Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 5

  • Katharine Howard sat in her own room; it had in it little of sumptuousness, for all the King so much affected her. It was the room she had first had a_ampton after coming to be maid to the King's daughter, and it had the old, green hangings that had always been round the walls, the long oak table, th_ox-bed set in the wall, the high chair and the three stools round the fire.
  • The only thing she had taken of the King was a curtain in red cloth to hang o_ rod before the door where was a great draught, the leading of the window_eing rotted. She had lived so poor a life, her father having been a very poo_ord with many children—she was so attuned to flaws of the wind, ill-feedin_nd harsh clothes, that such a tall room as she there had seemed goodly enoug_or her. Barely three months ago she had come to the palace of Greenwic_iding upon a mule. Now accident, or maybe the design of the dear saints, ha_et her so high in the King's esteem that she might well try a fall with Priv_eal.
  • She sat there dressed, awaiting the summons to go to him. She wore a lon_ress of red velvet, worked around the breast-lines with little silver anchor_nd hearts, and her hood was of black lawn and fell near to her hips behind.
  • And she had read and learned by heart passages from Plutarch, from Tacitus, from Diodorus Siculus, from Seneca and from Tully, each one inculcating ho_alutary a thing in a man was the love of justice. Therefore she felt hersel_ell prepared to try a fall with the chief enemy of her faith, and awaite_ith impatience his summons to speak with him. For she was anxious, now a_ast, to speak out her mind, and Privy Seal's agents had worked upon th_eligious of a poor little convent near her father's house a wrong so balefu_hat she could no longer contain herself. Either Privy Seal must redress o_he must go to the King for justice to these poor women that had taught he_he very elements of virtue and lay now in gaol.
  • So she spoke to her two chief friends, her that had been Cicely Elliott an_er old husband Rochford, the knight of Bosworth Hedge. They happened in upo_er just after she was attired and had sent her maid to fetch her dinner fro_he buttery.
  • 'Three months agone,' she said, 'the King's Highness did bid me cease fro_rying out upon Privy Seal; and not the King's Highness' self can say that i_hat time I have spoken word against the Lord Cromwell.'
  • Cicely Elliott, who dressed, in spite of her new wedding, all in black for th_ake of some dead men, laughed round at her from her little stool by the fire.
  • 'God help you! that must have been hard, to keep thy tongue from the flail o_ll Papists.'
  • The old knight, who was habited like Katharine, all in red, because at tha_eason the King favoured that colour, pulled nervously at his little goat'_eard, for all conversations that savoured of politics and religion were t_im very fearful. He stood back against the green hangings and fidgeted wit_is feet.
  • But Katharine, who for the love of the King had been silent, was now set t_peak her mind.
  • 'It is Seneca,' she said, 'who tells us to have a check upon our tongues, bu_nly till the moment approaches to speak.'
  • 'Aye, goodman Seneca!' Cicely laughed round at her. Katharine smoothed he_air, but her eyes gleamed deeply.
  • 'The moment approaches,' she said; 'I do like my King, but better I like m_hurch.' She swallowed in her throat. 'I had thought,' she said, 'that Priv_eal would stay his harryings of the goodly nuns in this land.' But now sh_ad a petition, come that day from Lincoln gaol. Cromwell's servants were mor_itter still than ever against the religious. Here was a false accusation o_reason against her foster-mother's self. 'I will soon end it or mend it, o_ose mine own head,' Katharine ended.
  • 'Aye, pull down Cur Crummock,' Cicely said. 'I think the King shall not lon_tay away from thy desires.'
  • The old knight burst in:
  • 'I take it ill that ye speak of these things. I take it ill. I will not have
  • 'ee lose thy head in these quarrels.'
  • 'Husband,' Cicely laughed round at him, 'three years ago Cur Crummock had th_eads of all my menfolk, having sworn they were traitors.'
  • 'The more reason that he have not mine and thine now,' the old knight answere_rimly. 'I am not for these meddlings in things that concern neither me no_hee.'
  • Cicely Elliott set her elbows upon her knees and her chin upon her knuckles.
  • She gazed into the fire and grew moody, as was her wont when she had chance_o think of her menfolk that Cromwell had executed.
  • 'He might have had my head any day this four years,' she said. 'And had yo_ost my head and me you might have had any other maid any day that se'nnight.'
  • 'Nay, I grow too old,' the knight answered. 'A week ago I dropped my lance.'
  • Cicely continued to gaze at nothings in the fire.
  • 'For thee,' she said scornfully to Katharine, 'it were better thou hadst neve_een born than have meddled between kings and ministers and faiths and nuns.
  • You are not made for this world. You talk too much. Get you across the seas t_ nunnery.'
  • Katharine looked at her pitifully.
  • 'Child,' she said, 'it was not I that spoke of thy menfolk.'
  • 'Get thyself mewed up,' Cicely repeated more hotly; 'thou wilt set all thi_orld by the ears. This is no place for virtues learned from learned books.
  • This is an ill world where only evil men flourish.'
  • The old knight still fidgeted to be gone.
  • 'Nay,' Katharine said seriously, 'ye think I will work mine own advantage wit_he King. But I do swear to thee I have it not in my mind.'
  • 'Oh, swear not,' Cicely mumbled, 'all the world knoweth thee to be that mak_f fool.'
  • 'I would well to get me made a nun—but first I will bring nunneries back fro_cross the seas to this dear land.'
  • Cicely laughed again—for a long and strident while.
  • 'You will come to no nunnery if you wait till then,' she said. 'Nuns withou_heir heads have no vocation.'
  • 'When Cromwell is down, no woman again shall lose her head,' Katharin_nswered hotly.
  • Cicely only laughed.
  • 'No woman again!' Katharine repeated.
  • 'Blood was tasted when first a queen fell on Tower Hill.' Cicely pointed he_ittle finger at her. 'And the taste of blood, even as the taste of wine, ensureth a certain oblivion.'
  • 'You miscall your King,' Katharine said.
  • Cicely laughed and answered: 'I speak of my world.'
  • Katharine's blood came hot to her cheeks.
  • 'It is a new world from now on,' she answered proudly.
  • 'Till a new queen's blood seal it an old one,' Cicely mocked her earnestness.
  • 'Hadst best get thee to a nunnery across the seas.'
  • 'The King did bid me bide here.' Katharine faltered in the least.
  • 'You have spoken of it with him?' Cicely said. 'Why, God help you!'
  • Katharine sat quietly, her fair hair gilded by the pale light of the gust_ay, her lips parted a little, her eyelids drooping. It behoved her to mov_ittle, for her scarlet dress was very nice in its equipoise, and fain she wa_o seem fine in Privy Seal's eyes.
  • 'This King hath a wife to his tail,' Cicely mocked her.
  • The old knight had recovered his quiet; he had his hand upon his haunch, an_poke with his air of wisdom:
  • 'I would have you to cease these talkings of dangerous things,' he said. 'I a_ochford of Bosworth Hedge. I have kept my head and my lands, and my legs fro_hains—and how but by leaving to talk of dangerous things?'
  • Katharine moved suddenly in her chair. This speech, though she had heard it _undred times before, struck her now as so craven that she forgot alike he_esire to keep fine and her friendship for the old man's new wife.
  • 'Aye, you have been a coward all your life,' she said: for were not her dea_uns in Lincoln gaol, and this was a knight that should have redressed wrongs!
  • Old Rochford smiled with his air of tranquil wisdom and corpulent age.
  • 'I have struck good blows,' he said. 'There have been thirteen ballads writ o_e.'
  • 'You have kept so close a tongue,' Katharine said to him hotly, 'that I kno_ot what you love. Be you for the old faith, or for this Church of devils tha_romwell hath set up in the land? Did you love Queen Katharine or Queen Ann_oleyn? Were you glad when More died, or did you weep? Are you for the Statut_f Users, or would you end it? Are you for having the Lady Mary calle_astard—God pardon me the word!—or would you defend her with your life?—I d_ot know. I have spoken with you many times—but I do not know.'
  • Old Rochford smiled contentedly.
  • 'I have saved my head and my lands in these perilous times by letting no ma_now,' he said.
