The Scene: Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
“The toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier . . .”
Shaxper returned home to his wife bearing a wealth of determination and a purse full of savings. With an obstinate mixture of guilt and respect, he had come to deliver his hard-earned wages to Anne in person, rather than send them home in a tightly wrapped and coldly worded farewell letter.
It was the least he could do to spare her feelings, he thought, for he had no intention of staying in his accidental marriage any longer. He was impatient to get back to London but he didn’t want to seem cruel, so he lingered to say a proper goodbye to his children. Three year-old Susanna might miss him, he thought, for she was old enough now to sit on his lap and bury her face in his chest. He was sure that his colicky twins Hamnet and Judith didn’t care who he was or where he was. Still, he swore to return to them as soon as he was financially secure, and they were old enough to care who he was, and to understand how he had improved their lives by allying himself with his theatrical kinsman, Lord Oxford.
He promised to send Anne money regularly. He had expected her to be grateful for this boon, and for the reassurance by his presence that he wasn’t simply staying on in London and abandoning her and the children completely.
But Anne refused to make his departure an easy one. She wept in the doorway with the twins in her arms and pleaded with him not to go.
“I’ll be back before you know it, I swear,” he called over his shoulder “And I’ll return to you with a small fortune, I promise.”
“How can you leave me like this, William?” Anne cried. “What will the neighbors say?”
“It’s not my business what they say,” he replied, recalling their wicked gossip about his father.
“They’ll say you abandoned me because of the twins.”
“But I’ve assured you that’s not true. In London, I can earn a fortune. I can’t possibly do that in Stratford, and now we have two more hungry mouths to feed.”
“Dear God, what’s to become of me and the children?”
“God will take care of you. And Hamnet Sadler – I’ve asked him to look in on you.”
“At least leave me some more money.”
“I can’t. I need to pay my travel expenses. I’ll send you more money when Lord Oxford pays me my advance.”
“What advance? He doesn’t even know you. What makes you think he’ll ever know you?”
“He’ll know me . . . and he’ll need me, I’m sure of it. But I have to act now, I can’t wait any longer. I stayed until the twins were baptized and I must say, it’s been the longest month of my life.”
“What about little Susanna? She loves you, she’s devastated, just look at her, William.”
Anne stepped aside, revealing Susanna sobbing behind her skirts.
Shaxper sighed and knelt down. Susanna ran into his arms.
“I’ll make it up to her,” he said, as he kissed the little girl and handed her back to her mother.
“And how will you do that?” Anne asked. “Why in God’s name would the Earl of Oxford pay any attention to you? Because of some distant family kinship? That’s absurd!”
“I told you,” Shaxper said, as he tightened his satchel and mounted his horse. “I’ll send you my earnings as soon as I’m employed as a player in Lord Oxford’s Men. What more do you want?”
“I want you, William. I love you. Don’t you love me?”
Anne Whatley’s face flashed through Shaxper’s mind. She was the maiden he really loved, and if he hadn’t gotten Anne Hathaway pregnant and been hauled before the parish priest to marry her, his life would have been different. Anne Whatley of Temple Grafton would have understood his feelings about London. She might have joined him there, if he knew where she was after all this time.
“Be quiet, Anne” he scolded, “the neighbors will hear you.”
“You’ve got some whore stashed away in London, haven’t you?” Anne shouted angrily. “Go to her then! Go and make a fool out of yourself, but you’d better send the money you promised me or I’ll sue you for it!” Anne clutched the twins and kneed Susanna into the house. She slammed the door behind them.
Relieved to be quitting Stratford, he turned his horse towards London. He noted how sad it was that his harridan of a wife had no sense of Fortune or Destiny.
Anne Whatley would have understood.
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