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Authors: Edward Marston

Tags: #_rt_yes, #_MARKED, #tpl, #Mystery & Detective, #Historical, #Great Britain - History - Elizabeth; 1558-1603, #Mystery, #Theater, #Theatrical Companies, #Fiction

The Mad Courtesan (18 page)

BOOK: The Mad Courtesan
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‘You may also mention that my credit is good among his peers.’ Fellowes could not resist a boast. ‘I have been of assistance to three earls and a duke.’

Andrew Carrick thanked him and moved gently away from the topic of his fictional client. Having confirmed one part of his theory, he now addressed another. The guard was being changed at the Tower and the soldiers went through their established drill. Carrick watched approvingly.

‘They have fine uniforms and good weapons,’ he noted.

‘Both are essential in the military world.’

‘Do such items come within your remit?’

‘Everything passes through me at one time or another,’
asserted Fellowes. ‘That is why I have so many junior clerks to help me keep the accounts. It is no sinecure that I hold. This month alone, I have drawn up estimates of naval charges affecting the Office and debts due within it. I have made costings of munitions for castles and blockhouses then receipted Exchequer warrants for the necessary sums. I have arranged transport of munitions to our army in Ireland. And I have provided the Earl of Essex with an aide memoire on a subject of military significance.’

‘Your industry does you credit, Master Fellowes.’

‘I serve the Crown as best I may.’

‘We are lucky to have a man of such high probity in a position of such power,’ said Carrick solemnly. ‘There must be grave temptations for weaker souls.’

The Clerk of Ordnance gave a sharp reply. ‘We have a List of Orders to govern all procedures,’ he said sternly. ‘They make abuse impossible. All records must be kept in duplicate, one for the Ordnance and another for the Council. All indentures are to be signed by three officers. No purchases may be made on the authority of a single officer. The chest where all our receipts and dockets are held in custody has a three-lock mechanism with separate keys for the Master, Lieutenant and Surveyor of Ordnances.’ Fellowes adopted the pose he used in the pulpit. ‘As you will see from these precautions, we are scrupulous in our dealings.’

Andrew Carrick nodded in agreement. He also noted that such stringent regulations would not have been drawn up in the first place if there had not already been widespread
abuse and embezzlement in the Office. He flattered the other with unstinting praise before slipping in a last question. ‘How long have you been Clerk of Ordnance …?’

 

Josiah Taplow and William Merryweather bundled through the streets of Clerkenwell in a vain attempt to impose law and order upon an unruly neighbourhood. It was a dark night with a churlish breeze that carried the promise of rain. The two watchmen sauntered along in step and wondered if there was a less burdensome or unrewarding job than the office of constable. They had uniforms, lanterns and weapons of a sort but no status beyond that of buffoons. Taplow often thought nostalgically of his days as a plasterer and Merryweather longed to be back among his dead poultry. The former would have been more of a match for criminals with a trowel in his hand and the latter could have given a far better account of himself in a brawl if armed with his cleaver. They traded their customary moans then fell back into a dutiful silence. As their old legs measured out the reeking filth of Turnmill Street, they inhaled the air of sweeter memories. Josiah Taplow saw rows of inviting walls and William Merryweather viewed the necks of a hundred chickens.

The watchmen ambled past the Pickt-hatch but noticed nothing untoward. Riotous behaviour within and loitering gallants without were normal features of the establishment and the colleagues did not even throw the place a glance. Drunkenness thrived in the lower rooms and debauchery in those above. Indeed, if sin had a tonnage, then the whole
building would have toppled over with its own weight. The two men walked all the way to Cow Cross by the time that the figure appeared at a window. Frances had met with another problem. Though her customer had paid her well, he had beaten her to heighten his pleasure and left her severely bruised. She watched till the man came out of the building then gestured with her hand. The message was clearly understood.

Weary from his excesses, her violent lover dragged himself along in the darkness, and cursed aloud as the first drops of rain began to bite at him. He swung into Cock Lane and found the wind punching angrily into his face. He spat his defiance and surged on with lowered head, ignoring the slime through which he was now trudging and kicking out at a stray dog that popped out from a doorway. Oblivious to the thickset man who trailed him, he struggled on through the damp night.

The watchmen were a hundred yards away when they heard the first yell of agony and they reacted at once. Showing a surprising turn of foot for their age, they sprinted off towards the roaring torment in Cock Lane, guided by each new howl of misery from the victim. They arrived in time to see the fallen man being kicked and struck by his assailant with wilful savagery. The speed of their approach put the attacker to flight and he vanished into the darkness. By the light of their lanterns, the watchmen assessed the condition of the groaning wreck on the ground. He was beaten to a pulp and bones had been broken all over his anatomy. It was the work of a seasoned ruffian. Instead of
killing his prey with a single blow, he wanted to smash him slowly to pieces.

Josiah Taplow and William Merryweather came panting up the lane in utter astonishment. No other watchmen were due to patrol their area that night. Taplow raised his staff as if to strike and called out a command.

‘Who goes there?’

‘Have no fear, sir,’ said Nicholas Bracewell, turning to him. ‘We are friends that merely borrowed your attire for purposes of our own tonight.’

‘This man needs a surgeon,’ said Edmund Hoode.

‘What are you?’ croaked Merryweather.

Nicholas pulled off his cap to reveal himself then introduced Hoode. Their garb had been taken from the store of costumes that Westfield’s Men kept at the Queen’s Head. In the guise of constables, they had licence to search the streets of Clerkenwell.

‘Who did you seek?’ asked Josiah Taplow.

‘A murderer,’ said Nicholas.

‘Did you find him?’

‘This is his handiwork here.’ Nicholas bent down beside the victim who had now lapsed into unconsciousness. ‘I believe we shall find the mark of his accomplice as well.’

Because the man lay on his front, Nicholas was able to lift his jerkin and his shirt to expose a broad back. Hoode angled his lantern so that they could all see the tattoo. Red lines of blood had been etched by wild fingernails. A night of passion had been a loveless embrace.

Nicholas was sorry for the victim but glad that he and
Edmund Hoode had come to Clerkenwell that night. He felt that he was now one step closer to his quarry. It was only a question of time before the ruthless killer and his equally ruthless partner at the Pickt-hatch were called to account.

Sebastian Carrick could then rest in peace.

C
hildbirth was a source of mystery and pain. No woman could escape its random cruelties. Rank, wealth and the finest medical advice in the kingdom could not prevent recurring disasters in fraught bedchambers. Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, had numerous pregnancies but most ended in miscarriages, stillbirths or death on delivery. Only one of her children, Mary, survived infancy and when she herself came to the throne, her barren womb was mocked by phantom pregnancies that had been confirmed by learned physicians. The meanest beggarwoman who gave birth under a hedge could sometimes stand as much chance of rearing the child as the high-born ladies who underwent long confinements. Nothing about the miraculous process was certain except the fact that it cost the lives of large numbers of mothers and babies. Birth and death were familiar bedfellows.

Margery Firethorn understood this only too well. She and her sister were the two survivors of their mother’s seven children and Margery had watched infant mortalities darken the households of many of her relatives and friends. Her bustling benevolence at the Cambridge abode masked her deep concern for Agnes who was not as robust as her elder sister. But each day brought a visible improvement in mother and child as well as a growing self-importance in the father as Jonathan Jarrold came to terms with his new status. After coming through a testing birth, the baby seemed to know that the worst was over and it guzzled happily at the breasts of the wet nurse. The infant Richard patently liked the world well enough to remain in it and his sense of purpose was the best possible physic for his mother. With Margery forever at her side to reassure her, Agnes Jarrold came to believe that she would at last be able to raise a family.

Her thoughts turned fondly to her brother-in-law.

‘I would dearly like to see Lawrence again,’ she said.

‘Then you must come to London and take your place in his audience.’ Margery feigned irritation. ‘My husband is so famous these days that even I have to pay a penny to catch sight of him and twopence to converse with his eminence.’

‘Is he a good father to your children?’

‘I hope he is not a good father to anyone else’s.’

‘Do not twist my words so, Margery.’

‘Lawrence does what his profession allows him. Which means, alas, that he sees little enough of the children and subjects them to what outbursts of fatherhood he can
muster when they do meet.’ She set her jaw. ‘They have me as their mother and that gives them two parents in one.’

Agnes Jarrold turned her head on the pillow to look across at the crib where her son slept. The tightly bound linen strips allowed her to see only a portion of his face but it had the peace of true innocence upon it.

‘You have been mother, father and aunt to dear Richard,’ she said. ‘As well as wife and friend to poor Jonathan.’

‘Do not wed me to a bookseller!’ protested Margery. ‘And do not befriend me to a lover of Greek and Latin. I will tolerate the oaf for your sake, Agnes, but I could never lie beside his yapping scholarship.’

‘But he adores you, sister.’

‘Then must he be a devil-worshipper.’

They chuckled in unison. Living in Cambridge had given Margery an insight into a more conventional marriage and it made her long for her own more eccentric variation of holy matrimony. Lawrence Firethorn was vain, irascible, devious and inclined to wander but he was never dull. She might have to suffer his woes but she also enjoyed his triumphs and these brought the kind of sustained exhilaration that was unknown in a quiet bookshop in a university town. When she went to see a play with Jonathan Jarrold, she snored beside him. When she visited a theatre with Lawrence Firethorn, he thrilled her to the core of her being from the centre of the stage. After all their years together, her husband could still make her feel like his leading lady.

