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- Cleopatra, Volume 5. - 1/6 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By Georg Ebers
Barine had been an hour in the palace. The magnificently furnished room to which she was conducted was directly above the council chamber, and sometimes, in the silence of the night, the voice of the Queen or the loud cheers of men were distinctly heard.
Barine listened without making the slightest effort to catch the meaning of the words which reached her ears. She longed only for something to divert her thoughts from the deep and bitter emotion which filled her soul. Ay, she was roused to fury, and yet she felt how completely this passionate resentment contradicted her whole nature.
True, the shameless conduct of Philostratus during their married life had often stirred the inmost depths of her placid, kindly spirit, and after wards his brother Alexas had come to drive her, by his disgraceful proposals, to the verge of despair; rage was added to the passionate agitation of her soul, and for this she had cause to rejoice--but for this mighty resentment during the time of struggle she might have, perhaps, succumbed from sheer weariness and the yearning desire to rest.
At last, at last, she and her friends, by means of great sacrifices, had succeeded in releasing her from these tortures. Philostratus's consent to liberate her was purchased. Alexas's persecution had ceased long before; he had first been sent away as envoy by his patron Antony, and afterwards been compelled to accompany him to the war.
How she had enjoyed the peaceful days in her mother's house! How quickly the bright cheerfulness which she had supposed lost had returned to her soul!--and to-day Fate had blessed her with the greatest happiness life had ever offered. True, she had had only a few brief hours in which to enjoy it, for the attack of the unbridled boys and the wound inflicted upon her lover had cast a heavy shadow on her bliss.
Her mother had again proved to be in the right when she so confidently predicted a second misfortune which would follow the first only too soon.
Barine had been torn at midnight from her peaceful home and her wounded lover's bedside. This was done by the Queen's command, and, full of angry excitement, she said to herself that the men were right who cursed tyranny because it transformed free human beings into characterless chattels.
There could be nothing good awaiting her; that was proved by the messengers whom Cleopatra had sent to summon her at this unprecedented hour. They were her worst enemies: Iras, who desired to wed her lover-- Dion had told her so after the assault--and Alexas, whose suit she had rejected in a way which a man never forgives.
She had already learned Iras's feelings. The slender figure with the narrow head, long, delicate nose, small chin, and pointed fingers, seemed to her like a long, sharp thorn. This strange comparison had entered her head as Iras stood rigidly erect, reading aloud in a shrill, high voice the Queen's command. Everything about this hard, cold face appeared as sharp as a sting, and ready to destroy her.
Her removal from her mother's house to the royal palace had been swift and simple.
After the attack--of which she saw little, because, overpowered by fear and horror, she closed her eyes--she had driven home with her lover, where the leech had bandaged his injuries, and Berenike had quickly and carefully transformed her own sleeping chamber into a sick-room.
Barine, after changing her dress, did not leave Dion's side. She had attired herself carefully, for she knew his delight in outward adornment. When she returned from her grandparents, before sunset, she was alone with him, and he, kissing her arm, had murmured that wherever the Greek tongue was spoken there was not one more beautiful. The gem was worthy of its loveliness. So she had opened her baggage to take out the circlet which Antony had given, and it again enclasped her arm when she entered the sick-room.
Because Dion had told her that he deemed her fairest in the simple white robe she had worn a few days before, when there were no guests save himself and Gorgias, and she had sung until after midnight his favourite songs as though all were intended for him alone, her choice had fallen upon this garment. And she rejoiced that she had worn it--the wounded man's eyes rested upon her so joyously when she sat down opposite to him.
The physician had forbidden him to talk, and urged him to sleep if possible. So Barine only held his hand in silence, whispering, whenever he opened his eyes, a tender word of love and encouragement.
She had remained with him for hours, leaving her place at his side merely to give him his medicine, or, with her mother's aid, place poultices on his wounds.
