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A Thorny Path
by Georg Ebers
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"Once there," the sham priest went on, "the girl's waiting-woman must have had some dose in wine or sirup and water, for she is fast asleep at this moment in the ferry-house, or wherever Dorothea took her, as she could not be allowed to wake under Dorothea's roof.

"Thus every one was out of the way who could make any mischief; and when the Syrian, dressed as a Christian priest, had explained to Agatha what the patriarch required of his maidens, I led her on to the stage, on which the spectators were to see the ghosts through a small opening.

"The Syrian had desired her to put up so many and such prayers for the congregation in its peril from Caesar; and, by Aphrodite! she was as docile as a lamb. She fell on her knees, and with hands and eyes to heaven entreated her god. But hark!

"Did you hear anything? Something is stirring within. Well, I have nearly done.

"The philosopher was to see her thus, and when he had gazed at her as if bewitched for some little time through the small window, he suddenly cried out, 'Korinna! Korinna!' and all sorts of nonsense, although Serapion had strictly forbidden him to utter a sound. Of course, the curtain instantly dropped. But Agatha had heard him call, and in a great fright she wanted to know where she was, and asked to go home.—Serapion was really grand. You should have heard how the fox soothed the dove, and at the same time whispered to me what you now are to do!"

"I?" said the woman, with some annoyance. "If he thinks that I will risk my good name in the congregation for the sake of his long beard—"

"Just be quiet," said Castor, in a pacifying tone. "The master's beard has nothing to do with the case, but something much more substantial. Ten solidi, full weight, shall be yours if you will take Agatha home with you, or safe across the lake again, and pretend to have saved her from mystics or magicians who have decoyed her to some evil end. She knows you as a Christian deaconess, and will go with you at once. If you restore her to her father, he is rich, and will not send you empty away. Tell him that you heard her voice out in the street, and with the help of a worthy old man—that am I—rescued her from any peril you may invent. If he asks you where the heroic deed was done, name any house you please, only not this. Your best plan is to lay it all on the shoulders of Hananja, the thaumaturgist; we have owed him a grudge this many a day. However, I was not to teach you any lesson, for your wits are at least a match for ours."

"Flattery will not win me," the woman broke in. "Where is the gold?"

Castor handed her the solidi wrapped in a papyrus leaf, and then added:

"Stay one moment! I must remove this white robe. The girl must on no account recognize me. I am going to force my way into the house with you—you found me in the street, an old man, a total stranger, and appealed to me for help. No harm is done, nothing lost but Dorothea's credit among the Christians. We may have to get her safe out of the town. I must escort you and Agatha, for nothing unpleasant must happen to her on the way home. The master is imperative on that point, and so much beauty will certainly not get through the crowded streets without remark. And for my part, I, of course, am thinking of yours."

Here Castor laughed aloud, and rolled the white robe into a bundle. Alexander peeped out of his nook and shook his head in amazement, for the supple youth, who a moment before stood stalwart and upright, had assumed, with a bent attitude and a long, white beard hastily placed on his chin, the aspect of a weary, poor old man.

"I will give you a lesson!" muttered Alexander to himself, and he shook his fist at the intriguing rascal as he vanished into the house with the false deaconess.

So Serapion was a cheat! And the supposed ghost of Korinna was a Christian maiden who was being shamefully deluded. But he would keep watch over her, and bring that laughing villain to account. The first aim of his life was not to lose sight of Agatha. His whole happiness, he felt, depended on that. The gods had, as it were, raised her from the dead for him; in her, everything that he most admired was united; she was the embodiment of everything he cared for and prized; every feeling sank into the shade beside the one desire to make her his. She was, at this moment, the universe to him; and all else—the pursuers at his heels, his father, his sister, pretty Ino, to whom he had vowed his love only the night before—had ceased to exist for him.

Possessed wholly by the thought of her, he never took his eyes off the door opposite; and when at last the maiden came out with the deaconess, whom she called Elizabeth, and with Castor, Alexander followed the ill-matched trio; and he had to be brisk, for at first they hurried through the streets as though they feared to be overtaken. He carefully kept close to the houses on the shady side, and when they presently stopped, so did he.

The deaconess inquired of Agatha whither she would be taken. But when the girl replied that she must go back to her own boat, waiting at the ferry, and return home, the deaconess represented that this was impossible by reason of the drunken seamen, who at this hour made the strand unsafe; she could only advise Agatha to come home with her and remain till daybreak. "This kind old man," and she pointed to Castor, "would no doubt go and tell the oarsmen that they were not to be uneasy at her absence."

The two women stood talking in the broad moonlight, and the pale beams fell on Agatha's beautiful unveiled features, giving them that unearthly, corpse-like whiteness which Alexander had tried to represent in his picture of Korinna. Again the thought that she was risen from the dead sent a chill through his blood—that she would make him follow her, perhaps to the tomb she had quitted. He cared not! If his senses had cheated him—if,—in spite of what he had heard, that pale, unspeakably lovely image were indeed a lamia, a goblin shape from Hecate's dark abode, yet would he follow wherever she might lead, as to a festival, only to be with her.

Agatha thanked the deaconess, and as she spoke raised her eyes to the woman's face; and they were two large, dark orbs sparkling through tears, and as unlike as possible to the eyes which a ghost might snatch from their sockets to fling like balls or stones in the face of a pursuer. Oh, if only those eyes might look into his own as warmly and gratefully as they now gazed into the face of that treacherous woman!

He had a hard struggle with himself to subdue the impulse to put an end, now and here, to the fiendish tricks which guile was playing on the purest innocence; but the street was deserted, and if he had to struggle with the bent old man, whose powerful and supple limbs he had already seen, and if the villain should plant a knife in his ribs—for as a wrestler he felt himself his match—Agatha would be bereft of a protector and wholly in the deceiver's power.

This, at any rate, must not be, and he even controlled himself when he heard the music of her words, and saw her grasp the hand of the pretended graybeard, who, with an assumption of paternal kindness, dared to kiss her hair, and then helped her to draw her kerchief over her face. The street of Hermes, he explained, where the deaconess dwelt, was full of people, and the divine gift of beauty, wherewith Heaven had blessed her, would attract the baser kind, as a flame attracts bats and moths. The hypocrite's voice was full of unction; the deaconess spoke with pious gravity. He could see that she was a woman of middle age, and he asked himself with rising fury whether the gods were not guilty who had lent mean wretches like these such winning graces as to enable them to lay traps for the guileless? For, in fact, the woman's face was well-favored, gentle, and attractive.

Alexander never took his gaze off Agatha, and his artist-eye reveled in her elastic step and her slender, shapely form. Above all, he was bewitched by the way her head was set, with a little forward bend; and as long as the way led through the silent lanes he was never weary of comparing her with lovely images-with a poppy, whose flower bows the stem; with a willow, whose head leans over the water; with the huntress Artemis, who, chasing in the moonlight, bends to mark the game.

Thus, unwearied and unseen, he had followed them as far as the street of Hermes; there his task became more difficult, for the road was swarming with people. The older men were walking in groups of five or six, going to or coming from some evening assembly, and talking as they walked; or priests and temple servants on their way home, tired from night services and ceremonies; but the greater number were young men and boys, some wearing wreaths, and all more or less intoxicated, with street-wenches on the lookout for a companion or surrounded by suitors, and trying to attract a favorite or dismiss the less fortunate.

The flare of the torches which illuminated the street was mirrored in eager eyes glowing with wine and passion, and in the glittering weapons of the Roman soldiery. Most of these were attached to Caesar's train. As in the field, so in the peaceful town, they aimed at conquest, and many a Greek sulkily resigned his claims to some fickle beauty in favor of an irresistible tribune or centurion. Where the courteous Alexandrians made way, they pushed in or thrust aside whatever came in their path, securely confident of being Caesar's favorite protectors, and unassailable while he was near. Their coarse, barbaric tones shook the air, and reduced the Greeks to silence; for, even in his drunken and most reckless moods, the Greek never lost his subtle refinement. The warriors rarely met a friendly glance from the eye of a native; still, the gold of these lavish revelers was as welcome to the women as that of a fellow-countryman.

The blaze of light shone, too, on many a fray, such as flared up in an instant whenever Greek and Roman came into contact. The lictors and townwatch could generally succeed in parting the combatants, for the orders of the authorities were that they should in every case side with the Romans.

The shouts and squabbling of men, the laughing and singing of women, mingled with the word of command. Flutes and lyres, cymbals and drums, were heard from the trellised tavern arbors and cook-shops along the way; and from the little temple to Aphrodite, where Melissa had promised to meet the Roman physician next morning, came the laughter and song of unbridled lovers. As a rule, the Kanopic Way was the busiest and gayest street in the town; but on this night the street of Hermes had been the most popular, for it led to the Serapeum, where Caesar was lodged; and from the temple poured a tide of pleasure-seekers, mingling with the flood of humanity which streamed on to catch a glimpse of imperial splendor, or to look at the troops encamped on the space in front of the Serapeum. The whole street was like a crowded fair; and Alexander had several times to follow Agatha and her escort out into the roadway, quitting the shelter of the arcade, to escape a party of rioters or the impertinent addresses of strangers.

The sham old man, however, was so clever at making way for the damsel, whose face and form were effectually screened by her kerchief from the passers-by, that Alexander had no opportunity for offering her his aid, or proving his devotion by some gallant act. That it was his duty to save her from the perils of spending a whole night under the protection of this venal deceiver and her worthless colleague, he had long since convinced himself; still, the fear of bringing her into a more painful position by attracting the attention of the crowd if he were to attack her escort, kept him back.

They had now stopped again under the colonnade, on the left-hand side of the road. Castor had taken the girl's hand, and, as he bade her good-night, promised, in emphatic tones, to be with her again very early and escort her to the lake. Agatha thanked him warmly. At this a storm of rage blew Alexander's self-command to the four winds, and, before he knew what he was doing; he stood between the rascal and the Christian damsel, snatched their hands asunder, gripping Castor's wrist with his strong right hand, while he held Agatha's firmly in his left, and exclaimed:

"You are being foully tricked, fair maid; the woman, even, is deceiving you. This fellow is a base villain!"

And, releasing the arm which Castor was desperately but vainly trying to free from his clutch, he snatched off the false beard.

Agatha, who had also been endeavoring to escape from his grasp, gave a shriek of terror and indignation. The unmasked rogue, with a swift movement, snatched the hood of the caracalla off Alexander's head, flew at his throat with the fury and agility of a panther, and with much presence of mind called for help. And Castor was strong too while Alexander tried to keep him off with his right hand, holding on to Agatha with his left, the shouts of the deaconess and her accomplice soon collected a crowd. They were instantly surrounded by an inquisitive mob, laughing or scolding the combatants, and urging them to fight or beseeching them to separate. But just as the artist had succeeded in twisting his opponent's wrist so effectually as to bring him to his knees, a loud voice of malignant triumph, just behind him, exclaimed:

"Now we have snared our scoffer! The fox should not stop to kill the hare when the hunters are at his heels!"

"Zminis!" gasped Alexander. He understood in a flash that life and liberty were at stake.

Like a stag hemmed in by dogs, he turned his head to this side and that, seeking a way of escape; and when he looked again where his antagonist had stood, the spot was clear; the nimble rascal had taken to his heels and vanished among the throng. But a pair of eyes met the painter's gaze, which at once restored him to self-possession, and reminded him that he must collect his wits and presence of mind. They were those of his sister Melissa, who, as she made her way onward with her companion, had recognized her brother's voice. In spite of the old woman's earnest advice not to mix in the crowd, she had pushed her way through, and, as the men-at-arms dispersed the mob, she came nearer to her favorite but too reckless brother.

Alexander still held Agatha's hand. The poor girl herself, trembling with terror, did not know what had befallen her. Her venerable escort was a young man—a liar. What was she to think of the deaconess, who was his confederate; what of this handsome youth who had unmasked the deceiver, and saved her perhaps from some fearful fate?

As in a thunder-storm flash follows flash, so, in this dreadful night, one horror had followed another, to bewilder the brain of a maiden who had always lived a quiet life among good and quiet men and women. And now the guardians of the peace had laid hands on the man who had so bravely taken her part, and whose bright eyes had looked into her own with such truth and devotion. He was to be dragged to prison; so he, too, no doubt, was a criminal. At this thought she tried to release her hand, but he would not let it go; for the deaconess had come close to Agatha, and, in a tone of sanctimonious wrath, desired her to quit this scene.

What was she to do? Terrified and undecided, with deceit on one hand and on the other peril and perhaps disaster, she looked first at Elizabeth and then at Alexander, who, in spite of the threats of the man-at-arms, gazed in turns at her and at the spot where his sister had stood.

The lictors who were keeping off the mob had stopped Melissa too; but while Alexander had been gazing into Agatha's imploring eyes, feeling as though all his blood had rushed to his heart and face, Melissa had contrived to creep up close to him. And again the sight of her gave him the composure he so greatly needed. He knew, indeed, that the hand which still held Agatha's would in a moment be fettered, for Zminis had ordered his slaves to bring fresh ropes and chains, since they had already found use for those they had first brought out. It was to this circumstance alone that he owed it that he still was free. And, above all things, he must warn Agatha against the deaconess, who would fain persuade her to go with her.

It struck his alert wit that Agatha would trust his sister rather than himself, whom the Egyptian had several times abused as a criminal; and seeing the old woman of Polybius's household making her way up to Melissa, out of breath, indeed, and with disordered hair, he felt light dawn on his soul, for this worthy woman was a fresh instrument to his hand. She must know Agatha well, if the girl were indeed the daughter of Zeno.

He lost not an instant. With swift decision, while Zminis and his men were disputing as to whither they should conduct the traitor as soon as the fetters were brought, he released the maiden's hand, placing it in Melissa's, and exclaiming:

"This is my sister, the betrothed of Diodoros, Polybius's son—your neighbor, if you are the daughter of Zeno. She will take care of you." Agatha had at once recognized the old nurse, and when she confirmed Alexander's statement, and the Christian looked in Melissa's face, she saw beyond the possibility of doubt an innocent woman, whose heart she might fully trust.

She threw her arm round Melissa, as if to lean on her, and the deaconess turned away with well-curbed wrath and vanished into an open door.

All this had occupied but a very few minutes; and when Alexander saw the two beings he most loved in each other's embrace, and Agatha rescued from the deceiver and in safe keeping, he drew a deep breath, saying to his sister, as if relieved from a heavy burden:

"Her name is Agatha, and to her, the image of the dead Korinna, my life henceforth is given. Tell her this, Melissa."

His impassioned glance sought that of the Christian; and when she returned it, blushing, but with grateful candor, his mirthful features beamed with the old reckless jollity, and he glanced again at the crowd about him.

What did he see there? Melissa observed that his whole face was suddenly lighted up; and when Zminis signed to the man who was making his way to the spot holding up the rope, Alexander began to sing the first words of a familiar song. In an instant it was taken up by several voices, and then, as if from an echo, by the whole populace.

It was the chant by which the lads in the Gymnasium of Timagetes were wont to call on each other for help when they had a fray with those of the Gymnasium of the Dioscuri, with whom they had a chronic feud. Alexander had caught sight of his friends Jason and Pappus, of the sculptor Glaukias, and of several other fellow-artists; they understood the appeal, and, before the night-watch could use the rope on their captive, the troop of young men had forced their way through the circle of armed men under the leadership of Glaukias, had surrounded Alexander, and run off with him in their midst, singing and shouting.

"Follow him! Catch him! Stop him!—living or dead, bring him back! A price is on his head—a splendid price to any one who will take him!" cried the Egyptian, foaming with rage and setting the example. But the youth of the town, many of whom knew the artist, and who were at all times ready to spoil sport for the sycophants and spies, crowded up between the fugitive and his pursuers and barred the way.

The lictors and their underlings did indeed, at last, get through the solid wall of shouting and scolding men and women; but by that time the troop of artists had disappeared down a side street.



ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Force which had compelled every one to do as his neighbors It is the passionate wish that gives rise to the belief



A THORNY PATH

By Georg Ebers

Volume 4.



CHAPTER XI.

Melissa, too, would probably have found herself a prisoner, but that Zminis, seeing himself balked of a triumph, and beside himself with rage, rushed after the fugitive with the rest. She had no further occasion to seek the house where her lover was lying, for Agatha knew it well. Its owner, Proterius, was an illustrious member of the Christian community, and she had often been to see him with her father.

On their way the girls confided to each other what had brought them out into the streets at so unusual an hour; and when Melissa spoke of her companion's extraordinary resemblance to the dead daughter of Seleukus—which, no doubt, had been Alexander's inducement to follow her—Agatha told her that she had constantly been mistaken for her uncle's daughter, so early lost. She herself had not seen her cousin for some few years, for Seleukus had quarreled with his brother's family when they had embraced Christianity. The third brother, Timotheus, the high-priest of Serapis, had proved more placable, and his wife Euryale was of all women the one she loved best. And presently it appeared that Agatha, too, had lost her mother, and this drew the girls so closely together, that they clasped hands and walked on like sisters or old and dear friends.

They were not kept long waiting outside the house of Proterius, for Andreas was in the vestibule arranging the litter for the conveyance of Diodoros, with the willing help of Ptolemaeus. The freedman was indeed amazed when he heard Melissa's voice, and blamed her for this fresh adventure. However, he was glad to see her, for, although it seemed almost beyond the bounds of possibility, he had already fancied more than once, as steps had approached and passed, that she must surely be coming to lend him a helping hand.

It was easy to hear in his tone of voice that her bold venture was at least as praiseworthy as it was blameworthy in his eyes, and the grave man was as cheerful as he commonly was only when among his flowers. Never before had Melissa heard a word of compliment from his lips, but as Agatha stood with one arm round Melissa's shoulders, he said to the physician, as he pointed to the pair, "Like two roses on one stem!"

He had good reason, indeed, to be content. Diodoros was no worse, and Galen was certainly expected to visit the sick in the Serapeum. He regarded it, too, as a dispensation from Heaven that Agatha and Melissa should have happened to meet, and Alexander's happy escape had taken a weight from his mind. He willingly acceded to Melissa's request that he would take her and Agatha to see the sick man; but he granted them only a short time to gaze at the sleeper, and then requested the deaconess to find a room for the two damsels, who needed rest.

