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JOSEPHINE TEY
WRITING AS GORDON DAVIOT

THE MOTHER OF MASÉ

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A PLAY IN ONE ACT

First Published in Leith Sands and Other Short Plays, Duckworth, 1946

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan

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                    CHARACTERS

                         In order of appearance

                          YOHEB.
                          HETSHEPSUT.
                          LADY-IN-WAITING.
                          MASÉ.
                          ARON.

A first-floor terrace in Thebes, about the year 1500 B.C. Although it
is part of one of the palaces of the Eighteenth Dynasty it might, to
look at, be the terrace of any modern block of luxury flats. The
parapet, running along the back and overlooking an unseen courtyard
below, is punctuated with small green trees in tubs. Right, the jutting
wall of the house, with a door giving on to the terrace. Left, two
pillars supporting the second storey, but giving free access to the rest
of the terrace, which continues away to the left out of sight.

By the parapet are bench-like seats; and immediately down from it a
table, with, right of it, a chair. Working at the table is YOHEB, a
still, dark woman of middle age. She is goffering a pile of
transparently fine linen garments. The linen is heaped in a basket, and
her goffering irons are heated in a small brazier by her side.

Over everything is the clear Egyptian light.

Enter from the doorway HETSHEPSUT, ruling princess of Egypt, followed
by a very young LADY-IN-WAITING. HETSHEPSUT is one of those
good-natured, handsome, managing women who are dressed by the best
houses and continue to ruin their couturier's work by hanging and
pinning on themselves irrelevant but favoured possessions. The kind of
woman whose handbag is invariably a shapeless reticule containing
everything but a Bradshaw. Her wig is brilliant, beautifully curled, but
very faintly out of the plumb; and the general effect of her very lovely
clothes is one of vague untidiness. A woman, in fact, too full of other
interests, and too sure in any case of her abundant charm, to care what
she looks like.

At the moment she is carrying an armful of freshly cut flowers. She is
talking as she comes, so that one hears her approach some distance away.
As she comes in, YOHEB pauses in her work to give an automatic
obeisance.

  HET.: [Hailing YOHEB] Ah, good morning, Yoheb! [To the
LADY-IN-WAITING] Take the flowers, child, and begin the garland. I shall
come presently. [Indicating the farther terrace] There is a table over
there. [As the girl goes] And use a little taste as well as industry!
[To the world at large] A good child, but without the light of the
spirit. [Moving over to YOHEB] How are you this morning, Yoheb?

  YOHEB.: [With the impersonal glance of long intimacy] It is a strange
thing how your highness makes a good piece of goffering look like a rag
in fifteen minutes.

  HET.: It is hot in the garden, even so early. And anyhow, what do
clothes matter? [Subsiding thankfully on to the chair] It is good to
be in the garden again, after a week of the Council Chamber. What fools
men are when they get together! They would sacrifice a province for the
sake of scoring off a rival in debate.

  YOHEB.: [Goffering with detachment] They are all as some woman made
them.

  HET.: I refuse to believe that any woman made the Chief Secretary. He
is merely Stupidity become visible. As for the High Priest . . .! Oh,
well! [Dismissing them] They can annoy their wives for the rest of the
month. [As the comfortable silence settles about them; calmly] Where
is he this morning, Yoheb? [She has not accented the pronoun. "He" is
obviously their chief interest and normal subject of conversation.]

  YOHEB.: [With a slight backward movement of her head, which indicates
that the affair is taking place somewhere below] He is playing
hand-ball with the Chamberlain's sons. [After a short pause] He will
come in presently to say that he has won.

  HET.: [Answering some unspoken criticism] It is good to win!

  YOHEB.: But not to boast about it.

  HET.: What is troubling you this morning, Yoheb?

  YOHEB.: He is.

  HET.: [Unbelieving] Masé! [Quickly] He's not ill, is he?

  YOHEB.: [Reassuring] No, highness, no.

  HET.: Well, then! You know very well that Masé has never given us a
moment's care since that day I found him among the reeds. [Reminiscent,
amused] Red with crying and very angry. It was hot in that little box.
Fifteen years, Yoheb; and never a bad moment. Would that all adoptions
turned out so well! And now you fret yourself into a sweat on a hot
morning because he likes to win games.

  YOHEB.: No one boasts who is master of himself. He is not a child any
longer, to need praise from others.

  HET.: [Conceding] Perhaps his stammer keeps him backward a little. We
might consult the doctors about him, if they were not a pack of fools.

  YOHEB.: It is not magic he needs, but a new life.

  HET.: Oh, well; next year he will be sixteen and of age, and we can
marry him to some nice girl. That will be interesting for him.

  YOHEB.: It might be wiser to wait.

  HET.: [In a new voice; simply] Are you disappointed in your son,
Yoheb? [She means: In what I have made of your son.]

  YOHEB.: No, highness, no. But I am—anxious. [With a simplicity to
match her mistress's; as one woman to another] I think we have spoiled
him, between us.

  HET.: [Recovering her poise] You think I have spoiled him, 'm?
Well, perhaps I have. Does it matter so much? He is happy; he is
charming; he has a head full of learning, a good ear for music, and a
good eye for the bow; he is mightily handsome and sufficiently popular.
What more do you want him to be?

  YOHEB.: I should like him to be a man. [Tentatively] It would be a
good thing, perhaps, if he were to be sent away.

  HET.: [Amazed and a little indignant] Sent away from Thebes? From me!
[More kindly] Away from you, Yoheb?

  YOHEB.: But for the grace of Yahveh and your highness's charity I would
not have had him these fifteen years. When I put him out on the
river-bank I had not hoped for happiness like that. Who am I that I
should keep him now from a wider life beyond the Court?

  HET.: So you want to put him out on the river-bank again—all for his
own good? Well, perhaps he has been too long at Court. A little travel
would do him no harm. There is an embassy going to Kadesh next month; he
might go with that. Embassies are very broadening for the mind—if a
little hard on the stomach. And he would have a pleasant time.

  YOHEB.: [A little more dryly than she had intended] Yes, he would
have a pleasant time.

  HET.: [Annoyed] You, then, you suggest something, since you are so
anxious to see him go.

  YOHEB.: [Calmly, but not finding it easy now that it has come to the
point] The King is sending an expedition to Nubia. It might be a good
thing if he were to see some service.

  HET.: Go to the war!

  YOHEB.: Go with the army.

  HET.: I won't hear of it! [As YOHEB says nothing] Have you spoken
of this to him?

  YOHEB.: No, highness.

  HET.: I forbid you to mention it.

  YOHEB.: Yes, highness.

  HET.: I forbid you even to hint at it. An outrageous suggestion! Have I
trained the boy in every princely talent to have a Nubian arrow bring it
all to nothing! And you; how can you stand there calmly and propose to
send him into danger?

  YOHEB.: I sent him away once before, when he was less able to take care
of himself.

  HET.: But that was to save him from greater danger; from massacre. This
is wanton!

  YOHEB.: He will not be killed. I know that in my heart. He will be a
great prince, my son. But not until he can stand up in the light and
look men and gods in the face. In Nubia he will not be any longer Masé,
prince of Egypt. He will be no better than his own right arm, and his
own will. And when he finds that these don't fail him, he will find
himself. That is worth some danger—and some lying awake of nights.

  HET.: [Considering her] And I thought that I loved him! [Her mind
going from YOHEB'S spiritual characteristics to her physical ones] I
think sometimes that he grows very like you, Yoheb. It is a wonder that
he doesn't notice.

  YOHEB.: One doesn't see the people one lives with.

  HET.: And he still has never asked about his parentage?

  YOHEB.: Never, highness.

  HET.: That is strange, isn't it? He must be curious.

  YOHEB.: I think he takes it for granted that if you knew, highness, you
would have told him.

  HET.: You have been a faithful servant to me, Yoheb. And I should like
to do something for you. If the boy ever asks, shall we tell him the
truth?

  YOHEB.: [Instantly; shocked] No! No, highness.

  HET.: But you would be quite safe now. My father is dead, and no one in
these days would prosecute you for having kept your child alive. Even if
they did, you have my protection. I am Egypt now—whatever my husband
may say.

  YOHEB.: I wasn't thinking of myself. Not that way, at least.

  HET.: As for Masé, we have never made any secret of his Hebrew blood.
It would be no shock to him.

