A Pleasure Trip
The year drew to its close with a period of inaction on both sides. The Carthaginians, greatly disheartened by the defeat of the native tribes, made no further attempt to assume the offensive. They still held Fort Nipheris, the Romans not being able to spare enough men to invest it. The besiegers, on the other hand, were content to let things alone for the present. Time was on their side. They added daily to the strength of their siege-works, and their troops, most of them at their first landing raw recruits, were now becoming well-seasoned soldiers; A few days before the end of the year Scipio left for Rome in order to be present at the elections. Nothing was done during his absence, but it was understood that on his return active operations would be commenced without delay.
On the day after the departure of the commander-in-chief, Cleanor received a visit from his physician. Latterly these visits had been rare and brief, not going beyond a few questions and a short gossip on the news of the camp. Now, however, the patient was subjected to a close examination. When this was completed, the physician shook his head.
"My young friend," he said, "you are not making quite the progress I had hoped and expected to see. The pulse is weak, I find. You have headaches, you tell me, now and then, and little appetite. This last is not a good sign. A young man like you, when he is really getting well, ought to be as hungry as a wolf. On the whole, I think you would be the better for a change, and we must consider how it can be managed."
At this point of the conversation Polybius entered the tent. "I am not satisfied," said the physician, addressing the new-comer. "I don't find my young patient making as good a recovery as I had hoped, and I have been suggesting a change. These are excellent quarters, and every care is taken, I know, of our friend, but a camp is not a good place for a complete recovery. Somehow the presence of a number of men seems to make the air somewhat stale."
"I am particularly glad to see you," said Polybius, "for this is exactly the business about which I have come. Scipio, who thinks of everybody, and forgets nothing, was talking to me about Cleanor here the day before yesterday, and the very last thing he said to me yesterday when I bade him good-bye on board his galley was, 'Don't forget the invalid.' He left the matter, as a whole, to my discretion, but his idea was a short trip to Egypt. I was to ask your opinion, and if that was favourable, I was to arrange the details. Scipio will be away for nearly or quite a month, for there are many things to settle in Rome, and of course nothing of importance will be done during his absence. That gives us plenty of time. What do you say, doctor?"
"Nothing could be better," replied the physician. "We will say a month. That won't give you much time on shore. But I don't care about that. In fact it is the sea voyage that I count upon for putting our young friend right. Still, there is plenty to see in Alexandria, even if you can't get any further."'
"That is exactly what I expected to hear," said Polybius. "In fact, I so much took it for granted that I have given orders for a galley to be ready this evening. So if you don't object, Cleanor, we will start at once. There is a nice westerly breeze blowing, which we ought not to lose."
Cleanor had no objection to make. He was, on the contrary, much pleased with the idea. He had certainly been feeling somewhat languid, and the time was beginning to hang heavy on his hands. Besides, what could be more delightful than to see Alexandria?
A start accordingly was made at sunset. Everything favoured the voyagers. The wind never veered from the west, and though towards evening it commonly lulled, it never ceased; during the day it always blew briskly, but never was so strong as to cause inconvenience. In consequence the galley's voyage was almost a record, for she reached the quay in what was called the Eunostos or Haven of Happy Return in nine days. The travellers paid the customary visit of thanksgiving for a safe voyage to the Temple of Poseidon, and dropped a half-stater apiece into the chest for offerings. This done, they presented a letter of introduction, with which Scipio had furnished them, to the official who represented Rome in Alexandria, were received by him with effusion, and pressed to accept his hospitality, but preferred the independence of lodgings of their own.
Their first visit was, of course, to the great Library. This had not at that time reached the enormous proportions which it attained about a century later, when it received, in addition to its own wealth, the vast collections of Pergamum, but the volumes on its shelves already numbered more than a quarter of a million. The two friends could have spent months, had months been at their disposal, in this wilderness of learning. It was not only the multitude of its treasures that astonished them, it was the extraordinary value of many of the particular volumes. Here the student was permitted to inspect, under due safeguards, of course, the actual autographs of some of the most famous authors of the world. One of the Ptolemies, ironically called the Well-doer, had fraudulently possessed himself of the originals Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, presenting the Athenian people which owned them with copies and a money compensation. His successors had followed the same unscrupulous policy. Indeed, no valuable manuscript that once found its way into Alexandria was ever permitted to leave it.
Adjoining the Library was the Museum, with its theatre or great lecture-hall, its smaller lecture-rooms, its dining-hall, and collegiate buildings, cloisters, gardens, and park. The two friends wandered from room to room, where all comers were welcome—the munificent endowments of learning rendered all fees unnecessary—and listened to discourses on all the subjects of knowledge under the sun.
There did not happen to be any commanding or famous personality among the professors of the time, but there was plenty of learning and abundance of rhetoric if not of eloquence. A successor of Aristarchus discoursed on the criticism of Homer, denouncing, for such happened to be the subject of the day, the pernicious heresy of the Chorizontes, the critics who maintained a diverse authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The chair of Euclid was occupied by a geometrician who had made some additions to the science of trigonometry. In the lecture-room devoted to astronomy they had the good fortune to hear a really distinguished man of science, Hipparchus of Bithynia, who had been invited by the authorities of the Museum to give a course of lectures. He had chosen for his subject his own great discovery of the precession of the equinoxes, made, as he explained, by a comparison of his own observations with those of earlier astronomers.
As they left the room they were invited by an attendant, who observed that they were strangers, to read an inscription written in letters of gold over the principal door. It was the epigram of Apollonius of Rhodes on the reception of the Hair of Berenice among the Constellations. Polybius was recognized by one of the professors, who had been glad to leave the thankless politics of Greece for a quiet competence in this abode of learning, and was invited by the professor to take dinner in the great banqueting-hall. Cleanor was, of course, included in the invitation. The intervening time was spent pleasantly enough in inspecting the garden, in which the collection of tropical plants, afterwards so famous, had been already begun, and in examining, what was then a sight peculiar to Alexandria, a menagerie.
Both Polybius and his friend were inclined to think that all time not spent in the Library or the lecture-room was more or less wasted. Still, there were sights which it was impossible for a visitor to Alexandria to neglect. Such was the mausoleum of the Ptolemies, with the coffin of gold in which reposed the remains of the great Alexander; the observatory; the palace of justice; and the market, thronged with the commerce of the whole of the civilized world. There were hours, too, when the Library was shut, and these were spent in a way both amusing and instructive. The two wandered through the different regions of the great city, the streets inhabited by the Jews, with squalid exteriors, often concealing palaces fit for kings, and the native quarter, crowded with figures and faces that might have belonged to long-dead subjects of the Pharaohs. Not less interesting than the city were the docks and quays. Egypt was already one of the great granaries of the world. Loading the wheat ships was an employment that provided thousands of labourers with sustenance, and at this time, thanks to the war, which had thrown out of cultivation the fertile territory of Carthage, the trade was particularly brisk.
Anyhow, the time did not hang heavily on the visitors' hands, and Cleanor could hardly believe that ten days had passed when Polybius introduced the subject of departure. There was a certain hesitation in the old man's manner, and Cleanor, who had all the quick observation and alert intelligence of his race, did not fail to perceive it.
"This is a delightful place, Cleanor," he said, "and I hope to see it again. Indeed, there are books in the Library which I must go through carefully before I give my magnum opus to the world. But that must be for the future. Now I have no choice but to go. We must not allow less than twelve days for the return voyage, though, if this wind holds, we shall not take so long."
"Yes," replied Cleanor, "I am ready to start at any time."
