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- Serapis, Volume 1. - 8/8 -


sat to write his letter to Tauromenium."

"I know," said Orpheus, "the inkstand was there, that the steward of the inn had lent us the day before."

"Just so; and when mother came in, there he was, dipping his finger in the ink, and painting his white dress--you can study the pattern at your leisure.--But no not interrupt me.--Well, I was looking into the court- yard; it was quite empty; all the monks were gone. Suddenly a tall young man in a white dress with a beautiful sky-blue border appeared through the great gate. The gate-keeper crawled after him very humbly as far as his rope would allow and even the steward spoke to him with both hands pressed to his breast as if he had a faithful heart on the right side as well as the one on the left. This young man--it was our kind friend Marcus, of course--crossed the court, taking a zigzag at first, as a snipe flies, and then came towards our door. The steward and the gate- keeper had both vanished.--Do you remember the young Goths whom their father took to bathe in the Tiber last winter, when it was so cold? And how they first stood on the brink and dipped their toes in, and then ran away and when they came back again just wetted their heads and chests? But they had to jump in at last when their father shouted some barbaric words to them--I can see them now. Well, Marcus was exactly like those boys; but at last he suddenly walked straight up to our door and knocked."

"He remembered your pretty face no doubt," laughed Karnis.

"May be. However, I did not stir. I kept as still as a mouse, sitting on my stool and watching him through the key-hole, till presently he called out: 'Is no one there?' Then I forgot and answered: 'They are all out!' Of course I had betrayed myself--but it is impossible to think of everything at once. Oh! yes--you may laugh. And he smiled too--he is a very handsome fellow--and desired me most pressingly to open the door as he had something of the greatest importance to say to me. I said he could talk very well through the gap at the top; that Pyramus and Thisbe had even kissed through a chink in a wall. But he would not see the joke; he got graver and more earnest, and insisted, saying that our fate, his and mine, hung on that hour, and that not a soul must overhear what he had to say. The top of the door was too high to whisper through, so there was nothing for it but to ask Papias for the key; however, he did not know where he had put it. I afterwards thought of asking him what he had done with his flute and he fetched it then at once.--In short, the key was nowhere to be found. I told Marcus this and he wrung his hands with vexation; but in a few minutes the inn-steward, who must have been hiding to listen behind a pillar, suddenly appeared as if he had dropped from the skies, took a key out of his girdle, threw the door wide open, and vanished as if the earth had swallowed him.

"There we stood, Marcus and I, face to face. He was quite agitated; I really believe the poor fellow was trembling, and I did not feel very confident; however, I asked him what it was that he wanted. Then he recovered himself a little: 'I wished,'--he began; so I went on: 'Thou wishedst,'--and it might have gone on to the end: 'he wished, we wished' ---and so forth, like the children at school at Rome, when we were learning Greek; but, Papias came to the rescue, for he ran up to Marcus and asked him to toss him up high, as he used to do on board ship. Marcus did as he was asked, and then he suddenly broke out into such a torrent of words that I was quite terrified. First he said so many fine things that I quite expected a declaration of love, and was trying to make up my mind whether I would laugh him out of it or throw myself into his arms--for he really is a dear, good, handsome fellow--and if you would like to know the truth I should have been very willing to oblige him--to a certain extent. But he asked me nothing, and from talking of me--listen to this Father Karnis--and saying that the great Father in Heaven had granted me every good gift, he went on to speak of you as a wicked, perverse and reprobate old heathen."

"I will teach him!" exclaimed Karnis shaking his fist.

"Nay, but listen," Dada went on. "He praised you and mother for a great many things; but do you know what he says is wrong? He says you will imperil my psyche--my soul, my immortal soul. As if I had ever heard of any Psyche but the Psyche whom Eros loved!"

"That is quite another thing," said Karnis very seriously. "In many songs, you know, I have tried to make you uplift your soul to a higher flight. You have learnt to sing, and there is no better school for a woman's soul than music and singing. If that conceited simpleton--why, he is young enough to be my grandson--if he talks any such nonsense to you again you may tell him from me . . ."

"You will tell him nothing," cried Herse, "for we can have nothing whatever to do with the Christian. You are my own sister's child and I desire and order you--do you hear--to keep out of his way, if he ever tries to come near you again . . ."

"Who is likely to find us here?" said Dada. "Besides, he has no such ideas and motives as you suppose. It is what he calls my soul that he cares for and not myself; and he wanted to take me away, not to his own house, but to some man who would be the physician of my soul, he said. I am generally ready enough to laugh, but what he said was so impressive and solemn, and so wonderfully earnest and startling that I could not jest over it. At last I was more angry at his daring to speak to me in such a way than any of you ever thought I could be, and that drove him half mad. You came in, mother, just as the gentleman had fallen on his knees to implore me to leave you."

"And I gave him my mind on the subject," retorted Herse with grim satisfaction. "I let him know what I thought of him. He may talk about the soul--what he is after is the girl. I know these Christians and I know what the upshot will be. He will take advantage of the edict to gain his ends, and then you will be separated from us and shut up in a reformatory or a refuge or a cloister or whatever they call their dismal prisons, and will learn more about your soul than you will care to know. It will be all over then with singing, and laughter, and amusement. Now you know the truth, and if you are wise you will keep out of his way till we leave Alexandria; and that will be as soon as possible, if you listen to reason, Karnis."

She spoke with such earnest conviction that Dada remained silent with downcast eyes, and Karnis sat up to think the matter over.

However, there was no time now for further reflection; the steward came in and desired that he, with his son and Agne should go at once to Gorgo to practise the lament of Isis.

This command did not include Herse and Dada, who remained on the barge. Herse having plenty to occupy her in the lower rooms, Dada went on deck and watched the others on their way to the house; then she sat looking at the shipwrights at their work and tossed fruit and sweetmeats, the remains of their dessert, for the children to catch who were playing on the shore. Meanwhile she thought over Marcus' startling speech, Damia's injunctions and Herse's warnings.

At first it seemed to her that Herse might be right, but by degrees she fell back into her old conviction that the young Christian could mean no harm by her; and she felt as sure that he would find her out wherever she might hide herself, as that it was her pretty and much-admired little person that he sought to win, and not her soul--for what could such an airy nothing as a soul profit a lover? How rapturously he had described her charms, how candidly he had owned that her image was always before him even in his dreams, that he could not and would not give her up--nay, that he was ready to lay down his life to save her soul. Only a man in love could speak like this and a man so desperately in love can achieve whatever he will. On her way from the Xenodochium to the house of Porphyrius she had passed him in his chariot, and had admired the splendid horses which he turned and guided with perfect skill and grace. He was scarcely three years older than herself; he was eighteen--but in spite of his youth and simplicity he was not unmanly; and there was something in him--something that compelled her to be constantly thinking of him and asking herself what that something was. Old Damia's instructions troubled her; they took much of the charm from her dream of being loved by Marcus, clasped in his arms, and driven through the city in his chariot.

It was impossible--yes, quite impossible, she was sure--that they should have parted forever; as she sat, thinking still of him and glancing from time to time at the toiling carpenters, a boat pulled up at the landing close to the barge out of which jumped an officer of the imperial guard. Such a handsome man! with such a noble, powerful, sunburnt face, a lightly waving black beard, and hair that fell from under his gold helmet! The short-sword at his side showed him to be a tribune or prefect of cavalry, and what gallant deeds must not this brilliant and glittering young warrior have performed to have risen to such high rank while still so young! He stood on the shore, looking all round, his eyes met hers and she felt herself color; he seemed surprised to see her there and greeted her respectfully with a military salute; then he went on towards the unfinished hulk of a large ship whose bare curved ribs one or two foremen were busily measuring with tape and rule.

An elderly man of dignified aspect was standing close by, who, as Dada had already discovered, was the head of the ship-yard, and the warrior hastened towards him. She heard him say: "Father," and in the next instant she saw the old man open his arms and the officer rush to embrace him.

Dada never took her eyes off the couple who walked on, arm in arm and talking eagerly, till they disappeared into a large house on the further side of the dockyard.

"What a handsome man!" Dada repeated to herself, but while she waited to see him return she gazed across the lake by which Marcus might find his way to her. And as she lingered, idly dreaming, she involuntarily compared the two men. There were fine soldiers in plenty in Rome, and the ship-builder's son was in no particular superior to a hundred others; but such a man as Marcus she had never before seen--there could hardly be such another in the world. The young guard was one fine tree among a grove of fine trees; but Marcus had something peculiar to himself, that distinguished him from the crowd, and which made him exceptionally attractive and lovable. His image at length so completely filled her mind that she forgot the handsome officer, and the shipmaster and every one else.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Christian hypocrites who pretend to hate life and love death He may talk about the soul--what he is after is the girl Love means suffering--those who love drag a chain with them To her it was not a belief but a certainty Trifling incident gains importance when undue emphasis is laid


Serapis, Volume 1. - 8/8

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