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"Have you no father living?" asked his host. "It is uncertain," responded Master Francis more seriously. My mother's was a private marriage with a gentleman much above her in station, and as he said it would injure him in the estimation of his family if his union became known, she kept his quality a secret from all who knew her. He went to the wars a short time before she gave birth to me, and has never since been heard of; and my poor mother died in childbed, without leaving any other memorial of her husband than this miniature, which I always carry about with me."
Master Shakspeare silently examined the trinket, which was in a gold frame, that the youth wore round his neck. On one side was the likeness of a very lovely woman; the other had contained another miniature, mayhap, of a cavalier; but it was now empty.
"The initials E. V., on one side the frame, are for my mother Eleanor Vellum," continued the youth, "and the F. H., on the empty frame, are doubtless the initials of my father; of which one must be Francis, for so she always called him, as I have heard, and therefore by that name have I been christened; but what the other standeth for I know not, and perchance may never know till the day of judgment."
"Be of good heart, Master Francis," said his
companion, encouragingly, "peradventure the secret may be discovered sooner than you look for. But what says your uncle?-knoweth he nothing?"
"Sometimes I am apt to think that he knows more than he is inclined to tell," replied Master Francis; "for in his unguarded moments, he hath dropped some mysterious hints which savour a little of the purpose. But he is so continually upbraiding me for the troubles and the charges I put him to he so stints me in all sorts of necessaries, and so begrudges me the little pleasure I enjoy— that he hath made my life a daily burthen, and I should be right glad to get from under his roof, to labour in any capacity for which I may be properly qualified."
"That shall not be long first, or my name be not Will Shakspeare," exclaimed his host, as he poured out another cup of wine for his guest.
Nay, good Master Shakspeare," cried the youth rising up and taking his hat, as he noticed the brimming vessel proceeding towards him, "prythee let me go; I have drunk most bountifully, I thank you."
"One more cup, and it shall be the last."
Now, look at this!" exclaimed Master Shakspeare, in apparent wonder. "Here is a youth of some eighteen years or so, who confesses that he hath
met with no fair damsel with soul-enkindling eyes
and roseate cheeks, whose health he deems worthy of being drunk in a bumper of sherris."
"I said not that, Master Shakspeare," replied his young companion, hastily, as the colour mounted to his cheek—" Believe me, I said not that.”
"I believe you most heartily," said his host with a laugh, as he noticed the youth's increasing confusion. "I see conviction in your complexion. Her health, Master Francis."
Well, I suppose I must," observed his guest, as if anxious to be quickly relieved from his embarrassment. "I thank you kindly. She is a right noble creature, and I should be the basest wretch alive were I to refuse to drink her health-considering" Here the young poet stopped suddenly; his complexion acquired a warmer glow; and a shadow of deep melancholy overspread his features.
"Hath she no name, Master Francis?" enquired the other earnestly, and, if the truth must be told, somewhat mischievously.
"Indeed she hath," he replied. "It is a good name—a name of excellent credit—a
"I doubt it not," observed Master Shakspeare, with more than his usual gravity; "but to the point, man. Dost hesitate to tell it? Take my word for it, you are paying her no compliment if you do."
"Her name is Joanna," said the youth in a voice
scarcely audible, and trying unsuccessfully to hide his confusion.
"Then drink I your Joanna's health in a brimming cup, and with a most heartfelt wish that she may be worthy of you, and that you may be happy with her."
Master Francis said nothing, but hastened to drink the wine that had been placed in his hand.
"And now, Master Francis, here is your tragedy," said his companion, as he gave him the manuscript, with a benevolent countenance and a cordial shake of the hand; " and henceforth consider me your friend, for I wish to prove myself such. Something shall be done for you, rest assured; and that very shortly. Good day, Master Francis, good day," he continued, as he kindly led his visitor to the door, and opened it for him.
Master Francis could only look his thanks, and then threading the narrow staircase of the house, made the best of his way to St. Mary Axe.
A beauty ripe as harvest,
Whose skin is whiter than a swan all over,
Than silver, snow, or lilies! A soft lip
Bright as your gold, and lovely as your gold.
"FRANCIS! FRANCIS !" screamed out a little old man, meanly apparelled, as he stumped about with his stick in a gloomy room, that appeared from its deficiency in all furniture, save a desk with a tall stool, and several papers and parchments tied up and placed on shelves about the fire-place, that it was an office. "Francis! Francis, I say! A murrain on thee for a lazy varlet! thou art sure to give me the slip as soon as my back is turned. Francis !" he shouted again, and then muttered to himself,