The music stopped and the audience quieted. A refined gentleman with boundless energy burst through the curtains at the back of the stage. His white doublet and hose were elaborately trimmed with black lace and his narrow face was framed by a ruffled collar. He stood center stage and bowed with a flourish to the nobles. He directed a mischievous grin at the groundlings and blew a kiss to a lady in the gallery.
Then he flung his arms open as if embracing the audience and the crowd cheered wildly.
William maneuvered into a more comfortable spot. He overheard some random snatches of conversation among the groundlings, and sud- denly, the young man next to him pointed at the stage.
“Look, it’s the Earl of Oxford!”
William glanced up in awestruck admiration.
“That impudent devil!” an old crone laughed. “He’ll earn some good money with this play, I’ll warrant ye.”
“I think not. A nobleman can’t get his hands dirty earning a living like we do.”
“Ha! Isn’t that always their excuse for an idle life!”
“This nobleman isn’t idle,” another person protested. “He offers us plays just as he offers them to the Queen. That doesn’t sound idle to me, not in the least.”
Determined to get as close as he could to the remarkable nobleman, William brushed past the dour critics and inched towards some empty chairs at the back of the stage, hoping that no one would see him crawl under the rope and take a seat. He was delighted that instead of standing for hours, he could watch the play in comfort. He was so close to Lord Oxford now, he could see the exquisite stitching on his doublet.
Suddenly, he was yanked by the collar and hoisted into the air. “You, groundling! You didn’t pay for this seat. Get back behind the ropes or I’ll throw you out.” Stunned, William didn’t move.
The gentleman picked him up and tossed him onto the dirt floor. The groundlings roared with laughter at his comeuppance. His head hurt, and as he slunk back under the rope, William wondered if this was a sign from God that he should have stayed in church.
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