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The perilous gard, p.1
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       The Perilous Gard, p.1

           Elizabeth Marie Pope
 
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The Perilous Gard


  The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

  THE PERILOUS GARD

  ELIZABETH MARIE POPE

  Houghton Mifflin Company Boston

  ISBN 0-395-18512-2

  COPYRIGHT © 1974 BY ELIZABETH MARIE POPE

  CONTENTS

  I The True Sister 1

  II The Elvenwood 16

  III The Young Man at the Window 26

  IV The Holy Well 42

  V The Redheaded Woman 67

  VI The Leper's Hut 86

  VII The Evidence Room 105

  VIII The Lady in the Green 126

  IX The People of the Hill 145

  X "Neither Sun nor Moon" 169

  XI The Cold Iron 196

  XII All Hallows' Eve 218

  XIII The Changeling 248

  For the family at Fenwick

  Chapter I

  The True Sister

  "She won't be angry with me," said Alicia. "Why should she, Kate? Every word I wrote her was true. This is the most horrible place in the world. You know it is."

  Kate did not answer. She was standing by the window, with her back to the room, staring out at the overgrown gardens and the dripping trees of the great park. Hatfield in the rain might not be the most horrible place in the world, but it was certainly the dreariest royal palace in all England — perhaps that was one reason why Queen Mary had chosen it for her sister Elizabeth's house — and it had been raining steadily for almost two weeks. The summer of 1558 had been a late one, miserably cold and wet; unless the weather cleared soon, they were sure to have floods or another bad harvest. It was nearly August, yet even with the windows shut, the room would have been much the better for a fire on the hearth.

  Needless to say, there was no fire. The Queen's jealous hatred of her sister was continually breaking out in curious little acts of petty spitefulness, and one of them was to keep the household short of fuel. The sea coal at Hatfield always seemed to be smoky, the kindling wood green; sometimes there was barely enough to supply the Princess's own apartments, let alone the dormitory allotted to her maids of honor. There were never enough blankets to go around comfortably either, and they were thin too. Katherine and Alicia Sutton, who were the youngest of the maids and had been at Hatfield for the shortest time, had the thinnest of all. Alicia, perched on the foot of their bed, poked at the coverlet with an accusing finger.

  "It's wrong!" she said. "Wicked!"

  Kate swung about to face her.

  "You never wrote the Queen that?" she demanded.

  "Don't plunge at me, Kate!" begged Alicia. "I can't think if you plunge at me. And do try not to lurch with your shoulders! You know what Mother said."

  Kate drew back a little, stiffening. She was a tall girl, all arms and legs, and her awkward shoulders were the despair of Lady Sutton at home in London. Her father and his father before him had both married beautiful women, but Alicia was the only child who had taken after her mother. Kate, most unfortunately, looked like her father and still more like her grandfather, Sir Giles, who had founded the fortunes of the family back in the days of old King Henry the Eighth. Sir Giles had started life as a common merchant seaman (the malicious rumor that he had been a pirate was almost universally discredited), and though in the end he had grown rich and died knighted, it was not for his grace or good looks. Even King Henry once remarked, in an exasperated moment, that he could never have told Giles Sutton's face from a stone wall if the stone wall had not been so much the handsomer of the two.

  "And she's the image of him!" poor Lady Sutton was accustomed to complain bitterly. "His very image! That walk, if a walk you could call it! And the way those eyes of his went through you, exactly like a knife!"

  "And his brains too," said Kate's father dryly.

  "Brains!" snapped Lady Sutton. "Tilly vally, Sir Thomas! She's not a boy! What does a woman want with brains? I'm sure I never had a brain in my head, and no more does Alicia!"

  "Alicia doesn't need a brain," said Sir Thomas, more dryly still. "Not with her eyes."

  Alicia's eyes were enormous, as golden as honey, and innocently trustful as a baby's. When she looked up at Kate, standing by the window, they suddenly melted, and a faint sparkle of tears appeared on the lashes, like jewels on a fringe.

  "You could say you wrote the letter yourself," she suggested hopefully. "That's what you'd do if you were a true sister."

  Kate broke in on this romance without ceremony.

  "Did you sign my name to it?" she asked.

  Alicia's eyes widened. "Sign your name?" she said, in a rather puzzled voice. "How could I sign your name to the letter when you didn't even know I was sending it?"

  "Did you copy my writing?"

  "I've told you before, Kate," said Alicia, "and I tell you again, that I will not learn that foolish newfangled Roman handwriting Father taught you, and let that be an end of it."

  "Then it wouldn't do much good to say I sent the letter, would it?"

  "Oh." Alicia blinked. "Wouldn't it?"

  "No."

  "But if you said you — "

  "No. We'll have to find some other way that I can be a true sister to you."

  Alicia flushed and began to wriggle one foot in its soft embroidered shoe. "Very well: sneer at me," she said. "Don't be a true sister. I was only trying to help the Lady Elizabeth. The Queen can't know how bad it is here. All I did was write and tell her."

  "What did you tell her?"

  "It was only setting her straight. All I wrote was that the Princess was an excellent lady, and loyal, and noble, and everyone loved her, much better than the Queen, and it's wrong to keep her shut up in this horrible place where she can't even put her nose outside the park gates, and there isn't any company except old Master Roger to read her Latin, and no fresh fish in Lent except carp from the pond, and no warming pans for the beds not even in January when it snowed for three days, and — "

  "Never mind the rest," Kate sat down limply on the window seat. "You ought to be in a book, Alicia. That's where you ought to be, in a romance. Riding on a white horse, with a good brave knight to take care of you. Whatever do you suppose the Queen will think? She'll never forgive you."

  "I'm not afraid of the Queen."

  Kate thought of the Queen sitting in her high-backed chair on the day she and Alicia had been taken to court to be presented to her before they went down to Hatfield. The Queen's hands, never still for a moment. The tight lips. The hot, sick, unhappy eyes darting from one to the other and back again.

  "Well, I'm afraid of her," she said.

  "Yes, but she liked me," Alicia insisted. "Don't you remember, Kate? She said I had a sweet face and reminded her of my mother."

  "She wasn't angry with you then."

  "Oh, she isn't going to be angry with me now, not for only one little short letter."

  "Alicia — " Kate stopped, helplessly at a loss. She did not know how to explain. Nobody had ever really been angry with Alicia, whatever she did: the whole world had been her apple tart since the day she was born.

  "Think of what happened to Catt Ashley," she persisted.

  "Who cares about her? The Queen isn't going to be angry with me," Alicia repeated comfortingly. "It was only a little letter. Why, the whole of it was hardly three pages long." She slipped to her feet, stretching like a kitten, and began to tidy her hair.

  "The Queen may not read it," said Kate. "She must get hundreds of letters. And she's ill again. Or it may have gone astray on the road."

  "Oh, no, it couldn't have," said Alicia proudly. "I put it in the royal courier's packet with the one from the Princess."

  Kate, giving up, merely nodded and turned again to look out of the window. Two sparrows were trying to shelter from the rainy wind in the ivy that
grew on the palace wall, and she felt a little sick as she watched the storm tear one of them out of its hold and blow it fluttering away from the leaves. The Queen was capable of anything when she was in one of her furies, particularly a fury with her sister or anyone belonging to her sister's household. Catt Ashley was the Lady Elizabeth's favorite attendant, her old governess, but she had been sent to prison in the Tower of London all the same only for being found with some ballads and pamphlets attacking the Queen's policies; and Blanche Parry had said that she was very lucky not to be there still.

  Blanche Parry herself opened the door at that moment and came frowning into the room. She too had been with the household ever since the Lady Elizabeth was a child, and was now the Keeper of the Princess's Jewels, not that there were many jewels for her to keep, and the "Mother" in charge of the maids of honor, not that there were many maids either.

  "I've been looking for you," she said. "Why weren't you down in the hall, where you belong? Stop preening yourself, Alicia! Don't sit there like a stone image, Kate! Her Highness wants you."

  Kate heard what seemed to be her own voice asking a question.

  "No, I don't know what it's about. She was working with Master Roger when the rider came from London. It's put her in a wicked temper, that's all I can tell you," said Blanche Parry, shepherding them before her down the stairs. "More trouble with That Woman, I suppose. If some people were locked up as lunatics instead of sitting on thrones . . . Come along now, don't keep her waiting, remember your curtsies both of you, try not to trip over your skirts again, Kate, I never saw such a clumsy girl. This way. They're in the little parlor."

  The little parlor was a small gloomy room — all the rooms at Hatfield were gloomy — with narrow latticed windows and a couple of damp logs smoldering in the fireplace. The table had been covered with a rug from Turkestan, according to the fashion; but it was old, and the colors looked dingy and worn. Master Roger Ascham, the Princess's Latin Reader, was standing by the table, the book he had been working with still impatiently open in his hand. Master Roger was apt to regard politics and riders from the court as mere interruptions to the more important business of scholarship.

  The Lady Elizabeth sat in a big carved chair by the window, reading a letter. She was a slender young woman, very plainly dressed in a gown and kirtle of ash-colored wool with knots of black velvet — the Queen did not like to hear of her sister wearing finery or bright colors — and at first glance there was nothing remarkable about her except the brilliant hazel eyes and the blazing red-gold hair she had inherited from her father King Henry. That afternoon the hair was braided down, half-hidden under a small black velvet hood, and the eyes bent over the letter were quite calm, only a little disdainful. But as Kate and Alicia came through the doorway, the Princess deliberately closed her hand and crushed what she was holding into a mass of twisted paper and broken sealing wax.

  Kate and Alicia took the regulation two steps across the threshold and sank curtsying to the floor. Kate immediately tripped over her skirts in spite of everything Blanche Parry had told her; and before she could recover her balance, Alicia had crossed the room in one lovely curving rush like a wave to the shore and was kneeling at the Princess's feet.

  The Lady Elizabeth looked down at her. "So you think it is wrong to keep me shut up in this horrible place?" was all she said.

  Alicia had begun to cry. Her big tear-fringed golden eyes lifted adoringly to the brilliant hazel ones above her.

  "Oh, Your Highness!" she whispered. "I was only trying to help you! Truly I was!"

  The Lady Elizabeth leaned forward with one of her swift decisive movements and touched Alicia's shining hair. "Little fool, how would it help me for you to have your head cut off?" she demanded, but in a much more gentle voice. "You should hear what the Queen my sister has to say of your conduct. All in her own hand, too. 'I have never known your household, Elizabeth, to show me anything except treachery and ungratefulness — ' " She swept open the crumpled papers on the arm of the chair, her eyes hardening again as they ran down the thick, heavily blotted lines. " 'It was much against my judgment to place any of my subjects in your charge, but their mother wished for it, and I trusted they were too young to engage in plots or to suck up malice and corruption — ' Fine phrase, suck up corruption! What next? 'God knows I am accustomed to insolence and rebellion, yet I am the Queen of England still, and if Alicia Sutton thinks I can endure to be so baited, so attacked, so defied and tormented it will go very hard with her — ' "

  Kate's heart gave one sickening lurch, and then seemed to stop beating altogether.

  " 'But — ' " the Princess went on, "(and did you ever hear the like of this for a piece of good logic, Master Roger?) — 'But I am not yet so dull that I cannot perceive she is too sweet and fair a child to have thought of such mischief for herself; and I have no doubt at all that if one of them contrived that letter, the blame should be laid chiefly on that sister of hers, who I did very well note to be of a cold, hard, and secret countenance, like her father; and he is a man whose face I could never bring myself to trust.' "

  "There, Kate!" said Alicia, triumphantly, quite forgetting where she was. "I told you she wasn't going to be angry with me!"

  "Her Majesty's powers of reason are extraordinary," observed Master Roger, looking up from his book.

  The Lady Elizabeth's eyes were still on the letter in her hand.

  " 'It remains now,' " she read on, " 'only to make an end of this wickedness and folly. I have therefore determined to take Alicia Button and place her here among my own ladies at the court, where with good company and maidenly pastimes she can shake off the infection of your household. As for Katherine Sutton — '"

  The clear voice hesitated for a fraction of a second.

