The Sphere: A Journey In Time

BOOK: The Sphere: A Journey In Time
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The Sphere

A Journey In Time


by Michelle McBeth














To my husband, Sean, who believed in a talent I never knew I had.





Chapter 1


My Thursday started much the same as every other Thursday for the past four months. The smell of meat cooking over an open fire wafted up the stairs with the promise of a bland yet hearty breakfast. I rolled out of my creaky bed onto the cold hardwood floor and immediately reached for my stockings. I dressed quickly, thankful that my low rank spared me the more lavish and complicated clothing options. I grabbed a candle and padded downstairs to see what I could do to help.


Mary was just pulling out a fresh loaf of bread. I snatched it from her and started slicing it while she tended to the meat. The fragrant steam wafting up from the recessed pockets of the crusty bread filled my nostrils as it singed my fingers. I spooned a dollop of fat from a crock on the fire where it was warming and spread it on the still piping hot bread. It was definitely delicious if exceedingly unhealthy, but I wasn't about to make waves by suggesting a healthier breakfast option. It had taken me over three weeks to convince Mary I was trustworthy enough for this maid’s position before it fell vacant unexpectedly. Given the importance of the house's owner, she was always wary of young women trying to impress themselves upon him. Her suspicions were founded in the fact that this was exactly what she was trying to do. To that end, she now approached me with a handful of what looked like herbs and dirt. I raised my eyebrows in question.


"Magic," she said, and dropped it into a pot of boiling water with an excited look on her face.


I nodded. "Magic." My sigh is filled with a well-practiced silence. Mary had been scheming for the past 5 months, and possibly since before I had been here, to get her employer to fall in love with her. She believed it was the key to not only being settled for life, but immortality with a place in one of his plays. I never betrayed that I suspected she was already the inspiration for a character. I finished my piece of bread, grabbed a pail and an apron and set off to tend the fires. None of the house's residents had awoken yet, so I started in the common rooms, clearing out the previous day's ashes and loading in more wood from the small stack beside each one that Anthony had replenished late last night.


When I finished with the fireplaces on the first floor I went back to Mary in the kitchen. She was prodding at the contents of her pot with a wooden spoon. "’This is the day, I declare. Today he will be mine!"


I began to prepare another piece of bread for myself, "Today indeed." My heart fluttered for a moment, and I dropped the bread. What was today? Mary gave me a questioning look as I excused myself for a moment and ran as quietly as possible back up to my room. I removed the string from around my neck that held a small iron key as I approached the chest sitting on a table by the side of my bed. My heart sped as I opened the lock and pulled out a small daily journal I was hiding inside. Thursday. Thursday the 19th of November. Today was the day. Today he would write the Sonnet. Today I could ask him about it. And if all went well, today I could go home.


Not that I hadn't learned to enjoy Stratford. The countryside was lovely. I sometimes was allowed to go out for walks to the main square when the family was away from the house. The life was hard but mentally very simple, which I found relaxing, and being in the same house as one of the greatest literary minds in all of history was hard to beat in terms of company. But I missed so much from my own home. The small chest I had been allowed to bring contained items only necessary to my mission and a few things of a more practical nature that would be able to go unnoticed. Mary dismissed my nightly disappearances, assuming I was going off on my own to pray, not to tend to personal matters like brushing my teeth. I replaced the journal and locked the chest again.


I went back down to the kitchen and, though the breakfast ham was ready, I was too nervous to eat any more. Mary admonished me briefly for not eating enough, took the bread from where I had dropped it and beckoned me over to the pot to smell her concoction. Though I felt a basic moral opposition to the idea of her trying to woo a married man with children, it wasn't in the nature of my station to express that displeasure.
Don't make waves
, I often reminded myself. Besides, as far as history knew Mary would never be successful.


I picked up the first breakfast tray and took it to Susanna's room. She rolled over and gave a grunt of acknowledgement in my direction, but did not make any move towards rising. I could not help but think to myself,
typical teenager
. I set the tray down on a small table and moved to open the curtains. As the soft light of dawn filled the room, another groan betrayed that she knew she must soon leave the warmth of her bed. I tended to the fireplace to make the room more cozy as she slipped on a dressing robe and shuffled over to her breakfast. I parted with a polite smile that she failed to notice as she poured her tea. I found the less I said to the residents of the house, the more likely they were to ignore me. And I was fine with that state of affairs for all but one of the inhabitants.


The morning passed in a daze. My duties were largely routine, affording me time to concentrate on my plan for steering the upcoming conversation with the master of the house. William usually wrote in the mornings and spent the afternoons with his family, but the children’s tutor had sent word he was ill, so Anne was taking the children out to the main square today to run some errands. That meant an afternoon without any distractions for him.


He liked to linger in the kitchens when he had nothing else to attend to. I wasn't sure if it was because he didn't feel the need to put up any sort of pretense with us, or if he actually enjoyed Mary's simple mindedness and my quietness. Perhaps he did come up with character ideas from people he interacted with in his life. In the back of my mind I scanned through the plays I knew, wondering if one of the characters could have been based on me. Mary was out in the garden digging up the last of the potato crop when he wandered in and sat on the stool across from me. I looked up from my work and almost blushed at his smile. Even after all these months, I was still star struck by him.


"Ale, sir?"


"Aye, Rachel." This much at least was routine. I needed to seem casual and normal. This was just any other day to him. I couldn't betray my excitement and nervousness.


