Romeo had been in a good mood all morning. He’d had a dream that he was about to receive some good news. He was lighthearted and he walked through the streets of Mantua feeling that his feet weren’t touching the ground.
His dream was that Juliet had found him dead. And although it was an odd dream that allowed a dead man to think and feel, she had brought him back to life with her kisses and made him as happy as a king. He smiled as he walked. It just showed how wonderful the real thing was if even dreams about love could make you feel so good Wasn’t that his man, Balthasar, coming down the street? It was. It must be good news from Verona.
‘Balthazar,’ he said. ‘Have you got a letter from the Friar? How’s my wife? And my father? Is he alright?’ Romeo did a little jig, dancing round his servant. ‘How’s my Juliet? I’m asking that because if she’s well then everything is wonderful.’
Balthazar said nothing. He stared at the ground, avoiding Romeo’s eyes. Romeo stopped his dancing. Balthazar was crying.
‘She’s well. So nothing can be wrong,’ said Balthazar. He turned his back on Romeo and blurted: ‘Her body’s sleeping in Capulet’s tomb and her soul’s among the angels.’
Romeo felt cold, even in that terrible heat. His expression queried his servant’s statement.
‘I watched them putting her in their family vault, said Balthasar, ‘and then came straight to you.’ He saw the pain in Romeo’s face and wished he could think of some way of comforting him
‘It can’t be!’ said Romeo at last. He turned away. ‘The stars are against us. But I won’t give in to them!’ He turned back to Balthasar. ‘Go and get me some paper and ink and hire us some horses.’
‘I beg of you, Sir,’ said Balthasar, ‘be careful You’re upset and I’m worried that something bad is going to happen.’
‘You’re wrong,’ said Romeo. ‘Just do as I tell you. Haven’t you got a letter from the Friar?’
‘It doesn’t matter. Go and get the horses. I’ll see you later.’
Romeo had made up his mind. He would sleep with Juliet that night. The only question was what means should he use to kill himself? He felt nothing – his only thought was to get to Juliet and be with her forever.
He remembered seeing a chemist’s shop nearby. The apothecary had huge eyebrows and wore tattered clothes and his shop had things like dried tortoises hanging from the ceiling, a stuffed alligator and the skins of odd-shaped fish. There were shelves of bottles, earthen pots, bottles and dried seeds – bits of string and compressed rose petals were scattered everywhere. As he’d passed it it had occurred to him that if a man ever needed a poison here’s a man who would sell it to him – even though there was a death penalty for doing so.
He would go there and persuade the apothecary to sell him some.
When he arrived the shop was shut so he stood in the street and looked up at the open window above it, ‘Hey!’ he called ‘Apothecary!’
A head appeared at the window. The man had enormous eyebrows ‘Who’s that shouting like that?’
‘Come down here, man ‘ said Romeo. He took a leather purse out of his pocket and shook it so that it clinked.
The man left the window and came to the door.
‘Look here,’ said Romeo. ‘I can see you don’t make a lot of money. I’ll give you this
– forty gold coins – if you’ll give me just one dose of poison, something that will kill me as quickly as a bullet.’
‘I’ve got some,’ said the man ‘But it’s against the law.’
‘What’s the matter?’ said Romeo. ‘So poor and wretched and you’re afraid of dying? Look at you – hungry, poor, down-trodden – an outcast. The law isn’t your friend, I can see that. Here, come on, take this. It’s a lot of money and it’ll make you rich.’
The man grunted then grabbed the purse. ‘It’s only my poverty makes me do it,’ he said.
‘That’s alright,’ said Romeo. ‘It’s your poverty I’m paying.’
The apothecary went inside and came out again with a little bottle. ‘Here. Drink it all. It would kill you even if you had the strength of twenty men.’