Theey seated themselves in the heavy chairs on the pebbled floor beneath the eaves of the summer-house by the orchard. A table between them carried wine and glasses, and a packet of papers, with pen and ink. The larger man of the two, his doublet unbuttoned, his broad face blotched and scarred, puffed a little as he came to rest.
The other picked an apple from the grass, bit it, and went on with the thread of the talk that they must have carried out of doors with them.
This is the opening passage of “Proofs of Holy Writ”, Kipling;s last story.
Will Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, two great playwrights of the early seventeenth century, are sitting in an orchard, chatting over a flagon of wine.
A messenger arrives from Oxford, where a committee of churchmen and scholars are making a new translation of the Bible for King James. They have sent some lines from Isaiah to see if the translation can be improved.
No great scholar, Will plays with the words of a passage, aided by Jonson’s knowledge of earlier translations, and makes some small but crucial changes; a glimpse of Kipling’s sense of how to marshal the weight and colour of words on a page.
As Ben says of Will: ‘Ye are more moved by this jugglery than if the Globe were burned.’ True of Rudyard too.