I’m happy to share with you another first on this website, a third chapter! My dear friend, Chasqui has offered up another chapter in her novel The Muses’ Darling to the ATWC website. Chasqui has been following the website since its inception, and has shared her work numerous times.
Back Home in Canterbury
The next day dawned warm and sunny. After a lie-in and light breakfast, swiftly followed by lunch, Kit felt refreshed and ready for some nostalgia. By mid-afternoon he was at The King’s School to meet the current headmaster Anthony Shorte. The layout was so familiar, he unerringly followed the route to the headmaster’s office, where he introduced himself to him and was welcomed warmly. Kit had enhanced the school’s reputation by accepting a Parker Scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, but to the new headmaster it seemed Kit had not fulfilled the conditions of the scholarship, granted to boys wishing to enter the priesthood, and asked why.
“While that had been my original intention, as my years at Cambridge went by, I realised that writing was my true calling. After gaining my MA, I journeyed to London with two plays I’d written and was lucky enough for the Rose Theatre owner to take an interest in Tamburlaine.”
Anthony Shorte, though disappointed at Kit’s change in career direction, was kind enough not to show it.
“My congratulations to you, Christopher. Your records and reputation indicate that you always excelled in English, Latin and writing verse.”
“Thank you, sir, but with my plays I’ve opted for blank verse, combined with iambic pentameter, so the rhythm carries the words.”
“Interesting. I hope one day to see your plays. However, I have a meeting shortly with the parents of one of our pupils, but I would like to chat to you more. Is there any chance you could return around this time tomorrow?”
“Yes, of course, but just one question. May I see Thomas?”
“Certainly, but not today. Your brother is busy with preparations for the school play but tomorrow he should be free. I’ll mention your visit to him.”
The next afternoon, Saturday, Headmaster Shorte was waiting for Kit by the entrance and led him to the staffroom to meet the new Lower Master, Rev Thomas Constant. After the preliminary introductions, the conversation turned to Kit’s years at The King’s School, and the headmaster took the opportunity to ask a favour of Kit.
“Would you be prepared to give the boys a talk about playwriting and the London theatre world, on Friday afternoon?”
“In the drama lesson?” queried Kit, recalling how he’d looked forward to those two hours each week.
“That’s right. I’m sure they’ll appreciate hearing about the professional theatre first-hand from you.”
Wondering what he was letting himself in for, Kit agreed, commenting that he would try to make his talk interesting.
Headmaster Shorte took up the conversation again, mentioning Kit’s translations of Ovid and other associated Latin literary works, and adding that these were a credit both on a personal level and to The King’s School. Kit thanked him, hoping Anthony Shorte was unaware of which of Ovid’s books he had chosen to translate, as it was the somewhat graphic and “inappropriate” Amores. Kit breathed an inaudible sigh of relief when the headmaster continued.
“Christopher, you remember the book of Ovid’s works you spent so much time studying here?”
“It’s one of our library’s finest but…er…it has disappeared. On the shelf last Friday, now nowhere to be seen.”
“Did one of the boys borrow it without permission?”
“I doubt it. No one has owned up, despite being told they wouldn’t be in trouble.”
“Very odd,” said Kit remembering the ritual for book loans.
“I wonder if you might be able to get through to them in your talk next week. It might strike a chord if you, an old pupil of the school and now a successful playwright, mention it. Not accuse anyone but just mention your love of that book and how you’d like to look at it again on your visit.
“I could try but let’s not hold out any hope. I’m not a miracle worker.”
Both teachers were obviously grateful as they continued their conversation, which mostly revolved around academic subjects – an area all too familiar to Kit.
Kit had been invited for tea, joining Thomas at the 12-year-old’s table. The fare was much as he remembered – some things never changed – and he was enjoying his afternoon. The meal over, Thomas was allowed half an hour with Kit, and the brothers sat on in the dining room, exchanging news. When Anthony Shorte put in an appearance, Kit took the opportunity to ask him a favour.
“Would you give your permission, sir, for Thomas to spend tomorrow with us at home? My parents would be delighted and I shall accompany him each way.”
“Of course,” agreed the Head, “on condition that he is back here before dark. And will you join us first for the morning service? Thomas will be singing in the choir at the cathedral, as you did in your day.”
Kit agreed readily, though knew it would mean an early start but at least Thomas should have a long day with them.
The next day the brothers arrived home well before Sunday lunch. Though the school was nearby, Thomas rarely saw his family during the long school terms and was greeted with much delight. Not long back from church themselves, their mother and sisters were busy preparing the meal, having left their father to finish his duties at St George’s. Kit and Tom decided to go for a walk to keep out of everyone’s way and, as they wandered along the streets, Kit broached the subject of the missing book and the request for him to mention it in his talk. Tom knew of its disappearance and, after some thought, decided to reveal his suspicions to his big brother.
“There’s a boy in my class who hero-worships you.”
“He wants to be a playwright and admires you and the way your plays have taken London by storm.”
“Well, Tamburlaine Part 2 didn’t exactly set the world on fire.”
“No, but Part 1 did. Anyway, this boy, Richard, was thrilled to see your signature in the Ovid book and I just wonder if he might have taken it because he wants to have a book you used.”
“I see. Have you asked him about it?”
“No, I don’t want him to think I suspect him. Also, he asked me if he could meet you when we get back to the school this evening. What should I do?”
