CLEOPATRA - VOLUME 5.
CLEOPATRA - VOLUME 5.
Barine had been an hour in the palace. The magnificently furnished room
to which she was conducted was directly above the council chamber and
sometimes in the silence of the night the voice of the Queen or the
loud cheers of men were distinctly heard.
Barine listened without making the slightest effort to catch the meaning
of the words which reached her ears. She longed only for something to
divert her thoughts from the deep and bitter emotion which filled her
soul. Ay she was roused to fury and yet she felt how completely this
passionate resentment contradicted her whole nature.
True the shameless conduct of Philostratus during their married life had
often stirred the inmost depths of her placid kindly spirit and after
wards his brother Alexas had come to drive her by his disgraceful
proposals to the verge of despair; rage was added to the passionate
agitation of her soul and for this she had cause to rejoice--but for
this mighty resentment during the time of struggle she might have
perhaps succumbed from sheer weariness and the yearning desire to rest.
At last at last she and her friends by means of great sacrifices had
succeeded in releasing her from these tortures. Philostratus's consent
to liberate her was purchased. Alexas's persecution had ceased long
before; he had first been sent away as envoy by his patron Antony and
afterwards been compelled to accompany him to the war.
How she had enjoyed the peaceful days in her mother's house! How quickly
the bright cheerfulness which she had supposed lost had returned to her
soul!--and to-day Fate had blessed her with the greatest happiness life
had ever offered. True she had had only a few brief hours in which to
enjoy it for the attack of the unbridled boys and the wound inflicted
upon her lover had cast a heavy shadow on her bliss.
Her mother had again proved to be in the right when she so confidently
predicted a second misfortune which would follow the first only too soon.
Barine had been torn at midnight from her peaceful home and her wounded
lover's bedside. This was done by the Queen's command and full of
angry excitement she said to herself that the men were right who cursed
tyranny because it transformed free human beings into characterless
There could be nothing good awaiting her; that was proved by the
messengers whom Cleopatra had sent to summon her at this unprecedented
hour. They were her worst enemies: Iras who desired to wed her lover--
Dion had told her so after the assault--and Alexas whose suit she had
rejected in a way which a man never forgives.
She had already learned Iras's feelings. The slender figure with the
narrow head long delicate nose small chin and pointed fingers seemed
to her like a long sharp thorn. This strange comparison had entered her
head as Iras stood rigidly erect reading aloud in a shrill high voice
the Queen's command. Everything about this hard cold face appeared as
sharp as a sting and ready to destroy her.
Her removal from her mother's house to the royal palace had been swift
After the attack--of which she saw little because overpowered by fear
and horror she closed her eyes--she had driven home with her lover
where the leech had bandaged his injuries and Berenike had quickly and
carefully transformed her own sleeping chamber into a sick-room.
Barine after changing her dress did not leave Dion's side. She had
attired herself carefully for she knew his delight in outward adornment.
When she returned from her grandparents before sunset she was alone
with him and he kissing her arm had murmured that wherever the Greek
tongue was spoken there was not one more beautiful. The gem was worthy
of its loveliness. So she had opened her baggage to take out the circlet
which Antony had given and it again enclasped her arm when she entered
Because Dion had told her that he deemed her fairest in the simple white
robe she had worn a few days before when there were no guests save
himself and Gorgias and she had sung until after midnight his favourite
songs as though all were intended for him alone her choice had fallen
upon this garment. And she rejoiced that she had worn it--the wounded
man's eyes rested upon her so joyously when she sat down opposite to him.
The physician had forbidden him to talk and urged him to sleep if
possible. So Barine only held his hand in silence whispering whenever
he opened his eyes a tender word of love and encouragement.
She had remained with him for hours leaving her place at his side merely
to give him his medicine or with her mother's aid place poultices on
When his manly face was distorted by suffering she shared his pain; but
during most of the time a calm pleasant sense of happiness pervaded her
mind. She felt safe and sheltered in the possession of the man whom she
loved though fully aware of the perils which threatened him and
perhaps her also. But the assurance of his love completely filled her
heart and cast every care entirely into the shade. Many men had seemed
estimable and agreeable a few even desirable husbands but Dion was the
first to awaken love in her ardent but by no means passionate soul. She
regarded the experiences of the past few days as a beautiful miracle.
How she had yearned and pined until the most fervent desire of her heart
was fulfilled! Now Dion had offered her his love and nothing could rob
her of it.
Gorgias and the sons of her uncle Arius had disturbed her a short time.
After they had gone with a good report Berenike had entreated her
daughter to lie down and let her take her place. But Barine would not
leave her lover's couch and had just loosed her hair to brush it again
and fasten the thick fair braids around her head when two hours after
midnight some one knocked loudly on the window shutters. Berenike was
in the act of removing the poultice so Barine herself went into the
atrium to wake the doorkeeper.
But the old man was not asleep and had anticipated her. She recognized
with a low cry of terror the first person who entered the lighted
vestibule--Alexas. Iras followed her head closely muffled for the
storm was still howling through the streets. Last of all a lantern-
bearer crossed the threshold.
The Syrian saluted the startled young beauty with a formal bow but Iras
without a greeting or even a single word of preparation delivered the
Queen's command and then read aloud by the light of the lantern what
Cleopatra had scrawled upon the wax tablet.
When Barine pallid and scarcely able to control her emotion requested
the messengers who had arrived at so late an hour to enter in order to
give her time to prepare for the night drive and take leave of her
mother Iras vouchsafed no reply but as if she had the right to rule
the house merely ordered the doorkeeper to bring his mistress's cloak
While the old man with trembling knees moved away Iras asked if the
wounded Dion was in the dwelling; and Barine her self-control restored
by the question answered with repellent pride that the Queen's orders
did not command her to submit to an examination in her own house.
Iras shrugged her shoulders and said sneeringly to Alexas:
"In truth I asked too much. One who attracts so many men of all ages
can scarcely be expected to know the abode of each individual."
"The heart has a faithful memory" replied the Syrian in a tone of
correction but Iras echoed contemptuously "The heart!"
Then all were silent until instead of the doorkeeper Berenike herself
came hurrying in bringing the cloak. With pallid face and bloodless
lips she wrapped it around her daughter's shoulders whispering amid
floods of tears almost inaudible words of love and encouragement which
Iras interrupted by requesting Barine to follow her to the carriage.
The mother and daughter embraced and kissed each other then the closed
equipage bore the persecuted woman through the storm and darkness to
Not a word was exchanged between Barine and the Queen's messengers until
they reached the room where the former was to await Cleopatra; but here
Iras again endeavoured to induce her to speak. At the first question
however Barine answered that she had no information to give.
The room was as bright as if it were noonday though the lights flickered
constantly for the wind found its way through the thin shutters closing
the windows on both sides of the corner room and a strong cold draught
swept in. Barine wrapped her cloak more closely around her; the storm
which howled about the sea-washed palace harmonized with the vehement
agitation of her soul. Whether she had looked within or without there
was nothing which could have soothed her save the assurance of being
loved--an assurance that held fear at bay. Now indignation prevented
dread from overpowering her yet calm consideration could not fail to
show her that danger threatened on every hand. The very manner in which
Iras and Alexas whispered together without heeding her presence boded
peril for courtiers show such contempt only to those whom they know are
threatened with the indifference or resentment of the sovereign. Barine
during her married life with a man devoid of all delicacy of feeling and
with a disposition as evil as his tongue was ready had learned to endure
many things which were hard to bear; yet when after a remark from Iras
evidently concerning her she heard Alexas laugh she was compelled to
exert the utmost self-restraint to avoid telling her enemy how utterly
she despised the cowardly cruelty of her conduct. But she succeeded in
keeping silent. Still the painful constraint she imposed on herself
must find vent in some way and as the tortured anguish of her soul
reached its height large tears rolled down her cheeks.
These too were noticed by her enemy and made the target of her wit; but
this time the sarcasm failed to produce its effect upon the Syrian for
instead of laughing he grew grave and whispered something which seemed
to Barine a reproof or a warning. Iras's reply was merely a contemptuous
shrug of the shoulders.
Barine had noticed long before that her mother in her fear and
bewilderment had brought her own cloak instead of her daughter's and
this circumstance also did not seem to her foe too trivial for a sneer.
But the childish insolence that seemed to have taken possession of one
who usually by no means lacked dignity was merely the mask beneath which
she concealed her own suffering. A grave motive was the source of the
mirth by which she affected to be moved at the sight of her enemy's
cloak. The grey ill-fitting garment disfigured Barine and she desired
that the Queen should feel confident of surpassing her rival even in
outward charms. No one not even Cleopatra could dispense with a
protecting wrap in this cold draught and nothing suited her better than
the purple mantle in whose delicate woollen fabric black and gold dragons
and griffins were embroidered. Iras had taken care that it lay ready.
Barine could not fail to appear like a beggar in comparison though
Alexas said that her blue kerchief was marvellously becoming.
He was a base-minded voluptuary who aided by rich gifts of mind and
wide knowledge had shunned no means of ingratiating himself with Antony
the most lavish of patrons. The repulse which this man accustomed to
success had received from Barine had been hard to forget yet he did not
resign the hope of winning her. Never had she seemed more desirable than
in her touching weakness. Even base natures are averse to witnessing the
torture of the defenceless and when Iras had aimed another poisoned
shaft at her he ventured at the risk of vexing his ally to say under
"Condemned criminals are usually granted before their end a favourite
dish. I have no cause to wish Barine anything good; but I would not
grudge that. You on the contrary seem to delight in pouring wormwood
on her last mouthful."
"Certainly" she answered her eyes sparkling brightly. "Malice is the
purest of pleasures; at least to me when exercised on this woman."
The Syrian with a strange smile held out his hand saying: "Keep your
good-will towards me Iras."
"Because" she retorted with a sneer "evil may follow my enmity. I
think so too. I am not especially sensitive concerning myself but
whoever dares"--here she raised her voice--"to harm one whom I--Just
listen to the cheers! How she carries all hearts with her! Though Fate
had made her a beggar she would still be peerless among women. She is
like the sun. The clouds which intrude upon her pathway of radiance are
consumed and disappear."
While uttering the last sentence she had turned towards Barine whose ear
the sharp voice again pierced like a thorn as she commanded her to
prepare for the examination.
Almost at the same moment the door caught by the wind closed with a
loud bang. The "introducer"--[Marshal of the court.]--had opened it
and after a hasty glance exclaimed:
"The audience will not be given in this meeting place for all the winds
of heaven! Her Majesty desires to receive her late visitor in the Hall
With these words he bowed courteously to Barine and ushered her and her
two companions through several corridors and apartments into a well-
Here even the windows were thoroughly protected from the storm. Several
body-guards and pages belonging to the corps of the "royal boys" stood
waiting to receive them.
"This is comfortable." said Alexas turning to Iras. "Was the winter we
have just experienced intended to fill us with twofold gratitude for the
delights of the mild spring in this blessed room?"
"Perhaps so" she answered sullenly and then added in a low tone: "Here
at Lochias the seasons do not follow their usual course. They change
according to the pleasure of the supreme will. Instead of four the
Egyptians as you know have but three; in the palaces on the Nile they
are countless. What is the meaning of this sudden entry of summer?
Winter would have pleased me better."
The Queen--Iras knew not why--had changed her arrangements for Barine's
reception. This vexed her and her features assumed a gloomy
threatening expression as the young beauty casting aside her cloak and
kerchief stood awaiting Cleopatra in a white robe of fine material and
perfect fit. The thick fair braids wound simply around her shapely
head gave her an appearance of almost childish youth and the sight made
Iras feel as if she and Cleopatra also were outwitted.
In the dimly lighted atrium of the house near the Paneum garden she had
noticed only that Barine wore something white. Had it been merely a
night robe so much the better. But she might have appeared in her
present garb at the festival of Isis. The most careful deliberation
could have selected nothing more suitable or becoming. And did this vain
woman go to rest with costly gold ornaments? Else how did the circlet
chance to be on her arm? Each of Cleopatra's charms seemed to Iras who
knew them all like a valuable possession of her own. To see even the
least of them surpassed by another vexed her; and to behold in yonder
woman a form which she could not deny was no less beautiful enraged
nay pierced her to the heart.
Since she had known that because of Barine she could hope for nothing
more from the man to whose love she believed she possessed a claim dating
from their childhood she had hated the young beauty. And now to the
many things which contributed to increase her hostile mood was added the
disagreeable consciousness that during the last few hours she had treated
her contemptibly. Had she only seen earlier what her foe's cloak
concealed she would have found means to give her a different appearance.
But she must remain as she was; for Chairman had already entered. Other
hours however would follow and if the next did not decide the fate of
the woman whom she hated future ones should.
For this purpose she did not need the aid of Charmian her uncle
Archibius's sister who had hitherto been a beloved associate and
maternal friend. But what had happened? Iras fancied that her pleasant
features wore a repellent expression which she had never seen before.
Was this also the singer's fault? And what was the cause?
The older woman's manner decided the question whether she should still
bestow upon her returned relative the love of a grateful niece. No she
would no longer put any restraint upon herself. Charmian should feel
that she (Iras) considered any favour shown to her foe an insult. To
work against her secretly was not in her nature. She had courage to show
an enemy her aversion and she did not fear Charmian enough to pursue a
different course. She knew that the artist Leonax Barine's father had
been Charmian's lover; but this did not justify her favouring the woman
who had robbed her niece of the heart of the man whom she--as Charmian
knew--had loved from childhood.
Charmian had just had a long conversation with her brother and had
also learned in the palace that Barine had been summoned to the Queen's
presence in the middle of the night; so firmly persuaded that evil was
intended to the young woman who had already passed through so many
agitating scenes of joy and sorrow she entered the waiting-room and her
pleasant though no longer youthful face framed in smooth grey hair was
greeted by Barine as the shipwrecked mariner hails the sight of land.
All the emotions which had darkened and embittered her soul were soothed.
She hastened towards her friend's sister as a frightened child seeks its
mother and Charmian perceived what was stirring in her heart.
It would not do under existing circumstances to kiss her in the palace
but she drew Leonax's daughter towards her to show Iras that she was
ready to extend a protecting hand over the persecuted woman. But Barine
gazed at her with pleading glances beseeching aid whispering amid her
tears: "Help me Charmian. She has tortured insulted humiliated me
with looks and words--so cruelly so spitefully! Help me; I can bear no
Charmian shook her kind head and urged her in a whisper to calm herself.
She had robbed Iras of her lover; she should remember that. Cost what it
might she must not shed another tear. The Queen was gracious. She
Charmian would aid her. Everything would depend on showing herself to
Cleopatra as she was not as slander represented her. She must answer
her as she would Archibius or herself.
The kindly woman as she spoke stroked her brow and eyes with maternal
tenderness and Barine felt as if goodness itself had quelled the tempest
in her soul. She gazed around her as though roused from a troubled
dream and now for the first time perceived the richly adorned room in
which she stood the admiring glances of the boys in the Macedonian corps
of pages and the bright fire blazing cheerily on the hearth. The
howling of the storm increased the pleasant sense of being under a firm
roof and Iras who had whispered to the "introducer" at the door no
longer seemed like a sharp thorn or a spiteful demon but a woman by no
means destitute of charm who repulsed her but on whom she had inflicted
the keenest pang a woman's heart can suffer. Then she again thought of
her wounded lover at home and remembered that whatever might happen
his heart did not belong to Iras but to her alone. Lastly she recalled
Archibius's description of Cleopatra's childhood and this remembrance
was followed by the conviction that the omnipotent sovereign would be
neither cruel nor unjust and that it would depend upon herself to win
her favour. Charmian too was the Queen's confidante; and if the manner
of Iras and Alexas had alarmed her Charmian's might well inspire
All these thoughts darted through her brain with the speed of lightning.
Only a brief time for consideration remained; for even as she bowed her
head on the bosom of her friend the "introducer" entered the room
crying "Her illustrious Majesty will expect those whom she summoned in a
Soon after a chamberlain appeared waving a fan of ostrich feathers and
preceded by the court official they passed through several brilliantly
lighted richly furnished rooms.
Barine again breathed freely and moved with head erect; and when the
wide lofty folding doors of ebony against whose deep black surface the
inlaid figures of Tritons mermaids shells fish and sea monsters were
sharply relieved she beheld a glittering magnificent scene for the
hall which Cleopatra had chosen for her reception was completely covered
with various marine forms from the shells to coral and starfish.
A wide lofty structure composed of masses of stalactites and unhewn
blocks of stone formed a deep grotto at the end of the hall whence
peered the gigantic head of a monster whose open jaws formed the
fireplace of the chimney. Logs of fragrant Arabian wood were blazing
brightly on the hearth and the dragon's ruby glass eyes diffused a red
light through the apartment which blended with the rays of the white and
pink lamps in the shape of lotus flowers fastened among gold and silver
tendrils and groups of sedges on the walls and ceiling filling the
spacious apartment with the soft light whose roseate hue was specially
becoming to Cleopatra's waxen complexion.
Several stewards and cup-bearers the master of the hunt chamberlains
female attendants eunuchs and other court officials were awaiting the
Queen and pages who belonged to the Macedonian cadet corps of royal boys
stood sleepily with drooping heads around the small throne of gold
coral and amber which placed opposite to the chimney awaited the
Barine had already seen this magnificent hall and others still more
beautiful in the Sebasteum and the splendour therefore neither excited
nor abashed her; only she would fain have avoided the numerous train of
courtiers. Could it be Cleopatra's intention to question her before the
eyes of all these men women and boys?
She no longer felt afraid but her heart still throbbed quickly. It had
beat in the same way in her girlhood when she was asked to sing in the
presence of strangers.
At last she heard doors open and an invisible hand parted the heavy
curtains at her right. She expected to see the Regent the Keeper of the
Seal and the whole brilliantly adorned train of attendants who always
surrounded the Queen on formal occasions enter the magnificent hall.
Else why had it been selected as the scene of this nocturnal trial?
But what was this?
While she was still recalling the display at the Adonis festival the
curtains began to close again. The courtiers around the throne
straightened their bowed figures the pages forgot their fatigue and all
joined in the Greek salutation of welcome and the "Life! happiness!
health!" with which the Egyptians greeted their sovereign.
The woman of middle height who now appeared before the curtain and who
as she crossed the wide hall alone and unattended seemed to Barine even
smaller than when surrounded by the gay throng at the Adonis festival
must be the Queen. Ay it was she!
Iras was already standing by her side and Charmian was approaching with
the "introducer." The women rendered her various little services thus
Iras took from her shoulders the purple mantle with its embroidery of
black and gold dragons. What an exquisite masterpiece of the loom it
All the dangers against which she must defend herself flashed swiftly
through Barine's mind; yet for an instant she felt the foolish feminine
desire to see and handle the costly mantle.
But Iras had already laid it on the arm of one of the waiting maids and