the Bishop of Winchester.
‘I did bring you here, for it is the quickest way. I came to you for I saw that you were neither craven nor fool: nor high placed so that it would be dangerous to be seen talking with you later, when you understood my good will. And I am drawn towards you since you come from near my home.’
Katharine said hurriedly, between her prayers:
‘What will you of me? No man cometh to a woman without seeking something from her.’
‘Why, I would have you look favourably upon me,’ he answered. ‘I am a goodly man.’
‘I am meat for your masters,’ she answered with bitter contempt. ‘You have the blood of my kin on your hands.’
He sighed, half mockingly.
‘If you will not give me your favours,’ he said in a low, laughing voice, ‘I would have you remember me according as my aid is of advantage to you.’
‘God help you,’ she said; ‘I believe now that you have it in mind to betray your master.’
‘I am a man that can be very helpful,’ he answered, with his laughing assurance that had always in it the ring of a sneer. ‘Tell Bishop Gardiner again, that the hour approaches to strike if these cowards will ever strike.’
Katharine felt her pulses beat more slowly.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I tell you very plainly that I will not work for the advancement of the Bishop of Winchester. He turned me loose upon the street to-night after I had served him, with neither guard to my feet nor bit to my mouth. If my side goes up, he may go with it, but I love him not.’
‘Why, then, devise with the Duke of Norfolk,’ he answered after a pause. ‘Gardiner is a black rogue and your uncle a yellow craven; but bid them join hands till the time comes for them to cut each other’s throats.’
‘You are a foul dog to talk thus of noblemen,’ she said.
‘Oh, la! You have little to thank your uncle for. What do you want? Will you play for your own hand? Or will you partner those two against the other?’
‘I will never partner with a spy and a villain,’ she cried hotly.
He cried lightly:
‘Ohé, Goosetherumfoodle! You will say differently before long. If you will fight in a fight you must have tools. Now you have none, and your situation is very parlous.’
‘I stand on my legs, and no man can touch me,’ she said hotly.
‘But two men can hang you tomorrow,’ he answered. ‘One man you know; the other is the Sieur Gardiner. Cromwell hath contrived that you should write a treasonable letter; Gardiner holdeth that letter’s self.’
Katharine braved her own sudden fears with:
‘Men are not such villains.’
‘They are as occasion makes them,’ he answered, with his voice of a philosopher. ‘What manner of men these times breed you should know if you be not a fool. It is very certain that Gardiner will hang you, with that letter, if you work not into his goodly hands. See how you stand in need of a counsellor. Now you wish you had done otherwise.’
She said hotly:
‘Never. So I would act again tomorrow.’
‘Oh fool madam,’ he answered. ‘Your cousin’s province was never to come within a score miles of the cardinal. Being a drunkard and a boaster he was sent to Paris to get drunk and to boast.’
The horror of the blackness, the damp, the foul smell, and all this treachery made her voice faint. She stammered:
‘Shew me a light, or let the door be opened. I am sick.’
‘Neither,’ he answered. ‘I am as much as you in peril. With a light men may see in at the casement; with an open door they may come eavesdropping. When you have been in this world as long as I you will love black night as well.’
Her brain swam for a moment.
‘My cousin was never in this plot against me,’ she uttered faintly.
He answered lightly:
‘You may keep your faith in that toppet. Where you are a fool is to have believed that Privy Seal, who is a wise man, or Viridus, who is a philosopher after my heart, would have sent such a sot and babbler on such a tickle errand.’
‘He was sent!’ protested Katharine.
‘Aye, he was sent to blab about it in every tavern in Paris town. He was sent to frighten the Red Cap out of Paris town. He was suffered to blab to you that you might set your neck in a noose and be driven to be a spy.’
His soft chuckle came through the darkness like an obscene applause of a successful villainy; it was as if he were gloating over her folly and the rectitude of her mind.
‘Red Cap was working mischief in Paris — but Red Cap is timorous. He will go post haste back to Rome, either because of your letter or because of your cousin’s boasting. But there are real and secret murderers waiting for him in every town in Italy on the road to Rome. Some are at Brescia, some at Rimini: at Padua there is a man with his neck, like yours, in a noose. It is a goodly contrivance.’
‘You are a vile pack,’ Katharine said, and once more the smooth and unctuous sound came from his invisible throat.
‘How shall you decide what is vileness, or where will you find a virtuous man?’ he asked. ‘Maybe you will find some among the bones of your old Romans. Yet your Seneca, in his day, did play the villain. Or maybe some at the Court of Mahound. I know not, for I was never there. But here is a goodly world, with prizes for them that can take them. Yet virtue may still flourish, for I have done middling well by serving my country. Now I am minded to retire into my lands, to cultivate good letters and to pursue virtue. For here about the Courts there are many distractions. The times are evil times. Yet will I do one good stroke more before I go.’
Katharine said hotly:
‘If you go down into Lincolnshire, I will call upon every man there to fall upon you and hang you.’
‘Why,’ he said, ‘that is why I did come to you, since you are from where my lands are. If I serve you, I would have you to smooth my path there. I ask no more, for now I crave rest and a private life. It is very assured that I should never find that here or in few parts of the land — so well I have served my King. Therefore, if I serve you, you and yours shall cast above my retired farms and my honourable leisure the shadow of your protection. I ask no more.’ He chuckled almost inaudibly. ‘I am set to watch you,’ he said. ‘Viridus will go to Paris to catch another traitor called Brancetor, for the world is full of traitors. Therefore, in a way, it rests with me to hang you.’
He seemed to be seated upon a cask, for there was a creaking of old wood, and he spoke very leisurely.
Katharine said, ‘Good night, and God send you better thoughts.’
‘Why, stay, and I will be brief,’ he pleaded. ‘I dally because it is sweet talking to a fair woman in a black place.’
‘You are easily content, for all the sweet words you get from me,’ she scorned him.
‘See you,’ he said earnestly. ‘It is true that I am set to watch you. I love you because you are fair; I might bend you, since I hold you in the hollow of my hand. But I am a continent man, and there is here a greater stake to be had than any amorous satisfaction. I would save my country from a man who has been a friend, but is grown a villain. Listen.’
He appeared to pause to collect his words together.
