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The Murder in the Tower: The Story of Frances, Countess of Essex

Jean Plaidy


antiqueJeanPlaidyThe Murder in the Tower: The Story of Frances, Countess of EssexruJeanPlaidycalibre 0.8.219.6.20116aec3e44-d4b4-4ac8-90bc-b99186ba0c331.0

Contents

AN ACCIDENT IN THE TILTYARD

THE CHILD BRIDE

A PAGEANT AT WHITEHALL

THE PRINCE OF WALES TAKES A MISTRESS

DR. FORMAN

DEATH OF A PRINCE

INTRIGUE AT CHARTLEY CASTLE

THE ENEMIES

IS THE EARL IMPOTENT?

MURDER IN THE TOWER

THE WEDDING

ENTER GEORGE VILLIERS

THE LITTLE FISH ARE CAUGHT

THE TRIAL OF THE BIG FISH

THE RETRIBUTION

THE SOLACE

AN ACCIDENT IN THE TILTYARD

From his chair of state which had been set on the stage in the tiltyard at Whitehall, the King lazily watched the champions as they tilted against each other. James was forty-one and did not himself tilt; he preferred the chase; but his young friends were eager to display their superiority over each other in this harmless way. So let them, mused James. He watched them—such handsome young men, all eager to show their old dad and gossip, James the King, how much better they were than their fellows.

“Fill the goblet, laddie,” he said, glancing at the tall young man who stood behind his chair waiting to perform this service.

The boy obeyed—a pleasant creature; James insisted on having pleasant looking young men about him; and his one was kept occupied, for the King was constantly thirsty and nothing satisfied him but the rich sweet wine which many of his courtiers found too potent for their taste. James prided himself that he was rarely what he would call “overtaken;” that was because he knew when he had had enough.

He fidgeted inside his padded clothes, which gave him the appearance of being a fat man; but ever since the Gunpowder scare he had insisted that his doublets be thickly quilted—and it was the same with his breeches, for how could he be sure when someone, resentful against a Stuart or Protestant, might not have the idea to thrust a dagger into him? There were plenty of Englishmen who were not pleased to have a Stuart on the throne; he knew that they whispered about the days of good Queen Bess, and did not care for the Scotsmen he had brought to the Court, nor their Scottish manners either. They thought him ill behaved at times, and said the Tudors had had a royal dignity which he lacked.

James could laugh at them. He might not have the looks of a King. His ancestor Henry VIII had been a fine looking man, he knew; well over six feet tall, and men had trembled when he frowned. James was neither tall nor short; his straggly beard was characteristic of the rest of him; his eyes were too prominent; his tongue seemed too large, which resulted in a thickness of speech; and since he made no effort to cast off a broad accent, and sometimes lapsed into Scottish idiom, the English were often bewildered by his utterances.

He was glad to be seated; he never felt easy when his legs were all that supported him, for they were inclined to let him down at any moment. Perhaps they had never recovered from the tight swaddling of his infancy; moreover, he had not been allowed to walk until he was five years old, and there were times when he still tottered like an infant or a drunken man.

His nature was a philosophical one; he accepted his physical disabilities by taking a great pride in his mental superiority over most of his contemporaries. The title of “The Wisest King in Christendom” had not been lightly bestowed, and he believed that if he put his mind to it he could get the better of Northampton, Suffolk, Nottingham or any of his ministers.

He scratched with grubby fingers through the padded and jeweled doublet. He disliked washing and never put his hands in water, although occasionally he allowed one of his servants to dab them with a wet cloth. The English complained of the lice which often worried them; but James believed it was better to harbor a few of the wee creatures than undergo the torment of washing.

“In the reign of good Queen Bess,” these English grumbled, “ladies and gentlemen came to Court to search for honors, now they have to search for fleas.”

“’Tis the more harmless occupation,” James told them.

So the Court had deteriorated since Tudor days, had it? But he believed the Tudors had not been such lenient sovereigns. They had demanded flattery—something which James would have scorned, immediately understanding the motive behind it, and not for one moment believing that he was the most handsome of men. The old Queen had had to be more or less made love to by her ministers when she was a black-toothed hag. Was that wisdom? Nay, James knew himself for what he was and asked for no deception. His subjects had no need to fear that their heads would be parted from their bodies on the slightest provocation. They called him Solomon; and he was proud of it, although he did not much like the jest that the name had been given to him because he was the son of David. He was the son of the Earl of Darnley and Queen Mary; and it was a calumny to suggest that his mother had taken David Rizzio as her lover and that he was the result.

But there would always be these scandals; and what did they matter now that the crown which united England and Scotland was his? The result was peace in this island as there had never been before, and all because the wisest King in Christendom, who had been James VI of Scotland, was now also James I of England.

“Fill up, laddie,” he said gently.

Wine! Good wine! When he was a baby he had had a drunkard for a wet nurse; it had not been discovered for a long time, and sometimes he wondered whether her milk had been impregnated with stronger stuff and that as he had been nurtured on it he had acquired not only a taste but a need for it.

A strange childhood his. The youth of royal children was often hazardous and that was doubtless why, when they came to power, they frequently abused it. But his childhood was even more unsettled than most; and that was not to be wondered at when he considered the events which had taken place in his family at the time. His father murdered—by his mother’s lover—and some said that his mother had a hand in it. His mother’s hasty marriage to the Earl of Bothwell; the civil war; his mother’s flight to England, where she had remained a prisoner in the hands of good Queen Elizabeth for some twenty years. Not a very safe background for a child whose legs were weak and who had only his wits to help him hold his place among the ambitious lairds surrounding him.

How he had gloried in that good quick brain of his! He might not have been able to walk but he soon learned to talk. He could memorize with the utmost ease; his prominent eyes seemed to take in more than those of the grown-up people about him; there was little they missed; and with childish frankness he did not hesitate to comment on what he saw. As soon as he began to talk, his wit was apparent; and all those ambitious men who wished him to be no more than a figurehead for their schemes were often dismayed.

That excellent memory of his had many pictures of the past preserved for him; and one of those which he liked best was himself, not yet five, being carried into the great hall of Stirling Castle by his guardian the Earl of Mar, there to be placed on a throne to repeat a speech which he had had no difficulty in learning by heart. He had astonished them all by the manner in which he could make such a speech; and as he had made it, his observant eyes had noticed that one of the slates of the roof had slipped off, and through it he could see a glint of blue sky.

He could still hear his high, precise voice informing the company: “There is ane hole in this parliament.”

From then on men had respected him, for what to him had been a statement of fact had been construed as grim prophecy. The Regent Moray had been assassinated, and the Earl of Lennox, James’s paternal grandfather, who had been elected the next Regent, quickly met a violent death.

The Scottish lairds were certain that their young King was no ordinary child.

James had been gleeful. He could not walk, but while he had attendants to carry him wherever he wished to go, what did that matter? He would walk all in good time; and while he waited for that day he would read, watch and learn.

He had come a long way from that Stirling Parliament to the Palace of Whitehall.

His eyes brightened as he watched the riders. There was Sir James Hay. A pretty boy James Hay had been when his King had brought him to England from Scotland; now he was a very fine gentleman. James had been very fond of young Hay and determined to advance him. A pleasant boy with manners to please the English because they were more polished than most Scotsmen’s since Hay had been brought up in France; James had made him a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and young Hay had proved to be a good companion, his nature being an easy going one and free of tantrums.

He was a little vain, of course, but who would not be, the King asked himself indulgently, possessed of such outstanding physical charm? The young man liked ostentation and, as James liked to bestow gifts of money on his friends, it was no concern of his how they spent it. If their tastes ran to fine garments, lavish displays, well let them enjoy themselves, remembering all the time whose kindly—if somewhat grubby—hand bestowed these favors.

Sir James was followed everywhere by his retinue of pages, all handsomely dressed, though naturally less so than their master, and it was certainly a pleasant sight to see Sir James and his little retinue in action.

James caught the eye of the Queen upon him. Her expression was reproachful. Poor Queen Anne, she was getting somewhat fat and showed the effect of seven pregnancies; yet she still preserved the petulance which he had once thought not unattractive. That was in the days of his romantic youth when he had braved the storms to go to her native land and bring his bride back to Scotland. He could smile now to remember their first meeting and how he had been delighted with his young Danish Princess, how he had in time sailed with her back to Scotland and brought to trial those witches who he believed had sought to drown his Anne on her way to Scotland. Pleasant days but gone, and James was too wise a man to wish to return to youth; he would barter youth any day for experience; knowledge was more to be prized than vigor.

Theirs had not been an unsuccessful marriage, although they sometimes kept separate courts now. That was wise, for her interests were not his. She was a silly woman, as frivolous as she had been on her arrival, and still believed doubtless that what had been charming at sixteen still was at thirty-two. She kept with her those two Danish women, Katrine Skinkell and Anna Kroas, and it seemed to him their main preoccupation was to plan balls, the Queen’s great passion being dancing. But he must be fair: Dancing and her children.

Every now and then her gaze would rest with pride on their eldest, Prince Henry; and James could share her pride. He often wondered how two like himself and Anne could have produced such a boy. A perfect King, Henry would make one day; the people thought it. They cheered him heartily whenever he appeared in public. He was an English Prince, they thought, though he had been born in Stirling. Doubtless they would not be displeased when his old Dad gave up the crown to him.

But there’s life in the old gossip yet, thought James.

Then his attention was caught by a figure in the retinue of Sir James Hay. This was a tall, slim young man who was carrying Sir James’s shield and device and whose duty it would be, at the appropriate moment, to present these to the King.

That laddie is familiar, mused James. Where can I have seen him before? At Court? ’Tis likely so. Yet once having seen him, would I not remember?

He forgot the Queen and young Henry; he forgot his own brooding on the past.

His attention was focused on the young stranger, and he was impatient for the moment when the boy would ride to the stage, dismount and come to kneel before him with his favorite’s shield and device.

The young man who had attracted the King’s attention would have been delighted had he known that James had already singled him out, because that was exactly what he was hoping for.

He had recently returned from France where he had heard rumors of conditions at the English Court. The King, it was said, surrounded himself with handsome young men who, it seemed, had little to do but look handsome—which was an easy enough task if one had been born that way, as he, Robert Carr, certainly had.

This habit of the King’s was deplored by his more serious statesmen, but as long as they were able to keep the favorites under some control they accepted it. There were worse faults in Kings.

Robert Carr, tall, slender with perfectly shaped limbs, a fine skin to which the sun of France had given a light golden tan, features so finely chiseled that strangers turned to take a second look, hair that glistened like gold and was thick and curly, was an extremely handsome young man. Women constantly plagued him, but while he enjoyed their company he did not allow them to take up too much of his time.

He had always been ambitious, and being a younger son in a not very affluent Scottish family had given him a determination, at a very early age, to rise in the world; and he had seen his opportunity when his father, Sir Thomas Carr of Ferniehurst, had found a place for him at the Court of the King.

James had been pleased to receive the boy, for Sir Thomas Carr had been a faithful friend to his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, during her long captivity and James felt the family should be rewarded in some way.

So young Robert had been allowed to come to Court to serve as a page; but he was young and ignorant of Court ways and scarcely ever saw the King in whom in any case he would have been too young to arouse much interest.

He had not been long at Court when that even took place which was to unite the two nations who for centuries had been at war with each other. Queen Elizabeth died and James was declared King of England and Scotland.

It was natural that James should leave the smaller kingdom to govern in the larger, although he had declared in St. Giles’s Cathedral that never would he forget the rights of his native Scotland and it would be his endeavor to see that Scotland lost nothing but gained everything from the union. James kept his word and many a Scotsman now was lording it below the Border.

Robert had come south in the royal retinue, but James, finding his Court somewhat over-populated by Scottish gentlemen, had found it necessary to placate his new subjects by dismissing some of them in favor of the English. Young Robert had been sent to France, which, he now realized, had been for his good. In that country he learned more gracious manners than those he could have acquired in his native land; and there was no doubt that they added to his extreme attractiveness. In France he learned what an asset good looks were; and the raw Scottish boy had become an ambitious young man.

He considered himself fortunate to have been taken into the retinue of Sir James Hay, himself brought up in France, and handsome enough to have won the King’s favor; in fact one on whom young Robert might, with reason and hope, model himself.

The King’s presents to those he favored were varied, and Sir James had been presented with an heiress for a wife. Robert being somewhat impecunious was in need of such a useful acquisition; he had no intention of remaining in a minor position in the household of a favorite when he himself—and it would have been falsely modest to deny this—was far more personable. He lacked experience of course, but that would come with time.

It was a very excited, hopeful young man who rode into the tilting yard on that day.

He could see the King seated on his chair of state, the light catching the jewels on his quilted doublet. James did not wear those costly garments with elegance; but what did that matter when it was well known how he admired that quality in others. Perhaps it was because he was uncomely, bulky and weak in the legs that he so admired physical perfections in others. And there was the Queen—but wise young men did not concern themselves overmuch with the Queen. If a young man could make no headway in the King’s Court, then he might try in the Queen’s; and there had been cases when the Queen’s favor had actually led to the King’s. But Anne was not pleased by the King’s delight in handsome young men, so at this stage she need not be considered.

There was Prince Henry, himself personable, but very young, of course. He too had his friends and Robert had heard that he used his influence with the King for the benefit of those he favored. So there they were—the royal trio on the stage, from each of whom blessings could flow.

Determined to have the King’s attention, Robert rode close to the stage. But at that moment when he was prepared to dismount gracefully, the horse rose from his haunches, and kicking up his hind legs, shot his rider over his head.

Robert rolled over and over. Then he lost consciousness.

Robert Carr, who had so meant to impress the King by his equestrian skill, had taken an ignoble tumble and lay unconscious before the royal stage.

James rose unsteadily to his feet. He disliked accidents; he was constantly afraid that they would happen to him, and the ease with which they could occur distressed him.

He descended from the stage, and by this time a little crowd had collected about the fallen man. It parted to let the King through.

“Is he much hurt?” he asked.

“His arm’s broken for one thing, Sire,” said one of the onlookers.

“Poor wee laddie! Let him be carried gently into the Palace, and send one of my physicians to look to his needs.”

Someone had removed Robert’s helmet and his golden hair fell across his pale brow.

James looked at him. Why, he was like a Grecian statue, what beautifully molded features! The eyelashes were golden brown against his skin, and several shades darker than his hair.

At that moment Robert opened his eyes and the first face he saw among those bending over him was that of the King.

He remembered in a rush of shame that he had failed.

James said gently: “I’ve sent for a man to look to you, laddie. Dinna be afraid. He’ll look after you.”

He smiled, and it was the tender smile he bestowed on all handsome young men.

He turned away then and Robert groaned.

He had had his great chance but believed he had failed.

That evening James called his favorite, Sir James Hay, to his side and demanded to know how the young man who had fallen in the tiltyard was faring.

“A broken arm, Sire, seems to be the main damage. He’ll mend fast enough. He’s young.”

“Ay, he’s young,” agreed the King. “Jamie, where is the lad?”

“Your Majesty commanded that he was to be housed in your own palace and given the attention of your own physician. This has been done. He is bedded next to your own apartments.”

“Poor laddie, I fear he suffered. He was so eager to do well in the yard.”

“Perhaps he has not done so badly, Sire,” murmured Sir James.

“I’ll go and tell him so. He’d like to hear it from me, I’ll swear.”

“He might even think it worth a broken bone or two,” replied Sir James.

“What! A visit from his King! You boys all flatter your old Dad, Jamie.”

“Nay, Sire, I was not thinking to flatter.”

James laughed, nursing a secret joke. His lads were always afraid he was going to single one of them out for special favors. Jealous cubs, they were, fighting together. Yet they never amused him so much as when they jostled for his favor.

So James went along to see Robert Carr, who lay in bed, his beautiful head resting on his pillows. He tried to struggle up when he saw the King.

“Nay, laddie, bide where you are.”

James took a seat beside the bed.

“Are you feeling better now?”

“Y … yes, Sire,” stammered the boy.

A very nice natural modesty, thought James; and now there was a faint color in the young face and, by God, there could not have been a more handsome face in the whole of the Court … now or at any time.

“Dinna be afraid, laddie. Forget I’m the King.”

“Sire … I lie here and …”

“As you should, and I forbid you to do aught else.”

“I should be kneeling.”

“So you shall when you’re well enough. Tell me now: Is it true that you’re Robbie Carr of Ferniehurst?”

“Yes, Sire.”

“I’ve heard tell of your father. He was a good and loyal servant to my mother the Queen of the Scots.”

“He would have died for her as I would …”

“As you would for your King? Nay, mon! he’d not ask it. This King likes not to hear of men dying … and this is more so when they have youth and beauty. Wouldn’t a broken arm be enough, eh? Is it painful?”

“A little, Sire.”

“They tell me it’ll be well enough soon. Young bones mend quickly. Now, Robbie Carr, were you a page to me back in bonny Scotland?”

“Yes, Sire.”

“And came south with me and then left me?”

“I was sent to France, Sire.”

“Where they taught you pretty manners, I see. Now you’re back at the King’s Court, and Robbie, your King’s telling you this: he hopes there you’ll stay.”

“Oh Sire, my great wish is to serve you.”

“So you shall.”

Robert had heard that the King was always deeply impressed by good looks but he had not believed that they could have such a remarkable effect as his evidently had. The King was as indulgent as a father; he wanted to know about Robert’s childhood, what life had been like at Ferniehurst.

Robert told of how he had been taught to tilt and shoot, and how he had become an expert in such manly pastimes.

“But what of books, lad?” James wanted to know. “Did they not tell you that there was more lasting pleasure to be found in them than in the tiltyard?”

Robert was alarmed, because his teachers had despaired of him and he was far happier out of doors than in the schoolroom; it had seemed more important to his parents that he should grow up strong in the arm than in the head.

James was disappointed.

“It seems to me, lad, that your education has been most shamefully neglected. And a pity too, for ye’d have had a good brain if any had taken the trouble to train it.”

James went sorrowfully away, but the next day he returned to Robert’s bedside. With the King came one of his pages carrying books, which at James’s command he laid on the bed.

James’s eyes were bright with laughter.

“Latin, Robbie,” he cried. “Now here ye are, confined to bed for a few days. And already you’re longing to be in the saddle again and out in the sunshine. Ye canna, Robbie. But there’s something you can do. You can make up a little for all ye’ve lost, by a study of the Latin tongue, and ye’ll discover that there’s more adventure to one page of learning than to be found in months in the tiltyard. For ye’re going to have a good tutor, Robbie—the best in the Kingdom. Can you guess who, lad? None but your King.”

In the Court they were discussing the King’s latest oddity. Each morning he was at the bedside of Robert Carr. The young man was not an apt pupil; but the teacher quickly forgave him this deficiency because he had so much that gave him pleasure.

It was clear; the King had found a new favorite.

Opposite the entrance to the tiltyard at Whitehall was the Gatehouse, a magnificent pile, built by Holbein, of square stones and flint boulders, tessellated and glazed. Several busts of terracotta and gilt adorned the Gatehouse; one of these represented Henry VII and another Henry VIII; and it was known as the Cockpit Gate.

At one of the windows two children—a boy and a girl—stood looking down toward the tiltyard where a group slowly sauntered, led by the King who was leaning on the arm of a tall, golden-haired young man.

The boy was about thirteen although he looked older and the expression on his handsome face was very serious. The girl, who was some two years younger than her brother, slipped her arm through his.

“Oh, Henry,” she said, “do not let it disturb you. If it were not this one, it would be someone else.”

Prince Henry turned to his sister, frowning. “But a King should set an example to his people.”

“The people like our father well enough.”

“Well enough is not good enough.”

“It will be different when you are King, Henry.”

“Do not say that!” retorted her brother sharply. “For how could I be King unless our father died?”

Elizabeth lifted her shoulders. Although but eleven, she already showed signs of great charm; she adored her brother Henry, but she was much happier when he was less serious. There were so many pleasures to be enjoyed at Court, so why concern themselves with the odd behavior of their parents? At least they themselves were indulged and had little to complain of. Their father might be disappointed because they did not show signs of being as learned as he was, but on the whole he was a tolerant parent.

Henry however had a strong sense of the fitness of things; that was why everyone admired and respected him. He was constantly learning how to be a good king when his time came. He was wonderful in the saddle but did not care for hunting, believing it to be wrong to kill for the sake of killing. Many thought this a strange notion, but it was natural that the son of King James should have odd ideas now and then.

If he had not excelled at all games and disliked study he would have been too perfect to be popular, but his small faults endeared him to everyone.

Elizabeth put her head on one side and regarded him with affection.

“What are you thinking of?” he demanded.

“You,” she told him.

“You might find a more worthy subject.”

She put her arms about his neck and kissed him. “Never,” she told him. Then she laughed. “I heard two of your servants grumbling together today. They complained that you had caught them swearing and insisted on their paying a fine into your poor box.”

“And they liked that not?”

“They liked it not. But methinks they liked you for enforcing the rule. Now Henry, tell me this: are you pleased when your servants swear?”

“What a question! It is to prevent their swearing that I fine them.”

“Yes, but the more fines they pay, the more money for the poor. So perhaps the poor would wish your apartment to be filled with profanity.”

“You are becoming as serious-minded as you say I am.”

“Oh no!” Elizabeth laughed. She changed the subject. “Our father does not like you to visit your friend in the Tower.”

“He has not forbidden me to go.”

“No, he would not. Our father is a strange man, Henry. He hopes that you won’t, but he understands that you must; and therefore he does not interfere.”

“Why do you tell me this?”

“It is like the fines in the poor box all over again. So much that is good; so much that is not good. It is hard to weigh good against evil. There is much our father does which you do not like; but he is a good father to us.”

“My dear sister,” said Henry with a smile, “I sense you reproach.”

“Why do we concern ourselves with matters beyond us? Are you practicing vaulting now, and shall I come to watch you?”

“I am going to the Tower.”

At that moment the door opened and a woman entered holding a little boy by the hand; the child was about seven and walked with great difficulty.

“My lord, my lady,” she said, “I did not know you were here.”

“Come in, Lady Carey,” invited Henry. “And how is my brother today?”

The woman’s face was illumined by a loving smile.

“Tell your brother, sweeting,” she said. “Tell him how you walked all alone this morning.”

The pale-faced little boy nodded his head and his eyes sought those of his elder brother with adulation.

“I w … walked,” he said, “alone.”

An impediment in his speech made the words sound muffled.

“That is good news, Lady Carey,” Henry told her.

“Good news, of a surety, my lord. And when I think of this little one … not so long ago!”

“You have been good to him,” put in Elizabeth.

“He is my precious boy,” declared Lady Carey. “Are you not, Charles?”

Charles nodded and thickly confirmed this.

Elizabeth came and knelt down by the side of her younger brother. She touched his ankles. “They don’t hurt anymore, do they, Charles?” she asked.

He shook his head.

Lady Carey picked him up in her arms and kissed him. “My boy will be taller and stronger than any of you before long; you see!”

Elizabeth noticed how the little boy gripped Lady Carey’s bodice. Poor little Charles, he was the unfortunate one. But at least he was able to walk now, after a fashion; there had been a time, not very long ago, when they had all thought he would neither walk nor speak; and several of the Court ladies had declined the honor of bringing him up because they feared it was an impossible task.

Lady Carey, however, had taken a look at the poor helpless child and decided to devote herself to his care; it was small wonder that she was proud of what she was doing, even though little Charles was an object of pity to most who beheld him.

Elizabeth took her little brother from Lady Carey and set him on a table.

“Have a care, my lady,” implored Lady Carey; and she was immediately at the side of her little charge to hold his hand and assure him that no harm could come to him.

Henry came to the table. “Why, Charles,” he said, “you’re as big as I am now.”

Charles nodded. He was intelligent enough; it was merely that his legs were so weak, and it was feared that his ankles were dislocated and he would never be able to do anything but stagger about; moreover some deformity of the mouth prevented him from speaking clearly.

Henry, deeply touched by the plight of his young brother, began to talk to him about riding and jousting and all the sports which he would be able to take part in when he grew stronger. Young Charles listened avidly, nodding from time to time while he smiled with delight. He was happy because he was with the people he loved best in the world—his adored foster mother, his wonderful brother, his sweet sister.

Anne, the Queen, chose this time to visit the royal nursery. She came whenever she could, for she loved her children dearly, particularly her first-born who seemed to her all that a Prince should be.

So while Henry and Elizabeth talked to the little boy seated on the table, Anne came in followed by Katrine Skinkell and Anna Kroas.

“My sweet children!” she cried in her guttural voice. “So little Charles is here with his brother and sister.”

Lady Carey made a deep curtsy; Elizabeth did the same while Henry bowed and Charles looked on with earnest eyes.

“Henry, my Prince, how well you look; and you too, daughter. And my little Charles?”

“Making good progress Your Majesty,” Lady Carey told the Queen.

“And can he bow yet to his Mother?” asked the Queen.

Lady Carey lifted the little boy from the table and stood him down where he did his best to make a bow.

Anne signed to Lady Carey to lift him up and bring him to her, when she kissed him.

“My precious baby,” she murmured. “And what a pleasure to have my family at Court all at the same time.” A petulant expression crossed her otherwise placid face. She loved her children and had longed to be able to bring them up herself. She hated the royal custom which ordained that others should have charge of them. She would have been a good mother—even if she had tended to spoil her children—had she been allowed to.

Now here was Charles more devoted to Lady Carey than to her; and Henry—beloved Henry, a son of whom any parent might be proud—while affectionate, depended on her not at all.

She never saw Henry without remembering her joy at the time of his birth, when she had believed herself the most contented woman alive; but what anger and frustration had followed when she had learned that she was not to be allowed to bring up her son. That he should be taken from her and given into the care of the old Earl and Countess of Marr had been more than she could endure. James, always the most affectionate and tolerant of husbands, had commiserated with her, but had insisted that the custom of Scotland was that its kings should be brought up in Stirling Castle under the care of an Earl of Marr, and there was nothing he could do about that.

She had stormed and raged, and perhaps her relationship with James had changed from that moment. She had pointed out that a King should be the one to decide how his son should be brought up and, when his Queen passionately desired to nurture her own son, he should have thrust aside custom.

How she had hated the Marrs! She had never lost an opportunity of showing that hatred; and as there had been many turbulent lairds who were only too pleased to make mischief, James, who could be very clear-sighted, reprimanded her gently.

“I lived through a troublous childhood,” he told her, “and ambitious men used me in their schemes against my mother. I beg you, wife, do not seek to bring discord into this kingdom.”

Anne had been young and heedless, and not prepared to have her wishes set aside. There might easily have been trouble had James been of a different nature; but while he sought to please the Queen by arranging for her to see as much as was possible of her son, he never allowed her to poison his mind against the Marrs.

She had never forgiven James; she had continued to fret for her son; but soon she was pregnant again and Elizabeth was born, only to be taken from her to be given into the care of Lord Livingstone and his wife.

There had followed other pregnancies and Anne was in a measure resigned. The children were growing up now and she contrived that they should be at Court as much as possible; they were fond of her; and she tried to forget the grudge she bore against their guardians and gave herself up to the pleasures of ball and banquet.

She had become frivolous; there were some who declared that she had had a hand in the Gowrie plot, but that was nonsense. Anne would never bestir herself to plot against a husband who had been indulgent to her; there were others who said that she had preferred the Earl of Murray to the King; that was again not true. Anne was no intriguer; she was a thoughtless, somewhat spoiled woman, who, when she became a mother wanted to devote her life to the children she adored.

Now, as she gave herself up to the pleasure of talking to them, Anna Kroas came close to her and whispered: “The King has entered the Cockpit Gate, Your Majesty. He is on his way to the nursery.”

Queen Anne’s expression scarcely changed. “Is it so, Anna,” she said mildly.

Anna wanted to tell her that she had seen from the window that he had the new young man with him, the one who had broken his arm in the tiltyard and of whom the whole Court was talking. But her mistress would discover that soon enough; Anna hoped the Queen would not show too openly her dislike of the new favorite.

The door was opened and James came into the room, not as a King should come; he was quite without dignity, thought the Queen angrily. Sometimes when his young men were in high spirits she heard his voice weak with laughter. “You laddies will be the death of old Dad.”

Old Dad! And sometimes Old Gossip! A fine way for a King to behave. It was small wonder that the English sighed for the days of the Tudors when a King or a Queen was a being, far above them, whose smiles were coveted, whose frowns were feared.

“The family is assembled here then,” cried James with a chuckle.

He was leaning heavily on the arm of Robert Carr who had flushed and was uncertain how to behave when he saw the Queen.

He bowed in an embarrassed way but Anne did not look at him.

“Henry,” said James, “it does me good to see you so bonny. And Elizabeth.”

The children, Anne noticed with pride, ignored their father’s crude behavior and showed the respect due to a great King.

“Well, well,” laughed James, “get off your knees, lad. This is no state occasion. Why, Elizabeth, you’re taller every time I see you.” He smiled at Anne. “’Tis true, eh, Majesty?”

“’Tis true, Your Majesty,” Anne answered, and her tone was warm as it must be when she talked of her children.

“And I must not forget my youngest. Well, how’s my mannie?”

Lady Carey, who was at Charles’s side, took his hand and pressed it reassuringly while James came close to his youngest son and took his chin in his hand. Charles looked into his eyes, unafraid; no one could be afraid of James unless they had offended him deeply, and even then he would be calmly judicious.

“Prince Charles is walking a little now, Your Majesty,” Lady Carey told the King.

“Good news. Good news. And he is talking?”

Lady Carey whispered to the boy: “Say, ‘Yes, Your Majesty.’”

Charles opened his mouth and did his best, but the words were strangled. James nodded and patted the boy’s shoulder.

“Well done,” he said. “Well done.”

Then he laid his hand on Henry’s shoulder and pushed him toward the table on which young Charles was sitting. “Talk to your brother, lad,” he said. “And you with him, Elizabeth.”

Then he took the Queen by the arm and walked, away from the group round the table, toward the window, calling over his shoulder to Lady Carey to follow him.

When they had reached the window he said quietly to Lady Carey: “The lad does not improve.”

Lady Carey’s face puckered. “But, Your Majesty, he does, indeed he does. He is much better.”

“He is no longer a baby.”

“But he can speak a little. Forgive me, Your Majesty, but he is overawed by your presence.”

“He’s the only one in this Court who is then,” said James with a laugh.

Lady Carey was afraid, for the Queen was regarding her with the dislike she had for all those who took her children away from her.

“It cannot go on,” mused James.

“Your Majesty, he is improving. I do assure you of that.”

“I’ve been consulting my physicians about him, Lady Carey, and they believe he should be put in iron boots to strengthen his bones, and the string under his tongue be cut.”

“Oh no, Your Majesty. I implore you. Why, do you not see how he has improved since he has been in my care? The boots would be too heavy for him and he would never walk. He has a horror of them. Your Majesty, I beg of you, do not do this.”

Lady Carey’s eyes were full of tears; her lips twitching, her hands trembling. She looked imploringly at the Queen.

“Why should she have the care of my baby?” Anne asked herself. “She behaves as though she were his mother.”

Lady Carey was so overwrought that she laid a hand on the King’s arm. “Your Majesty, he is speaking more clearly than he was a month ago. He needs confidence … and loving care. To cut the string might mean that he would never speak again or at best have an impediment for the rest of his life.” Her eyes were shining with faith. “I know I can make him well. I am certain of it.” She looked from the King to the Queen and seemed suddenly aware of her temerity. “Your gracious pardons,” she murmured, lowering her head; and the King and the Queen saw that she was fighting to control her tears.

James looked at his wife, but she would not meet his gaze. She was thinking: This woman loves my Charles as though she were his mother in truth. And I hate her because she has taken him from me. But it is good for Charles to have one who loves him so.

The maternal instinct was stronger in Anne than any other and she could forget her jealousy in her concern for her son. So she said: “Lady Carey should be given a further opportunity to prove her words. It is true that Charles is better since she took charge of him. It is my wish that there should be no iron boots, nor cutting of the string … as yet.”

“My dears,” replied James, “this is the advice of the doctors.”

But the two women stood firm; there was a bond between them; they were so conscious of their feelings for the child, and they shared the belief that the power of maternal love could exceed the experiments of doctors, however wise.

James regarded them with mild good nature. They loved the boy; there was no doubt of that; and there was also no doubt that young Charles loved his nurse.

James often preferred to thrust aside decisions.

“Then for the time let things be as they are.”

Lady Carey seized his hand and kissed it.

“Why,” he said kindly, “it is the Queen and myself who should be showing gratitude to you, my dear.”

The Queen’s mouth tightened. “I know,” she added, “that Lady Carey has looked after him as though she were his mother. She could not do more than that.”

James turned to Robert Carr who had been standing at some little distance while this conversation took place.

“Come ye here, Robbie,” he said. “Give me your arm.”

“So Your Majesty needs support, even as little Charles?” murmured Anne maliciously.

“Aye,” retorted James. “I like a strong arm to lean on.”

“There might be stronger and more practiced arms,” said the Queen.

And when Robert Carr came to the King she turned her back on him.

James, smiling, went to the children, exchanged a few jocular words with them and then, learning on the arm of Robert Carr, left the apartment.

James went on to his own quarters and when his little party arrived there he dismissed them all, with the exception of Robert, because he sensed that the Queen’s antagonism had upset his favorite.

“Sit down, lad,” he said, when they were alone, and Robert took a stool and placed it by the King’s chair. He sat leaning his head against James’s knee while the grubby royal fingers gently pulled at his golden hair. “Ye mustna let the Queen upset ye, Robbie,” went on James. “She never did take kindly to my lads.”

“I thought she hated me,” Robert said.

“No more than many another. The Queen’s a kind woman in her limits and it grieves me to plague her. Ours has been a good union, though, and we’ve children to prove it. Two boys and a girl left out of seven; and the two eldest as bonny as children could be. Little Charles … well, you heard how the women stood against me, Robbie. But ’tis on account of their fears for the boy. The Queen would have been a good mother if she’d been in another station of life. Queens, poor bodies, are not permitted to care for their own. From the time of Henry’s birth she changed toward me, and all because I’d not dismiss the Marrs and give her charge of the bairn.”

“I fear that she will poison Your Majesty’s mind against me.”

“Nay, laddie. Never. I’ve been a happy man since my Robbie came to cheer up his old Dad. Dinna take much notice of the Queen’s little spites. Bless ye, boy, others have felt it before you.”

“Sire, there is something I must explain to you.”

“Your old Dad is listening, Robbie.”

“Your Majesty has raised me so high in so short a time. But often I feel out of place at Court. Your ministers look down on me—men like the Howards. I’m not one of them. I’m shabby … I’m poor.”

“Give your old gossip time, laddie. I’m going to make ye the most grand gentleman among them. Ye shall have fine clothes and in time an estate of your own. Why, I might find you a rich bride. That would be a fine plan, eh?”

“Your Majesty is so good to me.”

“I like to see my boys happy. Now, dinna fret. All will be well. If fine clothes would help you to be happier, fine clothes you shall have. This very day you shall see some silks and satins, brocades and velvets; and make your choice. Why, mannie, there’ll be no one to hold a candle to you. Though your old Dad thinks that’s the case without fine clothes.”

“How can I thank Your Majesty?”

“Ye do well enough, Robbie. Now bide quiet a wee while and let me chat with you. Conversation is a pleasant pastime; and when ye’ve spent a little more time with your books, there’ll be conversation in plenty for us.”

“I fear I am a simpleton—and Your Majesty so learned.”

“And you such a winsome fellow and me an old scarecrow. Dinna make protest, lad. I was ne’er a beauty. Which is surprising, for my mother was reckoned the foremost beauty of her day; and my father was a handsome fellow. But ye see, I was never cared for as a babe. There were too many who wanted what I had—a crown. And I had it too young, Robbie, for they took it from my poor mother who was the captive of the Queen of England, and they wanted it … they wanted it badly. And now I’m no longer a boy; and there are still some who’d like to see me out of the way. Look at these padded breeks. I often wonder, when my subjects press too close, whether one of them is not waiting … with a hidden dagger.”

“No one would harm Your Majesty.”

“Oh, laddie, ye’ve not long come to Court. Did ye never hear of the Gunpowder Plot? Did ye never hear how the Catholics planned to blow up the houses of Parliament while I and my ministers were sitting?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Everyone was talking of it at the time and rejoicing in your escape.”

“Aye,” murmured James. “Yet the scoundrels might so easily have succeeded. Do you know, lad, if one of the conspirators had not been anxious to save the life of Lord Monteagle, if he hadn’t warned him to stay away from Parliament, the cellars would never have been searched; we should never have discovered the gunpowder and Guido Fawkes keeping watch. And that would have been the end of the Parliament and your King, Robbie.”

“But Your Majesty had loyal subjects who prevented the treachery.”

“Ay, loyal subjects—and good luck. You can never be sure when they’re going to turn, lad. I’ve had my troubles. You’re too young to remember the Gowrie Plot; but I came as near to death then as a man can without dying, and I’ve no mind to be so close again … if I can help it. Oh, Robbie, ’tis a dangerous life, a King’s. There was a time when I thought even the Queen was with my enemies.”

James enjoyed reminiscing on the past to his handsome young men; he liked to consider how often he had come near to death and escaped. It was the excuse he offered for the padded garments, for what they might consider timidity on his part. He wanted to assure them that it was sound good sense which made him give such thought to the preservation of a life which had almost been snatched from him on more than one occasion.

“Aye,” he went on, “I did suspect the Queen, but I’d say now she’s never taken part in plots against me. She goes her way and I go mine; but she was a good wife to me, and bore my children. I used to think she had an eye for some of the handsome laddies of the Court. And Alex Ruthven was a fine looking boy. It was the Ruthvens, you know, who plotted against me. The Earl of Gowrie and his brother, Alexander Ruthven, never forgave me because their father had met the just reward of his villainy. Beatrice Ruthven, their sister, was one of the Queen’s ladies and it may be that she brought her brother Alexander to her mistress’s notice. I remember a summer’s day—it was before young Charles was born—when I was walking with some of my laddies in the grounds of Falkland Palace and came upon young Alex Ruthven fast asleep under a tree. Round the young man’s neck was a ribbon—a very beautiful silver ribbon—and I knew it well because I had given it to the Queen. I was a jealous husband then, Robbie. I said to myself: ‘Now why should this young man be wearing the Queen’s ribbon?’ And I went with all speed to the Queen’s chamber and I said to her: ‘Show me the silver ribbon I gave to you. I’ve a mind to see it.’ And the Queen opened a drawer and took out the ribbon; and there was no denying that it was the ribbon I gave to her.”

“So there were two silver ribbons,” said Robert.

James shook his head. “Nay,” he continued. “There was but one ribbon, and methinks I was not at heart the jealous husband I wanted my subjects to think me. I had seen Beatrice Ruthven watching me from behind one of the trees; she was wearing a scarlet dress and she wasn’t hidden as well as she thought she was. What did she do? No sooner had I turned and made my way to the Queen’s apartments than she tweaked the ribbon from her brother’s neck, ran by a short cut to the Queen’s Chamber, thrust the ribbon into a drawer and gasped out to the Queen what had happened. Why, when I arrived, there was the crafty young woman sitting with needlework on her lap, thinking I didna see how her chest was heaving as she was trying to get back her breath.”

“So the Queen did give the ribbon to Ruthven?”

“Ay, ’twas so. But there was nothing lecherous in the Queen’s friendship with the young man. She likes young men to admire her; she did not like my having friends. The rift was there between us; so to pretend she cared not that I spent much time with my friends, she allowed young men to express their admiration of her. Murray was one; this Alexander Ruthven was another. Ah, that Alexander Ruthven was an enemy of mine and he met his just reward. Dinna tell me, laddie, that ye’ve forgotten what happened to the Ruthvens after what they tried to do to their King. Oh, but you’re but a boy and this happened before I crossed the Border and took this crown of England.”

James smiled shrewdly as he looked back, and he could not resist telling his young friend the stirring story because he felt he had come out of it well, and he wanted to impress on the lad that in spite of padded garments he was no coward; he wanted to teach his dear Robbie the difference between being afraid and being sensible.

And as he told the story he relived it. He saw himself rising in the early morning of that fateful day in August of the year 1600. He remembered Anne’s watching him sleepily while his attendants dressed him, for they had shared a bed in those days. She was big with child, he remembered; Charles was to be born three months later.

“You are astir early,” she had say. “Why so?”

He had smiled at her, the excitement in him rising so that he, usually calm, found it difficult to control. “That I may kill a prime buck before noon.”

He did not tell her that he was going in search of a Jesuit priest who Alexander Ruthven had told him would be at Gowrie House. This Jesuit, Ruthven had informed him, was in possession of a bag of Spanish gold and was clearly up to no good since, of a certainty, he had been sent from Spain to spread sedition throughout the Protestant land of Scotland.

As he rode out to the hunt James promised himself a pleasant reward of Spanish gold and, what pleased him almost as much, a discussion with the Jesuit. There was little he enjoyed so much as spirited conversation, and theological differences were a delight to him.

Slipping away from the party, and taking with him only a young gentleman of his bedchamber named Ramsay, he made his way to Gowrie House where the Earl of Gowrie and his younger brother Alexander Ruthven were waiting to meet him. Food and wine had been prepared for him and he fell to with enthusiasm, for he was hungry; but he was soon demanding to be taken to the Jesuit. Young Alexander offered to take him and led the way up spiral staircases to a chamber, circular in shape, which James guessed to be the prison-hold of the Gowries; and as the heavy, studded door swung behind him and Alexander, he looked about for the Jesuit. The man was not there; then James noticed a small door in the chamber, but, before he could speak, Alexander had locked the great door and drawn his sword.

James faced the young man and saw murder in his face. His first emotion was anger at his stupidity rather than fear for his life. He had known he was trapped, and that the Gowries had brought him here to murder him.

And they would have murdered him, but for great good fortune. He had been a friend to Ramsay, and Ramsay was ready to risk his life in his service. There had not been many like him; so what good luck that Ramsay had been with him that day! The boy, being anxious because of his disappearance, had prowled about the house searching for him and, hearing his master’s cries, found a way of forcing the turnstile and making his way to the circular chamber by means of a private door. He had arrived just in time, for Ruthven had the advantage, and there would certainly have been murder that day at Gowrie House but for Ramsay.

Several of Ruthven’s servants, who had been warned to keep all away from the chamber, came hurrying through the private door after Ramsay, and joined in the fight. For some minutes James and his servant held off Ruthven and his; and, seeing how evenly matched they were, one of Ruthven’s servants declined to help his master, declaring that he wanted no part in killing the King.

Marr and Lennox, who had been with the hunt that day, missing the King, came on to Gowrie House and, hearing them galloping up, James managed to reach a window and shout down: “Treason! I am murtherit!”

Lennox found a ladder and climbed it; but it was not until the Earl of Gowrie and Alexander Ruthven had been killed that the King was rescued.

“And that, Robbie,” James ended, “was the Gowrie Plot, and it happened in Scotland; and then when I came to England my enemies took a turn with the gunpowder.”

He could see that Robert’s attention was forced. Poor laddie, he would have to learn to concentrate.

“Concentration, mannie, is the secret of acquiring knowledge; did ye know? Train the mind not to wander, however dull the road, however pleasant the meadows by the wayside may seem. ’Twas a lesson I learned early in life. I shall have to give you lessons in the art.”

“Your Majesty has given me so much.”

“And now your mind is on brocade and velvet, eh? And your old gossip tires you with his talk of bloody murder. Give me your arm, lad. We’ll away and choose the velvet for your jacket and breeks. And we’ll see that there’s no delay in making them.” He rose to his feet and for a moment swayed uncertainly, till he leaned heavily on Robert. “But dinna fret yourself for the Queen. She won’t love you, boy, but she’ll no harm you. The Queen’s a good woman, though between ourselves, boy, I’ve often thought her a frivolous one. Now … velvet and brocade … satins and silks. We’re going to make Robbie Carr a proper man of the Court.”

Prince Henry rode out of the Palace of Whitehall and turned eastward. He was soberly dressed and took with him only one attendant, for he was eager not to be recognized. His visits to the Tower were becoming more and more frequent and he did not want them to be commented on lest his father should forbid them. Had James done so, Henry would still have found some means of visiting his friend; he could be stubborn when he believed himself to be in the right, but he was not one to court trouble.

It was pleasant riding through the City, and the journey always delighted him. He was proud of this country which one day, he believed, he would rule. He was determined to bring great good to it; his head was full of a hundred notions; that was why one of his greatest pleasures was to talk with his dear friend—the man whom he admired perhaps above all others. “Men such as he made England great,” he told his sister, Elizabeth, and his eyes would be full of dreams when he spoke. “When he talks to me, he shows me the world. He ought to have a fine ship of which he is captain. Would that I could accompany him on his voyages of discovery. But, alas, I am a boy and he is a prisoner. None but my father would keep such a bird in a cage.”

Along the banks of the Thames stood the gabled, tall-chimneyed houses of the rich, with their pleasant gardens running down to the water. He felt daring, riding out almost alone; but he was determined never to be a coward; he would never have his garments padded against the assassin’s dagger, he told himself. Better to die than remind everyone who looked at him how much he feared death.

When he was King he would give encouragement to bold seamen, and if they disagreed with him on state policy he would shrug aside such a disagreement. He would never restrict his adventurers.

He smiled as he looked ahead to where the great fortress, palace and prison, dominated the landscape.

Many a man had passed into its precincts with the sense of doom in his heart. There on Tower Hill many and adventurer had taken his last look on the world; the grass of Tower Green was stained with the blood of Queens.

Yet he thrilled to look at it—the gray walls with their air of impregnability, the bastion and ballium, the casemates, the open leads, the strong stone walls, the battlemented towers. There was one particular tower he sought—for there his friend was imprisoned at this time—the Bloody Tower.

Henry felt a shudder of distaste as he entered the gate; the guards, who knew him well, saluted, well aware whither he was bound. He had their sympathy; there were many in London who were not pleased to be ruled by the man from Scotland; but Henry seemed no foreigner; clearly he defied his father, in as much as he had made a friend of one of his father’s prisoners.

Henry passed through to the Inner Ward. The wall which bounded this was crowned by twelve mural towers. Now the original fortress lay before him, with its ditch under the ballium wall. Here was the Keep, the Royal Apartments, and the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula among other impressive buildings.

Entering the Bloody Tower Henry climbed the staircase to an upper chamber in which, near a small window a man was seated at a table writing busily. For some seconds he did not notice the Prince. Henry watched him, and his anger was almost like a physical pain; he always felt thus when he called on his friend.

The man looked up. His was one of the handsomest faces Henry had ever seen. Not handsome as men such as Robert Carr were. There was strength in the prisoner’s face; arrogance perhaps, something which implied that years of imprisonment could not quell his proud spirit.

“My Prince,” he said; and rose from the table. He walked rather stiffly. The damp cold of the Tower was notorious for seeping into the bones and ruining them.

That such a man should suffer so! fumed Henry inwardly.

“I have come again,” he said.

“And none more welcome.”

“How is the stiffness today?”

“It persists. But I believe I am more fortunate than some. You know I have my three servants to look after me.”

“And your wife?”

“She is at Sherborne Castle with the children.”

Henry was about to speak; but he could not bring himself to do so. He had unpleasant news, but he must break it gently.

He took the arm of the man and led him to the table. How tall he was, how splendid still, though he was past fifty; his face was bronzed with tropical sun, for this was a great traveler; even now as a prisoner he was fastidious in his dress, and there were jewels in his jacket which must be worth a large sum. His hair was well curled; Henry knew that it was the task of one of his servants to attend to this every morning early before his visitors arrived; for Sir Walter Raleigh was visited by the great and famous even though he was a prisoner in the Tower.

“How goes the ship which you are making for me?” asked Henry.

Sir Walter smiled. “Come and see it. She’s a beauty. Would to God I could have her copied full size and set sail in her.”

“And would to God I could go with you. Perhaps some day …”

Ah, thought Henry, if I were King, my first duty and pleasure would be to free this man from prison.

“Life is full of chances,” Raleigh told him. “Who shall say where you and I will be, a year, a week, a day from now?”

“I promise you—” began Henry impetuously.

But Raleigh laid a hand on his arm: “Make no rash promises, Your Highness. For think how sad you would be if you were unable to honor them.”

Here in the upper chamber of the tower, Raleigh had come to adopt an avuncular attitude toward the Prince. He looked forward to his visits; he admired this boy as much as he despised his father; when he talked to him and reminded himself that this could be the future King of England he ceased to fret for the days of his glory when a woman had sat on the throne, a woman who had become a victim of his charm and had shown him the way to fame and fortune.

He led Henry to the model of the ship, and for half an hour they talked of ships. Raleigh was a man who had been richly endowed; few had ever possessed such gifts and in such variety. He was a poet, an historian, a brilliant statesman as well as an inspired sailor, with a flair for oratory. When he talked of the sea his words were golden; his eyes glowed for a few minutes and Henry could delude himself that the model he held in his hands was sailing the seas and he and Raleigh commanded her.

He almost forgot the unpleasant news he had to give, for Raleigh must be prepared. Not yet, he told himself. Let us enjoy this hour together first.

And later the sailor became the historian and explained to Henry how he was progressing with the history of the world which he was writing; and when he talked of the Spaniards the fire of hatred shone from his eyes.

Henry knew something of political intrigue and he believed that it was largely due to Spain that his friend was a prisoner. Spain hated Sir Walter Raleigh and was uneasy while such a man was free to roam the seas. How different life in England had been under the Queen. Elizabeth had defied Spain; James, loathing the very thought of conflict, wished to placate that country. He wanted to be at peace, to read the books he loved, to pamper his young men; the only battles he enjoyed were verbal ones.

Men such as Raleigh were no longer Court favorites as they had been in the old Queen’s day.

James had known, even before Elizabeth’s death, that Raleigh was against his accession and had him marked down for an enemy. Raleigh had plenty of them in England; it was inevitable for one who had so enjoyed the Queen’s favor and at one time had been her leading man. He had risen to the peak of power; it was natural that many should long to see him fall to the depths of humiliation.

His great fault was his impetuosity, coupled with his arrogance. He had believed that he might do what others dared not. When he had seduced Bess Throgmorton he had lost the Queen’s favor, because she could not endure that he should pay attention to any woman but herself. And a scandal that had been, with Bess pregnant and that other Bess, the all-powerful Gloriana, sending for him and insisting that he right the wrong he had committed and make an honest woman of her namesake.

And his Bessie had been a good wife, always beside him in his misfortune. Their son Walter was a fine boy and little Carew had been born in the Tower, for Bess had her apartments there with him that she might look after him as she swore his servants could not; and there she planned indefatigably to bring about his release.

He told Henry now that he was fortunate … for a prisoner, as he led the way on to the walk along the wall, which he was allowed to use in order to enjoy a little fresh air and exercise.

“How many prisoners enjoy such a privilege?” he asked. And Henry knew that he was eager to show him his new experiments in the hut at the end of the walk which he had been allowed to use for his scientific work.

Inside the hut was a bench on which were several substances in tubes and bottles.

“I’m working on an elixir of life,” he told the Prince. “If I perfect it, it may well be that people will be living many more years than they do at present.”

“You should have a fine mansion in which to work—not a hut,” said Henry.

“This serves its purpose. My remedies are becoming well known.”

“The Queen said that she had heard your balsam of Guiana was excellent.”

“I am honored. That balsam is much admired. Only yesterday the Countess of Beaumont, walking in the Tower, saw me on my walk and asked me to send her some.”

“Oh, you should be free. It is so wrong that my father should keep you here.”

“Hush! You speak treason. Why, my Prince, one little word can turn a free man into a prisoner. It is well to remember it. Tell me, what of the new beauty?”

“Carr?”

“I hear he is most handsome and struts about the Court in fine feathers.”

“He is most sumptuously clad now.”

“And the King delights in him. Well, the way seems smooth for him. A rich wife, I’ll warrant, who can bring him great estates and a great title…. Is aught wrong?”

“There is something I have to tell you, Sir Walter.”

“It disturbs you. Do not tell it.”

“But I must. I came to tell it.”

“And is it so bad then that it must be thrust aside?”

Henry nodded. “It is very bad. Walter, do you care very much for Sherborne Castle?”

Sir Walter had turned slightly pale though this was scarcely noticeable, so bronzed was he.

When he spoke, his voice was harsh. “Sherborne Castle? Why, that and my land about it is almost all I have left. I have consoled myself that if, by a royal whim, it should be decided that my turn has come to walk out to Tower Hill, Sherborne Castle and my lands will prevent my wife and sons from becoming beggars.”

Henry looked appealingly up at this man whom he so admired; then making a great effort he said: “My father had decided that Carr must have a great estate. He has offered him Sherborne Castle.”

Sir Walter did not speak; he went to the door of the hut and stood for some seconds on the Walk, staring at the gray walls and battlements.

Henry came out to stand beside him.

“If he had never come to Court, if there had not been an accident in the tiltyard—” Henry began.

Then Raleigh turned to smile at him.

“And if I had not been born, I should not be standing here now. Dear boy, do not say, If this and If that. Because that is life. I am robbed of my possessions. But remember this: I have already suffered a greater loss. My freedom. Yet I continue to live and work.”

Then they went together along the Walk, into the upper chamber of the Bloody Tower.

Never to either of them had it seemed so hopeless a prison.

THE CHILD BRIDE

Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, had taken time off from Court to visit his country estates, and he had a very special reason for doing so. Thomas Howard, like most of the members of his family, was a very ambitious man; they regarded themselves as the leading family and secretly believed themselves to be as royal as the Tudors and Stuarts. In the past many of them had not hesitated to make this known—to their cost. Suffolk believed he had learned wisdom through the misfortunes of his ancestors; his own father had gone to the scaffold because he had plotted to marry Mary Queen of Scots, and with such an example in the family, Suffolk had no intention of acting so foolishly.

His wife, Catherine, was with him; she did not care for life in the country but she was ready enough to be there on this occasion.

They sat together in the gracious room with the mullioned windows overlooking the parklands; and the expression on their faces showed a certain smugness. This expression was visible on the face of their companion, another member of the Howard family—in fact one might say the head of the House. This was Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton.

Northampton, a man well advanced in years, for he was nearer seventy than sixty, was at this time one of the most powerful men in the country. He had been playing the intricate game of politics so long that he performed with great skill, and in spite of his age he had no intention of relinquishing one small part of his power if he could avoid it.

Being a secret Catholic he greatly desired to bring Catholicism back to England, and his plan for doing this was to arrange a marriage between Prince Henry and the Infanta of Spain. Never for one moment was he insensible of the danger of his position. He had seen his elder brother lose his head; that made him very careful of his own.

Now, at his nephew’s home, he was on a very different mission; a pleasant, domestic one; but everything in the life of the Earl of Northampton, as was the case with his nephew Suffolk and his wife, had some political implication.

Northampton was saying: “This marriage will prove advantageous to us all. James is in favor of it, and while the Scot is a lumbering boor of a fellow, one must not lose sight of the fact that he happens to wear the crown.”

“He is anxious to do honor to any relation of Essex. No doubt he feels remorse because his predecessor, after pampering that young man, allowed his enemies to lop off his head.”

“Oh, the old Queen had to surround herself with handsome men whom she imagined were in love with her, but there were never two she favored so much as Dudley and Essex. The boy is a pleasant youngster. The union will be good for us all.”

“I have met young Robert. He shows promise. My only regret is that the children are so young.”

“What is it—Fourteen the boy—and the girl?”

“Frances is twelve,” said Lady Suffolk.

“Well she can go back to her lessons while young Robert goes abroad to complete his education. There’ll be no question of the consummation yet. I should like to see the child. It is time she was told of her good fortune.”

“I will send for her.”

A few minutes later Frances Howard came into the room. Approaching the group she stopped some little distance from them and dropped a deep curtsy, daintily spreading her blue skirts as she did so. Her gown became her well, but she was so beautiful that nothing could have detracted from her looks. Her long golden hair fell in curls to her waist; her skin was delicate in texture and color; her blue eyes large and darkly lashed.

Northampton thought: This is not merely a pretty child. This is a beauty.

“Frances,” said her father, “your great-uncle has come from Court to bring you good news.”

Frances turned hopefully toward Northampton. There was nothing shy in her manner, a fact which half pleased, half annoyed Northampton.

“Come here, child,” he said.

She stood before him waiting while he peered into that oval face seeking some imperfection. He found none.

“How would you like to go to Court?”

“More than anything in the world,” she answered fervently, and her eyes sparkled.

“And what do you think they would want with a child like you at Court?”

“I do not know, Great-Uncle, but I am waiting to hear.”

Was she pert? He was not sure.

“Whether or not Frances Howard was at Court would give little concern, I’ll warrant.”

“Yet Frances Howard is to go to Court, Great-Uncle.”

“Your are fortunate to have a father, mother and great-uncle who have your welfare at heart.”

“Yes, Great-Uncle.”

“The fact is—we have a husband for you.”

“A husband … for me! Oh, where is he?”

“Do you think I carry husbands around in my pocket, child?”

“I have heard it said that the Earl of Northampton is capable of anything, sir.”

Yes, she was pert; but sharp of wit. What did she need—a place at Court, money lavished on her, or a whipping? He would discover, and whatever she deserved she should have.

Northampton saw that Lady Suffolk was trying not to smile. She should be careful. Her reputation was none too good. It was said that she took advantage of her husband’s Court posts and accepted bribes for certain services. The woman’s morals were not too sound either; and she spent a fortune on her clothes and jewels.

Northampton decided to ignore the girl’s comments, telling himself that perhaps he was inviting them.

“You are to have a wedding, child, at Court. The King himself is interested in your bridegroom and wishes to see an alliance between his House and ours.”

“May I know his name, sir?”

“Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.”

“An Earl. How old is he?”

“Your own age, child … or as near as makes no difference. Your mother tells me you are twelve. Robert is fourteen.”

“Fourteen and an Earl already!”

“His father has been dead some years.”

“His father lost his head, I believe,” said Frances. “I have heard of the Earl of Essex.”

“It is an accident which happens now and then in the best of families,” murmured Northampton.

“The better the family, the more frequently,” put in Lady Suffolk. “A fact, daughter, which we must all bear in mind.”

“I shall remember,” said Frances.

“I trust you will be grateful to your family for arranging such a good marriage for you,” went on Northampton.

“Is it such a good match?” the girl asked.

“Do you doubt it, Frances?” cried her mother.

“Well, Mother, I have always been taught that there is only one family good enough to mate with the Howards: the royal family.”

Northampton smiled grimly at her parents. “This girl is but twelve, you say?”

“I remember well enough the day she was born,” said Lady Suffolk. “Although I must say that bearing children had become rather a habit with me since I married Suffolk. Seven boys and three girls—not a bad tally, Uncle?”

“The Howards could always fill their cradles. They were not like the Tudors—a barren lot. But this child has a ready answer.” He turned to Frances. “You have a tongue, girl.”

“Why, yes.” She immediately put it out and the expression on her face implied that she enjoyed the gesture.

“Guard it well,” he told her. “I sense a certain waywardness in it. When you go to Court you must not speak with the freedom you employ here in the country.”

“I understand, Great-Uncle.”

“Now, you must prepare yourself for your wedding.”

“Yes, Frances,” her mother put in, “we shall have to start at once on your trousseau. You must be worthy of the Earl of Essex.”

“Fine cloths! Jewels!” cried Frances, clasping her hands together. “How I love them!”

Northampton thought the parents should have had more control over the girl. He now desired her to leave them. He had seen her, assured himself that they had a little beauty who would be ripe for marriage in a year or so; and that was good enough.

He waved his hand and her father said: “You may leave us now, Frances.”

“Yes, Father,” said the girl; but she hesitated.

“Well?” said Northampton.

“When shall I leave for Court?”

“As soon as your wardrobe is ready,” answered her mother.

“We shall lose no time. The King himself is eager to see you married.”

“I wonder why—” began Frances.

But Northampton interrupted impatiently. “It is not for you to wonder, girl, but to obey your parents. I believe I heard your father tell you you might leave us now.”

