OK, peeps, Chapter 3, in which the Bard learns the perils of this whole private eye thing. Looking for Chapters 1 and 2? You can catch up right here.
The day had been still and hot, and as I had first to wash, the previous night’s excesses coming at dear expense to my hygiene, and then to cross from my rooms in Bishopsgate to the theater in Bankside in order to be properly attired, I had taken a boat from the bridge to Somerset House so as to arrive at my appointment unlathered and still scented of such poor perfumes as I had at my employ. But the cost of such transit was beyond my usual custom and the uncertainties that I now considered gave rise to an impulse to husband what resources I could, so I chose to walk the mile back to my rooms. It being night, I was glad I also had secured from our costume’s store of arms a rapier, so as to feign such status as those common to Somerset House would of nature hold, but in the dark of the city, I valued that blade more for its original purpose.
London was a balm to me and an excitement both. Many from my more pastoral roots, when matters would being them hence, found the city’s tumult and chaos and odor discomfiting and could not be soon enough away, and while I would ready admit that such smells as the city could of times emit far exceeded in offense any I had e’er encountered in Stratford, the thrumming constant of its unbounded human agency found in my soul a sympathetic chord so that I too did thrum as if in harmony with the city’s own heart.
Stratford in the years since my birth had changed scarce at all, so that even now as I returned only on occasion and after long absence it was each time as I had left it. But London did constantly leaf in every direction, both out and up, new streets ivying across former fields, old buildings suddenly sprouting added floors as if their roots had somehow gained new sustenance from the energy emanating from the crush of mankind that always more crowded every lane and ally.
In Stratford, every face was known, and not the face only, but the facts and habits of each person, so that you walked fettered by your own history and that of your father and his and his, fenced from birth within a pasture of expectations from whence you might escape only at the cost of reputation and livelihood. As my father was a glover, then I was a glover’s son and destined a glover to be. But the press of tens and hundreds of thousands that peopled the streets of London offered in their excess a jungle of anonymity in which any man could invent of himself a creature akin to his own longings, and the soil of that jungle seemed much enriched with a kind of humus grown from the constant droppings of ideas and the random interchange of the new and the old, the proven with the previously unimagined, so that daily some advance in science or art or even just whimsy sprang forth in odd and wonderous flower, each flower drawing to it such bee that would its essence carry to some other and some other and some other and in their bloomings the entire city felt enchanted to me, as if man had supplanted God as the prime agency of our human futures.
It was in such reverie that I made my way east along the river, deciding it too late to return my borrowed finery to the theater, instead wanting only a meal and an ale from one of the taverns of my custom and then to write, the tensions of my meeting with Carey giving rise to that mental tumescence I recognized could be relieved only with the outflow of words. The ghost of a man’s father, beseesching him in dream to avenge his murder, the perfect opening for the work I already was contemplating.
London was not just the cradle of the wonderous; however, but also the Stygian nursery of evils, both those familiar and their infinite mutations. I could from across the river hear the roar from one of the bear baiting circles, where the beast would stand tethered and dogs then loosed to tear its flesh while it swatted and snapped at its tormentors with what energy and latitude the stake and chain did permit, the crowd giving throat to its blood lust while wagering on the outcome, and I took care with the passing of each ally and doorway, as a man alone stood chance of losing his purse at least and perhaps his life; and a woman alone did hold her virtue cheap; though I did relax if but a little upon reaching Bishopsgate and turning north the short way left to my rooms.
Relaxed too soon. From the dark maw of a court behind me and to my left I heard a sudden scrape of feet evidencing a kind of urgent purpose that did give me immediate alarm so that I turned quickly, my hand already reaching for the hilt of the rapier on my right side, and did see already the arc of a blade in the faint lamplight. I have done much playing at fencing, the clash of swords being an aphrodisiac to any audience, and so swordplay oft is included in our productions; and, though the steps of that dance on stage be predetermined, I had at least learned them well enough to duck and pivot beneath this blow, my blade now out. The rush and savagery of his initial attempt was such that it drew my attacker past me some couple steps before he could turn, me thinking for a moment to lunge after him before he could regain himself, but recognized in that impulse the same hot blood of recklessness that had led my attacker’s attempt to fail. I chose instead deliberation and cunning, and so set my feet as I had been taught and leveled the blade at my attacker, my balance sure, my mind marvelously emptied by the drug of this violent practice, ready to engage in for the first time and for mortal stakes that dance at which I had previous only pretended.
The man turned, the light behind him and his face hidden in both shadow and a cowl, holding a shorter, stouter blade than my own, and then with the same animal energy that had informed his attack, turned again and ran north, gone at once like a specter into the bowels of the night.
And I stood alone on the filth-slick cobbles, the assurance and confidence that combat had aroused in me now dissolved, my breath coming in rushes and my heart for a moment out of tune with the city it loved and imagining instead the peace of the country.
I wondered what thief chose an armed man as victim. Why chose a wolf in a city so filled with sheep? And whether it was only happenstance that he lay in wait so close to my own door.