Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/45

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supposes he is as able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you!” They ended with a vigorous “Hail, Will of Avon, hail!”

Shakspere grinned as he shook hands with them—Burbage and Beaumont, Fletcher and Hemminge.

“How beats the tiger’s heart?” the man in the corner asked cheerfully, still bending to his work.

“Fiery as of yore,” Shakspere averred, shaking his disengaged hand. “On my word, Tom Heywood,” he declared to his interlocutor, “and be God my witness, when I departed for Stratford last spring, I left you scribbling in this corner and on my return, I find you busy at the self-same spot. How many plays have you writ in these twelve months?”

“Five!” Heywood declared laconically, stopping to twist his long, thin, out-standing yellow moustaches and to impale Shakspere with a humorous glare from his cadaverous face. “And acted in all of them—and I’ve turned some verses besides. And according to my wont all writ on tavern bills.”

“Not another heroic poem, I pray thee, Tom!” Shakspere said with the out-handed gesture of one fending off offence.

Before Heywood could reply, the rafters rang with the long-sustained, boisterous derision of his companions. And so, instead of answering, he kept on tranquilly writing until they had stopped. “Keep up those alarums,” he threatened, “and I write an epic to-night.”

“Come close to the fire, Will,” Ben Jonson ordered, “and let’s see how the rural air likes thee.” The company resumed their places in a crescent about the blaze. Hemminge placed a stool for Shakspere at Jonson’s right. “We lack cheer!” Jonson exclaimed, first peering into the depths of the enormous tankard which he held in a colossal paw and then shaking it with a circular motion. “What ho, boy!” he called. As there was no immediate response, “Boy! Boy!” he boomed in successive roars. And when the door opened on a peaked, smirched slice of scared boy face, “Bring us on wine, boy, Canary now, of the best and plenty of it. At once! You hear? I’ll cut your gizzard out before your eyes and roast it at this very fire else.” As the door precipitately closed, he turned on Shakspere an enormous visage, all rounded leathery contours from which emerged at the chin a