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- Serapis, Volume 1. - 3/8 -
"Asleep?" said the girl. "While you are shouting like an orator against the wind! Five drachmae, father. I stick to that. A new ribband for me will cost one, and the same for Agne, two. Two I will spend on wine for us all, and that makes the five."
"That makes four--you are a great arithmetician to be sure!"
"Four?" said Dada, as much amazed as though the moon had fallen. "If only I had a counting-frame. No, father, five I tell you--it is five."
"No, child, four; and you shall have four," replied her father. "Plutus is at the door and to-morrow morning you shall both have garlands."
"Yes, of violets, ivy and roses," added Dame Herse. "Is Agne asleep?"
"As sound as the dead. She always sleeps soundly unless she lies wide awake all the night through. But we were both so tired--and I am still. It is a comfort to yawn. Do you see how I am sitting?"
"On the clothes-chest?" said Herse.
"Yes, and the curtain is not a strong back to the seat. Fortunately if I fall asleep I shall drop forwards, not backwards."
"But there is a bed for each of you," said the mother, and giving the girl a gentle push she followed her into the sleeping-alcove. In a few minutes she came out again.
"That is just like Dada!" she exclaimed. "Little Papias had rolled off the chest on which he was sleeping, so the good girl had put him into her bed and was sitting on the chest herself, tired as she was."
"She would do anything for that boy," said Karnis. "But it is past midnight. Come, Orpheus, let us make the bed!"
Three long hen-coops which stood piled against the wall were laid on the ground and covered with mats; on these the tired men stretched their limbs, but they could not sleep.
The little lamp was extinguished, and for an hour all was still in the dark room. Then, suddenly, there was a loud commotion; some elastic object flew against the wall with a loud flap, and Karnis, starting up, called out: "Get out--monster!"
"What is it?" cried Herse who had also been startled, and the old man replied angrily:
"Some daemon, some dog of a daemon is attacking me and giving me no peace. Wait, you villain--there, perhaps that will settle you," and he flung his second sandal. Then, without heeding the rustling fall of some object that he had hit by accident, he gasped out:
"The impudent fiend will not let me be. It knows that we need Agne's voice, and it keeps whispering, first in one ear and then in the other, that I should threaten to sell her little brother if she refuses; but I-- I--strike a light, Orpheus!--She is a good girl and rather than do such a thing. . ."
"The daemon has been close to me too," said the son as he blew on the spark he had struck.
"And to me too," added Herse nervously. "It is only natural. There are no images of the gods in this Christian hovel. Away, hateful serpent! We are honest folks and will not agree to any vile baseness. Here is my amulet, Karnis; if the daemon comes again you must turn it round--you know how."
Early next morning the singers set out for the house of Porphyrius. The party was not complete, however, for Dada had been forced to remain at home. The shoes that the old man had flung to scare away the daemon had caught in the girl's dress which she had just washed, and had dragged it down on to the earth; she had found it in the morning full of holes burnt by the ashes into the damp material. Dada had no other presentable garment, so, in spite of her indignant refusal and many tears, she had to remain indoors with Papias. Agne's anxious offers to stay in her place with the little boy and to lend Dada her dress, both Karnis and his wife had positively refused; and Dada had lent her aid--at first silently though willingly and then with her usual merriment--in twining garlands for the others and in dressing Agne's smooth black plaits with a wreath of ivy and violets.
The men were already washed, anointed and crowned with poplar and laurel when a steward arrived from Porphyrius to bid them follow him to his master's house. But a small sacrifice was necessary, for the messenger desired them to lay aside their wreaths, which would excite ill-feeling among the monks, and certainly be snatched off by the Christian mob. Karnis when he started was greatly disappointed, and as much depressed as he had been triumphant and hopeful a short time before.
The monks, who had gathered outside the Xenodochium, glanced with scowling suspicion at the party, who could not recover the good spirits with which they had begun the day till they were fairly out of the narrow, gloomy alleys, reeking with tar and salt fish, that adjoined the harbor, and where they had to push their way through a dense throng. The steward led the van with Herse, talking freely in reply to her enquiries.
His master, he said, was one of the great merchants of the city, whose wife had died twenty years since in giving birth to Gorgo. His two sons were at present absent on their travels. The old lady who had been so liberal in her treatment of the singers was Damia, the mother of Porphyrius. She had a fine fortune of her own, and notwithstanding her great age was still respected as the soul of business in the household, and as a woman deeply versed in the mysterious sciences. Mary, the pious Christian, who had founded the "House of the Holy Martyr," was the widow of Apelles, the brother of Porphyrius, but she had ceased all intercourse with her husband's family. This was but natural, as she was at the head of the Christian women of Alexandria, while the household of Porphyrius-- though the master himself had been baptized--was as thoroughly heathen as any in Alexandria.
