Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/48

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with her one hand while she murders them with the other—a fist as big as the hoof of a horse. A handsome wench besides—red-headed and yellow-eyed. Her hair comes to her heels and sometimes it pleases her to wear it in that fashion. ’Tis a blaze then, running from her head to the ground. She’s fought her way, every inch, to her bawdy throne. No woman loves her, nor would dare cross her, but would give her soul to be chosen as her friend. No man crosses her, nor would dare love her, but would give his ears to be picked as her swain. She’s fleeced more gulls and conies—— Not at all unlike,” he added, dryly, “although their spheres be far separate, our late noble virgin majesty, Elizabeth.”

“’Tis pity, Will, you saw her not first,” said Hemminge.

And at that, the room filled with ribaldry. The adoring reverence, the admiring worship that poor stupid John Hemminge held for Will Shakspere was the jest and butt of the Mermaid Club. Ben, especially at this moment, shook like a mountain of jelly. Hemminge was placidly aware of his derision and as placidly indifferent to it. He turned now his big gray eyes—save for their love as expressionless as those of a hound—upon the object of his solicitude. He was a big, bulky creature—Hemminge. Beside Beaumont he was as a farm stallion to a knight’s charger. Yet on their trips through the stews of the town, it was to John Hemminge, not to Beaumont, that the Dolls and Molls and Polls shot their first lewd welcomes of glance and greeting.

“True, John!” Shakspere applauded, dryly. “’Tis pity I saw her not first. ’Tis pity—I know you think, and I agree—that any of these poor scribblers here was ever born to take from me dramatic share of the romance and poetry that lies bound in merry England.”

“Oh, Will”—Fletcher turned the talk—“hast heard of Daborne and his new children’s company? More ‘little eyases’ to make us trouble. Of the new theatre near the Paris Gardens. . . .”

The talk went on. The smoochy waiter lad—his scared eye scuttling at Jonson’s every move to Jonson’s face—filled their tankards with Canary again and again and again. The big fire died down at intervals, but someone always replenished it from a pile of logs at the side. When the flames burned high, they turned the little rounds of opaque glass in