The worthy woman rose at once; but Melissa urgently entreated to be allowed to remain by her lover's side, and glanced anxiously at the keys in the matron's hand.

At this Andreas whispered to her: "You are afraid lest I should prevent your coming with us? But it is not so; and, indeed, of what use would it be? You made your way past the guards to the senator's coach; you came across the lake, and through the darkness and the drunken rabble in the streets; if I were to lock you in, you would be brave enough to jump out of the window. No, no; I confess you have conquered my objections—indeed, if you should now refuse your assistance, I should be obliged to crave it. But Ptolemaeus wishes to leave Diodoros quite undisturbed till daybreak. He is now gone to the Serapeum to find a good place for him. You, too, need rest, and you shall be waked in good time. Go, now, with Dame Katharine.—As to your relations," he added, to Agatha, "do not be uneasy. A boy is already on his way to your father, to tell him where you are for the night."

The deaconess led the two girls to a room where there was a large double bed. Here the new friends stretched their weary limbs; but, tired as they were, neither of them seemed disposed to sleep; they were so happy to have found each other, and had so much to ask and tell each other! As soon as Katharine had lighted a three-branched lamp she left them to themselves, and then their talk began.

Agatha, clinging to her new friend, laid her head on Melissa's shoulder; and as Melissa looked on the beautiful face, and remembered the fond passion which her heedless brother had conceived for its twin image, or as now and again the Christian girl's loving words appealed to her more especially, she stroked the long, flowing tresses of her brown hair.

It needed, indeed, no more than a common feeling, an experience gone through together, an hour of confidential solitude, to join the hearts of the two maidens; and as they awaited the day, shoulder to shoulder in uninterrupted chat, they felt as though they had shared every joy and sorrow from the cradle. Agatha's weaker nature found a support in the calm strength of will which was evident in many things Melissa said; and when the Christian opened her tender and pitying heart to Melissa with touching candor, it was like a view into a new but most inviting world.

Agatha's extreme beauty, too, struck the artist's daughter as something divine, and her eye often rested admiringly on her new friend's pure and regular features.

When Agatha inquired of her about her father, Melissa briefly replied, that since her mother's death he was often moody and rough, but that he had a good, kind heart. The Christian girl, on the contrary, spoke with enthusiasm of the warm, human loving-kindness of the man to whom she owed her being; and the picture she drew of her home life was so fair, that the little heathen could hardly believe in its truth. Her father, Agatha said, lived in constant warfare with the misery and suffering of his fellow-creatures, and he was, in fact, able to make those about him happy and prosperous. The poorest were dearest to his loving heart, and on his estate across the lake he had collected none but the sick and wretched. The care of the children was left to her, and the little ones clung to her as if she were their mother. She had neither brother nor sister.—And so the conversation turned on Alexander, of whom Agatha could never hear enough.

And how proud was Melissa to speak of the bright young artist, who till now had been the sun of her joyless life! There was much that was good to be said about him: for the best masters rated his talent highly in spite of his youth; his comrades were faithful; and none knew so well as he how to cheer his father's dark moods. Then, there were many amiable and generous traits of which she had been told, or had herself known. With his very first savings, he had had the Genius with a reversed torch cast in bronze to grace his mother's grave, and give his father pleasure. Once he had been brought home half dead after saving a woman and child from drowning, and vainly endeavoring to rescue another child. He might be wild and reckless, but he had always been faithful to his art and to his love for his family.

Agatha's eyes opened widely when Melissa told her anything good about her brother, and she clung in terror to her new friend as she heard of her excited orgy with her lover.

Scared as though some imminent horror threatened herself, she clasped Melissa's hand as she listened to the tale of the dangers Alexander had so narrowly escaped.

Such things had never before reached the ears of the girl in her retired Christian home beyond the lake; they sounded to her as the tales of some bold seafarer to the peaceful husbandman on whose shores the storm has wrecked him.

"And do you know," she exclaimed, "all this seems delightful to me, though my father, I am sure, would judge it hardly! When your brother risks his life, it is always for others, and that is right—that is the highest life. I think of him as an angel with a flaming sword. But you do not know our sacred scriptures."

Then Melissa would hear more of this book, of which Andreas had frequently spoken; but there was a knock at the door, and she sprang out of bed.

Agatha did the same; and when a slave-girl had brought in fresh, cold water, she insisted on handing her friend the towels, on plaiting her long hair, pinning her peplos in its place, and arranging its folds. She had so often longed for a sister, and she felt as though she had found one in Melissa! While she helped her to dress she kissed her preserver's sister on the eyes and lips, and entreated her with affectionate urgency to come to see her, as soon as she had done all she could for her lover. She must be made acquainted with her father, and Agatha longed to show her her poor children, her dogs, and her pigeons. And she would go to see Melissa, when she was staying with Polybius.

"And there," Melissa put in, "you will see my brother, too."

On which the Christian girl exclaimed: "You must bring him to our house. My father will be glad to thank him—" Here she paused, and then added, "Only he must not again risk his life so rashly."

"He will be well hidden at the house of Polybius," replied Melissa, consolingly. "And Andreas has him fast by this time."

She once more kissed Agatha, and went to the door, but her friend held her back, and whispered "In my father's grounds there is a famous hiding place, where no one would ever find him. It has often been a refuge for weeks and months for persecuted members of our faith. When he is seriously threatened, bring him to us. We will gladly provide for his safety, and all else. Only think, if they should catch him! It would be for my sake, and I should never be happy again. Promise me that you will bring him."

"Yes, certainly," cried Melissa, as she hurried out into the vestibule, where Andreas and the leech were waiting for her.

They had done well to enlist the girl's services, for, since nursing her mother, she knew, as few did, how to handle the sick. It was not till they had fairly set out that Melissa observed that Dame Katharine was of the party; she had no doubt become reconciled to the idea of the sick man's removal to the Serapeum, for she had the same look of kindly calm which had so much attracted the girl at their first meeting.

The streets along which they passed in the pale morning light were now deserted, and a film of mist, behind which glowed the golden light of the newly risen sun, shrouded the horizon. The fresh air of morning was delicious, and at this early hour there was no one to avoid—only the peasants and their wives carrying the produce of their gardens and fields to market on asses, or wagons drawn by oxen. The black slaves of the town were sweeping the roadway. Here there were parties of men, women, and children on their way to work in factories, which were at rest but for a few hours in the bustling town. The bakers and other provision-dealers were opening their shops; the cobblers and metalworkers were already busy or lighting fires in their open stalls; and Andreas nodded to a file of slave-girls who had come across from the farm and gardens of Polybius, and who now walked up the street with large milk-jars and baskets of vegetables poised on their heads and supported with one gracefully raised arm.

They presently crossed the Aspendia Canal, where the fog hung over the water like white smoke, hiding the figure of the tutelary goddess of the town on the parapet of the bridge from those who crossed by the roadway. The leaves of the mimosa-trees by the quay—nay, the very stones of the houses and the statues, wet with the morning dew—looked revived and newly washed; and a light breeze brought up from the Serapeum broken tones of the chant, sung there every morning by a choir of priests, to hail the triumph of light over darkness.

The crisp morning air was as invigorating to Melissa as her cold bath had been, after a night which had brought her so little rest. She felt as though she, and all Nature with her, had just crossed the threshold of a new day, bidding her to fresh life and labor. Now and then a flame from Lucifer's torch swallowed up a stretch of morning mist, while the Hours escorted Phoebus Apollo, whose radiant diadem of beams was just rising above the haze; Melissa could have declared she saw them dancing forth before him and strewing the path of the sun with flowers. All this was beautiful—as beautiful as the priest's chant, the aromatic sweetness of the air, and the works of art in cast bronze or hewn marble which were to be seen on the bridge, on the temple to Isis and Anubis to the right of the street, under the colonnades of the handsomest houses, on the public fountains—in short, wherever the eye might turn. Her lover, borne before her in a litter, was on the way to the physician in whose hands lay the power to cure him. She felt as though Hope led the way.

Since love had blossomed in her breast her quiet life had become an eventful one. Most of what she had gone through had indeed filled her with alarms. Serious questions to which she had never given a thought had been brought before her; and yet, in this brief period of anxiety she had gained the precious sense of youthfulness and of capacity for action when she had to depend on herself. The last few hours had revealed to her the possession of powers which only yesterday she had never suspected. She, who had willingly yielded to every caprice of her father's, and who, for love of her brothers, had always unresistingly done their bidding, now knew that she had a will of her own and strength enough to assert it; and this, again, added to her contentment this morning.

Alexander had told her, and old Dido, and Diodoros, that she was fair to look upon—but these all saw her with the eyes of affection; so she had always believed that she was a well-looking girl enough, but by no means highly gifted in any respect—a girl whose future would be to bloom and fade unknown in her father's service. But now she knew that she was indeed beautiful; not only because she had heard it repeatedly in the crowd of yesterday, or even because Agatha had declared it while braiding her hair—an inward voice affirmed it, and for her lover's sake she was happy to believe it.

As a rule, she would have been ready to drop with fatigue after so many sleepless hours and such severe exertions; but to-day she felt as fresh as the birds in the trees by the roadside, which greeted the sun with cheerful twitterings.

"Yes, the world is indeed fair!" thought she; but at that very moment Andreas's grave voice was heard ordering the bearers to turn down a dark side alley which led into the street of Hermes, a few hundred paces from the Rhakotis Canal.

How anxious the good man looked! Her world was not the world of the Christian freedman; that she plainly understood when the litter in which Diodoros lay was carried into one of the houses in the side street.

It was a large, plain building, with only a few windows, and those high up-in fact, as Melissa was presently informed, it was a Christian church. Before she could express her surprise, Andreas begged her to have a few minutes' patience; the daemons of sickness were here to be exorcised and driven out of the sufferer. He pointed to a seat in the vestibule to the church, a wide but shallow room. Then, at a sign from Andreas, the slaves carried the litter into a long, low hall with a flat roof.

From where she sat, Melissa could now see that a Christian in priest's robes, whom they called the exorcist, spoke various invocations over the sick man, the others listening so attentively that even she began to hope for some good effect from these incomprehensible formulas; and at the same time she remembered that her old slave-woman Dido, who worshiped many gods, wore round her neck, besides a variety of heathen amulets, a little cross which had been given her by a Christian woman. To her question why she, a heathen, wore this about her, the old woman replied, "You can never tell what may help you some day." So perhaps these exorcisms might not be without some effect on her lover, particularly as the God of the Christians must be powerful and good.

She herself strove to uplift her soul in prayer to the manes of her lost mother; but the scene going on around her in the vestibule distracted her mind with horror. Men, young and old, were slashing themselves with vehement scourgings on their backs. One white-haired old man, indeed, handed his whip of hippopotamus-hide to a stalwart lad whose shoulders were streaming with blood, and begged him as a brother, as fervently as though it were the greatest favor, to let him feel the lash. But the younger man refused, and she saw the weak old fellow trying to apply it to his own back.

All this was quite beyond her comprehension, and struck her as, disgusting; and how haggard and hideous were the limbs of these people who thus sinned against their own bodies—the noble temples of the Divine Spirit!

When, a few minutes later, the litter was borne out of the church again, the sun had triumphed over the mists and was rising with blinding splendor in the cloudless sky. Everything was bathed in light; but the dreadful sight of the penitents had cast a gloom over the clear gladness she had been so full of but just now. It was with a sense of oppression that she took leave of the deaconess, who left her with cheerful contentment in the street of Hermes, and followed the litter to the open square in front of the Serapeum.

Here every thought of gloom vanished from her mind as at the touch of a magician, for before her stood the vast Temple of Serapis, founded, as it were, for eternity, on a substructure of rock and closely fitted masonry, the noblest building on earth of any dedicated to the gods. The great cupola rose to the blue sky as though it fain would greet the sister vault above with its own splendor, and the copper-plating which covered it shone as dazzling as a second sun. From the wide front of the temple, every being to whom the prayers and worship of mortals could be offered looked down on her, hewn in marble or cast in bronze; for on the roof, on brackets or on pedestals; in niches or as supporting the parapets and balconies, were statues of all the guests at the Olympian banquet, with images or busts of every hero or king, philosopher, poet, or artist whose deeds or works had earned him immortality.

From infancy Melissa had looked up at this temple with admiration and pride, for here every art had done its utmost to make it without parallel on earth. It was the work of her beloved native city, and her mother had often taken her into the Serapeum, where she herself had found comfort in many a sorrow and disappointment, and had taught the child to love it. That it had afterward been spoiled for her she forgot in her present mood.

Never had she seen the great temple surrounded by so much gay and busy life. The front of the building, toward the square, had in the early hours of the morning been decked with garlands and heavy wreaths of flowers, by a swarm of slaves standing on ladders and planks and benches let down from the roof by ropes. The inclined ways, by which vehicles drove up to the great door, were still deserted, and on the broad steps in the middle no one was to be seen as yet but a few priests in gala robes, and court officials; but the immense open space in front of the sanctuary was one great camp, where, among the hastily pitched canvas tents, horses were being dressed and weapons polished. Several maniples of the praetorians and of the Macedonian phalanx were already drawn up in compact ranks, to relieve guard at the gate of the imperial residence, and stand at Caesar's orders.

But more attractive to the girl than all this display were a number of altars which had been erected at the extreme edge of the great square, and on each of which a fire was burning. Heavy clouds of smoke went up from them in the still, pure atmosphere, like aerial columns, while the flames, paling in the beams of the morning sun, flew up through the reek as though striving to rise above it, with wan and changeful gleams of red and yellow, now curling down, and now writhing upward like snakes. Of all these fires there was not one from which the smoke did not mount straight to heaven, though each burned to a different god; and Melissa regarded it as a happy sign that none spread or failed to rise. The embers were stirred from time to time by the priests and augurs of every god of the East and West, who also superintended the sacrifices, while warriors of every province of the empire stood round in prayer.

Melissa passed by all these unwonted and soul-stirring sights without a regret; her hope for the cure soon to be wrought on her lover cast all else into the shade. Still, while she looked around at the thousands who were encamped here, and gazed up at the temple where so many men were busied, like ants, it struck her that in fact all this belonged to one and was done for one alone. Those legions followed him as the dust follows the wind, the whole world trembled at his nod, and in his hand lay the life and happiness of the millions he governed. And it was at this omnipotent being, this god in human form, that her brother had mocked; and the pursuers were at his heels. This recollection troubled her joy, and when she looked in the freedman's grave and anxious face her heart began to beat heavily again.



CHAPTER XII.

Melissa had supposed that, according to custom, the litter would be carried up the incline or the steps, and into the Serapeum by the great door; but in consequence of the emperor's visit this could not be. The sick man was borne round the eastern side of the huge building, which covered a space on which a whole village might have stood. The door at the back, to the south, through which he was finally admitted, opened into a gallery passing by the great quadrangle where sacrifice was made, and leading to the inner rooms of the temple, to the cubicles among others.

In these it was revealed to the sick in dreams by what means or remedies they might hope to be healed: and there was no lack of priests to interpret the visions, nor of physicians who came hither to watch peculiar cases, to explain to the sufferers the purport of the counsel of the gods—often very dark—or to give them the benefit of their own.

One of these, a friend of Ptolemaeus, who, though he had been secretly baptized, still was one of the pastophori of the temple, was awaiting the little party, and led the way as guide.

The bellowing of beasts met them on the very threshold. These were to be slaughtered at this early hour by the special command of Caracalla; and, as Caesar himself had promised to be present at the sacrificial rites, none but the priests or "Caesar's friends" were admitted to the court-yard. The litter was therefore carried up a staircase and through a long hall forming part of the library, with large windows looking down on the open place where the beasts were killed and the entrails examined. Diodoros saw and heard nothing, for the injury to the skull had deprived him of all consciousness; Ptolemaeus, however, to soothe Melissa, assured her that he was sleeping soundly.

As they mounted the stairs she had kept close to her lover's side; but on this assurance she lingered behind and looked about her.

As the little procession entered the gallery, in which the rolls of manuscript lay in stone or wooden cases on long rows of shelves, the shout was heard of "Hail, Caesar!" mingling with a solemn chant, and announcing the sovereign's approach.

At this the physician pointed to the court-yard, and said to the girl, whose beauty had greatly attracted him: "Look down there if you want to see Caesar. We must wait here, at any rate, till the crowd has gone past in the corridor beyond that door." And Melissa, whose feminine curiosity had already tempted her to the window, looked down into the quadrangle and on to the steps down which a maniple of the praetorian guard were marching, with noble Romans in togas or the uniform of legates, augurs wearing wreaths, and priests of various orders. Then for a few minutes the steps were deserted, and Melissa thought she could hear her own heart beating, when suddenly the cry: "Hail, Caesar!" was again heard, loud trumpets rang out and echoed from the high stone walls which surrounded the inclosure, and Caracalla appeared on the broad marble steps which led down into the court of sacrifice.

Melissa's eyes were riveted as if spell-bound on this figure, which was neither handsome nor dignified, and which nevertheless had a strange attraction for her, she knew not why. What was it in this man, who was short rather than tall, and feeble rather than majestic, which so imperatively forbade all confident advances? The noble lion which walked by his side, and in whose mane his left hand was buried, was not more unapproachable than he. He called this terrible creature, which he treated with as much familiarity as if it were a lapdog, his "Persian sword"; and as Melissa looked she remembered what fate might be in store for her brother through this man, and all the crimes of which he was accused by the world—the murders of his brother, of his wife, and of thousands besides.

For the first time in her life she felt that she could hate; she longed to bring down every evil on that man's head. The blood mounted to her cheeks, and her little fists were clinched, but she never took her eyes off him; for everything in his person impressed her, if not as fine, still as exceptional—if not as great, still as noteworthy.

She knew that he was not yet thirty, but yesterday, as he drove past her, he had looked like a surly misanthropist of more than middle age. To-day how young he seemed! Did he owe it to the laurel crown which rested on his head, or to the white toga which fell about him in ample folds, leaving only the sinewy arm bare by which he led the lion?

From where she stood she could only see his side-face as he came down the steps, and indeed it was not ill-favored; brow, nose, and chin were finely and nobly formed; his beard was thin, and a mustache curled over his lips. His eyes, deeply set under the brows, were not visible to her, but she had not forgotten since yesterday their sinister and terrible scowl.

