I gasped and sat silent; and gazing sadly at me she went on:
"When she understood how great was the plot, and how deep its roots, Cleopatra was much troubled; and, at first, she would have fled to Sais or taken ship and run for Cyprus, but I showed her that the ways were barred. Then she said she would cause thee to be slain, there, in the chamber, and I left her so believing; for, at that hour, I was glad that thou shouldst be slain—ay, even if I wept out my heart upon thy grave, Harmachis. But what said I just now?—Vengeance is an arrow that oft falls on him who looses it. So it was with me; for between my going and thy coming Cleopatra hatched a deeper plan. She feared that to slay thee would only be to light a fiercer fire of revolt; but she saw that to bind thee to her, and, having left men awhile in doubt, to show thee faithless, would strike the imminent danger at its roots and wither it. This plot once formed, being great, she dared its doubtful issue, and—need I go on? Thou knowest, Harmachis, how she won; and thus the shaft of vengeance that I loosed fell upon my own head. For on the morrow I knew that I had sinned for naught, that the burden of my betrayal had been laid on the wretched Paulus, and that I had but ruined the cause to which I was sworn and given the man I loved to the arms of wanton Egypt."
She bowed her head awhile, and then, as I spoke not, once more went on:
"Let all my sin be told, Harmachis, and then let justice come. See now, this thing happened. Half did Cleopatra learn to love thee, and deep in her heart she bethought her of taking thee to wedded husband. For the sake of this half love of hers she spared the lives of those in the plot whom she had meshed, bethinking her that if she wedded thee she might use them and thee to draw the heart of Egypt, which loves not her nor any Ptolemy. And then, once again she entrapped thee, and in thy folly thou didst betray to her the secret of the hidden wealth of Egypt, which to-day she squanders to delight the luxurious Antony; and, of a truth, at that time she purposed to make good her oath and marry thee. But on the very morn when Dellius came for answer she sent for me, and telling me all—for my wit, above any, she holds at price—demanded of me my judgment whether she should defy Antony and wed thee, or whether she should put the thought away and come to Antony. And I—now mark thou all my sin—I, in my bitter jealousy, rather than I would see her thy wedded wife and thou her loving lord, counselled her most strictly that she should come to Antony, well knowing—for I had had speech with Dellius—that if she came, this weak Antony would fall like a ripe fruit at her feet, as, indeed, he has fallen. And but now I have shown thee the issue of the scheme. Antony loves Cleopatra and Cleopatra loves Antony, and thou art robbed, and matters have gone well for me, who of all women on the earth to-night am the wretchedest by far. For when I saw how thy heart broke but now, my heart seemed to break with thine, and I could no longer bear the burden of my evil deeds, but knew that I must tell them and take my punishment.
"And now, Harmachis, I have no more to say; save that I thank thee for thy courtesy in hearkening, and this one thing I add. Driven by my great love I have sinned against thee unto death! I have ruined thee, I have ruined Khem, and myself also I have ruined! Let death reward me! Slay thou me, Harmachis—I will gladly die upon thy sword; ay, and kiss its blade! Slay thou me and go; for if thou slayest me not, myself I will surely slay!" And she threw herself upon her knees, lifting her fair breast toward me, that I might smite her with my dagger. And, in my bitter fury, I was minded to strike; for, above all, I thought how, when I was fallen, this woman, who herself was my cause of shame, had scourged me with her whip of scorn. But it is hard to slay a fair woman; and, even as I lifted my hand to strike, I remembered that she had now twice saved my life.
"Woman! thou shameless woman!" I said, "arise! I slay thee not! Who am I, that I should judge thy crime, that, with mine own, doth overtop all earthly judgment?"
"Slay me, Harmachis!" she moaned; "slay me, or I slay myself! My burden is too great for me to bear! Be not so deadly calm! Curse me, and slay!"
"What was it that thou didst say to me just now, Charmion—that as I had sown so I must reap? It is not lawful that thou shouldst slay thyself; it is not lawful that I, thine equal in sin, should slay thee because through thee I sinned. As thou hast sown, Charmion, so must thou also reap. Base woman! whose cruel jealousy has brought all these woes on me and Egypt, live—live on, and from year to year pluck the bitter fruit of crime! Haunted be thy sleep by visions of thy outraged Gods, whose vengeance awaits thee and me in their dim Amenti! Haunted be thy days by memories of that man whom thy fierce love brought to shame and ruin, and by the sight of Khem a prey to the insatiate Cleopatra and a slave to Roman Antony."
"Oh, speak not thus, Harmachis! Thy words are sharper than any sword; and more surely, if more slowly, shall they slay! Listen, Harmachis," and she grasped my robe: "when thou wast great, and all power lay within thy grasp, thou didst reject me. Wilt reject me now that Cleopatra hast cast thee from her—now that thou art poor and shamed and with no pillow to thy head? Still am I fair, and still I worship thee. Let me fly with thee, and make atonement for my lifelong love. Or, if this be too great a thing to ask, let me be but as thy sister and thy servant—thy very slave, so that I may still look upon thy face, and share thy trouble and minister to thee. O Harmachis, let me but come and I will brave all things and endure all things, and nothing but Death himself shall stay me from thy side. For I do believe that the love that sank me to so low a depth, dragging thee with me, can yet lift me to an equal height, and thee with me!"
"Wouldst tempt me to fresh sin, woman? And dost thou think, Charmion, that in some hovel where I must hide, I could bear, day by day, to look upon thy fair face, and seeing, remember that those lips betrayed me? Not thus easily shalt thou atone! This I know even now: many and heavy shall be thy lonely days of penance! Perchance that hour of vengeance yet may come, and perchance thou shalt live to play thy part in it. Thou must still abide in the Court of Cleopatra; and, while thou art there, if I yet live, I will from time to time find means to give thee tidings. Perhaps a day may dawn when once more I shall need thy service. Now, swear that, in this event, thou wilt not fail me a second time."
"I swear, Harmachis!—I swear! May everlasting torments, too hideous to be dreamed—more hideous, even, by far, than those that wring me now—be my portion if I fail thee in one jot or tittle—ay, though I wait a lifetime for thy word!"
"It is well; see that thou keep the oath—not twice may we betray. I go to work out my fate; abide thou to work out thine. Perchance our divers threads will once more mingle ere the web be spun. Charmion, who unasked didst love me—and who, prompted by that gentle love of thine, didst betray and ruin me—fare thee well!"
She gazed wildly upon my face—she stretched out her arms as though to clasp me; then, in the agony of her despair, she cast herself at length and grovelled upon the ground.
I took up the sack of clothing and the staff and gained the door, and, as I passed it, I threw one last glance upon her. There she lay, with arms outstretched—more white than her white robes—her dark hair streaming about her, and her fair brows hidden in the dust.
And thus I left her, nor did I again set my eyes upon her till nine long years had come and gone.
[Here ends the second and largest roll of papyrus.]
BOOK III—THE VENGEANCE OF HARMACHIS
OF THE ESCAPE OF HARMACHIS FROM TARSUS; OF HIS BEING CAST FORTH AS AN OFFERING TO THE GODS OF THE SEA; OF HIS SOJOURN IN THE ISLE OF CYPRUS; OF HIS RETURN TO ABOUTHIS; AND OF THE DEATH OF AMENEMHAT
I made my way down the stair in safety, and presently stood in the courtyard of that great house. It was but an hour from dawn, and none were stirring. The last reveller had drunk his fill, the dancing-girls had ceased their dancing, and silence lay upon the city. I drew near the gate, and was challenged by an officer who stood on guard, wrapped in a heavy cloak.
"Who passes," said the voice of Brennus.
"A merchant, may it please you, Sir, who, having brought gifts from Alexandria to a lady of the Queen's household, and, having been entertained of the lady, now departs to his galley," I answered in a feigned voice.
"Umph!" he growled. "The ladies of the Queen's household keep their guests late. Well; it is a time of festival. The pass-word, Sir Shopkeeper? Without the pass-word you must needs return and crave the lady's further hospitality."
"'Antony,' Sir; and a right good word, too. Ah! I've wandered far, and never saw I so goodly a man or so great a general. And, mark you, Sir! I've travelled far, and seen many generals."
"Ay; 'Antony''s the word! And Antony is a good general in his way—when it is a sober way, and when he cannot find a skirt to follow. I've served with Antony—and against him, too; and know his points. Well, well; he's got an armful now!"
And all this while that he was holding me in talk, the sentry had been pacing to and fro before the gate. But now he moved a little way to the right, leaving the entrance clear.
"Fare thee well, Harmachis, and begone!" whispered Brennus, leaning forward and speaking quickly. "Linger not. But at times bethink thee of Brennus who risked his neck to save thine. Farewell, lad, I would that we were sailing North together," and he turned his back upon me and began to hum a tune.
"Farewell, Brennus, thou honest man," I answered, and was gone. And, as I heard long afterwards, when on the morrow the hue and cry was raised because the murderers could not find me, though they sought me everywhere to slay me, Brennus did me a service. For he swore that as he kept his watch alone an hour after midnight he saw me come and stand upon the parapet of the roof, that then I stretched out my robes and they became wings on which I floated up to Heaven, leaving him astonished. And all those about the Court lent ear to this history, believing in it, because of the great fame of my magic; and they wondered much what the marvel might portend. The tale also travelled into Egypt, and did much to save my good name among those whom I had betrayed; for the more ignorant among them believed that I acted not of my will, but of the will of the dread Gods, who of their own purpose wafted me into Heaven. And thus to this day the saying runs that "When Harmachis comes again Egypt shall be free." But alas, Harmachis comes no more! Only Cleopatra, though she was much afraid, doubted her of the tale, and sent an armed vessel to search for the Syrian merchant, but not to find him, as shall be told.
When I reached the galley of which Charmion had spoken, I found her about to sail, and gave the writing to the captain, who conned it, looking on me curiously, but said nothing.
So I went aboard, and immediately we dropped swiftly down the river with the current. And having come to the mouth of the river unchallenged, though we passed many vessels, we put out to sea with a strong favouring wind that before night freshened to a great gale. Then the sailor men, being much afraid, would have put about and run for the mouth of Cydnus again, but could not because of the wildness of the sea. All that night it blew furiously, and by dawn our mast was carried away, and we rolled helplessly in the trough of the great waves. But I sat wrapped in a cloak, little heeding; and because I showed no fear the sailors cried out that I was a wizard, and sought to cast me into the sea, but the captain would not. At dawn the wind slackened, but ere noon it once more blew in terrible fury, and at the fourth hour from noon we came in sight of the rocky coast of that cape in the island of Cyprus which is called Dinaretum, where is a mountain named Olympus, and thither-wards we drifted swiftly. Then, when the sailors saw the terrible rocks, and how the great waves that smote on them spouted up in foam, once more they grew much afraid, and cried out in their fear. For, seeing that I still sat unmoved, they swore that I certainly was a wizard, and came to cast me forth as a sacrifice to the Gods of the sea. And this time the captain was over-ruled, and said nothing. Therefore, when they came to me I rose and defied them, saying, "Cast me forth, if ye will; but if ye cast me forth ye shall perish."
For in my heart I cared little, having no more any love of life, but rather a desire to die, though I greatly feared to pass into the presence of my Holy Mother Isis. But my weariness and sorrow at the bitterness of my lot overcame even this heavy fear; so that when, being mad as brute beasts, they seized me and, lifting me, hurled me into the raging waters, I did but utter one prayer to Isis and made ready for death. But it was fated that I should not die; for, when I rose to the surface of the water, I saw a spar of wood floating near me, to which I swam and clung. And a great wave came and swept me, riding, as it were, upon the spar, as when a boy I had learned to do in the waters of the Nile, past the bulwarks of the galley where the fierce-faced sailors clustered to see me drown. And when they saw me come mounted on the wave, cursing them as I came, and saw, too, that the colour of my face had changed—for the salt water had washed way the pigment, they shrieked with fear and threw themselves down upon the deck. And within a very little while, as I rode toward the rocky coast, a great wave poured into the vessel, that rolled broadside on, and pressed her down into the deep, whence she rose no more.
So she sank with all her crew. And in that same storm also sank the galley which Cleopatra had sent to search for the Syrian merchant. Thus all traces of me were lost, and of a surety she believed that I was dead.
But I rode on toward the shore. The wind shrieked and the salt waves lashed my face as, alone with the tempest, I rushed upon my way, while the sea-birds screamed about my head. I felt no fear, but rather a wild uplifting of the heart; and in the stress of my imminent peril the love of life seemed to waken again. And so I plunged and drifted, now tossed high toward the lowering clouds, now cast into the deep valleys of the sea, till at length the rocky headland loomed before me, and I saw the breakers smite upon the stubborn rocks, and through the screaming of the wind heard the sullen thunder of their fall and the groan of stones sucked seaward from the beach. On! high-throned upon the mane of a mighty billow—fifty cubits beneath me the level of the hissing waters; above me the inky sky! It was done! The spar was torn from me, and, dragged downwards by the weight of the bag of gold and the clinging of my garments, I sank struggling furiously.
Now I was under—the green light for a moment streamed through the waters, and then came darkness, and on the darkness pictures of the past. Picture after picture—all the long scene of life was written here. Then in my ears I only heard the song of the nightingale, the murmur of the summer sea, and the music of Cleopatra's laugh of victory, following me softly and yet more soft as I sank away to sleep.
Once more my life came back, and with it a sense of deadly sickness and of aching pain. I opened my eyes and saw a kind face bending over me, and knew that I was in the room of a builded house.
"How came I hither?" I asked faintly.
"Of a truth, Poseidon brought thee, Stranger," answered a rough voice in barbarous Greek; "we found thee cast high upon the beach like a dead dolphin and brought thee to our house, for we are fisher-folk. And here, methinks, thou must lie a while, for thy left leg is broken by the force of the waves."
I strove to move my foot and could not. It was true, the bone was broken above the knee.
"Who art thou, and how art thou named?" asked the rough-bearded sailor.
"I am an Egyptian traveller whose ship has sunk in the fury of the gale, and I am named Olympus," I answered, for these people called a mountain that we had sighted Olympus, and therefore I took the name at hazard. And as Olympus I was henceforth known.
Here with these rough fisher-folk I abode for the half of a year, paying them a little out of the sum of gold that had come safely ashore upon me. For it was long before my bones grew together again, and then I was left somewhat of a cripple; for I, who had been so tall and straight and strong, now limped—one limb being shorter than the other. And after I recovered from my hurt, I still lived there, and toiled with them at the trade of fishing; for I knew not whither I should go or what I should do, and, for a while, I was fain to become a peasant fisherman, and so wear my weary life away. And these people entreated me kindly, though, as others, they feared me much, holding me to be a wizard brought hither by the sea. For my sorrows had stamped so strange an aspect on my face that men gazing at me grew fearful of what lay beneath its calm.
There, then, I abode, till at length, one night as I lay and strove to sleep, great restlessness came upon me, and a mighty desire once more to see the face of Sihor. But whether this desire was of the Gods or born of my own heart, not knowing, I cannot tell. So strong was it, at the least, that before it was dawn I rose from my bed of straw and clothed myself in my fisher garb, and, because I had no wish to answer questions, thus I took farewell of my humble hosts. First I placed some pieces of gold on the well-cleaned table of wood, and then taking a pot of flour I strewed it in the form of letters, writing:
"This gift from Olympus, the Egyptian, who returns into the sea."
Then I went, and on the third day I came to the great city of Salamis, that is also on the sea. Here I abode in the fishermen's quarters till a vessel was about to sail for Alexandria, and to the captain of this vessel, a man of Paphos, I hired myself as a sailor. We sailed with a favouring wind, and on the fifth day I came to Alexandria, that hateful city, and saw the light dancing on its golden domes.
Here I might not abide. So again I hired myself out as a sailor, giving my labour in return for passage, and we passed up the Nile. And I learned from the talk of men that Cleopatra had come back to Alexandria, drawing Antony with her and that they lived together with royal state in the palace on the Lochias. Indeed, the boatmen already had a song thereon, which they sang as they laboured at the oar. Also I heard how the galley that was sent to search for the vessel which carried the Syrian merchant had foundered with all her crew, and the tale that the Queen's astronomer, Harmachis, had flown to Heaven from the roof of the house at Tarsus. And the sailors wondered because I sat and laboured and would not sing their ribald song of the loves of Cleopatra. For they, too, began to fear me, and mutter concerning me among themselves. Then I knew that I was a man accursed and set apart—a man whom none might love.
On the sixth day we drew nigh to Abouthis, where I left the craft, and the sailors were right glad to see me go. And, with a breaking heart, I walked through the fertile fields, seeing faces that I knew well. But in my rough disguise and limping gait none knew me. At length, as the sun sank, I came near to the great outer pylon of the temple; and here I crouched down in the ruins of a house, not knowing why I had come or what I was about to do. Like a lost ox I had strayed from far, back to the fields of my birth, and for what? If my father, Amenemhat, still lived, surely he would turn his face from me. I dared not go into the presence of my father. I sat hidden there among the broken rafters, and idly watched the pylon gates, to see if, perchance, a face I knew should issue from them. But none came forth or entered in, though the great gates stood wide; and then I saw that herbs were growing between the stones, where no herbs had grown for ages. What could this be? Was the temple deserted? Nay; how could the worship of the eternal Gods have ceased, that for thousands of years had, day by day, been offered in the holy place? Was, then, my father dead? It well might be. And yet, why this silence? Where were the priests: where the worshippers?
I could bear the doubt no more, but as the sun sank red I crept like a hunted jackal through the open gates, and on till I reached the first great Hall of Pillars. Here I paused and gazed around me—not a sight, not a sound, in the dim and holy place! I went on with a beating heart to the second great hall, the hall of six-and-thirty pillars where I had been crowned Lord of all the Lands: still not a sight or a sound! Thence, half fearful of my own footfall, so terribly did it echo in the silence of the deserted Holies, I passed down the passage of the names of the Pharaohs towards my father's chamber. The curtain still swung over the doorway; but what would there be within?—also emptiness? I lifted it, and noiselessly passed in, and there in his carven chair at the table on which his long white beard flowed, sat my father, Amenemhat, clad in his priestly robes. At first I thought that he was dead, he sat so still; but at length he turned his head, and I saw that his eyes were white and sightless. He was blind, and his face was thin as the face of a dead man, and woeful with age and grief.
I stood still and felt the blind eyes wandering over me. I could not speak to him—I dared not speak to him; I would go and hide myself afresh.
I had already turned and grasped the curtain, when my father spoke in a deep, slow voice:
"Come hither, thou who wast my son and art a traitor. Come hither, thou Harmachis, on whom Khem builded up her hope. Not in vain, then, have I drawn thee from far away! Not in vain have I held my life in me till I heard thy footfall creeping down these empty Holies, like the footfall of a thief!"
"Oh! my father," I gasped, astonished. "Thou art blind: how knowest thou me?"
"How do I know thee?—and askest thou that who hast learned of our lore? Enough, I know thee and I brought thee hither. Would, Harmachis, that I knew thee not! Would that I had been blasted of the Invisible ere I drew thee down from the womb of Nout, to be my curse and shame, and the last woe of Khem!"
"Oh, speak not thus!" I moaned; "is not my burden already more than I can bear? Am I not myself betrayed and utterly outcast? Be pitiful, my father!"
"Be pitiful!—be pitiful to thee who hast shown so great pity? It was thy pity which gave up noble Sepa to die beneath the hands of the tormentors!"
"Oh, not that—not that!" I cried.
"Ay, traitor, that!—to die in agony, with his last poor breath proclaiming thee, his murderer, honest and innocent! Be pitiful to thee, who gavest all the flower of Khem as the price of a wanton's arms!—thinkest thou that, labouring in the darksome desert mines, those noble ones in thought are pitiful to thee, Harmachis? Be pitiful to thee, by whom this Holy Temple of Abouthis hath been ravaged, its lands seized, its priests scattered, and I alone, old and withered, left to count out its ruin—to thee, who hast poured the treasures of Her into thy leman's lap, who hast forsworn Thyself, thy Country, thy Birthright, and thy Gods! Yea, thus am I pitiful: Accursed be thou, fruit of my loins!—Shame be thy portion, Agony thy end, and Hell receive thee at the last! Where art thou? Yea, I grew blind with weeping when I heard the truth—sure, they strove to hide it from me. Let me find thee that I may spit upon thee, thou Renegade! thou Apostate! thou Outcast!"—and he rose from his seat and staggered like a living Wrath toward me, smiting the air with his wand. And as he came with outstretched arms, awful to see, suddenly his end found him, and with a cry he sank down upon the ground, the red blood streaming from his lips. I ran to him and lifted him; and as he died, he babbled:
"He was my son, a bright-eyed lovely boy, and full of promise as the Spring; and now—and now—oh, would that he were dead!"
Then came a pause and the breath rattled in his throat.
"Harmachis," he gasped, "art there?"
"Harmachis, atone!—atone! Vengeance can still be wreaked—forgiveness may still be won. There's gold; I've hidden it—Atoua—she can tell thee—ah, this pain! Farewell!"
