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- Serapis, Volume 1. - 5/8 -


had often accommodated guests, and which would now serve very well as a residence for Karnis and his party. Indeed, it was particularly well suited for a family of musicians, for they could practise there undisturbed, and Gorgo could at any time pay them a visit.

Herse went back to the Xenodochium with a lighter heart; her son also returned to the city to replace a number of necessaries that had been lost on board ship, and Karnis, rejoicing to be out of the monk-haunted asylum had remained in the men's room in the house of his new patron, enjoying the good things which abounded there. He felt as though he was here once more at home after years of exile. Here dwelt the spirit of his fathers; here he found men who enjoyed life after his own fashion, who could share his enthusiasms and his hatreds. He drank noble liquor out of an elegantly carved onyx cup, all that he heard soothed his ears, and all that he said met with entire sympathy. The future prospects of his family, till now so uncertain, were hardly inferior to those which his vivid imagination had painted the night before. And even if Fortune should again desert him, the hours of present enjoyment should be written down to the profit side of life, and remain a permanent gain at any rate in memory.

The venerable Damia, her son Porphyrius, and the fair Gorgo were in fact a trio such as are rarely met with. The master of the house, more cautious than the women, was inclined to think that his mother and daughter had been somewhat overhasty and imprudent in their advances and he had at first received Karnis with considerable reserve; but after a short interview he had convinced himself that the musician was a man of unusual culture and superior stamp. The old lady had, from the first, been predisposed in his favor, for she had read in the stars last night that the day was to bring her a fortunate meeting. Her wish was law, and Karnis could not help smiling when she addressed her son, whose hair had long been grey and who looked fully competent to manage his own household, as "my child," not hesitating to scold and reprove him. Her cathedra was a high arm-chair which she never quitted but to be carried to her observatory on the roof of the house, where she kept her astrological tablets and manuscripts. The only weakness about her was in her feet; but strong, and willing arms were always at her disposal to carry her about--to table, into her sleeping-room, and during the daytime out to sunny spots in the garden. She was never so happy as when Helios warmed her back with his rays, for her old blood needed it after the long night-watches that she still would keep in her observatory. Even during the hottest noon she would sit in the sun, with a large green umbrella to shade her keen eyes, and those who desired to speak with her might find shade as best they could. As she stood, much bent, but propped on her ivory crutches, eagerly following every word of a conversation, she looked as though she were prepared at any moment to spring into the middle of it and interrupt the speaker. She always said exactly what she meant without reserve or ruth; and throughout her long life, as the mistress of great wealth, she had always been allowed to have her own way. She asserted her rights even over her son, though he was the centre of a web whose threads reached to the furthest circumference of the known world. The peasants who tilled the earth by the Upper and Lower Nile, the shepherds who kept their flocks in the Arabian desert, in Syria, or on the Silphium meads of Cyrenaica, the wood-cutters of Lebanon and Pontus, the mountaineers of Hispania and Sardinia, the brokers, merchants, and skippers of every port on the Mediterranean, were bound by these threads to the villa on the shore of Mareotis, and felt the tie when the master there--docile as a boy to his mother's will--tightened or released his hold.

His possessions, even in his youth, had been so vast that their increment could bring no added enjoyment to him or his family, and yet their increase had become his life's task. He strove for a higher sum to figure on the annual balance sheet, as eagerly as an athlete strives for a prize; and his mother not only inspected the account, but watched every important undertaking with keen interest. When her son and his colleagues doubted over some decision it was she who gave the casting vote; but though her advice in most cases proved sound and profitable, she herself ascribed this less to her own acumen and knowledge of the world than to the hints she obtained from the stars and from magical calculations. Her son did not follow her in these speculations, but he rarely disputed the conclusions that she drew from her astrological studies. While she was turning night into day he was glad to entertain a few learned friends, for all the hours of leisure that he could snatch from his pursuit of fortune, he devoted to philosophy, and the most distinguished thinkers of Alexandria were happy to be received at the hospitable table of so rich a patron. He was charmed to be called "Callias,"

[The noble Athenian family of Callias was famed for its wealth and splendor.]

and the heathen teachers at the schools of the Museum and Serapeum regarded him as a faithful ally. It was known that he had been baptized, but he never liked to hear the fact mentioned. He won all hearts by his perfect modesty, but even more perhaps by a certain air of suffering and melancholy which protected the wealthy merchant against the envy of detractors.

