The Magister Udal sat in the room of his inn in Paris, where customarily the King of France lodged such envoys as came at his expense. He had been sent there to Latinise the letters that passed between Sir Thomas Wyatt and the King’s Ministers of France, for he was esteemed the most learned man in these islands. He had groaned much at being sent there, for he must leave in England so many loves — the great, blonde Margot Poins, that was maid to Katharine Howard; the tall, swaying Katharine Howard herself; Judge Cantre’s wife that had fed him well; and two other women, with all of whom he had succeeded easily or succeeded in no wise at all. But the mission was so well paid — with as many crowns the day as he had had groats for teaching the Lady Mary of England — that fain he had been to go. Moreover, it was by way of being a favour of Privy Seal’s. The magister had written for him a play in English; the rich post was the reward — and it was an ill thing, a thing the magister dreaded, to refuse the favours of Privy Seal. He consoled himself with the thought that the writing of letters in Latin might wash from his mouth the savour of the play he had written in the vulgar tongue.
But his work in Paris was ended — for with the flight of Cardinal Pole, who had left Paris precipitately upon news that the King of England had sent a drunken roisterer to assassinate him, it was imagined that soon now more concord between Francis and England might ensue, and the magister sat in his room planning his voyage back to Dover. The room was great in size, panelled mostly in wood, lit with lampwicks that floated in oil dishes and heated with a sea-coal fire, for though it was April the magister was of a cold disposition of the hands and shins. The inn — of the Golden Astrolabe — was kept by an Englishwoman, a masterful widow with a broad face and a great mouth that smiled. She stood beside him there. Forty-seven she might have been, and she called herself the Widow Annot.
The magister sat over his fire with his gown parted from his legs to warm his shins, but his hands waved angrily and his face was crestfallen.
‘Oh, keeper of a tavern,’ he said. ‘It is set down in holy writ that it is not good for a man to be alone.’
‘That a hostess shall keep her tavern clean is writ in the books of the provost of Paris town,’ the Widow Annot answered, and the shadow of her great white hood, which she wore in the older English fashion, danced over the brown wooden beams of the ceiling.
‘Nay, nay,’ he answered, ‘it is written there that it is the enjoined devoir of every hotelier to provide things fitting for the sojourners’ ease, pleasure and recreation.’
‘The maid is locked in another house,’ the hostess answered, ‘and should have been this three week.’ She swung her keys on a black riband and gazed at him masterfully. ‘Will your magistership eat capon or young goat?’
‘Capon will have a savour like sawdust, and young goat like the dust of the road,’ the magister moaned. ‘Give me the girl to wait upon me again.’
‘No maid will wait upon thee,’ she answered.
‘Even thou thyself?’ he asked. He glanced across his shoulder and his eyes measured her, hers him. She had large shoulders, a high, full stomacher, and her cheeks were an apple-red. ‘The maiden was a fair piece,’ he tittered.
‘Therefore you must spoil the ring of the coin,’ she answered.
He sighed: ‘Then eat you with me. “Soli cantare periti Arcades.” But it is cold here alone of nights.’
They ate goat and green leeks sweetened with honey, and wood thrushes pickled in wine, and salt fish from the mouth of the Beauce. And because this gave the magister a great thirst he drank much of a warmed wine from Burgundy that the hostess brought herself. They sat, byside, on cushions on a couch before the warm fire.
‘Filia pulchra mater pulchrior!’ the magister muttered, and he cast his arms about her soft and plump waist. ‘The maid was a fair skewer, the hostess is a plumper roasting bit.’ She took his kisses on her fire-warmed cheeks, but in the end she thrust him mightily from her with a large elbow.
He gasped with the strength of her thrust, and she said:
‘Greedy dogs getten them hard cuffs,’ and rearranged her neckercher. When he tried to come nearer her she laughed and thrust him aback.
‘You have tried and tasted,’ she said. ‘A fuller meal you must pay for.’
He stood before her, lean and lank, his gown flapping about his calves, his eyes smiling humorously, his lips twitching.
‘Oh soft and warm woman,’ he cried, ‘payment shall be yours’; and whilst he fumbled furiously in his clothes-press, he quoted from Tully: ‘Haec civitas mulieri redimiculum praebuit.’ He pulled out one small bag: ‘Haec in collum.’ She took another. ‘Haec in crines!’ and he added a third, saying: ‘Here is all I have,’ and cast the three into her lap. Whilst she counted the coins composedly on the table before her he added: ‘Leave me nevertheless the price to come to England with.’
‘Sir Magister,’ she said, turning her large face to him. ‘This is not one-tenth enough. You have tasted an ensample. Will you have the whole meal?’
‘Oh, unconscionable,’ he cried. ‘More I have not!’ He began to wave his hands. ‘Consider what you do do,’ he uttered. ‘Think of what a pest is love. How many have died of it. Pyramus, Thisbe, Dido, Medea, Croesus, Callirhoe, Theagines the philosopher . . . Consider what writes Gordonius: “Prognosticatio est talis: si non succuratur iis aut in maniam cadunt: aut moriuntur.” Unless lovers be succoured either they fall into a madness, either they die or grow mad. And Fabian Montaltus: “If this passion be not assuaged, the inflammation cometh to the brain. It drieth up the blood. Then followeth madness or men make themselves away.” I would have you ponder of what saith Parthenium and what Plutarch in his tales of lovers.’
Her face appeared comely and smooth in his eyes, but she shook her head at him.
‘These be woeful and pretty stories,’ she said. ‘I would have you to tell me many of them.’
‘All through the night,’ he said eagerly, and made to clasp her in his arms. But she pushed him back again with her hand on his chest.
‘All through the night an you will,’ she said. ‘But first you shall tell a prettier tale before a man in a frock.’
He sprang full four feet back at one spring.
‘I have wedded no woman, yet,’ he said.
‘Then it is time you wed one now,’ she answered.
‘Oh widow, bethink you,’ he pleaded. ‘Would you spoil so pretty a tale? Would you humble so goodly a man’s pride?’
‘Why, it were a pity,’ she said. ‘But I am minded to take a husband.’
‘You have done well this ten years without one,’ he cried out.
Her face seemed to set like adamant as she turned her cheek to him.
‘Call it a woman’s mad freak,’ she said.
‘Six and twenty pupils in the fair game of love I have had,’ he said. ‘You shall be the seven and twentieth. Twenty and seven are seven and two. Seven and two are nine. Now nine is the luckiest of numbers. Be you that one.’
‘Nay,’ she answered. ‘It is time you learned husbandry who have taught so many and earned so little.’
He slipped himself softly into the cushions beside her.
‘Would you spoil so fair a tale?’ he said. ‘Would you have me to break so many vows? I have promised a mort of women marriage, and so long as I be not wed I may keep faith with any one of them.’
She held her face away from him and laughed.
‘That is as it may be,’ she said. ‘But when you wed with me to-night you will keep faith with one woman.’
‘Woman,’ he pleaded. ‘I am a great scholar.’
‘Ay,’ she answered, ‘and great scholars have climbed to great estates.’
She continued to count the coins that came from his little money-bags; the shadow of her hood upon the great beams grew more portentous.
‘It is thought that your magistership may rise to be Chancellor of the Realm of England,’ she added.
He clutched his forehead.
‘Eheu!’ he said. ‘If you have heard men say that, you know that wedded to thee I could never climb.’
‘Then I shall very comfortably keep my inn here in Paris town,’ she answered. ‘You have here fourteen pounds and eleven shillings.’
He stretched forth his lean hands:
‘Why, I will marry thee in the morning,’ he said, and he moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. Outside the door there was a shuffling of several feet.
‘I knew not other guests were in the house,’ he uttered, and fell again to kissing her.
‘Knew you not an envoy was come from Cleves?’ she whispered.
Her head fell back and he supported it with one trembling hand. He shook like a leaf when her voice rang out:
‘Au secours! Au secours!’
There was a great jangle, light fell into the dusky room through the doorhole, and he found himself beneath the eyes of many scullions with spits, cooks with carving forks, and kitchenmaids with sharpened distaffs of steel.
‘Now I will be wed this night,’ she laughed.
He moved to the end of the couch and blinked at her in the strong light.
‘I will be wed this night,’ she said again, and rearranged her head-dress, revealing, as her sleeves fell open, her white, plump arms.
‘Why, no!’ he answered irresolutely.
She said in French to her aids:
‘Come near him with the spits!’
They moved towards him, a white-clad body with their pointed things glittering in the light of torches. He sprang behind the great table against the window and seized the heavy-leaden sandarach. The French scullions knew, tho’ he had no French, that he would cleave one of their skulls, and they stood, a knot of seven — four men and three maids — in blue hoods, in the centre of the room.
‘By Mars and by Apollo!’ he said, ‘I was minded to wed with thee if I could no other way. But now, like Phaeton, I will cast myself from the window and die, or like the wretches thrown from the rock, called Tarpeian. I was minded to a folly: now I am minded rather for death.’
‘How nobly thy tongue doth wag, husband,’ she said, and cried in French for the rogues to be gone. When the door closed upon the lights she said in the comfortable gloom: ‘I dote upon thy words. My first was tongue-tied.’ She beckoned him to her and folded her arms. ‘Let us discourse upon this matter,’ she said comfortably. ‘Thus I will put it: you wed with me or spring from the window.’
‘I am even trapped?’ he asked.
‘So it comes to all foxes that too long seek for capons,’ she answered.
‘But consider,’ he said. He sat himself by the fireside upon a stool, being minded to avoid temptation.
‘I would have your magistership forget the rogues that be without,’ she said.
‘They were a nightmare’s tale,’ he said.
‘Yet forget them not too utterly,’ she answered. ‘For I am of some birth. My father had seven horses and never followed the plough.’
‘Oh buxom one!’ he answered. ‘Of a comfortable birth and girth thou art. Yet with thee around my neck I might not easily climb.’
‘Magister,’ she said, ‘whilst thou climbest in London town thy wife will bide in Paris.’
‘Consider!’ he said. ‘There is in London town a fair, large maid called Margot Poins.’
‘Is she more fair than I?’ she asked. ‘I will swear she is.’
He tilted his stool forward.
‘No; no, I swear it,’ he said eagerly.
‘Then I will swear she is more large.’
‘No; not one half so bounteous is her form,’ he answered, and moved across to the couch.
‘Then if you can bear her weight up you can bear mine,’ she said, and moved away from him.
‘Nay,’ he answered. ‘She would help me on,’ and he fumbled in the shadows for her hand. She drew herself together into a small space.
‘You affect her more than me,’ she said, with a swift motion simulating jealousy.
‘By the breasts of Venus, no!’ he answered.
‘Oh, once more use such words,’ she murmured, and surrendered to him her soft hand. He rubbed it between both of his cold ones and uttered:
‘By the Paphian Queen: by her teams of doves and sparrows! By the bower of Phyllis and the girdle of Egypt’s self! I love thee!’
She gurgled ‘oh’s’ of pleasure.
‘But this Margot Poins is tirewoman to the Lady Katharine Howard.’
‘I am tirewoman to mine own self alone,’ she said. ‘Therefore you love her better.’
‘Nay, oh nay,’ he said gently. ‘But this Lady Katharine Howard is mistress to the King’s self.’
‘And I have been mistress to no married man save my husbands,’ she answered. ‘Therefore you love this Margot Poins better.’
He fingered her soft palm and rubbed it across his own neck.
‘Nay, nay,’ he said. ‘But I must wed with Margot Poins.’
‘Why with her more than with me or any other of your score and seven?’ she said softly.
‘Since the Lady Katharine will be Queen,’ he answered, and once again he was close against her side. She sighed softly.
‘Thus if you wed with me you will never be Chancellor,’ she said.
‘I would not anger the Queen,’ he answered. She nestled bountifully and warmly against him.
‘Swear even again that you like me more than the fair, large wench in London town,’ she whispered against his ear.
‘Even as Jove prized Danaë above the Queen of Heaven, even as Narcissus prized his shadow above all the nymphs, even as Hercules placed Omphale above his strength, or even as David the King of the Jews Bathsheba above. . . . ’
She murmured ‘Oh, oh,’ and placed her arms around his shoulders.
‘How I love thy brave words!’
‘And being Chancellor,’ he swore, ‘I will come back to thee, oh woman of the sweet smiles, honey of Hymettus, Cypriote wine. . . . ’
She moved herself a little from him in the darkness.
‘And if you do not wed with Margot Poins. . . . ’
‘I pray a plague may fall upon her, but I must wed with her,’ he answered. ‘Come now; come now!’
‘Else the Lady Katharine shall be displeased with your magistership?’
He sought to draw her to him, but she stiffened herself a little.
‘And this Lady Katharine is mistress to the King of England’s realm?’
His hands moved tremblingly towards her in the darkness.
‘And this Lady Katharine shall be Queen?’
A hiss of exasperation came upon his lips, for she had slipped from beneath his hands into the darkness.
‘Why, then, I will not stay your climbing,’ she said. ‘Good-night,’ and in the darkness he heard her sob.
The couch fell backwards as he swore and sprang towards her voice.
‘Magister!’ she said. ‘Hands off! Unwed thou shalt not have me, for I have sworn it.’
‘I have sworn to wed seven and twenty women,’ he said, ‘and have wedded with none.’
‘Nay, nay,’ she sobbed. ‘Hands off. Henceforth I will make no vows — but no one but thee shall wed me.’
‘Then wed me, in God’s name!’ he cried, and, screaming:
‘Ho là! Apportez le prestre!’ she softened herself in his arms.
The magister confronted the lights, the leering scullions and the grinning maids with their great mantles; his brown, woodpecker-like face was alike crestfallen and thirsty with desire. A lean Dominican, with his brown cowl back and spectacles of horn, gabbled over his missal and took a crown’s fee — then asked another by way of penitence for the sin with the maid locked up in another house. When they brought the bride favours of pink to pin into her gorget she said:
‘I long had loved thee for thy great words, husband. Therefore all these I had in readiness.’
With that knot fast upon him, the magister, clasping his gown upon his shins, looked askance at the floor. Whilst they made ready the bride, with great lights and laughter, she said:
‘I was minded to have a comfortable husband. And a comfortable husband is a husband much absent. What more comfortable than me in Paris town and thee in London city? I keep my inn here, thou mindest thy book there. Thou shalt here find a goodly capon upon occasion, and when thou hast a better house in London I will come share it.’
‘Trapped! Trapped!’ the magister muttered to himself. ‘Even as was Sir Launcelot!’
He considered of the fair and resentful Margot Poins whom it was incumbent indeed that he should wed: that Katharine Howard loved her well and was in these matters strait-laced. When his eyes measured his wife he licked his lips; when his eyes were on the floor his jaw fell. At best the new Mistress Udal would be in Paris. He looked at the rope tied round the thin middle of the brown priest, and suddenly he leered and cast off his cloak.
‘Let me remember to keep an equal mind in these hard matters,’ he quoted, and fell to laughing.
For he remembered that in England no marriage by a friar or monk held good in those years. Therefore he was the winner. And the long, square room, with the cave bed behind its shutter in the hollow of the wall, the light-coloured, square beams, and the foaming basin of bride-ale that a fat-armed girl in a blue kerseymere gown served out to scullion after scullion; the open windows from which a little knave was casting bride-pennies to some screaming beggars and women in the street; the blind hornman whose unseeing eyes glanced along the reed of his bassoon that he played before the open door; the two saucy maids striving to wrest the bride’s stockings one from the other — all these things appeared friendly and jovial in his eyes. So that, when one of the maids, wresting the stocking, fell hard against him, he clasped her in his arms and kissed her till she struggled from him to drink a mug of bride-ale.
‘Hodie mihi: mihi atque cras!’ he said. For it was in his mind a goodly thing to pay a usuress with base coins.
It was three days later, in the morning, that his captress said to the Magister Udal:
‘Husband, it is time that I gave thee the bridal gift.’
The magister, happy with a bellyful of carp, bread and breakfast ale, muttered ‘Anan?’ from above his copy of Lucretius. He sat in the window-seat of the great stone kitchen. Upon one long iron spit before the fire fourteen trussed capons turned in unison; the wooden shoes of the basting-maid clattered industriously; and from the chimney came the clank of the invisible smoke-vanes and the besooted chains. The magister, who loved above all things warmth, a full stomach, a comfortable woman and a good book, had all these things; he was well minded to stay in Paris town for fourteen days, when they were to slay a brown pig from the Ardennes, against whose death he had written an elegy in Sapphics.
‘For,’ said his better half, standing before him with a great loaf clasped to her bosom, ‘if you turn a horse from the stable between full and half full, like as not he will return of fair will to the crib.’
‘Oh Venus and Hebe in one body,’ the magister said, ‘I am minded to end here my scholarly days.’
‘I am minded that ye shall travel far erstwhile,’ she answered.
He laid down his book upon a clean chopping-board.
‘I know a good harbourage,’ he said.
She sat down beside him in the window and fingered the fur on his long gown, saying that, in this light, it showed ill-favouredly worm-eaten; and he answered that he never had wishes nor money for gowning himself, who cultivated the muses upon short commons. She turned rightway to the front the medal upon his chest, and folded her arms.
‘Whilst ye have no better house to harbour us,’ she said, ‘this shall serve. Let us talk of the to-come.’
He groaned a little.
‘Let us love today that’s here,’ he said. ‘I will read thee a verse from Lucretius, and you shall tell me the history of that fourth capon’— he pointed to a browned carcase that, upon the spit, whirled its elbows a full third longer than any of the line.
‘That is the master roasting-piece,’ she said, ‘so he browns there not too far, nor too close, for the envoy’s own eating.’
He considered the chicken with his head to one side.
‘It is the place of a wife to be subject to her lord,’ he said.
‘It is the place of a husband that he fendeth for ‘s wife,’ she answered him. She tapped her fingers determinedly upon her elbows.
‘So it is,’ she continued. ‘To-morrow you shall set out for London city to make road towards becoming Sir Chancellor.’ Whilst he groaned she laid down for him her law. He was to go to England, he was to strive for great posts: if he gained, she would come share them; if he failed, he might at odd moments come back to her fireside. ‘Have done with groaning now,’ she said, stilling his lamentations.’ ‘Keep them even for the next wench that you shall sue to — of me you have had all you asked.’
He considered for five seconds, his elbow upon his crossed knees and his wrist supporting his lean brown face.
‘It is in the essence of it a good bargain,’ he said. ‘You put against the chance of being, you a chancellor’s madam, mine of having for certain a capon in Paris town.’
He tapped his long nose. ‘Nevertheless, for your stake you have cast down a very little: three nights of bed and board against the chaining me up.’
‘Husband,’ she answered. ‘More than that you shall have.’
He wriggled a little beneath his furs.
‘Husband is an ill name,‘he commented. ‘It smarts.’
‘But it fills the belly.’
‘Aye,‘he said. ‘Therefore I am minded to bide here and take with the sourness the sweet of it.’
She laughed a little, and, with a great knife, cut a large manchet from the loaf between them.
‘Nay,’ she said, ‘tomorrow my army with their spits and forks shall drive thee from the door.’
He grinned with his lips. She was fair and fat beneath her hood, but she was resolute. ‘I have it in me greatly to advance you,’ she said.
A boy brought her a trencher filled with chopped things, and a man in a blue jerkin came to her side bearing a middling pig, seared to a pale clear pinkness. The boy held the slit stomach carefully apart, and she lined it with slices of bread, dropping into the hollow chives, nutmegs, lumps of salt, the buds of bergamot, and marigold seeds with their acrid perfume, and balls of honied suet. She bound round it a fair linen cloth that she stitched with a great bone needle.
‘Oh ingenuous countenance,’ the magister mused above the pig’s mild face. ‘Is it not even the spit of the Cleves envoy’s? And the Cleves envoy shall eat this adorable monster. Oh, cruel anthropophagist!’
She resigned her burden to the spit and gave the loaf to the boy, wiped her fingers upon her apron, and said:
‘That pig shall help thee far upon thy road.’
‘Goes it into my wallet?’ he asked joyfully.
She answered: ‘Nay; into the Cleves envoy’s weam.’
‘You speak in hard riddles,’ he uttered.
‘Nay,’ she laughed, ‘a baby could unriddle it.’ She looked at him for a moment to enjoy her triumph of mystery. ‘Husband mine, a pig thus stuffed is good eating for Cleves men. I have not kept a hostel for twelve years for envoys and secretaries without learning what each eats with pleasure. And long have I thought that if I wed a man it should be such a man as could thrive by learning of envoys’ secrets.’
He leaned towards her earnestly.
‘You know wherefore the man from Cleves is come?’
‘You are, even as I have heard it said, a spy of Thomas Cromwell?’ she asked in return.
He looked suddenly abashed, but she held to her question.
‘I pass for Privy Seal’s man,’ he answered at last.
‘But you have played him false,’ she said. He grew pale, glanced over his shoulder, and put his finger on his lips.
‘I’ll wager it was for a woman,’ she accused him. She wiped her lips with her apron and dropped her hands upon her lap.
‘Why, keep troth to Cromwell if you can,’ she said.
‘I do think his sun sets,’ he whispered.
‘Why, I am sorry for it,’ she answered. ‘I have always loved him for a brewer’s son. My father was a brewer.’
‘Cromwell was begotten even by the devil,’ Udal answered. ‘He made me write a comedy in the vulgar tongue.’
‘Be it as you will,’ she answered. ‘You shall know on which side to bite your cake better than I.’
He was still a little shaken at the thought of Privy Seal.
‘If you know wherefore cometh Cleves’ envoy, much it shall help me to share the knowledge,’ he said at last, ‘for by that I may know whether Cromwell or we do rise or fall.’
‘If you have made a pact with a woman, have very great cares,’ she answered dispassionately. ‘Doubtless you know how the dog wags its tail; but you are always a fool with a woman.’
‘This woman shall be Queen if Cromwell fall,’ the magister said, ‘and I shall rise with her.’
‘But is no woman from Cleves’ Queen there now?’ she asked.
‘Cicely,’ he answered highly, ‘you know much of capons and beeves, but there are queens that are none and do not queen it, and queans that are no queens and queen it.’
‘And so ’twill be whilst men are men,’ she retorted. ‘But neither my first nor my second had his doxies ruling within my house, do what they might beyond the door.’
He tried to impart to her some of the adoration he had for Katharine Howard — her learning, her faith, her tallness, her wit, and the deserved empiry that she had over King Henry VIII; but she only answered:
‘Why, kiss the wench all you will, but do not come to tell me how she smells!’— and to his new protests: ‘Aye, you may well be right and she may well be Queen — for I know you will sacrifice your ease for no wench that shall not help you somewhere forwards.’
The magister held his hands above his head in shocked negation of this injustice — but there came from the street the thin wail of a trumpet; another joined it, and a third; the three sounds executed a triple convolution and died away one by one. Holding his thin hand out for silence and better hearing, he muttered:
‘Norfolk’s tucket! Then it is true that Norfolk comes to Paris.’
His wife slipped down from her seat.
‘Gave I you not the ostler’s gossip from Calais three days since?’ she said, and went towards her roastings.
‘But wherefore comes the yellow dog to Paris?’ Udal persisted.
‘That you may go seek,’ she answered. ‘But believe always what an innkeeper says of who are on the road.’
Udal too slipped down from the window-seat; he buttoned his gown down to his shins, pulled his hat over his ears and hurried through the galleried courtyard into the comfortless shadows of the street. There was no doubt that Norfolk was coming; round the tiny crack that, two houses away, served for all the space that the road had between the towering housefronts, two men in scarlet and yellow, with leopards and lions and fleurs-delis on their chests, walked between two in white, tabarded with the great lilies of France. They crushed round the corner, for there was scarce space for four men abreast; behind them squeezed men in purple with the Howard knot, bearing pikes, and men in mustard yellow with the eagle’s wing and ship badge of the Provost of Paris. In the broader space before the arch of Udal’s courtyard they stayed to wait for the horsemen to disentangle themselves from the alley; the Englishmen looked glumly at the tall housefronts; the French loosened the mouthplates of their helmets to breathe the air for a minute. Hostlers, packmen and pedlars began to fill the space behind Udal, and he heard his wife’s voice calling shrilly to a cook who had run across the yard.
The crowd a little shielded him from the draught which came through the arch, and he waited with more contentment. Undoubtedly there was Norfolk upon a great yellow horse, so high that it made his bonnet almost touch the overhanging storey of the third house; behind him the white and gold litter of the provost, who, having three weeks before broken his leg at tennis-play, was still unable to sit in a saddle. The duke rode as if implacably rigid, his yellow, long face set, listening as if with a sour deafness to something that the provost from below called to him with a great, laughing voice.
The provost’s litter, too, came up alongside the duke’s horse in the open space, then they all moved forward at the slow processional: three steps and a halt for the trumpets to blow a tucket; three more and another tucket; the great yellow horse stepping high and casting up his head, from which flew many flakes of white foam. With its slow, regularly interrupted gait, dominated by the impassive yellow face of Norfolk, the whole band had an air of performing a solemn dance, and Udal shivered for a long time, till amidst the train of mules bearing leathern sacks, cupboards, chests and commodes, he saw come riding a familiar figure in a scholar’s gown — the young pedagogue and companion of the Earl of Surrey. He was a fair, bearded youth with blue eyes, riding a restless colt that embroiled itself and plunged amongst the mules’ legs. The young man leaned forward in the saddle and craned to avoid a clothes chest.
The magister called to him:
‘Ho, Longstaffe!’ and having caught his pleased eyes: ‘Ecce quis sto in arce plenitatis. Veni atque bibe! Magister sum. Udal sum. Longstaffe ave.’
Longstaffe slipped from his horse, which he left to be rescued by whom it might from amongst the hard-angled cases.
‘Assuredly,’ he said, ‘there is no love between that beast and me as there was betwixt his lord and Bucephalus,’ and he followed Udal into the galleried courtyard, where their two gowned figures alone sought shelter from the March showers.
‘News from overseas there is none,’ he said. ‘Privy Seal ruleth still about the King; the German astronomers have put forth a tract De Quadratura Circuli; the lost continent of Atlantis is a lost continent still — and my bones ache.’
‘But your mission?’ Udal asked.
The doctor, his hard blue eyes spinning with sardonic humour beneath his black beretta, said that his mission, even as Udal’s had been, was to gain some crowns by setting into the learned language letters that should pass between his ambassador and the King’s men of France. Udal grinned disconcertedly.
‘Be certified in your mind,’ he said, ‘that I am not here a spy or informer of Privy Seal’s.’
‘Forbid it, God,’ Doctor Longstaffe answered good-humouredly. None the less his jaw hardened beneath his fair beard and he answered, ‘I have as yet written no letters —litteras nullas scripsi: argal nihil scio.’
‘Why, ye shall drink a warmed draught and eat a drippinged soppet,’ Udal said, ‘and you shall tell me what in England is said of this mission.’
He led the fair doctor into the great kitchen, and felt a great stab of dislike when the young man set his arm round the hostess’s waist and kissed her on the red cheeks. The young man laughed:
‘Aye indeed; I am mancipium paucae lectionis set beside so learned a man as the magister.’
The hostess received him with a bridling favour, rubbing her cheek pleasantly, whilst Udal was seeking to persuade himself that, since the woman was in law no wife of his, he had no need to fear. Nevertheless rage tore him when the doctor, leaning his back against the window-side, talked to the woman. She stood between them holding a pewter flagon of mulled hypocras upon a salver of burnished pewter.
‘Who I be,’ he said, gazing complacently at her, ‘is a poor student of good letters; how I be here is as one of the amanuenses of the Duke of Norfolk. Origen, Eusebius telleth, had seven, given him by Ambrosius to do his behest. The duke hath but two, given him by the grace of God and of the King’s high mercy.’
‘I make no doubt,’ she answered, ‘ye be as learned as the seven were.’
‘I be twice as hungry,’ he laughed; ‘but with me it has always been “Quid scribam non quemadmodum,” wherein I follow Seneca.’
‘Doctor,’ the magister uttered, quivering, ‘you shall tell me why this mission — which is a very special embassy — at this time cometh to this town of Paris.’
‘Magister,’ the doctor answered, wagging his beard upon his poor collar to signify that he desired to keep his neck where it was, ‘I know not.’
‘Injurious man,’ Udal fulminated, ‘I be no spy.’
The doctor surveyed his perturbation with cross-legged calmness.
‘An ye were,’ he said —‘and it is renowned that ye are — ye could get no knowledge from where none is.’
‘Why, tell me of a woman,’ the hostess said. ‘Who is Kat Howard?’
The doctor’s blue eyes shot a hard glance at her, and he let his head sink down.
‘I have copied to her eyes a sonnet or twain,’ he said, ‘and they were writ by my master, Surrey, the Duke o’ Norfolk’s son.’
‘Then these rave upon her as doth the magister?’ she asked.
‘Why, an ye be jealous of the magister here,’ the doctor clipped his words precisely, ‘cast him away and take me who am a proper sweetheart.’
‘I be wed,’ she answered pleasantly.
‘What matters that,’ he said, ‘when husbands are not near?’
The magister, torn between his unaccustomed gust of jealousy and the desire to hide his marriage from a disastrous discovery in England, clutched with straining fingers at his gown.
‘Tell wherefore cometh your mission,’ he said.
‘We spoke of a fair woman,’ the doctor answered. ‘Shame it were before Apollo and Priapus that men’s missions should come before kings’ mistresses.’
‘It is true, then, that she shall be queen?’ Udal’s wife asked.
The fall of a great dish in the rear of the tall kitchen gave the scholar time to collect his suspicions — for he took it for an easy thing that this woman, if she were Udal’s leman, might be, she too, a spy in the service of Privy Seal.