Karnis heard nothing of all this, for he came last of the party. Orpheus and Agne followed next to Herse and the steward, and after them came two slaves, carrying the lutes and pipes. Agne walked with downcast eyes, as if she desired to avoid seeing all that surrounded her, though when Orpheus addressed her she shyly glanced up at him and answered briefly and timidly. They presently came out of an obscure alley by the canal connecting Kibotus with Lake Mareotis where the Nile-boats lay at anchor. Karnis drew a deeper breath, for here the air was clear and balmy; a light northerly breeze brought the refreshing fragrance of the sea, and the slender palm-trees that bordered the canal threw long shadows mingling with the massive shade of the sycamores. The road was astir with busy groups, birds sang in the trees, and the old musician drank in the exciting and aromatic atmosphere of the Egyptian Spring with keen enjoyment.
As they reached the middle of the steep bridge across the canal he involuntarily stood still, riveted by the view of the southwest. In his excitement he threw up his arms, his eyes glistened with moisture and with the enthusiasm of youth, and, as was always the case when his emotions were stirred by some glorious work of God or man, an image rose to his mind, all unbidden--the image of his eldest son, now dead, but in life his closest and most sympathetic comrade. He felt as though his hand could grasp the shoulder of that son, too early snatched away, whose gifts had far transcended those of the surviving Orpheus--as though he too could gaze with him on the grand scene that lay before him.
On a platform of rocks and mighty masonry rose a structure of wonderful magnificence and beauty, so brilliantly illuminated by the morning sun that its noble proportions and gorgeous colors showed in dazzling splendor and relief. Over the gilt dome bent the cloudless blue of the African sky, and the polished hemisphere shone, as radiant as the sun whose beams it reflected. Sloping planes for vehicles, and flights of steps for pedestrians led up to the gates. The lower part of this wonderful edifice--the great Temple of Serapis--was built to stand forever, and the pillars of the vestibule supported a roof more fitted to the majesty of the gods than to the insignificance of mortals; priests and worshippers moved here like children among the trunks of some gigantic forest. Round the cornice, in hundreds of niches, and on every projection, all the gods of Olympus and all the heroes and sages of Greece seemed to have met in conclave, and stood gazing down on the world in gleaming brass or tinted marble. Every portion of the building blazed with gold and vivid coloring; the painter's hand had added life to the marble groups in high relief that filled the pediments and the smaller figures in the long row of metopes. All the population of a town might have found refuge in the vast edifice and its effect on the mind was like that of a harmonious symphony of adoration sung by a chorus of giants.
"All hail! Great Serapis! I greet thee in joyful humility, thankful that Thou hast granted to my old eyes to see Thy glorious and eternal temple once again!" murmured Karnis in devout contemplation. Then, appealing to his wife and son, he pointed in silence to the building. Presently, however, as he watched Orpheus gazing in speechless delight at its magnificent proportions he could not forbear.
"This," he began with fervid enthusiasm, "is the stronghold of Serapis the King of the Gods! A work for all time. Its youth has lasted five hundred years, its future will extend to all eternity.--Aye, so it is; and so long as it endures in all its glory the old gods cannot be deposed!"
"No one will ever dare to touch a stone of it," said the steward. "Every child in Alexandria knows that the world will crumble into dust and ashes if a finger is laid on that Temple, and the man who ventures to touch the sacred image. . ."
"The god can protect himself!" interrupted the singer. "But you--you Christian hypocrites who pretend to hate life and love death--if you really long so vehemently for the end of all things, you have only to fall upon this glorious structure.--Do that, do that--only do that!"
The old man shook his fist at the invisible foe and Herse echoed his words:
"Aye, aye, only do that!" Then she added more calmly: "Well, if everything comes to an end at once the enemies of the gods will die with us; and there can be nothing terrible in perishing at the same time with everything that is beautiful or dear to us."
"Nevertheless," said the steward, "the Bishop has put out his hand to touch the sanctuary. But our noble Olympius would not suffer the sacrilegious host to approach, and they had to retire with broken heads. Serapis will not be mocked; he will stand though all else perish. 'Eternity,' the priest tells us, 'is to him but as an instant, and while millions of generations bloom and fade, he is still and forever the
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