H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 6
friend--my friend and counsellor!--my friend whom I can trust indeed!
--for here, in this crowded Court, I am more utterly alone than any
soul that breathes about its corridors. But /thee/ I trust; there is
faith written in those quiet eyes, and I am minded to lift thee high,
Harmachis. I can no longer bear my solitude of mind--I must find one
with whom I may commune and speak that which lies within my heart. I
have faults, I know it; but I am not all unworthy of thy faith, for
there is good grain among the evil seed. Say, Harmachis, wilt thou
take pity on my loneliness and befriend me, who have lovers,
courtiers, slaves, dependents, more thick than I can count, but never
one single /friend/?" and she leant towards me, touching me lightly,
and gazed on me with her wonderful blue eyes.
I was overcome; thinking of the morrow night, shame and sorrow smote
me. /I/, her friend!--/I/, whose assassin dagger lay against my
breast! I bent my head, and a sob or a groan, I know not which, burst
from the agony of my heart.
But Cleopatra, thinking only that I was moved beyond myself by the
surprise of her graciousness, smiled sweetly, and said:
"It grows late; to-morrow night when thou bringest the auguries we
will speak again, O my friend Harmachis, and thou shalt answer me."
And she gave me her hand to kiss. Scarce knowing what I did, I kissed
it, and in another moment she was gone.
But I stood in the chamber, gazing after her like one asleep.
OF THE WORDS AND JEALOUSY OF CHARMION; OF THE LAUGHTER OF
HARMACHIS; OF THE MAKING READY FOR THE DEED OF BLOOD; AND OF THE
I stood still, plunged in thought. Then by hazard as it were I took up
the wreath of roses and looked on it. How long I stood so I know not,
but when next I lifted up my eyes they fell upon the form of Charmion,
whom, indeed, I had altogether forgotten. And though at the moment I
thought but little of it, I noted vaguely that she was flushed as
though with anger, and beat her foot upon the floor.
"Oh, it is thou, Charmion!" I said. "What ails thee? Art thou cramped
with standing so long in thy hiding-place? Why didst not thou slip
hence when Cleopatra led me to the balcony?"
"Where is my kerchief?" she asked, shooting an angry glance at me. "I
let fall my broidered kerchief."
"Thy kerchief!--why, didst thou not see? Cleopatra twitted me about
it, and I flung it from the balcony."
"Yes, I saw," answered the girl, "I saw but too well. Thou didst fling
away my kerchief, but the wreath of roses--that thou wouldst not fling
away. It was 'a Queen's gift,' forsooth, and therefore the royal
Harmachis, the Priest of Isis, the chosen of the Gods, the crowned
Pharaoh wed to the weal of Khem, cherished it and saved it. But my
kerchief, stung by the laughter of that light Queen, he cast away!"
"What meanest thou?" I asked, astonished at her bitter tone. "I cannot
read thy riddles."
"What mean I?" she answered, tossing up her head and showing the white
curves of her throat. "Nay, I mean naught, or all; take it as thou
wilt. Wouldst know what I mean, Harmachis, my cousin and my Lord?" she
went on in a hard, low voice. "Then I will tell thee--thou art in
danger of the great offence. This Cleopatra has cast her fatal wiles
about thee, and thou goest near to loving her, Harmachis--to loving
her whom to-morrow thou must slay! Ay, stand and stare at that wreath
in thy hand--the wreath thou couldst not send to join my kerchief--
sure Cleopatra wore it but to-night! The perfume of the hair of
Cæsar's mistress--Cæsar's and others'--yet mingles with the odour of
its roses! Now, prithee, Harmachis, how far didst thou carry the
matter on yonder balcony? for in that hole where I lay hid I could not
hear or see. 'Tis a sweet spot for lovers, is it not?--ay, and a sweet
hour, too? Venus surely rules the stars to-night?"
All of this she said so quietly and in so soft and modest a way,
though her words were not modest, and yet so bitterly, that every
syllable cut me to the heart, and angered me till I could find no
"Of a truth thou hast a wise economy," she went on, seeing her
advantage: "to-night thou dost kiss the lips that to-morrow thou shalt
still for ever! It is frugal dealing with the occasion of the moment;
ay, worthy and honourable dealing!"
Then at last I broke forth. "Girl," I cried, "how darest thou speak
thus to me? Mindest thou who and what I am that thou loosest thy
peevish gibes upon me?"
"I mind what it behoves thee to be," she answered quick. "What thou
art, that I mind not now. Surely thou knowest alone--thou and
"What meanest thou?" I said. "Am I to blame if the Queen----"
"The Queen! What have we here? Pharaoh owns a Queen!"
"If Cleopatra wills to come hither of a night and talk----"
"Of stars, Harmachis--surely of stars and roses, and naught beside!"
After that I know not what I said; for, troubled as I was, the girl's
bitter tongue and quiet way drove me wellnigh to madness. But this I
know: I spoke so fiercely that she cowered before me as she had
cowered before my uncle Sepa when he rated her because of her Grecian
garb. And as she wept then, so she wept now, only more passionately
and with great sobs.
At length I ceased, half-shamed but still angry and smarting sorely.
For even while she wept she could find a tongue to answer with--and a
woman's shafts are sharp.
"Thou shouldst not speak to me thus!" she sobbed; "it is cruel--it is
unmanly! But I forget thou art but a priest, not a man--except,
mayhap, for Cleopatra!"
"What right hast thou?" I said. "What canst thou mean?"
"What right have I?" she asked, looking up, her dark eyes all aflood
with tears that ran down her sweet face like the dew of morning down a
lily's heart. "What right have I? O Harmachis! art thou blind? Didst
thou not know by what right I speak thus to thee? Then I must tell
thee. Well, it is the fashion in Alexandria! By that first and holy
right of woman--by the right of the great love I bear thee, and which,
it seems, thou hast no eyes to see--by the right of my glory and my
shame. Oh, be not wroth with me, Harmachis, nor set me down as light,
because the truth at last has burst from me; for I am not so. I am
what thou wilt make me. I am the wax within the moulder's hands, and
as thou dost fashion me so I shall be. There breathes within me now a
breath of glory, blowing across the waters of my soul, that can waft
me to ends more noble than ever I have dreamed afore, if thou wilt be
my pilot and my guide. But if I lose thee, then I lose all that holds
me from my worse self--and let shipwreck come! Thou knowest me not,
Harmachis! thou canst not see how big a spirit struggles in this frail
form of mine! To thee I am a girl, clever, wayward, shallow. But I am
more! Show me thy loftiest thought and I will match it, the deepest
puzzle of thy mind and I will make it clear. Of one blood we are, and
love can ravel up our little difference and make us grow one indeed.
One end we have, one land we love, one vow binds us both. Take me to
thy heart, Harmachis, set me by thee on the Double Throne, and I swear
that I will lift thee higher than ever man has climbed. Reject me, and
beware lest I pull thee down! And now, putting aside the cold delicacy
of custom, stung to it by what I saw of the arts of that lovely living
falsehood, Cleopatra, which for pastime she practises on thy folly, I
have spoken out my heart, and answer thou!" And she clasped her hands
and, drawing one pace nearer, gazed, all white and trembling, on my
For a moment I stood struck dumb, for the magic of her voice and the
power of her speech, despite myself, stirred me like the rush of
music. Had I loved the woman, doubtless she might have fired me with
her flame; but I loved her not, and I could not play at passion. And
so thought came, and with thought that laughing mood, which is ever
apt to fashion upon nerves strained to the point of breaking. In a
flash, as it were, I bethought me of the way in which she had that
very night forced the wreath of roses on my head, I thought of the
kerchief and how I had flung it forth. I thought of Charmion in the
little chamber watching what she held to be the arts of Cleopatra, and
of her bitter speeches. Lastly, I thought of what my uncle Sepa would
say of her could he see her now, and of the strange and tangled skein
in which I was inmeshed. And I laughed aloud--the fool's laughter that
was my knell of ruin!
She turned whiter yet--white as the dead--and a look grew upon her
face that checked my foolish mirth. "Thou findest, then, Harmachis,"
she said in a low, choked voice, and dropping the level of her eyes,
"thou findest cause of merriment in what I have said?"
"Nay," I answered; "nay, Charmion; forgive me if I laughed. It was
rather a laugh of despair; for what am I to say to thee? Thou hast
spoken high words of all thou mightest be: is it left for me to tell
thee what thou art?"
She shrank, and I paused.
"Speak," she said.
"Thou knowest--none so well!--who I am and what my mission is: thou
knowest--none so well!--that I am sworn to Isis, and may, by law
Divine, have naught to do with thee."
"Ay," she broke in, in her low voice, and with her eyes still fixed
upon the ground--"ay, and I know that thy vows are broken in spirit,
if not in form--broken like wreaths of cloud; for, Harmachis--/thou
"It is a lie!" I cried. "Thou wanton girl, who wouldst seduce me from
my duty and put me to an open shame!--who, led by passion or ambition,
or the love of evil, hast not shamed to break the barriers of thy sex
and speak as thou hast spoken--beware lest thou go too far! And if
thou wilt have an answer, here it is, put straightly, as thy question.
Charmion, outside the matter of my duty and my vows, thou art /naught/
to me!--nor for all thy tender glances will my heart beat one pulse
more fast! Hardly art thou now my friend--for, of a truth, I scarce
can trust thee. But, once more: beware! To me thou mayest do thy
worst; but if thou dost dare to lift a finger against our cause, that
day thou diest! And now, is this play done?"
And as, wild with anger, I spoke thus, she shrank back, and yet
further back, till at length she rested against the wall, her eyes
covered with her hand. But when I ceased she dropped her hand,
glancing up, and her face was as the face of a statue, in which the
great eyes glowed like embers, and round them was a ring of purple
"Not altogether done," she answered gently; "the arena must yet be
sanded!" This she said having reference to the covering up of the
bloodstains at the gladiatorial shows with fine sand. "Well," she went
on, "waste not thine anger on a thing so vile. I have thrown my throw
and I have lost. /Væ victis!/--ah! /Væ victis!/ Wilt thou not lend me
the dagger in thy robe, that here and now I may end my shame? No? Then
one word more, most royal Harmachis: if thou canst, forget my folly;
but, at the least, have no fear from me. I am now, as ever, thy
servant and the servant of our cause. Farewell!"
And she went, leaning her hand against the wall. But I, passing to my
chamber, flung myself upon my couch, and groaned in bitterness of
spirit. Alas! we shape our plans, and by slow degrees build up our
house of Hope, never counting on the guests that time shall bring to
lodge therein. For who can guard against--the Unforeseen?
At length I slept, and my dreams were evil. When I woke the light of
the day which should see the red fulfilment of the plot was streaming
through the casement, and the birds sang merrily among the garden
palms. I woke, and as I woke the sense of trouble pressed in upon me,
for I remembered that before this day was gathered to the past I must
dip my hands in blood--yes, in the blood of Cleopatra, who trusted me!
Why could I not hate her as I should? There had been a time when I
looked on to this act of vengeance with somewhat of a righteous glow
of zeal. And now--and now--why, I would frankly give my royal
birthright to be free from its necessity! But, alas! I knew that there
was no escape. I must drain this cup or be for ever cast away. I felt
the eyes of Egypt watching me, and the eyes of Egypt's Gods. I prayed
to my Mother Isis to give me strength to do this deed, and prayed as I
had never prayed before; and oh, wonder! no answer came. Nay, how was
this? What, then, had loosed the link between us that, for the first
time, the Goddess deigned no reply to her son and chosen servant?
Could it be that I had sinned in heart against her? What had Charmion
said--that I loved Cleopatra? Was this sickness love? Nay! a thousand
times nay!--it was but the revolt of Nature against an act of
treachery and blood. The Goddess did but try my strength, or perchance
she also turned her holy countenance from murder?
I rose filled with terror and despair, and went about my task like a
man without a soul. I conned the fatal lists and noted all the plans--
ay, in my brain I gathered up the very words of that proclamation of
my Royalty which, on the morrow, I should issue to the startled world.
"Citizens of Alexandria and dwellers in the land of Egypt," it began,
"Cleopatra the Macedonian hath, by the command of the Gods, suffered
justice for her crimes----"
All these and other things I did, but I did them as a man without a
soul--as a man moved by a force from without and not from within. And
so the minutes wore away. In the third hour of the afternoon I went as
by appointment fixed to the house where my uncle Sepa lodged, that
same house to which I had been brought some three months gone when I
entered Alexandria for the first time. And here I found the leaders of
the revolt in the city assembled in secret conclave to the number of
seven. When I had entered, and the doors were barred, they prostrated
themselves, and cried, "Hail, Pharaoh!" but I bade them rise, saying
that I was not yet Pharaoh, for the chicken was still in the egg.
"Yea, Prince," said my uncle, "but his beak shows through. Not in vain
hath Egypt brooded all these years, if thou fail not with that dagger-
stroke of thine to-night; and how canst thou fail? Nothing can now
stop our course to victory!"
"It is on the knees of the Gods," I answered.
"Nay," he said, "the Gods have placed the issue in the hands of a
mortal--in thy hands, Harmachis!--and there it is safe. See: here are
the last lists. Thirty-one thousand men who bear arms are sworn to
rise when the tidings come to them. Within five days every citadel in
Egypt will be in our hands, and then what have we to fear? From Rome
but little, for her hands are full; and, besides, we will make
alliance with the Triumvirate, and, if need be, buy them off. For of
money there is plenty in the land, and if more be wanted thou,
Harmachis, knowest where it is stored against the need of Khem, and
outside the Roman's reach of arm. Who is there to harm us? There is
none. Perchance, in this turbulent city, there may be struggle, and a
counter-plot to bring Arsinoë to Egypt and set her on the throne.
Therefore Alexandria must be severely dealt with--ay, even to
destruction, if need be. As for Arsinoë, those go forth to-morrow on
the news of the Queen's death who shall slay her secretly."
"There remains the lad Cæsarion," I said. "Rome might claim through
Cæsar's son, and the child of Cleopatra inherits Cleopatra's rights.
Here is a double danger."
"Fear not," said my uncle; "to-morrow Cæsarion joins those who begat
him in Amenti. I have made provision. The Ptolemies must be stamped
out, so that no shoot shall ever spring from that root blasted by
"Is there no other means?" I asked sadly. "My heart is sick at the
promise of this red rain of blood. I know the child well; he has
Cleopatra's fire and beauty and great Cæsar's wit. It were shame to
"Nay, be not so chicken-hearted, Harmachis," said my uncle, sternly.
"What ails thee, then? If the lad is thus, the more reason that he
should die. Wouldst thou nurse up a young lion to tear thee from the
"Be it so," I answered, sighing. "At least he is spared much, and will
go hence innocent of evil. Now for the plans."
We sat long taking counsel, till at length, in face of the great
emergency and our high emprise, I felt something of the spirit of
former days flow back into my heart. At the last all was ordered, and
so ordered that it could scarce miscarry, for it was fixed that if by
any chance I could not come to slay Cleopatra on this night, then the
plot should hang in the scale till the morrow, when the deed must be
done upon occasion. For the death of Cleopatra was the signal. These
matters being finished, once more we stood and, our hands upon the
sacred symbol, swore the oath that may not be written. And then my
uncle kissed me with tears of hope and joy standing in his keen black
eyes. He blessed me, saying that he would gladly give his life, ay,
and a hundred lives, if they were his, if he might but live to see
Egypt once more a nation, and me, Harmachis, the descendant of its
royal and ancient blood, seated on the throne. For he was a patriot
indeed, asking nothing for himself, and giving all things to his
cause. And I kissed him in turn, and thus we parted. Nor did I ever
see him more in the flesh who has earned the rest that as yet is
denied to me.
So I went, and, there being yet time, walked swiftly from place to
place in the great city, taking note of the positions of the gates and
of the places where our forces must be gathered. At length I came to
that quay where I had landed, and saw a vessel sailing for the open
sea. I looked, and in my heaviness of heart longed that I were aboard
of her, to be borne by her white wings to some far shore where I might
live obscure and die forgotten. Also I saw another vessel that had
dropped down the Nile, from whose deck the passengers were streaming.
For a moment I stood watching them, idly wondering if they were from
Abouthis, when suddenly I heard a familiar voice beside me.
"/La! la!/" said the voice. "Why, what a city is this for an old woman
to seek her fortune in! And how shall I find those to whom I am known?
As well look for the rush in the papyrus-roll.[*] Begone! thou knave!
and let my basket of simples lie; or, by the Gods, I'll doctor thee
[*] Papyrus was manufactured from the pith of rushes. Hence Atoua's
I turned, wondering, and found myself face to face with my foster-
nurse, Atoua. She knew me instantly, for I saw her start, but in the
presence of the people she checked her surprise.
"Good Sir," she whined, lifting her withered countenance towards me,
and at the same time making the secret sign. "By thy dress thou
shouldst be an astronomer, and I was specially told to avoid
astronomers as a pack of lying tricksters who worship their own star
only; and, therefore, I speak to thee, acting on the principle of
contraries, which is law to us women. For surely in this Alexandria,
where all things are upside down, the astronomers may be the honest
men, since the rest are clearly knaves." And then, being by now out of
earshot of the press, "royal Harmachis, I am come charged with a
message to thee from thy father Amenemhat."
"Is he well?" I asked.
"Yes, he is well, though waiting for the moment tries him sorely."
"And his message?"
"It is this. He sends greeting to thee and with it warning that a
great danger threatens thee, though he cannot read it. These are his
words: 'Be steadfast and prosper.'"
I bowed my head and the words struck a new chill of fear into my soul.
"When is the time?" she asked.
"This very night. Where goest thou?"
"To the house of the honourable Sepa, Priest of Annu. Canst thou guide
"Nay, I may not stay; nor is it wise that I should be seen with thee.
Hold!" and I called a porter who was idling on the quay, and, giving
him a piece of money, bade him guide the old wife to the house.
"Farewell," she whispered; "farewell till to-morrow. Be steadfast and
Then I turned and went my way through the crowded streets, where the
people made place for me, the astronomer of Cleopatra, for my fame had
And even as I went my footsteps seemed to beat /Be steadfast, Be
steadfast, Be steadfast/, till at last it was as though the very
ground cried out its warning to me.
OF THE VEILED WORDS OF CHARMION; OF THE PASSING OF HARMACHIS
INTO THE PRESENCE OF CLEOPATRA; AND OF THE OVERTHROW OF HARMACHIS
It was night, and I sat alone in my chamber, waiting the moment when,
as it was agreed, Charmion should summon me to pass down to Cleopatra.
I sat alone, and there before me lay the dagger that was to pierce
her. It was long and keen, and the handle was formed of a sphinx of
solid gold. I sat alone, questioning the future, but no answer came.
At length I looked up, and Charmion stood before me--Charmion, no
longer gay and bright, but pale of face and hollow-eyed.
"Royal Harmachis," she said, "Cleopatra summons thee, presently to
declare to her the voices of the stars."
So the hour had fallen!
"It is well, Charmion," I answered. "Are all things in order?"
"Yea, my Lord; all things are in order: well primed with wine, Paulus
guards the gates, the eunuchs are withdrawn save one, the legionaries
sleep, and already Sepa and his force lie hid without. Nothing has
been neglected, and no lamb skipping at the shamble doors can be more
innocent of its doom than is Queen Cleopatra."
"It is well," I said again; "let us be going," and rising, I placed
the dagger in the bosom of my robe. Taking a cup of wine that stood
near, I drank deep of it, for I had scarce tasted food all that day.
"One word," Charmion said hurriedly, "for it is not yet time: last
night--ah, last night--" and her bosom heaved, "I dreamed a dream that
haunts me strangely, and perchance thou also didst dream a dream. It
was all a dream and 'tis forgotten: is it not so, my Lord?"
"Yes, yes," I said; "why troublest thou me thus at such an hour?"
"Nay, I know not; but to-night, Harmachis, Fate is in labour of a
great event, and in her painful throes mayhap she'll crush me in her
grip--me or thee, or the twain of us, Harmachis. And if that be so--
well, I would hear from thee, before it is done, that 'twas naught but
a dream, and that dream forgot----"
"Yes, it is all a dream," I said idly; "thou and I, and the solid
earth, and this heavy night of terror, ay, and this keen knife--what
are these but dreams, and with what face shall the waking come?"
"So now, thou fallest in my humour, royal Harmachis. As thou sayest,
we dream; and while we dream yet can the vision change. For the
phantasies of dreams are wonderful, seeing that they have no
stability, but vary like the vaporous edge of sunset clouds, building
now this thing, and now that; being now dark and heavy, and now alight
with splendour. Therefore, before we wake to-morrow tell me one word.
Is that vision of last night, wherein I /seemed/ to be quite shamed,
and thou didst /seem/ to laugh upon my shame, a fixed phantasy, or can
it, perchance, yet change its countenance? For remember, when that
waking comes, the vagaries of our sleep will be more unalterable and
more enduring than are the pyramids. Then they will be gathered into
that changeless region of the past where all things, great and small--
ay, even dreams, Harmachis, are, each in its own semblance, frozen to
stone and built into the Tomb of Time immortal."
"Nay, Charmion," I replied, "I grieve if I did pain thee; but over
that vision comes no change. I said what was in my heart and there's
an end. Thou art my cousin and my friend, I can never be more to
"It is well--'tis very well," she said; "let it be forgotten. And now
on from dream--to dream," and she smiled with such a smile as I had
never seen her wear before; it was sadder and more fateful than any
stamp that grief can set upon the brow.
For, though being blinded by my own folly and the trouble at my heart
I knew it not, with that smile, the happiness of youth died for
Charmion the Egyptian; the hope of love fled; and the holy links of
duty burst asunder. With that smile she consecrated herself to Evil,
she renounced her Country and her Gods, and trampled on her oath. Ay,
that smile marks the moment when the stream of history changed its
course. For had I never seen it on her face Octavianus had not
bestridden the world, and Egypt had once more been free and great.
And yet it was but a woman's smile!
"Why lookest thou thus strangely, girl?" I asked.
"In dreams we smile," she answered. "And now it is time; follow thou
me. Be firm and prosper, royal Harmachis!" and bending forward she
took my hand and kissed it. Then, with one strange last look, she
turned and led the way down the stair and through the empty halls.
In the chamber that is called the Alabaster Hall, the roof of which is
upborne by columns of black marble, we stayed. For beyond was the
private chamber of Cleopatra, the same in which I had seen her
"Abide thou here," she said, "while I tell Cleopatra of thy coming,"
and she glided from my side.
I stood for long, mayhap in all the half of an hour, counting my own
heart-beats, and, as in a dream, striving to gather up my strength to
that which lay before me.
At length Charmion came back, her head held low and walking heavily.
"Cleopatra waits thee," she said: "pass on, there is no guard."
"Where do I meet thee when what must be done is done?" I asked
"Thou meetest me here, and then to Paulus. Be firm and prosper.
Harmachis, fare thee well!"
