Brutus sat in his living room, thinking things over. He called his young servant. It was late. The storm had subsided but there was still some lightning that obscured the stars and he wasn’t able to calculate the time. There was no answer.
‘Lucius!’ He wished he could sleep so soundly. ‘Where are you, Lucius? Wake up!… Lucius!’
The boy appeared, rubbing his eyes. ‘Did you call, my lord?’
‘Put a candle in my study, Lucius. When you’ve done that come and tell me.’
When the boy had gone Brutus sank back into his thoughts. It had to be done by killing Caesar. He had nothing against Caesar personally: it was a public matter. Caesar wanted to be king. The big question was how that would change him. The sunshine brought the adder out and then people have to walk warily. Crown him king and then, admittedly, they would put a sting in him that he would be able to harm them with. It’s abuse of authority when a man uses it to exercise power over others. He had to be honest: he had never known Caesar’s emotions outsway his reason. But he also knew that in the first stages of ambition a man will not show his true colours. Once he begins to climb the ladder of ambition, though, he turns his face upwards. And when he reaches the top rung he then turns his back on the ladder, looks up into the clouds and scorns the lower rungs that he has used to climb there. Caesar may do that, so in case he does, the best is to prevent him from getting there. And since the cause Caesar has given for complaint can’t be denied one has to think about it like this: that what he already is, the way he already behaves, points to several extremities. So one should think about him as a snake’s egg that, if allowed to hatch, will grow into a dangerous adult snake, and so should be killed in its shell.
Lucius interrupted his thoughts. ‘The candle is burning in you study, sir. When I was searching the window for a flint I found this letter, sealed up, and I’m sure it wasn’t there when I went to bed.’
Brutus took the letter. ‘Go back to bed: it’s not morning yet. Isn’t tomorrow the ides of March?’
‘I don’t know, sir,’ said the boy.
‘Go and look at the calendar and come and tell me.’
The lightning was providing enough light for him to read the letter by and he opened it. “Brutus, you’re asleep,’ it said. ‘Wake up and see yourself. Shall Rome etc. Speak out, strike, mend things.” He sat back. Brutus, you’re asleep. Wake up! He’d had quite a few like that addressed to him. Shall Rome etc. He would have to work it out. Shall Rome stand in awe of one man? What? Shall Rome do that? His ancestors had driven the corrupt king, Tarquin, out and created the republic. Speak, strike, mend things. Was he being asked to speak out and strike? O Rome, he promised. If the mending could follow he would offer himself to strike.
Lucius came back. ‘Sir, tomorrow is the 15th day of March.’
There was a loud knocking on the gate.
‘That’s good,’ said Brutus. ‘Go to the gate. Someone’s knocking.’
Since Cassius had talked to him about Caesar he hadn’t slept. Between the first impulse to a dreadful thing and doing it the interval is like a fantasy or a bad dream. The brain that thinks about the thing and the hands that will do the deed are then in opposition, and the whole state of the man, like a little kingdom, suffers an uprising.
Lucius was back. ‘Sir, it’s your brother senator at the door. He wants to see you.’
‘Is he alone?’
‘No, sir, there are others with him.’
‘Do you know them?’
‘No, sir, their hats are pulled down around their ears, and half their faces are buried in their cloaks so that I can’t recognise them.’
‘Let them in.’
He knew that they were the faction. This was bad – a conspiracy that was ashamed to show its dangerous face by night, a time when even the worst evil was free. In that case, where will this conspiracy find a dark enough cave to hide its monstrous face by daylight? Conspiracy needn’t find one – it would hide it behind smiles and affability, because if it were to show its true face, not even hell-like Erebus would be dark enough to hide it.
Lucius showed them in. Their faces were still covered.
‘I’m sorry we’re imposing on your sleep,’ said Cassius. Good morning, Brutus. Are we disturbing you?’
‘I’ve been up for an hour, and awake all night. Do I know these men who’ve come with you?’
‘Yes, every one of them, and every one of them admires you. And every one of them wishes that you had the opinion of yourself that every noble Roman has of you. This is Trebonius.’
‘He is welcome here,’ said Brutus.
‘This is Decius Brutus.’
‘He is welcome too.’
‘This is Casca, this, Cinna: and this is Metellus Cimber.’
‘They are all welcome,’ said Brutus, nodding to them all. ‘What troubles are keeping you all awake?’
‘Can I have a private word?’ said Cassius, and the two men went to the other side of the room and began whispering together.
Decius looked out the window. ‘This is the east,’ he said. ‘Is that the sun coming up?’
‘No,’ said Casca.
‘Begging your pardon, it is,’ said Cinna. ‘And those grey lines disturbing the clouds are the messengers of day.’
‘Admit that you’re both wrong,’ said Casca. He went to another window and drew his sword. He pointed it. ‘Here, where I’m pointing my sword, the sun is coming up, towards the south, showing the early season of the year. In two months time, up higher towards the north, it will rise.’ He pointed a little to the left. ‘And the high east stands where the Capitol is, directly there.’
Brutus and Cassius returned.
‘Give me your hands, one by one,’ said Brutus.
‘And let us swear our resolution,’ said Cassius.
‘No, we won’t swear an oath,’ said Brutus. ‘If our suffering and the abuses of the time are not enough motive, then we might as well stop now and every man return to his empty bed.’
Brutus shook each man’s hand as he talked. ‘If we do, then we will be letting ambitious tyranny have free range till each man drops down by chance. But if these things are bad enough, as I’m sure they are, to arouse even cowards, and inspire even the retiring spirits of women with courage, then fellow countrymen, what other spur do we need other than our own cause to hasten us to put things right? What other bond do we need other than being true Romans who have given our word and won’t falter? And what other oath do we need than honest men acting together do, knowing that this has to be or we will die for trying it? Priests and cowards swear, and cunning, deceitful men, and old living corpses, and such cringing souls that enjoy tyranny. Men who can’t be trusted swear their allegiance to bad causes. So let’s not stain the virtue of our enterprise, nor the undaunted quality of our spirits, to suggest that either our cause or our acting on it needed an oath: when every drop of blood that every Roman has, and bears nobly, would show it not to be noble blood if he were to break a single particle of any promise he has made.’
‘What about Cicero?’ said Cassius. ‘Shall we sound him out? I think he’ll stand stoutly with us.’
‘Let’s not leave him out,’ said Casca.
‘No, by no means,’ said Cinna.
‘Yes, let’s have him,’ said Metellus. ‘His silver hair will give us credibility and his oratorical skills will persuade people to commend this deed. They will say his wisdom ruled our hands. They won’t talk about our youth and wildness, but it will all be buried in his gravity.’
‘Oh don’t bring him into it,’ said Brutus. ‘Let’s not include him, because he will never follow anything that other men begin.’
‘Then leave him out,’ Cassius decided.
‘Actually, he’s not right for it,’ said Casca.
‘Should we kill anyone else besides Caesar?’ said Decius.
‘Good point,’ said Cassius. ‘I don’t think it would be appropriate that Mark Antony, so well loved by Caesar, should outlive him. We would find him a dangerous opponent. And you know, his resources, if he improved them, would stretch so far as to be a problem for us. So, to prevent that, let Antony and Caesar die together.’
Brutus shook his head vigorously. ‘Our actions will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, if we cut off the head and then hack the limbs, like killing out of envy or spite. Antony is only a limb of Caesar. Let us be sacrificers but not butchers, Caius. We’re all standing up against the spirit of Caesar and in the spirit of men there is no blood. Oh, if only we could destroy Caesar’s spirit without dismembering his body! But unfortunately Caesar must bleed for it. And, gentle, friends, let’s kill him boldly, but not in anger. Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods, not hew him like a carcass fit for dogs. And let our hearts, as subtle employers do, stir up our feelings and limbs to a deed of murder and afterwards rebuke them. This will show that our action is necessary and not done in envy. Then, seen by the common man, we will come across as purgers, not murderers. As for Mark Antony, forget about him because he can do no more than Caesar’s arm can once his head has been cut off.’
‘But still,’ said Cassius, I’m concerned about him because in the deep-rooted love he has for Caesar…’
Brutus interrupted him. ‘Alas, good Cassius, forget about him. If he loves Caesar, the only thing he will be able to do will be to himself, not us – think about it and kill himself. And that’s the most he can do because the only things he’s good for are sports, wildness and partying.’
Trebonius was the first to speak. ‘There’s nothing in him to worry about,’ he said. ‘Let him not die. He will live and laugh about this in time.’
A clock began to strike. ‘Quiet,’ said Brutus. ‘Let’s count the strokes.’
‘Three,’ said Cassius.
‘It’s time to go,’ said Trebonius.
‘But we still don’t know whether Caesar’s coming out today or not,’ said Cassius, ‘because he’s become superstitious lately. He’s completely changed from the general opinion he once had about fantasy, dreams and religion. It’s possible that these wonders we’ve seen, the unaccustomed terror of tonight and the urging of his augurers, may prevent him from going to the Capitol today.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ said Decius. He laughed. ‘If that’s what he’s decided I can easily change his mind. He loves to hear stories about animals that are betrayed by their own incaution, like the unicorn who was betrayed into being trapped by piercing a tree with its horn and getting stuck there: like the bear that was caught because it saw its reflection in a piece of glass and thought it was s cub, elephants that can be caught in lightly covered holes in the ground, lions in nets, and men with flatterers. But when I tell him he hates flatterers he agrees, being flattered by that. Let me work on him because I can guide his mood in the right direction, and I will bring him to the Capitol.’
‘We’ll all be there to fetch him,’ said Cassius.
‘By eight o’clock?’ said Brutus, looking around at them. ‘Is that the latest?’
‘Let that be the time, then,’ said Cinna, ‘and all be there.’
As they began to troop out Metellus stopped and turned. ‘Caius Ligarius doesn’t like Caesar, who berated him for speaking well of Pompey,’ he said. ‘I’m surprised that none of you have thought of him.’
‘Now, good Metellus,’ said Brutus, ‘go by his house. He likes me a lot and I’ve given him good reason. Just send him here and I’ll bring him in.’
‘It’s morning,’ said Cassius. ‘We’ll leave you, Brutus. Disperse yourselves, friends: but all remember what you’ve said and show yourselves to be good Romans.’
Brutus unlocked the gate. ‘Good gentlemen, look fresh and perky. Don’t let our looks give us away, but carry it off as our Roman actors do, with energy and endurance. And so good day to you all.’
When he went back in he called his servant but there was no reply. It didn’t matter. He envied him – he was sleeping so soundly because he didn’t have the cares and bad dreams that were plaguing Brutus.
Portia, hearing him call the boy, got up and went out to him.
‘Portia!’ he said. ‘What’s this? Why are you getting up so early? It’s not good for your health to subject yourself to this raw cold morning.’
‘Not for yours either,’ she said. ‘You left my bed suddenly, Brutus, and yesterday at supper you just got up and walked about, thinking and sighing, with folded arms, and when I asked you what the matter was you stared at me coldly. I asked you again and you scratched your head and stamped your foot too impatiently. And when I insisted you didn’t answer. Instead you waved your hand angrily and gestured me to leave. So I did, because I was afraid of strengthening that impatience that was so rooted in you, hoping it was just a bad mood that all men have. It won’t let you eat, nor talk, nor sleep. And it could change you physically as it has changed your nature, so that I wouldn’t know you anymore. Please, my lord, tell me why you’re so unhappy.’
‘I’m not feeling well, that’s all,’ he said.
‘You’re intelligent and if you were ill you would find the way to get better.’
‘I’m doing that. Good Portia: go to bed.’
‘Is Brutus sick, and is it healthy to walk around without your coat and suck up all the vapours of the dank morning? What? Is Brutus sick? And so he steals out of his warm bed to dare the vile contagion of the night and tempt the damp and dirty air to add to his sickness. No, my Brutus, you have something on your mind which because I’m your wife I should know about, and, on my knees, I beg you, by my once recognised beauty, by all the vows of love you made, and that great vow of marriage, that you tell me, your other self, your other half, why you are so heavy, and what men have been here tonight. Because there have been about six or seven here who hid their faces even from darkness.’
‘Don’t kneel, gentle Portia.’
‘I wouldn’t kneel if you were gentle Brutus. Tell me Brutus, as your wife, do you expect to keep secrets from me? Am I part of you, but only in a limited way, to have meals with you, comfort your bed and talk to you sometimes? Do I live only in the suburbs of your life? If it’s no more Portia is Brutus’ mistress, not his wife.’
Brutus raised her up and kissed her. ‘You are my true and honourable wife, as dear to me as the blood that flows though my sad heart.’
‘If that were true then I should know this secret. I grant you that I am a woman, but nevertheless a woman that Lord Brutus took as his wife. I grant that I’m a woman: but nevertheless a well reputed woman, Cato’s daughter. Do you think I’m not stronger than my sex generally, with such a father and such a husband? Tell me your secrets, I won’t tell anyone. I have proved my loyalty by giving myself a wound here in the thigh. Can I bear that patiently and not my husband’s secrets?’
Brutus held her close. ‘Oh ye gods!’ he exclaimed. ‘Make me worthy of this noble wife.’
There was a knocking on the gate.
‘Listen, listen, someone’s there. Portia, go back for the moment, and by and by you’ll know the secrets of my heart. I’ll tell you everything: all the reasons for my sad face. Hurry. Lucius! Who’s knocking?’
Lucius brought a man in. ‘Here’s a sick man wanting to talk to you.’
‘Caius Liarius,’ said Brutus. ‘Go away, boy. Caius Ligarius, this is a surprise.’
‘Please accept a good morning greeting from a feeble tongue,’ said Caius Ligarius, looking very unwell.
‘Oh what a time you’ve chosen to be sick,’ said Brutus. ‘I wish you weren’t.’
‘I’m not sick if Brutus has any honourable exploit in mind.’
‘I have just such an exploit in hand Ligarius, were you healthy enough to hear it.’
‘By all the gods that Romans pray to, I here discard my sickness,’ said Caius Ligarius. ‘Soul of Rome, brave son, sprung from honourable loins, you have conjured up my dead spirit like an exorcist. Tell me to run and I’ll race impossible opponents and beat them. What are we going to do?’
‘A piece of work that will cure sick men.’
‘But aren’t there some who are well that we must make sick?’ said Caius Ligarius.
‘We have to do that too. What it is, my Caius, I’ll tell you on the way, and to whom we are going to do it.’
‘Let’s go then, and I’ll follow you with a heart newly fired, to do what I don’t know, but it’s sufficient that Brutus is leading me.’
‘Follow me then,’ said Brutus.