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- The Sisters, v2 - 4/10 -
attitude on her cushions, and to support her head on her arm as it rested on the back of her couch; for that arm, though not strictly speaking beautiful, always displayed the finest specimens of Alexandrian workmanship in gem-cutting and goldsmiths' work.
But, in fact, she selected a reclining posture particularly for the sake of showing her feet; not a woman in Egypt or Greece had a smaller or more finely formed foot than she. For this reason her sandals were so made that when she stood or walked they protected only the soles of her feet, and her slender white toes with the roseate nails and their polished white half-moons were left uncovered.
At the banquet she put off her shoes altogether, as the men did; hiding her feet at first however, and not displaying them till she thought the marks left on her tender skin by the straps of the sandals had completely disappeared.
Eulaeus was the greatest admirer of these feet; not, as he averred, on account of their beauty, but because the play of the queen's toes showed him exactly what was passing in her mind, when he was quite unable to detect what was agitating her soul in the expression of her mouth and eyes, well practised in the arts of dissimulation.
Nine couches, arranged three and three in a horseshoe, invited the guests to repose, with their arms of ebony and cushions of dull olive-green brocade, on which a delicate pattern of gold and silver seemed just to have been breathed.
The queen, shrugging her shoulders, and, as it would seem, by no means agreeably surprised at something, whispered to the chamberlain, who then indicated to each guest the place he was to occupy. To the right of the central group reclined the queen, and her husband took his place to the left; the couch between the royal pair, destined for their brother Euergetes, remained unoccupied.
On one of the three couches which formed the right-hand angle with those of the royal family, Publius found a place next to Cleopatra; opposite to him, and next the king, was Lysias the Corinthian. Two places next to him remained vacant, while on the side by the Roman reclined the brave and prudent Hierax, the friend of Ptolemy Euergetes and his most faithful follower.
While the servants strewed the couches with rose leaves, sprinkled perfumed waters, and placed by the couch of each guest a small table-made of silver and of a slab of fine, reddish-brown porphyry, veined with white-the king addressed a pleasant greeting to each guest, apologizing for the smallness of the number.
"Eulaeus," he said, "has been forced to leave us on business, and our royal brother is still sitting over his books with Aristarchus, who came with him from Alexandria; but he promised certainly to come."
"The fewer we are," replied Lysias, bowing low, "the more honorable is the distinction of belonging to so limited a number of your majesty's most select associates."
"I certainly think we have chosen the best from among the good," said the queen. "But even the small number of friends I had invited must have seemed too large to my brother Euergetes, for he--who is accustomed to command in other folks' houses as he does in his own--forbid the chamberlain to invite our learned friends--among whom Agatharchides, my brothers' and my own most worthy tutor, is known to you--as well as our Jewish friends who were present yesterday at our table, and whom I had set down on my list. I am very well satisfied however, for I like the number of the Muses; and perhaps he desired to do you, Publius, particular honor, since we are assembled here in the Roman fashion. It is in your honor, and not in his, that we have no music this evening; you said that you did not particularly like it at a banquet. Euergetes himself plays the harp admirably. However, it is well that he is late in coming as usual, for the day after tomorrow is his birthday, and he is to spend it here with us and not in Alexandria; the priestly delegates assembled in the Bruchion are to come from thence to Memphis to wish him joy, and we must endeavor to get up some brilliant festival. You have no love for Eulaeus, Publius, but he is extremely skilled in such matters, and I hope he will presently return to give us his advice."
"For the morning we will have a grand procession," cried the king. "Euergetes delights in a splendid spectacle, and I should be glad to show him how much pleasure his visit has given us."
The king's fine features wore a most winning expression as he spoke these words with heart-felt warmth, but his consort said thoughtfully: "Aye! if only we were in Alexandria--but here, among all the Egyptian people--"
A loud laugh re-echoing from the marble walls of the state-room interrupted the queen's speech; at first she started, but then smiled with pleasure as she recognized her brother Euergetes, who, pushing aside the chamberlains, approached the company with an elderly Greek, who walked by his side.
"By all the dwellers on Olympus! By the whole rabble of gods and beasts that live in the temples by the Nile!" cried the new-comer, again laughing so heartily that not only his fat cheeks but his whole immensely stout young frame swayed and shook. "By your pretty little feet, Cleopatra, which could so easily be hidden, and yet are always to be seen--by all your gentle virtues, Philometor, I believe you are trying to outdo the great Philadelphus or our Syrian uncle Antiochus, and to get up a most unique procession; and in my honor! Just so! I myself will take a part in the wonderful affair, and my sturdy person shall represent Eros with his quiver and bow. Some Ethiopian dame must play the part of my mother Aphrodite; she will look the part to perfection, rising from the white sea-foam with her black skin. And what do you think of a Pallas with short woolly hair; of the Charities with broad, flat Ethiopian feet; and an Egyptian, with his shaven head mirroring the sun, as Phoebus Apollo?"
With these words the young giant of twenty years threw himself on the vacant couch between his brother and sister, and, after bowing, not without dignity, to the Roman, whom his brother named to him, he called one of the young Macedonians of noble birth who served at the feast as cup-bearers, had his cup filled once and again and yet a third time, drinking it off quickly and without setting it down; then he said in a loud tone, while he pushed his hands through his tossed, light brown hair, till it stood straight up in the air from his broad temples and high brow:
"I must make up for what you have had before I came.--Another cup-full Diocleides."
"Wild boy!" said Cleopatra, holding up her finger at him half in jest and half in grave warning. "How strange you look!"
"Like Silenus without the goat's hoofs," answered Euergetes. "Hand me a mirror here, Diocleides; follow the eyes of her majesty the queen, and you will be sure to find one. There is the thing! And in fact the picture it shows me does not displease me. I see there a head on which besides the two crowns of Egypt a third might well find room, and in which there is so much brains that they might suffice to fill the skulls of four kings to the brim. I see two vulture's eyes which are always keen of sight even when their owner is drunk, and that are in danger of no peril save from the flesh of these jolly cheeks, which, if they continue to increase so fast, must presently exclude the light, as the growth of the wood encloses a piece of money stuck into a rift in a tree- or as a shutter, when it is pushed to, closes up a window. With these hands and arms the fellow I see in the mirror there could, at need, choke a hippopotamus; the chain that is to deck this neck must be twice as long as that worn by a well-fed Egyptian priest. In this mirror I see a man, who is moulded out of a sturdy clay, baked out of more unctuous and solid stuff than other folks; and if the fine creature there on the bright surface wears a transparent robe, what have you to say against it, Cleopatra? The Ptolemaic princes must protect the import trade of Alexandria, that fact was patent even to the great son of Lagus; and what would become of our commerce with Cos if I did not purchase the finest bombyx stuffs, since those who sell it make no profits out of you, the queen--and you cover yourself, like a vestal virgin, in garments of tapestry. Give me a wreath for my head--aye and another to that, and new wine in the cup! To the glory of Rome and to your health, Publius Cornelius Scipio, and to our last critical conjecture, my Aristarchus-- to subtle thinking and deep drinking!"
"To deep thinking and subtle drinking!" retorted the person thus addressed, while he raised the cup, looked into the wine with his twinkling eyes and lifted it slowly to his nose--a long, well-formed and slightly aquiline nose--and to his thin lips.
"Oh! Aristarchus," exclaimed Euergetes, and he frowned. "You please me better when you clear up the meaning of your poets and historians than when you criticise the drinking-maxims of a king. Subtle drinking is mere sipping, and sipping I leave to the bitterns and other birds that live content among the reeds. Do you understand me? Among reeds, I say- -whether cut for writing, or no."
"By subtle drinking," replied the great critic with perfect indifference, as he pushed the thin, gray hair from his high brow with his slender hand. "By subtle drinking I mean the drinking of choice wine, and did you ever taste anything more delicate than this juice of the vines of Anthylla that your illustrious brother has set before us? Your paradoxical axiom commends you at once as a powerful thinker and as the benevolent giver of the best of drinks."
"Happily turned," exclaimed Cleopatra, clapping her hands, "you here see, Publius, a proof of the promptness of an Alexandrian tongue."
"Yes!" said Euergetes, "if men could go forth to battle with words instead of spears the masters of the Museum in Alexander's city, with Aristarchus at their head, they might rout the united armies of Rome and Carthage in a couple of hours."
"But we are not now in the battle-field but at a peaceful meal," said the king, with suave amiability. "You did in fact overhear our secret Euergetes, and mocked at my faithful Egyptians, in whose place I would gladly set fair Greeks if only Alexandria still belonged to me instead of to you.--However, a splendid procession shall not be wanting at your birthday festival."
"And do you really still take pleasure in these eternal goose-step performances?" asked Euergetes, stretching himself out on his couch, and folding his hands to support the back of his head. "Sooner could I accustom myself to the delicate drinking of Aristarchus than sit for hours watching these empty pageants. On two conditions only can I declare myself ready and willing to remain quiet, and patiently to dawdle through almost half a day, like an ape in a cage: First, if it will give our Roman friend Publius Cornelius Scipio any pleasure to witness such a performance--though, since our uncle Antiochus pillaged our wealth, and since we brothers shared Egypt between us, our processions are not to be
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