Newgate and the Sheriff

St. Aldate’s Day, in the eighth year of King Richard II

Today I am recovering from another audience with that execrable sheriff, Simon Wynchecombe. If he were a man of honor, if he were capable of fulfilling his obligations, there would be little complaint. But he finds his satisfaction in tormenting me. To what end? It is my contention that he must belittle me to raise himself up. For what is he but an alderman, a man of business who must serve the king in this appointment for no fee at all. Surely this irks his business sensibilities. Though I happen to know right well that he “extracts” enough fees from the poor souls who find themselves in Newgate under his tender care that he is well contented.

Newgate. I shudder each time I approach. But approach I must for this is where the sheriff’s business is conducted. And yet, I spent a fair amount within those wretched walls myself almost a lifetime ago when I was first captured for treason against Prince Richard, now the king. But we shall not dwell on those circumstances today. It is enough to say that I had my stay at Newgate and that my own vocation as a “private sheriff” makes it necessary to continue to attend the Lord Sheriff on those premises.

My jaw still aches where he struck me. As I said, he finds his pleasure in belittling me, which more often than not means I am his quintain to batter…

Jack is pestering me again. Eleven years old and he no better than a fishwife. He fusses over me until I scowl and set him back at his place. But resilient is young Jack. He simply shrugs me off and continues his harrangue while he serves me my supper. If I wanted a wife I’d… No matter. I will talk of Jack Tucker at a later date.

It is the sheriff that bends my mind today. It goes without the saying that he despises me–a mutual affection–but that he must tolerate me because I am the cleverer. Indeed, he sometimes hires me to solve crimes that baffle him. And yet, even should I earn my sixpence a day, he garners the credit for my hard labor. There is little I can do. By the circumstances of eight years ago, the sheriff is now my better, not I his. I sometimes wonder how I appeared to those below me. Was I as arrogant and brutal as Simon Wynchecombe? Did I belittle and berate? I content myself with the thought that I did not. But Time has a way of softening our memories. I look at Jack, still innocent of heart even after his four years as a beggar and thief on the streets of London, and I wonder if he sees me as I see Wynchecombe. But no. He would not stay in my keeping were that true. Jack is like a wild creature, never quite to be tamed. If he were dissatisfied, even though the only wage he earns is a roof and meager food, he would leave. In truth, he is here so seldom. I shudder to think what mischief he is up to on his own.

Jack is pressing wine on me to soothe my brow. I take it. It is not good wine but it is wine. A weakness. Were I to spend my halpens on ale instead we would not be as indebted to Gilbert and Eleanor, the tavernkeepers at the Boar’s Tusk…and my friends. But my wine is my concession to those long ago days. I drink and it helps me forget today in the murky memories of yesteryear.