Denmark 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.
Uses of this World is the tale of the people around the events of Hamlet, from the soldiers to the royal family. Each is tied to the outcomes around the crown. And the country, as well as the world, is waiting to see what happens next.
Chapter 6: Watchman to My Heart
Ophelia was always running, because Ophelia was always late.
Through the hall, into the kitchen, past the guards outside the queen’s chambers (no time for a wave, but she did hear the soldiers call after her), a sprint down two hallways, down a flight of stairs, through another kitchen, and she was in the quarters that her family and the other families of the advisors called home.
He didn’t come to the library today. She was not surprised, considering the state he was in at the morning assembly, but she was still hopeful. Forever the optimist. Now she was late. That is where hope got her.
Her shoes were in her hands as she ran barefoot. The shoes were not made for running and the dress wasn’t either. Usually, she would be adorned in something more casual, more comfortable (but still presentable), but her father expected her to wear her best dress because they would be presented before the king and the entire court. He thought with this look she appeared more nobly. She just thought it made her look childish.
When would her dad see her as an adult? Of course, he would have to first see her.
Around a corner and down some stairs, if she was in a different dress she would have been sliding on the banister. This part was home to her. She past two maids, she heard them snicker as she past. She must have looked like in such a state.
Her governess (who should have retired two years prior) put her hair up in the style of a decade ago. It would have been the height of fashion then, now it was just frustrating and kept flopping in front of her face with each step.
Ophelia was unhappy with her entire look. She dreamed of a short haircut like the bobs the Americans were wearing in her magazines and silent movies, but her father would never have approved of that. She was so certain of that, she never bothered to ask.
An entire childhood of “no’s.” Ophelia had no reason to believe that another word was possible from his lips.
Another corner and…
There was her handsome older brother, ready with suitcase in hand, leaving his room. The look he gave her made her blush. He knew why she almost missed his departure.
He knew she was waiting for him.
“My necessaries are embarked,” her brother said, a scold in his tone. “Farewell.” Sometimes Laertes could take on the role of a parent with her. Some siblings would find it annoying, but it was a security for Ophelia, and one she cherished with a deceased mother and a usually absent father. It was all she had. A person needs to hold tight the blessings that are given.
Their father always put his career first. It came before his children; it even took precedence over his ailing wife. When she finally died from her illness, it was Laertes who found Ophelia lost and weeping at the heart of the garden maze. He was only five years older than her, but she still was able to squeeze her 7-year old frame right into his arms. They stayed in that garden all night, crying together.
No one came to find them.
At dawn when they walked out hand in hand, they both knew that was all the family they had now.
And here he was leaving her again! How dare he!
Ophelia grabbed his suitcase, snapping it open quickly. His clothes scattering around his feet.
Laertes sighed and got on his knees, slowly packing his things again. “And, sister, as the winds give benefit and convoy is assistant, do not sleep, but let me hear from you,” Laertes said without looking up at her.
“Do you doubt that?” She got on her knees by him and tried to help. She grabbed some of his clothes, and stopped.
What was this?
It was a black armband, and it had some kind of a red cross on it, but it was odd and nothing like the crosses she had seen before.
Laertes snatched it from her and stuffed it in the case. He glared at her for a second, a message in his eyes. He put some more clothes in the case over the armband. “For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor, hold it a fashion and a toy in blood, a violet in the youth of primy nature, forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute.”
He studied her face, it almost made her uncomfortable. He reached over and lightly ran a finger along her cheek. “No more.”
Ophelia tried to smile, but they both knew it was forced. She did not like this conversation one bit. It dug into her. “No more but so?”
Laertes could not have sighed deeper. Ophelia knew all the judging that was in that sigh. First her dress, now her brother was making her feel like a child. “Think it no more. For nature, crescent, does not grow alone in thews and bulk, but, as this temple waxes, the inward service of the mind and soul grows wide withal.”
Ophelia began to get up, and Laertes reached over grabbing her arm, stopping her. He continued. “Perhaps he loves you now, and now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch the virtue of his will; but you must fear, his greatness weighed, his will is not his own. For he himself is subject to his birth. He may not, as unvalued persons do, carve for himself; for on his choice depends the safety and health of this whole state. And therefore must his choice be circumscribed unto the voice and yielding of that body whereof he is the head.”
This was too much. She tried to move away, but he did not let go. If anything he held her arm tighter. “Then if he says he loves you, it fits your wisdom so far to believe it as he in his particular act and place may give his saying deed; which is no further than the main voice of Denmark goes withal. Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain, if with too credent ear you list his songs, or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open to his unmastered importunity.”
Oh, how little he knew her prince! And how little he knew about their understanding, their library meetings. The kisses stolen in the aisles and closets. His touch on her skin. She almost considered arguing with her big brother… almost. She pulled her arm out of his grip and got up. Well! She wouldn’t help him pack his case anymore.
If that was her rebellion against him, her brother was not impressed. He looked up at his 18-year old sister as if she was still seven and not able to make decisions on her own. “Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister, and keep you in the rear of your affection, out of the shot and danger of desire. The chariest maid is prodigal enough, if she unmask her beauty to the moon virtue itself escapes not calumnious strokes. The canker galls the infants of the spring, too oft before their buttons be disclosed, and in the morn and liquid dew of your contagious blastments are most imminent. Be wary then; best safety lies in fear.”
Laertes turned back to his case and loudly shut it. He stood up, and looked down at her, and with that look Ophelia immediately felt her age and height. An entire lifetime of him being taller and older. It was enough to drive a younger sibling crazy. She debated quickly in her mind how to reply. If she argued, he might take this further, and he could if he wanted make her life in the castle very uncomfortable. She still had her tutors, and all it would take would be one of them to follow her to their library. And then there was their father. “I shall the effect of this good lesson keep, as watchman to my heart.”
But like all siblings she could not let this go, not even a minute. She had to have her last word. She pointed up at her older brother. “But, good my brother, do not, as some ungracious pastors do, show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine, himself the primrose path of dalliance treads, and recks not his own rede.”
She frowned at Laertes, until he couldn’t help but laugh. He raised his right hand in promise. “O, fear me not.”
It was done. The awkwardness receding. He put down his suitcase and took his sister in his arms.
There… There… This embrace always felt like everything to Ophelia. All her peace, all her security.
After their mother died, she would sneak into his bed, and they would hold each other like this. Sometimes he would stay up, stroking her hair. He was her strength, and until her prince smiled at her, he was the perfect man. That smile changed everything.
There was a cough down the hallway.
They both knew that cough and neither looked happy to hear it. How long had he been there? Did he hear their conversation?
“I stay too long, but here my father comes.” Laertes almost pushed his sister away. Ophelia wondered if her own frame changed so when their father was near. Laertes was stiff as a board, his warmth and love hidden away. The little soldier now grown.
Polonius never moved fast, he didn’t run his like his daughter. He stepped with a purpose as if each step was selected and chosen by a committee, and done with the confidence of a good decision. His hands were behind his back. His voice was never loud or shown any emotion, but his children could always (unfortunately) hear it. “Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame! The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, and you are stayed for.”
There was a debate there between them. Ophelia watched it, her eyes darting between the two. Would there be a hug? They both settled on a handshake. If Ophelia didn’t know the players, she would have laughed at the show of it.
The father pulled his son closer. “And these few precepts in thy memory see thou character.”
Oh, God! Thought Ophelia, not his commandments again. She was impressed that her brother was able to stop his own eyes from rolling. And when their father began it was hard to get him to stop. He could be both Moses and God.
“Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.”
…When they were waiting for the car that would take them to the train station: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel. But do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade.”
…Then in the car ride to the station. “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice. Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.”
…Exiting the car. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”
… And then finally at the station, standing outside the train boarding for Paris. “This above all- to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Ophelia and Laertes both waited silently, wondering if he was truly done. He looked between his children and said to their relief, “Farewell: my blessing season this in thee.”
Laertes gave his sister a sideways smirk as he shook his father’s hand again. “Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.”
“The time invests you. Go.”
The porter came and grabbed Laertes’ case, opening the door to his compartment. Laertes turned to his sister and before he had completed even raising his arms, she was already embracing him.