And so I went; but at the curtain I turned suddenly, and there in the
midst of that lonely lamplit hall I saw a strange sight. Far away, in
such a fashion that the light struck full upon her, stood Charmion,
her head thrown back, her white arms outstretched as though to clasp,
and on her girlish face a stamp of anguished passion so terrible to
see that, indeed, I cannot tell it! For she believed that I, whom she
loved, was passing to my death, and this was her last farewell to me.
But I knew naught of this matter; so with another passing pang of
wonder I drew aside the curtains, gained the doorway, and stood in
Cleopatra's chamber. And there, upon a silken couch at the far end of
the perfumed chamber, clad in wonderful white attire, rested
Cleopatra. In her hand was a jewelled fan of ostrich plumes, with
which she gently fanned herself, and by her side was her harp of
ivory, and a little table whereon were figs and goblets and a flask of
ruby-coloured wine. I drew near slowly through the soft dim light to
where the Wonder of the World lay in all her glowing beauty. And,
indeed, I have never seen her look so fair as she did upon that fatal
night. Couched in her amber cushions, she seemed to shine as a star on
the twilight's glow. Perfume came from her hair and robes, music fell
from her lips, and in her heavenly eyes all lights changed and
gathered as in the ominous opal's disc.
And this was the woman whom, presently, I must slay!
Slowly I drew near, bowing as I came; but she took no heed. She lay
there, and the jewelled fan floated to and fro like the bright wing of
some hovering bird.
At length I stood before her, and she glanced up, the ostrich-plumes
pressed against her breast as though to hide its beauty.
"What! friend; art thou come?" she said. "It is well; for I grew
lonely here. Nay; 'tis a weary world! We know so many faces, and there
are so few whom we love to see again. Well, stand not there so mute,
but be seated." And she pointed with her fan to a carven chair that
was placed near her feet.
Once more I bowed and took the seat.
"I have obeyed the Queen's desire," I said, "and with much care and
skill worked out the lessons of the stars; and here is the record of
my labour. If the Queen permits, I will expound it to her." And I
rose, in order that I might pass round the couch and, as she read,
stab her in the back.
"Nay, Harmachis," she said quietly, and with a slow and lovely smile.
"Bide thou where thou art, and give me the writing. By Serapis! thy
face is too comely for me to wish to lose the sight of it!"
Checked in this design, I could do nothing but hand her the papyrus,
thinking to myself that while she read I would arise suddenly and
plunge the dagger to her heart. She took it, and as she did so touched
my hand. Then she made pretence to read. But she read no word, for I
saw that her eyes were fixed upon me over the edge of the scroll.
"Why placest thou thy hand within thy robe?" she asked presently; for,
indeed, I clutched the dagger's hilt. "Is thy heart stirred?"
"Yea, O Queen," I said; "it beats high."
She gave no answer, but once more made pretence to read, and the while
she watched me.
I took counsel with myself. How should I do the hateful deed? If I
flung myself upon her now she would see me and scream and struggle.
Nay, I must wait a chance.
"The auguries are favourable, then, Harmachis?" she said at length,
though this she must have guessed.
"Yes, O Queen," I answered.
"It is well," and she cast the writing on the marble. "The ships shall
sail. For, good or bad, I am weary of weighing chances."
"This is a heavy matter, O Queen," I said. "I had wished to show upon
what circumstance I base my forecast."
"Nay, not so, Harmachis; I have wearied of the ways of stars. Thou
hast prophesied; that is enough for me; for, doubtless, being honest,
thou hast written honestly. Therefore, save thou thy reasons and we'll
be merry. What shall we do? I could dance to thee--there are none who
can dance so well!--but it would scarce be queenly. Nay, I have it. I
will sing." And, leaning forward, she raised herself, and, bending the
harp towards her, struck some wandering chords. Then her low voice
broke out in perfect and most sweet song.
And thus she sang:
"Night on the sea, and night upon the sky,
And music in our hearts, we floated there,
Lulled by the low sea voices, thou and I,
And the wind's kisses in my cloudy hair:
And thou didst gaze on me and call me fair--
Enfolded by the starry robe of night--
And then thy singing thrilled upon the air,
Voice of the heart's desire and Love's delight.
'Adrift, with starlit skies above,
With starlit seas below,
We move with all the suns that move,
With all the seas that flow;
For bond or free, Earth, Sky, and Sea,
Wheel with one circling will,
And thy heart drifteth on to me,
And only time stands still.
Between two shores of Death we drift,
Behind are things forgot:
Before the tide is driving swift
To lands beholden not.
Above, the sky is far and cold;
Below, the moaning sea
Sweeps o'er the loves that were of old,
But, oh, Love! kiss thou me.
Ah, lonely are the ocean ways,
And dangerous the deep,
And frail the fairy barque that strays
Above the seas asleep!
Ah, toil no more at sail nor oar,
We drift, or bond or free;
On yon far shore the breakers roar,
But, oh, Love! kiss thou me.'
"And ever as thou sangest I drew near,
Then sudden silence heard our hearts that beat,
For now there was an end of doubt and fear,
Now passion filled my soul and led my feet;
Then silent didst thou rise thy love to meet,
Who, sinking on thy breast, knew naught but thee,
And in the happy night I kissed thee, Sweet;
Ah, Sweet! between the starlight and the sea."
The last echoes of her rich notes floated down the chamber, and slowly
died away; but in my heart they rolled on and on. I have heard among
the women-singers at Abouthis voices more perfect than the voice of
Cleopatra, but never have I heard one so thrilling or so sweet with
passion's honey-notes. And indeed it was not the voice alone, it was
the perfumed chamber in which was set all that could move the sense;
it was the passion of the thought and words, and the surpassing grace
and loveliness of that most royal woman who sang them. For, as she
sang, I seemed to think that we twain were indeed floating alone with
the night, upon the starlit summer sea. And when she ceased to touch
the harp, and, rising, suddenly stretched out her arms towards me, and
with the last low notes of song yet quivering upon her lips, let fall
the wonder of her eyes upon my eyes, she almost drew me to her. But I
remembered, and would not.
"Hast thou, then, no word of thanks for my poor singing, Harmachis?"
she said at length.
"Yea, O Queen," I answered, speaking very low, for my voice was
choked; "but thy songs are not good for the sons of men to hear--of a
truth they overwhelm me!"
"Nay, Harmachis; there is no fear for thee," she said laughing softly,
"seeing that I know how far thy thoughts are set from woman's beauty
and the common weakness of thy sex. With cold iron we may safely toy."
I thought within myself that coldest iron can be brought to whitest
heat if the fire be fierce enough. But I said nothing, and, though my
hand trembled, I once more grasped the dagger's hilt, and, wild with
fear at my own weakness, set myself to find a means to slay her while
yet my sense remained.
"Come hither, Harmachis," she went on, in her softest voice. "Come,
sit by me, and we will talk together; for I have much to tell thee,"
and she made place for me at her side upon the silken seat.
And I, thinking that I might so more swiftly strike, rose and seated
myself some little way from her on the couch, while, flinging back her
head, she gazed on me with her slumbrous eyes.
Now was my occasion, for her throat and breast were bare, and, with a
mighty effort, once again I lifted my hand to clutch the dagger-hilt.
But, more quick than thought, she caught my fingers with her own and
gently held them.
"Why lookest thou so wildly, Harmachis?" she said. "Art sick?"
"Ay, sick indeed!" I gasped.
"Then lean thou on the cushions and rest thee," she answered, still
holding my hand, from which the strength had fled. "The fit will
surely pass. Too long hast thou laboured with thy stars. How soft is
the night air that flows from yonder casement heavy with the breath of
lilies! Hark to the whisper of the sea lapping against the rocks,
that, though it is faint, yet, being so strong, doth almost drown the
quick cool fall of yonder fountain. List to Philomel; how sweet from a
full heart of love she sings her message to her dear! Indeed it is a
lovely night, and most beautiful is Nature's music, sung with a
hundred voices from wind and trees and birds and ocean's wrinkled
lips, and yet sung all to tune. Listen, Harmachis: I have guessed
something concerning thee. Thou, too, art of a royal race; no humble
blood pours in those veins of thine. Surely such a shoot could spring
but from the stock of Princes? What! gazest thou at the leafmark on my
breast? It was pricked there in honour of great Osiris, whom with thee
I worship. See!"
"Let me hence," I groaned, striving to rise; but all my strength had
"Nay, not yet awhile. Thou wouldst not leave me yet? thou /canst/ not
leave me yet. Harmachis, hast thou never loved?"
"Nay, nay, O Queen! What have I to do with love? Let me hence!--I am
faint--I am fordone!"
"Never to have loved--'tis strange! Never to have known some woman-
heart beat all in tune to thine--never to have seen the eyes of thy
adored aswim with passion's tears, as she sighed her vows upon thy
breast!--Never to have loved!--never to have lost thyself in the
mystery of another's soul; nor to have learned how Nature can overcome
our naked loneliness, and with the golden web of love of twain weave
one identity! Why, it is never to have lived, Harmachis!"
And ever as she murmured she drew nearer to me, till at last, with a
long, sweet sigh, she flung one arm about my neck, and gazed upon me
with blue, unfathomable eyes, and smiled her dark, slow smile, that,
like an opening flower, revealed beauty within beauty hidden. Nearer
she bent her queenly form, and still more near--now her perfumed
breath played upon my hair, and now her lips met mine.
And woe is me! In that kiss, more deadly and more strong than the
embrace of Death, were forgotten Isis, my heavenly Hope, Oaths,
Honour, Country, Friends, all things--all things save that Cleopatra
clasped me in her arms, and called me Love and Lord.
"Now pledge me," she sighed; "pledge me one cup of wine in token of
I took the draught, and I drank deep; then too late I knew that it was
I fell upon the couch, and, though my senses still were with me, I
could neither speak nor rise.
But Cleopatra, bending over me, drew the dagger from my robe.
"/I've won!/" she cried, shaking back her long hair. "I've won, and
for the stake of Egypt, why, 'twas a game worth playing! With this
dagger, then, thou wouldst have slain me, O my royal Rival, whose
myrmidons even now are gathered at my palace gate? Art still awake?
Now what hinders me that I should not plunge it to /thy/ heart?"
I heard and feebly pointed to my breast, for I was fain to die. She
drew herself to the full of her imperial height, and the great knife
glittered in her hand. Down it came till its edge pricked my flesh.
"Nay," she cried again, and cast it from her, "too well I like thee.
It were pity to slay such a man! I give thee thy life. Live on, lost
Pharaoh! Live on, poor fallen Prince, blasted by a woman's wit! Live
on, Harmachis--to adorn my triumph!"
Then sight left me; and in my ears I only heard the song of the
nightingale, the murmur of the sea, and the music of Cleopatra's laugh
of victory. And as I sank away, the sound of that low laugh still
followed me into the land of sleep, and still it follows me through
life to death.
OF THE AWAKING OF HARMACHIS; OF THE SIGHT OF DEATH; OF THE
COMING OF CLEOPATRA; AND OF HER COMFORTABLE WORDS
Once more I woke; it was to find myself in my own chamber. I started
up. Surely, I, too, had dreamed a dream? It could be nothing but a
dream? It could not be that I woke to know myself a /traitor!/ That
the opportunity had gone for ever! That I had betrayed the cause, and
that last night those brave men, headed by my uncle, had waited in
vain at the outer gate! That Egypt from Abu to Athu was even now
waiting--waiting in vain! Nay, whatever else might be, this could not
be! Oh, it was an awful dream which I had dreamed! a second such would
slay a man. It were better to die than face such another vision sent
from hell. But, though the thing was naught but a hateful phantasy of
a mind o'er-strained, where was I now? Where was I now? I should be in
the Alabaster Hall, waiting till Charmion came forth.
