Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:
Ford Madox Ford
His Last Venture
LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA
TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2018
Copyright © 2018 Sovereign Classic
All rights reserved.
THE RISING SUN
The Magister Udal sat in the room of his inn in Paris, where customarily the King of France lodged such envoys as came at his expense. He had been sent there to Latinise the letters that passed between Sir Thomas Wyatt and the King’s Ministers of France, for he was esteemed the most learned man in these islands. He had groaned much at being sent there, for he must leave in England so many loves—the great, blonde Margot Poins, that was maid to Katharine Howard; the tall, swaying Katharine Howard herself; Judge Cantre’s wife that had fed him well; and two other women, with all of whom he had succeeded easily or succeeded in no wise at all. But the mission was so well paid—with as many crowns the day as he had had groats for teaching the Lady Mary of England—that fain he had been to go. Moreover, it was by way of being a favour of Privy Seal’s. The magister had written for him a play in English; the rich post was the reward—and it was an ill thing, a thing the magister dreaded, to refuse the favours of Privy Seal. He consoled himself with the thought that the writing of letters in Latin might wash from his mouth the savour of the play he had written in the vulgar tongue.
But his work in Paris was ended—for with the flight of Cardinal Pole, who had left Paris precipitately upon news that the King of England had sent a drunken roisterer to assassinate him, it was imagined that soon now more concord between Francis and England might ensue, and the magister sat in his room planning his voyage back to Dover. The room was great in size, panelled mostly in wood, lit with lampwicks that floated in oil dishes and heated with a sea-coal fire, for though it was April the magister was of a cold disposition of the hands and shins. The inn—of the Golden Astrolabe—was kept by an Englishwoman, a masterful widow with a broad face and a great mouth that smiled. She stood beside him there. Forty-seven she might have been, and she called herself the Widow Annot.
The magister sat over his fire with his gown parted from his legs to warm his shins, but his hands waved angrily and his face was crestfallen.
‘Oh, keeper of a tavern,’ he said. ‘It is set down in holy writ that it is not good for a man to be alone.’
‘That a hostess shall keep her tavern clean is writ in the books of the provost of Paris town,’ the Widow Annot answered, and the shadow of her great white hood, which she wore in the older English fashion, danced over the brown wooden beams of the ceiling.
‘Nay, nay,’ he answered, ‘it is written there that it is the enjoined devoir of every hotelier to provide things fitting for the sojourners’ ease, pleasure and recreation.’
‘The maid is locked in another house,’ the hostess answered, ‘and should have been this three week.’ She swung her keys on a black riband and gazed at him masterfully. ‘Will your magistership eat capon or young goat?’
‘Capon will have a savour like sawdust, and young goat like the dust of the road,’ the magister moaned. ‘Give me the girl to wait upon me again.’
‘No maid will wait upon thee,’ she answered.
‘Even thou thyself?’ he asked. He glanced across his shoulder and his eyes measured her, hers him. She had large shoulders, a high, full stomacher, and her cheeks were an apple-red. ‘The maiden was a fair piece,’ he tittered.
‘Therefore you must spoil the ring of the coin,’ she answered.
He sighed: ‘Then eat you with me. “Soli cantare periti Arcades.” But it is cold here alone of nights.’
They ate goat and green leeks sweetened with honey, and wood thrushes pickled in wine, and salt fish from the mouth of the Beauce. And because this gave the magister a great thirst he drank much of a warmed wine from Burgundy that the hostess brought herself. They sat, byside, on cushions on a couch before the warm fire.
‘Filia pulchra mater pulchrior!’ the magister muttered, and he cast his arms about her soft and plump waist. ‘The maid was a fair skewer, the hostess is a plumper roasting bit.’ She took his kisses on her fire-warmed cheeks, but in the end she thrust him mightily from her with a large elbow.
He gasped with the strength of her thrust, and she said:
‘Greedy dogs getten them hard cuffs,’ and rearranged her neckercher. When he tried to come nearer her she laughed and thrust him aback.
‘You have tried and tasted,’ she said. ‘A fuller meal you must pay for.’
He stood before her, lean and lank, his gown flapping about his calves, his eyes smiling humorously, his lips twitching.
‘Oh soft and warm woman,’ he cried, ‘payment shall be yours’; and whilst he fumbled furiously in his clothes-press, he quoted from Tully: ‘Haec civitas mulieri redimiculum praebuit.’ He pulled out one small bag: ‘Haec in collum.’ She took another. ‘Haec in crines!’ and he added a third, saying: ‘Here is all I have,’ and cast the three into her lap. Whilst she counted the coins composedly on the table before her he added: ‘Leave me nevertheless the price to come to England with.’
‘Sir Magister,’ she said, turning her large face to him. ‘This is not one-tenth enough. You have tasted an ensample. Will you have the whole meal?’
‘Oh, unconscionable,’ he cried. ‘More I have not!’ He began to wave his hands. ‘Consider what you do do,’ he uttered. ‘Think of what a pest is love. How many have died of it. Pyramus, Thisbe, Dido, Medea, Croesus, Callirhoe, Theagines the philosopher ... Consider what writes Gordonius: “Prognosticatio est talis: si non succuratur iis aut in maniam cadunt: aut moriuntur.” Unless lovers be succoured either they fall into a madness, either they die or grow mad. And Fabian Montaltus: “If this passion be not assuaged, the inflammation cometh to the brain. It drieth up the blood. Then followeth madness or men make themselves away.” I would have you ponder of what saith Parthenium and what Plutarch in his tales of lovers.’
Her face appeared comely and smooth in his eyes, but she shook her head at him.
‘These be woeful and pretty stories,’ she said. ‘I would have you to tell me many of them.’
‘All through the night,’ he said eagerly, and made to clasp her in his arms. But she pushed him back again with her hand on his chest.
‘All through the night an you will,’ she said. ‘But first you shall tell a prettier tale before a man in a frock.’
He sprang full four feet back at one spring.
‘I have wedded no woman, yet,’ he said.
‘Then it is time you wed one now,’ she answered.
‘Oh widow, bethink you,’ he pleaded. ‘Would you spoil so pretty a tale? Would you humble so goodly a man’s pride?’
‘Why, it were a pity,’ she said. ‘But I am minded to take a husband.’
‘You have done well this ten years without one,’ he cried out.
Her face seemed to set like adamant as she turned her cheek to him.
‘Call it a woman’s mad freak,’ she said.
‘Six and twenty pupils in the fair game of love I have had,’ he said. ‘You shall be the seven and twentieth. Twenty and seven are seven and two. Seven and two are nine. Now nine is the luckiest of numbers. Be you that one.’
‘Nay,’ she answered. ‘It is time you learned husbandry who have taught so many and earned so little.’
He slipped himself softly into the cushions beside her.
‘Would you spoil so fair a tale?’ he said. ‘Would you have me to break so many vows? I have promised a mort of women marriage, and so long as I be not wed I may keep faith with any one of them.’
She held her face away from him and laughed.
‘That is as it may be,’ she said. ‘But when you wed with me to-night you will keep faith with one woman.’
‘Woman,’ he pleaded. ‘I am a great scholar.’
‘Ay,’ she answered, ‘and great scholars have climbed to great estates.’
She continued to count the coins that came from his little money-bags; the shadow of her hood upon the great beams grew more portentous.
‘It is thought that your magistership may rise to be Chancellor of the Realm of England,’ she added.
He clutched his forehead.
‘Eheu!’ he said. ‘If you have heard men say that, you know that wedded to thee I could never climb.’
‘Then I shall very comfortably keep my inn here in Paris town,’ she answered. ‘You have here fourteen pounds and eleven shillings.’
He stretched forth his lean hands:
‘Why, I will marry thee in the morning,’ he said, and he moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. Outside the door there was a shuffling of several feet.
