Read Revelation Online

Authors: C J Sansom

Tags: #Historical, #Deckare

Revelation (8 page)

'I have seen those fits, though. I once had a client who suffered from them and he fell down in my office, gibbering and foaming with only the whites of his eyes showing.' He shook his head. 'It was a dreadful sight. And it came on this man late in life.'

'You experience these falls and fix your mind on the most frightening thing you have seen. If I did not know you for a clever lawyer I would call you a noddle.'

He smiled. 'Ay, perhaps.'

To take his mind from his worries I told him the story of the preacher who had stood at Newgate promising great rivers of blood. 'Can a man who preaches such things possibly be a good man, a Christian man?' I asked. 'Even though the next minute he was proclaiming the joys of salvation.'

He shook his head. 'We are in a mad and furious world, Matthew.
Mundus furiosus.
Each side railing against the other, preaclv ing full of rage and hatred. The radicals foretelling the end of the world. To the conversion of some, and the confusion of many.' He looked at me, smiling with great sadness. 'Remember when we were young, how we read Erasmus on the foolishness of Indulgences granted by the church for money, the endless ceremonial and Latin Masses that stood between ordinary people and the understanding of Christ's message?'

'Ay. That reading group we had. Remember Juan Vives' books, about how the Christian prince could end unemployment by sponsoring public works, building hospitals and schools for the poor. But we were young,' I added bitterly. 'And we dreamed.'

'A Christian commonwealth living in gentle harmony.' Roger sighed. 'You realized it was all going rotten before I did.'

'I worked for Thomas Cromwell.'

'And I was always more radical than you.' He turned to me. 'Yet I still believe that a church and state no longer bound to the Pope can be made into something good and Christian, despite the corruption of our leaders, and all these new fanatics.'

I did not reply.

'And you, Matthew?' he asked. 'What do you believe now? You never say.'

'I no longer know, Roger,' I said quietly. 'But come, we turn down here. Let's change the subject. The buildings are close together here, the voices echo, and we must be careful what we say in public these days.'

The sun was setting
as we rode into the narrow alley in Bucklersbury where Guy lived and worked. It was full of apothecary's shops, and Roger's face became une
asy as he saw the stuffed ali
gators and other strange wonders displayed in the windows. As we dismounted and tied our horses to a rail, he looked relieved to see that Guy's window contained only a selection of ornate apothecary's jars.

'Why does he practise in this godforsaken place if he is a physician?' Roger asked, retrieving his sample from his horse's pannier.

'Guy was only admitted to the College of Physicians last year, after saving a rich alderman's leg. Before that his dark skin and his being an ex
monk kept him out, despite his French medical degree. He could only practise as an apothecary.'

'But why stay here now?' Roger's face wrinkled in distaste at the sight of a baby monkey in a jar of brine in the adjacent window.

'He says he has grown used to living here.'

'Among these monsters?'

'They are just poor dead creatures.' I smiled reassuringly. 'Some apothecaries claim their powdered body parts can work wonders. Guy is not of that opinion.'

I knocked at his door. It was opened almost at once by a boy in an apprentice's blue coat. Piers Hubberdyne was an apprentice apothecary whom Guy had taken on the year before. He was a tall, dark
haired lad in his late teens, with features of such unusual comeliness that he turned women's heads in the streets. Guy said he was hard-working and conscientious, a rarity among London's notoriously unruly apprentices. He bowed deeply to us.

'Good evening, Master Shardlake. And Master Elliard?'


'Is that your sample, sir? May I take it?'

Roger handed it over with relief, and Piers ushered us into the shop. 'I will fetch Dr Malton,' he said, and left us. I inhaled the sweet, musky scent of herbs that pervaded Guy's consulting room. Roger looked up at the neatly labelled jars on the shelves. Little bunches of herbs were laid out on a table beside a mortar and pestle and a tiny goldsmith's weighing balance. Above the table was a diagram of the four elements and the types of human nature to which they correspond: melancholic, phlegmatic, cheerful and choleric. Roger studied it.

'Dorothy says I am a man of air, cheerful and light,' he observed.

'With a touch of the phlegmatic, surely. If your temperament was all air, you could not work as you do.'

'And you, Matthew, were always melancholic. Your dark colouring and spare frame mark you out.'

'I was not so spare before my fever eighteen months ago.' I gave him a serious look. 'I think that would have carried me off without Guy's care. Do not worry, Roger, he will help you.'

I turned with relief as Guy entered the room. He was sixty now and his curly hair, black when first I knew him, was white, making the dark brown hue of his lean feat
ures even more striking by con
trast. I saw that he was beginning to develop an aged man's stoop. When we had first become friends six years before, Guy had been a monastic infirmarian; the monasteries had housed many foreigners and Guy came originally from Granada in Spain, where his forebears had been Muslims. Having abandoned a Benedictine habit for an apothecary's robe, he had now in turn ex
changed that for the black high-
collared gown of a physician.

When he came in I thought his dark face seemed a little drawn, as though he had worries. Then he looked at us and smiled broadly.

'Good day, Matthew,' he said. His quiet voice still carried an exotic lilt. 'And you must be Master Elliard.' His penetrating dark eyes studied Roger closely.

'Ay.' Roger shuffled nervously.

'Come through to my examination room, let us see what the problem is.'

'I have brought some urine, as you asked. I gave it to the boy.'

'I will look at that.' He smiled. 'However, unlike some of my colleagues, I do not place entire reliance on the urine. Let us first examine you. Can you wait here a while, Matthew?'

'Of course.'

