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The Poisonous Snake

Octavius followed Antony and Cleopatra to Egypt as soon as he had made his victory sure. Cleopatra tried many times to make peace with him, but he refused to listen to her unless she would give up Mark Antony. Then the fair Egyptian queen tried to soften the stern young conqueror's heart by the sight of her great beauty. But this plan failed also.

All was now at an end, and Cleopatra knew that Octavius would insist upon her going to Rome, where she would have to appear in his triumph. She could not bear this thought, and made up her mind to die rather than suffer such a disgrace.

In the mean while, Mark Antony had heard that she was already dead; so he called his slave Eros, and bade the man kill him. Eros took the sword, as he was told; but, instead of killing his master, he drove it into his own heart, and fell to the earth, dead. Then Mark Antony drew the sword from the slave's breast, and plunged it into his own. Such was his hesitation, however, that the wound did not prove at once fatal; and he lived to hear that the news he had received was false, and that Cleopatra still lived.

To see her once more, Antony had himself carried to the tower in which the Egyptian queen had taken refuge, with her servants and treasures. But the doors were so well barricaded that they could not be opened. He therefore had himself lifted through a window; but he died just as he was laid at Cleopatra's feet.

After obtaining permission to bury Antony, and assuring herself that there was no hope of escape, Cleopatra lay down upon her couch to die. Taking an asp—a very poisonous serpent—from a basket of fruit in which it was hidden, she allowed it to bite her till she died.

Octavius, warned of her danger, sent in haste to save her; but his officer found her already dead, with her favorite attendants dying at her feet. "Is this well?" he asked of one of these women.

"Yes, it is well!" she answered, and died smiling because her beautiful mistress would never be obliged to follow the conqueror's chariot in the streets of Rome.

By the death of his rival, Octavius now found himself sole ruler; and with Antony the old Roman Republic ends, and the story of the Roman Empire begins.