She is here. She comes. She is running along the passage outside my room. ‘Help me, help me, Matilda. He wasn’t waiting... I’m all alone… Help me Matilda.’ Her green eyes stream scarlet tears down her white cheeks. The ruby necklet, the shimmering dress. She runs outside, amongst the pear trees, through the moonlight, on blistered feet. She is scrabbling her bitten fingers at the windows…
Again and again, night after night, Frances shakes me awake as I scream out. For I cannot forget her. Whenever I close my eyes, she is there. Sometimes, I unlock the secret compartment of my travelling case and look back through the pages of my journal. There I am. A silly young child, sitting in a pear tree.
My fingers are trembling so much I can scarcely hold the quill. My heart is thunder.
I am to go to court! I woke to hear hooves beneath my window and hammering on the door. I crept down in my night-shift to listen at father’s door. It was my Uncle, the Duke of Norfolk himself…
I heard him say he’s placed my cousin Katherine at court for a ‘great reason’. King Henry is tiring of the German, Queen Anne, even though he only married her a few months ago. My Uncle’s plan is that the King’s fancy might turn to my cousin Katherine. That’s why he’s sent Katherine to court at his expense. Then the Howards would have a queen in the family!
He wants an ‘obedient, quick girl’ to watch over Katherine and encourage her to advance herself with the King, to give him reports of their progress and ‘stop her head being turned by admirers.’
They must have heard me gasp, or my teeth chattering, for they flung open the door. My Uncle - long, thin and terrifying with his black cloak, sallow skin and waxen, tallow-yellow fingers, snorted with laughter and had me brought in. I could have died of shame in my night-shift and bare feet.
He turned me this way and that, and looked me up and down as if he were buying a pony. He even took off my nightcap to look at my hair! For a moment I thought he might check my teeth. If he had, I would have bitten his yellow fingers.
He said, ‘Yes, the girl’s not too plain, but certainly not dazzling. She writes well and can hold her tongue? Modest, quiet and quick? She’ll serve purpose. Can you keep secrets, child? Can you learn to hide in shadows?’ In a waking dream, I heard my father listing my languages and accomplishments and the Duke saying he has found me a place as another of Queen Anne’s Waiting-Maids alongside my cousin Katherine. At COURT!
When Frances woke up, she was hot with jealousy. ‘You, at Hampton Court Palace! Galumphing great you! At dances and banquets with all those fashionable people? Your clothes will be all wrong. You don’t know etiquette. You don’t even know how to dance!’
I’m just thinking of the music, the hunting, the books, the cakes! And cousin Katherine.