Shakespeare's Dark Lady
How can you term her then obscure,
The Victory of English Chastity under the Feigned Name of Avisa
Sweet Amelia, so giddy in love.
He first saw her over strawberries and champagne in Christchurch, half an hour after he delivered his paper on sexually transmitted diseases to the International Conference on AIDS.
He was sauntering across the dean's lawn, listening to the laments of other underfunded scientists, when she came into view. Tall, coltish, tawny blond, with a bumpy nose and green eyes that laughed even when she didn't. An oddly familiar smile that seemed sweeter than the face.
It only took one smile.
Save me, she mouthed over the top of her glass, indicating an attentive man with a flick of her lashes.
It was one of those sun-ripe days when Oxford looks the way it looked in prewar picture postcards. Slightly blotto in the heat, Daniel waved his glass and zoomed in to steer her across the lawn and away from a group of undergraduates playing croquet. She too was half plastered and a Yankee to boot. With a Boston drawl, he realized as she murmured her thanks.
"What's your field?" he asked her.
"Shakespeare." It was there again: the angelic smile. It reminded him of someone --but who?
"Do you teach?" he asked her.
"Harvard. I'm going for my doctorate. In Shakespeare--not genetics, which means I don't know much about what you were saying in your paper." She pursed her lips to meet the rim of the glass but stopped short, slopping a little champagne. "I shouldn't really be here at all."
He was drawn to the dimples at the corners of her mouth. Like his first and only wife Lucy she had sublime cheekbones, eyebrows. He sneaked a long look up and down. She was kitted out in leaf-green cotton and not a lot of it. He tore his eyes from a tiny diamond-shaped birthmark peeping above one breast.
"But you are here," he said. "May I ask why?"
"Would you believe I came to England to see you?"
"I'm in the mood to believe anything, so pull my other leg.".
"I'm staying at the Randolph," she said. "You might say I'm here because of your theories on syphilis."
He opened his mouth to speak. When nothing came out, he screwed his features up tight and finally got there.
"Are you suggesting there's a connection between Shakespeare and syphilis?"
"Thought you'd never ask," she said, brimming with smiles. "I've got a lot of theories about Shakespeare. One is that he had syphilis. Even died of it." The green eyes positively glittered. "You can't get far into research on the subject without hearing about Tracker Dan Bosworth, the geneticist who used syphilis to identify a new gene."
She served up more along the same lines, every sentence showing a lively intelligence--and thorough research on the man who stood in front of her. If she was to be believed, she had flown over to England to find him. She even knew he'd got a First at Oriel and done his own doctoral thesis in venereology, on the molecular etiology of syphilis.
"Dr.. Daniel Bosworth," she said dreamily. "Tracing generations down through the centuries."
He stared at her, taken aback by her familiarity yet wanting to impress her.
"Look at it this way," he said. "Mitochondrial DNA is dead easy nowadays to link individuals in a line."
"In those bar-code things for scanning, like in supermarkets?"
"That's how the stuttered pieces of DNA come out of the computer, in slashes and stripes. We call them autorads."
"I read what they did to identify the Russian tsar the Bolsheviks murdered," she said.
"Only they had to use a living descendant of his mother--the female line again. I've found a way to follow descent in the father's line using nuclear DNA."
"Have you done it on yourself"
The green eyes were still smiling, but they seemed closer to his face--uncomfortably closer, considering that she had not moved so much as an inch. His head was paddling in an ocean of Pimms.
"I can't," she said, "for you see, sir, I'm not myself." Another smile, this one anything but angelic.
"Lewis Carroll?" The sap was rising.
"Curiouser and curiouser. Are you an orphan too?"
"Only half. Mother's dead, Daddy's very much alive. . . .Tell me about you."
"You seem to know a great deal about me already, considering we've only just met and have yet to be introduced."
"God, you English are sticklers for propriety." There was a long pause. "Am I being horribly American and intrusive?
Amelia raised her glass and her shoulder bag slipped to the ground.
He bent and picked it up. When he handed it over, her fingers closed on his and for a moment he felt a slight pressure. He looked at his hand. There were marks traced by her nails.
There was a sudden rush of feeling that made him want to open his deepest secrets to her. It could be the impression he had of knowing this woman all his life. Or the Pimms......
