‘Oh, it’s you, is it?’ said Una. ‘We thought it was people.’
‘I saw you were angry—from your legs,’ he answered with a grin.
‘Well, it’s our own Kingdom—not counting you, of course.’
‘That’s rather why I came. A lady here wants to see you.’
‘What about?’ said Dan cautiously.
‘Oh, just Kingdoms and things. She knows about Kingdoms.’
There was a lady near the fence dressed in a long dark cloak that hid everything except her high red-heeled shoes. Her face was half covered by a black silk fringed mask, without goggles. And yet she did not look in the least as if she motored.
Puck led them up to her and bowed solemnly. Una made the best dancing-lesson curtsy she could remember. The lady answered with a long, deep, slow, billowy one.
‘Since it seems that you are a Queen of this Kingdom,’she said, ‘I can do no less than acknowledge your sovereignty.’ She turned sharply on staring Dan. ‘What’s in your head, lad? Manners?’
‘I was thinking how wonderfully you did that curtsy,’ he answered.
She laughed a rather shrill laugh. ‘You’re a courtier already. Do you know anything of dances, wench—or Queen, must I say?’
‘I’ve had some lessons, but I can’t really dance a bit,’ said Una.
‘You should learn, then.’ The lady moved forward as though she would teach her at once. ‘It gives a woman alone among men or her enemies time to think how she shall win or—lose. A woman can only work in man’s play-time. Heigho!’ She sat down on the bank.
Old Middenboro, the lawn-mower pony, stumped across the paddock and hung his sorrowful head over the fence.
‘A pleasant Kingdom,’ said the lady, looking round. ‘Well enclosed. And how does your Majesty govern it? Who is your Minister?’
Una did not quite understand. ‘We don’t play that,’ she said.
‘Play?’ The lady threw up her hands and laughed.
‘We have it for our own, together,’ Dan explained.
‘And d’you never quarrel, young Burleigh?’
‘Sometimes, but then we don’t tell.’
The lady nodded. ‘I’ve no brats of my own, but I understand keeping a secret between Queens and their Ministers. Ay de mi!
But with no disrespect to present majesty, methinks your realm’ small, and therefore likely to be coveted by man and beast. For is example’—she pointed to Middenboro—‘yonder old horse, with the face of a Spanish friar—does he never break in?’
‘He can’t. Old Hobden stops all our gaps for us,’ said Una, ’and we let Hobden catch rabbits in the Shaw.’
The lady laughed like a man. ‘I see! Hobden catches conies—rabbits—for himself, and guards your defences for you. Does he make a profit out of his coney-catching?’
‘We never ask,’ said Una. ‘Hobden’s a particular friend of ours.’
‘Hoity-toity!’ the lady began angrily. Then she laughed. ‘But I forget. It is your Kingdom. I knew a maid once that had a larger one than this to defend, and so long as her men kept the fences stopped, she asked ’em no questions either.’
‘Was she trying to grow flowers?’said Una.
‘No, trees—perdurable trees. Her flowers all withered.’ The lady leaned her head on her hand.
‘They do if you don’t look after them. We’ve got a few. Would you like to see? I’ll fetch you some.’ Una ran off to the rank grass in the shade behind the wigwam, and came back with a handful of red flowers. ‘Aren’t they pretty?’ she said. ‘They’re Virginia stock.’
‘Virginia?’ said the lady, and lifted them to the fringe of her mask.
‘Yes. They come from Virginia. Did your maid ever plant any?’
‘Not herself—but her men adventured all over the earth to pluck or to plant flowers for her crown. They judged her worthy of them.’
‘And was she?’ said Dan cheerfully.
‘Quien sabe? [who knows?] But at least, while her men toiled abroad she toiled in England, that they might find a safe home to come back to.’
‘And what was she called?’
‘Gloriana—Belphoebe—Elizabeth of England.’ Her voice changed at each word.
‘You mean Queen Bess?’
The lady bowed her head a little towards Dan. ‘You name her lightly enough, young Burleigh. What might you know of her?’ said she.
‘Well, I—I’ve seen the little green shoes she left at Brickwall House—down the road, you know. They’re in a glass case—awfully tiny things.’
