Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/36

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strange slowness to my mind. And then of a sudden, Stratford sounded dead and London smelled fresh. Is my chamber vacant, mistress? I can go a dozen places else.”

“'Tis vacant and aching for thee, Will,” Mistress Montjoy asserted. “But why stand we here for all London to jibe at? Come ye in, lad!”

Montjoy unstrapped the saddle bags, handed them to a boy whom he summoned by another heavy glance, and led the horse away. Shakspere followed his hostess into the house. A half-dozen apprentices, sorting or stringing hair, were making, now that the master had disappeared, but a pretense of work. They gaped; cast slant glances. At one side, a trio of Montjoy’s master assistants, their weaving-needles stuck in wigs fitted to featureless, head-shaped blocks on the long table, idled openly. A girl’s face, set with two stark, blue O’s of eye and one wondering soft red O of mouth, peered through a door.

“A jug of water, Nan!” Mistress Montjoy called shrilly after her. “And fresh face linen, Joan, for the guest chamber! Ink, a quill, and paper! Candles! Hurry, wenches! Fetch the saddle bags, Con!”

Close on her words came clatter and clash from the kitchen. Mistress Montjoy ran nimbly up the stairs and Shakspere followed close on the heels which flittered like stripes of red out of the azure petticoat. They entered a wide, low-ceiled room at the back of the house. Talking volubly, Mistress Montjoy threw open the casements of the two windows. Coolness, alternately staled by the stenches from the city streets and freshened by odours from Mistress Montjoy’s early-blooming garden, flowed into the unaired languor of the room. Came also the twilight sounds: the near shouts of children at play—boys at ball, little girls singing, “London Bridge Is Falling Down”; the far, faint cry of the apprentices on Cheapside, “What d’ye lack? What d’ye lack?” The flood of the silvery-umber twilight, stained scarlet from the sunset, oozed into the room, filmed the fine polish of the floor as with a visible wetness. A low, wide bed, a broad, use-blackened table, two stools, a carved chest, made black hulks in this rose-argent sea. Shakspere stood in the centre of the room, a little dazed, staring about him. He was conscious alternately of a sense of fatigue . . . relief . . . re-