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 chattels.
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.