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Cleopatra by H. Rider Haggard

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her on the brow, and Charmion she also kissed. This done, tarrying not
and making no prayer, for Iras was a Greek, she drank, and, putting
her hand to her head, instantly fell down and died.

"Thou seest," I said, breaking in upon the silence, "it is swift."

"Ay, Olympus; thine is a master drug! Come now, I thirst; fill me the
bowl, lest Iras weary in waiting at the gates!"

So I poured afresh into the goblet; but this time, making pretence to
rinse the cup, I mixed a little water with the bane, for I was not
minded that she should die before she knew me.

Then did the royal Cleopatra, taking the goblet in her hand, turn her
lovely eyes to heaven and cry aloud:

"O ye Gods of Egypt! who have deserted me, to you no longer will I
pray, for your ears are shut unto my crying and your eyes blind to my
griefs! Therefore, I make entreaty of that last friend whom the Gods,
departing, leave to helpless man. Sweep hither, Death, whose winnowing
wings enshadow all the world, and give me ear! Draw nigh, thou King of
Kings! who, with an equal hand, bringest the fortunate head of one
pillow with the slave, and by thy spiritual breath dost waft the
bubble of our life far from this hell of earth! Hide me where winds
blow not and waters cease to roll; where wars are done and Csar's
legions cannot march! Take me to a new dominion, and crown me Queen of
Peace! Thou art my Lord, O Death, and in thy kiss I have conceived. I
am in labour of a Soul: see--it stands new-born upon the edge of Time!
Now--now--go, Life! Come, Sleep! Come, Antony!"

And, with one glance to heaven, she drank, and cast the goblet to the

Then at last came the moment of my pent-up vengeance, and of the
vengeance of Egypt's outraged Gods, and of the falling of the curse of

"What's this?" she cried; "I grow cold, but I die not! Thou dark
physician, thou hast betrayed me!"

"Peace, Cleopatra! Presently shalt thou die and know the fury of the
Gods! /The curse of Menkau-ra hath fallen!/ It is finished! Look upon
me, woman! Look upon this marred face, this twisted form, this living
mass of sorrow! /Look! look!/ Who am I?"

She stared upon me wildly.

"Oh! oh!" she shrieked, throwing up her arms; "at last I know thee! By
the Gods, thou art Harmachis!--Harmachis risen from the dead!"

"Ay, Harmachis risen from the dead to drag thee down to death and
agony eternal! See, thou Cleopatra; /I/ have ruined thee as thou didst
ruin me! I, working in the dark, and helped of the angry Gods, have
been thy secret spring of woe! I filled thy heart with fear at Actium;
I held the Egyptians from thy aid; I sapped the strength of Antony; I
showed the portent of the Gods unto thy captains! By my hand at length
thou diest, for I am the instrument of Vengeance! Ruin I pay thee back
for ruin, Treachery for treachery, Death for death! Come hither,
Charmion, partner of my plots, who betrayed me, but, repenting, art
the sharer of my triumph, come watch this fallen wanton die!"

Cleopatra heard, and sank back upon the golden bed, groaning "And
thou, too, Charmion!"

A moment so she sat, then her Imperial spirit burnt up glorious before
she died.

She staggered from the bed, and, with arms outstretched, she cursed

"Oh! for one hour of life!" she cried--"one short hour, that therein I
might make thee die in such fashion as thou canst not dream, thou and
that false paramour of thine, who betrayed both me and thee! And thou
didst love me! Ah, /there/ I have thee still! See, thou subtle,
plotting priest"--and with both hands she rent back the royal robes
from her bosom--"see, on this fair breast once night by night thy head
was pillowed, and thou didst sleep wrapped in these same arms. Now,
put away their memory /if thou canst!/ I read it in thine eyes--that
mayst thou not! No torture which I bear can, in its sum, draw nigh to
the rage of that deep soul of thine, rent with longings never, never
to be reached! Harmachis, thou slave of slaves, from thy triumph-
depths I snatch a deeper triumph, and conquered yet I conquer! I spit
upon thee--I defy thee--and, dying, doom thee to the torment of thy
deathless love! O Antony! I come, my Antony!--I come to thy own dear
arms! Soon I shall find thee, and, wrapped in a love undying and
divine, together we will float through all the depths of space, and,
lips to lips and eyes to eyes, drink of desires grown more sweet with
every draught! Or if I find thee not, then I shall sink in peace down
the poppied ways of Sleep: and for me the breast of Night, whereon I
shall be softly cradled, will yet seem thy bosom, Antony! Oh, I die!--
come, Antony--and give me peace!"

Even in my fury I had quailed beneath her scorn, for home flew the
arrows of her winged words. Alas! and alas! it was /true/--the shaft
of my vengeance fell upon my own head; never had I loved her as I
loved her now. My soul was rent with jealous torture, and thus I swore
she should not die.

"Peace!" I cried; "what peace is there for thee? Oh! ye Holy Three,
hear now my prayer. Osiris, loosen Thou the bonds of Hell and send
forth those whom I shall summon! Come Ptolemy, poisoned of thy sister
Cleopatra; come Arsino, murdered in the sanctuary by thy sister
Cleopatra; come Sepa, tortured to death of Cleopatra; come Divine
Menkau-ra, whose body Cleopatra tore and whose curse she braved for
greed; come one, come all who have died at the hands of Cleopatra!
Rush from the breast of Nout and greet her who murdered you! By the
link of mystic union, by the symbol of the Life, Spirits, I summon

Thus I spoke the spell; while Charmion, affrighted, clung to my robe,
and the dying Cleopatra, resting on her hands, swung slowly to and
fro, gazing with vacant eyes.

Then the answer came. The casement burst asunder, and on flittering
wings that great bat entered which last I had seen hanging to the
eunuch's chin in the womb of the pyramid of /Her/. Thrice it circled
round, once it hovered o'er dead Iras, then flew to where the dying
woman stood. To her it flew, on her breast it settled, clinging to
that emerald which was dragged from the dead heart of Menkau-ra.
Thrice the grey Horror screamed aloud, thrice it beat its bony wings,
and lo! it was gone.

Then suddenly within that chamber sprang up the Shapes of Death. There
was Arsino, the beautiful, even as she had shrunk beneath the
butcher's knife. There was young Ptolemy, his features twisted by the
poisoned cup. There was the majesty of Menkau-ra, crowned with the
urus crown; there was grave Sepa, his flesh all torn by the
torturer's hooks; there were those poisoned slaves; and there were
others without number, shadowy and dreadful to behold! who, thronging
that narrow chamber, stood silently fixing their glassy eyes upon the
face of her who slew them!

"Behold! Cleopatra!" I said. "/Behold thy peace, and die!/"

"Ay!" said Charmion. "Behold and die! thou who didst rob me of my
honour, and Egypt of her King!"

She looked, she saw the awful Shapes--her Spirit, hurrying from the
flesh, mayhap could hear words to which my ears were deaf. Then her
face sank in with terror, her great eyes grew pale, and, shrieking,
Cleopatra fell and died: passing, with that dread company, to her
appointed place.

Thus, then, I, Harmachis, fed my soul with vengeance, fulfilling the
justice of the Gods, and yet knew myself empty of all joy therein. For
though that thing we worship doth bring us ruin, and Love being more
pitiless than Death, we in turn do pay all our sorrow back; yet we
must worship on, yet stretch out our arms towards our lost Desire, and
pour our heart's blood upon the shrine of our discrowned God.

For Love is of the Spirit, and knows not Death.



Charmion unclasped my arm, to which she had clung in terror.

"Thy vengeance, thou dark Harmachis," she said, in a hoarse voice, "is
a thing hideous to behold! O lost Egypt, with all thy sins thou wast
indeed a Queen!

"Come, aid me, Prince; let us stretch this poor clay upon the bed and
deck it royally, so that it may give its dumb audience to the
messengers of Csar as becomes the last of Egypt's Queens."

I spoke no word in answer, for my heart was very heavy, and now that
all was done I was weary. Together, then, we lifted up the body and
laid it on the golden bed. Charmion placed the urus crown upon the
ivory brow, and combed the night-dark hair that showed never a thread
of silver, and, for the last time, shut those eyes wherein had shone
all the changing glories of the sea. She folded the chill hands upon
the breast whence Passion's breath had fled, and straightened the bent
knees beneath the broidered robe, and by the head set flowers. And
there at length Cleopatra lay, more splendid now in her cold majesty
of death than in her richest hour of breathing beauty!

We drew back and looked on her, and on dead Iras at her feet.

"It is done!" quoth Charmion; "we are avenged, and now, Harmachis,
dost follow by this same road?" And she nodded towards the phial on
the board.

"Nay, Charmion. I fly--I fly to a heavier death! Not thus easily may I
end my space of earthly penance."

"So be it, Harmachis! And I, Harmachis--I fly also, but with swifter
wings. My game is played. I, too, have made atonement. Oh! what a
bitter fate is mine, to have brought misery on all I love, and, in the
end, to die unloved! To thee I have atoned; to my angered Gods I have
atoned; and now I go to find a way whereby I may atone to Cleopatra in
that Hell where she is, and which I must share! For she loved me well,
Harmachis; and, now that she is dead, methinks that, after thee, I
loved her best of all. So of her cup and the cup of Iras I will surely
drink!" And she took the phial, and with a steady hand poured what was
left of the poison into the goblet.

"Bethink thee, Charmion," I said; "yet mayst thou live for many years,
hiding these sorrows beneath the withered days."

"Yet I may, but I will not! To live the prey of so many memories, the
fount of an undying shame that night by night, as I lie sleepless,
shall well afresh from my sorrow-stricken heart!--to live torn by a
love I cannot lose!--to stand alone like some storm-twisted tree, and,
sighing day by day to the winds of heaven, gaze upon the desert of my
life, while I wait the lingering lightning's stroke--nay, that will
not I, Harmachis! I had died long since, but I lived on to serve thee;
now no more thou needest me, and I go. Oh, fare thee well!--for ever
fare thee well! For not again shall I look again upon thy face, and
there I go thou goest not! For thou dost not love me who still dost
love that queenly woman thou hast hounded to the death! Her thou shalt
never win, and I thee shall never win, and this is the bitter end of
Fate! See, Harmachis: I ask one boon before I go and for all time
become naught to thee but a memory of shame. Tell me that thou dost
forgive me so far as thine is to forgive, and in token thereof kiss me
--with no lover's kiss, but kiss me on the brow, and bid me pass in

And she drew near to me with arms outstretched and pitiful trembling
lips and gazed upon my face.

"Charmion," I answered, "we are free to act for good or evil, and yet
methinks there is a Fate above our fate, that, blowing from some
strange shore, compels our little sails of purpose, set them as we
will, and drives us to destruction. I forgive thee, Charmion, as I
trust in turn to be forgiven, and by this kiss, the first and the
last, I seal our peace." And with my lips I touched her brow.

She spoke no more; only for a little while she stood gazing on me with
sad eyes. Then she lifted the goblet, and said:

"Royal Harmachis, in this deadly cup I pledge thee! Would that I had
drunk of it ere ever I looked upon thy face! Pharaoh, who, thy sins
outworn, yet shalt rule in perfect peace o'er worlds I may not tread,
who yet shalt sway a kinglier sceptre than that I robbed thee of, for
ever, fare thee well!"

She drank, cast down the cup, and for a moment stood with the wide
eyes of one who looks for Death. Then He came, and Charmion the
Egyptian fell prone upon the floor, dead. And for a moment more I
stood alone with the dead.

I crept to the side of Cleopatra, and, now that none were left to see,
I sat down on the bed and laid her head upon my knee, as once before
it had been laid in that night of sacrilege beneath the shadow of the
everlasting pyramid. Then I kissed her chill brow and went from the
House of Death--avenged, but sorely smitten with despair!

"Physician," said the officer of the Guard as I went through the
gates, "what passes yonder in the Monument? Methought I heard the
sounds of death."

"Naught passes--all hath passed," I made reply, and went.

And as I went in the darkness I heard the sound of voices and the
running of the feet of Csar's messengers.

Flying swiftly to my house I found Atoua waiting at the gates. She
drew me into a quiet chamber and closed the doors.

"Is it done?" she asked, and turned her wrinkled face to mine, while
the lamplight streamed white upon her snowy hair. "Nay, why ask I--I
know that it is done!"

"Ay, it is done, and well done, old wife! All are dead! Cleopatra,
Iras, Charmion--all save myself!"

The aged woman drew up her bent form and cried: "Now let me go in
peace, for I have seen my desire upon thy foes and the foes of Khem.
/La! la!/--not in vain have I lived on beyond the years of man! I have
seen my desire upon thy enemies---I have gathered the dews of Death,
and thy foe hath drunk thereof! Fallen is the brow of Pride! the Shame
of Khem is level with the dust! Ah, would that I might have seen that
wanton die!"

"Cease, woman! cease! The Dead are gathered to the Dead! Osiris holds
them fast, and everlasting silence seals their lips! Pursue not the
fallen great with insults! Up!--let us fly to Abouthis, that all may
be accomplished!"