‘I knew not other guests were in the house,’ he uttered, and fell again to kissing her.
‘Knew you not an envoy was come from Cleves?’ she whispered.
Her head fell back and he supported it with one trembling hand. He shook like a leaf when her voice rang out:
‘Au secours! Au secours!’
There was a great jangle, light fell into the dusky room through the doorhole, and he found himself beneath the eyes of many scullions with spits, cooks with carving forks, and kitchenmaids with sharpened distaffs of steel.
‘Now I will be wed this night,’ she laughed.
He moved to the end of the couch and blinked at her in the strong light.
‘I will be wed this night,’ she said again, and rearranged her head-dress, revealing, as her sleeves fell open, her white, plump arms.
‘Why, no!’ he answered irresolutely.
She said in French to her aids:
‘Come near him with the spits!’
They moved towards him, a white-clad body with their pointed things glittering in the light of torches. He sprang behind the great table against the window and seized the heavy-leaden sandarach. The French scullions knew, tho’ he had no French, that he would cleave one of their skulls, and they stood, a knot of seven—four men and three maids—in blue hoods, in the centre of the room.
‘By Mars and by Apollo!’ he said, ‘I was minded to wed with thee if I could no other way. But now, like Phaeton, I will cast myself from the window and die, or like the wretches thrown from the rock, called Tarpeian. I was minded to a folly: now I am minded rather for death.’
‘How nobly thy tongue doth wag, husband,’ she said, and cried in French for the rogues to be gone. When the door closed upon the lights she said in the comfortable gloom: ‘I dote upon thy words. My first was tongue-tied.’ She beckoned him to her and folded her arms. ‘Let us discourse upon this matter,’ she said comfortably. ‘Thus I will put it: you wed with me or spring from the window.’
‘I am even trapped?’ he asked.
‘So it comes to all foxes that too long seek for capons,’ she answered.
‘But consider,’ he said. He sat himself by the fireside upon a stool, being minded to avoid temptation.
‘I would have your magistership forget the rogues that be without,’ she said.
‘They were a nightmare’s tale,’ he said.
‘Yet forget them not too utterly,’ she answered. ‘For I am of some birth. My father had seven horses and never followed the plough.’
‘Oh buxom one!’ he answered. ‘Of a comfortable birth and girth thou art. Yet with thee around my neck I might not easily climb.’
‘Magister,’ she said, ‘whilst thou climbest in London town thy wife will bide in Paris.’
‘Consider!’ he said. ‘There is in London town a fair, large maid called Margot Poins.’
‘Is she more fair than I?’ she asked. ‘I will swear she is.’
He tilted his stool forward.
‘No; no, I swear it,’ he said eagerly.
‘Then I will swear she is more large.’
‘No; not one half so bounteous is her form,’ he answered, and moved across to the couch.
‘Then if you can bear her weight up you can bear mine,’ she said, and moved away from him.
‘Nay,’ he answered. ‘She would help me on,’ and he fumbled in the shadows for her hand. She drew herself together into a small space.
‘You affect her more than me,’ she said, with a swift motion simulating jealousy.
‘By the breasts of Venus, no!’ he answered.
‘Oh, once more use such words,’ she murmured, and surrendered to him her soft hand. He rubbed it between both of his cold ones and uttered:
‘By the Paphian Queen: by her teams of doves and sparrows! By the bower of Phyllis and the girdle of Egypt’s self! I love thee!’
She gurgled ‘oh’s’ of pleasure.
‘But this Margot Poins is tirewoman to the Lady Katharine Howard.’
‘I am tirewoman to mine own self alone,’ she said. ‘Therefore you love her better.’
‘Nay, oh nay,’ he said gently. ‘But this Lady Katharine Howard is mistress to the King’s self.’
‘And I have been mistress to no married man save my husbands,’ she answered. ‘Therefore you love this Margot Poins better.’
He fingered her soft palm and rubbed it across his own neck.
‘Nay, nay,’ he said. ‘But I must wed with Margot Poins.’
