"You speak to my heart!" cried Karnis. "My old blood flows more swiftly already, and if I only had a thousand talents left to give. . ."
"You would stake them on the future Greek Empire," said Olympius eagerly. "And we have adherents without number who feel as you do, my trusty friend. We shall succeed—as the great Julian would have succeeded but for the assassins who laid him low at so early an age; for Rome. . ."
"Rome is still powerful."
"Rome is a colossus built up of a thousand blocks; but among them a hundred and more be but loosely in their places, and are ready to drop away from the body of the foul monster—sooner rather than later. Our shout alone will shake them down, and they will fall on our side, we may choose the best for our own use. Ere long—a few months only—the hosts will gather in the champaign country at the foot of Vesuvius, by land and by sea; Rome will open its gates wide to us who bring her back her old gods; the Senate will proclaim the emperor deposed and the Republic restored. Theodosius will come out against us. But the Idea for which we go forth to fight will hover before us, will stir the hearts of those soldiers and officers who would gladly—ah! how gladly-sacrifice to the Olympian gods and who only kiss the wounds of the crucified Jew under compulsion. They will desert from the labarum, which Constantine carried to victory, to our standards; and those standards are all there, ready for use; they have been made in this city and are lying hidden in the house of Apollodorus. Heaven-sent daemons showed them in a vision to my disciple Ammonius, when he was full of the divinity and lost in ecstasy, and I have had them made from his instructions."
"And what do they represent?"
"The bust of Serapis with the 'modius' on his head. It is framed in a circle with the signs of the zodiac and the images of the great Olympian deities. We have given our god the head of Zeus, and the corn-measure on his head is emblematic of the blessing that the husbandman hopes for. The zodiac promises us a good star, and the figures representing it are not the common emblems, but each deeply significant. The Twins, for instance, are the mariner's divinities, Castor and Pollux; Hercules stands by the Lion whom he has subdued; and the Fishes are dolphins, which love music. In the Scales, one holds the cross high in the air while the other is weighed down by Apollo's laurel-wreath and the bolts of Zeus; in short, our standard displays everything that is most dear to the soul of a Greek or that fills him with devotion. Above all, Nike hovers with the crown of victory. If only fitting leaders are to be found at the centres of the movement, these standards will at once be sent out, and with them arms for the country-folk. A place of meeting has already been selected in each province, the pass-word will be given, and a day fixed for a general rising."
"And they will flock round you!" interrupted Karnis, "and—I, my son, will not be absent. Oh glorious, happy, and triumphant day! Gladly will I die if only I may first live to see the smoking offerings sending up their fragrance to the gods before the open doors of every temple in Greece; see the young men and maidens dancing in rapt enthusiasm to the sound of lutes and pipes, and joining their voices in the chorus! Then light will shine once more on the world, then life will once more mean joy, and death a departure from a scene of bliss."
"Aye, and thus shall it be!" cried Olympius, fired by this eager exposition of his own excitement, and he wrung the musician's hand. "We will restore life to the Greeks and teach them to scorn death as of yore. Let the Christians, the Barbarians, make life miserable and seek joy in death, if they list! But the girls have ceased singing. There is still much to be done to-day, and first of all I must confute the objections of your recalcitrant pupil."
"You will not find it an easy task," said Karnis. "Reason is a feeble weapon in contending with a woman."
"Not always," replied the philosopher. "But you must know how to use it. Leave me to deal with the child. There are really no singing-women left here; we have tried three, but they were all vulgar and ill taught. This girl, when she sings with Gorgo, has a voice that will go to the heart of the audience. What we want is to fire the crowd with enthusiasm, and she will help us to do it."
"Well, well. But you, Olympius, you who are the very soul of the revulsion we hope for, you must not be present at the festival. Indeed, sheltered as you are under Porphyrius' roof, there is a price on your head, and this house swarms with slaves, who all know you; if one of them, tempted by filthy lucre . . ."
"They will not betray me," smiled the philosopher. "They know that their aged mistress, Damia, and I myself command the daemons of the upper and lower spheres, and that at a sign from her or from me they would instantly perish; and even if there were an Ephialtes among them, a spring through that loop-hole would save me. Be easy, my friend. Oracles and stars alike foretell me death from another cause than the treason of a slave."
Olympius followed Agne into the garden where he found her sitting by the marble margin of a small pool, giving her little brother pieces of bread to feed the swans with. He greeted her kindly and, taking up the child, showed him a ball which rose and fell on the jet of water from the fountain. Papias was not at all frightened by the big man with his white beard, for a bright and kindly gleam shone in his eyes, and his voice was soft and attractive as he asked him whether he had such another ball and could toss it as cleverly as the fountain did.
Papias said: "No," and Olympius, turning to Agne, went on:
"You should get him a ball. There is no better plaything, for play ought to consist in pleasant exertion which is in itself its object and gain. Play is the toil of a little child; and a ball, which he can throw and run after or catch, trains his eye, gives exercise to his limbs and includes a double moral which men of every age and position should act upon: To look down on the earth and keep his gaze on the heavens."
Agne nodded agreement and thanks, while Olympius set the child down and bid him run away to the paddock where some tame gazelles were kept. Then, going straight to the point, he said:
"I hear you have declined to sing in the temple of Isis; you have been taught to regard the goddess to whom many good men turn in faith and confidence, as a monster of iniquity, but, tell me, do you know what she embodies?"
"No," replied Agne looking down; but she hastily rose from her seat and added with some spirit: "And I do not want to know, for I am a Christian and your gods are not mine."
"Well, well; your beliefs, of course, differ from ours in many points: still, I fancy that you and I have much in common. We belong to those who have learnt to 'look upwards'—there goes the ball, up again!—and who find comfort in doing so. Do you know that many men believe that the universe was formed by concurrence of mechanical processes and is still slowly developing, that there is no divinity whose love and power guard, guide and lend grace to the lives of men?"
"Oh! yes, I have been obliged to hear many such blasphemous things in Rome!"
"And they ran off you like water off the silvery sheen of that swan's plumage as he dips and raises his neck. Those who deny a God are, in your estimation, foolish or perhaps abominable?"
"I pity them, with all my heart."
"And with very good reason. You are an orphan and what its parents are to a child the divinity is to every member of the human race. In this Gorgo, and I, and many others whom you call heathen, feel exactly as you do; but you—have you ever asked yourself why and how it is that you, to whom life has been so bitter, have such a perfect conviction that there is a benevolent divinity who rules the world and your own fate to kindly ends? Why, in short, do you believe in a God?"
"I?" said Ague, looking puzzled, but straight into his face. "How could anything exist without God? You ask such strange questions. All I can see was created by our Father in Heaven."
"But there are men born blind who nevertheless believe in Him."
"They feel Him just as I see Him."
"Nay you should say: 'As I believe that I see and feel Him.' But I, for my part, think that the intellect has a right to test what the soul only divines, and that it must be a real happiness to see this divination proved by well-founded arguments, and thus transformed to certainty. Did you ever hear of Plato, the philosopher?"
"Yes, Karnis often speaks of him when he and Orpheus are discussing things which I do not understand."
"Well, Plato, by his intellect, worked out the proof of the problem which our feelings alone are so capable of apprehending rightly. Listen to me: If you stand on a spit of land at the entrance to a harbor and see a ship in the distance sailing towards you—a ship which carefully avoids the rocks, and makes straight for the shelter of the port—are you not justified in concluding that there is, on board that ship, a man who guides and steers it? Certainly. You not only may, but must infer that it is directed by a pilot. And if you look up at the sky and contemplate the well-ordered courses of the stars—when you see how everything on earth, great and small, obeys eternal laws and unerringly tends to certain preordained ends and issues, you may and must infer the existence of a ruling hand. Whose then but that of the Great Pilot of the universe—the Almighty Godhead.—Do you like my illustration?"
"Very much. But it only proves what I knew before."
"Nevertheless, you must, I think, be pleased to find it so beautifully expressed."
"And must admire the wise man who thought out the comparison. Yes?—Well, that man again was one of those whom you call heathen, who believed as we believe, and who at the same time worked out the evidence of the foundations of his faith for you as well as himself. And we, the later disciples of Plato—[Known as the school of the Neo-Platonists]—have gone even further than our master, and in many respects are much nearer to you Christians than you perhaps suspect. You see at once, of course, that we are no more inclined than you to conceive of the existence of the world and the destiny of man as independent of a God? However, I dare say you still think that your divinity and ours are as far asunder as the east from the west. But can you tell me where any difference lies?"
"I do not know," said Ague uneasily. "I am only an ignorant girl; and who can learn the names even of all your gods?"
"Very true," said Olympius. "There is great Serapis, whose temple you saw yesterday; there is Apollo, to whom Karnis prefers to offer sacrifice; there is Isis the bountiful, and her sister Nephthys, whose lament you and my young friend sing together so thrillingly; and besides these there are more immortals than I could name while Gorgo—who is leading your little brother to the lake out there—walked ten times from the shore to us and back; and yet—and yet my child, your God is ours and ours is yours."
"No, no, He is not, indeed!" cried Agne with increasing alarm.
"But listen," Olympius went on, with the same kind urgency but with extreme dignity, "and answer my questions simply and honestly. We are agreed, are we not?—that we perceive the divinity in the works of his creation, and even in his workings in our own souls. Then which are the phenomena of nature in which you discern Him as especially near to you? You are silent. I see, you have outlived your school-days and do not choose to answer to an uninvited catechism. And yet the things I wish you to name are lovely in themselves and dear to your heart; and if only you did not keep your soft lips so firmly closed, but would give me the answer I ask for, you would remember much that is grand and beautiful. You would speak of the pale light of dawn, the tender flush that tinges the clouds as the glowing day-star rises from the waves, of the splendor of the sun-as glorious as truth and as warm as divine love. You would say: In the myriad blossoms that open to the morning, in the dew that bathes them and covers them with diamonds, in the ripening ears in the field, in the swelling fruit on the trees—in all these I see the mercy and wisdom of the divinity. I feel his infinite greatness as I gaze on the wide expanse of deep blue sea; it comes home to me at night when I lift my eyes to the skies and see the sparkling hosts of stars roll over my head. Who created that countless multitude, who guides them so that they glide past in glorious harmony, and rise and set, accurately timed to minutes and seconds, silent but full of meaning, immeasurably distant and yet closely linked with the fate of individual men?—All this bears witness to the existence of a God, and as you contemplate it and admire it with thankful emotion, you feel yourself drawn near to the Omnipotent. Aye, and even if you were deaf and blind, and lay bound and fettered in the gloom of a closely-shut cavern, you still could feel if love and pity and hope touched your heart. Rejoice then, child! for the immortals have endowed you with good gifts, and granted you sound senses by which to enjoy the beauty of creation. You exercise an art which binds you to the divinity like a bridge; when you give utterance to your whole soul in song that divinity itself speaks through you, and when you hear noble music its voice appeals to your ear. All round you and within you, you can recognize its power just as we feel it—everywhere and at all times.
"And this incomprehensible, infinite, unfettered, bountiful and infallibly wise Power, which penetrates and permeates the life of the universe as it does the hearts of men, though called by different names in different lands, is the same to every race, wherever it may dwell, whatever its language or its beliefs. You Christians call him the Heavenly Father, we give him the name of the Primal One. To you, too, your God speaks in the surging seas, the waving corn, the pure light of day; you, too, regard music which enchants your heart, and love which draws man to man, as his gifts; and we go only a step further, giving a special name to each phenomenon of nature, and each lofty emotion of the soul in which we recognize the direct influence of the Most High; calling the sea Poseidon, the corn-field Demeter, the charm of music Apollo, and the rapture of love Eros. When you see us offering sacrifice at the foot of a marble image you must not suppose that the lifeless, perishable stone is the object of our adoration. The god does not descend to inform the statue; but the statue is made after the Idea figured forth by the divinity it is intended to represent; and through that Idea the image is as intimately connected with the Godhead, as, by the bond of Soul, everything else that is manifest to our senses is connected with the phenomena of the supersensuous World. But this is beyond you; it will be enough for you if I assure you that the statue of Demeter, with the sheaf in her arms, is only intended to remind us to be grateful to the Divinity for our daily bread—a hymn of praise to Apollo expresses our thanks to the Primal One for the wings of music and song, on which our soul is borne upwards till it feels the very presence of the Most High. These are names, mere names that divide us; but if you were called anything else than Agne—Ismene, for instance, or Eudoxia—would you be at all different from what you are?—There you see—no, stay where you are—you must listen while I tell you that Isis, the much—maligned Isis, is nothing and represents nothing but the kindly influences of the Divinity, on nature and on human life. What she embodies to us is the abstraction which you call the loving-kindness of the Father, revealed in his manifold gifts, wherever we turn our eyes. The image of Isis reminds us of the lavish bounties of the Creator, just as you are reminded by the cross, the fish, and the lamb, of your Redeemer. Isis is the earth from whose maternal bosom the creative God brings forth food and comfort for man and beast; she is the tender yearning which He implants in the hearts of the lover and the beloved one; she is the bond of affection which unites husband and wife, brother and sister, which is rapture to the mother with a child at her breast and makes her ready and able for any sacrifice for the darling she has brought into the world. She shines, a star in the midnight sky, giving comfort to the sorrowing heart; she, who has languished in grief, pours balm into the wounded souls of the desolate and bereaved, and gives health and refreshment to the suffering. When nature pines in winter cold or in summer drought and lacks power to revive, when the sun is darkened, when lies and evil instincts alienate the soul from its pure first cause, then Isis uplifts her complaint, calling on her husband, Osiris, to return, to take her once more in his arms and fill her with new powers, to show the benevolence of God once more to the earth and to us men. You have learnt that lament; and when you sing it at her festival, picture yourself as standing with the Mother of Sorrows—the mother of your crucified divinity, by his open grave, and cry to your God that he may let him rise from the dead."
Olympius spoke the last words with excited enthusiasm as though he were certain of the young girl's consent; but the effect was not what he counted on; for Agne, who had listened to him, so far, with increasing agitation, setting herself against his arguments like a bird under the fascinating glare of the snake's eye, at this last address seemed suddenly to shake off the spell of his seductive eloquence as the leaves drop from the crown of a tree shaken by the blast; the ideas of her Saviour and of the hymn she was to sing were utterly irreconcilable in her mind; she remembered the struggle she had fought out during the night, and the determination with which she had come to the house this morning. All the insidious language she had just heard was forgotten, swept away like dust from a rocky path, and her voice was firmly repellent as she said:
"Your Isis has nothing in common with the Mother of our God, and how can you dare to compare your Osiris with the Lord who redeemed the world from death?"
Olympius, startled at the decision of her tone, rose from his seat, but he went on, as though he had expected this refusal:
"I will tell you—I will show you. Osiris—we will take him as being an Egyptian god, instead of Serapis in whose mysterious attributes you would find much to commend itself even to a Christian soul—Osiris, like your Master, voluntarily passed through death—to redeem the world from death—in this resembling your Christ. He, the Risen One, gives new light, and life, and blossom, and verdure to all that is darkened, dead and withered. All that seems to have fallen a prey to death is, by him, restored to a more beautiful existence; he, who has risen again, can bring even the departed soul to a resurrection; and when during this life its high aims have kept it unspotted by the dust of the sensual life, and he, as the judge, sees that it has preserved itself worthy of its pure First Cause, he allows it to return to the eternal and supreme Spirit whence it originally proceeded.
"And do not you, too, strive after purification, to the end that your soul may find an everlasting home in the radiant realms? Again and again do we meet with the same ideas, only they bear different forms and names. Try to feel the true bearing of my words, and then you will gladly join in the pathetic appeal to the sublime god to return. How like he is to your Lord! Is he not, like your Christ, a Saviour, and risen from the dead? The Temple or the Church—both are the sanctuaries of the Deity. By the ivy-wreathed altar of the weeping goddess, at the foot of the tall cypresses which cast their mysterious shadows on the snowy whiteness of the marble steps on which lies the bier of the god, you will feel the sacred awe which falls upon every pure soul when it is conscious of the presence of the Deity—call Him what you will.
"Isis, whom you now know, and who is neither more nor less than a personification of divine mercy, will make you a return by restoring you to the freedom for which you pine. She will allow you to find a home in some Christian house through our intervention, in acknowledgment of the pious service you are rendering, not to her but to the faith in divine goodness. There you may live with your little brother, as free as heart can desire. To-morrow you will go with Gorgo to the temple of the goddess . . ."
But Agne broke in on his speech: "No, I will not go with her!"
Her cheeks were scarlet and her breath came short and fast with excitement as she went on:
"I will not, I must not, I cannot! Do what you will with me: sell me and my brother, put us to turn a mill—but I will not sing in the temple!"
Olympius knit his brows; his beard quivered and his lips parted in wrath, but he controlled himself and going close to the girl he laid his hand on her shoulder and said in a deep grave tone of fatherly admonition:
"Reflect, child, pause; think over what I have been saying to you; remember, too, what you owe the little one you love, and to-morrow morning tell us that you have duly weighed your answer. Give me your hand, my daughter; believe me, Olympius is one of your sincerest well-wishers."
He turned his back on her and was going in doors. In front of the house Porphyrius and Karnis were standing in eager colloquy. The news that Marcus' mother Mary had sent for Herse had reached the singer, and his vivid fancy painted his wife as surrounded by a thousand perils, threatened by the widow, and carried before the judges. The merchant advised him to wait and see what came of it, as did Damia and Gorgo who were attracted to the spot by the vehemence of the discussion; but Karnis would not be detained, and he and Orpheus hurried off to the rescue. Thus Agne was left alone in the garden with her little brother, and perceiving that no one paid any further attention to their proceedings, she fell on her knees, clasped the child closely to her and whispered:
"Pray with me, Papias; pray, pray that the Lord will protect us, and that we may not be turned out of the way that leads us to our parents! Pray, as I do!"