She clasped her thumbs under her chin, holding her glass between them so that the rim brushed the tip of her nose.
"I like your name," she said. "We had a Daniel in our family-- in the eighteenth century. But don't let me stop you. Tell me about your work."
There was something asymmetrical about her face. Her left eyelid drooped a fraction, but the bumpy nose was a stroke of genius. Without it she'd definitely run the risk of being beautiful.
He set down his glass, none too steadily, and folded his arms.
"Well, since you're asking.....As you somehow seem to know already, I used to do research into syphilis, but it's something we don't run into much any more. So now I've switched to viral diseases. Immunovirology. Basically I'm hunting for an HIV vaccine." His hand trailed in the air over the sea of scientists. "Like every other geneticist in the world. The competition's getting tighter all the time now that your government's throwing more millions into the AIDS research center at the National Institute of Health."
"Are you working with them?"
"Funny you should say that. They did ask me if I'd join them, but for reasons I won't bore you with I said no."
"Later, maybe. Let's just say I think I'm getting near to a breakthrough and I'm selfish enough not to want to share the prizes."
"I've got a theory," she said. "It's something you could help me with." She moved close to him and laid one hand on his chest. "Daniel--do you mind if I call you that?"
"I only let people whose names I know call me Daniel." His eyes played on the signet ring she wore on one slender finger.
"So who are you, Amelia Hungerford? Explain yourself."
He took her for a walk beside the Isis, and over the next twenty minutes she told him, in her slightly boastful style. She'd grown up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and after Shady Hill and Miss Porter's, descended on Harvard to do English Lit. Got her Bachelor's--summa cum laude, thank you--then won a Sheldon Fellowship that took her to Paris for two years. Her application to Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences followed a meeting with the German professor emeritus Saul Lindenbaum, the world's undisputed authority on Shakespearean biography. Lindenbaum was now her mentor.
He gathered that around Harvard the Hungerford name was illustrious. Her blue blood and striking looks--the contrast of dark blond hair, green eyes, and freckled teint mat skin--ensured her place in New England society, but she was a reluctant socialite at best. Throwing the line out like a challenge, she told him that some columnist from Details magazine had described her as "an estrous gadabout."
The next day they took his ramshackle Aston Martin and drove out to the Perch with the top down. After a pint of cider they strolled up the banks of the Isis, Daniel feeling like Mungo Park hunting the headwaters of the Niger. Then it was lunch at the Trout, where they sat in semi-drizzle and tried to talk over the screech of free-range peacocks.
Why she'd come to Oxford to enlist his help she wouldn't say, though he asked her over and over. Tight as a clam except for that first mention of Shakespeare and syphilis..
The Saturday of Eights week they hustled a punt at Magdalen Bridge and plowed up the Cherwell through hordes of drunken undergraduates. Then edged into the landing stage at the Cherwell Boathouse, where Amelia plunged into conversation with a man who was caulking the bottom of a boat on the slipway. Some guy she knew.
They grabbed the last table in the restaurant and lunched on microscopic snails before punting on. At the Vicki Arms they clambered onto the grass in sodden clothes and got ripped on a Tesco muscadet that Amelia produced like a rabbit from a voluminous waterproof she'd brought along just in case. So like an American and unlike her.
After the punt expedition came the Trinity Commem Ball--Amelia dazzling in a flouncy affair by a fashion designer she knew. She seemed to know a lot of people, mostly men.
And then came the chilly evening in Magdalen's deer park. As dusk fell they sat close together on hard cushions to watch a performance of Salad Days. They were freezing by intermission, clinging sweaterless to each other in the dark of the scaffold amphitheater.
"I want to spend the night with you," she whispered afterwards.
He steered her the short distance to All Souls. When they reached a street lamp across the road from the Schools, he compared her to a summer's day--it was now around midnight--then danced a little jig while she stood and snickered.
Romantic just wasn't the word for it in the beginning. He was the wind, Amelia was Preciosa. Their feet barely touched the ground. A week later she moved out of the Randolph and, unofficially, into All Souls.
But the first night she spent there they did not make love. He couldn't manage it-a first. He lay awake for hours while she slept curled up beside him. . . He saw himself at the age of six, kneeling in the lush grass at the edge of the lake and scooping up a jarful of frog spawn. One muddied hand took the string tied tightly round the jam jar's throat. The air was warm. This was his secret place, the place he came to cry.
The tree stood at the far side of the lake in Dorrell's Wood, holding a plank between two branches so Jake and Roy and the other boys could dive into the water while the girls watched, then come up whooping, like heroes. Daniel sat on the bank until they all went off without him to steal the speckled green-brown eggs in the hedgerows.
The sun stroked his hair and beat through his T-shirt when he got up to go home. There was trouble with the frog spawn, though. Too much of it in the jar--gobs of it kept spilling. His eyes stung when he scooped it back: this was life, and to abandon one of those brown dots was to let life die.
He sat down again in the knee-high grass and cried for something that was missing. It was a hole as big as the world and it could not be filled, no matter how tight he tied himself inside his sheet each night.
The following evening they lay in his bed again, watching a gouache sun daubed across the window panes, then shades of twilight spilling through the lead lattice. Desire had overwhelmed his anxiety and love had been made, not well, even clumsily, but they had laughed together and something unsaid had been sealed between them.
A relative novice between the sheets, he'd received from Lucy the hand-me-down experience of her promiscuous past. Amelia too had a past--a good many, as he was to learn. What he found odd was how brief all her relationships had been, considering that she was unreasonably attractive and intelligent, not to mention rich. Despite all that, she said she was always the one who got left.
Then she disappeared from All Souls for two nights--and wouldn't say where. He hadn't really expected an answer. She always sidestepped his questions when they got personal. And he always put aside his resentment, more than halfway convinced that her little mysteries were part of the attraction.
With Amelia there was this energy that fed you from inside, making sex more transcendental than physical. From the very beginning he was comfortable just being with her, leaving so much unsaid. When they did talk in bed the subject was likely to be Shakespeare or genetics.
"I'm after a major discovery," she told him. "Apart from a syphilitic Shakespeare and the identity of his Dark Lady--that's the most important thing--I want evidence of Shakespeare the womanizer in the shape of a direct living kinsman. Who knows, he might even have gotten the Dark Lady pregnant."
"Why do you need to know?"
"Do you think if Shakespeare had syphilis he'd have gone fooling around?" She was leaning over him, her breasts pearly in the fading light.
"Half the women he went to bed with probably had it anyway," he said. "It could take years to kill you."
"So he could have had lots of illegitimate children after he got it?"
"Sure. Though it probably would have made him sterile eventually." He could taste the musky scent of their bodies.
"There's still no proof he had syphilis," she said.
"Why does it matter so much?"
"You wouldn't believe how many so-called authorities take the view that Shakespeare was a paragon of virtue. Don't ask how a puritan could write some of the bawdiest bits in the English language." She put her finger to his lips. "Shhh. Don't move."
She lifted his dressing gown from the chair and disappeared into the cubbyhole that passed for his pantry. He heard a thud.
"What's up?" he called out.
She swanned back, set down two cups, and slipped out of the robe. In the five minutes she'd been gone, twilight had become darkness. She turned on the bedside light and perched cross-legged on the end of the bed while he struggled to a sitting position and lifted his cup. Then lifted her arms in a graceful stretch, flaunting her breasts.
"You look like an angel spreading her wings," he said.
"I can be your very own angel," she said.
"Sorry, I already have a guardian angel?"
"Who is he?"
"It's a she, and she's called Janey." His hands were trembling. He'd never told anyone about Janey.
Amelia laughed. "Angels are supposed to be men, aren't they? Or neuterey?"
"Too. . . definite to be neuter, I'd say. I've poked around cemeteries quite a bit, and the angels I've seen never looked as if they had a penis hidden in their stony folds. Not that there was any suggestion of breasts, mind you."
"Why don't you tell me about your mother, Orphan Danny."
He hesitated. "It's just that my mother....Well, I didn't know who she was for ages or even that I'd been adopted. You see, I found her genetically."
"I matched her genes to mine."
"How do you mean?"
"I shouldn't be telling you this, but for some peculiar reason I am, so let's start when I was fourteen. My father - my adoptive father - summoned me on my birthday and informed me I'd been found in a car park at Cowley - that's on the outskirts of Oxford - abandoned. A brief spell at an orphanage, where they managed to coax my name out of me and nothing else. I looked to be about two, so they christened me and made that day my birthday."