‘Forbid it, God,’ he said, ‘that ye take my words as other than allegorical. The lady Katharine may be spoken of as a king’s mistress since in truth she were a fit mistress for a king, being fair, devout, learned, courteous, tall and sweet-voiced. But that she hath been kind to the King, God forbid that I should say it.’
‘Aye,’ Udal said, ‘but if she hath sent this mission?’
Panic rose in the heart of the doctor; he beheld himself there, in what seemed a spy’s kitchen, asked disastrous questions by a man and woman and pinned into a window-seat. For there was no doubt that the rumour ran in England that this mission had been sent by the King because Katharine Howard so wished it sent. In that age of spies and treacheries no man’s head was safe on his shoulders — and here were Cromwell’s spies asking news of Cromwell’s chief enemy.
He stretched out a calm hand and spoke slowly:
‘Madam hostess,’ he said, ‘if ye be jealous of the magister ye may well be jealous, for great beauty and worship hath this lady.’ Yet she need be little jealous, for this lady was nowadays prized so high that she might marry any man in the land — and learned men were little prized. Any man in the land of England she might wed — saving only such as were wed, amongst whom was their lord the King, who was happily wed to the gracious lady whom my Lord Privy Seal did bring from Cleves to be their very virtuous Queen.
Here, it seemed to him, he had cleared himself very handsomely of suspicion of ill will to Privy Seal or of wishing ill to Anne of Cleves.
‘For the rest,’ he said, sighing with relief to be away from dangerous grounds, ‘your magister is safe from the toils of marriage with the Lady Katharine.’ Still it might be held that jealousy is aroused by the loving and not by the returning of that love; for it was very certain that the magister much had loved this lady. Many did hold it a treachery in him, till now, to the Privy Seal whom he served. But now he might love her duteously, since our lord the King had commanded the Lady Katharine to join hands with Privy Seal, and Privy Seal to cement a friendly edifice in his heart towards the lady. Thus it was no treason to Privy Seal in him to love her. But to her it was a treason great and not to be comprehended.
He ogled Udal’s wife in the gallant manner and prayed her to prepare a bed for him in that hostelry. He had been minded to lodge with a Frenchman named Clement; but having seen her . . .
‘Learned sir,’ she answered, ‘a good bed I have for you.’ But if he sought to go beyond her lips she had a body-guard of spitmen that the magister’s self had seen.
The doctor kissed her agreeably and, with a great sigh of relief, hurried from the door.
‘May Bacchus who maketh mad, and the Furies that pursued Orestes, defile the day when I cross this step again,’ he muttered as he swung under the arch and ran to follow the mule train.
For the magister, by playing with his reputation of being Cromwell’s spy, had so effectually caused terror of himself to pervade those who supported the old faith that he had much ado at times to find company even amongst the lovers of good letters.
In the kitchen the spits had ceased turning, the dishes had been borne upstairs to the envoy from Cleves, the scullions were wiping knives, the maids were rubbing pieces of bread in the dripping pans and licking their fingers after the succulent morsels. The magister stood, a long crimson blot in the window-way; the hostess was setting flagons carefully into the great armoury.
‘Madam wife,’ the magister said to her at last, when she came near, ‘ye see how weighty it is that I bide here.’
‘Husband,’ she said, ‘I see how weighty it is that ye hasten to London.’
His rage broke — he whirled his arms above his head.
‘Naughty woman!’ he screamed harshly. ‘Shalt be beaten.’ He strode across to the basting range and gripped a great ladle, his brown eyes glinting, and stood caressing his thin chin passionately.
She folded her arms complacently.
‘Husband,’ she said, ‘it is well that wives be beaten when they have merited it. But, till I have, I have seven cooks and five knaves to bear my part.’
Udal’s hand fell suddenly and dispiritedly to his side. What indeed could he do? He could not beat this woman unless she would be beaten — and she stood there, square, buxom, solid and composed. He had indeed that sense that all scholars must have in presence of assured wives, that she was the better man. Moreover, the rage that had filled him in presence of Doctor Longstaffe had cooled down to nothing in Longstaffe’s absence.
He folded his arms and tried impatiently to think where, in this pickle, his feet had landed him. His wife turned once more to place flagons in the armoury.
‘Woman,’ he said at last, in a tone half of majesty, half of appeal, ‘see ye not how weighty it is that I bide here?’
‘Husband,’ she answered with her tranquil nonchalance, ‘see ye not how weighty it is that ye waste here no more days?’
‘But very well you know,’ and he stretched out to her a thin hand, ‘that here be two embassies of mystery: you have had, these three days, the Cleves envoy in the house. You have seen that the Duke of Norfolk comes here as ambassador.’
She took a stool and sat near his feet to listen to him.
‘Now,’ he began again, ‘if I be in truth a spy for Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal, where can I spy better for him than here? For the Cleves people are befriended with Privy Seal; then why come they to France, where bide only Privy Seal’s enemies? Now Norfolk is the chiefest enemy of Privy Seal; then wherefore cometh Norfolk to this land, where abide only these foes of Privy Seal?’
She set her elbows on her knees and her knuckles below her chin, and gazed up at him like a child.
‘Tell me, husband,’ she said; ‘be ye a true spy for Thomas Cromwell?’
He glanced round him with terror — but no man stood nearer than the meat boards across the kitchen, so far out of earshot that they could not hear feet upon the bricks.
‘Nay, ye may tell me the very truth of the very truth,’ she said. ‘These be false days — but my kitchen gear is thine, and nothing doth so bind folks together.’
‘But other listeners —’ he said.
‘Hosts and hostesses are listeners,’ she answered. ”Tis their trade. And their trade it is, too, to fend from them all other listeners. Here you may speak. Tell me then, if I may serve you, very truly whether ye be a true spy for Thomas Cromwell or against him.’
Her round face, beneath the great white hood, had a childish earnestness.
‘Why, you are a fair doxy,’ he said. He hung his head for some more minutes, then he spoke again.
‘It is a folly to speak of me as Privy Seal’s spy, though I have so spoken of myself. For why? It gaineth me worship, maketh men to fear me and women to be dazzled by my power. But in truth, I have little power.’
‘That is the very truth?’ she asked.
He nodded nonchalantly and waited again to find very clear words for her understanding.
‘But, though it be true that I am no spy of Cromwell’s, true it is also that I am a very poor man who craves very much for money. For I love good books that cost much gold; comely women that cost far more; succulent meats, sweet wines, high piled fires and warm furs.’
He smacked his lips thinking of these same things.
‘I am, in short, no stoic,’ he said, ‘the stoics being ancient curmudgeons that were low-stomached.’ Now, he continued, the Old Faith he loved well, but not over well; the Protestants he called busy knaves, but the New Learning he loved beyond life. Cromwell thwacked the Old Faith; he loved him not for that. Cromwell upheld in a sort the Protestants; he little loved him for that. ‘But the New Learning he loveth, and, oh fair sharer of my dreams o’ nights, Cromwell holdeth the strings of the money-bags.’
She scratched her cheek meditatively, and then unfolded her arms.
‘How then ha’ ye come by his broad pieces?’
‘It is three years since,’ he answered, ‘that Privy Seal sent for me. I had been cast out of my mastership at Eton College, for they said — foul liars said — that I had stolen the silver salt-cellars.’ He had been teaching, for his sins, in the house of the Lord Edmund Howard, where he had had his best pupil, but no more salary than what his belly could hold of poor mutton. ‘So Privy Seal did send for me ——’
‘Kat Howard was thy best pupil?’ his wife asked meditatively.
‘By the shrine of Saint Eloi —’ he commenced to swear.
‘Nay, lie not,’ she cut him short. ‘You love Kat Howard and six other wenches. I know it well. What said Privy Seal?’
He meditated again to protest that he loved not Katharine, but her quiet stolidity set him to change his mind.
‘It was that the Lady Mary of England needed a preceptor, an amanuensis, an aid for her studies in the learned language.’ For the King’s Highness’ daughter had a great learning and was agate of writing a commentary of Plautus his plays. But the Lady Mary hated also virulently — and with what cause all men know — the King her father. And for years long, since the death of the Queen her mother — whom God preserve in Paradise! — for years long the Lady Mary had maintained a treasonable correspondence with the King’s enemies, with the Emperor, with the Bishop of Rome ——
‘Our Holy Father the Pope,’ his wife said, and crossed herself.
‘And with this King here of France,’ Udal continued, whilst he too crossed himself with graceful waves of his brown hand. He continued to report that the way in which the Lady Mary sent her letters abroad had never been found; that Cromwell had appointed three tutors in succession to be aid to the Lady Mary in her studies. Each of these three she had broken and cast out from her doors, she being by far the more learned, so that, though Privy Seal in his might had seven thousand spies throughout the realm of England, he had among them no man learned enough to take this place and to spy out the things that he would learn.
‘Therefore Privy Seal did send for thee, who art accounted the most learned doctor in Christendom.’ His wife’s eyes glowed and her face became ruddy with pride in her husband’s fame.
The magister waved his hand pleasantly.
‘Therefore he did send for me.’ Privy Seal had promised him seven hundred pounds, farms with sixty pounds by the year, or the headship of New College if the magister could discover how the Lady Mary wrote her letters abroad.
‘So I have stayed three years with the Lady Mary,’ Udal said. ‘But before God,’ he asseverated, ‘though I have known these twenty-nine months that she sent away her letters in the crusts of pudding pies, never hath cur Crummock had word of it.’
‘A fool he, to set thee to spy upon a petticoat,’ she answered pleasantly.
‘Woman,’ he answered hotly, ‘crowns I have made by making reports to Privy Seal. I have set his men to watch doors and windows where none came in or entered; I have reported treasons of men whose heads had already fallen by the axe; I have told him of words uttered by maids of honour whom he knew full well already miscalled him. Sometimes I have had a crown or two from him, sometimes more; but no good man hath been hurt by my spying.’
‘Husband,’ she uttered, with her face set expressionlessly, ‘knew ye that the Frenchman’s cook that made the pudding pies had been taken and cast into the Tower gaol?’
Udal’s arms flew above his head; his eyes started from their sockets; his tongue came forth from his pale mouth to lick his dry lips, and his legs failed him so that he sat himself down, wavering from side to side in the window-seat.
‘Then the commentary of Plautus shall never be written,’ he wailed. He wrung his hands. ‘Whom have they taken else?’ he said. ‘How knew ye these things when I nothing knew? What make of house is this where such things be known?’
‘Husband,’ she answered, ‘this house is even an inn. Where many travellers pass through, many secrets are known. I know of this cook’s fate since the fate of cooks is much spoken of in kitchens, and this was the cook of a Frenchman, and this is France.’
‘Save us, oh pitiful saints!’ the magister whispered. ‘Who else is taken? What more do ye know? Many others have aided. I too. And there be friends I love.’
‘Husband,’ she answered, ‘I know no more than this: three days ago the cook stood where now you stand ——’
He clasped his hair so that his cap fell to the ground.
‘Here!’ he said. ‘But he was in the Tower!’
‘He was in the Tower, but stood here free,’ she answered. Udal groaned.
‘Then he hath blabbed. We are lost.’
‘That may be the truth. But I think it is not. For so the matter is that the cook told me.’ He was taken and set in the Tower by the men of Privy Seal. Yet within ten hours came the men of the King; these took him aboard a cogger, the cogger took them to Calais, and at the gate of Calais town the King’s men kicked him into the country of France, he having sworn on oath never more to tread on English soil.
‘Aye! But what others were taken? What others shall be?’
She shook her head.
The report ran: a boy called Poins, a lady called Elliott, and a lady called Howard. Yet all three drank the free air before that day at nightfall.
Udal, huddled against the wall, took these blows of fate with a quiver for each. In the back of the kitchen the servers, come down from the meal of the Cleves envoy, made a great clatter with their dishes of pewter and alloy. The hostess, working with her comfortable sway of the hips, drove them gently through the door to let a silence fall; but gradually Udal’s jaw closed, his eyes grew smaller, he started suddenly and the muscles of his knees regained their tension. The hostess, swishing her many petticoats beneath her, sat down again on the stool.
‘Insipiens et infacetus quin sum!’ the magister mused. ‘Fool that I am! Wherefore see I no clue?’ He hung his head; frowned; then started anew with his hand on his side.
‘Wherefore shall I not read pure joy in this?’ he said, ‘save that Austin waileth: “Inter delicias semper aliquid saevi nos strangulat.” I would be joyful — but that I fear.’ Norfolk had come upon an embassy here; then assuredly Cromwell’s power waned, or never had this foe of his been sent in this office of honour. The cook was cast in the Tower, but set free by the King’s men; young Poins was cast too, but set free — the Lady Elliott — and the Lady Howard. What then? What then?
‘Husband,’ she said, ‘have you naught forgotten?’
Udal, musing with his hand upon his chin, shook his head negligently.
‘I keep more track of the King’s leman than thou, then,’ she said. ‘What was it Longstaffe said of her?’
‘Nay,’ Udal answered, ‘so turned my bowels were with jealousy that little I noted.’
‘Why, you are a fine spy,’ she said. And she repeated to him that Longstaffe had reported the King’s commanding Katharine and Privy Seal to join hands and be friends. Udal shook his head gloomily.
‘I would not have my best pupil friends with Cromwell,’ he said.
‘Oh, magister,’ she retorted, with a first touch of scorn in her voice; ‘have you, who have had so much truck with women, yet to learn that you may command a woman to be friends with a man, yet no power on earth shall make her love him. Nevertheless, well might Cromwell seek to win her love, and thence these pardons.’
Udal started forward upon his tiptoes.
‘I must to London!’ he cried. She smiled at him as at a child.
‘You are come to be of my advice,’ she said.
Udal gazed at her with a wondering patronage.
‘Why, what a wench it is,’ he said, and he crooked his arm around her ample waist. His face shone with pleasure. ‘Angel!’ he uttered; ‘for Angelos is the Greek for messenger, and signifieth more especially one that bringeth good tidings.’ Out of all this holus bolus of envoys, ambassadors, cooks and prisoners one thing appeared plain to view: that, for the first time, a solis ortus cardine, Cromwell had loosened his grip of some that he held. ‘And if Crummock looseneth grip, Crummock’s power in the land waneth.’
She looked up at him with a coy pleasure.
‘Hatest Cromwell then full fell-ly?’ she asked.
He put his hands upon her shoulders and solemnly regarded her.
‘Woman,’ he said; ‘this man rideth England with seven thousand spies; these three years I have lived in terror of my life. I have had no bliss that fear hath not entered into — in very truth inter delicias semper aliquid saevi nos strangulavit.’ His lugubrious tones grew higher with hatred; he raised one hand above his head and one gripped tight her fat shoulder. ‘Terror hath bestridden our realm of England; no man dares to whisper his hate even to the rushes. Me! Me! Me!’ he reached a pitch of high-voiced fury. ‘Me! Virum doctissimum! Me, the first learned man in Britain, he did force to write a play in the vulgar tongue. Me, a master of Latin, to write in English! I had pardoned him my terror. I had pardoned him the heads of the good men he hath struck off. For that princes should inspire terror is just, and that the great ones of the earth should prey one upon the other is a thing all history giveth precedent for since the days when Sylla hunted to death Marius that sat amidst the ruins of Carthage. But that the learned should be put to shame! that good letters should be cast into the mire! History showeth no ensample of a man so vile since the Emperor Alexander removed his shadow from before the tub of Diogenes.’
