The four men sat in the shade of a huge cyprus tree. Don Pedro filled two wine glasses and handed one to Claudio.
‘I’m staying only till your wedding is over and then I’m going to Arragon,’ he said.
‘I’ll accompany you there if you’ll allow me to, my lord,’ said Claudio.
Don Pedro laughed. ‘No, that would be like sand in the new gloss of your marriage, like giving a child a new coat and forbidding him to wear it. I’ll allow Benedick only, because he’s all fun, from head to toe. He’s cut Cupid’s bow-string twice or three times and the little rascal dare not shoot at him. His heart is as sound as a bell and his tongue is the clapper, because his tongue speaks whatever his heart feels.’
Benedick had been silent throughout. He spoke now, almost for the first time. He drew in his breath as though about to make an important announcement.
‘Gentlemen,’ he said. ‘I’ve changed.’
The others struggled to keep straight faces. Leonato touched his arm gently in mock sympathy. ‘Yes you have. You’re more sad.’
‘I hope he’s in love,’ said Claudio.
‘What are you talking about!’ exclaimed Don Pedro. ‘There’s not a drop of blood in him that could be touched by love. If he’s sad it’s because he’s short of money!’
‘I’ve got a toothache,’ said Benedick.
‘Pull it out,’ said Don Pedro.
Benedick stared out at the blue sea. ‘Hang it!’ he exclaimed suddenly.
‘Yes,’ said Claudio. ‘You must hang it first and then pull it out.’
‘What!’ said Don Pedro. ‘Sad because of a toothache?’
‘Which is only a mood or a worm in your tooth,’ said Leonato.
‘Well it’s easy to solve someone else’s problems,’ said Benedick.
They exchanged glances and returned to their wine.
‘I still think he’s in love,’ said Claudio.
Don Pedro leant forward and perused Benedick’s face then sat back again and shook his head. ‘There’s no sign of love in him,’ he said, ‘unless it’s the love he has for strange outfits, being a Dutchman today, a Frenchman tomorrow, or looking like two countries at the same time, such as a German from the waist down, all baggy britches, and a Spaniard from the hip up, and no doublet. He may have a love of this foolery, as it seems he does, but he is no fool of love, as you’re trying to make out.’
‘If he’s not in love with some woman, there’s no truth in the old signs like brushing one’s hat in the mornings. What could that mean?’ said Claudio.
‘Has anyone seen him at the barber’s,’ said Don Pedro.
‘No, but the barber’s man has been seen with him and his beard is now stuffing tennis balls.’
Leonato also inspected Benedick’s face, now. ‘Yes, he looks younger than he did by the loss of a beard,’ he said.
Don Pedro leant forward again, sniffed and pulled a face. ‘Yes, and he’s been rubbing himself with perfume. Can you smell him?’
‘That’s as good as saying that the sweet young man’s in love,’ said Claudio.
‘The giveaway is his melancholy,’ said Don Pedro.
‘And since when did he wash his face?’ said Claudio.
‘Yes, and put on makeup,’ said Don Pedro.
‘And his sense of humour has crept into a lute-string and been replaced by frets.’
‘Well all that says something sad about him,’ said Don Pedro. ‘The conclusion is that he’s in love.’
‘Yes,’ said Claudio, ‘and I know someone who’s in love with him.’
‘I’d like to know who that could be,’ said Don Pedro. ‘I’ll bet it’s someone who doesn’t know him.’
‘Yes she does, and all his bad points, and in spite of all that, is dying for him.’
‘She’ll die on her back,’ said Don Pedro.
They all laughed, except Benedick, who scowled and pushed his chair back. He got up. ‘This is no cure for a toothache,’ he said. ‘Old Signior, come with me. I want a few words with you, which I don’t want these buffoons to hear.’
‘On my life,’ said Don Pedro when they had gone, ‘he’s going to broach it with Leonato.’
‘I sure of that,’ said Claudio. ‘Hero and Margaret will have played their parts with Beatrice by now, so now the two bears won’t bite one another when they meet.’
Don John was walking across the lawn. He waved. ‘My lord and brother,’ he called. He came up to them and sat down. ‘God save you,’ he said.
‘Good day, brother,’ said Don Pedro.
‘I’d like a word when you’re free,’ said Don John.
‘If you don’t mind: but Count Claudio can listen because what I have to say concerns him.’
‘What’s it about?’
Don John looked at Claudio. ‘Is your lordship intending to get married tomorrow?’
Don Pedro frowned. ‘You know he is.’
‘I’m not so sure, when he knows what I know.’
‘If there’s any impediment please tell us,’ said Claudio.
‘You may think I don’t like you,’ said Don John. ‘Judge that after I’ve spoken and judge better according to what I’m going to tell you. Regarding my brother, I think he holds you in high esteem and out of friendship for you has helped to bring your ensuing marriage about – and a bad suit it was and a waste of effort.’
‘Why, what’s the matter?’ said Don Pedro.
‘I came here to tell you, and to be brief, the lady is unfaithful.’
Claudio sprang up. ‘Who? Hero?’
‘The very one,’ said Don John. ‘Leonto’s Hero, your Hero, every man’s Hero.’
‘Unfaithful?’ Claudio sat down again slowly.
‘The word is too good to describe her wickedness. I would say she was worse than that. Think of a worse word and I will fit her to it. Don’t try and work it out until you see proof. Just come with me tonight and you will see someone enter at her bedroom window, even the night before her wedding day. If you still love her after that, marry her tomorrow, but it would be better for your honour to change your mind.’
Claudio appealed to Don Pedro. ‘Could this be so?’
‘I can’t imagine it,’ said the prince.
‘If you don’t dare to believe your eyes, don’t say you know,’ said Don John. ‘If you’ll come with me I will show you enough, and when you’ve seen and heard more, then act accordingly.’
‘If I see anything like that tonight, I won’t marry her tomorrow. In that same place I’ll shame her,’ said Claudio.
‘And as I was the one who wooed to get her for you, I will join you in disgracing her,’ said Don Pedro.
‘I won’t disparage her any further until you are my witnesses,’ said Don John. ‘Bear it patiently till midnight and let the issue reveal itself.’
‘Oh how sour the day has turned,’ said Don Pedro.
‘Oh mischief interfering so unusually,’ said Claudio.
‘Oh plague so well prevented,’ said Don John. ‘That’s what you’ll say when you’ve seen the next episode.’