A Thorny Path
by Georg Ebers
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

First she thought of Caesar himself, whose eye had met hers, and for whom she had prayed and offered sacrifice. But the blood fired her cheeks at the thought, and she repelled it at once. Yet her mind would linger at the Serapeum, where her lover, too, still rested his fevered head. She knew that the high-priests' spacious lodgings there, with their splendid rooms and banqueting halls, had been prepared for the emperor; and she remembered various things which her brother had told her of Timotheus, who was at the head not only of the heathen priesthood, but also of the museum. He was said to be a philosopher, and Philip had more than once been distinguished by him, and invited to his house. Her brother must apply to him. He, who was in a way Caracalla's host, would easily succeed in obtaining her father's release, from his imperial guest.

Her grave face brightened at this thought, and, while she ate and drank, another idea struck her. Alexander, too, must be known to the high-priest; for Timotheus was the brother of Seleukus, whose daughter the artist had just painted, and Timotheus had seen the portrait and praised it highly. Thus it was not improbable that the generous man would, if Philip besought him, intercede for Alexander. So all might turn out better than she had ventured to hope.

Firmly convinced that it was her part to rescue her family, she once more reviewed in her mind every acquaintance to whom she might look for aid; but even during her meditations her tired frame asserted its rights, and when Dido came in to remove the remains of the meal and the empty wine-cup, she found Melissa sunk in sleep.

Shaking her head, and saying to herself that it served the old man right for his cruel treatment of a dutiful child—though, for Alexander's sake, she might have tried to keep awake—the faithful soul pushed a cushion under the girl's head, drew the screen across the window, and stood waving off the flies which buzzed about her darling's flushed face, till presently the dog barked, and an energetic knock shook the house-door. Melissa started from her slumbers, the old woman threw aside the fan, and, as she hurried to admit the vehement visitor, cried out to Melissa:

"Be easy, dear child—be easy. It is nothing; depend upon that. I know the knock; it is only Philip."


Dido was right. Heron's eldest son had returned from his errand. Tired, disappointed, and with fierce indignation in his eyes, he staggered in like a drunken man who has been insulted in his cups; and, without greeting her—as his mother had taught her children to greet even their slaves—he merely asked in hoarse tones, "Is Melissa come in?"

"Yes, yes," replied Dido, laying her finger to her lips. "You roused her from a nap. And what a state you are in! You must not let her see you so! It is very clear what news you bring. The prefect will not help us?"

"Help us!" echoed Philip, wrathfully. "In Alexandria a man may drown rather than another will risk wetting his feet."

"Nay, it is not so bad as that," said the old woman. "Alexander himself has burned his fingers for others many a time. Wait a minute. I will fetch you a draught of wine. There is some still in the kitchen; for if you appear before your sister in that plight—"

But Melissa had recognized her brother's voice, and, although Philip had smoothed his hair a little with his hands, one glance at his face showed her that his efforts had been vain.

"Poor boy!" she said, when, in answer to her question as to what his news was, he had answered gloomily, "As bad as possible."

She took his hand and led him into the work-room. There she reminded him that she was giving him a new brother in Diodoros; and he embraced her fondly, and wished her and her betrothed every happiness. She thanked him out of a full heart, while he swallowed his wine, and then she begged him to tell her all he had done.

He began, and, as she gazed at him, it struck her how little he resembled his father and brother, though he was no less tall, and his head was shaped like theirs. But his frame, instead of showing their stalwart build, was lean and weakly. His spine did not seem strong enough for his long body, and he never held himself upright. His head was always bent forward, as if he were watching or seeking something; and even when he had seated himself in his father's place at the work-table to tell his tale, his hands and feet, even the muscles of his well-formed but colorless face, were in constant movement. He would jump up, or throw back his head to shake his long hair off his face, and his fine, large, dark eyes glowed with wrathful fires.

"I received my first repulse from the prefect," he began, and as he spoke, his arms, on whose graceful use the Greeks so strongly insisted, flew up in the air as though by their own impulse rather than by the speaker's will.

"Titianus affects the philosopher, because when he was young—long ago, that is very certain—his feet trod the Stoa."

"Your master, Xanthos, said that he was a very sound philosopher," Melissa put in.

"Such praise is to be had cheap," said Philip, by the most influential man in the town. But his methods are old-fashioned. He crawls after Zeno; he submits to authority, and requires more independent spirits to do the same. To him the divinity is the Great First Cause. In this world of ours he can discern the working of a purposeful will, and confuses his mind with windy, worn-out ideals. Virtue, he says—but to what end repeat such stale old stuff?"

"We have no time for it," said Melissa, who saw that Philip was on the point of losing himself in a philosophical dissertation, for he had begun to enjoy the sound of his own voice, which was, in fact, unusually musical.

"Why not?" he exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders, and with a bitter smile. "When he has shot away all his arrows, the bowman may rest; and, as you will soon hear, our quiver is empty—as empty as this cup which I have drained."

"No, no!" exclaimed Melissa, eagerly. "If this first attempt has failed, that is the very reason for planning another. I, too, can use figures of speech. The archer who is really eager to hit the object on which he has spent his arrows, does not retire from the fight, but fetches more; and if he can find none, he fights with his bow, or falls on the enemy with stones, fists, and teeth."

Philip looked at her in astonishment, and exclaimed in pleased surprise, without any of the supercilious scorn which he commonly infused into his tone when addressing his humble sister:

"Listen to our little girl! Where did those gentle eyes get that determined flash? From misfortune—from misfortune! They rob the gentle dove of her young—I mean her splendid Alexander—and lo, she becomes a valiant falcon! I expected to find you a heart-broken lamb, over your tear-stained stitching, and behold it is you who try to fire me. Well, then, tell me what arrows we have left, when you have heard me out. But, before I proceed, is Argutis at home again? No? He must go across again, to take various things to Alexander—linen, garments, and the like. I met Glaukias the sculptor, and he begged me not to forget it; for he knows where the lad is hidden, and was on the point of going over to see him. The man had made himself perfectly unrecognizable. He is a true friend, if such a thing there be! And how grieved he was to hear of my father's ill fortune! I believe he is envious of Diodoros."

Melissa shook a finger at him; but she turned pale, and curiously inquired whether her brother had remembered to warn Glaukias on no account to tell Alexander that it was in his power to release his father.

Philip struck his brow, and, with a helpless fall of the mouth, which was usually so firmly set and ready to sneer, he exclaimed, like a boy caught in mischief: "That, that—I can not imagine how I forgot it, but I did not mention it. What strange absence of mind! But I can remedy it at once on the spot. Argutis—nay, I will go myself."

He sprang up, and was on the point of carrying out his sudden purpose, but Melissa detained him. With a decisiveness which again amazed him, she desired him to remain; and while he paced the workroom with rapid strides, heaping abuse on himself, now striking his breast, and now pushing his fingers through his disordered hair, she made it clear to him that he could not reach Alexander in time to prevent his knowing all, and that the only result of his visit would be to put the watch on the track. Instead of raving and lamenting, he would do better to tell her whither he had been.

First, he hastily began, he had gone to the prefect Titianus, who was an elderly man of a noble family, many of whose members had ere now occupied the official residence of the prefect in Alexandria, and in other towns of Egypt. He had often met Philip at the disputations he was wont to attend in the Museum, and had a great regard for him. But of late Titianus had been out of health, and had kept his house. He had undergone some serious operation shortly before Caesar's arrival at Alexandria had been announced, and this had made it impossible for him to be present at the grand reception, or even to pay his respects to Caracalla.

When Philip had sent in his name, Titianus had been very ready to receive him; but while the philosopher was still waiting in the anteroom, wondering to find it so empty—for it was usually crowded with the clients, petitioners, and friends of the most important man in the province—a bustle had arisen behind him, and a tall man had been ushered in past him, whom he recognized as the senator on whose arm Caracalla had leaned in the morning. This was the actor, whom the priest of Serapis had pointed out to Melissa as one of Caesar's most powerful favorites. From being a mere dancer he had risen in the course of a few years to the highest dignities. His name was Theocritus, and although he was distinguished by great personal beauty and exceptional cleverness, his unbridled greed had made him hated, and he had proved equally incompetent as a statesman and a general.

As this man marched through the anteroom, he had glanced haughtily about him, and the look of contempt which fell on the philosopher probably reflected on the small number of persons present, for at that hour the anterooms of Romans of rank were commonly thronged. Most visitors had been dismissed, by reason of the prefect's illness, and many of the acquaintances and supplicants who were generally to be found here were assembled in the imperial quarters, or in the rooms of the praetorian prefect and other powerful dignitaries in Caracalla's train. Titianus had failed to be present at the emperor's arrival, and keen courtier noses smelled a fall, and judged it wise to keep out of the way of a tottering power.

Besides all this, the prefect's honesty was well known, and it was strongly suspected that he, as steward of all the taxes of this wealthy province, had been bold enough to reject a proposal made by Theocritus to embezzle the whole freight of a fleet loaded with corn for Rome, and charge it to the account of army munitions. It was a fact that this base proposal had been made and rejected only the evening before, and the scene of which Philip became the witness was the result of this refusal.

Theocritus, to whom an audience was always indispensable, carefully left the curtains apart which divided the prefect's sick-room from the antechamber, and thus Philip was witness of the proceedings he now described to his sister.

Titianus received his visitor, lying down, and yet his demeanor revealed the self-possessed dignity of a high-born Roman, and the calm of a Stoic philosopher. He listened unmoved to the courtier, who, after the usual formal greetings, took upon himself to overwhelm the older man with the bitterest accusations and reproaches. People allowed themselves to take strange liberties with Caesar in this town, Theocritus burst out; insolent jests passed from lip to lip. An epigram against his sacred person had found its way into the Serapeum, his present residence—an insult worthy of any punishment, even of death and crucifixion.

When the prefect, with evident annoyance, but still quite calmly, desired to know what this extraordinary insult might be, Theocritus showed that even in his high position he had preserved the accurate memory of the mime, and, half angry, but yet anxious to give full effect to the lines by voice and gesture, he explained that "some wretch had fastened a rope to one of the doors of the sanctuary, and had written below it the blasphemous words:

'Hail! For so welcome a guest never came to the sovereign of Hades. Who ever peopled his realm, Caesar, more freely than thou? Laurels refuse to grow green in the darksome abode of Serapis; Take, then, this rope for a gift, never more richly deserved.'"

"It is disgraceful!" exclaimed the prefect.

"Your indignation is well founded. But the biting tongue of the frivolous mixed races dwelling in this city is well known. They have tried it on me; and if, in this instance, any one is to blame, it is not I, the imprisoned prefect, but the chief and captain of the night-watch, whose business it is to guard Caesar's residence more strictly."

At this Theocritus was furious, and poured out a flood of words, expatiating on the duties of a prefect as Caesar's representative in the provinces. "His eye must be as omniscient as that of the all-seeing Deity. The better he knew the uproarious rabble over whom he ruled, the more evidently was it his duty to watch over Caesar's person as anxiously as a mother over her child, as a miser over his treasure."

The high-sounding words flowed with dramatic emphasis, the sentimental speaker adding to their impressiveness by the action of his hands, till it was more than the invalid could bear. With a pinched smile, he raised himself with difficulty, and interrupted Theocritus with the impatient exclamation, "Still the actor!"

"Yes, still!" retorted the favorite, in a hard voice. "You, however, have been even longer—what you have, indeed, been too long—Prefect of Egypt!" With an angry fling he threw the corner of his toga over his shoulder, and, though his hand shook with rage, the pliant drapery fell in graceful folds over his athletic limbs. He turned his back on the prefect, and, with the air of a general who has just been crowned with laurels, he stalked through the anteroom and past Philip once more.

The philosopher had told his sister all this in a few sentences. He now paused in his walk to and fro to answer Melissa's question as to whether this upstart's influence were really great enough to turn so noble and worthy a man out of his office.

"Can you ask?" said Philip. "Titianus had no doubts from the first; and what I heard in the Serapeum—but all in good time. The prefect was sorry for my father and Alexander, but ended by saying that he himself needed an intercessor; for, if it were not to-day, at any rate to-morrow, the actor would inveigle Caesar into signing his death-warrant."

"Impossible!" cried the girl, spreading out her hands in horror; but Philip dropped into a seat, saying:

"Listen to the end. There was evidently nothing to be hoped for from Titianus. He is, no doubt, a brave man, but there is a touch of the actor in him too. He is a Stoic; and where would be the point of that, if a man could not appear to look on approaching death as calmly as on taking a bath?

"Titianus plays his part well. However, I next went to the Serapeum—it is a long way, and it was very hot in the sun—to ask for help from my old patron, the high-priest. Caesar is now his guest; and the prefect, too, had advised me to place my father's cause in his hands."

Here Philip sprang up again, and rushed up and down, sometimes stopping for a moment in front of his sister while he went on with his story.

Theocritus had long since reached the Serapeum in his swift chariot when the philosopher at last arrived there on foot. He was well known as a frequent visitor, and was shown at once into the hall of that part of his abode which Timotheus had reserved for himself when he had given up all the best rooms to his imperial visitor.

The anteroom was crowded, and before he got any farther he heard that the favorite's accusations had already led to serious results, and rumors were rife concerning the luckless witticisms of some heedless youth, which would bring grief upon the peaceable citizens. But before he could ask what was meant, he was admitted to the high-priest's room.

This was a marked favor on such a day as this, and the benevolence with which he was received by the head of the priesthood of the whole city filled him with good hopes of a successful issue. But hardly had Philip begun to speak of his brother's misdemeanor, than Timotheus laid his hand on his bearded lips, as a hint to be cautious, and whispered in his ear, "Speak quickly and low, if you love your life!"

When Philip had hastily explained that Zminis had imprisoned his father, the old man started to his feet with a promptitude to which his majestic person was unaccustomed, and pointed to a curtained doorway on one side of the room.

"Through that door," he whispered, "you will reach the western steps, and the passage leading out of the precincts to the stadium. You are known to the Romans in the anteroom. It is not the god to whom this building is dedicated who now rules within these walls. Your brother's rash words are repeated everywhere, and have even come to Caesar's knowledge; and he has been told that it was the same traitor—who has for the moment escaped Zminis and his men—who nailed a rope on one of our doors, and with it an audacious inscription. To speak a single word in behalf of Alexander or your father would be to fling myself into the fire without putting it out. You do not know how fiercely it is burning. Theocritus is feeding the flame, for he needs it to destroy the prefect. Now, not another word; and, come what may, so long as the Roman visitors dwell under this roof, beware of it!"

And the high-priest opened the door with his own hand.

"I hurried home," Philip added, "and if I forgot, in my dismay at this fresh disaster, to warn Glaukias to be careful—But, no, no! It is unpardonable!—Alexander is by this time crossing the lake, perhaps. I am like Caracalla—my brother's murderer!"

But Melissa laid her arm on his shoulder and besought the poor fellow to be comforted; and her loving words of excuse seemed to have some good effect. But why was he always so reserved? Why could not Philip be as frank with her as Alexander was? She had never been very near to him; and now he was concealing from her something which moved him deeply.

She turned away sadly, for she could not even comfort him. But then again Philip sighed from the bottom of his heart, and she could contain her self no longer. More tenderly than she had ever addressed him before, she besought her brother to open his heart to her. She would gladly help him to endure what oppressed him; and she could understand, for she herself had learned what the joys and sorrows of love were.

She had found the right clew. Philip nodded, and answered gloomily:

"Well, then, listen. It may do me good to speak." And thereupon he began to tell her what she had already heard from Alexander; and, covering her tingling cheeks with her hands, she listened with breathless attention, not missing a word, though the question rose to her mind again and again whether she should tell him the whole truth, which he as yet could not know, or whether it would be better to spare his already burdened soul.

He described his love in glowing colors. Korinna's heart, he said, must have gone forth to him; for, at their last meeting on the northern shore of the lake, her hand had rested in his while he helped her out of the boat; he could still feel the touch of her fingers. Nor had the meeting been pure accident, for he had since seen and recognized the presence on earth of her departed soul in her apparently living form. And she, too, with the subtle senses of a disembodied spirit, must have had a yearning towards him, for she had perceived all the depth and fervor of his passion. Alexander had given him this certainty; for when he had seen Korinna by the lake, her soul had long since abandoned its earthly tenement. Before that, her mortal part was already beyond his reach; and yet he was happy, for the spirit was not lost to him. Only last night magic forces had brought her before him—his father, too, had been present, and no deception was possible. He had gone to bed in rapturous excitement, full of delicious hopes, and Korinna had at once appeared to him in a dream, so lovely, so kind, and at the same time so subtle a vision, ready to follow him in his thoughts and strivings. But just as he had heard a full assurance of her love from her own lips, and was asking her by what name he should call her when the craving to see her again should wax strong in him, old Dido had waked him, to cast him out of elysium into the deepest earthly woes.

But, he added—and he drew himself up proudly—he should soon possess the Magian's art, for there was no kind of learning he could not master; even as a boy he had proved that to his teachers. He, whose knowledge had but yesterday culminated in the assurance that it was impossible to know anything, could now assert with positive conviction, that the human soul could exist apart from the matter it had animated. He had thus gained that fixed footing outside the earth which Archimedes had demanded to enable him to move it; and he should soon be able to exert his power over departed souls, whose nature he now understood as well as—ay, and better than—Serapion. Korinna's obedient spirit would help him, and when once he should succeed in commanding the souls of the dead, as their master, and in keeping them at hand among the living, a new era of happiness would begin, not only for him and his father, but for every one who had lost one dear to him by death.

But here Melissa interrupted his eager and confident speech. She had listened with increasing uneasiness to the youth who, as she knew, had been cheated. At first she thought it would be cruel to destroy his bright illusions. He should at least in this be happy, till the anguish of having thoughtlessly betrayed his brother to ruin should be a thing of the past! But when she perceived that he purposed involving his father in the Magian's snares by calling up his mother's Manes, she could no longer be silent, and she broke out with indignant warning: "Leave my father alone, Philip! For all you saw at the Magian's was mere trickery."

"Gently, child," said the philosopher, in a superior tone. "I was of exactly the same opinion till after sundown yesterday. You know that the tendency of the school of philosophy to which I belong insists, above all, on a suspension of judgment; but if there is one thing which may be asserted with any dogmatic certainty—"

But Melissa would hear no more. She briefly but clearly explained to him who the maiden was whose hand he had held by the lake, and whom he had seen again at Serapion's house; and as she went on his interruptions became fewer. She did her utmost, with growing zeal, to destroy his luckless dream; but when the blood faded altogether from his colorless cheeks, and he clasped his hand over his brow as if to control some physical suffering, she recovered her self-command; the beautiful fear of a woman's heart of ever giving useless pain, made her withhold from Philip what remained to be told of Agatha's meeting with Alexander.

But, without this further revelation, Philip sat staring at the ground as if he were overwhelmed; and what hurt him so deeply was less the painful sense of having been cheated by such coarse cunning, than the annihilation of the treasured hopes which he had founded on the experiences of the past night. He felt as though a brutal foot had trampled down the promise of future joys on which he had counted; his sister's revelations had spoiled not merely his life on earth, but all eternity beyond the grave. Where hope ends despair steps in; and Philip, with reckless vehemence, flung himself, as it were, into its arms. His was an excitable nature; he had never thought of any one but himself, but labored with egotistical zeal to cultivate his own mind and outdo his fellows in the competition for learning. The sullen words in which he called himself the most wretched man on earth, and the victim of the blackest ill-fortune, fell from his lips like stones. He rudely repelled his sister's encouraging words, like a sick child whose pain is the greater for being pitied, till at last she appealed to his sense of duty, reminding him that something must be done to rescue her father and Alexander.

"They also! They also!" he cried. "It falls on us all. Blind Fate drives us all, innocent as we are, to death and despair, like the Tantalides. What sin have you committed, gentle, patient child; or our father, or our happy-hearted and gifted brother; or I—I myself? Have those whom we call the rulers of the universe the right to punish me because I make use of the inquiring spirit they have bestowed on me? Ah, and how well they know how to torture us! They hate me for my learning, and so they turn my little errors to account to allow me to be cheated like a fool! They are said to be just, and they behave like a father who disinherits his son because, as a man, he notes his parent's weakness. With tears and anguish have I striven for truth and knowledge. There is not a province of thought whose deepest depths I have not tried to fathom; and when I recognized that it is not given to mortals to apprehend the essence of the divinity because the organs bestowed on us are too small and feeble; when I refused to pronounce whether that which I can not apprehend exists or not, was that my fault, or theirs? There may be divine forces which created and govern the universe; but never talk to me of their goodness, and reasonableness, and care for human creatures! Can a reasonable being, who cares for the happiness of another, strew the place assigned to him to dwell in with snares and traps, or implant in his breast a hundred impulses of which the gratification only drags him into an abyss? Is that Being my friend, who suffers me to be born and to grow up, and leaves me tied to the martyr's stake, with very few real joys, and finally kills me, innocent or guilty, as surely as I am born? If the divinity which is supposed to bestow on us a portion of the divine essence in the form of reason were constituted as the crowd are taught to believe, there could be nothing on earth but wisdom and goodness; but the majority are fools or wicked, and the good are like tall trees, which the lightning blasts rather than the creeping weed. Titianus falls before the dancer Theocritus, the noble Papinian before the murderer Caracalla, our splendid Alexander before such a wretch as Zminis; and divine reason lets it all happen, and allows human reason to proclaim the law. Happiness is for fools and knaves; for those who cherish and uphold reason—ay, reason, which is a part of the divinity—persecution, misery, and despair."

"Have done!" Melissa exclaimed. "Have the judgments of the immortals not fallen hardly enough on us? Would you provoke them to discharge their fury in some more dreadful manner?"

At this the skeptic struck his breast with defiant pride, exclaiming: "I do not fear them, and dare to proclaim openly the conclusions of my thoughts. There are no gods! There is no rational guidance of the universe. It has arisen self-evolved, by chance; and if a god created it, he laid down eternal laws and has left them to govern its course without mercy or grace, and without troubling himself about the puling of men who creep about on the face of the earth like the ants on that of a pumpkin. And well for us that it should be so! Better a thousand times is it to be the servant of an iron law, than the slave of a capricious master who takes a malignant and envious pleasure in destroying the best!"

"And this, you say, is the final outcome of your thoughts?" asked Melissa, shaking her head sadly. "Do you not perceive that such an outbreak of mad despair is simply unworthy of your own wisdom, of which the end and aim should be a passionless, calm, and immovable moderation?"

"And do they show such moderation," Philip gasped out, "who pour the poison of misfortune in floods on one tortured heart?"

"Then you can accuse those whose existence you disbelieve in?" retorted Melissa with angry zeal. "Is this your much-belauded logic? What becomes of your dogmas, in the face of the first misfortune—dogmas which enjoin a reserve of decisive judgment, that you may preserve your equanimity, and not overburden your soul, in addition to the misfortune itself, with the conviction that something monstrous has befallen you? I remember how much that pleased me the first time I heard it. For your own sake—for the sake of us all—cease this foolish raving, and do not merely call yourself a skeptic—be one; control the passion that is rending you. For love of me—for love of us all—"

And as she spoke she laid her hand on his shoulder, for he had sat down again; and although he pushed her away with some petulance, she went on in a tone of gentle entreaty: "If we are not to be altogether too late in the field, let us consider the situation calmly. I am but a girl, and this fresh disaster will fall more hardly on me than on you; for what would become of me without my father?"

"Life with him has at any rate taught you patient endurance," her brother broke in with a sullen shrug.

"Yes, life," she replied, firmly: "life, which shows us the right way better than all your books. Who can tell what may have detained Argutis? I wilt wait no longer. The sun will have set before long, and this evening Caesar is to sup with Seleukus, the father of Korinna. I happen to know it from Samonicus, who is one of the guests. Seleukus and his wife have a great regard for Alexander, and will do for him all that lies in their power. The lady Berenike, he told me, is a noble dame. It should be your part to entreat her help for our father and brother; but you must not venture where Caesar is. So I will go, and I shall have no rest till Korinna's mother listens to me and promises to aid us."

At this Philip exclaimed, in horror: "What! you will dare to enter the house where Caracalla is feasting with the rabble he calls his friends? You, an inexperienced girl, young, beautiful, whose mere appearance is enough to stir their evil passions? Sooner than allow that, I will myself find my way into the house of Seleukus, and among the spies who surround the tyrant."

"That my father may lose another son, and I my only remaining brother?" Melissa observed, with grave composure. "Say no more, Philip. I am going, and you must wait for me here."

The philosopher broke out at this in despotic wrath:

"What has come over you, that you have suddenly forgotten how to obey? But I insist; and rather than allow you to bring on us not trouble merely, but shame and disgrace, I will lock you into your room!"

He seized her hand to drag her into the adjoining room. She struggled with all her might; but he was the stronger, and he had got her as far as the door, when the Gaul Argutis rushed, panting and breathless, into the work-room through the anteroom, calling out to the struggling couple:

"What are you doing? By all the gods, you have chosen the wrong time for a quarrel! Zminis is on the way hither to take you both prisoners; he will be here in a minute! Fly into the kitchen, girl! Dido will hide you in the wood-store behind the hearth.-You, Philip, must squeeze into the henhouse. Only be quick, or it will be too late!"

