Ratter made them hard. In fact, they had never seemed so light and easy.
After our meal break, the players went to dress for the afternoon performance, then people began arriving, clutching pennies for the box man. The groundlings, standing in the yard, had the best
view in my opinion. They loved to cheer and jeer and bandy words with the players.
As I showed richer people to their seats, the food sellers came in to sell their wares. Soon the aromas of hot pies and roast chestnuts mixed with the fresh tang of oranges. I closed my eyes,
breathed it all in, the smells, the chatter and laughter from the crowd and thought, for the hundredth time, ‘I love everything about the playhouse. This is where I want to spend my
life.’ I could not bear the thought of becoming a secretary like my father, doing the same dreary tasks day after day.
When the play began, I took a moment to nip outside to let Hoppy cock his leg. As I walked back in, a hand touched my shoulder.
I closed my eyes waiting for the blow, but it never came. When I opened them, I saw no anger in my mother’s face.
I took her hand. ‘I missed you. But I had to come. I had to have my chance, and tomorrow I will.’
She spoke for the first time.‘I have opened up the house and lit the fires. Come home now, Billy. Wash and put on clean clothes. You smell like a street child.’
‘But I am working, Mother.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Tomorrow I am to play a bystander, on stage.’
‘Wonderful.’ She did not sound thrilled. This was hardly surprising as she never liked me being at the playhouse. I wondered, just for a moment, hadn’t Father ever talked to
her about following your heart?
‘You will work better after good hot food,’ she said. ‘Come. Susan longs to see you.’
I fancied I could smell beef stew on her clothing. Suddenly, I yearned for comfort.
‘I’m glad Susan is well,’ I said. ‘I have kept her in my prayers.’
I hadn’t, which made me feel doubly bad.
I found old John Merry and explained where I was going.
‘I’m right glad your mother is back,’ he said. ‘I hope she is not too angry with you.’
‘She is not angry at all,’ I said happily.
Life was good. I was going to have my home again, and I would play my first part in public the very next day.
I called Hoppy and we all three set off for home. The weather was bright and clear. I decided I would pray for good weather on the morrow. If it was too wet, there would be no performance.
As we walked, I noticed grass and weeds growing among the cobbles. ‘What has happened to the road?’ I asked.
‘So many people left London because of the plague that the roads have not been well used,’ replied my mother. ‘Even though the plague is officially over, it does not mean that
it’s not still here.’
I noticed that she carried a pomander of herbs and spices, which she held to her nose whenever the path grew crowded. She was still afraid of catching plague.
I saw more signs of the disease. Houses with windows boarded up against thieves, and doors with red crosses painted on them.
We turned into Little Thames Lane, and I saw smoke rising from our chimney. How good it felt to see our own house! Hoppy’s new home!
Mother opened the door. I stood inside and sniffed familiar smells: fire smoke, food cooking, lavender, and herbs mixed in with floor rushes, crushed beneath my feet. Our rooms
were bigger and airier than Aunt Meg’s, and our furniture shone, whereas hers was roughened wood. Through a room at the back I glimpsed our garden, where everything had grown while we had
been away. Roses had gone wild, rambling over dried-looking bean plants.
I heard a key turn and the clunk of a lock.
I spun round. Mother had locked the door.
She put the key in the pocket she wore inside her kirtle and said in a cold, hard voice. ‘How …
‘How DARE you run away and cause me such