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‘I should. An hour from now he’ll have had a skinful and he’ll be back. He’d set the place on fire if he thought I were in it.’
Morgan says, ‘Have you got what you need for the road?’
He wants to turn to Kat and say, no.
But she’s turned her face away and she’s crying. She’s not crying for him, because nobody, he thinks, will ever cry for him, God didn’t cut him out that way. She’s crying for her idea of what life should be like: Sunday after church, all the sisters, sisters-in-law, wives kissing and patting, swatting at each other’s children and at the same time loving them and rubbing their little round heads, women comparing and swapping babies, and all the men gathering and talking business, wool, yarn, lengths, shipping, bloody Flemings, fishing rights, brewing, annual turnover, nice timely information, favour-for-favour, little sweeteners, little retainers, my attorney says … That’s what it should be like, married to Morgan Williams, with the Williamses being a big family in Putney … But somehow it’s not been like that. Walter has spoiled it all.
Carefully, stiffly, he straightens up. Every part of him hurts now. Not as badly as it will hurt tomorrow; on the third day the bruises come out and you have to start answering people’s questions about why you’ve got them. By then he will be far from here, and presumably no one will hold him to account, because no one will know him or care. They’ll think it’s usual for him to have his face beaten in.
He picks up the money. He says, ‘Hwyl, Morgan Williams. Diolch am yr arian.’ Thank you for the money. ‘Gofalwch am Katheryn. Gofalwch am eich busness. Wela I chi eto rhywbryd. Pobl lwc.’
Look after my sister. Look after your business. See you again sometime.
Morgan Williams stares.
He almost grins; would do, if it wouldn’t split his face open. All those days he’d spent hanging around the Williamses’ households: did they think he’d just come for his dinner?
‘Pobl lwc,’ Morgan says slowly. Good luck.
He says, ‘If I follow the river, is that as good as anything?’
‘Where are you trying to get?’
‘To the sea.’
For a moment, Morgan Williams looks sorry it has come to this. He says, ‘You’ll be all right, Tom? I tell you, if Bella comes looking for you, I won’t send her home hungry. Kat will give her a pie.’
He has to make the money last. He could work his way downriver; but he is afraid that if he is seen, Walter will catch him, through his contacts and his friends, those kind of men who will do anything for a drink. What he thinks of, first, is slipping on to one of the smugglers’ ships that go out of Barking, Tilbury. But then he thinks, France is where they have wars. A few people he talks to – he talks to strangers very easily – are of the same belief. Dover then. He gets on the road.
If you help load a cart you get a ride in it, as often as not. It gives him to think, how bad people are at loading carts. Men trying to walk straight ahead through a narrow gateway with a wide wooden chest. A simple rotation of the object solves a great many problems. And then horses, he’s always been around horses, frightened horses too, because when in the morning Walter wasn’t sleeping off the effects of the strong brew he kept for himself and his friends, he would turn to his second trade, farrier and blacksmith; and whether it was his sour breath, or his loud voice, or his general way of going on, even horses that were good to shoe would start to shake their heads and back away from the heat. Their hooves gripped in Walter’s hands, they’d tremble; it was his job to hold their heads and talk to them, rubbing the velvet space between their ears, telling them how their mothers love them and talk about them still, and how Walter will soon be over.
He doesn’t eat for a day or so; it hurts too much. But by the time he reaches Dover the big gash on his scalp has closed, and the tender parts inside, he trusts, have mended themselves: kidneys, lungs and heart.
He knows by the way people look at him that his face is still bruised. Morgan Williams had done an inventory of him before he left: teeth (miraculously) still in his head, and two eyes, miraculously seeing. Two arms, two legs: what more do you want?
He walks around the docks saying to people, do you know where there’s a war just now?
Each man he asks stares at his face, steps back and says, ‘You tell me!’
They are so pleased with this, they laugh at their own wit so much, that he continues asking, just to give people pleasure.
Surprisingly, he finds he will leave Dover richer than he arrived. He’d watched a man doing the three-card trick, and when he learned it he set up for himself. Because he’s a boy, people stop to have a go. It’s their loss.