‘In truth,’ she said, blenching a little before his fury, ‘I was ever one that loved the rolling sound of your Greek and your Roman.’
‘Give me my journey money,’ he said, ‘let me begone to England. For, if indeed the Lady Katharine hath the King’s ear, much may I aid her with my counsels.’
She began to fumble in beneath her apron, and then, as if she suddenly remembered herself, she placed her finger upon her lips.
‘Husband,’ she said, ‘I have for you a gift. How it shall value itself to you I little know, but I have before been much besought and offered high payment for that which now I offer thee. Come.’
The finger still upon her plump lips, she led him to a small door behind the chimney stack. They climbed up through cobwebs, ham, flitches of smoked beef, and darkness, and the reek of wood-smoke, until they came, high up, to a store-room in the slope of a mansard roof. Light filtered dimly between the tiles, and many bales and sacks lay upon the raftered floor like huge monsters in a huge, dim cave.
‘Hearken! make no sound,’ she whispered, and in the intense gloom they heard a sullen, stertorous, intermittent rumble.
‘The envoy sleeps,’ she said. She set her eye to a knot-hole in the planked wall. ”A sleeps!’ she whispered. ‘My pigling made a great thirst in him. Much wine he drank. Set your eye to the knot-hole.’
With his face glued against the rough wood, the magister could see in the large room a great fair man, in a great blue chair behind a littered table. His head hung forward, shewed only a pink bald spot in the thin hair, and brilliant red ears. A slow rumble of snoring came for a long minute, then ceased for as long.
From behind Udal’s back came a crash, and he started back to see the large woman, who had overturned a chest.
‘That is to test how he sleeps,’ she said. ‘See if he have moved.’ The man, plain to see through the knot-hole, had stirred no muscle; again the heavy rumble of the snore came to them. She spoke quite loudly now. ‘Why, naught shall wake him these five hours. ‘A hath bolted the door; thus his secretaries shall not come to him. See now.’
She slid back a board in the wall, and Udal could see into what appeared to be a cupboard filled with a litter of papers and of parchments. Udal’s heart began to beat so that he noted it there; his eyes searched hers with a glittering excitement — nevertheless a half fear of awakening the envoy kept him from speaking.
‘Take them! Take them!’ she nudged him with her elbow. ‘Six hours ye have to read and to copy.’
‘What papers are these?’ he muttered, his voice thick betwixt incredulous joy and fear.
‘They be the envoy’s papers,’ she said; ‘doubtless these be his letters to the king of this land. . . . What there may be I know not else.’
Udal’s hands were in at the hole with the swift clutch of a miser visiting his treasure-chest. The woman surveyed him with pleasure and with pride in her achievement, and with the calmness of routine she fitted a bar across the door of the cupboard where it opened into the envoy’s room. Udal was fumbling already with the strings of a packet, his eyes searching the superscription in the gloom.
‘Six hours ye have to read and to copy,’ she said happily, ‘for, for six hours the poppy seed in his wine that he drank shall surely keep him snoring.’ And, whilst they went again down the stairway, the papers secreted beneath the magister’s gown, she explained with her pride and happiness. The aumbry was so contrived that any envoy or secretary sleeping in her best room must needs put his papers therein, since there was in the room no other chest that locked. And the King of France’s chancellors allotted to all envoys her hostelry for a lodging; and once there, she made them heavy with wine and poppy seed after a receipt she had from an Egyptian, and at the appointed time the King of France’s men came to read through the papers and to pay her much money and many kisses.
It was six hours later that the magister stood in his own room crushing a fillet of papers into the breast of his brown jerkin. The hostess, walking always calmly as if disorder of the mind were a thing she were a stranger to, had reclimbed the narrow stairway, replaced the papers in the envoy’s cupboard and returned to her husband. She sought, mutely, for commendations, and he gave her them.
‘Y’have made me the man that holds the secret of England’s future,’ he said. ‘All England that groans beneath Cromwell awaiteth to hear how the cat jumps in Cleves. Now I know how the cat jumps in Cleves.’
She wiped the dust from her hands upon her apron.
‘See that ye make good use of the knowledge,’ she said. She considered for a moment whilst he ferreted amongst his clothes in the great black press beside the great white bed. ‘I have long thought,’ she said, ‘that greatly might I be of service to a man of laws and of policies. But I have long known that to serve a man is to have little reward unless a woman tie him up in fast bonds ——’ He made one of his broad gestures of negation, but she cut in upon his words: ‘Aye, so it is. A gossip may serve a man how she will, but once his occasion is past he shall leave her in the ditch for the first fairer face. So I made resolve to make such a man my husband, that his being advanced might advance me. For, for sure this shall not be the last spying service I shall do thee. Many envoys more shall be lodged in this house and many more secrets ye shall learn.’
‘Oh beloved Pandora!’ he cried; ‘opener of all secret places, caskets, aumbries, caves of the winds, thrice blessed Sibyl of the keyhole!’ She nodded her head with grave contentment.
‘I chose thee for thy resounding speeches,’ she said. Her tranquillity and her buxom pleasantness overcame him with sudden affection. He was minded to tell her — because indeed she had made his fortunes for him — that her marriage to him did not hold good since a friar had read the rites.
‘I chose thee for thy resounding speeches,’ she said, ‘and because art so ill-clothed i’ the ribs. Give me a thin man of policies to move my bowels of compassion, say I.’ For with her secret closets she might make him stand well among the princes, and with her goodly capons set grease upon his ribs, poor soul!
‘Oh Guenevere!’ he said; ‘for was it not the queen of Arthur that made bag-puddings for his starving knights?’
‘Aye,’ she said; ‘great learning you possess.’ A little moisture bedewed her blue eyes. ‘It grieves me that you must begone. I love to hear thy broad o’s and a’s!’
‘Then by all that is fattest in the land hight Cokaigne I will stay here, thy dutiful goodman,’ he said, and tears filled his own eyes.
‘Oh nay,’ she answered; ‘you shall get yourself into the Chancellery, and merry will we feast and devise beneath the gilded roofs.’ Her eyes sought the brown beams that ceiled the long room. ‘I have heard that chancellors have always gilded roofs.’
Again the tenderness overcame him for the touch of simple pride in her voice. And the confession slipped from his lips:
‘Poor befooled soul! Shalt never be a chancellor’s dame.’
She was sobbing a little.
‘Oh aye,’ she said; ‘thou shalt yet be chancellor, and I will baste thy cooks’ ribs an they baste not thy meat full well.’ Such a man as he would find favour with princes for his glosing tongue — aye, and with queens too. At that she covered her face with her apron, and from beneath it her voice came forth:
‘If this Kat Howard come to be queen, shall not the old faith be restored?’
The recollection of this particular certainty affected the magister like a stab, for, if the old faith came back, then assuredly marriages by friars should again be acknowledged. He cursed himself beneath his breath: he was loath to leave the woman in the ditch, her trusting face and pleasing ways stirred the strings of his heart. But he was more than loath that the wedding should hold a wedding. He shook his perplexity from him with starting towards the door.
‘Time to be gone!’ he said, and added, ‘Be certain and take care that no Englishman heareth of wedding betwixt thee and me.’ It must in England work his sure undoing.
She removed her apron and nodded gravely.
‘Aye,’ she said, ‘that is certain enow with Court ladies, such as they be today.’ But she asked that when he went among women she should hear nothing of it. For she had had three husbands and several courtiers to prove it upon, that it is better to be lied to than to know truth.
‘There is in the world no woman like to thee!’ he said with a great sincerity. Once more she nodded.
‘Aye, that is the lie that I would hear,’ she said. On his part, he started suddenly with pain.
‘But thee!’ he uttered.
‘Aye,’ she cried again, ‘that too is needed. But be very certain of this, that not easily will I plant upon thy brow that which most husbands wear!’ She paused, and once more rubbed her hands. Courteous she must be, since her calling called therefor. But assuredly, having had three husbands, she had had embraces enow to crave little for men. And, if she did that which few good women have a need to — save very piteous women in ballads — she would suffer him to belabour her; — she nodded again —‘And that to a man is a great solace.’
He fled with precipitancy from the thought of this solace, brushing through the narrow passages, stalking across the great guest-chamber and the greater kitchen where, in the falling dusk, the fires glowed red upon the maids’ faces and the cooks’ aprons, the smoke rose unctuously upward tended with rich smells of meat, and the windjacks clanked in the chimneys. She trotted behind him, weeping in the gloaming.
‘If you come to be chancellor in five years,’ she whimpered, ‘I shall come across the seas to ye. If ye fail, this shall be your plenteous house.’
Whilst she hung round his neck in the shadowy courtyard and he had already one foot in the stirrup, she begged for one more great speech.
‘Before Jupiter!’ he said, ‘I can think of none for crying!’
The big black horse, with its bags before and behind the saddle, stirred, so that, standing upon one foot, he fell away from her. But he swung astride the saddle, his cloak flying, his long legs clasping round the belly. It reared and pawed the twilight mists, but he smote it over one ear with his palm, and it stood trembling.
‘This is a fine beast y’have given me,’ he said, pleasure thrilling his limbs.
‘I have given it a fine rider!’ she cried. He wheeled it near her and stooped right down to kiss her face. He was very sure in his saddle, having learned the trick of the stirrup from old Rowfant, that had taught the King.
‘Wife,’ he said, ‘I have bethought me of this: Post equitem sedet——’ He faltered —‘sedet — Behind the rider sitteth— But for the life of me I know not whether it be atra cura or no.’
And, as he left Paris gates behind him and speeded towards the black hills, bending low to face the cold wind of night, for the life of him he knew not whether black care sat behind him or no. Only, as night came down and he sped forward, he knew that he was speeding for England with the great news that the Duke of Cleves was seeking to make his peace with the Emperor and the Pope through the mediancy of the king of that land and, on the soft road, the hoofs of the horse seemed to beat out the rhythm of the words:
‘Crummock is down: Cromwell is down. Crummock is down: Cromwell is down.’
He rode all through the night thinking of these things, for, because he carried letters from the English ambassador to the King of England, the gates of no small town could stay his passing through.
Five men talked in the long gallery overlooking the River Thames. It was in the Lord Cromwell’s house, upon which the April showers fell like handsful of peas, with a sifting sound, between showers of sunshine that fell themselves like rain, so that at times all the long empty gallery was gilded with light and at times it was all saddened and frosty. They were talking all, and all with earnestness and concern, as all the Court and the city were talking now, of Katharine Howard whom the King loved.
The Archbishop leant against one side of a window, close beside him his spy Lascelles; the Archbishop’s face was round but worn, his large eyes bore the trace of sleeplessness, his plump hands were a little tremulous within his lawn sleeves.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘we must bow to the breeze. In time to come we may stand straight enow.’ His eyes seemed to plead with Privy Seal, who paced the gallery in short, pursy strides, his plump hands hidden in the furs behind his back. Lascelles, the Archbishop’s spy, nodded his head sagaciously; his yellow hair came from high on his crown and was brushed forward towards his brows. He did not speak, being in such high company, but looking at him, the Archbishop gained confidence from the support of his nod.
‘If we needs must go with the Lady Katharine towards Rome,’ he pleaded again, ‘consider that it is but for a short time.’ Cromwell passed him in his pacing and, unsure of having caught his ear, Cranmer addressed himself to Throckmorton and Wriothesley, the two men of forty who stood gravely, side by side, fingering their long beards. ‘For sure,’ Cranmer appealed to the three silent men, ‘what we must avoid is crossing the King’s Highness. For his Highness, crossed, hath a swift and sudden habit of action.’ Wriothesley nodded, and: ‘Very sudden,’ Lascelles allowed himself utterance, in a low voice. Throckmorton’s eyes alone danced and span; he neither nodded nor spoke, and, because he was thought to have a great say in the councils of Privy Seal, it was to him that Cranmer once more addressed himself urgently:
‘Full-bodied men who are come upon failing years are very prone to women. ’Tis a condition of the body, a humour, a malady that passeth. But, while it lasteth, it must be bowed to.’
Cromwell, with his deaf face, passed once more before them. He addressed himself in brief, sharp tones to Wriothesley:
‘You say, in Paris an envoy from Cleves was come a week agone?’ and passed on.
‘It must be bowed to,’ Cranmer continued his speech. ‘I do maintain it. There is no way but to divorce the Queen.’ Again Lascelles nodded; it was Wriothesley this time who spoke.
‘It is a lamentable thing!’ and there was a heavy sincerity in his utterance, his pose, with his foot weightily upon the ground, being that of an honest man. ‘But I do think you have the right of it. We, and the new faith with us, are between Scylla and Charybdis. For certain, our two paths do lie between divorcing the Queen and seeing you, great lords, who so well defend us, cast down.’
Coming up behind him, Cromwell placed a hand upon his shoulder.
‘Goodly knight,’ he said, ‘let us hear thy thoughts. His Grace’s of Canterbury we do know very well. He is for keeping a whole skin!’
Cranmer threw up his hands, and Lascelles looked at the ground. Throckmorton’s eyes were filled with admiration of this master of his that he was betraying now. He muttered in his long, golden beard.
‘Pity we must have thy head.’
Wriothesley cleared his throat, and having considered, spoke earnestly.
‘It is before all things expedient and necessary,’ he said, ‘that we do keep you, my Lord Privy Seal, and you, my Lord of Canterbury, at the head of the State.’ That was above all necessary. For assuredly this land, though these two had brought it to a great pitch of wealth, clean living, true faith and prosperity, this land needed my Lord Privy Seal before all men to shield it from the treason of the old faith. There were many lands now, bringing wealth and commodity to the republic, that should soon again revert towards and pay all their fruits to Rome; there were many cleaned and whitened churches that should again hear the old nasty songs and again be tricked with gewgaws of the idolaters. Therefore, before all things, my Lord Privy Seal must retain the love of the King’s Highness —— Cromwell, who had resumed his pacing, stayed for a moment to listen.
‘Wherefore brought ye not news of why Cleves’ envoy came to Paris town?’ he said pleasantly. ‘All the door turneth upon that hinge.’
Wriothesley stuttered and reddened.
‘What gold could purchase, I purchased of news,’ he said. ‘But this envoy would not speak; his knaves took my gold and had no news. The King of France’s men ——’
‘Oh aye,’ Cromwell continued; ‘speak on about the other matter.’
Wriothesley turned his slow mind from his vexation in Paris, whence he had come a special journey to report of the envoy from Cleves. He spoke again swiftly, turning right round to Cromwell.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘study above all to please the King. For unless you guide us we are lost indeed.’
