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

We left Friar Lawrence and Adelmo rooting around in the shrubbery with further soft mutterings about ‘gates’ and ‘poor legs’ drifting away into the night air and pressed on until we reached the door of the convent kitchen. I made no attempt to gain entry here but simply counted along the first-floor windows of the building until we stood beneath the one that I was looking for.

“Here we are,” I whispered to Romeo. “That’s the window to Rosaline’s cell just there. All you have to do is shin up, give it a tap and you can woo away to your hearts content. Just try not to wake anyone in the rooms on either side while you’re at it.”

“Up there?” exclaimed Romeo. “I can’t possibly get up there!”

“Of course you can. Start from that trellis just there and you can use that vine to swing yourself across. Look, they’ve even provided a balcony for you.” I’ll admit I may have been exaggerating a touch in referring to the narrow stone parapet that ran across the lower half of the window as a balcony but it at least offered something to hang on to.

“That flimsy vine will never hold my weight,” objected Romeo. “Suppose I should fall and break my neck?”

“No chance,” I returned with confidence. “It’s not that high. I doubt you’d break anything worse than an ankle.”

Romeo responded with a frightened yelp.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” I insisted. “This is to reclaim the love of your life, remember? Isn’t she worth a slight risk?”

“Well, naturally I would gladly die for Rosaline but…” Romeo took another glance up at the window and seemed to physically quail from the building. “It does seem most precarious.”

At this point, just as I was beginning to think that all my careful plotting might prove to be in vain, Michael stepped forward. Grasping Romeo by the shoulders, he gazed solemnly into his eyes. “Come now Romeo, art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?” he demanded in a sonorous tone. “Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood. Faint heart ne’er won fair Rosaline. Screw your courage to the sticking place and you shall not fail.”

It was undoubtedly a stirring speech. If there had been any breaches nearby I, for one, would have been once-moreing myself into them with gusto. As for Romeo, he gulped twice, nodded timorously and hesitantly grasped the trellis to begin his climb.

“That’s the spirit!” I said encouragingly, holding up the lamp to light his way.

“Nice speech,” I murmured admiringly to Michael as we watched Romeo begin to scrabble slowly upwards.

“Not one for the purists,” acknowledged Michael with a modest shrug, “but it seemed to do the trick.”

Romeo’s progress up the trellis and along the vine was slow, punctuated every step of the way by lengthy pauses and much heavy breathing. But finally, after what seemed like an absolute age, he succeeded in gaining a foothold on the parapet surrounding the window to Rosaline’s cell. He spent the next few minutes assuring himself of his balance before, with one arm hooked tightly round the stone rail, he tapped gently on the half-open shutter with the other.


Silence followed.

Romeo tapped again, a little louder, and, leaning forward into the slight gap between the shutters, softly called out, “Rosaline, oh Rosaline, wherefore art thou Rosaline?”

I caught just the faintest sound of something stirring within before the shutters were suddenly thrust rudely open, almost knocking Romeo from his perch. He issued a strangled cry and flapped wildly for a second or two before somehow reclaiming his hold on the balustrade. From below I caught sight of a shadowy head leaning forward through the window. It looked around uncertainly for a moment before somewhat hesitantly bringing forth a lighted candle to illuminate the panting figure clinging frantically to the balustrade. “Romeo, is that you?” a soft voice murmured in surprise.


“Oh, sweet Rosaline,” Romeo squeaked in reply.

“My Lord, it is you!” exclaimed Rosaline. “Romeo, how camest thou to be here? The garden walls are high and hard to climb.”

“With love’s light wings did I o’er perch these walls,” declared Romeo, his voice gradually regaining its natural register. “For stony limits cannot hold love out.”

There was a long, incredulous pause.

“Alright, I came through the garden gate.”

“But the gate is bolted from the inside,” observed Rosaline in a puzzled tone.

“The bolt has yet to be forged which might hold out a love as strong as mine,” insisted Romeo.

“Do you mean to say that you forced the bolt?” said Rosaline in dismay. “Oh dear, Sister Ursula will be most vexed to find that the garden gate has been damaged.”

“The garden gate is not damaged,” returned Romeo a trifle testily, the conversation not perhaps progressing in quite the direction he had hoped. “I did not force the bolt.”

“I suppose the bolt is quite rusty and the gate is very old,” mused Rosaline as if she had not heard Romeo’s reply. “But it would be such a shame to see it broken. Such items are expensive to replace and the convent is far from wealthy…”

“I tell you, the gate is fine!” snapped Romeo. “Why must everyone fixate so upon the gate tonight? I have risked my neck to come and see you and all you want to do is talk about the garden gate!”

There was a pause and Rosaline peered curiously at Romeo. “Why hast thou come tonight Romeo?” she asked.