No mention of the Valium. Years of it. And now Prozac. Too much of it.
"Go on," she said quietly.
"So there I am, fourteen, and suddenly I'm an orphan esconsed in an upper-crust family, and there's sweet Fanny Adams I can do about it."
"So what did you do?"
"Started combing cemeteries in my holidays, looking for my mother's grave. I was convinced she was dead - God knows why."
Her green eyes were nailing him. He felt trapped - and small. He was saying things he had never mentioned to anyone other than Lucy - saying them to someone he had known only a few days. He had to change the subject. Right now.........
"Quid pro quo," he said. "Why did you come to Oxford? I mean, to see me, of all people? Scientists don't have groupies, you know."
"Mmm. . . . . ..Okay, confession time. I told you I found out about this gene you've discovered before I came over to England. Now I'm ready to tell you why."
"Don't rush into it," he said. "I've only been waiting three weeks."
"Then you can wait a few minutes longer." She pushed back an errant ringlet. "First, explain the technique you've got where you can trace descent through several generations--thanks to this syphilitic gene?"
"More or less. Syphilis acts as a mutagen."
He stretched out a leg and massaged the sole of her foot with his big toe.
"In layman's terms," he said, "the new gene is carried by all males near the end of the Y chromosome--the chromosome that gets passed from father to son. Quite a few men carry it in mutant form, a sure sign they had an ancestor who had the Great Pox. In this form the gene--strictly speaking, the protein produced by the gene--can never pass from father to daughter. If a man with the mutant gene dies without a son, the mutant version of the gene dies with him, so the gene can only be used to trace ancestry in an unbroken male line where an ancestor--the first generation--caught syphilis."
"How far back have you followed syphilis?" she said.
"The middle of the eighteenth century, mostly, but through regression modeling I've been able to reconstruct some strains back to the early sixteenth. Venereal syphilis got defeated by penicillin, but the spiral-shaped syphilitic bacterium known as Treponema Pallidum is still making rounds. And the thing is, it's so genetically mutable that now it's got more varieties than Heinz."
"Then I don't think I'll be going to bed with Heinz."
"Aren't you worried about me in that department?"
"Already I know you too well. You're safe as houses."
"Still claiming to know me better than I know myself? How did you find out about the mutant gene, anyway? Hardly anybody knew it existed before the conference."
Instead of answering, she sized up his loins. "Is this a dagger I see before me?"
He threw a pillow, which hit her in the face.
"Sonofabitch," she said huskily, then plumped it in the nest of her legs. She steepled her hands and rested her chin firmly on the summit.
"Tell me if I've got this right. The gene changed--mutated--when it was exposed to syphilis. The mutation got passed on identically in each generation to all male descendants."
"So it's true you've traced descendants by. . . cloning, is it? Genes from bodies buried hundreds of years ago?"
"As I said--up to two hundred years."
He explained that he'd followed the research of Dr.Svante Nilssen at Uppsala University, who'd worked on genes isolated from an Egyptian mummy, amplifying its degraded cells in tissue culture and cloning them.
"How?" she asked.
"By inserting them into micro-organisms, actually. So that now, thanks to the polymerase chain-reaction method, a piece of DNA can be cloned millions of times over, in minutes."
"I read about those scientists at Berkeley who managed to clone some cells from a forty-thousand-year-old woolly mammoth preserved in ice. Clever of them."
"And I've replicated suchlike experiments at our Molecular Genetics Unit. Starting with tissue from the mummified remains of two English sailors who died in 1844 on Franklin's expedition to find a Northwest Passage and got buried in the arctic permafrost."
"Preserved their bodies, I suppose."
"Even their organs, as if they'd died yesterday. Anyway, after two years of working with exhumed human tissue I moved on to working with Arthur Sanger and Geoffrey Alton, researching DNA typing techniques."
"I've heard of Sanger," she said. "Who's Alton?"
"He pioneered genetic fingerprinting at Leicester University in 1984. After Oxford, I did a brief stint at the Pasteur Institute, then it was on to Australia for a year before my All Souls Fellowship."
"So where did you make the breakthrough with the new gene?"
"Back at Oxford, with the Institute of Molecular Medicine and the Immunochemistry Unit. For the first time male lineage beyond the previous generation was proven biologically--by digging up the bodies of men whose present-day descendants were known and had been tested. Now that work is being verified through a research unit at the Radcliffe Hospital. So there you have it."
"Not so fast," she said. "Why the switch from syphilis to HIV?"
"That's neither here nor there. The point is--"
"Why don't you want to tell me? Is it personal? Is it a secret? Do you have AIDS after all?"
He sighed. "All right. Essentially, a small percentage of HIV carriers--maybe one in fifty--never seem to develop full-blown AIDS. We've seen it mainly in tests on a group of infected men in Kenya. A lot of us think their immunity may hold the key to a vaccine. It's early days, but it looks as though they may be carriers of my new gene. It seems to help engender levels of cytotoxic T-cells that are far higher than normal."
"You mean if you can simulate the magic ingredient you might have a vaccine?"
"If only it were that easy. For one thing, probably we've got to go further back than the 1750's to isolate the key protein. Because it might well take several hundred years for the gene to mutate to the point where it conveys immunity."
"So an identifiable body--buried, say, at the end of the Renaissance--might carry the gene?"
"Might," he said. "But to give the gene time to mutate through enough generations, we'd need a known living descendant, now, in an unbroken male line. Just identifying such a body and reconstituting sufficient DNA would be difficult if not impossible."
"But you can't find a vaccine unless you go this route, right?"
"So go ."
"I'm trying to. . . Look, I probably know as much as anyone in England about digging up antique corpses, but it isn't that easy and it's only half the battle. There's still the problem of antigenic drift. It's very complicated."
There wasn't much light from the lamp, but he could see that her eyes never moved from his.
"If we had physical proof that Shakespeare caught syphilis," she said, "would it be possible to trace a descendant now?"
"In theory, if there were males in every generation right back to Shakespeare. But hey, hold on--even if you had a copy of his version of the gene, where would you start looking for a living relative? And that's assuming Shakespeare did have syphilis and didn't become sterile from it. And that he fathered a bastard son that went on breeding. That's a hell of a lot of assumptions."
Her left eyelid was drooping. He already knew her well enough to realize she must be tired or excited. In combination with her bumpy nose--the Bump, he called it--it gave her face a slightly hooded look.
She pushed the pillow aside and leaned forward to reach her coffee on the bedside table.
"Apart from an old enough body with your gene," she said, "what's the greatest obstacle in your search for an HIV vaccine?"
Where was all this going? There was a buzz in his head like a fly. Pillow talk wasn't supposed to sound like this.
"Well, money would help, but more that that we need an even larger supply of HIV samples. Like I said, we need to cover the full range of subtypes so that we can plot antigenic drift." He set his cup down on a coffee-filled saucer. "We need to find the core bit of DNA, the sequence that stays the same no matter how the virus mutates. If we can find that--and why the people without my gene, the ones most vulnerable to HIV have a low count of CD4 lymphocytes--then we can develop a vaccine that will really stop the virus. Now will you tell me what all of this has to do with Shakespeare?"
She burrowed under his arm and rubbed her nose against his ribs. "Have you heard of the World Health Rostrum?"
The AIDS campaign of the World Health Rostrum, a spin-off from some Californian self-therapy cult called the Rostrum Training Centers, had made news everywhere. They used the Bioscience diagnostic test for the immunodeficiency virus. It directly detected HIV's enzyme reverse transcriptase. Although it had only been around for six years, it was already replacing the ELISA and Western blot antibody tests. Daniel had been using it on a group of Oxford prostitutes. It was sensitive, fast, cheap, and accurate.
"Bet you didn't know they've made a commitment in the war against communicable disease to get more Americans screened for AIDS," she said. "Now they've got these mobile diagnostic units--over four hundred of them--going around America giving free screenings to thousands of people. The man behind the World Health Rostrum is a friend of mine."
Her smile was positively dazzling. He propped himself on one elbow and wondered--not for the first time--how she could swing with no warning from little girl lost to single-minded academic to full-bodied woman. It was tantalizing-and chaotic. The channel-changer in her personality would catch him wrong-footed time and again.
"You mean Marcus Freeman," he said. "He was nothing but a New Age has-been until AIDS came along."
Freeman had emerged at the peak of the hippie diaspora in the early 70s, peddling a formula that synthesized everything from scientology to assertiveness training to est and Zen. Capitalized on the Bioscience test and used the publicity to raise charitable donations that funded free screenings while the surplus went into blatantly hyped AIDS projects.
"In a year's time," she said, "Marcus's AIDS campaign will be running out of steam. That'll mean less money to cover the cost of screenings."
"So suppose you were to do something that would help both your work and his--and mine--all at the same time? I might get to prove Shakespeare did have syphilis and even a descendant, which would certainly piss off all those critics who treat him like Mr. Clean. More people would be screened for HIV--free of charge. The boost for the AIDS Campaign could raise millions."
"And just how would this help me?" The buzz in his head was now a roar.
"If you were to go to America," she said, "the Rostrum would supply you with all the HIV samples you could ever hope to get your hands on to build a complete set of. . . of. . . "
"Restriction maps?" Shakespeare's DNA? He would not ask the obvious question. Too preposterous.
"Right. Marcus would also give you a well-equipped research lab. I know--I've talked to him about it. And to Daddy."
"Amelia, you're going to have to tell me how you found out about my gene." Had she got academic spies? A lab assistant? Not unheard of these days. And just how good a friend of hers was Freeman? And what the hell had any of this to do with her father?
"Come on," he said. "How'd you find out?"
She crooked her little finger beside her ear. "My little finger's telepathic."
"So is my nose," he said.
"It's hawkish enough," she said. "With those hazel eyes so close together, it makes you look like a benevolent bird of prey."
"Yours is tastier. . . I love that bump. I want to eat it."
"Your bump," she whispered urgently. "Give me your bump."
She set down her cup and moved closer to nuzzle his ear. He ran one finger up the inner side of her leg, flirted for a moment at the delicate wedge. Seconds later she was sprawled supine and quivering, the hollow between her thighs cradling his head. She rested one hand on his hair, pressing gently as he buried his face, refusing to surface. She was panting, her breath interlaced with small sounds that quickly became a strangled skirl.
Then she was smothering him with her breasts, whispering that she liked tall dark men with the kind of looks that made her horny. She smoothed her cheek against his navel and he felt as if she were a part of him-a part he'd recognized rather than met on the dean's lawn.
He lay awake for hours beside her . He could hear the sound of her breathing deeply, rocking from side to side in her sleep.
He awoke late the next morning to find her already up and gone.
"How'd you like to tunnel into Shakespeare's grave?" she said the following night, when they lay exhausted after making love.
Back to earth.
"You'd have a four-hundred-year-old version of your gene," she said. "Not two hundred and fifty, lover, four hundred. Think about it."
"You're mad," he said, pulling their one sweaty sheet around him. But how could he not think about it? A staggering range of HIV subtypes to plot antigenic drift. . . And if Shakespeare did turn out to have syphilis, and a descendant could be traced. . . Unlikely but not impossible. And if. . .
"What have you got to lose?" she said.
Of course, the older the gene's line of descent, the more likely it would engender a powerful T-cell defense system. Finding a living descendant of Shakespeare, in England or America, would be a huge gamble--a huge impossibility, actually. But if one were found, that and enough restriction maps to measure antigenic drift. . .
"A working antiviral for AIDS could be a real possibility," she said, completing his unspoken thought.
"You're not mad, so you must know I could never get a permit to do something like that."
"Sometimes it's easier to apologize than ask permission."
Her eyes glittered in the moonlight. How could such eyes hold all this. . . cunning?
"All the work I did on bodies was above-board," he said. "Exhumation licenses from the Home Office, a faculty from the local bishop, observers, the lot. This is the twentieth century. Shakespeare is. . . that's consecrated ground, Amelia. I'm not a resurrection man delivering cadavers on contract to some anatomist who--"
"Don't be melodramatic," she said.
"Don't be ridiculous." Maybe she was mad, after all. What sane woman went after her quarry like that, leaping continents?
And yet. . . What was there to lose--apart from an international reputation? Of course, he had his local reputation to live up to as well, one he held in higher regard: brilliance by virtue of lateral thinking, risk-taking. . .
