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- Serapis, Volume 2. - 4/11 -
So saying Demetrius stretched himself on a divan and invited Marcus to do the same, and in a few minutes their conversation had turned, as usual, to the subject of horses. Marcus was full of praises of the stallions his brother had bred for him, and which he had ridden that very day round the Myssa--[The Myssa was the Meta, or turning-post]--in the Hippodrome, and his brother added with no small complacency:
"They were all bred from the same sire and from the choicest mares. I broke them in myself, and I only wish.... But why did you not come to the stables this morning?"
"I could not," replied Marcus coloring slightly. Then we will go to-morrow to Nicopolis and I will show you how to get Megaera past the Taraxippios."--[The terror of the horses.]
"To-morrow?" said Marcus somewhat embarrassed. "In the morning I must go to see Eusebius and then. . . ."
"Then I must--I mean I should like. . . ."
"Well, to be sure I might, all the same.--But no, it is not to be done--I have. . . ."
"What, what?" cried Demetrius with increasing impatience: "My time is limited and if you start the horses without knowing my way of managing them they will certainly not do their best. As soon as the market begins to fill we will set out. We shall need a few hours for the Hippodrome, then we will dine with Damon, and before dark. . . ."
"No, no," replied Marcus, "to-morrow, certainly, I positively cannot...."
"People who have nothing to do always lack time," replied the other. "Is to-morrow one of your festivals?"
"No, not that=-and Good Heavens! If only I could. . . ."
"Could, could!" cried Demetrius angrily and standing close in front of his brother with his arms folded. "Say out honestly: 'I will not go,' or else, 'my affairs are my own secret and I mean to keep it.'--But give me no more of your silly equivocations."
His vehemence increased the younger man's embarrassment, and as he stood trying to find an explanation which might come somewhat near the truth and yet not betray him, Demetrius, who had stood watching him closely, suddenly exclaimed:
"By Aphrodite, the daughter of the foam! it is a love affair--an assignation.--Woman, woman, always woman!"
"An assignation!" cried Marcus shaking his head. "No indeed, no one expects me; and yet--I had rather you should misunderstand me than think that I had lied. Yes--I am going to seek a woman; and if I do not find her to-morrow, if in the course of tomorrow I do not succeed in my heart's desire, she is lost--not only to me, though I cannot give up the heavenly love for the sake of the earthly and fleshly--but to my Lord and Saviour. It is the life--the everlasting life or death of one of God's loveliest creatures that hangs on to-morrow's work."
Demetrius was greatly astonished, and it was with an angry gesture of impatience that he replied:
"Again you have overstepped the boundary within which we can possibly understand each other. In my opinion you are hardly old enough to undertake the salvation of the imperilled souls of pretty women. Take care what you are about, youngster! It is safe enough to go into the water with those who can swim, but those who sink are apt to draw you down with them. You are a good-looking young fellow, you have money and fine horses, and there are women enough who are only too ready to spread their nets abroad. . ."
"What are you thinking of?" cried Marcus passionately. "It is I who am the fisher--a fisher of souls, and so every true believer ought to be. She--she is innocence and simplicity itself, in spite of her roguish sauciness. But she has fallen into the hands of a reprobate heathen, and here, where vice prowls about the city like a roaring lion, she will be lost--lost, if I do not rescue her. Twice have I seen her in my dreams; once close to the cavern of a raging dragon, and again on the edge of a precipitous cliff, and each time an angel called out to me and bid me save her from the jaws of the monster, and from falling into the abyss. Since then I seem to see her constantly; at meals, when I am in company, when I am driving,--and I always hear the warning voice of the angel. And now I feel it a sacred duty to save her--a creature on whom the Almighty has lavished every gift he ever bestowed on the daughters of Eve--to lead her into the path of Salvation."
Demetrius had listened to his brother's enthusiastic speech with growing anxiety, but he merely shrugged his shoulders and said:
"I almost envy you your acquaintance with this favorite of the gods; but you might, it seems to me, postpone the work of salvation. You were away from Alexandria for half a year, and if she could hold out so long as that . . ."
"Do not speak so; you ought not to speak so!" cried Marcus, pressing his hand on his heart as though in physical pain. "But I have no time to lose, for I must at once find out where the old singer has taken her. I am not so inexperienced as you seem to think. He has brought her here to trade in her beauty, and enrich himself. Why, you, too, saw her on board ship; I, as you know, had arranged for them to be taken in at my mother's Xenodochium."
