Her Infinite Variety: Stories of Shakespeare and the Women He Loved

Her Infinite Variety: Stories of Shakespeare and the Women He Loved

by Pamela Rafael Berkman
Her Infinite Variety: Stories of Shakespeare and the Women He Loved

Her Infinite Variety: Stories of Shakespeare and the Women He Loved

by Pamela Rafael Berkman


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With elegance, sympathy, and nuance, Her Infinite Variety celebrates the women in William Shakespeare's world. These lyrical stories move from Elizabethan London, where Shakespeare is drawn to the plight of the young wife of a wealthy friend, to a wintry Denmark, where Ophelia struggles to understand her love for Hamlet, and to Shakespeare's Stratford home, where his daughter Judith deliberately enters into a shameful marriage. At the center of this remarkable book is Shakespeare's enduring love for Anne Hathaway, his beautiful, passionate, illiterate wife. Together, the masterfully interwoven stories of Her Infinite Variety bring to life a Shakespeare who was formed by the women he loved — and who loved him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743212557
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 06/07/2001
Edition description: Original
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Pamela Rafael Berkman is the author of Her Infinite Variety: Stories of Shakespeare and the Women He Loved and The Falling Nun. Her short story “Duty” from Her Infinite Variety appears in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s leading national ELA curriculum, Collections, and the title story from The Falling Nun was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Pam is an acquiring editor at North Atlantic Books and has worked in the publishing industry for over twenty years. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Read an Excerpt


When she was pregnant with the first baby, Jennet Davenant felt the early twinges in her lower belly with wonder. The spring sky was beautiful and gray, hazy with coming warmth, when first she felt it. There was a bit of twisting and cramping in the first months. The child grew. Amazing. She could even laugh at the nausea she bore, although it would have been easier if she had had sisters, instead of the three brothers, to laugh at it with her. Her brothers came to the house, beaming, with presents. Her husband, John, was a wine importer and merchant, and their home was prosperous and comfortable. It was across the river from the theater, and they could sometimes hear the trumpets in fanfare announcing the performance. They rather liked the theater. John Davenant was intelligent, well schooled, well traveled. He was a modern, sophisticated man.

Jennet's three brothers were an embroiderer, a glover, and a perfumer to the queen. They brought their handiwork — a christening gown like a tiny cloud, a vial of the waters of lavender and roses, and the tiniest pair of gloves you ever did see. Jennet sat in the salon, and her husband sat by her, smiling, a more silly smile than he often wore. He was a quiet sort, much as he liked entertainments and poetry.

Her brothers addressed her belly as Young John.

"It will be a son, indeed it will, good brother," they said to her husband. "Few girls in this family! Only our own little Jennet." Her name was really Jane, she was born Jane Shepard, but her family had always called her Jennet.

"One like her will not displease me," John said.

Jennet smiled, acknowledging this, and then said, "I do wish."

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"That your business did not call you away."

"I am sorry." And he was. "I'll return in plenty of time." John was doing well, as anyone could see from the rich carpets in the room, the polished furniture. But not yet so well that he could afford to have other men see to his affairs.

"We'll be here, brother," said Thomas, the embroiderer. He patted his sister's shoulder, and she felt the turning, turning, turning inside her.

As she grew bigger she began to shine and glow. The third to the sixth month she actually felt quite well — she was only nineteen, and she had always been strong and vital, rosy and full of health. She was never lonely. Her brothers came to see her. She did not really have any women friends, but the servants were of good quality and helpful, and her husband employed a midwife to look in on her regularly. From her windows she could see, being ferried upstream with furled sails, ships like those that carried her husband's wine, casks of gallons and gallons from sun-drenched Bordeaux, on their way to dock at Three Cranes Wharf. She swelled and felt full of the sea, big bellied like a wave, or a sail before the wind, with a little blue-green fish swimming inside of her. She was warm and happy. She thought of names. Elizabeth, she thought, for the queen, if it were a girl — besides, she had always loved the name Elizabeth. Francis for a boy. She liked Saint Francis. It would be Francis John, for her husband, too. By the seventh month she felt heavy and immobile, ready for it all to be over, but still not unwell. One day, the ships being ferried upstream to Three Cranes were her husband's ships, and the servant came in carrying a note:

My dear wife,

All went well, I am safely returned, my own boat will be in harbor this evening tide. I will be arriving home some hours after.

