March was a month of great storms of rain in that year, and the river-walls of the Thames were much weakened. April opened fine enough for men to get about the land, so that, on a day towards the middle of the month, there was a meeting of seven Protestant men from Kent and Essex, of two German servants of the Count of Oberstein, and of two other German men in the living-room of Badge, the printer, in Austin Friars. It happened that the tide was high at four in the afternoon, and, after a morning of glints of sun, great rain fell. Thus, when the Lord Oberstein’s men set out into the weather, they must needs turn back, because the water was all out between Austin Friars and the river. They came again into the house, not very unwillingly, to resume their arguments about Justification by Faith, about the estate of the Queen Anne, about the King’s mind towards her, and about the price of wool in Flanders.
The printer himself was gloomy and abstracted; arguments about Justification interested him little, and when the talk fell upon the price of wool, he remained standing, absolutely lost in gloomy dreams. It grew a little dark in the room, the sky being so overcast, and suddenly, all the voices having fallen, there was a gurgle of water by the threshold, and a little flood, coming in between sill and floor, reached as it were, a tiny finger of witness towards his great feet. He looked down at it uninterestedly, and said:
‘Talk how you will, I can measure this thing by words and by print. Here hath this Queen been with us a matter of four months. Now in my chronicle the pageants that have been made in her honour fill but five pages.’ Whereas the chronicling of the jousts, pageants, merry-nights, masques and hawkings that had been given in the first four months of the Queen Jane had occupied sixteen pages, and for the Queen Anne Boleyn sixty and four. ‘What sort of honour is it, then, that the King’s Highness showeth the Queen?’ He shook his head gloomily.
‘Why, goodman,’ a woolstapler from the Tower Hamlets cried at him, ‘when they shot off the great guns against her coming to Westminster in February all my windows were broken by the shrinking of the earth. Such ordnance was never yet shot off in a Queen’s honour.’
The printer remained gloomily silent for a minute; the wind howled in the chimney-place, and the embers of the fire spat and rustled.
‘Even as ye are held here by the storm, so is the faith of God in these lands,’ he said. ‘This is the rainy season.’ More water came in beneath the door, and he added, ‘Pray God we be not all drowned in our holes.’
A motionless German, who had no English, shifted his feet from the wet floor to the cross-bar of his chair. Gloom, dispiritude, and dampness brooded in the low, dark room. But a young man from Kent, who, being used to ill weather, was not to be cast down by gloomy skies, cried out in his own dialect that they had arms to use and leaders to lead them.
‘Aye, and we have racks to be stretched on and hang-men to stretch them,’ the printer answered. ‘Is it with the sound of ordnance that a Queen is best welcomed? When she came to Westminster, what welcome had she? Sirs, I tell you the Mayor of London brought only barges and pennons and targets to her honour. The King’s Highness ordered no better state; therefore the King’s Highness honoureth not this Queen.’
A scrivener who had copied chronicles for another printer answered him:
‘Master Printer John Badge, ye are too much in love with velvet; ye are too avid of gold. Earlier records of this realm told of blows struck, of ships setting sail, of godly ways of life and of towns in France taken by storm. But in your books of the new reign we read all day of cloths of estate, of cloth of gold, of blue silk full of eyes of gold, of garlands of laurels set with brims of gold, of gilt bars, of crystal corals, of black velvet set with stones, and of how the King and his men do shift their suits six times in one day. The fifth Harry never shifted his harness for fourteen days in the field.’
The printer shrugged his enormous shoulders.
‘Oh, ignorant!’ he said. ‘A hundred years ago kings made war with blows. Now it is done with black velvets or the lack of black velvets. And I love laurel with brims of gold if such garlands crown a Queen of our faith. And I lament their lack if by it the King’s Highness maketh war upon our faith. And Privy Seal shall dine with the Bishop of Winchester, and righteousness kiss with the whoredom of abomination.’
‘An my Lord Cromwell knew how many armed men he had to his beck he had never made peace with Winchester,’ the man from Kent cried. He rose from his bench and went to stand near the fire.
A door-latch clicked, and in the dark corner of the room appeared something pale and shining — the face of old Badge, who held open the stair-door and grinned at the assembly, leaning down from a high step.
‘Weather-bound all,’ he quavered maliciously. ‘I will tell you why.’
He slipped down the step, pulling behind him the large figure of his grandchild Margot.
‘Get you gone back,’ the printer snarled at her.
‘That will I not,’ her gruff voice came. ‘See where my back is wet with the drippings through the roof.’
She and her grandfather had been sitting on a bed in the upper room, but the rain was trickling now through the thatch. The printer made a nervous stride to his printing stick, and, brandishing it in the air, poured out these words:
‘Whores and harlots shall not stand in the sight of the godly.’
Margot shrank back upon the stair-place and remained there, holding the bolt of the door in her hand, ready to shut off access to the upper house.
‘I will take no beating, uncle,’ she panted; ‘this is my grandfather’s abode and dwelling.’
The old man was sniggering towards the window. He had gathered up his gown about his knees and picked his way between the pools of water on the floor and the Lutherans on their chairs towards the window. He mounted upon an oak chest that stood beneath the casement and, peering out, chuckled at what he saw.
‘A mill race and a dam,’ he muttered. ‘This floor will be a duck pond in an hour.’
‘Harlot and servant of a harlot,’ the printer called to his niece. The Lutherans, who came from houses where father quarrelled with son and mother with daughter, hardly troubled more than to echo the printer’s words of abuse. But one of them, a grizzled man in a blue cloak, who had been an ancient friend of the household, broke out:
‘Naughty wench, thou wast at the ordeal of Dr Barnes.’
Margot, drawing her knees up to her chin where she sat on the stairs, answered nothing. Had she not feared her uncle’s stick, she was minded to have taken a mop to the floor and to have put a clout in the doorway.
‘Abominable naughty wench,’ the grizzled man went on. ‘How had ye the heart to aid in that grim scene? Knew ye no duty to your elders?’
Margot closed the skirts round her ankles to keep away the upward draught and answered reasonably:
‘Why, Neighbour Ned, my mistress made me go with her to see a heretic swinged. And, so dull is it in our service, that I would go to a puppet show far less fine and thank thee for the chance.’
The printer spat upon the floor when she mentioned her mistress.
‘I will catechize,’ he muttered. ‘Answer me as I charge thee.’
The old man, standing on the chest, tapped one of the Germans on the shoulder.
‘See you that wall, friend?’ he laughed. ‘Is it not a noble dam to stay the flood back into our house? Now the Lord Cromwell. . . . ’
The Lanzknecht rolled his eyes round, because he understood no English. The old man went on talking, but no one there, not even Margot Poins, heeded him. She looked at her uncle reasonably, and said:
‘Why, an thou wilt set down thy stick I will even consider thee, uncle.’ He threw the stick into the corner and immediately she went to fetch a mop from the cooking closet, where there lived a mumbling old housekeeper. The printer followed her with gloomy eyes.
‘Is not thy mistress a naughty woman?’ he asked, as a judge talks to a prisoner condemned.
She answered, ‘Nay,’ as if she had hardly attended to him.
‘Is she not a Papist?’
She answered, ‘Aye,’ in the same tone and mopped the floor beneath a man’s chair.
Her grandfather, standing high on the oak chest, so that his bonnet brushed the beams of the dark ceiling, quavered at her:
‘Would she not bring down this Crummock, whose wall hath formed a dam so that my land-space is now a stream and my house-floor a frog pond?’
She answered, ‘Aye, grandfer,’ and went on with her mopping.
‘Did she not go with a man to a cellar of the Rogues’ Sanctuary after Winchester’s feast?’ Neighbour Ned barked at her. ‘Such are they that would bring down our Lord!’
‘Did she not even so with her cousin before he went to Calais?’ her uncle asked.
Margot answered seriously:
‘Nay, uncle, no night but what she hath slept in these arms of mine that you see.’
‘Aye, you are her creature,’ Neighbour Ned groaned.
‘Foul thing,’ the printer shouted. ‘Eyes are upon thee and upon her. It was the worst day’s work that ever she did when she took thee to her arms. For I swear to God that her name shall be accursed in the land. I swear to God. . . . ’
He choked in his throat. His companions muttered Harlot; Strumpet; Spouse of the Fiend. And suddenly the printer shouted:
‘See you; Udal is her go-between with the King, and he shall receive thee as his price. He conveyeth her to his Highness, she hath paid him with thy virtue. Foul wench, be these words not true?’
She leaned upon her mop handle and said:
‘Why, uncle, it is a foul bird that ‘files his own nest.’
He shook his immense fist in her face.
‘Shame shall out in the communion of the godly, be it whose kin it will.’
‘Why, I wish the communion of the godly joy in its hot tales,’ she answered. ‘As for me, speak you with the magister when he comes from France. As for my mistress, three times she hath seen the King since Winchester’s feast was three months agone. She in no wise affected his Highness till she had heard his Highness confute the errors of Dr Barnes in the small closet. When she came away therefrom she said that his Highness was like a god for his knowledge of God’s law. If you want better tales than that go to a wench from the stairs to make them for you.’
‘Aye,’ said their neighbour, ‘three times hath she been with the King. And the price of the first time was the warrant that took thee to pay Udal for his connivance. And the price of the second was that the King’s Highness should confute our sacred Barnes in the conclave. And the price of the third was that the Lord Cromwell should dine with the Bishop of Winchester and righteousness sit with its head in ashes.’
‘Why, have it as thou wilt, Neighbour Ned,’ she answered. ‘In my life of twenty years thou hast brought me twenty sugar cates. God forbid that I should stay thy willing lips over a sweet morsel.’
In the gloomy and spiritless silence that fell upon them all — since no man there much believed the things that were alleged, but all very thoroughly believed that evil days were stored up against them — the bursting open of the door made so great a sound that the speechless German tilted backward with his chair and lay on the ground, before any of them knew what was the cause. The black figure of a boy shut out the grey light and the torrents of rain. His head was bare, his frieze clothes dripped and sagged upon his skin: he waved his clenched fist half at the sky and half at Margot’s face and screamed:
‘I ha’ carried letters for thee, ‘twixt thy mistress and the King! I ha’ carried letters. I . . . ha’ . . . been gaoled for it.’
‘O fool,’ Margot’s deep voice uttered, unmoved, ‘the letters went not between those two. And thou art free; come in from the rain.’
He staggered across the prostrate German.
‘I ha’ lost my advancement,’ he sobbed. ‘Where shall I go? Twenty hours I have hidden in the reeds by the riverside. I shall be taken again.’
‘There is no hot pursuit for thee then,’ Margot said, ‘for in all the twenty hours no man hath sought thee here.’ She had the heavy immobility of an elemental force. No fright could move her till she saw the cause for fright. ‘I will fetch thee a dram of strong waters.’
