a_t_rain (a_t_rain) wrote,

Measure for Measure fic: Best Men Are Molded Out of Faults

Wherein I indulge my weakness for Angelo / Mariana at great length. Damn, that is a hard pairing to write, especially if you're trying to bring them to some sort of happy resolution.

Author’s notes: This was inspired by a student production of the play that I saw at Washington University in November, and some details in my description of the play’s final scene are taken directly from this performance. However, I have not followed all of this production’s choices (and, in fact, I’ve gone the other way on the big performance spoiler).

I admit that I have a soft spot for Angelo that may not be precisely justified by the canon. In his defense, I will say that there is very little sexism in him (the worst he says about women is that they are frail too); he does seem to be attracted to Isabella because of her intelligence (“She speaks, and ‘tis such sense / That my sense breeds with it”); and he shows very occasional glimmerings of a sense of humor (“This will last out a night in Russia!”) I’ve taken all of these hints and run with them. That said, his faults are obviously real and grave, and I hope I haven’t erased them, although I do think we’re meant to believe in his reform.

Mariana is very much a blank slate in canon, although the swiftness with which she agrees to the Duke’s plan suggests that her virtue has a slightly unconventional turn, and her penchant for emo music seems to trouble the Duke a little. It's clear from the final scene that she is all too aware of her husband's faults but still insists on adoring him, making her the one character who resists the Duke's script. I tend to picture her as a very good and decent woman who is a bit dizzy but by no means stupid.

Best Men are Molded Out of Faults

It was not precisely the sort of wedding Mariana had imagined.

Friar Peter rushed through the words of the wedding ceremony at a speed more appropriate for a horse-race, and Angelo stood before him, white-faced and swaying on his feet as if he were about to faint. The Provost kept a tight grip on the bridegroom’s arm – mostly because he was under arrest, but it did serve to keep Angelo from falling. Mariana heard Angelo mumble the appropriate responses, and heard herself echo them a moment later. Then, in what seemed like less than a minute, it was all over.

“I must conduct Lord Angelo back to the city gate. The Duke awaits him.” The Provost looked at Mariana awkwardly, as if he were not quite sure whether an apology were in order. “Will you go home, lady, and wait?”

“No,” said Mariana. “I have waited at home five years and longer. I will come with my husband.”

Friar Peter looked at as they left the chapel, and there was pity in his face.

* * *

The Duke sent his own coachman to bring them home, which was well, because Angelo was plainly in no condition to walk or ride. Mariana had helped him up from his knees when the Duke pardoned him, after which he had stood with his face buried in her veil, leaning on her with almost his full weight. Mariana had borne the burden heroically, reminding herself that she was blessed to be a prop for the man she had loved so long – but it could not be denied that he was not exactly a small man, and she could have wished him lighter.

The coachman looked to Mariana for his orders, and she directed him to the moated grange at St. Luke’s without really thinking about it. She knew how to find Angelo’s house in Vienna, but she had never been inside it and could not imagine its furnishings, and the shadow-Angelo who had filled her dreams for years had always been at home in the moated grange. When the boy sang for her she had almost been able to see him, standing by the window or sitting by the fire, kind or stern according to her fancy.

The real Angelo seemed too distracted to talk, and as they jolted along the muddy road to the village of St. Luke’s, Mariana was soon lost in her own thoughts as well. Bits of the bizarre scene by the city gates kept echoing in her head.

I am sorry that such sorrow I procure,
And so deep sticks it in my penitent heart
That I crave death more willingly than mercy;
‘Tis my deserving, and I do entreat it.

Perhaps, she thought, he really did want death in spite of the fact that his wife had begged for his life. Perhaps – she gulped at the thought – he wanted it because she was his wife and because she had begged for his life.

Why, you are nothing then: neither maid, widow, nor wife.

My lord, she may be a punk, for many of them are neither maid, widow, nor wife.

Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging.

Friar Lodowick had assured her that there was no sin in their plan, for Angelo was her pre-contracted husband; but now that she knew Friar Lodowick was not really a holy man but only the Duke in disguise, she felt less confidence in his pronouncements on sin. At any rate, she was not sure that Angelo would agree with them.

She looked at her husband out of the corner of her eye. She could not see much of him in the gathering dusk: a profile, nothing more. A straight nose; thin lips; a short beard that could not quite soften a stubborn chin. He was a well-favored man, still as handsome as the miniature portrait that she had cherished all these years. She did not think she was as pretty as she had been when they were first contracted to marry.

The road darkened, and at length the coach swayed and rattled up the rutted drive that led to the moated grange. Mariana tried to offer the driver money as he helped her down the steps, but he shook his head and said that the Duke would give him something for his pains. Then he drove off, and they were alone.

“Welcome home,” she said, fumbling with the key in the lock and trying to sound cheerful. She thought to add a “sweetheart,” but the word died on her lips.

No one greeted them. Angelo looked about the hall, lit only by a few guttering candles. “Have you no servants?” he asked.

