The Sisters by Georg Ebers
The man whom Klea had seen was in fact none other than Publius. He was now at the end of a busy day, for after he had assured himself that Irene had been received by the sculptor and his wife, and welcomed as if she were their own child, he had returned to his tent to write once more a dispatch to Rome. But this he could not accomplish, for his friend Lysias paced restlessly up and down by him as he sat, and as often as he put the reed to the papyrus disturbed him with enquiries about the recluse, the sculptor, and their rescued protegee.
When, finally, the Corinthian desired to know whether he, Publius, considered Irene's eyes to be brown or blue, he had sprung up impatiently, and exclaimed indignantly:
"And supposing they were red or green, what would it matter to me!"
Lysias seemed pleased rather than vexed with this reply, and he was on the point of confessing to his friend that Irene had caused in his heart a perfect conflagration--as of a forest or a city in flames--when a master of the horse had appeared from Euergetes, to present the four splendid horses from Cyrene, which his master requested the noble Roman Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica to accept in token of his friendship.
The two friends, who both were judges and lovers of horses, spent at least an hour in admiring the fine build and easy paces of these valuable beasts. Then came a chamberlain from the queen to invite Publius to go to her at once.
The Roman followed the messenger after a short delay in his tent, in order to take with him the gems representing the marriage of Hebe, for on his way from the sculptor's to the palace it had occurred to him that he would offer them to the queen, after he had informed her of the parentage of the two water-carriers. Publius had keen eyes, and the queen's weaknesses had not escaped him, but he had never suspected her of being capable of abetting her licentious brother in forcibly possessing himself of the innocent daughter of a noble father. He now purposed to make her a present--as in some degree a substitute for the representation his friend had projected, and which had come to nothing--of the picture which she had hoped to find pleasure in reproducing.
Cleopatra received him on her roof, a favor of which few could boast; she allowed him to sit at her feet while she reclined on her couch, and gave him to understand, by every glance of her eyes and every word she spoke, that his presence was a happiness to her, and filled her with passionate delight. Publius soon contrived to lead the conversation to the subject of the innocent parents of the water-bearers, who had been sent off to the goldmines; but Cleopatra interrupted his speech in their favor and asked him plainly, undisguisedly, and without any agitation, whether it was true that he himself desired to win the youthful Hebe. And she met his absolute denial with such persistent and repeated expressions of disbelief, assuming at last a tone of reproach, that he grew vexed and broke out into a positive declaration that he regarded lying as unmanly and disgraceful, and could endure any insult rather than a doubt of his veracity.
Such a vehement and energetic remonstrance from a man she had distinguished was a novelty to Cleopatra, and she did not take it amiss, for she might now believe--what she much wished to believe--that Publius wanted to have nothing to do with the fair Hebe, that Eulaeus had slandered her friend, and that Zoe had been in error when, after her vain expedition to the temple--from which she had then just returned--she had told her that the Roman was Irene's lover, and must at the earliest hour have betrayed to the girl herself, or to the priests in the Serapeum, what was their purpose regarding her.
In the soul of this noble youth there was nothing false--there could be nothing false! And she, who was accustomed never to hear a word from the men who surrounded her without asking herself with what aim it was spoken, and how much of it was dissimulation or downright falsehood, trusted the Roman, and was so happy in her trust that, full of gracious gaiety, she herself invited Publius to give her the recluse's petition to read. The Roman at once gave her the roll, saying that since it contained so much that was sad, much as he hoped she would make herself acquainted with it, he felt himself called upon also to give her some pleasure, though in truth but a very small one. Thus speaking he produced the gems, and she showed as much delight over this little work of art as if, instead of being a rich queen and possessed of the finest engraved gems in the world, she were some poor girl receiving her first gift of some long-desired gold ornament.
"Exquisite, splendid!" she cried again and again. "And besides, they are an imperishable memorial of you, dear friend, and of your visit to Egypt. I will have them set with the most precious stones; even diamonds will seem worthless to me compared with this gift from you. This has already decided my sentence as to Eulaeus and his unhappy victims before I read your petition. Still I will read that roll, and read it attentively, for my husband regards Eulaeus as a useful--almost an indispensable-tool, and I must give good reasons for my verdict and for the pardon. I believe in the innocence of the unfortunate Philotas, but if he had committed a hundred murders, after this present I would procure his freedom all the same."