For a minute she remained prostrate with the child by her side. Then, rising quickly, she took him by the hand and led him in almost breathless haste through the garden-gate out into the road, bending her steps towards the lake and then down the first turning that led to the city.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
People who have nothing to do always lack time Perish all those who do not think as we do Reason is a feeble weapon in contending with a woman Words that sounded kindly, but with a cold, unloving heart
By Georg Ebers
Agne's flight remained unperceived for some little time, for every member of the merchant's household was at the moment intent on some personal interest. When Karnis and Orpheus had set out Gorgo was left with her grandmother and it was not till some little time after that she went out into the colonnade on the garden side of the house, whence she had a view over the park and the shore as far as the ship-yard. There, leaning against the shaft of a pillar, under the shade of the blossoming shrubs, she stood gazing thoughtfully to the southward.
She was dreaming of the past, of her childhood's joys and privations. Fate had bereft her of a mother's love, that sun of life's spring. Below her, in a splendid mausoleum of purple porphyry, lay the mortal remains of the beautiful woman who had given her birth, and who had been snatched away before she could give her infant a first caress. But all round the solemn monument gardens bloomed in the sunshine, and on the further side of the wall covered with creepers, was the ship-yard, the scene of numberless delightful games. She sighed as she looked at the tall hulks, and watched for the man who, from her earliest girlhood, had owned her heart, whose image was inseparable from every thing of joy and beauty that she had ever known, and every grief her young soul had suffered under.
Constantine, the younger son of Clemens the shipbuilder, had been her brothers' companion and closest friend. He had proved himself their superior in talents and gifts, and in all their games had been the recognized leader. While still a tiny thing she would always be at their heels, and Constantine had never failed to be patient with her, or to help and protect her, and then came a time when the lads were all eager to win her sympathy for their games and undertakings. When her grandmother read in the stars that some evil influences were to cross the path of Gorgo's planet, the girl was carefully kept in the house; at other times she was free to go with the boys in the garden, on the lake or to the ship-yard. There the happy playmates built houses or boats; there, in a separate room, old Melampus modelled figure-heads for the finished vessels, and he would supply them with clay and let them model too. Constantine was an apt pupil, and Gorgo would sit quiet while he took her likeness, till, out of twenty images that he had made of her, several were really very like. Melampus declared that his young master might be a very distinguished sculptor if only he were the son of poor parents, and Gorgo's father appreciated his talent and was pleased when the boy attempted to copy the beautiful busts and statues of which the house was full; but to his parents, and especially his mother, his artistic proclivities were an offence. He himself, indeed, never seriously thought of devoting himself to such a heathenish occupation, for he was deeply penetrated by the Christian sentiments of his family, and he had even succeeded in inflaming the sons of Porphyrius, who had been baptized at an early age, with zeal for their faith. The merchant perceived this and submitted in silence, for the boys must be and remain Christians in consequence of the edict referring to wills; but the necessity for confessing a creed which was hateful to him was so painful and repulsive to a nature which, though naturally magnanimous was not very steadfast, that he was anxious to spare his sons the same experience, and allowed them to accompany Constantine to church and to wear blue—the badge of the Christians—at races and public games, with a shrug of silent consent.
With Gorgo it was different. She was a woman and need wear no colors; and her enthusiasm for the old gods and Greek taste and prejudices were the delight of her father. She was the pride of his life, and as he heard his own convictions echoed in her childish prattle, and later in her conversation and exquisite singing, he was grateful to his mother and to his friend Olympius who had implanted and cherished these feelings in his daughter. Constantine's endeavors to show her the beauty of his creed and to win her to Christianity were entirely futile; and the older they grew, and the less they agreed, the worse could each endure the dissent of the other.
An early and passionate affection attracted the young man to his charming playfellow; the more ardently he cherished his faith the more fervently did he desire to win her for his wife. But Olympius' fair pupil was not easy of conquest; nay, he was not unfrequently hard beset by her questions and arguments, and while, to her, the fight for a creed was no more than an amusing wrestling match, in which to display her strength, to him it was a matter in which his heart was engaged.
Damia and Porphyrius took a vain pleasure in their eager discussions, and clapped with delight, as though it were a game of skill, when Gorgo laughingly checkmated her excited opponent with some unanswerable argument.
But there came a day when Constantine discovered that his eager defence of that which to him was high and holy, was, to his hearers, no more than a subject of mockery, and henceforth the lad, now fast growing to manhood, kept away from the merchant's house. Still, Gorgo could always win him back again, and sometimes, when they were alone together, the old strife would be renewed, and more seriously and bitterly than of old. But while he loved her, she also loved him, and when he had so far mastered himself as to remain away for any length of time she wore herself out with longing to see him. They felt that they belonged to each other, but they also felt that an insuperable gulf yawned between them, and that whenever they attempted to clasp hands across the abyss a mysterious and irresistible impulse drove them to open it wider, and to dig it deeper by fresh discussions, till at last Constantine could not endure that she, of all people, should mock at his Holy of Holies and drag it in the dust.
He must go—he must leave Gorgo, quit Alexandria, cost what it might. The travellers' tales that he had heard from the captains of trading-vessels and ships of war who frequented his father's house had filled him with a love of danger and enterprise, and a desire to see distant lands and foreign peoples. His father's business, for which he was intended, did not attract him. Away—away—he would go away; and a happy coincidence opened a path for him.
Porphyrius had taken him one day on some errand to Canopus; the elder man had gone in his chariot, his two sons and Constantine escorting him on horseback. At the city-gates they met Romanus, the general in command of the Imperial army, with his staff of officers, and he, drawing rein by the great merchant's carriage, had asked him, pointing to Constantine, whether that were his son.
"No," replied Porphyrius, "but I wish he were." At these words the ship-master's son colored deeply, while Romanus turned his horse round, laid his hand on the young man's arm and called out to the commander of the cavalry of Arsinoe: "A soldier after Ares' own heart, Columella! Do not let him slip."
Before the clouds of dust raised by the officers' horses as they rode off, had fairly settled, Constantine had made up his mind to be a soldier. In his parents' house, however, this decision was seen under various aspects. His father found little to say against it, for he had three sons and only two shipyards, and the question seemed settled by the fact that Constantine, with his resolute and powerful nature, was cut out to be a soldier. His pious mother, on the other hand, appealed to the learned works of Clemens and Tertullian, who forbid the faithful Christian to draw the sword; and she related the legend of the holy Maximilianus, who, being compelled, under Diocletian, to join the army, had suffered death at the hands of the executioner rather than shed his fellow-creatures' blood in battle. The use of weapons, she added, was incompatible with a godly and Christian life.
His father, however, would not listen to this reasoning; new times, he said, were come; the greater part of the army had been baptized; the Church prayed for, victory, and at the head of the troops stood the great Theodosius, an exemplar of an orthodox and zealous Christian.
Clemens was master in his own house, and Constantine joined the heavy cavalry at Arsinoe. In the war against the Blemmyes he was so fortunate as to merit the highest distinction; after that he was in garrison at Arsinoe, and, as Alexandria was within easy reach of that town, he was in frequent intercourse with his own family and that of Porphyrius. Not quite three years previously, when a revolt had broken out in favor of the usurper Maximus in his native town, Constantine had assisted in suppressing it, and almost immediately afterwards he was sent to Europe to take part in the war which Theodosius had begun, again against Maximus.
An unpleasant misunderstanding had embittered his parting from Gorgo; old Damia, as she held his hand had volunteered a promise that she and her granddaughter would from time to time slay a beast in sacrifice on his behalf. Perhaps she had had no spiteful meaning in this, but he had regarded it as an insult, and had turned away angry and hurt. Gorgo, however, could not bear to let him go thus; disregarding her grandmother's look of surprise, she had called him back, and giving him both hands had warmly bidden him farewell. Damia had looked after him in silence and had ever afterwards avoided mentioning his name in Gorgo's presence.
After the victory over Maximus, Constantine, though still very young, was promoted to the command of the troop in the place of Columella, and he had arrived in Alexandria the day before at the head of his 'ala miliaria'.
[The ala miliaria consisted of 24 'turmae' or 960 mounted troopers under the conduct of a Prefect.]
Gorgo had never at any time ceased to think of him, but her passion had constantly appeared to her in the light of treason and a breach of faith towards the gods, so, to condone the sins she committed on one side by zeal on another, she had come forth from the privacy of her father's house to give active support to Olympius in his struggle for the faith of their ancestors. She had become a daily worshipper at the temple of Isis, and the hope of hearing her sing had already mere than once filled it to overflowing at high festivals. Then, while Olympius was defending the sanctuary of Serapis against the attacks of the Christians, she and her grandmother had become the leaders of a party of women who made it their task to provide the champions of the faith with the means of subsistence.
All this had given purpose to her life; still, every little victory in this contest had filled her soul with regrets and anxieties. For months and years she had been conspicuous as the opponent of her lover's creed, and the bright eager child had developed into a grave girl a clear-headed and resolute woman. She was the only person in the house who dared to contradict her grandmother, and to insist on a thing when she thought it right. The longing of her heart she could not still, but her high spirit found food for its needs in all that surrounded her, and, by degrees, would no doubt have gained the mastery and have been supreme in all her being and doing, but that music and song still fostered the softer emotions of her strong, womanly nature.
The news of Constantine's return had shaken her soul to the foundations. Would it bring her the greatest happiness or only fresh anguish and unrest?
She saw him coming!—The plume of his helmet first came in sight above the bushes, and then his whole figure emerged from among the shrubbery. She leaned against the pillar for support now, for her knees trembled under her. Tall and stately, his armor blazing in the sunshine, he came straight towards her—a man, a hero—exactly as her fancy had painted him in many a dark and sleepless hour. As he passed her mother's tomb, she felt as though a cold hand laid a grip on her beating heart. In a swift flash of thought she saw her own home with its wealth and splendor, and then the ship-builder's house-simple, chillingly bare, with its comfortless rooms; she felt as though she must perish, nipped and withered, in such a home. Again she thought of him standing on his father's threshold, she fancied she could hear his bright boyish laugh and her heart glowed once more. She forgot for the moment—clear-headed woman though she was, and trained by her philosopher to "know herself"—she forgot what she had fully acknowledged only the night before: That he would no more give up his Christ than she would her Isis, and that if they should ever reach the dreamed-of pinnacle of joy it must be for an instant only, followed by a weary length of misery. Yes—she forgot everything; doubts and fears were cast aside; as his approaching footsteps fell on her ear, she could hardly keep herself from flying, open armed, to meet him.
He was standing before her; she offered him her hand with frank gladness, and, as he clasped it in his, their hearts were too full for words. Only their eyes gave utterance to their feelings, and when he perceived that hers were sparkling through tears, he spoke her name once, twice—joyfully and yet doubtfully, as if he dared not interpret her emotion as he would. She laid her left hand lightly on his which still grasped her right, and said with a brilliant smile: "Welcome, Constantine, welcome home! How glad I am to see you back again!"
"And I—and I . . . " he began, greatly moved.
"O Gorgo! Can it really be years since we parted?"
"Yes, indeed," she said. "Anxious, busy, struggling years!"
"But to-day we celebrate the festival of Peace," he exclaimed fervently. "I have learnt to leave every man to go his own way so long as I am allowed to go mine. The old strife is buried; take me as I am and I, for my part, will think only of the noble and beautiful traits in which your nature is so rich. The fruit of all wholesome strife must be peace; let us pluck that fruit, Gorgo, and enjoy it together. Ah! as I stand here and gaze out over the gardens and the lake, hearing the hammers of the shipwrights, and rejoicing in your presence, I feel as though our childhood might begin all over again—only better, fuller and more beautiful!"
"If only my brothers were here!"
"I saw them."
"At Thessalonica, well and happy—I have letters for you from them."
"Letters!" cried Gorgo, drawing away her hand. "Well, you are a tardy messenger! Our houses are within a stone's throw, and yet in a whole day, from noon till noon, so old a friend could not find a few minutes to deliver the letters entrusted to him, or to call upon such near neighbors . . ."
"First there were my parents," interrupted the young soldier. "And then the tyrant military duty, which kept me on the stretch from yesterday afternoon till an hour or two since. Romanus robbed me even of my sleep, and kept me in attendance till the morn had set. However, I lost but little by that, for I could not have closed my eyes till they had beheld you! This morning again I was on duty, and rarely have I ridden to the front with such reluctance. After that I was delayed by various details; even on my way here—but for that I cannot be sorry for it gave me this chance of finding you alone. All I ask now is that we may remain so, for such a moment is not likely to be repeated.—There, I heard a door . . ."
"Come into the garden," cried Gorgo, signing to him to follow her. "My heart is as full as yours. Down by the tank under the old sycamores—we shall be quietest there."
Under the dense shade of the centenarian trees was a rough-hewn bench that they themselves had made years before; there Gorgo seated herself, but her companion remained standing.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. "Here—here you must hear me! Here where we have been so happy together!"
"So happy!" she echoed softly,
"And now," he went on, "we are together once more. My heart beats wildly, Gorgo; it is well that this breastplate holds it fast, for I feel as though it would burst with hope and thankfulness."
"Thankfulness?" said Gorgo, looking down.
"Yes, thankfulness—sheer, fervent passionate gratitude! What you have given me, what an inestimable boon, you yourself hardly know; but no emperor could reward love and fidelity more lavishly than you have done—you, the care and the consolation, the pain and the joy of my life! My mother told me—it was the first thing she thought of—how you shed tears of grief on her bosom when the false report of my death reached home. Those tears fell as morning dew on the drooping hopes in my heart, they were a welcome such as few travellers find on their return home. I am no orator, and if I were, how could speech in any way express my feelings? But you know them—you understand what it is, after so many years . . ."
"I know," she said looking up into his eyes, and allowing him to seize her hand as he dropped on the bench by her side. "If I did not I could not bear this—and I freely confess that I shed many more tears over you than you could imagine. You love me, Constantine . . ."
He threw his arm round her; but she disengaged herself, exclaiming:
"Nay—I implore you, not so—not yet, till I have told you what troubles me, what keeps me from throwing myself wholly, freely into the arms of happiness. I know what you will ask—what you have a right to ask; but before you speak, Constantine, remember once more all that has so often saddened our life, even as children, that has torn us asunder like a whirlwind although, ever since we can remember, our hearts have flowed towards each other. But I need not remind you of what binds us—that we both know well, only too well. . . ."
"Nay," he replied boldly: "That we are only beginning to know in all its fullness and rapture. The other thing the whirlwind of which you speak, has indeed tossed and tormented me, more than it has you perhaps; but since I have known that you could shed tears for me and love me I have had no more anxieties; I know for certain that all must come right! You love me as I am, Gorgo. I am no dreamer nor poet; but I can look forward to finding life lovely and noble if shared with you, so long as one—only one thing is sure. I ask you plainly and truly: Is your heart as full of love for me as mine is for you? When I was away did you think of me every day, every night, as I thought of you, day and night without fail?"
Gorgo's head sank and blushes dyed her cheeks as she replied: "I love you, and I have never even thought of any one else. My thoughts and yearnings followed you all the while you were away . . . and yet . . . oh, Constantine! That one thing . . ."
"It cannot part us," said the young man passionately, "since we have love—the mighty and gracious power which conquers all things! When love beckon: the whirlwind dies away like the breath from a child's lips; it can bridge over any abyss; it created the world and preserves the existence of humanity, it can remove mountains—and these are the most beautiful words of the greatest of the apostles: 'It is long suffering and kind, it believes all things, hopes all things' and it knows no end. It remains with us till death and will teach us to find that peace whose bulwark and adornment, whose child and parent it is!"
Gorgo had looked lovingly at him while he spoke, and he, pressing her hand to his lips went on with ardent feeling:
"Yes, you shall be mine—I dare, and I will go to ask you of your father. There are some words spoken in one's life which can never be forgotten. Once your father said that he wished that I was his son. On the march, in camp, in battle, wherever I have wandered, those words have been in my mind; for me they could have but one meaning: I would be his son—I shall be his son when Gorgo is my wife!—And now the time has come . . ."
"Not yet, not to-day," she interrupted eagerly. "My hopes are the same as yours. I believe with you that our love can bring all that is sweetest into our lives. What you believe I must believe, and I will never urge upon you the things that I regard as holiest. I can give up much, bear much, and it will all seem easy for your sake. We can agree, and settle what shall be conceded to your Christ and what to our gods—but not to-day; not even to-morrow. For the present let me first carry out the task I have undertaken—when that is done and past, then. . . . You have my heart, my love; but if I were to prove a deserter from the cause to-day or to-morrow it would give others—Olympius—a right to point at me with scorn."
"What is it then that you have undertaken?" asked Constantine with grave anxiety.
"To crown and close my past life. Before I can say: I am yours, wholly yours . . ."
"Are you not mine now, to-day, at once?" he urged.
"To day-no," she replied firmly. "The great cause still has a claim upon me; the cause which I must renounce for your sake. But the woman who gives only one person reason to despise her signs the death-warrant of her own dignity. I will carry out what I have undertaken. . . . Do not ask me what it is; it would grieve you to know.—The day after tomorrow, when the feast of Isis is over. . . ."
"Gorgo, Gorgo!" shouted Damia's shrill voice, interrupting the young girl in her speech, and half a dozen slave-women came rushing out in search of her.
They rose, and as they went towards the house Constantine said very earnestly:
"I will not insist; but trust my experience: When we have to give something up sooner or later, if the wrench is a painful one, the sooner and the more definitely it is done the better. Nothing is gained by postponement and the pain is only prolonged. Hesitation and delay, Gorgo, are a barrier built up by your own hand between us and our happiness. You always had abundance of determination; be brave then, now, and cut short at once a state of things that cannot last."
"Well, well," she said hurriedly. "But you must not, you will not require me to do anything that is beyond my strength, or that would involve breaking my word. To-morrow is not, and cannot be yours; it must be a day of leave-taking and parting. After that I am yours, I cannot live without you. I want you and nothing else. Your happiness shall be mine; only, do not make it too hard to me to part from all that has been dear to me from my infancy. Shut your eyes to tomorrow's proceedings, and then—oh! if only we were sure of the right path, if only we could tread it together! We know each other so perfectly, and I know, I feel, that it will perhaps be a comfort to our hearts to be patient with each other over matters which our judgment fails to comprehend or even to approve. I might be so unutterably happy; but my heart trembles within me, and I am not, I dare not be quite glad yet."
The young soldier was heartily welcomed by his friends of the merchant's family; but old Damia was a little uneasy at the attitude which he and Gorgo had taken up after their first greeting. He was agitated and grave, she was eager and excited, with an air of determined enterprise.
Was Eros at the bottom of it all? Were the young people going to carry out the jest of their childhood in sober earnest? The young officer was handsome and attractive enough, and her granddaughter after all was but a woman.
So far as Constantine was concerned the old lady had no personal objection to him; nay, she appreciated his steady, grave manliness and, for his own sake, was very glad to see him once more; but to contemplate the ship-builder's son—the grandson of a freedman—a Christian and devoted to the Emperor, even though he were a prefect or of even higher grade—as a possible suitor for her Gorgo, the beautiful heiress of the greater part of her wealth—the centre of attraction to all the gilded youth of Alexandria—this was too much for her philosophy; and, as she had never in her life restrained the expression of her sentiments, though she gave him a friendly hand and the usual greeting, she very soon showed him, by her irony and impertinence, that she was as hostile to his creed as ever.
She put her word in on every subject, and when, presently, Demetrius—who, after Dada's rebuff, had come on to see his uncle—began speaking of the horses he had been breeding for Marcus, and Constantine enquired whether any Arabs from his stables were to be purchased in the town, Damia broke out:
"You out-do your crucified God in most things I observe! He could ride on an ass, and a stout Egyptian nag is not good enough for you."
However, the young officer was not to be provoked; and though he was very well able to hold his own in a strife of words, he kept himself under control and pretended to see nothing in the old woman's taunts but harmless jesting.
Gorgo triumphed in his temperate demeanor, and thanked him with grateful glances and a silent grasp of the hand when opportunity offered.
Demetrius, who had also known Constantine as a boy, and who, through Porphyrius, had sold him his first charger, met him very warmly and told him with a laugh that he had seen him before that day, that he had evidently learnt something on his travels, that he had tracked the prettiest head of game in all the city; and he slapped him on the shoulder and gave him what he meant to be a very knowing glance. Constantine could not think where Demetrius had seen him or what he meant; while Gorgo supposed that he alluded to her, and thought him perfectly odious.
Porphyrius pelted the prefect with questions which Constantine was very ready to answer, till they were interrupted by some commotion in the garden. On looking out they saw a strange and unpleasing procession, headed by Herse who was scolding, thumping and dragging Dada's Egyptian slave, while her husband followed, imploring her to moderate her fury. Behind them came Orpheus, now and then throwing out a persuasive word to soothe the indignant matron. This party soon came up with the others, and Herse, unasked, poured out an explanation of her wrath.
She had had but a brief interview with Mary, Marcus' mother, for she had positively opposed the Christian lady's suggestion that Karnis and his family would do well to quit Alexandria as soon as possible, accepting an indemnification from Mary herself. To the widow's threats of seeking the intervention of the law, she had retorted that they were not public singers but free citizens who performed for their own enjoyment; to the anxious mother's complaints that Dada was doing all she could to attract Marcus, she had answered promptly and to the point that her niece's good name would certainly out-weigh anything that could be said against a young man to whom so much license was allowed in Alexandria. She would find some means of protecting her own sister's child. Mary had replied that Herse would do well to remember that she—Mary—had means at her command of bringing justice down on those who should attempt to entrap a Christian youth, and tempt him into the path of sin.
This had closed the interview. Herse had found her husband and son waiting for her at the door of Mary's house and had at once returned with them to the ship. There an unpleasant surprise awaited them; they had found no one on board but the Egyptian slave, who told them that Dada had sent her on shore to procure her some sandals; on her return the girl had vanished. The woman at the same time declared that she had seen Agne and her brother leave the garden and make for the high-road.
So far as the Christian girl was concerned Herse declared there would be no difficulty; but Dada, her own niece, had always clung to them faithfully, and though Alexandria was full of sorcerers and Magians they could hardly succeed in making away with a fullgrown, rational, and healthy girl. In her inexperience she had, no doubt, gone at the bidding of some perfidious wretch, and the Egyptian witch, the brown slave had, of course, had a finger in the trick. She would accuse no one, but she knew some people who would be only too glad if Dada and that baby-faced young Christian got into trouble and disgrace together. She delivered herself of this long story with tears of rage and regret, angrily refusing to admit any qualifying parentheses from her husband, to whose natural delicacy her rough and vociferous complaints were offensive in the presence of the high-bred ladies of the house. Old Damia, however, had listened attentively to her indignant torrent of words, and had only shrugged her shoulders with a scornful smile at the implied accusation of herself.
Porphyrius, to whom the whole business was simply revolting, questioned Herse closely and when the facts were clearly established, and it also was plainly proved that Agne had escaped from the garden, he desired the slave-woman to tell her story of all that had occurred during the absence of Karnis, promising her half a dozen stripes from the cane on the soles of her feet for every false word she might utter. The threat was enough to raise a howl from the Egyptian; but this Porphyries soon put a stop to, and Sachepris, with perfect veracity, told her tale of all that had happened till Herse's return to the vessel. The beginning of the narrative was of no special interest, but when she was pressed to go faster to the point she went on to say:
"And then—then my lord Constantine came to us on the ship, and the pretty mistress laughed with him and asked him to take off his helmet, because the pretty mistress wanted to see the cut, the great sword-cut above his eyes, and my lord Constantine took it off."
"It is a lie!" exclaimed Gorgo.
"No, no; it is true. Sachepris does not want her feet flayed, mistress," cried the slave. "Ask my lord Constantine himself."
"Yes, I went on board," said Constantine. "Just as I was crossing the ship-yard a young girl dropped her fan into the lake. I fished it out at her request, and carried it back to her."
"Yes, that was it," cried Sachepris. "And the pretty mistress laughed with my lord Constantine—is it not true?—and she took his helmet out of his hand and weighed it in hers . . ."
"And you could stop on your way here to trifle with that child?" cried Gorgo wrathfully. "Pah! what men will do!"
These words portended rage and intense disgust to Constantine. "Gorgo!" he cried with a reproachful accent, but she could not control her indignation and went on more vehemently than ever:
"You stopped—with that little hussy—on your way to me—stopped to trifle and flirt with her! Shame! Yes, I say shame! Men are thought lucky in being light-hearted, but, for my part, may the gods preserve me from such luck! Trifling, whispering, caressing—a tender squeeze of the hand—solemnly, passionately earnest!—And what next? Who dares warrant that it will not all be repeated before the shadows are an ell long on the shore!"
She laughed, a sharp, bitter laugh; but it was a short one. She ceased and turned pale, for her lover's face had undergone a change that terrified her. The scar on his forehead was purple, and his voice was strange, harsh and hoarse as he leaned forward to bring his face on a level with hers, and said:
"Even if you had seen me with your own eyes you ought not to have believed them! And if you dare to say that you do believe it, I can say Shame! as well as you. My life may be at stake but I say: Shame!"
As he spoke he clutched the back of a chair with convulsive fury and stood facing the girl like an avenging god of war, his eyes flashing to meet hers. This was too much for old Damia; she could contain herself no longer, and striking her crutch on the floor she broke out:
"What next shall we hear! You threaten and storm at the daughter of this house as if she were a soldier in your camp! Listen to me, my fine gentleman, and mind what I say: In the house of a free Alexandrian citizen no one has any right to give his orders—be he Caesar, Consul or Comes; he has only to observe the laws of good manners." Then turning to Gorgo she shook her head with pathetic emphasis; "This, my love, is the consequence of too much familiar condescension. Come, an end of this! Greeting and parting often go hand in hand."
The prefect turned on his heel and went towards the steps leading to the garden; but Gorgo flew after him and seized his hand, calling out to the old woman:
"No, no, grandmother; he is in the right, I am certain he is in the right. Stop, Constantine—wait, stay, and forgive my folly! If you love me, mother, say no more—he will explain it all presently."
The soldier heaved a sigh of relief and assented in silence, while the slave went on with her story: "And when my lord Constantine was gone, my lord Demetrius came and he—but what should poor Sachepris say—ask my lord Demetrius himself to tell you."
"That is soon done," replied Demetrius, who had failed to understand a great deal of all that had been going forward. My brother Marcus is over head and ears in love with the little puss—she is a pretty creature—and to save that simple soul from mischief I thought I would take the business on my own shoulders which are broader and stronger than his. I went boldly to work and offered the girl—more shame for me, I must say—the treasures of Midas; however, offering is one thing and accepting is another, and the child snapped me up and sent me to the right about—by Castor and Pollux! packed me off with my tail between my legs! My only comfort was that Constantine had just quitted the pretty little hussy. By the side of the god of war, thought I, a country Pan makes but a poor figure; but this Ares was dismissed by Venus, and so, if only to keep up my self-respect, I was forced to conclude that the girl, with all her pertness, was of a better sort than we had supposed. My presents, which would have tempted any other girl in Alexandria to follow a cripple to Hades, she took as an insult; she positively cried with indignation, and I really respect pretty little Dada!"
"She is my very own sister's child," Herse threw in, honestly angered by the cheap estimation in which every one seemed to hold her adopted child. "My own sister's," she insisted, with an emphasis which seemed to imply that she had a whole family of half-sisters. "Though we now earn our bread as singers, we have seen better days; and in these hard times Croesus to-day may be Irus to-morrow. As for us, Karnis did not dissipate his money in riotous living. It was foolish perhaps but it was splendid—I believe we should do the same again; he spent all his inheritance in trying to reinstate Art. However, what is the use of looking after money when it is gone! If you can win it, or keep it you will be held of some account, but if you are poor the dogs will snap at you!—The girl, Dada—we have taken as much care of her as if she were our own, and divided our last mouthful with her before now. Karnis used to tease her about training her voice—and now, when she could really do something to satisfy even good judges—now, when she might have helped us to earn a living-now. . ."
The good woman broke down and burst into tears, while Karnis tried to soothe and comfort her.
"We shall get on without them somehow," he said. "'Nil desperandum' says Horace the Roman. And after all they are not lizards that can hide in the cracks of the walls; I know every corner of Alexandria and I will go and hunt them up at once."
"And I will help you, my friend," said Demetrius, "We will go to the Hippodrome—the gentry you will meet with there are capital blood-hounds after such game as the daughter of your 'own sister,' my good woman. As to the black-haired Christian girl—I have seen her many a time on board ship. . ."
"Oh! she will take refuge with some fellow-Christians," remarked Porphyrius. "Olympius told me all about her. I know plenty of the same sort in the Church. They fling away life and happiness as if they were apple-peelings to snatch at something which they believe to constitute salvation. It is folly, madness! pure unmitigated madness! To have sung in the temple of the she-devil Isis with Gorgo and the other worshippers would have cost her her seat in Paradise. That, as I believe, is the cause of her flight."
"That and nothing else!" cried Karnis. "How vexed the noble Olympius will be. Indeed, Apollo be my witness! I have not been so disturbed about anything for many a day. Do you happen to recollect," he went on, turning to Demetrius, "our conversation on board ship about a dirge for Pytho? Well, we had transposed the lament of Isis into the Lydian mode, and when this young lady's wonderful voice gave it out, in harmony with Agne's and with Orpheus' flute, it was quite exquisite! My old heart floated on wings as I listened! And only the day after to-morrow the whole crowd of worshippers in the temple of Isis were to enjoy that treat!—It would have roused them to unheard-of enthusiasm. Yesterday the girl was in it, heart and soul; nay, only this morning she and the noble Gorgo sang it through from beginning to end. One more rehearsal to-morrow, and then the two voices would have given such a performance as perhaps was never before heard within the temple walls."
Constantine had listened to this rhapsody with growing agitation; he was standing close to Gorgo, and while the rest of the party held anxious consultation as to what could be done to follow up and capture the fugitives, he asked Gorgo in a low voice, but with gloomy looks:
"You intended to sing in the temple of Isis? Before the crowd, and with a girl of this stamp?"
"Yes," she said firmly.
"And you knew yesterday that I had come home?" She nodded.
"And yet, this morning even, while you were actually expecting me, you could practise the hymn with such a creature?"
"Agne is not such another as the girl who played tricks with your helmet," replied Gorgo, and the black arches of her eyebrows knit into something very like a scowl. "I told you just now that I was not yours today, nor to-morrow. We still serve different gods."
"Indeed we do!" he exclaimed, so vehemently that the others looked round, and old Damia again began to fidget in her chair.
Then with a strong effort he recovered himself and, after standing for some minutes gazing in silence at the ground, he said in a low tone:
"I have borne enough for to-day. Gorgo, pause, reflect. God preserve me from despair!"
He bowed, hastily explained that his duties called him away, and left the spot.
The amateurs of horse-racing who assembled in the Hippodrome could afford no clue to Dada's hiding-place, because she had not, in fact, run away with any gay young gallant. Within a few minutes of her sending Sachepris to fetch her a pair of shoes, Medius had hailed her from the shore; he wanted to speak with Karnis, and having come on an ass it was not in vain that the incensed damsel entreated him to take her with him. He had in fact only come to try to persuade Karnis and his wife to spare Dada for a few performances, such as he had described, in the house of Posidonius. His hopes of success had been but slender; and now the whole thing had settled itself, and Dada's wish that her people should not, for a while, know where to find her was most opportune for his plans.
In the days when Karnis was the manager of the theatre at Tauromenium Medius had led the chorus, and had received much kindness at the hands of the girl's uncle. All this, he thought, he could now repay, for certainly his old patron was poor enough, and he intended honestly to share with his former benefactor the profits he expected to realize with so fair a prodigy as Dada. No harm could come to the girl, and gold—said he to himself—glitters as brightly and is just as serviceable, even when it has been earned for us against our will.
Medius, being a cautious man, made the girl bring her new dress away with her, and the girdle and jewels belonging to it, and his neat hands packed everything into the smallest compass. He filled up the basket which he took for the purpose with sweetmeats, oranges and pomegranates "for the children at home," and easily consoled Dada for the loss of her shoes. He would lead the ass and she should ride. She covered her face with a veil, and her little feet could be hidden under her dress. When they reached his house he would at once have "a sweet little pair of sandals" made for her by the shoemaker who worked for the wife of the Comes and the daughters of the Alabarch—[The chief of the Jewish colony in Alexandria.]—These preparations and the start only took a few minutes; and their rapid search and broken conversation caused so much absurd confusion that Dada had quite recovered her spirits and laughed merrily as she tripped bare-foot across the strand. She sprang gaily on to the little donkey and as they made their way along the road, the basket containing her small wardrobe placed in front of her on the ass's shoulders, she remarked that she should be mistaken for the young wife of a shabby old husband, returning from market with a load of provisions.
She was delighted to think of what Herse's face would be when, on her return home, she should discover that the prisoner could make her escape even without shoes.
"Let her have a good hunt for me!" she cried quite enchanted. "Why should I always be supposed to be ready for folly and wickedness! But one thing I warn you: If I am not comfortable and happy with you, and if I do not like the parts you want me to fill, we part as quickly as we have come together.—Why are you taking me through all these dirty alleys? I want to ride through the main streets and see what is going on." But Medius would not agree to this, for in the great arteries of the town there were excitement and tumult, and they might think themselves fortunate if they reached his house unmolested.
He lived in a little square, between the Greek quarter and Rhacotis where the Egyptians lived, and his house, which was exactly opposite the church of St. Marcus, accommodated Medius himself, his wife, his widowed daughter and her five children, besides being crammed from top to bottom with all sorts of strange properties, standing or hanging in every available space. Dada's curiosity had no rest, and by the time she had spent a few hours in the house her host's pretty little grandchildren were clinging to her with devoted affection.
Agne had not been so fortunate as to find a refuge so easily. With no escort, unveiled, and left entirely to her own guidance, leading the little boy, she hurried forward, not knowing whither. All she thought was to get away—far away from these men who were trying to imperil her immortal soul.
She knew that Karnis had actually bought her, and that she was, therefore, his property and chattel. Even Christian doctrine taught her that the slave must obey his master; but she could not feel like a slave, and if indeed she were one her owner might destroy and kill her body, but not her soul. The law, however, was on the side of Karnis, and it allowed him to pursue her and cast her into prison. This idea haunted her, and for fear of being caught she avoided all the chief thoroughfares and kept close to the houses as she stole through the side streets and alleys. Once, in Antioch, she had seen a runaway slave, who, having succeeded in reaching a statue of the Emperor and laying his hand on it, was by that act safe from his pursuers. There must surely be such a statue somewhere in Alexandria—but where? A woman, of whom she enquired, directed her down a wider street that would take her into the Canopic Way. If she crossed that and went down the first turning to the left she would reach a large open square in the Bruchium, and there, in front of the Prefect's residence and by the side of the Bishop's house, stood the new statue of Theodosius.
This information, and the mention of the Bishop, gave a new course to her proceedings. It was wrong to defy and desert her master, but to obey him would be deadly sin. Which must she choose and which avoid? Only one person could advise in such a case—only one could relieve her mind of its difficulties and terrors: The Shepherd of souls in the city—the Bishop himself. She too was a lamb of his flock; to him and to no one else could she turn.
This thought fell on her heart like a ray of light dispersing the clouds of uncertainty and alarm. With a deep breath of relief she took the child in her arms and told him—for he was whimpering to know where she was taking him, and why he might not go back to Dada—that they were going to see a good, kind man who would tell them the way home to their father and mother. Papias, however, still wailed to go to Dada and not to the man.
Half insisting and half coaxing him with promises, she dragged him along as far as the main street. This was full of an excited throng; soldiers on foot and on horseback were doing what they could to keep the peace, and the bustle amused the little boy's curiosity so that he soon forgot his homesickness. When, at length, Ague found the street that led to the Prefect's house she was fairly carried along by the surging, rushing mob. To turn was quite impossible; the utmost she could do was to keep her wits about her, and concentrate her strength so as not to be parted from the child. Pushed, pulled, squeezed, scolded, and abused by other women for her folly in bringing a child out into such a crowd, she at last found herself in the great square. A hideous hubbub of coarse, loud voices pierced her unaccustomed ears; she could have sunk on the earth and cried; but she kept up her courage and collected all her energies, for she saw in the distance a large gilt cross over a lofty doorway. It was like a greeting and welcome home. Under its protection she would certainly, find rest, consolation and safety.
But how was she to reach it? The space before her was packed with men as a quiver is packed with arrows; there was not room for a pin between. The only chance of getting forward was by forcing her way, and nine-tenths of the crowd were men—angry and storming men, whose wild and strange demeanor filled her with terror and disgust. Most of them were monks who had flocked in at the Bishop's appeal from the monasteries of the desert, or from the Lauras and hermitages of Kolzum by the Red Sea, or even from Tabenna in Upper Egypt, and whose hoarse voices rent the air with vehement cries of: "Down with the idols! Down with Serapis! Death to the heathen!"
This army of the Saviour whose very essence was gentleness and whose spirit was love, seemed indeed to have deserted from his standard of light and grace to the blood-stained banner of murderous hatred. Their matted locks and beards fringed savage faces with glowing eyes; their haggard or paunchy nakedness was scarcely covered by undressed hides of sheep and goats; their parched skins were scarred and striped by the use of the scourges that hung at their girdles. One—a "crown bearer"—had a face streaming with blood, from the crown of thorns which he had vowed to wear day and night in memory and imitation of the Redeemer's sufferings, and which on this great occasion he pressed hard into the flesh with ostentatious martyrdom. One, who, in his monastery, had earned the name of the "oil-jar," supported himself on his neighbors' arms, for his emaciated legs could hardly carry his dropsical carcass which, for the last ten years, he had fed exclusively on gourds, snails, locusts and Nile water. Another was chained inseparably to a comrade, and the couple dwelt together in a cave in the limestone hills near Lycopolis. These two had vowed never to let each other sleep, that so their time for repentance might be doubled, and their bliss in the next world enhanced in proportion to their mortifications in this.
One and all, they were allies in a great fight, and the same hopes, ideas, and wishes fired them all. The Abominable Thing—which imperilled hundreds of thousands of souls, which invited Satan to assert his dominion in this world—should fall this day and be annihilated forever! To them the whole heathen world was the "great whore;" and though the gems she wore were beautiful to see and rejoiced the mind and heart of fools, they must be snatched from her painted brow; they would scourge her from off the face of the redeemed earth and destroy the seducer of souls forever. "Down with the idols! Down with Serapis! Down with the heathen!" Their shouts thundered and bellowed all about Agne; but, just as the uproar and crush were at the worst, a tall and majestic figure appeared on a balcony above the cross and extended his hand in calm and dignified benediction towards the seething mass of humanity. As he raised it all present, including Ague, bowed and bent the knee.
Agne felt, knew, that this stately man was the Bishop whom she sought, but she did not point him out to her little brother, for his aspect was that of some proud sovereign rather than of "the good, kind man" of whom she had dreamed. She could never dare to force her way into the presence of this great lord! How should the ruler over a million souls find time or patience for her and her trivial griefs?
However, there must be within his dwelling sundry presbyters and deacons, and she would address herself to one of them, as soon as the crowd had dispersed enough for her to make her way to the door beneath the cross. Twenty times at least did she renew her efforts, but she made very small progress; most of the monks, as she tried to squeeze past them, roughly pushed her back; one, on whose arm she ventured to lay her hand, begging him to make way for her, broke out into shrieks as though a serpent had stung him, and when the crush brought her into contact with the crown-bearer he thrust her away exclaiming:
"Away woman! Do not touch me, spawn of Satan tool of the evil one! or I will tread you under foot!"
Retreat had been as impossible as progress, and long hours went by which to her seemed like days; still she felt no fatigue, only alarm and disgust, and, more than anything else, an ardent desire to reach the Bishop's palace and take counsel of a priest. It was long past noon when a diversion took place which served at any rate to interest and amuse the crying child.
On the platform above the doorway Cynegius came forth—Cynegius, the Emperor's delegate; a stout man of middle height, with a shrewd round head and a lawyer's face. State dignitaries, Consuls and Prefects had, at this date, ceased to wear the costume that had marked the patricians of old Rome—a woollen toga that fell in broad and dignified folds from the shoulders; a long, close-fitting robe had taken its place, of purple silk brocade with gold flowers. On the envoy's shoulder blazed the badge of the highest officials, a cruciform ornament of a peculiarly thick and costly tissue. He greeted the crowd with a condescending bow, a herald blew three blasts on the tuba, and then Cynegius, with a wave of his hand introduced his private secretary who stood by his side, and who at once opened a roll he held and shouted at the top of a ringing voice:
"Silence in Caesar's name!"
The trumpet then sounded for the fourth time, and silence so complete fell on the crowded square that the horses of the mounted guard in front of the Prefect's house could be heard snorting and champing.
"In Caesar's name," repeated the official, who had been selected for the duty of reading the Imperial message. Cynegius himself bent his head, again waved his hand towards his secretary, and then towards the statues of the Emperor and Empress which, mounted on gilt standards, were displayed to the populace on each side of the balcony; then the reading began:
"Theodosius Caesar greets the inhabitants of the great and noble city of Alexandria, by Cynegius, his faithful ambassador and servant. He knows that its true and honest citizens confess the Holy Faith in all piety and steadfastness, as delivered to believers in the beginning by Peter, the prince of the Apostles; he knows that they hold the true Christian faith, and abide by the doctrine delivered by the Holy Ghost to the Fathers of the Church in council at Nicaea.
"Theodosius Caesar who, in all humility and pride, claims to be the sword and shield, the champion and the rampart of the one true faith, congratulates his subjects of the great and noble city of Alexandria inasmuch as that most of them have turned from the devilish heresy of Arius, and have confessed the true Nicaean creed; and he announces to them, by his faithful and noble servant Cynegius, that this faith and no other shall be recognized in Alexandria, as throughout his dominions.
"In Egypt, as in all his lands and provinces, every doctrine opposed to this precious creed shall be persecuted, and all who confess, preach or diffuse any other doctrine shall be considered heretics and treated as such."
The secretary paused, for loud and repeated shouts of joy broke from the multitude. Not a dissentient word was heard-indeed, the man who should have dared to utter one would certainly not have escaped unpunished. It was not till the herald had several times blown a warning blast that the reader could proceed, as follows:
"It has come to the ears of your Caesar, to the deep grieving of his Christian soul, that the ancient idolatry, which so long smote mankind with blindness and kept them wandering far from the gates of Paradise, still, through the power of the devil, has some temples and altars in your great and noble city. But because it is grievous to the Christian and clement heart of the Emperor to avenge the persecutions and death which so many holy martyrs have endured at the hands of the bloodthirsty and cruel heathen on their posterity, or on the miscreant and—misbelieving enemies of our holy faith—and because the Lord hath said 'vengeance is mine'—Theodosius Caesar only decrees that the temples of the heathen idols in this great and noble city of Alexandria shall be closed, their images destroyed and their altars overthrown. Whosoever shall defile himself with blood, or slay an innocent beast for sacrifice, or enter a heathen temple, or perform any religious ceremony therein, or worship any image of a god made by hands-nay, or pray in any temple in the country or in the city, shall be at once required to pay a fine of fifteen pounds of gold; and whosoever shall know of such a crime being committed without giving information of it, shall be fined to the same amount."—[Codex Theodosianus XVI, 10, 10.]
The last words were spoken to the winds, for a shout of triumph, louder and wilder than had ever before been heard even on this favorite meeting-place of the populace, rent the very skies. Nor did it cease, nor yield to any trumpet-blast, but rolled on in spreading waves down every street and alley; it reached the ships in the port, and rang through the halls of the rich and the hovels of the poor; it even found a dull echo in the light-house at the point of Pharos, where the watchman was trimming the lamp for the night; and in an incredibly short time all Alexandria knew that Caesar had dealt a death-blow to the worship of the heathen gods.
The great and fateful rumor was heard, too, in the Museum and the Serapeum; once more the youth who had grown up in the high schools of the city, studying the wisdom of the heathen, gathered together; men who had refined and purified their intellect at the spring of Greek philosophy and fired their spirit with enthusiasm for all that was good and lovely in the teaching of ancient Greece—these obeyed the summons of their master, Olympius, or flew to arms under the leadership of Orestes, the Governor, for the High-Priest himself had to see to the defences of the Serapeum.—Olympius had weapons ready in abundance, and the youths rapidly collected round the standards he had prepared, and rushed into the square before the Prefect's house to drive away the monks and to insist that Cynegius should return forthwith to Rome with the Emperor's edict.
Young and noble lads were they who marched forth to the struggle, equipped like the Helleman soldiers of the palmy days of Athens; and as they went they sang a battle-song of Callinus which some one—who, no one could tell—had slightly altered for the occasion:
"Come, rouse ye Greeks; what, sleeping still! Is courage dead, is shame unknown? Start up, rush forth with zealous will, And smite the mocking Christians down!"
Everything that opposed their progress was overthrown. Two maniples of foot-soldiers who held the high-road across the Bruchium attempted to turn them, but the advance of the inflamed young warriors was irresistible and they reached the street of the Caesareum and the square in front of the Prefect's residence. Here they paused to sing the last lines of their battlesong:
"Fate seeks the coward out at home, He dies unwept, unknown to fame, While by the hero's honored tomb Our grandsons' grandsons shall proclaim: 'In the great conflict's fiercest hour He stood unmoved, our shield and tower.'"
It was here, at the wide opening into the square, that the collision took place: on one side the handsome youths, crowned with garlands, with their noble Greek type of heads, thoughtful brows, perfumed curls, and anointed limbs exercised in the gymnasium—on the other the sinister fanatics in sheep-skin, ascetic visionaries grown grey in fasting, scourging, and self-denial.
The monks now prepared to meet the onset of the young enthusiasts who were fighting for freedom of thought and enquiry, for Art and Beauty. Each side was defending what it felt to be the highest Good, each was equally in earnest as to its convictions, both fought for something dearer and more precious than this earthly span of existence. But the philosophers' party had swords; the monks' sole weapon was the scourge, and they were accustomed to ply that, not on each other but on their own rebellious flesh. A wild and disorderly struggle began with swingeing blows on both sides; prayers and psalms mingling with the battle-song of the heathen. Here a monk fell wounded, there one lay dead, there again lay a fine and delicate-looking youth, felled by the heavy fist of a recluse. A hermit wrestled hand to hand with a young philosopher who, only yesterday had delivered his first lecture on the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus to an interested audience.
And in the midst of this mad struggle stood Agne with her little brother, who clung closely to her skirts and was too terrified to shed a tear or utter a cry. The girl was resolutely calm, but she was too utterly terror-stricken even to pray. Fear, absorbing fear had stunned her thoughts; it overmastered her like some acute physical pain which began in her heart and penetrated every fibre of her frame.
Even while the Imperial message was being read she had been too frightened to take it all in; and now she simply shut her eyes tight and hardly understood what was going on around her, till a new and different noise sounded close in her ears: the clatter of hoofs, blare of trumpets and shouts and screams. At last the tumult died away and, when she ventured to open her eyes and look about her, the place all round her was as clear as though it had been swept by invisible hands; here and there lay a dead body and there still was a dense crowd in the street leading to the Caesareum, but even that was dispersing and retreating before the advance of a mounted force.
She breathed freely once more, and released the child's head from the skirt of her dress in which he had wrapped and buried it. The end of her alarms was not yet come, however, for a troop of the young heathen came flying across the square in wild retreat before a division of the heavy cavalry, which had intervened to part the combatants.
The fugitives came straight towards her; again she closed her eyes tightly, expecting every instant to find herself under the horses' feet. Then one of the runaways knocked down Papias, and she could bear no more; her senses deserted her, her knees failed under her, she lost consciousness, and with a dull groan she fell on the dusty pavement. Close to her, as she lay, rushed the pursued and the pursuers—and at last, how long after she knew not, when she recovered her senses she felt as if she were floating in the air, and presently perceived that a soldier had her in his arms and was carrying her like a child.
Fresh alarms and fresh shame overwhelmed the poor girl; she tried to free herself and found him quite ready to set her down. When she was once more on her feet and felt that she could stand she glanced wildly round her with sudden recollection, and then uttered a hoarse cry, for her mouth and tongue were parched:
"Christ Jesus! Where is my brother?" She pushed back her hair with a desperate gesture, pressing her hands to her temples and peering all round her with a look of fevered misery.
She was still in the square and close to the door of the Prefect's house; a man on horseback, in all probability her preserver's servant, was following them, leading his master's horse. On the pavement lay wounded men groaning with pain; the street of the Caesareum was lined with a double row of footsoldiers of Papias no sign!
Again she called him, and with such deep anguish in her voice, which was harsh and shrill with terror, that the young officer looked at her with extreme compassion.
"Papias, Papias—my little brother! O God my Saviour!—where, where is the child?"
"We will have him sought for," said the soldier whose voice was gentle and kind. "You are too young and pretty—what brought you into this crowd and amid such an uproar?"
She colored deeply and looking down answered low and hurriedly: "I was going to see the Bishop."
"You chose an evil hour," replied Constantine, for it was he who had found her lying on the pavement and who had thought it only an act of mercy not to trust so young and fair a girl to the protection of his followers. "You may thank God that you have got off so cheaply. Now, I must return to my men. You know where the Bishop lives? Yes, here. And with regard to your little brother. . . . Stay; do you live in Alexandria?" "No, my lord."
"But you have some relation or friend whom you lodge with?"
"No, my lord. I am . . . I have . . . I told you, I only want to see my lord the Bishop."
"Very strange! Well, take care of yourself. My time is not my own; but by-and-bye, in a very short time, I will speak to the city watchmen; how old is the boy?"
"And with black hair like yours?"
"No, my lord—fair hair," and as she spoke the tears started to her eyes. "He has light curly hair and a sweet, pretty little face."
The prefect smiled and nodded. "And if they find him," he went on, "Papias, you say, is his name where is he to be taken?"
"I do not know, my lord, for—and yet! Oh! my head aches, I cannot think—if only I knew. . . . If they find him he must come here—here to my lord the Bishop."
"To Theophilus?" said Constantine in surprise. "Yes, yes—to him," she said hastily. "Or—stay—to the gate-keeper at the Bishop's palace."
"Well, that is less aristocratic, but perhaps it is more to the purpose," said the officer; and with a sign to his servant, he twisted his hand in his horse's mane, leaped into the saddle, waved her a farewell, and rejoined his men without paying any heed to her thanks.
There was much bustle and stir in the hall of the Episcopal palace. Priests and monks were crowding in and out; widows, who, as deaconesses, were entrusted with the care of the sick, were waiting, bandages in hand, and discussing their work and cases, while acolytes lifted the wounded on to the litters to carry them to the hospitals.
The deacon Eusebius, whom we have met as the spiritual adviser of Marcus, was superintending the good work, and he took particular care that as much attention should be shown to the wounded heathen as to the Christians.
In front of the building veterans of the twenty-first legion paced up and down in the place of the ordinary gate-keepers, who were sufficient protection in times of peace.
Agne looked in vain for any but soldiers, but at last she slipped in unobserved among the men and women who were tending the wounded. She was terribly thirsty, and seeing one of the widows mixing some wine and water and offer it to one of the wounded men who pushed it away, she took courage and begged the deaconess to give her a drink. The woman handed her the cup at once, asking to whom she belonged that she was here.
"I want to see my lord, the Bishop," replied Agne, but then correcting herself, she added hastily: "If I could see the Bishop's gate-keeper, I might speak to him."
"There he is," said the deaconess, pointing to an enormously tall man standing in the darkest and remotest corner of the hall. The darkness reminded her for the first time that it was now evening. Night was drawing on, and then where could she take refuge and find shelter? She shuddered and simply saying: "Thank you," she went to the man who had been pointed out to her and begged that if her little brother should be found and brought to him, he would take charge of him.
"To be sure," said the big man good-naturedly. "He can be taken to the orphanage of the 'Good Samaritan' if they bring him here, and you can enquire for him there."
She then made so bold as to ask if she could see a priest; but for this she was directed to go to the church, as all those who were immediately attached to the Bishop were to-day fully occupied, and had no time for trifles. Agne, however, persisted in her request till the man lost patience altogether and told her to be off at once; but at this instant three ecclesiastics came in at the door by which her friend was on guard, and Agne, collecting all her courage, went up to one of them, a priest of advanced age, and besought him urgently:
"Oh! reverend Father, I beg of you to hear me. I must speak to a priest, and that man drives me away and says you none of you have time to attend to me!"
"Did he say that!" asked the priest, and he turned angrily on the culprit saying: "The Church and her ministers never lack time to attend to the needs of any faithful soul—I will follow you, brothers.—Now, my child, what is it that you need?"
"It lies so heavily on my soul," replied Agne, raising her eyes and hands in humble supplication. "I love my Saviour, but I cannot always do exactly as I should wish, and I do not know how I ought to act so as not to fall into sin."