Authors: Karen Harper
“We are grateful to be with you again, beloved cousin,” Margaret replied with a broad smile that flashed her large teeth. She had some sort of metal filigree box in her hands, mayhap a gift, Elizabeth noted.
“It has been far too long,” the queen declared, “though you seem to thrive distant from our presence. Clever doctors, I take it, have kept you and your entire family hale and hearty.”
If that barb pierced the Stewarts' bubble of a triumphal return, no one showed it. The attractive Margaret, curse her, had always been popular at court. If she soon had the usual contingent clinging to her skirts, so much the better. That way the Stewarts would not so easily spot the spies assigned to each of them the moment they'd stepped off their barges.
“How I have missed Whitehall and London,”
Margaret went on with a dramatic sigh that would have done Ned Topside proud. “Though of course,” she added, almost preening, “I was reared at Greenwich with your sister and know all of her—now your— palaces intimately, Your Grace.”
This half-Scottish daughter of King Henry VIII's sister had been treated almost as a sister to Mary Tudor, while Elizabeth used to be oft sent away for suspected disloyalty. Even now the forty-seven-year-old Margaret craned her neck to look about as if she owned Whitehall and everything in it.
Elizabeth dug her fingernails into her clenched palms. When Mary Tudor was queen, Margaret had been assigned precedence over the Princess Elizabeth. Even now, with her fate in the current queen's hands, Margaret dared to stare down her prominent nose at Elizabeth as if she would shriek a laugh, point, and shout again, “Protestant usurper! Daughter of the great whore Boleyn! Walk behind your sister and me! Your father has made a fine marriage match for me, but he can't even stomach you in his sight.”
“And my young Lord Darnley,” Elizabeth said as she rose and descended but one step to tower over the Stewarts, “how does your lute playing these days? Did your parents mayhap send you to France to find a better tutor than we English can provide?”
The rustling of satin gowns, all sounds, stopped. Everyone knew full well that Margaret and Matthew
Stewart had defiantly dispatched their heir to the French court for a daring and dangerous reason last year. He was to entice the newly widowed Mary, Queen of Scots and France, to fall in love with him, for his royal Tudor blood made him a political marriage prize. Damn the Stewarts, connivers all.
“Indeed, Your Grace,” the lad replied, straight-faced, “I learned a good deal while in France and would play for you, if you wish.”
“When you do I shall closely watch your fingering to see what I can learn anew from you and your parents' endeavors and desires,” Elizabeth replied as her gaze snagged her cousin's again.
“And that reminds me,” Margaret said, lifting the filigree box, “that our son brought back for you from the queen herself a special gift. Sadly, kept away from you as we were, we could not present it to Your Grace until now.”
Elizabeth came down another step. “From our kin Mary, you say? What is it then?” she asked warily, keeping a good distance as if some viper would coil from the depths of the small box.
“The latest rage in French cosmetics, Your Majesty,” Margaret explained, “cochineal and alabaster facial powder. 'Tis such a lovely shade of rose I was tempted to try it myself, but Queen Mary told our dear son it was for you alone.”
Elizabeth loved pretty, new things, but for all she
knew, the shimmering stuff she saw within the box could be some dreaded poison. If only Meg Milligrew were here, she'd recognize the substance for what it truly was.
“It looks lovely,” Elizabeth declared, “but I would be pleased to share it with you, cousin. I will see that some is sent you and have someone report back to me on how it looks on your face.”
From the box Margaret extended, stiff-armed toward the queen, emanated an enticing aroma. Indeed, a floral or herbal fragrance must be included with the powdered shells and alabaster. Yet, considering the source, the queen scented a trap.
She reached out to click the box lid closed, nearly in Margaret's face, but the scent of powder had already permeated the air. Elizabeth jammed her finger under her nose to keep from sneezing, but several others, including Mary Sidney, exploded in racking
“I have no doubt, Cousin Margaret,” the queen said, sounding stuffed-up now, “that you will report by hook or crook to Queen Mary concerning what I have said and done in the reception of this gift—and in
For one moment, Margaret's face froze and her eyes stayed wide, as if she might sneeze herself but was determined not to. As if painted, her counterfeit smile did not shift nor did the brazen woman blink.
