I posted this about a week or so ago in bard_slash, and now I'm finally getting my act together and putting it here. Seems like you guys might enjoy it, if you're still around -- looks pretty empty here, but one never knows, do one? Comments and discussion are always welcome.
Title: A Glooming Peace
Author: pargoletta, which is me!
Summary: An old man makes out his last will and testament, and remembers his youth.
A Glooming Peace
Ah, Bellario. Do come in. Sit down, make thyself comfortable. Shall I send for wine?
Very well, I understand. Thy time is short. Mine is short as well, and therefore have I summoned thee today. I wish to draw up a new will, as I should have done long ago, when Antonio . . . well, perhaps that is not so important now. I will tell thee of Antonio when the time is right.
What? Nay, the honor is mine, that thou wouldst come from Padua solely at the request of thy father’s old friend. Perhaps it is greed, or perhaps merely vanity, but I would retain the services of the finest lawyer in Italy. That such a man is the son of Gaetano Moresco, the friend of my university days, that is simply another blessing.
Hast thou pen and paper? Good. Let us begin.
I, Benvolio Montague, being of sound mind and body . . .
Dost thou laugh, Bellario? In truth, I would laugh as well. This body of mine is old and infirm, weighed down with too many years and too many sorrows. And my mind . . . well, others with more discernment shall be the judge of that. My cousin would have mocked me for my doubt, I am sure.
Nay, Bellario, thou hast never met my cousin, for he was dead a full year ere I traveled to Padua and made the acquaintance of the man who would become thy father. I was not always the placid old scholar that thou knowest now, who did dandle thee on my knee when thou wast a babe, and who is glad to have seen thee grow to the full flower of manhood. That is a privilege not granted to all the souls who walk this earth. Even in the fullness of summer, the richest blossoms may wither in the bud, leaving only the poorest to bloom in memory of the glory that might have been.
Ah, pay no attention to the ramblings of an old man. For a moment, I dwelled once more in the past, as the old are wont to do. I dreamed of my family and friends, and the days of my youth. Oh, I was young once, Bellario, doubt that not. But my youth ended in the height of summer, when those I loved most in the world were torn from me by the cruel hand of fate.
I had lost friends before, of course. Plagues and pestilence spare not the youngest innocents, and there were already playmates of my childhood who dwelled with God. But Mercutio was the one who died in my arms, and his death took much from me that I have never yet regained. From his death flowed more, and my cousin and my lady aunt were also caught in that stream but a few days afterwards. I might add my noble uncle to that tally as well, though he lived another two years afterwards, for I believe he died of grief for his wife.
Hm? Oh, yes, Bellario, I do believe that such a thing is possible. Let none tell thee that a broken heart cannot kill, for I did see my lady aunt waste away in her grief at Romeo’s exile.
I wondered if the same fate might befall me at Ottavia’s death, but it did not. Do not think that I did not care for my wife, Bellario. I loved her, after my own fashion. She became a companion of the heart, for all that she did not lay eyes upon me before our wedding day. She was young and frightened, as I suppose most brides are wont to be, but I treated her gently. If my cousin taught me one thing in his short life, he taught me that gentleness of bearing can often bring unexpected rewards.
My cousin? Bellario, how many times hast thou visited Verona? Hast thou never laid eyes upon the golden statue in the niche in the west wall of St. Peter’s church? I must take thee there one day. Dost thou not know it?
It is hardly ancient, though I suppose that the gold did not wear as well as bronze would have done. It is a good deal less ancient than I, if thou canst believe the word of so old a man. The subject is not my ancestor. It is my cousin, who was of an age with me, and his young bride of but few days. Her house was an enemy of mine in those wretched days, but they loved one another despite the ancient grudge. Their misadventured, concealed love did lead them to take their lives.
Bellario, if thou dost say another such word, I shall put thee out of my house without thy fee, and I shall find another lawyer! I know full well what the holy Church tells us about the fate of suicides. But I speak now of my cousin, who was but a boy when he died, and whose death served in part to bring about a greater good. I am inclined to temper my judgment in this matter. I would like to believe that God, who sent the Lamb to take away our sins, might be inclined to do the same.
Nay, do not misunderstand me. I still bear a load of anger. Romeo left me to face Mercutio’s funeral alone, when I feared that my own heart would stop from grief. The next time I saw him was at his own funeral. I bore on my shoulders the biers of my two dearest friends, and that weight will never leave me. But I will not judge my cousin for it.
