F OUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY years had passed and the Rome of Coriolanus had become the mistress of the world. But all these years had not healed the quarrel between the patricians and plebeians; for as the city increased in size and dignity and empire, so her citizens increased in numbers and grew less and less inclined to submit to the rule of a few noble and privileged families. And these civil quarrels became more bloody and dangerous as Rome lost that fear of the foreigner which had once bound her citizens together in self-defence.
To hold and garrison her vast possessions, too, she needed soldiers, and drew them from far and wide to fight under her eagles. And in times of peace these soldiers, being out of employment, were only too apt to meddle with civil affairs; until at length it became clear that whoever wanted the upper hand must get the support of the army. The man who perceived this most clearly was himself a soldier and one of the greatest generals the world has ever known—Julius Cæsar; and his hope was, by making himself master of the army, to rule alone and supreme and by strong and steady government to put an end to the miserable dissensions from which the state suffered.
To this he attained after a long struggle with his great rival Pompey. When it was over and the sons of Pompey, after their father's death, had been crushed in the battle of Munda, Cæsar treated the vanquished party with great leniency, no doubt because he wanted as few enemies as possible in the work of steady government to which, as master of the whole Roman world, he was now to turn his mind.
But he had made more enemies than he bargained for, and some quite unsuspected ones. To begin with, the beaten Pompeians were not men of the sort to understand his generosity or to be grateful for it. Then some of his own followers were angry because their rewards had fallen short of what they believed themselves entitled to; and also because Cæsar, though he had given them high appointments, went his own way, as strong men will, without consulting them. There were others again—noble spirits—who loved him and yet believed that so much power in the hands of one man was a danger to that Liberty on which the Romans had always prided themselves. As for the mob, they cheered for the man who was up, after the manner of mobs. A few months ago they had climbed the walls and house-tops and shouted themselves hoarse for Pompey. Now that Pompey was dead, and Cæsar returned in triumph from his victory over Pompey's sons, they shouted with equal enthusiasm for Cæsar.
And Cæsar, in the glow of his triumph, had parted with some of his old wisdom. Men of his great achievements become what we call "men of destiny"; and just as their enemies fail to see that success so mighty must contain something fatal, and cannot wholly depend on one man's cleverness or good luck, so they themselves are apt to forget that they are but the instruments of Heaven, and to take all the credit and become vain and puffed up. Thus the moment of Cæsar's triumph was the moment of his most dangerous weakness; for fancying himself almost a god, he began to talk and act in a way which persuaded his enemies that he was no more than a man with an ordinary man's frailties. Both were mistaken, and Destiny as usual turned the mistakes of both to her own sure purposes.
As usual, too, she gave warning; and at first in that small and seemingly casual voice which men disregard at the time and remember afterwards. There was an annual festival at Rome called the Lupercalia, held on the 15th of February, at the foot of the Aventine Hill, where Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city, had been discovered as infants with a she-wolf for their nurse. No doubt in the beginning it had been a rude shepherd's festival; but the Romans, proud to be reminded of their city's small beginnings, had appointed a company of priests who yearly on this date made a sacrifice of goats in honour of the old mother-wolf, and afterwards cut their skins into thongs. And the custom was for many noble youths to strip naked and run with these thongs, with which they playfully struck the bystanders. One of the runners this year was Mark Antony, a young man of pleasure, but of ambition too and excellent parts, when his love of pleasure allowed him to use them, and an especial friend of Cæsar's. Cæsar himself attended in state with his train of followers and flatterers, among whom one Casca was foremost calling "Silence!" to the crowd whenever the great man so much as opened his mouth.
The great man just now was talking familiarly with Antony, who stood ready stripped for the course, when a shrill voice from the throng cried "Cæsar!" "Ha! who calls?" asked Cæsar, turning about, and the officious Casca ordered silence again. "Beware the ides of March!"—It was a soothsayer who gave this warning, and repeated it when Casca called him forward; but Cæsar lightly dismissed him as a "dreamer," and passed on to see the show.
The crowd followed at his heels, and left two men standing—noble Romans both of them. Their names were Marcus Brutus and Caius Cassius, and a close friendship united them in spite of their very different natures. No citizen of Rome was more upright than Brutus, more single-minded, more unselfishly patriotic. A philosopher and a man of books rather than of action, he was in some ways as simple as a child; and being perfectly honest himself, doubted not that every one else must be honest. Privately he liked Cæsar and was respected by Cæsar; but he believed from the bottom of his heart that all this power in the hands of one man was a monstrous treason to the old Roman idea of liberty, and a danger to the commonwealth, and he watched it with a growing sadness and indignation.
Cassius, too, was indignant; but for reasons less lofty than those which moved Brutus. He felt the wrong done to the state; but being of a splenetic and angry temper, he disliked and was jealous of Cæsar. And Cæsar paid back this feeling with suspicion. "That Cassius," he said once to Antony, "has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much, and such men are dangerous." "Fear him not, Cæsar," replied Antony, "he is a noble Roman and well disposed." "I would he were fatter," Cæsar persisted, who liked to have sleek and contented men about him: "If I, Cæsar, were liable to fear, I do not know whom I should avoid so soon as that spare Cassius. He reads much, is a great observer; he loves no plays as thou dost, Antony; hears no music; smiles seldom, and then as if he scorned himself for smiling. Men such as he are never easy of heart while they behold a greater than themselves; and therefore they are very dangerous." And Cæsar was right, though he fancied himself too great to fear this danger which he pointed out.
"Will you go see the runners?" asked Cassius, as he and Brutus were left alone.
"Not I," said Brutus, "I am not inclined for sport, and lack Antony's lively spirits. But do not let me hinder you, Cassius."
"Brutus, how comes it that your manner to me has changed of late? I miss the old gentleness and show of love, and observe that you bear yourself stiffly towards the friend who loves you."
"Pardon me, Cassius. I am troubled in mind, at war with myself; and it is this which makes me seem negligent in my behaviour to my good friends."
"Then," said Cassius, "I have mistaken you, and my mistake has made me keep buried in my breast some thoughts of mine well worth imparting. Tell me, Brutus," he asked abruptly, "can you see your face? . . . I wish you could; and I have heard men of the best respect in Rome—except immortal Cæsar," he put in with a sneer; "men groaning under this present yoke—declare how they wished Brutus would but use his eyes."
"Cassius, into what dangers would you lead me?"
"Well, my friend, let me be your glass; and look on me that you may discover more of yourself than you yet know." And he was beginning to protest what Brutus well knew, that he was no common flatterer or loose talker in company, when the noise of distant shouting interrupted him.
"What means this shouting?" said Brutus; "I fear the people are acclaiming Cæsar for their king."
"Ay, do you fear that? Then I must think you would not have it so."
"No, Cassius, though I love him well. But what is it you would impart to me? If it be aught toward the public good, you know that I prize what is honourable more than I fear death."
Thus encouraged, Cassius unfolded his tale of grievance. "Is it honour that we should all stand in awe of this one Cæsar, a man like ourselves? You and I were born free as Cæsar. Is he in any way more of a man? He is a great swimmer; yet I have swum the roaring Tiber with him, and he has called to me to save him from drowning. I have seen him in Spain, sick of a fever—this god of ours—shaking and pallid, and calling for drink like a sick girl."
"Hark!" said Brutus, "they are shouting again. I do believe this applause must be for some new honours heaped on him."
"Why, man, he bestrides this narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves. Men at one time or another are masters of their own fate, and if we are underlings, we, and not our stars, not our destinies, are to blame. Brutus and Cæsar! Why Cæsar more than Brutus? Is Rome so degenerate that in this last age it holds but one man, and makes him king? There was a Brutus once who would have brooked the devil himself in Rome as easily as a king." He spoke of that Lucius Junius Brutus, his friend's ancestor, who had in old times expelled the Tarquins. Cassius was indeed no common flatterer, but knew exactly how to touch his friend's pride. Brutus was moved. He confessed that he guessed Cassius' meaning; he would think of what had been said; would talk of it further at some other time. Meanwhile let Cassius sustain himself with this—"Brutus had rather be a villager than repute himself a son of Rome under such conditions as he foresees will be laid upon Romans."
The re-entry of Cæsar and his train broke off their talk. Something had clearly happened at the games to annoy the great man, for his face wore an angry spot, and his wife Calpurnia was pale, while the great orator Cicero had the look he put on when crossed in debate. As they went by Cassius plucked Casca by the sleeve and delayed him to know what the matter was. "Oh," said Casca, "there was a crown offered to Cæsar, or a kind of crown. It was mere foolery, and I did not mark it. Antony offered it, and Cæsar refused it thrice, and then he fell down in a fit." Casca had a bluff hearty manner with him, but he was really a sly unstable man who took his cue from his company. "A fit?" said Brutus; "that is likely enough, he suffers from the falling-sickness." "Nay," interposed Cassius, with meaning, "it is not Cæsar, but you and I and honest Casca here that suffer from the falling-sickness." Casca scented the hint at once, and still keeping his jolly good-fellow-well-met way of speaking, let fall another in answer. "The tag-rag people," said he, "clapped and hissed Cæsar, just as if he were playing a part; and what's more, he gave them excuse enough, for just before he fell down he plucked open his doublet and offered me his throat to cut! If I had only been a practical fellow instead of the easy-going one you see, I swear I'd have taken him at his word." "And when all was over," said Brutus, "Cæsar came away sad, as we saw him?" "Ay." "Did Cicero say anything?" asked Cassius (for Cicero might or might not join the plot, and it was worth while to find out how he behaved). "Ay, he spoke Greek." "To what effect?" "Nay," said Casca, with a shrug of the shoulders, "you mustn't ask me that. I'm a plain fellow, and it was Greek to me at any rate. There was more foolery besides, if I could remember it." "Will you dine with me to-morrow, Casca?" asked Cassius, for he saw cunning where Brutus saw bluntness only. Casca promised, and so they parted.
And during the next month Cassius was busy. He feared, on second thoughts, to trust Cicero; but he sounded others of his acquaintance—Trebonius, Ligarius, Cinna, Decimus Brutus, Metellus Cimber—who were ready to join the plot. Their main hope, however, rested on Marcus Brutus; for whatever their own several motives might be, they knew none but the highest would persuade him to lift a hand against Cæsar, and that the people would give him credit for this. Cassius, to influence his friend, had letters and scrolls carefully prepared in different handwritings, all hinting at Cæsar's ambition, and that Rome looked to Brutus for deliverance. Some of them would be thrown in at Brutus' window, others laid among the petitions in his praetor's chair, others again pinned to the statue of his great ancestor. Every day brought a fresh shower of these letters, which Brutus believed to come honestly from the people and express their wishes.
Indeed, as often happens when treason or conspiracy is in the air, the public mind began to be disquieted with vague rumours and whisperings. Whence they came, or what they meant precisely, none knew. But folk began to talk of omens, signs of heaven, mysterious fires and meteors. A lion had been found wandering loose in the streets; an owl had settled at noonday above the great market-place; a slave's hand had burst into flame, but when he had cast the flames from him the hand was found to be unhurt—such were the foolish tales spread and discussed. Certainly the heavens were unsettled and broke on the night before the Ides into a furious thunderstorm.
