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“We can assume that last night’s Spaniard was dispatched at Mary’s hand to still your tongue, you having traced her to her new lair,” Carey said after hearing my account, which was complete and honest in all details save the baker and his wife, my having told Carey instead that I had returned to near to the building that I had previous marked as Mary’s father’s home to continue my investigation, only to chance upon Mary’s entry to what I soon learned to be a secret Catholic mass, and that I had marked her from there to that shop where she now served.
“It seems sound thinking,” I said, “and yet feels false. When you first sought my service in this matter, you did so on your belief that I could see the truth in others, even that they would keep hidden. I cannot see the truth of this in Mary.”
“But neither did you see her Spain’s agent.”
To which I could only shake my head. “I did not. And yet I can believe her such, but still not see her send some secret assassin. I cannot say why, except that I true believe she would hold her service to Spain, really, to Rome, to be in congress with her virtue, but could not so hold that assassin’s work.”
“You can think thus knowing she did poison my father, who had been only kind to her, and in such manner that he died in long suffering?”
I nodded. “I can, giving account to his station, so that she could call it a battle in her secret war on the Queen and her heretic faith, and also knowing your father’s history with her own. For while it was Topcliffe’s hand on the instrument of her father’s suffering, it was your father’s office that gave it force of law. She would not consciously admit such motive, it being simple wrath and thus sin, but we often find in God’s name convenient excuse for such actions we could not otherwise call right.”
Carey waved his hand as if to dispel some scent. After hearing my initial account, he had ordered assembled some armed men, and meant to lead them to the mercers to make Mary’s arrest, their numbers being guard against any additional swordsmen she may have at her disposal. “You have too much philosophy, Shakespeare. There comes time when men must act in their person and not just in their thinking. We will short have Mary, and then short have truth.” Carey strapped on his sword and sash.
But it occurred to me sudden that his plan might have too many persons and too little philosophy.
“I fear, sir, if you make to the mercer’s shop in such large company, you may lose her instead.”
“How so?” he asked.
“Whether by her hand or no, the assassin was plain sent, and, as Mary and any in her congress would know by now, has plain failed. I think she will have fled the mercer’s shop, and will again have to be ferreted out. If you take to those districts in force, any whose help I might by more gentle means secure will like turn silent at the clear peril of your arms.”
Carey huffed. “Your ways do vex me greatly, for having my foes known, it is the instinct in my every fiber to confront them immediate. I am always suspicious of guile.”
“I think we each trust most such as we have best talent for,” I said. “Your talent is in war and its arts and so you would have all settled in battle. But this war is not of open combat, but instead of secret plottings.”
“You would be sent alone, then?”
“And if she has more Toledo steel in her employ?”
“Then I will likely serve as its unhappy scabbard. But I do not think she could long harbor some Spanish battalion secret in London’s bowels. If you could have your men close, I will send word when they are needed.”
Carey paused for a moment. “You should know, too, that the Spaniards will not be your only peril.”
At this, I raised my brow in question.
“Should you go alone, and then Mary escape, such as Topcliffe will like charge you as accomplice. He already is making whispers in any ready ear to claim credit for uncovering this threat, and if its object cannot be held, he will need some other in its place or else be thought a failure. Do not think too greatly of my powers, Shakespeare, or my honor. Should you fail, his designs will turn to you, and I will be unlikely able to stop them, and so most likely would not try, lest I, too, end up their victim. I have seen battles enough to know that discretion is sometimes valor’s better part.”
I thought on this careful, but at the end knew Jenkins deserved the truth of things, and I would be my own worst company what days I had left if I failed him in cowardice, knowing how well he had served me.
“I thank you for your honest congress, sir. And I true bide you to take no action on my behalf that would bring you ill for no gain save honor. I think honor serves us best when it spurs us to make the world some little better, but it would serve the world poor if it drove a good man, for I do hold you such, to sacrifice for no reason save his conscience. And you are right. I am too often philosophy’s friend when it is action that’s needed. So let me go now, as I have only recently made courage’s acquaintance and should be gone before it moves on to better company.”
“My good sir!” said the mercer in his practiced cheer at my entrance. “Dare I hope your company’s success has grown such in only this day past that you require further service?”
I drew on my actor’s art for an easy smile and manner. “Alas, no. But being in this district on other business, I did wish to ask if such garments as already ordered could be made ready some few days earlier than first agreed, as the court has added yet another date to our schedule.”
The mercer now drew on his own acting, which in truth was at least equal my own, pursing out his lips as if in some distress. “In truth, sir, such timing as to which I already have agreed will sore tax our little shop. How we could manage sooner I do not know.”
“Of course, we would ready pay for such difficulties as our request might cause,” I said.
And his smile returned. “In which case, I might hire temporary such hands as to meet your need. I did not first offer such as it would offend my honor to try to shift such price as we had already set, and I do offer it now only at your suggestion.”
After some short haggling, we set the new date and price.
“Can I assist you with any else?” the mercer asked. “I have only today received by way of Venice new silks.”
“If you will have Mary model them, then I will happy inspect them,” I answered with a small wink.
“Alas, we have lost her service.,” he said. “For I arrived this morning to a note that she must away to tend to some dear friend in such need as she would not deny and still call herself Christian in her duties. I do think she thinks on Christian duty much, as she clear first stayed late into the night to finish such chores as I had thought would take her all today, namely to sew that final lining into that jeweled garment that is due tomorrow to the Queen.”