“A few. They’re somewhere about. What ho, boy! Agnes! Maria!”

A mousy-haired girl appeared at the end of the hall, and Mariana sent her to build a good fire and bring more tapers.

“I suppose I had best call for supper, as well,” she added tentatively. Meals at the moated grange were generally a haphazard affair, and Mariana was accustomed to choosing her servants for their singing voices rather than their domestic skills. She wasn’t sure she would be able to produce a meal that would satisfy Angelo’s tastes, which were no doubt refined. “I think there is cold trout.”

Angelo shook his head. “I have no stomach. Bid the girl bring you supper, if you will.”

“Will you take nothing, my lord?”

“Some cold water. Nothing more.”

“My lord, I beg you take some nourishment. You are near to fainting.”

“Very well. Tell her to bring me a little bread. Brown, if you have it.”

None of Mariana’s coaxing could persuade him to make a proper meal, so she ate bread and drank water with him, and tried to convince herself that she was well fed. She ordered the servants to eat the trout themselves, and give what was left to Cat.

When it came time to go to bed, Angelo kissed her on the lips, as one who owed a duty. It was not a kiss that invited further exploration, and after a moment he said, “I am sorry. I can do no more tonight.”

Mariana did not protest. She had already had her wedding night, some two nights since in the garden-house.

* * *

In the morning, as they ate a breakfast that was identical to their supper but rather smaller, the boy brought Mariana a letter. When she had read it, she said to Angelo, “I ask your leave to bid farewell to Isabella. She becomes a sister of St. Clare on the morrow, and I do love the maid as I would have loved a sister, if I had one.”

“She refused the Duke, then?” said Angelo in some surprise.

“She did.”

“I am glad of it.” Angelo’s expression was unreadable, and Mariana did not ask exactly why he was glad.

“Will you let me see her before she takes her vows?”

“Go where you will,” said Angelo, “you need ask no leave of me.”

Mariana flinched at this speech; to her, it could signify only profound indifference. “Are you angry, my lord?

“Not at you. I meant only –” Angelo seemed to be groping for words. At last he said, “I have been a tyrant long enough. I have no wish to be one to my wife. But I cannot go with you, and surely you do not mean to walk all the way to the convent?”

“‘Tis Saturday. Our neighbor Augustus always drives into Vienna of a Saturday; he’ll let me ride with him.” Mariana did not bother to mention that this was because he sold his turnips at the market on Saturdays, and she would be riding in the turnip-cart. She was not sure this was an appropriate mode of transportation for Lord Angelo’s wife, but what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

* * *

She returned home at dusk, her cap askew and her hair tumbling down and her apron full of turnips. Angelo stared at her.

“Where are your shoes?” he demanded after a moment.

“Oh, those.” Mariana had almost forgotten about her shoes. “I gave them to a beggar outside the gates. I have others.”

“You should not have done that. The more part of beggars are sturdy, and can work for their keep. It only teaches them to be idle.”

“This one couldn’t. She was big with child, and had two babes with her.” She had also had only half a nose and some other signs of the pox, but Mariana thought this detail unlikely to rouse Angelo’s sympathy.

“A whore, most like. You should have given her nothing.”

“If she were a whore, she couldn’t have kept herself by working, not after your decrees!” Mariana snapped.

Angelo took half a step toward her, his hand raised, and then stopped abruptly. “I had forgot,” he said, his eyes on the floor. “I am a hypocrite and a whited sepulcher. Give away a thousand shoes to five hundred sturdy beggars, if you will. Whatever their sins may be, they are nothing to mine.”

Mariana moved to put her arms around him. The turnips tumbled to the floor and rolled about underfoot. “You are not a bad man, whatsoe’er you may think of yourself.”

“I thank you,” said Angelo after a moment, his face buried in her hair.

She was not sure what to say to this. She didn’t know what she wanted from him, but being thanked wasn’t it, at all.

* * *

Mariana and the servants had buttered turnips for supper. Angelo had bread and water. Mariana thought at first that perhaps he didn’t like turnips, or at least not turnips that had fallen on the floor, and offered to have Agnes kill one of the chickens. Angelo waved the suggestion away. Considering that it generally took Agnes half the day to catch a chicken, even in broad daylight, perhaps that was just as well.

For the first half of the meal they said little. Angelo contemplated the smoke-blackened walls and the cobwebs in the corners. “Is this how you have lived these five years?” he asked at last.

“‘Tis almost six, my lord.”

“I would that you called me by my name. You were used to do so. How old were you when I left you?”

“Nineteen, my l- ... Angelo.”

“And how old are you now?”

“Five and twenty.”

“You are right, it must be nigh six years, then. Have you had you no companions here?”

“I had music,” said Mariana. Angelo looked no less troubled than before, and she remembered that he had never seemed to notice music, so he probably didn’t understand what a comfort it had been to her. “Friar Peter came often, and he was a great friend to me, and so was Friar Lodowick, that proved to be the Duke in disguise.”

“Friar Lodowick came here more than once?”

