And he passed out into the starlight, the angels of God guarding him in mighty phalanx, deep and broad like a river of glory.
Endora saw him leave, and a shudder passed over her as she trod the ground sanctified by the footsteps of the holy man.
'Where hast thou been, Endora?' said the priestess.
'Listening,' said the witch. 'I did my best not to play eavesdropper, but by an irresistible power I was drawn to the half-open door, and heard the words of Judah, and, on my soul, I would I were as pure as he!'
'Art thou also being tainted with this new faith, Endora?'
'No, no; but what may I expect from mine own? I am borne on the outer circle of it, accursed, knowing my fate. Who can blame me if I strike from my orbit like a wandering star, with the hope of coming within the influence of some other God greater than Hecate? Perhaps He may take me to His care. Did I not hear Judah say the mercy of his God endureth for ever? If so, may I not taste of it? I will try, and ere to-morrow's sun will have arisen I will have burnt my charms, my books, my Ephesian spells, and stand out fearlessly, awaiting the passing by of the Great Spirit of that mighty God. Perchance, seeing a naked, starving soul, He may throw around me a garment of mercy, a mantle of love, and I may yet atone, and worship at His feet. There is a story told that He sheltered Magdalene—and why not me? Most noble priestess, I read thee well enough to know thy great mind, stored with the greater mysteries, is broad enough, high enough, deep enough to let a struggling spirit work out its best destiny. I know thou wilt consent that to Endora be allowed the fullest light she can get to lead on to something better than the cold doom which now awaits her. Say, noble priestess—say! I feel I am parting from thee. Some links in the mighty spell which binds me are already broken. Some great influence is at work moulding my soul to something good. I will let it work. I will be passive in the hands of this great Potter, and out of darkness—gross darkness and sin—He may bring forth a being clothed with radiant immortality. Already a new dawn upheaveth, and more peace than Endora hath experienced in a lifetime now broods over her.'
And she fell on the cold, stony floor, and lay at the feet of the priestess.
Saronia, the High Priestess, arose, looking lovingly towards Chios.
'Go thy way, dear Chios; leave this woman to me. No good can now come of thy presence. Our mission is accomplished. We have spoken with him we came to see. His words are graven on my heart, and will have due consideration; and greater than all he said is the fact that here before me lies this Endora, a marvel to my soul—a being steeped in sin, accursed of the goddess, moved upon by this mighty spiritual influence, talking of peace, and a dawn of love, mercy, and radiant life! This to me is far greater miracle than if Mount Pion had changed places with Coressus, or the deep blue sea rolled over the Ephesian plain, making the great Temple of Diana an island of marble in the midst of the waters.'
Chios and Saronia stood at the entrance of that lonely cave.
'Let me kiss thee, Saronia; let me place my hand upon thy head. I have been silent, knowing a greater than I was present. I knew thee too well to meddle with the workings of thy mind. We shall meet again shortly, shall we not, loved one?'
'Thou wilt send by the hand of Endora?'
'Good-bye, Chios—good-bye! Take this flower of myrtle from me.'
She plucked it from her bosom, kissed its fragrant petals, and gave it to him.
The meeting with Chios and the Christian in the cave of the Ephesian sorceress had worked on the mind of the priestess. She was agitated like a ship cast in the way where two seas meet. Two great tides were bearing on her, which should carry her on its bosom. On the one hand, she had the traditions of the goddess, like a mighty river coursing down the ages, backed by a power which could command the living and the dead; on the other, she had presented to her a God of love, and the teachings which brought her dead mother to the Christ of God, permeated the soul of her lover, and gave peace to Endora, the accursed of Hecate.
Before her rose the great Temple, glistening white in the sunlight, rearing its majestic pillars skywards, throwing shadows to the west. She saw the train of priests move up the marble stairway and disappear within, and heard the hymn of morning rise on the trembling air.
In striking contrast before her stretched out a vision of the hated sect, the followers of the despised Nazarene, the little band of outcasts, who for fear of the people worshipped their God in the silent watches of the night, when the city was asleep—worshipped Him without gorgeous ritual or templed home, and standing ready, well knowing that as each day dawned the setting sun might cast its rays upon their lifeless bodies lying uncared for in the Ephesian arena.
All this floated before her, drifting by, dark and ominously, like the shadow of a great cloud on the face of the waters.
She saw herself a fugitive, hiding on the mountain-sides of yonder snow-capped Tmolus, where many others of the Christians had already fled for safety from the cruel fate in store for them.
She saw herself a wanderer, an outcast, pursued to the death. Which should it be? High Priestess of Diana, clothed with mystery, strong in power, standing on the loftiest peak of fame, with a nation at her feet, and the issues of life and death in her hands; or a child in the new kingdom of love and peace?
A thousand spirit-voices sang chorus to her soul, bidding her beware, now flowing with soft cadence in winning measure and tones of entreaty, now rising in one vast tumultuous threatening as if they would break the earth asunder. She stood unawed, listening; then cried:
'Stand back! Saronia is a free spirit! What are ye? If I seek the truth, what spirit amongst you dare bar the way to a soul which floats upwards to the source of its being? Nay, none of you! Not even the son of the morning who fell from heaven!'
* * * * *
Day after day hung wearily on Saronia; she was of such nature as no half-measure would satisfy. She was awakening from the mist of ages. She had heard of a great spiritual life which was without alloy, where the spirit evolved more and more into the likeness of the great First Cause, and her mind broadened out to seek the fuller light.
* * * * *
When the nightingale sang to its mate and the sweet-scented flowers gave perfume in exchange for the earth-born dew, when the winds of the night lay cradled, when the voice of the toiler was still, and the sheen of the star of the west melted into the cold, gray sea, when the city slept on in the darkness, Saronia looked out to the mountains, the mountains which sheltered the exiles, the fugitive followers of God.
'Twas death before death to the priestess; 'twas the death of the old faith, the birth of the new—the new one awakening the soul from its slumber, refining the spirit, remoulding her nature, and bringing together the Christ and His loved one.
The night-winds leapt from their slumbers, and shrieked like a soul in pain, trampled the flowers in their fury, flew round the pine-clad mountains, circled and circled again, till the girl was entombed in a whirlwind, a whirlwind with centre of calm.
Within that sanctuary, guarded by the angel of the covenant, stood Saronia, undismayed, determined, decided to serve the Son of Jehovah.
* * * * *
Her next step was to break away from the Temple service. Many methods came to her—one such as to leave the place without disturbance, to quietly move away; to flee; to live and breathe the fresh air, until hunted down to meet death in the arena of the great theatre of Ephesus. But to Saronia this was cowardly, and she resolved to meet her fate at once. Life to her was valueless save for the good she might do. But what greater good could she do than to openly witness for the new faith before the priests and priestesses of the great Temple of Diana, and receive the martyr's crown? It was a fitting prelude to the entrance into the great life—to the life which ended never.
