Authors: Pat McIntosh
PAT McINTOSH, like Gil Cunningham, is a graduate of Glasgow University. Born and brought up in Lanarkshire, for many years the author lived and worked in Glasgow and is now settled on the West Coast.
Titles in this series
(listed in order)
The Harper’s QuineThe Nicholas Feast
The Merchant’s MarkSt Mungo’s Robin
Constable & Robinson Ltd3 The Lanchesters162 Fulham Palace RoadLondon W6 9ERwww.constablerobinson.com
First published in the UK by Constable, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2005
This paperback edition published by Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2007
First US edition published by Carroll & Graf Publishers 2005, this paperback edition, 2007
Carroll & Graf PublishersAn Imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc.245 W. 17th Street, 11th FloorNew York, NY 10011-5300www.carrollandgraf.com
Copyright © Pat McIntosh, 2005, 2007
The right of Pat McIntosh to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library.
UK ISBN: 978-1-84119-824-8 (hbk)
UK ISBN: 978-1-84529-500-4 (pbk)eISBN: 978-1-84901-861-6
US ISBN-13: 978-0-78671-997-6
US ISBN-10: 0-7867-1997-4
Printed and bound in the EU
For Gil’s godmother,
who recognized William’s real crime immediately,
with gratitude.The University of Glasgow
Nobody could write about the early days of the University of Glasgow without consulting the magisterialThe University of Glasgow 1451–1577, by John Durkan and James Kirk (University of Glasgow Press, 1977). I have made copious use of it; everything I have got right is from Durkan & Kirk, and everything I have invented or got wrong is of course my own.
A list of people around the University might be useful. Those marked with an asterisk are known to history.
Regents (lecturers) and other members of the staff
*Maister John Doby, the Principal Regent (head of the Faculty of Arts and of the University)
*Maister Patrick Elphinstone, Dean of the Faculty of Arts
*Maister Patrick (Patey) Coventry, the Second Regent
*Maister Thomas Forsyth, a senior regent
Maister Nicholas Kennedy, a junior regent
*Maister David Gray, the Faculty Scribe (a lawyer)
*Maister Archibald Crawford, Faculty and University Promotor (a lawyer)
*John Gray, the University Scribe and Beadle (a lawyer)
*John Shaw, the Faculty Steward
Fr Bernard Stewart, a Dominican friar with responsibility for the University
Andro and Tammas, two of the servitors
Agnes Dickson, the cook
Tam, Adam, Aikie, kitchen grooms
Eppie, a kitchen maid
Jaikie, the University porter
Alan Liddell, a Theology student (postgraduate)
Magistrand (fourth-year student)
John Hucheson, who makes a speech
Senior bachelors (third-year students)
Ninian Boyd (playing Diligence)
Michael Douglas (playing a daughter of Collegia)
Nicholas Gray (helping in the kitchen)
Junior bachelors (second-year students)
Ralph Gibson (playing Collegia)
Richie (playing the Scholar)
Henry (playing Frivolity)
Walter and Andrew (playing two of Collegia’s daughters)
Bejants (first-year students)
Chapter FourteenChapter One
Gil Cunningham said later that if he had known he would find a corpse in the coalhouse of Glasgow University, he would never have gone to the Arts Faculty feast.
‘But then,’ said Alys his betrothed, considering this seriously, ‘you would never have met Socrates.’
The day began well enough. In the bright sunshine after early rain Gil, his academic robes in a bundle under his arm, had strolled down the High Street past the University, where several people in gowns and furred hoods were already exchanging formal bows with a lanky red-haired student before the great wooden door. Further down the street, in the rambling stone-built house called the White Castle, he found Alys and her father the French master mason, just breaking their fast with the rest of their household after hearing the first Mass at Greyfriars.
‘Gil!’ said Alys in delight, and sprang up to kiss him in greeting.
‘Bonjour, Gilbert,’ said Maistre Pierre cheerfully, his teeth white in his neat black beard. He rose broadshouldered and imposing from his great chair and waved at an empty stool. ‘Have you eaten? What do you this early on a Sunday morning?’
‘The Nicholas Feast,’ Gil reminded him. He smiled at Alys, still standing slender and elegant beside him in the brown linen dress that matched her eyes. Like most unmarried girls in Scotland she went bare-headed, and her honey-coloured hair fell over her shoulders. He savoured the sight for a moment, thinking again how fortunate he was, that this clever, competent, beautiful girl was to be his wife, then tipped her face up with a gentle finger and kissed the high narrow bridge of her nose. ‘I hoped Alys would help me robe,’ he continued. ‘The procession will start from the college, and if I must walk there alone in these ridiculous garments I had rather do it from here, four doors away, than from Rottenrow. At least when we ride up to St Thomas’s I’ll be in company with the whole of the Arts Faculty.’
‘They are not ridiculous garments!’ Alys said indignantly. ‘They are the insignia of your learning! Come and sit down, Gil.’
‘Why is it called the Nicholas Feast?’ asked Maistre Pierre, ladling more porridge into his wooden porringer. ‘St Nicholas’ day is in December. This is May.’
‘The Feast of the Translation of St Nicholas was last Tuesday,’ Gil said. He bowed to Alys’s aged, aristocratic nurse, and nodded to the rest of the household, who were ignoring the French talk at the head of the table. Setting the bundle of his robes on the floor he sat down and accepted a bannock from the platter Alys passed him. ‘When he was translated to Bari, I suppose, though where from I don’t recall. And this is the first Sunday after. The man who founded our feast left exact directions. We’re to ride in procession to hear Mass at eight of the clock in St Thomas Martyr’s, out beyond the Stablegreen Port, and come back down through the town with green branches, and then we have a meeting, and then we have the feast.’
‘He left money for the feast, too, I hope?’ said Maistre Pierre.
Gil nodded, spreading honey on his bannock.
‘There is some, but we are all expected to pay up as well. Eighteen pence it has cost me.’ The mason pulled a face. ‘It would be double that if I had a benefice.’
‘I had hoped,’ said Alys with diffidence, ‘we could write to your mother today. Her letter needs an answer, you must agree.’
‘Oh, aye, I agree,’ Gil said ruefully. ‘But not today. I am committed to the feast. Perhaps tomorrow.’
When grace had been said, the dishes had been carried out and the great board lifted from its trestles, Alys’s nurse Catherine rose stiffly and said to the mason, ‘I leave your daughter in your charge,maistre.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Maistre Pierre. ‘And the baby is with Nancy. Go and see to the boy, if you will,madame.’
She curtsied with arthritic elegance, said,‘Bonjour, maistre le notaire,’to Gil as she passed him, and stumped out of the hall among the hurrying maidservants. Alys unfolded Gil’s robes.
‘Your mother’s letter,’ she said again, shaking out the cassock. ‘Is it – is that really what she thinks?’
‘She’ll come round to it,’ Gil said. ‘Remember, my uncle is in favour.’
‘But if your nearest kin can’t agree about your marriage –’
‘Perhaps when my uncle can spare me, I should go out to Carluke,’ he suggested.
‘Yes!’ She smiled up at him. ‘If you can discuss it with her, I’m sure you will coax her round.’
‘Tell her how Alys will be dowered,’ said Alys’s father robustly. ‘That will persuade her.’
‘It’s possible,’ said Gil, concealing his doubts. He pulled off his short gown and began to unlace his doublet. ‘Meantime I need help with these ridiculous garments.’
‘They are not ridiculous!’ she said again. ‘Which way round does this go?’
Maistre Pierre watched in mounting astonishment as Gil was arrayed in the black cassock and cope (‘At least this one has two slits for my hands. Some only have one.’), the furred shoulder-cape, the blue fur-lined hood, proper to a Master of Arts of the University of Glasgow.
‘All of these garments are wool,’ he observed. ‘You will be warm. And what is that scarf thing? At least that is silk, though it is furred as well.’
‘Oh, father,’ said Alys. ‘You remember the men of law wearing those in Paris, surely? It goes on his shoulder. It’s a pity it’s red when your hood is blue,’ she added. ‘Does it need a pin, perhaps?’
‘This is the first time I have worn it all complete,’ said Gil, craning over his shoulder at the hood. ‘I must look like a Yule papingo,’ he added in Scots.
‘A parrot?’ said Maistre Pierre, grinning.
‘No, no, it looks magnificent,’ Alys declared.
‘At least I won’t be alone. The entire procession will be in formal dress.’
‘And you are to ride in those long skirts?’ continued the mason, as Alys shook the moth-herbs out of the white rabbit-skin lining and stood on tiptoe to pin the redchaperonon to the layer of fur already on Gil’s shoulder. ‘Where is your horse?’
‘My uncle sent down to the college earlier with half a dozen beasts loaned from the Chanonry I’ll have the use of one of those.’ Gil settled his felt hat on his head, then took Alys’s hands in his and kissed them. ‘I must go. Tomorrow we’ll write to my mother, sweetheart,’ he promised her.
‘Which reminds me indirectly,’ said Maistre Pierre. He got to his feet. ‘I see you to the street. Our neighbour is expected in town.’
‘What, Hugh Montgomery?’ Gil turned to stare. ‘What brings him to Glasgow? The King’s at Stirling, by what my uncle says, and the rest of the Court with him.’
‘Catherine thought it might be to do with the college,’ said Alys.
‘How does Catherine learn these things?’ Gil wondered. ‘She speaks no Scots.’
‘Your pardon, maisters, mistress,’ said an anxious voice from the kitchen stairway.
They all three turned. In the door at the head of the stairs stood a stout, comely woman dressed in respectable homespun. As they looked she bobbed a nervous curtsy and came forward.
‘Your pardon for interrupting,’ she said again, ‘but they’re saying in the kitchen you’re for the college the day, maister? Is that right?’
‘This is Mistress Irvine, Gil,’ said Alys. ‘A kinswoman of Kittock’s –’
‘Aye,’ agreed Mistress Irvine, nodding and beaming. ‘My good-sister’s good-sister, that’s who Kittock is, and a good friend to me and all.’
‘– and Davie’s aunt,’ continued Alys. ‘She has come from Paisley to see him.’
‘How is the boy today?’ Gil asked, with sympathy.
‘He’s still sleeping the maist o’ the time,’ said Mistress Irvine, looking troubled. ‘And he minds nothing even when he’s awake. I think it was you that found him, maister? Blessings on ye for that, sir, and his mother’s and all.’
‘He improves slowly,’ said the mason.
‘It’s only two weeks, father,’ said Alys. ‘It takes longer than that for a broken skull to mend. Mistress Irvine was very distressed to see her nephew in such a state, Gil, the more so as her foster-son at the college is strong and healthy.’
‘The contrast must be painful,’ Gil commented wryly. The mason’s injured mortar-laddie was a reminder of an episode which he would have wished to forget, had it not resulted in his betrothal to Alys. ‘Has the other boy visited Davie? The company would be good for him.’
‘Och, no. William’s ower busy at his studies,’ explained Mistress Irvine, and bobbed another curtsy. ‘I wonder if I might trouble ye, sir? It’s just to leave this paper for him with the man at the yett. It’s for William Irvine.’ She produced a folded and sealed package.
‘That’s no trouble.’ Gil put his hand out. A line of verse popped into his head:Little Sir William, are you within?Which of the ballads was that?
‘Only he said he’d be busy today, he can’t come to see me, and I don’t like to go back, the porter was as awkward yesterday about sending to fetch him to the yett, and if they’re all taigled with this feast I’d only be in the way. It’s a shame I never took it with me when I went out to Vespers.’
So the guardian of the college’s great wooden door must be the same fellow Gil remembered from his own time. ‘It’s no trouble,’ he said again.
She put the little package into his hand and curtsied again. ‘Blessings on ye, sir. Oh, here, you’ve lost your wee scarf.’ She stooped to lift the swatch of silk and fur. ‘You’ll not need that round your neck the day, maister, it’ll be warm enough when it’s no raining. And I’ll away back down to the kitchen, mistress, and see to that remedy I promised Nancy for the bairn. We’ll see if we can’t get him taking more than milk with honey and usquebae, won’t we no?’
‘We will be aye grateful if you do, mistress,’ said Alys. ‘I believe he has eaten only by accident since his mother died.’ She watched Mistress Irvine puffing her way down the kitchen stair, then turned to fasten the scarf back on Gil’s shoulder. ‘There, I have used two pins this time. Take care,’ she said earnestly. ‘Of the Montgomerys, I mean.’
‘Yes indeed.’ The mason made for the door. ‘Maybe you do not go about alone for a while. Bah! It is raining again.’
‘The Montgomerys have killed no Cunninghams for at least six months,’ Gil said. ‘That I know of,’ he added.
He hugged Alys, and bent to kiss her. For a long moment she returned his embrace, with the eager innocence which he found so enchanting; then she drew away, suddenly shy, and he dropped another quick kiss on the bridge of her nose, and followed Maistre Pierre down the fore-stair and across the courtyard in the rain.
Pacing up the High Street with the dignity imposed by the heavy garments, Gil glanced at the tall stone house belonging to Hugh, Lord Montgomery and wondered again what that turbulent baron wanted in Glasgow. Montgomery had no Lanarkshire holdings and no need to keep on the good side of the Archbishop, unlike Gil’s own kindred, and the holdings and privileges in Ayrshire which were the cause of Montgomery’s bloody dispute with the Cunninghams were all administered from Irvine. Perhaps, Gil speculated, Alys’s governess was right and the family wished to make its mark on the college in some way.
The High Street was now completely blocked outside the college gateway by the mounts waiting for the procession. John Shaw the Steward was welcoming another arrival. Gil avoided the heels of a restless mule and picked his way to the door. Here he was met by the same student he had seen earlier, a gangling youth with a faded gown and a fashionable haircut, who bowed deeply, flourishing his hat so that raindrops flew from it.
‘Salve, Magister.The college greets you. May I know your name?’
‘Maister Gilbert Cunningham,’ said Gil, ‘determined in ’84.’
The student straightened abruptly, clapping the hat back on his head.
‘Gang within, maister, if ye will,’ he said, cutting across Gil’s greeting to the college. ‘The Faculty’s in the Fore Hall.’ He waved a long arm towards the great wooden yett and the vaulted passage beyond it, and turned away.
A little startled by this incivility, Gil made his way into the passage, pausing at the porter’s door. As he had surmised, the occupant of the rancid, cluttered little room was the same man he remembered from his own days at the college, a surly individual with a bald head and a flabby paunch.
‘Good morning, Jaikie,’ he said politely. ‘I see you’re still in charge here.’
‘Oh, it’s you, Gil Cunningham,’ said Jaikie, looking him up and down. ‘I thought ye’d be here earlier, but maybe since ye’re to be married, ye’re done with early rising.’ He produced an unpleasantly suggestive leer. ‘And I hear there’s a bairn already?’
‘There is,’ agreed Gil, ever more politely. ‘A motherless bairn being fostered by the household.’
‘Aye, right. And what do you want?’ demanded Jaikie. ‘I’ve enough to see to, dealing with this feast, without idle conversation round my door.’
‘I have a package here for William Irvine.’
The man’s expression flickered.
‘Ye have, have ye? Let’s see. From Billy Dog, is it?’
Gil handed over the folded paper. Jaikie turned it in his hands, flicked at the seal with a dirty thumbnail, and grunted.
‘It’s no from Billy Dog. Well, ye can deliver it yirsel. That’s William Irvine out there at the yett, capering like a May hobby, welcoming the maisters.’
‘The boy with the red hair?’
‘Aye, the same.’ Jaikie cast a glance out of his window at the crowd in the street. ‘Ye’ll need to be quick. They’ll mount up soon.’
Gil went back out to the doorway and waited while the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the red-haired boy greeted another pair of graduates with flowery compliments about the college’s sons. One of them produced a stock phrase in reply, about the fountain of wisdom; the other grunted, ‘Aye, thanks,’ and pushed past Gil into the tunnel.
‘William,’ said Gil. The boy turned, and recognizing Gil raised his hat briefly and attempted to look down his nose at him. Tall though he was, Gil topped him by several inches, so he was unsuccessful in this, but he assumed an expression of vague contempt.
‘I have a package for you from Mistress Irvine, William,’ said Gil politely, holding it out.Little Sir William, are you within?he thought again.
‘From –? Oh,’ said William, taking it. He turned the little bundle over, reading the clumsy writing on the cover. ‘Thank you,’ he added, as if the words tasted unpleasant, and then, almost warily, ‘Did she say anything about it?’
‘Not a thing,’ said Gil. ‘You’ll need to open it to find out.’
‘Well, it’s what one usually does with a letter,’ said William, with casual impertinence. Gil raised one eyebrow, and the boy looked down and turned away. ‘Thank you, maister,’ he said again, ostentatiously studying the writing on the package.
Gil made his way through the tunnel into the Outer Close where he paused, savouring the scene. The place had scarcely changed in the eight years since he had left; the thatch was sagging, the shutters were crooked, even the weeds between the flagstones seemed the same. Now, where had that ill-schooled boy said? Yes, in the Fore Hall.
One or two Faculty members were about in the court, but judging by the noise most were above in the hall. As Gil turned towards the foot of the stair, William hurried across the court, in too much haste even to lift his hat to a passing Doctor of Laws. He appeared to be making for a tower doorway in the south range, but before he reached it a man in the robes of a Dominican friar emerged from the tunnel which led to the Inner Close. William, catching sight of him, checked and turned to intercept him.
‘Father Bernard,’ he said clearly. ‘I have something here that will interest you.’
As Gil reached the top of the stair he settled on a word for William’s expression: gleeful.
In the outermost hall of the college building a roar of polite Latin conversation rose from the assembled Faculty of Arts of the University of Glasgow, thirty or forty men in woollen copes like Gil’s or the silk gowns of the Masters of foreign universities circulating in an aroma of cedar-wood and moth-herbs. Gil paused in the doorway to look over the crowded heads and decided against making his way to his proper station, among the other non-regent Masters, the graduates of the University who did not hold teaching positions. If he waited here, he could slip into his place as the procession left.
He could recognize many of the company. Yonder was John Doby, small, gentle and balding. He was the Principal Regent in Arts, in charge of teaching and all matters of the curriculum, and had taught Gil Aristotle thoroughly and exactly. Beside him, tall and silvertonsured, Patrick Elphinstone the Dean, whom Gil remembered as a conscientious and alarming teacher. There was David Gray the Scribe, a poor teacher and an ineffectual man, with the red furred hood of a man of law rolled down on his shoulders and straggling grey hair showing round his felt cap.
The procession was forming up. Gil stood aside from the door, and the Dean and the Principal passed him in their high-collared black silk gowns and long-tailed black hoods, each with the redchaperonof a Cologne doctor trailing from his left shoulder. As they reached the doorway the light changed, and the May sunshine gave way to another vicious May shower.
‘Confound it!’ said Dean Elphinstone, stopping abruptly. ‘The hoods will be ruined! Principal, why did you insist on the silk hoods? Fur at least would dry out.’
‘It’s summer, Dean.’ Maister Doby peered past his taller colleague. ‘A wee bittie rain’ll not hurt you.’
Gil looked over their heads at the large drops bouncing off the paving stones of the Outer Close and remarked, ‘Now if only we were allowed to wear plaids with our gowns . . .’
Both men turned to look at him. Behind him the cry of ‘It’s raining!’ had run round the hall, in Scots and Latin, and some jostling began as people dragged silk-lined hoods and rich gowns over their heads in the crowd.
‘Ah, Gilbert,’ said the Principal, switching to the scholarly tongue. ‘It is good to see you. Do you remember David Cunningham’s nephew, Dean, who was one of our better determinants in – let me see – ’84, wasn’t it? And then –’
‘Paris, sir,’ Gil supplied. ‘Law. Licentiate in Canon Law.’
‘Oh, aye. And now trained as a notary with your uncle, I believe?’ Gil nodded, and bent a knee briefly in response to the Dean’s inclined biretta. Someone complained as his elbow met a ribcage, and he threw a word of apology over his shoulder. The Dean was speaking to him.
‘Are you the man about to be married?’
‘I am,’ agreed Gil, bracing himself for the usual congratulatory remarks. At least this is an educated man, he thought. Not like Jaikie.
‘Hmf. It seems a pity to waste your education,’ the Dean pronounced. ‘Why marry her? Why not take a mistress, if you must, and pursue the church career?’
Gil swallowed his astonishment.
‘My uncle thought otherwise,’ he said, taking refuge in politeness again.
‘Hmf,’ repeated the Dean, and surveyed him with an ice-blue stare. ‘You have never undertaken the required course of lectures, Gilbert?’
‘What, since I left here? No, sir. The opportunity has not presented itself.’
‘Would you come to see me about that? We cannot get regents from outwith the college, and if you were to carry out your duty in delivering such a course it would benefit both the bachelors and yourself, since the bachelors could add another book to their list, and by it your degree would be completed and you would be properly entitled to the master’s bonnet you are wearing.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Gil, torn between annoyance, embarrassment and admiration. Patrick Elphinstone nodded, and turned to look out at the weather.
‘Aha! I think it’s easing a bit.Amid, scholastici,’he said, pitching his voice without difficulty to reach all ears above the buzz of conversation. ‘We can set out now. Full academic dress, I remind you. The rain is no excuse. Shall we go, Principal?’
Bowing politely to one another, the two men stepped into the drizzle to descend the stair to the courtyard.
‘All right for him,’ muttered a voice behind Gil as the Masters of Arts followed on. ‘The number of benefices he’s got, he can afford a new gown every week if he wants.’
‘He’ll hear you,’ said Gil, turning to look into the black-browed, long-jawed face at his shoulder. ‘Is that you, Nick? I thought I knew the voice.’
‘Aye, Gil.’ Nicholas Kennedy, Master of Arts, grinned briefly at him. They slipped into place behind the last of the graduates, and Maister Kennedy continued, ‘You’re not too grand to speak to me, then, having been to Paris and all that?’
‘I would be,’ Gil responded, ‘but you heard the Dean. I’m not entitled to this bonnet, and I take it you are.’
‘Christ aid, yes.’ His friend grimaced, his shaggy brows twitching. ‘Course of twenty lectures to the junior bachelors on Peter of Spain. This makes the fourth year I’ve delivered it. What an experience. I tell you, Gil,’ he said, making for the horses ahead of his place in the order of precedence, ‘the man who invented the regenting system was probably a torturer in his spare time.’ He hitched gown and cassock round his waist and swung himself into the wet saddle. ‘Did one of the songmen tell me you’re betrothed? Is that what the Dean was on about? I thought you were for the priesthood and the Law, like the Dean said.’
‘That’s right,’ said Gil, standing in his stirrups so that he could bundle the skirt of his own cassock to protect his hose. ‘It’s all changed. Married life awaits me. My uncle and Peter Mason are working out the terms, and we hope to sign the contract this week or next.’
‘And that’s you set up for life. Congratulations, man. You always did have all the luck,’ said his friend enviously. ‘God, what I’d give to get out of this place, chaplain to some quiet old lady somewhere, never see another student in my life.’ He stared round, and nodded at a knot of students in their belted gowns of red or blue or grey. ‘That lot, for instance. They’ll sing Mass for us like angels, Bernard Stewart’ll make sure of that, but they’re a bunch of fiends, I tell you. If we get through the entertainment without someone deliberately fouling things I’ll buy the candles for St Thomas’s for the year. Oh, God, there’s William.’
‘The entertainment,’ repeated Gil. ‘I’d forgotten the entertainment. Don’t tell me you’re in charge, Nick?’
‘Very well, I won’t,’ said Nick, ‘but I am. For my sins.’
‘What are you giving us?’
‘Oh, it’s a play, as prescribed. I won’t tell you any more,’ said Nick rather sourly. ‘I don’t want to raise your expectations. What does your minnie say about your marriage? I mind she had other plans for you.’
‘She’ll come round to it,’ said Gil, uncomfortably reminded of Alys’s remark about his mother’s letter.
With much shuffling and jostling, and delays caused by people struggling back into gown and hood and retrieving felt caps dislodged in the process, the Faculty got itself on horseback and arranged in order. The University Beadle, peering back along the line, nodded, raised his hat to the Dean, and gave the signal to move off as the sun came out again.
Clattering up the High Street, Gil hitched at the layers of worsted he had wadded to sit on, and looked around at the other Faculty members present. At the head of the procession the Beadle was attended by a handful of senior students, presumably all those who could muster a horse and gown for the occasion. Demure behind them, decked in the Faculty’s collection of blue academic hoods, rode a favoured five of the non-regent Masters, followed closely by those other Masters of Arts who, like Gil, were living in the burgh and had been unable to avoid the requirement to attend, and Maister Kennedy, quite out of his proper position. The Faculty’s Man of Law and Scribe, side by side in their red legal robes, were succeeded by someone Gil did not know, who must be the Second Regent, and beside him baby-faced old Thomas Forsyth, his tonsure hidden by a round felt hat with a stalk like an apple’s. Behind them rode the Dean and the Principal, with four college servants in blue velvet, and bringing up the rear, wearing the expression of a man who knows disasters are happening in his absence, was John Shaw the Faculty Steward on a fat pony. Some way behind him rattled a donkey-cart laden with the green branches which would be handed out at St Thomas Martyr’s.
‘Why do we have the Beadle with us?’ Gil asked Nick Kennedy. ‘He’s a University servant and this is an Arts Faculty affair.’
‘Ah, but John Doby is Rector this year,’ Nick pointed out, ‘and John Gray as Beadle is the Rector’s servant. So we invited him along to make the procession look good, and quite incidentally to lend us the tapestries and cushions he keeps for graduations. Half our costumes for the play are out of his store,’ he added.
The procession clopped and jingled up through the town. Dogs barked, and several small boys ran alongside shouting rude remarks, until Dean Elphinstone himself identified one by name and promised to call on his father.
‘That man is an asset to the college,’ Gil observed to Nick Kennedy.
‘Oh, he is. You should see him in Faculty meeting. He has all those old men following him like an ox-team, and Tommy Forsyth and John Goldsmith agreeing with one another. He’s some kind of cousin of William Elphinstone in Aberdeen, and you can see the resemblance.’
‘And who is that riding beside Maister Forsyth?’
Nick twisted round in time to see the man in question put out a hand to Maister Forsyth’s bridle as the horses lurched up the steep portion of the High Street called the Bell o’ the Brae.
‘That’s Patey Coventry the Second Regent. He’s from Perthshire somewhere. A madman. He’s all right.’
‘Mad? How so?’
‘He’s Master of Arts from some obscure foreign place, he’s already collected a Bachelor of Decreets from St Andrews, and now he’s working on a Bachelor of Sacred Theology here as well as delivering a full set of lectures and disputations. Says he just likes learning.’ Nick hauled on his reins as his horse attempted to go down the vennel that led to its stable. ‘Get on, you stupid brute, we’ve a way to go yet!’
Past the Girth Cross, past the almshouses of St Nicholas’ Hospital, past the Archbishop’s castle, the procession continued. Residents of the upper town, cathedral staff, clergy and their dependants, paused about their business to watch. Outside the crumbling chapel of St Thomas Martyr beyond the Stablegreen Port, the leaders halted. More servants appeared to hold the horses while elderly academics dismounted. The students behind the Beadle leapt down and hastened into the chapel.
Gil, watching, saw the red-haired William pause by David Gray the Faculty Scribe as he straightened the creases from his gown. Whatever the boy said, it carried only to the lawyer’s ears, where it was unwelcome; Gil thought Gray’s narrow disappointed face paled, and he shook his head without speaking. The student vanished after his fellows, his red hair still visible in the shadows within.
Curious, thought Gil, and finding himself beside Maister Forsyth, lent a hand as he tried to straighten his fur-lined cope.
‘Thank you, Gilbert,’ said the old man. ‘That was a very elegant answer you gave on your last disputation. What was the question again . . .?’
‘I don’t recall, sir,’ said Gil, holding the slit at the front of the cope open.
‘Ah, I have it. It was in theMetaphysics,I believe.’ Maister Forsyth’s gloved hands popped out of the single opening. He sketched a benediction, and hurried into the chapel after the other senior members. Gil cast his mind back over the years, discovered that his last disputation had indeed been the one on Aristotle’sMetaphysics, and marvelled. That would have been in ’84. Since then, he had spent better than five years abroad; Scotland had been convulsed by a rising which had killed King James, third of the name, and replaced him by another James, fourth of the name and the same age as some of these students; Gil’s own father and elder brothers had died in support of James Third, and he himself had spent another couple of years almost imprisoned in the Cathedral Court learning to be a notary. Maister Forsyth appeared to have noticed none of this.
‘It’s the Mirror of Wisdom effect. Should we go in?’
Gil looked round, and found the Second Regent at his elbow. He was a small man in his thirties, in a blue cloth cope and hood which appeared to have been made for somebody taller; his tonsure was surrounded by a mop of black curls, and he peered up at Gil from one bright blue eye, the other being directed firmly at the bridge of his nose in the worst squint Gil had ever seen.
‘I’m sorry?’ he said blankly, following him into the little chapel. In the chancel, beyond the heavy semicircular arch, a choir of students was arranging itself round the huge music-book on its stand, and behind them in the dimness movement suggested the presence of the priest.
‘Senior University men,’ said the small man in graceful Latin, ‘see the world entirely through the mirror of wisdom, like poor James Ireland. This mirror does not reflect matters of politics, public life, private life, or money. Maister Forsyth is probably quite unaware of how long it is since he heard your elegant answer. How long is it, in fact?’