  YOHEB.: Who knows? We are a very poor family; very undistinguished, as
your highness is aware. He may have pictured finer things for himself.
There are prosperous people even among the Hebrews.

  HET.: Hezron the banker, for instance? Dripping with money and bloated
with good living? Don't you think that any boy would be proud of a
mother who risked her life to keep him alive? Who left her home and her
family so that after all he might not be brought up by strangers? [As
YOHEB does not speak] Is it possible that you don't want the boy to
know?

  YOHEB.: There is nothing I want less, highness.

  HET.: But it is I who would be the loser, once he knew. If I don't
mind, why should you?

  YOHEB.: He loves me now. But he loves me for what I am: the woman who
taught him how to lace his first outdoor shoes, the woman who binds his
cut finger and holds his head when he is sick. I could not bear to see
him look at me differently; as if I were a stranger, perhaps. It
would—

  HET.: But—but have you thought of him? You say he lacks confidence,
that he doesn't know how to deal with the world. It might be a happier
thing to know one's parents than to think of oneself as a waif.

  YOHEB.: [Unhappily; considering it] Yes, there is that. But I
couldn't. I couldn't face losing the love I have from him now; and
having nothing to put in its place, perhaps. I would do much for him,
but not that. Let us not even think of it, highness. Please, highness,
if I have served you in anything, let me have your word that you will
never—

  HET.: [Soothing] Very well, Yoheb, very well. He shall not know; if
that is how you would have it. [Briskly resuming the former subject]
But I forbid you to mention going to the war to him.

  YOHEB.: [In a toneless submission that does not hide her opinion]
Yes, highness.

  HET.: [Unable to bear the unspoken criticism; airily] If the subject
is to be brought up at all, it is for me to speak of it.

  YOHEB.: [Carefully ignoring any capitulation] Yes, highness.

  HET.: If he wanted very much to go, that might be different. Something
might be arranged. But only to the base, of course.

  YOHEB.: Yes, highness.

   HETSHEPSUT, becoming aware of the two of them and their solemn
      farce, utters a short bark of a laugh.

  HET.: [In grim amusement] Women! I thought that men were fools, but
they are not fools enough to hurt themselves. [In business-like tones,
as the memory comes back to her; and glad enough to carry the war into
YOHEB'S country] Talking of women, I hear that daughter of yours has
been making a fool of herself again.

  YOHEB.: Miriam was always headstrong.

  HET.: [Feeling that "headstrong" does not meet the case at all] But,
preaching sedition in the market-place! Can't Aron do something to stop
her? A nice sensible creature! He will lose his very good post in the
Office of Works if she goes on like this. What ails her?

  YOHEB.: Well, you see, highness, there is a prophecy among my people.

  HET.: Prophecies are two for a groat.

  YOHEB.: It is foretold that after four hundred years we should leave
Egypt and go back to Syria.

  HET.: What, all of you!

  YOHEB.: Yes, highness, every one. And the four hundred years are nearly
up.

  HET.: And what power is going to make Hezron the banker join with Shimi
the bricklayer in a jaunt to Syria?

  YOHEB.: The prophecy says that when the time comes a leader will come
too; to unite the people. That is what moves Miriam. She says that the
Hebrews must be prepared, for at any moment now the man whose destiny it
is to lead them will appear.

  HET.: Don't tell me you believe such nonsense!

   But the end of the sentence is lost in the arrival of MASÉ, who
      comes in, breathless and radiant, from the terrace, left; the
      stitched leather ball he has been playing with still in his hand.

  MASÉ.: I've won!

   MASÉ is everything that HETSHEPSUT has claimed for him; he is also
      everything that YOHEB said he was. His remark is addressed to
      YOHEB, but now he catches sight of the princess, sitting in the
      chair beyond.

  MASÉ.: Mother! [He goes to her, pleased. Greeting her] How good to
find you here! I haven't seen you for an age. Five days—six days? How
was the Council?

  HET.: Much as usual. You must come to the next, I think. It is time you
took an interest in affairs.

  MASÉ.: Oh, I am never going to be a man of affairs. I shall lead a nice
quiet life writing your letters for you, and [with a light caress to
take any sting from the words] being thankful that I am not your heir,
princess. I should hate speechifying—

  HET.: There is no need to "speechify"—

  MASÉ.: And I lose my temper when I am contradicted, and that is fatal
in a statesman.

