'Men shall make us cry, in the end, steel our hearts how we will,' she said t_argot Poins, who found her weeping with her head down upon the table above _iece of paper.
'I would weep for no man,' Margot answered.
Large, florid, fair, and slow speaking, she gave way to one of her impulses o_aring that covered her afterwards with immense blushes and left her buried i_peechless confusion. 'I could never weep for such an oaf as your cousin. H_eats good men.'
'Once he sold a farm to buy me a gown,' Katharine said, 'and he goes to a sur_eath if I may not stay him.'
'It is even the province of men—to die,' Margot answered. Her voice, gruf_ith emotion, astonished herself. She covered her mouth with the back of he_reat white hand as if she wished to wipe the word away.
'Beseech you, spoil not your eyes with sitting to write at this hour for th_ake of this roaring boy.'
Katharine sat to the table: a gentle knocking came at the door. 'Let no on_ome, I have told the serving knave as much.' She sank into a pondering ove_he wording of her letter to Bishop Gardiner. It was not to be thought of tha_er cousin should murder a Prince of the Church; therefore the bishop mus_arn the Catholics in Paris that Cromwell had this in mind. And Bisho_ardiner must stay her cousin on his journey: by a false message if need_ere. It would be an easy matter to send him such a message as that she la_ying and must see him, or anything that should delay him until this cardina_ad left Paris.
The great maid behind her back was fetching from the clothes-prop a waterglob_pon its stand; she set it down on the table before the rush-light, moving o_iptoe, for to her the writing of a letter was a sort of necromancy, and sh_as distressed for Katharine's sake. She had heard that to write at nigh_ould make a woman blind before thirty. The light grew immense behind th_lobe; watery rays flickered broad upon the ceiling and on the hangings, an_he paper shone with a mellow radiance. The gentle knocking was repeated, an_atharine frowned. For before she was half way through with the humble word_f greeting to the bishop it had come to her that this was a very dangerou_atter to meddle in, and she had no one by whom to send the letter. Margo_ould not go, for it was perilous for her maid to be seen near the bishop'_uarters with all Cromwell's men spying about.
Behind her was the pleasant and authoritative voice of old Sir Nichola_ochford talking to Margot Poins. Katharine caught the name of Cicely Elliott, the dark maid of honour who had flouted her a week ago, and had pinned up he_leeve that day in Privy Seal's house.
The old man stood, grey and sturdy, his hand upon her doorpost. His pleasan_een eyes blinked upon her in the strong light from her globe as if he wer_efore a good fire.
'Why, you are as fair as a saint with a halo, in front of that jigamaree,' h_aid. 'I am sent to offer you the friendship of Cicely Elliott.' When h_oved, the golden collar of his knighthood shone upon his chest; his croppe_rey beard glistened on his chin, and he shaded his eyes with his hand.
'I was writing of a letter,' Katharine said. She turned her face towards him: the stray rays from the globe outlined her red curved lips, her swellin_hest, her low forehead; and it shone like the moon rising over a hill, yello_nd fiery in the hair above her brow. The lines of her face drooped with he_erplexities, and her eyes were large and shadowed, because she had bee_hedding many tears.
'Cicely Elliott shall make you a good friend,' he said, with a modest pride o_is property; 'she shall marry me, therefore I do her such services.'
'You are old for her,' Katharine said.
'Since I have neither chick nor child and am main rich for a subject.'
'Why, she is happy in her servant,' Katharine said abstractedly. 'You are _ery famous knight.'
'There are ballads of me,' he answered complacently. 'I pray to die in a goo_ulzie yet.'
'If Cicely Elliott have her scarf in your helmet,' Katharine said, 'I may no_ive you mine.' She was considering of her messenger to the bishop. 'Will yo_o me a service?'
'Why,' he answered, with a gentle mockery, 'you have one tricksy swordsman t_ear your goodly colours.'
Katharine turned clean about to him and looked at him with attention, to mak_ut whether he might be such a man as would carry her letter for her.
He returned her gaze directly, for he was proud of himself and of his fame. H_ad fought in all the wars that a man might fight in since he had bee_ighteen, and for fifteen years he had been captain of a troop employed by th_ouncil in keeping back the Scots of the Borders. It was before Flodden Fiel_hat he had done his most famous deed, about which there were many ballads.
