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“He was a fair master,” a chambermaid answered, which was as long an answer as I had managed from any of the late Lord Chamberlain’s staff in near an hour, I suppose the habit of discussing any noble person of their care with any stranger, even at the direct behest of their current master, seeming fraught with much danger and little chance for reward.
“I tell you all in sooth that you can all speak plain and without fear. The late Baron’s son has commissioned that I write a clear remembrance of his father, and as every character has many sides, I would have known your honest thoughts and will thank you for them true, but share them exact to none. What source might serve for any line of my work will be for my mind alone.”
“As she said, fair,” said the cook, “though stern as well if you failed in your offices. But he made your office known and made even occasional thanks your having performed it, which is more than I expect from such others in this house.”
“What can you tell me of his final illness?” I asked, “as a man is much revealed in how he bears his sufferings.”
“With grace, sir,” said the chambermaid, “most of those long weeks. As he oft reminded, he was a soldier most, and as I did have care of his person, did see some fearsome scars from his time at that art. He once did say that such insult as sickness offered paled much compared to what one might suffer at a human’s hands.”
“You said most of those long weeks?”
“Save that last night, sir,” she replied, “when his illness did return much fierce and I think he did suffer greatly, though I think he bore that as well as could be wished.”
“And you alone attended him then?”
“I tended to my station, which was to clean his person, clothing and bed.”
“You alone and no other?”
And she took fear, I think, in this question’s repetition. “Mary was my help, but being some new to the household and still in her learning was help only. She would bring his meals and carry such as I asked to the laundries. The late Lord did enjoy her company, as she is young, and comely, and had some better manners than us most.”
Seeing no maid young and comely present, I asked after her. “And where might I find this Mary that I may have her thoughts, too?”
Some looks were exchanged amongst the staff that did in their discomfort tell me much, especially in company of her answer. “The younger Lord Carey, sir, John, not George, did take her immediate into his employ at his father’s death,” the chambermaid answered.
“To attend his person,” the cook added with some shading so as to make her suspicion plain.
“Our house scribe,” said John Carey at my admittance, “who I do hold, in credit to your late publicity, in some higher regard than I had previous, for I oft must use the weight of my name and office to despoil reluctant virgins and leave them despairing, and yet you sink your spear where you will on strength of words alone. If you can offer some instruction in this art, it think it will profit you more than those simple antics on which you current waste your talents.”
I bowed, seeming to accept his jibe in good humor, though the edge of his words was spoke far crueler than their words alone would have conveyed.
“I beg thy pardon for this additional intrusion, my lord,” I said, “but your brother has asked that I have such thoughts as your late father’s staff may have, and am told that Mary, who was late and only brief in your father’s service, is now in yours.”
“Ah, the fair Mary, a tasty morsel I did oft encounter in my father’s room and of that blushing and blooming ripening that I hear tell you, too, do much enjoy. Yes, when my father did finally pass, I moved quick to secure her service, and her service. But even that first morning, when I had so looked forward to having her help me dress, my much enjoying that first reaction of a new girl on learning I am free with my nakedness, I noticed that her hands were sorely poxed and was much pained to have her discharged from the household, as I could not risk that she was in fact less virginal than she appeared, and that her pox might infect not only her hands, but also, well, such other parts of her person of which I would make use.”
And so the girl who, by the chambermaid’s account, did bring the late Lord Chamberlain his last meal, in which likely was secreted such poison that killed him, displayed such pox as handling that poison could cause.
“Discharged sir? Have you any thought where she might be found?”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Selling what only goods as she has to those who might take less caution of their health than I, I should think,” he said. “But should a man of your talents find her, you can no doubt talk your way into those sweet chambers that would cost most others dear, if you fear not her pox.”
“Norton, I think,” answered the cook, when I asked after Mary’s surname and any other particulars they might offer. “From her speaking, I would guess her from Yorkshire.”
“Where would she go in London, being now put out of Somerset?” I asked.
“One such rare days as we had liberty, she would visit her father, so he must be some near. Close to the river, I think she’d say. Some words about a brother, too, but older.”
“Did you notice any injury to her hand in her last day?’
“Aye,” answered the chambermaid. “Just that last day. She was puzzled to have what seemed a burn, having not burned herself. I wondered if it might be do the medicines for our late Lord.”
She nodded. “In his illness, there were many doctors hence, some from the Queen’s own service, the late Lord being a cousin of hers and much favored, and oft they would provide some powder or potion to be added to his meals. Just that last night, another in the robe and cap of heir practice was in the kitchen providing Mary yet another powder. I think I did surprise her some when I entered, and she spilled the powder on the table, sweeping it quick into her hand and then dusting it onto our Lord’s supper.”
“How was this doctor called?”
“He offered no name to me, nor I should think to her, as in habit, they would rather brusque present their wares and instructions and take their leave, chambermaids and cooks being of little account. I did hold some humor to myself, though, wondering what skills as a physician he might have to at least once have failed himself so dire.”
“Failed himself how?” I asked.
“His face. His nose must once have been most grievous injured and tended poor to have healed so hideous.”