At this moment the lion crept closer to his master.

If only the brute should spring on that more blood-stained and terrible beast of prey who could kill not only with claws and teeth but with a word from his lips, a wave of his hand!—the world would be rid of the ferocious curse. Ay, his eye, which had yesterday scorned to look at the multitudes who had hailed his advent, was that of a cruel tyrant.

And then—she felt as if he must have guessed her thoughts—while he patted the lion and gently pushed him aside he turned his face full on her, and she knew not whether to be pleased or angry, for the odious, squinting eyes were not now terrible or contemptuous; nay, they had looked kindly on the beast, and with a somewhat suffering expression. The dreadful face of the murderer was not hideous now, but engaging—the face of a youth enduring torments of soul or of body.

She was not mistaken. On the very next step Caracalla stood still, pressed his right hand to his temples, and set his lips as if to control some acute pain. Then he sadly shook his head and gazed up at the walls of the court, which had been decorated in his honor with hangings and garlands of flowers. First he studied the frieze and the festal display on his right, and when he turned his head to look at the side where Melissa stood, an inward voice bade her withdraw, that the gaze of this monster might not blight her. But an irresistible attraction held her fast; then suddenly she felt as if the ground were sinking from under her feet, and, as a shipwrecked wretch snatches at a floating spar, she clung to the little column at the left of the window, clutching it with her hand; for the dreadful thing had happened-Caracalla's eye had met hers and had even rested on her for a while! And that gaze had nothing bloodthirsty in it, nor the vile leer which had sparkled in the eyes of the drunken rioters she had met last night in the streets; he only looked astonished as at some wonderful thing which he had not expected to see in this place. But presently a fresh attack of pain apparently made him turn away, for his features betrayed acute suffering, as he slowly set his foot on the next step below.

Again, and more closely, he pressed his hand to his brow, and then beckoned to a tall, well-built man with flowing hair, who walked behind him, and accepted the support of his offered arm.

"Theocritus, formerly an actor and dancer," the priest whispered to Melissa. "Caesar's whim made the mimic a senator, a legate, and a favorite."

But Melissa only knew that he was speaking, and did not take in the purport of his speech; for this man, slowly descending the steps, absorbed her whole sympathy. She knew well the look of those who suffer and conceal it from the eyes of the world; and some cruel disease was certainly consuming this youth, who ruled the earth, but whose purple robes would be snatched at soon enough by greedy hands if he should cease to seem strong and able. And now, again, he looked old and worn—poor wretch, who yet was so young and born to be so abundantly happy! He was, to be sure, a base and blood-stained tyrant, but not the less a miserable and unhappy man. The more severe the pain he had to endure, the harder must he find it to hide it from the crowd who were constantly about him. There is but one antidote to hatred, and that is pity; it was with the eager compassion of a woman's heart that Melissa marked every movement of the imperial murderer, as soon as she recognized his sufferings, and when their eyes had met. Nothing now escaped her keen glance which could add to her sympathy for the man she had loathed but a minute before. She noticed a slight limp in his gait and a convulsive twitching of his eyelids; his slender, almost transparent hand, she reflected, was that of a sick man, and pain and fever, no doubt, had thinned his hair, which had left many places bald.

And when the high—priest of Serapis and the augurs met him at the bottom of the steps and Caesar's eye again put on the cruel scowl of yesterday, she would not doubt that it was stern self-command which gave him that threatening glare, to seem terrible, in spite of his anguish, to those whose obedience he required. He had really needed his companion's support as they descended the stair, that she could plainly see; and she had observed, too, how carefully his guide had striven to conceal the fact that he was upholding him; but the courtier was too tall to achieve the task he had set himself. Now, she was much shorter than Caesar, and she was strong, too. Her arm would have afforded him a much better support.

But how could she think of such a thing?—she, the sister of Alexander, the betrothed of Diodoros, whom she truly loved!

Caesar mingled with the priests, and her guide told her that the corridor was now free. She peeped into the litter, and, seeing that Diodoros still slept, she followed him, lost in thought, and giving short and heedless answers to Andreas and the physicians She had not listened to the priest's information, and scarcely turned her head to look out, when a tall, thin man with a bullet-head and deeply wrinkled brow was pointed out to her as Macrinus, the prefect of the body-guard, the most powerful man in Rome next to Caesar; and then the "friends" of Caracalla, whom she had seen yesterday, and the historian Dion Cassius, with other senators and members of the imperial train.

Now, as they made their way through halls and passages where the foot of the uninitiated rarely intruded, she looked about her with more interest when the priest drew her attention to some particularly fine statue or picture, or some symbolical presentment. Even now, however, though association with her brothers had made her particularly alive to everything that was beautiful or curious, she glanced round with less interest than she otherwise might have done, for she had much else to think of. In the first place, of the benefits Diodoros was to derive from the great Galen; then of her father, who this day must dispense with her assistance; and, finally, of the state of mind of her grave brother Philip. He and Alexander, who usually were such united friends, now both were in love with Agatha, and what could come of that? And from time to time her thoughts flew back to Caesar, and she felt as though some tie, she knew not what, linked them together.

As soon as the litter had to be carried up or down steps, she kept an eye on the bearers, and gave such help as was needed when the sleeper's position was changed. Whenever she looked in his handsome face, flushed as it was by fever and framed in tumbled curls, her heart swelled, and she felt that she had much to thank the gods for, seeing that her lover was so full of splendid youth and in no respect resembled the prematurely decrepit and sickly wearer of the purple. Nevertheless, she thought a good deal of Caracalla, and it even occurred to her once that if it were he who was being carried instead of Diodoros, she would tend him no less carefully than her betrothed. Caesar, who had been as far out of her ken as a god, and of whose overwhelming power she had heard, had suddenly come down to her. She involuntarily thought of him as one of those few with whom she had come into personal contact, and in whose weal or woe she had some sympathetic interest. He could not be altogether evil and hardened. If he could only know what pain it caused her to see him suffer, he would surely command Zminis to abandon the pursuit of her brother.

Just as they were reaching the end of their walk, the trumpets rang out once more, reminding her that she was under the same roof with him. She was so close to him—and yet how far he was from guessing the desires of a heart which beat with compassion for him!

Several sick persons, eager for some communication from the gods, and some who, without being sick, had slept in the Serapeum, had by this time left their beds, and were taking counsel in the great hall with interpreters and physicians. The bustle was like that of a market-place, and there was one old man with unkempt hair and fiery eyes who repeated again and again in a loud voice, "It was the god himself who appeared to me, and his three-headed dog licked my cheeks." And presently a hideous old woman plucked at Melissa's robe, whispering: "A healing draught for your lover; tears from the eyes of the infant Horus. I have them from Isis herself. The effect is rapid and certain. Come to Hezron, the dealer in balsams in the street of the Nekropolis. Your lover's recovery—for five drachmae."

But Melissa, who was no stranger here since her mother's last sickness, went on without pausing, following the litter down the long hall full of beds, a room with a stone roof resting on two rows of tall columns. Familiar to her too was the aromatic scent of kyphi,—[incense]—which filled the hall, although fresh air was constantly pouring in from outside through the high windows. Red and green curtains hung in front of them, and the subdued light which came through fell in tinted twilight on the colored pictures in relief of the history of the gods, which covered the walls. Speech was forbidden here, and their steps fell noiseless on the thick, heavy mats.

Most of the beds were already empty; only those between the long wall and the nearest row of columns were still for the most part occupied by the sick who sought the help of the god. On one of these Diodoros was laid, Melissa helping in silence, and with such skill as delighted even the physicians. Still, this did not wake him, though on the next bed lay a man who never ceased speaking, because in his dream he had been bidden to repeat the name of Serapis as many times as there were drops in a cup of water filled from the Agathodaemon Canal.

"A long stay in this strong perfume will be bad for him," whispered Ptolemaeus to the freedman. "Galenus sent word that he would visit the sick early to-day; but he is not here yet. He is an old man, and in Rome, they say, it is the custom to sleep late."

He was interrupted by a stir in the long hall, which broke in on the silence, no one knew from whence; and immediately after, officious hands threw open the great double doors with a loud noise.

"He is coming," whispered their priestly guide; and the instant after an old man crossed the threshold, followed by a troop of pastophori, as obsequious as the courtiers at the heels of a prince.

"Gently, brothers," murmured the greatest physician of his age in a low voice, as, leaning on a staff, he went toward the row of couches. It was easy to see the traces of his eighty years, but his fine eyes still gleamed with youthful light.

Melissa blushed to think that she could have mistaken Serenus Samonicus for this noble old man. He must once have been a tall man; his back was bent and his large head was bowed as though he were forever seeking something. His face was pale and colorless, with a well-formed nose and mouth, but not of classic mold. Blue veins showed through the clear white skin, and the long, silky, silvery hair still flowed in unthinned waves round his massive head, bald only on the crown. A snowy beard fell over his breast. His aged form was wrapped in a long and ample robe of costly white woolen stuff, and his whole appearance would have been striking for its peculiar refinement, even if the eyes had not sparkled with such vivid and piercing keenness from under the thick brows, and if the high, smooth, slightly prominent forehead had not borne witness to the power and profundity of his mind. Melissa knew of no one with whom to compare him; he reminded Andreas of the picture of John as an old man, which a wealthy fellow-Christian had presented to the church of Saint Mark.

If this man could do nothing, there was no help on earth. And how dignified and self-possessed were the movements of this bent old man as he leaned on his staff! He, a stranger here, seemed to be showing the others the way, a guide in his own realm. Melissa had heard that the strong scent of the kyphi might prove injurious to Diodoros, and her one thought now was the desire that Galenus might soon approach his couch. He did not, in fact, begin with the sick nearest to the door, but stood awhile in the middle of the hall, leaning against a column and surveying the place and the beds.

When his searching glance rested on that where Diodoros was lying, an answering look met his with reverent entreaty from a pair of beautiful, large, innocent eyes. A smile parted his bearded lips, and going up to the girl he said: "Where beauty bids, even age must obey. Your lover, child, or your brother?"

"My betrothed," Melissa hastened to reply; and the maidenly embarrassment which flushed her cheek became her so well that he added:

"He must have much to recommend him if I allow him to carry you off, fair maid."

With these words he went up to the couch, and looking at Diodoros as he lay, he murmured, as if speaking to himself and without paying any heed to the younger men who crowded round him:

"There are no true Greeks left here; but the beauty of the ancestral race is not easily stamped out, and is still to be seen in their descendants. What a head, what features, and what hair!"

Then he felt the lad's breast, shoulders, and arms, exclaiming in honest admiration, "What a godlike form!"

He laid his delicate old hand, with its network of blue veins, on the sick man's forehead, again glanced round the room, and listened to Ptolemaeus, who gave him a brief and technical report of the case; then, sniffing the heavy scent that filled the hall, he said, as the Christian leech ceased speaking:

"We will try; but not here—in a room less full of incense. This perfume brings dreams, but no less surely induces fever. Have you no other room at hand where the air is purer?"

An eager "Yes," in many voices was the reply; and Diodoros was forthwith transferred into a small cubicle adjoining.

While he was being moved, Galenus went from bed to bed, questioning the chief physician and the patients. He seemed to have forgotten Diodoros and Melissa; but after hastily glancing at some and carefully examining others, and giving advice where it was needful, he desired to see the fair Alexandrian's lover once more.

As he entered the room he nodded kindly to the girl. How gladly would she have followed him! But she said to herself that if he had wished her to be present he would certainly have called her; so she modestly awaited his return. She had to wait a long time, and the minutes seemed hours while she heard the voices of men through the closed door, the moaning and sighing of the sufferer, the splashing of water, and the clatter of metal instruments; and her lively imagination made her fancy that something almost unendurable was being done to her lover.

At last the physician came out. His whole appearance betokened perfect satisfaction. The younger men, who followed him, whispered among themselves, shaking their heads as though some miracle had been performed; and every eye that looked on him was radiant with enthusiastic veneration. Melissa knew, as soon as his eyes met hers, that all was well, and as she grasped the old man's hand she concluded from its cool moisture that he had but just washed it, and had done with his own hand all that Ptolemaeus had expected of his skill. Her eyes were dim with grateful emotion, and though Galenus strove to hinder her from pressing her lips to his hand she succeeded in doing so; he, however, kissed her brow with fatherly delight in her warmhearted sweetness, and said:

"Now go home happy, my child. That stone had hit your lover's brain-roof a hard blow; the pressure of the broken beam—I mean a piece of bone—had robbed him of his consciousness of what a sweet bride the gods have bestowed on him. But the knife has done its work; the beam is in its place again; the splinters which were not needed have been taken out; the roof is mended, and the pressure removed. Your friend has recovered consciousness, and I will wager that at this moment he is thinking of you and wishes you were with him. But for the present you had better defer the meeting. For forty-eight hours he must remain in that little room, for any movement would only delay his recovery."

"Then I shall stay here to nurse him," cried Melissa, eagerly. But Galenus replied, decisively:

"That must not be if he is to get well. The presence of a woman for whom the sufferer's heart is on fire is as certain to aggravate the fever as the scent of incense. Besides, child, this is no place for such as you."

Her head drooped sadly, but he nodded to her cheeringly as he added:

"Ptolemaeus, who is worthy of your entire confidence, speaks of you as a girl of much sense, and you will surely not do anything to spoil my work, which was not easy. However, I must say farewell; other sick require my care."

He held out his hand, but, seeing her eyes fixed on his and glittering through tears, he asked her name and family. It seemed to him of good augury for the long hours before him which he must devote to Caesar, that he should, so early in the day, have met so pure and fair a flower of girlhood.

When she had told him her own name and her father's, and also mentioned her brothers, Philip the philosopher, and Alexander the painter, who was already one of the chief masters of his art here, Galenus answered heartily:

"All honor to his genius, then, for he is the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Like the old gods, who can scarce make themselves heard for the new, the Muses too have been silenced. The many really beautiful things to be seen here are not new; and the new, alas! are not beautiful. But your brother's work," he added, kindly, "may be the exception."

"You should only see his portraits!" cried Melissa.

"Yours, perhaps, among them?" said the old man, with interest. "That is a reminder I would gladly take back to Rome with me."

Alexander had indeed painted his sister not long before, and how glad she was to be able to offer the picture to the reverend man to whom she owed so much! So she promised with a blush to send it him as soon as she should be at home again.

The unexpected gift was accepted with pleasure, and when he thanked her eagerly and with simple heartiness, she interrupted him with the assurance that in Alexandria art was not yet being borne to the grave. Her brother's career, it was true, threatened to come to an untimely end, for he stood in imminent danger. On this the old man—who had taken his seat on a bench which the attendant physicians of the temple had brought forward-desired to know the state of the case, and Melissa briefly recounted Alexander's misdemeanor, and how near he had been, yesterday, to falling into the hands of his pursuers. Then she looked up at the old man beseechingly; and as he had praised her beauty, so now—she herself knew not how she had such courage—the praises of his fame, his greatness and goodness, flowed from her lips. And her bold entreaties ended with a prayer that he would urge Caesar, who doubtless revered him as a father, to cease from prosecuting her brother.

The old man's face had grown graver and graver; he had several times stroked his white beard with an uneasy gesture; and when, as she spoke the last words, she ventured to raise her timidly downcast eyes to his, he rose stiffly and said in regretful tones:

"How can I be vexed with a sister who knocks at any door to save a brother's life? But I would have given a great deal that it had not been at mine. It is hard to refuse when I would so gladly accede, and yet so it must be; for, though Claudius Galenus does his best for Bassianus Antoninus as a patient, as he does for any other, Bassianus the man and the emperor is as far from him as fire from water; and so it must ever be during the short space of time which may yet be granted to him and me under the light of the sun."

The last words were spoken in a bitter, repellent tone, and yet Melissa felt that it pained the old man to refuse her. So she earnestly exclaimed:

"Oh, forgive me! How could I guess—" She suddenly paused and added, "Then you really think that Caesar has not long to live?"

She spoke with the most anxious excitement, and her question offended Galenus. He mistook their purport, and his voice was wrathful as he replied, "Long enough yet to punish an insult!"

Melissa turned pale. She fancied that she apprehended the meaning of these stern words, and, prompted by an earnest desire not to be misunderstood by this man, she eagerly exclaimed:

"I do not wish him dead—no, indeed not; not even for my brother's sake! But just now I saw him near, and I thought I could see that he was suffering great pain. Why, we pity a brute creature when it is in anguish. He is still so young, and it must be so hard to die!"

Galenus nodded approvingly, and replied:

"I thank you, in the name of my imperial patient.—Well, send me your portrait; but let it be soon, for I embark before sunset. I shall like to remember you. As to Caesar's sufferings, they are so severe, your tender soul would not wish your worst enemy to know such pain. My art has few means of mitigating them, and the immortals are little inclined to lighten the load they have laid on this man. Of the millions who tremble before him, not one prays or offers sacrifice of his own free-will for the prosperity of the monarch."

A flash of enthusiasm sparkled in Melissa's eye, but Galenus did not heed it; he briefly bade her farewell and turned away to devote himself to other patients.

"There is one, at any rate," thought she, as she looked after the physician, "who will pray and sacrifice for that unhappy man. Diodoros will not forbid it, I am sure."

She turned to Andreas and desired him to take her to her lover. Diodoros was now really sleeping, and did not feel the kiss she breathed on his fore head. He had all her love; the suffering criminal she only pitied.

When they had quitted the temple she pressed her hand to her bosom and drew a deep breath as if she had just been freed from prison.

"My head is quite confused," she said, "by the heavy perfume and so much anxiety and alarm; but O Andreas, my heart never beat with such joy and gratitude! Now I must collect my thoughts, and get home to do what is needful for Philip. And merciful gods! that good-natured old Roman, Samonicus, will soon be expecting me at the Temple of Aphrodite; see how high the sun is already. Let us walk faster, for, to keep him waiting—"

Andreas here interrupted her, saying, "If I am not greatly mistaken, there is the Roman, in that open chariot, coming down the incline."

He was right; a few minutes later the chariot drew up close to Melissa, and she managed to tell Samonicus all that had happened in so courteous and graceful a manner that, far from being offended, he could wish every success to the cure his great friend had begun. And indeed his promise had somewhat weighed upon his mind, for to carry out two undertakings in one day was too much, at his age, and he had to be present in the evening at a banquet to which Caesar had invited himself in the house of Seleukus the merchant."

