‘The good die young but not always. The wicked prevail but not consistently. I am confused by life, and I feel safe within the confines of the theatre’ – Helen Haynes
The lights came up on the chapel, and the audience ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at how pretty it was; the majority of the cast (and assembled, costumed crew) were stood at pews, waiting for the bride. Hero’s family were gathered to the front of the chapel, the congregated soldiery looking smart across from them; the band played the strains of a very recognisable wedding march as Frank led Lily in, to general cheering onstage.
He presented her to James with a graceful flourish and stepped back, beaming.
“You come hither, my lord, to marry this lady?” asked Peter, with a gentle smile.
“No,” said James, to general surprise; Remus glanced at Algernon, but the latter’s face betrayed nothing.
“To be married to her,” said Frank, with a light chuckle. “Friar, you come to marry her.” There was a general air of relaxing.
“Lady, you come hither to be married to the Count?” Peter asked Lily, who dimpled prettily.
“If either of you know any inward impediment why you should not be conjoined,” he said. “I charge you on your souls to utter it.”
“Know you of any, Hero?” asked James, tersely.
“None, my lord,” said Lily, frowning a little at his tone.
“Know you any, Count?” asked Peter.
“I dare make his answer,” laughed Frank. “None.”
“O, what men do!” exclaimed James, a strange grimace on his face. “What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!”
“How now?” asked Remus, trying to gauge his friend’s mood.
“Stand thee by, friar,” said James, to general consternation. “Father, by your leave, will you with free and unconstrainèd soul give me this maid, your daughter?”
“As freely, son, as God did give her me,” said Frank, perplexed.
“And what have I to give you back whose worth may counterpoise this rich and precious gift?” James asked, tersely.
“Nothing,” said Algernon, gritting his teeth. “Unless you render her again.”
Many of the cast were staring at James and the Prince with a sense of foreboding now.
Sweet Prince, you learn me noble thankfulness,” said James, with a curt nod in his direction. Suddenly, he grabbed Lily by the arm and threw her at her father in disgust; it seemed as if his pent up rage had finally boiled over. “There, Leonato, take her back again!” he cried, in a fury. “Give not this rotten orange to your friend. She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour!”
As Lily cried out in startled horror, the townspeople looked on in amazement at a girl they thought they knew (after all, how could the Count be wrong?). Several people in the audience hissed their disapproval, and Eleanor was almost certain that she could hear Estelle tutting as she rushed to her cousin’s side.
“Behold how like a maid she blushed here!” shouted James, enraged. “O, what authority and show of truth can cunning sin cover itself withal! Comes not that blood, as modest evidence, to witness simple virtue?” he demanded of the congregation. “Would you not swear, all you that see her, that she were a maid, by these exterior shows? But she is none!” He pointed at Lily, who was still on the floor where she had fallen, and was crying at the ruin of her hopes (and, this being the very early seventeenth century, her entire future). “She knows the heat of a luxurious bed; her blush is guiltiness, not modesty!”
“What do you mean, my lord?” demanded Frank, from his daughter’s side.
“Not to be married, not to knit my soul to an approvèd wanton!” James declared, in high dudgeon. Frank was at his side in an instant.
“Dear my lord,” he cried in desperation. “If you, in your own proof, have vanquished the resistance of her youth and made defeat of her virginity –”
“I know what you would say: if I have known her, you will say she did embrace me as a husband, and so extenuate the ‘forehand sin,” said James, hotly. “No, Leonato, I never tempted her with word too large, but, as a brother to his sister, showed bashful sincerity and comely love.”
“And seemed I ever otherwise to you?” Lily begged, distraught.
“Out on thee, seeming!” cried James, and made to strike her, but Claire planted herself in his way, looking fearsome. “I will write against it. You seem to me as Dian in her orb, as chaste as is the bud ere it be blown,” he spat. “But you are more intemperate in your blood than Venus, or those pamp’red animals that rage in savage sensuality.”
“Is my lord well that he doth speak so wide?” Lily demanded, tearfully.
“Sweet Prince,” Frank implored. “Why speak not you?”
“What should I speak?” asked Algernon, angrily. “I stand dishonoured that have gone about to link my dear friend to a common stale.”
Audience and cast alike gave a gasp of shock and horror.
“Are these things spoken, or do I but dream?” asked Frank aloud, looking staggered.
“Sir, they are spoken, and they are true,” said Algernon, in all seriousness.
“This looks not like a nuptial,” said Remus, staring about him.
“‘True,’ O God!” Lily cried in despair.
“Leonato, stand I here?” demanded James. “Is this the Prince? Is this the Prince’s brother? Is this face Hero’s? Are our eyes our own?”
“All this is so,” said Frank, staring at him. “But what of this, my lord?”
“Let me but move one question to your daughter,” said he. “And by that fatherly and kindly power that you have in her, bid her answer truly.”
“I charge thee do so, as thou art my child.”
“O God defend me!” cried Lily, seeing her father’s solemn face. “How I am beset! What kind of catechizing call you this?”
“To make you answer truly to your name,” James growled.
“Is it not Hero? Who can blot that name with any just reproach?” she demanded of him.
“Marry, that can Hero!” James cried, viciously. “Hero itself can blot out Hero’s virtue. What man was he talked with you yesternight, out at your window betwixt twelve and one?” he demanded. “Now, if you are a maid, answer to this.”
“I talked with no man at that hour, my lord!” Lily cried.
“Why then you are no maiden,” Algernon growled. “Leonato, I am sorry you must hear. Upon mine honour myself, my brother and this grievèd Count did see her, hear her, at that hour last night talk with a ruffian at her chamber window who hath indeed, most like a liberal villain, confessed the vile encounters they have had a thousand times in secret.”
The guests recoiled in horror, as did most of the men; Alice stared at Algernon in dawning horror.
“Fie, fie! They are not to be named, my lord – not to be spoken of,” Sirius spat. “There is not chastity enough in language without offence to utter them. Thus, pretty lady, I am sorry for thy much misgovernment.”
“O Hero!” bewailed James, dramatically. “What a Hero hadst thou been if half thy outward graces had been placed about thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart! But fare thee well, most foul, most fair, farewell; thou pure impiety and impious purity, for thee I’ll lock up all the gates of love, and on my eyelids shall conjecture hang, to turn all beauty into thoughts of harm, and never shall it more be gracious.”
“Hath no man’s dagger here a point for me?” asked Frank, weakly.
Lily, who had been sobbing, went limp and collapsed onto Eleanor and Claire in a truly distressing manner.
“Why, how now, cousin?” asked Eleanor tensely, shaking her a little. “Wherefore sink you down?”
“Come, let us go,” snarled Sirius. “These things, come thus to light, smother her spirit up.”
The Princes and their men stalked offstage, followed by the crowd of shocked and chattering townspeople. While Claire and Eleanor tried vainly to rouse Lily from her faint, Alice hurried through the crowd, looking frightened.
“How doth the lady?” asked Remus, kneeling at her side.
“Dead, I think!” cried Eleanor, alarmed – she reached out to anyone within reach, desperate. “Help, uncle! Hero! Why, Hero! Uncle! Signior Benedick! Friar!”
“O Fate, take not away thy heavy hand!” Frank exclaimed, staring wildly. “Death is the fairest cover for her shame that may be wished for!”
Lily awoke, entirely bewildered at finding herself sprawled between Claire and Eleanor; she peered up at the circle of concerned faces, then on to her father, who was looking on her in sheer disgust.
“How now, cousin Hero?” asked Eleanor, stroking her cousin’s hair.
“Have comfort, lady,” said Peter, patting her hand gently.
“Dost thou look up?” growled Frank.
“Yea,” said Peter, looking up at him in surprise. “Wherefore should she not?”
“Wherefore?” Frank demanded. “Why, doth not every earthly thing cry shame upon her? Could she here deny the story that is printed in her blood?” He grabbed his daughter by her hair and dragged her across the stage, to cries of consternation from the women; Peter and Severus caught hold of his shoulders and hauled him backwards as the audience gasped in shock. Remus grabbed Eleanor’s shoulder to prevent her from flying at her uncle, as was plainly her intention; she settled for helping Claire to sooth Lily, who was wailing in despair.
“Do not live, Hero!” Frank bellowed, from between his captors. “Do not ope thine eyes! For, did I think thou wouldst not quickly die, thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames, myself would strike at thy life!” He renewed his struggles against Peter and Severus and tried again to grab her; all three women shrieked at him (though in Lily’s case it was mostly just louder crying).
“Grieved I, I had but one?” Frank shouted. “Chid I for that at nature’s frugal frame? O, one too much by thee! Why had I one? Why ever wast thou lovely in my eyes?” He took another futile swipe at his sobbing daughter. “Why had I not, with charitable hand took up a beggar’s issue at my gates, who smirchèd thus and mired with infamy, I might have said, ‘No part of it is mine’? But mine, and mine I loved, and mine I praised, and mine that I was proud on, mine so much that I myself was to myself not mine, valuing of her – why she, O she is fall’n into a pit of ink, that the wide sea hath drops too few to wash her clean again, and salt too little which may season give to her foul tainted flesh!” he shouted, in despair.
“Sir, sir, be patient!” Remus commanded, holding a placating arm out to him. “For my part, I am so attired in wonder, I know not what to say.”
“O, on my soul, my cousin is belied!” Eleanor cried.
“Lady, were you her bedfellow last night?” asked Remus.
“No, truly, not,” said Eleanor, shaking her head. “Although, until last night, I have this twelvemonth been her bedfellow.”
“Confirmed, confirmed!” screamed Frank, making Lily sob even harder. “O, that is stronger made which was before barred up with ribs of iron! Would the two princes lie, and Claudio lie, who loved her so that, speaking of her foulness, washed it with tears? Hence from her! Let her die!” he struck out, catching his daughter’s cheek; Eleanor and Claire pulled her further back as Remus rushed to help Severus pull him away from her. Peter put himself firmly between Frank and Lily. The audience were looking on in rapt and silent attention.
“Hear me a little,” he said, firmly. “For I have only been silent so long, and given way unto this course of fortune, by noting of the lady. I have marked a thousand blushing apparitions to start in her face, a thousand innocent shames in angel whiteness beat away those blushes, and in her eye there hath appeared a fire to burn the errors that these princes hold against her maiden truth.” Frank was listening to him now, more calmly – though Remus and Severus hadn’t let him go, just in case. Lily’s sobs were quieter now someone in authority believed in her innocence; she was clinging to Claire and Eleanor like lifelines in a turbulent ocean.
“Call me a fool,” continued Peter, more gently. “Trust not my reading nor my observations, which with experimental seal doth warrant the tenor of my book; trust not my age, my reverence, calling, nor divinity, if this sweet lady lie not guiltless here under some biting error.”
“Friar, it cannot be,” Frank wept. “Thou seest that all the grace she hath left is that she will not add to her damnation a sin of perjury; she not denies it. Why seek’st thou then to cover with excuse that which appears in proper nakedness?”
“Lady,” said Peter, gently, ignoring Frank’s protests. “What man is he you are accused of?”
“They know that do accuse me; I know none!” she protested. “If I know more of any man alive than that which maiden modesty doth warrant, let all my sins lack mercy! O my father, prove you that any man with me conversed at hours unmet, or that I yesternight maintained the change of words with any creature, refuse me, hate me, torture me to death!”
“There is some strange misprision in the princes,” said Peter, shaking his head.
“Two of them have the very bent of honour,” said Remus. “And if their wisdoms be misled in this, the practice of it lives in John the bastard, whose spirits toil in frame of villainies.”
“I know not,” said Frank, weakly. “If they speak but truth of her, these hands shall tear her. If they wrong her honour, the proudest of them shall well hear of it. Time hath not yet so dried this blood of mine, nor age so eat up my invention, nor fortune made such havoc of my means, nor my bad life reft me so much of friends, but they shall find awaked in such a kind both strength of limb and policy of mind, ability in means and choice of friends, to quit me of them thoroughly.”
“Pause awhile and let my counsel sway you in this case,” said Peter, soothingly. “Your daughter here the princes left for dead. Let her awhile be secretly kept in, and publish it that she is dead indeed; maintain a mourning ostentation, and on your family’s old monument hang mournful epitaphs, and do all rites that appertain unto a burial.”
“What will become of this?” Frank demanded. “What will this do?”
“Marry, this well carried shall on her behalf change slander to remorse,” said Peter. “That is some good. But not for that dream I on this strange course, but on this travail look for greater birth.” He patted Lily’s hand, soothingly. “She dying, as it must be so maintained, upon the instant that she were accused, shall be lamented, pitied, and excused of every hearer. For it so falls out that what we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost, why, then we rack the value, then we find the virtue that possession would not show us whiles it was ours.” He looked at the people ranged about him sternly, aware that he had their (and the audience’s) full attention. “So will it fare with Claudio. When he shall hear she died upon his words, th’ idea of her life shall sweetly creep into his study of imagination, and every lovely organ of her life shall come apparelled in more precious habit, more moving, delicate, and full of life, into the eye and prospect of his soul than when she lived indeed. Then shall he mourn, if ever love had interest in his liver, and wish he had not so accusèd her, no, though he thought his accusation true.”
“Let this be so,” Peter continued. “And doubt not but success will fashion the event in better shape than I can lay it down in likelihood. But if all aim, but this, be levelled false, the supposition of the lady’s death will quench the wonder of her infamy; and if it sort not well, you may conceal her, as best befits her wounded reputation, in some reclusive and religious life, out of all eyes, tongues, minds and injuries.”
“Signior Leonato, let the friar advise you,” said Remus, soothingly. “And though you know my inwardness and love is very much unto the Prince and Claudio, yet, by mine honour, I will deal in this as secretly and justly as your soul should with your body.”
“Being that I flow in grief, the smallest twine may lead me,” said Frank weakly.
“‘Tis well consented,” said Peter, relieved. “Presently away; for to strange sores strangely they strain the cure.” He laid a hand on Lily’s arm as Claire lifted her to her feet: “Come, lady, die to live. This wedding day perhaps is but prolonged. Have patience and endure.”
He helped Claire support her as she stumbled off stage, followed by her father and Severus, leading his brother gently away.
Eleanor sank onto one of the pews and covered her face, crying now that her cousin was – for the moment – out of danger. Remus knelt beside her, wanting to comfort her but uncertain as to how she would take it.
“Lady Beatrice,” he asked, gently. “Have you wept all this while?”
“Yea,” said Eleanor, from between her fingers. “And I will weep a while longer.”
“I will not desire that…”
“You have no reason,” said she. “I do it freely.”
Remus reached out a hand to her arm, but thought better of it and withdrew.
“Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged,” he assured her.
“Ah,” she said, emerging tearfully from behind her hands. “How much might the man deserve of me that would right her!”
“Is their any way to show such friendship?” he asked, this time gently grasping her hand; she did not resist.
“A very even way,” she said, haltingly. “But no such friend.”
“May a man do it?”
“It is a man’s office, but not yours,” she said quietly, frowning at his hand as if she had only just noticed it. She looked up at his face.
“I do love nothing in the world so well as you,” he said, earnestly. “Is not that strange?”
“As strange as the thing I know not,” she said, startled and unable to look away from him. “It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you – but believe me not – and yet I lie not.” She shook her head and tore her eyes away, deeply uncomfortable. “I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin.”
“By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me!” cried Remus, in delight, taking both of her hands in his own.
“Do not swear and eat it,” she pleaded.
“I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you!”
“Will you not eat your word?”
“With no sauce that can be devised to it,” he assured her. “I protest I love thee!”
“Well then, God forgive me!” she said, smiling tearfully.
“What offence, sweet Beatrice?” Remus asked, matching her smile.
“You have stayed me in a happy hour!” she cried. “I was about to protest I loved you!”
“And do it with all thy heart!” he laughed.
“I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest!” she cried, and he kissed her fiercely (to several ‘whoops’ from the audience).
“Come,” he said, sitting beside her. “Bid me do anything for thee.”
Eleanor looked him dead in the eye, and, with quiet forcefulness, made her request.
The audience gave a gasp; Remus’s face fell and he drew back from her slightly.
“Ha… not for the wide world,” he said.
“You kill me to deny it,” said Eleanor, rising. “Farewell.”
“Tarry, sweet Beatrice,” he said, catching her about the waist to prevent her departure.
“I am gone, thou I am here,” she said, struggling. “There is no love in you – nay, I pray you let me go!”
“In faith, I will go!” she cried, hotly.
“We’ll be friends first!” he said, letting her go; she turned to him angrily.
“You dare easier be friends with me than fight with mine enemy!” she spat.
“Is Claudio thine enemy?” Remus asked, desperately.
“Is ‘a not approved in the height a villain, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonoured my kinswoman?” she demanded, screaming at him. “O that I were a man!” she cried, staring at him. “What, bear her in hand until they come to take hands; and then, with public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour –” she fell to her knees before the chapel and stared up at the heavens in great distress. “O God, that I were a man!” she shouted. “I would eat his heart in the marketplace!”
“Hear me, Beatrice –” Remus began, but Eleanor was too upset to listen.
“Talk with a man out at a window!” she exclaimed, angrily. “A proper saying!”
“Nay, but Beatrice –”
“Sweet Hero, she is wronged, she is sland’red, she is undone!”
“Princes and counties!” she cried, jumping to her feet in agitation. “Surely, a princely testimony, a goodly count, Count Comfect; a sweet gallant, surely!” she shouted, her hands pulling at her hair in anguish; she was pacing back and forth in front of the chapel now, Remus trying – and failing – to interrupt her path. “O that I were a man for his sake! Or that I had any friend would be a man for my sake!” she shot a glare at her would-be suitor. “But manhood is melted into cursies, valour into compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too. He is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie, and swears it,” she cried, gesturing in the direction that Claudio and the princes departed in. “I cannot be a man by wishing; therefore I will die a woman with grieving.”
She sank onto the pew, and Remus took the opportunity to spring to her side.
“Tarry, good Beatrice,” he said, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. “By this hand, I love thee.”
She glared at him, but didn’t shrug him off as it had seemed she might; she no longer had the energy.
“Use it for my love some other way that swearing by it,” she begged him.
Remus frowned and addressed her soberly:
“Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?” he asked.
“Yea,” said Eleanor, darkly. “As surely as I have a thought or a soul.”
Remus nodded once, as if making up his mind.
“Enough,” he said. “I am engaged. I will challenge him.” Eleanor leaned against him for a moment in relief; he pressed his lips to her knuckles. “I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me.” He helped her to her feet. “Go, comfort your cousin. I must say she is dead. And so farewell.”
Eleanor grasped his hand to her for a moment before walking weakly offstage.
Remus watched her go, his expression worried and dark.
When the lights came up once more, Nathan and Thomas were chained to a wall, looking bruised, muddy and altogether sorry for themselves. The members of the watch were leaning against the walls in a nonchalant and highly smug manner; periodically one of them would give them an investigative prod with their pike.
Damocles Belby, a rotund Ravenclaw with a booming voice, was herded onstage by Simon, who looked as if he were about to explode with excitement. Wilbur and Helbert took a break from poking the plaintiffs to set up a desk and chair, which Belby took, looking highly dubious.
“Is our whole dissembly appeared?” asked Dane, striding onstage purposefully.
Belby, Thomas and Nathan eyed him with obvious contempt.
“Which be the malefactors?” asked Belby, in a bored voice.
“Marry, that am I and my partner,” Dane announced, proudly.
The Watch members and prisoners exchanged a look that said, quite clearly ‘what a prick’.
“Nay, that’s certain,” said Simon, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet. “We have the exhibition to examine.”
“But which are the offenders that are to be examined?” asked Belby, with a withering look. “Let them come before Master Constable.”
“Yea, marry, let them come before me,” said Dane. “What is your name friend?” he asked Nathan, prodding him in the stomach.
“Borachio,” said Nathan, wearily.
“Pray write down Borachio,” said Dane; he turned to Thomas. “And you, sirrah?” he asked, insulting him effortlessly.
“I am a gentleman, sir,” said Thomas, through gritted teeth. “And my name is Conrade.”
“Write down Master Gentleman Conrade,” said Dane. “Masters, do you serve God?”
“Yea, sir, we hope,” Nathan and Thomas chorused.
“Write down that they hope they serve God,” said Dane. “And write God first, for God defend but God should go before villains! Masters it is proved already that you are little better than false knaves, and I will go near to be thought so shortly. How answer you for yourselves?”
“Marry, sir, we say we are none,” said Thomas.
“A marvellous witty fellow, I assure you,” Dane laughed, accommodatingly. “But I will go about with him. Sir, I say to you, it is thought you are false knaves.”
“Sir, I say to you we are none,” insisted Nathan.
“‘Fore God, they are both in a tale,” he leaned over Belby’s book. “Have you writ down they are none?”
“Master Constable,” barked Belby in annoyance. “You go not the way to examine. You must call forth the watch that are their accusers.”
“Yea, marry, that’s the eftest way,” agreed Dane, beckoning the watch forward. “Let the watch come forth. Masters, I charge you in the Prince’s name, accuse these men!”
“This man said, sir, that Don John the Prince’s brother was a villain,” said Wilbur, giving Nathan a prod with his bill.
“Write down Prince John a villain,” said Dane, horrified. “Why, this is flat perjury, to call a prince’s brother villain.”
“Master Constable!” groaned Nathan, despite himself.
“Pray thee, fellow, peace,” Dane admonished him, waggling a finger in his face. “I do not like thy look, I promise thee.”
“What heard you him say else?” asked Belby, pointedly ignoring Dane.
“Marry,” said Crispin. “That he had received a thousand ducats of Don John for accusing the Lady Hero wrongfully.”
“Flat burglary as ever was committed!” exclaimed Dane.
“Yea, by mass, that it is!” Simon agreed, as he always did.
“What else?” Belby demanded.
“And that Count Claudio did mean, upon his words, to disgrace Hero before the whole assembly, and not marry her!” cried Helbert.
“O villain!” Dane exclaimed. “Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this!”
The audience sniggered, but Belby’s remarkable voice silenced them.
“And this is more, masters, than you can deny,” he said. “Prince John is this morning secretly stol’n away. Hero was in this manner accused, in this very manner refused, and upon the grief of this suddenly died!”
Thomas and Nathan exchanged a worried look; Simon stared at them agog.
“Master Constable, let these men be bound and brought to Leonato’s,” said Belby, rising and collecting his book. “I will go before and show him their examination.”
He hurried off, ledger tucked beneath his arm.
“Come,” said Dane, to the watch. “Let them be opinioned!”
“Let them be!” cried Simon. “In the hands!”
Several people snorted.
“God’s my life, come, bind them,” Dane urged. “Thou naughty varlet!”
“Away!” shouted Thomas, as they made to move him. “You are an ass!” Apparently, he had had enough of their stupidity, particularly given the ignominy of being caught by such fools. “You are an ass!” he shouted, going quite red in the face.
“Dost thou not suspect my place?” Dane demanded, angrily. “Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass!” He stuck an irate finger under Helbert’s nose; he backed into the wall. “But, masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.” He turned back to Thomas: “No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow; and which is more, a householder; and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to!” He was pacing now, quite enraged; the audience was rolling about, beside themselves with laughter. “And a rich fellow enough, go to! And a fellow that hath had losses; and one that hath two gowns and everything handsome about him. O that I had been writ down an ass!”