‘Why with her more than with me or any other of your score and seven?’ she said softly.
‘Since the Lady Katharine will be Queen,’ he answered, and once again he was close against her side. She sighed softly.
‘Thus if you wed with me you will never be Chancellor,’ she said.
‘I would not anger the Queen,’ he answered. She nestled bountifully and warmly against him.
‘Swear even again that you like me more than the fair, large wench in London town,’ she whispered against his ear.
‘Even as Jove prized Danaë above the Queen of Heaven, even as Narcissus prized his shadow above all the nymphs, even as Hercules placed Omphale above his strength, or even as David the King of the Jews Bathsheba above....’
She murmured ‘Oh, oh,’ and placed her arms around his shoulders.
‘How I love thy brave words!’
‘And being Chancellor,’ he swore, ‘I will come back to thee, oh woman of the sweet smiles, honey of Hymettus, Cypriote wine....’
She moved herself a little from him in the darkness.
‘And if you do not wed with Margot Poins....’
‘I pray a plague may fall upon her, but I must wed with her,’ he answered. ‘Come now; come now!’
‘Else the Lady Katharine shall be displeased with your magistership?’
He sought to draw her to him, but she stiffened herself a little.
‘And this Lady Katharine is mistress to the King of England’s realm?’
His hands moved tremblingly towards her in the darkness.
‘And this Lady Katharine shall be Queen?’
A hiss of exasperation came upon his lips, for she had slipped from beneath his hands into the darkness.
‘Why, then, I will not stay your climbing,’ she said. ‘Good-night,’ and in the darkness he heard her sob.
The couch fell backwards as he swore and sprang towards her voice.
‘Magister!’ she said. ‘Hands off! Unwed thou shalt not have me, for I have sworn it.’
‘I have sworn to wed seven and twenty women,’ he said, ‘and have wedded with none.’
‘Nay, nay,’ she sobbed. ‘Hands off. Henceforth I will make no vows—but no one but thee shall wed me.’
‘Then wed me, in God’s name!’ he cried, and, screaming:
‘Ho là! Apportez le prestre!’ she softened herself in his arms.
The magister confronted the lights, the leering scullions and the grinning maids with their great mantles; his brown, woodpecker-like face was alike crestfallen and thirsty with desire. A lean Dominican, with his brown cowl back and spectacles of horn, gabbled over his missal and took a crown’s fee—then asked another by way of penitence for the sin with the maid locked up in another house. When they brought the bride favours of pink to pin into her gorget she said:
‘I long had loved thee for thy great words, husband. Therefore all these I had in readiness.’
With that knot fast upon him, the magister, clasping his gown upon his shins, looked askance at the floor. Whilst they made ready the bride, with great lights and laughter, she said:
‘I was minded to have a comfortable husband. And a comfortable husband is a husband much absent. What more comfortable than me in Paris town and thee in London city? I keep my inn here, thou mindest thy book there. Thou shalt here find a goodly capon upon occasion, and when thou hast a better house in London I will come share it.’
‘Trapped! Trapped!’ the magister muttered to himself. ‘Even as was Sir Launcelot!’
He considered of the fair and resentful Margot Poins whom it was incumbent indeed that he should wed: that Katharine Howard loved her well and was in these matters strait-laced. When his eyes measured his wife he licked his lips; when his eyes were on the floor his jaw fell. At best the new Mistress Udal would be in Paris. He looked at the rope tied round the thin middle of the brown priest, and suddenly he leered and cast off his cloak.
‘Let me remember to keep an equal mind in these hard matters,’ he quoted, and fell to laughing.
For he remembered that in England no marriage by a friar or monk held good in those years. Therefore he was the winner. And the long, square room, with the cave bed behind its shutter in the hollow of the wall, the light-coloured, square beams, and the foaming basin of bride-ale that a fat-armed girl in a blue kerseymere gown served out to scullion after scullion; the open windows from which a little knave was casting bride-pennies to some screaming beggars and women in the street; the blind hornman whose unseeing eyes glanced along the reed of his bassoon that he played before the open door; the two saucy maids striving to wrest the bride’s stockings one from the other—all these things appeared friendly and jovial in his eyes. So that, when one of the maids, wresting the stocking, fell hard against him, he clasped her in his arms and kissed her till she struggled from him to drink a mug of bride-ale.
‘Hodie mihi: mihi atque cras!’ he said. For it was in his mind a goodly thing to pay a usuress with base coins.
It was three days later, in the morning, that his captress said to the Magister Udal:
‘Husband, it is time that I gave thee the bridal gift.’
The magister, happy with a bellyful of carp, bread and breakfast ale, muttered ‘Anan?’ from above his copy of Lucretius. He sat in the window-seat of the great stone kitchen. Upon one long iron spit before the fire fourteen trussed capons turned in unison; the wooden shoes of the basting-maid clattered industriously; and from the chimney came the clank of the invisible smoke-vanes and the be-sooted chains. The magister, who loved above all things warmth, a full stomach, a comfortable woman and a good book, had all these things; he was well minded to stay in Paris town for fourteen days, when they were to slay a brown pig from the Ardennes, against whose death he had written an elegy in Sapphics.
‘For,’ said his better half, standing before him with a great loaf clasped to her bosom, ‘if you turn a horse from the stable between full and half full, like as not he will return of fair will to the crib.’
‘Oh Venus and Hebe in one body,’ the magister said, ‘I am minded to end here my scholarly days.’
‘I am minded that ye shall travel far erstwhile,’ she answered.
He laid down his book upon a clean chopping-board.
‘I know a good harbourage,’ he said.
She sat down beside him in the window and fingered the fur on his long gown, saying that, in this light, it showed ill-favouredly worm-eaten; and he answered that he never had wishes nor money for gowning himself, who cultivated the muses upon short commons. She turned rightway to the front the medal upon his chest, and folded her arms.
‘Whilst ye have no better house to harbour us,’ she said, ‘this shall serve. Let us talk of the to-come.’
He groaned a little.
‘Let us love to-day that’s here,’ he said. ‘I will read thee a verse from Lucretius, and you shall tell me the history of that fourth capon’—he pointed to a browned carcase that, upon the spit, whirled its elbows a full third longer than any of the line.
‘That is the master roasting-piece,’ she said, ‘so he browns there not too far, nor too close, for the envoy’s own eating.’
He considered the chicken with his head to one side.
‘It is the place of a wife to be subject to her lord,’ he said.
‘It is the place of a husband that he fendeth for ‘s wife,’ she answered him. She tapped her fingers determinedly upon her elbows.
‘So it is,’ she continued. ‘To-morrow you shall set out for London city to make road towards becoming Sir Chancellor.’ Whilst he groaned she laid down for him her law. He was to go to England, he was to strive for great posts: if he gained, she would come share them; if he failed, he might at odd moments come back to her fireside. ‘Have done with groaning now,’ she said, stilling his lamentations.’ ‘Keep them even for the next wench that you shall sue to—of me you have had all you asked.’
He considered for five seconds, his elbow upon his crossed knees and his wrist supporting his lean brown face.
‘It is in the essence of it a good bargain,’ he said. ‘You put against the chance of being, you a chancellor’s madam, mine of having for certain a capon in Paris town.’
He tapped his long nose. ‘Nevertheless, for your stake you have cast down a very little: three nights of bed and board against the chaining me up.’
‘Husband,’ she answered. ‘More than that you shall have.’
He wriggled a little beneath his furs.
‘Husband is an ill name,’he commented. ‘It smarts.’
‘But it fills the belly.’
‘Aye,’he said. ‘Therefore I am minded to bide here and take with the sourness the sweet of it.’
She laughed a little, and, with a great knife, cut a large manchet from the loaf between them.
‘Nay,’ she said, ‘to-morrow my army with their spits and forks shall drive thee from the door.’