‘Eight years.’ Gil grinned. ‘I see your point.’
‘Forgive me – I know your name, Nick Kennedy pointed you out, but I should introduce myself –’
‘I could say the same.’
The unseen priest’s voice issued the invitation to prayer, and as the six students round the music-stand tossed the words of theKyriehigher and higher Gil suddenly realized that this was the first full Mass he had heard since his life turned upside-down. A week ago these words had formed part of his own destiny; this morning, although he did not know where he would find a living, he knew it would be on this side of the chancel arch, with Alys as his wife. The idea seemed to reshape the Mass; he found himself stumbling over the responses, which he should not have been making, like a half-taught clerk. The velvet-gowned Faculty servants beside him looked askance, and moved away a little. Pulling himself together, he tried to concentrate on the singing, over the murmured prayers and other conversations of the members of the procession.
Whatever setting they were using, it was being dominated by the first alto line, sung in a confident, rich head-voice slightly ahead of the other singers, and Gil was not surprised to find as his eyes adjusted to the dimness that the singer was the same red-haired William.
‘Listen to the little toad,’ muttered Maister Kennedy at his shoulder. ‘What did I say? He sings like an angel. That cousin of his would be quite good if William wasny there.’
‘Hush,’ said the Second Regent. ‘Later.’
Maister Kennedy snorted, but held his peace. The Mass wore on, and the light at the chapel’s tiny round-headed windows faded, brightened, faded again. When the door was finally dragged open and the Faculty stood back for the senior members to leave, the same group of students was revealed waiting to hand out dripping branches of hawthorn improbably decked with bunches of daisies.
‘Christ aid!’ said Maister Kennedy. ‘We’ll be soaked. The University will be wiped out, for we’ll all be dead of lung-rot.’
Gil, looking over the heads of the congregation, was watching William. The boy seemed exalted, his bony face flushed, his eyes glittering as if he had stepped into a new life. He handed a branch of wet leaves to the Principal, with a murmured comment which brought Maister Doby’s head round sharply. William smiled broadly, and moved on to present another bough to John Shaw the Steward. Maister Shaw, attempting to oversee the green boughs as well as the horse-holders, waved him aside impatiently, and got another murmured remark. He shook his head angrily, and William moved away, looking down his nose. The Steward paused almost fearfully to look at his retreating back.
‘The more people are present,’ said Patrick Coventry behind him, ‘the longer it takes, in a kind of geometric progression.’
‘You mean two people take more than twice as long?’ Gil prompted absently. William had moved out of sight now.
‘Two people take four times as long, and three people take nine times.’
‘This means there must be a limit to the numbers for an event like this,’ said Gil, thinking about it, ‘or we would reach a point where it took so long to get everyone mounted that the older members would have succumbed to their years before the procession moved off.’
‘We may have reached that already,’ Maister Coventry observed.
‘What are you two talking about?’ asked Maister Kennedy. ‘Are we to be here all day?’
Achieving the door, Gil stepped out into the sunshine, received a dripping branch from the very young treble, and got back on his horse, remarking to the Second Regent, ‘I feel we will get wet if we are here much longer.’
Patrick Coventry, eyeing the black clouds piling up above the houses of the Chanonry, nodded agreement.
‘It looks like thunder, indeed. I think we will move off soon. And when we get back we make one more procession on foot, right round the outer court and into the Lang Schule-’
One of the students attending the Beadle worked his way through the throng under the hawthorn branches, looking harassed and saying, in alternate Latin and Scots, ‘Places, please, maisters! Order of precedence, maisters! Places,please!’
‘– for the Faculty meeting,to ensure that we are at peace with one another and with the other faculties,’quoted Patrick Coventry resolutely. ‘And then we have the feast and then, Heaven help us, we have the entertainment. I still think it should have been before the meeting.’
‘What, now?’ said Gil, startled. ‘I thought it was in the statutes – it’s supposed to be after the feast.’
‘Well,’ said Maister Coventry, ‘there was the year two of the Muses were sick, whether from excitement or over-eating, and ruined their costumes. There was the year the bejants got hold of a skin of wine by mistake, and the audience was full of drunken fourteen-year-olds. But I think what settled the matter in my mind was the year everyone who ate the aigre-douce of pork was out the back lined up for the privy and the play had to be abandoned. I’ve been arguing in favour of the Lang Schule before the feast for a year or two now. Perhaps we should take our places.’
The other graduates did likewise, the elderly members were helped back into the saddle, and straggling somewhat, the Faculty made its way down the length of the High Street to the Mercat Cross, rounded it, accompanied by occasional comments, ironic cheers and whistles from the burgesses of Glasgow whose Sunday business was being interrupted, and returned, past the Tolbooth, past the mason’s house, past Black-friars, to the college gateway.
Here they dismounted, and after some more milling about the procession formed up again on foot. Led by the Beadle, the Faculty made its stately way through the arched tunnel into the outer court of the college, once round the courtyard to the accompaniment of singing, and into the largest of the three lecture-rooms, where academic order of precedence broke into some rather unseemly jostling for seats on the long benches. Gil, finding himself an unobtrusive corner, was surprised to be joined by both Maister Kennedy and Maister Coventry.
‘Should you not be near the front?’ he asked. ‘Do you not intend to speak?’
‘I intend to sleep,’ said Maister Kennedy, ‘and anyway once the Dean gets going nobody else can get a word in.’
‘I remember,’ said Gil.‘Full of fruyte and rethorikly pykit.’
‘You and your quotations,’ grumbled his friend. ‘Move up, will you, and let me in against the wall.’
When the Dean began to speak, Gil perceived the wisdom of this. It was a long speech, expounding the duties of a scholar, ornamented with illustrations, parables and epigrams. The masters listened with polite attention, except for Maister Kennedy. The students developed the glazed look of young men listening to speeches. Finally the Dean sat down, to polite applause, and Maister Forsyth spoke at rather less length, dwelling on only two of the scholarly duties which the Dean had enumerated. He should, he declared in elegant concise periods, treat all fellow scholars as his brothers, and love them accordingly; and he should regard the college where he was educated as his mother, and treat it with the respect due from a loving son.
‘He’s never met my minnie,’ said someone quietly near Gil, and someone else sniggered.
Maister Forsyth achieved his peroration and seated himself, to more enthusiastic applause. The Principal, in the lecturer’s pulpit, invited the rest of the Faculty to join in the discussion.
‘Not that you can call it a discussion,’ commented Maister Coventry, ‘since all the speakers are on the same side.’
In descending order of rank, Masters of Arts rose and delivered laboriously constructed speeches agreeing with the propositions already put forward. The youngest students, the bejants, became restless. Gil was aware of his stomach rumbling. Two rows in front of him, the red-haired alto appeared to be writing in his wax tablets, to judge by the cupped left hand just visible round his faded blue shoulder. Taking notes? Gil wondered.
‘I want my dinner,’ said Nick Kennedy, waking. ‘Where have we got to? Oh, it’s the magistrand. Not long now.’ He paused to listen to the raw-boned fourth-year student who was drawing a somewhat repetitious parallel between the care of a mother for her sons and that of the Faculty for its students, and turned to Gil. ‘Is that what it’s been about?’ he asked in sudden dismay. ‘The college as mother?’ Gil nodded. ‘Oh, fient hae it!’
‘What ails you, Nick?’ asked Maister Coventry across Gil.
‘The Dean has probably stolen all our best lines,’ said Maister Kennedy gloomily. ‘You’ll see. It’s too close by far to the theme of our play.’
‘Sh!’ said Maister Coventry. ‘I want to hear Lowrie Livingstone. He will speak next.’
The fourth-year student sat down, to applause from his peers and teachers. The younger students were fidgeting audibly now. A fair boy two rows from the front began to gather himself together to rise to his feet, but before he could do so the red-haired alto stood up and said in clear and fluent Latin, ‘Teachers, masters, brothers, I have a question to ask.’
Heads turned. The fair boy dropped back on to his bench, mouth open. Gil, looking at the senior members of Faculty seated in the stall-seats on either side of the pulpit, saw David Gray freeze like a hare that hears a dog.
‘Then ask, William,’ said the Dean. William bowed gracefully.
‘This is my question,’ he said. ‘We are taught to regard the college as our mother.’ The Dean inclined his head. ‘But what if one discovers that another of her sons is ill-using her?’
‘Make yourself clearer,’ directed the Dean after a moment.
‘What if another of the college’s sons has misused her money,’ said William in that clearly enunciated Latin, ‘or has inculcated heretical beliefs in her students?’
There was a sudden murmur of scandalized exclamation. The Dean, lifting his voice over it, said, ‘If one were to suspect such terrible and painful things of another member of the college, he should go quietly and reveal his suspicions to the Principal of the college, who would set due enquiry in motion.’ He fixed William with his eye. ‘Does that answer your question?’
‘But what if,’ persisted William, ‘the Principal is not impartial in the matter? To whom should one go then?’
‘What is the little toad up to now?’ asked Nick Kennedy.
‘He should go to the Rector,’ said the Dean, his manner cooling with every word, ‘when those are separate persons. If they are the same person, as for instance just now, then he should go to the Chancellor of the University, that is to Robert our Archbishop. However I must point out that one who brought such serious allegations against a fellow scholar without a firm foundation of truth would be guilty of perjury, being in clear breach of his oath of allegiance to the Rector and to the college.’ There was a crackle of ice in his voice. ‘Does that answer your question?’
‘It answers it,’ said William, allowing a shred of doubt to creep in.
‘Then let us continue,’ said the Dean.Chapter Two
‘But what was he playing at?’ Gil asked, as the procession entered the Fore Hall for the feast.
‘Who knows?’ Nick Kennedy, drawing Gil firmly to the table for the non-regent Masters, claimed two places and gestured at one. ‘Sit down. Indeed, who cares, except those who have to sit next to him?’
‘He is not popular?’ said Gil. He dipped his fingers in the faintly rose-scented bowl which a blue-gowned student was holding for him, and wiped them on the linen towel, nodding his thanks. He got an abbreviated bow in return, and looked again at the boy, reminded of William’s discourtesy at the yett. This was a different fellow, with darker hair springing from a wide brow, but the way he looked down his nose at Gil’s scrutiny was similar.
‘Depends who you speak to,’ said Maister Kennedy. He dabbled his fingers in his turn and wiped them on his cope. ‘I think he’s a clever arrogant little toad, but Bernard Stewart thinks the sun shines out of his – his ears, and the Dean says he’s one of our most promising students, though I think he wasn’t best pleased with him today. Aye, Robert,’ he added to the boy, who moved off, a gleam of amusement in his expression. Nick said roundly, ‘I don’t want to think about William. Tell me about Paris.’
Gil’s description of Paris drew in the Master of Arts opposite, who had been there shortly before Gil himself, and the Master on the end of the table, who had lectured there for a year. Nick listened in discontent until the college chaplain rose to deliver a very long grace in a strong, musical voice. Gil looked at him with some interest, recognizing the man whom William had accosted in the Outer Close. He was, as usual, a Dominican, wearing the robes of his order rather than an academic hood, but instead of the fair chubby man who had held the post in Gil’s time this was a dark, intense creature in his forties with sunken eyes and a mouthful of large teeth.
When the grace was over Nick said, ‘St Peter’s bones, how I wish I’d gone abroad when I had the chance. I wouldn’t be stuck here at the hinder end of nowhere teaching ungrateful brats to dissect syllogisms. What’s the library like at Paris?’
‘Do you mean the library of the Scots College?’ asked the man at the end of the table, whose name Gil had not caught. ‘Or the library of the Faculty of Arts? Or those of the Faculties of Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law?’
Maister Kennedy groaned, and hid his shaggy eyebrows with one hand as the first course of the feast was borne in. To some rather muffled music supplied by a group of students with recorders and lute, a pheasant in train was carried round to be admired, and a succession of mismatched plate and pewter went to the high table, where the Dean ceremoniously broke a loaf and placed it on the alms dish to be given to the poor. The student musicians, hastily tucking their instruments under a bench, armed themselves with long towels and wooden platters and waited to bear portions of freshly carved roast meats away from the impromptu servery midway down the long wall. Harassed servants carried in more dishes to set on the lower tables, one between four.
‘What have we got?’ said Maister Kennedy, sniffing. ‘Oh, God, rabbit and ground almonds. It’s the Almayne pottage again. Pass me the red comfits, Gil.’
Spooning indifferent stew, Gil studied the other guests at the feast. Behind him across the hall another table surrounded by non-regent Masters buzzed happily. At the far end, two tables of students produced an astonishing level of noise and, as the ale-jug went round, a continuous flight of bread pellets like finches in a hedgerow. By the servery the ubiquitous William was in close colloquy with the fingerbowl boy. As Gil’s eye fell on them, Maister Shaw the Steward bustled up. William sauntered off to join the singers, and the other student, accepting an obvious rebuke with gritted teeth, seized a dish and ladle and plunged across the hall towards the high table.
Not a pleasant young man, little Sir William, Gil thought.
On the dais, in front of painted hangings from the Beadle’s supply, the Faculty office-bearers and regents were ranged along one side of the elaborately draped board as if they were people in a prayer-book miniature, conversing politely or glaring at the students, as prompted by temperament. The Dean and Maister Doby were instructing the Steward; David Gray the Scribe was staring into a flan dish as if he could see the flames of Hell among the points of pastry which decorated it. Next to him was old Tommy Forsyth, and then Patrick Coventry, putting out a steadying hand as a ladleful of bright yellow stew slopped alarmingly near to Maister Forsyth’s fur-lined cope.
‘Where will the play be?’ he asked Maister Kennedy, who took another handful of the cinnamon comfits and said gloomily,
‘Below in the Lang Schule. There’ll be yet another procession, round the yard and in at the door. I hope they’re setting up the hangings for us now. I’ll need to go and see to that before the second course is done.’
‘Did you write it?’
Nick nodded. ‘I and two of the older boys. There’s been some friction,’ he added grimly. ‘William has improvements to suggest every time he opens his mouth, but since they all enlarge his part, which is already large, at the expense of others I didn’t take many. Had it not been made clear to me that it was expected he would take part,’ he added, the passive verb forms falling neatly in the Latin, ‘the little toad would have been booted out the second time he criticized someone else’s acting.’
‘The same William? The lanky redhead who hinted about peculation and heresy? The one with the striking alto voice?’
‘The Dean,’ remarked the man on the end of the table, ‘asked us to put these painful ideas from our minds for the sake of the feast.’
‘The same,’ agreed Nick, ignoring this.
‘He greeted me when I arrived,’ Gil said thoughtfully. ‘He was very civil until he found I was a Cunningham.’
‘Oh, very likely. St Peter be praised, Bernard has a better ear than I for a tune. We’ve split the entertainment between us – I did the play, he did the music – and it meant neither of us had to deal with William the whole time.’ He turned his head. ‘Oh, God, talk of the devil. They’re going to sing for us. That’s Bernard giving out the beat. His mother’s a cousin of the Lennox Stewarts and his father was one of the French branch of the family. Been here two years, I think, or maybe it’s three. You know how they move around, all the friars, from one house to another.’
‘A learned man,’ said the man at the end of the table. ‘He does most of the teaching in Theology.’
Gil twisted round to look. The gangling William was at the centre of the hall, flanked by the fair-haired boy whose speech he had interrupted, and the boy for whom he had just earned a scolding by distracting him. Two more students joined the group, and under the intense direction of the Dominican chaplain the five young voices rose in praise of music.
‘That’s David Ross,’ said Nick in Gil’s ear, ‘the treble. He and his brother lodge with the Principal. They’re far too young really, but we have to keep the Rosses sweet after what happened to whatsisname. You know he’s teaching in the Sentences here? There he is at the other table.’
Gil nodded. The story of Robert Ross, blinded in one eye by a flung cabbage stalk, and the resulting parental wrath, was known to most graduates of the college.
‘And the second alto is a Montgomery,’ continued Nick, ‘in case you were thinking of being civil to him.’
‘Oh, is that his trouble? We’re supposed to be at peace,’ Gil rejoined. ‘It must be six months at least since there was any difficulty. William isn’t an ensemble singer, is he?’
Nick winced as the mellifluous tones floated high in the climax of the piece, twining round the treble, making it sound slightly flat.
‘You wouldn’t expect him to be,’ he pointed out. William, ignoring the spatter of applause, strolled away from the group and out of the hall. Gil glanced at the high table and found that David Gray was staring with dislike after the narrow departing back in its blue gown.The subcharge of the service is bot sair, he thought. There was a man who was not enjoying the feast.
The remaining singers rearranged themselves, and the Dominican gave out a new beat.
‘When’s the harper?’ asked the man who had taught in Paris. ‘I missed a good Scots harper in France. The style is quite different.’
‘What harper is it?’ Gil asked.
‘The man that stays in the Fishergait will come in after the play,’ Nick said. ‘Now what? Oh, bloody Machaut. I really would as soon not eat my dinner to Machaut. I’m going to see if the players are dressed yet. Bernard lectures in the Theology Schule two hours after noon, so if we overrun we’ll have to finish the music without him. Will you risk the second course, Gil, or will you give me a hand? We’re dressing in the Bachelors’ Schule.’
The smaller lecture-room was occupied by a panicky, half-dressed group, jostling for a sight of the mirror and shouting in bad Latin about costumes and properties. Nick was promptly besieged by several people at once. Gil waited quietly, looking about him. A heap of canvas painted with scales lay on a bench, and beside it a bundle of brocade and gauze suggested women’s costumes. Across the room the westward windows showed the near houses on the High Street, with the roof of the Greyfriars church beyond, and dark clouds still piling up above them. It seemed likely that the May sunshine would shortly give way to yet another vicious May shower.
Over by the lecturer’s pulpit, William was apparently hearing the lines of a younger boy whose shaggy hair had probably last been cut by his mother when she saw him in September. As Gil watched, William shook his own well-barbered head and with a superior smile clouted the other boy round the ear, wadded up his script and reached up to put it on top of the soundboard of the pulpit. Ignoring his victim’s despairing pleas, he walked away across the room, taking something from his purse as he went. Maister Kennedy, looking about him, caught sight of the younger boy standing by the pulpit.
‘Gil! You were in the entertainment in our time. Can you take Richie through his part for me? And see him costumed?’
‘What, now?’ said Gil in astonishment.
‘Aye, now! He needs a last run-through. William was just hearing him, but he has to go and sing again. Richie, come here, you imbecile. Why I cast you as a Scholar I’ll never know. Get along with Maister Cunningham. Where’s your script? And your book?’
‘William put them up yonder, Maister Kennedy,’ said Richie, almost weeping with anxiety. ‘I canny reach them!’
‘Speak Latin, fool! Maister Cunningham can reach them, I’ve no doubt.’
Gil crossed to the pulpit, and put a hand up on to the soundboard to bring down a bundle of papers.
‘Is it all here?’ he asked Richie, brushing clumps of dust off the creased margins.
The boy nodded, gulping with relief. ‘That’s my script, maister. But there’s still the brown book. It’s what I tak to show I’m a student.’
He pushed dark hair out of his eyes in a nervous gesture, and peered hopefully up at the soundboard. Gil put a toe on the seat of the lecturer’s bench and swung himself up to look. There were not one but two books up there, bright on top of decades of dust. He reached for them and jumped down, handing them to Richie.
‘This one’s mine, maister. I dinna ken that wee red one, it’s maybe someone else’s.’
‘Nick? Is this yours?’ Gil held the book out.
‘I don’t know whose it is.’ Maister Kennedy gave the book a brief glance, tucked it in the breast of his cassock and turned away. ‘Michael, how can you be a daughter of anybody with a face like that? Scrub it off and try again.’
Gil took his pupil into a corner, sorted out the bundle of papers and gave the boy his first prompt. It soon became apparent why Richie was worried; he was nowhere near word-perfect in the badly rhymed Latin couplets and had only the vaguest of ideas about his cues. Gil stared at him in bafflement.
‘Why haven’t you learned it?’ he asked. ‘In my day it was an honour to be in the play, and earned favours from the Dean. I was let off two disputations for my last part, it had so many lines.’
‘Don’t know,’ said Richie, reddening. ‘I thought it would be easy. I mean . . .’ He fell silent.
Gil, in some sympathy, said, ‘Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now. Why don’t you carry the script in your book and read it, as if you’re reading Aristotle or Euclid?’
Richie gaped at him as if experiencing an epiphany.
‘D’you think Maister Kennedy would let me?’
‘I should think he’d let you do anything that saved the play,’ Gil assured him.
‘Richie! Are you costumed yet!’ shouted Nick across the room. ‘The singing’s finished, we’re on next. Now have you all got that clear? We’re cutting the scene with Frivolity and going straight to where Idleness enters. Yes, I know, Henry, but you’ve only yourself to blame, you know even less of your lines than Richie here. Walter and Andrew, you will get that padding out or I will personally remove it and stuff it up –’
‘I know Henry’s lines.’ William was by the door, supercilious under a gold brocade turban.
‘You can’t take three parts, William. And we’re doing the first version of your fight, is that clear?’ Nick pursued, ignoring the red-haired boy’s expression. ‘The first version, not the one with the long speeches.’
‘It’s a paltry little play anyway,’ William objected in his fluent Latin, the disdainful expression ever more marked. ‘It would be an act of destruction to omit the best speeches.’
‘I will not argue,’ Nick said in the same language. ‘I am in charge of the play. You heard my instructions, William. Right, are we ready? Let’s go, before the bejants start a riot.’
Gil paused to snuff the candles by the mirror, and followed the company out into the courtyard and along the west range, past the tunnel that led to the yett and into the Lang Schule. The lecture-room had been transformed since the Faculty meeting, and was now hung with painted cloths. Cushioned settles had been placed for the older members and long benches arranged round a stage set off by a suit of worn verdure tapestries which Gil recollected from the Principal’s house in his day. The Masters and senior students were all deep in conversation, as befitted their dignity, but on the side benches the younger bachelors and the bejants, the first-year students, were becoming restless. Slipping in at the side, Gil found himself a seat beside Maister Coventry, who nodded at him.
‘I see you survived the feast.’
‘I avoided most of it,’ Gil confessed. ‘I’ve been helping at the play.’
‘Probably safer. And what is Nick giving us? Some kind of allegory, as usual?’
Nick Kennedy, in a grey wig and gold cloak, stepped on to the stage from among the tapestries, bowed to the Dean and Principal and the rest of the audience, and in the usual deprecatory Latin announced that this rough play and its limping metre would depict an allegory of the student’s life. The regents and Masters applauded, the students groaned, Nick bowed again and left the stage, and there was a long pause, and some hissing whispers behind the tapestry. Then Richie emerged, stumbling slightly as if pushed, and launched abruptly into a halting account of how as a Scholar he had been nurtured at a grammar school on the milk of Latin and rhetoric but was now of an age to wish for stronger food. He followed the words with his finger in his bundle of papers, and spoke in the curious accent affected by Lanarkshire youth on a stage.
To him entered the gangling William, wearing the gold cloak and turban and introducing himself as Fortune, and in a long speech invited the Scholar to accompany him through the world, promising to lead him to a banquet of the richest food an enquiring mind could wish for. Their journey round the stage was marred by a tendency for the students on the side benches to tramp with their feet in time with the scholarly steps, until the Dean’s chilly stare took effect.
‘There are only eight bejants,’ said Patrick Coventry, ‘and two are in the play. How can six boys of fourteen be so wild to handle?’
‘Because they’re boys of fourteen?’ Gil suggested.
Maister Coventry’s reply was drowned by whistling and stamping. The Scholar and Fortune had encountered a bevy of veiled ladies, at least one of whom had not obeyed Maister Kennedy’s directions about the padding. The Dean deployed his stare again, and in the relative silence Fortune declared that these were Dame Collegia and her daughters, among whom were Learning, Wisdom and Knowledge. Learning and Wisdom looked under their eyebrows at their friends, but Knowledge struck a provocative pose and grinned, displaying several missing teeth, as Fortune informed the Scholar that if he were wedded to one of these damsels he would become one of the Dame’s children himself, and would never lack for the finest fare.
The Dame and her daughters sang a motet in praise of the scholarly life, the beat given by Bernard Stewart from the edge of the stage. Gil recognized the music; he hoped that nobody else was familiar with the original words, but Patrick Coventry beside him muttered, ‘Dear me.’
The Scholar appeared about to succumb to one or all of these beauties, but William, who had left the stage, re-entered in a linen headdress, dragging two startled boys with him and declaring himself to be Dame Frivolity with her servants Gambling and Drunkenness. Collegia and her daughters, with shocked gestures, left.
‘They were going to cut this,’ Gil said, as startled as Frivolity’s henchmen.
‘A last-minute change?’
‘The cut was a last-minute change itself.’
Overcoming the Scholar’s reluctance, Frivolity enticed him into a game of dice while the goblet went round, then departed. The side benches, who appeared to know what was coming, began whistling again. The Scholar, pushing his hair out of his eyes, read out that he had lost all his money, and just as he seemed about to fall into a drunken stupor, a fearsome dragon rushed onstage. The bejants cheered.
‘When did we get the costume?’ Gil asked, as the monster rampaged about, threatening the front rows of the audience and making an attempt on the Dean’s silk gown.
‘In ’89, I think,’ said Maister Coventry. ‘It was a gift from a student’s family. We have to make use of it, of course. It barely fits William, as tall as he is. Have you noticed the weather?’
Gil looked up at the tall window. The dark clouds were much closer, and a shutter was banging on an upper floor of the house immediately opposite.
‘Any of the bejants admit to being afraid of thunder?’ he asked. The regent shook his head.
The dragon was now making a lengthy speech in which it identified itself as Idleness and threatened to consume the Scholar utterly. The Scholar made futile efforts to escape, clutching his script, while Gambling and Drunkenness refused to help, but nothing availed until a sturdy knight with a wooden sword and well-polished shield tramped on. Pausing only to announce himself as Diligence, the enemy of Idleness and the support and defence of scholars everywhere, he attacked the dragon, which fought back furiously. Dame Collegia and her daughters returned to cheer the knight on. From time to time one or the other combatant broke off to address the audience at length, until the noise from the side benches became too much and the dragon attacked them instead.
‘That was a mistake,’ said Maister Coventry. Leaning forward he laid firm hands on the two students nearest him, but those beyond had already leapt to their feet and begun baiting the dragon with enthusiasm. The boys from the other side bench rushed across the room and joined in, tugging at the dragon’s tail, and as the canvas tore Dean Elphinstone rose to his feet.
‘Tacete!’ he said, in a voice like the crack of a whip.
All movement was suspended. The Dean held the moment; that icy stare swept the room, and returned to Diligence, who swallowed hard and brought sword to shield in a salute. Finally the Dean bowed.
‘Pray continue, Sir Diligence,’ he said politely, and seated himself again.
The students slunk back to their seats; the dragon gathered up its damaged tail and regained the stage. Diligence, overcoming it with a perfunctory sweep of his sword, turned to raise the Scholar to his feet. As Dame Collegia and her daughters came forward to discuss the Scholar’s marriage, William removed the dragon’s head and stalked off behind the tapestries, and Gil heard the first rumble of thunder.
The Scholar’s marriage arrangements were much more quickly dealt with than Gil felt to be realistic. All present attempted a motet, praising diligence and condemning idleness, and as soon as it was finished the chaplain slipped out of the hall with an anxious expression, presumably to prepare for his lecture to the theologians. Nick reappeared to say that the play was over and the players hoped it had given pleasure. The place where he had cut the line hoping it had not given offence was barely noticeable. Gil, eyeing his friend, felt that this was a man who needed to be plied with strong drink.
As the side benches began drumming their feet by way of applause and the senior members of the audience clapped politely, a few drops of rain rattled on the little greenish panes of the upper window. The students sitting below jumped up to close the shuttered lower portions. They were just in time; as the first turnbutton twirled home, a colossal peal of thunder crashed, and the skies opened.
‘Michty me, it’s the Deluge!’ said someone.
‘My Aristotle!’ said someone else, and dived for the door. A number of students followed him, including most of the cast of the play. The Dean and Principal watched in disapproval.
‘The roofs are no sounder than they ever were?’ Gil said to his neighbour.
‘Well, no,’ said Maister Coventry frankly. ‘I’ve spent a bishop’s ransom on thatching the Arthurlie building next door, so it’s weathertight for now, but neither Law nor Theology can spare money for the roof of the main building, and Dean Elphinstone won’t lay out Arts Faculty money without at least the promise that they’ll match it. So the boys in the Inner Close run about with buckets when it rains, and their books and their bedding get spoiled, and then their parents complain to the Principal. It’s quite an inconvenience, Maister Cunningham.’
‘The building is old,’ Gil observed. ‘It was not new when Lord Hamilton gave it to the college, and that was before I was born. Maybe another rich benefactor will appear from the sky and solve all your problems.’
‘All that appears from the sky is water.’ Maister Coventry stared at the rain running down the window. ‘The end of the feast is in the Fore Hall, we only have to go outside and up the stair, save those of us who wish to find the privy, but I imagine the Dean will wish to stay seated until this stops. His bladder must be cast iron.’ He looked up. ‘Ah, Nick. Well done.’
Maister Kennedy, without the grey wig, sat down at Gil’s other side, snarling.
‘I will strangle that little toad,’ he said emphatically. ‘You saw him, Patey He actually took Henry’s kurtch off him and went on as Frivolity, after what I said. And he deliberately did the second version of the fight, and he –’
‘Perhaps he was nervous,’ Gil suggested, ‘and simply forgot your directions.’
