There is indeed a true and ready way to show the state of Friendship in lively oil paint, fresh as I stand here.
First, find your subject, or pattern, or model.
And, if you would follow my lead - then, get you to hell.
Friendship, he says, like a schoolboy prating on Tully,
when he means the love which knows the weight of a man’s yard and the taste of his seed.
Hell, he says, when he means the better parts of that most noble and excellent prison, the Fleet,
a fine and proper lodging for piratical rovers (I might say, myself)
or of seditious rebels against the crown
(I would not say, my friend. No rebel he, though some have called him such).
The Fleet, the Fleet - tis where we met
Not in the noisome brangling pit which might rightly be called, yes,
(though what we name it, in truth, is Bartholomew Fair),
but the fine middling sort of lodgings, with a bed and a bolster and a quart of perkish claret wine or small beer per diem.
Hell, I say, which is to be haled along by sergeants with eyes like pewter buttons and mouths like the arses of incontinent cats.
Hell, I say, which is to be locked up with no recourse nor hope of pardon.
Hell, I say, which is a strange land with bad bread.
Hell, I say, which is a strange land with bad bread, where men laugh at you for a stranger when they hear the trick of your voice, though they chew English themselves like a rind of old cheese.
Hell, I say, which is to be shaken until you pay your jailors a garnish for your cell, which smells, I can affirm, of those same aforementioned incontinent cats.
Hell, I say, which is to be gawked at by prisoners until you pay them a garnish for the evening’s entertainment, capons and veal and good wine
and all. Hell, I say, which is to see your work, your finest work, all burnt.
Tell me of it again.
It showed the young Sir Thomas before a window
Sir Thomas Wyatt, as was. They are no sirs now, nor is there any more plain Thomas.
So goes it when you rise against the queen.
They say he was brave, at the end.
He was a most patient subject. He sat still as you please in the best light, though I could have wished he had not wished to be drawn with his hand upon a Bible in English.
He had grown forward-minded, in religion.
He had listened overmuch to your ranters and word-mongers. I would have shown small smut marks on the margins, thus, as I showed broken glass in the window behind my lord Cranmer, for a sign of his sin. With fine ultramarine in the sky beyond, for truth, and blue bice in the glass, for lies, and ill-saying.
You used blue bice for the ground of our portraits, did you not?
I had no ultramarine, you know that well. You know also that it is the painting which gives its colours meaning, and a voice. A picture is a little world in which I can make richness poor, or poor blue bice more precious than the richest ultramarine. But, so. Enough.
I have said full enough.
Say more, my friend.
What more is there to say? They burnt my picture of Sir Thomas, though it said more, I think, than Master Holbein’s spare and peckish profile ever did.
It was the best of me, until I came to hell.
Say more, then, friend, of hell.
Ah, hell. Where men must pay a garnish for each piece of bread
each piece of sad bad bread, and Angels slip away like quicksilver. They took my paints, as well.
I bought them back.
You did. You did.
For hell has devils too, leaning against the doorway, with hair all of fire.
A daring, roving devil, this one. Was he fair?
Must you hear it again?
Be kind, my friend. Be kind.
Yes, very fair. His hair was red, and grew in curls – the spirals that great Albrecht calls the snail-line, Englishing his word.
Enough of snails. More of this friendly devil, I thee pray.
Thee me at night, or when we’ve made thy ship. Your ship. We are but strangers in this inn, remember that.
Met on the road, my blazing hair all quenched.
Good clean grey rain, gone silver on your fire. In prison you could always smell the Fleet, running with muck. Like an infected eye.
You stayed within the Liberties of the Fleet. A street and more away from that fair stream.
Not far enough. Play me a song, I pray. My hands are cold. Although I wish to go, I’m sick to leave. Scrubbed off by England like a brush-stroke gone awry.
Yes, so. You played for me like that in prison. While you drank the wine my poor garnish had brought.
Raw wine it was too – though that’s hardly your fault.
You played, and sang. I did not know then that you roved at sea. Took ships
and Spanish gold.
I’d take the whole world, if I could, you know. Give it to you in little
like a picture
blue, and red, and gold. The colours of ships burning on the water.
I mislike fire. And yet I long to see.
Soon. Soon. We but await the tide.
They will not guess you bought my freedom?
If they do – why, so. It is bought, now. And I may yet be useful to the crown. They’ll lock a devil up for show, and yet require his sword.
I thought you were a player, at first. A singer, perhaps. A gentleman’s younger son, caught by some cozener and full of debts.
Then I brought you your oils. A mirror, too.
A mirror, yes. You gave me my own face.
Then you tripped that blockish by-your-leave sergeant, and gave his head such a ring I’d wager that old sot feels it still.
I had thought he would break my wrist, before. My hands – you play. You know.
I thought you were some merchant, come straight from Münster, gulled straight into gaol.
Then I saw how you looked.
Looked and saw. Merchants do not look so.
I could tell you the price of what I see, you know. So much blue bice, red lake, and verdigris. To make the flesh – carnation, as we say – red lake, a light vermilion, pink, white lead, burnt ochre. The shadows laid on green, or red, for cold or warm. The colours sweetened, so.
All smooth. As here, upon your hand, the pale red shifts into this pinker white. An edge of sad dull umber for this callus here. Dead white upon the nail.
Though I am quick.
That callus – I send ships and men to die in salt. In blue-grey, ultramarine.
The Spanish and their crosses. Lords and commoners.
Fattish Welsh shore-huggers, carrying cheese and Irish cloth and fish.
You will not go back home? Not home to London. Home where you were born?
In Osnabrück they burnt my sister for a witch. Play on, my friend. I will set sail with you.
You liked this tune, I think.
I did. It comes up round me in vermilion spires. I liked it in the Fleet, when you leaned up against my door, and smiled, and played.
A strange tune, for a Strangewish.
You have the picture here?
I do, I do. Set down on board, wrapped up. To paint true friendship, find a strange devil in hell. Show their close clasping hands. Their smile.
I told you to paint in the frame between. You kept our hands unclasped.
To keep our secret close, our closeness secret. It was a fine thought. And, besides. Our hands, unseen, may clasp below the frame. A picture shows a world in bice and black, but there is more outside.
Leaning against the doorframe, smiling in.
At first, I thought you’d come to laugh at me. To call me Garlic, for Gerlach, and make mock upon my voice.
Garlic has its delights.
Besides, we took some time to come to terms.
Some days, and nights.
A new friend is like unto Must, or new wine – the which at length you shall drink with pleasure.
And you call me a prating schoolboy, when you have Englished Tully waiting on your tongue, like
like fine wine?
like that bold devil’s smile.
Come. Show me your ship.
It’s true, the tide must surely now have turned.
Give me your hand, Gerlach. Its red and quick-white, and the darker shadow at the wrist.
The shadow of your kiss. Give me one now, in secret here behind the doorway, like a frame.
Like a touch of bright oil, that keeps and stays, despite the English rain.
Despite the grey. There's red. There's warm. Come quickly, now.
For we have far to go.
And things to see, my friend.
And things to see.