If Capulet recognized Mercutio’s friends he concealed it well, even welcoming them with hearty handshakes. He was in high spirits as the hall filled up: he hopped about like a bird and greeted his guests with smiles, backslaps and jokes.
‘Come in. come in,’ he said as each group of masked youths arrived at the doorway. ‘Don’t stand there, come in. Look at all the girls. Go in, go in. And I want to see you dancing. Only those girls with corns on their feet will say no.’
‘I’m a doctor tonight.’ he told a group of girls, beaming. ‘I can tell which of you have corns – those who don’t get up and dance right away.’ And when all except one rushed off, giggling, to find partners, he winked at the shy one left standing on her own.
‘Have I hit the nail on the head’?’ he said. making her blush even more. He turned away to greet some new arrivals.
The hard work he had put into the preparations was paying off. The great hall was festooned with colourful banners and flowers and the tables were spread with enticing food. He looked this way and that, missing nothing. With the saddest expression on his face he told some young men not to waste time – there were plenty of girls. It would be tragic for them not to take advantage of opportunities like this because before they knew it they would be old men like him and then it would be too late. Was it only yesterday that he was whispering sweet nothings in the ears of young ladies? He shook his head. ‘Those were the days. All gone now.’ He looked as though he was going to cry but made an immediate recovery, gesturing with waving arms to the musicians to get on with it. Why had they stopped? Were they taking a holiday? He shouted at the servants, telling them to bring more light, to move the tables so that the guests could dance, and he told them to put the fire out: where were their brains? If he was sweating so badly what would it be like for the dancers?
Before long the hall was brightly lit. A space had been cleared and music was playing again. Guests began taking to the floor.
Once they were in the hall Mercutio and his friends put their masks on and went their separate ways. Each one had his own idea of how he was going to enjoy himself.
Romeo had made up his mind that he wouldn’t dance. He would find Rosaline and declare himself to her again.
He wandered about, picking at snacks and watching out for her. He was also keeping one eye on Tybalt, staying as far away from him as possible. Tybalt was dancing with a pretty girl, smiling and being charming, but you never knew what he was going to do. What the Prince had said made no difference: Tybalt was always looking for a fight. It was best to give him a wide berth.
Mercutio was in a corner, entertaining some girls who laughed at every word he uttered. There was nothing new in that. Benvolio was dancing and Horatio was nowhere to be seen.
A serving man with a jug approached the table where Romeo was standing and poured some wine into a glass. He lifted the glass and handed it to Romeo but just as Romeo was about to take it a girl he had never seen before passed in front of him, dancing with a rather formal looking stranger.
Romeo drew his breath in sharply. The serving man, thinking Romeo had taken the glass, let go and it crashed on the floor. It made Romeo snap out of his trance. He looked down to see his shoes splashed with wine and the serving man trying to wipe it off with his apron. He didn’t take it in, though – his mind was completely preoccupied with the heavenly image before him, moving so gracefully to the music.
‘Who’s that girl dancing with that fellow over there?’ he said, indicating the couple.
‘I don’t know, Sir,’ the man mumbled. He poured a fresh glass and, leaving it on the table, got away from Romeo as fast as he could.
Romeo stared. She was so beautiful that she made the torches around the hall appear to grow dim. She was a dazzling jewel illuminating the dark night sky. She stood out from the other girls like a snowy dove in a field of crows. She… Oh. he could never find the words to describe her. She couldn’t be real: such beauty wasn’t possible. ‘I don’t believe what I’m seeing.’ he said aloud and pushed his mask right up to the top of his head to see better.
At that very moment Tybalt strolled by, close enough to touch him.
Tybalt stopped. He turned. ‘Go and get my rapier, Boy,’ he instructed his page.
How dare a Montague come here, his face disguised in a festive mask, to mock his family? The Montague was asking for trouble. If he got himself killed he’d have only himself to blame. How dare he!
Romeo didn’t even see him: nothing existed but the girl. What a fool he was to think he had been in love with Rosaline! He must have been blind. He had never seen real beauty until tonight.