He passed his hand across his wet forehead.
‘Thy mistress is taken,’ he cried. ‘I saw Privy Seal’s pikes go to her doorway.’
‘Now God be praised,’ the printer cried out, and caught at the boy’s wrist. ‘Tell your tale!’ and he shook him on his legs.
‘Me, too, Privy Seal had taken — but I ‘scaped free,’ he gasped. ‘These twain had promised me advancement for braving their screeds. And I ha’ lost it.’
‘Gossips all,’ the Neighbour Ned barked out, ‘to your feet and let us sing: “A fortress fast is God the Lord.” The harlot of the world is down.’
During the time that had ensued between January and that month of March, it had been proved to Katharine Howard how well Throckmorton, the spy, voiced the men folk of their day. He had left her alone, but she seemed to feel his presence in all the air. He passed her in corridors, and she knew from his very silence that he was carrying on a fumbling game with her uncle Norfolk, and with Gardiner of Winchester. He had not induced her to play his game — but he seemed to have made her see that every man else in the world was playing a game like his. It was not, precisely, any more a world of black and white that she saw, but a world of men who did one thing in order that something very different might happen a long time afterwards.
The main Court had moved from Greenwich to Hampton towards the end of January, but the Lady Mary, with her ladies, came to a manor house at Isleworth; and shut in as she was with a grim mistress — who assuredly was all white or black — Katharine found herself like one with ears strained to catch sounds from a distance, listening for the smallest rumours that could come from the other great house up stream.
The other ladies each had their men, as Cicely Elliott had the old knight. One of them had even six, who one day fought a mêlée for her favours on an eyot before the manor windows. These men came by barge in the evenings, or rode over the flats with a spare horse to take their mistresses a-hawking after the herons in the swampy places. So that each of them had her channel by which true gossip might reach her. But Katharine had none. Till the opening of March the magister came to whisper with Margot Poins — then he was sent again to Paris to set his pen at the service of Sir Thomas Wyatt, who had so many letters to write. Thus she heard much women’s tattle, but knew nothing of what passed. Only it seemed certain that Gardiner of Winchester was seeing fit — God knows why — to be hot in favour of the Old Faith. It was certain, from six several accounts, that at Paul’s Cross he had preached a sermon full of a very violent and acceptable doctrine. She wondered what move in the game this was: it was assuredly not for the love of God. No doubt it was part of Throckmorton’s plan. The Lutherans were to be stirred to outrages in order to prove to the King how insolent were they upon whom Privy Seal relied.
It gratified her to see how acute her prescience had been when Dr Barnes made his furious reply to the bishop. For Dr Barnes was one of Privy Seal’s most noted men: an insolent fool whom he had taken out of the gutter to send ambassador to the Schmalkaldners. And it was on the day when Gardiner made his complaint to the King about Dr Barnes, that her uncle Norfolk sent to her to come to him at Hampton.
He awaited her, grim and jaundiced, in the centre of a great, empty room, where, shivering with cold, he did not let his voice exceed a croaking whisper though there was panelling and no arras on the dim walls. But, to his queries, she answered clearly:
‘Nay, I serve the Lady Mary with her Latin. I hear no tales and I bear none to any man.’ And again:
‘Three times I have spoken with the King’s Highness, the Lady Mary being by. And once it was of the Islands of the Blest, and once of the Latin books I read, and once of indifferent matters — such as of how apple trees may be planted against a wall in Lincolnshire.’
Her uncle gazed at her: his dark eyes were motionless and malignant by habit; he opened his lips to speak; closed them again without a word spoken. He looked at a rose, carved in a far corner of the ceiling, looked at her again, and muttered:
‘The French are making great works at Ardres.’
‘Oh, aye,’ she answered, ‘my cousin Tom wrote me as much. He is commanded to stay at Calais.’
‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘will they go against Calais town in good earnest?’
‘If I knew that,’ she answered, ‘I should have had it in private words from my lady whom I serve. And, if I had it in private words I would tell it neither to you nor to any man.’
He scowled patiently and muttered:
‘Then tell in private words back again this: That if the French King or the Emperor do war upon us now Privy Seal will sit upon the King’s back for ever.’
‘Ah, I know who hath talked with you,’ she answered. ‘Uncle, give me your hand to kiss, for I must back to my mistress.’
He put his thin hand grimly behind his back.
‘Ye spy, then, for others,’ he said. ‘Go kiss their feet.’
She laughed in a nettled voice:
‘If the others get no more from me than your Grace of Norfolk. . . . ’
He frowned ominously, pivoted stiffly round on his heels, and said over his shoulder:
‘Then I will have thy cousin clapped up the first time he is found in a drunken brawl at Calais.’
She was after him beseechingly, with her hands held out:
‘Oh no, uncle,’ and ‘Oh, dear uncle. Let poor fool Tom be drunken when drunken brawls work no manner of ill.’
‘Then get you sent to the King of France, through the channel that you wot of, the message I have given you to convey.’ He kept his back to her and spoke as if to the distant door.
‘Why must I mull in these matters?’ she asked him piteously, ‘or why must poor Tom? God help him, he found me bread when you had left me to starve.’ It came to her as pitiful that her cousin, swaggering and unconscious, at a great distance, should be undone because these men quarrelled near her. He moved stiffly round again — he was so bolstered over with clothes against the cold.
‘It is not you that must meddle here,’ he said. ‘It is your mistress. Only she will be believed by those you wot of.’
‘Speak you yourself,’ she said.
He scowled hatefully.
‘Who of the French would believe me,’ he snarled. He had been so made a tool of by Privy Seal in times past that he had lost all hope of credence.
‘If I may come to it, I will do it,’ she said suddenly.
After all, it seemed to her, this action might bring about the downfall of Privy Seal — and she desired his downfall. It would be a folly to refuse her aid merely because her uncle was a craven man or Throckmorton a knave. It was a true thing that she was to ask the Lady Mary to say — that if France and Spain should molest England together the Cleves alliance must stand for good — and with it Privy Seal.
‘But, a’ God’s name, let poor Tom be,’ she added.
He stood perfectly motionless for a moment, shrugged his shoulders straight up and down, stood motionless for another moment, and then held out his hand. She touched it with her lips.
There was a certain cate, or small cake, made of a paste sweetened with honey and flavoured with cinnamon, that Katharine Howard very much loved. She had never tasted them till one day the King had come to visit his daughter, bearing with his own hands a great box of them. He had had the receipt from Thomas Cromwell, who had had it of a Jew in Italy. Mary so much disaffected her father that, taking them from his hands with one knee nearly upon the ground, she had said that her birth ill-fitted her to eat these princely viands, and she had placed them on a ledge of her writing-pulpit. Heaving a heavy sigh, he glanced at her book and said that he would not have her spoil her eyes with too much of study; let her bid Lady Katharine to read and write for her.
‘She will have greater need of her eyes than ever I of mine,’ Mary answered with her passionless voice.
‘I will not have you spoil your eyes,’ he said heavily, and she gave him back the reply:
‘My eyes are your Highness’.’
He made with his shoulders a slow movement of exasperation, and, turning to Katharine Howard, he began once more to talk of the Islands of the Blest. He was dressed all in black furs that day, so that his face appeared less pallid than when he had worn scarlet, and it seemed to her suddenly that he was a very pitiful man — a man who could do nothing; and one who, as Throckmorton had said, was nothing but a doubt. There beside him, between the two of them, stood his daughter — pale, straight, silent, her hands clasped before her. And her father had come to placate her. He had brought her cates to eat, or he would have beaten her into loving him. Yet Mary of England stood as rigid as a knife-blade; you could move her neither by love nor by threats. This man had sinned against this daughter; here he was brought up against an implacability. He was omnipotent in everything else; this was his Pillars of Hercules. So she exerted herself to be pleasant with him, and at one moment of the afternoon he stretched out a great hand to the cinnamon cakes and placed one in his own mouth. He sat still, and, his great jaws moving slowly, he said that he scarcely doubted that, if he himself could set sail with a great armada and many men, he should find a calm region of tranquil husbandry and a pure faith.
‘It might be found,’ he said; then he sighed heavily, and, looking earnestly at her, brushed the crumbs from the furs about his neck.
‘One day, doubtless, your Highness shall find them,’ Katharine answered, ‘if your Highness shall apply yourself to the task.’ She was impatient with him for his sighs. Let him, if he would, abandon his kingdom and his daughter to set out upon a quest, or let him stay where he was and set to work at any other task.
‘But whether your Highness shall find them beyond the Western Isles or hidden in this realm of England. . . . ’
He shrugged his great shoulders right up till the furs on them were brushed by the feathers that fell from his bonnet.
‘God, wench!’ he said gloomily, ‘that is a question you are main happy to have time to dally with. I have wife and child, and kith and kin, and a plaguey basket of rotten apples to make cider from.’
He pulled himself out of his chair with both hands on the arms, stretched his legs as if they were cramped, and rolled towards the door.
‘Why, read of this matter in old books,’ he said, ‘and if you find the place you shall take me there.’ Then he spoke bitterly to the Lady Mary, who had never moved.
‘Since your eyes are mine, I bid you not spoil them,’ he said. ‘Let this lady aid you. She has ten times more of learning than you have.’ But, taking his jewelled walking-stick from beside the door, he added, ‘God, wench! you are my child. I have read your commentary, and I, a man who have as much of good letters as any man in Christendom, am well content to father you.’
‘Did your Highness mark — this book being my child — which side of the paper it was written on?’ his daughter asked.
Katharine Howard sighed, for it was the Lady Mary’s bitter jest that she wrote on the rough side of the paper, having been born on the wrong side of the blanket.
‘Madam Howard,’ she said to Katharine with a cold sneer, as of a very aged woman, ‘my father, who has taken many things from me to give to other women, takes now my commentary to give to you. Pray you finish it, and I will save mine eyes.’
As the King closed the door behind him she moved across to the chair and sat herself down to gaze at the coals. Katharine knelt at her feet and stretched out her hands. She was, she said, her mistress’s woman. But the Lady Mary turned obdurately the side of her face to her suppliant; only her fingers picked at her black dress.
‘I am your woman,’ Katharine said. ‘Before God and St Anthony, the King is naught to me! Before God and the Mother of God, no man is aught to me! I swear that I am your woman. I swear that I will speak as you bid me speak, or be silent. May God do so to me if in aught I act other than may be of service to you!’
‘Then you may sit motionless till the green mould is over your cheeks,’ Mary answered.
But two days later, in the afternoon, Katharine Howard came upon her mistress with her jaws moving voraciously. Half of the cinnamon cates were eaten from the box on the writing-pulpit. A convulsion of rage passed over the girl’s dark figure; her eyes dilated and appeared to blaze with a hot and threatening fury.