‘Nervous? That? Don’t make me laugh. I’ll strangle him, I will, as soon as I set eyes on him.’
‘Is he not backstage?’ asked Patrick Coventry.
‘No, he is not. You saw him go – he should have been onstage for the motet, they needed his top line, but no, William was offended, William left.’ His fingers worked. ‘By God, the little –’
‘Nick.’ Maister Coventry reached across to touch his arm. ‘This is not the place.’
‘In fact I’d better not strangle him yet,’ Maister Kennedy admitted. ‘The Dean has to grant favours to the cast, including William, I suppose. Oh, God, how I wish this day was over!’
‘Amen to that,’ agreed the Second Regent. ‘See, I think the rain has eased a little, and the Dean is signalling to the Beadle. Perhaps we can leave these hard benches and go back up to finish the feast and listen to the harper.’
‘They’ll all go and stand in line out the back,’ said Maister Kennedy sourly. ‘I vote we make for the Arthurlie garden. You too, Gil?’
By the time the Faculty reassembled in the Fore Hall the tables had been taken down and the benches disposed in less formal ranks, and the students who had been at the feast had seized the opportunity to absent themselves. One or two junior bachelors remained, their white towels of office by now somewhat spattered, to hand platters of sweetmeats and the two silver quaichs full of spiced wine. In a corner the cast of the play, restored to their belted gowns, greasepaint smudged round eyes and mouths, were gathering round one of the dishes of sweetmeats. Maister Kennedy annexed another, and sat down against the wall as the Faculty members continued to straggle into the hall.
‘Here comes the harper,’ he said in some satisfaction. ‘Mind you, he only has one of his singers with him.’
‘This one is his sister. The other one died,’ said Gil, watching the Steward conduct two tall Highlanders into the hall. The woman paced like a queen in her loose checked gown; her dark hair tumbled down her back, the threads of silver in it invisible in this light. In one arm she cradled a wire-strung harp. The man who held her other arm was nearly as tall as Gil. He wore a gown of blue velvet, with a gold chain disposed on his shoulders, beard and hair combed over it as white as new milk. ‘Less than a fortnight ago,’ he added. ‘This may be the first time they have performed in public since.’
Although the hall was full of conversation, the harper’s head tilted. He spoke to his sister, who looked round, and met Gil’s eye. She nodded briefly to him, unsmiling, and continued in the wake of the Steward to the place set for them near the senior members of the Faculty. The Dean began a formal welcome to Angus McIan, harper, and Elizabeth McIan, singer, and Gil reflected that he scarcely recognized Ealasaidh by the Scots form of her name.
‘Oh, was that the business I was hearing about?’ Nick passed the sweetmeats across Gil to Maister Coventry, ignoring the Dean’s stately comments. ‘Picked up dead in the Fergus Aisle, wasn’t she? And the mason’s boy did it? Who was she, anyway?’
‘The mason’s boy did not,’ said Gil. ‘She was John Sempill’s wife. You remember John at the Grammar School?’
‘Aye.’ Nick chewed on a wedge of candied apricot. ‘Ill-tempered brute. Did he do it, then?’
‘Hush and listen,’ said Maister Coventry. ‘How can I silence the students if you talk so much?’
Nick grinned, and leaned back against the wall. The harper had begun a tuning-prelude, the sweeping ripples of sound ringing round the hall while he listened critically to the pitch of the notes. He worked his way from the lowest notes to the highest and back, then stilled the strings with the flat of his hand, threw a remark in Gaelic to his sister, and began to play. To Gil’s surprise the singer remained silent, while the harp spun a skein of heavy, solemn melody and counter-melody, almost painful to listen to. Though the harper’s long hands moved smoothly over the shining wires, across the width of the hall Gil saw the tremor in arm and jaw. What ails McIan? he wondered.
‘That’s not music for a feast,’ Nick muttered beside him. ‘What’s he playing?’
‘A lament,’ said Maister Coventry. ‘Did you catch what he said to the woman?’
‘I don’t speak Ersche,’ said Gil, and Nick shook his head.
‘He said,There is death in the hall.’
‘It’s the thunder,’ said Nick decidedly, but Gil felt a shiver run down his back. The slow, weighty tune wound to its end, and after urgent representations by the Steward the woman rose to her feet and began to recite one of the gloomier portions of the history of Wallace. The Steward, shaking his head, approached Nick.
‘Maister Kennedy,’ he said, bowing, ‘the Dean wishes to offer some reward to the players after the harper is finished. I am to direct you to assemble them at that time.’
Nick pulled a face, but replied politely enough. John Shaw went off to harass the students with the spiced wine, and Maister Coventry said, ‘Do you need a collie-dog? Are they all here?’
‘Mostly.’ Nick got to his feet. ‘Richie, Henry, Michael, there’s Walter – who’s missing?’
‘William,’ said Gil, who had been watching the cast drifting in.
‘You’re right,’ said Nick after a moment. ‘He’ll be sulking in the privy after his costume got torn. Well, I’m not going to look for him. He’ll turn up at the last moment like a clipped plack, he always does when there’s something in it for him.’
‘I’ll send John Hucheson,’ offered Maister Coventry.
‘I wouldn’t offend John by asking him.’ Nick looked around, catching the eye of several of the cast. ‘William can look out for himself.’
Wallace eventually reached the end of a chapter, and the harper’s sister sat down, to some applause. The Dean raised his hand, and the Steward, standing to one side, summoned the players in ringing tones. As Maister Kennedy and his group progressed formally up the length of the hall, Gil found Ealasaidh McIan at his side.
‘Himself wishes me to warn you,’ she said without preamble. ‘There is death in this place, and more than death. He felt it as soon as we came here.’
‘More than death?’ Gil questioned involuntarily.
‘Strangling and secrecy,’ she said. ‘Many secrets.’
‘Is it someone in this hall?’ asked Patrick Coventry at her other side.
She turned to look down at him, shaking her head. ‘I am not the one with the sight. You must be asking himself that.’
‘Where is William?’ said the Dean loudly. ‘He must be sought for.’
With the words the harper rose, blank eyes wide, his instrument clasped in one arm, and flung the other hand high with an exclamation in Gaelic that set the brass strings ringing. The Steward and the Dean, arrested in movement, stared at him, as did nearly everyone else in the hall, but his sister hurried to his side. Maister Coventry stepped forward and together they shepherded the tall figure to the side of the hall, answering him in Gaelic as they went. Gil dragged a bench forward and the harper was thrust on to it, his sister scolding him in a hissing whisper.
‘Where is Maister Cunningham?’ he asked, putting out his free hand in its furred velvet sleeve.
‘I am here,’ said Gil, alarmed, and grasped the hand. This man was a professional musician and habitually more dignified than the Archbishop. What had shaken him to this extent? He was speaking in Gaelic again, urgent jerky sentences.
‘The one the Dean asks for,’ Patrick Coventry translated softly, ‘is in the dark, behind an iron lock, and he is no longer living.’Chapter Three
‘What does he say?’ demanded Dean Elphinstone from the dais. There was a sudden buzz of sound as those nearest, who had heard, informed those who had not.
‘Haivers!’ said the boy who had played Knowledge. ‘Not our William!’
‘Speak Latin, Walter,’ said the Principal automatically.
‘Quid est Latinus prohaivers?’ muttered Walter.
‘How can he ken that?’ the Dean pursued in Scots. ‘Maister Harper, what gars ye –’
‘I am a harper,’ said Angus McIan. ‘It is given to me.’
‘Aye, well, so was old Rory MacDuff a harper when I was a bairn,’ said the Dean, ‘and he didny take these strunts.’
‘Best you look for the one who is missing,’ said Ealasaidh urgently to Gil. ‘Himself will not be right till the daylight reaches the dead man.’
‘It came to him,’ said Gil to a nodding Maister Coventry, ‘when the Dean asked where was William. Moreover the Dean has already said –’
‘Maister Kennedy,’ said the Dean, cutting across the rising noise in the hall. ‘Rehearse to us the names of those who took part in this play, edifying and entertaining us with well-turned verse and golden precept.’ He looked, Gil thought, as if the balanced phrases tasted sour.
Nick, stumbling slightly over the Latin forms of the surnames, listed his cast and the roles they had performed, deprecating the play and commending the players who had learned their parts, identifying William last as Fortune and the dragon Idleness. From time to time he glanced at the door, as if he expected the missing boy to appear round it at any moment. The Dean replied in another elaborate speech, promising each of the cast by name some academic exemption or dispensation as a reward for hard work. At the end of the dais, David Gray scribbled notes, prodding at the wax in his tablet with jerky movements. Gil, watching him, thought he looked dazed, and wondered how accurate the final list would be.
The boy who had played Collegia was pushed forward, and in bleating Latin produced a short but formal acknowledgement of the favours granted in return for this poor entertainment, so ably supervised by their well-loved teacher Maister Kennedy.
‘And now William Irvine is to be sought for. His reward will be granted when he is present.’
‘Now, Dean?’ said Nick.
‘Now. I wish to speak to him.’
The well-loved teacher clapped his hands at the cast.
‘Find William, then!’ he said. ‘Hurry! You know the kind of places to look.’
Gil disengaged his hand from the harper’s with a quiet word, and went forward to join Nick as the students made for the door. On the dais, the senior members of the Faculty were watching in varying degrees of disapproval; around the hall, now that the harper had stopped providing entertainment, the sweetmeats and spiced wine were circulating again.
‘If he is not in his chamber,’ said Patrick Coventry at Nick’s other elbow, ‘nor in the library, then are there likely spots to search or do we comb the entire college?’
‘Yes,’ said Maister Kennedy, following the group of students. ‘It’s one of the things I dislike about him,’ he added, pausing on the steps outside. ‘He crops up everywhere, like columbine-weed, whether he has any business to be there or not. Henry, Walter!’ he called. ‘Go and check William’s chamber. Andrew and Ralph, see if the library is unlocked and if so whether he is there. Ninian, Lowrie, Michael –’
‘I thought we’d search the Inner Close, Maister Kennedy,’ said the yellow-haired tenor, a lanky youth just beginning to broaden at the shoulders, ‘and see if he’s troubling the kitchens as well.’
‘Very good, Lowrie. You do that. Robert Montgomery, Richie Shaw, you search the Inner Close as well.’
‘Please, Maister Kennedy.’ The treble from the singing group put his hand up, snapping his fingers like a schoolboy. ‘What will David and me do?’
‘You and your brother may run to the Arthurlie building,’ said Maister Coventry promptly, ‘and ask anyone you meet there whether William Irvine has been seen.’
‘And come back and report to me here,’ said Nick as the boys scattered across the wet flagstones.
Gil made his way down the steps. Patrick Coventry followed him, saying thoughtfully, ‘Why the kitchens?’
‘I wondered that,’ said Gil. ‘I noticed those three come back together after the rain started, and one of them is lacking his belt.’
He headed for the vaulted tunnel which led between the silent Law lecture-rooms and into the inner courtyard, Maister Coventry behind him. As they emerged into the daylight, shouting erupted in the kitchens at the far side of the courtyard. Gil, hitching up cope and cassock, quickened his pace, and sprang up the kitchen stair in time to meet the tenor and his two friends, retreating backwards from a gaunt woman enveloped in a sacking apron.
‘And stay out of my kitchen!’ she ordered shrilly, with a threatening sweep of her ladle.
‘I’m sorry, Agnes,’ said one of the boys, the fineboned mousy-haired one. ‘We didny mean to annoy you –’
‘Annoy me, he says! Three great louts under my feet asking daft questions – get out of my way, and don’t let me set eyes on you this week!’
‘Agnes Dickson,’ said Gil from behind the students. One of them turned to look at him, and the cook paused open-mouthed. ‘I knew you were still cook here as soon as I saw the Almayne pottage,’ Gil pursued, with perfect truth. ‘I’ve tasted nothing like it since I left the college.’
‘Oh, it’s you,’ said Mistress Dickson, less shrill but still hostile. ‘Is this lot anything to do with you? Getting in my way when I’m short-handed, with the rest of the college still to feed, and half the dishes up in the Fore Hall. They should know better by their age.’
‘Senior bachelors are always a trial,’ said Gil sympathetically. ‘We’ve lost one –’
‘He’s a junior,’ said the mousy-haired boy quickly.
‘Have you seen William Irvine, Agnes?’
‘I have not, the saints be praised. I can’t be doing with that laddie, aye on my back about the cost of this and that and who’s getting extra food at the buttery door. Away and look for him elsewhere. And you, Gil Cunningham, come back when I’m less taigled and tell me if your minnie likes your marriage.’
She brandished the ladle again, and the three senior bachelors slid past Gil and thudded down the stairs. Gil took off his bonnet and bowed, but Mistress Dickson was already retreating into her kitchen where someone demanded to know if he had pounded these roots enough. Gil descended to the courtyard, where the tenor and the mousy-haired boy were making exaggerated gestures of relief.
‘Thank you, maister,’ said the third student, a stocky fellow with a round red face. ‘Agnes can be a bit –’
‘She can indeed,’ Gil said. Beyond Maister Coventry, Richie the Scholar and the Montgomery boy appeared from one stair and disappeared into another, like rabbits in a warren.
‘Did the harper no say William was behind a lock?’ asked Lowrie the tenor. ‘Why don’t we check the cellars while we’re here?’
Gil met Patrick Coventry’s blue glance.
‘But have we a key?’
‘I have one,’ said Maister Coventry. The three students had already plunged into the vaulted passage behind the kitchen stair, and were trying doors.
‘Not in the wellhouse. Look in the feed store, Michael.’
‘William? You there? No, not a sign.’
‘Not in the feed store. What about the limehouse?’
‘The door’s open. Didn’t we – shouldn’t it be barred?’
‘St Eloi’s hammer, it’s dark in here. He’s no here.’
‘He’s no here?’ repeated the tenor, on a rising note of incredulity.
‘Don’t think so. Fiend hae these sacks –’
‘Don’t lick your fingers, you fool! Try that corner.’
‘No, he’s no here.’
‘Should we look in the coalhouse?’
‘Aye, try the coalhouse.’
‘But we left him –’
‘Wheesht, you gormless –’
‘The coalhouse is locked.’
‘Isn’t it always locked?’
‘No in the daytime. The kitchen needs in to get coals for the dinner.’
‘It’s locked now. William? You there?’
‘Stand back, please.’
Maister Coventry, after some ferreting under his brocade cope, had produced a large key. As two more students came running across the courtyard he fitted it into the coalhouse lock and turned it. The door swung outwards, boxing the three senior bachelors into the dark passage beyond it.
‘He’s no in the library,’ said someone behind Gil, ‘and John Hucheson says he’s no been there, and Walter says his chamber door’s locked.’
‘Speak Latin, Ralph,’ said Maister Coventry, ‘and stand back out of the light. William?’ He peered into the coalhouse. ‘William?’
‘What is it? Have we found him?’ said someone else from the courtyard.
Gil, looking over Maister Coventry’s head, shaded his eyes against the light from the courtyard, and suddenly turned to the students at the mouth of the passage.
‘Go and tell Maister Kennedy to come here,’ he ordered, ‘and bring a good lantern.’
‘You gentlemen too,’ said Maister Coventry, closing the door over so that the group beyond it could emerge. ‘Go and send Maister Kennedy, and then wait in the Outer Close.’
‘Why?’ said Lowrie. ‘Is William there? But how did he get in there?’
‘Is he – is he hurt?’ asked the mousy-haired one. The stocky boy said nothing, but stared at the door as he edged past it into the courtyard, then suddenly broke into a run. His friends galloped after him, and they went into the tunnel to the outer courtyard in a tight knot. Gil watched them out of sight, then reached over Patrick Coventry’s head and opened the door again.
‘Is it William?’ asked the Second Regent.
‘I think it must be.’ Gil stepped forward, cautious in the dim light. ‘Ah, there is a window.’ He unbarred the shutters and turned to look at what lay at the foot of the heap of coal, nearest the window, furthest from the door.
‘Lord have mercy on us,’ said Maister Coventry. ‘Are you certain? It doesn’t look like –’
Gil swallowed hard, suddenly regretting the Almayne pottage.
‘The clothes are William’s,’ he said, ‘and the build and the hair are William’s. He has been strangled, which is why he is unrecognizable. And look at this. Look what was used to strangle him.’
He bent to close the bulging eyes so far as was possible. The effect, if anything, was worse. Averting his gaze, he lifted the end of the leather strap which lay across the shoulder of the blue gown.
‘This is someone’s belt,’ he said.
‘The poor boy,’ said Maister Coventry.
‘There’s worse,’ said Gil, still peering at the body. ‘Look – his hands are bound.’
Producing a set of beads from his sleeve, Patrick Coventry bent his head and began the quick, familiar muttering of the prayers for the dead. Gil stepped past him and out of the coalhouse as the sound of hasty feet in the courtyard heralded Maister Kennedy.
‘Nick,’ he said.
‘Where is the boy? What’s come to him? Andrew and Ralph said –’
‘Nick, are you wearing any sort of belt?’
His friend stared at him, his mobile brows twitching.
‘My belt? No, as a matter of fact, I’m not. No room for a purse under this, and no need for one over it, in these robes.’
‘Do you have one? Where is it?’
‘In my chamber. Do you need it? What’s happened, Gil?’
‘William’s dead,’ said Gil bluntly. ‘He’s been strangled, with someone’s belt, and his hands are tied with another one. Whoever makes enquiry into this will be very interested in belts.’
Nick Kennedy looked from Gil, to Patrick Coventry still murmuring prayers, to the shadows in the coalhouse.
‘Christ aid,’ he said. ‘He will, won’t he. Let’s have a look.’
Gil slipped past the Second Regent and into the dim space again, positioning himself carefully away from the window. Nick, following him, checked visibly at the sight of the distorted face and lolling tongue.
‘Christ aid,’ he said again. ‘You wereny mistaken about the strangling. Well,’ he said to the indifferent corpse, ‘I’ve threatened to throttle you myself often enough, but I suppose I’m sorry now someone’s done it. Poor laddie. Should we no move him, Gil?’
‘William is certainly beyond aid,’ Gil pointed out. ‘There is little point in moving him, and I think we should notify the Dean and the Principal first. Moreover, this is clearly secret murder, and I know last time I viewed a body I could have done with seeing her where she died.’
Nick looked from the corpse to the shadowy heaps of coal and stacked wood.
‘If you say so,’ he said. ‘Well, I’d better tell them. Will you bide here or come with me?’
Gil, who had been giving some thought to exactly this question, said, ‘Would you say, Nick, we three have been within sight of one another the whole time, since the end of the play?’
Both men stared at him. Maister Coventry’s lips still moved, but Maister Kennedy’s mouth had fallen open. After a moment he recovered it.
‘St Peter’s bones,’ he said, without inflection. ‘Someone did this, didn’t they? And I threatened to throttle him. I swear by the Rood, Gil, I’ve never been so glad in my life to have taken a driddle in company. We were maybe not all three in sight of one another, but none of us could have got here from the Arthurlie garden with time to do this and be back before the other two noticed he’d gone.’
‘Maister Coventry,’ he said. The Second Regent raised his head. ‘I suggest you lock the door and let none past until the Dean and Maister Doby are here.’
The small man nodded, without interrupting his prayers, and followed them out of the coalhouse. Locking the door carefully, he stationed himself in front of it and took up his beads again as Gil and Nick set off across the courtyard.
The students who had formed the search party were at the foot of the stairs to the Fore Hall. The three senior bachelors were standing aside in a row, the stocky boy in the middle; two more were wrestling, some others kicking a stone about. As their seniors approached the games ceased.
‘Is it William, Maister Kennedy?’ said someone. ‘Is he hurt?’
‘Why was he in the coalhouse?’ asked someone else.
‘It is William,’ said Nick. ‘Yes, he is hurt. He is hurt bad.’
‘Will he die, maister?’ asked one of the two Ross boys, seated wide-eyed by his brother on the bottom step.
‘He is dead,’ said Nick.
‘Ninian!’ said Lowrie the tenor. ‘Catch him, Michael!’
Nick was already there as the stocky boy’s knees buckled. With Gil’s assistance he got the dead weight over to the stair and folded it up on to the bottom step beside the younger Ross, who scrambled out of the way, looking alarmed.
‘Loose his collar,’ recommended someone.
‘A key down his back.’
‘That’s for nosebleeds. Cold water on his neck.’
‘Be the first time in months,’ someone else muttered.
Maister Kennedy, ably thrusting Ninian’s head down, said, ‘I heard that, Walter. Maister Cunningham, can you go up and speak to the Dean and Principal? Michael, give a hand here. Lowrie, you know the prayers we should be saying for William. Will you begin, please?’
When Gil came down the stairs again, with the Dean and the Principal following him, the students were not visible, but the door to the Bachelors’ Schule was ajar, and a low hum of prayers floated out. Gil, reflecting on his uncle’s dictum that teachers are born, not made, led the way to the inner courtyard. Behind him, Maister Doby was still exclaiming distressfully.
‘I cannot believe it to be murder. Are you not mistaken, Gilbert, and it is merely some accident? And why should the boy be here, in the coalhouse? Oh, it is all deplorable.’
‘John,’ said the Dean in Scots, peering into the shadows at the body. ‘Haud yer wheesht.’ He stepped cautiously closer, holding his fine silk gown away from the gritty floor. ‘Aye, poor laddie. John, this is certainly murder.’
‘No a mischance?’
‘It canny be any kind of mischance,’ said Gil, understanding the anxious tone. ‘See, the buckle of the belt lies at the back of his neck. Somebody else did that to him, and did it deliberately.’
‘Aye. I see.’ Maister Doby bent his head, briefly.
Behind him in the vaulted passage, Patrick Coventry said suddenly, ‘Should we close the yett? Whoever did this may still be in the college.’
‘I asked the Steward to order it closed,’ Gil said. ‘But there is the Blackfriars gate, and the Arthurlie yett. The college is hardly secure.’
‘Well,’ said the Dean. He emerged from the coalhouse, and turned the key in the lock. ‘That puts paid to the Montgomery gift, I fear, John.’
‘I doubt you’re right, Patrick.’
‘We must inform the Faculty,’ continued the Dean, setting off across the courtyard with his black silk sleeves streaming behind him, ‘and our colleagues in Law and Theology. We must also inform the Chancellor.’
‘What, now?’ said Maister Doby, hurrying after him. The Dean glanced at him and paused thoughtfully.
‘You mean, I take it,’ he said, ‘that we should hesitate to disturb the Archbishop more often than strictly necessary.’
‘Aye. Forbye I think he’s at Stirling the now, with the King,’ added the Principal. ‘The messenger might as well wait till we’ve something better to send.’
‘Aye,’ said Dean Elphinstone in his turn. He looked at the key in his hand. ‘Whose is this?’
‘It is mine,’ said Maister Coventry.
In the Fore Hall, most of the Masters who had been present at the feast still sat talking. The harper was playing quietly, cups of spiced wine were still circulating, but the sweetmeats appeared to be finished. As the Dean appeared, conversation faltered, and those who followed him walked into a spreading silence. Behind Gil, Maister Kennedy and the cast of the play entered and clustered in a knot by the door. The young man Ninian looked ill but seemed in control of himself, his friends on either side of him. Another boy had certainly been weeping; even the gap-toothed Walter seemed subdued.
The Dean stepped on to the dais and nodded significantly to John Shaw the Steward, who took up position in front of him and thumped his great staff three times on the floor to attract attention.
‘Silence for the Dean,’ he commanded unnecessarily, bowed and stepped aside. The Dean’s blue gaze swept the hall. Gil moved back against the wall and watched the faces. Old Tommy Forsyth, anxious beneath his felt cap. David Gray still in his dazed state, with a faint dawning of – was it relief? Archie Crawford, the Faculty’s blue-jowled man of law, frowning critically. The harper and his sister, intent and concerned, the harper’s strange mood dissipated as his sister had predicted now that the body had been found.
‘Horribile dictu,’began the Dean, and Gil, despite himself, felt a twinge of amusement. The phrase was used as an example in grammar schools all over the educated world, and he had never thought to hear it spoken in earnest. But what the Dean was recounting in his measured Latin was indeed horrible to relate.
In the buzz of shocked conversation which greeted the announcement, Maister Forsyth rose from his seat and bowed formally.
‘Dean,’ he said. ‘This is a dreadful thing which has happened.’ Many people nodded agreement. ‘Nevertheless, it is a deed committed by human hand. It is incumbent upon us to find the perpetrator and render justice to our dead fellow. The Faculty must act, and soon, to name one or more people to be responsible for this solemn duty.’
Maister Crawford rose in his turn, to stand small and neat staring across the width of the dais at the Dean.
‘Is it not rather,’ he began, ‘the duty of the Faculty to report this deplorable deed to the Chancellor, Robert our Archbishop? This having been done, he may consider the facts and name some one of our number to bequaestor.’
‘He’s feart the Faculty would pick him,’ said Patrick Coventry in Scots at Gil’s side.
‘You can tell,’ agreed Gil, grinning.
Maister Doby was explaining that the Chancellor was in Stirling with the King when he was interrupted.
‘Magistri, scholastici.’McIan had risen to his feet. ‘I ask leave to speak. There is one here,’ he continued without waiting for permission, his Highland accent very strong, ‘has won justice already for the woman dear to me, murdered in secret in St Mungo’s yard.’ The outflung hand indicated Gil’s direction. He heard me answer Patrick Coventry just now, thought Gil. ‘He is careful and discreet and a member of your community. I commend him to you.’
‘There was some debate,’ said Gil to Maister Peter Mason. ‘But eventually it was agreed. Then I asked permission to send for you, and my clothes.’
He bundled cope and cassock together, put them down on the bench of Maister Kennedy’s reading-desk, and began to lace himself into his doublet.
‘I appreciate your wish for my support,’ said his prospective father-in-law. ‘I think,’ he added. He inspected the bench, appeared to decide it would take his weight, and sat down cautiously, his short black beard jutting against the light from the open window. ‘The more so, indeed, as the baby has refused the infallible remedy and is still crying. Alys was a good child,’ he added reflectively. ‘I had forgotten how fatiguing a crying baby is to listen to. What must we do, then? What have you set in motion?’
‘I have someone making a list of all those who were present at the feast,’ said Gil, ‘and what each of them claims he did after the end of the play. That is urgent, I thought. We can hardly imprison the entire Faculty of Arts until we find justice for William.’
‘You are certain it was someone at the feast?’
‘No,’ Gil admitted. ‘There are the members of other faculties, there are the students who couldn’t afford the necessary contribution for the feast, there are the college servants. The Blackfriars have access to the college without going past the porter at the yett.’
‘I remember the porter,’ said the mason, pulling a face. ‘And I have done some repairs to the Blackfriars gate. It leads into the kitchen-yard, not so? Do you suspect them?’
‘We must suspect everybody’ Gil shrugged on his short gown and lifted the master’s bonnet to which the Dean had taken exception. ‘Come and view the corpse. I have a lantern now.’
Maistre Pierre, confronted by the gruesome scene in the coalhouse, contemplated it in silence for a short time, swinging his Sunday beads in one big hand, then remarked, ‘There have been too many people across this floor. I suppose the kitchen must want coals several times a day, but I see more than one pair of feet here.’
Gil nodded. ‘So I thought. At least I prevented them moving the body’ He peered round. ‘If he was killed in here I would expect more sign, nevertheless. There are all these tracks from the door to where he lies, and those are my prints from when I opened the window. Someone bound his hands and then strangled him, but his feet were free, and all students play football, he could have kicked hard, or run away, or put up some sort of struggle, and I see no sign.’
‘Was he perhaps attacked by more than one person?’
‘It’s possible, but I would expect to see sign of that too. I wonder if he was killed elsewhere and then put here.’
‘I agree,’ said the mason after a moment. ‘These are the prints of whoever carried him in here. Look, there is one as he stepped round to this side of the heap of coals. A pity they are so scuffed. But why? Why move him here?’
‘It was not secret for long.’
‘Long enough, perhaps.’
‘He was last seen alive at the end of the play, you say?’ said Maistre Pierre thoughtfully. ‘How long ago was that?’
‘More than two hours since.’ Gil was feeling the swollen face. ‘He’s cold, and beginning to set. It is cold in here under the vault, and the shutters were closed. He would cool quite fast.’
‘Should we unbind his hands?’
‘I want to move him into the light first.’ Gil reached for the lantern. ‘Take note of how he lies, Pierre.’
William was sprawled on his left side, his bound hands awkwardly in the pit of his belly, his head tipped back and the dreadful distorted face turned towards the light from the window. The right arm was cocked up so that a darn in the elbow of the blue gown showed. His legs, half-flexed under the skirt of the gown, ended in a pair of expensive-looking boots.
‘How do we move him? And to where?’
Two college servants and a hurdle saw the corpse removed from the coalhouse and set down in the courtyard, the dreadful face covered by a cloth begged from the kitchen. A small crowd gathered immediately, commenting with interest on the spectacle. It included some of the kitchen hands and also Maister Forsyth, who stepped forward at the same moment as the Dominican chaplain emerged from the pend that led to the kitchen-yard.
‘Will you be long, Gilbert?’ he asked. ‘It is urgent that Father Bernard and I begin the Act of Conditional Absolution, you understand.’