In the course of her conversation with Karnis the old lady enquired particularly as to the antecedent history of Agne, for if there had been a stain on her character, or if she were by birth a slave, Gorgo could not of course be seen with her in public, and in that case Karnis would have to teach the lament of Isis to some freeborn singer. Karnis in reply could only shrug his shoulders, and beg the ladies and Porphyrius to judge for themselves when he should have related the young girl's story.

Three years since, he said, he had been staying at Antioch at the time of a violent outbreak against the levying of certain taxes. There had been much bloodshed, and he and his family had got out of the city as quickly as they could. It was growing dusk when they turned into a wayside inn, where they found Agne and her little brother captives to a soldier. During the night the girl had crept up to the little boy's bed, and to comfort and lull him had begun to sing him a simple song. The singer's voice was so pure and pathetic that it had touched both him and his wife and they had at once purchased the girl and her brother for a small sum. He had simply paid what the soldier asked, not regarding the children in the light of slaves; nor had he had any description of them written out, though it was, no doubt, in his power to treat them as slaves and to sell them again, since the sale had taken place before witnesses who might still be found. He had afterwards learnt from the girl that her parents were Christians and had settled in Antioch only a few years previously; but she had no friends nor relatives there. Her father, being a tax- collector in the service of the Emperor, had moved about a great deal, but she remembered his having spoken of Augusta Treviroruin in Belgica prima, as his native place.--[Now Trier or Treves, on the Moselle.]

Agne had witnessed the attack on her father's house by the angry mob who had killed her parents, their two slaves, and her elder brother. Her father must certainly have been an official of some rank, and probably, as it would seem, a Roman citizen, in which case--as Porphyrius agreed-- both the young girl and her little brother could legally claim their freedom. The insurgents who had dragged the two children out into the street had been driven off by the troops, and it was from them that Karnis had rescued them. "And I have never regretted it," added the old musician, "for Agne is a sweet, gentle soul. Of her voice I need say nothing, since you yourselves heard it yesterday."

"And were quite delighted with it!" cried Gorgo. "If flowers could sing it would be like that!"

"Well, well," said Karnis. "She has a lovely voice--but she wants wings. Something--what, I know not, keeps the violet rooted to the soil."

"Christian scruples," said the merchant, and Damia added:

"Let Eros touch her--that will loosen her tongue."

"Eros, always Eros!" repeated Gorgo shrugging her shoulders. "Nay, love means suffering--those who love drag a chain with them. To do the best of which he is capable man needs only to be free, true, and in health."

"That is a great deal, fair mistress," replied Karnis eagerly. "With these three gifts the best work is done. But as to Agne--what can be further from freedom than a girl bound to service? her body, to be sure is healthy, but her spirit suffers; she can get no peace for dread of the Christian's terrors: Sin, Repentance, and Hell. . . ."

"Oh, we know how their life is ruined!" interrupted the old lady. "Was it Agne who introduced you to Mary's Asylum?"

"No, noble lady."

"But how then--that prudent saint generally selects her guests, and those that are not baptized . . ."

"She certainly sheltered heathens on this occasion."

"I am much surprised. Tell me how it happened."

"We were at Rome," began Karnis, "and my patron there persuaded Marcus, Mary's son, to take us on board his ship at Ostia. We dropped anchor at Cyrene, where the young master wanted to pick up his brother and bring him also to Alexandria."

"Then is Demetrius here?" asked Porphyrius.

"Yes, sir. He came on board at Cyrene. Hardly had we got fairly to sea again when we saw two pirate ships. Our trireme was at once turned round, but in our hurry to regain the harbor we stuck fast on a sand bank; the boats were at once put out to save the passengers and Cynegius, the consul. . ."

"Cynegius--on his way here!" exclaimed Porphyrius, much excited.

"He landed yesterday with us in the harbor of Eunostus. The secretaries and officers of his suite filled one boat and Marcus and his brother were getting into the other with their men. We, and others of the free passengers, should have been left behind if Dada . . ."

"That pretty little blonde?" asked Damia.

"The very same. Marcus had taken a great fancy to her prattle and her songs during the voyage--no nightingale can sing more clearly--and when she begged and prayed him he gave way at once, and said: he would take her in his boat. But the brave child declared that she would jump into the sea before she would leave without us."

"Well done!" cried the old lady, and Porphyrius added:

"That speaks well for her and for you."

"So after all Marcus found room for us in the boat--for all of us, and we got safely to land. A few days after we all came on in a troop-ship: Cynegius, the two brothers and the rest, all safe and sound; and, as we had lost everything we possessed, Marcus gave us a certificate which procured our admission into his mother's Xenodochium. And then the gods brought me and mine under the notice of your noble daughter."


Serapis, Volume 1. - 5/8

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