‘If I could have thy head, before God I would shorten thee by the neck!’ she said. ‘Stay now; go not. Take thy hand from the door-latch.’
Sudden sobs shook her, and tears dropped down her furrowed and pallid cheeks. She was tormented always by a gnawing and terrible hunger that no meat and no bread might satisfy, so that, being alone with the cates in the cold spring afternoon, she had, in spite of the donor, been forced always nearer and nearer to them.
‘God help me!’ she said at last. ‘Udal is gone, and the scullion that supplied me in secret has the small-pox. How may I get me things to eat?’
‘To have stayed to ask me!’ Katharine cried. ‘What a folly was here!’ For, as a daughter of the King, the Lady Mary was little more than herself; but because she was daughter to a queen that was at once a saint and martyr, Katharine was ready to spend her life in her service.
‘I would stay to ask a service of any man or woman,’ Mary answered, ‘save only that I have this great hunger.’ She clutched angrily at her skirt, and so calmed herself.
‘How may you help me?’ she asked grimly. ‘There are many that would put poison in my food. My mother was poisoned.’
‘I would eat myself of all the food that I bring you,’ said Katharine.
‘And if thou wast poisoned, I must get me another, and yet another after that. You know who it is that would have me away.’
At that hint of the presence of Cromwell, Katharine grew more serious.
‘I will save of my own food,’ she answered simply.
‘Till your bones stick through your skin!’ Mary sneered. ‘See you, do you know one man you could trust?’
The shadow fell the more deeply upon Katharine, because her cousin — as she remembered every day — the one man that she could trust, was in Calais town.
‘I know of two women,’ she said; ‘my maid Margot and Cicely Elliott.’
Mary of England reflected for a long time. Her eyes sunk deep in her head, grey and baleful, had the look of her father’s.
‘Cicely Elliott is too well known for my woman,’ she said. ‘Thy maid Margot is a great lump, too. Hath she no lover?’
The magister was in Paris.
‘But a brother she hath,’ Katharine said; ‘one set upon advancement.’
Mary said moodily:
‘Advancement, then, may be in this. God knoweth his own good time. But you might tell him; or it were better you should bid her tell him. . . . In short words, and fur . . . wait.’
She had a certain snake-like eagerness and vehemence in her motions. She opened swiftly an aumbry in which there stood a tankard of milk. She took a clean pen, and then turned upon Katharine.
‘Before thou goest upon this errand,’ she said, ‘I would have thee know that, for thee, there may be a traitor’s death in this — and some glory in Heaven.’
‘You write to the Empress,’ Katharine cried.
‘I write to a man,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘Might you speak with clear eyes to my father if you knew more than that?’
‘I do not believe that you would bring your father down,’ Katharine said.
‘Why, you have a very comfortable habit of belief,’ Mary sneered at her. ‘In two words! Will you carry this treasonable letter or no?’
‘God help me,’ Katharine cried.
‘Well, God help you,’ her mistress jeered. ‘Two nights agone you swore to be my woman and no other man’s. Here you are in a taking. Think upon it.’
She dipped her white pen in the milk and began to write upon a great sheet of paper, holding her head aslant to see the shine of the fluid.
Katharine fought a battle within herself. Here was treason to the King — but that was a little thing to her. Yet the King was a father whom she would bring back to this daughter, and the traitor was a daughter whom she was sworn to serve and pledged to bring back to this father. If then she conveyed this letter. . . .
‘Tell me,’ she asked of the intent figure above the paper, ‘when, if ever, this plot shall burst?’
‘Madam Howard,’ the other answered, ‘I heard thee not.’
‘I say I will convey your Highness’ letter if the plot shall not burst for many days. If it be to come soon I will forswear myself and be no longer your woman.’
‘Why, what a pax is here?’ her mistress faced round on her. ‘What muddles thy clear head? I doubt, knowing the craven kings that are of my party, no plot shall burst for ten years. And so?’
‘Before then thou mayest be brought back to thy father,’ Katharine said.
Mary of England burst into a hoarse laughter.
‘As God’s my life,’ she cried, ‘that may well be. And you may find a chaste whore before either.’
Whilst she was finishing her letter, Katharine Howard prayed that Mary the Mother of Mercy might soften the hatred of this daughter, even as, of old times, she had turned the heart of Lucius the Syracusan. Then there should be an end to plotting and this letter might work no ill.
Having waved the sheet of paper in the air to dry it, Mary crumpled it into a ball.
‘See you,’ she said, ‘if this miscarry I run a scant risk. For, if this be a treason, this treason is well enough known already to them you wot of. They might have had my head this six years on one shift or another had they so dared. So to me it matters little. — But for thee — and for thy maid Margot and this maid’s brother and his house and his father and his leman — death may fall on ye all if this ball of paper miscarry.’
Katharine made no answer and her mistress spoke on.
‘Take now this paper ball, give it to thy maid Margot, bid thy maid Margot bear it to her brother Ned.’ Her brother Ned should place it in his sleeve and walk with it to Herring Lane at Hampton. There, over against the house of the Sieur Chapuys, who was the Emperor’s ambassador to this Christian nation — over against that house there was a cookshop to which resorted the servants of the ambassador. Passing it by, Katharine’s maid’s brother should thrust his hand in at the door and cry ‘a pox on all stinking Kaiserliks and Papists,’— and he should cast the paper at that cook’s head. Then out would come master cook to his door and claim reparation. And for reparation Margot’s brother Ned should buy such viands as the cook should offer him. These viands he was to bring, as a good brother should, to his hungry sister, and these viands his sister should take to her room — which was Katharine’s room. ‘And, of an evening,’ she finished, ‘I shall come to thy room to commune with thee of the writers that be dead and yet beloved. Hast thou the lesson by heart? I will say it again.’
It was in that way, however sorely against her liking, that Katharine Howard came into a plot. It subdued her, it seemed to age her, it was as if she had parted with some virtue. When again she spoke with the King, who came to loll in his daughter’s armed chair one day out of every week, it troubled her to find that she could speak to him with her old tranquillity. She was ashamed at feeling no shame, since all the while these letters were passing behind his back. Once even he had been talking to her of how they nailed pear trees against the walls in her Lincolnshire home.
‘Our garden man would say . . . ’ she began a sentence. Her eye fell upon one of these very crumpled balls of paper. It lay upon the table and it confused her to think that it appeared like an apple. ‘Would say . . . would say . . . ’ she faltered.
He looked at her with enquiring eyes, round in his great head.
‘It is too late,’ she finished.
‘Even too late for what?’ he asked.
‘Too late in the year to set the trees back,’ she answered and her fit of nervousness had passed. ‘For there is a fluid in trees that runneth upward in the spring of the year to greet the blessed sun.’
‘Why, what a wise lady is this!’ he said, half earnest. ‘I would I had such an adviser as thou hast,’ he continued to his daughter.
He frowned for a moment, remembering that, being who he was, he should stand in need of no advice.
‘See you,’ he said to Katharine. ‘You have spoken of many things and wisely, after a woman’s fashion of book-learning. Now I am minded that you should hear me speak upon the Word of God which is a man’s matter and a King’s. This day sennight I am to have brought to my closet a heretic, Dr Barnes. If ye will ye may hear me confound him with goodly doctrines.’
He raised both his eyebrows heavily and looked first at the Lady Mary.
‘You, I am minded, shall hear a word of true doctrine.’
And to Katharine, ‘I would hear how you think that I can manage a disputation. For the fellow is the sturdiest rogue with a yard of tongue to wag.’
Katharine maintained a duteous silence; the Lady Mary stood with her hands clasped before her. Upon Katharine he smiled suddenly and heavily.
‘I grow too old to be a match for thee in the learning of this world. Thy tongue has outstripped me since I am become stale. . . . But hear me in the other make of talk.’
‘I ask no better,’ Katharine said.
‘Therefore,’ he finished, ‘I am minded that you, Mog, and your ladies all, do move your residences from here to my house at Hampton. This is an old and dark place; there you shall be better honoured.’
He lay back in his chair and was pleased with the care that he took of his daughter. Katharine glided intently across the smooth bare floor and took the ball of paper in her hand. His eyes followed her and he moved his head round after her movements, heavily, and without any motion of his great body. He was in a comfortable mood, having slept well the night before, and having conversed agreeably in the bosom of a family where pleasant conversation was a rare thing. For the Lady Mary had forborne to utter biting speeches, since her eyes too had been upon that ball of paper. The King did not stay for many minutes after Katharine had gone.
She was excited, troubled and amused — and, indeed, the passing of those letters held her thoughts in those few days. Thus it was easy to give the paper to her maid Margot, and easy to give Margot the directions. But she knew very well by what shift Margot persuaded her scarlet-clothed springald of a brother to take the ball and to throw it into the cookshop. For the young Poins was set upon advancement, and Margot, buxom, substantial and honest-faced, stood before him and said: ‘Here is your chance for advancement made . . . ’ if he could carry these missives very secretly.
‘For, brother Poins,’ she said, ‘thou knowest these great folks reward greatly — and these things pass between folks very great. If I tell thee no names it is because thou canst see more through a stone wall than common folk.’
So the young Poins cocked his bonnet more jauntily, and, setting out up river to Hampton, changed his scarlet clothes for a grey coat and puritan hose, and in the dark did his errand very well. He carried a large poke in which he put the larded capons and the round loaves that the cook sold to him. Later, following a reed path along the river, he came swiftly down to Isleworth with his bag on a cord and, in the darkness from beneath the walls, he slung bag and cord in at Katharine Howard’s open window. For several times this happened before the Lady Mary’s court was moved to Hampton. At first, Katharine had her tremors to put up with — and it was only when, each evening, with a thump and swish, the bag, sweeping out of the darkness, sped across her floor — it was only then that Katharine’s heart ceased from pulsing with a flutter. All the while the letters were out of her own hands she moved on tiptoe, as if she were a hunter intent on surprising a coy quarry. Nevertheless, it was impossible for her to believe that this was a dangerous game; it was impossible to believe that the heavy, unsuspicious and benevolent man who tried clumsily to gain his daughter’s love with bribes of cakes and kerchiefs — that this man could be roused to order her to her death because she conveyed from one place to another a ball of paper. It was more like a game of passing a ring from hand to hand behind the players’ backs, for kisses for forfeits if the ring were caught. Nevertheless, this was treason-felony; yet it was furthering the dear cause of the saints.
It was on the day on which her uncle Norfolk had sent for her that the King had his interview with the heretical Dr Barnes — nicknamed Antoninus Anglicanus.
The Lady Mary and Katharine Howard and her maid, Margot, were set in a tiny closet in which there was, in a hole in the wall, a niche for the King’s confessor. The King’s own chamber was empty when they passed through, and they left the door between ajar. There came a burst of voices, and swiftly the Bishop of Winchester himself entered their closet. He lifted his black eyebrows at sight of them, and rubbed his thin hands with satisfaction.
