H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 6
"Throw back the Gates and open wide the Doors!" pealed the awful
Voice. "Throw back the Gates and open wide the Doors; seal up his lips
in silence, lest his voice jar upon the harmonies of Heaven, take away
his sight lest he see that which may not be seen, and let Harmachis,
who hath been summoned, pass down the path that leads to the place of
the Unchanging. Pass on, Child of Earth; but before thou goest, look
up that thou mayest learn how far thou art removed from Earth."
I looked up. Beyond the glory that shone about the city was black
night, and high on its bosom twinkled one tiny star.
"Behold the world that thou hast left," said the Voice, "behold and
Then my lips and eyes were sealed with silence and with darkness, so
that I was dumb and blind. The Gates rolled back, the Doors swung
wide, and I was swept into the city that is in the Place of Death. I
was swept swiftly I know not whither, till at length I stood upon my
feet. Again the great Voice pealed:
"Draw the veil of blackness from his eyes, unseal the silence on his
lips, that Harmachis, Child of Earth, may see, hear, and understand,
and make adoration at the Shrine of Her that Was and Is and Shall Be."
And my lips and eyes were touched once more, so that my sight and
speech came back.
Behold! I stood within a hall of blackest marble, so lofty that even
in the rosy light scarce could my vision reach the great groins of the
roof. Music wailed about its spaces, and all adown its length stood
winged Spirits fashioned in living fire, and such was the brightness
of their forms that I could not look on them. In its centre was an
altar, small and square, and I stood before the empty altar. Then
again the Voice cried:
"O Thou that hast been, art, and shalt be; Thou who, having many
names, art yet without a name; Measurer of Time; Messenger of God;
Guardian of the Worlds and the Races that dwell thereon; Universal
Mother born of Nothingness; Creatix uncreated; Living Splendour
without Form, Living Form without Substance; Servant of the Invisible;
Child of Law; Holder of the Scales and Sword of Fate; Vessel of Life,
through whom all Life flows, to whom it again is gathered; Recorder of
Things Done; Executrix of Decrees--/Hear!/
"Harmachis the Egyptian, who by Thy will hath been summoned from the
earth, waits before Thine Altar, with ears unstopped, with eyes
unsealed, and with an open heart. Hear and descend! Descend, O Many-
shaped! Descend in Flame! Descend in Sound! Descend in Spirit! Hear
The Voice ceased and there was silence. Then through the silence came
a sound like the booming of the sea. It passed and presently, moved
thereto by I know not what, I raised my eyes from my hands with which
I had covered them, and saw a small dark cloud hanging over the Altar
in and out of which a fiery Serpent climbed.
Then all the Spirits clad in light fell upon the marble floor, and
with a loud voice adored; but what they said I could not understand.
Behold! the dark cloud came down and rested on the Altar, the Serpent
of fire stretched itself towards me, touched me on the forehead with
its forky tongue and was gone. From within the cloud a Voice sweet and
low and clear spoke in heavenly accents:
"Depart, ye Ministers, leave Me with my son whom I have summoned."
Then like arrows rushing from a bow the flame-clad Spirits leapt from
the ground and sped away.
"O Harmachis," said the Voice, "be not afraid, I am She whom thou dost
know as Isis of the Egyptians; but what else I am strive not thou to
learn, it is beyond thy strength. For I am all things, Life is my
spirit, and Nature is my raiment. I am the laughter of the babe, I am
the maiden's love, I am the mother's kiss. I am the Child and Servant
of the Invisible that is God, that is Law, that is Fate--though myself
I be not God and Fate and Law. When winds blow and oceans roar upon
the face of the Earth thou hearest my voice; when thou gazest on the
starry firmament thou seest my countenance; when the spring blooms out
in flowers, that is my smile, Harmachis. For I am Nature's self, and
all her shapes are shapes of Me. I breathe in all that breathes. I wax
and wane in the changeful moon: I grow and gather in the tides: I rise
with the suns: I flash with the lightning and thunder in the storms.
Nothing is too great for the measure of my majesty, nothing is so
small that I cannot find a home therein. I am in thee and thou art in
Me, O Harmachis. That which bade thee be bade Me also be. Therefore,
though I am great and thou art little, have no fear. For we are bound
together by the common bond of life--that life which flows through
suns and stars and spaces, through Spirits and the souls of men,
welding all Nature to a whole that, changing ever, is yet eternally
I bowed my head--I could not speak, for I was afraid.
"Faithfully hast thou served Me, O my son," went on the low sweet
Voice; "greatly thou hast longed to be brought face to face with Me
here in Amenti; and greatly hast thou dared to accomplish thy desire.
For it is no small thing to cast off the tabernacle of the Flesh and
before the appointed time, if only for an hour, put on the raiment of
the Spirit. And greatly, O my servant and my son, have I, too, desired
to look on thee there where I am. For the Gods love those who love
them, but with a wider and deeper love, and under One who is as far
from Me as I am from thee, mortal, I am a God of Gods. Therefore I
have caused thee to be brought hither, Harmachis; and therefore I
speak to thee, my son, and bid thee commune with Me now face to face,
as thou didst commune that night upon the temple towers of Abouthis.
For I was there with thee, Harmachis, as I was in ten thousand other
worlds. It was I, O Harmachis, who laid the lotus in thy hand, giving
thee the sign which thou didst seek. For thou art of the kingly blood
of my children who served Me from age to age. And if thou dost not
fail thou shalt sit upon that kingly throne and restore my ancient
worship in its purity, and sweep my temples from their defilements.
But if thou dost fail, then shall the eternal Spirit Isis become but a
memory in Egypt."
The Voice paused; and, gathering up my strength, at length I spoke
"Tell me, O Holy," I said, "shall I then fail?"
"Ask Me not," answered the Voice, "that which it is not lawful that I
should answer thee. Perchance I can read that which shall befall thee,
perchance it doth not please Me so to read. What can it profit the
Divine, that hath all time wherein to await the issues, to be eager to
look upon the blossom that is not blown, but which, lying a seed in
the bosom of the earth, shall blow in its season? Know, Harmachis,
that I do not shape the Future; the Future is to thee and not to Me;
for it is born of Law and of the rule ordained of the Invisible. Yet
thou art free to act therein, and thou shalt win or thou shalt fail
according to thy strength and the measure of thy heart's purity. Thine
be the burden, Harmachis, as thine in the event shall be the glory or
the shame. Little do I reck of the issue, I who am but the Minister of
what is written. Now hear me: I will always be with thee, my son, for
my love once given can never be taken away, though by sin it may seem
lost to thee. Remember then this: if thou dost triumph, thy guerdon
shall be great; if thou dost fail, heavy indeed shall be thy
punishment both in the flesh and in the land that thou callest Amenti.
Yet this for thy comfort: shame and agony shall not be eternal. For
however deep the fall from righteousness, if but repentance holds the
heart, there is a path--a stony and a cruel path--whereby the height
may be climbed again. Let it not be thy lot to follow it, Harmachis!
"And now, because thou hast loved Me, my son, and, wandering through
the maze of fable, wherein men lose themselves upon the earth,
mistaking the substance for the Spirit, and the Altar for the God,
hast yet grasped a clue of Truth the Many-faced; and because I love
thee and look on to the day that, perchance, shall come when thou
shalt dwell blessed in my light and in the doing of my tasks: because
of this, I say, it shall be given to thee, O Harmachis, to hear the
Word whereby I may be summoned from the Uttermost, by one who hath
communed with Me, and to look upon the face of Isis--even into the
eyes of the Messenger, and not die the death.
The sweet Voice ceased; the dark cloud upon the altar changed and
changed--it grew white, it shone, and seemed at length to take the
shrouded shape of a woman. Then the golden Snake crept from its heart
once more, and, like a living diadem, twined itself about the cloudy
Now suddenly a Voice called aloud the awful Word, then the vapours
burst and melted, and with my eyes I saw that Glory, at the very
thought of which my spirit faints. But what I saw it is not lawful to
utter. For, though I have been bidden to write what I have written of
this matter, perchance that a record may remain, thereon I have been
warned--ay, even now, after these many years. I saw, and what I saw
cannot be imagined; for there are Glories and there are Shapes which
are beyond the reach of man's imagination. I saw--then, with the echo
of that Word, and the memory of that sight stamped for ever on my
heart, my spirit failed me, and I sank down before the Glory.
And, as I fell, it seemed that the great hall burst open and crumbled
into flakes of fire round me. Then a great wind blew: there was a
sound as the sound of Worlds rushing down the flood of Time--and I
knew no more!
OF THE AWAKING OF HARMACHIS; OF THE CEREMONY OF HIS CROWNING
AS PHARAOH OF THE UPPER AND THE LOWER LAND; AND OF THE
OFFERINGS MADE TO PHARAOH
Once again I woke--to find myself stretched at length upon the stone
flooring of the Holy Place of Isis that is at Abouthis. By me stood
the old Priest of the Mysteries, and in his hand was a lamp. He bent
over me, and gazed earnestly upon my face.
"It is day--the day of thy new birth, and thou hast lived to see it,
Harmachis!" he said at length. "I give thanks. Arise, royal Harmachis
--nay, tell me naught of that which has befallen thee. Arise, beloved
of the Holy Mother. Come forth, thou who hast passed the fire and
learned what lies behind the darkness--come forth, O newly-born!"
I rose and, walking faintly, went with him, and, passing out of the
darkness of the Shrines filled with thought and wonder, came once more
into the pure light of the morning. And then I went to my own chamber
and slept; nor did any dreams come to trouble me. But no man--not even
my father--asked me aught of what I saw upon that dread night, or
after what fashion I had communed with the Goddess.
After these things which have been written, I applied myself for a
space to the worship of the Mother Isis, and to the further study of
the outward forms of those mysteries to which I now held the key.
Moreover, I was instructed in matters politic, for many great men of
our following came secretly to see me from all quarters of Egypt, and
told me much of the hatred of the people towards Cleopatra, the Queen,
and of other things. At last the hour drew nigh; it was three months
and ten days from the night when, for a while, I left the flesh, and
yet living with our life, was gathered to the breast of Isis, on which
it was agreed that with due and customary rites, although in utter
secrecy, I should be called to the throne of the Upper and the Lower
Land. So it came about that, as the solemn time drew nigh, great men
of the party of Egypt gathered to the number of thirty-seven from
every nome, and each great city of their nome, meeting together at
Abouthis. They came in every guise--some as priests, some as pilgrims
to the Shrine, and some as beggars. Among them was my uncle, Sepa,
who, though he clad himself as a travelling doctor, had much ado to
keep his loud voice from betraying him. Indeed, I myself knew him by
it, meeting him as I walked in thought upon the banks of the canal,
although it was then dusk and the great cape, which, after the fashion
of such doctors, he had thrown about his head, half hid his face.
"A pest on thee!" he cried, when I greeted him by his name. "Cannot a
man cease to be himself for a single hour? Didst thou but know the
pains that it has cost me to learn to play this part--and now thou
readest who I am even in the dark!"
And then, still talking in his loud voice, he told me how he had
travelled hither on foot, the better to escape the spies who ply to
and fro upon the river. But he said he should return by the water, or
take another guise; for since he had come as a doctor he had been
forced to play a doctor's part, knowing but little of the arts of
medicine; and, as he greatly feared, there were many between Annu and
Abouthis who had suffered from it.[*] And he laughed loudly and
embraced me, forgetting his part. For he was too whole at heart to be
an actor and other than himself, and would have entered Abouthis with
me holding my hand, had I not chid him for his folly.
[*] In Ancient Egypt an unskilful or negligent physician was liable to
very heavy penalties.--Editor.
At length all were gathered.
It was night, and the gates of the temple were shut. None were left
within them, except the thirty-seven; my father, the High Priest
Amenemhat; that aged priest who had led me to the Shrine of Isis; the
old wife, Atoua, who, according to ancient custom, was to prepare me
for the anointing; and some five other priests, sworn to secrecy by
that oath which none may break. They gathered in the second hall of
the great temple; but I remained alone, clad in my white robe, in the
passage where are the names of six-and-seventy ancient Kings, who were
before the day of the divine Sethi. There I rested in darkness, till
at length my father, Amenemhat, came, bearing a lamp, and, bowing low
before me, led me by the hand forth into the great hall. Here and
there, between its mighty pillars, lights were burning that dimly
showed the sculptured images upon the walls, and dimly fell upon the
long line of the seven-and-thirty Lords, Priests, and Princes, who,
seated upon carven chairs, awaited my coming in silence. Before them,
facing away from the seven Sanctuaries, a throne was set, around which
stood the priests holding the sacred images and banners. As I came
into the dim and holy place, the Dignitaries rose, and bowed before
me, speaking no word; while my father led me to the steps of the
throne, and in a low voice bade me stand before it.
Then he spoke:
"Lords, Priests, and Princes of the ancient orders of the land of Khem
--Nobles from the Upper and the Lower Country, have gathered in answer
to my summons, hear me: I present to you, with such scant formality as
the occasion can afford, the Prince Harmachis, by right and true
descent of blood the descendant and heir of the ancient Pharaohs of
our most unhappy land. He is priest of the inmost circle of the
Mysteries of the Divine Isis, Master of the Mysteries--Hereditary
Priest of the Pyramids, which are by Memphis, Instructed in the Solemn
Rites of the Holy Osiris. Is there any among you who has aught to urge
against the true line of his blood?"
He paused, and my uncle Sepa, rising from his chair, spoke: "We have
made examination of the records and there is none, O Amenemhat. He is
of the Royal blood, his descent is true."
"Is there any among you," went on my father, "who can deny that this
royal Harmachis, by sanction of the very Gods, has been gathered to
Isis, been shown the way of the Osiris, been admitted to be the
Hereditary High Priest of the Pyramids which are by Memphis, and of
the Temples of the Pyramids?"
Then that old priest rose who had been my guide in the Sanctuary of
the Mother and made answer: "There is none; O Amenemhat; I know these
things of my own knowledge."
Once more my father spoke: "Is there any among you who has aught to
urge against this royal Harmachis, in that by wickedness of heart or
life, by uncleanliness or falsity, it is not fit or meet that we
should crown him Lord of all the Lands?"
Then an aged Prince of Memphis arose and made answer:
"We have inquired of these matters: there is none, O Amenemhat."
"It is well," said my father; "then naught is wanting in the Prince
Harmachis, seed of Nekt-nebf, the Osirian. Let the woman Atoua stand
forth and tell this company those things that came to pass when, at
the hour of her death, she who was my wife prophesied over this
Prince, being filled with the Spirit of the Hathors."
Thereon old Atoua crept forward from the shadow of the columns, and
earnestly told those things that have been written.
"Ye have heard," said my father: "do you believe that the woman who
was my wife spake with the Divine voice?"
"We do," they answered.
Now my uncle Sepa rose and spoke:
"Royal Harmachis, thou hast heard. Know now that we are gathered here
to crown thee King of the Upper and the Lower Lands--thy holy father,
Amenemhat, renouncing all his right on thy behalf. We are met, not,
indeed, in that pomp and ceremony which is due to the occasion--for
what we do must be done in secret, lest our lives, and the cause that
is more dear to us than life, should pay the forfeit--but yet with
such dignity and observance of the ancient rites as our circumstance
may command. Learn, now, how this matter hangs, and if, after
learning, thy mind consents thereto, then mount thy throne, O Pharaoh
--and swear the oath!
"Long has Khemi groaned beneath the mailed heel of the Greek, and
trembled at the shadow of the Roman's spear; long has the ancient
worship of its Gods been desecrated, and its people crushed with
oppression. But we believe that the hour of deliverance is at hand,
and with the solemn voice of Egypt and by the ancient Gods of Egypt,
to whose cause thou art of all men bound, we call upon thee, Prince,
to be the sword of our deliverance. Hearken! Twenty thousand good and
leal men are sworn to wait upon thy word, and at thy signal to rise as
one, to put the Grecian to the sword, and with their blood and
substance to build thee a throne set more surely on the soil of Khem
than are its ancient pyramids--such a throne as shall even roll the
Roman legions back. And for the signal, it shall be the death of that
bold harlot, Cleopatra. Thou must compass her death, Harmachis, in
such fashion as shall be shown to thee, and with her blood anoint the
Royal throne of Egypt.
"Canst thou refuse, O our Hope? Doth not the holy love of country
swell within thy heart? Canst thou dash the cup of Freedom from thy
lips and bear to drink the bitter draught of slaves? The emprise is
great; maybe it shall fail, and thou with thy life, as we with ours,
shalt pay the price of our endeavour. But what of it, Harmachis? Is
life, then, so sweet? Are we so softly cushioned on the stony bed of
earth? Is bitterness and sorrow in its sum so small and scant a thing?
Do we here breathe so divine an air that we should fear to face the
passage of our breath? What have we here but hope and memory? What see
we here but shadows? Shall we then fear to pass pure-handed where
Fulfilment is and memory is lost in its own source, and shadows die in
the light which cast them? O Harmachis, that man alone is truly blest
who crowns his life with Fame's most splendid wreath. For, since to
all the Brood of Earth Death hands his poppy-flowers, he indeed is
happy to whom there is occasion given to weave them in a crown of
glory. And how can a man die better than in a great endeavour to
strike the gyves from his Country's limbs so that she again may stand
in the face of Heaven and raise the shrill shout of Freedom, and, clad
once more in a panoply of strength, trample under foot the fetters of
her servitude, defying the tyrant nations of the earth to set their
seal upon her brow?
"Khem calls thee, Harmachis. Come then, thou Deliverer; leap like
Horus from the firmament, break her chains, scatter her foes, and rule
a Pharaoh on Pharaoh's Throne----"
"Enough, enough!" I cried, while the long murmur of applause swept
about the columns and up the massy walls. "Enough; is there any need
to adjure me thus? Had I a hundred lives, would I not most gladly lay
them down for Egypt?"
"Well said, well said!" answered Sepa. "Now go forth with the woman
yonder, that she may make thy hands clean before they touch the sacred
emblems, and anoint thy brow before it is encircled of the diadem."
And so I went into a chamber apart with the old wife, Atoua. There,
muttering prayers, she poured pure water over my hands into a ewer of
gold, and having dipped a fine cloth into oil wiped my brow with it.
"O happy Egypt!" she said; "O happy Prince, that art come to rule in
Egypt! O Royal youth!--too Royal to be a priest--so shall many a fair
woman think; but, perchance, for thee they will relax the priestly
rule, else how shall the race of Pharaoh be carried on? O happy I, who
dandled thee and gave my flesh and blood to save thee! O royal and
beautiful Harmachis, born for splendour, happiness, and love!"
"Cease, cease," I said, for her talk jarred upon me; "call me not
happy till thou knowest my end, and speak not to me of love, for with
love comes sorrow, and mine is another and a higher way."
"Ay, ay, so thou sayest--and joy, too, that comes with love! Never
talk lightly of love, my King, for it brought thee here! /La! la!/ but
it is always the way--'The goose on the wing laughs at crocodiles,' so
goes their saying down at Alexandria; 'but when the goose is asleep on
the water, it is the crocodiles that laugh.' Not but what women are
pretty crocodiles. Men worship the crocodiles at Anthribis--
Crocodilopolis they call it now, don't they?--but they worship women
all the world over! /La!/ how my tongue runs on, and thou about to be
crowned Pharaoh! Did I not prophesy it to thee? Well, thou art clean,
Lord of the Double Crown. Go forth!"
So I went from the chamber with the old wife's foolish talk ringing in
my ears, though of a truth her folly had ever a grain of wit in it.
As I came, the Dignitaries rose once more and bowed before me. Then my
father, without delay, drew near me, and placed in my hands a golden
image of the divine Ma, the Goddess of Truth, and golden images of the
arks of the God Amen-Ra, of the divine Mout, and the divine Khons, and
"Thou swearest by the living majesty of Ma, by the majesty of Amen-Ra,
of Mout, and of Khons?"
"I swear," I said.
"Thou swearest by the holy land of Khem, by Sihor's flood, by the
Temples of the Gods and the eternal Pyramids?"
"Remembering thy hideous doom if thou shouldst fail therein, thou
swearest that thou wilt in all things govern Egypt according to its
ancient laws, that thou wilt preserve the worship of its Gods, that
thou wilt do equal justice, that thou wilt not oppress, that thou wilt
not betray, that thou wilt make no alliance with the Roman or the
Greek, that thou wilt cast out the foreign Idols, that thou wilt
devote thy life to the liberty of the land of Khem?"
"It is well. Mount, then, the throne, that in the presence of these
thy subjects, I may name thee Pharaoh."
I mounted upon the throne, of which the footstool is a Sphinx, and the
canopy the overshadowing wings of Ma. Then Amenemhat drew nigh once
again and placed the Pshent upon my brow, and on my head the Double
Crown, and the Royal Robe about my shoulders, and in my hands the
Sceptre and the Scourge.
"Royal Harmachis," he cried, "by these outward signs and tokens, I,
the High Priest of the Temple of Ra-Men-Ma at Abouthis, crown thee
Pharaoh of the Upper and Lower Land. Reign and prosper, O Hope of
"Reign and prosper, Pharaoh!" echoed the Dignitaries, bowing down
Then, one by one, they swore allegiance, till all had sworn. And,
having sworn, my father took me by the hand; he led me in solemn
procession into each of the seven Sanctuaries that are in this Temple
of Ra-Men-Ma, and in each I made offerings, swung incense, and
officiated as priest. Clad in the Royal robes I made offerings in the
Shrine of Horus, in the Shrine of Isis, in the Shrine of Osiris, in
the Shrine of Amen-Ra, in the Shrine of Horemku, in the Shrine of
Ptah, till at length I reached the Shrine of the King's Chamber.
Here they made their offering to me, as the Divine Pharaoh, and left
me very weary--but a King.
[Here the first and smallest of the papyrus rolls comes to an end.]
THE FALL OF HARMACHIS
OF THE FAREWELL OF AMENEMHAT TO HARMACHIS; OF THE COMING
OF HARMACHIS TO ALEXANDRIA; OF THE EXHORTATION OF SEPA; OF
THE PASSING OF CLEOPATRA ROBED AS ISIS; AND OF THE OVERTHROW
OF THE GLADIATOR BY HARMACHIS
Now the long days of preparation had passed, and the time was at hand.
I was initiated, and I was crowned; so that although the common folk
knew me not, or knew me only as Priest of Isis, there were in Egypt
thousands who at heart bowed down to me as Pharaoh. The hour was at
hand, and my soul went forth to meet it. For I longed to overthrow the
foreigner, to set Egypt free, to mount the throne that was my
heritage, and cleanse the temples of my Gods. I was fain for the
struggle, and I never doubted of its end. I looked into the mirror,
and saw triumph written on my brows. The future stretched a path of
glory from my feet--ay, glittering with glory like Sihor in the sun. I
communed with my Mother Isis; I sat within my chamber and took counsel
with my heart; I planned new temples; I revolved great laws that I
would put forth for my people's weal; and in my ears rang the shouts
of exultation which should greet victorious Pharaoh on his throne.
But still I tarried a little while at Abouthis, and, having been
commanded to do so, let my hair, that had been shorn, grow again long
and black as the raven's wing, instructing myself meanwhile in all
manly exercises and feats of arms. Also, for a purpose which shall be
seen, I perfected myself in the magic art of the Egyptians, and in the
reading of the stars, in which things, indeed, I already have great
Now, this was the plan that had been built up. My uncle Sepa had, for
a while, left the Temple of Annu, giving out that his health had
failed him. Thence he had moved down to a house in Alexandria, to
gather strength, as he said, from the breath of the sea, and also to
learn for himself the wonders of the great Museum and the glory of
Cleopatra's Court. There it was planned that I should join him, for
there, at Alexandria, the egg of the plot was hatching. Accordingly,
when at last the summons came, all things being prepared, I made ready
for the journey, and passed into my father's chamber to receive his
blessing before I went. There sat the old man, as once before he sat
when he had rebuked me because I went out to slay the lion, his long
white beard resting on the table of stone and sacred writings in his
hand. When I came in he rose from his seat and would have knelt before
me, crying "Hail, Pharaoh!" but I caught him by the hand.
"It is not meet, my father," I said.
"It is meet," he answered, "it is meet that I should bow before my
King; but be it as thou wilt. And so thou goest, Harmachis; my
blessings go with thee, O my son! And may Those whom I serve grant to
me that my old eyes may, indeed, behold thee on the throne! I have
searched long, striving, Harmachis, to read the future that shall be;
but I can learn naught by all my wisdom. It is hid from me, and at
times my heart fails. But hear this, there is danger in thy path, and
it comes in the form of Woman. I have known it long, and therefore
thou hast been called to the worship of the heavenly Isis, who bids
her votaries put away the thought of woman till such time as she shall
think well to slacken the rule. Oh, my son, I would that thou wert not
so strong and fair--stronger and fairer, indeed, than any man in
Egypt, as a King should be--for in that strength and beauty may lie a
cause of stumbling. Beware, then, of those witches of Alexandria,
lest, like a worm, some one of them creep into my heart and eat its
"Have no fear, my father," I answered, frowning, "my thought is set on
other things than red lips and smiling eyes."
"It is good," he answered; "so may it befall. And now farewell. When
next we meet, may it be in that happy hour when, with all the priests
of the Upper Land, I move down from Abouthis to do my homage to
Pharaoh on his throne."
So I embraced him, and went. Alas! I little thought how we should meet
Thus it came about that once more I passed down the Nile travelling as
a man of no estate. And to such as were curious about me it was given
out that I was the adopted son of the High Priest of Abouthis, having
been brought up to the priesthood, and that I had at the last refused
the service of the Gods, and chosen to go to Alexandria, to seek my
fortune. For, be it remembered, I was still held to be the grandson of
the old wife, Atoua, by all those who did not know the truth.
On the tenth night, sailing with the wind, we reached the mighty city
of Alexandria, the city of a thousand lights. Above them all towered
the white Pharos, that wonder of the world, from the crown of which a
light like the light of the sun blazed out across the waters of the
harbour to guide mariners on their way across the sea. The vessel
having been cautiously made fast to the quay, for it was night, I
disembarked and stood wondering at the vast mass of houses, and
confused by the clamour of many tongues. For here all peoples seemed
to be gathered together, each speaking after the fashion of his own
land. And as I stood a young man came and touched me on the shoulder,
asking me if I was from Abouthis and named Harmachis. I said "Yea."
Then, bending over me, he whispered the secret pass-word into my ear,
and, beckoning to two slaves, bade them bring my baggage from the
ship. This they did, fighting their way through the crowd of porters
who were clamouring for hire. Then I followed him down the quay, which
was bordered with drinking-places, where all sorts of men were
gathered, tippling wine and watching the dancing of women, some of
whom were but scantily arrayed, and some not arrayed at all.
And so we went through the lamp-lit houses till at last we reached the
shore of the great harbour, and turned to the right along a wide way
paved with granite and bordered by strong houses, having cloisters in
front of them, the like of which I had never seen. Turning once more
to the right we came to a quieter portion of the city, where, except
for parties of strolling revellers, the streets were still. Presently
my guide halted at a house built of white stone. We passed in, and,
crossing a small courtyard, entered a chamber where there was a light.
And here, at last, I found my uncle Sepa, most glad to see me safe.
When I had washed and eaten, he told me that all things went well, and
that as yet there was no thought of evil at the Court. Further, he
said, it having come to the ears of the Queen that the Priest of Annu
was sojourning at Alexandria, she sent for him and closely questioned
him--not as to any plot, for of that she never thought, but as to the
rumour which had reached her, that there was treasure hid in the Great
Pyramid which is by Annu. For, being ever wasteful, she was ever in
want of money, and had bethought her of opening the Pyramid. But he
laughed at her, telling her the Pyramid was the burying-place of the
divine Khufu, and that he knew nothing of its secrets. Then she was
angered, and swore that so surely as she ruled in Egypt she would tear
it down, stone by stone, and discover the secret at its heart. Again
he laughed, and, in the words of the proverb which they have at
Alexandria, told her that "Mountains live longer than Kings." Thereon
she smiled at his ready answer, and let him go. Also my uncle Sepa
told me that on the morrow I should see this Cleopatra. For it was her
birthday (as, indeed, it was also mine), and, dressed in the robes of
the Holy Isis, she would pass in state from her palace on the Lochias
to the Serapeum to offer a sacrifice at the Shrine of the false God
who sits in the Temple. And he said that thereafter the fashion by
which I should gain entrance to the household of the Queen should be
Then, being very weary, I went to rest, but could sleep little for the
strangeness of the place, the noises in the streets, and the thought
of the morrow. While it was yet dark, I rose, climbed the stair to the
roof of the house, and waited. Presently, the sun's rays shot out like
arrows, and lit upon the white wonder of the marble Pharos, whose
light instantly sank and died, as though, indeed, the sun had killed
it. Now the rays fell upon the palaces of the Lochias where Cleopatra
lay, and lit them up till they flamed like a jewel set on the dark,
cool bosom of the sea. Away the light flew, kissing the Soma's sacred
dome, beneath which Alexander sleeps, touching the high tops of a
thousand palaces and temples; past the porticoes of the great museum
that loomed near at hand, striking the lofty Shrine, where, carved of
ivory, is the image of the false God Serapis, and at last seeming to
lose itself in the vast and gloomy Necropolis. Then, as the dawn
gathered into day, the flood of brightness, overbrimming the bowl of
night, flowed into the lower lands and streets, and showed Alexandria
red in the sunrise as the mantle of a king, and shaped as a mantle.
The Etesian wind came up from the north, and swept away the vapour
from the harbours, so that I saw their blue waters rocking a thousand
ships. I saw, too, that mighty mole the Heptastadium; I saw the
hundreds of streets, the countless houses, the innumerable wealth and
splendour of Alexandria set like a queen between lake Mareotis and the
ocean, and dominating both, and I was filled with wonder. This, then,
was one city in my heritage of lands and cities! Well, it was worth
the grasping. And having looked my full and fed my heart, as it were,
with the sight of splendour, I communed with the Holy Isis and came
down from the roof.
In the chamber beneath was my uncle Sepa. I told him that I had been
watching the sun rise over the city of Alexandria.
"So!" he said, looking at me from beneath his shaggy eyebrows; "and
what thinkest thou of Alexandria?"
"I think it is like some city of the Gods," I answered.
"Ay!" he replied fiercely, "a city of the infernal Gods--a sink of
corruption, a bubbling well of iniquity, a home of false faith
springing from false hearts. I would that not one stone of it was left
upon another stone, and that its wealth lay deep beneath yonder
waters! I would that the gulls were screaming across its site, and
that the wind, untainted by a Grecian breath, swept through its ruins
from the ocean to Mareotis! O royal Harmachis, let not the luxury and
beauty of Alexandria poison thy sense; for in their deadly air, Faith
perishes, and Religion cannot spread her heavenly wings. When the hour
comes for thee to rule, Harmachis, cast down this accursed city and,
as thy fathers did, set up thy throne in the white walls of Memphis.
For I tell thee that, for Egypt, Alexandria is but a splendid gate of
ruin, and, while it endures, all nations of the earth shall march
through it, to the plunder of the land, and all false Faiths shall
nestle in it and breed the overthrow of Egypt's Gods."
I made no answer, for there was truth in his words. And yet to me the
city seemed very fair to look on. After we had eaten, my uncle told me
it was now time to set out to view the march of Cleopatra, as she went
in triumph to the Shrine of Serapis. For although she would not pass
till within two hours of the midday, yet these people of Alexandria
have so great a love of shows and idling that had we not presently set
forth, by no means could we have come through the press of the
multitudes who were already gathering along the highways where the
Queen must ride. So we went out to take our places upon a stand, built
of timber, that had been set up at the side of the great road which
pierces through the city, to the Canopic Gate. For my uncle had
already purchased a right to enter there, and that dearly.
We won our way with much struggle through the great crowds that were
already gathered in the streets till we reached the scaffolding of
timber, which was roofed in with an awning and gaily hung with scarlet
cloths. Here we seated ourselves upon a bench and waited for some
hours, watching the multitude press past shouting, singing, and
talking loudly in many tongues. At length soldiers came to clear the
road, clad, after the Roman fashion, in breast-plates of chain-armour.
After them marched heralds enjoining silence (at which the population
sung and shouted all the more loudly), and crying that Cleopatra, the
Queen, was coming. Then followed a thousand Cilician skirmishers, a
thousand Thracians, a thousand Macedonians, and a thousand Gauls, each
armed after the fashion of their country. Then passed five hundred men
of those who are called the Fenced Horsemen, for both men and horses
were altogether covered with mail. Next came youths and maidens
sumptuously draped and wearing golden crowns, and with them images
symbolising Day and Night, Morning and Noon, the Heavens and the
Earth. After these walked many fair women, pouring perfumes on the
road, and others scattering blooming flowers. Now there rose a great
shout of "Cleopatra! Cleopatra!" and I held my breath and bent forward
to see her who dared to put on the robes of Isis.
But at that moment the multitude so gathered and thickened in front of
where I was that I could no longer clearly see. So in my eagerness I
leapt over the barrier of the scaffolding, and, being very strong,
pushed my way through the crowd till I reached the foremost rank. And
as I did so, Nubian slaves armed with thick staves and crowned with
ivy-leaves ran up, striking the people. One man I noted more
especially, for he was a giant, and, being strong, was insolent beyond
measure, smiting the people without cause, as, indeed, is the wont of
low persons set in authority. For a woman stood near to me, an
Egyptian by her face, bearing a child in her arms, whom the man,
seeing that she was weak, struck on the head with his rod so that she
fell prone, and the people murmured. But at the sight my blood rushed
of a sudden through my veins and drowned my reason. I held in my hand
a staff of olive-wood from Cyprus, and as the black brute laughed at
the sight of the stricken woman and her babe rolling on the ground, I
swung the staff aloft and smote. So shrewdly did I strike, that the
tough rod split upon the giant's shoulders and the blood spurted
forth, staining his trailing leaves of ivy.
Then, with a shriek of pain and fury--for those who smite love not
that they be smitten--he turned and sprang at me! And all the people
round gave back, save only the woman who could not rise, leaving us
two in a ring as it were. On he came with a rush, and, as he came,
being now mad, I smote him with my clenched fist between the eyes,
having nothing else with which to smite, and he staggered like an ox
beneath the first blow of the priest's axe. Then the people shouted,
for they love to see a fight, and the man was known to them as a
gladiator victorious in the games. Gathering up his strength, the
knave came on with an oath, and, whirling his heavy staff on high,
struck me in such a fashion that, had I not avoided the blow by
nimbleness, I had surely been slain. But, as it chanced, the staff hit
upon the ground, and so heavily that it flew in fragments. Thereon the
multitude shouted again, and the great man, blind with fury, rushed at
me to smite me down. But with a cry I sprang straight at his throat--
for he was so heavy a man that I knew I could not hope to throw him by
strength--ay, and gripped it. There I clung, though his fists battered
me like bludgeons, driving my thumbs into his throat. Round and round
we turned, till at length he flung himself to the earth, trusting thus
to shake me off. But I held on fast as we rolled over and over on the
ground, till at last he grew faint for want of breath. Then I, being
uppermost, drove my knee down upon his chest, and, as I believe,
should thus have slain him in my rage had not my uncle, and others
there gathered, fallen upon me and dragged me from him.
And meanwhile, though I know it not, the chariot in which the Queen
sat, with elephants going before and lions led after it, had reached
the spot, and had been halted because of the tumult. I looked up, and
thus torn, panting, my white garments stained with the blood that had
rushed from the mouth and nostrils of the mighty Nubian, I for the
first time saw Cleopatra face to face. Her chariot was all of gold,
and drawn by milk-white steeds. She sat in it with two fair girls,
clad in Greek attire, standing one on either side, fanning her with
glittering fans. On her head was the covering of Isis, the golden
horns between which rested the moon's round disk and the emblem of
Osiris' throne, with the uræus twined around. Beneath this covering
was the vulture cap of gold, the blue enamelled wings and the vulture
head with gemmy eyes, under which her long dark tresses flowed towards
her feet. About her rounded neck was a broad collar of gold studded
with emeralds and coral. Round her arms and wrists were bracelets of
gold studded with emeralds and coral, and in one hand she held the
holy cross of Life fashioned of crystal, and in the other the golden
rod of royalty. Her breast was bare, but under it was a garment that
glistened like the scaly covering of a snake, everywhere sewn with
gems. Beneath this robe was a skirt of golden cloth, half hidden by a
scarf of the broidered silk of Cos, falling in folds to the sandals
that, fastened with great pearls, adorned her white and tiny feet.
All this I discerned at a glance, as it were. Then I looked upon the
face--that face which seduced Cæsar, ruined Egypt, and was doomed to
give Octavian the sceptre of the world. I looked upon the flawless
Grecian features, the rounded chin, the full, rich lips, the chiselled
nostrils, and the ears fashioned like delicate shells. I saw the
forehead, low, broad, and lovely, the crisped, dark hair falling in
heavy waves that sparkled in the sun, the arched eyebrows, and the
long, bent lashes. There before me was the grandeur of her Imperial
shape. There burnt the wonderful eyes, hued like the Cyprian violet--
eyes that seemed to sleep and brood on secret things as night broods
upon the desert, and yet as the night to shift, change, and be
illumined by gleams of sudden splendour born within their starry
depths. All those wonders I saw, though I have small skill in telling
them. But even then I knew that it was not in these charms alone that
the might of Cleopatra's beauty lay. It was rather in a glory and a
radiance cast through the fleshly covering from the fierce soul
within. For she was a Thing of Flame like unto which no woman has ever
been or ever will be. Even when she brooded, the fire of her quick
heart shone through her. But when she woke, and the lightning leapt
suddenly from her eyes, and the passion-laden music of her speech
chimed upon her lips, ah! then, who can tell how Cleopatra seemed? For
in her met all the splendours that have been given to woman for her
glory, and all the genius which man has won from heaven. And with them
dwelt every evil of that greater sort, which fearing nothing, and
making a mock of laws, has taken empires for its place of play, and,
smiling, watered the growth of its desires with the rich blood of men.
In her breast they gathered, together fashioning that Cleopatra whom
no man may draw, and yet whom no man, having seen, ever can forget.
They fashioned her grand as the Spirit of Storm, lovely as Lightning,
cruel as Pestilence, yet with a heart; and what she did is known. Woe
to the world when such another comes to curse it!
For a moment I met Cleopatra's eyes as she idly bent herself to find
the tumult's cause. At first they were sombre and dark, as though they
saw indeed, but the brain read nothing. Then they awoke, and their
very colour seemed to change as the colour of the sea changes when the
water is shaken. First, there was anger written in them; next an idle
noting; then, when she looked upon the huge bulk of the man whom I had
overcome, and knew him for the gladiator, something, perchance, that
was not far from wonder. At the least they softened, though, indeed,
her face changed no whit. But he who would read Cleopatra's mind had
need to watch her eyes, for her countenance varied but a little.
Turning, she said some word to her guards. They came forward and led
me to her, while all the multitude waited silently to see me slain.
I stood before her, my arms folded on my breast. Overcome though I was
by the wonder of her loveliness I hated her in my heart, this woman
who dared to clothe herself in the dress of Isis, this usurper who sat
upon my throne, this wanton squandering the wealth of Egypt in
chariots and perfumes. When she had looked me over from head to the
feet, she spake in a low full voice and in the tongue of Khemi which
she alone had learned of all the Lagidæ:
"And who and what art thou, Egyptian--for Egyptian I see thou art--who
darest to smite my slave when I make progress through my city?"
"I am Harmachis," I answered boldly. "Harmachis, the astrologer,
adopted son of the High Priest and Governor of Abouthis, who am come
hither to seek my fortune. I smote thy slave, O Queen, because for no
fault he struck down the woman yonder. Ask of those who saw, royal
"Harmachis," she said, "the name has a high sound--and thou hast a
high look;" and then, speaking to a soldier who had seen all, she bade
him tell her what had come to pass. This he did truthfully, being
friendly disposed towards me because I had overcome the Nubian.
Thereon she turned and spoke to the girl bearing the fan who stood
beside her--a woman with curling hair and shy dark eyes, very
beautiful to see. The girl answered somewhat. Then Cleopatra bade them
bring the slave to her. So they led forward the giant, who had found
his breath again, and with him the woman whom he had smitten down.
"Thou dog!" she said, in the same low voice; "thou coward! who, being
strong, didst smite down this woman, and, being a coward, wast
overthrown of this young man. See, thou, I will teach thee manners.
Henceforth, when thou smitest women it shall be with thy left arm. Ho,
guards, seize this black slave and strike off his right hand."
Her command given, she sank back in her golden chariot, and again the
cloud gathered in her eyes. But the guards seized the giant, and,
notwithstanding his cries and prayers for mercy, struck off his hand
with a sword upon the wood of the scaffolding and he was carried away
groaning. Then the procession moved on again. As it went the fair
woman with the fan turned her head, caught my eye, and smiled and
nodded as though she rejoiced, at which I wondered somewhat.
The people cheered also and made jests, saying that I should soon
practice astrology in the palace. But, as soon as we might, I and my
uncle escaped, and made our way back to the house. All the while he
rated me for my rashness; but when we came to the chamber of the house
he embraced me and rejoiced greatly, because I had overthrown the
giant with so little hurt to myself.
OF THE COMING OF CHARMION; AND OF THE WRATH OF SEPA
That same night, while we sat at supper in the house, there came a
knock upon the door. It was opened, and a woman passed in wrapped from
head to foot in a large dark peplos or cloak in such fashion that her
face could not be clearly seen.
My uncle rose, and as he did so the woman uttered the secret word.
"I am come, my father," she said in a sweet clear voice, "though of a
truth it was not easy to escape the revels at the palace yonder. But I
told the Queen that the sun and the riot in the streets had made me
sick, and she let me go."
"It is well," he answered. "Unveil thyself; here thou art safe."
With a little sigh of weariness she unclasped the peplos and let it
slip from her, giving to my sight the face and form of that beauteous
girl who had stood to fan Cleopatra in the chariot. For she was very
fair and pleasant to look upon, and her Grecian robes clung sweetly
about her supple limbs and budding form. Her wayward hair, flowing in
a hundred little curls, was bound in with a golden fillet, and on her
feet were sandals fastened with studs of gold. Her cheeks blushed like
a flower, and her dark soft eyes were downcast, as though with
modesty, but smiles and dimples trembled about her lips.
My uncle frowned when his eyes fell upon her dress.
"Why comest thou in this garb, Charmion?" he asked sternly. "Is not
the dress of thy mothers good enough for thee? This is no time or
place for woman's vanities. Thou art not here to conquer, but to
"Nay, be not wroth, my father," she answered softly; "perchance thou
knowest not that she whom I serve will have none of our Egyptian
dress; it is out of fashion. To wear it would have been to court
suspicion--also I came in haste." And as she spoke I saw that all the
while she watched me covertly through the long lashes which fringed
her modest eyes.
"Well, well," he said sharply, fixing his keen glance upon her face,
"doubtless thou speakest truth, Charmion. Be ever mindful of thy oath,
girl, and of the cause to which thou art sworn. Be not light-minded,
and I charge thee forget the beauty with which thou hast been cursed.
For mark thou this, Charmion: fail us but one jot, and vengeance shall
fall on thee--the vengeance of man and the vengeance of the Gods! To
this service," he continued, lashing himself to anger as he went on
till his great voice rang in the narrow room, "thou hast been bred; to
this end thou hast been instructed and placed where thou art to gain
the ear of that wicked wanton whom thou seemest to serve. See thou
forget it not; see that the luxury of yonder Court does not corrupt
thy purity and divert thy aim, Charmion," and his eyes flashed and his
small form seemed to grow till it attained to dignity--nay, almost to
"Charmion," he went on, advancing towards her with outstretched
finger, "I say that at times I do not trust thee. But two nights gone
I dreamed I saw thee standing in the desert. I saw thee laugh and lift
thy hand to heaven, and from it fell a rain of blood; then the sky
sank down on the land of Khem and covered it. Whence came the dream,
girl, and what is its meaning? I have naught against thee as yet; but
hearken! On the moment that I have, though thou art of my kin, and I
have loved thee--on that moment, I say, I will doom those delicate
limbs, which thou lovest so much to show, to the kite and the jackal,
and the soul within thee to all the tortures of the Gods! Unburied
shalt thou lie, and bodiless and accursed shalt thou wander in Amenti!
--ay, for ever and ever!"
He paused, for his sudden burst of passion had spent itself. But by
it, more clearly than before, I saw how deep a heart this man had
beneath the cloak of his merriness and simplicity of mien, and how
fiercely the mind within him was set upon his aim. As for the girl,
she shrank from him terrified, and, placing her hands before her sweet
face, began to weep.
"Nay, speak not so, my father," she said, between her sobs; "for what
have I done? I know nothing of the evil wandering of thy dreams. I am
no soothsayer that I should read dreams. Have I not carried out all
things according to thy desire? Have I not been ever mindful of that
dread oath?"--and she trembled. "Have I not played the spy and told
thee all? Have I not won the heart of the Queen, so that she loves me
as a sister, refusing me nothing--ay, and the hearts of those about
her? Why dost thou affright me thus with thy words and threats?" and
she wept afresh, looking even more beautiful in her sorrow than she
"Enough, enough," he answered; "what I have said, I have said. Be
warned, and affront our sight no more with this wanton dress. Thinkest
thou that we would feed our eyes upon those rounded arms--we whose
stake is Egypt and who are dedicated to the Gods of Egypt? Girl,
behold thy cousin and thy King!"
She ceased weeping, wiping her eyes with her chiton, and I saw that
they seemed but the softer for her tears.
"Methinks, most royal Harmachis, and beloved Cousin," she said, as she
bent before me, "that we are already made acquainted."
"Yea, Cousin," I answered, not without shamefacedness, for I had never
before spoken to so fair a maid; "thou wert in the chariot with
Cleopatra this day when I struggled with the Nubian?"
"Assuredly," she said, with a smile and a sudden lighting of the eyes,
"it was a gallant fight and gallantly didst thou overthrow that black
brute. I saw the fray and, though I knew thee not, I greatly feared
for one so brave. But I paid him for my fright, for it was I who put
it into the mind of Cleopatra to bid the guards strike off his hand--
now, knowing who thou art, I would I had said his head." And she
looked up shooting a glance at me and then smiled.
"Enough," put in my uncle Sepa, "the time draws on. Tell thou thy
mission, Charmion, and be gone."
Then her manner changed; she folded her hands meekly before her and
"Let Pharaoh hearken to his handmaiden. I am the daughter of Pharaoh's
uncle, the brother of his father, who is now long dead, and therefore
in my veins also flows the Royal blood of Egypt. Also I am of the
ancient Faith, and hate these Greeks, and to see thee set upon the
throne has been my dearest hope now for many years. To this end I,
Charmion, have put aside my rank and become serving-woman to
Cleopatra, that I might cut a notch in which thou couldst set thy foot
when the hour came for thee to climb the throne. And, Pharaoh, the
notch is cut.
"This then is our plot, royal Cousin. Thou must gain an entrance to
the Household and learn its ways and secrets, and, so far as may be,
suborn the eunuchs and captains, some of whom I have already tempted.
This done, and all things being prepared without, thou must slay
Cleopatra, and, aided by me with those whom I control, in the
confusion that shall ensue, throw wide the gates, and, admitting those
of our party who are in waiting, put such of the troops as remain
faithful to the sword and seize the Bruchium. Which being finished,
within two days thou shalt hold this fickle Alexandria. At the same
time those who are sworn to thee in every city of Egypt shall rise in
arms, and in ten days from the death of Cleopatra thou shalt indeed be
Pharaoh. This is the counsel which has been taken, and thou seest,
royal Cousin, that, though our uncle yonder thinks so ill of me, I
have learned my part--ay, and played it."
"I hear thee, Cousin," I answered, marvelling that so young a woman--
she had but twenty years--could weave so bold a plot, for in its
origin the scheme was hers. But in those days I little knew Charmion.
"Go on; how then shall I gain entrance to the palace of Cleopatra?"
"Nay, Cousin, as things are it is easy. Thus: Cleopatra loves to look
upon a man, and--give me pardon--thy face and form are fair. To-day
she noted them, and twice she said she would she had asked where that
astrologer might be found, for she held that an astrologer who could
wellnigh slay a Nubian gladiator with his bare hands, must indeed be a
master of the fortunate stars. I answered her that I would cause
inquiry to be made. So hearken, royal Harmachis. At midday Cleopatra
sleeps in her inner hall which looks over the gardens to the harbour.
At that hour to-morrow, then, I will meet thee at the gates of the
palace, whither thou shalt come boldly asking for the Lady Charmion. I
will make appointment for thee with Cleopatra, so that she shall see
thee alone when she wakes, and the rest shall be for thee, Harmachis.
For much she loves to play with the mysteries of magic, and I have
known her stand whole nights watching the stars and making a pretence
to read them. And but lately she has sent away Dioscorides the
physician, because, poor fool! he ventured on a prophecy from the
conjunction of the stars, that Cassius would defeat Mark Antony.
Thereon Cleopatra sent orders to the General Allienus, bidding him add
the legions she had sent to Syria to help Antony to the army of
Cassius, whose victory, forsooth, was--according to Dioscorides--
written on the stars. But, as it chanced, Antony beat Cassius first
and Brutus afterwards, and so Dioscorides has departed, and now he
lectures on herbs in the museum for his bread, and hates the name of
stars. But his place is empty, and thou shalt fill it, and then we
will work in secret and in the shadow of the sceptre. Ay, we will work
like the worm at the heart of a fruit, till the time of plucking
comes, and at thy dagger's touch, royal Cousin, the fabric of this
Grecian throne crumbles to nothingness, and the worm that rotted it
bursts his servile covering, and, in the sight of empires, spreads his
royal wings o'er Egypt."
I gazed at this strange girl once more astonished, and saw that her
face was lit up with such a light as I had never seen in the eyes of
"Ah," broke in my uncle, who was watching her, "ah, I love to see thee
so, girl; there is the Charmion that I knew and I bred up--not the
Court girl whom I like not, draped in silks of Cos and fragrant with
essences. Let thy heart harden in this mould--ay, stamp it with the
fervid zeal of patriot faith, and thy reward shall find thee. And now
cover up that shameless dress of thine and leave us, for it grows
late. To-morrow Harmachis shall come, as thou hast said, and so
Charmion bowed her head, and, turning, wrapped her dark-hued peplos
round her. Then, taking my hand, she touched it with her lips and went
without any further word.
"A strange woman!" said Sepa, when she had gone; "a most strange
woman, and an uncertain!"
"Methought, my uncle," I said, "that thou wast somewhat harsh with
"Ay," he answered, "but not without a cause. Look thou, Harmachis;
beware of this Charmion. She is too wayward, and, I fear me, may be
led away. In truth, she is a very woman; and, like a restive horse,
will take the path that pleases her. She has brain and fire, and she
loves our cause; but I pray that the cause come not face to face with
her desires, for what her heart is set on that will she do, at any
cost she will do it. Therefore I frightened her now while I may: for
who can know but that she will pass beyond my power? I tell thee, that
in this one girl's hand lie all our lives: and if she play us false,
what then? Alas! and alas! that we must use such tools as these! But
it was needful: there was no other way; and yet I misdoubted me. I
pray that it may be well; still, at times, I fear my niece Charmion--
she is too fair, and the blood of youth runs too warm in those blue
veins of hers.
"Ah, woe to the cause that builds its strength upon a woman's faith;
for women are faithful only where they love, and when they love their
faithlessness becomes their faith. They are not fixed as men are
fixed: they rise more high and sink more low--they are strong and
changeful as the sea. Harmachis, beware of this Charmion: for, like
the ocean, she may float thee home; or, like the ocean, she may wreck
thee, and, with thee, the hope of Egypt!"
OF THE COMING OF HARMACHIS TO THE PALACE; OF HOW HE DREW
PAULUS THROUGH THE GATES; OF CLEOPATRA SLEEPING; AND OF THE
MAGIC OF HARMACHIS WHICH HE SHOWED HER
Thus it came to pass that on the next day I arrayed myself in a long
and flowing robe, after the fashion of a magician or astrologer. I
placed a cap on my head, about which were broidered images of the
stars, and in my belt a scribe's palette and a roll of papyrus written
over with magic spells and signs. In my hand I held a wand of ebony,
tipped with ivory, such as is used by priests and masters of magic.
Among these, indeed, I took high rank, filling my knowledge of their
secrets which I had learned at Annu what I lacked in that skill which
comes from use. And so with no small shame, for I love not such play
and hold this common magic in contempt, I set forth through the
Bruchium to the palace on the Lochias, being guided on my way by my
uncle Sepa. At length, passing up the avenue of sphinxes, we came to
the great marble gateway and the gates of bronze, within which is the
guard-house. Here my uncle left me, breathing many prayers for my
safety and success. But I advanced with an easy air to the gate, where
I was roughly challenged by the Gallic sentries, and asked of my name,
following, and business. I gave my name, Harmachis, the astrologer,
saying that my business was with the Lady Charmion, the Queen's lady.
Thereon the man made as though to let me pass in, when a captain of
the guard, a Roman named Paulus, came forward and forbade it. Now,
this Paulus was a large limbed man, with a woman's face, and a hand
that shook from wine-bibbing. Still he knew me again.
"Why," he cried, in the Latin tongue, to one who came with him, "this
is the fellow who wrestled yesterday with the Nubian gladiator, that
same who now howls for his lost hand underneath my window. Curses on
the black brute! I had a bet upon him for the games! I have backed him
against Caius, and now he'll never fight again, and I must lose my
money, all through this astrologer. What is it thou sayest?--thou hast
business with the Lady Charmion? Nay, then, that settles it. I will
not let thee through. Fellow, I worship the Lady Charmion--ay, we all
worship her, though she gives us more slaps than sighs. And dost thou
think that we will suffer an astrologer with such eyes and such a
chest as thine to cut in the game?--by Bacchus, no! She must come out
to keep the tryst, for in thou shalt not go."
"Sir," I said humbly and yet with dignity, "I pray that a message may
be sent to the Lady Charmion, for my business will not brook delay."
"Ye Gods!" answered the fool, "whom have we here that he cannot wait?
A Cæsar in disguise? Nay, be off--be off! if thou wouldst not learn
how a spear-prick feels behind."
"Nay," put in the other officer, "he is an astrologer; make him
prophesy--make him play tricks."
"Ay," cried the others who had sauntered up, "let the fellow show his
art. If he is a magician he can pass the gates, Paulus or no Paulus."
"Right willingly, good Sirs," I answered; for I saw no other means of
entering. "Wilt thou, my young and noble Lord"--and I addressed him
who was with Paulus--"suffer that I look thee in the eyes; perhaps I
may read what is written there?"
"Right," answered the youth; "but I wish that the Lady Charmion was
the sorceress. I would stare her out of countenance, I warrant."
I took him by the hand and gazed deep into his eyes. "I see," I said,
"a field of battle at night, and about it bodies stretched--among them
is /thy/ body, and a hyena tears its throat. Most noble Sir, thou
shalt die by sword-thrusts within a year."
"By Bacchus!" said the youth, turning white to the gills, "thou art an
ill-omened sorcerer!" And he slunk off--shortly afterwards, as it
chanced, to meet this very fate. For he was sent on service and slain
"Now for thee, great Captain!" I said, speaking to Paulus. "I will
show thee how I will pass those gates without thy leave--ay, and draw
thee through them after me. Be pleased to fix thy princely gaze upon
the point of this wand in my hand."
Being urged by his comrades he did this, unwillingly; and I let him
gaze till I saw his eyes grow empty as an owl's eyes in the sun. Then
I suddenly withdrew the wand, and, shifting my countenance into the
place of it, I seized him with my will and stare, and, beginning to
turn round and round, drew him after me, his fierce face drawn fixed,
as it were, almost to my own. Then I moved slowly backwards till I had
passed the gates, still drawing him after me, and suddenly jerked my
head away. He fell to the ground, to rise wiping his brow and looking
"Art thou content, most noble Captain?" I said. "Thou seest we have
passed the gates. Would any other noble Sir wish that I should show
more of my skill?"
"By Taranis, Lord of Thunder, and all the Gods of Olympus thrown in,
no!" growled an old Centurion, a Gaul named Brennus, "I like thee not,
I say. The man who could drag our Paulus through those gates by the
eye, as it were, is not a man to play with. Paulus, too, who always
goes the way you don't want him--backwards, like an ass--Paulus! Why,
sirrah, thou needst must have a woman in one eye and a wine-cup in the
other to draw our Paulus thus."
At this moment the talk was broken, for Charmion herself came down the
marble path, followed by an armed slave. She walked calm and
carelessly, her hands folded behind her, and her eyes gazing at
nothingness, as it were. But it was when Charmion thus looked upon
nothing that she saw most. And as she came the officers and men of the
guard made way for her bowing, for, as I learned afterwards, this
girl, next to Cleopatra's self, wielded more power than anyone about
"What is this tumult, Brennus?" she said, speaking to the Centurion,
and making as if she saw me not; "knowest thou not that the Queen
sleeps at this hour, and if she be awakened it is thou who must answer
for it, and that dearly?"
"Nay, Lady," said the Centurion, humbly; "but it is thus. We have
here"--and he jerked his thumb towards me--"a magician of the most
pestilent--um, I crave his pardon--of the very best sort, for he hath
but just now, only by placing his eyes close to the nose of the worthy
Captain Paulus, dragged him, the said Paulus, through the gates that
Paulus swore the magician should not pass. By the same token, lady,
the magician says that he has business with you--which grieves me for
Charmion turned and looked at me carelessly. "Ay, I remember," she
said; "and so he has--at least, the Queen would see his tricks; but if
he can do none better than cause a sot"--here she cast a glance of
scorn at the wondering Paulus--"to follow his nose through the gates
he guards, he had better go whence he came. Follow me, Sir Magician;
and for thee, Brennus, I say, keep thy riotous crew more quiet. For
thee, most honourable Paulus, get thee sober, and next time I am asked
for at the gates give him who asks a hearing." And, with a queenly nod
of her small head, she turned and led the way, followed at a distance
by myself and the armed slave.
We passed up the marble walk which runs through the garden grounds,
and is set on either side with marble statues, for the most part of
heathen Gods and Goddesses, with which these Lagidæ were not ashamed
to defile their royal dwellings. At length we came to a beautiful
portico with fluted columns of the Grecian style of art, where we
found more guards, who made way for the Lady Charmion. Crossing the
portico we reached a marble vestibule where a fountain splashed
softly, and thence by a low doorway a second chamber, known as the
Alabaster Hall, most beautiful to see. Its roof was upheld by light
columns of black marble, but all its walls were panelled with
alabaster, on which Grecian legends were engraved. Its floor was of
rich and many-hued mosaic that told the tale of the passion of Psyche
for the Grecian God of Love, and about it were set chairs of ivory and
gold. Charmion bade the armed slave stay at the doorway of this
chamber, so that we passed in alone, for the place was empty except
for two eunuchs who stood with drawn swords before the curtain at the
"I am vexed, my Lord," she said, speaking very low and shyly, "that
thou shouldst have met with such affronts at the gate; but the guard
there served a double watch, and I had given my commands to the
officer of the company that should have relieved it. Those Roman
officers are ever insolent, who, though they seem to serve, know well
that Egypt is their plaything. But it is not amiss, for these rough
soldiers are superstitious, and will fear thee. Now bide thou here
while I go into Cleopatra's chamber, where she sleeps. I have but just
sung her to sleep, and if she be awake I will call thee, for she waits
thy coming." And without more words she glided from my side.