Tybalt didn’t know what to do. He looked around helplessly and caught sight of his uncle sitting talking to an elderly relative. Surely the head of the family wouldn’t stand for it once he knew there was a Montague gatecrashing his party. Tybalt stormed across to him.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Capulet. ‘I wish you could see your face.’
‘That boy over there.’ said Tybalt.
‘What about him?’
‘Uncle, he’s a Montague. Look at him. He’s making a mockery of our festivities.’
Capulet fumbled for his spectacles and put them on. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Isn’t that young Romeo?’
‘Exactly,’ said Tybalt. ‘I’m going to kill him. I’m…’
His uncle put a restraining hand on his arm. ‘Take it easy, my boy. Let him be.
He’s a nice enough young fellow: he’s not doing any harm. I’ve heard he’s well known in Verona for his good manners.’ Capulet’s grip tightened as his nephew tried to shake him off. ‘Now look here.’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t confront him here in my house for all the money in Verona. Just calm down. Ignore him.’
Tybalt’s face was growing redder by the second.
Capulet could see the gentle approach wasn’t going to work so he turned and looked his nephew squarely in the eyes. ‘Let’s just get this straight,’ he said. ‘I’m telling you to drop it. Behave yourself. You’re not spoiling my party. Do you understand?’ He squeezed Tybalt’s arm so hard that it hurt.
‘I won’t take it,’ said Tybalt. His page was hovering, trying to hide the rapier behind his back.
‘You won’t take it?’ Capulet’s voice had risen. Some of the guests looked round and Capulet smiled and gave them a little wave. Fixing his face in a stiff attempt at a smile, nodding to them, he scolded Tybalt out of the side of his mouth. ‘In my house you’ll take whatever I tell you to!’
Tybalt tried to pull his arm away.
‘What!’ said his uncle. ‘You’d disrupt my party? You? You’d be the one to do that?’
‘But Uncle, we can’t have…’
‘Don’t cross me. I’m warning you.’ Capulet’s face was red now, too, as much from the strain of trying to keep his voice down as from anger. More people were looking at them and he tried desperately to act normally. ‘Well said, my lad!’ he roared at a startled young man, before turning back to Tybalt. ‘You insolent pup! Shut up or…’ then to a passing servant: ‘Go and get more torches,’ then to Tybalt: ‘… or I’ll make you’ He let go of Tybalt’s arm, pushed him roughly and went to join a group of guests. ‘That’s it. Well done. Get stuck in. There’s plenty of food. Yes, yes. That’s what I like to see.’
Tybalt was left standing there, with no doubt whatsoever about his uncle’s attitude. He waved his page away impatiently.
What should he do? He wanted to rush up to Romeo and teach him a lesson but he didn’t care to face his uncle’s wrath. Even in that melting heat he had goose flesh as frustration ate him up. Whatever happened he would get Romeo for this. The insolent Montague may think it funny right now but soon, very soon, he would understand how serious it was to make fun of the Capulets.
While that was going on Romeo decided to make a move. When the dance ended he would follow his dream girl and find the opportunity to take her hand. He shivered with the anticipation of touching her. He knew it was out of order but that’s what he was going to do.
Her partner gave a small bow. turned and left her. She walked swiftly to the place most of the other girls were making for – the long porch that ran along one side of the hall and separated from it by a row of columns. Capulet had opened all the doors and it was cooler there. It was also less well lit.
Romeo went to the other end of the hall and out on to the porch. Then he doubled back to where Juliet stood beside one of the columns. He tiptoed up on her and stopped behind the column. Her hands were folded in front of her and she swayed in time to the music.
He had better work fast, before someone came and took her back in to dance.
He could feel his heart beating as he contemplated what he was going to do. Suppose she rejected him! Suppose she cried out!
As he was wondering how he was going to go about it she put her hands behind her back and folded them. This was the signal. He reached out and took one of them.
He felt her tense up slightly but before she could pull her hand away he leant forward and whispered in her ear.