  " 'As for Katherine Sutton,' " it continued, " 'she is young; and I am not a cruel or a hardhearted woman. My command for her is only that she shall be put into the care of Sir Geoffrey Heron, a man I can trust in wholly, and kept by him under strict guard at his house called Elvenwood Hall in Derbyshire; and so let me hear no more of the girl, I have done with her.' "

  There were two or three other sentences — something about "he is to fetch her away within the week," and "deliver her promptly into his hands," but Kate did not really hear them. She could see the Lady Elizabeth's lips moving, and the paper in her hand, but the words made no sense to her. She had never heard of Geoffrey Heron or of Elvenwood Hall. She knew nothing of Derbyshire except that it was in the north somewhere, forest and mining country, very wild, full of streams and caves. There was a castle in Derbyshire that had a great cave underneath it, Peak Castle, and other places — the Blue John Cavern at Treak Cliff where the purple spar came from, High Tor, Great Matlock: but the names only darted and tumbled about her mind like a scatter of loose beads in a box-lid. They had no meaning. The one thing that seemed clear and fixed was that Alicia had been right after all. Whatever happened, the Queen was not going to be angry with her.

  Alicia had begun to realize that something was wrong. "But, Your Highness!" she protested. "It wasn't Kate's fault. What is she sending her away for?"

  "Because she is not a cruel or a hardhearted woman."

  "Then how can she? She mustn't! Our father won't let her!"

  "Your father can do nothing to stop her," said the Lady Elizabeth gravely. "Nor can I. We would only make the matter worse if we tried."

  "But it wasn't Kate's fault! It wasn't!" repeated Alicia, springing up and burying her face on Kate's shoulder in a storm of tears.

  "Alicia!" Kate came back to her senses with a jerk. "Alicia, for the love of heaven! Be quiet!"

  "I won't be quiet!" wept Alicia. "And if the Q-queen thinks I I want any mm-maidenly pastimes when my poor sister is chained up eating dry bread in a black dungeon full of snakes and toads — "

  "Who said a word about chaining me up in a dungeon? She only means I'll have to keep within a mile of the house, or something — you know, like Her Highness here at Hatfiel
d. I'm not being sent to the Tower, you little goose! Sir Geoffrey won't hurt me."

  "He-he won't?"

  "Didn't you hear the Queen say he was a man she could trust?" Kate demanded, hoping that nobody would raise the question of exactly what the Queen thought she could trust Sir Geoffrey to do. The Lady Elizabeth was looking down at the letter again, her face troubled. It was, unexpectedly, Master Roger who spoke.

  "Your sister's right, Alicia." He gave Kate a reassuring nod. "No, I'm not trying to comfort you. It's true."

  The Lady Elizabeth turned to him. "Do you know the man, then?" she asked eagerly.

  "Not to say know him, Your Highness. My old pupil, Thomas Corget — a good lad, though no great hand as a scholar — told me once that he was of some estate in the fen country about Norfolk, and had a great reputation there for his honesty and fair dealing. He was one of the gentlemen who came to the Queen's help at the time of a Somerset rebellion; and it seems she took a liking to him, for she gave him a high post in Ireland and he was there for some years, never returning to England until last winter, after his wife died. Elvenwood Hall must have come to him from her. She was Lord Warden's daughter, and her father's only heir."

  "Warden?" the Princess interrupted him. "I have heard of Wardens in Derbyshire, but Elvenwood Hall was not the name of their house. It had another name, and there used to be some curious tale about it."

  "Tom Corget said there were so many curious tales about the Perilous Gard running about in Derbyshire that after a time he did not trouble himself to listen to half of them."

  "The Perilous Gard?"

  "That was the other name, my lady. The last Lord Warden tore down much of the house and rebuilt it when he came into the title, and would have changed the name too, if he might have; but country folk all call it by the old one still. Tom Corget and I were disputing about the name: it was so that we came to speak of Sir Geoffrey."

  "Sir Launcelot had a castle called the Joyous Gard," remarked Alicia, in a rather muffled voice from Kate's shoulder.

 
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