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[The stage direction of the previous scene is wrongly repeated here in the ms.] They enter in conversation.
BELL. Disclose the secrets of your mind, Sergius, I’ll attentively drink in your words.
SERG. What enemy would not copiously wash his face with tears, if he had the leisure to scan the Iliad of our woes? No corner of the world is lacking in the tombs of our citizens, the reddened corn grows more luxuriously thanks to our blood. And yet Caesar has free time for dances, he crowns his cups with vintage wine rather than his triumphant generals. Henceforth who would lay down his life for his ingrate of a sovereign?
BELL. Martial virtue is its own great reward. An honorable scar shining on a commander’s breast surpasses the gleam of gold. Although Clotho may cut short their life’s thread, champions live on thanks to Mars’ posthumous glory.
SERG. A chameleon’s body sustains its life on air, but military commanders need other dishes.
BELL. If Caesar has left his point lodged in your fibers, just as when the Thessalian hero’s arrow inflicted a wound, the same hand which caused the harm will provide the cure.
SERG. He’s no Achilles. Rather his false face displays the wiles of an unseemly Ulysses. You alone can heal me. Alas, why has nature not weighted down your hair with the heavy weight of gold? She’s your stepmother, not your mother. Minerva created your head, and Mars your heart. How well the brightness of Tyrian purple would have suited you! Your hand would better have wielded the most pleasant weight of empire’s scepter.
BELL. Oh the foul plague of your tongue! Oh you deceiving Sinon! Are you testing my loyalty, you three-headed Cerberus? (He strikes Sergius with his staff of office. Sergius draws his sword.) And you threaten me? You will fall as a victim to the lord of black Erebus. (He trips him up, wrenches away the sword, and presses down on his breast with his foot.) This dark sacrifice will please the Styx. You’re trembling? A cowardly soul lives within your cold breast. It would have been a great consolation and a great glory to have this toadstool of a man to die by the hand of Bellisarius. But let Sergius live on to boast that he put my hand to work. (Exit.)
SERG. [To himself.] You’re still asleep? Arise, Sergius, and let your anger rise up too. My enemy has granted me a little longer life. I shall take advantage of his kindness and nothing will be subtracted from the number of my allotted hours. Foolish Bellisarius! You were too generous to me. While adding to my thread, the Parca cuts yours short. At the same time he took away my sword, he took my name and glory. But he left Sergius behind, who will set Jove’s wrathful fires a-blazing. Arms will not be lacking, my wrath will supply me with weapons in my fury. (Enter Marcellus.)
MARC. Where are you fleeing?
SERG. I am thinking of the unpleasant shoals of Dis. But Bellisarius will fare worse in sailing the black lake of Tartarus.
MARC. Speak your mind more clearly.
SERG. Do you see? Even if I hold my silence, my empty scabbard sufficiently proclaims my disgrace.
MARC. Bellisarius took the sword from your side?
SERG. And also my reputation.
MARC. How did he do that?
SERG. While I was praising his warlike hand and saying that it was fit to hold a scepter, he roared his indignation. He thundered, he lifted up his arm as high as his ear as if he was wielding a thunderbolt, and his staff landed on my head. What was I to do? I reached to snatch my sword. He bent his body, adroitly dodged my blow, wrenched the steel from my hands (why are you stumbling over these words, my sorrow?), and used his foot to trip me up. Then, furious and with flashing eyes, he spewed forth insults, pressing down on my chest with the unfriendly sole of his foot. Revenge, my friend!
MARC. You’ll get it. Dark Chaos and the hateful realms of night will bring you aid. This very day he’ll spew forth his haughty soul when his throat’s been cut. But if he is keen of nose and discovers the snares set for himself, and if he cleverly tries to enmesh us in his nets, he will be represented as an accomplice in our schemes, or rather as the architect of the Augustus’ assassination.
SERG. Let a fair breeze blow for our ship. (Exeunt.)
Having been made privy to the plan, while at the hunt Eusebius and John reveal the entire thing to Justinian. He immediate summons his bodyguard and tells them what is to be done.
ABLAVIUS As a lofty ash-tree on Eurymanthus’ lofty ridge shudders when struck by a sharp ax and nods its doubtful head, and the cutter hangs between fear and hope, having no idea in what direction it will fall, so my mind wavers, driven by a shifting wind. Sweet Eusebius, you who know the secrets of my mind, shall I conceal such a great deed from your knowledge? My fear urges me to keep it secret, my love bids me open the inner recesses of my heart. Let my fear be banished, and go freeze its shivering wings. Love alone will be enthroned in my heart. I’ll disclose it. (Enter Eusebius and John.)
EUS. The choir of woodland birds does not thus greet the Idalian sunrise with its song as we greet your brilliance, my friend. Is your fertile brain inventing a sweet tune for the Muses?
ABL. I prefer to act with the buskin of a Sophocles.
EUS. The tragic Muse delights sublime souls. When I read of tyrants swimming in their own blood, I grow eager —
ABL. To soak your hands in the blood of a tyrant?
EUS. And also my feet.
ABL. Can you keep secrets hidden in your secret breast?
EUS. You doubt it, friend?
JOHN The ruler of the Styx bears witness that you may entrust your secrets to our safe ears. (They clasp hands.)
ABL. I recognize the sure faith of Pylades and Orestes. What I reveal to you is hidden in my own heart. Before weary Hyperion rests his head in Doris’ glassy bed, Charon will be ferrying Caesar over the Stygian marsh.
EUS. Oh fair day!
JOHN Oh thrice, four times fair! The tyrant will finally get his punishment.
EUS. Taken by what deceit will he join the insubstantial throng of Orcus?
ABL. A chorus will receive him in the forest while repose is soothing his limbs. (He gives them a list in which the conspirators’ names are written in blood.) See, here’s a trusty document dripping red with the noble blood of the court. It will reveal all the leaders who are willing to risk their lives.
EUS. The nectar of Jove’s dew is not more welcome when it falls on Paestum’s sunny ridges than this gift given by your friendly hand. (He reads it in silence.) Oh names deserving of heaven! Would that I could increase the number of these heroes!
ABL. It would be a great honor to the noble band if your hand would supply its help to their purple-clad number. I want to bless my associates with this happy news. (Exit.)
EUS. You stupid sheep! So you trust us? Oh, how wretched you are to trust Charybdis! He who believes in Eusebius’ good faith is heedlessly entrusting his ship to the dark waters of Malea in wintertime. Read these heroes’ names.
JOHN The leading members of the conspiracy are Marcellus, Sergius, Ablavius, Paul, Vitus, and Isaac. Bah, what a hellish crew I’m seeing. Perhaps other will join us whose names are still secret out of fear of the Jews. Before the sun sets, the tyrant will fall. When he is wearied by the hunt and seeks the shade of the forest, a false chorus of lords will send him to the shades of Orcus. (A horn sounds.) Let’s make haste quickly and fit wings to our feet. Caesar is flying to the forest. (Enter Justinian, costumed as a hunter.)
JUST. Did I hear the heaven resounding with the sound of a hunting-horn? To the woods.
EUS. We are catching bloodthirsty tigers at home, Caesar.
JUST. My court is nursing tigers?
EUS. The jungle of the Ganges never sees the like of these monsters. With their degenerate claws, Augustus, they seek your life. (Shows him the list.)
JUST. What monstrosities are you talking about?
JOHN These letters are written in blood, you ought to shudder at the omen. (Justinian reads in silence.)
JUST. Thus you repay my love, Marcellus? And Sergius also defiles his mind with such great guilt? Good. He’d thus cut short the royal thread of my life? I understand the gist of the story. They are weaving their schemes, and I’ll unweave them. I wouldn’t trade this small document for the wealthy homes of Araby. (He kisses the paper.) But from what source did this happy document come to bless your hands?
EUS. Ablavius brought me this great gift. I pretended to be grateful, the image of Theseus stood on my false face, though Sinon lurked within.
JUST. I like your trusty heart! Join in that plague of a chorus, lest their suspicion happen to betray your deceit. I’ll soon be present as a spectator at their blood game.
EUS. I’ll interpose my body to protect that of great Caesar.
JUST. Narses will create a delay, and great Cleobulus will meanwhile assemble a force of men.
JOHN My ready mind dares obey your will, Caesar. (Enter Justin in hunting garb, wielding a javelin and wearing a quiver.)
JUSTIN When will I run through the wolf with my death-dealing arm? Caesar, boars are running about armed with the lightning of their curved tusks, they are waiting for the weight of my quiver.
JUST. Today your arrow will not be eager for wolves’ blood. Take that quiver from off your side, Justin. Today a cruel lion promises us its spoils, and it is beyond your strength. You will remain at home, and Smaragdus will be your sweet consolation.
JUSTIN I obey. (Exit. Enter Narses and Cleander.)
JUST. Has Bellisarius returned?
NARS. He has not yet left the city.
JUST. Today their deceitful chorus has hatched a scheme for my death, on a stage in the forest, which resounds with a warm west wind. Let my bodyguard pick a place to conceal itself in the glen, whose unfriendly passes are open on every side, and while the earth is groaning, being stricken by the weight of their feet, let it burst forth. Take a hundred talents, let Mar’s choice band of warriors rejoice in this sand of the Tagus.
CLE. Let the Pactolus always flow kindly for Caesar. For you, our swords will always blaze forth vengeful fires.
NARS. Can the noblemen commit such a crime? I wholly dissolve in smoke, scorched by anger’s fire, and I want to quench its burning sparks with their blood.
JUST. Let heaven’s home resound with a favorable sound. Hasten against those purple-clad wolves. (The horn is blown. Exeunt.)
Bidden remain at court with Smaragdus, Justin partly yearns to join in the sports, and partly wonders about the reason for this strange thing.
JUSTIN With what a happy ear I drink in this sound! I’m tired of the Thracian bard’s chattering lyre. That instrument attracted the woodland beasts and the lords of the forest, while this song attracts kings. So, Smaragdus, are hounds investigating a lair, their snouts pressed to the ground? So is the grove resounding with their Spartan noise, while this handsome prison of the court holds us captive?
SMAR. In my mind I menacingly fly through open fields, laying low the quarry with my well-aimed arrows. Oh would that I could meet a boar with my spear-point! In vain its shoulders would fiercely bristle, in vain its eye would flash.
JUSTIN The woodland boar doesn’t frighten you, Smaragdus? Venus’ darling Adonis died when he chanced to wage war against one of those foaming monsters.
SMAR. Of course that feeble boy died when gored by a boar, but wild beasts dread daring youth.
JUSTIN Congratulations. Surpass the glory of Achilles with your better glory. The haunts of the Dryads near to Calydon produce a fearful one, and you’ll lop off its head.
SMAR. Perish the thought! Let him feel your weapon, Justin. Beasts rejoice to suffer royal blows. But come now, why does Caesar forbid us to surround the shady grove with our hounds today?
JUSTIN I fear traps.
SMAR. My mind forebodes ill.
JUSTIN Would that my mind were a bad soothsayer!
SMAR. God will protect the imperial purple. While slumber is covering Caesar’s couch with its dark wings, heaven also spreads its wings, protecting our Augustus.
JUSTIN How often eternal slumber has followed upon a king’s sleep! How often lasting darkness has overwhelmed the darkness of one brief night!
SMAR. He is ranging through Diana’s greeny realm, deep peace is driving through our countryside on her snow-white car, and deceit is banished from the forest.
JUSTIN A great snake is hidden in the grassy soul. Very often a net ensnares savage beasts and also sovereigns.
SMAR. I’ll decorate our chapel altar with fresh flowers, praying to the God Whom the Virgin, adorned with lilies, is holding in her milk-white arms that with its wings heaven protect Caesar, dear to Smaragdus.
JUSTIN I’ll weave my garlands together with yours. (Exeunt.)
When the conspirators suddenly burst forth from their ambush and are arrested by the soldiers, they cast the blame for their deed on Bellisarius. Having given the same testimony, Marcellus kills himself. The curtains are drawn to reveal a forest.
SERGIUS Do you want to rest your weary limbs on the living turf? See, the greeny grass provides a magnificent couch. Friendly Chloris opens her multi-colored lap for you.
JUST. I like this resting-place.
SERG. Would you like a festive band of nobles to stamp the ground in a dance?
JUST. I’d like it very much, let their chorus come forth. (They dance. As they do, Narses enters from one side with drawn sword, together with six soldiers, their swords also drawn. From the other side, Cleander and a same number of soldiers enter in the same way.) The game’s gone on long enough. Bind the rebels.
MARC. Surely my loyalty does not waver, Caesar? You’re joking.
JUST. Oh you innocent man! Don’t you recognize your handwriting?
MARC. So you’re deceiving your friend, Ablavius?
