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A Midnight Fantasy
by [?]

With these three gentlemen–Mercutio, Benvolio, and Romeo–Hamlet saw life in Verona, as young men will see life wherever they happen to be. Many a time the nightingale ceased singing and the lark began before they were abed; but perhaps it is not wise to inquire too closely into this. A month had slipped away since Hamlet’s arrival; the hyacinths were opening in the gardens, and it was spring.

One morning, as he and Mercutio were lounging arm in arm on a bridge near their lodgings, they met a knave in livery puzzling over a parchment which he was plainly unable to decipher.

“Read it aloud, friend!” cried Mercutio, who always had a word to throw away.

“I would I could read it at all. I pray, sir, can you read?”

“With ease–if it is not my tailor’s score;” and Mercutio took the parchment, which ran as follows:–

Signior Martino, and his wife and daughters; County Ansdmo, and his beauteous sisters; the lady widow Vitrumo; Signior Placentio, and his lovely nieces; Mercutio, and his brother Valentine; mine uncle Capulet, his wife and daughters; my fair niece Rosaline; Livia; Signior Valentio, and his cousin Tybalt; Lucio, and the lively Helena.”

“A very select company, with the exception of that rogue Mercutio,” said the soldier, laughing. “What does it mean?”

“My master, the Signior Capulet, gives a ball and supper to-night; these the guests; I am his man Peter, and if you be not one of the house of Montague, I pray come and crush a cup of wine with us. Rest you merry;” and the knave, having got his billet deciphered for him, made off.

“One must needs go, being asked by both man and master; but since I am asked doubly, I ‘ll not go singly; I ‘ll bring you with me, Hamlet. It is a masquerade; I have had wind of it. The flower of the city will be there–all the high-bosomed roses and low-necked lilies.”

Hamlet had seen nothing of society in Verona, properly speaking, and did not require much urging to assent to Mercutio’s proposal, far from foreseeing that so slight a freak would have a fateful sequence.

It was late in the night when they presented themselves, in mask and domino, at the Capulet mansion. The music was at its sweetest and the torches were at their brightest, as the pair entered the dancing-hall. They had scarcely crossed the threshold when Hamlet’s eyes rested upon a lady clad in a white silk robe, who held to her features, as she moved through the figure of the dance, a white satin mask, on each side of which was disclosed so much of the rosy oval of her face as made one long to look upon the rest. The ornaments this lady wore were pearls; her fan and slippers, like the robe and mask, were white–nothing but white. Her eyes shone almost black contrasted with the braids of warm gold hair that glistened through a misty veil of Venetian stuff, which floated about her from time to time and enveloped her, as the blossoms do a tree. Hamlet could think of nothing but the almond-tree that stood in full bloom in the little cortile near his lodging. She seemed to him the incarnation of that exquisite spring-time which had touched and awakened all the leaves and buds in the sleepy old gardens around Verona.

“Mercutio! who is that lady?”

“The daughter of old Capulet, by her stature.”

“And he that dances with her?”

“Paris, a kinsman to Can Grande della Scala.”

“Her lover?”

“One of them.”

“She has others?”

“Enough to make a squadron; only the blind and aged are exempt.”

Here the music ceased and the dancers dispersed. Hamlet followed the lady with his eyes, and, seeing her left alone a moment, approached her. She received him graciously, as a mask receives a mask, and the two fell to talking, as people do who–have nothing to say to each other and possess the art of saying it. Presently something in his voice struck on her ear, a new note, an intonation sweet and strange, that made her curious. Who was it? It could not be Valentine, nor Anselmo; he was too tall for Signior Placentio, not stout enough for Lucio; it was not her cousin Tybalt. Could it be that rash Montague who–Would he dare? Here, on the very points of their swords? The stream of maskers ebbed and flowed and surged around them, and the music began again, and Juliet listened and listened.