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- Serapis, Volume 1. - 2/8 -


"Dada warbled like a lark, and Agne--well you know how it always is. Her voice sounded lovely but it was just as usual. You can guess how much there is in her and how deep her feeling is but she never quite brings it out. What has she to complain of with us? And yet whatever she sings has that mournful, painful ring which even you can do nothing to alter. However, she pleased them better than Dada did, for I noticed that Gorgo and the gentleman glanced at each other and at her, and whispered a word now and then which certainly referred to Ague. When they had sung two songs the young lady came towards us and praised both the girls, and asked whether we would undertake to learn something quite new. I told her that my father was a great musician who could master the most difficult things at the first hearing."

"The most difficult! Hm... that depends," said the old man. "Did she show it you?"

"No; it is something in the style of Linus and she sang it to us."

"The daughter of the rich Porphyrius sang for your entertainment? Yours?" said Karnis laughing. "By Sirius! The world is turning upside down. Now that girls are forbidden to perform to the gentlefolks, art is being cultivated by the upper classes; it cannot be killed outright. For the future the listeners will be paid to keep quiet and the singers pay for the right of torturing their ears--our ears, our luckless ears will be victimized."

Orpheus smiled and shook his head; then, again dropping his knife, he went on eagerly:

"But if you could only hear her! You would give your last copper piece to hear her again."

"Indeed!" muttered his father. "Well, there are very good teachers here. Something by Linus did you say she sang?"

"Something of that kind; a lament for the dead of very great power: 'Return, oh! return my beloved, came back--come home!' that was the burthen of it. And there was a passage which said: 'Oh that each tear had a voice and could join with me in calling thee!" And how she sang it, father! I do not think I ever in my life heard anything like it. Ask mother. Even Dada's eyes were full of tears."

"Yes, it was beautiful," the mother agreed. "I could not help wishing that you were there."

Karnis rose and paced the little room, waving his arms and muttering:

"Ah! so that is how it is! A friend of the Muses. We saved the large lute--that is well. My chlamys has an ugly hole in it--if the girls were not asleep... but the first thing to-morrow Ague... Tell me, is she handsome, tall?"

Herse had been watching her excitable husband with much satisfaction and now answered his question: "Not a Hera--not a Muse--decidedly not. Hardly above the middle height, slightly made, but not small, black eyes, long lashes, dark straight eyebrows. I could hardly, like Orpheus, call her beautiful. . ."

"Oh yes, mother.--Beautiful is a great word, and one my father has taught me to use but rarely; but she--if she is not beautiful who is?--when she raised her large dark eyes and threw back her head to bring out her lament; tone after tone seemed to come from the bottom of her heart and rise to the furthest height of heaven. Ah, if Agne could learn to sing like that! 'Throw your whole soul into your singing.'--You have told her that again and again. Now, Gorgo can and does. And she stood there as steady and as highly strung as a bow, every note came out with the ring of an arrow and went straight to the heart, as clear and pure as possible."

"Be silent!" cried the old man covering his ears with his hands. "I shall not close an eye till daylight, and then... Orpheus, take that silver--take it all, I have no more--go early to market and buy flowers-- laurel branches, ivy, violets and roses. But no lotuses though the market here is full of them; they are showy, boastful things with no scent, I cannot bear them. We will go crowned to the Temple of the Muses."

"Buy away, buy all you want!" said Herse laughing, as she showed her husband some bright gold pieces. "We got that to-day, and if all is well. . ." Here she paused, pointed to the curtain, and went on again in a lower tone: "It all depends of course, on Agne's playing us no trick."

"How so? Why? She is a good girl and I will. . ."

"No, no," said Herse holding him back. "She does not know yet what the business is. The lady wants her. . ."

"Well?"

"To sing in the Temple of Isis."

Karnis colored. He was suddenly called from a lovely dream back to the squalid reality. "In the Temple of Isis," he said gloomily. "Agne? In the face of all the people? And she knows nothing about it?"

"Nothing, father."

"No? Well then, if that is the case . . . Agne, the Christian, in the Temple of Isis--here, here, where Bishop Theophilus is destroying all our sanctuaries and the monks outdo their master. Ah, children, children, how pretty and round and bright a soap-bubble is, and how soon it bursts. Do you know at all what it is that you are planning? If the black flies smell it out and it becomes known, by the great Apollo! we should have fared better at the hands of the pirates. And yet, and yet.--Do you know at all how the girl...?"

