'Truly, I think you might,' cried Fausta; 'having chosen for yourself so elysian a spot, and filled it with such inhabitants, it is no great proof of a contented spirit that you should love to inhabit it. But how many such spots does the world present?—and how many such inhabitants? The question I think is, would you be ready to accept the common lot of man as an immortal one? I can easily believe that many, were they seated in these gardens, and waited on by attendant slaves, and their whole being made soft and tranquil, and exempt from care and fear, would say, 'Ensure me this, and I ask no more.' For myself, indeed, I must say it would not be so. I think not even the lot of Zenobia, enthroned as she is in the hearts of millions, nor yet thine, Julia, beloved not less than Zenobia, would satisfy me. I have now all that my utmost desires crave. Yet is there a part of me, I know not what it is, nor where it is, that is not full. I confess myself restless and unsatisfied. No object, no study, no pursuit, no friendship—forgive me, Julia,'—and she kissed her hand,—'no friendship even, satisfies and fills me.'
'I do not wonder,' said Julia.
'But how much unhappiness is there spread over the earth,' continued Fausta: 'I, and you, and Piso perhaps too, are in a state of dissatisfaction. And yet we are perched, as it were, upon the loftiest heights of existence. How must it be with those who are so far inferior to us as multitudes are in their means of happiness? From how many ills are we shielded, which rain down sharp-pointed, like the hail storms of winter, upon the undefended heads of the poor and low? They, Piso, would not, I think, pray that their lot might he immortal.'
'Indeed I think not,' said I. 'Yet, perhaps, their lot is not so much more miserable than yours, as the difference in outward condition might lead one to think. Remember, the slave and the poor do not feel as you would, suddenly reduced to their state. The Arab enjoys his sleep upon his tent floor as well as you, Princess, beneath a canopy of woven gold, and his frugal meal of date or pulse tastes as sweet, as to you do dainties fetched from Rome, or fished from the Indian seas: and eating and sleeping make up much of life. Then the hearts of the great are corroded by cares and solicitudes which never visit the humble. Still, I do not deny that their condition is not far less enviable than ours. The slave who may be lashed, and tormented, and killed at his master's pleasure, drinks from a cup of which we never so much as taste. But over the whole of life, and throughout every condition of it, there are scattered evils and sorrows which pierce every heart with pain. I look upon all conditions as in part evil. It is only by selecting circumstances, and excluding ills which are the lot of all, that I could ask to live forever, even in the gardens of Zenobia.'
'I do not think we differ much then,' said Fausta, 'in what we think of human life. I hold the highest lot to be unsatisfying. You admit all are so, but have shown me that there is a nearer approach to an equality of happiness than I had supposed, though evil weighs upon all. How the mind longs and struggles to penetrate the mysteries of its being! How imperfect and without aim does life seem! Every thing beside man seems to reach its utmost perfection. Man alone appears a thing incomplete and faulty.'
'And what,' said I, 'would make him appear to you a thing perfect and complete' What change should you suggest?'
'That which rather may be called an addition,' replied Fausta, 'and which, if I err not, all wise and good men desire, the assurance of immortality. Nothing is sweet; every cup is bitter; that which we are this moment drinking from, bitterest of all, without this. Of this I incessantly think and dream, and am still tossed in a sea of doubt.'
'You have read Plato?' said I.
'Yes, truly,' she replied; 'but I found little there to satisfy me, I have enjoyed too the frequent conversation of Longinus, and yet it is the same. Would that he were now here! The hour is serene, and the air which comes in so gently from the West, such as he loves.'
As Fausta uttered these words, our eyes at the same moment caught the forms of Zenobia and Longinus, as they emerged from a walk very near, but made dark by overhanging and embowering roses. We immediately advanced toward them, and begged them to join us.
'We are conversing,' said Julia, 'upon such things as you both love. Come and sit now with us, and let us know what you can say upon the same themes.'
'We will sit with you gladly,' said the Queen; 'at least for myself I may say it, for I am sure that with you I shall find some other subjects discussed beside perplexing affairs of state. When alone with Longinus—as but now—our topic is ever the same.'
'If the subject of our discourse, however, be ever the same,' said the Greek, 'we have this satisfaction in reflecting upon it, that it is one that in its nature is real and tangible. The well-being of a nation is not an undefined and shadowy topic, like so many of those which occupy the time and thoughts of even the wise. I too, however, shall gladly bear a part in whatever theme may engross the thoughts of Julia, Fausta, and Piso.'
With these words, we returned to the seats we had left, which were not within the arbor of Julia, but were the marble steps which led to it. There we placed ourselves, one above and one beside another, as happened—Zenobia sitting between Fausta and Julia, I at the feet of Julia, and Longinus on the same step with myself, and next to Fausta. I could hardly believe that Zenobia was now the same person before whom I had in the morning, with no little agitation, prostrated myself, after the manner of the Persian ceremonial. She seemed rather like a friend whom I both loved and revered. The majesty of the Queen was gone; there remained only the native dignity of beauty, and goodness, and intellect, which, though it inspires reverence, yet is there nothing slavish in the feeling. It differs in degree only from that sentiment which we entertain toward the gods; it raises rather than depresses.
'We were speaking,' said Julia, resuming the subject which had engaged us, 'of life and of man—how unsatisfactory life is, and how imperfect and unfinished, as it were, man; and we agreed, I believe, in the opinion, that there can be no true happiness, without a certain assurance of immortality, and this we are without.'
'I agree with you,' said Longinus, 'in all that you can have expressed concerning the unsatisfactoriness of life, regarded as a finite existence, and concerning the want of harmony there is between man and the other works of God, if he is mortal; and in this also, that without the assurance of immortality, there can, to the thinking mind, be no true felicity. I only wonder that on the last point there should exist in the mind of any one of you doubts so serious as to give you much disturbance. I cannot, indeed, feel so secure of a future and then unending existence, as I am sure that I live now. What I am now I know; concerning the future, I can only believe, and belief can never possess the certainty of knowledge. Still, of a future life I entertain no doubts that distress me. My belief in it is as clear and strong as I can well conceive belief in things invisible and unexperienced to be. It is such as makes me happy in any thought or prospect of death. Without it, and life would appear to me like nothing more to be esteemed than a short, and often troubled or terrific dream.'
'So I confess it seems to me,' said Fausta. 'How should I bless the gods, if upon my mind there could rest a conviction of immortality strong like yours! The very certainty with which you speak, seems, through the power of sympathy, to have scattered some of my doubts. But, alas! they will soon return.'
'In what you have now said,' replied Longinus, 'and in the feeling you have expressed on this point, do I found one of the strongest arguments for the immortality of the soul.'
'I do not comprehend you,' said Fausta.
'Do you not, Fausta,' asked Longinus, 'intensely desire a life after death?'
'I do indeed. I have just expressed it.'
'And do not you too, Zenobia, and Piso, and Julia?'
'Surely, and with intensity,' we answered; 'the question need scarce be asked.'
'I believe you,' resumed Longinus. 'You all earnestly desire an immortal life—you perpetually dwell upon the thought of it, and long for it. Is it not so with all who reflect at all upon themselves? Are there any such, have there ever been any, who have not been possessed by the same thoughts and desires, and who, having been greatly comforted and supported by them during life, have not at death relied upon them, and looked with some degree of confidence toward a coming forth again from death? Now I think it is far more reasonable to believe in another life, than in the delusiveness of these expectations. For I cannot suppose that this universal expectation will be disappointed, without believing in the wickedness, nay, the infinite malignity, of the Supreme Ruler, which my whole nature utterly refuses to do. For what more cruel, than to create this earnest and universal longing, and not gratify it? Does it not seem so?'
We all admitted it.
'This instinctive desire,' continued Longinus, 'I cannot but regard as being implanted by the Being who created us. It can proceed from no other. It is an instinct, that is, a suggestion or inspiration of God. If it could be shown to be a consequence of education, we might refer it for its origin to ingenious philosophers. But it exists where the light of philosophy has never shone. There have been none, of whom history has preserved even obscurest traditions, who have wanted this instinct. It is then the very inspiration of the Divinity, and will not be disappointed. I trust much to these tendencies of our nature. This is the best ground for our belief of a God. The arguments of the schools have never succeeded in establishing the truth, even to the conviction of a philosophic mind, much less a common one. Yet the truth is universally admitted. God, I think, has provided for so important an article of faith in the structure of our minds. He has not left it to chance or special Revelation. So, too, the determinations of the mind concerning virtue and vice, right and wrong, being for the most part so accordant throughout the whole race—these also I hold to be instinctive.'
'I can think of nothing,' said Fausta, 'to urge against your argument. It adds some strength, I cannot but confess, to what belief I had before. I trust you have yet more that you can impart. Do not fear that we shall be dull listeners.'
'I sit here a willing and patient learner,' said Zenobia, 'of any one who will pour new light into my mind. Go on, Longinus.'
'To such a school,' said he, 'how can I refuse to speak? Let me ask you then, if you have never been perplexed by the evils of life, such as either you have yourselves experienced, or such as you have witnessed?'
'I have, indeed,' said Fausta, 'and have deeply deplored them. But how are they connected with a future existence?'
'Thus,' replied Longinus. 'As in the last case, the benevolence of the Supreme God cannot be sustained without the admission of the reality of a future life. Nor only that, but it seems to me direct proof may be adduced from the existence and universality of these evils to establish the blackest malignity. So that to me, belief in a future existence is in proportion to the difficulty of admitting the idea of divine malignity, and it cannot therefore be much stronger than it is.'
'How can you make that clear to us?' said Fausta; 'I should truly rejoice if out of the evils which so darken the earth, any thing good or beautiful could be drawn.'