ABL. I never betrayed you. Eusebius, that treacherous son of the Styx, has betrayed us both.
EUS. I love my friends, but great Caesar’s august welfare has always been far dearer to me than the light of life. My drunken sword violate the sacred breast of our Augustus? It’s your madness that dares this. (He shows him daggers hidden in under flowers in a small wicker basket which Vertumnus was going to present to Justinian in the name of the rest of them.) Do you see the treacherous thorns lurking beneath these Idalian roses? This point was supposed to have drunk your blood, Caesar. This false Vertumnus, the father of the bejeweled year, was supposed to have offered you flowers such as these.
JUST. Alas, the face of this unspeakable crime is all too visible. (He reads in the document, “Perhaps other will join us whose names are still secret out of fear of the Jews.”) Paul, reveal those privy to this horrendous murder.
PAUL The man who invented this scheme and set our crime in motion enjoys the shimmering shade of this genial grove, while we exiles are seeking the shadows of dark Tartarus. Oh, the deceitful fellow!
JUST. Who was the architect of this crime?
PAUL. Your favorite, Bellisarius.
JUST. Sooner will the sheep lie down with the wolf, and the dove perch its timid self alongside Jove’s armed and tawny eagle, than Bellisarius would contrive such a felony. Tell me, Marcellus, who was the source and leader of this assassination?
MARC. The hand of Bellisarius, filled with the gold of the Tagus, seduced us unthinking men. The unspeakable tinder of gold has ruined us. See how my wallet is heavy with its coins! The treasure of the Pactolus greatly dazzled my eyes.
JUST. A death-shiver overcomes your terrified limbs. You are denouncing the innocent so that you yourself might avoid being killed.
MARC. You’re wrong, I laugh at Fate’s dark storm. Let this sword point, which will burst into the sacred inner places of my heart, bear witness. [He stabs himself.]
JUST. Quick, keep him from rushing to his doom. Let a soldier keep that monstrosity far away.
SOLDIER He’s dealt himself a fatal wound with his dagger, Caesar.
JUST. May a vulture forever feed on your guts, you traitorous monster.
SERG. If you are unmoved by our friend’s blood, Caesar, at least let August be touched by the gleam of this emerald, with which the traitor suborned me. Look at the pledge of your hand.
JUST. This gem greatly serves to prove him guilty. Seize the rebels, you trusty band of Mars, and let the dungeon conceal their plague in its gloomy darkness. I shall follow with avenging steps. (Exeunt. Justinian remains.)
Incensed with anger and grief, Justinian ponders Bellisarius’ punishment. ONE HEART.
JUST. (Alone.) Oh, lying inscription! What Cyclops created you with his accursed hammer? What dark child of night plunged you in the pool of the Styx when you were still glowing red-hot? But why am I condemning the learned letters carved by Mentor’s art or the happy gleam of this green gem? Let this emerald, incapable of being weakened, glow green, carefree in the south wind. But it was the north wind’s chill, Bellisarius, that froze your love. Oh the wheel of fortune, so very cruel! Has my sweet Pylades taken up impious arms? Has he grown degenerate and plans a fatal blow against me? Has my love deserved hatred? Has today’s triumph earned me death? So it is. The wings of a thunderbolt threaten proud cedars with their lofty foliage, while the common trees of the forest lie concealed in a safe valley. Oh, would that I dwelt in an innocent village, where only the wild game knew of traps, caught in hunters’ nets! There sleep, that sweet master of hard work, overcomes the cottages they have built. There the fury of Mars is silent, save when bull-calves wage sweet war against each other, the horns barely sprouted on their brows. No sound is heard save for the babbling flight of a clear stream and the playful battles of a teasing zephyr. Whoever pitches his camp here soars above royal palaces on his fastidious wing. There sleepless Fear holds sway, a companion that never leaves the august purple. Evil-urging Fraud and Deceit with his painted face, a brother worse than his sister, march along with him. A king and Care share the same bed. What is a scepter but a heavy weight on the mind, and a spoil of the elusive goddess Fortune? What is a royal crown but a bond of alluring gold? And yet Bellisarius is ambitious to gain my fetters, he clutches at the harvest of his own downfall. You fool, where are you blindly rushing? You like the Tyrian purple? You will be reddened by your own dye, your blood will supply the purple. (Exit.)