"She wept at the lady's singing," interrupted Herse eagerly, "and, silent as she generally is, on her way home she said: 'To sing like that! She is a happy girl!'"

Karnis looked up with renewed confidence.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "that is my Agne. Yes, yes, she truly loves her divine art. She can sing, she will sing! We will venture it, if you, I, all of us die for it!

"Herse, Orpheus, what have we to lose? Our gods, too, shall have their martyrs. It is a poor life that has no excitement. Our art--why, all I have ever had has been devoted to it. I make no boast of having sacrificed everything, and if gold and lands were again to be mine I would become a beggar once more for the sake of art: We have always held the divine Muse sacred, but who can keep up a brave heart when he sees her persecuted! She may only be worshipped in darkness in these days, and the Queen of Gods and men shuns the light like a moth, a bat, an owl. If we must die let it be with and for Her! Once more let pure and perfect song rejoice this old heart, and if afterwards . . . My children, we have no place in this dim, colorless world. While the Arts lived there was Spring on the earth. Now they are condemned to death and it is Winter. The leaves fall from all the trees, and we piping birds need groves to sing in. How often already has Death laid his hand on our shoulder, every breath we draw is a boon of mercy--the extra length given in by the weaver, the hour of grace granted by the hangman to his victim! Our lives are no longer our own, a borrowed purse with damaged copper coins. The hard-hearted creditor has already bent his knuckles, and when he knocks the time is up. Once more let us have one hour of pure and perfect enjoyment, and then we will pay up capital and interest when we must."

"It cannot and will not be yet," said Herse resolutely, but she wiped her eyes with her band. "If Agne sings even, so long as she does it without coercion and of her own free-will no Bishop can punish us."

"He cannot, he dare not!" cried the old man. There are still laws and judges."

"And Gorgo's family is influential as well as rich. Porphyrius has power to protect us, and you do not yet know what a fancy he has taken to us. Ask mother."

"It is like a story," Herse put in. "Before we left, the old lady--she must be eighty or more--took me aside and asked me where we were lodging. I told her at the Widow Mary's and when she heard it she struck her crutch on the floor. 'Do you like the place?' she asked. I told her not at all, and said we could not possibly stop here."

"Quite right!" cried Karnis. "The monks in the court-yard will kill us as dead as rats if they hear us learning heathen hymns."

"That is what I told her; but the old lady did not allow me to finish; she drew me close to her and whispered, 'only do as my granddaughter wishes and you shall be safely housed and take this for the present'-- and she put her hand into the purse at her girdle, gave the gold into my hand, and added loud enough for the others to hear: 'Fifty gold pieces out of my own pocket if Gorgo tells me that she is satisfied with your performance.'"

"Fifty gold pieces!" cried Karnis clasping his hands. "That brightens up the dull grey of existence. Fifty, then, are certain. If we sing six times that makes a talent--[estimated in 1880 at $1100]--and that will buy back our old vineyard at Leontium. I will repair the old Odeum--they have made a cowhouse of it--and when we sing there the monks may come and listen! You laugh? But you are simpletons--I should like to see who will forbid my singing on my own land and in my own country. A talent of gold!

"It is quite enough to pay on account, and I will not agree to any bargain that will not give me the field-slaves and cattle. Castles in the air, do you say? But just listen to me: We are sure you see of a hundred gold pieces at least. . ." He had raised his voice in his eagerness and while he spoke the curtains had been softly opened, and the dull glimmer of the lamp which stood in front of Orpheus fell on a head which was charming in spite of its disorder. A quantity of loose fair hair curled in papers stuck up all over the round head and fell over the forehead, the eyes were tired and still half shut, but the little mouth was wide awake and laughing with the frank amusement of light-hearted youth.

Karnis, without noticing the listener, had gone on with his visionary hopes of regaining his estates by his next earnings, but at this point the young girl, holding the curtain in her right hand, stretched out her plump left arm and begged in a humble whine:

"Good father Karnis, give me a little of your wealth; five poor little drachmae!"

The old man started; but he instantly recovered himself and answered good-naturedly enough:

"Go back to bed, you little hussy. You ought to be asleep instead of listening there!"


Serapis, Volume 1. - 2/8

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