'As this dark mould,' rejoined the philosopher, 'sends upwards, and out of its very heart, this rare Persian rose, so does hope grow out of evil, and the darker the evil the brighter the hope, as from a richer and fouler soil comes the more vigorous plant and larger flower. Take a particular evil, and consider it. You remember the sad tale concerning the Christian Probus, which Piso, in recounting the incidents of his journey from Rome to Palmyra, related to us while seated at the tables?'
'Indeed, I did not hear it,' said Zenobia; 'so that Piso must, if he will, repeat it.'
'We shall willingly hear it again,' said Julia and Fausta.
And I then related it again.
'Now do you wonder,' resumed Longinus, when I had finished, 'that Probus, when, one after another, four children were ravished from his arms by death, and then, as if to crown his lot with evil, his wife followed them, and he was left alone in the world, bereaved of every object to which his heart was most fondly attached, do you wonder, I say, that he turned to the heavens and cursed the gods? And can you justify the gods so that they shall not be chargeable with blackest malignity, if there be no future and immortal state? What is it to bind so the heart of a parent to a child, to give that affection a force and a tenderness which belong to no other tie, so that anxieties for its life and welfare, and cares and sacrifices for its good, constitute the very existence of the parent, what is it to foster by so many contrivances this love, and then forever disappoint and blast it, but malignity? Yet this work is done every hour, and in almost every heart; if for children we lament not, yet we do for others as dear.'
Tears to the memory of Odenatus fell fast from the eyes of Zenobia.
'Are we not then,'—continued Longinus, without pausing—'are we not then presented with this alternative, either the Supreme God is a malignant being, whose pleasure it is to torment, or, there is an immortal state, where we shall meet again with those, who, for inscrutable purposes, have been torn from our arms here below? And who can hesitate in which to rest? The belief, therefore, in a future life ought to be in proportion to the difficulty of admitting the idea of divine malignity. And this idea is so repulsive—so impossible to be entertained for one moment—that the other cannot, it seems to me, rest upon a firmer foundation.'
'Every word you speak,' said Zenobia, 'yields pleasure and instruction. It delights me, even when thickest beset by the cares of state, to pause and contemplate for a moment the prospects of futurity. It diffuses a divine calm throughout the soul. You have given me new food for my thoughts.'
'I will add,' said Longinus, 'only one thing to what I have said, and that is, concerning the incompleteness of man, as a divine work, and which has been mentioned by Fausta. Is not this an argument for a future life? Other things and beings are finished and complete—man only is left, as it were, half made up. A tree grows and bears fruit, and the end of its creation is answered. A complete circle is run. It is the same with the animals. No one expects more from a lion or a horse than is found in both. But with man it is not so. In no period of history, and among no people, has it been satisfactorily determined what man is, or what are the limits of his capacity and being. He is full of contradictions, and of incomprehensible organization, if he is considered only in relation to this world. For while every other affection finds and rests in its appropriate object, which fully satisfies and fills it, the desire of unlimited improvement and of endless life—the strongest and best defined of any of the desires—this alone is answered by no corresponding object: which is not different from what it would be, if the gods should create a race like ours, having the same craving and necessity for food and drink, yet never provide for them the one nor the other, but leave them all to die of hunger. Unless there is a future life, we all die of a worse hunger. Unless there is a future life, man is a monster in creation—compared with other things, an abortion—and in himself, and compared with himself, an enigma—a riddle—which no human wit has ever solved, nor can ever hope to solve.'
'This seems unanswerable,' said Fausta; 'yet is it no objection to all such arguments, which we ourselves construct, that the thing they establish is too great and good almost to be believed, without some divine warrant? It does to me appear almost or quite presumptuous to think, that for me there is by the gods prepared a world of never-fading light, and a never-ending joy.'
'When,' replied the Greek, 'we look at the lower forms of man which fall under our observation, I confess that the objection which you urge strikes me with some force. But when I think that it is for beings like you to whom I speak, for whom another and fairer world is to be prepared, it loses again much of its force. And when I think of the great and good of other times, of Homer and Hesiod, of Phidias and Praxiteles, of Socrates and Plato, and of what the mind of man has in them, and in others as great and good, accomplished, the objection which you urge loses all its force. I see and feel that man has been made not altogether unworthy of a longer life and a happier lot than earth affords. And in regard to the ignorant, the low, and the almost or quite savage, we are to consider that the same powers and affections are in them as in us, and that their inferiority to us is not intrinsic and essential, but as it were accidental. The difference between the soul of Plato and yonder Ethiopian slave is not in any original faculty or power; the slave here equals the philosopher; but in this, that the faculties and powers of Plato were strengthened, and nurtured, and polished, by the hand of education, and the happy influences of a more civilized community, all which to the slave has been wanting. He is a diamond just as it comes from the mine; Plato like that one set in gold, which sparkles with the radiance of a star, Fausta, upon your finger. But, surely, the glory of the diamond is, that it is a diamond; not that Demetrius has polished and set it. Man has within him so much of the god, that I do not wonder he has been so often deified. The great and excellent among men, therefore, I think not unworthy of immortality, for what they are; the humble and the bad, for what they may so easily become, and might have been, under circumstances but slightly altered.'
'I cannot,' said Julia, as Longinus closed, 'deny strength and plausibility to your arguments, but I cannot admit that they satisfy me. After the most elaborate reasoning, I am still left in darkness. No power nor wit of man has ever wholly scattered the mists which rest upon life and death. I confess, with Socrates, that I want a promise or a revelation to enable me to take the voyage of life in a spirit of cheerfulness, and without the fear of fatal shipwreck. If your reasonings, Longinus, were only accompanied with authority more than that of man, if I could only believe that the Divinity inspired you, I could then rest contented and happy. One word authoritatively declaring man's immortality, a word which by infallible token I could know to be a word from the Supreme, would to me be worth infinitely more than all the conjectures, hopes, and reasonings of all the philosophers. I fully agree with you, that the instincts of our nature all point both to a God and to immortality. But the heart longs for something more sure and clear, at least my woman's heart does. It may be that it is the woman within me which prompts the feeling—but I wish to lean upon authority in this great matter. I wish to repose calmly in a divine assurance.'
'In that, Princess,' I could not help saying, 'I am a woman too. I have long since lost all that regard for the gods in which I was so carefully nourished. I despise the popular superstitions. Yet is there nothing which I have found as yet to supply their place. I have searched the writings of Plato, of Cicero, of Seneca, in vain. I find there, indeed, wisdom, and learning, and sagacity, almost more than human. But I find nothing which can be dignified by the name of religion. Their systems of morals are admirable, and sufficient perhaps to enable one to live a happy or fortunate life. But concerning the soul of man, and its destiny, they are dumb, or their words, if they utter any, are but the dark speeches of an oracle.'
'I am happy that I am not alone,' said Julia; 'and I cannot but think that many, very many, are with me. I am sure that what most persons, perhaps, who think and feel upon those subjects, want, is some divine promise or revelation. Common minds, Longinus, cannot appreciate the subtlety of your reasonings, much less those of the Phaedo. And, besides, the cares and labors of life do not allow time to engage in such inquiries, even if we supposed all men to have capacity for them. Is it not necessary that truths relating to the soul and futurity should rest upon authority, if any or many beside philosophers are to embrace them? And surely, if the poor and ignorant are immortal, it is as needful for them, as for us, to know it. It is, I conceive, on this account, that the religion of the Christians has spread so rapidly. It meets our nature. It supplies authority. It professes to bring annunciations from Heaven of man's immortality.'
'It is for that reason,' replied Longinus, 'I cannot esteem it. The very term revelation offends. The right application of reason effects all, it seems to me, that what is called revelation can. It perfectly satisfies the philosopher, and as for common minds, instinct is an equally sufficient guide and light.'
'I cannot but judge you, Longinus,' said Julia, 'wanting in a true fellow-feeling for your kind, notwithstanding all you have said concerning the nature and powers of man. How is it that you can desire that mankind should remain any longer under the dominion of the same gross and pernicious errors that have for so many ages oppressed them! Only consider the horrors of an idolatrous religion in Egypt and Assyria, in Greece and in Rome—and do you not desire their extermination?—and what prospect of this can there be, but through the plain authoritative language of a revelation?'
'I certainly desire with you,' replied Longinus, 'the extermination of error, and the overthrow of horrible and corrupting superstitions; and of nothing am I more sure than that the reason of man, in unfolding and constantly improving ages, will effect it. A plain voice from Heaven, announcing important truth, might perhaps hasten the work. But this voice, as thought to be heard in Christianity, is not a plain voice, nor clearly known to be a voice from Heaven. Here is the Bishop of Antioch set upon by the Bishops of Alexandria and Cesarea, and many others, as I learn, who accuse him of wrongly receiving and falsely teaching the doctrines of Christ; and for two hundred years has there prevailed the like uncertainty about the essence of the religion.'
'I look not with much hope to Christianity,' said Fausta. 'Yet I must first inform myself more exactly concerning it, before I judge.'
'That is spoken like Fausta,' said Julia; 'and it is much for you to say who dislike so heartily that Paul, whom I am constantly wishing you to hear.'
'Whenever he shall lay aside a little of his pomp, I may be willing to listen,' replied Fausta; 'but I could ill brook a discourse upon immortality from one whose soul seems so wedded to time.'
'Well,' said Julia, 'but let us not be drawn away from our subject. I admit that there are disputes among the Christians, but, like the disputes among philosophers, they are about secondary matters. There is no dispute concerning the great and chiefly interesting part of the religion—its revelation of a future life Christians have never divided here, nor on another great point, that Christ, the founder of the religion, was a true messenger from God. The voice of Christianity on both these points is a clear one. Thus, I think, every one will judge, who, as I have done, will read the writings in which the religion is found. And I am persuaded it is because it is so plain a voice here, that it is bidding fair to supersede every other form of religion. And that it is a voice from God, is, it seems to me, made out with as much clearness as we could look for. That Christ, the author of this religion, was a messenger from God, was shown by his miracles. How could it be shown otherwise? I can conceive of no other way in which so satisfying proof could be given of the agency and authority of God. And certainly there is evidence enough, if history is to be believed, that he wrought many and stupendous miracles.'
'What is a miracle?' asked Longinus.
'It is that,' replied Julia, 'which being done or said, furnishes satisfactory proof of the present interposing power of God. A man who, by a word spoken, can heal sick persons, and raise to life dead ones, can be no other than a messenger of God!'
'Why not of some other superior being—perhaps a bad one?'
'The character, teaching, objects, acts of Christ, make it unlikely, if not impossible, that he should have been sent by any bad intelligence. And that he came not only from a good being, but from God, we may believe on his own word.'
'His goodness may have been all assumed. The whole may be a deception.'
'Men do not sacrifice their lives merely to deceive, to play a child's game before the world. Christ died to show his attachment to his cause, and with him innumerable others. Would they have done this merely to impose upon mankind? And for what purpose?—for that of teaching a religion inculcating the loftiest virtue! But I do not set myself forward as a champion of this new religion,' continued Julia, plainly disturbed lest she might have seemed too earnest. 'Would that you, Longinus, could be persuaded to search into its claims. If you would but read the books written by the founders of it, I am sure you would say this at least, that such books were never written before, nor such a character portrayed as that of Jesus Christ. You who profess yourself charmed with the poetry of the Jewish Scriptures, and the grandeur of the sentiments expressed in them, would not be less impressed by the gentler majesty, the mild, sweet dignity of the person and doctrine of Christ. And if the reasonings of Socrates and Plato have any power to convince you of the immortality of the soul, how must you be moved by the simple announcements of the truth by the Nazarene, and above all by his resurrection from the dead! Christianity boasts already powerful advocates, but I wish it could say that its character and claims had been examined by the great Longinus.'
The soft yet earnest, eloquent tones of Julia's voice fell upon pleased and willing ears. The countenance of the Greek glowed with a generous satisfaction, as he listened to the reasoning of his fair pupil, poured forth in that noble tongue it had been his task and his happiness to teach her. Evidently desirous, however, not to prolong the conversation, he addressed himself to the Queen.
'You are pleased,' said he, 'you must be, with the aptness of my scholar. Julia has not studied dialectics in vain. Before I can feel myself able to contend with her, I must study the books she has commended so—from which, I must acknowledge, I have been repelled by a prejudice, I believe, rather than any thing else, or more worthy—and then, perhaps, I may agree in opinion with her.'
'In truth,' said Zenobia, 'Julia is almost or quite a Christian. I knew not, daughter, that Paul had made such progress in his work. But all have my full consent to cherish such form of religious faith as most approves itself to their own minds. I find my highest satisfaction in Moses and the prophets. Happy shall I be if Julia find as much, or more, in Christ and his apostles. Sure am I, there is no beneficent power nor charm in the religions of Greece, or Rome, or Persia, or Egypt, to cause any of us to adhere to them, though our very infancy were instructed in their doctrines.'
'It is not, I assure you,' said Julia, 'to Paul of Antioch that I owe such faith in Christ as I have, but to the Christian books themselves; or if to any human authority besides, to St. Thomas, the old hermit of the mountain, to whom I would that every one should resort who would draw near to the purest living fountain of Christian knowledge.'
'I trust,' said I, 'that at some future time I may, with your guidance, or through your influence, gain admittance to this aged professor of the Christian faith. I confess myself now, since what I have heard, a seeker after Christian knowledge.'
'Gladly shall I take you there,' replied the princess, 'and gladly will St. Thomas receive you.'
We now at the same time rose from our seats. Zenobia, taking the hand of Fausta, walked toward the palace; Longinus, with folded arms, and as if absorbed by the thoughts which were passing through his mind, began to pace to and fro beneath the thick shadows of a group of orange trees. I was left with Julia.
'Princess,' said I, 'it is yet early, and the beauty of the evening makes it wrong to shut ourselves up from the sight of so fair a scene: shall we follow farther some of these inviting paths?'
'Nothing can be more pleasant,' said she; 'these are my favorite haunts, and I never am weary of them, and never did they seem to me to wear a more lovely aspect than now. Let me be your guide, and I will lead you by a winding way to Zenobia's Temple, as we call it, for the reason that it is her chosen retreat, as the arbor which we have now left is mine.'
So we began to walk toward the spot of which she spoke. We were for some time silent. At length the princess said, 'Roman, you have now seen Zenobia, both as a queen and a woman. Has fame done her more than justice?'
'Great as her reputation is in Rome,' I replied, 'fame has not, to my ear at least, brought any thing that more than distantly approaches a true and faithful picture of her. We have heard much indeed—and yet not enough—of her surpassing beauty, of the vigor of her understanding, of her vast acquirements in the Greek learning, of the wisdom and energy of her conduct as a sovereign queen, of her skill in the chase, of her bravery and martial bearing, when, at the head of her troops, she leads them to the charge. But of this union of feminine loveliness with so much of masculine power, of this womanly grace, of this winning condescension,—so that it loses all the air of condescension,—to those even much beneath her in every human accomplishment as well as in rank, of this I had heard nothing, and for this I was not prepared. When, in the morning, I first saw her seated in all the pride of oriental state, and found myself prostrate at her feet, it was only Zenobia that I saw, and I saw what I expected. But no sooner had she spoken, especially no sooner had she cast that look upon you, princess, when you had said a few words in reply to me, than I saw not Zenobia only, but the woman and the mother. A veil was suddenly lifted, and a new being stood before me. It seemed to me that moment, that I knew her better than I know myself. I am sure that I know her. Her countenance all living with emotion, changing and working with every thought of her mind and every feeling of her heart, reveals her with the truth of a magic mirror. She is not known at Rome.'
'I am sorry for it,' said Julia; 'if they only knew her, they could never do her harm. You, Piso, may perhaps do much for her. I perceive, already, that she highly regards you, and values your opinion. If you are willing to do us such service, if you feel interest enough in our fate, speak to her, I pray you, with plainness, all that you think. Withhold nothing. Fear not to utter what you may deem to be most unpalatable truths. She is candid and generous as she is ambitious. She will at least hear and weigh whatever you may advance. God grant, that truth may reach her mind, and reaching, sway it!'
'I can now think of no higher satisfaction,' I replied, 'than to do all I may, as a Roman, in your service. I love your nation; and as a Roman and a man, I desire its welfare and permanent glory. Its existence is necessary to Rome; its ruin or decay must be, viewed aright, but so much injury to her most vital interests. Strange, how strange, that Zenobia, formed by the gods to draw her happiness from sources so much nobler than any which ambition can supply, should turn from them, and seek for it in the same shallow pool with Alexander, and Aurelian, and the hireling soldier of fortune!'
'Strange indeed,' said Julia, 'that she who can enter with Longinus into the deepest mysteries of philosophy, and whose mind is stored with all the learning of the schools, should still love the pomp of power better than all. And Fausta is but her second self. Fausta worships Zenobia, and Zenobia is encouraged in her opinions by the kindred sentiments of that bright spirit. All the influence, Piso, which you can exert over Fausta will reach Zenobia.'
'It seems presumptuous, princess,' said I, 'to seek to draw the minds of two such beings as Zenobia and Fausta to our bent. Yet surely they are in the wrong.'
'It is something,' quickly added the princess, 'that Longinus is of our mind; but then again Zabdas and Gracchus are a host on the other part. And all the power and pride of Palmyra are with them too. But change Zenobia, and we change all. O how weary am I of ambition, and how sick of greatness! Willingly would I exchange all this for an Arab's tent, or a hermit's cell,'
'The gods grant that may never be,' I replied; 'but that you, princess, may yet live to sit upon the throne of Zenobia.'
'I say it with sincerity, Roman—that prayer finds no echo in my bosom, I have seen enough of power, and of the honors that wait upon it. And when I say this, having had before my eyes this beautiful vision of Zenobia reigning over subjects as a mother would reign over her family, dealing justly with all, and living but to make others happy—you must believe me. I seek and love a calmer, humbler lot. This, Piso, is the temple of Zenobia. Let us enter.'
We approached and entered. It was a small building, after the model of the temple of Vesta at Tibur, constructed of the most beautiful marbles, and adorned with statues. Within were the seats on which the Queen was accustomed to recline, and an ample table, covered with her favorite authors, and the materials of writing.
'It is here,' said Julia, 'that, seated with my mother, we listen to the eloquence of Longinus, while he unfolds the beauties of the Greek or Roman learning; or, together with him, read the most famous works of former ages. With Homer, Thucydides, and Sophocles for our companions, we have here passed precious hours and days, and have the while happily forgotten the heavy burden of a nation's cares. I have forgotten them; not so Zenobia. They are her life, and from all we have read would she ever draw somewhat that should be of service to her in the duties of her great office,'
Returning to the surrounding portico, we stood and for a time enjoyed in silence the calm beauty of the scene.
As we stood thus,—Julia gazing upon the objects around us, or lost in thought, I must I say it? seeing scarce any thing but her, and thinking only of her—as we stood thus, shouts of merry laughter came to us, borne upon the breeze, and roused us from our reverie.
'These sounds,' said I,' cannot come from the palace; it is too far, unless these winding walks have deceived me.'
'They are the voices,' said Julia, 'I am almost sure, of Livia and Faustula, and the young Caesars. They seem to be engaged in some sport near the palace. Shall we join them?'
'Let us do so,' said I.
