Soon after this unpleasant little discovery, a far more serious event occurred. Pothinus the eunuch, Achillas, the Egyptian commander of the army, and Theodotus, a "rhetoric teacher," whose real business was to spin, not words, but court intrigues, had plotted together to place the young King Ptolemaeus in sole power. The conspiracy ran its course. There was a rising of the "Macedonian" guard at the palace, a gathering of citizens in the squares of the capital, culminating in bloody riots and proclamations declaring the king vested with the only supreme power. Hot on the heels of this announcement it was bruited around the city that Cleopatra had escaped safely to Palestine, where, in due time, she would doubtless be collecting an army at the courts of Hyrcanus, the Jewish prince, and other Syrian potentates, to return and retake the crown.
 Macedonian it is needless to say was a mere name. The Graeco-Egyptian soldiery and citizen body of Alexandria probably had hardly a drop of Macedonian blood in their veins.
Alexandria was accustomed to such dynastic disruptions. The rioting over, the people were ready to go back to the paper and linen factories, and willing to call Ptolemaeus the "Son of Ra," or "King," until his sister should defeat him in battle. Cornelia grieved that Cleopatra should thus be forced into exile. She had grown more and more intimate with the queen. The first glamour of Cleopatra's presence had worn away. Cornelia saw her as a woman very beautiful, very wilful, gifted with every talent, yet utterly lacking that moral stability which would have been the crown of a perfect human organism. The two women had grown more and more in friendship and intimacy; and when Cornelia studied in detail the dark, and often hideous, coils and twistings of the history of the Hellenistic royal families, the more vividly she realized that Cleopatra was the heiress of generations of legalized license, of cultured sensuality, of veneered cruelty, and sheer blood-thirstiness. Therefore Cornelia had pitied, not blamed, the queen, and, now that misfortune had fallen upon her, was distressed for the plight of Cleopatra.
 As, for instance, the repeated wedlock of brothers and sisters among the Ptolemies.
That Cornelia had been an intimate of the queen was perfectly well known in Alexandria. In fact, Cleomenes himself was of sufficiently high rank to make any guest he might long entertain more or less of a public personage. Cornelia was a familiar sight to the crowds, as she drove daily on the streets and attended the theatre. Cleomenes began to entertain suspicions that the new government was not quite pleased to leave such a friend of Cleopatra's at liberty; and Agias took pains to discover that Pratinas was deep in the counsels of the virtual regent—Pothinus. But Cornelia scoffed at any suggestions that it might be safer to leave the city and join Artemisia in the retreat up the Nile. She had taken no part whatsoever in Egyptian politics, and she was incapable of assisting to restore Cleopatra. As for the possible influence of Pratinas in court, it seemed to her incredible that a man of his caliber could work her any injury, save by the dagger and poison cup. That an ignoble intriguer of his type could influence the policy of state she refused to believe.
Thus it came to pass that Cornelia had only herself to thank, when the blow, such as it was, fell. The eunuch prime minister knew how to cover his actions with a velvet glove. One evening a splendidly uniformed division of Macedonian guard, led by one of the royal somatophylakes, came with an empty chariot to the house of Cleomenes. The request they bore was signed with the royal seal, and was politeness itself. It overflowed with semi-Oriental compliment and laudation; but the purport was clear. On account of the great danger in the city to foreigners from riots—ran the gist of the letter—and the extremely disturbed condition of the times, the king was constrained to request Cornelia and Fabia to take up their residence in the palace, where they could receive proper protection and be provided for in a princely manner, as became their rank.
 Commanders of the body-guard.
Cornelia had enough wisdom to see that only by taking the letter for the intentions written on its face could she submit to the implied command without loss of dignity. She had much difficulty in persuading Fabia to yield; for the Vestal was for standing on her Roman prerogatives and giving way to nothing except sheer force. But Cleomenes added his word, that only harm would come from resistance; and the two Roman ladies accompanied the escort back to the palace. It was not pleasant to pass into the power of a creature like Pothinus, even though the smooth-faced eunuch received his unwilling guests with Oriental salaams and profuse requests to be allowed to humour their least desires. But the restraint, if such it can be called, could hardly take a less objectionable form. Monime and Berenice, as ladies whose father was known as a merchant prince of colourless politics, were allowed free access to their friends at the palace. Young Ptolemaeus, who was a dark-eyed and, at bottom, dark-hearted youth, completely under the thumb of Pothinus, exerted himself, after a fashion, to be agreeable to his visitors; but he was too unfavourable a contrast to his gifted sister to win much grace in Cornelia's eyes. Agias, who was living with Cleomenes, nominally for the purpose of learning the latter's business, preparatory to becoming a partner on capital to come from his predatory cousin, as a matter of fact spent a great part of his time at the palace also, dancing attendance upon his Roman friends. Pratinas, indeed, was on hand, not really to distress them, but to vex by the mere knowledge of his presence. Cornelia met the Greek with a stony haughtiness that chilled all his professions of desire to serve her and to renew the acquaintance formed at Rome. Agias had discovered that Pratinas had advised Pothinus to keep his hands on the ladies, especially on Cornelia, because whichever side of the Roman factions won, there were those who would reward suitably any who could deliver her over to them. From this Cornelia had to infer that the defeat of the Caesarians meant her own enthralment to her uncle and Lucius Ahenobarbus. Such a contingency she would not admit as possible. She was simply rendered far more anxious. Pratinas had given up seeking Drusus's life, it was clear; his interest in the matter had ended the very instant the chance to levy blackmail on Ahenobarbus had disappeared. Pratinas, in fact, Agias learned for her, was never weary ridiculing the Roman oligarchs, and professing his disgust with them; so Cornelia no longer had immediate cause to fear him, though she hated him none the less.
After all, Pratinas thrust himself little upon her. He had his own life to live, and it ran far apart from hers. Perhaps it was as well for Cornelia that she was forced to spend the winter and ensuing months in the ample purlieus of the palace. If living were but the gratification of sensuous indolence, if existence were but luxurious dozing and half-waking, then the palace of the Ptolemies were indeed an Elysium, with its soft-footed, silent, swift, intelligent Oriental servants; rooms where the eye grew weary of rare sculpture or fresco; books drawn from the greatest library in the world—the Museum close at hand; a broad view of the blue Mediterranean, ever changing and ever the same, and of the swarming harbour and the bustling city; and gardens upon gardens shut off from the outside by lofty walls—some great enclosures containing besides forests of rare trees a vast menagerie of wild beasts, whose roarings from their cages made one think the groves a tropical jungle; some gardens, dainty, secluded spots laid out in Egyptian fashion, under the shade of a few fine old sycamores, with a vineyard and a stone trellis-work in the midst, with arbours and little parks of exotic plants, a palm or two, and a tank where the half-tame water-fowl would plash among the lotus and papyrus plants. In such a nook as this Cornelia would sit and read all the day long, and put lotus flowers in her hair, look down into the water, and, Narcissus-like, fall in love with her own face, and tell herself that Drusus would be delighted that she had not grown ugly since he parted with her.
So passed the winter and the spring and early summer months; and, however hot and parched might be the city under the burning sun, there was coolness and refreshment in the gardens of the palace.
With it all, however, Cornelia began to wax restive. It is no light thing to command one's self to remain quiet in Sybaritic ease. More and more she began to wish that this butterfly existence, this passive basking in the sun of indolent luxury, would come to an end. She commenced again to wish that she were a man, with the tongue of an orator, the sword of a soldier, able to sway senates and to lead legions. Pothinus finally discovered that he was having some difficulty in keeping his cage-bird contented. The eunuch had entertained great expectations of being able to win credit and favour with the conquerors among the Romans by delivering over Cornelia safe and sound either to Lentulus Crus or Quintus Drusus. Now he began to fear that Pratinas had advised him ill; that Cornelia and Fabia were incapable of intriguing in Cleopatra's favour, and by his "protection at the palace" he was only earning the enmity of his noble guests. But it was too late to retrace his steps, and he accordingly plied Cornelia with so many additional attentions, presents, and obsequious flatteries, that she grew heartily disgusted and repined even more over her present situation.
Bad news came, which added to her discomfort. Caesar had been driven from his lines at Dyrrachium. He had lost a great many men. If the Pompeian sources of information were to be believed, he was now really a negligible military factor, and the war was practically over. The tidings fell on Cornelia's soul like lead. She knew perfectly well that the defeat of the Caesarians would mean the death of Quintus Drusus. Her uncle and the Domitii, father and son, would be all powerful, and they never forgave an enmity. As for herself—but she did not think much thereon; if Drusus was slain or executed, she really had very little to live for, and there were many ways of getting out of the world. For the first time since the memorable night of the raid on Baiae, she went about with an aching heart. Fabia, too, suffered, but, older and wiser, comforted Cornelia not so much by what she might say, by way of extending hopes, as by the warm, silent contact of her pure, noble nature. Monime and Berenice were grieved that their friends were so sad, and used a thousand gentle arts to comfort them. Cornelia bore up more bravely because of the sympathy—she did not have to endure her burden alone, as at Rome and Baiae; but, nevertheless, for her the days crept slowly.
And then out of the gloom came the dazzling brightness. A Rhodian merchantman came speeding into the haven with news. "Is Caesar taken?" cried the inquisitive crowd on the quay, as the vessel swung up to her mooring. "Is Pompeius not already here?" came back from the deck. And in a twinkling it was all over the city: in the Serapeium, in the Museum, under the colonnades, in the factories, in the palace. "Pompeius's army has been destroyed. The Magnus barely escaped with his life. Lucius Domitius is slain. Caesar is master of the world!"