He grinned with his lips. She was fair and fat beneath her hood, but she was resolute. ‘I have it in me greatly to advance you,’ she said.
A boy brought her a trencher filled with chopped things, and a man in a blue jerkin came to her side bearing a middling pig, seared to a pale clear pinkness. The boy held the slit stomach carefully apart, and she lined it with slices of bread, dropping into the hollow chives, nutmegs, lumps of salt, the buds of bergamot, and marigold seeds with their acrid perfume, and balls of honied suet. She bound round it a fair linen cloth that she stitched with a great bone needle.
‘Oh ingenuous countenance,’ the magister mused above the pig’s mild face. ‘Is it not even the spit of the Cleves envoy’s? And the Cleves envoy shall eat this adorable monster. Oh, cruel anthropophagist!’
She resigned her burden to the spit and gave the loaf to the boy, wiped her fingers upon her apron, and said:
‘That pig shall help thee far upon thy road.’
‘Goes it into my wallet?’ he asked joyfully.
She answered: ‘Nay; into the Cleves envoy’s weam.’
‘You speak in hard riddles,’ he uttered.
‘Nay,’ she laughed, ‘a baby could unriddle it.’ She looked at him for a moment to enjoy her triumph of mystery. ‘Husband mine, a pig thus stuffed is good eating for Cleves men. I have not kept a hostel for twelve years for envoys and secretaries without learning what each eats with pleasure. And long have I thought that if I wed a man it should be such a man as could thrive by learning of envoys’ secrets.’
He leaned towards her earnestly.
‘You know wherefore the man from Cleves is come?’
‘You are, even as I have heard it said, a spy of Thomas Cromwell?’ she asked in return.
He looked suddenly abashed, but she held to her question.
‘I pass for Privy Seal’s man,’ he answered at last.
‘But you have played him false,’ she said. He grew pale, glanced over his shoulder, and put his finger on his lips.
‘I’ll wager it was for a woman,’ she accused him. She wiped her lips with her apron and dropped her hands upon her lap.
‘Why, keep troth to Cromwell if you can,’ she said.
‘I do think his sun sets,’ he whispered.
‘Why, I am sorry for it,’ she answered. ‘I have always loved him for a brewer’s son. My father was a brewer.’
‘Cromwell was begotten even by the devil,’ Udal answered. ‘He made me write a comedy in the vulgar tongue.’
‘Be it as you will,’ she answered. ‘You shall know on which side to bite your cake better than I.’
He was still a little shaken at the thought of Privy Seal.
‘If you know wherefore cometh Cleves’ envoy, much it shall help me to share the knowledge,’ he said at last, ‘for by that I may know whether Cromwell or we do rise or fall.’
‘If you have made a pact with a woman, have very great cares,’ she answered dispassionately. ‘Doubtless you know how the dog wags its tail; but you are always a fool with a woman.’
‘This woman shall be Queen if Cromwell fall,’ the magister said, ‘and I shall rise with her.’
‘But is no woman from Cleves’ Queen there now?’ she asked.
‘Cicely,’ he answered highly, ‘you know much of capons and beeves, but there are queens that are none and do not queen it, and queans that are no queens and queen it.’
‘And so ‘twill be whilst men are men,’ she retorted. ‘But neither my first nor my second had his doxies ruling within my house, do what they might beyond the door.’
He tried to impart to her some of the adoration he had for Katharine Howard—her learning, her faith, her tallness, her wit, and the deserved empiry that she had over King Henry VIII; but she only answered:
‘Why, kiss the wench all you will, but do not come to tell me how she smells!’—and to his new protests: ‘Aye, you may well be right and she may well be Queen—for I know you will sacrifice your ease for no wench that shall not help you somewhere forwards.’
The magister held his hands above his head in shocked negation of this injustice—but there came from the street the thin wail of a trumpet; another joined it, and a third; the three sounds executed a triple convolution and died away one by one. Holding his thin hand out for silence and better hearing, he muttered:
‘Norfolk’s tucket! Then it is true that Norfolk comes to Paris.’
