Read Martyr Online

Authors: Rory Clements

Tags: #Sir, #History, #Fiction, #Great Britain, #1558-1603, #1540?-1596, #Elizabeth, #Francis - Assassination attempts, #English First Novelists, #Historical Fiction, #Francis, #English Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Thriller, #Mystery, #Secret service - England, #Assassination attempts, #Fiction - Espionage, #Drake, #Suspense Fiction, #Historical, #Thrillers, #Mystery & Detective - Historical, #England, #Mystery & Detective, #Great Britain - History - Elizabeth, #Secret service, #Suspense

Martyr (6 page)

BOOK: Martyr
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I can find anyone, given time.

We don’t have time. Find him quickly. And what are your thoughts about the connection with Southwell? Is he in any way involved?

It is possible, of course …

But you have doubts?

Slide nodded.

Well, make inquiries about him. Bring him in. He can’t be allowed to remain at large any longer. Mr. Secretary wants him in custody, as, I know, does the Queen. Let us lock him away as safe as the crown jewels. Use your best connections to discover the truth about this murder. Three marks a day, Harry, with twenty-five more for bringing me Southwell and a further twenty-five for finding the killer of Blanche Howard.

Slide was silent a moment as he thought the deal through. What it came down to was that he needed the money to see him through this chill winter. He smiled that winning smile. Of course, Mr. Shakespeare. A most generous offer. Consider me your man.

Chapter 7

A
T SEVEN, LONG AFTER DARK, THE MARSHALSEA GAOLER
lumbered along to the cell for Cotton and the three ladies. I must lock up now, Mr. Cotton, he said apologetically.

The six dinner guests had almost finished their own feasting and were sipping wine together and discussing the dark plight of England. All were fearful that Mary, Queen of Scots, the great hope of their Catholic cause, might soon suffer a martyr’s death. Even now they prayed for a miracle to save her and raise her up instead to her rightful place as anointed Queen of England.

They had, for a short while, been able to forget their anxieties; the Latin Mass said by Cotton had suffused them with a fleeting joy, especially the three women, the Lady Tanahill, Lady Frances Browne, and Mistress Anne Bellamy. They were from three of London’s leading Church of Rome families, and all of them were suffering harshly in these times when the ironclad gauntlet of the state could beat down their door at any hour of day or night. Lady Tanahill’s husband, a onetime favorite of the Queen, was now in the Tower, having been arrested while attempting to leave the country to meet up with Church of Rome leaders abroad. The Countess was left at home with their small child, who had never yet seen his father. Her heart was heavy, yet the still, loving presence of this man Cotton brought comfort.

As Lady Tanahill looked at Cotton talking animatedly of his belief that the true church would rise again in England, she made a decision: she would invite him to be her private chaplain, to live in her home and bring the Sacraments to her daily. But she would not mention it here infront of these others. The arrest of her husband, betrayed by a priest they had befriended, had taught her a bitter lesson in trust.

Piggott and Plummer wiped the last hunks of bread around their trenchers and ate greedily. The food had been hearty, with good joints of mutton and fowl even though it was a fish day. May as well be hanged for a sheep as a fish, said Plummer, laughing. And the wine was sweet.

Cotton, along with Plummer and Piggott, remained in the cell while the three women left together. After the women had gone, Plummer said farewell to Cotton, clasping his hands and urging him to be strong in the faith. Then Piggott again embraced Cotton, holding him in a screwlike grip. Cotton flinched. Piggott’s breath rasped and his coarse black beard, ill-covering his pox-pitted face, scoured Cotton’s cheek as he spoke low into his ear so that Plummer could not hear him, only Cotton.

Tell our friend this, Father Cotton. Tell him Cogg. Cogg of Cow Lane outside the city wall by Smith Field. Cogg has what he desires, Father Cotton. Cogg will see our friend right.

Again the proximity of this man made revulsion well up within Cotton, and he wrenched himself free. For a few moments the two men stood eye to eye, until Cotton looked away. He took his leave of Plummer, then left the cell and slammed the door hard without looking again at Piggott. A family of fat rats scuttled ahead as he followed the gaoler once more through the dank corridors to the great door. He was still shaking from his encounter with Piggott as the gaoler clapped him yet again with his giant’s hand and whispered conspiratorially, Pails with lids, Mr. Cotton. Pails with lids.

He walked over the bridge into London, slipping and sliding through the icy, deserted streets. By the time he arrived at the riverside house where he lodged, he still felt uneasy. Piggott had worried him, and he did not like his message.

