The King came to the revels at the Bishop of Winchester's, for these too wer_iven in honour of the Queen, and he had altered in his mind to let th_mperor and Francis know that he was inclined to weaken in his new alliances.
Besides, there was the newest suitor for the hand of the Lady Mary, the youn_uke Philip of Wittelsbach, who must be shown how great were the resources o_he land. Young, gay, dark, a famous warrior and a good Catholic, he sa_ehind the Queen and speaking German of a sort he made her smile at times. Th_lay was the _Menechmi_ of Plautus, and Duke Philip interpreted it to her. Sh_eemed at times so nearly human that the King, glancing back over his shoulde_o note whether she disgraced him, could settle down into his chair and res_oth his back and his misgivings. Seeing the frown leave his brow all th_ourtiers grew glad behind him; Cromwell talked with animation to Baumbach, the ambassador from the Schmalkaldner league, since he had not seen the Kin_o gay for many days, and Gardiner in his bishop's robes smiled with a blac_leasure because his feast was so much more prosperous than Privy Seal's ha_een. There was no one there of the Lady Mary's household, because it was no_eemly that she should be where her suitor was before he had been presented t_er.
The large hall was lit with tapers at dusk and hung with ivy and with holly; dried woodruff, watermint and other sweet herbs were scattered about th_loors to give an agreeable odour; the antlers of deer from the bishop's chas_n Winchester were like a forest of dead boughs, branching from the walls, some gilded, some silvered, some supporting shields emblazoned with the arm_f the See, of the bishop, of the King or of Cleves; an army of wood-pigeon_nd stock-doves with silver collars about their necks was at one time let fl_nto the hall, and the swish of their wings and afterwards their cooing amon_he golden rafters of the high ceiling made pleasing sound and mingled wit_he voices of sweet singing from the galleries at each end of the hall, nea_he roof. The players spoke their parts bravely, and, because this play wa_eloved among all others at the Court, there was a great and genera_ontentment.
For the after scene they had a display of theology. There were three battle_f men. In black with red hats, horns branching above them and in the centre _reat devil with a triple tiara, who danced holding up an enormous key. Thes_tood on the right. On the left were priests in fustian, holding enormou_lagons of Rhenish wine and dancing in a drunken measure with their arms roun_ore drunken doxies dressed like German women. In the centre stood grave an_everend men wearing horsehair beards and the long gowns of English bishop_nd priests. Before these there knelt an angel in flame-coloured robes wit_ings like the rainbow. The angel supported a great volume on the back o_hich might be read in letters of gold, ' _Regis Nostri Sapientia._ '
The great devil, dancing forward, brandishing his key, roared that thes_everend men should kneel to him; he held out a cloven foot and bade them kis_t. But a venerable bishop cried out, 'You be Antichrist. I know you. You b_he Arch Devil. But from this book I will confound you. Thank God that we hav_ne that leads us aright.' Coming forward he read in Latin from the book o_he King's Wisdom and the great devil fell back fainting into the arms of th_en in red hats.
The King called out, 'By God, goodman Bishop, you have spoken well!' and th_ourt roared.
Then one from the other side danced out, holding his flagon and grasping hi_at wife round the waist. He sang in a gross and German way, smacking hi_ips, that these reverend Englishmen should leave their godly ways and com_own among the Lutherans. But the old bishop cried out, 'Ay, Dr Martinus, _now thee; thou despisest the Body of God; thou art a fornicator. God forbi_hat our English priests should go among women as ye do. Listen to wisdom.
For, thank God, we have one to lead us aright!'
These words spread a sudden shiver into the hall, for no man there kne_hether the King had commanded them to be uttered. The King sat back in hi_hair, half frowning; Anne blinked, Philip of Wittelsbach laughed aloud, th_atholic ambassadors, Chapuys and Marillac, who had fidgeted in their seats a_f they would leave the hall, now leant forward.
'Aye,' the player bishop called out, 'our goodly Queen cometh from a Cour_hat was never yet joined to your Schmalkaldners, nor to them that go by you_ame, Dr Martinus, thou lecher. Here in England you shall find no heresies bu_he pure and purged Word of God.'
Chapuys bent an aged white hand behind his ear to miss no word: his true an_miling face blinked benevolently. Cromwell smiled too, licking his lip_angerously; Baumbach, the Schmalkaldner, understanding nothing, rolled hi_erman blue eyes in his great head like a pink baby's, and tried to catch th_ttention of Cromwell, who talked over his shoulder to one of his men. But th_any Lutherans that there were in the hall scowled at the floor.
The player bishop was reading thunderous words of the King, written many year_efore, against married priests. Henry sat back in his round chair, graspin_he arms with his enormous hands.
'Why, Master Bishop,' he called out. The player stopped his reading and looke_t the King, his air of austerity never leaving him. Henry, however, waved hi_and and said no more.
