Hey everyone! It's me, Saya1450. Meh, not that anyone's interested or anything but it is me.
Anyway I have a short story I wrote for school about Judith Shakespeare, hence the title "Judith". Heh, kind of lame actually but I couldn't think of anything else... I'm quite proud of it so I'd really appreciate it if you'd review and tell me what you think. I'm always opento suggestions but I usually like them to be phrased in a nice way, not a way that, well, flames me. Constructive crit. is the way to go in my opinion.I'm a happy-happy person usually and it doesn't take much to 'burst my bubble'. Well, that's enough of thatso I'll not bore you with my endlesstalk any longer. Anyway, here's my short story entitled "Judith".
It was a moderately cool July morning the day my mother sent me down to the Williamson's place on Henley Street, the street on which my grandparents lived presently and my father had grown up. I was to return a cloak little Johnny Williamson had left behind on a recent visit to our house. Though I protested violently, complaining that one of our numerous servants could do the job much better and quicker than I, Mother insisted that I take it myself and get out from under her toes for a while, as I was acting quite ornery.
Only that morning I had managed to get into two fights with Hamnet, my twin brother (both of which I'd started), refused numerous orders and requests from Mother, yelled at Susanna, and managed to trip Rebecca, one of our maids, as she carried a full plate of food across the kitchen, scattering its contents everywhere. As you can imagine, Mother was not particularly happy with me, especially because Father was coming home today. That's what I wasn't happy about.
Wind tore at my billowing skirts, twisting them tightly around my legs causing much difficulty in walking without tripping over my own feet. But even without the wind it was quite a trick to walk down the streets of Stratford-Upon-Avon, my hometown, without getting hurt or humiliated. This was truer once you reached Henley Street, as Chapel Lane, where New Place (the house I lived in) was situated, was a quieter, less busy street.
Once you reached Henley, you must watch out for two things. The first, and most obvious, being the numerous wagons, horses, and carts riding through the cobblestone streets. Three years ago, Mary Haney's younger brother, Ben, had gotten run over by a horse drawn wagon. It was terribly tragic and horrifying to poor, widowed Mrs. Haney and her only surviving child, Mary, as all the rest of her children, and her husband, had died from the plague. Apparently both Ben and the wagon driver were not watching where they were going, ending in the tragic collision with young Ben dying immediately, his neck broken. It was stories like that, and not of the plague, that made me shudder with distaste and horror.
The other thing you had to keep your eyes peeled for when walking the streets of Stratford-Upon-Avon, the less obvious and more unexpected of the two, was the distasteful rain of human wastes from above, thrown by a heedless housewife, servant or child. The foul mass of slop had been known to suddenly appear above an innocent passerby, dousing them in a cascade of humiliation and slimy, repulsive refuse much to the delight and merriment of their fellow peers and citizens. And believe me, I had seen it happen before. Though it offered plenty of hilarity for the viewer it was not at all funny to the one at the receiving end. But this only happened to the more careless of people who walked too close to the slimy, slow moving ditch of either side of the street in which the wastes were pitched.
As I turned down High Street, the busy center of town, and finally Henley Street, in which my destination lay, the crowds began to multiply and expand into vast quantities of every kind of person imaginable. Though it was deemed illegal, a beggar or two could be picked out from among the crowd in his torn and tattered clothing. A pauper in his rough, homespun garb stood here, buying bread from a merchant of richer status. Yeoman, vendors, farmers and rich folk alike milled about, buying and selling all manner of goods. The smell of fresh food was tantalizing. Children of all statuses ran, laughing and shouting as they played and frolicked through the town. Also, an occasional animal could be seen, wandering aimlessly through the crowded street. Some people called out to me in friendly greeting, some just nodded in polite recognition; to all I smiled and nodded courteously in return.