So we moved toward that quarter of the gardens whence the sounds proceeded. A high wall at length separated us from those whom we sought. But reaching a gate, we passed through and entered upon a lawn covered as it seemed with children, slaves, and the various inmates of the palace. Here, mingled among the motley company, we at once perceived the Queen, and Longinus and Fausta, together with many of those whom we had sat with at the banquet. The centre of attraction, and the cause of the loud shouts of laughter which continually arose, was a small white elephant with which the young princes and princesses were amusing themselves. He had evidently been trained to the part he had to perform, for nothing could be more expert than the manner in which he went through his various tricks. Sometimes he chased them and pretended difficulty in overtaking them; then he would affect to stumble, and so fall and roll upon the ground; then springing quickly upon his feet, he would surprise some one or other lurking near him, and seizing him with his trunk would hold him fast, or first whirling him in the air, then seat him upon his back, and march gravely round the lawn, the rest following and shouting; then releasing his prisoner, he would lay himself upon the ground, while all together would fearlessly climb upon his back, till it was covered, when he would either suddenly shake his huge body, so that one after another they rolled off, or he would attempt to rise slowly upon his legs, in doing which, nearly all would slip from off his slanting back, and only two or three succeed in keeping their places. And other sportive tricks, more than it would be worth while for me to recount, did he perform for the amusement of his play-fellows. And beautiful was it to see the carefulness with which he trod and moved, lest any harm might come to those children. His especial favorite was the little flaxen-haired Faustula. He was never weary of caressing her, taking her on his trunk, and bearing her about, and when he set her down, would wait to see that she was fairly on her feet and safe, before he would return to his gambols. Her voice calling out, 'Sapor, Sapor,' was sure to bring him to her, when, what with words and signs, he soon comprehended what it was she wanted. I myself came in unwittingly for a share of the sport. For, as Faustula came bounding by me, I did as those are so apt to do who know little of children—I suddenly extended my arms and caught her. She, finding herself seized and in the arms of one she knew not, thought, as children will think, that she was already home a thousand leagues from her home, and screamed; whereupon at the instant, I felt myself taken round the legs by a force greater than that of a man, and which drew them together with such violence that instinctively I dropped the child, and at the same time cried out with pain. Julia, standing next me, incontinently slapped the trunk of the elephant—for it was that twisted round me—with her hand, at which, leaving me, he wound it lightly round the waist of the princess, and held her his close prisoner. Great laughter from the children and the slaves testified their joy at seeing their elders, equally with themselves, in the power of the elephant. Milo being of the number, and in his foolish exhilaration and sportive approbation of Sapor's feats having gone up to him and patted him on his side, the beast, receiving as an affront that plebeian salutation, quickly turned upon him, and taking him by one of his feet, held him in that displeasing manner—-his head hanging down—and paraded leisurely round the green, Milo making the while hideous outcry, and the whole company, especially the slaves and menials, filling the air with screams of laughter. At length Vabalathus, thinking that Milo might be injured, called out to Sapor, who thereupon released him, and he, rising and adjusting his dress, was heard to affirm, that it had never happened so while he was in the service of Gallienus.
These things for the little Gallus.
Satisfied now with the amusements of the evening and the pleasures of the day, we parted from one another, filled with quite different sentiments from those which had possessed us in the morning. Do members of this great human family ever meet each other in social converse, and freely open their hearts, without a new and better strength being given to the bonds which hold in their embrace the peace and happiness of society? To love each other, I think we chiefly need but to know each other. Ignorance begets suspicion, suspicion dislike or hatred, and so we live as strangers and enemies, when knowledge would have led to intimacy and friendship. Farewell!
Many days have passed, my Curtius, since I last wrote, each bringing its own pleasures, and leaving its ineffaceable impressions upon the soul. But though all have been in many things delightful, none has equalled that day and evening at the palace of the Queen. I have now mingled largely with the best society of Palmyra. The doors of the noble and the rich have been opened to me with a liberal hospitality, As the friend of Gracchus and Fausta—and now I may add I believe without presumption—of Zenobia also, of Julia, and Longinus, I have been received with attentions, of which Aurelian himself might with reason have been proud. More and more do I love this people, more and more fervently do I beg of the Being or Beings who rule over the affairs of men, to interpose and defend them from any threatening danger. I grieve that the rumors still reaching us from Rome tend so much to confirm the belief that our emperor is making preparations for an eastern expedition. Yet I cannot bring myself to think that he aims at Zenobia. If it were so, would there be first no communication with the Queen? Is it like Aurelian to plan and move so secretly? And against a woman too?—and that woman Zenobia? I'll not believe it. Your letters would not be what they are, if there were any real purpose like that which is attributed to Aurelian. But time will make its revelations. Meanwhile, let me tell you where I now am, and what pleasures I am enjoying. This will be written under various dates.
I write to you from what is called the Queen's Mountain Palace, being her summer residence—occasionally—either to avoid the greater heats of the city or that she may divert herself with athletic sports of hunting, of which she is excessively fond, and in which she has few equals of her own or even of our sex. Roman women of the present day would be amazed, perhaps shocked, to be told what the sports and exercises are in which this great eastern Queen finds her pleasures. She is not more exalted above the women of Rome by genius, and the severer studies of the closet, than she is, in my judgment, by the manner and fashion of her recreations. Let not the dear Lucilia be offended. Were she here with me, her fair and generous mind would rest, I am sure, after due comparisons, in the very same conclusions. Fausta is in these respects too, as in others, but her second self. There is not a feat of horsemanship or archery, nor an enterprise in the chase, but she will dare all and do all that is dared or done by Zenobia; not in the spirit of limitation or even rivalry, but from the native impulses of a soul that reaches at all things great and difficult. And even Julia, that being who seems too ethereal for earth, and as if by some strange chance she were misplaced, being here, even Julia has been trained in the same school, and, as I shall show you, can join in the chase, and draw the bow, with scarcely less of skill and vigor—with no less courage—than either her mother or Fausta. Although I have now seen it, I still can hardly associate such excess of beauty—a beauty both of form and face so truly belonging to this soft, Syrian clime—with a strength and dexterity at every exercise that might put to shame many a Roman who wears both a beard and the manly gown. But this, I need not say, is not after Julia's heart. She loves more the gentler encounters of social intercourse, where wit, and sense, and the affections, have their full play, and the god-like that is within us asserts its supremacy.
But my purpose now is to tell you how and why it is I am here, and describe to you as well as I can this new Elysium: and how it is the happy spirits, whom the gods have permitted to dwell here, pass their hours.
I am here by the invitation of the Queen. A few days after that which we had so highly enjoyed at the palace, she expressed her desire that Gracchus, Fausta, and myself would accompany her, with others of her select friends, to her retreat among the hills, there to indulge in perfect repose, or engage in the rural sports of the place, according to our pleasure. I was not slow, neither were Gracchus and Fausta, to accept so agreeable an invitation. 'I feared,' said Fausta, 'lest the troubled state of affairs would prevent the Queen from taking her usual vacation, where she loves best to be. But to say the truth, Lucius, I do not think the prospect of a rupture with Rome does give her very serious thought. The vision of a trial of arms with so renowned a soldier as Aurelian, is, I doubt, not wholly, displeasing to her; there being especially so good reason to believe that what befell Heraclianus might befall Aurelian. Nay, do not look so grave. Rome is not fallen—yet.'
'Your tongue, Fausta, is lighter than your heart. Yet if Rome must fall, why truly I know not at whose feet it could fall so worthily as those of Zenobia and Fausta. But I trust its destiny is never to fall. Other kingdoms as great, or almost as great, I know you will say, have fallen, and Rome must in its turn. It seems, however, I must say, to possess a principle of vitality which never before belonged to any nation. Its very vastness too seems to protect it. I can as soon believe that shoals of sea-carp may overcome the whale, or an army of emmets the elephant or rhinoceros, as that one nation, or many banded together, can break down the power of Rome.'
'How very, very naturally and easily is that said. Who can doubt that you are a Roman, born upon the Coelian Hill! Pity but that we Palmyrenes could copy that high way you Romans have. Do you not think that strength and success lie much in confidence? Were every Roman such as you, I can believe you were then omnipotent. But then we have some like you. Here are Zenobia and I; you cannot deny that we have something of the Roman about us.'
'I confess it would be a drawn battle, at least, were you a nation of Zenobias. How Fausta is at the lance, I cannot yet tell.'
'That you shall see as soon as we are among the mountains. Is not this charming, now, in the Queen, to bring us all together again so soon, under her own roof? And such a place too, Lucius! We shall live there, indeed; each day will at least be doubled. For I suppose life is to be measured, not by hours, but sensations. Are you ready for the morning start? O, that Solon were here! what exquisite mirth should we have! Milo is something; but Solon were more.'
'Fausta, Fausta,' cried Gracchus, 'when will you be a woman?'
'Never, I trust,' replied Fausta; 'if I may then neither laugh, nor cry, nor vex a Roman, nor fight for our Queen. These are my vocations, and if I must renounce them, then I will be a man.'
'Either sex may be proud to gain you, my noble girl,' said Gracchus.
Early in the morning of the following day, all at the house of Gracchus gave note of preparation. We were to meet the Queen and her party a few miles from the walls of the city, at an appointed place, whence we were to make the rest of the journey in company. We were first at the place of meeting, which was a rising ground, shadowed by a few cedars, with their huge branching tops. We reined up our horses and stood with our faces toward the road, over which we had just passed, looking to catch the first view of the Queen. The sun was just rising above the horizon, and touching with its golden color the higher objects of the scene—the tall cedars—the gray crags, which here and there jutted out into the plain—the towers, and columns, and obelisks of the still slumbering city.
