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PRIZE STORIES OF 1924

was absent. And when the two maids entered—Nan, blue-eyed and flaxen-curled with the full hips of the country; Joan, dark and waxy, shapely too, though only a slim bit of cockney flesh—he considered their movements but absently. Nan placed candles on the table; took Shakspere’s cape and hat; disappeared. Joan put a pewter ewer and basin on the stand, wiped up a slop of water; disappeared. Nan returned with a slender sheaf of paper, a pewter inkstand, a quill; Joan with linen. All the time, Shakspere was answering Mistress Montjoy’s inquiries about his family.

Yes, Anne was well. And Sukey and Judy were well. Joan was well. And her three boys, Will and Tom and Michael, were well. Sukey’s little Betty—for the first time Shakspere’s jaded face gleamed brilliantly as he talked of his only granddaughter—bloomed fairly. Yes, Betty was a great girl for her age, a gay, winsome, lovesome child, the pet of the family. Outwardly, Mistress Montjoy seemed to take no note of the perfunctory quality in Shakspere’s answers. But she finally interrupted the flow of her own interrogations with orders to the two maids for supper: “Fish to be fried . . . a meat pie . . . a gooseberry tart, Joan. And plenty of ale, Nan . . . and cakes. . . . Now hurry, wenches!” And on the instant of their departure—had Will heard of the new theatre, the Hope? The town was full of the talk of it. It was to be an addition to the Paris Gardens. Henslowe and Meade—surely Will remembered Meade, the great roaring, hairy bear of a waterman!—were building it. There would also be a new inn built in the Gardens, The Dancing Bears, and there Meade would live. It was to be the finest theatre in London, so they said. . . . Yes, for plays. Oh, and, of course, for bear- and bull-baiting too. They were a shrewd pair, those two! Had he heard they were opening the old Swan? And indeed London was play mad. Surely Shakspere knew that the unreputable country parson, Daborne, whom astute old Henslowe had rescued from a debtors’ prison, was going to have a company of acting children. Fletcher’s Faithful Shepherdess had proved a poor thing. And for her own part, she considered that Fletcher would never hit the public taste alone. But with Beaumont——It was true enough that their Maid’s Tragedy had scantly pleased. But consider the Scornful Lady, which the town