Friday 22 October 2010

Stephen is imprisoned

I will post a different extract here from time to time, to give you a flavour of the book.

When Stephen is imprisoned for treason in Lancaster Gaol, Rosamund is prepared to do almost anything to free him

When she appeared at the Castle gatehouse next morning, she was radiant. She was wearing her best green velvet skirt; her cravat and cuffs were foaming with lace; her curls were brushed out into a burnished cloud under her feathered beaver. She told the guards she had come to keep her appointment with Mr Brabin. She was bubbling with excited, almost childish happiness and ready to share it with anyone who would listen. She had been introduced to Mr Brabin by a friend, had supper with him last night and been invited to see him this morning to discuss her brother's case.

She was so transformed from the pale, anxious creature of the last days that they believed her. She was escorted politely across the courtyard to the keep and asked to wait in an anteroom. Mr Brabin was busy with his clerks in the Crown office at the moment; her name would be sent in.

At once, she transformed herself again. Standing close to the door of the office, she began to wail and sob hysterically, calling on Stephen's name.

"Oh my poor brother, what are they doing to you? Where are you? Oh, my heart will break! They're going to kill you, I know it!" Between the words, her voice broke out into shrieks, the blood-curdling moans of a victim on the rack, eerie keening like a lost soul - more shrieks.

'Forget anything you've been taught about modesty and good manners...' - Colonel Kirkby's words came back to her.

The door was flung open from inside. Ned Charnock's burly form filled the opening. Behind him, an angry voice was saying, "and stop that infernal - "
She moved to pass Charnock; he stepped sideways to block her entry; she whirled to his other side, putting her elbow in hard under his heart while he was off balance, dived through the doorway - and changed at once into that icily-elegant lady - Mistress Halistan of Park.

The small group of men seated at a table had all turned to stare at her. Charnock was saying something abusive at the door; a voice was raised in self-defence: "She said Mr Brabin told her to come -"

She supposed that the man at the head of the table, middle-aged and competent-looking, with a pile of papers in front of him, was Mr Brabin. He was furious, ready to send the intruder to the whipping-post of the House of Correction. He was taken aback to see her looking like the ladies who visited the Countess of Derby when she came to Lancaster. She got her word in first.

"I am the sister of Mr Stephen Halistan of Park. I want to see him."

"You'll need an order." Mr Brabin fell back thankfully on the rules.

"I shall have one any day now. My neighbour, Sir John Westby, is asking the Lord Lieutenant about it. His father died fighting for the King under the present earl's grandfather."

"If you're expecting an order, you can wait for it to come."

"Meanwhile I want to hear the charge."


"I know that already. I mean, what is he supposed to have done?"

"A copy of the indictment will be handed to him when he comes before the judges."

Mr Brabin appeared to be reciting. She stared at him.

"But the assizes are weeks away! Nearly two months! And how can we brief a lawyer or trace witnesses if we don't know what he's accused of in time to prepare his case?"

"Persons accused of treason are not allowed counsel," recited Mr Brabin. "Any information they need on points of law will be given by the judges during the hearing. And they are not permitted to subpoena witnesses in their defence."

"Are you telling me that my brother is expected to prove himself innocent, of he doesn't know what, when or where? And if he can't, you'll cut him up alive?" Her voice rose.

"That is the law, madam." Mr Brabin appeared to find it quite satisfactory. He looked as if he was waiting for another outburst, so that he could have her thrown out. She calmed herself.

"Don't make a mistake about me, Mr Brabin. I'm not some poor sheep-stealer's wife unable to read or write, or a half-crazed crone accused of witchcraft because a neighbour's cow dies. My family's not helpless or friendless. My father is a respected scholar, known to the Royal Society. He corresponds with Mr Evelyn and Mr Boyle, both of them the King's friends. And our neighbour in Furness, the Countess of Kesteven, has great influence at Court."

And so has Mr Henry Ravensworth, the King's boon companion - 'forget all you've been taught about modesty' - I'll write to him today.

"Any of them could get me a royal audience. Within five days I can be talking to the King. He'll listen to me, never doubt it."
Looking at her vivid face and brilliant eyes, framed in the mass of dark curls, Mr Brabin did not doubt it.

Like everyone, however obscure, who held office under the Crown, Mr Brabin needed to know about the sources of power. He was aware that King Charles had an intense dislike of saying No. He left refusals, and the resentment they created, to other people. He had a bewitching charm and sympathetic manner that made folk who begged his help believe they had been granted what they asked. When they didn't get it, still they couldn't find fault with the kindly King; they blamed his selfish ministers and corrupt servants. The King would listen to the wives of imprisoned Quakers and condemned rebels with the same perfect courtesy he showed to the Maids of Honour.

Mistress Halistan, though, was no homely Quaker or bitter Puritan. She was elegant as well as beautiful - also determined and cunning. She had played three separate parts in as many minutes to trick her way to an interview. If she put her cunning to the service of her beauty, she could get nearly anything she wanted from King Charles.

Keep checking this page, for the next exciting extract!

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