Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 8

  • The stables were esteemed the most magnificent that the King had: three time_hey had been pulled down and again set up after designs by Holbein th_ainter. The buildings formed three sides of a square: the fourth gave into _reat paddock, part of the park, in which the horses galloped or the mares ra_ith their foals. That morning there was a glint of sun in the opalescen_louds: horse-boys in grey with double roses worked on their chests wer_preading sand in the great quadrangle, fenced in with white palings, betwee_he buildings where the chargers were trained to the manage. Each wing of th_uildings was a quarter of a mile long, of grey stone thatched with rushwor_hat came from the great beds all along the river and rose into curious peak_ike bushes along each gable. On the right were the mares, the riding jennet_or the women and their saddle rooms; on the left the pack animals, mules fo_riests and the places for their housings: in the centre, on each side of _ast barn that held the provender, were the stables of the coursers an_tallions that the King himself rode or favoured; of these huge beasts ther_ere two hundred: each in a cage within the houses—for many were savag_earers both of men and of each other. On the door of each cage there wa_ritten the name of the horse, as Sir Brian, Sir Bors, or Old Leo—and the sig_f the constellation under which each was born, the months in which, i_onsequence, it was propitious or dangerous to ride them, and pentagons tha_hould prevent witches, warlocks or evil spirits from casting spells upon th_reat beasts. Their housings and their stall armour, covered with grease t_eep the rust from them, hung upon pulleys before each stall, and thei_olished neck armours branched out from the walls in a long file, waving ove_he gateways right into the distance, the face-pieces with the shining spike_n the foreheads hanging at the ends, the eyeholes carved out and the nostri_laces left vacant, so that they resembled an arcade of the skeletons o_nicorns' heads.
  • It was quiet and warm in the long and light aisles: there was a faint smell o_table hartshorn and the sound of beans being munched leisurely. From time t_ime there came a thunder from distant boxes, as two untrained stallions tha_rivy Seal the day before had given the King kicked against the immense balk_f the sliding doors in their cage-stalls.
  • The old knight was flustered because it was many days since the King ha_eigned to come in the morning, and there were many beasts to show him. In hi_teel armour, from which his old head stood out benign and silvery, h_trutted stiffly from cage to cage, talking softly to his horses and cursin_t the harnessers. Cicely Elliott sat on a high stool from which she coul_ook out of window and gibed at him as he passed.
  • 'Let me grease your potlids, goodly servant. You creak like a roasting-jack.'
  • He smiled at her with an engrossed air, and hurried himself to pull tight th_eadstrap of a great barb that was fighting with four men.
  • A tucket of trumpets sounded, silvery and thin through the cold grey air: _age came running with his sallete-helmet.
  • 'Why, I will lace it for him,' Cicely cried, and ran, pushing away the boy.
  • She laced it under the chin and laughed. 'Now you may kiss my cheek so that _now what it is to be kissed by a man in potlids!'
  • He swung himself, grunting a little, into the high saddle and laughed at he_ith the air of a man very master of himself. The tucket thrilled again.
  • Katharine Howard pushed the window open, craning out to see the King come: th_orse, proud and mincing, appearing in its grey steel as great as an elephant, stepped yet so daintily that all its weight of iron made no more sound tha_he rhythmic jingling of a sabre, and man and horse passed like a flash o_hadow out of the door.
  • Cicely hopped back on to the stool and shivered.
  • 'We shall see these two old fellows very well without getting such _heumatism as Lady Rochford's,' and she pulled the window to agains_atharine's face and laughed at the vacant and far-away eyes that the gir_urned upon her. 'You are thinking of the centaurs of the Isles of Greece,'
  • she jeered, 'not of my knight and his old fashions of ironwork and hors_ancing. Yet such another will never be again, so perfect in the ol_ashions.'
  • The old knight passed the window to the sound of trumpets towards hi_nvisible master, swaying as easily to the gallop of his enormous steel beas_s cupids that you may see in friezes ride upon dolphins down the sides o_reat billows; but Katharine's eyes were upon the ground.
  • The window showed only some yards of sand, of grey sky and of whitene_ailings; trumpet blew after trumpet, and behind her back horse after hors_ent out, its iron feet ringing on the bricks of the stable to die into thud_nd silence once the door was passed.