The words vexed the Roman, and they made her who had spoken them in order to please him appear to him at that moment more in the light of a corruptible official than of a queen. He found the time hang heavy that he spent with Cleopatra, who, in spite of his reserve, gave him to understand with more and more insistence how warmly she felt towards him; but the more she talked and the more she told him, the more silent he became, and he breathed a sigh of relief when her husband at last appeared to fetch him and Cleopatra away to their mid-day meal.
At table Philometor promised to take up the cause of Philotas and his wife, both of whom he had known, and whose fate had much grieved him; still he begged his wife and the Roman not to bring Eulaeus to justice till Euergetes should have left Memphis, for, during his brother's presence, beset as he was with difficulties, he could not spare him; and if he might judge of Publius by himself he cared far more to reinstate the innocent in their rights, and to release them from their miserable lot--a lot of which he had only learned the full horrors quite recently from his tutor Agatharchides--than to drag a wretch before the judges to-morrow or the day after, who was unworthy of his anger, and who at any rate should not escape punishment.
Before the letter from Asclepiodorus--stating the mistaken hypothesis entertained by the priests of Serapis that Irene had been carried off by the king's order--could reach the palace, Publius had found an opportunity of excusing himself and quitting the royal couple. Not even Cleopatra herself could raise any objection to his distinct assurance that he must write to Rome today on matters of importance. Philometor's favor was easy to win, and as soon as he was alone with his wife he could not find words enough in praise of the noble qualities of the young man, who seemed destined in the future to be of the greatest service to him and to his interests at Rome, and whose friendly attitude towards himself was one more advantage that he owed--as he was happy to acknowledge--to the irresistible talents and grace of his wife.
When Publius had quitted the palace and hurried back to his tent, he felt like a journeyman returning from a hard day's labor, or a man acquitted from a serious charge; like one who had lost his way, and has found the right road again.
The heavy air in the arbors and alleys of the embowered gardens seemed to him easier to breathe than the cool breeze that fanned Cleopatra's raised roof. He felt the queen's presence to be at once exciting and oppressive, and in spite of all that was flattering to himself in the advances made to him by the powerful princess, it was no more gratifying to his taste than an elegantly prepared dish served on gold plate, which we are forced to partake of though poison may be hidden in it, and which when at last we taste it is sickeningly sweet.
Publius was an honest man, and it seemed to him--as to all who resemble him--that love which was forced upon him was like a decoration of honor bestowed by a hand which we do not respect, and that we would rather refuse than accept; or like praise out of all proportion to our merit, which may indeed delight a fool, but rouses the indignation rather than the gratitude of a wise man. It struck him too that Cleopatra intended to make use of him, in the first place as a toy to amuse herself, and then as a useful instrument or underling, and this so gravely incensed and discomfited the serious and sensitive young man that he would willingly have quitted Memphis and Egypt at once and without any leave-taking. However, it was not quite easy for him to get away, for all his thoughts of Cleopatra were mixed up with others of Klea, as inseparably as when we picture to ourselves the shades of night, the tender light of the calm moon rises too before our fancy.
Having saved Irene, his present desire was to restore her parents to liberty; to quit Egypt without having seen Klea once more seemed to him absolutely impossible. He endeavored once more to revive in his mind the image of her proud tall figure; he felt he must tell her that she was beautiful, a woman worthy of a king--that he was her friend and hated injustice, and was ready to sacrifice much for justice's sake and for her own in the service of her parents and herself. To-day again, before the banquet, he purposed to go to the temple, and to entreat the recluse to help him to an interview with his adopted daughter.
If only Klea could know beforehand what he had been doing for Irene and their parents she must surely let him see that her haughty eyes could look kindly on him, must offer him her hand in farewell, and then he should clasp it in both his, and press it to his breast. Then would he tell her in the warmest and most inspired words he could command how happy he was to have seen her and known her, and how painful it was to bid her farewell; perhaps she might leave her hand in his, and give him some kind word in return. One kind word--one phrase of thanks from Klea's firm but beautiful mouth--seemed to him of higher value than a kiss or an embrace from the great and wealthy Queen of Egypt.
When Publius was excited he could be altogether carried away by a sudden sweep of passion, but his imagination was neither particularly lively nor glowing. While his horses were being harnessed, and then while he was driving to the Serapeum, the tall form of the water-bearer was constantly before him; again and again he pictured himself holding her hand instead of the reins, and while he repeated to himself all he meant to say at parting, and in fancy heard her thank him with a trembling voice for his valuable help, and say that she would never forget him, he felt his eyes moisten--unused as they had been to tears for many years. He could not help recalling the day when he had taken leave of his family to go to the wars for the first time. Then it had not been his own eyes but his mother's that had sparkled through tears, and it struck him that Klea, if she could be compared to any other woman, was most like to that noble matron to whom he owed his life, and that she might stand by the side of the daughter of the great Scipio Africanus like a youthful Minerva by the side of Juno, the stately mother of the gods.
His disappointment was great when he found the door of the temple closed, and was forced to return to Memphis without having seen either Klea or the recluse.
He could try again to-morrow to accomplish what had been impossible to-day, but his wish to see the girl he loved, rose to a torturing longing, and as he sat once more in his tent to finish his second despatch to Rome the thought of Klea came again to disturb his serious work. Twenty times he started up to collect his thoughts, and as often flung away his reed as the figure of the water-bearer interposed between him and the writing under his hand; at last, out of patience with himself, he struck the table in front of him with some force, set his fists in his sides hard enough to hurt himself, and held them there for a minute, ordering himself firmly and angrily to do his duty before he thought of anything else.
His iron will won the victory; by the time it was growing dusk the despatch was written. He was in the very act of stamping the wax of the seal with the signet of his family--engraved on the sardonyx of his ring--when one of his servants announced a black slave who desired to speak with him. Publius ordered that he should be admitted, and the negro handed him the tile on which Eulaeus had treacherously written Klea's invitation to meet her at midnight near the Apis-tombs. His enemy's crafty-looking emissary seemed to the young man as a messenger from the gods; in a transport of haste and, without the faintest shadow of a suspicion he wrote, "I will be there," on the luckless piece of clay.
Publius was anxious to give the letter to the Senate, which he had just finished, with his own hand, and privately, to the messenger who had yesterday brought him the despatch from Rome; and as he would rather have set aside an invitation to carry off a royal treasure that same night than have neglected to meet Klea, he could not in any case be a guest at the king's banquet, though Cleopatra would expect to see him there in accordance with his promise. At this juncture he was annoyed to miss his friend Lysias, for he wished to avoid offending the queen; and the Corinthian, who at this moment was doubtless occupied in some perfectly useless manner, was as clever in inventing plausible excuses as he himself was dull in such matters. He hastily wrote a few lines to the friend who shared his tent, requesting him to inform the king that he had been prevented by urgent business from appearing among his guests that evening; then he threw on his cloak, put on his travelling-hat which shaded his face, and proceeded on foot and without any servant to the harbor, with his letter in one hand and a staff in the other.
The soldiers and civic guards which filled the courts of the palace, taking him for a messenger, did not challenge him as he walked swiftly and firmly on, and so, without being detained or recognized, he reached the inn by the harbor, where he was forced to wait an hour before the messenger came home from the gay strangers' quarter where he had gone to amuse himself. He had a great deal to talk of with this man, who was to set out next morning for Alexandria and Rome; but Publius hardly gave himself the necessary time, for he meant to start for the meeting place in the Necropolis indicated by Klea, and well-known to himself, a full hour before midnight, although he knew that he could reach his destination in a very much shorter time.
The sun seems to move too slowly to those who long and wait, and a planet would be more likely to fail in punctuality than a lover when called by love.
In order to avoid observation he did not take a chariot but a strong mule which the host of the inn lent him with pleasure; for the Roman was so full of happy excitement in the hope of meeting Klea that he had slipped a gold piece into the small, lightly-closed fingers of the innkeeper's pretty child, which lay asleep on a bench by the side of the table, besides paying double as much for the country wine he had drunk as if it had been fine Falernian and without asking for his reckoning. The host looked at him in astonishment when, finally, he sprang with a grand leap on to the back of the tall beast, without laying his hand on it; and it seemed even to Publius himself as though he had never since boyhood felt so fresh, so extravagantly happy as at this moment.