Where was I? and O ye Gods! what was that dreadful thing, whose shape
was the shape of a man?--that thing draped in bloodstained white and
huddled in a hideous heap at the foot of the couch on which I seemed
I sprang at it with a shriek, as a lion springs, and struck with all
my strength. The blow fell heavily, and beneath its weight the thing
rolled over upon its side. Half mad with terror, I rent away the white
covering; and there, his knees bound beneath his hanging jaw, was the
naked body of a man--and that man the Roman Captain Paulus! There he
lay, through his heart a dagger--my dagger, handled with the sphinx of
gold!--and pinned by its blade to his broad breast a scroll, and on
the scroll, writing in the Roman character. I drew near and read, and
this was the writing:
"Greeting, Harmachis! I was that Roman Paulus whom thou didst
suborn. Learn now how blessed are traitors!"
Sick and faint I staggered back from the sight of that white corpse
stained with its own blood. Sick and faint I staggered back, till the
wall stayed me, while without the birds sang a merry greeting to the
day. So it was no dream, and I was lost! lost!
I thought of my aged father, Amenemhat. Yes, the vision of him flashed
into my mind, as he would be, when they came to tell him his son's
shame and the ruin of all his hopes. I thought of that patriot priest,
my uncle Sepa, waiting the long night through for the signal which
never came. Ah, and another thought followed swift! How would it go
with them? I was not the only traitor. I, too, had been betrayed. By
whom? By yonder Paulus, perchance. If it were Paulus, he knew but
little of those who conspired with me. But the secret lists had been
in my robe. O Osiris! they were gone! and the fate of Paulus would be
the fate of all the patriots in Egypt. And at this thought my mind
gave way. I sank and swooned even where I stood.
My sense came back to me, and the lengthening shadows told me that it
was afternoon. I staggered to my feet; the corpse of Paulus was still
there, keeping its awful watch above me. I ran desperately to the
door. It was barred, and without I heard the tramp of sentinels. As I
stood they challenged and grounded their spears. Then the bolts were
shot back, the door opened, and radiant, clad in royal attire, came
the conquering Cleopatra. She came alone, and the door was shut behind
her. I stood like one distraught; but she swept on till she was face
to face with me.
"Greeting, Harmachis," she said, smiling sweetly. "So, my messenger
has found thee!" and she pointed to the corpse of Paulus. "Pah! he has
an ugly look. Ho! guards!"
The door was opened, and two armed Gauls stepped across the threshold.
"Take away this carrion," said Cleopatra, "and fling it to the kites.
Stay, draw that dagger from his traitor breast." The men bowed low,
and the knife, rusted red with blood, was dragged from the heart of
Paulus and laid upon the table. Then they seized him by the head and
body and staggered thence, and I heard their heavy footfalls as they
bore him down the stairs.
"Methinks, Harmachis, thou art in an evil case," she said, when the
sound of the footfalls had died away. "How strangely the wheel of
Fortune turns! But for that traitor," and she nodded towards the door
through which the corpse of Paulus had been carried, "I should now be
as ill a thing to look on as he is, and the red rust on yonder knife
would have been gathered from /my/ heart."
So it was Paulus who had betrayed me.
"Ay," she went on, "and when thou camest to me last night, I /knew/
that thou camest to slay. When, time upon time, thou didst place thy
hand within thy robe, I knew that it grasped a dagger hilt, and that
thou wast gathering thy courage to the deed which thou didst little
love to do. Oh! it was a strange wild hour, well worth the living, and
I wondered greatly, from moment to moment, which of us twain would
conquer, as we matched guile with guile and force to force!
"Yea, Harmachis, the guards tramp before thy door, but be not
deceived. Did I not know that I hold thee to me by bonds more strong
than prison chains--did I not know that I am hedged from ill at thy
hands by a fence of honour harder for thee to pass than all the spears
of all my legions, thou hadst been dead ere now, Harmachis. See, here
is thy knife," and she handed me the dagger; "now slay me if thou
canst," and she drew near, tore open the bosom of her robe, and stood
waiting with calm eyes.
"Thou canst not slay me," she went on; "for there are things, as I
know well, that no man--no man such as thou art--may do and live: and
this is the chief of them--to slay the woman who is all his own. Nay,
stay thy hand! Turn not that dagger against thy breast, for if thou
mayst not slay me, by how much more mayst thou not slay thyself, O
thou forsworn Priest of Isis! Art thou, then, so eager to face that
outraged Majesty in Amenti? With what eyes, thinkest thou, will the
Heavenly Mother look upon Her son, who, shamed in all things and false
to his most sacred vow, comes to greet Her, his life-blood on his
hands? Where, then, will be the space for thy atonement?--if, indeed,
thou mayest atone!"
Then I could bear no more, for my heart was broken. Alas! it was too
true--I dared not die! I was come to such a pass that I did not even
dare to die! I flung myself upon the couch and wept--wept tears of
blood and anguish.
But Cleopatra came to me, and, seating herself beside me, she strove
to comfort me, throwing her arms about my neck.
"Nay, love, look up," she said; "all is not lost for thee, nor am I
angered against thee. We did play a mighty game; but, as I warned
thee, I matched my woman's magic against thine, and I have conquered.
But I will be open with thee. Both as Queen and woman thou hast my
pity--ay, and more; nor do I love to see thee plunged in sorrow. It
was well and right that thou shouldst strive to win back that throne
my fathers seized, and the ancient liberty of Egypt. Myself as lawful
Queen had done the same, nor shrunk from the deed of darkness to which
I was sworn. Therein, then, thou hast my sympathy, that ever goes out
to what is great and bold. It is well also that thou shouldst grieve
over the greatness of thy fall. Therein, then, as woman--as loving
woman--thou hast my sympathy. Nor is all lost. Thy plan was foolish--
for, as I hold, Egypt could never have stood alone--for though thou
hadst won the crown and country--as without a doubt thou must have
done--yet there was the Roman to be reckoned with. And for thy hope
learn this: I am little known. There is no heart in this wide land
that beats with a truer love for ancient Khem than does this heart of
mine--nay, not thine own, Harmachis. Yet I have been heavily shackled
heretofore--for wars, rebellions, envies, plots, have hemmed me in on
every side, so that I might not serve my people as I would. But thou,
Harmachis, shalt show me how. Thou shalt be my counsellor and my love.
Is it a little thing, Harmachis, to have won the heart of Cleopatra;
that heart--fie on thee!--that thou wouldst have stilled? Yes, /thou/
shalt unite me to my people and we will reign together, thus linking
in one the new kingdom and the old and the new thought and the old. So
do all things work for good--ay, for the very best: and thus, by
another and a gentler road, thou shalt climb to Pharaoh's throne.
"See thou this, Harmachis: thy treachery shall be cloaked about as
much as may be. Was it, then, thy fault that a Roman knave betrayed
thy plans? that, thereon, thou wast drugged, thy secret papers stolen
and their key guessed? Will it, then, be a blame to thee, the great
plot being broken and those who built it scattered, that thou, still
faithful to thy trust, didst serve thee of such means as Nature gave
thee, and win the heart of Egypt's Queen, that, through her gentle
love, thou mightest yet attain thy ends and spread thy wings of power
across the land of Nile? Am I an ill-counsellor, thinkest thou,
I lifted my head, and a ray of hope crept into the darkness of my
heart; for when men fall they grasp at feathers. Then, I spoke for the
"And those with me--those who trusted me--what of them?"
"Ay," she answered, "Amenemhat, thy father, the aged Priest of
Abouthis; and Sepa, thy uncle, that fiery patriot, whose great heart
is hid beneath so common a shell of form; and----"
I thought she would have said Charmion, but she named her not.
"And many others--oh, I know them all!"
"Ay!" I said, "what of them?"
"Hear now, Harmachis," she answered, rising and placing her hand upon
my arm, "for thy sake I will show mercy to them. I will do no more
than must be done. I swear by my throne and by all the Gods of Egypt
that not one hair of thy aged father's head shall be harmed by me;
and, if it be not too late, I will also spare thy uncle Sepa, ay, and
the others. I will not do as did my forefather, Epiphanes, who, when
the Egyptians rose against him, dragged Athinis, Pausiras, Chesuphus,
and Irobasthus, bound to his chariot--not as Achilles dragged Hector,
but yet living--round the city walls. I will spare them all, save the
Hebrews, if there be any Hebrews; for the Jews I hate."
"There are no Hebrews," I said.
"It is well," she said, "for no Hebrew will I ever spare. Am I then,
indeed, so cruel a woman as they say? In thy list, Harmachis, were
many doomed to die; and I have but taken the life of one Roman knave,
a double traitor, for he betrayed both me and thee. Art thou not
overwhelmed, Harmachis, with the weight of mercy which I give thee,
because--such are a woman's reasons--thou pleasest me, Harmachis? Nay,
by Serapis!" she added with a little laugh, "I'll change my mind; I
will not give thee so much for nothing. Thou shalt buy it from me, and
the price shall be a heavy one--it shall be a kiss, Harmachis."
"Nay," I said, turning from that fair temptress, "the price is too
heavy; I kiss no more."
"Bethink thee," she answered, with a heavy frown. "Bethink thee and
choose. I am but a woman, Harmachis, and one who is not wont to sue to
men. Do as thou wilt; but this I say to thee--if thou dost put me
away, I will gather up the mercy I have meted out. Therefore, most
virtuous priest, choose thou between the heavy burden of my love and
the swift death of thy aged father and of all those who plotted with
I glanced at her and saw that she was angered, for her eyes shone and
her bosom heaved. So, I sighed and kissed her, thereby setting the
seal upon my shame and bondage. Then, smiling like the triumphant
Aphrodité of the Greeks, she went thence, bearing the dagger with her.
I knew not yet how deeply I was betrayed; or why I was still left to
draw the breath of life; or why Cleopatra, the tiger-hearted, had
grown merciful. I did not know that she feared to slay me, lest, so
strong was the plot and so feeble her hold upon the Double Crown, the
tumult that might tread hard upon the tidings of my murder should
shake her from the throne--even when I was no more. I did not know
that because of fear and the weight of policy only she showed scant
mercy to those whom I had betrayed, or that because of cunning and not
for the holy sake of woman's love--though, in truth, she liked me well
enough--she chose rather to bind me to her by the fibres of my heart.
And yet I will say this in her behalf: even when the danger-cloud had
melted from her sky she kept faith, nor, save Paulus and one other,
did any suffer the utmost penalty of death for their part in the great
plot against Cleopatra's crown and dynasty. But they suffered many
And so she went, leaving the vision of her glory to strive with the
shame and sorrow in my heart. Oh, bitter were the hours that could not
now be made light with prayer. For the link between me and the Divine
was snapped, and Isis communed with Her Priest no more. Bitter were
the hours and dark, but ever through their darkness shone the starry
eyes of Cleopatra, and came the echo of her whispered love. For not
yet was the cup of sorrow full. Hope still lingered in my heart, and I
could almost think that I had failed to some higher end, and that in
the depths of ruin I should find another and more flowery path to
For thus those who sin deceive themselves, striving to lay the burden
of their evil deeds upon the back of Fate, striving to believe their
wickedness may compass good, and to murder Conscience with the sharp
plea of Necessity. But it can avail nothing, for hand in hand down the
path of sin rush Remorse and Ruin, and woe to him they follow! Ay, and
woe to me who of all sinners am the chief!
