The opening night audience crowded into the renovated Globe Theatre to fill up benches, until even the pit was packed with milling bodies. The excitement of the reopening, and the utterly reasonable price of the seats, brought nearly everyone within walking distance. The roar of voices was nearly overwhelming; it seemed all of Southwark was in attendance.
The mood in the ‘tiring house behind the stage was equally vibrant. The energy of the cast grew. Actors fidgeted, some prayed, one talked incessantly until the rest wanted to boot him out the door. One of the less experienced boys had to run from the green room to vomit. The cast laughed, though they all had done the same thing at one time or another in the past.
In her quarters backstage Suzanne Thornton readied herself to see the play, eager to see her new theatre through the eyes of its audience. The noise was a roar of thousands trying to be heard among themselves. As she painted her lips she toyed with the idea of lurking among the groundlings in the pit to listen in on conversations, but decided she would enjoy the afternoon more if she went upstairs to sit with the musicians in a gallery over the stage. They were a lively crew and would be as fine an entertainment as the play itself. She hurried with her beauty marks, eager to be finished and take her place as a spectator, and her fingers challenged her to keep them from trembling.
Her son, Piers, came to visit for a moment, complained of his father, then left. She made one more check of her coif, then set the mirror on her dressing table and left her quarters.
As the hour of three drew close, Suzanne climbed the steps at the rear of the ‘tiring house to watch the performance from the gallery directly above the stage, where the musicians sat. As she found a stool and settled in at the front, Big Willie, Warren, and their flautist friend played an old-fashioned tune that might have been performed in this theatre during Elizabethan times. Suzanne’s wistful fancy toyed with the thought that Shakespeare himself might have listened to this very tune from this very gallery half a century ago. She looked around at the theatre The Bard had built, and the idea made her smile. Today was a fine, sunny day, and especially warm even for this time of year. Afternoon light bathed the stage, and there was no fear of a sudden rain from the pale-blue sky overhead.
That day’s performance began with a short commedia play, involving a cuckolded husband. The mummers had the audience laughing well and quickly, and in a few minutes they left the stage with the entire crowd of nearly four thousand people in a good mood. To Suzanne, this was the wonderful thing about the theatre: to have that many gathered together in one place and everyone having a good time. One could accomplish it in a public house with alcohol, cards, and women, but a pub could host only a fraction of the souls a theatre could.
The play began. Matthew lit up the stage as King Henry V. Such a talent the troupe had in him! The air snapped and sparkled with the energy of all the actors. Henry and his advisors. Henry condemning spies. Henry in France, urging his dear friends unto the breach once more. In her mind’s eye Suzanne could see the wall crumble and the actors surge through it, shouting fealty to England and King Henry. She watched the king move among his men incognito, listening to them, hearing how they really felt about him and about their mission in France. Matthew made her believe the story, painting a picture of history so clear she thought she could know how it really had been hundreds of years ago.
The audience was as caught up as she. From the pit they shouted advice to Henry, and in response Matthew invented bawdy asides ad-libitum in spite of the king’s directive to keep to Shakespeare’s own words. Suzanne hoped nobody in the house tonight was likely to go running to the king, tattling.
Then the battle of Agincourt. The French king and his dukes in desperation. The murder of the boys in the luggage. The horror of that cowardly act, and Matthew’s rage was palpable. Suzanne was caught up in the story as if she hadn’t seen the play a dozen times before. Even as she gasped along with Henry and his dukes, she thought what a fine time she was having.
A scream lifted from the audience, and she thought how wonderfully involved everyone was. That voice seemed filled with real horror. Then something dropped to the stage and thudded on the boards below. More screaming and confusion moved the audience, some surging forward and others falling back. Suzanne leaned over the banister to look and saw a man lying on the stage, writhing and grasping at a crossbow bolt stuck in his neck. A boy ran forward to yank out the bolt, and a gout of blood poured over the stage. The pool spread quickly, and though two actors tried to stanch the flow with their hands, it was hopeless. The fallen man weakened and stopped struggling, finally going limp in the arms of those who tried to help him. The play had come to a halt.
Suzanne leapt to her feet and ran down the rear stairs to the stage. Round and round the tight spiral, all the way to the stage level of the ‘tiring house, then she burst through an upstage entrance door to the stage. All the actors in the troupe were there, those not in the scene having emerged from the green room to see, gathered around the body while those in the pit attempted to climb onto the stage for a look. Some of the actors tried to hold them back while gawking themselves at the terrifying scene onstage. The audience was abuzz, and some shouted advice to those on the stage. Others wept. Many began to make their way to the exit in a hurry. Suzanne shoved men aside and attempted to take charge, but all she could manage was to enter the circle to see. The dead man lay on her stage in a pool of blood, killed by a crossbow. His ragged clothing was soaking up the blood. The red stain slowly crept along the white fabric, and it ran down the stage boards toward the pit.
She said to the boy standing by with the bloodied crossbow bolt still in his hand, “Go fetch the constable.”
Suzanne Thornton was in no hurry today. She was never in any hurry, for hurry attracted attention and she’d learned early in life that invisibility was a skill that often came in useful. One only ever made a fuss when it was absolutely necessary, and then, rather like drawing a weapon, one always made sure to make enough of a fuss to make it count.
Today her talent for calm came in handy and she could make a leisurely pace through London without annoyance, for today traffic choked the streets everywhere within the city walls. She should have known better than to have ventured out for shopping. The king had returned to England and was arriving in London today. The entire city was in paroxysms of festivity. Everyone who wasn’t ecstatic was pretending to be for the sake of keeping their heads, their freedom, and their money. Puritans and Presbyterians had gone silent for the moment, and all of London expected things to return to normal. The king was on his throne, God was in His heaven, and all would be right with the world. Perhaps.
In any case, Suzanne was making her way home from the Exchange in a sedan chair and the two men carrying it kept setting her down to await room to proceed. They were both large, muscular men, but even they didn’t care to hold up the chair and Suzanne when traffic was this still.
“Thomas. Samuel.” She leaned out to address them as they set the chair down on the street. When she saw they’d slipped from under their yokes again, she realized they weren’t getting anywhere. “Circle ’round toward the . . .” Cannon shot roared, followed by trumpets nearby. Excited talk among the surrounding onlookers rose to a pitch and quite drowned out any attempt to speak. The king’s procession must be passing close. Suzanne craned her neck to see, but there was nothing yet in sight. “Around toward the river, good fellows, if you please.”
“Begging your pardon, mistress, but we’re well hemmed in here. There’s naught for it until the press clears.”
Suzanne made a little noise of disappointment and sat back in her chair. “Very well.” Well enough to be sanguine about things she couldn’t control, but she hoped this wouldn’t take terribly long. William was sure to call on her today, and it never went well with him if she wasn’t waiting for him on arrival. Even more she regretted her decision to go to the Exchange today.
William was suspicious by nature, ever ready to leap to an unfounded conclusion if she wasn’t where she was supposed to be at all times. His Puritan guilt over his own behavior convinced him that everyone else was equally guilty. After all, if one of God’s chosen was weak-willed and susceptible to temptation, then how could anyone else be strong enough to resist? To him, everyone he saw was a sinner, stained with sin and as vile at heart as himself. To Suzanne, it was all too tedious. Keeping company with William was almost sure to cause one to lose faith in people. Sometimes, ironically, it even wore on one’s faith in God.
Also, he made it plain he thought her no longer acceptably young and pretty. At her age his already scant patience with her was thinning as fast as his hair, and his prickly temper grew nearly intolerable. Lately he behaved as if her lost youth and fading beauty were an imposition on him for which she must pay. As if her maturity were a diminished value of goods. He’d become terribly critical of her, as if he would shave off bits of her pride as compensation for his loss, as if she were a silver penny and he would have as much out of her as he could get.
Sometimes she wondered whether it might have been worth the effort to find a husband rather than a keeper, considering the little freedom William allowed her and all the effort she put into making him happy and paying her support. He was often quite impossible, and seemed to think she should be grateful for whatever attention he deigned to bestow. Like most men, who always assumed the entire world revolved around themselves and their male parts, he never suspected it was only his money for which she was grateful, and his attention she could take or leave. After all, he was certainly no spring chicken himself, nor Prince Charming, and was an utter bore and not even all that wealthy in the bargain. She thought life would improve immeasurably if he left her alone and simply sent the money by messenger. Her son would soon be of an age and position to be of assistance to her financially, and with any luck she wouldn’t have to put up with William and his kind much longer.
She gazed out the window of her chair and made herself relax, for there was nothing she could do about her situation. She might as well settle into her cushion and watch the parade that, by the noise of trumpets and cheering upstreet, was about to pass by. This might be amusing, at least for the moment.
Idly she wondered what this new king was like and whether any of the rumors were true. She’d heard he was handsome and intelligent, and of an agreeable nature. That his years on the Continent, living by the charity of others, had taught him compassion which had been lacking in many who had held the throne before him, including his immediate predecessor, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. She remembered well her life under Charles I, when she was a child and people went about their lives and knew what was sin and what was not. She thought this second Charles would have to be better than that Cromwell fellow, just for not being a bloody, stiff-necked Puritan. Life under Cromwell had been joyless even for those with money, who ordinarily did whatever they pleased. And Suzanne had always had little enough of both money and pleasure. Perhaps the new king would be more like his father. All of London cheered the return of the king, and at that moment it seemed every Londoner was on that very street, shouting at full voice.
Excitement rose in the crowds of spectators up the way, and Suzanne leaned out to look again. Fresh cheers went up, hats were thrown skyward, and she could see the approach of men on horseback. Trumpeters at the van heralded the approach of the king. Blaring their enthusiasm with more joy than skill, they could nevertheless be barely heard over the ecstatic crowd. Row after row of horns on horseback played the fanfare continuously, and at sight of the royal party the onlookers burst into even more hysterical demonstration, with waving of handkerchiefs and empty hands, feathered hats and coach whips. Everyone wanted to catch the attention of his majesty, no matter how brief. Even Suzanne, who always struggled not to let her own enthusiasm get the best of her, was moved to rise a little from her seat for a better look. Only half realizing her tension, she gripped the frame of the sedan chair with white-knuckled hands.
Charles could not be mistaken among the mass in the parade, though Suzanne had never seen a painting of him, nor even heard him described. He sat his white steed as only a king could and fairly shone with his own light, wearing a silver cloth doublet and a gold-braided cloak. His flat-topped hat was also heavy with braid and feathers. Suzanne thought him handsome, with an aquiline nose and long, flowing dark hair. She saw that as he gazed upon his subjects he was looking at individuals. Not with the glazed-over eyes of most men at the center of public attention, who seemed to see only a blur of faces, Charles’ glance was specific to each person, and that person knew he or she had been seen. He seemed to have a genuine interest in each onlooker, and each one of them responded with the thrill of having been noticed. Charles seemed equally happy in return. His was the most radiant face Suzanne could remember ever seeing. It lifted her own weathered heart to witness such joy.
Behind the king rode his two brothers, and beyond that, hundreds of Cavaliers and courtiers who had followed him back from the Continent came two by two, their horses prancing with the excitement drawn from the surrounding crowd and the Cavaliers themselves. Once the king was out of sight, Suzanne sat back to idly watch the parade of men in livery and in new suits of silver and gold created for the occasion. Feathered hats and colorful banners and pennants passed, and more feathered hats and colorful banners. Men waved to the crowds, who waved back. Cloth of silver and braid of gold glittered in the sunshine so brightly it soon made her eyes ache.
Then one face among the horsemen caught her gaze and stopped her breath. He was at the near side of the column, close enough that she knew it was him. Surely it was him, though two decades had stolen the fairness of youth and she could barely recognize him. Her heart leapt and she laid one hand over her mouth to cover its gape.
Daniel Stockton, Earl of Throckmorton. Yes, it was he! She hadn’t seen him since the war, for he’d fled England to the Continent with the King’s Cavaliers, where they and the executed king’s successor had spent nearly a decade dependant on the goodwill of foreign friends.
Until that moment, she hadn’t even considered he might return with Charles. The day he’d left for the Continent he’d been a threadbare young warrior following a king in retreat. Today he rode a fine stallion and wore a doublet of cloth of silver and a cloak of green with gold braid. The white feather in his hat was so long and thick it swished and flicked behind him like the tail of a dancing Spanish stallion as he nodded to the well-wishers nearby. He rode with more grace than even the king, Suzanne thought. Even at thirty-seven years of age he sat his mount like a young Cavalier born to the saddle. Like the mythical centaur, man and horse moved as one. Yes, that was Daniel all right.
For one panicky moment that was unlike her, she wasn’t sure whether she wanted him to see her. A terrible urge to duck back inside the sedan chair surged in her, but she hesitated. In that moment of hesitation, he did catch sight of her.
His smile fell. Not just faltered, but fell entirely from his face. Mortified, Suzanne withdrew to her seat, returned her vizard to her face, pressed it there with both hands, and shut her eyes tight. It was Daniel. And he’d seen her, and plainly he was not happy he had.
The welter of emotions that buffeted her made her blink, then she found herself blinking back tears. She drew in her feet beneath the chair seat and once he’d passed she put the mask down and rested her hands on her knees. Huddled like that, she felt less noticeable. Less noticeably a fool. Memories washed over her, some pleasant, some that brought grief and made her body clench. Plainly he didn’t wish to see her; she wondered whether he wanted to see Piers. Finally she wondered whether after all this time he even remembered he had a son.