"Hold a while!" I said in a slow and solemn voice, "and beware how ye try to murder the servant of the Gods. I am no traitor. For myself, I abide the event here in Alexandria, but to you I say, Flee, flee to Caesar! I serve Antony and the Queen—I serve them truly; but above all I serve the Holy Gods; and what they make known to me, that, Lords, I do know. And I know this: that Antony is doomed, and Cleopatra is doomed, for Caesar conquers. Therefore, because I honour you, noble gentlemen, and think with pity on your wives, left widowed, and your little fatherless children, that shall, if ye hold to Antony, be sold as slaves—therefore, I say, cling to Antony if ye will and die; or flee to Caesar and be saved! And this I say because it is so ordained of the Gods."
"The Gods!" they growled; "what Gods? Slit the traitor's throat, and stop his ill-omened talk!"
"Let him show us a sign from his Gods or let him die: I do mistrust this man," said another.
"Stand back, ye fools!" I cried. "Stand back—free mine arms—and I will show you a sign;" and there was that in my face which frightened them, for they freed me and stood back. Then I lifted up my hands and putting out all my strength of soul searched the depths of space till my Spirit communed with the Spirit of my Mother Isis. Only the Word of Power I uttered not, as I had been bidden. And the holy mystery of the Goddess answered to my Spirit's cry, falling in awful silence upon the face of the earth. Deeper and deeper grew the terrible silence; even the dogs ceased to howl, and in the city men stood still afeared. Then, from far away, there came the ghostly music of the sistra. Faint it was at first, but ever as it came it grew more loud, till the air shivered with the unearthly sound of terror. I said naught, but pointed with my hand toward the sky. And behold! bosomed upon the air, floated a vast veiled Shape that, heralded by the swelling music of the sistra, drew slowly near, till its shadow lay upon us. It came, it passed, it went toward the camp of Caesar, till at length the music died away, and the awful Shape was swallowed in the night.
"It is Bacchus!" cried one. "Bacchus, who leaves lost Antony!" and, as he spoke, there rose a groan of terror from all the camp.
But I knew that it was not Bacchus, the false God, but the Divine Isis who deserted Khem, and, passing over the edge of the world, sought her home in space, to be no more known of men. For though her worship is still upheld, though still she is here and in all Earths, Isis manifests herself no more in Egypt. I hid my face and prayed, but when I lifted it from my robe, lo! all had fled and I was alone.
OF THE SURRENDER OF THE TROOPS AND FLEET OF ANTONY BEFORE THE CANOPIC GATE; OF THE END OF ANTONY, AND OF THE BREWING OF THE DRAUGHT OF DEATH
On the morrow, at dawn, Antony came forth and gave command that his fleet should advance against the fleet of Caesar, and that his cavalry should open the land-battle with the cavalry of Caesar. Accordingly, the fleet advanced in a triple line, and the fleet of Caesar came out to meet it. But when they met, the galleys of Antony lifted their oars in greeting, and passed over to the galleys of Caesar; and they sailed away together. And the cavalry of Antony rode forth beyond the Hippodrome to charge the cavalry of Caesar; but when they met, they lowered their swords and passed over to the camp of Caesar, deserting Antony. Then Antony grew mad with rage and terrible to see. He shouted to his legions to stand firm and wait attack; and for a little while they stood. One man, however—that same officer who would have slain me on the yesternight—strove to fly; but Antony seized him with his own hand, threw him to the earth, and, springing from his horse, drew his sword to slay him. He held his sword on high, while the man, covering his face, awaited death. But Antony dropped his sword and bade him rise.
"Go!" he said. "Go to Caesar, and prosper! I did love thee once. Why, then, among so many traitors, should I single thee out for death?"
The man rose and looked upon him sorrowfully. Then, shame overwhelming him, with a great cry he tore open his shirt of mail, plunged his sword into his own heart and fell down dead. Antony stood and gazed at him, but he said never a word. Meanwhile the ranks of Caesar's legions drew near, and so soon as they crossed spears the legions of Antony turned and fled. Then the soldiers of Caesar stood still mocking them; but scarce a man was slain, for they pursued not.
"Fly, Lord Antony! fly!" cried Eros, his servant, who alone with me stayed by him. "Fly ere thou art dragged a prisoner to Caesar!"
So he turned and fled, groaning heavily. I went with him, and as we rode through the Canopic gate, where many folk stood wondering, Antony spoke to me:
"Go, thou, Olympus; go to the Queen and say: 'Antony sends greeting to Cleopatra, who hath betrayed him! To Cleopatra he sends greeting and farewell!'"
And so I went to the tomb, but Antony fled to the palace. When I came to the tomb I knocked upon the door, and Charmion looked forth from the window.
"Open," I cried, and she opened.
"What news, Harmachis?" she whispered.
"Charmion," I said, "the end is at hand. Antony is fled!"
"It is well," she answered; "I am aweary."
And there on her golden bed sat Cleopatra.
"Speak, man!" she cried.
"Antony has fled, his forces are fled, Caesar draws near. To Cleopatra the great Antony sends greeting and farewell. Greeting to Cleopatra who betrayed him, and farewell."
"It is a lie!" she screamed; "I betrayed him not! Thou, Olympus, go swiftly to Antony and answer thus: 'To Antony, Cleopatra, who hath not betrayed him, sends greeting and farewell. Cleopatra is no more.'"
And so I went, following out my purpose. In the Alabaster Hall I found Antony pacing to and fro, tossing his hands toward heaven, and with him Eros, for of all his servants Eros alone remained by this fallen man.
"Lord Antony," I said, "Egypt bids thee farewell. Egypt is dead by her own hand."
"Dead! dead!" he whispered, "and is Egypt dead? and is that form of glory now food for worms? Oh, what a woman was this! E'en now my heart goes out towards her. And shall she outdo me at the last, I who have been so great; shall I become so small that a woman can overtop my courage and pass where I fear to follow? Eros, thou hast loved me from a boy—mindest thou how I found thee starving in the desert, and made thee rich, giving thee place and wealth? Come, now pay me back. Draw that sword thou wearest and make an end of the woes of Antony."
