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- Cleopatra, Volume 3. - 2/8 -
victorious Caesar were close at hand; many of Gabinius' men were serving in the Egyptian army. To receive the vanquished Pompey kindly was to make the victorious Caesar a foe. I was to witness the terrible solution of this dilemma. The infamous words of Theodotus, 'Dead dogs no longer bite,' had turned the scale.
"My brother and I reached Mount Casius with our precious freight, and pitched our tents to await a messenger, when a large body of armed men approached from the city. At first we feared that we were pursued; but a spy reported that the King himself was among the soldiery, and at the same time a large Roman galley drew near the coast. It must be Pompey's. So they had changed their views, and the King was coming in person to receive their guest. The troops encamped on the flat shore on which stood the Temple of the Casian Amon.
"The September sun shone brightly, and was reflected from the weapons. From the high bank of the dry bed of the river, where we had pitched our tent, we saw something scarlet move to and fro. It was the King's mantle. The waves, stirred by the autumn breeze, rippled lightly, blue as cornflowers, over the yellow sand of the dunes; but the King stood still, shading his eyes with his hand as he gazed at the galley. Meanwhile, Achillas, the commander of the troops, and Septimius, the tribune, who belonged to the Roman garrison in Alexandria, and who, I knew, had served under Pompey and owed him many favours, had entered a boat and put off to the vessel, which could not come nearer the land on account of the shallow water.
"The conference now began, and Achillas's offer of hospitality must have been very warm and well calculated to inspire confidence, for a tall lady--it was Cornelia, the wife of the Imperator--waved her hand to him in token of gratitude."
Here the speaker paused, drew a long breath, and, pressing his hand to his brow, continued "What follows--alas, that it was my fate to witness the dreadful scene! How often a garbled account has been given, and yet the whole was so terribly simple!
"Fortune makes her favourites confiding. Pompey was also. Though more than fifty years old--he lacked two years of sixty--he sprang into the boat quickly enough, with merely a little assistance from a freedman. A sailor--he was a negro--shoved the skiff off from the side of the huge ship as violently as if the pole he used for the purpose was a spear, and the galley his foe. The boat, urged by his companions' oars, had already moved forward, and he stumbled, the brown cap falling from his woolly head in the act.
"It seems as if I could still see him. Ere I clearly realized that this was an evil omen, the boat stopped.
"The water was shallow. I saw Achillas point to the shore. It could be reached by a single bound. Pompey looked towards the King. The freedman put his hand under his arm to help him rise. Septimius also stood up. I thought he intended to assist him. But no! What did this mean? Something flashed by the Imperator's silver-grey hair as if a spark had fallen from the sky. Would Pompey defend himself, or why did he raise his hand? It was to draw around him the toga, with which he silently covered his face. The tribune's arm was again raised high into the air, and then--what confusion! Here, there, yonder, hands suddenly appeared aloft, bright flashes darted through the clear air. Achillas, the general, dealt blows with his dagger as if he were skilled in murder. The Imperator's stalwart figure sank forward. The freedman supported him.
"Then shouts arose, here a cry of fury, yonder a wail of grief, and, rising above all, a woman's shriek of anguish. It came from the lips of Cornelia, the murdered man's wife. Shouts of applause from the King's camp followed, then the blast of a trumpet; the Egyptians drew back from the shore. The scarlet cloak again appeared. Septimius, bearing in his hand a bleeding head, went towards it and held the ghastly trophy aloft.
"The royal boy gazed into the dull eyes of the victim, who had guided the destinies of many a battlefield, of Rome, of two quarters of the globe. The sight was probably too terrible for the child upon the throne, for he averted his head. The ship moved away from the land, the Egyptians formed into ranks and marched off. Achillas cleansed his blood-stained hands in the sea-water. The freedman beside him washed his master's headless trunk. The general shrugged his shoulders as the faithful fellow heaped reproaches on him."
Here Archibius paused, drawing a long breath. Then he continued more calmly:
"Achillas did not lead the troops back to Alexandria, but eastward, towards Pelusium, as I learned later.
"My brother and I stood on the rocky edge of the ravine. It was long ere either spoke. A cloud of dust concealed the King and his body-guard, the sails of the galley disappeared. Twilight closed in, and Straton pointed westward towards Alexandria. Then the sun set. Red! red! It seemed as if a torrent of blood was pouring over the city.
"Night followed. A scanty fire was glimmering on the strand. Where had the wood been gathered in this desert? How had it been kindled? A wrecked, mouldering boat had lain close beside the scene of the murder. The freedman and his companions had broken it up and fed the flames with withered boughs, the torn garments of the murdered man, and dry sea-weed. A blaze soon rose, and a body was carefully placed upon the wretched funeral pyre. It was the corpse of the great Pompey. One of the Imperator's veterans aided the faithful servant."
