The Sieur Lascelles looked round him in that dim cave.
'Ho!' he said, 'this place stinks,' and he pulled from his pocket a dried an_hrivelled orange-peel purse stuffed with cloves and ginger. 'Ho!' he said t_he cornet that was come behind him with the Queen's horsemen. 'Come not i_ere. This will breed a plague amongst your men!' and he added—
'Did I not tell you my sister was ill-housed?'
'Well, I was not prepared against this,' the cornet said. He was a man with _rizzling beard that had little patience away from the Court, where he had _ottle that he loved and a crony or two that he played all day at chequer_ith, except when the Queen rode out; then he was of her train. He did no_ome over the sill, but spoke sharply to his men.
'Ungird not here,' he said. 'We will go farther.' For some of them were fo_etting their pikes against the mud wall and casting their swords and heav_ottle-belts on to the table before the door. The old man in the armchai_egan suddenly to prattle to them all—of a horse-thief that had bee_ismembered and then hanged in pieces thirty years before. The cornet looke_t him for a moment and said—
'Sir, you are this woman's father-in-law, I do think. Have you aught to repor_gainst her?' He bent in at the door, holding his nose. The old man babbled o_ne Pease-Cod Noll that had no history to speak of but a swivel eye.
'Well,' the grizzled cornet said, 'I shall get little sense here.' He turne_pon Mary Hall.
'Mistress,' he said, 'I have a letter here from the Queen's High Grace,' and, whilst he fumbled in his belt to find a little wallet that held the letter, h_poke on: 'But I misdoubt you cannot read. Therefore I shall tell you th_ueen's High Grace commandeth you to come into her service—or not, as th_eport of your character shall be. But at any rate you shall come to th_astle.'
Mary Hall could find no words for men of condition, so long she had been ou_f the places where such are found. She swallowed in her throat and held he_reast over her heart.
'Where is the village here?' the cornet said, 'or what justice is there tha_an write you a character under his seal?'
She made out to say that there was no village, all the neighbourhood havin_een hanged. A half-mile from there there was the house of Sir Nichola_hrockmorton, a justice. From the house-end he might see it, or he might hav_ hind to guide him. But he would have no guide; he would have no man nor mai_or child to go from there to the justice's house. He set one soldier to guar_he back door and one the front, that none came out nor went beyond the dyke- end.
'Neither shall you go, Sir Lascelles,' he said.
'Well, give me leave with my sister to walk this knoll,' Lascelles said good- humouredly. 'We shall not corrupt the grass blades to bear false witness of m_ister's chastity.'
'Ay, you may walk upon this mound,' the cornet answered. Having got out th_acket of the Queen's letter, he girded up his belt again.
'You will get you ready to ride with me,' he said to Mary Hall. 'For I wil_ot be in these marshes after nightfall, but will sleep at Shrimpton Inn.'
He looked around him and added—
'I will have three of your geese to take with us,' he said. 'Kill me the_resently.'
Lascelles looked after him as he strode away round the house with the lon_aces of a stiff horseman.
'Before God,' he laughed, 'that is one way to have information about a quean.
Now are we prisoners whilst he inquires after your character.'
'Oh, alack!' Mary Hall said, and she cast up her hands.
'Well, we are prisoners till he come again,' her brother said good-humouredly.
'But this is a foul hole. Come out into the sunlight.'
'If you are with them, they cannot come to take me prisoner.'
He looked her full in the eyes with his own that twinkled inscrutably. He sai_ery slowly—
'Were your mar-locks and prinking-prankings so very evil at the ol_uchess's?'
She grew white: she shrank away as if he had threatened her with his fist.
'The Queen's Highness was such a child,' she said. 'She cannot remember. _ave lived very godly since.'
'I will do what I can to save you,' he said. 'Let me hear about it, as, bein_risoners, we may never come off.'
'You!' she cried out. 'You who stole my wedding portion!'
He laughed deviously.
'Why, I have laid it up so well for you that you may wed a knight now if yo_o my bidding. I was ever against your wedding Hall.'
'You lie!' she said. 'You gar'd me do it.'
The maids were peeping out of the cellar, whither they had fled.
'Come upon the grass,' he said. 'I will not be heard to say more than this: that you and I stand and fall together like good sister and goodly brother.'
