soon?” Lady Clinton said. They made their way back into the house, closing the doors against the chilly night. “Whatever do you mean? The gossip has it that the queen is very ill. She never recovered from her false pregnancy, and the sicknesses of the summer hit her very hard.”
“Ill perhaps, but still the monarch—and capable of sending her followers out among us,” Elizabeth said. “Has a man named Lord Braceton called at Brocket Hall?”
“Nay, but we have heard tell of him,” Lady Clinton answered. “Was he not at Bacon’s house of late? I have not seen him here, though my husband has said he is accounted a rather obnoxious man at court. Queen Mary is inexplicably fond of him.”
Elizabeth followed Lady Clinton up the stairs toward the bedchambers, Kate and Penelope trailing silently behind them. “But you have not heard tell of his errand at Bacon’s house?”
“Not at all, but we have seen little of Sir Nicholas or his family since the troubles last year. I have been living quietly here while my husband is in London.” Lady Clinton ushered them into a small but beautifully appointed bedchamber, where a fire crackled welcomingly in the grate and servants hurried about laying out the bed. “I hope this room will serve for the night, my dear?”
“Very well indeed,” Elizabeth said. “I am weary from the journey, and quite looking forward to a night of sleep without worrying about who may burst in at any moment. Penelope can help me retire, I think.”
She turned to Kate, her pale pointed face unreadable. “Kate, could you go to the kitchen and have them prepare a posset to help me sleep? I am sure you remember the recipe.”
“Of course, Your Grace,” Kate said, a bit confused. Kitchen matters had never been her expertise.
But then Elizabeth leaned closer and quickly whispered, “See what the servants are chattering about, Kate. I do remember the cook here was always accounted something of a gossip. I fear my dear friend Lady Clinton has not told us quite all she knows from her husband. . . .”
Of course— the posset was an excuse to spy, as Elizabeth herself could certainly not go marching into the kitchen to chat with the servants. Kate nodded, excited at being given a new errand to perform, and hurried away. One of the maids pointed her toward the kitchen.
U nlike at Hatfield, where the kitchen was small for the size of the household and everyone was crowded in close as they worked, Brocket Hall’s kitchen was overlarge, almost cavelike. Kate found Lady Clinton’s cook sprawled in a chair by the fire in her stained apron, hair straggling from her cap. A scullery maid was rubbing her feet in their darned knit stockings.
“Not so hard, girl!” the cook groaned. “You will be the death of me.”
Kate wasn’t at all sure she could really get any gossip out of such a frazzled group. But then again, it always seemed a little sympathy could do wonders.
“Excuse me, mistress,” she said. “I am terribly sorry to disturb you when it’s time to retire, but the Princess Elizabeth begs for a posset to help her sleep.”
The cook groaned, not opening her eyes. “Oh, she does, does she? It’s not enough that we put together a grand feast on only two days’ notice! That we must find cinnamon and almond milk where there is none to be had in the shops. My old bones are weary unto death!”
Kate wondered if this cook was related to old Cora at Hatfield. “I am terribly sorry,” she said again, most contritely. “I can make it myself, if you will direct me to the herb pantry. It does help the princess to sleep.”
“Well, if it is for the princess . . .” the cook grumbled. She pushed the scullery maid away and lumbered to her feet. “But I don’t want any stranger rummaging in my pantry, disarranging everything. Hand me my clogs there, girl, and I will make it. But only for her. Not for any of those wretched Spaniards running about. So much to-ing and fro-ing