He adds up what he’s got and what he’s spent. Deduct a small sum for a brief grapple with a lady of the night. Not the sort of thing you could do in Putney, Wimbledon or Mortlake. Not without the Williams family getting to know, and talking about you in Welsh.
He sees three elderly Lowlanders struggling with their bundles and moves to help them. The packages are soft and bulky, samples of woollen cloth. A port officer gives them trouble about their documents, shouting into their faces. He lounges behind the clerk, pretending to be a Lowland oaf, and tells the merchants by holding up his fingers what he thinks a fair bribe. ‘Please,’ says one of them, in effortful English to the clerk, ‘will you take care of these English coins for me? I find them surplus.’ Suddenly the clerk is all smiles. The Lowlanders are all smiles; they would have paid much more. When they board they say, ‘The boy is with us.’
As they wait to cast off, they ask him his age. He says eighteen, but they laugh and say, child, you are never. He offers them fifteen, and they confer and decide that fifteen will do; they think he’s younger, but they don’t want to shame him. They ask what’s happened to his face. There are several things he could say but he selects the truth. He doesn’t want them to think he’s some failed robber. They discuss it among themselves, and the one who can translate turns to him: ‘We are saying, the English are cruel to their children. And cold-hearted. The child must stand if his father comes in the room. Always the child should say very correctly, “my father, sir”, and “madam my mother”.’
He is surprised. Are there people in the world who are not cruel to their children? For the first time, the weight in his chest shifts a little; he thinks, there could be other places, better. He talks; he tells them about Bella, and they look sorry, and they don’t say anything stupid like, you can get another dog. He tells them about the Pegasus, and about his father’s brewhouse and how Walter gets fined for bad beer at least twice a year. He tells them about how he gets fines for stealing wood, cutting down other people’s trees, and about the too-many sheep he runs on the common. They are interested in that; they show the woollen samples and discuss among themselves the weight and the weave, turning to him from time to time to include and instruct him. They don’t think much of English finished cloth generally, though these samples can make them change their mind … He loses the thread of the conversation when they try to tell him their reasons for going to Calais, and different people they know there.
He tells them about his father’s blacksmith business, and the English-speaker says, interested, can you make a horseshoe? He mimes to them what it’s like, hot metal and a bad-tempered father in a small space. They laugh; they like to see him telling a story. Good talker, one of them says. Before they dock, the most silent of them will stand up and make an oddly formal speech, at which one will nod, and which the other will translate. ‘We are three brothers. This is our street. If ever you visit our town, there is a bed and hearth and food for you.’
Goodbye, he will say to them. Goodbye and good luck with your lives. Hwyl, cloth men. Golfalwch eich busness. He is not stopping till he gets to a war.
The weather is cold but the sea is flat. Kat has given him a holy medal to wear. He has slung it around his neck with a cord. It makes a chill against the skin of his throat. He unloops it. He touches it with his lips, for luck. He drops it; it whispers into the water. He will remember his first sight of the open sea: a grey wrinkled vastness, like the residue of a dream.
II Paternity 1527 (#ulink_472062ef-a42b-56b9-9132-0950d0043970)
So: Stephen Gardiner. Going out, as he’s coming in. It’s wet, and for a night in April, unseasonably warm, but Gardiner wears furs, which look like oily and dense black feathers; he stands now, ruffling them, gathering his clothes about his tall straight person like black angel’s wings.
‘Late,’ Master Stephen says unpleasantly.
He is bland. ‘Me, or your good self?’
‘You.’ He waits.
‘Drunks on the river. The boatmen say it’s the eve of one of their patron saints.’
‘Did you offer a prayer to her?’
‘I’ll pray to anyone, Stephen, till I’m on dry land.’
‘I’m surprised you didn’t take an oar yourself. You must have done some river work, when you were a boy.’
Stephen sings always on one note. Your reprobate father. Your low birth. Stephen is supposedly some sort of semi-royal by-blow: brought up for payment, discreetly, as their own, by discreet people in a small town. They are wool-trade people, whom Master Stephen resents and wishes to forget; and since he himself knows everybody in the wool trade, he knows too much about his past for Stephen’s comfort. The poor orphan boy!