Frances demurely lowered her eyes, swept another curtsy and blithely left her elders.

In her own chamber, Frances called together three of her favorite maids. They were well-bred girls who were more like friends than servants, and their parents were delighted for them to be brought up in the household of the Earl of Suffolk, who was a man of influence at Court and held among other offices, that of Lord Chamberlain of the King’s Household. These three were not more than a year or so older than Frances; but by reason of her rank and personality she completely dominated them.

“Listen,” she demanded. “It is true—what we suspected. My parents are here because I am to be married. My great-uncle himself deemed it necessary to tell me.”

Then she recounted in detail the interview which had just taken place, coloring it a little to make herself a trifle more audacious than she had been, taking the part of the Earl of Northampton and Frances Howard alternately.

“Mistress Frances!” cried one of the girls. “You’ll be the death of me. And did you, in truth, put your tongue out at my lord?”

“I did. He asked for it. I fancy he wished he hadn’t provoked me. I wished that someone very important … someone like the King or the Prince could have come in and seen me standing there putting my tongue out at the Earl of Northampton.”

“The King would have thought it a great joke, I am sure. He would have given you a high place at Court and made you one of his favorites.”

“I should have to dress in breeches and cut off my hair first,” said Frances, catching at her long curls and holding them lovingly. “The King has no eyes for girls. You should know that.”

“Has he not then, Mistress Frances?”

“Do you know anything?”

“We dare not listen at doors as you do, Mistress,” put in another girl quietly.

Frances swung round and slapped the girl across the face.

“If I wish to listen at doors, Miss, I will. And think again before you speak thus to me. I can have you whipped; and don’t forget it. I might even do it myself … to make sure the blood is drawn.”

Her eyes were suddenly dark with anger. The girls drew back. She meant what she said. She could be friendly at one moment; she could be generous; but if she were offended, vindictive.

The girl was quiet, her eyes downcast as gradually a red mark appeared where she had been struck.

Frances turned her back on her and went on: “I can scarce wait to go to Court. I’m tired of being a child in the country.”

“Marriage is but the first step, Mistress. And when you go to Court all the men will—”

“Go on!” commanded Frances. “Fall in love with me because I’m so beautiful. That’s what you mean, is it not? I wonder what my bridegroom will think of me. He is only fourteen and the marriage is not going to be consummated yet. I have heard them talk of it. They talk of nothing else. I am to go to Court, be married and then sent back here … back to my lesson books, they say, until I am of an age to share my husband’s bed. I want to tell them that I am of an age now.”

“Perhaps it is better to wait.”

“I hate waiting. I won’t wait. I might wait until I’m no longer beautiful.”

“You’ll always be beautiful.”

“Of course I shall. I shall make sure that I stay beautiful as long as I live.”

“Everyone tries to do that, Mistress.”

Frances was thoughtful. Her own mother was beautiful still, although not as she must have been in her youth. Perhaps it was the fine clothes and jewels she wore that dazzled the eyes.

“I know of a way to stay beautiful,” said a quiet voice, and there was silence, for it belonged to the one who had recently been slapped.

Frances turned to her, her face alight with interest. “How, Jennet,” she demanded, and all the venom was gone from her; she spoke as though there had been no friction between them.

“By spells and potions,” said Jennet.

“Do they really keep people beautiful?” asked Frances.

“They do everything. There are love philtres to win the love of those who are indifferent. There are potions to destroy those who stand in your way. It’s called trafficking with the devil.”

“How I should love to traffic with the devil!” cried Frances, delighted because she was shocking them all so much.

“It’s the way to get what you want … if you’re bold enough,” said Jennet.

“I would be bold enough,” declared Frances.

The next weeks passed quickly for Frances. She was constantly being measured for the clothes she would need for her wedding, and when she saw the jewels which she was to wear she declared she had never been so happy in her life.

She knew that when the wedding had taken place she must return to the country, but she was not going to think about that.

In a few weeks’ time she would set out for London in the company of her parents, taking her elaborate wardrobe with her; she would see that Court of which she had heard so much; she would actually live at it until the ceremony was over. She wondered whether she could persuade her parents to allow her to remain in London. It was a pity that Great-Uncle was there to make their decisions for them. He would most certainly not agree.

But Frances was one to live in the present without giving much thought to the future. She was going to Court; let that suffice.

Her mother was as excited as she was. Lady Suffolk loved pageantry, and this wedding was going to be one of the great Court occasions.

“You see, my daughter, the King is eager for it. And he and the Queen and Prince Henry will all honor you with their presence.”

There were dances to be learned. What joy! Frances loved to dance. There were curtsies to be practiced. There was advice on a hundred points.

“You’ll do well,” her mother told her, “as long as you are not over-saucy. That might amuse the King, but the Queen and the Prince wouldn’t like it. It is more important that you please the Queen and the Prince than the King. And I doubt not that you will.”

“I have heard, Mother, that girls do not please the King.”

“That is something to keep in the mind and not on the tongue.”

Frances allowed the tip of her tongue to appear between her perfect teeth.

“Great-Uncle Northampton has already warned me,” she said.

“Remember it,” admonished her mother.

How she enjoyed those days! The gaiety, the color, the excitement. What an exhilarating place was London, and what fun it was to ride through the streets and see the women curtsy and the men doff their hats as she passed.

Many of them recognized her, and all seemed to be aware that she was to be married. She sat her palfrey demurely and, with her long hair falling round her shoulders, was a charming sight.

“God bless the little bride!” the people cried.

The bridegroom was somewhat disappointing. She was not sure why. Robert Devereux was a handsome enough boy. But although he was two years older than she was, he seemed younger.

“He has not the incomparable looks of his father,” people said; and others retorted: “Look where they led him.”

But all was well now. The Essex wealth and estates had been returned to young Robert, and James the King was eager to honor him.

The youth of the bridal pair enchanted everyone.

“Of course they are too young as yet….”

“But what an alliance!”

“It’s as well to make it when they’re young, for marriage at twelve and fourteen is as binding as at any other time.”

Binding, pondered Frances. She was bound to this shy boy!

They sat side by side at the wedding feast; he scarcely spoke, but she chattered away; and if she was disappointed in him, he was not with her. He thought his bride all that a bride should be.

She explained to him that the man who had written the masque which was now being performed, and who was taking the principal part in it, was Ben Jonson, the leading dramatist and actor who had been engaged for their pleasure.

“Look at the dancers!” she cried. “And is the scenery not wonderful? Did you know that Inigo Jones made the scenery?”

Robert said that he had heard it was so; and there were not two better artists in the Kingdom than Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones.

Frances clasped her hands together and stared ahead of her at Hymen, who was bringing forward his bride; dancers were springing from the great globe which Jonson was turning; and never had Frances seen such an array of jewels, never such dancing that was both wild and graceful.

“Oh what a wonderful wedding this is!” she cried.

“I am so happy because you are,” Robert told her.

“We shall dance together when the masque is over.”

“I do not dance well,” Robert told her.

“I do. I dance beautifully, and people will look at me, not you.”

“Yes,” said Robert humbly, “I suppose they will.”

“Soon we must speak to the King and Queen,” she told him. “Are you afraid?”

“A little.”

“I am not. I long to speak to them.”

She stared enrapt at the table at which the Royal Family were sitting, and as she did so Prince Henry looked in her direction, and for a few seconds they gazed at each other.

Frances felt suddenly angry.

In the privacy of home the Howards always said that the only family good enough to mate with was the Royal family.

Frances believed it. That boy seated on the right hand of his father, so handsome in a rather ethereal way, was the one who should have been her husband.

If Frances Howard had been married that day to the heir to the throne she would have been completely happy.

Did she want to be Queen then? Was that her ambition? But she had not thought of that until this moment.

There was something about that boy which appealed to her. She thought: If he were my husband I should insist that I was old enough to be truly married.

Yet he might have been slightly younger than she was. He was aware of her though, she was sure of it.

She turned to look at Robert and a slight distaste curled the corners of her mouth.

He said to her then: “You know I have to go abroad very soon? I have to learn how to be a soldier and how to speak foreign languages. It is all part of my education. Now that I am married I shall long to come back to my wife.”

Frances did not answer. She scarcely heard Robert. She was imagining that she was married to Prince Henry and remembering some words she had heard a little while ago.

“It’s the way to get what you want … if you’re bold enough.”

Where had she heard that? And was it true?

She remembered then. It was Jennet, the sly girl who always seemed to know so much more than the others.

Robert moved a little closer to her and took her hand in his.

Many watching smiled indulgently, telling themselves that they had rarely seen such a charming bride and groom.

The farewells had been said. Robert had gone abroad; Frances had returned to the country while her parents stayed at Court pursuing their exciting life.

Frances was sullen.

“How long will it take me to grow up?” she had demanded.

Her mother had laughed at her.

“Two years, three years.”

“It is an age.”

“Time passes, child. Go back to your lessons. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll become a woman. Don’t try your eyes with too much learning. We don’t want their brightness dimmed. And when you come to Court, you’ll come as a Countess. Remember that. Farewell, little Countess of Essex.”

And so she had returned. The house seemed like a prison. She hated her servants and her governesses. She did not want to learn lessons … not the sort that came from books.

She wanted to learn from the delicious experience of life.

Her great comfort was Jennet.

She often made the girl come to her bed and talk half the night of spells and potions, and how, by careful use of them, all that one desired could be obtained.

It was her belief in this which helped Frances to live through the time of waiting.

A PAGEANT AT WHITEHALL

During the four years which had elapsed since that day when Robert Carr had fallen in the tiltyard at Whitehall he had been the King’s constant companion, and it was a source of great irritation to many at Court that the young man remained the first favorite.

Robert, although far from intellectual, had proved himself to possess a shrewd intelligence. He was humble in the King’s presence—a welcome change from the manners of some of the petted boys of the past; he admitted that he was no scholar and confessed that he doubted whether he ever would be. But James replied that although he was without knowledge of literature and had had little experience, his dear boy was possessed of a calm, clear mind, which enabled him to reason with logic. He liked well his manners, and his company was the most enjoyable at Court.

Robert made a great effort not to annoy important ministers: he was never arrogant toward them; and when they begged him to lay this or that petition before the King he would always promise to do his best. In time they began to say of him: “There could be worse. And if the King must have a lap-dog this is the best breed.”

Robert was becoming ambitious. He believed that in time he would occupy some of the highest posts in the kingdom. James had as much as promised that he should.

“When ye’ve acquired a little more nous, Robbie.”

In the meantime his doting benefactor had knighted him, had given him a fine estate and promised him a rich wife. The Lady Anne Clifford’s name had been mentioned in this connection.

Robert had not been eager to marry, and he fancied that his reluctance had not displeased his master. Robert was content to wait. He believed that a great fortune could be his and that he must approach it step by cautious step.

When the Earl of Northampton, that wily statesman, had decided to win his friendship, Robert had met him more than half way. Northampton—the secret Catholic—wanted alliance with Spain and believed Robert might help him to it. Robert was flattered by the attention of the old man but was sorry that, because of it, the Queen disliked him more than ever; and because Prince Henry supported his mother, that meant that the Prince was his enemy.

But Robert shrugged aside this unpleasant fact. He knew that Prince Henry would have been his enemy in any case because he hated all his father’s favorites.

The climb was slow but steady; and each week saw the King’s affection deepen.

But one day when they walked together in the gardens of Whitehall, James talked seriously to Robert.

“Robbie,” he said, “I’d make ye my secretary if you were more nimble with your pen. But as you are, laddie, it’s difficult. Now if you had a clever scribe who could answer correspondence in your name … why then ’twould be an easy matter. Ah, how I wish ye’d stuck at your lessons when you were a wee mannie.”

Robert was thoughtful. There was a suggestion behind the King’s words which he might have thought of before.

A great ceremony was taking place at the Palace of Whitehall and the Queen declared again and again that rarely had she been so happy in the whole of her life.

There were to be days of rejoicing, as was only fitting; and there was nothing Anne enjoyed more than balls and masques. Inigo Jones had been summoned and given the task of turning Whitehall into a magic setting for all the pageants and spectacles which would be devised by poets such as Daniels and Jonson.

This was the occasion when her elder son would be invested with the title, Prince of Wales.

James looked on with amusement. Such frivolities were scarcely in his line; but it was better for his subjects to spend their time in masking than in plotting. The Queen was happy, and he liked to see her so. As for his children, he was proud of them—every one of them; and now that little Charles was walking like a normal boy and had almost overcome the impediment in his speech, he reckoned he could forget the four they had lost, in the three they had. Such a handsome trio too. Where did they get their good looks? From their paternal grandmother, he supposed. That was it. The beauty of Mary Queen of Scots had missed her son and passed on to her grandchildren.

James called on the Queen, knowing that it would be a pleasant call at such a time. He found her in the center of a bustle, ordering her women to do this and that; almost hysterical, he thought, in her excitement.

“Well, my dear,” said James, “one would think this was all in honor of you.”

She turned to him, her eyes shining and for a moment he felt old sentiments stirring; she looked like the young girl whom he had crossed the seas to woo. It occurred to him that he had grown old and Anne had stayed young. He did not envy her. Poor creature, he thought, she has the mind of a child.

“It is to honor me,” she cried. “When I see my beautiful one given these honors, they will be mine too.”

“You love the boy,” said James with a smile, “and so do I, for all that he sets himself against me.”

Anne looked petulant. “Henry would never set himself against Your Majesty if—”

“If I acted in a manner which would win his approval? He is but sixteen, wife. I’m a little more than that. Much as I should like to please you—and him—I must still make my own decisions. But enough of that. Tell me of this masque. Is Jonson giving us some fine poetry, eh? I like that man’s work. And Daniel’s too. And what of Inigo?”

“You will see all in good time,” Anne told him. “And I have a surprise for you. He is very excited about it. I do hope he won’t be too excited. After all it is but a short time since—”

“Charles?”

She pouted. “There, you have guessed and ’twill be no surprise.”

“Dinna fret. I’ll store the little matter at the back of my mind and be astonished when I see him. It gives me pleasure every time I set eyes on that boy.”

Anne’s petulance disappeared and her face was almost beautiful in her maternal love. “It is a miracle,” she said. “I cannot thank Lady Carey enough. She has given so much to him.”

“We’ll not forget her for it.”

“She has been rewarded, but her greatest reward is to look at him. I could not have done more myself. She gave him the confidence, the tenderness, the love. Oh James, I love that woman, although she usurped my place. I should have been the one.”

James patted her hand. “But ye’re too much of a mother to be jealous of her. What matters it? The task was done. And I’m to see young Charles dance at his brother’s ceremony, eh?”

“But it was to be a secret, James!”

“Oh, aye, I mind that. There’ll be no one more astounded to see Charlie dance than the King of England.”

Prince Henry, who had his own private establishment at Richmond, came by state barge to Westminster.

It was a glorious May day and the river was as smooth as silk. Lady-smocks and cuckoo flowers decorated the banks and there was pink apple blossom in the orchards of those gardens which ran down to the water. Henry was no longer a boy, being sixteen; old enough to be given the first title under the King: Prince of Wales.

His mind was filled with ideals as he sailed down the river on that day; the spires and steeples of the capital touched him with emotion. One day he would be ruler of this land; and he was determined to make it great. He would devote himself to the task of kingship. He would be zealous, yet modest. He would choose his ministers with care; he would dismiss men such as Northampton, whom he suspected of working for Spain, and Suffolk and his wife who he knew used their positions to enrich themselves; there would be no room at Court for men such as Robert Carr. On the other hand his first task would be to release his dear friend Sir Walter Raleigh from the Tower. Such men who had proved their worth should be his premier advisers. England would be a different country under him. And today, this solemn ceremony would be the first step toward the change. Life could not stand still. He was young yet, but this day he would cease to be a boy and become a man of consequence to his country.

On some of the attendant barges sweet music was being played; the Lord Mayor and authorities of the City accompanied him; and the river was crowded with smaller craft, for on such an occasion all those who possessed a boat must be out to pay homage to the young man who they believed would one day be their King.

Arriving at Westminster, the Prince’s barge drew up at that jetty known as the Queen’s Bridge. It had been erected by Edward the Confessor and led to Anne’s apartments in Westminster Palace. Henry bowed and smiled to the applause of the people, and when he eventually reached his mother’s privy chamber she was waiting to embrace him with tears of pride in her eyes.

“My beloved son,” she cried, “this is in truth the happiest day of my life.”

It was a few days later when Henry was introduced by his father to the Houses of Parliament which were assembled to see the heir to the throne created Prince of Wales.

As soon as this solemn ceremony was over it was the signal for the pageantry to begin; and in one of the rooms of the Palace several young women were chattering excitedly as they awaited their cue to take their places.

These were reckoned to be the loveliest of the Court ladies and it had been decided that each should represent a river of England. Among them was one, much younger than the others and more vivacious; this was the fourteen-year-old Countess of Essex.

Frances had plagued her parents until they allowed her to come to Court; though fourteen, she reminded them she was a married woman and, having glimpsed something of the excitements of Court life, she would be driven mad by melancholy if she were forced to spend many more days in the country.

Her father, the Earl of Suffolk, was indulgent. Poor Frances, she was much too gay to be expected to sulk in the country. Let her come. His wife was agreeable. She herself had matured early and believed this would be the case with Frances. The child was safely married, even though her marriage had not been consummated and her husband was far from home. Let her come to Court.

Thus the nymph of the River Lea took her place among the others, and secretly she was delighted because she knew that she could attract attention even among such beauties.

She studied them dispassionately. Were they such beauties? There was the Lady Arabella Stuart—a very important lady, it was true. But she’s quite ancient! thought Frances. She must be thirty-five. Thirty-five and unmarried! Poor Arabella Stuart, whom the King watched constantly and did not like much because of her nearness to the throne. There had been plots involving her, and James would never allow her to have a husband.

I wouldn’t change places with Arabella Stuart, royal though she may be, thought Frances. Arabella on this occasion was the nymph of the Trent. She was preoccupied, and Frances had heard it whispered that she was in love with William Seymour and determined not to lose him, in spite of the fact that the King would certainly forbid the match.

Frances shrugged aside the affairs of that ancient one. Those of Frances Howard were—or soon would be—far more interesting.

There was no one so beautiful as she was. Certainly not Elizabeth Grey—the nymph of the Medway because she was the daughter of the Earl of Kent—nor the Countess of Arundel—nymph of Arun. There was one though who was attracting most attention, and that was the Princess Elizabeth, who represented the Thames.

But that is only because she is the King’s daughter, Frances told herself scornfully.

The Lady Anne Clifford had noticed Frances pirouetting this way and that and came over to her smiling.

“It is your first Court occasion,” she said.

“How did you know.”

“You are so excited.”

Frances clasped her hands. “Is it not wonderful to be at Court?”

Anne laughed and said: “Take care. You are too young to come to Court.”

“I am fourteen.”

“So young? I had thought you a little older.”

Frances was delighted. “It is such a handicap to seem a child!”

“You must be watchful. There are people at Court who would be ready to take advantage of one so young.”

“What people?”

“Men.”

Frances laughed scornfully. “I shall be the one to take advantage of them.”

Several of the ladies laughed, and agreed that there was something about the nymph of Lea to suggest that she would take care of herself.

In the great hall beautiful scenery had been set up; there were to be several scenes, and the first represented Milford Haven and the arrival of Henry VII. Songs, written by the poets especially for the occasion, were sung, extolling the beauties of the rivers; and all the nymphs were mentioned in turn as they took their places in the dance.

Frances was intoxicated with happiness.

“The beauteous nymph of crystal streaming Lea …” sang the musicians and for one moment everyone in that great hall was looking toward Frances Howard.

Too soon the charm of Anne Clifford, the nymph of Aire, was being acclaimed, but the words about the nymph of Lea went on and on in Frances’s mind.

As she danced with the others after the fashion which they had practiced together, she tried to get as near as possible to that spot where the Prince sat beside his father.

He too had become older since she had last seen him; he was no longer a boy.

He had noticed her, she was sure of it. Every time she took a sly look at him, he was watching.

This is the happiest moment of my life … so far, Frances told herself.

Anne, the Queen, assured those surrounding her that it was the happiest of hers, for now the nymphs had stood aside and little Zephyr had appeared. His green satin robe was decorated with gold flowers, and wings made of silver lawn were attached to his back. A wreath of flowers had been placed on his flowing hair and Anne’s eyes sought the valuable diamond bracelet which she had put on his little arm when she went to see him being dressed.

With him were his naiads, lovely children with their hair hanging loose, garlanded like Zephyr, dressed in pale blue tunics decorated with silver flowers.

The children made a charming sight, particularly as they danced so skillfully to the music which had been written for the occasion.

Applause broke out and there was a whisper of astonishment, for Zephyr, who now danced so elegantly, was none other than the ten-year-old little Prince Charles who, a few years ago, had been unable to walk and in danger of having his legs put into iron supports.

Lady Carey who was standing near the Queen, was weeping, although she did not seem to be aware of it; Anne reached out and taking her hand, pressed it.

“Your Majesty …” whispered Lady Carey.

But Anne put her fingers to her lips and whispered: “Well done. I shall never forget.”

The scene of Milford Haven had been withdrawn and another even more striking was presented to view. Waterfalls were visible about a grotto, and in this grotto was a throne on which sat Tethys, daughter of Uranus and wife of Oceanus. This was none other than Queen Anne herself, who was always delighted to play a part in the pageantry. For days she had thought of little but the costume she would wear, and it was truly striking. On her head was a helmet in the shape of a shell; it was decorated with coral and a veil of silver floated from it. Her gown was blue silk, traced with silver seaweed; and her magnificent blue and silver train was draped about her throne.

Seated at her feet were the river nymphs. Frances had placed herself in the most prominent position, and every now and then threw a glance in Prince Henry’s direction, for, she told herself, was it not all in honor of him, and should not every river nymph among them seek to please him?

The poem which was being recited explained what was happening.

Little Zephyr would now take presents from Tethys and present them to those for whom they were intended.

Gracefully he walked to the Queen, who handed him the trident she carried and whispered to him. Charles carried it to his father and bowed. James took it awkwardly; and Charles returned to his mother once more and received the sword, which was encrusted with precious gems and was said to be worth four thousand pounds, and a scarf which the Queen herself had embroidered. These were for her beloved son who was now the Prince of Wales.

The assembly applauded enthusiastically and little Charles held up his hand as he had been taught to do, to remind them that this was not all; he then returned to his mother and kneeling, implored her in a high, sweet voice, with only the slightest stammer, to come down from her throne and dance, for the Court’s enjoyment, with her river nymphs.

The Queen pretended to consider this while Charles, beckoning to his little naiads, took the floor and once more danced with his charming companions.

Then the Queen rose and the girls who had been ranged about her in the grotto fell into place about her. She led the way and they danced the stately quadrille which they had practiced together for many days.

Anne in her shell-helmet and her blue and silver gown looked ecstatic. She was completely happy. It seemed to her on that day that she had all that she desired. She herself the center of the dance; James looking on, a little bored but tolerant, understanding that it was necessary from time to time to have such pageants; her beloved eldest, now the Prince of Wales; her daughter a charming, docile girl; her youngest, over whose state she had shed many tears, now a normal boy, promising to be as handsome as his brother.

Oh, thought Anne, that this day might last forever!

Robert Carr, who was seated with the King, found his attention wandering from the dancing. He was turning over in his mind something which James had said to him recently. Why did he not find himself a clever scribe?

Easier said than done. Where could Robert find such a man? But how inviting was the suggestion. The King’s secretary! One of the most important of posts—particularly if a man enjoyed the King’s favor. It was only his lack of ability which was keeping him from reaching the top of his ambition. James was ready to bestow on him anything he wished; but how could even James give him a post which all those about him would know he was inadequate to fulfill?

A scribe? He needed more than a scribe. He needed someone on whom he could absolutely rely, someone who would be prepared to work for him in secret, someone who knew how to use words and had a sharp and clever brain. But surely such a person would want to seek honors for himself. Not if he had little hope of doing so. Moreover, how could an ambitious man hope to rise more easily than by doing service to Robert Carr, who could direct the King’s attention toward him?

Like James he was a little bored with the Queen and her dancing girls.

Then it was almost as though a prayer had been answered, for while the Queen and the River Nymphs were dancing their quadrille he caught sight of a man whom he had known a few years earlier and had not seen for some time.

They had been great friends. Thomas Overbury was a clever fellow, a poet, a graduate of Oxford; a very pleasant young man. Older than Robert, he would be about twenty-nine. What had been happening to Tom Overbury since they last met?

His fortunes had certainly not risen as Robert’s had. He was at the pageant, not exactly as a member of the Court but from somewhere on the fringe. He had been rather fond of Robert, amused at his lack of scholarship while, like the King, he recognized a shrewd brain and intelligence.

As soon as he could make an opportunity he would seek out Tom Overbury.

An opportunity came during the ball that followed the pageant.

The King, unwillingly, must partner the Queen in opening the ball, and Robert had his opportunity to slip away.

As he pushed his way through the crowds, he was met by ingratiating smiles.

“Sir Robert, I have a request to make—”

“Sir Robert, I humbly ask—”

To all he said: “Come and see me tomorrow. At this moment I am engaged on the King’s business.”

Unsure of himself, it was his policy never to make an enemy, however humble. That might have been one of the reasons why he remained first favorite for so long. James liked a man to be easy going and not stir up trouble.

He took Overbury by the elbow and said: “My friend, it is good to see you.”

Thomas Overbury’s thin clever face lit up with pleasure.

“Why, Robert,” he said, “it’s good to hear such an important man call me friend.”

Robert laughed; it was his habit to feign a modesty he did not feel. “Important?” he said. “Poor Robert Carr, whom you used to marvel at because he could just manage to spell his own name.”

“Life is more than a matter of spelling, it seems. Any scholar can spell. There’s a surfeit of scholars and only one Robert Carr.”

“I want to speak with you in private … for the sake of our old friendship.”

“Give the word, and I am at your command.”

“Now.”

“I am ready.”

“Then follow me. We must be quick, for the King will expect me to be at his side.”

Carr led the way to a small ante-room and, when they were there, he shut the door.

“Now, Tom,” said Carr, “tell me when you returned.”

“But a few weeks ago.”

“From the Low Countries, was it?”

Overbury nodded. “Whither, you will remember, I retired from Court in some disgrace.”

“I do remember.” Robert burst out laughing.

Overbury lifted his finger. “Do not expect me to join in your laughter, Robert. Remember it was laughter that led me into disgrace.”

They were both thinking of those days which immediately followed the accident in the tiltyard. Good-natured Robert had sought to help his old friend, and it had seemed that Thomas Overbury would bask in the sunshine of Robert’s success. The Queen, disliking Robert, disliked his friends; and although she could not harm Robert, he being so warmly protected by his benefactor, the same thing did not apply to his friends.

On one occasion Thomas Overbury—who had recently been given a knighthood at Robert’s request—had been walking in the gardens at Greenwich with Robert when Anne had noticed them from a window. She had remarked: “There goes Carr and his governor.” Neither Robert nor Overbury had heard the comment but, just at that moment, Overbury had laughed aloud at something his friend had said. Incensed, certain that he was laughing at her, Anne had declared she would not be insulted and had given orders that Overbury be sent to the Tower.

Even now Overbury shivered, thinking of being conveyed down the river to the Tower, those gray walls closing about him, the damp smell of slimy walls, the clank of keys in a warder’s hands, the sound of steps on a stone stair.

Robert understood; he laid a hand on his arm. “The Queen was angry with you once, Tom,” he said.

“With you too; but she could not harm you.”

“Nor did I allow her to harm you for long.”

Thomas’s eyes were narrowed. “You were my good friend as always. As much when you were at the King’s right hand as when you were a mere page in the household of the Earl of Dunbar. Do you remember?”

“I often think of those Edinburgh days.”

“It was a good day for me when my father decided to send me on a visit to Edinburgh with his chief clerk as my guardian. But for that … we should not have met.”

“We should have met later at Court.”

“There would not have been the same bond between us, Robert. Then we were two humble youths; now you are humble no longer.”

“Nor are you, Sir Thomas.”

“Humble compared with Sir Robert.”

“I’ll tell you a secret. I am soon to be created Viscount Rochester.”

“There is no end to the titles and wealth which will one day be yours.”

“I trust you are going to stay in London now, Tom.”

“Providing the Queen does not see fit to banish me.”

“Why should she?”

“Perhaps because Sir Robert Carr … or Viscount Rochester … continues to be my friend. Let me tell you this, I would be ready to risk the one for the sake of the other.”

Robert clasped his friend’s hand and said: “We shall always be friends, I trust. Did I not soon bring about your release from the Tower?”

“And arranged that I should be sent to the Low Countries an exile.”

“It was the only way, Tom. The King does not flout the Queen too openly. But you see, you did not remain long in the Low Countries.”

“A year seems an age to an exile.”

“Exile no longer. Do you still write excellent poetry?”

“I write poetry, though whether it be excellent or not, as the author it is not for me to say. But I’ll tell you this: Ben Jonson has told me that he admires my work, and since I admire his, that is a compliment.”

“The Queen insists that Ben Jonson be called when she wants poetry for a pageant.”

“He’s a rare fellow—Ben Jonson.”

“Not too rare, I trust, Tom. I mean I hope there are others who admire your work.”

“I am writing some sketches which I’m calling Characters. I’ll show them to you. I think they will amuse you.”

“You will be famous one day, Tom. I am sure of it. You have a great gift. You need a patron … someone who will help you make the best of your talents.”

“A patron? Who?”

“Tom, you have seen me rising. I shall go much farther. Those who come with me will rise too.”

“What are you suggesting, Robert?”

“I need a secretary—someone who has a gift for words, hard work, and who is shrewd and loyal. I know you well and I know that you possess these gifts. Tom, throw in your lot with mine. I am traveling upwards … you can come with me.”

Overbury stared at his friend. He was fond of Robert. He trusted him. Attach himself to the brightest star at Court, the petted boy who only had to whisper his desires in the King’s ear for them to be readily granted?

He was an ambitious man but he had never thought such an opportunity possible.

