John and Katharine speak of poetry

As if to reward Katharine for putting her own wishes aside and thinking of others, fate conspired to grant her a wish she would never have dared to hope for – she was granted a reprieve on her return to Kettlethorpe. Hugh brought her the news himself. He looked embarrassed and slightly flustered as he stood before her, cap in hand, feet shuffling like a small boy.
“I do not know how to tell you the honour that has been done me.”
“Why Hugh, you look as pleased as the cat who swallowed the canary. What can have happened?”
“The Duke has asked me to join him on his expedition.”
Katharine was puzzled. It was common knowledge that the Duke was just back from Aquitaine where he and his brother, the Black Prince, had been making preparations for the coming invasion of Castile. Hugh was one of the Duke’s retainers and as such would naturally go with the Duke. There was no special honour in this.
“And . . . ?” prompted Katharine.
“And the Duchess has requested as a ‘special favour’ that you be allowed to spend the wait with her. Imagine the Duchess wanting anything that is mine!”A flash of intuition gave Katharine an insight into this man she had married and she did not have the heart to resent Hugh’s words. He had always felt so inferior; she could not begrudge his delight in finally having something others might consider valuable. Gently she touched his sleeve. “That is very nice for you Hugh.”
Hugh’s pride of possession brought Katharine one great advantage – a fine piece of horse flesh for her very own! In the old days in Blanche’s household Katharine was relagated to ride in the baggage carts with the children and the luggage. Since her marriage she had had a horse of her own, but it was a gentle dependable beast. Now her mount had breeding written all over him. It did not matter to her that he was purchased to impress the Duchess with how well Hugh had taken care of his wife. The only thing that mattered was that at last she had a horse worthy of the name.

She felt like a bird who finds the cage door has been inadver­tently left open. Time might require it to return, but for the moment the deep blue sky beckoned. Hugh was returning to Kettlethorpe to make preparations before going overseas. And she, joy of joys, would not be returning to the dreary confines of Kettlethorpe until some time in the distant future.

With the constraint of Hugh’s presence removed Katharine blossomed.

Previously she had taken the advantages offered her by life in the Duke’s household for granted. Not so now. Now she soaked up the culture around her.

People who had been places; the very people who were doing the most interesting things in the world were in abundance around her. Their conversation was as refreshing to her spirit as a walk in a spring rain.

Many of the best minds in Europe were gathered in the Duke’s court, and not merely military minds. There were ecclesiastics, poets, writers, and artists of all descriptions – painters, sculptors, and those less admired but no less brilliant souls – clothes designers.

There was so much doing, so much happening that she almost begrudged spending any of this precious time with her nose glued within a book.

However, she was more hungry for the chance to read than for anything else. Even if Hugh could have afforded a single manu­script he would never have approved of owning one. Just a bunch of falderal – that was his opinion. It grated him enough when he had to sit through some tedious reading in the hall of an evening.

If it were at all possible he would always manage to join one of the more active groups. A rousing game of blind man’s bluff was much more worth the time as far as he was concerned.

Therefore, if Katharine wished to read she must do so now, in whatever time she could squeeze into the busy day.

The best time to read was in the afternoons, for then the other ladies usually chose to take a nap or else sought the cooling breeze by the river’s edge. It was an ideal time to have the garden to herself, and she had one favorite spot where an ancient tree made a cool arbour retreat.

She was seated there one afternoon absorbed, not in a manu­script which would have been too precious to be trusted outdoors, but in a collection of odd fragments of poetry Geoffrey had collected, when a dark shadow obscured her light. Looking up she was surprised to see the Duke of Lancaster there before her, and that the expression she observed on his face was inquisitive.

She smiled up at him just as if she were not in awe of him – a brave, guileless, trusting smile. It reminded the Duke of a look he had sometimes received from his younger sister, and he reacted to this girl with the same warmth of uncomplicated affection he felt for his sister.

Swinging easily onto the bench beside her he looked over her shoulder at the book she was reading.

“What is this? Is such language fit reading for innocent ears?” he teased.

The tide of colour that rushed to suffuse Katharine’s cheeks was very becoming, but she was not flustered when she answered.

“You must not take things out of context, my lord.”

“Out of context! How can I possibly take those words out of context? There are only two lines, and they are quite separate from anything else on the page.” Deliberately he repeated them:

‘Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.’

But Katharine refused to be intimidated by his attempt to embarrass her.

“The words are open to misinterpretation I agree. But it is not what you think. The sentiment is not bawdy. It is a simple statement of love, and the beauty lies in its very simplic­ity. Rather like these lines here,” and Katharine pointed to a place earlier in the manuscript.

‘A girl from La Palma made me in love.
I, who thought that love had forgotten me.’

The Duke looked at her with new respect. “Surely such lines of poetry are unusual. How did you come by them?”

“My brother-in-law loves the sound of words. It is an inter­est few people share with him, but since I do he has trusted me with these notes. They are not things he has written, his writing is much better than this.” She was unconscious of the small note of pride that had crept into her voice. “But Geoffrey likes to collect snatches of poetry that appeal to him.”

“Geoffrey? You do not mean Geoffrey Chaucer?”

“Yes, do you know him then?”

“But of course. We have known each other since we were seven­teen. He was in my brother Lionel’s household when we first met that Christmas. I like to think we have been friends since. A remarkable fellow that brother of yours.”

“Not brother, he is married to my sister. But I could not love him more if he were a blood relative.”

“You are a very fortunate person to have such an individual in your family,” slightly hesitantly, the duke continued, “it is such a lovely afternoon . . . would you care to take a walk?”

She had no difficulty keeping up with him because he deliberately matched his pace to hers, a fact which surprised her simply because it was such a considerate action.

On the other side of the hedge that walled in the garden Geoffrey Chaucer looked annoyed. He had overheard the last part of the conversation, and although its contents gave him ample reason for satisfaction, the very fact that it had taken place worried him. Katharine was young and guileless, and any girl’s head could be turned by the attentions of a Duke.

He produced a mental image of his sister-in-law, and with it a small frown of consternation furrowed his brow:

The fine bones of her face had been carved by a master hand, and the chiseled perfection of her beauty was vaguely disturbing. Fortunately her youth and vivacity captured her observers and distracted their attention from her almost flawless face. Such beauty was its own invitation to disaster. It promised too much! And time had not yet developed the moral stamina and strength of character that would one day give depth to the mould nature had provided.

What was he thinking of? Two people had met and talked. They had not met in a lover’s tryst. No indiscretion had been committ­ed. He would have to stop being so protective towards Katharine. He supposed it was because he was the only male relative she had. But there was something unique and susceptible about Katharine – something that made a man feel the need to protect her.

The Duke was whistling as he made his way back into his chancery. He had seldom felt so refreshed from a break.

Strange, but his accidental meeting with Katharine had given him a curious pleasure. He took it as a personal compliment that she should choose to spend her time reading. It was not considered a wise or useful occupation for women, and the women of his house­hold were among the first in England to be taught to read or write. Far from seeing it as an advantage he knew that most of the ladies in attendance on Blanche looked at it as a cross that must be borne. Indeed he could not wholly blame them – few of their husbands would be able to do more than make their marks for the purposes of a legal document.

That this bright and attractive girl should choose to read when she could obviously be the centre of a throng of young gallants – this fact gave him a curious satisfaction. The warmth of the feeling it produced in him he took for brotherly concern. It was well he did not stop to analyze his feelings. If he had he would not have allowed himself the pleasure of ‘accidentally’ meeting her on many a pleasant afternoon.

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