The young Poins, once an ensign of the King’s guard, habited now in grey, stood awaiting Thomas Culpepper, Katharine Howard’s cousin, beneath the new gateway towards the east of Calais. Four days he had waited already and never had he dared to stir, save when the gates were closed for the night. But it had chanced that one of the gatewardens was a man from Lincolnshire — a man, once a follower of the plough, whose father had held a farm in the having of Culpepper himself.
‘—— But he sold ’un,’ Nicholas Hogben said, ‘sold ’un clear away.’ He made a wry face, winked one eye, and drawing up the right corner of his mouth, displayed square, huge teeth. The young Poins making no question, he repeated twice: ‘Clear away. Right clear away.’
Poins, however, could hold but one thing of a time in his head. And, by that striving, dangerous servant of Lord Privy Seal, Throckmorton, it had been firmly enjoined upon him that he must not fail to meet Thomas Culpepper and stay him upon his road to England. Throckmorton, with his great beard and cruel snake’s eyes, had said: ‘I hold thy head in fee. If ye would save it, meet Thomas Culpepper in Calais and give him this letter.’ The letter he had in his poke. It carried with it a deed making Culpepper lieutenant of the stone barges in Calais. But he had it too, by word of mouth, that if Thomas Culpepper would not be stayed by the letter, he, Hal Poins, must stay him — with the sword, with a stab in the back, or by being stabbed himself and calling in the guard to lay Thomas Culpepper’s self by the heels.
‘You will enjoin upon him,’ Throckmorton had said, ‘how goodly a thing is the lieutenancy of stone lighters that in this letter is proffered him. You will tell him that, if a barge of stone go astray, it is yet a fair way to London, and stone fetches good money from townsmen building in Calais. If he will gainsay this you will pick a quarrel with him, as by saying he gives you the lie. In short,’ Throckmorton had finished, earnestly and with a sinuous grace of gesture in his long and narrow hands, ‘you will stay him.’
It was a desperate measure, yet it was the best he could compass. If Culpepper came to London, if he came to the King, Katharine’s fortunes were not worth a rushlight such as were sold at twenty for a farthing. He knew, too, that Viridus had Cromwell’s earnest injunctions to send a messenger that should hasten Culpepper’s return; and, though he had seven hundred of Cromwell’s spies that he could trust to do Privy Seal’s errand, he had not one that he could trust to do his own. There was no one of them that he could trust. If he took a spy and said: ‘At all costs stay Culpepper, but observe very strict secrecy from Privy Seal’s men all,’ the spy would very certainly let the news come to Privy Seal.
It was in this pass that the thought of the young Poins had come to him. Here was a fellow absolutely stupid. He was a brother of Katharine Howard’s tiring maid who had already come near to losing his head in a former intrigue in the Court. He had, at the instigation of his sister, carried two Papist letters of Katharine Howard. And, if it was the King who pardoned him, it was Throckmorton who first had taken him prisoner; it was Throckmorton who had advised him to lie hidden in his grandfather’s house for a month or two. At the time Throckmorton had had no immediate reason to give the boy this counsel. Poins had been so small a tool in the past embroilment of Katharine’s letter that, had he gone straight back to his post in the yeomanry of the King’s guard, no man would have noticed him. But it had always been part of the devious and great bearded man’s policy — it had been part of his very nature — to play upon people’s fears, to trouble them with apprehensions. It was part of the tradition that Cromwell had given all his men. He ruled England by such fears.
Thus Throckmorton had sent Poins trembling to hide in the old printer’s his grandfather’s house in the wilds of Austin Friars. And Throckmorton had impressed upon him that he alone had really saved him. It was in his grandfather’s mean house that Poins had remained for a brace of months, grumbled at by his Protestant uncle and sneered at by his malicious Papist grandfather. And it was here that Throckmorton had found him, dressed in grey, humbled from his pride and raging for things to do.
The boy would be of little service — yet he was all that Throckmorton had. If he could hardly be expected to trick Culpepper with his tongue, he might wound him with his sword; if he could not kill him he might at least scotch him, cause a brawl in Calais town, where, because the place was an outpost, brawling was treason, and Culpepper might be had by the heels for long enough to let Cromwell fall. Therefore, in the low room with the black presses, in the very shadow of Cromwell’s own walls, Throckmorton — who was given the privacy of the place by the Lutheran printer because he was Cromwell’s man — large, golden-bearded and speaking in meaning whispers, with lifting of his eyebrows, had held a long conference with the lad.
His dangerous and terrifying presence seemed to dominate, for the young Poins, even the dusty archway of the Calais gate — and, even though he saw the flat, green and sunny levels of the French marshland, with the town of Ardres rising grey and turreted six miles away, the young Poins felt that he was still beneath the eyes of Throckmorton, the spy who had sought him out in his grandfather’s house in Austin Friars to send him here across the seas to Calais. Up above in the archway the stonemasons who came from Lydd sang their Kentish songs as hammers clinked on chisels and the fine dust filtered through the scaffold boards. But the young Poins kept his eyes upon the dusty and winding road that threaded the dykes from Ardres, and thought only that when Thomas Culpepper came he must be stayed. He had oiled his sword that had been his father’s so that it would slip smoothly from the scabbard; he had filed his dagger so that it would pierce through thin coat of mail. It was well to be armed, though he could not see why Thomas Culpepper should not stay willingly at Calais to be lieutenant of the stone lighters and steal stone to fill his pockets, since such were the privileges of the post that Throckmorton offered him.
‘Mayhap, if I stay him, it will get me advancement,’ he grumbled between his teeth. He was enraged in his slow, fierce way. For Throckmorton had promised him only to save his neck if he succeeded. There had been no hint of further rewards. He did not speculate upon why Thomas Culpepper was to be held in Calais; he did not speculate upon why he should wish to come to England; but again and again he muttered between his teeth, ‘A curst business! a curst business!’
In the mysterious embroilment in which formerly he had taken part, his sister had told him that he was carrying letters between the King and Kat Howard. Yes; his large, slow sister had promised him great advancement for carrying certain letters. And still, in spite of the fact that he had been told it was a treason, he believed that the letters he had carried for Kat Howard were love letters to the King. Nevertheless, for his services he had received no advancement; he had, on the contrary, been bidden to leave his comrades of the guard and to hide himself. Throckmorton had bidden him do this. And instead of advancement, he had received kicks, curses, cords on his wrists, an interview with the Lord Privy Seal that still in the remembrance set him shivering, and this chance, offered him by Throckmorton, that if he stayed Thomas Culpepper he might save his neck.
‘Why, then,’ he grumbled to himself, ‘is it treason to carry the King’s letters to a wench? Helping the King is no treason. I should be advanced, not threatened with a halter. Letters between the King and Kat Howard!’ He even attempted to himself a clumsy joke, polishing it and repolishing it till it came out: ‘A King may write to a Kat. A Kat may write to a King. But my neck’s in danger!’
Beside him, whitened by the dust that fell from above, the gatewarden wandered in speech round his grievance.
‘You ask me, young lad, if I know Tom Culpepper. Well I know Tom Culpepper. Y’ ask me if he have passed this way going for England. Well I know he have not. For if Tom Culpepper, squire that was of Durford and Maintree and Sallowford that was my father’s farm — if so be Tom Culpepper had passed this way, I had spat in the dust behind him as he passed.’
He made his wry face, winked his eye and showed his teeth once more. ‘Spat in the dust — I should ha’ spat in the dust,’ he remarked again. ‘Or maybe I’d have cast my hat on high wi’ “Huzzay, Squahre Tom!” according as the mood I was in,’ he said. He winked again and waited.
‘For sure,’ he affirmed after a pause, ‘that will move ‘ee to ask why I du spit in the dust or for why — the thing being contrary — I’d ha’ cast up my cap.’
The young Poins pulled an onion from his poke.
‘If you are so main sure he have not passed the gate,’ he said, ‘I may take my ease.’ He sat him down against the gate wall where the April sun fell warm through the arch of shadows. He stripped the outer peel from the onion and bit into it. ‘Good, warming eating,’ he said, ‘when your stomach’s astir from the sea.’
‘Young lad,’ the gatewarden said, ‘I’m as fain to swear my mother bore me — though God forbid I should swear who my father was, woman being woman — as that Thomas Culpepper have not passed this way. For why: I’d have cast my hat on high or spat on the ground. And such things done mark other things that have passed in the mind of a man. And I have done no such thing.’
But because the young Poins sat always silent with his eyes on the road to Ardres and slept — being privileged because he was yeoman of the King’s guard — always in the little stone guard cell of the gateway at nights; because, in fact, the young man’s whole faculties were set upon seeing that Thomas Culpepper did not pass unseen through the gate, it was four days before the gatewarden contrived to get himself asked why he would have spat in the dust or cast his hat on high. It was, as it were, a point of honour that he should be asked for all the information that he gave; and he thirsted to tell his tale.
His tale had it that he had been ruined by a wench who had thrown her shoe over the mill and married a horse-smith, after having many times tickled the rough chin of Nicholas Hogben. Therefore, he had it that all women were to be humbled and held down — for all women were traitors, praters, liars, worms and vermin. (He made a great play of words between wermen, meaning worms, and wermin and wummin.) He had been ruined by this woman who had tickled him under the chin — that being an ingratiating act, fit to bewitch and muddle a man, like as if she had promised him marriage. And then she had married a horse-smith! So he was ready and willing, and prayed every night that God would send him the chance, to ruin and hold down every woman who walked the earth or lay in a bed.
But he had been ruined, too, by Thomas Culpepper, who had sold Durford and Maintree and Sallowford — which last was Hogben’s father’s farm. For why? Selling the farm had let in a Lincoln lawyer, and the Lincoln lawyer had set the farm to sheep, which last had turned old Hogben, the father, out from his furrows to die in a ditch — there being no room for farmers and for sheep upon one land. It had sent old Hogben, the father, to die in a ditch; it had sent his daughters to the stews and his sons to the road for sturdy beggars. So that, but for Wallop’s band passing that way when Hogben was grinning through the rope beneath Lincoln town tree — but for the fact that men were needed for Wallop’s work in Calais, by the holy blood of Hailes! Hogben would have been rating the angel’s head in Paradise.
But there had been great call for men to man the walls there in Calais, so Wallop’s ancient had written his name down on the list, beneath the gallows tree, and had taken him away from the Sheriff of Lincoln’s man.
‘So here a be,’ he drawled, ‘cutting little holes in my pikehead.’
”Tis a folly,’ the young Poins said.
‘Sir,’ the Lincolnshire man answered, ‘you say ’tis a folly to make small holes in a pikehead. But for me ’tis the greatest of ornaments. Give you, it weakens the pikehead; but ’tis a gradely ornament.’
‘Ornaments be folly,’ the young Poins reiterated.
‘Sir,’ the Lincolnshire man answered again, ‘there is the goodliest folly that ever was. For if I weaken my eyes and tire my wrists with small tappers and little files, and if I weaken the steel with small holes, each hole represents a woman I have known undone and cast down in her pride by a man. Here be sixty-and-four holes round and firm in a pattern. Sixty-and-four women I have known undone.’
He paused and surveyed, winking and moving the scroll that the little holes made in the tough steel of his axehead. Where a perforation was not quite round, he touched it with his file.
‘Hum! ha!’ he gloated. ‘In the centre of the head is the master hole of all, planned out for being cut. But not yet cut! Mark you, ’tis not yet cut. That is for the woman I hate most of all women. She is not yet cast down that I have heard tell on, though some have said “Aye,” some “Nay.” Tell me, have you heard yet of a Kat Howard in the stews?’
‘There is a Kat Howard is like to be ——’ the young Poins began. But his slow cunning was aroused before he had the sentence out. Who could tell what trick was this?
‘Like to be what?’ the Lincolnshire man badgered him. ‘Like to be what? To be what?’
‘Nay, I know not,’ Poins answered.
‘Like to be what?’ Hogben persisted.
‘I know no Kat Howard,’ Poins muttered sulkily. For he knew well that the Lady Katharine’s name was up in the taverns along of Thomas Culpepper. And this Lincolnshire cow-dog was a knave too of Thomas’s; therefore the one Kat Howard who was like to be the King’s wench and the other Kat Howard known to Hogben might well be one and the same.
‘Nay; if you will not, neither even will I,’ Hogben said. ‘You shall have no more of my tale.’
Poins kept his blue eyes along the road. Far away, with an odd leap, waving its arms abroad and coming by fits and starts, as a hare gambols along a path — a figure was tiny to see, coming from Ardres way towards Calais. It passed a load of hay on an ox-cart, and Poins could see the peasants beside it scatter, leap the dyke and fly to stand panting in the fields. The figure was clenching its fists; then it fell to kicking the oxen; when they had overset the cart into the dyke, it came dancing along with the same hare’s gait.
‘That is too like the repute of Thomas Culpepper to be other than Thomas Culpepper,’ the young Poins said. ‘I will go meet him.’
He started to his feet, loosed the sword in its scabbard; but the Lincolnshire man had his halberd across the gateway.
‘Pass! Shew thy pass!’ he said vindictively.
‘I go but to meet him,’ Poins snarled.
‘A good lie; thou goest not,’ Hogben answered. ‘No Englishman goes into the French lands without a pass from the lord controller. An thou keepest a shut head I can e’en keep a shut gate.’
None the less he must needs talk or stifle.
‘Thee, with thy Kat Howard,’ he snarled. ‘Would ‘ee have me think thy Kat was my kitten whose name stunk in our nostrils?’
He shook his finger in Poins’ face.
‘Here be three of us know Kat Howard,’ he said. ‘For I know her, since for her I must leave home and take the road. And he knoweth her over well or over ill, since, to buy her a gown, he sold the three farms, Maintree, Durford and Sallowford — which last was my father’s farm. And thee knowest her. Thee knowest her. To no good, I’se awarned. For thou stoppedst in thy speech like a colt before a wood snake. God bring down all women, I pray!’
He went on to tell, as if it had been a rosary, the names of the ruined women that the holes in his pikehead represented. There was one left by the wayside with her child; there was one hung for stealing cloth to cover her; there was one whipped for her naughty ways. He reached the square mark in the centre as the figure on the road reached the gateway.
‘Huzzay, Squahre Tom! Here bay three kennath Kat Howard. Let us three tak part to kick her down.’
Thomas Culpepper like a green cat flew at his throat, clutched him above the steel breastplate, and shook three times, the gatewarden’s uncovered, dun-coloured head swaying back and forward as if it were a loose bundle of clouts on a mop. When they parted company, because he could no longer keep his fingers clenched, Hogben fell back; he fell back, and they lay with their heels touching each other and their arms stretched out in the dust.
Nicholas Hogben was the first to rise. He felt at his neck, swallowed as though a piece of apple were stuck in his throat, brushed his leather breeches, and picked up his pike.
‘Why,’ he said, ‘you may hold it for main and certain that he have not had Kat Howard down. For, having had her down, a would never have thrown a man by the throat for miscalling of her. Therefore Kat Howard is up for all of he, and I may loosen my feelings.’
He spat gravely at Culpepper’s feet. Culpepper lay in the dust, his arms stretched out to form a cross, his face dead white and his beard of brilliant red pointing at the keystone of the arch of Calais gate. Poins lifted his hand, but the pulse still beat, and he dropped it moodily in the dust.
‘Not dead,’ he muttered.
‘Dead!’ Hogben laughed at him. ‘Hath been in a boosing ken. There they drug the wine with simples, and the women — may pox fall on all women — perfume themselves so that a man goeth stark raving. I warrant he had silver buttons to his Lincoln green, but they be torn off. I warrant he had gold buckles to his shoen, but they be gone. His sword is away, the leather hangers being cut.’
‘Wilt not stick him with thy pike, having, as he hath, so mishandled thee?’
‘O aye,’ the Lincolnshire man shewed his strong teeth. ‘Thee wouldst have Kat Howard from him. But he may live for me, being more like to bring her to dismay than ever thee wilt be!’
