Lady Capulet came into the sitting room where her daughter’s nurse was sewing a pattern on to a handkerchief.
‘Nurse.’ she said. ‘Where’s my daughter? I want to talk to her.’
‘She’s just here.’ said the Nurse. She turned her head. ‘Lady-bird!’ she called.
‘My lamb! Where is that girl? Juliet!’
‘Coming,’ a voice called and Juliet came running in from an adjoining room.
When she saw her mother her face showed surprise. ‘Mother! What do you want?’
‘We need to talk,’ said Lady Capulet. ‘Nurse. leave us. This is a private matter.’
The nurse got up reluctantly but before she reached the door Lady Capulet called her back. ‘You might as well stay,’ she said. ‘Your advice would be helpful.’ Lady Capulet cleared her throat. ‘You know Juliet’s getting to the age when…’ She frowned, searching for the right word. ‘Let’s just say she’s at a pretty age. She’s going to be fourteen in two weeks.’
‘Oh yes,’ said the Nurse. ‘At Lammas Eve she’ll be fourteen. She was the same age as my Susan, God rest her soul. Anyway, at Lammas Eve she’ll be fourteen. I remember it so well: it’s eleven years since the earthquake – that’s when she was weaned. Ah, I’ll never forget it…’
She took no notice of the impatient tapping of Lady Capulet’s fingers on the table, nor the glances Lady Capulet and Juliet were exchanging.
‘You and my Lord were at Mantua then. I had put wormwood on my nipple – sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall – ah, how well I remember it. But as I said, when she tasted the wormwood on the nipple of my breast, tasted its bitterness, she spat my breast out and pulled such a face! And that was eleven years ago. She could walk already – waddle, rather -and she used to rush about and fall over. Just the day before that she fell on her face. And my husband, God be with his soul – ah, such a lovely man – he picked her up and said “Do you fall on your face? When you’ve got more sense you’ll fall on your back. won’t you Jule?” And God can strike me dead but the little wretch stopped crying and said “Yes”. To see that! If I live to be a thousand I’ll never forget it. “Won’t you Jule?” he said. And the pretty child stopped crying and said
“yes”.’ The Nurse slapped her thigh and laughed. ‘Won’t you, Jule?’ he said. And the pretty fool stopped in her tracks and said “yes”.’
‘Enough of this.’ said Lady Capulet. ‘Please be quiet for a minute, I beg of you.’
‘Yes, Madam,’ said the Nurse. ‘But I can’t help laughing. To think it should stop crying and say “yes”. And with a bump as big as an egg – a wicked lump – and it cried bitterly. “Yes”, my husband said. “Are you falling on your face? You’ll fall backward when you grow up: won’t you Jule?” It stopped dead and said “Yes”.’ The Nurse laughed loudly, almost choking.
‘And you stop dead now too, please, Nurse,’ said Juliet.
‘I’ve finished,’ said the Nurse. She looked tenderly at Juliet. ‘But I must say it. You were the most beautiful baby I ever nursed. If I could only live to see you married I’d die peacefully.’
‘Married.’ said Lady Capulet. ‘That’s just what I’ve come to talk about.’ She pulled Juliet on to her lap. ‘Tell me, Juliet, how do you feel about getting married?’
‘I’ve never even thought about it,’ said Juliet.
‘Well start thinking about it now,’ said her mother. ‘Girls younger than you are already mothers here in Verona. As a matter of fact I was your mother when I was much the age you are now. But to cut a long story short. The Count of Paris wants to marry you.’
The Nurse gasped. ‘Now there’s a man, young lady. The perfect man.’
‘The best in Verona,’ said Lady Capulet.
‘Without doubt.’ said the Nurse.
‘Well?’ said Lady Capulet. ‘Do you think you could love him?’
Juliet didn’t know what to say. It was too unexpected.
‘You’ll see him at the party,’ said her mother. ‘Have a good look at him. You’ll see what I mean. And he has sound prospects. By having him you’ll have everything.’
The Nurse laughed her coarse laugh again. ‘You’ll have even more than that. Everyone knows that women grow bigger by having a man.’
Lady Capulet ignored her. ‘Come on,’ she said. ‘What do you think? Do you like the idea?’
Juliet spoke carefully. ‘I’ll look forward to seeing him. Yes. I’ll look at him but I’m not going to rush into anything or do anything that you wouldn’t want me to.’
There was a knock at the door and Peter came in. ‘Madam,’ he said. ‘The guests are starting to arrive. It’s all going on down there. My master wants you.’
Lady Capulet stood up. ‘I have to go. Come on Juliet, the Count’s waiting.
‘Go on, darling.’ said the Nurse. ‘Go and meet your love.’