The music could scarcely be heard above the talk in the crowded ballroom.

The dance went on; the Queen was among the dancers, while the King sat looking on with Robert Carr beside him.

The Prince of Wales was dancing with one of the River Nymphs; he had noticed her in the ballet and thought her by far the most beautiful of them all. He was surprised at his interest, for girls had not greatly attracted him until now. This girl was different. She was so vital, so young; her lovely eyes which seemed determined to miss nothing betrayed her innocence; he was sure this was her first visit to Court.

Their hands touched.

“I liked the dance of the nymphs,” he told her.

“I noticed how you watched.”

“Did you? You seemed so intent on the dance.”

“It was all in honor of the Prince of Wales and I was so anxious to please him.”

“Will it give you pleasure if I tell you that you did?”

“The greatest pleasure.”

“Then it’s true.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.”

“I fancy I have seen you before at Court, and yet this is your first appearance here. I find that strange. It seems as though …”

“As though we were meant to meet, Your Highness.”

“Just so.”

“I am surprised that Your Highness noticed me. There are so many girls….”

“I suppose so, but I have never noticed them before. I hope you will be often at Court.”

“I intend to be there whenever I can.”

“We must arrange it. I shall hold my own Court at Oatlands or Nonesuch, and perhaps Hampton or Richmond. You must come there.”

“Your Highness, how that would delight me!”

He put her hand to his lips and kissed it. Several people noticed the gesture for there would always be some to watch the Prince of Wales and comment on his actions.

“Tell me your name,” he said.

“It is Frances.”

“Frances,” he repeated tenderly.

“Countess of Essex,” she went on.

He looked startled. “Now I remember where I saw you before.”

She smiled. “It was at my wedding.”

But Henry’s expression had lost its gaiety. “You were married to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. So … you are a wife.”

“A wife and not a wife,” she answered. “After the ceremony my husband went abroad. I have not seen him since. Our parents considered us too young to live as man and wife.”

“But he will return,” said the Prince.

“I know not when. I care not when.”

“I care,” said Henry almost coldly. “I should conduct you to your guardian.”

“Oh … please not—”

“It is better so,” he answered.

Frances could have wept with disappointment. He had noticed her; more than that he was attracted by her; and because she was married he wanted to end their friendship before it had begun.

It was true. The Prince of Wales was prim and prudish. He implied that while he was ready to be the friend of a young girl, he was not eager to cause scandal on account of a married woman.

Who would have thought that she would have found such prudery at Court? And in the Prince of Wales!

Frances was not one to accept defeat. In that moment she knew she wanted a lover; and that lover must be the Prince of Wales.

THE PRINCE OF WALES TAKES A MISTRESS

The King was alarmed and no one but Robert Carr could pacify him. James paced up and down the apartment while Robert sat helplessly watching him. At every sound James started: he could never get out of his mind the treachery of the Gowrie and Gunpowder plots.

“You see, Robbie,” he said, “I have enemies. They’re all over the Court; and I know not where to look for them. When I think of how the Ruthvens laid their snare for me … and how I walked into it, I marvel that I came out alive.”

“There is some Providence watching over Your Majesty.”

“Providence is fickle, Robbie. Guarding you one day and turning its back the next. I’d liefer rely on my head than my luck. And Providence is another name for the last.”

“Your Majesty is unduly alarmed. You acted with your usual shrewd sense; Arabella Stuart can no longer be a threat.”

“Can she not, Robbie? Can she not? There’s many a man in this city that would like to see me back across the Border … or under the sod. There’s many looking for a Queen to put on the throne. They like to be ruled by a woman. Have ye never heard them talk of my predecessor? Ye’d think she was God Almighty to hear some of them. These English like to be ruled by a woman; the Scots would have none of my mother, but the English worshipped their Queen. How should I know that they’re not drinking their secret toasts to Queen Arabella?”

“Your Majesty is the true King of Scotland and England, and Prince Henry the true heir.”

“Aye, lad. That’s true. And Henry will have many to support him. Have you noticed how they flock to his Court and desert the King’s? I wonder they don’t shout for King Henry in the streets. That boy will bury me alive if I don’t take care.”

“They acclaim him as the Prince of Wales.”

“And they look to the time when he’ll be King. Dinna seek to draw the mask over my eyes, Robbie. I know.”

“But that is not to want Arabella.”

“The people like to plot. To the young, life is more worthwhile when they’re risking it. Arabella is as good an excuse for a rebellion as any other. And now she has disobeyed me. In spite of my forbidding her, she has married William Seymour—himself not without some claim.”

“And Your Majesty has acted with promptitude, by committing her to the care of Parry, and her husband to the Tower.”

“Yes, yes, boy, but I like it not. The lady has become a martyr. And a romantic one at that. Before this marriage she was a woman not young enough to arouse the chivalric zeal of other young people. The Lady Arabella Stuart at Court was welcome. I like not this marriage. What if there should be issue?”

“Your Majesty has sought to make that impossible by separating the pair.”

“You try to comfort your old gossip. And you do, Robbie. Now let me look at that letter to the Prince which you’ve drafted. I fear he is not going to like my suggestions, but we must find a wife for him soon; and I do not see why we should not, in Spain or in France.”

“It would be an excellent step, Your Majesty, for how much easier it is to make peace between countries when they are joined by royal marriages.”

“That’s true enough, Robbie. The letter, boy.”

James read the letter and a smile of pleasure crossed his face.

“Neatly put, Robbie, neatly put. Why, bless you, boy, if there’s not something of the scribe in you after all. Poet, I’d say. That’s succinct and to the point. I can see you’ve learned your lessons. Ye’re going to be useful to me, Robbie.”

James did not ask the obvious question, because he would have already known the answer; and Robert would have given it because he was not a liar.

The boy had found the solution at last. James did not want to know who had drafted the letter. It was enough that it was perfectly done. Robert had found the one to work in the shadows.

The Prince of Wales was holding Court at the Palace of Oatlands. He liked to stay at this palace with his sister, Elizabeth, and together they entertained a Court which was different from that of their parents.

Henry had the reputation of being a sober young man; he could not endure the practical jokes which were a feature of his father’s Court. Not that James cared for them; but his favorites played them with such gusto, and because he liked to see them enjoying themselves he joined in the fun. Henry’s ideal was to have a Court where serious matters were discussed and there was no practical joking. He wanted very much to bring Sir Walter Raleigh from prison; he was sometimes a little angry with his friend who often gave the impression that he did not regret his captivity; how otherwise, he asked, could he devote the necessary time to his history of the world which he wanted to dedicate to the Prince of Wales?

There was so much that was wrong with the King’s Court, Henry told himself and Elizabeth.

“And now they want to make a Catholic marriage for me,” he complained. “I’ll not endure it. Did you know that our father has taken Carr for his secretary and I receive letters from the fellow?”

“I did not think he was literate enough to write a letter.”

“He is. And flowery epistles they are.”

“There are qualities we did not suspect in the fellow then.”

“I dislike him and all his breed.”

Elizabeth smiled. “I couldn’t stop myself laughing when you hit him on the back with your tennis racquet.”

Henry laughed with her. “I was overcome by a desire to murder him.”

“Yet he seemed to bear no malice.”

“Who can say what goes on behind that handsome face of his?”

“Well, let us forget him, Henry, and think of the ball we are giving tonight. Young Lady Essex pleaded so earnestly for an invitation that I gave her one.”

Henry turned away to look out of the window; he did not want his sister to see that he had flushed. “She is very young … too young,” he mumbled.

“Oh no, Henry. She is sixteen.”

“And married,” went on Henry. “Where is her husband?”

“It was one of those child marriages. They have not yet set up house together,” Elizabeth smiled. “And by the look of the girl I should say that it was time they did.”

“And what experience have you of such matters?”

“Dear Henry, there are some things that are so obvious that it is not necessary to have experience to recognize them.” Elizabeth went on to talk of Arabella. She was sorry for her kinswoman; so was Henry. If he were King, he thought, he would not allow himself to be disturbed by other claims to the throne. His father’s claim was so much more sound and he was sure the people had no intention of setting up Arabella. It was his father’s terror of plots that made him so nervous.

He said so to Elizabeth; but he was not really thinking of his father and Arabella. He was wondering whether he would dance with Lady Essex that day.

The royal pleasure house of Oatlands was not far from the banks of the Thames. It was built round two quadrangles and three enclosures and its gardens were magnificent. When Frances had passed the machicolated gatehouse and looked at the angle turrets and huge bay windows she had made up her mind that in this mansion the Prince of Wales should become her lover.

Jennet was with her; she had selected this girl for her most intimate maid. She might have found others more servile, but Jennet’s insolence—which was always veiled, and only rarely shown even then—appealed to Frances. That girl had a knowledge of matters which Frances felt might be useful to her some time. There was a bond between them. To Jennet she talked more freely than to anyone else. She was certain that Jennet would keep her secrets. Frances often had a feeling that if Jennet had been born in her stratum of society she would have been very like her, and had she been born in Jennet’s she would have been another such as she.

The maid knew for instance of Frances’s hopes concerning the Prince of Wales. She was not in the least shocked that a young girl, married to one man who had never been her husband, should seek to become the mistress of another. Jennet gave the impression that she was there to administer to her mistress’s pleasure and that whatever Frances desired was reasonable and natural.

While the maid helped her dress for the ball, Frances glanced critically at her own reflection in the mirror. Jennet, her eyes lowered, assured her mistress that never had she looked so well.

“How old do I look, Jennet?”

“All of eighteen, my lady.”

Jennet would not have said so had it not been true. Frances had matured early.

“And my gown?”

“Most becoming. There’ll not be another lady to compare with you.”

“How I wish that they had never married me to Essex.”

“You would not have been a Countess then, my lady.”

“No, but that would not have mattered. I should still be my father’s daughter and of a rank to be welcomed at the Prince’s Court.”

“You are older than he is, my lady.”

“Oh no.”

“I did not mean in years.”

“I understand you.”

“And, being older, should lead the way.”

“He is not like the others, Jennet. He is a very good young man. He is anxious not to do anything of which he could be ashamed.”

Jennet gave a short laugh. “When the good fall into temptation they fall more deeply.”

“Sometimes I feel he will never fall into temptation.”

“There are ways, my lady.”

“What ways?”

“I know how to procure a love potion which is certain to work.”

Frances’s heart began to beat a little faster.

Then she looked at her own radiant image. She was so certain of her charms that she could not believe they would fail.

If they did, she would begin to think seriously of Jennet’s philtres.

There was less ceremony at Oatlands than at St. James’s or Hampton Court, and almost everyone there soon learned that the Prince, who had never before been interested in women, was attracted by the young Countess of Essex; so when she lured him from the dance into the gardens, no one followed them, believing that it was the Prince’s wish that they should be alone.

Frances, who knew instinctively when and how to act in such matters, was certain that if she was to become the Prince’s mistress she must induce him to overcome his scruples before he became fully aware of the potency of her allure. Once he realized how eager she was he would set up such a barrier between them that his seduction would be impossible.

Although they were both virgins, Frances was ready to lead the way; moreover, she was determined to do so.

Walking between the flower beds made mysterious by summer moonlight, she pressed closer to him. He hesitated and would have returned to the palace but she put her arm through his and told him how happy she was to be at Court, and particularly to be a member of the Prince’s Court.

It was only polite to say that he was happy to have her; and when he did so she raised his hand to her lips and kissed it.

He withdrew it sharply.

“I have offended you?” she asked, her lovely eyes wide with horror.

“No … no. But it is best not to….”

“Not to?”

“To … to kiss my hand.”

“Would you prefer me to kiss your cheek, your lips?” she cried passionately.

Henry was startled and astonished by the tremendous excitement which was taking possession of him. He tried to analyze his feelings. “If you were not married …”

“But I have never known my husband.”

“You must keep yourself a virgin for him.”

“Is that Your Highness’s wish?”

Henry was silent. Then she threw herself against him and cried triumphantly. “It is not so. It is not so.” Then she took his hand and began to run with him; and as they ran such an excitement gripped him that he seemed like a different person from the sober young Prince who deplored the loose morals of his father’s Court.

She withdrew her hand and went on running; now he was pursuing her. She allowed him to catch her in a summer house; and she waited expectantly while he embraced her, listening to the sounds of music which came from the palace.

He was uncertain; but she was not.

Frances Howard had always known what she wanted, and she had wanted the Prince of Wales from the moment she had seen him on the day she had married Robert Devereux.

Jennet knew as soon as she was in the privacy of her own chamber.

Frances stood, her eyes brilliant, while Jennet relieved her of her gown and jewels.

“So, my lady,” said Jennet slyly, “we shall not have to ask my good friend Mrs. Turner to provide us with a love philtre?”

And soon certain knowledgeable members of the Court were telling themselves that the Prince was behaving like a normal young man.

He had a mistress—Frances, Countess of Essex.

Frances knew that she was meant to have a lover. She blossomed and became even more beautiful than before. She enjoyed intrigue and secret meetings. Moreover, it delighted her to be loved by the most important man at Court.

Henry had changed; he was gay and lighthearted, although there were occasional fits of remorse. But, he assured himself, why should he not indulge in a love affair, when this was considered natural conduct by almost everyone at Court? In any case, as soon as he saw Frances, any good resolutions he had made quickly disappeared and he gave himself up to pleasure.

He wished that he could have married Frances. Then he would have been completely happy. He confessed his dilemma to Sir Walter Raleigh who shrugged it aside as unimportant. No one would think the worse of him for having a love affair, he assured the Prince; and Henry at length forgot his qualms.

Those were exciting months. Never had Henry been so immersed in pleasure. To his Court flocked all the most brilliant of the courtiers, and James, watching, feigned a chagrin he did not feel. He was glad to see his son so popular, and if the boy was showing himself to be less of a puritan than before, that was all to the good. In the parks about Nonesuch Palace Henry rode and walked with Frances; they made love in the arbors; and the columns and pyramids, with their stone birds from whose bills streams of water flowed, made a perfect setting for their idyl. In the more stately St. James’s Palace they were together; and Richmond, where the Prince loved to hold Court, was yet another background for the lovers.

Those who watched them wondered how long this romance would last. Many of the young women planned to take Frances’s place in the Prince’s affections, for they were certain that soon he must tire of his young mistress, when he had all the Court to choose from.

But Henry remained faithful, and Frances was very sure of him.

She had taken the lead in their love affair and kept it. Often it seemed to her that Henry was a little young. Why, she asked herself, should I have to teach him everything?

He was a Prince—the Prince of Wales at that—yet he was really nothing but a boy.

How different it would be to have a man for a lover—someone mature, someone who did not follow everywhere she led but sought to dominate her. Henry never would of course, because Frances was determined to dominate; but it would be exciting if he tried.

Jennet, watching, knew before Frances did herself that her mistress was tiring of the Prince of Wales.

When Frances received a summons to sup with her great-uncle, the powerful Earl of Northampton, she was not very pleased. This meant that she would be obliged to absent herself from the Prince’s Court and, although she was less eager for his company than she had once been, she had no wish to sit down to supper with the friends of her great-uncle whom she suspected would be of his age, or at least that of her parents.

But she knew she dared not refuse such an invitation, for Northampton was accepted as the head of the family, and if she offended him he could prevail upon her parents to send her back to the country.

She was scowling as Jennet dressed her.

“My lady is black as thunder today,” remarked Jennet with a smirk.

“I am wondering whether my great-uncle has been hearing rumors.”

“Nay, my lady. My lord Northampton would not be displeased because the Prince of Wales is your friend.”

“It seems strange that he should want me at table with his dreary old men and women.”

“You’ll seem all the more beautiful in such a setting—providing you take that black scowl from your lovely face.”

Frances bared her teeth at the reflection in the mirror. “Shall I smile like this? Shall I mince and look coy?”

“My lady will suit her manners to the company, I doubt not.”

And Frances, wearing her simplest gown and scarcely any jewels, waited on her great-uncle; and when she was seated at the supper table she greatly wished that she had chosen something more becoming, because she found herself next to a man whom she had previously seen only at a distance, never having been considered of sufficient importance to have been brought to his notice.

She was instantly aware of her great-uncle’s deference to this man; how the company paused when he spoke; how his simplest jokes were loudly applauded; and how everyone at that table was trying to catch his eye.

How handsome he was! Frances could scarcely stop herself staring at him. Never had she seen such a profile; he wore his golden hair somewhat long; and his fair skin was becomingly bronzed; his expression was extremely pleasant but remote, and that remoteness was like a challenge to Frances. He sparkled as he moved, for costly gems decorated his jacket; and diamonds and rubies were set off to perfection on his beautiful white hands.

“My Lord Rochester, pray give us your opinion….”

“My Lord Rochester, you’ll be the death of me. I have rarely laughed so much….”

His kindly smile was bestowed right and left; on the sycophantic gentleman opposite; on the fawning lady on his left; on the wondering Frances on his right; and yet, thought Frances, he cares nothing for any of us.

And why should he, when he is, in some respects, the ruler of us all? For the King himself wishes to please him in every way, and if he puts a petition before James, it is granted; a word of advice from Robert Carr, my lord Rochester, and the King is ready to act.

There never was such a man! thought Frances. How irksome, how maddening that to him she was merely a young woman of the Court, of no more interest than any other.

But it shall not be so, she promised herself.

She plucked at his sleeve. He turned his smile on her, that facile smile which meant so little.

“My lord, I am afraid I am a dull neighbor. You must forgive me. I have not been long at Court.”

“I can see that you are very young.”

“Perhaps I am older than I seem. I have lived long in the country.”

“Is that so?” He was smiling at the man across the table who was doing his best to attract his attention. He did not care how old she was or whether she had lived in town or country. She meant nothing to him. He was unmoved by the beauty which had been irresistible to the Prince of Wales, and as soon as he left this supper table he would have forgotten her.

He shall notice me, she vowed.

The violence of her feelings often amazed her. With an impulsive gesture she knocked over a goblet of wine. His puffed, slashed breeches were marked by the wine, and for a moment she had his full attention as she caught the goblet and lifted eyes, wide and frightened, to his. Surely he must now notice how beautiful those eyes were; who else at Court had such long lashes? He must notice. He must.

He did for a moment. He flicked his breeches with a careless hand.

“It is of no moment,” he said gently. “You must not distress yourself.”

“But I fear I have made you angry.”

“Do I seem so?”

“No, but I understand you to be kind. My great-uncle is glaring at me. He will take me to task for this.”

Robert Carr smiled. “I will be your advocate,” he said.

“Oh, thank you.” She touched his hand and lowered those magnificent eyes so that now he could see their fringed lids. “But I have ruined your clothes.” A pretty white hand touched his thigh.

He patted the hand and for a second kept his over hers.

In that moment, she told herself afterward, the importance of this occasion became known to her, for Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, had fallen irrevocably in love with Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester, and first favorite of the King.

Frances was in despair.

She had seen him on several occasions since, and on all these he had smiled at her somewhat vaguely as though he were trying to remember where he had seen her before.

What could she do? It was not easy to meet Viscount Rochester. Every day men and women waited outside his apartments in the hope of seeing him. He was often with the King, and unapproachable.

She felt listless when she was with the Prince of Wales, and constantly she compared him with Robert Carr. The Prince was a boy, a boy who always seemed a little ashamed when they made love. That was not the way to be a good lover. How different Robert Carr would be if he were in love with her.

If he were in love! But he was not very interested in women. Perhaps he dared not be, for fear of offending the King. At times she knew she was foolish to have set her heart on such a man; but because he was unattainable he seemed all the more desirable.

Jennet quickly learned the state of affairs.

“My lady could try a love potion,” she suggested.

“How could I give him a love potion?”

“There are potions a lady can drink which will make her irresistible to any man.”

“Is it indeed true?”

“We could put it to the test, my lady. Give me leave to visit a friend of mine. I will tell her what is wanted and we will see what happens.”

“Do you really know such a woman?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Where is she?”

“She lives at Hammersmith. Give me leave to visit her and I will put your case before her, without mentioning names of course.”

“There can be no harm in it.”

“Only good, if my friend can make my lady irresistible to a certain gentleman.”

“Go then and try.”

“It will cost money.”

“How much?”

“I must ask. But I think it will cost much money, as you would expect it to, my lady, if it does its work.”

Frances clasped her hands. “I would be willing to pay … a great deal … for my lord Rochester.”

It seemed to Robert Carr that everywhere he went he saw the young Countess of Essex. He was not so indifferent to her as he had appeared to be. She was without doubt the prettiest young girl at Court and he liked her persistence. There was no doubt that she admired him, and was inviting him to be her lover.

He had made inquiries. She was, even at this time, the mistress of the Prince of Wales. How amusing to humiliate that young man. Robert did not forget that blow on the back with a racquet. If it had been anyone but the Prince of Wales he would not have let the incident pass. But he was shrewd enough to know that he must not have an open quarrel with the heir to the throne.

Yet quietly to snatch his mistress was another matter.

Why not? James did not object to his young men’s marrying or taking an occasional mistress. This girl was already married to Robert Devereux, the young Earl of Essex. There could be no harm in a little dalliance. And how furious the Prince would be!

Next time he met her—he would not go out of his way—he would pause and talk to her; he would convey to her that he was not indifferent. It would be amusing to see how far she would go. He had no doubt that she was ripe for immediate seduction.

Frances was jubilant. Everything she wanted would be hers, she was sure of it, because the potion had worked. She had paid highly for it, but it was worth every penny. She had drunk the rather unappetizing brew, and the next time she had seen Robert Carr he had stopped to talk to her. His voice had been caressing; his eyes even more so.

So there could be no doubt that she had become irresistible to this cool young man. She went to her own chamber and embraced Jennet.

“It works!” she cried. “He has spoken to me. His looks tell me all I want to know. It will not be long now.”

Nor was it.

Robert Carr chose an occasion when the King was resting and the Prince was honoring his father’s Court with his presence.

He found himself near Frances in the dance and when their hands touched they clung.

She was ready and eager. He did not need to persuade. It was not difficult to slip away because worldly courtiers had a gift for knowing when two people wanted to be alone, and with such as Carr it was necessary always to forestall his wishes.

They were left uninterrupted for an hour in one of the ante-rooms.

That was an ecstatic hour for Frances; a very pleasant one for Carr.

And from then on Frances knew that this was the man with whom she wished to spend the rest of her life. She was alternately wild with joy, desperate with sorrow.

Why had they married her so young to Essex when she might have married Robert Carr? She knew that he had no mistress; and could have had but few. Yet to him—because of a love potion, she believed—she had become irresistible.

He was the most important man at Court. Why had she thought the Prince was? The Prince was a simple boy, unaware of true passion. She was awakened now, and afire with desire, and no one but Carr could satisfy her.

All the honors that he asked for would be his. He could have any post, any title. As his wife she would be the most powerful woman in the Court.

“Oh, God,” she cried to Jennet, “how I want to marry Robert Carr.”

There was dancing at St. James’s. Robert Carr was not there, and therefore Frances was bored and indifferent; she was longing for the evening to be over and wished that she had not come.

Henry had not sought her out, although his manner had not changed toward her. She supposed that he was going through one of his prim periods. Let him. She had no desire for him. From now on there would be one man and one man only in her life.

As she danced she dropped her glove and, seeing this, one of the courtiers picked it up.

Knowing nothing of the new state of affairs and believing that the Prince would be glad to possess his lady’s glove, and, after the prevailing custom, count it an honor to wear it, this man carried the glove to the Prince and, bowing low, offered it to him.

The dance had come to an end; the music had stopped suddenly; and all were watching this pretty little scene.

Henry looked at the glove and when he did not reach for it, there was complete silence, so that many heard the words which were spoken.

“Your Highness, my lady Essex dropped her glove.”

The Prince looked at it disdainfully and then said in a clear high voice: “I would not touch that which has been stretched by another.”

The whole Court knew then that the Prince of Wales had discovered his mistress’s infidelity; and that the love affair between them was at an end.

“I don’t care!” Frances declared blithely to Jennet. “I’m glad. I did not want him pestering me. The silly boy with his ‘I durst not.’ ‘I’d liefer not.’ And ‘This is sin.’”

What a lover! Oh, how different is my Robert.

She frowned a little. “Yet he is cool, deliberate. He is never impetuous. I always have the feeling when he fails to keep an assignation that he has forgotten we made one.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Jennet, “there is need of another potion. Perhaps now that you are on visiting terms you could ask him to sup with you. I feel sure, my lady, that a potion drunk by him would be more effective that one drunk by you.”

Frances clasped her hands together. “I wonder if that would work.”

“My lady saw the first one work.”

“Hush,” said Frances. “Someone is coming.” She took Jennet’s arm and held it so tightly that the maid winced. “Not a word of this to any … understand.”

“Of course, my lady. You know you may trust me.”

“Come in,” called Frances; and one of her women entered.

“My lady, the Earl, your father, asks that you go to him without delay. He has news for you.”

“I will come,” said Frances, dismissing the woman with a wave of her hand. Then she turned to Jennet and her face was a few shades paler as she said: “Do you think they have discovered that Robert and I—”

“They could not command my lord Rochester, my lady. It is for him to command them.”

“The King …”

“My lady, the best way to find out is to go to your father.”

The Earl and Lady Suffolk surveyed their daughter intently. It was clear to her mother that Frances was no longer a child. There had been rumors which had amused her; and although she had never bestirred herself to discover whether they were true or not, she was sure they were.

Frances was her daughter; therefore she would know how to amuse herself, and it was almost certain in what direction.

The Earl said: “My daughter, good news for you.”

“Yes, father?”

“Your position has been a difficult one. A wife yet not a wife. It has been difficult for Robert too.”

“Robert,” she said blankly, for to her there was only one Robert.

“Robert Devereux, your husband, of course, child. I have news of him which will please you. He is on his way back to London, and expects to be with you within the next few weeks. I have a letter here from him for you. He tells me that he is longing to take you home to Chartley, for now that you are both grown up he wants his wife.”

Frances felt bewildered. Horror, frustration and anger swept over her.

Helplessly she looked from her father to her mother; but she knew there was nothing they could do for her.

Now that she had discovered the one man who could satisfy her deep sensual needs, now that he was ready to be hers, this stranger was coming back from the past, to claim her as his wife, to take her away from the exciting Court to the dull country mansion, there to bury her alive.

“No!” she whispered.

But even as she spoke she knew that she was trapped.

DR. FORMAN

Riding from Dover to London the thoughts of Robert Devereux were pleasant. It was good to be home after so long an absence and he was very much looking forward to seeing his wife who was now at Court; but, he promised himself, they would not remain long there. He and Frances would soon be riding northward. He was certain that she would be as delighted with Chartley Castle as he had always been.

He had never craved for the Court life. No doubt this was because he could never really escape from the ghost of his father. The first Earl of Essex—Robert Devereux like himself—had been too famous a man, beloved of the Queen, as great a favorite with her as this man Robert Carr was with her successor; and then, still young, he had lost his head. It was too colorful a life to be forgotten; and to be the son of such a man meant that wherever he went people recalled his father.

No, it would be Chartley for him and his young wife. He would teach her to love the place as he did. She would enjoy being the first lady of the district; and how the people would love her!

He had thought of her steadily during his absence; he remembered how she had smiled at their wedding; how they had danced together; how her eyes had sparkled. Dear little Frances! It was not his proud prejudice which had assured him that she was the loveliest girl at Court.

They were very different, he knew. Perhaps that was why she attracted him so much. He was too serious for his age. Being some ten years old when his father had gone to the scaffold had left a mark on him. He still remembered those years which followed his father’s death when poverty loomed over himself and his family. His two brothers had died when they were young; but he and his little sisters, Frances and Dorothy, had often wondered what would become of them.

Then fortune had changed. The King saw fit to restore his estates; and, more than that, took a special interest in one whose father he believed had been treated badly by Queen Elizabeth. Not only had his estates been restored to him, but he was given a wife—a young lady of rank and outstanding charm.

He could not wait to see her again, and as he drew nearer to London he gave himself up to pleasant imaginings of their reunion.

In an ante-room in the Palace of Whitehall Robert Devereux waited.

He had seen Frances’s father, the Earl of Suffolk, who had sent for her.

“I’ll swear,” said the Earl, “that you would prefer to be alone together.”

Robert admitted that this was so, and at any moment now she would appear.

Then she was there—framed in the doorway—certainly the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, dressed in becoming blue, her golden curls loose about her shoulders.

“Frances!” he cried and went to her so quickly that he had not time to notice the sullen set of her lips.

He took her hands in his; then he dropped them that he might cup her face in his hands; he kissed her lips. Hers were very unresponsive.

Dear pure child, he thought, momentarily exultant, but almost immediately he asked himself whether she was as glad to see him as he was to see her.

“I am home at last.”

“So it seems, my lord.”

“Oh, Frances, how you have grown! Why, when I went away you were only a child. Are you pleased to see me? I have been longing for this day. Do not think that, although I have been away from you, I have not thought of you constantly. Have you thought of me?”

“I have thought of you,” said Frances; and it was true; she had thought of him with growing regret and repugnance; and his presence did nothing to diminish these emotions.

“I see,” he went on, “that you are shy of me. Dear little wife, there is nothing to fear.”

She turned away from him and, with sick disappointment in his heart, he sought to cajole her.

“Why, Frances, you are young as yet and—”

She shook herself free of the arm which he had placed about her.

“Please let me alone,” she said quietly but with determination. “I don’t want you to touch me.”

“Have your parents not talked to you …?”

“I do not want to listen to my parents. I only want to be left alone.”

He stared at her blankly; then he smiled tenderly.

“Of course, this is a shock to you. You are so young. I forget how young. You did not want to leave your parents, your family … but you will grow accustomed to the idea. After all, we are married, Frances.”

The words were like the strokes of doom in her ears.

She was married; and there was no escape.

But hope came with his next words. “The last thing I want is to make you unhappy, Frances. You need time to get used to me … and the idea of marriage. Have no fear. I do not want to hurry. We have all our lives before us.”

“Thank you.” Her voice was quiet and grateful.

Time. If she had time she might think of something she could do to escape this cruel fate.

She was truly frightened; so much so that she gave way to tears.

Jennet tried to calm her; her mistress’s tears alarmed her.

