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The thanks he makes, still from his kneeling situation, is eloquent and extensive. Henry looks at him bleakly and says, dear God, Master Cromwell, you can talk, can’t you?
He goes out, face composed, fighting the impulse to smile broadly. Scaramella fa la gala … ‘Every day I miss the Cardinal of York.’
Norfolk says, what, what, what did he say? Oh, nothing, he says. Just some special hard words he wants me to convey to the cardinal.
The itinerary is drawn up. The cardinal’s effects are put on coastal barges, to be taken to Hull and go overland from there. He himself has beaten the bargees down to a reasonable rate.
He tells Richard, you know, a thousand pounds isn’t much when you have a cardinal to move. Richard asks, ‘How much of your own money is sunk in this enterprise?’
Some debts should never be tallied, he says. ‘I myself, I know what is owed me, but by God I know what I owe.’
To Cavendish he says, ‘How many servants is he taking?’
‘Only a hundred and sixty.’
‘Only.’ He nods. ‘Right.’
Hendon. Royston. Huntingdon. Peterborough. He has men riding ahead, with precise instructions.
That last night, Wolsey gives him a package. Inside it is a small and hard object, a seal or ring. ‘Open it when I’m gone.’
People keep walking in and out of the cardinal’s private chamber, carrying chests and bundles of papers. Cavendish wanders through, holding a silver monstrance.
‘You will come north?’ the cardinal says.
‘I’ll come to fetch you, the minute the king summons you back.’ He believes and does not believe that this will happen.
The cardinal gets to his feet. There is a constraint in the air. He, Cromwell, kneels for a blessing. The cardinal holds out a hand to be kissed. His turquoise ring is missing. The fact does not evade him. For a moment, the cardinal’s hand rests on his shoulder, fingers spread, thumb in the hollow of his collarbone.
It is time he was gone. So much has been said between them that it is needless to add a marginal note. It is not for him now to gloss the text of their dealings, nor append a moral. This is not the occasion to embrace. If the cardinal has no more eloquence to offer, he surely has none. Before he has reached the door of the room the cardinal has turned back to the fireplace. He pulls his chair to the blaze, and raises a hand to shield his face; but his hand is not between himself and the fire, it is between himself and the closing door.
He makes for the courtyard. He falters; in a smoky recess where the light has extinguished itself, he leans against the wall. He is crying. He says to himself, let George Cavendish not come by and see me, and write it down and make it into a play.
He swears softly, in many languages: at life, at himself for giving way to its demands. Servants walk past, saying, ‘Master Cromwell’s horse is here for him! Master Cromwell’s escort at the gate!’ He waits till he is in command of himself, and exits, disbursing coins.
When he gets home, the servants ask him, are we to paint out the cardinal’s coat of arms? No, by God, he says. On the contrary, repaint it. He stands back for a look. ‘The choughs could look more lively. And we need a better scarlet for the hat.’
He hardly sleeps. He dreams of Liz. He wonders if she would know him, the man he vows that soon he will be: adamant, mild, a keeper of the king’s peace.
Towards dawn, he dozes; he wakes up thinking, the cardinal just now will be mounting his horse; why am I not with him? It is 5 April. Johane meets him on the stairs; chastely, she kisses his cheek.
‘Why does God test us?’ she whispers.
He murmurs, ‘I do not feel we will pass.’
He says, perhaps I should go up to Southwell myself? I’ll go for you, Rafe says. He gives him a list. Have the whole of the archbishop’s palace scrubbed out. My lord will be bringing his own bed. Draft in kitchen staff from the King’s Arms. Check the stabling. Get in musicians. Last time I passed through I noticed some pigsties up against the palace wall. Find out the owner, pay him off and knock them down. Don’t drink in the Crown; the ale is worse than my father’s.
Richard says, ‘Sir … it is time to let the cardinal go.’
‘This is a tactical retreat, not a rout.’
They think he’s gone but he’s only gone into a back room. He skulks among the files. He hears Richard say, ‘His heart is leading him.’
‘It is an experienced heart.’
‘But can a general organise a retreat when he doesn’t know where the enemy is? The king is so double in this matter.’
‘One could retreat straight into his arms.’
‘Jesus. You think our master is double too?’
‘Triple at least,’ Rafe says. ‘Look, there was no profit for him, ever, in deserting the old man – what would he get but the name of deserter? Perhaps something is to be got by sticking fast. For all of us.’
‘Off you go then, swine-boy. Who else would think about the pigsties? Thomas More, for instance, would never think about them.’
‘Or he would be exhorting the pig-keeper, my good man, Easter approacheth –’
‘– hast thou prepared to receive Holy Communion?’ Rafe laughs. ‘By the way, Richard, hast thou?’
Richard says, ‘I can get a piece of bread any day in the week.’
During Holy Week, reports come in from Peterborough: more people have crowded in to look at Wolsey than have been in that town in living memory. As the cardinal moves north he follows him on the map of these islands he keeps in his head. Stamford, Grantham, Newark; the travelling court arrives in Southwell on 28 April. He, Cromwell, writes to soothe him, he writes to warn him. He is afraid that the Boleyns, or Norfolk, or both, have found some way of implanting a spy in the cardinal’s retinue.
The ambassador Chapuys, hurrying away from an audience with the king, has touched his sleeve, drawn him aside. ‘Monsieur Cremuel, I thought to call at your house. We are neighbours, you know.’
‘I should like to welcome you.’
