Title: Truth and Baskets
Word Count 1431
Truth and Baskets
“Skerries was his name?”
Christofer asked this again though she had told him already. Mistress Smith had recovered herself pretty completely now. Christofer had fetched a clean damp cloth at her direction, and her arnica salve. She sipped at the wine he had heated for her, and tried a smile. In the light of the hearth I could see that she was still pale, but she was fitting this day into her past already.
He was doing the same. It quieted him. There was no evidence here of the roaring boy of Hog lane, or the sharp tongued brittle poet. His hands were kind, and his brow contracted with worry. He eased himself down to sit at her feet, at the hearths edge.
“Aye, Skerries the other man called him.”
“The other man, can you describe him?”
“Hmm. He was plump, his hair brown, but balding, you know, on the sides. He was dressed like a tradesman, a leather jerkin, but clean. His speech was – just ordinary.”
Mistress Smith made a regretful moue at the description. “I am sorry, Doctor Marlowe. I suppose that could be anyone, but he said he knew you. He pushed past me-- I tried to stop him.”
Her smile had gone again and her hands clenched, and I could see, in the slant of the light, how her skin was thin with age.
“I do know him.” Christofer's voice was low and flat. “I will see that he never troubles you again. I am sorry I brought this to your door.”
We sat a little longer, in silence. Eventually she stood, shook her heavy skirts out and doused the light. The fire on the hearth was burned down now to a tumble of grey and red. Kit and I went up the stairs in that light, as children do.
He was ahead of me when we came to the chamber door. He put up a hand to stay me, and went in first. His step had changed. I followed behind, through the door. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it could could have been worse. The untidy books and papers seemed the same. The small bed and the small hearth the same. I could not see anything missing.
Kit had a bag of papers he had brought from Norton Folgate. They were not something he had made much use of, as far as I could see. We all have our bits of writing spoiled at birth, half-monsters with just a little brilliance. It would be odd if he did not have such waste papers. I had thought little of them.
He went to the bag now, pulled everything out of it. His mouth was tight. He shuffled through them. I was too far away to read, but I could see that they were dense with ink. I could see places where he had numbers written, places where things were crossed out. (He had done this sensibly, with a single thin line, so that the words, however halt, might be retrieved later upon need.) I could see places where the walk of prose had turned all at once to the gallop of poetry. There were even small drawings, here and there, in the margins. I saw a little sailboat, and a windmill, and something that might have been a dog.
I looked to my own papers. Nothing had been taken. I could not remember if I had left them more orderly than they were now. My books were unharmed. My money-- such as it was-- was still there.
Kit was shoving the papers back into his bag with careless speed. He tossed the bag back to the floor. He gave me a one sided smile. It was a smile that covered anger, and his shoulders were raised up tight.
“I will right this Kyd,” he said. “This is my fault.”
I dropped off quickly, and dreamed of being nine, and a sunny doorstep I had loved. But I could feel, through my dreams, that it took Christofer a long time to find sleep.
Tom Kyd was a considerate bed-mate. He kept to his own half, and he did not snore or kick. If he prayed before sleep he did so silently, and did not make a show of it. He smelled all right too, Kit thought. Kyd settled himself for the night with a minimum of fuss. The puppy got between them as usual, greedy for the heat, It had muddy paws by the end of the day, but no fleas as yet.
There had been no bad dreams since the last night at Scadbury. But tonight, Kit realized he was afraid to sleep. Better not to think of it. Thinking of them made them come. He knew what to do. He knew how to plod his tired mind through thickets of thought so dense and dull that sleep came as a relief. Better that than let his thoughts run as they pleased.
He was not the only one with nightmares. Francis Walsingham had said something once about that. It had been a small remark, half buried in a flood of other things. It was a subject touched obliquely only. No, don't think of that. Go the other way. Finally, running ciphers in his head, Kit dropped off.
Morning came soon. He opened his eyes to a sharp clear sunlight. He could hear the scratch of Kyd's pen. He could smell the ink. Kyd looked up and gave an absentminded smile, then put his head down and went right back to work. He was eating a piece of bread with his left hand. He was getting crumbs everywhere. Kit smiled in return. No need to speak and risk breaking in when the words were coming. Kit sat up, pulling the heat of the blankets close.
It was good to sit this way, with his chin on his knees, letting the day begin slowly. Good to be warm. So many years Kit had been pried out of bed before he was ready. So many mornings standing, shivering, kneeling, his belly clenched and empty. He had prayed, in unison with the other scholars. He had prayed to be made a good boy. But it had never happened. And he had imagined all those prayers, like gossamer, pure and fine as spider silk, borne on the wind, up and far. Far and far, and maybe never finding a place to rest. He had pictured the whole round earth wreathed in silken prayer, all alone among the stars. And he had wept alone. Nobody knew that. He would never tell. Many boys wept alone, after all. It was the nature of boys. Easy not to tell when nobody asked why. Easy enough to cause himself other reasons for his own misery.
Well here was a pretty start to the day. Enough. He pushed the covers back, and dressed quickly. The floor was cold.
“Bread and butter.” Tom Kyd said indistinctly. “And eggs.”
“Mistress Smith has been.”
Kyd nodded at the basket on the table, gesturing with his chin. It was a fairly pointed chin, and good for indicating with. And both his hands and his mouth were occupied with bread and butter and ink and paper. It was exciting to watch.
There on the table, as always was the basket. She crept in, in the blue of the early mornings, and left it for them. On fish days it had little fishes, or sometimes eels. Once she had made them ginger cake. Kit could not think why he did not wake when she came in the room. Her steps were not quiet. But for some reason he slept through her prodding the fire up in mornings, and her setting the basket down with two pewter plates. And he and Kyd woke each morning to the basket of food. She even included a bone for Pup sometimes.
Well, Kit thought, as long as she did not visit his bath again, he was well content.
He took the bench across from Kyd. The bread was good and the eggs were gold and white, and the sun shone on his back as he ate. It was good, all good.
“What do you think abou---”
The rap at the door was sharp, metallic, imperious. It would accept no delay.
Kyd put his bread down, and his pen, carefully.
“I'll get the door,” he said.