Episode Twenty-One – ‘Romeo is Moping’, Part Four

By the time I finally emerged from the convent Michael and Romeo had given up their vigil outside. They were nowhere to be seen in any of the surrounding streets but it didn’t take me long to figure out where they might have gone. Returning to our usual tavern, I soon spotted them occupying a corner table. Somewhere along the way they seemed to have picked up a wandering lute player who was busy serenading them with a peculiarly mournful dirge of a tune. Romeo was swaying along, his eyes closed and an expression of intense emotion fixed upon his face, Michael looked like he wished he was just about anywhere else. As Michael’s eyes went skipping around the room, possibly in search of some means of escape, he was the first to notice my entrance and hurried over to greet me whilst Romeo was still wrapped up in the music.


“Are you alright?” he asked anxiously. “You were in there so long I felt sure you must have been shanghaied by the nuns. I thought I’d have to start working on a plan to break you out.”

“I’m fine,” I reassured him. “It just took a little longer than expected, that’s all. Though if I’d known there was this to come back to,” I added with a nod towards the lute player, “I might have stayed there even longer. Where on earth did you pick him up from?”

“He was hanging around on the street outside. Romeo invited him to come and join us,” replied Michael. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought a bit of music might be just the thing to cheer him up…”

“That depends very much on the music,” I observed. “Don’t you know the basic break-up playlist rules? Plenty of Gloria Gaynor and Beyonce, absolutely no Radiohead or Nilsson.”

“I’ll be sure to pass that on next time,” noted Michael wryly.

“Master Everingham! You have escaped!” A cry from the corner table indicated that Romeo had finally clocked my presence. “Come forth and tell all!” He beckoned me forward with one hand whilst casually dismissing the lute player with the other. “That will do musician, take this for thy pains,” he said, neglecting to show any consideration for the pains of everyone else in the tavern who had been obliged to listen to the awful tune.

“What news from the convent?” demanded Romeo before I had even had chance to sit down. “How did Rosaline receive thy words of reconciliation? How did she look? Was her face pale and dolorous, the delicate cast of her beauty touched by the dark hand of grief?”

“Well, the thing is,” I somewhat awkwardly began, “I didn’t actually get to see Rosaline…”

“Oh, alas and alack! Pray, tell me not that thine embassy has failed.”

“I wouldn’t say failed as such,” I endeavoured to explain. “It’s just that I had a hell of a time simply getting my foot in the door. And then it turns out that all novices are completely sequestered and forbidden from talking to anyone…”

“Ah, speak no more! My poor bruised heart is in no fit state to receive such news!” Romeo melodramatically cried. “I knew it was folly to allow you to raise my hopes so. Fetch back the lute player – the sorrowful sound of his instrument best suits my melancholy mood.”

“Now hold on, I don’t think there’s any need for that,” Michael hurriedly interjected, throwing me a stern ‘will you look at what you’ve done now’ glare whilst he was at it. “I’m sure the situation isn’t all that bad.”

“Not at all,” I swiftly confirmed. “In fact, I’d go so far as to say that our plan worked out pretty well, all things considered.”

Romeo looked at me with an unhappy frown. “What canst thou mean? Our plan lies in ruins. You just told me that you have not exchanged so much as a single word with Rosaline.”

“That’s true but, thinking it over, I figure that’s probably for the best,” I went on to explain. “To be honest, I’m really not much cop at all this hearts and flowers business. If Rosaline and I had spoken, I’d have been as likely to put my foot in it and ruin your chances forever as to win her back for you. No, the way I see it, if you really want to convince her of your love then you need to speak to her in person.”

“And how am I to do that whilst she remains immured within the convent walls?” countered Romeo. “If you in your womanly guise could not reach her ear, what chance have I?”

“Every chance, I’d say,” I boldly asserted. “You see, Plan A might have been a bit of a bust but my time at the convent this afternoon was not entirely wasted. Now that I’ve had chance to familiarise myself with the layout and the workings of the place, I think I’ve got Plan B all worked out and ready to go.”

Romeo looked at me with a mixture of anguish and expectation. “Gentle friend, do not toy with my emotions so. My aching heart can stand no more false hope.”

“There’s nothing false about this hope,” I insisted. “Just follow my instructions and I can get you right inside the convent and into the presence of Rosaline with the minimum of fuss. I’ve got it all worked out – it’s just a question of picking the right moment.”

“What moment?” breathed Romeo, leaning forward in his eagerness. “How soon do we go?”

“Just as soon as it gets dark,” I confidently replied. “Don’t worry, I know exactly what I’m doing. Stick with me kid and before the night is over you’ll have wooed Rosaline right off her feet.”


The clock of the convent church had in fact just struck one in the morning when Romeo, Michael and I finally lined up in the shadow of the houses opposite, ready to enact my Plan B. The night was overcast, the sky thick with clouds that seemed heaven-sent for anyone embarking upon clandestine business. We carried just a single oil lamp between the three of us and the shallow pool of light it provided marked out the walls of the convent as tall, dense shadows looming up ahead of us.

The good thing about plotting to break into a convent is that religious institutions tend to keep fairly regular hours so that once you are familiar with the schedule you can be pretty sure of knowing where everyone is likely to be at any one time. The bad news is that those hours tend to be rather long ones, with nuns rising very early and staying up pretty late. The window of opportunity for avoiding bumping into anyone was therefore quite a narrow one but from my conversation with Sister Ursula that afternoon I was fairly confident that everyone should be at least theoretically tucked up in bed at this hour.

Having plagued us all evening with a desperate impatience to get on with the job, Romeo seemed to be afflicted with an unfortunate bout of nerves once we were out in the open air. “How do you propose we enter? That door seems distressingly solid,” he anxiously observed as we paused opposite the front entrance. “Any attempt to break it down will be sure to raise the alarm.”

“Relax, we’re not going through the front door,” I told him. And, having assured myself all was dark and silent within, I began to pick my way cautiously around the outside of the walls, beckoning Romeo and Michael to follow.

“You can’t mean for us to scale these walls,” Romeo softly exclaimed. “They must be fifty feet high!”

“I doubt it,” I witheringly replied. “I’d say twenty feet tops.”

“But we have brought no rope or ladder to assist us,” protested Romeo. “And I fear these shoes of mine will offer very little grip.”

“Will you calm down?” I said with a sigh. “We’re not going over the walls.”

“Well, I don’t see how else we are to get inside the convent,” Romeo somewhat sulkily responded. “We can scarce go through them.”

“Let’s just trust in Everingham’s plan, shall we?” urged Michael from behind.


There was a reluctant grunt of acquiescence from Romeo and I continued to creep around the wall until the lamp finally picked out the small wooden gate that marked the corner of the convent garden. Here I took a deep breath and offered up a short prayer before reaching out for the handle. This was undoubtedly the moment of truth. My entire plan rested on one basic supposition; that in the hours since I was alone in the garden that afternoon nobody would have spotted that I had slid open the bolts to facilitate our entry tonight. If one of the nuns had noticed and had taken the trouble to re-lock the gate then Plan B would be in tatters before it had even begun for, like Romeo, I didn’t much fancy our chances of climbing the sheer walls. But something told me that the rusty, cobwebbed gate was generally pretty overlooked and so was unlikely to have received so much as a second glance. Nevertheless, it was still an anxious moment as I pulled at the handle. To my intense relief, the gate swung open with just a disconcerting groan from the stiff hinges.

“Nice work Everingham,” Michael murmured approvingly as we each slipped through the open gate.

“I told you my afternoon hadn’t been wasted,” I replied in subdued triumph.

As Michael gently pushed the gate closed behind us, I paused for a moment, checking that the coast was still clear. “Right then, follow me and try to watch where you put your feet,” I whispered to the others once I was quite convinced there was no sign of life.

Slowly, cautiously, we moved away from the wall and began to pick our way across the garden. I’d managed no more than half a dozen steps when a hand suddenly grasped my arm, causing me to almost jump right out of my skin. I turned round to find Romeo gawping fearfully at me. “Wait! What was that?” he whispered anxiously.

“What was what?” I hissed back angrily.

“I thought I heard a noise,” Romeo murmured.

All three of us stood stock still for a moment, straining our ears for the slightest sound.

“I don’t hear anything,” I finally said.

“Nor me,” confirmed Michael.

“I could have sworn there was someone moving around,” muttered Romeo somewhat forlornly.

