How to download Shakespeare's novels

Judith and Hamnet


A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

The finish is narrow and makes a sharp kink. By pushing himself along the wall, the boy takes one step after the other with rumbling boot steps.

Almost at the foot of the stairs he pauses for a moment and glances up over his shoulder again before making a quick decision to jump over the last three steps, as he always does. When it comes up, he stumbles and hits the stone floor with his knees.

It's an oppressive, windless day in late summer. Long strips of light fall through the room on the first floor, and the sun is shining in from outside, so that the windows shine like barred panels in yellow in the plaster.

He gets up and rubs his knees. Look here, up the stairs. Looks there, at a loss as to which path to take.

The room is empty. Only the fire is smoldering on its grate, orange-colored embers beneath gently rising spirals of smoke. The boy's sore knees pound to the beat of his heart. He pauses with one hand on the latch of the staircase door, the scarred leather tip of his boot in the air, ready to jump, to flee. His light, almost golden hair sticks out from his head in small tufts.

Nobody is there.

He sighs, takes a deep breath of the warm, dusty air and walks through the room to the front door and out onto the street. He does not notice the noise of the wagons, horses, traders and other people calling to each other, from a man throwing a sack from the first floor. The boy strolls along the house and into the next entrance.

With his grandparents it smells of the same mixture of wood smoke, polish, leather and wool, similar and yet indefinitely different than in the adjoining two-room house that his grandfather built in a narrow gap next to the larger house. The boy lives there with his mother and sisters. Sometimes he wonders about it, after all, the two apartments are only separated by a thin wattle wall, and yet the air here has a different note, a different smell and a different temperature.

It literally whistles in this house, the draft is so lively, the knocking and hammering from his grandfather's workshop, the knocking and shouting of customers at the window, the noisy hustle and bustle in the backyard, the coming and going of his uncles.

But not today. The boy stands in the passage and listens for a sign of life. From here he can see that the workshop on his right is empty. The stools on the workbenches are orphaned, the tools lie unused, while the gloves on the shelf next to them look like handprints deliberately left behind. The sales window is closed and firmly locked. Nobody is in the dining room on his left. On the long table a pile of napkins, an unlit candle, a pile of feathers. Not more.

A call comes from his throat, a questioning sound. He utters this sound once or twice and waits for an answer with his head tilted to one side.

Nothing. Only the creaking of wooden beams that gently expand in the sun, the sigh of a breath of air under doors and from room to room, the whisper of sheets, the crack of the fire, the indefinable noises of a house that is at a standstill, empty.

His fingers tighten on the iron on the door handle. Even now, the heat of the day is driving sweat down his forehead and back. The pain in his knees gets stronger, stabbing, and goes away again.

The boy opens his mouth. One by one he calls out the names of everyone who lives here. His grandmother. The maid. His uncles. His aunt. The apprentice. His grandfather. The boy tries them out one by one, and for a moment it even occurs to him to call his father, to scream for him, but the father is miles and hours and days away in London, where the boy has never been.

But where, he wonders, are his mother, his big sister, his grandmother, his uncles? Where is the maid? Where can you find his grandfather, who is always at home during the day and usually in the workshop, harassing his apprentice or taking note of his income? where is everyone? How can both houses be empty?

The boy is walking down the passage. He stops at the door to the workshop and looks over his shoulder before entering.

He is only very rarely allowed to enter his grandfather's glove workshop. It is even forbidden to stop in the door. “Don't just stand around doing nothing,” his grandfather then yells. “Can't a person even do an honest piece of work without people stopping and staring at him? Don't you have anything better to do than hang around there and sell mouth monkeys? "

Hamnet has a quick mind: he can easily follow school lessons. He grasps the meaning and logic of what he is told and can easily memorize things. He can recall verbs and grammar and tenses and rhetoric and numbers and arithmetic results so easily that it occasionally arouses the envy of the other boys. But he's just as easily distracted. A cart that drives by on the street during a Greek lesson inevitably lets his mind wander off the slate. He ponders where the cart is going and what it might be loaded with, and then the one time when his uncle had taken him and his sisters on a hay wagon, how wonderful it was, how the freshly cut hay smelled and pissed off and them Wheels jerked forward to the tired hoofbeat. He has been chastised more than twice in the past few weeks for not paying attention (and grandmother said if that happened again, just once, she would notify his father). The teachers cannot figure it out. Hamnet is a quick learner and can quote from memory, but his head just can't get on with it.

