To Those Gentlemen
The Mermaid was brimming with life.
In a table hidden in a corner, two men surrounded a
“Well, what can I say? Good old Robin surprised us to the very end.” Said one of them. His hair was a mess of light brown locks that didn’t reach his ears. The only color on his skin existed because of the excess of ale. He covered half of his gap-toothed smile behind three bony fingers.
“If by surprised you mean ruined, then I very much agree.” Replied the other. Next to his friend, he looked much healthier and stronger than he really was. Some would have called him handsome if it wasn’t for his features deformed by anger.
Anxious, he scratched his rebellious hair as if it had lice.
“Kit, you are not going to leave any strand in your head if you keep-”
“Shut your mouth, Nashe. Unlike you, I have a lot to think about, including how get our asses out of the mess Greene just got us in with his...” He grabbed the pamphlet and threw it to the floor. He spat on it and kicked as if it was a scabbious dog. “His retarded fairy tale of self pity. And I thought of him a friend. Well, rest in hell now Robert, you disgraceful beggar!”
Thomas Nashe picked up the pamphlet; putting special attention in keeping his fingers away from Kit’s spit.
“What are you doing, picking up that filth? Put it on back on the ground, where it belongs.” Growled Kit Marlowe, moving his tankard away from the paper as if it would contaminate his drink with the plague.
“Your face is where my fist belongs , and I will not doubt to put it in its place if you continue with this hissy fit.” Warned Nashe.
Kit rolled his eyes and laughed.
“Why do I bother? I knew you would take Greene’s side, like you always have. Well, shocking news to you: he is dead. So now you can stop licking his boots and acting as if you were his faithful Ganymede.”
Nashe sprang up his chair and grabbed Kit by his shirt, forcing him to stand as well. Kit’s reflexes were too clouded by the alcohol to dodge the grip. He did manage to grab Nashe’s forearm and dig his nails until his friend grunted in pain.
The costumers closer to them began to keep their distance, sensing the upcoming fight between the two men.
“Peace be quiet!” cried a high voice.
A dwarfish newcomer separated them without any effort and forced them to sit down again. This caused the two tankards on the table to spill, the cheap alcohol quickly finding its way to the pamphlet and staining its upper side.
The new man huffed and then glared at the curious eyes of the gossip to let them know that if they continued looking, he would rip their eyes off. His gaze shinned with the same aggressive energy of a bear mauling dogs. Even the taverner, who had been close to kick the three of them out, backed down and went back behind the bar.
“For God’s Death, will there ever be a night where you two don’t end up causing trouble, you warped minnows? Children, that’s what you are!” He said as he sat down next to Nashe and asked the ale maid to clean the table and bring them another round.
He cursed under his breath when he noticed the wet pamphlet. He picked it up and put it next to the candle, hoping its warm would stop the ink from fading away any further.
“You are one to talk, Geerge.”
George Peele cringed at the horrible mix of his first and last name. It was Kit who had came up with it, believing it to be a pure example of creativity. Peele knew it was nothing more than the result of a night of extreme drinking, smoking and whoring.
The jest, though amusing at first, was already too overused to entertain anyone but Kit, so Peele shrugged it off and continued.
“Hilarious as always, Kit. And I guess I will be the only one to talk seriously tonight, after your little demonstration of how well you and Nashe are able to discuss something without trying to kill each other in the process.” Retorted Peele as he put his paper-filled bag on the table and rubbed his shoulder.
“I wasn’t trying to kill him, George.” Explained Nashe. Kit interrupted him to tell him where he could ram up his excuse. “But sometimes he sure makes it easy to make me want to.”
“It’s a gift.” Said Kit, after taking a sip from his freshly served drink.
“And our curse.” Peele succeeded in making his two friends smile. He knew he had to take advantage of every second now that Nashe and Kit were distracted from their bickering. “But we can talk of Kit’s numerous talents another time. I recall we agreed to meet here to talk about Robert and his…”
“Just by the way you are talking, I can tell you haven’t read it.” Said Kit, rubbing his temples.
“Oh, forgive me but I haven’t exactly been sitting on my ass all day long. That bloody Richard play will not write itself and the muses haven’t been helpful lately, those vain witches. Will and I aren’t making as much progress as we’d hoped.” Explained Peele while taking the last of the papers out of his bag. They were his part of the play. He showed Nashe and Kit the fruits of his work, scarce as they were.
“Don’t let it bother you. It’s not as if there’s much of a hurry to pen a play with the theaters closed.” Commented Nashe, reading one of the papers absent mindedly. Peele knew his friend was trying to be comforting, so he hid his despair and assured his Nashe he was right.
He just wished that statement wouldn’t end up becoming permanent.
“How’s Will, by the way?” asked Kit.
“Not any worse than the three of us. Today he was too serious, and he looked pale. Do you think he may be sick?”
“Sick or not, you’d do well to be careful when around him, George.”
“Why? What do you mean, Tom?” asked Peele with a suspicious frown.
