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- The Sisters, v4 - 4/12 -
--have the right, and--as a king--have the power, to make sure that that laugh shall be his last. If I could murder Rome as I can him how glad should I be! for Rome alone hinders me from being the greatest of all the great kings of our time; and yet I shall rejoice to-morrow when they tell me Publius Cornelius Scipio has been torn by wild beasts, and his body is so mutilated that his own mother could not recognize it more than if a messenger were to bring me the news that Carthage had broken the power of Rome."
Euergetes had spoken the last words in a voice that sounded like the roll of thunder as it growls in a rapidly approaching storm, louder, deeper, and more furious each instant. When at last he was silent Eulaeus said: "The immortals, my lord, will not deny you this happiness. The brave fellows whom you condescended to see and to talk to strike as certainly as the bolt of our father Zeus, and as we have learned from the Roman's horse-keeper where he has hidden Irene, she will no more elude your grasp than the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt.--Now, allow me to put on your mantle, and then to call the body-guard that they may escort you as you return to your residence."
"One thing more," cried the king, detaining Eulaeus. "There are always troops by the Tombs of Apis placed there to guard the sacred places; may not they prove a hindrance to your friends?"
"I have withdrawn all the soldiers and armed guards to Memphis down to the last man," replied Eulaeus, and quartered them within the White Wall. Early tomorrow, before you proceed to business, they will be replaced by a stronger division, so that they may not prove a reinforcement to your brother's troops here if things come to fighting."
"I shall know how to reward your foresight," said Euergetes as Eulaeus quitted the room.
Again Klea heard a door open, and the sound of many hoofs on the pavement of the court-yard, and when she went, all trembling, up to the window, she saw Euergetes himself, and the powerfully knit horse that was led in for him. The tyrant twisted his hand in the mane of the restless and pawing steed, and Klea thought that the monstrous mass could never mount on to the horse's back without the aid of many men; but she was mistaken, for with a mighty spring the giant flung himself high in the air and on to the horse, and then, guiding his panting steed by the pressure of his knees alone, he bounded out of the prison-yard surrounded by his splendid train.
For some minutes the court-yard remained empty, then a man hurriedly crossed it, unlocked the door of the room where Klea was, and informed her that he was a subaltern under Glaucus, and had brought her a message from him.
"My lord," said the veteran soldier to the girl, "bid me greet you, and says that he found neither the Roman Publius Scipio, nor his friend the Corinthian at home. He is prevented from coming to you himself; he has his hands full of business, for soldiers in the service of both the kings are quartered within the White Wall, and all sorts of squabbles break out between them. Still, you cannot remain in this room, for it will shortly be occupied by a party of young officers who began the fray. Glaucus proposes for your choice that you should either allow me to conduct you to his wife or return to the temple to which you are attached. In the latter case a chariot shall convey you as far as the second tavern in Khakem on the borders of the desert-for the city is full of drunken soldiery. There you may probably find an escort if you explain to the host who you are. But the chariot must be back again in less than an hour, for it is one of the king's, and when the banquet is over there may be a scarcity of chariots."
"Yes--I will go back to the place I came from," said Klea eagerly, interrupting the messenger. "Take me at once to the chariot."
"Follow me, then," said the old man.
"But I have no veil," observed Klea, "and have only this thin robe on. Rough soldiers snatched my wrapper from my face, and my cloak from off my shoulders."
"I will bring you the captain's cloak which is lying here in the orderly's room, and his travelling-hat too; that will hide your face with its broad flap. You are so tall that you might be taken for a man, and that is well, for a woman leaving the palace at this hour would hardly pass unmolested. A slave shall fetch the things from your temple to-morrow. I may inform you that my master ordered me take as much care of you as if you were his own daughter. And he told me too--and I had nearly forgotten it--to tell you that your sister was carried off by the Roman, and not by that other dangerous man, you would know whom he meant. Now wait, pray, till I return; I shall not be long gone."
In a few minutes the guard returned with a large cloak in which he wrapped Klea, and a broad-brimmed travelling-hat which she pressed down on her head, and he then conducted her to that quarter of the palace where the king's stables were. She kept close to the officer, and was soon mounted on a chariot, and then conducted by the driver--who took her for a young Macedonian noble, who was tempted out at night by some assignation--as far as the second tavern on the road back to the Serapeum.
While Klea had been listening to the conversation between Euergetes and Eulaeus, Cleopatra had been sitting in her tent, and allowing herself to be dressed with no less care than on the preceding evening, but in other garments.
It would seem that all had not gone so smoothly as she wished during the day, for her two tire-women had red eyes. Her lady-in-waiting, Zoe, was reading to her, not this time from a Greek philosopher but from a Greek translation of the Hebrew Psalms: a discussion as to their poetic merit having arisen a few days previously at the supper-table. Onias, the Israelite general, had asserted that these odes might be compared with those of Alcman or of Pindar, and had quoted certain passages that had pleased the queen. To-day she was not disposed for thought, but wanted something strange and out of the common to distract her mind, so she desired Zoe to open the book of the Hebrews, of which the translation was considered by the Hellenic Jews in Alexandria as an admirable work--nay, even as inspired by God himself; it had long been known to her through her Israelite friends and guests.
Cleopatra had been listening for about a quarter of an hour to Zoe's reading when the blast of a trumpet rang out on the steps which led up her tent, announcing a visitor of the male sex. The queen glanced angrily round, signed to her lady to stop reading, and exclaimed:
"I will not see my husband now! Go, Thais, and tell the eunuchs on the steps, that I beg Philometor not to disturb me just now. Go on, Zoe."
Ten more psalms had been read, and a few verses repeated twice or thrice by Cleopatra's desire, when the pretty Athenian returned with flaming cheeks, and said in an excited tone:
"It is not your husband, the king, but your brother Euergetes, who asks to speak with you."
"He might have chosen some other hour," replied Cleopatra, looking round at her maid. Thais cast down her eyes, and twitched the edge of her robe between her fingers as she addressed her mistress; but the queen, whom nothing could escape that she chose to see, and who was not to-day in the humor for laughing or for letting any indiscretion escape unreproved, went on at once in an incensed and cutting tone, raising her voice to a sharp pitch:
"I do not choose that my messengers should allow themselves to be detained, be it by whom it may--do you hear! Leave Me this instant and go to your room, and stay there till I want you to undress me this evening. Andromeda--do you hear, old woman?--you can bring my brother to me, and he will let you return quicker than Thais, I fancy. You need not leer at yourself in the glass, you cannot do anything to alter your wrinkles. My head-dress is already done. Give me that linen wrapper, Olympias, and then he may come! Why, there he is already! First you ask permission, brother, and then disdain to wait till it is given you."
"Longing and waiting," replied Euergetes, "are but an ill-assorted couple. I wasted this evening with common soldiers and fawning flatterers; then, in order to see a few noble countenances, I went into the prison, after that I hastily took a bath, for the residence of your convicts spoils one's complexion more, and in a less pleasant manner, than this little shrine, where everything looks and smells like Aphrodite's tiring-room; and now I have a longing to hear a few good words before supper-time comes."
"From my lips?" asked Cleopatra.
"There are none that can speak better, whether by the Nile or the Ilissus."
"What do you want of me?"
"Certainly, for you do not speak so prettily unless you want something."
"But I have already told you! I want to hear you say something wise, something witty, something soul-stirring."
"We cannot call up wit as we would a maid-servant. It comes unbidden, and the more urgently we press it to appear the more certainly it remains away."
"That may be true of others, but not of you who, even while you declare that you have no store of Attic salt, are seasoning your speech with it. All yield obedience to grace and beauty, even wit and the sharp-tongued Momus who mocks even at the gods."
"You are mistaken, for not even my own waiting-maids return in proper time when I commission them with a message to you."
"And may we not to be allowed to sacrifice to the Charites on the way to the temple of Aphrodite?"
"If I were indeed the goddess, those worshippers who regarded my hand- maidens as my equals would find small acceptance with me."
"Your reproof is perfectly just, for you are justified in requiring that all who know you should worship but one goddess, as the Jews do but one god. But I entreat you do not again compare yourself to the brainless Cyprian dame. You may be allowed to do so, so far as your grace is concerned; but who ever saw an Aphrodite philosophizing and reading serious books? I have disturbed you in grave studies no doubt; what is the book you are rolling up, fair Zoe?"
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