By threading my way carefully through the thriving mass of people I was able to make my way to the Williamson's front door. The Williamson's were not quite as well off as my family but still lived in decent quarters attended by a few servants. The house was of a good size, though smaller and less elaborate than ours, and it did not sport the large courtyard our front or the beautiful gardens in the back either, as ours did. The Williamson children, all of varying ages, rushed about all corners of the place, playing at their games and getting in the way of the servants.
"Why, Judith Shakespeare! How delightful it is to see you here!" Mrs. Williamson herself greeted loudly as she swept the door open elegantly. I believe Mrs. Williamson enjoyed calling me by my full name, Judith Shakespeare, because of whom I was. Or, rather, who my father was. Truth be said, I was the daughter of the exceedingly famous actor and playwright, William Shakespeare. Actually, I was the second daughter and third child of William and Anne Hathaway Shakespeare. Susanna, my sister, was two years my elder and Hamnet, my twin brother, only exceeded me in age by a few minutes.
Everybody knew of my father, even those from foreign countries had heard of his 'renowned and exquisite' plays, and had come to see them, full of expectation and wonder. Even Queen Elizabeth, 'The Virgin Queen', herself knew and wished to view my father's plays! He was that famous! I knew of his sour feelings towards the queen, as he sometimes vehemently expressed them in his plays. My father was also an important figure in Stratford as he held much of the land surrounding the small town in his possession.
My father was a decent man in my eyes though, at times, and particularly when he was at home, I extremely disliked him. He never spent any time with his family. He loved his children well enough but never had the time for them. This I had been holding against him for years now. But his relationship with Mother, my kind, gentle mother, was what I truly did not like him for. Whenever he actually took the time off his 'busy' schedule and visited, the house was often filled with their arguments all day long. For years now, I had known that the relationship between my parents was unstable. And it did not help one bit that she was eight years his senior. Finally, seven years ago, William Shakespeare had fled from this life here in Stratford-Upon-Avon to London, where he began to grab a reputation. Though he was occasionally gentle with my mother, all the more to Susanna, Hamnet and I, his own flesh and blood, that gentleness had begun to diminish over the years as my father, moved further and further out of my life.
"Good day Mrs. Williamson," I murmured with a slight inclination of my head to the women's initial greeting. "I've come to return little Johnny's cloak he left at our house yesterday."
"Why, thank you Judith Shakespeare," Mrs. Williamson's large face broke out in a dimpled grin as she stepped back out of the doorway to reveal three pinched little faces staring at me from around her skirts. One of them belonged to six-year-old Johnny, of whose cloak I had just returned, "Would you care to come in?"
I shook my head and graciously declined the offer, "I'm sorry ma'am but I can't…"
"Ah, I see," Mrs. Williamson nodded in understanding, "Your father is returning home today, is he not?" Word traveled amazingly fast through this town.
I nodded dully, "Yes ma'am, he is."
"Well, then I must not keep you any longer. You must have a lot to do to get ready for his return."
I nodded again, "Yes, ma'am."
"Tell him I send him my regards, then. Goodbye Judith, thank you for returning the cloak."
"My pleasure," I murmured, though I think Mrs. Williamson could tell I didn't mean it, "I'll be sure to tell him. Thank you ma'am." With that last word, I turned around and began to make my way back towards home.
"Back so soon?" Susanna asked as I entered the foyer of New Place, our house. Father had only recently bought it a year before. I, for one, was quite proud of the structure, as it was the second largest house in my hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon. Perhaps it was the most rich in decoration as Mother put a lot of time, effort and money into making our home as beautiful and elaborate as possible.
I loved the beautiful tapestries, paintings and miniature carvings set artistically around the house. To me, an eleven-year-old girl, it was so amazing how a single person could capture the absolute beauty of nature in one tiny sheet of canvas, or thread, or even wood and ivory, stone and marble.
But even more than I, Hamnet adored these vivid pictures. Especially the canvas, oil paintings. He would pour over these for hours upon hours, gathering ideas for his own sketches and paintings. Father, whenever he actually took the time to pay attention to his son's fine art, even admitted that Hamnet had a real artistic talent, just as he had his own talent for writing.