“He wants me to go to the country, Jennet. The country! I shall die of melancholy. You know how I hate the country. It is better to be dead than live there. I won’t go to the country. What can I do? What can I do?”

Jennet was thoughtful; then she said quietly: “There are ways.”

“What ways? What?”

“You remember how I procured a powder for you which made you irresistible to my Lord Rochester?”

“Yes, Jennet.”

“Well, mayhap I could procure a powder which would make my Lord Essex so loathe you that he would wish to be rid of you.”

“Do it, Jennet. Do it without delay.”

“It is not as easy as that.”

“You mean it would cost money. You know I can find money. I have my jewels. I will give anything to escape from Essex.”

“You are married to him and escape will be difficult. It may well be that even if he loathes you he will still make you live as his wife. If he took you to Chartley, loathing you, you would be very little less unhappy than if he loved you.”

Frances paced up and down the apartment. Then she cried suddenly: “I will see my Robert. I will tell him of my predicament. He is the most powerful man at Court. He will know what to do.”

Robert Carr embraced her with tenderness. His emotions were more engaged than he had believed possible. Frances’s vitality was incomparable; she was a passionate mistress; and he would be really sorry to lose her.

On this day she was clearly disturbed.

“Oh, Robert,” she cried, “you must know what has happened to me. I am desolate. But I know that you will save me. You are all powerful. No one would dare disobey you.”

“Do be calm,” he implored, “and tell me all about it.”

“My husband is home and he wants to take me away from Court … to the country.”

“But it is natural that he should.”

“Natural!” she stormed. “Why should he not stay at Court? Why should he want to bury me in the country … even if he does himself?”

“It is usual for wives to live with their husbands.”

“Robert, you can stand there so calmly … !”

“My dear Frances, ours has been a charming friendship.”

“A charming friendship! Is that all it is to you?”

“How I wish it could be more. But you are not free.”

She threw herself against him; she gripped his arms and stared into his face. “Robert, if I were free, would you marry me?”

“My dearest Frances, you are not free.”

She stamped her foot. “If I were, I said. If I were.”

“Ah, if they had not married you to Essex, how different everything would be.”

“Then you would marry me?”

Marry a daughter of the Howard family, one of the first in the country—rich, influential? Certainly he would. He had hesitated over Anne Clifford; but he would not over Frances Howard.

“Of course I would marry you,” he said truthfully.

“My dearest. My love!” she cried in ecstasy.

“You have forgotten something, my dear. You are not free to marry, having already a husband.”

“I shall never forget what you have just said, Robert. Never.”

“I shall always remember you.”

“You talk as though we are saying goodbye.”

A look of pained surprise crossed his handsome face. “Alas, but we are,” he said.

“Robert, I shall never say goodbye to you. I shall never give up hope. You can prevent my going to the country. You can ask the King to command that we stay here.”

He raised his eyebrows. “That would be most unwise.”

“Unwise! What has wisdom to do with love like ours.”

“Ah,” he sighed. “You are right. We have been unwise. And I fear the consequences if you remained at Court. What when your husband discovered that we were lovers?”

“Let him discover.”

Robert moved away from her. She was being rather ridiculous. While James had no objection to a love affair he would not be pleased by scandal. James disliked the sort of scandal that could easily arise if Essex discovered he had been forestalled. It could do endless harm. No, the affair was over. He was regretful, but he knew he would grow less so as the days passed. She had been a charming mistress and he had been far from indifferent. In fact, he could sincerely say that he had never cared for a woman as he had cared for her; but that did not imply that he was the victim of a grand passion.

Frances was staring at him in horror. She had sensed the shallowness of his feelings compared with her own, and she was desolate.

He was ready to say goodbye. Perhaps he was eager to do so. He did not want trouble with Essex.

It was early next morning when two soberly dressed women, both wearing hoods pulled well over their faces, rode along the river bank toward the village of Hammersmith.

Jennet had said: “It will be well for us to avoid the crowded streets which can be noisy.”

“I would not wish to be recognized,” her mistress agreed.

“My lady, are you sure—”

“That I want to come? Of course I want to come, you fool. Did we not decide that it was the only way?”

“Very well, my lady, but if we should be caught …”

“Oh, have done! I will take the blame. I will say that I forced you to take me. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? You could not force me to come, could you?”

Jennet appeared to be satisfied with that.

Her mistress would know how to take care of them both; perhaps she need not have worried about any evil that might have befallen them in the streets of London. Yet she had shivered to think of Lady Frances riding through the streets of the City, which were used by pick-pockets and prostitutes, or lewd men out for adventure. She saw that a curl had escaped from her mistress’s hood, and in any case a quick glance would give some idea of the beauty which there had been an attempt to hide.

But Frances had determined to come, and who could gainsay Frances when she made up her mind.

Jennet was relieved when they came to the outskirts of Hammersmith and in a short time were pulling up before a house.

They were ushered in by a maid whose sandy hair was plainly worn in a twist at the nape of her neck; there was a shawl about her shoulders; her tight bodice was topped by a linen collar and her skirts were full, though naturally she wore no farthingale.

“Madam is waiting for you,” she said in an awed whisper.

“Then take us to her at once,” commanded Jennet. “My lady does not like delay.”

A door was opened and Frances and Jennet stepped into a pleasant room. It was small by the standards to which Frances was accustomed, but she realized that it was comfortably furnished. The ceiling was ornamental and there were some good pictures on the walls. A woman who had been sitting by the window rose as they entered and came forward swiftly. She curtsied before Frances; then rising, took her hand and said: “Welcome, my lady.”

Then she nodded to Jennet and bade them sit down while she called for refreshment.

Wine was brought with little cakes which Frances, who had a good appetite, found delicious; but she was too excited to care much for eating or drinking, and was very eager to get to the business which had brought her here.

“Jennet has often talked of you, Mrs. Turner,” said Frances.

“I am honored,” answered the woman.

She was handsome, richly dressed and had an air of distinction, and although no longer young—she could have been some fifteen years older than Frances—she was still very attractive. It occurred to Frances that she would not have been out of place in some Court circles.

“Jennet has told you why we have come?”

“As far as possible, my lady,” Jennet answered.

“You yourself must tell me exactly what you want,” said Mrs. Turner. “I am sure we shall be able to procure it for you.”

Frances wasted no time. “I was married as a child, having no say in the matter. I did not live with my husband who went abroad. Now I have met a man whom I wish to marry, but my husband is insisting that I go with him to the country. I cannot do this. I will not do it. I want to be freed from my husband; and to make sure of keeping the love of the other.”

“Is my lady in danger of losing the love she wishes to keep?”

Frances said firmly: “Yes.”

Mrs. Turner took up a fan and fanned herself. She was thoughtful.

Then she said: “My lady, you were given a potion some while ago.”

“Yes, that is so.”

“And it was … effective.”

“It is for that reason that I am here now.”

Mrs. Turner laughed lightly. “I see we shall get on well. You speak your mind. I am forthright myself. I must tell you that I only dabble in these arts. I myself used a love potion once.”

“It was successful?”

“Most successful. I have been to Court. My husband was Dr. George Turner. The late Queen was very good to him and saw that he gained advancement. He had a considerable practice among her courtiers.”

“I thought this must be so,” said Frances, who found a kindred spirit in this woman and was liking her more every moment. She had expected to meet some witch-like creature, some drab who would give her what she asked and demand a high price for it. To find a cultured lady, who knew something of Court life, was an agreeable surprise and was making this meeting, which she had thought might be an ordeal, very pleasant.

“Oh yes, I have had a comfortable life. Dr. Turner was so clever. A kind husband too. Of course I was much younger than he was, and he understood.” She became a little arch. “It was then I needed the potion. I had fallen in love with a very gallant gentleman. You may have heard of him—Sir Arthur Manwaring. The potion I took worked as I wanted it to. I have three children by him now—such darlings. They are all here with me.”

Frances looked a little startled and Mrs. Turner went on: “I tell you this, my dear, to let you know my secrets. You see, I shall have to know yours. And I have always believed that it is fair to share secrets. That is why I tell you … to let you know that whatever you wish to tell me, it is safe, locked in here.” She touched her silken bodice below the yellow ruff to indicate her heart.

“You are right,” said Frances. “I did feel a little chary of telling you all that I feel.”

“Then set aside your fears. Some turn their eyes upward and look pious because a handsome woman seeks a lover outside the marriage bond. I do not. I have done it all before you.”

“Can you help my lady, Mrs. Turner?” asked Jennet.

“I am sure I can.”

“Can you give me two potions? One to make my husband loathe me; the other to make my lover continue in such love for me that he cannot rest until I am his wife?”

Mrs. Turner was thoughtful. “It is not so easy to help a married lady to another marriage,” she said.

“But why not?”

“Because it is always a little more dangerous when there is an unwanted husband.”

“I do not understand.”

Jennet said quickly: “My lady does not wish to harm her husband.”

“Of course not. But the difficulties are there. I think in such a delicate situation I must call in the help of the wisest man in London.”

“Who is that?” demanded Frances.

“My father, Dr. Forman.”

“I have never heard of him.”

“You will soon. He gave me the little knowledge I have; but he is well known for his genius. When you have refreshed yourself I propose that we leave for his house. I have told him that he might expect us.”

Jennet glanced anxiously as Frances, but Anne Turner had so won her confidence that Frances was ready to go wherever she suggested.

In his Lambeth residence Dr. Simon Forman was waiting for his visitors.

The room in which he would receive them had been made ready; the Countess of Essex would be by no means the first highly born client he had welcomed here. Often ladies of the Court, having heard of his fame, came to beg favors of him; and he sold them dearly.

He rubbed his hands gleefully; it was pleasant to think that a member of the noble family of Howard was coming to consult him.

On the walls hung the skins of animals; there was a stuffed alligator on a bench, and ranged about it bottles of colored liquid. Painted on the walls were the signs of the Zodiac; and a chart of the heavens was propped up on the bench. Hangings were drawn across the one small window; and candles in sconces had been placed about the room.

Dr. Forman was pleased with this room; he considered that it had a desired effect on the applicant before the talk began.

He had a sharp, clever face; he had lived almost sixty years and a great many experiences had been packed into those years. He had always thirsted after knowledge; and it had become clear to him, at a very early age, that he was an extraordinary man. As a child he had been tormented by the strangest dreams; and he had quickly discovered that, by telling these dreams and putting a plausible construction on them, making a guess at what had a very good chance of happening to some of his acquaintances, he very soon earned a reputation for having supernatural knowledge. He decided to exploit this.

Simon Forman was born at Quidhampton in Wiltshire. His grandfather had been governor of Wilton Abbey but, with the suppression of the Monasteries, was robbed of that post and given inferior employment about the Park.

One of Simon’s early occupations was to compile a genealogical tree which, he insisted, revealed that the Formans were a family of some gentility and that several of his forbears had been knights.

His pride had been deeply wounded in his childhood, for poverty was humiliating to one who was certain that he possessed unusual powers. But he never lost sight of the need for education, and when William Riddout, an ex-cobbler turned clergyman who had fled from Salisbury on account of the plague, came to live near the Forman family, Simon was allowed to take lessons with him.

Simon’s father had the same respect for learning as his son, and had in fact imbued Simon with this desire to improve himself; and when it seemed that Riddout could teach him no more, Simon was sent to a free school in Salisbury.

He had suffered there under a master named Bowle, who had beaten him severely on more than one occasion, so under him Simon lost a little of his desire for learning; but he was a sharp lad and managed to elude whippings more successfully than his fellow students.

Simon was pleased when his father decided to take him from this school and put him into the care of a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral. This man, whose name was Minterne, lived very austerely, and life in his household was sheer misery. There was never enough to eat and in winter the cold was almost unbearable.

Canon Minterne did not believe in self-indulgence and would not have coal in the house, although he did permit a little wood to be used—but not for burning. “Exercise,” he told Simon, “brings more comfort to the body than sitting over fires. If you are cold, boy, do as I do. Take these faggots and carry them up to the top of the house at great speed. When you have reached the top, come down again; repeat this until you are warm. That is the way to enjoy comfort in cold weather.”

The boy had been sorry for himself during his stay in the Canon’s house; but he had to suffer greater misery than that of austere living when his father had died and his mother, harassed by poverty, declared that she had not patience with a boy wasting his time on learning, and Simon must earn his keep now.

What humiliation! He, Simon Forman, the possessor of special powers, to be apprenticed to a dealer of Salisbury; moreover one with a wife who thought it her right to lay about her husband’s apprentices with a stick when the mood took her. He had no intention of giving up his dream of becoming a scholar though, and found a means of doing this. Lodging in the house of his master was a schoolboy, and Simon cajoled this boy into teaching him by night all that he had learned by day.

When he considered himself sufficiently learned to teach others, he ran away from the merchant’s house and became a schoolmaster; he then had a stroke of luck. He made the acquaintance of two lighthearted young men who were studying at Oxford—or pretending to. They needed a servant. This gave Simon his opportunity. While looking after these young men, helping them in their courtship of a certain lady (they were both her suitors, which simplified matters) Simon was able to study at the university—a great asset for future use, even though circumstances prevented his attaining his degree.

He took several small posts at schools after that and, believing that there was more money and prestige to be won by using what he called his miraculous powers than by teaching, he decided to make a career for himself. He studied astrology and medicine and had certain success. It was inevitable though that some should consider him a quack, and he was brought to court to answer a charge of quackery.

When he was bound over on an injunction to cease his practices he went abroad for a while, and on his return set up as a doctor and astrologer in Lambeth. That was in the year 1583. There had been occasions when complaints were made against him, and he was imprisoned for a while; but his reputation was growing; and many wealthy people were coming to him and recommending him to their friends.

Although he was nearly sixty, he was as vital as he had been in his youth; he lived comfortably with several servants to attend to him. The females among them shared his bed whenever he had the fancy to invite them to, which was often—a fact which his wife had found necessary to accept. He was a man who had always been very fond of women—his clientele was largely made up of this sex—and it was a great pleasure to him to hear of their love affairs, their need to attract this lover, or rid themselves of that. He enjoyed a vicarious delight, of which they were not aware, as they sat in this darkened room and allowed him to peer into the secret places of their minds.

It was remembered in some of the poorer districts of London that during times of plague he had come where no other doctor had ventured, and that his remedies had saved many lives. So that he had his followers among the poor as well as the rich.

The authorities might despise him, and from time to time bring him before the justices. They might call him a charlatan and a quack with little knowledge of medicine. Simon would laugh.

“I look to the stars,” he retorted. “They tell me all I want to know about disease.”

He was vain and longed for the approbation of the world, and like most men of his trade he made long and frequent experiments in search of the philosopher’s stone; and because now and then his prophecies came true, like many of his kind and those who followed him, he remembered such occasions and conveniently forgot the many times he failed.

“I came to my present position the hard way,” he often told one of the maids whose young bodies kept him warm at night, “and that is the best way, my dear; for when a man has experienced hardship and opposition on his long climb upward he is ready for any contingency which presents itself.”

Now a rather intriguing contingency was about to present itself. Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, was on her way to see him.

Frances was overawed by the character of the room into which she was ushered. She was even more impressed by the man in his long black robes—decorated with colorful cabalistic signs—which gave a glimpse of blood-red lining as he moved toward her.

“Do not be afraid, my daughter,” he said.

“I am not afraid,” answered Frances.

“Call him ‘Father,’” whispered Anne Turner.

And strangely enough, so impressed was Frances that she did.

Jennet remained standing by the door, her eyes wide with wonderment.

“Be seated,” said Simon Forman.

Frances sat in the chair which was offered her; and Simon placed a crystal ball in her hands. Then with long bony fingers he himself threw back her hood.

Her beauty was startling in this dark room. Even Simon was astonished. His tongue licked his lips. What kind of man is this who needs to be wooed by such a beauty? he asked himself.

His expert eye saw there was more than beauty to this girl. Fire, passion, desire … and all directed toward one who was not eager for it.

He could bless his daughter Anne for bringing her to him.

He rubbed his hands together. Now he was going to uncover a spicy strip of Court scandal. He would have the pleasure of brooding on that—and counting the money it would bring him. This one could be considerably milched, he doubted not, for she was young, inexperienced and very eager in her desires.

“My daughter,” he said, “tell me all as clearly as you can.”

So Frances once more told of the unfairness of her marriage, of her dislike for her husband, of her love of another; and how it was imperative to her happiness that she be rescued from a position which was intolerable to her.

“Can you help me … Father?” she asked.

He laughed lightly. “It does not seem to me to be an impossible task, Daughter. First, there is the young man whose affections are cooling. We can give you a potion to strengthen his ardor. His affections, you say, cooled when your husband returned. Shall we say he is a man who has a horror of being involved in scandal?”

“You could say that.”

“Well then, our first task should be to work on your husband. We must find a means of cooling his ardor. Then if he is less anxious for your company, your lover will be less afraid. That will make it easier for us to work on his feelings.”

Frances clasped her hands. “Oh, I am sure you are right.”

“Then we will first work on the husband. Can you arrange that a powder be slipped into his food without his knowing?”

Frances hesitated. “He is surrounded by his servants. But I might manage it.”

Simon nodded. “H’m. We will brood on this matter. It may be that we can use some influence to make you life less difficult. But our first step is to give you the powders. These are costly to prepare.”

“I know … I know. I am ready to pay.”

“Mrs. Turner has explained?”

“Yes.”

“And she is no longer a rich woman. She has given up much time and thought …”

“I am ready to pay you both whatever you ask.”

“You must forgive my insistence, Daughter. We must live while we retain our earthly guise. You know Mrs. Turner, my dear daughter; she will be your confidante. And when necessary she will bring you to me. It would not be wise for you to pay too many visits to me; but why should you not enjoy a friendship with Mrs. Turner? She is a lady, like yourself, although not of such high rank. You will have much in common.”

“Thank you,” said Frances gratefully.

Two little phials were given to her. “Put the contents of these into his food, and we will see what is the result. I would have you remember that we are dealing with a difficult problem. There may be no results at first; particularly as you may have some difficulty in administering the powders. But we will not despair. I promise you, my daughter, that in time you will have your desire. I repeat … in time.”

Frances went away satisfied. She had been greatly impressed by both Mrs. Turner and Dr. Forman.

When she had left, Simon wrote in his diary: “The Countess of Essex came today. She is desirous of ridding herself of her husband that she may marry a certain gentleman in a very high place at Court.”

Robert Devereux faced his father- and mother-in-law. He was pale and there was a determined line about his jaw.

“I believe I have been patient,” he said, “but I cannot remain so. Your daughter simply refuses to live with me as my wife. I must ask you to speak to her and to tell her that, although I have waited so long, I am not prepared to wait any longer.”

The Earl and the Countess exchanged glances.

This, implied the Earl, is what comes of allowing the girl to live at Court. She should have remained in the country until her husband came to claim her. Then she would have been willing enough to go away with him. Court life has turned her head.

The Countess shrugged her shoulders. She understood her daughter well, because they were so much alike. Frances was not born to live a quiet life in the country any more than she herself was; and she would have rebelled sooner or later. The pity was that it was sooner.

She herself was far too interested in her own exciting life to worry much about her daughter. Frances must, of course, live with the man she had married—until she could make some other arrangement. It was the duty of her parents to make her understand this.

The Earl said: “I will speak to Frances. She is young and, I am afraid, wayward.”

“Tell her,” said Devereux, “that I intend to leave for Chartley within the next few weeks and to take her with me.”

“I shall insist that she accompanies you,” answered his father-in-law. “Leave this to me.”

As soon as Devereux had left, the Earl sent for his daughter.

Frances stood before him, sullen and defiant.

“You must be mad,” burst out her mother, “to behave thus.”

“I know you are thinking of my tragic marriage….”

“Tragic marriage! With Essex! My dear child, he is an easy young man. If you liked you could have what you wanted from him.”

“There is only one thing I want from him … my freedom.”

The Earl spoke gently: “Look here, my child, you have not given your marriage a chance. You have been spoiled at Court. I would to God we had never allowed you to come.”

“I will not leave the Court with Essex.”

The Earl was aware of his wife’s eye on him, a little scornful; he then went to Frances and gripped her firmly by the arm.

“We have been over-gentle with you,” he said. “That was a mistake. There shall be no more mistakes. You are going to behave like a good wife to your husband. Make no mistake about it.”

“No one can make me,” cried Frances wildly.

“You are mistaken. I am your father and I can make you. I shall have you whipped if need be. I shall have you kept a prisoner in your apartment. I shall have you trussed, if necessary, and delivered to your husband.”

His mouth was grim. Frances knew that like most easy-going men he could be goaded into action; and on those rare occasions he could be stubbornly determined.

She was in despair.

When he left the Earl and Countess of Suffolk, Robert Devereux, feeling sick at heart and deeply depressed, wanted to escape from the restrictions of the palace. He came out into the fresh air and walked aimlessly, not seeing the river and the crowds, but Frances, the expression of loathing on her face; he contrasted the reality of his homecoming with what he had hoped for, and his melancholy increased.

He had made up his mind. He was not a man to act impulsively, but once he had decided on a course of action he was determined to take it.

When he had said that he intended to leave Court within a few weeks, he meant it; and when he said that Frances was coming with him, he meant that too.

He found himself close to St. Paul’s and, still not caring which way he went, he wandered into the main walk where all kinds of business was in progress. The noise was deafening but he did not heed it; several sharp eyes were on him, for he was obviously a gentleman of the Court; his clothes betrayed him. Two pick-pockets had their eyes on him and were closely observed by a third.

A marriage broker called to him as he passed: “Are you seeking me, sir?”

A pandar with two brazen girls, one on each arm, shouted: “Would you like a pretty wench to take home with you?”

At one pillar of the aisle a letter-writer was working for a client; a horse-dealer was at another; everywhere the prostitutes lurked.

Foolish of him to have come to Paul’s Walk at such a time. He realized it suddenly. He might as well have gone to the Royal Exchange gallery to be pestered by the stall holders and of course the prostitutes.

He was aware of the crowds pressing about him; the smell of their clothes and bodies was distasteful. A beggar came near to him and laid a hand on his; this beggar’s hand was hot and there were patches of scarlet color in his face.

“Pity the blind beggar, fine gentleman.”

He felt in his pocket for a coin and gave it to the man, and immediately he was besieged on all sides.

He despised himself. He could not manage to take a walk in the streets without trouble, so how could he hope to tame a wayward wife?

He gave more alms and crying, “Enough! Enough!” struggled out of the crowd. It was not until he was some distance from Paul’s Walk that he realized he had been robbed of his purse and the gold ornaments on his doublet.

The walk had done him little good. It had brought home to him his inadequacy. Moreover, there was a stiff feeling in his throat; his skin was prickling and his hands were as hot as those of the blind beggar.

Frances and Jennet were alone. Frances’s eyes were brilliant.

“It has happened, Jennet. This is Dr. Forman’s doing.”

“What, my lady?”

“The Earl of Essex is grievously sick of a fever.”

“Is that so?”

Frances clasped her hands together and raised her eyes to the ceiling ecstatically.

“He is dangerously ill. He has a raging fever. It came upon him suddenly. Oh, don’t you see, Jennet? This is the result of Dr. Forman’s work. I was not able to give Essex the powder, and Dr. Forman knew it. So he has been working his spells to help me.”

“I knew he would help you, my lady.”

“I don’t know how to thank him and dear Turner, and you, Jennet. Because soon I shall be free, and when I am, my Robert will not hesitate. He loves me but he could not risk a scandal. That is understandable. The King would be furious; and we dare not offend the King. Oh, Jennet, this is what I wanted. You see, until now I had thought that if only Essex would go away, cease to pester me, leave me at Court with my beloved, I should be happy.”

“And now my lady wants more.”

“Yes, Jennet, I want more. I no longer want to be married to Essex. And if he were dead, I shouldn’t be. And he is dying, Jennet. Soon I shall be free.”

Frances curtsied before the King.

James smiled at her kindly, though vaguely. That was as well for she could not keep her attention on him because beside him stood his favorite, the Viscount Rochester.

“Well, my dear,” James was saying, “we rejoice with you. A terrible tragedy has been averted. I am told that the worst of the fever is past. You must be a very happy woman.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” murmured Frances, and she thought: Happy! I must be the most unhappy woman at your Court.

Robert Carr’s benign smile, a replica of the King’s, only added to her unhappiness. It seemed as though he too were pleased because Essex was recovering from his fever, and that the good which could come to them through the death of Essex had not occurred to him.

She was in despair.

It would have been better if Essex had never caught the fever. Then she would not have glimpsed that glorious possibility; but that it should have come so near only to be snatched away was intolerable.

“And now we are going to lose you, Lady Essex,” went on the King. “I have talked with your husband and he tells me that as soon as he is quite recovered he is going to take you away from us.”

Speak, Robert! she wanted to cry. Tell him that I must not go.

“We shall miss Lady Essex, eh, Robbie?”

“We shall miss her, Your Majesty.”

“Well, my dear, your bonny smile will cheer old Chartley instead of Whitehall. Chartley needs your cheerful presence. It was one of the prisons in which they kept my mother. I think she did not hate it as much as some. You will come to Court again, I doubt not.”

Frances must pass on. She knew what was behind James’s words. This was a command to stop being a recalcitrant wife and obey her husband. She supposed that her father had told the King that she was refusing to leave Court with her husband.

James had spoken and there could be no disobeying the wish of the King.

Never would she forget that dreary journey to Chartley. They rode side by side, not speaking, two young people, their faces set into lines of determination—his to subdue her, hers never to be subdued.

She had ridden to Lambeth before she started on this journey north. It was her only comfort to remember what had taken place there.

“The spirits were not strong enough,” Dr. Forman had told her. “There were other forces at work against us. It takes time to bring about such a conclusion as we wish for. A little more time and the fever would have proved fatal.”

She had changed in the last weeks. Previously she had been a spoiled girl, anxious to have everything that she desired; she had not thought of death when she planned to rid herself of Essex. She only wanted him to go away and leave her in peace.

But he was so stubborn; and she had changed. She was now a woman who might not hesitate to kill if she had the opportunity.

Secreted about her person were certain powders which had been given her by Dr. Forman. Some were to be put in her husband’s food; others to be sprinkled on his clothing.

If she obeyed his instructions it should not be long before she achieved her heart’s desire.

She believed in Dr. Forman, but as she rode farther north her spirits quailed.

Every mile lengthened the distance between her and the Court, between her and Robert Carr. And was he thinking of her while she was absent? He had never loved her with the violence with which she had loved him. And now that she was away from him, suppose others sought to lure him from her with potions and philtres? They might easily do it while she was not there to fight them.

So she was melancholy and would have been even more so but for the thought of Dr. Forman and Mrs. Turner in London who would, they had assured her, continue to work for her, even though she was far away.

She saw her new home—a castle on an eminence in a fertile plain. She looked with distaste at the circular keep, at the round towers.

Chartley Castle—her prison.

DEATH OF A PRINCE

Robert Carr was relieved to see Frances leave the Court. He was more attracted by her than he had ever been by a woman before, and when he had said that, were there no impediments, he would have willingly married her, he was speaking the truth.

He would have liked to have a son to whom he could leave his fortune and give his name; and Frances had everything that he could look for in a wife—rank, wealth, an influential family and greater physical attraction than any other woman he knew.

But because she was so vehement in character, because she was already married to a very noble gentleman, he preferred to forget about her.

He was becoming more and more involved in the King’s affairs. It was amazing what a difference Thomas Overbury had made to his life. Not only did Tom deal with his correspondence, but he had a way of explaining difficult matters so that they were clear to Robert; he could also advise and make suggestions which Robert passed on to the King, to James’s delight.

There was no doubt that Tom was a brilliant man, and he was in his element, working in the background, knowing that he was having an influence on the affairs of the country. Whenever Robert was in any difficulty he went to Tom and explained it, and there was a firm bond of friendship between the two men.

Robert showered gifts on his friend. At first Tom protested. “What I do for you, Robert, I do out of friendship.” “What I give you, Tom, I give out of friendship,” replied Robert.

But when Tom began to see how his suggestions were accepted and Robert received the credit for them, he asked himself why he shouldn’t be rewarded. After all he earned everything he received. It was Robert who took the honors, and the King’s gifts, so why should Tom hesitate to pick up the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table? He earned them.

His attitude changed slightly. He was as devoted to Robert as ever; but he was beginning to look on him as his creature, a puppet, who danced to his tune.

It was an intoxicating thought that he, Tom Overbury, son of an obscure knight of Bourton-on-the-Hill in Gloucestershire, who had come to Court without any relations to help him along to fame and fortune, should now be an adviser to the King—for that was what he was, even though the King and others did not know it.

Well, he was happy to help a good friend; and his pleasure was to see Robert rise higher and higher in the King’s favor, for the higher Robert soared, the higher went Tom Overbury.

It was Tom who understood that the man who was deliberately trying to impede Robert’s rise was the Earl of Salisbury.

Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, was the greatest politician of his day. James had inherited him from Elizabeth, and shrewdly understood that this was a man who would work steadily for the good of the country, thrusting aside all thought of self-aggrandizement.

Salisbury disliked the influence the King’s favorites held over him; he would have liked to sweep the Court free of them all, and there might have been a personal feeling in this, for the favorites were noted for that personal charm which Salisbury sadly lacked. He was very small, being only a little over five feet in height; he suffered from curvature of the spine which had affected the set of his neck, and earned for him the epithet Dwarf. Both Elizabeth and James had found nicknames for those about them, and Elizabeth had affectionately called him her Little Elf. James’s name for him was less charming. He was Pigmy to him; and he often called him his Little Beagle to his face.

Again and again when James had sought to bestow some post on Robert Carr, Salisbury had pointed out the inadvisability of the action and James had to concede that he was right. The Little Beagle was too clever to be ignored; therefore although Robert Carr had become more firmly established in the King’s affection than ever, he still had not attained the posts and honors which could have been his.

Overbury was too clever to believe that at this time he and his friend could set themselves against the Little Beagle; but he did not see why Carr should not in time, when he, Overbury, had a greater grip of affairs, oust this rival from his place; and Overbury believed that eventually the leading statesman of Britain would not be Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, but Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester.

