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A Midnight Fantasy
by [?]

In those rude days one did not accomplish a long journey without having wonderful adventures befall, or encountering divers perils by the way. It was a period when a stout blade on the thigh was a most excellent travelling companion. Hamlet, though of a philosophical complexion, was not slower than another man to scent an affront; he excelled at feats of arms, and no doubt his skill, caught of the old fencing-master at Elsinore, stood him in good stead more than once when his wit would not have saved him. Certainly, he had hair-breadth escapes while toiling through the wilds of Prussia and Bavaria and Switzerland. At all events, he counted himself fortunate the night he arrived at Verona with nothing more serious than a two-inch scratch on his sword arm.

There he lodged himself, as became a gentleman of fortune, in a suite of chambers in a comfortable palace overlooking the swift-flowing Adige–a riotous yellow stream that cut the town into two parts, and was spanned here and there by rough-hewn stone bridges, which it sometimes sportively washed away. It was a brave old town that had stood sieges and plagues, and was full of mouldy, picturesque buildings and a gayety that has since grown somewhat mouldy. A goodly place to rest in for the wayworn pilgrim! He dimly recollected that he had letters to one or two illustrious families; but he cared not to deliver them at once. It was pleasant to stroll about the city, unknown. There were sights to see: the Roman amphitheatre, and the churches with their sculptured sarcophagi and saintly relics–interesting joints and saddles of martyrs, and enough fragments of the true cross to build a ship. The life in the piazze and on the streets, the crowds in the shops, the pageants, the lights, the stir, the color, all mightily took the eye of the young Dane. He was in a mood to be amused. Everything diverted him–the faint pulsing of a guitar-string in an adjacent garden at midnight, or the sharp clash of gleaming sword blades under his window, when the Montecchi and the Cappelletti chanced to encounter each other in the narrow footway.

Meanwhile, Hamlet brushed up his Italian. He was well versed in the literature of the language, particularly in its dramatic literature, and had long meditated penning a gloss to “The Murther of Gonzago,” a play which Hamlet held in deservedly high estimation.

He made acquaintances, too. In the same palace where he sojourned lived a very valiant soldier and wit, a kinsman to Prince Escalus, one Mercutio by name, with whom Hamlet exchanged civilities on the staircase at first, and then fell into companionship.

A number of Verona’s noble youths, poets and light-hearted men-about-town, frequented Mercutio’s chambers, and with these Hamlet soon became on terms.

Among the rest were an agreeable gentleman, with hazel eyes, named Benvolio, and a gallant young fellow called Romeo, whom Mercutio bantered pitilessly and loved heartily. This Romeo, who belonged to one of the first families, was a very susceptible spark, which the slightest breath of a pretty woman was sufficient to blow into flame. To change the metaphor, he fell from one love affair into another as easily and logically as a ripe pomegranate drops from a bough. He was generally unlucky in these matters, curiously enough, for he was a handsome youth in his saffron satin doublet slashed with black, and his jaunty velvet bonnet with its trailing plume of ostrich feather.

At the time of Hamlet’s coming to Verona, Romeo was in a great despair of love in consequence of an unrequited passion for a certain lady of the city, between whose family and his own a deadly feud had existed for centuries. Somebody had stepped on somebody else’s lap-dog in the far ages, and the two families had been slashing and hacking at each other ever since. It appeared that Romeo had scaled a garden wall, one night, and broken upon the meditations of his inamorata, who, as chance would have it, was sitting on her balcony enjoying the moonrise. No lady could be insensible to such devotion, for it would have been death to Romeo if any of her kinsmen had found him in that particular locality. Some tender phrases passed between them, perhaps; but the lady was flurried, taken unawares, and afterwards, it seemed, altered her mind, and would have no further commerce with the Montague. This business furnished Mercutio’s quiver with innumerable sly shafts, which Romeo received for the most part in good humor.