Being fallen upon by a bevy of Scotsmen near a tall hedge, after he had bee_nhorsed, he had set his back into a thorn bush, and had fought for many hour_n the rear of the Scottish troop, alone and with only his sword. The balla_hat had been made about him said that seventeen corpses lay in front of th_ush after the English won through to him. But since Cromwell had broken u_he Northern Councils, and filled them again with his own men of no birth, th_ld man had come away from the Borders, disdaining to serve at the orders o_naves that had been butchers' sons and worse. He owned much land and was ver_ealthy, and, having been very abstemious, because he came of an old time whe_nighthood had still some of the sacredness and austerity of a religion, h_as a man very sound in limb and peaceable of disposition. In his day he ha_een esteemed the most graceful whiffler in the world: now he used only th_eavy sword, because he was himself grown heavy.
Katharine answered his gentle sneer at her cousin:
'It is true that I have a servant, but he is gone and may not serve me.' Ye_he knight would find it in the books of chivalry that certain occasions o_reat quests allowed of a knight's doing the errands of more than one lady: but one lady, as for instance the celebrated Dorinda, might have her claim_sserted by an illimitable number of knights, and she begged him to do her _ervice.
'I have heard of these Errantry books,' he said. 'In my day there were non_uch, and now I have no letters.'
'How, then, do you pass the long days of peace,' Katharine asked, 'if yo_either drink nor dice?'
He answered: 'In telling of old tales and teaching their paces to the King'_orses.'
He drew himself up a little. He would have her understand that he was not _orse leech: but there was in these four-footed beasts a certain love for him, so that Richmond, the King's favourite gelding, would stand still to be ble_f he but laid his hand on the great creature's withers to calm him. Thes_nimals he loved, since he grew old and might not follow arguments an_isputations of _hic_ and _hoc_. 'There were none such in my day. But a goo_orse is the same from year's end to year's end… .'
'Will you carry a letter for me?' Katharine asked.
'I would have you let me show you some of his Highness' beasts,' he added. '_reed them to the manage myself. You shall find none that step more proudly i_hristendom or Heathenasse.'
'Why, I believe you,' she answered. Suddenly she asked: 'You have ridden a_night errant?'
He said: 'For three weeks only. Then the Scots came on too thick and fast t_aste time.' His dark eyes blinked and his broad lips moved humorously wit_is beard. 'I swore to do service to any lady; pray you let me serve you.'
'You can do me a service,' she said.
He moved his hand to silence her.
'Pray you take it not amiss. But there is one that hates you.'
'Perhaps there are a many; but do me a service if you will.'
'Look you,' he said, 'these times are no times of mine. But I know it i_rudent to have servitors that love one. I saw yours shake a fist at you_oor.'
'A man?' She looked at Margot, who, big, silent and flushed, was devouring th_elebrated hero of ballads with adoring eyes. He laughed.
'That maid would kiss your feet. But, in these days, it is well to mak_riends with them that keep doors. The fellow at yours would spit upon you i_e dared.'
Katharine said carelessly:
'Let him even spit in his imagination, and I shall whip him.'
The old knight looked out of the door. He left it wide open, so that no ma_ight listen.
'Why, he is still gone,' he said. He cleared his throat. 'See you,' he began.
'So I should have said in the old days. These fellows then we could slush ope_o bathe our feet in their warm blood when we came tired-foot from hunting.
Now it is otherwise. Such a loon may be a spy set upon one.'
He turned stiffly and majestically to move back her new hangings that onl_hat day, in her absence at Privy Seal's, had been set in place. He tappe_pots in the wall with his broad and gentle fingers, talking all the time wit_is broad back to her.
'See you, you have had here workmen to hang you a new arras. There be trick_f boring ear-holes through walls in hanging these things. So that if you hav_ cousin who shall catch a scullion by the throat… .'
Katharine said hastily:
'He hath heard little to harm me.'
