“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 me thither?”
“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 prosper.”
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 spread abroad.
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“Yea, my Lord; all things are in order: well primed with wine, Paulus guards the gates, the eunuchs are withdrawn save one, the legionaries sleep, and already Sepa and his force lie hid without.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?”