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- Cleopatra, Volume 3. - 4/8 -
the ship which, by her orders, had been built for her friend.
Dion now desired to join him, and was soon standing on the deck at his side. He had landed on the island of Pharos, and entered a sailors' tavern to learn what was passing. But no one could give him any definite information, for the wind was blowing from the land and allowed large vessels to approach the Egyptian coast only by the aid of oars. Shortly before the breeze had veered from south to southeast, and an experienced Rhodian would "never again lift cup of wine to his lips" if it did not blow from the north to-morrow or the day after. Then ships bearing news might reach Alexandria by the dozen--that is, the greybeard added with a defiant glance at the daintily clad city gentleman--if they were allowed to pass the Pharos or go through the Poseidon basin into the Eunostus. He had fancied that he saw sails on the horizon at sunset, but the swiftest galley became a hedgehog when the wind blew against its prow, and even checked the oars.
Others, too, had fancied that they had seen sails, and Dion would gladly have gone out to sea to investigate, but he was entirely alone in a frail hired boat, and this would not have been permitted to pass beyond the harbour. The expectation that every road would be open to Archibius had not deceived him, and the harbour chain was drawn aside for the Epicurus. With swelling sails, urged by the strong wind blowing from the southeast, its keel cut the rolling waves.
Soon a faint, tremulous light appeared in the north. It must be a ship; and though the helmsman in the tavern at Pharos, who looked as though he had not always steered peaceful trading-vessels, had spoken of some which did not let the ships they caught pass unscathed, the men on the well- equipped, stately Epicurus did not fear pirates, especially as morning was close at hand, and it had just shot by two clumsy men-of-war which had been sent out by the Regent.
The strong wind filled every sail, rowing would have been useless labour, and the light in front seemed to be coming nearer.
A wan glimmer was already beginning to brighten the distant east when the Epicurus approached the vessel with the light, but it seemed to wish to avoid the Alexandrian, and turned suddenly towards the northeast.
Archibius and Dion now discussed whether it would be worth while to pursue the fugitive. It was a small ship, which, as the dark masses of clouds became bordered with golden edges, grew more distinct and appeared to be a Cilician pirate of the smallest size.
As to its crew, the tried sailors on the Epicurus, a much larger vessel, which lacked no means of defence, showed no signs of alarm, the helmsman especially, who had served in the fleet of Sextus Pompey, and had sprung upon the deck of many a pirate ship.
Archibius deemed it foolish to commence a conflict unnecessarily. But Dion was in the mood to brave every peril.
If life and death were at stake, so much the better!
He had informed his friend of Iras's fears.
The fleet must be in a critical situation, and if the little Cilician had had nothing to conceal she would not have shunned the Epicurus.
It was worth while to learn what had induced her to turn back just before reaching the harbour. The warlike helmsman also desired to give chase, and Archibius yielded, for the uncertainty was becoming more and more unbearable. Dion's soul was deeply burdened too. He could not banish Barine's image; and since Archibius had told him that he had found her resolved to shut her house against guests, and how willingly she had accepted his invitation to the country, again and again he pondered over the question what should prevent his marrying the quiet daughter of a distinguished artist, whom he loved?
Archibius had remarked that Barine would be glad to greet her most intimate friends--among whom he was included--in her quiet country.
Dion did not doubt this, but he was equally sure that the greeting would bind him to her and rub him of his liberty, perhaps forever. But would the Alexandrian possess the lofty gift of freedom, if the Romans ruled his city as they governed Carthage or Corinth? If Cleopatra were defeated, and Egypt became a Roman province, a share in the business of the council, which was still addressed as "Macedonian men," and which was dear to Dion, could offer nothing but humiliation, and no longer afford satisfaction.
If a pirate's spear put an end to bondage under the Roman yoke and to this unworthy yearning and wavering, so much the better!
On this autumn morning, under this grey sky, from which sank a damp, light fog, with these hopes and fears in his heart, he beheld in both the present and future naught save shadows.
The Epicurus overtook and captured the fugitive. The slight resistance the vessel might have offered was relinquished when Archibius's helmsman shouted that the Epicurus did not belong to the royal navy, and had come in search of news.
The Cilician took in his oars; Archibius and Dion entered the vessel and questioned the commander.
He was an old, weather-beaten seaman, who would give no information until after he had learned what his pursuers really desired.
At first he protested that he had witnessed on the Peloponnesian coast a great victory gained by the Egyptian galleys over those commanded by Octavianus; but the queries of the two friends involved him in contradictions, and he then pretended to know nothing, and to have spoken of a victory merely to please the Alexandrian gentlemen.
Dion, accompanied by a few men from the crew of the Epicurus, searched the ship, and found in the little cabin a man bound and gagged, guarded by one of the pirates.
It was a sailor from the Pontus, who spoke only his native language. Nothing intelligible could be obtained from him; but there were important suggestions in a letter, found in a chest in the cabin, among clothing, jewels, and other stolen articles.
The letter-Dion could scarcely believe his own eyes-was addressed to his friend, the architect Gorgias. The pirate, being ignorant of writing, had not opened it, but Dion tore the wax from the cord without delay. Aristocrates, the Greek rhetorician, who had accompanied Antony to the war, had written from Taenarum, in the south of the Peloponnesus, requesting the architect, in the general's name, to set the little palace at the end of the Choma in order, and surround it on the land side with a high wall.
No door would be necessary. Communication with the dwelling could be had by water. He must do his utmost to complete the work speedily.
The friends gazed at each other in astonishment, as they read this commission.
What could induce Antony to give so strange an order? How did it fall into the hands of the pirates?
This must be understood.
When Archibius, whose gentle nature, so well adapted to inspire confidence, quickly won friends, burst into passionate excitement, the unexpected transition rarely failed to produce its effect, especially as his tall, strong figure and marked features made a still more threatening impression.
Even the captain gazed at him with fear, when the Alexandrian threatened to recall all his promises of consideration and mercy if the pirate withheld even the smallest trifle connected with this letter. The man speedily perceived that it would be useless to make false statements; for the captive from Pontus, though unable to speak Greek, understood the language, and either confirmed every remark of the other with vehement gestures, or branded it in the same manner as false.
Thus it was discovered that the pirate craft, in company with a much larger vessel, owned by a companion, had lurked behind the promontory of Crete for a prize. They had neither seen nor heard aught concerning the two fleets, when a dainty galley, "the finest and fleetest that ever sailed in the sea"--it was probably the "Swallow," Antony's despatch- boat-had run into the snare. To capture her was an easy task. The pirates had divided their booty, but the lion's share of goods and men had fallen to the larger ship.
A pouch containing letters and money had been taken from a gentleman of aristocratic appearance--probably Antony's messenger--who had received a severe wound, died, and had been flung into the sea. The former had been used to light the fire, and only the one addressed to the architect remained.
The captured sailors had said that the fleet of Octavianus had defeated Cleopatra's, and the Queen had fled, but that the land forces were still untouched, and might yet decide the conflict in Antony's favour. The pirate protested that he did not know the position of the army--it might be at Taenarum, whence the captured ship came. It was a sin and a shame, but his own crew had set it on fire, and it sank before his eyes.
This report seemed to be true, yet the Acharnanian coast, where the battle was said to have been fought, was so far from the southern point of the Peloponnesus, whence Antony's letter came, that it must have been written during the flight. One thing appeared to be certain--the fleet had been vanquished and dispersed on the 2d or 3d of September.
Where would the Queen go now? What had become of the magnificent galleys which had accompanied her to the battle?
Even the contrary winds would not have detained them so long, for they were abundantly supplied with rowers.
Had Octavianus taken possession of them? Were they burned or sunk?
But in that case how had Antony reached Taenarum?
The pirate could give no answer to these questions, which stirred both heart and brain. Why should he conceal what had reached his ears?
At last Archibius ordered the property stolen from Antony's ship, and the liberated sailor to be brought on board the Epicurus, but the pirate was obliged to swear not to remain in the waters between Crete and Alexandria. Then he was suffered to pursue his way unmolested.
This adventure had occupied many hours, and the return against the wind was slow; for, during the chase the Epicurus had been carried by the strong breeze far out to sea. Yet, when still several miles from the mouth of the harbour at the Pharos, it was evident that the Rhodian helmsman in the island tavern had predicted truly; for the weather
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