Susanna though, never cared much for looks and beauty as Mother and I did. In her opinion so much money should not be spent on pleasurable decoration, but on more serious issues. Of course, she never voiced these thoughts aloud to Mother, but only to me, as we were alone in bed at night. Even then, it was only if she was feelings particularly chatty.
I shrugged, "Why not? I accomplished Mother's errand didn't I?"
"Oh Judith," Susanna sighed, "Don't you ever just want to stay outside and enjoy the fresh air?" Susanna immensely enjoyed the outdoors. I, however, did not.
Shaking my head I began to pull off my woolen cloak and the scarf hiding my limp reddish colored hair, "What fresh air?"
Susanna shook her head, causing her rich black curls, the ones I'd always envied, to bounce slightly, "Weren't you hot in that thing?" She asked, deftly changing the subject as her gaze came to rest on the woolen cloak and scarf I'd just discarded.
"No," I answered shortly.
"But it's summer. It's quite warm outside you know."
"I don't care."
"My, you're ornery today Judith."
"No I'm not. You just talk too much!" I sniffed; without a backward glance at my older sister, I turned and strutted out of the room.
But I knew quite well that I was acting ornery. With the apprehension and busyness of Father returning home that afternoon I was… I shrugged that thought off. I did not like the direction that thought was taking me.
It was late that afternoon, judging by the position of the sun in the sky, when my father actually returned home for his visit. It was his first one in almost three months. I didn't want to admit it to myself, but more than once I had found myself missing him, though I had no idea why. I didn't even like him for goodness sakes!
He came, stumbling off his horse, tired and extremely irritable from the long two-day ride from London, the largest, most populated town in all England, maybe in all of Europe too. We were all at the door to meet him though I don't know why we even bothered. He barely grunted at us as he came through the door, but that might have easily come from exhaustion.
My father looked just about the same as he always had, though maybe there was a little more forehead showing than there used to be; his reddish brown hair, identical to the color of Hamnet's and mine, had been receding quite a bit in the last few years, even though he was only 31-years-old. He wore the typical clothing of a man, a tight fitted doublet and hose, with an elaborate cloak (his was a vivid red) thrown over his shoulders. This was mostly for display of his richer status. Barely minutes after my father arrived, the call for supper was ordered, which meant it was 6:00 PM, and Father, Mother, Susanna, Hamnet and I sat down in the elaborate dinning room to a literal feast.
Meals were always a long, tedious task with Father around, as you always had to watch what you were doing, so as not to upset him; so rarely was a polite comment or attempt at conversation ever made. Either no one answered the futile attempt or the reply was in the form of a nod or a short answer that needed no reply.
I, like Mother, had a small appetite and never managed to stomach much food; I barely even touched my plate when Father was around. This, however, never seemed to be a problem for Susanna and Hamnet, who, I swear, could eat a whole cow by themselves! When Father was around they still ate as heartily as always.
It was during this first irksome supper of my father's first night home that the trouble started. I wasn't really listening to Mother and Father's polite banter across the table but something Mother said (possibly about those three servants she released from service last week) displeased Father, who was already quite irritable from the long journey, so as to extract a rude remark from him. Mother, who was at her wits end from my un-pleasurable behavior all day, snapped back at him. It all went down hill from there. By the end of the meal Father had left the room in a great hurry, tears were steadily coursing down Mother's and my faces, Susanna's bright hazel eyes were stormy and dark with anger, and Hamnet's face had gone as white as a sheet.
We were not a happy family, I can tell you that much.
I trotted steadily toward my father's workroom where I knew he had been since our awkward 'family' supper. The newly made apron I had just finished stitching that morning was clutched tightly to my chest. It was a fine piece of work, in my opinion, with neat rows of intricate embroidery I had labored hours over, decorating the edges. I had spun the cotton into thread, cut and stitched the pieces together all by myself. I was very proud of it. I wanted to show it off to my father, for him to notice my work and me as he did occasionally Hamnet's.
