Tom concentrated on each stroke of his pen, intent on forming each letter identically each time it occurred, maintaining a perfectly level line across the page. His goal was to make this copy look as if it had been printed, partly to stave off the boredom freezing the insides of his skull as stiff as the icicles hanging from the eaves. But mainly because Bacon would notice and recognize it as an unscoldable act of defiance.
Copying documents was the reason printing had been invented. The tiresome task should therefore never be inflicted on clerks merely to keep them occupied. Tom could think of a thousand things he would rather be doing than making fair copies of Francis Bacon’s advice letters. A thousand and one, even in February—even with no money.
Bacon would say, if he were to respond to the subtle stab, which he would never do, that he only wanted three copies, not a hundred, and most emphatically did not want every apprentice in St. Paul’s Churchyard reading his letters, which were meant for Queen Elizabeth and a select few of her privy councillors alone.
Valid objections—barely—but obvious ones, which is why he wouldn’t bother to express them. Nevertheless, Tom’s objection would have been registered, with no waste of breath—another silent point scored.
He’d just dipped his quill in the inkpot when someone knocked on the door. He called, “Intro!” but kept his eyes on his work. When he felt the puff of chilly air from the landing, he held up his left hand to forestall the visitor—probably Ben—while he continued writing out the quillfull of ink. He finished the last word and blew on it lightly. Only then did he look up.
He blinked, twice. Maybe his brain had frozen. He’d expected a lanky man in legal robes, but the person standing inside the door was distinctly female. One might say, quintessentially female. Tall and fair, the lady had a pert nose and wide eyes the exact color of cornflowers in June. Her cheeks were smooth and her jawline taut, proclaiming her youth in spite of her fur-lined, ruff-to-slipper cloak.
Women weren’t allowed at Gray’s Inn, especially young ones, unless they were rich and had legal business too urgent or too sensitive to communicate by messenger. Bacon didn’t have any clients like that. His small practice consisted exclusively of friends to whom he owed money.
“Mr. Bacon? Am I disturbing you?” The lady folded back the edges of her cloak to reveal a narrow waist and a modest bosom contained within a fashionable, but not showy, green gown with tawny edgings. Her linen partlet drew the eye to the creamy expanse between the low neckline and the crisp ruff under her pointed chin.
“I’m not Francis Bacon,” Tom said. Hearing how rude that sounded, he stuck his quill in its holder and rose, scrubbing his inky fingers on his black robes, wishing he’d worn his new black doublet with the brass buttons instead of this old brown one. “I’m Thomas Clarady, Mr. Bacon’s clerk. I hope I can be of assistance.”
“I’m sure you can.” The lady batted her lashes as she held out her hand, smiling the way women usually smiled at him on first meeting. “I’m Joan Pettwood. My father is Sir Rowland Pettwood, a member of Gray’s. Perhaps you know him?”
Tom bowed as he planted a light kiss on the proffered hand, returning it with just the right shade of reluctance. “I don’t, but I’m sure Mr. Bacon does. Is he in some difficulty?”
“Not he.” She wet her shapely lips and glanced at the door, which she had left slightly ajar. “My man is waiting outside the door. This doesn’t concern him.” She lowered her voice. “Mrs. Sprye, of the widows’ guild, assured me I could trust you with a highly confidential matter.”
“Mrs. Sprye is a wise woman.” Tom painted a grave expression on his face, though his heart danced an invisible jig. He and Bacon had solved several matters of a confidential nature over the past few years. Their rewards had been chiefly honors, which Tom had appreciated until his father died. But now his guardian, who happened to be Bacon’s aunt, had cut his allowance in half. Worse, she paid his fees directly to the governors of Gray’s Inn, assuring him bed, board, and education, but leaving him with an empty purse.
Tom wanted money—his own money—for all the little goods and services a man of fashion requires. Unfortunately, he had nothing to barter but Francis Bacon’s wits.