‘Where the devil could Romeo be?’
Mercutio and Benvolio sat in the shade of the fountain’s wall. It was going to be another hot day. Mercutio drew a heart in the dust. ‘Didn’t he come home last night?’
‘Who would have thought it?’ said Mercutio. ‘That the dull cold Rosaline should have the power to drive him crazy.’
‘Did you know that Capulet’s nephew’s sent a letter to his father’s house?’ said Benvolio.
‘No. A challenge!’
‘Romeo will answer it.’
‘Any man who can write could answer a letter,’ said Mercutio.
‘No, I mean he’ll accept the challenge.’
‘It’ll be a walkover. Romeo’s already dead,’ said Mercutio. ‘Stabbed with a woman’s eye, run through with a love song, his heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. And you think he’s fit to take Tybalt on?’
‘What’s so special about Tybalt?’ said Benvolio.
‘Didn’t you know?’ said Mercutio ‘He’s more than just the Prince of Cats. He’s a champ. He’s as good at fighting as you are at singing. His timing is perfect – when he counts bars it’s one, two -’ Mercutio mimed a swordsman in action. ‘And the third one is in your chest.’ Jabbing at Benvolio with his finger. ‘He can hit a silk button at his first go.He’s a swordsman, our Tybalt. He’s in the first league, an expert in all the strokes. He’s a…’ Mercutio shook his head.
‘Forget it,’ said Mercutio. ‘He’s a poser plain and simple.’
‘Hey,’ said Benvolio as Romeo came towards them. ‘Here he is, the man himself.’
‘Ah,’ said Mercutio. ‘Look at him. What a lad.’ The most beautiful women in history were kitchen girls to his Rosaline. Even Dido was a peasant.’ He bowed. ‘Signor Romeo, bon jour. How’s that for a nice French greeting? You cheated us well and truly last night.’
‘Good morning,’ said Romeo. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The slip, the slip,’ said Mercutio. ‘Don’t you understand? You gave us the slip.’
‘I’m sorry Mercutio. I had important business. I’m sorry.’
They began ribbing each other, exchanging insults. Romeo’s friends were pleased to see that he was back to his normal self.
‘There we are,’ said Mercutio. ‘Isn’t this better than groaning for love? Now you’re sociable – you’re Romeo again, the Romeo we all know.’
Romeo was unable to take the big grin off his face. He kept looking up and down the square: whenever he saw any new movement he looked up.
And there it was at last – Juliet ‘s nurse all dressed up in full skirts and a billowing train which the hapless Peter was trying to hold down as she swept across the piazza.
‘A sail, a sail!’ shouted Romeo, and his friends joined him as he ran to greet the Nurse.
Mercutio grabbed the train from Peter and flapped it up and down. The Nurse turned and gave him a backhand which sent him flying into the dust.
‘Peter,’ she said.
‘Here,’ said her companion. ‘Give me my fan, Peter.’
‘Good Peter,’ said Mercutio, picking himself up and rubbing his jaw. ‘Give her her fan, good Peter,’ He put on a high voice, imitating the Nurse. ‘She needs it to hide her face. The fan is the prettier.’
The Nurse took a swing at him again and he ducked. More youngsters had gathered and they cheered. Mercutio took a bow and they cheered again.
‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ said the Nurse.
‘Good afternoon, fair gentlewoman, ‘ said Mercutio, sweeping his cap off.
‘Is it afternoon?’ she said.
‘Oh yes,’ said Mercutio. ‘The rude hand of the dial is now right on the prick of noon.’
‘Disgusting’ she said. ‘You disgusting man’
When they had all stopped laughing the Nurse sat down on the fountain wall and fanned herself. ‘Gentlemen,’ she said. ‘Can any of you tell me where I can find young Romeo?’
They all looked at Romeo.
‘I can tell you,’ said Romeo. ‘But young Romeo will be older by the time you’ve found him, than he was when you began looking for him. Yes it’s me. I’m the youngest of that name. For better or worse.’
‘Well said.’ The Nurse grinned.
‘That was well said?’ said Mercutio. ‘You’re not hard to please, are you?’
The Nurse waved him away and he threw himself on to the ground, lifted her skirt an inch and peeked under it and receiving another well aimed slap for that.
‘If you are he, I’d like a word with you,’ she told Romeo. She winced and blew on her stinging hand.
‘I think she’s going to proposition him,’ said Benvolio.
‘A whore, a whore!’ cried Mercutio, ‘Tally ho!’
The young men came closer and began walking round her.
‘What’s the message?’ said Romeo. ‘Go on,’ he told his friends. ‘Leave us alone,’
‘When you’ve finished with her come to your house,’ said Mercutio, bored with the game. ‘We’re all invited to dinner.’
‘I’ll be there,’ said Romeo.
‘Farewell, old girl,’ sang Mercutio, walking backwards, bowing. ‘Lady, lady, lady.’
‘Who’s the cheeky one?’ said the Nurse when they had gone. ‘All those tricks!’
‘Oh, he’s just a fellow who loves the sound of his own voice,’ said Romeo,
‘If he does that again I’ll sort him out,’ she said. ‘I could deal with twenty like him. Tell him if I can’t I can find someone who will! I’m not the things he called me.’ She turned to where Peter was sitting by the fountain, trailing his hand in the water. ‘And you can stand by and allow everyone to abuse me?’
Peter was up immediately. ‘I didn’t see anyone abuse you,’ he said. ‘And if I had I would have protected you. I’m always ready for a good fight. As long as it’s legal.’
‘Now as God is my witness I’m so upset I’m still trembling,’ she said. ‘Awful fellow.’ She breathed deeply. ‘Ah now.’ She looked at Romeo. ‘As I said, I want a word with you. My young lady told me to find you. What she told me to say I’ll keep to myself for the time being. But first let me tell you: if you’re leading her into a fool’s paradise, as they say, it would be the most wicked behaviour, as they say, for the poor girl is very young and therefore if you’re planning to double cross her then it’s a despicable thing to do to any young woman.’ She folded her arms and looked defiantly at him.
‘Nurse,’ he said. ‘Give your young lady my compliments. I promise you…’
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘I’ll tell her that. Lord, Lord, she’ll be so happy!’
‘Tell her what?’ said Romeo. ‘You’re not listening.’
‘I’ll tell her that you promise, which is such a good start.’
‘Tell her to find some way of going to confession this afternoon and there at Friar Lawrence’s chapel she’ll be given absolution and married, all at the same time. Here.’
He pulled a little bag out of his pocket.
‘No,’ she said as she took the money and hid it in her clothing. ‘Not a penny. This afternoon, you say? Well she’ll be there.’
‘Wait Nurse,’ he said as she turned, full of excitement. ‘My servant will bring you a rope ladder so that I’ll be able to get to Juliet’s room tonight. Goodbye. If you’re loyal to us I’ll pay you well. Goodbye. Give your mistress my love.’
‘Bless you, bless you, Sir,’ she said. ‘Oh, listen.’
‘Can you trust your servant?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Romeo. ‘He’s as true as steel.’
‘Oh Sir, my mistress is the sweetest thing. Lord, Lord, when she was a little chattering thing… Hmm.’ Oh, I must tell you – there is a nobleman in town – a fellow named Paris – who has designs on her. But I can tell you she would rather marry a toad – a very toad – than him. I annoyed her by telling her Paris is better than you. I was only teasing but she grew as pale as a sheet. Don’t rosemary and Romeo begin with the same letter?’
Romeo sighed. ‘Yes nurse but so what? Both with an R?’
‘R. It sounds like a dog growling. R is for – No, it’s some other letter, But my lady has the cutest saying about you and rosemary You’d love it. I think …’
‘Give her my love, Nurse.’
‘Of course. With pleasure.’ She was all smiles. ‘Peter!’
‘Go in front of me. And hurry!’