‘Brutus, don’t bait me. I won’t take it. You forget yourself, hedging me in like this. I am a soldier, I am, more experienced than you and more competent to make such judgments.’
Brutus stood up and faced him. ‘Nonsense! You are not, Cassius.’
‘I say you are not!’
They had squared up to each other and their eyes were locked.
‘Don’t provoke me further,’ said Cassius. ‘I’ll forget myself. Don’t tempt me any further if you value your health.’
Brutus turned away. ‘Go away, you worthless creature,’ he said.
‘I don’t believe this,’ said Cassius.
Brutus sat down again. He sighed. ‘Listen to me. Do I have to humour your irrational anger? Do I have to be frightened when a madman stares?’
Cassius put his head in his hands. ‘Oh ye gods, ye gods! Must I take this?’
‘Just this? Yes, and more. Pull faces and clutch your head till your proud heart bursts. Go and show your slaves how furious you are and make them tremble. Do you think you can do that to me? Do I have to watch this? Must I cower in the face of your bad mood? By the gods, you can swallow your own bile till it kills you. From now on I’ll use you for my entertainment. Yes, laugh at you, when you’re irritable.’
‘Has it come to this?’ Cassius threw himself down on to his cushion.
Neither spoke for a minute then Brutus broke the silence. ‘You say you’re a better soldier. Show it then. Make good your boasting and I’ll be well pleased. As for myself I’ll be happy to learn from such a good soldier.’
‘You’re wronging me in every way. You’re wronging me, Brutus. I said a more experienced soldier, not a better. Did I say better?’
‘I don’t care what you said.’
‘When Caesar was alive he wouldn’t have dared upset me like this,’ said Cassius.
‘Hush, hush, you wouldn’t have dared tempt him.’
‘I wouldn’t have?’
‘Not dared tempt him?’
‘Not on your life.’
‘Don’t presume too much on our friendship,’ said Cassius. ‘I may do something I’ll regret.’
‘You’ve already done things that you should regret. There is no terror in your threats, Cassius. Because I’m so protected by my principles that they pass by me like a small breeze that I don’t even notice. I sent to you for some money, because I can’t raise money dishonestly, which you denied me. I’d rather sell my heart and drain my blood for drachmas than extort cash from hard-working peasants by crooked dealing. I sent to you for money to pay my troops and you denied me. Was that done like Cassius? Would I have treated Caius Cassius like that? When Marcus Brutus gets so greedy that he would deny money to his friends then the gods had better be ready with all their thunderbolts and strike him down.’
‘I didn’t deny you,’ said Cassius.’
‘I did not. The messenger who brought you my answer was an idiot. Brutus has broken my heart. A friend should tolerate his friend’s weaknesses, but Brutus makes mine greater than they are.’
‘I don’t until you force them on me.’
‘You don’t love me.’ Cassius was almost in tears.
‘I don’t like your faults.’
‘A friend’s eye would never see such faults.’
‘A flatterer wouldn’t, even though they might appear as huge as high Olympus.’
Cassius shook his head sadly. ‘Come Antony and young Octavius, come. Revenge yourselves on Cassius alone; because Cassius is tired of this world, hated by one he loves; defied by his brother; rebuked like a slave; all his faults observed, written down in a notebook, learnt off by heart, to throw at me. Oh I could weep my soul from my eyes.’ He drew his dagger out and offered it to Brutus. ‘Here is my dagger, and here’s my naked breast.’ He opened the front of his shirt. ‘In here there is a heart, richer than Pluto’s mine, richer than gold. If you are a Roman, take it. I who denied you gold will give you my heart. Strike, as you did at Caesar, because I know that when you hated him most, you loved him better than you ever loved Cassius.’
‘Sheathe your dagger,’ said Brutus. ‘You can be angry whenever you want to be; it will go unchecked. Do whatever you like; I’ll take every dishonour as no more than a bad mood. Oh Cassius, you’re like a lamb that shows its anger like a flint to light a fire. When roused up it gives a quick spark then gets cold again.’
‘Has Cassius lived his whole life just to be an amusement to his Brutus when unhappiness and a bad temper trouble him?’ said Cassius.
‘When I said that I was bad tempered too,’ said Brutus.
‘Are you admitting that?’ said Cassius. ‘Give me your hand.’
They stood up and embraced each other. ‘And my heart, too,’ said Brutus.
‘Oh Brutus,’ sighed Cassius.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Haven’t you got enough love to tolerate me when that rash moodiness that I inherited from my mother makes me forget myself?’
‘Of course, Cassius, and from now on, when you get like that with your Brutus, he’ll take it that it’s your mother raving, and just let you get on with it’.
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