An October night on the Syrian border of Egypt towards the end of
the XXXIII Dynasty, in the year 706 by Roman computation,
afterwards reckoned by Christian computation as 48 B.C. A great
radiance of silver fire, the dawn of a moonlit night, is rising
in the east. The stars and the cloudless sky are our own
contemporaries, nineteen and a half centuries younger than we
know them; but you would not guess that from their appearance.
Below them are two notable drawbacks of civilization: a palace,
and soldiers. The palace, an old, low, Syrian building of
whitened mud, is not so ugly as Buckingham Palace; and the
officers in the courtyard are more highly civilized than modern
English officers: for example, they do not dig up the corpses of
their dead enemies and mutilate them, as we dug up Cromwell and
the Mahdi. They are in two groups: one intent on the gambling of
their captain Belzanor, a warrior of fifty, who, with his spear
on the ground beside his knee, is stooping to throw dice with a
sly-looking young Persian recruit; the other gathered about a
guardsman who has just finished telling a naughty story (still
current in English barracks) at which they are laughing
uproariously. They are about a dozen in number, all highly
aristocratic young Egyptian guardsmen, handsomely equipped with
weapons and armor, very unEnglish in point of not being ashamed
of and uncomfortable in their professional dress; on the
contrary, rather ostentatiously and arrogantly warlike, as
valuing themselves on their military caste.
Belzanor is a typical veteran, tough and wilful; prompt, capable
and crafty where brute force will serve; helpless and boyish when
it will not: an effective sergeant, an incompetent general, a
deplorable dictator. Would, if influentially connected, be
employed in the two last capacities by a modern European State on
the strength of his success in the first. Is rather to be pitied
just now in view of the fact that Julius Caesar is invading his
country. Not knowing this, is intent on his game with the
Persian, whom, as a foreigner, he considers quite capable of
His subalterns are mostly handsome young fellows whose interest
in the game and the story symbolizes with tolerable completeness
the main interests in life of which they are conscious. Their
spears are leaning against the walls, or lying on the ground
ready to their hands. The corner of the courtyard forms a
triangle of which one side is the front of the palace, with a
doorway, the other a wall with a gateway. The storytellers are on
the palace side: the gamblers, on the gateway side. Close to the
gateway, against the wall, is a stone block high enough to enable
a Nubian sentinel, standing on it, to look over the wall. The
yard is lighted by a torch stuck in the wall. As the laughter
from the group round the storyteller dies away, the kneeling
Persian, winning the throw, snatches up the stake from the
By Apis, Persian, thy gods are good to thee.
Try yet again, O captain. Double or quits!
(grounding his javelin). Draw near, O bearer of
BELZANOR (pocketing the dice and picking up his spear).
Let us receive this man with honor. He bears evil tidings.
The guardsmen seize their spears and gather about the gate,
leaving a way through for the new comer.
PERSIAN (rising from his knee).
Are evil tidings, then, honorable?
O barbarous Persian, hear my instruction. In Egypt the
bearer of good tidings is sacrificed to the gods as a thank
offering but no god will accept the blood of the messenger of
evil. When we have good tidings, we are careful to send them in
the mouth of the cheapest slave we can find. Evil tidings are
borne by young noblemen who desire to bring themselves into
notice. (They join the rest at the gate.)
Pass, O young captain; and bow the head in the
House of the Queen.
Go anoint thy javelin with fat of swine, O Blackamoor; for
before morning the Romans will make thee eat it to the very butt.
The owner of the voice, a fairhaired dandy, dressed in a
different fashion to that affected by the guardsmen, but no less
extravagantly, comes through the gateway laughing. He is somewhat
battlestained; and his left forearm, bandaged, comes through a
torn sleeve. In his right hand he carries a Roman sword in its
sheath. He swaggers down the courtyard, the Persian on his right,
Belzanor on his left, and the guardsmen crowding down behind him.
Who art thou that laughest in the House of Cleopatra
the Queen, and in the teeth of Belzanor, the captain of her
THE NEW COMER
I am Bel Affris, descended from the gods.
BEL AFFRIS (calling to him).
Peace, peace, poor Ethiop: destiny
is with the gods who painted thee black. (To Belzanor) What has
this mortal (indicating the Persian) told you?
