It was Hero’s wedding day. She was so confused that she couldn’t get her thoughts together. Items of clothing were spread all over the chairs and sofas and she lifted one and then another, flung each one down and sighed. Margaret and Ursula were trying to help her, tidying up after her, keeping things in as much order as they could.
‘Good Ursula,’ said Hero, ‘go and wake my cousin Beatrice and tell her to get up.’
‘I’ll do that, lady,’ said Ursula.
‘And tell her to come here.’
‘Right.’ She ran off.
Margaret lifted the stiff ornamental collar that Hero had chosen. ‘I really think the other one would be better,’ she said.
‘No please,’ said Hero, ‘I want to wear this one.’
‘I’m telling you, it’s not as suitable, and I know your cousin will agree.’
‘My cousin’s a fool, and so are you. I’m going to wear it.’
‘I like those new hair extensions very much,’ said Margaret,’ if they were a touch browner. And your dress is very fashionable, I must say. I saw the Duchess of Milan’s dress that was so much admired.’
‘Oh, they say it’s wonderful,’ said Hero.
‘I swear it’s just a dressing-gown compared with yours: cloth of gold and pleats, and silver laces, decorated with pearls, fitted sleeves and ornamental sleeves, and skirts trimmed underneath with a bluish tint. But yours is worth ten of it as far as delicacy, elegance, gracefulness and fashion are concerned.’
‘I hope it cheers me up because my heart is heavy,’ said Hero.
Margaret giggled. ‘It will soon be even heavier with the weight of a man on it.’
Hero started to laugh then checked herself. ‘Disgusting!’ she said. ‘Aren’t you ashamed?’
‘Why? For speaking quite properly? Isn’t marriage an honourable thing? Isn’t your lord honourable? I think you would rather I had said, ‘excuse me, a husband’ instead of ‘a man’. And bad wording doesn’t alter the truth. I wouldn’t deliberately offend anyone. Is there any harm in saying ‘the heavier for a husband’? No, I don’t think so, if it’s the right husband and the right wife, otherwise it would be a saucy thing to say. Ask my lady Beatrice: here she is.’
‘Good morning, coz,’ said Hero.
Beatrice wasn’t herself. She had obviously lost sleep and when she greeted Hero it wasn’t with her usual tomboyish vigour. ‘Good morning, sweet Hero,’ she said weakly.
‘Why, how are you?’ said Hero. ‘You seem to be in a sad mood.’
‘I think I’ve run out of all other moods,’ said Beatrice.
‘Let’s sing ‘Light of love’,’ said Margaret. ‘We can sing that without a male voice. You sing and I’ll dance to it.’
‘Light of love yourself!’ said Beatrice. ‘You’d kick your heels with any man. And you’re likely to get pregnant too.’
‘That’s not fair,’ said Margaret.
‘It’s almost five o’clock, cousin,’ said Beatrice. ‘You’d better get ready.’ She sank down in an armchair. ‘I’m telling you, I’m really not well. I wish…’
‘For a hawk, a horse or a husband?’ said Margaret.
‘For the letter that begins them all, H,’ said Beatrice.
‘Well, if you haven’t changed your views on love there’ll be no more sailing by the Pole star.’
‘I wonder what the fool means by that,’ said Beatrice.
‘Nothing,’ said Margaret. ‘But God send everyone their heart’s desire.’
‘These gloves that the count sent me,’ said Hero, ‘they smell divine.’ She held the gloves under Beatrice’s nose.
‘I’m all stuffed up, cousin. I can’t smell them.’
‘A maid and stuffed!’ Margaret laughed loudly. ‘That’s a good cold!’
‘Oh God help me,’ said Beatrice. ‘Since when have you been a great wit?’
‘Ever since you gave it up. Don’t you like my sense of humour?’
‘We don’t see enough of it,’ said Beatrice. ‘You should wear it on your cap. God, I feel sick.’
‘Get some of that distillation of Carduus Benedictus,’ said Margaret. ‘Rub it on your chest. It’s the best thing for a sudden sickness.’
Beatrice sprang to her feet.
‘You said something that pricked her like a thistle,’ said Hero.
‘Benedictus! Why Benedictus?’ said Beatrice. ‘Is there a hidden meaning in that Benedictus?’
‘Hidden meaning? No, honestly, I don’t have any hidden meaning. I meant plain holy thistle. You may perhaps be thinking that I think you’re in love. No, by our lady, I’m not such a fool as to think what I like, nor do I like to think what comes into my mind, nor, indeed, I don’t think, however much I thought my heart away, that you are in love or ever would be in love or that you could be in love. And yet, Benedick was another one like that, and now he’s grown up. He swore he would never get married, and yet, now, in spite of that he’s become calmer. And how you’ve been converted I don’t know, but I think you’re beginning to look at things as other women do.’
‘What’s this nonsense your tongue’s running away with?’ said Beatrice.
Margaret smiled slyly. ‘It’s not a false gallop.’
Ursula came in breathlessly. ‘Madam, come on,’ she said. ‘The prince, the count, Signior Benedick, Don John, and all the townsfolk have come to take you to church.’
‘Help me get dressed, good coz, good Meg, good Ursula,’ said Hero.