AS I REINED IN BESIDE HIM I saw that Joseph looked tired and hot. Simon had not yet returned, so I bade Joseph go indoors while I led the horses to the stables.
Returning to the hall, I removed my cap and robe. It was cooler indoors and I stood a moment, savouring the air on my sweat-coated face, then went into the parlour. Joseph had taken a seat in my armchair and he jumped up, embarrassed. I waved a hand.
'Don't worry, Joseph, it's a cursed hot day.' I took a hard chair opposite him. Despite his tiredness I saw there was an excited gleam in his eyes, a new look of hope.
'Sir,' he said, 'I have been successful. My brother will see you.'
'Well done.' I poured us some beer from a pot Joan had left on the table. 'How did you manage it?'
'It wasn't easy. I went to the house; they had to let me in or else cause a scene in front of the servants. I told Edwin you were uncertain of Elizabeth's guilt and wanted to talk to the family before deciding whether you could continue to represent her. Edwin was very hostile at first, angry at my interference. And I'm no good hand at lying; I feared I would become confused.'
I smiled. 'No, Joseph, you are too honest for that trade.'
'I don't like it. But for Lizzy's sake – anyway, my mother persuaded him. That surprised me because she was against the poor girl most of all, though she's her own granddaughter. But Mother said if we could convince you it must have been Elizabeth that killed Ralph, you would leave them alone to grieve. Sir, they'll see us tomorrow morning at ten. They will all be at home then.'
'Good. Well done, Joseph.'
'I fear I let them believe you have doubts about Lizzy's innocence.' He gave me an imploring look. 'But it was not an unchristian thing, was it, to lie for her sake?'
'Often the world does not allow us to be too pure, I fear.'
'God sets us hard dilemmas.' He shook his head sadly.
I looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. I should have to hurry. 'I am sorry, Joseph, but I must leave you again. I have an engagement at Lincoln's Inn. Meet me at the Walbrook conduit tomorrow, just before ten.'
'I will, sir. You are good to give me your time when you are so busy.'
'Have you eaten? Stay here, my housekeeper will fetch you something.'
'Thank you, sir.'
I bowed quickly and left him. I told Joan to fetch him some food, then hurriedly donned my robe again; it had been washed the day before but already had a City stink. I wanted to catch both Marchamount and Bealknap before the dinner. As I hurried out to the street, I thought: poor honest Joseph, if he knew the nightmare tangle of deceptions Cromwell had involved me in he would flee the house. But no, he would not; while I was his only hope of setting Elizabeth free he would stand fast, like a much-battered rock.