. “Grace and Dieu! Do you mean to kill us with that thing?”
“A’ the contrary, His Grace much compliments my venison.”
It flew past Minna. “Wherever did you learn the use of it?”
“Shaksper.” Kit smirked. “He is somewhat a poacher.”
She shivered, and did not give up the bedclothes. “I think I could not watch you kill a dumb thing.”
“Then turn thy face, sweet, and listen to Walsingham prate on the size of his…park.” Kit put off the bow, and bent to kiss her. “I know it is tiresome—“
“—But I am bound to go, and who hunts for Walsingham gets more than ‘umbles.”
With mutinous glances and stiff-angled limbs, Minna let Kit haul her upright. She was not silent. “I am not bound, no patron is he of mine, and how should I go with thee? All arrayed in Mother Bull’s liveries?”
Like a bankside conjurer Kit unfurled her bundle.
“Oh,” said Minna, before she could prevent it. Three or four gowns spilled color upon the bed, blue, crimson, silk and cypres; more cloth and more worth than she had had within hand’s reach her life long. They were all well fashioned and well trimmed, meant to be worn for a lady’s riding; the skirts were split like trunk hose, to serve without forepart or hoops.
“I cannot, I could not.” Then Araminta was struck silent again, to think of such beautiful things made unsuited—on purpose—to wear for anything else.
“Lady Walsingham forgets they were ever made, and you must look the part. Choose.”
“Part, what part,” said Minna. She reached out in spite of herself, toward a muslin fine as cobweb, green as vines. “And we miles from any stage.”
“Gentleman’s wife.” Kit answered. “Upstart, t’be sure, but the Queen’s Grace has vouched for me. You are lodged in my rooms, so the upstart’s wife you must be.”
Araminta turned, to regard the upstart in the chamber’s light. Here was a man boyish yet, though not too boyish to be married; of long build, an air of the yearling-colt about wrists and limbs, and little chance enough at well-laid tables. At school he had had to scrap for himself, this new-fledged gentleman—that showed yet in the wariness of his dark eyes, the motion unceasing of his small neat hands. Ever he plied and twisted his Maying-green cap, or from his pockets fiddled pen, coin, or knife. His smile would have been generous in a man’s face or a maiden’s; it put Minna always in mind of a fox. His pale chestnut hair would not curl, and the more he smoothed it flat, the more it flew. He was, Minna thought, middling well-favored, even in his patron’s castoff hunting doublet.
Kit quirked an eyebrow at the scrutiny. “Are none to thy liking, and thou must undress me instead?”
“All surpass my liking, and you knew it. None stoop to my station.”
“My Minna, we’ll be two birds of borrowed feather. There is no harm in it.”
“These are a real lady’s things; they fasten behind. Who will you borrow to come and dress me?”
“You are a real lady.” Kit took up the vine-green muslin by its shoulders, holding the bodice aloft that Minna might bend beneath. “My heart flies to your service, and my fingers anon.”