The battle between Salisbury and Carr must at some time come to a head, and this seemed about to happen when the King needed money and asked the Parliament for it. When Parliament refused this, and hinted that if the King was in financial difficulties the first step toward easing the position might be to dismiss his Scottish favorites on whom he lavished a great deal, Robert was alarmed, because he knew that as the leading favorite, this suggestion was aimed primarily at him.

He went into conference at once with Overbury who shared his alarm, and reminded him that, as the King’s favorite, he had too many enemies in high places; and he would do well to remember that the King’s old Secretary of State, Lord Salisbury, was the first of these.

“You will have to tread cautiously, Robert,” said Tom. “Otherwise Salisbury will get his way. It would be the end of everything if you were sent back across the Border.”

“I’m afraid of Salisbury.”

“Who would not be? He’s a brilliant statesman and James knows that. Oh, how I wish I were there when you talk to the King. You must make him understand that he should not give way to the Parliament. Otherwise they’ll have the upper hand and they’ll strike against you.”

“But even if the King dissolves Parliament that won’t get him the money he wants.”

Overbury was silent for a moment; then he said: “There could be ways of raising money without the help of Parliament. James believes in the Divine Right of Kings so he would not be averse to trying them out.”

“What ways are these?”

Overbury pondered for a moment or so and then said: “Well, for one thing, there are many rich men about the Court who lack a good family background. They would give a great deal to possess titles. Why shouldn’t the King sell titles? I should imagine that would bring him quite a pleasant sum.”

“Why, that’s a brilliant idea,” cried Robert. “I’ll tell James at once.”

“Don’t rush in with it. Let it come out casually, as though you’ve thought of it on the spur of the moment.”

“I will, Tom. My dear, clever fellow. What should I do without you?”

The King’s ministers were beginning to think that Carr was a good deal more shrewd than they had suspected. The King had dissolved Parliament when it was rumored that that body was about to demand the return of certain Scotsmen to their own country. The position would have been extremely awkward for Robert Carr and James if Parliament had ordered the favorite’s eviction.

It was a shock to the King’s ministers because they had believed that, owing to his dire need of funds, he would not be able to do without their help. Moreover, only the judicious Salisbury prevailed on the King not to send the more troublesome of the ministers to the Tower.

Then it was understood why James could afford to do without his Parliament. He had a new idea which, it was said, had been put forward by Carr.

Any man of means who would like to become a baronet might do so if he would present a little over a thousand pounds to the royal exchequer.

From all over the country this offer was taken up. In rolled the money; and if there were a large number of baronets, what did the King care.

He was delighted with his clever Robbie who could concoct such plans to bring his old Dad and Gossip what he needed.

James was terrified.

He summoned Robert to him, and when he came bade him lock the doors of the apartment.

“I smell treason in this,” he declared.

“My dear Majesty, I pray you calm yourself,” begged Robert.

“I canna help feeling that this is another of their dastardly plots, boy. Have ye heard what has happened?”

“The Lady Arabella has escaped from Barnet.”

“Aye, lad. Escaped and on the high seas. I’ve ordered that a boat be sent after her from Dover. But if she reaches France and hides there, how can we guess what black mischief she’ll be at … she and that traitor of hers, Will Seymour?”

“Your Majesty, I feel sure that she will not be allowed to reach France. We shall capture her and bring her back.”

“Ye’re a great comforter, boy. But this is how the plots begin. I dream about them, Robbie. I dream they’re stacking gunpowder in the cellars again; and that those who wish me out of the way, as the Ruthvens once did, will be putting their heads together. I’ve had luck so far, Rob. It wouldn’t be logical to expect it to go on.”

James was thinking of the ministers of his own Parliament who had recently spoken against him. What were they planning? Wouldn’t they seize an opportunity to rally to Arabella; even if the girl did not wish to start a war, they’d make her; she would be a good figurehead. And who could say how ambitious Will Seymour was?

It was a mistake perhaps to have taken her from Sir Thomas Parry with whom he had lodged her when she had disobeyed him by her marriage. She must have been desperate when she heard that she was to go to Durham to be in the care of the Bishop there. She had fretted and her health had suffered so that on the way north she had seemed to become seriously ill and had had to rest at Barnet. Now James saw that that was very likely a trick.

She must have had friends who helped her; she could never have escaped if she had not. Where would she have found French-fashioned hose, and a man’s doublet? They must have been found for her; and she, while he believed her to be sick, had dressed herself in these, added a man’s peruke, a black hat and cloak—not forgetting a sword—and had, in the company of some of her friends, slipped away. She had reached the Thames, where she boarded a waiting vessel and was taken to a French ship which was lying in readiness for her.

This was not all. At the same time William Seymour, also wearing a peruke and a false beard, had walked out of his prison in the Tower down to the river where a boat was waiting for him.

How could this have been done, demanded James, if the pair of them had not possessed friends to help them?

“But mark ye this,” added the King. “Luck has not gone with them all the way, for I am informed that by the time Will Seymour made his escape, the French ship had already left with the Lady Arabella, fearing to wait longer. Where Seymour is we do not know, but we’ll find him. And when these birds are once more my captives, there shall be such a cage made for them that they will never fly away again.”

James’s fears were soon diminished. Before her ship touched the shores of France it was overtaken by its swift pursuer, and Lady Arabella was brought back to England.

“Take the Lady to the Tower,” said James. “And this time make sure that she is well guarded. And what of Will Seymour?”

There was no news of Will Seymour for some weeks; and then the rumor came to the Court that he had safely reached France and was sheltering there.

James was uneasy. He would have many a nightmare about that young man. It was good that Arabella was in safe custody, but plots would go on doubtless while Seymour was free.

In her cell Lady Arabella wept bitterly for the ill fortune which was hers. She did not wish to wear the crown of England; she only wanted to live in peace with her husband.

She prayed that he might stay safe in France and that at some time she would be able to join him.

Ready to catch at every hope, she thought of Robert Carr who had seemed to her a kindly man, and had so great an influence with the King.

She took up her pen and wrote to him, imploring him to plead her cause with the King; she begged him to consider her sorry plight, and signed herself the most sorrowful creature living.

Robert was distressed when he read the letter. He had only a casual acquaintance with the Lady Arabella but he had always believed her to be a gentle, harmless lady.

He wanted to plead for her with the King, but first he discussed the matter with Tom Overbury.

“There is nothing you can do,” his friend told him. “Why even I, to whom the King has scarcely spoken, know how he fears plots. He is in terror of the assassin’s knife or the hidden gunpowder. No, Robert, don’t be a fool. Your strength lies in your ability to make the King feel comfortable. He wouldn’t if you pleaded for Arabella. You may think you can risk offending James. Don’t be too sure of that, Robert. Always remember that there are other handsome men waiting to spring into your place. Say nothing of this.”

As usual Robert took his friend’s advice. So Lady Arabella continued to languish in the Tower—a melancholy prisoner who had committed no crime—except of course that of belonging to a branch of the royal family. All she asked was to be able to live quietly with her husband, somewhere in the country if need be, well away from Court intrigue.

Alas, for Arabella.

In the upper chamber of the Bloody Tower, Sir Walter was showing Prince Henry plans for a journey he was hoping to make.

Rarely had Henry seen Raleigh looking so well; and he thought: If he could only regain his freedom he would be as full of vigor as he ever was.

“Do you know,” he was saying, “I really believe this time I shall not be disappointed. I said: Let me serve as a guide in this expedition and if I do not lead the way to a mountain of gold and silver, let the commander have commission, to cut off my head there and then.”

“You seem very sure of finding treasure, Walter.”

Raleigh laughed. “Ah, my Prince. It will be a gamble.”

“You’d gamble your head!”

“And day, for my freedom.”

“I shall pray for your success.” Henry’s eyes lit up. “Do you think I might come with you?”

“Not for a moment, my dear friend. The heir to the throne would never be allowed to risk his life.”

“If I could make my own decisions I should come.”

“When the time comes for you to make your own decisions, your duty will lie here, and not in Orinoco.”

“None will rejoice more than I on the day you return in triumph; and Walter, when I am King everything that you have suffered shall be made up for … a hundredfold.”

Raleigh patted the young man’s hand.

“I shall serve you with my life, my King.”

Henry, feeling too emotional for comfort, hastily changed the subject. “You have heard of course that there is a move to marry Elizabeth to the Prince of Piedmont.”

“I have heard.” Raleigh shook his head. “I should not care to see our Princess married to the son of the Duke of Savoy; and I hear there is another project.”

“That I should marry his daughter. What think you of this match?”

“It does not please me.”

“Then do not hesitate to speak of your objections.”

“I shall not.”

“There has been a suggestion that Elizabeth should marry the King of Spain. As you know there are many secret Catholics at Court, in spite of the moves my father has made against them; and I believe that some of his ministers are in the pay of Spain. I should protest strongly against a Catholic marriage for my sister, and so would she.”

“A great deal depends on Salisbury’s attitude.”

“His desire is for closer alliance with the Princess of the German Protestant union, and the young Elector Palatine is looking for a bride.”

“And Elizabeth, what does she feel?”

“Poor Elizabeth. She is not very old, you know. It is a sad fate which befalls our Princesses. They must marry and go into a strange land. At least that is a fate which we avoid.”

“You are very fond of your sister, and you will suffer from the parting.”

“I shall come to you more often and expect you to comfort me. But perhaps by then you will be on the way to Orinoco. Who can tell?”

Henry saw the far-away look in his friend’s eyes, and knew that he was already picturing himself on the high seas.

He is longing to set sail, thought Henry. And when he goes I shall have lost him for a while; and if ill should befall him, perhaps for ever. And if Elizabeth marries and goes away, I shall have lost her too.

There was one other he had lost.

He thought of her occasionally and then he was aware of a nostalgia for the days of his innocence. He had never replaced Frances, having no further wish for a mistress. She could still make him sad. He had believed her to be perfect and his ideal had been shattered on the day when he had learned that Carr was also her lover.

There in the upper chamber of the Bloody Tower he felt a desire never to grow up, if doing so meant that he must lose that which, in innocence, he had cherished.

With the coming of the summer there was much activity at Court on account of the Princess Elizabeth, while one faction worked for a Catholic marriage and another was in favor of the German match.

Northampton, secretly in the pay of Spain, having made a friend of Robert Carr, sought to carry him along with him. On the other hand Prince Henry and his sister were fiercely against a Catholic marriage.

Henry, who loved his sister more devotedly than he loved anyone else, was convinced that she could be happier with a man of her own faith; she too shared his opinion.

The antagonism between Robert Carr and the Prince of Wales intensified, although Robert’s pleasant easy-going nature made an open breach difficult. He rarely took offense and was always deferential in his manner to the Prince, but Henry hated the man; whenever he saw him, he pictured him making love to Frances, who, now chafing against life at Chartley, would have felt some comfort to know that she was not forgotten at Court.

Tom Overbury was constantly watching his friend’s enemies; and there were two who gave him great cause for alarm. One was the Prince of Wales; the other, Lord Salisbury. But Lord Salisbury was an old man and of late had shown signs of failing health; and Overbury had secret ambitions which he hoped to see fulfilled when the old man died. To whom would fall the Secretaryship and the Treasury? Why not to Robert Carr?

Perhaps this was hoping for too much? But Robert—with Overbury working in the background—would be capable of holding these offices.

Overbury was growing more and more excited during these months.

Salisbury eventually succeeded in making the King see the advantages of the German marriage, and the Princess Elizabeth was formally plighted to the Elector Palatine, Frederick V.

This was in a way a defeat for Northampton of whom Robert Carr had made a friend, and Overbury was dismayed because such a matter was enough to set courtiers asking: Is the favorite losing his influence with the King?

Robert himself maintained his serene attitude and never betrayed by a look or word that he was disconcerted. This was the quality which so endeared him to the King. He always gave the impression that he was at the King’s side to carry out his wishes, not to intrude with his own.

Then Salisbury went off to Bath so see if the waters could relieve him, and the Prince of Wales gave himself up to the pleasure of planning the coming visit to England of his sister’s suitor.

Robert sought out Overbury, and it was clear that he was excited.

“News, Tom, which will be on everyone’s lips ere long. Salisbury is dead.”

Overbury was open-mouthed with astonishment, while slowly a look of delight spread across his face.

“Is it indeed true?”

“I have just had it from the King himself. Salisbury left Bath feeling that no good could come of his stay there. The journey home was too exhausting for him. He reached Marlborough, and there died. The King is mourning his Little Beagle. He says it will be long before we see a statesman of his brilliance.”

“We shall not share in the King’s mourning.”

“I had an admiration for the little fellow.”

“He was too clever for us. That’s why I am rejoicing that he is no longer here. Do you know that your Little Beagle put more obstacles in your way than the Prince of Wales ever did.”

“He didn’t think me worthy of the great posts and he was right.”

Overbury’s lips tightened. “I tell you this, Robert: with me behind you, you are worthy of any post the King could give you. Now we must be careful. We must tread cautiously. They’ll all be clamoring round now the Beagle’s gone. If you’re ever going to be number one in this kingdom, now is your chance.”

“Listen, Tom—”

“No, you listen to me. You’re going to have the offices Salisbury has vacated. You have to, Robert. There’s no standing still for you. It’s go on or fall out. I know and I’m telling you.”

Robert knew his friend was right, because he always had been. Therefore he must accept his guidance.

James looked on with cynical eyes while those about him jostled each other for the dead man’s shoes. There was not one of them who would match up to Little Beagle; James would miss Pigmy, but at the same time he was determined not to set up another in his place.

He had made up his mind what he was going to do. Robert Carr was the one who should benefit by the death of Salisbury; Beagle had been unfair to Robbie. Small wonder. The poor ill-favored creature must have been jealous of one who was singularly blessed with good looks.

Robert would be the ideal Secretary because he would always do what his master wanted. He would not have the title; that would cause too much of an outcry. He, James, would have a chance to put in action that policy which he had always favored: the Divine Right of Kings to act as they thought best.

Robbie should be the Secretary; he had become a genius with the pen and could always be relied upon to work along the lines his royal master suggested.

As the weeks passed it became apparent that Robert Carr was the most powerful man in the country under the King.

It was what many had suspected would happen, and some had feared.

But there were others who looked on jubilantly.

Among these was Thomas Overbury who saw himself as the secret ruler of Britain; another was the Earl of Northampton, Lord Privy Seal, who had decided to court Robert Carr that they might work together to further Northampton’s ends.

The Prince of Wales threw himself wholeheartedly into the preparations for his sister’s marriage. He had convinced her that she was fortunate to have escaped a Catholic match; and because she had always followed him in everything she did, she believed him.

As the summer months were passing the excitement grew. Elizabeth was busy being fitted for new gowns, examining jewels which would be hers. She had received a picture of the Elector Palatine; his looks enchanted her, and she kept this near her bed, each day declaring that she was a little more in love with him.

One day Henry said to her: “I think I shall come to Germany with you when you leave with your husband. Perhaps I shall find a bride there.”

“Then I should be completely happy, for Henry, there is one thing about my marriage that alarms me: leaving my family. I shall sadly miss our parents and Charles; but you and I have always been closer than the others. I never had a friend like you, Henry. Sometimes I wish that I were not going to be married, for I do not see how I can ever be really happy if I am parted from you.”

“Then that settles it,” said Henry with a smile. “I must accompany you.”

“In that case I can scarcely wait for the arrival of my bridegroom.”

Henry smiled at her fondly. “I shall not be sorry to take a little trip abroad. There are times when I feel it will be pleasant to get away from Rochester.”

“He has become more important since the death of my lord Salisbury, I fear.”

“If our father becomes much more besotted he will be giving him his crown. There is little else left to give him. He is at the head of all the functions now. Did you know that he is in charge of bringing our grandmother’s remains to Westminster?”

“You mean they are going to disturb the grave of Mary Queen of Scots?”

“That is what our father proposes. He does not care that his mother’s remains should be left in Peterborough. He wants to give them an honorable burial in Westminster.”

Elizabeth was silent; her expression had grown melancholy.

“What ails you?” asked Henry, coming over to her and putting his arm about her.

Looking up at him she thought he looked tired and strained.

“Henry,” she said, “you have been practicing too much in the tiltyard. You are tired.”

“It is good to feel tired.”

“I noticed that you have not looked well for some weeks.”

“It has been very hot. Why, what has come over you? Why are you suddenly sad?”

“I suppose it is the thought of what happened to our grandmother. In prison all those years and then taken into that hall at Fotheringay. How dared they, Henry? How dared they!”

“If Queen Elizabeth were alive you might ask her that.”

“I think our grandmother should be left in peace now.”

“Doubtless she would be pleased that our father wished to honor her.”

“But don’t you see, Henry, it’s unlucky to disturb the dead.”

“Nay, her spirit will rest in peace now that she knows her son mourns her truly.”

“It is all so long ago. Why disturb her now?”

Henry touched his sister’s cheek lightly. “I know what you’re thinking of—that old superstition.”

Elizabeth nodded. “A member of the dead person’s family must pay for disturbing a grave … pay with a life.”

Henry laughed. “My dear sister, what has come over you? It is a wedding we’re going to have in our family. Not a funeral.”

It was easy to make her laugh. She was about to become a bride; she believed that she was going to fall in love with her bridegroom and that she would not after all have to say an immediate farewell to her beloved brother.

Others were noticing a change in the Prince of Wales. He looked more ethereal than ever, and his face had lost a certain amount of flesh so that his Grecian profile looked more clearly defined. But there was a fresh color in his cheeks which gave an impression of health although he was beginning to cough so frequently that it was difficult to disguise this. He tried, it was true; and it was some time before anyone discovered that his kerchiefs were flecked with blood.

He did wonder why he could not shake off his cough. He tried to harden himself; he played tennis regularly and swam in the Thames after supper, which seemed invigorating; but at night he would sweat a great deal—and the cough persisted.

He was anxious that his sister Elizabeth and his mother should not know of this change in his condition, and he was particularly bright in their company; but often there would come into his mind Elizabeth’s fear when they had talked of the removal of Mary Queen of Scots from Peterborough to Westminster.

A life of a member of the family was the price that must be paid for tampering with the dead. It was quite ridiculous.

Everything seemed more colorful to Henry that summer. The sun seemed to shine more brightly; the flowers in the gardens were more brilliant; he often thought of Frances Howard whom he had loved and who had deceived him; and their relationship now seemed a wonderful experience. He wished that Frances would come back to Court. He was sorry for her, a prisoner in Chartley, for he knew that she had deeply resented being carried there by her husband. But perhaps she was in love with him by now. She was a fickle creature. It was well that she was in the country. If she were back he might be tempted to sin once more. He did not want that. He wanted to live these days with a zest and verve that was new to him. He wanted to enjoy each minute; not one of them should be wasted. He had that feeling.

He did not visit Sir Walter as often as he used to. Sometimes he would sail down the river and look toward the Bloody Tower. He did not want those keen sailor’s eyes to discover something which he would rather keep secret.

He did not wish to cast a backward look at what was rapidly overtaking him. He knew that one day it would be level with him; it would stretch out its cold arms and embrace him. There was no eluding that embrace. When it came he would be ready.

The Queen was unaware of her son’s condition because he made such an effort to conceal it that he had succeeded.

When she said, “And how is my beloved son this day?” he always answered: “In excellent health, as I trust to find my dear mother.”

She saw him flushed from riding and mistook the flush for health. He was a little thin, and she scolded him for this. He must eat more. It was a command from his mother.

He would sit and talk to her, tell her how he had scored in the tiltyard; and she would listen delightedly. He made a great effort to restrain his cough in her presence and often succeeded.

When he could not she would say: “I should have thought that friend of yours, Walter Raleigh, would have given you some draught to cure that cough. He is supposed to be so clever.”

“I must ask him when I see him next.”

“Do so. I like not to hear it.”

If Anne had not been so concerned with the coming wedding she might have been more aware of Henry’s state. The match with the Elector Palatine, who was known as the Palsgrave in England, did not please her, for she thought the man not good enough for her daughter.

“I’d set my heart on her being Queen of Spain,” she grumbled. “Who is this Palsgrave?”

“I think it is an excellent match, dear Mother,” Henry told her. “It delights me.”

She smiled at him indulgently, and for his sake tried to hide her disappointment; but she could not manage this completely. When Elizabeth came to them she said: “So Goody Palsgrave comes calling on a Prince and Queen.”

“She looks very happy,” commented the Prince.

“Mayhap she has forgotten she was once a Princess. Come along, Goody; you must make a deeper curtsy now.”

But Elizabeth threw her arms about her mother and said: “Forgive me, dearest mother, but I think that good wife Mistress Palsgrave is going to be very happy.”

Queen Anne snorted; but Henry was laughing. And it made her very happy to have these beloved children with her.

It was October when Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, arrived in England. The streets of the capital were decorated to welcome him, and the people turned out in their hundreds to greet him.

He was immediately popular, being good-looking and eager to please; and Protestants throughout the country welcomed the union.

When Elizabeth met him she found him all that she had hoped he would be; and there was no doubt that he was as enchanted with her.

For once two people who had been elected to marry for political reasons had fallen in love on sight. It was a very happy state of affairs.

Even the Queen could not help being pleased, although she continued to mourn the loss of the Spanish crown.

Henry had been feeling steadily more ill, and was finding it increasingly difficult to hide this. But during the celebrations he determined to conceal his condition and he plunged into the celebrations with great zeal.

Elizabeth was in love and happy. He wanted her wedding to be something she would remember with pleasure for as long as she lived.

At the tennis tournament he was one of the champions, and everyone marveled at his skill. Being October the weather was cold, but he played in a silk shirt so as not to be hampered by too many clothes.

When the game was over he was very hot, but almost immediately began to shiver.

The next morning a fever had overtaken him and he was unable to rise from his bed.

The Prince was ill; the news spread through the City. His illness has culminated in a virulent fever which, his doctors were sure, was highly infectious.

The Prince being aware of this implored his doctors not to let his mother, father, his sister, Elizabeth, or his brother, Charles, come near him.

He lay on his bed, not being quite sure where he was.

There were times when he believed he was dancing with Frances Howard, and others when he was sailing the high seas with Sir Walter.

The Queen walked up and down her apartment clasping and unclasping her hands while the tears streamed down her cheeks.

“This is not possible,” she cried. “My Henry! He was always such a bonny boy. This cannot be true. He will recover.”

Nobody answered her. No one believed the Prince could recover, but no one dared tell her this.

“When he was a baby,” she said, “he was taken away from me. I, his mother, was not allowed to nurse my own son. It was the same with them all. And now … this!”

But for all her grief she made no attempt to go to him. It would upset him, she assured herself; and she was terrified of contagion. Yet within her a battle was raging. She wanted so much to go to him; it was meet and fitting that his mother should be at his bedside. But if she should catch this fever … if it should run through the Palace … She must not be foolish; she must stay away from her beloved son. This was yet another sorrow to be borne.

She called one of her women to her.

“Send to Sir Walter Raleigh in the Bloody Tower. Tell him of the Prince’s need. He is a clever man. Let him give him some of his elixir of life. That will save him.”

Then she threw herself on to her bed and wept.

But she felt better. He was wise, her Henry, and he had always declared that Sir Walter Raleigh was the greatest Englishman alive—not only a fine sailor, but a scientist of immense power.

Sir Walter loved the Prince. He would not fail now.

When Sir Walter heard the news he was horrified. He had feared for some time that the Prince was ailing; but it was a great shock to learn that this well set-up young man was now close to death, the victim not only of a wasting disease but a virulent fever.

But Sir Walter was a man of vision. He had always believed that whatever he undertook would be successful. In the past he had seemed to be right and it was only when his great misfortune overtook him, and he lost his freedom, that he had doubted the truth of his doctrine.

Even so, optimism had prevailed and sometimes he wondered whether he had been made a prisoner that he might write history instead of making it, that he might preserve life with his scientific discoveries rather than take it in rash adventures.

He therefore believed that he had the nostrum which would cure the Prince; and in all confidence he went at once to the hut at the end of the Walk and brought it back.

Before he dispatched the messenger he wrote a hasty note.

“This will cure all mortal malady, except poison.”

The good news spread through the Palace and City. The Prince had regained sufficient consciousness to know that the draught he was given came from his good friend, Sir Walter Raleigh, and so confident of his friend’s powers was he that he seemed to recover.

Crowds gathered outside St. James’s Palace; they filled the streets from the Palace to Somerset House, and some knelt to pray for the life of the young man whom they all admired, respected and loved.

There were other cases of fever in the City; people were stricken, became delirious and in a few days died.

The Queen had left for Somerset House to be away from contagion; she was inconsolable; longing to be at her son’s bedside, yet fearing to be.

When the news came that Henry had recovered a little after taking the nostrum she fell on her knees and thanked God.

The King came to her with Elizabeth and Charles. They were all weeping bitterly and to Elizabeth it seemed unbelievable that, now she was to have a husband whom she could love, she was in danger of losing the brother who had until now held first place in her affections.

“Raleigh’s nostrum is working the miracle,” cried Anne. “Our son will live and we have that man to thank for it. You must reward him with his freedom. I shall never be able to thank him enough.”

James was silent. He was not so optimistic as the Queen; he knew that Henry had revived temporarily, but he believed they should wait awhile before allowing themselves to hope.

“Why do you not speak?” demanded Anne. “Raleigh says that the mixture will cure everything except poison. Why do you cease to rejoice? Do you believe that our son has been poisoned?”

“Dinna excite yourself so, my dear,” begged James. “This is a sad time for us. Let us meet it with calmness.”

But how could Anne be calm? If her son recovered she would be mad with joy; if he died she would be demented.

There were loud lamentations in the streets.

The news was out. About twelve o’clock on the night of the 5th of November, Prince Henry died.

The 5th of November! A significant date in the history of the life of the royal family. A few years earlier, on this very day, the plot to blow up the King and Parliament had been discovered.

In the streets the Catholics were declaring that this was a judgment on the persecutions which had followed the revelation of the Gunpowder Plot. There were riots and fighting in the streets, because there was always the mob which was ready for trouble at any opportunity. But the chief sound that filled the streets that night was that of weeping for the death of the most popular Prince of his House, the young man who had seemed so full of promise and who one day, the people had hoped, would be their King.

When the news was brought to the Queen she could not take it in for some time. She refused to believe it.

But at last she was forced to accept it, and the only way she could curb her great grief was in rage and recriminations.

“Raleigh said it would cure all but poison. Poison! Someone has poisoned my son. Who could have done such a foul thing to one who was beloved by all? What enemies had he among righteous men? None. But he had his enemies. What about Robert Carr whom he always hated? What of that sly shadow of his, Overbury? I always hated Overbury. I do not trust Overbury. He has poisoned my son at the request of Carr. I will prove it. There shall be an autopsy. And if poison is found I shall not rest until I have brought those men to justice.”

Those who heard of the ravings of the Queen did not hesitate to speak of her suspicions. Soon they were being whispered, not only in the Palace but throughout the City.

Even when the autopsy revealed that Prince Henry had died from natural causes, the rumor still persisted that he had been poisoned; and the names of Robert Carr and Overbury were mentioned in this connection. It was said that the Prince had hated his father’s favorite and had stood in the way of his promotion to even greater honors. Carr had a reason for wishing him out of the way; and it was known that Overbury was Carr’s creature.

James, who had shown greater courage than the Queen during the Prince’s illness and had been at his bedside even though warned of the contagious nature of his illness, scorned these suggestions; and bade Robert put them from his mind.

“Why, lad,” he said, “’twas ever the same. A prominent person dies and the word Poison is bandied from mouth to mouth. The autopsy shows the cause of death and in time all will come to accept it.”

Robert was grateful for the King’s sympathy but he was uneasy. It was unpleasant to be suspected of murder.

One evening the guards at St. James’s were disturbed by the figure of a naked man; he was tall and fair, and in the dim light had a look of the Prince.

“I am the ghost of the Prince of Wales,” cried the naked one. “I have come from the grave to ask for justice. Bring my murderers to the scaffold. It is where they belong.”

Some of the guards fled in terror, but two, bolder than the rest, approached the man and saw that he was not the Prince of Wales.

They hustled him into the porter’s lodge and there demanded to know who he was.

“The Prince of Wales,” he answered. “Come from the grave for justice.”

“This is a trick,” said one of the guards. “Someone has sent him to do this. We’ll find out who.”

They then took a whip and proceeded to lash the fellow until he screamed in agony. But he persisted that he was the ghost of the Prince of Wales.

Ghosts did not allow themselves to be beaten, the guards were sure. They tried to force him to confess he was a human being trying to trick them; but he persisted in his story, and they kept him there through the night, every now and then trying, as they said, to make him see reason and confess the truth.

In the morning news of what had happened was carried to the Palace and brought to the ears of the King, and James himself went to the porter’s lodge to see the ‘ghost’ of Prince Henry.

He frowned when he saw the marks of lashes on the naked body.

“Why,” he said, “did ye no understand that the man is sick? He’s suffering from the same fever that carried off the Prince. He’s in need of doctors, not lashes.” He tried to soothe the man whose mind was clearly wandering. “Don’t ye fret, laddie. You’ll be taken care of.”

He gave orders that the man should be cared for and inquiries made as to who he was.

It was soon discovered that he was a student of Lincoln’s Inn who had left his bed, deposited his clothes in an open grave and wandered on to the Palace.

On the King’s orders he was looked after in the porter’s lodge; and one evening when his nurses went to his bed, they found he had disappeared.

It was presumed that he had wandered out of the lodge, perhaps in an effort to find his way back to the grave which he believed he had left.

Some boatmen thought they saw him at the river’s edge and, as he was never seen again, it was believed that he had drowned himself in the Thames.

The rumor of poison died down; but it was not entirely forgotten. Rather was it laid away to be brought out in the future when people were reminded of it.

INTRIGUE AT CHARTLEY CASTLE

When Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, traveling from Court with his reluctant bride, was within two or three miles of Chartley Castle he found that the people of the neighborhood had come out to welcome him. He acknowledged their greeting with bows and smiles and felt wretchedly uncomfortable when he saw their astonished looks directed toward the beautiful but sullen girl riding beside him.