She would call an assembly of the priests and priestesses, and tell them from her own lips the story of her new-born love. The time was fixed, and as it was no uncommon thing for the priests and priestesses to meet their chief in solemn assembly, no particular notice was taken of Saronia's action in calling such.
So, at eventide, when the worship for the day was over, and the sun had set, and the outer gates leading into the Temple were closed, the priests and priestesses gathered before the great altar, to listen to the voice of their beloved priestess.
* * * * *
The scene was one of solemn grandeur, as the priests with garments of many-coloured textures ranged themselves in crescent rows on the right of the altar as you enter the massive gates at the chief entrance. On the left of the altar, in the same manner, stood the priestesses, loveliest of the Ionian women, draped in white, yellow, rose-coloured, and azure garments, with here and there a robe of black, sacred to Hecate; whilst other maidens, flower-bearers, libation-carriers, and incense-girls, stood between the priests and priestesses, ready to place their offerings on the altar in honour of Diana.
All was ready, all were expectant, when the great High Priestess, Saronia, came forward in flowing robes of white, costly silk, and stood in all her magnificent beauty.
The offering to the goddess was soon made, but Saronia stood in silent meditation; neither had the soft cadences of sweet Ionian music from the costliest instruments any charm. Then, when their harmonies fell low and died in plaintive echoes, Saronia looked upwards through the open roof towards the circle of azure sky, until a calm, a radiant calm, o'erspread her face, making her seem like a visitant from the heavens.... During this brief pause a profound solemnity pervaded the assembly—a quietude in which even the rustle of a leaf would have seemed discord.
The people, spellbound by the force of her character and the beauty of the Priestess, held their breath and earnestly waited.
Then spoke Saronia to them, in a voice full of love and hope, saying:
'Priestesses and priests, and all you gathered here, listen to the words of Saronia. Me you found helpless at your gates, a slave seeking shelter, seeking sanctuary at the shrine of great Diana, whose image, hidden by a veil of purple and gold, towers majestically behind me.
'You brought me within the precincts of this mighty Temple, and cared for me tenderly.
'After awhile you thought me fit to serve your goddess.
'Step by step I rose until, with one bound, I became the High Priestess.
'My spirit, yearning with desire to understand the hidden meaning of your mystic faith, became a receptacle for all the teachings of your goddess. My mind became permeated with your creed, and every fibre of my nature shaken and respondent to the spirit's voice, as leaves move to the breathings of the winds.
'In this spiritual ecstasy I revelled and moved on from mystery to mystery, diving into the deep ocean of your sacred knowledge, satisfying my soul with draughts of wisdom from the choicest fountains of your faith; and, as I swept into the mysteries of your creed, my spirit became intoxicated with delight, and seemed to purify by contact with the unseen presence of your goddess.
'Light after light flooded my vision, and I, the poor wanderer seeking for truth and rest, was carried onwards as a mighty rushing wind, accumulating knowledge as I went, until I was borne into a vale of peace and rested for a while drinking in the delirious joys of my new-found life.
'Power was given to me, power of which I dare not speak, save only to those who are initiated into the mysteries of your veiled goddess Hecate.
'Wisdom and power were bestowed on me, and, with the power I possessed, I dealt out beneficence in accordance with the precepts of Diana—Diana Triformis; and thus from stage to stage my life has moved. But the soul has an eternal longing for greater knowledge and greater truths, and this was the case with Saronia, your priestess.
'As a wild gazelle springs from crag to crag, over shadowed chasms, in search of food, so I moved on, seeking joy and truth and knowledge, until I in spirit reached a sea-girt shore, and could no further go. Not that my desire failed, but aid came not to ferry me over the darkling waters.
'I stood calling on my goddess to point a way to the other shore, on which stood templed cities with domes and towers rising high into the pearly sheen of a glorious light. But no answer came.... From the spiritual city across the sea came a flowing light like a moving star. It came, and resolved into beauteous form, until a Spirit, priestly, kingly, clothed with heaven, stood beside me, and spoke peace to my awakening soul, saying, "I will guide thee."...
'But it was not a messenger of Diana.'
'Of whom, then?' shouted the priests.
''Twas the Angel of the new faith,' replied the priestess.
'Traitor! traitor!' thundered the people. 'Hear! She defames the great Diana! Take her away—away quickly, lest she pollute the altar!'
Gazing steadily on the multitude, her dark eyes flashing fire, she cried:
'No, no! Back! Use not your force. 'Tis needless. I might have fled the Temple, sought refuge in the mountains, escaped your fury, but she who has been your High Priestess would not have the seal of cowardice stamped upon her soul. Saronia will go to her death, trusting in the Christ of God.'
'Take her away,' shouted the priests, 'lest she speaks again that accursed name! She is beside herself; the spirit of Saronia has fled, another has entered, accursed—accursed!'
'Kill the body,' said the people, 'lest it darken the Temple!'
The priests closed around, ruthlessly dragging her from before the altar to the Temple cells, and thrust her in, dethroned, disgraced.
The priests wailed:
'Woe! Woe! Woe! O goddess! O goddess! O mighty goddess! The omens are grievous: the High Priest is dead; thy priestess denies thee. Thine altar is lonely. The Temple polluted. Arise! Arise! Scatter thy foes! Great goddess, arise! Deliver us! Forsake us not! Forsake us not!'
'Thou hast heard,' said the Proconsul, 'that Saronia has abjured her faith in the great Diana, and is a prisoner within the Temple where once she reigned supreme, second only to the goddess?'
'Yes,' replied Chios, 'I have, and my heart is nearly dead. Can anything be done to save her?'
'I think not. The Roman State cannot interfere in such matters. The faiths of the empire are manifold. Beside, Nero has enough on his hands, and knows better than to stir up the passions of the Ionian people for the sake of a woman who in no way interferes with his caprice. No, my dear fellow; I am afraid all will be settled by the Temple custom, and Saronia must accept her fate.'
'But, Varro, Proconsul, thou hast power here second only to the Emperor, and perhaps greater. The State allows great latitude. Where is Lucius?'
'I cannot tell thee, Chios.'
'Where was he when last thou heardst?'
'At Rome, receiving orders from Nero.'
'Varro, thou canst tell me of his whereabouts, if thou carest.'
'I can say only that ere long he will arrive at Ephesus, but he cannot help thee, noble Chios. A weightier charge than thou knowest awaits the priestess.'
'What is it?'
'Murder! Of whom?'
'The High Priest.'
''Tis a lie!' spoke out the Greek.
'Perhaps so,' replied Varro; 'but circumstances are against her. After her arrest, in her room was found a pair of sandals, stained underneath with human blood.'
'Merciful God!' exclaimed Chios.
'Listen further. It is well known that on the fateful night she went to the Sacred Grove, close to the river Cayster, where the priest was found. Do not be jealous, good fellow. The prying eyes of an attendant priestess reports that a man supposed to be her lover was seen in the company of this beautiful woman, even in the company of Saronia, the haughty Saronia, priestess of Diana! Now, Chios, looking at such evidences, the conclusion drawn is that, afraid of being exposed by the priest, who also must have seen her, she or her lover slew him, and Saronia, conscience-stricken, knowing such an act could never be forgiven by her Lady Saviour, left her faith, and, with cunning hypocrisy, pretends the Christian, thinking perhaps she may gain sympathy or help from that hated crew. Now, Chios, does this satisfy thee?'
'No,' said he; 'it is all untrue. Christian she may be; murderess—never!'
'Then thou dost still believe in her?'
'Yes; to shed the last drop of my life's blood, and may Heaven grant me such an opportunity!'
'Nonsense—nonsense, Chios! Too long hast thou been infatuated by this mysterious being. Methought for some time past no good would come to thee by such a passion, and let me warn thee ere too late. Be careful, or thou wilt be netted in this sad event. Lie low, my friend, and let her meet her fate. Thou canst do no good, and may empty on thy head unmeasured ills.'
'No, Varro. Were those looming ills more numerous than the hairs which grow upon my aching head I would meet them, embrace them, to save Saronia one pang of grief or pain. Nevertheless, I thank thee for thy kindly counsel, but the mind of the Greek is made up. If she suffer, I suffer with her. If she die, Chios dies. Not as the coward dies—I will die trying to save her life. No threats, no danger, no death will stop me. I am fixed to this purpose. I know she is as pure as heaven, and honoured from thence. Were Chios half so holy he would consider himself blessed.
'Roman, thou hast no good blood for her, wouldst not move a finger to protect her; but I, with an unshaken belief in her goodness, will do my best. Good-bye, noble Proconsul. Saronia may yet appeal in Rome!'
'What! Before Nero?'
'Take care, Chios!'
'Why, the fleeing slave taking shelter in the forest gloom and sleeping in the tiger's lair would fare as well. Ah, ah, Chios! Thou art short-sighted. Saronia, a lovely woman, and a Christian, seeking Nero as judge! Why, he would judge her meet for the arena or his mistress, and make thee a slave into the bargain if thou interfered!'
The teeth of Chios were firmly set, and his face became livid. He dared not vent his rage on the chosen man of the Emperor and the Senate of Rome, but his looks spoke louder than words.
Varro saw all at a glance, and said:
'Thou dost not meet my words.'
'No. Silent am I for her dear sake. Watch my actions. They may answer thee.'
'I will, and be careful of the moonstruck lover. I wish thee well, old friend. Thou art a good fellow. I have done my best to tempt thee from this wild crusade, and would on my soul I had succeeded. But there is no cure for love, and thou art in love—a phantom love. Do not lose thyself in a wild morass.'
'Fear not, Varro. If I love, so didst thou. Mine may grow, and joy with awakening purity and loveliness; thine is blighted and dead, and from thy dead love springs up the hate thou bearest towards Saronia, thinking she in some mysterious way o'ershadowed Nika.'
'No, I will not be silent. I speak to thee as Varro. I speak not to the Proconsul of Ionia. I say, were Saronia not Saronia and I asked thy aid, thou wouldst give it; but now thy spirit reaches out for pretext to blast the one thy faithless wife abhorred. Is not thine a mad, dead love? Come, change thy mind, and help me. I tell thee, Saronia never hurt thy Nika, and she is as innocent of this murder as the truest spirit of God. Now, noble friend, wilt thou not help me?'
'What can I do, Chios? I cannot interfere.'
'Then, promise thou wilt not pursue.'
'Is she really innocent?'
'Dost thou know this?'
'And swear it?'
'Then, if Varro cannot help Saronia, he will not pursue her.'
Chios sent for Endora. There was a calm light in her eyes such as he had never before seen. Ere he could speak, she said:
'I know: it is of Saronia thou wouldst speak.'
'True, woman. Dost thou know she is charged with the murder of the High Priest?'
'I know all. Fear not, Chios. Saronia shall not suffer for the crime I have committed.'
'Rash woman! how canst thou atone? She is a prisoner, and has abjured her faith.'
'That may be, noble Chios; but take my word for once: the guilty shall suffer for their own sins. This vile body of mine shall be torn limb from limb rather than one hair of her head shall be plucked. No more of evil for me!'
'Now, listen, Endora. Your heart is right, but your words are idle. She must be saved, but in another way. I will rescue her. Thou knowest the Temple, and must find where she is lodged. Find out if access is possible; bring me full account, and great reward shall be thine. Canst thou do this?'
'Yes; but not for reward.'
'For love I bear to her.'
'Very well. Be it so. Lose no time. She is already under a sentence of death, and will die. Go! go! Great God! what a death. Oh that I might die for her! The Ephesians gathered together to make sport—to make sport of Saronia the beautiful, my love! Polluted by the touch of a coarse gaoler. A sight to gratify the Romans, a jest for the rabble of Ephesus, and a cruel death ending all. She who has wielded the sceptre of power, highest and brightest among the women of Ionia, commanded spirits in legions from the underworld, stopped the eagles in their flight, turned the courses of the clouds, baring the face of the silvery moon; she who has dropped the sceptre of this power, and robed herself with a trust in God—shall she be forsaken? No, no! It cannot be so. If she could breathe out her life supported by these arms of mine; if I could but close her lovely eyes in death and kiss her whitening brow, then could I fall also asleep and awake to meet her on the other shore.'
'Chios!' said the Proconsul, interrupting the Greek. 'How fares my friend? I have news for thee.'
'Good, or evil?'
'Judge thou. The Roman fleet, under the command of Lucius, is in the offing. Their numbers crowd the sea.'
'Lucius! The fleet! Lucius!' exclaimed Chios.
'True; Lucius is almost here.'
'Why comes there such a multitude of ships?' said Chios. 'Is there reason?'
'There may be. This much I confide in thee: ere many hours have passed, the mighty walls of this great city will glisten with the spears of Roman men, in number such as Ephesus has never seen since Claudian ruled or Nero wielded power. To-morrow will be a great day—the streets so full of Roman soldiers that standing-room will not be left for rioters.'
'What does this portend?'
'Nothing save a military show of Roman power. Nevertheless, thou wilt do well to keep within doors to-morrow.'
'Because I wish it so. Thou wilt be at home to-morrow, eh, Chios? Chios, dost hear me?'
'I hear thee, but will not obey. Dost think I could remain here to-morrow, when it is the day for Saronia's murder? and thou, too, hast consented to this deed of shame. Roman, Roman, thou art false!'
'Peace, Chios! Peace! What I have promised thee, I will do. Hast thou Chian wine? Bring it forth; let us quaff it together.
'Now hark ye. I go back to Rome. I hate this place. The associations are not to my liking. She whom I once loved has gone. It is not congenial to me to meet Lucius. My story has reached Rome, reached Nero, but that does not affect me. Nothing pleases him better than to keep a respectable gulf between a Proconsul and Lucius, the fighting admiral, well knowing we shall not connive to rebel against him. But there must exist a feeling, a strong feeling, between Lucius and—your friend. Of course, Lucius is haughty; too much Roman blood runs in his veins to openly disapprove of what befell his daughter, well knowing, also, she deserved it. But a father cannot help feeling. I am better away. A Roman city draped in purple suits me better than Ephesus; and if I can close in with Nero's set, I gain more wealth in one year than in a lifetime here. I wonder how Lucius will receive the news of his wife's death?'
'Yes. I thought thou didst know of it.'
'No. When did she die?'
'She died on the day Saronia abjured her faith and was disgraced. The shock of joy killed her.'
'This, too, is sad.'
'Why so? Her loss will be felt by Lucius only. He is old, and will mourn briefly. Besides, he will have his hands full for awhile. Come, cheer up, man; thou shalt go with me to Rome, and I will make thee merry. Thou hast never really lived yet. I am away. Don't forget. Remain home to-morrow to receive me. I will come before thou art required at the arena; and, should I not, then do not stay. Be in time; there will be a goodly show, but—Saronia shall not be there. Hear ye, Chios?'
'What dost thou mean?'
'No more than I have said. Good-bye, good friend.'
And Varro was gone.
'What a strange being!' exclaimed Chios. 'What does he mean? I cannot understand him. I believe he means good, and knows more than he says, and intends to help. Some great mystery attaches itself to those warlike preparations. I must be patient until to-morrow, desist from going to the Temple to-night to rescue her. He goes to Rome. It is well known he is a staunch friend of Nero. Lucius is not. What can this great fleet of many thousand armed men mean? To-morrow will solve the problem, for what is to be done will be done quickly.'
ACRATUS, THE TEMPLE SPOILER
The next day at early dawn the harbour was filled with shipping. There were the light-sailing laburnae, the stately biremes, majestic triremes, and quadriremes, with sterns rising high and crowned with castellated cabins, each with its great square yard and spray-beaten sail. On every prow blazed forth a sign, and on each quarter shone the image of a tutelary god. The ship of Lucius was among them, with great red flag denoting rank, and bearing a murderous ram, the fiercest of them all.
Masses of Roman troops, with polished shields and glittering arms, thronged the vessels. Two legions were there—one half of them Praetorian men, with tribunes and centurions, with Acratus, the freed man of Nero, to lead them.
The great sails were closely furled, and the ships moored in regular order towards the quays. At the sound of trumpets the soldiers disembarked, and were hailed welcome by a host of Roman warriors who were stationed in Ephesus.
Soon the city was crowded with armed men, and on the walls the silver eagles shone resplendent in the sunlight.
The people were confounded. No tumult, no voice of war, yet the place was filled with martial strains, and Roman troops lined the ways from the city port, past the great Gymnasium, Forum, Theatre, away up the streets towards the city gates and onwards to the Temple Way. All was occupied with soldiers. A swift messenger had come into the Agora, telling the breathless people the Roman troops reached past the Temple and surrounded it, paying no respect to sacred groves or old traditions of the Temple's rights.
'What could this mean?' exclaimed the Ephesians.
They had not long to wait for an answer. Soon it was known that a body of priests, standing in the way of the Romans, guarding the precincts of the holy shrine, had been struck down—dead. And the swarming hosts of Nero had poured within, and finding the Temple closed, battered down the beautiful gates of gold and ivory, and were carousing within the sacred place.
Nothing was too vile for the plunderers. They had received their orders from the arch-fiend Nero, and license for themselves. They were to sack the Temple, and take the spoils to Rome. Such must be accomplished, no matter how.
The great space within the parabolus walls running around the Temple of Diana with the white brow was filled with laughing, jesting soldiers. They had not an enemy to fight against. 'Twas a cold-blooded affair. They were fighting-men, and in battle would have told well, but as robbers they were ashamed of their work. Acratus foresaw this, and gave them wine, and the wine brought forth lawlessness.
Virgin priestesses ran to and fro with hair dishevelled, crying on their goddess, only to fall into the hands of Syrians, Africans, and Gauls—vile allies, a part of Nero's guard, sent with the regular Roman troops, to act as drunken jackals; and each of these, so far as he could, took a virgin priestess for his mate, and no restriction was put on them by Acratus.
The beautiful veil concealing the image of the holy goddess was pulled down. The gold and the jewels adorning it and the great statue were torn from their strong settings, and piled up on the marble floor.
On the sacred altar the soldiers lit their fires and cooked their rations, and washed themselves with the water of the holy fountain Hypelaeus—the fountain ornamented by Thrason, and the altar sacred to the genius of Ionia. What cared those brutal marauders? Had not he who sent them desecrated everything, even the statue of the Syrian goddess, and laughed at it? What harm if they should do the same?
Within, the Temple was one horrible scene of lewd riot and plunder; without, the people were rising in masses, and thousands from adjacent towns were gathering around the city walls, and all crying loudly for revenge; but none could enter. The Romans held the gates, and every tower and battlement along the great red-brick walls, hard as adamant, was crowded with glistening spears. Nothing could be done from without, and there was little chance of help to come from within. A scheme was proposed to burn the fleet, but this got noised abroad too early, and the ships were moved from the wharves to the centre of the city port.
The day wore on in tumult and distress, and the people, seeing no chance of saving the treasures of their holy place, gave way to grief, loudly charging Saronia as the cause of all. The murder of the High Priest, her blasphemy in the Temple, and the want of action in not killing her right away, was the cause of the desertion of the goddess from her home.
In the Temple Varro, the Proconsul, and Acratus held counsel. They were standing near the altar, with the last light of evening falling upon them.
Near to the fallen image of the goddess Diana were the smaller statues in marble, bronze, silver, and gold—lamps and paterii, vases richly chased and candelabrii, instruments of the Temple, costly golden, jewelled things, all were piled up in heaps.
From behind this profusion of rarest art, now lying like so much rubbish, a Roman was dragging a woman who appeared quite dead. Her hair hung in masses over her face, hiding a part of it, hiding a face which was crimson with blood. Her garments were torn, and the soldier threw her down close to where the two chiefs stood.
'Thank the gods!' muttered he.
'What hast thou, fellow?' said Acratus.
'A woman,' replied the man.
'Yes, yes, I know; but where didst thou find her? I thought all those maidens netted long ago.'