"Go!" cried Melissa to her brother. "Out through the kitchen window you can get into the poultry-yard!"

She threw herself weeping into his arms, kissed him, and added, hastily: "Whatever happens to us, I shall risk all to save my father and Alexander. Farewell! The gods preserve us!"

She now seized Philip's wrist, as he had before grasped hers, to drag him away; but he freed himself, saying, with an indifference which terrified her: "Then let the worst come. Ruin may take its course. Death rather than dishonor!"

"Madman!" the slave could not help exclaiming; and the faithful fellow, though wont to obey, threw his arms round his master's son to drag him away into the kitchen, while Philip pushed him off, saying:

"I will not hide, like a frightened woman!"

But the Gaul heard the approach of marching men, so, paying no further heed to the brother, he dragged Melissa into the kitchen, where old Dido undertook to hide her.

Philip stood panting in the studio. Through the open window he could see the pursuers coming nearer, and the instinct of self-preservation, which asserts itself even in the strongest, prompted him to follow the slave's advice. But before he could reach the door, in fancy he saw himself joining the party of philosophers airing themselves under the arcades in the great court of the Museum; he heard their laughter and their bitter jests at the skeptic, the independent thinker, who had sought refuge among the fowls, who had been hauled out of the hen-house; and this picture confirmed his determination to yield to force rather than bring on himself the curse of ridicule. But at the same time other reasons for submitting to his fate suggested themselves unbidden—reasons more worthy of his position, of the whole course and aim of his thoughts, and of the sorrow which weighed upon his soul. It beseemed him as a skeptic to endure the worst with equanimity; under all circumstances he liked to be in the right, and he would fain have called out to his sister that the cruel powers whose enmity he had incurred still persisted in driving him on to despair and death, worthy as he was of a better fate.

A few minutes later Zminis came in, and put out his long lean arms to apprehend him in Caesar's name. Philip submitted, and not a muscle of his face moved. Once, indeed, a smile lighted it up, as he reflected that they would hardly have carried him off to prison if Alexander were already in their power; but the smile gave way only too soon to gloomy gravity when Zminis informed him that his brother, the traitor, had just given himself up to the chief of the night-watch, and was now safe under lock and ward. But his crime was so great that, according to the law of Egypt, his nearest relations were to be seized and punished with him. Only his sister was now missing, but they would know how to find her.

"Possibly," Philip replied, coldly. "As justice is blind, Injustice has no doubt all the sharper eyes."

"Well said," laughed the Egyptian. "A pinch of the salt which they give you at the Museum with your porridge—for nothing."

Argutis had witnessed this scene; and when, half an hour later, the men-at-arms had left the house without discovering Melissa's hiding-place, he informed her that Alexander had, as they feared, given himself up of his own free-will to procure Heron's release; but the villains had kept the son, without liberating the father. Both were now in prison, loaded with chains. The slave had ended his tale some minutes, and Melissa still stood, pale and tearless, gazing on the ground as though she were turned to stone; but suddenly she shivered, as if with the chill of fever, and looked up, out through the windows into the garden, now dim in the twilight. The sun had set, night was falling, and again the words of the Christian preacher recurred to her mind: "The fullness of the time is come."

To her and hers a portion of life had come to an end, and a new one must grow out of it. Should the free-born race of Heron perish in captivity and death?

The evening star blazed out on the distant horizon, seeming to her as a sign from the gods; and she told herself that it must be her part, as the last of the family who remained free, to guard the others from destruction in this new life.

The heavens were soon blazing with stars. The banquet in Seleukus's house, at which Caesar was to appear, would begin in an hour. Irresolution and delay would ruin all; so she drew herself up resolutely and called to Argutis, who had watched her with faithful sympathy:

"Take my father's blue cloak, Argutis, to make you more dignified; and disguise yourself, for you must escort me, and we may be followed. You, Dido, come and help me. Take my new dress, that I wore at the Feast of Adonis, out of my trunk; and with it you will see my mother's blue fillet with the gems. My father used to say I should first wear it at my wedding, but—Well, you must bind my hair with it to-night. I am going to a grand house, where no one will be admitted who does not look worthy of people of mark. But take off the jewel; a supplicant should make no display."


Begun to enjoy the sound of his own voice Cast off their disease as a serpent casts its skin


By Georg Ebers

Volume 5.


Nothing delighted old Dido more than to dress the daughter of her beloved mistress in all her best, for she had helped to bring her up; but to-day it was a cruel task; tears dimmed her old eyes. It was not till she had put the finishing touches to braiding the girl's abundant brown hair, pinned her peplos on the shoulders with brooches, and set the girdle straight, that her face cleared, as she looked at the result. Never had she seen her darling look so fair. Nothing, indeed, remained of the child-like timidity and patient submissiveness which had touched Dido only two days since, as she plaited Melissa's hair. The maiden's brow was grave and thoughtful, the lips firmly set; but she seemed to Dido to have grown, and to have gained something of her mother's mature dignity. She looked, the old woman told her, like the image of Pallas Athene; adding, to make her smile, that if she wanted an owl, she, Dido, could fill the part. Jesting had never been the old woman's strong point, and to-day it was less easy than ever; for, if the worst befell, and she were sent in her old age to a strange house—and Argutis, no doubt, to another—she would have to turn the handmill for the rest of her days.

But it was a hard task which the motherless—and now fatherless—girl had set herself, and she must try to cheer her darling. While she was dressing her, she never ceased praying to all the gods and goddesses she could think of to come to the maiden's aid and move the souls of those who could help her. And though she was, as a rule, ready to expect the worst, this time she hoped for the best; for Seleukus's wife must have a heart of stone if she could close it to such innocence, such beauty, and the pathetic glance of those large, imploring eyes.

When at length Melissa quitted the house, deeply veiled, with Argutis to escort her, she took his arm; and he, wearing his master's mantle, and exempted long since from keeping his hair cropped, was so proud of this that he walked with all the dignity of a freeman, and no one could have guessed that he was a slave. Melissa's face was completely hidden, and she, like her companion, was safe from recognition. Argutis, nevertheless, led her through the quietest and darkest lanes to the Kanopic way. Both were silent, and looked straight before them. Melissa, as she walked on, could not think with her usual calm. Like a suffering man who goes to the physician's house to die or be cured by the knife, she felt that she was on her way to something terrible in itself, to remedy, if possible, something still more dreadful. Her father—Alexander, so reckless and so good-hearted—Philip, whom she pitied—and her sick lover, came in turn before her fancy. But she could not control her mind to dwell on either for long. Nor could she, as usual, when she had any serious purpose in hand, put up a prayer to her mother's manes or the immortals; and all the while an inner voice made itself heard, confidently promising her that Caesar, for whom she had sacrificed, and who might be kinder and more merciful than others fancied, would at once grant all she should ask. But she would not listen; and when she nevertheless ventured to consider how she could make her way into Caesar's presence, a cold shiver ran down her back, and again Philip's last words sounded in her ears, "Death rather than dishonor!"

Other thoughts and feelings filled the slave's soul. He, who had always watched over his master's children with far more anxious care than Heron himself, had not said a word to dissuade Melissa from her perilous expedition. Her plan had, indeed, seemed to him the only one which promised any success. He was a man of sixty years, and a shrewd fellow, who might easily have found a better master than Heron had been; but he gave not a thought to his own prospects—only to Melissa's, whom he loved as a child of his own. She had placed herself under his protection, and he felt responsible for her fate. Thus he regarded it as great good fortune that he could be of use in procuring her admission to the house of Seleukus, for the door-keeper was a fellow-countryman of his, whom Fate had brought hither from the banks of the Moselle. At every festival, which secured a few hours' liberty to all the slaves, they had for years been boon companions, and Argutis knew that his friend would do for him and his young mistress all that lay in his power. It would, of course, be difficult to get an audience of the mistress of a house where Caesar was a guest, but the door-keeper was clever and ingenious, and would do anything short of the impossible.

So he walked with his head high and his heart full of pride, and it confirmed his courage when one of Zminis's men, whom they passed in the brightly illuminated Kanopic street, and who had helped to secure Philip, looked at him without recognizing him.

There was a great stir in this, the handsomest road through the city. The people were waiting for Caesar; but stricter order was observed than on the occasion of his arrival. The guard prohibited all traffic on the southern side of the way, and only allowed the citizens to walk up and down the footpath, shaded by trees, between the two roadways paved with granite flags, and the arcades in front of the houses on either side. The free inhabitants, unaccustomed to such restrictions, revenged themselves by cutting witticisms at Caesar's expense, "for clearing the streets of Alexandria by his men-at-arms as he did those of Rome by the executioner. He seemed to have forgotten, as he kept the two roads open, that he only needed one, now that he had murdered his brother and partner."