Amelia was quiet. Watching him think-she did that, he didn't know how but he knew she did it. He could have sworn the sweet smile broke on her face at the exact moment he thought of how he'd feel if he said no and someone else got the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
"Aside from legality," he said the next morning, "there's the cost. Not to mention the enormous practical difficulties."
"I've done some research," she said. "The soil is soft, as you'd expect by a river. It isn't chalk or clay. I've even done work on the water table for you and checked the bank of the Avon. There's a perfect spot to start tunneling behind some bushes--about thirty yards from the church. At night, of course."
"How the hell did you-"
"I was in Stratford the other day, taking a few measurements. I've found out where to get a boat, no questions asked. There's an abandoned barn on the opposite bank you could use as your base."
Their conversation over the next few days followed the same pattern. Objection, rebuttal. Fresh objection, new rebuttal. . .
"You're talking about weeks of heavy labor. That's down time in the lab. And it couldn't be done without help."
"Who do you know that could do the digging and keep their mouth shut?"
He thought hard. "There's Jake and Roy--gardener and handyman from my father's farm. They like money and they're due for holiday time. They wouldn't come cheap to do all that tunneling. On the other hand, they wouldn't breathe a word if I told them not to. I've known them all my life."
"Would five thousand pounds be enough?"
It was, in fact, the amount he'd reached with some rough calculations that morning.
"I've got it earmarked for this project," she said. "If you do it and you're successful--I told you, Marcus and Daddy are willing to back you. You'll have a fully equipped lab to work on all the HIV-positives you could dream of to get a full picture of antigenic drift. . .And you'll have me."
"Time is valuable, you know. This mad scheme of yours could take months. Months, Amelia. Just when my vaccine work is looking so good. Not to mention--"
"It might be the only way you'll find your vaccine."
"And what if it fails? It's such a long shot Not to mention the probability--no, the virtual certainty--that I'd get caught. You can't possibly--"
"I can. Look here, I even did a check in the Bod this morning. There's all that electronic surveillance equipment they installed in the church--back in the seventies after someone tried to steal Janssen's bust of Shakespeare. Think about it."
He did. Would sensors reach so deep below the floor?
"You do realize that Shakespeare's corpse--assuming I could get to it--would be no more than a skeleton?"
Her answer was to tell him about the work done on Jacobean burial caskets by an archeologist called Anthony Treloar.
"His research makes it at least conceivable that the cadaver will be well preserved," she said. "He excavated a tomb in Gloucestershire from 1622, and the remains turned out to be mummified inside an airtight coffin--not a pauper's casket, but lead, solid and hermetically sealed and kept in a cold place."
"Still, there are always enormous problems in reconstituting and amplifying badly degraded DNA. . . "
"If Shakespeare's can't be cloned," she said, "then you stay in England and that's that. You've lost nothing but some time. And the chance to be with me, since I'll be back at Harvard ."
It was the end of summer term in Oxford. On their last night together before Amelia's departure for America they strolled across Port Meadow, a little tipsy. Halfway there he took her fingers, spun her round and drew her to him.
"I want to taste your salt-lick skin and eat your bumpy nose and suck your soul out of your mouth, then burrow into your brain. . . " He wanted to tell her that she might just keep him off-balance the rest of his life.
As they strolled arm in arm, a late harvest moon guided them to the village of Wolvercote across the grass, leaving the town silhouetted in the sky. When he looked at her she glowed deliciously. He paused and with a tremor in his hand reached down to trace her mouth, nose, eyelids. His finger would remember.
He had never before had that warm sensation under his skin when he touched a woman, the feeling of coming home, like an infant to the breast. Most likely he had never been in love, only infatuated.
"I'll enter your tomb," he said, "on one condition. That your friend Marcus Freeman phones me and convinces me himself that this crazy scheme is for real. Then if I succeed with Shakespeare's body and he did have syphilis and I can clone his genes--God, how many ifs are there?--then I'll need Freeman and your father to come to London and convince me the whole laboratory deal is solid."
"Knowing Marcus, I think he'll agree to that. And Daddy."
In the early hours, as they lay sprawled like Siamese twins in a sticky afterglow, Amelia told him she loved him.
"Swear to God?"
"Love you. Love. You. So much that one day I want to have your children."
In the end he would have said yes to anything--the head of John the Baptist, the remains of William Shakespeare, you name it.