“You’ll see soon enough.” Nashe stopped reading and drank what was left of his ale.
The tension between the three authors became a cold uncertainty that Peele had rarely, if ever, felt in their company. In the past, these silences were always broken by Greene, who would laugh with so much energy that it spread among his friends faster than a spark in gunpowder.
Recalling his friend, a small laugh escaped from Peele’s lips. His voice broke. He tried to disguise it as a coughing fit and took a deep breath before he continued. His eyesight was blurry, but a quick rub of his hand fixed it. He expected Kit to mock him, but much to his surprise, his friend remained quiet, acting as if he hadn’t noticed. Nashe said nothing as well, his eyes lost between the candle’s flame and the pamphlet.
It was him who handed it over to Peele. By now, the pamphlet was messy and it reeked of alcohol.
‘Just like its author.’ thought Peele, skimming through the wet pages with caution. Some of them ripped apart. A few parts of the tale of the character Roberto and his prodigal son adventure were now scattered on the table. Kit grabbed them and fed them one by one to the candle’s fire.
“There.” Said Nashe, pointing at the page Peele was reading. “Right under his parody of the ten commandments.”
Peele read the paragraph, squinting in an effort to understand the fading ink. It took him a while to understand that his eyes weren’t lying to him when he saw the word ‘Gentlemen’.
“I’ve been called many things in my life.” He said after a half-hearted chuckle. “But gentleman isn’t among the most popular. And I get the feeling I can say the same about you two, my friends.”
“Wait, wait. Are you trying to imply that Greene isn’t referring to us in that half- assed pamphlet?” asked Kit. It sounded more like a threat than a question, and by the look in his eyes, Peele knew that if he answered with a ‘yes’, then Kit would reply with a fist to his face. “Because if you think so Geerge, then I very much fear for your judgement capacity.”
“Why are you even answering your own questions, you jackass?” snapped Nashe at his friend. When Kit was about to answer back, Nashe grinned and dismissed the matter with a wave of his hand. “In any case I guess it doesn’t matter. Continue, George.”
“Thank you both for your insight, gentlemen.” Said Peele in a genuine good mood. But as he read on, the importance of Greene’s words weighed down his humor.
When he was done reading and looked at Kit. His friend had his elbows resting in the table and his eyes fixed at him with and filled with contempt and concern.
“Read it out loud, George.” Said Nashe. “We have to if we wish to make any sense out of it together.”
“Kit, what do you say?” muttered Peele.
“Don’t worry , just do it.” Nodded Kit, and Peele needn’t ask anything else.
Taking a deep breath and feeling his heartbeat in his throat, Peele gave life to Greene’s words with his voice.
To those Gentlemen, his Quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making Plays, R. G. wishes a better exercise, and wisdom to prevent his extremities.
“That poxy fox, always trying to play the martyr! Even Christ wasn’t this much of a bastard.” growled Kit. He punched the table, but other than that, he allowed Peele to continue.
You famous gracer of Tragedians, that Greene, who has said with you (like the fool in his heart) There is no God…Why should your excellent wit, his gift, be so blinded, that you should give no glory to the giver? Is it the pestilent Machivilian pollicy that you have studied? …Defer not (with me) till this last point of extremities; for little you know how in the end you shall be visited.
Peele stopped, feeling in his tongue a sudden twitch. When Kit first became furious at Greene and his supposed accusations, Peele thought that he was overreacting. But now, his perspective was starting to take a complete turn.
“It makes me want to kill something not matter how many times I hear it.”
“He never mentions you by name, Kit.”
“It changes nothing! Do you think people, and I mean the important kind, who read this shit fest will not notice it’s me? With all those references about atheism and blasphemy, Greene might as well have added my image too, as the cherry on top. Greene, you cursed Judas!”
Kit threw his tankard across the room. It landed on a far away table . The men there were fortunately too drunk to care.
“That was a terrible waste of ale.”
“Shut up, Nashe. As for you Kit, if you get in trouble because of Robert’ pamphlet, know you will have only yourself to blame.” Sentenced Peele, not amused by Kit’s fit of rage.
It was difficult for Peele to know which of his friends’ expression concerned him more: Nashe’s mixture of horror and surprise or Kit’s amalgam of disbelief and fury.
“Am I lying? Am I being unfair with him, Tom?” But Nashe dared not to answer. Then, Peele pointed at Kit the same a father would have done with his mischievous child. “If you are so easily identifiable it’s only because of that foul reputation of yours that you are so proud of. And forgive me Kit, but in that Greene has little to do.”
“No. You will not lecture me about foul reputations, Geerge.” Kit kept his voice down. He sounded more menacing than when he shouted and cursed. “Never before had I seen such hypocrisy. And stop pointing at me with your horrible, gout-covered finger; I’m not one of the thousands of bastards you have spawned all over London.”
“And you don’t know how grateful I am for it.” Peele’s own temper was beginning to get to his head. His heartbeats became visible in the pulsating veins on his temples and hands. He managed to make one last effort to control himself, and succeeded only by miracle. “Please Kit, just listen. I’m telling you this not because I want to scold you like your real father obviously never did, or because I want to act like the saint I’m not. But if Greene’s pamphlet really got you into trouble, then the first thing you need to do is changing your attitude and above all, your reputation. At least for a while, until all this is forgotten.”
“Of course, because if I end up in jail, the fleet or worse, is because I deserve it, isn’t it?” Said Kit. “Alas poor Marlowe, he had it coming. That’s what you think, don’t you Geerge?”
“I never said such-” said Peele while putting a hand on Kit’s shoulder. He slapped it away and stood up while fulminating Peele with his eyes.
“Don’t’ say another word, Peele. And if you really think I deserve that fate simply because I like to express my opinions, then you are no better than those rats that would have me dead!”
Peele was left speechless. He neither had the words on his mouth nor the thoughts on his mind sorted out.
“If this is how it’s going to be, then I’ll be on my way. I came here to talk like civilized men about Greene’s betrayal, not to put up with idiotic accusations from Sir Geerge Debauched and his dead Green Knight. Come Nashe, let us depart.”
Nashe however, stayed in his seat with his arms folded. When Kit repeated his order, this time louder, Nashe stayed still.
“Nay, Kit.” He answered. Kit’s mouth dropped. “George is right. Trust me, I’m just as upset as you about what Robert did, but I doubt shouting and cursing will help us get out of this one.”
For a second, Kit hesitated. He looked at Peele and Nashe over and over gain, his eyes fuller of confusion than anger. He gnashed his teeth and slowly walked away from his friends.
“So be it. I thought I had only lost a friend, but tonight I realize I lost three. May the Devil take thee, gentlemen.”
Not listening to the pleas of his friends, Kit made his way towards the tavern’ entrance. He pushed various drunken men and women out of his way as if they were annoying but harmless dogs. One of them grabbed his arm and whispered something to him with a smug smile.
A second later, the fool was on the floor, his left cheek sealed with Kit’s knuckles.
“Kit!” Exclaimed Peele, but his friend had already fled. The taverner had chased him out; he would have followed Kit if it wasn’t for his fear of the tavern being plundered and destroyed by the drunkards in his absence.
Peele sighed. His head was begging to ache.
“To say it could have gone better would be an understatement.” Said Nashe. Noticing Peele didn’t react to his jests, he changed his tone. “I’m sure Kit will understand and agree with you, George. He just needs time.”
“That doesn’t give him the right to treat us like mud on his boots. I was just giving him some advice, not insulting his mother!” Said Peele, gathering his papers and putting them back inside his bag. He was eager to leave the Mermaid tavern and call it a night. “Besides, it was him who arranged this meeting, wasn’t he? He made us waste time we don’t have.”
“It’s been rough for him lately.”
“These are hard times for all of us.”
They remained in silence. The ale maid served them another round. Peele looked atNashe, who was reading the pamphlet.
He was so immersed in his reading that it took Peele three attempts to get his attention.
“Since Kit decided to leave, we could talk about your problem if you want.”
“Mind it not George, for mine is not that offensive. To be honest, I found it amusing.” Answered Nashe.
“Tell me about it. A fun read maybe be what I need to make this dreadful headache vanish.” Insisted Peele.
“Well, to put it simple, Greene basically said I should learn when to shut my fucking mouth.”
Nashe and Peele stared at each other solemnly.
A second later, they were laughing. They cackled until tears came out of their eyes and their bellies hurt as if someone had kicked them with a steel boot.
“Do you want to know how he called you?” said Nashe in between gasps. “Saint Geroge!”
That was more than Peele could handle and he ended up spitting his drink.
“Dear Lord, let me breathe!” panted Peele. Had Marlowe been there, Peele probably would have passed out from both the laughing and the irony.
With a cheerful grin, Peele raised his tankard. A few drops of ale fell and landed on his hair and forehead. Nashe imitated him like the reflection on a mirror.
“For Robert Greene, the magnificent bastard that taught us how to live by the quill!” Peele’s roar expanded through the tavern and made the cluster of chattering and tingling bottles cease. “Cheers!”
“Cheers!” Exclaimed Nashe. The rest of the costumers joined the toast, regardless if they knew or not what Peele was talking about.
The warm sensation the alcohol left in his throat gave Nashe back his enthusiasm. Though he regretted Kit’s absence, he still was able to have a wonderful time with Peele and some other fellows at the Mermaid.
The thought of Greene’s accusation against Kit never left the back of his mind, and in two occasions he was tempted to tell Peele.
But those words were too bitter and they stank of resentment.
They would kill the joy of the moment quicker than Gabriel Harvey’s writings killed his readers with boredom.
It was necessary for Peele to know, and sooner or later, he would find out either because of Kit or on his own, but Nashe decided to keep quiet that night.
Yes, he would tell Peele all that he knew, but later.
In that instant, they were smiling and both felt happy.
They made another toast, and from then on, everything concerning pamphlets, reputations and crows lost all importance and faded away amidst quips and ale.
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