Caesar couldn’t sleep. The thunder had been crashing furiously and the lightning had made it impossible to fall asleep. Calphurnia kept crying out, ‘Help, they’re murdering Caesar.’ He got up and went to another part of the house without changing out of his night-gown.
‘Is anyone there?’ he called.
‘Go and tell the priests to do an immediate sacrifice and bring me their opinions of success.’
The servant bowed. ‘I will, my lord.’
Caesar turned and saw Calphurnia standing looking at him. ‘What are you doing up?’ she said. ‘Are you thinking about going out? You’re not stirring out of the house today!’
He drew himself up. ‘Caesar will go out. The signs that have been threatening me have only looked at my back. When they see the face of Caesar they will disappear.’
‘Caesar, you know I’ve never taken any notice of omens and portents. And yet, these frighten me. One of the servants, apart from the things that we have seen and heard, recount some most horrid sights that the guards have seen. A lioness gave birth in the streets, and graves opened and shoved their dead out: fierce fiery warriors fought on the clouds in ranks and squadrons, all formed up for war, and the blood drizzled on the Capitol. The noise of battle filled the air: horsed neighed and dying men groaned: and ghosts shrieked and squealed about the streets. Oh Caesar, these things are so unusual, and I’m afraid of them.’
‘No-one can avoid the end that the gods have decreed for them,’ said Caesar. ‘And yet Caesar shall go forth because these predictions are for the world in general, as well as for Caesar.’
‘When beggars die there are no comets,’ she said. ‘The heavens themselves blaze out the death of princes.’
‘Cowards die many times before their deaths,’ said Caesar. ‘The brave taste death only once. Of all the wonders that I have ever heard of the strangest seems to me that men should fear death, seeing that it’s a necessary end that will come when it will come.’
The servant was back.
‘What do the augurers say?’
‘They don’t want you to go out today. When they drew the entrails out of the animal they could not find its heart.’
‘I interpret that as the gods shaming cowardice,’ said Caesar. ‘Caesar would be a beast without a heart if he stayed at home today because he was afraid. No, Caesar shall not. Danger knows full well that Caesar is more dangerous than he is. Danger and I are two lions born on the same day. And I am the elder and more terrible. And Caesar shall go forth.’
Calphurnia sighed and shook her head. ‘Alas, my lord, your wisdom is consumed in confidence. Don’t go out today. Say it’s my fear that keeps you in the house and not your own. We’ll send Mark Antony to the Senate House, and he will say that you aren’t well today.’ She dropped to her knees. ‘Let me beg you on my knees.’
Caesar looked down at her for a moment then drew himself up again. ‘Mark Antony will say I am unwell, and just for you I’ll stay at home.’
A servant showed Decius in.
‘Here’s Decius Brutus. He will tell them,’ said Caesar.
‘Caesar, all hail,’ said Decius. ‘Good morning worthy Caesar. I’ve come to take you to the Senate House.’
‘And your timing is good,’ said Caesar. ‘Bear my greetings to the senators and tell them that I will not come today. Cannot is false, and dare not even more false. I will not come today. Tell them that, Decius.’
‘Say he is sick,’ said Calphurnia.
Caesar turned to her stiffly and frowned. ‘Shall Caesar send a lie? Have I extended my arm so far in conquest to be afraid to tell greybeards the truth? Decius, go and tell them Caesar will not come.’
Decius smiled. ‘Most mighty Caesar, give me some reason: they will laugh at me when I tell them that.’
‘The reason is in my will. I will not come. That is enough to satisfy the senate. But for your own satisfaction, because I love you, I will let you know. Calphurnia here, my wife, is keeping me at home. She dreamt tonight that she saw my statue. Like a fountain with a hundred spouts, it ran pure blood. And many lusty Romans came to it smiling, and washed their hands in it. And she interprets that as a warning of imminent evil. And she has begged me on her knees to stay at home today.’
Decius’ answer came quickly. ‘This dream has been misinterpreted. It was a vision of good fortune. Your statue, spouting blood from many pipes, in which so many smiling Romans bathed, means that great Rome will suck reviving blood from you and that great men will scramble to get honours and recognition from you. This is what Calphurnia’s dream means.’
‘And you have given a good interpretation,’ said Caesar.
‘I have,’ said Decius, ‘considering what I have to tell you. And here it is. The senate has decided to give a crown to mighty Caesar today. If you send them a message that you will not come they may change their minds. Also, it would be an opportunity for some sarcastic senator to say, “Break up the senate till another time, when Caesar’s wife has better dreams.” If Caesar hides away, won’t they whisper, “Look, Caesar is afraid”? Forgive me, Caesar, for my dear dear love for your welfare makes me talk to you like this and my reason over-rules my discretion.’
Caesar had been standing, listening with interest, and he turned to Calphurnia now and sneered. ‘How foolish your fears seem now, Calphurnia. I’m ashamed that I gave in to them.’ He snapped his fingers at a servant. ‘Get my clothes ready. I will go.’
A servant showed Brutus, Ligarius, Metellus, Casca, Trebonius, Cinna and Publius in.
‘And look,’ said Caesar. ‘Here’s Publius come to fetch me.’
‘Good morning, Caesar,’ said Publius.
‘Welcome Publius. What Brutus! Are you also up so early? Good morning Casca. Caius Ligarius.’ Caesar laughed. ‘Caesar was never as much your enemy as that illness that’s made you so thin. What’s the time?’
‘Caesar, it’s eight o’clock,’ said Brutus.
Caesar beamed round at everyone. ‘I thank you for your trouble and courtesy,’ he said. ‘Look, Antony, who revels through the night, is notwithstanding up. Good morning Antony.’
Antony joined the other senators. ‘And to you, most noble Caesar,’ he said.
Caesar was all smiles. He snapped his fingers. ‘Tell them to prepare some wine in there,’ he said. ‘’It’s my fault that you’re all kept waiting.’ He bestowed a warm smile on Cinna. ‘Now Cinna… Metellus.’ He gave Metellus a friendly punch on his arm. ‘Ah, Trebonius. I have an hour’s talk in store for you. Remember that you called on me today. Be close to me so that I may remember you.’
‘Caesar, I will,’ said Trebonius, thinking that he would be so close that Caesar’s best friends would wish that he had been further away.
‘Good friends, go in there,’ said Caesar, ‘and taste some wine with me. And we, as friends, will go together.’
As they went in to drink the wine Brutus was sad. Not all friends were the same. His heart was heavy, thinking about it.
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