She had a supper made, something simple to his liking — he was not a large eater — boiled eggs, some cold meat. Then she waited on the parlor sofa.

She must have dozed. She awoke to hear the housekeeper say, "Thanks be you are safely returned, sir," and her husband's warm voice replying something, and then he was in the room before she could bestir herself to sit up.

She did, however, and smiled. He stopped at the edge of the sofa. There was a soft parcel under his arm, done up in butcher's paper. She looked down at her girth.

"Are you shocked, husband?"

"No," he said. "No." He leaned to kiss her delicately, so gently, on the cheek. Then he stood back again. "I have brought you something." He handed her the parcel — one of the corners had already peeled back and showed red silk, gold thread.

"Dear husband, I am not sure what I can fit into...," she said. Had he forgotten, in all those months, that when

he came home she would not be the delicate little creature he knew? Did she perhaps repel him in her present state? Men, so proud to be fathers, seemed to have such a horror of actual childbirth and all associated with it.

"Unwrap it, you will see," he said.

She did. It was a Chinese robe, red and gold and peacock, shimmering like the noon sun — and it was gigantic.

She stood up and pulled it over her plain gown, laughing, and he laughed too. It was big enough for her now, and with room to spare. She caught her arms round his neck. "My husband," she said. She liked to hear the words.

He was home when the pains struck, and sent a boy for the midwife as the maids helped her into bed. Things seemed to progress quickly, and Jennet took this as a good sign, but she did wish the midwife would hurry. The baby seemed a little early, by her reckoning.

The midwife came. The room was full of the cold daylight that streamed in through thin muslin draperies, yet was somehow oppressive — the wood panels had never seemed so dark, the rich rugs never so suffocating.

"Goodwife Reynolds, I fear something is not right," Jennet called out from her feathery bed. "It moved very quickly and now it has stopped, Goodwife Reynolds, it feels quite heavy." She would not say "leaden." She would not say "dead."

"Yes, my dear," said Goodwife Reynolds, who was used to alarmed young mothers. But her face was unreadable as she felt beneath the sheets, there were no words of reassurance, and her voice became clipped and hard as she told Jennet to push.

"What?" said Jennet.

"Push, my dear. Think: Blessed Virgin, push, Blessed Virgin, push. That's better. Blessed Virgin..." Oh, why would the midwife not close her mouth? She knew to push.

It took so long, and Jennet rode wave after wave of pain. She knew the baby was stillborn long before it was out of her and there was no cry. The midwife was rough with it. Jennet could tell her only concern was to extract it from her body. She was delirious with the twisting contractions long before Goodwife Reynolds grasped the child — she thought by the shoulder — and pulled it from her body, which ripped and tore.

"Thank our heavenly Father it got as far as it did," Jennet heard her tell one of the attending maids. "I could see the head. Else we should have had to call for the physician, and your lady might not have lasted long enough for that. I believe the cord — that happens sometimes, the cord wraps around the neck."

Jennet heard this all. They must have thought her insensible. She feared the physician with his glittering instruments. She tried to be thankful, though she cried out for grief.

Her breasts hurt terribly, were hard and hot, for days afterward. At least it was winter and there was ice in London, applied as Goodwife Reynolds instructed, but she was in agony just the same, and she lay on her bed and moaned, wondering when, when the pain would go away and leave her be.

Jennet knew that women lost babies, and often. She knew of many women who had lost their first ones and who now had gigantic broods. She could weep for a time, and then she was expected to discuss such things calmly. Every day at least one of her brothers came to see her. They were not the comfort her mother would have been.

Still, after a time, her husband came into her bed again. This made her sad, as it reminded her that this was how they had made their first baby — a boy, they had told her when she was feeling better — but she hid her sadness so as not to upset John. "I am not exactly as I was," she said when he was finished and lay still on her, kissing those breasts that had been so sore.

"Nay, that is a fancy, love," he said. "You are, truly. Still my beautiful Jennet." He did not notice yet, she supposed, that while her body looked almost the same as it did before she was with child, it had lost a sharpness, an adolescent edge that it would never regain. And he could not know that nausea came upon her more easily now than it ever had.

When she knew again that she was with child, her brothers did not bring anything. They were concerned about tempting fate. But she looked at the things they had brought before, far too valuable to be discarded only because her first baby was dead. She knew she still favored the same names, but she refrained from saying them to herself.

"I made the acquaintance of such an interesting man!" John said to her one day at dinner. He had gone to the theater that afternoon, to see The Spanish Tragedy, by Kyd. He asked if she wished to join him but she declined — she was afraid of being ill and vomiting in the theater. She still had a hearty appetite, although to actually smell cooking turned her stomach. "One of the young players, from Southwark," her husband said. "I have asked him to dine with us tomorrow."

She only raised an eyebrow at him. She enjoyed entertainments — she even wrote some poetry herself sometimes, following the example of the queen for well-educated young women — but players were an uncertain lot.

"He seems very different from most players," John continued, smiling at her, guessing her thoughts. "He is quite a respectable young man. And he writes verse." He thought that might please her.

So many unspoken words in a marriage, thought Jennet. John meant that this young man was not given to excess of drink, did not visit the brothels of Shoreditch and Cheapside. But he did not think it proper to talk of such things to a woman. He forgot that she was bred in London, that her brothers had roamed the town in that alarming fashion of boys.

He wants me to be amused, as he is leaving again so soon, she thought. He thinks a poet may amuse me. Well, that is so, he may.

"I'm sure I will be very happy to welcome him," she said.

The gentleman came and was quite nondescript. Gray eyed and brown haired and not particularly tall. He did not talk much, only as much as he needed to be polite. John inquired of his wife in Stratford.

"She is well, thank you, sir."

"How often do you see your home, Master Shakespeare?" asked Jennet.

"Not above once a year, madam," he answered.

"That must be difficult."

"It is."

"Difficult for Mistress Shakespeare, as well."

"Yes, madam. But I am fortunate — Anne is excellent and capable in all things."

It is his voice, Jennet thought suddenly. That is why he is not talkative. His vowels resonated with the country, with the Midlands — everyone in the city would know, as soon as he opened his mouth, that he was not one of them.

He loosened his tongue some, however, after her husband's highest-quality Bordeaux, kept for guests.

"I am told by your husband you are a poet, Mistress Davenant," he said after dinner. "Favor us with one of your verses."

"Oh, no, sir. I shall not expose myself to a professional smith of words."

"As you wish, ma'am. I shall not press you," said young Shakespeare, but her husband, also full of Bordeaux, said, "Now, Jennet! Now! Pray do, I have boasted of you and your accomplishments!"

"I will obey, dear husband," she said. And she was pleased. None ever heard or read her verse but her husband. She went to her writing desk and pulled from it what she thought was her best work. Their guest politely sat up in his chair in an attitude of great interest.

"When I was fair and young then favour graced me;
Of many I was sought their mistress for to be.
But I did scorn them all, and answered them therefore,
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe;
How many sighing hearts I have no skill to show;
Yet I the prouder grew, and answered them therefore,
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

Then spake fair Venus' son, that proud victorious boy,
And said, you dainty dame, since that you be so coy,
I will so pluck your plumes that you shall say no more
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

When he had spake these words such change grew in my breast,
That neither night nor day could I take any rest.
Then, lo! I did repent, that I had said before
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more."

Young Shakespeare applauded, loudly.

"Nay, sir, your appreciation is in the wine," she said.

"Truly not, lady," he answered.

"She draws as well," said John. He motioned to a pair of screens in the room, of her own working.

The young man got up from his seat and considered them carefully before admiring them.

"Lady, they are beautiful," he said. He turned toward

her. "Quite a cut above the works of most accomplished ladies."

