Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/39

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THE SPRING FLIGHT

5

had well liked, and their Philaster, over which it had gone mad! Chapman had deserted play-writing; was away somewhere, Southampton’s guest, translating the great ancient Greek poet Homer, a task that would take months. Permitting her guest to extract what comfort he might from this schoolmanly preoccupation of his rival, Mistress Montjoy veered swiftly away from talk of Chapman, but so skilfully that, in another moment, they were discussing Jonson’s latest success as though it flowed as a matter of course from the talk of Chapman and Homer. Ben’s Alchemist, according to Mistress Montjoy, had positively fired London. Burbage, as usual, was playing the lead and according to Mistress Montjoy, with rare spirit. She confessed to as great a liking for Burbage as a misliking for his rival, Field. Compare Burbage with Field. She had seen his Richard—here Mistress Montjoy pulled herself up short as though suddenly remembering that her guest was a playwright—and Will’s Richard Third—three times. Burbage stirred the blood, whereas Field—— She herself had slept listening to Field’s slow, cold chanting. She favoured the Silent Woman above all Ben’s work—oh, yes, far beyond the Alchemist. But for an afternoon’s entertainment, give her the Woman Killed with Kindness or the Shoemaker’s Holiday. The woman did not live whose heart could not respond to the sadness of the one and the gaiety of the other. She had always said and would always maintain that Ben knew naught about women. She considered that the Silent Woman proved this contention. Had not Epicœne, his best woman, turned out to be a man? For herself, she liked plays that dealt with people like those about her; women she could have been and in scenes she might have known. Not for her the bloodless nymphs of the Faithful Shepherdess or Philaster on the one hand, the strange walking dolls that Ben made on the other. As for the Woman Killed with Kindness—there was a heroine might have been her own sister, Bess, so natural was she! And so on, and on, and on until Montjoy’s grating voice called from below, “Aho there! Shall we never eat? ’Tis well said, ‘A woman’s tongue. . . .’”

The slow spring twilight had settled into complete darkness when Shakspere at last pulled away from the Montjoys. A