“If it is possible, it is done. Even if it is impossible, Madam, Guy and I only require a little time to arrange it.”
Rather than give the game away with plot-revealing spoilers from book IV, here are some extracts from book III, which I am rereading myself to try to tie together some bits in book IV.
Seymour picks up his own thread. “We have not had the most successful time with tutors in this household. Grindal died of plague, his servant died in the Thames, then Ascham left within a month of arriving. All grown men who choose to keep company with children.”
Aylmer takes a slow, considered breath that buys him a moment to formulate a reply. “A child's education must be undertaken by those of intellect and strong will, Sir, lest the child dictate where her tutor should.”
“Yes,” Seymour replies, “that was the weakness of Grindal and that Strelley boy. They let Elizabeth do exactly as she pleased.”
Jane's rejoinder bursts out of her in a flurry of words. “Grindal and Strelley were good teachers. Elizabeth learned a great deal from them, as did I,” she says.
As she is finishing, Aylmer takes over. “I knew Strelley. At Queens'. I taught him.”
Seymour gives him a wry smile. “That does not speak well on your skills as a teacher. He was a rash, impudent boy.”
“Ascham and Grindal both spoke very highly of him,” Aylmer says.
“And that equally does not speak well on their judgement of his character. Anyway, he is dead and gone.” Seymour's smile at the thought of Strelley's death is more genuine. “Jane, go and find Queen Catherine. Bring her here to meet this tutor of yours.”
Her whole body shakes as she tries to suppress the sobs that overwhelm her. “I wish I were someone else.”
“Then I would not love you as I do.” He stands, walks around the table, and puts his arm around her. The embrace is brief.
“I had,” Elizabeth says, as he gently removes his arm, “imagined something more lingering.”
“I did not dare to imagine.” Strelley squats on his haunches, bringing his face down level with hers. “I wish for your sake that this feeling passes and you can find your happiness elsewhere. I would not wish it gone were it not the kindest thing for you.” At these words, Elizabeth's eyes close and the tears fall from them. Strelley looks at her for a long moment, thinking. “Whatever else,” he continues, “we must make sure you are free of this prison. That must be our purpose for now.”
“Guy,” Strelley says, “do not let this come between us. She wanted me back only for my wits. For my strategies. I have seen her, remember.”
For the first time in a few minutes, Guy Fletcher smiles. “Edward, you are a good friend. But a poor liar. Let us all hope that our safety does not depend on your ability to dissemble.”
Strelley angles his head, listening to the exposition.
“But you are not a true religious. You have the gait of a labourer, someone who works hard. That beard is deliberately obscuring your face. Your hair hides your face, but not your eyes. I know you.”
Strelley looks at him, impassive. “Who am I?” he says, his voice showing that he is impressed by the intellectual's inferences, and perhaps a little unnerved.
“It is best, Sir, if you remain incognito,” Ascham says. “She spoke of you. Much. I hope that your return has cheered her. Little else can.”
“Is that true?” he asks.
“Most of it,” Gilbert replies. “You owe me your life.”
“I know that. You can have it if it keeps her safe.”
“There is no sense in dying just yet. I may have a use for you still.”
Strelley works his knife out of the desk and hides it back in his cloak. “You have my thanks,” he says, bowing his head.
“I did not think I would be happy to see you,” Gilbert says. As Strelley turns to leave, he adds, “Give him hell.”
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought