Hero was walking in the garden with her two gentlewomen. Her father had gone through the plan with her and she knew what to do. She led them to the fountain with the statues and benches, and where the flower-covered bower marked the garden entrance to the orchard.
‘Good Margaret,’ she said. ‘Run to the parlour. You’ll find my cousin Beatrice there, talking to the prince and Claudio. Whisper in her ear that Ursula and I are walking in the orchard and we’re talking about her: say that you overheard us and tell her to come to the creepered bower.’ Hero indicated the trellis, yellow with honeysuckle. ‘She can hide behind it and hear what we’re saying. That’s your task. Do it properly and leave the rest to us.’
‘I’ll get her to come, I promise. Right now.’
‘Now, Ursula,’ said Hero when Margaret had gone, ‘when Beatrice comes, we must talk only of Benedick as we walk up and down here. When I mention his name, your role will be to praise him more than any man deserves. I’ll talk about how Benedick is sick with love for Beatrice. Cupid’s cunning arrow will be made out of this conversation and will wound by trickery only.’
A row of raspberry bushes ran beside a path to the orchard’s side entrance and Beatrice ducked behind it then stooped as she scuttled towards the orchard, but Hero spotted her. She laughed. ‘We can start,’ she told Ursula, ‘because look at Beatrice, running, close to the ground like a plover, to eavesdrop on us.’
They watched her hurry into the orchard.
‘The best kind of angling is to watch the fish cutting the silver stream with her golden fins and greedily devouring the fatal bait,’ said Ursula. ‘ That’s how we’re angling for Beatrice.’
The trellis rustled. ‘She’s hiding in the woodbine cover now,’ whispered Ursula. ‘Don’t worry: I know what I have to do.’
‘Then let’s go closer so that she won’t lose any of the false sweet bait we’re laying for her,’ said Hero.
They strolled to the bench and sat down.
‘No, I insist, Ursula,’ said Hero, ‘she’s too disdainful. I know her feelings are as coy and tempestuous as wild hawks are.’
‘But are you sure that Benedick loves Beatrice so madly?’
‘That’s what the prince and my new fiancée say,’ said Hero.
‘And did they ask you to tell her, madam?’ said Ursula.
‘They did, but I persuaded them that if they loved Benedick they should advise him to struggle with it and never let Beatrice know about it.’
‘Why did you do that?’ said Ursula. ‘Doesn’t the gentleman deserve as good a bed as Beatrice will ever lie on?’
‘Oh god of love! I know he deserves as much as any man could be given, but nature never framed a woman’s heart of prouder material than that of Beatrice’s. Disdain and scorn sparkle in her eyes, despising everything they see. And she values her intelligence so highly that nothing else is important. She’s so full of herself that she can’t love anyone or assume any notion or appearance of affection.’
‘I think you’re right,’ said Ursula, ‘and so it certainly wouldn’t be a good idea to tell her in case she makes fun of it.’
‘Why, that’s true,’ said Hero. ‘I never yet saw the man that she wouldn’t misrepresent, no matter how clever, how noble, how young, how handsome he was. If he has a beautiful face she will say he should be her sister: if swarthy she will declare that Nature, drawing a grotesque painting, made a bad blot: if tall, a badly-tipped spear: if short, a roughly carved agate figure: if speaking, why, a weather vane, blown about wildly by the wind: if silent, a block unmoved by any wind. She turns every man inside out and never grants him the merit he deserves.’
‘Yes, yes,’ agreed Ursula, ‘such carping isn’t nice.’
‘No, it’s not nice to be as perverse and out of step with everyone as Beatrice is. But who would dare tell her that? If I tried she would mock me mercilessly. Oh, she would laugh at me till I wouldn’t know myself and crush me to death with sarcasm. So let Benedick die with sighs, like a smothered fire. That would be a better death than to die with mocks, which is just as bad as dying with tickling.’
‘But still,’ said Ursula, ‘I think you should tell her and see what she says.’
‘No,’ said Hero. ‘I’ll go to Benedick instead, and advise him to fight his passion. And also, I’ll make up some innocent faults to brand my cousin with. You don’t know how much a bit of slander can poison someone’s opinion.’
‘Oh don’t do that,’ said Ursula. ‘With such a quick and brilliant intelligence as she’s supposed to have she can’t be so lacking in judgment as to refuse such an exceptional gentleman as Signior Benedick.’
‘He is the most handsome man in Italy,’ said Hero. ‘With the exception of my dear Claudio, of course.’
‘Please don’t be cross with me for speaking my mind, madam,’ said Ursula. ‘For figure, for bearing, intellect and bravery, Signior Benedick has the highest reputation in Italy.’
‘Oh yes, he has an excellent reputation,’ said Hero.
‘And he’s earned it,’ said Ursula. ‘When are you getting married, madam?’
‘Why, tomorrow. Come, let’s go in. ‘We’ll go through my dresses and you can advise me which is the best one to wear tomorrow.’
As they walked away Ursula was excited. ‘She’s trapped,’ she said. ‘I assure you, we’ve caught her, madam.’
‘If it works out it shows how haphazard love is. Cupid sometimes kills with arrows and sometimes with traps.’
Beatrice came out slowly from behind the trellis and sank down on the bench. What fire was in her ears? Could it be true? Did she stand so terribly condemned for pride and scorn? She would bid farewell to contempt and maiden pride. There was nothing to be gained by it. Benedick! Let him love her, she would requite it and tame her wild heart to his loving hand. If he did love her then the way she was going to treat him from now on would make him propose to her. Everyone said he deserved it and she could see it now and needed no reports about it.
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