Sir Andrew was angry. He brushed Sir Toby’s hand off his shoulder. ‘No way!’ he exclaimed. ‘I won’t stay a moment longer!’
‘Your reason, my dear Grumpy? Give your reason.’
‘You must give us your reason,’ said Fabian.
‘Well! I saw your niece being more civil to the count’s servant than she’s ever been to me. I saw it in the orchard.’
Sir Toby raised a finger and winked. ‘Did she see you at the time, old boy? Tell me that.’
‘As plain as I see you now.’
Sir Toby’s face broke into a broad smile. ‘That was a great display of her love for you!’
Sir Andrew turned on him. ‘By God, are you trying to make an ass of me?’
‘I’ll prove it to be the case, sir, by pure argument and common sense,’ said Fabian.
‘And they’ve been good enough for grand jurors since before Noah went to sea,’ said Sir Toby.
Fabian placed his arms around Sir Andrew’s shoulders and began walking him round the room. ‘She was nice to the youth in front of you on purpose, to exasperate you,’ he said. ‘To awaken your slumbering valour – to put fire in your heart and brimstone in your liver. You should have approached her at that point and, with some witty comments, all new ones, struck the youth dumb. That was expected of you and you blew it. You missed this golden opportunity and you’ve now sailed away from my lady’s good opinion, far to the north of her, where you’ll hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard unless you get things back on track with some magnificent act, either of bravery or intellect.’
‘If it’s one of those two it must be through bravery,’ said Sir Andrew, ‘because I hate intellect. I’d rather be a mad preacher than an intellectual.’
Sir Toby joined them and took Sir Andrew’s arm. ‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘build up your fortunes on the basis of valour. Challenge the count’s youth to a fight. Hurt him in eleven places: it will come to my niece’s notice: and believe me, there’s no matchmaker in the world more expert in commending a man to a woman than a report of valour.’
Fabian squeezed the knight’s shoulder. ‘There’s no other way, Sir Andrew …’
Sir Andrew interrupted him in his excitement: ‘Will one of you take the challenge to him?’
‘Go,’ said Sir Toby decisively. ‘Write it in an aggressive style. Be short and sharp It doesn’t matter how intelligent it is as long as it’s eloquent and original. Taunt him with the power of written language. If you talk down to him a bit it won’t be amiss, and include as many lies as will fit on to your sheet of paper, and even though the sheet may be big enough for the great bed of Ware in England, write them down. Go on – get on with it. Make sure there’s enough bitterness in your writing, and even if your pen is the quill from a goose it doesn’t matter. Off you go!’
Sir Andrew looked about excitedly. ‘Where will I find you?’ he said.
‘We’ll meet you at the writing room,’ said Sir Toby, waving him off.
When Fabian and Sir Toby had stopped laughing Fabian said: ‘He’s your dear little puppet, Sir Toby!’
‘I’ve been dear to him, my lad: about two thousand or so.’
‘We’ll have a wonderful letter from him,’ said Fabian, laughing again. ‘But you won’t deliver it will you?’
‘Never trust me again if I don’t!’ exclaimed Sir Toby. ‘And also do everything to provoke the youth into responding, although I think that even oxen and ropes couldn’t drag them together. As for Andrew, if you were to open him up and find as much blood in him as would clog the foot of a flea I would eat the rest of him.’
Fabian roared at the prospect of a fight between this pair. ‘And his opponent, the youth, shows no sign of ferocity in his bearing.’
Maria opened the door. ‘Here comes the clever little wren,’ said Sir Toby, going towards her and planting a kiss on her cheek.
‘If you want to laugh yourself into stitches till you throw up follow me,’ said Maria excitedly. ‘That idiot Malvolio has turned heathen and become a religious rebel because no Christian who wants to be saved through the true faith could never contemplate such impossible vulgarity. He’s in yellow stockings!’
‘And cross-gartered?’ Sir Toby opened his mouth in disbelief.
‘Hideously!Like a Sunday school teacher. I’ve been stalking him like a murderer. He’s obeyed every point of the letter that I dropped to trap him. He’s been smiling his face into more lines than are in the latest map that includes the West Indies. You’ve never seen anything like it. I can hardly stop myself from throwing things at him. I know my lady will hit him, and if she does he’ll smile and take it as a great favour.’
‘Come on, take us. Take us to him!’