He says that the Roman Julius Caesar, who has landed on
our shores with a handful of followers, will make himself master
of Egypt. He is afraid of the Roman soldiers. (The guardsmen
laugh with boisterous scorn.) Peasants, brought up to scare crows
and follow the plough. Sons of smiths and millers and tanners!
And we nobles, consecrated to arms, descended from the gods!
Belzanor: the gods are not always good to their poor
BELZANOR (hotly, to the Persian).
Man to man, are we worse than
the slaves of Caesar?
BEL AFFRIS (stepping between them).
Listen, cousin. Man to man,
we Egyptians are as gods above the Romans.
But this Caesar does not pit man against man: he
throws a legion at you where you are weakest as he throws a stone
from a catapult; and that legion is as a man with one head, a
thousand arms, and no religion. I have fought against them; and I
Were you frightened, cousin?
The guardsmen roar with laughter, their eyes sparkling at the
wit of their captain.
No, cousin; but I was beaten. They were frightened
(perhaps); but they scattered us like chaff.
The guardsmen, much damped, utter a growl of contemptuous
They care nothing about cowardice, these Romans: they
fight to win. The pride and honor of war are nothing to them.
Tell us the tale of the battle. What befell?
THE GUARDSMEN (gathering eagerly round Bel Afris).
Ay: the tale of the battle.
Know then, that I am a novice in the guard of the
temple of Ra in Memphis, serving neither Cleopatra nor her
brother Ptolemy, but only the high gods. We went a journey to
inquire of Ptolemy why he had driven Cleopatra into Syria, and
how we of Egypt should deal with the Roman Pompey, newly come to
our shores after his defeat by Caesar at Pharsalia. What, think
ye, did we learn? Even that Caesar is coming also in hot pursuit
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.
And ye, the temple guard! Did you not withstand these
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?
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.
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 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
Woe, alas! (He throws down his javelin and flies
into the palace.)
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.
What shall we do to save the women from the Romans?
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
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.
It is true: the Queen's guard cannot live on its pay.
But hear me further, O ye kinsmen of Osiris.
Speak, O subtle one. Hear the serpent begotten!
Have I heretofore spoken truly to you of Caesar, when
you thought I mocked you?
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.
O subtlest of all the serpents! O admiration! O
He will also have arrived before you have done
talking, O word spinner.
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.
Send us out Ftatateeta, the Queen's chief nurse.
THE WOMEN (calling into the palace).
Come, come. Speak to Belzanor.
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
(with solemn arrogance). Ftatateeta: I am Belzanor, the
captain of the Queen's guard, descended from the gods.
(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.
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.
Then fly and save yourselves, O cowardly sons of the
cheap clay gods that are sold to fish porters; and leave us to
shift for ourselves.
Not until you have first done our bidding, O terror of
manhood. Bring out Cleopatra the Queen to us and then go whither
FTATATEETA (with a derisive laugh).
Now I know why the gods have
taken her out of our hands. (The guardsmen start and look at one
another). Know, thou foolish soldier, that the Queen has been
missing since an hour past sun down.
Hag: you have hidden her to sell to Caesar
or her brother. (He grasps her by the left wrist, and drags her,
helped by a few of the guard, to the middle of the courtyard,
where, as they fling her on her knees, he draws a murderous
looking knife.) Where is she? Where is she? or-- (He threatens to
cut her throat.)
Touch me, dog; and the Nile will not rise
on your fields for seven times seven years of famine.
BELZANOR (frightened, but desperate).
I will sacrifice: I will
pay. Or stay. (To the Persian) You, O subtle one: your father's
lands lie far from the Nile. Slay her.
PERSIAN (threatening her with his knife).
Persia has but one god;
yet he loves the blood of old women. Where is Cleopatra?
Persian: as Osiris lives, I do not know. I chide her
for bringing evil days upon us by talking to the sacred cats of
the priests, and carrying them in her arms. I told her she would
be left alone here when the Romans came as a punishment for her
disobedience. And now she is gone--run away--hidden. I speak the
truth. I call Osiris to witness.
THE WOMEN (protesting officiously).
She speaks the truth,
You have frightened the child: she is hiding. Search--
quick--into the palace--search every corner.
The guards, led by Belzanor, shoulder their way into the palace
through the flying crowd of women, who escape through the
Sacrilege! Men in the Queen's chambers!
Sa-- (Her voice dies away as the Persian puts his knife to her
BEL AFFRIS (laying a hand on Ftatateeta's left shoulder).
her yet a moment, Persian. (To Ftatateeta, very significantly)
Mother: your gods are asleep or away hunting; and the sword is at
your throat. Bring us to where the Queen is hid, and you shall
Who shall stay the sword in the hand
of a fool, if the high gods put it there? Listen to me, ye young
men without understanding. Cleopatra fears me; but she fears the
Romans more. There is but one power greater in her eyes than the
wrath of the Queen's nurse and the cruelty of Caesar; and that is
the power of the Sphinx that sits in the desert watching the way
to the sea. What she would have it know, she tells into the ears
of the sacred cats; and on her birthday she sacrifices to it and
decks it with poppies. Go ye therefore into the desert and seek
Cleopatra in the shadow of the Sphinx; and on your heads see to
it that no harm comes to her.
BEL AFFRIS (to the Persian).
May we believe this, O subtle one?
Over the desert, from the sea, by this very Sphinx.
PERSIAN (to Ftatateeta).
O mother of guile! O aspic's tongue! You
have made up this tale so that we two may go into the desert and
perish on the spears of the Romans. (Lifting his knife) Taste
Not from thee, baby. (She snatches his ankle from
under him and flies stooping along the palace wall vanishing in
the darkness within its precinct. Bel Affris roars with laughter
as the Persian tumbles. The guardsmen rush out of the palace with
Belzanor and a mob of fugitives, mostly carrying bundles.)
THE NUBIAN SENTINEL
The sacred white cat has been stolen. Woe!
Woe! (General panic. They all fly with cries of consternation.
The torch is thrown down and extinguished in the rush. Darkness.
The noise of the fugitives dies away. Dead silence. Suspense.
Then the blackness and stillness breaks softly into silver mist
and strange airs as the windswept harp of Memnon plays at the
dawning of the moon. It rises full over the desert; and a vast
horizon comes into relief, broken by a huge shape which soon
reveals itself in the spreading radiance as a Sphinx pedestalled
on the sands. The light still clears, until the upraised eyes of
the image are distinguished looking straight forward and upward
in infinite fearless vigil, and a mass of color between its great
paws defines itself as a heap of red poppies on which a girl
lies motionless, her silken vest heaving gently and regularly
with the breathing of a dreamless sleeper, and her braided hair
glittering in a shaft of moonlight like a bird's wing.
Suddenly there comes from afar a vaguely fearful sound (it
might be the bellow of a Minotaur softened by great distance) and
Memnon's music stops. Silence: then a few faint high-ringing
trumpet notes. Then silence again. Then a man comes from
the south with stealing steps, ravished by the mystery of the
night, all wonder, and halts, lost in contemplation, opposite the
left flank of the Sphinx, whose bosom, with its burden, is hidden
from him by its massive shoulder.)
Hail, Sphinx: salutation from Julius Caesar! I have
wandered in many lands, seeking the lost regions from which my
birth into this world exiled me, and the company of creatures
such as I myself. I have found flocks and pastures, men and
cities, but no other Caesar, no air native to me, no man kindred
to me, none who can do my day's deed, and think my night's
thought. In the little world yonder, Sphinx, my place is as high
as yours in this great desert; only I wander, and you sit still;
I conquer, and you endure; I work and wonder, you watch and wait;
I look up and am dazzled, look down and am darkened, look round
and am puzzled, whilst your eyes never turn from looking out--out
of the world--to the lost region--the home from which we have
strayed. Sphinx, you and I, strangers to the race of men, are no
strangers to one another: have I not been conscious of you and of
this place since I was born? Rome is a madman's dream: this is my
Reality. These starry lamps of yours I have seen from afar in
Gaul, in Britain, in Spain, in Thessaly, signalling great secrets
to some eternal sentinel below, whose post I never could find.
And here at last is their sentinel--an image of the constant and
immortal part of my life, silent, full of thoughts, alone in the
silver desert. Sphinx, Sphinx: I have climbed mountains at night
to hear in the distance the stealthy footfall of the winds that
chase your sands in forbidden play--our invisible children, O
Sphinx, laughing in whispers. My way hither was the way of
destiny; for I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part
brute, part woman, and part God--nothing of man in me at all.
Have I read your riddle, Sphinx?
THE GIRL (who has wakened, and peeped cautiously from her nest to
see who is speaking). Old gentleman.
CAESAR (starting violently, and clutching his sword).
You must not be disrespectful to me, or the Sphinx
will let the Romans eat you. Come up. It is quite cosy here.
CAESAR (to himself).
What a dream! What a magnificent dream! Only
let me not wake, and I will conquer ten continents to pay for
dreaming it out to the end. (He climbs to the Sphinx's flank, and
presently reappears to her on the pedestal, stepping round its
Take care. That's right. Now sit down: you may have
its other paw. (She seats herself comfortably on its left paw.)
It is very powerful and will protect us; but (shivering, and with
plaintive loneliness) it would not take any notice of me or keep
me company. I am glad you have come: I was very lonely. Did you
happen to see a white cat anywhere?
CAESAR (sitting slowly down on the right paw in extreme
wonderment). Have you lost one?
Yes: the sacred white cat: is it not dreadful? I
brought him here to sacrifice him to the Sphinx; but when we got
a little way from the city a black cat called him, and he jumped
out of my arms and ran away to it. Do you think that the black
cat can have been my great-great-great-grandmother?
CAESAR (staring at her).
Well, why not? Nothing would surprise me on this night of nights.
I think it must have been. My great-grandmother's
great-grandmother was a black kitten of the sacred white cat; and
the river Nile made her his seventh wife. That is why my hair is
so wavy. And I always want to be let do as I like, no matter
whether it is the will of the gods or not: that is because my
blood is made with Nile water.
What are you doing here at this time of night? Do you
Of course not: I am the Queen; and I shall live in the
palace at Alexandria when I have killed my brother, who drove me
out of it. When I am old enough I shall do just what I like. I
shall be able to poison the slaves and see them wriggle, and
pretend to Ftatateeta that she is going to be put into the fiery
Hm! Meanwhile why are you not at home and in bed?
Because the Romans are coming to eat us all. YOU are
not at home and in bed either.
CAESAR (with conviction).
Yes I am. I live in a tent; and I am
now in that tent, fast asleep and dreaming. Do you suppose that I
believe you are real, you impossible little dream witch?
CLEOPATRA (giggling and leaning trustfully towards him).
You are a funny old gentleman. I like you.
Ah, that spoils the dream. Why don't you dream that I am
I wish you were; only I think I should be more afraid
of you. I like men, especially young men with round strong arms;
but I am afraid of them. You are old and rather thin and stringy;
but you have a nice voice; and I like to have somebody to talk
to, though I think you are a little mad. It is the moon that
makes you talk to yourself in that silly way.
What! you heard that, did you? I was saying my prayers to
the great Sphinx.
CAESAR (much disappointed, looking up at the statue).
This is only a dear little kitten of the Sphinx. Why,
the great Sphinx is so big that it has a temple between its paws.
This is my pet Sphinx. Tell me: do you think the Romans have any
sorcerers who could take us away from the Sphinx by magic?
CLEOPATRA (very seriously).
Oh, they would eat us if they caught
us. They are barbarians. Their chief is called Julius Caesar. His
father was a tiger and his mother a burning mountain; and his
nose is like an elephant's trunk. (Caesar involuntarily rubs his
nose.) They all have long noses, and ivory tusks, and little
tails, and seven arms with a hundred arrows in each; and they
live on human flesh.
Would you like me to show you a real Roman?
No. You are frightening me.
You said you were dreaming. (Whimpering) I
only wanted to show you--
Come, come: don't cry. A queen mustn't cry. (He
rubs his arm, wondering at the reality of the smart.) Am I awake?
(He strikes his hand against the Sphinx to test its solidity. It
feels so real that he begins to be alarmed, and says perplexedly)
Yes, I--(quite panicstricken) no: impossible: madness, madness!
(Desperately) Back to camp--to camp. (He rises to spring down
from the pedestal.)
CLEOPATRA (flinging her arms in terror round him).
No: you shan't
leave me. No, no, no: don't go. I'm afraid--afraid of the Romans.
CAESAR (as the conviction that he is really awake forces itself
on him). Cleopatra: can you see my face well?
Ah! (With a piercing scream she springs up; darts
round the left shoulder of the Sphinx; scrambles down to the
sand; and falls on her knees in frantic supplication, shrieking)
Bite him in two, Sphinx: bite him in two. I meant to sacrifice
the white cat--I did indeed--I (Caesar, who has slipped down from
the pedestal, touches her on the shoulder) Ah! (She buries her
head in her arms.)
