Read THE RISING SUN : Chapter VI of Privy Seal His Last Venture , free online book, by Ford Madox Ford, on ReadCentral.com.

‘By God,’ Wriothesley said when she entered the long gallery where the men were.  ‘This is a fair woman!’

She had command of her features, and her eyes were upon the ground; it was a part of a woman’s upbringing to walk well, and her masters had so taught her when she had lived with her grandmother, the old duchess.  Not the tips of her shoes shewed beneath the zigzag folds of her russet-brown underskirt; the tips of her scarlet sleeves netted with gold touched the waxed wood of the floor; her hood fell behind to the ground, and her fair hair was golden where the sunlight fell on it with a last, watery ray.

Upon Privy Seal she raised her eyes; she bent her knees so that her gown spread out all around her when she curtsied, and, having arranged it with a slow hand, she came to her height again, rustling as if she rose from a wave.

‘Sir,’ she said, ’I come to pray you to right a great wrong done by your servants.’

‘By God!’ Wriothesley said, ‘she speaks high words.’

‘Madam Howard,’ Cromwell answered-and his eyes graciously dwelt upon her tall form.  She had clasped her hands before her lap and looked into his face.  ’Madam Howard, you are more learned in the better letters than I; but I would have you call to memory one Pancrates, of whom telleth Lucian.  Being in a desert or elsewhere, this magician could turn sticks, stocks and stakes into servants that did his will.  Mark you, they did his will-no more and no less.’

‘Sir,’ Katharine said, ’ye have better servants than ever had Pancrates.  They do more than your behests.’

Cromwell bent his back, stretched aside his white hand and smiled still.

‘Ye trow truth,’ he said.  ’Yet ye do me wrong; for had I the servants of Pancrates, assuredly he should hear no groans of injustice from men of good will.’

‘It is too good hearing,’ Katharine said gravely.  ’This is my tale-

Once before she had trembled in this man’s presence, and still she had a catching in the throat as her eyes measured his face.  She was mad to do right and to right wrongs, yet in his presence the doing of the right, the righting of wrongs, seemed less easy than when she stood before any other man.  ‘Sir,’ she uttered, ’I have thought ye have done ill afore now.  I am nowise certain that ye thought your ill-doing an evil.  I beseech you for a patient hearing.’

But, though she told her story well-and it was an old story that she had learned by heart-she could not be rid of the feeling that this was a less easy matter than it had seemed to her, to call Cromwell accursed.  She had a moving tale of wrongs done by Cromwell’s servant, Dr Barnes, a visitor of a church in Lincolnshire near where her home had been.  For the lands had been taken from a little priory upon an excuse that the nuns lived a lewd life; and so well had she known the nuns, going in and out of the convent every week-day, that well she knew the falseness of Cromwell’s servant’s tale.

‘Sir,’ she said to Cromwell, ’mine own foster-sister had the veil there; mine own mother’s sister was there the abbess.’  She stretched out a hand.  ’Sir, they dwelled there simply and godly, withdrawn from the world; succouring the poor; weaving of fine linens, for much flax grew upon those lands by there; and praying God and the saints that blessings fall upon this land.’

Wriothesley spoke to her slowly and heavily: 

’Such little abbeys ate up the substance of this land in the old days.  Well have we prospered since they were done away who ate up the fatness of this realm.  Now husbandmen till their idle soil and cattle are in their buildings.’

‘Gentleman whose name I know not,’ she turned upon him, ’more wealth and prosperity God granted us in answer to their prayers than could be won by all the husbandmen of Arcadia and all the kine of Cacus.  God standeth above all men’s labours.’  But Cromwell’s servants had sworn away the lands of the small abbey, and now the abbess and her nuns lay in gaol accused-and falsely-of having secreted an image of Saint Hugh to pray against the King’s fortunes.