OF THE IMPRISONMENT OF HARMACHIS; OF THE SCORN OF CHARMION;
OF THE SETTING FREE OF HARMACHIS; AND OF THE COMING OF QUINTUS DELLIUS
For a space of eleven days I was thus kept prisoned in my chamber; nor
did I see anyone except the sentries at my doors, the slaves who in
silence brought me food and drink, and Cleopatra's self, who came
continually. But, though her words of love were many, she would tell
me nothing of how things went without. She came in many moods--now gay
and laughing, now full of wise thoughts and speech, and now passionate
only, and to every mood she gave some new-found charm. She was full of
talk as to how I should help her make Egypt great, and lessen the
burdens on the people, and fright the Roman eagles back. And, though
at first I listened heavily when she spoke thus, by slow advance as
she wrapped me closer and yet more close in her magic web, from which
there was no escape, my mind fell in time with hers. Then I, too,
opened something of my heart, and somewhat also of the plans that I
had formed for Egypt. She seemed to listen gladly, weighing them all,
and spoke of means and methods, telling me how she would purify the
Faith and repair the ancient temples--ay, and build new ones to the
Gods. And ever she crept deeper into my heart, till at length, now
that every other thing had gone from me, I learned to love her with
all the unspent passion of my aching soul. I had naught left to me but
Cleopatra's love, and I twined my life about it, and brooded on it as
a widow over her only babe. And thus the very author of my shame
became my all, my dearest dear, and I loved her with a strong love
that grew and grew, till it seemed to swallow up the past and make the
present a dream. For she had conquered me, she had robbed me of my
honour, and steeped me to the lips in shame, and I, poor fallen,
blinded wretch, I kissed the rod that smote me, and was her very
Ay, even now, in those dreams which still come when Sleep unlocks the
secret heart, and sets its terrors free to roam through the opened
halls of Thought, I seem to see her royal form, as erst I saw it, come
with arms outstretched and Love's own light shining in her eyes, with
lips apart and flowing locks, and stamped upon her face the look of
utter tenderness that she alone could wear. Ay, still, after all the
years, I seem to see her come as erst she came, and still I wake to
know her an unutterable lie!
And thus one day she came. She had fled in haste, she said, from some
great council summoned concerning the wars of Antony in Syria, and she
came, as she had left the council, in all her robes of state, the
sceptre in her hand, and on her brow the uræus diadem of gold. There
she sat before me, laughing; for, wearying of them, she had told the
envoys to whom she gave audience in the council that she was called
from their presence by a sudden message come from Rome; and the jest
seemed merry to her. Suddenly she rose, took the diadem from her brow,
and set it on my hair, and on my shoulders her royal mantle, and in my
hand the sceptre, and bowed the knee before me. Then, laughing again,
she kissed me on the lips, and said I was indeed her King. But,
remembering how I had been crowned in the halls of Abouthis, and
remembering also that wreath of roses of which the odour haunts me
yet, I rose, pale with wrath, and cast the trinkets from me, asking
how she dared to mock me--her caged bird. And I think there was that
about me which startled her, for she fell back.
"Nay, Harmachis," she said, "be not wroth! How knowest thou that I
mock thee? How knowest thou that thou shalt not be Pharaoh in fact and
"What meanest thou?" I said. "Wilt thou, then, wed me before Egypt?
How else can I be Pharaoh now?"
She cast down her eyes. "Perchance, love, it is in my mind to wed
thee," she said gently. "Listen," she went on: "Thou growest pale,
here, in this prison, and thou dost eat little. Gainsay me not! I know
it from the slaves. I have kept thee here, Harmachis, for thy own
sake, that is so dear to me; and for thy own sake, and thy honour's
sake, thou must still seem to be my prisoner. Else wouldst thou be
shamed and slain--ay, murdered secretly. But I can meet thee here no
more! therefore to-morrow I shall free thee in all, save in the name,
and thou shalt once more be seen at Court as my astronomer. And I will
give this reason--that thou hast cleared thyself; and, moreover, that
thy auguries as regards the war have been auguries of truth--as,
indeed, they have, though for this I have no cause to thank thee,
seeing that thou didst suit thy prophecies to fit thy cause. Now,
farewell; for I must return to those heavy-browed ambassadors; and
grow not so sudden wroth, Harmachis, for who knows what may come to
pass betwixt thee and me?"
And, with a little nod, she went, leaving it on my mind that she had
it in her heart to wed me openly. And of a truth, I believe that, at
this hour, such was her thought. For, if she loved me not, still she
held me dear, and as yet she had not wearied of me.
On the morrow Cleopatra came not, but Charmion came--Charmion, whom I
had not seen since that fatal night of ruin. She entered and stood
before me, with pale face and downcast eyes, and her first words were
words of bitterness.
"Pardon me," she said, in her gentle voice, "in that I dare to come to
thee in Cleopatra's place. Thy joy is not delayed for long, for thou
shalt see her presently."
I shrank at her words, as well I might, and, seeing her vantage, she
"I come, Harmachis--royal no more!--I come to say that thou art free!
Thou art free to face thine own infamy, and see it thrown back from
every eye which trusted thee, as shadows are from water. I come to
tell thee that the great plot--the plot of twenty years and more--is
at its utter end. None have been slain, indeed, unless it is Sepa, who
has vanished. But all the leaders have been seized and put in chains,
or driven from the land, and their party is broken and scattered. The
storm has melted before it burst. Egypt is lost, and lost for ever,
for her last hope is gone! No longer may she struggle--now for all
time she must bow her neck to the yoke, and bare her back to the rod
of the oppressor!"
I groaned aloud. "Alas, I was betrayed!" I said. "Paulus betrayed us."
"Thou wast betrayed? Nay, thou thyself wast the betrayer! How came it
that thou didst not slay Cleopatra when thou wast alone with her?
Speak, thou forsworn!"
"She drugged me," I said again.
"O Harmachis!" answered the pitiless girl, "how low art thou fallen
from that Prince whom once I knew!--thou who dost not scorn to be a
liar! Yea, thou wast drugged--drugged with a love-philtre! Yea, thou
didst sell Egypt and thy cause for the price of a wanton's kiss! Thou
Sorrow and thou Shame!" she went on, pointing her finger at me and
lifting her eyes to my face, "thou Scorn!--thou Outcast!--and thou
Contempt! Deny if it thou canst. Ay, shrink from me--knowing what thou
art, well mayst thou shrink! Crawl to Cleopatra's feet, and kiss her
sandals till such time as it pleases her to trample thee in thy
kindred dirt; but from all honest folk /shrink!/--/shrink!/"
My soul quivered beneath the lash of her bitter scorn and hate, but I
had no words to answer.
"How comes it," I said at last in a heavy voice, "that thou, too, art
not betrayed, but art still here to taunt me, thou who once didst
swear that thou didst love me? Being a woman, hast thou no pity for
the frailty of man?"
"My name was not on the lists," she said, dropping her dark eyes.
"Here is an opportunity: betray me also, Harmachis! Ay, it is because
I once loved thee--dost thou, indeed, remember it?--that I feel thy
fall the more. The shame of one whom we have loved must in some sort
become our shame, and must ever cling to us, because we blindly held a
thing so base close to our inmost heart. Art thou also, then, a fool?
Wouldst thou, fresh from thy royal wanton's arms, come to me for
comfort--to /me/ of all the world?"
"How know I," I said, "that it was not thou who, in thy jealous anger,
didst betray our plans? Charmion, long ago Sepa warned me against
thee, and of a truth now that I recall----"
"It is like a traitor," she broke in, reddening to her brow, "to think
that all are of his family, and hold a common mind! Nay, I betrayed
thee not; it was that poor knave, Paulus, whose heart failed him at
the last, and who is rightly served. Nor will I stay to hear thoughts
so base. Harmachis--royal no more!--Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, bids me
say that thou art free, and that she waits thee in the Alabaster
And shooting one swift glance through her long lashes she curtsied and
So once more I came and went about the Court, though but sparingly,
for my heart was full of shame and terror, and on every face I feared
to see the scorn of those who knew me for what I was. But I saw
nothing, for all those who had knowledge of the plot had fled, and
Charmion had spoken no word, for her own sake. Also, Cleopatra had put
it about that I was innocent. But my guilt lay heavy on me, and made
me thin and wore away the beauty of my countenance. And though I was
free in name, yet I was ever watched; nor might I stir beyond the
And at length came the day which brought with it Quintus Dellius, that
false Roman knight who ever served the rising star. He bore letters to
Cleopatra from Marcus Antonius, the Triumvir, who, fresh from the
victory of Philippi, was now in Asia wringing gold from the subject
kings with which to satisfy the greed of his legionaries.
Well I mind me of the day. Cleopatra, clad in her robes of state,
attended by the officers of her Court, among whom I stood, sat in the
great hall on her throne of gold, and bade the heralds admit the
Ambassador of Antony, the Triumvir. The great doors were thrown wide,
and amidst the blare of trumpets and salutes of the Gallic guards the
Roman came in, clad in glittering golden armour and a scarlet cloak of
silk, and followed by his suite of officers. He was smooth-faced and
fair to look upon, and with a supple form; but his mouth was cold, and
false were his shifting eyes. And while the heralds called out his
name, titles, and offices, he fixed his gaze on Cleopatra--who sat
idly on her throne all radiant with beauty--as a man who is amazed.
Then when the heralds had made an end, and he still stood thus, not
stirring, Cleopatra spoke in the Latin tongue:
"Greeting to thee, noble Dellius, envoy of the most mighty Antony,
whose shadow lies across the world as though Mars himself now towered
up above us petty Princes--greeting and welcome to our poor city of
Alexandria. Unfold, we pray thee, the purpose of thy coming."
Still the crafty Dellius made no answer, but stood as a man amazed.
"What ails thee, noble Dellius, that thou dost not speak?" asked
Cleopatra. "Hast thou, then, wandered so long in Asia that the doors
of Roman speech are shut to thee? What tongue hast thou? Name it, and
We will speak in it--for all tongues are known to Us."
Then at last he spoke in a soft full voice: "Oh, pardon me, most
lovely Egypt, if I have thus been stricken dumb before thee: but too
great beauty, like Death himself, doth paralyse the tongue and steal
our sense away. The eyes of him who looks upon the fires of the mid-
day sun are blind to all beside, and thus this sudden vision of thy
glory, royal Egypt, overwhelmed my mind, and left me helpless and
unwitting of all things else."
"Of a truth, noble Dellius," answered Cleopatra, "they teach a pretty
school of flattery yonder in Cilicia."
"How goes the saying here in Alexandria?" replied the courtly Roman:
"'The breath of flattery cannot waft a cloud,'[*] does it not? But to
my task. Here, royal Egypt, are letters under the hand and seal of the
noble Antony treating of certain matters of the State. Is it thy
pleasure that I should read them openly?"
[*] In other words, what is Divine is beyond the reach of human
"Break the seals and read," she answered.
Then bowing, he broke the seals and read:
"The /Triumviri Reipublicæ Constituendæ/, by the mouth of Marcus
Antonius, the Triumvir, to Cleopatra, by grace of the Roman People
Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, send greeting. Whereas it has come to
our knowledge that thou, Cleopatra, hast, contrary to thy promise and
thy duty, both by thy servant Allienus and by thy servant Serapion,
the Governor of Cyprus, aided the rebel murderer Cassius against the
arms of the most noble Triumvirate. And, whereas it has come to our
knowledge that thou thyself wast but lately making ready a great fleet
to this end. We summon thee that thou dost without delay journey to
Cilicia, there to meet the noble Antony, and in person make answer
concerning these charges which are laid against thee. And we warn thee
that if thou dost disobey this our summons it is at thy peril.
The eyes of Cleopatra flashed as she hearkened to these high words,
and I saw her hands tighten on the golden lions' heads whereon they
"We have had the flattery," she said; "and now, lest we be cloyed with
sweets, we have its antidote! Listen thou, Dellius: the charges in
that letter, or, rather, in that writ of summons, are false, as all
folk can bear us witness. But it is not now, and it is not to thee,
that We will make defence of our acts of war and policy. Nor will We
leave our kingdom to journey into far Cilicia, and there, like some
poor suppliant at law, plead our cause before the Court of the Noble
Antony. If Antony would have speech with us, and inquire concerning
these high matters, the sea is open, and his welcome shall be royal.
Let him come thither! That is our answer to thee and to the
Triumvirate, O Dellius!"
But Dellius smiled as one who would put away the weight of wrath, and
once more spoke:
"Royal Egypt, thou knowest not the noble Antony. He is stern on paper,
and ever he sets down his thoughts as though his stylus were a spear
dipped in the blood of men. But face to face with him, thou, of all
the world, shalt find him the gentlest warrior that ever won a battle.
Be advised, O Egypt! and come. Send me not hence with such angry
words, for if thou dost draw Antony to Alexandria, then woe to
Alexandria, to the people of the Nile, and to thee, great Egypt! For
then he will come armed and breathing war, and it shall go hard with
thee, who dost defy the gathered might of Rome. I pray thee, then,
obey this summons. Come to Cilicia; come with peaceful gifts and not
in arms. Come in thy beauty, and tricked in thy best attire, and thou
hast naught to fear from the noble Antony." He paused and looked at
her meaningly; while I, taking his drift, felt the angry blood surge
into my face.
Cleopatra, too, understood, for I saw her rest her chin upon her hand
and the cloud of thought gathered in her eyes. For a time she sat
thus, while the crafty Dellius watched her curiously. And Charmion,
standing with the other ladies by the throne, she also read his
meaning, for her face lit up, as a summer cloud lights in the evening
when the broad lightning flares behind it. Then once more it grew pale
At length Cleopatra spoke. "This is a heavy matter," she said, 'and
therefore, noble Dellius, we must have time to let our judgment ripen.
Rest thou here, and make thee as merry as our poor circumstances
allow. Thou shalt have thy answer within ten days."
The envoy thought awhile, then replied smiling: "It is well, O Egypt;
on the tenth day from now I will attend for my answer, and on the
eleventh I sail hence to join Antony my Lord."
Once more, at a sign from Cleopatra, the trumpets blared, and he
OF THE TROUBLE OF CLEOPATRA; OF HER OATH TO HARMACHIS; AND
OF THE TELLING BY HARMACHIS TO CLEOPATRA OF THE SECRET OF
THE TREASURE THAT LAY BENEATH THE MASS OF "HER"
That same night Cleopatra summoned me to her private chamber. I went,
and found her much troubled in mind; never before had I seen her so
deeply moved. She was alone, and, like some trapped lioness, walked to
and fro across the marble floor, while thought chased thought across
her mind, each, as clouds scudding over the sea, for a moment casting
its shadow in her deep eyes.
"So thou art come, Harmachis," she said, resting for a while, as she
took my hand. "Counsel me, for never did I need counsel more. Oh, what
days have the Gods measured out to me--days restless as the ocean! I
have known no peace from childhood up, and it seems none shall I know.
Scarce by a very little have I escaped thy dagger's point, Harmachis,
when this new trouble, that, like a storm, has gathered beneath the
horizon's rim, suddenly bursts over me. Didst mark that tigerish fop?
Well should I love to trap him! How soft he spoke! Ay, he purred like
a cat, and all the time he stretched his claws. Didst hear the letter,
too? it has an ugly sound. I know this Antony. When I was but a child,
budding into womanhood, I saw him; but my eyes were ever quick, and I
took his measure. Half Hercules and half a fool, with a dash of genius
veining his folly through. Easily led by those who enter at the gates
of his voluptuous sense; but if crossed, an iron foe. True to his
friends, if, indeed, he loves them; and ofttimes false to his own
interest. Generous, hardy, and in adversity a man of virtue; in
prosperity a sot and a slave to woman. That is Antony. How deal with
such a man, whom fate and opportunity, despite himself, have set on
the crest of fortune's wave? One day it will overwhelm him; but till
that day he sweeps across the world and laughs at those who drown."
"Antony is but a man," I answered, "and a man with many foes; and,
being but a man, he can be overthrown."
"Ay, he can be overthrown; but he is one of three, Harmachis. Now that
Cassius hath gone where all fools go, Rome has thrown out a hydra
head. Crush one, and another hisses in thy face. There's Lepidus, and
with him, that young Octavianus, whose cold eyes may yet with a smile
of triumph look on the murdered forms of empty, worthless Lepidus, of
Antony, and of Cleopatra. If I go not to Cilicia, mark thou! Antony
will knit up a peace with these Parthians, and, taking the tales they
tell of me for truth--and, indeed, there is truth in them--will fall
with all his force on Egypt. And how then?"
"How then? Why, then we'll drum him back to Rome."
"Ah, thou sayest so, and, perchance, Harmachis, had I not won that
game we played together some twelve days gone, thou, being Pharaoh,
mightest well have done this thing, for round thy throne old Egypt
would have gathered. But Egypt loves not me nor my Greek blood; and I
have but now scattered that great plot of thine, in which half the
land was meshed. Will these men, then, arise to succour me? Were Egypt
true to me, I could, indeed, hold my own against all the force that
Rome may bring; but Egypt hates me, and had as lief be ruled by the
Roman as the Greek. Still I might make defence had I the gold, for
with money soldiers can be bought to feed the maw of mercenary battle.
But I have none; my treasuries are dry, and though there is wealth in
the land, yet debts perplex me. These wars have brought me ruin, and I
know not how to find a talent. Perchance, Harmachis, thou who art, by
hereditary right, Priest of the Pyramids," and she drew near and
looked me in the eyes, "perchance, if long descended rumour does not
lie, thou canst tell me where I can touch the gold to save thy land
from ruin, and thy Love from the grasp of Antony? Say, is it so?"
I thought a while, and then I answered:
"And if such a tale were true, and if I could show thee treasure
stored by the mighty Pharaohs of the most far-off age against the
needs of Khem, how can I know that thou wouldst indeed make use of
that wealth to those good ends?"
"Is there, then, a treasure?" she asked curiously. "Nay, fret me not,
Harmachis; for of a truth the very name of gold at this time of want
is like the sight of water in the desert."
"I believe," I said, "that there is such a treasure, though I myself
have never seen it. But I know this, that if it still lie in the place
where it was set, it is because so heavy a curse will rest upon him
who shall lay hands on it wickedly and for selfish ends, that none of
those Pharaohs to whom it has been shown have dared to touch it,
however sore their need."
"So," she said, "they were cowardly aforetime, or else their need was
not great. Wilt thou show me this treasure, then, Harmachis?"
"Perhaps," I answered, "I will show it to thee if it still be there,
when thou hast sworn that thou wilt use it to defend Egypt from this
Roman Antony and for the welfare of her people."
"I swear it!" she said earnestly. "Oh, I swear by every God in Khem
that if thou showest me this great treasure, I will defy Antony and
send Dellius back to Cilicia with sharper words than those he brought.
Yes, I'll do more, Harmachis: so soon as may be, I will take thee to
husband before all the world, and thou thyself shalt carry out thy
plans and beat off the Roman eagles."
Thus she spoke, gazing at me with truthful, earnest eyes. I believed
her, and for the first time since my fall was for a moment happy,
thinking that all was not lost to me, and that with Cleopatra, whom I
loved thus madly, I might yet win my place and power back.
"Swear it, Cleopatra!" I said.
"I swear, beloved! and thus I seal my oath!" and she kissed me on the
forehead. And I, too, kissed her; and we talked of what we would do
when we were wed, and how we should overcome the Roman.
And thus I was again beguiled; though I believe that, had it not been
for the jealous anger of Charmion--which, as shall be seen, was ever
urging her forward to fresh deeds of shame--Cleopatra would have
wedded me and broken with the Roman. And, indeed, in the issue, it had
been better for her and Egypt.
We sat far into the night, and I revealed to her somewhat of that
ancient secret of the mighty treasure hid beneath the mass of /Her/.
Thither, it was agreed, we should go on the morrow, and the second
night from now attempt its search. So, early on the next day, a boat
was secretly made ready, and Cleopatra entered it, veiled as an
Egyptian lady about to make a pilgrimage to the Temple of Horemkhu.
And I also entered, cloaked as a pilgrim, and with us ten of her most
trusted servants disguised as sailors. But Charmion went not with us.
We sailed with a fair wind from the Canopic mouth of the Nile; and
that night, pushing on with the moon, we reached Sais at midnight, and
here rested for a while. At dawn we once more loosed our craft, and
all that day sailed swiftly, till, at last, at the third hour from the
sunset, we came in sight of the lights of that fortress which is
called Babylon. Here, on the opposite bank of the river, we moored our
ship safely in a bed of reeds.
Then, on foot and secretly, we set out for the pyramids, which were at
a distance of two leagues, Cleopatra, I and one trusted eunuch, for we
left the other servants with the boat. Only I caught an ass for
Cleopatra to ride that was wandering in a tilled field, and threw a
cloak upon it. She sat on it and I led the ass by paths I knew, the
eunuch following us on foot. And, within little more than an hour,
having gained the great causeway, we saw the mighty pyramids towering
up through the moonlit air and aweing us to silence. We passed on in
utter silence, through the haunted city of the dead, for all around us
stood the solemn tombs, till at length we climbed the rocky hill, and
stood in the deep shadow of Khufu Khut, the splendid Throne of Khufu.
"Of a truth," whispered Cleopatra, as she gazed up the dazzling marble
slope above her, everywhere blazoned over with a million mystic
characters--"of a truth, there were Gods ruling in Khem in those days,
and not men. This place is sad as Death--ay, and as mighty and far
from man. Is it here that we must enter?"
"Nay," I answered, "it is not here. Pass on."
I led the way through a thousand ancient tombs, till we stood in the
shadow of Ur the Great, and gazed at his red heaven-piercing mass.
"Is it here that we must enter?" she whispered once again.
"Nay," I answered, "it is not here. Pass on."
We passed on through many more tombs, till we stood in the shadow of
/Her/,[*] and Cleopatra gazed astonished at its polished beauty, which
for thousands of years, night by night, had mirrored back the moon,
and at the black girdle of Ethiopian stone that circled its base
about. For this is the most beautiful of all pyramids.
[*] The "Upper," now known as the Third Pyramid.--Editor.
"Is it that we must enter?" she said.
I answered, "It is here."
We passed round between the Temple of the Worship of his Divine
Majesty, Menkau-ra, the Osirian, and in the base of the pyramid till
we came to the north side. Here in the centre is graved the name of
Pharaoh Menkau-ra, who built the pyramid to be his tomb, and stored
his treasure in it against the need of Khem.
"If the treasure still remains," I said to Cleopatra, "as it remained
in the days of my great-great-grandfather, who was Priest of this
Pyramid before me, it is hid deep in the womb of the mass before thee,
Cleopatra; nor can it be come by without toil, danger, and terror of
mind. Art thou prepared to enter--for thou thyself must enter and must
"Canst thou not go in with the eunuch, Harmachis, and bring the
treasure forth?" she said, for a little her courage began to fail her.