‘Baumbach, the Saxish ambassador, is here seeking to tack us to the Schmalkaldner heresies. Yesterday he was with Privy Seal, who loveth the Lutheran alliance. So Privy Seal takes him to his house, and shows him his marvellous armoury, which is such that no prince nor emperor hath elsewhere. So says Privy Seal to Baumbach: “I love your alliance; but his Highness will naught of it.” And he fetched a heavy sigh.’
‘What is this hearsay to me?’
‘He fetched a heavy sigh,’ Throckmorton continued. ‘And your uncle or Gardiner knew how heavy a sigh it was their hearts would be very glad.’
‘This means that the King’s Highness is very far from Privy Seal?’ Katharine asked.
‘His Highness hateth to do business with small princelings.’ Throckmorton seemed to laugh at the King’s name. ‘His high and princely stomach loveth only to deal with his equals, who are great kings. I have seen the letters that have passed about this Cleves wedding. Not one of them is from his Highness’ hand. It is Privy Seal alone that shall bear the weight of the blow when rupture cometh.’
‘Well, she is a foul slut,’ Katharine said, and her heart was full of sympathy for the heavy King.
‘Nay, she is none such,’ Throckmorton answered. ‘If you look upon her with an unjaundiced eye, she will pass for a Christian to be kissed. It is not her body that his Highness hateth, but her fathering. This is a very old quarrel betwixt him and Privy Seal. His Highness hath been wont to see himself the arbiter of the Christian world. Now Privy Seal hath made of him an ally of German princelings. His Highness loveth the Old Faith and the old royal ways. Now Privy Seal doth seek to make him take up the faith of Schmalkaldners, who are a league of bakers and unfrocked monks. Madam Howard, I tell you that if there were but one man that could strike after the new Parliament is called together. . . . ’
‘The very stones that Cromwell hath soaked with blood will rise to fall upon him when the King’s feet no longer press them down.’
Throckmorton laughed almost inaudibly.
‘Norfolk feareth Gardiner for a spy; Gardiner feareth the ambition of Norfolk; Bonner would sell them both to Privy Seal for the price of an archbishopric. The King himself is loth to strike, since no man in the land could get him together such another truckling Parliament as can Privy Seal.’
He stopped speaking and let his words soak into her in the darkness, and after a long pause her voice came back to her.
‘It is true that I have heard no man speak as you do. . . . I can see that his dear Highness must be hatefully inclined to this filthy alliance.’
‘Why, you are minded to come into my hut with me,’ he chuckled. ‘There are few men so clear in the head as I am. So listen again to me. If you would strike at this man, it is of no avail to meddle with him at home. It shall in no way help you to clamour of good monks done to death, of honest men ruined, of virgins thrown on to dung-heaps. The King hath had the pence of these good monks, the lands of these honest men, and the golden neck-collars off these virgins.’
She called out, ‘Keep thy tongue off this sacred King’s name. I will listen to no more lewdness.’
A torch passing outside sent a moving square of light through the high grating across the floor of the cellar. The damp walls became dimly visible with shining snail-tracks on them, and his great form leaning negligently upon a cask, his hand arrested in the pulling of his long beard, his eyes gleaming upon her, sardonic and amused. The light twisted round abruptly and was gone.
‘You are monstrous fair,’ he said, and sighed. She shuddered.
‘No,’ his mocking voice came again, ‘speak not to the King — not to whomsoever you shall elect to speak to the King — of this man’s work at home. The King shall let him go very unwillingly, since no man can so pack a Parliament to do the King’s pleasure. And he hath a nose for treasons that his Highness would give his own nose to possess.’
‘Keep thy tongue off the King’s name,’ she said again.
He laughed, and continued pensively: ‘A very pretty treason might be made up of his speech before his armoury to Baumbach. Mark again how it went. Says he: “Here are such weaponings as no king, nor prince, nor emperor hath in Christendom. And in this country of ours are twenty gentlemen, my friends, have armouries as great or greater.” Then he sighs heavily, and saith: “But our King will never join with your Schmalkaldners. Yet I would give my head that he should.” . . . Your madamship marks that this was said to the ambassador from the Lutheran league?’
‘You cannot twist that into a treason,’ Katharine whispered.
‘No doubt,’ he said reasonably, ‘such words from a minister to an envoy are but a courtesy, as one would say, “I fain would help you, but my master wills it not.”’
The voice suddenly grew crafty. ‘But these words, spoken before an armoury and the matter of twenty gentlemen with armouries greater. Say that these twenty are creatures of my Lord Cromwell, implicitur, for the Lutheran cause. And again, the matter, “No king hath such an armoury.” . . . No king, I would have you observe.’
‘Why, this is monstrous foolish pettifogging,’ Katharine said. ‘No king would believe a treason in such words.’
‘I call to mind Gilmaw of Hurstleas, near our homes,’ the voice came, reflectively.
‘I did know him,’ said Katharine. ‘You had his head.’
‘You never heard how Privy Seal did that,’ the voice came back mockingly. ‘Goodman Gilmaw had many sheep died of the rot because it rained seven weeks on end. So, coming back from a market-day, with too much ale for prudence and too little for silence, he cried, “Curse on this rain! The weather was never good since knaves ruled about the King.” So that came to the ears of Privy Seal, who made a treason of it, and had his sheep, and his house, and his lands, and his head. He was but one in ten thousand that have gone the same road home from market and made speeches as treasonable.’
‘Thus poor Gilmaw died?’ Katharine asked. ‘What a foul world this is!’
‘Time it was cleansed,’ he answered.
He let his words rankle for a time, then he said softly: ‘Privy Seal’s words before his armoury were as treasonable as Gilmaw’s on the market road.’
Again he paused.
‘Privy Seal may call thee to account for such a treason,’ he said afterwards. ‘He holdeth thee in a hollow of his hand.’
She did not speak.
He said softly: ‘It is a folly to be too proud to fight the world with the world’s weapons.’
The heavy darkness seemed to thrill with her silence. He could tell neither whether she were pondering his words nor whether she still scorned him. He could not even hear her breathing.
‘God help me!’ he said at last, in an angry high note, ‘I am not such a man as to be played with too long. People fear me.’
She kept silence still, and his voice grew high and shrill: ‘Madam Howard, I can bend you to my will. I have the power to make such a report of you as will hang you tomorrow.’
Her voice came to him expressionlessly — without any inflexion. In few words, what would he have of her? She played his own darkness off against him, so that he could tell nothing new of her mood.
