A Coiner Of Angels

Some three nights later, thro' the thick brown fog,
A link-boy, dropping flakes of crimson fire,
Flared to the door and, through its glowing frame,
Ben Jonson and Kit Marlowe, arm in arm,
Swaggered into the Mermaid Inn and called
For red-deer pies.
There, as they supped, I caught
Scraps of ambrosial talk concerning Will,
His Venus and Adonis.
"Gabriel thought
'Twas wrong to change the old writers and create
A cold Adonis."
--"Laws were made for Will,
Not Will for laws, since first he stole a buck
In Charlecote woods."
--"Where never a buck chewed fern,"
Laughed Kit, "unless it chewed the fern seed, too,
And walked invisible."
"Bring me some wine," called Ben,
And, with his knife thrumming upon the board,
He chanted, while his comrade munched and smiled.


I

Will Shakespeare's out like Robin Hood
With his merry men all in green,
To steal a deer in Charlecote wood
Where never a deer was seen.


II

He's hunted all a night of June,
He's followed a phantom horn,
He's killed a buck by the light of the moon,
Under a fairy thorn.


III

He's carried it home with his merry, merry band,
There never was haunch so fine;
For this buck was born in Elfin-land
And fed upon sops-in-wine.


IV

This buck had browsed on elfin boughs
Of rose-marie and bay,
And he's carried it home to the little white house
Of sweet Anne Hathaway.


V

"The dawn above your thatch is red!
Slip out of your bed, sweet Anne!
I have stolen a fairy buck," he said,
"The first since the world began.


VI

"Roast it on a golden spit,
And see that it do not burn;
For we never shall feather the like of it
Out of the fairy fern."


VII

She scarce had donned her long white gown
And given him kisses four,
When the surly Sheriff of Stratford-town
Knocked at the little green door.


VIII

They have gaoled sweet Will for a poacher;
But squarely he fronts the squire,
With "When did you hear in your woods of a deer?
Was it under a fairy briar?"


IX

Sir Thomas he puffs,--"If God thought good
My water-butt ran with wine,
Or He dropt me a buck in Charlecote wood,
I wot it is mine, not thine!"


X

"If you would eat of elfin meat,"
Says Will, "you must blow up your horn!
Take your bow, and feather the doe
That's under the fairy thorn!


XI

"If you would feast on elfin food,
You've only the way to learn!
Take your bow and feather the doe
That's under the fairy fern!"


XII

They're hunting high, they're hunting low,
They're all away, away,
With horse and hound to feather the doe
That's under the fairy spray!


XIII

Sir Thomas he raged! Sir Thomas he swore!
But all and all in vain;
For there never was deer in his woods before,
And there never would be again!


And, as I brought the wine--"This is my grace,"
Laughed Kit, "Diana grant the jolly buck
That Shakespeare stole were toothsome as this pie."

He suddenly sank his voice,--"Hist, who comes here?
Look--Richard Bame, the Puritan! O, Ben, Ben,
Your Mermaid Inn's the study for the stage,
Your only teacher of exits, entrances,
And all the shifting comedy. Be grave!
Bame is the godliest hypocrite on earth!
Remember I'm an atheist, black as coal.
He has called me Wormall in an anagram.
Help me to bait him; but be very grave.
We'll talk of Venus."
As he whispered thus,
A long white face with small black-beaded eyes
Peered at him through the doorway. All too well,
Afterwards, I recalled that scene, when Bame,
Out of revenge for this same night, I guessed,
Penned his foul tract on Marlowe's tragic fate;
And, twelve months later, I watched our Puritan
Riding to Tyburn in the hangman's cart
For thieving from an old bed-ridden dame
With whom he prayed, at supper-time, on Sundays.

Like a conspirator he sidled in,
Clasping a little pamphlet to his breast,
While, feigning not to see him, Ben began:--

"Will's Venus and Adonis, Kit, is rare,
A round, sound, full-blown piece of thorough work,
On a great canvas, coloured like one I saw
In Italy, by one--Titian! None of the toys
Of artistry your lank-haired losels turn,
Your Phyllida--Love-lies-bleeding--Kiss-me-Quicks,
Your fluttering Sighs and Mark-how-I-break-my-beats,
Begotten like this, whenever and how you list,
Your Moths of verse that shrivel in every taper;
But a sound piece of craftsmanship to last
Until the stars are out. 'Tis twice the length
Of Vergil's books--he's listening! Nay, don't look!--
Two hundred solid stanzas, think of that;
But each a square celestial brick of gold
Laid level and splendid. I've laid bricks and know
What thorough work is. If a storm should shake
The Tower of London down, Will's house would stand.
Look at his picture of the stallion,
Nostril to croup, that's thorough finished work!"