He ran his hands through her hair and held her even tighter. “Farewell, Ophelia; and remember well what I have said to you.”
Ophelia let go of him, stepped back and crossed her heart like she would do when making a promise back when they were young. “’Tis in my memory locked, and you yourself shall keep the key of it.”
He got in closing the door behind him.
His father rapped the door with his hand and then turned to his daughter. She was almost startled to have the attention on her.
He grabbed her arm, in the same spot her brother did, and lead her through the crowd back to their waiting car. He was so focused on her that he didn’t see his son, getting off the train, jumping the tracks and running to the train heading to Berlin. “What is it, Ophelia, he hath said to you?”
Ophelia held her head down, feeling younger and weaker with each step they took. He must have heard some of their talk in the hallway. It was all breaking away, like a priceless jewel slowly falling to the ground, feeling each crack and shatter. “So please you, something touching the Lord Hamlet.”
They were at their car. He waved almost angrily for the driver to open the door for them. Polonius pushed her in and got in next to her. When the door was shut he spoke quickly, before the driver joined them. “Marry, well bethought. ‘Tis told me, he hath very oft of late given private time to you; and you yourself have of your audience been most free and bounteous. If it be so, as so ’tis put on me, and that in way of caution, I must tell you, you do not understand yourself so clearly as it behooves my daughter and your honor. What is between you?”
The driver was in the front. He started the car.
Ophelia glanced to the driver and back at her angry father. Had he even blinked since he started glaring at her? “Give me up the truth.”
Ophelia almost felt like crying. This was the one thing, the very thing, that made her life in the castle lovely; and here she was letting it all go. “He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders of his affection to me.”
It was out… and it was done.
Her father looked up at the driver, and then leaned over closer to her ear. He wanted this only between them. It was as loud as a shout. “Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl, unsifted in such perilous circumstance. Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?”
“I do not know, my lord, what I should think.”
His voice even in that whisper couldn’t hide any of his disgust with her. “Marry, I’ll teach you: think yourself a baby. That you have taken these tenders for true pay, which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly. Or- not to crack the wind of the poor phrase, running it thus- you’ll tender me a fool.”
Right there. There was the truth.
This was not about her really. This was about him, always about him. She felt her own anger finally rising. “My lord, he hath importuned me with love in honorable fashion.” How could she get him to understand? She needed her prince as much as he needed her.
The car was stopped at a crossing. Her father glared at the road and then back at his daughter. “Ay, fashion you may call it.” He tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Go to, go to.”
The driver obeyed, driving through the intersection to the anger of the cop directing traffic.
Ophelia couldn’t say why she continued to argue with her father, but she couldn’t stop herself. “And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, with almost all the holy vows of heaven.”
The new look he gave her said everything.
He saw her an idiot and an embarrassment. “Ay, springs to catch woodcocks. I do know, when the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows: these blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat, extinct in both, even in their promise, as it is a-making, you must not take for fire. From this time be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence. Set your entreatments at a higher rate than a command to parley.”
Polonius said that last point too loudly. Ophelia could see his anger rising more, and she never would have imagined it could reach such heights. He looked at her more closely and spoke again in a whisper. “For Lord Hamlet, believe so much in him, that he is young and with a larger tether may he walk than may be given you. In few, Ophelia, do not believe his vows- for they are brokers, not of that dye which their investments show, but mere implorators of unholy suits, breathing like sanctified and pious bawds, the better to beguile.”
She was about to argue, state her claim, talk about her prince, their time, their meetings, their love, but was stopped by a slap across the face.
Her father had hit her!
He had never done that before. If she had warning she might have cried out, but she was too shocked to react. Her hand touched her cheek.
He was pointing at her, those unblinking eyes staring her down. “This is for all. I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth, have you so slander any moment leisure, as to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. Look to it, I charge you.”
Poor young Ophelia…
And so alone…
First her hand fell from red cheek…
Then her gaze at her father, looking down at her shaking hands in her lap.
Tamed, and so very broken…
“I shall obey, my lord.”
Permanent Spring Showers was published by 5 Prince Books. You can find out more about my novel as well as my other books (including A Jane Austen Daydream and My Problem With Doors) and grab a copy via my author page on Amazon.com here.