During the time that had ensued between January and that month of March, i_ad been proved to Katharine Howard how well Throckmorton, the spy, voiced th_en folk of their day. He had left her alone, but she seemed to feel hi_resence in all the air. He passed her in corridors, and she knew from hi_ery silence that he was carrying on a fumbling game with her uncle Norfolk, and with Gardiner of Winchester. He had not induced her to play his game—bu_e seemed to have made her see that every man else in the world was playing _ame like his. It was not, precisely, any more a world of black and white tha_he saw, but a world of men who did one thing in order that something ver_ifferent might happen a long time afterwards.
The main Court had moved from Greenwich to Hampton towards the end of January, but the Lady Mary, with her ladies, came to a manor house at Isleworth; an_hut in as she was with a grim mistress—who assuredly was all white o_lack—Katharine found herself like one with ears strained to catch sounds fro_ distance, listening for the smallest rumours that could come from the othe_reat house up stream.
The other ladies each had their men, as Cicely Elliott had the old knight. On_f them had even six, who one day fought a _mêlée_ for her favours on an eyo_efore the manor windows. These men came by barge in the evenings, or rod_ver the flats with a spare horse to take their mistresses a-hawking after th_erons in the swampy places. So that each of them had her channel by whic_rue gossip might reach her. But Katharine had none. Till the opening of Marc_he magister came to whisper with Margot Poins—then he was sent again to Pari_o set his pen at the service of Sir Thomas Wyatt, who had so many letters t_rite. Thus she heard much women's tattle, but knew nothing of what passed.
Only it seemed certain that Gardiner of Winchester was seeing fit—God know_hy—to be hot in favour of the Old Faith. It was certain, from six severa_ccounts, that at Paul's Cross he had preached a sermon full of a very violen_nd acceptable doctrine. She wondered what move in the game this was: it wa_ssuredly not for the love of God. No doubt it was part of Throckmorton'_lan. The Lutherans were to be stirred to outrages in order to prove to th_ing how insolent were they upon whom Privy Seal relied.
It gratified her to see how acute her prescience had been when Dr Barnes mad_is furious reply to the bishop. For Dr Barnes was one of Privy Seal's mos_oted men: an insolent fool whom he had taken out of the gutter to sen_mbassador to the Schmalkaldners. And it was on the day when Gardiner made hi_omplaint to the King about Dr Barnes, that her uncle Norfolk sent to her t_ome to him at Hampton.
He awaited her, grim and jaundiced, in the centre of a great, empty room, where, shivering with cold, he did not let his voice exceed a croaking whispe_hough there was panelling and no arras on the dim walls. But, to his queries, she answered clearly:
'Nay, I serve the Lady Mary with her Latin. I hear no tales and I bear none t_ny man.' And again:
'Three times I have spoken with the King's Highness, the Lady Mary being by.
And once it was of the Islands of the Blest, and once of the Latin books _ead, and once of indifferent matters—such as of how apple trees may b_lanted against a wall in Lincolnshire.'
Her uncle gazed at her: his dark eyes were motionless and malignant by habit; he opened his lips to speak; closed them again without a word spoken. H_ooked at a rose, carved in a far corner of the ceiling, looked at her again, and muttered:
'The French are making great works at Ardres.'
'Oh, aye,' she answered, 'my cousin Tom wrote me as much. He is commanded t_tay at Calais.'
'Tell me,' he said, 'will they go against Calais town in good earnest?'
'If I knew that,' she answered, 'I should have had it in private words from m_ady whom I serve. And, if I had it in private words I would tell it neithe_o you nor to any man.'
He scowled patiently and muttered:
'Then tell in private words back again this: That if the French King or th_mperor do war upon us now Privy Seal will sit upon the King's back for ever.'
'Ah, I know who hath talked with you,' she answered. 'Uncle, give me your han_o kiss, for I must back to my mistress.'
He put his thin hand grimly behind his back.
'Ye spy, then, for others,' he said. 'Go kiss their feet.'
She laughed in a nettled voice:
'If the others get no more from me than your Grace of Norfolk… .'
He frowned ominously, pivoted stiffly round on his heels, and said over hi_houlder:
'Then I will have thy cousin clapped up the first time he is found in _runken brawl at Calais.'
She was after him beseechingly, with her hands held out:
'Oh no, uncle,' and 'Oh, dear uncle. Let poor fool Tom be drunken when drunke_rawls work no manner of ill.'
'Then get you sent to the King of France, through the channel that you wot of, the message I have given you to convey.' He kept his back to her and spoke a_f to the distant door.
'Why must I mull in these matters?' she asked him piteously, 'or why must poo_om? God help him, he found me bread when you had left me to starve.' It cam_o her as pitiful that her cousin, swaggering and unconscious, at a grea_istance, should be undone because these men quarrelled near her. He move_tiffly round again—he was so bolstered over with clothes against the cold.
'It is not you that must meddle here,' he said. 'It is your mistress. Only sh_ill be believed by those you wot of.'
'Speak you yourself,' she said.
He scowled hatefully.
'Who of the French would believe _me_ ,' he snarled. He had been so made _ool of by Privy Seal in times past that he had lost all hope of credence.
'If I may come to it, I will do it,' she said suddenly.
After all, it seemed to her, this action might bring about the downfall o_rivy Seal—and she desired his downfall. It would be a folly to refuse her ai_erely because her uncle was a craven man or Throckmorton a knave. It was _rue thing that she was to ask the Lady Mary to say—that if France and Spai_hould molest England together the Cleves alliance must stand for good—an_ith it Privy Seal.
'But, a' God's name, let poor Tom be,' she added.
He stood perfectly motionless for a moment, shrugged his shoulders straight u_nd down, stood motionless for another moment, and then held out his hand. Sh_ouched it with her lips.
There was a certain cate, or small cake, made of a paste sweetened with hone_nd flavoured with cinnamon, that Katharine Howard very much loved. She ha_ever tasted them till one day the King had come to visit his daughter, bearing with his own hands a great box of them. He had had the receipt fro_homas Cromwell, who had had it of a Jew in Italy. Mary so much disaffecte_er father that, taking them from his hands with one knee nearly upon th_round, she had said that her birth ill-fitted her to eat these princel_iands, and she had placed them on a ledge of her writing-pulpit. Heaving _eavy sigh, he glanced at her book and said that he would not have her spoi_er eyes with too much of study; let her bid Lady Katharine to read and writ_or her.
'She will have greater need of her eyes than ever I of mine,' Mary answere_ith her passionless voice.
'I will not have you spoil your eyes,' he said heavily, and she gave him bac_he reply:
'My eyes are your Highness'.'
He made with his shoulders a slow movement of exasperation, and, turning t_atharine Howard, he began once more to talk of the Islands of the Blest. H_as dressed all in black furs that day, so that his face appeared less palli_han when he had worn scarlet, and it seemed to her suddenly that he was _ery pitiful man—a man who could do nothing; and one who, as Throckmorton ha_aid, was nothing but a doubt. There beside him, between the two of them, stood his daughter—pale, straight, silent, her hands clasped before her. An_er father had come to placate her. He had brought her cates to eat, or h_ould have beaten her into loving him. Yet Mary of England stood as rigid as _nife-blade; you could move her neither by love nor by threats. This man ha_inned against this daughter; here he was brought up against an implacability.
He was omnipotent in everything else; this was his Pillars of Hercules. So sh_xerted herself to be pleasant with him, and at one moment of the afternoon h_tretched out a great hand to the cinnamon cakes and placed one in his ow_outh. He sat still, and, his great jaws moving slowly, he said that h_carcely doubted that, if he himself could set sail with a great armada an_any men, he should find a calm region of tranquil husbandry and a pure faith.
'It might be found,' he said; then he sighed heavily, and, looking earnestl_t her, brushed the crumbs from the furs about his neck.
'One day, doubtless, your Highness shall find them,' Katharine answered, 'i_our Highness shall apply yourself to the task.' She was impatient with hi_or his sighs. Let him, if he would, abandon his kingdom and his daughter t_et out upon a quest, or let him stay where he was and set to work at an_ther task.
'But whether your Highness shall find them beyond the Western Isles or hidde_n this realm of England… .'
He shrugged his great shoulders right up till the furs on them were brushed b_he feathers that fell from his bonnet.
'God, wench!' he said gloomily, 'that is a question you are main happy to hav_ime to dally with. I have wife and child, and kith and kin, and a plague_asket of rotten apples to make cider from.'
He pulled himself out of his chair with both hands on the arms, stretched hi_egs as if they were cramped, and rolled towards the door.
'Why, read of this matter in old books,' he said, 'and if you find the plac_ou shall take me there.' Then he spoke bitterly to the Lady Mary, who ha_ever moved.
'Since your eyes are mine, I bid you not spoil them,' he said. 'Let this lad_id you. She has ten times more of learning than you have.' But, taking hi_ewelled walking-stick from beside the door, he added, 'God, wench! you are m_hild. I have read your commentary, and I, a man who have as much of goo_etters as any man in Christendom, am well content to father you.'
'Did your Highness mark—this book being my child—which side of the paper i_as written on?' his daughter asked.
Katharine Howard sighed, for it was the Lady Mary's bitter jest that she wrot_n the rough side of the paper, having been born on the wrong side of th_lanket.
'Madam Howard,' she said to Katharine with a cold sneer, as of a very age_oman, 'my father, who has taken many things from me to give to other women, takes now my commentary to give to you. Pray you finish it, and I will sav_ine eyes.'
As the King closed the door behind him she moved across to the chair and sa_erself down to gaze at the coals. Katharine knelt at her feet and stretche_ut her hands. She was, she said, her mistress's woman. But the Lady Mar_urned obdurately the side of her face to her suppliant; only her finger_icked at her black dress.
'I am your woman,' Katharine said. 'Before God and St Anthony, the King i_aught to me! Before God and the Mother of God, no man is aught to me! I swea_hat I am your woman. I swear that I will speak as you bid me speak, or b_ilent. May God do so to me if in aught I act other than may be of service t_ou!'
'Then you may sit motionless till the green mould is over your cheeks,' Mar_nswered.
But two days later, in the afternoon, Katharine Howard came upon her mistres_ith her jaws moving voraciously. Half of the cinnamon cates were eaten fro_he box on the writing-pulpit. A convulsion of rage passed over the girl'_ark figure; her eyes dilated and appeared to blaze with a hot and threatenin_ury.
'If I could have thy head, before God I would shorten thee by the neck!' sh_aid. 'Stay now; go not. Take thy hand from the door-latch.'
Sudden sobs shook her, and tears dropped down her furrowed and pallid cheeks.
She was tormented always by a gnawing and terrible hunger that no meat and n_read might satisfy, so that, being alone with the cates in the cold sprin_fternoon, she had, in spite of the donor, been forced always nearer an_earer to them.
'God help me!' she said at last. 'Udal is gone, and the scullion that supplie_e in secret has the small-pox. How may I get me things to eat?'
'To have stayed to ask me!' Katharine cried. 'What a folly was here!' For, a_ daughter of the King, the Lady Mary was little more than herself; bu_ecause she was daughter to a queen that was at once a saint and martyr, Katharine was ready to spend her life in her service.
'I would stay to ask a service of any man or woman,' Mary answered, 'save onl_hat I have this great hunger.' She clutched angrily at her skirt, and s_almed herself.
'How may you help me?' she asked grimly. 'There are many that would put poiso_n my food. My mother was poisoned.'
'I would eat myself of all the food that I bring you,' said Katharine.
'And if thou wast poisoned, I must get me another, and yet another after that.
You know who it is that would have me away.'
At that hint of the presence of Cromwell, Katharine grew more serious.
'I will save of my own food,' she answered simply.
'Till your bones stick through your skin!' Mary sneered. 'See you, do you kno_ne man you could trust?'
The shadow fell the more deeply upon Katharine, because her cousin—as sh_emembered every day—the one man that she could trust, was in Calais town.
'I know of two women,' she said; 'my maid Margot and Cicely Elliott.'
Mary of England reflected for a long time. Her eyes sunk deep in her head, grey and baleful, had the look of her father's.
'Cicely Elliott is too well known for my woman,' she said. 'Thy maid Margot i_ great lump, too. Hath she no lover?'
The magister was in Paris.
'But a brother she hath,' Katharine said; 'one set upon advancement.'
Mary said moodily:
'Advancement, then, may be in this. God knoweth his own good time. But yo_ight tell him; or it were better you should bid her tell him… . In shor_ords, and fur … wait.'
She had a certain snake-like eagerness and vehemence in her motions. Sh_pened swiftly an aumbry in which there stood a tankard of milk. She took _lean pen, and then turned upon Katharine.
'Before thou goest upon this errand,' she said, 'I would have thee know that, for thee, there may be a traitor's death in this—and some glory in Heaven.'
'You write to the Empress,' Katharine cried.
'I write to a man,' the Lady Mary said. 'Might you speak with clear eyes to m_ather if you knew more than that?'
'I do not believe that you would bring your father down,' Katharine said.
'Why, you have a very comfortable habit of belief,' Mary sneered at her. 'I_wo words! Will you carry this treasonable letter or no?'
'God help me,' Katharine cried.
'Well, God help you,' her mistress jeered. 'Two nights agone you swore to b_y woman and no other man's. Here you are in a taking. Think upon it.'
She dipped her white pen in the milk and began to write upon a great sheet o_aper, holding her head aslant to see the shine of the fluid.
Katharine fought a battle within herself. Here was treason to the King—bu_hat was a little thing to her. Yet the King was a father whom she would brin_ack to this daughter, and the traitor was a daughter whom she was sworn t_erve and pledged to bring back to this father. If then she conveyed thi_etter… .
'Tell me,' she asked of the intent figure above the paper, 'when, if ever, this plot shall burst?'
'Madam Howard,' the other answered, 'I heard thee not.'
'I say I will convey your Highness' letter if the plot shall not burst fo_any days. If it be to come soon I will forswear myself and be no longer you_oman.'
'Why, what a pax is here?' her mistress faced round on her. 'What muddles th_lear head? I doubt, knowing the craven kings that are of my party, no plo_hall burst for ten years. And so?'
'Before then thou mayest be brought back to thy father,' Katharine said.
Mary of England burst into a hoarse laughter.
'As God's my life,' she cried, 'that may well be. And you may find a chast_hore before either.'
Whilst she was finishing her letter, Katharine Howard prayed that Mary th_other of Mercy might soften the hatred of this daughter, even as, of ol_imes, she had turned the heart of Lucius the Syracusan. Then there should b_n end to plotting and this letter might work no ill.
Having waved the sheet of paper in the air to dry it, Mary crumpled it into _all.
'See you,' she said, 'if this miscarry I run a scant risk. For, if this be _reason, this treason is well enough known already to them you wot of. The_ight have had my head this six years on one shift or another had they s_ared. So to me it matters little.—But for thee—and for thy maid Margot an_his maid's brother and his house and his father and his leman—death may fal_n ye all if this ball of paper miscarry.'
Katharine made no answer and her mistress spoke on.
'Take now this paper ball, give it to thy maid Margot, bid thy maid Margo_ear it to her brother Ned.' Her brother Ned should place it in his sleeve an_alk with it to Herring Lane at Hampton. There, over against the house of th_ieur Chapuys, who was the Emperor's ambassador to this Christian nation—ove_gainst that house there was a cookshop to which resorted the servants of th_mbassador. Passing it by, Katharine's maid's brother should thrust his han_n at the door and cry 'a pox on all stinking Kaiserliks and Papists,'—and h_hould cast the paper at that cook's head. Then out would come master cook t_is door and claim reparation. And for reparation Margot's brother Ned shoul_uy such viands as the cook should offer him. These viands he was to bring, a_ good brother should, to his hungry sister, and these viands his siste_hould take to her room—which was Katharine's room. 'And, of an evening,' sh_inished, 'I shall come to thy room to commune with thee of the writers tha_e dead and yet beloved. Hast thou the lesson by heart? I will say it again.'