'I will tell my noble master. In hunting through those rooms behind the altar, I came quite by chance upon a cell which had escaped the notice of our soldiers when they threaded their way through the winding passages below. I burst open the door, looked in, and saw that beautiful creature. "Ah, ah!" said I. "By the gods, I have a royal prize!" But, as I advanced to take her, I found her a perfect demon of the bad type. I tried soft words. She replied: "Stand back! I know your mission." I threatened, and made to take her. She arose, flew at me with terrible menace, such as I shall carry with me. I seized her roughly, but, with lightning swiftness, she plucked the dagger from my belt, and would have pinned me to the wall had I not unhanded her. She flew through the winding passages like a forest-hound, up the stairway to the rooms behind. Then out she passed, and stood just there behind the statue. I followed, knowing I should capture her. I heard her cry, "Oh, woe! Oh, woe! Oh, woe!" Then she stretched up her arms, both of them, high aloft in the air, as if she would reach down something from the skies, and said, "My God! my God!" and fell to the ground. I took her up, thinking it was a faint; but, finding her dead, I dropped her there, and wish I had never seen her!'
The man passed on, leaving Varro and Acratus in deep converse. The quick eye of the Proconsul saw the form of the woman move. He went towards her, actuated by some strange fascination, and spoke to her, but no voice came back. Then he lifted the waves of hair from her face and cried:
'O ye gods, it is she! It is Saronia!'
He bent low and whispered her name. Her eyes opened and gazed on him, and then at the desolation around her, and she closed them again as if in sleep.
'Hi! Here fellow, fill yon golden bowl with water! Quick! quick! and follow me, or I will kill thee for delay!'
Varro took Saronia in his arms, and bore her within one of the Temple rooms, bathed her cheeks, whispering softly:
'Thou art safe, Saronia. Thou shalt go to Chios!'
At these words, fresh life came back, and she took the hand of the Proconsul in hers, and, looking into his face, she said:
'Tell me, is it all a dream, or am I mad?'
'No, thou art not mad or dreaming. What thou seest is real. The Temple of thy goddess will be bereft of its riches to adorn the golden house of Nero. This now is nothing to thee. As I have said, thou shalt go to Chios—to Chios! Rest tranquilly; I will guard thee. When evening settles down, I have means of escape for thee.'
He sent for wine and fruit and raiment. Having done this, he despatched two messengers, one to Endora (for Saronia wished it so) and another to Chios. He charged the soldiers:
'Bring the old woman from the cave on the top of yonder hill! Be careful no evil befall her, or thou wilt suffer.'
The night was now closing in, and fires were burning high upon the mountains and the plain, showing where the people had encamped, and on the stillness of the evening air ever and anon arose loud shouts and wailings.
* * * * *
'Who is that beautiful woman in yonder room?' said Acratus.
'That is naught to thee,' said the Proconsul.
'I know, I know, but Nero would rather possess her than all the riches of Ephesus or Pergamos.'
'Curse thee for the thought! Hold back thy words! Silence! In Ionia I am master.'
'I hope no offence, most noble.'
'No, not this time, but be careful for the future. Thou hast to sack Pergamos yet, and—well, never mind, enough has been said.'
At this stage an aged woman came towards them; tottering with fear, and led by two Roman soldiers.
Acratus turned away muttering:
'He shall pay dearly for his speech.'
'Thou hast brought her safely. Thanks for thy vigilance amidst the crowded streets. This way, woman—this way, Endora. Come with me. Here is Saronia; be careful of her; take her to Chios! Tell him I will follow as soon as I can. Again, on yonder couch sufficient raiment lies, brought from Saronia's own wardrobe. Divest her of those soiled garments, disguise her, and lead to where her lover lives.'
'What of the rabble?' said Endora. 'The streets are filled with soldiers and rioters, the ground strewn with slain. May we stay here under thy protection during the night?'
'No; I go hence shortly, and to-morrow it will be worse. Go. Tell it not—to-morrow will be worse! I will give you guard, but thou must be careful, nevertheless, that Saronia be not known, or the people will kill her. No harm shall come from my soldiers. They shall be faithful. I also will be faithful, for Chios's sake, as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow to the ocean. If any injury come, it will be from the hands of the furious mob. I give her into thy charge, and will send guard for both. I can do no more. Again, I say, be careful!'
Out they went into the darkness—out into the storm of blood.
For a while all went well as they passed between the lines of the watchful Romans. They had traversed most of the way and were close to the studio of Chios, where the troops were thinnest. There the people gathered together in angry crowds.
Suddenly the ruffians saw the women, and cried out:
'Here are two Ephesians in the pay of the Romans! Spies, traitors, guides to the Temple plunderers! Kill them!' And they fell on them with mad fury.
Instantly they were surrounded by the soldiers and encircled as in a net.
Exasperated and maddened by the day's proceedings, they would die in the attempt to kill the women. Roughly handled as they were, one of them had time to draw a dagger from his belt and aimed to plunge it into the bosom of Saronia. The glistening blade was falling towards her, but quicker than its descent was Endora, who threw herself between them and received the blow. She fell, crying:
'She is young; take me!'
And, as she lay dying, the murderer also fell, pierced by a dozen spears.
The people fell back, shouting:
'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' Whilst the savage troops replied gruffly: 'But Nero of Rome is greater!'
Endora spoke a few words—dying words—and her head fell back into the arms of Saronia, and all was over—Endora was dead.
They were about to proceed and leave the body, but the queenly form of Saronia asserted itself as she stood with eyes dilated and form erect, crying:
'Soldiers of Rome, bear carefully with you this dead body!'
'No, no!' they replied. 'Hasten away to safety. The dead suffer not.'
But still she stood transfixed, and, raising her voice, she said:
'Do as I bid you, or I refuse to move; and if I remain, it is at your peril.'
They saw in her no common person, and reluctantly obeyed, one taking his cloak and wrapping it round the corpse, whilst others took their scarves and bound their spears together, and placed her on them as a bier, the torches, reeking with flame, casting over her a lurid glow. And thus they hurriedly passed away, with a circle of shields and glittering spears protecting the living and the dead.
The road became clearer, so that when the soldiers arrived at the garden of Chios no Ephesian eye witnessed them pass up the marble steps into the lonely sanctuary.
As they entered, and laid the dead burden on the floor, Chios saw Saronia.
'Great God, what is this? What does it mean?'
'Hold thy peace,' said she. 'Not now. Later thou shalt know.'
The soldiers withdrew, having accomplished the safety of one only. A deep silence for a moment reigned. Neither spoke. Both hearts were too full for speech. Chios took the hands of Saronia and clasped them within his own, and with silent joy gazed into her face.
She broke the silence with an agonizing cry. Going towards the lifeless form, she uncovered the cold, dead face, and, stooping, kissed the snowy brow, sobbing:
'Oh, Endora, Endora, thou hast proved thy love! Thou hast proved thy love to me!'
'Endora!' exclaimed Chios. 'Is it Endora?'
'Yes, it is Endora. She received the death intended for me. Look well at her, Chios. Gaze on her peaceful face. Gaze on her face. Dost thou recognise who she was? It is meet thou shouldst know, for she loved thee dearly.'