"Whom?" asked Demetrius folding his hands.
"The singers whom I brought with me from Ostia. And now they have disappeared from thence, and Dada . . ."
"Dada!" cried Demetrius, bursting into a loud laugh without heeding Marcus who stepped up to him, crimson with rage. "Dada! that little fair puss! You see her day and night and an angel calls upon you to save that child's merry soul? You ought to be ashamed of yourself, boy! Why, what shall I wager now? I will stake this roll of gold that I could make her come with me to-morrow--with me, a hard-featured countryman, freckled all over like a plover's egg, where my clothes do not protect my skin, and with hair on end like the top of a broom--yes, that she will follow me to Arsinoe or wherever I choose to bid her. Let the hussy go, you simple innocent. Such a Soul as hers is of small account even in a less exclusive Heaven than yours is."
"Take back those words!" cried Marcus, beside himself and clenching his fist. "But that is just like you! Your impure eyes and heart defile purity itself, and see spots even in the sun. Nothing is too bad for a 'singing girl,' I know. But that is just the marrow of the matter; it is from that very curse that I mean to save her. If you can accuse her of anything, speak; if not, and if you do not want to appear a base slanderer in my eyes, take back the words you have just spoken!"
"Oh! I take them back of course," said Demetrius indifferently. "I know nothing of your beauty beyond what she has herself said to me and you and Cynegius and his Secretaries--with her pretty, saucy eyes. But the language of the eye, they say, is not always to be depended on; so take it as unsaid. And, if I understood you rightly, you do not even know where the singers are hiding? If you have no objection, I will help you to seek them out."
"That is as you please," answered Marcus hotly. "All your mockery will not prevent my doing my duty."
"Very right, very right," said his brother. "Perhaps this damsel is unlike all the other singing-girls with whom I used so often to spend a jolly evening in my younger days. Once, at Barca, I saw a white raven-- but perhaps after all it was only a dove. Your opinion, in this case, is at any rate better founded than mine, for I never thought twice about the girl and you did.--But it is late; till to-morrow, Marcus."
The brothers parted for the night, but when Demetrius found himself alone he walked up and down the room, shaking his head doubtfully. Presently, when his body-slave came in to pack for him, he called out crossly:
"Let that alone--I shall stay in Alexandria a few days longer."
Marcus could not go to bed; his brother's scorn had shaken his soul to the foundations. An inward voice told him that his more experienced senior might be right, but at the same time he hated and contemned himself for listening to its warnings at all. The curse that rested on Dada was that of her position; she herself was pure--as pure as a lily, as pure as the heart of a child, as pure as the blue of her eyes and the ring of her voice. He would obey the angel's behest! He could and he must save her!
In the greatest excitement he went out of the house, through the great gate, into the Canopic way, and walked on. As he was about to turn down a side street to go to the lake he found the road stopped by soldiers, for this street led past the prefect's house where Cynegius, the Emperor's emissary, was staying; he had come, it was said, to close the Temples, and the excited populace had gathered outside the building, during the afternoon, to signify their indignant disapprobation. At sundown an armed force had been called out and had dispersed the crowd; but it was by another road that the young Christian at length made his way to the shore.
While Marcus was restlessly wandering on the shore of Mareotis, dreaming of Dada's image and arranging speeches of persuasive eloquence by which to touch her heart and appeal to her soul, silence had fallen on the floating home of the singers. A light white mist, like a filmy veil--a tissue of clouds and moonbeams--hung over the lake. Work was long since over in the ship-yard, and the huge skeletons of the unfinished ships threw weird and ghostly shadows on the silvered strand-forms like black visions of crayfish, centipedes, or enormous spiders.
From the town there came not a sound; it lay in the silence of intoxicated sleep. The Roman troops had cleared the streets, the lights were dead in every house, and in all the alleys and squares; only the moon shone over the roofs of Alexandria, while the blazing beacon of the light-house on the north-eastern point of the island of Pharos shone like a sun through the darkness.
In a large cabin in the stern of the vessel lay the two girls, on soft woollen couches and covered with rugs. Agne was gazing wide-eyed into the darkness; Dada had long been asleep, but she breathed painfully and her rosy lips were puckered now and then as if she were in some distress. She was dreaming of the infuriated mob who had snatched the garland from
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