  • 'Aye,' Katharine met his words with scorn and appeal. 'You have kept your hea_n your shoulders and the rent from your lands in your poke. But oh, sir, i_s certain that, being a man, you love either the new ways or the old; it i_ertain that, being a spurred knight, you should love the old ways. Sir, bethink you and take heed of this: that the angels of God weep above England, that the Mother of God weeps above England; that the saints of God do weep—an_ou, a spurred knight, do wield a good sword. Sir, when you stand before th_ates of Heaven, what shall you answer the warders thereof?'
  • 'Please God,' the old knight answered, 'that I have struck some good blows.'
  • 'Aye; you have struck blows against the Scots,' Katharine said. 'But th_easts of the field strike as well against the foes of their kind—the bull o_he herd against lions; the Hyrcanian tiger against the troglodytes; th_asilisk against many beasts. It is the province of a man to smite not onl_gainst the foes of his kind but—and how much the more?—against the foes o_is God.'
  • In the full flow of her speaking there came in the great, blonde Margot Poins, her body-maid. She led by the hand the Magister Udal, and behind the_ollowed, with his foxy eyes and long, smooth beard, the spy Throckmorton, vivid in his coat of green and scarlet stockings. And, at the antipathy of hi_pproach, Katharine's emotions grew the more harrowing—as if she wer_etermined to shew this evil supporter of her cause how a pure fight should b_aged. They moved on tiptoe and stood against the hangings at the back.
  • She stretched out her hands to the old knight.
  • 'Here you be in a pitiful and afflicted land from which the saints have bee_riven out; have you struck one blow for the saints of God? Nay, you have hel_our peace. Here you be where good men have been sent to the block: have yo_ecried their fates? You have seen noble and beloved women, holy priests, blessed nuns defiled and martyred; you have seen the poor despoiled; you hav_een that knaves ruled by aid of the devil about a goodly king. Have yo_truck one blow? Have you whispered one word?'
  • The colour rushed into Margot Poins' huge cheeks. She kept her mouth open t_rink in her mistress's words, and Throckmorton waved his hands in applause.
  • Only Udal shuffled in his broken-toed shoes, and old Rochford smiled benignl_nd tapped his chest above the chains.
  • 'I have struck good blows in the quarrels that were mine,' he answered.
  • Katharine wrung her hands.
  • 'Sir, I have read it in books of chivalry, the province of a knight is t_uccour the Church of God, to defend the body of God, to set his lance in res_or the Mother of God; to defend noble men cast down, and noble women; to ai_oly priests and blessed nuns; to succour the despoiled poor.'
  • 'Nay, I have read no books of chivalry,' the old man answered; 'I canno_ead.'
  • 'Ah, there be pitiful things in this world,' Katharine said, and her chest wa_roubled.
  • 'You should quote Hesiodus,' Cicely mocked her suddenly from her stool. '_arked this text when all my menfolk were slain: πλεἱη μὲν γὰρ γᾶια, πλεἱη δέ θὰλασσα so I have laughed ever since.'
  • Upon her, too, Katharine turned.
  • 'You also,' she said; 'you also.'
  • 'No, before God, I am no coward,' Cicely Elliott said. 'When all my menfol_ere slain by the headsman something broke in my head, and ever since I hav_aughed. But before God, in my way I have tried to plague Cromwell. If h_ould have had my head he might have.'
  • 'Yet what hast thou done for the Church of God?' Katharine said.
  • Cicely Elliott sprang to the floor and raised her hands with such violenc_hat Throckmorton moved swiftly forward.
  • 'What did the Church of God for me?' she cried. 'Guard your face from my nail_re you ask me that again. I had a father; I had two brothers; I had two men _oved passing well. They all died upon one day upon the one block. Did th_aints of God save them? Go see their heads upon the gates of York?'
  • 'But if they died for God His pitiful sake,' Katharine said—'if they did di_n the quarrel of God's wounds——'
  • Cicely Elliott screamed, with her hands above her head.
  • 'Is that not enow? Is that not enow?'
  • 'Then it is I, not thou, that love them,' Katharine said; 'for I, not thou, shall carry on the work for which they died.'
  • 'Oh gaping, pink-faced fool!' Cicely Elliott sneered at her.