I glared at him. Our one small lamp did little to penetrate the heavy gloom of the densely planted garden and I suspected that our nervous young lover was jumping at shadows. “Let’s just get on with it, shall we?” I urged.

Romeo responded with a rather reluctant nod and I set off once again, trying to pick out the narrow paths between the plants. Progress was slow. I hopped over a low shrub and nipped between two prickly ferns. Then, just as I was attempting to outflank a bed of herbs by executing a sharp right turn, I stumbled on a patch of rough ground. I instinctively flung out an arm to try and maintain my balance and struck a leafy bush alongside me. To my surprise the bush responded with an indignant, “Ouch, have a care!”

Everyone froze.

“Alas, the nuns have discovered us!” Romeo whispered fearfully.

I was not so sure. Besides the fact that I could think of no possible reason why any of the sisters of Santa Maria della Scala might chose to do their gardening in the dead of night, there had seemed to be a distinctly masculine tone to that ‘Have a care!’ Whoever it was that we had come across, I was fairly sure they were no nun. I resolved to test my theory by prodding the bush once more.

“Oww!” it cried. “Will you stop doing that?”

Now that was definitely a man’s voice. At this point I felt sufficiently emboldened to raise my lamp and demand to know, “Who’s there?”

There was a slight pause and then the leaves of the bush parted and a stooped figure in a long grey cloak emerged from within. The pale light of my lamp illuminated a lined, leathery face and a tonsure of silvery hair. The face peered defiantly back into mine for a moment before he turned away and softly called out, “Come on out Adelmo. It is no use cowering in there any longer.”

There was another slight pause before the bush disgorged a second figure, this time a chubby young lad barely out of his teens who was also dressed in a grey cloak and clutching a wicker basket. “Are we caught, Father?” he nervously asked as he straightened up alongside his elder companion.

“Not by the sisters I venture,” replied the old man thoughtfully. “Mine eyes are not what they once were but I fancy I am still alert enough to recognise a Bride of Christ when I see one. Hold up your light so I may see just who we have here.”

The young man addressed as Adelmo drew forth from beneath his cloak an oil lamp very like ours and held it up. Between the two lamps there was now just enough light for the two groups to regard one another with a mixture of sheepishness and suspicion.

“Young Romeo Montague, is that you?” exclaimed the old man as his eyes passed along to my colleague.

“Friar Lawrence!” exclaimed Romeo in return.

“Goodness me! What brings you here my son? What possible business can you have in such a place at such an hour?”

Romeo shuffled his feet and cleared his throat awkwardly before replying. “I am come to see Rosaline.”

“Oh Romeo, say that it is not so,” sighed Friar Lawrence. “Have I not counselled you time and again about letting your passions lead you astray?”

“But Father, she is mine own true love!” cried Romeo. “You do not understand how my heart aches without her!”

“I grieve for your sorrow, my son, truly I do,” replied Friar Lawrence. “But Rosaline has taken holy orders now. You do great wrong if you try to persuade her to break her vow.”

“Speaking of doing wrong,” Michael interjected. “Perhaps you might care to explain what exactly you’re doing in the convent garden in the middle of the night.”

“Stealing the sisters’ herbs and plants by the looks of things,” I observed, swinging my lamp across to better illuminate the contents of Adelmo’s basket. It contained a generous array of cuttings from across the garden, including some herbs that I was sure Sister Ursula had identified to me earlier in the day as being particularly rare.

“No, not stealing. I would not say stealing. Borrowing perhaps, but never stealing,” blustered Friar Lawrence whilst Adelmo made a fleeting and rather futile attempt to conceal the contents of the basket behind his back. Swiftly realising that the gesture came far too late, he casually dropped his arm back into its natural position in the hope that no-one had noticed.


“There has long been an agreement between the sisters of Santa Maria della Scala and mine own house for the free exchange of herbs and plants,” Friar Lawrence went on, doing his best to affect a blasé tone. “Both our establishments are engaged in the business of healing and it makes perfect sense for us to help one another out from time to time.”

“But not such perfect sense that you would come collecting herbs at one o’clock in the morning,” Michael not unreasonably pointed out. “Why are you conducting your business in the dark?”

“And hiding in the bushes at the slightest sound?” I added.

“Well, with the way you were tip-toeing around it was quite clear you did not belong to the convent. It was only natural that we should take steps to protect ourselves,” Friar Lawrence protested somewhat weakly. “You might have been murderous cutthroats for all we knew.”

I gave this feeble excuse the disbelieving snort it so richly deserved.

“You were really quite stealthy,” Adelmo interjected in an awed tone. “We didn’t hear you enter the garden at all. Which wall did you climb? We decided on the north as the easiest in the end. The trees overhanging there offer at least some assistance.”

“We didn’t climb any wall. We came through the gate,” Romeo explained.

“The gate?” exclaimed Friar Lawrence. “Which gate?”

“The gate in the south-east corner,” I replied. “It’s the only gate into the garden that I know of.”

Friar Lawrence turned on Adelmo. “You told me that gate was bolted,” he barked.

“The gate is bolted,” returned a bewildered Adelmo. “It’s always kept bolted.”

“Usually it is but I arranged for the bolts to be open tonight,” I somewhat smugly told them.

“You had me climbing walls when there was an open gate just round the corner?” Friar Lawrence demanded of Adelmo with an accusatory glare. “At my age? With my poor knees?”

“But the gate is usually bolted Father,” protested Adelmo unhappily. “How was I to know it was open this one night of all nights?”

“You couldn’t have checked it one last time?” cried Friar Lawrence despairingly. “For the sake of my knees?”

“I’m sorry about your knees but do you think we might keep this down a little,” suggested Michael in an urgent whisper. “Before you wake the whole convent.”

The two monks fell silent, Friar Lawrence maintaining a withering gaze upon his junior. Poor Adelmo kept his eyes fixed unhappily upon his feet. The rest of us glanced around anxiously for a moment or two, hoping that their disagreement hadn’t alerted anyone to our presence. Fortunately, all remained still and dark in the direction of the nearest building.

“Hadn’t we better be about our business?” Romeo finally suggested. “The dawn grows ever closer and I have yet to set eyes on sweet Rosaline.”

“And if I have anything to do with it you never shall,” Friar Lawrence asserted. “I’m sorry Romeo, I know you cared for her once, but she has taken a vow before God and it would be a grave sin to ask her to break it.”

“But Father…!” wailed Romeo.

“Do not try to get round me, my mind is made up in this matter,” said Friar Lawrence, holding up a hand as though to physically ward off Romeo’s pleas.

“What do you intend to do?” asked Michael. “Warn the sisters?”

“If need be,” returned Friar Lawrence stoutly.

“Fine. And I’m sure there’ll be absolutely no problem at all when you reveal that you only discovered Romeo’s plans because you were prowling around the convent garden, stealing plants,” I remarked pointedly.

“What? No, we’re not… That is, I mean to say… Not stealing exactly…” Friar Lawrence blustered for a moment or two. “I tell you we have an arrangement,” he finally finished rather weakly.

“Of course you do,” said Michael.

“Well, that is…” Friar Lawrence lapsed into an unhappy scowl. “Very well, I suppose I must confess that our usual arrangement is perhaps technically suspended at the moment,” he eventually admitted. “There has been a slight disagreement over theological issues…”

“Here we go,” I said.

“It’s really a most trivial matter,” insisted Friar Lawrence. “But My Lady Abbess will insist on being most unreasonable. And just when I need a few things to make up some much-needed remedies. If only those rains hadn’t done such damage to our harvest this year…”

“Well, it seems perfectly simple to me,” I told him quite plainly. “You can make trouble for us if you choose but you’ll only land yourselves right in it at the same time. So, if you want to make it out of here with all those lovely cuttings then I’m afraid you’re just going to have to overlook Romeo’s little midnight assignation.”

Friar Lawrence looked down at the basket in Adelmo’s hand and then across in the direction of the convent building, clearly quite torn.

“Please Father,” pleaded Romeo softly. “I only wish to talk with Rosaline. If she is sincere in her vow then she will not be swayed. But you must at least allow true love its chance.”

There was another long pause before Friar Lawrence finally conceded with a reluctant sigh. “Very well,” he said. “You go to your work and we will to ours, But be sure that no sleeping nuns do you rouse.”

To be continued…

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