'How beautiful!' exclaimed Fausta: 'but look! that is more beautiful still—that moving troop of horse! See!—even at this distance you can distinguish the form and bearing of the Queen. How the slant beams of this ruddy sun make her dress and the harness of her gallant steed to sparkle! Is it not a fair sight, Lucius?'
It was beautiful indeed. The Queen was conspicuous above all, not more for her form and bearing, than for the more than imperial magnificence of her appointments. It is thus she is always seen by her people, dazzling them equally by her beauties and her state. As she drew nearer, I felt that I had never before seen aught on earth so glorious. The fiery Arabian that bore her knew, as well as I, who it was that sat upon him; and the pride of his carriage was visible in a thousand expressive movements. Julia was at her side, differing from her only as one sun differs from another. She, like Zenobia, seemed almost a part of the animal that bounded beneath her, so perfect was the art with which she rode.
'A fair morning to you all,' cried the Queen, accompanying the words with a glance that was reward enough for a life of service. 'The day smiles upon our enterprise. Fausta, if you will join me, Piso will take care of Julia; as for our Zabdas and Longinus, they are sad loiterers.'
Saying these things—scarcely checking her steed—and before the rest of the party had quite come up—we darted on, the Queen leading the way, and, as is her wont, almost at the top of her horse's speed.
'Zenobia,' said Julia, 'is in fine spirits this morning, as you may judge from her beaming countenance, and the rate at which she travels. But we can hardly converse while we are going so fast.'
'No bond has been signed,' said I, 'that we should ride like couriers. Suppose, princess, we slacken our pace.'
'That will we,' she replied, 'and leave it to the Queen to announce our approach. Here now, alas! are Zabdas and Longinus overtaking us. The Queen wonders at your delay,' said she, addressing them; 'put spurs to your horses, and you may easily overtake her.'
'Is it required?' asked the Egyptian, evidently willing to linger.
'Not so indeed,' answered Julia, 'but it would be gallant; the Queen, save Fausta, is alone. How can we answer it, if evil befall her? Her girth may break.'
At which alarming suggestion, taking it as merrily as it was given, the two counsellors quickened their pace, and bidding us good morning, soon, as we saw at the ascent of a little hill, overtook Zenobia.
For the rest of us, we were passing and repassing each other, mingling and separating all the remainder of the way. Our road lay through a rough and hilly country, but here and there sprinkled with bright spots of the richest beauty and highest cultivation, The valleys, whenever we descended into them, we found well watered and tilled, and peopled by an apparently happy peasantry. And as we saw them from first one eminence and then another, stretching away and winding among the hills, we agreed that they presented delicious retreats for those who, weary of the world, wished to taste, toward the close of life, the sweets of a repose which the world never knows. As we drew toward the end of our ride—a ride of quite twenty Roman miles—we found ourselves forsaken of all the rest of the company, owing either to our horses not being equal to the others, or rather, perhaps, to the frequent pauses which we made at all those points where the scenery presented any thing beautiful or uncommon.
Every thing now at last indicated that we were not far from the royal demesne. All around were marks of the hand and eye of taste having been there, and of the outlay of enormous wealth. It was not, however, till we had, for a mile and more, ridden through lawns and fields covered with grain and fruit, laid out in divisions of tillage or of wood, that, emerging from a dark grove, we came within sight of the palace. We could just discern, by the glittering of the sun upon the jewelry of their horses, that the last of the company were wheeling into the grounds in front of what seemed the principal part of the vast structure. That we might not be too much in the rear of all, we put our horses to their speed, which then, with the fleetness of wind, bore us to the outer gates of the palace. Passing these, we were in a moment in the midst of those who had preceded us, the grooms and slaves of the palace surrounding us, and taking charge of our horses. Zenobia was still standing in the great central portico, where she had dismounted, her face glowing with the excitement of the ride, and engaged in free discourse with, the group around her. Soon as Julia reined up her horse, and quicker than any other could approach, she sprang to her daughter's side, and assisted her to dismount, holding with a strong hand the while, the fiery and restless animal she rode.
'Welcome in safety, Julia,' said the Queen, 'and thanks, noble Piso, for your care of your charge. But perhaps we owe your safety more to the strength of your Arab's girth, than to any care of Piso.'
Julia's laugh rang merrily through the arches of the portico.
'Truly,' said she, 'I was glad to use any sudden conceit by which to gain a more solitary ride than I was like to have. It was my ambition to be Piso's companion, that I might enjoy the pleasure of pointing out to new eyes the beauties of the country. I trust I was rightly comprehended by our grave counsellors.'
'Assure yourself of it,' said Longinus; 'and though we could not but part from you with some unwillingness, yet seeing whom we were to join, we bore the loss with such philosophy as we were able to summon on the sudden.'
Zenobia now led the way to the banqueting hall, where tables loaded with meats, fruits, and wines, offered themselves most temptingly and seasonably, to those who had ridden, as I have said, twenty Roman miles.
This villa of the Queen, for its beauty and extent unrivalled in all the East, I would that I could set before you, so that you might form some conception of its greatness and variety. The palace stands at the northern extremity of a vast plain, just where the wild and mountainous region ends, and the more level and cultivated begins. To the North stretches a savage country, little inhabited, and filled with the wild animals which make the forests of Asia so terrible. This is the Queen's hunting-ground. It was here that, with Odenatus, she pursued the wild boar, the tiger, or the panther, with a daring and a skill that astonished the boldest huntsmen. It was in these forests, that the wretch Maesonius, insolently throwing his javelin at the game, just as he saw his uncle was about to strike, incurred that just rebuke, which however his revengeful nature never forgave, and which was appeased only with the blood of the royal Palmyrene. Zenobia is never more herself than when she joins the chase mounted upon her fleet Arabian, and roused to all her power by the presence of a gallant company of the boldest spirits of Palmyra.
The southern view, and which my apartments overlook, presents a wide expanse of level ground, or gently undulating, offering a various prospect of cultivated fields, unbroken lawns, dense groves, of standing or flowing waters, of light bridges spanning them, of pavilions, arbors, statues, standing out in full view, or just visible through, the rich foliage or brilliant flowering plants of these sunny regions. The scene is closed by the low, waving outline of the country, through which we passed on the morning of our ride from Palmyra, over which there is spread a thin veil of purple haze, adding a new charm to whatever objects are dimly discerned through it. At one point only can we, when this vapor is by any cause diminished, catch a glimpse of the loftier buildings of the distant city. But the palace itself, though it be the work of man, and not of gods, is not less beautiful than all these aspects of nature. It is wholly built after the light and almost fantastic forms of the Persian architecture, which seem more suited to a residence of this kind than the heavier fashions of the Greek or Roman taste. Hadrian's villa is alone to be compared with it for vastness and magnificence, and that, by the side of this, seems a huge prison, so gay and pleasing are the thoughts and sensations which this dream-like combination of arch upon arch, of pinnacle, dome, and tower—all enriched with the most minute and costly work—inspires the mind.
Nothing has pleased me more than at times, when the sultry heats of the day forbid alike study and recreation, to choose for myself some remote and shaded spot, and lying along upon the flowery turf, soothed by the drowsy hum of the summer insects, gaze upon this gorgeous pile of oriental grandeur, and lazily drink in the draughts of a beauty, as I believe, no where else to be enjoyed. When at such hours Julia or Fausta is my companion, I need not say in how great degree the pleasure is heightened, nor what hues of a more rosy tint wrap all the objects of the scene. Fountains here, as every where in the Eastern world, are frequent, and of such size as to exert a sensible influence upon the heated atmosphere. Huge columns of the coldest water, drawn from the recesses of the mountains, are thrown into the air, and then falling and foaming over rocks rudely piled, to resemble some natural cascade, disappear, and are led by subterranean conduits to distant and lower parts of the ground. These fountains take many and fantastic forms. In the centre of the principal court of the palace, it is an enormous elephant of stone, who disgorges from his uplifted trunk a vast but graceful shower, sometimes charged with the most exquisite perfumes, and which are diffused by the air through every part of the palace. Around this fountain, reclining upon seats constructed to allow the most easy attitudes, or else in some of the apartments immediately opening upon it, it is our custom to pass the evening hours, either conversing with each other, or listening to some tale which he who thinks he can entertain the company is at liberty to relate, or gathering at once instruction and delight, as Longinus, either from his memory or a volume, imparts to us choice selections of the literature of Athens or Rome. So have I heard the Oedipus Tyrannus, and the Prometheus, as I never have heard them before.
At such times, it is beautiful to see the group of listeners gathering nearer and nearer, as the philosopher reads or recites, and catching every word and accent of that divine tongue, as it falls from his lips. Zenobia alone, of all who are there, ever presumes to interrupt the reader with either question or comment. To her voice Longinus instantly becomes a willing listener; and well may he: for never does she speak, at such moments, without adding a new charm to whatever theme she touches. Her mind, surprisingly clear, and deeply imbued with the best spirit of ancient learning, and poetically cast, becomes of right our teacher; and commands always the profound respect, if not always the assent, of the accomplished Greek. Not unfrequently, on such casual remark of the Queen, the reading is thereupon suspended, and discussion between her and the philosopher, or conversation upon topics suggested in which we all take part, ensues. But, however this may be, all moves on in a spirit the most liberal, frank, and free. No restraint is upon us but that which reverence for superior learning, or goodness, or beauty imposes. I must add, that on these occasions the great Zabdas is always seen to compose himself to his slumbers, from which he often starts, uttering loud shouts, as if at the head of his troops. Our bursts of laughter wake him not, but by the strange power of sleep seem to be heard by him as if they were responsive cries of the enemy, and only cause him to send forth louder shouts than ever, 'Down with the Egyptian dogs!' 'Let the Nile choke with their carcasses!'—'The Queen forever!' and then his voice dies away in inarticulate sounds.
