I hate hospitals, but at least the one today was air-conditioned luxury next to the rest of the world. That today didn't quite manage to be the hottest on record did not help in the least with the frankly tropical conditions. But apparently there is nothing much wrong with me, a state of affairs that is a definite cause for celebration. So, enough of wittering on about my experiences of the healthcare system. Let's instead have an extended chunk of book III, in which the rather excellent Roger Ascham does his best to console a confused, grieving Elizabeth.
“My brother would never order me to marry against my will.” Elizabeth's voice is loud enough to attract the attention of Roger Ascham, but the tutor is apparently captivated by whatever it is he is reading. She looks over in his direction, eyeballs him for a moment, then returns her focus to Guy Fletcher, who is frowning at her. “I would refuse.”
“A moment ago, Madam, I said no one could think you naïve. Now, with respect, I must revise my opinion.”
Elizabeth points her right index finger at him. It is long, delicate and white. Guy Fletcher's eyes fix on it, following it as it jabs towards him. “How dare you say that? I am of the blood royal.”
“Your blood is of no consideration beyond that it makes you desirable to Sudeley.” For the first time, Guy Fletcher's voice has an edge to it, similar to that Elizabeth is used to hearing from Ascham. Indeed, their accents are not dissimilar. “You must not allow complacency to cloud your judgement. If your brother orders you to marry, you may not refuse.”
“Do you know who you sound like?” Elizabeth hisses. This change of tone does not at first seem to be noticed by Ascham, but a careful observer might note that his eyes have stopped moving along the lines of text. “Strelley! The way you ride reminded me of Longshawe. But the things you say...”
Fletcher tries to maintain his cool, but his anger is rising. He too hisses in a way that cannot fail to attract the attention of Roger Ascham. “Is that so bad a thing? He would want you to steer away from danger. He would not let you become impetuous.”
“He would...” Elizabeth begins, but her voice falters. She looks across at Ascham, who is still studiously avoiding turning to look at the two young people. Then she looks back at Fletcher, holding his eyes for a long time. Tears roll down her cheeks. “By God I miss him, Guy.”
“As do I, Madam. But he is gone and I am here now.” Fletcher puts his hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. “Take comfort in what you have.”
“I wish I could. It makes it harder.”
“It should not.”
“Do not misunderstand me, Guy. I do not desire him, not in that way. I wish only for his company. I do not pine for his love.”
Fletcher sighs and throws back his head, frustrated. “Might you not, Madam, value the company of others in his stead?”
Elizabeth frowns, then sighs, then frowns again. “Do not be vexatious, Master Fletcher.”
“I do not wish to be so, Madam. Do you want me to return to Longshawe and send him?” Fletcher's face is downcast as he speaks. “Is it him that you wish for?”
“You are infuriating!” She waves her hand at him. “Why must you concern yourself with my affections so?”
Fletcher says nothing, but closes his eyes and breathes deeply several times. When he opens his eyes again, he does not look at Elizabeth, but instead out of the window. Elizabeth watches him, her own chest rising and falling more noticeably than before. Her colour, always pale, is unusually white. Then, her eyes twitch as she realises the significance of Guy Fletcher's questions, and she reddens.
“Madam?” he asks. “What-”
“Please do not, Guy. I understand what you have said. Why you have asked me those questions. I cannot speak further with you now. Please leave me to my lesson.”
Guy Fletcher stands, bows deeply, and walks off. As soon as he is gone, Ascham is out of his seat and approaching Elizabeth.
“My dear girl,” the tutor says, putting his arm around her shoulders. “You do not need to tell me what he said, not if you do not wish it.”
“I'm not sure you would understand.”
“Elizabeth... We old, fusty academics may not seem to you to be wise in the ways of the world, but we do see things, we do comprehend.”
“I did not take Strelley to be a suitor.” Elizabeth's bold declaration does, despite his assertion, take him a little by surprise. She continues, “but that does not mean I cannot miss him. As I miss Grindal. I want him here.” She looks at him, trying to read his expression and trying not to give her own thoughts away any further.
Ascham gives her a sympathetic smile, and does not force the issue further. “Madam, your grief is understandable. You spent a great deal of time with those two admirable men. That you reflect on it with affection is no surprise.”
“As I told you, I'm not sure you would understand.”
“I do not have to fully understand, Elizabeth. I can see that Edward Strelley was of great significance to you, whatever the substance of it. I do not pretend to replace him, nor indeed do I aim to.”
“Sudeley had him killed.”
“You have told me that before. It is a most serious accusation, and one which you should not persist in making if it is not grounded in demonstrable fact.”
“I-” Elizabeth begins, but she notices that Ascham is smiling. “What? It is no trifle to be smirked at!” She reddens again, then starts to rub her hands together, as if they are cold and need to be warmed.
“I do not smirk, Madam. I think you underestimate me.”
“Master Ascham, for the second time in ten minutes someone has spoken to me in riddles. I did not appreciate it from Master Fletcher and I most certainly do not appreciate it from you.”
“I am a careful, conscientious observer, Madam. I spend much of my time in these rooms with you as you learn your lessons, and as you read your books.”
“That is true, but I do not see how it signifies.”
“I see what it is you read.”
“I do not follow you.”
“There is a single piece of paper that you keep. You read it between the leaves of your books sometimes. When you do, it brings a great sadness to your eyes, but somehow it seems to relieve you of whatever the burden of the day happens to be.” Ascham has leaned in very close to his young charge. “I have not read the contents of that paper. But it is your link to him.”
“He left it before he died.” Elizabeth is again on the edge of crying.
“No one leaves a note before they are murdered, Madam. I am a fool in some ways, but not one to be fooled by that.”
Elizabeth's eyes are streaming with tears, now. Ascham pulls her to him, the warmth of his embrace entirely for her as a father's might be for his daughter.
“Your pain, Madam, I do understand. To grieve is hard, but faith and trust in God will overcome even the devastation of loss. But to live without... That is something beyond even the most faithful.”
“You think it better that he had died?” Elizabeth forces out the words, through her weeping. “You think I would be at peace if he was truly gone?”
“No, Madam, I do not. But pining for his return will not give you peace either.”
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought