‘No,’ Capulet told his visitor. ‘It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. ‘We’re both bound over to keep the peace. One as much as the other. And I don’t think it’s so difficult for men of our age.’
His visitor, the young Count of Paris, shrugged. ‘You’re both respectable men. It’s a pity you’ve had to live your lives as enemies.’ He wasn’t interested in the relationship between the two families. It was a bit distasteful, this public brawling. But Capulet was rich and his daughter was very desirable. ‘Let’s get down to business,’ he said. ‘What do you say to my proposition?’
Capulet paced back and forth for a while, stopped and stared out the window then turned back to the young man.
‘Look.’ he said. ‘I can only tell you what I’ve already intimated. My daughter is still a child: she’s not fourteen yet. Give it time. In a couple of years she’ll be just about ready for marriage.’
‘Many girls younger than her are mothers already,’ said Paris.
‘And their lives are ruined,’ said Capulet. ‘My daughter is very special to me.
She’s my only surviving child. All my hopes rest on her. Do you understand what I’m saying?’ He put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. ‘I’ll tell you what. Let’s agree to a compromise. Take it slowly, Paris. Gain her confidence. If she agrees to marry you then my consent will follow. And my blessing too.’
Paris thought for a moment then nodded. They shook hands.
‘That’s settled then.’ Capulet moved briskly to his desk. ‘And now to pleasure. Tonight I’m having a party. There are going to be a lot of people. All friends of mine – among which I count you, of course. Why don’t you join us? I can promise you, my humble house will be filled with gorgeous girls. And I mean gorgeous. Real stars.’ He winked. ‘Make yourself at home: look at them, talk to them, dance with them. Perhaps you’ll even like one of them better than my daughter. It’s alright with me if you do. Marriage is a big step: you have to be sure. No use rushing these things.’
He turned to the doorway. ‘Peter!’ he called. ‘Come in here, please.’
A young servant hurried in, drying his hands on his shirt as he came.
‘Jump to it,’ said Capulet. He took a sheet of paper off his desk and handed it to the young servant. ‘Go on, take it. I want you to go all around Verona and find the people on this list. Tell them they’re invited to my party tonight.’
Peter waited until he was out in the piazza before he could bring himself to look at the list. It was the first time he’d ever been given a job like this. Find the people whose names are written on a list? It wouldn’t be so bad if he could read! He had managed to cover up his ignorance until now but this was a hard one. He’d have to find an educated person and ask him. He looked about him. Two gentlemen were walking towards him.
They passed him and he followed them, listening to their conversation.
‘Come on, man,’ the first one said. ‘One fire can put another one out. Infect yourself with a new disease and it will kill the old ailment.’
‘Sure,’ said the second. ‘For your ailment we’ll just use a herbal remedy.’
‘What?’ said the first. ‘Herbal remedy? What for?’
‘For the broken leg you’re going to get if you don’t shut up.’
Peter increased his pace. He’d ask these two. They sounded educated enough: he couldn’t understand a word they were saying. ‘Excuse me.’ he said. ‘Can you read?’
They stopped. ‘Yes,’ said the sad looking one. He sighed ‘I can read my own fate in my unhappiness.’
‘Perhaps you’ve learnt that off by heart,’ said Peter. ‘But can you read by sight?’
‘Yes, if I recognize the letters and the language,’ said the gentleman. The other one laughed.
‘Alright, forget it,’ said Peter. He wasn’t going to get anywhere with them. They were mad. He’d find someone else. ‘Thanks anyway.’ He began walking away.
‘Wait,’ said the sad gentleman. ‘I’m only joking. Of course I can read.’ He took the sheet and began reading.
‘Signior Martino. and his wife and daughters: Count Anselme…’ It was only a list of names. ‘Mercutio. Hmm. See here. Benvolio. Mercutio’s on this list.’
‘My uncle Capulet, his wife and daughters: my fair niece Rosaline.’ He paused at that, held the sheet dramatically to his chest and sighed. Then he read on to the end. ‘A lot of people on this list.’ he said. ‘What’s it for?’
‘A party,’ said Peter.
‘My master’s house.’
‘And who’s he?’
‘The great rich Capulet. Everyone’s invited. As long as you ‘re not a Montague you ‘re welcome.’ He snatched the sheet. ‘Cheers.’
‘Aha!’ said Benvolio when Peter had gone. ‘Rosaline’s going to be there, I see.
Among some of the most luscious girls in Verona. Let’s go to Capulet’s party, Romeo.
No-one will mind. And let’s be objective about it. I’ll show you that the girl you think is a swan is nothing more than a crow.’
‘A girl more beautiful than Rosaline?’ said Romeo. ‘Never. The sun’s never seen a more beautiful woman since the world began.’
‘Rubbish,’ said Benvolio. ‘Every time you’ve seen her she’s been on her own.
You need to make comparisons. I’ll bet there’ll be hundreds of girls who’ll put Rosaline in the shade.’
‘Alright, I’ll go,’ said Romeo. ‘But not because I think you can show me anyone better. I’m going only so that I can see her.’