For a few moments he waited at the end of Dowgate, near the Tower, looking around him back down the streets of tall houses with their leaded windows heavily curtained or shuttered. Only the merest flickerings of candlelight were visible. He was looking for movement and shadows, listening for footfalls. When he was sure he had not been followed, he went to a side door of the house and banged twice. The door was opened to him almost immediately and shut again the instant he stepped in.

It was a large and very new wood-frame house, a work in progress but already part-occupied by its owner, Thomas Woode, a widower in his thirties, and his two young children, Andrew and Grace. Woode’s wife had died of consumption when Grace was little more than a year old and Andrew was three. Now they were four and six and the building of this house was his way of forgetting the past and forging a new future for the family.

The children’s governess, Catherine Marvell, stood at the door. She was a slender creature with remarkable blue eyes, unblemished skin, and long dark hair, pulled back from her face. It was a face that was now fixed with a look of horror.

Pax vobiscum
, dear Catherine, Cotton said, and held her hands between his own. She was shivering. What is it?

Have you not heard?

Heard what, Catherine?

She spoke low, though there was no one to hear. Blanche is dead, Father. Murdered.

What?

Catherine Marvell closed her eyes, as if she would blot out the imagined vision of Blanche that would not leave her mind. By Shoreditch Her body was found most horribly wounded in a burnt-out house. And then she whispered even lower, with urgency, They say she was with child, Father.

He tried to hold her in his arms, to comfort her like a father would a daughter, but she backed away from him. Cotton understood. The touch of another human being is not always the best remedy for grief and horror. Lady Blanche? Who could or
would
have done such a thing to so beautiful and loving a woman? Cotton himself had brought her to the Holy Roman Church. Was this a cause of her death? She had never, as far as he knew, harmed a soul.

They stood awkwardly in the entrance hallway, neither knowing how to deal with such news.

He tried saying words to console her, but they sounded trite and unworthy. Still, he attempted to soothe her, though he wondered whether it was
he
that needed the soothing more. Cotton wanted to stroke Catherine’s long dark hair, but he feared his touch would be unwelcome. The Jesuit colleges had removed him from the physical world of human contact, and ofttimes he missed it, the touch of a hand or the brush of a cheek.

She led him through to the hall, where logs were burning and crackling in a wide, stone-surround hearth and a man dressed in servant’s clothes was waiting for them. The room was large and high-walled, hung with rich tapestries of blue and gold, displaying the wealth of the owner. Everything seemed new, the green oak beams vibrant with color in the brilliant light of dozens of candles.

The man who waited was lean and tall. He stood close to the fire, soaking up its heat. Unlike the fine dress of Cotton, he wore simple clothes in dark colors, the livery of a senior household valet or butler, though he was nothing of the sort; his hair was cut short and he was clean-shaven. He had a modest ruff, a black doublet over a white shirt, black, knee-length breeches in the Venetian style, and white hose.

He bowed his head. He did not smile. Good evening, Father Cotton, he said, slowly and deliberately. His voice was faintly accented.

Good evening to you, Father Herrick.

What news of your day?

A fair day, Father.

There was a stiffness between the men. They were not friends. Cotton had been ordered to help Herrick and he would do so; that was as far as the relationship went. It had started with a letter from Rome, signed by Claudius Aquaviva, general of the Society of Jesus, requiring Cotton to welcome Herrick to England and to help the priest find lodging and put him in touch with important Roman Catholics so that he could begin his mission in safety. Cotton had bowed to Aquaviva’s command, but felt uneasy.

At first he had asked Thomas Woode, the owner of this house, if Herrick could stay for a night or two. Woode had not objected though Cotton could see he was unsure about having another priest under his roof. Two priests doubled the risk, and if he was caught harboring priests, particularly Jesuits, Woode’s very life could be at stake.

Cotton had intended to find somewhere else for Herrick to stay almost immediately, but somehow that hadn’t happened and so he had remained here, posing as a serving man and going about his spiritual mission in his own way. It was a situation which, Cotton realized, both Thomas Woode and the governess Mistress Marvell wished to end, and soon.

Catherine Marvell stepped back into the doorway. Can I bring you refreshment, Father? Her words were directed at Cotton, and pointedly to him alone. With her master out at a livery company banquet, the house creaked between these three disparate people. Upstairs, the children of Thomas Woode slept in their little beds.

Cotton shook his head and smiled. No, thank you, child. I have supped well. And you, Father Herrick?

