Crimson Rose
red that Marlowe could almost feel the heat.
    ‘One thing led to another. I see.’ Marlowe tapped his chin with his fingertips.
    Shakespeare nodded. ‘Yes. Not one thing, so much as …’
    ‘Two things?’
    ‘I haven’t kept count. Many things, let’s say.’
    Marlowe looked at him solemnly. ‘Did Eleanor know?’
    ‘No. No, she thinks – thought – that Constance was still a maid. She often teased her about it, but I don’t think she would like to think she was not.’
    ‘And if she found out?’
    ‘She would have thrown
out, for certain. And probably Constance, as well. Although perhaps not that, because the house belongs to them both. Their father was quite wealthy, I gather, and left them properties all over London. Master Merchant had a go at speculation, or so I understand, but was no good at it and now they only have the house in Water Lane. I suppose she could have gone somewhere else to live …’
    ‘I am trying to find a motive for your killing Eleanor Merchant,’ Marlowe reminded him, ‘and you have given me one, though weak. Is there anything else I should know?’
    ‘No. Except to say that there were shady doings in that house.’
    ‘Did she keep a bawdy house, perhaps?’
    ‘I don’t
so. She only had just the one maid and herself.’
    ‘And Constance … but of course, you can account for Constance. May I ask … was she …? Did she seem to know what she was doing?’
    ‘She was quite … worldly,’ Shakespeare had to concede.
    ‘Perhaps that’s it, then. Although why she would let Constance cease her duties seems a little strange … Did she think she was with child, perhaps?’
    Shakespeare looked fit to explode.
    ‘Will! Surely not?’
    The poet shrugged. ‘I am very potent, Master Marlowe,’ he said. ‘Ask my wife. Ask … not anyone, but sundry persons, yes.’
    ‘Another motive, then,’ Marlowe sighed. ‘Thynne will now say that you hit Eleanor when aiming at Constance.’
    ‘But Constance was not near Eleanor. I could see her in the gallery. She was on the other side.’
    ‘That is a relief at least. But the fact that you could see your landlady in the crowd, that is a strike against you. It would have been better if you hadn’t known where she was.’ Marlowe looked at Shakespeare solemnly. ‘I must say this, Master Shaxsper,’ he said, ‘I have had to rethink my view of you this day and no mistake. Stay here.’
    Shakespeare couldn’t help himself. ‘I have little option, Master Marlowe,’ he pointed out.
    Marlowe shrugged. ‘I will go and see the gaoler. A groat got me in. Let’s see how much it will take to get you out.’ He banged on the door and as it opened, he slid through it, already addressing the gaoler in wheedling tones.
    The crowds had gone home again the next day and Philip Henslowe was sitting in his counting house, running the coins through his fingers like a man who had died and gone to Heaven. That wasn’t Kit Marlowe’s concern, not directly, anyway. What concerned him was that Eleanor Merchant had really died. Had she gone to Heaven? Who knew? Not Kit Marlowe, who had created the atheist Tamburlaine and was standing alone on the dimly lit stage as another damp spring day gave way to evening. The arc of a rainbow lay briefly over Southwark before the clouds eclipsed it, but the poet missed it. He had watched from the gods today, especially Act Five, Scene One, and noted in his mind where everybody had been standing. The Governor had been hauled up by his wrists on to his precarious perch on the far flat that doubled as Babylon’s gate, courtesy of Thomas Sledd’s brushwork and carpentry. The stage had been quite full. Ned Alleyn stood centre stage, a position Marlowe noticed the man hardly ever left, with his son Amyras to his left. Spear-bearers had just lashed Orcanes, King of Natolia and the King of Jerusalem to Tamburlaine’s chariot. Theridamus had come on stage right, behind Amyras, Shakespeare’s part being played

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