He answered swiftly: ‘I will that you tell the men you know what I have told you. You are a very little thing; it were no more to me to cut you short than to drown a kitten. But my own neck I prize. What I have told you I would have come to the ears of my lord of Winchester. I may not be seen to speak with him myself. If you will not tell him, another will; but I would rather it were you.’
‘Evil dreams make thy nights hideous!’ she cried out so suddenly that his voice choked in his throat. ‘Thou art such dirt as I would avoid to tread upon; and shall I take thee into my hand?’ She was panting with disgust and scorn. ‘I have listened to thee; listen thou to me. Thou art so filthy that if thou couldst make me a queen by the touch of a finger, I had rather be a goose-girl and eat grass. If by thy forged tales I could cast down Mahound, I had rather be his slave than thy accomplice! Could I lift my head if I had joined myself to thee? thou Judas to the Fiend. Junius Brutus, when he did lay siege to a town, had a citizen come to him that would play the traitor. He accepted his proffered help, and when the town was taken he did flay the betrayer. But thou art so filthy that thou shouldst make me do better than that noble Roman, for I would flay thee, disdaining to be aided by thee; and upon thy skin I would write a message to thy master saying that thou wouldst have betrayed him!’
His laugh rang out discordant and full of black mirth; for a long time his shoulders seemed to shake. He spoke at last quite calmly.
‘You will have a very short course in this world,’ he said.
A hoarse and hollow shouting reverberated from the gully; the glow of a torch grew bright in the window-space. Katharine had been upon the point of opening the door, but she paused, fearing to meet some night villains in the gully. Throckmorton was now silent, as if he utterly disdained her, and a frightful blow upon the wood of the door — so certain were they that the torch would pass on — made them spring some yards further into the cellar. The splintering blows were repeated; the sound of them was deafening. Glaring light entered suddenly through a great crack, and the smell of smoke. Then the door fell in half, one board of it across the steps, the other smashing back to the wall upon its hinges. Sparks dripped from the torch, smoke eddied down, and upon the cellar steps were the legs of a man who rested a great axe upon the ground and panted for breath.
‘Up the steps!’ he grunted. ‘If you ever ran, now run. The guard will not enter here.’
Katharine sped up the steps. It was old Rochford’s face that greeted hers beneath the torch. He grunted again, ‘Run you; I am spent!’ and suddenly dashed the torch to the ground.
At the entry of the tunnel some make of creature caught at her sleeve. She screamed and struck at a gleaming eye with the end of her crucifix. Then nothing held her, and she ran to where, at the mouth of the gully, there were a great many men with torches and swords peering into the darkness of the passage.
In the barge Margot made an outcry of joy and relief, and the other ladies uttered civil speeches. The old man, whose fur near the neck had been slashed by a knife-thrust as he came away, explained pleasantly that he was able to strike good blows still. But he shook his head nevertheless. It was evil, he said, to have such lovers as this new one. Her cousin was bad, but this rapscallion must be worse indeed to harbour her in such a place. . . . Margot, who knew her London, had caught him at the barge, to which he had hurried.
‘Aye,’ he said, ‘I thought you had played me a trick and gone off with some spark. But when I heard to what place, I fetched the guard along with me. . . . Well for you that it was I, for they had not come for any other man, and then you had been stuck in the street. For, see you, whether you would have had me fetch you away or no it is ten to one that a gallant who would take you there would mean that you should never come away alive — and God help you whilst you lived in that place.’
‘Why, I pray God that you may die on the green grass yet, with time for a priest to shrive you. I was taken there against my will.’ She told him no more of the truth, for it was not every man’s matter, and already she had made up her mind that there was but one man to whom to speak. . . . She went into the dark end of the barge and prayed until she came to Greenwich, for the fear of the things she had escaped still made her shudder, and in the company of Mary and the saints of Lincolnshire alone could she feel any calmness. She thought they whispered round her in the night amid the lapping of the water.
The stables were esteemed the most magnificent that the King had: three times they had been pulled down and again set up after designs by Holbein the painter. The buildings formed three sides of a square: the fourth gave into a great paddock, part of the park, in which the horses galloped or the mares ran with their foals. That morning there was a glint of sun in the opalescent clouds: horse-boys in grey with double roses worked on their chests were spreading sand in the great quadrangle, fenced in with white palings, between the buildings where the chargers were trained to the manage. Each wing of the buildings was a quarter of a mile long, of grey stone thatched with rushwork that came from the great beds all along the river and rose into curious peaks like bushes along each gable. On the right were the mares, the riding jennets for the women and their saddle rooms; on the left the pack animals, mules for priests and the places for their housings: in the centre, on each side of a vast barn that held the provender, were the stables of the coursers and stallions that the King himself rode or favoured; of these huge beasts there were two hundred: each in a cage within the houses — for many were savage tearers both of men and of each other. On the door of each cage there was written the name of the horse, as Sir Brian, Sir Bors, or Old Leo — and the sign of the constellation under which each was born, the months in which, in consequence, it was propitious or dangerous to ride them, and pentagons that should prevent witches, warlocks or evil spirits from casting spells upon the great beasts. Their housings and their stall armour, covered with grease to keep the rust from them, hung upon pulleys before each stall, and their polished neck armours branched out from the walls in a long file, waving over the gateways right into the distance, the face-pieces with the shining spikes in the foreheads hanging at the ends, the eyeholes carved out and the nostril places left vacant, so that they resembled an arcade of the skeletons of unicorns’ heads.
It was quiet and warm in the long and light aisles: there was a faint smell of stable hartshorn and the sound of beans being munched leisurely. From time to time there came a thunder from distant boxes, as two untrained stallions that Privy Seal the day before had given the King kicked against the immense balks of the sliding doors in their cage-stalls.
The old knight was flustered because it was many days since the King had deigned to come in the morning, and there were many beasts to show him. In his steel armour, from which his old head stood out benign and silvery, he strutted stiffly from cage to cage, talking softly to his horses and cursing at the harnessers. Cicely Elliott sat on a high stool from which she could look out of window and gibed at him as he passed.
‘Let me grease your potlids, goodly servant. You creak like a roasting-jack.’ He smiled at her with an engrossed air, and hurried himself to pull tight the headstrap of a great barb that was fighting with four men.
A tucket of trumpets sounded, silvery and thin through the cold grey air: a page came running with his sallete-helmet.
‘Why, I will lace it for him,’ Cicely cried, and ran, pushing away the boy. She laced it under the chin and laughed. ‘Now you may kiss my cheek so that I know what it is to be kissed by a man in potlids!’
