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- The Sisters, v3 - 5/12 -
Then he added in a lower tone: "When can your wild beasts do their work?"
"The sun has long since risen; before it sets I will have made my preparations, and by about midnight, I should think, the deed may be done. We will promise the Roman a secret meeting, lure him out to the temple of Serapis, and on his way home through the desert--"
"Aye, then,--" cried the king, making a thrust at his own breast as though his hand held a dagger, and he added in warning: "But your beasts must be as powerful as lions, and as cautious-as cautious, as cats. If you want gold apply to Komanus, or, better still, take this purse. Is it enough? Still I must ask you; have you any personal ground of hatred against the Roman?"
"Yes," answered Eulaeus decisively. "He guesses that I know all about him and his doings, and he has attacked me with false accusations which may bring me into peril this very day. If you should hear that the queen has decided on throwing me into prison, take immediate steps for my liberation."
"No one shall touch a hair of your head; depend upon that. I see that it is to your interest to play my game, and I am heartily glad of it, for a man works with all his might for no one but himself. And now for the last thing: When will you fetch my little Hebe?"
"In an hour's time I am going to Asclepiodorus; but we must not demand the girl till to-morrow, for today she must remain in the temple as a decoy-bird for Publius Scipio."
"I will take patience; still I have yet another charge to give you. Represent the matter to the high-priest in such a way that he shall think my brother wishes to gratify one of my fancies by demanding--absolutely demanding--the water-bearer on my behalf. Provoke the man as far as is possible without exciting suspicion, and if I know him rightly, he will stand upon his rights, and refuse you persistently. Then, after you, will come Komanus from me with greetings and gifts and promises.
"To-morrow, when we have done what must be done to the Roman, you shall fetch the girl in my brother's name either by cunning or by force; and the day after, if the gods graciously lend me their aid in uniting the two realms of Egypt under my own hand, I will explain to Asclepiodorus that I have punished Philometor for his sacrilege against his temple, and have deposed him from the throne. Serapis shall see which of us is his friend.
"If all goes well, as I mean that it shall, I will appoint you Epitropon of the re-united kingdom--that I swear to you by the souls of my deceased ancestors. I will speak with you to-day at any hour you may demand it."
Eulaeus departed with a step as light as if his interview with the king had restored him to youth.
When Hierax, Komanus, and the other officers returned to the room, Euergetes gave orders that his four finest horses from Cyrene should be led before noonday to his friend Publius Cornelius Scipio, in token of his affection and respect. Then he suffered himself to be dressed, and went to Aristarchus with whom he sat down to work at his studies.
The temple of Serapis lay in restful silence, enveloped in darkness, which so far hid its four wings from sight as to give it the aspect of a single rock-like mass wrapped in purple mist.
Outside the temple precincts too all had been still; but just now a clatter of hoofs and rumble of wheels was audible through the silence, otherwise so profound that it seemed increased by every sound. Before the vehicle which occasioned this disturbance had reached the temple, it stopped, just outside the sacred acacia-grove, for the neighing of a horse was now audible in that direction.
It was one of the king's horses that neighed; Lysias, the Greek, tied him up to a tree by the road at the edge of the grove, flung his mantle over the loins of the smoking beast; and feeling his way from tree to tree soon found himself by the Well of the Sun where he sat down on the margin.
Presently from the east came a keen, cold breeze, the harbinger of sunrise; the gray gloaming began by degrees to pierce and part the tops of the tall trees, which, in the darkness, had seemed a compact black roof. The crowing of cocks rang out from the court-yard of the temple, and, as the Corinthian rose with a shiver to warm himself by a rapid walk backwards and forwards, he heard a door creak near the outer wall of the temple, of which the outline now grew sharper and clearer every instant in the growing light.
He now gazed with eager observation down the path which, as the day approached, stood out with increasing clearness from the surrounding shades, and his heart began to beat faster as he perceived a figure approaching the well, with rapid steps. It was a human form that advanced towards him--only one--no second figure accompanied it; but it was not a man--no, a woman in a long robe. Still, she for whom he waited was surely smaller than the woman, who now came near to him. Was it the elder and not the younger sister, whom alone he was anxious to speak with, who came to the well this morning?
