Sir Toby told Fabian, one of Olivia’s servants, that Maria was going to play a trick on Malvolio. ‘Come with us, Mr Fabian,’ he said.
‘Definitely,’ said Fabian. ‘If I miss a moment of this fun then boil me to death with misery.’
‘Won’t you be pleased to see that mean, rascally, sheep-biting dog humiliated?’
‘I would rejoice, man! You know he got me into trouble with my lady over some bear-baiting here?’
Sir Toby laughed. ‘We’ll have the bear here again just to annoy him, and we’ll make an utter fool of him, won’t we Sir Andrew?’
‘If we don’t we’ll regret it for the rest of our lives,’ said Sir Andrew.
‘Here comes the little villain,’ said Sir Toby as Maria came running towards them, darting looks over her shoulder. ‘How’s it going my metal of India!’
‘Get behind the hedge, all three of you,’ she said, waving a letter at them and they hurried to hide behind the hedge. ‘Malvolio’s coming down the path. He’s been over there in the sun, posing to his own shadow for the past half hour. Watch him if you want some fun because I know this letter will make a complete idiot of him. Keep your heads down if you want a good laugh.’ She dropped the letter on the path. ‘Lie there,’ she said, ‘because here comes a trout that’ll be caught with this bait.’ She rushed to the hedge on the other side of the path and ducked down behind it.
Malvolio, having spent the past half hour posing and practising bows and gestures, was now talking to himself. He walked slowly and, holding his head high, stopped.
‘It’s only luck – all luck. Maria once told me my lady found me attractive, and I’ve heard my lady herself hint that if she should fancy any man it would be someone like me. Moreover, she treats me more respectfully than anyone else in her circle. What should I make of it?’
Sir Toby’s face was red from his efforts not to shout something at him. He turned to the other two. ‘What a conceited rogue!’ he spat, barely able to keep to a whisper.
‘Quiet!’ mouthed Fabian. ‘Contemplation turns him into a veritable peacock. Look at the way he’s displaying himself beneath his raised tail feathers.’
Sir Andrew clenched his fist. ‘’Struth, I could really beat the rogue!’ He almost stood up and Sir Toby tugged at his sleeve and pulled him down.
‘Quiet! For God’s sake!’
‘To be Count Malvolio!’ the steward said.
‘Ah, you rogue!’ Sir Toby had to stop himself again.
Sir Andrew copied him. ‘Shoot him, shoot him!’ and Sir Toby warned him again.
‘There’s a precedent for it,’ continued Malvolio. ‘That lady of the Strachy family married the keeper of her wardrobe.’
‘Shame on him, Jezebel!’ said Sir Andrew.
‘Shhh! Fabian pointed. ‘He’s deeply into it. Look how his fantasy’s swelling him up.’
Malvolio stared into the distance. ‘Having been married to her for three months, sitting at my desk…’
‘Oh, I wish I had a catapult to hit him in the eye!’ exclaimed Sir Toby.
‘… calling my servants to me, wearing my embroidered olive gown: having come from a day-bed, where I’ve left Olivia sleeping…’
The three observers’ mouths opened with one accord.
‘Fire and brimstone!’ Sir Toby had had enough and was about to rush out but Fabian pulled him down.
‘Oh quiet, quiet!’
‘… and then, quite in the mood for business, after regarding them all solemnly, telling them I know my place as I would expect them to know theirs, I’d ask for my uncle Toby…’
‘Bolts and shackles!’
Fabian was holding Sir Toby so that he could hardly move. ‘Quiet, shhhhhh, now now…’
‘… Seven of my people, coming smartly to attention, rush out to find him. I frown in the meantime, perhaps wind up my watch or play with my…’ touching his steward’s chain, ‘… some rich jewel. Toby comes in, bows to me…’
‘How can this fellow be allowed to live!’ Sir Toby’s face had turned purple.
‘However tempting it is to react we must be quiet!’ hissed Fabian.
Malvolio placed one hand on his hip and extended the other. His hand hung limply. ‘I extend my hand to him like this, tempering my smile of familiarity with an expression of authority…’
‘And doesn’t Toby then punch you in the face?’
‘… saying, “Cousin Toby, fortune having given me your niece, I have the right to speak out”…’
‘What, what?’ Sir Toby readied himself for what was to come.
‘…saying, “you must reform your drinking.”…’
‘Patience,’ said Fabian, ‘or you’ll spoil it!’
…… ‘ “besides, you waste your precious time with a foolish knight…”
‘That’s me, I guarantee,’ said Sir Andrew.
“… one Sir Andrew…”
‘I knew it was me,’ said Sir Andrew, ‘because people often call me a fool.’
Malvolio lowered his head and saw the letter. ‘What have we here?’
‘Now the bird is near the trap,’ said Fabian.
‘Shhh. Let’s hope he’s going to read it aloud,’ said Sir Toby.
Malvolio bent down stiffly and lifted the letter. He looked it it and took a step backwards. ‘On my life, this is my lady’s handwriting!’ he exclaimed. ‘These are exactly her C’s, her U’s and her T’s. And that’s how she writes her capital P’s. It is her hand: it’s beyond question.’
Sir Andrew frowned. ‘Her C’s, her U’s and her T’s. What’s he talking about?’
‘To the anonymous beloved, read Malvolio. ‘This, with my good wishes.’ He looked up at the sky. ‘Her very style!’ He examined the wax seal then smiled. ‘With your permission, wax.’ He snapped the wax seal. ‘Wait. It even has her Lucretia which she always uses on her seals. There’s no doubt it is my lady. Who’s it for?’ He looked around surreptitiously then opened the letter.
This convinces him liver and all,’ said Fabian.
‘Jove knows I’m in love,’ he read,
‘But with whom?
Lips do not move
No-one must know.’
Malvolio looked up from the letter. ‘No-one must know!What comes after that? The rhythm’s different. No-one must know.’ He sighed. ‘What if it’s you, Malvolio?
‘Go and get hanged, you braggard!’ Sir Toby almost shouted.
Malvolio read the next bit.
‘I may command where I adore
But silence, like Lucretia’s knife,
With bloodless strike my heart does gore:
M.O.A.I. does sway my life.’
‘What a stupid riddle’, chortled Fabian.
‘Excellent girl, say I’, said Sir Toby.
Malvolio stroked his beard. ‘M.O.A.I. does sway my life! Hmmm, yes. But firs… let me see, let me see, let me see.’
‘What a dish of poison she’s served him up,’ said Fabian.
‘And how quickly the falcon takes the bait,’ said Sir Toby.
‘I may command where I adore,’ said Malvolio reflectively ‘Wy, she commands me: I serve her, she’s my lady! Why, it’s obvious to anyone with any intelligence. There’s nothing difficult here. And the end: what does that alphabetical arrangement mean? If I could make that refer to me.’ He studied the letters hard. ‘Just a minute… M.O.A.I…’
‘Oh… aye… follow that trail. He’s lost the scent now.’ Sir Toby shook his head in mock sadness.
‘The dog will pick it up again in spite of that,’ said Fabian. ‘Even though it’s been stinking like a fox throughout.’
‘M. Malvolio! Why, that’s the first letter of my name!’
‘Didn’t I say he would work it out?’ sid Fabian. ‘the mongrel is excellent at dropping scents and picking them up again.’
‘M… but then there’s no logic in the sequence. It doesn’t hold up. A should be next but O is.’
‘And oh will end it, I hope,’ said Fabian.
‘Yes, or I’ll beat him and make him cry oh!’ said Sir Toby.
‘And then I comes at the end,’ said Malvolio.
‘Yes, and if you had an eye behind you you might see more problems there than fortune ahead,’ said Fabian.
‘M.O.A.I. This puzzle isn’t as clear as the first one on the outside of the letter but if I were to force it a little I could make it fit, because all of these letters are in my name. Wait, there’s some prose next. If this falls into your hands, think about it! Fate has created me superior to you in rank, but don’t be afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Your guardian Fates offer their help: let your courage and spirit embrace them. And to prepare yourself for what you are likely to be, cast your humble manner off and start again. Be confrontational with a kinsman, surly with servants: let your conversation be about high matters. Teach yourself to be an individual. The one who sighs for you gives you this advice. Don’t forget who it was who approved of your yellow stockings and wanted to see you always in the latest fashion – cross-gartered. I say again, don’t forget. So, you are made if you want to be: if not, let me see you stay a steward, the equal of servants, unworthy to touch Fortune’s fingers. Farewell. She who would like to change positions with you and be your servant. – The Fortunate Unhappy.’
Malvolio held the letter to his heart.’Daylight and champaign couldn’t be more clear! This is transparent. I will be proud: I will read high-minded authors: I will obstruct Sir Toby: I will discard vulgar acquaintances: I’ll be that very man to the letter.’
He stood for a moment, shook his head, then pulled himself up. ‘I’m not fooling myself, letting my imagination run away with itself, because it all makes sense – my lady loves me! She did praise my yellow stockings the other day: she did praise my leg being cross-gartered. And she shows her love for me in this letter, and urges me towards these preferences of hers with heavy hints. I thank my stars! I am happy! I’ll be aloof and firm in yellow stockings, and cross-gartered – as soon as I put them on.’ He punched the air. ‘May Jove and my stars be praised!’
He opened the letter again. ‘There’s a postscript as well. You can’t help knowing who I am. If you return my love show it in your smiling – you have an attractive smile, so when you’re in my presence you should always smile, my dearest sweetheart, I beg of you. Thank you Jove. I will smile.’ He took a breath and attempted a smile. He stretched his lips and his face took on a gruesome expression. ‘I’ll do everything you want me to.’ He strode away, grimacing.
The three observers tumbled out from behind the hedge.
‘I wouldn’t miss this fun for a pension of thousands, paid by the Shah!’ said Fabian.
‘I could marry that girl for this,’ said Sir Toby.
‘So could I,’ giggled Sir Andrew.
‘And ask no dowry other than another joke like this,’ said Sir Toby.
‘Nor me neither,’ said Sir Andrew.
‘Here comes our my noble trickster,’ said Sir Toby as Maria emerged from behind the other hedge.
Sir Toby bowed before her. ‘Would you like to place your foot on my neck?’
‘Or on mine too?’ Sir Andrew bowed his head.
‘Shall I gamble my freedom away at cards and become your slave?’ said Sir Toby.
‘Indeed, shall I also?’ said Sir Andrew.
‘Really,’ said Sir Toby, ‘you’ve put him in such a state of unreality that when he emerges from it he’ll definitely go mad!’
‘Yes, but tell me honestly,’ she said, ‘will it work?’
‘Like brandy with a midwife!’ he exclaimed.
‘Then if you want to see the fruits of the joke come and watch his first approach to my lady. He will go to her in yellow stockings and that’s a colour she hates – and cross-gartered, a fashion she detests, and he will smile at her, which won’t be to her taste at this time, full of grief as she is: and that will make him most objectionable. If you want to see it follow me.’
‘To the gates of hell, you clever devil,’ said Sir Toby.
‘I’ll go too,’ cried Sir Andrew delightedly.
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