"I thank you."

"I am sincere now."

And she smiled, and looked down and blushed most charmingly.

John had to voyage for business again, and through the spring Jennet was home. Every day but Sunday she heard the trumpet calls of the theater across the river. She grew quite used to it, thinking of it as company, at two o'clock every day, a notice that all was well and usual. Once the baby was born, she thought, she and John would go again.

Once again her husband was home in plenty of time for the child's arrival. It was a girl. She lived — for a day. John had insisted on a physician this time, but the birth was uncomplicated, he need not have done so, at least for the delivery. The physician liked Jennet, thought her brave and plucky. She tried very hard not to cry out. She had the thought that if she did she would attract the attention of fate, of the universe, and she wanted her child to slip into the world unnoticed, no bother to anyone or any malevolent spirit of destiny.

But the girl died anyway. She was taken with spasms on the second day of her life and died before the physician could get there. And Jennet lay again on her back in bed. Her breasts, which this time had at least nursed, were hard and hot again, and there was no ice in all of London because now it was summer, and the plague was around every corner, and her face was covered with sweat, the veins on it showing red because she had burst them pushing her daughter from her body.

John thought she should get out into the city, again take up her pursuits, write a verse here and there, and find her pencil for drawing, not lie listless in bed. She made an effort when it became cooler and the evenings came earlier. They dined with business associates of his and with her brothers and their families. They watched a procession of the queen's at night by torchlight, as she entered the city again after her summer progress through the country. John took her to the Rose in Shoreditch to see a comedy to cheer her, one called Love's Labor's Lost, very silly. Lovesick fools and everyone running around and unsure of who was who and who was where. John paid for extra seats in the high-priced gallery, that she might sit in unusual comfort. After the applause he got up and said something to one of the attendants at the door, an old woman who bowed to him and made a sign that she would return.

"Pray sit here, dearest, until the crush is over," said John, and they stayed as they were while the crowds pushed out. The doorkeeper, pushing against all those persons going in the opposite direction, reappeared, bringing with her the young theater poet who had been their guest some months before. He was still costumed as Nathaniel, the curate.

"I am so pleased to see you here," he said, with a real smile, quite genuine and broad.

"This was your work, then? Well done!" cried John.

"Thank you, Davenant. I have not seen you these long months. Where have you been?"

"France. For business. Come and sup with us."

He motioned toward his clothes. "I must needs make myself a proper man and not a curate, first." He stole a very quick glance at Jennet. She knew not why. She did not know how beautifully her hair shone against her skin at her brow that day.

"I'll attend my wife home," said John, "and you follow when you can."

"I will."

John took her home quite pleased. "We must talk to him some of poetry," he said. "You enjoyed him, did you not?"

"Yes, sweetheart."

He arrived, they ate supper. The table was more sumptuous than before. John had prospered with his last enterprise. They removed from the dining parlor to the salon, and the gentlemen lit pipes, the newest luxury.

"What think you, sir, of these melees?" asked John. Of late the apprentices had been rioting, accusing the government of failing to protect them against foreigners, some of them French refugees, Protestants fleeing the Papists.

"Shortsighted," said their guest. "The time may come when they themselves need refuge. Very unstable, these times."

Jennet rose. "Pray excuse me, gentlemen," she said.

"My dear?" asked her husband. "Do we bore you? We may talk of something else."

"No, no, I must simply see to the servants over the wine for after supper," she said. She went to her bedroom and sat on the edge of her bed for a moment. She so wanted to simply be quiet, at home. Not to speak to anyone. Not to be a hostess.

She took in her breath deeply. She rose again. She returned to the salon. She was puzzled to see Shakespeare alone. "Your husband went to see what kept you," he said. She sat down opposite him, moved the hoop for her embroidery before her, and began to work.

He began to say something. He stopped, then began again. His hands had been still in his lap, but now they moved slightly, folded, unfolded. Then he kept them still again.

"Your husband told me of your loss, this recent summer," he said. "I really am most sorry."

"I thank you, sir." She pushed the hoop away from her again, and with her own hands motioned toward her body, toward herself, her torso.

"I am not." She stopped, unsure of what she was not. There was no real word. "I am not what I was before."

His face showed some surprise that she had talked so to him, but he answered calmly enough. "No. Well, you would not be."

John bustled through the door, followed by the servant with the sweeter wine. "There you are, my dear. Did you never get to the housekeeper? There, you see, we have attended to it all." He poured the wine for all of them, and they drank it, the men quietly conversing on the difficulties the theater business shared with all others, Jennet appearing to listen.

Some four years later she cheerfully called, "Will! How goes it?" outside her door, standing with her delicately shod feet on the solid stones of Maiden Lane. "John is not at home, I am afraid."

"No, no, I am to wait for him here, and we are to go to the Mermaid," he answered.

"Are you dragging my husband to the taverns again?"

"Aye, mistress, shall you come too? Shall you delight my debauched player friends with your bewitching smile?"

"I am a respectable lady, sir, unlike those others you keep company with, and I shall not accompany you."

He put his hand to his heart. "It is shattered, lady."

"No more than you deserve."

"How goes it with you, Mistress Davenant?"


He looked at her with his face softened. "Truly? Well?"

"Indeed. Well." Now she feigned irritation. "Bring my husband home before dawn and while he can still take off his own boots, if you please."

"Where do you go? Shall I attend you?"

"No, no. I have a simple errand. The maid will attend me, you see. Good day — shall we see you Saturday?"

"Oh, yes. At five o'clock."

He bowed. In four years' acquaintance, he had never touched her. Never even shaken her hand. As was mannerly, for a gentleman and the lady who was his friend's wife.

Her young maid, silent, followed her through the streets of Cheapside until they came to a house not grand but far larger than those beside it on Sailor Street. A porter answered their knock.

"Master Forman expects me," said Jennet. She instructed the maid to wait for her and followed the porter to a landing, on the second floor, outside a solid, dark plank door. He knocked, received a grunt in response, opened the door, showed her in, and left the room, closing the door again behind him.

The office of the learned astrologer Simon Forman was dimly lit — very thick blue velvet drapery kept out much of even the afternoon sun. It was a square corner room, with windows on the two sides facing the street. There seemed to be a writing desk beneath one of the windows, and a man at the desk, sitting with his back to her.

"Mistress Davenant?" said the man, into the window.


The man rose and turned. Jennet's eyes were adjusting to the light. He was not what she had expected — although she was not sure what that was. She had not fancied he would appear like one of the wizards in a treatise on the threat of witchcraft, in a conical hat and a robe covered with strange devices and markings. But she had not thought she would find this neat, bearded gentleman, no older than her husband, in his respectable silk doublet and buckled shoes. The office itself was unremarkable — no golden sparks flew from any of the books on the one wall lined with bookshelves, and the rich Arabian carpet, not unlike some of those that John purchased, did not appear magical. It could have been any prosperous scholar's workroom.

There was one simple chair, other than that at the writing desk. Forman motioned to it. "Pray sit down."

He drew his own chair from the desk to face her, sat, leaned back, placed his fingertips together.

"Your time of birth?" he said.

Patiently, Jennet recited the dates, times, places of birth of herself and her husband. She had not written any of this down to give the astrologer — she had not wanted her husband to find even a scrap of paper, to ask what it was for, to find out that she had come here.

"And your query?"

She did not even wish to say it. It seemed, again, to draw the attention of the fates.

"I have lost five children," she said. "Five. All stillborn, or lived only a few hours." She gulped and continued. "My husband, he had been used to go away, sometimes, to see to his business — he went when I carried the first two. Then he stopped going. But that does not help me. They just come, one after another. I only bear them to die, delivering them up already dead to God. I wish to know, sir. Are we bewitched?"

"What are the dates of birth of the children in question? And the times of day, do you know the times of day?"

Oh, she did. She would always know. The first one, born that hard cold winter afternoon. The next one, that summer morning. The two in April, one at night and one in the morning, a year apart, both in the rain. And finally, the little girl who came hard so close to Christmas Day.