When his manly face was distorted by suffering, she shared his pain; but during most of the time a calm, pleasant sense of happiness pervaded her mind. She felt safe and sheltered in the possession of the man whom she loved, though fully aware of the perils which threatened him, and, perhaps, her also. But the assurance of his love completely filled her heart and cast every care entirely into the shade. Many men had seemed estimable and agreeable, a few even desirable husbands, but Dion was the first to awaken love in her ardent but by no means passionate soul. She regarded the experiences of the past few days as a beautiful miracle. How she had yearned and pined until the most fervent desire of her heart was fulfilled! Now Dion had offered her his love, and nothing could rob her of it.
Gorgias and the sons of her uncle Arius had disturbed her a short time. After they had gone with a good report, Berenike had entreated her daughter to lie down and let her take her place. But Barine would not leave her lover's couch, and had just loosed her hair to brush it again and fasten the thick, fair braids around her head, when, two hours after midnight, some one knocked loudly on the window shutters. Berenike was in the act of removing the poultice, so Barine herself went into the atrium to wake the doorkeeper.
But the old man was not asleep, and had anticipated her. She recognized, with a low cry of terror, the first person who entered the lighted vestibule--Alexas. Iras followed, her head closely muffled, for the storm was still howling through the streets. Last of all a lantern- bearer crossed the threshold.
The Syrian saluted the startled young beauty with a formal bow, but Iras, without a greeting or even a single word of preparation, delivered the Queen's command, and then read aloud, by the light of the lantern, what Cleopatra had scrawled upon the wax tablet.
When Barine, pallid and scarcely able to control her emotion, requested the messengers who had arrived at so late an hour to enter, in order to give her time to prepare for the night drive and take leave of her mother, Iras vouchsafed no reply, but, as if she had the right to rule the house, merely ordered the doorkeeper to bring his mistress's cloak without delay.
While the old man, with trembling knees, moved away, Iras asked if the wounded Dion was in the dwelling; and Barine, her self-control restored by the question, answered, with repellent pride, that the Queen's orders did not command her to submit to an examination in her own house.
Iras shrugged her shoulders and said, sneeringly, to Alexas:
"In truth, I asked too much. One who attracts so many men of all ages can scarcely be expected to know the abode of each individual."
"The heart has a faithful memory," replied the Syrian in a tone of correction, but Iras echoed, contemptuously, "The heart!"
Then all were silent until, instead of the doorkeeper, Berenike herself came hurrying in, bringing the cloak. With pallid face and bloodless lips she wrapped it around her daughter's shoulders, whispering, amid floods of tears, almost inaudible words of love and encouragement, which Iras interrupted by requesting Barine to follow her to the carriage.
The mother and daughter embraced and kissed each other, then the closed equipage bore the persecuted woman through the storm and darkness to Lochias.
Not a word was exchanged between Barine and the Queen's messengers until they reached the room where the former was to await Cleopatra; but here Iras again endeavoured to induce her to speak. At the first question, however, Barine answered that she had no information to give.
The room was as bright as if it were noonday, though the lights flickered constantly, for the wind found its way through the thin shutters closing the windows on both sides of the corner room, and a strong, cold draught swept in. Barine wrapped her cloak more closely around her; the storm which howled about the sea-washed palace harmonized with the vehement agitation of her soul. Whether she had looked within or without, there was nothing which could have soothed her save the assurance of being loved--an assurance that held fear at bay. Now, indignation prevented dread from overpowering her, yet calm consideration could not fail to show her that danger threatened on every hand. The very manner in which Iras and Alexas whispered together, without heeding her presence, boded peril, for courtiers show such contempt only to those whom they know are threatened with the indifference or resentment of the sovereign. Barine, during her married life with a man devoid of all delicacy of feeling, and with a disposition as evil as his tongue was ready, had learned to endure many things which were hard to bear; yet when, after a remark from Iras evidently concerning her, she heard Alexas laugh, she was compelled to exert the utmost self-restraint to avoid telling her enemy how utterly she despised the cowardly cruelty of her conduct. But she succeeded in keeping silent. Still, the painful constraint she imposed on herself must find vent in some way, and, as the tortured anguish of her soul reached its height, large tears rolled down her cheeks.
These, too, were noticed by her enemy and made the target of her wit; but this time the sarcasm failed to produce its effect upon the Syrian, for, instead of laughing, he grew grave, and whispered something which seemed to Barine a reproof or a warning. Iras's reply was merely a contemptuous
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