Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/51

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



ing the lovely lady inside, who, displaying a rosy indignation, hastily put on her mask. In the midst of all this, an inquisitive fellow lolling at his work, an idle eye raking the street, got glimpse of Shakspere. Immediately his shrill cry, “Ho, lads, ’tis Will Shakspere! Will of the Globe! Will of the King’s men!” was caught up by his fellows till all about the streets rang with “Hi, Will!” and “Ho, Will!”

Shakspere doffed his hat and waved it with his most professional—and mechanical—smile. How his heart had jumped the first time Cheap had cheered him! He had not written, on that long-ago thrilled day, a single word—but it was not from mental sterility, only from surplusage of charmed emotion. Now that chorus was as hollow to him as the beating of a child’s hand on a drum. He was conscious only of the city stinks and, for the first time, of a longing for the sweet freshness of the Warwickshire air. “Hi, Will! Ho, Will!” The cry ran down the street as successive lines of shopmen took it up. Shakspere continued mechanically to smile, gracefully to wave his hat. Presently the cheers ran down. He turned on the bridge, slowed down his brisk walk to a saunter. Now the scene, though less gay, was more beautiful. He stopped and listlessly surveyed it. The Thames—it was the brief interval between tides—stretched like a vast carpet of satin, taut except where now and then, as though insecurely fastened, it rippled in the breeze: and blue save where the sun—— His mind made little flicker at verse. “Faint, gilded pools where yet the——” And then it caught with violence on that oral snag, gilded, and ceased. Was ever poet haunted by a single word as he by gilded? A cold, stark disgust with certain crystallized habits of expression added its burden to his mood. Apathetically he continued to gaze on the scene.

Boats were gliding from shore to shore over the suave river surface, and the cries of the boatmen, “Eastward ho!” and “Westward ho!” came in a faint music to his ears. Close to the banks swans drifted. Along the north shore—flower gardens linking them softly with the river and the velvet lawns holding them rigidly apart—stretched the splendid pile of palaces which was the haughtiest element in the city’s many-faceted beauty. Along the same bank, but back of him, nondescript shops and dwellings ran to the square, geometric