He looked into the narrow street of the town that the dawn pierced into through the gateway. Two skinny men in jerkins drawn tight with belts were yawning in a hovel’s low doorway. Under his eyes, still stretching their arms abroad, they made to slink between the mud walls of the next alley.
‘Oh, hi! Arrestez. Vesnez!’ he hailed. ‘Cestui à comforter!’ The thin men made to break away, halted, hesitated, and then with dragging feet made through the pools and filth to the gateway.
‘Tombé! Voleurs! Secourez!’ Hogben pointed at the prostrate figure in green. They rubbed their shins on their thin calves and appeared bewildered and uncertain.
‘Portez à lous maisons!’ Hogben commanded.
They stood one on each side and bent down, extending skinny arms to lift him. Thomas Culpepper sat up and spat in their faces — they fled like scared wolves, noiselessly, gazing behind them in trepidation.
‘Stay them; thieves ho! Stay them!’ Culpepper panted. He scrambled to his feet, and stood reeling, his face like death, when he tried to make after them.
‘God!’ he said. ‘Give me to drink.’
The young Poins mused under his breath because the man had neither sword nor dagger. Therefore it would be impossible to have sword play with him. He had, the young man, no ferocity — but he was set there to stay Thomas Culpepper’s going on to England; he was to stay him by word or by deed. Deeds came so much easier than words.
‘Squahre Tom!’ the Lincolnshire man grunted. ‘Reckon you have no money. Without groats and more ye shall get nowt to drink in Calais town, save water. Water you may have in plenty.’
With a sigh the young Poins unbuckled his belt to get his papers.
‘Money I have for you,’ he said. ‘A main of money.’ He was engaged now to pass words with this man — and he sighed again.
But Thomas Culpepper disregarded his words and his sigh. He was more in the mood to talk Lincolnshire than Kent, for his fever had given him a touch of homesickness and the young Poins to him was a very foreigner. He shut his eyes to let the Lincolnshire gatewarden’s words go down to his brain; then with sudden violence he spat out:
‘Give me water! What do ah ask but water! Pig! brood of a sow! gi’e me water and choke!’
Nicholas Hogben fetched a leather bottle as long as his leg, dusty and dinted, but nevertheless bedight with the arms of England, from the stone recess where the guard sheltered at nights. He fitted it on to the crook of his pike by the handle, and, craning over the drawbridge, first smoothed away the leaf-green duck-weed on the moat and then sank the bottle in the black water.
‘I have money: a main of money for ye,’ the young Poins said to Thomas Culpepper; but the man, with his red beard and white face, swayed on his legs and had ears only for the gurgling and gulping of the water as it entered the bottle neck. The black jack swayed and jumped below the bridge like a glistening water-beast.
He had little green spangles of duck-weed in his orange beard when he took the bottle away, empty, from his mouth. He drew deep gasps of breath, and suddenly sat down upon a squared block of stone that the masons above were waiting to hoist into place over the archway.
‘Good water!’ he grunted to Hogben — grunting as all the Lincolnshire men did, in those days, like a two-year hog.
‘Bean’t but that good in all Calais town!’ Hogben grunted back to him. ‘Curses on the two wurmen that sent me here.’ And indeed, to Lincolnshire men the water tasted good, since it reminded them of their dyke water, tasting of marshweed and smelling of eggs.
’Tü wurmen!’ Culpepper said lazily. ‘Hast thou been jigging with tü puticotties to wunst? One is enow to undo seven men. Who be ‘hee?’
The young Poins, with a sulky sense of his importance, uttered:
‘I have money for thee — a main of money!’
Culpepper looked at him with sleepy blue eyes.
‘Thrice y’ ha’ told me that,’ he said. ‘And money is a goodly thing in its place — but not to a man with a bellyful of water. Y’ shall feel my fist when I be rested. Meanwhile wait and, being a cub, hear how men talk.’ He slapped his chest and repeated to Hogben: ‘Who be ‘ee?’
Hogben, delighted to be asked at last a question, shewed his formidable teeth and beneath his familiar contortion of the eyelids brought out the words that one of the women who had brought him down was her that had brought Squahre Culpepper to sit on a squared stone before Calais gate.
‘Why, I am a made man, for all you see me sit here,’ Culpepper answered indolently. ‘I ha’ done a piece of work for which I am to be seised of seven farms in Kent land. See yo’— they send me messengers with money to Calais gate.’ He pointed his thumb at the young Poins.
The boy, to prove that he was no common messenger, drew his right leg up and said:
‘Nay, goodman Squire; an ye had slain the Cardinal the farms should have been yours. As it lies, ye are no more than lieutenant of Calais stone barges.’
‘Thou liest,’ Culpepper answered negligently, not turning his gaze from the gatewarden to whom he addressed a friendly question of, Who was the woman that had brought the two of them down.
‘Now, Squahre!’ the Lincolnshire man grinned delightedly; ‘thu hast askëd me tü questions. Answer me one: Did thee lie upon her when thee put her name up in the township of Stamford?’
‘Stamford in Lincolnshire was thy townplace?’ Culpepper asked. ‘But who was thy woman? I ha’ had so many women and lied about so many more that I never had!’
The Lincolnshire man threw his leather cap to the keystone of the archway, caught it again and set it upon his thatch of hair, having the solemnity of one who performs his rituals.
‘Goodly squahre that thee art!’ he said; ‘thou has harmed a many wenches in truth and in lies.’
Culpepper spied a down feather on his knee.
‘Curse the mattress that I lay upon this night,’ he said amiably.
He set his head back and blew the feather high into the air so that it floated out towards the tranquil and sunny pasture fields of France.
‘Cub!’ he said to Hal Poins, ‘take this as a lesson of the death that lies about the pilgrim’s path. For why am I not a pilgrim? I was sent to rid Paris of a Cardinal Pole, who, being in league with the devil, hath a magic tongue. Mark this story well, cub, who art sent me with money and gifts from the King in his glory to me that sit upon a stone. Now mark —’ He extended his white hand. ‘This hand, o’ yestereen, had a ring with a great green stone. Now no ring is here. It was given me by my seventeenth leman, who had two eyes that looked not together. No twelve robbers had taken it from me by force, since I had made a pact with the devil that these wall eyes should never look across my face whilst that ring was there. Now, God knows, I may find her in Calais. So mark well ——’ He had been sent to Paris to rid France of the Cardinal Pole; for the Cardinal Pole, being a succubus of the fiend, had a magical tongue and had been inducing the French King to levy arms, in the name of that arch-devil, the Bishop of Rome, against their goodly King Henry, upon whom God shed His peace. Culpepper raised his bonnet at the Deity’s name, stuck it far back on his red head, and continued: Therefore the mouth of Cardinal Pole was to be stayed in Paris town.
Culpepper smote his breast ferociously and with a black pride.
‘And I have stayed it!’ he peacocked. ‘I and no other. I— T. Culpepper — a made man!’
‘Not so,’ Poins answered stubbornly. ‘Thou wast sent to Paris to slay, and thou hast not slain!’
‘Thou liest!’ Culpepper asseverated. ‘I was sent to purge Paris town, and I ha’ purged un. No pothicary had done it better nor Hercules that was a stall groom and cleaned stables in antick days.’ For, at the first breath of news that Culpepper was in the town, at the first rumour that the king’s assassin was in Paris, Cardinal Pole had gathered his purple skirts about his knees; at the second sound he had cast them off altogether and, arrayed as a woman or a barber’s leech, had fled hot foot to Brescia and thence to Rome.
‘That was a nothing!’ Culpepper asseverated. ‘Though I ha’ heard said that Hercules was made a god for cleaning stables that he found no easy task. But I will grant that it was no task for me to cleanse a whole town. For I needed no besoms, nor even no dagger, but the mere shadow of my beard upon the cobbly stones of Paris sufficed. I say nothing of that which befel in the day’s journey; but mark this! mark what follows!’ He had set out from Paris upon a high horse, with a high heart; he had frighted off all robbers and all sturdy rogues upon the road; he had slept at good inns as became a made man, and had bought himself a goodly pair of embroidered gloves which he could well pay for out of his superfluity. Being in haste to reach England, where he had that that called for him, he had ridden through the town of Ardres at nightfall, being minded to ride his horse dead, reach Calais gates in the hour, and beat down the gate if the warder would not suffer him to enter, it being dark. But outside the town of Ardres upon a make of no man’s ground, being neither French nor English, he had espied a hut, and in the dark hut a lighted window hole that sparkled bravely, and, within, a big, fair woman drinking wine between candles with the light in her hair and a white tablecloth. And, feeling goodly, and Calais gate being shut, whether he broke it down one hour or three hours later was all one to him. He had gone into the hut to take by force or for payment a glass of wine from the black jacks, a kiss from the woman’s mouth, and what else of ease the place afforded.
‘Now I will have you mark, cub,’ he said —‘cub that shall have to learn many wiles if thy throat be not cut by me within the next two hours. Mark this, cub: these were no Egyptians!’ They were not Bohemians, not swearers, not subtle cozeners, not even black a-vised, or he would have been on his guard against them; but they were plain, fair folks of Normandy. So he had drunk his wine, and cast a main or two at dice with the woman and two men, losing no more and no less than was decent. And he had drunk more wine and had taken his kisses — since it was all one whether he came three hours or four hours later to Calais gate. And there had been candles on the table and stuffs upon the wall, and a crock on the fire for mulling the wine, and a sheet upon the feather bed. But when he awoke in the morning he had lain upon the hard earth, between the bare walls. And all that was his was gone that was worth the taking.
‘Now mark, cub,’ he said. ‘It was a simple thing this flitting with the hangings and the clothes and the pot rolled in bales and hung upon my horse. Upon my horse! But what is not simple is that simple folk of Normandy should have learned the arts of subtlety and drugging of wines. Mark that!’ He pointed a finger at Poins.
‘Had God been good to you you might have been as good a warring boy as Thomas Culpepper, who with the shadow of his hand held back the galleons of France and France’s knights from the goodly realm of England. For this I have done by frighting from Paris, Cardinal Pole that was moving the French King to war on us. Had God been good to you you might have been as brave. But marvel and consider and humble you in the dust to think that a man with my brain pan and all it holds could have been so cozened. For sure, a dolt like you would have been stripped more clean till you had neither nails to your toes nor hair to your eyebrows.’
Hal Poins snarled that Culpepper would have been shaved too but that red hair stunk in the nostrils even of cozeners and thieves.
Culpepper wagged his head from side to side.
‘This is a main soft stone,’ he said; ‘I am main weary. When the stone grows hard, which is a sign that I shall no longer be minded to rest, I will break thy back with a cudgel.’
Poins stamped his foot with rage and tears filled his eyes.
‘An thou had a sword!’ he said. ‘An only thou had a sword!’
‘A year-old carrot to baste thee with!’ Culpepper answered. ‘Swords are for men!’ He turned to Hogben, who was sitting on the ground furbishing his pikehead. ‘Heard you the like of my tale?’ he asked lazily.
‘Oh aye!’ the Lincolnshire man answered. ‘The simple folk of Normandy are simple only because they have no suitors. But they ha’ learned that marlock from the sailors of Rye town. For in Rye town, which is the sinkhole of Sussex, you will meet every morning ten travellers travelling to France in the livery of Father Adam. Normans can learn,’ he added sententiously, ‘as the beasts of the field can learn from a man. My father had a ewe lamb that danced a pavane to my pipe on the farm of Sallowford that you sold to buy a woman the third part of a gown.’
‘Why! Art Nick Hogben?’ Culpepper said.
‘Hast that question answered,’ Hogben said. ‘Now answer me one. Liedst thou when saidst what thou saidst of that wurman?’
Culpepper on the stone swung his legs vaingloriously:
‘I sold three farms to buy her a gown,’ he said.
‘Aye!’ Nick Hogben answered. ‘So thou saidst in Stamford town three years gone by. And thou saidst more and the manner of it. But betwixt the buying the gowns and the more of it lie many things. As this: Did she take the gown of thee? Or as this: Having taken the gown of thee, did she pay thee in the kind payment should be made in?’
Culpepper looked up at him with a sharp snarl.
‘For —’ and Nick Hogben shook his head sagaciously, ‘Stamford town believed the more and the manner of it, and Kat Howard’s name is up in the town of Stamford. But I have not yet chiselled out the great piece that shall come from my pike when certain sure I am that Kat Howard is down under a man’s foot.’
Culpepper rose suddenly to his feet and wagged a finger at Hogben.
‘Now I am minded to wed Kat Howard!’ he said. ‘Therefore I will say I lied then. But as for what you shall think, consider that I had her alone many days and nights; consider that though she be over learned in the Latin tongues that set a woman against joyment, I have a proper person and a strong wrist, a pleasant tongue but a hot and virulent purpose. Consider that she welly starved in her father, the Lord Edmund’s, house and I had pies and gowns for her. Consider these things and make a hole or no hole as thou wilt ——’
Nicholas Hogben considered with his eyes on the ground; he scratched his head with a black finger.
‘I can make nowt out,’ he said. ‘But I will curse thee for a lily-livered hoggit an thou marry Kat Howard.’
‘Why, I am minded to marry her,’ Culpepper answered, ‘over here in France,’ and he stretched a hand towards the long white road where in the distance the French peasants were driving lean beasts for a true Englishman’s provender in Calais. ‘Over here in France. Body of God! — Body of God! ——’ He wavered, being still fevered. ‘In England it had been otherwise. But here, shivering across plains and seas — why, I will wed with her.’
‘Talkest like a Blind God Boy,’ Hogben said sarcastically. ‘How knowest she be thine to take?’ He pointed at the young Poins. ‘Here be another hath had doings with a Kat Howard, though I cannot well discern if she be thine or whose.’
Culpepper sprang, a flash of green, straight at the callow boy. But Poins had sprung too, back and to the left, and his oiled sword was from its scabbard and warring in the air.
‘Holy Sepulchre! I will spit thee — Holy Sepulchre! I will spit thee!’ he cried.
‘Ass!’ Culpepper answered. ‘In God’s time I will break thy back across my knee. But God’s time is not yet.’
He poured out a flood of questions about the Kat Howard Poins had seen.
‘Squahre Thomas,’ Nicholas Hogben interrupted him maliciously, ‘that young man of Kent saith e’ennow: “Kat Howard is like to ——” and then he chokes upon his words. Now even what make of thing is it that Kat Howard is like to do or be done by?’
With his sword whiffling before him the young Poins could think rapidly — nay, upon any matter that concerned his advancement he could think rapidly always.
‘Goodman Thomas Culpepper,’ he said in a high voice, ‘the mistress Katharine Howard I spoke of is thin and dark and small, and married to Edward Howard of Biggleswade. She is like to die of a quinsy.’
For well he knew that his advancement depended on his keeping Thomas Culpepper on the hither side of the water; and if it muddled his brain to have been so usefully mishandled for carrying letters betwixt the King’s Grace and the Lady Katharine Howard, he knew enough of a jealous man to know that that was no news to keep Thomas Culpepper in Calais.
Culpepper’s animation dropped like the light of a torch that is dowsed.
‘Put up thy pot skewer,’ he said; ‘my Kat is tall and fairish and unwed. Ha’ ye not seen her with the Lady Mary of England’s women?’
The young Poins, zealous to be rid of the matter, answered fervently:
‘Never. She is not talked of in the Court.’
‘That is the best hearing,’ Thomas Culpepper said. ‘I do absolve thee of five kicks for being the messenger of that.’
They were a-walking in the little garden below the windows of the late Cardinal’s house at Hampton; the April sun shone, for May came on apace, and in that sheltered spot the light lay warm and no breezes came. They took great pleasure there beneath the windows. One girl kept three golden balls flying in the air, whilst three others and two lords sought to distract her by inducing her little hound to bark shrilly below her hands up at the flying balls that caught in them the light of the sun, the blue of the sky, and the red and grey of the warm palace walls. Down the nut walk, where the trees that the dead Cardinal had set were already fifteen years old and dark with young green leaves as bright as little flowers, they had set up archery targets. Cicely Elliott, in black and white, flashing like a magpie in the alleys, ran races with the Earl of Surrey beneath the blinking eyes of her old knight; the Lady Mary, herself habited all in black, moved like a dark shadow upon a dial between the little beds upon paths of red brick between box hedges as high as your ankles. She spoke to none save once when she asked the name of a flower. But laughter went up, and it seemed as if, in this first day out of doors, all the Court opened its lungs to drink the new air; and they were making plans for May Day already.
They asked, too, a riddle: ‘An a nutshell from Candlemas loved a merry bud in March, how should it come to pleasure and content?’ and men who had the answer looked wise and shook their sides at guessing faces.
In a bower at the south end of the small garden Katharine Howard sat to play cat’s-cradle with the old lady of Rochford. This foolish game and this foolish old woman, with her unceasing tales of the Queen Anne Boleyn — who had been her cousin — gave to Katharine a great feeling of ease. With her troubled eyes and weary expression, her occasional groans as the rheumatism gnawed at her joints, the old lady minded her of the mother she had so seldom seen. She had always been somewhere away, all through Katharine’s young years, planning and helping her father to advancement that never came, and hopeless to control her wild children. Thus Katharine had come to love this poor old woman and consorted much with her, for she was utterly bewildered to control the Lady Mary’s maids that were beneath her care.
Katharine held out her hands, parallel, as if she were praying, with the strand of blue wool and silver cord criss-cross and diagonal betwixt her fingers. The old lady bent above them, silent and puzzled, to get the key to the strings. Twice she protruded her gouty fingers, with swollen ends; and twice she drew them back to stroke her brows.
‘I mind,’ she said suddenly, ‘that I played cat’s-cradle with my cousin Anne, that was a sinful queen.’ She bent again and puzzled about the strings. ‘In those days I had a great skill, I mind. We revised it to the eleventh change many times before her death.’ Again she leant forward and again back. ‘I did come near my death, too,’ she added.
Katharine’s eyes had been gazing past her; suddenly she asked:
‘Was Anne Boleyn loved after she grew to be Queen?’
The old woman’s face took on a palsied and haunted look.
‘God help you!’ she said; ‘do you ask that?’ and she glanced round her furtively in an agony of apprehension. Something had drawn all the gay gowns and embroidered stomachers towards the higher terrace. They were all alone in the arbour.
‘Why,’ Katharine said, ‘so many innocent creatures have been done to death since Cromwell came, that, though she was lewd before and a heretic all her days, I think doubts may be.’
The old lady pressed her hand upon her bosom where her heart beat.
‘Madam Howard,’ she said, ‘for my life I know not the truth of the matter. There was much trickery; God knoweth the truth.’
Katharine mused for a moment above the cat’s-cradle on her fingers. Near the joint at the end of the little one there was a small mole.
‘Take you the fifth and third strings,’ she said. ‘The king string holds your wrist,’ and whilst the old face was still intent upon the problem she said:
‘I think that if a woman come to be Queen it is odds that she will live chastely, how lewd soever she ha’ been aforetime.’
Lady Rochford set her fingers in between Katharine’s, but when she drew them back with the strings upon them, they wavered, lost their straightness, knotted and then resolved themselves into a single loop as in a swift wind a cloud dies away beneath the eyes of the beholder.
‘Why, ’tis pity,’ Katharine said.
All the lords and all the ladies were now upon the terrace above. The old lady had the string in her broad lap. Suddenly she bent forward, her eyes opened.
‘She was the enemy of your Church,’ she said. ‘But this I will tell you: upon occasions when men swore she had been with other men o’ nights, the Queen was in my bed with me!’
Katharine nodded silently.
‘Who was I that I dare speak?’ the old woman sobbed; and Katharine nodded again.
Lady Rochford rubbed together her fat hands as she were ringing them.
‘Before God,’ she moaned, ‘and by the blessed blood of Hailes that cured ever my pains, if a soul know a soul I knew Anne. If she was a woman like other women before she wedded the King, she was minded to be chaste after. Madam Howard,’— and she rocked her fat body to and fro upon the seat —‘they came to me from both sides, your Papists and her heretics; they threatened me to keep silence of what I knew. I was to keep silence. I name no names. But they came o’ both sides, Papists and heretics; though she was middling true to the heretics they could not be true to her.’
Katharine answered her own thoughts with:
‘Ay; but my cause is the good cause. Men shall be true to it.’
The old lady leaned forward and stroked her hands.
‘Dearie,’ she said, ‘dandling piece, sweet bit, there are no true men.’ She had an entreaty in her tone, and her large blue eyes gazed fixedly. ‘Say that my cousin Anne was a heretic. I know naught of it save that my bones have ached always since the holy blood of Hailes was done away with that was wont to cure me. But the Queen Anne was hard driven because of a plotting; and no man stood her friend.’ With her large and tear-filled eyes she gazed at the palace, where the pear trees upon the walls shewed new, pale leaves in the sunlight. ‘The great Cardinal was hard driven because of a plot, and no man was true to him. There is no true man. Hope not for one. Hope not for any one. The great Cardinal builded those walls and that palace — and where is he?’
‘Yet,’ Katharine said, ‘Privy Seal that is was true to him and profited exceedingly.’
Lady Rochford shook her head.
‘For a little while truth may help you,’ she said; ‘but your name in the end shall be but a stink.’
‘Ay,’ Katharine answered her; ‘but ye shall gain at the end of all. For I hold it for certain that because, to the uttermost dregs of his cup, Cromwell was true to his master Wolsey, before the throne of God much shall be pardoned him.’
The old woman answered bitterly:
‘The throne of God is a long way from here.’
‘Please it Mary and the saints,’ Katharine said, ‘the ten years to come shall bring Heaven a thousand leagues nearer to this land.’ But her words died away because the Lady Rochford’s mouth fell open.
From the terrace a great square man led down a tiny, small man, giving the child his finger to help him down the steps. It clung to him, the little, squared replica of himself, sturdily and with a blonde, small face laughing up into his father’s that laughed down past a huge shoulder. Henry was dressed all in black, and his son too; the boy’s callow head shone in the sunshine, and they came dallying down the little path, many faces and shoulders peering over the terrace wall at them. Once the child stumbled, loosed his hold of his father’s finger and came down upon all fours. He crawled to the pathside, filled his little hands with leaves, and held them up towards his sire; and they could hear the King say:
‘Who-hoop, Ned! Princes walk not like quadrumanes,’ as he bent to take the leaves. The child twisted himself, gripping his little fingers into Henry’s garter, and, catching again at his finger, pulled his father towards their bower.
The Lady Rochford rose, but Katharine sat where she was to smile upon the child and brush his head with a pink tassel of her sleeve. The little prince hid his face in the voluminous velvet of his father’s vast thighs. The King, diffusing a great and embracing pride, laughed to Lady Rochford.
‘Ye played cat’s-cradle,’ he said. ‘I warrant ye brought it not beyond seven changes. Time was when I have done fourteen with a lady if her hands were white enough.’
He threw away the green leaves of the clove pinks that his son had given him, and took the blue and silver loop from the old woman’s hands. He sat himself heavily on the bench facing Katharine, and crying, ‘See you, silly Ned,’ held his son’s hands apart and fitted the cord over the little wrists.
Suddenly he bent clumsily forward and picked up again the carnation leaves that lay in green strands upon the floor of the arbour, grunting a little with the effort.
‘This is the first offering my son ever made me,’ he said, and he drew a pocket purse from his breast to lay them in. ‘Please God he shall yet lay at my feet a province or two of our heritage of France.’ He touched his cap at the Deity’s name, and called gruffly at his son: ‘See you, forget not ever that we be Kings of France too, you and I,’ and the little boy with his cropped head uttered:
‘Rex Angliae, Galliae, Franciae et Hiberniae!’
‘Aye, I ha’ learned ye that,’ the King said, and roared with laughter. Of a sudden he turned his head, without moving his body, towards Katharine.
‘I ha’ news from Norfolk in France,’ he said, and, as the Lady Rochford made to move, he uttered good-naturedly: ‘Aye, avoid. But ye may buss my son.’
He stretched back his head, laid an arm along the back of his seat, put out his feet and pushed at the child, who played with his shoe-tags.
‘The boy grows,’ he said, and motioned for Katharine to sit beside him. Then his face shewed a quick dissatisfaction. ‘A brave boy, but a should be braver,’ and looking down, ‘see you not blue lines about ‘s gills?’ He caught at her hand with a masterful grip.
‘Here we’re a picture,’ he said: ‘a lusty husbandman, his lusty son, his lusty wife, resting all beneath his goodly vine.’ His face clouded again. ‘I— I am not lusty; my son, he is not lusty.’ He touched her cheek. ‘Thou art lusty enow — hast such pink cheeks.’
‘Aye, we were always lusty at home when we had enow to eat,’ Katharine said. She took the child upon her knee and blew lightly in his face. ‘I will wager you I will guess his weight within a pound,’ she added, and began to play a game with the tiny fingers. ‘Wherefore do ye habit little children in black?’
‘Why,’ the King answered, ‘I know not if I myself appear less monstrous in black or red, and my son shall be habited as I be. ’Tis to make the trial.’
‘Aye,’ Katharine said, ‘ye think first of yourself. But dress the child in white and go in white yourself. And set up a chantry of priests to pray the child grow sturdy. It was thus my cousin Surrey’s life was saved that was erst a weakling.’
‘Be Queen,’ he said suddenly. ‘Marry me. I came here to ask it.’
Her lips parted; she left her hand in his. The expected words had come.
‘I have thought on it,’ she said. ‘I knew ye could not long hold to child and sire as ye sware ye would.’
‘Kat,’ he said, ‘ye shall do my will. I ha’ news from France. Ye gave me good rede. I ha’ news from Cleves: the Cleves woman shall no more be queen of mine. Thee I will have.’
She raised herself from the bench and turned in the entrance of the arbour to look at him.
‘Give me leave to walk on the path,’ she said. ‘I have thought on this — for I was sure I gave you good advice, and well I knew Cleves would sever from ye.’ She faltered: ‘I ha’ thought on it. But ’tis different to think on it and to ha’ the thing in your face.’
He uttered, ‘Make haste,’ and she walked down the path. He saw her, tall, fair, swaying a little in the wind, raise her face to the skies; her long fingers made the sign of the cross, her hood fell back. Her lips moved; the fringes of her lashes came down over her blue eyes, and she seemed to wrestle with her hands.
‘Aye,’ he muttered to himself half earnest, half sardonic, ‘prayer is better than thoughts. God strike with palsy them that made me afraid to pray. . . . Aye, pray on, pray on,’ he said again. ‘But by God and His wounds! ye shall be my queen.’
By the time she came back he laughed at her tempestuously, and pushing the little prince tenderly with his huge foot, watched him roll on the floor catching at the air.
‘Why,’ he said to her, ‘what’s the whimsy now? Shalt be the queen. ’Tis the sole way. ’Tis the way to the light.’ He leant forward. ‘Cleves has gone to the bastard called Charles to sue for mercy. Ye led me so well to set Francis against Charles that I may snap my fingers against both. None but thee could ha’ forged that bolt. Child, I will make a league with the Pope against Charles or Francis, with Francis or Charles. Anne may go hang herself.’ He rose to his feet and stretched out both his hands, his eyes glowing beneath his deep brows. ‘Body o’ God! thou art a very fair woman; and now I will be such a king as never was, and take France for mine own and set up Holy Church again, and say good prayers and sleep in a warm bed. Body o’ God! Body o’ God!’
‘God and the saints save the issue!’ she said. ‘I am thy servant and slave.’
But her tone made him recoil.
‘What whimsy’s here?’ he muttered heavily, and his eyes became suffused with red. ‘Speak, wench!’ He pulled at the stuff round his throat. ‘I will have peace,’ he said. ‘I will at last have peace.’
‘God send you have it,’ she said, and trembled a little, half in fear, half in sheer pity at the thought of thwarting him.
‘Speak thy fool whimsy,’ he muttered huskily. ‘Speak!’
‘My lord,’ she said, ‘where is the Queen that is?’
He flared suddenly at her as if she had reproved him.
‘At Windsor. ’Tis a better palace than this of mine here.’ He shook his finger heavily and uttered with a boastful defiance: ‘Shalt not say I shower no gifts on her. Shalt not say she has no state. I ha’ sent her seven jennets this day. I shall go bring her golden apples on the morrow. Scents she has had o’ me; French gowns, Southern fruits. No man nor wench shall say I be not princely ——’ His boasting bluster died away before her silence. To please a mute desire in her, he had showered more gifts on Anne of Cleves than on any other woman he had ever seen; and thinking that she used him ill not to praise him for this, he could not hold his tongue: ‘What is’t to thee what she hath? What she hath thou losest. ’Tis a folly.’
‘My lord,’ she said, ‘I will myself to see the Queen that is.’
‘And whysomever?’ he voiced his astonishment.
‘My lord,’ she said, ‘I have a tickly conscience in divorces. I will ask her mine own self.’
He roared out suddenly indistinguishable words, stamped his feet, waved his hands at the skies, and lost his voice altogether.
‘Aye,’ she said, catching at some of his speech, ‘I ha’ read your Highness’ depositions. I ha’ read depositions of the Archbishop’s. But I will be satisfied of her own mouth that she be not your wife.’
And when he swore that Anne would lie:
‘Nay,’ she answered; ‘if she will lie to keep her queenship, keep it she shall. I am upon the point of honour.’
‘Before God!’— and his voice had a sneering haughtiness —‘ye will not be long of this world if ye steer by the point of honour.’
‘Sir,’ she cried out and stretched forth her hands; ‘for the love of Mary who guides the starry counsels and of the saints who sit in conclave, speak not in that wise.’
He shrugged his shoulders and said, with a touch of angry shame:
‘God send the world were another world; I would it were other. But I am a prince in this one.’
‘My lord,’ she said; ‘if the world so is, kings and princes are here to be above the world. In your greatness ye shall change it; with your justice ye shall purify it; with your clemencies ye should it chasten and amerce. Ye ask me to be a queen. Shall I be a queen and not such a queen? No, I tell you; if a woman may swear a great oath, I swear by Leonidas that saved Sparta and by Christ Jesus that saved this world, so will I come by my queenship and so act in it that, if God give me strength the whole world never shall find speck upon mine honour — or upon thine if I may sway thee.’
‘Why,’ he said, ‘thy voice is like little flutes.’
He considered, patting his square, soft-shod feet upon the bricks of the arbour floor.
‘By Guy! I will have thee,’ he said; ‘though ye twist my senses as never woman twisted them — and it is not good for a man to be swayed by his women.’
‘My lord,’ she said, ‘in naught would I sway a man save in where my conscience pricks and impels me.’ She rubbed her hand across her eyes. ‘It is difficult to see the right in these matters. The only way is to be firm for God and for the cause of the saints.’ She looked down at her feet. ‘I will be ceaseless in my entreaties to you for them,’ she uttered. Suddenly again she stretched forth both her hands that had sunk to her sides:
‘Dear lord,’ and her voice was full of pity for herself and for entreaty; ‘let me go to a convent to pray unceasing for thee.’
He shook his head.
‘Dear lord,’ she repeated; ‘use me as thou wilt and I will stay beside thee and urge thee to the cause of God.’
Again he shook his head.
‘The saints would pardon me it,’ she whispered; ‘or if I even be damned to save England, it were a good burnt-offering.’
‘Wench,’ he said; ‘I was never a man to go a-whoring. I ha’ done it, but had no savour with it.’ His boastfulness returned to the heavy voice. ‘I am a king that will give. I will give a crown, a realm, jewels, honours, monies. All I have I will give; but thou shalt wed me.’ He threw out his chest and gazed down at her. ‘I was ever thus,’ he said.
‘And I ever thus,’ she answered him swiftly. ‘Mary hath put this thing in my mind; and though ye scourge me, ye shall not have it otherwise.’
‘Even how?’ he said.
‘My lord,’ she answered; ‘if the Queen, so it be true, will say she be no wife of thine, I will wed thee. If the Queen, seeing that it is for the good of this suffering realm, will give to me her crown, I will wed with thee. I wot ye may get for yourself another woman with another gear of conscience to bear t’ee children. All the ills of this realm came with a divorce of a queen. I do hate the word as I hate Judas, and will have no truck with the deed.’