"The high-priest's brother?" asked Melissa, in surprise, for death had but just bereft that house of the only daughter.

"The same," said the Roman, gayly. Then he gave her his hand, with the assurance that the thought of her would make it a pleasure to remember Alexandria.

As she clasped his hand, Andreas came up, bowed gravely, and asked whether it would be overbold in him, as a faithful retainer of the maiden's family, to crave a favor, in her name, of Caesar's illustrious and familiar friend.

The Roman eyed Andreas keenly, and the manly dignity, nay, the defiant self-possession of the freedman—the very embodiment of all he had expected to find in a genuine Alexandrian—so far won his confidence that he bade him speak without fear. He hoped to hear something sufficiently characteristic of the manners of the provincial capital to make an anecdote for Caesar's table. Then, when he understood that the matter concerned Melissa's brother, and a distinguished artist, he smiled expectantly. Even when he learned that Alexander was being hunted down for some heedless jest against the emperor, he only threatened Melissa sportively with his finger; but on being told that this jest dealt with the murder of Geta, he seemed startled, and the tone of his voice betrayed serious displeasure as he replied to the petitioner, "Do you suppose that I have three heads, like the Cerberus at the feet of your god, that you ask me to lay one on the block for the smile of a pretty girl?"

He signed to his charioteer, and the horses whirled the light vehicle across the square and down the street of Hermes.

Andreas gazed after him, and muttered, with a shrug

"My first petition to a great man, and assuredly my last."

"The coward!" cried Melissa; but Andreas said, with a superior smile.

"Let us take a lesson from this, my child. Those who reckon on the help of man are badly off indeed. We must all trust in God, and each in himself."



CHAPTER XIII.

Andreas, who had so much on his shoulders, had lost much time, and was urgently required at home. After gratifying Melissa's wish by describing how Diodoros had immediately recovered consciousness on the completion of the operation performed by Galen, and painting the deep amazement that had fallen on all the other physicians at the skill of this fine old man, he had done all he could for the present to be of use to the girl. He was glad, therefore, when in the street of Hermes, now swarming again with citizens, soldiers, and horsemen, he met the old nurse, who, after conducting Agatha home to her father, had been sent back to the town to remain in attendance, if necessary, on Diodoros. The freedman left it to her to escort Melissa to her own home, and went back to report to Polybius—in the first place, as to his son's state.

It was decided that Melissa should for the present remain with her father; but, as soon as Diodoros should be allowed to leave the Serapeum, she was to go across the lake to receive the convalescent on his return home.

The old woman assured her, as they walked on, that Diodoros had always been born to good luck; and it was clear that this had never been truer than now, when Galenus had come in the nick of time to restore him to life and health, and when he had won such a bride as Melissa. Then she sang the praises of Agatha, of her beauty and goodness, and told her that the Christian damsel had made many inquiries concerning Alexander. She, the speaker, had not been chary of her praise of the youth, and, unless she was much mistaken, the arrow of Eros had this time pierced Agatha's heart, though till now she had been as a child—an innocent child—as she herself could say, who had seen her grow up from the cradle. Her faith need not trouble either Melissa or Alexander, for gentler and more modest wives than the Christian women were not to be found among the Greeks—and she had known many.

Melissa rarely interrupted the garrulous old woman; but, while she listened, pleasant pictures of the future rose before her fancy. She saw herself and Diodoros ruling over Polybius's household, and, close at hand, on Zeno's estate, Alexander with his beautiful and adored wife. There, under Zeno's watchful eye, the wild youth would become a noble man. Her father would often come to visit them, and in their happiness would learn to find pleasure in life again. Only now and then the thought of the sacrifice which the vehement Philip must make for his younger brother, and of the danger which still threatened Alexander, disturbed the cheerful contentment of her soul, rich as it was in glad hopes.

The nearer they got to her own home, the more lightly her heart beat. She had none but good news to report there. The old woman, panting for breath, was obliged to beg her to consider her sixty years and moderate her pace.

Melissa willingly checked her steps; and when, at the end of the street of Hermes, they reached the temple of the god from whom it was named and turned off to the right, the good woman parted from her, for in this quiet neighborhood she could safely be trusted to take care of herself.

Melissa was now alone. On her left lay the gardens of Hermes, where, on the southern side, stood her father's house and that of their neighbor Skopas. Though the old nurse had indeed talked of nothing that was not pleasant, it was a comfort not to have to listen to her, but to be free to follow her own thoughts. Nor did she meet with anything to distract them, for at this hour the great public garden was left almost entirely to children and their attendants, or to the inhabitants of the immediate neighborhood who frequented the temples of Hermes or Artemis, or the little shrine of Asklepios, which stood in a grove of mimosas on the skirt of the park, and to which Melissa herself felt attracted. It had been a familiar spot at the time when her mother was at the worst. How often had she flown hither from her home near at hand to pour oil on the altar of the god of healing—to make some small offering and find comfort in prayer!

The day was now hot, she was tired, and, when she saw the white marble columns gleaming among the greenery, she yielded to the impulse to enjoy a few minutes' rest in the cool cella and accomplish the vow she had taken an hour or two since. She longed, indeed, to get home, that her father might share the happiness which uplifted her heart; but then she reflected that she would not soon have the opportunity of carrying out, unobserved, the purpose she had in her mind. Now, if ever, was the time to offer sacrifice for Caesar and for the mitigation of his sufferings. The thought that Galenus perhaps was right, and that of Caracalla's myriad subjects she might be the only one who would do so much for his sake, strengthened her resolve.

The chief temple of Asklepios, whom the Egyptians called Imhotep, was at the Serapeum. Imhotep was the son of Ptah, who, at Alexandria, was merged in Serapis. There he was worshiped, conjointly with Serapis and Isis, by Egyptians, Greeks, and Syrians alike. The little sanctuary near her father's house was the resort of none but Greeks. Ptolemaeus Philadelphus, the second Macedonian King of Egypt, had built it as an appendage to the Temple of Artemis, after the recovery from sickness of his wife Arsinoe.

It was small, but a masterpiece of Greek art, and the statues of Sleep and of A Dream, at the entrance, with the marble group behind the altar, representing Asklepios with his sister Hygeia and his wife Epione the Soother, was reckoned by connoisseurs as among the noblest and most noteworthy works of art in Alexandria.

The dignity and benevolence of the god were admirably expressed in the features of the divinity, somewhat resembling the Olympian Zeus, who leaned on his serpent staff; and the graceful, inviting sweetness of Hygeia, holding out her cup as though she were offering health to the sufferer, was well adapted to revive the hopes of the despondent. The god's waving locks were bound with a folded scarf, and at his feet was a dog, gazing up at his lord as if in entreaty.

The sacred snakes lay coiled in a cage by the altar; they were believed to have the power of restoring themselves, and this was regarded as a promise to the sick that they should cast off their disease as a serpent casts its skin. The swift power of the reptile over life and death, was an emblem to the votaries of the power of the god to postpone the death of man or to shorten his days.

The inside of the little sanctuary was a cool and still retreat. Tablets hung on the white marble walls, inscribed with the thanksgivings or vows of those who had been healed. On several, the remedies were recorded which had availed in certain cases; and on the left of the little hall, behind a heavy hanging, a small recess contained the archives of the temple, recipes, records of gifts, and documents referring to the history of the sanctuary.

In this deserted, shady spot, between these thick marble walls, it was much cooler than outside. Melissa lifted her hands in prayer before the statue of the god. She was alone, with the exception of the priest in charge. The temple-servant was absent, and the priest was asleep, breathing heavily, in an arm-chair in a dark nook behind the marble group. Thus she was free to follow the impulse of her heart, and pray, first for her sick lover, and then for the sufferer to whom the whole subservient world belonged.

For Diodoros, indeed, as she knew, other hands and hearts were uplifted in loving sympathy. But who besides herself was praying for the hated sovereign who had at his command the costliest and rarest gifts of fortune, all poisoned by bitter anguish of mind and body? The world thought only of the sufferings he had inflicted on others; no one dreamed of the pangs he had to endure—no one but herself, to whom Galenus had spoken of them. And had not his features and his look betrayed to her that pain was gnawing at his vitals like the vulture at those of Prometheus? Hapless, pitiable youth, born to the highest fortune, and now a decrepit old man in the flower of his age! To pray and sacrifice for him must be a pious deed, pleasing to the gods. Melissa besought the marble images over the altar from the very bottom of her heart, never even asking herself why she was bestowing on this stranger, this cruel tryant, in whose name her own brother was in danger of the law, an emotion which nothing but her care for those dearest to her had ever stirred. But she did not feel that he was a stranger, and never thought how far apart they were. Her prayers came easily, too, in this spot; the bonds that linked her to these beautiful marble beings were familiar and dear to her. While she gazed up into the face of Asklepios, imploring him to be gracious to the imperial youth, and release him from the pain but for which he might have been humane and beneficent, the stony features seemed to live before her eyes, and the majesty and dignity that beamed on the brow assured her that the god's power and wisdom were great enough to heal every disease. The tender smile which played on his features filled her soul with the certainty that he would vouchsafe to be gracious; nay, she could believe that he moved those marble lips and promised to grant her prayer. And when she turned to the statue of Hygeia she fancied the beautiful, kind face nodded to her with a pledge of fulfillment.

She raised her beseeching arms higher still, and addressed her sculptured friends aloud, as though they could hear her:

"I know that nothing is hidden from you, eternal gods," she began, "and when it was your will that my mother should be taken from me my foolish heart rebelled. But I was then a child without understanding, and my soul lay as it were asleep. Now it is different. You know that I have learned to love a man; and many things, and, the certainty that the gods are good, have come to me with that love. Forgive the maid the sins of the child, and make my lover whole, as he lies under the protection and in the sanctuary of the great Serapis, still needing your aid too. He is mending, and the greatest of thy ministers, O Asklepios, says he will recover, so it must be true. Yet without thee even the skill of Galenus is of little avail; wherefore I beseech you both, Heal Diodoros, whom I love!—But I would fain entreat you for another. You will wonder, perhaps—for it is Bassianus Antoninus, whom they call Caracalla and Caesar.

"Thou, Asklepios, dost look in amazement, and great Hygeia shakes her head. And it is hard to say what moves me, who love another, to pray for the blood-stained murderer for whom not another soul in his empire would say a word to you. Nay, and I know not what it is. Perhaps it is but pity; for he, who ought to be the happiest, is surely the most wretched man under the sun. O great Asklepios, O bountiful and gracious Hygeia, ease his sufferings, which are indeed beyond endurance! Nor shall you lack an offering. I will dedicate a cock to you; and as the cock announces a new day, so perchance shall you grant to Caracalla the dawn of a new existence in better health.

"Alas, gracious god! but thou art grave, as though the offering were too small. How gladly would I bring a goat, but I know not whether my money will suffice, for it is only what I have saved. By and by, when the youth I love is my husband, I will prove my gratitude; for he is as rich as he is handsome and kind, and will, I know, refuse me nothing. And thou, sweet goddess, dost not look down upon me as graciously as before; I fear thou art angry. Yet think not"—and she gave a low laugh—"that I pray for Caracalla because I care for him, or am in love with him. No, no, no, no! my heart is wholly given to Diodoros, and not the smallest part of it to any other. It is Caesar's misery alone that brings me hither. Sooner would I kiss one of those serpents or a thorny hedgehog than him, the fratricide in the purple. Believe me, it is true, strange as it must seem.

"First and last, I pray and offer sacrifice indeed for Diodoros and his recovery. My brother Alexander, too, who is in danger, I would fain commend to you; but he is well in body, and your remedies are of no effect against the perils which threaten him."

Here she ceased, and gazed into the faces of the statues, but they would not look so friendly as before. It was, no doubt, the smallness of her offering that had offended them. She anxiously drew out her little money-bag and counted the contents. But when, after waking the priest, she had asked how much a goat might cost for sacrifice, her countenance cleared, for her savings were enough to pay for it and for a young cock as well. All she had she left with the old man, to the last sesterce; but she could only wait to see the cock sacrificed, for she felt she must go home.

As soon as the blood of the bird had besprinkled the altar, and she had told the divinities that a goat was also to be killed, she fancied that they looked at her more kindly; and she was turning to the door, as light and gay as if she had happily done some difficult task, when the curtain screening off the library of archives was lifted, and a man came out calling her by name. She turned round; but as soon as she saw that he was a Roman, and, as his white toga told her, of the upper class, she took fright. She hastily exclaimed that she was in a hurry, and flew down the steps, through the garden, and into the road. Once there, she reproached herself for foolish shyness of a stranger who was scarcely younger than her own father; but by the time she had gone a few steps she had forgotten the incident, and was rehearsing in her mind all she had to tell Heron. She soon saw the tops of the palms and sycamores in their own garden, her faithful old dog Melas barked with delight, and the happiness which the meeting with the stranger had for a moment interrupted revived with unchecked glow.

She was weary, and where could she rest so well as at home? She had escaped many perils, and where could she feel so safe as under her father's roof? Glad as she was at the prospect of her new and handsome home on the other side of the lake, and of all the delights promised her by Diodoros's affection, her heart still clung fondly to the pretty, neat little dwelling whose low roof now gleamed in front of her. In the garden, whose shell-strewn paths she now trod, she had played as a child; that window belonged to the room where her mother had died. And then, coming home was in itself a joy, when she had so much to tell that was pleasant.

The dog leaped along by her side with vehement affection, jumping round her and on her, and she heard the starling's cry, first "Olympias!" and then "My strength!"

A happy smile parted her rosy lips as she glanced at the work-room; but the two white teeth which always gleamed when she was gay were presently hidden, for her father, it would seem, was out. He was certainly not at work, for the wide window was unscreened, and it was now nearly noon. He was almost always within at this hour, and it would spoil half her gladness not to find him there.

But what was this? What could this mean? The dog had announced her approach, and old Dido's gray head peeped out of the house-door, to vanish again at once. How strangely she had looked at her—exactly as she had looked that day when the physician had told the faithful creature that her mistress's last hour was at hand!

Melissa's contentment was gone. Before she even crossed the threshold, where the friendly word "Rejoice" greeted her in brown mosaic, she called the old woman by name. No answer.

She went into the kitchen to find Dido; for she, according to her invariable habit of postponing evil as long as possible, had fled to the hearth. There she stood, though the fire was out, weeping bitterly, and covering her wrinkled face with her hands, as though she quailed before the eyes of the girl she must so deeply grieve. One glance at the woman, and the tears which trickled through her fingers and down her lean arms told Melissa that something dreadful had happened. Very pale, and clasping her hand to her heaving bosom, she desired to be told all; but for some time Dido was quite unable to speak intelligibly. And before she could make up her mind to it, she looked anxiously for Argutis, whom she held to be the wisest of mankind, and who, she knew, would reveal the dreadful thing that must be told more judiciously than she could. But the Gaul was not to be seen; so Dido, interrupted by sobs, began the melancholy tale.

Heron had come home between midnight and sunrise and had gone to bed. Next morning, while he was feeding the birds, Zminis, the captain of the night-watch, had come in with some men-at-arms, and had tried to take the artist prisoner in Caesar's name. On this, Heron had raved like a bull, had appealed to his Macedonian birth, his rights as a Roman citizen, and much besides, and demanded to know of what he was accused. He was then informed that he was to be held in captivity by the special orders of the head of the police, till his son Alexander, who was guilty of high-treason, should surrender to the authorities. But her master, said Dido, sobbing, had knocked down the man who had tried to bind him with a mighty blow of his fist. At last there was a fearful uproar, and in fact a bloody fight. The starling shouted his cry through it all, the birds fluttered and piped with terror, and it was like the abode of the damned in the nether world; and strangers came crowding about the house, till Skopas arrived and advised Heron to go with the Egyptian.

"But even at the door," Dido added, "he called out to me that you, Melissa, could remain with Polybius till he should recover his liberty. Philip was to appeal for help to the prefect Titianus, and offer him the gems—you know them, he said. And, last of all," and again she began to cry, "he especially commended to my care the tomb—and the birds; and the starling wants some fresh mealworms." Melissa heard with dismay; the color had faded from her cheeks, and as Dido ended she asked gloomily:

"And Philip—and Alexander?"

"We have thought of everything," replied the old woman. "As soon as we were alone we held a council, Argutis and I. He went to find Alexander, and I went to Philip. I found him in his rooms. He had come home very late, the porter said, and I saw him in bed, and I had trouble enough to wake him. Then I told him all, and he went on in such mad talk—it will be no wonder if the gods punish him. He wanted to rush off to the prefect, with his hair uncombed, just as he was. I had to bring him to his senses; and then, while I was oiling his hair and helping him into his best new mantle, he changed his mind, for he declared he would come home first, to talk with you and Argutis. Argutis was at home again, but he had not found Alexander, for the poor youth has to hide himself as if he were a murderer." And again she sobbed; nor was it till Melissa had soothed her with kind speeches that she could go on with her story.

Philip had learned yesterday where Alexander was concealed, so he undertook to go across the lake and inform him of what had occurred. But Argutis, faithful and prudent, had hindered him, representing that Alexander, who was easily moved, as soon as he heard that his father was a prisoner would unhesitatingly give himself up to his enemies as a hostage, and rush headlong into danger. Alexander must remain in hiding so long as Caesar was in Alexandria. He (Argutis) would go instead of Philip, who, for his part, might call on the prefect later. He would cross the lake and warn Melissa not to return home, and to tell Alexander what he might think necessary. The watch might possibly follow Argutis; but he knew every lane and alley, and could mislead and avoid them. Philip had listened to reason. The slave went, and must now soon be back again.

Of how different a home-coming had Melissa dreamed! What new and terrible griefs were these! Still, though distressed at the thought of her vehement father in prison, she shed no tears, but told herself that matters could only be mended by rational action on behalf of the victims, and not by lamentations. She must be alone, to collect her strength and consider the situation. So she desired Dido, to her great amazement, to prepare some food, and bring her wine and water. Then, seating herself, with a melancholy glance at her embroidery where it lay folded together, she rested her elbow on the table and her head in her hand, considering to whom she could appeal to save her father.

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