I trotted down to the cellar and filled a mug with ale from his barrel. I paused for a moment to focus. “This is it,” I said to myself. I gathered my skirt up in one hand and took the stairs at a measured pace, careful not to spill his drink. He was disinterestedly looking around the kitchen when I returned and placed the mug in front of him. I wiped my hands on my apron thinking it amazing that I hadn't yet contracted some horrible disease due to the lack of indoor plumbing, and returned to the wood block where I had been chopping vegetables for stew that evening. I waited for him to speak as was proper at that point.


"Mary did attempt to poison me this morn."


My hand froze for a moment before I dropped the knife and covered my mouth to stifle a girlish giggle. He knew Mary's intentions but found her humorously harmless. I resumed my chopping with a sly smile on my face, trying to not betray my involvement in her benign witchcraft, and we sat in personable silence for a few moments while he drank his ale. "What new works have you to show us this day, sir?"


"Ah Rachel, thou needst not feign interest for my sake." He smiled and sipped his ale again.


"Nay good sir, I do assure you, tis a genuine interest." I returned his smile then looked down at my chopping. "The tradesmen in the square do show me a bit more respect than most methinks, thinking me well versed in the arts of the day. ‘Tis not every maid in town can quote from 'Romeo and Juliet.'" The play by now was one of his most seen works. "'Course they would be more impressed to be sure, were I to summon a verse from Richard or Henry." My mind involuntarily shouted, "My kingdom for a horse!"


"Dull subject for a maid of thy age. Stick to the love stories," he said and raised his cup to me.


"Another love story is it then?"


"Love in a familiar manner. Tis yet another sonnet." He raised his eyebrows at me over the lip of his drink.


My pulse sped. This was it. "Another! What makes it now, sir, two and twenty?"




"Twenty! 'Tis quite a feat, sir. I can barely imagine writing one meself. What manner of love story is this one?" I tried my best to sound nonchalant, though my own mind could detect every bit of pretense behind my words.


"Here, thou canst read it for thyself." With a flourish of his hand and slight bow from his seat, he produced a sheet of paper.


My body froze, knife still in hand. I tried to hide the deep breath I took as I casually put the knife down and wiped my hands on my apron. I reached for the sheet in his outstretched hand. I once again wished I could steal it back with me. Here in my hands, was the first draft and perhaps only copy written in his own hand, of William Shakespeare's 20th sonnet. My hands shook, and I paced the room to hide the trembling of the paper behind my steps.


I knew it well of course, but focused on reading the lines slowly as though I had difficulty reading the words and understanding what they meant. The original wording was indeed a bit different from the versions found in the anthologies of my time, but the meaning was still the same. For some reason though, reading his works in his own hand moved me much more than in print. You could almost see the emotion expressed in the cursive. It was elegant yet intense. The ink curled around the more vibrant adjectives and the rhythm was evident in the varied boldness and spacing of each word.


"Whither didst thou learn thy letters and numbers? Women, for the most part, do not attempt such an undertaking. Tis at odds with the common way."


I was snapped out of my reverie instantly.
You have a part to play
, I reminded myself. "My father. He fancied a life more grand for me than that of a maid."


"Alas, I mourn to know thine existence is so heavy," he chided me.


I feigned embarrassment at his perceived insult, and thrust my hand up to cover my mouth as I let it gape open in shock. "Marry, nay! 'Tis not so. 'Tis a simple life, but a pleasant one. He only thought mayhap one day were I to labor with a merchant in a shop and have a place of mine own."


"Wouldst that be more to thy liking?"


"Than present?" I paused to smile, thinking that if I had to live this sort of life I would have wanted to live it here. "I have access each day to a most brilliant mind, an easy state, a warm, comfortable home in a beauteous land…" I trailed off. I realized I would indeed miss this place, eager as I was to go home. "'Tis a lovely life." I glanced down at the sonnet again.
Play your part
, I reminded myself again. Perhaps I was not the best person to choose for this mission after all, I was already far too invested in the outcome. "Who is he, sir?"


A sad smile crossed his lips again. "My son."


I tried to contain my surprise. All my research on this point had led me in a different direction. "Your son?" My shock was not entirely unjustified. Hamnet was never mentioned in the house. The pain that struck William's features was a clear indication of why. His marriage to Anne had been the equivalent of a shotgun wedding. Mary had mentioned that he lost patience with Susanna as she aged into adolescence, but the joy on his face when he spent time with Judith was hard to miss.


"He died but a few years ago. The twin of Judith. A brilliant lad. I had so many hopes and dreams for him. He would have been a great man were he given the chance." He paused, and the heartache of the memory was evident even in his bearing. He slumped on his stool as he looked through me, lost in some memory of his son. I had a strong compulsion to reach out and cover his hand with mine. But that would have been a major breach of protocol. His face twitched and he seemed to recover slightly as he looked up at me again. "Much as thy father wanted more for thee."


"I grieve for I ne'er knew him, sir." Was this enough? It had to be. For now, at least. Let others decide the validity of the evidence. At least it would refute one of the more compelling arguments in the matter. William looked down into his mug and sighed audibly again. The desire to stay and continue the conversation was overwhelming. I wanted to probe his mind further. We’d had a few conversations like this since my arrival. I had needed to win his trust, to show him I was a harmless outlet for his need to talk about his work. But this had been one of our most meaningful conversations to date. I wanted to ask more questions, find out more about his son. But we all knew the rules. Get out as soon as possible. With a great reluctance I handed the paper back to him. "Beggin' your pardon, sir."

BOOK: The Sphere: A Journey In Time
2.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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