Elizabeth swept from the room while everyone dipped or bowed. The family wars, both domestic and foreign, would continue, the queen thought. But at least
now the most intimate battles would be under her watch and on her playing fields.
FTER A SPECIAL EARLY EVENING PRAYER SERVICE AT
Whitehall, beseeching power for the queen's healing touch on the morrow, Elizabeth rose from the royal pew. Gray shadows crawled in even here amidst lanterns and candles; the autumn wind howled outside. Harry Carey, standing in the doorway at the back of the chapel, gestured to her.
“Pascal's been brought in,” he mouthed before she reached him. Since her cousin Margaret was among her women trailing behind, Elizabeth lifted a quick finger to her lips.
“At the Royal Physicians' Hall, examining candidates for the curing ceremony.”
“I mean not where was he taken but where is he
?” she whispered as they began to walk together.
When her women caught up with her, even blunt, bold Harry evidently recalled this was covert business. He darted his eyes twice in the opposite direction from the royal apartments.
“Ladies,” Elizabeth said, turning to face them with a smile, “my dear cousin Harry has a surprise for me, and I will join you later.”
“A fine new hawk, no doubt,” Margaret Stewart put
in as if given leave to speak, “from the queen's Master of the Hawks. Always you are so generous to us, your blood kin,” she added with a flash of smile, though her voice was edged with sarcasm.
Elizabeth bit back a sharp retort. Motioning two guards—Jenks and Clifford—to follow, she preceded Harry in the direction he had indicated, then turned to Jenks as she walked. “Hie yourself to my privy library and fetch that bag with the timepiece and scourge we found in Chelsea and bring them to me posthaste in … In?” she prompted Harry.
“Ah, so no one would catch wind of it, I stowed Pascal in the gatehouse chamber above the Sermon Court,” he said as they walked the corridor overlooking the tiltyard.
“Good, for I shall preach him quite a sermon and, I swear, he will confess—to something. Make haste, Jenks,” she urged as he dropped back. She heard him break into a run going in the opposite direction.
“But I was thinking,” Harry told her, “if you have Pascal arrested, you'll be short a physician for the curing ceremony in the morn. And if you yet want me to take a few men and search the cellar of the Royal Physicians' College Hall while that ceremony's going on, I won't be about to protect you there.”
“Harry, I will be fine. I believe it is God's will I continue the healing ceremony. It is in a public, holy place which will be packed with my full contingent of Yeomen
Guards and Gentlemen Pensioners, not to mention my closest courtiers.”
“Namely, Lord Robert Dudley, who watches you— well, like a hawk.”
She said naught to that as they climbed the lantern-lit stairs to the gatehouse. “As for being short a physician,” she told him, “I shall tell Dr. Huicke, despite his age and bad knees, I need him there tomorrow. God knows, I ignore my household physicians too much lately anyway. They've been vexed to no end that I have twice summoned Dr. Burcote.”
Despite her assurances to Harry, the queen was quite anxious about the service for the Curing of the Queen's Evil tomorrow. She was no coward, but she wanted out of London where a poxed effigy or leeched body could appear in her privy, protected property. She yearned for open spaces where villains could not materialize from nor melt into crowds.
From Hampton Court she could see more clearly and plan her next moves. It was but a short barge ride from London, so she could easily dispatch her Privy Plot Council members to do what they must, arrest who was guilty. Cecil had deduced from his interrogator's questioning of Katherine Grey and her husband that, even if they were being used by outside hostile forces, they were hardly instigators. Then who was?
