Title:The Gaining of the Light
Word Count 979
The Gaining of the Light
I left the prison and stepped into the light. It poured like kindness from the sharp blue sky. I took deep breaths of it, shuddering. Aware of my cantering heart.
I had paid off the turnkey, as best I could. Marlowe and Watson would be better housed, at least. They had not let me see Tom Watson until the very end. I had made my departure fumbling and slow, I had turned back hand on the door, to say a last word. I had stopped to tighten my shoe. By these devices I had been able to glimpse him. Of course they had marched him up from the oubliette without telling him anything. That is their way, their pleasure in power. He was clumsy with chill, numbed to a stumble. I had seen the set of his jaw dusted red, and his shoulders shivering beneath his thin and dirty shirt. He did not know where they were leading him. He was trying to be ready for death, or worse. My poor friend.
I had left the food with Marlowe to give to him. I had no doubt now that Marlowe would see he got it. Sitting where I had, free to leave at the completion of my errand, I had seen little enough. I had not seen the rats. I had not seen the rooms for confessions and accusations, for screams. I had not seen the unfortunates with no one to intercede for them. Still I hurried as I left the place, like a child running home in the dark.
Outside the clean day had moved on without me. My city. People move here like schooling fish, like skeins of birds. They dart across streets, stopping sudden, to impede the way. A man of the city learns to walk in a crowd. I walked easy. The plague sputtered here still, some houses were abandoned, boarded. But commerce did not stop, not even to nod to the dead. Here all was self regard, alive and raucous with bright things for sale. I stopped to buy a sausage on a stick. The woman selling them was deft and clean. Her boy, on a high stool, still wore his smock. He was missing his two first teeth. His bare toes gripped the rungs of his perch. But he watched the till unblinkingly for his mother..
Another child went by, dragged through the rubbish on the street. He was weeping,his face was swollen and smeared with tears. His mother had him by one arm, half off of the ground.“Don't ever do that again!” Her voice was fierce. I wondered what he had done. So my own mother had spoken to me, not that it had helped.
I pushed back the tears that clutched my throat. I had not been there for them at the end. But I would not think of it now. There would be the rest of my life, I reasoned, to think of my parents. I had all the memories of them. There would, after all, be no more.
My stair to my rooms was close and dusty. My hearth had gone cold. The chimney never did draw right. The fire needed almost constant tending. I knelt on the gritty hearth to lay a new fire and feed it up again. I told myself, often, that I would move out. But I did not move. The little rooms were otherwise pleasant, and I had a window where the sun came and striped my little bed in the mornings. The old woman downstairs took my money, and never complained of my odd hours. Her sons were grown to manhood and long gone. She fed me, often as not, saying she cooked too much out of habit. On occasion I had brought a girl to my rooms. The old woman made no remark, of this. But I had brought no one home for a long while now.
I had a trestle table in the bright corner of the room. Here were my inks, and pen knives and my precious stack of paper. And I could not pick up a pen without thinking of my father.
My father had been a scrivener. I had seen him writing every day. He smelled of ink. His letters were deep black, and as graceful as the flight of geese. I had been tiny when he lifted me to stand on the bench where he sat. He had taken a tail of waste paper, no good for anything else, and he had guided my clenched little hand. I had learned to write before I ever saw a horn-book. He led me through the letters, over and over. As I struggled to write them, they unlocked for me, and I had the sounds, words, meanings. Learning was easy after that. I could not get enough. I had gone to school eager. Petty school pleased me, and later, at Merchant Taylors, Master Mulcaster kept me late, gave me extra work to think on. I was beaten at school, of course. But never for my work, only for tardiness, for unseemly laughter, for pushing and shoving. These are the sins of all boys, I think. But my work was good.
So, it was, and so it is. Thinking this I turned to it. I could not afford to waste the good day-light. I had some new thoughts about the Danish play. They were still at the ticklish stage. If I turned the mind's gaze from them they might step out to be grasped. Other men's words, copied fair, would buy me the time to write my own. I filled my pipe, placed it in my teeth, and turned to work.
After some time, the pup toddled forth to chew on my boot. So we passed the rest of the day.