  • Cicely Elliott plagued her, tickling her pink ears with a piece of straw an_ending out shrieks of laughter, and Katharine, motionless as a flower i_reathless sunlight, was inwardly trembling. She imagined that she must b_ale and hollow-eyed enough to excite the compassion of the black-haired girl, for she had not slept at all for thinking, and her eyes ached and her hand_elt weak, resting upon the brick of the window sill. Horses raced past, shaking the building, in pairs, in fours, in twelves. They curvetted together, pawed their way through intricate figures, arched their great necks, or, reined in suddenly at the gallop, cast up the sand in showers and great flake_f white foam.
  • The old knight came into view, motioning with his lance to invisible horseme_rom the other side of the manage, and the top notes of his voice reached the_hinly as he shouted the words of direction. But the King was still invisible.
  • Suddenly Cicely Elliott cried out:
  • 'Why, the old boy hath dropped his lance! _Quel malheur!_ '—and indeed th_ance lay in the sand, the horse darting wildly aside at the thud of its fall.
  • The old man shook his iron fist at the sky, and his face was full of rage an_hame in the watery sunlight that penetrated into his open helmet. 'Poor ol_inful man!' Cicely said with a note of concern deep in her throat. A knave i_rey ran to pick up the lance, but the knight sat, his head hanging on hi_hest, like one mortally stricken riding from a battlefield.
  • Katharine's heart was in her mouth, and all her limbs were weak together; _reat shoulder in heavy furs, the back of a great cap, came into the view o_he window, an immense hand grasped the white balustrade of the manage rails.
  • He was leaning over, a figure all squares, like that on a court-card, onl_hat the embroidered bonnet raked abruptly to one side as if it had bee_hrown on to the square head. Henry was talking to the old knight across th_and. The sight went out of her eyes and her throat uttered indistinguishabl_ords. She heard Cicely Elliott say:
  • ' _What_ will you do? My old knight is upon the point of tears,' and Katharin_elt herself brushing along the wall of the corridor towards the open door.
  • The immense horse with his steel-plates spreading out like skirts from it_aunches dropped its head motionlessly close to the rail, and the grey, wrinkling steel of the figure on its back caught the reflection of the lo_louds in flakes of light and shadow.
  • The old knight muttered indistinguishable words of shame inside his helmet; the King said: 'Ay, God help us, we all grow old together!' and Katharin_eard herself cry out:
  • 'Last night you were about very late because evil men plotted against me. An_an might drop his lance in the morning… .'
  • Henry moved his head leisurely over his shoulder; his eyelids went up, i_aughty incredulity, so that the whites showed all round the dark pupils. H_ould not turn far enough to see her without moving his feet, and appearing t_isdain so much trouble he addressed the old man heavily:
  • 'Three times I dropped my pen, writing one letter yesterday,' he said; 'if yo_ad my troubles you might groan of growing old.'
  • But the old man was too shaken with the disgrace to ride any more, and Henr_dded testily:
  • 'I came here for distractions, and you have run me up against old care_ecause the sun shone in your eyes. If you will get tricking it with wenche_ver night you cannot be fresh in the morning. That is gospel for all of us.
  • Get in and disarm. I have had enough of horses for the morning.'
  • As if he had dispatched that piece of business he turned, heavily and all o_ne piece, right round upon Katharine. He set his hands into his side an_tood with his square feet wide apart:
  • 'It is well that you remember how to kneel,' he laughed, ironically, motionin_er to get up before she had reached her knees. 'You are the pertest baggage _ave ever met.'
  • He had recognised her whilst the words were coming out of his great lips.
  • 'Why, is it you the old fellow should marry? I heard he had found a youn_illy to frisk it with him.'
  • Katharine, her face pale and in consternation, stammered that Cicely Elliot_as in the stables. He said:
  • 'Bide there, I will go speak with her. The old fellow is very cast down; w_ust hearten him. It is true that he groweth old and has been a good servant.'
  • He pulled the dagger that hung from a thin gold chain on his neck into it_roper place on his chest, squared his shoulders, and swayed majestically int_he door of the stable. Katharine heard his voice raised to laugh and droppin_nto his gracious but still peremptory ardent tones. She remained alone upo_he level square of smooth sand. Not a soul was in sight, for when the Kin_ame to seek distraction with his horses he brought no one that could teas_im. She was filled with fears.
  • He beckoned her to him with his head, ducking it right down to his chest an_ack again, and the glances of his eyes seemed to strike her like hammer-blow_hen he came out from the door.
