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The coach left Carey at Somerset, but he instructed his driver to have me home. Instead, I directed him to Bankside, alighting to find a complete theater where that morning I had left bare timbers. From inside the stands, I could see the flicker of torchlight and hear the banging of hammers, and so I made my way in to find our company nailing the last boards to the floor of the stage, all else seeming done.
Burbage noted my arrival. “You have an actor’s timing, sir, arriving for our applause, the work of things being finished. But, as you come from Topcliffe’s and seem still entire, I do rightly welcome your company.”
“Entire in person, Burbage, but some afflicted in spirit, though my spirits are lifted to be among these fellows and to see our stage so nearly done.” I removed my hat and swept it in a deep bow. “I do thank you all, and humbly, my hand having lent too little to this enterprise.”
“Drop your hat and sword, sir, as you are among friends,” Heminges said. “But do take a hammer to these last, so that, on such occasion as one of our feet passes through the stage, we can call it your work.”
And so I did, and happy, and in short minutes, the last of the stage nailed tight, Burbage stood in its middle turning slow with his arms oustretched, “Gentlemen,” he said in such strong voice as any in audience could hear, “I give you the Globe!”
“Will you give us her in name alone, or shall we drink to her fortune, and to ours?” called Jenkins from the stage’s far side. “For you have kept locked the sack all this long day, and this workman’s life is a thirsty one.”
“Keep you sack secured, Burbage,” I answered. “It is time we scout this neighborhood for some tavern close, for as the theater is the cathedral of our art, such tavern will be that chapel in which we will frequent pray to the saints of our lesser appetites. Besides, Jenkins has drunk from your purse enough. Tonight, you shall all drink from mine so that I might contribute in ale what I could not in sweat.”
“Oh!” cried Jenkins, now running across the stage to join us. “I am well blessed in the matter of masters!”
It was no long search to find a tavern, Bankside being rife with them, and so we started in one almost direct across from our new home, and then another more toward the bridge, Jenkins then calling on us to try yet a third, him thinking Bankside a new Eden, and he would have all its wonders known.
“Do you like Will’s ale as well as my sack?” Burbage asked, Jenkins having drained another tankard.
“As they are equal free, they are equal loved,” he answered, his words followed hard by a long belch. Jenkins smiled. “Although ale does give me the airs and seems to love me less as it will not stay long. If you sirs will excuse me, I shall to the ally and make room for more.”
Burbage waved to the girl to refill our tankards as Jenkins made through the crowd to water the cobbles. “Do you suppose the boy has yet had his codpiece aside in a woman’s service?” Burbage asked.
I smiled at him. “I suspect no.”
“He is of the age for it,” Burbage said.
“He is of the age where he is all for it,” I said, “but knows not where to find it.”
Burbage waved over a girl near the door, who, through her comings and goings with assorted fellows had made clear her trade, but who was still young enough and, in a darkened tavern after long drinking, was still some comely.
“You are those actors who have taken new residence,” she said, bending over our table such that her ample orbs hung nearly free for our inspection. “I do love an actor, or two if you are an ensemble.”
“Alas,” said Burbage, “we are old and sufficient in our charms so as to secure free what little affections our shriveled members might still require. But perhaps you noted our young player.”
“That makes such regular acquaintance will the alley?” she said.
“The same,” Burbage said. “The boy has not yet known the wonders of a woman, and having first confused you with Aphrodite until you drew near and I could tell you even more beautiful, I now pray that the boy might baptize himself in your font.”
She blushed some little and stood straight. “Baptism is it? I would never deny a lad his sacraments, but as Jesus did drive the moneychangers from his temple, how can I expect the lad pay me, us being about the church’s business?”
Burbage pressed a crown into her palm. “Such a lovely lad would never have cause to pay, as I’m sure you will find his charms such that your flower does open full ready in the light of his fair sun. But, this being church business, I do make my offering.”
She looked careful at the crown, it being more than she would usual hope from a full night’s steady commerce, and it already being such hour that her future custom would be thin. “You must love the boy well to pay so dear.”
“I do, and would have you pretend so, too.”
She made a slight bow. “Unlike we poor children doused as infants, the boy will long remember his baptism and will never question his faith.”
Jenkins was just back in the door, and she turned and made toward him, seeming accidental to bump him in passing, then accepting his apologies, offering hers, her hand already light on his arm, and the two soon deep in congress, her pressing closer, the hand that rested on his arm now against his chest, its fingers curling and uncurling light in teasing, Jenkins looking some stunned, but his hand made its own awkward foray, first to the side of her bare arm, then to her waist, it creeping toward her haunches like a frightened child, the surprise on his face growing as she turned her hip toward him, so that his hand now lay flat on her rump, He looked toward our table, and Burbage raised his tankard in salute, the girl then leaning in close, her lips pressed to Jenkins’s ear as she made a whispered offer and the two turned back toward the door.
Burbage stood. “Come,” he said. “We must see the boy off!”
Rising, I watched the girl put her arm around Jenkins, half in pretended affection, but half also to keep the unsteady lad on his feet. “I fear his furnace may be so soaked in ale that she may find it hard to stoke,” I said.
“Will, do you forget the insistence of those fires that burned in your youth?”
And I thought for a moment of Anne and the urgent and passioned hours we long ago had shared. “I have not forgotten,” I said, feeling sudden cheapened to be party to this ploy, even knowing that Burbage made it from affection only, and sure that Jenkins, even if he knew the truth of this lady’s attentions, would now, being full in lust’s tow, continue, this new conscience of mine intent, it seemed, to cloud in question every action
Burbage and I walked clear of the doors and into the street to mark the progress of Jenkins and his new love, them being only some few yards distant as their progress was circuitous, me some consumed in my habit of truth, knowing the thoughts I now formed for my own comfort – that the girl would at least spend some few moments in more gentle embraces than common to her experience and would for those moments be far better paid, that Jenkins would find in her false-willing arms a new corner of Bankside’s Eden that would like please him even more than his bottle, that there was only pleasure and no harm in this staged encounter – knowing these thoughts to be the lies of my old habit, as my Anne had charged, my way of letting words be my master by having them paint some false truth that I could believe for my convenience.
“Will!” Burbage shouted in alarm, crashing hard into me and knocking me toward the gutter, me staggering unbalanced so as to see not entirely clear the caped man that flashed past, his sword extended and missing me by only little, Burbage having the man by his free arm and hurling him past, my hand going to the hilt of my own blade and drawing it clear, the man’s sword flashing back at Burbage and cutting him deep along his arm, Burbage gasping in alarm, the swordsman now free to face me, me raising my blade, setting my feet, but deflecting only barely his first flurry of swipes and thrusts, his being a more nuanced art than Carey’s, one of speed and deception, but no less sure deadly, as I was alive to this point by chance only, and my vision had shrunk to his blade and no other, attempting to mark its progress, when I heard an animal roar and the man turned, Jenkins almost upon him, the man raising his blade in instinct and it passing clean through Jenkins near under his heart, the combination of the man’s thrust and Jenkins’s foolish rush bringing Jenkins full to the sword’s hilt, Jenkins clasping that hard as the man tried to pull the weapon free, and I drove my own blade into the man’s side, the blade stopping first after only some few inches, the man being still and my not having his skill or strength, but I braced my feet and pushed hard against it and after a grudging budge felt it drive deep into his chest, the man now gurgling up blood, releasing his grip on his sword, sinking first to his knees and then collapsing to his side and rolling onto his back, something that was not a breath bubbling final in the blood that pooled in his open mouth. Jenkins stood for a moment still, holding the ornate hilt that basketed the offending blade’s handle, and then started his own, slow fall, but I stepped to catch him, and laid him gentle to his side.
Kneeling by the boy, my first thought was to have the blade free of him, and I reached to grasp the handle that Jenkins had at last released, but his hands wrapped around mine.
“I prithee don’t sir, as I think it is all that holds me together.”
Burbage knelt now, too, at the other side, blood running down from the gash to his left arm. “He’s right, Will. We should have some surgeon’s word on this first.”
“He’d best be quick if I am to hear it,” Jenkins said, then a light cough, and some blood, too, flowing from his lips.
“You shall hear plenty,” Burbage said, “and from me. God will not allow you so soon gone for fear I will drink all my sack alone.”
“So far as God is concerned,” Jenkins said, “It will please him some that I die with my virtue unspoiled.” He turned his eyes to look at the girl, who stood at his head, her hands to her mouth, and her face wet with tears. “But I cannot say it pleases me.”
At which she knelt at his head, taking his face gentle in her hands, and, leaning down, pressed her lips soft on his. Jenkins reached up his hand behind her neck and pulled her mouth tight to him, and they held their kiss a long moment before his arm went slack and his hand fell away, the fingers curled up gentle on the cobbles as the flood from two bodies pooled and framed it crimson in the faltering torchlight.