‘Now we shall hear one of Crummock’s henchmen swinged,’ he whispered. He raised a finger for them to lend ear and gazed through the crack of the door. They heard a harsh voice, like a dog’s bay, utter clearly:
‘Now goodly goodman Doctor, thou hast spoken certain words at Paul’s Cross. They touched on Justification; thou shalt justify them to me now.’ There came a sound of a man who cleared his throat — and then again the heavy voice:
‘Why, be not cast down; we spoke as doctor to doctor. Without a doubt thou art learned. Show then thy learning. Wast brave at Paul’s Cross. Justify now!’
Gardiner, turning from gazing through the door-crack, grinned at the three women.
‘He rated me at Paul’s Cross!’ he said. ‘He thumped me as I had been a thrashing floor.’ They missed the Doctor’s voice — but the King’s came again.
‘Why, this is a folly. I am Supreme Head, but I bid thee to speak.’
There was a long pause till they caught the words.
‘Your Highness, I do surrender my learning to your Highness’.’ Then, indeed, there was a great roar:
‘Unworthy knave; surrender thyself to none but God. He is above me as above thee. To none but God.’
There was another long silence, and then the King’s voice again:
‘Why, get thee gone. Shalt to gaol for a craven. . . . ’ And then came a hissing sound of vexation, a dull thud, and other noises.
The King’s bonnet lay on the floor, and the King himself alone was padding down the room when they opened their door. His face was red with rage.
‘Why, what a clever fiend is this Cromwell!’ the Lady Mary said; but the Bishop of Winchester was laughing. He pushed Margot Poins from the closet, but caught Katharine Howard tightly by the arm.
‘Thou shalt write what thy uncle asked of thee!’ he commanded in a low voice, ‘an thou do it not, thy cousin shall to gaol! I have a letter thou didst write me.’
A black despair settled for a moment upon Katharine, but the King was standing before her. He had walked with inaudible swiftness up from the other end of the room.
‘Didst not hear me argue!’ he said, with the vexation of a great child. ‘That poxy knave out-marched me!’
‘Why,’ the Lady Mary sniggered at him, ‘thy brewer’s son is too many for your Highness.’
Henry snarled round at her; but she folded her hands before her and uttered:
‘The brewer’s son made your Highness Supreme Head of the Church. Therefore, the brewer’s son hath tied your Highness’ tongue. For who may argue with your Highness?’
He looked at her for a moment with a bemused face.
‘Very well,’ he said.
‘The brewer’s son should have made your Highness the lowest suppliant at the Church doors. Then, if, for the astounding of certain beholders, your Highness were minded to argue, your Highness should find adversaries.’
The bitter irony of her words made Katharine Howard angry. This poor, heavy man had other matters for misgiving than to be badgered by a woman. But the irony was lost upon the King. He said very simply:
‘Why, that is true. If I be the Head, the Tail shall fear to bandy words with me.’ He addressed himself again to Katharine: ‘I am sorry that you did not hear me argue. I am main good at these arguments.’ He looked reflectively at Gardiner and said: ‘Friend Winchester, one day I will cast a main at arguments with thee, and Kat Howard shall hear. But I doubt thou art little skilled with thy tongue.’
‘Why, I will make a better shift with my tongue than Privy Seal’s men dare,’ the bishop said. He glanced under his brows at Henry, as if he were measuring the ground for a leap.
‘The Lady Mary is in the right,’ he ventured.
The King, who was thinking out a speech to Katharine, said, ‘Anan?’ and Gardiner ventured further:
‘I hold it for true that this man held his peace, because Cromwell so commanded it. He is Cromwell’s creature, and Cromwell is minded to escape from the business with a whole skin.’
The King bent him an attentive ear.
‘It is to me, in the end, that Privy Seal owes amends,’ Gardiner said rancorously. ‘Since it was at me that this man, by Cromwell’s orders, did hurl his foul words at Paul’s Cross.’
The King said:
‘Why, it is true that thou art more sound in doctrine than is Privy Seal. What wouldst thou have?’
Gardiner made an immense gesture, as if he would have embraced the whole world.
Katharine Howard trembled. Here they were, all the three of them Cromwell’s enemies. They were all alone with the King in a favouring mood, and she was on the point of crying out:
‘Give us Privy Seal’s head.’
But, in this very moment of his opportunity, Gardiner faltered. Even the blackness of his hatred could not make him bold.
‘That he should make me amends in public for the foul words that knave uttered. That they should both sue to me for pardon: that it should be showed to the world what manner of man it is that they have dared to flout.’
‘Why, goodman Bishop, it shall be done,’ the King said, and Katharine groaned aloud. A clock with two quarter boys beside the large fireplace chimed the hour of four.
‘Aye!’ the King commented to Katharine. ‘I thought to have had a pleasanter hour of it. Now you see what manner of life is mine: I must go to a plaguing council!’
‘An I were your Highness,’ Katharine cried, ‘I would be avenged on them that marred my pleasures.’
He touched her benevolently upon the cheek.
‘Sweetheart,’ he said, ‘an thou wert me thou’dst do great things.’ He rolled towards the door, heavy and mountainous: with the latch in his hand, he cried over his shoulder: ‘But thou shalt yet hear me argue!’
‘What a morning you have made of this!’ Katharine threw at the bishop. The Lady Mary shrugged her shoulders to her ears and turned away. Gardiner said:
‘Oh, well your Holiness knows,’ Katharine said. ‘You might have come within an ace of having Cromwell down.’
His eyes flashed, and he swallowed with a bitter delight.
‘I have him at my feet,’ he said. ‘He shall do public reparation to me. You have heard the King say so.’
There were tears of vexation in Katharine’s eyes.
‘Well I know how it is that this brewer’s son has king’d it so long!’ she said. ‘An I had been a man it had been his head or mine.’
Gardiner shook himself like a dog that is newly out of the water.
‘Madam Howard,’ he said, ‘you are mighty high. I have observed how the King spoke all his words for your ear. His passions are beyond words and beyond shame.’
The Lady Mary was almost out of the room, and he came close enough to speak in Katharine’s ears.
‘But be you certain that his Highness’ passions are not beyond the reverse of passion, which is jealousy. You have a cousin at Calais. . . . ’
Katharine moved away from him.
‘Why, God help you, priest,’ she said. ‘Do you think you are the only man that knows that?’
He laughed melodiously, with a great anger.
‘But I am the man that knoweth best how to use my knowledge. Therefore you shall do my will.’
Katharine Howard laughed back at him:
‘Where your lordship’s will marches with mine I will do it,’ she said. ‘But I am main weary of your lordship’s threats. You know the words of Artemidorus?’
Gardiner contained his rage.
‘You will write the letter we have asked you to write?’
She laughed again, and faced him, radiant, fair and flushed in the cheeks.
‘In so far as you beg me to write a letter praying the King of France and the Emperor to abstain from war upon this land, I will write the letter. But, in so far as that helps forward the plotting of you and a knave called Throckmorton, I am main sorry that I must write it.’
The bishop drew back, and uttered:
‘Madam Howard, ye are forward.’
‘Why, God help your lordship,’ she said. ‘Where I see little course for respect I show little. You see I am friends with the King — therefore leave you my cousin be. Because I am friends with the King, who is a man among wolves, I will pray my mistress to indite a letter that shall save this King some troubles. But, if you threaten me with my cousin, or my cousin with me, I will use my friendship with the King as well against you as against any other.’
Gardiner swallowed in his throat, winked his eyes, and muttered:
‘Why, so you do what we will, it matters little in what spirit you shall do it.’
‘So you and my uncle and Throckmorton keep your feet from my paths, you may have my leavings,’ she said. ‘And they will be the larger part, since I ask little for myself.’
He gave her his episcopal blessing as she followed the Lady Mary to her rooms.
Her mind was made up — and she knew that it had been made up hastily, but she was never one to give much time to doubting. She wished these men to leave her out of their plots — but four men are stronger than one woman. Yet, as her philosophy had it, you may make a woman your tool, but she will bend in your hand and strike where she will, for all that. Therefore she must plot, but not with them.
As soon as she could she found the Lady Mary alone, and, setting her valour up against the other’s dark and rigid figure, she spoke rapidly:
She would have her lady write to her friends across the sea that, if Cromwell were ever to fall, they must now stay their hands against the King: they must diminish their bands, discontinue their fortifyings and feign even to quarrel amongst themselves. Otherwise the King must rest firm in his alliance with Cleves, to counterbalance them.
The Lady Mary raised her eyebrows with a show of insolent astonishment that was for all the world like the King’s.
‘You affect my father!’ she said. ‘Is it not a dainty plan?’
Katharine brushed past her words with:
‘It matters little who affects what thing. The main is that Privy Seal must be cast down.’
‘Carthage must be destroyed, O Cato,’ the Lady Mary sneered. ‘Ye are peremptory.’
‘I am as God made me,’ Katharine answered. ‘I am for God’s Church. . . . ’ She had a sharp spasm of impatience. ‘Here is a thing to do, and the one and the other snarl like dogs, each for his separate ends.’
‘Oh, la, la,’ the Lady Mary laughed.
‘A Howard is as good as any man,’ Katharine said. Her ingenuous face flushed, and she moved her hand to her throat. ‘God help me: it is true that I swore to be your woman. But it is the true province of your woman to lead you to work for justice and the truth.’
A black malignancy settled upon the face of the princess.
‘I have been called bastard,’ she said. ‘My mother was done to death.’
‘No true man believes you misbegotten,’ Katharine answered hotly.
‘Well, it is proclaimed treason, to speak thus,’ the Lady Mary sneered.
‘Neither can you give your sainted mother her life again.’ Katharine ignored her words. ‘But these actions were not your father’s. It was an ill man forced him to them. The saints be good to you; is it not time to forgive a sad man that would make amends? I would have you to write this letter.’
The Lady Mary’s lips moved into the curves of a tormenting smile.
‘You plead your lover’s cause main well,’ she uttered.
Katharine had another motion of impatience.
‘Your cause I plead main better,’ she said. ‘It is certain that, this man once down, your bastardy should be reversed.’
‘I do not ask it,’ the Lady Mary said.
‘But I ask that you give us peace here, so that the King may make amends to many that he hath sorely wronged. Do you not see that the King inclineth to the Church of God? Do you not see. . . . ’
‘I see very plainly that I needs must thank you for better housing,’ Mary answered. ‘It is certain that my father had never brought me from that well at Isleworth, had it not been that he desireth converse with thee at his ease.’