"Nay, Cleopatra," I answered, "not even for thee and for the weal of
Egypt can I do this thing, for of all sins it would be the greatest
sin. But it is lawful for me to do this. I, as hereditary holder of
the secret, may, upon demand, show to the ruling monarch of Khem the
place where the treasure lies, and show also the warning that is
written. And if on seeing and reading, the Pharaoh deems that the need
of Khem is so sore and strait that it is lawful for him to brave the
curse of the Dead and draw forth the treasure, it is well, for on his
head must rest the weight of this dread deed. Three monarchs--so say
the records that I have read--have thus dared to enter in the time of
need. They were the Divine Queen Hatshepsu, that wonder known to the
Gods alone; her Divine brother Tahutimes Men-Kheper-ra; and the Divine
Rameses Mi-amen. But of these three Majesties, not one when they saw
dared to touch; for, though sharp their need, it was not great enough
to consecrate the act. So, fearing lest the curse should fall upon
them, they went hence sorrowing."
She thought a little, till at last her spirit overcame her fear.
"At the least I will see with mine own eyes," she said.
"It is well," I answered. Then, stones having been piled up by me and
the eunuch who was with us on a certain spot at the base of the
pyramid, to somewhat more than the height of a man, I climbed on them
and searched for the secret mark, no larger than a leaf. I found it
with some trouble, for the weather and the rubbing of the wind-stirred
sand had worn even the Ethiopian stone. Having found it, I pressed on
it with all my strength in a certain fashion. even after the lapse of
many years the stone swung round, showing a little opening, through
which a man might scarcely creep. As it swung, a mighty bat, white in
colour as though with unreckoned age, and such as I had never seen
before for bigness, for his measure was the measure of a hawk, flew
forth and for a moment hovered over Cleopatra, then sailed slowly up
and up in circles, till at last he was lost in the bright light of the
But Cleopatra uttered a cry of terror, and the eunuch, who was
watching, fell down in fear, believing it to be the guardian Spirit of
the pyramid. And I, too, feared, though I said nothing. For even now I
believe that it was the Spirit of Menkau-ra, the Osirian, who, taking
the form of a bat, flew forth from his holy House in warning.
I waited a while, till the foul air should clear from the passage.
Then I drew out the lamps, kindled them, and passed them, to the
number of three, into the entrance of the passage. This done, I went
to the eunuch, and, taking him aside, I swore him by the living spirit
of Him who sleeps at Abouthis that he should not reveal those things
which he was about to see.
This he swore, trembling sorely, for he was very much afraid. Nor,
indeed, did he reveal them.
This done, I clambered through the opening, taking with me a coil of
rope, which I wound around my middle, and beckoned to Cleopatra to
come. Making fast the skirt of her robe, she came, and I drew her
through the opening, so that at length she stood behind me in the
passage which is lined with slabs of granite. After her came the
eunuch, and he also stood in the passage. Then, having taken counsel
of the plan of the passage that I had brought with me, and which, in
signs that none but the initiated can read, was copied from those
ancient writings that had come down to me through one-and-forty
generations of my predecessors, the Priests of this Pyramid of /Her/,
and of the worship of the Temple of the Divine Menkau-ra, the Osirian,
I led the way through that darksome place towards the utter silence of
the tomb. Guided by the feeble light of our lamps, we passed down the
steep incline, gasping in the heat and the thick, stagnated air.
Presently we had left the region of the masonry and were slipping down
a gallery hewn in the living rock. For twenty paces or more it ran
steeply. Then its slope lessened and shortly we found ourselves in a
chamber painted white, so low that I, being tall, had scarcely room to
stand; but in length four paces, and in breadth three, and cased
throughout with sculptured panels. Here Cleopatra sank upon the floor
and rested awhile, overcome by the heat and the utter darkness.
"Rise!" I said. "We must not linger here, or we faint."
So she rose, and passing hand in hand through that chamber, we found
ourselves face to face with a mighty door of granite, let down from
the roof in grooves. Once more I took counsel of the plan, pressed
with my foot upon a certain stone, and waited. Then, suddenly and
softly, I know not by what means, the mass heaved itself from its bed
of living rock. We passed beneath, and found ourselves face to face
with a second door of granite. Again I pressed on a certain spot, and
this door swung wide of itself, and we went through, to find ourselves
face to face with a third door, yet more mighty than the two through
which we had won our way. Following the secret plan, I struck this
door with my foot upon a certain spot, and it sank slowly as though at
a word of magic till its head was level with the floor of rock. We
crossed and gained another passage which, descending gently for a
length of fourteen paces, led us into a great chamber, paved with
black marble, more than nine cubits high, by nine cubits broad, and
thirty cubits long. In this marble floor was sunk a great sarcophagus
of granite, and on its lid were graved the name and titles of the
Queen of Menkau-ra. In this chamber, too, the air was purer, though I
know not by what means it came thither.
"Is the treasure here?" gasped Cleopatra.
"Nay," I answered; "follow me," and I led the way to a gallery, which
we entered through an opening in the floor of the great chamber. It
had been closed by a trap-door of stone, but the door was open.
Creeping along this shaft, or passage, for some ten paces, we came at
length to a well, seven cubits in depth. Making fast one end of the
rope that I had brought about my body and the other to a ring in the
rock, I was lowered, holding the lamp in my hand, till I stood in the
last resting-place of the Divine Menkau-ra. Then the rope was drawn
up, and Cleopatra, being made fast to it, was let down by the eunuch,
and I received her in my arms. But I bade the eunuch, sorely against
his will, since he feared to be left alone, await our return at the
mouth of the shaft. For it was not lawful that he should enter whither
OF THE TOMB OF THE DIVINE MENKAU-RA; OF THE WRITING ON THE
BREAST OF MENKAU-RA; OF THE DRAWING FORTH OF THE TREASURE;
OF THE DWELLER IN THE TOMB; AND OF THE FLIGHT OF CLEOPATRA
AND HARMACHIS FROM THE HOLY PLACE
We stood within a small arched chamber, paved and lined with great
blocks of the granite stone of Syene. There before us--hewn from a
single mass of basalt shaped like a wooden house and resting on a
sphinx with a face of gold--was the sarcophagus of the Divine
We stood and gazed in awe, for the weight of the silence and the
solemnity of that holy place seemed to crush us. Above us, cubit over
cubit in its mighty measure, the pyramid towered up to heaven and was
kissed of the night air. But we were deep in the bowels of the rock
beneath its base. We were alone with the dead, whose rest we were
about to break; and no sound of the murmuring air, and no sight of
life came to dull the awful edge of solitude. I gazed on the
sarcophagus; its heavy lid had been lifted and rested at its side, and
around it the dust of ages had gathered thick.
"See," I whispered, pointing to a writing, daubed with pigment upon
the wall in the sacred symbols of ancient times.
"Read it, Harmachis," answered Cleopatra, in the same low voice; "for
Then I read: "I, Rameses Mi-amen, in my day and in my hour of need,
visited this sepulchre. But, though great my need and bold my heart, I
dared not face the curse of Menkau-ra. Judge, O thou who shalt come
after me, and, if thy soul is pure and Khem be utterly distressed,
take thou that which I have left."
"Where, then, is the treasure?" she whispered. "Is that Sphinx-face of
"Even there," I answered, pointing to the sarcophagus. "Draw near and
And she took my hand and drew near.
The cover was off, but the painted coffin of the Pharaoh lay in the
depths of the sarcophagus. We climbed the Sphinx, then I blew the dust
from the coffin with my breath and read that which was written on its
lid. And this was written:
"Pharaoh Menkau-ra, the Child of Heaven.
"Pharaoh Menkau-ra, Royal Son of the Sun.
"Pharaoh Menkau-ra, who didst lie beneath the heart of Nout.
"Nout, thy Mother, wraps thee in the spell of Her holy name.
"The name of thy Mother, Nout, is the mystery of Heaven.
"Nout, thy Mother, gathers thee to the number of the Gods.
"Nout, thy Mother, breathes on thy foes and utterly destroys them.
"O Pharaoh Menkau-ra, who livest for ever!"
"Where, then, is the treasure?" she asked again. "Here, indeed, is the
body of the Divine Menkau-ra; but the flesh even of Pharaohs is not
gold, and if the face of this Sphinx be gold how may we move it?"
For answer I bade her stand upon the Sphinx and grasp the upper part
of the coffin while I grasped its foot. Then, at my word, we lifted,
and the lid of the case, which was not fixed, came away, and we set it
upon the floor. And there in the case was the mummy of Pharaoh, as it
had been laid three thousand years before. It was a large mummy, and
somewhat ungainly. Nor was it adorned with a gilded mask, as is the
fashion of our day, for the head was wrapped in clothes yellow with
age, which were made fast with pink flaxen bandages, under which were
pushed the stems of lotus-blooms. And on the breast, wreathed round
with lotus-flowers, lay a large plate of gold closely written over
with sacred writing. I lifted up the plate, and, holding it to the
light, I read:
"I, Menkau-ra, the Osirian, aforetime Pharaoh of the Land of Khem,
who in my day did live justly and ever walked in the path marked
for my feet by the decree of the Invisible, who was the beginning
and is the end, speak from my tomb to those who after me shall for
an hour sit upon my Throne. Behold, I, Menkau-ra, the Osirian,
having in the days of my life been warned of a dream that a time
will come when Khem shall fear to fall into the hands of
strangers, and her monarch shall have great need of treasure
wherewith to furnish armies to drive the barbarian back, have out
of my wisdom done this thing. For it having pleased the protecting
Gods to give me wealth beyond any Pharaoh who has been since the
days of Horus--thousands of cattle and geese, thousands of calves
and asses, thousands of measures of corn, and hundreds of measures
of gold and gems; this wealth I have used sparingly, and that
which remains I have bartered for precious stones--even for
emeralds, the most beautiful and largest that are in the world.
These stones, then, I have stored up against that day of the need
of Khem. But because as there have been, so there shall be, those
who do wickedly on the earth, and who, in the lust of gain, might
seize this wealth that I have stored, and put it to their uses;
behold, thou Unborn One, who in the fulness of time shalt stand
above me and read this that I have caused to be written, I have
stored the treasure thus--even among my bones. Therefore, O thou
Unborn One, sleeping in the womb of Nout, I say this to thee! If
thou indeed hast need of riches to save Khem from the foes of
Khem, fear not and delay not, but tear me, the Osirian, from my
tomb, loose my wrappings and rip the treasure from my breast, and
all shall be well with thee; for this only I do command, that thou
dost replace my bones within my hollow coffin. But if the need be
passing and not great, or if there be guile in thy heart, then the
curse of Menkau-ra be on thee! On thee be the curse that shall
smite him who breaks in upon the dead! On thee be the curse that
follows the traitor! On thee be the curse that smites him who
outrages the Majesty of the Gods! Unhappy shalt thou live, in
blood and misery shalt thou die, and in misery shalt thou be
tormented for ever and for ever! For, Wicked One, there in Amenti
we shall come face to face!
"And to the end of the keeping of this secret, I, Menkau-ra, have
set up a Temple of my Worship, which I have built upon the
eastern side of this my House of Death. It shall be made known
from time to time to the Hereditary High Priest of this my Temple.
And if any High Priest that shall be do reveal this secret to
another than the Pharaoh, or Her who wears the Pharaoh's crown and
is seated upon the throne of Khem, accursed be he also. Thus have
I, Menkau-ra, the Osirian, written. Now to thee, who, sleeping in
the womb of Nout, yet shall upon a time stand over me and read, I
say, judge thou! and if thou judgest evilly, on thee shall fall
this the curse of Menkau-ra from which there is no escape.