Master Stephen resents everything about his own situation. He resents that he’s the king’s unacknowledged cousin. He resents that he was put into the church, though the church has done well by him. He resents the fact that someone else has late-night talks with the cardinal, to whom he is confidential secretary. He resents the fact that he’s one of those tall men who are hollow-chested, not much weight behind him; he resents his knowledge that if they met on a dark night, Master Thos. Cromwell would be the one who walked away dusting off his hands and smiling.
‘God bless you,’ Gardiner says, passing into the night unseasonably warm.
Cromwell says, ‘Thanks.’
The cardinal, writing, says without looking up, ‘Thomas. Still raining? I expected you earlier.’
Boatman. River. Saint. He’s been travelling since early morning and in the saddle for the best part of two weeks on the cardinal’s business, and has now come down by stages – and not easy stages – from Yorkshire. He’s been to his clerks at Gray’s Inn and borrowed a change of linen. He’s been east to the city, to hear what ships have come in and to check the whereabouts of an off-the-books consignment he is expecting. But he hasn’t eaten, and hasn’t been home yet.
The cardinal rises. He opens a door, speaks to his hovering servants. ‘Cherries! What, no cherries? April, you say? Only April? We shall have sore work to placate my guest, then.’ He sighs. ‘Bring what you have. But it will never do, you know. Why am I so ill-served?’
Then the whole room is in motion: food, wine, fire built up. A man takes his wet outer garments with a solicitous murmur. All the cardinal’s household servants are like this: comfortable, soft-footed, and kept permanently apologetic and teased. And all the cardinal’s visitors are treated in the same way. If you had interrupted him every night for ten years, and sat sulking and scowling at him on each occasion, you would still be his honoured guest.
The servants efface themselves, melting away towards the door. ‘What else would you like?’ the cardinal says.
‘The sun to come out?’
‘So late? You tax my powers.’
‘Dawn would do.’
The cardinal inclines his head to the servants. ‘I shall see to this request myself,’ he says gravely; and gravely they murmur, and withdraw.
The cardinal joins his hands. He makes a great, deep, smiling sigh, like a leopard settling in a warm spot. He regards his man of business; his man of business regards him. The cardinal, at fifty-five, is still as handsome as he was in his prime. Tonight he is dressed not in his everyday scarlet, but in blackish purple and fine white lace: like a humble bishop. His height impresses; his belly, which should in justice belong to a more sedentary man, is merely another princely aspect of his being, and on it, confidingly, he often rests a large, white, beringed hand. A large head – surely designed by God to support the papal tiara – is carried superbly on broad shoulders: shoulders upon which rest (though not at this moment) the great chain of Lord Chancellor of England. The head inclines; the cardinal says, in those honeyed tones, famous from here to Vienna, ‘So now, tell me how was Yorkshire.’
‘Filthy.’ He sits down. ‘Weather. People. Manners. Morals.’
‘Well, I suppose this is the place to complain. Though I am already speaking to God about the weather.’
‘Oh, and the food. Five miles inland, and no fresh fish.’
‘And scant hope of a lemon, I suppose. What do they eat?’
‘Londoners, when they can get them. You have never seen such heathens. They’re so high, low foreheads. Live in caves, yet they pass for gentry in those parts.’ He ought to go and look for himself, the cardinal; he is Archbishop of York, but has never visited his see. ‘And as for Your Grace’s business –’
‘I am listening,’ the cardinal says. ‘Indeed, I go further. I am captivated.’
As he listens, the cardinal’s face creases into its affable, perpetually attentive folds. From time to time he notes down a figure that he is given. He sips from a glass of his very good wine and at length he says, ‘Thomas … what have you done, monstrous servant? An abbess is with child? Two, three abbesses? Or, let me see … Have you set fire to Whitby, on a whim?’
In the case of his man Cromwell, the cardinal has two jokes, which sometimes unite to form one. The first is that he walks in demanding cherries in April and lettuce in December. The other is that he goes about the countryside committing outrages, and charging them to the cardinal’s accounts. And the cardinal has other jokes, from time to time: as he requires them.
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