Melissa and her companion were ordered to join the crowd on the footway; but Argutis managed to convince a man on guard that they were two of the mimes who were to perform before Caesar—the door-keeper at the house of Seleukus would confirm the fact—and the official himself made way for them into the vestibule of this splendid dwelling.

But Melissa was as little in the humor to admire all the lavish magnificence which surrounded her as Alexander had been a few days since. Still veiled, she modestly took a place among the choir who stood on each side of the hall ready to welcome Caesar with singing and music. Argutis stopped to speak with his friend. She dimly felt that the whispering and giggling all about her was at her expense; and when an elderly, man, the choir-master, asked her what she wanted, and desired her to remove her veil, she obeyed at once, saying: "Pray let me stand here, the Lady Berenike will send for me."

"Very well," replied the musician; and he silenced the singers, who were hazarding various impertinent guesses as to the arrival of so pretty a girl just when Caesar was expected.

As Melissa dropped her veil the splendor of the scene, lighted up by numberless tapers and lamps, forced itself on her attention. She now perceived that the porphyry columns of the great hall were wreathed with flowers, and that garlands swung in graceful curves from the open roof; while at the farther end, statues had been placed of Septimus Severus and Julia Domna, Caracalla's parents. On each side of these works of art stood bowers of plants, in which gay-plumaged birds were fluttering about, excited by the lights. But all these glories swam before her eyes, and the first question which the artist's daughter was wont to ask herself, "is it really beautiful or no?" never occurred to her mind. She did not even notice the smell of incense, until some fresh powder was thrown on, and it became oppressive.

She was fully conscious only of two facts, when at last Argutis returned: that she was the object of much curious examination and that every one was wondering what detained Caesar so long.

At last, after she had waited many long minutes, the door-keeper approached her with a young woman in a rich but simple dress, in whom she recognized Johanna, the Christian waiting-maid of whom Alexander had spoken. She did not speak, but beckoned her to come.

Breathing anxiously, and bending her head low, Melissa, following her guide, reached a handsome impluvium, where a fountain played in the midst of a bed of roses. Here the moon and starlight mingled with that of lamps without number, and the ruddy glare of a blaze; for all round the basin, from which the playing waters danced skyward, stood marble genii, carrying in their hands or on their heads silver dishes, in which the leaping flames consumed cedar chips and aromatic resins.

At the back of this court, where it was as light as day, at the top of three steps, stood the statues of Alexander the Great and Caracalla. They were of equal size; and the artist, who had wrought the second in great haste out of the slightest materials, had been enjoined to make Caesar as like as possible in every respect to the hero he most revered. Thus they looked like brothers. The figures were lighted up by the fires which burned on two altars of ivory and gold. Beautiful boys, dressed as armed Erotes, fed the flames.

The whole effect was magical and bewildering; but, as she followed her guide, Melissa only felt that she was in the midst of a new world, such as she might perhaps have seen in a dream; till, as they passed the fountain, the cool drops sprinkled her face.

Then she suddenly remembered what had brought her hither. In a minute she must appear as a supplicant in the presence of Korinna's mother—perhaps even in that of Caesar himself—and the fate of all dear to her depended on her demeanor. The sense of fulfilling a serious duty was uppermost in her mind. She drew herself up, and replaced a stray lock of hair; and her heart beat almost to bursting as she saw a number of, men standing on the platform at the top of the steps, round a lady who had just risen from her ivory seat. Giving her hand to a Roman senator, distinguished by the purple edge to his toga, she descended the steps, and advanced to meet Melissa.

This dignified matron, who was awaiting the ruler of the world and yet could condescend to come forward to meet a humble artist's daughter, was taller by half a head than her illustrious companion; and the few minutes during which Berenike was coming toward her were enough to fill Melissa with thankfulness, confidence, and admiration. And even in that short time, as she gazed at the magnificent dress of blue brocade shot with gold and sparkling with precious stones which draped the lady's majestic figure, she thought how keen a pang it must cost the mother, so lately bereft of her only child, to maintain a kindly, nay, a genial aspect, in the midst of this display, toward Caesar and a troop of noisy guests.

The sincerest pity for this woman, rich and preeminent as she was, filled the soul of the girl, who herself was so much to be pitied. But when the lady had come up to her, and asked, in her deep voice, what was the danger that threatened her brother, Melissa, with unembarrassed grace, and although it was the first time she had ever addressed a lady of such high degree, answered simply, with a full sense of the business in hand:

"My name is Melissa; I am the sister of Alexander the painter. I know it is overbold to venture into your presence just now, when you have so much else to think of; but I saw no other way of saving my brother's life, which is in peril."

At this Berenike seemed surprised. She turned to her companion, who was her sister's husband, and the first Egyptian who had been admitted to the Roman Senate, and said, in a tone of gentle reproach:

"Did not I say so, Coeranus? Nothing but the most urgent need would have brought Alexander's sister to speak with me at such an hour."

And the senator, whose black eyes had rested with pleasure on Melissa's rare beauty, promptly replied, "And if she had come for the veriest trifle she would be no less welcome to me."

"Let me hear no more of such speeches," Berenike exclaimed with some annoyance.—"Now, my child, be quick. What about your brother?"

Melissa briefly and truthfully reported Alexander's heedless crime and the results to her father and Philip. She ended by beseeching the noble lady with fervent pathos to intercede for her father and brothers.

Meanwhile the senator's keen face had darkened, and the lady Berenike's large eyes, too, were downcast. She evidently found it hard to come to a decision; and for the moment she was relieved of the necessity, for runners came hurrying up, and the senator hastily desired Melissa to stand aside.

He whispered to his sister-in-law:

"It will never do to spoil Caesar's good-humor under your roof for the sake of such people," and Berenike had only time to reply, "I am not afraid of him," when the messenger explained to her that Caesar himself was prevented from coming, but that his representatives, charged with his apologies, were close at hand.

On this Coeranus exclaimed, with a sour smile: "Admit that I am a true prophet! You have to put up with the same treatment that we senators have often suffered under."

But the matron scarcely heard him. She cast her eyes up to heaven with sincere thanksgiving as she murmured with a sigh of relief, "For this mercy the gods be praised!"

She unclasped her hands from her heaving bosom, and said to the steward who had followed the messengers:

"Caesar will not be present. Inform your lord, but so that no one else may hear. He must come here and receive the imperial representatives with me. Then have my couch quietly removed and the banquet served at once. O Coeranus, you can not imagine the misery I am thus spared!"

"Berenike!" said the senator, in a warning voice, and he laid his finger on his lips. Then turning to the young supplicant, he said to her in a tone of regret: "So your walk is for nothing, fair maid. If you are as sensible as you are pretty, you will understand that it is too much to ask any one to stand between the lion and the prey which has roused his ire."

The lady, however, did not heed the caution which her brother-in-law intended to convey. As Melissa's imploring eyes met her own, she said, with clear decision:

"Wait here. We shall see who it is that Caesar sends. I know better than my lord here what it is to see those dear to us in peril. How old are you, child?"

"Eighteen," replied Melissa.

"Eighteen?" repeated Berenike, as if the word were a pain to her, for her daughter had been just of that age. Then she said, louder and with encouraging kindness:

"All that lies in my power shall be done for you and yours.—And you, Coeranus, must help me."

"If I can," he replied, "with all the zeal of my reverence for you and my admiration for beauty. But here come the envoys. The elder, I see, is our learned Philostratus, whose works are known to you; the younger is Theocritus, the favorite of fortune of whom I was telling you. If the charm of that face might but conquer the omnipotent youth—"

"Coeranus!" she exclaimed, with stern reproof; but she failed to hear the senator's excuses, for her husband, Seleukus, followed her down the steps, and with a hasty sign to her, advanced to meet his guests.

Theocritus was spokesman, and notwithstanding the mourning toga which wrapped him in fine folds, his gestures did not belie his origin as an actor and dancer. When Seleukus presented him to his wife, Theocritus assured her that when, but an hour since, his sovereign lord, who was already dressed and wreathed for the banquet, had learned that the gods had bereft of their only child the couple whose hospitality had promised him such a delightful evening, he had been equally shocked and grieved. Caesar was deeply distressed at the unfortunate circumstance that he should have happened in his ignorance to intrude on the seclusion which was the prerogative of grief. He begged to assure her and her husband of the high favor of the ruler of the world. As for himself, Theocritus, he would not fail to describe the splendor with which they had decorated their princely residence in Caesar's honor. His imperial master would be touched, indeed, to hear that even the bereaved mother, who, like Niobe, mourned for her offspring, had broken the stony spell which held her to Sipylos, and had decked herself to receive the greatest of all earthly guests as radiant as Juno at the golden table of the gods.

The lady succeeded in controlling herself and listening to the end of these pompous phrases without interrupting the speaker. Every word which flowed so glibly from his tongue fell on her ear as bitter mockery; and he himself was so repugnant to her, that she felt it a release when, after exchanging a few words with the master of the house, he begged leave to retire, as important business called him away. And this, indeed, was the truth. For no consideration would he have left this duty to another, for it was to communicate to Titianus, who had offended him, the intelligence that Caesar had deprived him of the office of prefect, and intended to examine into certain complaints of his administration.

The second envoy, however, remained, though he refused Seleukus's invitation to fill his place at the banquet. He exchanged a few words with the lady Berenike, and presently found himself taken aside by the senator, and, after a short explanation, led up to Melissa, whom Coeranus desired to appeal for help to Philostratus, the famous philosopher, who enjoyed Caesar's closest confidence.

Coeranus then obeyed a sign from Berenike, who wished to know whether he would be answerable for introducing this rarely pretty girl, who had placed herself under their protection—and whom she, for her part, meant to protect—to a courtier of whom she knew nothing but that he was a writer of taste.

The question seemed to amuse Coeranus, but, seeing that his sister-in-law was very much in earnest, he dropped his flippant tone and admitted that Philostratus, as a young man, had been one of the last with whom he would trust a girl. His far-famed letters sufficiently proved that the witty philosopher had been a devoted and successful courtier of women. But that was all a thing of the past. He still, no doubt, did homage to female beauty, but he led a regular life, and had become one of the most ardent and earnest upholders of religion and virtue. He was one of the learned circle which gathered round Julia Domna, and it was by her desire that he had accompanied Caracalla, to keep his mad passions in check when it might be possible.

The conversation between Melissa and the philosopher had meanwhile taken an unexpected turn. At his very first address the reply had died on her lips, for in Caesar's representative she had recognized the Roman whom she had seen in the Temple of Asklepios, and who had perhaps overheard her there. Philostratus, too, seemed to remember the meeting; for his shrewd face—a pleasing mixture of grave and gay—lighted up at once with a subtle smile as he said:

"If I am not mistaken, I owe the same pleasure this evening to divine Caesar as to great Asklepios this morning?"

At this, Melissa cast a meaning glance at Coeranus and the lady, and, although surprise and alarm sealed her lips, her uplifted hands and whole gesture sufficiently expressed her entreaty that he would not betray her. He understood and obeyed. It pleased him to share a secret with this fair child. He had, in fact, overheard her, and understood with amazement that she was praying fervently for Caesar.

This stirred his curiosity to the highest pitch. So he said, in an undertone:

"All that I saw and heard in the temple is our secret, sweet maid. But what on earth can have prompted you to pray so urgently for Caesar? Has he done you or yours any great benefit?"

Melissa shook her head, and Philostratus went on with increased curiosity:

"Then are you one of those whose heart Eros can fire at the sight of an image, or the mere aspect of a man?"

To this she answered hastily:

"What an idea! No, no. Certainly not."

"No?" said her new friend, with greater surprise. "Then perhaps your hopeful young soul expects that, being still but a youth, he may, by the help of the gods, become, like Titus, a benefactor to the whole world?"

Melissa looked timidly at the matron, who was still talking with her brother-in-law, and hastily replied:

"They all call him a murderer! But I know for certain that he suffers fearful torments of mind and body; and one who knows many things told me that there was not one among all the millions whom Caesar governs who ever prays for him; and I was so sorry—I can not tell you—"

"And so," interrupted the philosopher, "you thought it praiseworthy and pleasing to the gods that you should be the first and only one to offer sacrifice for him, in secret, and of your own free will? That was how it came about? Well, child, you need not be ashamed of it."

But then suddenly his face clouded, and he asked, in a grave and altered voice:

"Are you a Christian?"

"No," she replied, firmly. "We are Greeks. How could I have offered a sacrifice of blood to Asklepios if I had believed in the crucified god?"

"Then," said Philostratus, and his eyes flashed brightly, "I may promise you, in the name of the gods, that your prayer and offering were pleasing in their eyes. I myself, noble girl, owe you a rare pleasure. But, tell me—how did you feel as you left the sanctuary?"

"Light-hearted, my lord, and content," she answered, with a frank, glad look in her fine eyes. "I could have sung as I went down the road, though there were people about."

"I should have liked to hear you," he said, kindly, and he still held her hand, which he had grasped with the amiable geniality that characterized him, when they were joined by the senator and his sister-in-law.

"Has she won your good offices?" asked Coeranus; and Philostratus replied, quickly, "Anything that it lies in my power to do for her shall certainly be done."

Berenike bade them both to join her in her own rooms, for everything that had to do with the banquet was odious to her; and as they went, Melissa told her new friend her brother's story. She ended it in the quiet sitting-room of the mistress of the house, an artistic but not splendid apartment, adorned only with the choicest works of early Alexandrian art. Philostratus listened attentively, but, before she could put her petition for help into words, he exclaimed:

"Then what we have to do is, to move Caesar to mercy, and that—Child, you know not what you ask!"

They were interrupted by a message from Seleukus, desiring Coeranus to join the other guests, and as soon as he had left them Berenike withdrew to take off the splendor she hated. She promised to return immediately and join their discussion, and Philostratus sat for a while lost in thought. Then he turned to Melissa and asked her:

"Would you for their sakes be able to make up your mind to face bitter humiliation, nay, perhaps imminent danger?"

"Anything! I would give my life for them!" replied the girl, with spirit, and her eyes gleamed with such enthusiastic self-sacrifice that his heart, though no longer young, warmed under their glow, and the principle to which he had sternly adhered since he had been near the imperial person, never to address a word to the sovereign but in reply, was blown to the winds.

Holding her hand in his, with a keen look into her eyes, he went on:

"And if you were required to do a thing from which many a man even would recoil—you would venture?"

And again the answer was a ready "Yes." Philostratus released her hand, and said:

"Then we will dare the worst. I will smooth the way for you, and to-morrow—do not start—tomorrow you yourself, under my protection, shall appeal to Caesar."

The color faded from the girl's cheeks, which had been flushed with fresh hopes, and her counselor had just expressed his wish to talk the matter over with the lady Berenike, when she came into the room. She was now dressed in mourning, and her pale, beautiful face showed the traces of the tears she had just shed. The dark shadows which, when they surround a woman's eyes, betray past storms of grief, as the halo round the moon—the eye of night—gives warning of storms to come, were deeper than ever; and when her sorrowful gaze fell on Melissa, the girl felt an almost irresistible longing to throw herself into her arms and weep on her motherly bosom.

Philostratus, too, was deeply touched by the appearance of this mother, who possessed so much, but for whom everything dearest to a woman's heart had been destroyed by a cruel stroke of Fate. He was glad to be able to tell her that he hoped to soften Caesar. Still, his plan was a bold one; Caracalla had been deeply offended by the scornful tone of the attacks on him, and Melissa's brother was perhaps the only one of the scoffers who had been taken. The crime of the Alexandrian wits could not be left unpunished. For such a desperate case only desperate remedies could avail; he therefore ventured to propose to conduct Melissa into Caesar's presence, that she might appeal to his clemency.

The matron started as though a scorpion had stung her. In great agitation, she threw her arm round the girl as if to shelter her from imminent danger, and Melissa, seeking help, laid her head on that kind breast. Berenike was reminded, by the scent that rose up from the girl's hair, of the hours when her own child had thus fondly clung to her. Her motherly heart had found a new object to love, and exclaiming, "Impossible!" she clasped Melissa more closely.

But Philostratus begged to be heard. Any plea urged by a third person he declared would only be the ruin of the rash mediator.

"Caracalla," he went on, looking at Melissa, "is terrible in his passions, no one can deny that; but of late severe suffering has made him irritably sensitive, and he insists on the strictest virtue in all who are about his person. He pays no heed to female beauty, and this sweet child, at any rate, will find many protectors. He shall know that the high-priest's wife, one of the best of women, keeps an anxious eye on Melissa's fate; and I myself, his mother's friend, shall be at hand. His passion for revenge, on the other hand, is boundless—no one living can control it; and not even the noble Julia can shield those who provoke it from a cruel end. If you do not know it, child, I can tell you that he had his brother Geta killed, though he took refuge in the arms of the mother who bore them both. You must understand the worst; and again I ask you, are you ready to risk all for those you love? Have you the courage to venture into the lion's den?"

Melissa clung more closely to the motherly woman, and her pale lips answered faintly but firmly, "I am ready, and he will grant my prayer."

"Child, child," cried Berenike in horror, "you know not what lies before you! You are dazzled by the happy confidence of inexperienced youth. I know what life is. I can see you, in your heart's blood, as red and pure as the blood of a lamb! I see—Ah, child! you do not know death and its terrible reality."

"I know it!" Melissa broke in with feverish excitement. "My dearest—my mother—I saw her die with these eyes. What did I not bury in her grave! And yet hope still lived in my heart; and though Caracalla may be a reckless murderer, he will do nothing to me, precisely because I am so feeble. And, lady, what am I? Of what account is my life if I lose my father, and my brothers, who are both on the high-road to greatness?"

"But you are betrothed," Berenike eagerly put in. "And your lover, you told me, is dear to you. What of him? He no doubt loves you, and, if you come to harm, sorrow will mar his young life."

At this Melissa clasped her hands over her face and sobbed aloud. "Show me, then, any other way—any! I will face the worst. But there is none; and if Diodoros were here he would not stop me; for what my heart prompts me to do is right, is my duty. But he is lying sick and with a clouded mind, and I can not ask him. O noble lady, kindness looks out of your eyes; cease to rub salt into my wounds! The task before me is hard enough already. But I would do it, and try to get speech with that terrible man, even if I had no one to protect me."

The lady had listened with varying feelings to this outpouring of the young girl's heart. Every instinct rebelled against the thought of sacrificing this pure, sweet creature to the fury of the tyrant whose wickedness was as unlimited as his power, and yet she saw no other chance of saving the artist, whom she held in affectionate regard. Her own noble heart understood the girl's resolve to purchase the life of those she loved, even with her blood; she, in the same place, would have done the same thing; and she thought to herself that it would have made her happy to see such a spirit in her own child. Her resistance melted away, and almost involuntarily she exclaimed, "Well, do what you feel to be right."

Melissa flew into her arms again with a grateful sense of release from a load, and Berenike did all she could to smooth the thorny way for her. She discussed every point with Philostratus as thoroughly as though for a child of her own; and, while the tumult came up from the banquet in the men's rooms, they settled that Berenike herself should conduct the girl to the wife of the high-priest of Serapis, the brother of Seleukus, and there await Melissa's return. Philostratus named the hour and other details, and then made further inquiries concerning the young artist whose mocking spirit had brought so much trouble on his family.

On this the lady led him into an adjoining room, where the portrait of her adored daughter was hanging. It was surrounded by a thick wreath of violets, the dead girl's favorite flower. The beautiful picture was lighted up by two three-branched lamps on high stands; and Philostratus, a connoisseur who had described many paintings with great taste and vividness, gazed in absorbed silence at the lovely features, which were represented with rare mastery and the inspired devotion of loving admiration. At last he turned to the mother, exclaiming:

"Happy artist, to have such a subject! It is a work worthy of the early, best period, and of a master of the time of Apelies. The daughter who has been snatched from you, noble lady, was indeed matchless, and no sorrow is too deep to do her justice. But the divinity who has taken her knows also how to give; and this portrait has preserved for you a part of what you loved. This picture, too, may influence Melissa's fate; for Caesar has a fine taste in art, and one of the wants of our time which has helped to embitter him is the paralyzed state of the imitative arts. It will be easier to win his favor for the painter who did this portrait than for a man of noble birth. He needs such painters as this Alexander for the Pinakothek in the splendid baths he has built at Rome. If you would but lend me this treasure to-morrow—"

But she interrupted him with a decisive "Never!" and laid her hand on the frame as if to protect it. Philostratus, however, was not to be put off; he went on in a tone of the deepest disappointment: "This portrait is yours, and no one can wonder at your refusal. We must, therefore, consider how to attain our end without this important ally." Berenike's gaze had lingered calmly on the sweet face while he spoke, looking more and more deeply into the beautiful, expressive features. All was silent.

At last she slowly turned to Melissa, who stood gazing sadly at the ground, and said in a low voice: "She resembled you in many ways. The gods had formed her to shed joy and light around her. Where she could wipe away a tear she always did so. Her portrait is speechless, and yet it tells me to act as she herself would have acted. If this work can indeed move Caracalla to clemency, then—You, Philostratus, really think so?"

"Yes," he replied, decisively. "There can be no better mediator for Alexander than this work." Berenike drew herself up, and said:

"Well, then, to-morrow morning early, I will send it to you at the Serapeum. The portrait of the dead may perish if it may but save the life of him who wrought it so lovingly." She turned away her face as she gave the philosopher her hand, and then hastily left the room.

Melissa flew after her and, with overflowing gratitude, besought the sobbing lady not to weep.

"I know something that will bring you greater comfort than my brother's picture: I mean the living image of your Korinna—a young girl; she is here in Alexandria."

"Zeno's daughter Agatha?" said Berenike; and when Melissa said yes, it was she, the lady went on with a deep sigh: "Thanks for your kind thought, my child; but she, too, is lost to me."

And as she spoke she sank on a couch, saying, in a low voice, "I would rather be alone."

Melissa modestly withdrew into the adjoining room, and Philostratus, who had been lost in the contemplation of the picture, took his leave.

He did not make use of the imperial chariot in waiting for him, but returned to his lodgings on foot, in such good spirits, and so well satisfied with himself, as he had not been before since leaving Rome.

When Berenike had rested in solitude for some little time she recalled Melissa, and took as much care of her young guest as though she were her lost darling, restored to her after a brief absence. First she allowed the girl to send for Argutis; and when she had assured the faithful slave that all promised well, she dismissed him with instructions to await at home his young mistress's orders, for that Melissa would for the present find shelter under her roof.

When the Gaul had departed, she desired her waiting-woman, Johanna, to fetch her brother. During her absence the lady explained to Melissa that they both were Christians. They were freeborn, the children of a freedman of Berenike's house. Johannes had at an early age shown so much intelligence that they had acceded to his wish to be educated as a lawyer. He was now one of the most successful pleaders in the city; but he always used his eloquence, which he had perfected not only at Alexandria but also at Carthage, by preference in the service of accused Christians. In his leisure hours he would visit the condemned in prison, speak comfort to them, and give them presents out of the fine profits he derived from his business among the wealthy. He was the very man to go and see her father and brothers; he would revive their spirits, and carry them her greeting.

When, presently, the Christian arrived he expressed himself as very ready to undertake this commission. His sister was already busied in packing wine and other comforts for the captives-more, no doubt, as Johannes told Berenike, than the three men could possibly consume, even if their imprisonment should be a long one. His smile showed how confidently he counted on the lady's liberality, and Melissa quickly put her faith in the young Christian, who would have reminded her of her brother Philip, but that his slight figure was more upright, and his long hair quite smooth, without a wave or curl. His eyes, above all, were unlike Philip's; for they looked out on the world with a gaze as mild as Philip's were keen and inquiring.

Melissa gave him many messages for her father and brothers, and when the lady Berenike begged him to take care that the portrait of her daughter was safely carried to the Serapeum, where it was to contribute to mollify Caesar in the painter's favor, he praised her determination, and modestly added: "For how long may we call our own any of these perishable joys? A day, perhaps a year, at most a lustrum. But eternity is long, and those who, for its sake, forget time and set all their hopes on eternity—which is indeed time to the soul—soon cease to bewail the loss of any transitory treasure, were it the noblest and dearest. Oh, would that I could lead you to place your hopes on eternity, best of women and most true-hearted mother! Eternity, which not the wisest brain can conceive of!—I tell you, lady, for you are a philosopher—that is the hardest and therefore the grandest idea for human thought to compass. Fix your eye on that, and in its infinite realm, which must be your future home, you will meet her again whom you have lost—not her image returned to you, but herself."

"Cease," interrupted the matron, with impatient sharpness. "I know what you are aiming at. But to conceive of eternity is the prerogative of the immortals; our intellect is wrecked in the attempt. Our wings melt like those of Ikarus, and we fall into the ocean—the ocean of madness, to which I have often been near enough. You Christians fancy you know all about eternity, and if you are right in that—But I will not reopen that old discussion. Give me back my child for a year, a month, a day even, as she was before murderous disease laid hands on her, and I will make you a free gift of your cuckoo-cloud-land of eternity, and of the remainder of my own life on earth into the bargain."