‘Ye speak me hard,’ he said; ‘but no man shall say I could not bear with the truth at odd moments.’
A great and hasty eagerness came into her voice.
‘Ye say that it is truth?’ she cried. ‘God hath softened thy heart.’
‘God or thee,’ he said, and muttered, ‘I do not make this avowal to the world.’ Suddenly he smote his thigh. ‘Body o’ God!’ he called out; ‘the day shall soon come. Cleves falls away, France and Spain are sundering. I will sue for peace with the Pope, and set up a chapel to Kat’s memory.’ He breathed as if a weight had fallen from his chest, and suddenly laughed: ‘But ye must wed me to keep me in the right way.’
He changed his tone again.
‘Why, go to Anne,’ he said; ‘she is such a fool she will not lie to thee; and, before God, she is no wife of mine.’
‘God send ye speak the truth,’ she answered; ‘but I think few men be found that will speak truth in these matters.’
But it was with Throckmorton that the real pull of the rope came. Henry was by then so full of love for her that, save when she crossed his purpose, he would have given her her way to the bitter end of things. But Throckmorton bewailed her lack of loyalty. He came to her on the morning of the next day, having heard that, if the rain held off, a cavalcade of seventeen lords, twelve ladies and their bodyguards were commanded to ride with her in one train to Windsor, where the Queen was.
‘I am main sure ’tis for Madam Howard that this cavalcade is ordered,’ he said; ‘for there is none other person in Court to whom his Highness would work this honour. And I am main sure that if Madam Howard goeth, she goeth with some mad maggot of a purpose.’
His foxy, laughing eyes surveyed her, and he stroked his great beard deliberately.
‘I ha’ not been near ye this two month,’ he said, ‘but God knows that I ha’ worked for ye.’
Save to take her to Privy Seal the day before, when Privy Seal had sent him, he had in truth not spoken with her for many weeks. He had deemed it wise to keep from her.
‘Nevertheless,’ he said earnestly, ‘I know well that thy cause is my cause, and that thou wilt spread upon me the mantle of thy favour and protection.’
They were in her old room with the green hangings, the high fireplace, and before the door the red curtain worked with gold that the King had sent her, and Cromwell had given orders that the spy outside should be removed, for he was useless. Thus Throckmorton could speak with a measure of freedom.
‘Madam Howard,’ he said; ‘ye use me not well in this. Ye are not so stable nor so safe in your place as that ye may, without counsel or guidance, risk all our necks with these mad pranks.’
‘Goodman,’ she said, ‘I asked ye not to come into my barque. If ye hang to the gunwale, is it my fault an ye be drowned in my foundering if I founder?’
‘Tell me why ye go to Windsor,’ he urged.
‘Goodman,’ she answered, ‘to ask the Queen if she be the King’s wife.’
‘Oh, folly!’ he cried out, and added softly, ‘Madam Howard, ye be monstrous fair. I do think ye be the fairest woman in the world. I cannot sleep for thinking on thee.’
‘Poor soul!’ she mocked him.
‘But, bethink you,’ he said; ‘the Queen is a woman, not a man. All your fairness shall not help you with her. Neither yet your sweet tongue nor your specious reasons. Nor yet your faith, for she is half a Protestant.’
‘If she be the King’s wife,’ Katharine said, ‘I will not be Queen. If she care enow for her queenship to lie over it, I will not be Queen either. For I will not be in any quarrel where lies are — either of my side or of another’s.’
‘God help us all!’ Throckmorton mocked her. ‘Here is my neck engaged on your quarrel — and by now a dozen others. Udal hath lied for you in the Cleves matter; so have I. If ye be not Queen to save us ere Cromwell’s teeth be drawn, our days are over and past.’
He spoke with so much earnestness that Katharine was moved to consider her speaking.
‘Knight,’ she said at last, ‘I never asked ye to lie to Cromwell over the Cleves matter. I never asked Udal. God knows, I had the rather be dead than ye had done it. I flush and grow hot each time I think this was done for me. I never asked ye to be of my quarrel — nay, I take shame that I have not ere this sent to Privy Seal to say that ye have lied, and Cleves is false to him.’ She pointed an accusing finger at him: ‘I take shame; ye have shamed me.’
He laughed a little, but he bent a leg to her.
‘Some man must save thee from thy folly’s fruits,’ he said. ‘For some men love thee. And I love thee so my head aches.’
She smiled upon him faintly.
‘For that, I believe, I have saved thy neck,’ she said. ‘My conscience cried: “Tell Privy Seal the truth”; my heart uttered: “Hast few men that love thee and do not pursue thee.”’
Suddenly he knelt at her feet and clutched at her hand.
‘Leave all this,’ he said. ‘Ye know not how dangerous a place this is.’ He began to whisper softly and passionately. ‘Come away from here. Well ye know that I love ‘ee better than any man in land. Well ye know. Well ye know. And well ye know no man could so well fend for ye or jump nimbly to thy thoughts. The men here be boars and bulls. Leave all these dangers; here is a straight issue. Ye shall not sway the wild boar king for ever. Come with me.’
As she did not at once find words to stop his speech, he whispered on:
‘I have gold enow to buy me a baron’s fee in Almain. I have been there: in castles in the thick woods, silken bowers may be built ——’
But suddenly again he rose to his feet and laughed:
‘Why,’ he said, ‘I hunger for thee: at times ’tis a madness. But ’tis past.’
His eyes twinkled again and he waved a hand.
‘Mayhap ’tis well that ye go to the Queen,’ he said drily. ‘If the Queen say, “Yea,” ye ha’ gained all; if “Nay” ye ha’ lost naught, for ye may alway change your mind. And a true and steadfast cause, a large and godly innocence is a thing that gaineth men’s hearts and voices.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Ye ha’ need o’ man’s good words,’ he said drily; then he laughed again. ‘Aye: Nolo episcopari was always a good cry,’ he said.
Katharine looked at him tenderly.
‘Ye know my aims are other,’ she said, ‘or else you would not love me. I think ye love me better than any man ever did — though I ha’ had a store of lovers.’
‘Aye,’ he nodded at her gravely, ‘it is pleasant to be loved.’
She was sitting by her table and leant her hand upon her cheek; she had been sewing a white band with pearls and silken roses in red and leaves in green, and it fell now to her feet from her lap. Suddenly he said:
‘Answer me one question of three?’
She did not move, for a feeling of languor that often overcame her in Throckmorton’s presence made her feel lazy and apt to listen. She itched to be Queen — on the morrow or next day; she desired to have the King for her own, to wear fair gowns and a crown; to be beloved of the poor people and beloved of the saints. But her fate lay upon the knees of the gods then: on the morrow the Queen would speak — betwixt then and now there was naught for it but to rest. And to hearken to Throckmorton was to be surprised as if she listened at a comedy.
‘One question of three may be answered,’ she said.
‘On the forfeit of a kiss,’ he added. ‘I pray God ye answer none.’
He pondered for a moment, and leaning back against the chimney-piece crossed one silk-stockinged, thin, red leg. He spoke very swiftly, so that his words were like lightning.
‘And the first is: An ye had never come here but elsewhere seen me, had ye it in you to ha’ loved me? And the second: How ye love the King’s person? And the third: Were ye your cousin’s leman?’
Leaning against the table she seemed slowly to grow stiff in her pose; her eyes dilated; the colour left her cheeks. She spoke no word.
‘Privy Seal hath sent a man to hasten thy cousin back to here,’ he said at last, after his eyes had steadily surveyed her face. She sat back in her chair, and the strip of sewing fell to wreathe, white and red and green, round her skirts on the floor.
‘I have sent a botcher to stay his coming,’ he said slowly. ‘Thy maid Margot’s brother.’
‘I had forgotten Tom,’ she said with long pauses between her words. She had forgotten her cousin and playmate. She had given no single thought to him since a day that she no longer remembered.
Reading the expression of her face and interpreting her slow words, Throckmorton was satisfied in his mind that she had been her cousin’s.
‘He hath passed from Calais to Dover, but I swear to you that he shall never come to you,’ he said. ‘I have others here.’ He had none, but he was set to comfort her.
‘Poor Tom!’ she uttered again almost in a whisper.
‘Thus,’ he uttered slowly, ‘you have a great danger.’
She was silent, thinking of her Lincolnshire past, and he began again:
‘Therefore ye have need of help from me as I from thee.’
‘Aye,’ he said, ‘you shall advise with me. For at least, if I may not have the pleasure of thy body, I will have the enjoyment of thy converse.’ His voice became husky for a moment. ‘Mayhap it is a madness in me to cling to thee; I do set in jeopardy my earthly riches and my hope of profit. But it is Macchiavelli who says: “If ye hoard gold and at the end have not pleasure in what gold may pay, ye had better have loitered in pleasing meadows and hearkened to the madrigals of sweet singing fowls.”’ He waved his hand: ‘Ye see I be still somewhat of a philosopher, though at times madness takes me.’
She was still silent — shaken into thinking of the past she had had with her cousin when she had been very poor in Lincolnshire; she had had leisure to read good letters there, and the time to think of them. Now she had not held a book for four days on end.
‘You are in a very great danger of your cousin,’ Throckmorton was repeating. ‘Yet I will stay his coming.’
‘Knight,’ she said, ‘this is a folly. If guards be needed to keep me from his knife, the King shall give me guards.’
‘His knife!’ Throckmorton raised his hands in mock surprise. ‘His knife is a very little thing.’
‘Ye would not say it an ye had come anear him when he was crossed,’ she said. ‘I, who am passing brave, fear his knife more than aught else in this world.’
‘Oh, incorrigible woman,’ he cried, ‘thinking ever of straight things and clear doings. It is not the knife of your cousin, but the devious policy of Privy Seal that calleth for fear.’
‘Why, or ever Privy Seal bind Tom to his policy he shall bind iron bars to make a coil.’
He looked at her with lifted eyebrows, and then scratched with his finger nail a tiny speck of mud from his shoe-point, balancing himself back against the chimney piece and crossing his red legs above the knees.
‘Madam Howard,’ he said, ‘Privy Seal is minded to use thy cousin for a battering-ram.’ She was hardly minded to listen to him, and he uttered stealthily, as if he were sure of moving her: ‘Thy cousin shall breach a way to the ears of the King — for thy ill fame to enter in.’
She leaned forward a little.
‘Tell me of my ill fame,’ she said; and at that moment Margot Poins, her handmaid, placid still, large, fair and florid, came in to bring her mistress an embroidery frame of oak wood painted with red stripes. At Throckmorton’s glance askance at the cow-like girl, Katharine said: ‘Ye may speak afore Margot Poins. I ha’ heard tales of her bringing.’
Margot kneeled at Katharine’s feet to stretch a white linen cloth over the frame on the floor.
‘Privy Seal planneth thus,’ Throckmorton answered Katharine’s challenge. He spoke low and level, hoping to see her twinge at every new phrase. ‘The King hath put from him every tale of thee; it is not easy to bring him tales of those he loves, but very dangerous. But Cromwell planneth to bring hither thy cousin and to keep him privily till one day cometh the King to be alone with thee in thy bower or his. Then, having removed all lets, shall Cromwell gird this cousin to spring in upon thee and the King, screaming out and with his sword drawn.’ Still Katharine did not move, but leaned along her table of yellow wood. ‘It is not the sword ye shall fear,’ he said slowly, ‘but what cometh after. For, for sure, Privy Seal holdeth, then shall be the time to bring witnesses against thee to the hearing of the King. And Privy Seal hath witnesses.’
‘He would have witnesses,’ Katharine answered.
‘There be those that will swear ——’
‘Aye,’ she caught him up, speaking very calmly. ‘There be those that will swear they ha’ seen me with a dozen men. With my cousin, with Nick Ardham, with one and another of the hinds. Why, he will bring a hind to swear I ha’ loved him. And he will bring a bastard child or twain ——’ She paused, and he paused too.
At last he said: ‘Anan?’
‘Ye might do it against Godiva of Coventry, against the blessed Katharine or against Caesar’s helpmeet in those days,’ Katharine said. ‘Margot here can match all thy witnesses from the city of London — men that never were in Lincolnshire.’
Margot’s face flushed with a tide of exasperation, and, sitting motionless, she uttered deeply:
‘My uncle the printer hath a man will swear he saw ye walk with a fiend having horns and a tail.’ And indeed these things were believed among the Lutherans that flocked still to Margot’s uncle’s printing room. ‘My uncle hath printed this,’ she muttered, and fumbled hotly in her bosom. She drew out a sheet with coarse black letters upon it and cast it across the floor with a flushed disdain at Throckmorton’s feet. It bore the heading: ‘Newes from Lincoln,’ Throckmorton kicked with his toe the white scroll and scrutinised Katharine’s face dispassionately with his foxy eyes that jumped between his lids like little beetles of blue. He thrust his cap back upon his head and laughed.
‘Before God!’ he said; ‘ye are the joyfullest play that ever I heard. And how will Madam Howard act when the King heareth these things?’
Katharine opened her lips with surprise.
‘For a subtile man ye are strangely blinded,’ she said; ‘there is one plain way.’
‘To deny it and call the saints to witness!’ he laughed.
‘Even that,’ she answered. ‘I pray the saints to give me the place and time.’
‘Ha’ ye seen the King in a jealous rage?’ he asked.
‘Subtile man,’ she answered, ‘the King knows his world.’
‘Aye,’ he answered, ‘knoweth that women be never chaste.’
Katharine bent to pick up her sewing.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘if the King will not have faith in me I will wed no King.’
His jaw fell. ‘Ye have so much madness?’ he asked.
She stretched towards him the hand that held her sewing now.
‘I swear to you,’ she said —‘and ye know me well — I seek a way to bring these rumours to the King’s ears.’
He said nothing, revolving these things in his mind.
‘Goodly servant,’ she began, and he knew from the round and silvery sound she drew from her throat that she was minded to make one of the long speeches that appalled and delighted him with their childish logic and wild honour. ‘If it were not that my cousin would run his head into danger I would will that he came to the King. Sir, ye are a wise man, can ye not see this wisdom? There is no good walking but upon sure ground, and I will not walk where the walking is not good. Shall I wed this King and have these lies to fear all my life? Shall I wed this King and do him this wrong? Neither wisdom nor honour counsel me to it. Since I have heard these lies were abroad I have at frequent moments thought how I shall bring them before the King.’
He thrust his hands into his pockets, stretched his legs out, and leaned back as though he were supporting the chimney-piece with his back.
‘The King knoweth how men will lie about a woman,’ she began again. ‘The King knoweth how ye may buy false witness as ye may buy herrings in the market-place at so much a score. An the King were such a man as not to know these things, I would not wed with him. An the King were such a man as not to trust in me, I would not wed with him. I could have no peace. I could have no rest. I am not one that ask little, but much.’
‘Why, you ask much of them that do support your cause,’ he laughed from his private thinking.
‘I do ask this oath of you,’ she answered: ‘that neither with sword nor stiletto, nor with provoked quarrel, nor staves, nor clubs, nor assassins, ye do seek to stay my cousin’s coming.’
He cut across her purpose with asking again: ‘Ha’ ye seen the King rage jealously?’
‘Knight,’ she said, ‘I will have your oath.’ And, as he paused in thought, she said: ‘Before God! if ye swear it not, I will make the King to send for him hither guarded and set around with an hundred men.’
‘Ye will not have him harmed?’ he asked craftily. ‘Ye do love him better than another?’
She rose to her feet, her lips parted. ‘Swear!’ she cried.
His fingers felt around his waist, then he raised his hand and uttered:
‘I do swear that ne with sword ne stiletto, ne with staves nor with clubs, ne with any quarrels nor violence so never will I seek thy goodly cousin’s life.’
He shook his head slowly at her.
‘All the men ye have known have prayed ye to be rid of him,’ he said; ‘ye will live to rue.’
