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- Cleopatra, Volume 6. - 6/8 -


"You were with her in the flight. When Mark Antony left you, he sailed with the ships which joined him for Paraetonium. A large body of troops on which the Queen and Mardion had fixed their hopes was encamped there. Reinforcements could easily be gained and we should once more have a fine army at our disposal."

"Pinarius Scarpus, a cautious soldier, was in command; and I, too, believed--"

"The more you trusted him, the greater would be your error. The shameless rascal--he owes everything to Antony--had received tidings of Actium ere the ships arrived, and had already made overtures to Octavianus when the Imperator came. The veterans who opposed the treachery were hewn down by the wretch's orders, but the brave garrison of the city could not be won over to the monstrous crime. It is due to these men that Mark Antony still lives and did not come to a miserable end at the hands of his own troops. The twice-defeated general-- a courier brought the news--will arrive to-night. Strangely enough, he will not come to Lochias, but to the little palace on the Choma."

"Poor, poor Queen!" cried Charmian; "how did she bear all this?"

"In the presence of the defeated Candidus and Antony's messenger like a heroine. But afterwards----Her raving did not last long; but the mute, despairing silence! Ere she had fully recovered her self-command she sent us all away, and I have not seen her since. But all the thoughts and feelings which dwell here"--he pointed to his brow and breast--"have left their abode and linger with her. I totter from place to place like a soulless body. O Charmian! what has befallen us? Where are the days when care and trouble lay buried with the other dead--the days and nights when my brain united with that of the Queen to transform this desolate earth into the beautiful Elysian Fields, every-day life to a festival, festivals to the very air of Olympus? What unprecedented scenes of splendour had I not devised for the celebration of the victory, the triumph--nay, even the entry into Rome! Whole chests are filled with the sketches, programmes, drawings, and verses. All who handle brush and chisel, compose and execute music, would have lent their aid, and--you may believe me-the result would have been something which future generations would have discussed, lauded, and extolled in song. And now--now?"

"Now we will double our efforts to save what is yet to be rescued!"

"Rescued?" repeated the courtier in a hollow tone. "The Queen, too, still clings to this fine word. When I saw her at work yesterday, it seemed as if I beheld her drawing water with the bottomless vessel of the Danaides. True, today, when I left her, her arms had fallen--and in this attitude she now stands before me with her tearful eyes. And besides, I can't get my nephew Dion out of my mind. Cares--nothing but cares concerning him! And my intentions towards him were so kind! My will gives him my entire fortune; but now he actually wants to marry the singer, the daughter of the artist Leonax. You have taken her under your protection, but surely your own niece, Iras, is dearer to you, so you will approve of my destroying the will if Dion insists upon his own way. He shall not have a solidus of my property if he does not give up the woman who is a thorn in the Queen's flesh. And his choice does not suit our ancient race. Iras, on the contrary, was Dion's playfellow, and I have long destined her for his wife. No better match, nor one more acceptable to the Queen, could be found for him. He cared for her until the singer bewitched him. Bring them together, and they shall be like my own children. If the fool resists his uncle, whose sole desire is to benefit him, I will withdraw my aid. Whatever intrigues his foes may weave, I shall fold my arms and not interfere. I stand in the place of his father, my dead brother, and demand obedience. The Queen is my universe, and her favour is of more value than twenty refractory nephews."

"You will retain her Majesty's favour, even if you intercede for your brother's son."

"And Iras? When she finds herself deceived--and she will soon discover it--she will not rest--"

"Until she has brought ruin upon him," interrupted Charmian, in a tone of sorrow rather than reproach as though she already beheld the impending disaster. "But Iras has no greater influence with the Queen than I, and if you and I unite to protect the brave young fellow, who is of your own blood--"

"Then, of course--no doubt, on account of your longer period of service, you have more influence with her Majesty than Iras--however--such matters must be considered--and I have already said--my mind leaves its abode to follow the Queen like her shadow. It heeds only what concerns her. Let everything else go as it will. The fleet the same as destroyed, Candidus defeated, Herod a deserter, treason on treason--the African legions lost! What in the name of the god who tried to roll back the wheel dashing down the mountain-side!--And yet! Let us offer sacrifices, my friend, and hope for better days!"

Zeno retired as he spoke, but Charmian moved forward with a drooping head to find Barine and her faithful Anukis, and weep her fill ere she went to perform the duty of consoling and sustaining her beloved mistress. Yet she herself so sorely needed comfort. Wherever she turned her eyes she beheld disaster, peril, treachery, and base intrigues. She felt as if she had lived long enough, and that her day was over. Hitherto her gentle nature, her intellect, which yearned to expand, gather new riches, and exchange what it had gained with others, had possessed much to offer to the Queen. She had not only been Cleopatra's confidante, but necessary to her to discuss questions far in advance of the demands of the times, which occupied her restless mind. Now the Queen's attention was wholly absorbed by events--hard, cruel facts--which she must resist or turn to her own advantage. Her life had become a conflict, and Charmian felt that she was by no means combative. The hard, supple, keenly polished intellect of Iras now asserted its value, and the elderly woman told herself that she was in danger of being held in less regard than her younger companion. To resign her office would have given her peace of mind, but she repelled the thought. For the very reason that these days were so full of misery and perhaps drawing nearer to the end, she must remain, first for the sake of the Queen, but also to watch over Barine.

Now she longed to go to Cleopatra. Her mere presence, she knew, would do her sore heart good. The silvery laugh of a child reached her ears through the open gate of the garden which she was rapidly approaching. Little six-year-old Alexander ran towards her with open arms, hugged her closely, pressed his curly head against her, and gazed into her face with his large clear eyes.

Charmian's heart swelled; and as she raised the child in her arms and kissed him, she thought of the sad fate impending, and the composure maintained with so much difficulty gave way; tears streamed from her eyes and, sobbing violently, she pressed the boy closer to her breast.

The prince, accustomed to bright faces and tender caresses, broke away from her in terror to run back to his brother and sisters. But he had a kind little heart, and, knowing that no one weeps and sobs unless in pain, Alexander pitied Charmian, whom he loved, and hurried to her again.

What he meant to show her had pleased his mother, too, and dried the tears in her eyes. So he took Charmian by the hand and drew her along, saying that he wanted her to see the prettiest thing. She willingly allowed herself to be led over the paths, strewn with red sand, of the little garden which Antony had had laid out for his children in the magnificent style which pleased his love of splendour, and filled with rare and beautiful things.

There was a pond with tiny gold and silver fish, where the rare lotus flowers with pink blossoms arose from amid their smooth green leaves, and another where dwarf ducks of every colour, which seemed as if they had been created for children, swam to and fro. A bit of the sea which washed its shore had been enclosed by a gilded latticework, and on its surface floated a number of snow-white swans and black ones with scarlet bills. Native and Indian flowers of every hue adorned the beds, and the narrow paths were shaded by arbours made of gold wire, over which ran climbing vines filled with bright blossoms.

A grotto of stalactites behind the dense foliage of an Indian tree offered a resting-place, and beside it was a little house where the children could stay. The interior lacked none of the requisites of living, not even the cooking utensils in the kitchen, and the family portraits in the tablinum, delicately painted by an artist on small ivory slabs. Everything was made to suit the size of children, but of the most costly material and careful workmanship.

Behind the house was a little stable where four tiny horses with spotted skins, the rarest and prettiest creatures imaginable--a gift from the King of Media--were stamping the ground.

In another place was an enclosure containing gazelles, ostriches, young giraffes, and other grass-eating animals. Bright-plumaged birds and monkeys filled the tops of the trees, gay balls rose and fell on the jets of the fountains, and child genii and images of the gods in bronze and marble peered from the foliage. This whole enchanted world was comprised within a narrow space, and, with its radiance of colour and wealth of form, its perfume, songs, and warbling, exerted a bewildering influence upon the excited imaginations of grown people as well as children.

Little Alexander, without even casting a glance at all this, drew Charmian forward. He did not pause until he reached the shore of the lotus pond; then, putting his fingers on his lips, he said: "There, now, I'll show you. Look here!"

Rising cautiously upon tip-toe as he spoke, he pointed to the hollow in the trunk of a tree. A pair of finches had built their nest in it, and five young ones with big yellow beaks stretched their ugly little heads hungrily upward.

"That's so pretty!" cried the prince. "And you must see the old ones come to feed them." The beautiful boy's sweet face fairly beamed with delight, and Charmian kissed him tenderly. Yet, even as she did so, she thought of the young swallows hacked to death in his mother's galley, and a chill ran through her veins.

Just at that moment voices were heard calling Alexander from a neglected spot behind the dainty little house built for the children, and the boy exclaimed peevishly:

"There, now, I showed you the little nest, so I forgot. Agatha fell asleep and Smerdis went away, so we were alone. Then they sent me to Horus, the gate-keeper, to get some of his spelt bread. He never says no to anything, and it does taste so good. We're peasants, and have been using the axe and the hoe, so we want something to eat. Have you seen our house? We built it ourselves. Selene, Helios, Jotape, my future wife, and I--yes, I! They let me help, and we finished it alone, all alone! Everything is here. We shall build the shed for the cow to-morrow. The others mustn't see it, but I may show it to you."

While speaking, he drew her forward again, and Charmian obediently followed. The twins and little Jotape, who had been chosen for the


Cleopatra, Volume 6. - 6/8

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