His wife slipped down from her seat.
‘Gave I you not the ostler’s gossip from Calais three days since?’ she said, and went towards her roastings.
‘But wherefore comes the yellow dog to Paris?’ Udal persisted.
‘That you may go seek,’ she answered. ‘But believe always what an innkeeper says of who are on the road.’
Udal too slipped down from the window-seat; he buttoned his gown down to his shins, pulled his hat over his ears and hurried through the galleried courtyard into the comfortless shadows of the street. There was no doubt that Norfolk was coming; round the tiny crack that, two houses away, served for all the space that the road had between the towering housefronts, two men in scarlet and yellow, with leopards and lions and fleurs-de-lis on their chests, walked between two in white, tabarded with the great lilies of France. They crushed round the corner, for there was scarce space for four men abreast; behind them squeezed men in purple with the Howard knot, bearing pikes, and men in mustard yellow with the eagle’s wing and ship badge of the Provost of Paris. In the broader space before the arch of Udal’s courtyard they stayed to wait for the horsemen to disentangle themselves from the alley; the Englishmen looked glumly at the tall housefronts; the French loosened the mouthplates of their helmets to breathe the air for a minute. Hostlers, packmen and pedlars began to fill the space behind Udal, and he heard his wife’s voice calling shrilly to a cook who had run across the yard.
The crowd a little shielded him from the draught which came through the arch, and he waited with more contentment. Undoubtedly there was Norfolk upon a great yellow horse, so high that it made his bonnet almost touch the overhanging storey of the third house; behind him the white and gold litter of the provost, who, having three weeks before broken his leg at tennis-play, was still unable to sit in a saddle. The duke rode as if implacably rigid, his yellow, long face set, listening as if with a sour deafness to something that the provost from below called to him with a great, laughing voice.
The provost’s litter, too, came up alongside the duke’s horse in the open space, then they all moved forward at the slow processional: three steps and a halt for the trumpets to blow a tucket; three more and another tucket; the great yellow horse stepping high and casting up his head, from which flew many flakes of white foam. With its slow, regularly interrupted gait, dominated by the impassive yellow face of Norfolk, the whole band had an air of performing a solemn dance, and Udal shivered for a long time, till amidst the train of mules bearing leathern sacks, cupboards, chests and commodes, he saw come riding a familiar figure in a scholar’s gown—the young pedagogue and companion of the Earl of Surrey. He was a fair, bearded youth with blue eyes, riding a restless colt that embroiled itself and plunged amongst the mules’ legs. The young man leaned forward in the saddle and craned to avoid a clothes chest.
The magister called to him:
‘Ho, Longstaffe!’ and having caught his pleased eyes: ‘Ecce quis sto in arce plenitatis. Veni atque bibe! Magister sum. Udal sum. Longstaffe ave.’
Longstaffe slipped from his horse, which he left to be rescued by whom it might from amongst the hard-angled cases.
‘Assuredly,’ he said, ‘there is no love between that beast and me as there was betwixt his lord and Bucephalus,’ and he followed Udal into the galleried courtyard, where their two gowned figures alone sought shelter from the March showers.
‘News from overseas there is none,’ he said. ‘Privy Seal ruleth still about the King; the German astronomers have put forth a tract De Quadratura Circuli; the lost continent of Atlantis is a lost continent still—and my bones ache.’
‘But your mission?’ Udal asked.
The doctor, his hard blue eyes spinning with sardonic humour beneath his black beretta, said that his mission, even as Udal’s had been, was to gain some crowns by setting into the learned language letters that should pass between his ambassador and the King’s men of France. Udal grinned disconcertedly.
‘Be certified in your mind,’ he said, ‘that I am not here a spy or informer of Privy Seal’s.’
‘Forbid it, God,’ Doctor Longstaffe answered good-humouredly. None the less his jaw hardened beneath his fair beard and he answered, ‘I have as yet written no letters—litteras nullas scripsi: argal nihil scio.’