"Oh, Sire," cried the Greek, "I cannot! How can I take away the life of godlike Antony?"
"Answer me not, Eros; but in the last extreme of fate this I charge thee. Do thou my bidding, or begone and leave me quite alone! No more will I see thy face, thou unfaithful servant!"
Then Eros drew his sword and Antony knelt before him and bared his breast, turning his eyes to heaven. But Eros, crying "I cannot! oh, I cannot!" plunged the sword to his own heart, and fell dead.
Antony rose and gazed upon him. "Why, Eros, that was nobly done," he said. "Thou art greater than I, yet I have learned thy lesson!" and he knelt down and kissed him.
Then, rising of a sudden, he drew the sword from the heart of Eros, plunged it into his bowels, and fell, groaning, on the couch.
"O thou, Olympus," he cried, "this pain is more than I can bear! Make an end of me, Olympus!"
But pity stirred me, and I could not do this thing.
Therefore I drew the sword from his vitals, staunched the flow of blood, and, calling to those who came crowding in to see Antony die, I bade them summon Atoua from my house at the palace gates. Presently she came, bringing with her simples and life-giving draughts. These I gave to Antony, and bade Atoua go with such speed as her old limbs might to Cleopatra, in the tomb, and tell her of the state of Antony.
So she went, and after a while returned, saying that the Queen yet lived and summoned Antony to die in her arms. And with her came Diomedes. When Antony heard, his ebbing strength came back, for he was fain to look upon Cleopatra's face again. So I called to the slaves—who peeped and peered through curtains and from behind pillars to see this great man die—and together, with much toil, we bore him thence till we came to the foot of the Mausoleum.
But Cleopatra, being afraid of treachery, would no more throw wide the door; so she let down a rope from the window and we made it fast beneath the arms of Antony. Then did Cleopatra, who the while wept most bitterly, together with Charmion and Iras the Greek, pull on the rope with all their strength, while we lifted from below till the dying Antony swung in the air, groaning heavily, and the blood dropped from his gaping wound. Twice he nearly fell to earth: but Cleopatra, striving with the strength of love and of despair, held him till at length she drew him through the windowplace, while all who saw the dreadful sight wept bitterly, and beat their breasts—all save myself and Charmion.
When he was in, once more the rope was let down, and, with some aid from Charmion, I climbed into the tomb, drawing up the rope after me. There I found Antony, laid upon the golden bed of Cleopatra; and she, her breast bare, her face stained with tears, and her hair streaming wildly about him, knelt at his side and kissed him, wiping the blood from his wounds with her robes and hair. And let all my shame be written: as I stood and watched her the old love awoke once more within me, and mad jealousy raged in my heart because—though I could destroy these twain—I could not destroy their love.
"O Antony! my Sweet, my Husband, and my God!" she moaned. "Cruel Antony, hast thou the heart to die and leave me to my lonely shame? I will follow thee swiftly to the grave. Antony, awake! awake!"
He lifted up his head and called for wine, which I gave him, mixing therein a draught that might allay his pain, for it was great. And when he had drunk he bade Cleopatra lie down on the bed beside him, and put her arms about him; and this she did. Then was Antony once more a man; for, forgetting his own misery and pain, he counselled her as to her own safety: but to this talk she would not listen.
"The hour is short," she said; "let us speak of this great love of ours that hath been so long and may yet endure beyond the coasts of Death. Mindest thou that night when first thou didst put thine arms about me and call me 'Love'? Oh! happy, happy night! Having known that night it is well to have lived—even to this bitter end!"
"Ay, Egypt, I mind it well and dwell upon its memory, though from that hour fortune has fled from me—lost in my depth of love for thee, thou Beautiful. I mind it!" he gasped; "then didst thou drink the pearl in wanton play, and then did that astrologer of thine call out his hour—'The hour of the coming of the curse of Menkau-ra.' Through all the after-days those words have haunted me, and now at the last they ring in my ears."
"He is long dead, my love," she whispered.
"If he be dead, then I am near him. What meant he?"
"He is dead, the accursed man!—no more of him! Oh! turn and kiss me, for thy face grows white. The end is near!"
He kissed her on the lips, and for a little while so they stayed, to the moment of death, babbling their passion in each other's ears, like lovers newly wed. Even to my jealous heart, it was a strange and awful thing to see.
Presently, I saw the Change of Death gather on his face. His head fell back.
"Farewell, Egypt; farewell!—I die!"
Cleopatra lifted herself upon her hands, gazed wildly on his ashen face, and then, with a great cry, she sank back swooning.
But Antony yet lived, though the power of speech had left him. Then I drew near and, kneeling, made pretence to minister to him. And as I ministered I whispered in his ear:
"Antony," I whispered, "Cleopatra was my love before she passed from me to thee. I am Harmachis, that astrologer who stood behind thy couch at Tarsus; and I have been the chief minister of thy ruin.
"Die, Antony!—the curse of Menkau-ra hath fallen!"
He raised himself, and stared upon my face. He could not speak, but, gibbering, he pointed at me. Then with a groan his spirit fled.
Thus did I accomplish my revenge upon Roman Antony, the World-loser.
Thereafter, we recovered Cleopatra from her swoon, for not yet was I minded that she should die. And taking the body of Antony, Caesar permitting, I and Atoua caused it to be most skilfully embalmed after our Egyptian fashion, covering the face with a mask of gold fashioned like to the features of Antony. Also I wrote upon his breast his name and titles, and painted his name and the name of his father within his inner coffin, and drew the form of the Holy Nout folding her wings about him.
Then with great pomp Cleopatra laid him in that sepulchre which had been made ready, and in a sarcophagus of alabaster. Now, this sarcophagus was fashioned so large that place was left in it for a second coffin, for Cleopatra would lie by Antony at the last.