And he struggled faintly in my arms and was dead.
Thus, then, did I and my holy father, the Prince Amenemhat, meet together for the last time in the flesh, and for the last time part.
OF THE LAST MISERY OF HARMACHIS; OF THE CALLING DOWN OF THE HOLY ISIS BY THE WORD OF FEAR; OF THE PROMISE OF ISIS; OF THE COMING OF ATOUA, AND OF THE WORDS OF ATOUA
I crouched upon the floor gazing at the dead body of my father, who had lived to curse me, the utterly accursed, while the darkness crept and gathered round us, till at length the dead and I were alone in the black silence. Oh, how tell the misery of that hour! Imagination cannot dream it, nor words paint it forth. Once more in my wretchedness I bethought me of death. A knife was at my girdle, with which I might cut the thread of sorrow and set my spirit free. Free? ay, free to fly and face the last vengeance of the Holy Gods! Alas! and alas! I did not dare to die. Better the earth with all its woes than the quick approach of those unimagined terrors that, hovering in dim Amenti, wait the advent of the fallen.
I grovelled on the ground and wept tears of agony for the lost unchanging past—wept till I could weep no more; but no answer came from the silence—no answer but the echoes of my grief. Not a ray of hope! My soul wandered in a darkness more utter than that which was about me—I was forsaken of the Gods and cast out of men. Terror took hold upon me crouching in that lonely place hard by the majesty of the awful Dead. I rose to fly. How could I fly in this gloom?—And where should I fly who had no place of refuge? Once more I crouched down, and the great fear grew on me till the cold sweat ran from my brow and my soul was faint within me. Then, in my last despair, I prayed aloud to Isis, to whom I had not dared to pray for many days.
"O Isis! Holy Mother!" I cried; "put away Thy wrath, and of Thine infinite pity, O Thou all-pitiful, hearken to the voice of the anguish of him who was Thy son and servant, but who by sin hath fallen from the vision of Thy love. O throned Glory, who, being in all things, hast of all things understanding and of all griefs knowledge, cast the weight of Thy mercy against the scale of my evil-doing, and make the balance equal. Look down upon my woe, and measure it; count up the sum of my repentance and take Thou note of the flood of sorrow that sweeps my soul away. O Thou Holy, whom it was given to me to look upon face to face, by that dread hour of commune I summon Thee; I summon Thee by the mystic word. Come, then, in mercy, to save me; or, in anger, to make an end of that which can no more be borne."
And, rising from my knees, I stretched out my arms and dared to cry aloud the Word of Fear, to use which unworthily is death.
Swiftly the answer came. For in the silence I heard the sound of the shaken sistra heralding the coming of the Glory. Then, at the far end of the chamber, grew the semblance of the horned moon, gleaming faintly in the darkness, and betwixt the golden horns rested a small dark cloud, in and out of which the fiery serpent climbed.
My knees waxed loose in the presence of the Glory, and I sank down before it.
Then spake the small, sweet Voice within the cloud:
"Harmachis, who wast my servant and my son, I have heard thy prayer, and the summons that thou hast dared to utter, which on the lips of one with whom I have communed, hath power to draw Me from the Uttermost. No more, Harmachis, may we be one in the bond of Love Divine, for thou hast put Me away of thine own act. Therefore, after this long silence I come, Harmachis, clothed in terrors, and, perchance, ready for vengeance, for not lightly can Isis be drawn from the halls of Her Divinity."
"Smite, Goddess!" I answered. "Smite, and give me over to those who wreak Thy vengeance; for I can no longer bear the burden of my woe!"
"And if thou canst not bear thy burden here, upon this upper earth," came the soft reply, "how then shalt thou bear the greater burden that shall be laid upon thee there, coming defiled and yet unpurified into my dim realm of Death, that is Life and Change unending? Nay, Harmachis, I smite thee not, for not all am I wroth that thou hast dared to utter the awful Word which calls Me down to thee. Hearken, Harmachis; I praise not, and I reproach not, for I am the Minister of Reward and Punishment and the Executrix of Decrees; and if I give, I give in silence; and if I smite, in silence do I smite. Therefore, I will add naught to thy burden by the weight of heavy words, though through thee it has come to pass that soon shall Isis, the Mother-Mystery, be but a memory in Egypt. Thou hast sinned, and heavy shall be thy punishment, as I did warn thee, both in the flesh and in my kingdom of Amenti. But I told thee that there is a road of repentance, and surely thy feet are set thereon, and therein must thou walk with a humble heart, eating of the bread of bitterness, till such time as thy doom be measured."
"Have I, then, no hope, O holy?"
"That which is done, Harmachis, is done, nor can its issues be altered. Khem shall no more be free till all its temples are as the desert dust; strange Peoples shall, from age to age, hold her hostage and in bonds; new Religions shall arise and wither within the shadow of her pyramids, for to every World, Race, and Age the countenances of the Gods are changed. This is the tree that shall spring from thy seed of sin, Harmachis, and from the sin of those who tempted thee!"
"Alas! I am undone!" I cried.
"Yea, thou art undone; and yet shall this be given to thee: thy Destroyer thou shalt destroy—for so, in the purpose of my justice, it is ordained. When the sign comes to thee, arise, go to Cleopatra, and in such manner as I shall put into thy heart do Heaven's vengeance upon her! And now for thyself one word, for thou hast put Me from thee, Harmachis, and no more shall I come face to face with thee till, cycles hence, the last fruit of thy sin hath ceased to be upon this earth! Yet, through the vastness of the unnumbered years, remember thou this: the Love Divine is Love Eternal, which cannot be extinguished, though it be everlastingly estranged. Repent, my son; repent and do well while there is yet time, that at the dim end of ages thou mayest once more be gathered unto Me. Still, Harmachis, though thou seest Me not; still, when the very name by which thou knowest Me has become a meaningless mystery to those who shall be after thee; still I, whose hours are eternal—I, who have watched Universes wither, wane, and, beneath the breath of Time, melt into nothingness; again to gather, and, re-born, thread the maze of space—still, I say, I shall companion thee. Wherever thou goest, in whatever form of life thou livest, there I shall be! Art thou wafted to the farthest star, art thou buried in Amenti's lowest deep—in lives, in deaths, in sleeps, in wakings, in remembrances, in oblivions, in all the fevers of the outer Life, in all the changes of the Spirit—still, if thou wilt but atone and forget Me no more, I shall be with thee, waiting thine hour of redemption. For this is the nature of Love Divine, wherewith it loves that which partakes of its divinity and by the holy tie hath once been bound to it. Judge then, Harmachis: was it well to put this from thee to win the dust of earthly woman? And, now, dare not again to utter the Word of Power till these things are done! Harmachis, for this season, fare thee well!"
As the last note of the sweet Voice died away, the fiery snake climbed into the heart of the cloud. Now the cloud rolled from the horns of light, and was gathered into the blackness. The vision of the crescent moon grew dim and vanished. Then, as the Goddess passed, once more came the faint and dreadful music of the shaken sistra, and all was still.
I hid my face in my robe, and even then, though my outstretched hand could touch the chill corpse of that father who had died cursing me, I felt hope come back into my heart, knowing that I was not altogether lost nor utterly rejected of Her whom I had forsaken, but whom I yet loved. And then weariness overpowered me, and I slept.
I woke, the faint lights of dawn were creeping from the opening in the roof. Ghastly they lay upon the shadowy sculptured walls and ghastly upon the dead face and white beard of my father, the gathered to Osiris. I started up, remembering all things, and wondering in my heart what I should do, and as I rose I heard a faint footfall creeping down the passage of the names of the Pharaohs.
"La! La! La!" mumbled a voice that I knew for the voice of the old wife, Atoua. "Why, 'tis dark as the House of the Dead! The Holy Ones who built this Temple loved not the blessed sun, however much they worshipped him. Now, where's the curtain?"
Presently it was drawn, and Atoua entered, a stick in one hand and a basket in the other. Her face was somewhat more wrinkled, and her scanty locks were somewhat whiter than aforetime, but for the rest she was as she had ever been. She stood and peered around with her sharp black eyes, for as yet she could see nothing because of the shadows.
"Now where is he?" she muttered. "Osiris—glory to His name—send that he has not wandered in the night, and he blind! Alack! that I could not return before the dark. Alack! and alack! what times have we fallen on, when the Holy High Priest and the Governor, by descent, of Abouthis, is left with one aged crone to minister to his infirmity! O Harmachis, my poor boy, thou hast laid trouble at our doors! Why, what's this? Surely he sleeps not, there upon the ground?—'twill be his death! Prince! Holy Father! Amenemhat! awake, arise!" and she hobbled towards the corpse. "Why, how is it! By Him who sleeps, he's dead! untended and alone—dead! dead!" and she sent her long wail of grief ringing up the sculptured walls.
"Hush! woman, be still!" I said, gliding from the shadows.
"Oh, what art thou?" she cried, casting down her basket. "Wicked man, hast thou murdered this Holy One, the only Holy One in Egypt? Surely the curse will fall on thee, for though the Gods do seem to have forsaken us now in our hour of trial, yet is their arm long, and certainly they will be avenged on him who hath slain their anointed!"
"Look on me, Atoua," I cried.
"Look! ay, I look—thou wicked wanderer who hast dared this cruel deed! Harmachis is a traitor and lost far away, and Amenemhat his holy father is murdered, and now I'm all alone without kith or kin. I gave them for him. I gave them for Harmachis, the traitor! Come, slay me also, thou wicked one!"
I took a step toward her, and she, thinking that I was about to smite her, cried out in fear:
"Nay, good Sir, spare me! Eighty and six, by the Holy Ones, eighty and six, come next flood of Nile, and yet I would not die, though Osiris is merciful to the old who served him! Come no nearer—help! help!"
"Thou fool, be silent," I said; "knowest thou me not?"
"Know thee? Can I know every wandering boatman to whom Sebek grants to earn a livelihood till Typhon claims his own? And yet—why, 'tis strange—that changed countenance!—that scar!—that stumbling gait! It is thou, Harmachis!—'tis thou, O my boy! Art come back to glad mine old eyes? I hoped thee dead! Let me kiss thee?—nay, I forget. Harmachis is a traitor, ay, and a murderer! Here lies the holy Amenemhat, murdered by the traitor, Harmachis! Get thee gone! I'll have none of traitors and of parricides! Get thee to thy wanton!—it is not thou whom I did nurse."
"Peace! woman; peace! I slew not my father—he died, alas!—he died even in my arms."
"Ay, surely, and cursing thee, Harmachis! Thou hast given death to him who gave thee life! La! la! I am old, and I've seen many a trouble; but this is the heaviest of them all! I never liked the looks of mummies; but I would I were one this hour! Get thee gone, I pray thee!"
"Old nurse, reproach me not! Have I not enough to bear?"
"Ah! yes, yes!—I did forget! Well; and what is thy sin? A woman was thy bane, as women have been to those before thee, and shall be to those after thee. And what a woman! La! la! I saw her, a beauty such as never was—an arrow pointed by the evil Gods for destruction! And thou, a young man bred as a priest—an ill training—a very ill training! 'Twas no fair match. Who can wonder that she mastered thee? Come, Harmachis; let me kiss thee! It is not for a woman to be hard on a man because he loved our sex too much. Why, that is but nature; and Nature knows her business, else she had made us otherwise. But here is an evil case. Knowest thou that this Macedonian Queen of thine hath seized the temple lands and revenues, and driven away the priests—all, save the holy Amenemhat, who lies here, and whom she left, I know not why; ay, and caused the worship of the Gods to cease within these walls. Well, he's gone!—he's gone! and indeed he is better with Osiris, for his life was a sore burden to him. And hark thou, Harmachis: he hath not left thee empty-handed; for, so soon as the plot failed, he gathered all his wealth, and it is large, and hid it—where, I can show thee—and it is thine by right of descent."
"Talk not to me of wealth, Atoua. Where shall I go and how shall I hide my shame?"
"Ah! true, true; here mayst thou not abide, for if they found thee, surely they would put thee to the dreadful death—ay, to the death by the waxen cloth. Nay, I will hide thee, and, when the funeral rites of the holy Amenemhat have been performed, we will fly hence, and cover us from the eyes of men till these sorrows are forgotten. La! la! it is a sad world, and full of trouble as the Nile mud is full of beetles. Come, Harmachis, come."
OF THE LIFE OF HIM WHO WAS NAMED THE LEARNED OLYMPUS, IN THE TOMB OF THE HARPERS THAT IS BY TAPE; OF HIS COUNSEL TO CLEOPATRA; OF THE MESSAGE OF CHARMION; AND OF THE PASSING OF OLYMPUS DOWN TO ALEXANDRIA
These things then came to pass. For eighty days I was hidden of the old wife, Atoua, while the body of the Prince, my father, was made ready for burial by those skilled in the arts of embalming. And when at last all things were done in order, I crept from my hiding-place and made offerings to the spirit of my father, and placing lotus-flowers on his breast went thence sorrowing. And on the following day, from where I lay hid, I saw the Priests of the Temple of Osiris and of the holy shrine of Isis come forth, and in slow procession bear his painted coffin to the sacred lake and lay it beneath the funeral tent in the consecrated boat. I saw them celebrate the symbol of the trial of the dead, and name him above all men just, and then bear him thence to lay him by his wife, my mother, in the deep tomb that he had hewn in the rock near to the resting-place of the Holy Osiris, where, notwithstanding my sins, I, too, hope to sleep ere long. And when all these things were done and the deep tomb sealed, the wealth of my father having been removed from the hidden treasury and placed in safety, I fled, disguised, with the old wife, Atoua, up the Nile till we came to Tape,[*] and here in this great city I lay a while, till a place could be found where I should hide myself.
And such a place I found. For to the north of the great city are brown and rugged hills, and desert valley blasted of the sun, and in this place of desolation the Divine Pharaohs, my forefathers, hollowed out their tombs in the solid rock, the most part of which are lost to this day, so cunningly have they been hidden. But some are open, for the accursed Persians and other thieves broke into them in search of treasure. And one night—for by night only did I leave my hiding-place—just as the dawn was breaking on the mountain tops, I wandered alone in this sad valley of death, like to which there is no other, and presently came to the mouth of a tomb hidden amid great rocks, which afterwards I knew for the place of the burying of the Divine Rameses, the third of that name, now long gathered to Osiris. And by the faint light of the dawn creeping through the entrance I saw that it was spacious and that within were chambers.
On the following night, therefore, I returned, bearing lights, with Atoua, my nurse, who ever ministered faithfully to me as when I was little and without discretion. And we searched the mighty tomb and came to the great Hall of the Sarcophagus of granite, in which the Divine Rameses sleeps, and saw the mystic paintings on the walls: the symbol of the Snake unending, the symbol of Ra resting upon the Scarabaeus, the symbol of Ra resting upon Nout, the symbol of the Headless men, and many others, whereof, being initiated, well I read the mysteries. And opening from the long descending passage I found chambers in which were paintings beautiful to behold, and of all manner of things. For beneath each chamber is entombed the master of the craft of which the paintings tell, he who was the chief of the servants of that craft in the house of this Divine Rameses. And on the walls of the last chamber—on the left-hand side, looking toward the Hall of the Sarcophagus—are paintings exceedingly beautiful, and two blind harpers playing upon their bent harps before the God Mou; and beneath the flooring these harpers, who harp no more, are soft at sleep. Here, then, in this gloomy place, even in the tomb of the Harpers and the company of the dead, I took up my abode; and here for eight long years I worked out my penance and made atonement for my sin. But Atoua, because she loved to be near the light, abode in the chamber of the Boats—that is, the first chamber on the right-hand side of the gallery looking toward the Hall of the Sarcophagus.
And this was the manner of my life. On every second day the old wife, Atoua, went forth and brought water from the city and such food as is necessary to keep the life from failing, and also tapers made from fat. And one hour at the time of sunrise and one hour at the time of sunset I did go forth also to wander in the valley for my health's sake and to save my sight from failing in the great darkness of the tomb. But the other hours of the day and night, except when I climbed the mountain to watch the course of the stars, I spent in prayer and meditation and sleep, till the cloud of sin lifted from my heart and once more I drew near to the Gods, though with Isis, my heavenly Mother, I might speak no more. And I grew exceedingly wise also, pondering on all those mysteries to which I held the key. For abstinence and prayer and sorrowful solitude wore away the grossness of my flesh, and with the eyes of the Spirit I learned to look deep into the heart of things till the joy of Wisdom fell like dew upon my soul.
Soon the rumour was wafted about the city that a certain holy man named Olympus abode in solitude in the tombs of the awful Valley of the Dead; and hither came people bearing sick that I might cure them. And I gave my mind to the study of simples, in which Atoua instructed me; and by lore and the weight of my thought I gained great skill in medicine, and healed many sick. And thus ever, as time went on, my fame was noised abroad; for it was said that I was also a magician and that in the tombs I had commune with the Spirits of the Dead. And this, indeed, I did—though it is not lawful for me to speak of these matters. Thus, then, it came to pass that no more need Atoua go forth to seek food and water, for the people brought it—more than was needful, for I would receive no fee. Now at first, fearing lest some in the hermit Olympus might know the lost Harmachis, I would only meet those who came in the darkness of the tomb. But afterwards, when I learned how it was held through all the land that Harmachis was certainly no more, I came forth and sat in the mouth of the tomb, and ministered to the sick, and at times calculated nativities for the great. And thus my fame grew continually, till at length folk journeyed even from Memphis and Alexandria to visit me; and from them I learned how Antony had left Cleopatra for a while, and, Fulvia being dead, had married Octavia, the sister of Caesar. Many other things I learned also.
And in the second year I did this: I despatched the old wife, Atoua, disguised as a seller of simples, to Alexandria, bidding her seek out Charmion, and, if yet she found her faithful, reveal to her the secret of my way of life. So she went, and in the fifth month from her sailing returned, bearing Charmion's greetings and a token. And she told me that she had found means to see Charmion, and, in talk, had let fall the name of Harmachis, speaking of me as one dead; at which Charmion, unable to control her grief, wept aloud. Then, reading her heart—for the old wife was very clever, and held the key of knowledge—she told her that Harmachis yet lived, and sent her greetings. Thereon Charmion wept yet more with joy, and kissed the old wife, and made her gifts, bidding her tell me that she had kept her vow, and waited for my coming and the hour of vengeance. So, having learned many secrets, Atoua returned again to Tape.
And in the following year messengers came to me from Cleopatra, bearing a sealed roll and great gifts. I opened the roll, and read this in it:
"Cleopatra to Olympus, the learned Egyptian who dwells in the Valley of Death by Tape—
"The fame of thy renown, O learned Olympus, hath reached our ears. Tell thou, then, this to us, and if thou tellest aright greater honour and wealth shalt thou have than any in Egypt: How shall we win back the love of noble Antony, who is bewitched of cunning Octavia, and tarries long from us?"
Now, in this I saw the hand of Charmion, who had made my renown known to Cleopatra.
All that night I took counsel with my wisdom, and on the morrow wrote my answer as it was put into my heart to the destruction of Cleopatra and Antony. And thus I wrote:
"Olympus the Egyptian to Cleopatra the Queen—
"Go forth into Syria with one who shall be sent to lead thee; thus shalt thou win Antony to thy arms again, and with him gifts more great than thou canst dream."
And with this letter I dismissed the messengers, bidding them share the presents sent by Cleopatra among their company.
So they went wondering.
But Cleopatra, seizing on the advice to which her passion prompted her, departed straightway with Fonteius Capito into Syria, and there the thing came about as I had foretold, for Antony was subdued of her and gave her the greater part of Cilicia, the ocean shore of Arabia Nabathaea, the balm-bearing provinces of Judaea, the province of Phoenicia, the province of Coele-Syria, the rich isle of Cyprus, and all the library of Pergamus. And to the twin children that, with the son Ptolemy, Cleopatra had borne to Antony, he impiously gave the names of "Kings, the Children of Kings"—of Alexander Helios, as the Greeks name the sun, and of Cleopatra Selene, the moon, the long-winged.
These things then came to pass.
Now on her return to Alexandria Cleopatra sent me great gifts, of which I would have none, and prayed me, the learned Olympus, to come to her at Alexandria; but it was not yet time, and I would not. But thereafter she and Antony sent many times to me for counsel, and I ever counselled them to their ruin, nor did my prophecies fail.
Thus the long years rolled away, and I, the hermit Olympus, the dweller in a tomb, the eater of bread and the drinker of water, by strength of the wisdom that was given me of the avenging Power, became once more great in Khem. For I grew ever wiser as I trampled the desires of the flesh beneath my feet and turned my eyes to heaven.
At length eight full years were accomplished. The war with the Parthians had come and gone, and Artavasdes, King of Armenia, had been led in triumph through the streets of Alexandria. Cleopatra had visited Samos and Athens; and, by her counselling, the noble Octavia had been driven, like some discarded concubine, from the house of Antony at Rome. And now, at the last, the measure of the folly of Antony was full even to the brim. For this Master of the World had no longer the good gift of reason; he was lost in Cleopatra as I had been lost. Therefore, in the event, Octavianus declared war against him.