Romeo took a deep breath. “I came for you sweet Rosaline,” he declared, shifting into the most heroic pose he could manage whilst still clinging tightly to the stone railing. “I am here to rescue you!”


“Rescue me?” repeated Rosaline, puzzled. “From what?”

“From this cold and stony convent,” replied Romeo. “Rosaline, it is clear to me that the grief of our lost love drove you here but you should not see your entire life ruined over one foolish heartbreak. Free yourself from the bounds of this harsh prison. Let all be forgiven and come, be my love once more!”

There was another long pause.

“But I don’t want to leave the convent,” Rosaline finally said quite plainly, “and certainly not with you. Romeo, have you forgotten how we parted?”

“Dear, sweet Rosaline, let not a simple tiff part true lovers forever!”

“A simple tiff?” retorted Rosaline. “Is that how you see it?”

“Surely my darling you do not intend to cast me aside over a few foolish words?” suggested Romeo.

“Oh, a few foolish words, were they?” demanded Rosaline, her voice growing ever more strident. “I am called a lively strumpet and you account this no more than a few foolish words? Or what was the other phrase? A comely wench fit for a few hours distraction and nothing more.”

“In faith, my love, those were Mercutio’s words and not mine own,” protested Romeo somewhat weakly. “And it was most unfortunate that you should walk into the tavern just as he was saying them.”

“In faith Romeo,” returned Rosaline in a tone that could have stripped the paint from the shutters, “it was the words I did not hear that troubled me far more than those I did. Where were your words in response? Did you take the trouble to defend me? To say that I meant anything more to you?”

Romeo opened his mouth to reply but Rosaline cut him short. “And don’t you dare try to tell me that you didn’t have chance to respond! Five minutes I stood there, listening to your friend abuse me, and not one single effort did you make to set him right!”

“Ah, fie my love,” responded Romeo, adopting the kind of joshing tone that any idiot could see was entirely the wrong way to go. “You should know that what carousing young blades say to one another is of no consequence. You can be sure I would have contradicted Mercutio had I felt that his words carried any meaning but it was all just tavern talk. You know, mere boyish banter.”


I swear that in the silence that followed the temperature around the window dropped by about ten degrees. Rosaline’s tone when she deigned to reply dripped with ice. “It wasn’t just Mercutio though, was it? You were always ashamed of our affair. How many times, for example, did you promise to tell your father of our love only to back out when the moment came?”

“Oh well, that’s a different matter altogether,” protested Romeo. “You don’t know my father – he’s a very difficult man to deal with. It’s not that I didn’t want to tell him… It was just a case of finding the right moment. I would have told him eventually. I mean, I will tell him… if you’ll only come back to me.”

“Oh, spare yourself Romeo,” Rosaline witheringly replied. “In the end it is of no consequence. These were all in fact symptoms rather than the cause of our parting. The simple truth is, we do not belong together. You don’t love me.”

“How can you say such a thing Rosaline!” exclaimed Romeo. “Of course, I love you. Would I be here now, risking life and limb, if I did not truly love you?”

“It is the romantic gesture that you love and not me,” said Rosaline with a weary shake of her head.

“That’s not true. I love you Rosaline,” insisted Romeo. “I worship you. I adore you!”

“Well, perhaps I don’t want to be adored,” returned Rosaline. “It’s really quite boring. If I am to give my heart to a man, I would want him to be someone who truly knows and understands me. Someone who would take the time to talk to me…”

“I talk to you,” protested Romeo. “I talked to you all the time.”

“You talked at me Romeo, there’s quite a difference,” pointed out Rosaline. “To be accurate, you mostly just spouted poetry at me. Being expected to sit there and look pretty whilst you try out your latest lines is not my idea of a meaningful conversation.”

“But Rosaline, I…” Romeo got no further in defence of his poetic tendencies before he was urgently hushed by Rosaline. For a moment all of us, both up on the balcony and down below, strained to listen. There were undoubtedly a few muffled creaks and groans coming from the room alongside Rosaline’s – the sounds, perhaps, of somebody shifting in their sleep. Everyone held their breath. The noise faded away almost as swiftly as it had begun and I was just beginning to breathe a sigh of relief at what seemed like a false alarm when suddenly the shutter of the next window along was flung open and a sleepy voice called out, “What goes on? Is someone there?”

Rosaline quickly drew back her candle to plunge her window into shadow and Romeo ducked down as best he could, trying to blend into the railing. Down below, Michael and I pressed ourselves tightly against the wall whilst I shrouded the oil lamp with a dark cloth brought for just such a purpose.

“Tis only I, Sister Beatrice,” Rosaline called out after a moments hesitation. “Go back to sleep.”

But the neighbour, now wakened, was not to be put off quite so easily. A shadowy head poked curiously out of the freshly opened window. “Is someone with you?” it demanded.

Rosaline leaned a little further forward over her own balcony in an effort to shield any sign of Romeo. “Don’t be silly, who could possibly be with me?” she replied lightly.


“I thought I heard voices,” insisted Sister Beatrice.

“Ah, well, I had trouble sleeping so I thought to soothe my mind by reciting some prayers, that’s all,” Rosaline hastily improvised.

There was a disgruntled pause. “Maybe you could try reciting your prayers in your head next time,” Sister Beatrice suggested. “Or counting sheep. Some of us are trying to get some rest.”

“Of course. I’m very sorry,” said Rosaline.

“The bell will be ringing for Matins before you know it and I’ve got early kitchen duty,” Sister Beatrice grumbled on.

“Yes, it was really very thoughtless of me,” confessed Rosaline contritely. “Please accept my apologies. It won’t happen again.”

“Hmm, I should hope not,” mumbled Sister Beatrice. “Goodnight Novice Rosaline.”

“Goodnight Sister Beatrice.”

The head withdrew and the shutter was pulled closed once more. A fresh sequence of muffled creaks indicated Sister Beatrice had climbed back into bed. For a minute or two after all sound had died away everyone held their positions before Rosaline finally felt safe enough to hiss urgently at Romeo, “You must go now!”

“Not without you dear Rosaline,” Romeo insisted in a melodramatic whisper. “I will not abandon you to this fearful place.”

“This place is not fearful. I’m perfectly happy here,” Rosaline retorted.

“You can’t mean that.”

“But I do. I will confess that becoming a nun was not my first choice,” admitted Rosaline, “but now that I’m here I find it suits me very well. I finally have my own place and a true purpose in the world. And the other Sisters are friendly and kind… At least they are when they haven’t just been woken up in the middle of the night.”

“But what of our love?” objected Romeo. “Rosaline, I’ll die without you!”

“Don’t be so silly. You’ll get along just fine without me,” insisted Rosaline. “You’ll soon find some other girl…”

“No other girl could ever take your place,” retorted Romeo, affecting an outrage at the very thought. He sighed theatrically. “I cannot bear to see another dawn without you.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake Romeo,” returned Rosaline impatiently. “I’ve already told you it’s the romantic gesture you’re in love with, not me. Any other face with sweet eyes and a pretty smile will serve you just as well.”

“How can you say such cruel things?” protested Romeo. “We have a true connection, an indivisible bond…”

“There’s no connection, you scarcely even know me. For a start, you’ve never listened to a thing I have to say.”

“That’s not true!”

“Alright then, tell me just one fact about myself that isn’t related to the way I look,” challenged Rosaline. “What is my father’s occupation, for instance? Or give me the name of just one of my sisters.”

There was a lengthy pause.

“Well, your father, he’s a… I mean to say, he usually…” Romeo floundered painfully. “As to your sisters, well, there’s a Caterina… Or is it Carlotta? Perhaps it was Claudia… I’m sure it began with a C…”

“Oh Romeo,” sighed Rosaline. “Don’t you see now why I would be an utter fool to leave the security of convent life for such a flimsy romance?”

“Oh Rosaline…”

But before Romeo could make any further attempts to retrieve what seemed to be a truly hopeless situation the shutter of the next window was suddenly flung open once again and an irate voice called out, “Really Novice Rosaline, can’t you keep your prayers to yourself?”

This time there was no chance for Rosaline to withdraw her candle or Romeo to duck out of view before Sister Beatrice’s head thrust out of her window and she glared furiously in their direction.

“Who’s there?” she immediately barked on catching sight of Romeo’s figure hanging over the balcony. “An intruder! Sound the alarm!”


Taken by surprise, Rosaline swung round towards Sister Beatrice, calling out, “No, wait…” But as she turned, the arm holding her candle swung in Romeo’s direction, almost pushing him off the balcony. He gave a frightened squawk and flapped his arms. Thinking he was about to fall, Michael stepped out of the shadows below in an instinctive effort to catch him.

“There are more! In the garden!” cried out Sister Beatrice, catching sight of the movement. “The convent is being overrun!”

Romeo slipped from the balcony but caught hold of the vine. For a moment or two he swung helplessly from side to side whilst beneath him Michael darted this way and that, trying to anticipate his movements.

“Please, Sister Beatrice, you must remain calm,” Rosaline vainly pleaded but it was no use. The sound of nuns being woken from their beds was already rippling out from the epicentre of the action and right across the wall shutters were being flung open and curious heads peering out, anxious to find out what the commotion was.

As Romeo gave out one last frightened cry and finally crashed to the ground just beyond Michael’s despairing gasp, Sister Beatrice’s voice echoed loudly across the still night air; “Sisters, oh sisters, hear this now my cry, Catch those intruders before they can fly!”

To be continued…

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