Catherine had been strong enough that morning to go to her chapel to hear Mass. Now, making her way back to her apartments through the chilly hallways, that strength waned. Was she still so little recovered, or was it melancholy that made her feel so? Lady Chesterfield and Lady Castlemaine flanked her, ready to offer assistance should the queen require, but Catherine would not ask it.
She had done her best to give her attention to the Mass, but the roar of the rain that had been falling without relent had melded with the sound of Father Patrick’s voice. Catherine could barely remember a time when rain had not fallen, like the tears of God Himself. When the fever had ebbed and she had at last returned to herself there had only been the black emptiness of loss—her own and Charles’s, for he mourned the loss of their child too. But as the weeks went by and that pain became quieter, other fears had come to her, the worse because she could not bring herself to speak to anyone of them.
Except for the Virgin.
Kneeling in the dim chapel that had become dear to her, Catherine found herself praying silently, “Please, Holy Mother, don’t let them send me back to Portugal.” Was it a great selfishness to fear the humiliation of being returned, like a bit of flawed goods, so that all the world would know of her failure?
Was it a greater selfishness to dread the leaving of this place she had come to as a stranger? The country in which she had found love and friendship and her place in this world? Was it selfishness to dread leaving so many she had come to care for—from her little page Samuel to Jenny, who had fought so hard to keep her alive, to brusque Clarendon, to her new sister, Anne? And Charles. As well to be banished from the sight of the sun or from the air she breathed. Today the Mass had brought her not peace but a feeling of doom not far off.
“Your Majesty?” Lady Chesterfield made bold to touch Catherine’s elbow, as if she would grasp it to bear the queen up. “How do you fare, madam? May we help you?”
Catherine shook her head. “I fare well, lady. Thank you for your care.” They were almost to her apartments. It was too much to wish she might be left entirely alone, but at least she might have some quiet.
Or not. When they arrived in her withdrawing room it was to find Feliciana chasing Samuel and Bacchus around the periphery of the chamber, while Lord Bath sat with his wife and Lady Suffolk, enthusiastically telling a tale. Another dog—not a spaniel but a large, brindled hound—leaned heavily against Bath’s leg and permitted its ears to be fondled. Not quiet, no.
“Your Majesty!” Bath sprang to his feet and bowed deeply; behind him the two ladies curtsied.
“My lord Bath, what brings you to us on so rainy a day?”
“Madam, His Majesty bid me come to ask if he might visit with you this afternoon.”
“His Majesty knows I am always his to command.” Indeed, Catherine was certain that Charles knew it; to ask permission—surely this meant something out of the ordinary. Is today the day the king comes to tell me he must put me aside? Not by choice—every moment he had spent at her bedside spoke of his care for her. But he was a king, and a king must have a queen who can give him sons.
As a page departed at Bath’s gesture, Catherine sat heavily in a chair near the fire. The boy was taking her answer to the king. The king would come—what then?
Almost immediately, as if he had been waiting, there was a clamor from the hall and the doors to the withdrawing room opened to disclose a small parade led by the king himself. Charles entered smiling broadly, Amity, Rogue, and Babette capering at his heels. Behind him, three liveried men followed, one bearing a small round table, one a great silver tray containing a pot, kettle, and delicate china cups, and the last with the mahogany chest in which Catherine’s own tea was kept.
Before she could rise to her feet to greet her husband he was at her side, urging her not to spoil the pretty picture she made in the firelight.
“’Tis an unlovely day, sweet. I thought we would both be the better for a cup of tea. You know, I never thought to like the stuff, but I find I do.”
By the time he had said all this, the table had been set down before Catherine, a second chair brought forward for the king, and a kettle placed on the hob to heat.
Catherine felt tears—of joy, and of affection—welling in her eyes. “I like Your Majesty’s thought very much,” she said, as evenly as her voice would permit. “I am happy to find you enjoy bohea as much as I.”
Surely a man who has come to tell his wife that he must put her aside would not preface it with a cup of tea.
“Now, this is cozy, is it not?” Charles whistled a note and the dogs—all but for Lord Bath’s hound, which lounged at his master’s side scratching noisily behind one ear—trotted to the king and queen. Feliciana, after wriggling her hindquarters comically, leapt into her mistress’s lap, turned thrice,...