They left me. I sat on a stool by the window. The light was growing dim, the jars and bottles casting long shadows on the floor. I thought again of Adam Kite, and wondered uneasily whether Guy, still secretly loyal to the old church, might also say Adam was possessed. I had found myself thinking too over the last few days about the dark
haired woman keeper. What had she meant by saying she could never leave the Bedlam; Was she under some permanent order of detention?

The door opened and the boy Piers entered, carrying a candle and with a large book under his arm. He placed the book on a high shelf with several others, then went and lit the candles in a tall sconce. Yellow light flickered around the room, adding the smell of wax to the scent of herbs.

He turned to me. 'Do you mind if I continue my work, sir?' he asked.

'Please do.'

He sat at the table, took a handful of herbs and began grinding them. He rolled back the sleeves of his robe, revealing strong arms, the muscles bunching as he crushed the herbs.

'How long have you been with Dr Malton now?' I asked.

'Just a year, sir.' He turned and smiled, showing sparkling white teeth.

'Your old master died, did he not?'

'Ay, sir. He lived in the next street. Dr Malton took me on when he died suddenly. I am lucky, he is a man of rare knowledge. And kind.'

'That he is,' I agreed. Piers turned back to his work. How different he was from most apprentices, noisy lewd lads forever looking for trouble. His self-possessed, confident manner was that of a man, not a boy.

It was an hour
before Guy and Roger returned. It had grown dark, and Piers had to bend closely to his work, a candle beside him. Guy put a hand on his shoulder. 'Enough for tonight, lad. Go and get some supper, but first bring us some beer.'

'Yes, sir.' Piers bowed to us and left. I looked at Roger, delighted to see an expression of profound relief on his face.

'I do not have the falling sickness,' he said and beamed.

Guy smiled gently. 'The strangest matters may have a simple resolution. I always like to start by looking for the simplest possible explanation, which William of Ockham taught is most likely to be the true one. So I began with Master Elliard's feet.'

'He had me standing barefoot,' Roger said, 'then measured my legs, laid me on his couch and bent my feet to and fro. I confess
was surprised. I came expecting a learned disquisition on my urine.'

'We did not need that in the end.' Guy smiled triumphantly. 'I found the right foot turns markedly to the right, the cause being that Master Elliard's left leg is very slightly longer. It is a problem that has been building up for years. The remedy is a special shoe, with a wooden insert that will correct the gait. I will get young Piers to make it, he is skilled with his hands.'

'I am more grateful than I can say, sir,' Roger said warmly.

There was a knock, and Piers returned with three pewter goblets on a tray which he laid on the table.

'Let us drink to celebrate Master Elliard's liberation from falling over.' Guy took a stool and passed another to Roger.

'Roger is thinking of starting a subscription for a hospital,' I told Guy.

Guy shook his head sadly. 'Hospitals are sorely needed in this city. That would be a good and Christian thing. Perhaps I could help, advise.'

'That would be kind, sir.'

'Roger still holds to the ideals of Erasmus,' I said.

Guy nodded. 'I once studied Erasmus too. He was in high favour when I first came to England. I thought when he said the church was too rich, too devoted to ceremony, he had something — though most of my fellow monks did not, they said he wrote with a wanton pen.' His face grew sombre. 'Perhaps they saw clearer than I that talk of reform would lead to the destruction of the monasteries. And of so much else. And for what?' he asked bitterly. 'A reign of greed and terror.'

Roger looked a little uncomfortable at Guy's defence of the monks. I looked from one to the other of them. Guy who was still a Catholic at heart, Roger the radical reformer turned moderate. I was not so much between them as outside the whole argument. A lonely place to be.

'I have a case I wanted to ask your advice about, Guy,' I said to change the subject. 'A case of religious madness, or at least
that is what it is.' I told him Adam's story. 'So the Privy Council have put him in the Bedlam to get him out of the way,' I concluded. 'His parents want me to get him released, but I am not sure that is a good idea.'

'I have known of obsessive lovers,' Roger said, 'but obsessive praying — I have never heard of such a thing.'

'I have,' Guy said, and we both turned to look at his dark grave face. 'It is a new form of brain
sickness, something Martin Luther has added to the store of human misery.'

'What do you mean?' I asked.

'There have always been some people who hate themselves, who torture themselves with guilt for real or imagined offences. I saw such cases sometimes as an infirmarian. Then we could tell people that God promises salvation to any who repent their sins, because He places no one outside His mercy and charity.' He looked up, a rare anger in his face. 'But now some tell us that God has decided, as though from caprice, to save some and damn others to perpetual torment; and if God does not give you the assurance of His Grace you are doomed. That is one of Luther's central doctrines. I know, I have read him. Luther may have felt himself a worthless creature saved by God's grace, but did he ever stop to think what his philosophy might mean for those without his inner strength, his arrogance?'

'If that were true,' Roger said, 'surely half the population would be running mad?'

'Do you believe you are saved?' Guy asked suddenly. 'That you have God's grace?'

'I hope so. I try to live well and hope I may be saved.'

'Yes. Most, like you, or I, are content with the hope of salvation and leave matters in God's hands. But now there are some who are utterly certain they are saved. They can be dangerous because they believe themselves special, above other people. But just as every coin has two sides, so there are others who crave the certainty, yet are convinced they are unworthy, and that can end in the piteous condition of this young man. I have heard it called salvation panic, though the term hardly does justice to the agonies of those who suffer it.' He paused. 'The question per
haps is why the boy became con
sumed with guilt in the first place.'

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