“Good luck doesn’t accompany the plague. It was a terrifying night; perhaps his heart gave out on him after all.”
“Perhaps,” Shaxper whispered.
Weary from their talk, Countess Elizabeth closed her eyes and sighed deeply.
Guilt consumed him. This beautiful lady, the only woman he had ever truly loved since Anne Whatley of Temple Grafton, was fading before his eyes. Why had he abandoned her? Perhaps he could have stepped into her dead husband’s shoes, like the impostor he was, and eased her burdensome sorrows. Perhaps he could have protected young Henry de Vere the way Richard Field’s father had once protected him. And then he looked at her, slim, poised and imperial, and recognized that in all ways she was a true lady, superior to him by her high birth and aristocratic nature.
She would never have accepted him.
The Countess stirred and slowly opened her eyes.
“My husband wanted you to have that oak trunk in the corner. You’re to take it with you when you go. Have one of the servants load it onto your carriage.”
He said nothing and looked over at the trunk. It would make an excellent place to store the plays.
“I’m to be buried beside my husband in the churchyard. Please attend my funeral and pray for me.”
“I’ll pray every day with all my heart. You were always so kind to me, my lady.”
“Read me one of his sonnets, would you? His book is on the table.” “I see it, my lady. Which one would you like?”
“You choose,” she sighed, touching his arm. “They’re all very dear to me.”
The scribe opened the book at random and read aloud. The Countess closed her eyes.
Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?
Though yet heaven knows it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life, and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, “This poet lies,
Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.”
So should my papers (yellowed with the age)
Be scorn’d, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage,
And stretchéd meter of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice, in it and in my rhyme.
William Shaxper finished reading. Countess Elizabeth’s hand slipped gently from his arm.
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