The Frontier

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The Ship
written by John Masefield
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PERSONS
COTTA
LUCIUS
THEIR CHIEF

COTTA
Would God the route would come for home.
My God, this place, day after day,
A month of heavy march from Rome!
This camp, the troopers' huts of clay,
The horses tugging at their pins,
The roaring brook and then the whins
And nothing new to do or say.

LUCIUS
They say the tribes are up.

COTTA
Who knows?

LUCIUS
Our scouts say that they saw their fires.

COTTA
Well, if we fight it's only blows
And bogging horses in the mires.

LUCIUS
Their raiders crossed the line last night,
Eastward from this, to raid the stud,
They stole our old chief's stallion, Kite.
He's in pursuit.

COTTA
That looks like blood.

LUCIUS
Well, better that than dicing here
Beside this everlasting stream.

COTTA
My God, I was in Rome last year,
Under the sun, it seems a dream.

LUCIUS
Things are not going well in Rome,
This frontier war is wasting men
Like water, and the Tartars come
In hordes.

COTTA
⁠We beat them back again.

LUCIUS
So far we have, and yet I feel
The Empire is too wide a bow
For one land's strength.

COTTA
The stuff's good steel.

LUCIUS
Too great a strain may snap it though.
If we were ordered home . . .

COTTA
⁠Good Lord . . .

LUCIUS
If . . . Then our friends, the tribesmen there
Would have glad days.

COTTA
This town would flare
To warm old Foxfoot and his horde.

LUCIUS
We have not been forethoughtful here,
Pressing the men to fill the ranks
Centurions sweep the province clear.

COTTA
Rightly.

LUCIUS
⁠Perhaps.

COTTA
We get no thanks.

LUCIUS
We strip the men for troops abroad
And leave the women and the slaves
For merchants and their kind. The graves
Of half each province line the road.
These people could not stand a day
Against the tribes, with us away.

COTTA
Rightly.

LUCIUS
⁠Perhaps.

COTTA
Here comes the Chief.

LUCIUS
Sir, did your riders catch the thief?

CHIEF
No, he got clear and keeps the horse
But bad news always comes with worse.
The frontier's fallen, we're recalled,
Our army's broken, Rome's appalled,
My God, the whole world's in a blaze.
So now, we've done with idle days
Fooling on frontiers. Boot and start.
It gives a strange feel in the heart
To think that this, that Rome has made,
Is done with. Yes, the stock's decayed.
We march at once. You mark my words,
We're done, we're crumbled into sherds,
We shall not see this place again
When once we go.

LUCIUS
⁠Do none remain?

CHIEF
No, none, all march. Here ends the play.
March, and burn camp. The order's gone,
Your men have sent your baggage on.

COTTA
My God! Hark how the trumpets bray!

CHIEF
They do. You see the end of things.
The power of a thousand kings
Helped us to this, and now the power
Is so much hay that was a flower.

LUCIUS
We have been very great and strong.

CHIEF
That's over now.

LUCIUS
⁠It will be long
Before the world will see our like.

CHIEF
We've kept these thieves beyond the dyke
A good long tune, here on the Wall.

LUCIUS
Colonel, we ought to sound a call
To mark the end of this.

CHIEF
We ought.
Look. There's the hill top where we fought
Old Foxfoot. Look, there in the whin.
Old ruffian knave! Come on! Fall in!


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