‘Not long, sir,’ said Gil. ‘Could you perhaps . . .?’ He waved at the crowd, and Maister Forsyth nodded and turned to make shooing motions which were largely ignored. Gil bent over the corpse, considering the white dust caked on the blue wool of the gown, and sniffed.
‘Pierre, do you smell cumin?’
‘Cumin?’ Maistre Pierre stepped closer. ‘I do. Not strong, but – was there a dish with cumin at the feast?’
‘Not at our table, we had rabbit and ground almonds and a couple of flans. Perhaps one of the other tables. That might be it.’
‘Now we loose his hands?’ prompted the mason.
They rolled the limp body over on the hurdle to get access to the buckle, and eased it free. The boy’s bony wrists were marked where the coils of leather had dug in. Gil turned them carefully, looked at the small neat hands, pushed up the sleeves to look at the forearms.
The mason, working on the unpleasant task of unfastening the other belt, remarked, ‘His gown is dry on the shoulders. He has not, I think, been out in the rain lately.’
‘Interesting,’ said Gil. ‘The hem is damp, at the back only, here where the scorch marks are, and there is coal-dust on one elbow and something white on the other.’
‘And on the skirt of his gown,’ said Maistre Pierre, looking along the length of the garment.
‘And these boots are scuffed on the toes.’
‘Many people scuff their toes.’
‘The boots are quite new and otherwise well cared for.’ Gil took the belt from the corpse’s wrists, a well-worn strap of ordinary cowhide with a cheap buckle, tried it round the waist of the gown, then rolled it up and put it in the breast of his doublet.
The other belt had sunk deeply into the swollen flesh of throat and neck and required to be coaxed, but finally came free. To judge by the mark on the leather it belonged to someone of heavier build than the first one, but it was otherwise just as unremarkable. Gil measured it likewise against the corpse’s waist, then examined the length of it closely, to muttered comments from the group of onlookers.
‘Why’s he doing that?’
‘College canny afford a bloodhound.’
‘Pierre, will you take this?’ Gil said, handing it over. ‘We need to keep the two belts separate, I think. I wonder where his purse is?’ He patted the breast of the faded blue gown, but found nothing. ‘That is odd,’ he added, searching more carefully. ‘I’ll swear he had a purse earlier.’
‘Is there anything else to learn from him?’ asked the mason, sitting back on his heels.
‘I don’t think so.’ Gil turned the empurpled face to look at it. ‘Perhaps I spoke too soon. Look at this.’
‘What is it?’
Gil touched the mark carefully. ‘Aye, the skin’s split. The flesh is much swollen but I think the jaw must be about there.’
‘ Someone has fetched him a blow.’ The mason made an involuntary movement with one fist.
‘I think so. You know, that’s a relief. It’s possible he was dazed or unconscious when he was throttled. I must ask someone that he shouldn’t be stripped until we can be present.’ Gil got to his feet, looking round for Maister Forsyth, who hurried forward followed by a student with a censer and another with holy water and an asperger. ‘Now we have to report to the Principal.’
The Dean, the Principal and the two men of law were in the Principal’s house, where the great chamber was hung with painted cloths depicting various learned men as bearded worthies in academic robes. In front of a long-nosed Socrates receiving a scroll from Philo-sophia herself, Maister Doby waved them to padded stools and said anxiously, ‘Well, Gilbert, what can ye tell us?’
‘Little more yet,’ said Gil. ‘We are both certain it is murder rather than any sort of accident, but beyond that –’
‘The belt about his neck must belong to someone,’ said the Dean in incisive Latin. ‘Find the owner and we have found the culprit.’
‘The belt about his neck may be his own,’ said Gil. ‘However I agree that the other may very probably lead us to the malefactor.’
‘But can we offer a better scent to the hounds?’ asked Maistre Pierre in French. ‘Did the young man have enemies?’
‘At least one, clearly’ Archie Crawford still wore the critical frown. ‘What do you mean, very probably? I should have said it was a certainty.’
‘He means, Archibald, that the malefactor might have used the property of another,’ said Maister Doby kindly. ‘What must you do next, Gilbert? How should the Faculty help you?’
‘Tell me about the dead boy,’ Gil invited.
There was a brief stillness, in which he was aware of powerful minds working; then the Dean said firmly, ‘An able student, an ornament to the college. Learning has lost one of her dearest sons.’
‘That will sound well in the letter to his family’ Gil looked from face to face. ‘Was he really that able? The impression I had, seeing him today, was of someone a little too clever for his own good.’
A flicker of something like agreement crossed Maister Doby’s expression, but the Dean said, ‘How can one be too clever?’
‘What are the facts, then?’ said Gil. ‘Who was he? Was he an Ayrshire man, as the surname suggests?’
‘He was a bastard,’ said David Gray suddenly and ambiguously.
‘His mother, it seems, is an Ayrshire lady now married to another,’ said the Dean, ‘and his father is a kinsman of Lord Montgomery.’
‘Supported by the Montgomerys? In their favour?’
‘Yes,’ said the Dean, as if the word tasted bad. ‘And well supported.’
‘A rich bastard,’ qualified Maister Gray. He still seemed dazed, like a man who can hardly believe what fortune has brought to him. Good fortune or bad? Gil wondered.
‘Certainly there has been no shortage of drinksilver,’ agreed the Principal.
‘What, actual silver?’ said Gil in surprise. ‘Not meal or salt fish like the rest of us?’
‘Oh, that as well,’ said the Dean. ‘But he has always seemed to have coin.’
‘And more of it lately,’ said Maister Doby in thoughtful tones.
‘Was he liked? Who were his friends?’
There was another of those pauses.
‘He had no particular friends, I thought,’ said the Principal with reluctance. ‘When he was a bejant he roomed with his kinsman Robert, and Ralph Gibson, and they were mentored by Lawrence Livingstone and his friends, but I do not think he has –’
‘What friends are those?’ Gil asked. ‘Of the boy Livingstone, I mean.’
‘Ninian Boyd and Michael Douglas,’ said the Principal. ‘Ninian played Diligence very well, I thought. I wish he knew the meaning of the word in his studies.’
‘Ah,’ said Gil. ‘Michael must be my godfather’s youngest. I thought I knew that jaw. A Livingstone, a Boyd, a Douglas – what a conspiracy!’
‘Indeed, I do not think that can be right, Gilbert,’ said the Principal seriously.
‘William spends – spent time with Robert Montgomery,’ the Dean interposed, ‘and with Ralph Gibson, poor creature. Either of these may tell you more than his teachers.’
‘Did he still share a chamber with them?’ Gil asked.
‘He did not,’ said Maister Doby, shaking his head. ‘Sooner than share his good fortune with them, whatever its source, he has withdrawn from his friends this year. He has a room here in the Outer Close. John Shaw assures me all is paid for.’
‘And yet his legitimate kinsman has a shared chamber in the older part of the building,’ said Gil.
‘I told you he was a bastard,’ said David Gray. Gil looked at him, and wondered if he was sober. Certainly his narrow face was flushed, the colour contrasting unbecomingly with the red hood still rolled down about his neck.
‘Where did the money come from?’ asked Maistre Pierre.
‘From his home, I suppose,’ said the Principal. ‘He had no benefice or prebend as yet. Where else would he get money?’
‘Was there money on him?’ asked Maister Crawford. ‘Maybe he was robbed.’
‘By a fellow student?’ said the Principal, shocked. ‘Surely not!’
‘Don’t be daft, John. One of the servants, maybe, or some passing –’
‘It was hardly a passing robber,’ said the Dean, ‘that left him locked in the coalhouse. And I hope our servants are more conscious of the good of the college than –’ He stopped, apparently unwilling to finish the sentence.
‘Do you wish to ask us anything else,’ demanded Maister Crawford, ‘or can we get on with our own business?’
‘I have two further questions,’ Gil admitted. ‘In the first place, when William rose at the Faculty meeting –’
‘I have no idea,’ said the Dean firmly. ‘I know neither what prompted him to speak nor what the matters were of which he spoke.’
‘Ask his friends,’ said Maister Crawford.
‘He hinted at heresy and peculation,’ Gil said. ‘These are both matters of some importance. Could he have misinterpreted something?’
‘I have no idea,’ said the Dean again. ‘And the other question?’
‘I must ask this of everybody, you understand,’ Gil said. They watched him with varying expressions: Maister Gray wary, Maister Crawford still critical, the Principal with the intent look of a teacher with a good student, the Dean clearly formulating his answer already. ‘After the end of the play, where were you all before returning to the Fore Hall? And who was with you?’
‘Most of the senior members came here to the Principal’s house,’ said the Dean promptly. ‘The four of us now present, Maister Forsyth, Maister Coventry –’
‘Not Patrick Coventry,’ said the Principal. ‘He and Nicholas went over to the Arthurlie building. You were with them, Gilbert, were you not?’
‘We were here perhaps a quarter-hour,’ the Dean continued, ‘in this room or near it, standing or walking about, until Maister Shaw came to inform us that the procession was re-forming. Is that what you wish to know?’
‘Were you all within sight of one another for most of that time?’
The four men exchanged glances, and nodded.
‘I should say we were,’ pronounced the Dean.
‘Would you swear to it if necessary?’
There was another of those pauses.
‘I should swear to it,’ agreed the Dean.Chapter Four
‘They were lying,’ said Maistre Pierre positively. ‘Oh, not about where they were, I think we can accept that, but they know more about the dead than they would tell us.’
‘I agree.’ Gil stopped in the inner courtyard, looking about him. ‘Maybe if I speak to them separately I’ll learn more. But before that we need to look at William’s chamber, which seems to be locked from what one of the boys said, and I think I want a look at the limehouse. We must also talk to those three senior bachelors, and to the two boys named as William’s friends, even if one of them is a Montgomery.’
‘Did you say you had ordered the yett shut?’ asked the mason.
‘Aye, and we’ll need to let it open soon. Once Maister Coventry has finished that list I asked him for, we can let folk go.’
‘Then do you go and inspect the limehouse and I will find out the young man’s chamber.’ Maistre Pierre looked about, and caught the eye of one of the numerous students who somehow happened to be crossing the courtyard. ‘You, my friend, may guide me! Where did your lamented fellow pursue his studies?’
‘Eh?’ said the boy.
‘William’s chamber, you clown!’ said the next student. ‘It’s in the Outer Close, maister. I’ll show you, will I?’
Gil, retrieving the lantern from the coalhouse, lit the candle in it with the flint in his purse and unbarred the next door. Behind it was a similar vaulted chamber, unwindowed and smelling sharply and cleanly of limewash. Neatly ordered sacks were ranged against the walls, several wooden buckets and paintbrushes sat on a board near the door, and a fine sifting of white powder lay on everything. In it were displayed a great confusion of footprints, particularly immediately in front of the door. As Gil peered into the shadows, the light from the courtyard was cut off behind him.
‘The chamber is locked indeed,’ said the mason.
‘We ’ll find someone with a key.’ Gil stood aside so that the other man could see past him. ‘Look at this.’
‘But he was not here, was he?’
‘I don’t know about that. I thought one group of searchers expected to find him here.’ Gil stepped carefully in over the dusty floor. ‘These prints are theirs. No, look, Pierre, this is quite clear. Some large object has been put down here, in the centre of the floor, and then moved.’
‘I see,’ agreed Maistre Pierre, following him in. ‘But I can make no sense of the footprints. There are quite simply too many. This is a good dry store,’ he added approvingly. ‘The walls are excellent work. What have you seen?’
Gil bent, directing the light from the lantern at the floor near one pile of sacks.
‘I don’t know,’ he said after a moment. ‘Can you see something? It isn’t a footprint, I would say.’
‘A smudge,’ said the mason. ‘Someone put his hand or his knee to the floor.’
‘I wonder.’ Gil hunkered down, staring at the shapeless print in the dust. ‘William’s purse is missing. I know it was on his belt earlier, for I saw it –’
‘The belt which was used to strangle him,’ said the mason intelligently.
‘Precisely. Was there anything valuable in the purse? Why should it be thrown on the floor?’
‘Whoever removed the belt in order to strangle the boy must have drawn it out of the purse-latches,’ offered the mason, with a gesture to demonstrate, ‘and discarded the purse.’
‘Why is it no longer here?’
‘All good questions,’ said Maistre Pierre. ‘You think that is the mark of the purse?’
‘It could be.’ Gil stood up and looked around him. ‘I must speak to the Principal, or perhaps the Steward. This store must be searched. The purse may be here, behind one of these sacks.’
‘I can do that.’ The mason stepped carefully towards the door. ‘I have worked with John Shaw, we are good friends. He will send two or three of the college servants if I ask him. What will you do? Seek a key to the boy’s chamber, or –?’
‘No, we should both see that.’ Gil was still studying their surroundings. ‘I think I will question those senior bachelors.’
Another of the many passing students directed Gil up the wheel stair just beyond the kitchen. It led past one of the doors of the Laigh Hall, where four tonsured Theology students were debating a fine point of exegesis over bread and stewed kale. As Gil climbed on up, someone said, ‘But Wycliff –’ and was instantly hushed.
At the top of the stair he came to a narrow landing with two doors. Voices murmured behind one. He knocked, and after a moment footsteps approached. The door opened a crack, and one alarmed eye examined him.
‘I think you need to talk to me,’ he said. The eye vanished, as its owner turned his head to look at the other occupants of the room. ‘I’m alone,’ he added reassuringly.
‘Let him in,’ said a strained voice.
‘Ninian –’ expostulated the boy at the door.
‘I better tell someone,’ said Ninian. ‘Come in, maister.’
The room was large, stretching the full width of the attic, but four small study-spaces had been partitioned off with lath-and-plaster panels, and the remnant was a very awkward shape and had only two windows. By one of them the mousy-haired boy sat on a stool hugging his knees; he did not rise as Gil entered. Lowrie the fair-haired tenor closed the door, saying, ‘We don’t have a chair for a visitor, maister, but this is the best stool.’
‘I’ll sit on the bench,’ said Gil, moving to the other window. Three pairs of eyes watched apprehensively as he settled himself. ‘Good day to you, Michael. And how is your father?’
‘He’s well,’ said Michael, startled back into civility. ‘Is madam your mother well, maister?’
‘She is, and like to be in Glasgow soon.’
‘Will you have some ale, maister? I think we’ve got some ale,’ offered Lowrie, apparently accepting the social nature of the visit.
‘It’s finished,’ said Ninian hoarsely.
Gil looked from Michael, now twirling the turn-button on the shutter, to Lowrie, still standing by the door, and then at Ninian huddled in blankets in the bed.
‘Three of the enemies of the Crown,’ he said, straight-faced. ‘It must be a conspiracy.’
They stared at him.
‘I think that was before we were born, maister,’ said Michael eventually. ‘In James Second’s time, maybe. This is just us.’
‘And our wee bittie problem,’ said Lowrie.
‘Tell me about it,’ Gil invited.
‘How much do you ken, maister?’ asked Lowrie.
‘Quite a bit,’ countered Gil. ‘Which of you hit him? Where was he then?’
‘It was me that hit him,’ said Ninian, shivering. ‘He was there.’ He nodded at one of the little study-spaces. ‘I was angry at him already, the way he clarted up the fight scene in the play, and then I came up to move my Aristotle when the rain started, and there he was, in Michael’s carrel, where he’d no right to be, speiring at things that don’t concern him. I shouted at him, and he did that trick of looking down his nose and strolling off, like a cat on a wall. So I hit him, and he fell down, and hit his head on the stool. Then the other two came in.’
‘That’s right,’ said Lowrie, and Michael nodded.
‘And then you put him in the limehouse,’ prompted Gil, as the conversation died. They looked at each other in what seemed like relief.
‘That was my idea,’ said Lowrie.
‘Didn’t he argue?’ Gil asked.
‘He wasn’t stirring,’ said Lowrie. ‘So we tied his wrists with Miggel’s belt and got him down the stairs, between the three of us, and round to the limehouse.’
‘With Michael’s belt? Why did you not use his own?’
‘We’d have had enough snash from him as it was,’ said Lowrie frankly. ‘If we’d damaged his property he’d certainly have complained to Dobbin. Much better to use one of ours.’
‘We’d never have got it back,’ said Michael, as if continuing an argument. ‘I suppose we canny have it back now, maister? No, I thought not.’
‘How did you carry him?’ Gil asked. ‘Did nobody else see you?’
‘They had a leg each and I had his shoulders,’ said Ninian, in surprised tones. ‘That’s why we tied his wrists. And everyone else in the Inner Close was all gone back to the feast, and the Elect were in the Law Schule waiting for Father Bernard, so there was none to see us. Maister, he wasny deid when we left him!’ he burst out. ‘He was stirring and gruntling like he was drunk, so we left him lying on his side. He wasny deid then!’
‘Which side was he lying on?’
They exchanged glances, and Michael mimed the position.
‘His right side,’ he said. ‘Aye, the right side. He wasny deid then,’ he echoed.
‘And where did you put him?’ Gil asked carefully.
‘Just lying in the middle of the limehouse,’ said Ninian.
‘No hidden or anything,’ elaborated Lowrie. ‘Anyone that opened the door would see him there. Likely they’d hear him too,’ he added.
‘And what did you do with his purse?’
‘His purse?’ repeated Ninian.
‘Damn,’ said Michael. ‘We should have checked that. He’d aye paper, or his bonny wee set of tablets to make notes on. Tod, did you –?’
‘Not I,’ said Lowrie, and added politely to Gil, ‘I don’t think we touched his purse.’
‘So you left him in the limehouse.’ All three nodded. ‘And you’re sure nobody else saw you?’
‘We took good care nobody saw us,’ Michael pointed out.
‘I wondered,’ said Ninian, ‘how much Bendy Stewart saw, or maybe heard. You mind, he followed us across the close, and we were talking about it?’
‘I never saw him,’ said Lowrie. ‘You told us to curb the bummle, I mind that.’
‘I saw him,’ said Michael. ‘But we were nearly at the pend before he came into the Inner Close from the kitchen-yard. He wouldny see where we’d been. How much he heard I don’t know either.’
‘And why did you shut William in the limehouse? Why there? Why not the coalhouse?’
‘The kitchen’s aye after more coal,’ said Michael. ‘He’d have been found in no time.’
‘But why shut him in at all?’
‘So we could bar him in,’ said Lowrie after a moment. ‘I don’t know why the limehouse has that bar on the door, but I thought we could –’ He stopped, reddening. ‘It seems a daft idea now. I thought we’d get at the sweetmeats in the Fore Hall before he did, and I thought and all that we’d get him into trouble for once. If he never turned up to get his reward for the play the Dean would be displeased, and he wasn’t best pleased wi him already after the meeting. I never meant –’
‘But surely,’ said Gil, ‘he had only to tell the Dean why he was not present?’
‘But then we would tell the Dean why we locked him up,’ Lowrie explained.
‘It would never have worked,’ said Michael suddenly. He had a surprisingly deep voice. ‘He could wammle out of anything, kale-wirm that he was.’
‘He was not popular?’ Gil asked innocently.
‘He had friends,’ Lowrie said. ‘Robert Montgomery, Ralph Gibson.’
‘Not friends I would choose,’ said Ninian, sucking his knuckles.
‘But you didn’t like him,’ Gil prompted. They eyed him carefully, and said nothing. ‘Did he often look at things that did not concern him?’
‘No,’ said Ninian.
‘Yes,’ said Lowrie at the same moment.
‘He was aye poking at my books,’ said Michael. ‘Him and Robert and that Ralph were on the same landing as us, see, last year when they were bejants. We were mentoring them,’ he added, pulling a face. ‘Ralph and Robert was all right, but William thought he should have free run of everything we owned. I’ve not seen my Aristotle since last summer.’
‘What was he looking for?’
‘He looked,’ said Lowrie, ‘for secrets. Things you would rather weren’t known. Everyone has things he’d rather weren’t known.’
‘I haveny,’ said Michael, raising his pointed chin.
‘Except for Michael, everyone has things they’d rather weren’t known,’ amended Lowrie. ‘And the dear departed went round ferreting them out. He wrote them down.With pen and ink to report all readie.’
‘He did, too,’ said Michael rather sharply.
‘And then he’d come privately and ask you what it was worth not to tell Dobbin.’
‘I see,’ said Gil evenly. ‘And did he make any profit from this scaffery?’
‘That’s the word!’ said Ninian.
‘No from me, he never,’ said Lowrie firmly.
‘Was that why Dobbin wanted you last week?’ said Michael.
Lowrie grinned. ‘Aye. Dear William found my uncle’s notes and when I wouldny pay up he went and told Dobbin my ideas weren’t my own. He hadn’t read the notes properly. They were from old Tommy’s lectures on Aristotle, in about 1472, and I’ll swear Tommy gave the identical lectures last winter. I showed them to Dobbin, and he agreed with me. Not that he said so, but you could tell. And of course Dobbin taught my uncles at the grammar school at Peebles before he came here. Before they all came here,’ he amended. ‘Separately.’
‘We get the idea,’ said Michael.
‘Do you know if William made a habit of this?’ Gil asked.
‘He made a good living from it,’ said Lowrie roundly, ‘for I saw him.’
‘Of wikkit and evil lyf of tyranny and crimynous lyfing.Good enough to pay for a chamber to himself in the Outer Close?’ suggested Gil. ‘Or do you suppose he had some kind of hold over Maister Shaw?’
‘I’ve no idea how much he won,’ said Lowrie, ‘though I’d guess it was silver rather than copper, but if you want to know who else he was putting the black on, you’ll have to ask around yourself. Maister,’ he added with belated civility, and straightened his shoulders so that his faded blue gown creaked.
‘Fair enough,’ said Gil. ‘Ninian?’
‘He saw me in the town,’ said Ninian, reddening. ‘One night I hadn’t leave to be out.’
‘Ning!’ said Lowrie sharply. ‘You never gied him money?’
‘No, I never!’ returned Ninian. ‘I gied him my notes on Auld Nick’s Peter of Spain lectures.’
‘Was that all?’ Gil asked.
Ninian looked uncomfortable. ‘He was wanting more,’ he admitted. ‘He’d asked me for a sack of meal.’
‘Ambitious,’ said Gil. ‘Would you have given it to him?’
‘Maybe,’ said Ninian. ‘But maybe I’d just take my chance. Dobbin’s fair, if you plead guilty. It would have been a beating, maybe, or a week’s loss of privilege. A sack of meal was too much. I hadn’t answered him yet.’
‘I’ve no secrets,’ said Michael flatly.
Gil waited, but Ninian burst out again with, ‘Maister, what came to him? Was it the bang on the heid? Why was he in the coalhouse?’
‘It was not the bang on the head,’ Gil said firmly, ‘or the blow to the jaw. That was not what killed him, Ninian.’
Ninian stared at him, sucking his knuckles again. Then he relaxed, sighing.
‘So it wasn’t me that killed him,’ he said, and scrubbed at his eyes. ‘But how did he get in the coalhouse?’
‘That is what I would like to know,’ Gil said. ‘Show me your feet,’ he said suddenly to Lowrie, who gaped at him, then closed his mouth and turned up the soles of his boots one at a time to the light.
‘No coal, I hope,’ he said lightly.
‘No coal,’ Gil agreed. ‘There’s lime on the hem of your gown –’ He stopped, recalling the hem of William’s gown. Quicklime and damp wool – that would account for the scorch marks.
‘Mine too,’ said Michael gruffly.
‘Mine are on the kist yonder, maister.’ Ninian nodded across the room. Gil stooped to inspect Michael’s boots, then made his way round the great box of the bed. As he lifted Ninian’s downtrodden footwear heavy steps pounded on the stair, and there was a hammering at the door.
‘Lowrie! Lowrie Livingstone! Is Maister Cunningham there? He’s wanted!’
Lowrie opened the door. Two students were on the landing, and eager footsteps suggested more on the stair. The nearest, the irrepressible Walter, said urgently, ‘Maister, can you come quick?’
‘There’s something in William’s chamber,’ said the boy behind Walter.
‘It’s a ghaist,’ said Walter. ‘We heard it!’
‘If it’s no the deil himself,’ said someone on the stairs.
‘That’s nonsense,’ said Gil firmly.
‘We heard it!’ said Walter again. ‘It’s wailing and girning like the Green Lady. Come and hear for yirsel, maister!’
‘I do not believe William’s ghost can be in his chamber,’ said Gil, ‘much less the deil himself. Why should the devil be in William’s chamber?’
‘I could tell you that,’ muttered Michael.
‘But we heard it, maister! Please will you come and listen?’
‘Why were you at his chamber door anyway?’ asked Lowrie. ‘You lodge here in the Inner Close, no out-by.’
‘Billy Ross went with a message from Maister Doby,’ said Walter virtuously, ‘and heard the noise on the way past, so he cam and tellt us and we all went and we heard it an’ all. Will you come, maister? There’s certainly something there, for I heard it.’
‘We all did,’ said someone on the stairs. ‘It goes Ooo-oo.’
‘That’s foolishness!’ said Gil. ‘How can a ghost make a noise like a screech-owl? Walter, what is a ghost, tell me that?’
‘A ghost is the spirit of a dead man,’ said Walter nervously, clearly quoting something.
‘It has no body, has it?’ Walter shook his head. ‘So how can it make a noise? Whatever is making a noise, it must be something in possession of a body.’
‘Aye, the deil,’ said a voice on the stairs.
‘All of you,’ said Gil. ‘Go and ask Maister Coventry and Maister Kennedy, if they have finished the list I asked them for, to meet me in a quarter-hour at William’s chamber door. Can you mind that?’
Walter repeated the message in a rush, nodded, and thudded off down the stairs. The boy behind him reiterated, ‘There’s something in William’s chamber, maister, for we heard it!’
‘All of you,’ said Gil again. ‘In a quarter-hour, by William’s chamber.’
He shut the door on the departing crowd and turned to the three senior bachelors.
‘Ninian, are you wearing your belt?’ he asked.
‘Aye,’ said Ninian, pushing back the blankets to display the item.
‘May I see it?’
The belt was old, and had clearly been worn by Ninian as he filled out, for a succession of holes had been stretched by the buckle. The most recent was easy to identify, but the older ones were beginning to close up as the leather itself stretched. Gil, concluding that the belt was Ninian’s and nobody else’s, handed it back.
‘Have you any other belt?’ he asked.
‘We have a spare,’ Lowrie said. ‘Where is it, Miggel?’
‘In your carrel,’ said Michael. A brief search uncovered the spare belt in Ninian’s kist. Gil inspected it for the sake of the thing, though his aim had been only to locate the object, and handed it to Michael, who put it on.
‘Two more questions,’ he said.
‘Don’t you want to see my belt?’ asked Lowrie.
‘I can see it from here. What did you eat at the feast?’
‘I never ate,’ said Michael. ‘I wasn’t hungry. Besides, I had to get painted up for the play.’
‘I had a mouthful of flan,’ said Lowrie indignantly, ‘and then Bendy Stewart came along fussing about me spoiling my voice. I got some wine, though,’ he added.
‘Snoddy Tod,’ said Ninian tolerantly. ‘I had rabbit stew, and foul it was, too. She’d put ground almonds to it.’
‘And the other question?’ prompted Lowrie.
‘You mentioned the meeting. When William rose –’
‘God, that was funny,’ said Ninian, whose spirits were improving by the moment. ‘Did you see all their faces? And old Tod Lowrie here waiting to speak.’
‘It was not funny,’ said Lowrie. ‘I spent hours getting that speech by heart. It might have gone right out of my head, with William interrupting me like that.’
‘What did he say again?’ said Gil, who remembered perfectly well.
‘What if another of the college’s sons has misused her money,’quoted Michael, in excellent imitation of William’s clearly enunciated Latin,‘or has inculcated heretical beliefs in her students?’
‘What did he mean?’ wondered Ninian.
‘Exactly,’ said Gil. ‘Who was it intended for?’
‘Hanged if I know,’ said Lowrie. ‘I thought by his expression it was a shot at someone, not just random unpleasantness, if you see what I mean, but I don’t know who.’
‘One of the Elect?’ said Michael.
‘I doubt it,’ said Lowrie. ‘Bendy Stewart would root out heresy in his students if they even sniffed it, I’d have thought.’
‘I don’t think we know, maister,’ Ninian said to Gil.
‘Are you going to see after this ghost?’ Lowrie asked.
‘I am,’ Gil agreed. ‘But you three are not coming with me.’
‘How not?’ said Ninian.
‘We have to go and confess,’ said Lowrie heavily. ‘Who should we tell, maister?’
‘Either Maister Doby or Maister Coventry,’ advised Gil. ‘And if I were you I should offer it as sacramental confession. They are both priested, either of them can hear you.’
‘Yes,’ said Lowrie, scuffing thoughtfully at the floorboards with his toe. ‘Yes, it’s perjury, isn’t it? We’ve broken the oath about brotherhood and amity.’
‘He started it,’ said Ninian.
‘No defence,’ said Michael. He got to his feet, and braced himself. ‘Come out of your burrow, Ning. Better get it over with.’
‘I offer my sympathy in advance,’ said Gil. ‘I’ll speak to you again.’
As Gil reached the courtyard, the bulky form of the mason emerged round the kitchen stair, followed by three of the college servants dusting at their clothes. Sighting Gil, he made his way to meet him, grinning.
‘Success!’ he proclaimed. ‘Thank you, all of you, that is all!’ Coins changed hands and the men went off, looking less gloomy. ‘Here it is. It was hidden behind the sacks, as you thought.’
