Paris approached the churchyard, his page walking in front of him with the torch. The tombs of Verona’s wealthiest families loomed even more darkly than their black surroundings.
‘Give me my torch, boy,’ said Paris. ‘Then go and stand guard. No, on second thoughts, put it out: I don’t want to be seen.’ He looked about then pointed to a silent row of dark shapes, ‘Go and lie under those yew trees and keep your ear to the ground. If you hear footsteps whistle. Give me those flowers. Go on, do as I tell you.’
The page was terrified at being left alone in the churchyard but he did as he was told.
Paris moved slowly, step by cautious step in the dark, to Capulet ‘s tomb. When he got to the entrance he lay the flowers in front of the doors. He had made up his mind that he would hold a vigil at the tomb and sprinkle perfumed water around the entrance. If not perfumed water then his own tears. And he would do that every night.
His page whistled. Someone was coming! Who could it be, coming to the graveyard at this time of night? And with a torch? The light came towards him. He would stand still and let the dark hide him. Whoever they were they were noisy. They virtually ran though the graveyard, not seeming to care whether anyone saw or heard them.
And then Paris heard a voice.
‘Give me that pick axe and the crowbar,’ the voice said. Then, ‘Wait. Take this letter. Make sure you give it to my father in the morning.’ There was another voice then the first one spoke again. ‘Give me the light. Now listen. Whatever you see or hear, stay silent and don’t interrupt me, whatever I’m doing. I’m going into this tomb, partly to look at her face, but mainly to get a ring from her finger – a ring that I need for an important purpose. So, off you go. But listen. If you come back to pry into my business I’ll tear you limb from limb and spread you around the churchyard. This is a desperate time and I ‘m a desperate man – more desperate than hungry tigers or roaring seas. So watch out.’
‘I’m off,’ said the second voice. ‘I won’t get in your way.’
Paris recognized the first voice. It was that haughty, banished Montague – the one who had murdered his love’s cousin. It was the grief of that that had caused Juliet’s death.
Romeo stood in front of the vault: it was a hideous stomach, stuffed with the sweetest food in the world. He would make it open its. jaws. He shoved the crowbar between the doors and forced them apart. He’d cram that detestable stomach with more food.
Paris knew what the vile Montague was up to. The monster had come here to desecrate the bodies of those he had murdered. But he would stop him. He sprang out of the shadows.
‘Stop, vile Montague!’ he cried. ‘How far are you going to take your vengeance? You’re under arrest. Do as I tell you and come quietly. You’ve got to die.’ He took up a position between Romeo and the doors.
‘Die?’ said Romeo. He laughed. ‘You’re right. That’s exactly what I came here for. Look here, gentle youth.’ He spoke softly. ‘Don’t take on a desperate man. Just go away and leave me. Think about all the bodies in there and let them frighten you away.’
He tried to pass but Paris refused to budge.
‘I beg of you,’ said Romeo. ‘Don’t tempt me to anger and make me commit another crime. Oh please go. Can’t you see? I love you more than I love myself because I came here to do myself harm. Go. There’s no need for this. Stay alive. And afterwards you’ll be able to say that a madman took pity on you and allowed you to escape.’
‘No,’ said Paris. ‘And I’m arresting you as a criminal.’ He drew his sword.
‘I’m sorry if that’s what you want,’ said Romeo, drawing his rapier too.
Paris’ page sprang up in alarm when he saw the two figures fighting. The torchlight threw up fantastical shadows as they squared up to each other among the tombs. The only thing he could think of was to go and find the Watch so he went off to do that.
The fight was short. Romeo did not want to hurt the young man but he knew that his assailant was deadly serious: he wouldn’t give up and leave him to do what he had to. If he had the slightest opportunity this fellow would kill him before he had the chance to see his Juliet, so he had to make sure that didn’t happen. He decided to keep his wits about him and take the young man seriously.
Within minutes Paris lay bleeding at the tomb’s entrance. ‘Oh, I’m dying,’ he said, gasping. ‘If you have a heart lie me beside Juliet.’
‘I will,’ said Romeo. Killing the young man was the last thing Romeo had wanted to do. He hadn’t even recognized him in the dark graveyard. He brought the torch closer so that he could see the dead youth’s face.
He was surprised when he saw who it was. He suddenly remembered what Balthasar had said as they galloped towards Verona. He hadn’t been concentrating on Balthasar’s words but he fancied Balthasar had told him that Paris was supposed to have married Juliet. Isn’t that what Balthasar had said? Or had he dreamt it? Or was he mad, hearing the Count talk about Juliet like that, and imagined it? A huge sadness overwhelmed him at the thought that Paris had been caught up with them in this sour fate.
He propped the torch up in the vault then dragged the body in. As he stood up he saw Juliet lying on a marble bier. ‘This is no grave, dead youth,’ he said ‘It’s a lantern. Juliet ‘s lying there and her beauty makes this vault a festive place full of light.’
He lay Paris on the floor beside Juliet’s bier. Then he brought the torch closer and climbed on to the bier. Looking at her he had a sudden feeling of happiness. He couldn’t believe what little effect death had had on her beauty. Death hadn’t defeated her – her lips and cheeks were still rosy. He looked around the fearful place Tybalt lay on bier a few feet away. ‘Tybalt,’ he said, ‘Is that you in your shroud? Oh what greater favour can I do you than kill myself, the man who was your enemy? Forgive me, cousin.’
Why was she still so beautiful? Was it because Death was in love with her and was keeping her in that dark place as his mistress? If that was so he would stay there with her and never leave. He would join the worms that were her chamber-maids. This was where he would live forever.
But it was time. ‘Eyes look your last,’ he said. ‘Arms take your last embrace.’ He took her in his arms and raised her up. He kissed her. He lowered her again and took out the poison. It was time. ‘Here’s to my love!’ He drank the poison in one go.
He had an immediate spasm. That apothecary knew what he was about: his poison was quick. He just had time to kiss Juliet again before he fell.
* * * * * * *
Friar Lawrence hurried towards the monument, stumbling against tombstones. There was a sound. He stopped. ‘Who’s there?’
‘It’s me, Balthasar ‘ said Romeo’s man. ‘You know me.’
‘Oh, thank God,’ said the Friar. ‘Tell me, what’s that light in Capulet’s monument?’
‘It’s my master,’ said Balthasar.
‘How long has he been in there?’
‘Half an hour,’
‘Come with me.’ said the Friar.
‘I can’t. My master thinks I’ve gone. He threatened me with terrible things if I didn’t go.’
‘Stay here then,’ said the Friar. ‘I’ll have to go by myself. I’m so afraid – oh so afraid that some evil thing’s happened.’
‘I fell asleep under this tree here,’ said Balthasar. ‘And I dreamt my master and another man fought. And my master killed him.’
Friar Lawrence went to the tomb’s entrance and peered through the broken doors. ‘Romeo!’ he called. There was nothing but the echo of his own voice. He looked down and saw the two weapons lying in a pool of blood. He summoned up all his courage and entered the tomb.
Romeo’s body lay across Juliet.
‘So pale!’ the Friar exclaimed. He saw Paris. ‘Who’s this? Oh no! All covered in blood? What’s been going on here?’ There was a deep sigh almost in his ear. Juliet was moving – trying to sit up.
‘Dear Friar,’ she said. ‘Where is my husband? I remember where I’m supposed to be and here I am. Where is my Romeo?’
There was the sound of voices in the distance. ‘Someone’s coming,’ said the Friar. Come Juliet, come out of this nest of death and decay. A greater force than we can fight has spoilt our plans. Come away with me. Open your eyes and look: your husband’s lying right there. And there’s Paris too. Come on, quickly!. I’ll take you to a convent. Don ‘t argue. The Watch is coming.’
He tried to pull her but she resisted. She put her arms around Romeo and clung to him. The Friar let go but he made one last attempt to persuade her. ‘Please come, Juliet. I daren ‘t stay any longer.’
‘You go,’ said Juliet. ‘I ‘m staying here.’
The voices were coming nearer. The Friar turned and fled. Juliet hugged Romeo and kissed him. She tried to hold his hand.
‘What’s this?’ she said. ‘A bottle?’ She took it out of his closed hand and examined it, ‘Poison. That’s what killed him.’ She raised it to her lips and tried to drink.
‘Oh, the rascal!’ she cried. ‘Drunk every drop and left none for me? I’ll take it from your lips: perhaps there’s still some poison on them.’ She kissed him and drew back immediately. ‘Your lips are warm!’ She cradled him and sobbed.
A man somewhere outside shouted, ‘Show me, boy. Which way?’
‘They’re here,’ said Juliet’. ‘I must hurry. Oh thank God he’s wearing his dagger. She drew the dagger, screwed up her eyes, and plunged it into her chest. ‘This is your sheath,’ she said. ‘Rest there.’
It had been effective. She couldn’t breathe. It was painful but it would soon be all over – her life was slipping away fast. ‘And let me die,’ she sighed.
* * * * * * * *
The Watch came closer.
‘There it is,’ said Paris’ page. ‘Where the light is.’
The captain of the Watch stopped at the entrance. ‘Look at this blood,’ he said. ‘Search the churchyard. Arrest anyone you see.’
They went in. When the captain saw the carnage even he, a hardened officer of the law, was appalled. ‘You,’ he said, ‘Go tell the Prince. And you. Hurry, fetch the Capulets. Wake the Montagues up. The rest of you go and search for evidence.’
They caught Balthasar and arrested him. They found the Friar trembling and crying. They took his crowbar as evidence and arrested him too.
By the time the Prince arrived, followed by the Capulets, the captain of the Watch had brought the three bodies out and lit the area with torches
‘Oh heavens!’ said Capulet. ‘Oh wife.’ They knelt down and cried without restraint. ‘Oh look how he’s bleeding,’ said Capulet.
‘This will take me to my grave,’ said his wife. She lifted Juliet’s lifeless body and held it close, rocking gently and moaning.
Montague arrived at the churchyard, followed by a member of the Watch. They hadn’t told him what to expect.
‘Good morning, Montague,’ said the Prince, going to meet him. ‘Up early to see your son down even earlier.’ He spoke bitterly.
‘A terrible night it’s been,’ said Montague. ‘Terrible! my Lord. My wife died tonight. She couldn’t bear it. Grief at my son’s exile, and now I fear there’s more unhappiness in store for me.’
‘Look there,’ said the Prince. When Montague saw the dismal scene of slaughter he also began to weep. When he could speak he addressed the body of his son. ‘Oh you bad mannered boy!’ he said. ‘To press before your father to the grave.’
‘Alright,’ said the Prince. ‘I’m going to undertake a full inquiry into this sorry business. In the meantime, can anyone give me an idea of who’s behind this disaster?’
Friar Lawrence came forward fearfully.
‘I’m the one, Prince,’ he said. ‘I’m responsible for this terrible slaughter. Here I stand, in an impossible dilemma, both condemning and excusing myself.’
‘Then tell us immediately what you know about it,’ said the Prince, Friar Lawrence told his story as accurately and honestly as he could and at the end of it he offered his own life if the Prince should think he had done anything bad enough to warrant that.
The Prince wasn’t inclined to judge him there and then. He wanted to look into it more fully and make a considered decision. ‘We have always known you as a holy man,’ he told the Friar. ‘I think we’d better hear what Romeo’s man has to say.’
Balthasar came forward nervously. He looked around. They were all there: Montague himself. And the Capulets. The Prince was regarding him sternly. ‘I took the news of Juliet’s death to my master,’ he said. ‘And he galloped here from Mantua: here, to this monument.’ Balthasar took a letter out of his pocket and held it up He told me to take this to his father. He said he’d kill me if I stayed here.’
The Prince took the letter from him. ‘I’ll have a look at this,’ he said. ‘Where’s Paris’ page – the one who called the Watch?’
The page was no less nervous than Balthasar.
‘Well?’ said the Prince. ‘What was your master doing here?’
‘He only brought flowers for his lady’s grave,’ said the page. ‘He told the Prince what had happened’. The Prince called for a torch and began reading the letter. Everyone waited for him to finish. At last he folded it. ‘This letter confirms everything that everyone has told me,’ he said. ‘Capulet. Montague. Can you see what punishment you’ve been given for your hatred? And because I’ve turned a blind eye to your quarrels I’ve also lost some of my own family. Everyone’s been punished.’
Capulet was aware of Montague weeping beside him. He thought of Montague’s wife dying from grief at the banishment of her son: he remembered the pain of Tybalt’s death, the way Juliet had shown her reluctance to marry Paris. He looked at the pitiful corpses on the ground in front of him. He turned to Montague. ‘Oh brother Montague, give me your hand,’ he said. ‘This is long overdue. Forgive me.’
‘With all my heart,’ said Montague. He took his old enemy’s hand and the two men embraced.
‘There’s something I’d like to do,’ said Montague. ‘I’m going to commission a statue of Juliet in pure gold. From now on everyone will know that there could never be anyone as faithful and true as the beautiful Juliet.’
‘I’ll match that,’ said Capulet. ‘I’ll do the same for Romeo. They’ll lie together forever, innocent victims of our quarrel.’
‘Alright,’ said the Prince. ‘I’m pleased that you’ve made your peace but it’s time for bed. The sun’s coming up. There it is, hiding behind the clouds, as though too sad to show itself. Go home, everyone, and I’ll think it over. I’m going to hold a proper inquiry. It’s a serious business. There’ll be punishment for some and pardons for others because there never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.’