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- The Sisters, v1 - 10/11 -


"Softly, softly, my friend," said the recluse, "and not now only, but about everything which you under take in behalf of the sisters, for a man like Eulaeus hears not only with his own ears but with those of thousand others, and almost everything that occurs at court has to go through his hands as epistolographer. You say the queen is well-disposed towards you. That is worth a great deal, for her husband is said to be guided by her will, and such a thing as Eulaeus cannot seem particularly estimable in Cleopatra's eyes if princesses are like other women--and I know them well."

"And even if he were," interrupted Publius with glowing cheeks, "I would bring him to ruin all the same, for a man like Philotas must not perish, and his cause henceforth is my own. Here is my hand upon it; and if I am happy in having descended from a noble race it is above all because the word of a son of the Cornelii is as good as the accomplished deed of any other man."

The recluse grasped the right hand the young man gave him and nodded to him affectionately, his eyes radiant, though moistened with joyful emotion. Then he hastily turned his back on the young man, and soon reappeared with a large papyrus-roll in his hand. "Take this," he said, handing it to the Roman, "I have here set forth all that I have told you, fully and truly with my own hand in the form of a petition. Such matters, as I very well know, are never regularly conducted to an issue at court unless they are set forth in writing. If the queen seems disposed to grant you a wish give her this roll, and entreat her for a letter of pardon. If you can effect this, all is won."

Publius took the roll, and once more gave his hand to the anchorite, who, forgetting himself for a moment, shouted out in his loud voice:

"May the gods bless thee, and by thy means work the release of the noblest of men from his sufferings! I had quite ceased to hope, but if you come to our aid all is not yet wholly lost."

CHAPTER VI.

"Pardon me if I disturb you."

With these words the anchorite's final speech was interrupted by Eulaeus, who had come in to the Pastophorium softly and unobserved, and who now bowed respectfully to Publius.

"May I be permitted to enquire on what compact one of the noblest of the sons of Rome is joining hands with this singular personage?"

"You are free to ask," replied Publius shortly and drily, "but every one is not disposed to answer, and on the present occasion I am not. I will bid you farewell, Serapion, but not for long I believe."

"Am I permitted to accompany you?" asked Eulaeus.

"You have followed me without any permission on my part."

"I did so by order of the king, and am only fulfilling his commands in offering you my escort now."

"I shall go on, and I cannot prevent your following me."

"But I beg of you," said Eulaeus, "to consider that it would ill-become me to walk behind you like a servant."

"I respect the wishes of my host, the king, who commanded you to follow me," answered the Roman. "At the door of the temple however you can get into your chariot, and I into mine; an old courtier must be ready to carry out the orders of his superior."

"And does carry them out," answered Eulaeus with deference, but his eyes twinkled--as the forked tongue of a serpent is rapidly put out and still more rapidly withdrawn--with a flash first of threatening hatred, and then another of deep suspicion cast at the roll the Roman held in his hand.

Publius heeded not this glance, but walked quickly towards the acacia- grove; the recluse looked after the ill-matched pair, and as he watched the burly Eulaeus following the young man, he put both his hands on his hips, puffed out his fat cheeks, and burst into loud laughter as soon as the couple had vanished behind the acacias.

When once Serapion's midriff was fairly tickled it was hard to reduce it to calm again, and he was still laughing when Klea appeared in front of his cell some few minutes after the departure of the Roman. He was about to receive his young friend with a cheerful greeting, but, glancing at her face, he cried anxiously;

"You look as if you had met with a ghost; your lips are pale instead of red, and there are dark shades round your eyes. What has happened to you, child? Irene went with you to the procession, that I know. Have you had bad news of your parents? You shake your head. Come, child, perhaps you are thinking of some one more than you ought; how the color rises in your cheeks! Certainly handsome Publius, the Roman, must have looked into your eyes--a splendid youth is he--a fine young man-- a capital good fellow--"

"Say no more on that subject," Klea exclaimed, interrupting her friend and protector, and waving her hand in the air as if to cut off the other half of Serapion's speech. "I can hear nothing more about him."

"Has he addressed you unbecomingly?" asked the recluse.

"Yes!" said Klea, turning crimson, and with a vehemence quite foreign to her usual gentle demeanor, "yes, he persecutes me incessantly with challenging looks."

"Only with looks?" said the anchorite. "But we may look even at the glorious sun and at the lovely flowers as much as we please, and they are not offended."

"The sun is too high and the soulless flowers too humble for a man to hurt them," replied Klea. "But the Roman is neither higher nor lower than I, the eye speaks as plain a language as the tongue, and what his eyes demand of me brings the blood to my cheeks and stirs my indignation even now when I only think of it."

"And that is why you avoid his gaze so carefully?"

"Who told you that?"

"Publius himself; and because he is wounded by your hard-heartedness he meant to quit Egypt; but I have persuaded him to remain, for if there is a mortal living from whom I expect any good for you and yours--"

"It is certainly not he," said Klea positively. "You are a man, and perhaps you now think that so long as you were young and free to wander about the world you would not have acted differently from him--it is a man's privilege; but if you could look into my soul or feel with the heart of a woman, you would think differently. Like the sand of the desert which is blown over the meadows and turns all the fresh verdure to a hideous brown-like a storm that transforms the blue mirror of the sea into a crisped chaos of black whirl pools and foaming ferment, this man's imperious audacity has cruelly troubled my peace of heart. Four times his eyes pursued me in the processions; yesterday I still did not recognize my danger, but to-day--I must tell you, for you are like a father to me, and who else in the world can I confide in?--to-day I was able to avoid his gaze, and yet all through long endless hours of the festival I felt his eyes constantly seeking mine. I should have been certain I was under no delusion, even if Publius Scipio--but what business has his name on my lips?--even if the Roman had not boasted to you of his attacks on a defenceless girl. And to think that you, you of all others, should have become his ally! But you would not, no indeed you would not, if you knew how I felt at the procession while I was looking down at the ground, and knew that his very look desecrated me like the rain that washed all the blossoms off the young vine-shoots last year. It was just as if he were drawing a net round my heart--but, oh! what a net! It was as if the flax on a distaff had been set on fire, and the flames spun out into thin threads, and the meshes knotted of the fiery yarn. I felt every thread and knot burning into my soul, and could not cast it off nor even defend myself. Aye! you may look grieved and shake your head, but so it was, and the scars hurt me still with a pain I cannot utter."

"But Klea," interrupted Serapion, "you are quite beside yourself--like one possessed. Go to the temple and pray, or, if that is of no avail, go to Asclepios or Anubis and have the demon cast out."

"I need none of your gods!" answered the girl in great agitation. "Oh! I wish you had left me to my fate, and that we had shared the lot of our parents, for what threatens us here is more frightful than having to sift gold-dust in the scorching sun, or to crush quartz in mortars. I did not come to you to speak about the Roman, but to tell you what the high-priest had just disclosed to me since the procession ended."

"Well?" asked Serapion eager and almost frightened, stretching out his neck to put his head near to the girl's, and opening his eyes so wide that the loose skin below them almost disappeared.

"First he told me," replied Klea, "how meagrely the revenues of the temple are supplied--"

"That is quite true," interrupted the anchorite, "for Antiochus carried off the best part of its treasure; and the crown, which always used to have money to spare for the sanctuaries of Egypt, now loads our estates with heavy tribute; but you, as it seems to me, were kept scantily enough, worse than meanly, for, as I know--since it passed through my hands--a sum was paid to the temple for your maintenance which would have sufficed to keep ten hungry sailors, not speak of two little pecking birds like you, and besides that you do hard service without any pay. Indeed it would be a more profitable speculation to steal a beggar's rags than to rob you! Well, what did the high-priest want?"

"He says that we have been fed and protected by the priesthood for five years, that now some danger threatens the temple on our account, and that we must either quit the sanctuary or else make up our minds to take the place of the twin-sisters Arsinoe and Doris who have hitherto been employed in singing the hymns of lamentation, as Isis and Nephthys, by the bier of the deceased god on the occasion of the festivals of the dead, and in pouring out the libations with wailing and outcries when the bodies were brought into the temple to be blessed. These maidens, Asclepiodorus says, are now too old and ugly for these duties, but the temple is bound to maintain them all their lives. The funds of the temple are insufficient to support two more serving maidens besides them and us, and so Arsinoe and Doris are only to pour out the libations for the future, and we are to sing the laments, and do the wailing."

"But you are not twins!" cried Serapion. "And none but twins--so say the ordinances--may mourn for Osiris as Isis and Neplithys."


The Sisters, v1 - 10/11

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