"'Twill shock our Tribulation-Wholesomes, Ben!
Think of that kiss of Venus! Deep, sweet, slow,
As the dawn breaking to its perfect flower
And golden moon of bliss; then slow, sweet, deep,
Like a great honeyed sunset it dissolves
Away!"
A hollow groan, like a bass viol,
Resounded thro' the room. Up started Kit
In feigned alarm--"What, Master Richard Bame!
Quick, Ben, the good man's ill. Bring him some wine!
Red wine for Master Bame, the blood of Venus
That stained the rose!"
"White wine for Master Bame,"
Ben echoed, "Juno's cream that" ... Both at once
They thrust a wine-cup to the sallow lips
And smote him on the back.
"Sirs, you mistake!" coughed Bame, waving his hands
And struggling to his feet,
"Sirs, I have brought
A message from a youth who walked with you
In wantonness, aforetime, and is now
Groaning in sulphurous fires!"
"Kit, that means hell!"
"Yea, sirs, a pamphlet from the pit of hell,
Written by Robert Greene before he died.
Mark what he styles it--A Groatsworth of Wit
Bought with a Million of Repentance!"
"Ah,
Poor Rob was all his life-time either drunk,
Wenching, or penitent, Ben! Poor lad, he died
Young. Let me see now, Master Bame, you say
Rob Greene wrote this on earth before he died,
And then you printed it yourself in hell!"
"Stay, sir, I came not to this haunt of sin
To make mirth for Beëlzebub!"
"O, Ben,
That's you!"
"'Swounds, sir, am I Beëlzebub?
Ogs-gogs!" roared Ben, his hand upon his hilt!
"Nay, sir, I signified the god of flies!
I spake out of the scriptures!" snuffled Bame
With deprecating eye.
"I come to save
A brand that you have kindled at your fire,
But not yet charred, not yet so far consumed,
One Richard Cholmeley, who declares to all
He was persuaded to turn atheist
By Marlowe's reasoning. I have wrestled with him,
But find him still so constant to your words
That only you can save him from the fire."
"Why, Master Bame," said Kit, "had I the keys
To hell, the damned should all come out and dance
A morrice round the Mermaid Inn to-night."
"Nay, sir, the damned are damned!"
"Come, sit you down!
Take some more wine! You'd have them all be damned
Except Dick Cholmeley. What must I unsay
To save him?" A quick eyelid dropt at Ben.
"Now tell me, Master Bame!"
"Sir, he derides
The books of Moses!"
"Bame, do you believe?--
There's none to hear us but Beëlzebub--
Do you believe that we must taste of death
Because God set a foolish naked wench
Too near an apple-tree, how long ago?
Five thousand years? But there were men on earth
Long before that!" "Nay, nay, sir, if you read
The books of Moses...." "Moses was a juggler!"
"A juggler, sir, how, what!" "Nay, sir, be calm!
Take some more wine--the white, if that's too red!
I never cared for Moses! Help yourself
To red-deer pie. Good!
All the miracles
You say that he performed--why, what are they?
I know one Heriots, lives in Friday Street,
Can do much more than Moses! Eat your pie
In patience, friend, the mouth of man performs
One good work at a time. What says he, Ben?
The red-deer stops his--what? Sticks in his gizzard?
O--led them through the wilderness! No doubt
He did--for forty years, and might have made
The journey in six months. Believe me, sir,
That is no miracle. Moses gulled the Jews!
Skilled in the sly tricks of the Egyptians,
Only one art betrayed him. Sir, his books
Are filthily written. I would undertake--
If I were put to write a new religion--
A method far more admirable. Eh, what?
Gruel in the vestibule? Interpret, Ben!
His mouth's too full! O, the New Testament!
Why, there, consider, were not all the Apostles
Fishermen and base fellows, without wit
Or worth?"--again his eyelid dropt at Ben.--
"The Apostle Paul alone had wit, and he
Was a most timorous fellow in bidding us
Prostrate ourselves to worldly magistrates
Against our conscience! I shall fry for this?
I fear no bugbears or hobgoblins, sir,
And would have all men not to be afraid
Of roasting, toasting, pitch-forks, or the threats
Of earthly ministers, tho' their mouths be stuffed
With curses or with crusts of red-deer pie!
One thing I will confess--if I must choose--
Give me the Papists that can serve their God
Not with your scraps, but solemn ceremonies,
Organs, and singing men, and shaven crowns.
Your protestant is a hypocritical ass!"

"Profligate! You blaspheme!" Up started Bame,
A little unsteady now upon his feet,
And shaking his crumpled pamphlet over his head!

"Nay--if your pie be done, you shall partake
A second course. Be seated, sir, I pray.
We atheists will pay the reckoning!
I had forgotten that a Puritan
Will swallow Moses like a red-deer pie
Yet choke at a wax-candle! Let me read
Your pamphlet. What, 'tis half addressed to me!
Ogs-gogs! Ben! Hark to this--the Testament
Of poor Rob Greene would cut Will Shakespeare off
With less than his own Groatsworth! Hark to this!"
And there, unseen by them, a quiet figure
Entered the room and beckoning me for wine
Seated himself to listen, Will himself,
While Marlowe read aloud with knitted brows.
"'Trust them not; for there is an upstart crow
Beautified with our feathers!'
--O, he bids
All green eyes open:--'And, being an absolute
Johannes fac-totum is in his own conceit
The only Shake-scene in a country!'"
"Feathers!"
Exploded Ben. "Why, come to that, he pouched
Your eagle's feather of blank verse, and lit
His Friar Bacon's little magic lamp
At the Promethean fire of Faustus. Jove,
It was a faery buck, indeed, that Will
Poached in that greenwood."
"Ben, see that you walk
Like Adam, naked! Nay, in nakedness
Adam was first. Trust me, you'll not escape
This calumny! Vergil is damned--he wears
A hen-coop round his waist, nicked in the night
From Homer! Plato is branded for a thief,
Why, he wrote Greek! And old Prometheus, too,
Who stole his fire from heaven!"
"Who printed it?"
"Chettle! I know not why, unless he too
Be one of those same dwarfs that find the world
Too narrow for their jealousies. Ben, Ben,
I tell thee 'tis the dwarfs that find no world
Wide enough for their jostling, while the giants,
The gods themselves, can in one tavern find
Room wide enough to swallow the wide heaven
With all its crowded solitary stars."

