“Now pledge me,” she sighed; “pledge me one cup of wine in token of thy love.”
I took the draught, and I drank deep; then too late I knew that it was drugged.
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 to lie?
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: