The Scene: London
Several months later, October 19, 1584
“By indirections find directions out.”
When his mother casually revealed that her family was distantly related to the Earls of Oxford, William stared at her in disbelief.
She’d never spoken of it before, and never had cause to mention it, but his incessant chattering about the players must have raised the association in her mind. William was thrilled to discover that his Arden family tree bore a fruitful connection to Elizabeth Trussel, wife of the 15th Earl of Oxford, and thus Lord Oxford’s grandmother. Certainly, that would improve his chances of having his apology accepted in light of the frightening turn of events inside the tent. All he had to do now was declare his kinship, impress His Lordship with his unrivaled talent and his fortune would be insured, thanks to the unbounded blessing his mother had bestowed on him with a few casual words.
William wrote a letter to his old schoolmate, Richard Field. Originally apprenticed to the London printer George Bishop, Richard now worked for Thomas Vautrollier, one of the city’s finest publishers. His life had vastly improved since leaving Stratford, and William hoped some of that success would rub off on him. The next day he said a hasty farewell to his wife Anne and promised to return home as soon as possible. He rode to London in the hope of finding a job in Vautrollier’s shop at the sign of the white greyhound near St. Paul’s.
Clad in a former employer’s doublet, Shaxper walked down cobblestone streets until he found the proprietor’s shingle. He smiled, pushed open the weathered door and stepped inside. The bell above jingled a courteous welcome.
The shop was filled with morning sunlight. In one corner, pens, paper and parchment were wrapped and ready for sale and the smell of ink permeated the room. Books published by Vautrollier lined some tall shelves along one wall and a few scattered benches encouraged customers to sit and browse. Only the wealthy had the time and money to afford such luxuries. While he envisioned a glowing future for himself, at present William only had enough money to pay for his lodgings, unless Richard felt inclined to be generous.
He wandered to the back of the shop and peeked through the doorway. At the printing press he saw Richard receiving some instructions from a man, apparently his employer.
“There are too many errors on the last few pages, Richard,” he said. “You must always insist on perfection from the compositors. Each man must be accountable for his work. If we fail to be accurate, we must do the job again and that becomes far too costly. Comprenez-vous?”
“Yes, Monsieur Vautrollier, I understand.”
William heard the floorboards creak behind him. He turned to see a petite, businesslike woman offering him a welcoming smile.
“N-no, I-I’m not here to buy a book,” he stammered. “My name is William Shaxper and I’ve come to see my friend, Richard Field.”
“Ah yes, Richard told us all about you,” she said. “Your friend is a very hard worker.”
“He always worked hard, especially in school. But as for myself, I cannot say the same.”
“I’m sure you’re being modest, sir. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jacqueline Vautrollier, proprietor of this shop.”
“You own this shop?”
“My husband and I are partners in marriage and in business. Why do you look so surprised?” she laughed. “I’m sure there are marriages in Stratford.”
“Yes, but no publishing partnerships. Most of Stratford’s women are housewives.”
“Most of London’s female publishers are widows, which is a fate we all hope to avoid since we are married to our work. Oh, but it’s time for Monsieur’s medicine. Richard!” she called. “Your friend from Stratford is here. Come and visit while Monsieur and I take our herbs.”
When the couple had gone, the two sworn brothers from the country school in Stratford greeted each other with friendly fisticuffs.
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