A moment, I beg of thee. To think that I am still inclined to weep, even after so many years.
Ah. I thank thee for the loan of thy handkerchief. I hope I have not soiled it unduly.
Mercutio would tell me the same thing. I never did carry a handkerchief of my own. I suppose I had not so much cause to weep in those days.
Oh, ay, I mourned their deaths, and right bitterly, too. But one cannot mourn forever, I suppose. They were dead, and I kept on living. My uncle sent me to university, as he had planned to send Romeo. I met thy father, and I grew to manhood, and I took a wife. I lived as any young man of Verona might, save only those who never lived to become men.
Shall we continue? Here are the records of my assets.
Why dost thou look so surprised? My fortune is what it is. I have neither wife nor child, I have no taste for lavish feasts, and I maintain only such few servants as I require. Mine is not an expensive household. That is why there is such a great deal of money, and that is why I requested thy aid in preparing my will.
Nay, Ottavia’s dowry is not included in this list. I returned it to her parents when she died. How could I keep the money when I had caused her death?
Nay, chide me not. I did not kill Ottavia outright. But I insisted upon getting an heir upon her. She gave me my son, and died of him. Had I followed the demands of my heart and lived with her as sister and brother, she might yet be alive.
She was not deformed, Bellario, far from it. She was quite beautiful, much as thy own lady mother is. It was simply that I had little urge to lie with women, though I did so on occasion with Ottavia – on our wedding night, on the night when I begat Antonio upon her, perhaps a few others. She was the companion of my heart, but not the companion of my body.
Ay, I am familiar with the sermons of the Sienese preacher on that subject. He has naught to fear from me on that matter. Once, not long after Antonio’s death, I did purchase an evening from a boy who worked for my grocer. But when night fell – I beg of thee, do not laugh at an old man – I found that I could do naught with him.
It was not that, Bellario! I was still in my prime, and my flute was perfectly in tune, I can assure thee. It was simply that the grocer’s boy was not the one I truly desired. I paid him for his time and sent him home untouched. If the Sienese preacher would damn me for that, then that is his business.
Well, there is the tale. I have no wife, and I have no son. I am the last of the house of Montague, and the name will die with me.
Oh, do not weep its loss. It was a name with some dignity once, but those days are past. I have lost much in my life, so that the loss of the name of Montague pales in comparison.
The money? A tithe of it shall go to the holy Church. I have given that portion of my income every year of my life, and I see no need to cease the habit upon my death. As for the rest . . . the rest I leave to thee.
Of course I speak truly, Bellario. Dost thou take me for a fool? Thou art the son of my friend, thou art clever, and thou art kind enough to listen to the ramblings of an aged gentleman. If the fever had not taken Antonio, I would have wanted him to become the sort of man that thou art now. For thy sake, and in memory of my friendship with thy father Gaetano, I leave my fortune to thee.
Of course. Ask me what thou wilt.
Thy father was my friend, and no more. He was handsome in his youth; I shall not deny that. But he was not the one who stirred the desires of my heart and my loins.
Ay, a youth of Verona, a friend of my childhood who died in my arms on a hot day in July, pierced to the heart in a quarrel that was not his, ere I could muster the courage to breathe a word of love to him. Mark thou these words, Bellario, for it is the privilege of the old to instruct the young that the young might avoid the folly of the old. Do not defer thy desires overmuch, lest the opportunity be taken from thee too soon. I dared not speak my heart to Mercutio, and now he is no more.
It is kind of thee to say that. It was for this kindness of thy heart that I appointed thee my heir.
Are we finished? What must I do?
There. My signature is not as clear as it was in my youth, for my hands are palsied with age. Canst thou read it?
Very well. I thank thee for thy time. Here is thy fee. The rest thou shalt have upon my death.
Nay, spare me thy false comfort. I know full well that my end is near, and I do not fear it.
What have I to fear? I am an old man. I have outlived my wife and my son. Gaetano is no more. My cousin, the playmate of my childhood, has long since returned to dust. Mercutio’s bright spirit is gone from my life, and I see him only in my dreams. In truth, it is when I dream that I feel most alive, and in such a case as mine, a man may come to welcome death as a blessed release.
I thank thee for thy services, Bellario. Give my greetings to thy mother. My page will show thee to the door. A breach of custom, perhaps, but I am weary with age.
I shall sleep a little now. The world of dreams beckons, and it is Mercutio’s voice that I hear . . .