‘If you find my hands too rough, I have two gentle lips ready to soothe you.’
To his surprise she relaxed. She did not turn round, though. Instead of making her hand free as he had expected she smiled.
‘No,’ she said. ‘Don’t speak so badly of your hand. When two hands touch like this what they’re doing is kissing.’ She rolled her hand round in his so that their palms met. The touch of her palm against his sent delicious feelings all through him. ‘See,’ she said. ‘See what a lovely kiss this is?’
He moved closer. Their bodies touched and they stayed like that, pressed against each other, for a long time before he spoke again.
‘You’re right. We’ve also got lips, though.’
‘Yes.’ she said. ‘But lips are used for praying.’
‘So are hands.’ breathed Romeo. ‘So let our lips do the same as our hands. I’m praying that you’ll kiss me. If you don’t I’ll die.’
‘I can’t grant your prayer,’ she said. ‘You’d have to go to Friar Lawrence’s chapel for that: the saint’s statue that stands there grants prayers. Even though it doesn’t move.’
‘Don’t you move then,’ he whispered. ‘You are my saint. Stay still and answer my prayer.’
She turned her head then and allowed him to kiss her. Her lips were soft – it was a kiss that was wonderful beyond words. Time disappeared.
Kisses have to end though, and they stood, their faces close together, their hearts beating fast. She was looking right into his eyes and he felt that he was melting.
‘You’ve heard my prayers,’ he said. ‘and you’ve taken my sins away with that kiss.’
‘Then my lips are full of sin.’
‘Here, let me take it back,’ he said. And they kissed again.
‘Juliet! Juliet!’ It was a loud voice, a woman’s voice. ‘Juliet, where are you?’
As Juliet’s nurse approached they moved apart and pretended to be having a casual conversation.
‘Ah. there you are,’ she said. ‘Your mother wants a word with you.’
Juliet looked up at Romeo. He winked at her. Without another glance at him she hurried off.
‘Her mother?’ said Romeo. ‘Who’s her mother?’
‘Her mother?’ The Nurse laughed. ‘She’s the lady of the house. I nursed her daughter – the one you were talking to. Let me tell you, anyone who can get her will be in the money.’
But Romeo wasn’t listening. He was putting two and two together. As the Nurse went rushing after Juliet it was sinking in. She was a Capulet! But if he didn’t have her he would die. What a dilemma! All his happiness – his very life – depended on his enemy!
Benvolio’s voice broke into his thoughts. ‘I’ve been looking for you all over,’ he said. ‘Come on, let’s go. Hey Mercutio! That’s enough. Time to go. Where’s Horatio? Come on. I think we’d better get out of here.’
Capulet stopped them at the door. ‘You’re not going, are you? We’re just about to bring out some supper.’
Mercutio whispered something in his ear and he laughed. ‘You don’t say,’ he said. They both laughed.
Juliet watched them. ‘Come here. Nurse.’ she said. ‘There are a lot of people I don’t know. ‘Who’s he?’ Pointing to a young man going out the door.
‘He’s the son of old Tiberio.’
‘And that one?’
‘I’m not sure.’ I think he may be young Petruchio.’
‘Alright then.’ Capulet was saying. ‘If you must.’ He shook hands with the four friends, pointed at Mercutio and laughed again. ‘Anyway, thanks for coming.’
‘Who’s that one?’ said Juliet as Romeo was going out.
‘I don’t know,’ said the Nurse.
‘Well go and ask him!’
The nurse dashed off and was back in a minute. ‘His name is Romeo,’ she said.
‘He’s a Montague – he’s actually the son of your family’s great enemy.’
‘Oh no,’ said Juliet under her breath. ‘I’ve fallen in love with someone I hate! I fall in love and it has to be with a despised enemy!’
‘What’s that?’ said her Nurse. ‘What did you say?’
Lady Capulet stood at the door which led to the family apartments, beckoning.
‘Come on,’ said the Nurse. ‘Bed time.’