But I should weary you indeed, were I to go on to tell you half the beauties and delights of this chosen spot, and cause you, perhaps, to be discontented with that quiet, modest house, upon the banks of the Tiber. I leave you therefore to fill up with your own colors the outline which I have now set before you, as I best could, and pass to other things.
Every day has seen its peculiar games and entertainments. Sometimes the Queen's slaves, trained to their respective feats, have wrestled, or fought, or run, for our amusement. At other times, we ourselves have been the performers. Upon the racecourse, fleet Arabians have contended for the prize, or they, who have esteemed themselves skilful, have tried for the mastery in two or four horse chariots. Elephants have been put to their strength, and dromedaries to their speed. But our chief pleasure has been derived from trials of skill and of strength with the lance and the arrow, and from the chase.
It was in using the lance, that Antiochus—a kinsman of the Queen, whom I believe I have not before mentioned, although I have many times met him—chiefly signalized himself. This person, half Syrian and half Roman, possessing the bad qualities of both and the good ones of neither, was made one of this party, rather, I suppose, because he could not be left out, than because he was wanted. He has few friends in Palmyra, but among wild and dissolute spirits like himself. He is famed for no quality either great or good. Violent passions and intemperate lusts are what he is chiefly noted for. But, except that pride and arrogance are writ upon the lines of his countenance, you would hardly guess that his light-tinted and beardless cheeks and soft blue eyes belonged to one of so dark and foul a soul. His frame and his strength are those of a giant; yet is he wholly destitute of grace. His limbs seem sometimes as if they were scarcely a part of him, such difficulty does he discover in marshalling them aright. Consciousness of this embarrasses him, and sends him for refuge to his pride, which darts looks of anger and bitter revenge upon all who offend or make light of him. His ambition is, and his hope, to succeed Zenobia. You may think this strange, considering the family of the Queen. But as for the sons of Zenobia, he calculates much, so it is reported, upon their weakness both of mind and body, as rendering them distasteful to the Palmyrenes, even if they should live; and as for Julia and her sisters, he has so high conceptions of his own superior merit, that he doubts not in case of the Queen's demise, that the people would by acclamation select him, in preference to them, as her successor; or in the last emergency, that it would be but to marry Julia, in order to secure the throne beyond any peradventure. These are the schemes which many do not scruple to impute to him. Whether credited or not by Zenobia, I cannot tell. But were they, I believe she would but smile at the poor lack-brain who entertains them. Intrenched as she is in the impregnable fortress of her people's heart, she might well despise the intrigues of a bolder and worthier spirit than Antiochus. For him she can spare neither words nor thoughts.
It was Fausta who a few days ago, as we rose from the tables, proposed that we should try our strength and skill in throwing the lance. 'I promised you, Lucius,' said she, 'that when here, you should be permitted to judge of my abilities in that art. Are all ready for the sport?'
All sprang from their seats, like persons weary of one occupation, and grateful for the proffer of another.
Zenobia led the way to the grounds, not far from the palace, appropriated to games of this kind, and to the various athletic sports. Not all the company entered the lists, but many seated themselves, or stood around, spectators of the strife. Slaves now appeared, bearing the lances, and preparing the ground for our exercise. The feat to be performed seemed to me not difficult so much as impossible. It was to throw the lance with such unerring aim and force, as to pass through an aperture in a shield of four-fold ox-hide, of a size but slightly larger than the beam of the lance, so as not so much as to graze the sides of the perforated place. The distance too of the point from which the lance was to be thrown, from the shield, was such as to require great strength of arm to overcome it.
The young Caesars advanced first to the trial. 'Now,' whispered Fausta, 'behold the vigor of the royal arm. Were such alone our defence, well might Palmyra tremble.'
Herennianus, daintily handling and brandishing his lance, in the manner prescribed at the schools, where skill in all warlike arts is taught, and having drawn all eyes upon him, at length let it fly, when, notwithstanding so much preparatory flourish, it fell short of the staff upon which the shield was reared.
'Just from the tables,' said the prince, as he withdrew, angry at his so conspicuous failure; 'and how can one reach what he can scarcely see?'
'Our arm has not yet recovered from its late injury,' said Timolaus, as he selected his weapon; 'yet will we venture a throw.' His lance reached the mast, but dropped feebly at his foot. Vabalathus, saying nothing, and putting all his strength in requisition, drove his weapon into the staff, where it stood quivering a moment, and fell to the ground.
Carias, Seleucus, Otho, Gabrayas, noblemen of Palmyra, now successively tried their fortune, and all showed themselves well trained to the use of the weapon, by each fixing his lance in the body of the shield, and in the near neighborhood of the central hole.
Zabdas now suddenly springing from his seat, which he had taken among those who apparently declined to join in the sport, seized a lance from the hands of the slave who bore them, and hurling it with the force of a tempest, the weapon, hissing along the air, struck the butt near the centre; but the wood of which it was made, unused to such violence, shivered and crumbled under the blow. Without a word, and without an emotion, so far as the face was its index, the Egyptian returned to his seat. It seemed as if he had done the whole in his sleep. It is actual war alone that can rouse the energies of Zabdas.
Zenobia, who had stood leaning upon her lance, next advanced to the trial. Knowing her admirable skill at all manly exercises, I looked with certainty to see her surpass those who had already essayed their powers. Nor was I disappointed. With a wonderful grace she quickly threw herself into the appointed position, and with but a moment's preparation, and as if it cost her but a slight effort, sent her lance, with unerring aim and incredible swiftness, through the hole. Yet was not the feat a perfect one. For, in passing through the aperture, the weapon not having been driven with quite sufficient force, did not preserve its level, so that the end grazed the shield, and the lance then consequently taking an oblique direction, plunged downward and buried its head in the turf.
'Now, Fausta,' said the Queen, 'must you finish what I have but begun. Let us now see your weapon sweep on till its force shall be evenly spent.'
'When Zenobia fails,' said Fausta, 'there must be some evil influence abroad that shall cripple the powers of others yet more. However, let me try; for I have promised to prove to our Roman friend that the women, of Palmyra know the use of arms not less than the men.'
So saying, she chose her lance, and with little ceremony, and almost before our eyes could trace her movements, the weapon had flown, and passing through, as it seemed, the very centre of the perforated space, swept on till its force died away in the distance, and it fell gracefully to the ground.
A burst of applause arose from the surrounding groups.
'I knew,' said Zenobia, 'that I could trust the fame, of the women of Palmyra to you. At the harp, the needle, or the lance, our Fausta has no equal; unless,' turning herself round, 'in my own Julia. Now we will see what your arm can do.'
Standing near the lances, I selected one eminent for its smoothness and polish, and placed it in her hand.
With a form of so much less apparent vigor than either Zenobia or Fausta, so truly Syrian in a certain soft languor that spreads itself over her, whether at rest or in motion, it was amazing to see with what easy strength she held and balanced the heavy weapon. Every movement showed that there lay concealed within her ample power for this and every manly exercise, should she please to put it forth.
'At the schools,' said the princess, 'Fausta and I went on ever with equal steps. Her advantage lies in being at all times mistress of her power. My arm is often treacherous, through failure of the heart.'
It was not difficult to see the truth of what she said, in her varying color, and the slightly agitated lance.
But addressing herself to the sport, and with but one instant's pause, the lance flew toward the shield, and entering the opening, but not with a perfect direction, it passed not through, but hung there by the head.
'Princess,' said Zabdas, springing from his repose with more than wonted energy, 'that lance was chosen, as I saw, by a Roman. Try once more with one that I shall choose, and see what the issue will be.'
'Truly,' said Julia, 'I am ready to seize any plea under which to redeem my fame. But first give me yourself a lesson, will you not?'
The Egyptian was not deaf to the invitation, and once more essaying the feat, and with his whole soul bent to the work, the lance, quicker than sight, darted from his hand, and following in the wake of Fausta's, lighted farther than hers—being driven with more force—upon the lawn.
The princess now, with more of confidence in her air, again balanced and threw the lance which Zabdas had chosen—this time with success; for, passing through the shield, it fell side by side with Fausta's.
'Fortune still unites us,' said Julia; 'if for a time she leaves me a little in the rear, yet she soon repents of the wrong, and brings me up.' Saying which, she placed herself at Fausta's side.
'But come, our worthy cousin,' said the Queen, now turning and addressing Antiochus, who stood with folded arms, dully surveying the scene, 'will you not try a lance?'
'Tis hardly worth our while,' said he, 'for the gods seem to have delivered all the honor and power of the East into the hands of women.'
'Yet it may not be past redemption,' said Julia, 'and who more likely than Hercules to achieve so great a work? Pray begin.'
That mass of a man, hardly knowing whether the princess were jesting or in earnest—for to the usual cloud that rested upon his intellect, there was now added the stupidity arising from free indulgence at the tables—slowly moved toward the lances, and selecting the longest and heaviest, took his station at the proper place. Raising then his arm, which was like a weaver's beam, and throwing his enormous body into attitudes which showed that no child's play was going on, he let drive the lance, which, shooting with more force than exactness of aim, struck upon the outer rim of the shield, and then glancing sideways was near spearing a poor slave, whose pleasure it was, with others, to stand in the neighborhood of the butt, to pick up and return the weapons thrown, or withdraw them from the shield, where they might have fastened themselves.
