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- The Sisters, v3 - 4/12 -
Eulaeus bowed with a smile which conveyed that he understood perfectly how little the king's last words were spoken in earnest, and he said:
"I purposed always to assist the weaker of you two, and that is what I believe myself to be doing now."
"You mean my sister?"
"Our sovereign lady Cleopatra is of the sex which is often unjustly called the weaker. Though you no doubt were pleased to speak in jest when you asked that question, I feel bound to answer you distinctly that it was not Cleopatra that I meant, but King Philometor."
"Philometor? Then you have no faith in his strength, you regard me as stronger than he; and yet, at the banquet to-day, you offered me your services, and told me that the task had devolved upon you of demanding the surrender of the little serving-maiden of Serapis, in the king's name, of Asclepiodorus, the high-priest. Do you call that aiding the weaker? But perhaps you were drunk when you told me that?
"No? You were more moderate than I? Then some other change of views must have taken place in you; and yet that would very much surprise me, since your principles require you to aid the weaker son of my mother--"
"You are laughing at me," interrupted the courtier with gentle reproachfulness, and yet in a tone of entreaty. "If I took your side it was not from caprice, but simply and expressly from a desire to remain faithful to the one aim and end of my life."
"And that is?"
"To provide for the welfare of this country in the same sense as did your illustrious mother, whose counsellor I was."
"But you forget to mention the other--to place yourself to the best possible advantage."
"I did not forget it, but I did not mention it, for I know how closely measured out are the moments of a king; and besides, it seems to me as self-evident that we think of our personal advantage as that when we buy a horse we also buy his shadow."
"How subtle! But I no more blame you than I should a girl who stands before her mirror to deck herself for her lover, and who takes the same opportunity of rejoicing in her own beauty.
"However, to return to your first speech. It is for the sake of Egypt as you think--if I understand you rightly--that you now offer me the services you have hitherto devoted to my brother's interests?"
"As you say; in these difficult times the country needs the will and the hand of a powerful leader."
"And such a leader you think I am?"
"Aye, a giant in strength of will, body and intellect--whose desire to unite the two parts of Egypt in your sole possession cannot fail, if you strike and grasp boldly, and if--"
"If?" repeated the king, looking at the speaker so keenly that his eyes fell, and he answered softly:
"If Rome should raise no objection."
Euergetes shrugged his shoulders, and replied gravely:
"Rome indeed is like Fate, which always must give the final decision in everything we do. I have certainly not been behindhand in enormous sacrifices to mollify that inexorable power, and my representative, through whose hands pass far greater sums than through those of the paymasters of the troops, writes me word that they are not unfavorably disposed towards me in the Senate."
"We have learned that from ours also. You have more friends by the Tiber than Philometor, my own king, has; but our last despatch is already several weeks old, and in the last few days things have occurred--"
"Speak!" cried Euergetes, sitting bolt upright on his cushions. "But if you are laying a trap for me, and if you are speaking now as my brother's tool, I will punish you--aye! and if you fled to the uttermost cave of the Troglodytes I would have you followed up, and you should be torn in pieces alive, as surely as I believe myself to be the true son of my father."
"And I should deserve the punishment," replied Eulaeus humbly. Then he went on: "If I see clearly, great events lie before us in the next few days."
"Yes--truly," said Euergetes firmly.
"But just at present Philometor is better represented in Rome than he has ever been. You made acquaintance with young Publius Scipio at the king's table, and showed little zeal in endeavoring to win his good graces."
"He is one of the Cornelii," interrupted the king, "a distinguished young man, and related to all the noblest blood of Rome; but he is not an ambassador; he has travelled from Athens to Alexandria, in order to learn more than he need; and he carries his head higher and speaks more freely than becomes him before kings, because the young fellows fancy it looks well to behave like their elders."
"He is of more importance than you imagine."
"Then I will invite him to Alexandria, and there will win him over in three days, as surely as my name is Euergetes."
"It will then be too late, for he has to-day received, as I know for certain, plenipotentiary powers from the Senate to act in their name in case of need, until the envoy who is to be sent here again arrives."
"And I only now learn this for the first time!" cried the king springing up from his couch, "my friends must be deaf, and blind and dull indeed, if still I have any, and my servants and emissaries too! I cannot bear this haughty ungracious fellow, but I will invite him tomorrow morning-- nay I will invite him to-day, to a festive entertainment, and send him the four handsomest horses that I have brought with me from Cyrene. I will--"
"It will all be in vain," said Eulaeus calmly and dispassionately. "For he is master, in the fullest and widest meaning of the word, of the queen's favor--nay--if I may permit myself to speak out freely--of Cleopatra's more than warm liking, and he enjoys this sweetest of gifts with a thankful heart. Philometor--as he always does--lets matters go as they may, and Cleopatra and Publius--Publius and Cleopatra triumph even publicly in their love; gaze into each other's eyes like any pair of pastoral Arcadians, exchange cups and kiss the rim on the spot where the lips of the other have touched it. Promise and grant what you will to this man, he will stand by your sister; and if you should succeed in expelling her from the throne he would boldly treat you as Popilius Laenas did your uncle Antiochus: he would draw a circle round your person, and say that if you dared to step beyond it Rome would march against you."
Euergetes listened in silence, then, flinging away the draperies that wrapped his body, he paced up and down in stormy agitation, groaning from time to time, and roaring like a wild bull that feels itself confined with cords and bands, and that exerts all its strength in vain to rend them.
Finally he stood still in front of Eulaeus and asked him:
"What more do you know of the Roman?"
"He, who would not allow you to compare yourself to Alcibiades, is endeavoring to out-do that darling of the Athenian maidens; for he is not content with having stolen the heart of the king's wife, he is putting out his hand to reach the fairest virgin who serves the highest of the gods. The water-bearer whom Lysias, the Roman's friend, recommended for a Hebe is beloved by Publius, and he hopes to enjoy her favors more easily in your gay palace than he can in the gloomy temple of Serapis."
At these words the king struck his forehead with his hand, exclaiming: "Oh! to be a king--a man who is a match for any ten! and to be obliged to submit with a patient shrug like a peasant whose grain my horsemen crush into the ground!
"He can spoil everything; mar all my plans and thwart all my desires--and I can do nothing but clench my fist, and suffocate with rage. But this fuming and groaning are just as unavailing as my raging and cursing by the death-bed of my mother, who was dead all the same and never got up again.
"If this Publius were a Greek, a Syrian, an Egyptian--nay, were he my own brother--I tell you, Eulaeus, he should not long stand in my way; but he is plenipotentiary from Rome, and Rome is Fate--Rome is Fate."
The king flung himself back on to his cushions with a deep sigh, and as if crushed with despair, hiding his face in the soft pillows; but Eulaeus crept noiselessly up to the young giant, and whispered in his ear with solemn deliberateness:
"Rome is Fate, but even Rome can do nothing against Fate. Publius Scipio must die because he is ruining your mother's daughter, and stands in the way of your saving Egypt. The Senate would take a terrible revenge if he were murdered, but what can they do if wild beasts fall on their plenipotentiary, and tear him to pieces?"
"Grand! splendid!" cried Euergetes, springing again to his feet, and opening his large eyes with radiant surprise and delight, as if heaven itself had opened before them, revealing the sublime host of the gods feasting at golden tables.
"You are a great man, Eulaeus, and I shall know how to reward you; but do you know of such wild beasts as we require, and do they know how to conduct themselves so that no one shall dare to harbor even the shadow of a suspicion that the wounds torn by their teeth and claws were inflicted by daggers, pikes or spearheads?"
"Be perfectly easy," replied Eulaeus. "These beasts of prey have already had work to do here in Memphis, and are in the service of the king--"
"Aha! of my gentle brother!" laughed Euergetes. "And he boasts of never having killed any one excepting in battle--and now--"
"But Philometor has a wife," interposed Eulaeus; and Euergetes went on.
"Aye, woman, woman! what is there that a man may not learn from a woman?"
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