That afternoon, before the performance, I had walked down to the Thames, for I had heard the ice was breaking up at last after the long, bitter winter. I stood at Temple Stairs and looked down at the river. True enough, huge chunks of ice tumbled against each other with great crashes and creaks amid roiling grey waters. I walked back through soft, melting snow, thinking that perhaps spring was here at last.
Standing in the doorway of the Hall, I shivered suddenly despite my heavy fur-lined coat, for though the air was definitely warmer it was still chill and I had never put back the flesh I lost in my bad fever eighteen months before. I jumped slightly as someone clapped me on the shoulder. It was Roger, his slim form swathed in a heavy coat. Beside him his wife Dorothy, her plump cheeks red with cold, smiled at me.
You were in a brown study, Matthew, Roger said. Reflecting on the high moral sentiments of the play?
High as a house but heavy as a horse, Dorothy said.
That they were, I agreed. Who chose it?
The Treasurer. Roger looked to where Rowland was talking to an ancient judge, nodding his head gravely. Roger lowered his voice. He wanted something that wasnt politically contentious. Wise in these days. But an Italian comedy would have been better.
We walked across the courtyard together. I noticed the snow on the Gatehouse Court fountain, which had been frozen this last three months, was almost gone, revealing patches of grey ice. Soon perhaps the fountain would be working again, its gentle plashing sounding across the court. A few coins were exposed on the ice; even with the fountain frozen people still threw money in with a prayer for victory in a case or luck in an affair of the heart; for though they might deny it, lawyers were as superstitious as other men.
Rogers steward, an old man called Elias who had been with them for years, greeted us at the door and took me upstairs to wash my hands. Then I went into the parlour, where fat candles cast a warm buttery light on the chairs and cushions. A dozen guests, all barristers and their wives, sat or lounged, served with wine by Elias and a boy. A roaring fire warmed the room, bringing sweet smells from the scented herbs on the wooden floor, its light glinting on the silver knives and spoons on the cloth-covered table. The walls were decorated with framed portraits in the new fashion, mostly of biblical characters. Above the large fireplace stood one of the best pieces of furniture in Lincolns Inn, Rogers pride and joy. It was a large, carved wooden frieze of intricate design, the branches of trees in full leaf interlaced with flowers and fruits, the heads of animals peering through, deer and boar and even a unicorn. Roger stood beside it, talking to Ambrose Loder from my chambers. His slim form was animated, his fine hands waving as he made some point to the plump barrister, who stood immobile, a sceptical look on his red face.
Dorothy stood beside him, wearing an expression of good-natured amusement, her colourful clothes a contrast to the black robes of the two lawyers. She wore a green damask dress with gold piping down the front, and a high collar open at the throat; it suited her well. Seeing me, she excused herself and came across.
I had known Dorothy near twenty years. She was the daughter of a serjeant in my first chambers. We had both been in our early twenties then and I had at once been attracted to Dorothys elegance, wit and kind nature a rare combination. She seemed to like my company too, never seemed to mind my bent back, and we became good friends. After a while I dared to think of trying to turn friendship into something more. I had given no signs of my real feelings yet, though, and therefore had only myself to blame when I learned that Roger, my friend and colleague, had already proposed marriage and been accepted. He later said and I believed him that he had not realized my feelings for Dorothy. She had guessed, though, and tried to sweeten the pill by saying she had had a difficult choice to make but I found that hard to believe, for Roger was handsome as well as clever, with a quicksilver, energetic grace to his movements.
Excerpted from Revelation by C.J. Samson Copyright © 2008. by C.J. Samson. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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