Involuntary laughter broke forth upon this unwonted performance of the lance; upon which it was easy to see, by the mounting color of Antiochus, that his passions were inflamed. Especially—did we afterward suppose—was he enraged at the exclamation of one of the slaves near the shield, who was heard to say to his fellow: 'Now is the reign of women at an end.' Seizing, however, on the instant, another lance, he was known to exclaim, by a few who stood near him, but who did not take the meaning of his words: 'With a better mark, there may be a better aim.' Then resuming his position, he made at first, by a long and steady aim, as if he were going, with certainty now, to hit the shield; but, changing suddenly the direction of his lance, he launched it with fatal aim, and a giant's force, at the slave who had uttered those words. It went through him, as he had been but a sheet of papyrus, and then sung along the plain. The poor wretch gave one convulsive leap into the air, and dropped dead.
'Zenobia!' exclaimed Julia.
'Great Queen!' said Fausta.
'Shameful!'—'dastardly!'—'cowardly!'—broke from one and another of the company.
'That's the mark I never miss,' observed Antiochus; and at the same time regaled his nose from a box of perfume.
'Tis his own chattel,' said the Queen; 'he may do with it as he lists. He has trenched upon no law of the realm, but only upon those of breeding and humanity. Our presence, and that of this company, might, we think, have claimed a more gentle observance.'
'Dogs!' fiercely shouted Antiochus—who, as the Queen said these words, her eyes fastened indignantly upon him, had slunk sulkily to his seat—'dogs,' said he, aiming suddenly to brave the matter, 'off with yonder carrion!—it offends the Queen.'
'Would our cousin,' said Zenobia, 'win the hearts of Palmyra, this surely is a mistaken way. Come, let us to the palace. This spot is tainted. But that it may he sweetened as far as may be, slaves!' she cried, 'bring to the gates the chariot, and other remaining chattels of Antiochus!'
Antiochus, at these words, pale with the apprehensions of a cowardly spirit, rose and strode toward the palace, from which, in a few moments, he was seen on his way to the city.
'You may judge me needlessly harsh, Piso,' said the Queen, as we now sauntered toward the palace, 'but truly the condition of the slave is such, that seeing the laws protect him not, we must do something to enlist in his behalf the spirit of humanity. The breach of courtesy, however, was itself not to be forgiven.'
'It was a merciful fate of the slave,' said I, 'compared with what our Roman slaves suffer. To be lashed to death, or crucified, or burned, or flayed alive, or torn by dogs, or thrown as food for fishes, is something worse than this quick exit of the thrall of Antiochus. You of these softer climes are in your natures milder than we, and are more moved by scenes like this. What would you think, Queen, to see not one, but scores or hundreds of these miserable beings, upon bare suspicion of attempts against their master's life, condemned, by their absolute irresponsible possessors, to death in all its most revolting forms? Nay, even our Roman women, of highest rank, and gentlest nurture, stand by while their slaves are scourged, or themselves apply the lash. If under this torture they die, it is thought of but as of the death of vermin. War has made with us this sort of property of so cheap possession, that to destroy it is often a useful measure of economy. By a Roman, nothing is less regarded than life. And in truth, I see not how it can be otherwise.'
'But surely,' said Julia, 'you do not mean to defend this condition of life. It is not like the sentiments I have heard you express,'
'I defend it only thus,' I replied: 'so long as we have wars—and when will they cease?—there must be captives; and what can these be but slaves? To return them to their own country, were to war to no purpose. To colonize them were to strip war of its horrors. To make them freemen of our own soil, were to fill the land with foes and traitors. Then if there must be slaves, there must be masters and owners. And the absolute master of other human beings, responsible to no one, can be no other than a tyrant. If he has, as he must have, the power to punish at will, he will exercise it, and that cruelly. If he has the power to kill, as he must have, then will he kill and kill cruelly when his nature prompts. And this his nature will prompt, or if not his nature absolutely, yet his educated nature. Our children grow up within the sight and sound of all the horrors and sufferings of this state of things. They use their slaves—with which, almost in infancy, they are provided—according to their pleasure—as dogs, as horses; they lash, they scourge them, long before they have the strength to kill. What wonder if the boy, who, when a boy, used a slave as his beast of burden, or his footstool, when he grows to be a man, should use him as a mark to be shot at? The youth of Antiochus was reared in Rome. I presume to say that his earliest play-things were slaves, and the children of slaves. I am not surprised at his act. And such acts are too common in Rome for this to disturb me much. The education of Antiochus was continued and completed, I may venture also to say, at the circus. I think the result very natural. It cannot be very different, where slavery and the sports of the amphitheatre exist.'
'I perceive your meaning,' said Julia; 'Antiochus you affirm to be the natural product of the customs and institutions which now prevail. It is certainly so, and must continue so, until some new element shall be introduced into society, that shall ultimately reform its practices, by first exalting the sentiments and the character of the individual. Such an element do I detect——'
'In Christianity,' said Fausta; 'this is your panacea. May it prove all you desire; yet methinks it gives small promise, seeing it has already been at work more than two hundred years, and has accomplished no more.'
'A close observer,' replied Julia, 'sees much of the effect of Christianity beside that which appears upon the surface. If I err not greatly, a few years more will reveal what this religion has been doing these two centuries and more. Revolutions which are acted out in a day, have often been years or centuries in preparation. An eye that will see, may see the final issue, a long time foreshadowed in the tendencies and character of a preceding age.'
The princess uttered this with earnestness. I have reflected upon it. And if you, my Curtius, will look around upon the state of the empire, you will find many things to startle you. But of this another time.
Assembled in the evening in the court of the elephant, we were made to forget whatever had proved disagreeable during the day, while we listened to the 'Frogs,' read by Julia and Longinus.
The following day was appointed for the chase, and early in the morning I was waked by the braying of trumpets, and the baying of dogs. I found the Queen already mounted and equipped for the sport, surrounded by Zabdas, Longinus, and a few of the nobles of Palmyra. We were soon joined by Julia and Fausta. In order to insure our sport, a tiger, made fierce by being for some days deprived of food, had the preceding evening been let loose from the royal collection into the neighboring forests. These forests, abounding in game, commence immediately, as it were, in the rear of the palace. They present a boundless continuity of crag, mountain, and wooded plain, offering every variety of ground to those who seek the pleasures of the chase. The sun had not been long above the horizon when we sallied forth from the palace gates, and from the smooth and shaven fields of the royal demesne, plunged at once into the
* * * * *
It was a moment of inexpressible horror. At the same instant, our eyes caught the form of the famished tiger, just in the act to spring from the crag upon the unconscious Queen. But before we had time to alarm Zenobia—which would indeed have been useless—a shaft from an unerring arm arrested the monster midair, whose body then tumbled heavily at the feet of Zenobia's Arab. The horse, rearing with affright, had nearly dashed the Queen against the opposite rocks, but keeping her seat, she soon, by her powerful arm and complete horsemanship, reduced him to his obedience, though trembling like a terrified child through every part of his body. A thrust from my hunting spear quickly despatched the dying beast. We now gathered around the Queen.
* * * * *
Hardly were we arrived at the lawn in front of the palace, when a cloud of dust was observed to rise in the direction of the road to Palmyra, as if caused by a body of horse in rapid movement. 'What may this mean?' said Zenobia: 'orders were strict, that our brief retirement should not be disturbed. This indicates an errand of some urgency.'
'Some embassy from abroad, perhaps,' said Julia, 'that cannot brook delay. It may be from your great brother at Rome.'
While we, in a sportive humor, indulged in various conjectures, an official of the palace announced the approach of a Roman herald, 'who craved permission to address the Queen of Palmyra.' He was ordered to advance.
In a few moments, upon a horse covered with dust and foam, appeared the Roman herald. Without one moment's hesitancy, he saw in Zenobia the Queen, and taking off his helmet, said, 'that Caius Petronius, and Cornelius Varro, ambassadors of Aurelian, were in waiting at the outer gates of the palace, and asked a brief audience of the Queen of Palmyra, upon affairs of deepest interest, both to Zenobia and the Emperor.'
'It is not our custom,' said Zenobia in reply, 'when seeking repose, as now, from the cares of state, to allow aught to break it. But we will not be selfish nor churlish. Bid the servants of your Emperor draw near, and we will hear them.'
I was not unwilling that the messengers of Aurelian should see Zenobia just as she was now. Sitting upon her noble Arabian, and leaning upon her hunting spear, her countenance glowing with a higher beauty than ever before, as it seemed to me—her head surmounted with a Parthian hunting-cap, from which drooped a single ostrich feather, springing from a diamond worth a nation's rental, her costume also Parthian, and revealing in the most perfect manner the just proportions of her form—I thought I had never seen even her, when she so filled and satisfied the eye and the mind—and, for that moment, I was almost a traitor to Aurelian. Had Julia filled her seat, I should have been quite so. As it was, I could worship her who sat her steed with no less grace, upon the left of the Queen, without being guilty of that crime. On Zenobia's right were Longinus and Zabdas, Gracchus, and the other noblemen of Palmyra. I and Fausta were near Julia. In this manner, just as we had come in from the chase, did we await the ambassadors of Aurelian.
Announced by trumpets, and followed by their train, they soon wheeled into the lawn, and advanced toward the Queen.
'Caius Petronius and Cornelius Varro,' said Zenobia, first addressing the ambassadors, and moving toward them a few paces, 'we bid you heartily welcome to Palmyra. If we receive you thus without form, you must take the blame partly to yourselves, who have sought us with such haste. We put by the customary observances, that we may cause you no delay. These whom you see are all friends or counsellors. Speak your errand without restraint.'
'We come,' replied Petronius, 'as you may surmises great Queen, upon no pleasing errand. Yet we cannot but persuade ourselves, that the Queen of Palmyra will listen to the proposals of Aurelian, and preserve the good understanding which has lasted so long between the West and the East. There have been brought already to your ears, if I have been rightly informed, rumors of dissatisfaction on the part of our Emperor, with the affairs of the East, and of plans of an eastern expedition. It is my business now to say, that these rumors have been well founded. I am further to say, that the object at which Aurelian has aimed, in the preparations he has made, is not Persia, but Palmyra.'
'He does us too much honor,' said Zenobia, her color rising, and her eye kindling; 'and what, may I ask, are specifically his demands, and the price of peace?'
'For a long series of years,' replied the ambassador, 'the wealth of Egypt and the East, as you are aware, flowed into the Roman treasury. That stream has been diverted to Palmyra. Egypt, and Syria, and Bithynia, and Mesopotamia, were dependants upon Rome, and Roman provinces. It is needless to say what they now are. The Queen of Palmyra was once but the Queen of Palmyra; she is now Queen of Egypt and of the East—Augusta of the Roman empire—her sons styled and arrayed as Caesars. By whatever consent of former emperors these honors have been won or permitted, it is not, we are required to say, with the consent of Aurelian. By whatever service in behalf of Rome they may, in the judgment of some, be thought to be deserved, in the judgment of Aurelian the reward exceeds greatly the value of the service rendered. But while we would not be deemed insensible to those services, and while he honors the greatness and the genius of Zenobia, he would, he conceives, be unfaithful to the interests of those who have raised him to his high office, if he did not require that in the East, as in the West, the Roman empire should again be restored to the limits which bounded it in the reigns of the virtuous Antonines. This he holds essential to his own honor, and the glory of the Roman world.'
'You have delivered yourself, Caius Petronius,' replied the Queen, in a calm and firm voice, 'as it became a Roman to do, with plainness, and as I must believe, without reserve. So far I honor you. Now hear me, and as you hear, so report to him who sent you. Tell Aurelian that what I am, I have made myself; that the empire which hails me Queen has been moulded into what it is by Odenatus and Zenobia; it is no gift, but an inheritance—a conquest and a possession; it is held, not by favor, but by right of birth and power; and that when he will give away possessions or provinces which he claims as his or Rome's, for the asking, I will give away Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. Tell him that as I have lived a queen, so, the gods helping, I will die a queen,—that the last moment of my reign and my life shall be the same. If he is ambitious, let him be told that I am ambitious too—ambitious of wider and yet wider empire—of an unsullied fame, and of my people's love. Tell him I do not speak of gratitude on the part of Rome, but that posterity will say, that the Power which stood between Rome and Persia, and saved the empire in the East, which avenged the death of Valerian, and twice pursued the king of kings as far as the gates of Ctesiphon, deserved some fairer acknowledgment than the message you now bring, at the hands of a Roman emperor.'
'Let the Queen,' quickly rejoined Petronius, but evidently moved by what he had heard, 'let the Queen fully take me. Aurelian purposes not to invade the fair region where I now am, and where my eyes are rejoiced by this goodly show of city, plain and country. He hails you Queen of Palmyra! He does but ask again those appendages of your greatness, which have been torn from Rome, and were once members of her body.'
'Your emperor is gracious indeed!' replied the Queen, smiling; 'if he may hew off my limbs, he will spare the trunk!—and what were the trunk without the limbs?'
'And is this,' said Petronius, his voice significant of inward grief, 'that which I must carry back to Rome? Is there no hope of a better adjustment?'
'Will not the Queen of Palmyra delay for a few days her final answer?' added Varro: 'I see, happily, in her train, a noble Roman, from whom, as well as from us, she may obtain all needed knowledge of both the character and purposes of Aurelian. We are at liberty to wait her pleasure.'
'You have our thanks, Romans, for your courtesy, and we accept your offer; although in what I have said, I think I have spoken the sense of my people.'
'You have indeed, great Queen,' interrupted Zabdas with energy.
'Yet I owe it to my trusty counsellor, the great Longinus,' continued the Queen, 'and who now thinks not with me, to look farther into the reasons—which, because they are his, must be strong ones—-by which he supports an opposite judgment.'
'Those reasons have now,' said the Greek, 'lost much or all of their force,'—Zabdas smiled triumphantly—'yet still I would advocate delay.'
'Let it be so then,' said the Queen; 'and in the meanwhile, let the ambassadors of Aurelian not refuse the hospitalities of the Eastern Queen. Our palace is yours, while it shall please you to remain.'
'For the night and the morning, we accept your offers; then, as strangers in this region, we would return to the city, to see better than we have yet done the objects which it presents. It seemed to us, on a hasty glance, surrounded by its luxuriant plains, like the habitation of gods. We would dwell there a space.'
'It shall be as you will. Let me now conduct you to the palace.'
So saying, Zenobia, putting spurs to her horse, led the way to the palace, followed by a long train of Romans and Palmyrenes. The generous hospitality of the tables closed the day and wore away the night.
You will be glad to learn, my Curtius, that the time has now come, when I may with reason look for news from Isaac, or for his return. It was his agreement to write of his progress, so soon as he should arrive at Ecbatana. But since he would consume but a very few days in the accomplishment of his task, if, the gods helping, he should be able to accomplish it at all, I may see him even before I hear from him, and, O day thrice happy! my brother perhaps with him. Yet am I not without solicitude, even though Calpurnius should return. For how shall I meet him?—as a Persian, or a Roman?—as a friend, or an enemy? As a brother, I can never cease to love him; as a public enemy of Rome, I may be obliged to condemn him.
You have indeed gratified me by what you have said concerning the public works in which the emperor is now engaged. Would that the erection of temples and palaces might draw away his thoughts from the East. The new wall, of so much wider sweep, with which he is now enclosing the city, is well worthy the greatness of his genius. Yet do we, my Curtius, perceive in this rebuilding and strengthening of the walls of Rome, no indication of our country's decline? Were Rome vigorous and sound, as once, in her limbs, what were the need of this new defence about the heart? It is to me a confession of weakness, rather than any evidence of greatness and strength. Aurelian achieves more for Rome by the strictness of his discipline, and his restoration of the ancient simplicity and severity among the troops, than he could by a triple wall about the metropolis. Rome will then already have fallen, when a Gothic army shall have penetrated so far as even to have seen her gates. The walls of Rome are her living and moving walls of flesh. Her old and crumbling ramparts of masonry, upon which we have so often climbed in sport, rolling down into the surrounding ditch huge masses, have ever been to me, when I have thought of them, pregnant signs of security and power.
The ambassadors, Petronius and Varro, early on the morning succeeding their interview with the Queen, departed for the city. They were soon followed by Zenobia and her train of counsellors and attendants. It had been before agreed that the princess, Fausta, and myself, should remain longer at the palace, for the purpose of visiting, as had been proposed, the aged Christian hermit, whose retreat is among the fastnesses of the neighboring mountains. I would rather have accompanied the Queen, seeing it was so certain that important interviews and discussions would take place, when they should be all returned once more to the city. I suppose this was expressed in my countenance, for the Queen, as she took her seat in the chariot, turned and said to me: 'We shall soon see you again in the city. A few hours in the mountains will be all that Julia will require; and sure I am that the wisdom of St. Thomas will more than repay you for what you may lose in Palmyra. Our topics will relate but to worldly aggrandizement—yours to more permanent interests.'
How great a pity that the love of glory has so fastened upon the heart of this wonderful woman; else might she live, and reign, and die the object of universal idolatry. But set as her heart is upon conquest and universal empire throughout the East, and of such marvellous power to subdue every intellect, even the strongest, to her will, I can see nothing before her but a short and brilliant career, ending in ruin, absolute and complete. Zenobia has not, or will not allow it to be seen that she has, any proper conception of the power of Rome. She judges of Rome by the feeble Valerian, and the unskilful Heraclianus, and by their standard measures such men as Aurelian, and Probus, and Carus. She may indeed gain a single battle, for her genius is vast, and her troops well disciplined and brave. But the loss of a battle would be to her the loss of empire, while to Rome it would be but as the sting of a summer insect. Yet this she does not or will not see. To triumph over Aurelian is, I believe, the vision that dazzles, deludes, and will destroy her.
No sooner had the Queen and her train departed, than, mounting our horses, we took our way, Julia, Fausta, and myself, through winding valleys and over rugged hills, toward the hermit's retreat. Reaching the base of what seemed an almost inaccessible crag, we found it necessary to leave our horses in the care of attendant slaves, and pursue the remainder of the way on foot. The hill which we now had to ascend was thickly grown over with every variety of tree and bush, with here and there a mountain stream falling from rock to rock, and forcing its way to the valley below. The sultry heat of the day compelled us frequently to pause, as we toiled up the side of the hill, seating ourselves, now beneath the dark shadows of a branching cedar or the long-lived terebinth, and now on the mossy banks of a descending brook. The mingled beauty and wildness of the scene, together with such companions, soon drove the Queen, Rome, and Palmyra, from my thoughts. I could not but wish that we might lose our way to the hermit's cave, that by such means our walk might be prolonged.
'Is it, I wonder,' said Fausta, 'the instruction of his religion which confines this Christian saint to these distant solitudes? What a singular faith it must be which should drive all who embrace it to the woods and rocks! What would become of our dear Palmyra, were it to be changed to a Christian city? The same event, I suppose, Julia, would change it to a desert.'
'I do not think Christianity prescribes this mode of life, though. I do not know but it may permit it,' replied the princess. 'But of this, the Hermit will inform us. He may have chosen this retreat on account of his extreme age, which permits him no longer to engage in the affairs of an active life.'
'I trust for the sake of Christianity it is so,' added Fausta; 'for I cannot conceive of a true religion inculcating, or even permitting inactivity. What would become of the world, if it could be proved that the gods required us to pass our days in retired contemplation?'
'Yet it cannot be denied,' said Julia, 'that the greatest benefactors of mankind have been those who have in solitude, and with patient labor, pursued truth till they have discovered it, and then revealed it to shed its light and heat upon the world.'