Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/46

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straggle of black beard, picked with white, and above the forehead a scratch of hair, black and stiff as wire. Somewhere between the two and in the deepest folds of the leathery skin were set the mere black twinkles that were his extraordinary eyes. “Tell us of Stratford, Will. By God, bully boys, I long for green fields. The city tires and drags me. Some day, Will Shakspere, I’ll take you at your word and come to Stratford on a visit. ’Twas but yesterday Drayton and I spoke with longing of that future junket.”

“Come, Ben, do!” Shakspere entreated. “New place has rooms we use not. Come, all of you!” He smiled about the circle, now sitting on stools before the fire, their empty mugs beside them, their eyes on him. Then the smile crooked, shrank, disappeared as another consideration, more acerb, curdled it. “But talk we not of Stratford, I pray thee. It’s yon accursed country quiet I’ve run away from. Give me talk of London. Odds, how I’ve thirsted for it! What’s new here? No pretty chatter of court and politics an it please you, lads! I yearn for gossip of hussies and harlots, cutthroats and cutpurses, gulls and conies.”

“Would you had but come a moment since,” Dick Burbage answered. “The two Toms, Dekker and Middleton, were here and full of their new comedy the Roaring Girl. Knew ye ever Moll Frith, Will?”

Shakspere nodded dissent. “But ever I’ve heard talk of her,” he added.

“Well, yon twain have spent long days—and longer nights, ’tis likely—studying the ways of that fair filthy dame—their Roaring Girl. By Lady, Will, she’s unpaired in my experience. Full of strange oaths and stranger talk. And tales! Man, she pours adventure as others pour out dullness.”

“How looks she?” asked Beaumont’s voice from the other end of their row. And, “Before God, Frank, we’ve seen the jade!” came Fletcher’s comment from the same quarter. Burbage turned and crossed his legs in the direction of the query. As ever, when Burbage was present, Shakspere followed his motions. How could a man so fleshed melt movement into a grace so exquisite? Just as on the stage, though tallow-faced and thickly featured, he transformed himself into a god. And as inevitably as Shakspere watched his friend’s motion, he listened for his friend’s voice—that sleek,