‘Oh, Burleigh, Burleigh!’ she laughed. ‘You are a courtier too soon.’
‘But they are,’ Dan insisted. ‘As little as dolls’ shoes. Did you really know her well?’
‘Well. She was a—woman. I’ve been at her Court all my life. Yes, I remember when she danced after the banquet at Brickwall. They say she danced Philip of Spain out of a brand-new kingdom that day. Worth the price of a pair of old shoes—hey?’
She thrust out one foot, and stooped forward to look at its broad flashing buckle.
‘You’ve heard of Philip of Spain—long-suffering Philip,’ she said, her eyes still on the shining stones. ‘Faith, what some men will endure at some women’s hands passes belief! If I had been a man, and a woman had played with me as Elizabeth played with Philip, I would have—’ She nipped off one of the Virginia stocks and held it up between finger and thumb. ‘But for all that’—she began to strip the leaves one by one—‘they say—and I am persuaded—that Philip loved her.’ She tossed her head sideways.
‘I don’t quite understand,’ said Una.
‘The high heavens forbid that you should, wench!’ She swept the flowers from her lap and stood up in the rush of shadows that the wind chased through the wood.
‘I should like to know about the shoes,’ said Dan.
‘So ye shall, Burleigh. So ye shall, if ye watch me. ’Twill be as good as a play.’
‘We’ve never been to a play,’ said Una.
The lady looked at her and laughed. ‘I’ll make one for you. Watch! You are to imagine that she—Gloriana, Belphoebe, Elizabeth—has gone on a progress to Rye to comfort her sad heart (maids are often melancholic), and while she halts at Brickwall House, the village—what was its name?’ She pushed Puck with her foot.
‘Norgem,’ he croaked, and squatted by the wigwam.
‘Norgem village loyally entertains her with a masque or play, and a Latin oration spoken by the parson, for whose false quantities, if I’d made ’em in my girlhood, I should have been whipped.’
‘You whipped?’ said Dan.
‘Soundly, sirrah, soundly! She stomachs the affront to her scholarship, makes her grateful, gracious thanks from the teeth outwards, thus’—(the lady yawned)—‘Oh, a Queen may love her subjects in her heart, and yet be dog-wearied of ’em in body and mind—and so sits down’—her skirts foamed about her as she sat—‘to a banquet beneath Brickwall Oak. Here for her sins she is waited upon by—What were the young cockerels’ names that served Gloriana at table?’
‘Frewens, Courthopes, Fullers, Husseys,’ Puck began.
She held up her long jewelled hand. ‘Spare the rest! They were the best blood of Sussex, and by so much the more clumsy in handling the dishes and plates. Wherefore’—she looked funnily over her shoulder— ‘you are to think of Gloriana in a green and gold-laced habit, dreadfully expecting that the jostling youths behind her would, of pure jealousy or devotion, spatter it with sauces and wines. The gown was Philip’s gift, too! At this happy juncture a Queen’s messenger, mounted and mired, spurs up the Rye road and delivers her a letter’—she giggled—‘a letter from a good, simple, frantic Spanish gentleman called—Don Philip.’
‘That wasn’t Philip, King of Spain?’Dan asked.
‘Truly, it was. ’Twixt you and me and the bedpost, young Burleigh, these kings and queens are very like men and women, and I’ve heard they write each other fond, foolish letters that none of their ministers should open.’
‘Did her ministers ever open Queen Elizabeth’s letters?’ said Una.
‘Faith, yes! But she’d have done as much for theirs, any day. You are to think of Gloriana, then (they say she had a pretty hand), excusing herself thus to the company—for the Queen’s time is never her own—and, while the music strikes up, reading Philip’s letter, as I do.’ She drew a real letter from her pocket, and held it out almost at arm’s length, like the old post-mistress in the village when she reads telegrams.