"Why, then, the Mermaid Inn should swallow this,"
The voice of Shakespeare quietly broke in,
As laying a hand on either shoulder of Kit
He stood behind him in the gloom and smiled
Across the table at Ben, whose eyes still blazed
With boyhood's generous wrath. "Rob was a poet.
And had I known ... no matter! I am sorry
He thought I wronged him. His heart's blood beats in this.
Look, where he says he dies forsaken, Kit!"
"Died drunk, more like," growled Ben. "And if he did,"
Will answered, "none was there to help him home,
Had not a poor old cobbler chanced upon him,
Dying in the streets, and taken him to his house,
And let him break his heart on his own bed.
Read his last words. You know he left his wife
And played the moth at tavern tapers, burnt
His wings and dropt into the mud. Read here,
His dying words to his forsaken wife,
Written in blood, Ben, blood. Read it, 'I charge thee,
Doll, by the love of our youth, by my soul's rest,
See this man paid! Had he not succoured me
I had died in the streets.' How young he was to call
Thus on their poor dead youth, this withered shadow
That once was Robin Greene. He left a child--
See--in its face he prays her not to find
The father's, but her own. 'He is yet green
And may grow straight,' so flickers his last jest,
Then out for ever. At the last he begged
A penny-pott of malmsey. In the bill,
All's printed now for crows and daws to peck,
You'll find four shillings for his winding sheet.
He had the poet's heart and God help all
Who have that heart and somehow lose their way
For lack of helm, souls that are blown abroad
By the great winds of passion, without power
To sway them, chartless captains. Multitudes ply
Trimly enough from bank to bank of Thames
Like shallow wherries, while tall galleons,
Out of their very beauty driven to dare
The uncompassed sea, founder in starless nights,
And all that we can say is--'They died drunk!'"

"I have it from veracious witnesses,"
Bame snuffled, "that the death of Robert Greene
Was caused by a surfeit, sir, of Rhenish wine
And pickled herrings. Also, sir, that his shirt
Was very foul, and while it was at wash
He lay i' the cobbler's old blue smock, sir!"
"Gods,"
The voice of Raleigh muttered nigh mine ear,
"I had a dirty cloak once on my arm;
But a Queen's feet had trodden it! Drawer, take
Yon pamphlet, have it fried in cod-fish oil
And bring it hither. Bring a candle, too,
And sealing-wax! Be quick. The rogue shall eat it,
And then I'll seal his lips."
"No--not to-night,"
Kit whispered, laughing, "I've a prettier plan
For Master Bame."
"As for that scrap of paper,"
The voice of Shakespeare quietly resumed,
"Why, which of us could send his heart and soul
Thro' Caxton's printing-press and hope to find
The pretty pair unmangled. I'll not trust
The spoken word, no, not of my own lips,
Before the Judgment Throne against myself
Or on my own defence; and I'll not trust
The printed word to mirror Robert Greene.
See--here's another Testament, in blood,
Written, not printed, for the Mermaid Inn.
Rob sent it from his death-bed straight to me.
Read it. 'Tis for the Mermaid Inn alone;
And when 'tis read, we'll burn it, as he asks."

Then, from the hands of Shakespeare, Marlowe took
A little scroll, and, while the winds without
Rattled the shutters with their ghostly hands
And wailed among the chimney-tops, he read:--

Greeting to all the Mermaid Inn
From their old Vice and Slip of Sin,
Greeting, Ben, to you, and you
Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, too.
Greeting from your Might-have-been,
Your broken sapling, Robert Greene.

Read my letter--'Tis my last,
Then let Memory blot me out,
I would not make my maudlin past
A trough for every swinish snout.

First, I leave a debt unpaid,
It's all chalked up, not much all told,
For Bread and Sack. When I am cold,
Doll can pawn my Spanish blade
And pay mine host. She'll pay mine'host!
But ... I have chalked up other scores
In your own hearts, behind the doors,
Not to be paid so quickly. Yet,
O, if you would not have my ghost
Creeping in at dead of night,
Out of the cold wind, out of the wet,
With weeping face and helpless fingers
Trying to wipe the marks away,
Read what I can write, still write,
While this life within them lingers.
Let me pay, lads, let me pay.

Item, for a peacock phrase,
Flung out in a su
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