The Secret Life of William Shakespeare

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan

Book: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jude Morgan
Tags: Biographical, Fiction, Historical
wouldn’t be so kind if they knew, she thinks. She talks of prices at the market, wondering where in God’s name is Will, wondering also whether she really wants to see him just now. Of course she will have to see him soon, now she knows, but that’s different. Everything is different.
    Suddenly Will is there. She realises she never hears him enter a room. He is shirt-sleeved, sweat-damp from work.
    ‘Lord, Will, clothe yourself, for here’s Mistress Hathaway come to us for once, instead of you going forever to Shottery,’ cries Joan.
    Ah, so it is spoken of. Their eyes meet: for a moment they are together in the wood.
    Then: ‘Mistress Hathaway, your pardon, a moment,’ and he slips away to put on a doublet. And slips away to put on something else, it seems; when he returns, though he is still Will, he is a different version, armoured for pleasantries, with the far pale gaze of a sentry. He maintains it even as he listens to Joan’s unstinting account of Anne’s sickness. The truth seems to Anne like a bird trapped in the room, flapping shrill and unignorable about their heads. But grave, mild, the elder Shakespeares smile on her: gently they protest when her own tension twangs her upright and she says she is well, perfectly well to walk home …
    Not to be thought of. She is to ride the mare, and Will is to lead it. Master Shakespeare looks as if a refusal will pain him in some profound rarefied way; she finds herself thinking of defeated royalties, quietly glowing in the shadows of exile. And then of Bartholomew remarking, If a man loses money he should make sure it’s his own.
    When they are outside the town Will helps her dismount. She stays in his arms for a moment, then draws away. Speech without touch is necessary, now: another innovation.
    She looks down at a tuft of grass. Wonders if she will remember this little wickerwork of green, the dry strand of chickweed, the late five-spot ladybird crawling. ‘Will, I’m going to have a child.’ Of all the ways to put it: as if it is some peaceable decision, like keeping geese.
    ‘What shall we do?’ he says, after perhaps three breaths, with something of the same neutrality: you might suppose they are going to stroll and have a chat about it.
    ‘Oh, God,’ she moans, bleats it out, ‘don’t forsake me.’
    ‘Forsake you, how so? I love you, and I am your servant—’
    ‘Yes, I think that’s true, but you see you are saying it, and you’re very good at saying things, and there – there’s my fear.’ Having revealed her great naked weakness, she is bold: no sense in trying to cover yourself with shreds. ‘I don’t mind you inventing, Will. I know you can’t help it. As long as it’s not now, not about this.’ At some point they have moved together, her hands are gently pounding his chest, there is an intention of lips. But no, look at him, fix his eyes.
    ‘Our child,’ he says. ‘Our life together. This we shall have. What could we desire more?’ He makes a sweeping gesture, as if the question has stirred a little swarm of stinging answers; sweeps them away. ‘Anne, you are the great gain of my life.’
    ‘And you … that is you…’ The great gain: yes, trust him to find the right words. She holds him, and doesn’t need to say, no one needs to say, that something also has been lost: choice.
    *   *   *
    Stabling the mare, Will looked up to see his mother.
    ‘Mistress Hathaway was better, I hope?’
    ‘Much better. She sends her kindest thanks and remembrances.’
    His mother stroked the mare’s nose. ‘Getting blind, I fancy, poor old creature, though her step is still sure … That sickness goes off, Will, after the first few months.’
    Will had the bridle in his hands. He stared at the rosette as if he had never seen anything like it. He should have known.
    ‘We have spoken of it, Mother.’
    ‘Who? You mean you and Mistress Hathaway? For you certainly have not spoken of it with us.’
    Not harsh, but a new firmness

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