  • 'It was you then that composed that fine speech about the Fortunate Isles?' h_aid. 'I had sent for you this morning. I will have it printed.'
  • She wanted to hang her head like a pupil before her master, but she needs mus_ook him in the eyes, and her voice came strangely and unearthly to her ow_ars.
  • 'I could not remember the speech the Bishop of Winchester set me to say. _arned him I have no memory for the Italian, and my fright muddled my wits.'
  • Internal laughter shook him, and once again he set his feet far apart, as i_hat aided him to look at her.
  • 'Your fright!' he said.
  • 'I am even now so frightened,' she uttered, 'that it is as if another spok_ith my throat.'
  • His great mouth relaxed as if he accepted as his due a piece of skilfu_lattery. Suddenly she sank down upon her knees, her dress spreading ou_eneath her, her hands extended and her red lips parted as the beak of a bir_pens with terror. He uttered lightly:
  • 'Why, get up. You should kneel so only to your God,' and he touched his cap, with his habitual heavy gesture, at the sacred name.
  • 'I have somewhat to ask,' she whispered.
  • He laughed again.
  • 'They are always asking! But get up. I have left my stick in my room. Help m_o my door.'
  • She felt the heavy weight of his arm upon her shoulder as soon as she stoo_eside him.
  • He asked her suddenly what she knew of the Fortunate Islands that she ha_alked of in her speech.
  • 'They lie far in the Western Ocean; I had an Italian would have built me ship_o reach them,' he said, and Katharine answered:
  • 'I do take them to be a fable of the ancients, for they had no heaven to pra_or.'
  • When his eyes were not upon her she was not afraid, and the heavy weight o_is hand upon her shoulder made her feel firm to bear it. But she groane_nwardly because she had urgent words that must be said, and she imagined tha_othing could be calmer in the Fortunate Islands themselves than this to wal_nd converse about their gracious image that shone down the ages. He said, with a heavy, dull voice:
  • 'I would give no little to be there.'
  • Suddenly she heard herself say, her heart leaping in her chest:
  • 'I do not like the errand they have sent my cousin upon.'
  • The blessed Utopia of the lost islands had stirred in the King all sorts o_riefs that he would shake off, and all sorts of remembrances of youth, o_pen fields, and a wide world that shall be conquered—all the hopes an_nstincts of happiness, ineffable and indestructible, that never die i_assionate men. He said dully, his thoughts far away:
  • 'What errand have they sent him upon? Who is your goodly cousin?'
  • She answered:
  • 'They put it about that he should murder Cardinal Pole,' and she shook so muc_hat he was forced to take his hand from her shoulder.
  • He leaned upon the manage rail, and halted to rest his leg that pained him.
  • 'It is a good errand enough,' he said.
  • She was panting like a bird that you hold in your hand, so that all her bod_hook, and she blurted out:
  • 'I would not that my cousin should murder a Churchman!' and before hi_yebrows could go up in an amazed and haughty stare: 'I am like to be hange_etween Privy Seal and Winchester.'
  • He seemed to fall against the white bar of the rail for support, his eyes wid_ith incredulity.
  • He said: 'When were women hanged here?'
  • 'Sir,' she said earnestly, 'you are the only one I can speak to. I am in grea_eril from these men.'
  • He shook his head at her.
  • 'You have gone mad,' he said gravely. 'What is this fluster?'
  • 'Give me your ear for a minute,' she pleaded. Her fear of him as a man seeme_o have died down. As a king she had never feared him. 'These men do seek eac_ther's lives, and many are like to be undone between them.'
  • His nostrils dilated like those of a high-mettled horse that starts back.
  • 'What maggot is this?' he said imperiously. 'Here there is no disunion.'
  • He rolled his eyes angrily and breathed short, twisting his hands. It was par_f his nature to insist that all the world should believe in the concord o_is people. He had walked there to talk with a fair woman. He had imagine_hat she would pique him with pert speeches.
  • 'Speak quickly,' he said in a peremptory voice, and his eyes wandered up th_ath between the rails and the stable walls. 'You are a pretty piece, but _ave no time to waste in woeful nonsense.'
  • 'Alas,' she said, 'this is the very truth of the truth. Privy Seal hat_ricked me.'
  • He laughed heavily and incredulously, and he sat right down upon the rail. Sh_egan to tell him her whole story.
  • All through the night she had been thinking over the coil into which she ha_allen. It was a matter of desperate haste, for she had imagined tha_hrockmorton would go at once or before dawn and make up a tale to Privy Sea_o that she should be put out of the way. To her no counter-plotting wa_ossible. Gardiner she regarded with a young disdain: he was a man who walke_n plots. And she did not love him because he had treated her like a servan_fter she had walked in his masque. Her uncle Norfolk was a craven who ha_eft her to sink or swim. Throckmorton, a werewolf who would defile her if sh_ntered into any compact with him. He would inform against her, with the firs_ight of the morning, and she had trembled in her room at every footstep tha_assed the door. She had imagined guards coming with their pikes down to tak_er. She had trembled in the very stables.
  • The King stood above these plots and counter-plots. She imagined him breathin_ calmer air that alone was fit for her. To one of her house the King was n_ore than a man. At home she had regarded him very little. She had read to_any chronicles. He was first among such men as her men-folk because her men- folk had so willed it: he was their leader, no more majestic than themselves, and less sacred than most priests. But in that black palace she felt that al_en trembled before him. It gave her for him a respect: he was at least a ma_efore whom all these cravens trembled. And she imagined herself such anothe_eing: strong, confident, unafraid.
  • Therefore to the King alone she could speak. She imagined him sympathisin_ith her on account of the ignoble trick that Cromwell had played upon her, a_f he too must recognise her such another as himself. Being young she fel_hat God and the saints alike fought on her side. She was accustomed to thin_f herself as so assured and so buoyant that she could bear alike the command_f such men as Cromwell, as Gardiner and as her cousin with a smile of wisdom.
  • She could bide her time.
  • Throckmorton had shocked her, not because he was a villain who had laid hand_pon her, but because he had fooled her so that unless she made haste thos_ther men would prove too many for her. They would hang her.
  • Therefore she must speak to the King. Lying still, looking at the darkness, listening to the breathing of Margot Poins, who slept across the foot of he_ed, she had felt no fear whatsoever of Henry. It was true she had tremble_efore him at the masque, but she swept that out of her mind. She could hardl_elieve that she had trembled and forgotten the Italian words that she shoul_ave spoken. Yet she had stood there transfixed, without a syllable in he_ind. And she had managed to bring out any words at all only by desperatel_iecing together the idea of Ovid's poem and Aulus Gellius' Eulogy of Marcu_rassus, which was very familiar in her ears because she had always imagine_or a hero such a man: munificent, eloquent, noble and learned in the laws.
  • The hall had seemed to blaze before her—it was only because she was s_etrified with fright that she had not turned tail or fallen on her knees.
  • Therefore she must speak to him when he came to see his horses. She must brin_im to her side before the tall spy with the eyes and the mouth that grinne_s if at the thought of virtue could give Cromwell the signal to undo her.
  • She spoke vehemently to the King; she was indignant, because it seemed to he_he was defiled by these foul men who had grasped at her.
  • 'They have brought me down with a plot,' she said. She stretched out her han_nd cried earnestly: 'Sir, believe that what I would have I ask for withou_ny plotting.'
  • He leant back upon his rail. His round and boding eyes avoided her face.
  • 'You have spoilt my morning betwixt you,' he muttered. First it was ol_ochford who failed. Could a man not see his horses gallop without being pu_n mind of decay and death? Had he need of that? 'Why, I asked you fo_leasant converse,' he finished.
  • She pleaded: 'Sir, I knew not that Pole was a traitor. Before God, I would no_hat he were caught up. But assuredly a way could be found with the Bishop o_ome… .'
  • 'This is a parcel of nonsense,' he shouted suddenly, dismissing her whol_tory. Would she have him believe it thinkable that a spy should swear away _oman's life? She had far better spend her time composing of fine speeches.
  • 'Sir,' she cried, 'before the Most High God… .'
  • He lifted his hand.
  • 'I am tired of perpetual tears,' he muttered, and looked up the perspective o_table walls and white rails as if he would hurry away.
  • She said desperately: 'You will meet with tears perpetual so long as this man… .'
  • He lifted his hand, clenched right over his head.
  • 'By God,' he bayed, 'may I never rest from cat and dog quarrels? I will no_ear you. It is to drive a man mad when most he needs solace.'
  • He jerked himself down from the rail and shot over his shoulder:
  • 'You will break your head if you run against a wall; I will have you in gao_re night fall.' And he seemed to push her backward with his great han_tretched out.