Gratiano and Salerio walked to the Jewish quarter and stopped at the end of Shylock’s street. They had their masks on.
‘This is the porch under which Lorenzo told us to wait,’ said Gratiano.
‘He’s late,’ said Salerio.
‘And that’s a strange thing. Lovers are usually in a big hurry.’
‘Oh, the doves of Venus fly ten times faster to seal the bonds of new-found love than they do to maintain old friendships,’ said Salerio.
‘That’s always the case,’ said Gratiano. ‘Who gets up from dinner with the same keen appetite as when he sits down? Where is the horse that repeats the fiery enthusiasm of its early steps when it’s on its way home? The chase is always more exciting than the catch. How like a youngster the garlanded ship sets out from her harbour, proudly riding the brisk wind, and how like the prodigal son she returns, with weather-battered timbers and ragged sails, thin, torn and ruined by those brisk winds!’
‘Here’s Lorenzo now,’ said Salerio as Lorenzo came hurrying towards them, also masked. ’Shhh, we’ll continue this another time.’
‘Good friends,’ said Lorenzo. ‘Sorry I’m late. I was held up by a business matter. One day, when you’re stealing a wife, I’ll wait just as long for you. Come.’ He strode down the street. ‘This is where my father Jew lives. Hello! Anyone home?’
A window opened above them and Jessica’s head appeared.
‘Who are you?’ she said. ‘Tell me so that I can be sure, although I think I recognise your voice.’
‘Lorenzo, and your love.’
‘Yes, Lorenzo!’ she exclaimed. ‘And my love for sure! Because who do I love as much? And only you know whether I am yours.’
‘Heaven and your feelings know that you are,’ he said.
Jessica raised a little casket. ‘Here, catch this,’ she said. ‘It’s worth the trouble.’ She dropped it down to him and he caught it. ‘I’m glad it’s night-time and you can’t see me. I’m ashamed of my clothes. But love is blind and lovers can’t see the little follies they commit. If they could, Cupid would blush to see me changed into a boy.’
‘Come down,’ said Lorenzo. ‘You must be my torch-bearer.’
‘What? Must I hold a light up to my shame? Indeed, it shines out quite enough as it is! Love is a modest thing and I should be concealed.’
‘And so you are, sweet one,’ he said, ‘being in the lovely clothes of a boy. But come now, because it’s getting late and they’re waiting for us at Bassanio’s party.’
‘I’ll lock the doors and get more money. Then I’ll be with you.’ She pulled the window shut.
‘Well I never!’ exclaimed Gratiano. ‘She’s more like a gentile than a Jew!’
Lorenzo continued gazing at the window. ‘I swear I love her dearly! As far as I can judge she’s clever, and if my eyes can see at all, she’s beautiful. And she’s faithful, as she’s just proved. And so, as she’s clever, faithful and beautiful, she’ll live in my heart forever.’
Jessica came out, dressed like a boy, locked the door and turned to them.
‘Here you are, then,’ said Lorenzo and took her in his arms. ‘Come on gentlemen,’ he said, ‘let’s go. Our friends will be waiting for us.’
Gratiano walked a little behind the others. They turned a corner. Antonio was hurrying towards him from the other direction. ‘Who’s there?’ he demanded when he saw the dim figure of Gratiano.
Gratiano peered. ‘Is that you, Signior Antonio?’
‘Shame on you, Gratiano!’ Antonio looked around exasperated. ‘Where are all the others? It’s nine o’clock and our friends are waiting for you. The party’s been cancelled. The wind is favourable and Bassanio’s ready to embark. I’ve sent twenty men out to look for you.’
Gratiano grasped Antonio’s hand. ‘I’m thrilled,’ he said. ‘I can think of nothing better than being under sail and gone tonight.’