Katharine’s lips parted with a hot anger, but before she could speak the bitter girl said calmly:
‘Oh, I have not said thou art his leman. I know my father. His blood is not hot — but his ears crave tickling. Tickle them whilst thou mayest. Have I stayed thee? Have I sent thee from my room when he did come?’
Katharine cast back the purple hood from over her forehead, she brushed her hand across her brow, and made herself calm.
‘This is a trifling folly,’ she said. ‘In two words: will your Highness write me this letter?’
‘Then, in four words,’ Mary answered, ‘my Highness cares not.’
The mobile brows above Katharine’s blue eyes made a hard straight line.
‘An you will not,’ she brought out, ‘I will leave your Highness’ service. I will get me away to Calais, where my father is.’
‘Why, you will never do that,’ the Lady Mary said; ‘you have tasted blood here.’
Katharine hung her head and meditated for a space.
‘No, before God,’ she said earnestly, ‘I think you judge me wrong. I think I am not as you think me. I think that I do seek no ends of my own.’
The Lady Mary raised her eyebrows and snickered ironically.
‘But of this I am very certain,’ Katharine said. She spoke more earnestly, seeming to plead: ‘If I thought that I were grown a self-seeker, by Mars who changed Alectryon to a cock, and by Pallas Athene who changed Arachne to a spider — if I were so changed, I would get me gone from this place. But here is a thing that I may do. If you will aid me to do it I will stay. If you will not I will get me gone.’
‘Good wench,’ Mary answered, ‘let us say for the sake of peace that thou art honest. . . . Yet I have sworn by other gods than thine that never will I do aught that shall be of aid, comfort or succour to my father’s cause.’
‘Take back your oaths!’ Katharine cried.
‘For thee!’ Mary said. ‘Wench, thou hast brought me food: thou hast served me in the matter of letters. I might only with great trouble get another so to serve me. But, by Mars and Pallas and all the constellation of the deities, thou mightest get thee to Hell’s flames or ever I would take back an oath.’
‘Oh, madness,’ Katharine cried out. ‘Oh, mad frenzy of one whom the gods would destroy.’ Three times before she had reined in her anger: now she stretched out her hands with her habitual gesture of pitiful despair. Her eyes looked straight before her, and, as she inclined her knees, the folds of her grey dress bent round her on the floor.
‘Here I have pleaded with you, and you have gibed me with the love of the King. Here I have been earnest with you, and you have mocked. God help me!’ she sobbed, with a catch in her throat. ‘Here is rest, peace and the blessing of God offered to this land. Here is a province that is offered back to the Mother of God and the dear hosts of heaven. Here might we bring an erring King back to the right way, a sinful man back unto his God. But you, for a parcel of wrongs of your own. . . . ’
‘Now hold thy peace,’ Mary said, between anger and irony. ‘Here is a matter of a farthing or two. Be the letter written, and kiss upon it.’
Katharine stayed herself in the tremor of her emotions, and the Lady Mary said drily:
‘Be the letter written. But thou shalt write it. I have sworn that I will do nothing to give this King ease.’
‘But my writing. . . . ’ Katharine began.
‘Thou shalt write,’ Mary interrupted her harshly. ‘If thou wilt have this King at peace for a space that Cromwell may fall, why I am at one with thee. For this King is such a palterer that without this knave at his back I might have had him down ten years ago. Therefore, thou shalt write, and I will countersign the words.’
‘That were to write thyself,’ Katharine said.
‘Good wench,’ the Lady Mary said. ‘I am thy slave: but take what thou canst get.’
Towards six of the next day young Poins clambered in at Katharine Howard’s window and stood, pale, dripping with rain and his teeth chattering, between Cicely Elliott and her old knight.
‘The letter,’ he said. ‘They have taken thy letter. My advancement is at an end!’ And he fell upon the floor.
Going jauntily along the Hampton Street, he had been filled, that afternoon, with visions of advancement. Drifts of rain hid the osiers across the river and made the mud ooze in over the laces of his shoes. The tall white and black house, where the Emperor’s ambassador had his lodgings, leaned in all its newness over the path, and the water from its gutters fell right into the river, making a bridge above a passer’s head. The little cookshop, with its feet, as it were, in the water, made a small hut nestling down beneath the shadow of the great house. It was much used by Chapuys’ grooms, trencher boys and javelin men, because the cook was a Fleming, and had a comfortable hand in stewing eels.
Ned Poins must pass the ambassador’s house in his walk, but in under the dark archway there stood four men sheltering, in grey cloaks that reached to their feet. Stepping gingerly on the brick causeway that led down to the barge-steps, they came and stood before the young man, three being in a line together and one a little to the side. He hardly looked at them because he was thinking: ‘This afternoon I will say to my sister Margot: “Fifteen letters I have carried for thy great persons. I have carried them with secrecy and speed. Now, by Cock, I will be advanced to ancient.”’ He had imagined his sister pleading with him to be patient, and himself stamping with his foot and swearing that he would be advanced instantly.
The solitary one of the four men barred his way, and said:
‘No further! You go back with us!’
Poins swung his cape back and touched his sword-hilt.
‘You will have your neck stretched if you stay me,’ he said.
The other loosened his cloak which had covered him up to the nose. He showed a mocking mouth, a long red beard that blew aside in a wild gust of the weather, and displayed on his breast the lion badge of the Lord Privy Seal.
‘An you will not come you shall be carried!’ he said.
‘Nick Throckmorton,’ Poins answered, ‘I will slit thy weazand! I am on a greater errand than thine.’
It was strong in his mind that he was bearing a letter for the King’s Highness. The other three laid hands swiftly upon him, and a wet cloak flapped over his head. They had his elbows bound together behind his back before his eyes again had the river and the muddy path to look upon. Throckmorton grinned sardonically, and they forced him along in the mud. The rain fell down; his cloak was gone. And then a great dread entered into his simple mind. It kept running through his head:
‘I was carrying a letter for the King — I was carrying a letter for the King!’ but his addled brains would bear his thoughts no further until he was cast loose in the very room of Privy Seal himself. They had used him very roughly, and he staggered back against the wall, gasping for breath and weeping with rage and fear.
Privy Seal stood before the fire; his eyes lifted a little but he said nothing at all. Throckmorton took a dagger from the chain round his neck, and cut the bag from the boy’s girdle. Still smiling sardonically, he placed it in Privy Seal’s fat hands.
‘Here is the great secret,’ he said. ‘I took it even in the gates of Chapuys.’
Privy Seal started a little and cried, ‘Ah!’ The boy would have spoken, but he feared even to cry out; his eyes were starting from his head, and his breath came in great gusts that shook him. Privy Seal sat down in a large chair by the fire and considered for a moment. Then he slowly drew out the crumpled ball of paper. Here at last he held the Lady Mary utterly in his power; here at last, at the eleventh hour, he had a new opportunity to show to the King his vigilance, his power, and how necessary he was to the safety of the realm. He had been beginning to despair; Winchester was to confess the King that night. Now he held them. . . .
‘I have been diligent,’ Throckmorton said. ‘I had had the Lady Mary set in the room that has a spy-hole beside a rose in the ceiling. So I saw the writing of this letter.’
Cromwell said, ‘Ah!’ He had pulled the paper apart, smoothed it across his knee, and looked at it attentively. Then he held it close to the fire, for no blank paper could trouble the Privy Seal. This was a child’s trick at best.
In the warmth faint lines became visible on the paper; they darkened and darkened beneath his intent eyes. Behind his back Throckmorton, with his immense beard and sardonic eyes, rubbed his hands and smiled. Privy Seal’s fingers trembled, but he gave no further sign.
Suddenly he cried, ‘What!’ and then, ‘Both women! both. . . . ’
He fell back in the chair, and the sudden quaver of his face, the deep breath that he drew, showed his immense joy.
‘God of my heart! Both women!’ he said again.
The rain hurled itself with a great rustling against the casement. Though it was so early, it was already nearly dark. Cromwell sat up suddenly and pointed at the boy.
‘Take that rat away!’ he said. ‘Set him in irons, and come back here.’
Throckmorton caught the quivering boy by the ear and led him out at the door. He took him down a small stair that opened behind a curtain. At the stair-foot he pulled open a small, heavy door. He still held his dagger, and he cut the ropes that tied Poins’ elbows. With a sudden alacrity and a grin of malice he kicked him violently.
‘Get you gone to your mistress,’ he said.
Poins stood for a moment, wavering on his feet. He slipped miserably in the mud of the park, and suddenly he ran. His grey, straining form disappeared round the end of the dark buildings, and then Throckmorton waved a hand at the grey sky and laughed noiselessly. Thomas Cromwell was making notes in his tablets when his spy reentered the room, with the rain-drops glistening in his beard.
‘Here are some notes for you,’ Cromwell said. He rose to his feet with a swift and intense energy. ‘I have given you five farms. Now I go to the King.’
Throckmorton spoke gently.
‘You are over-eager,’ he said. ‘It is early to go to the King’s Highness. We may find much more yet.’
‘It is already late,’ Cromwell said.
‘Sir,’ Throckmorton urged, ‘consider that the King is much affected to this lady. Consider that this letter contains nothing that is treasonable; rather it urges peace upon the King’s enemies.’
‘Aye,’ said Cromwell; ‘but it is written covertly to the King’s enemies.’
‘That, it is true, is a treason,’ Throckmorton said; ‘but it is very certain that the Lady Mary hath written letters very much more hateful. By questioning this boy that we have in gaol, by gaoling this Lady Katharine — why, we shall put her to the thumbscrews! — by gaol and by thumbscrew, we shall gar her to set her hand to another make of confession. Then you may go to the King’s Highness.’
‘Nick Throckmorton,’ Cromwell said, ‘Winchester hath to-night the King’s ear. . . . ’
‘Sir,’ Throckmorton answered, and a tremble in his calm voice showed his eagerness, ‘I beseech you to give my words your thoughts. Winchester hath the King’s ear for the moment; but I will get you letters wherein these ladies shall reveal Winchester for the traitor that we know him to be. Listen to me. . . . ’ He paused and let his crafty eyes run over his master’s face. ‘Let this matter be for an hour. See you, you shall make a warrant to take this Lady Katharine.’
He paused and appeared to reflect.
‘In an hour she shall be here. Give me leave to use my thumbscrews. . . . ’
‘Aye, but Winchester,’ Cromwell said.
‘Why,’ Throckmorton answered confidently, ‘in an hour, too, Winchester shall be with the King in the King’s Privy Chapel. There will be a make of prayers; ten minutes to that. There shall be Gardiner talking to the King against your lordship; ten minutes to that. And, Winchester being craven, it shall cost him twice ten minutes to come to begging your lordship’s head of the King, if ever he dare to beg it. But he never shall.’
Cromwell said, ‘Well, well!’