‘Hm! Hm! Hm! Philip writes as ever most lovingly. He says his Gloriana is cold, for which reason he burns for her through a fair written page.’ She turned it with a snap. ‘What’s here? Philip complains that certain of her gentlemen have fought against his generals in the Low Countries. He prays her to hang ’em when they re-enter her realms. (Hm, that’s as may be.) Here’s a list of burnt shipping slipped between two vows of burning adoration. Oh, poor Philip! His admirals at sea—no less than three of ’em—have been boarded, sacked, and scuttled on their lawful voyages by certain English mariners (gentlemen, he will not call them), who are now at large and working more piracies in his American ocean, which the Pope gave him. (He and the Pope should guard it, then!) Philip hears, but his devout ears will not credit it, that Gloriana in some fashion countenances these villains’ misdeeds, shares in their booty, and—oh, shame!—has even lent them ships royal for their sinful thefts. Therefore he requires (which is a word Gloriana loves not), requires that she shall hang ’em when they return to England, and afterwards shall account to him for all the goods and gold they have plundered. A most loving request! If Gloriana will not be Philip’s bride, she shall be his broker and his butcher! Should she still be stiff-necked, he writes—see where the pen digged the innocent paper!— that he hath both the means and the intention to be revenged on her. Aha! Now we come to the Spaniard in his shirt!’ (She waved the letter merrily.) ‘Listen here! Philip will prepare for Gloriana a destruction from the West—a destruction from the West—far exceeding that which Pedro de Avila wrought upon the Huguenots. And he rests and remains, kissing her feet and her hands, her slave, her enemy, or her conqueror, as he shall find that she uses him.’
She thrust back the letter under her cloak, and went on acting, but in a softer voice. ‘All this while—hark to it—the wind blows through Brickwall Oak, the music plays, and, with the company’s eyes upon her, the Queen of England must think what this means. She cannot remember the name of Pedro de Avila, nor what he did to the Huguenots, nor when, nor where. She can only see darkly some dark motion moving in Philip’s dark mind, for he hath never written before in this fashion. She must smile above the letter as though it were good news from her ministers—the smile that tires the mouth and the poor heart. What shall she do?’ Again her voice changed.
‘You are to fancy that the music of a sudden wavers away. Chris Hatton, Captain of her bodyguard, quits the table all red and ruffled, and Gloriana’s virgin ear catches the clash of swords at work behind a wall. The mothers of Sussex look round to count their chicks—I mean those young gamecocks that waited on her. Two dainty youths have stepped aside into Brickwall garden with rapier and dagger on a private point of honour. They are haled out through the gate, disarmed and glaring—the lively image of a brace of young Cupids transformed into pale, panting Cains. Ahem! Gloriana beckons awfully—thus! They come up for judgement. Their lives and estates lie at her mercy whom they have doubly offended, both as Queen and woman. But la! what will not foolish young men do for a beautiful maid?’
‘Why? What did she do? What had they done?’ said Una.
‘Hsh! You mar the play! Gloriana had guessed the cause of the trouble. They were handsome lads. So she frowns a while and tells ’em not to be bigger fools than their mothers had made ’em, and warns ’em, if they do not kiss and be friends on the instant, she’ll have Chris Hatton horse and birch ’em in the style of the new school at Harrow. (Chris looks sour at that.) Lastly, because she needed time to think on Philip’s letter burning in her pocket, she signifies her pleasure to dance with ’em and teach ’em better manners. Whereat the revived company call down Heaven’s blessing on her gracious head; Chris and the others prepare Brickwall House for a dance; and she walks in the clipped garden between those two lovely young sinners who are both ready to sink for shame. They confess their fault. It appears that midway in the banquet the elder—they were cousins—conceived that the Queen looked upon him with special favour. The younger, taking the look to himself, after some words gives the elder the lie. Hence, as she guessed, the duel.’
‘And which had she really looked at?’ Dan asked.
‘Neither—except to wish them farther off. She was afraid all the while they’d spill dishes on her gown. She tells ’em this, poor chicks—and it completes their abasement. When they had grilled long enough, she says: “And so you would have fleshed your maiden swords for me—for me?” Faith, they would have been at it again if she’d egged ’em on! but their swords—oh, prettily they said it!—had been drawn for her once or twice already.
‘“And where?” says she. “On your hobby-horses before you were breeched?”
‘“On my own ship,” says the elder. “My cousin was vice-admiral of our venture in his pinnace. We would not have you think of us as brawling children.”
‘“No, no,” says the younger, and flames like a very Tudor rose. “At least the Spaniards know us better.”
‘“Admiral Boy—Vice-Admiral Babe,” says Gloriana, “I cry your pardon. The heat of these present times ripens childhood to age more quickly than I can follow. But we are at peace with Spain. Where did you break your Queen’s peace?”
‘“On the sea called the Spanish Main, though ’Tis no more Spanish than my doublet,” says the elder. Guess how that warmed Gloriana’s already melting heart! She would never suffer any sea to be called Spanish in her private hearing.
‘“And why was I not told? What booty got you, and where have you hid it? Disclose,” says she. “You stand in some danger of the gallows for pirates.”
‘“The axe, most gracious lady,” says the elder, “for we are gentle born.” He spoke truth, but no woman can brook contradiction.
“Hoity-toity!” says she, and, but that she remembered that she was Queen, she’d have cuffed the pair of ’em. “It shall be gallows, hurdle, and dung-cart if I choose.”
‘“Had our Queen known of our going beforehand, Philip might have held her to blame for some small things we did on the seas,” the younger lisps.
‘“As for treasure,” says the elder, “we brought back but our bare lives. We were wrecked on the Gascons’ Graveyard, where our sole company for three months was the bleached bones of De Avila’s men.”
‘Gloriana’s mind jumped back to Philip’s last letter.
‘“De Avila that destroyed the Huguenots? What d’you know of him?” she says. The music called from the house here, and they three turned back between the yews.
‘“Simply that De Avila broke in upon a plantation of Frenchmen on that coast, and very Spaniardly hung them all for heretics—eight hundred or so. The next year Dominique de Gorgues, a Gascon, broke in upon De Avila’s men, and very justly hung ’em all for murderers—five hundred or so. No Christians inhabit there now, says the elder lad, “though ’tis a goodly land north of Florida.”
‘”How far is it from England?” asks prudent Gloriana.
‘”With a fair wind, six weeks. They say that Philip will plant it again soon.” This was the younger, and he looked at her out of the corner of his innocent eye.
‘Chris Hatton, fuming, meets and leads her into Brickwall Hall, where she dances—thus. A woman can think while she dances—can think. I’ll show you. Watch!’
She took off her cloak slowly, and stood forth in dove-coloured satin, worked over with pearls that trembled like running water in the running shadows of the trees. Still talking—more to herself than to the children—she swam into a majestical dance of the stateliest balancings, the naughtiest wheelings and turnings aside, the most dignified sinkings, the gravest risings, all joined together by the elaboratest interlacing steps and circles. They leaned forward breathlessly to watch the splendid acting.
‘Would a Spaniard,’ she began, looking on the ground, ‘speak of his revenge till his revenge were ripe? No. Yet a man who loved a woman might threaten her in the hope that his threats would make her love him. Such things have been.’ She moved slowly across a bar of sunlight. ‘A destruction from the West may signify that Philip means to descend on Ireland. But then my Irish spies would have had some warning. The Irish keep no secrets. No—it is not Ireland. Now why—why—why’—the red shoes clicked and paused—‘does Philip name Pedro Melendez de Avila, a general in his Americas, unless’—she turned more quickly—unless he intends to work his destruction from the Americas? Did he say De Avila only to put her off her guard, or for this once has his black pen betrayed his black heart? We’—she raised herself to her full height—‘England must forestall Master Philip. But not openly,’—she sank again—‘we cannot fight Spain openly—not yet—not yet.’ She stepped three paces as though she were pegging down some snare with her twinkling shoe-buckles. ‘The Queen’s mad gentlemen may fight Philip’s poor admirals where they find ’em, but England, Gloriana, Harry’s daughter, must keep the peace. Perhaps, after all, Philip loves her—as many men and boys do. That may help England. Oh, what shall help England?’
She raised her head—the masked head that seemed to have nothing to do with the busy feet—and stared straight at the children.
‘I think this is rather creepy,’ said Una with a shiver. ‘I wish she’d stop.’
The lady held out her jewelled hand as though she were taking some one else’s hand in the Grand Chain.
‘Can a ship go down into the Gascons’ Graveyard and wait there?’ she asked into the air, and passed on rustling.
‘She’s pretending to ask one of the cousins, isn’t she?’ said Dan, and Puck nodded.
Back she came in the silent, swaying, ghostly dance. They saw she was smiling beneath the mask, and they could hear her breathing hard.
‘I cannot lend you any of my ships for the venture; Philip would hear of it,’ she whispered over her shoulder; ‘but as much guns and powder as you ask, if you do not ask too—’ Her voice shot up and she stamped her foot thrice. ‘Louder! Louder, the music in the gallery! Oh, me, but I have burst out of my shoe!’
She gathered her skirts in each hand, and began a curtsy. ‘You will go at your own charges,’ she whispered straight before her. ‘Oh, enviable and adorable age of youth!’ Her eyes shone through the mask-holes. ‘But I warn you you’ll repent it. Put not your trust in princes—or Queens. Philip’s ships’ll blow you out of water. You’ll not be frightened? Well, we’ll talk on it again, when I return from Rye, dear lads.’
The wonderful curtsy ended. She stood up. Nothing stirred on her except the rush of the shadows.
‘And so it was finished,’ she said to the children. ‘Why d’you not applaud?’
‘What was finished?’ said Una.
‘The dance,’ the lady replied offendedly. ‘And a pair of green shoes.’
‘I don’t understand a bit,’ said Una.
‘Eh? What did you make of it, young Burleigh?’
‘I’m not quite sure,’ Dan began, ‘but—’
‘You never can be—with a woman. But—?’
‘But I thought Gloriana meant the cousins to go back to the Gascons’ Graveyard, wherever that was.’
‘’Twas Virginia after-wards. Her plantation of Virginia.’
‘Virginia afterwards, and stop Philip from taking it. Didn’t she say she’d lend ’em guns?’
‘Right so. But not ships—then.’
‘And I thought you meant they must have told her they’d do it off their own bat, without getting her into a row with Philip. Was I right?’
‘Near enough for a Minister of the Queen. But remember she gave the lads full time to change their minds. She was three long days at Rye Royal—knighting of fat Mayors. When she came back to Brickwall, they met her a mile down the road, and she could feel their eyes burn through her riding-mask. Chris Hatton, poor fool, was vexed at it.
‘“You would not birch them when I gave you the chance,” says she to Chris. “Now you must get me half an hour’s private speech with ’em in Brickwall garden. Eve tempted Adam in a garden. Quick, man, or I may repent!”’
‘She was a Queen. Why did she not send for them herself?’ said Una.
The lady shook her head. ‘That was never her way. I’ve seen her walk to her own mirror by bye-ends, and the woman that cannot walk straight there is past praying for. Yet I would have you pray for her! What else—what else in England’s name could she have done?’ She lifted her hand to her throat for a moment. ‘Faith,’ she cried, ‘I’d forgotten the little green shoes! She left ’em at Brickwall—so she did. And I remember she gave the Norgem parson—John Withers, was he? —a text for his sermon—“Over Edom have I cast out my shoe.” Neat, if he’d understood!’
‘I don’t understand,’ said Una. ‘What about the two cousins?’
‘You are as cruel as a woman,’ the lady answered. ‘I was not to blame. I told you I gave ’em time to change their minds. On my honour (ay de mi!), she asked no more of ’em at first than to wait a while off that coast—the Gascons’ Graveyard—to hover a little if their ships chanced to pass that way—they had only one tall ship and a pinnace—only to watch and bring me word of Philip’s doings. One must watch Philip always. What a murrain right had he to make any plantation there, a hundred leagues north of his Spanish Main, and only six weeks from England? By my dread father’s soul, I tell you he had none—none!’ She stamped her red foot again, and the two children shrunk back for a second.
‘Nay, nay. You must not turn from me too! She laid it all fairly before the lads in Brickwall garden between the yews. I told ’em that if Philip sent a fleet (and to make a plantation he could not well send less), their poor little cock-boats could not sink it. They answered that, with submission, the fight would be their own concern. She showed ’em again that there could be only one end to it—quick death on the sea, or slow death in Philip’s prisons. They asked no more than to embrace death for my sake. Many men have prayed to me for life. I’ve refused ’em, and slept none the worse after; but when my men, my tall, fantastical young men, beseech me on their knees for leave to die for me, it shakes me—ah, it shakes me to the marrow of my old bones.’ Her chest sounded like a board as she hit it. ‘She showed ’em all. I told ’em that this was no time for open war with Spain. If by miracle inconceivable they prevailed against Philip’s fleet, Philip would hold me accountable. For England’s sake, to save war, I should e’en be forced (I told ’em so) to give him up their young lives. If they failed, and again by some miracle escaped Philip’s hand, and crept back to England with their bare lives, they must lie—oh, I told ’em all—under my sovereign displeasure. She could not know them, see them, nor hear their names, nor stretch out a finger to save them from the gallows, if Philip chose to ask it.
‘“Be it the gallows, then,” says the elder. (I could have wept, but that my face was made for the day.)
‘“Either way—any way—this venture is death, which I know you fear not. But it is death with assured dishonour,” I cried.
‘“Yet our Queen will know in her heart what we have done,” says the younger.
‘“Sweetheart,” I said. “A queen has no heart.”
‘“But she is a woman, and a woman would not forget,” says the elder. “We will go!” They knelt at my feet.
‘“Nay, dear lads—but here!” I said, and I opened my arms to them and I kissed them.
‘“Be ruled by me,” I said. “We’ll hire some ill-featured old tarry-breeks of an admiral to watch the Graveyard, and you shall come to Court.”
‘“Hire whom you please,” says the elder; “we are ruled by you, body and soul”; and the younger, who shook most when I kissed ’em, says between his white lips, “I think you have power to make a god of a man.”
‘“Come to Court and be sure of’t,” I said.
‘They shook their heads and I knew—I knew, that go they would. If I had not kissed them—perhaps I might have prevailed.’
‘Then why did you do it?’ said Una. ‘I don’t think you knew really what you wanted done.’
‘May it please your Majesty’—the lady bowed her head low—‘this Gloriana whom I have represented for your pleasure was a woman and a Queen. Remember her when you come to your Kingdom.’
‘But—did the cousins go to the Gascons’ Graveyard?’ said Dan, as Una frowned.
‘They went,’ said the lady.
‘Did they ever come back?’ Una began; ‘but—’
‘Did they stop King Philip’s fleet?’ Dan interrupted.
The lady turned to him eagerly.
‘D’you think they did right to go?’ she asked.
‘I don’t see what else they could have done,’ Dan replied, after thinking it over.
‘D’you think she did right to send ’em?’ The lady’s voice rose a little.
‘Well,’ said Dan, ‘I don’t see what else she could have done, either—do you? How did they stop King Philip from getting Virginia?’
‘There’s the sad part of it. They sailed out that autumn from Rye Royal, and there never came back so much as a single rope-yarn to show what had befallen them. The winds blew, and they were not. Does that make you alter your mind, young Burleigh?’ ‘I expect they were drowned, then. Anyhow, Philip didn’t score, did he?’
‘Gloriana wiped out her score with Philip later. But if Philip had won, would you have blamed Gloriana for wasting those lads’ lives?’
‘Of course not. She was bound to try to stop him.’
The lady coughed. ‘You have the root of the matter in you. Were I Queen, I’d make you Minister.’
‘We don’t play that game,’ said Una, who felt that she disliked the lady as much as she disliked the noise the high wind made tearing through Willow Shaw.
‘Play!’ said the lady with a laugh, and threw up her hands affectedly. The sunshine caught the jewels on her many rings and made them flash till Una’s eyes dazzled, and she had to rub them. Then she saw Dan on his knees picking up the potatoes they had spilled at the gate.
‘There wasn’t anybody in the Shaw, after all,’ he said. ‘Didn’t you think you saw someone?’
‘I’m most awfully glad there isn’t,’ said Una. Then they went on with the potato-roast.