Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/44

This page has been validated.



brain turned. Not reading until his eyes ached. Not walking the lanes about Stratford until his legs cramped. Not talking until he hated the town and every soul in it. Not dreaming. Not cursing. So now to see what London would do—the London which, at his appearance, had opened her gate, tempted him with the clue to success, and then, by the mere poisonous hap that Anne Davenant visited there her sister, fed like a cold-crazed, thirst-crazed monster on the fires and dews of his youth.

It seemed to Shakspere that he had been walking a long time, so fast and so painfully had his thoughts sped. Yet, in reality, it had been but a few moments from Silver Street to Cheapside and along Cheapside to the Mermaid Tavern. Only an occasional figure now and then had passed him on the street, and now he entered a silent courtyard. Hooded wagons made vague, looming shapes under a sprinkle of stars. In the shadows, horses fretted with hoof-pawings and tail-swishings. A white cat flashed from under his feet. But no human stirred, and the Inn was quiet. He made off at an angle toward the left, and at a corner room on the first floor, knocked with a peculiar and vibrant tattoo. Without waiting for a summons to enter, he opened the door and stood on the threshold of a fair-sized room, light in colour, heavily raftered, with big casement windows on two walls and a vast fireplace at one end.

His appearance produced an instant of petrifaction among the half circle of men sitting about the fire. Then, “By God, ’tis Will!” exclaimed the huge creature who was the keystone of their arch. He raised his unwieldy bulk off the double-sized stool which supported it and paddled like a hurrying bear toward the door. It was a bear-hug, too, to which he subjected Shakspere, and after the embrace was over, he patted him on shoulders, arms, and back with his monstrous paws. “God’s wounds, I’m glad to see you. Marry, you smell of the country, lad—clover and new-mown hay.”

The others, except one who sat writing in a corner, crowded about Shakspere. That other was a tall, lean, yellow fellow of a cadaverous and moustached mien. He made a sudden gesture, and instantly they all chanted in unison: “An upstart crow, that with his tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide,