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- Cleopatra, Volume 1. - 3/10 -
was vehemently contradicted; but a tall, scrawny man seemed to have undertaken to defend the ruler's violence.
The friends knew him well. It was the Syrian Philostratus, a clever extempore speaker and agitator of the people, who placed his clever tongue at the disposal of the highest bidder.
"The rascal is probably now in my uncle's employ," said Dion. "The idea of putting the piece of sculpture there originated with him, and it is difficult to turn him from such plans. There is some secret object to be gained here. That is why they have brought Philostratus. I wonder if the conspiracy is connected in any way with Barine, whose husband-- unfortunately for her--he was before he cast her off."
"Cast her off!" exclaimed Gorgias wrathfully. "How that sounds! True, he did it, but to persuade him the poor woman sacrificed half the fortune her father had earned by his brush. You know as well as I that life with that scoundrel would be unbearable."
"Very true," replied Dion quietly. "But as all Alexandria melted into admiration after her singing of the 'yalemos' at the Adonis festival, she no longer needed her contemptible consort."
"How can you take pleasure, whenever it is possible, in casting such slurs upon a woman, whom but yesterday you called blameless, charming, peerless?"
"That the light she sheds may not dazzle your eyes. I know how sensitive they are."
"Then spare, instead of irritating them. Besides, your suggestion gives food for thought Barine is the granddaughter of the man whose garden they want, and the advocate would probably be glad to injure both. But I'll spoil his game. It is my business to choose the site for the statues."
"Yours?" replied Dion. "Unless some on who is more powerful opposes you. I would try to win my uncle, but there are others superior to him. The Queen has gone, it is true; but Iras, whose commands do not die away in empty air, told me this morning that she had her own ideas about the errection of the statue."
"Then you bring Philostratus here!" cried the architect.
"I?" asked the other in amazement.
"Ay, you," asserted Gorgias. "Did not you say that Iras, with whom you played when a boy is now becoming troublesome by watching your every step? And then--you visit Barine constantly and she so evidently prefers you, that the fact might easily reach the ears of Iras."
"As Argus has a hundred, jealousy has a thousand eyes," interrupted Dion, "yet I seek nothing from Barine, save two pleasant hours when the day is drawing towards its close. No matter; Iras, I suppose, heard that I was favoured by this much-admired woman. Iras herself has some little regard for me, so she bought Philostratus. She is willing to pay something for the sake of injuring the woman who stands between us, or the old man who has the good or evil fortune of being her rival's grandfather. No, no; that would be too base! And believe me, if Iras desired to ruin Barine, she need not make so long a circuit. Besides, she is not really a wicked woman. Or is she? All I know is that where any advantage is to be gained for the Queen, she does not shrink even from doubtful means, and also that the hours speed swiftly for any one in her society. Yes, Iras, Iras--I like to utter the name. Yet I do not love her, and she--loves only herself, and--a thing few can say--another still more. What is the world, what am I to her, compared with the Queen, the idol of her heart? Since Cleopatra's departure, Iras seems like the forsaken Ariadne, or a young roe which has strayed from its mother. But stop; she may have a hand in the game: the Queen trusted her as if she were her sister, her daughter. No one knows what she and Charmian are to her. They are called waiting-women, but are their sovereign's dearest friends. When, on the departure of the fleet, Cleopatra was compelled to leave Iras here--she was ill with a fever--she gave her the charge of her children, even those whose beards were beginning to grow, the 'King of kings' Caesarion, whose tutor punishes him for every act of disobedience; and the unruly lad Antyllus, who has forced his way the last few evenings into our friend's house."
"Antony, his own father, introduced him to her."
"Very true, and Antyllus took Caesarion there. This vexed Iras, like everything which may disturb the Queen. Barine is troublesome on account of Cleopatra, whom she wishes to spare every, annoyance, and perhaps she dislikes her a little for my sake. Now she wants to inflict on the old man, Barine's grandfather, whom she loves, some injury which the spoiled, imprudent woman will scarcely accept quietly, and which will rouse her to commit some folly that can be used against her. Iras will hardly seek her life, but she may have in mind exile or something of that kind. She knows people as well as I know her, my neighbour and playmate, whom many a time I was obliged to lift down from some tree into which the child had climbed as nimbly as a kitten."
"I myself suggested this conjecture, yet I cannot credit her with such unworthy intrigues," cried Gorgias.
"Credit her?" repeated Dion, shrugging his shoulders. "I only transport myself in imagination to the court and to the soul of the woman who helps make rain and sunshine there. You have columns rounded and beams hewed that they may afterwards support the roof to which in due time you wish to direct attention. She and all who have a voice in the management of court affairs look first at the roof and then seek anything to raise and support it, though it should be corpses, ruined lives, and broken hearts. The point is that the roof shall stand until the architect, the Queen, sees and approves it. As to the rest--But there is the carriage--It doubtless brings--You were--"
He paused, laid his hand on his friend's arm, and whispered hastily: "Iras is undoubtedly at the bottom of this, and it is not Antyllus, but yonder dreaming lad, for whom she is moving. When she spoke of the statues just now, she asked in the same breath where I had seen him on the evening of the day before yesterday, and that was the very time he called on Barine. The plot was made by her, and Iras is doing all the work. The mouse is not caught while the trap is closed, and she is just raising her little hand to open it."
"If only she does not use some man's hand," replied the architect wrathfully, and then turned towards the carriage and the elderly man who had just left it, and was now approaching the two friends.
When Caesarion's companion reached Dion and Gorgias, the former modestly made a movement to retire. But Archibius was acquainted with both, and begged him to remain. There was an air of precision and clearness in the voice and quiet movements of this big, broad-shouldered man, with his robust frame and well-developed limbs. Though only a few years beyond forty, not merely his grey hair but the calm, impressive dignity of his whole manner indicated a more advanced age.
"The young King yonder," he began in a deep, musical voice, motioning towards the equipage, "wished to speak to you here in person, Gorgias, but by my advice he refrained from mingling with the crowd. I have brought him hither in a closed carriage. If the plan suits you, enter it and talk with him while I keep watch here. Strange things seem to be occurring, and yonder--or am I mistaken? Has the monster dragged along there any connection with the twin statues of the Queen and her friend? Was it you who selected that place for them?"
"No," replied the architect. "The order was issued over my head and against my will."
"I thought so," replied the other. "This is the very matter of which Caesarion wishes to speak. If you can prevent the erection of the statues on Didymus's land, so much the better. I will do everything in my power to aid you, but in the Queen's absence that is little."
"Then what can be said of my influence?" asked the architect. "Who, in these days, knows whether the sky will be blue or grey to-morrow? I can guarantee one thing only: I will do my best to prevent this injury of an estimable citizen, interference with the laws of our city, and violation of good taste."
"Say so to the young King, but express yourself cautiously," replied Archibius as the architect turned towards the carriage.
As soon as Dion and the older man were alone, the latter inquired the cause of the increasing uproar, and as, like every well-disposed Alexandrian, he esteemed Archibius, and knew that he was intimately acquainted with the owner of the imperilled garden, and therefore with his granddaughter Barine, he confided his anxiety to him without reserve.
"Iras is your niece, it is true," he said in his open-hearted manner, "but I know that you understand her character. It suits her now to fling a golden apple into the path of a person whom she dislikes and believes incautious, that she may pick it up and thus afford her an opportunity to bring a charge of theft."
Noting the inquiring glance Archibius fixed upon him as he made this comparison, he changed his tone and continued more earnestly: "Zeus is great, but destiny is superior even to him. Zeus can accomplish much, but when Iras and your sister Charmian, who unfortunately is now with the Queen, wish to effect anything, he, like the Regent Mardion, must give way. The more lovable Cleopatra is, the more surely every one prizes a position near her person above aught else, especially such trifles as law and justice."
"These are harsh words," responded Archibius, and seem the more bitter in proportion to the germ of truth which they contain. Our court shares the fate of every other in the East, and those to whom Rome formerly set the example of holding law and justice sacred--"
"Can now go there," interrupted Dion, "to learn how rudely both are trampled under foot. The sovereigns here and there may smile at one another like the augurs. They are like brothers--"
"But with the difference," Archibius broke in, "that the head of our public affairs is the very embodiment of affability and grace; while in Rome, on the contrary, harsh severity and bloody arrogance, or even repulsive servility, guide the reins."
Here Archibius interrupted himself to point to the shouting throng advancing towards them. "You are right," Dion answered. "Let us defer this discussion till we can pursue it in the house of the charming Barine. But I rarely meet you there, though by blood you are so nearly allied to her father. I am her friend--at my age that might easily mean her lover. But in our case the comparison would not suit. Yet perhaps you will believe me, for you have the right to call yourself the friend of the most bewitching of women."
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