Content notes: violence, sexism
It was well into the dark of night when a short ruddy-cheeked man came stumbling through the kitchen door of Countess Olivia’s manor and nearly tripped over the grim woman in livery who waited for him.
The man, barely noticing in his drunken ramble, continued a long-running (and oft-repeated) rant. “What a plague means my niece, to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to life.”
The woman sighed and stood up, brushing out her skirts. “By my troth, Sir Toby,” she said, “you must come in earlier o’ nights: your cousin, my lady, takes great exceptions to your ill hours.”
As usual, Sir Toby brushed the admonishment away. “Why, let her except, before excepted.”
Knowing better than to argue directly with a drunk, the woman tried another tack, “Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order.”
“Confine!” Came the instant objection. “I’ll confine myself no finer than I am: these clothes are good enough to drink in; and so be these boots too: an they be not, let them hang themselves in their own straps.”
Shaking her head, the woman took his arm and tried to lead him toward his bed. As she did, she muttered under her breath, “That quaffing and drinking will undo you: I heard my lady talk of it yesterday; and of a foolish knight that you brought in one night here to be her wooer.”
Sadly, she did not mutter softly enough. Sir Toby heard her and took exception.
“Who, Sir Andrew Aguecheek?”
Sir Toby shook free of her hand and pulled himself up straight, a portrait of offended dignity. “He’s as tall a man as any’s in Illyria.” The portrait was ruined by a great burp that ripped free on the last syllable.
Poor delivery or not, the point couldn’t be argued. Sir Andrew was indeed taller than most men of Illyria. Still, “What’s that to the purpose?”
“Why, he has three thousand ducats a year.”
Somewhere in a drunk man’s mind, ideas connect in ways that even a fool can never make sense of.
“Ay, but he’ll have but a year in all these ducats: he’s a very fool and a prodigal.”
“Fie, that you’ll say so! he plays o’ the violin, and speaks three or four languages word for word without book, and hath all the good gifts of nature.”
The woman shook her head again and turned to face Sir Toby. “He hath indeed, almost natural: for besides that he’s a fool, he’s a great quarreller: and but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarreling, ’tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave.”
Jowls bouncing, face flushed now with anger, Sir Toby explained, “By this hand, they are scoundrels and subtractors that say so of him. Who are they?”
Done with the conversation, she turned and began walking away, calling over her shoulder, “They that add, moreover, he’s drunk nightly in your company.”
The anger drained out of Sir Toby, and he said pleadingly, “With drinking healths to my niece.” When the woman did not stop, he took a few steps after her and grabbed her arm. “I’ll drink to her as long as there is a passage in my throat and drink in Illyria: he’s a coward and a coystrill that will not drink to my niece till his brains turn o’ the toe like a parish-top.
The door opened again, and Sir Toby put a hand over the woman’s mouth, silencing whatever reply she might have made “What, wench! Castiliano vulgo! For here comes Sir Andrew Agueface.”
“Sir Toby Belch!” Sir Andrew staggered in and pulled up short. He stared at Sir Toby, who still had his hand over a strange (to Andrew) woman’s mouth. “how now, Sir Toby Belch!”
“Sweet Sir Andrew!” Sir Toby replied. He dropped his hands away from the woman and stepped away suddenly.
Sir Andrew turned to the woman, saying, “Bless you, fair shrew.”
“And you too, sir,” She replied, edging once again toward the door.
Not wanting her to escape, Sir Toby urged Sir Andrew forward. “Accost, Sir Andrew, accost.”
Confused, Sir Andrew blinked blearily around the room. “What’s that?”
“My niece’s chambermaid,” Sir Toby said, with a wave (more drunken than gallant) toward the poor woman.
Sir Andrew dropped into an exaggerated bow, “Good Mistress Accost, I desire better acquaintance.”
“My name is Mary, sir.” She rubbed her forehead against a headache and looked longingly for the door.
“Good Mistress Mary Accost,–” began Sir Andrew again, striding toward her.
Mistress Mary Not Accost moved quickly to put a bench between herself and the approaching knave… err… knight.
Groaning, Sir Toby put a hand on Sir Andrew’s arm. “You mistake, knight; ‘accost’ is front her, board her, woo her, assail her.” These last terms were joined by gestures meant to illustrate the good knight’s meaning.
“By my troth,” Sir Andrew exclaimed. “I would not undertake her in this company.” Then in what might have been meant as a whisper but was loud enough to be heard across the bailey, he spoke directly into Sir Toby’s ear. “Is that the meaning of ‘accost’?”
Sir Toby winced away, rubbing his ear. Mary (Maria actually) took advantage of his distraction to make once more for the door. “Fare you well, gentlemen.”
Sadly for her, he was not distracted enough. “An thou let part so, Sir Andrew, would thou mightst never draw sword again.”
If nothing else, Sir Andrew could recognize a cue and jumped into his role: “An you part so, mistress, I would I might never draw sword again.” He smiled at her, a smile such as no lady would ever wish to receive, and said, “Fair lady, do you think you have fools in hand?”
“Sir, I have not you by the hand,” Maria answered, thinking perhaps the time had come for insult to drive the knights away.
Sir Andrew, however, was Sir Andrew. “Marry, but you shall have,” he replied, “and here’s my hand.”
He bowed again, extending hand and leg in a gesture she could not courteously ignore. So with visible reluctance, she reached out to touch the tips of the drunken knight’s fingers.
“Now, sir,” she said, releasing him almost immediately, ‘thought is free:’ I pray you, bring your hand to the buttery-bar and let it drink.”
Sir Andrew peered around the room a moment, confirming for himself there was no buttery-bar in view. “Wherefore, sweet-heart?” he asked then, “what’s your metaphor?”
“It’s dry, sir,” Maria said, in a voice dry as a desert.
“Why, I think so:” Sir Andrew said, “I am not such an ass but I can keep my hand dry. But what’s your jest?”
Only a step away from the door now, Maria glared at Sir Toby and said. “A dry jest, sir.”
“Are you full of them?”
“Ay, sir, I have them at my fingers’ ends.” She took the final step to the door and out of Sir Andrew’s reach. “Marry, now I let go your hand, I am barren.”
In a flurry of skirts, she turned and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Sir Toby shook his head and sighed while Sir Andrew stared at the door in perplexity. A moment later, there came the sound of a key being turned in a lock.