Simon Forman considered. "There is nothing in the chart," he said, as though thinking aloud. "Have you been unfaithful, madam?"

"No!" She stood to leave.

"I do apologize, madam. I do, pray sit again. I must eliminate possibilities, you understand. Pray sit down."

Stiffly, she did. He rose, took down books, considered again, read from two treatises at once, one open on each hand. Finally he said, "The air of London has been poisoned these last few years with humors, madam, humors particularly harmful to a lady born with the sun and moon both in Pisces, as you were. Dry, hot humors. These are lifting, with the transition of Saturn, lord of discipline, into the next sign, and Jupiter entering Pisces. I predict, Mistress Davenant, that the next child you bear will be healthy. The danger should be over."

She wanted to weep, not for sadness or joy but because she had not realized in what tension she had held her body, and how it dissolved as it relaxed, in a moment, and she held it so no more. She paid him his fee. Five pounds in gold. More than many workingmen earned in a year. More than her husband's friend Will Shakespeare earned in a month. Outside the astrologer's door she repeated her admonition to the maid not to tell her husband where she had been, but she walked home lightly, daring to hope.

Midwives said, "Once a babe has lived its second summer and its second winter, it is safe." They meant safe from particular childhood miseries, murdering illnesses, or horrible pestilences that could leave them blind, deaf, or crippled; they might yet certainly die at any time of the same specters that could kill their parents. Still, thought Jennet, more and more coldly, more and more searching for some logic clear as diamonds as to what was killing her babies, they should not have named their sixth child until he had passed his second winter and his second summer. Perhaps they had tempted providence. But it seemed an auspicious name, John, her husband's name, the name of the most beloved of Christ's disciples. They had been so hopeful.

"Five is such a round, final number," she told her husband, trying to explain her optimism, her certainty that this time, this one, would be different. "I cannot believe that God would visit us with this curse yet a sixth time." Even Pharaoh lost only his firstborn. Even the Virgin lost only one child, and she was at least allowed to watch him grow.

She did not wail when this one died.

When he returned from Stratford this time, Shakespeare went to her house first before his own rented room. John was about, but the servant showed Will into the parlor, where Jennet sat at her correspondence.

His hair, she thought, was going, and she was then ashamed of herself for having such a mundane thought. She knew what had befallen him. His only son dead from fever.

"I am so sorry," she said.

"I thank you." He vaunted at a smile, neither she nor he knew why, and gave it up.

"Sit down, Will."

He sat quite quietly, and she called for the servant to fetch John from his office.

There was silence a moment, and then he said, "I am working on something. It does help."

"I am glad of it. What?"

"The tale of the prince of Denmark. Do you know it?"

"I believe I have heard of it. There is a history of Denmark, I believe, with the story?"

He nodded. "My prince," and here he smiled wanly again. "He does not see death as you and I do. To him it is weighted equally with life. Only another place. Simply...I do not know..."

"An undiscovered country."


"To be or not to be, as if there is almost no difference," she said.


And she was at his feet, weeping. "Your wife," she said. "Your wife. I cannot imagine...She has lost her only son....I am so sorry for her, so sorry, you see, oh forgive me, I do not mean to make such a spectacle....She must have watched

him breathe his last, how could that have looked?...She must have hoped, so hoped it was not true, looked on his face

and thought she saw it move, thought she saw a breath....She must have held a looking glass over his face, to see if it

fogged....And he will never come to her or you again, never, never, never, never, never...your Anne." And it seemed

there were not enough tears in all that great city for this man, his dead son, and his wife, the wife of this man who was kissing her. His kisses were on her hair, and on her wet face, and on her mouth, and she was glad of them, and her hands were around his neck. She had never touched his skin, in all these years neither had even put a finger on the other's arm, but now she did, and they heard John upon the stair.

And she was weeping quietly back at her desk over her unwritten letters when her husband entered, so broad shouldered and gray now, so different from what he had been when they first married.

