nor particularly wanted friends. He did have a great many acquaintances of one degree of intimacy or another, that being defined by how useful they proved to him.
He was almost as aware of the lack as were other folk. He hesitated before nodding, and added, âA man with whom Iâve been yoked in harness some little while.â
âYoked in harness of what sort?â Shakespeare asked.
âSide by side, vile-minded lecher, not fore and aft,â Marlowe said. âÂ âTis a matter of business on which heâs fain to make your acquaintance.â His shoulders hunched. He glared down at the ground. He was furious, and not trying hard at all to hide it.
Shakespeare judged he would burst like the hellburner of Antwerp if not humored. Marlowe in a temper was nothing to take lightly, so Shakespeare said, âIâll meet him, and right gladly, too, whosoever he may be. Bring him to my ordinary while I dine or sup, anât please you.â
âIâll doât,â Marlowe said, though he sounded far from pleased. If anything, he seemed angrier than ever.
In Godâs name, what now? Shakespeare wondered. Now, instead of hastening on toward Bishopsgate, he stopped in his tracks. Marlowe was the one who kept striding on before also halting a few paces farther on. âI have said I will do as you would have me do, Kit,â Shakespeare said. âWherefore, then, wax you wroth with me still?â
âI do not.â Marlowe flung the three words at him and started on again.
âWhat then?â Now Shakespeare had to hurry after himâeither that or shout after him and make their talk a public matter for any whocared to hear it. He asked the only question that occurred to him: âIf not for me, is your anger for your âfriendâ?â
âIt is.â Two more words, bitten off short.
âHereâs a tangled coil!â Shakespeare exclaimed. âWhy such fury for him?â
âBecause heâs fain to see you in this business,â Marlowe said sullenly.
By then, with the darkness coming on fast, with a few drops of drizzle falling cold on his hand, Shakespeare was beginning to lose his temper, too. âEnough of riddles, of puzzles, of conundrums,â he said. âDo me the honor, do me the courtesy, of speaking plain.â
âI could speak no plainerâbecause heâs fain to see you in this business.â But then, unwillingly, Marlowe made it a great deal plainer: âBecause heâs fain to see you, and not me. Damn you.â He hurried off, leaning forward as if into a heavy wind.
âOh, Kit!â Now Shakespeare knew exactly where the trouble lay. What he did not know was whether he could mend it. Marlowe had been a success in London before Shakespeare rose from performing in plays to trying to write them. Some of Shakespeareâs early dramas bore Marloweâs stamp heavily upon them. If a man imitate, let him imitate the best , Shakespeare thought.
Marlowe remained popular even now. He made a living by his pen, as few could. But those who had given him first place now rated him second. For a proud man, as he surely was, that had to grate. If the âbusinessâ had to do with the theatre, if his âfriendâ wanted Shakespeare and not himÂ .Â .Â . No wonder he was scowling.
âWait!â Shakespeare called, and loped after him. âShall I tell this cullion that, if he be your friend, the business should be yours?â
To his surprise, the other playwright shook his head. âNay. He hath reason. For what he purposes, you were the better choice. I would âtwere otherwise, but the world is as it is, not as we would have it.â
âYou intrigue me mightily, and perplex me, too,â Shakespeare said.
Marloweâs laugh held more bile than mirth. âAnd I might say the same of you, Will. Did you tender me this plum, Iâd not offer it back again. You may be sure of