Never did the notes of the great water-organ of the palace sound so sweet in any ears as these words in those of the Roman ladies. They bore with complacency a piece of petty tyranny on the part of Pothinus, which at another time they would have found galling indeed. Report had it that Cleopatra had gathered an army in Syria, and the eunuch, with his royal puppet, was going forth to the frontier town of Pelusium, to head the forces that should resist the invasion. Cornelia and Fabia were informed that they would accompany the royal party on its progress to the frontier. Pothinus clearly was beginning to fear the results of his "honourable entertainment," and did not care to have his guests out of his sight. It was vexatious to be thus at his mercy; but Cornelia was too joyous in soul, at that time, to bear the indignity heavily. They had to part with Monime and Berenice, but Agias went with them; and Cornelia sent off another letter to Italy, in renewed hope that the seas would be clear and it would find its way safely to Drusus.
Very luxurious was the progress of the royal party to Pelusium. The king, his escort, and his unwilling guests travelled slowly by water, in magnificent river barges that were fitted with every requisite or ornament that mind of man might ask or think. They crossed the Lake Mareotis, glided along one of the minor outlets of the delta until they reached the Bolbitinic branch of the Nile, then, by canals and natural water-courses, worked their way across to Bubastis, and thence straight down the Pelusiac Nile to Pelusium. And thus it was Cornelia caught glimpses of that strange, un-Hellenized country that stretched away to the southward, tens and hundreds of miles, to Memphis and its pyramids, and Thebes and its temples—ancient, weird, wonderful; a civilization whereof everything was older than human thought might trace; a civilization that was almost like the stars, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. Almost would Cornelia have been glad if the prows of the barges had been turned up the river, and she been enabled to behold with her own eyes the mighty piles of Cheops, Chephren, Mycerinus, Sesostris, Rhampsinitus, and a score of other Pharaohs whose deeds are recorded in stone imperishable. But the barges glided again northward, and Cornelia only occasionally caught some glimpse of a massive temple, under whose huge propylons the priests had chanted their litanies to Pakht or Ptah for two thousand years, or passed some boat gliding with its mourners to the necropolis, there to leave the mummy that was to await the judgment of Osiris. And down the long valley swept the hot winds from the realm of the Pygmies, and from those strange lakes and mountains whence issued the boundless river, which was the life-giver and mother of all the fertile country of Egypt.
Thus with a glimpse, all too short, of the "Black Land," as its native denizens called it, the royal party reached the half-Hellenized town of Pelusium, where the army was in waiting and a most splendid camp was ready for Ptolemaeus and his train. Cleopatra had not yet advanced. The journey was over, and the novelty of the luxurious quarters provided in the frontier fortress soon died away. Cornelia could only possess her soul in patience, and wonder how long it would be before a letter could reach Italy, and the answer return. Where was Drusus? Had aught befallen him in the great battle? Did he think of her? And so, hour by hour, she repeated her questions—and waited.
 "Black" because of the black fertile mud deposited by the inundation.
Cleopatra's forces had not reached proportions sufficient for her to risk an engagement, when a little squadron appeared before Pelusium bearing no less a person than Pompeius himself, who sent ashore to demand, on the strength of former services to the late King Ptolemaeus Auletes, a safe asylum, and assistance to make fresh head against the Caesarians. There was a hurried convening of the council of Pothinus—a select company of eunuchs, amateur generals, intriguing rhetoricians. The conference was long; access to its debates closely guarded. The issue could not be evaded; on the decision depended the reestablishment of the Pompeians in a new and firm stronghold, or their abandonment to further wanderings over the ocean. All Pelusium realized what was at stake, and the excitement ran high.
Cornelia beyond others was agitated by the report of the arrival of the Magnus. Rumour had it that Lucius Lentulus was close behind him. If the council of Pothinus voted to receive the fugitives, her own position would be unhappy indeed. For a time at least she would fall into the power of her uncle and of Lucius Ahenobarbus. She was fully determined, if it was decided to harbour the Pompeians, to try to escape from the luxurious semi-captivity in which she was restrained. She could escape across the frontier to the camp of Cleopatra, where she knew a friendly welcome was in waiting. Agias, ever resourceful, ever anxious to anticipate the slightest wish on the part of the Roman ladies, actually began to bethink himself of the ways and means for a flight. When finally it was announced in the camp and city that Pompeius was to be received as a guest of the king, Cornelia was on the point of demanding of Agias immediate action toward escape.
"In a few days," were her words, "my uncle will be here; and I am undone, if not you also. There is not an hour to lose."
But Agias reasoned otherwise. If Pothinus and Achillas had really consented to receive the Magnus, flight was indeed necessary. Agias, however, had grounds, he thought, for hesitancy. He knew that Achillas, the head of the army, bitterly opposed the idea of letting Pompeius land; he knew, what was almost as much to the point, that Pratinas did not care to renew certain acquaintanceships contracted at Rome. Therefore the young Hellene calmed Cornelia's fears, and waited as best he might.
The council had convened early in the day; the herald went through the squares of Pelusium announcing that Ptolemaeus, "Son of Ra," would receive as his guest the Roman suppliant. The shore fronting the anchorage was covered with the files of the royal army in full array. Several Egyptian men-of-war had been drawn down into the water and their crews were hastening on board. Out in the haven rode the little fleet of the Pompeians. Agias had heard the proclamation, and hurried down to the mole to bear the earliest definite information to his mistress. Presently, out of the throng of officers and court magnates on the quay, stepped Achillas in a splendid panoply of gilded armour, with a purple chiton flowing down from beneath. Beside him, with the firm swinging step of the Roman legionary, strode two other officers in magnificent armour, whom Agias at once recognized as Lucius Septimius, a Roman tribune now in Egyptian service, and a certain Salvius, who had once been a centurion of the Republic. The three advanced on to the quay and stood for a moment at a loss. Agias, who was quite near, could hear their conversation.
"The yacht is not ready for us."
"We cannot delay a moment."
There was a large open boat moored to the quay, a fisher man's craft. In a moment a few subalterns had taken possession of it and there was a call for rowers. Agias, who, like all his race, never declined a chance "to see or hear some new thing," took his seat on one of the benches, and soon the craft shot away from the mole with the three officers in its stern.
It was a short pull to the Pompeian ships; Agias, as he glanced over his shoulder thought he could see a motion on board the vessels as if to sheer away from the boat; but in a moment the little craft was alongside, under the lee of the flagship.
"Where is Pompeius Magnus?" cried Achillas, rising from his seat; "we are sent to carry him to the king."
A martial, commanding figure was seen peering over the side,—a figure that every inhabitant of Rome knew right well.
"I am he; but why do you come thus meanly with only a fisher's boat? Is this honourable, is this worthy of a great king's guest?"
"Assuredly, kyrios," began Achillas, "we are forced to come in this small craft, because the water is too shallow for larger ships to approach the shore."
Agias knew that this was a lie; he was very certain that he was about to be witness to a deed of the darkest treachery. A vague feeling of shrinking and horror froze his limbs, and made his tongue swell in his mouth. Yet he was perfectly powerless to warn; a sign or a word would have meant his instant death.
"Salve, Imperator!" shouted Septimius in Latin, rising in turn. "Don't you remember the campaign I had with you against the pirates?"
The fugitive general's care-worn face lighted up at the recognition of an old officer.
"Eu!" he answered, "I shall not want for good friends, I see! How glad I shall be to grasp your hands! But is not this a very small boat? I see men going on board the galleys by the shore."
"You shall be satisfied in a moment, kyrios," repeated Achillas, with suave assurance, "that the quicksands by the mole are very dangerous to large vessels. Will you do us the honour to come aboard?"
Agias felt as though he must howl, scream, spring into the sea—do anything to break the horrible suspense that oppressed him.
A woman was taking leave of Pompeius on the deck, a tall, stately, patrician lady, with a sweet, trouble-worn face; Agias knew that she was Cornelia Scipionis. She was adjuring her husband not to go ashore, and he was replying that it was impossible to refuse; that if the Egyptians meant evil, they could easily master all the fugitives with their armament. Several of the Magnus's servants came down into the boat—couple of trusted centurions, a valued freedman called Philip, a slave named Scythes. Finally Pompeius tore himself from his wife's arms.
"Do not grieve, all will be well!" were his words, while the boat's crew put out their hands to receive him; and he added, "We must make the best choice of evils. I am no longer my own master. Remember Sophocles's iambics,
"He that once enters at a tyrant's door Becomes a slave, though he were free before.'"
The general seated himself on the stern seat between the Egyptian officers. Agias bent to his oar in sheer relief at finding some way in which to vent his feelings; and tugged at the heavy paddle until its tough blade bent almost to cracking. The silence on the part of the officers was ominous. Not a word, not a hint of recognition, came from Achillas or his Italian associates, from the instant that Pompeius set foot in the boat. The stillness became awkward. The Magnus, flushed and embarrassed, turned to Septimius. "I was not mistaken in understanding that you were my fellow-soldier in years past?" His answer was a surly nod. Pompeius, however, reined his rising feelings, and took up and began to re-read some tablets on which he had written an address in Greek, to be delivered before the king. Agias rowed on with the energy of helpless desperation. They were very close to the quay. A company of the royal body-guard in gala armour stood as if awaiting the distinguished visitor. For a moment the young Hellene believed that Achillas was sincere in his errand.
The boat drew up to the landing; one or two of the rowers sprang to the dock and made her fast. Agias was unshipping his oar. His thought was that he must now contrive the escape of Cornelia. Pompeius half rose from his seat; the boat was pitching in the choppy harbour swell; the general steadied himself by grasping the hands of Philip the freedman. Suddenly, like the swoop of a hawk on its prey, Agias saw the right hand of Septimius tear his short sword from its sheath. A scream broke from the Hellene's lips; before the Magnus could turn his head, the blow was struck. Pompeius received the blade full in the back, and staggered, while Salvius and Achillas likewise drew and thrust at him. Agias gazed on, paralyzed with horror. The general seized his red paludamentum, threw it over his face, groaned once, and fell. Even as he did so Septimius struck him across the neck, decapitating the corpse. The brutal boatmen tore the blood-soaked clothes off of the body, and flung it overboard, to drift ashore with the current. And so it ended with Pompeius Magnus, Imperator, the Fortunate, the favourite general of Sulla, the chieftain of "godlike and incredible virtue," the conquerer of the kingdoms of the East, thrice consul, thrice triumphator, joint ruler with Caesar of the civilized world!
Agias hastened back to Cornelia to tell her that the danger was past, that there was no need of a flight to Cleopatra; but he was sick at heart when he thought of the treachery in which he had shared, albeit so unwillingly.
Bitterness and Joy
Cornelia knew not whether to be merry or to weep when the report of the fate of Pompeius reached her. That she would be delivered up to her uncle was no longer to be dreaded; but into the hands of what manner of men had she herself fallen? Her own life and that of Fabia, she realized, would be snuffed out in a twinkling, by Pothinus and his confederates, the instant they saw in such a deed the least advantage. The splendid life of the court at the garrison city went on; there was an unending round of fetes, contests in the gymnasium and stadium; chariot races; contests of poets and actors for prizes in dramatic art. To the outward eye nothing could be more decorous and magnificent than the pleasures of the Egyptian king. And so some days passed while Cornelia crushed her fears, and waited for the news that she was sure would come—that Caesar was pressing on the tracks of his rival.
Late one afternoon, as the king and his suite were just returned from a visit by boat up the river to inspect a temple under restoration at Sethroe, Agias sought the private apartment of his patroness. His face was extremely grave, and Cornelia at once realized that he brought serious news.
"Domina," he said, speaking in Latin to evade the curiosity of the maids present, "when you are at leisure, I have a curious story to tell you."
Cornelia presently found pretexts to get rid of all her women. Agias reconnoitred, made certain that there was no eavesdropper, and began afresh.
"What I have to say is so different from that which we feared a few days since, that I scarce know how you will receive it. I have just learned that your uncle Lucius Lentulus and Lucius Ahenobarbus made a landing on the coast the day after Pompeius was murdered; they have been quietly arrested and the matter hushed up. I believe that Pothinus intends to execute them without your knowledge. Only by a friendship with some of the officers of the guard did I get at this."
Cornelia's lips twitched; her hands pressed on her cheeks till the pale skin flushed red. In her heart a hundred conflicting emotions held sway. She said nothing for a long time, and then it was only to ask where the prisoners were confined.
"They are in the dungeon of the fortress," said Agias. "That is all that I can discover."
"I must see them at once," declared the lady.
"I do not know how Pothinus will take this," replied the young freedman; "the discovery of his secret will be rightly attributed to me, and your ladyship would not care to imperil my life unless something very great is to be gained thereby."
"I shall miss you very much," said Cornelia, soberly. "But though Lucius Lentulus has done me grievous ill, he is my uncle. You must leave Pelusium this very night, and keep out of danger until Pothinus's vexation can abate. In the morning I shall demand to see the prisoners and to learn the eunuch's intentions touching them."
Agias accordingly fared away, much to Cornelia's regret; but not quite so much to his own, because his enforced journeying would take him to the Nile villa, where was the pretty Artemisia. Early on the following day Cornelia boldly went to Pothinus, and, without any explanations, demanded to see her uncle. The regent, who had tried to keep the matter profoundly secret, first was irate, then equivocated, and tried to deny that he had any Roman prisoners; then, driven to bay by Cornelia's persistency and quiet inflexibility before his denials and protests, gave her permission to be taken to the prison and see the captives.
To pass from the palace of Pelusium to the fortress-prison was to pass, by a few steps, from the Oriental life, in all its sensuous splendour, to Orientalism in its most degraded savagery. The prison was a half-underground kennel of stone and brick, on which the parching sun beat pitilessly, and made the galleries and cells like so many furnaces in heat. The fetid odour of human beings confined in the most limited space in which life can be maintained; the rattle of fetters; the grating of ponderous doors on slow-turning pivots; the coarse oaths and brutish aspect of both jailers and prisoners; the indescribable squalor, filth, misery,—these may not be enlarged upon. The attendants led Cornelia to the cell, hardly better than the rest, wherein Lentulus and Ahenobarbus were confined.
But another had been before Cornelia to visit the unfortunates. As the lady drew toward the open door she saw the graceful, easy form of Pratinas on the threshold, one hand carelessly thrust in the folds of his himation, the other gesturing animatedly, while he leaned against the stone casing.
Lucius Lentulus, his purple-lined tunic dirty and torn, his hair disordered, his face knitted into a bitter frown, crouched on a stool in the little low-ceiled room, confronting the Hellene. Cowering on a mass of filthy straw, his head bowed, his body quaking in a paroxysm of fear, was another whose name Cornelia knew full well.
Pratinas was evidently just concluding a series of remarks.
"And so, my friends, amici, as we say at Rome," he was jauntily vapouring, "I regret indeed that the atomic theory,—which my good Ahenobarbus, I am sure, holds in common with myself,—can leave us no hope of meeting in a future world, where I can expect to win any more of his good sesterces with loaded dice. But let him console himself! He will shortly cease from any pangs of consciousness that our good friend Quintus Drusus will, in all probability, enjoy the fortune that he has inherited from his father, and marry the lady for whose hand the very noble Ahenobarbus for some time disputed. Therefore let me wish you both a safe voyage to the kingdom of Hades; and if you need money for the ferryman, accept now, as always, the use of my poor credit."
"May all the infernal gods requite you!" broke forth Lentulus, half rising, and uplifting his fettered hands to call down a solemn curse.
"It has been often observed by philosophers," said Pratinas, with a smile, "that even among the most sceptical, in times of great extremity, there exists a certain belief in the existence of gods. Your excellency sees how the observation is confirmed."
"The gods blast you!" howled Lentulus, in impotent fury. Before further words could pass, Cornelia put Pratinas aside, and entered the cell.
"Your presence, sir," she said haughtily, to the Hellene, "is needed no longer." And she pointed down the gallery.
Pratinas flushed, hesitated as if for once at a loss, and nimbly vanished. Lentulus sat in speechless astonishment "Uncle," continued Cornelia, "what may I do for you? I did not know till last evening that you were here."
But ere the other could reply the figure in the corner had sprung up, and flung itself at the lady's feet.
"Save me! save me! By all that you hold dear, save my life! I have loved you. I thought once that you loved me. Plead for me! Pray for me! Anything that I may but live!"
"Vah, wretch!" cried the consular; and he spurned Ahenobarbus with his foot. "It is indeed well that you have not married into family of mine! If you can do naught else, you can at least die with dignity as becomes a Roman patrician—and not beg intercession from this woman who has cut herself off from all her kin by disobedience."
"Uncle," cried Cornelia in distress, "must we be foes to the end? Must our last words be of bitterness?"
"Girl," thundered the unbending Lentulus, "when a Roman maiden disobeys, there is no expiation. You are no niece of mine. I care not how you came here. I accept nothing at your hands. I will not hear your story. If I must die, it is to die cursing your name. Go! I have no more words for you!"
But Ahenobarbus caught the skirt of Cornelia's robe, and pleaded and moaned. "Let them imprison him in the lowest dungeons, load him with the heaviest fetters; place upon him the most toilsome labour—only let him still see the light and breathe the air!"
"Uncle," said Cornelia, "I will plead for you despite your wrath—-though little may my effort avail. You are my father's brother, and neither act of yours nor of mine can make you otherwise. But as for you, Lucius Ahenobarbus,"—and her words came hot and thick, as she hissed out her contempt,—"though I beg for your life, know this, that if I despised you less I would not so do. I despise you too much to hate; and if I ask to have you live, it is because I know the pains of a base and ignoble life are a myriad fold more than those of a swift and honourable death. Were I your judge—I would doom you; doom you to live and know the sting of your ignominy!"
She left them; and hatred and pity, triumph and anguish, mingled within her. She went to the young King Ptolemaeus and besought him to spare the prisoners; the lad professed his inability to take a step without the initiative of Pothinus. She went to Pothinus; the eunuch listened to her courteously, then as courteously told her that grave reasons of state made it impossible to comply with the request—much, as he blandly added, it would delight him personally to gratify her. Cornelia could do no more. Pratinas she would not appeal to, though he had great influence with Pothinus. She went back to her rooms to spend the day with Fabia, very heavy of heart. The world, as a whole, she beheld as a thing very evil; treachery, guile, wrath, hatred, were everywhere. The sight of Ahenobarbus had filled her with loathsome memories of past days. The sunlight fell in bright warm panels over the rich rugs on the floor of her room. The sea-breeze sweeping in from the north blew fresh and sweet; out against the azure light, into which she could gaze, a swarm of swallows was in silhouette—black dots crawling along across the dome of light. Out in one of the public squares of the city great crowds of people were gathering. Cornelia knew the reason of the concourse—the heads of two noble Romans, just decapitated, were being exposed to the gibes and howls of the coarse Greek and Egyptian mob. And Cornelia wished that she were herself a swallow, and might fly up into the face of the sun, until the earth beneath her had vanished.
But while she leaned from the parapet by the window of the room, footsteps sounded on the mosaic pavement without; the drapery in the doorway was flung aside; Agias entered, and after him—another.
Drusus ran to Cornelia and caught her in his arms; and she—neither fainted nor turned pale, but gave a little laugh, and cried softly:—
"I always knew you were coming!"
What more followed Agias did not know; his little affair with Artemisia had taught him that his Hellenic inquisitiveness sometimes would do more harm than good.
Very different from the good-humoured, careless, half-boyish student youth who had driven down the Praeneste road two years before, was the soldierly figure that Cornelia pressed to her heart. The campaigning life had left its mark upon Drusus. Half of a little finger the stroke of a Spanish sword had cleft away at Ilerda; across his forehead was the broad scar left by the fight at Pharsalus, from a blow that he had never felt in the heat of the battle. During the forced marchings and voyages no razor had touched his cheeks, and he was thickly bearded. But what cared Cornelia? Had not her ideal, her idol, gone forth into the great world and stood its storm and stress, and fought in its battles, and won due glory? Was he not alive, and safe, and in health of mind and body after ten thousand had fallen around him? Were not the clouds sped away, the lightnings ceased? And she? She was happy.
So Drusus told her of all that had befallen him since the day he escaped out of Lucius Ahenobarbus's hands at Baiae. And Cornelia told of her imprisonment at the villa, and how Demetrius had saved her, and how it came to pass that she was here at the Egyptian court. In turn Drusus related how Caesar had pursued Pompeius into Asia, and then, hearing that the Magnus had fled to Egypt, placed two legions on shipboard and sailed straight for Alexandria.
"And when he landed," continued the young officer, "the magistrates of the city came to Caesar, and gave him first Pompeius's seal-ring of a lion holding a sword in his paw, and then another black-faced and black-hearted Egyptian, without noticing the distress the Imperator was in, came up and uncovered something he had wrapped in a mantle. I was beside the general when the bundle was unwrapped. I am sickened when I speak of it. It was the head of Pompeius Magnus. The fools thought to give Caesar a great delight."
"And what did the Imperator do or say?" asked Cornelia.
"He shrank back from the horror as though the Egyptian had been a murderer, as indeed all of his race are. Caesar said nothing. Yet all saw how great was his grief and anger. Soon or late he will requite the men who slew thus foully the husband of his daughter Julia."
"You must take me away from them," said Cornelia, shuddering; "I am afraid every hour."
"And I, till you are safe among our troops at Alexandria," replied Drusus. "I doubt if they would have let me see you, but for Agias. He met us on the road from Alexandria and told me about you. I had received a special despatch from Caesar to bear with all haste to the king. So across the Delta I started, hardly waiting for the troops to disembark, for there was need for speed. Agias I took back with me, and my first demand when I came here was to see the king and deliver my letter, which was easily done an hour ago; and my next to see you. Whereat that nasty sheep Pothinus declared that you had been sent some days before up the river on a trip to the Memphis palace to see the pyramids. But Agias was close at hand, and I gave the eunuch the lie without difficulty. The rascal blandly said, 'that he had not seen you of late; had only spoken by hearsay about you, and he might have been misinformed;' and so—What do I look like?"
"You look like Quintus Livius Drusus, the Roman soldier," said Cornelia, "and I would not have you otherwise than what you are."
"Eho!" replied Drusus, passing his hand over her hair. "Do you want me to tell you something?"
"What is it?" said Cornelia, pressing closer.
"I can never write a cosmology. I shall never be able to evolve a new system of ethics. I cannot improve on Plato's ideal state. I know I am a very ignorant man, with only a few ideas worth uttering, with a hand that is very heavy, with a mind that works to little purpose save when it deals with politics and war. In short"—and Drusus's voice grew really pathetic—"all my learning carries me no farther than did the wisdom of Socrates, 'I know that I know nothing;' and I have no time to spend in advancing beyond that stage."
"But Socrates," said Cornelia, laughing, "was the wisest man in Greece, and for that very reason."
"Well," said Drusus, ignoring the compliment, as a certain type of men will when the mood is on them, "what do you wish me to make of myself?"
"I wish you to make nothing different," was her reply, "for you are precisely what I have always wanted you to be. When you have read as much as I have," this with an air of utter weariness, "you will realize the futility of philosophic study."
"Eho!" remarked Drusus again. "So you would have me feel that I am turning my back on nothing very great, after all?"
"And so I mean."
"I am serious, Quintus." And indeed Cornelia was. "I can read Aristotle and Plato, and Zeno and Cleanthes, and Pyrrho, and a score of others. I can spin out of my own brain a hundred theories of the universe as good as theirs, but my heart will not be the happier, if things outside make me sad. I am sick of the learning that is no learning, that answers our questions by other questions that are more riddling."
"Ah, scoffer at the wise," laughed Drusus, "what do you wish, then?" He spoke in Greek.
"Speak in Latin, in Latin, Quintus," was her retort. "I am weary of this fine, sweet language that tinkles so delicately, every word of which hides a hundred meanings, every sentence attuned like the notes for a harp. Let us have our own language, blunt and to the point; the language, not of men who wonder what they ought to do, but who do. We are Romans, not Greeks. We have to rule the world, not growl as to how Jupiter made it. When you came back from Athens I said, 'I love Quintus Drusus, but I would love him more if he were less a Hellene.' And, now I see you wholly Roman, I love you wholly. And for myself, I wish neither to be a Sappho, nor an Aspasia, nor a Semiramis, but Cornelia the Roman matron, who obeys her husband, Quintus Drusus, who cares for his house, and whom, in turn, her household fears and obeys."
"O tempora! O mores!" cried the young soldier, in delight. "When had ever a woman such ambition in these degenerate days? Eu! Then I will burn my books, if you can get no profit out of them."
"I do not think books are bad," said Cornelia, still soberly, "but I know that they can never make me happy."
"What can?" demanded her tormenter.
* * * * *
So the hours of the afternoon ran on, and the lovers gave them little heed. But they were not too selfish to refuse to Fabia's sharing in their joy; and Drusus knew that he was dear no less, though differently, in the eyes of his aunt than of his betrothed. And there were duties to perform that not even the long-deferred delights of the afternoon could postpone. Chief of these were the arrangements for the immediate departure of the Roman ladies for Alexandria. Agias, who was called into the council, was invaluable in information and suggestion. He said that Pothinus had acted at Pratinas's advice, when he took Fabia and Cornelia to the palace. The eunuch had expected to use them half as hostages, half as captives to be put to ransom. If Caesar had delayed a few days, Pothinus would not have lied when he made excuse that the ladies had been sent up the river. But now Agias believed that the regent was afraid, having overreached himself, and it was best to make a prompt demand for conveyance to Alexandria. This, indeed, proved advantageous policy. The eunuch made difficulties and suggested obstacles, but Drusus made his native Italian haughtiness stand him in good stead. It would largely depend, he said insinuatingly, on the way in which his demand was complied with, what sort of a report he made to Caesar touching the execution of Lucius Lentulus and Ahenobarbus. During his interview with Pothinus, the Roman came face to face with Pratinas. No words were exchanged, but Drusus noticed that the elegant Hellene flushed, and then turned pale, when he fastened upon him a gaze steady and half menacing. Pothinus ended by yielding everything—the use of the royal chariots and horses, the use of the Nile boats needed for swift transit across the Delta, and orders on the local garrisons and governors to provide entertainment and assistance.
As a result Cornelia speedily found herself again journeying, not this time in a slow barge following the main branches of the Nile, but by more rapid, if less luxurious, conveyance, now by land, now by water, hurrying westward. They passed through Sethroe and Tanis, Mendes and Sebennytus, Xais and Sais, where were the tomb of Osiris and the great Egyptian university in this the capital of the mighty Pharaohs who had wrested the nation from the clutches of Assyria. Then they fared up the Nile to the old Milesian trading factory of Naucratis,—now dropping into decline beside the thriving Alexandria,—and then by boat they pressed on to the capital itself. Never more delightful journey for Cornelia or for Drusus; they saw the strange land through one another's eyes; they expressed their own thoughts through one another's lips; they were happy together, as if children at play; and Fabia was their never exacting, ever beneficent, guardian goddess.
Drusus and Cornelia were neither of them the same young persons who had met in the gardens of the villa of the Lentuli two short years before. They saw life with a soberer gaze; they had both the wisdom that experience teaches. Yet for the time not a cloud was drifting across their sky. Their passions and hates had been too fierce, too pagan, to feel the death of even Cornelia's uncle very keenly. Lucius Ahenobarbus was dead—they had no more thought for him than for a dead viper. Lucius Domitius was dead. Gabinius and Dumnorix were dead. Pompeius, the tool of guiltier men than himself, was dead. Pratinas alone of all those who had crossed their path remained; but the wily Greek was a mere creature of self-interest—what had he to gain by pressing his animosity, if he had any, against them? Caesar was triumphant. His enemies were barely lifting their heads in Africa. Doubtless there was stern work awaiting the Imperator there, but what of it? Was he not invincible? Was he not about to commence a new order of things in the world, to tear down the old and decaying, to raise up a steadfast fabric? Therefore the little party took its pleasure, and enjoyed every ancient temple of the Amenhoteps, Thothmeses, and Ramesides that they hurriedly visited; won the favour of the wrinkled old priests by their plentiful votives of bright philippi; heard a hundred time-honoured tales that they knew not whether to believe or laugh at; speculated among themselves as to the sources of the Nile, the cause of the vocal Memnon, and fifty more darkened wonders, and resolved to solve every mystery during a second and more prolonged visit.
So they came to Alexandria, but on the way called at the Nile villa where was Artemisia, and, to the great satisfaction of that young lady and of Agias, carried her along with them to the house of Cleomenes, where that affable host and Berenice and Monime received them with open arms.
Their pleasure at this reunion, however, began to abate when they realized the disturbed state of the city.
"I can't say I like the situation," admitted Cleomenes, as soon as he had been introduced to Drusus, and the first greetings were over; "you know when Caesar landed he took his consular insignia with him, and the mob made this mean that he was intending to overthrow the government and make Egypt a Roman province. If you had not left for Pelusium so hastily, you would have been present at a very serious riot, that was with great difficulty put down. The soldiers of the royal garrison are in an ugly mood, and so are the people. I suspect the king, or rather Pothinus, is doing nothing to quiet them. There have been slight riots for several days past, and a good many Roman soldiers who have straggled away from the palace into the lower quarters of the city have been murdered."
"I am glad," replied Drusus, "that I can leave Cornelia and my aunt under your protection, for my duty may keep me continuously with the Imperator."
The young officer at once hastened to the palace and reported for service. Caesar questioned him as to the situation at Pelusium, and Drusus described the unpromising attitude of Pothinus, and also mentioned how he had found Cornelia and his aunt.
The general, engrossed as he was with his business of state and threatening war, put all his duties aside and at once went to the house of Cleomenes. It was the first time Cornelia had ever met the man whose career had exerted such an influence upon her own life. She had at first known of him only through the filthy, slanderous verses of such oligarchs as Catullus and Calvus; then through her lover she had come to look upon Caesar as an incarnation as it were of omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence—the man for whom everything was worth sacrificing, from whom every noble thing was to be expected.
She met the conquerer of Ariovistus, Vercingetorix, and Pompeius like the frank-hearted, patrician maiden that she was, without shyness, without servility.
"My father died in your army," she said on meeting; "my affianced husband has taught me to admire you, as he himself does. Let us be friends!"
And Caesar bowed as became the polished gentleman, who had been the centre of the most brilliant salons of Rome, and took the hand she offered, and replied:—
"Ah! Lady Cornelia, we have been friends long, though never we met before! But I am doubly the friend of whosoever is the friend of Quintus Livius Drusus."
Whereupon Cornelia was more completely the vassal of the Imperator than ever, and words flew fast between them. In short, just as in the case with Cleopatra, she opened her heart before she knew that she had said anything, and told of all her life, with its shadows and brightness; and Caesar listened and sympathized as might a father; and Drusus perfectly realized, if Cornelia could not—how many-sided was the man who could thus turn from weighing the fate of empires to entering unfeignedly into a sharing of the hopes and fears of a very young, and still quite unsophisticated, woman.
When the Imperator departed Drusus accompanied him to the palace. Neither of the two, general nor subaltern, spoke for a long while; at last Caesar remarked:—
"Do you know what is uppermost in my mind, after meeting women like Fabia or Cornelia?"
Drusus shook his head.
"I believe that there are gods, who bring such creatures into the world. They are not chance accretions of atoms." And then Caesar added, half dreamily: "You ought to be a very happy man. I was once—it was many years ago. Her name was Cornelia also."
* * * * *
Serious and more serious, grew the situation at Alexandria. King Ptolemaeus and Pothinus came to the city from Pelusium. Caesar had announced that he intended to examine the title of the young monarch to the undivided crown, and make him show cause why he had expelled Cleopatra. This the will of Ptolemaeus Auletes had enjoined the Roman government to do; for in it he had commissioned his allies to see that his oldest children shared the inheritance equally.
But Pothinus came to Alexandria, and trouble came with him. He threw every possible obstacle in Caesar's way when the latter tried to collect a heavy loan due the Romans by the late king. The etesian winds made it impossible to bring up reenforcements, and Caesar's force was very small. Pothinus grew more insolent each day. For the first time, Drusus observed that his general was nervous, and suspicious lest he be assassinated. Finally the Imperator determined to force a crisis. To leave Egypt without humbling Pothinus meant a great lowering of prestige. He sent off a private message to Palestine that Cleopatra should come to Alexandria.
Cleopatra came, not in royal procession, for she knew too well the finesse of the regent's underlings; but entered the harbour in disguise in a small boat; and Apollodorus, her Sicilian confidant, carried her into Caesar's presence wrapped in a bale of bedding which he had slung across his back.
The queen's suit was won. Cleopatra and the Imperator met, and the two strong personalities recognized each other's affinity instantly. Her coming was as a thunder-clap to Pothinus and his puppet Ptolemaeus. They could only cringe and acquiesce when Caesar ordered them to be reconciled with the queen, and seal her restoration by a splendid court banquet.
The palace servants made ready for the feast. The rich and noble of Alexandria were invited. The stores of gold and silver vessels treasured in the vaults of the Lagidae were brought forth. The arches and columns of the palace were festooned with flowers. The best pipers and harpers of the great city were summoned to delight with their music. Precious wine of Tanis was ready to flow like water.
Drusus saw the preparations with a glad heart. Cornelia would be present in all her radiancy; and who there would be more radiant than she?
Battling for Life
And then it was,—with the chariots bearing the guests almost driving in at the gates of the palace,—that Cerrinius, Caesar's barber, came before his master with an alarming tale. The worthy man declared that he had lighted on nothing less than a plot to murder the Romans, one and all, by admitting Achillas's soldiery to the palace enclosure, while all the banqueters were helpless with drugged wine. Pratinas, who had been supposed to be at Pelusium, Cerrinius had caught in retired conference with Pothinus, planning the arrangement of the feast. Achillas's mercenary army was advancing by stealthy marches to enter the city in the course of the evening. The mob had been aroused by agitators, until it was in a mood to rise en masse against the Romans, and join in destroying them. Such, in short, was the barber's story.
There was no time to delay. Caesar was a stranger in a strange and probably hostile land, and to fail to take warning were suicide. He sent for Pothinus, and demanded the whereabouts of Achillas's army. The regent stammered that it was at Pelusium. Caesar followed up the charge by inquiring about Pratinas. Pothinus swore that he was at Pelusium also. But Caesar cut his network of lies short, by commanding that a malefactor should be forced to swallow a beaker of the wine prepared for the banquet. In a few moments the man was in a helpless stupor.
The case was proved and Caesar became all action. A squad of legionaries haled Pothinus away to an execution not long delayed. Other legionaries disarmed and replaced the detachment of the royal guard that controlled the palace gates and walls. And barely had these steps been taken, when a courier thundered into the palace, hardly escaped through the raging mob that was gaining control of the city. Achillas, he reported, had wantonly murdered Dioscorides and Serapion, whom Caesar had sent as envoys to Pelusium, and was marching on the city with his whole army of Italian renegades, Syrian banditti, convicts, and runaway slaves, twenty thousand strong.
There was nothing to do but to prepare to weather the storm in the palace enclosure, which, with its high walls, was practically a fortress in itself. There were only four thousand Romans, and yet there was a long circuit of defences to man. But Drusus never saw his general putting forth greater energy. That night, instead of feasting, the soldiers laboured, piling up the ramparts by the light of torches. The city was surging and thundering without the palace gates. Caesar had placed the king under guard, but Arsinoe—his younger sister—had slipped out of the palace to join herself to the advancing host of Achillas, and speedily that general would be at hand. Caesar as usual was everywhere, with new schemes for the defences, new enthusiasm for his officers, new inspiration for his men. No one slept nor cared to sleep inside the palace walls. They toiled for dear life, for with morning, at most, Achillas would be upon them; and by morning, if Pothinus's plans had not failed, they would have been drugged and helpless to a man, none able to draw sword from scabbard. It was a new experience to one and all, for these Romans to stand on the defensive. For once Caesar had made a false step—he ought to have taken on his voyage more men. He stood with his handful, with the sea on one side of him and a great city and a nation in arms against him on the other. The struggle was not to be for empire, but for life. But the Romans were too busy that night to realize anything save the need of untiring exertion. If they had counted the odds against them, four thousand against a nation, they might well have despaired, though their chieftain were Caesar.
Two years earlier Drusus, as he hurried to and fro transmitting orders for his general, might have been fain to draw aside and muse on the strangeness of the night scene. The sky was clear, as almost always in a land where a thunder-storm is often as rare as an eclipse; the stars twinkled out of heavens of soft blackness; the crescent of a new moon hung like a silvered bow out over the harbour, and made a thin pathway of lustre across the moving, shimmering waters. Dimly the sky-line was visible; by the Pharos and its mole loomed the vague tracery of masts. On the west and the south lay the white and dark masses of the city, now and then brought into clearer relief as the moonbeams swept across some stately pile, and touched on its Corinthian columns and nobly wrought pediments. But Drusus was a soldier; and the best of poets doubtless work poorly when their lives are hanging in the balance. Over the flower-strewn walks, under the festooned colonnades, ran the busy legionaries, bestirring themselves as never before; while Diomedes, and Hector, and Patroclus, and fifty other heroic worthies waged perpetual battle on their marble heights above the soldiers' heads. On occasion Drusus was called to one of the upper terraces and pinnacles of the palace buildings, and then he could catch a glimpse of the whole sweep of the mighty city. Over to the southeast, where was the Jewish quarter, the sky was beginning to redden. The mob had begun to vent its passions on the innocent Israelites, and the incendiary was at his work. A deep, low, growling hum, as of ten thousand angry voices, drifted upon the night air. The beast called the Alexandrian rabble was loose, and it was a terrible animal.
It was midnight. Drusus had toiled since noon. He had hardly tasted food or drink since morning, but there were three feet more of brick, stone, and rubbish to be added still to this and that rampart before it would be secure, and a whole wing of the overgrown palace must be pulled down to furnish the material. He had climbed out upon the roof to aid in tearing up the tiles and to encourage the men by his example, when some one plucked him from behind on the cloak—it was Caesar.
"You are not needed here," said the general, in a voice that seemed a bit strained to keep calm. "Read this—take all the men you want."
And the Imperator himself held up the torch, while Drusus took the tablet thrust into his hands and read the hastily scribbled lines:—
"Cleomenes to Drusus. The ladies are in danger. I will resist the mob as long as I can. Send help."
Drusus threw down the tablet; forgot to so much as salute his commander. He had laid off his armour during the work on the ramparts; he ran for it, put it on with feverish haste. A moment more and he was running among the soldiers, calling this and that legionary by name. The troops all knew him, and would have followed him to the death. When he asked for thirty volunteers for dangerous service, none demanded of him the occasion; he simply selected his men as fast as he might. He secured four chariots and placed in them the fastest horses in the royal stables and trusted men for drivers. He mounted the rest of his thirty on other steeds, and the preparations were over. The gate was thrown open; Decimus Mamercus, who was his subaltern, led out the little company. Drusus rode out last, in one of the chariots. The troops on the walls cheered them as they departed.
In the immediate neighbourhood of the palace there prevailed an ominous silence. Earlier in the night a few cohorts had charged out and scattered the street rabble; and the mob had kept at a distance. There was no light save that of the moon and the distant glow of the burning buildings. Drusus felt his breath coming thick and fast, the drops of sweat were hanging on his forehead, something within was driving his heart into his throat. "If—" he never went further; unless he brought Cornelia and Fabia back to the palace unscathed, he knew the Alexandrian rabble would howl over his unconscious body.
"Ride!" he commanded, as if the rush of the chariots and horses would drown the fears that nearly drove him frantic. "Ride!"
The drivers lashed the teams, the horsemen pricked with the spur. Drusus caught the reins from his chariot companion, and swung the lash himself over the four steeds. Faster and faster they flew down the splendidly paved and built highways. Temples and majestic public buildings rose in sombre grandeur above their heads; above them winged "Victories" seemed springing up into dark void, their sculptured symmetries just visible in the moonlight. On and on, swift and more swift—persons began shouting from the buildings which they passed, now a few voices, now many, now a hundred. A volley of stones was dashed down from the safe recesses of the pillars at the head of the long flight of steps leading up to a temple. Presently an arrow whirred over Drusus's head and smote on the masonry across the street. There were lights ahead—scores of torches waving—a small building was on fire; the glare grew redder and brighter every instant; and a din, a din lifted by ten thousand men when their brute instincts are enkindled, grew and grew. Drusus dashed the cold sweat from his brow, his hand was trembling. He had a quiver and bow in the chariot,—a powerful Parthian bow, and the arrows were abundant. Mamercus had taught him to be a good archer, as a boy. Could he turn his old skill to account? Not unless his hand became more steady.
Women screamed out at him and his band from the house roofs; a tile struck one of the chariot horses and made it plunge wildly; Drusus flung his strength into the reins, and curbed in the raging beast; he tossed the lines back to his driver and tore the bow from its casings. His car had rushed on ahead of Decimus Mamercus and the rest; two furlongs more would bring him to the house of Cleomenes on one of the squares of the city. The chariot swung around a street corner for the final stretch, the way was broad, the buildings on either side (the residences of the Alexandrian gentry) high; but the whole street from wall to wall was a seething mass of human forms. The fire was spreading; the brightening flames shone down on the tossing, howling multitude—excited Egyptians from the quarter of Rhacotis, frenzied Asiatics in their turbans, mad sailors from the Eunostian port and the Pharos island. At the head of the street the flames were pressing in upon a stately mansion around which the raging mob was packed thickly. On the roof of the threatened house figures could be seen in the lurid light, running to and fro, flinging down bricks and stones, and trying to beat back the fire. It was the house of Cleomenes. Insensibly the veteran who had been driving reined in the horses, who themselves drew back, loath to plunge into the living barriers ahead. But Drusus was past fear or prudence; with his own hands he sent the lash stinging over all the four, and the team, that had won more than a single trophy in the games, shot forward. The chariot struck the multitude and went, not through it, but over it. The on-rush was too rapid, too unexpected, for resistance. To right and left, as the water gives way before the bows of an on-rushing ship, the crowd surged back, the instinct of panic reigning in every breast. Thick and fast, as quickly as he might set shaft to string, flew Drusus's arrows—not a shaft that failed a mark, as it cut into the living masses. The chariot reeled again and again, as this wheel or that passed over something animate and struggling. The horses caught the fire of conflict; they raced, they ran—and the others sped after them. The mob left off howling: it screamed with a single voice of mortal dread. And before Drusus or any one else realized, the deed was done, the long lane was cleared, and the drivers were drawing rein before the house of Cleomenes.
The heavily barred carriage-way was thrown open, the valiant merchant and his faithful employees and slaves greeted their rescuers as the little cavalcade drove in. There was not a moment to lose. Cleomenes and his household might indeed have long made good the house against the mere attacks of the mob; but the rioters had set the torch to some adjacent buildings, and all efforts to beat back the flames were proving futile. There was no time to condole with the merchant over the loss of his house. The mob had surged again into the streets and was pressing back, this time more or less prepared to resist the Romans. The colonnades and the house roofs were swarming, the din was indescribable, and the crackling and roar of the advancing flames grew ever louder.
The only alternative was a return to the palace. Cleomenes's employees and slaves were to scatter into the crowd, where they would easily escape notice; he himself, with his daughters, Artemisia, and the Roman ladies, must go in the chariots to the palace. Cornelia came down from her chamber, her face more flushed with excitement than alarm. Troubles enough she had had, but never before personal danger; and she could not easily grasp the peril.
"Are you afraid, carissima," said Drusus, lifting her into his chariot, "to ride back with me to the palace, through that wolf pack?"
"With you?" she said, admiring the ease with which he sprang about in full armour; "I would laugh at Medusa or the Hydra of Lerna with you beside me."
Cleomenes had been again upon the housetop to watch the progress of the fire. He came down, and Drusus instantly saw that there was dismay written on his face. The merchant, who was himself armed with sword and target, drew the officer aside and whispered:—
"Pray, Roman, to all your native gods! I can see a lochos of regular troops filing into the square before the house. Achillas is entering the city with his men. We shall have to fight our way through his thousands."
 A company of about one hundred men.
Drusus uttered a deep and silent curse on himself for the mad bravado that led him to leave the palace with but thirty men; why had he not waited to assemble more? He could ride over the mob; to master Achillas's disciplined forces was otherwise.
A freedman came running down from the roof, crying out that it was already on fire. It was a time for action, not thought, yet even at the moment Drusus's schoolboy Polybius was running through his mind—the description of the great riot when Agathocles, the wicked regent of Ptolemaeus Philopator, and his sister Agathocleia, and his mother Oenanthe, had been seized by the multitude and torn in pieces, bit by bit, while yet they lived. Cornelia seemed to have caught some new cause for fear; she was trembling and shivering when Drusus took her in his arms and swung her into the chariot. He lifted in Fabia likewise, but the Vestal only bowed her head in calm silence. She had overheard Cleomenes's tidings, but, by stress of all the force of her strong nature, remained composed. Decimus Mamercus took Artemisia, frightened and crying, into his own chariot. Monime, Berenice, and their father were to go in the other cars. The fire was gaining on the roof, smoke was pouring down into the court-yard, and now and then a gleam came from a firebrand. The horses were growing restive and frightened.
"Throw open the gate!" commanded Drusus; his anxieties and despair were driving him almost to frenzy, but the gods, if gods there were, knew that it was not for himself that he was fearful. His voice sounded hollow in his throat; he would have given a talent of gold for a draught of water. One of his men flung back the gateway, and in at the entrance came the glare of great bonfires lighted in the streets, of hundreds of tossing torches. The yelling of the multitude was louder than ever. There it was, packed thick on all sides: in its midst Drusus could see bright lines of tossing steel—the armour of Achillas's soldiery! As the portal opened, a mighty howl of triumph burst from the people; the fire had driven forth to the mob its prey. Cornelia heard the howl—the voice of a wild and raging beast—and trembled more.
"Cornelia," said Drusus, lowering his head so as to make himself heard, "do not look above the framework of the chariot. Cling to it tightly, for we may have to pass over obstacles. Above all, do not spring out, however much we may be swayed and shaken."
"I will not, Quintus," and that was all she could be heard to say in the din.
And so the little cavalcade drove forth. Cornelia cowered in the chariot and saw nothing and heard everything, which was the same as nothing. Was she frightened? She did not know. The peril was awful. Of course she realized that; but how could calamity come to pass, when it was Drusus whose powerful form towered above her, when it was Drusus whose voice rang like a trumpet out into the press swaying around?
It was very dark crouching in the body of the chariot. She could just see the face of Fabia opposite, very white, but, she knew, very calm. She reached out and caught the Vestal's hand, and discovered that her own was trembling, while the other's was perfectly steady. But the contest, the fighting all about! Now the horses were dashing forward, making the chariot spring as though it were a thing of life; now reined in sharply, and the heavily loaded car swayed this way and that, almost to overturning. The uproar above her head passed the telling by words; but there was one shout, now in Greek, now in Egyptian, that drowned all others: "Death to the Romans! tear them in pieces!" Missiles smote against the chariot; an arrow went cutting into the wood, driving its keen point home, and Cornelia experienced a thrill of pain in her shoulder. She felt for the smart, found the mere tip of the point only had penetrated the wood; but her fingers were wet when she took them away. Drusus was shooting; his bow-string snapped and snapped. Once a soldier in armour sprang behind the chariot when it came to a stop, and his javelin was poised to discharge; but an arrow tore through his throat, and he went down to the pavement with a crash. The car rocked more and more; once the wheels slipped without revolving, as though sliding over some smooth liquid—not water. Cornelia felt powers of discriminating sensation becoming fainter and fainter; a great force seemed pressing out from within her; the clamour and shocks were maddening. She felt driven to raise her head, to look out into the raging chaos, though the first glance were death. Peering back out of the body of the chariot now and then, she saw a little. The Romans were charging this way and that, forcing their passage down the street, barred no longer by a mere mob, but by Achillas's infantrymen, who were hastening into action. The chariot horses were wounded, some seriously; she was sure of that. They could not be driven through the spearmen, and the little handful of cavalry was trying to break through the enemy and make space for a rush. It was thirty against thousands; yet even in the mortal peril, which Cornelia realized now if she had never before, she had a strange sort of pride. Her countrymen were showing these Orientals how one Roman could slay his tens, could put in terror his hundreds. Drusus was giving orders with the same mechanical exactitude of the drill, albeit his voice was high-pitched and strained—not entirely, perhaps, because of the need of calling above the din.
"Form in line by fours!"
Cornelia raised her head above the chariot frame. The Romans had worked their way down into a square formed by the intersection of streets. Behind them and on every building were swarming the people; right across the eastern avenue, where their escape lay, stood the bristling files of one of Achillas's companies. Stones and roof-tiles were being tossed in a perfect hail from the houses, and now and then an arrow or a dart. The four chariots—one had only three horses left—were standing in the little plaza, and the troopers were forming before them. The arrows of the chariot warriors made the mob behind keep a respectful distance. It was the triumph of discipline over man's animal sense of fear. Even the mob felt this, when it saw the little squadron fall into line with as much precision as on the parade ground. A tile smote one soldier upon the head, and he tumbled from his horse like a stone. His comrades never paused in their evolution. Then, for the first time, Cornelia screamed with horror and fright. Drusus, who was setting a new arrow to his bow, looked down upon her; he had never seemed so handsome before, with the fierce light of the battle in his eyes, with his whole form swelling with the exertions of conflict.
"Down, Cornelia!" commanded the officer; and Cornelia did so implicitly—to disobey him at that moment was inconceivable.
"At them, men!"
And then came a new bound from the horses, and then a mighty crash and clash of bodies, blades, and shields, the snort of dying beasts, the splintering of spear-shafts, the groans and cries of men in battle for their lives. The car rose on one wheel higher and higher; Cornelia was thrown against Fabia, and the two women clung to each other, too terrified and crushed to scream; then on a sudden it righted, and as it did so the soldier who had acted as charioteer reeled, his face bathed in blood, the death-rattle in his throat. Back he fell, pierced in face and breast, and tumbled from the car; and, as if answering to this lightening of their burden, the hoofs of the hard-pressed horses bit on the pavement, and the team bounded onward.
"Io triumphe!" It was Drusus who called; and in answer to his shout came the deep Caesarian battle-cry from hundreds of throats, "Venus Victrix!"
The chariot was advancing, but less rapidly. Cornelia rose and looked forth again, not this time to be rebuked. Down the moon-lighted street were moving several infantry cohorts from the palace; the avenue was clear, the mob and hostile soldiery had melted away like a mist; a mounted officer came flying down the street ahead of the legionaries.
"The ladies are safe, Imperator!" Drusus was reporting with military exactitude. "I have lost twelve men."
Caesar galloped along beside the chariot. He had his horse under absolute control, and he extended his hand, first to Fabia, then to Cornelia.
"Fortune has been kind to us," said he, smiling.
"Vesta has protected us," said Fabia, bowing her head.
Caesar cast a single inquiring, keen glance at the Vestal.
"Your excellency doubts the omnipotence of the goddess," continued she, looking him steadily in the face.
"That a power has protected you," was his answer, "I am the last to deny."
But the Imperator and Drusus were exchanging glances; that a woman of the intelligence of Fabia could believe in the regular, personal intervention of the Deity in human affairs was to them, not an absurdity, but a mystery unfathomable.
And so, safe-guarded by the troops, they rode back to the palace, where the preparations for defence were ready, and all were awaiting the onset of Achillas. The weary men on the walls cheered as the carriages with their precious burdens rolled in at the gate; and cheered again for Drusus and his eighteen who had taught the Alexandrian rabble how Roman steel could bite. But Drusus himself was sad when he thought of the twelve good men that he had left behind—who need not have been sacrificed but for his headlong rashness.
And how had the mob come to attack the house of Cleomenes? It was a long story, but in a few words probably this. Pratinas had come and demanded of Cleomenes that he surrender the ladies (doubtless because they would be useful hostages) to go with him to Achillas. Cleomenes had refused, the more especially as Cornelia adjured him not to deliver them over to the clutches of such a creature; and Pratinas went away full of anger and threatenings. How he came to be in Alexandria, and had returned so soon from Achillas's forces, if he had indeed gone to Achillas, was neither clear nor important. But that he had excited the mob to assail Cleomenes's mansion needed no great proof. Cleomenes himself had seen his artful fellow-countryman surveying the riot from a housetop, though doubtless he had kept at a prudent distance during the fighting.
So ended that exciting day, or rather that night. It was Cleopatra who with her own hands laid the bandages on Cornelia's wounded shoulder, but the hurt was not serious; only, as Drusus laughingly assured her, it was an honourable scar, as became the descendant of so many fighting Claudii and Cornelii.
"Ah! delectissime," replied she, "it isn't the hurt that gives me pain; it is that I was frightened—frightened when you were acting like one of the Heroes!"
"Mehercle!" laughed Drusus, before he left her to snatch a few hours of well-earned rest and see to the dressing of his own bruises, "I would not blame a veteran for being panic-struck in that melee, if he didn't have a chance to swing a weapon and so keep his heart from standing still."
On the next day Achillas moved up his thousands and attacked the palace fortifications. There was a desperate struggle in the streets outside the royal residence; the assailants were five to the defenders' one, and the mob was arming to aid in the assault; but the Egyptians soon realized that it was no light thing to carry barricades held by men who had fought in Gaul, Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Greece, and never tasted overthrow. Fiercest of all was the fight at the harbour, where the navy of the king lay, and which, if seized, would have put Caesar at his enemies' mercy. But here, also, Roman valour prevailed over Oriental temerity. All the ships that Caesar could not use were burned. With the rest he sailed over to the Pharos island, and landed men to make good the tower on that point of vantage. So ended the first round of battle; and the initial danger of being overwhelmed by sheer force was over.
But day after day of conflict followed. Princess Arsinoe and Achillas quarrelled in the camp of the besiegers, and this occasioned some respite to the Romans. Still there was no end to the fighting. Caesar sent off to Asia Minor, Syria, and Crete for reenforcements; but these, all knew, could not come at once. A sharp struggle cleared the houses nearest to the palace, and the general caused them to be razed and the positions thoroughly fortified. He seized the low-lying ground which ran as an insignificant valley down between the halves of the city and tried to cut his enemies' position in twain. So the struggle dragged on. Achillas had been murdered by Arsinoe, and she had placed in command her governor, the eunuch Ganymed, who was more dangerous by his sly craft than fifty common generals. One day a frightened centurion reported to Caesar that all the cisterns used by the troops were becoming flooded with sea-water. It was a contrivance of Ganymed. The soldiers were in a panic, and it was all that their leader could do to pacify them. And then one of those strokes of fortune which will always come to a favoured few was vouchsafed; as the terrified Romans delved in the earth where rain had seldom fallen, lo! on the very first night of their toil fresh water bubbled up, and all the danger was at an end.
But it is needless to tell how the contest was waged; how the thirty-seventh legion arrived as help, how the wind kept them off port exposed to the enemy, and how Caesar sailed out and succoured them, and worsted the Alexandrian ships. Then, again, Ganymed stirred the disheartened citizens to build another fleet, and, by tremendous exertions, a new flotilla arose to threaten to cut Caesar off; and there was a second battle for dear life—this time on sea close by the city; while Roman and Alexandrian stood staring on the housetops, with their hearts beating quickly, for defeat meant ruin to the Romans. And, again, the gods of the waters fought for Caesar, and the beaten Alexandrian fleet drifted back to the shelter of its mole in the harbour of Eunostus.
Next came a great struggle for the possession of the Pharos. The fighting was severe, the footing on the island hard to win, up steep crags and rocks swept by volleys of missiles; but Italian courage seemed inexhaustible. The legionaries, without ladders or fascines, stormed towers and battlements. The town on the island was taken and the fort by it; then came the contest along the mole, driving the Alexandrians to the fort at the lower end. On the next day the second fort, too, was taken. There was a bridge at the lower end of the mole, and the Alexandrians had tried to sail under to attack the Caesarians in the western harbour. The legionaries toiled to fill up the passage. All seemed going well, but of a sudden befell calamity.
* * * * *
Panic will seize the most hardened veterans, and so it was that day. A flank attack from the Alexandrian ships, and of other foes by land, a sudden giving way on the part of some sailors who were defending the working party, and then terror spread among the three veteran cohorts at the lower fort. Caesar had been among his men directing the work, with him had gone Drusus, as aide-de-camp, and Agias, who had long been chafing under the restraints of the beleaguered palace and imagined the position safe and unassailable. The panic came more quickly than words may tell: a few hostile shouts from behind, cries of fear and alarm, a volley of darts, and the men who had hunted the Magnus to his death fled like raw recruits at their first arrow.
The Caesarian ships beside the mole began to thrust back, lest the enemy seize them. The terrified legionaries rushed from their ranks, cast away shield and cuirass, sword and dart. Every man cared but to save himself, the spirit of mere fear uppermost. Caesar and Drusus rushed into the press, and commanded and exhorted; they might have better striven to turn the flight of a herd of frightened cattle; their words fell on deaf ears; the panic-struck soldiers swept them aside in a mad dash to get on board the receding shipping. The danger was terrible. On either side the enemy were rushing down the mole, and over the defences just forsaken by the Romans. Caesar had been caught in the swirl of his men and carried along despite his resistance. He fell, and Drusus, who struggled to be near him, ran to his side.
"We must escape, Imperator!" cried he, in his commander's ear. He saw that there was blood on the general's face, and for an instant that thought overpowered all others.
"Save yourselves," gasped Caesar, striving to struggle to his feet." You cannot aid me."
A burly Egyptian soldier was running toward them, far ahead of the other enemies, flourishing a battle-axe. Did he realize the prize that lay almost in his power? Drusus had not been fighting, but his sword was now out. One blow of the terrible weapon of the legionary sent the oncomer sprawling in his own gore. A trifling respite had been gained. Caesar steadied himself and looked about him. They were alone with Agias facing the foe; the legionaries were struggling one over another at the edge of the causeway, battling for dear life to force their way into the only galley that had not thrust off.
"Come," said Caesar, turning; and the three joined in the flight. To linger were madness.
It was only a trifling distance across the mole, but a frightful tragedy was enacted before their eyes as they ran. The galley by the mole was none too large; as the frightened men piled into her, the shifting and increasing weight threw her on an uneven keel; and then came the horror. A cry of mortal agony burst from hundreds of throats as the ship capsized. Drusus, as he ran, saw, but for a twinkling, her deck black with writhing men, then her curving sides and keel, ere all vanished behind the embankment of the mole. The three fugitives ran to the edge of the causeway: below them, the water full of men battling for life; behind, the foe, now fully aware of their advantage and pressing on with exultant shouts. Never had the Imperator been in greater peril. Drusus glanced at his chief and saw that he was very pale, evidently hurt in the scuffle. There was not a ship within hail, not a ship within two arrow-flights; and all seemed pulling back as if to escape from the danger.
"Leap, swim!" cried Caesar, casting off his breastplate.
"There is no ship within reach, Imperator," replied the young man, gravely.
"You are young and strong," was his answer, "and will come away safe." Caesar was preparing to spring over the edge.
"And you?" cried Drusus, catching him by the wrist. He knew that Caesar could never swim the distance to the nearest ship.
"In the hands of the Fates."
But Agias, whose eyes had been straining out into the western harbour, cried, "Help! A galley is coming!"
"Imperator," said Drusus, "you must wait for this galley."
The foe were almost on them.
"Are you mad?" was the exclamation of the general.
"I can hold them off until it is safe to swim," and Drusus had covered himself behind a coping in the masonry.
Caesar measured the distance with his eye.
"We play at dice with Fortuna, whatever we do," was his comment. "Come, then." And the three steadied themselves on the narrow footing behind the parapet, one thrust being enough to send them headlong. Fortunately weapons were ready—thrown away by the luckless fugitives. When the Alexandrians rushed up, three pila crashed in upon them, and, caught unawares by the little volley, they held back an instant. The three desperate men were counting their hearts' beats, while the distance from the friendly galley lessened. Then the rush came, but it was met, and, narrow as was the ledge, the attempt to carry it failed. The victors were stripping the dead, and, thus engaged, few joined in the attack. Caesar had laid down his paludamentum, and the attackers thought they had to deal simply with three ordinary Romans, who meant to sell their lives dearly. Another rush; the Imperator was forced hard, so that another push would have sent him plunging into the sea; but his companions sent the attackers reeling back, and there was more breathing time. The Alexandrians had received a taste of these Roman blades, and they did not enjoy it. Stripping the dead and picking up lost arms was more profitable than bearding the three lions. The galley was drawing nearer. Drusus began to think of something else besides thrusting at men before him.
"They will give us time to escape, Imperator."
"I think so;" but as Caesar spoke all three started in dismay. There was a new face among the little band immediately opposed to them—Pratinas.
The Greek had never looked so handsome as in armour. His beautifully polished mail sat on him with perfect grace; he was a model for an artist's Ares, the beautiful genius of battle. He, at least, knew whose were those three stern, set faces defiantly peering over the low parapet that ran waist-high along the edge of the mole.
"At them!" cried the Hellene. "A thousand drachmas to the man who brings the middle Roman down!"
The "middle Roman" was Caesar. The enemy came on again, this time some springing over the parapet to run along the narrow outer platform and attack from either side. But the galley was still nearer.
"Throw off your armour and leap!" It was Drusus who commanded now, and Caesar who obeyed. The Imperator tore off his greaves and helmet, caught his general's cloak in his teeth, that it might not fall as a trophy to the foe, and sprang down into the waves; it was all done in a twinkling. But, quick as the leap had been, it was but just in time. A rush of irresistible numbers carried Drusus off of his feet, and he fell also—but fell in all his armour. It was an instant too crowded for sensations. He just realized that his helmet tumbled from his head as he fell backward. The weight of his greaves righted him while he was in the air. He struck the water with his feet. There was a chilling shock; and then, as he went down, the shield on his left arm caught the water in its hollow and bore him upward. Nature reasserted itself; by a mighty tug at the straps he wrenched away his breastplate, and could make shift to float. The short harbour waves lifted him, and he saw Caesar striking out boldly toward the now rapidly approaching galley. Even as the general swam, Drusus observed that he held up a package of papyri in his left hand to keep it out of the wet; in uttermost perils Caesar could not forget his books. But while the young man gazed seaward, shook the water from his eyes, and struck out to reach the friendly galley, groans and shouts arose from the waters near beside him. A voice—Agias's voice—was calling out for help. The sound of his freedman's cries drove the Roman to action. Twice the waves lifted him, and he saw nothing; but at the third time he lit on two forms clinging to a bit of wreckage, and yet struggling together. A few powerful strokes sent him beside them, and, to his unutterable astonishment, he beheld in the person who was battling with Agias for possession of the float none other than Pratinas. There are times when nothing has opportunity to appear wonderful. This moment was one of these. Actions, not words, were wanted. The elder Greek had made shift to draw a dagger, and was making a vicious effort to stab the other, who had gripped him round the neck with a tenacity that would end only with life. One stroke of Drusus's fist as he surged alongside the wreckage sent the dagger flying; and in a twinkling he had borne Pratinas down and had him pinioned fast on the planking of the rude raft. There was a great shout rising from the enemy on the mole. A few darts spat in the water beside the fugitives; but at the sight of the approaching galley the Alexandrians gave way, for on her decks were swarming archers and slingers, and her powerful ballistae were already working havoc. The pulsations of her banks of oars grew slower as she swept up to the fugitives, the great column of white spray curling around her prow sank, and while she drifted past them a boat shot forth. In a minute Drusus was standing on her deck, and the sailors were passing up Pratinas, still feebly resisting, and Agias, who was weak and helpless with his wounds. On the poop Caesar was conversing with a seaman of magnificent presence, who was in the act of assuring the Imperator that his vessel and crew were at the general's service.
The boats of the rescuer were pulling about, taking up such few Romans as had been able to keep afloat; but Drusus was too exhausted to give them further heed. He realized that the vessel he was aboard was no member of the Roman squadron, that its crew were neither Caesarians nor Alexandrians. Deft hands aided him off with his water-soaked clothing, and placed bandages on his bruises and cuts. A beaker of spiced wine, the like of which he had never drunk before, sent a thrill of reinvigorated life through his veins. When he came back upon the deck he found Caesar—pale, yet, as ever, active and untiring—still conversing with the captain of the vessel. The Imperator had a bandage drawn across his forehead, but otherwise he seemed none the worse for his recent danger. The galley, under a swinging oar, was pulling back across the "Great Harbour" to the palace quay. The battle was over; four hundred good Roman lives had been lost, but the disaster had not entailed any serious compromise of Caesar's position. There was no need of continuing at the Pharos, and it was well to assure the anxious garrison at the palace-fortress that their general was safe and sound.
Drusus, as the one thing natural under the circumstances, went to the captain of his rescuers to express his obligation and gratitude.
"This is Quintus Livius Drusus," said Caesar, good-naturedly, already at his ease, to the strange commander, "who serves on my staff. In saving him I owe you a debt, O Demetrius, in addition to my own rescue."
The stranger caught Drusus by both hands.
"Are you indeed the son of Sextus Drusus of Praeneste?" he questioned with eagerness.
"Assuredly, my good sir," replied the young Roman, a bit confused at the other's impetuosity.
"And did your father never tell you of a certain Demetrius, a Greek, who was his friend?"
"He did; this Demetrius was cast into prison and condemned by Pompeius; my father secured his escape;" and Drusus hesitated. His mind had worked rapidly, and he could jump at a conclusion.
"Say it out, your excellency," pressed the seaman.
"He became a pirate, though my father did not blame him overmuch."
"Eu!" interrupted Caesar, as if to prevent a moment of awkwardness. "Before King Minos's days nothing was more honourable. I have known some excellent men who were pirates."
But Demetrius had, in true Eastern fashion, fallen on his knees and kissed the feet of Drusus.
"The son of my preserver! I have saved him! Praises to Mithras!"
After this, there was no longer any constraint on the part of rescuers or rescued. And that evening, when all were safe behind the palace walls, Caesar called the pirate chief into the hall where he had been banqueting with Cleopatra, Fabia, and Cornelia, and his favourite officers, and asked for an account of his life. A strange enough story it was Demetrius had to tell, though Cornelia had heard it before; of two voyages to wealthy Taprobane, one as far as the Golden Chersonesos, almost to the Silk Land, Serica, of voyages out beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the Sea of Darkness,—everywhere that keel of ship had ploughed within the memory of man.
 Malay Peninsula.
"And the men that drove you to freebooting?" asked Caesar, when the company had ceased applauding this recital, which the sailor set forth with a spontaneous elegance that made it charming.
"I have said that they were Lucius Domitius, whom the gods have rewarded, and a certain Greek."
"The Greek's name was—"
"Kyrios," said Demetrius, his fine features contracting with pain and disgust, "I do not willingly mention his name. He has done me so great a wrong, that I only breathe his name with a curse. Must you know who it was that took my child, my Daphne,—though proof I have not against him, but only the warnings of an angry heart?"
"But he was—" pressed Caesar.
"Menon." And as he spoke he hissed the words between his teeth. "He is one knave among ten thousand. Why burden your excellency with remembering him?"
So the conversation went on, and Caesar told how he had been taken prisoner, when a young man, by pirates near Rhodes, and how he had been kept captive by them on a little isle while his ransom was coming.
"Ah!" interrupted Demetrius, "I have heard the whole tale from one of my men who was there. You, kyrios, behaved like a prince. You bade your captors take fifty talents instead of twenty, as they asked, and wrote verses and declaimed to your guards all the time you were awaiting the money, and joined in all their sports; howbeit, you kept telling them that you would crucify them all for the matter."