When a bird screeches in the air, he can break off in the middle of a sentence, as if he was speechless out of the blue. If he sees someone come into the room out of the corner of his eye, he can leave everything behind - eating, reading, his schoolwork - and look at them as if they had rushed over to bring them an important message. He tends to withdraw from the real, tangible world around him. Physically he is still present, but mentally somewhere else, someone else, in a place that only he knows. “Wake up, child,” his grandmother then yells and clicks her fingers in front of his face. "Come back", his big sister Susanna hisses and flicks his ear. “Pay attention,” his teachers shout. "Where did you go?", Judith whispers to him when he finally wakes up in the here and now, squinting around and realizes that he is back, at home, at the family table, and his mother looks at him mischievously As if she knew exactly where he was.

This is exactly how Hamnet, when he now enters the forbidden realm of the glove workshop, has left out what he actually came here for. For a moment everything is wiped away - that Judith is not doing well and that someone has to look after her, that he has to find her mother or grandmother or someone who might know what to do.

Furs hang down from a pole. Hamnet knows his way around well enough to recognize the rust-red, spotted hides of a deer, the fine, pliable goatskin, the smaller skins of squirrels, the coarse, bristly wild boar skin. As he steps closer, there is a rustling and murmuring through the furs, just as if there might still be a spark of life in them, enough to hear him. Hamnet reaches out a finger and touches the goat skin. It feels so incredibly soft, like river algae that brush along his legs when he goes swimming on hot days. The skin sways gently back and forth, the legs spread as if in flight, like a bird or a ghoul.

Hamnet turns around and looks at the two workstations at the workbench: the padded leather one, rubbed smooth from his grandfather's knee breeches, and the hard wooden stool for Ned, the apprentice. The tools hang on the wall above. He knows exactly which ones are for cutting, for stretching, which for sticking and sewing. But the narrower of the two glove stretchers - the one for women - is not in its place. It's on the table where Ned usually works with bowed head, hunched shoulders, and eager, nimble fingers. Hamnet knows that his grandfather yells at the boy for the slightest cause - or worse - so he takes the glove stretcher, weighs the warm wood briefly in his hand and then hangs it back on its hook.

Just as he is about to pull out the drawer in which the balls of thread and button boxes are kept - gently, gently, because he knows the drawer is squeaking - a noise, a faint scratching or creaking, reaches his ear.

In a matter of seconds, Hamnet is in the passage and outside in the courtyard. His task comes back to him. What is he doing there? Dawdling in the workshop while his sister suffers - he has to get help.

One after the other he pulls open the door to the kitchen house, the brewhouse, the laundry room. All empty, dark and cool. He calls out again, a little hoarse now, his throat scratching from screaming. He leans against the wall of the kitchen house and kicks a nutshell across the courtyard. He knows neither in nor out. Somebody should be there. Someone is always there. Where are all of them? What should he do? How can it be that nobody is home? That his mother and grandmother didn't wake up the oven doors inside as they usually do or stir pots over the fire? He stands in the courtyard and looks around: the through door, the brewhouse door, the door to her house. Where should he go Who can he call for help? And where are the others?

Every life has its core, its fulcrum, from which everything starts and to which everything returns. For the absent mother it is this moment: the boy, the empty house, the orphaned yard, the unheard scream. How he stands behind the house and calls out to the people who fed him, swaddled him, lulled him to sleep, took him by the hand on his first steps and taught him to use a spoon, to blow on a broth before he left eats to be careful when crossing a street, not to wake sleeping dogs, to rinse a mug before drinking, not to go into deep water.

This moment will be deeply impressed on her for the rest of her life.

Hamnet paws through the sand in the courtyard with his boots, where the remains of a game that Judith and he had just passed the time with are still lying around: They lured the kittens of the kitchen cat with pine cones on strings and led them around by the nose. They are small creatures, with faces like pansies and soft cushions on their paws. The cat had crawled into a barrel in the pantry to give birth and had been hiding there for weeks. Hamnet's grandmother had looked everywhere for the litter because, as usual, she wanted to drown it, but the cat had known how to prevent this and had brought her young to safety. Now they are half grown, the two of them are walking around, climbing up on sacks, chasing after feathers and bits of wool and leaves. Judith can hardly stand a few hours without her. Usually one is in her apron pocket, a telltale bulge, a pair of pointed ears that peek out, whereupon the grandmother starts screaming again and threatens the rain barrel. Then Hamnet's mother whispers to them that the boys are too big to be drowned. "She couldn't do it now," she says when the three of them are among themselves, and wipes the tears from Judith's horrified face. “She wouldn't have the guts to do it. The little ones would fight back, they would fight. "

Now Hamnet strolls to the abandoned pinecones, the ribbons of which wind their way through the crushed earth. The kittens are nowhere to be seen. With the tip of his foot he nudges a cone that rolls away in an uneven arc.

He looks up at the two houses, the many windows of the large one and the dark entrance of his own. Normally, he and Judith would be thrilled to be suddenly alone. At that very moment he would talk her with angel tongues that she would climb with him onto the roof of the kitchen house, where a plum tree stretches its branches over the neighboring wall. They bend under the weight of the many plums, their red-gold skin almost bursting with ripeness; Hamnet spotted her days ago through one of the upper windows at his grandparents' house. If this were a normal day, despite her objections, he would push Judith up to the roof so she could stuff her pockets with stolen fruit. Innocent as she is, she doesn't like to do something dishonest or forbidden, and yet Hamnet can usually change her mind with a few words.

But today, when they were playing with the kittens who had escaped their untimely death, Judith had said that she had a headache and her throat was sore, that she was cold, then warm. She had gone in to lie down.

Hamnet returns to the main house. Just as he is about to step out of the corridor into the street, he hears something, a click or a creak, just a tiny noise, but clearly that of another person.

“Hello?” Calls out Hamnet. He is waiting. Nothing. Silence floods from the dining room and the room behind it. "Who's there?"

For a moment, just a brief moment, he wallows in the idea that his father may have come home from London to surprise her. That had happened before. His father is there, he's right behind that door and maybe just hiding for fun, to fool you a little. When Hamnet enters the room his father will jump out; his pocket and purse will be full of gifts; he will smell of horses, of hay, after many days on the street; he will hold his son in his arms, and he will press his cheek against the rough, scratchy fasteners on his father's doublet.

Of course it's not his father. Hamnet just knows. The father would answer his calls, he would never hide like that when nobody is home. Nevertheless, when Hamnet enters the room, he feels a seeping, sagging feeling of disappointment in his chest when he sees his grandfather there next to the low table.

It is gloomy in the room, the curtains are drawn in front of almost all the windows. His grandfather crouches with his back to him and is busy with something: papers, a cloth sack, calculating coins. There is a jug on the table and a mug next to it. His grandfather's hand circling these objects indecisively; his head is bowed, his breathing puffs and puffs.

Hamnet politely clears his throat.

In a rage, his grandfather waved around and waved his arms as if he had to fend off an attacker.

“Who is there?” He yells. "Who is this?"

"It's me."


"Me." The boy steps into the strip of light falling diagonally through the window. "Hamnet."

His grandfather flops back into the chair. “You scared me as hell,” he shouts. "What are you sneaking around here?"

"Please excuse me," says Hamnet. “I called and called, but no one answered. Judith is ... "

“You are not here,” his grandfather cuts him off with a brief wave of his hand. "What do you always want with all these women?" He grabs the mug and aims it at his mug. The liquid - ale, thinks Hamnet - spills out, some into the cup, some onto the table next to it. Cursing, his grandfather dabs the papers with his sleeve, and it occurs to Hamnet for the first time that he might be drunk.

“Do you know where they are?” He asks.

“What?” Says the grandfather, still busy with his papers. His annoyance at the damage done seems to come out of him like a rapier and wander around the room in search of an opponent, and for a moment the boy thinks of his mother's hazel wood, how it draws to the water, only that he is not a water vein and his grandfather's anger not the trembling dowsing rod. This anger is cutting, sharp, and unpredictable. Hamnet has no idea what is in store for him or what to do now.

"Don't just stand there idly," his grandfather snaps. "Help me now!"

Hamnet takes a shuffling step forward, then another.He is on his guard, his father's words always in the back of his mind: “Stay away from your grandfather if he has one of his whims again. Make sure you avoid him. Do you hear?"

His father had told him that on his last visit. They had been helping unload a car from the tannery when John, his grandfather, dropped a bundle of furs in the dirt and angrily hurled a paring knife against the courtyard wall. The father had immediately pulled Hamnet aside and behind him, but John had stormed past them into the house without another word. Then the father had taken Hamnet's face between both hands, rolled his fingers on the back of his neck and looked at him firmly. "He won't hurt your sisters, but I'm worried about you," he muttered, frowning. "You know what moods I mean, don't you?" Hamnet had nodded, but at the same time wished that the moment would last, the father would hold his head like this for longer: It gave him a feeling of lightness and security, from there to the To be recognized and valued inwardly. At the same time he felt a tenacious restlessness like a meal that his stomach could not stand. He thought of the cutting scrabble of words between his father and grandfather, and how the father kept tugging at his collar when he was sitting at the table with his parents. "Swear it to me," his father had said in a hoarse voice as they stood in the courtyard. "Swear. I need to know that you are safe when I am not there to take care of it. "

Hamnet assumes he is keeping his word. He stays far behind, on the other side of the chimney. His grandfather can't get him here, even if he wanted to.

Grandfather empties his mug with one hand and shakes the last drops off a sheet of paper with the other. “Take this,” he orders and holds it out to him.

Hamnet leans forward as if his feet had grown firmly to the ground and takes it with his fingertips. His grandfather's eyes are narrowed to watchful slits, his tongue protrudes from the corner of his mouth. He sits huddled in his chair - a sad old toad on a stone.