Cassius passing through the drenched streets, reckless of the lightning, to join his fellow-conspirators, ran against Casca, whom the storm and its horrors had completely terrified. He had left Casca to the last, knowing him to be easily pliable. But now the time was short. To-night the plotters were to come together and hear Brutus' final answer. It took Cassius but a few minutes to convince the shaking man that the portents at which he trembled were really directed against Cæsar, to whom in the morning, if report said true, the senators meant to offer the crown; and but a few minutes more to persuade him that he really was a bondman and owed Cæsar a grudge. "I am ready," he protested, "to dare as much as Cassius in putting down the tyrant. I am no tell-tale." Cassius had his own opinion about this; but now that the time for tale-bearing was past, disclosed the plot to him and bade him follow to the porch of Pompey's Theatre, where the conspirators were assembling to pay their visit together to Brutus' house.
Brutus meanwhile had been passing through a terrible time. The more he pondered the more clearly he seemed to see that Cæsar's life was a daily-growing menace to the welfare and liberties of Rome. "It must be by his death," he heard an inner voice whispering. Another voice would whisper that privately he could find no quarrel with Cæsar. And then a third would answer that Cæsar's tyranny must increase with his opportunities. "It is the bright day that brings forth the adder, and therefore," it said, "kill this serpent in the egg."
These were the thoughts which for days had kept him distracted. They allowed him no sleep to-night, but drove him from his bed long before daybreak. He wakened his young slave Lucius, and bidding him set a taper in the study, walked out into his orchard when the storm had spent itself and left the heavens clear enough for the eye to mark the meteors shooting above the dark trees.
But out here the same miserable doubts dogged and besieged him. The boy brought word that his taper was lit, and handed him a sealed paper which he had found by the window in searching for a flint. "Go back to bed," said his master, "it is not day yet. By the way, is not to-morrow the Ides of March?" "I know not, sir." "Go then first and look in the calendar, and bring me word."
He broke the seal of the paper, and read a sentence or two by the light of the trailing stars. It was another of the mysterious letters. "Brutus, thou sleepest. Awake and see thyself"—the very words might have told him who the author was. Another call to him in the name of his great ancestors to come to the rescue of Rome!
The boy, coming back to report the date, was interrupted by a knocking without. It was Cassius, with the rest of the conspirators, heavily cloaked and wrapped. By his master's order Lucius admitted them to the dark garden. Cassius made them known—Trebonius, Decimus Brutus, Casca, Cinna, Metellus Cimber; and then drew Brutus aside while the rest fell into constrained trivial talk which barely hid their uneasiness.
But Brutus' mind was made up. After some whispering with Cassius he came forward. "Give me your hands—no oath is necessary. We are Romans, and a promise is enough." He laid great stress on this; to him it meant everything to read in their purpose the genuine old Roman spirit. Cassius recalled him to more practical matters. "What of Cicero? Shall we sound him?" "We must not leave him out," said Casca, and Cinna and Metellus agreed. Brutus urged that Cicero was not a man to follow what others began. "Better leave him out, then," said Cassius, who mistrusted Cicero on other grounds. "No, indeed, he won't do," chimed in Casca, ready as usual to contradict himself and echo the last speaker.
Decimus Brutus wished to know if Cæsar alone should be sacrificed. "Well urged," said Cassius; "if we allow Mark Antony to live, he is just the man to do us mischief. Antony must fall too."
But this counsel revolted Brutus. "We are sacrificers and not butchers," he dwelt again on the sober justice of their purpose—as it appeared to him. He abhorred bloodshed, and pleaded for no more than was necessary.
"Yet I fear him," urged the more far-sighted Cassius, "for the love he bears to Cæsar."
"Do not think of him," Brutus answered impatiently. He underrated Antony, and Cassius felt sure he was wrong, but gave way.
It was three in the morning and high time to disperse. There remained a doubt whether Cæsar, who had grown suspicious of late, would not be deterred by recent omens from going to the Capitol. Decimus Brutus engaged to override any such hesitation and bring him. They left promising to send another likely conspirator—Caius Ligarius—whom Brutus was to persuade; and with yet another reminder of the Roman part they were to play, he saw them through the gate.
As he turned and bent over the boy Lucius, who, having no plots or cares on his mind, had fallen into a sound sleep, Brutus' wife, Portia, came out from the house.
She was uneasy about her husband. He had been strange in his manner for many days. Men, she knew, had their dark hours, and she had waited and watched. But this trouble, it seemed, would not let him eat, or talk, or sleep. It had changed him so that only in feature was he the Brutus she knew. "Dear my lord, tell me the cause of your grief!"
"I am not well in health; that is all."
"Is it for your health, then, that you are here abroad on this cold raw morning? No, you have some sickness of the mind rather, which as your wife I have a right to share. See, I beg you on my knees, by the beauty you once commended and the great vow you swore to me—your other half—that you tell me the truth. What men were here just now—men who kept their faces hidden?"
Then, as Brutus hesitated, she reminded him that though a woman only she was Brutus' wife and Cato's daughter. "Listen," she said, "before asking to share your secret I determined to test myself, to prove if I were worthy of it. See, I took a knife and gashed myself here, in the thigh. The wound is very painful, but I have kept my lips tight, and not allowed the pain to overcome me. Now say if I cannot be trusted to keep my lips closed on your secret!"
Brutus, touched and amazed by his wife's heroism, took her in his arms, and would have told her the whole story then and there, but a knocking interrupted him, and with a hurried promise that she should know all, he dismissed her into the house just as the boy admitted the last of the conspirators, Caius Ligarius.
Nor was Portia the only wife who had slept ill on that ominous night. Cæsar's wife, Calpurnia, had been tormented with horrible dreams; dreams in which she had seen her husband's statue spouting blood from a hundred wounds, while a crowd of Romans came and bathed their hands in it; dreams so ghastly that thrice in her sleep she had started up crying for help—that Cæsar was being murdered.
To unnerve her further, close upon these dreams had come early reports of the night's portents, the horrid sights seen by the watch. A lioness had whelped in the streets; the very graves had been shaken; the men swore to hearing noises of battle, the neighing of horses, the groans of dying men, the squealing of ghosts among the voices of the storm, and that the clouds had actually drizzled blood on the Capitol. Calpurnia had not Portia's firmness of mind. She gave herself up to terror, and protested that Cæsar should not stir from the house that day.
Her fears even infected Cæsar, though he would not own it to himself. He gave orders that the priests should do sacrifice and report what omens the victim yielded. Then he turned to Calpurnia. "What the gods purpose men cannot avoid. These portents are meant for all men, not specially for Cæsar. But suppose them meant for me—well, cowards die many times before their death, but a brave man tastes of death once, and once only. It seems to me the strangest of all wonders that men should be fearful, seeing that a man must die and the end must come in its due time."
His servant returned with word that the augurs warned
Cæsar against stirring abroad that day. On plucking forth
the entrails of the victim they discovered yet another
portent—the heart was
missing. Cæsar would have made light of
"Tell them," said Cæsar, "that I will not come. It were false to say I cannot, and false to say that I dare not. So say that I will not."
Decimus asked for his reasons; and being told of Calpurnia's fears, so well enacted his promised part of flatterer, with hints of what the Senate might say or suspect, that Cæsar soon felt ashamed to have yielded to his wife's fears. "Give me my robe," said he, "I will go." And an escort of his supposed friends (for the conspirators were among them) arriving at that moment settled the matter. "Come, Antony, Cinna, Metellus!—what, Trebonius? You are the man I want to talk with. Keep near me that I may remember." "I will," muttered Trebonius darkly.
Cæsar was to have yet another warning. One Artemidorus, a teacher of rhetoric, had an inkling of the plot, and had posted himself in the crowd before the Capitol with a letter. The citizens cheered as the great man passed through the streets, while Brutus' wife, Portia, waited outside her door, straining her ears at every sound borne across the city from the direction of the Senate-house. She bade Lucius run thither, and broke off, forgetting she had given the boy no message to take. She read meanings into the talk of the passers-by. She breathed a prayer for Brutus, and then was terrified to think the boy had overheard it. "Run," said she, "any message! Tell my lord I am cheerful, and bring me back word what he answers."
Cæsar, arriving before the steps of the Senate-house, spied amid the crowd there the soothsayer who had warned him against the Ides of March, and halted to throw him a rallying word. "So the Ides of March are come!"
"Ay, Cæsar," answered the man, "but not gone."
Decimus Brutus stepped forward with a petition from Trebonius. At the same moment Artemidorus pressed close, and would have thrust his letter of warning into Cæsar's hand. "Read mine first," he implored. "Mine is a suit which touches Cæsar nearer." But Cæsar waved it aside with a truly royal answer. "What touches us ourself shall be served last." Artemidorus was thrust back into the throng, and so the great man went up the steps, with the attendant crowd at his heels.
However anxiously some hearts were now beating in that crowd, he—the unsuspicious victim—was at ease, possessed (as never before perhaps) by the calm consciousness of pre-eminence. The conspirators eyed each other nervously. When anyone not in the plot approached Cæsar it filled them with misgivings. They had laid their plan. Trebonius was to draw off Mark Antony, and presently they saw the two step aside together. Metellus Cimber was to kneel and present a petition for the recall of his brother from banishment. Then Casca was to strike; after him all the others. They pressed around as Cimber flung himself on his knees. Cæsar guessed the nature of his petition, and would have prevented him. "Courtesies such as these might have effect upon ordinary men, not upon Cæsar. If this plea be for thy brother, I spurn thee aside like a cur. Know that Cæsar doth no wrong, nor will be satisfied without cause." Brutus and Cassius here pressed forward. "What, Brutus! I tell thee that as the stars in heaven are past number, but among them only one, the pole star, is fixed and constant, so among men is only one who holds his place unassailably, unmoved and unshaken, and I am he. Hence!" as Cinna, in turn, knelt: "Wilt thou lift Mount Olympus?" he demanded; and turning on Decimus Brutus, "It is idle. Does not even Marcus Brutus kneel in vain?"
"Speak, hands, for me then!" cried Casca, and stabbed
him fiercely between the shoulders. As Cæsar staggered,
the rest ran upon him with their daggers, hewing and
hacking. He turned at bay, but only to take the blow
from the man he most trusted, and to look him in the
"Thou too, Brutus?"
And with that he covered his face and let them strike as they would, until his strength failed, and he sank in his blood upon the pavement at the foot of Pompey's statue.
"Liberty! Freedom!" shouted the conspirators, brandishing their daggers. But they shouted to empty benches. The scared senators had started from their seats, and were crowding in a panic for the open. The attack had been so sudden that for the moment none knew how many were in the plot, or could tell friend from foe. Cassius, turning and seeing one aged man who stood confounded and unable to flee, spoke a kind word, and hurried him after the rest. For the moment these men stood alone among the pillars of the deserted building, alone with the body of their victim. Antony had fled to his house with the running, screaming crowd. Thence he despatched a servant, who made bold to pass through the awe-stricken few who lingered outside and present himself before the group, as at Brutus' command they smeared their hands and arms with the blood of their victim. To Brutus what they had done was still a deed worthy of old Rome, and as Romans he called on them to go forward and waving their red weapons, cry "Freedom and liberty!" through the market-place.
The message brought by the servant was merely a plea that Antony might be allowed to come in safety and learn what manner of burial would be granted to Cæsar's body. "Thy master," answered Brutus, "is a wise and valiant Roman. Tell him upon my honour that he may come and be satisfied, and shall go untouched." Brutus believed, as the messenger had indeed professed, that Antony could be won over to their side; but Cassius had his misgivings.
Antony soon arrived, and seeming not to hear Brutus' salutation, knelt first beside Cæsar's body. "I know not," said he, looking up from his farewell, and letting fall the cloak he had lifted from the dead face, "I know not what you intend, gentlemen, or what other blood must be shed. For myself there is no fitter hour to die than this, and no place will please me so much as here, by Cæsar."
Brutus assured him they had no such intent. "Though we must seem to you bloody and cruel, look not at our hands, but at our hearts rather. It is for pity we have done this, pity for Rome. Against you we have no malice at all."
"Join us," said Cassius, who better understood the man they were dealing with, "and your voice shall be as powerful as any man's in disposing of new dignities."
Antony put this aside. The part he had to play was that of a true friend and admirer of Cæsar stunned by the shock of the murder, yet willing to believe that other men were wiser than he in his fondness could be. He took the hand of each conspirator in turn, and then seemed to break down under the thought that these hands had just murdered his friend. "Pardon me, Julius! So it was here they brought thee to bay; here thy hunters stand red with blood, and thou liest among them like a royal stag struck down by many princes!"
"Pardon me, Caius Cassius; even an enemy might say this. How much more a friend such as I was?"
"I blame you not for praising Cæsar. But I am impatient to know what compact you mean to have with us, and if we may depend on you."
"It was for that I shook hands with you; but the sight of Cæsar distracted me. Yes, I am friends with you all if you will tell me why and in what Cæsar was so dangerous."
"Certainly," put in Brutus, "this would indeed be a savage spectacle if we could give no reasons for it; but we can—reasons that would satisfy you were you Cæsar's own son."
"That is all I ask; except this, that I may carry his body to the market-place and, as becomes a friend, make my speech among the funeral rites in due course."
"You shall," promised Brutus; but Cassius drew him aside. "You know not what you are promising," he whispered. "Do not consent to this. Consider how he may move the people." But Brutus never doubted that, his own reasons being good, he had only to state them to convince everybody. "By your leave," said he, "I will myself mount the pulpit first and show what reasons we had for Cæsar's death; and explain that what Antony may say is said by our permission. It will do us more advantage than harm to show our wish that Cæsar should be buried with all lawful ceremonies."
Cassius was discontented, but gave way again; and Antony readily accepted the conditions. The conspirators left him to prepare the body. Sinking on his knees beside it, he begged its dumb forgiveness that he must behave so meekly and gently with "these butchers." Then after prophetic promise of the curse this murder should bring upon Rome and Italy, he rose, despatched a messenger to Octavius, Cæsar's adopted son, and, lifting the body, bore it out to the market-place.
Brutus had already mounted the rostrum and was addressing the crowd. And the crowd listened approvingly, because they respected his character; but his formal sentences did not kindle them. "Romans, countrymen, and lovers! my appeal is to your judgment. If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Cæsar's, to him I say that Brutus' love for Cæsar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Cæsar, this is my answer: not that I loved Cæsar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Cæsar were living, and die all slaves, than that Cæsar were dead, to live all free men? . . . Who is here so base that he would be a bondman? Who so rude that he would not be a Roman? Who so vile that he will not love his country? If any, speak; for him have I offended. I pause for a reply."
This was speaking "like a book," as we say. The impressed but slightly puzzled crowd, finding an answer expected, cried after a moment, "None, Brutus, none!"
"Then I have offended none," the speaker argued, and was enlarging on the necessity of Cæsar's death when Antony arrived with his fellow-mourners bearing Cæsar's body in sad procession. Here was a far more effective appeal than cold logic, had Brutus known men well enough; but he was blind to it. "With this I depart," he went on, "that as I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself when it shall please my country to need my death."
"Live, Brutus! live!" shouted the mob. And some were for escorting him home in triumph, others for giving him a statue with his ancestors. "Let him be Cæsar!" shouted one; while another, even more sapient, suggested "Cæsar's better parts shall be crowned in Brutus." Comments so ignorant might have warned him of the mistake he made in relying on their reasonableness. But the warning was wasted. Begging them to listen to what Antony might have to say, he stepped down from the rostrum and withdrew, chivalrously leaving the coast clear.
There was some disturbance when Antony mounted the steps to speak. The mob was persuaded after a fashion that Cæsar had been a tyrant, and that Rome was well rid of him. "He'd best speak no harm of Brutus here," threatened the sapient citizen who had suggested crowning Cæsar's better parts. But having obtained silence, Antony knew better than to begin by attacking Brutus.
"Friends, Romans, countrymen," he began, "attend! I am here to bury Cæsar, not to praise him. The evil which men do survives them; the good is often laid away under earth with their bones. Let it be so with Cæsar. He was ambitious, the noble Brutus has told you. If that were so, it was a grievous fault, and Cæsar has paid for it grievously. Here, by leave of Brutus and the rest—for Brutus is a man of honour, and so are they all, all men of honour—I am come merely to speak the last words over my friend.
"For he was my friend, and to me faithful and just; though Brutus—who is a man of honour—says he was ambitious. He brought, in his time, many captives home to this city, and poured their ransoms into the public coffers. When the poor have cried, Cæsar has wept for them. It is hard to detect ambition in all this; but Brutus—who is a man of honour—says he was ambitious. You all saw how at the Lupercalia I thrice offered him the kingly crown, and how he refused it thrice. Was this ambition? Brutus says so; and to be sure, he is a man of honour. But I am not here to disprove what Brutus told you. I am here merely to tell you what I know. You all loved him once—not without cause. Can you not mourn for him? Oh, have men lost all their judgment, all their reason!" He paused as one surprised at his own outburst. "Bear with me, friends; my heart is in the coffin there with Cæsar. Grant me a while to pause and recover it!"
His listeners were moved already. "There is reason in what he says." "Cæsar has had great wrong, if you consider." "We may have a worse master than Cæsar." "He refused the crown—so he did—so 'tis plain he couldn't have been ambitious." "Poor soul! look at his eyes, red as fire!" "There's not a nobler man in all Rome than Antony!" Thus they murmured together, while Antony conquered his emotion and prepared to speak again.
"But yesterday," he went on, "the word of Cæsar might
have weighed against the whole world. Now he lies there
with none—not the poorest—to do
him reverence. Sirs, if I were disposed to stir you
to mutiny and rage I should be wronging Brutus
and Cassius—who, as you know, are
men of honour. I will not do this. I choose rather to
wrong the dead, to wrong myself, to wrong you, than to
wrong such men of honour! But here I have Cæsar's will.
If I were to read it to you—but, pardon me, I do not mean
to—I say if I were to read it you would run to kiss Cæsar's
wounds, to dip your handkerchiefs in his
"The will! read the will!" shouted the people; but Antony protested that he must not; it was not meet for them to hear how much Cæsar loved them; it would inflame them, make them mad. There was no saying what might come of it.
"Read the will! Read it!" they clamoured.
But again he protested; he had gone too far in speaking of it; he feared, indeed he did, that he was wronging the men of honour—whose daggers had stabbed Cæsar.
"The will! the will! 'Men of honour!' Traitors! Read the will!"
"You force me to read it? Then come, make a ring about Cæsar's corpse while I show you him who made the will." He stepped down from the rostrum, and as they gathered and pressed about him, he lifted the mantle from the body. "You all know this mantle. I remember the first time Cæsar put it on—one summer's evening, in his tent. It was the day he overcame the Nervii." He showed them the holes made by the daggers; where Cassius had stabbed, and Casca, and Brutus—"the well-beloved Brutus," "Cæsar's angel"—"ah, that was the unkindest blow! That was the heart-breaking stroke! Then it was that great Cæsar covered his face and fell!" His hearers were weeping by this time, and he could be bold. "Fell? Ay, and what a fall! My countrymen, then it was that I and you and all of us fell, while treason and bloodshed flourished over us. You weep at sight of his garments merely! Look you here then on him—marred, as you behold, by traitors!"
They were mad now. They shouted for revenge. "Fire!" "Kill!" "Slay!" "Death to the traitors!" But Antony, who had worked them to frenzy with such masterly art, must perfect that frenzy before letting them slip.
"Good friends, sweet friends, I must not stir you up so. The men who have done this deed are men of honour. What private griefs they had against Cæsar to make them do it, I know not, alas! But as men of honour they will give you their reasons. You see, I am no orator like Brutus!"—indeed he was not!—"but, as you all know me, a plain blunt man, who love my friend, and have permission to speak. For I have no gifts of eloquence to set men's blood stirring. I only speak right on, telling you what you know already, shewing you Cæsar's wounds, and bidding them speak for me. Were I Brutus now I could put a tongue into every wound of Cæsar that should move the very stones of Rome to rise in revolt."
"And so will we!" "Burn the house of Brutus!" "Down with the conspirators!" Antony had to shout for a hearing. "Why, friends, you are going to do you know not what! Nay, you scarce know yet how much cause you have to love Cæsar. You have forgotten the will I told you of."
"True—the will! Read the will!"
"Here is the will, then, sealed by Cæsar. It gives to every Roman citizen a legacy of seventy-five drachmas,"—again the hubbub was deafening—"and to the citizens in general he bequeaths his gardens and orchards beyond Tiber, to them and their heirs for their recreation for ever. . . ."
They listened for no more. They rushed on the market-place tearing up benches, stalls, tables, and heaping the wreckage for a funeral pile. They laid the body of Cæsar on it and set fire to the mass; and as it grew hot they plucked out the blazing brands and rushed off towards the conspirators' houses, yelling for revenge. Antony could watch now. He had done his work, and done it thoroughly.
But the conspirators had been warned, and by this time were riding through the gates in hot haste. They drew rein at Antium. The mob, after all, was but a mob; and, though Antony doubtless coveted Cæsar's place, before he could aspire to it he must win the army. The senatorial party on the whole supported the conspirators; for when Brutus and the rest talked of Roman liberty, what they meant was the privileges of the old Roman families which still composed the Senate, not the rights of the populace. It was the Senate, not the populace, which had resented Cæsar's absolute power, and for their deliverance the blow had been struck. Officially the senators had, by law and in name at any rate, the army on their side; for by law the chief magistrates took command of the forces. So the conspirators had much in their favour.
Between these two parties—Antony and the mob on one side, and the majority of the Senate on the other—stood the young Octavius, Cæsar's grand-nephew and heir, with an army at his back; a young man, not yet twenty, but wiser than other young men, with a handsome, expressionless, inscrutable face, a heart without feeling, and a temper inhumanly cold and obstinate—an enigma to all, and as yet perhaps even to himself. Brutus and the rest had made the grand mistake of conspirators; they had supposed that by killing a great man they could destroy the forces which made him. Driven from Cæsar's dead body, these forces gathered again and centred upon Cæsar's young heir, and henceforth this statue of a youth is propelled by them and moves as a man of fate.
At first Octavius inclined towards the senatorial party. Brutus and Cassius went off to their provinces in the East. In Italy Antony might have been crushed had the Senate followed a fixed plan or dared to trust Octavius; but distrust and divisions palsied their policy and the movements of their troops. Octavius saw that he could make nothing of them. On the other hand, by combining with Antony he could crush them in Italy, and then turn upon Brutus and Cassius in the East. As for Antony—well, time would show.
The two chiefs met, and took into their counsels one Marcus Æmilius Lepidus—a weak man, but a name of weight and influence with the popular party. The three appointed themselves to a Triumvirate—in other words, a three-man dictatorship—and divided up the Roman Empire between them as though it had been their own inheritance. To effect this, however, certain prominent men had to be got rid of, and each Triumvir was naturally anxious to shield his own friends. At length, however, by bartering their separate friendships against their hatreds, they "proscribed," or marked down and put to death all who were likely to interfere with their plans. Octavius handed over Cicero to Antony; who in turn sacrificed Lucius Cæsar, his uncle on his mother's side; while Lepidus, to his peculiar shame, suffered his own brother Paulus to be pricked down on the list. Having thus by wholesale murder cleared the coast in Italy, they could turn securely upon Brutus and Cassius in the East.
