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Rehearsals for Othello began in earnest. In typical style, the company only had a week before opening. Nora darted around the stage between scenes, taking her measurements for the costumes that she would have to create, though mostly she only adjusted older outfits that would stand a new use. Her two young apprentices followed her like shadows, marking down the numbers she barked at them.
As far as the actors were concerned, Daniel was in charge and he demanded perfection. Ned was glad to see Patrick sweating as he struggled to keep up.
‘You look like you could use a drink,’ Ned said to his rival as they finally escaped after a long day during which Daniel had lost his temper three times with Patrick. It was the day before opening and tempers were frayed as no one was ready.
‘I’d forgotten what a slave driver he is.’ Patrick wiped his brow with a torn handkerchief.
‘You’d better not let him hear you use that term,’ Ned told him. ‘Touchy subject around a negro. He’s boxed my ears for less, like he was my senior. I don’t joke around with Daniel Johnson.’
The pair of them laughed conspiratorially. ‘He doesn’t possess the best sense of humour,’ Patrick said. ‘But a drink would be welcome. I suppose you know the best taverns to go to around here? Or at least the ones to avoid.’
They headed to Union Street and Ned’s usual haunt. Ned was surprised to find that Patrick was good company. Full of stories and plenty of gossip about Sam and Daniel, Ned took mental notes of everything. Sean turned up towards the end of the day. Usually he had a quick drink before heading out to work, his day topsy turvy to the average man.
‘You’ve made a friend I see,’ he commented as he and Ned drank, Patrick having staggered away to empty his bladder.
‘He’s not so bad when you get to know him,’ Ned replied. ‘Though he doesn’t seem to be able to handle his drink like we can.’
Sean chuckled. ‘We have had practice, have we not? Well, I’m glad that all is well. I worried about you, not getting the job an’all. It reminded me of Maggie, when you let the black dog take you.’
Ned grimaced then forced out a smile. ‘Patrick’s no Maggie, I can tell you that much. Though his legs aren’t bad.’
‘What’s so funny?’ Patrick had returned and fell onto the stool between the men. ‘Not laughing at me I hope.’
‘Course not.’ Ned leaned across and refilled his new friend’s glass. ‘Sean was just marvelling at our capacity for drink.’
Patrick belched. ‘I’m not sure about that. I should have left some time ago. I’ll have a cracking head tomorrow.’
‘Ha! Well, I shall leave you both to it.’ Sean stood to leave. ‘I’ve a business to run.’
At Ned’s insistence, Patrick stayed until the bottle was empty and Ned acted as a crutch as he staggered to his feet, slurring words of thanks as they manoeuvred towards the door.
Patrick was a lot heavier than he looked, and Ned stopped by the river steps on the way to the address that Patrick had given him. They sat there and Patrick’s mumblings grew slowly quieter as he slipped into slumber.
‘He won’t be up to much tomorrow,’ said an old man who was passing. ‘Looks like he’ll be out of sorts for a while.
Ned nodded, and stood to stretch out his back, preparing for the continuation of their journey. As his back cracked, he had a sudden thought. What if Patrick was too ill to perform on stage? He looked down at the dark head, leaning at an uncomfortable angle against the stone staircase. What if Patrick didn’t reach home? A night outside wouldn’t harm him, surely. Ned had woken up many a morning in a gutter or curled up on a bench that he didn’t remember resting his head upon.
He ignored his conscience, pushed away a twinge of concern, and left Patrick slumped there by the Thames. It was more than likely that Patrick would wake up soon and stumble back home of his own accord. Or so he thought.