‘Before God,’ she said, ’and as Christ is my Saviour, I saw and make deposition that these poor simple women did no such thing but loved the King as he had been their good father.  I have seen them at their prayers.  Before God, I say to you that they were as folk astonished and dismayed; knowing so little of the world that ne one ne other knew whence came the word that had bared them to the skies.  I have seen them-I.’

‘Where went they?’ Wriothesley said; ‘what worked they?’

‘Gentleman,’ she answered; ’being cast out of their houses and their veils, they knew nowhither to go; homes they had none; they lived with their own hinds in hovels, like frightened lambs, the saints their pastors being driven from their folds.’

‘Aye,’ Wriothesley said grimly, ’they cumbered the ground; they did meet in knots for mutinies.’

‘God had appointed them the duty of prayer,’ Katharine answered him.  ’They met and prayed in sheds and lodges of the house that had been theirs, poor ghosts revisiting and bewailing their earthly homes.  I have prayed with them.’

‘Ye have done a treason in that day,’ Wriothesley answered.

‘I have done the best that ever I did for this land,’ she met him fully.  ’I prayed naught against the King and the republic.  I have prayed you and your like might be cast down.  So do I still.  I stand here to avow it.  But they never did, and they do lie in gaol.’  She turned again upon Cromwell and spoke piteously from her full throat.  ‘My lord,’ she cried.  ’Soften your heart and let the wax in your ears melt so that ye hear.  Your servants swore falsely when they said these women lived lewdly; your men swore falsely when they said that these women prayed treasonably.  For the one count they took their lands and houses; for the other they lay them in the gaols.  Sir, my lord, your servants go up and down this land; sir, my lord, they ride rich men with boots of steel and do strangle the poor with gloves of iron.  I do think ye know they do it; I do pray ye know not.  But, sir, if ye will right this wrong I will kiss your hands; if you will set up again these homes of prayer I will take a veil, and in one of them spend my days praying that good befall you and yours.’  She paused in her speaking and then began again:  ’Before I came here I had made me a fair speech.  I have forgot it, and words come haltingly to me.  Sirs, ye think I seek mine own aggrandisement; ye think I do wish ye cast down.  Before God, I wish ye were cast down if ye continue in these ways; but I have prayed to God who sent the Pentecostal fires, to give me the gift of tongues that shall soften your hearts-

Cromwell interrupted her, smiling that Venus, who made her so fair, gave her no need of a gift of tongues, and Minerva, who made her so learned, gave her no need of fairness.  For the sake of the one and the other, he would very diligently enquire into these women’s courses.  If they ha been guiltless, they should be richly repaid; if they ha been guilty, they should be pardoned.

Katharine flushed with a hot anger.

‘Ye are a very craven lord,’ she said.  ’If you may find them guilty, you shall have my head.  But if you do find them innocent and shield them not, I swear I will strive to have thine.’  Anger made her blue eyes dilate.  ’Have you no bowels of compassion for the right?  Ye treat me as a fair woman-but I speak as a messenger of the King’s, that is God’s, to men who too long have hardened their hearts.’

Throckmorton laid back his head and laughed suddenly at the ceiling; Cranmer crossed himself; Wriothesley beat his heel upon the floor and shrugged his shoulders bitterly-but Lascelles, the Archbishop’s spy, kept his eyes upon Throckmorton’s face with a puzzled scrutiny.

‘Why now does that man laugh?’ he asked himself.  For it seemed to him that by laughing Throckmorton applauded Katharine Howard.  And indeed, Throckmorton applauded Katharine Howard.  As policy her speech was neither here nor there, but as voicing a spirit, infectious and winning to men’s hearts, he saw that such speaking should carry her very far.  And, if it should embroil her more than ever with Cromwell, it would the further serve his adventures.  He was already conspiring to betray Cromwell, and he knew that, very soon now, Cromwell must pierce his mask of loyalty; and the more Katharine should have cast down her glove to Cromwell, the more he could shelter behind her; and the more men she could have made her friends with her beauty and her fine speeches, the more friends he too should have to his back when the day of discovery came.  In the meantime he had in his sleeve a trick that he would speedily play upon Cromwell, the most dangerous of any that he had played.  For below the stairs he had Udal, with his news of the envoy from Cleves to France, and with his copies of the envoy’s letters.  But, in her turn, Katharine played him, unwittingly enough, a trick that puzzled him.

‘Bones of St Nairn!’ he said; ’she has him to herself.  What mad prank will she play now?’

Katharine had drawn Cromwell to the very end of the gallery.

’As I pray that Christ will listen to my pleas when at the last I come to Him for pardon and comfort,’ she said, ’I swear that I will speak true words to you.’

He surveyed her, plump, alert, his lips moving one upon the other.  He brought one white soft hand from behind his back to play with the furs upon his chest.

‘Why, I believe you are a very earnest woman,’ he said.

‘Then, sir,’ she said, ’understand that your sun is near its setting.  We rise, we wane; our little days do run their course.  But I do believe you love your King his cause more than most men.’

‘Madam Howard,’ he said, ‘you have been my foremost foe.’

‘Till five minutes agone I was,’ she said.

He wondered for a moment if she were minded to beg him to aid her in growing to be Queen; and he wondered too how that might serve his turn.  But she spoke again: 

‘You have very well served the King,’ she said.  ’You have made him rich and potent.  I believe ye have none other desire so great as that desire to make him potent and high in this world’s gear.’

‘Madam Howard,’ he said calmly, ’I desire that-and next to found for myself a great house that always shall serve the throne as well as I.’

She gave him the right to that with a lowering of her eyebrows.

‘I too would see him a most high prince,’ she said.  ’I would see him shed lustre upon his friends, terror upon his foes, and a great light upon this realm and age.’

She paused to touch him earnestly with one long hand, and to brush back a strand of her hair.  Down the gallery she saw Lascelles moving to speak with Throckmorton and Wriothesley holding the Archbishop earnestly by the sleeve.

‘See,’ she said, ’you are surrounded now by traitors that will bring you down.  In foreign lands your cause wavers.  I tell you, five minutes agone I wished you swept away.’

Cromwell raised his eyebrows.

‘Why, I knew that this was difficult fighting,’ he said.  ’But I know not what giveth me your good wishes.’

‘My lord,’ she answered, ’it came to me in my mind:  What man is there in the land save Privy Seal that so loveth his master’s cause?’

Cromwell laughed.

‘How well do you love this King,’ he said.

‘I love this King; I love this land,’ she said, ’as Cato loved Rome or Leonidas his realm of Sparta.’

Cromwell pondered, looking down at his foot; his lips moved furtively, he folded his hand inside his sleeves; and he shook his head when again she made to speak.  He desired another minute for thought.

‘This I perceive to be the pact you have it in your mind to make,’ he said at last, ’that if you come to sway the King towards Rome I shall still stay his man and yours?’

She looked at him, her lips parted with a slight surprise that he should so well have voiced thoughts that she had hardly put into words.  Then her faith rose in her again and moved her to pitiful earnestness.

‘My lord,’ she uttered, and stretched out one hand.  ’Come over to us.  ‘Tis such great pity else-’tis such pity else.’

She looked again at Throckmorton, who, in the distance, was surveying the Archbishop’s spy with a sardonic amusement, and a great mournfulness went through her.  For there was the traitor and here before her was the betrayed.  Throckmorton had told her enough to know that he was conspiring against his master, and Cromwell trusted Throckmorton before any man in the land; and it was as if she saw one man with a dagger hovering behind another.  With her woman’s instinct she felt that the man about to die was the better man, though he were her foe.  She was minded-she was filled with a great desire to say:  ’Believe no word that Throckmorton shall tell you.  The Duke of Cleves is now abandoning your cause.’  That much she had learnt from Udal five minutes before.  But she could not bring herself to betray Throckmorton, who was a traitor for the sake of her cause. ’’Tis such pity,’ she repeated again.

