Content notes: violence, sexism
Maria stood and crossed to the door. “Will you hoist sail, sir? here lies your way.”
“No.” Viola’s voice was weak, her boldness again wilting. She took hold of herself. As she had in many a past prank, she disguised herself behind her brother’s mien. “No, good swabber; I am to hull here a little longer.” She crooked an eyebrow at Olivia and, in her most sarcastic voice, continued, “Some mollification for your giant, sweet lady.”
Unsurprisingly, Olivia did nothing to ‘mollify’ Maria but also did not order Viola removed.
She and Viola stared at each other a moment, then Viola reached out a hand in offering and said quietly, “Tell me your mind: I am a messenger.”
“Sure, you have some hideous matter to deliver,” Olivia replied, “when the courtesy of it is so fearful. Speak your office.”
Viola stepped closer, dropping her voice to a murmur as her brother had done when flirting. “It alone concerns your ear. I bring no overture of war, no taxation of homage,” she lifted her outstretched hand. “I hold the olive in my hand;” Another step closer and her voice a touch softer, a touch deeper. “My words are as fun of peace as matter.”
Olivia was flustered now, looked away, fiddled with her fan. “Yet you began rudely,” she objected. Standing now, pacing the floor. “What are you? what would you?”
A half step back, giving space without retreating. The voice was softer yet, so now Olivia had to strain to hear, to stop pacing and step closer. Viola, within the well-learned mask of her brother’s ways, smiled. “The rudeness that hath appeared in me have I learned from my entertainment.
For the first time, the low voice took on the hint of a whisper: not just soft now but secret. “What I am, and what I would, are as secret as maidenhead; to your ears, divinity, to any other’s, profanation.”
Silence then. The lure was cast, and Viola knew — Sebastian knew, but for the moment, Viola was Sebastian — better than to speak further.
Olivia glanced at her (him — Cesario was who Olivia saw. Viola was perhaps too many people that morning.) Olivia glanced at him and away. The countess had been well sheltered before her father’s death, and this may have been the first time she had met the games of love. Certainly, the duke’s earlier messengers had little sense of how to woo her.
Finally, she decided. “Give us the place alone: we will hear this divinity.”
Olivia used Maria’s stiff exit to gather herself. She was flustered, yes; taken by surprise, but the daughter and granddaughter and sister of counts, a countess in her own right. She made herself don the mask of serenity she wore when she held court, to sit gracefully on her chair. When she spoke, it was in a steady voice and firm tone. “Now, sir, what is your text?”
Viola smiled and began, “Most sweet lady,–”
But this was more what Olivia had expected, and she was able to cut the speech short, “A comfortable doctrine, and much may be said of it.
“Where lies your text?”
Surprised but willing to play along, Viola replied, “In Orsino’s bosom.”
“In his bosom! In what chapter of his bosom?”
“To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.”
“O, I have read it: it is heresy. Have you no more to say?”
Viola stumbled, not ready to give up the task she had been set, but the game had ended too abruptly, and her memories of playing Sebastian were no help. But she was not Sebastian now; she was Cesario. And she knew what Cesario would say, the words bubbling up within her from her heart that was also his. “Good madam, let me see your face.”
“Have you any commission from your lord to negotiate with my face?” Olivia shook her head but continued. “You are now out of your text: but we will draw the curtain and show you the picture.” She pulled back her veil and gave Viola a moment to admire her face. “Look you, sir, such a one I was this present: is’t not well done?”
Vanity, oh vanity, all is vanity!
“Excellently done,” Cesario prodded, “if God did all.”
Stung Olivia jumped to defend her beauty. “‘Tis in grain, sir; ’twill endure wind and weather.”
Cesario smiled. “‘Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on. Lady,” the soft voice again, entreating, “you are the cruell’st she alive, If you will lead these graces to the grave And leave the world no copy.”
“O, sir,” Olivia flirted now, looking up at him from behind her lashes, “I will not be so hard-hearted; I will give out divers schedules of my beauty: it shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labeled to my will: as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth.” The flirtation dropped the countess spoke again, “Were you sent hither to praise me?”
“I see you what you are, you are too proud,” Cesario spoke with censure now, vanity exposed being the greatest of ugliness.
“But, if you were the devil, you are fair. My lord and master loves you:” and Cesario tried hard not to hear the whisper in his heart — loves you as he can never love me, mismatched monster that I am — “O, such love Could be but recompensed, though you were crown’d The nonpareil of beauty!”
“How does he love me?”
“With adorations, fertile tears, With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire.”
As he spoke, Olivia listened, leaning forward, taking in the passion and fire that peaked through, burning all the brighter for the love of his own Cesario did not dare — never dared — to show the world.
Shaking off the impact of those words, Olivia dismissed them. “Your lord does know my mind; I cannot love him: Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble, Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth; In voices well divulged, free, learn’d and valiant; And in dimension and the shape of nature A gracious person: but yet I cannot love him; He might have took his answer long ago.”
“If I did love you in my master’s flame, With such a suffering, such a deadly life, In your denial I would find no sense; I would not understand it.” Did not understand it, that Olivia would so easily set aside what he — she. She was Viola; Cesario was only a mask! — would have given all the gold of the Indies for.
“Why, what would you?”
And Cesario — Viola — opened her heart for one time. What she would do if she could… “Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house. Write loyal cantons of contemned love and sing them loud even in the dead of night. Halloo your name to the reverberate hills and make the babbling gossip of the air cry out…” she caught herself, replaced one name with another, and hid her stumble with a cry that reverberated through the house, if not the hills. “‘Olivia!’ O, You should not rest Between the elements of air and earth, But you should pity me!”
Olivia, of course, had no idea that this paean of love was not directed to her. It left her stunned and feeling much she did not recognize. “You might do much. What is your parentage?”
Surprised, Viola stared a moment before answering. “Above my fortunes, yet my state is well: I am a gentleman.”
Shaking her head, Olivia stood and made for the door, made to escape, “Get you to your lord; I cannot love him: let him send no more;” A pause, a thought, a fear and a hope… ” Unless, perchance, you come to me again, To tell me how he takes it. Fare you well: I thank you for your pains:” Eager to give him something though not understanding why she dug out a few coins from her purse. “spend this for me.”
“I am no fee’d post, lady,” Viola sneered at the coins, “keep your purse: My master, not myself, lacks recompense.
“Love make his heart of flint that you shall love; And let your fervor, like my master’s, be placed in contempt!” With a backward wave, and a heart both light and grieving, Viola strode out of the room and towards the main doors. “Farewell, fair cruelty.”