He held out a plain leather purse, somewhat greasy. Gil took it, and weighed it.
‘It is not empty,’ agreed Maistre Pierre. ‘I have not looked, I kept it to show to you.’
‘It doesn’t feel like a key,’ said Gil, loosening the strings. He tipped the contents jingling into his palm.
‘Well, well,’ said Maistre Pierre. Gil sorted the coins.
‘Two, two and a half – three merks in silver, and several groats. A total of two pounds and eighteen pence Scots,’ he said, ‘simply carried about in his purse. And this.’ He pushed the little set of tablets along his fingers.
‘I use tablets when I am working,’ observed the mason, ‘but I should have thought these too small to be much use for taking notes.’
‘He had a small hand,’ said Gil, ‘and there are several leaves.’ He shook the purse. ‘Is there anything – ah!’
White flakes fell to the flagstones. The mason pounced, and came up with two pieces of paper, one folded into a long curling spill, one wadded square.
‘What have we here?’ he said, and unfolded the long piece.
Tiny writing, in ink, covered one side and half of the other.
‘It is notes of some sort,’ said the mason after a moment. ‘What does it say?’
‘M will be in G,’ Gil read, taking the much-creased sheet. ‘He believed in making full use of the paper, didn’t he?H passed through for Irvine.I wonder who H and M might be?’
‘Friends of the boy’s? And why ever fold it like this?’
‘Who knows? What of the other piece?’
Maistre Pierre unfolded the thick square.
‘It makes no sense,’ he complained.
Gil peered over his shoulder, tucking the coins back in the purse.
‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘It’s in some kind of code.’
‘Certainly no language that I know.’
‘A game of some sort?’
‘He has sustained it well,’ said the mason thoughtfully. ‘It is a long passage to put into code, merely for a game.’
‘Well, we can try to decode it, though I suspect it will take time. And the tablets.’ Gil slipped the leather case off and turned the little block to admire it. ‘Very pretty, with this chip-carving on the outside. What has he written down?M will be in G –it seems to be the original notes for the long piece of paper.’
‘Why did he simply transcribe them?’ Maistre Pierre wondered. ‘More usual, surely, to expand – to say who he meant by M.’
Gil grunted absently, turning the little wooden leaves.
‘What’s this?’ he said, tilting the last opening to read the tiny writing incised on the green wax. ‘It looks like a will.’
‘I thought you said he was a bastard,’ said the mason.
‘I did,’ said Gil in puzzlement. ‘He couldn’t make a will. What does it say?I, William Montgomery, sometime called William Irvine, being in my right mind and now able to make a will, commend my soul to Almighty God and direct that . .. Whatever is he about?’
‘It is not signed,’ observed Maistre Pierre. ‘Nor witnessed.’
‘He would hardly get it witnessed still in the wax like this, even if it had any standing. His kin may take it as an instruction if they please, but if I know the Montgomery . . . He wishes his property divided equally between Ann Irvine, whoever she is, and Ralph Gibson. Poor boy,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘Was this fantasy? Or folly?’
‘Should it be either?’
Gil tapped the frame of the tablet with a long forefinger.
‘He is pretending, here, to be legitimate. Either it was a private game, committed to writing, or he was deluding himself into believing it.’
‘Do not we all delude ourselves, at his age?’ Maistre Pierre took the long spill of paper back and folded it carefully with the larger sheet. ‘I myself was convinced from the ages of nine to twelve that I was of noble blood, snatched away at birth. I still remember the disappointment when I realized that I had no birthmark by which my true exalted parent could recognize me when I rescued him from drowning.’ He laughed, the white teeth flashing in his neat beard. ‘We lived, you understand, two hundred leagues from the sea.’
‘I see where Alys gets her love of romance,’ Gil commented. ‘Come and see if Patrick Coventry’s key will open the boy’s chamber. There is something strange there.’
William’s stair was easily identified by the huddle of students at its foot. As Gil and Maistre Pierre approached, first one boy and then another put his head in at the doorway and ducked out again grinning with bravado.
‘What are you doing?’ Gil asked, making his way through the group.
‘Listening for the ghost, maister,’ said Richie the Scholar.
‘A ghost?’ said the mason. ‘In broad day?’
‘There is no ghost,’ Gil said. ‘How can a spirit with no body make a noise?’
‘Like the wind does?’ said somebody else smartly.
‘I heard it, maister,’ said one of the Ross boys with pride. ‘It went Ooo-oo.’
‘You dreamed it,’ said Gil. ‘Stay down here, all of you.’
William’s door was halfway up the stair, and therefore had only a narrow wedge of landing. Maister Coventry and Maister Kennedy were waiting there, still in formal academic dress, both with the appearance of men who would rather be elsewhere.
‘Gil!’ said Maister Kennedy. ‘Thank God you’re here. Listen to this – there is something in there.’
‘I hear nothing –’ said the mason, but Patrick Coventry’s upraised hand cut him off. Then they all heard it, through the heavy oak door: a high-pitched sobbing, unearthly, dying off in a wail. Gil felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.
‘No mortal throat made that sound,’ said Maistre Pierre through dry lips, and clutched at the crucifix on the end of his set of beads.
‘Does that open this door?’ Gil asked, looking at the key in the Second Regent’s hand. For answer, the small man fitted it into the lock and turned it. The tumblers clicked round. Gil lifted the latch and pushed, and the door swung ponderously open.
‘Christ aid!’ said Maister Kennedy.
The room was in complete disarray. Books and clothing were strewn about, the bed-frame yawned emptily and mattress and blankets were tumbled in a heap, a lute lay under the table.
‘Faugh!’ exclaimed Maistre Pierre. ‘What a stench!’
‘Yes,’ said Gil, relaxing. ‘What a stench, indeed.’
He stepped into the room, placing his feet with care, and halted. The mason moved watchfully to stand at his back, saying, ‘But what has happened here? Is this the work of devils? Is that why the stink –?’
Gil, surveying the wrecked room, said absently, ‘No, I think not. Watch where you step, Pierre.’ He moved forward as the two regents followed them, staring round. ‘I think we can conclude,’ he continued, ‘that someone has found William’s key and made good use of it.’ He bent to lift the rustling mattress back into the bed-frame, and piled the blankets on top of it.
‘He had many possessions, for such a young man,’ said the mason, still watchful at Gil’s back.
‘And what in the name of all the saints was making that noise?’ said Maister Coventry.
‘That?’ said Maister Kennedy in alarm.
They all looked where he was pointing. A heap of clothing lay under the window, a tawny satin doublet, a red cloth jerkin, several pairs of tangled hose. As they watched, the jerkin moved, apparently by itself. The high wailing began again, and something appeared from the cuff of the sleeve and became a grey hairy arm.
‘Ah, the poor mite!’ said Gil. Under the mason’s horrified gaze he strode forward and lifted the clothing. The jerkin came up, swinging heavily, with a grey shaggy body squirming in its folds.
‘Mon Dieu,what is it?’ said the mason as a long-nosed face appeared through the unlaced armhole.
‘A dog,’ said Gil. ‘At least, a puppy. Wolfhound, deerhound – one or the other. Some kind of hunting dog, certainly.’
He disengaged the animal from the garment and set it on its feet, a gangling knee-high creature consisting principally of shaggy legs and a long nose. It promptly abased itself, pawing appealingly at his boots. He bent to feel at its collar. ‘Perhaps three or four months old, far too young to be wearing a good leather collar like this. That’s the source of the stink,’ he added. ‘Watch where you put your feet. Bad dog,’ he said to the pup, which flattened its ears and wagged its stringy tail, trying to excuse its lapse of manners.
‘William should certainly not have been keeping a dog in his chamber,’ said Maister Coventry.
‘That’s William for you,’ said Nick Kennedy.
‘Who do you suppose searched the place?’ said Maistre Pierre, watching Gil soothing the dog. ‘Was it the same person who killed the young man?’
‘Quite possibly,’ said Gil. ‘But it was certainly the same person who hit this fellow over the head.’ He lifted the pup again, its long legs dangling, and turned its head so that they could all see the blood clotted in the rough hair behind one ear. ‘I’ll wager he tried to defend his master’s property, eh, poor boy? – and was struck or kicked. When he recovered he began to howl, and the boys took him for a ghost.’
‘Poor brute,’ said Maister Coventry. ‘What a way to treat a young animal!’
‘What about this chamber?’ said Maister Kennedy, cutting across the mason’s comment. ‘Do we search it, or lock it, or send for John Shaw to get it redded up?’
‘I’m afraid,’ said Gil, ‘that we must search it ourselves. It should not take the four of us long.’
‘What are we looking for?’ said Maister Kennedy in resigned tones.
‘Anything the boy should not have had. Possibly papers, or money, or jewels.’ Gil settled the pup in a nest in the blankets and turned away. It promptly staggered out and pawed at his boots again.
‘Papers, you say?’ Maistre Pierre stared round again. ‘Gil, I see very little paper here. Surprisingly little, for a student’s chamber.’
‘What about the students?’ said Patrick Coventry. ‘There are a great many boys below in the yard working themselves into a terror about the ghost.’
‘Let them,’ said Maister Kennedy callously, stooping to lift a book. ‘Peter of Spain. This is the library’s copy, with Duncan Bunch’s own notes in it. Plague take the boy, I’ve been wanting this for months. As well they never saw the brute,’ he added, ‘or they’d have kent it for Auld Mahoun himself.’
‘And what do we do with it?’ worried Maister Coventry, shaking out the satin doublet. ‘We canny keep a wolfhound when we’ve forbidden the students to keep dogs.’
‘Properly he belongs to William’s next kin,’ said Gil doubtfully, ‘but he must be fed and physicked before they can be here to claim him.’
‘That’s true. It seems to like you, Maister Cunningham. Would you take it? As regent with a duty for the late keeper,’ said the Second Regent formally, ‘I ask you to have a care to this animal until its right owner can be identified. Will that do?’
‘Admirably,’ said Gil, and grinned. The pup licked his hand with a long wet tongue. ‘Do you suppose Alys would give me some bread and milk for him, Pierre?’
‘And this,’ announced Maister Kennedy, practically gnashing his teeth, ‘is the library’s second copy, bound up with Laurence of Lindores’ commentary on theBook of Suppositions.I have been hunting for this for over a year!’
‘It was not the only treasure in his chamber,’ said Gil, setting several bundles on Maister Doby’s reading-desk.
‘So I perceive,’ said the Principal, eyeing them askance. ‘What are all these?’
‘Four books belonging to the library’ Gil indicated the little volumes. ‘Who is librarian just now, maister? Perhaps some change to the rules?’
‘I will recommend it. And these?’
‘Two more books, apparently William’s own. One belonging to the senior bachelor, Michael Douglas, which I will return to him. A green silk purse with a surprising amount of money, and some jewels.’ Gil unrolled the red cloth jerkin, to reveal the three elaborate brooches which he had pinned to the cloth.
‘He should certainly not have kept these in his chamber,’ said the Principal after a moment, ‘setting temptation in the way of his fellow students.’
‘Quite so. There are also two rings, which I stowed in the purse with the money, and these.’ He unrolled the jerkin further. ‘We can ask at the armourer where he got a pair of daggers like that, but I suspect it wasn’t in Glasgow.’
There was a high wailing sound from the antechamber.
‘What is that noise?’ asked the Principal, distracted.
Gil, aware he was going red, said, ‘It’s William’s dog. It’s taken a liking to me. Maister Mason was going to take it to his house to wait, but it’s reluctant to go with him.’
‘A dog? How could the laddie keep a dog in secret?’ asked Maister Doby, perplexed.
‘It may not have lived in his chamber,’ Gil speculated. ‘Maister, may I ask some questions?’ The older man inclined his head. ‘Can you suggest who might have been William’s enemy?’
‘Oh, no. Not to such an extent. Although he was clever he was not admired,’ admitted Maister Doby, ‘and he was not as popular as one might expect, but surely he had no enemies?’
‘Clearly he had one at least, as Maister Crawford said,’ said Gil. ‘Can you offer me any interpretation of his question at the Faculty meeting? That might lead us to his enemy.’
‘But it might also lead us to suspect unjustly someone who was in fact innocent.’
‘Maister,’ said Gil patiently, ‘the boy deserves justice. Moreover, the person who killed him needs the succour of Holy Kirk, to bring him to repentance and confession of his sin.’
‘That is true,’ agreed the Principal. He thought deeply for a short while, then sighed and said heavily, ‘I can shed no light on the suggestion of heresy, and I suspect you will not find anyone who will.’
‘Probably not,’ agreed Gil.
‘But I wondered if the charge of peculation might be a garbled recollection of something that happened when John Goldsmith was Principal.’ Maister Doby paused, and counted carefully, tapping his fingers on the edge of the desk. ‘Aye, in ’85. The college had borrowed money from old John Smyth, you remember him?’
‘My uncle has mentioned him. He was senior song-man at the cathedral, was he no?’
‘Quite so.’ The Principal glanced at his door. ‘That dog sounds to be in pain.’
‘It’ll stop greeting when it sees me,’ said Gil, embarrassed.
‘Then in God’s name have it in and silence it.’
Gil fetched the pup from the anteroom, where the mason gave it up with some relief, and returned to his seat with the creature, trying to repress its ecstatic embraces.
‘That’s a dog of breeding,’ Maister Doby remarked acutely, watching as it sat down at Gil’s feet and laid its head on his knee. ‘Someone will ken where he got it from. Where was I? Oh, aye, old John Smyth. Well, he wanted his money back, and Maister Goldsmith couldn’t just put his hand on it, and David Gray was Bursar at the time and catched in the midst of the ding-dong. I mind he was ill with the worry of it at the time. You follow me?’
‘I think so,’ said Gil with caution. ‘You are saying that there was a little trouble about money, and Maister David Gray was caught up in it.’
‘But without fault,’ said the Principal firmly. ‘I mind the whole thing. John Smyth got his money in the end, we had to borrow from the archdeacon to pay him, and one or two said David had mismanaged it, but they didny see the books, and I did, for I was Wardroper that year. In any case, Gilbert, David was at the high table with the Dean and me, he canny have throttled the boy.’
‘He was, wasn’t he,’ agreed Gil, recalling the way Maister Gray had sat staring into the flan-dish before him. ‘What were you eating up there, maister? Was it any better than what we got?’
‘I think Dean Elphinstone commended the spiced pork,’ said Maister Doby, ‘but to tell truth, Gilbert, I have no sense of taste these days. One stew is much like another. There was raisins in it, I can tell you that.’ He got to his feet. ‘I will lock these things away. Have you the inventory? Good. And signed by Nicholas and Patrick. Excellent. You were aye one to think of everything, Gilbert.’ He bent and held out a hand to the pup, which inspected it solemnly and administered a minuscule lick. ‘But we willny lock you away, treasure or no, eh? Take care of the brute, Gilbert. They eat like a student, at this age.’
The Principal turned to the door, as there came a tapping on the planks from the other side. He opened it, and a fond smile crossed his face.
‘Well, Billy? This is William Ross, Gilbert. He and his brother lodge at my house. What is it, Billy?’
‘If you please, maister,’ said William Ross, stepping confidently into the room and bobbing his head in a schoolboy’s bow, ‘Jaikie at the yett sent me to say there’s a bonnie young lady asking for Maister Cunningham.’Chapter Five
Jaikie the porter was blocking the vaulted tunnel to the yett, hands on hips, glaring red-faced and indignant at Gil and the mason as they approached. The wolfhound at Gil’s knee began to growl quietly, and he hushed it as the porter launched into aggressive speech.
‘Now, you ken the rules as well as me, Maister Cunningham! Even William Irvine never had a leman calling at the yett for him –’
Gil glanced over the man’s shoulder. At the far end of the tunnel Alys stood patiently in the street, her plaid drawn over her head against yet another pattering shower.
‘The lady,’ he said coldly, ‘is Maister Mason’s daughter, and it would have been common courtesy to ask her in out of the rain.’
The porter snorted in disbelief, but Maistre Pierre said, ‘It is indeed my daughter, and I am here to protect her from your lecherous students.’
Jaikie opened his mouth to comment, assessed the mason’s size and breadth of shoulder, and closed it again. As Maistre Pierre stepped past him into the tunnel he recovered somewhat and expostulated, with a puff of spirituous breath, ‘Ye canny bring a lassie in here just the same! It’s as much as my job’s worth if the heid yins catches ye here with her. And another thing – is that no William Irvine’s dog?’
Gil suppressed anger.
‘Let the lady past, if you please,’ he said, emphasizing the word. ‘She is here about the business I am conducting for the Principal and Dean Elphinstone.’ Whether it’s true or no, that ought to silence him, he thought.
Jaikie glowered at him, and finally stepped aside as Alys emerged from the tunnel on her father’s arm, bringing with her the feeling that the sun had come out again. Catching Gil’s eye she curtsied and said formally, ‘May I speak to you, Maister Cunningham? I have information which may be of value.’
Her father’s eyebrows went up and Jaikie gaped at her, but Gil, forewarned by her expression, replied in the same language, ‘Indeed yes, for I am sure your news will be worth hearing.’
‘That’s Latin!’ said Jaikie suspiciously. ‘How can a lassie ken Latin?’
‘Same way a student kens it,’ said Gil crisply. ‘Now stand aside, man.’
Biting his thumb and glowering, the porter stood aside and watched them. His mutter followed them across the courtyard.
‘I don’t know. Even William never had a leman at the yett, and he’d the half of Glasgow leaving messages for him.’ As they reached the door of the Bachelors’ Schule the mutter rose to a shout. ‘And is that dog to go back to Billy Dog now or no? He’s been asking for it.’
‘Gil, you must come to our house,’ said Alys, her hand on his arm. ‘Mistress Irvine is in great distress.’
‘Irvine,’ Gil said. He disengaged his arm and put it round her shoulders. The pup lay down firmly on his feet. ‘I should have thought.How can I answer you, mother, When my schoolmates have me slain?I take it she gave him her own name?’
‘Or her husband’s,’ said the mason, sitting down opposite them on another of the long hard benches. ‘That must be why the boy named her when he wrote his will.’
‘It has been more than a little trying,’ said Alys. ‘When Mistress Irvine found it was her foster-son who was dead –’
‘Did the McIans tell her?’ her father interrupted.
‘No, they had left by then. Kittock mentioned it, and then she ran out in the street –’
‘Tell us from the beginning,’ Gil said. He tightened his clasp on her shoulders, and she leaned a little against him.
‘The McIans came by the house,’ she said patiently. ‘The harper was a little upset, and wanted to ask after the baby. Mistress McIan told me about what happened – about the dead student, and how her brother knew where he was –’
‘Not exactly,’ Gil said. ‘He knew he was behind a locked door.’
‘Oh. They spoke to Mistress Irvine, too, to thank her for trying to get the bairn to eat, and then they left. It was only a little while ago that Kittock said something about the dead man in Mistress Irvine’s hearing, and repeated enough to make her sure it was her boy. She became very distressed.’
‘Poor woman,’ said her father sympathetically.
Alys threw him a glance, and nodded. ‘She ran out in the street, and found some people coming from the feast, still in their gowns and hoods, and asked them who was dead, and what happened. They told her his name, and that he had been throttled – is that right?’ Gil nodded. ‘It took several of us to get her back into the house. I sent to Greyfriars, and Father Francis is with her now. But the thing is, Gil, that I think she may have information for you. She has mentioned knowing the young man’s mother, and that money comes from the Montgomery estates for his keep.’
‘This could be valuable,’ Gil agreed, ‘but there are matters I must see to here before I can leave. Alys, what you could do for me if you will –’ She looked up hopefully. ‘– is take this animal home and feed him for me.’
‘If he will go with you,’ said the mason. ‘And I have a task for you also.’
‘Can’t I do anything else?’
‘Not yet.’ Gil smiled at her. ‘And the dog must be fed.’
‘Very well.’ She bent to offer the pup her hand to sniff. ‘He is a handsome dog – not like Didine at all, is he, father?’ As the mason grunted in agreement, she explained to Gil: ‘Catherine had a little dog when we came to Glasgow, a pop-eyed yappy creature. She died last year. This fellow is much more to my taste. What is his name?’
‘I have no idea. Probably Bran or Gelert or some such thing,’ said Gil disparagingly. ‘Everyone and his granny calls his wolfhound Bran. His head needs looked at, too.’
‘I see that.’ She stroked the rough flank, and the hairy tail beat twice on the floor. ‘Poor beast. And your task, father?’
The mason felt in his sleeve, and drew out the much-folded papers they had found in William’s purse.
‘See what you can make of that,’ he said, handing them to her. ‘The square one is in code.’
‘In code?’ She unfolded it carefully, and tilted it to the light. ‘Simple substitution,’ she said after a moment. ‘Look, here is the same group of letters, and here, and again here. I can decipher that,’ she finished confidently. ‘What about the other?’
‘Notes of some sort, transcribing the tablets.’ Gil held the little set out on his palm, and she glanced at it, and looked closer.
‘I saw those in Maister Webster’s shop,’ she said. ‘Yes, I am certain it’s the same set. I thought them too dear for something so small.’
‘William obviously thought otherwise.’ Gil slipped the leather cover off to look at the carved outer faces again. ‘This is fiddly work. It would have taken time.’
‘As for these notes.’ Alys looked down at the second sheet of paper. ‘M will be in G. I suppose G might be for Glasgow?’
‘Then M might mean Montgomery,’ said her father. ‘Who else!’
‘It’s possible,’ agreed Gil. ‘Very possible.’
Alys refolded the papers and tucked them behind her busk. ‘If I have time, I will work on that this evening.’
‘Is nane so witty and so wyce.I think you can do everything,’ said Gil in admiration.
She threw him a glinting look, and got to her feet. ‘I must go and see to the kitchen. Will you be in to supper?’
‘Who knows?’ said her father. ‘There is an entire college to question, I think. You see her out, Gilbert. I go to find John Shaw.’
Gil roused the pup and they walked down the shadowy tunnel to the yett, Alys’s pattens clopping on the paving-stones. There was movement in the porter’s small chamber, but the man did not appear. At the yett Gil paused, and pushed the animal towards her.
‘I have not forgotten my promise,’ he assured her. ‘If you wish to take part in the hunt, you shall do so, outside the college. I wish you could help inside as well.’
She put up her face for his kiss.
‘Some day there will be a college for women in Glasgow,’ she said composedly, and bending to take the dog’s collar led it out into the street. The effect of her parting speech was completely spoiled by the wolfhound, which, realizing it was being separated from its new hero, dug its paws into the mud, squirmed from her grasp and flung itself yammering back at Gil, with Alys in pursuit. Gil, laughing in exasperation, bent to gather the animal into his arms.
‘Leave the beast with me,’ he said, avoiding its passionate and muddy demonstrations of relief.
‘I think I must,’ she agreed, laughing with him. Her laughter faded as a mounted party went up the High Street, spurs jingling, and Gil paused in the gateway to watch them go, looking past her in dismay at the pack-mules laden with mud-splattered bales and boxes. ‘What is it? What have you seen? Is it the Montgomerys?’
‘No, not the Montgomerys,’ he said, in slightly hollow tones. ‘We have less time than I thought to get this sorted out. I know those riders, and I’d know the bay with the two socks if I met him in Jerusalem. Those are my mother’s outriders. She’ll be in Glasgow by tomorrow night.’
The college kitchen, having long since served up dinner in the Laigh Hall for the remaining scholars and regents, was resting from its labours. The charcoal fires out of the long brick cooking-range had been tipped into the hearth and lay in smouldering heaps, the blue smoke curling up past the long iron spits. Two sturdy lasses and a pair of grooms were scouring crocks in a corner, and another groom and a boy in a student’s belted gown were carrying them away. Some older women were seated round the table and Mistress Dickson, in a great chair in the corner, her feet in their large cracked shoes propped on a stool, was just sending another groom for some of the college’s wine.
‘Well, Maister Cunningham!’ she greeted him. ‘Sit you down and tell me about your marriage, then. What like’s your bride? Can she bake and brew?’
‘With the best,’ Gil assured her. He drew up the stool she indicated and the pup settled beside him on the flagged floor. ‘Agnes, is there any chance of some scraps for this beast? He must be yawpin with hunger, poor creature, for he can’t have been fed since before Terce.’
‘There’s some of the rabbit pottage left that it could have,’ said one of the women at the table, ‘and a wee take of the spiced pork. The plain roastit meat’s all ate up.’
‘There were just the two made dishes, is that right?’
‘Aye, and that was enough,’ said Mistress Dickson briskly. ‘For the money they allowed me, I did them proud, anyone’ll tell you that. Two made dishes, one of them kept for the high table, three sorts of plain roastit meat, an onion tart with flampoints to each table, all the breid they could eat.’ She checked the items off on long bony fingers. ‘And for the second course, a pike, kale pottage with roots in, a big dish of fruminty to each table. Raisin-cakes and cheese to clear it with.’
‘And the pheasant,’ said someone.
‘Aye, I forgot the pheasant. Sic a trouble it was to get it back in its skin.’
Gil, uncertain of how such a young animal’s belly would react to spiced pork, negotiated tactfully for a portion of the Almayne pottage, and began to remove the meat from the splintery bones with his knife. The dog accepted each morsel delicately, making no attempt to snatch or snap at his fingers, its hunger apparent only in the speed with which it swallowed. Mistress Dickson watched approvingly, over a cup of wine.
‘So that William turned up,’ she said at length.
‘He did,’ agreed Gil, picking another fragment of bone out of the bowl. ‘In the coalhouse.’
‘Tam, there, was in the coalhouse not an hour before he was found,’ said Mistress Dickson. Gil looked round, and found one of the grooms grinning importantly. ‘Weren’t you no, Tam?’
‘I was, and all,’ agreed Tam. ‘He wisny there, but,’ he added in tones of disappointment.
‘Saints preserve us, what a thocht!’ said one of the sturdy girls in the corner. The other one giggled.
‘Well, he wouldny be,’ said the student helping Tam. ‘Seeing it was the limehouse he was in anyway.’
‘What time was that?’ Gil asked. ‘Was it raining?’
‘What time? It was when I sent him for coals,’ Mistress Dickson interpolated.
‘And when would that be?’
After some discussion, with help from the three women at the table, it was agreed that Tam had gone for coals after one shower but before another.
‘What were the coals for? Whose dinner were you cooking by then, Agnes?’ Gil asked.
‘Aye, now you’re asking.’ Mistress Dickson scowled at the pup for a moment, chewing her lip. ‘I think it was the college dinner. I think I got the feast cooked on one carry of coals, and Isa there put the water on for the kale for the college dinner, and then we needed more. And lucky we did, for if Tam’d been later he’d have found the coalhouse door locked, by what I hear, and the dinner still to cook.’
‘And was that about the time the thunder started?’ Gil asked.
‘By here, you’re right, maister!’ said Tam. ‘For I mind now, I heard thunder when I was in the coalhouse. I thought it was the coals falling down on me!’ He laughed hugely at his own joke.
‘It was after that he went in the limehouse,’ observed the student.
‘It was the coalhouse, Nicholas,’ said Mistress Dickson crossly, ‘as Adam there’ll tell you.’
‘They said they’d put him in the limehouse.’
‘Who said that?’ asked Gil, feeding the dog another morsel.
The young man Nicholas, finding everyone looking at him, went red, but persisted. ‘When Maister Shaw sent me back to help with the crocks. I saw Lowrie Livingstone and the other two carry him into the passage that goes by the limehouse. They didny see me,’ he added.
‘They put him in the coalhouse, Nicholas,’ repeated Mistress Dickson. ‘I don’t know why you’re aye on about the limehouse.’
‘They said the limehouse,’ repeated Nicholas sulkily.
‘When did they say that?’ Gil asked.
‘When they came out of the passage. I was at the top of the kitchen stair,’ said Nicholas, pointing at the door, ‘and they came out just under my feet laughing about it. One of them said he’d be heard when he shouted, and Lowrie saidIn the limehouse? The walls are three feet thick.Then they went away across to the Outer Close.’
‘So was it them that killed him?’ asked one of the women at the table.
‘Why did they lie about him being in the limehouse?’ wondered Tam.
‘Well, it’s certain he was found in the coalhouse,’ said one of the men scouring crocks, ‘for I helped to bear him out of there.’
‘Aye, you did, Adam,’ agreed Mistress Dickson. ‘Just when I was needing you to fetch me another sack of meal.’
‘Did you see Father Bernard?’ Gil asked.
Nicholas looked blank. ‘Him? No. Was he about?’
‘One or two people were about,’ said Gil vaguely ‘Who else was here in the kitchen?’
‘I was,’ admitted Adam, pausing again in his work, ‘and I mind now, Nicholas, you came in and said something about William in the limehouse. I wonder how he got into the coalhouse,’ he speculated, ‘for he couldny open the door, with his hands tied like that. Strange we never heard him shouting or anything.’
‘Was his hands tied?’ said another of the women at the table avidly.
‘You heard nothing?’ asked Gil. ‘Where were you all?’
‘We were all here,’ said Mistress Dickson, ‘for Adam and Aikie yonder had shifted the most of the crocks already, while they were all at their play, and there was no more for us to do in the Fore Hall.’
‘Everyone who’s here now?’ Gil persisted. They looked round at one another, and several people nodded.
‘And Robert,’ said Tam.
‘I’d sent Robert to make sure all the crocks was shifted,’ said Mistress Dickson. In the corner, the two scullery-lasses looked quickly at one another and away again. ‘Rightly that’s John Shaw’s business, but he’d enough to see to, he asked me to oversee the crocks.’
‘I saw that William before that,’ said the third woman at the table.
‘Did you so? Where was he?’ Gil asked.
‘He crossed the Inner Close, here, and went up the next stair. He seemed as if he was in a hurry.’
‘Maybe you were the last to see him alive, Eppie,’ said the woman beside her with a pleasurable shudder.
‘Except for who killed him,’ Eppie pointed out. ‘I wondered at the time,’ she added, ‘for they were all still at their daft play, and I ken fine his chamber’s in the Outer Close where the siller dwells, but we’ve been ower thrang here, maister, to worry about one ill-natured laddie getting somewhere he shouldny.’
‘You found him ill-natured?’ said Gil innocently. A courteous paw was placed on his arm, and he handed over the last piece of meat. ‘The Dean and the Principal spoke very highly of him.’
‘Oh, aye,’ said Mistress Dickson. ‘They’d find him sweet-natured enough. He’d keep on their right sides, would William.’ She tilted her cup of wine to get the last mouthful, so that the steam-whitened underside of her tight red sleeve showed, and looked into its empty depths. There was a brooding silence. ‘He was aye on at me about the cost of food,’ she added. ‘If Maister Shaw was satisfied, what business was it of his, I said to him, but back he’d come with a note of who got a spare bite at the buttery door and who got wheaten breid when he should have had masloch. As if I’d turn away hungry laddies,’ she added.
‘If he could get a man into trouble, he would,’ said Tam. ‘I’m no sorry he’s away. Well, I’m no,’ he added on a defiant note.
‘He got your lass turned out,’ observed one of the other men. ‘What was it for?’
‘He said she took food home to her minnie,’ said Tam resentfully. ‘And what if she did?’
‘Aye, well,’ said Mistress Dickson, swinging her feet down off the stool. The pup, taken by surprise, backed against Gil’s knee and produced a rather squeaky growl. He hushed it, and it flattened its ears in apology. ‘This isny getting tomorrow’s breid kneddit. There’s water there, Maister Cunningham, if you wish to clean your hands before you leave my kitchen.’
‘Who do you think killed him, maister?’ asked the woman opposite Eppie, as the kitchen work began again. ‘Was it Lowrie Livingstone and them?’
Gil, drying his hands on his doublet, shook his head.
‘I don’t know yet. Who do you think?’ he countered.
‘They had no useful suggestion,’ he said to Maistre Pierre. They were standing at the gate between the college orchard and the Blackfriars grounds, watching the dog, which was casting about in the grass.
‘I think nobody has one,’ said the mason. ‘What was the useless suggestion?’
‘That one of his friends had throttled him. I asked who his friends were, but they were not willing to answer. He seems to have had few enough friends.’
‘Perhaps we should speak to those few next.’
‘After we have looked at the body again. Did John Shaw tell you anything?’
‘I have a list,’ said Maistre Pierre, drawing his own tablets from his purse, ‘of those who were waiting at the feast, and of what dishes were served. He became quite eloquent about serving the pike.’
‘It’s not everyone can splat a pike,’ Gil agreed. ‘Did you ask him if William had tried his extortion on him?’
‘I did not. I have to work with this man, remember, and whether he answered me honestly or not, I do not think he would forget that I asked. Besides, I think you are better than I at such questions.’
‘I hope that is a compliment.’ Gil nodded at the tablets in his friend’s large hand. ‘Who was serving?’
‘These three are college servants – Aikie Soutar, Tam Millar, Adam Anderson. Then these four are students, hired for the occasion – Nicholas Gray, Robert Montgomery, William Muirhead, George Maxwell. I asked,’ said Maistre Pierre slowly, ‘who went to the play and who would be clearing the crocks from the hall where the feast was. It seems the students were permitted to watch the play, since their fellows were acting in it.’
‘So the college servants were clearing the crocks,’ said Gil, ‘and crossing back and forth through the Inner Close and the Outer. Did all these four go back to their task after the play?’
‘It seems so. These two – the young men Muirhead and Maxwell – were handing sweetmeats and wine, and the other two were helping to shift the last of the crocks. That dog has done his duty. Should we go and pay our respects to the dead?’
In the bellhouse, which also served as mortuary chapel, there were candles and nose-tickling incense, and a rapid mutter of prayers. A pair of the Dominicans knelt, one on either side of the convent’s bier, where the corpse lay shrouded already. Their fingers flickered over their plain wooden rosaries.
‘I asked that he be left clothed till we could be there,’ said Gil, in some annoyance.
‘He was beginning to set,’ said Maister Forsyth, coming forward from the stone bench at the wall. ‘Aye, Maister Mason. Are ye well? His clothes are here, Gilbert, I kept them back, but the laddie himself is washed and made decent. And what have you deduced this far?’
‘Precious little,’ admitted Gil. ‘Can you tell me about William, maister?’
‘Not a lot, you know.’ The old man made his way back to the bench, and Gil and the mason settled on either side of him. ‘Let me see. He must be fifteen or so. A very able scholar, very good in the Latin, a few scraps of Greek, a little French. A good grasp of logic, a very clever disputant. A liking for secrets, and a powerful memory for oddments of knowledge. He had the occasional moment of generosity – I have seen him give coin to a beggar – but for the most part very close with his property or his learning.’
‘You did not like him,’ Gil suggested.
Maister Forsyth turned to look at him, the candlelight glittering in his eyes. ‘Have I said so?’
‘Was he likeable?’
‘No,’ said the old voice after a moment. ‘God has not given it to all of us to be lovable.’
‘God himself loves us all, even so,’ said the mason.
‘Amen,’ agreed Maister Forsyth. ‘William was admirable, but no lovable. One of the clever ones, for whom it is never enough.’
‘Erth upon erth wald fain be a king,’Gil offered.
‘Indeed. And it goes on, does it not,And how that erth goes to erth thinks he no thing.Poor laddie. He made me think of a flawed diamond. Brilliant and glittering, ye ken, but if we tried to cut or polish him more he would fly in pieces. Now you, Gilbert, are like ivory or maybe jet.’
‘Jet?’ Gil repeated, startled.
‘Aye. Plain and serviceable, no show about ye, but taking a fine polish. A fine polish,’ he repeated approvingly.
‘Do diamonds have flaws?’ asked Maistre Pierre.
‘Who knows? But the figure is instructive.’
Gil, recovering his poise, said after a moment, ‘What do you suppose William meant by his questions at this morning’s meeting?’
‘I have no idea,’ said Maister Forsyth promptly in Latin. ‘It was a quite regrettable display of malice, but whether it was founded in any fact I do not care to speculate.’
‘Malice,’ repeated Maistre Pierre in French. ‘Was it only that?’
‘Maister Doby thought the remark about money might be a misunderstanding of the problem the college had about John Smyth’s loan,’ Gil said.
His teacher stared at the candles, while the prayers drummed on like rain.
‘It might be,’ he said at length. ‘It might be. John would remember that tale better than me, he was Wardroper at the time.’
‘Or it might be a dig at the Steward,’ Gil continued. ‘I gather William was exercised about the cost of food going through the kitchen.’
‘You canny starve growing laddies.’ Maister Forsyth was still watching the candles. ‘No, Gilbert, I dinna ken. Nor have I the smallest idea of what prompted the hints about heresy,’ he added in Latin.
‘It is an unpleasant thing to suggest,’ said Maistre Pierre in French.
The old man shook his head. ‘Ask another question, Gilbert.’
‘It seems,’ said Gil with some delicacy, ‘that William was given to extortion. Do you have any knowledge of this, maister?’
‘It grieves me to say it,’ admitted Maister Forsyth, ‘but I do.’ He heaved a sigh. ‘The poor laddie. I feared as much.’ He looked round at Gil. ‘He came to me privately one day last autumn, with a list of things I had said, taken out of context, hinting that it might be worth his while repeating them to Robert our Archbishop.’ He shook his head again. ‘I showed him the error of what he was doing. I also assured him,’ he added, with a gleam of humour, ‘that I had made most of these remarks to Robert Blacader in the first place. He went away, and I have prayed for him since. I feared that if he approached me in such a way he might approach others, to the danger of himself or of his . . .’ He paused, considering the next word. ‘Victim,’ he finished.
‘That is valuable information, maister,’ said Gil.
‘Well, well. Do you have more to ask me?’
‘What did you have to eat at the feast, sir?’
‘At the feast?’ Maister Forsyth smacked his lips reminiscently ‘Agnes did well, on the money we gave her. Spiced pork with raisins. Fruminty There was a pike, but I canny take pike. Tastes of mud. A great onion tart with cloves. Agnes canny cook Almayne pottage, but she’s a good hand with pastry. It was a good feast, and the spiced pork hasny repeated on me the way it often does. And then we had the play, and William’s costume was torn. A pity, that. The dragon is always popular with the younger students.’
‘And what did you do at the end of the play?’
The round felt hat bobbed as Maister Forsyth turned to look at Gil again.
‘The senior members of the Faculty retired to the Principal’s residence to ease themselves. We remained there for perhaps the quarter of an hour, and then went in procession back to the Fore Hall.’
‘Who are the senior members?’ asked Maistre Pierre.
Maister Forsyth, finally accepting the mason’s understanding of Latin, enumerated the Dean, the Principal, the two lawyers and himself.
‘And Maister Coventry was not there,’ said Gil.
‘No,’ agreed Maister Forsyth, ‘though he ought to ha been. I thought I saw him and Nick Kennedy gang the other way, to the Arthurlie building.’ He looked down at the pup, which after nosing the bundle of William’s clothes carefully had gone to sleep on Gil’s knee. ‘And what is this, Gilbert?’
‘We found him in William’s chamber. It’s against the statutes to keep a dog, isn’t it?’
The old man tut-tutted. ‘There ought to be a statute about keeping statutes. They mostly gets ignored. It’s fair taken on wi ye, Gilbert.’
‘Do we wish to look at the dead?’ asked Maistre Pierre. Gil nodded, and gathering up the pup under his arm rose to his feet. The two friars by the bier ignored him as he loosened the tape holding the shroud in place and folded the linen back. The dog stretched its neck and extended a long nose to sniff the red hair, bright even by candlelight, and Gil turned in haste to hand the animal to the mason.
‘Poor beast, I never thought – hold him for me, Pierre.’
‘I do not think him distressed,’ the mason said, watching as Gil felt carefully over the dead boy’s skull. ‘He may not recognize the scent. All I can smell is incense and soap. What have you found?’
‘Confirmation.’ Gil parted the springy hair, and moved one of the candles closer. ‘Aye, he’s hit his head on something. There’s a lump, and a bruise. That’s all I need, I think.’ He straightened up. ‘Bring the pup here.’
The pup, held up to see the corpse, sniffed briefly at the ghastly face, paid a little more attention to the grooved and swollen neck, then laid its head on Gil’s arm in a manner which spoke volumes. The nearer of the two bedesmen reached up without missing a syllable to scratch the rough jaw and was rewarded, as Maister Doby had been, with an infinitesimal lick.
‘One final thing,’ said Gil, gathering up the ill-smelling bundle of William’s clothes with his free hand. ‘Who would have a reason to kill him?’
‘Many people might have a reason,’ said Maister Forsyth, ‘but that doesny say they did it.’
‘Agreed,’ said Gil, but the old man would say no more.
‘Now what do we do, my plain and serviceable son-in-law?’ said the mason, closing the Blackfriars gate behind them.
‘But well-polished,’ Gil reminded him, setting the dog on its own paws. ‘We must look at these garments and then send them to be washed. We must speak to William’s friends. I must talk to Nick Kennedy about that list he made for me. Then, I hope, we can go back to supper and I must speak to Mistress Irvine.’
‘Ah, good, a short day’ Maistre Pierre looked about him. ‘This is good land the college owns. They could rent it out.’
‘They use it.’ Gil was heading downhill under the apple-trees, towards the kitchen garden which lay at the back of the sprawling college buildings and sloped down to the Molendinar burn and its watermills. ‘The students gather here on fine evenings to dispute or to hear half-solemn disputes between two of their teachers. They play football here too,’ he added, ‘though they should really go out to the Muir Butts for that.’
‘Half-solemn? You mean only one disputant may make jokes?’
Gil grinned, but before he could answer Maister Kennedy appeared round the corner of the buildings, exclaiming, ‘Gil! There you are! You’re wanted, man. Montgomery’s here, and he wants blood. Come and defend us.’
‘Not my blood, I hope,’ said Gil.
‘Possibly not,’ said Nick. ‘It seems he’d just ridden into the burgh, and when the Dean sent word concerning William he came round breathing fire. There’s been a bit of a ding-dong already.’
‘What help am I likely to be?’ asked Gil, following Maister Kennedy through the pend into the inner courtyard. ‘He’ll no be comforted to learn that a Cunningham’s trying to track down whoever it was killed his kinsman.’
‘Have you nothing to tell him? At least you can assure him you’re doing something.’
Hugh Lord Montgomery was standing before the empty fireplace in the Principal’s lodging, radiating rage like a hot brick. When Gil entered the room, with the mason watchful at his back, the Dean was explaining why no word had yet been sent to Archbishop Blacader.
‘You tellt me all that already,’ said Montgomery, glaring at Gil. ‘Is this what’s trying to sort it out? This – this Cunningham?’
‘Gil Cunningham, of the Cathedral Consistory,’ said Gil, bowing with a flourish of the illegal master’s bonnet. ‘And this is Maister Peter Mason, of this burgh.’
The man who had been head of his house since he turned fourteen, who had personally killed two Cunninghams and a Boyd, was big, though not so big as the mason, and his dark hair sprang thickly above a square-jawed face. Dark angry eyes glittered under thick brows as he stared down his nose at Gil.
‘And what, if anything, have you done to the point?’ he asked. ‘Why have ye no hangit the ill-doer already?’
‘Gilbert is an able-’began the Principal injudiciously.
I dinna wantable,’said Montgomery quietly. I wantquick.’
‘The trouble withquick,’said Gil, ‘is that it might also bewrong,and then where would we be? Supposing we hangit a Drummond or an Oliphant, or worse, a Murray or a Ross, and then found out he wasny guilty, my lord, who do you think his kin would attack? The college or the Montgomerys?’
‘I’ll take my chance on that,’ said Montgomery.
I think the college would prefer not to,’ said Gil. There was a pause, which seemed very long. Then Montgomery produced a sound like a snarl and flung himself down in the Principal’s great chair.
‘Well, tell me what you have found, then,’ he said savagely.
‘The young man called William Irvine was strangled with his own belt,’ said Gil, picking his words with care, ‘and hidden in the college coalhouse. This makes it secret murder, not murderchaud-mellé.We are working from two directions, trying to establish who had a reason for killing him and also who had the opportunity.’
‘And who had a reason?’
I have found no good reason so far,’ said Gil.
‘Folk gets killed for bad reasons,’ said Montgomery. ‘Look for the bad reasons, Cunningham law man. What about opportunity? Who had the chance to kill him?’
‘Most of the college, at the moment,’ said Gil. ‘We will get closer than that once we speak to everyone.’
‘Pick a likely culprit and put him to the thumbscrews,’ said Montgomery. ‘I’ve a set I can lend ye, if the college has none. That’ll get ye a confession, quick as winkin.’
‘That will not be necessary,’ said the Principal.
‘Listen, Maister Doby,’ said Lord Montgomery, getting to his feet. ‘This is Sunday, right? We’ll have the funeral Tuesday or Wednesday, and if this long drink of water hasny named our William’s killer to me by the time William’s in the ground, I’ll come in here myself with the thumbscrews and –’
‘Not,’ said the Dean in glacial tones, ‘on University premises.’
There was another of those pauses.
‘No?’ said Lord Montgomery softly. ‘Then how about outside? Ye canny hide in yir two closesin saecula saeculorum,clerk. I’ll be waiting. I’ll pick them off as they go into the town, and put them to the question. Ye’ve got till after the funeral,’ he said again to Gil, and strode past him.
The mason stepped out of his way, and closed the door carefully behind him.
‘He must think a great deal of William,’ he observed, moving to the window which looked out into the courtyard.
‘I confess, Patrick,’ said Maister Doby in wavering tones, ‘that I feel the college could do without that man’s money now.’
‘I too, John,’ agreed the Dean. ‘Is that all you have learned so far, Gilbert?’
‘Not quite,’ said Gil. The Dean waited. So did Gil.
‘We speak to William’s friends next, no?’ said the mason after a short time. ‘Where do we find them?’
‘I will have them sent for,’ said the Dean, giving in.
‘You may use this chamber. But you must make haste, Gilbert,’ said Maister Doby anxiously, ‘for Vespers will be early and solemn tonight and the college will go in procession to the Blackfriars kirk from the Fore Hall.’
Ralph Gibson proved to be the lanky boy who had played Collegia, now revealing a remarkable crop of spots. Traces of paint still showed in front of his ears and at his hairline, and there was blue on his puffy eyelids. He sat down when bidden, and stared at Gil anxiously, his bony hands clasped between his knees.
‘You know what has happened, Ralph?’ said Gil. The boy nodded. ‘William Irvine is dead, and somebody killed him.’ Ralph nodded again.
‘It wisny me, maister!’ he bleated earnestly. ‘William was my friend. Him and Robert and me.’
‘That’s why I hope you can help me,’ Gil said. ‘Tell me about William.’
‘He was just William,’ said Ralph, taken aback.
‘Was he good company?’ Gil asked. Ralph nodded again.
‘Oh, aye, he was. He knew all sort of things,’ he added.
‘William told you things?’ said the mason. The boy glanced sideways at him under the blue eyelids. ‘What sort of things?’
‘Such as what?’
‘Well, where Maister Forsyth got his lecture notes from. Who tellt Maister Stewart that you canny believe all the doctors of the Kirk have wrote.’
‘He told you these things?’ Gil said, with no particular intonation.
‘Well, maybe no.’ Ralph wriggled a little. ‘But he kent them himsel. He said so. And I tellt him things.’
‘That hint about Father Bernard – was that what William meant by his question at the meeting?’
‘Maybe,’ said Ralph, floundering slightly. ‘I think quite likely, maister.’
‘William was a good friend?’ asked the mason.
Ralph, understanding the phrase in the Scots sense, nodded again.
‘He got me out of trouble with Maister Gray,’ he disclosed, ‘and he lent me money to pay my fees when my faither’s rick-yaird burnt out. Maister, will I hae to pay that back?’ he burst out. ‘For I haveny got it. William’s heir might want it, mightn’t he no?’
The pup, curled up on Gil’s gown by his chair, raised its head to study him, then tucked its nose under a hairy paw and went back to sleep.
‘William was a bastard,’ Gil said. ‘His nearest kin will get his goods and money. If there is nothing written down, Ralph, there is no proof of the loan at law –’
‘Oh, but he wrote it down,’ Ralph said. ‘In his wee red book.’
‘A red book?’ Gil asked, memory stirring faintly. ‘What book was that?’
‘He wrote everything down,’ said Ralph, with vicarious pride. ‘He was aye making notes.’ He mimed a careful scribe, writing small into his cupped left hand. That was it, Gil thought, recalling the sight of William writing in his tablets while the Dean’s golden oratory rolled over their heads. Writing that draft testament we found? ‘He said, you never kent when a thing would come in handy, and there it would be in his bookie.’
William’s kin would not be bound by what the boy set out in his fictive will, but they might be prepared to be guided by it, Gil considered, looking at the tear-stained face in front of him. And half of William’s goods, or even a quarter of the worth of what they had found in the wrecked chamber, would be a considerable sum to this mourner.
‘Whoever is the nearest kin,’ he said, ‘I will speak for you in the matter of the loan. Now, tell us, Ralph, what did you do at the end of the play? Was anyone with you?’
‘At the end of the play?’ Ralph stared uncertainly for a moment. ‘Oh, aye. We all ran out when the rain begun. Robert and me went to our chamber, for he’d left some notes of William’s at his window and I’d left my other hose to air. Wringing wet they were, too,’ he added.
‘Where is your chamber?’ the mason asked. Ralph produced some tangled directions to one of the stairs in the inner courtyard.
‘And then you both went back to the Fore Hall?’ said Gil. ‘Did you go anywhere else first? How about the privy? Did you see anyone else?’
‘Well, everyone else was running about too,’ said Ralph reasonably. ‘There was Henry and Walter, up our stair, for I heard them shouting about Walter’s boots. And when I was back down in the close I mind there was Andrew, and Nick Gray. And then I just gaed back and took off my costume and cleaned my face, and then I gaed up to the Fore Hall, for there was some of the comfits for the players.’
‘And Robert went with you, did he?’ asked Gil. ‘This is Robert Montgomery?’
‘No, no, he’d to go back to the kitchen. He’d been serving at table, see,’ Ralph explained. ‘He had to go back and clear. Walter and Henry and Andrew and me,’ he counted off on his fingers, ‘all gaed back to the Bachelors’ Schule thegither. Robert and Nick were wantit in the kitchen. Maister Shaw was there and sent them back.’
‘Did they go to the kitchen together?’ Gil asked.
Ralph shook his head. ‘I didny see. Likely they did.’
‘What did you eat at the feast?’ Gil asked.
Ralph, startled by the change of subject, blinked at him, but answered readily enough, ‘Rabbit stew and some of the onion tart. I didny get much. We had to go and get changed for the play.’
The mason turned from the window where he had been looking out into the outer courtyard.
‘Tell us this, boy,’ he said. ‘Who do you think might have killed William?’
‘I don’t know, maister!’ There were tears in the young voice. ‘But I wish he hadny done it!’
‘Poor boy,’ said Maistre Pierre, when Ralph had gone.
‘A poor creature,’ Gil agreed. ‘I suppose William saw that too.’
‘And what of this red book?’
‘I have seen such a thing.’ Gil frowned. ‘I can’t remember where.’
‘It will come to you,’ said the mason with certainty. ‘Shall we have in the other boy now? Maister Doby said we should make haste.’
Having seen the head of the family, Gil felt there was no doubt that Robert Montgomery was entitled to his surname. The dark hair sprang from the wide forehead in the same way, and there was the same effect of radiant rage, no less powerful for being subjugated to the good manners of a well-taught student.
‘The Dean said you wished to question me, maisters.’
‘That is true,’ said Gil. ‘Please be seated.’
The boy sat down, staring intently at Gil.
‘Well? What d’you wish to ask me? We’re singing solemn vespers for him, I have to go and robe,’ he said. ‘And I need time to con the line, since I’ll be singing his part and no my own.’
‘William was your friend?’ said Gil.
‘I suppose you could say that.’ A shrug of one shoulder. ‘He’s – he was one of ours, even if he was a bastard. We spent time together.’
‘Did you like him?’
‘I don’t have to like all my kin, thank God.’
‘Amen to that,’ said Gil ambiguously ‘Tell me about William. Do you know who his parents were?’
Again that intent stare.
‘If I did I wouldny say so,’ the boy declared roundly. ‘If you want the dirty linen, you can ask at my uncle Hugh. And good luck to it.’
‘Then what can you tell me about him?’
Another shrug. ‘Clever bastard. Liked to know things. Kept himself separate.’
‘Would you say, nosy?’ asked the mason. Robert turned to stare at him.
‘You could say that,’ he said after a moment. ‘Some folk collects money, or relics, or plate armour. William collected information.’
‘What kind of information?’
‘All kinds. Who wedded who, what estates the King’s giving away, how the harvest was in Avon-dale – he’d write it all down.’
‘And sell it?’ said the mason. Robert froze for a moment, then turned to face Gil again.
‘I dinna ken,’ he said, with another shrug. ‘He wouldny tell me if he did, would he?’
‘Was his question at the Faculty Meeting about that kind of thing, do you think?’ Gil asked.
‘I tell you I dinna ken. I’ve no idea what he was on about.’
‘Ralph thought it might be about something the chaplain had said,’ said Gil, in deliberate misrepresentation.
‘Ralph’s a fool,’ said Robert dismissively.
‘Do you recognize this creature?’ Gil stirred the pup gently with one foot. It produced a muffled yip and its paws paddled briefly.
Robert’s angry gaze softened. ‘That’s a good wolfhound. Looks like one of Billy Dog’s.’
‘His right name’s William Doig. He stays out the Gallowgait, beyond the East Port. Breeds dogs.’
‘I have heard of him,’ said the mason.
‘You’ve never seen this one before? This is the dog we found in William’s chamber.’
‘In his chamber? I didny –’ began Robert, and checked. ‘I didny ken he had a dog in his chamber. I thought it was against the statutes.’
‘It is,’ said Gil.
‘It wasny in his chamber last time I was there.’ Robert considered the pup, which was now sitting up yawning, and snapped his fingers at it. ‘It’s a bonnie beast, right enough. Maybe he was keeping it down at Billy Dog’s,’ he suggested. The pup went forward, stretching out its long nose to sniff at his hand. He patted it, feeling gently at the shape of the skull.
‘Good bone on him,’ he said, and then, indignantly, ‘Who’s cut his skull for him, then?’
‘We found him like that.’
‘That should ha been seen to before now,’ said Robert, turning the pup’s head to the light.
‘I’ll get him physicked when I go home.’
‘Billy Dog would gie you something for it. They say he’ll cure anything on four legs.’
They all watched as the pup turned and wobbled drowsily back to its makeshift bed, circled once and lay down with a sigh.
‘You were serving at table, I think,’ said Gil after a moment.
Robert blinked slightly. ‘Aye, I was.’
‘When did you eat? What did you have?’
‘Anything I could get a mouthful of,’ he said frankly, ‘every time I went back to the servery. They never tellt us we’d have to eat after the rest, and handing out all that food on an empty wame was more than I could do.’
‘What did you think of the Almayne pottage?’ Gil asked, and smiled slightly at the grimace the boy pulled. ‘Agnes is famous for it.’
‘I’ve no doubt.’
‘Did you get a taste of the spiced pork?’
‘I did not. I canny take fennygreek. Gives me hives. We never get it at home. I’d some of the onion tart, and a lump of the pike after John Shaw had mangled it. Never saw anyone make such a mess of splatting a pike.’
Gil glanced at the mason, and went on, ‘And after the play, what did you do?’
‘Went to close my window and move some of my notes out of the rain.’
‘Your notes. Not William’s?’
‘Mine.’ The square chin went up. ‘Then I went back to the kitchen, to see if there was any food, and found myself shifting crocks from the Fore Hall.’
‘Who else did you see when you went to your chamber?’
Robert paused, considering this question.
‘Ralph cam with me. He’s my chamber-fellow, poor fool. I heard Walter and Henry. I heard Andrew, and Nick Gray cam into the kitchen just after me. I think I heard Lowrie Livingston and that, arguing on their stair. They’re aye arguing, those three, though if you look sideways at one of them the whole three of them gets on to you.’
‘If I think of any more I’ll tell you.’ Robert looked past the mason at the sky. ‘I need to go, maisters. Is that all your questions?’
‘Just the one more,’ said Gil. ‘Who would have a reason to kill William?’
There was a pause, in which the anger built up behind Robert’s intent stare again.
‘How the deil would I know who he’d done an ill turn to?’ he said softly, and rose. ‘Good e’en to ye, maisters.’
The door closed behind him with a gentle firmness which was somehow more offensive than if it had slammed. The mason whistled.
‘Veuillez votr’ universite,’quoted Gil ironically,‘prier pour l’âme.’
‘Even his friends do not regret him,’ Maistre Pierre agreed. ‘Except for that poor Ralph. Now what must we do? I confess, every time you ask about the feast I am more aware of being hungry.’
‘We should clearly speak to this Nicholas Gray, but he will shortly go to Vespers like the rest of the college.’ Gil bent to lift the pup and reclaim his short gown. ‘I want one word with Nick Kennedy, and then I think we can go home to supper, provided Alys has not fed it to the pig.’
‘I think you may be too late for Maister Kennedy also.’ The mason closed the shutters as the sound of theTe Deumfloated in from the courtyard. ‘The procession is leaving already.’Chapter Six
‘Let me see, what do we know?’ said Gil.
They were seated in the mason’s panelled closet, with a jug of ale circulating. The household had long since eaten its supper, but Alys had greeted them with pleasure and produced a substantial meal for all three of them. The wolfhound was still licking hopefully at its empty plate, holding it down with a large hairy paw.
‘We have been told, and we may believe, I think,’ said the mason, picking crumbs off a platter which had earlier held half a raised pie, ‘that the young man was knocked unconscious and put in the limehouse as a joke of sorts.’ He pulled a disapproving face. ‘Prentice stuff. One expects better of scholars, surely.’
‘No,’ said Gil, recalling his own student days.
‘No, father,’ said Alys.
Maistre Pierre grunted. ‘And we have deduced that quite shortly after he was put there he was throttled, still in the limehouse, and transferred to the coalhouse after he was dead.’
‘How can you know that?’ asked Alys, her brown eyes intent on his face.
‘No sign of a struggle, in either place,’ Gil said. ‘He was killed before he recovered his senses, and it seems he was already beginning to stir when he was shut in the limehouse.’
She nodded. ‘Are you looking for one person, or two?’
‘One person at the moment,’ said Gil. ‘It is simpler. But I agree, it could almost be two, or even three. However I am reasonably confident,’ he added, ‘that we have not yet spoken to the person who searched William’s chamber and struck this fellow over the head.’