He could now distinguish her light foot-fall--now she was divided from him by a young acacia-shrub which hid her from his gaze-now she set down two water-jars on the ground--now she briskly lifted the bucket and filled the vessel she held in her left hand--now she looked towards the eastern horizon, where the dim light of dawn grew broader and brighter, and Lysias thought he recognized Irene--and now--Praised be the gods! he was sure; before him stood the younger and not the elder sister; the very maiden whom he sought.
Still half concealed by the acacia-shrub, and in a soft voice so as not to alarm her, he called Irene's name, and the poor child's blood froze with terror, for never before had she been startled by a man here, and at this hour. She stood as if rooted to the spot, and, trembling with fright, she pressed the cold, wet, golden jar, sacred to the god, closely to her bosom.
Lysias repeated her name, a little louder than before, and went on, but in a subdued voice:
"Do not be frightened, Irene; I am Lysias, the Corinthian--your friend, whose pomegranate-blossom you wore yesterday, and who spoke to you after the procession. Let me bid you good morning!"
At these words the girl let her hand fall by her side, still holding the jar, and pressing her right hand to her heart, she exclaimed, drawing a deep breath:
"How dreadfully you frightened me! I thought some wandering soul was calling me that had not yet returned to the nether world, for it is not till the sun rises that spirits are scared away."
"But it cannot scare men of flesh and blood whose purpose is good. I, you may believe me, would willingly stay with you, till Helios departs again, if you would permit me."
"I can neither permit nor forbid you anything," answered Irene. "But, how came you here at this hour?"
"In a chariot," replied Lysias smiling.
"That is nonsense--I want to know what you came to the Well of the Sun for at such an hour."
"I What but for you yourself? You told me yesterday that you were glad to sleep, and so am I; still, to see you once more, I have been only to glad to shorten my night's rest considerably."
"But, how did you know?"
"You yourself told me yesterday at what time you were allowed to leave the temple."
"Did I tell you? Great Serapis! how light it is already. I shall be punished if the water-jar is not standing on the altar by sunrise, and there is Klea's too to be filled."
"I will fill it for you directly--there--that is done; and now I will carry them both for you to the end of the grove, if you will promise me to return soon, for I have many things to ask you."
"Go on--only go on," said the girl; "I know very little; but ask away, though you will not find much to be made of any answers that I can give."
"Oh! yes, indeed, I shall--for instance, if I asked you to tell me all about your parents. My friend Publius, whom you know, and I also have heard how cruelly and unjustly they were punished, and we would gladly do much to procure their release."
"I will come--I will be sure to come," cried Irene loudly and eagerly, "and shall I bring Klea with me? She was called up in the middle of the night by the gatekeeper, whose child is very ill. My sister is very fond of it, and Philo will only take his medicine from her. The little one had gone to sleep in her lap, and his mother came and begged me to fetch the water for us both. Now give me the jars, for none but we may enter the temple."
"There they are. Do not disturb your sister on my account in her care of the poor little boy, for I might indeed have one or two things to say to you which she need not hear, and which might give you pleasure. Now, I am going back to the well, so farewell! But do not let me have to wait very long for you." He spoke in a tender tone of entreaty, and the girl answered low and rapidly as she hurried away from him:
"I will come when the sun is up."
The Corinthian looked after her till she had vanished within the temple, and his heart was stirred--stirred as it had not been for many years. He could not help recalling the time when he would teaze his younger sister, then still quite a child, putting her to the test by asking her, with a perfectly grave face, to give him her cake or her apple which he did not really want at all. The little one had almost always put the thing he asked for to his mouth with her tiny hands, and then he had often felt exactly as he felt now.
Irene too was still but a child, and no less guileless than his darling in his own home; and just as his sister had trusted him--offering him the best she had to give--so this simple child trusted him; him, the profligate Lysias, before whom all the modest women of Corinth cast down their eyes, while fathers warned their growing-up sons against him; trusted him with her virgin self--nay, as he thought, her sacred person.
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