Frances stared straight ahead of her as though she did not see these people. She was not going to pretend that she was a happy bride.

Her beauty must attract attention, for although it was a little marred by her thunderous looks it was no less remarkable.

When they entered the old castle and found the servants lined up, waiting to pay homage, she walked past them and did not glance at one of them, so that it was clear to all that there was something very unusual about their master’s marriage.

“The Countess is weary with the long journey,” said Essex. “Let her be shown her apartments without delay so that she may rest.”

“I am not in the least weary,” retorted Frances. “While at Court I have been in the saddle for hours without feeling the slightest exhaustion. But let them show me my apartments.”

A dignified manservant signed to two young women, both of whom hurried forward, curtsied afresh to the Countess and turning, made their way up the wide staircase.

“Come, Jennet,” said Frances; and without another glance at her husband, followed the two serving girls.

“What a draughty place this is,” complained Frances. “One might as well have lodgings in the Tower. They could not be more uncomfortable. Where are you taking me? Is it to the apartments occupied by the Queen of Scots, when she too was a prisoner here?”

“I am not sure, my lady, where the Queen of Scots had her apartments,” said the elder of the servants.

Frances shuddered. “Poor lady. How she must have suffered!”

They had reached a corridor and were confronted by a spiral staircase. When they had mounted this they came to the apartments which had been prepared for the Earl and his Countess.

The rooms were luxuriously furnished, and from the windows was a view of the lovely Staffordshire countryside.

Frances looked at the big bed and her eyes narrowed.

She turned to the serving girls.

“You had better tell me your names.”

The elder, a girl of about twenty, said: “I am Elizabeth Raye, my lady.” She turned to her companion who appeared to be about sixteen. “And this is Catharine Dardenell. We have been selected to wait on you.”

Frances surveyed them intently, trying to assess how loyal they would be to the Earl. It might well be that she would need them to perform special services for her. She decided to try to win their confidence.

“I am sure you will do all you can to help me,” she said; and her face was transformed by the smile she gave them.

They curtsied in a rather embarrassed fashion.

“We shall do our best, my lady,” murmured Elizabeth Raye.

“Go now and bring me food. I am hungry. Bring enough for my maid here, too.”

“Yes, my lady. But a supper is being served in the great hall and the cooks have been planning for days what they would give my lord and lady on this day.”

“I shall not eat in the great hall. Do you understand?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“When you bring the food, knock on the door. It will be opened to you, if the two of you come alone.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Go now, because I am hungry.”

When they had gone, Frances turned to Jennet.

“Take the key from the outside and lock the door from the inside.”

“My lady …”

“Do as I say.” Jennet obeyed.

“Of one thing I am certain. He shall not come into this room.”

“Do you think that you can hold out against him, here in his own castle?”

“I must hold out against him.”

Jennet shook her head.

“You think he will force me? I have a dagger in this sheath. See, I wear it about my waist as some wear as pomander. I will kill him if there is any attempt at force.”

“Have a care, my lady.”

“Jennet, I am going to be very careful indeed.”

The Earl rapped on the door.

Frances went to it and called: “Who is there?”

“It is I, your husband.”

“What do you want?”

“To see you. To ask if you are pleased with the apartment.”

“I am as pleased as a prisoner can be with a prison as long as you do not share it with me.”

“Do you understand, Frances, that there will be a great deal of scandal if you behave like this?”

“Do you think I care for scandal?”

“I care.”

“Care all you wish.”

“Frances, be reasonable. My father lived here before me. It is my family home.”

“What of it?”

“I am asking you not to cause a scandal.”

“I’d be hard put to it to provide a greater scandal than your father did.”

“Frances, let me come in, only to talk to you.”

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“You are my wife.”

“Alas!”

“What have you against me?”

“Everything.”

“What have I done to deserve your contempt?”

“Married me.”

“Frances, be reasonable.”

“I am ready to be. It is you who will not be. Leave me alone. Let me go back to Court. If you are so fond of your draughty castle stay and enjoy it. I would not attempt to tell you where you should be—as long as it is not with me.”

“I shall not endure this state of affairs. You are my wife and my wife you shall be … in every way. Do you understand me?”

“You make yourself coarsely clear.”

“Let me come in and talk.”

“I repeat, there is nothing to be said.”

He was silent. He sighed deeply and then said in a sad voice: “Perhaps by tomorrow you will have come to your senses.”

She did not answer, but leaned against the door listening to his retreating footsteps.

She went back to Jennet. “You talk of his forcing me. He never would. He has no spirit, that man. He’s as mild as milk. Oh, why did they marry me to such a one, when, if I were free …”

Jennet shook her head and turned away.

Frances caught her arm and gripped it so tightly that Jennet cried out.

“What are you thinking, eh? Answer me at once.”

“My lady, you’re hurting my arm.”

“Speak then.”

“I was thinking that you are not free, and my lord Rochester did not seem to be as desolate as you were when you left London.”

Frances lifted her hand to strike the woman, but thought better of it. Her face crumpled suddenly and she said: “Jennet, I’m afraid that if I stay here too long, I shall lose him.”

Jennet nodded.

“You think so, do you?” burst out Frances. “What right have you to think? What do you know about it?”

“I have seen, have I not, my lady? But why do you despair? You saw Dr. Forman and Mrs. Turner before you left Court.”

A worried frown appeared on Frances’s brow. “I wish they were nearer, Jennet. I wish I could talk to them.”

“You have the powders with you?”

“Yes, but how administer them?”

“It would have been easier if you had allowed him to live with you.”

Frances shivered. “Never. If I did I believe that would be the end. My Lord Rochester would have finished with me then.”

“Did he say so?”

“He hinted it. Jennet, we’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to get out of here. I feel shut in … a prisoner. I was meant to be free. I can’t breathe here.”

“We’ll have to see,” said Jennet.

Essex almost wished that he had not returned to Chartley. Here it was much more difficult to keep secret the extraordinary state of his marital affairs. It was embarrassing for all his retainers to know that he was so distasteful to his wife that she refused to live with him as his wife. He was very young, being not much over twenty, and had had very little experience of women. Frances, two years his junior, was knowledgeable in comparison; she understood him while she bewildered him.

Had he been a stronger-willed man he might have forced his way into her apartments, in order to assure her that he was the master, but his nature was too gentle for him to adopt this method and he hoped he could persuade her to act reasonably.

He even made excuses for her; she was innocent; she was unprepared for marriage and viewed it with distaste. She was after all very young; she would grow up in time; then she would be sorry for all the trouble she had caused him.

The entire neighborhood was aware of the strange happenings inside the castle. The Countess was never seen out of doors. She refused to leave her apartments; her doors were always locked; though he believed that in the night, accompanied by Jennet, she walked about the castle and in the grounds.

Jennet was always with her; and the two Chartley maids, Elizabeth Raye and Catharine Dardenell, waited on her. They were regarded with great respect by the rest of the servants whom they told that the Countess was in truth a sweet lady, and so lovely to look at that she must be good. She had shown kindness to both Elizabeth and Catharine; and her own maid, Jennet, whom she had brought with her, was devoted to her. Catharine and Elizabeth were beginning to believe that the fault might lie with the Earl.

Essex spent a great deal of time brooding over the situation; and he liked to escape from the castle and often walked for miles trying to think of some solution.

He could, of course, allow her to return to Court and leave her alone; that was what she wanted; and she was ready to be his good friend if he would agree to it. But he was stubborn on one point; she was his wife. Ever since their marriage he had dreamed of coming home to her, because he had carried with him, all the time he had been abroad, a memory of that lovely young girl to whom he had been married. Having built up an ideal of what their life together would be, he could not accept this situation. He would not give up his dream so easily.

As he walked alone, deep in thought, he heard a cry for help which came from the direction of a swiftly running river. He was sharply brought out of melancholy reverie and, turning toward the direction from which the cry had come, he recognized his steward, Wingfield.

“Wingfield,” he called. “What’s wrong?”

Before Wingfield could answer he saw for himself; a man was wading out of the river supporting a young woman whom he had clearly rescued.

The Earl ran to the scene and helped the two men take the woman—who was one of the servants—back to the castle.

It was an hour or so later when Essex summoned Wingfield, with the man who had rescued the girl, to his apartments.

Wingfield introduced this man as Arthur Wilson, whom he had invited to the castle for a short stay. Arthur Wilson immediately spoke up for himself.

“Having fallen on hard times, my lord, I seized this opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of Mr. Wingfield in exchange for certain services.”

“It is fortunate for that poor girl that you were here,” said the Earl; and noticing that Wilson was a man of education he invited him to drink a glass of wine with him.

When the wine had been brought and they were alone together, Wilson told the Earl something of his history.

“Every since I was taught to read and write, my lord,” said Wilson, “I have never stopped doing either. I was at one time clerk to Sir Henry Spiller in the Exchequer office, but I was dismissed.”

“For some offense?”

“The inability to remain on friendly terms with people in a superior position to my own, my lord.”

Essex laughed. He had taken a great liking to this man and he was particularly pleased to have been diverted from his own unpleasant thoughts.

“I thought,” went on Wilson, “that I could live by writing poetry. That was a fallacy.”

“You must show me some of your work.”

“If your lordship would be interested.”

“Tell me what happened when you left the Exchequer office.”

“I lived in London writing poetry until my money was almost at an end. Then fortunately Wingfield appeared and suggested a short respite here at Chartley.”

“I might offer you a permanent post here. If I did so, would you accept it?”

A faint color came into Wilson’s face. “My lord,” he murmured, “you are generous beyond my hopes.”

Friendship had been born in that moment.

Arthur Wilson quickly slipped into his place at Chartley. He was the Earl’s gentleman-in-waiting, which meant that he accompanied him on his rides round the estate, hunting or any other such expedition; thus he was constantly in the Earl’s company. In a very short time he had become his most confidential servant, and because it so concerned his master, Wilson took a great interest in his relationship with the Countess.

Being such a partisan of the Earl, he was highly critical of Frances. He did not share his master’s view of her innocence, and he determined to watch the situation very carefully, without letting anyone know he did so.

Every night when he retired to his apartment he wrote in his diary an account of the day’s happenings and the affairs of the Earl and his wife inevitably figured largely in this. He found himself writing glowing descriptions of the Earl’s extraordinary patience and goodness to this woman who was behaving so badly toward him. “The mild and courteous Earl is being tried too sorely,” he wrote.

He began to wonder what dark schemes that woman concocted in the apartment from which she rarely stirred. It was unnatural, unhealthy. There she lived with that woman she had brought with her—allowing only Elizabeth Raye and Catharine Dardenell into the apartment. What were they plotting? If it were harm to the Earl, Wilson was going to be there to prevent it.

He was watching.

“Catharine, my child,” said Frances, “what pretty hair you have.”

“You’ll make the creature vain, my lady,” said Elizabeth Raye. “She’s conceited enough since Will Carrick has had his eye on her.”

“So Will Carrick admires you, Catharine. I can understand that well.”

Catharine simpered. She could not understand why some of the servants were so suspicious of the Countess, when she had always been so gracious to her and Elizabeth. She was so interested in them; and she had more or less promised that when Elizabeth’s young man was ready to marry her, she, the Countess would see that she had a good wedding. A generous lady, a good mistress; and if there was anything wrong between the Earl and Countess, she for one—and she knew Elizabeth felt the same—was ready to put the blame on the Earl.

“I have a blue ribbon which will become you well,” said Frances. “Jennet, bring it and show Catharine how to tie it in her hair.”

Jennet obeyed.

“It’s lovely, my lady,” cried Elizabeth, and Catharine was pink with pleasure.

Frances put her head on one side. “Elizabeth should have one too. What color do you think for Elizabeth, Jennet?”

“Pink, I think, my lady.”

“Then get it.”

The girl stood awkwardly while the ribbon was tied.

“How pretty they look!” Frances sighed, and looked sad.

Elizabeth stammered: “Oh, my lady, we are lucky to serve you.”

Many little gifts passed between Frances and her maids. Any little service she asked of them was performed with delight, and they could not do enough for her comfort. Then came the day when Frances considered that the time was ripe.

“And how is Carrick?” she asked Catharine one day when she was alone with the girl.

Catharine flushed and mumbled that he was as he always was.

“And ready to do anything to please you, I’ll warrant.”

Catharine did not answer.

“As page to the Earl it is his duty to attend to his clothes, is it not?”

“Yes, my lady, that is one of his duties.”

“It is a good post to hold and it cannot be long before he asks permission to marry.”

“I know not, my lady.”

Frances patted the girl’s cheek. “You are fortunate. Do you know there are times when I envy you.”

“Oh no, my lady!”

“To have someone to love you, of whom you can be sure.”

“But, my lady—”

“I know that my affairs are talked of in the Castle. But there are matters which are only known to me … and the Earl; things are not always what they seem, my child. I am an unhappy woman. Catharine, would you help me?”

“With all my heart, my lady.”

“I can trust you, Catharine, as I can few others. Would you swear to tell no one of what you do for me?”

“But of course, my lady.”

“I am anxious to change the Earl’s feelings toward me.”

“But, my lady, it is said that the Earl wants nothing so much as to be a good husband to you.”

Frances frowned. “It is said! It is said!” she cried sharply. Then her voice softened. “Catharine, there are things people cannot understand. They cannot look deeply into these matters.”

“No, my lady.”

“When you see Carrick, do you go into the Earl’s apartments?”

Catharine blushed. “Well, my lady, it is only when—”

“Have no fear, my dear. I would always be sympathetic to lovers.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“And Carrick meets you there … say, when the Earl has gone hunting?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“There is nothing to be ashamed of. No harm has been done. The other servants know you go there and are not surprised when you creep in … eh?”

Catharine nodded.

“Listen to me. I have a powder here. It is a magic powder. I want you to go ten minutes earlier to the apartment … before Carrick is due to meet you there. Do you understand? And I want you to sprinkle a powder inside the Earl’s garments. His hose … his shirt … those which he will wear next his skin. Fold them carefully when you have done, so that none will know that they have been tampered with.”

“A powder, my lady?”

“I said a powder. ’Tis for his good. I have the Earl’s welfare deeply at heart. Can I trust you, Catharine, to tell this to no one?”

“Why, yes, my lady.”

“You will have to be quick and careful. If you should be there and find others at hand, you must not do this. It is essential that it should be a secret. You must seize your opportunity, Catharine. I know you are a clever girl and that I can trust you. That is why, when I go to Court, I plan to take you with me.”

“Oh, my lady …”

“I reward those who serve me well.”

“I will do everything you say, my lady.”

“That is good. Wait here a moment.”

Catharine waited, her hands clasped together; she saw herself riding to London with her generous mistress; perhaps she would be given one of the mistress’s cast-off gowns. Who knew? With such a mistress anything might happen.

Frances came back and thrust a packet into her hands.

“Guard it well. You remember what you have to do?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“And you will remember that it is a secret; and that you must await the opportunity.”

Catharine assured her mistress that she would do so.

As gentleman-in-waiting to the Earl, Arthur Wilson took his duties seriously. Essex even confided in him to a certain extent, so that a man of Wilson’s perceptions quickly summed up the true state of affairs.

In spite of the cruel conduct of the woman, the Earl was still enamored of her, and had become obsessed by the need to make her into a loving wife. The woman was possessed of unnatural beauty and Wilson realized that her husband would hear nothing against her, because he wanted to keep his image intact. To the Earl the Countess was a young, innocent girl who had had marriage thrust upon her before she was ready for it. In her extreme purity she could not face the consequences. But that, of course, would pass with maturity.

Well, one must not attempt to enlighten the Earl. Gradually, Wilson believed, he would see the truth.

Meanwhile, Wilson became aware of sinister undercurrents in the situation. That almost besotted devotion of the serving girls? Was it possible that a proud and haughty woman, as the Countess obviously was, would take so much care to ingratiate herself with serving wenches?

Not unless she had some plan to use them.

As gentleman-in-waiting he had access to the Earl’s wardrobe, and one day when he was arranging some garments in a drawer he found his fingers beginning to tingle and itch in an extraordinary manner. Looking at them closely he detected some grains of fine powder on them; and it immediately occurred to him that this had come from the Earl’s clothes.

He took out the neatly folded undergarments and as he shook them, began to sneeze and cough and there was a burning sensation in his throat.

Studying the garments carefully he saw that grains of powder clung to them. He then examined all the Earl’s undergarments and it became clear to him that it was these which had been treated in a certain way.

Alarm seized him. Could it be that this was a poison planned to find its way through the pores of the skin into the blood? He had heard of such things.

His first impulse was to go to the Earl and tell him what he had discovered, but he quickly realized that his master would refuse to suspect the real culprit. Wilson himself had no doubt who that was. This was part of a plot hatched by those diabolical women.

He took the clothes away and washed them himself. He determined that he was going to watch over the Earl’s clothes; he would keep an eye on what he ate also, because it seemed to him certain that an attempt would be made to poison his friend and master in a more usual manner.

Frances was in despair. The situation had not changed since she came to Chartley, and she was still waiting for Essex to decide he was weary of her and let her go.

The powder which had been sprinkled on his garments had had no effect. One or two attempts to put other powders into his food had also failed. That man Wilson had taken upon himself to supervise everything the Earl ate; and he was now in charge of his wardrobe. Reports came to her that he was always sniffing here and there and had his nose into everything; that he would appear suddenly when any of the servants approached their master.

Frances believed that Wilson suspected something of the truth.

Jennet was right when she had said that if Frances had lived with her husband it would have been a comparatively easy matter to administer the powders; as it was it seemed an impossibility. But not even for that reason would she live with him.

Essex had written to her parents complaining of her conduct, and she had received admonishing letters from them. Essex was her husband and she must recognize this fact. They had sent one of her brothers down to reason with her. This had resulted in long arguments which Frances declared would drive her mad.

“My own family are against me,” she cried.

There was no news of Robert Carr. She might have ceased to exist for all he seemed to care.

In desperation she wrote to Mrs. Turner.

“Sweet Turner,

“I am out of hope of any good in this world. My brother Howard has been here and there is no comfort left. My husband is as well as he ever was, so you see in what miserable case I am. Please send the doctor news of this; he told me that all would be well and that the lord I love would love me. As you have taken pains to help me, please do all you can, for I was never so unhappy in my life as I am now. I am not able to endure my misery, for I cannot be happy as long as this man liveth. Therefore pray for me. I have need of your prayers. I should be better if I had your company to ease my mind. Let the doctor know this ill news. If I can get this thing done you shall have as much money as you can demand, for I consider this to be fair play.

Your sister,

Frances Essex.”

Wilson was really alarmed. He was certain that the Countess was planning to poison her husband; he knew that she was sending messages to London and he believed that she was either writing to her lover there or to those who were sending her the powders. He, who had lived in London, knew that many professional poisoners existed as well as dabblers in witchcraft; and he was certain that Frances Essex was in the hands of some of these people.

If it were so, the Earl’s life was in danger, for he, Wilson, could not hope always to be lucky enough to save him.

As a man of the world he believed there was one way of saving the Earl’s life and that was to let the Countess enjoy her lover.

To some extent the Earl confided in Wilson, who had become a close friend as well as a servant, and although Wilson was always careful to show no animosity toward the Countess, at length he persuaded the Earl that Lady Frances might be more amiable if they left Chartley, a place which she declared she hated and regarded as a prison.

The Earl saw the wisdom of this and when he proposed a visit to Frances’s parents’ country house at Awdley-end in Essex, Frances agreed with alacrity.

She was certainly more amiable when they journeyed southward and once or twice deigned to speak to her husband without first being addressed.

The Earl’s spirits rose; but Wilson was as watchful as ever. He did not trust the Countess.

When, at Awdley-end, the members of Frances’s family reproached her for her attitude, she listened meekly and then asked for news of the Court.

She pretended to be upset by the death of the Prince of Wales, but she cared nothing for that. She listened avidly for every bit of information about Robert Carr, and she yearned to go to Court. In London she would be able to visit Dr. Forman and Mrs. Turner, and she believed her salvation lay with them. She would see her beloved Robert again and if he had ceased to think of her during her absence, she was certain that with the aid of the clever doctor and her sweet Turner she could soon win him back again.

She was restless and unhappy but less so than she had been at Chartley.

And at last Essex agreed that they should return to Court.

THE ENEMIES

The marriage of the Princess Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine had been delayed on account of the mourning for the Prince of Wales. Henry had died in November and the wedding did not take place until February, which meant that the Elector and his retinue had to be housed and entertained during that period at a great cost to the royal exchequer. James reckoned that his daughter’s marriage had cost him almost a hundred thousand pounds.

His courtiers had vied with each other to be the most splendidly attired at Court, and James had insisted that his dear Robbie should shine more brightly than any because that was only due to his beauty. Therefore he lavished costly jewels on his favorite; and while his affection was strongest for Robert Carr, he did not forget his other lads, who were handsome enough to show off fine clothes and jewels.

There was the Queen who, although she was prostrate with grief and in any case was not pleased with the marriage of her daughter, still must be expensively clad; and the cost of her wardrobe was only a little less than the six thousand pounds which had been spent on Elizabeth’s wedding clothes and trousseau.

As for James himself, he must remember that he was the King and in the presence of foreigners should make a good show; he was ready to do this as long as his garments were as well padded as they were bejeweled and he was not expected to wash.

So Elizabeth was married in Whitehall Chapel and looked beautiful in her white dress, her golden hair falling about her shoulders, with a crown of pearls and diamonds set on her head. She was led to the chapel by Charles—now growing handsome and with the new dignity upon him of being heir to the throne—and Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton. The Queen had wept quietly while the Archbishop of Canterbury performed the ceremony; and James knew that she was thinking of losing her daughter to a foreigner as she had lost her son to death.

The celebrations which followed the wedding must necessarily be somewhat subdued because although it was three months since Henry’s death he could not be easily forgotten.

It was Robert Carr who suggested that the farewell banquet should be held at his own castle at Rochester; and the King, delighted to see his dear Robbie host to the Court, gladly agreed.

The last farewells had been said and Elizabeth had sailed away from England to her new home, while the Court returned to Rochester Castle to be entertained a few days longer by Viscount Rochester before returning to Whitehall.

The castle which stood on the banks of the Medway was a splendid example of Norman architecture; it had clearly been built as a fortress, situated as it was on a hill with its principal tower offering views of the country and river. Robert Carr was proud to possess it, for it had been the scene of many a historic occasion since it had been built in the year 1088 by the Norman monk Gundulph, who had been Bishop of Rochester and a celebrated architect. It was an ideal place in which to house the Court and that he could do so was an indication of how quickly he had risen since the death of Salisbury.

Robert was being dressed by his servants in his own apartments when the man whom he had come to regard as one of his greatest friends and supporters asked to be admitted.

This was Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, who had assiduously courted the favorite since he had realized the firmness of his hold on the King’s affections.

“Ah,” cried the wily old statesman, “I disturb you.”

“Nay,” cried Robert. “I am all but ready.”

By God, thought Northampton, he is a handsome fellow; and he looks as fresh and young as he did the day he rode into the tiltyard and so cleverly fell from his horse.

“Pray be seated,” said Robert. “I shall be ready to go to the banqueting hall in five minutes or so.”

“Then we will go together,” said Northampton.

It was well to be seen with the favorite; it reminded his enemies that he had friends in the right quarter. Robert, good-natured and easy going, never bothered to ask himself why a haughty Howard should be so anxious for his friendship and when Overbury said: “Why, Henry Howard would not speak to you tomorrow if you lost the King’s favor!” Robert replied: “Why should he?” and left it at that, which meant that while Northampton offered his friendship, Robert Carr was ready to accept it.

Robert dismissed his servants, which was only courteous because he guessed that Northampton did not wish them to overhear their conversation, and since they were both ministers of eminence it was certain that some state matter would be discussed between them sooner or later. Since he had become a Privy Councillor Robert had been aware of the need to watch his tongue before servants.

When they were alone Northampton asked Robert if he knew whether a certain gentleman had been called upon to sign the Oath of Supremacy.

As Robert was able to assure him that this man had not been asked to do so, Northampton was relieved. It was pleasant to be able to ask such a question privately. Northampton was a little worried because he, being a secret Catholic, had no wish to be asked to sign the Oath; and he feared that if the man in question had had such a demand made to him, the invitation to sign might well be extended to himself, Northampton.

The signing of this Oath was a scheme which James had thought up when he was so short of money. It was his plan to force Catholics to sign it and if they refused, to subject them to heavy fines or imprisonment. As the Pope had ordered Catholics not to sign the Oath because it contained sentences which were derogatory to the Catholic Faith, to have signed it would have been a denial of faith. Many Catholics had refused and consequently lost their possessions, which was exactly what James had hoped, since it was to raise money that he had thought of the plan.

Robert had not cared for this scheme because he thought it was wrong to penalize people on account of their religion, and would have preferred to see Catholics living in peace beside Protestants.

It was sometimes, however, his duty to write to Catholics ordering them to take the Oath, and this he did because he always obeyed the King; but he never brought a Catholic to the King’s notice, and did nothing, except when expressly ordered to do so by James, to enforce this unpleasant law.

At the same time he never implied to James that he disapproved of it. It was alien to his nature to offer criticism; he was well aware that if he did so James would demolish this in a moment with some tricky argument; and he knew that James continued to love his Robbie because he was never what the King called a cantankerous body.

Northampton was aware of this quality in Carr and he knew that he could safely ask for information about the penalizing of recusants. If he, Northampton, had been asked to sign the Oath, he supposed he would have signed it; his political career would always mean more to him than any religious faith; but he preferred not to have to make the decision; and thus it was very comforting to have a friend in Robert Carr.

Northampton decided that he was in no danger and went on:

“I have taken a liberty with your hospitality, and I trust you will not think I have presumed on your friendship.”

Robert smiled his charming smile and said: “My dear Northampton, it gives me pleasure that you should presume on my friendship. It shows that you are sure of it.”

“Thank you, my dear fellow. The fact is that some of my family have returned to Court unexpectedly. I said they might come to the Castle; they will have arrived by now.”

“Any member of your family is welcome.”

“Thank you, Robert. I guessed you would say that.”

“Who are these relatives? Do I know them?”

“I think you know my great-niece. She has been in the country with her husband for some time. Ha, I did not believe the country would suit Madam Frances for long.”

“I perceive,” said Robert, “that you are speaking of the Countess of Essex.”

“You are right. She is a young woman who likes to have her own way. She implored me to allow her to come here. She could not wait until the Court reached Whitehall. She pleaded that she had been away too long.”

“Why, yes,” replied Robert mildly, “it must be some time since she was at Court.”

In the great hall she came near to him in the dance.

He had forgotten how beautiful she was. It was true that there was no other woman at Court to compare with her, and Robert felt excited merely to look at her. Their hands touched momentarily in the dance, and for a second she let her fingers curl about his.

“Welcome back to Court, Lady Essex.”

“It does me good to see you, Viscount Rochester.”

“Is the Earl of Essex at Court?”

“Alas, yes.”

Robert turned away to face another partner as the dance demanded. She was still as disturbing as ever.

She was ready for him when he faced her again.

“I must see you … alone.”

“When?”

“This night.”

“And the Earl?”

“I know not. I care not. He is no husband to me and never has been.”

“How was this?”

“Because I loved one other.”

“And this other?”

“He will tell me tonight whether he loves me.”

“Where?”

“In the lower apartments of Gundulph’s Tower. Those dark and gloomy storerooms where few people go.”

He was silent while she looked at him beseechingly.

He had missed her; he wanted to reopen their relationship. He had found during the period when she had been away that he could never forget her. There was a vitality about her which was irresistible. If she and the Earl led separate lives by mutual consent what harm was there?

That night when the Castle was quiet they met in those lower apartments of Gundulph’s Tower! and there they were lovers again.

In the house at Hammersmith Frances sat opposite Anne Turner and told of her anxieties.

“And you are still unsure of him?” asked Mrs. Turner.

Frances nodded. “Yet I believe he needs me more than he did. There is a change.”

“The good doctor has been working for that.”

“I know. But the lord is always aware of that other.” Her face darkened. “And he is never far away, always threatening. I would die rather than be carried back to the country.”

“My sweet lady, you must not talk of dying. Was it so difficult to do with the powders what the doctor suggested?”

“Quite impossible. I kept to my apartments because I could not bear him near me. There were two servants who were ready to do my bidding. I bribed them and they did their best. But he was surrounded by his servants; and there was a man, Wilson, who was too clever for us.”

Mrs. Turner nodded. “It is a sorry business with so many working against us!”

“What I fear is that if there are too many difficulties the lord will be ready to forego our love.”

“We must bind him so strongly that he cannot escape.”

“Is it possible to do that?”

“With the doctor everything is possible. I think that you should see him again … soon.”

“Then I will do so.”

“Let me tell him of your visit and he will name a day when he will see you. I will manage to get a message conveyed to you.”

“Dear Turner, what should I do without you!”

“Sweet friend, it is my pleasure to help you. I have learned a little from the doctor and I see that the one who is hovering between you and the lovely lord must be removed, because until he is, our efforts will be, to a great extent, frustrated.”

Frances clenched her hands together.

“Would to God I need never see his face again.”

“The doctor will help you.” Anne Turner leaned forward and touched Frances’s hand. “Never forget,” she repeated softly, “with the doctor all things are possible.”

At a table in the private apartments of my Lord Rochester, Thomas Overbury was sitting writing; there was a satisfied smile on his face, and no sound in the room but the scratch of his pen. Thomas read through what he had written and his smile grew smug. He was always delighted with his work.

Seated in a window seat, staring out on the palace grounds, was Robert, his handsome face set in thoughtful lines.

“Listen to this, Robert,” cried Thomas, and read out what he had written.

“Excellent … as always,” said Robert, when he had finished.

“Ah, my dear feallow, what would you do without me?”

“Bless you, Tom, where would either of us be without the other?”

Thomas was thoughtful for a second or so. “That’s true enough,” he said at length. But a doubt had entered his mind. In the Mermaid Club he dined with writers, among them Ben Jonson, and they treated him as one of them; there he could hold his own as a literary man; he was someone in his own right, not merely a ghost, a shadow of someone else. He imagined Robert Carr in such company. He would not know what they were talking about. Yet, without Robert, where would he be? What would his writing bring him in? Enough to starve in a garret?

