End of Act III
‘Any long work in which poetry is persistent, be it epic or drama or narrative, is really a succession of separate poetic experiences governed into a related whole by an energy distinct from that which evoked them’ – John Drinkwater
Claire and Alice were bustling energetically about a dressing room spread with fine clothes ready for the wedding.
Lily came in, yawning.
“Good Ursula,” she smiled. “Wake my cousin Beatrice and desire her to rise.”
“I will, lady,” said Claire.
“And bid her come hither,” Lily instructed.
“Well,” said Claire, and scurried offstage.
“Troth, I think your other rabato were better,” Alice remarked, inspecting her lady’s wedding clothes.
“No, pray thee, good Meg, I’ll wear this,” said Lily, sleepily.
“By my troth, ‘s not so good,” said Margaret, dubiously. “And I warrant your cousin will say so.
“My cousin’s a fool, and thou art another,” said Lily, good-naturedly. “I’ll wear none but this.”
“I like the new tire within excellently,” Alice observed. “If the hair were a thought browner; and your gown’s a most rare fashion, i’ faith. I saw the Duchess of Milan’s gown that they praise so.”
“O, that exceeds, they say.”
“By my troth, ‘s but a nightgown in respect of yours,” she grinned. “Cloth o’ gold and cuts, and laced with silver, set with pearls, down sleeves, side-sleeves, and skirts, round underborne with a bluish tinsel. But for a fine, quaint, graceful, and excellent fashion, yours is worth ten on’t,” she insisted, and Lily smiled.
“God give me joy to wear it,” said she. “For my heart is exceeding heavy.”
“‘Twill be heavier soon by the weight of a man,” said Alice, with a wry grin; the audience snickered, and then laughed in earnest at the way Lily was blushing.
“Fie upon thee!” cried Lily. “Art not ashamed?”
“Of what, lady?” asked Alice, innocently. “Of speaking honourably? Is not marriage honourable in a beggar? Is not your lord honourable without marriage? I think you would rather have me say, ‘saving your reverence, a husband.’ And bad thinking do not wrest true speaking, I’ll offend nobody.” She smoothed out a wrinkle in the skirt before her, expertly. “Is there any harm in ‘the heavier for a husband?’” she asked, cheekily. “None, I think, and it be the right husband and the right wife; otherwise ‘tis light, and not heavy. Ask my lady Beatrice else. Here she comes.”
Eleanor wandered in, stretching sleepily.
“Good morrow, coz,” said Lily, happily.
“Good morrow, sweet Hero,” said Eleanor, kissing her cousin’s cheek.
“Why, how now? Do you speak in the sick tune?”
“I am out of all other tune, methinks,” said Eleanor, with a shrug.
“Clap’s into ‘Light o’ Love’,” Alice grinned. “That goes without a burden. Do you sing it and I’ll dance it.”
“Ye light o’ love with your heels!” said Eleanor, grumpily. “Then, if your husband have stables enough, you’ll see that he’ll lack no barns.”
The older members of the audience chuckled.
“O illegitimate construction!” cried Alice. “I scorn that with my heels.”
“‘Tis not almost five o’clock cousin,” said Eleanor, ignoring her friend. “‘Tis time you were ready. By my troth, I am exceedingly ill.”
“Well, and you not be turned Turk, there’s no more sailing by the star,” remarked Alice, looking her up and down.
“What means the fool, trow?” Eleanor wondered aloud, raising a perfunctory eyebrow.
“Nothing I,” said Alice, sweetly, earning a giggle from the audience. “But God send everyone their heart’s desire!”
“These gloves the Count sent me, they are an excellent perfume,” Lily interrupted, diplomatically. She waved them at Eleanor, but she shook her head.
“I am stuffed, cousin; I cannot smell,” she said.
“A maid, and stuffed!” exclaimed Alice, feigning shock. “There’s goodly catching of cold.”