He swung himself, grunting a little, into the high saddle and laughed at her with the air of a man very master of himself. The tucket thrilled again. Katharine Howard pushed the window open, craning out to see the King come: the horse, proud and mincing, appearing in its grey steel as great as an elephant, stepped yet so daintily that all its weight of iron made no more sound than the rhythmic jingling of a sabre, and man and horse passed like a flash of shadow out of the door.
Cicely hopped back on to the stool and shivered.
‘We shall see these two old fellows very well without getting such a rheumatism as Lady Rochford’s,’ and she pulled the window to against Katharine’s face and laughed at the vacant and far-away eyes that the girl turned upon her. ‘You are thinking of the centaurs of the Isles of Greece,’ she jeered, ‘not of my knight and his old fashions of ironwork and horse dancing. Yet such another will never be again, so perfect in the old fashions.’
The old knight passed the window to the sound of trumpets towards his invisible master, swaying as easily to the gallop of his enormous steel beast as cupids that you may see in friezes ride upon dolphins down the sides of great billows; but Katharine’s eyes were upon the ground.
The window showed only some yards of sand, of grey sky and of whitened railings; trumpet blew after trumpet, and behind her back horse after horse went out, its iron feet ringing on the bricks of the stable to die into thuds and silence once the door was passed.
Cicely Elliott plagued her, tickling her pink ears with a piece of straw and sending out shrieks of laughter, and Katharine, motionless as a flower in breathless sunlight, was inwardly trembling. She imagined that she must be pale and hollow-eyed enough to excite the compassion of the black-haired girl, for she had not slept at all for thinking, and her eyes ached and her hands felt weak, resting upon the brick of the window sill. Horses raced past, shaking the building, in pairs, in fours, in twelves. They curvetted together, pawed their way through intricate figures, arched their great necks, or, reined in suddenly at the gallop, cast up the sand in showers and great flakes of white foam.
The old knight came into view, motioning with his lance to invisible horsemen from the other side of the manage, and the top notes of his voice reached them thinly as he shouted the words of direction. But the King was still invisible.
Suddenly Cicely Elliott cried out:
‘Why, the old boy hath dropped his lance! Quel malheur!’— and indeed the lance lay in the sand, the horse darting wildly aside at the thud of its fall. The old man shook his iron fist at the sky, and his face was full of rage and shame in the watery sunlight that penetrated into his open helmet. ‘Poor old sinful man!’ Cicely said with a note of concern deep in her throat. A knave in grey ran to pick up the lance, but the knight sat, his head hanging on his chest, like one mortally stricken riding from a battlefield.
Katharine’s heart was in her mouth, and all her limbs were weak together; a great shoulder in heavy furs, the back of a great cap, came into the view of the window, an immense hand grasped the white balustrade of the manage rails. He was leaning over, a figure all squares, like that on a court-card, only that the embroidered bonnet raked abruptly to one side as if it had been thrown on to the square head. Henry was talking to the old knight across the sand. The sight went out of her eyes and her throat uttered indistinguishable words. She heard Cicely Elliott say:
‘What will you do? My old knight is upon the point of tears,’ and Katharine felt herself brushing along the wall of the corridor towards the open door.
The immense horse with his steel-plates spreading out like skirts from its haunches dropped its head motionlessly close to the rail, and the grey, wrinkling steel of the figure on its back caught the reflection of the low clouds in flakes of light and shadow.
The old knight muttered indistinguishable words of shame inside his helmet; the King said: ‘Ay, God help us, we all grow old together!’ and Katharine heard herself cry out:
‘Last night you were about very late because evil men plotted against me. Any man might drop his lance in the morning. . . . ’
Henry moved his head leisurely over his shoulder; his eyelids went up, in haughty incredulity, so that the whites showed all round the dark pupils. He could not turn far enough to see her without moving his feet, and appearing to disdain so much trouble he addressed the old man heavily:
‘Three times I dropped my pen, writing one letter yesterday,’ he said; ‘if you had my troubles you might groan of growing old.’
But the old man was too shaken with the disgrace to ride any more, and Henry added testily:
‘I came here for distractions, and you have run me up against old cares because the sun shone in your eyes. If you will get tricking it with wenches over night you cannot be fresh in the morning. That is gospel for all of us. Get in and disarm. I have had enough of horses for the morning.’
As if he had dispatched that piece of business he turned, heavily and all of one piece, right round upon Katharine. He set his hands into his side and stood with his square feet wide apart:
‘It is well that you remember how to kneel,’ he laughed, ironically, motioning her to get up before she had reached her knees. ‘You are the pertest baggage I have ever met.’
He had recognised her whilst the words were coming out of his great lips. ‘Why, is it you the old fellow should marry? I heard he had found a young filly to frisk it with him.’
Katharine, her face pale and in consternation, stammered that Cicely Elliott was in the stables. He said:
‘Bide there, I will go speak with her. The old fellow is very cast down; we must hearten him. It is true that he groweth old and has been a good servant.’
He pulled the dagger that hung from a thin gold chain on his neck into its proper place on his chest, squared his shoulders, and swayed majestically into the door of the stable. Katharine heard his voice raised to laugh and dropping into his gracious but still peremptory ardent tones. She remained alone upon the level square of smooth sand. Not a soul was in sight, for when the King came to seek distraction with his horses he brought no one that could tease him. She was filled with fears.
He beckoned her to him with his head, ducking it right down to his chest and back again, and the glances of his eyes seemed to strike her like hammer-blows when he came out from the door.
‘It was you then that composed that fine speech about the Fortunate Isles?’ he said. ‘I had sent for you this morning. I will have it printed.’
She wanted to hang her head like a pupil before her master, but she needs must look him in the eyes, and her voice came strangely and unearthly to her own ears.
‘I could not remember the speech the Bishop of Winchester set me to say. I warned him I have no memory for the Italian, and my fright muddled my wits.’
Internal laughter shook him, and once again he set his feet far apart, as if that aided him to look at her.
‘Your fright!’ he said.
‘I am even now so frightened,’ she uttered, ‘that it is as if another spoke with my throat.’
His great mouth relaxed as if he accepted as his due a piece of skilful flattery. Suddenly she sank down upon her knees, her dress spreading out beneath her, her hands extended and her red lips parted as the beak of a bird opens with terror. He uttered lightly:
‘Why, get up. You should kneel so only to your God,’ and he touched his cap, with his habitual heavy gesture, at the sacred name.