These things then happened. And but a little while after I learned tidings from one Cornelius Dolabella, a noble Roman who waited upon Caesar, and, moved by the beauty that swayed the souls of all who looked upon her, had pity for the woes of Cleopatra. He bade me warn her—for, as her physician, it was allowed me to pass in and out of the tomb where she dwelt—that in three days she would be sent away to Rome, together with her children, save Caesarion, whom Octavian had already slain, that she might walk in the triumph of Caesar. Accordingly I went in, and found her sitting, as now she always sat, plunged in a half stupor, and before her that blood-stained robe with which she had staunched the wounds of Antony. For on this she would continually feast her eyes.
"See how faint they grow, Olympus," she said, lifting her sad face and pointing to the rusty stains, "and he so lately dead! Why, Gratitude could not fade more fast. What is now thy news? Evil tidings is writ large in those dark eyes of thine, which ever bring back to me something that still slips my mind."
"The news is ill, O Queen," I answered. "I have this from the lips of Dolabella, who has it straight from Caesar's secretary. On the third day from now Caesar will send thee and the Princes Ptolemy and Alexander and the Princess Cleopatra to Rome, there to feast the eyes of the Roman mob, and be led in triumph to that Capitol where thou didst swear to set thy throne!"
"Never, never!" she cried, springing to her feet. "Never will I walk in chains in Caesar's triumph! What must I do? Charmion, tell me what I can do!"
And Charmion, rising, stood before her, looking at her through the long lashes of her downcast eyes.
"Lady, thou canst die," she said quietly.
"Ay, of a truth I had forgotten; I can die. Olympus, hast thou the drug?"
"Nay; but if the Queen wills it, by to-morrow morn it shall be brewed—a drug so swift and strong that not the Gods themselves can hold him who drinks it back from sleep."
"Let it be made ready, thou Master of Death!"
I bowed, and withdrew myself; and all that night I and old Atoua laboured at the distilling of the deadly draught. At length it was done, and Atoua poured it into a crystal phial, and held it to the light of the fire; for it was white as the purest water.
"La! la!" she sang, in her shrill voice; "a drink for a Queen! When fifty drops of that water of my brewing have passed those red lips of hers, thou wilt indeed be avenged of Cleopatra, O Harmachis! Ah, that I could be there to see thy Ruin ruined! La! la! it would be sweet to see!"
"Vengeance is an arrow that oft-times falls upon the archer's head," I answered, bethinking me of Charmion's saying.
OF THE LAST SUPPER OF CLEOPATRA; OF THE SONG OF CHARMION; OF THE DRINKING OF THE DRAUGHT OF DEATH; OF THE REVEALING OF HARMACHIS; OF THE SUMMONING OF THE SPIRITS BY HARMACHIS; AND OF THE DEATH OF CLEOPATRA
On the morrow Cleopatra, having sought leave of Caesar, visited the tomb of Antony, crying that the Gods of Egypt had deserted her. And when she had kissed the coffin and covered it with lotus-flowers she came back, bathed, anointed herself, put on her most splendid robes, and, together with Iras, Charmion, and myself, she supped. Now as she supped her spirit flared up wildly, even as the sky lights up at sunset; and once more she laughed and sparkled as in bygone years, telling us tales of feasts which she and Antony had eaten of. Never, indeed, did I see her look more beauteous than on that last fatal night of vengeance. And thus her mind drew on to that supper at Tarsus when she drank the pearl.
"Strange," she said; "strange that at the last the mind of Antony should have turned back to that night among all the nights and to the saying of Harmachis. Charmion, dost thou remember Harmachis the Egyptian?"
"Surely, O Queen," she answered slowly.
"And who, then, was Harmachis?" I asked; for I would learn if she sorrowed o'er my memory.
"I will tell thee. It is a strange tale, and now that all is done it may well be told. This Harmachis was of the ancient race of the Pharaohs, and, having, indeed, been crowned in secret at Abydus, was sent hither to Alexandria to carry out a great plot that had been formed against the rule of us royal Lagidae. He came and gained entry to the palace as my astrologer, for he was very learned in all magic—much as thou art, Olympus—and a man beautiful to see. Now this was his plot—that he should slay me and be named Pharaoh. In truth it was a strong one, for he had many friends in Egypt, and I had few. And on that very night when he should carry out his purpose, yea, at the very hour, came Charmion yonder, and told the plot to me; saying that she had chanced upon its clue. But, in after days—though I have said little thereon to thee, Charmion—I misdoubted me much of that tale of thine; for, by the Gods! to this hour I believe that thou didst love Harmachis, and because he scorned thee thou didst betray him; and for that cause also hast all thy days remained a maid, which is a thing unnatural. Come, Charmion, tell us; for naught matters now at the end."
Charmion shivered and made answer: "It is true, O Queen; I also was of the plot, and because Harmachis scorned me I betrayed him; and because of my great love for him I have remained unwed." And she glanced up at me and caught my eyes, then let the modest lashes veil her own.
"So! I thought it. Strange are the ways of women! But little cause, methinks, had that Harmachis to thank thee for thy love. What sayest thou, Olympus? Ah, and so thou also wast a traitor, Charmion? How dangerous are the paths which Monarchs tread! Well, I forgive thee, for thou hast served me faithfully since that hour.
"But to my tale. Harmachis I dared not slay, lest his great party should rise in fury and cast me from the throne. And now mark the issue. Though he must murder me, in secret this Harmachis loved me, and something thereof I guessed. I had striven a little to draw him to me, for the sake of his beauty and his wit; and for the love of man Cleopatra never strove in vain. Therefore when, with the dagger in his robe, he came to slay me, I matched my charms against his will, and need I tell you, being man and woman, how I won? Oh, never can I forget the look in the eyes of that fallen prince, that forsworn priest, that discrowned Pharaoh, when, lost in the poppied draught, I saw him sink into a shameful sleep whence he might no more wake with honour! And, thereafter—till, in the end, I wearied of him, and his sad learned mind, for his guilty soul forbade him to be gay—a little I came to care for him, though not to love. But he—he who loved me—clung to me as a drunkard to the cup which ruins him. Deeming that I should wed him, he betrayed to me the secret of the hidden wealth of the pyramid of Her—for at the time I much needed treasure—and together we dared the terrors of the tomb and drew it forth, even from dead Pharaoh's breast. See, this emerald was a part thereof!"—and she pointed to the great scarabaeus that she had drawn from the holy heart of Menkau-ra.
"And because of what was written in the tomb, and of that Thing which we saw in the tomb—ah, pest upon it! why does its memory haunt me now?—and also because of policy, for I would fain have won the love of the Egyptians, I was minded to marry this Harmachis and declare his place and lineage to the world—ay, and by his aid hold Egypt from the Roman. For Dellius had then come to call me to Antony, and after much thought I determined to send him back with sharp words. But on that very morning, as I tired me for the Court, came Charmion yonder, and I told her this, for I would see how the matter fell upon her mind. Now mark, Olympus, the power of jealousy, that little wedge which yet has strength to rend the tree of Empire, that secret sword which can carve the fate of Kings! This she could in no wise bear—deny it, Charmion, if thou canst, for now it is clear to me!—that the man she loved should be given to me as husband—me, whom he loved! And therefore, with more skill and wit than I can tell, she reasoned with me, showing that I should by no means do this thing, but journey to Antony; and for that, Charmion, I thank thee, now that all is come and gone. And by a very little, her words weighed down my scale of judgment against Harmachis, and I went to Antony. Thus it is through the jealous spleen of yonder fair Charmion and the passion of a man on which I played as on a lyre, that all these things have come to pass. For this cause Octavian sits a King in Alexandria; for this cause Antony is discrowned and dead; and for this cause I, too, must die to-night! Ah! Charmion! Charmion! thou hast much to answer, for thou hast changed the story of the world; and yet, even now—I would not have it otherwise!"
She paused awhile, covering her eyes with her hand; and, looking, I saw great tears upon the cheek of Charmion.
"And of this Harmachis," I asked; "where is he now, O Queen?"
"Where is he? In Amenti, forsooth—making his peace with Isis, perchance. At Tarsus I saw Antony, and loved him; and from that moment I loathed the sight of the Egyptian, and swore to make an end of him; for a lover done with should be a lover dead. And, being jealous, he spoke some words of evil omen, even at that Feast of the Pearl; and on the same night I would have slain him, but before the deed was done, he was gone."
"And whither was he gone?"
"Nay; that know not I. Brennus—he who led my guard, and last year sailed North to join his own people—Brennus swore he saw him float to the skies; but in this matter I misdoubted me of Brennus, for methinks he loved the man. Nay, he sank off Cyprus, and was drowned; perchance Charmion can tell us how?"
"I can tell thee nothing, O Queen; Harmachis is lost."
"And well lost, Charmion, for he was an evil man to play with—ay, although I bettered him I say it! Well he served my purpose; but I loved him not, and even now I fear him; for it seemed to me that I heard his voice summoning me to fly, through the din of the fight at Actium. Thanks be to the Gods, as thou sayest, he is lost, and can no more be found."
But I, listening, put forth my strength, and, by the arts I have, cast the shadow of my Spirit upon the Spirit of Cleopatra so that she felt the presence of the lost Harmachis.
"Nay, what is it?" she said. "By Serapis! I grow afraid! It seems to me that I feel Harmachis here! His memory overwhelms me like a flood of waters, and he these ten years dead! Oh! at such a time it is unholy!"
"Nay, O Queen," I answered, "if he be dead then he is everywhere, and well at such a time—the time of thy own death—may his Spirit draw near to welcome thine at its going."
"Speak not thus, Olympus. I would see Harmachis no more; the count between us is too heavy, and in another world than this more evenly, perchance should we be matched. Ah, the terror passes! I was but unnerved. Well the fool's story hath served to wile away the heaviest of our hours, the hour which ends in death. Sing to me, Charmion, sing, for thy voice is very sweet, and I would soothe my soul to sleep. The memory of that Harmachis has wrung me strangely! Sing, then, the last song I shall hear from those tuneful lips of thine, the last of so many songs."
"It is a sad hour for song, O Queen!" said Charmion; but, nevertheless, she took her harp and sang. And thus she sang, very soft and low, the dirge of the sweet-tongued Syrian Meleager:
Tears for my lady dead, Heliodore! Salt tears and strange to shed, Over and o'er; Go tears and low lament Fare from her tomb, Wend where my lady went, Down through the gloom— Sighs for my lady dead, Tears do I send, Long love remembered, Mistress and friend! Sad are the songs we sing, Tears that we shed, Empty the gifts we bring— Gifts to the dead! Ah, for my flower, my Love, Hades hath taken, Ah, for the dust above, Scattered and shaken! Mother of blade and grass, Earth, in thy breast Lull her that gentlest was, Gently to rest!
The music of her voice died away, and it was so sweet and sad that Iras began to weep and the bright tears stood in Cleopatra's stormy eyes. Only I wept not; my tears were dry.
"'Tis a heavy song of thine, Charmion," said the Queen. "Well, as thou saidst, it is a sad hour for song, and thy dirge is fitted to the hour. Sing it over me once again when I lie dead, Charmion. And now farewell to music, and on to the end. Olympus, take yonder parchment and write what I shall say."
I took the parchment and the reed, and wrote thus in the Roman tongue:
"Cleopatra to Octavianus, greeting.
"This is the state of life. At length there comes an hour when, rather than endure those burdens that overwhelm us, putting off the body we would take wing into forgetfulness. Caesar, thou hast conquered: take thou the spoils of victory. But in thy triumph Cleopatra cannot walk. When all is lost, then we must go to seek the lost. Thus in the desert of Despair the brave do harvest Resolution. Cleopatra hath been great as Antony was great, nor shall her fame be minished in the manner of her end. Slaves live to endure their wrong; but Princes, treading with a firmer step, pass through the gates of Wrong into the royal Dwellings of the Dead. This only doth Egypt ask of Caesar—that he suffer her to lie in the tomb of Antony. Farewell!"
This I wrote, and having sealed the writing, Cleopatra bade me go find a messenger, despatch it to Caesar, and then return. So I went, and at the door of the tomb I called a soldier who was not on duty, and, giving him money, bade him take the letter to Caesar. Then I went back, and there in the chamber the three women stood in silence, Cleopatra clinging to the arm of Iras, and Charmion a little apart watching the twain.
"If indeed thou art minded to make an end, O Queen," I said, "the time is short, for presently Caesar will send his servants in answer to thy letter," and I drew forth the phial of white and deadly bane and set it upon the board.
She took it in her hand and gazed thereon. "How innocent it seems!" she said; "and yet therein lies my death. 'Tis strange."
"Ay, Queen, and the death of ten other folk. No need to take so long a draught."
"I fear," she gasped—"how know I that it will slay outright? I have seen so many die by poison and scarce one has died outright. And some—ah, I cannot think on them!"
"Fear not," I said, "I am a master of my craft. Or, if thou dost fear, cast this poison forth and live. In Rome thou mayst still find happiness; ay, in Rome, where thou shalt walk in Caesar's triumph, while the laughter of the hard-eyed Latin women shall chime down the music of thy golden chains."
"Nay, I will die, Olympus. Oh, if one would but show the path."
Then Iras loosed her hand and stepped forward. "Give me the draught, Physician," she said. "I go to make ready for my Queen."
"It is well," I answered; "on thy own head be it!" and I poured from the phial into a little golden goblet.
She raised it, curtsied low to Cleopatra, then, coming forward, kissed her on the brow, and Charmion she also kissed. This done, tarrying not and making no prayer, for Iras was a Greek, she drank, and, putting her hand to her head, instantly fell down and died.
"Thou seest," I said, breaking in upon the silence, "it is swift."
"Ay, Olympus; thine is a master drug! Come now, I thirst; fill me the bowl, lest Iras weary in waiting at the gates!"
So I poured afresh into the goblet; but this time, making pretence to rinse the cup, I mixed a little water with the bane, for I was not minded that she should die before she knew me.
Then did the royal Cleopatra, taking the goblet in her hand, turn her lovely eyes to heaven and cry aloud:
"O ye Gods of Egypt! who have deserted me, to you no longer will I pray, for your ears are shut unto my crying and your eyes blind to my griefs! Therefore, I make entreaty of that last friend whom the Gods, departing, leave to helpless man. Sweep hither, Death, whose winnowing wings enshadow all the world, and give me ear! Draw nigh, thou King of Kings! who, with an equal hand, bringest the fortunate head of one pillow with the slave, and by thy spiritual breath dost waft the bubble of our life far from this hell of earth! Hide me where winds blow not and waters cease to roll; where wars are done and Caesar's legions cannot march! Take me to a new dominion, and crown me Queen of Peace! Thou art my Lord, O Death, and in thy kiss I have conceived. I am in labour of a Soul: see—it stands new-born upon the edge of Time! Now—now—go, Life! Come, Sleep! Come, Antony!"
And, with one glance to heaven, she drank, and cast the goblet to the ground.
Then at last came the moment of my pent-up vengeance, and of the vengeance of Egypt's outraged Gods, and of the falling of the curse of Menkau-ra.
"What's this?" she cried; "I grow cold, but I die not! Thou dark physician, thou hast betrayed me!"
"Peace, Cleopatra! Presently shalt thou die and know the fury of the Gods! The curse of Menkau-ra hath fallen! It is finished! Look upon me, woman! Look upon this marred face, this twisted form, this living mass of sorrow! Look! look! Who am I?"
She stared upon me wildly.
"Oh! oh!" she shrieked, throwing up her arms; "at last I know thee! By the Gods, thou art Harmachis!—Harmachis risen from the dead!"
"Ay, Harmachis risen from the dead to drag thee down to death and agony eternal! See, thou Cleopatra; I have ruined thee as thou didst ruin me! I, working in the dark, and helped of the angry Gods, have been thy secret spring of woe! I filled thy heart with fear at Actium; I held the Egyptians from thy aid; I sapped the strength of Antony; I showed the portent of the Gods unto thy captains! By my hand at length thou diest, for I am the instrument of Vengeance! Ruin I pay thee back for ruin, Treachery for treachery, Death for death! Come hither, Charmion, partner of my plots, who betrayed me, but, repenting, art the sharer of my triumph, come watch this fallen wanton die!"
Cleopatra heard, and sank back upon the golden bed, groaning "And thou, too, Charmion!"
A moment so she sat, then her Imperial spirit burnt up glorious before she died.
She staggered from the bed, and, with arms outstretched, she cursed me.
"Oh! for one hour of life!" she cried—"one short hour, that therein I might make thee die in such fashion as thou canst not dream, thou and that false paramour of thine, who betrayed both me and thee! And thou didst love me! Ah, there I have thee still! See, thou subtle, plotting priest"—and with both hands she rent back the royal robes from her bosom—"see, on this fair breast once night by night thy head was pillowed, and thou didst sleep wrapped in these same arms. Now, put away their memory if thou canst! I read it in thine eyes—that mayst thou not! No torture which I bear can, in its sum, draw nigh to the rage of that deep soul of thine, rent with longings never, never to be reached! Harmachis, thou slave of slaves, from thy triumph-depths I snatch a deeper triumph, and conquered yet I conquer! I spit upon thee—I defy thee—and, dying, doom thee to the torment of thy deathless love! O Antony! I come, my Antony!—I come to thy own dear arms! Soon I shall find thee, and, wrapped in a love undying and divine, together we will float through all the depths of space, and, lips to lips and eyes to eyes, drink of desires grown more sweet with every draught! Or if I find thee not, then I shall sink in peace down the poppied ways of Sleep: and for me the breast of Night, whereon I shall be softly cradled, will yet seem thy bosom, Antony! Oh, I die!—come, Antony—and give me peace!"
Even in my fury I had quailed beneath her scorn, for home flew the arrows of her winged words. Alas! and alas! it was true—the shaft of my vengeance fell upon my own head; never had I loved her as I loved her now. My soul was rent with jealous torture, and thus I swore she should not die.
"Peace!" I cried; "what peace is there for thee? Oh! ye Holy Three, hear now my prayer. Osiris, loosen Thou the bonds of Hell and send forth those whom I shall summon! Come Ptolemy, poisoned of thy sister Cleopatra; come Arsinoe, murdered in the sanctuary by thy sister Cleopatra; come Sepa, tortured to death of Cleopatra; come Divine Menkau-ra, whose body Cleopatra tore and whose curse she braved for greed; come one, come all who have died at the hands of Cleopatra! Rush from the breast of Nout and greet her who murdered you! By the link of mystic union, by the symbol of the Life, Spirits, I summon you!"
Thus I spoke the spell; while Charmion, affrighted, clung to my robe, and the dying Cleopatra, resting on her hands, swung slowly to and fro, gazing with vacant eyes.
Then the answer came. The casement burst asunder, and on flittering wings that great bat entered which last I had seen hanging to the eunuch's chin in the womb of the pyramid of Her. Thrice it circled round, once it hovered o'er dead Iras, then flew to where the dying woman stood. To her it flew, on her breast it settled, clinging to that emerald which was dragged from the dead heart of Menkau-ra. Thrice the grey Horror screamed aloud, thrice it beat its bony wings, and lo! it was gone.
Then suddenly within that chamber sprang up the Shapes of Death. There was Arsinoe, the beautiful, even as she had shrunk beneath the butcher's knife. There was young Ptolemy, his features twisted by the poisoned cup. There was the majesty of Menkau-ra, crowned with the uraeus crown; there was grave Sepa, his flesh all torn by the torturer's hooks; there were those poisoned slaves; and there were others without number, shadowy and dreadful to behold! who, thronging that narrow chamber, stood silently fixing their glassy eyes upon the face of her who slew them!
"Behold! Cleopatra!" I said. "Behold thy peace, and die!"
"Ay!" said Charmion. "Behold and die! thou who didst rob me of my honour, and Egypt of her King!"
She looked, she saw the awful Shapes—her Spirit, hurrying from the flesh, mayhap could hear words to which my ears were deaf. Then her face sank in with terror, her great eyes grew pale, and, shrieking, Cleopatra fell and died: passing, with that dread company, to her appointed place.
Thus, then, I, Harmachis, fed my soul with vengeance, fulfilling the justice of the Gods, and yet knew myself empty of all joy therein. For though that thing we worship doth bring us ruin, and Love being more pitiless than Death, we in turn do pay all our sorrow back; yet we must worship on, yet stretch out our arms towards our lost Desire, and pour our heart's blood upon the shrine of our discrowned God.
For Love is of the Spirit, and knows not Death.
OF THE FAREWELL OF CHARMION; OF THE DEATH OF CHARMION; OF THE DEATH OF THE OLD WIFE, ATOUA; OF THE COMING OF HARMACHIS TO ABOUTHIS; OF HIS CONFESSION IN THE HALL OF SIX-AND-THIRTY PILLARS; AND OF THE DECLARING OF THE DOOM OF HARMACHIS
Charmion unclasped my arm, to which she had clung in terror.
"Thy vengeance, thou dark Harmachis," she said, in a hoarse voice, "is a thing hideous to behold! O lost Egypt, with all thy sins thou wast indeed a Queen!
"Come, aid me, Prince; let us stretch this poor clay upon the bed and deck it royally, so that it may give its dumb audience to the messengers of Caesar as becomes the last of Egypt's Queens."
I spoke no word in answer, for my heart was very heavy, and now that all was done I was weary. Together, then, we lifted up the body and laid it on the golden bed. Charmion placed the uraeus crown upon the ivory brow, and combed the night-dark hair that showed never a thread of silver, and, for the last time, shut those eyes wherein had shone all the changing glories of the sea. She folded the chill hands upon the breast whence Passion's breath had fled, and straightened the bent knees beneath the broidered robe, and by the head set flowers. And there at length Cleopatra lay, more splendid now in her cold majesty of death than in her richest hour of breathing beauty!
We drew back and looked on her, and on dead Iras at her feet.
"It is done!" quoth Charmion; "we are avenged, and now, Harmachis, dost follow by this same road?" And she nodded towards the phial on the board.
"Nay, Charmion. I fly—I fly to a heavier death! Not thus easily may I end my space of earthly penance."
"So be it, Harmachis! And I, Harmachis—I fly also, but with swifter wings. My game is played. I, too, have made atonement. Oh! what a bitter fate is mine, to have brought misery on all I love, and, in the end, to die unloved! To thee I have atoned; to my angered Gods I have atoned; and now I go to find a way whereby I may atone to Cleopatra in that Hell where she is, and which I must share! For she loved me well, Harmachis; and, now that she is dead, methinks that, after thee, I loved her best of all. So of her cup and the cup of Iras I will surely drink!" And she took the phial, and with a steady hand poured what was left of the poison into the goblet.
"Bethink thee, Charmion," I said; "yet mayst thou live for many years, hiding these sorrows beneath the withered days."
"Yet I may, but I will not! To live the prey of so many memories, the fount of an undying shame that night by night, as I lie sleepless, shall well afresh from my sorrow-stricken heart!—to live torn by a love I cannot lose!—to stand alone like some storm-twisted tree, and, sighing day by day to the winds of heaven, gaze upon the desert of my life, while I wait the lingering lightning's stroke—nay, that will not I, Harmachis! I had died long since, but I lived on to serve thee; now no more thou needest me, and I go. Oh, fare thee well!—for ever fare thee well! For not again shall I look again upon thy face, and there I go thou goest not! For thou dost not love me who still dost love that queenly woman thou hast hounded to the death! Her thou shalt never win, and I thee shall never win, and this is the bitter end of Fate! See, Harmachis: I ask one boon before I go and for all time become naught to thee but a memory of shame. Tell me that thou dost forgive me so far as thine is to forgive, and in token thereof kiss me—with no lover's kiss, but kiss me on the brow, and bid me pass in peace."
And she drew near to me with arms outstretched and pitiful trembling lips and gazed upon my face.
"Charmion," I answered, "we are free to act for good or evil, and yet methinks there is a Fate above our fate, that, blowing from some strange shore, compels our little sails of purpose, set them as we will, and drives us to destruction. I forgive thee, Charmion, as I trust in turn to be forgiven, and by this kiss, the first and the last, I seal our peace." And with my lips I touched her brow.
She spoke no more; only for a little while she stood gazing on me with sad eyes. Then she lifted the goblet, and said:
"Royal Harmachis, in this deadly cup I pledge thee! Would that I had drunk of it ere ever I looked upon thy face! Pharaoh, who, thy sins outworn, yet shalt rule in perfect peace o'er worlds I may not tread, who yet shalt sway a kinglier sceptre than that I robbed thee of, for ever, fare thee well!"
She drank, cast down the cup, and for a moment stood with the wide eyes of one who looks for Death. Then He came, and Charmion the Egyptian fell prone upon the floor, dead. And for a moment more I stood alone with the dead.
I crept to the side of Cleopatra, and, now that none were left to see, I sat down on the bed and laid her head upon my knee, as once before it had been laid in that night of sacrilege beneath the shadow of the everlasting pyramid. Then I kissed her chill brow and went from the House of Death—avenged, but sorely smitten with despair!
"Physician," said the officer of the Guard as I went through the gates, "what passes yonder in the Monument? Methought I heard the sounds of death."
"Naught passes—all hath passed," I made reply, and went.
And as I went in the darkness I heard the sound of voices and the running of the feet of Caesar's messengers.
Flying swiftly to my house I found Atoua waiting at the gates. She drew me into a quiet chamber and closed the doors.
"Is it done?" she asked, and turned her wrinkled face to mine, while the lamplight streamed white upon her snowy hair. "Nay, why ask I—I know that it is done!"
"Ay, it is done, and well done, old wife! All are dead! Cleopatra, Iras, Charmion—all save myself!"
The aged woman drew up her bent form and cried: "Now let me go in peace, for I have seen my desire upon thy foes and the foes of Khem. La! la!—not in vain have I lived on beyond the years of man! I have seen my desire upon thy enemies—-I have gathered the dews of Death, and thy foe hath drunk thereof! Fallen is the brow of Pride! the Shame of Khem is level with the dust! Ah, would that I might have seen that wanton die!"
"Cease, woman! cease! The Dead are gathered to the Dead! Osiris holds them fast, and everlasting silence seals their lips! Pursue not the fallen great with insults! Up!—let us fly to Abouthis, that all may be accomplished!"
"Fly thou, Harmachis!—Harmachis, fly—but I fly not! To this end only I have lingered on the earth. Now I untie the knot of life and let my spirit free! Fare thee well, Prince, the pilgrimage is done! Harmachis, from a babe have I loved thee, and love thee yet!—but no more in this world may I share thy griefs—I am spent. Osiris, take thou my Spirit!" and her trembling knees gave way and she sank to the ground.
I ran to her side and looked upon her. She was already dead, and I was alone upon the earth without a friend to comfort me!
Then I turned and went, no man hindering me, for all was confusion in the city, and departed from Alexandria in a vessel I had made ready. On the eighth day, I landed, and, in the carrying out of my purpose, travelled on foot across the fields to the Holy Shrine of Abouthis. And here, as I knew, the worship of the Gods had been lately set up again in the Temple of the Divine Sethi: for Charmion had caused Cleopatra to repent of her decree of vengeance and to restore the lands that she had seized, though the treasure she restored not. And the temple having been purified, now, at the season of the Feast of Isis, all the High Priests of the ancient Temples of Egypt were gathered together to celebrate the coming home of the Gods into their holy place.
I gained the city. It was on the seventh day of the Feast of Isis. Even as I came the long array wended through the well-remembered streets. I joined in the multitude that followed, and with my voice swelled the chorus of the solemn chant as we passed through the pylons into the imperishable halls. How well known were the holy words:
"Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling Within the Sanctuary Sevenfold; Soft on the Dead that liveth are we calling: 'Return, Osiris, from thy Kingdom cold! Return to them that worship thee of old!'"
And then, when the sacred music ceased, as aforetime on the setting of the majesty of Ra, the High Priest raised the statue of the living God and held it on high before the multitude.
With a joyful shout of
"Osiris! our hope, Osiris! Osiris!"
the people tore the black wrappings from their dress, showing the white robes beneath, and, as one man, bowed before the God.
Then they went to feast each at his home; but I stayed in the court of the temple.
Presently a priest of the temple drew near, and asked me of my business. And I answered him that I came from Alexandria, and would be led before the council of the High Priests, for I knew that the Holy Priests were gathered together debating the tidings from Alexandria.
Thereon the man left, and the High Priests, hearing that I was from Alexandria, ordered that I should be led into their presence in the Hall of Columns—and so I was led in. It was already dark, and between the great pillars lights were set, as on that night when I was crowned Pharaoh of the Upper and the Lower Land. There, too, was the long line of Dignitaries seated in their carven chairs, and taking counsel together. All was the same; the same cold images of Kings and Gods gazed with the same empty eyes from the everlasting walls. Ay, more; among those gathered there were five of the very men who, as leaders of the great plot, had sat here to see me crowned, being the only conspirators who had escaped the vengeance of Cleopatra and the clutching hand of Time.
I took my stand on the spot where once I had been crowned and made me ready for the last act of shame with such bitterness of heart as cannot be written.
"Why, it is the physician Olympus," said one. "He who lived a hermit in the Tombs of Tape, and who but lately was of the household of Cleopatra. Is it, then, true that the Queen is dead by her own hand, Physician?"
"Yea, holy Sirs, I am that physician; also Cleopatra is dead by my hand."
"By thy hand? Why, how comes this?—though well is she dead, forsooth, the wicked wanton!"
"Your pardon, Sirs, and I will tell you all, for I am come hither to that end. Perchance among you there may be some—methinks I see some—who, nigh eleven years ago, were gathered in this hall to secretly crown one Harmachis, Pharaoh of Khem?"
"It is true!" they said; "but how knowest thou these things, thou Olympus?"
"Of the rest of those seven-and-thirty nobles," I went on, making no answer, "are two-and-thirty missing. Some are dead, as Amenemhat is dead; some are slain, as Sepa is slain; and some, perchance, yet labour as slaves within the mines, or live afar, fearing vengeance."
"It is so," they said: "alas! it is so. Harmachis the accursed betrayed the plot, and sold himself to the wanton Cleopatra!"
"It is so," I went on, lifting up my head. "Harmachis betrayed the plot and sold himself to Cleopatra; and, holy Sirs—I am that Harmachis!"
The Priests and Dignitaries gazed astonished. Some rose and spoke; some said naught.
"I am that Harmachis! I am that traitor, trebly steeped in crime!—a traitor to my Gods, a traitor to my Country, a traitor to my Oath! I come hither to say that I have done this. I have executed the Divine vengeance on her who ruined me and gave Egypt to the Roman. And now that, after years of toil and patient waiting, this is accomplished by my wisdom and the help of the angry Gods, behold I come with all my shame upon my head to declare the thing I am, and take the traitor's guerdon!"
"Mindest thou of the doom of him who hath broke the oath that may not be broke?" asked he who first had spoken, in heavy tones.
"I know it well," I answered; "I court that awful doom."
"Tell us more of this matter, thou who wast Harmachis."
So, in cold clear words, I laid bare all my shame, keeping back nothing. And ever as I spoke I saw their faces grow more hard, and knew that for me there was no mercy; nor did I ask it, nor, had I asked, could it have been granted.
When, at last, I had done, they put me aside while they took counsel. Then they drew me forth again, and the eldest among them, a man very old and venerable, the Priest of the Temple of the Divine Hatshepu at Tape, spoke, in icy accents:
"Thou Harmachis, we have considered this matter. Thou hast sinned the threefold deadly sin. On thy head lies the burden of the woe of Khem, this day enthralled of Rome. To Isis, the Mother Mystery, thou hast offered the deadly insult, and thou hast broken thy holy oath. For all of these sins there is, as well thou knowest, but one reward, and that reward is thine. Naught can it weigh in the balance of our justice that thou hast slain her who was thy cause of stumbling; naught that thou comest to name thyself the vilest thing who ever stood within these walls. On thee also must fall the curse of Menkau-ra, thou false priest! thou forsworn patriot! thou Pharaoh shameful and discrowned! Here, where we set the Double Crown upon thy head, we doom thee to the doom! Go to thy dungeon and await the falling of its stroke! Go, remembering what thou mightest have been and what thou art, and may those Gods who through thy evil doing shall perchance ere long cease to be worshipped within these holy temples, give to thee that mercy which we deny! Lead him forth!"
So they took me and led me forth. With bowed head I went, looking not up, and yet I felt their eyes burn upon my face.
Oh! surely of all my shames this is the heaviest!
OF THE LAST WRITING OF HARMACHIS, THE ROYAL EGYPTIAN
They led me to the prison chamber that is high in the pylon tower and here I wait my doom. I know not when the sword of Fate shall fall. Week grows to week, and month to month, and still it is delayed. Still it quivers unseen above my head. I know that it will fall, but when I know not. Perchance, I shall wake in some dead hour of midnight to hear the stealthy steps of the slayers and be hurried forth. Perchance, they are now at hand. Then will come the secret cell! the horror! the nameless coffin! and at last it will be done! Oh, let it come! let it come swiftly!
All is written; I have held back nothing—my sin is sinned—my vengeance is finished. Now all things end in darkness and in ashes, and I prepare to face the terrors that are to come in other worlds than this. I go, but not without hope I go: for, though I see Her not, though no more She answers to my prayers, still I am aware of the Holy Isis, who is with me for evermore, and whom I shall yet again behold face to face. And then at last in that far day I shall find forgiveness; then the burden of my guilt will roll from me and innocency come back and wrap me round, bringing me holy Peace.
Oh! dear land of Khem, as in a dream I see thee! I see Nation after Nation set its standard on thy shores, and its yoke upon thy neck! I see new Religions without end calling out their truths upon the banks of Sihor, and summoning thy people to their worship! I see thy temples—thy holy temples—crumbling in the dust: a wonder to the sight of men unborn, who shall peer into thy tombs and desecrate the great ones of thy glory! I see thy mysteries a mockery to the unlearned, and thy wisdom wasted like waters on the desert sands! I see the Roman Eagles stoop and perish, their beaks yet red with the blood of men, and the long lights dancing down the barbarian spears that follow in their wake! And then, at last, I see Thee once more great, once more free, and having once more a knowledge of thy Gods—ay, thy Gods with a changed countenance, and called by other names, but still thy Gods!
The sun sinks over Abouthis. The red rays of Ra flame on temple roofs, upon green fields, and the wide waters of father Sihor. So as a child I watched him sink; just so his last kiss touched the further pylon's frowning brow; just that same shadow lay upon the tombs. All is unchanged! I—I only am changed—so changed, and yet the same!
Oh, Cleopatra! Cleopatra! thou Destroyer! if I might but tear thy vision from my heart! Of all my griefs, this is the heaviest grief—still must I love thee! Still must I hug this serpent to my heart! Still in my ears must ring that low laugh of triumph—the murmur of the falling fountain—the song of the nightinga——
[Here the writing on the third roll of papyrus abruptly ends. It would almost seem that the writer was at this moment broken in upon by those who came to lead him to his doom.]