“I am true sorry,” I said, “for us both, for I did plan to return often if only to look on her.”
The mercer shrugged. “It seems she was such flower that, being so fine, could only short bloom.” He lowered his voice some. “To be true, sir, I had hoped eventual to better know her pedals, and, being some late years a bachelor, my wife having died of plague, had even planned to offer her marriage in the bargain.”
“Had she known such, she might well have stayed.”
He turned up his hands. “I will never know.”
“Come man,” I said. “This seems almost from a play, and so in my art. Do not surrender the chase! Have word to her! Surely she did not go in secret.”
He smiled a small smile. “Had I a place to send word, I would. But alas, she did.”
“If you come for bread, sir, you are welcome, but if you come other, I bid you gone,” said the baker as I entered his shop, clear unhappy of my company.
“I come other, sir,” I shut his door behind me, and then fitted its bolt so that we might have our congress uninterrupted.
His wife came from the room to the back, taking her place beside him.
“We can tell you no more than we did at our last talking,” she said, but unsure in her speaking.
Only a fool thinks that every lesson comes from an agreeable voice, for the wise learn from their fears as well as their fancies. Having reflected on Topcliffe’s philosophies on torture, I considered his thinking on hope, but considered it reversed. To kill hope was to invite despair, and in despair there is nothing to be gained. With nothing to be gained there is no reason to answer. But if you can seeming kill hope, and then offer its resurrection, what would a man then deny you? As I had not Topcliffe’s tools to use, but only my words, I would have them do my work.
“No other? Nothing of the papist mass you attended in secret this Sunday past in the very building where Mary Norton’s father did late live?”
“No sir, we never . . .” the man started, but seeking to leave his hope no room to turn, I cut him off.
“Save your lies, sir. I watched with my own eyes as first your wife, and then you, did make quick across this very street and into the cellar door on the side of that building most near to you. As you do attend mass in secret and prayed by some priest in hiding from the crown, you both stand already subject to the Queen’s justice. And as you have just denied your faith plain and will in arrest have no priest to cleanse your soul, you will stand, too, subject to God’s justice as you know it.”
“I prithee, sir,” the wife now in clear pleading, “if you be a good Christian of any stripe, do not deliver us, for we seek only to pray in such fashion as God calls us, but stand also clear obedient to our Queen in any but this.”
“And what if your congregation plots against the Queen?” I asked.
“They do not,” the man said.
“At least one does, and I will tell you this now clear plain. I am current in the crown’s service in company with many, including Topcliffe, and on my word alone can and will have any I feel party to this treason immediate to his care, and from his care to Tyburn. By the knowing of my own eyes, you both stand current damned, and this will be your fate unless you prove that you love your Queen, at least today, more than your God. Do remember that, by your own creed, you can later seek his forgiveness. As I am the Queen’s minister in this matter, I can assure you you will have none from this quarter.”
At which they clung to each other, both in weeping, and I could see hope clear dead. I wondered from whence would come my own forgiveness, and when, if at all.
The woman some regained herself.
“What would you know, sir?”
“Where is Mary Norton?”
“If I knew, on God’s eyes, I would lead you there by hand,” she said. “She is only recent in our congregation, though clear much in favor with our priest, and must live near to choose this place to worship.”
“Who is your priest?”
“What will befall him?” the man asked.
I looked on him stern. “Will it ease your conscience to hear some lie? Why else would you ask told that which you already know the answer, save in hopes that I might say other than you expect so that you can pretend at truth?”
“Father Ignatious,” the woman answered. “He being such new priest as came at almost exact such time as first did Mary Norton, and being, I am certain, foreign born. If there be treason afoot and it involve her, then he is party to it, and so I will damn him easy as he did easy risk those in his flock such that either their souls or their persons fall harm, if not both.”
“How do I find him?”
“Why at Sunday mass next,” she answered.
“As I would not wait for such as I fear he will now be absent there, how do I find him immediate? For priests must administer, too, such sacraments as do not mind any calendar.”
They looked to each other a moment, being at the final, uncomfortable moment of treason where, by their own words, some other would suffer hard.
“I do fear that such sin as we might soon make will weigh dear on us,” the man said, as if giving speech to his torment might relieve it, but I wished offer no pause for him to consider his honor.
“If you do not answer, and true and immediate, mark this promise. You will watch first all such torments as your wife will suffer entire unto her death. Consider how heavy that might weigh on your soul, sir.”
He hung his head. “Take this road straight to the river. At the left on the river’s verge is that long market given solely to fishes, above which are some poor rooms. These are his quarters.”
“Lift your head, sir,” I said.
He looked up at me.
“Know true that I am much grieved to have so pained you both, but also true was every threat I uttered, for I am clutched within much desperate business and am trying to have it ended at the cost of as little innocent blood as can be. If you are true, then your worries on this are ended, for none will have your name from me. As to your God, your creed says he will forgive, and if he will not, his own priest party to that evil come to your door, then I call him unworthy of your worship.”
I unbolted the door and walked quick toward the river so that I was into the ally nearest before I vomited hard onto the cobbles there, to close in spirit to Topcliffe in that moment for my own stomaching.