‘Sir,’ she answered him, ‘I had rather live to rue the injury my cousin should do me than live to rue the having injured him.’ She paused to think for a moment. ‘When I am Queen,’ she said, ‘I will have the King set him in a command of ships to sail westward over the seas. He shall have the seeking for the Hesperides or the city of Atalanta, where still the golden age remains to be a model and ensample for us.’ Her eyes looked past Throckmorton. ‘My cousin hath a steadfast nature to be gone on such pilgrimages. And I would the discovery were made, this King being King and I his Queen; rather that than the regaining of France; more good should come to Christendom.’
‘Madam Howard,’ Throckmorton grinned at her, ‘if men of our day and kin do come upon any city where yet remaineth the golden age, very soon shall be shewn the miracle of the corruptibility of gold. The rod of our corruption no golden state shall defy.’
She smiled friendlily at him.
‘There we part company,’ she said. ‘For I do believe God made this world to be bettered. I think, and answer your question, I could never ha’ loved you. For you be a child of the new Italians and I a disciple of the older holders of that land, who wrote, Cato voicing it for them, “Virtue spreadeth even as leaven leaveneth bread; a little lump in your flour in the end shall redeem all the loaf of the Republic.”’
He smiled for a moment noiselessly, his mouth open but no sound coming out. Then he coaxed her:
‘Answer my two other questions.’
‘Knight,’ she answered; ‘for the truth of the last, ask, with thumbscrews, the witnesses ye found in Lincolnshire, and believe them as ye list. Or ask at the mouth of a draw-well if fishes be below in the water before ye ask a woman if she be chaste. For the other, consider of my actions hereafter if I do love the King’s person.’
‘Why, then, I shall never have kiss from mouth of thine,’ he said, and pulled his cap down over his eyes to depart.
‘When the sun shall set in the east,’ she retorted, and gave him her hand to kiss.
Margot Poins raised her large, fair head from her stitching after he was gone, and asked:
‘Tell me truly how ye love the King’s person. Often I ha’ thought of it; for I could love only a man more thin.’
‘Child,’ Katharine answered, ‘his Highness distilleth from his person a make of majesty; there is no other such a man in Christendom. His Highness culleth from one’s heart a make of pity — for, for sure, there is not in Christendom a man more tried or more calling to be led Godwards. The Greek writers had a myth, that the two wings of Love were made of Awe and Pity. Flaws I may find in him; but hot anger rises in my heart if I hear him miscalled. I will not perjure myself at his bidding; but being with him, I will kneel to him unbidden. I will not, to be his queen, have word in a divorce, for I have no truck with divorces; but I will humble myself to his Queen that is to pray her give me ease and him if the marriage be not consummated. For, so I love him that I will humble mine own self in the dust; but so I love love and its nobleness that, though I must live and die a cookmaid, I will not stoop in evil ways.’
‘There is no man worth that guise of love,’ Margot answered, her voice coming gruff and heavy, ‘not the magister himself. I ha’ smote one kitchenmaid i’ the face this noon for making eyes at him.’
‘My mad nephew,’ Master Printer Badge said to Throckmorton, ‘shall travel down from his chamber anon. When ye shall see the pickle he is in ye shall understand wherefore it needeth ten minutes to his downcoming.’ To Throckmorton’s query he shook his dark, bearded head and muttered: ‘Nay; ye used him for your own purposes. Ye should know better than I what is like to have befallen him.’
Throckmorton swallowed his haste and leant back against the edge of a press that was not at work. Of these presses there were four there in the middle of the room: tall, black, compounded of iron and wood, the square inwards of each rose and fell rhythmically above the flutter of the printed leaves that the journeymen withdrew as they rose, and replaced, white, unsullied and damp as they came together again. Along the walls the apprentice setters stood before the black formes and with abstruse, deliberate or hesitating expressions, made swift snatches at the little leaden dice. The sifting sound of the leads going home and the creak of the presses with the heavy wheeze of one printer, huge and grizzled like a walrus, pulling the press-lever back and bending forward to run his eyes across the type — wheeze, creak and click — made a level and monotonous sound.
‘Ye drill well your men,’ Throckmorton said lazily, and smoothed his white fingers, holding them up against the light, as if they of all things most concerned him.
He had received that day at Hampton a letter from the printer here in Austin Friars, sent hastening by the hands of the pressman whose idle machine he now leant against. ‘Sir,’ the letter said, ‘my nephew saith urgently that T.C. is landed at Greenwich. He might not stay him. What this importeth best is yknown to your worshipful self. By the swaying of the sea which late he overpassed, being tempestive, and by other things, my nephew is rendered incoherent. That God may save you and guide your counsels and those of your master to the more advantaging of the Protestant religion that now, praised be God! standeth higher in the realm than ever it did, is the prayer of Jno. Badge the Younger.’
Throckmorton had hastened there to the hedges of Austin Friars at the fastest of his bargemen’s oars. The printer had told him that, but that the business was the Lord Privy Seal’s and, as he understood, went to the advantaging of Protestantism and the casting down of Popery, never would he ha’ sent with the letter his own printer journeyman, busied as they were with printing of his great Bible in English.
‘Here is an idle press,’ he said, pointing at the mute and lugubrious instrument of black, ‘and I doubt I ha’ done wrong.’ His moody brow beneath the black, dishevelled hair became overcast so that it wrinkled into great furrows like crowns. ‘I doubt whether I have done wrong,’ and he folded his immense bare arms, on which the hair was like a black boar’s, and pondered. ‘If I thought I had done wrong, I might not sleep seven nights.’
A printer yawned at his loom, and the great dark man shouted at him:
‘Foul knave, ye show indolence! Wot ye that ye be printing the Word of God to send abroad in this land? Wot ye that for this ye shall stand with the elect in Heaven?’ He turned upon Throckmorton. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘your master Cromwell advanceth the cause, therefore I ha’ served him in this matter of the letter. But, sir, I am doubtful that, by losing one moment from the printing of the pure Word of God, I have not lost more time than a year’s work of thy master.’
Throckmorton rubbed gently the long hand that he still held against the light.
‘Ye fall away from Privy Seal?’ he asked.
The printer gazed at him with glowering and suffused eyes, choking in his throat. He raised an enormous hand before Throckmorton’s face.
‘Courtier,’ he cried, ‘with this hand I ha’ stopped an ox, smiting it between the eyes. Wo befal the man, traitor to Privy Seal, that I do meet and betwixt whose eyes this hand doth fall.’ The hand quivered in the air with fury. ‘I can raise a thousand ‘prentices and a thousand journeymen to save Privy Seal from any peril; I can raise ten thousand citizens, and ten thousand tomorrow again from the shires by pamphlets of my printing; I can raise a mighty army thus to shield him from Papists and the devil’s foul contrivances. An I were a Papist, I would pray to him, were he dead, as he were a saint.’ Throckmorton moved his face a line or two backwards from the gesticulating ham of a hand, and blinked his eyes. ‘My gold were Privy Seal’s an he needed it; my blood were his and my prayers. Nevertheless,’ and his voice took a more exalted note, ‘one letter of the Word of God, God aiding it, is of more avail than Privy Seal, or I, and all those I can love, or he. With his laws and his nose for treason he hath smitten the Amalekites above the belt; but a letter of the Word of God can smite them hip and thigh, God helping.’ He seemed again to choke in his throat, and said more quietly: ‘But ye shall not think a man in land better loveth this godly flail of the monks.’
‘Why, I do think ye would stand up against the King’s self,’ Throckmorton said, ‘and I am glad to hear it.’
‘Against all printers and temporal powers,’ the printer answered. Amongst the apprentices and journeymen a murmur arose of acclamation or of denial, some being of opinion that the King was divine in origin and inspiration, but for the most part they supported their master, and Throckmorton’s blue eyes travelled from one to the other.
But the printer heaved a sigh of satisfaction.
‘God be thanked,’ he said, ‘that keepeth the hearts of princes and guideth with His breath all temporal occurrences.’ Throckmorton was about to touch his cap at the name of Omnipotence, but remembering that he was among Protestants changed the direction of his hand and scratched his cheek among the little hairs of his beard; ‘the signs are favourable that our good King’s Highness shall still incline to our cause and Privy Seal’s.’
Throckmorton said: ‘Anan?’
‘Aye,’ the printer said heavily, ‘good news is come of Cleves.’
‘Ye ha’ news from Cleves?’ Throckmorton asked swiftly.
‘From Cleves not,’ the printer answered; ‘but from the Court by way of Paris and thence from Cleves.’ And to the interested spy he related, accurately enough, that a make of mouthing, mowing, magister of the Latin tongues had come from Paris, having stolen copies of the Cleves envoy’s letters in that town, and that these letters said that Cleves was fast inclined to the true Schmalkaldner league of Lutherans and would pay tribute truly, but no more than that do fealty to the accursed leaguer of the Pope called Charles the Emperor.
Throckmorton inclined his cap at an angle to the floor.
‘How had ye that news that was so secret?’ he asked.
The printer shook his dark beard with an air of heavy pleasure.
‘Ye have a great organisation of spies,’ he said, ‘but better is the whisper of God among the faithful.’
‘Why,’ Throckmorton answered, ‘the magister Udal hath to his sweetheart thy niece Margot Poins.’
At her name the printer’s eyes filled with a sudden and violent heat.
‘Seek another channel,’ he cried, and waved his arms at the low ceiling. ‘Before the face of Almighty God I swear that I ha’ no truck with Margot my niece. Since she has been sib with the whore of the devil called Kat Howard, never hath she told me a secret through her paramour or elsewise. A shut head the heavy logget keepeth — let her not come within reach of my hand.’ He swayed back upon his feet. ‘Let her not come,’ he said. He bent his brows upon Throckmorton. ‘I marvel,’ he uttered, ‘that ye who are so faithful a servant o’ Privy Seal’s can have truck with the brother of my niece Margot.’
‘Printer,’ Throckmorton answered him, ‘ye know well that when the leaven of Protestantism hath entered in there, houses are divided against themselves. A wench may be a foul Papist and serve, if ye will, Kat Howard; but her brother shall yet be an indifferent good servant for me.’
The printer, who had tolerated that his men should hear his panegyric of the Bible and Privy Seal, scowled at them now so that again the arms swung to and fro with the levers, the leads clicked. He put his great head nearer Throckmorton’s and muttered:
‘Are ye certain my nephew serveth ye well? He was never wont to favour our cause, and, before ye sent him on this errand, he was wont to cry out in his cups that he was disgraced for having carried letters betwixt Kat Howard and the King. If this were true he was no friend of ours.’
‘Why, it was true,’ Throckmorton uttered negligently.
The printer caught at the spy’s wrist, and the measure of his earnestness showed the extent of his passion for Privy Seal’s cause.
‘Use him no more,’ he said. ‘Both children of my sister were ever indifferents. They shall not serve thee well.’
‘It was ever Privy Seal’s motto and habit to use for his servitors those that had their necks in his noose. Such men serve him ever the best.’
The printer shook his head gloomily.
‘I wager my nephew will yet play the traitor to Privy Seal.’
‘I will do it myself ere that,’ and Throckmorton yawned, throwing his head back.
‘The scaldhead is there,’ the printer said; and in the doorway there stood, supporting himself by the lintel, the young Poins. His face was greenish white; a plaster was upon his shaven head; he held up one foot as if it pained him to set it to the floor. Through the house-place where sat the aged grandfather with his cap pulled over his brows, pallid, ironical and seeming indescribably ancient, the printer led the spy. The boy hobbled after them, neglecting the old man’s words:
‘Ha’ no truck with men of Privy Seal’s. Privy Seal hath stolen my ground.’ In the long shed where they ate all, printer, grandfather, apprentices and journeymen, the printer thrust open the door with a heavy gesture, entering first and surveying the long trestles.
‘Ye can speak here,’ he said, and motioned away an aged woman. She bent above a sea coal fire on the hearth where boiled, hung from a hook, a great pot. The old thing, in short petticoats and a linsey woolsey bodice that had been purple and green, protested shrilly. Her crock was on the boil; she was not there to be driven away; she had work like other folk, and had been with the printer’s mother eight years before he was born. His voice, raised to its height, was useless to drown her words. She could not hear him; and shrugging his shoulders, he said to Throckmorton that she heard less than the walls, and that was the best place he had for them to talk in. He slammed the door behind him.
Throckmorton set his foot upon the bench that ran between table and wall. He scowled fell-ly at the boy, so that his brows came down below his nose-top. ‘Ye ha’ not stayed him,’ he said.
The boy burst forth in a torrent of rage and despair. He cursed Throckmorton to his face for having sent him upon this errand.
‘I ha’ been beaten by a gatewarden! by a knave! by a ploughman’s son from Lincolnshire!’ he cried. ‘A’ cracked my skull with a pikestave and kicked me about the ribs when I lay on the ship’s floor, sick like a pig. God curse the day you sent me to Calais, a gentleman’s son, to be beat by a boor!’ He broke off and began again. ‘God curse you and the day I saw you! God curse Kat Howard and the day I carried her letter! God curse my sister Margot and the day she gar’d me carry the letters! And may a swift death of the pox take off Kat Howard’s cousin — may he rot and stink through the earth above his grave. He would not fight with me, but aboard a ship when I was sick set a Lincolnshire logget to beat me, a gentleman’s son!’
‘Why, thy gentility shall survive it,’ Throckmorton said. ‘But an it will not have more beating to its back, ye shall tell me where ye left T. Culpepper.’
‘At Greenwich,’ said the young Poins, and vomited forth curses. The old woman came from her pots to peer at the plasters on his skull, and then returned to the fire gibbering and wailing that she was not in that house plasters for to make.
‘Knave,’ Throckmorton said, ‘an ye will not tell me your tale swiftly ye shall right now to the Tower. It is life and death to a leaden counter an I find not Culpepper ere nightfall.’
The young Poins stretched forth his arm and groaned.
‘Part is bruises and part is sickness of the waves,’ he muttered; ‘but if I make not shift to slit his weazand ere nightfall, pox take all my advancement for ever. I will tell my weary tale.’
Throckmorton paused, held his head down, fingered his beard, and said:
‘When left ye him at Greenwich?’
‘This day at dawn,’ Poins answered, and cursed again.
‘Drunk or sober?’
‘Drunk as a channel codfish.’
The old woman came, a sheaf of jack-knives in her arms, muttering along the table.
‘Get you to bed,’ she croaked. ‘I will not ha’ warmed new sheets for thee, and thee not use them. Get thee to bed.’
Throckmorton pushed her back, and caught the boy by the jacket near the throat.
‘Ye shall tell me the tale as we go,’ he said, and punctuated his words by shakes. ‘But, oaf that I trusted to do a man’s work, ye swing beneath a tree this night an we find not the man ye failed to stay.’
The young Poins — he panted out the story as he trotted, wofully keeping pace to Throckmorton’s great strides between the hedges — had stuck to Culpepper as to his shadow, in Calais town. At each turn he had showed the warrant to be master of the lighters; he had handed over the gold that Throckmorton had given him. But Culpepper had turned a deaf ear to him, and, setting up a violent friendship with the Lincolnshire gatewarden over pots of beer in a brewhouse, had insisted on buying Hogben out of his company and taking him over the sea to be witness of his wedding with Katharine Howard. Dogged, and thrusting his word and his papers in at every turn, the young Poins had pursued them aboard a ship bound for the Thames.
This story came out in jerks and with divagations, but it was evident to Throckmorton that the young man had stuck to his task with a dogged obtuseness enough to have given offence to a dozen Culpeppers. He had begged him, in the inn, to take the lieutenancy of the Calais lighters; he had trotted at Culpepper’s elbow in the winding streets; he had stood in his very path on the gangway to the ship that was to take them to Greenwich. At every step he had pulled out of his poke the commission for the lieutenancy — so that Throckmorton had in his mind, by the time they sat in the stern of the swift barge, the image of Culpepper as a savage bulldog pursued along streets and up ship-sides by a gambolling bear cub that pulled at his ears and danced before him. And he could credit Culpepper only with a saturnine and drunken good humour at having very successfully driven Cardinal Pole out of Paris. That was the only way in which he could account for the fact that Culpepper had not spitted the boy at the first onslaught. But for the sheer ill-luck of his sword’s having been stolen, he might have done it, and been laid by the heels for six months in Calais. For Calais being a frontier town of the English realm, it was an offence very serious there for English to draw sword upon English, however molested.