‘There we have forty minutes,’ Throckmorton said. He licked his lips and held his long beard in his hand carefully, as if it had been a bird. ‘But give me ten minutes to do my will upon this lady’s body, and ten to write down what she shall confess. Then, if it take your lordship ten minutes to dress yourself finely, you shall have still ten in which you shall show the King how his Winchester is traitor to him.’
Cromwell considered for a minute; his lips twitched cautiously the one above the other.
‘This is a great matter,’ he said. He paused again. ‘If this lady should not confess! And it is very certain that the King affects her.’
‘Give me ten minutes of her company,’ the spy answered.
Cromwell considered again.
‘You are very certain,’ he said; and then:
‘Wilt thou stake thy head upon it?’
Throckmorton wagged his beard slowly up and down.
‘Thy head and beard!’ Cromwell repeated. He struck his hands briskly together. ‘It is thine own asking. God help thee if thou failest!’
‘I will lay nothing to your lordship’s door,’ Throckmorton said eagerly.
‘God knows!’ Cromwell said. ‘No man that hath served me have I deserted. So it is that no one hath betrayed me. But thou shalt take this lady without warrant from my hand.’
‘If thou shalt wring avowal from her thou shalt be the wealthiest commoner of England,’ Cromwell said. ‘But I will not be here. Nay, thou shalt take her to thine own rooms. I will not be seen in this matter. And if thou fail. . . . ’
‘Sir, I stand more sure of my succeeding than ever your lordship stood,’ Throckmorton answered him.
‘It is not I that shall betray thee if thou fail,’ Cromwell answered. ‘Get thee gone swiftly. . . . ’ He took the jewelled badge from his cap that lay on the table. ‘Thou hast served me well,’ he said; ‘take this in case I never see thy face again.’
‘Oh, you shall see my triumph!’ Throckmorton answered.
He bent himself nearly double as he passed through the door.
Cromwell sat down in his great chair, and his eyes gazed at nothing through the tapestry of his room.
In Katharine Howard’s room they had the form of the boy, wet, grey, and mud-draggled, lying on the ground between them. Cicely Elliott rose in her chair: it was not any part of her nature to succour fainting knaves, and she let him stay where he was. Old Rochford raised his hands, and cried out to Katharine:
‘You have been sending letters again!’
Katharine stood absolutely still. They had taken her letters!
She neither spoke nor stirred. Slowly, as she remembered that this was indeed a treason, that here without doubt was death, that she was outwitted, that she was now the chattel of whosoever held her letters — as point after point came into her mind, the blood fled from her face. Cicely Elliott sat down in her chair again, and whilst the two sat watching her in the falling dusk they seemed to withdraw themselves from her world of friendship and to become spectators. Ten minutes before she would have laughed at this nightmare: it had seemed to her impossible that her letters could have been taken. So many had got in safety to their bourne. Now. . . .
‘Who has my letter?’ she cried.
How did she know what was to arise: who was to strike the blow: whence it would come: what could she still do to palliate its effects? The boy lay motionless upon the floor, his face sideways upon the boards.
‘Who? Who? Who?’ she cried. She wrung her hands, and kneeling, with a swift violence shook him by the coat near his neck. His head struck the boards and he fell back, motionless still, and like a dead man.
Cicely Elliott looked around her in the darkening room: beside the ambry there hung a brush of feathers such as they used for the dusting of their indoor clothes. She glided and hopped to the brush and back to the hearth: thrust the feathers into the coals and stood again, the brush hissing and spluttering, before Katharine on her knees.
‘Dust the springald’s face,’ she tittered.
At the touch of the hot feathers and the acrid perfume in his nostrils, the boy sneezed, stirred and opened his eyes.
‘Who has my letter?’ Katharine cried.
The lids opened wide in amazement, he saw her face and suddenly closed his eyes, and lay down with his face to the floor. A spasm of despair brought his knees up to his chin, his cropped yellow head went backwards and forwards upon the boards.
‘I have lost my advancement,’ he sobbed. ‘I have lost my advancement.’ A smell of strong liquors diffused itself from him.
‘Oh beast,’ Katharine cried from her knees, ‘who hath my letter?’
‘I have lost my advancement,’ he moaned.
She sprang from her feet to the fireplace and caught the iron tongs with which they were wont to place pieces of wood upon the fire. She struck him a hard blow upon the arm between the shoulder and elbow.
‘Sot!’ she cried. ‘Tell me! Tell me!’
He rose to his seat and held his arms to protect his head and eyes. When he stuttered:
‘Nick Throckmorton had it!’ her hand fell powerless to her side; but when he added: ‘He gave it to Privy Seal!’ she cast the tongs into the brands to save herself from cleaving open his head.
‘God!’ she said drily, ‘you have lost your advancement. And I mine! . . . And I mine.’
She wavered to her chair by the hearth-place, and covered her face with her white hands.
The boy got to his knees, then to his feet; he staggered backwards into the arras beside the door.
‘God’s curse on you!’ he said. ‘Where is Margot? That I may beat her! That I may beat her as you have beaten me.’ He waved his hand with a tipsy ferocity and staggered through the door.
‘Was it for this I did play the —— for thee?’ he menaced her. ‘By Cock! I will swinge that harlot!’
The old knight got to his feet. He laid his hand heavily upon Cicely Elliott’s shoulder.
‘Best begone from here,’ he said, ‘this is no quarrel of mine or thine.’
‘Why, get thee gone, old boy,’ she laughed over her shoulder. ‘Seven of my men have been done to death in such like marlocks. I would not have thee die as they did.’
‘Come with me,’ he said in her ear. ‘I have dropped my lance. Never shall I ride to horse again. I would not lose thee; art all I have.’
‘Why, get thee gone for a brave old boy,’ she said. ‘I will come ere the last pynot has chattered its last chatter.’
‘It is no light matter,’ he answered. ‘I am Rochford of Bosworth Hedge. But I have lost lance and horse and manhood. I will not lose my dandery thing too.’
Katharine Howard sat, a dark figure in the twilight, with the fire shining upon her hands that covered her face. Cicely Elliott looked at her and stirred.
‘Why,’ she said, ‘I have lost father and mother and men-folk and sister. But my itch to know I will not lose, if I pay my head for the price. I would give a silken gown to know this tale.’
Katharine Howard uncovered her face; it shewed white even in the rays of the fire. One finger raised itself to a level with her temple.
‘Listen!’ she uttered. They heard through the closed door a dull thud, metallic and hard — and another after four great beats of their hearts.
‘Pikestaves!’ the old knight groaned. His mouth fell open. Katharine Howard shrieked; she sprang to the clothes press, to the window — and then to the shadows beside the fireplace where she cowered and sobbed. The door swung back: a great man stood in the half light and cried out:
‘The Lady Katharine Howard.’
The old knight raised his hands above his head — but Cicely Elliott turned her back to the fire.
‘What would you with me?’ she asked. Her face was all in shadows.
‘I have a warrant to take the Lady Katharine.’
Cicely Elliott screamed out:
‘Me! Me! Ah God! ah God!’
She shrank back; she waved her hands, then suddenly she caught at the coif above her head and pulled forward the tail of her hood till, like a veil, it covered her face.
‘Let me not be seen!’ she uttered hoarsely.
The old knight’s impatient desires burst through his terror.
‘Nick Throckmorton,’ he bleated, ‘yon mad wench of mine. . . . ’
But the large man cut in on his words with a harsh and peremptory vehemence.
‘It is very dark. You cannot see who I be. Thank your God I cannot see whether you be a man who fought by a hedge or no. There shall be reports written of this. Hold your peace.’
Nevertheless the old man made a spluttering noise of one about to speak.
‘Hold your peace,’ Throckmorton said roughly, again, ‘I cannot see your face. Can you walk, madam, and very fast?’
He caught her roughly by the wrist and they passed out, twin blots of darkness, at the doorway. The clank of the pike-staves sounded on the boards without, and old Rochford was tearing at his white hairs in the little light from the fire.
Katharine Howard ran swiftly from the shadow of the fireplace.
‘Give me time, till they have passed the stairhead,’ she whispered. ‘For pity! for pity.’
‘For pity,’ he muttered. ‘This is to stake one’s last years upon woman.’ He turned upon her, and his white face and pale blue eyes glinted at her hatefully.
‘What pity had Cicely Elliott upon me then?’
‘Till they are out of the gate,’ she pleaded, ‘that I may get me gone.’
At her back she was cut off from the night and the rain by a black range of corridors. She had never been through them because they led to rooms of men that she did not know. But, down the passage and down the stairway was the only exit to the rest of the palace and the air. She threw open her press so that the hinges cracked. She caught her cloak and she caught her hood. She had nowhither to run — but there she was at the end of a large trap. Their footsteps as they receded echoed and whispered up the stairway from below.
‘For pity!’ she pleaded. ‘For pity! I will go miles away before it is morning.’
He had been wavering on his feet, torn backwards and forwards literally and visibly, between desire and fear, but at the sound of her voice he shook with rage.
‘Curses on you that ever you came here,’ he said. ‘If you go free I shall lose my dandling thing.’
He made as if to catch her by the wrist; but changing his purpose, ran from the room, shouting:
‘Ho la! . . . Throck . . . morton . . . That . . . is not. . . . ’ His voice was lost in reverberations and echoes.
In the darkness she stood desolately still. She thought of how Romans would have awaited their captors: the ideal of a still and worthy surrender was part of her blood. Here was the end of her cord; she must fold her hands. She folded her hands. After all, she thought, what was death?
‘It is to pass from the hardly known to the hardly unknown.’ She quoted Lucretius. It was very dark all around her: the noises of distant outcries reached her dimly.
‘Vix ignotum,’ she repeated mechanically, and then the words: ‘Surely it were better to pass from the world of unjust judges to sit with the mighty. . . . ’
A great burst of sound roamed, vivid and alive, from the distant stairhead. She started and cried out. Then there came the sound of feet hastily stepping the stair treads, coming upwards. A man was coming to lay hands upon her!
Then, suddenly she was running, breathing hard, filled with the fear of a man’s touch. At last, in front of her was a pale, leaded window; she turned to the right; she was in a long corridor; she ran; it seemed that she ran for miles. She was gasping, ‘For pity! for pity!’ to the saints of heaven. She stayed to listen; there was a silence, then a voice in the distance. She listened and listened. The feet began to run again, the sole of one shoe struck the ground hard, the other scarcely sounded. She could not tell whether they came towards her or no. Then she began to run again, for it was certain now that they came towards her. As if at the sound of her own feet the footfalls came faster. Desperately, she lifted one foot and tore her shoe off, then the other. She half overbalanced, and catching at the arras to save herself, it fell with a rustling sound. She craved for darkness; when she ran there was a pale shimmer of night — but the aperture of an arch tempted her. She ran and sprang, upwards, in a very black, narrow stairway.
