The main character in Blackwood's novel, Widge begins life in the country. During his first seven years, he bunks with a group of boys in an orphanage, and then he is apprenticed to Dr. Bright, a parson and physician who has devised a shorthand code that he calls charactery. He teaches it to Widge and sends him to a different church each Sunday to copy the minister's sermon. Widge then transcribes the charactery into regular English, and two weeks later Dr. Bright delivers that same sermon to his own congregation. When Widge discovers what Dr. Bright is doing, he asks if he can stop copying the sermons. He does not care if it is right or wrong, but he fears getting caught. Dr. Bright tells him that he is his boy and that he must continue to do as he is told. The notion that he is owned by someone else is drilled into Widge's mind.
When Widge is fourteen, his apprenticeship is sold to Simon Bass for ten pounds sterling. His new master's servant, Falconer, a terse man who wears his black hooded cloak as if it is a shield, takes Widge to his new home. Here Widge is instructed to go to London, attend a performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, copy down word for word the entire play, and transcribe it into English. Simon Bass intends for his own theater company to perform the stolen play.
The fearsome Falconer takes Widge to London. Although he attends the play, Widge gets so caught up in the story that he does not write much of the dialogue in the secret code. He does much better on his second viewing of the play, but his table-book with his charactery transcription of Hamlet is stolen. His only hope now to satisfy his master is to steal the play book.
Caught inside the theater, Widge lies and says that he is smitten with acting and wants to be a performer. The men in the theater company vote and decide that he can become an acting apprentice.
Sander is another apprentice at the theater. He shares his...
(The entire section is 802 words.)