Eleanor put a hand to her head in mock faintness.
“O, God help me! God help me!” she cried. “How long have you professed apprehension?”
“Ever since you left it,” Alice grinned, and the audience laughed. “Doth not my wit become me rarely?” she asked, spreading her arms wide.
“It is not seen enough,” said Eleanor, approvingly. “You should wear it in your cap.” She grimaced. “By my troth, I am sick,” she complained.
“Get you some of this distilled ‘Carduus Benedictus’ and lay it to your heart,” Alice advised, with a sly wink at Lily. “It is the only thing for a qualm.”
“There thou prick’st her with a thistle,” said Lily, with a wicked smile.
“‘Benedictus’? Why ‘Benedictus’?” Eleanor asked, suspiciously, to the audience’s giggles. “You have some moral in this ‘Benedictus’.”
“Moral?” exclaimed Alice, wide-eyed. “No, by my troth, I have no moral meaning. I meant plain holy thistle. You may think perchance that I think you are in love,” she shook her head. “Nay, by’r lady, I am not such a fool to think what I please; nor I please not to think what I can; nor indeed I cannot think, if you would think my heart out of thinking, that you are in love, or that you will be in love, or that you can be in love,” she concluded, and Eleanor seemed placated.
Lily hid her smile behind one of her newly acquired, perfumed gloves as Alice continued, slyly: “Yet Benedick was such another, and now he is become a man. He swore he would never marry; and yet now in despite of his heart he eats his meat without grudging.” She flashed her mistresses a brilliant grin. “And how you may be converted I know not; but methinks you look with your eyes as other women do.”
“What pace is this that thy tongue keeps?” Eleanor demanded, startled.
“Not a false gallop,” said Alice, turning away slightly to laugh out of sight of Eleanor.
“Madam, withdraw,” said Claire, coming back onstage. “The Prince, the Count, Signior Benedick, Don John, and all the gallants of the town are come to fetch you to church.”
“Help to dress me, good coz, good Meg, good Ursula,” said Lily, and the four of them hurried offstage, whisking random garments with them as they went.
Eleanor came offstage just in time to see Sirius give Dorothy a gentle peck on the cheek, and grinned as the other girl smiled shyly.
She was glad that that was done with; she still couldn’t believe that she’d been so stupid to think he’d been mooning over her.
Approaching the now quite chaotic costumes area, she set the strip of lacy fabric she was carrying down on a table, and tried to unlace her corset; Lily dashed past her, pulling off her nightgown as she went. Claire and Alice, who were already dressed for the wedding, plunged behind the screens after her, to help.
It was difficult work, trying to unlace something in that awkward place behind your back that you couldn’t quite reach. Eleanor swore.
“Here,” said Remus’s voice from behind her. “Let me.” She felt his warm fingers bat her hands away.
“No worries,” he said, chuckling. “I always look forward to the opportunity to remove your clothing,” he whispered in her ear, and she blushed.
He handed her the corset.
“Give me a hand with the bodice?” she asked, and he grinned.
“I’m glad you know which bit goes where,” he said, watching her select a cream coloured garment from amongst an array of apparently identical clothes.
“Practice,” she said, slipping her arms into the thing and holding it in place against her stomach. “I’m beginning to appreciate why people had servants – their clothes were so bloody complicated to put on.”
He laughed, lacing her up.
“I suppose people made do with helping one another, for the most part,” he said, and Eleanor nodded. “Anyway,” he went on, “I think this suits you.”
“So do I,” she laughed. “You can barely keep your hands off me.”
“There,” he said, grinning. “That should do.”
He turned her around and kissed her, tenderly.
“People are staring,” she said, quietly.
“Ah, let them,” he smiled, rearranging a tendril of hair that was escaping from behind Eleanor’s ear. “I’ve waited so long to be able to do that in public…”
They smiled at one another.
