Title: To the Rose
Word Count 1475
I felt Kit leave in the night, though he slid from the bed, careful not to trouble me. I dozed while he was gone, rising and falling on the surface of sleep. He come back sometime before dawn, smelling of river mud. He crept into the bed again,he kept to his side, curled away as was his habit, but I heard his thin body sigh. I sank myself in deeper sleep. I assume he did the same.
He slept until noon. I had been sitting to my writing for hours by then. I looked up to see him jump awake, flung from some dream with force.
“Tom?” he seemed a little dazed.
“Aye-- you slept long.”
“Hmm.” He pulled his knees up, huddling under the blankets. He nibbled the edge of his fingernail. His hair was rumpled, one side standing up, the other flattened completely. His wrists were streaked with mud. The palms were clean, I noticed, but his nails were edged in black. He must have washed in the basin, in dark, while I slept. Well. If he had been rolling in sodomitical joy at the river's edge, then at least he bathed after.
“I suppose I should get up,” he said. “Is there any food?”
“All gone. But I have to go to the Rose today anyway. I need to see Allyn. We can get some then.”
We were in no hurry. There is value in watching the acts on the street. Bits of stories come, in faces, in half-caught speech. Why is the one legged man in a hurry? Why is the little maid weeping with her basket of eggs? I paused to look at a cluster of men, they were idle, and dressed very fine. They were laughing, I could see the wide gestures of a story being told, that I would never hear. But I could make my own. We saw a large sow with a ribbon around her neck, she was garlanded in flowers. She was rooting at the edge of the street; (well, she was a pig.) Who had cherished her so, and then let her wander? Would some child be beaten tonight for loosing her? These are the things that make me wonder. It used to drive my father mad, I walked so slowly.
Slowly, therefore, we made our way to Southwark. Kit seemed tired. And he was also watching everything. I could feel him searching for stories too, but there was more to it, with him. He had an alertness outdoors which was quite different from his torpor at home. Anyway, he did not urge me to hurry. By the time we crossed the river we had bought a basket of sausages and a bag of greasy chicken. Kit carried these. I led Pup along, waiting as he lifted his leg at every street corner. He was new at the three legged approach, and he wobbled.
The morning had been rainy, but the sky was clearing now. The sun was over the ridgepoles, sending slants of light to guild the shit in the street. Sounds came, as if from a distance. The streets were peopled thinly. Nothing happens here before noon anyway. This part of the city wakes, as Kit had, reluctant and grubby.
We climbed the exterior steps to the Rose, following the brickwork up, to the second floor platform. Then we were in, and looking down and out over the sharp raked stage. There was the smell here of close packed people, and of fried food, gone old.
The house was full, but not packed. The benches could have been more tight, and the aisles and stairs were not impassible. From where we sat the actors were strangely foreshortened. I could see the dust, and patches, but I knew where to look. The audience would not. They would not want to look, either. They wanted to be seized and shaken, like rats, for one night, in the terriers mouth. They wanted to leave the round O of the Rose dazed and stumbling. Kit and I, and Mr Henslowe, and Ned Allyen, we did our very best to comply.
The voice came up to me-- clear and implacable as a rolling sea.
“Now Madam, since by favor your love, our hidden smoke, is turned to open flame...”
The second act was just starting. Kit and I made room enough for our bottoms, and we sat. I watched my words walk the stage.
After some time Kit passed me a chicken leg.
The sun was touching the horizon by the time the actors left the stage empty. The people took a little longer to file out. There is a beating silence that comes after, if you let it. Some actors force it back a while with merriment after their work. But it is real work, not play, and it is draining. The silence will have primacy, later or sooner.
Ned Allyen was not one to fight it. We found him scrubbing his face, already dressed for the street. When he was being himself he dressed well, but unremarkably. He seemed smaller too.
Now he sat at the stage edge, feet dangling like a boy. His yellow hair was wet with sweat, and crushed where his costume hat had been. He gave Kit and me a smile, and patted the wood, for us to sit beside him.
“Good house tonight,” I said.
“Could have been better.”
Well, he was a shareholder. For him it always could have been better. I slid him a bottle of ale, before he asked. He drank it with his head back, throat rippling.
“Still, it went well enough. I wanted to ask you though--”
So we talked, for some time, of small things and foolish things. He shared our chicken. He talked of the man who came to repoint the brick work. He was to do Kit's Faust again when this one of mine was done. We spoke of that.
Evening had fallen when we left the Rose. Pup had fallen too, into a torporous sleep. He smelled of puppy, and sausages. I had to carry him home.
We were not in any particular hurry.
We came to my lodging laughing over something. The house was dark. This was not a surprise. Mistress Smith was thrifty by habit. She worked the daylight hours, and saved her candles for rare occasions. But she was not abed. She was sitting on the doorstep, in the dark, I could see the white of her kerchief, bowed and her pale face in the dark. She just sat there. She was disheveled, she who was as tidy as a packet of pins.
We hurried forward.
“What happened Mistress?” I asked.
“Are you ill?” Kit was on his knees in the mud beside her. He had her hands in his, warming them. She was shivering.
“You are good boys.” Her voice was very quiet. “I said so.”
We waited a little, but she said no more. She was breathing rapidly.
“It is too cold to sit on the stone.” Kit's voice was very matter-of-fact. “Up you come.” He lifted her to her feet. She stood numbly, and then she looked up. Her eyes sought his, and then mine.
We pushed the door open and went inside. I eased her onto the settle by the fire. The hearth was neglected, almost gone cold. Kit knelt again to kindle it to heat. He lit the dips too. In the new light I could see her faced bruised and swollen.
The fire came up good and hot. He had packed it with fat wood. And quick as that, he had a poker hot, and a cup of mulled wine for her. I had a wet cloth for her bruised mouth. I could see nothing amiss in the front room. Surely a villain come to rob her would start here.
“Are you well now?” Kit asked. “Did they take--” He faltered here. He was looking around too. He looked angry, ruffled with anger, like a falcon. But she gave a ghost of a laugh.
“No,” She said “Twas not me they wanted—neither my goods nor my virtue. They asked after you. They had questions. I told them they had no right. No right to come into my house--” She was drawing strength now, remembering.
“Two men.” She said. She was looking at us now, moving her blue eyes from my face to Kit's. “They were angry. They said they knew you both. I said no, and the one, he--” She reached up and touched her face, recalling it. “The one called Skerries, he-- he struck me.”