Bassanio’s friends were making their arrangements for the fancy-dress party they had planned for the evening. They stood on a corner, trying to come to some agreement.

‘No,’ Lorenzo was saying. ‘We’ll slink away at suppertime, get into our costumes at my lodgings and be back within an hour.’

‘We’re not ready yet,’ said Gratiano.

‘We haven’t arranged the torchbearers yet,’ said Salerio.

‘It’s no good unless it’s properly organised,’ said Solanio. ‘It’s better to drop it.’

‘It’s only four o’clock,’ said Lorenzo. ‘We’ve got two hours to get ready.’ His face became animated as Lancelot approached, hurrying. ‘What’s the news, friend Lancelot?’

Lancelot thrust the letter at him. ‘If you’d like to open this you’ll find out.’

Lorenzo scrutinised the envelope. ‘I recognise the handwriting,’ he said. ‘It’s beautiful, and the beautiful hand that wrote it is whiter than the paper it’s written on.’

‘A love letter, I’ll bet!’ exclaimed Gratiano.

Lancelot made to walk on. ‘If I may go,’ he said.

‘Where are you going?’ said Lorenzo, looking up from the letter.

‘Indeed sir!’ Lancelot sniggered. ‘To invite my old master, the Jew, to supper with my new master, the Christian.’

‘Hold on,’ said Lorenzo. He took a ducat out of his pocket. ‘Take this. Tell dear Jessica I won’t let her down. Tell her in private.’

Lancelot grinned and took off.

‘Go gentlemen,’ said Lorenzo. ‘Get ready for tonight’s masque. I’ve arranged my own torchbearer.’

‘Right,’ said Salerio. ‘I’ll get on with it straight away.’

‘Me too,’ said Salanio.

‘Meet me and Gratiano at Gratiano’s in about an hour.’

‘Perfect,’ said Salerio.

When they had gone Gratiano said: ‘Wasn’t that a letter from the beautiful Jessica?’

‘I have to tell you everything,’ said Lorenzo. ‘She’s told me how to take her from her father’s house, what gold and jewels she’ll bring, and how she’s going to dress as a page. If ever the Jew gets to heaven it will be because of his daughter. May misfortune never cross her path unless it’s because she’s the daughter of a Jew! Come with me. Read this as we go. Jessica’s going to be my torchbearer.’

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