Perhaps a little food before bed …

Catherine nodded and turned away in silence. She clearly had no wish to prepare food for Father Herrick. And do you have word for me, Father Cotton? Herrick said when the two men were alone.

Cotton hesitated. There was something very wrong here. During his eight years of training for this mission, he had met many curious men, not all of them holy. There had been ambitious men, fearful men, angry men, spies sent by Walsingham, and, of course, many devoted men. But this Herrick—Cotton realized that was not his real name—was different in a worrying way. How, exactly, did this stranger fit into the Society of Jesus and its cause? Herrick was not forthcoming about the mission he had undertaken, though he mentioned he had served the cause in the Netherlands and even hinted at time spent in the New World saving heathens for Christ. Let us sit down, Father Herrick, and take a little wine together while we wait for Catherine to bring your supper. It has been a long, cold day.

I think you know I do not take wine, Father Cotton. I know, too, that you would wish I were not here in this house. Yet we both work for the same great cause…. He spoke perfect English but for that faint accent. Only the trained ear could tell its origin as Dutch Flemish, for he was the product of a Dutch father, a musician at the court of Queen Mary, and an English mother.

Do we? Cotton asked, and regretted the question as soon as it was asked. I am sorry, Father. That was unforgivable of me.

Herrick’s expression betrayed nothing, but he chose his next words precisely. Whatever you
think
you know, Father Cotton, I can assure you I know more about you than you do of me. Most vitally, I know you have the information I need, the meaning of which is not for you to think on. This is required of you by our superiors in Rome, and you
will
obey their wishes.

The harshness of Herrick’s words stunned Cotton. For a minute he did not speak. A voice inside told him to say nothing, to refuse, for no good could come of it. But his Jesuit training had taught him total obedience, even at the risk of torture and death, and it was quite clear that Aquaviva wanted him to give Herrick everything he required. In this case, that was the name and address of the man Cogg. Who this Cogg was or what he did, Cotton had no way of knowing, but he feared that it had little or nothing to do with the Holy Roman Church.

At the doorway Catherine Marvell had reappeared, holding a tray of cold food for Herrick. Now, she shrank back, watching the two men.

Cotton spoke quietly to Herrick: Cogg. Cow Lane.

The ghost of a smile crossed Herrick’s face. His lips moved.

Thank you, Father Cotton.
Pax vobiscum
. Then he turned to the doorway where Catherine stood rooted to the spot. He made the Sign of the Cross. Bless you, too, child.

Chapter 8

T
HEY MADE SPEEDY HEADWAY TOWARD DEPTFORD
. The watermen had an easy job maintaining four or five knots downstream with the receding tide. Shakespeare sat in the back of the tiltboat, beneath the canopy. A salt wind billowed from the side and blew the hat from his head. It caught the edge of the tiltboat, but Boltfoot Cooper grabbed it just before it bounced into the choppy gray waters.

Boltfoot grinned into the spray as he handed back the hat. Paying your respects to our sovereign nonpareil, Mr. Shakespeare? I believe she is in residence.

Shakespeare ignored him. The Queen was indeed at Greenwich Palace, beyond Deptford. With its sweeping lawns and its views of the river, crowded with the towering sails of great galleons, it was the loveliest of her homes, a palace of dreams divorced from the commotion and dirt of nearby London. Yet in these noisome days, the palace was, thought Shakespeare, probably the least pleasant place in the realm. No one would wish to be in the presence of the Queen as she wrestled with her conscience over the death warrant awaiting her signature. Shakespeare had no intention of going to Greenwich Palace if he could avoid it, and he did not envy the courtiers and Privy Councillors who were with her day by day. Having met Elizabeth Tudor on several occasions, he felt fortunate that she had not taken a
greater
interest in him. Though he revered her as his sovereign, he liked to keep his distance; those who caught her eye lived a life between heaven and hell depending on her moods, which were as changeable as the weather: one moment sunshine and balm, the next, thunder and rage. These days, her sunny spells were not in evidence; nothing but black clouds and the boom of cannon fire. He quite understood why Walsingham was protesting illness and staying at Barn Elms—anything to keep away from their monarch in these gloomy times when she was consumed by indecision, torn on the one hand between her desire to be rid of her treacherous, scheming cousin and, on the other hand, her reluctance to do away with a fellow prince and thus bring down the wrath of the Roman Catholic world on England.