Polybius hesitated a second before he spoke. "Well," he said, "I don't think that there is any necessity for your coming with me. It is a pity that you should not see something more of Egypt now you are here. And then there is the question of health. It would be a thousand pities that you should have anything like a relapse. As for me, I must go. Next month, or, at furthest, the month after, is likely to see one of the greatest events in the history of the West, and it would be folly in me, who pretend to be an historian, if, having the chance of seeing it with my own eyes, I should fail to be present."
Cleanor saw in a moment that the whole thing had been planned, and that his companion was speaking by instruction. But he thought it prudent to conceal his knowledge.
"Yes," he said, "I understand; but I think that I would sooner go back with you."
This was put out as a feeler, and it did not fail in its object.
"I think it must be as I said," replied Polybius with some hesitation. "To tell you the truth, it was Scipio's wish that you should remain here, and I should not like to go against his wish. The master of legions," he added with a smile, "must have his own way."
"Exactly so," said the young man, "and I have no wish to oppose him."
"Good!" replied Polybius with evident relief; "I was sure that you would be reasonable, so sure, in fact, that I have made arrangements for you to start to-morrow on a journey up the Nile. All expenses have been paid, and you will have nothing to do but enjoy the most wonderful sight in the world. There need be no hurry. Take your time and see everything at your leisure. The chance may never come again. The boat and its crew have been hired for three months. When you return you shall find, all being well, a letter with instructions awaiting you here."
"Well," said Cleanor, "I can't help being sorry that you are not coming with me, but the plan is a most delightful one. You could not have devised anything better."
The young man's real thoughts were quite of another kind, though he concealed them with an adroitness which would have done credit to a veteran diplomatist. The fact was that he had been haunted for some time past by anxieties with which was mingled a certain feeling of self-reproach. They had scarcely presented themselves, or had been readily banished, during the period of his weakness and forced inaction. But when health was fully restored, and he again felt himself capable of action, he could no longer ignore them.
What had happened, what was likely to happen, to his foster-mother and her daughter? To Theoxena he was bound by one of the most natural and tender of ties. To let her perish, or suffer a fate worse than death, would be a shameful failure of duty, only less disgraceful than if she had been his mother indeed. And her daughter—? He had scarcely thought of the girl at the time, so engrossing had been the anxieties of the moment. But her image had been impressed deeply on his memory, and even on his heart. He seemed to see her still, as she told, with all the simplicity of a child, the pitiful story of her kidnapped brother. The large pathetic eyes, brimmed with tears, haunted him night and day.
And there came with the thought the memory of another face, his sister in blood, lost to him for ever. Was Fate about to deal him another blow even worse than the first? Cleoné was dead. Was the time coming when the best thing that he could wish for Daphne would be that she should be dead also? And was he to be sight-seeing on the Nile, curiously speculating on the history of long-past generations, while this awful tragedy of the present was working itself out at Carthage? The thought was maddening. "No" he said to himself; "I may not be able to do anything to help, but at least I will not be taking my pleasure while they are suffering torture or death!"
It was, however, necessary to dissimulate. It was plain that Scipio was determined to have him out of the way when Carthage fell. Nor could anything, he acknowledged to himself, be more reasonable or more kind. Though he could not be supposed to feel any sense of duty to a state from which he had received such treatment, still he might well wish not to witness its final catastrophe. Of his private feelings the Roman general could have no knowledge.
His only course was to appear to acquiesce in the plan. Scipio must undoubtedly have provided for the contingency of his resistance. Polybius, he remembered, had introduced the subject with a certain hesitation, as if an objection was not impossible. He was now, Cleanor trusted, off his guard. A too prompt consent might have seemed suspicious. As it was, he reflected with satisfaction, he had shown exactly the right kind of reluctance. He had expressed regret at losing his friend's company, without giving a hint of any personal unwillingness to accept the plan.
That evening Polybius started on his return voyage. Cleanor was with him to the last moment, talking with an admirably simulated gaiety and interest of the pleasure which lay before him in exploring the Egypt of the Pharaohs.