He wore a broad-brimmed black hat over a curly brown wig, and he had enough sweat running down his face to refill at least one of the city’s canals.
Locke was dressed far more comfortably, in a simple white doublet, black breeches, and respectable shoes. Chains was holding Locke’s jacket, with its telltale number of buttons, until Sabetha was sent on her way. For her part, Sabetha wore a linen dress and a simple jacket, both of a darkish red that was nearly the color of cinnamon. Her hair and face were concealed beneath a four-cornered hat with hanging gray veils, a fashion that had come rapidly back into vogue in the heat and foulness of recent weeks. Chains had carefully studied and approved these clothes—Locke and Sabetha could pass for servants dressed moderately, or rich children dressed lazily, and would be able to pursue their game without suspicion or interference so long as they behaved.
“Well, daylight’s burning,” said Chains, kneeling and pulling the two children toward him. “Are you ready?”
“Of course,” said Sabetha. Locke merely nodded.
“Young lady first,” said Chains. “Twenty second head start, then uncover your satchel as we discussed. I’ll be moving along in the crowd beside you, looming over your performance like a merciless god. Cheating will be dealt with in a thoroughly memorable fashion. Go, go, go.”
Chains held fast to Locke’s upper right arm as Sabetha moved off into the crowd. After a few moments, Chains spun Locke around, lifted his arms, and slipped the coat onto him. Locke ran his fingers up and down the right lapel, counting six buttons.
“I stretch forth my arm and cast you into the air.” Chains gave Locke a little shove. “Now hunt, and let’s see whether you’re a hawk or a parakeet.”
Hans has joined them on the progress, and made a drawing of Anne the queen, but it did not please her; how do you please her, these days? He has drawn Rafe Sadler, with his neat little beard and his set mouth, his fashionable hat a feathered disc balanced precariously on his cropped head. ‘Made my nose very flat, Master Holbein,’ Rafe says, and Hans says, ‘And how, Master Sadler, is it in my power to fix your nose?’
‘He broke it as a child,’ he says, ‘running at the ring. I picked him up myself from under the horse’s feet, and a sorry bundle he was, crying for his mother.’ He squeezes the boy’s shoulder. ‘Now, Rafe, take heart. I think you look very handsome. Remember what Hans did to me.’
Thomas Cromwell is now about fifty years old. He has a labourer’s body, stocky, useful, running to fat. He has black hair, greying now, and because of his pale impermeable skin, which seems designed to resist rain as well as sun, people sneer that his father was an Irishman, though really he was a brewer and a blacksmith at Putney, a shearsman too, a man with a finger in every pie, a scrapper and brawler, a drunk and a bully, a man often hauled before the justices for punching someone, for cheating someone. How the son of such a man has achieved his present eminence is a question all Europe asks. Some say he came up with the Boleyns, the queen’s family. Some say it was wholly through the late Cardinal Wolsey, his patron; Cromwell was in his confidence and made money for him and knew his secrets. Others say he haunts the company of sorcerers. He was out of the realm from boyhood, a hired soldier, a wool trader, a banker. No one knows where he has been and who he has met, and he is in no hurry to tell them. He never spares himself in the king’s service, he knows his worth and merits and makes sure of his reward: offices, perquisites and title deeds, manor houses and farms. He has a way of getting his way, he has a method; he will charm a man or bribe him, coax him or threaten him, he will explain to a man where his true interests lie, and he will introduce that same man to aspects of himself he didn’t know existed. Every day Master Secretary deals with grandees who, if they could, would destroy him with one vindictive swipe, as if he were a fly. Knowing this, he is distinguished by his courtesy, his calmness and his indefatigable attention to England’s business. He is not in the habit of explaining himself. He is not in the habit of discussing his successes. But whenever good fortune has called on him, he has been there, planted on the threshold, ready to fling open the door to her timid scratch on the wood.