In a little time she returned, and coming to me spoke:
"Wouldst see the fairest woman in all the world, asleep?" she
whispered; "if so, follow me. Nay, fear not; when she awakes she will
but laugh, for she bade me be sure to bring thee instantly, whether
she slept or woke. See, I have her signet."
So we passed up the beautiful chamber till we came to where the
eunuchs stood with drawn swords, and these would have barred my entry.
But Charmion frowned, and drawing the signet from her bosom held it
before their eyes. Having examined the writing that was on the ring,
they bowed, dropping their sword points and we passed through the
heavy curtains broidered with gold into the resting-place of
Cleopatra. It was beautiful beyond imagining--beautiful with many
coloured marbles, with gold and ivory, gems and flowers--all art can
furnish and all luxury can dream of were here. Here were pictures so
real that birds might have pecked the painted fruits; here were
statues of woman's loveliness frozen into stone; here were draperies
fine as softest silk, but woven of a web of gold; here were couches
and carpets such as I never saw. The air, too, was sweet with perfume,
while through the open window places came the far murmur of the sea.
And at the further end of the chamber, on a couch of gleaming silk and
sheltered by a net of finest gauze, Cleopatra lay asleep. There she
lay--the fairest thing that man ever saw--fairer than a dream, and the
web of her dark hair flowed all about her. One white, rounded arm made
a pillow for her head, and one hung down towards the ground. Her rich
lips were parted in a smile, showing the ivory lines of teeth; and her
rosy limbs were draped in so thin a robe of the silk of Cos, held
about her by a jewelled girdle, that the white gleam of flesh shone
through it. I stood astonished, and though my thoughts had little bent
that way, the sight of her beauty struck me like a blow, so that for a
moment I lost myself as it were in the vision of its power, and was
grieved at heart because I must slay so fair a thing.
Turning suddenly from the sight, I found Charmion watching me with her
quick eyes--watching as though she would search my heart. And, indeed,
something of my thought must have been written on my face in a
language that she could read, for she whispered in my ear:
"Ay, it is pity, is it not? Harmachis, being but a man, methinks that
thou wilt need all thy ghostly strength to nerve thee to the deed!"
I frowned, but before I could frame an answer she touched me lightly
on the arm and pointed to the Queen. A change had come upon her: her
hands were clenched, and about her face, all rosy with the hue of
sleep, gathered a cloud of fear. Her breath came quick, she raised her
arms as though to ward away a blow, then with a stifled moan sat up
and opened the windows of her eyes. They were dark, dark as night; but
when the light found them they grew blue as the sky grows blue before
the blushing of the dawn.
"Cæsarion?" she said; "where is my son Cæsarion?--Was it then a dream?
I dreamed that Julius--Julius who is dead--came to me, a bloody toga
wrapped about his face, and having thrown his arms about his child led
him away. Then I dreamed I died--died in blood and agony; and one I
might not see mocked me as I died. /Ah!/ who is that man?"
"Peace, Madam! peace!" said Charmion. "It is but the magician
Harmachis, whom thou didst bid me bring to thee at this hour."
"Ah! the magician--that Harmachis who overthrew the giant? I remember
now. He is welcome. Tell me, Sir Magician, can thy magic mirror call
forth an answer to this dream? Nay, how strange a thing is Sleep, that
wrapping the mind in a web of darkness, straightly compels it to its
will! Whence, then, come those images of fear rising on the horizon of
the soul like some untimely moon upon a midday sky? Who grants them
power to stalk so lifelike from Memory's halls, and, pointing to their
wounds, thus confront the Present with the Past? Are they, then,
messengers? Does the half-death of sleep give them foothold in our
brains, and thus upknit the cut thread of human kinship? That was
Cæsar's self, I tell thee, who but now stood at my side and murmured
through his muffled robe warning words of which the memory is lost to
me. Read me this riddle, thou Egyptian Sphinx,[*] and I'll show thee a
rosier path to fortune than all thy stars can point. Thou hast brought
the omen, solve thou its problem."
[*] Alluding to his name. Harmachis was the Grecian title of the
divinity of the Sphinx, as Horemkhu was the Egyptian.--Editor.
"I come in a good hour, most mighty Queen," I answered, "for I have
some skill in the mysteries of Sleep, that is, as thou hast rightly
guessed, a stair by which those who are gathered to Osiris may from
time to time enter at the gateways of our living sense, and, by signs
and words that can be read of instructed mortals, repeat the echoes of
that Hall of Truth which is their habitation. Yes, Sleep is a stair by
which the messengers of the guardian Gods may descend in many shapes
upon the spirit of their choice. For, O Queen, to those who hold the
key, the madness of our dreams can show a clearer purpose and speak
more certainly than all the acted wisdom of our waking life, which is
a dream indeed. Thou didst see great Cæsar in his bloody robe, and he
threw his arms about the Prince Cæsarion and led him hence. Hearken
now to the secret of thy vision. It was Cæsar's self thou sawest
coming to thy side from Amenti in such a guise as might not be
mistaken. When he embraced the child Cæsarion he did it for a sign
that to him, and him alone, had passed his greatness and his love.
When he seemed to lead him hence he led him forth from Egypt to be
crowned in the Capitol, crowned the Emperor of Rome and Lord of all
the Lands. For the rest, I know not. It is hid from me."
Thus, then, I read the vision, though to my sense it had a darker
meaning. But it is not well to prophesy evil unto Kings.
Meanwhile Cleopatra had risen, and, having thrown back the gnat gauze,
was seated upon the edge of her couch, her eyes fixed upon my face,
while her fingers played with her girdle's jewelled ends.
"Of a truth," she cried, "thou art the best of all magicians, for thou
readest my heart, and drawest a hidden sweet out of the rough shell of
"Ay, O Queen," said Charmion, who stood by with downcast eyes, and I
thought that there was bitter meaning in her soft tones; "may no
rougher words ever affront thy ears, and no evil presage tread less
closely upon its happy sense."
Cleopatra placed her hands behind her head and, leaning back, looked
at me with half-shut eyes.
"Come, show us of thy magic, Egyptian," she said. "It is yet hot
abroad, and I am weary of those Hebrew Ambassadors and their talk of
Herod and Jerusalem. I hate that Herod, as he shall find--and will
have none of the Ambassadors to-day, though I yearn a little to try my
Hebrew on them. What canst thou do? Hast thou no new trick? By
Serapis! if thou canst conjure as well as thou canst prophesy, thou
shalt have a place at Court, with pay and perquisites to boot, if thy
lofty soul does not scorn perquisites."
"Nay," I answered, "all tricks are old; but there are some forms of
magic to be rarely used, and with discretion, that may be new to thee,
O Queen! Art thou afraid to venture on the charm?"
"I fear nothing; go on and do thy worst. Come, Charmion, and sit by
me. But, stay, where are all the girls?--Iras and Merira?--they, too,
"Not so," I said; "the charms work ill before so many. Now behold!"
and, gazing at the twain, I cast my wand upon the marble and murmured
a spell. For a moment it was still, and then, as I muttered, the rod
slowly began to writhe. It bent itself, it stood on end, and moved of
its own motion. Next it put on scales, and behold it was a serpent
that crawled and fiercely hissed.
"Fie on thee!" cried Cleopatra, clapping her hands; "callest thou that
magic? Why, it is an old trick that any wayside conjurer can do. I
have seen it a score of times."
"Wait, O Queen," I answered, "thou hast not seen all." And, as I
spoke, the serpent seemed to break in fragments, and from each
fragment grew a new serpent. And these, too, broke in fragments and
bred others, till in a little while the place, to their glamoured
sight, was a seething sea of snakes, that crawled, hissed, and knotted
themselves in knots. Then I made a sign, and the serpents gathered
themselves round me, and seemed slowly to twine themselves about my
body and my limbs, till, save my face, I was wreathed thick with
"Oh, horrible! horrible!" cried Charmion, hiding her countenance in
the skirt of the Queen's garment.
"Nay, enough, Magician, enough!" said the Queen: "thy magic overwhelms
I waved my snake-wrapped arms, and all was gone. There at my feet lay
the black wand tipped with ivory, and naught beside.
The two women looked upon each other and gasped with wonder. But I
took up the wand and stood with folded arms before them.
"Is the Queen content with my poor art?" I asked most humbly.
"Ay, that I am, Egyptian; never did I see its like! Thou art Court
astronomer from this day forward, with right of access to the Queen's
presence. Hast thou more of such magic at thy call?"
"Yea, royal Egypt; suffer that the chamber be a little darkened, and I
will show thee one more thing."
"Half am I afraid," she answered; "nevertheless do thou as this
Harmachis says, Charmion."
So the curtains were drawn and the chamber made as though the twilight
were at hand. I came forward, and stood beside Cleopatra. "Gaze thou
there!" I said sternly, pointing with my wand to the empty space where
I had been, "and thou shalt behold that which is in thy mind."
Then for a little space was silence, while the two women gazed fixedly
and half fearful at the spot.
And as they gazed a cloud gathered before them. Very slowly it took
shape and form, and the form it took was the form of a man, though as
yet he was but vaguely mapped upon the twilight, and seemed now to
grow and now to melt away.
Then I cried with a loud voice:
"Spirit, I conjure thee, /appear!/"
And as I cried the Thing, perfect in every part, leapt into form
before us, suddenly as the flash of day. His shape was the shape of
royal Cæsar, the toga thrown about his face, and on his form a
vestment bloody from a hundred wounds. An instant so he stood, then I
waved my wand and he was gone.
I turned to the two women on the couch, and saw Cleopatra's lovely
face all clothed in terror. Her lips were ashy white, her eyes stared
wide, and all the flesh was shaking on her bones.
"Man!" she gasped; "man! who and what art thou who canst bring the
dead before our eyes?"
"I am the Queen's astronomer, magician, servant--what the Queen
wills," I answered, laughing. "Was this the form that was on the
She made no answer, but, rising, left the chamber by another door.
Then Charmion rose also and took her hands from her face, for she,
too, had been stricken with dread.
"How dost thou these things, royal Harmachis?" she said. "Tell me; for
of a truth I fear thee."
"Be not afraid," I answered. "Perchance thou didst see nothing but
what was in my mind. All things are shadows. How canst thou, then,
know their nature, or what is and what only seems to be? But how goes
it? Remember, Charmion, this sport is played to an end."
"It goes well," she said. "By to-morrow morning's dawn these tales
will have gone round, and thou wilt be more feared than any man in
Alexandria. Follow me, I pray thee."
OF THE WAYS OF CHARMION; AND OF THE CROWNING OF HARMACHIS
AS THE KING OF LOVE
On the following day I received the writing of my appointment as
Astrologer and Magician-in-Chief to the Queen, with the pay and
perquisites of that office, which were not small. Rooms were given me
in the palace, also, through which I passed at night to the high
watch-tower, whence I looked on the stars and drew their auguries. For
at this time Cleopatra was much troubled about matters political, and
not knowing how the great struggle among the Roman factions would end,
but being very desirous to side with the strongest, she took constant
counsel with me as to the warnings of the stars. These I read to her
in such manner as best seemed to fit the high interest of my ends. For
Antony, the Roman Triumvir, was now in Asia Minor, and, rumour ran,
very wroth because it had been told him that Cleopatra was hostile to
the Triumvirate, in that her General, Serapion, had aided Cassius. But
Cleopatra protested loudly to me and others that Serapion had acted
against her will. Yet Charmion told me that, as with Allienus, it was
because of a prophecy of Dioscorides the unlucky that the Queen
herself had secretly ordered Serapion so to do. Still, this did not
save Serapion, for to prove to Antony that she was innocent she
dragged the General from the sanctuary and slew him. Woe be to those
who carry out the will of tyrants if the scale should rise against
them! And so Serapion perished.
