Read A Murder of Crows: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery Online

Authors: P. F. Chisholm

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #British, #Historical, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #MARKED

A Murder of Crows: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery (23 page)

BOOK: A Murder of Crows: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery
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“And was he cheating?”

Carey gave Dodd a warning look. “No, or I would have said so,” he said, “He was simply counting cards and playing by the odds. It isn’t cheating but it does give you an advantage. There’s an Italian book explains how to do it and I expect he’s read it. That’s what I’ve been teaching you to do, by the way.”

Dodd remembered about the Italian book and its notions about numbers. “Why did ye no’ tell Pickering about that?”

Carey looked amused. “What, and have him work out how I do it myself? I don’t think so.”

***

 

Back at Somerset House Dodd was hoping for his bed. But no, it seemed, despite both of them being weary and the hour a ridiculously late eleven o’clock, Carey had to speak to his parents if they were still up.

They were companionably playing cards together in the little parlour in the corner of the courtyard, with wax candles on the table and a little dish of wafers to dip in their spiced evening wine.

Carey bowed to his parents and his mother immediately stood up and hugged him, and then to Dodd’s horror, gave Dodd a hug as well.

“Letty told me how you helped her when she was such a fool,” said Lady Hunsdon. “What with Sergeant Dodd spotting the trap and giving warning and you helping her leave so quickly…She said you were both wonderful. Lord alone knows what trouble there would have been if she had been taken by that evil bastard Topcliffe. She isn’t really a Papist, she’s just a silly maid that’s been wrongly taught, but in Topcliffe’s hands…”

Hunsdon smiled fondly at his wife. One of the footmen standing by the wall came forward and brought up another small table while more wafers and wine arrived so that Dodd could do something at least about his aching belly. The pork pie he had had in the afternoon was long gone and Carey, being Carey, hadn’t stopped since then.

“Well Robin?” said his father as Carey leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs at the ankle, and took a long draught of wine.

“The Devil of it is,” he said, seemingly at random while his mother frowned at him for swearing, “there’s a pattern here and I know there is, but I can’t seem to see it.”

He told the whole tale of their very busy day from start to finish, with no embellishments at all.

“How did you know where the memorial service was to?” asked Lady Hunsdon. “Letty said she couldn’t imagine.”

“Oh that.” Carey smiled faintly. “The Papists themselves told me. It was in the book at the crypt—the woman who claimed the priest’s body gave a false address and called herself Mrs. Sophia Merry.”

“Never heard of her.”

“Of course not, my lord, it’s a false name as well. But it told where the service would be—at the site of the old church of St Mary Wisdom.”

Hunsdon gave a shout of laughter. “Ha! I didn’t realise you’d actually managed to learn some Greek as a boy, between reiving cows and playing football.”

Carey smiled ruefully. “I didn’t, my lord, I’m afraid. But while I was in Paris I…er…knew a lady whose name was Sophia who told me often that her name meant wisdom and very proud of it she was too although she was as feather-brained as a duck.”

Lord Hunsdon seemed to find this very funny whereas Lady Hunsdon only smiled briefly.

He finished with his account of Pickering’s game, then wet his whistle and waited for his parents’ reactions. They were a time coming. Lady Hunsdon in particular seemed very interested in her cards.

After a moment, Carey said gently, “I find it alarming, my lady, that Pickering seems to have bought some of these Cornish lands on the grounds that there’s gold in them.”

Lady Hunsdon said nothing. She was dipping a wafer in the wine.

“I advised him to sell immediately,” Carey added, “on the grounds that even if there was gold, he would get no good of it since it was so far away and well out of his manor.”

There was more thundering silence.

“My lady mother?” said Carey, even more softly. Lady Hunsdon refused to meet his eyes. He sighed. “Well then, my lord, I don’t know what more I can do. Perhaps it would be best if I went north again…”

“Not yet,” said Lady Hunsdon sharply.

“No,” said Lord Hunsdon at exactly the same time. The two of them looked at each other while Carey watched the pair of them with hooded eyes and a cynical expression.

Dodd had woken up to the fact that there was something complicated going on between Carey and his parents and indeed between Lord and Lady Hunsdon, but he wasn’t sure what it might be. His own parents had been very much less complicated and furthermore were both long dead. Inside the silence there seemed to be some kind of three-way battle going on.

In the end Carey broke it by uncrossing his legs and planting his boots firmly on the black and white tiles of the floor.

He stood up and then went formally on one knee to his parents.

“My lord father, my lady mother,” he said quietly, “I am urgently needed in Carlisle before the autumn reiving starts. I will not investigate this matter any further until I have a true accounting of the background to it from both of you.” His eyes were on his mother as he spoke. Then he stood, bowed gracefully to both, backed three steps as if from royalty, turned and left the parlour.

“I told you Robin would…” Hunsdon began but his wife slammed her cards down, stood and marched out of the parlour, her cheeks flaming as if she had painted them. Hunsdon followed her, leaving Dodd sitting at a cardtable all alone except for the servingman standing by the door, seemingly dozing where he stood.

Dodd finished the spiced wine, which was very good, crushed immediately the impulse to steal the silver cups and the candelabra, and headed for his own bed. To his disgust he found Carey sitting by the small fire in the luxurious fireplace, busy mulling the wine which was normally left for him in a flagon on a table by the wall. Dodd’s eyelids felt as if they were lined with lead and sand.

“Och,” he moaned.

“God damn it,” snarled Carey in general, ramming the poker back among the coals as if stabbing someone. “She still thinks I’m a boy that can’t see the nose on his face because his head’s too full of football, she thinks I still can’t add it up. What the hell does she think she’s playing at?”

Bewildered, Dodd sat on the edge of his bed since Carey had his chair.

“Ay?”

“As for my father…Why the devil doesn’t he keep her under control? Privateering at her age. Dodgy land-deals with God knows what bloody Papists. He should bloody well assert his authority and make her behave!”

Dodd was open-mouthed at this notion as he rather thought Hunsdon would be. He decided not to say anything since Carey was evidently spoiling for a fight with someone, and if he didn’t dare fight his parents combined, might well pick on Dodd. Who hadn’t the energy for it.

Carey drank some wine and then seemed to remember his manners, poured another gobletfull and handed it to Dodd, who had really drunk enough but didn’t feel like arguing either. Would he never get to his bed?

“Don’t you understand, Sergeant?” Carey said more quietly. “My mother doesn’t like the Court and doesn’t really know how it works. You know my father is the Queen’s half-brother through Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s older sister? Who was King Henry’s official mistress before Anne.”

Dodd had heard something about it, but discounted it as the usual overblown nonsense. His eyes stretched but he nodded once.

“Now if King Henry had married Mary instead of Anne, my father would have been king and I would have been a Prince of the Blood Royal.” He shuddered briefly. “And my ghastly elder brother would have been the heir to the throne, Heaven help us. But the bastardy means that can’t ever happen, thank God, which means my father is her Majesty’s closest kin and also her most trusted man at court. As Lord Chamberlain he runs the entire
domus providenciae
of the Court. The…ah…I suppose you’d translate it ‘the House of Supplies’ which is to say, the servants, supplies, kitchens, laundries, and what-have-you. Courtiers are generally part of the
domus magnficenciae
, the House of Magnificence, and very much worse treated. My father also guards her Majesty against assassinations. Everyone thinks of him as no more than a knight of the carpet, a courtier and patron, never mind what he did during the Northern Earls rebellion. And never mind that he’s kept the Queen safe all this time. Heneage wants to destroy him and take his job—he thinks he could have enormous influence with the Queen which my father, on the whole, rarely uses.”

Dodd nodded again, still not sure where this was going.

“That means that if my mother has been indulging in some half-baked scheme involving Cornish lands and Papist priests and Heneage gets wind of it and goes to the Queen, my father could be in the Tower on a charge of treason by the end of the year.”

“Ay,” said Dodd, wondering if it was too late to steal a horse from Hunsdon’s stable and head north as fast as he could.

“That’s the thing about the Court. Nothing is steady, nothing is certain. People plot and lie and scheme for power. My father has never been very interested in political power which is one reason why the Queen trusts him. He’s also seen to it that she stays alive, with God’s help. But if Heneage can convince her he’s turning Papist or has been dealing with them in some way, no matter how ridiculous the charge would be, the Queen would turn on my father. And her anger can be as terrible as my grandfather’s.”

“Ay.”

“And as lethal.”

“Ay.”

“Then there’s the fact that the Cecils have intervened on Heneage’s behalf. Generally speaking they’re at loggerheads because Sir Robert Cecil wants to run Walsingham’s legacy instead of Heneage. So why would he organize the adjournment of our case for Heneage? Either it’s some kind of trick to lull him along or Heneage blackmailed him. Or Cecil’s after something else entirely and this is just byplay…” Carey’s voice trailed off leaving Dodd feeling he was a very small pawn on a very large chessboard full of extremely dangerous, heavily armed chessmen. Carey had a wary, calculating look on his face. After a moment he began again.

“My father wants me to find out what’s going on, in case my mother hasn’t told him everything. Meanwhile my mother wants me to find out how Richard Tregian was swapped for a priest and what happened to the priest—although I think we know—and how. And in all of it I must ask questions, but if I don’t know what they’re up to, how can I be sure to ask the right questions and still protect them?”

“Ay.”

“So that’s it. I’m not doing any more. I think I’ll go hawking tomorrow.”

Carey smiled tightly and finally, thanks be to God, headed for the door. He paused.

“We’ll probably be on the road north in a day or two,” he said.

It was while Dodd was fighting his way out of his suit that he found it. A piece of paper which had been slipped into the little pocket in his sleeve. When he opened it, he found a short and imperious note.

“Please be so good as to meet me in the main courtyard at dawn.”

The thing was signed with Lady Hunsdon’s initials. Dodd groaned aloud. Dawn? It was past midnight now. He’d get hardly any sleep at all.

Feeling hard-used, he shucked the rest of his stupid clothes, dumped them on the chest, and climbed into bed, closing the curtains around him against the foul ague-producing airs of the Thames.

Friday 15th September 1592, dawn

 

Dawn found the courtyard full of horses. It seemed that when Carey went hawking near London, he couldn’t possibly do it the way he did near Carlisle, which was to ride out with only Dodd or another man of the castle guard and a tercel falcon on his fist, a couple of dogs at the heels of his horse. That was fun.

This kind of hawking involved the dog-boy and the Master of the Kennels plus two or three dogs including the lugubrious lymer that had hurt his paw but was much better now, half a dozen mounted servingmen, the Baron’s Falconer, and at least five birds with their hoods on and a couple of boys to climb trees for the falcons in case they didn’t come back. Dodd saw Marlowe for the first time in days: he was looking out of a second-storey window smoking a long clay pipe while everyone mounted up and lengthened stirrup leathers and argued. They were seemingly headed for Farringdon Fields.

Carey raised his hand in salute to Dodd as the whole cavalcade clenched and gathered itself around him and waited for the main gate to be opened to let them pass.

“Off we go now,” said a firm voice at Dodd’s elbow, and he looked down to see Lady Hunsdon in a respectable but ordinary tawny woollen kirtle, holding a walking stick and wearing a very determined expression.

“Ah…” Dodd began.

“We’ll take a boat and you can explain it all to me,” she said. Dodd looked about for her normal gang of Cornish wreckers and found only the wide and freckled Captain Trevasker standing behind her, looking highly amused.

“Ay m’lady,” said Dodd, since there was evidently no help for it.

They walked down through the gardens with their polite boxtree knot designs and orchard at the end, hedged with raspberry and gooseberry bushes and a row of hazels. Lady Hunsdon didn’t lean much on her walking stick since she had her hand laced into the crook of Dodd’s elbow, not quite a jailer. They got to the boatlanding, where Dodd found that Captain Trevasker had already hopped into the smaller of the two Hunsdon boats, and handed Lady Hunsdon down to the cushioned seat at the end. The rowers were waiting there in their headache-producing black and yellow stripes. Once Lady Hunsdon was settled and had nodded to the chief of them, they set off.

BOOK: A Murder of Crows: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery
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