  YOHEB.: [Goffering] One could, of course, learn to keep one's temper.

   He makes a face at her.

  HET.: But since you obviously cannot make a career of writing my
letters—

  MASÉ.: Why not? I make up much better lies than you do.

  HET.: —we must find a medium for you.

  MASÉ.: [Lightly; anxious to shelve the subject] If it is all the same
to you, I should like to be a charioteer.

  HET.: The professionals might object.

  MASÉ.: Then, failing that, a flute-player.

  HET.: Have I raised you in all the wisdom of the ages to have you
joining a concert party? [Seriously] The Prime Minister was suggesting
yesterday that you might make one of his staff for a little, and learn
something about administration.

  MASÉ.: [With seeming irrelevance] I have just been playing with
Senmut's nephew. [It is obvious that Senmut is the Prime Minister] He
is going with the first draft to Nubia to-morrow.

  HET.: Oh? [Avoiding YOHEB'S eye] I—er—suppose you wouldn't like
to go with him?

  MASÉ.: Go with him! To the war? [Ecstatic] Oh, that would be
glorious! [Surprised] Would you let me go? [Punctured] But I should
be no g-good as a soldier. I d-don't know anything ab-bout it; and I
should stammer when it came to command.

  HET.: But you just tell the under-officers to do what they usually do.
That is all being in the army is.

  MASÉ.: In peace, perhaps. But n-not in battle. One would have to be
sure, then; and quick. I should be no good. I should only disgrace
myself; and you. You had better allow me to write your letters, beloved.

  YOHEB.: The princess might let you go as an ordinary soldier; without a
command.

  MASÉ.: Don't be ridiculous, Yoheb. Of course I couldn't go as an
ordinary soldier!

  HET.: [With a glance at YOHEB, who refuses to meet her eye] Well.
That seems to be that. We must . . . [Her eye going on from YOHEB to
the distant LADY-IN-WAITING, and horror invading her countenance as
she takes in the enormity of LADY-IN-WAITING'S handiwork] No, no,
no, child! [Rising as her voice rises; in anyone but the majesty of
Egypt it would be a yell] Not the marigolds! [To the others] A
sweet child, but gods and gods! what a fool! [She rushes out to the
rescue.]

  YOHEB.: [After a pause, to MASÉ lounging beside her] You had better
change that tunic, hadn't you? It must be damp after your game.

  MASÉ.: [Not moving; in a new voice, unconsciously more intimate than
the tone he has used to the princess] Yoheb, do you think perhaps they
let me win?

  YOHEB.: [Matter-of-factly] Why should they?

  MASÉ.: Because I am the prince.

  YOHEB.: Don't you play well?

  MASÉ.: Yes, I suppose so.

  YOHEB.: Well, then.

  HET.: [Off] Use a little common sense, my dear sweet child; and a
modicum of taste.

  MASÉ.: [Watching her; amused] She is lovely, isn't she?

  YOHEB.: Who? Nini?

  MASÉ.: No. My mother.

  YOHEB.: [After a moment] You love the princess very dearly, don't
you?

  MASÉ.: [As who should say: What a silly question] Of course.

  YOHEB.: [Feeling like someone stepping into the sea for the first
time, and not knowing how deep it was] Have you ever wondered about
your own mother?

  MASÉ.: [Airily] Oh, I know all about that.

  YOHEB.: [Astounded] You know!

  MASÉ.: It was a clever idea, the box in the reeds, wasn't it!

  YOHEB.: [At a loss for words] Well, I . . . It seemed the obvious
thing at the time, I suppose.

  MASÉ.: [Rather pleased to have surprised her] Did you really believe
that I should not hear the Court gossip? Or that I could look in a
mirror and not see the foreigner in my face? The very shape of my bones
is Syrian. Did you know my father?

  YOHEB.: Did I know whom?

  MASÉ.:The Syrian prince my mother loved. She must have loved him
greatly to risk a scandal for his sake. Did you know him, Yoheb?

  YOHEB.: [Slowly] No. No.

  MASÉ.: But you were there when I was born, weren't you?

  YOHEB.: Yes, I was there.

  MASÉ.: And he didn't come to see me? Or to see my mother?

  YOHEB.: No Syrian prince came to your cradle, my son.

  MASÉ.: Of course, being a hostage, he might not have been free. And
there was the scandal to avoid. Very neatly it was avoided too, wasn't
it? Finding me on the river-bank! Not that it fooled anyone, but it did
make things easier, I suppose. And the trouble about the Hebrews'
children gave someone the idea. Whose idea was it: the chest of papyrus
and the finding in the reeds?

  YOHEB.: It was mine.

  MASÉ.: What! Well, who would have thought that my staid, upright,
stolid Yoheb had such guile in her! I shall remember that next time you
preach behaviour to me.

  YOHEB.: [Not knowing whether she is glad or sorry that the subject is
settled for her] You had better change that tunic.

  MASÉ.: [Not listening] And here, if I am not mistaken, comes your
staid, upright, stolid son. [They watch the arrival of someone on the
farther terrace] I like Aron. You have a nice family, Yoheb. How did
anything so attractive come out of a worthless race like the Hebrews?

   Before YOHEB can answer, HETSHEPSUT comes back with ARON in
      tow. ARON is handsome, dignified, intelligent, and grown-up.
      Indeed, though still a young man he has been grown-up for a long
      time. He has neither the temperament nor the doubts that make
      MASÉ such a problem to himself and to his elders. If his normal
      self-confidence is a little impaired at the moment, the fact is
      hardly apparent.

  HET.: Look! I've brought you a visitor, Yoheb.

  MASÉ.: Good morning, Aron.

  ARON.: [With an obeisance] Good morning, highness.

  YOHEB.: How are you, my son?

  MASÉ.: Aron, will you show me again how you get that backhand stroke?

  ARON.: Surely, highness. With pleasure.

  HET.: What is all this I hear about Miriam? Have you no control over
her? She really must not be allowed to make a fool of herself in public,
or she will get you all into trouble.

  ARON.: It was about Miriam that I came. [He pauses, uncertain.]

  HET.: Yes?

  ARON.: [Looking from one to the other and playing for time; he has not
expected to run into HETSHEPSUT] It is all very difficult. She has
visions, you see, highness . . .

  HET.: Well, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with visions. Very
good and commendable things in their proper place. But this public
agitating—it must stop, Aron.

  ARON.: I wish I knew what to do. Could I, with your gracious highness's
permission, speak to my mother alone?

  HET.: Nonsense! Your mother's family has been mine for fifteen years.
And if it is about Miriam it is practically public business. So let us
hear what is worrying you.

  ARON.: [Comforting himself] Well, your highness would hear it sooner
or later, I suppose. It is like this, highness. Miriam had one of her
turns last night. A bad one. And the results are likely to be
embarrassing.

  HET.: It is no doubt epilepsy or something of the sort. I shall send a
doctor to see her to-day. They are all fools, so it is not likely that
he will cure her, but he will take the responsibility from your
shoulders. So don't worry about it, my good Aron. No one shall blame you
or your family.

  ARON.: [Beginning to get desperate] Your highness doesn't understand.
[Beginning again] Your highness knows, perhaps, that my sister
preaches the coming of a deliverer for the Hebrews. [HET. assents.]
Very well; last night she had a vision, or says she had, and in the
vision it was revealed to her who the leader of our people is to be.

  HET.: And who is it? [Hopefully] Not Hezron the banker, I suppose? I
would almost pay her a pension to embarrass that man.

  ARON.: No, highness. Not Hezron.

  HET.: Who, then?

   MASÉ has half turned to throw the ball he is holding to someone in
      the courtyard below. ARON turns his head slowly to look at him,
      and makes a helpless gesture in his direction.

  YOHEB.: [Quicker to understand than HETSHEPSUT; instantly
repudiating] No!

                                                   [HETSHEPSUT stares.

  MASÉ.: [Turning back from the parapet] Who is it to be, Aron?

  ARON.: [After a moment's pause] My youngest brother, highness.

  MASÉ.: [Lightly] That savours of nepotism, doesn't it? A truly
Hebrew sin: keeping it in the family. [Seeing YOHEB'S face, and
putting an arm across her shoulders in careless affection] Don't mind,
Yoheb. Nothing will come of it. [To ARON] I didn't know you had a
brother. [He is not greatly interested.]

  ARON.: He left home when he was very young, highness.

  MASÉ.: [To YOHEB, giving her a friendly squeeze] That was when you
came to us, 'm? Well, I am glad that Miriam's choice fell on him and not
on you, Aron. I should hate to see you made into a figurehead for a
rabble.

  ARON.: [Stung by "rabble"] If the time were to come, I should make a
better job of it than my brother.

  HET.: [Her political sense alert even now] If the time came!
[Coldly] Do I understand that you consider it a possibility?

  ARON.: My sister's visions may be dreams, highness, but the whips on
the backs of the Hebrew labourers are real enough.

  HET.: But it is Hebrews who do the whipping.

  ARON.: To please Egyptian masters.

  MASÉ.: Senmut says that a Hebrew would flog his grandmother for a
groat.

  ARON.: [Restraining himself; he has not meant to make that remark
about being a better leader than MASÉ] The Prime Minister has a
weakness for a phrase.

  HET.: If you read a little history, my good Aron, you would know that
there was no cruelty in Egypt until you Syrians brought it with you. It
is a little late to be righteous about it. However, for Egypt's good I
shall cause inquiry to be made. In the meantime, Miriam's tongue must be
stopped. You understand? [The last phrase is a warning rather than a
question; authority might ignore the vague prophecies of a madwoman, but
the adopted son of the Princess of Egypt must on no account be
compromised.]

  ARON.: Does your highness propose to cut it out? [As HETSHEPSUT
pauses to examine his tone, not sure whether there is offence in it or
not; smoothly] No one deplores the unsuitability of Miriam's visions
more than your servant, gracious highness, but I have no power over her.
She is possessed. Nothing but death would ever silence her.

  YOHEB.: [In appeal to HETSHEPSUT] Highness . . .

  HET.: Be assured, Yoheb. There is no question of that. Some other means
must be found.

  ARON.: My brother might be sent away.

  YOHEB.: Yes.

  ARON.: There would be no following for an absent leader. Even Miriam
might lose heart—

  HET.: Yes, that might be wise.

  MASÉ.: It is a little sad for your brother to be bundled out of Egypt
just because Miriam wants to be sister to a hero! I take it that he
has no yearnings to unite Israel?

  ARON.: [Growing frayed] There is no saying what folly he might
commit.

  YOHEB.: [Warning] Aron!

  ARON.: It is a heady thing to speak for a people. Even your highness
might one day show an interest in the Hebrews.

  MASÉ.: No. They don't wash enough.

  ARON.: They lack your highness's scented baths.

  MASÉ.: So do my people, most of them; but they find water enough.

  ARON.: Your people—highness?

  MASÉ.: The Egyptians. We wash, my dear Aron; rich or poor. I could
never be sorry for a dirty skin.

  ARON.: [Who, what with MIRIAM and her misplaced revelations, is
rapidly finding life not worth living; furious] And is your own skin
become so thick, highness, that no Hebrew blood shows through?

  MASÉ.: [Taken aback] I think you are being insolent. And if what you
say has any meaning, I fail to understand it.

  HET.: [Her mind divided between ARON'S unexpected bad manners and
MASÉ'S Egyptian boastings] What is all this about Egyptian—

  YOHEB.: [Interposing hastily, in warning] His highness has heard
Court gossip that your highness is his mother.

  HET.: [Not realising how much is involved] They give me too much
credit.

  MASÉ.: [After a staggered pause] You mean that you are not my
mother? [As HETSHEPSUT'S face, losing its smile now that the
seriousness of the situation is becoming apparent, makes it obvious that
she is not] You mean that I was truly a foundling? [As the thing
begins to come home to him] A Hebrew brat? [HET. begins to speak,
but he turns to YOHEB, accusing] But you said you were there! You
said it was you who thought of the box . . . [Before he has finished
the word "box" the implication is clear to him; in a dull voice] Oh.
[Looking from one to another, and, because each of the three is
momentarily at a loss, for once dominating them] Did you have to lie to
me?

  HET.: No one lied to you, my dear.

  MASÉ.: [Overriding her attempt to speak] Why could I not have been
told! Did it please you to see me making a fool of myself? Playing the
prince—

  HET.: [Determined that he shall listen] Be reasonable, darling! Yoheb
could have been put to death for having kept you alive. That was
ample—

  MASÉ.: Why did she? Aren't there enough Hebrew brats in Egypt? [To
ARON] And you. I suppose you have been enjoying me for a long time.
[Mimicking ARON'S respectful voice] "Your highness knows best"; "As
your highness wishes"; "Delighted, your highness, any time".

  ARON.: I have never mocked you, even in my mind. No, nor envied you. If
I have spent emotion on you, it was to be sorry that so much glory was
hung on so poor a frame. If the rest of Israel cannot wear prosperity
any better than that, they had best remain in bondage. [To HETSHEPSUT,
hurriedly] Forgive me, gracious highness, for anything I may have
said, and permit me to leave your presence. [Exit.]

  MASÉ.: [Viciously] It is to be hoped that his brother has more charm,
or he will do little with the sons of Israel. [Struck by a new
thought] I suppose he has a brother?

  YOHEB.: Only you, my son.

   MASÉ utters a short, unamused laugh.

  MASÉ.: Does Miriam really believe that I would lead the Hebrews in a
revolution?

  YOHEB.: [Quiet and dry] If she does, she is going to be disappointed.
So far, you are incapable of leading a half-company of mercenaries to
Nubia.

  HET.: [Kindly] Let him be, Yoheb. He has had enough for the moment.

  YOHEB.: This is the moment, highness. [To MASÉ] Who are you to
despise the Hebrews? The very poorest of them is more to be reverenced
than you. There is not one of them but takes his few pence with
courage—and saves the odd coin for a feast day. What do you know of
courage? It may not be a lovely thing to cart mud for a living, but to
sing at the carting is lovely. To look men and gods in the face and be
glad.

  MASÉ.: Do you want me to carry a hod, perhaps?

  YOHEB.: [Not heeding] I gave you life. Twice I gave you life. The
princess gave you learning and a great place. By some mystery of God you
are a prince of Egypt; and what are you besides? If you are crossed, you
sulk; if you lose a game, you are at the point of death; if your nose
bleeds it is the end of the world.

  HET.: You make too much of it, Yoheb.

  YOHEB.: Perhaps it is I who have bred a weakling. Or perhaps the air of
Courts is thinning to Hebrew blood. If you had worked in the fields or
the brickyards like your fellows, or herded sheep in the desert like
your fathers, you might have grown up, who knows. Might have been master
of yourself and master of men because of it. I only know that in a world
full of danger and challenge and achievement the son I bore proposes to
spend his manhood answering someone else's invitations to supper.

  MASÉ.: [Furious] You think I am a coward?

  YOHEB.: What else?

  HET.: You do the boy injustice, Yoheb.

   But neither is listening to, nor aware of, her. The issue is between
      them, and they have forgotten outsiders.

  MASÉ.: You think I am afraid to go to Nubia, afraid of being killed?

  YOHEB.: Oh, no. Being killed is the last thing you think of. You are
afraid of not being good enough; afraid of new experience; afraid of
responsibility; of being ridiculous; of being hurt; of being left out of
things; of being let in for things, of being—

  MASÉ.: Stop it!

  YOHEB.: —supplanted while you are gone. Is there anything in heaven or
earth that you are not frightened of, my son?

  MASÉ.: Don't call me that! I hate you! I wish you had killed me when
you bore me, as you were ordered to. I shall go to the war, and go
gladly! I shall see Senmut now and he will let me go with the draft
to-morrow. I will show them that the son of sheep-herds can fight as
well as any rice-fed Nile brat. Yes, and die as well! [Spoiling the
effect of this excellent sentiment by a characteristic return to
childishness] And when I am dead perhaps you will all be sorry! [He
rushes out by the door, right.]

  HET.: [Moving as if to follow him, distressed] What have you done!

  YOHEB.: [Calmly] You said that he might go.

  HET.: But not like that! He will do some desperate thing. He will be
killed in that barbarous country.

  YOHEB.: [Restraining her, more by her voice than by her gesture] No,
highness. I have said he will live; and he will come back a man. He will
be a great prince, my son.

   She reaches for the goffering, to pile it into the basket.

   HETSHEPSUT, about to hurry after MASÉ, changes her mind as her
      interest shifts to YOHEB. She stands arrested, looking back at
      her servant, as the curtain falls.

                                CURTAIN


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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