“The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”
– King Lear
The letter summoning him to her bedside came into his hands in Stratford on a rainy Monday morning. Shaxper dropped everything and left his nephew in charge of the family businesses. Ignoring his wife’s tirade about the foolhardy expense, he hired a carriage and driver for the long journey to King’s Place. He packed a change of clothes in his satchel, knowing he would need to stop at an inn for one night or possibly longer, depending on the weather.
Countess Elizabeth was dying. He wondered if she was the victim of his neglect since he hadn’t seen her after that terrible night at King’s Place. Although he had traveled to London frequently to collect on his shares as a stockholder in The Globe, he had never been able to bring himself to visit the home at Hackney. The memories of that day made it impossible for him to pray at Lord Oxford’s grave or inquire about his widow.
Consumed with self-reproach, he couldn’t think what he would say to her now. Perhaps he should invent a series of plausible lies to whitewash the horrible ordeal eight years ago. Even in ill health, she was sure to question him about the grotesque piece of unfinished business. There were still moments when he felt emotionally trapped behind the wall in the house, with the soldiers advancing, hell-bent on murder.
He had never meant to stay away from Countess Elizabeth for so long. With his new wealth and coat-of-arms, perhaps he might have had a chance with her. In retrospect, as the days had passed in rapid succession, he’d lost track of them. He’d been busy brokering her late husband’s plays, raking in the money and cashing in on their longtime partnership as Shakespeare.
With the grinding of the carriage wheels, his mind raced back to Countess Elizabeth. He couldn’t imagine what the sweet lady would be like, now that she was so close to death. It seemed horribly unjust for God to take such a kind soul when thieves and murderers lived to ripe old age.
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