It was that upon which Throckmorton had counted; and he cursed the day when Culpepper had entered the thieves’ hut outside Ardres. But for that Culpepper must have drawn upon the boy; he must have been lying then in irons in Calais holdfast. As it was, there was this long chase. God knew whether they would find him in Greenwich; God knew where they would find him. He had gone to Greenwich, doubtless, because when he had left England the Court had been in Greenwich, and he expected there to find his cousin Kat. He would fly to Hampton as soon as he knew she was at Hampton; but how soon would he know it? By Poins’ account, he was too drunk to stand, and had been carried ashore on the back of his Lincolnshire henchman. Therefore he might be lying in the streets of Greenwich — and Greenwich was a small place. But different men carried their liquor so differently, and Culpepper might go ashore too drunk to stand and yet reach Hampton sober enow to be like a raging bear by eventide.
That above all things Throckmorton dreaded. For that evening Katharine would be come back from the interview with Anne of Cleves at Windsor; and whether she had succeeded or not with her quest, the King was certain to be with her in her room — to rejoice on the one hand, or violently to plead his cause on the other. And Throckmorton knew his King well enough — he knew, that is to say, his private image of his King well enough — to be assured that a meeting between the King then and Culpepper there, must lead Katharine to her death. He considered the blind, immense body of jealousy that the King was. And, at Hampton, Privy Seal would have all avenues open for Culpepper to come to his cousin. Privy Seal had detailed Viridus, who had had the matter all the while in hand, to inflame Culpepper’s mind with jealousy so that he should run shouting through the Court with a monstrous outcry.
It was because of this that Throckmorton dreaded to await Culpepper at Hampton; there he was sure enow to find him, sooner or later, but there would be the many spies of Privy Seal’s around all the avenues to the palace. He might himself send away the spies, but it was too dangerous; for, say what he would, if he held Culpepper from Katharine Howard, Cromwell would visit it mercilessly upon him.
He turned the nose of his barge down the broadening, shining grey stream towards Greenwich. The wind blew freshly up from the sea; the tide ran down, and Throckmorton pulled his bonnet over his eyes to shade them from sea and breeze, and the wind that the rowers made. For it was the swiftest barge of the kingdom: long, black, and narrow, with eight watermen rowing, eight to relieve them, and always eight held in reserve at all landing stages for that barge’s crew. So well Privy Seal had organised even the mutinous men of the river that his service might be swift and sudden. Throckmorton had set down the bower at the stern, that the wind might have less hold.
Nevertheless it blew cold, and he borrowed a cloak and a pottle of sack to warm the young Poins, who had run with him capless and without a coat. For, listening to the boy’s disjointed tale out in the broad reaches below London, Throckmorton recognised that if the young man were incredibly a fool he was incredibly steadfast too, and a steadfast fool is a good tool to retain for simple work. He had, too — the boy — a valuable hatred for Culpepper that he allowed to transfer itself to Katharine herself: a brooding hatred that hung in his blue eyes as he gazed downwards at the barge floor or spat at the planks of the side. Its ferocity was augmented by the patches of plaster that stretched over his skull and dropped over one blonde eyebrow.
‘Cod!’ he ejaculated. ‘Cod! Cod! Cod!’ and waved a fist ferociously at the rushes that spiked the waters of the river in their new green. ‘They waited till I was too sick of the sickness of the sea, too sick to stand — more mortal sick than ever man was. I hung to a rope and might not let go. And Cod! Cod! Cod! Culpepper lay under the sterncastle in a hole and set his Lincolnshire beast to baste my ribs.’
He spat again with gloomy quiescence into the bottom of the boat.
‘In the mid of the sea,’ he said, ‘where the ship pointed at heaven and then at the fiend his home, I hung to a rope and was basted! And that whore’s son lay in his hole and laughed. For I was a cub, says he, and not fit for a man’s converse or striking.’
Throckmorton’s eyes glimmered a little.
‘You have been used as befits no gentleman’s son,’ he said. ‘I will see to the righting of your wrongs.’
Poins swore with an amazing obscenity.
‘Shall right ’em myself,’ he said, ‘so I meet T. Culpepper in this flesh as a man.’
Throckmorton leaned gently forward and touched his arm.
‘I will right thy wrongs,’ he said, ‘and see to thine advancement; for if in this service you ha’ failed, yet ha’ you been persistent and feal.’ He dabbled one white hand in the water, ‘Nevertheless,’ he said slowly, ‘I would have you consider that your service in this ends here.’ He spoke still more slowly: ‘I would have you to understand this. Aforetime I gave you certain instructions as to using your sword upon this Culpepper if you might not otherwise stay him.’ He held up one finger. ‘Now mark; your commission is ceased. You shall no longer for my service draw sword, knife or dagger, stave nor club, upon this man.’
Poins looked at him with gloomy surprise that was changing swiftly to hot rage.
‘I am under oath to a certain one to use no violence upon this man,’ Throckmorton said, ‘and to encourage no other to do violence.’
Poins thrust his round, brick-red brow out like a turkey cock’s from the boat cloak into Throckmorton’s face.
‘I am under no oath of yourn!’ he shouted. Throckmorton shrugged his shoulders and wagged one finger at him. ‘No oath o’ yourn!’ the boy repeated. ‘God knows who ye be or why it is so. But I ha’ heard ye ha’ my neck in a noose; I ha’ heard ye be dangerous. Yet, before God, I swear in your teeth that if I meet this man to his face, or come upon his filthy back, drunk, awake, asleep, I will run him through the belly and send his soul to hell. He had me, a gentleman’s son, basted by a hind!’
This long speech exhausted his breath, and he fell back panting.
‘I had as soon ye had my head as not,’ he muttered desperately, ‘since I have been basted.’
‘Why,’ Throckmorton answered, ‘for your private troubles, I know naught of them. There may be some that will thank ye or advance ye for spitting of this gallant. But I am not one of them. Nevertheless will I be your friend, whom ye would have served better an ye could.’
He smiled in his inward manner and went to polishing of his nails. A little later he felt the bruises on the boy’s arms, and stayed the barge for a moment the stage where, swiftly, eight oarsmen took the places of the eight that had rowed two shifts out of three — stayed the barge for time enough to purchase for the boy a ham, a little ginger, some raw eggs and sack.
The barge rushed forward, with the jar of oars and the sound, like satin tearing, of the water at the bows, across the ruffled reaches of the broad waters. The gilded roofs, the gabled fronts of the palace at Greenwich called Placentia, winked in the fresh sunlight. Throckmorton had a great fever of excitement, but having sworn to let his oarsmen be scourged with leathern thongs if they made no more efforts, he lay back upon the purple cushions and toyed with the strings of the yellow ensign that floated behind them. It was his purpose to put heart in the boy and to feed his rage, so that alternately he promised to give him the warding of the Queen’s door — a notable advancement — or assented to the lad’s gloom when he said that he was fit only for the stables, having been beaten by a groom. So that at the quay the boy sprang forth mightily, swaying the boat behind him. The trace of his sea-sickness had left him; he swore to tear Culpepper’s throat apart as if it had been capon flesh.
Throckmorton swiftly quartered the gardens, sending, in his passage beneath the tall palace arch, a dozen men to search all the paths for any drunkards that might there lie hidden. He sent the young Poins to search the three alehouses of the village where seamen new landed sat to drink. But, having found the sergeant of void palaces asleep in a small cell at the house end, he learned that two men, speaking Lincolnshire, had been there two hours agone, questing for Master Viridus and swearing that they had rid France of the devil and were to be made great lords for it. The sergeant, an old, corpulent Spaniard who had been in England forty years, having come with the dead Queen Katharine and been given this honourable post because the queen had loved him, folded his fat hands across his round stomach as he sat on the floor, his legs stretched out, his head against the hangings.
‘I might not make out if they were lords or what manner of cavaliers,’ he said. ‘They sought some woman whom they would not name, and ran through a score of empty rooms. God knows whither they went.’
He pulled his nightcap further over his head, nodded at Throckmorton, and resumed his meditations.
There was no finding them in the still and empty corridors of the palace; but at the gateway he heard that the two men had clamoured to know where they might purchase raw shinbone of beef, and had been directed to the house of a widow Emden. There Throckmorton found their tracks, for the sacking that covered the window-holes was burst outwards, beef-bones lay on the road before the door, and, within, the widow, black, begrimed and very drunk, lay inverted on the clay of the floor, her head beneath the three legs of the chopping block, so that she was as if in a pillory, but too fuddled to do more than wave her legs. A prentice who crouched, with a broken head, in a corner of the filthy room, said that a man from Lincolnshire, all in Lincoln green, with a red beard, had wrought this ruin of beef-bones that he had cast through the windows, and had then comforted the screaming widow with much strong drink from a black bottle. They had wanted raw beef to make them valiant against some wedding, and they threw the beef-bones through the sacking because they said the place stunk villainously. They seemed, these two, to have visited every hovel in the damp and squalid village that lay before the palace gates. They had kicked beds of straw over the floors, thrown crocks at the pigs, melted pewter plates in the fires.
For pure joy at being afoot and ashore in England again, they had cast coins into all the houses and hovels of mud; they had brought out cans and casks from the alehouses, and cast pies into the streets, and caused the dismal ward to cry out: ‘God save free Englishmen!’ ‘Curse the sea!’ and ‘A plague of Frenchmen that be devils!’
And the after effects of their carnival menaced Throckmorton, for from the miserable huts, where ragged women were rearranging the scattered straws and wiping egg-yolk from the broken benches, there issued a ragged crowd of men with tangled and muddy hair and boys unclothed save for sacks that whistled about their lean hips. The liquor that Culpepper and Hogben had distributed had rendered them curious or full of mutiny and discontent, and they surrounded Throckmorton’s brilliant figure in its purple velvet, with the gold neck-chains and the jewelled hat, and some of them asked for money, and some called him ‘Frenchman,’ and some knew him for a spy, and some caught up stones and jawbones furtively to cast at him.
But, arrogant and with his head set high, he borrowed a whip from a packman that shouldered his way through the street, and lashed at their legs and ragged heads. The crowd slunk, one by one, back under the darkness that was beneath the roofs of reeds, and the idea of a good day that for a moment had risen in their minds at Culpepper’s legendary approach, sank down and flickered out once more in their hungry bellies and fever-dimmed minds.
‘God!’ he said, ‘we will have hangmen here,’ and pursued his search. He met the young Poins at the head of the village street, and learned from him that Culpepper and his supporter had hired horses to ride to Hampton and had galloped away three hours before, holding legs of mutton by the feet and using them for cudgels to beat their horses.
‘Before God!’ the boy said, ‘an I had money to hire horses I would overtake them, if I overtook not the devil erstwhile.’
Throckmorton pulled out his purple purse that was embroidered with silk crosses. He extracted from it four crowns of gold.
‘Lad,’ he said, ‘I do not give thee gold to follow Kat Howard’s cousin with. This is thy wage for the service thou hast done aforetime.’ He reflected for a moment. ‘If thou wilt have a horse — but I urge it not — to go to Hampton where thy fellows of the guard are — for, having served well ye may once more and without danger rejoin your mates — if ye will have such a horse, go to the horseward of the palace and say I sent you. Withouten doubt ye are mad to hasten back to your mates, a commendable desire. And the King’s horses shall hasten faster than any hired horse — so that ye may easily overtake a man that hath but two hours’ start towards Hampton.’
Whilst Poins was already hastening towards the gateway, Throckmorton cried to him at a distance:
‘Ask at each cross-road guard-house and at all ferries and bridges if some have passed that way; and at the landing-stage if perchance caballeros have altered their desires and had it in their minds to take to boats.’
He sped through the wind to the riverside, set again his oars in motion and swept up the tide. It had turned and they made good progress.
The Queen sat in her painted gallery at Richmond, and all around her her maids sewed and span. The gallery was long; along the panels that faced the windows were angels painted in red and blue and gold, and in the three centre squares St. George, whose face was the face of the King’s Highness, in one issued from a yellow city upon a green plain; in one with a cherry-coloured lance slew a green dragon from whose mouth issued orange-coloured flames; and in one carried away, that he might wed her in a rose-coloured tower on a hillside, a princess in a black gown with hair painted of real gold.
Whilst the maids sewed in silence the Queen sat still upon a stool. Light-skinned, not very stout, with a smooth oval face, she had laid her folded hands on the gold and pearl embroidery of her lap and gazed away into the distance, thinking. She sat so still that not even the lawn tips of her wide hood with its invisible, minute sewings of white, quivered. Her gown was of cloth of gold, but since her being in England she had learned to wear a train, and in its folds on the ground slept a small Italian greyhound. About her neck she had a partelet set with green jewels and with pearls. Her maids sewed; the spinning-wheels ate away the braided flax from the spindles, and the sunlight poured down through the high windows. She was a very fair woman then, and many that had seen her there sit had marvelled of the King’s disfavour for her; but she was accounted wondrous still, sitting thus by the hour with the little hounds in the folds of her dress. Only her eyes with their half-closed lids gave to her lost gaze the appearance of a humour and irony that she never was heard to voice.
They turned to the opening door, a flush came into her face, spread slowly down her white neck and was lost in the white opening of her shoulder-pieces, and she greeted Katharine Howard, kneeling at her feet, with an inclination of the head so tiny that you could not see the motion. Her eyes remained motionlessly upon the girl’s face; only the lids moved suddenly when Katharine spoke to her in German.
‘You speak my tongue?’ the Queen asked, motionless still and speaking very low. Katharine remained upon her knees.
‘I learned to read books in German when I was a child,’ Katharine said; ‘and since you came I have spoken an hour a day with a German astronomer that I might give you pleasure if so be it chanced.’
‘So it is well,’ the Queen said. ‘Not many have so done.’
‘God has endowed me with an ease of tongues,’ Katharine answered; ‘many others would have ventured it for your Grace’s pleasure. But your tongue is a hard tongue.’
‘I have needed to learn hard sentences in yours,’ the Queen said, ‘and have had many masters many hours of the day. I will have you stand up upon your feet.’
Katharine remained upon her knees.
‘I will have you stand up upon your feet,’ the Queen repeated.
‘I have a prayer to make,’ Katharine answered.
The Queen looked for a minute straight before her, then slowly turned her head to one side. When her gaze rested upon her women they rose and, with a clatter of their feet and a rustle of garments, carrying their white sewings and their spinning-wheels stilled, went away down the gallery. The German lord of Overstein, bearded and immense in the then German fashion, came from behind the retreating women to stand before the Queen signifying that he would offer his interpretership. She dismissed him without speaking, letting her eyes rest upon him. She was the most silent woman in the world, but all people said that no queen had women and men servers that needed fewer words or so discreetly did their devoirs.
The silence and the bright light of the sun swathed these two women’s figures, so that Katharine seemed to hear the flutter against the window-glass of a brown butterfly that, having sheltered in the hall all winter, now sought to take a part in the new brightness of the world. Katharine kept her knees, her eyes upon the floor; the Queen, motionless and soft, let her eyes rest upon Katharine’s hood. From time to time they travelled to her face, to the medallion that hung from her neck, and to her dark green skirt of velvet that lay around her upon the floor. The butterfly sought another window; the Queen spoke at last.
‘You seek my queenship’; and in her still voice there was neither passion, nor pity, nor question, nor resignation.
Katharine raised her eyes: they saw the imprisoned butterfly, but she found no words.
‘You have more courage than I,’ the Queen said.
Suddenly she made a single gesture with her hands, as if she swept something from her lap: some invisible dust — and that was all. Still Katharine did not move nor speak; she had prepared speeches — speeches against the Queen’s being disdainful, enraged, or dissolved in tears. She had read in books all night from Aulus Gellius to Cicero to get wisdom. But here there were no speeches called for; no speeches could be made. The significance of the Queen’s gesture of sweeping dust from her lap slowly overwhelmed her.
‘You have more courage than I,’ the Queen repeated, as though slowly she were making a catalogue of Katharine’s qualities to set dispassionately against her own; and again her eyes moved over Katharine. With her first swift gesture she drew from the stool-top a pamphlet of writing, upon which she had sat. Her face grew slowly red.
‘It did not need this long writing against my person,’ she said. ‘I take it grievously.’
Katharine moved upon her knees as if she had been stung by an intolerable accusation.
‘Before God! ——’ she began to say.
‘Well, I believe you had no part in the writing,’ the Queen interrupted her. ‘Yet the more I say you have courage: to wed a man that will write lies of another woman’s body and powers.’
Katharine sat still; the Queen’s slow anger faded slowly away.
‘I do not see why this King thinks you more fair than I be,’ she said dispassionately; ‘but what draweth the love of man to woman is not yet known.’
Again she repeated:
‘There was no need of this writing against me. The King has never played the husband’s part to me; I would have you tell him, if I go in danger from him, that, for me, he may go his ways. I have no mind to stay him, nor to be a queen in this country. Here, it is said, they slay queens.’
‘If I will be Queen, it is that God may bless this realm and King with the old faith again,’ Katharine said. Anne’s eyelids narrowed.
‘It is best known to yourself why you will be Queen,’ she said. ‘It is best known to God what faith he will have in this your realm. I know not what faith he liketh best, nor yet what side of a queen’s functions most commendeth itself unto you.’
She seemed to withdraw herself more and more from any struggle, as if she were a novice that took an invisible veil — and she uttered only requests as to the world into which she would withdraw from this one.
‘I am not minded to go back to Cleves,’ she stipulated; for she had thought much and long in her stillnesses of what she would have; ‘the Duke, my brother, is to blame for having brought me to this pass. Moreover, he is not able to defend his lands; so that if, with a proper establishing and revenue, I go back to Cleves, the Emperor Charles, who hath a tooth for gold, may too easily undo me. I would have a castle here in England; for England is an island, and well defended in all its avenues, and its King a man of honour and his word to such as never cross him, as never will I.’
She spoke slowly, as if in her mind she were ticking off little notes pencilled on her tablets; for since she could not read she had a memory that she could trust to. ‘I will have a castle built me not strong enough to withstand the King’s forces, since those I make no call to withstand, but strong enough to guard me against robber bands and the insurrections that are ordinary. Upon a slope that shall take the sun in winter, with trees about beneath which I may sit in the heat of summer-time. I will have a good show of servants, because I am a princess of noble lineage; I will have most of them Germans that I may speak easily with them, but some English, understanding German, so that the King may be advised I work no treasons against him. From time to time I will have the King to visit and to talk with me courteously and fairly as well he can: this in order to counterpart and destroy the report that I smell foul and am so ill to see that it makes a man ill ——’
Her eyes, resting upon Katharine, closed slightly again with a tiny malice.
‘I will have you not to fear that, upon such visits, I will use wiles to entrap the King. I do not favour him. I am not content to be queen of this country. It is as fair as my own country. In summer it is more cool, in the winter time more temperate. Meats here are good; cooks are better than with us. What a woman and a princess in this world would have is here all at the best, save only its men, and the most dangerous of all its men is the King.’
Katharine’s ready anger rose at her words, though before the Queen’s speeches had flowed above her head and left her speechless and ashamed.
‘The King is known throughout Christendom,’ she said, ‘for the royallest prince, the noblest speaker, the most princely horseman, the most munificent and the most learned in the law.’
‘That he may be,’ the Queen smiled faintly, ‘to them that have never crossed him. It has been my ill-destiny so to do.’
‘Madam,’ Katharine cried out, ‘never man was so crossed, ill-served, evilly-led, or betrayed. Ye may not mislike him if at times he be petulant. I do the more praise him for it.’
‘Why, you do love him,’ the Queen said. ‘I have no cause so to do.’
Katharine caught at one of her hands.
‘Your Grace,’ she said, ‘Queen and high potentate, this realm calleth out that some one person do lead the King aright. Before God, I think I do not seek powers or temporal crowns. Maybe it is sweet to sit in a painted gallery and be a queen, but I have very little considered it; only, here is a King that crieth for the peace of God, a people that clamoureth aloud to be led back to the ways of God, a land parched for rain, swept by gales of wind and pestilences, bewailing the lost favour of God, and the Holy Church devastated that standeth between God and the realm.’ The Queen listened to her as if, having made her stipulations, she had no more personal interest in the matter and were listening to the tale of a journey. ‘Before God!’ Katharine said, ‘if you were not a virgin for the King, or if the King have coerced you to forswearing yourself in this matter, I would not be the King’s wife, but his concubine. Only, sore is his need of me; he hath sworn it many times, and I do believe it, that I best, if anyone may, may give him rest with my converse and lead him to peace. He hath sworn that never woman save I made him so clearly to see his path to goodness; and never woman save I, at convenient seasons, have made him so forget his many cares.’
‘Why, you have still more courage than I had thought,’ the Queen said, ‘to take a man so dangerous upon so little assurance.’ She moved the hand that Katharine touched in her lap neither forward nor away; but at last she said:
‘I am neither of your country nor for it; neither of your faith nor against it. But, being here, here I do sojourn. I came not here of mine own will. Men have handled me as they would, as if I had been a doll. But, if I may have as much of the sun as shines, and as much of comfort as the realm affords its better sort, being a princess, and to be treated with some reverence, I care not if ye take King, crown, and commonalty, so ye leave me the ruling of my house and the freedom to wash my face how I will. I had as soon see England linked again with the Papists as the Schmalkaldners; I had as lief see the King married to you as another; I had as lief all men do what they will so they leave me to go my ways and feed me well.’
She looked again upon Katharine, and for the first time spoke as if she were addressing her:
‘I make out that you are a woman with an itch to meddle at the righting of the world. There have been more men than women at the task, but such an one was I never. The King was never man of mine, nor should have been had I any say in the matter.’ She half closed her eyes again. ‘Doubtless had it been otherwise the King would have constrained me by threats and tortures to forswear myself. I am as I was when I came to Dover. As the King saw me so he left me. Yet do I maintain and avow it was rather because he feared alliance with my brother’s party than for any foulness of my person.’
Katharine passed her hands over her eyes.
‘I do feel myself a thief and a cozener,’ she said.
‘Ye be none,’ the Queen said; ‘ye take no more than what I least prize of this world. Had it not been thee it might have been a worse; for assuredly I was not made to foot it with this King.’
‘Nevertheless ——’ Katharine began. But the Queen was no more content to listen to her.
‘Ye are as some I have known,’ she said; ‘they scruple to take what they very much crave, though it hang ready to drop into their hands; because they much crave it, therefore they scruple.’ She had a small golden bullet beneath her clasped hands, and she cast it into a basin of silver that stood on a tripod beside her skirts. At the silvery clash and roll of the ball’s running sound on the metal, doors opened along the gallery, and servitors came in bearing Rhenish wine in glass flagons and, upon great salvers, cakes in the forms of hearts or twisted into true-love-knots of pastry.
Katharine noted these things as being worthy of imitation.
‘It is no more to me,’ the Queen said, ‘to lose the other things to you than to lose to you the wine that you shall drink or a pile of cakes.’ Nevertheless she left Katharine upon her knees till she had taken her cup, for it pleased her that her servitors should see her treated with due worship.
It was noon of that day when Katharine Howard set out again from Richmond to ride back to Hampton Court; and at noon of that day Throckmorton’s barge shot dangerously beneath London Bridge, hastening to Hampton Court. At noon Thomas Culpepper passed over London Bridge, because a great crowd pressed across it from the south going to see a burning at Smithfield; at noon, too, or five minutes later, the young Poins galloped furiously past the end of the bridge and did not cross over, but sped through Southwark towards Hampton Court. And at noon or thereabouts the King, dressed in green as a husbandman, sat on a log to await a gun-fire, in the forest that was near to Richmond river path opposite Isleworth. He had given to Katharine a paper that she was to deliver to the master gunner of Richmond Palace in case the Queen Anne did satisfy her that the marriage was no marriage. So that, when among the green glades where the great trees let down their branches near the sward and shewed little tips of tender green leaves, he heard three thuds come echoing, he sprang to his feet, and, smiting his great, green-clothed thigh, he cried out: ‘Ha! I be young again!’ He pulled to his lips the mouth of the English horn that was girdled across his shoulder and under his arm; he set his feet wide apart, filled his lungs with air, and blew a thin, clear call. At once there issued from brakes, thickets and glades the figures of men, dressed like the King in yeoman’s green, bearing bows over their shoulders, horns at their elbows, or having straining dogs in their leashes.
‘Ho!’ the King said to his chief verderer, a man of sixty with a grey beard, but so that all others could hear; ‘be it well understood that I will have you shew some ladies what make of thing it is to rule over jolly Englishmen.’ He directed them how he would have them drive the deer at the end of the glade; he saw to the setting up of white wands of peeled willows and, taking from his yeoman-companion, that was the Earl of Surrey, his great bow, he shot a mighty shaft along the glade, to shew how far away he would have the deer to pass like swift ghosts between the aisles of the trees.
But the palace of Hampton lay deserted and given up to scullions, who lay in the sunlight and took their rare ease. For a great many lords that could shoot well with the bow were gone to play the yeoman with the King; and a great many that had sumptuous and gallant apparel were gone to join the ladies riding back from Richmond; and the King’s whole council, together with many lords that were awful or reverend in their appearance, were gone to sit in the scaffold to see the burning of the friar that had denied the King’s supremacy of the Church and the burnings of the six Protestants that had denied the presence of Christ’s body in the Sacrament. Only Privy Seal, who had ordered these things, was still walking in his gallery where he so often had walked of late.
He had with him Wriothesley, whose face was utterly downcast and abashed; he walked turning more swiftly than had been his wont ever before. Wriothesley hung down his great bearded, honest head and sighed three times.
‘Sir,’ he said at last, ‘I see before us nothing but that ye make to divorce the Queen Anne.’ And the words seemed to come from him as if they cost him his heart’s blood.
Cromwell paused before him, his hands behind his back, his feet apart.
‘The weighty question,’ he said, ‘is this: Who hath betrayed me: of Udal; of the alewife that he should have had the papers of; or Throckmorton?’
He had that morning received from Cleves, in the letter of his agent there, the certain proof that the Duke had written to the Emperor Charles making an utter submission to save his land from ruin, and as utterly abjuring his alliance with the King his brother-inlaw and with the Schmalkaldner league and its Protestant princes. Cromwell had immediately called to him Wriothesley that was that day ordering the horses to take him back to Paris town. He had given him this news, which, if it were secret then, must in a month be made known to all the world. To Wriothesley the Protestant this blow was the falling in of the world; here was Protestantism at an end and dead. There remained nothing but to save the necks of some to carry on the faith to distant days. Therefore he had brought out his reluctant words to urge Privy Seal to the divorce of Anne of Cleves. There was no other way; there was no other issue. Privy Seal must abjure Cleves’ Queen, and the very savour of a desire for a Protestant league.
But for Privy Seal the problem was not what to do, a thing he might settle in a minute’s swift thought, but the discovery of who had betrayed him — for his whole life had been given to bringing together his machine of service. You might determine an alliance or a divorce between breath and breath; but the training of your instruments, the weeding out of them that had flaws in their fidelities; the exhibiting of a swift and awful vengeance upon mutineers — these were the things that called for thinking and long furrowing of brows. He considered of this point whilst Wriothesley spoke long and earnestly.
It was expedient before all things that Privy Seal keep the helm of the State; it was very certain that the King should not long keep to his marriage with the lady from Cleves; lamentable it was that Cleves had fallen away from Protestantism and from the league that so goodly had promised for truth in religion. But so, alas that the day had come! so it was. The King was a man brave and royal in his degree, but unstable, so that to keep him to Protestantism and good government a firm man was earnestly needed. There was none other man than Privy Seal. Let him consider earnestly that if it tasted ill with his conscience to move this divorce, yet elsewise such great ills should strike the kingdom, that far better it were to deaden his conscience than to sacrifice for a queen of doubtful faith the best hope that they had then, all of them, in the world. He spoke for many minutes in this strain, for twice the clock struck the half-hour from the tower above the gallery.
Finally, long-bearded, solemn, and richly attired as he was, Wriothesley went down upon one knee, and, laying his bonnet on the ground, stretched out a long hand.
‘My lord,’ he said, ‘I do beseech you that you stay with us and succour us. We are a small band, but zealous and well-caparisoned. Bethink you that you put this land in peril if by maintaining this Queen ye do endanger your precious neck. For I were loath to take arms against the King’s Majesty, and we are loyal and faithful subjects all; yet sooner than ye should fall ——’
Cromwell stood over him, looking at him dispassionately, his hands still behind his back.
‘Well, it is a great matter,’ he uttered elusively. He moved as if to walk off, then suddenly turned upon his heel again. ‘Ye do me more ill by speaking in that guise than ever Cleves or Gardiner or all my enemies have done. For assuredly if rumours of your words should reach the King when he was ill-affected, it should go hardly with me.’
He paused, and then spoke gently.
‘And assuredly ye do me more wrong than ill,’ he said. ‘For this I swear to you, ye have heard evil enow of me to have believed some. But there is no man dare call me traitor in his heart of them that do know me. And this I tell you: I had rather die a thousand deaths than that ye should prop me up against the majesty and awe of government. By so doing ye might, at a hazard, save my life, but for certain ye would imperil that for which I have given my life.’
Again he paused and paced, and again came back in his traces to where Wriothesley knelt.
‘Some danger there is for me,’ he said, ‘but I think it a very little one. The King knoweth too well how good a servant and how profitable I have been to him. I do think he will not cast me away to please a woman. Yet this is a very notable woman — ye wot of whom I speak; but I hope very soon to have one to my hand that shall utterly cast down and soil her in the eyes of the King’s Highness.’
‘Ye do think her unchaste?’ Wriothesley asked. ‘I have heard you say ——’
‘Knight,’ Cromwell answered; ‘what I think will not be revealed today nor tomorrow, but only at the Day of Judgment. Nevertheless, so do I love my master’s cause that — if it peril mine own upon that awful occasion — I so will strive to tear this woman down.’
Wriothesley rose, stiff and angular.
‘God keep the issue!’ he said.
‘Why, get you gone,’ Cromwell said. ‘But this I pray you gently: that ye restrain your fellows’ tongues from speaking treason and heresy. Three of your friends, as you know, I must burn this day for such speakings; you, too — you yourself, too — I must burn if it come to that pass, or you shall die by the block. For I will have this land purged.’ His cold eyes flamed dangerously for a minute. ‘Fool!’ he thundered, ‘I will have this land purged of treasons and schisms. Get you gone before I advise further with myself of your haughty and stiff-necked speeches. For learn this: that before all creeds, and before all desires, and before all women, and before all men, standeth the good of this commonwealth, and state, and King, whose servant I be. Get you gone and report my words ere I come terribly among ye.’
Making his desultory pacings from end to end of the gallery, Cromwell considered that in that speech he had done a good morning’s work, for assuredly these men put him in peril. More than one of these dangerous proclaimings of loyalty to him rather than to the King had come to his ears. They must be put an end to.
But this issue faded from his mind. Left to himself, he let his hands twitch as feverishly as they would. Cleves and its Duke had played him false! His sheet anchor was gone! There remained only, then, the device of proving to the King that Katharine Howard was a monster of unchastity. For so strong was the witness that he had gathered against her that he could not but try his Fate once more — to give the King, as so often he had done, proof of how diligently his minister fended for him and how requisite he was, as a man who had eyes in every corner of this realm.
To do that it was necessary that he should find her cousin; he had all the others under lock and key already in that palace. But her cousin — he must come soon or he would come too late!
Privy Seal was a man of immense labours, that carried him to burning his lamp into hours when all other men in land slept in their beds. And, at that date, he had a many letters to indite, because the choosing of burgesses for the Parliament was going forward, and he had ado in some burghs to make the citizens choose the men that he bade them have. He gave to each shire and burgh long thought and minute commands. He knew the mayor of each town, and had note-books telling him the opinions and deeds of every man that had freedom to elect all over England. And into each man he had instilled the terror of his vengeance. This needed anxious labours, and it was the measure of his concern that he stayed now from this work to meditate a full ten minutes upon this matter of bringing Thomas Culpepper before the King.
Thus, when, after he had for many hours been busy with his papers, Lascelles, the gentleman informer of the Archbishop’s, came to tell him that he had seen Thomas Culpepper at Greenwich that dawn and had followed him to the burning at Smithfield, whence he had hastened to Hampton, the Lord Privy Seal took from his neck his own golden collar of knighthood and cast it over Lascelles’ neck. In part this was because he had never before been so glad in his life, and in part because it was his policy to reward very richly them that did him a chance service.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I grudge that ye be the Archbishop’s man and not mine, so your judgment jumps with mine.’
And indeed Lascelles’ judgment had jumped with Privy Seal’s. He was the Archbishop’s confidential gentleman; he swayed in many things the Archbishop’s judgments. Yet in this one thing Cranmer had been too afraid to jump with him.
‘To me,’ Lascelles said, ‘it appeared that the sole thing to be done was to strike at the esteem of the King for Kat Howard, and the sole method to strike at her was through her dealings with her cousin.’
‘Sir,’ Cromwell interrupted him, ‘in this ye have hit upon mine own secret judgment that I had told to no man save my private servants.’
Lascelles bent his knee to acknowledge this great praise.
‘Very gracious lord,’ he said, ‘his Grace of Canterbury opines rather that this woman must be propitiated. He hath sent her books to please her tickle fancy of erudition; he hath sent her Latin chronicles and Saxon to prove to her, if he may, that the English priesthood is older than that of Rome. He is minded to convince her if he may, or, if he may not, he plans to make submission to her, to commend her learning and in all things to flatter her — for she is very approachable by these channels, more than by any other.’
In short, as Lascelles made it appear to Cromwell’s attentive brain, the Archbishop was, as always, anxious to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. He was a schismatic bishop, appointed by the King and the King’s creature, not the Bishop of Rome’s. So that if with his high pen and his great gift of penning weighty sentences, he might bring Kat Howard to acknowledging him bishop and archbishop, he was ready so to do. If he must make submission to her judgment, he was ready so to do.
‘Yet,’ Lascelles concluded, ‘I have urged him against these courses; or yet not against these courses, but to this other end in any case.’ For it was certain that Kat Howard would have no truck with Cranmer. She would make him go on his knees to Rome and then she would burn him; or if she did not burn him she would make him end his days with a hair shirt in the cell of an anchorite. ‘I hold it manifested,’ Lascelles said, ‘that this lady is such an one as will listen to no reason nor policy, neither will she palter, for whatever device, with them that have not lifelong paid lip-service to the arch-devil whose seat is in Rome.’
Cromwell nodded his head once more to commend the Archbishop’s gentleman with a perfect acquiescence.
It had chanced that that morning Lascelles had gone to Greenwich to fetch for the Archbishop some books and tractates. The Archbishop was minded to lend them to the Bishop Hugh Latimer of Worcester; that day he was to dispute publicly with the friar Forest that was cast to be burned. And, coming to Greenwich, still thinking much upon Katharine Howard and her cousin, at the dawn, Lascelles had seen the tall, drunken, red-bearded man in green, with his squat, broad gossip in grey, come staggering up from the ship at the public quay.
‘I did leave my burthen of books,’ he said; ‘for what be Bishop Hugh Latimer’s arguments from a pulpit to a burning priest to the pulling down of this woman?’ He had dogged Thomas Culpepper and his crony; he had seen him burst open windows, cast meat about in the mud and feed the populace of the Greenwich hamlet.
‘And for sure,’ he said, ‘if the King’s Highness should see this man’s filthiness and foul demeanour, he will not be fain to feed after such a make of hound.’
Coming to Smithfield, where Culpepper stayed to cheer on the business, Lascelles had very swiftly begged the Archbishop, where, behind Hugh Larimer’s pulpit, he sat to see Friar Forest corrected — had very swiftly begged the Archbishop to give him leave to come to Hampton.
‘Sir,’ Lascelles said, ‘with a great sigh he gave me leave; for much he fears to have a hand in this matter.’
‘Why, he shall have no hand,’ Cromwell said. He clapped his hands, and told the blonde page-boy that appeared to send him very quickly Viridus, that had had this matter in his care.
Lascelles recounted shortly how he had set four men to watch Thomas Culpepper till he came to Hampton, and very swiftly to send word of when he came. Then the spy dropped his voice and pulled out a parchment from his bosom.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘whilst Culpepper was in the palace of Greenwich I made haste to go on board the ship that had brought him from Calais, being minded if I could to discover what was discoverable concerning his coming.’
He dropped his voice still further.
‘Sir,’ he began again, ‘there be those in this realm, and maybe very close to your own person, that would have stayed his coming. For upon that ship lay a boy, sore sick of the sea and very beaten, by name Harry Poins. Wherefore, or at whose commands, he had done this I had no occasion to discover, since he lay like a sick dog and might not see nor hear nor speak; but this it was told me he had done: in every way he sought to let and hinder T. Culpepper’s coming to England with so marked an importunity that at last Culpepper did set his crony to beat this boy.’ He paused again. ‘And this too I discovered, taking it from the boy’s person, for in my avocations and service to his Grace, whom God preserve and honour! I have much practised these abstractions.’
Lascelles held the parchment, from which fell a seal like a drop of blood.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘this agreement is sealed with your own seal; it is from one Throckmorton in your service. It maketh this T. Culpepper lieutenant of barges and lighters in the town and port of Calais. It enjoineth upon him to stay diligently there and zealously to persevere in these duties.’
Cromwell neither started nor moved; he stood looking down at the floor for a minute space; then he held out his hand for the parchment, considered the seal and the subscription, let his eyes course over the lines of Throckmorton’s handwriting that made a black patch on the surface soiled with sea-water and sweat, and uttered composedly:
‘Why, it is well; it is monstrous well that you have saved this parchment from coming to evil hands.’
He rolled it neatly, placed it in his belt, and four times stamped his foot on the floor.
There came in at this signal, Viridus, the one of his secretaries that had first instructed Katharine Howard as to her demeanour. Since then, he had had among his duties the watching over Thomas Culpepper. Calm, furtive, with his thin hands clasped before him, the Sieur Viridus answered the swift, hard questions of his master. He was more attached and did more services to the Chancellor of the Augmentations, whom he kept mostly mindful of such farms and fields as Privy Seal intended should be given to benefit his particular friends and servants; for he had a mind that would hold many details of figures and directions.
Thus, he had sent two men to Calais and the road Paris-ward with injunctions to meet Thomas Culpepper and tell him tales of Katharine Howard’s lewdness in the King’s Court; to tell him, too, that the farms in Kent, promised him as a guerdon for ridding Paris of the Cardinal Pole, were deeded and signed to him, but that evil men sought to have them away.
‘Ye sent no boy to stay him at Calais with lieutenancy of barges?’ Cromwell asked, swiftly and hard in voice.
‘No boy ne no man,’ Viridus answered.
He had acted by the card of Privy Seal’s injunctions; men were posted at Calais, at Dover, at Ashford, at Maidstone, at Sandwich, at Rochester, at Greenwich, at all the landing places of London. Each several one was instructed to tell Thomas Culpepper some new story that, if Culpepper were not already hastening to Hampton, should make him mend his paces. If he were hastening to Hampton they were to leave him be. All these things were done as Privy Seal had directed.
‘What witnesses have ye here from Lincolnshire?’ Cromwell asked.
In his monotonous sing-song Viridus named these people: Under lock and key in the King’s cellary house, five from Stamford that had heard Culpepper swear Kat Howard was his leman — these had really heard this thing, and called for no priming; under instruction in the Well Ward gate chamber, four that should swear a certain boy was her child — these needed to have their tales evened as to the night the child was born, and how it had been brought from the Lord Edmund’s house wrapped in a napkin. In his own pantry, Viridus had three under guard and admonition of his own — these should swear that whenas they served the Lord Edmund they had seen at several times Culpepper with her in thickets, or climbing to her window in the night, or at dawn coming away from her chamber door. These needed to be instructed as to all these things.
Cromwell listened with little nods, marking each item of these instructions.
‘Listen now to me,’ he said; ‘give attentive ear.’ Viridus dropped his eyes to the floor, as one who lends all his faculties to be subservient to his hearing. ‘At six or thereabouts T. Culpepper shall reach this Court. Ye shall have men ready to bring him straightway to thee. At seven or thereabouts shall come the Lady Katharine to her room; with her shall come the King’s Highness, habited as a yeoman. Be attentive. Next Katharine Howard’s door is the door of the Lady Deedes. Her I have this day sent to other quarters. Having T. Culpepper with you, you shall go to this room of the Lady Deedes. You shall sit at the table with the door a little opened, so that ye may see when the King’s Highness cometh. But you shall sit opposite T. Culpepper that he may not see.’ Viridus remained like a statue carved of wood, motionless, his head inclined to the ground. Lascelles had his head forward, his mouth a little open. ‘Whilst you wait you shall have with you the deeds giving to T. Culpepper his farms in Kent. These ye shall display to him. Ye shall dilate upon the goodness of the fields, upon the commodity in barns and oasthouses, upon the sweetness of the water wells, upon the goodliness of the air. But when the King shall be entered into the Lady Katharine’s room you shall give T. Culpepper to drink of a certain flagon of wine that I shall give to you. When he hath drunk you shall begin to hint that all is ill with the lady he would wed; as thus you shall say: “Aye, your nest is well lined, but how of the bird?” And you shall talk of her having consorted much with a large yeoman. And when you shall observe him to be much heated with the subtle drug and your hintings, you shall say to him, “Lo, next this door is the door of the Lady Katharine. Go see if perchance she have not even now this yeoman with her.”’
Viridus nodded his head once up and down; Lascelles clapped his hands twice for joy at this contrivance. Cromwell added further injunctions: that Viridus should have in the corner of the gallery a man that should come hastening to him, the Lord Privy Seal, where he walked in the gallery; another who, at his own signal, should hastily bring the witnesses prepared against Kat Howard; another who should bring the engrossment of a command to behead T. Culpepper that night in the King’s Tower House, and yet another who should bring up guards and captains. All these, in their separate companies, should be set in the great room abovestairs next the King’s chapel, so that they might swiftly and without hindrance or accident come down the little stair to the Lady Katharine’s room. Again Viridus once bowed his head, moving his lips the while repeating these commands in words as they were uttered.
Cromwell paused again to think, then he added:
‘I will set this gentleman, Lascelles, to bring T. Culpepper to you. And because I will make very certain that this man shall not touch the person of the King, I will have this gentleman to stay with you in the room where you be, to follow with you T. Culpepper into the Lady Katharine’s room. He shall run with you betwixt T. Culpepper and the King; but if T. Culpepper be minded to fall upon the Lady Katharine, ye shall not either of you stay him. It were best if he might stab her dead. Doubtless he shall.’
‘Before God!’ Lascelles cried out, ‘would I were a king to have so masterful and devising a minister as Privy Seal!’
‘Get you gone,’ Privy Seal said to Viridus. ‘I ha’ no need to tell you that if ye do faithfully and to a good issue carry out this play, you shall be greatly rewarded so that few shall hold their heads higher than you in the land. Ye know how I befriend my friends. But know too this: that if this scheme miscarry, either of your fault or another’s, either through inattention or ill chance, either through treason or dullness of the brain of man, down to the least pin of it, ye shall not this night sleep in your bed, nor ever more shall you be seen in daylight above the earth.’ He pointed suddenly from the window to the low sun. ‘Have a care that ye so act as ye shall see that disc again!’
Viridus spoke no word, but having waited a minute to hear if Privy Seal had more to enjoin, noiselessly and with his hands folded before him as they had been when he came, moved away over the shining floor. He went to tell the old, shivering Chancellor of the Augmentations that he must absent himself upon their common master’s errands. ‘I misdoubt some heads will fall to-night,’ he added as he went; ‘our lord’s nose for treasons is sharpened again.’ And that creature of Privy Seal’s shook beneath the furs that he wore, though it was already April; for the Chancellor had his private reasons to dread Privy Seal’s outbursts of suspicion.
In the gallery, Privy Seal still spoke earnestly with Lascelles.
‘I give this part of honour and privilege to thee,’ he said; ‘for though I was well prepared in all things, I trow I may trust thee better than another person.’
Lascelles was to watch for Culpepper, to hasten to Viridus, to attend upon the pair of them as the pilot-fish attendeth upon the ghostly and silent shark, not to leave them till the work was accomplished, or, upon the least sign of treason in Viridus or another, to come hastening as never man hastened, to Privy Seal.
‘For,’ Cromwell ended, ‘ye have felt like me how, if this realm is to be saved, saved it shall be by this thing alone.’
Lascelles, who had had no opening to speak, opened now his lips. Great ferreter as he was, he had discovered former servants of the Duchess of Norfolk, that were ready, for consideration of threats, to swear that they had seen the Lady Katharine when a child in her grandmother’s house to be over familiar with one Francis Dearham. He himself had these witnesses earmarked and attainable, and he was upon the point of offering them to Privy Seal. But he recollected that Privy Seal had witnesses enow of his own. To-morrow was also a day; and the King, if he would not now listen to tales against Kat Howard, might be brought to give ear to those and others added in a year’s time, or when he began to tire of his woman as all men tire of women. Therefore he once more closed his lips. And Cromwell spoke as if his thoughts of a truth jumped together with Lascelles’.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I would willingly bribe you from the service of his Grace of Canterbury to come into mine. But it may be that I shall not long outlive these days. Therefore I enjoin upon you these things: Serve well your master; guide him, for he needeth guidance, subtly as today ye would have guided him. I will not take you from him for this cause, that there is little need in one house of two that think alike. One sufficeth. For two houses with like minds are stronger than one that is bicephalous. Therefore serve you well Cranmer as in my day I served well the great Cardinal; so at his death, even as I at Wolsey’s, ye may rise very high.’
He went swiftly into his little cabinet, and returning, had in his hand a little book.
‘Read well in this,’ he said, ‘where much I have read. You shall see in it mine own annotations. This is “Il Principe” of Macchiavelli; there is none other book like it in the world. Study of it well: read it upon your walks. I am a simple man, yet hath it made me.’
Shadows were falling into the gallery, for the descending sun had come behind the dark, tall elms beyond the river.
‘Upon my faith,’ Cromwell said, ‘and as I hope to enter into Paradise by the aid of Christ the King that commended faithful servants, I tell you I had great joy when you told me this woman’s cousin had come into these parts. But greater joy than any were mine could I discern in this land a disciple that could carry on my work. As yet I have seen none; yet ponder well upon this book. God may work in thee, as in me, great changes by its study. . . . Get you gone.’
He continued long to pace the gallery, his hands behind his back, his cap pulled over his narrow eyes; it grew dusk so that his figure could scarce be seen where it was at the further end. He looked from the casement up into the moon, small and tenuous in the pale western skies. He had been going over in his mind the details of how he had commanded Culpepper to be brought before the King. And at the last when he considered again that Culpepper might well strike his cousin dead at his feet, and that then she would have no tongue to stand against calumnies withal, he uttered the words:
‘I think I hold them.’
And, pondering upon the wonderful destiny that had brought him up from a trooper in Italy to these high places, he saluted the moon with his crooked forefinger — for the moon was the president at his birth.
‘Why,’ he uttered aloud, ‘I have survived four queens’ days.’
For Katharine of Aragon he had seen die; and Anne Boleyn had died on the scaffold; and Jane Seymour was dead in childbed; and now, with the news from Cleves, Anne’s reign was over and done with.
‘Four queens,’ he repeated.
And, turning swiftly to the door, he commanded that Throckmorton be sent him at once when he came to the archway.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54