‘Good wench,’ Cromwell said, ’you are indifferent honest; but never while I am the King’s man shall the Bishop of Rome take toll again in the King’s land.’

She threw up her hands.

‘Alack!’ she said, ’shall not God and His Son our Saviour have their part of the King’s glory?’

‘God is above us all,’ he answered.  ’But there is no room for two heads of a State, and in a State is room but for one army.  I will have my King so strong that ne Pope ne priest ne noble ne people shall here have speech or power.  So it is now; I have so made it, the King helping me.  Before I came this was a distracted State; the King’s writ ran not in the east, not in the west, not in the north, and hardly in the south parts.  Now no lord nor no bishop nor no Pope raises head against him here.  And, God willing, in all the world no prince shall stand but by grace of this King’s Highness.  This land shall have the wealth of all the world; this King shall guide this land.  There shall be rich husbandmen paying no toll to priests, but to the King alone; there shall be wealthy merchants paying no tax to any prince nor emperor, but only to this King.  The King’s court shall redress all wrongs; the King’s voice shall be omnipotent in the council of the princes.’

‘Ye speak no word of God,’ she said pitifully.

‘God is very far away,’ he answered.

‘Sir, my lord,’ she cried, and brushed again the tress from her forehead.  ’Ye have made this King rich with gear of the Church:  if ye will be friends with me ye shall make this King a pauper to repay; ye have made this King stiffen his neck against God’s Vicegerent:  if you and I shall work together ye shall make him re-humble himself.  Christ the King of all the world was a pauper; Christ the Saviour of all mankind humbled Himself before God that was His Saviour.’

Cromwell said ‘Amen.’

‘Sir,’ she said again; ’ye have made this King rich, but I will give to him again his power to sleep at night; ye have made this realm subject to this King, but, by the help of God, I will make it subject again to God.  You have set up here a great State, but oh, the children of God do weep since ye came.  Where is a town where lamentation is not heard?  Where is a town where no orphan or widow bewails the day that saw your birth?’ She had sobs in her voice and she wrung her hands.  ‘Sir,’ she cried, ’I say you are as a dead man already-your day of pride is past, whether ye aid us or no.  Set yourself then to redress as heartily as ye have set yourself in the past to make sad.  That land is blest whose people are happy; that State is aggrandised whence there arise songs praising God for His blessings.  You have built up a great city of groans; set yourself now to build a kingdom where “Praise God” shall be sung.  It is a contented people that makes a State great; it is the love of God that maketh a people rich.’

Cromwell laughed mirthlessly: 

‘There are forty thousand men like Wriothesley in England,’ he said.  ’God help you if you come against them; there are forty times forty thousand and forty times that that pray you not again to set disorder loose in this land.  I have broken all stiff necks in this realm.  See you that you come not against some yet.’  He stopped, and added:  ’Your greatest foes should be your own friends if I be a dead man as you say.’  And he smiled at her bewilderment when he had added:  ’I am your bulwark and your safeguard.’

...  ‘For, listen to me,’ he took up again his parable.  ’Whilst I be here I bear the rancour of your friends’ hatred.  When I am gone you shall inherit it.’

‘Sir,’ she said, ’I am not here to hear riddles, but here I am to pray you seek the right.’

‘Wench,’ he said pleasantly, ’there are in this world many rights-you have yours; I mine.  But mine can never be yours nor yours mine.  I am not yet so dead as ye say; but if I be dead, I wish you so well that I will send you a phial of poison ere I send to take you to the stake.  For it is certain that if you have not my head I shall have yours.’

She looked at him seriously, though the tears ran down her cheeks.

‘Sir,’ she uttered, ’I do take you to be a man of your word.  Swear to me, then, that if upon the fatal hill I do save you your life and your estates, you will nowise work the undoing of the Church in time to come.’

‘Madam Queen that shall be,’ he said, ’an ye gave me my life this day, to-morrow I would work as I worked yesterday.  If ye have faith of your cause I have the like of mine.’

She hung her head, and said at last: 

’Sir, an ye have a little door here at the gallery end I will go out by it’; for she would not again face the men who made the little knot before the window.  He moved the hangings aside and stood before the aperture smiling.

‘Ye came to ask a boon of me,’ he said.  ’Is it your will still that I grant it?’

‘Sir,’ she answered, ’I asked a boon of you that I thought you would not grant, so that I might go to the King and shew him your evil dealings with his lièges.’

‘I knew it well,’ he said.  ’But the King will not cast me down till the King hath had full use of me.’

‘You have a very great sight into men’s minds,’ she uttered, and he laughed noiselessly once again.

‘I am as God made me,’ he said.  Then he spoke once more.  ’I will read your mind if you will.  Ye came to me in this crisis, thinking with yourself:  Liars go unto the King saying, “This Cromwell is a traitor; cast him down, for he seeks your ill.”  I will go unto the King saying, “This Cromwell grindeth the faces of the poor and beareth false witness.  Cast him down, though he serve you well, since he maketh your name to stink to heaven." So I read my fellow-men.’

‘Sir,’ she said, ’it is very true that I will not be linked with liars.  And it is very true that men do so speak of you to the King’s Highness.’

‘Why,’ he answered her debonairly, ’the King shall listen neither to them nor to you till the day be come.  Then he will act in his own good way-upon the pretext that I be a traitor, or upon the pretext that I have borne false witness, or upon no pretext at all.’

‘Nevertheless will I speak for the truth that shall prevail,’ she answered.

‘Why, God help you!’ was his rejoinder.

Going back to his friends in the window Cromwell meditated that it was possible to imagine a woman that thought so simply; yet it was impossible to imagine one that should be able to act with so great a simplicity.  On the one hand, if she stayed about the King she should be his safeguard, for it was very certain that she should not tell the King that he was a traitor.  And that above all was what Cromwell had to fear.  He had, for his own purposes, so filled the King with the belief that treachery overran his land, that the King saw treachery in every man.  And Cromwell was aware, well enough, that such of his adherents as were Protestant-such men as Wriothesley-had indeed boasted that they were twenty thousand swords ready to fall upon even the King if he set against the re-forming religion in England.  This was the greatest danger that he had-that an enemy of his should tell the King that Privy Seal had behind his back twenty thousand swords.  For that side of the matter Katharine Howard was even a safeguard, since with her love of truth she would assuredly combat these liars with the King.

But, on the other hand, the King had his superstitious fears; only that night, pale, red-eyed and heavy, and being unable to sleep, he had sent to rouse Cromwell and had furiously rated him, calling him knave and shaking him by the shoulder, telling him for the twentieth time to find a way to make a peace with the Bishop of Rome.  These were only night-fears-but, if Cleves should desert Henry and Protestantism, if all Europe should stand solid for the Pope, Henry’s night-fears might eat up his day as well.  Then indeed Katharine would be dangerous.  So that she was indeed half foe, half friend.

It hinged all upon Cleves; for if Cleves stood friend to Protestantism the King would fear no treason; if Cleves sued for pardon to the Emperor and Rome, Henry must swing towards Katharine.  Therefore, if Cleves stood firm to Protestantism and defied the Emperor, it would be safe to work at destroying Katharine; if not, he must leave her by the King to defend his very loyalty.

The Archbishop challenged him with uplifted questioning eyebrows, and he answered his gaze with: 

’God help ye, goodman Bishop; it were easier for thee to deal with this maid than for me.  She would take thee to her friend if thou wouldst curry with Rome.’

‘Aye,’ Cranmer answered.  ‘But would Rome have truck with me?’ and he shook his head bitterly.  He had been made Archbishop with no sanction from Rome.