‘But people inform me you are often with the king now, which is pleasant, is it not? Your old master, I hear from him every week. He has become solicitous about the queen’s health. He asks if she is in good spirits, and begs her to consider that soon she will be restored to the king’s bosom. And bed.’ Chapuys smiles. He is enjoying himself. ‘The concubine will not help him. We know you have tried with her and failed. So now he turns back to the queen.’
He is forced to ask, ‘And the queen says?’
‘She says, I hope God in his mercy finds it possible to forgive the cardinal, for I never can.’ Chapuys waits. He does not speak. The ambassador resumes: ‘I think you are sensible of the tangle of wreckage that will be left if this divorce is granted, or, shall we say, somehow extorted from His Holiness? The Emperor, in defence of his aunt, may make war on England. Your merchant friends will lose their livelihoods, and many will lose their lives. Your Tudor king may go down, and the old nobility come into their own.’
‘Why are you telling me this?’
‘I am telling all Englishmen.’
He is meant to pass to the cardinal this message: that he has come to the end of his credit with the Emperor. What will that do but drive him into an appeal to the French king? Either way, treason lies.
He imagines the cardinal among the canons at Southwell, in his chair in the chapter house, presiding beneath the high vaulting like a prince at his ease in some forest glade, wreathed by carvings of leaves and flowers. They are so supple that it is as if the columns, the ribs have quickened, as if stone has burst into florid life; the capitals are decked with berries, finials are twisted stems, roses entangle the shafts, flowers and seeds flourish on one stalk; from the foliage, faces peers, the faces of dogs, of hares, of goats. There are human faces, too, so lifelike that perhaps they can change their expression; perhaps they stare down, astonished, at the portly scarlet form of his patron; and perhaps in the silence of the night, when the canons are sleeping, the stone men whistle and sing.
In Italy he learned a memory system and furnished it with pictures. Some are drawn from wood and field, from hedgerow and copse: shy hiding animals, eyes bright in the undergrowth. Some are foxes and deer, some are griffins, dragons. Some are men and women: nuns, warriors, doctors of the church. In their hands he puts unlikely objects, St Ursula a crossbow, St Jerome a scythe, while Plato bears a soup ladle and Achilles a dozen damsons in a wooden bowl. It is no use hoping to remember with the help of common objects, familiar faces. One needs startling juxtapositions, images that are more or less peculiar, ridiculous, even indecent. When you have made the images, you place them about the world in locations you choose, each one with its parcel of words, of figures, which they will yield you on demand. At Greenwich, a shaven cat may peep at you from behind a cupboard; at the palace of Westminster, a snake may leer down from a beam and hiss your name.
Some of these images are flat, and you can walk on them. Some are clothed in skin and walk around in a room, but perhaps they are men with their heads on backwards, or with tufted tails like the leopards in coats of arms. Some scowl at you like Norfolk, or gape at you, like my lord Suffolk, with bewilderment. Some speak, some quack. He keeps them, in strict order, in the gallery of his mind’s eye.
Perhaps it is because he is used to making these images that his head is peopled with the cast of a thousand plays, ten thousand interludes. It is because of this practice that he tends to glimpse his dead wife lurking in a stairwell, her white face upturned, or whisking around a corner of the Austin Friars, or the house at Stepney. Now the image is beginning to merge with that of her sister Johane, and everything that belonged to Liz is beginning to belong to her: her half-smile, her questioning glance, her way of being naked. Till he says, enough, and scrubs her out of his mind.
Rafe rides up the country with messages to Wolsey too secret to put into letters. He would go himself, but though Parliament is prorogued he cannot get away, because he is afraid of what might be said about Wolsey if he is not there to defend him; and at short notice the king might want him, or Lady Anne. ‘And although I am not with you in person,’ he writes, ‘yet be assured I am, and during my life shall be, with your grace in heart, spirit, prayer and service …’
The cardinal replies: he is ‘mine own good, trusty and most assured refuge in this my calamity’. He is ‘mine own entirely beloved Cromwell’.
He writes to ask for quails. He writes to ask for flower seeds. ‘Seeds?’ Johane says. ‘He is planning to take root?’
Twilight finds the king melancholy. Another day of regress, in his campaign to be a married man again; he denies, of course, that he is married to the queen. ‘Cromwell,’ he says, ‘I need to find my way to ownership of those …’ He looks sidelong, not wishing to say what he means. ‘I understand there are legal difficulties. I do not pretend to understand them. And before you begin, I do not want them explained.’
The cardinal has endowed his Oxford college, as also the school at Ipswich, with land that will produce an income in perpetuity. Henry wants their silver and gold plate, their libraries, their yearly revenues and the land that produces the revenues; and he does not see why he should not have what he wants. The wealth of twenty-nine monasteries has gone into those foundations – suppressed by permission of the Pope, on condition that the proceeds were used for the colleges. But do you know, Henry says, I am beginning to care very little about the Pope and his permissions?
It is early summer. The evenings are long and the grass, the air, scented. You would think that a man like Henry, on a night like this, could go to whichever bed he pleases. The court is full of eager women. But after this interview he will walk in the garden with Lady Anne, her hand resting on his arm, deep in conversation; then he will go to his empty bed, and she, one presumes, to hers.
When the king asks him what he hears from the cardinal, he says that he misses the light of His Majesty’s countenance; that preparations for his enthronement at York are in hand. ‘Then why doesn’t he get to York? It seems to me he delays and delays.’ Henry glares at him. ‘I will say this for you. You stick by your man.’
‘I have never had anything from the cardinal other than kindness. Why would I not?’
‘And you have no other master,’ the king says. ‘My lord Suffolk asks me, where does the fellow spring from? I tell him there are Cromwells in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire – landed people, or once they were. I suppose you are from some unfortunate branch of that family?’
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