Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/53

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the house seemed able to contain. High casements were partly open to the breeze and, burning through their bulleyes, the sun had flecked the floor with its own marquetry. At one side, a bunch of spring posies filled a pewter bowl; and the bowl lay beside a big volume that nearly covered the table. Mistress Harvard drew a chair—high-backed and carved—for Shakspere, seated herself in another, the hand of each arm clasping the dimpled elbow of its fellow. “Tell me of Stratford,” she begged, her big eyes, a trifle too full for real beauty, dancing; the warm colour flooding and receding. Shakspere conscientiously told her the news of the town. That was what interested her most, though she made perfunctory inquiries as to his work, ending with—was it a new play had brought him to London? To Shakspere’s great relief, however, she did not ask its name, nor what it was about. Adroit as he was in conversation—and he had enough instinctive sympathy and sense of humour to produce unlimited volume of even Mistress Harvard’s kind—he was conscious of a feeling of relief when her husband appeared.

John Harvard was one of the few of the younger generation in Stratford with whom Shakspere had a real mental clutch. He was a big, raw-boned man; his broad shoulders in perpetual stoop; his gray eyes always gaunt with his midnight studying. Harvard had none of the poet in him; but he was a student of an inspired order.

Shakspere had often gone to him when, in his work, he struck snags of history, science, medicine, or the law. The big book on the table, a recent purchase which he immediately displayed to Shakspere, was an evidence of a scholarly rather than a religious trend in him. It was that new version of the Bible, of which for months there had been so much talk. The two men drew up to the table, lost themselves in examination and discussion. “We have it not yet at Trinity,” Shakspere said.

In the meantime, Mistress Harvard slipped out of the house. When she returned she was carrying a struggling, lusty, round-cheeked urchin whose eyes—as big and black as his mother’s—were pouring tears at being yanked untimely from his play. ’Tis young John Harvard!” Mistress Harvard interrupted the two men to announce, “and you may tell them all, Will Shakspere, when you go back to