Cleopatra: shall I teach you a way to prevent Caesar from
CLEOPATRA (clinging to him piteously).
Oh do, do, do. I will
steal Ftatateeta's jewels and give them to you. I will make the
river Nile water your lands twice a year.
Peace, peace, my child. Your gods are afraid of the
Romans: you see the Sphinx dare not bite me, nor prevent me
carrying you off to Julius Caesar.
CLEOPATRA (in pleading murmurings).
You won't, you won't. You
said you wouldn't.
Whatever dread may be in your soul--however terrible
Caesar may be to you--you must confront him as a brave woman and
a great queen; and you must feel no fear. If your hand shakes: if
your voice quavers; then--night and death! (She moans.) But if he
thinks you worthy to rule, he will set you on the throne by his
side and make you the real ruler of Egypt.
No: he will find me out: he will find
CAESAR (rather mournfully).
He is easily deceived by women. Their
eyes dazzle him; and he sees them not as they are, but as he
wishes them to appear to him.
Then we will cheat him. I will put on
Ftatateeta's head-dress; and he will think me quite an old woman.
If you do that he will eat you at one mouthful.
But I will give him a cake with my magic opal and
seven hairs of the white cat baked in it; and--
Pah! you are a little fool. He will eat your
cake and you too. (He turns contemptuously from her.)
CLEOPATRA (running after him and clinging to him).
PLEASE! I will do whatever you tell me. I will be good! I will be
your slave. (Again the terrible bellowing note sounds across the
desert, now closer at hand. It is the bucina, the Roman war
CLEOPATRA (drawing him away).
This way, quickly. And let us look
for the white cat as we go. It is he that has turned you into a
Incorrigible, oh, incorrigible! Away! (He follows her,
the bucina sounding louder as they steal across the desert. The
moonlight wanes: the horizon again shows black against the sky,
broken only by the fantastic silhouette of the Sphinx. The sky
itself vanishes in darkness, from which there is no relief until
the gleam of a distant torch falls on great Egyptian pillars
supporting the roof of a majestic corridor. At the further end of
this corridor a Nubian slave appears carrying the torch. Caesar,
still led by Cleopatra, follows him. They come down the corridor,
Caesar peering keenly about at the strange architecture, and at
the pillar shadows between which, as the passing torch makes them
hurry noiselessly backwards, figures of men with wings and hawks'
heads, and vast black marble cats, seem to flit in and out of
ambush. Further along, the wall turns a corner and makes a
spacious transept in which Caesar sees, on his right, a throne,
and behind the throne a door. On each side of the throne is a
slender pillar with a lamp on it.)
Of course. You are the Queen. (She hesitates.) Go on.
CLEOPATRA (timidly, to the slave).
Light all the lamps.
FTATATEETA (suddenly coming from behind the throne).
Stop. (The slave stops. She turns sternly to Cleopatra, who quails like a
naughty child.) Who is this you have with you; and how dare you
order the lamps to be lighted without my permission? (Cleopatra
is dumb with apprehension.)
CAESAR (cutting her short).
I speak to the Queen. Be silent. (To
Cleopatra) Is this how your servants know their places? Send her
away; and you (to the slave) do as the Queen has bidden. (The
slave lights the lamps. Meanwhile Cleopatra stands hesitating,
afraid of Ftatateeta.) You are the Queen: send her away.
Ftatateeta, dear: you must go away--just
for a little.
You are not commanding her to go away: you are begging
her. You are no Queen. You will be eaten. Farewell. (He turns to
CLEOPATRA (clutching him).
No, no, no. Don't leave me.
A Roman does not stay with queens who are afraid of their
I am not afraid. Indeed I am not afraid.
We shall see who is afraid here. (Menacingly)
On your knees, woman: am I also a child that you dare
trifle with me? (He points to the floor at Cleopatra's feet.
Ftatateeta, half cowed, half savage, hesitates. Caesar calls to
the Nubian) Slave. (The Nubian comes to him.) Can you cut off a
head? (The Nubian nods and grins ecstatically, showing all his
teeth. Caesar takes his sword by the scabbard, ready to offer the
hilt to the Nubian, and turns again to Ftatateeta, repeating his
gesture.) Have you remembered yourself, mistress?
Ftatateeta, crushed, kneels before Cleopatra, who can hardly
believe her eyes.