Harry opened the door for the queen, and she entered. Peter Pascal's great bulk blotted out the last of the
outside light from where he stood at the window. The chamber contained several armchairs set back against the walls and three tapestries of a hunt scene. Lanterns hung from the old wall sconces. The queen indicated that Harry's two men should step outside, but she kept him and Clifford with her. Pascal made a bow so low he almost toppled onto his face.
“I visited Chelsea this day,” she began, moving into the middle of the room while the men seemed to crowd the corners.
“I heard such, Your Majesty,” he admitted after a brief, awkward pause. “My steward sent word you were just passing by and examined my house, including my privy chapel. And that you dubbed my home a cathedral to my mentor—”
“Is it not?” she demanded, her voice rising. “I swear you are practicing idolatry at the least! Do you not adore Sir Thomas More as if he were some saint to you? And would you not do anything to avenge his loss, even on the one who had naught to do with his demise?”
“Naught to do…” he choked out before he seized control of himself. His voice had momentarily gone so high-pitched he almost squeaked. “Your Majesty, the men who died because they would not sign your father's Act of Supremacy making him—now you—head of the English church, your birth which caused—”
“Enough!” she shouted, smacking her fist into her palm instead of his face. “Let the past be past! Let us pursue
this another way, then. To what lengths would you go to discredit, annoy, or try to terrify me? You and your crony, Dr. Caius, who used to serve at court, think you know all my medical secrets, do you not? The queen fears the pox, you tell each other, and she detests being leeched. We shall show her! We will work closely with those who would usurp her place, starting with the Scottish Earl of Lennox, mayhap poor, pliable Katherine Grey. Let us encourage her to bear heirs to supplant this queen.”
He stared aghast at that tirade, then seemed to recover himself. “I—well, yes, both of us did urge the Lieutenant of the Tower to allow Katherine to meet and have talks with her husband—”
“Talks? 'S blood and bones, if my learned doctors believe only talks would result from two defiant, passionate young rebels being left alone together, I have no hope of medical progress in my realm. So do not ask me again for corpses to dissect, though you would love to dissect me!”
“Your Grace, I beg you,” he said, clasping his fat fingers together so they went stark white, “have pity and mercy, for I am guiltless of your other accusations of trying to harm your person. Physicians take an oath to do no harm, to rescue, to preserve.”
Finally, the man looked and sounded terrified. Good, she thought, for it was high time to turn the screws again. But where was Jenks? As if her desire had summoned him, a knock sounded on the door. He entered, out of breath, with the sack she had called for.
“Ah,” the queen said, taking it and drawing out the still mud-encrusted timepiece, which she dangled by its short chain. “Look what has turned up. Do you know where you lost it?”
He stepped forward but did not reach for it. “I evidently lost it where you found it, Your Majesty, but since it was lost indeed, I know not where.”
“Do not mince words with me!”
“I swear by all that's holy, the last time I had it was at the physicians' hall the day after your visit. That would be Saturday, September the twenty-sixth. I thought I laid it down on the table in our council chamber. I have searched high and low for it, as it was a gift from …”
“From?” she prompted.
“A dear friend.”
“Let me guess. Sir Thomas More?”
He squared his trembling shoulders. “God's truth.”
“Peter Pascal, Physician of the Royal College of London,” she droned as if she would pronounce some dire verdict, “did you treat a Chelsea girl, one Anne Wyngate, for a broken right arm Friday last?”
“Anne Wyngate? The old wig-maker's granddaughter? I did not, and haven't seen her for days,” he declared, his voice steady now. “Why, I spent that day—that very day you visited the Royal College of Physicians—with you, Your Majesty.”
“A scant two hours I can vouch for. And for all I
know, Anne could have sought your help the next day in London or Chelsea.”
“But what has any of that to do with my lost timepiece? And something else I recall now,” he added, his words becoming so rushed they slurred. “It was lost somewhere at the College. On the day you sent William Cecil to peruse our books—that very Saturday morning you just mentioned—I told him I had lost my timepiece, that I was looking for it. I am certain I did, so ask him!”