An Imaginary 17th Century Scene





JOHN: manservant to SIR GILES

ACT II, scene i

LADY KATHERINE’s chambers; GILES and KATHERINE sit together.

KAT: Husband, as your man is come from my father I must go and fetch the missive he brought. We will not be parted long.

GIL: No, for we cannot, now you are part of me you cannot part from me. Do not fret, dear one, I shall await your return with patience and good cheer.

KAT kisses his cheek and exits; LILLIAN enters.

LIL: Good sir, is there aught I can do for you?

GIL: I think there is naught I need, so aught you can do is not for me.

LIL: Do you not mislike it that your bride should speak alone with your manservant? Aside He will now; I will that he proves as weak as I think him.

GIL: Well that is forward, I had not thought so far at all and you ought not speak so near.

LIL: Do forgive me, my lord, ‘twas but my thoughts aloud.

GIL: And you suppose I desire to hear your thoughts?

LIL: On no account, sir, do I think it is my thoughts you desire at all. Why should they interest you? I beg your pardon for my boldness, I will be silent.

GIL: You think my lady be not true?

LIL: Sir, I would not make such a claim, I am but her maid.

GIL: And so you know her comings and goings, her musings and thoughts, the whispers that escape her in quiet times and the every sigh she lets out when nearly alone. Do not think to trick me, Lillian, I know you to be more than only maid of such dull stuff as that.

LIL: It is true I am with your lady often, but I do not mean to say that I know her mind, or any other. I am my own, and not hers alone.

GIL: You did suggest that there are doings beyond what I know, and I will have you tell me.

LIL: You will have me, my lord? I am, as I said, my own, and not yours entirely. I must be at least as bound to my lady as I am to you.

GIL: You are bound to me, Lillian.

LIL: I am bound to you. But I am my own too, and my lady’s whether I would or no.

GIL: That’s as it may be. Now tell me of my lady’s doings.

LIL: Does it not seem odd to you that she should be gone so long?

GIL: Does she not wish to reply to her father’s message? That seems not odd.

LIL: And that she should not come back to her desk here beside you for ink and such?

GIL: Such is distracting. Tell me your suspicions outright, I’ll not have this dance around the truth, a minuet of lies from a maid.

LIL: I do not dance, my lord, I am not so nimble with deceit. My suspicions are unproved and I dare not give them voice. They must lie in my breast unawaked.

GIL: I will have them out.

LIL: My lord, your lady is seeming close with your manservant, and I fear closer than seeming.

GIL: You think my lady cuckolds me with mine own man? We are but newly wed.

LIL: It does happen, sir. Perchance it is the very fact that he is but a servant that draws her, for some find attraction in different.

GIL: Why should that be so?

LIL: For some, the distance between them is lure, and they hunger for the person across that chasm. For some, the vast distance between a noble and a servant is too tempting to pass by.

GIL: What, that he is so far below her she needs must climb atop him?

LIL: My lord! I do protest, I said naught so bold. Truthfully told that is what I believe, for I understand the temptation of that which is close enough to feel its warmth but so far as to lose all hope of it.

GIL: My lady was innocent when she came to my bed.

LIL: Sir, if you want not to hear what I say then I shall be silent.

GIL: I want very much to find out what you know, or indeed what you suspect.

LIL: How know you she was whole when you knew her first?

GIL: There is proof, is there not? You launder the soiled sheets of the household and know it yourself. The innocence of a virgin is bright against pure white.

LIL: Crafty women know tricks in the bedchamber, my lord.

GIL: You believe my bride forged virginity for herself?

LIL: I have heard of ways, sir. There was a lady (though no lady, truly) in Venice once, all the maids talk of her for she was no maid, and the innocence she bled was but strawberry jam. She profited by the lie until she was found out, and her reward was bitter indeed.

GIL: Well then go you to find out the truth of it with your tongue, and tell me the taste.

If it be the sweetness of a lie you have my gratitude, and I will have my lady’s innocence on toast.

LIL: I do not say she did it.

GIL: You do; the truth lies behind your words.

LIL: This is a dirty deed you ask of me, to betray my lady’s trust and rumple through soiled linens to find a trick.

