Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/49

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the casements to files of glaring eyes; the room seemed crowded. They illuminated the farthest corner, except that one, already illumined by the flame of a candle, where twinkling Tom Heywood wrote steadily on, despite the talk—wrote steadily on even though he joined in that talk. The big plain room had an aspect of home to Shakspere; for it had housed thousands of wine-bedewed, discussion-ridden nights whose talk had touched the stars. Every drawing on its walls was familiar to him, every ribald couplet. And the men in it were his friends, true and tried. Not that he had not had his differences, major and minor, with them; not that he liked them equally. But no one among them but was linked in some picturesque or glorious way into the chain of his London existence. And when the blaze died down to a softer glow that failed to pick out faces, its gleam on pewter tankards, on laughter-filled eyes, companioned the room again for him. Shakspere listened and drew them out for stories; listened and, if the talk threatened to run into one of their uproarious duels of wit, drew them out again. But that did not happen often. By sheer force of will, he made it a night of anecdote and reminiscence. There was plenty of talk. There were the latest tales of Henslowe’s niggardliness—no Mermaid night was a success without a Henslowe interval. From Beaumont there were stories of the production of the Knight of the Burning Pestle; from Fletcher, of the handsome way Tom Heywood had helped them in their satire on him; from Ben, of the production of the Alchemist and of the difficulties he was having with a new play, Cataline—“a damned dull drama of desperation!” he described it. So dull had it become, indeed, that he had begun a new, highly contrasting one. When the talk turned to the past, Jonson spun a long yarn of the week he and Marston and Chapman spent in prison the time Eastward Ho! was produced. Burbage told of his acting experiences as a child—those reminiscences went as far back as Hieronimo—interspersed with such bits of impromptu acting as made his auditors hold their breath. . . .

As long after midnight Shakspere turned into Montjoy house, it was with a sense of perfect calm. All his melancholies had vanished in the high, clear wind of London talk. To-morrow he would sit him down and write, write—oh, God, how he would write!