At the top there was — light! and the passage ended in a window. A great way off, a pine torch was stuck in a wall, a knave in armour sat on the floor beneath it — the heavy breathing was coming up the stairway. She crept on tiptoe across the passage to the curtains beside the casement.
Then a man was within touch of her hand, panting hard, and he stood still as if he were out of breath. His voice called in gasps to the knave at the end of the gallery:
‘Ho . . . There . . . Simon! . . . Peter! . . . Hath one passed that way?’
The voice came back:
‘No one! The King comes!’
He moved a step down the corridor and, as he was lifting the arras a little way away, she moved to peep through a crack in the curtain.
It was Throckmorton! The distant light glinted along his beard. At the slight movement she made he was agog to listen, so that his ears appeared to be pricked up. He moved swiftly back to cover the stairhead. In the distance, beneath the light, the groom was laying cards upon the floor between his parted legs.
Throckmorton whispered suddenly:
‘I can hear thee breathe. Art near! Listen!’
She leant back against the wall and trembled.
‘This seems like a treachery,’ he whispered. ‘It is none. Listen? There is little time! Do you hear me?’
She kept her peace.
‘Do you hear me?’ he asked. ‘Before God, I am true to you.’
When still she did not speak he hissed with vexation and raised one hand above his head. He sank his forehead in swift meditation.
‘Listen,’ he said again. ‘To take you I have only to tear down this arras. Do you hear?’
He bared his head once more and said aloud to himself,
‘But perhaps she is even in the chapel.’
He stepped across the corridor, lifted a latch and looked in at double doors that were just beside her. Then, swiftly, he moved back once more to cover the stairhead.
‘God! God! God!’ she heard him mutter between his teeth.
‘Listen!’ he said again. ‘Listen! listen! listen!’ The words seemed to form part of an eager, hissed refrain. He was trembling with haste.
He began to press the arras, along the wall towards her, with his finger tips. Her breast sank with a sickening fall. Then, suddenly, he started back again; she could not understand why he did not come further — then she noticed that he was afraid, still, to leave the stairhead.
But why did he not call his men to him? He had a whole army at his back.
He was peering into the shadows — and something familiar in the poise of his head, his intent gaze, the line of his shoulders, as you may see a cat’s outlined against a lighted doorway, filled her with an intense lust for revenge. This man had wormed himself into her presence: he was a traitor over and over again. And he had fooled her! He had made her believe that he was lover to her. He had made her believe, and he had fooled her. He had shown her letter to Privy Seal.
After the night in the cellar she had had the end of her crucifix sharpened till it was needle-pointed. She trembled with eagerness. This foul carrion beast had fooled her that he might get her more utterly in his power. For this he had brought her down. He would have her to himself — in some dungeon of Privy Seal’s. Her fair hopes ended in this filth. . . .
He was muttering:
‘Listen if you be there! Before God, Katharine Howard, I am true to you. Listen! Listen!’
His hand shivered, turned against the light. He was hearkening to some distant sound. He was looking away.
She tore the arras aside and sprang at him with her hand on high. But, at the sharp sound of the tearing cloth, he started to one side and the needle point that should have pierced his face struck softly in at his shoulder or thereabouts. He gave a sharp hiss of pain. . . .
She was wrestling with him then. One of his hands was hot across her mouth, the other held her throat.
‘Oh fool!’ his voice sounded. ‘Bide you still.’ He snorted with fury and held her to him. The embroidery on his chest scraped her knuckles as she tried to strike upwards at his face. Her crucifix had fallen. He strove to muffle her with his elbows, but with a blind rage of struggle she freed her wrists and, in the darkness, struck where she thought his mouth would be.
Then his hand over her mouth loosened and set free her great scream. It rang down the corridor and seemed to petrify his grasp upon her. His fingers loosened — and again she was running, bent forward, crying out, in a vast thirst for mere flight.
As she ran, a red patch before her eyes, distant and clear beneath the torch, took the form of the King. Her cries were still loud, but they died in her throat. . . .
He was standing still with his fingers in his ears.
‘Dear God,’ she cried, ‘they have laid hands upon me. They have laid hands upon me.’ And she pressed her fingers hard across her throat as if to wipe away the stain of Throckmorton’s touch.
The King lifted his fingers from his ears.
‘Bones of Jago,’ he cried, ‘what new whimsy is this?’
‘They have laid hands upon me,’ she cried and fell upon her knees.
‘Why,’ he said, ‘here is a day nightmare. I know all your tale of a letter. Come now, pretty one. Up, pretty soul.’ He bent over benevolently and stroked her hand.
‘These dark passages are frightening to maids. Up now, pretty. I was thinking of thee.
‘Who the devil shall harm thee?’ he muttered again. ‘This is mine own house. Come, pray with me. Prayer is a very soothing thing. I was bound to pray. I pray ever at nightfall. Up now. Come — pray, pray, pray!’
His heavy benevolence for a moment shed a calmness upon the place. She rose, and pressing back the hair from her forehead, saw the long, still corridor, the guard beneath the torch, the doors of the chapel.
She said to herself pitifully: ‘What comes next?’ She was too wearied to move again.
Suddenly the King said:
‘Child, you did well to come to me, when you came in the stables.’
She leaned against the tapestry upon the wall to listen to him.
‘It is true,’ he admitted, ‘that you have men that hate you and your house. The Bishop of Winchester did show me a letter you wrote. I do pardon it in you. It was well written.’
‘Ah,’ she uttered wearily, ‘so you say now. But you shall change your mind ere morning.’
‘Body of God, no,’ he answered. ‘My mind is made up concerning you. Let us call a truce to these things. It is my hour for prayer. Let us go to pray.’
Knowing how this King’s mind would change from hour to hour, she had little hope in his words. Nevertheless slowly it came into her mind that if she were ever to act, now that he was in the mood was the very hour. But she knew nothing of the coil in which she now was. Yet without the King she could do nothing; she was in the hands of other men: of Throckmorton, of Privy Seal, of God knew whom.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘at the end of this passage stood a man.’
The King looked past her into the gloom.
‘He stands there still,’ he said. ‘He is tying his arm with a kerchief. He looks like one Throckmorton.’
‘Then, if he have not run,’ she said. ‘Call him here. He has had my knife in his arm. He holds a letter of mine.’
His neck stiffened suddenly.
‘You have been writing amorous epistles?’ he muttered.
‘God knows there was naught of love,’ she answered. ‘Do you bid him unpouch it.’ She closed her eyes; she was done with this matter.
‘Ho, you, approach!’ and as through the shadows Throckmorton’s shoes clattered on the boards he held out a thickly gloved hand. Throckmorton made no motion to put anything into it, and the King needs must speak.
‘This lady’s letter,’ he muttered.
Throckmorton bowed his head.
‘Privy Seal holdeth it,’ he answered.
‘You are all of a make,’ the King said gloomily. ‘Can no woman write a letter but what you will be of it?’
‘Sir,’ Throckmorton said, ‘this lady would have Privy Seal down.’
‘Well, she shall have him down,’ the King threatened him. ‘And thee! and all of thy train!’
‘I do lose much blood,’ Throckmorton answered. ‘Pray you let me finish the binding of my arm.’
He took between his teeth one end of his kerchief and the other in his right hand, and pulled and knotted with his head bent.
‘Make haste!’ the King grumbled. ‘Here! Lend room.’ And himself he took one end of the knot and pulled it tight, breathing heavily.
‘Now speak,’ he said. ‘I am not one made for the healing of cripples.’
Throckmorton brushed the black blood from the furs on his sleeve, using his gloves.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I am in pain and my knees tremble, because I have lost much blood. I were more minded to take to my pallet. Nevertheless, I am a man that do bear no grudge, being rather a very proper man, and one intent to do well to my country and its Lord.’
‘Sir,’ the King said, ‘if you are minded to speak ill of this lady you had best had no mouth.’
Throckmorton fell upon one knee.
‘Grant me the boon to be her advocate,’ he said. ‘And let me speak swiftly, for Privy Seal shall come soon and the Bishop of Winchester.’
‘Ass that you are,’ the King said, ‘fetch me a stool from the chapel, that I may not stand all the day.’
Throckmorton ran swiftly to the folding doors.
‘— Winchester comes,’ he said hurriedly, when he returned.
The King sat himself gingerly down upon the three-legged stool, balancing himself with his legs wide apart. A dark face peered from the folding doors: a priest’s shape came out from them.
‘Cousin of Winchester,’ the King called, ‘bide where you be.’
He had the air of a man hardly intent on what the spy could say. He had already made up his mind as to what he himself was to say to Katharine.
‘Sir,’ Throckmorton said, ‘this lady loves you well, and most well she loveth your Highness’ daughter. Most well, therefore, doth she hate Privy Seal. I, as your Highness knoweth, have for long well loved Privy Seal. Now I love others better — the common weal and your great and beneficent Highness. As I have told your Highness, this Lady Katharine hath laboured very heartily to bring the Lady Mary to love you. But that might not be. Now, your Highness being minded to give to these your happy realms a lasting peace, was intent that the Lady Mary should write a letter, very urgently, to your Highness’ foes urging them to make a truce with this realm, so that your Highness might cast out certain evil men and then better purge this realm of certain false doctrines.’
Amazement, that was almost a horror, made Katharine open wide the two hands that hung at her side.
‘You!’ she cried to the King. ‘You would have that letter written?’
He looked at her with a heavy astonishment.
‘Wherefore not?’ he asked.
‘My God! my God!’ she said. ‘And I have suffered!’
Her first feeling of horror at this endless plot hardly gave way to relief. She had been used as a tool; she had done the work. But she had been betrayed.
‘Aye, would I have the letter written,’ the King said. ‘What could better serve my turn? Would I not have mine enemies stay their arming against me?’
‘Then I have written your letter,’ she said bitterly. ‘That is why I should be gaoled.’
The King’s look of heavy astonishment did not leave him.
‘Why, sweetheart, shalt be made a countess,’ he said. ‘Y’ have done more in this than I or any man could do with my daughter.’
‘Wherefore, then, should this man have gaoled me?’ Katharine asked.
The King turned his heavy gaze upon Throckmorton. The big man’s eyes had a sunny and devious smile.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘this is a subtle conceit of mine, since I am a subtle man. If I am set a task I do it ever in mine own way. Here there was a task. . . .
‘Pray you let me sit upon the floor!’ he craved. ‘My legs begin to fail.’
The King made a small motion with his hand, and the great man, letting himself down by one hand against the arras, leaned back his head and stretched his long legs half across the corridor.
‘In ten minutes Privy Seal shall be here with the letter,’ he said. ‘My head swims, but I will be brief.’
He closed his eyes and passed his hand across his forehead.