The road to the tombs from the harbor was a different one to that which led thither from the king's palace, and which Klea had taken, nor did it lead past the tavern in which she had seen the murderers. By day it was much used by pilgrims, and the Roman could not miss it even by night, for the mule he was riding knew it well. That he had learned, for in answer to his question as to what the innkeeper kept the beast for he had said that it was wanted every day to carry pilgrims arriving from Upper Egypt to the temple of Serapis and the tombs of the sacred bulls; he could therefore very decidedly refuse the host's offer to send a driver with the beast. All who saw him set out supposed that he was returning to the city and the palace.
Publius rode through the streets of the city at an easy trot, and, as the laughter of soldiers carousing in a tavern fell upon his ear, he could have joined heartily in their merriment. But when the silent desert lay around him, and the stars showed him that he would be much too early at the appointed place, he brought the mule to a slower pace, and the nearer he came to his destination the graver he grew, and the stronger his heart beat. It must be something important and pressing indeed that Klea desired to tell him in such a place and at such an hour. Or was she like a thousand other women--was he now on the way to a lover's meeting with her, who only a few days before had responded to his glance and accepted his violets?
This thought flashed once through his mind with importunate distinctness, but he dismissed it as absurd and unworthy of himself. A king would be more likely to offer to share his throne with a beggar than this girl would be to invite him to enjoy the sweet follies of love-making with her in a secret spot.
Of course she wanted above all things to acquire some certainty as to her sister's fate, perhaps too to speak to him of her parents; still, she would hardly have made up her mind to invite him if she had not learned to trust him, and this confidence filled him with pride, and at the same time with an eager longing to see her, which seemed to storm his heart with more violence with every minute that passed.
While the mule sought and found its way in the deep darkness with slow and sure steps, he gazed up at the firmament, at the play of the clouds which now covered the moon with their black masses, and now parted, floating off in white sheeny billows while the silver crescent of the moon showed between them like a swan against the dark mirror of a lake.
And all the time he thought incessantly of Klea--thinking in a dreamy way that he saw her before him, but different and taller than before, her form growing more and more before his eyes till at last it was so tall that her head touched the sky, the clouds seemed to be her veil, and the moon a brilliant diadem in her abundant dark hair. Powerfully stirred by this vision he let the bridle fall on the mule's neck, and spread open his arms to the beautiful phantom, but as he rode forwards it ever retired, and when presently the west wind blew the sand in his face, and he had to cover his eyes with his hand it vanished entirely, and did not return before he found himself at the Apis-tombs.
He had hoped to find here a soldier or a watchman to whom he could entrust the beast, but when the midnight chant of the priests of the temple of Osiris-Apis had died away not a sound was to be heard far or near; all that lay around him was as still and as motionless as though all that had ever lived there were dead. Or had some demon robbed him of his hearing? He could hear the rush of his own swift pulses in his ears-not the faintest sound besides.
Such silence is there nowhere but in the city of the dead and at night, nowhere but in the desert.
He tied the mule's bridle to a stela of granite covered with inscriptions, and went forward to the appointed place. Midnight must be past--that he saw by the position of the moon, and he was beginning to ask himself whether he should remain standing where he was or go on to meet the water-bearer when he heard first a light footstep, and then saw a tall erect figure wrapped in a long mantle advancing straight towards him along the avenue of sphinxes. Was it a man or a woman--was it she whom he expected? and if it were she, was there ever a woman who had come to meet a lover at an assignation with so measured, nay so solemn, a step? Now he recognized her face--was it the pale moonlight that made it look so bloodless and marble-white? There was something rigid in her features, and yet they had never--not even when she blushingly accepted his violets--looked to him so faultlessly beautiful, so regular and so nobly cut, so dignified, nay impressive.
For fully a minute the two stood face to face, speechless and yet quite near to each other. Then Publius broke the silence, uttering with the warmest feeling and yet with anxiety in his deep, pure voice, only one single word; and the word was her name "Klea."
The music of this single word stirred the girl's heart like a message and blessing from heaven, like the sweetest harmony of the siren's song, like the word of acquittal from a judge's lips when the verdict is life or death, and her lips were already parted to say 'Publius' in a tone no less deep and heartfelt-but, with all the force of her soul, she restrained herself, and said softly and quickly:
"You are here at a late hour, and it is well that you have come."
"You sent for me," replied the Roman.
"It was another that did that, not I," replied Klea in a slow dull tone, as if she were lifting a heavy weight, and could hardly draw her breath. "Now--follow me, for this is not the place to explain everything in."
With these words Klea went towards the locked door of the Apis-tombs, and tried, as she stood in front of it, to insert into the lock the key that Krates had given her; but the lock was still so new, and her fingers shook so much, that she could not immediately succeed. Publius meanwhile was standing close by her side, and as he tried to help her his fingers touched hers.
And when he--certainly not by mistake--laid his strong and yet trembling hand on hers, she let it stay for a moment, for she felt as if a tide of warm mist rose up in her bosom dimming her perceptions, and paralyzing her will and blurring her sight.
"Klea," he repeated, and he tried to take her left hand in his own; but she, like a person suddenly aroused to consciousness after a short dream, immediately withdrew the hand on which his was resting, put the key into the lock, opened the door, and exclaimed in a voice of almost stern command, "Go in first."
Publius obeyed and entered the spacious antechamber of the venerable cave, hewn out of the rock and now dimly lighted. A curved passage of which he could not see the end lay before him, and on both sides, to the right and left of him, opened out the chambers in which stood the sarcophagi of the deceased sacred bulls. Over each of the enormous stone coffins a lamp burnt day and night, and wherever a vault stood open their glimmer fell across the deep gloom of the cave, throwing a bright beam of light on the dusky path that led into the heart of the rock, like a carpet woven of rays of light.
What place was this that Klea had chosen to speak with him in.
But though her voice sounded firm, she herself was not cool and insensible as Orcus--which this place, which was filled with the fumes of incense and weighed upon his senses, much resembled--for he had felt her fingers tremble under his, and when he went up to her, to help her, her heart beat no less violently and rapidly than his own. Ah! the man who should succeed in touching that heart of hard, but pure and precious crystal would indeed enjoy a glorious draught of the most perfect bliss.
"This is our destination," said Klea; and then she went on in short broken sentences. "Remain where you are. Leave me this place near the door. Now, answer me first one question. My sister Irene has vanished from the temple. Did you cause her to be carried off?"
"I did," replied Publius eagerly. "She desired me to greet you from her, and to tell you how much she likes her new friends. When I shall have told you--"
"Not now" interrupted Klea excitedly. "Turn round--there where you see the lamp-light." Publius did as he was desired, and a slight shudder shook even his bold heart, for the girl's sayings and doings seemed to him not solemn merely, but mysterious like those of a prophetess. A violent crash sounded through the silent and sacred place, and loud echoes were tossed from side to side, ringing ominously throughout the grotto. Publius turned anxiously round, and his eye, seeking Klea, found her no more; then, hurrying to the door of the cave, he heard her lock it on the outside.
The water-bearer had escaped him, had flung the heavy door to, and imprisoned him; and this idea was to the Roman so degrading and unendurable that, lost to every feeling but rage, wounded pride, and the wild desire to be free, he kicked the door with all his might, and called out angrily to Klea:
"Open this door--I command you. Let me free this moment or, by all the gods--"
He did not finish his threat, for in the middle of the right-hand panel of the door a small wicket was opened through which the priests were wont to puff incense into the tomb of the sacred bulls--and twice, thrice, finally, when he still would not be pacified, a fourth time, Klea called out to him:
"Listen to me--listen to me, Publius." Publius ceased storming, and she went on:
"Do not threaten me, for you will certainly repent it when you have heard what I have to tell you. Do not interrupt me; I may tell you at once this door is opened every day before sunrise, so your imprisonment will not last long; and you must submit to it, for I shut you in to save your life--yes, your life which was in danger. Do you think my anxiety was folly? No, Publius, it is only too well founded, and if you, as a man, are strong and bold, so am I as a woman. I never was afraid of an imaginary nothing. Judge yourself whether I was not right to be afraid for you.