“I think he practiced his disguise on me before he tried it in the city. He came here now and again for some few months. He asked me often about you, what had passed between us and whether I had seen no other man that I could fancy.” She saw that Angelo looked nearly as white and shaken as he had the day before, when he knelt before the Duke, and resolved to say no more about the life she had led.

“Mariana –” he said slowly. It was the first time he had called her by her name since the wedding. “I wronged you more grievously than I knew, and I knew then that I was doing wrong. I do not deserve your pardon, but I ask you for it.”

“You have it. I pardoned you long ere you asked for it. Will you pardon me for the faults that made you cast me off?”

“There were none. I slandered you. There is little I can say for myself, save only that I am not the man I was even yesterday. I would fain make it up to you, but my goods are yours whether I live or die.” A sudden thought seemed to strike him. “You know that I am the Duke’s cousin.”

“So I have heard.”

“He hath no brother, and he is not old, but he is older than I am. ‘Tis like that I will be the next Duke, or that our son will. That much I can give you.”

“The Duke might marry yet.”

“Not if Isabella has refused him. I know his mind as I do my own,” said Angelo, who had apparently forgotten that the Duke had so recently confounded them all. “He will not love another.”

Isabella refused you, thought Mariana, and you married another. But do you love?

* * *

Sunday passed; Angelo spent most of it on his knees in St. Luke’s church, even between the services. On Monday he sent Mariana into town with one of the servants, charging her to bring his coach and horses from his house, along with two of the maids, a manservant, and whatever plate and furniture she liked best.

“Will you go with me?” she asked, but Angelo looked almost sick at the question, and Mariana perceived that he shrank from looking the people of Vienna in the face. The knowledge made her feel an unexpected tenderness for him, but he accepted her farewell kiss coolly.

Angelo’s house proved to be spacious, but austerely furnished. There were no paintings on the walls or curios on the shelves, only hundreds of leather-bound volumes, and most of them law-books or books of devotions. There was little poetry, and no plays or romances. Mariana found the collection rather dull. She selected a few volumes of history and some religious poetry for her private reading, and left the rest. He could fetch them himself if he wanted them.

She went out to the garden, where she and Angelo had spent a chilly and rather unsatisfactory night in spite of their desire for each other – or rather, her desire for him and his desire for a lie. The garden-house loomed black against the outer wall. She did not go inside, but she picked the last of the grapes, which would soon be nipped by the frost if she left them on the vine. Most of them had shriveled already. She thought of the wine that would never be made, and shivered as the autumn wind blew sharper.

When she came home she found Angelo reading a book and absently stroking Cat, who sat on his knee. She had often imagined him sitting in that very chair, but somehow her mental picture had never included Cat. The Angelo she remembered from her youth had no time for animals.

“Will you have some grapes?” she offered. “They’re from your vineyard.”

He did not look up from his book. “I thank you, no.”

Mariana popped a grape into her mouth. She had tried her best to fast with her husband, but she found it very hard going. “Are you fond of cats, my lord?”

“I am. This is a pretty one. What do you call it?”

“Just Cat,” said Mariana. Her imagination, as active as it was in some matters, had never stirred itself to suggest a better name for the animal.

“A cat should have a name of its own. They are individuals, just as men and women are.”

“They say they are all grey in the dark,” said Mariana softly.

Angelo stiffened, and Cat leapt down to the floor.

“If you mean that you would have me pay my marital debt to you,” he said after a long moment, “I intend to, and I shall. Tonight, if you wish it.”

“I do not wish it,” said Mariana, “not as long as you think of it as a debt.”

“I see,” said Angelo. His pale cheeks flushed pink, but he said nothing more.

You fool, Mariana reproached herself, how can it be aught but a debt? You bought him.

* * *

The days and weeks passed slowly at the moated grange. The maids from Angelo’s house in Vienna scrubbed the place thoroughly, while Agnes and Maria gave the floors an occasional swipe with a brush and then wandered off to throw pebbles in the moat and sing ballads. The cooking had improved since the new servants arrived, but Angelo still ate little besides brown bread and water. He was visibly thinner already, and Mariana became seriously worried that he would penance himself to death, as Sir Lancelot had done in an English romance that she had read.

She whiled away several afternoons re-reading the book and imagining how prettily she would die, if she were in Elaine’s place, and how sorry Angelo would be. But in the end, the message she found in her reading was that death-barges availed nothing.

‘For, madame,’ said Sir Lancelot, ‘I love not to be constrained to love, for love must only arise from the heart self, and not by none constraint.’

‘That is truth, sir,’ said the king, ‘and with many knights love is free in himself, and never will be bound; for where he is bonden he loseth himself.’

And Lancelot had gone on loving his Guinevere, long, long after she had forsaken the world and hidden herself behind the walls of a convent. Mariana put the book aside with a sigh. She was five and twenty, and almost wise.

