The Secret Life of William Shakespeare

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan Page B

Book: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jude Morgan
Tags: Biographical, Fiction, Historical
clean up the spilled ale, as if the mess is hers. She fetches the mop.
    *   *   *
    Church-time: the best moment for his son and heir to seek audience with John Shakespeare, who – papist, debtor, or just himself – still risks the fines and does not go.
    ‘Father.’ I seek, I ask, I beg … ‘I want your permission to marry.’
    In the churchyard boys, looking like Will ten years ago, clamber about the graves, resisting imprisonment to the last minute. Inside, autumn rheums make ragged the psalm that rises up to the whitewashed walls. A beggar squats in the porch and delicately unwraps his sores, like relics, for inspection; and at home in Henley Street Will bends to stir the fire and tells his father that his chosen bride is pregnant.
    His father leaves Will skewered on his sharp-tipped silence for a while – not too long. ‘How old is she? Mistress Hathaway?’
    ‘Twenty-six. Does it signify?’
    ‘There. At once you suppose I speak against her. I do not. Richard Hathaway was a good man, an excellent worthy man, and I hear no ill of his heir, nor any of the family—’
    ‘I don’t intend marrying the family, Father.’
    ‘No man ever does,’ he says, with a crusty laugh, in which fury may lurk: no telling yet.
    ‘I’m thinking only of Anne. I love her truly and—’
    ‘So I should hope. She is fair and gracious. If you were not to do right by such a woman, I should think you deserved whipping for it … Ah, now you’ve spoiled the fire with poking.’ For a moment Will thinks this is some bawdy proverb – but that has never been John Shakespeare’s way. He goes frowning over to the hearth, rubbing his hands. ‘Look. Let the ash lie atop. No, Will, if you had not forced the matter, I would still have thought well of Mistress Hathaway, trust me. But it’s not a matter of her years. It’s yours.’
    ‘Men have married at eighteen before.’
    His father gives the slightest of shrugs. ‘To be sure. Often when folly has pushed them to it and they have no choice.’
    ‘Often, yes, which means not always, not in every case, and now what else would you have of me, Father? Am I to have your permission or not? After all, if you stand against it, I’m not the one who will suffer.’
    ‘How you fire up.’ His father smiles aridly. ‘You love the maid and wish to wed her. Who doubts you, Will? Who?’
    Will sits down heavily. He meets his father’s look. Knowing that someone sees the worst of you gives a kind of ease. Yes, somehow his father has glimpsed them – those bat-flutterings in the dusk of his thoughts. The idea that he has not designed his future, as a pair of gloves is designed from hide to finish, but has put it ramshackle together from odds and ends.
    One day, Will swears inwardly, he will see the best of me; and wonder.
    ‘Naturally you must marry,’ his father says. ‘But that’s only the beginning. Does she know what to expect, your condition, estate?’
    ‘I have created no illusions about myself, Father. That would never do, in this house.’
    ‘Must you put such hate into it? Perhaps you must…’ Like clandestine love, the enmity issues urgent and passionate while it can. Quite still, gaze level, they pant like wrestlers. ‘Once married, besides, you can never be my apprentice. You’ll have thought of that.’
    ‘Oh, faith, that was my chief reason for falling in love, what else?’
    ‘Still you must settle, Will, settle. Hast thought on it? For I won’t say yea if I suspicion you are not in earnest, and will want to skip away once the wedding-clothes are old. Settle and be a husband and father, work hard, plan for the morrow, know the morrow, its very shape and colour. And if you find you don’t care for it, who shall you blame?’ He does not smile, but parts of a smile appear on his face. ‘Not me, not this time, my boy. That’s a luxury you must forswear.’
    Will says: ‘I intend that there will be no regrets on either side, Father. Above all, that my wife

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