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- Caesar and Cleopatra - 20/28 -
man instead of watching the enemy. Have I not told you always to let prisoners escape unless there are special orders to the contrary? Are there not enough mouths to be fed without him?
RUFIO. Yes; and if you would have a little sense and let me cut his throat, you would save his rations. Anyhow, he WON'T escape. Three sentries have told him they would put a pilum through him if they saw him again. What more can they do? He prefers to stay and spy on us. So would I if I had to do with generals subject to fits of clemency.
CAESAR (resuming his seat, argued down). Hm! And so he wants to see me.
RUFIO. Ay. I have brought him with me. He is waiting there (jerking his thumb over his shoulder) under guard.
CAESAR. And you want me to see him?
RUFI0 (obstinately). I don't want anything. I daresay you will do what you like. Don't put it on to me.
CAESAR (with an air of doing it expressly to indulge Rufio). Well, well: let us have him.
RUFIO (calling). Ho there, guard! Release your man and send him up. (Beckoning) Come along!
Pothinus enters and stops mistrustfully between the two, looking from one to the other.
CAESAR (graciously). Ah, Pothinus! You are welcome. And what is the news this afternoon?
POTHINUS. Caesar: I come to warn you of a danger, and to make you an offer.
CAESAR. Never mind the danger. Make the offer.
RUFIO. Never mind the offer. What's the danger?
POTHINUS. Caesar: you think that Cleopatra is devoted to you.
CAESAR (gravely). My friend: I already know what I think. Come to your offer.
POTHINUS. I will deal plainly. I know not by what strange gods you have been enabled to defend a palace and a few yards of beach against a city and an army. Since we cut you off from Lake Mareotis, and you dug wells in the salt sea sand and brought up buckets of fresh water from them, we have known that your gods are irresistible, and that you are a worker of miracles. I no longer threaten you.
RUFIO (sarcastically). Very handsome of you, indeed.
POTHINUS. So be it: you are the master. Our gods sent the north west winds to keep you in our hands; but you have been too strong for them.
CAESAR (gently urging him to come to the point). Yes, yes, my friend. But what then?
RUFIO. Spit it out, man. What have you to say?
POTHINUS. I have to say that you have a traitress in your camp. Cleopatra.
THE MAJOR-DOMO (at the table, announcing). The Queen! (Caesar and Rufio rise.)
RUFIO (aside to Pothinus). You should have spat it out sooner, you fool. Now it is too late.
Cleopatra, in gorgeous raiment, enters in state through the gap in the colonnade, and comes down past the image of Ra and past the table to Caesar. Her retinue, headed by Ftatateeta, joins the staff at the table. Caesar gives Cleopatra his seat, which she takes.
CLEOPATRA (quickly, seeing Pothinus). What is HE doing here?
CAESAR (seating himself beside her, in the most amiable of tempers). Just going to tell me something about you. You shall hear it. Proceed, Pothinus.
POTHINUS (disconcerted). Caesar-- (He stammers.)
CAESAR. Well, out with it.
POTHINUS. What I have to say is for your ear, not for the Queen's.
CLEOPATRA (with subdued ferocity). There are means of making you speak. Take care.
POTHINUS (defiantly). Caesar does not employ those means.
CAESAR. My friend: when a man has anything to tell in this world, the difficulty is not to make him tell it, but to prevent him from telling it too often. Let me celebrate my birthday by setting you free. Farewell: we'll not meet again.
CLEOPATRA (angrily). Caesar: this mercy is foolish.
POTHINUS (to Caesar). Will you not give me a private audience? Your life may depend on it. (Caesar rises loftily.)
RUFIO (aside to Pothinus). Ass! Now we shall have some heroics.
CAESAR (oratorically). Pothinus--
RUFIO (interrupting him). Caesar: the dinner will spoil if you begin preaching your favourite sermon about life and death.
CLEOPATRA (priggishly). Peace, Rufio. I desire to hear Caesar.
RUFIO (bluntly). Your Majesty has heard it before. You repeated it to Apollodorus last week; and he thought it was all your own. (Caesar's dignity collapses. Much tickled, he sits down again and looks roguishly at Cleopatra, who is furious. Rufio calls as before) Ho there, guard! Pass the prisoner out. He is released. (To Pothinus) Now off with you. You have lost your chance.
POTHINUS (his temper overcoming his prudence). I WILL speak.
CAESAR (to Cleopatra). You see. Torture would not have wrung a word from him.
POTHINUS. Caesar: you have taught Cleopatra the arts by which the Romans govern the world.
CAESAR. Alas! They cannot even govern themselves. What then?
POTHINUS. What then? Are you so besotted with her beauty that you do not see that she is impatient to reign in Egypt alone, and that her heart is set on your departure?
CLEOPATRA (rising). Liar!
CAESAR (shocked). What! Protestations! Contradictions!
CLEOPATRA (ashamed, but trembling with suppressed rage). No. I do not deign to contradict. Let him talk. (She sits down again.)
POTHINUS. From her own lips I have heard it. You are to be her catspaw: you are to tear the crown from her brother's head and set it on her own, delivering us all into her hand--delivering yourself also. And then Caesar can return to Rome, or depart through the gate of death, which is nearer and surer.
CAESAR (calmly). Well, my friend; and is not this very natural?
POTHINUS (astonished). Natural! Then you do not resent treachery?
CAESAR. Resent! O thou foolish Egyptian, what have I to do with resentment? Do I resent the wind when it chills me, or the night when it makes me stumble in the darkness? Shall I resent youth when it turns from age, and ambition when it turns from servitude? To tell me such a story as this is but to tell me that the sun will rise to-morrow.
CLEOPATRA (unable to contain herself). But it is false--false. I swear it.
CAESAR. It is true, though you swore it a thousand times, and believed all you swore. (She is convulsed with emotion. To screen her, he rises and takes Pothinus to Rufio, saying) Come, Rufio: let us see Pothinus past the guard. I have a word to say to him. (Aside to them) We must give the Queen a moment to recover herself. (Aloud) Come. (He takes Pothinus and Rufio out with him, conversing with them meanwhile.) Tell your friends, Pothinus, that they must not think I am opposed to a reasonable settlement of the country's affairs-- (They pass out of hearing.)
CLEOPATRA (in a stifled whisper). Ftatateeta, Ftatateeta.
FTATATEETA (hurrying to her from the table and petting her). Peace, child: be comforted--
CLEOPATRA (interrupting her). Can they hear us?
FTATATEETA. No, dear heart, no.
CLEOPATRA. Listen to me. If he leaves the Palace alive, never see my face again.
FTATATEETA. He? Poth--
CLEOPATRA (striking her on the mouth). Strike his life out as I strike his name from your lips. Dash him down from the wall. Break him on the stones. Kill, kill, KILL him.
FTATATEETA (showing all her teeth). The dog shall perish.
CLEOPATRA. Fail in this, and you go out from before me forever.
FTATATEETA (resolutely). So be it. You shall not see my face until his eyes are darkened.
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