Shakespeare's Dark Lady
Print this chapter - 14 X A4 pages


AVISA: I am too base to be your wife,
You choose me for your secret friend,
That is to lead a filthy life,
Whereon attends a fearful end.
Though I be poor, I tell you plain,
To be your whore I flat distain.

Willobie his Avisa, Canto III
Henry Willoughby [Anonymous]

By early December he was committed to a search outside the lab as obsessively as he was to the vaccine search. When alone in the flat he hunted through Amelia's closet or drawers for some indication that she'd been unfaithful--a phone number, a letter, another present she could not explain--something that would lead back to Marcus. These searches had become a daily ritual by the time her trunks, six of them, arrived from the States in the second week of December.

Their flat was large by Oxford standards, but there weren't enough cupboards and drawers to house all the stuff. So five trunks were stacked in the spare bedroom next to the loo, awaiting his inspection the night Amelia went off to a dinner party in Henley. He'd told her to go without him--too much work. Which was true except that he crept home early, allowing himself a good three hours for the job at hand.

He pushed the top trunk to the middle of the floor. All books. The second looked more interesting when he finally got the key to work in its rusty lock-neatly folded sweaters and shirts and, near the bottom, silky underwear, including a black corselet he pressed into his face. Beneath the pile of underwear were unopened packets of black stockings and a half-dozen pairs of black satin cammie panties.

Then he picked up a delicate black flower, fashioned from lace and attached to a black elastic garter. She had never worn that for him.

He added it to the pile on the floor. The fusty smell of the leather trunk blended oddly with Amelia's own scent, which permeated her underthings. It filled him with his need for her. He grubbed deeper. For a moment he thought he'd scored: something firm that wasn't the trunk floor. But it turned out to be a neatly bound collection of academic journals in which Amelia had published papers, most of which he'd read. He was about to put everything back when he noticed something in between two copies of The Shakespeare Quarterly, a flat leather case about eight inches square, rather like a jewelry box only larger. Its surface was shiny hard and it had a snap-shut lid. It wasn't locked.

Nor did it contain jewelry; just a few pieces of paper. The top three sheets looked very old--a letter, foxed and dirt-stained and covered with words in faded ink that at first glance barely looked like English . The sheets were sturdy but frayed at the edges. He took them out one at a time, careful not to damage them, and laid them out on the console table. The fourth sheet was a piece of modern paper written in Amelia's clear hand.

He switched the table lamp on to get a better look, starting with the three old sheets. Here and there he could make out the odd word-Elizabethan, of course. At the bottom of the third sheet there was an ostentatious flourish. After staring at it until he couldn't stop blinking he decided it read "Wm Wilobie." This might be the Willoughby family document Amelia had mentioned --a 1622 document referring to "Henry his father William Wilobie." She'd spelled the name out. The spelling here was slightly different.

Who had fathered the man who appeared to have signed this letter? Henry Willoughby or William Shakespeare?

He picked up the sheet of paper in Amelia's writing and studied it under the lamp. By the time he finished reading, he was clenching the piece of paper so hard he'd wrinkled it.

The page drifted in and out of focus.


He put down the modern sheet of paper and picked up the old letter, again trying to read it, but it was wasted effort. It would need an expert - oh hell, like Mrs. Amelia Hungerford Bosworth.

Who must have known, all along.

He checked his watch: getting on for nine. She wouldn't be back much before midnight, if then. There was time.

He ran for the door, stumbling over the pile of clothes , grabbing his jacket and keys on the way. Amelia--

Wait. It could have been Lawrence. He knew as much about Shakespeare as she did, he just didn't talk about it. Daniel and Amelia might both be Lawrence's victims. Marcus too.

Breathing hard, he opened the inner door to the lab, locked it again from the inside and turned up the heat. Cold air clung to everything.

While in Mendicino he'd put Lawrence's serum in the coolbox inside the security cabinet in case he wanted it double-checked later. Since that evening in the Holy City he hadn't given it a second thought. It had come to Oxford via Hungerford House, along with everything from his Mendocino lab.

He rotated the combination dial until the door swung open. The coolbox door inside was stiff , took longer to open than the security cabinet. But there on the second shelf, exactly where he'd left it nine months ago, was Lawrence's bloody ichor in a frosty dish he'd marked with his name.

You bastard!

There was so much hurt ripping through his stomach that he had trouble donning a pair of latex gloves and preparing a fresh solution from the dry blood.