“You can’t go to the wedding like that, Signior Mountanto,” she teased, coyly, looking over his slightly dishevelled uniform. “You’ll disgrace your Prince.”
He gave a half-shrug.
“They were being mean to me,” he joked, and she giggled.
“Here,” she said, straightening his uniform. “You look very dashing, by the way.”
“Really? I thought I looked a bit of a tit, to be honest.”
Eleanor smiled and shook her head.
“My knight in cream-and-blue coloured armour.”
“Shut up,” he smiled, and kissed her again.
“You two are sickening,” observed Wilbur, ambling past. “But in a good way.”
As Eleanor grinned at him, she caught movement behind the piles of scenery that weren’t currently being charmed into use.
“I think someone’s making out behind the set…” she whispered, and Remus turned to look. “Don’t look!”
“Why did you say it if I’m not supposed to look?” he asked, perplexed.
“Just… try to be less obvious,” she wandered nonchalantly to the far end of the costumes area and pretended to check the fastenings on her shoes.
She sucked in a breath, surprised.
The two people behind the scenery were indeed making out quite enthusiastically, and – now that she’d got a closer look at them – they were unmistakeable.
“Who is it?” asked Remus, still determinedly not looking.
“It’s Severus and… and Algernon,” she hissed; Remus’s head shot around.
Sure enough, there they were…
“Merlin’s beard!,” he gasped. “Well, that’s a turn up for the books,” said Remus, surprised.
“I was wondering who it could be,” said Eleanor, thoughtfully. “I have to say he did cross my mind…”
“What? You knew Severus was gay?”
“I think he’s bisexual, actually,” said Eleanor, as if they were merely discussing a preference in type of confectionary. “And I knew that whoever he was sweet on was a guy…”
“Wait, when did all this happen?”
“In the summer – someone was writing to him practically every day,” she grinned. “I was enjoying winding him up about it. Whoever it was had a large snowy owl, which meant they were unlikely to be muggle-born, and he told me it wasn’t a girl.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, mildly affronted.
“He asked me not to – sorry,” she shrugged. “‘In confidence’ means ‘in confidence’, as you well know.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” he said, grudgingly. Remus frowned, then snorted.
“The thought of Don Pedro sneaking off to make out with Antonio,” he sniggered, and Eleanor burst out laughing.
“Ew – that’s my uncle you’re talking about!”
“I w-wonder if they’re f-finding that the b-b-beard gets in the way,” he laughed, clutching at his stomach. “It’s one h-hell of a beard, after all!”
“You never know, it c-could be what got them together in the f-f-first place,” she giggled.
“What’re you two laughing about?” asked Severus.
They both turned to look at him, surreptitiously trying to rearrange his clothes, and entirely lost it; Eleanor collapsed against her boyfriend in peals of laughter, and he clung to her, crying with mirth.
“What?” asked Severus; he checked his costume. “What?”
“It’s the bloody beard again, isn’t it?”
They had been trying to calm down – really they had.
“Excuse me,” said Severus, over their helpless giggles. “I’m going to find someone sane…”
“W-wait Severus – I’m sorry!” Eleanor managed.
He paused, and waited until his friends could breathe once more.
“We were laughing because…” she glanced at Remus, who shrugged, unhelpfully. “Well, because we saw you and Algernon –”
Severus gave a start.
“You did?” he asked, blushing hotly; then he frowned. “Why was that funny?”
“Because we couldn’t get the idea of Don Pedro sneaking off with Antonio out of our heads,” Remus explained, and Severus’s expression began to clear.
“Actually, that is quite funny…” he snorted, and they grinned at him.
“So,” said Eleanor. “You and Algie, eh?”
“Yes, actually, for your information,” he said, a little shortly. “And?”
“And, I believe as your friend I get teasing rights,” she grinned. “I take it the snowy owl was his?”
He nodded, looking uncomfortable.
“It – it doesn’t bother you that he’s a boy?” he asked, with a quick glance at Remus; he already knew that Eleanor didn’t have a problem with it.
“Why should it bother me?” asked Remus, perplexed. “Quite apart from the fact that I live with Sirius, that is.”
“No reason,” said Severus, hurriedly. “I just – never mind.”
“Go on,” said Eleanor, shooing him. “Go and get dressed for the wedding scene…”
They watched him walk away, looking a good deal more buoyant than usual.
“Wouldn’t do to keep the Prince waiting!” Eleanor called after him.
Meanwhile, onstage: Frank was trying to dress ready for his daughter’s wedding; Dorothy entered, with a small bow and announced two visitors, whom she ushered in.
“What would you with me, honest neighbour?” asked Frank, looking up.
“Marry, sir, I would have some confidence with you that discerns you nearly,” said Dane, in what he evidently thought was a winning manner.
“Brief, I pray you,” Frank nodded. “For you see it is a busy time with me.”
“Marry, this it is, sir,” agreed Dane.
“Yes, in truth it is, sir,” Simon echoed.
“What is it, my good friends?” asked Frank, pulling on his boots.
“Goodman Verges, sir, speaks a little off the matter,” said Dane, apologetically. “An old man sir, and his wits are not so blunt as, God help, I would desire they were; but, in faith, honest as the skin between his brows.”
“Yes, I thank God I am as honest as any man living that is an old man and no honester than I,” nodded Simon, solemnly. Frank stared at them, perplexed.
“Comparisons are odious,” Dane admonished. “Palabras, neighbour Verges.”
“Neighbours, you are tedious,” said Frank, with little patience.
“It pleases your worship to say so,” cried Dane, much flattered. “But we are the poor Duke’s officers; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find in my heart to bestow it all on your worship.”
Frank’s expression clouded, and he put his head to one side.
“All thy tediousness on me, eh?” he asked, boggled.
“Yea, and ‘twere a thousand pound more than ‘tis,” said Dane, humbly. “For I hear as good exclamation on your worship as of any man in the city, and though I be but a poor man, I be glad to hear it.”
“And so am I!” cried Simon, happily.
Frank gave them a long look.
“I would fain know what you have to say,” he said, slowly.
“Marry, sir, our watch tonight, excepting your worship’s presence, ha’ ta’en a couple of as errant knaves as any in Messina!” Simon cried, excitedly.
“A good old man, sir,” said Dane, treading heavily on Simon’s foot; the other boy jumped about in silent agony. “He will be talking,” Dane moved in front of his hopping neighbour. “As they say, ‘When the age is in, the wit is out.’ God help us! All men are not alike, alas, good neighbour!”
“Indeed, neighbour, he comes too short of you,” said Frank, with a frown.
“Gifts that God gives,” nodded Dane, with pride.
Frank pulled on his waistcoat with an air of great impatience.
“I must leave you.”
“One word, sir,” said Dane, hastily. “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons, and we would have them this morning examined before your worship.”
“Take their examination yourself and bring it to me,” said Frank, rolling his eyes. “I am now in great haste, as it may appear unto you.”
“It shall be suffigance,” said Dane.
“Drink some wine, ere you go,” said Frank, pausing by the door; he left, shaking his head.
“Go, good partner, go get you to Francis Seacole,” said Dane, in a state of great excitement. “Bid him bring his pen and inkhorn to the jail. We are now to examination these men!”
“And we must do it wisely!” exclaimed Simon, in a similar state of excitement.
“We will spare for no wit, I warrant you,” said Dane, more soberly. “Here’s that shall drive some of them to a non-come. Only get the learned writer to set down our excommunication, and meet me at the jail!”
They rushed off stage, to somewhat bewildered applause, then each rushed back across in the opposite direction, as if they’d lost their bearings.
The audience roared with laughter as Esther and Olivia changed the scenery; they took longer with this scene change than most, decorating the scene, set in front of a small chapel, with flowers for the wedding.