"King Euergetes and Eulaeus have bribed two hideous monsters to murder you. When I went to seek out Irene I overheard all, and I have seen with my own eyes the two horrible wolves who are lurking to fall upon you, and heard with these ears their scheme for doing it. I never wrote the note on the tile which was signed with my name; Eulaeus did it, and you took his bait and came out into the desert by night. In a few minutes the ruffians will have stolen up to this place to seek their victim, but they will not find you, Publius, for I have saved you--I, Klea, whom you first met with smiles--whose sister you have stolen away--the same Klea that you a minute since were ready to threaten. Now, at once, I am going into the desert, dressed like a traveller in a coat and hat, so that in the doubtful light of the moon I may easily be taken for you--going to give my weary heart as a prey to the assassins' knife."
"You are mad!" cried Publius, and he flung himself with his whole weight on the door, and kicked it with all his strength. "What you purpose is pure madness open the door, I command you! However strong the villains may be that Euergetes has bribed, I am man enough to defend myself."
"You are unarmed, Publius, and they have cords and daggers."
"Then open the door, and stay here with me till day dawns. It is not noble, it is wicked to cast away your life. Open the door at once, I entreat you, I command you!"
At any other time the words would not have failed of their effect on Klea's reasonable nature, but the fearful storm of feeling which had broken over her during the last few hours had borne away in its whirl all her composure and self-command. The one idea, the one resolution, the one desire, which wholly possessed her was to close the life that had been so full of self-sacrifice by the greatest sacrifice of all--that of life itself, and not only in order to secure Irene's happiness and to save the Roman, but because it pleased her--her father's daughter--to make a noble end; because she, the maiden, would fain show Publius what a woman might be capable of who loved him above all others; because, at this moment, death did not seem a misfortune; and her mind, overwrought by hours of terrific tension, could not free itself from the fixed idea that she would and must sacrifice herself.
She no longer thought these things--she was possessed by them; they had the mastery, and as a madman feels forced to repeat the same words again and again to himself, so no prayer, no argument at this moment would have prevailed to divert her from her purpose of giving up her young life for Publius and Irene. She contemplated this resolve with affection and pride as justifying her in looking up to herself as to some nobler creature. She turned a deaf ear to the Roman's entreaty, and said in a tone of which the softness surprised him:
"Be silent Publius, and hear me further. You too are noble, and certainly you owe me some gratitude for having saved your life."
"I owe you much, and I will pay it," cried Publius, "as long as there is breath in this body--but open the door, I beseech you, I implore you--"
"Hear me to the end, time presses; hear me out, Publius. My sister Irene went away with you. I need say nothing about her beauty, but how bright, how sweet her nature is you do not know, you cannot know, but you will find out. She, you must be told, is as poor as I am, but the child of freeborn and noble parents. Now swear to me, swear--no, do not interrupt me--swear by the head of your father that you will never, abandon her, that you will never behave to her otherwise than as if she were the daughter of your dearest friend or of your own brother."
"I swear it and I will keep my oath--by the life of the man whose head is more sacred to me than the names of all the gods. But now I beseech you, I command you open this door, Klea--that I may not lose you--that I may tell you that my whole heart is yours, and yours alone--that I love you, love you unboundedly."
"I have your oath," cried the girl in great excitement, for she could now see a shadow moving backwards and forwards at some distance in the desert. "You have sworn by the head of your father. Never let Irene repent having gone with you, and love her always as you fancy now, in this moment, that you love me, your preserver. Remember both of you the hapless Klea who would gladly have lived for you, but who now gladly dies for you. Do not forget me, Publius, for I have never but this once opened my heart to love, but I have loved you Publius, with pain and torment, and with sweet delight--as no other woman ever yet revelled in the ecstasy of love or was consumed in its torments." She almost shouted the last words at the Roman as if she were chanting a hymn of triumph, beside herself, forgetting everything and as if intoxicated.
Why was he now silent, why had he nothing to answer, since she had confessed to him the deepest secret of her breast, and allowed him to look into the inmost sanctuary of her heart? A rush of burning words from his lips would have driven her off at once to the desert and to death; his silence held her back--it puzzled her and dropped like cool rain on the soaring flames of her pride, fell on the raging turmoil of her soul like oil on troubled water. She could not part from him thus, and her lips parted to call him once more by his name.
While she had been making confession of her love to the Roman as if it were her last will and testament, Publius felt like a man dying of thirst, who has been led to a flowing well only to be forbidden to moisten his lips with the limpid fluid. His soul was filled with passionate rage approaching to despair, and as with rolling eyes he glanced round his prison an iron crow-bar leaning against the wall met his gaze; it had been used by the workmen to lift the sarcophagus of the last deceased Apis into its right place. He seized upon this tool, as a drowning man flings himself on a floating plank: still he heard Klea's last words, and did not lose one of them, though the sweat poured from his brow as he inserted the metal lever like a wedge between the two halves of the door, just above the threshold.
All was now silent outside; perhaps the distracted girl was already hurrying towards the assassins--and the door was fearfully heavy and would not open nor yield. But he must force it--he flung himself on the earth and thrust his shoulder under the lever, pushing his whole body against the iron bar, so that it seemed to him that every joint threatened to give way and every sinew to crack; the door rose--once more he put forth the whole strength of his manly vigor, and now the seam in the wood cracked, the door flew open, and Klea, seized with terror, flew off and away--into the desert--straight towards the murderers.
Publius leaped to his feet and flung himself out of his prison; as he saw Klea escape he flew after her with, hasty leaps, and caught her in a few steps, for her mantle hindered her in running, and when she would not obey his desire that she should stand still he stood in front of her and said, not tenderly but sternly and decidedly:
"You do not go a step farther, I forbid it."
"I am going where I must go," cried the girl in great agitation. "Let me go, at once!"
"You will stay here--here with me," snarled Publius, and taking both her hands by the wrists he clasped them with his iron fingers as with handcuffs. "I am the man and you are the woman, and I will teach you who is to give orders here and who is to obey."
Anger and rage prompted these quite unpremeditated words, and as Klea--while he spoke them with quivering lips--had attempted with the exertion of all her strength, which was by no means contemptible, to wrench her hands from his grasp, he forced her--angry as he still was, but nevertheless with due regard for her womanliness--forced her by a gentle and yet irresistible pressure on her arms to bend before him, and compelled her slowly to sink down on both knees.
As soon as she was in this position, Publius let her free; she covered her eyes with her aching hands and sobbed aloud, partly from anger, and because she felt herself bitterly humiliated.
"Now, stand up," said Publius in an altered tone as he heard her weeping. "Is it then such a hard matter to submit to the will of a man who will not and cannot let you go, and whom you love, besides?" How gentle and kind the words sounded! Klea, when she heard them, raised her eyes to Publius, and as she saw him looking down on her as a supplicant her anger melted and turned to grateful emotion--she went closer to him on her knees, laid her head against him and said:
"I have always been obliged to rely upon myself, and to guide another person with loving counsel, but it must be sweeter far to be led by affection and I will always, always obey you."
"I will thank you with heart and soul henceforth from this hour!" cried Publius, lifting her up. "You were ready to sacrifice your life for me, and now mine belongs to you. I am yours and you are mine--I your husband, you my wife till our life's end!"
He laid his hands on her shoulders, and turned her face round to his; she resisted no longer, for it was sweet to her to yield her will to that of this strong man. And how happy was she, who from her childhood had taken it upon herself to be always strong, and self-reliant, to feel herself the weaker, and to be permitted to trust in a stronger arm than her own. Somewhat thus a young rose-tree might feel, which for the first time receives the support of the prop to which it is tied by the careful gardener.
Her eyes rested blissfully and yet anxiously on his, and his lips had just touched hers in a first kiss when they started apart in terror, for Klea's name was clearly shouted through the still night-air, and in the next instant a loud scream rang out close to them followed by dull cries of pain.
"The murderers!" shrieked Klea, and trembling for herself and for him she clung closely to her lover's breast. In one brief moment the self-reliant heroine--proud in her death-defying valor--had become a weak, submissive, dependent woman.