He sighed and repeated: “It’s true enough.”

Robert did not notice the slight discontentment in his friend’s expression because he was occupied with a problem of his own.

“Tom,” he said, “here’s something else for you to do.”

Thomas waited expectantly, but Robert hesitated.

“I want you to write to a lady for me. Tell her I shall not be able to see her as I arranged. The King has commanded me to wait on him.”

Thomas took up his pen again.

“Shall I be very regretful? Is the lady becoming an encumbrance?”

“Oh no, no! Be most regretful. I would I could be with her. Say I am sorry.”

Overbury nodded. “Tell me what she looks like and I will write an ode to her beauty.”

Robert described her so accurately that Thomas said, “Could this paragon of beauty be the Countess of Essex?”

“Why, Tom, how did you guess?”

“You have made it clear to me. That is well. Now I know to whom I am writing I shall produce a finer specimen of my talents.”

“Fairest of the fair,” he wrote, “I am overcome by desolation….”

Robert watched him while his pen ran on without faltering. How clever to have such a gift of words! If he were only as clever as Overbury, he would be able to write his own letters, work out his own ideas, in fact he would be as clever as the late Salisbury. With brains and beauty he could have stood completely alone, sufficient unto himself.

He wondered why the thought had come to him at that moment as he watched his clever friend smiling over his work.

The notion disappeared as quickly as it had come; Robert had never been one to analyze his feelings.

Tom laid down his pen and began to read.

In the letter were the longings of a lover, delicately yet fervently expressed. The poetic strain was there.

Frances would be astonished; yet she would be pleased.

Dr. Forman sat at one side of the table, Frances at the other. He leaned forward on his elbows and moved his expressive hands as he talked; and his eyes, bright with lecherous speculation, never left the beautiful eager face opposite him.

In the darkened room the candles flickered.

He was a witch, of course. Frances had guessed this. She believed that he had made his pact with the devil, and should the witch finders suddenly break into the room and examine him they would doubtless find the devil’s marks on his body.

She did not care. She knew only an unswerving desire.

She wanted Robert Carr to remain her faithful lover; she wanted to inspire in him a fanatic passion to match her own; and she wanted Essex out of the way.

It was for that reason that she made these dangerous journeys to Lambeth. For the sake of what she so urgently needed she was ready to dabble in witchcraft, although she knew that the cult of witchcraft was a crime; the King believed in the power of witches to do evil and he was anxious to drive them out of his kingdom. Death by strangulation or burning was the penalty. Never mind, Frances told herself; she was ready to run any risk for the sake of binding Carr to her irrevocably and ridding herself of her husband.

Forman’s voice was silky with insinuation.

“Dear lady, you must tell me all that happened … spare no detail. Tell me how fervent the lord is in his lovemaking.”

Frances hesitated; but she knew that she must obey this man, for it was only if she told him everything that he could help her.

So she talked and answered the questions which were thrust at her; she saw her interrogator lick his lips with pleasure as though he were partaking in the exercise himself. At first she was embarrassed; then she ceased to be so; she talked with eagerness, and it seemed to her that the special powers of this man enabled her to live again the ecstasy she had enjoyed.

When it was over, the doctor bade her rise; he placed his hands on her shoulders and she imagined some of his strength flowed into her. He waved his hands before her eyes and she dreamed once more that she was with Robert in some dark chamber.

Dr. Forman drew back curtains in one dark corner of the room to disclose among the shadows what appeared to be the head of a horned goat; he repeated incantations and although Frances could not understand the words he used she believed in their powers.

At length the doctor turned to her. “What you ask shall be yours … in time,” he promised her.

She must visit him more frequently and in secrecy, he went on to explain. He wished to make images of the three characters in the drama. “The one of whom we wish to be rid; the one whose affections must increase; and the woman. This will be a costly matter.”

“All that you ask shall be given if you do this for me.”

The doctor bowed his head.

“I will set some of my servants to procure what you will need. They too must be paid for their services.”

“I understand.”

“Call me Father—your sweet father, because that is what I am to you, dear Daughter.”

“Yes, sweet Father,” answered Frances dutifully.

She was now receiving frequent letters from Robert. Their passion astonished her, and it was so poetically expressed that she read them until she knew them by heart.

“Only a lover could write thus,” she assured Jennet. “Do you know, he is changing. He is beginning to feel as deeply as I do. Oh yes, he has changed of late.”

“Does he seem more urgent in his passion?” asked Jennet.

“When we are together he is no more loving than he used to be, but it is his letters in which he betrays his true feelings. How beautiful they are! It is due to the doctor and dear Turner. They are making him dream of me, and my image is for ever in his thoughts.”

She thought of the wax images the doctor had made of the three of them. The figure of Essex had been pierced with pins that had been made hot in the flame of candles; and while this operation was in progress, the doctor in his black robe decorated by the cabalistic signs had muttered weird incantations. The figure of Robert had been dressed elaborately in satin and brocade, and that of Frances was naked. The doctor had asked that she serve as a model for it because it was essential that it should be perfect in every detail. She trusted him completely now; she looked upon him as her dear father so that after the first embarrassment she had posed while the image was made.

She remembered the ritual; the burning of incense which filled the room with aromatic odors and vapors. She remembered how the wax male figure had been undressed until it was as naked as that of the woman. The two figures were then put together on a minute couch and made to go through the motions of making love while fresh heated pins were thrust into the wax figure of Essex.

At first Frances had been repelled but gradually she had become elated by these spectacles she was forced to witness.

She believed in the black magic, for had she not noticed a change in her lover since she had begun to partake in it? There was fresh power in his pen, for only a lover could write the letters he was now writing to her; nor did he wait until there was need to write; the letters came frequently, accompanied by poems in praise of her beauty and the joy their lovemaking brought to him.

From an upper window of the house at Lambeth a woman watched Lady Essex ride away accompanied by her maid.

“Quality this time,” said the woman to herself with a smirk. “I will say this for Simon, he knows how to get hold of the right people.”

She left the window and going to the head of the stairs peered down. All was silence. Where was he now? In that room where he received his clients? Handling the lewd images. Trust him.

What a man!

Jane Forman laughed and wondered how she herself had come to marry him. She had been glad to; there was something about Simon which made him different from every other man she had known. He was a witch.

Once she said to him: “What if I were to betray you to the finders, Simon?”

And he had looked at her in a way which had made her blood run cold. She knew that if she were foolish enough to do that he would make sure she suffered for it. As if she would! What? When he could make such a comfortable living for them!

She reckoned she had been a good wife to him; she had never grumbled when he had seduced the maids. He had told her he needed a variety of women; it was the command of his master that he should have no virgins under his roof because they would have come between him and his work, bringing a purity into the house, and that was not good when one worked with the devil.

She might have argued that Simon had soon sent virginity flying from his house, so that he need not have worked so hard in his master’s cause. But one did not argue with Simon. One was thankful for the good living he made and accepted him, his mistresses and his illegitimate children, of whom that haughty Anne Turner was doubtless one.

The two of them were closeted together for hours at a time. Making plans, he told her, for the treatment of this new client who was the richest that had ever fallen into their hands.

She slowly descended the stairs and made her way to the door of the receiving chamber.

“Simon,” she said, “did you call?”

There was no answer, so cautiously she opened the door and looked in. The smell of incense lingered, but the curtains had been drawn back now to let in a little daylight and the candles were out.

She shut the door quietly behind her and went to the table. There she stood looking round the room. She saw the large box on the bench and opening it, disclosed the wax figures.

She sniggered.

“What a fine gentleman!” she whispered. And there was the lady, with what looked like real hair. And what a figure!

She could imagine the tricks he got up to with them.

Still there was money in it—and they lived by it.

“Mustn’t be caught in here,” she whispered; then she opened the door, looked out, made sure she was unobserved and went quickly and quietly back upstairs.

Robert hurried into the apartment where Overbury sat at work.

“Tom,” he cried, “write me a letter quickly … a letter of regret.”

“To the lovely Countess?” said Overbury with a smile.

“Yes. I had promised to be with her this evening and the King had commanded me to attend him.”

“How inconvenient it sometimes is to be so popular!” murmured Overbury.

“And when it is finished will you take it to Hammersmith for me.”

“To Hammersmith?”

“Yes, I was to meet her there … at the house of a Mistress Turner. I cannot stay now, but you know the kind of things. Your letters delight her. Tell her that I am desolate … you know so well how to put it.”

Robert went off and Overbury returned to his table a little disgruntled. It was one thing to write the flowery epistles, but to be asked to deliver them like some page boy was a little humiliating. And Hammersmith! Mistress Anne Turner! He had heard of the name. He believed she was a connection of Dr. Forman the notorious swindler, who might even be a witch. The man had been in trouble once or twice and called upon to answer for his misdeeds. Surely the Countess of Essex was not involved with people like this!

However, there was nothing to do but write the letter and take it to the woman.

An hour later he was riding out to Hammersmith, but his mood had not improved as he journeyed there. Was it absurd for a man of his talents to be employed thus? It was said in some quarters that Rochester ruled the King and Overbury ruled Rochester; and in that case did not Overbury rule England?

He liked to hear such talk. But at the same time it made it doubly uncomfortable to be riding out as a messenger for illicit lovers.

A maid let him into the house and when he asked to see the Countess of Essex without delay, he was shown into a handsome room. He had not been there many seconds before the door was flung open and a voice cried: “Robert, my dearest …” and then stopped.

The Countess was wearing a low-cut gown which after the new fashion exposed her breasts; her long hair was loose; and there was a silver ruff about her neck.

Her expression grew cold as she looked at him.

“My lady, I bring you a letter from Viscount Rochester.”

She snatched it ungraciously.

“So he is not coming,” she said.

“The King commanded his presence.”

Her mouth was sullen and she looked like a child who, disappointed of a longed-for treat, turns her anger on the one who tells her she cannot have it for a while.

“Return to my lord,” she said, “and thank him for sending you. But you will be in need of refreshment. It shall be given to you in the kitchens.”

“I am in no need of refreshment, my lady, and I do not eat in kitchens. Perhaps I should have introduced myself. Sir Thomas Overbury at your service.”

“Yes, I know you to be a servant of my lord Rochester.”

She turned away, her manner insolent.

Hatred surged up in Overbury. The wanton slut! How dared she. So she had heard of him! Had she heard that he was the man who worked behind the scenes and that it was due to his services that Robert Carr had been able to hold his place with the King’s ministers? How dared she offer him such insolence!

She had gone and he was left standing there.

He did not remain; he went out to his horse and rode hard back to Court.

I shall not forget your insults to me, Lady Essex, he thought.

The September day had been warm and the windows were open to the garden as Jane Forman and her husband sat together while the maids served them with supper.

The doctor was in a mellow mood. The Countess had called that day and that event always pleased him.

Jane wondered how much money he was making from that deal and how long he would be able to keep it going. By surreptitious visits to his receiving room and peeps into the diary he kept—for she could read a little—she knew that the Countess was in love with Viscount Rochester whom all knew was one of the most famous men at Court, and that she wanted to be rid of her husband, the Earl of Essex. Jane knew only one way of getting rid of husbands; also that Simon did not care to sell poisons. He had been in trouble too many times to want more; and supplying poisons could bring him real trouble.

Ah, she thought, one of these days he’ll land up on a gibbet.

And that would not be so good for her, for life here in Lambeth was comfortable, even luxurious, and Jane liked her comforts.

She looked at him steadily, and as the light fell on his face she thought he had aged lately; that his pallor was more pronounced and he looked tired.

He had eaten well and was half dozing at the table; she had no idea therefore that he was aware of her scrutiny.

“Well, wife,” he said suddenly, “what are you thinking of?”

She sometimes believed that he could read her thoughts so she did not lie to him.

“Death,” she said simply.

“What of death?” he asked.

“I was wondering whether you or I would die first. Do you know? But of course you do. You have pre-knowledge of these things.”

“I shall die first,” he said quietly.

She leaned toward him and said quickly: “When?”

“Next Thursday,” he answered.

Jane leaped to her feet. “Thursday!” she cried. “The Thursday that is coming!”

He looked as startled as she did. “Eh?” he cried. “What did I say?”

“You said you would die on Thursday.”

He looked aghast, for he was shaken. He had spoken thoughtlessly, and the words had slipped out almost involuntarily. He was alarmed because on the rare occasions when he had foreseen the future it had happened in this way.

“Forget it,” he said.

But neither of them could.

He already looks older, thought Jane. A little more tired. A little closer to death. A little closer to Thursday.

On Wednesday Jane said jokingly: “Well, you only have one more day to live, Simon. I trust your affairs are in order.”

He laughed with her and she was relieved. He had been joking of course.

On Thursday he said he had business to do at Puddle Dock and took boat there. He was rowing steadily when the oars slipped from his hands and he fell forward.

When they brought his body home Jane could not believe it; although she had on occasions known him to prophesy events which had come true, other prophecies he had made had not, so she could never be sure; this she had not believed, so she was stunned and bewildered.

But when she had recovered a little from the shock she went into that room where he had received his clients. Evidently he himself had not believed the prophecy for he had made no effort to put his affairs in order.

I must destroy these things, said Jane as she took out the wax images, the powders and phials of liquid.

She set them out on the bench and went through the drawers of his private cabinet. There she found his diary and turning the pages read here and there.

It was fascinating, for there was an account of many an intrigue and love affair, and Simon had not hesitated to mention the names of the ladies and gentlemen concerned.

What a story this book could tell!

Jane looked at the more recent entries and read an account of the love affair between Lady Essex and Viscount Rochester with quotations of what Lady Essex had said and done in this room.

She shut the book and then discovered the letters. He had kept every one.

“Sweet Father,” she called him, and signed herself his loving daughter.

Jane made a big fire in the room and sorted out the letters and papers. Among them were spells, incantations and recipes for making certain potions.

Perhaps it was wrong to destroy these things; they might be useful.

So she turned her back on the fire and found a large box in which she placed the images, the recipes, the letters and the diary which gave such lurid accounts of Court intrigues and especially of the most recent involving Lady Essex and the King’s favorite.

“Such sad news!” wrote Mrs. Turner. “I beg of my good sweet lady to come to me without delay. We will console each other.”

At the earliest opportunity Frances went to Hammersmith and the two wept together.

“Everything was beginning to work well,” mourned Frances. “My lord was becoming more in love with me; his letters were wonderful; and I learned that he finds it easier to express himself with the pen than in his actions. I know it is all due to my dear father. What shall we do without him?”

“Do not despair, my dear friend. There are others—though perhaps lacking our father’s great skill. But they exist, and I shall find them.”

“Dearest Anne, what should I do without you?”

“There is no need to do without me. Knowing your need I have already been turning this matter over in my mind. My husband was a doctor, remember. That put me into touch with people who handle and understand drugs.”

Frances was thoughtful. Then she said slowly: “Although the lord had become more loving, that other is a source of great trouble to me. I would I were rid of him. I believe that if I were, the lord would love me even more, for I am aware that the other is never far from his mind. In the course of his state business he often has to write or converse with that other and he does so with the utmost courteousness. The lord is such that he feels uncomfortable at these times and is often a little cooler toward me afterward.”

“It is one point on which I was not always in tune with our sweet departed father. He wished to work on the lovely lord; and he did so with success. But I always felt that we should rid ourselves of the other before we came to complete success.”

“Oh, to be rid of him!” sighed Frances.

“I have many friends in the City,” went on Mrs. Turner “There is a Dr. Savories whom I believed to be as clever as our dear father. I could consult him. He is expensive … even more so than our father; but we cannot hope to go on in quite the same way.”

“You must see this Dr. Savories.”

“I will. And there is a man named Gresham, who foretold the Gunpowder Plot in his almanack, and poor man, he suffered for it, because many accused him of being one of the conspirators. But this was not proved against him and was in fact true prophecy.”

“I know that you will do all in your power to help me, Anne.”

“You many trust me,” answered Mrs. Turner, “and together we will achieve what we set out to—even without our dear father’s help.”

Robert noticed the change in Overbury’s manner which had become cool and withdrawn. He asked what was wrong.

“Wrong?” cried Overbury. “What should be wrong? All goes well, does it not? The King is delighted with my work.”

“It seems to me, Tom, that you are not delighted.”

“Oh, I have grown accustomed to doing the work and seeing you get the praise.”

“If there is anything you wish for …”

“You are generous,” admitted Overbury. “You have never stinted me.”

“And should consider myself despicable if I did. I do not forget, Tom, all you have done for me.”

Overbury was mollified. He was a little under the spell of Robert’s charm. The handsome looks and the good-natured serenity were appealing. It was not Robert who had irritated him, Overbury reminded himself. It was that woman of his.

“I know. I know,” he said. Then: “Robert, can I speak frankly to you?”

“You know I always expect frankness from you.”

“I think you are making a great mistake in seeing so much of that woman.” Robert looked startled and a flush appeared in his cheeks, but Overbury hurried on: “There is something about her which is … evil. Be warned, Robert. What of Essex? You have made a cuckold of him. That would be most unpleasant if it were bruited about the Court.”

For the first time during their friendship Overbury saw Robert angry.

He said shortly: “You have helped me considerably in many ways, but I must ask you not to meddle in my private affairs.”

The two men faced each other; both were unusually pale now for the color had faded from Robert’s face as quickly as it had come. Then without another word Robert turned away and briskly left the apartment.

Fool! said Overbury when the door had shut. Does he not see where this is leading him? That woman will be the destruction of him.

Another and more unpleasant thought quickly followed: And of me. For never was one man’s fortune so bound up in another’s as was Tom Overbury’s with Robert Carr’s.

He paced up and down the apartment. Yet was it so? Many people guessed that the favorite’s sudden abilities could only mean that he possessed a ghost who worked in the shadows. Some knew that Overbury’s was the hand that wrote the letters, the brain which produced the brilliant suggestions. And if Robert Carr should fall from favor, having involved himself in a disgraceful scandal with the wife of Essex, none could blame Thomas Overbury. People might remember that he had been the brains behind the pretty fellow. That was a comforting thought.

Do I need Robert Carr as much as he needs me?

An exciting idea that, which went whirling round and round in his head.

He went to the Mermaid Club where he was always welcomed as the poet who was also the close friend of the most influential man at Court. It was natural that he should be flattered there for he was richer than most of the Club’s patrons and could entertain them with his wit and lively talk of the Court. He had always been cautious, though, never betraying how much he influenced Robert Carr.

But he was reckless that day, and having drunk freely, talked more loosely. With Frances’s insults rankling in his mind, with the curt words of his friend mingling with them, he asked himelf who had the more to lose, himself or Robert?

And there in the Mermaid Club he talked freely of his association with Robert Carr; and when it was said, “So the real ruler is Overbury!” he did not deny it.

But the next morning he considered the state of affairs more soberly and he was uneasy.

IS THE EARL IMPOTENT?

The weeks which followed were some of the happiest Frances had known. Robert, stung out of his mildness by Overbury’s interference, was more loving than he had ever been before. The meetings were more frequent; and Frances was sure that this was due to the spells and enchantments.

She had met Dr. Savories and Dr. Gresham, who had expressed their keen desire to work for her; they were more reckless than Dr. Forman had been and agreed with Mrs. Turner that it was imperative to work on the Earl of Essex. Frances saw several women, all of whom could procure some ingredients which the doctors had decided were necessary, or had some special powers to work their spells; all had to be paid and they were often pleased to accept a piece of jewelry.

Robert was always loath to make love at Court where the Earl of Essex could not be far away, so Frances arranged that they should meet at Hammersmith; but when she sensed that Robert was not even completely at ease there, because it was the house of Mrs. Anne Turner, she decided to buy a country house of her own—a small place which she could look upon as a retreat.

Impulsive as ever she soon acquired a house at Hounslow which had been the property of Sir Roger Aston, and here Robert came frequently as the house was within easy riding distance of Whitehall.

It was here that Robert expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of affairs and explained his uneasiness every time he was in the presence of her husband.

“You need not concern yourself with him,” Frances replied.

“But I cannot help it. He is, after all, your husband; and when I think of how we are deceiving him—”

“My dearest, you are doing him no harm.”

“But how can that be … when you and I are as we are.”

“He could never take your place with me. I have told you that he has never been a husband to me in anything but name.”

“But that seems incredible.”

“Why should it?” Frances remembered those days at Chartley and the lie came to her lips. It was necessary, she told herself, to placate Robert. And what were a few lies compared with all she had done? She repeated: “Why should it … when he himself is impotent.”

She was unprepared for the effect these words had on Robert.

“Is that so then? He is impotent? But don’t you see how important that is? Since that is the case I do not see why you should find much difficulty in divorcing him.”

“Divorcing Essex….” she repeated.

“Then we could be married. It would be an end of all this distasteful subterfuge.”

An end of scheming! she thought. An end of those journeys to Hammersmith. No longer need she conspire with Savories and Gresham, no longer show her gratitude to women whom she suspected of practicing witchcraft.

Escape from Essex! Marriage with Robert, who himself had suggested it!

She was certain that Robert had become spellbound as a result of all the work that had been done. Success was in sight.

Robert himself spoke to Northampton.

“I have often thought that it is time I married.”

Northampton smiled; he was always ingratiating to the favorite. “I am surprised that James has not found you a worthy bride long ere this.”

“I had no fancy for one … until now.”

“And who is the fortunate lady?”

“Your own great-niece. Oh, I know at the moment she has a husband, but since he is impotent I do not think we shall have any great difficulty in obtaining a divorce. I was wondering whether, as the head of Frances’s family, you would have any objection.”

“Frances, eh!” mused Northampton. He thought: Essex impotent! It’s the first time I’ve heard that. He considered his great-niece’s marriage. The family had been delighted with it when it had been made, for Essex had rank and riches to offer. But, of course, the man who could offer a woman more than any other was certainly Robert Carr who retained such a firm hold on the King’s affections.

“Well?” persisted Robert. “How do you view this?”

“My dear Robert, there is no one I would rather welcome into the family.”

“Then will you speak to the Earl and Countess of Suffolk?”

“I will with pleasure and tell them my feelings.”

“And I will broach the matter to the King.”

Northampton was elated. He knew that there would be no difficulty with Frances’s parents once he made them see what a glorious future awaited her—and the Howard family—when she was married to Robert Carr.

James smiled benignly at his favorite.

“So you have a fancy to a be a husband, eh, Robbie?”

“I think it is time I settled down.”

“Well, well, and I never thought ye had much of an eye for women.”

“I have for this one, Your Majesty.”

James patted Robert’s arm. “And she’s married. It would have been easier, laddie, if your choice had fallen on someone who was free.”

“Your Majesty, the Countess of Essex should be free. She is bound to an impotent husband and has never lived a true married life with him.”

“Is that so? Essex impotent! ’Tis the first I’ve heard of that. Never did much care for Robert Devereux. Too serious without the intellect. He always looks as though he’s in a sulk.”

“Your Majesty will see that the Countess should be freed from such a man.”

“And given to you, Robbie. I see your point. I see her point. What are Northampton and the Suffolks going to say of this?”

“I have already discussed the matter with Northampton.”

“And he is willing?”

“Very willing, Your Majesty.”

“This is going to be an unusual case, lad. I know not whether it is legal for a wife to sue her husband for a divorce. I am not sure whether his impotence will be counted a reason for granting it. It’s an interesting point. I’ll look into it myself.” James laughed. “I’ll enjoy having a talk with the lawyers. Dinna fret, boy, I’ll swear your old Dad will find a way out of the tangle. I’ll swear he’ll give you the girl as he has everything else you have asked him for.”

Robert kissed the dirty hand.

“Your Majesty, as always, is gracious to me.”

“The King is agreeable.” Northampton was walking up and down the apartment while the Earl and Countess of Suffolk watched him. “Good Heavens, don’t you see what great good can come to the family through this?”

“Yes, yes,” put in Suffolk, “providing they’ll grant the divorce. You know how the lawyers like to peck and sniff.”

“Nonsense, man. They’ll do what the King expects them to. Robert assures me that James is taking the matter up himself.”

“What bothers me,” said Lady Suffolk, “is this accusation of impotence. Why Essex was demanding that she live with him when they were at Chartley, and she was locking her door against him. He has pleaded with us ever since to exercise out parental rights to make her share his bed. And you call this impotence!”

“Frances does, it seems,” said Northampton with a sly chuckle.

“Essex might have difficulty in proving otherwise when a girl like Frances is ready to swear to it!”

Lady Suffolk burst into coarse laughter. “Surely it wouldn’t be an impossibility for Essex to prove his potency.”

“You fret over details. Let the King show his eagerness for the divorce and if Essex is a wise man he’ll not interfere. After all, his great desire is to get back to the country. Give him a divorce and a new wife who is ready to live the life he wants her to, and he’ll be amenable.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Suffolk.

“Come, come,” interrupted Northampton. “You meet troubles halfway. Carr is the most influential man in this country. James scarcely ever makes an appointment without consulting him. Think what this marriage is going to mean to the Howards. All the important posts in the country can fall into our hands. You have reason to rejoice that you produced your daughter Frances.”

“I am thirsty,” said the Countess. “Let us drink to the marriage of Robert Carr and Frances Howard.”

A messenger from Hammersmith arrived at the Court; he asked to see the Countess of Essex without delay.

Frances, in a state of bemused joy since Carr had suggested the divorce, and her family had taken up the idea with such enthusiasm, took the note to her apartment and read it twice before she realized the urgency behind the words.

It was from Mrs. Turner, who asked that she come to Hammersmith without delay. It was imperative that they meet for Mrs. Turner had discovered something too secret to put to paper.

At the first opportunity Frances accompanied by Jennet rode over to Hammersmith.

Anne Turner was waiting for her, and Frances saw at once that she was distraught.

“I had to see you,” said Anne, and her hands trembled as she embraced Frances. “A terrible thing has happened.”

“Pray tell me quickly.”

“Do you remember Mary Woods … but of course you don’t. She was one of several. You gave her a ring set with diamonds and she promised in return to give you certain powders.”

“I do not need the powders now that I am to divorce Essex. I no longer care what happens to him.”

“But listen, my sweet friend. Mary Woods has been arrested and a diamond ring found on her person. When she was questioned she said it was given her by a great lady in an effort to persuade her to supply poison, that the lady might rid herself of her husband.”

“She mentioned names?”

Anne nodded anxiously.

“But this is terrible. She said that I—”

“She said the ring had been given her by the Countess of Essex.”

“Where did she say this?”

“In a court in the county of Suffolk where she was brought before the justices.”

Frances covered her face with her hands. It could not be—not now that she was going to be divorced from Essex, not now that Robert was eager to marry her and they would settle down together and live happily and openly for the rest of their lives.

“Oh, Anne,” she moaned, “what shall I do? There will be such a scandal.”

Anne took her hands and held them firmly.

“There must not be a scandal,” she said.

“How prevent it.”

“You have influential friends.”

“Robert! Tell Robert that I have met such people! He would be horrified. He wouldn’t love me anymore. There would be no need for a divorce for he would not want to marry me.”

“I was thinking of your great-uncle. He wants the marriage. He is the Lord Privy Seal. I’ll swear that he could put an end to proceedings in a small Suffolk Court if he wished.”

Frances looked at her friend with wide, frightened eyes.

“You should lose no time,” advised Anne. “For if this case went too far, even the Lord Privy Seal might not be able to stop its becoming known throughout the country.”

Northampton looked sternly at his frantic great-niece.

“So you gave the woman the ring?”

“Yes, I gave it to her.”

“In exchange for a powder?”

“No, that she should procure the powder.”

“Did you know the woman was a witch?”

“I know nothing of her except that I was told she could find me this powder.”

Northampton was seeing his kinswoman afresh. Good God, he thought, there is nothing she would stop at. She had been trying to poison Essex!

Well, he knew what it meant to have an ambition and see others in the way of it. It was because she was young, so beautiful a woman that he was shocked.

She would never forget that she was a Howard; she would work for the family when she was married to Carr. And marry Carr she must; for now the project was as important to him as it was delightful to her.

“Leave this to me,” he said. “The case must go no further. Let us hope it has not gone too far.”

He did not wait to say more; he must send orders at once to Suffolk. It was only a matter of time. If the message reached the Court before sentence was pronounced he could rely on everyone concerned carrying out his wishes.

The woman must be freed and sent away. An eye could be kept on her and a witch-finder sent to incriminate her later, for she was undoubtedly a witch. But this ring which she had said was a gift from the Countess of Essex must be forgotten.

That was an anxious time, but eventually Northampton was able to send for his niece and told her that the affair had been hushed up. The woman’s case had been dismissed and she had gone off with the ring.

“Let us hope, niece,” he said grimly, “that you have not committed more acts of folly which will come home to roost.”

Frances was uneasy for a few days; but she could not persist in that state.

She was too happy; all impatience to finish with Essex, all eager desire for marriage with Robert Carr.

Overbury could not believe it. When he had been told the news he had laughed at it.

“Nonsense,” he had said, “Court gossip, nothing more. Essex impotent! Look at him! That young man is as normal as any wife could wish.”

“Not as normal as the Countess of Essex wished, evidently” was the rejoinder.

Overbury went to his apartment which adjoined that of Robert Carr.

If it were indeed true, and he feared it was, there could be one reason for it. The Countess of Essex hoped to marry Robert Carr.

If that should ever come about it would be the end of the friendship between Robert Carr and Tom Overbury, for he, Overbury, would never endure her insolence. He thought of all those occasions when he had criticized her to Robert and how his friend had shrugged aside his insinuations.

Robert was so guileless: he did not see behind that mask of beauty. Overbury was ready to grant the lady her attractions; he was ready to admit that she might well be reckoned the most beautiful woman at Court. But he saw beyond the beauty. He saw wantonness, lust, ambition, selfishness and cruelty.

Robert must be made to understand what sort of woman this was and that if he wished to retain his high position he must not marry her.

In the heat of rage against the Countess and anger at the folly of his friend he waylaid the latter on his way from the King’s apartments and said he must speak to him without delay.

“What has happened to you, Tom?” asked Robert. “You look distraught.”