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Judith - Act 2 Scene 1 Post by :Paul_Evans Category :Plays Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1312

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Judith - Act 2 Scene 1

ACT II SCENE I

(_The valley of Jezreel. The city of Bethulia on the hill in the distance_.)


Haggith _with her baggage enters to Ingur _and his men_.

TIME: _The next morning but one_.

INGUR. What art thou?

HAGGITH (_prudishly and coldly_). If it please thee, I am a woman.

INGUR. No. Thou art a hedgehog.

HAGGITH (_suddenly cajoling_). I ask pardon. When I saw thy great handsomeness I grew afraid, and my tongue was stiffened. In my country there is no man so handsome as thou art.

INGUR. Ah! (_Much mollified_.) And what then is thy country?

HAGGITH. I am a woman of the Hebrews, and I have come from Bethulia.

INGUR (_astonished_). A woman of the Hebrews! From Bethulia! (_To his men_). Stand back from my face. (_The men retire. To Haggith.) This is a rare strange tale.

HAGGITH. Could I lie to _thee_? I have escaped from the city, which is given over to be consumed. I sought water for my thirst, for in Bethulia there is no water, and the people faint in the streets.

INGUR. But it is a long journey from Bethulia, and thou art fresh and delicate as though just risen from thy bed.

HAGGITH (_smiling_). I can hide nothing from thee, mighty wolf. I am, indeed, but just risen from my bed. The night before last night I set forth secretly, and came into the valley yesterday at noon, and lay soft in a cave where three springs bubbled, and drank, and slept until this morning's sunrise.

INGUR. What is thy name?

HAGGITH. Haggith.

INGUR. Thy name is as strange as thy errand, and as thyself; and surely thou art a woman of the Hebrews, which is a race of lunatics, as I am told.

HAGGITH. I have figs fit for a great king. (_Opens her sack and offers some figs_.)

INGUR _(eating). Um! And what else hast thou? Let me touch thee, Haggith. (_He touches her carefully_). Yes, thou art outlandish, and no doubt mad, but comely. Comely! Thou hast the likeness and feel of a woman. Always have I hankered after strange women, and now lo! one falls ripe into my mouth. (Haggith _shrinks. Reassuringly._) In a way of speaking! In a way speaking! For thou art not in my mouth. And so thou earnest to slake thy thirst?

HAGGITH. Yes, my roaring lion.

INGUR. Listen! Thou hast saved thy life with water. But thou art lost.

HAGGITH. Lost?

INGUR. Ay! A woman in the camps of the Assyrians--she is undone. She is a lamb in a den of terrible tigers. (_Comfortingly_.) No, no! I will protect thee, but I warn thee that thou art undone. I am honest. (_Caresses her_.)

HAGGITH (_clumsily returning his caress_). _Thou wilt not harm me.

INGUR. I will not tear thee to pieces, but thou shalt come away with me. (_She timidly strokes him_). Thou hast not the habit of this stroking.

HAGGITH. My mistress commanded me, when I encountered any noble Assyrian, to use him thus. It is true that I have not the habit. Nevertheless I do what I can.

INGUR (_startled at the mention of a mistress_). Thy--thy mistress? Ye are two? Where then is thy mistress? Tell me upon the instant--is she fairer than thou?

HAGGITH. Seven times more fair.

INGUR. Fetch her!

HAGGITH. My mistress is washing herself in a fountain of water by the cave. She sent me forward in peace and friendliness to announce her coming.

INGUR. Fetch her! (_Suddenly perceiving Bagoas _in the distance, he changes his manner_.) Stay! Bagoas is approaching, and he may have seen thee. His eyes are sharp. Stand off. (Haggith _moves away a little_.) But when I tell thee, fall down on thy face.

HAGGITH. Is he a great captain?

INGUR. His mightiness is the chief eunuch of the Prince, and there is none greater than he save only the Prince himself, for Bagoas has charge over all the women of the Prince's tents.

HAGGITH. Women of the Prince's tents?

INGUR. Ay! Wives! Concubines! Virgins! Beyond counting. Didst thou think in thy Hebrew pride, that the Prince was a savage and a barbarian?... Down, damsel! Here is Bagoas. Embrace the earth for thy life's sake. (Haggith _obeys_.)

(_Enter Bagoas, _with attendants, L_.)

(Ingur _salutes him with extreme deference_.)

BAGOAS. Who art thou?

INGUR. Ingur, mightiness, commanding twenty footmen.

BAGOAS. Begone from my sight. This morning the Prince condescends to walk through the camp, that all the armies may take joy in his countenance. It is not meet that he should be seen of any lower than a lieutenant.

INGUR (_indicating Haggith). Mightiness, a woman of the Hebrews escaped from Bethulia to find water! And by my subtlety I have captured her.

BAGOAS. A woman of the Hebrews! (_Surveying Haggith.) Rise, scum, and let me behold thy deformity. (Haggith _obeys_.)

INGUR. And there is another yet to appear,--her mistress, seven times fairer.

BAGOAS. Her mistress may be seven times fairer than this eyesore, and yet ugly. (_To Haggith.) Who is thy mistress?

HAGGITH. The lady Judith.

BAGOAS. Judith! A name fit only for a cat! Why is she here? How is she here? What is her secret and detestable purpose? For there is a trick in this thing.

HAGGITH. I know not my mistress's purpose.

BAGOAS. Tell me thy mistress's purpose, or I will have thee smothered.

HAGGITH. I know only that if Holofernes----

BAGOAS (_stopping her angrily_). Callest thou the illustrious one by his name? The most high _Prince Holofernes, foul wench.

HAGGITH. The most high Prince Holofernes--if he so wills my mistress would speak with his highness.

BAGOAS (_laughing heartily_). Speak with the Prince? _Speak with the Prince? Ha-ha! (_All the men laugh_.) What is the state of thy mistress?

HAGGITH. The lady Judith is a widow.

BAGOAS (_still more amused_). Aha! A widow! And the Hebrew hag would _speak with Prince Holofernes! (_The men laugh and jeer_.)

(_Enter Judith, _R_.)

(Haggith _goes quickly to her. All the men stare at Judith, _deeply impressed_.)

HAGGITH (_aside to Judith). There are many hussies in the camps, thousands and thousands, mistress. This lord is the chief eunuch.

BAGOAS (_aside to an attendant_). If this be an example of the Bethulian women, I shall have a momentous business upon me when their city falls.

FIRST ATTENDANT. Yea, mightiness.

(Judith, _signing to Haggith _to stand aside, bows to the ground before Bagoas; _then rises again_.)

BAGOAS (_after a short pause_). You are very beautiful.

JUDITH. There are beautiful women in Judea, but no man of Judea would look twice at such as I, a shrunken widow, like dried fish.

(_Exit Ingur, _excitedly, L_.)

BAGOAS. I have heard how you have escaped out of Bethulia and come hither in order to find water. (_Blandly_.) Aught else?

JUDITH. My desire also was to have speech privately with the great conqueror, Holofernes.

BAGOAS. Ah! We are well met, you and I. For I am Bagoas, chief eunuch to the illustrious Prince. (_Aside to second attendant_.) Run. Fetch the box of veils. (_Exit second attendant, _L_.)

JUDITH (_saluting once more_). I supplicate then, mighty Bagoas, that you lead me quickly to the illustrious Prince Holofernes.

BAGOAS. Surely! Surely! It is my pleasure to content you. (_Aside, to attendant, anxiously_.) This dried fish by her damnable beauty will reach great power, and if I speak not softly to her now she will undo me in that day.

FIRST ATTENDANT. Yea, mightiness.

JUDITH. I humbly thank your mightiness.

BAGOAS. But it is necessary that you should relate to me your little affair. For no woman speaks to the illustrious Prince until she has spoken to me.

JUDITH. It cannot be so.

BAGOAS (_persuasively_). In my ear, privily. Approach.

JUDITH. It cannot be so.

BAGOAS. What mean you--it cannot be so?

JUDITH. I will utter my errand to the illustrious Prince Holofernes alone.

BAGOAS (_losing his self-control; angrily_). What? Thou queasy chit! Thou minx! Thou jade! Baggage! Mopsy! Shamelesss wench! Thou wilt not obey Bagoas, chief eunuch in the camps of the Assyrians! I will make thee the slave of my slave and the plaything of scullions. (_Stops. Judith _smiles_. Haggith _subsides alarmed at her feet_.) Thou shalt be abandoned to the sutlers and the ass-drivers, and thus thou shalt learn who is Bagoas and what is his power! (_Stops again. Judith _still smiles_.) The strumpets of the kitchens shall scorn thee! I--I----

JUDITH (_smiling sweetly_). Mightiness! Mightiness! I am your bondwoman, but it is appointed by heaven that I shall speak with the illustrious Prince Holofernes himself.

BAGOAS (_controlling himself, smiling_). Well, if it is appointed by heaven, so shall it be. Forget my words. They had no evil intent, for I was trying you, as my duty is. (_Aside to attendant_.) The sweetness of her glance dissolves my backbone.

FIRST ATTENDANT. Yea, mightinesss.

BAGOAS (_to Judith). Follow me, lady. (_Aside to attendant.) Thinkest thou the Prince will come this way? (_Pointing_.)

FIRST ATTENDANT. Yea, mightiness.

BAGOAS. Or that?

FIRST ATTENDANT. Yea, mightiness.

BAGOAS. If the Prince so much as sees her before the city is taken, never will the city be taken, and we shall all be her captives.

FIRST ATTENDANT. Yea, mightiness.

BAGOAS (_beating the attendant_). I will lead her by the path to the cave, for the Prince will surely not come that way. (_To Judith.) Follow me, lady.

(Bagoas _moves R_. Judith _hesitates a moment as Haggith _picks up her sack. Enter R. the heralds of Holofernes, followed by Holofernes.)

BAGOAS (_to himself_). Holofernes! (_To his attendants_.) Hide her, rascals, or Assyria is undone. (_The attendants range themselves between Judith _and Holofernes.)

(Bagoas _receives Holofernes _with a prostration and high ceremony_.)

HOLOFERNES. Where is this woman?

BAGOAS. Woman, Prince?

HOLOFERNES (_impatient_). This Hebrew woman, I say! One Ingur has run among the tents chattering, and the rumour of her has spread through the camps like a plague. By Nebuchadnezzar the one god, where is she, for it has been told to me that her beauty excels the beauty of all the women of the East and ravishes the eye exceedingly?

BAGOAS. Ah! It is of Judith that the Prince deigns to speak. Lo! I had caught her and was bringing her to your highness. (_To attendants.) Stand aside, dogs.

(Judith _is revealed to Holofernes. _She prostrates herself and then rises_. Holofernes _gazes at her, entranced_.)

HOLOFERNES. So thou hast escaped out of Bethulia to find water for thy thirst?

JUDITH. To find water, and to have speech with the most illustrious Prince.

HOLOFERNES. Woman (_approaching her a step, and then standing still_), be of good comfort, and fear not in thy heart, for I never hurt any that was willing to serve Nebuchadnezzar, the god of all the earth. And if thy people that dwell in the mountains had not held me lightly, I would not have lifted up my spear against them, but they have done these things to themselves.

BAGOAS (_aside, to Holofernes). Terrible master, she is full of guile and deceitfulness, and came not at all for water, but for a hidden purpose against you. Therefore enquire of her closely.

HOLOFERNES (_to Bagoas). Chastise thy tongue, ere it overthrow thee, fiend. There is no guile in that face. (_To Judith.) Tell me now thy message and wherefore in truth thou art come. And tremble not, for thou shalt live this night.

JUDITH. Great prince, receive the words of your servant and suffer your handmaid to speak in your presence, and I will declare no lie to my lord.

HOLOFERNES. Speak.

JUDITH. I will speak to my lord alone.

BAGOAS (_aside to Holofernes). It is a device against my lord.

HOLOFERNES (_to Judith). Speak now, I command thee.

JUDITH. My message concerns the fate of Bethulia, and of all the Assyrians, and of my lord. Life and death are in it, for I have communed with heaven.

HOLOFERNES. Which heaven? Thine or mine?

JUDITH. There is but one God.

HOLOFERNES (_roughly_). And he is Nebuchadnezzar. Speak thy tale.

JUDITH. I will speak to my lord alone.

BAGOAS (_aside to Holofernes). It is a device.

HOLOFERNES (_angrily_). Speak out all thy heart, and quickly!

JUDITH. I will speak to my lord in my lord's tent.

HOLOFERNES (_furious_). In my tent! Who art thou who defiest me, and what is thy licence, heathen slave, to defile the tent of Holofernes? Bind her. Take her away, and twist the cords about her neck, and strangle her, and cast her insolence into the lake.

(Judith _is seized and bound in an instant_.)

HOLOFERNES (_in two minds_). Wait!

BAGOAS. She is bound, illustrious prince.

HOLOFERNES. Wait!

BAGOAS (_aside to Holofernes). Prince, let not the benevolence of your heart be your undoing, for in the loveliness of her face is cunning and great peril. I have lived all my days amid the craftiness of women, and my lord also knows somewhat of their strange tricks, which bring ruin to the carnal.

HOLOFERNES (_reflective_). Who would despise these Hebrews that have among them such women as she? (_Fiercely_). Surely it is not good that one man among them should be left; for if one were let go he might deceive the whole earth.

JUDITH (_advancing a step, appealingly_). Will the wise man cast away a pearl, and will my lord in anger lose his servant for ever?

BAGOAS (_to Holofernes). Let her not speak with my lord alone in my lord's tent.

JUDITH. I would speak with the illustrious prince--and with Bagoas also. (_She smiles_.)

HOLOFERNES (_with a gesture_). I cannot lose thee. (_To attendants_.) Unbind her.

BAGOAS (_aside_). May heaven be with us, for the woman is against us!

HOLOFERNES (_to Bagoas). Veil her, that her face and form be not seen as she passes to my tent, for she is mine.

BAGOAS (_calling_). The veils! The veils! Where is the rascal?

(_The attendant rushes in panting with the box of veils. He is followed by Ingur.)

(Judith _is elaborately veiled in a series of veils by Bagoas _and his attendants_).

HOLOFERNES. Let her follow me.

(_Exeunt, R, with great ceremony_, Holofernes _and his heralds, followed by Judith.)

INGUR (_as they go, stopping Bagoas, _who goes last_). Mightiness, pardon your slave.

BAGOAS. Well?

INGUR (_pointing to Haggith). Your slave captured the mistress. Reward him with this outlandish wench.

BAGOAS (_carelessly_). The fool goeth out to seek his own damnation. Take her.

(CURTAIN.)

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