Meanwhile all things went well with us, for the minds of Cleopatra and
those about her were so set upon affairs abroad that neither she nor
they thought of revolt at home. But day by day our party gathered
strength in the cities of Egypt, and even in Alexandria, which is to
Egypt as another land, all things being foreign there. Day by day,
those who doubted were won over and sworn to the cause by that oath
which cannot be broken, and our plans of action more firmly laid. And
every other day I went forth from the palace to take counsel with my
uncle Sepa, and there at his house met the Nobles and the great
priests who were for the party of Khem.
I saw much of Cleopatra, the Queen, and I was ever more astonished at
the wealth and splendour of her mind, that for richness and variety
was as a woven cloth of gold throwing back all lights from its
changing face. She feared me somewhat, and therefore wished to make a
friend of me, asking me of many matters that seemed to be beyond the
province of my office. I saw much of the Lady Charmion also--indeed,
she was ever at my side, so that I scarce knew when she came and when
she went. For she would draw nigh with that soft step of hers, and I
would turn to find her at hand and watching me beneath the long lashes
of her downcast eyes. There was no service that was too hard for her,
and no task too long; for day and night she laboured for me and for
But when I thanked her for her loyalty, and said it should be had in
mind in that time which was at hand, she stamped her foot, and pouted
with her lips, like an angry child, saying that, among all the things
which I had learned, this had I not learned--that Love's service asked
no payment, and was its own guerdon. And I, being innocent in such
matters, and, foolish that I was, holding the ways of women as of
small account, read her sayings in the sense that her services to the
cause of Khem, which she loved, brought with them their own reward.
But when I praised so fine a spirit, she burst into angry tears and
left me wondering. For I knew nothing of the trouble at her heart. I
knew not then that, unsought, this woman had given me her love, and
that she was rent and torn by pangs of passion fixed like arrows in
her breast. I did not know--how should I know it, who never looked
upon her otherwise than as an instrument of our joint and holy cause?
Her beauty never stirred me--no, not even when she leaned over me and
breathed upon my hair, I never thought of it otherwise than as a man
thinks of the beauty of a statue. What had I to do with such delights,
I who was sworn to Isis and dedicate to the cause of Egypt? O ye Gods,
bear me witness that I am innocent of this thing which was the source
of all my woe and the woe of Khem!
How strange a thing is this love of woman, that is so small in its
beginning and in its ends so great! See, at the first it is as the
little spring of water welling from a mountain's heart. And at the
last what is it? It is a mighty river that floats argosies of joy and
makes wide lands to smile. Or, perchance, it is a torrent to wash in a
flood of ruin across the fields of Hope, bursting in the barriers of
design, and bringing to tumbled nothingness the tenement of man's
purity and the temples of his faith. For when the Invisible conceived
the order of the universe He set this seed of woman's love within its
plan, that by its most unequal growth is doomed to bring about
equality of law. For now it lifts the low to heights untold, and now
it brings the noble to the level of the dust. And thus, while Woman,
that great surprise of nature, is, Good and Evil can never grow apart.
For still She stands, and, blind with love, shoots the shuttle of our
fate, and pours sweet water into the cup of bitterness, and poisons
the wholesome breath of life with the doom of her desire. Turn this
way and turn that, She is at hand to meet thee. Her weakness is thy
strength, her might is thy undoing. Of her thou art, to her thou
goest. She is thy slave, yet holds thee captive; at her touch honour
withers, locks open, and barriers fall. She is infinite as ocean, she
is variable as heaven, and her name is the Unforeseen. Man, strive not
to escape from Woman and the love of woman; for, fly where thou wilt,
She is yet thy fate, and whate'er thou buildest thou buildest it for
And thus it came to pass that I, Harmachis, who had put such matters
far from me, was yet doomed to fall by the thing I held of no account.
For, see, this Charmion: she loved me--why, I know not. Of her own
thought she learned to love me, and of her love came what shall be
told. But I, knowing naught, treated her like a sister, walking as it
were hand in hand with her towards our common end.
And so the time passed on, till, at length, all things were made
It was the night before the night when the blow should fall, and there
were revellings in the palace. That very day I had seen Sepa, and with
him the captains of a band of five hundred men, who should burst into
the palace at midnight on the morrow, when I had slain Cleopatra the
Queen, and put the Roman and the Gallic legionaries to the sword. That
very day I had suborned the Captain Paulus who, since I drew him
through the gates, was my will's slave. Half by fear and half by
promises of great reward I had prevailed upon him, for the watch was
his, to unbar that small gate which faces to the East at the signal on
the morrow night.
All was made ready--the flower of Freedom that had been five-and-
twenty years in growth was on the point of bloom. Armed companies were
gathering in every city from Abu to Athu, and spies looked out from
their walls, awaiting the coming of the messenger who should bring
tidings that Cleopatra was no more and that Harmachis, the royal
Egyptian, had seized the throne.
All was prepared, triumph hung in my hand as a ripe fruit to the hand
of the plucker. Yet as I sat at the royal feast my heart was heavy,
and a shadow of coming woe lay cold within my mind. I sat there in a
place of honour, near the majesty of Cleopatra, and looked down the
lines of guests, bright with gems and garlanded with flowers, marking
those whom I had doomed to die. There before me lay Cleopatra in all
her beauty, which thrilled the beholder as he is thrilled by the
rushing of the midnight gale, or by the sight of stormy waters. I
gazed on her as she touched her lips with wine and toyed with the
chaplet of roses on her brow, thinking of the dagger beneath my robe
that I had sworn to bury in her breast. Again, and yet again, I gazed
and strove to hate her, strove to rejoice that she must die--and could
not. There, too, behind her--watching me now, as ever, with her deep-
fringed eyes--was the lovely Lady Charmion. Who, to look at her
innocent face, would believe that she was the setter of that snare in
which the Queen who loved her should miserably perish? Who would dream
that the secret of so much death was locked in her girlish breast? I
gazed, and grew sick at heart because I must anoint my throne with
blood, and by evil sweep away the evil of the land. At that hour I
wished, indeed, that I was nothing but some humble husbandman, who in
its season grows and in its season garners the golden grain! Alas! the
seed that I had been doomed to sow was the seed of Death, and now I
must reap the red fruit of the harvest!
"Why, Harmachis, what ails thee?" said Cleopatra, smiling her slow
smile. "Has the golden skein of stars got tangled, my astronomer? or
dost thou plan some new feat of magic? Say what is it that thou dost
so poorly grace our feast? Nay, now, did I not know, having made
inquiry, that things so low as we poor women are far beneath thy gaze,
why, I should swear that Eros had found thee out, Harmachis!"
"Nay, that I am spared, O Queen," I answered. "The servant of the
stars marks not the smaller light of woman's eyes, and therein is he
Cleopatra leaned herself towards me, looking on me long and steadily
in such fashion that, despite my will, the blood fluttered at my
"Boast not, thou proud Egyptian," she said in a low voice which none
but I and Charmion could hear, "lest perchance thou dost tempt me to
match my magic against thine. What woman can forgive that a man should
push us by as things of no account? It is an insult to our sex which
Nature's self abhors," and she leaned back again and laughed most
musically. But, glancing up, I saw Charmion, her teeth on her lip and
an angry frown upon her brow.
"Pardon, royal Egypt," I answered coldly, but with such wit as I could
summon, "before the Queen of Heaven even stars grow pale!" This I said
of the moon, which is the sign of the Holy Mother whom Cleopatra dared
to rival, naming herself Isis come to earth.
"Happily said," she answered, clapping her white hands. "Why, here's
an astronomer who has wit and can shape a compliment! Nay, such a
wonder must not pass unnoted, lest the Gods resent it. Charmion, take
this rose-chaplet from my hair and set it upon the learned brow of our
Harmachis. He shall be crowned /King of Love/, whether he will it or
Charmion lifted the chaplet from Cleopatra's brows and, bearing it to
where I was, with a smile set it upon my head yet warm and fragrant
from the Queen's hair, but so roughly that she pained me somewhat. She
did this because she was wroth, although she smiled with her lips and
whispered, "An omen, royal Harmachis." For though she was so very much
a woman, yet, when she was angered or suffered jealousy, Charmion had
a childish way.
Having thus fixed the chaplet, she curtsied low before me, and with
the softest tone of mockery named me, in the Greek tongue, "Harmachis,
King of Love." Then Cleopatra laughed and pledged me as "King of
Love," and so did all the company, finding the jest a merry one. For
in Alexandria they love not those who live straitly and turn aside
But I sat there, a smile upon my lips, and black wrath in my heart.
For, knowing who and what I was, it irked me to think myself a jest
for the frivolous nobles and light beauties of Cleopatra's Court. But
I was chiefly angered against Charmion, because she laughed the
loudest, and I did not then know that laughter and bitterness are
often the veils with which a sore heart wraps its weakness from the
world. "An omen" she said it was--that crown of flowers--and so it
proved indeed. For I was fated to barter the Double Diadem of the
Upper and the Lower Land for a wreath of passion's roses that fade
before they fully bloom, and Pharaoh's ivory bed of state for the
pillow of a faithless woman's breast.
"/King of Love!/" they crowned me in their mockery; ay, and King of
Shame! And I, with the perfumed roses on my brow--I, by descent and
ordination the Pharaoh of Egypt--thought of the imperishable halls of
Abouthis and of that other crowning which on the morrow should be
But still smiling, I pledged them back, and answered with a jest. For
rising, I bowed before Cleopatra and craved leave to go. "Venus," I
said, speaking of the planet that we know as Donaou in the morning and
Bonou in the evening, "was in the ascendant. Therefore, as new-crowned
King of Love, I must now pass to do my homage to its Queen." For these
barbarians name Venus Queen of Love.
And so amidst their laughter I withdraw to my watch-tower, and,
dashing that shameful chaplet down amidst the instruments of my craft,
made pretence to note the rolling of the stars. There I waited,
thinking on many things that were to be, until Charmion should come
with the last lists of the doomed and the messages of my uncle Sepa,
whom she had seen that evening.
At length the door opened softly, and she came jewelled and clad in
her white robes, as she had left the feast.
OF THE COMING OF CLEOPATRA TO THE CHAMBER OF HARMACHIS; OF
THE THROWING FORTH OF THE KERCHIEF OF CHARMION; OF THE
STARS; AND OF THE GIFT BY CLEOPATRA OF HER FRIENDSHIP TO HER
"At length thou art come, Charmion," I said. "It is over-late."
"Yea, my Lord; but by no means could I escape Cleopatra. Her mood is
strangely crossed to-night. I know not what it may portend. Strange
whims and fancies blow across it like light and contrary airs upon a
summer sea, and I cannot read her purpose."
"Well, well; enough of Cleopatra. Hast thou seen our uncle?"
"Yes, royal Harmachis."
"And hast thou the last lists?"
"Yes; here they are," and she drew them from her bosom. "Here is the
list of those who, after the Queen, must certainly be put to the
sword. Among them thou wilt note is the name of that old Gaul Brennus.
I grieve for him, for we are friends; but it must be. It is a heavy
"It is so," I answered conning it; "when men write out their count
they forget no item, and our count is long. What must be must be. Now
for the next."
"Here is the list of those to be spared, as friendly or uncertain; and
here that of the towns which will certainly rise as soon as the
messenger reaches their gates with tidings of the death of Cleopatra."
"Good. And now"--and I paused--"and now as to the manner of
Cleopatra's death. How hast thou settled it? Must it be by my own
"Yea, my Lord," she answered, and again I caught that note of
bitterness in her voice. "Doubtless Pharaoh will rejoice that his
should be the hand to rid the land of this false Queen and wanton
woman, and at one blow break the chains which gall the neck of Egypt."
"Talk not thus, girl," I said; "thou knowest well that I do not
rejoice, being but driven to the act by deep necessity and the
pressure of my vows. Can she not, then, be poisoned? Or can no one of
the eunuchs be suborned to slay her? My soul turns from this bloody
work! Indeed, I marvel, however heavy be her crimes, that thou canst
speak so lightly of the death by treachery of one who loves thee!"
"Surely Pharaoh is over-tender, forgetting the greatness of the moment
and all that hangs upon this dagger-stroke that shall cut the thread
of Cleopatra's life. Listen, Harmachis. /Thou/ must do the deed, and
/thou/ alone! Myself I would do it, had my arm the strength; but it
has not. It cannot be done by poison, for every drop she drinks and
every morsel that shall touch her lips is strictly tasted by three
separate tasters, who cannot be suborned. Nor may the eunuchs of the
guard be trusted. Two, indeed, are sworn to us; but the third cannot
be come at. He must be cut down afterwards; and, indeed, when so many
men must fall, what matters a eunuch more or less? Thus it shall be,
then. To-morrow night, at three hours before midnight thou dost cast
the final augury of the issue of the war. And then thou wilt, as is
agreed, descend alone with me, having the signet, to the outer chamber
of the Queen's apartment. For the vessel bearing orders to the Legions
sails from Alexandria at the following dawn; and alone with Cleopatra,
since she wills that the thing be kept secret as the sea, thou wilt
read the message of the stars. And as she pores over the papyrus, then
must thou stab her in the back, so that she dies; and see thou that
thy will and arm fail thee not! The deed being done--and indeed it
will be easy--thou wilt take the signet and pass out to where the
eunuch is--for the others will be wanting. If by any chance there is
trouble with him--but there will be no trouble, for he dare not enter
the private rooms, and the sounds of death cannot reach so far--thou
must cut him down. Then I will meet thee; and, passing on, we will
come to Paulus, and it shall be my care to see that he is neither
drunk nor backward, for I know how to hold him to the task. And he and
those with him shall throw open the side gate, when Sepa and the five
hundred chosen men who are in waiting shall pour in and cast
themselves upon the sleeping legionaries, putting them to the sword.
Why, the thing is easy so thou rest true to thyself, and let no
womanish fears creep into thy heart. What is this dagger's thrust? It
is nothing, and yet upon it hang the destinies of Egypt and the
"Hush!" I said. "What is that?--I hear a sound."
Charmion ran to the door, and, gazing down the long, dark passage,
listened. In a moment she came back, her finger on her lips. "It is
the Queen," she whispered hurriedly; "the Queen who mounts the stair
alone. I heard her bid Iras to leave her. I may not be found alone
with thee at this hour; it has a strange look, and she may suspect.
What wants she here? Where can I hide?"
I glanced round. At the further end of the chamber was a heavy curtain
that hid a little place built in the thickness of the wall which I
used for the storage of rolls and instruments.
"Haste thee--there!" I said, and she glided behind the curtain, which
swung back and covered her. Then I thrust the fatal scroll of death
into the bosom of my robe and bent over the mystic chart. Presently I
heard the sweep of woman's robes and there came a low knock upon the
"Enter, whoever thou art," I said.
The latch lifted, and Cleopatra swept in, royally arrayed, her dark
hair hanging about her and the sacred snake of royalty glistening on
"Of a truth, Harmachis," she said with a sigh, as she sank into a
seat, "the path to heaven is hard to climb! Ah! I am weary, for those
stairs are many. But I was minded, my astronomer, to see thee in thy
"I am honoured overmuch, O Queen!" I said bowing low before her.
"Art thou now? And yet that dark face of thine has a somewhat angry
look--thou art too young and handsome for this dry trade, Harmachis.
Why, I vow thou hast cast my wreath of roses down amidst thy rusty
tools! Kings would have cherished that wreath along with their
choicest diadems, Harmachis! and thou dost throw it away as a thing of
no account! Why, what a man art thou! But stay; what is this? A lady's
kerchief, by Isis! Nay, now, my Harmachis, how came /this/ here? Are
our poor kerchiefs also instruments of thy high art? Oh, fie, fie!--
have I caught thee, then? Art thou indeed a fox?"
"Nay, most royal Cleopatra, nay!" I said, turning; for the kerchief
which had fallen from Charmion's neck had an awkward look. "I know
not, indeed, how the frippery came here. Perhaps, some one of the
women who keeps the chamber may have let it fall."
"Ah! so--so!" she said dryly, and still laughing like a rippling
brook. "Yes, surely, the slave-women who keep chambers own such toys
as this, of the very finest silk, worth twice its weight in gold, and
broidered, too, in many colours. Why, myself I should not shame to
wear it! Of a truth it seems familiar to my sight." And she threw it
round her neck and smoothed the ends with her white hand. "But there;
doubtless, it is a thing unholy in thine eyes that the scarf of thy
beloved should rest upon my poor breast. Take it, Harmachis; take it,
and hide it in thy bosom--nigh thy heart indeed!"
I took the accursed thing, and, muttering what I may not write,
stepped on to the giddy platform whence I watched the stars. Then,
crushing it into a ball, I threw it to the winds of heaven.
At this the lovely Queen laughed once more.
"Nay, think now," she cried; "what would the lady say could she see
her love-gauge thus cast to all the world? Mayhap, Harmachis, thou
wouldst deal thus with my wreath also? See, the roses fade; cast it
forth," and, stooping, she took up the wreath and gave it to me.
For a moment, so vexed was I, I had a mind to take her at her word and
send the wreath to join the kerchief. But I thought better of it.
"Nay," I said more softly, "it is a Queen's gift, and I will keep it,"
and, as I spoke, I saw the curtain shake. Often since that night I
have sorrowed over those simple words.
"Gracious thanks be to the King of Love for this small mercy," she
answered, looking at me strangely. "Now, enough of wit; come forth
upon this balcony--tell me of the mystery of those stars of thine. For
I always loved the stars, that are so pure and bright and cold, and so
far away from our fevered troubling. There I would wish to dwell,
rocked on the dark bosom of the night, and losing the little sense of
self as I gazed for ever on the countenance of yon sweet-eyed space.
Nay--who can tell, Harmachis?--perhaps those stars partake of our very
substance, and, linked to us by Nature's invisible chain, do, indeed,
draw our destiny with them as they roll. What says the Greek fable of
him who became a star? Perchance it has truth, for yonder tiny sparks
may be the souls of men, but grown more purely bright and placed in
happy rest to illume the turmoil of their mother-earth. Or are they
lamps hung high in the heavenly vault that night by night some
Godhead, whose wings are Darkness, touches with his immortal fire so
that they leap out in answering flame? Give me of thy wisdom and open
these wonders to me, my servant, for I have little knowledge. Yet my
heart is large, and I would fill it, for I have the wit, could I but
find the teacher."
Thereon, being glad to find footing on a safer shore, and marvelling
somewhat to learn that Cleopatra had a place for lofty thoughts, I
spoke and willingly told her such things as are lawful. I told her how
the sky is a liquid mass pressing round the earth and resting on the
elastic pillars of the air, and how above is the heavenly ocean Nout,
in which the planets float like ships as they rush upon their radiant
way. I told her many things, and amongst them how, through the certain
never-ceasing movement of the orbs of light, the planet Venus, that
was called Donaou when she showed as the Morning Star, became the
planet Bonou when she came as the sweet Star of Eve. And while I stood
and spoke watching the stars, she sat, her hands clasped upon her
knee, and watched my face.
"Ah!" she broke in at length, "and so Venus is to be seen both in the
morning and the evening sky. Well, of a truth, she is everywhere,
though she best loves the night. But thou lovest not that I should use
these Latin names to thee. Come, we will talk in the ancient tongue of
Khem, which I know well; I am the first, mark thou, of all the Lagidæ
who know it. And now," she went on, speaking in my own tongue, but
with a little foreign accent that did but make her talk more sweet,
"enough of stars, for, when all is said, they are but fickle things,
and perhaps may even now be storing up an evil hour for thee or me, or
for both of us together. Not but what I love to hear thee speak of
them, for then thy face loses that gloomy cloud of thought which mars
it and grows quick and human. Harmachis, thou art too young for such a
solemn trade; methinks that I must find thee a better. Youth comes but
once; why waste it in these musings? It is time to think when we can
no longer act. Tell me how old art thou, Harmachis?"
"I have six-and-twenty years, O Queen," I answered, "for I was born in
the first month of Shomou, in the summer season, and on the third day
of the month."
"Why, then, we are of an age even to a day," she cried, "for I too
have six-and-twenty years, and I too was born on the third day of the
first month of Shomou. Well, this may we say: those who begot us need
have no shame. For if I be the fairest woman in Egypt, methinks,
Harmachis, that there is in Egypt no man more fair and strong than
thou, ay, or more learned. Born of the same day, why, 'tis manifest
that we were destined to stand together, I, as the Queen, and thou,
perchance, Harmachis, as one of the chief pillars of my throne, and
thus to work each other's weal."
"Or maybe each other's woe," I answered, looking up; for her sweet
speeches stung my ears and brought more colour to my face than I loved
that she should see there.
"Nay, never talk of woe. Be seated here by me, Harmachis, and let us
talk, not as Queen and subject, but as friend to friend. Thou wast
angered with me at the feast to-night because I mocked thee with
yonder wreath--was it not so? Nay, it was but a jest. Didst thou know
how heavy is the task of monarchs and how wearisome are their hours,
thou wouldst not be wroth because I lit my dulness with a jest. Oh,
they weary me, those princes and those nobles, and those stiff-necked
pompous Romans. To my face they vow themselves my slaves, and behind
my back they mock me and proclaim me the servant of their Triumvirate,
or their Empire, or their Republic, as the wheel of Fortune turns, and
each rises on its round! There is never a man among them--nothing but
fools, parasites, and puppets--never a man since with their coward
daggers they slew that Cæsar whom all the world in arms was not strong
enough to tame. And I must play off one against the other, if maybe,
by so doing, I can keep Egypt from their grip. And for reward, what?
Why, this is my reward--that all men speak ill of me--and, I know it,
my subjects hate me! Yes, I believe that, woman though I am, they
would murder me could they find a means!"
She paused, covering her eyes with her hand, and it was well, for her
words pierced me so that I shrank upon the seat beside her.
"They think ill of me, I know it; and call me wanton, who have never
stepped aside save once, when I loved the greatest man of all the
world, and at the touch of love my passion flamed indeed, but burnt a
hallowed flame. These ribald Alexandrians swear that I poisoned
Ptolemy, my brother--whom the Roman Senate would, most unnaturally,
have forced on me, his sister, as a husband! But it is false: he
sickened and died of fever. And even so they say that I would slay
Arsinoë, my sister--who, indeed, would slay me!--but that, too, is
false! Though she will have none of me, I love my sister. Yes, they
all think ill of me without a cause; even thou dost think ill of me,
"O Harmachis, before thou judgest, remember what a thing is envy!--
that foul sickness of the mind which makes the jaundiced eye of
pettiness to see all things distraught--to read Evil written on the
open face of Good, and find impurity in the whitest virgin's soul!
Think what a thing it is, Harmachis, to be set on high above the
gaping crowd of knaves who hate thee for thy fortune and thy wit; who
gnash their teeth and shoot the arrows of their lies from the cover of
their own obscureness, whence they have no wings to soar; and whose
hearts' quest it is to drag down thy nobility to the level of the
groundling and the fool!
"Be not, then, swift to think evil of the Great, whose every word and
act is searched for error by a million angry eyes, and whose most tiny
fault is trumpeted by a thousand throats, till the world shakes with
echoes of their sin! Say not: 'It is thus, 'tis certainly thus'--say,
rather: 'May it not be otherwise? Have we heard aright? Did she this
thing of her own will?' Judge gently, Harmachis, as wert thou I thou
wouldst be judged. Remember that a Queen is never free. She is,
indeed, but the point and instrument of those forces politic with
which the iron books of history are graved. O Harmachis! be thou my
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