She felt moody and irritable without knowing why. She ordered the boy to sing one of the songs that had long comforted her, then realized too late that her husband probably would not want to hear “Come away, death.” Either he would imagine she was complaining of his cruelty and be angry at her, or it would make him think of Isabella’s coldness to him, which would be worse.

“Something else,” she urged. “Some holy hymn, perhaps.”

The boy launched into a hymn to the Virgin Mary. He had a beautiful voice, and Mariana had tears in her eyes before he was half finished. Even Angelo stopped what he was doing and looked up.

When the song ended, he noticed that she was crying and sat beside her. “What’s the matter?”

“‘Tis nothing. Nothing that you would understand, at the least.”

“Tell me, and let me help you.” He put his arm around her and stroked her hair. She had wanted him to comfort her like this, had dreamt of it in the long nights after her brother died. Now it was too little, too late, and it made her angry.

She pulled away from him. “You cannot help me.”

“Let me touch you, at the least. The Duke bid me love you.”

“Most men love their wives without being bidden by the Duke.”

“I am trying, Mariana. I have tried so hard to be a good husband to you. Let me pay what I owe you. If not one way, then another.”

“I don’t want you to owe me anything, Angelo.”

“I owe you everything. My life.”

“You might act as if you were a bit thankful for it!”

“What do you mean? When have I wronged you in anything since we were married?”

“You wrong me when you wrong yourself! Why will you not eat and drink as other men do, instead of fasting yourself into your grave?”

“Why, Mariana, is that all?”

It wasn’t all; it wasn’t even close to all, but she didn’t know how to explain the rest of what was troubling her and she could hardly speak for tears, so she nodded.

* * *

“I am with child.”

Angelo spat out a mouthful of water. This was the first time Mariana had seen him so utterly bereft of composure, as well as the first time she had been glad that he took no wine.

“So soon?” he managed to say at last. By which he meant, she supposed, that they had only come together once. He might even be wondering if the babe was his, if he still thought her so light as he had done years ago.

“I have never lain with another man,” said Mariana.

“Nor have I with another woman,” said Angelo quickly.

But, of course, he had, if you looked at it a certain way, and if you looked at it that way, he had never lain with Mariana.

She half-listened as he made rapid calculations: so many new servants to hire, so many gowns and caps and whistles and rattles to buy, so many arrangements to be made for the christening. It sounded like he regarded the whole business as a great bother, and she was sure many babies had come into the world with less.

“I hope that you do not name babies the same way you do cats,” said Angelo suddenly. “‘Twould be a hard thing for the poor wretch to go through life called only Boy or Girl.”

It took her a moment to realize that he was teasing her, because he had certainly never done anything of the sort before, even when they were young and first contracted. But when she turned to look at him, there was a twinkle in his eyes that she had never seen before, and she knew that he was pleased at the news, after all.

* * *

They began to settle into a tolerable domestic routine, not overly affectionate but not as unbearable as the first few weeks of their marriage had been. The days grew shorter, and the first flakes of snow fell from a leaden sky. Mariana went out to the garden to gather rosemary and bays, pine-boughs and holly. She and Agnes and Maria spent a pleasant afternoon garlanding the house with the foliage and singing carols. The servants Angelo had brought from town scurried about sweeping up every stray leaf or needle, but Mariana was learning to ignore that sort of thing. Then, late in the afternoon, the letter from the Duke arrived.

Angelo broke open the seal, glanced over the contents, and promptly went into a fit of brooding that lasted for the rest of the day. It was not until evening that Mariana worked up the courage to say that she hoped the news was not very bad.

“You may as well read it for yourself. It concerns you.” Angelo tossed the letter onto the table in front of her.

It did not seem to Mariana that the letter contained anything very upsetting – only an invitation to Christmas dinner at the Duke’s palace, with Lord Escalus and his family and several visiting dignitaries. She was about to ask her husband what was the matter, but then she looked up at him, and knew what was the matter. The manservant had driven her into Vienna several times – to the market, and to the christening of Claudio and Juliet’s daughter – but he had always found some excuse not to go with her.

“You might send word that you were sick, or away from home,” she suggested.

“He would only plague me with invitations until I could refuse no more. I may as well face the wolves – I mean the people. They will go on howling for my blood until I offer myself up to them.”

“I think they have forgiven you, as the Duke bid,” said Mariana. “I am your wife, and no one has offered me any insult when I have been in town.”

“Aye, but they only pity you. They hate me.”

“I will be with you.”

“You might stay home, if you would. I could make your excuses to the Duke.”

“I would not. I want to go with you.”

“Very well. I suppose the country life is dull for new-married ladies, and I am poor company.”

That wasn’t why Mariana wanted to go at all, but she didn’t know how to correct him.

* * *

They were greeted at the city gates by a stone thrown from the roadside and the rough jeers of the beggar-woman to whom Mariana had given her shoes. She drew aside the curtain that covered the side of the coach, and the woman fell silent when she caught sight of Mariana’s face. Angelo looked displeased that she had shown herself, so she didn’t do it again.

I should not have come, she thought. He’s ashamed to have me see him like this, and likely ashamed to be seen with me.

Things were a little better when they came to the palace. Duke Vincentio greeted Angelo as if nothing at all were amiss, and the visitors to the city knew nothing, of course. Only Lord Escalus’ youngest daughter, a maid of about fourteen, spent most of the first course staring at Angelo; but girls of that age were apt to be impertinent.

Mariana asked the girl if she liked music, and was treated to a long exposition of the reasons why sad love songs were better than merry ones, an opinion with which Mariana heartily concurred. She spent the next two courses discussing history with the Florentine ambassador and making conversation with the English traveler, who spoke no German or Italian and very bad Latin. He looked a little surprised when Mariana asked him if there were many giants in his country and praised it as the home of the most noblest knights of all the world, but as nobody else could talk to him at all, he seemed grateful for the attention.

The servants were bringing out cheese and apple tart and filling their glasses with a sweet wine when she noticed that Angelo was staring at her. Wondering what she had done wrong, she turned her attention back to her husband – just in time to cover for him when the Duke asked his opinion on a legal case, and he flushed scarlet and refused to look up from his plate.

“Is Christmas a time for justice, my lord?” she asked. “It seems to me a season better suited to mercy, for the mercy of Christ that bought us all is infinite.”

“Ah – yes,” said Angelo in a rather strangled voice. “Just so. That. My lord.” He reached for his wine glass and drank most of it at once.

“That is your judgment, Angelo?”

“It is, my lord.”

“Well! Methinks I see a proper spirit of humility in you, like to that of your virtuous wife. I did well when I ordered the two of you married.” The Duke leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hands together, and suddenly Mariana understood exactly why Isabella had refused the best match in Vienna.

“Pardon me, my lord, but you ordered me widowed, and him beheaded. I call that a strange sort of marriage.”

“I feared, Mariana, that it would be a stranger marriage if he lived, but I am pleased to see it is not so.” The Duke gave them both a searching look, and Mariana quickly reached for Angelo’s hand. As a gesture of affection, it was not entirely successful because Angelo did not seem to know what to do with hers, but it might have deceived the Duke by candlelight.

* * *

Angelo did not speak until they were well out of the city, and the taunts of the last drunkard had faded behind them.

“Thanks, Mariana,” he said at last. “Add another debt to my tally, then. I am deeper in’t than the worst spendthrift in Vienna.”

“Am I a laundress or the hostess of a tavern, to keep score of your debts?”

She spoke more bitterly than she had intended to, and she would not have blamed Angelo if he had returned her a sharp answer – but instead, her words stung him into a different kind of action altogether. His mouth was on hers, hard and urgent, and his hands groped for her hips and pulled her towards him. She was stunned for a moment; and then she recollected that the amount of wine the Duke had pressed on her husband at dinner was more than enough for a man who had taken none in two months; then she quite forgot to think at all.

“Does that settle the question?” Angelo asked when he came up for air.

“Aye – I hope thou dost not do that to the laundress.”

He laughed. He had a low, quiet laugh; she was not sure she had ever heard it before.

“I think thy blood is not made of snow-broth, after all,” she murmured, as his lips moved down her neck.

He stopped abruptly. “Is that what they say of me in town?” he demanded.

“Yes. Speak more softly; the coachman will hear.”

Angelo stifled a sound that might have been an oath and ordered the servant to drive faster.

* * *

“Well?” asked Angelo. He raised himself up on one elbow and caressed her side with his other hand.

“‘Tis better in bed than it is in the garden-house.”

He rolled over, away from her. “Better lawful, I think.”

“What we did was always lawful.”

“I knew not that. I know not, even now. Wast thou not afraid?”

She had been very afraid. Any woman would have been, if she were about to lie and trick their way into the arms of a man who had cast her off in scorn, who had seduced a nun, and who held the power of life and death over every soul in Vienna. However, there did not seem to be a tactful way to remind her husband of this, so she confessed to the usual maiden fears and left him to infer the rest for himself.

“I meant, afraid for thy soul.”

“No.” Friar Lodowick had assured her that all would be well, and it had not occurred to her – then – to doubt Friar Lodowick.

“I have never been without fear for my soul,” he said in wonder.

“Even when thou wast accounted the most virtuous lord in Vienna?”

“Especially then. For then I knew myself to be most proud, and pride is a vice that stains all virtues and makes them go about in its own gaudy colors, that are well-seeming to men’s eyes and most foul to God.”

“Thou judgest thyself too harshly.” Inwardly, Mariana felt deeply weary. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she had assumed that now that Angelo had shown he was flesh and blood and that they were man and wife, they would stop arguing about such matters. But now it seemed that things were always going to be more complicated than she had hoped.

“How should I be judged, but as I have judged others?”

Mariana did not answer. The candle flickered in the darkened room, and Agnes was singing Gloria in excelsis deo somewhere up in the garret. She felt that she could give him no better answers than the candle or the servant-girl could.

* * *

Angelo rose long before it was light. She was dimly aware that he had gone; then she snuggled down under the covers, rolled into the warm spot he had left, and fell sound asleep again.

When she woke for good (at a much more sensible hour, and only because Cat kept walking on her face), she looked around for him; but the servants said that he had gone to confession.

“Did he take aught to break his fast?”

“No, my lady, and he said he would have nothing for dinner.”

“Why did I marry such a fool?” muttered Mariana under her breath – not without affection.

By the time he came home – late in the afternoon, looking white-faced and penitent – she was feeling considerably less affectionate. Was he going to insist on paying in blood for every lawful pleasure of married life? More to the point, was he going to make her pay, too?

“You do me wrong to keep away from home all day,” she burst out as soon as he was inside the house. “And you do yourself wrong, to abuse your health with so much fasting.”

He shook his head. “I was never more whole than I am now. And for yourself, I think you are better off when I am away.” He took her hands in his. “I am sorry for what I did last night.”

She wanted to shout at him and tell him how wrong he was to be sorry for last night and how sorry he should be for everything else instead – but somehow it came out as, “Your hands are cold. Let me warm them.”

Meekly, he followed her to the fireside.

“Now. Why do you think that you – that we – did aught that was wrong?”

“Because there was no need for it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are already with child.”

Mariana would have burst out laughing – if only they had been talking about someone else’s marriage. “There was need for it, you blind fool, because I am your wife and you are my husband, and if you are a sinner I am three times a sinner, because I have long desired it, I enjoyed it, and I do not regret it! Now, will you drink some wine with me? It seems to be the only way to make you halfway sensible!”

Angelo stared at her. He was obviously trying to reconcile this extraordinary outburst with the Duke’s assurance that Mariana was virtuous, and having some difficulty.

“I thank you, I had wine enough yesternight to last me a week,” he said at last. “But you have made me think.”

* * *

The results of Angelo’s thinking were not immediately apparent. For a while, things went on much as they had before, except that he took a sudden interest in her reading.


Mariana blushed and tried to hide the book. “Forgive me, my lord, I took it from your house for curiosity. I know they say he is a wicked man, but I thought it would be no harm to see for myself. Perhaps I should not have done so.” To be sure, the book had been in Angelo’s own library, but men were apt to think certain books fit reading for themselves and very unfit for women.

“Isabella would not have read that book,” he said softly. “She would not willingly have looked upon it.”

Mariana started, and let the book fall to the floor. It was the first time her husband had mentioned Isabella since she had entered the convent.

“What did you think of it?”

“My lord?”

“I asked you your opinion of it. And I would have you call me by my name.”

“To say truth, Angelo, I thought the Duke has probably read it. Though he did not keep it in the rooms where his guests go.”

Angelo looked startled, and Mariana wished she had not spoken her thoughts so openly. “You took note of the Duke’s books?” he asked.

“Why, yes. He lent some of them to me. When he was Friar Lodowick, I mean. I wondered how a friar could afford so many books.”

“Which ones did he lend to you?”

Mariana told him.

Angelo said nothing for a moment, and when he did speak, it was in a changed tone of voice. “You came to me more richly dowered than I could have imagined. I knew not what I did when I thought you too poor for me.”

“Richly dowered?” Mariana looked around the house; the only things of value in it were the ones Angelo had brought with him. “How do you mean?”

“I mean your mind, Mariana. If I had known then what I threw away – well – it would have been far otherwise.”

“I was not the same person then,” said Mariana. She found it hard to remember precisely who she had been at nineteen, but she thought she had been rather sillier than Lord Escalus’ daughter. “I have read much since then, and – thought and felt much.”

“I hope and pray that I am not the same person either.”

There was a distant look on Angelo’s face, and she knew that he was thinking back to the days of their first courtship, when her brother had been alive. She had been tongue-tied around him then, in awe of the wisdom and virtue with which all of Vienna credited him. She hadn’t thought that she could say much to interest him; mostly, she had bent all her thoughts on trying not to seem silly or frivolous. He hadn’t minded her silence, or at least he had pretended not to mind. He used to say that her face and her eyes spoke more eloquently than words.

“I was ambitious,” he said quietly. “Too much so. I did not know, then, that my cousin the Duke would honor me far past my deserving, nor did I dream that he might not marry and have children of his own. I thought I had to marry one who would bring me the wealth I lacked.”

“Perhaps you did right to leave me,” said Mariana.


“You did not love me. Or not enough, anyway. Perhaps that is all that matters.”

“How could it be right to leave you when I owed you my love?”

“There is no owing,” she said, exasperated. “When will you understand?”

* * *

As the winter grew colder, they reached an equilibrium of sorts. Angelo reached for her in the night more and more often, and had mostly stopped doing penance afterward; for her part, Mariana put aside her romances and spent her evenings poring over the books of history and philosophy that her husband approved. It appeared that talking of books gave him pleasure, and Angelo so seldom confessed to enjoying any sort of pleasure that Mariana had become quick to pick up on the few hints that he gave her.