Greeting and farewell."
"Thou hast heard, O Cleopatra," I said solemnly; "now search thy
heart; judge thou, and for thine own sake judge justly."
She bent her head in thought.
"I fear to do this thing," she said presently. "Let us hence."
"It is well," I said, with a lightening of the heart, and bent down to
lift the wooden lid. For I, too, feared.
"And yet, what said the writing of the Divine Menkau-ra?--it was
emeralds, was it not? And emeralds are now so rare and hard to come
by. Ever did I love emeralds, and I can never find them without a
"It is not a matter of what thou dost love, Cleopatra," I said; "it is
a matter of the need of Khem and of the secret meaning of thy heart,
which thou alone canst know."
"Ay, surely, Harmachis; surely! And is not the need of Egypt great?
There is no gold in the treasury, and how can I defy the Roman if I
have no gold? And have I not sworn to thee that I will wed thee and
defy the Roman; and do I not swear it again--yes, even in this solemn
hour, with my hand upon dead Pharaoh's heart? Why, here is that
occasion of which the Divine Menkau-ra dreamed. Thou seest it is so,
for else Hat-shepsu or Rameses or some other Pharaoh had drawn forth
the gems. But no; they left them to come to this hour because the time
was not yet come. Now it must be come, for if I take not the gems the
Roman will surely seize on Egypt, and then there will be no Pharaoh to
whom the secret may be told. Nay, let us away with fears and to the
work. Why dost look so frightened? Having pure hearts, there is naught
to fear, Harmachis."
"Even as thou wilt," I said again; "it is for thee to judge, since if
thou judgest falsely on thee will surely fall the curse from which
there is no escape."
"So, Harmachis, take Pharaoh's head and I will take his---- Oh, what
an awful place is this!" and suddenly she clung to me. "Methought I
saw a shadow yonder in the darkness! Methought that it moved toward us
and then straightway vanished! Let us be going! Didst thou see
"I saw nothing, Cleopatra; but mayhap it was the Spirit of the Divine
Menkau-ra, for the spirit ever hovers round its mortal tenement. Let
us, then, be going; I shall be right glad to go."
She made as though to start, then turned back again and spoke once
"It was naught--naught but the mind that, in such a house of Horror,
bodies forth those shadowy forms of fear it dreads to see. Nay, I must
look upon these emeralds; indeed, if I die, I must look! Come--to the
work!" and stooping, she with her own hands lifted from the tomb one
of the four alabaster jars, each sealed with the graven likeness of
the heads of the protecting Gods, that held the holy heart and
entrails of the Divine Menkau-ra. But nothing was found in these jars,
save only what should be there.
Then together we mounted on the Sphinx, and with toil drew forth the
body of the Divine Pharaoh, laying it on the ground. Now Cleopatra
took my dagger, and with it cut loose the bandages which held the
wrappings in their place, and the lotus-flowers that had been set in
them by loving hands, three thousand years before, fell down upon the
pavement. Then we searched and found the end of the outer bandage,
which was fixed in at the hinder part of the neck. This we cut loose,
for it was glued fast. This done, we began to unroll the wrappings of
the holy corpse. Setting my shoulders against the sarcophagus, I sat
upon the rocky floor, the body resting on my knees, and, as I turned
it, Cleopatra unwound the cloths; and awesome was the task. Presently
something fell out; it was the sceptre of the Pharaoh, fashioned of
gold, and at its end was a pomegranate cut from a single emerald.
Cleopatra seized the sceptre and gazed on it in silence. Then once
more we went on with our dread business. And ever as we unwound, other
ornaments of gold, such as are buried with Pharaohs, fell from the
wrappings--collars and bracelets, models of sistra, an inlaid axe, and
an image of the holy Osiris and of the holy Khem. At length all the
bandages were unwound, and beneath we found a covering of coarsest
linen; for in those very ancient days the craftsmen were not so
skilled in matters pertaining to the embalming of the body as they are
now. And on the linen was written in an oval, "Menkau-ra, Royal Son of
the Sun." We could in no wise loosen this linen, it held so firm on to
the body. Therefore, faint with the great heat, choked with mummy dust
and the odour of spices, and trembling with fear of our unholy task,
wrought in that most lonesome and holy place, we laid the body down,
and ripped away the last covering with the knife. First we cleared
Pharaoh's head, and now the face that no man had gazed on for three
thousand years was open to our view. It was a great face, with a bold
brow, yet crowned with the royal uræus, beneath which the white locks,
stained yellow by the spices, fell in long, straight wisps. Not the
cold stamp of death, and not the slow flight of three thousand years,
had found power to mar the dignity of those shrunken features. We
gazed on them, and then, made bold with fear, stripped the covering
from the body. There at last it lay before us, stiff, yellow, and
dread to see; and on the left side, above the thigh, was the cut
through which the embalmers had done their work, but it was sewn up so
deftly that we could scarcely find the mark.
"The gems are within," I whispered, for I felt that the body was very
heavy. "Now, if thy heart fail thee not, thou must make an entry to
this poor house of clay that once was Pharaoh," and I gave her the
dagger--the same dagger which had drunk the life of Paulus.
"It is too late to doubt," she answered, lifting her white beauteous
face and fixing her blue eyes all big with terror upon my own. She
took the dagger, and with set teeth the Queen of this day plunged it
into the dead breast of the Pharaoh of three thousand years ago. And
even as she did so there came a groaning sound from the opening to the
shaft where we had left the eunuch! We leapt to our feet, but heard no
more, and the lamp-light still streamed down through the opening.
"It is nothing," I said. "Let us make an end."
Then with much toil we hacked and rent the hard flesh open, and as we
did so I heard the knife point grate upon the gems within.
Cleopatra plunged her hand into the dead breast and drew forth
somewhat. She held it to the light, and gave a little cry, for from
the darkness of Pharaoh's heart there flashed into light and life the
most beauteous emerald that ever man beheld. It was perfect in colour,
very large, without a flaw, and fashioned to a scarabæus form, and on
the under side was an oval, inscribed with the divine name of
Menkau-ra, Son of the Sun.
Again, again, and yet again, she plunged in her hand and drew emeralds
from Pharaoh's breast bedded there in spices. Some were fashioned and
some were not; but all were perfect in colour without a flaw, and in
value priceless. Again and again she plunged her white hand into that
dread breast, till at length all were found, and there were one
hundred and forty and eight of such gems as are not known in the
world. The last time that she searched she brought forth not emeralds,
indeed, but two great pearls, wrapped in linen, such as never have
been seen. And of these pearls more hereafter.
So it was done, and all the mighty treasure lay glittering in a heap
before us. There it lay, and there, too, lay the regalia of gold, the
spiced and sickly-scented wrappings, and the torn body of white-haired
Pharaoh Menkau-ra, the Osirian, the ever living in Amenti.
We rose, and a great awe fell upon us, now that the deed was done and
our hearts were no more upborne by the rage of search--so great an
awe, indeed, that we could not speak. I made a sign to Cleopatra. She
grasped the head of Pharaoh and I grasped his feet, and together we
lifted him, climbed the Sphinx, and placed him once more within his
coffin. I piled the torn mummy cloths over him and on them laid the
lid of the coffin.
And now we gathered up the great gems, and such of the ornaments as
might be carried with ease, and I hid them as many as I could, in the
folds of my robe. Those that were left Cleopatra hid upon her breast.
Heavily laden with the priceless treasure, we gave one last look at
the solemn place, at the sarcophagus and the Sphinx on which it
rested, whose gleaming face of calm seemed to mock us with its
everlasting smile of wisdom. Then we turned and went from the tomb.
At the shaft we halted. I called to the eunuch, who stayed above, and
methought a faint mocking laugh answered me. Too smitten with terror
to call again, and fearing that, should we delay, Cleopatra would
certainly swoon, I seized the rope, and being strong and quick mounted
by it and gained the passage. There burnt the lamp: but the eunuch I
saw not. Thinking, surely, that he was a little way down the passage,
and slept--as, in truth, he did--I bade Cleopatra make the rope fast
about her middle, and with much labour, drew her up. Then, having
rested awhile, we moved with the lamps to seek for the eunuch.
"He was stricken with terror and has fled, leaving the lamp," said
Cleopatra. "O ye Gods! who is /that/ seated there?"
I peered into the darkness, thrusting out the lamps, and this was what
their light fell on--this at the very dream of which my soul sickens!
There, facing us, his back resting against the rock, and his hands
splayed on either side upon the floor, sat the eunuch--/dead!/ His
eyes and mouth were open, his fat cheeks dropped down, his thin hair
yet seemed to bristle, and on his countenance was frozen such a stamp
of hideous terror as well might turn the beholder's brain. And lo!
fixed to his chin, by its hinder claws, hung that grey and mighty bat,
which, flying forth when we entered the pyramid, vanished in the sky,
but, returning, had followed us to its depths. There it hung upon the
dead man's chin slowly rocking itself to and fro, and we could see the
fiery eyes shining in its head.
Aghast, utterly aghast, we stood and stared at the hateful sight; till
presently the bat spread his huge wings and, losing his hold, sailed
to us. Now he hovered before Cleopatra's face, fanning her with his
white wings. Then with a scream, like a woman's shriek of fury, the
accursed Thing flittered on, seeking his violated tomb, and vanished
down the well into the sepulchre. I fell against the wall. But
Cleopatra sank in a heap upon the floor, and, covering her head with
her arms, she shrieked till the hollow passages rang with the echoes
of her cries, that seemed to grow and double and rush along the depths
in volumes of shrill sound.
"Rise!" I cried, "rise and let us hence before the Spirit shall return
to haunt us! If thou dost suffer thyself to be overwhelmed in this
place thou art lost for ever."
She staggered to her feet, and never may I forget the look upon her
ashy face or in her glowing eyes. Seizing lamps with a rush, we passed
the dead eunuch's horrid form, I holding her by the hand. We gained
the great chamber, where was the sarcophagus of the Queen of
Menkau-ra, and traversed its length. We fled along the passage. What
if the Thing had closed the three mighty doors? No; they were open,
and we sped through them; the last only did I stay to close. I touched
the stone, as I knew how, and the great door crashed down, shutting us
off from the presence of the dead eunuch and the Horror that had hung
upon the eunuch's chin. Now we were in the white chamber with the
sculptured panels, and now we faced the last steep ascent. Oh that
last ascent! Twice Cleopatra slipped and fell upon the polished floor.
The second time--it was when half the distance had been done--she let
fall her lamp, and would, indeed, have rolled down the slide had I not
saved her. But in doing thus I, too, let fall my lamp that bounded
away into shadow beneath us, and we were in utter darkness. And
perchance about us, in the darkness, hovered that awful Thing!
"Be brave!" I cried; "O love, be brave, and struggle on, or both are
lost! The way, though steep, is not far; and, though it be dark, we
can scarce come to harm in this straight shaft. If the gems weight
thee, cast them away!"
"Nay," she gasped, "that I will not; this shall not be endured to no
end. I die with them!"
Then it was that I saw the greatness of this woman's heart; for in the
dark, and notwithstanding the terrors we had passed and the awfulness
of our state, she clung to me and clambered on up that dread passage.
On we clambered, hand in hand, with bursting hearts, till there, by
the mercy or the anger of the Gods, at length we saw the faint light
of the moon, creeping through the little opening in the pyramid. One
struggle more, now the hole was gained, and like a breath from heaven,
the sweet night air played upon our brows. I climbed through, and,
standing on a pile of stones, lifted and dragged Cleopatra after me.
She fell to the ground and then sank down upon it motionless.
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