Chapter no 5

The Silent Companions

A fortuitous day to start my new journal! Josiah is home early and he brings the best of news.

Jane was coaxing the short hair around my forehead into curls when I heard a beat upon the bridge.

‘Stop,’ I said. ‘Listen. It is Josiah.’

‘Nay, it can’t be the master yet. He won’t be back until next week.’ ‘It is,’ I insisted. ‘I am sure of it.’

She gave me the look that I have grown accustomed to. Her hand twitched by her side, as if she longed to make the old sign against witchcraft. But she did not say a word as I stood and hastened from my bedroom into the summer parlour. Outside, the mist was up. I strained my eyes at the window, certain I could hear it still: the thump of my husband’s heart. Colour fluttered in the mass of cloud. I pressed my forehead to the glass, the better to see. Yes. A tiny rectangle rippling blue and yellow, darting in and out of the fog. Our banner.

The beating sound built and turned into the steady pound of hooves.

‘I knew it!’ I cried, running back to my room. ‘The herald is below. Make ready.’

Jane leapt like a doe. ‘Well, bless me.’ She draped a lace collar around my shoulders and pulled on her linen oversleeves. ‘I’d better go and warn them in the kitchens. Do you want me to finish your hair, mistress?’

‘No, there is not time. Josiah wants to speak to me immediately.’ Her gaze flinched away. ‘That is, I expect he will. He often does.’

Although I do my best to hide it from her, Jane is afraid every time my gift manifests itself. I cannot deny that it is strange – I have always heard things, always sensed things. But when I read Josiah’s thoughts it is no sorcery – unless love be a spell. I simply know him through and through.

I did not stay long after Jane had quit the room. Checking the set of my ribbons one last time, I hurried out through the corridor and down the stairs, taking them in pairs. As I passed the first floor I called out to tell Hetta that her father was home. I should have gone and fetched her in person, but I was selfish. I wanted Josiah all to myself.

I had the servants set a fire in the dining room. Light played upon the tapestries and picked out the golden threads. I thought Josiah would take some refreshment after his journey so I made sure there was spiced wine and a collection of small dishes to suit his fancy: bread, cheese, cold meats and a tray of pastries. It looked most appealing on our new mahogany table. But when my husband swept in, raindrops pebbled on his doublet and his wool cloak steaming, he paid no heed to the food. Marching straight to me, he put his hands either side of my waist and lifted me off my feet.

‘Well met, my love!’ He set me down and gave me a smacking kiss. ‘Can you guess why I have returned?’

‘It is good news from court, I wager. I never saw you smile so wide.’

His eyes glittered. ‘With good reason, Anne. Can you really not guess?’ I shook my head. ‘He is coming. The King is coming.’ I must have gone pale, for his laughter boomed. ‘Not now, sweeting. You will have ample time to prepare. The King and the Queen will stop here for a night on their summer progress.’

For a moment I could only grasp his gloved hand. ‘Blessed God. This is . . . remarkable. What an honour. It is all we have worked for. How, how did you accomplish it?’

Could it be the chrysanthemum petals I put in his wine for luck? The bay leaves under his pillow for intuition? For while Josiah tries to raise our family at court I am working too, busy in my stillroom. I, of all people, will never underestimate the strength of plants.

Laughing once more, he peeled off his gloves and sat down at the table. ‘We accomplished it together, Anne. I told you this house was just the beginning.’

He has told me. Ever since we amassed the money to build a great country estate, Josiah has been insisting that The Bridge will be the making of us. I had no idea it would happen so soon.

He picked up a hunk of bread and bit into it. ‘We have made our name now. This year they stay a night, but who can tell of next year? If I obtain a title . . . Perchance we will be invited to Christmas at court. Perchance the Queen will take a fancy to you and offer you a place in her household.’

In all my wildest visions, I never imagined this. ‘As long as the King holds you in esteem, I have nothing else to wish for.’

‘Do not rein in your dreams, Anne!’ He grabbed a flagon of wine. ‘There is no telling how far we can rise. We will get the boys down –show what fine, strapping lads we have. They would make the King fine Grooms of the Bedchamber or Gentleman Ushers, one day.’

‘Is it likely he would consider them?’

‘Who can say? There is no limit to the success a titled family can achieve. With my mother’s connections and your skills, we will make a reputation for ourselves. Look at the Villiers!’

‘No,’ I said sharply. ‘No, we will not be like the Villiers.’ He paused in his meal, staring at me. I tried a smile, but it was too small. ‘Remember what happened to the duke.’

He tossed his hunk of bread back on the plate. Crumbs snagged in his beard. ‘Do not fret, Anne, I am not setting out to become the next Duke of Buckingham. I doubt there ever was a more conceited, feckless fool in England. All I mean to say is that he has set the bar. He was born a nobody, and by the time he met his end he was richer than the King himself. Anything is possible. And it seems to me it is our duty to get what we can for our boys.’

‘I will write to tell them at once. And they will require new clothes! Heaven only knows how much they have grown. We will need to measure them anew.’

Josiah chuckled.

‘I could write a masque for them to perform before the Queen!’ I have always yearned to experience the theatre and pageantry of a

court masque. They say the Queen herself dances in them, spun in the most luxurious costumes.

‘Aye, I can see our James striding on stage to recite a poem.’ ‘And Hetta – she will be the nymph who—’

Josiah cleared his throat. He took another quick swig of wine before he said, ‘I have not decided how large a part I want Henrietta Maria to play in this visit.’

My stomach clenched, the way it always does when people mention my daughter. Josiah never calls her by her pet name, Hetta; it is always formal, always Henrietta Maria with him.

‘Whatever do you mean? Surely she will be involved just as much as the boys?’

‘While we are still feeling our way with the royal couple, setting everything out to impress . . . It would be best not to draw attention to her little – aberration.’

Nauseous guilt swept over me. I told myself not to snap, not to reply too quickly. But of course I did. ‘There is nothing the matter with her!’

‘You know that is not true.’

Panic caught at me like nettles; I was sure that somehow he would see through me. See through to the truth. ‘I do not understand why it should affect her role in the visit. She is our daughter. She deserves every advantage for her future, as well as the boys.’

‘I will think upon it.’ Quick as a cloud shifts on a windy day, his mood changed. The shadow of desire darkened his eyes. ‘Enough for now. Come, sit by me. Lord, Anne, I have missed you.’



At the very first chance that offered, I ran to see Lizzy. Once she was my nurse, and she has nursed all of my children. She has been there for every significant moment of my life. I wanted her to share in my joy at this, the pinnacle of our achievement. But she has only made me most unhappy.

I found Lizzy and Hetta poring over books in the schoolroom. Schoolroom, I call it – in truth it looked more like a fairy den than a seat of learning when I walked in. Potted plants covered every surface. Baskets spilled over with ivy and periwinkle, trailing their foliage over the bookshelves. Hetta’s pet sparrow hopped in his cage

and trilled a song. It is not a sober or reflective environment, but Hetta refuses to attend to her studies if there is no greenery around her.

Today she was reading Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, her very favourite book. It cannot be a coincidence, her interest in the natural world? Not with those eyes: mixed brown, green and yellow just like a tisane; or with that hair, blushing every shade of autumn.

Lizzy rose at once to greet me, but Hetta only offered that shy half-smile which never reaches her eyes. That is not her fault, of course – it is mine. An incorrect measurement, a stumbled word. She is not responsible for my blunders.

‘Hetta, sweeting,’ I said. ‘Perhaps you could go and do some drawing? Mother needs to talk with Lizzy.’

Obediently, she trotted off to the window seat. Pulling out her paper and pencils she sat, staring at a blank page.

‘She will draw flowers,’ Lizzy guessed with a chuckle. ‘Always flowers.’ She sat down once more in her rocking chair, adjusting the black partlet around her shoulders. ‘Look at her! Don’t you see a little more of Mary in her face every day?’

That was what I wanted, for certain. But it feels strange to see my dead sister’s features on this shy, silent girl. Mary was always full of life.

‘It is a remarkable likeness, indeed.’

‘But you wished to speak with me in confidence? What news?’

I finally let the smile break on my face. ‘Oh Lizzy, I have wonderful news. I am the happiest woman alive.’

She grinned, as she always does when I am happy. ‘What is it, child? It cannot be . . .’ Her eyes darted to my stomach. ‘No, not that. One miracle is enough.’

‘No!’ I patted the creases out of my bodice. ‘Far better. Josiah is home. He has told me to make myself ready. The King and Queen are coming in summer! Coming here!’

The smile wilted on her lips. ‘Here? The King and Queen?’

‘Yes!’ By the window, Hetta had begun to draw, her head tilted to the side. I dropped my voice. ‘How now, Lizzy? Why do you look unhappy?’

She squeezed my hand; her bony old fingers pressed into mine. ‘Oh, I am glad for you, dearheart. At least, I think . . .’ She shook her

grey head. ‘May I tell you the truth?’ ‘Always.’

‘I do not think they will be well received in the village.’

The village: I had not thought of that. The stuffed-up, precise men of Fayford with their chessboard clothing. I have not warmed towards them. When we purchased this land to build The Bridge, I called upon the workers with salves for their chapped hands. They shrank from me in abhorrence. They mistrust my skill with plants, look at me askance, and so I have kept away ever since. With a talent like mine, I must take caution. Spurious accusations could harm far more than my pride.

‘The villagers may be impudent with the gentry, Lizzy, but surely for their King—?’

‘Not them. They have no respect for the King. Haven’t you wondered why they don’t take to our family? The master serves a King who drained the fens, and they all expect he’ll be after more ship money soon.’

‘Fie! That tax does not apply to us. We are not a coastal district.’ ‘Inland ship money.’ Lizzy hunched her shoulders unhappily. ‘It’s

been proposed. Can you imagine? I dread to think of the scene in the village if that happens. They’ll throw vegetables at His Majesty as he passes.’

‘They would not dare! Stop it, Lizzy, you are getting me into a fright.’

‘I only speak the truth.’

‘Then I will have to find a way to bring the court here without them passing through Fayford. But really, I can’t see why I should. It is the King’s village. His country.’ Hetta’s pencil stopped. I took a breath and it started again. ‘I do not foresee King Charles demanding more ship money, Lizzy. He cannot be too poor of pocket. Josiah was just telling me of the new ceiling to be painted at the Banqueting House and the Queen’s building project at Greenwich.’

‘Oh aye,’ she said darkly. ‘He will spend money on his trifles. That is what makes people so angry.’

I looked at her anew. ‘You sound as if you agree with the Puritans of Fayford, Lizzy.’

‘I cannot say I like the idea of those royals bursting in here. You know,’ she whispered, ‘that she’s a Papist shrew.’

‘Lizzy!’ Hetta looked up. I bent my head and lowered my voice again. ‘The Queen may be a Catholic, but she is no shrew. You should not say such things. Must I remind you that my daughter is named for Queen Henrietta Maria?’

‘I don’t like it,’ Lizzy repeated. ‘Her in your house, chanting her popish spells and nonsense. Especially with the child so susceptible.’

‘Whatever do you mean? Hetta is not simple; only mute. She will not sell her soul to the Pope just because she sees a fine Catholic queen.’

‘Even so. An innocent child, in the same house! And the King! Why, you know what people said about him and the Duke of Buckingham.’

‘I do not see what gossip—’

‘Who could stand it? A papist and a sodomite under the same roof as our precious girl.’

‘Enough!’ I stood so suddenly that my chair squealed. Hetta froze, the tip of her pencil quivering on the paper. ‘Hold your tongue, Lizzy,’ I hissed. ‘I will not have it, not in my house. He is your King. You will speak of him with respect.’

Lizzy’s face closed: ‘Yes, mistress.’

I had done it again. I had treated her like a friend and then thrust her back down to the role of servant. I always do this, and I know she resents it. But what else could I say?

We are dependent on the King. Josiah has fine blood – his mother was a dowager countess before she married his untitled father – but only the King’s bounty can establish the Bainbridge name. Only the King can give my husband the knighthood he so craves. I cannot, cannot have one of my household spreading vile treason. Only last year I heard of a man who had his ears cut off for criticising the royal family. Would Lizzy want me to sit back and let that happen to her?

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