And in the East Brutus was beginning to learn that the philosophy found in books will not carry a man through the business of statecraft, especially when one is conducting a revolution. He wanted money, and pressed Cassius for money. He would have no unjust tolls levied in his own province, and disgraced his subordinate, Lucius Pella, on finding him guilty of pilfering the inhabitants of Sardis. Yet he must have known, had he considered, that if Cassius had money to spare it was only by behaving less scrupulously. This punishment of Pella annoyed Cassius, who took it for a reflection upon himself, having dealt leniently a few days before with two of his own officers similarly convicted. At Brutus' request he came with his army to Sardis to clear up misunderstandings. The two friends met coldly, for Cassius was genuinely incensed and made no secret of his feelings.
Brutus, however, led him to his own tent, and setting a watch on the door bade him speak out his complaints.
"You have wronged me," said Cassius, "in disgracing Lucius Pella and making light of the letters I sent appealing for him."
"You wronged yourself, rather, to write in such a case."
"This is no time for laying stress on every petty offence."
Now Brutus was suffering and hiding a private sorrow of which his friend knew nothing. Under such trials the tempers of good men grow infirm.
"Let me tell you," he broke out violently, "you yourself, Cassius, are accused of an itching palm—of trafficking your offices for gold to unworthy men!"
"I! an itching palm!" Cassius sprang up indignant, blankly astonished. "You know you are Brutus who utter the words, or by the gods that speech were your last!"
"The name of Cassius honours this corrupt dealing, and therefore it goes without chastisement."
But Brutus was not to be checked. "Remember March—remember the Ides of March! Why did Cæsar bleed, but for justice? Was there a man of us stabbed him except for justice?" Cassius winced. "What! Shall one of us who smote down the foremost man in the world because he supported robbers shall we, I say, now be contaminating our fingers with base bribes? I'd rather be a dog than such a Roman!"
We may pity Cassius now. The ablest, shrewdest, most practical of all the conspirators, he had one soft place in his heart—his admiring love for his friend. Time after time he had given way to Brutus—in sparing Antony, in allowing Antony to harangue the crowd, he had given way against his judgment; and always the event proved that he had been right and Brutus wrong. His respect for Brutus was a kind of superstition. And here he was being preached at and pelted with opprobrious words by the friend who had been pressing him for money, being too moral himself to raise money in the only way it could be raised! It was intolerable, and he felt it so.
"Brutus, bait me not, for I'll not endure it. You forget yourself! I am a soldier, older in practice than you, and abler to make conditions."
Brutus caught him up. "What, you abler?" "Do not
tempt me further," Cassius pleaded. "You abler?" Brutus
replied with sneer upon sneer: "You a better soldier?"
"I said an elder soldier, not a better one. Did I say
better?" "If you did, I care not. . . .
You threaten me?
I am armed so strong in honesty, your threats go by me like
Brutus was softened, though as yet far from convinced he was in the wrong. "Sheathe your dagger. I must bear with you; I cannot carry my anger long." "And must I live to be mocked and laughed at by Brutus?" "I was ill-tempered," Brutus admitted. "You confess so much? Give me your hand." "And my heart too." They had come thus near to being reconciled when a noise at the tent-door interrupted them, and in broke a crazy follower of Brutus, one Marcus Phaonius, who set up to be a philosopher, but from his eccentric behaviour was more often regarded as a fool. This fellow had heard that the two generals were quarrelling; and, pushing past the guards, he struck an attitude and began to recite certain verses of Homer, full of wise counsel, but with such extravagant gestures that Cassius burst out laughing while Brutus angrily hustled the fellow from the room.
Nothing cleanses the temper like a hearty laugh. Brutus, still frowning, called for a bowl of wine. "I did not think," said his friend, "you could have been so angry." "O Cassius," came the confession, "I am sick of many griefs."
"You—a Stoic—should make use of your philosophy."
"I do. No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead."
"She is dead."
So this was the explanation . . . Cassius sat stunned. "How did I escape killing," he murmured, "when I crossed you so?"
Heart-broken with grief for her husband's absence and the forces gathering under Octavius and Antony to overwhelm him, Portia had lost her reason and taken her own life. Brutus told of it in a dull, level voice. It was Cassius who broke out with exclamations; not he to whom she had been dear above living things.
"Speak no more of her," he said, as the boy Lucius entered with the wine. The two friends drank to their love before admitting the captains to consider with them the plan of campaign.
At first, while Brutus discussed the latest news received
of their enemies, Cassius sat dazed and inattentive, muttering
of Portia's loss. He roused himself for a moment on
hearing that Cicero too had
Cassius was opposed to this. It was better to let the enemy weary himself and exhaust his means on long marches than to go and save his labour by meeting him.
But Brutus made little of these reasons. The people in Asia Minor were disaffected already and grudged their contributions. Octavius and Antony would enlist recruits as they came, and therefore were better met and opposed as soon as possible.
Cassius would have argued. Once more he was right, and Brutus wrong; but either the old admiration blinded him, or he was passing weary of altercations. He gave way; the march was fixed for the morrow, and with the friendliest good-nights they parted.
It was late when the council broke up, and Brutus was left alone. A sense of calamity lay heavy on him. He called for two soldiers, Varro and Claudius, to sleep within his tent-door. They were willing to stand and watch; but he would not have it so, being always a kind master. His slave Lucius brought him his gown and book; the poor boy was heavy with want of sleep. With some self-reproach, Brutus begged him to take his lute and play. Lucius would do far more than this for the master he loved; and began to sing, touching the strings drowsily, while the two soldiers slept. The instrument almost slipped from his hand. Brutus took it gently from him, and the boy's head fell back on the pillow. And now the master alone kept watch, holding his book close to a solitary taper.
Minutes passed; by and by—was the taper burning ill, or was there a shadow deepening beyond it? He looked up. It was a shadow, but it had shape—likeness; it was dead Cæsar standing there! Brutus' blood ran cold as he stared at the apparition. It seemed to him that he found voice to challenge it. "Speak—what art thou?"
"Thy evil spirit, Brutus."
"Why comest thou?"
"To warn thee thou shalt see me again—at Philippi."
Between dread and scorn of himself and incredulity Brutus echoed the words stupidly, almost with a laugh.
"At Philippi," the vision repeated.
"Why, I will see thee then, at Philippi"—Brutus
brought his fist down on the table, calling "Lucius! Varro!
"The strings are out of tune, my lord," muttered the boy Lucius drowsily.
Brutus awoke him; awoke the two soldiers. "Why had they cried out in their sleep? what had they seen?" They had seen nothing. Had they cried out? It was strange; but indeed they had seen nothing.
Had Brutus, too, seen nothing? Perhaps. But the spirit of Cæsar—all that Cæsar had stood for, all that he had meant upon earth—awaited them on the plains of Philippi towards which Brutus and Cassius set forth next day. They said little to one another as they and their legions marched deeper into what they felt to be the shadow of doom. When they had crossed the straits and were face to face with their enemies' tents, that shadow hung visible over them. During the march out from Sardis two eagles had perched on their banners and fed from the soldiers' hands. But at Philippi these birds of good omen had taken their departure, and now in their place the air was darkened with a flock of ravens, crows, and kites gathered from every quarter to forestall the grim feast preparing.
Nor did the two generals wear the mood of happy assurance. On the morning of the fight they took leave of each other bravely, as men should, but solemnly, as men prepared for the worst. If victory should be theirs, with the gods' help, then they might meet again with smiles and live all the rest of their days quietly one with another. If not—then this day would end the work begun on the Ides of March. No conqueror should ever have the joy of leading Brutus and Cassius in triumph. And upon this they took their farewells.
In the ordering of the battle Brutus found himself opposed by Octavius, Cassius by Antony. The two Triumvirs were never in hearty agreement from the first. Destiny alone bound them together for the time. Their natures were opposed in all respects. The elder man, eager, talented, and pleasure-loving, girded against the lad who was young enough to be his son but who went his own way so calmly and with a sort of bloodless self-possession. Antony had wished to oppose Brutus. "Why do you cross me?" he complained on finding that Octavius had arranged otherwise. "I do not cross you," replied Octavius, as if it did not admit of argument; "but I will have it so." Antony said no more.
Brutus finding Octavius' forces at a disadvantage, gave the word to charge; and his haste would have been justified—for his men at the first assault drove their enemies back with great slaughter—had it not taken Cassius unawares. As it was, Cassius' men gave ground before Antony's attack. He rallied them only to find himself hemmed round. Brutus should have relieved him at this point, and the day would have been won; but his men were plundering and killing among Octavius' tents, and he could not recall them in time. Cassius' cavalry were in full flight for the coast; he did what he could to hold his infantry firm, and snatching an ensign from one of the standard-bearers, planted it for a rallying mark, and fought on in hope of the assistance which did not come.
At length, however, he was forced to pluck up his standard and withdraw, with a few about him, to a little hill which gave a prospect over the plain. His sight was weak, but he could see his own tents blazing while Antony's soldiery pillaged through them. He made out also a troop of horsemen galloping towards him, and doubtful whether they were friends or foes, sent one of his companions, Titinius, to make sure. Meanwhile his servant Pindarus had climbed to the summit of the hill for a better view.
The advancing horsemen had in fact been sent by Brutus, though too late. Perceiving Titinius, and knowing him for one of Cassius' friends, they raised a great shout of welcome, with boastings of their victory. But Pindarus on the hill, hearing the noise and seeing Titinius surrounded, made sure that he was taken prisoner, and called down this news to Cassius. "Come down," commanded his master. The two were alone. "In Parthia I made thee prisoner, and in return for thy life took an oath from thee that whatsoever I might bid thou wouldst do. Take thy liberty now, and this sword—the sword that stabbed Cæsar. Smite, I command thee; now, as I cover my face." Pindarus drove the sword home, and then, as his master fell dead, cast it from him and ran; nor was he ever seen again.
So it happened that Titinius returning crowned with a wreath of victory and impatient to tell his good news, stumbled on his master stretched dead upon the hillside. The garland was useless now. Titinius bound it reverently on the senseless brow, and forthwith, like a stern Roman, slew himself upon the body; there to be found a little later by Brutus and his attendants. With bent head Brutus uttered the last farewell over his friend—"the last of all the Romans," he called him. "Friends, I owe this dead man more tears than ever you shall see me pay. I shall find time, Cassius; I shall find time."
In truth, as he said, the spirit of Cæsar still walked the earth and turned the conspirators' swords against themselves. Brutus' own time was not long. The first battle having proved indecisive, he offered fight again—to be driven from the field with a few remaining followers. One by one he drew them aside and entreated them to perform for him the office which Pindarus had performed for Cassius. Each shook his head; they loved him too well. It was a servant who at length, turning his head aside, held the sword on which Brutus flung himself—more gladly, he said, than he had lifted it against Cæsar.
Even his enemies respected the body, and gave it burial
with full honours. "This," said Antony, "was the noblest
Roman of them all. All the conspirators save him did what
they did in envy of Cæsar's greatness. He alone joined
them in honest motive and thought for the common good.
His life was gentle, and himself so composed, that Nature
might stand up and say to all the world, 'This was a