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Chapter Thirty-eight

WHEN WE REACHED HOME I felt faint again as I dismounted. I almost fell down in the yard. I leaned against the horse, taking deep breaths. Barak looked at me.

'You all right?'

'Yes,' I replied curtly. 'But I think I'll lie down for a while.'

'What about Marchamount? Shall I send word to the earl, get him brought in for questioning?'

'Yes. But to Cromwell's house, not the Tower. Being ordered there should be enough to make him talk and it will keep the matter privy.'

He nodded. 'I'll ride on to Whitehall, then. I'll be back later. Don't go out till I return, it may not be safe.'

I nodded and went indoors to ask Joan to get me some bread and cheese and a jug of beer. I took them up to my room. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I put my hand on my brow and was relieved to find no sign of fever. My faintness must have been due to the strain of the last two weeks, coupled with constant chasing across London in this endless, burning heat. I would not let infirmity make a victim of me. Four more days and everything would be settled one way or another. And then – then I would see Lady Honor again, and next time I would not play the coward. All the questions surrounding her had been answered, yet still she wanted to know me. I had felt it, more strongly than ever on the bench; she cared for me as I did for her. Curse Barak for his interruption.

My burnt arm was stinging. I removed the bandage and applied some of Guy's oil to the red, puckered skin, shuddering as I remembered the flame licking at it. The kiss of fire so light and agonizing. I bound my arm up again and lay back on the bed.

I fell asleep at once and again slept for several hours, this time without dreams. I woke to find the air mercifully cooler, long shadows stealing across the garden. My head felt clearer and I lay thinking about what Barak had said about John Skelly, how it made sense. I had been angry with Skelly because I thought him careless, unworthy of the kindness I had shown him, while all the time – I thought of his tired red eyes looking up at me, and shook my head.

It occurred to me that perhaps his problem could be solved with spectacles. More and more people wore them, the king himself it was said. I could buy him a pair. I nodded happily at the thought of telling Barak that. Then I frowned. Why should I tell him anything? What did his good opinion matter to me? With luck our association would soon be over and I should have no more of his brutal crudity or inconstant moods. I smiled at the memory of how Lady Honor had spoken to him: few people could have put Barak in his place, yet she had.

His place. My conscience assailed me again as I remembered saying that if he worked for me I would have sacked him. Yet then I should have lost a man of brains and courage, for all his impudence, a man who had saved my life. And whom I needed to go down the Wentworths' well tonight.

I heaved myself up and descended the stairs. I

found Barak in the kitchen, washing the chain that held his mezuzah with vinegar. The little gold tablet itself lay on the kitchen table. He gave me a sharp look; he was still angry with me.

'Where's Joan?' I asked.

'Having a rest before preparing supper. Even servants need a rest,' he added pointedly.

I sat opposite him. 'I have been thinking about Skelly. I shall take him to Guy, see if there may be spectacles he can prescribe that may help his sight.'

Barak stared at me with his sharp eyes. 'Skelly wouldn't be able to afford spectacles.'

'I shall pay.'

He grunted. 'And if spectacles won't help him? Will you put him out?'

'I shall have to. God's death, Barak, I have to turn a profit. I'd see if there are any charitable foundations that could help him. Come, let's not quarrel.'

He grunted. 'Yes, you want me to go down that well tonight, don't you?'

'If you will.'

'I said I would.' He replaced the mezuzah round his neck.

'Did you get the message to Cromwell?'

'I left it with Grey. He made a tart comment about how I kept asking the earl to do things when it ought to be the other way round.'

I smiled. 'He's a sober old fellow. You probably rub him up the wrong way.'

'Like Lady Honor.' He gave me a direct look. 'But are you sure the lady is all she seems? Can you see her clearly?'

'I try to.' I frowned. 'Yes, I believe so. I think we can clear both her and the duke from our calculations: that was another wrong trail.' I studied him. 'Why do you dislike her, Barak?'

He shrugged. 'People with that much pride in rank bring bad luck to those around them. I've seen how these fine families spit and scratch at each other around the court. It is dangerous to get caught in her wake. But never mind that. So she is no longer a suspect. Nor, it seems, are Bealknap and Rich.'

'Not necessarily. We should wait and see what Cromwell says about them. I hope he can make Marchamount talk.'

'He can make anyone talk. He'll show him the rack if he won't cooperate.'

'Marchamount has courage under his pomposity. He's come far from nothing.'

Barak shrugged. 'If he's defiant he'll pay the consequences.'

We stopped talking as footsteps sounded on the stairs. Joan appeared and we went through to the parlour while she prepared supper. It was starting to get dark.

'Are you fit to go to the well after we have eaten?'

'Ay,' I said. 'I don't know what came over me earlier. Heat maybe, the strain of it all.' I looked at him. 'But I shall hold fast. Let us go tonight, then perhaps at least we shall have one thing solved.'



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