'It is what a man swears he hath heard that shall harm one,' the old knigh_nswered. 'I meddle in no matters of statecraft, but I am sent to you b_ertain ladies; one shall wed me and I am her servant; one bears my name an_edded a good cousin of mine, now dead for his treasons.'
'I am beholden to Cicely Elliott and the Lady Rochford… .'
He silenced her with one of his small gestures of old-fashioned dignity an_istinction.
'I meddle in none of these matters,' he said again. 'But these ladies kno_hat you hate one they hate.'
He said suddenly, 'Ah!' a little grunt of satisfaction. His fingers tappin_ently made what seemed a stone of the wall quiver and let drop small flake_f plaster. He turned gravely upon Katharine:
'I do not ask what you spoke of with that worshipful swordsman,' he said. 'Bu_our servitor is gone to tell upon you. A stone is gone from here and there i_is ear-hole, like a drum of canvas.'
Katharine said swiftly:
'Take, then, a letter for me—to the Bishop of Winchester!'
He started back with a little exaggerated pantomime of horror.
'Must I go into your plots?' he asked, blinking and amused, as if he ha_xpected the errand.
She said urgently:
'I would have you tell me what Englishman now wears a red hat and is like t_e in Paris. I am very ignorant in these matters.'
'Then meddle not in them,' he said, 'for that man is even Cardinal Pole; on_hat the King's Highness would very willingly know to be dead.'
'God forbid that my cousin should murder a Prince of the Church, and be slai_n that quarrel,' she answered.
He started back and held his hands over his head.
'Why, God help you, child! Is that your errand?' he said, deep from his chest.
'I meddle not in this matter.'
She answered obstinately:
'Pray you—by your early vows—consent to carry me my letter.'
He shook his head bodingly.
'I thought it had been a matter of a masque at the Bishop of Winchester's; o_ had never come nigh you. Cicely Elliott hath copied out the part you shoul_peak. Pray you ask me no more of the other errand.'
'For a great knight you are a friend only in little matters!'
He uttered reproachfully:
'Child: it is no little matter to act as go-between for the Bishop o_inchester, even if it be for no more than a masque. How otherwise does he no_end to you direct? So much I was ready to do for you, a stranger, who am _an that has no party.'
She uttered maliciously:
'Well, well. I thought you came of the better times before our day.'
'I have shewn myself a good enough man,' he said composedly. He pointed one o_is fingers at her.
'Pole is not one that shall be easily slain. He is like to have in his pay th_efter spadassins of the two. I have known him since he was a child till whe_e fled abroad.'
'But my cousin!' Katharine pleaded.
'For the sake of your own little neck, let that gallant be hanged,' he sai_martly. 'You have need of many friends; I can see it in your complexion, which is of a hasty loyalty. But I tell you, I had never come near you, s_our cousin miscalled me, a man of worth and credit, had these ladies no_rayed me to come to you.'
She raised herself to her full height.
'It is not in the books of your knight-errantry,' she cried, 'that one shoul_eave one's friends to the hangman of Paris.'
The large figure of Margot Poins thrust itself upon them.
'A' God's name,' said her gruff voice of great emotion, 'hear the words o_his valiant soldier. Your cousin shall ruin you. It is true that he wil_rive from you all your good friends… .' She faltered, and her impulse carrie_er no further. Rochford tapped her flushed cheek gently with his glove, but _ight and hushing step in the corridor made them all silent.
The Magister Udal stood before the door blinking his eyes at the light; Katharine addressed him imperiously—
'You will carry a letter for me to save my cousin from death.'
He started, and leered at Margot, who was ready to sink into the ground.
'Why, I had rather carry a bull to the temple of Jupiter, as Macrobius ha_t,' he said, 'meaning that… .'
'Yet you have drunk with him,' Katharine interrupted him hotly, 'you have gon_urling through the night with him. You have shamed me together.'
'Yet I cannot forget Tully,' he answered sardonically, 'who warns me that _rudent man should be able to moderate the course of his friendship, even a_e reins his horse. _Est prudentis sustinere ut cursum_ … .'
'Mark you that!' the old knight said to Katharine. 'I will get my boy to rea_o me out of Tully, for that is excellent wisdom.'
'God help me, this is Christendom!' Katharine said, bitterly. 'Shall on_bandon one that lay in the same cradle with one?'
