The king says, 'We would be a poor country without our wool trade. That Master Cromwell knows the business is not to his discredit.'
But Francis Weston smirks behind his hand.
Tomorrow Jane Seymour is to hunt with the king. 'I thought it was gentlemen only,' he hears Weston whisper. 'The queen would be angry if she knew.' He murmurs, make sure she doesn't know then, there's a good boy.
'At Wolf Hall we are all great hunters,' Sir John boasts, 'my daughters too, you think Jane is timid but put her in the saddle and I assure you, sirs, she is the goddess Diana. I never troubled my girls in the schoolroom, you know. Sir James here taught them all they needed.'
The priest at the foot of the table nods, beaming: an old fool with a white poll, a bleared eye. He, Cromwell, turns to him: 'And was it you taught them to dance, Sir James? All praise to you. I have seen Jane's sister Elizabeth at court, partnered with the king.'
'Ah, they had a master for that,' old Seymour chuckles. 'Master for dancing, master for music, that's enough for them. They don't want foreign tongues. They're not going anywhere.'
'I think otherwise, sir,' he says. 'I had my daughters taught equal with my son.'
Sometimes he likes to talk about them, Anne and Grace: gone seven years now. Tom Seymour laughs. 'What, you had them in the tilt yard with Gregory and young Master Sadler?'
He smiles. 'Except for that.'
Edward Seymour says, 'It is not uncommon for the daughters of a city household to learn their letters and a little beyond. You might have wanted them in the counting house. One hears of it. It would help them get good husbands, a merchant family would be glad of their training.'
'Imagine Master Cromwell's daughters,' Weston says. 'I dare not. I doubt a counting house could contain them. They would be a shrewd hand with a poleaxe, you would think. One look at them and a man's legs would go from under him. And I do not mean he would be stricken with love.'
Gregory stirs himself. He is such a dreamer you hardly think he has been following the conversation, but his tone is rippling with hurt. 'You insult my sisters and their memory, sir, and you never knew them. My sister Grace '
He sees Jane Seymour put out her little hand and touch Gregory's wrist: to save him, she will risk drawing the company's attention. 'I have lately,' she says, 'got some skill of the French tongue.'
'Have you, Jane?' Tom Seymour is smiling.
Jane dips her head. 'Mary Shelton is teaching me.'
'Mary Shelton is a kindly young woman,' the king says; and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Weston elbow his neighbour; they say Shelton has been kind to the king in bed.
'So you see,' Jane says to her brothers, 'we ladies, we do not spend all our time in idle calumny and scandal. Though God he knows, we have gossip enough to occupy a whole town of women.'
'Have you?' he says.
'We talk about who is in love with the queen. Who writes her verses.' She drops her eyes. 'I mean to say, who is in love with us all. This gentleman or that. We know all our suitors and we make inventory head to toe, they would blush if they knew. We say their acreage and how much they have a year, and then we decide if we will let them write us a sonnet. If we do not think they will keep us in fine style, we scorn their rhymes. It is cruel, I can tell you.'
He says, a little uneasy, it is no harm to write verses to ladies, even married ones, at court it is usual. Weston says, thank you for that kind word, Master Cromwell, we thought you might try and make us stop.
Tom Seymour leans forward, laughing. 'And who are your suitors, Jane?'
Copyright © 2012 by Hilary Mantel
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