A soft yellow glow was streaming from the crack under the workroom door; I could hear my father mumbling incomprehendable sentences to himself from inside. 'He must be working on one of his plays' I thought with annoyance. 'He could easily write those in London but no, he has to write them here, when he could be spending time with us, his family!'
I knocked boldly upon the wooden door and waited for him to answer. The mumbling stopped abruptly. Finally, an answering grunt could be heard from behind the closed door. Taking that as a bid for me to enter I slowly cracked the entrance open and stepped nervously, cautiously, inside the room.
This was the only room in the house my mother left alone, save for the occasional dusting and cleaning done before Father returned home. The white plaster walls were bare of any decoration, and the floor of furniture, save for the broad oaken desk that lay directly across the room from where I stood. It was at that desk that my father sat, his back turned toward me. This was my father's private room. He didn't even stop writing or glance up as I entered, the door clicking softly shut behind me.
The only sound that could be heard in the room for the next few seconds was the endless scratching of my father's quill upon the paper until I, my courage bravely gathered, asked quietly, "Father?"
He didn't answer. So I tried again, louder this time. "Father, I have…"
"Judith, I don't have time for this," He interrupted, his voice sounding impatient, annoyed and far too loud in the silence of the room. 'At least he knew who I was though,' I thought sarcastically, 'and didn't mistake me for Mother or Susanna or even one of the servants!' The scratching of the quill still hadn't stopped.
The silence between us lasted a few seconds longer this time before I gathered up my courage and tried one last time, "Father, I want to show…" This time it was the noise of the quill as Father slammed it down on his desk that stopped me mid-sentence.
"Judith, I have already told you, I don't have time for this," His voice was low and menacing. He sounded very angry and very annoyed. I flinched at his words, the lump in my throat rising so that it almost seemed to choke me. "I am a busy man with a lot to do so please leave me in peace! I just don't have the time!" His voice was hoarse, I noticed. Not that I cared.
Tears of hurt and anger began to flood my blue eyes. Why was he always like this? Why didn't he have the time for me? I was his daughter, Judith Shakespeare!
"That's what you always say!" I finally exploded, "You never have any time for us!"
So, with tears of hot rage and hurt streaming down my face I flung my prided apron at him and fled the room, stumbling blindly down the hallway as I went. I guess I did know, way in the back of my mind, that Father was still irritated and angry from his fight with Mother at supper. I guess I knew, way at the back of my mind, that he was irritated from the long journey from London. I guess I knew these things but just didn't take them into account for his behavior. All I was thinking about was how he had treated me, not why.
My father, William Shakespeare, left for London early the next morning, three days earlier than he had initially planned; my apron went with him.
I didn't think things could get any worse in my life. But then Hamnet fell sick.
It began as a normal day, barely a week after Father had returned to London. I don't remember what I'd been doing but for some reason I found myself walking down the halls into the most secluded area of our house, which was quite close to Father's workroom. I hadn't dared to enter that place since the apron episode of the week before.
Suddenly, I stopped short and let out a sharp squeak. Directly in front of me lay Hamnet's deathly still form, slumped over on the ground in the most awkward of positions. His face was abnormally pale and I could barely pick out the large red swellings on his neck. As this all penetrated my brain, deadly cold shock began to wash over my body. 'He's dead!' I thought in panic. I felt ready to fling myself down by my brother's side, to yell at him and shake him; ask if he was all right. And then I caught the slightest movement of his chest as it rose and fell with breath. Relief swept over me, so I was almost sick with it.
I must have let out a scream with out realizing it, for suddenly there was a flurry of movement around my statue like figure and more cries of horror and alarm. I felt myself taken by the hands and towed away down the hall as the servants began tending to my brother. All I could think of as I was being led away was that my brother, my dear brother, was terribly sick. I felt trapped, drained, sapped of my strength. I couldn't see anything, couldn't hear anything. I was wrapped in a thick wall of sloppy honey, my senses dulled, my reactions slowed. What had happened to my brother?
Then, I was pushed into a warm, silky alcove; something soft was beneath me and the voices and people faded away into darkness. I was in a whirling vortex of my own world.
It was almost two days before I finally snapped out of my distracted state of mind. Mother and Susanna sat me down to tell me the news. Apparently, Hamnet had been sick for some days before I'd found him, half dead in the hall. He had hidden it extremely well. For Hamnet, this was a major accomplishment, as he could usually never hide anything from us. But why did he have to hide his sickness?
The physician had been here the night before, and after a major sum of bloodlettings and herbal remedies my brother had refused to improve. In fact, all he had done was fallen sicker and sicker. He was delirious; night and day he tossed and turned in his sweat soaked sheets, shouting about invisible, hellish nightmares known only to him. It was soon apparent to all that Hamnet Shakespeare had a bad case of the horrific, dreaded Plague. In our minds, almost nothing was worse than the Plague.
The Bubonic Plague, or the Black Death, as many called it, was an incurable disease that could wipe out entire villages in mere days. For centuries the Black Death had swept through Europe, destroying much of its population. It was like the devil to all. We feared it, for it could take our lives if it wished, with one stroke of it's mighty hand.
Every single one of us, from the youngest of the servant children, to Susanna and I, to Mother, knew that Hamnet was going to die. But we could not, would not, give up on him yet, not while he still had a little life left in him, not while he still had the chance to live! The doctor had left, hours ago, all hope of Hamnet's recovery like ashes in the dust.
Day and night there was some one watching over my brother. If I wasn't at his side I always stayed just outside his door. I couldn't leave his side, not for the world. He was my twin! He was like my other half! Though Hamnet was one of the most annoying people I knew I still loved him with every inch of my heart! He wasn't a bad child at all. His paintings were the loveliest, most beautiful creations I had ever laid eyes on in my life. Oh, why? Why did he have to be sick? Why Hamnet? Why not someone else?
I knew, deep down in my heart, that we Shakespeare's had been very lucky not to have had the hand of the Black Death fall on us sooner, as it had on everyone else. There was not a soul, I swear, on this earth that was not affected by the Plague in some way or the other.
Then the terrible day came. It must have been midnight on the fourth day of Hamnet's known sickness and he had not wakened even once since I'd found him, collapsed out on the floor. I clasped my brother's sweat soaked fingers tightly in mine, silently helping him through this. Every time I looked at his delirious form tossing in the bed it sent pain and sadness ripping through my soul.
And then suddenly, he stopped moving. For a second I thought Hamnet had left us for good. But, I realized, his chest was moving ever so slightly. I took this as a good sign. Maybe his fever had finally broken! Hamnet's luminous blue eyes snapped open suddenly; they were slightly glazed over and dark. He sat up; I wrapped by fingers more tightly around his.
"Hamnet?" I asked hopefully, "Are you all right?"
"Judith!" He cried, ignoring my question and turning those eyes on me. My heart stopped dead. He seemed almost not to see me, though he was shouting my name, as if he were not there. "D'you see it? D'you see it?" He continued, his voice rising in excitement.
"See what Hamnet?" I asked; my heart was hammering a hole in my chest I was so scared. I kept my blue eyes fastened securely on his face. What was my brother talking about?
"It's here! It really is! Oh, Judith, look at it!" his voice was loud and raspy, his eyes shining, "Judith, I'm going!"
Then, with one last shout of joy, his eyes glazed over completely and Hamnet Shakespeare fell back into bed for the last and final time. I stared at the still, dead shell of my brother lying in the bed, a contented smile of joy on his face and began simultaneously screaming and weeping.
Immediately, a messenger was dispatched to bring the news of my brother to my father in London. I was too shocked and dazed to care. People began to flock into the house offering their sympathy to my family and paying their respects to my brother, the Bard of Avon's only son.
That first day after Hamnet died I sat in a complete daze by his side, gripping the same cold, lifeless hand in my own, staring at the pale alien face that had once been my beloved brother's. I refused to leave his side, not for anything, not to eat, not to sleep, not even to relieve myself. I just couldn't accept the raw, horrible fact that my twin was dead. Nothing seemed real anymore.
I was pried away from Hamnet. I began to walk. Voices were whirling around me, all dulled, slurring together, indistinguishable. Light, sound, food, smells, all together as one. No sleep. Walking. Just walking. Susanna. Susanna and Mother crying, weeping. Staring. Where's Father? Where's Hamnet? Nothing stable. A box. A wooden box. Where's Hamnet? Where's my brother? A closed door. People. Voices, sound, light. Susanna? Mother? Father? Where's Hamnet? Gone. Sleep.
I stayed in a daze like this for two days. Everything oozed and mixed together, nothing was real. The morning of the third day since Hamnet's death dawned, bright and sunny, though not very warm when I suddenly snapped out of it. But then reality came crashing down like a heavy weight on my shoulders. I couldn't cry, couldn't grieve for my brother. I didn't want to and I didn't try.
Hamnet still hadn't been buried. He was in a large wooden coffin laid gently out in one of the back rooms of our house. The coffin was closed. I couldn't see Hamnet, but I guess that was a good thing. After three days a body would begin to stink and rot out in the open. We were waiting for Father to come home to bury it.
And then he did, late in the afternoon of August 10th, 1596, three days after my brother's death. He stumbled into the house, shock and disbelief written all over his stressed features. Immediately, without one word to anyone else, he stumbled over to Mother and pulled her into his arms. Mother, who I'd thought had cried her last tears out before, broke out in a fresh batch of them and wept, unashamed, into my Father's coat.
Then Susanna, my tough, wild older sister ran to them. My father's arms opened to my sister and he enveloped both of them in his tight hold. Susanna, too, broke down in tears of sadness and longing.
I watched them enviously, but didn't run to them as Susanna had. I wanted to, to have my father hold me tight, but I couldn't. And as I watched, hesitating and dubious, I finally began to realize, perhaps for the first time in my life, that my father, William Shakespeare, actually cared for us. I realized for the first time how hard it must be for him to be the Bard of Avon, to be so famous, and raise a family at the same time. I watched them, wanting to cry, wanting to go to them, but couldn't. Even if I did, Hamnet would be missing. It wouldn't be complete.
Finally, Father slipped out of his wife and eldest daughter's grasps and asked, in a hoarse whisper, "Where's my son? Where's Hamnet?"
For a moment no one spoke. I walked forward slowly and tugged gently on his cloak.
He turned. "Judith," He said simply and quietly, "Where does my son lie?"
Without a word I turned and began trotting quickly in the direction of the back room, where my brother's coffin lay. Emotions were beginning to surface as my father followed me down that hall. How I wanted to turn around, run to his arms and cry into them. I wanted to cry for Hamnet, for everything I'd gone through. I wanted to be loved!
I stepped into the dark room, moving off to the side to let my father enter in and see the place in which his son lay. My father took a faltering step toward the coffin and fell on his knees beside it.
"Hamnet," I heard him whisper. His back was to me but I could see that his shoulders were visibly shaking. My father, William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, was crying.
"Father," I whispered uncertainly, unspent emotions and sadness beginning to well up from deep inside me.
Slowly, my father turned around and I could see the glittering trail of tears as they slid silently down his cheeks. "Judith," He whispered, and opened his arms to me. My heart began to soar.
With one last desperate attempt to keep my tears at bay they came, hard and fast, unrelenting. I literally flew to my father, his arms wrapping around me, holding me tight. And for once in my life I realized that my father actually loved me, actually had the time for me and not just for his plays. Though it had taken this horrible tragedy for me to see it, I now knew and believed with all my heart that my father loved me. Me! And then, together, we cried for my lost brother, now and forever, Father and Daughter.
Hamnet Shakespeare, the only son of William and Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, my twin, was buried on August 11th, 1596. He was eleven - years – old. And so was I.
May his soul rest in peace.