This dreadful incident caused a confusion in the players: they faltered: th_layer Lutheran slunk back to his place with his wife, and all of them stoo_ith their hands hanging down. They consulted among themselves and at las_iled out from the room, leaving the stage for some empty minutes bare an_enacing. Men held their breath: the King was seen to be frowning. But a quic_usic was played from the galleries and a door opened behind. There came i_any figures in white to symbolify the deities of ancient Greece and Rome, and, in black, with ashes upon her head, there was Ceres lamenting tha_ersephone had been carried into the realms of Pluto. No green thing shoul_low nor grow upon this earth, she wailed in a deep and full voice, unti_gain her daughter trod there. The other deities covered their heads wit_heir white skirts.
No one heeded this show very much in the hall, for the whispers over what ha_one before never subsided again that day. Men turned their backs upon th_tage in order to talk with others behind them, and it was generally agree_hat if this refurbishing of old doctrines were no more than a bold stroke o_ishop Gardiner's, Henry at least had not scowled very harshly upon it. S_hat, for the most part, they thought that the Old Faith might come bac_gain; whilst others suddenly remembered, much more clearly than before, tha_leves was a principality not truly Lutheran, and that the marriage with Ann_ad not tied them at all to the Schmalkaldner's league. Therefore this shado_f the old ways caused new uneasiness, for there was hardly any man there tha_ad not some of the monastery lands.
The King was the man least moved in the hall: he listened to the lamentation_f Mother Ceres and gazed at a number of naked boys who issued suddenly fro_he open door. They spread green herbs in a path from the door to the ver_eet of Anne, who blinked at them in amazement, and they paid no heed t_other Ceres, who asked indignantly how any green thing could grow upon th_arth that she had bidden lie barren till her daughter came again.
Persephone stood framed in the doorway: she was all in white, very slim an_all; in among her hair she had a wreath of green Egyptian stones calle_eridets, of which many remained in the treasuries of Winchester, because the_ere soft and of so little value that the visitors of the monasteries had lef_hem there. And she had these green feridets, cut like leaves, worked into th_hite lawn, over her breasts. In her left arm there lay a cornucopia fille_ith gold coins, and in her right a silver coronet of olive leaves. She move_n a slow measure to the music, bending her knees to right and to left, an_rawing her long dress into white lines and curves, until she stood in th_entre of the green path. She smiled patiently and with a rapt expression a_f she had come out of a dream. The wreath of olive leaves, she said, the god_ent to their most virtuous, most beauteous Queen, who had brought peace i_ngland; the cornucopia filled with gold was the offering of Plutus to th_oble and benevolent King of these parts. Her words could hardly be heard fo_he voices of the theologians in the hall before her.
Henry suddenly turned back, lifted his hand, and shouted:
Persephone's voice became very audible in the midst of the terrified hush o_ll these people, who feared their enormous King as if he were a wild beas_hat at one moment you could play with and the next struck you dead.
'—How happy is England among the nations!' The voice rang out clear an_luting like a boy's. 'Her people how free and bold! Her laws how gentle an_eneficent, her nobles how courteous and sweet in their communings togethe_or the public weal! How thrice happy that land when peace is upon the earth!
Her women how virtuous, her husbandmen how satiated, her cattle how they le_own their milk!'—She swayed round to the gods that were uncovering thei_eads behind her: 'Aye, my masters and fellow godheads: woe is me that we kne_ever this happy and contented country. Better it had been there to dwell tha_pon high Olympus: better than in the Cyclades: better than in the Islands o_he Blest that hide amid the Bermoothean tempest. Woe is me!' Her expressio_rew more rapt; she paused as if she had lost the thread of the words and the_poke again, gazing far out over the hall as jugglers do in performing feat_f balancing: 'For surely we had been more safe than reigning alone above th_louds had we lived here, the veriest hinds, beneath a King that is five time_lessed, in that he is most wealthy and generous of rewards, most noble o_ourage, most eloquent, most learned in the law of men, and most hig_nterpreter of the law of God!'
Seeing that the King smiled, as though he had received a just panegyric, _reat clamour of applause went up in the hall, and swaying beneath the weigh_f the cornucopia she came to the King over the path of green herbs an_oughs. Henry reached out his hands, himself, to take his present, smiling an_enial; and that alone was a sign of great favour, for by rights she shoul_ave knelt with it, offered it and then receded, giving it into the arms of _erving man. She passed on, and would have crowned the Queen with the silve_reath; but the great hood that Anne wore stood in the way, therefore she lai_t in the Queen's lap.
Henry caught at her hanging sleeve.
'That was a gay fine speech,' he said. 'I will have it printed.'
Little ripples of fear and coldness ran over her, for her dress was thin an_er arms bared between the loops above. Her eyes roved round upon the peopl_s if, tall and white, she were a Christian virgin in the agonies o_artyrdom. She tried to pull her sleeve from between his great fingers, an_he whispered in a sort of terror:
'You stay the masque!'
He lay back in his chair, laughing so that his grey beard shook.
'Why, thou art a pert baggage,' he said. 'I could stay their singing for goo_n I would.'
He looked her up and down, commanding and good-humouredly malicious. She pu_er hand to her throat as if it throbbed, and uttered with a calmness o_esperation:
'That were great pity. They have practised much, and their breaths ar_assable sweet.'
The godheads with their beards of tow, their lyres and thunderbolts all gilt, stood in an awkward crescent, their music having stopped. Henry laughed a_hem.
'I know thy face,' he said. 'It would be less than a king to forget it.'
'I am Katharine Howard,' she faltered, stretching out her hands beseechingly.
'Let me go back to my place.'
'Oh, aye!' he answered. 'But thou'st shed thy rags since I saw thee on _ule.' He loosed her sleeve. 'Let the good men sing, 'a God's name.'
In her relief to be free she stumbled on the sweet herbs.
It was a dark night into which they went out from the bishop's palace.
Cressets flared on his river steps, and there were torches down the lon_arden for those who went away by road. Because there would be a great crow_f embarkers at the bishop's landing place, so that there might be many hour_o wait until their barge should come, Katharine, by the office of old Si_icholas, had made a compact with some of the maids of honour of the Lad_lizabeth; a barge was to wait for them at the Cross Keys, a common stage som_en minutes down the river. Katharine, laughing, gay with relief and gladdene_ith words of praise, held Margot's hand tight and kept her fingers on Si_icholas' sleeve. It was raining a fine drizzle, so that the air of th_ardens smelt moist even against the odour of the torches. The old knigh_ulled the hood of his gown up over his head, for he was hoarse with a heav_old. It was pitch black beyond the gate house; in the open fields before th_all torches here and there appeared to burn in mid-air, showing beneath the_he heads and the hoods of their bearers hurrying home, and, where they turne_o the right along a narrow lane, a torch showed far ahead above a crow_acked thick between dark house-fronts and gables. They glistened with wet an_ent down from their gutters spouts of water that gleamed, catching the ligh_f the torch, like threads of opal fire on the pallid dove colour of th_owering house-fronts. The torch went round a corner, its light withdrew alon_he walls by long jumps as its bearer stepped into the distance ahead. Then i_as all black. Walking was difficult over the immense cobbles of the roadway, but in the pack of the crowd it was impossible to fall, for people held on_nother. But it was also impossible to speak, and, muffling her face in he_ood, Katharine walked smiling and squeezing Margot's hand out of pur_leasure with the world that was so fair in the midst of this blackness an_his heavy cold.
There was a swishing repeated three times and three thuds and twists of whit_n heads and shoulders just before her. Undistinguishable yells of mocker_windled down from high above, and a rush-light shone at an immense elevatio_lluminating a faint square of casement that might have been in the heavens.
Three apprentices had thrown down paper bags of powdered chalk. The men wh_ad been struck, and several others who had been maltreated on former nights, or who resented this continual 'prentice scandal, began a frightful outcry a_he door of the house. More bags came bursting down and foul water; the yell_nd battlecries rolled, in the narrow space under the house-fronts that nearl_issed each other high overhead, and the crowd, brought to a standstill, swayed and pushed against the walls. Katharine lost her hold of the ol_night's sleeve, and she could see no single thing. She felt round her in th_lackness for his arm, but a heavy man stumbled against her. Suddenly his han_as under her arm, drawing her a little; his voice seemed to say: 'Down thi_ully is a way about.'
In the passage it was blacker than the mouth of hell, and her eyes stil_eemed to have in them the dazzle of light and triumph she had just left.
There was a frightful stench of garbage; and it appeared to be a vault, because the outcry of the men besieging the door volleyed and echoed the mor_hunderously. There came the sharp click of a latch and Katharine foun_erself impelled to descend several steps into a blackness from which came u_ breath of closer air and a smell of rotting straw. Fear suddenly seized upo_er, and the conviction that another man had taken the place of the old knigh_uring the scuffle. But a heavy pressure of an arm was suddenly round he_aist, and she was forced forward. She caught a shriek from Margot; the girl'_and was torn from her own; a door slammed behind, and there was a dee_ilence in which the heavy breathing of a man became audible.
'If you cry out,' a soft voice said, 'I will let you go. But probably you wil_ose your life.'
She had not a breath at all in her, but she gasped:
'Will you do a rape?' and fumbled in her pocket for her crucifix. Her voic_ame back to her, muffled and close, so that she was in a very small cellar.
'When you have seen my face, you may love me,' came to her ears in an inan_oice. 'I would you might, for you have a goodly mouth for kisses.'
She breathed heavily; the click of the beads on her cross filled the silence.
She fitted the bar of the crucifix to her knuckles and felt her breath com_almer. For, if the man struck a light she could strike him in the face wit_he metal of her cross, held in the fist; she could blind him if she hit a_ye. She stepped back a little and felt behind her the damp stone of a wall.
The soft voice uttered more loudly:
'I offer you a present of great price; I can solve your perplexities.'
Katharine breathed between her teeth and said nothing. 'But if you draw _nife,' the voice went on, 'I will set you loose; there are as good as Mada_oward.' On the door there came the sound of soft thuds. 'That is your maid, Margot Poins,' the voice said. 'You had better bid her begone. This is a ver_vil gully; she will be strangled.'
'Go and fetch some one to break down this door.'
The voice commented:
'In the City she will find none to enter this gully; it is a sanctuary o_utlaws.'
There was the faintest glimmer of a casement square, high up before Katharine; violence and carryings off were things familiar to her imagination. A hundre_en might have desired her whilst she stood on high in the masque. She sai_otly:
'If you will hold me here for a ransom, you will find none to pay it.'
She heard the soft hiss of a laugh, and the voice:
'I would myself pay more than other men, but I would have no man see u_ogether.'
She shrank into herself, and held to the wall for comfort. She heard a click, and in the light of a shower of brilliant sparks was the phantom of a man'_eard and dim walls; one tiny red glow remained in the tinder, like a_lluminant in a black nothingness. He seemed to hold it about breast-high an_o pause.
'You had best be rid of Margot Poins,' the musing voice came out of the thic_ir. 'Send her back to her mother's people: she gets you no friends.'
Katharine wondered if she might strike about eighteen inches above the tin_park: or if in these impenetrable shadows there were a very tall man.
'Your Margot's folk miscall you in shameful terms. I would be your servant; but it is distasteful to a proper man to serve one that hath about her a_tmosphere of lewdness.'
Katharine cursed at him to relieve the agony of her fear.
The voice answered composedly:
'One greater than the devil is my master. But it is good hearing that you ar_oyal to them that serve you: so you shall be loyal to me, for I will serv_ou well.'
The spark in the tinder moved upwards; the man began to blow on it; in the di_limmer there appeared red lips, a hairy moustache, a straight nose, gleamin_yes that looked across the flame, a high narrow forehead, and the gleam of _ewel in a black cap. This glowing and dusky face appeared to hang in the air.
Katharine shrank with despair and loathing: she had seen enough to know th_an. She made a swift step towards it, her arm drawn back; but the glow of th_ox moved to one side, the ashes faded: there was already nothing before sh_ould strike.
'You see I am Throckmorton: a goodly knight,' the voice said, laughing.
This man came from Lincolnshire, near her own home. He had been the brother o_ gentleman who had a very small property, and he had had one sister. Go_lone knew for what crime his father had cursed Throckmorton and left hi_atrimony to the monks at Ely—but his sister had hanged herself. Throckmorto_ad disappeared.
In that black darkness she had seemed to feel his gloating over he_elplessness, and his laughing over all the villainies of his hateful past. H_as so loathsome to her that merely to be near him had made her tremble when, the day before, he had fawned over her and shown her the side door to Priv_eal's room. Now the sound of his breathing took away all her power t_reathe. She panted:
'Infamous dog, I will have you shortened by the head for this rape.'
'It is true I am a fool to play cat and mouse,' he answered. 'But I was eve_hus from a child: I have played silly pranks: listen to gravity. I bring yo_ere because I would speak to you where no ear dare come to listen: this is _anctuary of night robbers.' His voice took on fantastically and grotesquel_he nasal tones of Doctors of Logic when they discuss abstract theses: 'I am _old man to dare come here; but some of these are in my pay. Nevertheless I a_ bold man, though indeed the step from life into death is so short and s_asily passed that a man is a fool to fear it. Nevertheless some do fear it; therefore, as men go, I am bold; tho', since I set much store in th_ntervention of the saints on my behalf, may be I am not so bold. Yet I am _ood man, or the saints would not protect me. On the other hand, I am fain t_o their work for them: so may be, they would protect me whether I wer_irtuous or no. Maybe they would not, however: for it is a point stil_isputed as to whether a saint might use an evil tool to do good work. But, i_hort, I am here to tell you what Privy Seal would have of you.'
'God help the pair of you,' Katharine said. 'Have ye descended to cellar wor_ow?'
'Madam Howard,' the voice came, 'for what manner of man do you take me? I am _ery proper man that do love virtue. There are few such philosophers as _ince I came out of Italy.'
It was certain to her now that Privy Seal, having seen her thick with th_ishop of Winchester, had delivered her into the hands of this vulture. 'I_ou have a knife,' she said, 'put it into me soon. God will look kindly on yo_nd I would pardon you half the crime.' She closed her eyes and began to pray.
'Madam Howard,' he answered, in a lofty tone of aggrievement, 'the door is o_he latch: the latch is at your hand to be found for a little fumbling: ge_ou gone if you will not trust me.'
'Aye: you have cut-throats without,' Katharine said. She prayed in silence t_ary and the saints to take her into the kingdom of heaven with a short agon_ere below. Nevertheless, she could not believe that she was to die: for bein_till young, though death was always round her, she believed herself born t_e immortal.
The sweat was cold upon her face; but Throckmorton was upbraiding her in _ofty nasal voice.
'I am an honourable knight,' he cried, in his affected and shocked tones. 'I_ have undone men, it was for love of the republic. I have nipped man_reasons in the bud. The land is safe for a true man, because of my work.'
'You are a werewolf,' she shuddered; 'you eat your brother.'
'Why, enough of this talk,' he answered. 'I offer you a service, will you tak_t? I am the son of a gentleman: I love wisdom for that she alone is good.
Virtue I love for virtue's sake, and I serve my King. What more goeth to th_aking of a proper man? You cannot tell me.'
His voice changed suddenly:
'If you do hate a villain, now is the time to prove it. Would you have hi_own? Then tell your gossip Winchester that the time approaches to strike, an_hat I am ready to serve him. I have done some good work for the King'_ighness through Privy Seal. But my nose is a good one. I begin to smell ou_hat Privy Seal worketh treasonably.'
'You are a mad fool to think to trick me,' Katharine said. 'Neither you nor I, nor any man, believes that Privy Seal would work a treason. You would trick m_nto some foolish utterances. It needed not a cellar in a cut-throat's gull_or that.'
'Madam Spitfire,' his voice answered, 'you are a true woman; I a true man. W_ay walk well together. Before the Most High God I wish you no ill.'
'Then let me go,' she cried. 'Tell me your lies some other where.'
'The latch is near your hand still,' he said. 'But I will speak to you n_ther where. It is only here in the abode of murder and evil men that in thes_vil times a man may speak his mind and fear no listener.'
She felt tremulously for the latch; it gave, and its rattling set her heart o_he jump. When she pulled the door ajar she heard voices in the distan_treet. It rushed through her mind that he was set neither on murder no_nspeakable things. Or, indeed, he had cut-throats waiting to brain her on th_op step. She said tremulously:
'Tell me what you will with me in haste!'
'Why, I have bidden your barge fellows wait for you,' he answered. 'Till cock- crow if need were. They shall not leave you. They fear me too much. Shut th_oor again, for you dread me no more.'
Her knees felt suddenly limp and she clung to the latch for support; sh_elieved that Mary had turned the heart of this villain. He repeated that h_melt treason working in the mind of an evil man, and that he would have he_ell the Bishop of Winchester.
'I did bring you here, for it is the quickest way. I came to you for I sa_hat you were neither craven nor fool: nor high placed so that it would b_angerous to be seen talking with you later, when you understood my good will.
And I am drawn towards you since you come from near my home.'
Katharine said hurriedly, between her prayers:
'What will you of me? No man cometh to a woman without seeking something fro_er.'
'Why, I would have you look favourably upon me,' he answered. 'I am a goodl_an.'
'I am meat for your masters,' she answered with bitter contempt. 'You have th_lood of my kin on your hands.'
He sighed, half mockingly.
'If you will not give me your favours,' he said in a low, laughing voice, '_ould have you remember me according as my aid is of advantage to you.'
'God help you,' she said; 'I believe now that you have it in mind to betra_our master.'
'I am a man that can be very helpful,' he answered, with his laughin_ssurance that had always in it the ring of a sneer. 'Tell Bishop Gardine_gain, that the hour approaches to strike if these cowards will ever strike.'
Katharine felt her pulses beat more slowly.
'Sir,' she said, 'I tell you very plainly that I will not work for th_dvancement of the Bishop of Winchester. He turned me loose upon the stree_o-night after I had served him, with neither guard to my feet nor bit to m_outh. If my side goes up, he may go with it, but I love him not.'
'Why, then, devise with the Duke of Norfolk,' he answered after a pause.
'Gardiner is a black rogue and your uncle a yellow craven; but bid them joi_ands till the time comes for them to cut each other's throats.'
'You are a foul dog to talk thus of noblemen,' she said.
'Oh, la! You have little to thank your uncle for. What do you want? Will yo_lay for your own hand? Or will you partner those two against the other?'
'I will never partner with a spy and a villain,' she cried hotly.
He cried lightly:
'Ohé, Goosetherumfoodle! You will say differently before long. If you wil_ight in a fight you must have tools. Now you have none, and your situation i_ery parlous.'
'I stand on my legs, and no man can touch me,' she said hotly.
'But two men can hang you to-morrow,' he answered. 'One man you know; th_ther is the Sieur Gardiner. Cromwell hath contrived that you should write _reasonable letter; Gardiner holdeth that letter's self.'
Katharine braved her own sudden fears with:
'Men are not such villains.'
'They are as occasion makes them,' he answered, with his voice of _hilosopher. 'What manner of men these times breed you should know if you b_ot a fool. It is very certain that Gardiner will hang you, with that letter, if you work not into his goodly hands. See how you stand in need of _ounsellor. Now you wish you had done otherwise.'
She said hotly:
'Never. So I would act again to-morrow.'
'Oh fool madam,' he answered. 'Your cousin's province was never to come withi_ score miles of the cardinal. Being a drunkard and a boaster he was sent t_aris to get drunk and to boast.'
The horror of the blackness, the damp, the foul smell, and all this treacher_ade her voice faint. She stammered:
'Shew me a light, or let the door be opened. I am sick.'
'Neither,' he answered. 'I am as much as you in peril. With a light men ma_ee in at the casement; with an open door they may come eavesdropping. Whe_ou have been in this world as long as I you will love black night as well.'
Her brain swam for a moment.
'My cousin was never in this plot against me,' she uttered faintly.
He answered lightly:
'You may keep your faith in that toppet. Where you are a fool is to hav_elieved that Privy Seal, who is a wise man, or Viridus, who is a philosophe_fter my heart, would have sent such a sot and babbler on such a tickl_rrand.'
'He was sent!' protested Katharine.
'Aye, he was sent to blab about it in every tavern in Paris town. He was sen_o frighten the Red Cap out of Paris town. He was suffered to blab to you tha_ou might set your neck in a noose and be driven to be a spy.'
His soft chuckle came through the darkness like an obscene applause of _uccessful villainy; it was as if he were gloating over her folly and th_ectitude of her mind.
'Red Cap was working mischief in Paris—but Red Cap is timorous. He will g_ost haste back to Rome, either because of your letter or because of you_ousin's boasting. But there are real and secret murderers waiting for him i_very town in Italy on the road to Rome. Some are at Brescia, some at Rimini: at Padua there is a man with his neck, like yours, in a noose. It is a goodl_ontrivance.'
'You are a vile pack,' Katharine said, and once more the smooth and unctuou_ound came from his invisible throat.
'How shall you decide what is vileness, or where will you find a virtuou_an?' he asked. 'Maybe you will find some among the bones of your old Romans.
Yet your Seneca, in his day, did play the villain. Or maybe some at the Cour_f Mahound. I know not, for I was never there. But here is a goodly world, with prizes for them that can take them. Yet virtue may still flourish, for _ave done middling well by serving my country. Now I am minded to retire int_y lands, to cultivate good letters and to pursue virtue. For here about th_ourts there are many distractions. The times are evil times. Yet will I d_ne good stroke more before I go.'
Katharine said hotly:
'If you go down into Lincolnshire, I will call upon every man there to fal_pon you and hang you.'
'Why,' he said, 'that is why I did come to you, since you are from where m_ands are. If I serve you, I would have you to smooth my path there. I ask n_ore, for now I crave rest and a private life. It is very assured that _hould never find that here or in few parts of the land—so well I have serve_y King. Therefore, if I serve you, you and yours shall cast above my retire_arms and my honourable leisure the shadow of your protection. I ask no more.'
He chuckled almost inaudibly. 'I am set to watch you,' he said. 'Viridus wil_o to Paris to catch another traitor called Brancetor, for the world is ful_f traitors. Therefore, in a way, it rests with me to hang you.'
He seemed to be seated upon a cask, for there was a creaking of old wood, an_e spoke very leisurely.
Katharine said, 'Good night, and God send you better thoughts.'
'Why, stay, and I will be brief,' he pleaded. 'I dally because it is swee_alking to a fair woman in a black place.'
'You are easily content, for all the sweet words you get from me,' she scorne_im.
'See you,' he said earnestly. 'It is true that I am set to watch you. I lov_ou because you are fair; I might bend you, since I hold you in the hollow o_y hand. But I am a continent man, and there is here a greater stake to be ha_han any amorous satisfaction. I would save my country from a man who has bee_ friend, but is grown a villain. Listen.'
He appeared to pause to collect his words together.
'Baumbach, the Saxish ambassador, is here seeking to tack us to th_chmalkaldner heresies. Yesterday he was with Privy Seal, who loveth th_utheran alliance. So Privy Seal takes him to his house, and shows him hi_arvellous armoury, which is such that no prince nor emperor hath elsewhere.
So says Privy Seal to Baumbach: " _I love your alliance; but his Highness wil_aught of it._ " And he fetched a heavy sigh.'
'What is this hearsay to me?'
'He fetched a heavy sigh,' Throckmorton continued. 'And your uncle or Gardine_new how heavy a sigh it was their hearts would be very glad.'
'This means that the King's Highness is very far from Privy Seal?' Katharin_sked.
'His Highness hateth to do business with small princelings.' Throckmorto_eemed to laugh at the King's name. 'His high and princely stomach loveth onl_o deal with his equals, who are great kings. I have seen the letters tha_ave passed about this Cleves wedding. Not one of them is from his Highness'
hand. It is Privy Seal alone that shall bear the weight of the blow whe_upture cometh.'
'Well, she is a foul slut,' Katharine said, and her heart was full of sympath_or the heavy King.
'Nay, she is none such,' Throckmorton answered. 'If you look upon her with a_njaundiced eye, she will pass for a Christian to be kissed. It is not he_ody that his Highness hateth, but her fathering. This is a very old quarre_etwixt him and Privy Seal. His Highness hath been wont to see himself th_rbiter of the Christian world. Now Privy Seal hath made of him an ally o_erman princelings. His Highness loveth the Old Faith and the old royal ways.
Now Privy Seal doth seek to make him take up the faith of Schmalkaldners, wh_re a league of bakers and unfrocked monks. Madam Howard, I tell you that i_here were but one man that could strike after the new Parliament is calle_ogether… .'
'The very stones that Cromwell hath soaked with blood will rise to fall upo_im when the King's feet no longer press them down.'
Throckmorton laughed almost inaudibly.
'Norfolk feareth Gardiner for a spy; Gardiner feareth the ambition of Norfolk; Bonner would sell them both to Privy Seal for the price of an archbishopric.
The King himself is loth to strike, since no man in the land could get hi_ogether such another truckling Parliament as can Privy Seal.'
He stopped speaking and let his words soak into her in the darkness, and afte_ long pause her voice came back to her.
'It is true that I have heard no man speak as you do… . I can see that hi_ear Highness must be hatefully inclined to this filthy alliance.'
'Why, you are minded to come into my hut with me,' he chuckled. 'There are fe_en so clear in the head as I am. So listen again to me. If you would strik_t this man, it is of no avail to meddle with him at home. It shall in no wa_elp you to clamour of good monks done to death, of honest men ruined, o_irgins thrown on to dung-heaps. The King hath had the pence of these goo_onks, the lands of these honest men, and the golden neck-collars off thes_irgins.'
She called out, 'Keep thy tongue off this sacred King's name. I will listen t_o more lewdness.'
A torch passing outside sent a moving square of light through the high gratin_cross the floor of the cellar. The damp walls became dimly visible wit_hining snail-tracks on them, and his great form leaning negligently upon _ask, his hand arrested in the pulling of his long beard, his eyes gleamin_pon her, sardonic and amused. The light twisted round abruptly and was gone.
'You are monstrous fair,' he said, and sighed. She shuddered.
'No,' his mocking voice came again, 'speak not to the King—not to whomsoeve_ou shall elect to speak to the King—of this man's work at home. The Kin_hall let him go very unwillingly, since no man can so pack a Parliament to d_he King's pleasure. And he hath a nose for treasons that his Highness woul_ive his own nose to possess.'
'Keep thy tongue off the King's name,' she said again.
He laughed, and continued pensively: 'A very pretty treason might be made u_f his speech before his armoury to Baumbach. Mark again how it went. Says he:
" _Here are such weaponings as no king, nor prince, nor emperor hath i_hristendom. And in this country of ours are twenty gentlemen, my friends, have armouries as great or greater._ " Then he sighs heavily, and saith: "
_But our King will never join with your Schmalkaldners. Yet I would give m_ead that he should._ "… Your madamship marks that this was said to th_mbassador from the Lutheran league?'
'You cannot twist that into a treason,' Katharine whispered.
'No doubt,' he said reasonably, 'such words from a minister to an envoy ar_ut a courtesy, as one would say, " _I fain would help you, but my maste_ills it not._ "'
The voice suddenly grew crafty. 'But these words, spoken before an armoury an_he matter of twenty gentlemen with armouries greater. Say that these twent_re creatures of my Lord Cromwell, _implicitur_ , for the Lutheran cause. An_gain, the matter, " _No king hath such an armoury._ "… _No_ king, I woul_ave you observe.'
'Why, this is monstrous foolish pettifogging,' Katharine said. 'No king woul_elieve a treason in such words.'
'I call to mind Gilmaw of Hurstleas, near our homes,' the voice came, reflectively.
'I did know him,' said Katharine. 'You had his head.'
'You never heard how Privy Seal did that,' the voice came back mockingly.
'Goodman Gilmaw had many sheep died of the rot because it rained seven week_n end. So, coming back from a market-day, with too much ale for prudence an_oo little for silence, he cried, " _Curse on this rain! The weather was neve_ood since knaves ruled about the King._ " So that came to the ears of Priv_eal, who made a treason of it, and had his sheep, and his house, and hi_ands, and his head. He was but one in ten thousand that have gone the sam_oad home from market and made speeches as treasonable.'
'Thus poor Gilmaw died?' Katharine asked. 'What a foul world this is!'
'Time it was cleansed,' he answered.
He let his words rankle for a time, then he said softly: 'Privy Seal's word_efore his armoury were as treasonable as Gilmaw's on the market road.'
Again he paused.
'Privy Seal may call thee to account for such a treason,' he said afterwards.
'He holdeth thee in a hollow of his hand.'
She did not speak.
He said softly: 'It is a folly to be too proud to fight the world with th_orld's weapons.'
The heavy darkness seemed to thrill with her silence. He could tell neithe_hether she were pondering his words nor whether she still scorned him. H_ould not even hear her breathing.
'God help me!' he said at last, in an angry high note, 'I am not such a man a_o be played with too long. People fear me.'
She kept silence still, and his voice grew high and shrill: 'Madam Howard, _an bend you to my will. I have the power to make such a report of you as wil_ang you to-morrow.'
Her voice came to him expressionlessly—without any inflexion. In few words, what would he have of her? She played his own darkness off against him, s_hat he could tell nothing new of her mood.
He answered swiftly: 'I will that you tell the men you know what I have tol_ou. You are a very little thing; it were no more to me to cut you short tha_o drown a kitten. But my own neck I prize. What I have told you I would hav_ome to the ears of my lord of Winchester. I may not be seen to speak with hi_yself. If you will not tell him, another will; but I would rather it wer_ou.'
'Evil dreams make thy nights hideous!' she cried out so suddenly that hi_oice choked in his throat. 'Thou art such dirt as I would avoid to trea_pon; and shall I take thee into my hand?' She was panting with disgust an_corn. 'I have listened to thee; listen thou to me. Thou art so filthy that i_hou couldst make me a queen by the touch of a finger, I had rather be _oose-girl and eat grass. If by thy forged tales I could cast down Mahound, _ad rather be his slave than thy accomplice! Could I lift my head if I ha_oined myself to thee? thou Judas to the Fiend. Junius Brutus, when he did la_iege to a town, had a citizen come to him that would play the traitor. H_ccepted his proffered help, and when the town was taken he did flay th_etrayer. But thou art so filthy that thou shouldst make me do better tha_hat noble Roman, for I would flay thee, disdaining to be aided by thee; an_pon thy skin I would write a message to thy master saying that thou woulds_ave betrayed him!'
His laugh rang out discordant and full of black mirth; for a long time hi_houlders seemed to shake. He spoke at last quite calmly.
'You will have a very short course in this world,' he said.
A hoarse and hollow shouting reverberated from the gully; the glow of a torc_rew bright in the window-space. Katharine had been upon the point of openin_he door, but she paused, fearing to meet some night villains in the gully.
Throckmorton was now silent, as if he utterly disdained her, and a frightfu_low upon the wood of the door—so certain were they that the torch would pas_n—made them spring some yards further into the cellar. The splintering blow_ere repeated; the sound of them was deafening. Glaring light entered suddenl_hrough a great crack, and the smell of smoke. Then the door fell in half, on_oard of it across the steps, the other smashing back to the wall upon it_inges. Sparks dripped from the torch, smoke eddied down, and upon the cella_teps were the legs of a man who rested a great axe upon the ground and pante_or breath.
'Up the steps!' he grunted. 'If you ever ran, now run. The guard will no_nter here.'
Katharine sped up the steps. It was old Rochford's face that greeted her_eneath the torch. He grunted again, 'Run you; I am spent!' and suddenl_ashed the torch to the ground.
At the entry of the tunnel some make of creature caught at her sleeve. Sh_creamed and struck at a gleaming eye with the end of her crucifix. The_othing held her, and she ran to where, at the mouth of the gully, there wer_ great many men with torches and swords peering into the darkness of th_assage.
In the barge Margot made an outcry of joy and relief, and the other ladie_ttered civil speeches. The old man, whose fur near the neck had been slashe_y a knife-thrust as he came away, explained pleasantly that he was able t_trike good blows still. But he shook his head nevertheless. It was evil, h_aid, to have such lovers as this new one. Her cousin was bad, but thi_apscallion must be worse indeed to harbour her in such a place… . Margot, wh_new her London, had caught him at the barge, to which he had hurried.
'Aye,' he said, 'I thought you had played me a trick and gone off with som_park. But when I heard to what place, I fetched the guard along with me… .
Well for you that it was I, for they had not come for any other man, and the_ou had been stuck in the street. For, see you, whether you would have had m_etch you away or no it is ten to one that a gallant who would take you ther_ould mean that you should never come away alive—and God help you whilst yo_ived in that place.'
'Why, I pray God that you may die on the green grass yet, with time for _riest to shrive you. I was taken there against my will.' She told him no mor_f the truth, for it was not every man's matter, and already she had made u_er mind that there was but one man to whom to speak… . She went into the dar_nd of the barge and prayed until she came to Greenwich, for the fear of th_hings she had escaped still made her shudder, and in the company of Mary an_he saints of Lincolnshire alone could she feel any calmness. She thought the_hispered round her in the night amid the lapping of the water.