An Honourable Murderer

An Honourable Murderer by Philip Gooden

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Authors: Philip Gooden
in my speculations because the night silence was suddenly disturbed by a noise somewhere between a cry and a groan. It came from outside my room.
    Without striking a light, I got out of bed, crossed the floor and opened the chamber door. My room was on the top storey. Mrs Buckle and her daughter Elizabeth had their bedrooms below. The runny-nosed girl slept somewhere off the kitchen. I saw my landlady where she stood in the open area at the top of the stairs leading to the ground floor. She was in her night-clothes, holding a candle and staring fixedly at the uppermost corner of the stairs. Her eyes were wide open, but I am not sure whether she was really seeing anything.
    In a tavern near the Bristol docks I once witnessed a young woman being put into a trance by a man who came off a ship. The woman had gazed about with the same blank vision as Mrs Buckle’s, until the sailor had restored her to herself by snapping his fingers and whispering some words in her ear. Uncertain what to do next, I had half a mind to leave Mrs Buckle alone. There was no sign of Elizabeth. Then a low moan emerged from the widow’s lips and the hand holding the candle became agitated. The light fluttered and I suddenly grew afraid that the flame would set fire to her nightdress. Almost before I was aware of it, I was down the narrow stairs connecting the first and second floors.
    Mrs Buckle gave no sign that she’d heard or seen me but the candle stopped weaving about. Now she was standing like a statue once more, and her gaze had returned to the vacant corner by the top of the stairs. The candle illuminated a curiously placid expression on her face, still as a mask. We were only a few feet apart.
    Gingerly, I stretched out an open hand. Light spilled on to my palm from her candle, and the shadows shifted around us. At once, Mrs Buckle seemed to come to herself. I can’t think of any other way to describe it than to say that her eyes, which had been empty, became full. It was like pouring wine into a glass.
    â€œNicholas, it’s you. What are you doing?”
    â€œAre you all right, Mrs Buckle?”
    â€œMy husband was telling me . . . telling me . . .”
    â€œYour husband . . .”
    â€œHe was telling me . . . something.”
    â€œWhen?”
    â€œJust now.”
    â€œHe is dead, Mrs Buckle.”
    â€œWhy, so he is.”
    She looked down, as if conscious for the first time that she was dressed in her night things, and then looked at the space between us. After a time she said, “I shall return to my room now.”
    And she turned about and entered her chamber, her candle lighting the way to bed. She shut the door. I clambered up the ladder-like stairs to the second floor and shut my own chamber door. I lay down on my bed.
    I don’t know whether Mrs Buckle found it easy to get back to sleep but I was thoroughly awake by now. Dawn was a good few hours off.
    I struck a light and examined the notes which I’d made on that day’s practice for the
Masque of Peace
in the great room in the Blakes’ mansion overlooking the river.
    The notes were scrappy – and not very revealing. I wasn’t sure how I could work them up into a ‘manuscript’ which would be worth three pounds to Master Ratchett and the Privy Council. All I had were a handful of gobbets picked up in overheard conversations or jibes thrown about the room during gaps in the rehearsal. There were other individuals in the practice room, like the Scaridges and the Fortunes. (It’s odd how easily one gets used to throwing off these noble names, as if one was mingling with them every day.) But I will concentrate here on those who are relevant to this story.
    For example, I had picked up an anti-Spanish comment from William Inman, secretary to Sir Philip Blake. Yes, an anti-Spanish comment, such as you may hear a dozen times over standing on any street corner in London for half an hour. In his bluff, hearty manner,

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