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“The prodigal scribe returns, and none too soon,” Burbage called as I entered the theater, much surprised to find Heaton in his company.
“I should think you could easy afford a cushioned seat, Sir,” I said to Heaton, “and would not need arrive so early to secure a favorable spot with the groundlings, as today’s performance does not start for some hours.”
“As fond as I am of your revels, it is this other drama in which you find yourself so deep embroiled that brings me hence,” Heaton answered, “as my news is sufficient earnest and the time you have to act on it short, I thought it best to come direct.”
“If it is news favorable to our fortune, it is most welcome, as such has been in short supply,” Heminges said.
“As your esteemed Shakespeare can tell you,” Heaton answered, “one of the ancient practitioners of his art said audentis fortuna juvet.”
“As I am neither scholar nor papist, I’ll thank you to speak to me plain,” Heminges replied.
“Fortune favors the bold,” I said, “or so Virgil claimed.”
“I may not know the Latin,” Burbage said, “but I know the truth of it. Bold we are the men to be, but bold how?”
Heaton seated himself on the edge of the stage, Burbage and Heminges to his flanks as I stood to his front to receive his news.
“In the matter of your lease, I can find no escape from this mischief that Henslowe has authored, as you must in fact vacate in just a few short days. The rub is in what you take with you.”
“What rub in this, sir?” Burbage asked. “Our stores and talents are ours in any case. What would you have as take?”
“Why the theater itself, my good sirs. Every board and nail of it”
As we watched rapt, Heaton unrolled our copy of the lease on the stage floor, pointing to the section in question. “Over the many years in which you have been tenant, both your company and Miller have contributed to the construction of the theater, but as it did not exist as such in the original lease, the land then being vacant, the disposition of the structure is not addressed in the document, save some language concerning improvements that could be as easy construed in your favor as in Miller’s. In his careless pursuit of every pence, Miller never had the lease redrafted to reflect his stake in the structure. I have discussed such with our favorite Puritan, and as Miller is now some afraid of what reward your could receive should you claim fraud, he already has agreed not to contest ownership of the building, should you have it gone before his sale to Henslowe concludes – provided, in return, you promise to pursue no cause against him in the matter of his notice. And as Miller is now acting, if not in concert with you, at least not against you, he also allowed me to review the documents concerning his sale to Henslowe, in which Henslowe clear presumes the theater and the land are one in ownership, but in which nowhere is this stated plain.”
We stared at Heaton silent for a moment, then I said, “You are saying the lease makes the theater ours, provided we can remove it before the sale concludes?”
Heaton held up a cautioning finger. “I am saying, as a lawyer, I can interpret it so. Should Miller to law, his lawyer could easily interpret it other.”
“But,” I said, “Since Miller will not contest, then ours.”
Heaton again raised his finger. “Henslowe could well contest, but his agreement is with Miller, and so his action would have to be against Miller. In my conversations with the good Puritan, it is possible that I let slip some details regarding the Somerset Company, its designs, and Henslowe’s roll in them, by which discussion Miller may wrongly have concluded that Henslowe would have no interest in the building itself, but simply in the quick sale of the land. So Miller may have presumed that, by giving you leave to remove the theater, he can avoid one ill, and that, by having the land vacant and undisputed for his sale to Henslowe, he can avoid the other. The question, really, is this. Can you have the theater gone from here and reconstructed at the site in Bankside in those few days in which your concern is Miller’s claim, and not Henslowe’s?”
We took stock of the building, for once as workmen would, not in concern for how it would suit an audience, but instead for its construction, all of us looking to Burbage, whose family had some interests in lands, and who’s father, in fact, had first had the theater constructed. Burbage handled any matters of construction on our behalf. He stood now, with his hand on his hips, surveying the tiered stands that surround the grounds and stage.
“The timbers are heavy, but the framing is simple,” he said, “and we already know the foundation of the property at Bankside can suite this shape. It is more an exercise in labor and transport than it is in any builder’s art. We can have the hands of our own company free and of those actors who are common our hirelings cheap, as they would retain our favor, and then pay some few more skilled for the leading roles and to direct our efforts. It will cost us dear in sore muscles and blistered hands, but, yes. This can be done.”
“What of the Bankside property?” I asked.
“I took liberty of meeting with its owner,” Heaton answered, “who is in considerable haste to have what cash for it as he can, as he has heard tell of fortunes to be made in Shoreditch. If you agree to pay some few crowns in rent until the sale is made, he will give you leave to begin your construction immediate.”
I shook my head at this unlikely prospect, having thought just the morning last our company full stymied by Henslowe’s ploy. “You did say, sir,” I said to Heaton, “that you might find some door by which to escape our troubles, or create some other, and you seem to have done both. For we can foil both Henslowe’s mischief toward us and his plans for his own company in the same action. That is,” turning now to my fellows and raising my voice that I used for the stage, “if we be bold enough to court fortune’s favor.”
Which was greeted with a general tumult of affirmation. Even Jenkins, who had joined our congress late, but early enough to have gained its gist, was game.
“I was never bold before,” he said, raising another bottle of Burbage’s sack, “but drink does make me so!”
“I shall make us a start,” said Burbage, firm in his voice. He leapt from the stage joining me on the ground to its front, and being a man powerful in body and with a natural grace for its use, squatted down, putting his hands under the edge of the board that framed the front of our stage, and then pressing up with his legs, and pried it loose, slow at first and the board groaning in protest, but the board then giving way entire and coming full loose to fall flat on the stage. “Jenkins, make haste to fetch hence all those actors of our employ. Heminges, you scour the taverns for those owners of the company not here present. Will, conclude with Heaton such paper matters as needs be, and then hasten back, for it is your back we need today and not your wit. I will find us tools and a few men more full schooled in their use.”
Burbage turned and smiled broad at us all, in his element as foreman to this task, and with that charisma that he oft could summon that would have men follow him ready. “I do count us bold, and fortunate to be in this company. And should fortune balk to answer at this door the good lawyer has found for us, then we shall kick it in and teach the harlot her position as our servant. And over the next days, when your back does ache and your muscles protest, I ask only that you think on Henslowe, emptying his purse to keep us from Bankside’s stages while we sell our trade in that district’s newest and finest venue, the . . .” Burbage paused. “Why, we have no name for it. Will? Words are your province.”
“The Globe,” I answered. “For we will there bring the wonders of the world to London, and in this new world our own fortunes claim.”
Burbage snatched the bottle from Jenkins and held it high. “Gentlemen! The Globe!” And he drank deep, passing the bottle each, and us each drinking deep, save for Jenkins, for when the bottle returned to him, it was near dry.
“I shall have to fetch another,” he said, “not wanting to dishonor our enterprise with this small portion.”
And we laughed, tied hard in that sacred bond of a brotherhood set to some hard task and at dear odds. We scattered to the jobs set to us, hurrying to destroy the theater we had for some good years called home. Never was a band more happy at its work.