GIL: It is nothing sinful to find the truth, and if the ways are unclean it is your own doing. I will want proof. I do not trust your dirty ways, Lillian, for no simple maid knows such tricks as you do.

LIL: I am a lady’s maidservant, my lord, and women gossip.

GIL: Then you say all the tricks you know are in word only?
LIL: My lord may have cause to discover the truth of them. I go then, sir, to search your bed linens, and I will return to you when I have found a trick to show you.

LILLIAN exits; KATHERINE enters.

KAT: Ill tidings, my lord.

GIL: Oh, I do not want for bad news today. Your eyes are rimmed with grief and welling, my lady, tell me what is wrong.

KAT: My father is not well. He may die.

GIL: My love, this is dreadful and sad. Shall we go to visit him? Have you made arrangements?

KAT: I waited for your word, my lord, but I have spoken with your man John about the journey.

GIL: aside You spoke, and that is all?

Very well, my lady, shall we go on the morrow? Can all be ready by then?

KAT: I do not know if all will be ready, but I fear to stay.

GIL: As you wish, my dear, so shall it be.

GILLES exits. JOHN enters; LILLIAN enters and hides to listen to their conversation.

JOHN: My lady, I have another message for you?

KAT: From my father?


KAT: Not? Then from whom? And must it be seen now, when all is so unhappy?
JOHN: More is unhappy than you know, dear lady. Oh, do not step away from me!

KAT: This cannot be, John. I thought you the best man I had ever met, long ago, better than I, but I did not know you then. It was meant to come to naught.

LIL: aside So there is no proof to be found. Little matter, guilt is as easy to fabricate as innocence, and they are half in love already. My lord will listen to me.

JOHN: You could know me now.

KAT: Please, good John, I love my lord. I cannot love you too.

JOHN: You could.

KAT: I am sorry but I cannot. I could not hide from my lord and I do not want to. You are not worth the risk.

JOHN: Is that the root of the matter then? I am worth less. I mean nothing.

KAT: Your words mean nothing to me. You are still your own. Do not be bound unto me.

JOHN: I am yours whether I would or no. And you are mine too, although you would not own it.

LIL: aside Would that I have better luck in love. I did not know that my words were so true. Perchance I will repeat some of this conversation to my lord. Perhaps he will listen.

KAT: You must go, my lord will be awaiting me and I must dry my eyes.

JOHN: I will too be waiting for you.

KAT: Goodbye, John.

He kisses her and exits. LILLIAN enters.

LIL: Is there aught you need, my lady?

KAT: Oh, Lillian, there are a million things I need and none that you can give me.

LIL: Why so distraught, dear lady? Can I not help?

KAT: You are good with a needle and thread, but even you cannot undo this monstrous knot of lives entwined. It is too complex and jumbled for me to unravel. I love my lord, you know.

LIL: I do.

KAT: And I love you well, Lillian.

LIL: I am honored by your trust, my lady. You know I love you and am your own.

KAT: If only you could indeed untie the snarls of lives, dear Lillian.

LIL: I do only what I can, and that is enough for me. I am sorry it seems not for you.

KAT: You do too much for me, in truth. We shall leave tomorrow for the house of my father, and God grant us the speed to be there before he dies.

LIL: Yes, my lady.


LIL: Now it falls to me, this twined mass, and I shall be like Alexander and refuse the puzzle. I am no simple maid to sit and untangle that which is hopelessly matted and sigh at the pains of it; I will take up a blade and slice it in two. Mayhap if I cut with enough skill I can keep half for myself, and let the rest of the knot fall. The tension will abate then, will it not? When nobody is left to pull on the strings of it?

I do love my lady well, and it may be that she will forgive me if her husband is faithless, and believes her so. She cannot want John and she will not want my lord, and I will stand with a severed knot in my hand and can craft something new of it. I shall be like the very fates themselves, snipping and weaving lives remorseless. ‘Twould be easier if this new marriage did not pull so on my heartstrings, and if my lady’s grief did not prick me as it does. E’en so I am all wrapped in her, and can see no other way but to cut her free.

End scene.



The stage was a well of light that glared and froze in the blackness of the theater. The three of them were sitting nearly against the tall canvas of the set, pushed into a line on one side of the stage as though they were scrambling back from the dark, as far as possible. Richard’s script was getting wavery spots of paper where it softened and stretched around his fingers, clutching it too tight. April sat composed, serene, stiff. She was still talking.

“I never said that.” Was that line supposed to be funny? She was biting a smile as she waited for him.

“No,” he said, “I suppose you didn’t. I guess I just did, then.” The words thudded in time with his heartbeat.

“Alright, then. I do too.” April really smiled now, looking right at him. He gazed back, entranced.

Matt – the director – coughed, and Richard snapped straight and peered at his script. “That’s settled then. End scene.”

Matt read the stage directions, his words jamming together. He’d been ready to head home a half hour ago. April said, “You know, I think you’re the most interesting person I know. Funny, isn’t it?”

Richard summoned irritation. “What’s funny about that? What, you mean you’re surprised I’m interesting?”

April flashed him a smile, eyes narrowed. “I’m not surprised you’re so interesting, William darling. I’m surprised I’m so lucky as to be with you.”

“Oh, good,” he bluffed, aiming for humor. Funny was called for here, right? “I’m the most interesting person I know, too.” No, damn, that was wrong. Definitely wrong. Her eyes flickered down now, breaking from his.

“Yes, sweetheart.” That was weariness, he thought, that he detected in her voice. Exasperation, maybe. Or her character’s exasperation.

He assumed a contrite expression, pulling his eyebrows up and his lips down. Matt’s sigh whispered through the air, but Richard ignored it. “Oh, my love, I’m sorry. You know I do love you terribly.” He forgot for a moment that he was telling the muscles of his face how to act, and he stared at April with wide eyes. Surely she must see the emotion bare in them, the desperation clutching at him and the sorrow barely hidden.

The light gleamed in April’s eye, rinsing pale the blue of her eyes and glinting sharp white. Her eyelashes flicked down, and she said, “I do know, I do. I love you so dearly, I love you too. I do.”

Richard smiled and sat back, satisfied for a fleeting second. Then he remembered his line, “Well then, everything’s all fine, isn’t it?”

April smiled weakly at him and that scene ended too. This was their third run-through that evening and the whole rehearsal had been turmoil. He was nearly counting down the pages until they could be done and go home, but he was already dreading the moment when she would turn and walk with such nonchalance back to her car. Every time they got through this next scene, he felt as though he’d been crushed and twisted. He started it with the same heartiness – “My dear, I wish you’d done that sooner. Hadn’t we better go right away? Go on, get in the car, I’ll finish up here. You look so lovely.”

He would listen to her snap at him, halfhearted, and it twinged in his chest. The conversation would rise and fall, and when April’s voice rose she clutched at her skirt as though holding herself down. Otherwise, perhaps, the anger she conjured would propel her out of her chair and right out the room – off the stage. Finally he would say, defeated, “Yes, well, that’s all. That’s all I can do now. I know it’s not enough, I’m so sorry. I just don’t know what else.”

April smiled brightly at him and said, “Just don’t. Just don’t do anything. Please just stop.”

“I can’t. You know I can’t.”

The fight escalated here again. Her voice sounded shrill to his ears, grating, and he pretended he couldn’t hear her. His own voice was odd to his ears. It swooped and flew. “God, I can’t handle you anymore! I wish I were anywhere else right now.”

Her words were quiet then. She murmured them, her lips barely moving and her eyes fixed on his face. “Go then. Go be anywhere else. My god, can’t you tell by now? I can’t possibly love you. I’ve finally figured it out. Go on, leave.

The scene ended as he stalked out, and his baleful glares back at her were loosened and weakened by the pleading expression he couldn’t help. When he settled back into his chair, every time his body slumped as if suddenly let go. Thankfully that was close to the end, and when the play finished they could all go home.

Richard followed April outside, mesmerized by the tap of her heels on the linoleum before him. When they reached the parking lot, April turned to him. Her face was flat. “Night then, Richard. I’ll see you Sunday.” He nodded at her, numb, and opened his mouth to answer to her back as she swayed away. The words were still stuttering in his throat as the car chirped and she swung into the driver’s seat.

Her headlights flared bright into Richard’s dazed eyes, and as he fumbled with his keys he turned away. The sudden overwhelming darkness blinded him for a long moment.