Cromwell turned upon Wriothesley; the debonair smile was gone from his face; the friendly contempt that he had for the Archbishop was gone too; his eyes were hard, cruel and red, his lips hardened.

‘Ye have done me a very evil turn,’ he said.  ’Ye spoke stiff-necked folly to this lady.  Ye shall learn, Protestants that ye are, that if I be the flail of the monks I may be a hail, a lightning, a bolt from heaven upon Lutherans that cross the King.’

The hard malice of his glance made Wriothesley quail and flush heavily.

‘I thought ye had been our friend,’ he said.

‘Wriothesley,’ Cromwell answered, ’I tell thee, silly knave, that I be friend only to them that love the order and peace I have made, under the King’s Highness, in this realm.  If it be the King’s will to stablish again the old faith, a hammer of iron will I be upon such as do raise their heads against it.  It were better ye had never been born, it were better ye were dead and asleep, than that ye raised your heads against me.’  He turned, then he swung back with the sharpness of a viper’s spring.

’What help have I had of thee and thy friends?  I have bolstered up Cleves and his Lutherans for ye.  What have he and ye done for me and my King?  Your friend the Duke of Cleves has an envoy in Paris.  Have ye found for why he comes there?  Ye could not.  Ye have botched your errand to Paris; ye have spoken naughtily in my house to a friend of the King’s that came friendlily to me.’  He shook a fat finger an inch from Wriothesley’s eyes.  ’Have a care!  I did send my visitors to smell out treason among the convents and abbeys.  Wait ye till I send them to your conventicles!  Ye shall not scape.  Body of God! ye shall not scape.’

He placed a heavy hand upon Throckmorton’s shoulder.

‘I would I had sent thee to Paris,’ he said.  ’No envoy had come there whose papers ye had not seen.  I warrant thou wouldst have ferreted them through.’

Throckmorton’s eyes never moved; his mouth opened and he spoke with neither triumph nor malice: 

‘In very truth, Privy Seal,’ he said, ’I have ferreted through enow of them to know why the envoy came to Paris.’

Cromwell kept his hands still firm upon his spy’s shoulder whilst the swift thoughts ran through his mind.  He scowled still upon Wriothesley.

‘Sir,’ he said, ’ye see how I be served.  What ye could not find in Paris my man found for me in London town.’  He moved his face round towards the great golden beard of his spy.  ’Ye shall have the farms ye asked me for in Suffolk,’ he said.  ’Tell me now wherefore came the Cleves envoy to France.  Will Cleves stay our ally, or will he send like a coward to his Emperor?’

‘Privy Seal,’ Throckmorton answered expressionlessly-he fingered his beard for a moment and felt at the medal depending upon his chest-’Cleves will stay your friend and the King’s ally.’

A great sigh went up from his three hearers at Throckmorton’s lie; and impassive as he was, Throckmorton sighed too, imperceptibly beneath the mantle of his beard.  He had burned his boats.  But for the others the sigh was of a great contentment.  With Cleves to lead the German Protestant confederation, the King felt himself strong enough to make headway against the Pope, the Emperor and France.  So long as the Duke of Cleves remained a rebel against his lord the Emperor, the King would hold over Protestantism the mantle of his protection.

Cromwell broke in upon their thoughts with his swift speech.

‘Sirs,’ he uttered, ’then what ye will shall come to pass.  Wriothesley, I pardon thee; get thee back to Paris to thy mission.  Archbishop, I trow thou shalt have the head of that wench.  Her cousin shall be brought here again from France.’

Lascelles, the Archbishop’s spy, who kept his gaze upon Throckmorton’s, saw the large man’s eyes shift suddenly from one board of the floor to another.

‘That man is not true,’ he said to himself, and fell into a train of musing.  But from the others Cromwell had secured the meed of wonder that he desired.  He had closed the interview with a dramatic speech; he had given them something to talk of.