Their faces differed only in that hers was afraid and his smiling as h_hought of new lies to tell her. Her face in her hood, pale beneath it_eathering, approached the colour of his that shewed the pink and white o_ndoors. She came very slowly near him, for she was dazed. But when she wa_lmost at the sill he caught her hand and drew it beneath his elbow.
'Tell me truly,' she said, 'shall I see the Court or a prison?… But you canno_peak truth, nor ever could when we were tiny twins. God help me: last Sunda_ had the mind to wed my yard-man. I would become such a liar as thou to com_way from here.'
'Sister,' he said, 'this I tell you most truly: that this shall fall ou_ccording as you obey me and inform me'; and, because he was a little th_aller, he leaned over her as they walked away together.
On the fourth day from then they were come to the great wood that is to sout_nd east of the castle of Pontefract. Here Lascelles, who had ridden much wit_is sister, forsook her and went ahead of the slow and heavy horses of tha_roop of men. The road was broadened out to forty yards of green turf betwee_he trees, for this was a precaution against ambushes of robbers. Across th_oad, after he had ridden alone for an hour and a half, there was a guard o_our men placed. And here, whilst he searched for his pass to come within th_imits of the Court, he asked what news, and where the King was.
It was told him that the King lay still at the Fivefold Vents, two days'
progress from the castle, and as it chanced that a verderer's pricker came ou_f the wood where he had been to mark where the deer lay for to-morrow'_illing, Lascelles bade this man come along with him for a guide.
'Sir, ye cannot miss the way,' the pricker said surlily. 'I have my deer t_atch.'
'I will have you to guide me,' Lascelles said, 'for I little know thes_arts.'
'Well,' the pricker answered him, 'it is true that I have not often seen yo_ide a-hawking.'
Whilst they went along the straight road, Lascelles, who unloosened th_oodman's tongue with a great drink of sherry-sack, learned that it was sai_hat only very unwillingly did the King lie so long at the Fivefold Vents. Fo_n the morrow there was to be driven by, up there, a great herd of moor stag_nd maybe a wolf or two. The King would be home with his wife, it wa_eported, but the younger lords had been so importunate with him to stay an_bide this gallant chase and great slaughter that, they having ridden loyall_ith him, he had yielded to their prayers and stayed there—twenty-four hours, it was said.
'Why, you know a great deal,' Lascelles answered.
'We who stand and wait had needs have knowledge,' the woodman said, 'for w_ave little else.'
'Aye, 'tis a hard service,' Lascelles said. 'Did you see the Queen's Highnes_' Thursday week borrow a handkerchief of Sir Roger Pelham to lure her falco_ack?'
'That did not I,' the woodman answered, 'for o' Thursday week it was a fros_nd the Queen rode not out.'
'Well, it was o' Saturday,' Lascelles said.
'Nor was it yet o' Saturday,' the woodman cried; 'I will swear it. For o'
Saturday the Queen's Highness shot with the bow, and Sir Roger Pelham, as al_en know, fell with his horse on Friday, and lies up still.'
'Then it was Sir Nicholas Rochford,' Lascelles persisted.
'Sir,' the woodman said, 'you have a very wrong tale, and patent it is tha_ittle you ride a-hunting.'
'Well, I mind my book,' Lascelles said. 'But wherefore?'
'Sir,' the woodman answered, 'it is thus: The Queen when she rides a-hawkin_as always behind her her page Toussaint, a little boy. And this little bo_oldeth ever the separate lures for each hawk that the Queen setteth up. An_he falcon or hawk or genette or tiercel having stooped, the Queen will cal_pon that eyass for the lure appropriated to each bird as it chances. And ver_arefully the Queen's Highness observeth the laws of the chase, of venery an_awking. For the which I honour her.'
Lascelles said, 'Well, well!'
'As for the borrowing of a handkerchief,' the woodman pursued, 'that is a ver_dle tale. For, let me tell you, a lady might borrow a jewelled feather or _carlet pouch or what not that is bright and shall take a bird's eye—a littl_irror upon a cord were a good thing. But a handkerchief! Why, Sir Bookman, that a lady can only do if she will signify to all the world: "This knight i_y servant and I his mistress." Those very words it signifieth—and that th_etter for it showeth that that lady is minded to let her hawk go, luring th_entleman to her with that favour of his.'
'Well, well,' Lascelles said, 'I am not so ignorant that I did not know that.
Therefore I asked you, for it seemed a very strange thing.'
'It is a very foolish tale and very evil,' the man answered. 'For this I wil_wear: that the Queen's Highness—and I and her honour for it—observeth ver_ealously the laws of wood and moorland and chase.'
'So I have heard,' Lascelles said. 'But I see the castle. I will not take yo_arther, but will let you go back to the goodly deer.'
'Pray God they be not wandered fore,' the woodman said. 'You could have foun_his way without me.'
There was but one road into the castle, and that from the south, up a stee_reen bank. Up the roadway Lascelles must ride his horse past four men tha_ore a litter made of two pikes wattled with green boughs and covered with _orse-cloth. As Lascelles passed by the very head of it, the man that la_here sprang off it to his feet, and cried out—
'I be the Queen's cousin and servant. I brought her to the Court.' Lascelles'
horse sprang sideways, a great bound up the bank. He galloped ten paces ahea_efore the rider could stay him and turn round. The man, all rags and with _lack face, had fallen into the dust of the road, and still cried ou_utrageously. The bearers set down the litter, wiped their brows, and then, falling all four upon Culpepper, made to carry him by his legs and arms, fo_hey were weary of laying him upon the litter from which incessantly h_prang.
But before them upon his horse was Lascelles and impeded their way. Culpeppe_rew in and pushed out his legs and arms, so that they all four staggered, and—
'For God's sake, master,' one of them grunted out, 'stand aside that we ma_ass. We have toil enow in bearing him.'
'Why, set the poor gentleman down upon the litter,' Lascelles said, 'and le_s talk a little.'
The men set Culpepper on the horse-cloth, and one of them knelt down to hol_im there.
'If you will lend us your horse to lay him across, we may come more easil_p,' one said. In these days the position and trade of a spy was so littl_steemed—it had been far other with the great informers of Privy Seal'_ay—that these men, being of the Queen's guard, would talk roughly t_ascelles, who was a mere poor gentleman of the Archbishop's if his othe_ocation could be neglected. Lascelles sat, his hand upon his chin.
'You use him very roughly if this be the Queen's cousin,' he said.
The bearer set back his beard and laughed at the sky.
'This is a coif—a poor rag of a merchant,' he cried out. 'If this were th_ueen's cousin should we bear him thus on a clout?'
'I am the Queen's cousin, T. Culpepper,' Culpepper shouted at the sky. 'Who b_ou that stay me from her?'
'Why, you may hear plainly,' the bearer said. 'He is mazed, doited, starved, thirsted, and a seer of visions.'
Lascelles pondered, his elbow upon his saddle-peak, his chin caught in hi_and.
'How came ye by him?' he asked.
One with another they told him the tale, how, the Queen being ridden toward_he north parts, at the extreme end of her ride had seen the man, at _istance, among the heather, flogging a dead horse with a moorland kern besid_im. He was a robbed, parched, fevered, and amazed traveller. The Queen'_ighness, compassionating, had bidden bear him to the castle and comfort an_ure him, not having looked upon his face or heard his tongue. For, for sur_hen, she had let him die where he was; since, no sooner were these four, hi_ew bearers, nearly come up among the knee-deep heather, than this man ha_tarted up, his eyes upon the Queen's cavalcade and many at a distance. And, with his sword drawn and screaming, he had cried out that, if that was th_ueen, he was the Queen's cousin. They had tripped up his heels in a bed o_ing and quieted him with a clout on the poll from an axe end.
'But now we have him here,' the eldest said; 'where we shall bestow him w_now not.'
Lascelles had his eyes upon the sick man's face as if it fascinated him, and, slowly, he got down from his horse. Culpepper then lay very still with hi_yes closed, but his breast heaved as though against tight and strong rope_hat bound him.
'I think I do know this gentleman for one John Robb,' he said. 'Are you ver_ertain the Queen's Highness did not know his face?'
'Why, she came not ever within a quarter mile of him,' the bearer said.
'Then it is a great charity of the Queen to show mercy to a man she hath neve_een,' Lascelles answered absently. He was closely casting his eyes ove_ulpepper. Culpepper lay very still, his begrimed face to the sky, his hand_broad above his head. But when Lascelles bent over him it was as if h_huddered, and then he wept.
Lascelles bent down, his hands upon his knees. He was afraid—he was ver_fraid. Thomas Culpepper, the Queen's cousin, he had never seen in his life.
But he had heard it reported that he had red hair and beard, and went alway_ressed in green with stockings of red. And this man's hair was red, and hi_eard, beneath coal grime, was a curly red, and his coat, beneath a crust o_lack filth, was Lincoln green and of a good cloth. And, beneath the black, his stockings were of red silk. He reflected slowly, whilst the bearer_aughed amongst themselves at this Queen's kinsman in rags and filth.
Lascelles gave them his bottle of sack to drink empty among them, that h_ight have the longer time to think.
If this were indeed the Queen's cousin, come unknown to the Queen and maze_nd muddled in himself to Pontefract, what might not Lascelles make of him?
For all the world knew that he loved her with a mad love—he had sold farms t_uy her gowns. It was he that had brought her to Court, upon an ass, a_reenwich, when her mule—as all men knew—had stumbled upon the threshold. Onc_efore, it was said, Culpepper had burst in with his sword drawn upon the Kin_nd Kate Howard when they sat together. And Lascelles trembled with eagernes_t the thought of what use he might not make of this mad and insolent lover o_he Queen's!
But did he dare?
Culpepper had been sent into Scotland to secure him up, away at the farthes_imits of the realm. Then, if he was come back? This grime was the grime of _ea-coal ship! He knew that men without passports, outlaws and the like, escaped from Scotland on the Durham ships that went to Leith with coal. An_his man came on the Durham road. Then… .
If it were Culpepper he had come unpermitted. He was an outlaw. Dare Lascelle_ave trade with—dare he harbour—an outlaw? It would be unbeknown to th_ueen's Highness! He kicked his heels with impatience to come to a resolution.
He reflected swiftly:
What hitherto he had were: some tales spread abroad about the Queen's lew_ourt—tales in London Town. He had, too, the keeper of the Queen's door bribe_nd talked into his service and interest. And he had his sister… .
His sister would, with threatening, tell tales of the Queen before marriage.
And she would find him other maids and grooms, some no doubt more willin_till than Mary Hall. But the keeper of the Queen's door! And, in addition, the Queen's cousin mad of love for her! What might he not do with these two?
The prickly sweat came to his forehead. Four horsemen were issuing from th_ate of the castle above. He must come to a decision. His fingers trembled a_f they were a pickpocket's near a purse of gold.
He straightened his back and stood erect.
'Yes,' he said very calmly, 'this is my friend John Robb.'
He added that this man had been in Edinburgh where the Queen's cousin was. H_ad had letters from him that told how they were sib and rib. Thus this fanc_ad doubtless come into his brain at sight of the Queen in his madness.
He breathed calmly, having got out these words, for now the doubt was ended.
He would have both the Queen's door-keeper and the Queen's mad lover.
He bade the bearers set Culpepper upon his horse and, supporting him, lead hi_o a room that he would hire of the Archbishop's chamberlain, near his own i_he dark entrails of the castle. And there John Robb should live at hi_xpenses.
And when the men protested that, though this was very Christian of Lascelles, yet they would have recompense of the Queen for their toils, he said that h_imself would give them a crown apiece, and they might get in addition wha_ecompense from the Queen's steward that they could. He asked them each thei_ames and wrote them down, pretending that it was that he might send each ma_is crown piece.
So, when the four horsemen were ridden past, the men hoisted Culpepper int_ascelles' horse and went all together up into the castle.
But, that night, when Culpepper lay in a stupor, Lascelles went to th_rchbishop's chamberlain and begged that four men, whose names he had writte_own, might be chosen to go in the Archbishop's paritor's guard that went nex_awn to Ireland over the sea to bring back tithes from Dublin. And, next day, he had Culpepper moved to another room; and, in three days' time, he set i_bout in the castle that the Queen's cousin was come from Scotland. By tha_ime most of the liquor had come down out of Culpepper's brain, but he wa_till muddled and raved at times.