And as I slept upon a certain day in the chamber of the Harpers, in the tomb of Pharaoh that is by Tape, there came to me a vision of my father, the aged Amenemhat, and he stood over me, leaning on his staff, and spoke, saying:
"Look forth, my son."
Then I looked forth, and with the eyes of my spirit saw the sea, and two great fleets grappling in war hard by a rocky coast. And the emblems were those of Octavian, and of the other those of Cleopatra and Antony. The ships of Antony and Cleopatra bore down upon the ships of Caesar, and drove them on, for victory inclined to Antony.
I looked again. There sat Cleopatra in a gold-decked galley watching the fight with eager eyes. Then I cast my Spirit on her so that she seemed to hear the voice of dead Harmachis crying in her ear.
"Fly, Cleopatra," it seemed to say, "fly or perish!"
She looked up wildly, and again she heard my Spirit's cry. Now a mighty fear took hold of her. She called aloud to the sailors to hoist the sails and make signal to her fleet to put about. This they did wondering but little loath, and fled in haste from the battle.
Then a great roar went up from friend and foe.
"Cleopatra is fled! Cleopatra is fled!" And I saw wreck and red ruin fall upon the fleet of Antony and awoke from my trance.
The days passed, and again a vision of my father came to me and spoke, saying:
"Arise, my son!—the hour of vengeance is at hand! Thy plots have not failed; thy prayers have been heard. By the bidding of the Gods, as she sat in her galley at the fight of Actium, the heart of Cleopatra was filled with fears, so that, deeming she heard thy voice bidding her fly or perish, she fled with all her fleet. Now the strength of Actium is broken on the sea. Go forth, and as it shall be put into thy mind, so do thou."
In the morning I awoke, wondering, and went to the mouth of the tomb, and there, coming up the valley, I saw the messengers of Cleopatra, and with them a Roman guard.
"What will ye with me now?" I asked, sternly.
"This is the message of the Queen and of great Antony," answered the Captain, bowing low before me, for I was much feared by all men. "The Queen commands thy presence at Alexandria. Many times has she sent, and thou wouldst not come; now she bids thee to come, and that swiftly, for she has need of thy counsel."
"And if I say Nay, soldier, what then?"
"These are my orders, most holy Olympus; that I bring thee by force."
I laughed aloud. "By force, thou fool! Use not such talk to me, lest I smite thee where thou art. Know, then, that I can kill as well as cure!"
"Pardon, I beseech thee!" he answered, shrinking. "I say but those things that I am bid."
"Well, I know it, Captain. Fear not; I come."
So on that very day I departed, together with the aged Atoua. Ay, I went as secretly as I had come; and the tomb of the Divine Rameses knew me no more. And with me I took all the treasures of my father, Amenemhat, for I was not minded to go to Alexandria empty-handed and as a suppliant, but rather as a man of much wealth and condition. Now, as I went, I learned that Antony, following Cleopatra, had, indeed, fled from Actium, and knew that the end drew nigh. For this and many other things had I foreseen in the darkness of the tomb of Tape, and planned to bring about.
Thus, then, I came to Alexandria, and entered into a house which had been made ready for me at the palace gates.
And that very night Charmion came to me—Charmion whom I had not seen for nine long years.
OF THE MEETING OF CHARMION WITH THE LEARNED OLYMPUS; OF HER SPEECH WITH HIM; OF THE COMING OF OLYMPUS INTO THE PRESENCE OF CLEOPATRA; AND OF THE COMMANDS OF CLEOPATRA.
Clad in my plain black robe, I sat in the guest-chamber of the house that had been made ready for me. I sat in a carven lion-footed chair, and looked upon the swinging lamps of scented oil, the pictured tapestries, the rich Syrian rugs—and, amidst all this luxury, bethought me of that tomb of the Harpers which is at Tape, and of the nine long years of dark loneliness and preparation. I sat; and crouched upon a rug near to the door, lay the aged Atoua. Her hair was white as snow, and shrivelled with age was the wrinkled countenance of the woman who, when all deserted me, had yet clung to me, in her great love forgetting my great sins. Nine years! nine long years! and now, once again, I set my foot in Alexandria! Once again in the appointed circle of things I came forth from the solitude of preparation to be a fate to Cleopatra; and this second time I came not forth to fail.
And yet how changed the circumstance! I was out of the story: my part now was but the part of the sword in the hands of Justice; I might no more hope to make Egypt free and great and sit upon my lawful throne. Khem was lost, and lost was I, Harmachis. In the rush and turmoil of events, the great plot of which I had been the pivot was covered up and forgotten; scarce a memory of it remained. The curtain of dark night was closing in upon the history of my ancient Race; its very Gods were tottering to their fall; I could already, in the spirit, hear the shriek of the Roman eagles as they flapped their wings above the furthest banks of Sihor.
Presently I roused myself and bade Atoua go seek a mirror and bring it to me, that I might look therein.
And I saw this: a face shrunken and pallid, on which no smile came; great eyes grown wan with gazing into darkness looking out beneath the shaven head, emptily, as the hollow eye-pits of a skull; a wizened halting form wasted by abstinence, sorrow, and prayer; a long wild beard of iron grey; thin blue-veined hands that ever trembled like a leaf; bowed shoulders and lessened limbs. Time and grief had done their work indeed; scarce could I think myself the same as when, the royal Harmachis—in all the splendour of my strength and youthful beauty—I first had looked upon the woman's loveliness that did destroy me. And yet within me burned the same fire as of yore; yet I was not changed, for time and grief have no power to alter the immortal spirit of man. Seasons may come and go; Hope, like a bird, may fly away; Passion may break its wings against the iron bars of Fate; Illusions may crumble as the cloudy towers of sunset flame; Faith, as running water, may slip from beneath our feet; Solitude may stretch itself around us like the measureless desert sand; Old Age may creep as the gathering night over our bowed heads grown hoary in their shame—yea, bound to Fortune's wheel, we may taste of every turn of chance—now rule as Kings, now serve as Slaves; now love, now hate; now prosper, and now perish. But still, through all, we are the same; for this is the marvel of Identity.
And as I sat and thought these things in bitterness of heart, there came a knocking at the door.
"Open, Atoua!" I said.
She rose and did my bidding; and a woman entered, clad in Grecian robes. It was Charmion, still beautiful as of old, but sad faced now and very sweet to see, with a patient fire slumbering in her downcast eyes.
She entered unattended; and, speaking no word, the old wife pointed to where I sat, and went.
"Old man," she said, addressing me, "lead me to the learned Olympus. I come upon the Queen's business."
I rose, and, lifting my head, looked upon her.
She gazed, and gave a little cry.
"Surely," she whispered, glancing round, "surely thou art not that——" And she paused.
"That Harmachis whom once thy foolish heart did love, O Charmion? Yes, I am he and what thou seest, most fair lady. Yet is Harmachis dead whom thou didst love; but Olympus, the skilled Egyptian, waits upon thy words!"
"Cease!" she said, "and of the past but one word, and then—why, let it lie. Not well, with all thy wisdom, canst thou know a true woman's heart, if thou dost believe, Harmachis, that it can change with the changes of the outer form, for then assuredly could no love follow its beloved to that last place of change—the Grave. Know thou, learned Physician, I am of that sort who, loving once, love always, and being not beloved again, go virgin to the death."
She ceased, and having naught to say, I bowed my head in answer. Yet though I said nothing and though this woman's passionate folly had been the cause of all our ruin, to speak truth, in secret I was thankful to her who, wooed of all and living in this shameless Court, had still through the long years poured out her unreturned love upon an outcast, and who, when that poor broken slave of Fortune came back in such unlovely guise, held him yet dear at heart. For what man is there who does not prize that gift most rare and beautiful, that one perfect thing which no gold can buy—a woman's unfeigned love?
"I thank thee that thou dost not answer," she said; "for the bitter words which thou didst pour upon me in those days that long are dead, and far away in Tarsus, have not lost their poisonous sting, and in my heart is no more place for the arrows of thy scorn, new venomed through thy solitary years. So let it be. Behold! I put it from me, that wild passion of my soul," and she looked up and stretched out her hands as though to press some unseen presence back, "I put it from me—though forget it I may not! There, 'tis done, Harmachis; no more shall my love trouble thee. Enough for me that once more my eyes behold thee, before sleep seals thee from their sight. Dost remember how, when I would have died by thy dear hand, thou wouldst not slay, but didst bid me live to pluck the bitter fruit of crime, and be accursed by visions of the evil I had wrought and memories of thee whom I have ruined?"
"Ay, Charmion, I remember well."
"Surely the cup of punishment has been filled. Oh! couldst thou see into the record of my heart, and read in it the suffering that I have borne—borne with a smiling face—thy justice would be satisfied indeed!"
"And yet, if report be true, Charmion, thou art the first of all the Court, and therein the most powerful and beloved. Does not Octavianus give it out that he makes war, not on Antony, nor even on his mistress, Cleopatra, but on Charmion and Iras?"
"Yes, Harmachis, and think that it has been to me thus, because of my oath to thee, to be forced to eat the bread and do the tasks of one whom so bitterly I hate!—one who robbed me of thee, and who, through the workings of my jealousy, brought me to be that which I am, brought thee to shame, and all Egypt to its ruin! Can jewels and riches and the flattery of princes and nobles bring happiness to such a one as I, who am more wretched than the meanest scullion wench? Oh, I have often wept till I was blind; and then, when the hour came, I must arise and tire me, and, with a smile, go do the bidding of the Queen and that heavy Antony. May the Gods grant me to see them dead—ay, the twain of them!—then myself I shall be content to die! Thy lot has been hard, Harmachis; but at least thou have been free, and many is the time that I have envied thee the quiet of thy haunted cave."
"I do perceive, O Charmion, that thou art mindful of thy oaths; and it is well, for the hour of vengeance is at hand."
"I am mindful, and in all things I have worked for thee in secret—for thee, and for the utter ruin of Cleopatra and the Roman. I have fanned his passion and her jealousy, I have egged her on to wickedness and him to folly, and of all have I caused report to be brought to Caesar. Listen! thus stands the matter. Thou knowest how went the fight at Actium. Thither went Cleopatra with her fleet, sorely against the will of Antony. But, as thou sentest me word, I entreated him for the Queen, vowing to him, with tears, that, did he leave her, she would die of grief; and he, poor slave, believed me. And so she went, and in the thick of the fight, for what cause I know not, though perchance thou knowest, Harmachis, she made signal to her squadron, and, putting about fled from the battle, sailing for Peloponnesus. And now, mark the end! When Antony saw that she was gone, he, in his madness, took a galley, and deserting all, followed hard after her, leaving his fleet to be shattered and sunk, and his great army in Greece, of twenty legions and twelve thousand horse, without a leader. And all this no man would believe, that Antony, the smitten of the Gods, had fallen so deep in shame. Therefore for a while the army tarried, and but now to-night comes news brought by Canidius, the General, that, worn with doubt and being at length sure that Antony had deserted them, the whole of his great force has yielded to Caesar."
"And where, then, is Antony?"
"He has built him a habitation on a little isle in the Great Harbour and named it Timonium; because, forsooth, like Timon, he cries out at the ingratitude of mankind that has forsaken him. And there he lies smitten by a fever of the mind, and thither thou must go at dawn, so wills the Queen, to cure him of his ills and draw him to her arms; for he will not see her, nor knows he yet the full measure of his woe. But first my bidding is to lead thee instantly to Cleopatra, who would ask thy counsel."
"I come," I answered, rising. "Lead thou on."
And so we passed the palace gates and along the Alabaster Hall, and presently once again I stood before the door of Cleopatra's chamber, and once again Charmion left me to warn her of my coming.
Presently she came back and beckoned to me. "Make strong thy heart," she whispered, "and see that thou dost not betray thyself, for still are the eyes of Cleopatra keen. Enter!"
"Keen, indeed, must they be to find Harmachis in the learned Olympus! Had I not willed it, thyself thou hadst not known me, Charmion," I made answer.
Then I entered that remembered place and listened once more to the plash of the fountain, the song of the nightingale, and the murmur of the summer sea. With bowed head and halting gait I came, till at length I stood before the couch of Cleopatra—that same golden couch on which she had sat the night she overcame me. Then I gathered my strength, and looked up. There before me was Cleopatra, glorious as of old, but, oh! how changed since that night when I saw Antony clasp her in his arms at Tarsus! Her beauty still clothed her like a garment; the eyes were yet deep and unfathomable as the blue sea, the face still splendid in its great loveliness. And yet all was changed. Time, that could not touch her charms, had stamped upon her presence such a look of weary grief as may not be written. Passion, beating ever in that fierce heart of hers, had written his record on her brow, and in her eyes shone the sad lights of sorrow.
I bowed low before this most royal woman, who once had been my love and destruction, and yet knew me not.
She looked up wearily, and spoke in her slow, well remembered voice:
"So thou art come at length, Physician. How callest thou thyself?—Olympus? 'Tis a name of promise, for surely now that the Gods of Egypt have deserted us, we do need aid from Olympus. Well, thou hast a learned air, for learning does not with beauty. Strange, too, there is that about thee which recalls what I know not. Say, Olympus, have we met before?"
"Never, O Queen, have my eyes fallen on thee in the body," I answered in a feigned voice. "Never till this hour, when I come forth from my solitude to do thy bidding and cure thee of thy ills!"
"Strange! and even in the voice—Pshaw! 'tis some memory that I cannot catch. In the body, thou sayest? then, perchance, I knew thee in a dream?"
"Ay, O Queen; we have met in dreams."
"Thou art a strange man, who talkest thus, but, if what I hear be true, one well learned; and, indeed, I mind me of thy counsel when thou didst bid me join my Lord Antony in Syria, and how things befell according to thy word. Skilled must thou be in the casting of nativities and in the law of auguries, of which these Alexandrian fools have little knowledge. Once I knew such another man, one Harmachis," and she sighed: "but he is long dead—as I would I were also!—and at times I sorrow for him."
She paused, while I sank my head upon my breast and stood silent.
"Interpret me this, Olympus. In the battle at that accursed Actium, just as the fight raged thickest and Victory began to smile upon us, a great terror seized my heart, and thick darkness seemed to fall before my eyes, while in my ears a voice, ay, the voice of that long dead Harmachis, cried 'Fly! fly, or perish!' and I fled. But from my heart the terror leapt to the heart of Antony, and he followed after me, and thus was the battle lost. Say, then, what God brought this evil thing about?"
"Nay, O Queen," I answered, "it was no God—for wherein hast thou angered the Gods of Egypt? Hast thou robbed the temples of their Faith? Hast thou betrayed the trust of Egypt? Having done none of these things, how, then, can the Gods of Egypt be wroth with thee? Fear not, it was nothing but some natural vapour of the mind that overcame thy gentle soul, made sick with the sight and sound of slaughter; and as for the noble Antony, where thou didst go needs must that he should follow."
And as I spoke, Cleopatra turned white and trembled, glancing at me the while to find my meaning. But I well knew that the thing was of the avenging Gods, working through me, their instrument.
"Learned Olympus," she said, not answering my words; "my Lord Antony is sick and crazed with grief. Like some poor hunted slave he hides himself in yonder sea-girt Tower and shuns mankind—yes, he shuns even me, who, for his sake, endure so many woes. Now, this is my bidding to thee. To-morrow, at the coming of the light, do thou, led by Charmion, my waiting-lady, take boat and row thee to the Tower and there crave entry, saying that ye bring tidings from the army. Then he will cause you to be let in, and thou, Charmion, must break this heavy news that Canidius bears; for Canidius himself I dare not send. And when his grief is past, do thou, Olympus, soothe his fevered frame with thy draughts of value, and his soul with honeyed words, and draw him back to me, and all will yet be well. Do thou this, and thou shalt have gifts more than thou canst count, for I am yet a Queen and yet can pay back those who serve my will."
"Fear not, O Queen," I answered, "this thing shall be done, and I ask no reward, who have come hither to do thy bidding to the end."
So I bowed and went and, summoning Atoua, made ready a certain potion.
OF THE DRAWING FORTH OF ANTONY FROM THE TIMONIUM BACK TO CLEOPATRA; OF THE FEAST MADE BY CLEOPATRA; AND OF THE MANNER OF THE DEATH OF EUDOSIUS THE STEWARD
Ere it was yet dawn Charmion came again, and we walked to the private harbour of the palace. There, taking boat, we rowed to the island mount on which stands the Timonium, a vaulted tower, strong, small, and round. And, having landed, we twain came to the door and knocked, till at length a grating was thrown open in the door, and an aged eunuch, looking forth, roughly asked our business.
"Our business is with the Lord Antony," said Charmion.
"Then it is no business, for Antony, my master, sees neither man nor woman."
"Yet will he see us, for we bring tidings. Go tell him that the Lady Charmion brings tidings from the army."
The man went, and presently returned.
"The Lord Antony would know if the tidings be good or ill, for, if ill, then will he none of it, for with evil tidings he has been overfed of late."
"Why—why, it is both good and ill. Open, slave, I will make answer to thy master!" and she slipped a purse of gold through the bars.
"Well, well," he grumbled, as he took the purse, "the times are hard, and likely to be harder; for when the lion's down who will feed the jackal? Give thy news thyself, and if it do but draw the noble Antony out of this hall of Groans, I care not what it be. Now the palace door is open, and there's the road to the banqueting-chamber."
We passed on, to find ourselves in a narrow passage, and, leaving the eunuch to bar the door, advanced till we came to a curtain. Through this entrance we went, and found ourselves in a vaulted chamber, ill-lighted from the roof. On the further side of this rude chamber was a bed of rugs, and on them crouched the figure of a man, his face hidden in the folds of his toga.
"Most noble Antony," said Charmion drawing near, "unwrap thy face and hearken to me, for I bring thee tidings."
Then he lifted up his head. His face was marred by sorrow; his tangled hair, grizzled with years, hung about his hollow eyes, and white on his chin was the stubble of an unshaven beard. His robe was squalid, and his aspect more wretched than that of the poorest beggar at the temple gates. To this, then, had the love of Cleopatra brought the glorious and renowned Antony, aforetime Master of half the World!
"What will ye with me, Lady," he asked, "who would perish here alone? And who is this man who comes to gaze on fallen and forsaken Antony?"
"This is Olympus, noble Antony, that wise physician, the skilled in auguries, of whom thou hast heard much, and whom Cleopatra, ever mindful of thy welfare, though but little thou dost think of hers, has sent to minister to thee."
"And, can thy physician minister to a grief such as my grief? Can his drugs give me back my galleys, my honour, and my peace? Nay! Away with thy physician! What are thy tidings?—quick!—out with it! Hath Canidius, perchance, conquered Caesar? Tell me but that, and thou shalt have a province for thy guerdon—ay! and if Octavianus be dead, twenty thousand sestertia to fill its treasury. Speak—nay—speak not! I fear the opening of thy lips as never I feared an earthly thing. Surely the wheel of fortune has gone round and Canidius has conquered? Is it not so? Nay—out with it! I can no more!"
"O noble Antony," she said, "steel thy heart to hear that which I needs must tell thee! Canidius is in Alexandria. He has fled far and fast, and this is his report. For seven whole days did the legions wait the coming of Antony, to lead them to victory, as aforetime, putting aside the offers of the envoys of Caesar. But Antony came not. And then it was rumoured that Antony had fled to Taenarus, drawn thither by Cleopatra. The man who first brought that tale to the camp the legionaries cried shame on—ay, and beat him to the death! But ever it grew, until at length there was no more room to doubt; and then, O Antony, thy officers slipped one by one away to Caesar, and where the officers go there the men follow. Nor is this all the story; for thy allies—Bocchus of Africa, Tarcondimotus of Cilicia, Mithridates of Commagene, Adallas of Thrace, Philadelphus of Paphlagonia, Archelaus of Cappadocia, Herod of Judaea, Amyntas of Galatia, Polemon of Pontus, and Malchus of Arabia—all, all have fled or bid their generals fly back to whence they came; and already their ambassador's crave cold Caesar's clemency."
"Hast done thy croakings, thou raven in a peacock's dress, or is there more to come?" asked the smitten man, lifting his white and trembling face from the shelter of his hands. "Tell me more; say that Egypt's dead in all her beauty; say that Octavianus lowers at the Canopic gate; and that, headed by dead Cicero, all the ghosts of Hell do audibly shriek out the fall of Antony! Yea, gather up every woe that can o'erwhelm those who once were great, and loose them on the hoary head of him whom—in thy gentleness—thou art still pleased to name 'the noble Antony'!"
"Nay, my Lord, I have done."
"Ay, and so have I done—done, quite done! It is altogether finished, and thus I seal the end," and snatching a sword from the couch, he would, indeed, have slain himself had I not sprung forward and grasped his hand. For it was not my purpose that he should die as yet; since had he died at that hour Cleopatra had made her peace with Caesar, who rather wished the death of Antony than the ruin of Egypt.
"Art mad, Antony? Art, indeed, a coward?" cried Charmion, "that thou wouldst thus escape thy woes, and leave thy partner to face the sorrow out alone?"
"Why not, woman? Why not? She would not be long alone. There's Caesar to keep her company. Octavianus loves a fair woman in his cold way, and still is Cleopatra fair. Come now, thou Olympus! thou hast held my hand from dealing death upon myself, advise me of thy wisdom. Shall I, then, submit myself to Caesar, and I, Triumvir, twice Consul, and aforetime absolute Monarch of all the East, endure to follow in his triumph along those Roman ways where I myself have passed in triumph?"
"Nay, Sire," I answered. "If thou dost yield, then art thou doomed. All last night I questioned of the Fates concerning thee, and I saw this: when thy star draws near to Caesar's it pales and is swallowed up; but when it passes from his radiance, then bright and big it shines, equal in glory to his own. All is not lost, and while some part remains, everything may be regained. Egypt can yet be held, armies can still be raised. Caesar has withdrawn himself; he is not yet at the gates of Alexandria, and perchance may be appeased. Thy mind in its fever has fired thy body; thou art sick and canst not judge aright. See, here, I have a potion that shall make thee whole, for I am well skilled in the art of medicine," and I held out the phial.
"A potion, thou sayest man!" he cried. "More like it is a poison, and thou a murderer, sent by false Egypt, who would fain be rid of me now that I may no more be of service to her. The head of Antony is the peace offering she would send to Caesar—she for whom I have lost all! Give me thy draught. By Bacchus! I will drink it, though it be the very elixir of Death!"
"Nay, noble Antony; it is no poison, and I am no murderer. See, I will taste it, if thou wilt," and I held forth the subtle drink that has the power to fire the veins of men.
"Give it me, Physician. Desperate men are brave men. There!——Why, what is this? Yours is a magic draught! My sorrows seem to roll away like thunder-clouds before the southern gale, and the spring of Hope blooms fresh upon the desert of my heart. Once more I am Antony, and once again I see my legions' spears asparkle in the sun, and hear the thunderous shout of welcome as Antony—beloved Antony—rides in pomp of war along his deep-formed lines! There's hope! there's hope! I may yet see the cold brows of Caesar—that Caesar who never errs except from policy—robbed of their victor bays and crowned with shameful dust!"
"Ay," cried Charmion, "there still is hope, if thou wilt but play the man! O my Lord! come back with us; come back to the loving arms of Cleopatra! All night she lies upon her golden bed, and fills the hollow darkness with her groans for 'Antony!' who, enamoured now of Grief, forgets his duty and his love!"
"I come! I come! Shame upon me, that I dared to doubt her! Slave, bring water, and a purple robe: not thus can I be seen of Cleopatra. Even now I come."
In this fashion, then, did we draw Antony back to Cleopatra, that the ruin of the twain might be made sure.
We led him up the Alabaster Hall and into Cleopatra's chamber, where she lay, her cloudy hair about her face and breast, and tears flowing from her deep eyes.
"O Egypt!" he cried, "behold me at thy feet!"
She sprang from the couch. "And art thou here, my love?" she murmured; "then once again are all things well. Come near, and in these arms forget thy sorrows and turn my grief to joy. Oh, Antony, while love is left to us, still have we all!"
And she fell upon his breast and kissed him wildly.
That same day, Charmion came to me and bade me prepare a poison of the most deadly power. And this at first I would not do, fearing that Cleopatra would therewith make an end of Antony before his time. But Charmion showed me that this was not so, and told me also for what purpose was the poison. Therefore I summoned Atoua, the skilled in simples, and all that afternoon we laboured at the deadly work. And when it was done, Charmion came once more, bearing with her a chaplet of fresh roses, that she bade me steep in the poison.
This then I did.
That night at the great feast of Cleopatra, I sat near Antony, who was at her side, and wore the poisoned wreath. Now as the feast went on, the wine flowed fast, till Antony and the Queen grew merry. And she told him of her plans, and of how even now her galleys were being drawn by the canal that leads from Bubastis on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, to Clysma at the head of the Bay of Heroopolis. For it was her design, should Caesar prove stubborn, to fly with Antony and her treasure down the Arabian Gulf, where Caesar had no fleet, and seek some new home in India, whither her foes might not follow. But, indeed, this plan came to nothing, for the Arabs of Petra burnt the galleys, incited thereto by a message sent by the Jews of Alexandria, who hated Cleopatra and were hated of her. For I caused the Jews to be warned of what was being done.
Now, when she had made an end of telling him, the Queen called on him to drink a cup with her, to the success of this new scheme, bidding him, as she did so, steep his wreath of roses in the wine, and make the draught more sweet. This, then, he did, and it being done, she pledged him. But when he was about to pledge her back, she caught his hand, crying "Hold!" whereat he paused, wondering.
Now, among the servants of Cleopatra was one Eudosius, a steward; and this Eudosius, seeing that the fortunes of Cleopatra were at an end, had laid a plan to fly that very night to Caesar, as many of his betters had done, taking with him all the treasure in the palace that he could steal. But this design being discovered to Cleopatra, she determined to be avenged upon Eudosius.
"Eudosius," she cried, for the man stood near; "come hither, thou faithful servant! Seest thou this man, most noble Antony; through all our troubles he has clung to us and been of comfort to us. Now, therefore, he shall be rewarded according to his deserts and the measure of his faithfulness, and that from thine own hand. Give him thy golden cup of wine, and let him drink a pledge to our success; the cup shall be his guerdon."
And still wondering, Antony gave it to the man, who, stricken in his guilty mind, took it, and stood trembling. But he drank not.
"Drink! thou slave; drink!" cried Cleopatra, half rising from her seat and flashing a fierce look on his white face. "By Serapis! so surely as I yet shall sit in the Capitol at Rome, if thou dost thus flout the Lord Antony, I'll have thee scourged to the bones, and the red wine poured upon thy open wounds to heal them! Ah! at length thou drinkest! Why, what is it, good Eudosius? art sick? Surely, then, this wine must be as the water of jealousy of those Jews, that has power to slay the false and strengthen the honest only. Go, some of you, search this man's room; methinks he is a traitor!"
Meanwhile the man stood, his hands to his head. Presently he began to tremble, and then fell, clutching at his bosom, as though to tear out the fire in his heart. He staggered, with livid, twisted face and foaming lips, to where Cleopatra lay watching him with a slow and cruel smile.
"Ah, traitor! thou hast it now!" she said. "Prithee, is death sweet?"
"Thou wanton!" yelled the dying man, "thou hast poisoned me! Thus mayst thou also perish!" and with one shriek he flung himself upon her. She saw his purpose, and swift and supple as a tiger sprang to one side, so that he did but grasp her royal cloak, tearing it from its emerald clasp. Down he fell upon the ground, rolling over and over in the purple chiton, till presently he lay still and dead, his tormented face and frozen eyes peering ghastly from its folds.
"Ah!" said the Queen, with a hard laugh, "the slave died wondrous hard, and fain would have drawn me with him. See, he has borrowed my garment for a pall! Take him away and bury him in his livery."
"What means Cleopatra?" said Antony, as the guards dragged the corpse away; "the man drank of my cup. What is the purpose of this most sorry jest?"
"It serves a double end, noble Antony! This very night that man would have fled to Octavianus, bearing of our treasure with him. Well, I have lent him wings, for the dead fly fast! Also this: thou didst fear that I should poison thee, my Lord; nay, I know it. See now, Antony, how easy it were that I should slay thee if I had the will. That wreath of roses which thou didst steep within the cup is dewed with deadly bane. Had I, then, a mind to make an end of thee, I had not stayed thy hand. O Antony, henceforth trust me! Sooner would I slay myself than harm one hair of thy beloved head! See, here come my messengers! Speak, what did ye find?"
"Royal Egypt, we found this. All things in the chamber of Eudosius are made ready for flight, and in his baggage is much treasure."
"Thou hearest?" she said, smiling darkly. "Think ye, my loyal servants all, that Cleopatra is one with whom it is well to play the traitor? Be warned by this Roman's fate!"
Then a great silence of fear fell upon the company, and Antony sat also silent.
OF THE WORKINGS OF THE LEARNED OLYMPUS AT MEMPHIS; OF THE POISONINGS OF CLEOPATRA; OF THE SPEECH OF ANTONY TO HIS CAPTAINS; AND OF THE PASSING OF ISIS FROM THE LAND OF KHEM
Now I, Harmachis, must make speed with my task, setting down that which is permitted as shortly as may be, and leaving much untold. For of this I am warned, that Doom draws on and my days are wellnigh sped. After the drawing forth of Antony from the Timonium came that time of heavy quiet which heralds the rising of the desert wind. Antony and Cleopatra once again gave themselves up to luxury, and night by night feasted in splendour at the palace. They sent ambassadors to Caesar; but Caesar would have none of them; and, this hope being gone, they turned their minds to the defence of Alexandria. Men were gathered, ships were built, and a great force was made ready against the coming of Caesar.
And now, aided by Charmion, I began my last work of hate and vengeance. I wormed myself deep into the secrets of the palace, counselling all things for evil. I bade Cleopatra keep Antony gay, lest he should brood upon his sorrows: and thus she sapped his strength and energy with luxury and wine. I gave him of my draughts—draughts that sank his soul in dreams of happiness and power, leaving him to wake to a heavier misery. Soon, without my healing medicine he could not sleep, and thus, being ever at his side, I bound his weakened will to mine, till at last he would do little if I said not "It is well." Cleopatra, also grown very superstitious, leaned much upon me; for I prophesied falsely to her in secret.
Moreover, I wove other webs. My fame was great throughout Egypt, for during the long years that I had dwelt in Tape it had spread through all the land. Therefore many men of note came to me, both for their health's sake and because it was known that I had the ear of Antony and the Queen; and, in these days of doubt and trouble, they were fain to learn the truth. All these men I worked upon with doubtful words, sapping their loyalty; and I caused many to fall away, and yet none could bear an evil report of what I had said. Also, Cleopatra sent me to Memphis, there to move the Priests and Governors that they should gather men in Upper Egypt for the defence of Alexandria. And I went and spoke to the priests with such a double meaning and with so much wisdom that they knew me to be one of the initiated in the deeper mysteries. But how I, Olympus the physician, came thus to be initiated none might say. And afterwards they sought me secretly, and I gave them the holy sign of brotherhood; and thereunder bade them not to ask who I might be, but send no aid to Cleopatra. Rather, I said, must they make peace with Caesar, for by Caesar's grace only could the worship of the Gods endure in Khem. So, having taken counsel of the Holy Apis, they promised in public to give help to Cleopatra, but in secret sent an embassy to Caesar.
Thus, then, it came to pass that Egypt gave but little aid to its hated Macedonian Queen. Thence from Memphis I came once more to Alexandria, and, having made favourable report, continued my secret work. And, indeed, the Alexandrians could not easily be stirred, for, as they say in the marketplace, "The ass looks at its burden and is blind to its master." Cleopatra had oppressed them so long that the Roman was like a welcome friend.
Thus the time passed on, and every night found Cleopatra with fewer friends than that which had gone before, for in evil days friends fly like swallows before the frost. Yet she would not give up Antony, whom she loved; though to my knowledge Caesar, by his freedman, Thyreus, made promise to her of her dominions for herself and for her children if she would but slay Antony, or even betray him bound. But to this her woman's heart—for still she had a heart—would not consent, and, moreover, we counselled her against it, for of necessity we must hold him to her, lest, Antony escaping or being slain, Cleopatra might ride out the storm and yet be Queen of Egypt. And this grieved me, because Antony, though weak, was still a brave man, and a great; and, moreover, in my own heart I read the lesson of his woes. For were we not akin in wretchedness? Had not the same woman robbed us of Empire, Friends, and Honour? But pity has no place in politics, nor could it turn my feet from the path of vengeance it was ordained that I should tread. Caesar drew nigh; Pelusium fell; the end was at hand. It was Charmion who brought the tidings to the Queen and Antony, as they slept in the heat of the day, and I came with her.
"Awake!" she cried. "Awake! This is no time for sleep! Seleucus hath surrendered Pelusium to Caesar, who marches straight on Alexandria!"
With a great oath, Antony sprang up and clutched Cleopatra by the arm.
"Thou hast betrayed me—by the Gods I swear it! Now thou shalt pay the price!" And snatching up his sword he drew it.
"Stay thy hand, Antony!" she cried. "It is false—I know naught of this!" And she sprang upon him, and clung about his neck, weeping. "I know naught, my Lord. Take thou the wife of Seleucus and his little children, whom I hold in guard, and avenge thyself. O Antony, Antony! why dost thou doubt me?"
Then Antony threw down his sword upon the marble, and, casting himself upon the couch, hid his face, and groaned in bitterness of spirit.
But Charmion smiled, for it was she who had sent secretly to Seleucus, her friend, counselling him to surrender forthwith, saying that no fight would be made at Alexandria. And that very night Cleopatra took all her great store of pearls and emeralds—those that remained of the treasure of Menkau-ra—all her wealth of gold, ebony, ivory, and cinnamon, treasure without price, and placed it in the mausoleum of granite which, after our Egyptian fashion, she had built upon the hill that is by the Temple of the Holy Isis. These riches she piled up upon a bed of flax, that, when she fired it, all might perish in the flame and escape the greed of money-loving Octavianus. And she slept henceforth in this tomb, away from Antony; but in the daytime she still saw him at the palace.
But a little while after, when Caesar with all his great force had already crossed the Caponic mouth of the Nile and was hard on Alexandria, I came to the palace, whither Cleopatra had summoned me. There I found her in the Alabaster Hall, royally clad, a wild light in her eyes, and, with her, Iras and Charmion, and before her guards; and stretched here and there upon the marble, bodies of dead men, among whom lay one yet dying.
"Greeting, thou Olympus!" she cried. "Here is a sight to glad a physician's heart—men dead and men sick unto death!"
"What doest thou, O Queen?" I said affrighted.
"What do I? I wreak justice on these criminals and traitors; and, Olympus, I learn the ways of death. I have caused six different poisons to be given to these slaves, and with an attentive eye have watched their working. That man," and she pointed to a Nubian, "he went mad, and raved of his native deserts and his mother. He thought himself a child again, poor fool! and bade her hold him close to her breast and save him from the darkness which drew near. And that Greek, he shrieked, and, shrieking, died. And this, he wept and prayed for pity, and in the end, like a coward, breathed his last. Now, note the Egyptian yonder, he who still lives and groans; first he took the draught—the deadliest draught of all, they swore—and yet the slave so dearly loves his life he will not leave it! See, he yet strives to throw the poison from him; twice have I given him the cup and yet he is athirst. What a drunkard we have here! Man, man, knowest thou not that in death only can peace be found? Struggle no more, but enter into rest." And even as she spoke, the man, with a great cry, gave up the spirit.
"There!" she cried, "at length the farce is played—away with those slaves whom I have forced through the difficult gates of Joy!" and she clapped her hands. But when they had borne the bodies thence she drew me to her, and spoke thus:
"Olympus, for all thy prophecies, the end is at hand. Caesar must conquer, and I and my Lord Antony be lost. Now, therefore, the play being wellnigh done, I must make ready to leave this stage of earth in such fashion as becomes a Queen. For this cause, then, I do make trial of these poisons, seeing that in my person I must soon endure those agonies of death that to-day I give to others. These drugs please me not; some wrench out the soul with cruel pains, and some too slowly work their end. But thou art skilled in the medicines of death. Now, do thou prepare me such a draught as shall, pangless, steal my life away."
And as I listened the sense of triumph filled my bitter heart, for I knew now that by my own hand should this ruined woman die and the justice of the Gods be done.
"Spoken like a Queen, O Cleopatra!" I said. "Death shall cure thy ills, and I will brew such a wine as shall draw him down a sudden friend and sink thee in a sea of slumber whence, upon this earth, thou shalt never wake again. Oh! fear not Death: Death is thy hope; and, surely, thou shalt pass sinless and pure of heart into the dreadful presence of the Gods!"
She trembled. "And if the heart be not altogether pure, tell me—thou dark man—what then? Nay, I fear not the Gods! for if the Gods of Hell be men, there I shall Queen it also. At the least, having once been royal, royal I shall ever be."
And, as she spoke, suddenly from the palace gates came a great clamour, and the noise of joyful shouting.
"Why, what is this?" she said, springing from her couch.
"Antony! Antony!" rose the cry; "Antony hath conquered!"
She turned swiftly and ran, her long hair streaming on the wind. I followed her, more slowly, down the great hall, across the courtyards, to the palace gates. And here she met Antony, riding through them, radiant with smiles and clad in his Roman armour. When he saw her he leapt to the ground, and, all armed as he was, clasped her to his breast.
"What is it?" she cried; "is Caesar fallen?"
"Nay, not altogether fallen, Egypt: but we have beat his horsemen back to their trenches, and, like the beginning, so shall be the end, for, as they say here, 'Where the head goes, the tail will follow.' Moreover, Caesar has my challenge, and if he will but meet me hand to hand, the world shall soon see which is the better man, Antony or Octavian." And even as he spoke and the people cheered there came the cry of "A messenger from Caesar!"
The herald entered, and, bowing low, gave a writing to Antony, bowed again, and went. Cleopatra snatched it from his hand, broke the silk and read aloud:
"Caesar to Antony, greeting.
"This answer to thy challenge: Can Antony find no better way of death than beneath the sword of Caesar? Farewell!"
And thereafter they cheered no more.
The darkness came, and before it was midnight, having feasted with his friends who to-night went over his woes and to-morrow should betray him, Antony went forth to the gathering of the captains of the land-forces and of the fleet, attended by many, among whom was I.
When all were come together, he spoke to them, standing bareheaded in their midst, beneath the radiance of the moon. And thus he most nobly spoke:
"Friends and companions in arms! who yet cling to me, and whom many a time I have led to victory, hearken to me now, who to-morrow may lie in the dumb dust, disempired and dishonoured. This is our design: no longer will we hang on poised wings above the flood of war, but will straightway plunge, perchance thence to snatch the victor's diadem, or, failing, there to drown. Be now but true to me, and to your honour's sake, and you may still sit, the most proud of men, at my right hand in the Capitol of Rome. Fail me now, and the cause of Antony is lost and so are ye. To-morrow's battle must be hazardous indeed, but we have stood many a time and faced a fiercer peril, and ere the sun had sunk, once more have driven armies like desert sands before our gale of valour and counted the spoil of hostile kings. What have we to fear? Though allies be fled, still is our array as strong as Caesar's! And show we but as high a heart, why, I swear to you, upon my princely word, to-morrow night I shall deck yonder Canopic gate with the heads of Octavian and his captains!
"Ay, cheer, and cheer again! I love that martial music which swells, not as from the indifferent lips of clarions, now 'neath the breath of Antony and now of Caesar, but rather out of the single hearts of men who love me. Yet—and now I will speak low, as we do speak o'er the bier of some beloved dead—yet, if Fortune should rise against me and if, borne down by the weight of arms, Antony, the soldier, dies a soldier's death, leaving you to mourn him who ever was your friend, this is my will, that, after our rough fashion of the camp, I here declare to you. You know where all my treasure lies. Take it, most dear friends; and, in the memory of Antony, make just division. Then go to Caesar and speak thus: 'Antony, the dead, to Caesar, the living, sends greeting; and, in the name of ancient fellowship and of many a peril dared, craves this boon: the safety of those who clung to him and that which he hath given them.'
"Nay, let not my tears—for I must weep—overflow your eyes! Why, it is not manly; 'tis most womanish! All men must die, and death were welcome were it not so lone. Should I fall, I leave my children to your tender care—if, perchance, it may avail to save them from the fate of helplessness. Soldiers, enough! to-morrow at the dawn we spring on Caesar's throat, both by land and sea. Swear that ye will cling to me, even to the last issue!"
"We swear!" they cried. "Noble Antony, we swear!"
"It is well! Once more my star grows bright; to-morrow, set in the highest heaven, it yet may shine the lamp of Caesar down! Till then, farewell!"
He turned to go. As he went they caught his hand and kissed it; and so deeply were they moved that many wept like children; nor could Antony master his grief, for, in the moonlight, I saw tears roll down his furrowed cheeks and fall upon that mighty breast.
And, seeing all this, I was much troubled. For I well knew that if these men held firm to Antony all might yet go well for Cleopatra; and though I bore no ill-will against Antony, yet he must fall, and in that fall drag down the woman who, like some poisonous plant, had twined herself about his giant strength till it choked and mouldered in her embrace.
Therefore, when Antony went I went not, but stood back in the shadow watching the faces of the lords and captains as they spoke together.
"Then it is agreed!" said he who should lead the fleet. "And this we swear to, one and all, that we will cling to noble Antony to the last extremity of fortune!"
"Ay! ay!" they answered.
"Ay! ay!" I said, speaking from the shadow; "cling, and die!"
They turned fiercely and seized me.
"Who is he?" quoth one.
"'Tis that dark-faced dog, Olympus!" cried another. "Olympus, the magician!"
"Olympus, the traitor!" growled another; "put an end to him and his magic!" and he drew his sword.
"Ay! slay him; he would betray the Lord Antony, whom he is paid to doctor."