Viola had been successful in gaining access to the duke and he had been very happy to employ her. Disguised as a male, she looked no more than about thirteen or fourteen, but she had already made her mark among the duke’s other attendants as a boy with the wisdom of someone much older. She had assumed the name ‘Cesario’. She sat with the other attendants in the palace’s hall, waiting for the duke to appear and give his instructions for the day’s activities.
Valentine, Orsino’s senior aide, came up to her. ‘If the duke continues to single you out, Cesario, you’re likely to get some good promotion,’ he said. ‘He’s known you for only three days and he’s already taken you into his confidence.’
Viola regarded him for a moment then smiled. ‘You’re either concerned about his moods or that I’ll do something to lose his confidence, that you call the continuance of his good opinion of me into question,’ she said. ‘Is he fickle, sir, in his dealings with people?’
Valentine looked shocked. ‘No, believe me!’
‘Thank you,’ she said. There was some activity outside the hall. ‘Here comes the count,’ she said.
Orsino looked around, as though searching for someone. ‘Has anyone seen Cesario?’ he called.
Viola went forward to meet him. ‘Here, at your service, my lord.’
‘Leave us alone for a while,’ the duke told everyone. He sat down on a bench and indicated Viola to sit beside him. Then, ‘Cesario,’ he said. ‘You know everything about me. I’ve opened myself to you like a book – even the innermost secrets of my soul. And so, young man, get going to her. Don’t allow them to deny you access. Stand at her doors and tell them your foot will take root there and grow until she agrees to see you.’
‘Surely, my noble lord, if she’s as dedicated to her mourning as they say she is, she’ll never let me in?’
‘Make a big fuss and go over the top rather than come back without a result,’ he said, looking sternly at her.
‘Let’s say I do get to speak to her. What then?’
‘Oh, then you must reveal the passion of my love. Surprise her with talk of my genuine devotion. It will be better that it’s you who’s telling her about my misery. She’ll take more notice of it coming from a youth than from an older ambassador.’ He nodded towards Valentine, who had been distinctly unsuccessful.
‘I don’t think so, my lord,’ said Viola.
‘Dear lad, believe me.’ Orsino looked her up and down . ‘They would be denying you the innocent years of youth if they said you were a man. Diana’s lip isn’t more smooth and red. Your voice is like a woman’s, high pitched and firm, and, generally, you’d pass for a woman. I know you’re exactly right for this job.’ He got up. ‘Four or five of you go with him,’ he said to those nearest them. ‘All of you, if you like because I feel like being alone. If you’re successful in this,’ he told Viola, ‘you’ll live as well as your lord, regarding his fortune as your own.’
She nodded. ‘I’ll do my best to woo your lady.’
As she walked with the others to Olivia’s house, which was virtually next door, she wasn’t very happy about it. It was a hard job because she had fallen in love with him and whomever she may woo on his behalf she would like to be his wife herself.