Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/42

This page has been validated.



matter, Ben had killed his man and gone to prison. . . . But he had chosen London for the scene of the major portion of his work and in filthy, greasy, stinking London he had stayed, dominating the literary life of the town as indeed—there had never been an atom of jealousy in Shakspere’s admiration for Ben—he deserved to dominate it. On the other hand—Marlowe! At his youth’s peak, Kit had thrown himself into the flaming abyss at the very centre of life, had let its fires eat his vitals; had died of his love of life; had died at the hands of life itself. Did Marlowe have the right of it? And Kyd and Greene—those wasters of heydey? “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Illium?” God, it was worth going out in one hell-hot stab at joy to have written those lines. They too—the whole trio—had stayed in the city, had drunk deep of its poison. Was, after all, the swift thrust at life the wiser way? However, it was useless now to regret that he had not followed other men’s paths, led they to sanity or madness; for he could not stay in the city, try as hard as he would. Just as London had held him in hot enchantment in the beginning, she had released him frost-cold in the end. And then the country had begun to pull on him. He had deafened his ears to the luring plea as long as he could. But in the end, it had haled him back to Stratford—that low, wild-dove call. Another motive came in here—in honesty he had to admit it. He wanted to write the Shakspere name strong on Stratford life again. It was a sacred duty; his father had laid it on him. That was one of the things a man must do; he had no choice there. And yet again—doubt. Should a poet engage in commerce with sacred obligations? What had he to do with that pale-blooded wench, Duty? Was not the poet his own law? Well, like the oaf he was, docilely, without question, he had followed the incitement of the Shakspere blood. He had returned to Stratford. He had made the Shakspere strain a power. New Place was pointed out, gaped at. . . . And Anne had risen in importance as his position increased. Of course, there had been the old wound of his years of absence in London, but that wound had healed. Anne was a placid woman whose heart held its own tenderness, rejected its own bitterness. And fate had brought her fair social fortune in her two daughters. Sukey had made a