Cromwell worked his lips one upon another and moved a hand.
‘Aye,’ Wriothesley continued; ‘it can be done only by bringing the King’s Highness and the Lady Katharine to a marriage.’
‘Only by that?’ Cromwell asked enigmatically.
Throckmorton spoke at last:
‘Your lordship jests,’ he said; ‘since the King is not a man, but a high and beneficent prince with a noble stomach.’
Cromwell tapped him upon the cheek.
‘That you do see through a millstone I know,’ he said. ‘But I was minded to hear how these men do think. You and I do think alike.’
‘Aye, my lord,’ Throckmorton answered boldly. ‘But in ten minutes I must be with the Lady Katharine, and I am minded to hear the upshot of this conference.’
Cromwell laughed at him sunnily:
‘Go and do your message with the lady. An you hasten, you may return ere ever this conference ends, since slow wits like ours need a store of words to speak their minds with.’
Lascelles, the silent spy of the archbishop, devoured with envious eyes Throckmorton’s great back and golden beard. For his life he dared not speak three words unbidden in this company. But Throckmorton being gone the discussion renewed itself, Wriothesley speaking again.
He voiced always the same ideas, for the same motives: Cromwell must maintain his place at the cost of all things, for the sake of all these men who leaned upon him. And it was certain that the King loved this lady. If he had sent her few gifts and given her no titles nor farms, it was because — either of nature or to enhance the King’s appetite — she shewed a prudish disposition. But day by day and week in week out the King went with his little son in his times of ease to the rooms of the Lady Mary. And there he went, assuredly, not to see the glum face of the daughter that hated him, but to converse in Latin with his daughter’s waiting-maid of honour. All the Court knew this. Who there had not seen how the King smiled when he came new from the Lady Mary’s rooms? He was heavy enow at all other times. This fair woman that hated alike the new faith and all its ways had utterly bewitched and enslaved the King’s eyes, ears and understanding. If the King would have Katharine Howard his wife the King must have her. Anne of Cleves must be sent back to Germany; Cromwell must sue for peace with the Howard wench; a way must be found to bribe her till the King tired of her; then Katharine must go in her turn, once more Cromwell would have his own, and the Protestants be reinstated. Cromwell retained his silence; at the last he uttered his unfailing words with which he closed all these discussions:
‘Well, it is a great matter.’
The gusts of rain and showers of sun pursued each other down the river; the lights and shadows succeeded upon the cloaked and capped shapes of the men who huddled their figures together in the tall window. At last the Archbishop lost his patience and cried out:
‘What will you do? What will you do?’
Cromwell swung his figure round before him.
‘I will discover what Cleves will do in this matter,’ he said. ‘All dependeth therefrom.’
‘Nay; make a peace with Rome,’ Cranmer uttered suddenly. ‘I am weary of these strivings.’
But Wriothesley clenched his fist.
‘Before ye shall do that I will die, and twenty thousand others!’
‘Sir,’ he temporised. ‘We will give back to the Bishop of Rome nothing that we have taken of property. But the Bishop of Rome may have Peter’s Pence and the deciding of doctrines.’
‘Canterbury,’ Wriothesley said, ‘I had rather Antichrist had his old goods and gear in this realm than the handling of our faith.’
Cromwell drew in the air through his nostrils, and still smiled.
‘Be sure the Bishop of Rome shall have no more gear and no more guidance of this realm than his Highness and I need give,’ he said. ‘No stranger shall have any say in the councils of this realm.’ He smiled noiselessly again. ‘Still and still, all turneth upon Cleves.’
For the first time Lascelles spoke:
‘All turneth upon Cleves,’ he said.
Cromwell surveyed him, narrowing his eyes.
‘Speak you now of your wisdom,’ he uttered with neither friendliness nor contempt. Lascelles caressed his shaven chin and spoke:
‘The King’s Highness I have observed to be a man for women — a man who will give all his goods and all his gear to a woman. Assuredly he will not take this woman to his leman; his princely stomach revolteth against an easy won mastership. He will pay dear, he will pay his crown to win her. Yet the King would not give his policies. Neither would he retrace his steps for a woman’s sake unless Fate too cried out that he must.’
Cromwell nodded his head. It pleased him that this young man set a virtue sufficiently high upon his prince.
‘Sirs,’ he said, ‘daily have I seen this King in ten years, and I do tell ye no man knoweth how the King loves kingcraft as I know.’ He nodded again to Lascelles, whose small stature seemed to gain bulk, whose thin voice seemed to gain volume from this approval and from his ‘Speak on. About Cleves.’
‘Sirs,’ Lascelles spoke again, ‘whiles there remains the shade of a chance that Cleves’ Duke shall lead the princes of Germany against the Emperor and France, assuredly the King shall stay his longing for the Lady Katharine. He shall stay firm in his marriage with the Queen.’ Again Cromwell nodded. ‘Till then it booteth little to move towards a divorce; but if that day should come, then our Lord Privy Seal must bethink himself. That is in our lord’s mind.’
‘By Bacchus!’ Cromwell said, ‘your Grace of Canterbury hath a jewel in your crony and helper. And again I say, we must wait upon Cleves.’ He seemed to pursue the sunbeams along the gallery, then returned to say:
‘I know ye know I love little to speak my mind. What I think or how I will act I keep to myself. But this I will tell you:’ Cleves might have two minds in sending to France an envoy. On the one hand, he might be minded to abandon Henry and make submission to the Emperor and to Rome. For, in the end, was not the Duke of Cleves a vassal of the Emperor? It might be that. Or it might be that he was sending merely to ask the King of France to intercede betwixt him and his offended lord. The Emperor was preparing to wage war upon Cleves. That was known. And doubtless Cleves, desiring to retain his friendship with Henry, might have it in mind to keep friends with both. There the matter hinged, Cromwell repeated. For, if Cleves remained loyal to the King of England, Henry would hear nothing of divorcing Cleves’ sister, and would master his desire for Katharine.
‘Believe me when I speak,’ Cromwell added earnestly. ‘Ye do wrong to think of this King as a lecher after the common report. He is a man very continent for a king. His kingcraft cometh before all women. If the Duke of Cleves be firm friend to him, firm friend he will be to the Duke’s sister. The Lady Howard will be his friend, but the Lady Howard will be neither his leman nor his guide to Rome. He will please her if he may. But his kingcraft. Never!’ He broke off and laughed noiselessly at the Archbishop’s face of dismay. ‘Your Grace would make a pact with Rome?’ he asked.
‘Why, these are very evil times,’ Cranmer answered. ‘And if the Bishop of Rome will give way to us, why may we not give pence to the Bishop of Rome?’
‘Goodman,’ Cromwell answered, ‘these are evil times because we men are evil.’ He pulled a paper from his belt. ‘Sirs,’ he said, ‘will ye know what manner of woman this Katharine Howard is?’ and to their murmurs of assent: ‘This lady hath asked to speak with me. Will ye hear her speak? Then bide ye here. Throckmorton is gone to seek her.’
Katharine Howard sat in her own room; it had in it little of sumptuousness, for all the King so much affected her. It was the room she had first had at Hampton after coming to be maid to the King’s daughter, and it had the old, green hangings that had always been round the walls, the long oak table, the box-bed set in the wall, the high chair and the three stools round the fire. The only thing she had taken of the King was a curtain in red cloth to hang on a rod before the door where was a great draught, the leading of the windows being rotted. She had lived so poor a life, her father having been a very poor lord with many children — she was so attuned to flaws of the wind, ill-feeding and harsh clothes, that such a tall room as she there had seemed goodly enough for her. Barely three months ago she had come to the palace of Greenwich riding upon a mule. Now accident, or maybe the design of the dear saints, had set her so high in the King’s esteem that she might well try a fall with Privy Seal.
She sat there dressed, awaiting the summons to go to him. She wore a long dress of red velvet, worked around the breast-lines with little silver anchors and hearts, and her hood was of black lawn and fell near to her hips behind. And she had read and learned by heart passages from Plutarch, from Tacitus, from Diodorus Siculus, from Seneca and from Tully, each one inculcating how salutary a thing in a man was the love of justice. Therefore she felt herself well prepared to try a fall with the chief enemy of her faith, and awaited with impatience his summons to speak with him. For she was anxious, now at last, to speak out her mind, and Privy Seal’s agents had worked upon the religious of a poor little convent near her father’s house a wrong so baleful that she could no longer contain herself. Either Privy Seal must redress or she must go to the King for justice to these poor women that had taught her the very elements of virtue and lay now in gaol.
So she spoke to her two chief friends, her that had been Cicely Elliott and her old husband Rochford, the knight of Bosworth Hedge. They happened in upon her just after she was attired and had sent her maid to fetch her dinner from the buttery.
‘Three months agone,’ she said, ‘the King’s Highness did bid me cease from crying out upon Privy Seal; and not the King’s Highness’ self can say that in that time I have spoken word against the Lord Cromwell.’
Cicely Elliott, who dressed, in spite of her new wedding, all in black for the sake of some dead men, laughed round at her from her little stool by the fire.
‘God help you! that must have been hard, to keep thy tongue from the flail of all Papists.’
The old knight, who was habited like Katharine, all in red, because at that season the King favoured that colour, pulled nervously at his little goat’s beard, for all conversations that savoured of politics and religion were to him very fearful. He stood back against the green hangings and fidgeted with his feet.
But Katharine, who for the love of the King had been silent, was now set to speak her mind.
‘It is Seneca,’ she said, ‘who tells us to have a check upon our tongues, but only till the moment approaches to speak.’
‘Aye, goodman Seneca!’ Cicely laughed round at her. Katharine smoothed her hair, but her eyes gleamed deeply.
‘The moment approaches,’ she said; ‘I do like my King, but better I like my Church.’ She swallowed in her throat. ‘I had thought,’ she said, ‘that Privy Seal would stay his harryings of the goodly nuns in this land.’ But now she had a petition, come that day from Lincoln gaol. Cromwell’s servants were more bitter still than ever against the religious. Here was a false accusation of treason against her foster-mother’s self. ‘I will soon end it or mend it, or lose mine own head,’ Katharine ended.
‘Aye, pull down Cur Crummock,’ Cicely said. ‘I think the King shall not long stay away from thy desires.’
The old knight burst in:
‘I take it ill that ye speak of these things. I take it ill. I will not have ‘ee lose thy head in these quarrels.’
‘Husband,’ Cicely laughed round at him, ‘three years ago Cur Crummock had the heads of all my menfolk, having sworn they were traitors.’
‘The more reason that he have not mine and thine now,’ the old knight answered grimly. ‘I am not for these meddlings in things that concern neither me nor thee.’
Cicely Elliott set her elbows upon her knees and her chin upon her knuckles. She gazed into the fire and grew moody, as was her wont when she had chanced to think of her menfolk that Cromwell had executed.
‘He might have had my head any day this four years,’ she said. ‘And had you lost my head and me you might have had any other maid any day that se’nnight.’
‘Nay, I grow too old,’ the knight answered. ‘A week ago I dropped my lance.’
Cicely continued to gaze at nothings in the fire.
‘For thee,’ she said scornfully to Katharine, ‘it were better thou hadst never been born than have meddled between kings and ministers and faiths and nuns. You are not made for this world. You talk too much. Get you across the seas to a nunnery.’
Katharine looked at her pitifully.
‘Child,’ she said, ‘it was not I that spoke of thy menfolk.’
‘Get thyself mewed up,’ Cicely repeated more hotly; ‘thou wilt set all this world by the ears. This is no place for virtues learned from learned books. This is an ill world where only evil men flourish.’
The old knight still fidgeted to be gone.
‘Nay,’ Katharine said seriously, ‘ye think I will work mine own advantage with the King. But I do swear to thee I have it not in my mind.’
‘Oh, swear not,’ Cicely mumbled, ‘all the world knoweth thee to be that make of fool.’
‘I would well to get me made a nun — but first I will bring nunneries back from across the seas to this dear land.’
Cicely laughed again — for a long and strident while.
‘You will come to no nunnery if you wait till then,’ she said. ‘Nuns without their heads have no vocation.’
‘When Cromwell is down, no woman again shall lose her head,’ Katharine answered hotly.
Cicely only laughed.
‘No woman again!’ Katharine repeated.
‘Blood was tasted when first a queen fell on Tower Hill.’ Cicely pointed her little finger at her. ‘And the taste of blood, even as the taste of wine, ensureth a certain oblivion.’
‘You miscall your King,’ Katharine said.
Cicely laughed and answered: ‘I speak of my world.’
Katharine’s blood came hot to her cheeks.
‘It is a new world from now on,’ she answered proudly.
‘Till a new queen’s blood seal it an old one,’ Cicely mocked her earnestness. ‘Hadst best get thee to a nunnery across the seas.’
‘The King did bid me bide here.’ Katharine faltered in the least.
‘You have spoken of it with him?’ Cicely said. ‘Why, God help you!’
Katharine sat quietly, her fair hair gilded by the pale light of the gusty day, her lips parted a little, her eyelids drooping. It behoved her to move little, for her scarlet dress was very nice in its equipoise, and fain she was to seem fine in Privy Seal’s eyes.
‘This King hath a wife to his tail,’ Cicely mocked her.
The old knight had recovered his quiet; he had his hand upon his haunch, and spoke with his air of wisdom:
‘I would have you to cease these talkings of dangerous things,’ he said. ‘I am Rochford of Bosworth Hedge. I have kept my head and my lands, and my legs from chains — and how but by leaving to talk of dangerous things?’
Katharine moved suddenly in her chair. This speech, though she had heard it a hundred times before, struck her now as so craven that she forgot alike her desire to keep fine and her friendship for the old man’s new wife.
‘Aye, you have been a coward all your life,’ she said: for were not her dear nuns in Lincoln gaol, and this was a knight that should have redressed wrongs!
Old Rochford smiled with his air of tranquil wisdom and corpulent age.
‘I have struck good blows,’ he said. ‘There have been thirteen ballads writ of me.’
‘You have kept so close a tongue,’ Katharine said to him hotly, ‘that I know not what you love. Be you for the old faith, or for this Church of devils that Cromwell hath set up in the land? Did you love Queen Katharine or Queen Anne Boleyn? Were you glad when More died, or did you weep? Are you for the Statute of Users, or would you end it? Are you for having the Lady Mary called bastard — God pardon me the word! — or would you defend her with your life? — I do not know. I have spoken with you many times — but I do not know.’
Old Rochford smiled contentedly.
‘I have saved my head and my lands in these perilous times by letting no man know,’ he said.
‘Aye,’ Katharine met his words with scorn and appeal. ‘You have kept your head on your shoulders and the rent from your lands in your poke. But oh, sir, it is certain that, being a man, you love either the new ways or the old; it is certain that, being a spurred knight, you should love the old ways. Sir, bethink you and take heed of this: that the angels of God weep above England, that the Mother of God weeps above England; that the saints of God do weep — and you, a spurred knight, do wield a good sword. Sir, when you stand before the gates of Heaven, what shall you answer the warders thereof?’
