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- Serapis, Volume 1. - 6/8 -
"Then Cynegius is here, positively here?" asked Porphyrius once more. Karnis assured him that he was, and the merchant, turning to his mother, went on:
"And Olympius has not yet come home. It is always the same thing; he is as rash as a boy. If they should take him! The roads are swarming with monks. There is something astir. Bring out the chariot, Syrus, at once; and tell Atlas to be ready to accompany me. Cynegius here!--Ha, ha! I thank the gods!"
The last exclamation was addressed to a man who at this instant came into the room, muffled up to the eyes. He threw off the hood of his cloak and the wrapper that went round his throat, concealing his long white beard, and as he did so he exclaimed with a gasp for breath:
"Here I am once more!--Cynegius is here and matters look serious my friend."
"You have been to the Museum?"
"Without any obstruction. I found them all assembled. Brave lads. They are all for us and the gods. There are plenty of weapons. The Jews-- [At that time about two-fifths of the whole population.]--are not stirring, Onias thinks he may vouch for that; and we must surely be a match for the monks and the imperial cohorts."
"If the gods only stand by us to-day and tomorrow," replied Porphyrius doubtfully.
"For ever, if only the country people do their duty!" cried the other. "But who is this stranger?"
"The chief of the singers who were here yesterday," replied Gorgo.
"Karnis, the son of Hiero of Tauromenium," said the musician, bowing to the stranger, whose stately figure and handsome, thoughtful head struck him with admiration.
"Karnis of Tauromenium!" exclaimed the newcomer with glad surprise. "By Hercules! a strange meeting. Your hand, your hand, old man. How many years is it since we last emptied a wine-jar together at the house of old Hippias? Seven lustres have turned our hair grey, but we still can stand upright. Well, Karnis son of Hiero--and who am I?"
"Olympius--the great Olympius!" cried Karnis, eagerly grasping the offered hand. "May all the gods bless this happy day!"
"All the gods?" repeated the philosopher. "Is that what you say? Then you have not crawled under the yoke of the cross?"
"The world can rejoice only under the auspices of the gods!" cried Karnis excitedly.
"And it shall rejoice still, we will save it from gloom!" added the other with a flash of vehemence.
"The times are fateful. We must fight; and no longer over trifles; we cannot now break each other's heads over a quibble, or believe that the whole world hangs on the question whether the instant of death is the last minute of this life or the first of the next. No--what now remains to be decided is whether the old gods shall be victorious, whether we shall continue to live free and happy under the rule of the Immortals, or whether we shall bow under the dismal doctrine of the carpenter's crucified son; we must fight for the highest hopes and aims of humanity."
"I know," interrupted Karnis, "you have already done battle valiantly for great Serapis. They wanted to lay hands on his sanctuary but you and your disciples put them to rout. The rest got off scot-free . . ."
"But they have taught me the value of my head," said Olympius laughing. "Evagrius prices it at three talents. Why, you might buy a house with the money and a modest man could live upon the interest. This worthy man keeps me concealed here. We must talk over a few things, Porphyrius; and you, Gorgo, do not forget the solemn festival of Isis. Now that Cynegius is here it must be made as splendid as possible, and he must tell the Emperor, who has sent him, what temper we Alexandrians are in. But where is the dark maiden I saw yesterday?"
"In the garden," replied Gorgo.
"She is to sing at the foot of the bier!" cried Olympius. "That must not be altered."
"If I can persuade her--she is a Christian," said Karnis doubtfully.
"She must," said the philosopher positively. "It will be a bad lookout indeed for the logic and rhetoric of Alexandria if an old professor and disputant cannot succeed in turning a young girl's resolutions upside down. Leave that to me. I shall find time for a chat with you by and bye, friend Karnis. How in the world does it happen that you, who so often have helped us with your father's coin, have come down to be the chief of a band of travelling musicians? You will have much to tell me, my good friend; but even such important matters must give way to those that are more pressing. One word with you, Porphyrius."
Agne had been all this time awaiting Herse's return in the colonnade that ran along the garden-front of the house. She was glad to be alone, and it was very comfortable to rest on the soft cushions under the gilt- coffered ceiling of the arcade. At each end stood large shrubs covered with bunches of violet-blue flowers and the spreading branches cast a pleasant shade on the couch where she sat; the beautiful flowers, which were strange to her, were delightfully fragrant, and from time to time she helped herself to the refreshments which Gorgo herself had brought out to her. All she saw, heard, and felt, was soothing to her mind; never had she seen or tasted juicier peaches, richer bunches of grapes, fresher almonds or more tempting cakes; on the shrubs in the garden and on the grass-plots between the paths there was not a dead leaf, not a dry stem, not the tiniest weed. The buds were swelling on the tall trees, shrubs without end were covered with blossoms--white, blue, yellow, and red--while, among the smooth, shining leaves of the orange and lemon trees, gleamed the swelling fruit. On a round tank close at hand some black swans were noiselessly tracing evanescent circles and uttering their strange lament. The song of birds mingled with the plash of fountains, and even the marble statues, for all that they were dumb, seemed to be enjoying the sweet morning air and the stir and voice of nature.
Yes, she could be happy here; as she peeled a peach and slowly swallowed the soft fragrant mouthfuls, she laughed to remember the hard ship's- biscuit, of the two previous days' fare. And it was Gorgo's privilege to revel in these good things day after day, year after year. It was like living in Eden, in the perpetual spring of man's first blissful home on earth. There could be no suffering here; who could cry here, who could be sorrowful, who could die? . . . Here a new train of thought forced itself upon her. She was still so young, and yet she was as familiar with the idea of death as she was with life; for whenever she had happened to tell any minister of her creed that she was an orphan and a slave, and deeply sad and sorrowful, the joys of eternity in Paradise had always been described to her for her consolation, and it was in hopes of Heaven that her visionary nature found such a modicum of comfort as might suffice to keep the young artist-soul from despair. And now it struck her that it must be hard, very hard to die, in the midst of all this splendor. Living here must be a foretaste of the joys of Paradise-- and in the next world, among the angels of Heaven, in the presence of the Saviour--would it not be a thousand times more beautiful even than this? She shuddered, for, sojourning here, she was no longer to be counted as one of the poor and humble sufferers to whom Christ had promised the Kingdom of Heaven--here she was one of the rich, who had nothing to hope for after death.
She pushed the peaches away with a feeling of oppression, and closed her eyes that she might no longer see all these perishable splendors and sinful works of the heathen, which pandered only to the senses. She longed to remain miserable and poor on earth, that she might rejoin her parents and dwell with them eternally.
To her it was not a belief but a certainty that her father and mother were dwelling in Heaven, and she had often felt moved to pray that she might die and be reunited to them; but she must not die yet, for her little brother still needed her care. The kind souls whom she served let him lack for nothing, it is true, that could conduce to his bodily welfare; still, she could not appear before her parents without the little one in her hand, and he would be lost eternally if his soul fell into the power of the enemies of her faith. Her heart ached when she reflected that Karnis, who was certainly not one of the reprobate and whom she affectionately revered as a master in the art she loved--that Herse, and the light-hearted Dada, and Orpheus even, must all be doomed to perish eternally; and to save Orpheus she would willingly have forfeited half the joys of Paradise. She saw that he was no less an idolater than his parents; and yet, day by day, she prayed that his soul might be saved, and she never ceased to hope for a miracle--that he too might see a vision, like Paul, and confess the Saviour. She was so happy when she was with him, and never happier than when it was her fortune to sing with him, or to his admirable accompaniment on the lute. When she could succeed in forgetting herself completely, and in giving utterance by her lovely voice to all that was highest and best in her soul, he, whose ear was no less sensitive and appreciative than his father's, would frankly express his approval, and in these moments life was indeed fair and precious.
Music was the bond between her and Orpheus, and when her soul was stirred she could feel and express herself in music. Song was the language of her heart, and she had learnt by experience that it was a language which even the heathen could both use and understand. The Eternal Father himself must find joy in such a voice as Gorgo's. She was a heathen, and yet she had thrown into her song all that Agne herself could feel when she lifted up her heart in passionate prayer. The Christian--so she had often been taught--must have no part with the idolaters; but it was God himself who had cast her on the hands of Karnis, and the Church commanded that servants should obey their masters. Singing seemed to her to be a language in itself, bestowed by God on all living creatures, even on the birds, wherein to speak to Him; so she allowed herself to look forward with pleasure to an opportunity of mingling her own voice with that of the heathen lady.
Not long after Porphyrius and the philosopher had retired to a private room Herse returned with Dada. Gorgo's blue spangled dress, which Damia had sent her, suited the girl to perfection; but she was quite out of breath, and her hair was in disorder. Herse, too, looked agitated, her face was red and she dragged little Papias, whose hand she held, rather roughly at her heels.
Dada was evidently abashed; less by reason of the splendor that surrounded her than because her foster-mother had strictly enjoined her to be very quiet and mannerly in the presence of their patrons. She felt
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