Peter Tremayne

Fear No More

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou the worldly task has done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages…

Cymbeline Act IV, Scene 2, William Shakespeare

A wailing March wind was blowing from the northwest along Bankside, causing the Thames to move in choppy wavelets and froth an angry white around its quays and the massive piles of the great London Bridge. Wisps of thatch were being blown hither and thither among the debris of the streets, plucked from the houses and even from the roof of the stately Globe Theatre.

The wind howled down Pepper Street, causing the painted wooden sign of the Pilgrim’s Wink Tavern to rattle and shake in spite of its iron fastening.

Screwing up his eyes against the icy smack of the wind, Master Hardy Drew, Constable of the Bankside Watch, opened the lattice window on the first floor of the tavern. He held it ajar a fraction in order to lean out, pull closed a loose, banging shutter, and fasten it before, thankfully, securing the window latch again.

It had been a cold winter and the elderly queen, insisting on going for her walk in the February chills, had caught cold and had been ailing since. In fact, the talk was that the poor lady would not recover. She lay in her palace at Richmond surrounded by members of her privy council and attended by her physicians and even the elderly Archbishop John Whitgift of Canterbury. All that day, Sunday, the nation had offered prayer for her recovery. Master Drew himself had gone to the church of St. Saviours to offer his supplication, but it seemed a forlorn hope. Yet, after forty-five years, it seemed impossible to imagine England without Elizabeth upon its throne.

He turned back into the room that he rented on the first floor of the tavern and rubbed his forehead to massage warmth back into his cold flesh. The distant cry of a night watchman proclaiming the hour turned his thoughts to bed. He had finished the piece of cold mutton pie and the pint of ale that comprised his supper and glanced undecided at the dying embers of the fire. He paused wondering whether to place another log on it and continue reading for a while longer.

Above the threatening cry of the wind and the occasional bang and crash of some object being pushed along the cobbled street before it, he suddenly became aware of a new sound. The rattle of a coach on the stones outside and the nervous whinny of horses caught his ear. Then he realised the coach had halted outside. He stood, head to one side, listening. Sure enough, there came a thunderous knocking on the door below. He made no stir for he heard Master Cuttle, the landlord, already grumbling at the door. Only a moment passed before he heard rapid footsteps on the stair and there came a knock on his own door.

In answer to his invitation, it swung open and Master Cuttle stood nervously on the threshold for a moment.

“Gen’leman to see you, Master Drew,” he mumbled before scurrying off.

A tall man of some fifty years entered and pushed the door behind him. Master Drew caught the sweet smell of a tincture of roses, noted the finery of the cloak and hat, which the man proceeded to cast off without waiting for an invitation, throwing them carelessly over the nearest upright chair. His clothing not only proclaimed him a gentleman but a man of some status and substance.

“Do you recognise me, Master Drew?” he demanded without preamble.

Master Drew’s features had formed a frown of recognition. He had seen the attorney general of England several times when his duties took him north of the river to the law courts of the realm. He made a hurried bow.

“Sir Edward. Please take a seat before the fire and tell me how I may serve you at this hour?”

At the same time, Master Drew moved quickly to the fireplace to put the extra log on the embers.

Sir Edward Coke moved unsmilingly to the indicated chair.

“I have heard good things of you, Master Drew,” he said, as he seated himself. “I have heard others say that you have a reputation as a solver of puzzles. A man with the ability to supply solutions to the most difficult conundrums and withal a man of discretion. Is this not so?”

Master Drew grimaced.

“I am not responsible for what others say, Sir Edward. I can only say that I have had a little success since my appointment as constable here on the Bankside.”

Sir Edward smiled quickly, as if satisfied with the answer.

“Modesty may be a virtue, Master Drew, but it does not put a pension in your pocket or put a prefix before your name.”

“My ambition is to keep my name and save a little to buy a small farm out beyond Moorfields where I might, in simple comfort, spend the twilight of my years.”

“Modest enough. But with your talent, ambition should look further.”

“I am well content. But I fear it was not talk of my ambition that was your reason for coming to call here on such a night.”

Sir Edward sighed.

“Indeed, good Master Drew. I have a puzzle to set before you. I will pay you well for your consideration of the matter.”

Master Drew raised an inquisitorial eyebrow.

“Perhaps you would be so good as to elucidate the matter?”

“I will tell you in the coach. We have to go to Holborn, north of the river.”

“But the gates on the bridge will be closed. And I have no jurisdiction on the north bank of the river.”

Sir Edward laughed.

“The gates of London Bridge will open to me. I am the attorney general and will tell you where your jurisdiction is.”

Master Drew sighed deeply, casting a wistful look at the fire where the log he had recently placed on the embers was blazing merrily.

It was scarcely fifteen minutes later when, having given instructions to Master Cuttle to have a care of the fire and seizing his worn but woollen cloak and hat, Master Drew found himself north of the river, seated in the attorney general’s coach. They had crossed London Bridge with amazing rapidity. The sentinels at the southern Stone Gate and then at the northern gate marked by Nonsuch House had given one glance at Sir Edward’s coat of arms emblazoned on the carriage doors and had waved it through with all speed. Sir Edward was relaxed in his seat opposite Master Drew.

“In plain truth, Master Drew, the young cousin of an acquaintance of mine has been killed.

Two men set him upon as he came to the town house of my acquaintance in Holborn. He had not long been in London, I’m afraid, and took a fancy to a stroll around the Chancery Courts and gardens, returning on foot at dusk. We need to be satisfied that this was either an attack by thieves to rob the unfortunate young man or whether there was some more sinister design.”

Master Drew was surprised.

“Sadly, as you well know, sir, such attacks are not unknown. The footpads will have vanished into the slums around the Fleet. If you are asking me to track them, I fear I shall not be successful. That is, unless they took some singular object by which they can be identified if and when they attempt to sell it.”

Sir Edward was shaking his head.

“The young man was not robbed, sir. At least, his purse was still on his body.”

“Then were the thieves disturbed?”

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