‘Please God,’ the old knight answered, ‘that I have struck some good blows.’
‘Aye; you have struck blows against the Scots,’ Katharine said. ‘But the beasts of the field strike as well against the foes of their kind — the bull of the herd against lions; the Hyrcanian tiger against the troglodytes; the basilisk against many beasts. It is the province of a man to smite not only against the foes of his kind but — and how much the more? — against the foes of his God.’
In the full flow of her speaking there came in the great, blonde Margot Poins, her body-maid. She led by the hand the Magister Udal, and behind them followed, with his foxy eyes and long, smooth beard, the spy Throckmorton, vivid in his coat of green and scarlet stockings. And, at the antipathy of his approach, Katharine’s emotions grew the more harrowing — as if she were determined to shew this evil supporter of her cause how a pure fight should be waged. They moved on tiptoe and stood against the hangings at the back.
She stretched out her hands to the old knight.
‘Here you be in a pitiful and afflicted land from which the saints have been driven out; have you struck one blow for the saints of God? Nay, you have held your peace. Here you be where good men have been sent to the block: have you decried their fates? You have seen noble and beloved women, holy priests, blessed nuns defiled and martyred; you have seen the poor despoiled; you have seen that knaves ruled by aid of the devil about a goodly king. Have you struck one blow? Have you whispered one word?’
The colour rushed into Margot Poins’ huge cheeks. She kept her mouth open to drink in her mistress’s words, and Throckmorton waved his hands in applause. Only Udal shuffled in his broken-toed shoes, and old Rochford smiled benignly and tapped his chest above the chains.
‘I have struck good blows in the quarrels that were mine,’ he answered.
Katharine wrung her hands.
‘Sir, I have read it in books of chivalry, the province of a knight is to succour the Church of God, to defend the body of God, to set his lance in rest for the Mother of God; to defend noble men cast down, and noble women; to aid holy priests and blessed nuns; to succour the despoiled poor.’
‘Nay, I have read no books of chivalry,’ the old man answered; ‘I cannot read.’
‘Ah, there be pitiful things in this world,’ Katharine said, and her chest was troubled.
‘You should quote Hesiodus,’ Cicely mocked her suddenly from her stool. ‘I marked this text when all my menfolk were slain: [Greek: pleiê men gar gaia, pleiê de thalassa] so I have laughed ever since.’
Upon her, too, Katharine turned.
‘You also,’ she said; ‘you also.’
‘No, before God, I am no coward,’ Cicely Elliott said. ‘When all my menfolk were slain by the headsman something broke in my head, and ever since I have laughed. But before God, in my way I have tried to plague Cromwell. If he would have had my head he might have.’
‘Yet what hast thou done for the Church of God?’ Katharine said.
Cicely Elliott sprang to the floor and raised her hands with such violence that Throckmorton moved swiftly forward.
‘What did the Church of God for me?’ she cried. ‘Guard your face from my nails ere you ask me that again. I had a father; I had two brothers; I had two men I loved passing well. They all died upon one day upon the one block. Did the saints of God save them? Go see their heads upon the gates of York?’
‘But if they died for God His pitiful sake,’ Katharine said —‘if they did die in the quarrel of God’s wounds ——’
Cicely Elliott screamed, with her hands above her head.
‘Is that not enow? Is that not enow?’
‘Then it is I, not thou, that love them,’ Katharine said; ‘for I, not thou, shall carry on the work for which they died.’
‘Oh gaping, pink-faced fool!’ Cicely Elliott sneered at her.
She began to laugh, holding her black sides in, her face thrown back. Then she closed her mouth and stood smiling.
‘You were made for a preacher, coney,’ she said. ‘Fine to hear thee belabouring my old, good knight with doughty words.’
‘Gibe as thou wilt; scream as thou wilt ——’ Katharine began. Cicely Elliott tossed in on her words:
‘My head ached so. I had the right of it to scream. I cannot be minded of my menfolk but my head will ache. But I love thy fine preaching. Preach on.’
Katharine raised herself from her chair.
‘Words there must be that will move thee,’ she said, ‘if God will give them to me.’
‘God hath withdrawn Himself from this world,’ Cicely answered. ‘All mankind goeth a-mumming.’
‘It was another thing that Polycrates said.’ Katharine, in spite of her emotion, was quick to catch the misquotation.
‘Coney,’ Cicely Elliott answered, ‘all men wear masks; all men lie; all men desire the goods of all men and seek how they may get them.’
‘But Cromwell being down, these things shall change,’ Katharine answered. ‘Res, aetas, usus, semper aliquid apportent novi.’
Cicely Elliott fell back into her chair and laughed.
‘What are we amongst that multitude?’ she said. ‘Listen to me: When my menfolk were cast to die, I flew to Gardiner to save them. Gardiner would not speak. Now is he Bishop of Winchester — for he had goods of my father’s, and greased with them the way to his bishop’s throne. Fanshawe is a goodly Papist; but Cromwell hath let him have goods of the Abbey of Bright. Will Fanshawe help thee to bring back the Church? Then he must give up his lands. Will Cranmer help thee? Will Miners? Coney, I loved Federan, a true man: Miners hath his land today, and Federan’s mother starves. Will Miners help thee to gar the King do right? Then the mother of my love Federan must have Miners’ land and the rents for seven years. Will Cranmer serve thee to bring back the Bishop of Rome? Why, Cranmer would burn.’
‘But the poorer sort ——’ Katharine said.
‘There is no man will help thee whose help will avail,’ Cicely mocked at her. ‘For hear me: No man now is up in the land that hath not goods of the Church; fields of the abbeys; spoons made of the parcel gilt from the shrines. There is no rich man now but is rich with stolen riches; there is no man now up that was not so set up. And the men that be down have lost their heads. Go dig in graves to find men that shall help thee.’
‘Cromwell shall fall ere May goeth out,’ Katharine said.
‘Well, the King dotes upon thy sweet face. But Cromwell being down, there will remain the men he hath set up. Be they lovers of the old faith, or thee? Now, thy pranks will ruin all alike.’
‘The King is minded to right these wrongs,’ Katharine protested hotly.
‘The King! The King!’ Cicely laughed. ‘Thou lovest the King. . . . Nay an thou lovest the King. . . . But to be enamoured of the King. . . . And the King enamoured of thee . . . why, this pair of lovers cast adrift upon the land ——’
‘Belike I am enamoured of the King: belike the King of me, I do not know. But this I know: he and I are minded to right the wrongs of God.’
Cicely Elliott opened her eyes wide.
‘Why, thou art a very infectious fanatic!’ she said. ‘You may well do these things. But you must shed much blood. You must widow many men’s wives. Body of God! I believe thou wouldst.’
‘God forbid it!’ Katharine said. ‘But if He so willeth it, fiat voluntas.’
‘Why, spare no man,’ Cicely answered. ‘Thou shalt not very easily escape.’
It was at this point that the magister was moved to keep no longer silence.
‘Now, by all the gods of high Olympus!’ he cried out, ‘such things shall not be alleged against me. For I do swear, before Venus and all the saints, that I am your man.’
Nevertheless, it was Margot Poins, wavering between her love for her magister and her love for her mistress, that most truly was carried away by Katharine’s eloquence.
‘Mistress,’ she said, and she indicated both the magister and his tall and bearded companion, ‘these two have made up a pretty plot upon the stairs. There are in it papers from Cleves and a matter of deceiving Privy Seal and thou shouldst be kept in ignorance asking to — to ——’
Her gruff voice failed and her blushes overcame her, so that she wanted for a word. But upon the mention of papers and Privy Seal the old knight fidgeted and faltered:
‘Why, let us begone.’ Cicely Elliott glanced from one to the other of them with a malicious glee, and Throckmorton’s eyes blinked sardonically above his beard.
It had been actually upon the stairs that he had come upon the magister, newly down from his horse, and both stiff and bruised, with Margot Poins hanging about his neck and begging him to spare her a moment. Throckmorton crept up the dark stairway with his shoes soled with velvet. The magister was seeking to disengage himself from the girl with the words that he had a treaty form of the Duke of Cleves in his bosom and must hasten on the minute to give it to her mistress.
‘Before God!’ Throckmorton had said behind his back, ‘ye will do no such thing,’ and Udal had shrieked out like a rabbit caught by a ferret in its bury. For here he had seemed to find himself caught by the chief spy of Privy Seal upon a direct treason against Privy Seal’s self.
But, dragging alike the terrified magister and the heavy, blonde girl who clung to him out from the dark stairhead into the corridor, where, since no one could come upon them unseen or unheard, it was the safest place in the palace to speak, Throckmorton had whispered into his ear a long, swift speech in which he minced no matters at all.
The time, he said, was ripe to bring down Privy Seal. He himself — Throckmorton himself — loved Kat Howard with a love compared to which the magister’s was a rushlight such as you bought fifty for a halfpenny. Privy Seal was ravening for a report of that treaty. They must, before all things, bring him a report that was false. For, for sure, upon that report Privy Seal would act, and, if they brought him a false report, Privy Seal would act falsely.
Udal stood perfectly still, looking at nothing, his thin brown hand clasped round his thin brown chin.
‘But, above all,’ Throckmorton had concluded, ‘show ye no papers to Kat Howard. For it is very certain that she will have no falsehoods employed to bring down Privy Seal, though she hate him as the Assyrian cockatrice hateth the symbol of the Cross.’
‘Sir Throckmorton,’ Margot Poins had uttered, ‘though ye be a paid spy, ye speak true words there.’
He pulled his beard and blinked at her.
‘I am minded to reform,’ he said. ‘Your mistress hath worked a miracle of conversion in me.’
She shrugged her great fair shoulders at this, and spoke to the magister:
‘It is very true,’ she said, ‘that this spying knight affects my mistress. But whether it be for the love of virtue, or for the love of her body, or because the cat jumps that way and there he observeth fortune to rise, I leave to God who reads all hearts.’
‘There speaks a wench brought up and taught by Protestants,’ Throckmorton gibed pleasantly at her; ‘or ye have caught the trick of Kat Howard, who, though she be a Papist as good as I, yet prates virtue like a Lutheran.’
‘Ye lie!’ Margot said; ‘my mistress getteth her virtue from good letters.’
Throckmorton smiled at her again.
‘Wench,’ he said, ‘in all save doctrine, this Kat Howard and her learning are nearer Lutheran than of the old faith.’
With his malice he set himself to bewilder Margot. They made a little, shadowy knot in the long corridor. For he wished to give Udal, who in his long gown stood deaf-faced, like a statue of contemplation, the time to come to a conclusion.
‘Why, you are a very mean wag,’ Margot said. ‘I have heard my uncle — who is, as ye wot, a Protestant and a printer — I have heard him speak of Luther and of Bucer and of the word of God and suchlike canting books, but never once of Seneca and Tully, that my mistress loves.’
‘Why, ye are learning the trick of tongues,’ Throckmorton mocked. ‘Please God, when your mistress cometh to be Queen — may He send it soon! — there shall be such a fashion and contagion of talking ——’
Having his eyes on Udal, he broke off suddenly, and said with a harsh sharpness:
‘I have given you time to make a resolution. Speak quickly. Will you come into our boat with us that will bring down Privy Seal?’
Udal winced, but Throckmorton held him by the wrist.
‘Then unpouch quickly thy Cleves papers,’ he said; ‘we have but a little time to turn them round.’
Udal’s thin hand sought nervously the opening of his jerkin beneath his gown: he drew it back, moved it forward again, and stood quivering with doubt.
Throckmorton stood vaingloriously back upon his feet and combed his great beard with his white fingers.
‘Magister,’ he uttered triumphantly, ‘well you wot that such a man as you cannot plot for himself alone; you will make naught of your treasure trove save a cleft neck!’
And, furtively, cringing back into the dark hangings, a bent, broken figure like a miser unpouching his gold, Udal undid his breast lacings.
It was hot from this colloquy that Margot Poins had led the two men in upon her mistress in her large dim room. Because she hated the great spy, since he loved Kat Howard and had undone many good men with false tales, she had not been able to keep her tongue from seeking to wound him.
‘Ye are too true to mix in plots,’ she brought out gruffly.
Cicely Rochford came close to Katharine and measured her neck with the span of her small hand.
‘There is room!’ she said. ‘Hast a long and a straight neck.’
Her husband muttered that he liked not these talkings. By diligent avoidance of such, he had kept his own hair and neck uncut in troublesome times.
‘I will take thee to another place,’ Cicely threw at him over her shoulder. ‘Shalt kiss me in a dark room. It is very certain maids’ talk is no fit hearing for thy jolly old ears.’
She took him delicately at the end of his short white beard between her long finger and thumb, and, with her high and mincing step, led him through the door.
‘God save this room, where all the virtues bide!’ she cried out, and drew her overskirt closer to her as she passed near the great, bearded spy.
Katharine turned and faced Throckmorton.
It is even as the maid saith,’ she uttered. ‘I am too true to mix in plots.’
‘Neither will ye give us to death!’ Throckmorton faced her back so that she paused for breath, and the pause lasted a full minute.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I do give you a fair and a full warning that, if you do plot against Privy Seal, and if knowledge of your plotting cometh to mine ears — though I ask not to know of them — I will tell of your plottings ——’
‘Oh, before God!’ Udal cried out, ‘I have suckled you with learned writers; I have carried letters for you; will you give me to die?’ and Margot wailed from a deep chest: ‘The magister so well hath loved thee. Give him not into die hands of Cur Crummock! — would I had never told thee that they plotted!’
‘Fool!’ Throckmorton said; ‘it is to the King she will go with her tales.’ He sat down upon her yellow-wood table and swung one crimson leg before the other, laughing gleefully at Katharine’s astonished face.
‘Sir,’ she said at last; ‘it is true that I will go, not to my lord Privy Seal, but to the King.’
Throckmorton held up one of his white hands to the light and, with the other, smoothed down its little finger.
‘See you?’ he gibed softly at Margot. ‘How better I guess this thing, mistress, than thou. For I do know her better.’
Katharine looked at him with a soft glance and said pitifully:
‘Nevertheless, what shall it profit thee if I take a tale of thy treasons to the King’s Highness?’
Throckmorton sprang from the table and clapped his heels together on the floor.
‘It shall get me made an earl,’ he said. ‘The King will do that much for the man that shall rid him of his minister.’ He reflected foxily and for a quick moment. ‘Before God!’ he said,‘take this tale to the King, for it is the true tale: That the Duke of Cleves seeks, in France, to have done with his alliance. He will no more cleave to his brother-inlaw, but will make submission to the Emperor and to Rome!’
He paused, and then finished:
‘For that news the King shall love you much more than before. But God help me! it takes thee the more out of my reach!’
As they left the room to go to the audience with Cromwell, Katharine, squaring the frills of her hood behind her back, could hear Margot Poins grumbling to the magister:
‘After these long days ye ha’ time for five minutes to hold my hand,’ and the magister, perturbed and fumbling in his bosom, muttered:
‘Nay, I have no minutes now. I must write much in Latin ere thy mistress return.’
‘By God,’ Wriothesley said when she entered the long gallery where the men were. ‘This is a fair woman!’
She had command of her features, and her eyes were upon the ground; it was a part of a woman’s upbringing to walk well, and her masters had so taught her when she had lived with her grandmother, the old duchess. Not the tips of her shoes shewed beneath the zigzag folds of her russet-brown underskirt; the tips of her scarlet sleeves netted with gold touched the waxed wood of the floor; her hood fell behind to the ground, and her fair hair was golden where the sunlight fell on it with a last, watery ray.
Upon Privy Seal she raised her eyes; she bent her knees so that her gown spread out all around her when she curtsied, and, having arranged it with a slow hand, she came to her height again, rustling as if she rose from a wave.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I come to pray you to right a great wrong done by your servants.’
‘By God!’ Wriothesley said, ‘she speaks high words.’
‘Madam Howard,’ Cromwell answered — and his eyes graciously dwelt upon her tall form. She had clasped her hands before her lap and looked into his face. ‘Madam Howard, you are more learned in the better letters than I; but I would have you call to memory one Pancrates, of whom telleth Lucian. Being in a desert or elsewhere, this magician could turn sticks, stocks and stakes into servants that did his will. Mark you, they did his will — no more and no less.’
‘Sir,’ Katharine said, ‘ye have better servants than ever had Pancrates. They do more than your behests.’
Cromwell bent his back, stretched aside his white hand and smiled still.
‘Ye trow truth,’ he said. ‘Yet ye do me wrong; for had I the servants of Pancrates, assuredly he should hear no groans of injustice from men of good will.’
‘It is too good hearing,’ Katharine said gravely. ‘This is my tale ——’
Once before she had trembled in this man’s presence, and still she had a catching in the throat as her eyes measured his face. She was mad to do right and to right wrongs, yet in his presence the doing of the right, the righting of wrongs, seemed less easy than when she stood before any other man. ‘Sir,’ she uttered, ‘I have thought ye have done ill afore now. I am nowise certain that ye thought your ill-doing an evil. I beseech you for a patient hearing.’
But, though she told her story well — and it was an old story that she had learned by heart — she could not be rid of the feeling that this was a less easy matter than it had seemed to her, to call Cromwell accursed. She had a moving tale of wrongs done by Cromwell’s servant, Dr Barnes, a visitor of a church in Lincolnshire near where her home had been. For the lands had been taken from a little priory upon an excuse that the nuns lived a lewd life; and so well had she known the nuns, going in and out of the convent every week-day, that well she knew the falseness of Cromwell’s servant’s tale.
‘Sir,’ she said to Cromwell, ‘mine own foster-sister had the veil there; mine own mother’s sister was there the abbess.’ She stretched out a hand. ‘Sir, they dwelled there simply and godly, withdrawn from the world; succouring the poor; weaving of fine linens, for much flax grew upon those lands by there; and praying God and the saints that blessings fall upon this land.’
Wriothesley spoke to her slowly and heavily:
‘Such little abbeys ate up the substance of this land in the old days. Well have we prospered since they were done away who ate up the fatness of this realm. Now husbandmen till their idle soil and cattle are in their buildings.’
‘Gentleman whose name I know not,’ she turned upon him, ‘more wealth and prosperity God granted us in answer to their prayers than could be won by all the husbandmen of Arcadia and all the kine of Cacus. God standeth above all men’s labours.’ But Cromwell’s servants had sworn away the lands of the small abbey, and now the abbess and her nuns lay in gaol accused — and falsely — of having secreted an image of Saint Hugh to pray against the King’s fortunes.
‘Before God,’ she said, ‘and as Christ is my Saviour, I saw and make deposition that these poor simple women did no such thing but loved the King as he had been their good father. I have seen them at their prayers. Before God, I say to you that they were as folk astonished and dismayed; knowing so little of the world that ne one ne other knew whence came the word that had bared them to the skies. I have seen them — I.’
‘Where went they?’ Wriothesley said; ‘what worked they?’
‘Gentleman,’ she answered; ‘being cast out of their houses and their veils, they knew nowhither to go; homes they had none; they lived with their own hinds in hovels, like frightened lambs, the saints their pastors being driven from their folds.’
‘Aye,’ Wriothesley said grimly, ‘they cumbered the ground; they did meet in knots for mutinies.’
‘God had appointed them the duty of prayer,’ Katharine answered him. ‘They met and prayed in sheds and lodges of the house that had been theirs, poor ghosts revisiting and bewailing their earthly homes. I have prayed with them.’
‘Ye have done a treason in that day,’ Wriothesley answered.
‘I have done the best that ever I did for this land,’ she met him fully. ‘I prayed naught against the King and the republic. I have prayed you and your like might be cast down. So do I still. I stand here to avow it. But they never did, and they do lie in gaol.’ She turned again upon Cromwell and spoke piteously from her full throat. ‘My lord,’ she cried. ‘Soften your heart and let the wax in your ears melt so that ye hear. Your servants swore falsely when they said these women lived lewdly; your men swore falsely when they said that these women prayed treasonably. For the one count they took their lands and houses; for the other they lay them in the gaols. Sir, my lord, your servants go up and down this land; sir, my lord, they ride rich men with boots of steel and do strangle the poor with gloves of iron. I do think ye know they do it; I do pray ye know not. But, sir, if ye will right this wrong I will kiss your hands; if you will set up again these homes of prayer I will take a veil, and in one of them spend my days praying that good befall you and yours.’ She paused in her speaking and then began again: ‘Before I came here I had made me a fair speech. I have forgot it, and words come haltingly to me. Sirs, ye think I seek mine own aggrandisement; ye think I do wish ye cast down. Before God, I wish ye were cast down if ye continue in these ways; but I have prayed to God who sent the Pentecostal fires, to give me the gift of tongues that shall soften your hearts ——’
Cromwell interrupted her, smiling that Venus, who made her so fair, gave her no need of a gift of tongues, and Minerva, who made her so learned, gave her no need of fairness. For the sake of the one and the other, he would very diligently enquire into these women’s courses. If they ha been guiltless, they should be richly repaid; if they ha been guilty, they should be pardoned.
Katharine flushed with a hot anger.
‘Ye are a very craven lord,’ she said. ‘If you may find them guilty, you shall have my head. But if you do find them innocent and shield them not, I swear I will strive to have thine.’ Anger made her blue eyes dilate. ‘Have you no bowels of compassion for the right? Ye treat me as a fair woman — but I speak as a messenger of the King’s, that is God’s, to men who too long have hardened their hearts.’
Throckmorton laid back his head and laughed suddenly at the ceiling; Cranmer crossed himself; Wriothesley beat his heel upon the floor and shrugged his shoulders bitterly — but Lascelles, the Archbishop’s spy, kept his eyes upon Throckmorton’s face with a puzzled scrutiny.
‘Why now does that man laugh?’ he asked himself. For it seemed to him that by laughing Throckmorton applauded Katharine Howard. And indeed, Throckmorton applauded Katharine Howard. As policy her speech was neither here nor there, but as voicing a spirit, infectious and winning to men’s hearts, he saw that such speaking should carry her very far. And, if it should embroil her more than ever with Cromwell, it would the further serve his adventures. He was already conspiring to betray Cromwell, and he knew that, very soon now, Cromwell must pierce his mask of loyalty; and the more Katharine should have cast down her glove to Cromwell, the more he could shelter behind her; and the more men she could have made her friends with her beauty and her fine speeches, the more friends he too should have to his back when the day of discovery came. In the meantime he had in his sleeve a trick that he would speedily play upon Cromwell, the most dangerous of any that he had played. For below the stairs he had Udal, with his news of the envoy from Cleves to France, and with his copies of the envoy’s letters. But, in her turn, Katharine played him, unwittingly enough, a trick that puzzled him.
‘Bones of St Nairn!’ he said; ‘she has him to herself. What mad prank will she play now?’
Katharine had drawn Cromwell to the very end of the gallery.
‘As I pray that Christ will listen to my pleas when at the last I come to Him for pardon and comfort,’ she said, ‘I swear that I will speak true words to you.’
He surveyed her, plump, alert, his lips moving one upon the other. He brought one white soft hand from behind his back to play with the furs upon his chest.
‘Why, I believe you are a very earnest woman,’ he said.
‘Then, sir,’ she said, ‘understand that your sun is near its setting. We rise, we wane; our little days do run their course. But I do believe you love your King his cause more than most men.’
‘Madam Howard,’ he said, ‘you have been my foremost foe.’
‘Till five minutes agone I was,’ she said.
He wondered for a moment if she were minded to beg him to aid her in growing to be Queen; and he wondered too how that might serve his turn. But she spoke again:
‘You have very well served the King,’ she said. ‘You have made him rich and potent. I believe ye have none other desire so great as that desire to make him potent and high in this world’s gear.’
‘Madam Howard,’ he said calmly, ‘I desire that — and next to found for myself a great house that always shall serve the throne as well as I.’
She gave him the right to that with a lowering of her eyebrows.
‘I too would see him a most high prince,’ she said. ‘I would see him shed lustre upon his friends, terror upon his foes, and a great light upon this realm and age.’
She paused to touch him earnestly with one long hand, and to brush back a strand of her hair. Down the gallery she saw Lascelles moving to speak with Throckmorton and Wriothesley holding the Archbishop earnestly by the sleeve.
‘See,’ she said, ‘you are surrounded now by traitors that will bring you down. In foreign lands your cause wavers. I tell you, five minutes agone I wished you swept away.’
Cromwell raised his eyebrows.
‘Why, I knew that this was difficult fighting,’ he said. ‘But I know not what giveth me your good wishes.’
‘My lord,’ she answered, ‘it came to me in my mind: What man is there in the land save Privy Seal that so loveth his master’s cause?’
‘How well do you love this King,’ he said.
‘I love this King; I love this land,’ she said, ‘as Cato loved Rome or Leonidas his realm of Sparta.’
Cromwell pondered, looking down at his foot; his lips moved furtively, he folded his hand inside his sleeves; and he shook his head when again she made to speak. He desired another minute for thought.
‘This I perceive to be the pact you have it in your mind to make,’ he said at last, ‘that if you come to sway the King towards Rome I shall still stay his man and yours?’
She looked at him, her lips parted with a slight surprise that he should so well have voiced thoughts that she had hardly put into words. Then her faith rose in her again and moved her to pitiful earnestness.
‘My lord,’ she uttered, and stretched out one hand. ‘Come over to us. ’Tis such great pity else —’tis such pity else.’
She looked again at Throckmorton, who, in the distance, was surveying the Archbishop’s spy with a sardonic amusement, and a great mournfulness went through her. For there was the traitor and here before her was the betrayed. Throckmorton had told her enough to know that he was conspiring against his master, and Cromwell trusted Throckmorton before any man in the land; and it was as if she saw one man with a dagger hovering behind another. With her woman’s instinct she felt that the man about to die was the better man, though he were her foe. She was minded — she was filled with a great desire to say: ‘Believe no word that Throckmorton shall tell you. The Duke of Cleves is now abandoning your cause.’ That much she had learnt from Udal five minutes before. But she could not bring herself to betray Throckmorton, who was a traitor for the sake of her cause. ”Tis such pity,’ she repeated again.
‘Good wench,’ Cromwell said, ‘you are indifferent honest; but never while I am the King’s man shall the Bishop of Rome take toll again in the King’s land.’
She threw up her hands.
‘Alack!’ she said, ‘shall not God and His Son our Saviour have their part of the King’s glory?’
‘God is above us all,’ he answered. ‘But there is no room for two heads of a State, and in a State is room but for one army. I will have my King so strong that ne Pope ne priest ne noble ne people shall here have speech or power. So it is now; I have so made it, the King helping me. Before I came this was a distracted State; the King’s writ ran not in the east, not in the west, not in the north, and hardly in the south parts. Now no lord nor no bishop nor no Pope raises head against him here. And, God willing, in all the world no prince shall stand but by grace of this King’s Highness. This land shall have the wealth of all the world; this King shall guide this land. There shall be rich husbandmen paying no toll to priests, but to the King alone; there shall be wealthy merchants paying no tax to any prince nor emperor, but only to this King. The King’s court shall redress all wrongs; the King’s voice shall be omnipotent in the council of the princes.’
‘Ye speak no word of God,’ she said pitifully.
‘God is very far away,’ he answered.
‘Sir, my lord,’ she cried, and brushed again the tress from her forehead. ‘Ye have made this King rich with gear of the Church: if ye will be friends with me ye shall make this King a pauper to repay; ye have made this King stiffen his neck against God’s Vicegerent: if you and I shall work together ye shall make him rehumble himself. Christ the King of all the world was a pauper; Christ the Saviour of all mankind humbled Himself before God that was His Saviour.’
Cromwell said ‘Amen.’
‘Sir,’ she said again; ‘ye have made this King rich, but I will give to him again his power to sleep at night; ye have made this realm subject to this King, but, by the help of God, I will make it subject again to God. You have set up here a great State, but oh, the children of God do weep since ye came. Where is a town where lamentation is not heard? Where is a town where no orphan or widow bewails the day that saw your birth?’ She had sobs in her voice and she wrung her hands. ‘Sir,’ she cried, ‘I say you are as a dead man already — your day of pride is past, whether ye aid us or no. Set yourself then to redress as heartily as ye have set yourself in the past to make sad. That land is blest whose people are happy; that State is aggrandised whence there arise songs praising God for His blessings. You have built up a great city of groans; set yourself now to build a kingdom where “Praise God” shall be sung. It is a contented people that makes a State great; it is the love of God that maketh a people rich.’
Cromwell laughed mirthlessly:
‘There are forty thousand men like Wriothesley in England,’ he said. ‘God help you if you come against them; there are forty times forty thousand and forty times that that pray you not again to set disorder loose in this land. I have broken all stiff necks in this realm. See you that you come not against some yet.’ He stopped, and added: ‘Your greatest foes should be your own friends if I be a dead man as you say.’ And he smiled at her bewilderment when he had added: ‘I am your bulwark and your safeguard.’
. . . ‘For, listen to me,’ he took up again his parable. ‘Whilst I be here I bear the rancour of your friends’ hatred. When I am gone you shall inherit it.’
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I am not here to hear riddles, but here I am to pray you seek the right.’
‘Wench,’ he said pleasantly, ‘there are in this world many rights — you have yours; I mine. But mine can never be yours nor yours mine. I am not yet so dead as ye say; but if I be dead, I wish you so well that I will send you a phial of poison ere I send to take you to the stake. For it is certain that if you have not my head I shall have yours.’
She looked at him seriously, though the tears ran down her cheeks.
‘Sir,’ she uttered, ‘I do take you to be a man of your word. Swear to me, then, that if upon the fatal hill I do save you your life and your estates, you will nowise work the undoing of the Church in time to come.’
‘Madam Queen that shall be,’ he said, ‘an ye gave me my life this day, tomorrow I would work as I worked yesterday. If ye have faith of your cause I have the like of mine.’
She hung her head, and said at last:
‘Sir, an ye have a little door here at the gallery end I will go out by it’; for she would not again face the men who made the little knot before the window. He moved the hangings aside and stood before the aperture smiling.
‘Ye came to ask a boon of me,’ he said. ‘Is it your will still that I grant it?’
‘Sir,’ she answered, ‘I asked a boon of you that I thought you would not grant, so that I might go to the King and shew him your evil dealings with his lieges.’
‘I knew it well,’ he said. ‘But the King will not cast me down till the King hath had full use of me.’
‘You have a very great sight into men’s minds,’ she uttered, and he laughed noiselessly once again.
‘I am as God made me,’ he said. Then he spoke once more. ‘I will read your mind if you will. Ye came to me in this crisis, thinking with yourself: Liars go unto the King saying, “This Cromwell is a traitor; cast him down, for he seeks your ill.” I will go unto the King saying, “This Cromwell grindeth the faces of the poor and beareth false witness. Cast him down, though he serve you well, since he maketh your name to stink to heaven.“ So I read my fellow-men.’
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘it is very true that I will not be linked with liars. And it is very true that men do so speak of you to the King’s Highness.’
‘Why,’ he answered her debonairly, ‘the King shall listen neither to them nor to you till the day be come. Then he will act in his own good way — upon the pretext that I be a traitor, or upon the pretext that I have borne false witness, or upon no pretext at all.’
‘Nevertheless will I speak for the truth that shall prevail,’ she answered.
‘Why, God help you!’ was his rejoinder.
Going back to his friends in the window Cromwell meditated that it was possible to imagine a woman that thought so simply; yet it was impossible to imagine one that should be able to act with so great a simplicity. On the one hand, if she stayed about the King she should be his safeguard, for it was very certain that she should not tell the King that he was a traitor. And that above all was what Cromwell had to fear. He had, for his own purposes, so filled the King with the belief that treachery overran his land, that the King saw treachery in every man. And Cromwell was aware, well enough, that such of his adherents as were Protestant — such men as Wriothesley — had indeed boasted that they were twenty thousand swords ready to fall upon even the King if he set against the reforming religion in England. This was the greatest danger that he had — that an enemy of his should tell the King that Privy Seal had behind his back twenty thousand swords. For that side of the matter Katharine Howard was even a safeguard, since with her love of truth she would assuredly combat these liars with the King.
But, on the other hand, the King had his superstitious fears; only that night, pale, red-eyed and heavy, and being unable to sleep, he had sent to rouse Cromwell and had furiously rated him, calling him knave and shaking him by the shoulder, telling him for the twentieth time to find a way to make a peace with the Bishop of Rome. These were only night-fears — but, if Cleves should desert Henry and Protestantism, if all Europe should stand solid for the Pope, Henry’s night-fears might eat up his day as well. Then indeed Katharine would be dangerous. So that she was indeed half foe, half friend.
It hinged all upon Cleves; for if Cleves stood friend to Protestantism the King would fear no treason; if Cleves sued for pardon to the Emperor and Rome, Henry must swing towards Katharine. Therefore, if Cleves stood firm to Protestantism and defied the Emperor, it would be safe to work at destroying Katharine; if not, he must leave her by the King to defend his very loyalty.
The Archbishop challenged him with uplifted questioning eyebrows, and he answered his gaze with:
‘God help ye, goodman Bishop; it were easier for thee to deal with this maid than for me. She would take thee to her friend if thou wouldst curry with Rome.’
‘Aye,’ Cranmer answered. ‘But would Rome have truck with me?’ and he shook his head bitterly. He had been made Archbishop with no sanction from Rome.
Cromwell turned upon Wriothesley; the debonair smile was gone from his face; the friendly contempt that he had for the Archbishop was gone too; his eyes were hard, cruel and red, his lips hardened.
‘Ye have done me a very evil turn,’ he said. ‘Ye spoke stiff-necked folly to this lady. Ye shall learn, Protestants that ye are, that if I be the flail of the monks I may be a hail, a lightning, a bolt from heaven upon Lutherans that cross the King.’
The hard malice of his glance made Wriothesley quail and flush heavily.
‘I thought ye had been our friend,’ he said.
‘Wriothesley,’ Cromwell answered, ‘I tell thee, silly knave, that I be friend only to them that love the order and peace I have made, under the King’s Highness, in this realm. If it be the King’s will to stablish again the old faith, a hammer of iron will I be upon such as do raise their heads against it. It were better ye had never been born, it were better ye were dead and asleep, than that ye raised your heads against me.’ He turned, then he swung back with the sharpness of a viper’s spring.
‘What help have I had of thee and thy friends? I have bolstered up Cleves and his Lutherans for ye. What have he and ye done for me and my King? Your friend the Duke of Cleves has an envoy in Paris. Have ye found for why he comes there? Ye could not. Ye have botched your errand to Paris; ye have spoken naughtily in my house to a friend of the King’s that came friendlily to me.’ He shook a fat finger an inch from Wriothesley’s eyes. ‘Have a care! I did send my visitors to smell out treason among the convents and abbeys. Wait ye till I send them to your conventicles! Ye shall not scape. Body of God! ye shall not scape.’
He placed a heavy hand upon Throckmorton’s shoulder.
‘I would I had sent thee to Paris,’ he said. ‘No envoy had come there whose papers ye had not seen. I warrant thou wouldst have ferreted them through.’
Throckmorton’s eyes never moved; his mouth opened and he spoke with neither triumph nor malice:
‘In very truth, Privy Seal,’ he said, ‘I have ferreted through enow of them to know why the envoy came to Paris.’
Cromwell kept his hands still firm upon his spy’s shoulder whilst the swift thoughts ran through his mind. He scowled still upon Wriothesley.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘ye see how I be served. What ye could not find in Paris my man found for me in London town.’ He moved his face round towards the great golden beard of his spy. ‘Ye shall have the farms ye asked me for in Suffolk,’ he said. ‘Tell me now wherefore came the Cleves envoy to France. Will Cleves stay our ally, or will he send like a coward to his Emperor?’
‘Privy Seal,’ Throckmorton answered expressionlessly — he fingered his beard for a moment and felt at the medal depending upon his chest —‘Cleves will stay your friend and the King’s ally.’
A great sigh went up from his three hearers at Throckmorton’s lie; and impassive as he was, Throckmorton sighed too, imperceptibly beneath the mantle of his beard. He had burned his boats. But for the others the sigh was of a great contentment. With Cleves to lead the German Protestant confederation, the King felt himself strong enough to make headway against the Pope, the Emperor and France. So long as the Duke of Cleves remained a rebel against his lord the Emperor, the King would hold over Protestantism the mantle of his protection.
Cromwell broke in upon their thoughts with his swift speech.
‘Sirs,’ he uttered, ‘then what ye will shall come to pass. Wriothesley, I pardon thee; get thee back to Paris to thy mission. Archbishop, I trow thou shalt have the head of that wench. Her cousin shall be brought here again from France.’
Lascelles, the Archbishop’s spy, who kept his gaze upon Throckmorton’s, saw the large man’s eyes shift suddenly from one board of the floor to another.
‘That man is not true,’ he said to himself, and fell into a train of musing. But from the others Cromwell had secured the meed of wonder that he desired. He had closed the interview with a dramatic speech; he had given them something to talk of.
He held Throckmorton in the small room that contained upon its high stand the Privy Seal of England in an embroidered purse. All red and gold, this symbol of power held the eye away from the dark-green tapestry and from the pigeon-holes filled with parchment scrolls wherefrom there depended so many seals each like a gout of blood. The room was so high that it appeared small, but there was room for Cromwell to pace about, and here, walking from wall to wall, he evolved those schemes that so fast held down the realm. He paced always, his hands behind his back, his lips moving one upon the other as if he ruminated —(His foes said that he talked thus with his familiar fiend that had the form of a bee.)— and his black cap with ear-flaps always upon his head, for he suffered much with the earache.
He walked now, up and down and up and down, saying nothing, whilst from time to time Throckmorton spoke a word or two. Throckmorton himself had his doubts — doubts as to how the time when it would be safe to let it be known that he had betrayed his master might be found to fit in with the time when his master must find that he had betrayed him. He had, as he saw it, to gain time for Katharine Howard so she might finally enslave the King’s desires. That there was one weak spot in her armour he thought he knew, and that was her cousin that was said to be her lover. That Cromwell knew of her weak spot he knew too; that Cromwell through that would strike at her he knew too. All depended upon whether he could gain time so that Cromwell should be down before he could use his knowledge.
For that reason he had devised the scheme of making Cromwell feel a safety about the affairs of Cleves. Udal fortunately wrote a very swift Latin. Thus, when going to fetch Katharine to her interview with Privy Seal he had found Udal bursting with news of the Cleves embassy and with the letters of the Duke of Cleves actually copied on papers in his poke, Throckmorton had very swiftly advised with himself how to act. He had set Udal very earnestly to writing a false letter from Cleves to France — such a letter as Cleves might have written — and this false letter, in the magister’s Latin, he had placed now in his master’s hands, and, pacing up and down, Cromwell read from time to time from the scrap of paper.
What Cleves had written was that he was fain to make submission to the Emperor, and leave the King’s alliance. What Cromwell read was this: That the high and mighty Prince, the Duke of Cleves, was firmly minded to adhere in his allegiance with the King of England: that he feared the wrath of the Emperor Charles, who was his very good suzerain and over-lord: that if by taxes and tributes he might keep away from his territory the armies of the Emperor he would be well content to pay a store of gold: that he begged his friend and uncle, King of France, to intercede betwixt himself and the Emperor to the end that the Emperor might take these taxes and tributes; for that, if the Emperor would none of this, come peace, come war, he, the high and mighty Prince, Duke of Cleves, Elector of the Empire, was minded to protect in Germany the Protestant confession and to raise against the Emperor the Princes and Electors of Almain, being Protestants. With the aid of his brother-inlaw the King of England he would drive the Emperor Charles from the German lands together with the heresies of the Romish Bishop and all things that pertained to the Emperor Charles and his religion.
Cromwell had listened to the reading of this letter in silence; in silence he reperused it himself, pacing up and down, and in between phrases of his thoughts he read passages from it and nodded his head.
That this was a very dangerous enterprise Throckmorton was assured; it was the first overt act of his that Privy Seal could discover in him as a treachery. In a month or six weeks he must know the truth; but in a month or six weeks Katharine must have so enslaved the King that all danger from Cromwell would be past. And he trusted that the security that Cromwell must feel would gar him delay striking at Katharine by means of her cousin.
Cromwell said suddenly:
‘How got the magister these papers?’ and Throckmorton answered that it was through the widow that kept the tavern. Cromwell said negligently:
‘Let the magister be rewarded with ten crowns a quarter to his fees. Set it down in my tables’; and then like lightning came the query:
‘Do ye believe of her cousin and the Lady Katharine?’
Craving a respite for thought and daring to take none for fear Cromwell should read him, Throckmorton answered:
‘Ye know I think yes.’
‘I have said I think no,’ Cromwell answered in turn, but dispassionately as though it were a matter of the courses of stars; ‘though it is very certain that her cousin is so mad with love for her that we had much ado to send him from her to Paris.’ He paced three times from wall to wall and then spoke again:
‘Men enow have said she was too fond with her cousin?’
With despair in his heart Throckmorton answered:
‘It is the common talk in Lincolnshire where her home is. I have seen a cub in a cowherd’s that was said to be her child by him.’
It was useless to speak otherwise to Privy Seal; if he did not report these things, twenty others would. But, beneath his impassive face and his great beard, despair filled him. He might swear treason against Cromwell to the King; but the King would not hear him alone, and without the King and Katharine he was a sparrow in Cromwell’s hawk’s talons.
‘Why,’ Cromwell said, ‘since Cleves is true to us we will have this woman down. An he had played us false I would have kept her near the King.’
This saying, that ran so counter to Throckmorton’s schemes, caused him such dismay that he cried out:
‘God forgive us, why?’
Cromwell smiled at him as one who smiles from a great height, and pointed a finger.
‘This is a hard fight,’ he said; ‘we are in some straits. I trow ye would have voiced it otherwise.’ And then he voiced his own idea — that so long as Cleves was friends with him Katharine was an enemy; if Cleves fell away she was none the less an enemy, but she would, from her love of justice, bear witness to the King that Cromwell was no traitor. ‘And ye shall be very certain,’ he added pleasantly, ‘that once men see the King so inclined, they will go to the King saying I be a traitor, with Protestants like Wriothesley ready to rise and aid me. In that pass the Lady Katharine should stay by me, in the King’s ear.’
A deep and intolerable dejection overcame Throckmorton and forced from his lips the words:
‘Ye reason most justly.’ And again he cursed himself, for he had forced Cromwell to this reasoning and action. Yet he dared not say that his news of the Cleves embassy was false, that Cleves indeed was minded to turn traitor, and that it most would serve Privy Seal’s turn to stay Katharine Howard up. He dared not say the words, yet he saw his safety crumbling, and he saw Privy Seal set to ruin both himself and Katharine Howard. For in his heart he could not believe that the woman was virtuous, since he believed that no woman was virtuous who had been given the opportunity for joyment. As a spy, he had gone nosing about in Lincolnshire where Katharine’s home had been near her cousin’s. He had heard many tales against her such as rustics will tell against the daughters of poor lords like Katharine’s father. And these tales, before ever he had come to love her, he had set down in Privy Seal’s private registers. Now they were like to undo him and her. And in truth, according to his premonitions, Cromwell spoke:
‘We shall bring very quickly Thomas Culpepper, her cousin, back from France. We shall inflame his mind with jealousy of the King. We shall find a place where he shall burst upon the King and her together. We shall bring witnesses enow from Lincolnshire to swear against her.’
He crossed his hands behind his back.
‘This work of fetching her cousin from Paris I will put into the hands of Viridus,’ he said. ‘I believe her to be virtuous, therefore do you bring many witnesses, and some that shall swear to have seen her in the act. That shall be your employment. For I tell you she hath so great a power of pleading that, being innocent, she will with difficulty be proved unchaste.’
Throckmorton’s head hung upon his shoulders.
‘Remember,’ Privy Seal said again, ‘you and Viridus shall send to find her cousin in France. Fill him with tales that his cousin plays the leman with the King. He shall burst here like a bolt from heaven. You will find him betwixt Calais and Paris town, dallying in evil places without a doubt. We sent him thither to frighten Cardinal Pole.’
‘Aye,’ Throckmorton said, his mind filled with other and bitter thoughts. ‘He hath frightened the Cardinal from Paris by the mere renown of his violence.’
‘Then let him do some frighting in our goodly town of London,’ Cromwell said.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50