The vehement woman trembled with renewed sorrow, as if shivering with ague; but as soon as she had recovered her self-command enough to speak calmly, she exclaimed to the lawyer:

"I do not really wish to vex you, Johannes. I esteem you, and you are dear to me. But if you wish our friendship to continue, give up these foolish attempts to teach tortoises to fly. Do all you can for the poor prisoners; and if you—"

"By daybreak to-morrow I will be with them," Johannes said, and he hastily took leave.

As soon as they were alone Berenike observed "There he goes, quite offended, as if I had done him a wrong. That is the way with all these Christians. They think it their duty to force on others what they themselves think right, and any one who turns a deaf ear to their questionable truths they at once set down as narrow-minded, or as hostile to what is good. Agatha, of whom you were just now speaking, and Zeno her father, my husband's brother, are Christians. I had hoped that Korinna's death would have brought the child back to us; I have longed to see her, and have heard much that is sweet about her: but a common sorrow, which so often brings divided hearts together, has only widened the gulf between my husband and his brother. The fault is not on our side. Nay, I was rejoiced when, a few hours after the worst was over, a letter from Zeno informed me that he and his daughter would come to see us the same evening. But the letter itself"—and her voice began to quiver with indignation—"compelled us to beg him not to come. It is scarcely credible—and I should do better not to pour fresh oil on my wrath—but he bade us 'rejoice'; three, four, five times he repeated the cruel words. And he wrote in a pompous strain of the bliss and rapture which awaited our lost child—and this to a mother whose heart had been utterly broken but a few hours before by a fearful stroke of Fate! He would meet the bereaved, grieving, lonely mourner with a smile on his lips! Rejoice! This climax of cruelty or aberration has parted us forever. Why, our black gardener, whose god is a tree-stump that bears only the faintest likeness to humanity, melted into tears at the news; and Zeno, our brother, the uncle of that broken dower, could be glad and bid us rejoice! My husband thinks that hatred and the long-standing feud prompted his pen. For my part, I believe it was only this Christian frenzy which made him suggest that I should sink lower than the brutes, who defend their young with their lives. Seleukus has long since forgiven him for his conduct in withdrawing his share of the capital from the business when he became a Christian, to squander it on the baser sort; but this 'Rejoice' neither he nor I can forgive, though things which pierce me to the heart often slide off him like water off grease."

Her black hair had come down as she delivered this vehement speech, and, when she ceased, her flushed cheeks and the fiery glow of her eyes gave the majestic woman in her dark robes an aspect which terrified Melissa.

She, too, thought this "Rejoice," under such circumstances, unseemly and insulting; but she kept her opinion to herself, partly out of modesty and partly because she did not wish to encourage the estrangement between this unhappy lady and the niece whose mere presence would have been so great a comfort to her.

When Johanna returned to lead her to a bedroom, she gave a sigh of relief; but the lady expressed a wish to keep Melissa near her, and in a low voice desired the waiting-woman to prepare a bed for her in the adjoining room, by the side of Korinna's, which was never to be disturbed. Then, still greatly excited, she invited Melissa into her daughter's pretty room.

There she showed her everything that Korinna had especially cared for. Her bird hung in the same place; her lap-dog was sleeping in a basket, on the cushion which Berenike had embroidered for her child. Melissa had to admire the dead girl's lute, and her first piece of weaving, and the elegant loom of ebony and ivory in which she had woven it. And Berenike repeated to the girl the verses which Korinna had composed, in imitation of Catullus, on the death of a favorite bird. And although Melissa's eyes were almost closing with fatigue, she forced herself to attend to it all, for she saw now how much her sympathy pleased her kind friend.

Meanwhile the voices of the men, who had done eating and were now drinking, came louder and louder into the women's apartments. When the merriment of her guests rose to a higher pitch than usual, or something amusing gave rise to a shout of laughter, Berenike shrank, and either muttered some unintelligible threat or besought the forgiveness of her daughter's manes.

It seemed to be a relief to her to rush from one mood to the other; but neither in her grief, nor when her motherly feeling led her to talk, nor yet in her wrath, did she lose her perfect dignity. All Melissa saw and heard moved her to pity or to horror. And meanwhile she was worn out with anxiety for her family, and with increasing fatigue.

At last, however, she was released. A gay chorus of women's voices and flutes came up from the banqueting-hall. With a haughty mien and dilated nostrils Berenike listened to the first few bars. That such a song should be heard in her house of woe was too much; with her own hand she closed the shutters over the window next her; then she bade her young guest go to bed.

Oh, how glad was the overtired girl to stretch herself on the soft couch! As usual, before going to sleep, she told her mother in the spirit all the history of the day. Then she prayed to the manes of the departed to lend her aid in the heavy task before her; but in the midst of her prayer sleep overcame her, and her young bosom was already rising and falling in regular breathing when she was roused by a visit from the lady Berenike.

Melissa suddenly beheld her at the head of the bed, in a flowing white night-dress, with her hair unpinned, and holding a silver lamp in her hand; and the girl involuntarily put up her arms as if to protect herself, for she fancied that the daemon of madness stared out of those large black eyes. But the unhappy woman's expression changed, and she looked down kindly on Melissa. She quietly set the lamp on the table, and then, as the cool nightbreeze blew in through the open window, to which there was no shutter, she tenderly wrapped the white woolen blanket round Melissa, and muttered to herself, "She liked it so."

Then she knelt down by the side of the bed, pressed her lips on the brow of the girl, now fully awake, and said:

"And you, too, are fair to look upon. He will grant your prayer!"

Then she asked Melissa about her lover, her father, her mother, and at last she, unexpectedly, asked her in a whisper:

"Your brother Alexander, the painter—My daughter, though in death, inspired his soul with love. Yes, Korinna was dear to him. Her image is living in his soul. Am I right? Tell me the truth!"

On this Melissa confessed how deeply the painter had been impressed by the dead girl's beauty, and that he had given her his heart and soul with a fervor of devotion of which she had never imagined him capable. And the poor mother smiled as she heard it, and murmured, "I was sure of it."

But then she shook her head, sadly, and said "Fool that I am!"

At last she bade Melissa good-night, and went back to her own bedroom. There Johanna was awaiting her, and while she was plaiting her mistress's hair the matron said, threateningly:

"If the wretch should not spare even her"—She was interrupted by loud shouts of mirth from the banqueting-hall, and among the laughing voices she fancied that she recognized her husband's. She started up with a vehement movement, and exclaimed, in angry excitement:

"Seleukus might have prevented such an outrage! Oh, I know that sorrowing father's heart! Fear, vanity, ambition, love of pleasure—"

"But consider," Johanna broke in, "to cross Caesar's wish is to forfeit life!"

"Then he should have died!" replied the matron, with stern decision.


Before sunrise the wind changed. Heavy clouds bore down from the north, darkening the clear sky of Alexandria. By the time the market was filling it was raining in torrents, and a cold breeze blew over the town from the lake. Philostratus had only allowed himself a short time for sleep, sitting till long after midnight over his history of Apolonius of Tyana. His aim was to prove, by the example of this man, that a character not less worthy of imitation than that of the lord of the Christians might be formed in the faith of the ancients, and nourished by doctrines produced by the many-branched tree of Greek religion and philosophy. Julia Domna, Caracalla's mother, had encouraged the philosopher in this task, which was to show her passionate and criminal son the dignity of moderation and virtue. The book was also to bring home to Caesar the religion of his forefathers and his country in all its beauty and elevating power; for hitherto he had vacillated from one form to another, had not even rejected Christianity, with which his nurse had tried to inoculate him as a child, and had devoted himself to every superstition of his time in a way which had disgusted those about him. It had been particularly interesting to the writer, with a view to the purpose of this work, to meet with a girl who practiced all the virtues the Christians most highly prized, without belonging to that sect, who were always boasting of the constraining power of their religion in conducing to pure morality.

In his work the day before he had taken occasion to regret the small recognition his hero had met with among those nearest to him. In this, as in other respects, he seemed to have shared the fate of Jesus Christ, whose name, however, Philostratus purposely avoided mentioning. Now, to-night, he reflected on the sacrifice offered by Melissa for Caesar whom she knew not, and he wrote the following words as though proceeding from the pen of Apollonius himself: "I know well how good a thing it is to regard all the world as my home, and all mankind as my brethren and friends; for we are all of the same divine race, and have all one Father."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse