“What’s wrong with you, Michael? You’re shivering.”
“Shaxper is right,” Drayton said. “This house does have a dreadful chill.”
“Really? I don’t feel a thing. But you look pale, as if someone had stepped on your grave.”
“It’s not my grave that’s been stepped on. Oh, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” he said, as he finished his drink in one long series of gulps.
“Told me what? Stop being so inscrutable. What’s the matter?”
“Sit down, Ben, and pour us both another drink. Keep your voice low. I don’t want the scribe to wake up and hear us.”
“So what if he does?”
“He’s so close to death himself, it wouldn’t be right for him to hear what I have to say. I don’t want to upset him.”
“Oh, I see. You can spare him the bad news, but you have no trouble telling me, is that it?”
“This is no joke, Ben. What I have to say isn’t funny at all, and I wish to God I’d never heard about it.”
“All right, don’t get so upset. Sit down and tell me what’s troubling you.”
The two sat in front of the hearth. Jonson fixed his eyes on Drayton. The visitor took a deep breath and exhaled, as if forcing his words from the depths of his soul.
“The Earl of Oxford’s tomb at Hackney has been desecrated again.” “Oh, God!”
“Shh! And this time, the thieves stole the brass plaque that memorialized him as Shake-speare. But that’s not the worst part.”
“What on earth could be worse than that?”
“Someone dug up his grave, pried open his casket and scattered his remains in the churchyard.”
“It was a ghoulish scene, with the sexton and the gravedigger chasing away stray dogs while they hastily gathered his bones —”
“What monstrous adversary would do such a thing?” “No one knows, no one knows . . .”
“First his statue, then his obelisk, then his plaque and now his bones?
Is the Earl of Oxford to have no resting place?”
“Someone doesn’t want that, even twelve years after his death. Who would do such a heinous thing? Could it be thieves looking for treasure?” “What treasure could they find in Shakespeare’s tomb, unless they think his manuscripts were buried with him? Remember how his sonnets were stolen from his wife? They turned up a year later, published as Shake-speare’s Sonnets. Someone profited by that delicate piracy. Even Shaxper tried to sell some old manuscripts until Thomas Middleton caught him in the act. God, this is terrible, just terrible! What will the family do?”
“They’re going to bury him in an unmarked grave, somewhere.”
“So his name will be buried where his body is. I can’t believe it. It’s not right. He wrote those words himself. It’s as if he knew what was going to happen!”
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