The rowers held a steady course, battling the current as they passed the dangerous West Ferry at the tip of a thumb of land where Kent bulged into the river, then turned southward. The waters eased and they ran smooth toward their destination, Deptford, where Drake was said to be overseeing work on ships of war of which he hoped to win command. Give him the vessels, he said, and he was confident he could take on the Spanish King and conquer him anywhere. Even if Philip did, as rumored, have the largest invasion fleet ever seen—up to two hundred great ships—carrying tens of thousands of troops.

The dockside at Deptford was a madness of shipping. You could scarcely see the shore for the forest of tall masts and their weblike rigging. The gaunt spars of the berthed vessels were as bare of sails as the trees on land were now leafless. Dozens of large ships, galleons and barks, were moored here, their great oak bulwarks and castles towering over the houses onshore. There were also pinnaces and dozens of smaller craft. From the river it was a stirring sight. As they came closer, it seemed thousands of men were at work among the long line of shops, riotous inns, ship chandlers, cooperages, sailmakers, spirit sellers, caulkers, pitch men, timber merchants, joiners, and carpenters that lined this stretch of river.

As the tiltboat pulled up at the stairs by the naval yard, it was immediately clear from the shouting and commotion that something was afoot. On the shore, a throng of men was grouped around something prone on the pebbles. Disembarking from the tiltboat, Shakespeare told the watermen to wait for him. Though they knew he was on Queen’s business, they began to argue with him, saying they were due to wind up their day’s work, but Boltfoot silenced them by producing his razor-sharp dagger and drawing it lightly across his throat in warning.

O
N THE SHORE
, the crowd was growing larger. Shakespeare strode down from the Strand across the gravel and mud to see what was there at the water’s edge. Through a gap in the crowd he thought he saw a giant man in black lying there twitching.

Shakespeare pushed his way through the jostling crowd, receiving angry elbows for his pains. As he got closer, he saw that it was not a man but a huge black fish or sea monster, twenty-five feet or more from nose to tail. It seemed to be alive, for it was moving slowly, its fins flapping gently against the ground. A couple of apprentices were laughing and kicking it, trying to get a reaction out of it.

That’ll make a few fish suppers, said one young journeyman with the work apron of a joiner around his waist.

Shakespeare felt a curious pity for the huge beast. Its gray-black skin shimmered in the cloudy light. It was encrusted with barnacles. Seaweed growths straggled from its great belly. He moved forward and tried to stop the apprentices kicking it. They laughed at him and carried on, their fellows joining in.

It’s an omen, someone said. A sign of evil tidings.

I think it’s a Spaniard, said the journeyman joiner.

It’s King Phil himself, said another, standing beside him. Big fucker, isn’t he?

Shakespeare turned to Boltfoot Cooper. Put the fish out of its misery.

Boltfoot still had his dagger in his hand. He moved forward and knelt beside the crippled animal, stroking its huge forehead. He seemed to whisper something to it, then thrust upward through its exposed white underside. As he withdrew the long blade, a rush of blood poured out. The animal thrashed for barely a minute, with Boltfoot cradling its enormous head, then died.

“’Ere, he’s killed the King of Spain!”

Good riddance to him. Romish bastard. Now let’s get the Scotch whore topped.

It was a leviathan, Boltfoot said quietly to Shakespeare as he stood up, wiping his blade on his kerchief. I saw many of them in the southern seas. Sometimes they’d follow us in our wake. Twice the size of that one there, some of them. Fifty foot or more.

Shakespeare felt a hand on his shoulder and turned sharply.

Hello, John. I thought that was you.

Shakespeare found himself staring into a face he knew well. Harper!

At your service. I was told to expect you.

Captain Harper Stanley was a proud man with a high ruff that looked preposterously uncomfortable to Shakespeare. He had a broad brown mustache that tapered horizontally into points above an equally pointed beard. He was just a little too tall for a naval man; he’d have to stoop belowdecks, for there was little headroom, even for the most dwarfish of men.

Shakespeare smiled warmly as they shook hands. He had always liked Stanley. We’re looking for the Vice Admiral.

He’s at Greenwich. Let me take you to him. Stanley turned to the two mariners who accompanied him and ordered, Impound that whale. Have it rendered to lantern oil and set aside the jawbone for carving.

Captain Stanley led the way. As they passed the weatherworn carcass of the
Golden Hind—Drake’s
ship that had encompassed the globe, now laid up forlorn behind the Royal Dock for all the world to come and gawp at, tread upon, and carve keepsake pieces of wood from—Shakespeare cast a look at Boltfoot. His eyes were held determinedly ahead as though he could not bear to look upon it.