‘I must see to that.’ Alys drew the animal to her by its collar, and studied the injury. ‘It’s a clean cut – if we wash off the blood, it should heal well enough.’ She patted the pup, which was wagging its stringy tail at her, and lifted the tray of empty dishes. ‘It all hinges on the order in which things happened after the play,’ she continued thoughtfully, her gaze on Gil again.
‘You see that too?’
‘I do not,’ said the mason. ‘Surely it is enough to find out who searched the chamber?’
‘If the regent’s key opened both the coalhouse and the boy’s chamber, other keys may do likewise,’ Alys pointed out. ‘How many such keys are there? Who has them?’
‘We need to ask,’ said her father.
Alys put the tray down again, and looked from one to the other. ‘Could the Dean be right? Could it be a passing malefactor, or a discontented servant?’
‘Easily,’ said Gil, a little grimly. ‘And two of the servants at least had a reason to dislike the boy.’
‘No, but wait. If I understand you, this limehouse is in a closed pend by itself, or at least with the coalhouse, so only people with business there would pass the door. If William was not killed by the boys who put him in the limehouse –’
‘I’m reasonably sure of that,’ Gil said. ‘They were shocked and frightened by news of his death, and greatly relieved when I told them how he had died. Having seen their acting,’ he added, ‘I am certain they were sincere in this.’
‘Then how did the person who killed him know he was there?’
‘A good question,’ said Gil.
Her elusive smile flickered. ‘That always means there is either a very good answer, or no immediate one.’ She collected more scraps off the dishes on the tray and put them absently into the wolfhound’s plate, where they were immediately swept up by its long pink tongue. ‘Which is it?’ Gil shook his head in reply. ‘Who had the chance? When was he killed?’
‘Just after the play ended,’ said Gil, ‘there was a great clap of thunder and the rain began.’
‘I heard it,’ she said, nodding.
‘All of the cast and many of the other students scattered to shut windows or put books out of danger. Ninian Boyd found William poking round their chamber, and knocked him down. By the time they had tied him up and carried him downstairs most of the others had gone back to the hall where the feast was, to get at the sweetmeats, so they thought they were unseen, but one of the scholars helping at the feast overheard them and told the kitchen hands. I think this all happened before the Dean rose to retire from the place where we saw the play, so none of the masters knew at this point.’
‘What of the other students?’ asked Maistre Pierre. ‘Theology, the Laws?’
‘We must ask, or get someone to do it for us.’
‘But suppose someone found out where William was,’ Alys persisted, ‘never mind how for the moment, would it have been possible for him to get to the limehouse, do away with the boy, and move him, unperceived by anyone else? In broad day? Who had the chance to do that?’
‘Conspiracy,’ said her father.
‘You must question all of the kitchen people,’ Alys said. She rose and lifted the tray. ‘Someone may know something, or have told someone else, or been overheard. Nobody pays attention to servants.’
She backed out of the door with her tray, and they heard her feet on the stairs.
‘There is still no reason to throttle the boy,’ said Maistre Pierre, sitting back in his great chair. ‘Or none better than another.’
‘And there is this question of the smell of cumin on the belt he was throttled with.’ Gil poured more ale for them both. ‘None of the people who ate the spiced pork had the opportunity, and none of the others ate the spiced pork. I think,’ he added. ‘Perhaps I should also ask the kitchen if any of them tasted it.’
‘Very likely they did.’ The mason sighed. ‘I had misgivings when I saw the messenger from the college, and I was right. At least there are no Campbells this time, but only that supremely unpleasant Lord Montgomery.’
‘Who is son-in-law to the Great Campbell himself,’ said Gil. Maistre Pierre looked enquiringly. ‘His wife is a daughter of Chancellor Argyll,’ Gil confirmed. ‘He is uncle-by-marriage to John Sempill’s late mistress.’
‘I should have guessed,’ said the mason in disgust.
‘What is more, he seems determined to cleanse Ayrshire of Cunninghams.’
‘I know he has killed more than one –’
‘With his own blade he has killed my kinsman Alexander Lord Kilmaurs, the head of the house, on Sauchie Muir in ’88,’ said Gil with restraint, ‘and Alexander’s son Robert in ’89, in an armed encounter outside the court at Irvine. He has burned and harried and confiscated Cunningham property the length and breadth of north Ayrshire, the district called Cunningham, and in Lanarkshire as well.’ The baby wailed, elsewhere in the house. ‘And it is this man’s kinsman for whom we are charged to win justice. I would feel better about that if I knew what degree of kinship there was.’
‘A very unpleasant man.’ The baby wailed again, closer, and Maistre Pierre sat up. ‘That infant has still not eaten, I would judge. Why is Alys bringing him upstairs?’
‘Because Nancy wishes to hear Vespers at Grey-friars.’ Alys, returning with the tray, was followed into the little room by the silent girl who was the baby’s nurse. ‘There, Nancy, give him to me now and go with the others.’
‘Poor little one,’ said the mason as the swaddled bundle changed hands. ‘He is still hungry?’
‘Mistress Irvine’s remedy, that we tried this morning, came straight back up.’ Alys bounced the baby hopefully.‘The cattie rade to Paisley, to Paisley, to Paisley.No, the milk with honey and a little usquebae is still the best, and he won’t grow big and strong like his daddy on that, will he?The cattie rade to Paisley, upon a harrow tine.’
The baby grizzled at her.
‘Which daddy?’ said Gil.
‘Well, the harper calls daily,’ Maistre Pierre pointed out, ‘whereas Maister Sempill has not been here once since we fostered the bairn. Let me hold him, Alys, and you may see to the dog.’
‘The difference lies between knowing it is your bairn, as McIan does,’ suggested Gil, ‘and simply needing it as a legal heir, like Sempill. No,’ he said firmly to the pup, which was goggling at the baby.
‘Let John see the dog,’ said Alys, sitting down. She lifted the rag and the bowl from the tray, and captured the pup between her ankles. ‘See, baby. What’s this?’
Child and dog stared at one another, and the baby stopped wailing. Alys, taking advantage of the pup’s distraction, washed the dried blood out of the rough hair and inspected the injury. Gil watched the deft movements of her slender hands, and suddenly found himself imagining her tending to him like that. Would she wear the same look of intent concern? he wondered, and then thought, This is foolish. But the image lingered.
By the time Alys was finished the baby was reaching out towards the dog.
‘As I thought,’ she said, smearing the wound with something green from a small pot. ‘A clean cut. It should heal well. There, little one,’ she said to the pup, releasing it. ‘Is that a doggie, John?’
John made a remark, waving his arms. The doggie moved closer. The mason took a firmer grasp of the baby, ready to move quickly if necessary, but Gil shook his head.
‘He is not hunting,’ he said, ‘he’s curious. Look – his hackles are still down.’
The wolfhound reared up with one paw on Maistre Pierre’s knee, bringing its muzzle within reach of the baby, who reached out with both arms. One small hand grasped a soft grey ear, the other reached for the shiny black nose. The pup’s tail swung, and there was an unfamiliar sound.
John McIan or Sempill was laughing.
‘Well!’ said Alys.
‘Well!’ said the mason, and freed one hand to wipe his eyes. All three adults exchanged idiotic smiles, while the pup scrambled awkwardly on to the mason’s knee beside the baby.
‘The question is,’ said Gil, watching critically as it tried to hitch up a dangling back leg, ‘whether the dog will stay with John or follow me when I leave the room.’
‘Where are you going?’ said Alys, looking up quickly.
‘To speak to Mistress Irvine. What can you tell me about her?’
‘That she is a Paisley body, married to one of Montgomery’s tenants, not lacking for money in any way,’ said Alys, on an apologetic note, ‘and that she has gone to hear Vespers with the rest of the household. They will be back in good time. What else do you need to see to this evening?’
‘The boy’s clothes,’ said the mason. ‘Where did you leave them, Gil?’
The pup looked anxious, but did not attempt to follow Gil, and wagged its tail in relief when he returned with the unsavoury bundle.
‘Of all vanegloir the lamp and the mirour.William certainly had his vanities. His hair was newly barbered, and these are excellent boots,’ he said, unrolling them from the folds of worn blue-grey stuff. ‘They do not match with the gown at all.’
‘Nor with the remainder of the garments,’ agreed Alys, prodding fastidiously at the hose. ‘These are past washing, they must be burnt. Have they nobody to mend their heels and toes? I will put the linen to soak and it can be washed tomorrow.’
‘Are there not statutes concerning dress?’ asked the mason.
‘There are,’ said Gil. He set down the boots and lifted the gown. ‘Most folk ignore them if they can afford better. This was not new when William got it, I would say. It has seen much use.’ He turned the garment, looking at the frayed lining. ‘No – I hoped there might be somewhere to conceal secrets, but it appears not.’
‘Perhaps the doublet?’ suggested the mason, easing the sleeping baby into a more convenient position. ‘What sort of secrets do we search for?’
‘Just secrets.’ Gil put the gown aside, and Alys picked it up and began to fold it neatly. ‘William was a magpie for stray facts, as far as I can make out, and there is this red book the boy Gibson mentioned, which was certainly not concealed in his room.’
‘Or if it was,’ observed Maistre Pierre, ‘the searcher found it before us, with the other papers. There were no papers in the chamber at all.’
Gil looked up from William’s doublet. ‘Yes, I suppose so. He – the searcher – would be at pains to destroy any evidence against himself.’
‘Surely,’ said Alys, lifting the other side of the doublet where it trailed on the floor, ‘the best evidence is what you deduce from sign, like a huntsman? The book can only suggest names to us.’
‘I think I will teach you philosophy,’ said Gil. ‘You think more logically than most men I know already.’
She coloured, and looked down at the doublet. Gil put out a hand to caress the side of her face, and found his fingers caught in her hair as she bent her head, suddenly intent.
‘What’s this? There’s something in the lining. It feels too big to be a coin.’
‘A medallion?’ suggested the mason. Alys turned the inside of the garment to the light.
‘He has slit the lining and made a pocket for this,’ she reported, easing at the cloth. ‘I think he did it himself, because it’s a very tight fit. Ah, here it comes!’
Something with the dull gleam of bronze slid on to her lap.
‘Mon Dieu!Look at that!’ she said. She lifted the object, and handed it to Gil. Their fingers caught and clung for a moment as he took it.
‘Whatever is it?’ he wondered, and turned the object over. It was a disc about as large as the palm of his hand, with a flat outer ring which could turn about the inner portion. The centre was engraved with the portrait of a saint whose attributes Gil could not make out, and around the saint and on the outer ring were two sequences of letters in order. ‘Some kind of bronze hornbook?’
‘Have you never seen one of these?’ Alys took it back, and turned the outer ring carefully. ‘It’s a cipher disc. See – if I set theAon the outer ring against theDon the inner one, then all the other letters are set against the letter four along, and all I have to do to cipher a message is to read off the letters I want to make the word, instead of having to count on my fingers. This will be very useful. Which reminds me, father,’ she added, ‘I deciphered the letter from John of Castile. He writes that the mad Italian has got money for his voyage. He may have sailed by now, who knows?’
‘What, that man who wants to find the western passage to the Indies?’ Gil asked.
‘Sooner him than me,’ said the mason. ‘Can you imagine? How long will it take him, do you suppose? And shut up on a boat with a crew of madmen, for he will certainly not find sane men to sail with him.’
‘The inner ring is rearranged,’ said Alys, still studying the cipher disc. ‘It doesn’t generate a simple substitution. It must be one of a pair, then. I wonder who has the other disc? It means, you realize,’ she went on, looking up at Gil, ‘that I can decipher that paper from the boy’s purse as soon as I get the time.’
‘Ah, yes, the paper,’ said the mason. ‘What of the other, the one which is not in code?’
‘This one?’ Alys turned and reached on to her father’s tall writing-desk. From under a green-glazed pottery frog she drew a sheet of paper. ‘Yes, this is the one. It refers to many people, but only by an initial.’
Gil took the paper, tilting it as the mason craned to see without disturbing his sleeping burden of child and dog.
‘M will be in G,’ he read again.‘H passed through for Irvine.I wonder–’
‘Montgomery is in Glasgow,’ Alys said. ‘I think that must be right. And Catherine tells me Lord Hepburn went to Irvine last week to take ship for France.’
‘Oh, yes, about the King’s French marriage.’ Gil looked down at the paper again. ‘It’s a list of small facts like that.’
‘Did he collect them for his own interest, do you suppose,’ speculated Maistre Pierre, ‘or for someone else’s?’
‘He bought these boots recently,’ said Alys. She turned one up and showed them the sole, still flat and even.
‘Yes,’ said Gil thoughtfully. ‘And he had that device for writing in cipher in his possession.’ His eye ran down the creased paper, and he grinned. ‘Alys, we are observed. See this line?C marriage to dau of burgess.And yet I had to tell him my name. He’s had this by hearsay.’
‘He has collected all the gossip of Glasgow,’ said Alys. ‘I wonder who he was selling it to?’
‘Espionage, in effect,’ said the mason.
‘Yes,’ said Gil. ‘And the question, as Alys says, is who he was spying for.’
‘But I know where he was getting the gossip,’ said Alys. Gil looked up and met her eye.
‘The barber’s,’ they said together.
When the household returned from Vespers Gil and Alys were in the courtyard, seated on the stone bench at the foot of the stairs while the wolfhound ranged about inspecting the flower-pots.
‘When will your mother reach Glasgow?’ she asked, drawing away from his arm as the voices echoed in the pend.
‘God knows.’ Gil rose reluctantly to his feet, checking the pup, which was growling at the approaching group. ‘If she lies tonight at Bothwell with my sister Margaret she’ll be here before Nones, but if she makes the entire journey in one day tomorrow, it might be this hour. The men may have brought my uncle word of her plans. No doubt I’ll find out when I go up the hill.’ He took her hand, to draw her into the house. ‘I must speak to Mistress Irvine. Will you find out if she is able to talk to me now? And that reminds me, Alys. I have a task for you.’
She looked up at him, brown eyes smiling, her mouth most deliciously curved with kissing. He dropped a final kiss on her forehead and went on, ‘The two lassies in the kitchen at the college know something, I’m certain of it. Could you get a word with them, maybe, or get one of this household to speak to them?’
‘The college kitchen,’ she repeated thoughtfully. ‘One of our girls will know who they are. It may take a little time.’
‘Time we do not have,’ said Gil. ‘Hugh Montgomery is waiting for us to fail.’
Mistress Irvine, although supported across the courtyard by two of the maidservants and still very puffy in the face, professed herself willing to speak to Gil.
‘Vespers was bonny,’ she said, ‘the singin an that. And Faither Francis is that kind, he was a great comfort to me the day. I must send an offering. And for prayers for William. Oh, my poor laddie!’ she exclaimed, turning her face away.
‘Come and sit down and tell me about him,’ suggested Gil. ‘How old was he?’
‘Just sixteen. He was born on May Day. Oh, he was the bonniest bairn,’ she exclaimed, following him into the hall. ‘Never sick, never greetin, and he walked and spoke sooner than any I’ve nursed. Exceptin his sainted mother, maybe.’
‘You knew his mother?’ Gil asked.
‘I nursed her and all. So who should she turn to but me to foster her bairn? Though she never tellt me whose it was,’ she added, in some dissatisfaction.
‘Who was she?’ Gil asked innocently.
‘Oh, maister, I canny tell ye that. Lord Montgomery would ha my hide for it.’
‘But if she’s deid,’ Gil suggested, ‘no harm in it, surely?’
‘No, maister. Dinna ask it, for I canny tell ye.’
‘Tell me about William, then.’
She sat down on the stool he indicated, and launched into an extensive eulogy which bore little resemblance to the portrait of William painted by his friends at the college. Gil let her talk, picking the occasional nugget out of the torrent. William was cleverer than any, his manners were more polished than all the Montgomerys, his voice was sweeter than the lady Isobel’s had been. When he was eight he had defeated a juvenile Douglas in scholarly dispute. Hugh Montgomery had intended to make a churchman of him, and legitimation proceedings had begun.
‘Did the lady Isobel marry someone else?’ Gil asked casually.
‘She did indeed, before her bairn was a twelvemonth old, Lord Montgomery found her a husband and he was good to her. Poor soul, she fell sick afore Pace, there, and was shriven and in her shroud afore May Day. Five bairns she’s left greetin for their mammy, and the oldest but thirteen year old. Nae doubt their daddy’ll take another afore the year’s end.’
‘Did William know her?’
‘He kent her name, but he never met her, no since he was, oh, the age of the bairn here. She’d send him gifts now and then, but she was far too far to visit, even if Gowdie’d kent about him. Poor soul,’ sighed Mistress Irvine. ‘She was a bonnie bairn and all. So when the letter cam, with the paper for William in it, I brocht it to Glasgow, seeing I was coming to see how our Davie did.’
‘A letter? You can read, Mistress Irvine?’
‘Oh, aye,’ she agreed. ‘Well, my name, and a wee bit more. I can write my name and all. I learned when the holy faither learned her, when she was a wee thing. She would have him teach me at her side. That was like her,’ she confided, her face softening. ‘Bonnie and loving and generous, she was, but she was obstinate as they come. Once she decided I’d to learn my letters and all, there was no shifting her. That’s how I kenned Lord Montgomery would never learn whose bairn it was, no matter the beatings he threatened her. Not that he’d have done any of those things. So,’ she continued, unexpectedly recovering the thread of her answer, ‘she’d put my name, and she’d writ clear so I could read it that the other bit paper was for William. The messenger said it was in her jewel-box when she dee’d.’
‘Was that the letter I delivered for you? Do you know what it was?’
‘I don’t,’ she said regretfully. ‘It never said in her letter, and it was sealed that close – well, you saw it yourself. Did he get it, maister? I wouldny like to think he went to his death without a word from his minnie.’
‘I gave it into his hands. But we never found it in his room,’ said Gil thoughtfully. ‘Was he expecting it?’
‘He was expecting it today, since I tellt him yesterday I had it, but I know he’d no more idea what it was than I did, for I asked him. I journeyed here yesterday with Sandy Wag the carrier who was fetching sacks of meal up for Lord Montgomery,’ she elucidated, ‘and I went to ask for him as soon as I’d heard Vespers, but I never had the paper wi me then, for I didny recall how close the college lies to the Greyfriars kirk. And the man was that disobliging about sending for him. Oh, and if I’d kenned that was my last speech with him –’
‘Lord Montgomery took an interest in William,’ Gil prompted.
‘Aye, that he did. Paid me well to foster him. I think he’d a fondness for her – for the laddie’s mother,’ she confided, ‘they all did, come to that, but it would never ha done. Too close, they were. Holy Kirk would never consentit.’ She turned her head as Alys approached from the other end of the hall. ‘I understand there’s to be a wedding in this house,’ she said, with tear-stained archness. ‘I wish ye very happy, maister, and you, my lassie. I was never in such a well-run house. Such kindness as I’ve been shown under this roof, maister.’
‘Thank you for your good wishes,’ said Alys, taking Mistress Irvine’s large red hand in hers. ‘You are most generous. Gil, have you any more questions? Kittock has brewed a posset to help her friend to sleep.’
‘Then she must drink it while it’s hot. Thank you for talking to me, mistress.’ Gil helped the woman to her feet, and watched as she was led off to the kitchen.
The mason found him deep in thought, staring out at the garden which sloped in the evening sunlight down towards the mills on the Molendinar. The pup was seated on his feet.
‘By what Alys tells me, that was not hunting,’ he said. ‘That was poaching.’
‘Like tickling trout,’ Gil agreed. ‘Poor woman, her grief at least is genuine.She wept the starns doun frae the lift, she wept the fish out o the sea.My uncle might know who this Isobel was. He might know about the legitimation procedure as well, since it would have to go through the Archdiocese. I must go home, Pierre.’
‘Alys is seeing to the bairn. She will be down in a little. Shall we keep that dog tonight? The baby has taken a liking for him.’
‘Aye, and Maggie will have enough to do seeing to my mother’s men, without finding scraps for a growing dog. I’d be grateful. That is, if he’ll stay.’
‘If we put food in front of him, he will stay. What must we do tomorrow?’
‘I need to speak to Nick Kennedy. I could do that on my way home. Tomorrow I must see the young man Nicholas Gray, and I think the chaplain, and we must talk to the dog man, and to William’s barber. There is the list Nick made for us, of who was present at the feast.’
‘Alys must decipher those papers for us. Is that all?’
‘We need to look for William’s notebook.’
‘Indeed. None of this seems likely to lead us to the killer,’ complained the mason.
‘It could have been nearly anybody,’ Gil agreed, ‘or almost nobody.’
‘If you sleep on it,’ said Alys, emerging from the stair that led to the upper floors, ‘it may become clearer. I am taking this bairn to Nancy. Gil, I set milk to warm for the dog. If you bring him down to the kitchen we can feed him.’
In the kitchen, the household was beginning to settle itself for the night. Two of the maidservants were clearing crocks, cooking pots which had been scoured earlier and set to dry by the fire were waiting to be carried out to the scullery, straw mattresses spilled out of an opened press. Kittock and her guest had their heads together in a corner, drinking something pun-gently herbal out of wooden beakers. A pottery jar with a face on it, of the sort that contained usquebae, stood on the floor at their feet.
Alys led the way to the fire, handed the infant John to Nancy and drew the little crock of milk from the ashes.
‘Bread and milk,’ she said, pouring the warm milk over the crumbs in another bowl. ‘That will fill his belly. Ah, I have heated too much milk.’
She prodded the soaking crumbs with a carved spoon, while the pup’s nose twitched.
‘I think he is used to bread and milk,’ said Gil. He set the animal down, and John immediately exclaimed something and waved his hands. Alys put the dish of bread and milk on the floor, and the pup plunged into it, tail swinging.
‘Oh, mem!’ said Nancy. ‘Oh, mem, look!’
She held the baby up. He was gazing intently at the pup, and smacking his lips.
‘He’s hungry!’ said Nancy.
Leaving Alys spooning bread and milk into the willing baby while the wolfhound watched with interest, and her father exclaimed his intention of walking up to Greyfriars later to hear Compline, Gil went out into the High Street and strolled the short distance to the college gate. It was shut, and he had to bang on it with the hilt of his dagger before Jaikie came to open the postern.
‘Oh, it’s you, Maister Cunningham,’ he said, standing aside grudgingly as Gil stepped over the wooden sill. ‘What are you after at this hour? I’d a thocht you’d be in a warm bed by this,’ he added, descending into an unpleasant camaraderie. ‘And better than a hot stone to warm it, eh?’
He nudged Gil, and grinned at him, releasing fumes of usquebae and spiced pork.
‘My day’s darg isny done,’ said Gil with intense politeness, ‘unlike yours. We haven’t found who killed William yet.’
‘Oh, him. Small loss, he is. I dinna ken why you bother.’
‘What did you know of the boy, Jaikie? What like was he?’
Jaikie looked cautiously up the tunnel towards the courtyard, and beckoned Gil into his little room, where a rushlight competed with the small illumination from the narrow window. Closing the door behind them both he leaned close to Gil and hissed, ‘He was a nasty, boldin wee bystart.’
‘He’d a good opinion of himself, had he?’
‘Oh aye. He had that. Well, you seen him yourself, Maister Cunningham, out in the street to greet the company as if he’d been the Dean his self. And he wouldny be tellt. None o’ the rules was to touch him, but he’d run about looking to see who broke the bylaws and report them to Maister Doby Even those that did him favours,’ he added bitterly.
‘I’m sure he found nothing to report about you,’ lied Gil.
‘Oh, no,’ agreed Jaikie. He turned to poke at the brazier, and belched, adding his own contribution to the smells which already choked the room. ‘Though I did him favours enough,’ he added, leering sideways above the reluctant flame, ‘and small return for them.’
‘What kind of favours?’
‘Oh, just things.’
‘He collected information,’ said Gil thoughtfully. ‘Someone like you, here at the yett where everyone comes and goes, must have plenty information.’
‘Oh, you’d be dumfounert, maister. They come through here, down the pend, past my door, aye talking, and no always in the Latin tongue. I hear a thing or two, I can tell you.’
‘And William paid you for it?’
‘Paid! That lang-nebbit rimpin pay for a thing? No, it wasJaikie, I seen such-and-such of your doing that the Dean would like to ken. Tell me what you’ve got, or I’ll pass him the word.And then he’d leave papers for me to give to this or that man chapping at the yett, and aye sealed.’
‘Small gain if they hadn’t been sealed,’ said Gil deliberately, ‘for they were in code. We’ve found a page all in code, that was in his purse.’
‘His purse? I thought that was stolen.’
‘Who told you that?’
‘Oh, one of them.’ Jaikie jerked his head towards the courtyard. He left the brazier finally alone and flung himself down in his great chair, reaching for the stone bottle beside it. ‘Usquebae, maister? No? Ye’ll no mind if I take a wee drop. Ye’d be surprised at the secrets I get out of a jar of usquebae.’ Removing the rag which did duty as a stopper, he tipped the bottle, swallowed and wiped his mouth. ‘Aye, well, code, was it? Doesny surprise me.’
‘Who collected these papers?’ Gil asked.
‘Just folks. They’d ask for them. No anybody I’d seen before.’
‘You were just telling me how much you learn, here by the street door,’ Gil observed. ‘Is there anybody in Glasgow you don’t know by sight?’
‘Oh, aye,’ said Jaikie sourly. ‘The reason being, I’m tied here by this door, so if they don’t come up the High Street, I canny see them. Anyway, it wasny Glasgow folk. You could tell by the way they spoke. Ayrshire, maybe, or over that way somewhere. I got a sight of a badge one time, same as on that house along the way. Montgomery’s place.’
‘What, the men had Montgomery’s badge?’ said Gil, startled. ‘You mean he was simply writing letters to his kinsman?’
‘Aye, maybe,’ said Jaikie after a moment. He took another pull at the usquebae, and grunted irritably. ‘That’s another one finished. Well, it can join the others.’ He rose, to add the bottle to a row standing under the shut-bed which occupied one end of the room, and took another from the press under the narrow window. ‘Will ye have some of this one, maister?’
Gil shook his head, and the man sat down again and took out his eating-knife to break the seal on the new bottle. ‘Aye, maybe he was just writing home. But he made a rare parade of it. And near every week. None of them writes letters every week, even the ones that misses their mammies.’
‘And the dog?’ Gil asked, recalling something. ‘Was that another of the favours he asked you?’
‘Oh, aye. He’d leave it here for Billy Dog to fetch away, or Billy ’ud bring it to wait here for him. He was training it, it seems. So he said. Billy’s been here looking for it three times the day, starting when they were all at that feast.’
‘You mean it wasn’t William’s dog?’
‘Ask at Billy Dog. I wouldny ken. It answered to him well enough.’
‘Thank you, I will.’ Gil turned to open the door, and turned back. ‘These letters. Was it only Montgomery’s men that collected them? Were there any for anybody else?’
Jaikie, taking another draw at the usquebae, lowered the bottle and wiped his mouth before shaking his head.
‘They wereny all from Ayrshire, if that’s what ye mean, maister, but as to where they were from – I could make a guess, maybe. If it was worth my while.’
‘You saw no other badges?’
‘No on the messengers.’ Jaikie eyed the stone bottle broodingly ‘No on the messengers. But I’ll tell you one I did see,’ he added.
‘What one was that? Where was it?’
‘Aye, ye’d like to know, wouldn’t ye no? I’ll tell ye what it was, though.’ Jaikie took another mouthful of spirits, and belched resoundingly. ‘The fish-tailed cross, it was.’
‘What, the cross of St John?’ said Gil, startled. ‘Who was carrying that?’
‘Secrets, secrets,’ said Jaikie, leering at him. ‘No Christian soul, I’ll tell ye.’
Feet sounded in the tunnel, and someone knocked on the twisted planks of the door. Gil drew it open and Jaikie said aggressively, ‘And what are you after, Robert Montgomery?’
‘Maister Kennedy wants his friend sent for,’ said Robert, looking down his nose in a manner very like his dead kinsman’s.
‘What friend? Is it this one here?’
Robert transferred his gaze to Gil, now looking at him round the door, bent the knee briefly and said with more civility, ‘Maister Cunningham, aye, it is. Maister Kennedy wants you.’
‘Thank you,’ said Gil. ‘Is he in his own chamber?’
‘Aye,’ said Robert, ‘and he’s got his troubles the now.’
The truth of this became evident as they stepped into the courtyard. A number of students loitered about the door of Maister Kennedy’s stair, sniggering from time to time, and the well-loved teacher’s voice floated out, raised in what Gil at first took to be fervent prayer and then recognized for equally fervent cursing.
‘What in the world –?’ he said.
‘Ye should go on up, maybe,’ said Robert. ‘Maister Kennedy’s a wee thing overset.’
‘I can hear that.’ Gil picked his way through the group and into the stair tower. The words became clearer as he ascended, a startling mixture of several languages, presumably gleaned from colleagues who had studied abroad. He reached the chamber door as its occupant paused for breath.
‘What ails you, Nick?’ he began, and stopped, open-mouthed on the threshold as the question answered itself.
The room was wrecked. Like most scholars, Maister Kennedy had few enough possessions, other than his books, but what he possessed was strewn across the floor and trampled. A shoe with the sole ripped off lay on an ink-dabbled shirt, more ink daubed the fur of a shoulder-cape on the bench, paper in single sheets was everywhere, and the straw mattress had been slashed open and emptied. The bookshelf gaped unoccupied.
‘Christ and his saints preserve us,’ said Gil. Maister Kennedy turned to look at him.
‘Come in, Gil,’ he said savagely. ‘Come and see the reward for three years’ work. I think they got everything.’
‘When did this happen?’ Gil asked.
‘While we were at Vespers. The Dean did William proud – Christ aid, you’d think he’d been the next Pope but two, the way he went on – must have been near an hour for that alone, let alone the singing. I got back here not long since and found this.’
‘Has anyone else been searched?’ Gil began lifting handfuls of straw and stuffing them back into the mattress.
‘How would I know? I’ve been here.’
‘Have you told the Principal? The Steward?’
‘I tell you I’ve been here. The students ken – maybe they’ve tellt someone.’ Maister Kennedy picked his way to the bench and sat down. ‘I canny think. Maybe I should tell the Principal.’
‘I’ll send someone.’ Gil left the mattress and went down to the courtyard. The group of students was beginning to disperse now that Maister Kennedy was no longer performing, but a few remained.
‘You two,’ he said to the nearest, ‘will you carry a word to Maister Doby for me?’ They nodded, looking apprehensive. ‘Say to him with my compliments that I’d be grateful to see him in Maister Kennedy’s chamber as soon as convenient. Can you mind that?’
One of them repeated the message accurately enough, and they hurried off. Gil looked at the remaining boys.
‘And you can find out for me, if you will, whether anyone else found anything wrong when they came back from Vespers, and if so, send them to me here.’
‘Aye, maister,’ said one of them. ‘How bad is it, maister? It looked a fair old fankle.’
‘Well, I hope nobody intended a joke,’ said Gil, ‘for it’s far beyond that.’
He went back up to the fair old fankle. His friend was now lifting odd sheets of paper and throwing them down again, staring round helplessly.
‘I canny see what’s missing,’ he confessed. ‘St Nicholas’ balls, Gil, they’ve wrecked my only shoes, I’ll ha to wear these boots till I get them seen to.’
‘Who was it?’ Gil wondered. ‘And what were they after?’
‘None of the college. We were all at Vespers.’
‘I think so. We can find out. Besides, who in the college –?’ Nick looked round. ‘Maybe someone hates me.’
Slow footsteps on the stair proclaimed the arrival of Maister Doby He halted in the doorway as Gil had done, staring, until Patrick Coventry appeared at his back and eased him into the room.
‘My faith,’ said the Principal at length. ‘Who has done this?’ He groped his way to the other end of the bench and sat down. ‘What a day! What a day, with two such evil-doers in our midst. All your papers, Nicholas, and your ink-horns. And your books!’ he exclaimed in horror as Maister Coventry lifted an abused volume from under the bed-frame.
‘Principal, if I might make a suggestion,’ said Maister Coventry in the brisk tones of one actually giving an order, ‘I think our brother Nicholas would be better out of this. Might you take him back to your lodging the now? Then Maister Cunningham and I can sort matters here, till the Steward can spare a couple of servitors to redd up.’
Gil, admiring the way the Second Regent did not say that the servitors could not be trusted to deal with the books and papers, added, ‘Perhaps you would have a drop of aqua-vita or usquebae for him, maister? I think he could do with a restorative.’
‘Aqua-vita,’ said the Principal, brightening. ‘A good thought, Gilbert. Come, Nicholas. Come to my lodging and we will think about where you are to lie tonight. Certainly you canny sleep here.’
Nick, with the prospect of strong drink, was persuaded to accompany the Principal. As Maister Doby’s shocked exclamations dwindled down the stairs Maister Coventry said, ‘Is the Principal right? The same as searched William’s room, or not?’
‘What do you think?’ countered Gil, lifting the neighbour of the savaged shoe.
‘William’s property was not damaged. This is vicious.’
‘Or unlearned. An unlettered man or men, unused to handling an ink-horn, searching for something particular.’ Gil extracted a book from the fireplace and smoothed the pages. ‘Something small, flat, easily hidden. A bundle of paper, perhaps, of a different size or quality from this stuff Nick uses.’
‘William’s writing was very distinctive,’ observed Maister Coventry. ‘I have seen it often when he took notes. He wrote very small, with the hooks and tails cut off short. Nick’s writing is not the same at all. Even an unlettered man could tell the difference.’
‘True,’ agreed Gil, recalling the tiny script he had been studying earlier. ‘So, an unlearned man or men searching for paper with William’s writing on.’
‘Or a book?’ Maister Coventry lifted another ill-treated volume and shook straw from the leather binding. ‘Or both?’
They had lifted and stacked the pages of Maister Kennedy’s vigorous, looping fist which were flung around the room, and were restoring his six books to their place on the bookshelf when Maister Shaw appeared with two of the college servants, exclaiming in shock and annoyance at such a thing happening in the college.
‘And during the Office, too! What a day, what a day! Tammas, you lift that straw. Andro, see to the clothes. That sark’ll take a year’s bleaching.’
‘Was everyone at Vespers?’ Gil asked, standing aside to let the men start work.
‘Nearly everyone,’ admitted the Steward. ‘The kitchen would be busy. With Vespers being early, the scholars’ supper was put back to after it. But they’d all be under Agnes Dickson’s eye.’
‘This cape’s all ower ink,’ said Andro, lifting it cautiously. ‘And the hood an all.’
‘Maister Kennedy will be vexed,’ said the Steward.
‘It isn’t Maister Kennedy’s,’ said Gil in dismay. ‘It’s mine. So’s the gown.’
‘So was the gown,’ corrected Maister Coventry, holding it up. The heavy woollen stuff was slashed and ripped, the lining hanging out here and there. ‘I think this is past repair.’
Nick, when he learned of the damage, was more than vexed.
‘I wouldny have had that happen for all sorts, Gil,’ he exclaimed on a blast of the college aqua-vita. ‘Oh, will you look at the cape!’ He produced a slightly tipsy chuckle. ‘If it was only splashed here and there you could have said it was ermine, but that’s past praying for.’
‘I’ll say one of the skins is in mourning,’ said Gil. ‘John Shaw has all in hand, says your chamber will be habitable by the morn, and I must be away up the town. What happened to that list you and Maister Coventry made for me?’
‘Patey’s got it.’ Nick looked into his glass, but it remained empty. ‘We made the fair copy up in his chamber in the Arthurlie close. I think I left my cope there and all. Fortunately. Likely it’d be covered in ink like your fur if it’d been over this side. God, I loathe Peter of Spain. Three years’ work, and all to do again.’
‘I think when you have put the pages in order you will find there is less damage than appeared at first,’ said Maister Coventry in his graceful Latin. He drew a bundle of papers from the breast of his gown. Something stirred in Gil’s memory, but the Second Regent went on, ‘Here’s your list, Maister Cunningham. I hope you may be able to read it. We wrote down who was present, where they were after the play, and who was with them. Nobody seems to have been alone, so it may not be of much assistance.’
‘If I can eliminate names from the hunt,’ Gil said, ‘it will be of great assistance. And I have another task for you, Maister Coventry, if you are willing.’
The Second Regent’s eyebrows went up.
‘It seems Nick Gray heard the three senior bachelors talking, after they had put William into the limehouse. He told the kitchen, but I’d like to know who else knew of it.’
Patrick Coventry opened his mouth to reply, closed it again, and gazed thoughtfully at Gil with his good eye.
‘Not easy,’ he said at length.
‘No,’ agreed Gil, ‘but better done by an insider.’ He held up the sheaf of papers. ‘I thank you both for this piece of work. And now I must be off. If any of the students comes complaining of another chamber being searched, keep him for me till the morning.’
‘Patey can see to that too,’ said Nick. ‘I’m for my bed. Maister Doby’s put me in a corner here, for which I’ll say a Mass in his name the morn, I swear it. Come and find me in the morning, Gil. If I haveny dee’d of an apoplexy from all the excitement,’ he added sourly. ‘Tell your minnie I was asking for her.’
Gil bade goodnight to Maister Doby, who had taken refuge in a soothing volume of St Jerome, bundled his damaged finery over his arm, and made his way out of the Principal’s lodging. In the evening light a few students were still standing about in the courtyard, but although some nodded or said good evening none accosted him. At the yett he stopped and glanced into Jaikie’s fetid den. The man was sprawled in his chair, with the bottle of usquebae in his grasp. He looked up, but did not speak.
‘Who was past the yett while they were all at Vespers?’ Gil asked.
‘I never saw a thing,’ pronounced Jaikie with slow emphasis. ‘No a feckin thing.’
‘If you think of any more badges,’ Gil said, ‘send and let me know.’
Jaikie leered at him.
‘Maybe I will,’ he agreed indistinctly, ‘and maybe I’ll no. Secrets, secrets,’ he said again, and held up the bottle. ‘The secrets I’ve learned from you, my wee friend.’ He waved the bottle at Gil. ‘Pull the yett ahint ye, maister. I’ll bar it later.’
There seemed to be no point in continuing the conversation. Gil unbarred the yett and stepped out into the quiet street, realizing as he did so that he was still holding the folded list of names in his free hand. He tucked it into his doublet and strode on up the High Street.
It all happened with great suddenness. It was the rush of feet behind him which alerted him. He sprang sideways and whirled, weight on one foot, and as the three men reached him placed a kick with the other where it would do most damage. Its recipient went down in the muddy street, crowing and retching. Gil leapt backwards, groping for his whinger, and realized belatedly that he was not wearing it. His remaining attackers, circling warily now they had lost the advantage of surprise, recognized this in the same moment and moved in. One had a short sword, the other a cudgel. Gil drew his dagger right-handed and raised the other arm, embroiled in heavy folds of fabric, in time to balk the sword.
His opponents were hooded and cloaked in black, the free weapon arms black-garbed. He could see no faces, but a glitter of eyes betrayed another sudden movement, and he was barely in time to duck the cudgel. He whirled, lunging with the dagger, but the man twisted like a salmon and the weapon slashed harmlessly through cloth. The sword whirred, and he jerked his left arm up to parry again, meeting the hilt of the weapon with the bundle of heavy cloth. His other hand came round with the dagger, and he felt the blade connect and heard the grunt of pain.
As he tugged the knife free, the cudgel made vicious contact with his forearm, and the dagger dropped from suddenly useless fingers. He danced sideways to deliver another kick, bringing his protected left arm round as a shield, and his boot made contact with the swordsman’s arm. The sword fell to join his dagger, but as he stepped back there was a stunning blow to his head. The gasping fight, the peaceful street, spun away from him.
Just before they vanished he thought he heard shouting. It sounded like the mason. It can’t be, he thought. He’s at Compline. Then darkness took him.Chapter Seven
‘Did you know them?’ asked Maistre Pierre. ‘They made off when I shouted, and I was more concerned to see to you than to pursue them. If Alys had not insisted that we left Compline early . . .’
‘I never got a sight of their faces.’ Gil leaned back against the lavender-scented pillow-beres of the mason’s best bed, and eased his feet out from under the wolfhound, which had been fed already and had returned to its self-appointed guard duty. It appeared to have grown overnight. ‘I am very grateful that you came by. This is damnably inconvenient, but it could be a lot worse.’
‘It isn’t broken, Brother Andrew said.’ Alys set down the tray with the porridge-bowl to reach across and test the temperature of the compress on Gil’s wrist, but would not meet his eye. ‘And nor is your head. I think a night’s sleep has made a lot of difference.’
‘If I’d been wearing my other hat it might be a different story.’ Gil pushed his hair cautiously out of his eyes. Beware of what you wish for, he thought. You might get it. ‘I wish I knew what they wanted, that they attacked me in the High Street in broad day.’
‘It wasn’t your purse,’ said Alys, lifting the tray again. ‘That was untouched. I thought one of them snatched something from your doublet before he ran.’
‘From my doublet?’ repeated Gil. A memory surfaced, and he went on in dismay, ‘Maister Coventry had just given me the list of names. I think I put it in the breast of my doublet.’
‘I found nothing like that. It would have crackled when we stripped you.’ Still avoiding his eye, she put the tray on a stool and turned to reach for the muddy bundle of his clothes. ‘These must be brushed,’ she said critically. ‘I should have seen to it last night. And I know of a furrier who can rescue the cope, but the gown will take several days’ work. There are no papers here, Gil. Do you suppose your friends made a copy?’
‘But why steal a package of papers?’ said Maistre Pierre.
‘Presumably because the right paper was not to be found in William’s chamber or in Nick’s,’ Gil said slowly. ‘Ah, no, you haven’t heard about that. When I got to the college last night I found that Maister Kennedy’s room had been searched while they were all at Vespers. It looked as if a whirlwind had been through it. That was when my gown and cope were damaged.’
‘But they didn’t find whatever they were looking for,’ said Alys, ‘and thought it might be in the papers in your doublet.’
‘There was no loose paper in the boy’s chamber,’ said Maistre Pierre. ‘I still think that curious, in a student’s lodging.’
‘But though William’s property was in disorder, nothing was damaged,’ said Gil. ‘I think someone different searched Nick’s chamber, someone unlettered perhaps. Alys is right. It might have been one of the three who attacked me.’
‘One of them won’t be walking straight this morning,’ the mason observed with satisfaction. ‘That was a handy kick you fetched him, Gil. Almost one would have thought you were in Paris.’
‘That’s where I learned the trick.’ Gil tried to move his fingers, and winced. ‘I wonder if Nick still has the notes.’
‘Send word to ask.’
‘It’s too long a word for Luke to remember, and I canny write. We’ll have to postpone the betrothal,’ he added, ‘if I canny sign my name.’
‘You must just make your mark left-handed, and we will witness it,’ suggested the mason.
‘What, like a tinker in the heather? I think not.’
‘I shall write to the college for you,’ said Alys firmly, ‘and we can send Luke, as soon as he is back from taking word to your uncle.’
‘And then he may go and do a little work, if it is not too much trouble.’
Gil looked up at his prospective father-in-law. ‘Do you intend to work too?’
‘What do you want done?’
‘Someone should speak to the dog-breeder, and I thought of another thing that should be done, but it’s left my head.’
‘I must go up to thechantier.Wattie knows what must be done this week, but best if I let him tell me first it is impossible. If Robert Blacader is ever to see his new chapel finished, let us hope I am right and not Wattie.’ The mason looked about him. ‘Then I will come back, and we will think about this matter. Alys, where is my scrip?’
‘It is down in the hall, father.’ She smiled at Gil at last, and he felt the sun had come into the room. ‘I will fetch pen and ink, and see the baby fed, and return to you.’
She lifted the tray and left, slender in her blue dress. The wolfhound raised its head to watch her go, then curled up again. Gil threw back blankets and verdure tapestry counterpane, and swung his legs out from under the sheet.
‘Pierre, help me with my points before Alys comes back,’ he requested, peeling the compress off his wrist.
‘No, no, keep that on!’ exclaimed the mason. ‘Oil of violets to draw out the black humour in the bruising, and sage leaves for the numbness and loss of movement in the fingers –’
‘I am not going about Glasgow smelling of oil of violets,’ said Gil decidedly, trying to pull on his hose one-handed. ‘Give me a hand here, or Alys will get a sight of my drawers.’
‘She has seen them. She and I stripped you last night,’ said Maistre Pierre, obliging. ‘How tight do you wish to be trussed? I do not think you are fit to go about Glasgow anyway. That was an unpleasant crack on the head.’
‘Fit or not,’ Gil began, and was interrupted by a knocking at the great door of the house.
‘Que diable?’The mason went to the window and leaned out in the sunshine. ‘Ah, good day, Maister Cunningham! Enter, pray enter! I will descend to you.’
‘My uncle?’ said Gil, battling with his doublet. ‘Sweet St Giles, what did Luke say to him? He hasn’t been down the town since Yule.’
‘I bade him say you had a blow to the head and we had kept you here.’ Maistre Pierre was hastily lacing the doublet. ‘No saying what he told them in the kitchen, of course, and Maggie would relay it with embellishments. Stand still or this will be crooked. There – now you are fit to serve the King. Wait here, I bring your uncle.’
He drew the bed-curtains shut and bustled down the stair to greet his guest. His voice floated up, loud, affable and reassuring, through the floorboards. Gil set out two of the mason’s tapestry backstools and sat down on the window-seat with the sun on his back, wishing his head did not ache so much.
Canon David Cunningham, senior judge of the diocesan court, Official of Glasgow, who rarely left the cathedral precinct at the top of the High Street, ducked under the lintel behind Maistre Pierre and surveyed his nephew with a chilly grey eye. After a moment he relaxed, and nodded.
‘Your mother will be in Glasgow by Nones,’ he said, ‘and I’ve no wish to greet her with the news that you’re at death’s door.’
‘She would likely take exception to the idea,’ Gil agreed.
His uncle’s mouth twitched, but all he said was, ‘Well, well, I can see you are not much damaged. What have you been about? What is this about the college coalhouse? No, let us sit down, Gilbert, Peter Mason here tells me you’d quite a bang on the head.’
Alys brought elderflower wine and small biscuits and slipped away again while Gil and Maistre Pierre between them recounted the events of the feast and what followed. The Official sipped the wine from his little glass, holding it up to the light appreciatively, and said at length, ‘Patrick Elphinstone’s no fool.’
‘He never was,’ Gil said, and got a sharp look.
‘What he’ll want is first to find a culprit he can show Hugh Montgomery, and then to deal with a trial and sentence himself, behind the college yett. He’ll realize soon enough that Montgomery won’t be satisfied with that.’
‘I think Maister Doby has seen it already,’ Gil said.
‘Aye, very likely.’ David Cunningham set his wineglass down. ‘John has had experience of men like Hugh Montgomery.’
‘When was that?’ asked the mason. ‘Maister Doby seems a quiet man.’
‘He wasn’t at fault. When he was maister at the grammar school at Peebles . . .’ Canon Cunningham paused to count on his long fingers, but shook his head. ‘I canny mind when. A good few years ago now. There was a boy killed when the lads were playing at football. A broken neck, I think. The family were very threatening.’
‘Football is a dangerous game,’ agreed the mason.
‘That’s interesting,’ said Gil thoughtfully. ‘Is it widely known, sir?’
‘Anyone that’s in the diocese would know. The kirk at Peebles is a prebend of St Mungo’s,’ the Official explained to Maistre Pierre. ‘The grammar school there’s in our gift as well.’
‘William was given to extortion,’ said Gil. ‘I saw him speak to Maister Doby before the Mass.’
‘Aye, this William.’ David Cunningham sat back. ‘Who did you say his parents were again?’
‘The Dean described him asthe son of an Ayrshire lady now married to another,’Gil quoted,‘and a kinsman of Lord Montgomery.His foster-mother, who was nurse to his mother, called her Isobel and said she was close kin to Montgomery and married a Gowdie.’
‘If both parents are close to Montgomery,’ said the Official, ‘they may have been too close to marry. Gowdie. Gowdie.’ He stared thoughtfully over Gil’s head at the thatched roof of the mason’s drawing-loft opposite.
‘Mistress Irvine said something of the sort,’ Gil agreed.
‘Legitimation procedures,’ prompted Maistre Pierre.
‘I wonder if his mother was Isobel Montgomery?’ said Canon Cunningham, lowering his gaze to meet Gil’s. ‘Her father would be a first cousin of Hugh Montgomery’s. There were three sons and the one daughter, and Montgomery had the disposal of the marriages.’ He paused again, considering. ‘He was provident in that, for all he was no more than eighteen or so himself. If I mind correctly, all in one winter, he married one of Argyll’s daughters, he got a Lennox lady for his brother Alexander and a Maxwell for one of the cousins, and betrothed this Isobel to a Maxwell adherent. Pretty good, for one season’s work. I heard she died recently,’ he added.
‘That would fit,’ Gil said.
‘I hadn’t heard of a bairn. I wonder who its father might have been?’
‘It was fostered secretly, perhaps,’ said Maistre Pierre.
‘Mistress Irvine didn’t know who the father was,’ Gil said, ‘and she said Gowdie didn’t know of the boy’s existence.’
‘And you mentioned legitimation procedures.’ Canon Cunningham stretched his long legs and began to gather himself together. ‘Aye, well. I haven’t time for idle gossip. If you’ll call my groom, Maister Mason, I’ll away up the hill to my desk and see what I can find out.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ Gil rose as his uncle did.
‘I wonder who the father might be,’ the Official said again, frowning. ‘Montgomery’s kin is not so wide.’
‘A groom?’ speculated the mason robustly. ‘The steward? The chaplain? What men does a girl of such a family get to meet?’
‘Who would the chaplain have been?’
‘From the Benedictine house at Irvine, maybe. Or a kinsman, indeed?’ The Official gazed absently at the flowers in the sunny courtyard, then shook his head. ‘Aye, well. What will I send to your mother, Gilbert?’
‘What should you send?’ said Gil uncomfortably. ‘I must see to this matter. Hugh Montgomery is waiting for us to fail, and we have less than two days to it. I will be home tonight.’
‘Aye, well. I think she might take exception to that idea and all.’ Canon Cunningham clapped his legal bonnet over the black felt coif, and shook out the skirts of his cassock. ‘See to your duty, Gilbert. I’ll send something.’
He raised a hand in his customary blessing, and turned to go, then stopped so suddenly that the mason collided with him.
‘Christ and his saints preserve us, what’s that?’ he demanded, staring at the great best bed.
Gil, following his gaze, began to laugh.
‘It’s the young man’s dog,’ he explained.
The wolfhound did not move from its position, long nose poking between the tapestry bed-curtains, one bright eye just visible, but they heard its tail beat on the mattress. Gil moved forward, and the tail beat faster. ‘It’s taken a notion to me,’ Gil went on, drawing the curtain back, ‘and the harper’s bairn’s taken a notion to the dog.’ He urged the animal down on to the floor, where it inspected Canon Cunningham more closely and allowed him to scratch its jaw. ‘He should go outside, Pierre.’
‘He should,’ agreed the mason resignedly. ‘Come, dog. Outside and do your duty.’
Alys slipped back into the room as soon as Maistre Pierre and his guest reached the courtyard.
‘I didn’t stay,’ she said, lifting the tray of little glasses, ‘because I wanted to tell you what I thought of you getting up, and I couldn’t very well do so in front of your uncle.’
‘Why? Do you think he might repudiate the contract when he finds how I’m going to be henpecked?’
Gil stretched his good hand to her. She moved closer, but said earnestly, ‘You should have stayed in bed. Brother Andrew –’
‘When we are married I’ll stay in bed as long as you like,’ he promised, smiling. She looked away, and the colour rose in her face. ‘For now, sweetheart, I’ve a matter to investigate for the college, and too little time to do it in. We must write a word for Nick –’
‘I’ve done that,’ she interrupted. ‘I told him you were attacked, not much injured, and the papers stolen, and asked if he took a copy. Luke carried it there a while ago.’
‘You can do everything,’ he said admiringly, drawing her down to kiss her. ‘Even rescue me from robbers. What made you leave Compline early? It was well timed.’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I was uneasy. The Office was no comfort to me, I felt I should be elsewhere. And then we came out of Greyfriars’ Wynd and saw the fighting, and realized it was you.’
‘I’m glad you did,’ he said again. ‘I really think you can do everything.’
‘Except make you stay in bed when you should,’ she complained. He would have answered, but her gaze sharpened, and she stared beyond him at the yard. ‘What is my father doing?’
Gil turned to look out of the window. Down in the courtyard the mason was peering into one of the tubs of flowers, assisted by the wolfhound, which had stood up with its front paws on the rim of the tub. As they looked, Maistre Pierre drew something out of the earth under the marigolds. The pup offered to take it, but he held it up out of the animal’s reach, and seeing their watching faces waved the item at them.
‘Papers!’ he called.
‘It was the dog,’ he said, when he had brought papers and wolfhound up to the best chamber. ‘He examined all the tubs, as they do, but he paid extra attention to that one, and then sat down by it and looked at me.’
‘He is an exceptional dog,’ Gil said, patting the creature. ‘I wish I could keep him.’ He unfolded the bundle one-handed, shaking the earth from it. The wolfhound sniffed at the paper and lay down with its head on Gil’s feet. Alys eyed the scatter of soil on the waxed floorboards, but said nothing. ‘Our Lady be praised, they have numbered the pages. Four, five, six – and what’s this? This doesn’t belong –’
‘It’s different writing,’ said Alys.
‘It’s Nick’s writing. I looked at enough of it when Maister Coventry and I picked up the mess in his chamber.And this most discriminating Peter . . .Aye, it’s a page of his book.’
‘He has written a book?’ said Alys. ‘I should like to see that.’
‘How did this get here?’ asked her father. ‘How did the papers find their way into your flower-pot,ma mie,and how did a page of the book get into the list of names? Whose is the other writing? Who wrote down the names?’
‘I assume Maister Coventry wrote them down,’ said Gil, leafing clumsily through the pages, ‘and thank God for that. His writing is far clearer than Nick’s. As to how they got there – they were in the tub nearest the pend, weren’t they?’
‘They were,’ agreed the mason. ‘You are thinking that anyone could have come that far, in from the street, hidden them under the marigolds and run off, without being noticed.’
‘Luke has been in and out,’ said Alys thoughtfully, ‘and Annis is sitting with Davie this morning, and Kittock has swept the front steps and the yard, but otherwise there has been nobody at the front of the house since Prime except for ourselves up here. Your uncle came through the courtyard. Oh, yes, and a messenger from Lord Montgomery.’
‘A what?’ exclaimed Gil.
‘A messenger from Lord Montgomery’ She coloured up again. ‘I’m sorry, I should have told you sooner, but it was only a piece of impertinence. I was to ask you if you were ready to give up the search yet. It was while your uncle was here.’
‘What did you say to him?’ asked Maistre Pierre.
She glanced shyly at Gil. ‘I was annoyed by the way he spoke. And his expression was – anyway, I said,A Cunningham never gives up,and shut the door on him. I hope that was the right thing to say.’
‘You couldn’t have bettered it,’ said Gil, looking at her in amazement. ‘Alys, you are a wonderful woman. How soon can we be married?’
‘You must be handfasted first,’ said Maistre Pierre.
‘What puzzles me,’ she persisted, ‘is how Lord Montgomery should know you were here, and why he should think you would give up now.’
‘That’s true, you know,’ said her father. ‘How would he know you were here?’
‘Could he have seen you carrying me home?’ Gil asked. ‘How dark was it by then?’
‘Plenty of light.’ The mason scratched his jaw, his thumb rasping in his neat black beard. ‘I suppose he could, although we were close under the wall when we passed his yett.’
‘But father,’ objected Alys, ‘I was carrying the hat and cloak, and you had Gil head down over your shoulders. Even his mother would not have known him if she had looked out and caught sight of us.’
‘Unless,’ said Gil, ‘Montgomery knew already that I was injured. What was the messenger like, Alys? Had you seen him before? Would you know him again?’
‘He had the Montgomery badge on his shoulder,’ Alys said. ‘Otherwise he was quite ordinary, like anybody’s groom. Middling height, brownish hair, not past forty. Oh, and a limp.’
The mason looked at Gil.
‘As if he had been kicked recently?’ he suggested. Alys burst out laughing.
‘Yes, of course! If I’d realized I’d have offered him a poultice!’ She saw Gil’s expression, and sobered, adding, ‘I’m sure he could have applied it himself.’
‘And he could have tucked these papers under the marigolds as he came into the yard,’ said the mason.
It was, Gil reminded himself, the effect of running a large household; but he knew he had shown yet again how startled he was by Alys’s particular combination of genuine maidenly modesty and breadth of worldly knowledge.
‘What do we know from this?’ he asked rhetorically, recovering his countenance. ‘We know the papers were taken from me by violence last night and returned by stealth this morning.’
‘They were taken by someone looking for something in writing,’ said Alys.
‘But not this writing,’ agreed Gil.
‘And it could have been Montgomery who took them, who returned them, who is searching,’ contributed the mason.
‘And has still not found what he seeks,’ said Alys.
‘And it is likely that the same person –’
‘Or persons,’ put in Alys.
‘Or persons,’ Gil agreed, ‘searched Maister Kennedy’s chamber and carried off at least one sheet of his writing. But most likely it was someone else who searched William’s chamber.’
‘But what are they all looking for? Not the young man’s red book, I take it, since they snatched a heap of loose papers.’ Maistre Pierre gestured at the list of names. ‘Gil, there is the ciphered writing we found in the purse. Remember?’
‘I remember.’ Gil looked at Alys. ‘It could be important. Have you had time to look at it?’
‘I have not,’ she said firmly, sounding very like her father. ‘What with nursing the sick and injured, the grieving and the fasting, and keeping my hand on this household, my time has been full. I hope to sit down with it this morning,’ she added. ‘Then we may know if it’s important enough to be a prime mover in the matter.’
‘And I must get up the hill to St Mungo’s,’ said her father, ‘to make sure Wattie has not decided to put in a chimney where I have marked a window.’
‘What, for when they elect the next Archbishop?’ said Gil. The mason grinned, then looked beyond Gil into the courtyard. The grin faded.
‘Who is it now?’ he said resignedly. ‘One of the friars, and a student. Who can it be?’
‘It’s Father Bernard from the college,’ said Gil, twisting to look. ‘The chaplain.’
Sighing, Maistre Pierre rose and went away down the stairs. Alys knelt to whisk the scattered earth on the floor into her apron, lifted the tray with the little wineglasses and followed him, eluding Gil’s attempt to make her sit down beside him.