The poet stood, to explain, but John stopped him with a hand. "No need," he said. "No need. I understand. I do not wonder she is upset, to know what has befallen your family. Will, I am so sorry for the loss of your boy, so sorry, I do know. I was so grieved to hear of it." He went to his wife and put his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her, and she buried her face in his shirt.

"I am taking her away from here," he said. He looked around at his rich room, the ornaments of gold and silver and glass, the heavy brocade hangings. "I hate this all. London is poison."

John took Jennet to Oxford. They gave it all away, far under price, all their rich goods, to be rid of them quickly, caring only to save enough to purchase the wine tavern near Cornmarket. The students and teachers would use it as their common rooms, as they did the other three taverns in the city, and the former wine merchant and his wife would have enough to live on, simply. Families did not then often move from town to town; some young people might leave a village for London, but that was all. Jennet's brothers were concerned, but she assured them this was her wish as well as John's.

"You can stay with us, Will," said John. "On your journeys home each year."

"I will," said his friend.

Jennet's little boy, two years old, ran out the back door of the large four-story building that was the wine tavern. Every room was full of smoke and the arguments of students and masters, save the family rooms at the back, where Jennet and John and young Robert lived and slept.

Will scooped up the little one and covered him with kisses, kiss after kiss, held him tightly, showered him with kisses, a rainfall of kisses. The boy, who could not remember a stranger he had seen only once, a year ago, tried to push away, but Will would not let him go until his mother walked out the same door from which he had come to retrieve him, her husband not far behind.

"He is beautiful," said Will.

He shook hands with John and tried to shake hands with Jennet, but she quickly drew her hand away when she saw what he intended. He looked, then, quickly at her face, and she saw his eyes were hurt. Then she looked at her husband, to see if he had seen; there was no sign he had.

"I have brought him a gift," said Will, waving his hand at their son. He showed them a pair of fine, fine men's riding gloves, tiny, for a small child's hands. "Made by my father. I think it rather amused him to make some, after so long."

Robert crowed and snatched at them. Jennet told him to mind his manners and greeted Will with warm words. She went to make up his bed, leaving her husband to show his friend about the place, now newly painted in some places, with additions made.

They had a long evening. Jennet waited on some of the tables herself. But deep into the night Will and John drank and talked in the little parlor in the back of the tavern, and finally Jennet lit a rush light and took their guest to the door of his room.

As they climbed the stairs he asked her, in John's hearing as he bolted the doors downstairs, "Have you been drawing? How is your embroidery, your poetry?"

"Oh, I do not have many hours to spare for those things now."

Outside his door he grasped her hand, and this time she allowed it.

"Have you forgotten me, Jennet?"

She did not answer.

"You have."

"No. No! I have turned toward life now. This life. I choose this. I cannot have any part of the other. But I have not forgotten you."

"But you do not remember, either. Not as I do." He moved closer to her, and she felt she breathed his own breath, as she had those three years ago the day his mouth moved through her hair.

Selfish, she thought. Men could be selfish without even knowing it, it was such a part of their being. Her own husband, all those years he went away across seas she would never lay her eyes on and left her in his house alone. This man now beside her, his head bent toward hers, his hair and his eyes now both gray and soft, who would not leave her her peace. Who insisted she think of him only as he wanted her to.

"You should behave better," she snapped suddenly. "I will remember as I choose." Then, by way of being more gentle, she said, "I am with child again." And he saw that her face was warm, tinted rose in her happiness.

"Well," he said. "I am glad."

She gripped his hand more warmly once before she withdrew her own, knowing now that they would never touch again. She hoped he knew it too, and, she told herself, she hoped he was without regret.

She opened his door and he went in. She went back down the stairs to help her husband, and then the household was all abed.

Jennet did not feel that after all she had been through she was under any obligation to explain to anyone why she called her second surviving son William. It did not displease her husband, and that was enough for her.

Copyright © 2001 by Pamela Rafael Berkman

Table of Contents



In the Bed

Magic Wand


Dark Blue

Mary Mountjoy's Dowry


No Cause

The Scottish Wife

Diamonds at Her Fingertips

Author's Note

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