"Fly thou, Harmachis!--Harmachis, fly--but I fly not! To this end only
I have lingered on the earth. Now I untie the knot of life and let my
spirit free! Fare thee well, Prince, the pilgrimage is done!
Harmachis, from a babe have I loved thee, and love thee yet!--but no
more in this world may I share thy griefs--I am spent. Osiris, take
thou my Spirit!" and her trembling knees gave way and she sank to the

I ran to her side and looked upon her. She was already dead, and I was
alone upon the earth without a friend to comfort me!

Then I turned and went, no man hindering me, for all was confusion in
the city, and departed from Alexandria in a vessel I had made ready.
On the eighth day, I landed, and, in the carrying out of my purpose,
travelled on foot across the fields to the Holy Shrine of Abouthis.
And here, as I knew, the worship of the Gods had been lately set up
again in the Temple of the Divine Sethi: for Charmion had caused
Cleopatra to repent of her decree of vengeance and to restore the
lands that she had seized, though the treasure she restored not. And
the temple having been purified, now, at the season of the Feast of
Isis, all the High Priests of the ancient Temples of Egypt were
gathered together to celebrate the coming home of the Gods into their
holy place.

I gained the city. It was on the seventh day of the Feast of Isis.
Even as I came the long array wended through the well-remembered
streets. I joined in the multitude that followed, and with my voice
swelled the chorus of the solemn chant as we passed through the pylons
into the imperishable halls. How well known were the holy words:

"Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling
Within the Sanctuary Sevenfold;
Soft on the Dead that liveth are we calling:
'Return, Osiris, from thy Kingdom cold!
Return to them that worship thee of old!'"

And then, when the sacred music ceased, as aforetime on the setting of
the majesty of Ra, the High Priest raised the statue of the living God
and held it on high before the multitude.

With a joyful shout of

"Osiris! our hope, Osiris! Osiris!"

the people tore the black wrappings from their dress, showing the
white robes beneath, and, as one man, bowed before the God.

Then they went to feast each at his home; but I stayed in the court of
the temple.

Presently a priest of the temple drew near, and asked me of my
business. And I answered him that I came from Alexandria, and would be
led before the council of the High Priests, for I knew that the Holy
Priests were gathered together debating the tidings from Alexandria.

Thereon the man left, and the High Priests, hearing that I was from
Alexandria, ordered that I should be led into their presence in the
Hall of Columns--and so I was led in. It was already dark, and between
the great pillars lights were set, as on that night when I was crowned
Pharaoh of the Upper and the Lower Land. There, too, was the long line
of Dignitaries seated in their carven chairs, and taking counsel
together. All was the same; the same cold images of Kings and Gods
gazed with the same empty eyes from the everlasting walls. Ay, more;
among those gathered there were five of the very men who, as leaders
of the great plot, had sat here to see me crowned, being the only
conspirators who had escaped the vengeance of Cleopatra and the
clutching hand of Time.

I took my stand on the spot where once I had been crowned and made me
ready for the last act of shame with such bitterness of heart as
cannot be written.

"Why, it is the physician Olympus," said one. "He who lived a hermit
in the Tombs of Tp, and who but lately was of the household of
Cleopatra. Is it, then, true that the Queen is dead by her own hand,

"Yea, holy Sirs, I am that physician; also Cleopatra is dead by /my/

"By thy hand? Why, how comes this?--though well is she dead, forsooth,
the wicked wanton!"

"Your pardon, Sirs, and I will tell you all, for I am come hither to
that end. Perchance among you there may be some--methinks I see some--
who, nigh eleven years ago, were gathered in this hall to secretly
crown one Harmachis, Pharaoh of Khem?"

"It is true!" they said; "but how knowest thou these things, thou

"Of the rest of those seven-and-thirty nobles," I went on, making no
answer, "are two-and-thirty missing. Some are dead, as Amenemhat is
dead; some are slain, as Sepa is slain; and some, perchance, yet
labour as slaves within the mines, or live afar, fearing vengeance."

"It is so," they said: "alas! it is so. Harmachis the accursed
betrayed the plot, and sold himself to the wanton Cleopatra!"

"It is so," I went on, lifting up my head. "Harmachis betrayed the
plot and sold himself to Cleopatra; and, holy Sirs--/I am that

The Priests and Dignitaries gazed astonished. Some rose and spoke;
some said naught.

"I am that Harmachis! I am that traitor, trebly steeped in crime!--a
traitor to my Gods, a traitor to my Country, a traitor to my Oath! I
come hither to say that I have done this. I have executed the Divine
vengeance on her who ruined me and gave Egypt to the Roman. And now
that, after years of toil and patient waiting, this is accomplished by
my wisdom and the help of the angry Gods, behold I come with all my
shame upon my head to declare the thing I am, and take the traitor's

"Mindest thou of the doom of him who hath broke the oath that may not
be broke?" asked he who first had spoken, in heavy tones.

"I know it well," I answered; "I court that awful doom."

"Tell us more of this matter, thou who wast Harmachis."

So, in cold clear words, I laid bare all my shame, keeping back
nothing. And ever as I spoke I saw their faces grow more hard, and
knew that for me there was no mercy; nor did I ask it, nor, had I
asked, could it have been granted.

When, at last, I had done, they put me aside while they took counsel.
Then they drew me forth again, and the eldest among them, a man very
old and venerable, the Priest of the Temple of the Divine Hatshepu at
Tp, spoke, in icy accents:

"Thou Harmachis, we have considered this matter. Thou hast sinned the
threefold deadly sin. On thy head lies the burden of the woe of Khem,
this day enthralled of Rome. To Isis, the Mother Mystery, thou hast
offered the deadly insult, and thou hast broken thy holy oath. For all
of these sins there is, as well thou knowest, but one reward, and that
reward is thine. Naught can it weigh in the balance of our justice
that thou hast slain her who was thy cause of stumbling; naught that
thou comest to name thyself the vilest thing who ever stood within
these walls. On thee also must fall the curse of Menkau-ra, thou false
priest! thou forsworn patriot! thou Pharaoh shameful and discrowned!
Here, where we set the Double Crown upon thy head, we doom thee to the
doom! Go to thy dungeon and await the falling of its stroke! Go,
remembering what thou mightest have been and what thou art, and may
those Gods who through thy evil doing shall perchance ere long cease
to be worshipped within these holy temples, give to thee that mercy
which we deny! Lead him forth!"

So they took me and led me forth. With bowed head I went, looking not
up, and yet I felt their eyes burn upon my face.

Oh! surely of all my shames this is the heaviest!



They led me to the prison chamber that is high in the pylon tower and
here I wait my doom. I know not when the sword of Fate shall fall.
Week grows to week, and month to month, and still it is delayed. Still
it quivers unseen above my head. I know that it will fall, but when I
know not. Perchance, I shall wake in some dead hour of midnight to
hear the stealthy steps of the slayers and be hurried forth.
Perchance, they are now at hand. Then will come the secret cell! the
horror! the nameless coffin! and at last it will be done! Oh, let it
come! let it come swiftly!

All is written; I have held back nothing--my sin is sinned--my
vengeance is finished. Now all things end in darkness and in ashes,
and I prepare to face the terrors that are to come in other worlds
than this. I go, but not without hope I go: for, though I see Her not,
though no more She answers to my prayers, still I am aware of the Holy
Isis, who is with me for evermore, and whom I shall yet again behold
face to face. And then at last in that far day I shall find
forgiveness; then the burden of my guilt will roll from me and
innocency come back and wrap me round, bringing me holy Peace.

Oh! dear land of Khem, as in a dream I see thee! I see Nation after
Nation set its standard on thy shores, and its yoke upon thy neck! I
see new Religions without end calling out their truths upon the banks
of Sihor, and summoning thy people to their worship! I see thy temples
--thy holy temples--crumbling in the dust: a wonder to the sight of
men unborn, who shall peer into thy tombs and desecrate the great ones
of thy glory! I see thy mysteries a mockery to the unlearned, and thy
wisdom wasted like waters on the desert sands! I see the Roman Eagles
stoop and perish, their beaks yet red with the blood of men, and the
long lights dancing down the barbarian spears that follow in their
wake! And then, at last, I see Thee once more great, once more free,
and having once more a knowledge of thy Gods--ay, thy Gods with a
changed countenance, and called by other names, but still thy Gods!

The sun sinks over Abouthis. The red rays of Ra flame on temple roofs,
upon green fields, and the wide waters of father Sihor. So as a child
I watched him sink; just so his last kiss touched the further pylon's
frowning brow; just that same shadow lay upon the tombs. All is
unchanged! I--I only am changed--so changed, and yet the same!

Oh, Cleopatra! Cleopatra! thou Destroyer! if I might but tear thy
vision from my heart! Of all my griefs, this is the heaviest grief--
still must I love thee! Still must I hug this serpent to my heart!
Still in my ears must ring that low laugh of triumph--the murmur of
the falling fountain--the song of the nightinga----

[Here the writing on the third roll of papyrus abruptly ends. It would
almost seem that the writer was at this moment broken in upon by those
who came to lead him to his doom.]

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