  • She began to laugh, holding her black sides in, her face thrown back. Then sh_losed her mouth and stood smiling.
  • 'You were made for a preacher, coney,' she said. 'Fine to hear the_elabouring my old, good knight with doughty words.'
  • 'Gibe as thou wilt; scream as thou wilt——' Katharine began. Cicely Elliot_ossed in on her words:
  • 'My head ached so. I had the right of it to scream. I cannot be minded of m_enfolk but my head will ache. But I love thy fine preaching. Preach on.'
  • Katharine raised herself from her chair.
  • 'Words there must be that will move thee,' she said, 'if God will give them t_e.'
  • 'God hath withdrawn Himself from this world,' Cicely answered. 'All mankin_oeth a-mumming.'
  • 'It was another thing that Polycrates said.' Katharine, in spite of he_motion, was quick to catch the misquotation.
  • 'Coney,' Cicely Elliott answered, 'all men wear masks; all men lie; all me_esire the goods of all men and seek how they may get them.'
  • 'But Cromwell being down, these things shall change,' Katharine answered. '
  • _Res, aetas, usus, semper aliquid apportent novi._ '
  • Cicely Elliott fell back into her chair and laughed.
  • 'What are we amongst that multitude?' she said. 'Listen to me: When my menfol_ere cast to die, I flew to Gardiner to save them. Gardiner would not speak.
  • Now is he Bishop of Winchester—for he had goods of my father's, and grease_ith them the way to his bishop's throne. Fanshawe is a goodly Papist; bu_romwell hath let him have goods of the Abbey of Bright. Will Fanshawe hel_hee to bring back the Church? Then he must give up his lands. Will Cranme_elp thee? Will Miners? Coney, I loved Federan, a true man: Miners hath hi_and to-day, and Federan's mother starves. Will Miners help thee to gar th_ing do right? Then the mother of my love Federan must have Miners' land an_he rents for seven years. Will Cranmer serve thee to bring back the Bishop o_ome? Why, Cranmer would burn.'
  • 'But the poorer sort——' Katharine said.
  • 'There is no man will help thee whose help will avail,' Cicely mocked at her.
  • 'For hear me: No man now is up in the land that hath not goods of the Church; fields of the abbeys; spoons made of the parcel gilt from the shrines. Ther_s no rich man now but is rich with stolen riches; there is no man now up tha_as not so set up. And the men that be down have lost their heads. Go dig i_raves to find men that shall help thee.'
  • 'Cromwell shall fall ere May goeth out,' Katharine said.
  • 'Well, the King dotes upon thy sweet face. But Cromwell being down, there wil_emain the men he hath set up. Be they lovers of the old faith, or thee? Now, thy pranks will ruin all alike.'
  • 'The King is minded to right these wrongs,' Katharine protested hotly.
  • 'The King! The King!' Cicely laughed. 'Thou lovest the King… . Nay an tho_ovest the King… . But to be enamoured of the King… . And the King enamoure_f thee … why, this pair of lovers cast adrift upon the land——'
  • Katharine said:
  • 'Belike I am enamoured of the King: belike the King of me, I do not know. Bu_his I know: he and I are minded to right the wrongs of God.'
  • Cicely Elliott opened her eyes wide.
  • 'Why, thou art a very infectious fanatic!' she said. 'You may well do thes_hings. But you must shed much blood. You must widow many men's wives. Body o_od! I believe thou wouldst.'
  • 'God forbid it!' Katharine said. 'But if He so willeth it, _fiat voluntas_.'
  • 'Why, spare no man,' Cicely answered. 'Thou shalt not very easily escape.'
  • It was at this point that the magister was moved to keep no longer silence.
  • 'Now, by all the gods of high Olympus!' he cried out, 'such things shall no_e alleged against me. For I do swear, before Venus and all the saints, that _m your man.'
  • Nevertheless, it was Margot Poins, wavering between her love for her magiste_nd her love for her mistress, that most truly was carried away by Katharine'_loquence.
  • 'Mistress,' she said, and she indicated both the magister and his tall an_earded companion, 'these two have made up a pretty plot upon the stairs.
  • There are in it papers from Cleves and a matter of deceiving Privy Seal an_hou shouldst be kept in ignorance asking to—to——'
  • Her gruff voice failed and her blushes overcame her, so that she wanted for _ord. But upon the mention of papers and Privy Seal the old knight fidgete_nd faltered:
  • 'Why, let us begone.' Cicely Elliott glanced from one to the other of the_ith a malicious glee, and Throckmorton's eyes blinked sardonically above hi_eard.
  • * * *
  • It had been actually upon the stairs that he had come upon the magister, newl_own from his horse, and both stiff and bruised, with Margot Poins hangin_bout his neck and begging him to spare her a moment. Throckmorton crept u_he dark stairway with his shoes soled with velvet. The magister was seekin_o disengage himself from the girl with the words that he had a treaty form o_he Duke of Cleves in his bosom and must hasten on the minute to give it t_er mistress.
  • 'Before God!' Throckmorton had said behind his back, 'ye will do no suc_hing,' and Udal had shrieked out like a rabbit caught by a ferret in it_ury. For here he had seemed to find himself caught by the chief spy of Priv_eal upon a direct treason against Privy Seal's self.
  • But, dragging alike the terrified magister and the heavy, blonde girl wh_lung to him out from the dark stairhead into the corridor, where, since n_ne could come upon them unseen or unheard, it was the safest place in th_alace to speak, Throckmorton had whispered into his ear a long, swift speec_n which he minced no matters at all.
  • The time, he said, was ripe to bring down Privy Seal. He himself—Throckmorto_imself—loved Kat Howard with a love compared to which the magister's was _ushlight such as you bought fifty for a halfpenny. Privy Seal was ravenin_or a report of that treaty. They must, before all things, bring him a repor_hat was false. For, for sure, upon that report Privy Seal would act, and, i_hey brought him a false report, Privy Seal would act falsely.
  • Udal stood perfectly still, looking at nothing, his thin brown hand claspe_ound his thin brown chin.
  • 'But, above all,' Throckmorton had concluded, 'show ye no papers to Ka_oward. For it is very certain that she will have no falsehoods employed t_ring down Privy Seal, though she hate him as the Assyrian cockatrice hatet_he symbol of the Cross.'
  • 'Sir Throckmorton,' Margot Poins had uttered, 'though ye be a paid spy, y_peak true words there.'
  • He pulled his beard and blinked at her.
  • 'I am minded to reform,' he said. 'Your mistress hath worked a miracle o_onversion in me.'
  • She shrugged her great fair shoulders at this, and spoke to the magister:
  • 'It is very true,' she said, 'that this spying knight affects my mistress. Bu_hether it be for the love of virtue, or for the love of her body, or becaus_he cat jumps that way and there he observeth fortune to rise, I leave to Go_ho reads all hearts.'
  • 'There speaks a wench brought up and taught by Protestants,' Throckmorto_ibed pleasantly at her; 'or ye have caught the trick of Kat Howard, who, though she be a Papist as good as I, yet prates virtue like a Lutheran.'
  • 'Ye lie!' Margot said; 'my mistress getteth her virtue from good letters.'
  • Throckmorton smiled at her again.
  • 'Wench,' he said, 'in all save doctrine, this Kat Howard and her learning ar_earer Lutheran than of the old faith.'
  • With his malice he set himself to bewilder Margot. They made a little, shadow_not in the long corridor. For he wished to give Udal, who in his long gow_tood deaf-faced, like a statue of contemplation, the time to come to _onclusion.
  • 'Why, you are a very mean wag,' Margot said. 'I have heard my uncle—who is, a_e wot, a Protestant and a printer—I have heard him speak of Luther and o_ucer and of the word of God and suchlike canting books, but never once o_eneca and Tully, that my mistress loves.'
  • 'Why, ye are learning the trick of tongues,' Throckmorton mocked. 'Please God, when your mistress cometh to be Queen—may He send it soon!—there shall be suc_ fashion and contagion of talking——'
  • Having his eyes on Udal, he broke off suddenly, and said with a hars_harpness:
  • 'I have given you time to make a resolution. Speak quickly. Will you come int_ur boat with us that will bring down Privy Seal?'
  • Udal winced, but Throckmorton held him by the wrist.
  • 'Then unpouch quickly thy Cleves papers,' he said; 'we have but a little tim_o turn them round.'
  • Udal's thin hand sought nervously the opening of his jerkin beneath his gown: he drew it back, moved it forward again, and stood quivering with doubt.
  • Throckmorton stood vaingloriously back upon his feet and combed his grea_eard with his white fingers.
  • 'Magister,' he uttered triumphantly, 'well you wot that such a man as yo_annot plot for himself alone; you will make naught of your treasure trov_ave a cleft neck!'
  • And, furtively, cringing back into the dark hangings, a bent, broken figur_ike a miser unpouching his gold, Udal undid his breast lacings.
  • * * *
  • It was hot from this colloquy that Margot Poins had led the two men in upo_er mistress in her large dim room. Because she hated the great spy, since h_oved Kat Howard and had undone many good men with false tales, she had no_een able to keep her tongue from seeking to wound him.
  • 'Ye are too true to mix in plots,' she brought out gruffly.
  • Cicely Rochford came close to Katharine and measured her neck with the span o_er small hand.
  • 'There is room!' she said. 'Hast a long and a straight neck.'
  • Her husband muttered that he liked not these talkings. By diligent avoidanc_f such, he had kept his own hair and neck uncut in troublesome times.
  • 'I will take thee to another place,' Cicely threw at him over her shoulder.
  • 'Shalt kiss me in a dark room. It is very certain maids' talk is no fi_earing for thy jolly old ears.'
  • She took him delicately at the end of his short white beard between her lon_inger and thumb, and, with her high and mincing step, led him through th_oor.
  • 'God save this room, where all the virtues bide!' she cried out, and drew he_verskirt closer to her as she passed near the great, bearded spy.
  • Katharine turned and faced Throckmorton.
  • It is even as the maid saith,' she uttered. 'I am too true to mix in plots.'
  • 'Neither will ye give us to death!' Throckmorton faced her back so that sh_aused for breath, and the pause lasted a full minute.
  • 'Sir,' she said, 'I do give you a fair and a full warning that, if you do plo_gainst Privy Seal, and if knowledge of your plotting cometh to min_ars—though I ask not to know of them—I will tell of your plottings——'
  • 'Oh, before God!' Udal cried out, 'I have suckled you with learned writers; _ave carried letters for you; will you give me to die?' and Margot wailed fro_ deep chest: 'The magister so well hath loved thee. Give him not into di_ands of Cur Crummock!—would I had never told thee that they plotted!'
  • 'Fool!' Throckmorton said; 'it is to the King she will go with her tales.' H_at down upon her yellow-wood table and swung one crimson leg before th_ther, laughing gleefully at Katharine's astonished face.
  • 'Sir,' she said at last; 'it is true that I will go, not to my lord Priv_eal, but to the King.'
  • Throckmorton held up one of his white hands to the light and, with the other, smoothed down its little finger.
  • 'See you?' he gibed softly at Margot. 'How better I guess this thing, mistress, than thou. For I do know her better.'
  • Katharine looked at him with a soft glance and said pitifully:
  • 'Nevertheless, what shall it profit thee if I take a tale of thy treasons t_he King's Highness?'
  • Throckmorton sprang from the table and clapped his heels together on th_loor.
  • 'It shall get me made an earl,' he said. 'The King will do that much for th_an that shall rid him of his minister.' He reflected foxily and for a quic_oment. 'Before God!' he said,'take this tale to the King, for it is the tru_ale: That the Duke of Cleves seeks, in France, to have done with hi_lliance. He will no more cleave to his brother-in-law, but will mak_ubmission to the Emperor and to Rome!'
  • He paused, and then finished:
  • 'For that news the King shall love you much more than before. But God help me!
  • it takes thee the more out of my reach!'
  • As they left the room to go to the audience with Cromwell, Katharine, squarin_he frills of her hood behind her back, could hear Margot Poins grumbling t_he magister:
  • 'After these long days ye ha' time for five minutes to hold my hand,' and th_agister, perturbed and fumbling in his bosom, muttered:
  • 'Nay, I have no minutes now. I must write much in Latin ere thy mistres_eturn.'