‘I have somewhat to ask,’ she whispered.
He laughed again.
‘They are always asking! But get up. I have left my stick in my room. Help me to my door.’
She felt the heavy weight of his arm upon her shoulder as soon as she stood beside him.
He asked her suddenly what she knew of the Fortunate Islands that she had talked of in her speech.
‘They lie far in the Western Ocean; I had an Italian would have built me ships to reach them,’ he said, and Katharine answered:
‘I do take them to be a fable of the ancients, for they had no heaven to pray for.’
When his eyes were not upon her she was not afraid, and the heavy weight of his hand upon her shoulder made her feel firm to bear it. But she groaned inwardly because she had urgent words that must be said, and she imagined that nothing could be calmer in the Fortunate Islands themselves than this to walk and converse about their gracious image that shone down the ages. He said, with a heavy, dull voice:
‘I would give no little to be there.’
Suddenly she heard herself say, her heart leaping in her chest:
‘I do not like the errand they have sent my cousin upon.’
The blessed Utopia of the lost islands had stirred in the King all sorts of griefs that he would shake off, and all sorts of remembrances of youth, of open fields, and a wide world that shall be conquered — all the hopes and instincts of happiness, ineffable and indestructible, that never die in passionate men. He said dully, his thoughts far away:
‘What errand have they sent him upon? Who is your goodly cousin?’
‘They put it about that he should murder Cardinal Pole,’ and she shook so much that he was forced to take his hand from her shoulder.
He leaned upon the manage rail, and halted to rest his leg that pained him.
‘It is a good errand enough,’ he said.
She was panting like a bird that you hold in your hand, so that all her body shook, and she blurted out:
‘I would not that my cousin should murder a Churchman!’ and before his eyebrows could go up in an amazed and haughty stare: ‘I am like to be hanged between Privy Seal and Winchester.’
He seemed to fall against the white bar of the rail for support, his eyes wide with incredulity.
He said: ‘When were women hanged here?’
‘Sir,’ she said earnestly, ‘you are the only one I can speak to. I am in great peril from these men.’
He shook his head at her.
‘You have gone mad,’ he said gravely. ‘What is this fluster?’
‘Give me your ear for a minute,’ she pleaded. Her fear of him as a man seemed to have died down. As a king she had never feared him. ‘These men do seek each other’s lives, and many are like to be undone between them.’
His nostrils dilated like those of a high-mettled horse that starts back.
‘What maggot is this?’ he said imperiously. ‘Here there is no disunion.’
He rolled his eyes angrily and breathed short, twisting his hands. It was part of his nature to insist that all the world should believe in the concord of his people. He had walked there to talk with a fair woman. He had imagined that she would pique him with pert speeches.
‘Speak quickly,’ he said in a peremptory voice, and his eyes wandered up the path between the rails and the stable walls. ‘You are a pretty piece, but I have no time to waste in woeful nonsense.’
‘Alas,’ she said, ‘this is the very truth of the truth. Privy Seal hath tricked me.’
He laughed heavily and incredulously, and he sat right down upon the rail. She began to tell him her whole story.
All through the night she had been thinking over the coil into which she had fallen. It was a matter of desperate haste, for she had imagined that Throckmorton would go at once or before dawn and make up a tale to Privy Seal so that she should be put out of the way. To her no counter-plotting was possible. Gardiner she regarded with a young disdain: he was a man who walked in plots. And she did not love him because he had treated her like a servant after she had walked in his masque. Her uncle Norfolk was a craven who had left her to sink or swim. Throckmorton, a werewolf who would defile her if she entered into any compact with him. He would inform against her, with the first light of the morning, and she had trembled in her room at every footstep that passed the door. She had imagined guards coming with their pikes down to take her. She had trembled in the very stables.
The King stood above these plots and counter-plots. She imagined him breathing a calmer air that alone was fit for her. To one of her house the King was no more than a man. At home she had regarded him very little. She had read too many chronicles. He was first among such men as her men-folk because her men-folk had so willed it: he was their leader, no more majestic than themselves, and less sacred than most priests. But in that black palace she felt that all men trembled before him. It gave her for him a respect: he was at least a man before whom all these cravens trembled. And she imagined herself such another being: strong, confident, unafraid.
Therefore to the King alone she could speak. She imagined him sympathising with her on account of the ignoble trick that Cromwell had played upon her, as if he too must recognise her such another as himself. Being young she felt that God and the saints alike fought on her side. She was accustomed to think of herself as so assured and so buoyant that she could bear alike the commands of such men as Cromwell, as Gardiner and as her cousin with a smile of wisdom. She could bide her time.
Throckmorton had shocked her, not because he was a villain who had laid hands upon her, but because he had fooled her so that unless she made haste those other men would prove too many for her. They would hang her.
Therefore she must speak to the King. Lying still, looking at the darkness, listening to the breathing of Margot Poins, who slept across the foot of her bed, she had felt no fear whatsoever of Henry. It was true she had trembled before him at the masque, but she swept that out of her mind. She could hardly believe that she had trembled and forgotten the Italian words that she should have spoken. Yet she had stood there transfixed, without a syllable in her mind. And she had managed to bring out any words at all only by desperately piecing together the idea of Ovid’s poem and Aulus Gellius’ Eulogy of Marcus Crassus, which was very familiar in her ears because she had always imagined for a hero such a man: munificent, eloquent, noble and learned in the laws. The hall had seemed to blaze before her — it was only because she was so petrified with fright that she had not turned tail or fallen on her knees.
Therefore she must speak to him when he came to see his horses. She must bring him to her side before the tall spy with the eyes and the mouth that grinned as if at the thought of virtue could give Cromwell the signal to undo her.
She spoke vehemently to the King; she was indignant, because it seemed to her she was defiled by these foul men who had grasped at her.
‘They have brought me down with a plot,’ she said. She stretched out her hand and cried earnestly: ‘Sir, believe that what I would have I ask for without any plotting.’
He leant back upon his rail. His round and boding eyes avoided her face.
‘You have spoilt my morning betwixt you,’ he muttered. First it was old Rochford who failed. Could a man not see his horses gallop without being put in mind of decay and death? Had he need of that? ‘Why, I asked you for pleasant converse,’ he finished.
She pleaded: ‘Sir, I knew not that Pole was a traitor. Before God, I would now that he were caught up. But assuredly a way could be found with the Bishop of Rome. . . . ’
‘This is a parcel of nonsense,’ he shouted suddenly, dismissing her whole story. Would she have him believe it thinkable that a spy should swear away a woman’s life? She had far better spend her time composing of fine speeches.
‘Sir,’ she cried, ‘before the Most High God. . . . ’
He lifted his hand.
‘I am tired of perpetual tears,’ he muttered, and looked up the perspective of stable walls and white rails as if he would hurry away.
She said desperately: ‘You will meet with tears perpetual so long as this man. . . . ’
He lifted his hand, clenched right over his head.
‘By God,’ he bayed, ‘may I never rest from cat and dog quarrels? I will not hear you. It is to drive a man mad when most he needs solace.’
He jerked himself down from the rail and shot over his shoulder:
‘You will break your head if you run against a wall; I will have you in gaol ere night fall.’ And he seemed to push her backward with his great hand stretched out.
‘Why, sometimes,’ Throckmorton said, ‘a very perfect folly is like a very perfect wisdom.’ He sat upon her table. ‘So it is in this case, he did send for me. No happening could have been more fortunate.’
He had sent away the man from her door and had entered without any leave, laughing ironically in his immense fan-shaped beard.
‘Your ladyship thought to have stolen a march upon me,’ he said. ‘You could have done me no better service.’
She was utterly overcome with weariness. She sat motionless in her chair and listened to him.
He folded his arms and crossed his legs.
‘So he did send for me,’ he said. ‘You would have had him belabour me with great words. But his Highness is a politician like some others. He beat about the bush. And be sure I left him openings to come in to my tidings.’
Katharine hung her head and thought bitterly that she had had the boldness; this other man reaped the spoils. He leaned forward and sighed. Then he laughed.
‘You might wonder that I love you,’ he said. ‘But it is in the nature of profound politicians to love women that be simple, as it is the nature of sinners to love them that be virtuous. Do not believe that an evil man loveth evil. He contemns it. Do not believe that a politician loveth guile. He makes use of it to carry him into such a security that he may declare his true nature. Moreover, there is no evil man, since no man believeth himself to be evil. I love you.’
Katharine closed her eyes and let her head fall back in her chair. The dusk was falling slowly, and she shivered.
‘You have no warrant to take me away?’ she asked, expressionlessly.
He laughed again.
‘Thus,’ he said, ‘devious men love women that be simple. And, for a profound, devious and guileful politician you shall find none to match his Highness.’
He looked at Katharine with scrutinising and malicious eyes. She never moved.
‘I would have you listen,’ he said.
She had had no one to talk to all that day. There was no single creature with whom she could discuss. She might have asked counsel of old Rochford. But apart from the disorder of his mind he had another trouble. He had a horse for sale, and he had given the refusal of it to a man called Stey who lived in Warwickshire. In the meanwhile two Frenchmen had made him a greater offer, and no answer came from Warwickshire. He was in a fume. Cicely Elliott was watching him and thinking of nothing else, Margot Poins was weeping all day, because the magister had been bidden to go to Paris to turn into Latin the letters of Sir Thomas Wyatt. There was no one around Katharine that was not engrossed in his own affairs. In that beehive of a place she had been utterly alone with horror in her soul. Thus she could hardly piece together Throckmorton’s meanings. She thought he had come to gibe at her.
‘Why should I listen?’ she said.
‘Because,’ he answered sardonically, ‘you have a great journey indicated for you, and I would instruct you as to certain peaks that you may climb.’
She had been using her rosary, and she moved it in her lap.
‘Any poor hedge priest would be a better guide on such a journey,’ she answered listlessly.
‘Why, God help us all,’ he laughed, ‘that were to carry simplicity into a throne-room. In a stable-yard it served. But you will not always find a king among horse-straws.’
‘God send I find the King of Peace on a prison pallet,’ she answered.
‘Why, we are at cross purposes,’ he said lightly. He laughed still more loudly when he heard that the King had threatened her with a gaol.
‘Do you not see,’ he asked, ‘how that implies a great favour towards you?’
‘Oh, mock on,’ she answered.
He leaned forward and spoke tenderly.
‘Why, poor child,’ he said. ‘If a man be moved because you moved him, it was you who moved him. Now, if you can move such a heavy man that is a certain proof that he is not indifferent to you.’
‘He threatened me with a gaol,’ Katharine said bitterly.
‘Aye,’ Throckmorton answered, ‘for you were in fault to him. That is ever the weakness of your simple natures. They will go brutally to work upon a man.’
‘Tell me, then, in three words, what his Highness will do with me,’ she said.
‘There you go brutally to work again,’ he said. ‘I am a poor man that do love you. You ask what another man will do with you that affects you.’
He stood up to his full height, dressed all in black velvet.
‘Let us, then, be calm,’ he said, though his voice trembled and he paused as if he had forgotten the thread of his argument. ‘Why, even so, you were in grievous fault to his Highness that is a prince much troubled. As thus: You were certain of the rightness of your cause.’
‘It is that of the dear saints,’ Katharine said. . . . He touched his bonnet with three fingers.
‘You are certain,’ he repeated. ‘Nevertheless, here is a man whose fury is like an agony to him. He looks favourably upon you. But, if a man be formed to fight he must fight, and call the wrong side good.’
‘God help you,’ Katharine said. ‘What can be good that is set in array against the elect of God?’
‘These be brave words,’ he answered, ‘but the days of the Crusades be over. Here is a King that fights with a world that is part good, part evil. In part he fights for the dear saints; in part they that fight against him fight for the elect of God. Then he must call all things well upon his side, if he is not to fail where he is right as well as where he is wrong.’
‘I do not take you well,’ Katharine said. ‘When the Lacedæmonians strove with the Great King. . . . ’
‘Why, dear heart,’ he said, ‘those were the days of a black and white world; now we are all grey or piebald.’
‘Then tell me what the King will do with me,’ she answered.
He made a grimace.
‘All your learning will not make of you but a very woman. It is: What will he do? It is: A truce to words. It is: Get to the point. But the point is this. . . . ’
‘In the name of heaven,’ she said, ‘shall I go to gaol or no?’
‘Then in the name of heaven,’ he said, ‘you shall — this next month, or next year, or in ten years’ time. That is very certain, since you goad a King to fury.’
She opened her mouth, but he silenced her with his hand.
‘No, you shall not go to gaol upon this quarrel!’ She sank back into her chair. He surveyed her with a sardonic malice.
‘But it is very certain,’ he said, ‘that had there been there ready a clerk with a warrant and a pen, you had not again seen the light of day until you came to a worse place on a hill.’
‘Why, get you gone, and leave me to pray,’ she said.
He stretched out towards her a quivering hand.
‘Aye, there you be again, simple and brutal!’ His jaws grinned beneath his beard. ‘I love the air you breathe. I go about to tell a tale in a long way that shall take a long time, so that I may stay with you. You cry: “For pity, for pity, come to the point.” I have pity. So you cry, having obtained your desire, “Get ye gone, and let me pray!”’
She said wearily:
‘I have had too many men besiege me with their suits.’
He shrugged his great shoulders and cried:
‘Yet you never had friend better than I, who bring you comfort hoping for none in return.’
‘Why,’ she answered, ‘it is a passing bitter thing that my sole friend must be a man accounted so evil.’
He moved backwards again to the table; set his white hands upon it behind him, and balancing himself upon them swung one of his legs slowly.
‘It is a good doctrine of the Holy Church,’ he said, ‘to call no man evil until he be dead.’ He looked down at the ground, and then, suddenly, he seemed to mock at her and at himself. ‘Doubtless, had such a white soul as yours led me from my first day, you today had counted me as white. It is evident that I was not born with a nature that warped towards sin. For, let us put it that Good is that thing that you wish.’ He looked up at her maliciously. ‘Let that be Good. Then, very certainly, since I am enlisted heart and soul in the desire that you may have what you wish, you have worked a conversion in me.’
‘I will no longer bear with your mocking,’ she said. She began to feel herself strong enough to command for him.
‘Why,’ he answered, ‘hear me you shall. And I must mock, since to mock and to desire are my nature. You pay too little heed to men’s natures, therefore the day will come to shed tears. That is very certain, for you will knock against the whole world.’
‘Why, yes,’ she answered. ‘I am as God made me.’
‘So are all Christians,’ he retorted. ‘But some of us strive to improve on the pattern.’ She made an impatient movement with her hands, and he seemed to force himself to come to a point. ‘It may be that you will never hear me speak again,’ he said quickly. ‘Both for you and for me these times are full of danger. Let me then leave you this legacy of advice. . . . Here is a picture of the King’s Highness.’
‘I shall never go near his Highness again,’ Katharine said.
‘Aye, but you will,’ he answered, ‘for ’tis your nature to meddle; or ’tis your nature to work for the blessed saints. Put it which way you will. But his Highness meditateth to come near you.’
‘Why, you are mad,’ Katharine said wearily. ‘This is that maggot of Magister Udal’s.’
He lifted one finger in an affected, philosophic gesture.
‘Oh, nay,’ he laughed. ‘That his Highness meditateth more speech with you I am assured. For he did ask me where you usually resorted.’
‘He would know if I be a traitor.’
‘Aye, but from your own word of mouth he would know it.’ He grinned once more at her. ‘Do you think that I would forbear to court you if I were not afraid of another than you?’
She shrugged her shoulders up to her ears, and he sniggered, stroking his beard.
‘You may take that as a proof very certain,’ he said. ‘None of your hatred should have prevented me, for I am a very likeworthy man. Ladies that have hated afore now, I have won to love me. With you, too, I would essay the adventure. You are most fair, most virtuous, most simple — aye, and most lovable. But for the moment I am afraid. From now on, for many months, I shall not be seen to frequent you. For I have known such matters of old. A great net is cast: many fish — smaller than I be, who am a proper man — are taken up.’
‘It is good hearing that you will no more frequent me,’ Katharine said.
He nodded his great head.
‘Why, I speak of what is in my mind,’ he answered. ‘Think upon it, and it will grow clear when it is too late. But here I will draw you a picture of the King.’
‘I have seen his Highness with mine own eyes,’ she caught him up.
‘But your eyes are so clear,’ he sighed. ‘They see the black and the white of a man. The grey they miss. And you are slow to learn. Nevertheless, already you have learned that here we have no yea-nay world of evil and good. . . . ’
‘No,’ she said, ‘that I have not learned, nor never shall.’
‘Oh, aye,’ he mocked at her. ‘You have learned that the Bishop of Winchester, who is on the side of your hosts of heaven, is a knave and a fool. You have learned that I, whom you have accounted a villain, am for you, and a very wise man. You have learned that Privy Seal, for whose fall you have prayed these ten years, is, his deeds apart, the only good man in this quaking place.’
‘His acts are most hateful,’ Katharine said stoutly.
‘But these are not the days of Plutarch,’ he answered. ‘And I doubt the days of Plutarch never were. For already you have learned that a man may act most evilly, even as Privy Seal, and yet be the best man in the world. And . . . ’ he ducked his great head sardonically at her, ‘you have learned that a man may be most evil and yet act passing well for your good. So I will draw the picture of the King for you. . . . ’
Something seductive in his voice, and the good humour with which he called himself villain, made Katharine say no more than:
‘Why, you are an incorrigible babbler!’
Whilst he had talked she had grown assured that the King meditated no imprisoning of her. The conviction had come so gradually that it had merely changed her terrified weariness into a soft languor. She lay back in her chair and felt a comfortable limpness in all her limbs.
‘His Highness,’ Throckmorton said, ‘God preserve him and send him good fortune — is a great and formidable club. His Highness is a most great and most majestic bull. He is a thunderbolt and a glorious light; he is a storm of hail and a beneficent sun. There are few men more certain than he when he is certain. There is no one so full of doubts when he doubteth. There is no wind so mighty as he when he is inspired to blow; but God alone, who directeth the wind in its flight, knoweth when he will storm through the world. His Highness is a balance of a pair of scales. Now he is up, now down. Those who have ruled him have taken account of this. If you had known the Sieur Cromwell as I have, you would have known this very well. The excellent the Privy Seal hath been beknaved by the hour, and hath borne it with a great composure. For, well he knew that the King, standing in midst of a world of doubts, would, in the next hour, the next week, or the next month, come in the midst of doubts to be of Privy Seal’s mind. Then Privy Seal hath pushed him to action. Now his Highness is a good lover, and being himself a great doubter, he loveth a simple and convinced nature. Therefore he hath loved Privy Seal. . . . ’
‘In the name of the saints,’ Katharine laughed, ‘call you Privy Seal’s a simple nature?’
He answered imperturbably:
‘Call you Cato’s a complex one? He who for days and days and years and years said always one thing alone: “Carthage must be destroyed!”’
‘But this man is no noble Roman,’ Katharine cried indignantly.
‘There was never a nature more Roman,’ Throckmorton mocked at her. ‘For if Cato cried for years: Delenda est Carthago, Cromwell hath contrived for years: Floreat rex meus. Cato stuck at no means. Privy Seal hath stuck at none. Madam Howard: Privy Seal wrote to the King in his first letter, when he was but a simple servant of the Cardinal, “I, Thomas Cromwell, if you will give ear to me, will make your Grace the richest and most puissant king ever there was.” So he wrote ten years agone; so he hath said and written daily for all those years. This it is to have a simple nature. . . . ’
‘But the vile deeds!’ Katharine said.
‘Madam Howard,’ Throckmorton laughed, ‘I would ask you how many broken treaties, how many deeds of treachery, went to the making of the Roman state, since Sinon a traitor brought about the fall of Troy, since Aeneas betrayed Queen Dido and brought the Romans into Italy, until Sylla played false with Marius, Cæsar with the friends of Sylla, Brutus with Cæsar, Antony with Brutus, Octavius with Antony — aye, and until the Blessed Constantine played false to Rome herself.’
‘Foul man, ye blaspheme,’ Katharine cried.
‘God keep me from that sin,’ he answered gravely.
‘— And of all these traitors,’ she continued, ‘not one but fell.’
‘Aye, by another traitor,’ he caught her up. ‘It was then as now. Men fell, but treachery prospered — aye, and Rome prospered. So may this realm of England prosper exceedingly. For it is very certain that Cromwell hath brought it to a great pitch, yet Cromwell made himself by betraying the great Cardinal.’
Katharine protested too ardently to let him continue. The land was brought to a low and vile estate. And it was known that Cromwell had been, before all things, and to his own peril, faithful to the great Cardinal’s cause.
Throckmorton shrugged his shoulders.
‘Without doubt you know these histories better than I,’ he answered. ‘But judge them how you will, it is very certain that the King, who loveth simple natures, loveth Privy Seal.’
‘Yet you have said that he lay under a great shadow,’ Katharine convicted him.
‘Well,’ he said composedly, ‘the balance is down against him. This league with Cleves hath brought him into disfavour. But well he knoweth that, and it will be but a short time ere he will work again, and many years shall pass ere again he shall misjudge. Such mistakes hath he made before this. But there hath never been one to strike at him in the right way and at the right time. Here then is an opening.’
Katharine regarded him with a curiosity that was friendly and awakened: he caught her expression and laughed.
‘Why, you begin to learn,’ he said.
‘When you speak clearly I can take your meaning,’ she answered.
‘Then believe me,’ he said earnestly. ‘Tell all with whom you may come together. And you may come to your uncle very easily. Tell him that if he may find France and Spain embroiled within this five months, Privy Seal and Cleves may fall together. But, if he delay till Privy Seal hath shaken him clear of Cleves, Cromwell shall be our over-king for twenty years.’
He paused and then continued:
‘Believe me again. Every word that is spoken against Privy Seal shall tell its tale — until he hath shaken himself clear of this Cleves coil. His Highness shall rave, but the words will rankle. His Highness shall threaten you — but he shall not strike — for he will doubt. It is by his doubts that you may take him.’
‘God help me,’ Katharine said. ‘What is this of “you” to me?’
He did not heed her, but continued:
‘You may speak what you will against Privy Seal — but speak never a word against the glory of the land. It is when you do call this realm the Fortunate Land that at once you make his Highness incline towards you — and doubt. “Island of the Blest,” say you. This his Highness rejoices, saying to himself: “My governing appeareth Fortunate to the World.” But his Highness knoweth full well the flaws that be in his Fortunate Island. And specially will he set himself to redress wrongs, assuage tears, set up chantries, and make his peace with God. But if you come to him saying: “This land is torn with dissent. Here heresies breed and despair stalks abroad”; if you say all is not well, his Highness getteth enraged. “All is well,” he will swear. “All is well, for I made it”— and he would throw his cap into the face of Almighty God rather than change one jot of his work. In short, if you will praise him you make him humble, for at bottom the man is humble; if you will blame him you will render him rigid as steel and more proud than the lightning. For, before the world’s eyes, this man must be proud, else he would die.’
Katharine had her hand upon her cheek. She said musingly:
‘His Highness did threaten me with a gaol. But you say he will not strike. If I should pray him to restore the Church of God, would he not strike then?’
‘Child,’ Throckmorton answered, ‘it will lie with the way you ask it. If you say: “This land is heathen, your Grace hath so made it,” his Highness will be more than terrible. But if you say: “This land prospereth exceedingly and is beloved of the Mother of God,” his Highness will begin to doubt that he hath done little to pleasure God’s Mother — or to pleasure you who love that Heavenly Rose. Say how all good people rejoice that his Highness hath given them a faith pure and acceptable. And very shortly his Highness will begin to wonder of his Faith.’
‘But that were an ignoble flattery,’ Katharine said.
He answered quietly:
‘No! no! For indeed his Highness hath given all he could give. It is the hard world that hath pushed him against you and against his good will. Believe me, his Highness loveth good doctrine better than you, I, or the Bishop of Rome. So that. . . . ’
He paused, and concluded:
‘This Lord Cromwell moves in the shadow of a little thing that casts hardly any shadow. You have seen it?’
She shook her head negligently, and he laughed:
‘Why, you will see it yet. A small, square thing upon a green hill. The noblest of our land kneel before it, by his Highness’ orders. Yet the worship of idols is contemned now.’ He let his malicious eyes wander over her relaxed, utterly resting figure.
‘I would ye would suffer me to kiss you on the mouth,’ he sighed.
‘Why, get you gone,’ she said, without anger.
‘Oh, aye,’ he said, with some feeling. ‘It is pleasant to be desired as I desire you. But it is true that ye be meat for my masters.’
‘I will take help from none of your lies.’ She returned to her main position.
He removed his bonnet, and bowed so low to her that his great and shining beard hung far away from his chest.
‘Madam Howard,’ he mocked, ‘my lies will help you well when the time comes.’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50