From a drawer he took a hard copy of a genetic blueprint attached to a sheaf of continuous stationery- - 'genetic spaghetti' Joshua had called the pattern on one of his visits to the Jacob lab.

He glanced over the summary data page to make sure he had the protocols right, then turned all systems on.

Deceiving bitch¼

He took a tiny steel vial from a cabinet. Holding his thumb against the bulb of a pipette, he sucked up some of the solution in the dish and released it into the vial.

The computer was on standby, warming up. When the master disk had finished loading he inserted a catheter into the tiny orifice in one end of the vial. Its male shape slid into the receptive female slot in the analysis chamber of the computyper.

He switched it on.

The current would force Lawrence's genes through the typing gel, enabling the correct stuttered DNA bases to be matched to the corresponding radioactive probes in accordance with the program. There was a knock at the pebbled-glass door and someone tried the handle. He keyed in a series of figures. The knocking grew more insistent; he glanced up and saw a vaguely male shape looming through the glass.

He flicked the "read" key as footsteps retreated down the corridor. For a few seconds the computyper whined its way through the scan of millions of molecules reacting to the electrically charged gel, searching for the critical labels to match the master probes.

The green light on top of the machine flashed on.

Couldn't be.

Had to be.

With shaking hands he returned the remainder of the serum to the coolbox, slammed the cabinet door shut, switched the equipment off. Twenty minutes later he was back at the flat. It wasn't quite eleven. Amelia wasn't home yet.

He looked at the mess strewn across the floor and knew he had to leave it that way. The moment she walked in he wanted her to know he'd found her out--and see tangible evidence of his anger. For now, questions buzzed in his brain like a swarm of biting insects.

Why had she and Lawrence gone to such lengths to set up the Shakespeare Search?

If she'd duped him about Lawrence, might she not have duped him into marrying her?

What the hell else had she kept back from him?

He popped three Prozac in his mouth and opened a Heineken, two sips of which set him to shivering uncontrollably. He went to the bedroom for a sweater, pulled it over his head and forced the hand holding the can through the sleeve, then returned to the spare room and stared down at the family tree lying in the lamplight.

He put down his lager and laid the modern sheet of paper alongside the pages of the antique letter. The family tree appeared to cover the Willoughby connections Amelia had described to him at the restaurant. William Willoughby's father was listed as either Henry Willoughby or William Shakespeare, just as she'd said. There was a big question mark by Shakespeare's name. But the genealogy didn't stop at William Willoughby or his son Henry. It went on right down generation after generation, all there in her handwriting, all the way to the name of the green lamplighter at the bottom: Lawrence Hungerford.

Had she--had both of them--really known all along? "Come with me, Daniel my love. Let's find out if Shakespeare fathered any little bastards."

He pictured her. Apart from the hair and the inviting smile he couldn't see the resemblance to Penelope Rich. On the other hand, if he visualized her with Lawrence's dark eyes instead of Sarah Hungerford's. . ..

Back in their bedroom--"their" sounded funny now, as if they were instantly separated, if not divorced--he caught Amelia's rag doll Rosaline sizing him up from on top of the piano.

In the kitchen he found what he was looking for, a meat skewer from the cutlery carousel. He tiptoed back into the bedroom, rechristened the doll "Amelia" with a wave of his Heineken and stabbed her through the heart, twisting the skewer a few times before withdrawing it. Then he carried her to the sitting room and threw her into the gas fire that burned low in the grate. He watched her turn brown and curl from the toes up without really catching fire, didn't turn his back on her until her aspic irises finally popped.

Amelia got in soon after midnight. The first thing she said was, "Where's Rosaline?"

"Stabbing pain in the heart?" he said. "Cardiac arrhythmia over the after-dinner mints?"

His supposedly psychic wife just stood there jiggling from one foot to another, seven months pregnant and itching to run for a pee. The funny thing was he felt sorry for her and William, so sorry that he tried to put his arms around her, but she pushed him away and went straight to the hearth. She glared at the fire, then at him, then went first to the loo and then into the spare bedroom.

When she came back she was holding the leather case. She put it on the mantelpiece and turned to face him. She was uncharacteristically, unbecomingly pale.

He pushed himself back against the window to look at her better.

His face was on fire with tiny needles. Visions were skipping.

"Dammit, leave me alone," he said softly.

