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Judith - Act 2 Scene 2 Post by :Rob_Taylor Category :Plays Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :781

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Judith - Act 2 Scene 2

ACT II SCENE II

(_Interior of the tent of Holofernes. _A couch with curtains, L. The principal entrance to the tent is at the back. Secondary entrances in the hangings, L. and R._)

TIME: _The same morning, later._

(Bagoas _and his attendant are unveiling Judith.)


BAGOAS. Animal, wouldst thou dare to behold that which is thy lord's? Leave the last veil, and away with thee.

FIRST ATTENDANT. Yea, mightiness!

(_Exit back with the veils already removed from Judith.)

BAGOAS. Queen of the night of Holofernes!

JUDITH (_through the veil_). Mighty Bagoas!

BAGOAS. The Prince comes to look upon you in his tent.

JUDITH. Mighty Bagoas, deign to answer a question I will put.

BAGOAS. Deign to ask, lady, and my humility shall answer; for your beauty has blinded Holofernes this day and he is your captive, and his servant is your servant, and there is no law in the camps of the Assyrians save your glance. (_He makes a covert gesture of half-amused resentful resignation_.)

JUDITH. Nebuchadnezzar is your god? Is it not so, Bagoas?

BAGOAS. Nebuchadnezzar is henceforward the god of the Assyrians and of all the lands which their spears conquer. It is an official order.

JUDITH. If Nebuchadnezzar laid a command upon you, would you disregard it?

BAGOAS. I would not, for my skin is very valuable to me.

JUDITH. As Nebuchadnezzar is your god, so is the Lord of Israel mine. And my God laid a secret command upon me to speak with Prince Holofernes alone and with none other in his tent. Thus, and thus only, was it that I refused to speak in the presence even of the mighty Bagoas. But as I withstood you in the valley there, the God of Israel descended upon me and I heard the voice of God in my ear, and the voice said: 'It is permitted to thee to speak with Bagoas also.' Therefore I yielded to the importunity of Prince Holofernes and of Bagoas.

BAGOAS. Your god is a wise god and has discernment.

JUDITH. This I tell you, that there may be peace and good intelligence between us. Is there peace between us?

BAGOAS. Lady, in my heat I admonished you with hard words and much vituperation.

JUDITH (_innocently_.) By Nebuchadnezzar, I heard none.

BAGOAS. There is peace between us. And in the closeness of our intelligence you and I will rule them that rule all Assyria.

(_Enter Holofernes, _L_.)

(Bagoas _prostrates himself_. Holofernes _walks about, ignoring Judith.)

HOLOFERNES (_to Bagoas). At what hour is the Council of Captains?

BAGOAS. The Council awaits your highness.

(_Suddenly Holofernes _snatches the veil from Judith, _and throws it on the floor. He gazes at her. Judith _prostrates herself_. Holofernes _drops on to the couch, and looks at everything except Judith.)

HOLOFERNES (_imperiously_). Rise. (Judith _rises. A pause_. Holofernes _plays with a jewel on his costume. Without looking at Judith.) And Achior?

JUDITH. Illustrious Prince.

HOLOFERNES. Did the slave reach Bethulia?

JUDITH. The men of Bethulia took him, and he declared to them all that he had spoken to my lord Prince. And many approved him.

HOLOFERNES. And what sayest _thou of Achior?

JUDITH. O lord and governor, I say: Reject not the word of Achior, but lay it up in your heart.

HOLOFERNES. Thou art bold.

JUDITH. The word of Achior is true. For the Israelites shall not be punished, and the sword shall not prevail against them, except they sin against their God.

HOLOFERNES. Not even _my sword?

JUDITH. Not even the sword of my lord and governor, except they sin against their God. (_With significance_.) But they will sin.

HOLOFERNES. Ah! They will sin? In what will they sin?

JUDITH. Death is fallen upon them, and they will provoke their God to anger, for their water is scant, and they faint in their thirst; and they will drink the holy wine which was sanctified and reserved for the priests who serve before the face of our God: which thing is not lawful for any of the people so much as to touch with their hands.

HOLOFERNES. What has all this to do with me? There is no god but Nebuchadnezzar.

JUDITH. It touches my lord and governor, because, knowing all this, I am fled from Bethulia, which shall be accurst; and the God of Israel has sent me to work things with my lord and governor whereat the whole earth shall be astonished.

HOLOFERNES (_looking at her, interested_). What things? And what have I to do with thy god? I need not thy god, for after the Israelites have drunk their wine they will thirst again; and when the city is broken with fainting, it will fall safe into my hands while I sit and watch.

JUDITH (_with fire_). And when the city has fallen while the Assyrians sit and watch, and when all men whisper one to another that the greatest captain of the earth conquered by a device because he dared not attack boldly with spear, and bow, and sling--in that day will my lord and governor be content? Or will he be ashamed, and blush to lift up his eyes?

HOLOFERNES (_disturbed_). It is a true word.

BAGOAS. It is a true word.

HOLOFERNES (_savagely_). This day will I attack the city and take it, and though I make fifty thousand widows and orphans in Assyria I will compass Bethulia, and not one house in it shall be left standing, nor one Israelite alive.

JUDITH (_shaking her head slowly_). Why is my lord against the pleasure of the Most High? Do I not say, and has it not been revealed to me, that Bethulia shall not perish until its inhabitants have sinned before God? Listen, illustrious Prince, I will remain this night. And when the time comes I will go into the valley, and I will pray to God, and mayhap He will tell me when the Israelites in Bethulia have committed their sin. And I will come and show it to you, and thereupon my lord and governor shall go forth with all his army, and none shall resist him.

HOLOFERNES (_fascinated_). Thou wilt come to me when the time is at hand for my triumph!

JUDITH. And hearken further! I will lead my lord and governor in the midst of Judea, until he comes to Jerusalem; and I will set his throne in the midst of Jerusalem, and a dog shall not so much as open his mouth at my lord and prince. For these things were declared unto me from on high, and I am sent to tell them.

HOLOFERNES (_aside to Bagoas, _excitedly_). There is not such a woman from one end of the earth to the other, both for beauty of face and wisdom of words.

BAGOAS. It may well be so, Prince. But I have not seen the whole earth.

HOLOFERNES (_to Judith). Thou hast done well to come to me, that strength may be in my hands and destruction upon them that lightly regard Nebuchadnezzar, the one god. Thou art ravishing in countenance, and if thou do as thou hast spoken, thou shalt dwell in my house which is over against the house of King Nebuchadnezzar, and thou shalt be renowned through the east and through the west. Bagoas, prepare meat and wine for her.

BAGOAS (_making as if to give an order_). To hear is to obey.

JUDITH. I will not eat of my lord's meat, nor drink of his wine, lest there be offence; I have brought provision by my waiting-woman.

BAGOAS. But if thy provision fail?

JUDITH (_significantly_). My provision will not fail before the Lord works by my hand the things which He has determined.

(Bagoas _claps his hands. Enter an attendant_.)

BAGOAS. Fetch Haggith, the waiting-woman of the lady Judith! Quickly! (_Exit attendant. To Holofernes.) Prince, shall the Hebrew woman eat and drink of her provision in my lord's tent?

HOLOFERNES. She shall eat and drink in my tent, and she shall not leave it.

BAGOAS. Then it is right that my lord remains not. And moreover the Council humbly waits for my lord. (_Exit Holofernes, _L_.)

BAGOAS (_to Judith, _as he follows Holofernes). Did I not say that you and I shall rule them that rule Assyria? (_Exit L_.)

(_Enter Haggith, _back, with provisions_.)

HAGGITH (_excited, looking round to see if they are alone_). Mistress! Is it possible?

JUDITH. What has taken thee?

HAGGITH. Is this the tent of the monster?

JUDITH. Hush!

HAGGITH (_whispering_). It is greater and more magnificent than the temple at Bethulia. (_Looking into a corner_.) But unclean. Have they no besoms?... Ah! (_Looking up at the roof_.) The bigness of it makes me small like a child before it can walk. I could not live comfortably in such a great windy place. No! I prefer our own house to all this royalty.

JUDITH. Give me food, Haggith. Where hast thou been? (_She sits_.)

HAGGITH. Mistress, I have been with the man Ingur! (_Arranging Judith's _costume, and then setting out the food and wine_.) In obedience to your command. At Bethulia, being busied all my days with the ordering of your possessions, I had no time for traffic with men; neither desire. And I deemed them terrible and masterful creatures. And when you commanded me to go forth into the camps and delude and entangle with wiles whatever Assyrian I should meet, I was afraid. For it was in my heart that I could not accomplish this thing. Yet I have done it prettily. And it is easier to me far than sweeping with a besom. Either all men are simpletons and besotted with self-conceit, or Ingur exceeds greatly in folly. I have been given to him for his slave, but he is mine and knows it not. (_She sits_.)

JUDITH. Where hast thou left him?

HAGGITH. Mistress I would not suffer that you should pass from my sight, and I followed you, and Ingur followed me gladly, and at last the guard seized him for that he was found within the precincts of the prince's quarter, which is forbidden to his rank, and many stripes will be his. Mistress, you eat not.

JUDITH (_trying to eat_). Yes, I eat. Do thou eat for me.

HAGGITH. I have eaten and drunk--with Ingur.

JUDITH. But not of his provision?

HAGGITH (_nodding_). He so softly entreated me.

JUDITH. It is a sin and an offence for thee, being an Israelite.

HAGGITH. For such as my high-born mistress, it is an offence. But for the handmaid--pooh! She eats as she can, and the Lord turneth away his glance until she has finished her platter. Moreover, did you not lay it upon me to beguile the dolt? And verily, mistress, I have rejoiced much this day; and Ingur----

JUDITH. Silence with thy prattle. Bethink thee of the dread business upon which I am come down from Bethulia into the valley?

HAGGITH (_subdued; offering food_). Eat, mistress.

JUDITH. I cannot. My soul rejects it, and my body is on fire with expectation and suspense. (_Rising_. Haggith _also rises_.) Stay thou where thou art, for I will go forth alone. I must commune with the God of Israel for my tranquillity, and I dare not seek him in the tent of the heathen. (_Exit, back_.)

(Haggith _gathers the meat together_.)

(_Enter Holofernes _and Bagoas, _L_.)

HOLOFERNES (_looking about the tent, alarmed_). Where is she? Has she fled? If she has escaped me, this shall be thy last day, Bagoas. What is this girl here?

BAGOAS. Prince, has any woman yet slipped through these hands? This girl is the waiting wench of the lady Judith. (_To Haggith.) Where is thy mistress, wench?

HAGGITH (_frightened and foolish_). My mistress having eaten ... having eaten naught, is gone to--to--to--pray.

BAGOAS. Bring her. Her god may wait, but not the illustrious Prince. Run with both thy legs.

HAGGITH. Ye--es, mightiness. (_Exit, back_)

HOLOFERNES. Bagoas, with thine arts thou shalt persuade the Hebrew woman to come to us and to eat and drink with us this night.

BAGOAS (_grimly_). Persuasion shall be used, highness. My arts are many and various.

HOLOFERNES. It will be a shame for our person if we let such a woman go, not having delighted in her company. If we do not draw her to us she will laugh us to scorn.

BAGOAS. Yea, highness. But my lord has but this moment appointed a great feast with his captains at sunset. How then shall he eat and drink with the lady Judith?

HOLOFERNES. Thick-skull! Speak not to me of my captains! The Council of the Captains was as dust in my mouth, and I could not away with it. Therefore I sharply dismissed the Council, and soothed their damnable pride with the promise of a mighty feast. But what care I for the captains? My heart thirsts horribly for this Hebrew woman, and I am full of a great madness.

BAGOAS. So be it, highness. Nevertheless, the Prince has promised to his captains a mighty feast, and the word of Holofernes is a rock that cannot be shaken.

HOLOFERNES. Oh! What a calamity is love! And there is no slave so trodden down as him that is the slave of desire.... Bah! I will eat and drink quickly with the captains, and the woman shall await me here.

(_Enter Judith, _back. On seeing Holofernes _she prostrates herself_.)

HOLOFERNES. Arise, sorceress. (Judith _rises. To Bagoas.) Go fetch leopard skins for her repose.

BAGOAS. I will send for the skins on the instant, highness.

HOLOFERNES. Thou wilt go thyself to fetch them, elephant. And come not back without the finest skins in my wardrobe. See to it.

(_Exit Bagoas, _back_.)

HOLOFERNES. Come closer. (Judith _obeys_.) Look into my eyes. (Judith _obeys_.) Sorceress, thou knowest thy power.

JUDITH. I have no power, save that which is given to me from on high.

HOLOFERNES. Thou wast praying to thy god?

JUDITH. Yea, highness.

HOLOFERNES. Didst thou demand of him that he should tell thee if the Israelites in Bethulia had committed their sin, and if the time of my triumph was at hand?

JUDITH. No, lord. I prayed for the forgiveness of the transgressions of thy handmaid.

HOLOFERNES. Why didst thou not demand of him what I ask thee?

JUDITH. Who am I to hasten the God of Israel? In the night time, and in the darkness, when all men sleep,--then it is that my God condescends towards me, and my ear hears his secret purposes.

HOLOFERNES (_low_). This night?

JUDITH. Who can search out heaven?

HOLOFERNES. This night?

JUDITH. It may be.

HOLOFERNES. And thou wilt come to me in the night and tell me thy message?

JUDITH. I will come to thee in the night, great prince.

HOLOFERNES. And thou wilt eat and drink with me in my triumph?

JUDITH (_after a pause_). If it pleases my lord.

HOLOFERNES. Thou wilt eat of my meat and drink of my wine, which I will give thee?

JUDITH (_after a pause_). If my lord is alone and there is none with him. For it is not right that any should see me.

HOLOFERNES. I will be alone. But Bagoas shall stand at the door of the tent.

JUDITH. As my lord wills.

HOLOFERNES (_ecstatic, moving a little towards her; she responds_). Fairest among women! Can it be!... The way of God is wondrous.

(_A half-veiled Assyrian woman appears through the hangings R., and watches_.)

JUDITH (_solemnly and significantly_). There are yet hid greater things than this, and thou hast yet seen but a few of his works.

HOLOFERNES (_sinking back on the couch, mysteriously afraid_). Sorceress!

(_The watcher disappears_.)

JUDITH (_cooingly_) Does my lord shrink from his handmaid?

(Holofernes _stretches his hands to her_.)

(CURTAIN.)

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