Julia huddled in a chair looking strained and vulnerable. She bore an unsettling resemblance to Ophelia, almost as if Shakespeare had written the lines with her in mind. If only Will could have five minutes alone with her. He’d sooth her troubled spirit, he was sure, but they hadn’t had five minutes…
His grandmother tapped her cane, her eyes bright. She wasn’t concerned about Julia, or anyone else for that matter. Nothing and no one was paramount to her except this play, and she was single-minded about getting it off the ground. She cleared her throat. “All right, folks. Let’s begin,” she said in an unusually strong voice. “Thank you for taking part in this momentous occasion.”
A polite round of applause followed, and she paused to nod graciously before continuing. “For those of you new to the play, I will give you the setting.” Here, the old lady came into her own, bent forward, her tone filled with mystery. “Imagine if you will the handsome young prince Hamlet. His beloved father is dead and Hamlet’s grief is black. Rather than opening with the funeral, though, we shall commence with the haunting.”
Anyone in the assembly unaware of a ghostly presence in the play perked up with interest. And everyone seemed more attentive, despite themselves, as the story teller wove on. “We shall have props later, but for now, envision this hall as a dark medieval castle in Denmark at the dead of night. Hamlet has heard his father’s spirit roams the battlement at this haunted hour. He and his friends are there watching for the royal specter. We will make do with one friend until I can recruit others.” She swept her hand at Will and one of the gardeners. “William, Dave, center stage.”
Will knew his lines but Dave, whom his grandmother had pressed into playing Horatio, held a dog-eared script in his callused hand. He bent his red neck over the pages and squinted. “Which is me, Mrs. Wentworth?”
“I’ve marked your part,” she told him. “And we’ve abbreviated the lines, a sort of condensed version.”
Shakespeare would turn in his grave at the butchering she’d done to his work, but there was nothing for it other than to enter into the spirit of the evening. Will strode to the middle of the hall, his mind only half on the play. He was suited for the part of Hamlet, though, feeling brooding enough. He glanced around as if seeing only dark battlements and rubbed his hands together, blowing on them. “‘The air bites shrewdly. It is very cold.’”
Dave nodded, his head ringed with the hat hair effect left from his gardening cap. He rubbed a grizzled chin with thick fingers, stumbling as he spoke in his Southern twang. “‘It is a nipping and an eager air.’”
He paused. “What does that mean?”
“He agrees with Hamlet that it’s cold,” Will explained. “My line. ‘What hour now?’”
Dave glanced at his wrist as though that would enhance the scene. “‘I think it lacks of twelve,’” he drawled.
Will shook his head at him. “No watches then, Dave.”
Their director interrupted at this point. “Let’s get on to the ghost,” Queen Nora said in her erratic manner.
Dave adopted a bug-eyed expression Will supposed was intended to mime fear and pointed shakily. “‘Look, my lord, it comes.’”
Will raised his eyes to the second floor landing where Joe, the other gardener, stood beckoning to him with white fingers. The lime dust powdering him from an application to the lawn lent some credibility to his ghostly effort, but not a lot. Will pressed his fist to his mouth, partly to keep from laughing, and then dropped his hand so as not to muffle the words.
“‘Angels and ministers of grace defend us…be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d, bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell. Thou comes in such a questionable shape. I’ll call thee Hamlet, King, father. What may this mean that thou should revisit us?’”
Dave grabbed his sleeve. “‘It beckons you to go away with it, but do not go.’”
A nice touch, Will conceded. He shook Dave off. “‘It will not speak, then I will follow it,’” he said, and left Dave to dash up the stairs.
His grandmother called out, “Skip ahead to the parts I specified!”
Will stumbled as Joe lunged at him, more in an attack mode than as a fearsome specter, and gripped his shoulders. “‘I am thy father’s spirit doomed for a certain term to walk the night and for the day confined to fast in fires,’” Joe declared in his gravelly bass voice.
Will recited his part automatically, his chief concern escaping this ape-man unscathed. Joe was a hard worker, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Moaning as though he were portraying Jacob Marley, Joe gave Will a teeth-rattling jar. “‘If thou didst ever thy dear father love—’”
“‘Oh, God,’” Will said, both as Hamlet and himself.
“‘Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,’” Joe demanded.
“‘Murder?’” Will echoed.
Jon tightened his hold. Surely, he was the most hell-bent ghostly king any actor had ever portrayed. “‘Now, Hamlet, hear me,’” he growled, like a hit man about to eliminate him if he didn’t take heed. “‘Tis given out that sleeping in my orchard a serpent stung me. The serpent that did sting your father’s life now wears his crown.’”
“‘Oh, my prophetic soul—my uncle,’” Will said.
“‘Aye,’” Joe groaned. “‘That incestuous, adulterous beast with witchcraft of his wit and traitorous gifts. While sleeping in my orchard, my custom always in the afternoon, thy uncle stole with juice of cursed hebona in a vial and in the porches of my ears did pour the leprous distilment.’”
Joe clutched him by the throat. Was Hamlet ever so beset upon? With a credible effort at lamentation, Joe roared in mock agony, “‘If thou hast nature in thee bear it not! Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest. As for thy mother leave her to heaven and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her. Fare thee well. Adieu, Adieu. Hamlet, remember me.’”
Joe released Will and he staggered back, gasping for breath. But the prophetic plea coupled with the warning of treachery struck him as significant. He sensed it had to do with Cole.
Was there something more he should do about his distant cousin? Cole had been struck down with a sword. Everyone knew that, didn’t they?
Or was there more to the story? Some crucial aspect left untold?