O Queen, forget not thy servant in the
days of thy greatness.
CLEOPATRA (blazing with excitement).
Go. Begone. Go away.
(Ftatateeta rises with stooped head, and moves backwards towards
the door. Cleopatra watches her submission eagerly, almost
clapping her hands, which are trembling. Suddenly she cries) Give
me something to beat her with. (She snatches a snake-skin from
the throne and dashes after Ftatateeta, whirling it like a
scourge in the air. Caesar makes a bound and manages to catch her
and hold her while Ftatateeta escapes.)
CLEOPATRA (breaking from him).
I will beat somebody. I will beat
him. (She attacks the slave.) There, there, there! (The slave
flies for his life up the corridor and vanishes. She throws the
snake-skin away and jumps on the step of the throne with her arms
waving, crying) I am a real Queen at last--a real, real Queen!
Cleopatra the Queen! (Caesar shakes his head dubiously, the
advantage of the change seeming open to question from the point
of view of the general welfare of Egypt. She turns and looks at
him exultantly. Then she jumps down from the step, runs to him,
and flings her arms round him rapturously, crying) Oh, I love you
for making me a Queen.
I will make all the men I love kings. I will make you
a king. I will have many young kings, with round, strong arms;
and when I am tired of them I will whip them to death; but you
shall always be my king: my nice, kind, wise, proud old king.
Oh, my wrinkles, my wrinkles! And my child's heart! You
will be the most dangerous of all Caesar's conguests.
Caesar! I forgot Caesar. (Anxiously) You
will tell him that I am a Queen, will you not? a real Queen.
Listen! (stealthily coaxing him) let us run away and hide until
Caesar is gone.
If you fear Caesar, you are no true Queen; and though you
were to hide beneath a pyramid, he would go straight to it and
lift it with one hand. And then--! (He chops his teeth together.)
Be afraid if you dare. (The note of the bucina
resounds again in the distance. She moans with fear. Caesar
exalts in it, exclaiming) Aha! Caesar approaches the throne of
Cleopatra. Come: take your place. (He takes her hand and leads
her to the throne. She is too downcast to speak.) Ho, there,
Teetatota. How do you call your slaves?
CLEOPATRA (spiritlessly, as she sinks on the throne and cowers
there, shaking). Clap your hands.
Bring the Queen's robes, and her crown, and her women;
and prepare her.
CLEOPATRA (eagerly--recovering herself a little).
Yes, the Crown,
Ftatateeta: I shall wear the crown.
For whom must the Queen put on her state?
For a citizen of Rome. A king of kings, Totateeta.
CLEOPATRA (stamping at her).
How dare you ask questions? Go and
do as you are told. (Ftatateeta goes out with a grim smile.
Cleopatra goes on eagerly, to Caesar) Caesar will know that I am
a Queen when he sees my crown and robes, will he not?
No. How shall he know that you are not a slave dressed up
in the Queen's ornaments?
The Romans are in the courtyard. (He bolts through the
door. With a shriek, the women fly after him. Ftatateeta's jaw
expresses savage resolution: she does not budge. Cleopatra can
hardly restrain herself from following them. Caesar grips her
wrist, and looks steadfastly at her. She stands like a martyr.)
The Queen must face Caesar alone. Answer "So be it."
A tramp and tumult of armed men is heard. Cleopatra's terror
increases. The bucina sounds close at hand, followed by a
formidable clangor of trumpets. This is too much for Cleopatra:
she utters a cry and darts towards the door. Ftatateeta
stops her ruthlessly.
You are my nursling. You have said "So be it"; and if
you die for it, you must make the Queen's word good. (She hands
Cleopatra to Caesar, who takes her back, almost beside herself
with apprehension, to the throne.)
Now, if you quail--! (He seats himself on the throne.)
She stands on the step, all but unconscious, waiting for death.
The Roman soldiers troop in tumultuously through the corridor,
headed by their ensign with his eagle, and their bucinator, a
burly fellow with his instrument coiled round his body, its
brazen bell shaped like the head of a howling wolf. When they
reach the transept, they stare in amazement at the throne; dress
into ordered rank opposite it; draw their swords and lift them in
the air with a shout of HAIL CAESAR. Cleopatra turns and
stares wildly at Caesar; grasps the situation; and, with a great
sob of relief, falls into his arms.