‘I am quite recovered today,’ said Agnes bravely.

‘You still need much rest, sister.’

‘But I hate to impose upon you.’

‘Do not worry on my account.’

‘You have a house and family of your own, Margery.’

‘They’ll not melt away in my absence.’

‘They will miss you painfully.’

‘It will serve them right!’

‘How long do you intend to stay in Cambridge?’

‘As long as I deem it necessary.’

‘We would hate to detain you if—’

‘Stop it, Agnes!’ scolded the other. ‘I’ll not be packed off before I am ready to go. That child needs my care, that nurse needs my guidance, those servants need my orders and that dreaming husband of yours needs a box on the ears.’ She leant over the bed to kiss Agnes on the cheek. ‘If all goes well, I may leave at the end of the week.’

‘Lawrence will be surprised at your early return.’

‘That is my hope.’

‘Will you write to him, Margery?’

‘I would rather take him unawares.’

‘So you may depart at the end of the week?’

‘On Saturday.’

 

‘On Saturday! This is the basest treachery, man! Saturday!’

‘Calm down, Barnaby.’

‘Then do not put me to choler.’

‘It is but one performance that I miss.’

‘One is far too many, Lawrence.’

‘Even the strongest of us must rest.’

‘Yes,’ said Barnaby Gill tetchily. ‘And we all know where you will be resting, sir. Between the legs of some dark-haired lady with a fond smile.’

‘You impugn my honour!’

‘I did not know you had any left to impugn.’

Edmund Hoode stepped in smartly to prevent the argument from degenerating into an exchange of wild abuse. He, Barnaby Gill and Nicholas Bracewell were in Shoreditch at the actor-manager’s house. The noise of debate was already so loud and the vituperation already so liberal that the other occupants of the dwelling thought that Margery must have returned from Cambridge. Gill was livid with outrage. The three visitors had come to discuss one crisis and Firethorn had immediately precipitated another by informing them that he would not be appearing with Westfield’s Men on the following Saturday. It was an extraordinary decision for him to make, all the more so in the wake of the battering which his reputation had taken.
Love’s Sacrifice
might have wooed its audience and won its leading actor a voyage down the Thames but the real interest among playgoers was centred on
The Spanish Jew.

The brilliant impersonation by Owen Elias of his former master had caught the public imagination. Those who had seen it trumpeted its wicked accuracy and those who had not clamoured for it to be repeated. In his two performances to date, a discarded Welsh actor had done more harm to the professional renown of Lawrence Firethorn than Banbury’s Men had contrived in two years. The full horror had made itself known to Westfield’s Men.
Through the person of their prime talent, they were being viciously ridiculed.

‘We must strike back at once, Lawrence,’ said Hoode.

‘I will do just that,’ promised the other grimly. ‘I’ll meet Owen Elias in a duel, cut his ungrateful Welsh head from his shoulders and send it back to Randolph with an apple in the mouth. That is the way to serve roast pig, sirs!’

‘The Spanish Jew
is a powerful weapon.’

‘We have mightier artillery, Edmund.’

‘Then let us fire it from the stage.’

‘On Saturday!’ insisted Gill. ‘Saturday afternoon!’

‘No, sir!’ replied Firethorn with sudden vehemence. ‘On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but not this forthcoming Saturday.’

‘Give us a reason,’ said Hoode patiently.

Gill pouted. ‘Ask the question of his codpiece.’

‘I am engaged elsewhere on Saturday,’ said Firethorn.

‘But our schedule has
The Loyal Subject
listed for performance,’ reminded its troubled author. ‘We must trespass on your own loyalty here, Lawrence. Stand by your fellows.’

Firethorn posed. ‘Have I ever let the company down?’

‘Many times,’ said Gill.

‘That is still a deal less than you, sir!’

‘My art is above reproach.’

‘Would that the same could be said for your acting!’

‘Barnaby Gill
is
Westfield’s Men!’

‘Then are we all digging our own graves.’

Hoode again jumped in to keep them apart then he
turned a supplicatory face towards Nicholas Bracewell. The book holder had been listening in silence as he weighed up the situation. He had a potential solution to offer.

‘Owen Elias is our hope of salvation here,’ he said.

‘Only if we kill him instantly!’ hissed Firethorn.

‘He is more use to us alive than dead, sir. And of far more value as one of us than as a member of Banbury’s Men.’ Nicholas spoke with quiet reason. ‘If we can coax him back into the fold, we take the sting out of our rivals. If we can employ him at his true worth, we have a fine actor who will be a credit to us all. And if we move swiftly, we may still stage
The Loyal Subject
on Saturday, though Master Firethorn may have business elsewhere.’

‘Yes!’ agreed Hoode. ‘Owen will take over his part.’

‘And play it far better,’ added Gill maliciously.

‘No!’ howled Firethorn. ‘Never, never, never! I’ll not yield one syllable to Owen Elias, let alone a whole part. I’d sooner hand the play to Giles Randolph so that he could fill my place. Are you mad, Nick? Do not even mention the name of that leek-eating rogue in my presence. He is gone for ever!’

‘Not while
The Spanish Jew
holds the stage.’

‘Nick speaks good sense!’ said Hoode.

‘Owen Elias had sold his black soul to Banbury’s Men.’

‘Buy it back,’ urged Nick.

‘Not for
anything
!’

Firethorn’s yell of derision was so blood-curdling that it terminated that stage of the argument. Nicholas weighed in with the alternative suggestion of postponing
The Loyal Subject
until such time as its star was available and of substituting
Cupid’s Folly
. Barnaby Gill was revived at once by the thought of leading the company in his favourite play and Edmund Hoode conceded that it was a way to mitigate the awkwardness of the situation. When Firethorn gave his token acquiescence, both men excused themselves to give Nicholas a moment alone with the actor-manager.

The book holder did not mince his words.

‘Lord Westfield is extremely distressed, sir.’

‘I’m well aware of that, Nick.’

‘This is not the time to let Banbury’s Men gain the upper hand over us. It could have serious consequences.’

‘Do not lecture me.’

‘Our performances are in a set order.’

‘I helped to choose them,’ said Firethorn irritably, ‘so do not tell me why
The Loyal Subject
was marked out for Saturday afternoon. It is the best day of the week for us and one when we can make most impact.
The Loyal Subject
was commissioned from Edmund when we performed at court. In view of Her Majesty’s grievous condition, we could not make a more apt choice. The play celebrates the life of our revered Queen and enjoins all subjects to serve her devotedly.’

‘Our patron has high admiration for the piece.’

‘Quite rightly.’

‘He is expecting to watch it this weekend.’

‘Then he will be disappointed!’ Firethorn’s cry gave way to a hopeless shrug. ‘I am torn in two here, Nick. I wish to
lead my company on Saturday but I may not. I cannot. I simply
must
not.’

‘Your excuse must be a very persuasive one.’

‘I have … given my word,’ mumbled Firethorn.

‘Could not that promise be fulfilled on Sunday just as well as on Saturday?’ ventured Nicholas. ‘It is but a case of waiting twenty-four hours. Unlike our rivals with their theatres outside the city boundaries, Westfield’s Men may not play on a Sunday. That is the time for dalliance, sir.’

‘Do not make my guilt any worse.’

‘But you give so much ground to Banbury’s Men. If you desert us on Saturday, we lose our most telling play and turn some of our audience towards The Curtain where
The Spanish Jew
will be mounted once more.’ Nicholas sighed. ‘We are but an army fighting without our captain. Banbury’s Men have both Saturday and Sunday to steal a march on our company.’

‘You counsel well but my heart speaks louder.’

‘May I talk to the lady in your stead?’

‘No, no,’ said Firethorn, fearful that a delicate state of relations might be upset, ‘I must follow my own prompting here. But I do not do so lightly, believe me.’

‘Your mind is quite fixed?’

‘Immovably.’

Nicholas accepted defeat and walked to the door. Now that Firethorn was in a more tranquil mood, he prodded a tentative name towards him.

‘Do not be too harsh on Owen Elias, sir.’

‘I’ll tear the lousy knave limb from stinking limb!’

The imprecations were still pouring out like molten lava as Nicholas waved a farewell and let himself out of the house. It had been a depressing visit. Lawrence Firethorn was even more seriously embroiled with Beatrice Capaldi than he had feared. An actor who rejoiced in his performances was letting a woman come between him and his company. She could not have appeared at a more inauspicious moment.

It was time to call on a hatmaker.

 

Old age and uncertain health were slowly taking their toll on the Earl of Chichester but the effects of both had been temporarily reversed by the mounting excitement of a dispute over the succession. Action rejuvenated him. It took years off his back and put paid to his incipient deafness, chronic dyspepsia and general fatigue. Roger Godolphin had always lived ostentatiously beyond his means and indulged his taste for rich food and fine wine with ruinous thoroughness. Now he had the perfect excuse to do both. Having raised yet another loan, he was able to entertain on a lavish scale once more and buy support for his cause. Suddenly, he was a power behind the throne and others gravitated towards him. If his nominee were indeed crowned, he would not live to draw full benefit from her reign but he was impelled by the thought that his family would reap untold advantage, his friends would gain immeasurably and he himself would find a niche in history. It was not given to many men to make their mark on one reign. He would have set his imprimatur on two.

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