‘Why, ye shall drink a warmed draught and eat a drippinged soppet,’ Udal said, ‘and you shall tell me what in England is said of this mission.’
He led the fair doctor into the great kitchen, and felt a great stab of dislike when the young man set his arm round the hostess’s waist and kissed her on the red cheeks. The young man laughed:
‘Aye indeed; I am mancipium paucae lectionis set beside so learned a man as the magister.’
The hostess received him with a bridling favour, rubbing her cheek pleasantly, whilst Udal was seeking to persuade himself that, since the woman was in law no wife of his, he had no need to fear. Nevertheless rage tore him when the doctor, leaning his back against the window-side, talked to the woman. She stood between them holding a pewter flagon of mulled hypocras upon a salver of burnished pewter.
‘Who I be,’ he said, gazing complacently at her, ‘is a poor student of good letters; how I be here is as one of the amanuenses of the Duke of Norfolk. Origen, Eusebius telleth, had seven, given him by Ambrosius to do his behest. The duke hath but two, given him by the grace of God and of the King’s high mercy.’
‘I make no doubt,’ she answered, ‘ye be as learned as the seven were.’
‘I be twice as hungry,’ he laughed; ‘but with me it has always been “Quid scribam non quemadmodum,” wherein I follow Seneca.’
‘Doctor,’ the magister uttered, quivering, ‘you shall tell me why this mission—which is a very special embassy—at this time cometh to this town of Paris.’
‘Magister,’ the doctor answered, wagging his beard upon his poor collar to signify that he desired to keep his neck where it was, ‘I know not.’
‘Injurious man,’ Udal fulminated, ‘I be no spy.’
The doctor surveyed his perturbation with cross-legged calmness.
‘An ye were,’ he said—’and it is renowned that ye are—ye could get no knowledge from where none is.’
‘Why, tell me of a woman,’ the hostess said. ‘Who is Kat Howard?’
The doctor’s blue eyes shot a hard glance at her, and he let his head sink down.
‘I have copied to her eyes a sonnet or twain,’ he said, ‘and they were writ by my master, Surrey, the Duke o’ Norfolk’s son.’
‘Then these rave upon her as doth the magister?’ she asked.
‘Why, an ye be jealous of the magister here,’ the doctor clipped his words precisely, ‘cast him away and take me who am a proper sweetheart.’
‘I be wed,’ she answered pleasantly.
‘What matters that,’ he said, ‘when husbands are not near?’
The magister, torn between his unaccustomed gust of jealousy and the desire to hide his marriage from a disastrous discovery in England, clutched with straining fingers at his gown.
‘Tell wherefore cometh your mission,’ he said.
‘We spoke of a fair woman,’ the doctor answered. ‘Shame it were before Apollo and Priapus that men’s missions should come before kings’ mistresses.’
‘It is true, then, that she shall be queen?’ Udal’s wife asked.
The fall of a great dish in the rear of the tall kitchen gave the scholar time to collect his suspicions—for he took it for an easy thing that this woman, if she were Udal’s leman, might be, she too, a spy in the service of Privy Seal.
‘Forbid it, God,’ he said, ‘that ye take my words as other than allegorical. The lady Katharine may be spoken of as a king’s mistress since in truth she were a fit mistress for a king, being fair, devout, learned, courteous, tall and sweet-voiced. But that she hath been kind to the King, God forbid that I should say it.’
‘Aye,’ Udal said, ‘but if she hath sent this mission?’
Panic rose in the heart of the doctor; he beheld himself there, in what seemed a spy’s kitchen, asked disastrous questions by a man and woman and pinned into a window-seat. For there was no doubt that the rumour ran in England that this mission had been sent by the King because Katharine Howard so wished it sent. In that age of spies and treacheries no man’s head was safe on his shoulders—and here were Cromwell’s spies asking news of Cromwell’s chief enemy.
He stretched out a calm hand and spoke slowly: