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- Cleopatra, Volume 2. - 4/7 -
Meanwhile Barine's eyes met those of her sovereign, and at first they roused an ardent desire to press her lips even on the hem of her robe, but afterwards she felt as if a venomous serpent had crawled out of the most beautiful flower.
Here Archibius interrupted her with the remark that he remembered perfectly how, after the song, Antony had addressed her at the same time as the Queen, and Cleopatra lacked no feminine weakness.
"Jealousy?" asked Barine, in astonishment. "I was not presumptuous enough to admit it. I secretly feared that Alexas, the brother of Philostratus, had prejudiced her. He is as ill-disposed towards me as the man who was my husband. But everything connected with those two is so base and shameful that I will not allow it to cloud this pleasant hour. Yet the fear that Alexas might have slandered me to the Queen is not groundless.
"He is as shrewd as his brother, and through Antony, into whose favour he ingratiated himself, is always in communication with Cleopatra. He went to the war with him."
"I learned that too late, and am utterly powerless against Antony," replied Archibius.
"But was it not natural that I should fear he had prejudiced the Queen?" asked Barine. "At any rate, I imagined that I detected a hostile expression in her eyes, and it repelled me, though at first I had been so strongly attracted towards her."
"And had not that other stepped between you, you could not have turned from her again!" said Archibius. "The first time I saw her I was but a mere boy, and she--as I have already said--a child eight years old."
Barine nodded gratefully to Archibius, brought the distaff to her mother, poured water into the wine in the mixing vessel, and after at first leaning comfortably back among the cushions, she soon bent forward in a listening attitude, with her elbow propped on her knee, and her chin supported by her hand. Berenike drew the flax from the distaff, at first slowly, then faster and faster.
"You know my country-house in the Kanopus," the guest began. "It was originally a small summer palace belonging to the royal family, and underwent little change after we moved into it. Even the garden is unaltered. It was full of shady old trees. Olympus, the leech, had chosen this place, that my father might complete within its walls the work of education entrusted to him. You shall hear the story. At that time Alexandria was in a state of turmoil, for Rome had not recognized the King, and ruled over us like Fate, though it had not acknowledged the will by which the miserable Alexander bequeathed Egypt to him like a field or a slave.
"The King of Egypt, who called himself 'the new Dionysus,' was a weak man, whose birth did not give him the full right to the sovereignty. You know that the people called him the 'fluteplayer.' He really had no greater pleasure than to hear music and listen to his own performances. He played by no means badly on more than one instrument, and, moreover, as a reveller did honour to the other name. Whoever kept sober at the festival of Dionysus, whose incarnate second self he regarded himself, incurred his deepest displeasure.
"The flute-player's wife, Queen Tryphoena, and her oldest daughter--she bore your name, Berenike--ruined his life. Compared with them, the King was worthy and virtuous. What had become of the heroes and the high- minded princes of the house of Ptolemy? Every passion and crime had found a home in their palaces!
"The flute-player, Cleopatra's father, was by no means the worst. He was a slave to his own caprices; no one had taught him to bridle his passions. Where it served his purpose, even death was summoned to his aid; but this was a custom of the last sovereigns of his race. In one respect he was certainly superior to most of them--he still possessed a capacity to feel a loathing for the height of crime, to believe in virtue and loftiness of soul, and the possibility of implanting them in youthful hearts. When a boy, he had been under the influence of an excellent teacher, whose precepts had lingered in his memory and led him to determine to withdraw his favourite children--two girls--from their mother's sway, at least as far as possible.
"I learned afterwards that it had been his desire to confide the princesses wholly to my parents' care. But an invincible power opposed this. Though Greeks might be permitted to instruct the royal children in knowledge, the Egyptians would not yield the right to their religious education. The leech Olympus--you know the good old man--had insisted that the delicate Cleopatra must spend the coldest winter months in Upper Egypt, where the sky was never clouded, and the summer near the sea in a shady garden. The little palace at Kanopus was devoted to this purpose.
"When we moved there it was entirely unoccupied, but the princesses were soon to be brought to us. During the winter Olympus preferred the island of Philae, on the Nubian frontier, because the famous Temple of Isis was there, and its priests willingly undertook to watch over the children.
"The Queen would not listen to any of these plans. Leaving Alexandria and spending the winter on a lonely island in the tropics was an utterly incomprehensible idea. So she let the King have his way, and no doubt was glad to be relieved from the care of the children; for, even after her royal husband's exile from the city, she never visited her daughters. True, death allowed her only a short time to do so.
"Her oldest daughter, Berenike, who became her successor, followed her example, and troubled herself very little about her sisters. I heard after wards that she was very glad to know that they were in charge of persons who filled their minds with other thoughts than the desire to rule. Her brothers were reared at Lochias by our countryman Theodotus, under the eyes of their guardian, Pothinus.
"Our family life was of course wholly transformed by the reception of the royal children. In the first place, we moved from our house in the Museum Square into the little palace at Kanopus, and the big, shady garden delighted us. I remember, as though it were but yesterday, the morning--I was then a boy of fifteen--when my father told us that two of the King's daughters would soon become members of the household. There were three of us children--Charmian, who went to the war with the Queen, because Iras, our niece, was ill; I myself; and Straton, who died long ago. We were urged to treat the princesses with the utmost courtesy and consideration, and we perceived that their reception really demanded respect; for the palace, which we had found empty and desolate, was refurnished from roof to foundation.
"The day before they were expected horses, chariots, and litters came, while boats and a splendid state galley, fully manned, arrived by sea. Then a train of male and female slaves appeared, among them two fat eunuchs.
"I can still see the angry look with which my father surveyed all these people. He drove at once to the city, and on his return his clear eyes were as untroubled as ever. A court official accompanied him, and only that portion of the useless amount of luggage and number of persons that my father desired remained.
"The princesses were to come the next morning--it was at the end of February--flowers were blooming in the grass and on the bushes, while the foliage of the trees glittered with the fresh green which the rising sap gives to the young leaves. I was sitting on a strong bough of a sycamore-tree, which grew opposite to the house, watching for them. Their arrival was delayed and, as I gazed meanwhile over the garden, I thought it must surely please them, for not a palace in the city had one so beautiful.
"At last the litters appeared; they had neither runners nor attendants, as my father had requested, and when the princesses alighted--both at the same moment--I knew not which way to turn my eyes first, for the creature that fluttered like a dragon-fly rather than stepped from the first litter, was not a girl like other mortals--she seemed like a wish, a hope. When the dainty, beautiful creature turned her head hither and thither, and at last gazed questioningly, as if beseeching help, into the faces of my father and mother, who stood at the gate to receive her, it seemed to me that such must have been the aspect of Psyche when she stood pleading for mercy at the throne of Zeus.
"But it was worth while to look at the other also. Was that Cleopatra? She might have been the elder, for she was as tall as her sister, but how utterly unlike! From the waving hair to every movement of the hands and body the former--it was Cleopatra--had seemed to me as if she were flying. Everything about the second figure, on the contrary, was solid, nay, even seemed to offer positive resistance. She sprang from the litter and alighted on the ground with both feet at once, clung firmly to the door, and haughtily flung back her head, crowned with a wealth of dark locks. Her complexion was pink and white, and her blue eyes sparkled brightly enough; but the expression with which she gazed at my parents was defiant rather than questioning, and as she glanced around her red lips curled scornfully as though she deemed her surroundings despicable and unworthy of her royal birth.
"This irritated me against the seven-year-old child, yet I said to myself that, though it was very beautiful here--thanks to my father's care-- perhaps it appeared plain and simple when compared with the marble, gold, and purple of the royal palace whence she came. Her features, too, were regular and beautiful, and she would have attracted attention by her loveliness among a multitude. When I soon heard her issue imperious commands and defiantly insist upon the fulfilment of every wish, I thought, in my boyish ignorance, that Arsinoe must be the elder; for she was better suited to wield a sceptre than her sister. I said so to my brother and Charmian; but we all soon saw which really possessed queenly majesty; for Arsinoe, if her will were crossed, wept, screamed, and raged like a lunatic, or, if that proved useless, begged and teased; while if Cleopatra wanted anything she obtained it in a different way. Even at that time she knew what weapons would give her victory and, while using them, she still remained the child of a king.
"No artisan's daughter could have been further removed from airs of majestic pathos than this embodiment of the most charming childlike grace; but if anything for which her passionate nature ardently longed was positively refused, she understood how to attain it by the melody of her voice, the spell of her eyes, and in extreme cases by a silent tear. When to such tears were added uplifted hands and a few sweet words, such as, 'It would make me happy,' or, 'Don't you see how it hurts me?' resistance was impossible; and in after-years also her silent tears and the marvellous music of her voice won her a victory in the decisive questions of life.
"We children were soon playmates and friends, for my parents did not wish the princesses to begin their studies until after they felt at home with us. This pleased Arsinoe, although she could already read and write; but Cleopatra more than once asked to hear something from my father's store of wisdom, of which she had been told.
"The King and her former teacher had cherished the highest expectations from the brilliant intellect of this remarkable child, and Olympus once laid his hand on my curls and bade me take care that the princess did not
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