‘I do a task ever in mine own way,’ he began again. ‘Here am I. Here is Privy Seal. Your Highness is minded to know what passes in the mind of Privy Seal. Well: I am Privy Seal’s servant. Now, if I am to come at the mind of Privy Seal, I must serve him well. In this thing I might seem to serve him main well. Listen. . . . ’
He cleared his throat and then spoke again.
‘Your Highness would have this letter written by the Lady Mary. That, with the help of this fair dame, was a thing passing easy. But neither your Highness nor Privy Seal knew the channel through which these letters passed. Yet I discovered it. Now, think I to myself: here is a secret for which Privy Seal would give his head. Therefore, how better may I ingratiate myself with Privy Seal than by telling him this same fine secret?’
‘Oh, devil!’ Katharine Howard called out. ‘Who was Judas to thee?’
Throckmorton raised his head, and winked upwards at her.
‘It was a fine device?’ he asked. ‘Why, I am a subtle man. . . . Do you not see?’ he said. ‘The King’s Highness would have me keep the confidence of Privy Seal that I may learn out his secrets. How better should I keep that confidence than by seeming to betray your secret to Privy Seal?
‘It was very certain,’ he added, ‘that Privy Seal should give a warrant to gaol your la’ship. But it was still more certain that the King’s Highness should pardon you. Therefore no bones should have been broken. And I did come myself to take you to a safe place, and to enlighten you as to the comedy.’
‘Oh, Judas, Judas,’ she cried.
‘Could you but have trusted me,’ he said reproachfully, ‘you had spared yourself a mad canter and me a maimed arm.’
‘Why, you have done well,’ the King said heavily. ‘But you speak this lady too saucily.’
He was in a high and ponderous good humour, but he stayed to reflect for a moment, with his head on one side, to see what he had gained.
‘This letter is written,’ he said. ‘But Cromwell holdeth it. How, then, has it profited me?’
‘Why,’ Throckmorton said, ‘Privy Seal shall come to bring the letter to your Highness; your Highness shall deliver it to me; I to the cook; the cook to the ambassador; the ambassador to the kings. And so the kings shall be prayed, by your daughter, whom they heed, to stay all unfriendly hands against your Highness.’
‘You are a shrewd fellow,’ the King said.
‘I have a shrewd ache in the head,’ the spy answered. ‘If you would give me a boon, let me begone.’
The King got stiffly up from his stool, and, bracing his feet firmly, gave the spy one hand. The tall man shook upon his legs.
‘Why, I have done well!’ he said, smiling. ‘Now Privy Seal shall take me for his very bedfellow, until it shall please your Highness to deal with him for good and all.’
He went, waveringly, along the corridor, brushing the hangings with his shoulder.
Katharine stood out before the King.
‘Now I will get me gone,’ she said. ‘This is no place for me.’
He surveyed her amiably, resting his hands on his red-clothed thighs as he sat his legs akimbo on his stool.
‘Why, it is main cold here,’ he said. ‘But bide a short space.’
‘I am not made for courts,’ she answered.
‘We will go pray anon,’ he quieted her, with his hand stretched out. ‘Give me a space for meditation, I am not yet in the mood for prayer.’
She pleaded, ‘Let me begone.’
‘Body of God,’ he said good-humouredly. ‘It is fitting that at this time that you do pray. You have escaped a great peril. But I am wont to drive away earthly passions ere I come before the Throne of grace.’
‘Sir,’ she pleaded more urgently, ‘the night draws near. Before morning I would be upon my road to Calais.’
He looked at her interestedly, and questioned in a peremptory voice:
‘Upon what errand? I have heard of no journeying of yours.’
‘I am not made for courts,’ she repeated.
He said: ‘Anan?’ with a sudden, half-comprehending anger, and she quailed.
‘I will get me gone to Calais,’ she uttered. ‘And then to a nunnery. I am not for this world.’
He uttered a tremendous: ‘Body of God,’ and repeated it four times.
He sprang to his feet and she shrank against the wall. His eyes rolled in his great head, and suddenly he shouted:
‘Ungrateful child. Ungrateful!’ Then he lost words; his swollen brow moved up and down. She was afraid to speak again.
Then, suddenly, with a light and brushing step, the Lord Privy Seal was coming towards them. His sagacious eyes looked from one to the other, his lips moved with their sideways motion.
‘Fiend,’ the King uttered. ‘Give me the letter and get thee out of earshot.’ And whilst Cromwell was bending before his person, he continued: ‘I have pardoned this lady. I would have you both clasp hands.’
Cromwell’s mouth fell open for a minute.
‘Your Highness knoweth the contents?’ he asked. And by then he appeared as calm as when he asked a question about the price of chalk at Calais.
‘My Highness knoweth!’ Henry said friendlily. He crumpled the letter in his hand, and then, remembering its use, moved to put it in his own pouch. ‘This lady has done very well to speak to me who am the fountainhead of power.’
‘Get thee out of earshot,’ he repeated. ‘I have things as to which I would admonish this lady.’
‘Your Highness knoweth. . . . ’ Privy Seal began again, then his eye fell upon Winchester, who still stayed by the chapel door at the far end of the corridor. He threw up his hands.
‘Sir,’ he said. ‘Traitors have come to you!’
Gardiner, indeed, was gliding towards them, drawn, in spite of all prudence, by his invincible hatred.
The King watched the pair of them with his crafty eyes, deep seated in his head.
‘It is certain that no traitors have come to me,’ he uttered gently; and to Cromwell: ‘You have a nose for them.’
He appeared placable and was very quiet.
Winchester, his black eyes glaring with desire, was almost upon them in the shadows.
‘Here is enough of wrangling,’ Henry said. He appeared to meditate, and then uttered: ‘As well here as elsewhere.’
‘Sir,’ Gardiner said, ‘if Privy Seal misleads me, I have somewhat to say of Privy Seal.’
‘Cousin of Winchester,’ Henry answered. ‘Stretch out your hand, I would have you end your tulzies in this place.’
Winchester, bringing out his words with a snake’s coldness, seemed to whisper:
‘Your Highness did promise that Privy Seal should make me amends.’
‘Why, Privy Seal shall make amends,’ the King answered. ‘It was his man that did miscall thee. Therefore, Privy Seal shall come to dine with thee, and shall, in the presence of all men, hold out to thee his hand.’
‘Let him come, then, with great state,’ the bishop stuck to his note.
‘Aye, with a great state,’ the King answered. ‘I will have an end to these quarrels.’
He set his hand cordially upon Privy Seal’s shoulder.
‘For thee,’ he said, ‘I would have thee think between now and the assembling of the Parliaments of what title thou wilt have to an earldom.’
Cromwell fell upon one knee, and, in Latin, made three words of a speech of thanks.
‘Why, good man,’ the King said, ‘art a man very valuable to me.’ His eyes rested upon Katharine for a moment. ‘I am well watched for by one and the other of you,’ he went on. ‘Each of you by now has brought me a letter of this lady’s.’
Katharine cried out at Gardiner:
His eyes sought the ground, and then looked defiantly into hers.
‘You did threaten me!’ he said doggedly. ‘I was minded to be betimes.’
‘Why, end it all, now and here,’ the King said. ‘Here is a folly with a silly wench in it.’
‘Here was a treason that I would show your Highness,’ the Bishop said doggedly.
‘Sirs,’ the King said. He touched his bonnet: ‘God in His great mercy has seen fit much to trouble me. But here are troubles that I may end. Now I have ended them all. If this lady would not have her cousin to murder a cardinal, God, she would not. There are a plenty others to do that work.’
He pressed one hand on Cromwell’s chest and pushed him backwards gently.
‘Get thee gone, now,’ he said, ‘out of earshot. I shall speak with thee soon. — And you!’ he added to Winchester.
‘Body of God, Body of God,’ he muttered beneath his breath, as they went, ‘very soon now I can rid me of these knaves,’ and then, suddenly, he blared upon Katharine:
‘Thou seest how I am plagued and would’st leave me. Before the Most High God, I swear thou shalt not.’
She fell upon her knees.
‘With each that speaks, I find a new traitor to me,’ she said. ‘Let me begone.’
He threatened her with one hand.
‘Wench,’ he said, ‘I have had better converse with thee than with man or child this several years. Thinkest thou I will let thee go?’
She began to sob:
‘What rest may I have? What rest?’
He mocked her:
‘What rest may I have? What rest? My nights are full of evil dreams! God help me. Have I offered thee foul usage? Have I pursued thee with amorous suits?’
She said pitifully:
‘You had better have done that than set me amongst these plotters.’
‘I have never seen a woman so goodly to look upon as thou art,’ he answered.
She covered her face with her hands, but he pulled them apart and gazed at it.
‘Child,’ he said, ‘I will cherish thee as I would a young lamb. Shalt have Cromwell’s head; shalt have Winchester in what gaol thou wilt when I have used them.’
She put her fingers in her ears.
‘For pity,’ she whispered. ‘Let me begone.’
‘Why,’ he reasoned with her, ‘I cannot let thee have Cromwell down before he has called this Parliament. There is no man like him for calling of truckling Parliaments. And, rest assured,’ he uttered solemnly, ‘that that man dies that comes between thee and me from this day on.’
‘Let me begone,’ she said wearily. ‘Let me begone. I am afraid to look upon these happenings.’
‘Look then upon nothing,’ he answered. ‘Stay you by my daughter’s side. Even yet you shall win for me her obedience. If you shall earn the love of the dear saints, I will much honour you and set you on high before all the land.’
‘For pity, for pity. Here is a too great danger for my soul.’
‘Never, never,’ he answered. ‘You shall live closed in. No man shall speak with you but only I. You shall be as you were in a cloister. An you will, you shall have great wealth. Your house shall be advanced; your father close his eyes in honour and estate. None shall walk before you in the land.’
She said: ‘No. No.’
‘See you,’ he said. ‘This world goes very wearily with me. I am upon a make of husbandry that bringeth little joy. I have no rest, no music, no corner to hide in save in thy converse and the regard of thy countenance.’
He paused to search her face with his narrow eyes.
‘God knows that the Queen there is is no wife of mine,’ he said slowly. ‘If thou wilt wait till the accomplished time. . . . ’
‘No, no!’ and her voice had an urgent sharpness.
She stretched out both her hands, being still upon her knees. Her fair face worked convulsively, her lips moved, and her hood, falling away from her brows, showed her hair that had golden glints.
‘For pity let me go,’ she moaned. ‘For pity.’
‘When I renounce my kingdom and my life!’
From opposite ends of the gallery Winchester and Cromwell watched them with intent and winking eyes.
‘Let us go pray,’ the King said. ‘For now I am in the mood.’
She got upon her legs wearily, and, for a moment, took his hand to steady herself.
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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54