Amelia shot him with her green eyes, then flew for the door, but he was faster and slammed it shut in front of her.

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, "No, not you."

She recoiled, eyes frightened where he expected. . .what?

Amelia's neck turns under the grip of your hands.

A spider crawls up the wall to the side of her head. Janey, save me, please.

Your face jerks around.

He took his hands from Amelia's throat and stood over her where she'd fallen in a heap. She was gaping at him with her jaw curiously slack, feeling her throat.

"I'm sorry," was all he found to say. "I just wanted an explanation."

He nodded in the direction of the two armchairs in front of the fire .With a quick glance at the door she stumbled to her feet and sank down in her usual chair. He took the other, and waited.

And waited.

"Did Lawrence know?" he said finally.

Her eyes were swimming with the tears she was holding back. "He always thought he was Shakespeare's descendant in the direct male line--a bastard line. He used Joshua to get Polly Ann to test his blood--the blood he left behind at your lab--against your program. She did it. She got the green light."

Jesus. Lawrence's blood sitting around in the cabinet in the holy bloody city for . . . how many weeks ? . . The computer switch someone had tampered with. . ..Polly Ann knowing how to run the easy-to-handle weeping gene test if everything was all set up, which it always was. Polly Ann in the lab on her own late at night without the lights on, looking guilty.

Amelia's eyes were bright with tears, but her chin was up.

"You knew about it," he said.

"I went along with it. It didn't feel right."

"Using me and her, you mean?"


"What about the girl at the party . . . Charlie. And Marcus?"

"He just thought you were involved with Polly Ann and that I ought to know about it."


"Of course I was jealous. Marcus didn't know why Polly Ann was doing it, trying to get involved with you. Honest"

"I meant was Marcus jealous of us, you and me. But you were?"

"God, yes. I certainly didn't need to hear about you and her. Not just then. I'm sorry, more than I could ever. . .Believe me."

"How could Lawrence have known I wouldn't dispose of his serum after I'd checked it out?"

A long sigh. "When Lawrence wanted something to happen it usually did."

"Well I've just checked the bloody thing in the lab and it panned out fine. Your old man was the Green Lamplighter and you bloody well knew all along. I suppose that was intentional too."

"Lover, I swear I was going to tell you--but I couldn't while Lawrence was alive, surely you can understand that. Now that he's gone, I've been waiting for the right moment, for the time when we could talk, and you know that kind of time has been nonexistent lately¼." The tears were flowing again, but this time she just let them be. "The letter and our family thing about Shakespeare's line didn't add up to proof, but that was all we had to go on before your test . Lawrence needed to be convinced about it, but I wasn't . . . I couldn't prove it for him with the letter and the family tree. I just.."

"You weren't good enough."

She was silent for a long moment, then: "He was more and more desperate, "she said softly. "That's why your gene meant such a lot to him. It gave him the idea . . . the chance for absolute proof. I couldn't not go along. You know what I was like where Lawrence was concerned."

"Why in hell couldn't Lawrence simply have asked me to do it? Why all the bloody rigmarole?"

"Would you have gone breaking into Shakespeare's grave just because some American asked you to? Of course you wouldn't. You'd only do it if it would help your research."

And falling in love with you didn't hurt either, did it?

"But why couldn't he have asked me when he came to California?"

"And admit he'd maneuvered you into the Search in the first place? Lawrence might have had a . . . warped way of doing things, but he also had his pride. You've got to see he was driven to know if his descent was real. If you'd run that test he couldn't have faced you when the light turned green, not after the way he'd manipulated you . . . like . ."

"Like you'd manipulated me, you goddamned liar. You sucked me straight into your Venus fucking flytrap and--"

"Daniel, lover, please, please, please forgive me." She half rose from her seat, then saw his expression and sank back. "Believe me, I was going to tell you soon. And Lawrence stuck to his side of the bargain--you got all your samples and look what that's done for your work--and he went on supporting the Search long after he'd gotten the green light. And now that you've found your Green Lamplighter you must be that much nearer to your vaccine, surely."

"And I thought St. Lawrence was a river in Canada."

Her point about the vaccine had already occurred to him. He looked down at her--no longer crying, ballooning out of her armchair. "I suppose now he's dead you're going to tell the world. Now that I've found out."

"I promised him I wouldn't. Ever."

"Not even for the sake of your goddamned research?"

"Not even. And it isn't relevant anyway. It would have destroyed Lawrence's privacy and it would destroy mine now--and yours--if I went around for the rest of my life being Shakespeare's great-granddaughter to the nth degree."

He'd wondered why her interest in Shakespeare had always seemed so incestuous. Here he was with a wife descended from Shakespeare and, soon, a son. . .

"Marcus never knew," she said. " Still doesn't. In the beginning I went along with Lawrence's plan for the Search for his sake, but I wanted to know too. There might have been other descendants besides him." She hesitated. "Also I did it for Marcus and the Rostrum." Another pause, time for fidgeting. "When I put the plan to him he was keen to jump on board and get us off the ground, so--"

"WHY did you put it to him, goddammit?"

"Remember, I'd been involved with Marcus up to then."

"Meaning what?. Were your legs involved with his back? Or was this a meeting of the minds? "

"All right, I thought I was in love with him. After you and I were together the first time, I wasn't sure. By the time you went into that grave I knew it was you I wanted. Only you."

"Is it over?"

"It's been over. I told you, ever since you and I. . . . . " She blew her nose again. Her tears had dried.

What about while he was at Big Sur? What about her visit to the States in September? The Dark Lady had cheated on Shakespeare with his friend Henry Willoughby. Some friend.

"Did Lawrence know the Dark Lady's identity?"

She took her time to answer that one. "He knew my hunch and he agreed with it, but he never said why. I don't think he had any more evidence than I did. We still don't have absolute proof about her, the way the weeping gene's absolute proof about Shakespeare."

"What about the miniatures?"

"They were just part of his collection. He found them years ago, along with others."

"If Lawrence was such a schemer, maybe it was more than coincidence that he left them to you."

"Along with lots more," she said.

"Supposing I reveal Lawrence's descent from Shakespeare?"

"I promised him that once I'd told you, I'd make you keep it to yourself. After all, you're one of the family now and it's a family secret."

"If Shakespeare was a member of an ancient sect, and descent passed in the direct male line, where did that leave Lawrence?"

She sighed. "With Lawrence anything was possible. There was a lot I never knew about him. He was a very secretive person . He belonged to all kinds of societies."

"Secret societies?"

"If they were secret how would I know?"

"Don't you think for your research into that Elizabethan sect it might be interesting to know? "

"Of course it would, but he never talked about things like that, not in terms of himself. We talked about Shakespeare a lot. He always wanted to know everything I'd found, as if he were always hoping I'd uncover clues to complete the record."

"For whom? Maybe Lawrence belonged to Shakespeare's sect. Maybe he had to prove direct descent in the male line to strengthen his right to membership, or his position in the sect. Maybe that's why he needed to prove his descent."

"I did think of that," she said in a voice edged, surprisingly, with bitterness.

"Did you ever put it to him?"

"No. He wouldn't have told me, even if it were true. You'd understand that if you'd been around Lawrence all your life. There was so much he never . . . I was his daughter and he never once told me he loved me."

Though they'd never talked about Lawrence in such terms, he had no trouble believing her. She'd been his slave-- in thrall all her life because she'd been waiting for him to say he loved her. God, she'd been used as much as he had. More.

"Will you read me William Willoughby's letter?" he said softly.

She got herself out of the chair and went to get it, a little wobbly on her feet. "It's probably a rough draft of a letter sent from Virginia to someone in England, possibly Shakespeare. It's not all here, just the last part of it. No clues to the Dark Lady, but if it was addressed to Shakespeare, and the final version got to him, it could be a third source document for The Tempest."

"Shakespeare wouldn't have been on speaking terms with Henry Willoughby in 1609 after Henry sold the Sonnets without his authorization, would he?"

"Probably not, but that wouldn't have stopped him from feeling affection for a boy who might be his own flesh and blood, who perhaps saw him as an uncle."

She read the script as easily as he could read the newspaper. Knew it by heart, probably:

Touching this misfortune, it being of about two hours after noon, a great rain and much wind came upon the sea and our little pinnace was shaken up by the waves until we came abeam of the Sea Venture whereupon to vouchsafe our lives Captain Gates did take myself and three other youths on board with such expedition that we could scarce protest and were nearly cast into the water, I having first taken leave with much sadness of my dear father who remained to face such ill hap as should beset all able-bodied souls aboard the smaller vessel. Sad it is to relate that I never thereafter saw him who took leave of me professing much love to me, and truly in mine eye am I fortunate not to have met the same end, for his mortal remains must now lie at the bottom of the sea. On the following day we were cast on to the edge of an Isle that is called Isle of Devils where God be praised we did all come to shore of one piece.

"There's some words crossed out," she said. "I can't read them. Then it goes on:

Notwithstanding certain of the company did bewail in piteous sort such as I could scarcely brook, we relicts of Neptune's tempest were compelled to pass a year in this unfortunate refuge which time we did occupy in fashioning a new pinnace from the carcass of the Sea Venture and from hence by God's grace of which we were ever mindful we came to this strange land. . .

"There's another line crossed out. . .

. . .praising the Almighty for our salvation while we did make question all the while whether the savages in this place or a sickness which so many have here taken may not yet portend a fate more dire than that from which we have been delivered with so much fortitude.

There is by the shore a small chapel which more resembles a rude cottage built of wood than a place of holy worship for there is no glass and not much else in this land, and therein presently assembled diverse of our small knot to give thanks and pray for those notably my father Henry Wilobie gent. who went to God in the course of our voyage to Virginia. When next leisure serve me to bring further tidings of our sojourn I shall write further if the savages, God willing, and hunger and sickness do not send us also to Paradise.

I pray this letter may cross the seas and come at last to your eyes. Wishing you all contentment I remain yours to command.

Wm Wilobie.

She looked up, almost smiling. "Since this was always a family heirloom, it strengthened the connection from the Willoughbys to the Hungerfords. Only the letter didn't prove that Shakespeare rather than Henry Willoughby was William Willoughby's father--nor, now we know who the Dark Lady was, that Penelope Rich was William Willoughby's mother. But with the evidence of Lawrence's weeping gene we can be dead certain that Shakespeare was William Willoughby's natural father and pretty certain that Penelope Rich was his mother¼"

She sighed. "I'm sorry Lawrence didn't live long enough to find out I'd confirmed my hunch about Penelope . . Not that he cared about the Dark Lady," she said with that tinge of bitterness he'd noticed before. "It was the male line, the Shakespeare side that obsessed him."

"You still haven't explained how the Willoughbys turned into Hungerfords."

"The William Willoughby who wrote this letter had a son Henry before he died in 1622. Fifty years later my ancestor William Hungerford was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts."


"I've tried every genealogical trick there is to connect this younger Henry with the William Hungerford who was in Cambridge in the 1670's. In 1682 William Hungerford built the original Hungerford House."

"When's the earliest record of this character?"

"He signed as witness to a land transaction in 1674. Maybe the Henry Willoughby born not long before 1622 was his father. Maybe this Henry Willoughby settled in New England, changing his name to Hungerford. Or at least his mother changed it for him when they left Virginia. Maybe if he was illegitimate, Hungerford was his mother's name and he was always Henry Hungerford. Anyway, according to Hungerford tradition William Hungerford was definitely this Henry's son--and Lawrence's green light would seem to prove it."

"Did you tell Katie about Shakespeare and your missing link?"

" Lawrence wouldn't have agreed. It's too secret." She threw him a disarming smile.

"Always bloody Lawrence. Are you going to change your mind and write about Shakespeare's Tau in your thesis?"


"Why not?"

"I think you can go too far invading someone's privacy like that."

"That didn't stop you from deceiving me into desecrating his final resting place."


"You know, it did occur to me that you and Mannering could have been in this thing together. It's almost as if he knows he can go on preaching about an orthodox Shakespeare because he knows you won't come out with the facts about the cross, and--"

"Before you throw any more stones, might I remind you I promised Mannering I wouldn't publicize the cross--whatever cross he thought it was--in return for his letting you off the hook? For God's sake give me credit for some integrity."

"Did Mannering really not know it was a Tau cross before he saw it?"

"I have no idea," she said. "I certainly didn't tell him."

At any rate she hadn't labored the point about what the Search had done for his vaccine. And Marcus, too, had been maneuvered into the Search, no matter how much money he'd made from it.

Amelia was smiling and rising to go, as if smiles and explanations could make up for so much hurt.

Well, Amelia bloody Hungerford, your illustrious ancestor had at least one bastard who went on producing more of the species. You've proved that point. But your baby brother didn't survive. Lawrence was the end of the unbroken male line.

Back to top   

   Chapter 18...