Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/37

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lease . . . fatigue . . . something like peace . . . fatigue. . . .

“Thou’rt tired, lad,” Mistress Montjoy commented, compassionately. “Yet how comest thou worn with that sun-blackened face? Thine eyes are lacklustre too.”

It was true that though country tan had turned his olive colouring almost black, Shakspere’s eyes were hollow. The faint luminosity that lay in their hazel depths seemed to come, not from within, but from without—as though the force back of them had died down, leaving them to reflect mere light. Nevertheless, his moustached lips were firm and full; and they produced a smile whose quick glint gave to his face all the candid pleasantness which had distinguished its old-time mirth. The flash of smile lasted but an instant. The look which was normal to him—of a quiet, a reserve almost enigmatic, and touched now with weariness—blanketed it completely.

Mechanically Shakspere sat down; extended his feet for the boy to pull off his boots. Mechanically he watched Mistress Montjoy rummage in his saddle bags until she found his shoes; as mechanically he watched the boy draw them on. “Tired!” he repeated. “Tired. Aye. My body’s tired. I’ve ridden four days. But that’s not the whole tale. My mind’s tired. In truth, I’m staled by country life and country folk and country thought. The quiet . . . the damned, dead, dull quiet. . . . And maybe by age . . . I know not.” He laughed out again, mirthlessly. “By Lady, thou’ll not believe it, mistress, but I, Will Shakspere, the industrious apprentice—’tis weeks since I have writ a line. Hours I’ve sat, my head in my hands, my brain stewing, festering. Then five days agone, on to my horse I leaped; turned his nose Londonward—and here am I. How I came, or by what roads, or what degrees, I know not. One night at Oxford at St. George’s Inn comes clear; beside that naught but long days of dust and rain.”

Mistress Montjoy’s brisk glance played a gleam of blue obliqueness upon him. “And Mistress Davenant,” she asked in even tones, “how goes it with her? And thy godchild?” She removed his cape; took his hat from his unresisting fingers.

“Well, well; both well,” Shakspere answered. His tone