Rosalind, in spring green with bluebells embroidered on her bodice, was treading the measure of a dance, her partner being Orlando, of course; and Celia and Oliver formed the other pair in the set. She was with child, and so was Celia, who had therefore lately represented to Oliver that love in a cottage was all very well in springtime and summertime, but when the chilly Midland autumn began to bite, it was time to think of a warmer house. So she and Oliver had returned to court, and Oliver had accepted a handsome manor in trust for his child.
There had been some remark between the cousins during the dance that, if of different sexes, their offspring should never be allowed to wed; they'd be far too close in kinship for this to be permitted. That said, the children would doubtless run away together; or be mistaken for someone else's child; or, worst case, be parted in a storm as babes in arms and miraculously washed ashore to be raised by kind shepherds - and still fall in love and be married.
Anything was possible in the world of Arden, even lions and palm trees in the Midlands of England.
The cousins built fantasy upon fantasy. But in the midst of their laughter, a sense of gloom fell on the assembly. Rosalind glanced round and observed to her chagrin that a new player had joined the revels - or more likely, come with fund of pithy comment and sardonic observation. In short, the newcomer was Jacques, the melancholy lord who had accompanied her father into the forest, and stayed to take note of his reformed brother. Rosalind, nevertheless, determined to enjoy the dance, and pursued it to the end, hearing above the lutes and pipes of the musicians her father's welcome to his philosophising courtier.
“Jacques, my friend!” The restored Duke advanced upon him, arms held out, the candlelight glittering on his feast-day garments, and embraced him.
Rosalind, twirling on one foot before catching Oliver's hand, glimpsed Jacques endure, rather than enjoy, this welcome; but he stepped back just short of precipitously and responded: “You are merry, your grace. It seems that the greenwood was less to your taste than the luxury of court. Do you not recall how you spoke of the joy of the free life under the trees?”
“It seems, my lord, that court has its attractions, otherwise you'd not be here yourself!” The Duke was in good humour, and Amiens and Orlando, and not a few of the lords who had shared the Duke's exile, applauded and called to Jacques to answer.
“Nay, your grace, Frederick your brother is growing content in the shepherds' cottage. He discourses of the maturing sun, and the the berries in the glades, and what may be learned of the birds and the forest creatures. From time to time, he comes upon a love-poem still hung on a tree: and then he smiles.” He shot a glance at the newly-weds, each now bowing or curtseying to their partner at the end of the dance
Rosalind, rising once more, drew a breath.
The court waited.
“You stayed to study melancholy, my lord, and found it not. So you come here in search of it, I think: but correct me if you can, I pray.”
“I do not seek melancholy out -” a chorus of groans, and someone, possibly Touchstone (chivvied by Audrey to court) said, sotto voce, “Pull the other one, it has bells on.”
“But I've found much to muse upon, even in the half-hour that I've been present here.”
“Tell us of your musings, Lord Jacques.” Rosalind had not spent much time in Jacques' company in the forest. There had been far more rewarding things to do in that magical springtime. She had heard of his lowering remarks from others, though: including her own husband. She and Celia exchanged what, in her disguise as Ganymede, would have been a grin, and the cousins returned to their seats and disposed themselves elegantly therein, both of them ready for combat.
"hy then, lady, since you command it. I have seen enough of the seven deadly sins to send me back to the forest. For here is gluttony.” His hand swept out to encompass the remains of the feast, with its venison pasties and conceits, its ippocras and metheglin. “Here was wrath,” and his eye fell on Oliver, who gave him a measuring look in return. “Here's sloth,” and Le Beau, dozing in a corner with a goblet on his knee, woke under the sudden regard of the court. “Here envy had its nurturing, and ousted his brother, did it not, my lord Duke? And grew into pride beyond measure.” Celia's eyes sparked at these thinly-veiled references to her father. “And lechery: I've little doubt of that!”
“I'll refute your arguments in my order, not yours. For happy as the greenwood was, there are lessons to be had here too. For diligence to your sloth, I give you Old Adam, who was Sir Rowland's industrious gardener, and my lord's brave companion. For temperance to your gluttony, there's Touchstone, who assures us he would live a spare life; for kindness to your envy, why who better than my cousin Celia?” The two ladies linked hands. “As for patience to wrath, and humility to pride, why, you who were my father's companion, how can you not see those qualities in him still, for all that he's returned from the greenwood?”
She paused a moment; half the members of the court were counting on their fingers. Orlando murmured in her ear, “Charity. Oliver gave all our father's holdings to me.”
“Do you hear that, my lord Jacques? For all your slight regard of my lord's brother, he gave not just a thousand crowns, but all Sir Rowland's inheritance to my lord.”
One more to go. “As for chastity: my lord, I trust you do not question mine, nor my cousin's, before we were wed?”
In some satisfaction she waited for his inevitable reply. “My lady, I do not question that.” And this gave her the final opening she needed.
“And yet – and sorry I am to repeat this: I've heard tell you were a libertine in your day.”
A sigh. “Alas, my lady: 'tis true. In my younger days, now long behind me.” Jacques bowed acknowledgement to her final riposte: and the court applauded a true hit: some with gusto, some with guilty consciences of their own, no doubt.
Celia inclined her head close to Rosalind's. “Will he go back to Arden, do you think?” she whispered.
“Maybe with autumn advancing on us, he'd rather stay here: we'll see!”
And thus it proved. Jacques was present at the Duke's court all winter: but in Rosalind's presence, his philosophising at least was strangely absent.