Seen a ghost, Mr. Cooper? Captain Stanley inquired with a light chuckle. Flogged on the fo’c’sle, perhaps? I’ll wager there are some bad memories for you there, sir.

Boltfoot grunted a denial and walked on, dragging his clubfoot forward.

Stanley took them to a ship’s boat and ordered the coxswain to take them to the palace. As they settled on the benches, he said at last, What is your concern here, John? Sir Francis received your message yesterday afternoon that you wished a meeting.

Shakespeare tried to reconcile this confident fellow with the callow young ship’s officer he had met five years earlier while investigating the Spanish plot by Zubiaur, Mason, and John Doughty against Drake’s life. Harper Stanley had not been on the
Golden Hind
but had entered Drake’s service in 1581—the year after the ship’s return from its great three-year voyage around the world, laden with treasure stolen from the King of Spain’s ships. Stanley had arrived from the northeast of England with letters of recommendation, which Drake had studied dubiously. The Admiral was not keen on gentleman sailors but liked Harper Stanley’s persistence and had taken him on. Nor was he disappointed. Harper quickly proved himself an able mariner and won rapid promotion.

When the John Doughty plot was revealed, Drake was as unconcerned as ever. He had nothing but scorn for the King of Spain and any attempt he might make on his life. Grudgingly, he had assigned Stanley to help Walsingham and Shakespeare with the inquiry into the conspiracy, but wanted nothing more to do with it himself.

Shakespeare had wanted to know more about the events behind the plot. Why had John Doughty been so set on revenge for his brother? It was then that Harper Stanley produced Boltfoot Cooper to give Shakespeare a description of the trial and execution of John Doughty’s brother, Thomas.

Boltfoot had already left the sea and had his own reasons for disliking Drake, but he was a fair witness. Though taciturn at the best of times, the former seaman spoke freely of the unhappy events of July 1578 at Port St. Julian, as if he had something to get off his chest.

Shakespeare had interviewed Boltfoot Cooper in the antechamber of Walsingham’s house in Seething Lane. Cooper, who had settled to work away from the sea in a large London cooperage, seemed ill at ease in the high-chambered room with its great leaded windows. He spoke quietly at first to explain how he had entered Drake’s service. I had been pressed by the Devon sea-captain John Hawkins when I was an apprentice cooper, about twelve or thirteen, I’d reckon. It was an illegal act because I was bound to another man. Hawkins assigned me to the
Judith
, under the command of Mr. Drake, and I stayed with him thirteen years in all.

And your main role was cooper, making barrels?

Yes, but Mr. Drake would often have me help the carpenters with mast repairs and careening. And when there was action, I fought alongside the rest of the men. I know that he did like me and trust me, and I suppose I looked up to him as a father. He was always a fair man … in those days.

And latterly, Mr. Cooper, you were with Sir Francis—or Captain-General Drake as then was—on his venture to the Magellan Strait and through to the Pacific Ocean?

Yes, sir.

And so you knew Thomas Doughty and his brother, John?

Yes, sir. For myself, sir, I did not like Thomas Doughty. He thought he was the Captain-General’s equal, yet he was not, by no means. He and the other gentlemen aboard the
Pelican
were nothing but idlers. They had no respect for the men belowdecks and we had none for them. They lorded it over us, taking our plunder, then tried to bribe us to betray the Captain-General. The Doughtys were like wasps in a nest, whispering together. Before entering the Plate River in South America, I refused an order from Thomas Doughty to climb the rigging to spy out the coast. It wasn’t his place to give me such an order when the Ship’s Master and the Captain-General were both aboard. Mr. Drake would never have given me such an order, because he knew about my foot and the problems I would have in climbing. But Thomas and John were pigs. They must have known that I could not climb, but when I refused Thomas Doughtys order, John Doughty took a length of cable and started whipping my head, sir.

I’m very sorry to hear that, Mr. Cooper.

He was laughing, sir, as if it were a jest.

Finally, as we now know, Drake had had enough of being undermined by Thomas Doughty. He put him on trial before a jury of forty men at Port St. Julian, some hundred miles north of the Magellan Strait, and sentenced him to death.

We called it Blood Island, Mr. Shakespeare. It was where the Portuguese sea captain Magellan had put down a mutiny and hanged a man some sixty years ago or more, before he went through the strait that now bears his name. I am not a superstitious man, but there were some believed that place was haunted. We did find the gibbet where Magellan hanged a mutineer, with black bones and shreds of old clothing beneath it still.

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