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- Caesar and Cleopatra - 2/28 -
of his foe, and that Ptolemy has slain Pompey, whose severed head he holds in readiness to present to the conqueror. (Sensation among the guardsmen.) Nay, more: we found that Caesar is already come; for we had not made half a day's journey on our way back when we came upon a city rabble flying from his legions, whose landing they had gone out to withstand.
BELZANOR. And ye, the temple guard! Did you not withstand these legions?
BEL AFFRIS. What man could, that we did. But there came the sound of a trumpet whose voice was as the cursing of a black mountain. Then saw we a moving wall of shields coming towards us. You know how the heart burns when you charge a fortified wall; but how if the fortified wall were to charge YOU?
THE PERSIAN (exulting in having told them so). Did I not say it?
BEL AFFRIS. When the wall came nigh, it changed into a line of men--common fellows enough, with helmets, leather tunics, and breastplates. Every man of them flung his javelin: the one that came my way drove through my shield as through a papyrus--lo there! (he points to the bandage on his left arm) and would have gone through my neck had I not stooped. They were charging at the double then, and were upon us with short swords almost as soon as their javelins. When a man is close to you with such a sword, you can do nothing with our weapons: they are all too long.
THE PERSIAN. What did you do?
BEL AFFRIS. Doubled my fist and smote my Roman on the sharpness of his jaw. He was but mortal after all: he lay down in a stupor; and I took his sword and laid it on. (Drawing the sword) Lo! a Roman sword with Roman blood on it!
THE GUARDSMEN (approvingly). Good! (They take the sword and hand it round, examining it curiously.)
THE PERSIAN. And your men?
BEL AFFRIS. Fled. Scattered like sheep.
BELZANOR (furiously). The cowardly slaves! Leaving the descendants of the gods to be butchered!
BEL AFFRIS (with acid coolness). The descendants of the gods did not stay to be butchered, cousin. The battle was not to the strong; but the race was to the swift. The Romans, who have no chariots, sent a cloud of horsemen in pursuit, and slew multitudes. Then our high priest's captain rallied a dozen descendants of the gods and exhorted us to die fighting. I said to myself: surely it is safer to stand than to lose my breath and be stabbed in the back; so I joined our captain and stood. Then the Romans treated us with respect; for no man attacks a lion when the field is full of sheep, except for the pride and honor of war, of which these Romans know nothing. So we escaped with our lives; and I am come to warn you that you must open your gates to Caesar; for his advance guard is scarce an hour behind me; and not an Egyptian warrior is left standing between you and his legions.
THE SENTINEL. Woe, alas! (He throws down his javelin and flies into the palace.)
BELZANOR. Nail him to the door, quick! (The guardsmen rush for him with their spears; but he is too quick for them.) Now this news will run through the palace like fire through stubble.
BEL AFFRIS. What shall we do to save the women from the Romans?
BELZANOR. Why not kill them?
PERSIAN. Because we should have to pay blood money for some of them. Better let the Romans kill them: it is cheaper.
BELZANOR (awestruck at his brain power). O subtle one! O serpent!
BEL AFFRIS. But your Queen?
BELZANOR. True: we must carry off Cleopatra.
BEL AFFRIS. Will ye not await her command?
BELZANOR. Command! A girl of sixteen! Not we. At Memphis ye deem her a Queen: here we know better. I will take her on the crupper of my horse. When we soldiers have carried her out of Caesar's reach, then the priests and the nurses and the rest of them can pretend she is a queen again, and put their commands into her mouth.
PERSIAN. Listen to me, Belzanor.
BELZANOR. Speak, O subtle beyond thy years.
THE PERSIAN. Cleopatra's brother Ptolemy is at war with her. Let us sell her to him.
THE GUARDSMEN. O subtle one! O serpent!
BELZANOR. We dare not. We are descended from the gods; but Cleopatra is descended from the river Nile; and the lands of our fathers will grow no grain if the Nile rises not to water them. Without our father's gifts we should live the lives of dogs.
PERSIAN. It is true: the Queen's guard cannot live on its pay. But hear me further, O ye kinsmen of Osiris.
THE GUARDSMEN. Speak, O subtle one. Hear the serpent begotten!
PERSIAN. Have I heretofore spoken truly to you of Caesar, when you thought I mocked you?
GUARDSMEN. Truly, truly.
BELZANOR (reluctantly admitting it). So Bel Affris says.
PERSIAN. Hear more of him, then. This Caesar is a great lover of women: he makes them his friends and counselors.
BELZANOR. Faugh! This rule of women will be the ruin of Egypt.
THE PERSIAN. Let it rather be the ruin of Rome! Caesar grows old now: he is past fifty and full of labors and battles. He is too old for the young women; and the old women are too wise to worship him.
BEL AFFRIS. Take heed, Persian. Caesar is by this time almost within earshot.
PERSIAN. Cleopatra is not yet a woman: neither is she wise. But she already troubles men's wisdom.
BELZANOR. Ay: that is because she is descended from the river Nile and a black kitten of the sacred White Cat. What then?
PERSIAN. Why, sell her secretly to Ptolemy, and then offer ourselves to Caesar as volunteers to fight for the overthrow of her brother and the rescue of our Queen, the Great Granddaughter of the Nile.
THE GUARDSMEN. O serpent!
PERSIAN. He will listen to us if we come with her picture in our mouths. He will conquer and kill her brother, and reign in Egypt with Cleopatra for his Queen. And we shall be her guard.
GUARDSMEN. O subtlest of all the serpents! O admiration! O wisdom!
BEL AFFRIS. He will also have arrived before you have done talking, O word spinner.
BELZANOR. That is true. (An affrighted uproar in the palace interrupts him.) Quick: the flight has begun: guard the door. (They rush to the door and form a cordon before it with their spears. A mob of women-servants and nurses surges out. Those in front recoil from the spears, screaming to those behind to keep back. Belzanor's voice dominates the disturbance as he shouts) Back there. In again, unprofitable cattle.
THE GUARDSMEN. Back, unprofitable cattle.
BELZANOR. Send us out Ftatateeta, the Queen's chief nurse.
THE WOMEN (calling into the palace). Ftatateeta, Ftatateeta. Come, come. Speak to Belzanor.
A WOMAN. Oh, keep back. You are thrusting me on the spearheads.
A huge grim woman, her face covered with a network of tiny wrinkles, and her eyes old, large, and wise; sinewy handed, very tall, very strong; with the mouth of a bloodhound and the jaws of a bulldog, appears on the threshold. She is dressed like a person of consequence in the palace, and confronts the guardsmen insolently.
FTATATEETA. Make way for the Queen's chief nurse.
BELZANOR. (with solemn arrogance). Ftatateeta: I am Belzanor, the captain of the Queen's guard, descended from the gods.
FTATATEETA. (retorting his arrogance with interest). Belzanor: I am Ftatateeta, the Queen's chief nurse; and your divine ancestors were proud to be painted on the wall in the pyramids of the kings whom my fathers served.
The women laugh triumphantly.
BELZANOR (with grim humor) Ftatateeta: daughter of a long-tongued, swivel-eyed chameleon, the Romans are at hand. (A cry of terror from the women: they would fly but for the spears.) Not even the descendants of the gods can resist them; for they have each man seven arms, each carrying seven spears. The blood in their veins is boiling quicksilver; and their wives become mothers in three hours, and are slain and eaten the next day.
A shudder of horror from the women. Ftatateeta, despising them and scorning the soldiers, pushes her way through the crowd and confronts the spear points undismayed.
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