She felt the baby quicken within her, and she wondered what sort of person it would grow up to be, and whether being conceived in a garden-house would make any difference. She hoped not. Kate Keepdown’s little boy was as fine a child as she had ever seen, and he had been conceived in a bawdy-house, so perhaps God did not care about these things.

She placed Angelo’s hand on her belly so he could feel the baby move, and he rewarded her with a genuine smile.

“Have you thought of a name for the child?” he asked.

“If it is a boy,” said Mariana hesitantly, “I should like to call it after my poor brother Frederick.”

“And if it is a girl?”

She shook her head. “You choose,” she said. What she was really thinking was any name but Isabella, but of course, she couldn’t say that.

* * *

Spring came, bringing ducklings to the moat and a riot of wildflowers to the grange’s neglected gardens. It was springtime in the city, too. Now that the roads were good, travelers came and went from Vienna, bearing news. Barnardine had been thrown back into prison for throwing a bottle at the Duke’s carriage in a drunken rage. Mistress Overdone had opened a new brothel in the suburbs, and Lucio had been spotted there on several evenings, despite the fact that his wife Kate was expecting his second child. Some people said that the woman with him was Constable Elbow’s wife.

“And they call this a wild, rude place,” said Angelo. “Is this not better than the press at court and the stink of the city?”

Mariana nodded, because it seemed to be expected of her. Privately she was not so sure that Angelo held the city in as much contempt as he affected; or if he did, she was not sure that it was for the right reasons. She remembered the first year after her brother died too well. She had retreated to her mother’s maiden home at the moated grange, where she would not have to listen to the tongues that speculated about Angelo’s reasons for leaving her. She had been afraid to hear what the people were saying, afraid to see how many of them would turn away from a woman who was poor, outcast, and disgraced; and she thought she saw some of the same fear in her husband’s eyes now.

She wanted to tell him that it was not as bad as he imagined, or at least she had not found it so when she came again to Vienna at last. But if she said that, she would have to admit she knew the true reason why he had not left home since Christmas. Besides, it would remind him of the way he had treated her of old, and that would likely send him into a frenzy of penance again. No, she decided, it was better to let him keep his pride.

So she held her tongue as summer followed spring, and she pretended not to worry when he discarded one after another of Lord Escalus’ invitations to dinner.

* * *

“I know not why they say women are weak,” said Angelo. “They seem to me to be made of far stronger stuff than men are.” His fingers tightened on hers. He looked very white in the face, which Mariana thought was rather an over-reaction, as he wasn’t the one who had just had a baby. But then, he had had to listen to her, and she supposed that might have been a rather harrowing experience.

“It is a girl,” she said.

“I know. Gertrude the midwife told me.” He did not seem disappointed, although she thought that he must surely have been hoping for an heir.

“She says that it is a pretty babe and very like me, although I must own that I do not see how both of these things are to be true at once.”

“Mariana,” he chided, and she took pleasure in his tone.

“Have you thought of a name?” she asked. Please, let it not be Isabella. And I had rather she were not called after St. Clare, either.

“Let me see her,” said Angelo. He walked over to the baby’s cradle, contemplated her for a moment, and at last put out a cautious finger to touch her. “Gertrude is right; she is very like thee. How like’st thou the name ... Anna?”

“I like it very well,” said Mariana, trying to conceal how pleased she was.

“The Duke must be godfather, of course. It would be the blackest ingratitude to ask anyone else.”

“I am content,” said Mariana. She wasn’t, not entirely, but her husband was right; they could not insult the Duke.

“Have you any woman friend you would have for godmother?”

“None,” said Mariana. Agnes and Maria didn’t count, as one could not very well ask the Duke to stand at the font with a servant-girl.

Angelo seemed surprised. “Why, who is’t that you write letters to in Vienna?”

“I have written letters to no one in Vienna,” said Mariana, and then she remembered. “Save two or three to Isabella.”

“Well,” said Angelo. He seemed at a loss for anything else to say, so finally he said, “Well,” again.

Mariana felt the same way. Asking Isabella to be godmother was, at once, completely impossible and perfectly logical. For how would Anna have come into the world at all, if not for her?

Angelo looked at her. He was leaving the choice to her.

“Isabella shall be godmother,” she said at last.

“I am content.”

* * *

The little church at St. Luke’s seemed too small to hold so many great folk. The Duke was there with his entire entourage, and the other guests at the christening included Escalus and his family, three or four other lords, and – to Mariana’s surprise – Claudio and Juliet. When she thought about it, she supposed that it made sense that Claudio would want to see his sister, but Angelo seemed horribly discomfited by his presence and avoided looking at him at all. The women rushed to cover the awkward silence.

“I am glad that it is a girl,” said Juliet. “She will be a playfellow for our Bella when they’re older. That is – if your husband will permit...” She coughed. Mariana knew what she was thinking: the old Angelo was not likely to permit his child to visit the daughter of a pair of convicted fornicators, no matter how many years had passed since their offense.

“My husband has never forbidden anything since we were married,” said Mariana.

“Has he not?” asked Juliet in surprise.

“He has changed since he was deputy.”

“Mariana ... are you happy?”

“As happy as most people are, I think. Are you?”

“The same. As happy as most people.”

A hush fell over the church as the prioress walked in, followed by four or five of the nuns. They were all veiled, but it took Mariana scarcely a glance to pick out the tall, slender figure of Isabella. She dared not look at her husband, but she was sure Angelo had noticed her too.

“Now we can begin,” said the priest. “Er – which is the godmother?”

“I am,” said Isabella. She had a voice like music, and it infused the simplest words with eloquence; and she walked to the font with grace enough for a queen. Mariana, who had been glad to see that she was veiled, felt cold and sick at heart.

Her husband’s hand tightened on hers. “Mariana, are you well?”

So he had spared her a look, at least, even with Isabella standing before him. “Very well, I thank you.”

“Are you sure?” He looked genuinely concerned. He had thought it too soon for a new mother to venture out of doors, but the little church was only fifty paces from their door, and she had refused to be kept away.

She nodded. He was still looking at her, not at Isabella. Good. Perhaps if she contrived to look faint for the rest of the ceremony, his eyes would stay on her.

She didn’t want the victory, not at that price. She pulled herself together and tried to concentrate on the rite. Angelo, she saw, was finding this easier than she was.

Anna howled as the water touched her head, and then it was over.

Claudio approached them after the ceremony. “I congratulate you, Lord Angelo.”

“And I you,” said Angelo after a moment.

Mariana caught Juliet’s eyes, and read the message in them: Juliet thought that her husband was the bigger man, and was proud of it. Mariana was not so sure. Claudio had swallowed his pride with better grace, but he had less of it to swallow.

“And I congratulate you too,” said Isabella’s low, musical voice from behind the veil. “When she is older, send her to the sisterhood. We will teach her to read and write, and instruct her to walk in the paths of virtue.”

“I thank you,” said Angelo, “but I trust my wife can well do that.”

Mariana had not expected him to say that, and she thought, at first, that he was trying to take himself out of the way of temptation, or perhaps snub the woman who had humiliated him. But no; it dawned on her at last that this was not about Isabella at all. He was looking at Mariana. With pride. Pride in her.

“Come,” he said to her. “Let’s go home.”

* * *

But it came to Mariana that the moated grange was not, precisely, home. Not her home, for she had grown up in Vienna, and certainly not Angelo’s. And so, when Angelo asked her what she would have for a churching-gift, she knew precisely what she wanted.

Her husband stared at her for a moment after she made her request, the color rising in his cheeks. “Choose something else,” he said at last. “Some smaller trifle. A pleasure-trip to the Antipodes, perhaps, or a diamond fit for the Sophy’s wife.”

“I will have that and only that,” said Mariana. “You cannot say it costs too much. Your house has been sitting empty for these ten months; it needs only airing, and we can find a tenant for the moated grange.”

“The air in town will be bad for the baby.”

“Why, babies are born in town every day, and thrive. Do have the honesty to admit, Angelo, that you are thinking of yourself and not the baby.”

“What if I am? I can think of a thousand sound reasons against it, whether they be for her sake or mine or yours.”

“And I can think of but one reason for it, and yet a weighty one. ‘Tis only this: I am thinking of thee too, and I wish this for thy sake rather than for mine.” It came to her that a few feminine wiles might prove useful at this point, so she moved closer and kissed him.

“An eloquent argument, indeed. I would have another.”

“I have given you the best of my arguments. Will you, or no?”

He took a step back and looked at her earnestly. “Is this truly what you wish?”

She nodded.

“And are you persuaded that I should be as good a husband in the city as in the country?”

“Why, do you mean to become a bad one?”

“No! Of course not. But I know not what may happen in this world.”

“No more do I. But I trust.”

His hand found hers; their fingers entwined. “Very well. If you will have it so.”

* * *

Mariana would gladly have left for Vienna on the morrow, but Angelo insisted on supervising the packing and sending servants ahead to prepare the house, so it was well over a week before they departed. Mariana was sure that he had been making excuses, but as they drove into Vienna, she had to admit that it had been just as well. The jogging of the coach made her sore and tired, even now, more than a month after the baby’s birth.

Her husband kept the curtains drawn, and she did not ask him to open them. The time would come when he would not mind the sight of the people, when he might even be glad to take his place beside his cousin the Duke. Or so she hoped and trusted.

By the time they came up the drive to Angelo’s house, it was past nightfall, and the first chill of autumn was in the air. She could not see the garden-house in the darkness. The servants had placed candles in the windows.

Angelo helped her down from the coach, and kept a firm grip on her arm until well after she had found her footing. He was seeking comfort from her, she knew, and she hoped she would be able to provide it.

Agnes placed the warm bundle that was Anna in her arms, and she felt the soft down of the baby’s head under her chin.

“Welcome home,” she whispered to Anna, to Angelo, to herself.
Tags: renaissance drama fic
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