Chios was like a man stupefied with wine.
'What dost thou mean, Saronia? I know her not, save as the mountain sorceress.'
'True, Chios. That is the answer I might have expected. But one day, not so very long ago, I visited the Ephesian shore, and on a rocky eminence where an altar stands—— Thou knowest the place where the seas dash up?'
'Yes, I know, Saronia.'
'Well, there I met Endora—quite by chance—and spoke to her, and found from her that she at one time lived at Delos.'
'Yes, Chios, Delos. And thou hast heard of Myrtile the priestess?'
'Yes, that I have. I heard fully of her when last I visited the isle. A sad story.'
'Yes, 'twas sad, and strange to know that Endora was no other than Myrtile.'
'But, Saronia, she died.'
'No, no! She lived on unknown, and this lifeless form is she.'
'Poor Myrtile!' said Chios. 'I wonder what became of her child. A boy it was.'
'I wonder,' said Saronia. 'Didst thou ever know thy mother, Chios? I have never heard thee speak of her.'
'Oh, Saronia, Myrtile—Endora—asked me the same. Is there meaning in all this? What may it portend?'
'It means, Chios, that she is thy mother.'
'Mine? Mine? My mother?'
'Yes, thine, Chios.'
* * * * *
He went out amongst the myrtle-trees; he breathed the calm, cool air. Along the Temple Way he saw the lights of torches burning brightly. The people had thinned away, and exhaustion like a funeral pall hung over those remaining. Many slept in the streets, some overcome with rage, others with wine, whilst from distant quarters now and again rose the stifled cry of angry men and frantic women.
Chios paced up and down, lost in reverie. He heard not the call of the Roman guard or the groaning of the city. He was absorbed, thinking of his dead mother and of the safety of Saronia. What could he best do for her? Should he go to Lucius and ask his help? He knew that quickly the Roman fleet would put to sea with the stolen treasures of the Temple, and Saronia would be sought for and slain. To stay in Ephesus was certain death for her. In Rome perhaps worse awaited her. Should he hire a trading ship and escape? He was a freed man, and could leave the city unquestioned in time of war or siege. No, that would not do. He could go himself, but could not take another. Besides, the mariners of the craft, if such proved available, would know her, and refuse to aid the fallen rebel priestess. Well he knew those sailors, fit for strife or storm, had the warmest corners of their hearts filled with admiration for their faith and their goddess. He saw no alternative. Go to Lucius he must.
The day was dawning; the first light was uplifting. He went noiselessly within his apartment and gazed upon her face. She slept.
Carefully retreating, as if an empire depended on his footfall, he left the room, secured the door, hastened down the streets. As yet the people were not astir. Until he reached well into the city near the Odeum, he had little opposition, but there the troops questioned him. He had special business with Lucius, the commander of the Roman fleet, and must see him.
'Thou canst not,' replied the guard. 'He sleeps on board the warship, and will not come on shore until the sun is high.'
'I tell thee,' said Chios, 'I must see Lucius immediately.'
'And I tell thee it is impossible.'
'Nothing is impossible to a soldier! Nothing shall be impossible to me! Let me pass to the wharves, or I will see the Tribune. Is he here?'
Chios claimed from the Tribune a right, as a free citizen, to pass to the port, which was granted.
He sent by boat a message to Lucius that he would speak with him, and a reply came back requesting the Greek to come at once.
They met; their hearts went out to each other. Were they not old and dear friends?
'What brings thee here, Chios? Art thou persecuted by this unseemly tumult?'
'No, Lucius. Not so. I came to plead for a helpless woman.'
'Who is she?'
'Saronia. Once thy slave—thy——'
'I cannot help thee.'
The face of the sailor grew clouded, dark, and a fire rose up and glittered through his eyes.
'No, no, no! I cannot help! This girl, like an evil star, has rested over my home—that home, once filled with joy, now desolate, the loved ones gone away. Would that I had never heard the name of this mysterious being, Saronia! She has engendered strife, murdered the High Priest, and cut adrift from her faith. Let her answer for her crimes as my child did.'
'No, no!' exclaimed Chios. 'She did no murder. Oh, Lucius, my friend, listen! This slave girl was ever good to thee—good as thou wert kind. Hast thou not looked into her eyes, and, meeting thine, spoke they not sincere love for thee? Is this not so? True, she left thine home, but of this we will not now speak—she was born to rule, and could not serve as a slave. She chose not her destiny—it was written for her; she did not make it. I say again, she did not make it any more than she chose her dignity of birth! Born from a long line of warriors on the one side and a princess priestess on the other, how could she serve?'
'Thou art rambling, Chios! The excitement of yesterday makes inroads on thy mind.'
'Nay, noble Lucius. Chios is not mad, but soon will be. Help, Lucius! Help for Saronia!'
The Roman remained stolid, silent.
'Let me go on—let me speak,' said Chios. 'As I have said, of such noble descent, her soul awakened, arose, towered above all others. She, the slave, became the priestess of yonder mighty Temple, which Nero of Rome has sent the vile Acratus to plunder. Fortunately, before this robbery took place, Saronia had stepped from the old faith into the new. Had she not, her blood would have crimsoned the great altar of Diana—she would have laid down her life for her goddess! Now this precious life is in the hands of Lucius. Wilt thou loose the silver thread and let her go?
'Were her father here—a warrior like unto thyself, armed, full of power, with hosts of warships under his command, the strongest sanctuary under heaven—say, Lucius, would he not clasp her in his arms, and, covering her with kisses, bear her away? What would you say of him if he, knowing she were his child, refused to save—sailed away with all his hosts, leaving her for brutal sport and a hideous death?'
'He would be worthy of death,' said the Roman.
'Now hear me, Lucius. Thou art the father—of—Saronia. She, thy child——'
'By the gods, thou mockest me!'
'No, I am serious. I know your secret. You sailed to Britain, tore the princess priestess from her island home, sailed across the seas to Sidon; there deserted wife and child. The mother died, the daughter lived—became a foundling, then a slave, Saronia! Afterwards thou didst take to wife the Roman, Venusta.'
'Hold—hold, Chios! It is all true. It comes back to me!'
'By a strange fate she met thy Roman daughter. How could there be peace—the first-born a slave, the second a tyrant? I, Chios, admired the nobleness, the beauty, of this slave, until I worshipped her and loved her beyond expression. I would have purchased her with all I had, not knowing who she was—would have wed her. The Fates ordered otherwise, and she arose, as you know, until she became the mightiest woman of the land; and because her great spirit towered beyond the faith which environed her, and she accepted the faith of the Highest, her goodness became a crime in the eyes of the Ephesian people. But again, Lucius, she is thy child! Wilt thou save her?'
'Save her, Chios? 'Tis the least I can do. There shall be no mistake in this matter; and I will order guard enough to fetch her should all the soldiers in Ephesus be required.'
And Chios went back to his studio to prepare for the removal of Saronia.
THE CROWN OF LIFE
Acratus was at the head of his plunderers. Nothing was too small or great for his rapacious maw. He came up the marble steps of the studio of Chios and knocked violently.
'Hast thou anything within?' said the tyrant.
'Nothing for thee,' said Chios.
'But we must see for ourselves,' and he pushed rudely by, followed by a dozen or more armed men, and as he rushed within he beheld Saronia.
'By heavens!' said he. 'Here is a greater than all thy marbles. This is the second time I have fallen in the way of this beautiful tigress. Look ye here: is this thy wife?'
'No,' said Chios.
'Thou art her lover, then?'
'That is my business. Mind thine own.'
'Thou art in a jesting mood. We will see how we can instruct thee to respect Acratus. Take this woman; she is known to the Proconsul and must not stay here. Take her to the fortress, and say I sent her, and I will deal with her anon. No, no, that will not do. Take her to the ship of Lucius, commander of the fleet, and say, "Care for her; she belongs to Acratus." Take her away. What is her name, fellow?'
'Saronia,' said Chios.
'Eh, and a pretty name, too. Now away, soldiers, to Lucius!'
Saronia looked appealingly to Chios.
'Wilt thou let me speak with her before she leaves?' said Chios.
'Yes, yes; thou canst speak to her.'
Chios drew Saronia aside, saying:
'Thou seest the position. They will take thee whither thou shouldst go, to Lucius. I will follow thee;' and he slipped into her bosom unseen a parchment sealed and addressed to Lucius. 'Now, do as I wish, my love, and Chios will soon be with thee, and Lucius thou canst trust.'
'Oh, Chios, is not this fraught with danger?'
'No; it is the only course, and it is well for thee,' and kissing her, he said, 'Just for an hour or so and we meet. This is ordered wisely.'
Then they led her off, guarded by a body of armed men, Chios saying to himself:
'Little does that villain know he sends her to her father.'
As Acratus was turning to follow his men, he looked around to see if anything might satisfy his greed, when he discovered the dead body of Endora lying beneath a coverlet, and raising it, he saw the face of the murdered.
'What is this?' said he. 'Another surprise. Killed! Who is she? What meaneth it?'
'She is my mother, killed by one of the Ephesian mob. Wouldst thou also rob me of her dead body?'
'Cease thy prating, fool! Men's mothers are not murdered in this way. There is foul play. Thou shalt answer for this. Ho there, men!' calling on those outside. 'Take this murderer away. Take him to the Temple. I shall be there shortly, and will see to this.'
'Hands away!' cried Chios. 'I am not my mother's murderer.'
'Seize him!' cried Acratus. 'Bring him forth!' and they dragged him from his mother's side to without the studio, where by this time many Ephesians had gathered, and when they saw him, they cried:
'Chios the Christian! Down with him!'
The fierce mob closed in, and the Romans cared not nor hindered—closed in around him till he was trampled under their feet, until one, perhaps more malignant than the rest, plunged a dagger in the bosom of the half-dead man. And Chios lifted up his feeble voice to heaven, crying:
'My God! my God! Saronia!'
The multitude laughed and jeered, and the sun shone down upon the fated city.
'Take him up, men, and carry him within. Better he be out of sight.'
And they laid him on the marble floor at the feet of his mother, Myrtile of Delos.
Then Acratus chuckled within himself:
'Thank the gods he is gone. Not a nice thing to have a lover prying about, disturbing one's happiness. I saw him kiss her. He had the last; the next shall be mine, not Nero's! I will take care the brute never sets eyes on such loveliness. No, no; I will tame those dark eyes to look into mine, and train those crimson, oleander lips to bear me rich kisses of love. Now then, men, away! Saronia by this time has almost reached the wharves. I will load the spoils to-day, and to-morrow they leave. I will take my prize, the gloomy-eyed girl, with me to Pergamos, where I have more temples to rifle, and then, overflowing with wealth, I'll back to Rome.' And he moved away towards the Temple, muttering to himself: 'What care I for Varro the Proconsul? He cannot stay me in my career, armed as I am with mandate from Nero. He will vex and threaten should he know I have that woman. But it must end there. Acratus is supreme in this expedition, and cannot be interfered with, for Nero's sake.'
* * * * *
That day was employed by thousands of men carrying away the wealth of the Temple. Great bronze statues and marbled loveliness were dragged through the streets and shipped—shipped with ivory and gorgeous draperies; large sacks filled with treasure, gold, silver, and precious stones, instruments of music of rarest workmanship and paintings priceless, worth many times their weight in gold, became the property of the spoilers, until the great Temple was left desolate like a ship stripped of her cordage and sails, masts, and yards; the crew gone—a lonely hull on an open shore.
The people could not stop this tide of locusts. So they had it all their own way, save where some more noble than the rest were struck down for defending their goddess.
Saronia was taken on board the ship to Lucius. When she was handed on to the deck, he was about to thank the guard, who said:
'I deliver to you this woman, most noble Lucius. She belongs to Acratus, and he wishes you to care for her until he claims her.'
'Does he? Go, tell that reptile that should he put foot on board this ship to claim this woman, I will order my men to throw him into the sea, and drown him like a dog. Now begone!'
'Saronia,' said Lucius, 'thou art here. Come this way; thou art safe at last. Rest calmly as to the future. Whilst brave sailors may defend thee, no harm can come. I go on shore to fetch thy beloved Chios, and procure what is needed for thee, and thou shalt have attendance from that home wherein thou didst once reside. I am rejoiced to see thee. Think not of the past, Saronia. The past is gone far behind, and thou must think only of the joys of the future—all stored up for thee. I am alone in this great wilderness, and thou shalt be unto me as a child, and Chios shall be my son.'
'And Chios, thou wilt bring him, noble Lucius, kind as thou art valiant?'
'Bring him, girl? Certainly! The ship would refuse her helm were the best man in Ephesus left behind. Retire within, and make thyself pleased with the apartments set aside for thee.'
Then did Lucius with a light heart move to the shore, and hastened to the studio that he might greet Chios, and bring him with him to join Saronia. He went quietly up the way between the lines of flowers, heard the gentle breathings of the winds through the trees, and the song of birds which knew not of sorrow fell upon his ear.
He knocked at the door, but no one came. 'Is he from home? I hope not.' Then he gently opened the door, looked in, and an ominous silence fell around. Presently he walked within, saying, 'I shall explore this little place myself. It seems plain sailing, and needs not a pilot.' But, horror-stricken, he fell back a pace or two on seeing the body of Chios lying dead upon the floor, and beside him his mother, with her pale face looking up towards the azure and gold-starred ceiling (for Saronia had warned him of Endora's death).
For a moment Lucius was stricken as if a battle had gone against him. Then, gaining courage, he advanced, and, touching the body gently, said:
'Chios, my boy, Chios, art thou really gone?'
But no voice came back to him, and he knew too well that the noble spirit had fled. His first thought was of Saronia. What would she think of him? What would she do?
Then he sped from that house of death to order burial of the mother and son upon the flower-crowned hill of Pion, and went his way, bowed down with grief.
* * * * *
When Lucius arrived on board, accompanied with maiden slaves carrying raiment, precious jewels, flowers and fruits for Saronia, he found her anxiously awaiting him, and she immediately asked for Chios.
'He cannot come to-night,' replied he. 'He makes preparations to leave, and will not finish in time to join us. Thou must rest to-night, and gain strength after all the exciting events which have transpired. Thou hast here now trusty attendants who will minister to thy utmost wish. Rest thee to-night, child, and may the gods or thy God give thee sweet and pleasant dreams. Lucius will watch over thee, and the spirits of the good shield thee. Good-night, Saronia, and may to-morrow's sun rise full of joy for thee.'
Lucius knew full well that at early dawn the ship would sail. What could he do to break this awful news to her? Kill her he feared it would. If he remained another day he could not bring back the dead, and a question arose in his mind that, if Chios did not come next morning, Saronia at all hazards would refuse to proceed. He considered the position, and, having his crew on board and all prepared, he determined to cast adrift.
No, he could not do this. How could he face his daughter on the morrow without Chios? Would it not look like piracy to take her away? Could she believe otherwise than that it was all trickery? No; he must speak with her that very night. He knew the power of Saronia's mind, and it was best it should be done at once. He called one of the attendant slaves.
'Go, see if thy lady sleeps, and, if not, ask her permission for Lucius to speak with her.'
The girl came back and told him that Saronia sent word to Lucius saying she was too sorrowful to sleep, and would be happy to receive him.
Then, for the first time in his life, the courage of the hardy sailor forsook him, and he moved forward tremblingly.
'Good friend,' said she, 'in the hour of distress thou wouldst speak with Saronia?'
'Yes, but my heart is too full.'
'Say on. I may even comfort thee, although I myself am sad; but, stay, here is a little packet Chios gave me for thee. It is sealed. Perhaps it may be of great interest. Methinks it is, or Chios would not have sent it.'
He took it from her, broke open the seals, and read it, saying:
'It is all true. Thank the gods, she is safe at last, and where recompense may be made. Saronia, thou knowest of thy mother?'
'And thou also knowest of thy father? He forsook her and thee.'
'Thou didst not know him?'
'No, good sire.'
'Couldst thou forgive him, Saronia? Couldst thou forgive him, if he sought forgiveness?'
'Yea, for "mercy endureth for ever."'
'Then let Lucius kiss his child!'
'Art thou my father?'
'I am. Read this parchment which thou hast brought from the hands of Chios. It tells its own story.'
'Ah! now I see it all, and my life is no longer a mystery. Driven, as I have been, through a perilous maze of fate, I am on the verge of a brighter existence. It is well, father, we have met before I part from thee, perhaps for ever.'
'What dost thou mean, child?'
'I scarcely know, but a great vision stretches out into the future, a great life spreads out before me, but it is not an earth-life. This spirit of mine seems to be preparing to quit this form of clay; as a voyager standing on the strand ready to start on a long voyage, so stands my spirit.'
'Oh, Saronia, do not speak thus! Nothing ails thee. Thou art young, lovely, and in the bloom of life, and must not give way to such forebodings. Rest now with thine aged father awhile; bear him company until he sails into the great distance, casts anchor, furls sails, in a peaceful haven.'
'Would that I could! But our time here is limited to the beating of one heart's throb; and, as I have already said, my spirit, which is myself, stands ready to put out the lamp and leave. Where is Chios, father? Why is he not here? Where is my noble love? He is away, but yet I feel his presence near me. What does this mean, father? My sight grows dim, my breath fails me; too well I know the spirit's presence. Chios is dead, is he not? He is! He calls from beyond his body! Where does his body lie? Tell me! Tell me quickly, father! Thou wilt act the better part by letting me know all. Where is he? Speak, by the love thou bearest for thy only child! Where is Chios?'
'Oh, Saronia, why wouldst thou know? Thou wilt see him soon.'
'Yes; I shall see him soon;' and she fell back motionless.
Lucius raised her up and called assistance. After awhile she rallied, and looked up into the face of her father, saying:
'Kiss me, dearest one. It is well that Chios should have left first. We cannot remain apart; the great circle of our affinity will soon be completed. Watch over Saronia. It will soon end.'
* * * * *
The mighty fleet prepared to leave the port of Ephesus. One by one they left the harbour, entered the canal which led to the sea, and, as they cleared the harbour mouth, ranged into two squadrons, one on either side of the entrance; and when the last came out, which bore the flag of Lucius, they formed into two great lines, with the flagship in the rear.
A light breeze sprang up from the north-east, the braces were hauled in, and the ships danced merrily over the deep blue waters of the AEgean Sea windward of Samos, and Scios and Mount Coressus on the starboard hand. The wind was so favourable that the oars were little needed, save that some on the leeside kept stroke that the ships might make good weathering. Behind them rose the hills and mountains which guarded Ephesus, and the villas on their sides shone like spots of crystal; but the sun struck fiercely on the great white Temple of Diana, until it looked like molten silver. Away they sailed towards the Icarian Sea.
On a couch inlaid with gold reclined Saronia, and the rich curtains of her cabin were thrown back to allow the sweet, fresh salt air, impregnated with the perfume of roses and myrtle-blossoms, to fan her pale, sad cheeks. The soft eyes were filled with a far-away lustre, as if she saw visions of the future which none else could see. She was looking out upon the setting sun, which cast its golden light along the waves. Suddenly she seemed to grow cheerful, and said:
'Father, art thou here? Let me take thine hand. Where is Chios? He is not here. Is he dead? Thou art silent. He is gone, and I cannot stay. Come nearer to me, father. My bridal day is at hand. Bury me in the sea. Let no eye rest upon my grave. Let the ocean be my sepulchre, and the winds sing my requiem. This is happiness; this is joy! The eternal gates are uplifting. Farewell!'
And the spirit of Saronia had fled.
Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row. London
TRANSCRIBERS' NOTES General: corrections to punctuation have been made without individual notes General: Spelling of Megalobyzi, Megabyzus not standardised as the author has consistently spelt them that way. Page vi: Acratas standardised to Acratus Page 6: wil corrected to will Page 10: cithra as in original Page 24: opithodomus corrected to opisthodomus Page 132: spurious "the" removed after "terrible wails, at" Page 208: hose corrected to those Page 238: candelabrii as in original Pages 83, 213, 228: Heard'st, heardst not standardised as it is unclear whether the author intended them to be different Pages 95, 174: May'st, mayst not standardised as it is unclear whether the author intended them to be different