Here Archibius sank back again among the cushions, adding in explanation:
"Cordus, the man's name was Servius Cordus. He fared well later. The Queen provided for him. The others? Fate overtook them all soon enough. Theodotus was condemned by Brutus to a torturing death. Amid his loud shrieks of agony one of Pompey's veterans shouted, 'Dead dogs no longer bite, but they howl when dying!'
"It was worthy of Caesar that he averted his face in horror from the head of his enemy, which Theodotus sent to him. Pothinus, too, vainly awaited the reward of his infamous deed.
"Julius Caesar had cast anchor before Alexandria shortly after the King's return. Not until after his arrival in Egypt did he learn how Pompey had been received there. You know that he remained nine months. How often I have heard it said that Cleopatra understood how to chain him here! This is both true and false. He was obliged to stay half a year; the following three months he did indeed give to the woman whom he loved. Ay, the heart of the man of fifty-four had again opened to a great passion. Like all wounds, those inflicted by the arrows of Eros heal more slowly when youth lies behind the stricken one. It was not only the eyes and the senses which attracted a couple so widely separated by years, but far more the mental characteristics of both. Two winged intellects had met. The genius of one had recognized that of the other. The highest type of manhood had met perfect womanhood. They could not fail to attract each other. I expected it; for Cleopatra had long watched breathlessly the flight of this eagle who soared so far above the others, and she was strong enough to keep at his side.
"We succeeded in joining Cleopatra, and heard that, spite of the hostility of our citizens, Caesar had occupied the palace of the Ptolemies and was engaged in restoring order.
"We knew in what way Pothinus, Achillas, and Arsinoe would seek to influence him. Cleopatra had good reason to fear that her foes might deliver Egypt unconditionally to Rome, if Caesar should leave the reins of government in their hands and shut her out. She had cause to dread this, but she also had the courage to act in person in her own behalf.
"The point now was to bring her into the city, the palace-nay, into direct communication with the dictator. Children tell the tale of the strong man who bore Cleopatra in a sack through the palace portals. It was not a sack which concealed her, but a Syrian carpet. The strong man was my brother Straton. I went first, to secure a free passage.
"Julius Caesar and she saw and found each other. Fate merely drew the conclusion which must result from such premises. Never have I seen Cleopatra happier, more exalted in mind and heart, yet she was menaced on all sides by serious perils. It required all the military genius of Caesar to conquer the fierce hostility which he encountered here. It was this, not the thrall of Cleopatra, I repeat, which first bound him to Egypt. What would have prevented him--as he did later--from taking the object of his love to Rome, had it been possible at that time? But this was not the case. The Alexandrians provided for that.
"He had recognized the flute-player's will, nay, had granted more to the royal house than could have been given to the former. Cleopatra and her brother-husband, Dionysus, were to share the government, and he also bestowed on Arsinoe and her youngest brother the island of Cyprus, which had been wrested from their uncle Ptolemy by the republic. Rome was, of course, to remain the guardian of the brothers and sisters.
"This arrangement was unendurable to Pothinus and the former rulers of the state. Cleopatra as Queen, and Rome--that is Caesar, the dictator, her friend, as guardian--meant their removal from power, their destruction, and they resisted violently.
"The Egyptians and even the Alexandrians supported them. The young King hated nothing more than the yoke of the unloved sister, who was so greatly his superior. Caesar had come with a force by no means equal to theirs, and it might be possible to draw the mighty general into a snare. They fought with all the power at their command, with such passionate eagerness, that the dictator had never been nearer succumbing to peril. But Cleopatra certainly did not paralyze his strength and cautious deliberation. No! He had never been greater; never proved the power of his genius so magnificently. And against what superior power, what hatred he contended! I myself saw the young King, when he heard that Cleopatra had succeeded in entering the palace and meeting Caesar, rush into the street, fairly crazed by rage, tear the diadem from his head, hurl it on the pavement, and shriek to the passers-by that he was betrayed, until Caesar's soldiers forced him back into the palace, and dispersed the mob.
"Arsinoe had received more than she could venture to expect; but she was again most deeply angered. After Caesar's entry into the palace, she had received him as Queen, and hoped everything from his favour. Then her hated sister had come and, as so often happened, she was forgotten for Cleopatra's sake.
"This was too much, and with the eunuch Ganymedes, her confidant, and--as I have already said--an able warrior, she left the palace and joined the dictator's foes.
"There were severe battles on land and sea; in the streets of the city, for the drinkable water excavated by the foe; and against the conflagration which destroyed part of the Bruchium and the library of the museum. Yet, half dead with thirst, barely escaped from drowning, threatened on all sides by fierce hatred, he stood firm, and remained victor also in the open field, after the young King had placed himself at the head of the Egyptians and collected an army.
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