'Your ladyship hath borne with him a day too long,' Udal said. 'He beat m_ike a dog five days since. Have you heard of the city called Ponceropolis, founded by the King Philip? Your good cousin should be ruler of that city, fo_he Great King peopled it with all the brawlers, cut-throats, and roaring boy_f his dominions, to be rid of them.' She became aware that he was very angry, for his whisper shook like the neigh of a horse.
The old knight winked at Margot.
'Why this is a monstrous wise man,' he said, 'who yet speaks some sense.'
'In short,' the magister said, 'If you will stick to this man, you shall los_e. For I have taken beatings and borne no malice—as in the case of men wit_hose loves or wives I have prospered better than themselves. But that thi_an should miscall me and beat me for the pure frenzy of his mind, causelessly, and for the love of blows! That is unbearable. To-night I wal_or the first time after five days since he did beat me. And I ask you who_ou shall here find the better servant?'
His thin figure was suddenly shaking with rage.
'Why, this is conspiracy!' Katharine cried.
'A conspiracy!' Udal's voice rose up into a shriek. 'If your ladyship were _ueen I would not be a Queen's cousin's whipping post.' His arms jerked wit_he spasms of his rage like those of a marionette.
'A shame that learned men should be so beaten!' Margot's gruff voice uttered.
Katharine turned upon her.
'That is what made you speak e'ennow. You have been with thi_libbertigibbet.'
'This is a free land,' the girl mumbled, her mild eyes sparkling with th_ontagious anger of her lover.
The old knight stood blinking upon Katharine.
'You are like to lose all your servants in this quarrel,' he said.
Katharine wrung her hands, and then turned her back upon them and drummed upo_he table with her fingers. Udal caught Margot's large hand and fumbled i_eneath the furs of his robe: the old knight kept his smiling eyes upo_atharine's back. Her voice came at last:
'Why, I will not have Tom killed upon this occasion into which I brought him.'
Rochford shrugged his shoulders up to his ears.
'Oh marvellous infatuation,' he said.
Katharine spoke, still with her back turned and her shoulders heaving:
'A marvellous infatuation!' she said, her voice coming softly and deeply i_er chest. 'Why, after his fashion this man loved me. God help us, what othe_en have I seen here that would strike a straight blow? Here it is moving i_he dark, listening at pierced walls, swearing of false treasons——'
She swept round upon the old man, her face moved, her eyes tender and angry.
She stretched out her hand, and her voice was pitiful and urgent.
'Sir! Sir! What counsel do you give me, who are a knight of honour? Would yo_et a man who lay in the cradle with you go to a shameful death in an erran_ou had made for him?'
She leaned back upon the table with her eyes upon his face. 'No you would not.
How then could you give me such counsel?'
He said: 'Well, well. You are in the right.'
'Nearly I went with him to another place,' she answered, 'but half an hou_go. Would to God I had! for here it is all treacheries.'
'Write your letter, child,' he answered. 'You shall give it to Cicely Elliot_o-morrow in the morning. I will have it conveyed, but I will not be seen t_andle it, for I am too young to be hanged.'
'Why, God help you, knight,' Udal whispered urgently from the doorway, 'carr_o letter in this affair—if you escape, assuredly this mad pupil of mine shal_ie. For the King——?' Suddenly he raised his voice to a high nasal drawl tha_ang out like a jackdaw's: 'That is very true; and, in this matter of Deat_ou may read in Socrates' Apology. Nevertheless we may believe that if Deat_e a transmigration from one place into another, there is certainly amendmen_n going whither so many great men have already passed, and to be subtracte_rom the way of so many judges that be iniquitous and corrupt.'
'Why, what a plague… .' Katharine began.
He interrupted her quickly.
'Here is your serving man back at last if you would rate him for leaving you_oor unkept.'
The man stood in the doorway, his lanthorn dangling in his hand, his cudge_tuck through his belt, his shock of hair rough like an old thatch, and hi_yes upon the ground. He mumbled, feeling at his throat:
'A man must eat. I was gone to my supper.'
'You are like to have the nightmare, friend,' the old knight said pleasantly.