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——'
'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.'