“Well, I’m happy to meet him. Give me time to think and I’ll see if I can come up with a way of bringing this book into the conversation and see if there’s any reaction from him.”
By the time they had arrived back at the Marlowe house, Kit had a plan but first there was lunch and in the afternoon the handing over of those presents he had bought for all the family.
The evening was fine as the brothers strolled back to the school, with Kit apprising Tom of the approach he’d use with Richard. Tom registered his return by signing the book by the door before taking Kit to his dormitory, where Richard was waiting for them alone. Tom introduced Kit and then, as arranged, left the room. Richard seemed over-awed at meeting his hero, so Kit initiated the conversation.
“I understand you want to be a playwright.”
“It’s hard work but if you love writing and history, as well as researching Latin and Greek history and myths, you’ll be on the right track.”
“You’ve been very successful, Mr Marlowe,” Richard finally ventured.
“Call me Kit,” he said, trying to break the ice and win the boy over. “And, well, very successful isn’t quite true. My first play did well, the second was not as popular, nor was I happy about writing it.”
“Why did you?”
“Persuasion by the theatre owner but I had to pad it out – not a good way to write. I’d intended it to be a one-part story, ending when Tamburlaine married Zenocrate, not cover their married life.”
“So your ideal job…is not so ideal?”
“That’s right but we all have to take the rough with the smooth.”
“Do you need to know Latin well to be a writer?”
“It helps. I’m so pleased I took my Latin studies seriously and made a friend of Ovid’s writing as this even earned me some money when my translation of some of his verses were published. In fact, I loved the Ovid book here in the library, which is why I signed it, making it a permanent display of my love of his works, and when I come back to give the talk on Friday, I’d like to have another look at it, for old times’ sake.”
“You can’t,” said Richard, rather hastily.
“It’s not there – I’ve got it,” he blurted out, then turned away but Kit could see his tears.
He spoke to the boy gently. “Have you borrowed it?”
“Yes, sort of, but not officially, so I suppose I’ve stolen it but I didn’t mean to. I wanted to keep it for a while to see your name in it, your signature. I’ve hidden it here behind my bed.”
He walked over to the wall, pulled out a loose stone and produced the book. Kit took it, turned it over and looked inside. It was definitely the same book he had used.
“I think you should return this to Headmaster Shorte or Rev Constant.”
“But I’ll get into trouble. I might be expelled.” He sounded desperate.
Kit felt sorry for the boy but couldn’t be too lenient, so tried to reason with him.
“You should do the right thing and own up and perhaps you’ll get off lightly.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll come with you. No time like the present but who shall we see?”
“Rev Constant is usually on duty on Sunday evenings, so I suppose I should speak to him.”
“Rev Constant seems like a nice man and may not punish you too harshly if you’re honest and tell him your reasons for taking it.”
Rather reluctantly, Richard agreed and Kit accompanied him to the Lower Master’s office where Rev Constant was preparing for the next day.
“Come in, Christopher, and you, Master Richard. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Richard has something to tell you.”
Richard held the book up. “I borrowed this without permission.”
“Why, boy?” the Lower Master asked.
“I’m interested in learning more of Ovid’s verses and it’s got Mr Marlowe’s signature in it and I look up to him. He’s a playwright, as I want to be, and I wanted the book. I didn’t really steal it; I did intend to return it one day, before I leave…” He had gabbled most of it but he’d said it.
“Well, this is most irregular,” said Rev Constant, “but at least you’ve owned up. Though I said there would be no punishment for borrowing without permission if registering had been forgotten, it seems you didn’t simply forget but deliberately omitted to sign your name against this title and took it out on an extended loan of your own accord.”
“Yes, sir,” said Richard sheepishly, “and I’m very sorry.”
Rev Constant was a kind man and could see the boy’s distress. He knew Richard had always been honest but he felt this incident could not be ignored. He looked at Kit.
“Well, Master Marlowe, what punishment do you think should be meted out?”
Kit thought for a few seconds. “I recommend learning by heart a page of Ovid and then writing it out a week later in detention. Perhaps ‘Daedalus and Icarus’ from The Metamorphoses?
“Seems fair to me. All right then, Master Richard, for your punishment you must learn this passage by heart.” He indicated the page concerned then continued, “And next Monday I shall oversee your detention and hope you are word-perfect. If so, then nothing more will be said.”
“I will be word-perfect,” promised Richard, looking relieved and smiling up at Kit who had asked him his favourite tale in The Metamorphoses as they’d walked to Rev Constant’s office. “Thank you, sir.”
Instructing Richard to get ready for bed and promising he could see Master Marlowe on Friday after the talk, Rev Constant ended the discussion. The boy thanked them both and left the room, reaching his dormitory just before lights out.
“Well handled, Christopher,” said Rev Constant. “Thank you for your intervention, but how did you manage it?”
“Luck and pricking a guilty conscience,” replied Kit.
“He’s an honest boy really and meant no harm but he needs to learn a lesson from his actions. However, I shall give the good news and the book to our headmaster in the morning and will see you again on Friday afternoon.”
“Looking forward to it,” replied Kit with a smile as he left the office, with Rev Constant escorting him to the front door and locking up again afterwards.
Twilight accompanied Kit home, where he planned to resume his holiday after a busy weekend – well, after he had made his notes for his talk on Friday, but they could wait till the morning.