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- Serapis, Volume 2. - 6/11 -
lady of rank and wealth, and matched with a singer who had roused Karnis and Orpheus to such ardent admiration.
She was an enigma to herself; while passages out of the Bible crowded on her memory to reproach her conscience.
There lay Dada's embroidered dress. Worn for the first time this day, in a month it would be unpresentably shabby and then, ere long, flung aside as past wearing. Like this--just like this--was every earthly pleasure, every joy of this brief existence. Alas, she certainly was not happy here in Karnis' sense of the word; but in the other world there were joys eternal, and she had only to deny herself the petty enjoyments of this life to secure unfailing and everlasting happiness in the next. There she would find an endless flow of all her soul could desire, there perhaps she might be allowed to cool the lips of Gorgo, as Lazarus cooled those of the rich man.
She was quite clear now what her answer would be to-morrow, and, firmly resolved not to allow herself to think of singing in the Temple of Isis, she at last fell asleep just as the light began to dawn in the east. She did not wake till late, and it was with downcast eyes and set lips that she went with Karnis and Orpheus to the house of Porphyrius.
When the steward went to summons the musicians to his master's house he had again had no bidding for Dada, and she was very indignant at being left behind. "That old cornsack's daughter," she said, "was full of her airs, and would have nothing to say to them excepting to make use of them for her own purposes!" If she had not been afraid of being thought intrusive she would have acted on old Damia's invitation to visit her frequently, and have made her appearance, in defiance of Gorgo, dropping like a shooting-star into the midst of their practising. It never occurred to her to fancy that the young lady had any personal dislike to her, for, though she might be ignored and forgotten, who had ever had any but a kind word for her. At the same time she assumed the right of feeling that "she could not bear" the haughty Gorgo, and as the party set out she exclaimed to Agne, "Well, you need not kill her for me, but at any rate, I send her no greeting; it is a shame that I should be left to mope alone with Herse. Do not be surprised if you find me turned to a stark, brown mummy--for we are in Egypt, you know, the land of mummies. I bequeath my old dress to you, my dear, for I know you would never put on the new one. If you bewail me as you ought I will visit you in a dream, and put a sugarplum in your mouth--a cake of ambrosia such as the gods eat. You are not even leaving me Papias to tease!"
For in fact Agne's little brother, dressed in a clean garment, was to be taken to Gorgo who had expressed a wish to see him.
When they had all left the ship Dada soon betrayed how superficial her indignation had been; for, presently spying through the window of the cabin the young cavalry officer's grey-bearded father, she sprang up the narrow steps--barefoot as she was accustomed to be when at home--and threw herself on a cushion to lean over the gunwale of the upper deck, which was shaded by a canvas awning, to watch the ship-yard and the shore-path. Before she had begun to weary of this occupation the waiting-slave, who had been up to the house to put various matters in order, came back to the vessel, and squatting down at her feet was ready to give her all the information she chose to require. Dada's first questions naturally related to Gorgo. The young mistress, said the slave, had already dismissed many suitors, the sons of the greatest families of Alexandria, and if her suspicions--those of Sachepris, the slave--were well founded, all for the sake of the old shipbuilder's son, whom she had known from childhood and who was now an officer in the Imperial guard. However, as she opined, this attachment could hardly lead to marriage, since Constantine was a zealous Christian and his family were immeasurably beneath that of Porphyrius in rank; and though he had distinguished himself greatly and risen to the grade of Prefect, Damia, who on all occasions had the casting-vote, had quite other views for her granddaughter.
All this excited Dada's sympathies to the highest pitch, but she listened with even greater attention when her gossip began to speak of Marcus, his mother, and his brother. In this the Egyptian slave was the tool of old Damia. She had counted on being questioned about the young Christian, and as soon as Dada mentioned his name she shuffled on her knees close up to the girl, laid her hand gently on her arm and looking up into her eyes with a meaning flash, she whispered in broken Greek--and hastily, for Herse was bustling about the deck: "Such a pretty mistress, such a young mistress as you, and kept here like a slave! If the young mistress only chose she could easily--quite easily--have as good a lover as our Gorgo, and better; so pretty and so young! And I know some one who would dress the pretty mistress in red gold and pale pearls and bright jewels, if sweet Dada only said the word."
"And why should sweet Dada not say the word?" echoed the girl gaily. "Who is it that has so many nice things and all for me? You--I shall never remember your name if I live to be as old as Damia. . . ."
"Sachepris, Sachepris is my name," said the woman, but call me anything else you like. The lover I mean is the son of the rich Christian, Mary. A handsome man, my lord Marcus; and he has horses, such fine horses, and more gold pieces than the pebbles on the shore there. Sachepris knows that he has sent out slaves to look for the pretty mistress. Send him a token--write to my lord Marcus."
"Write?" laughed Dada. "Girls learn other things in my country; but if I could--shall I tell you something? I would not write him a line. Those who want me may seek me!"
"He is seeking, he is trying to find the pretty mistress," declared the woman; "he is full of you, quite full of you, and if I dared...."
"I would go and say to my lord Marcus, quite in a secret. . . ."
"Well, what? Speak out, woman."
"First I would tell him where the pretty mistress is hidden; and then say that he might hope once--this evening perhaps--he is not far off, he is quite near this. . . over there; do you see that little white house? It is a tavern and the host is a freedman attached to the lady Damia, and for money he would shut his shop up for a day, for a night, for many days.--Well, and then I would say--shall I tell you all? My lord Marcus is there, waiting for his pretty mistress, and has brought her dresses that would make the rose-garment look a rag. You would have gold too, as much gold as heart can wish. I can take you there, and he will meet you with open arms."
"What, this evening?" cried Dada, and the blue veins swelled on her white forehead. "You hateful, brown serpent! Did Gorgo teach you such things as this? It is horrible, disgraceful, sickening!"
So base a proposal was the last thing she would ever have expected from Marcus--of all men in the world, Marcus, whom she had imagined so good and pure! She could not believe it; and as her glance met the cunning glitter of the Egyptian's eyes her own sparkled keenly, and she exclaimed with a vehemence and decision which her attendant had never suspected in her:
"It is deceit and falsehood from beginning to end! Go, woman, I will hear no more of it. Why should Marcus have come to you since yesterday if he does not know where I am? You are silent--you will not say?.... Oh! I understand it all. He--I know he would never have ventured it. But it is your 'noble lady Damia'--that old woman, who has told you what to say. You are her echo, and as for Marcus ... Confess, confess at once, you witch . . ."
"Sachepris is only a poor slave," said the woman raising her hands in entreaty. "Sachepris can only obey, and if the pretty mistress were to tell my lady Damia . . ."
"It was she then who sent for me to go to the little tavern?"
The woman nodded. "And Marcus?"
"If the pretty mistress had consented . . ."
"Then--but Great Isis! if you tell of me!"
"I will not tell; go on."
"I should have gone to my lord Marcus and invited him, from you . . ."
"It is shameful!" interrupted Dada, and a shudder ran through her slight frame. "How cruel, how horrible it is! You--you will stay here till the others come home and then you will go home to the old woman. I thank the gods, I have two hands and need no maid to wait upon me! But look there --what is the meaning of that? That pretty litter has stopped and there is an old man signing to you."
"It is the widow Mary's house steward," whined the woman, while Dada turned pale, wondering what a messenger from Marcus' mother could want here.
Herse, who had kept a watchful eye on the landing-plank, on Dada's account, had also seen the approach of the widow's messenger and suspected a love-message from Marcus; but she was utterly astounded when the old man politely but imperiously desired her--Herse to get into the litter which would convey her to his mistress's house. Was this a trap? Did he merely want to tempt her from the vessel so as to clear the way for his young master? No--for he handed her a tablet on which there was a written message, and she, an Alexandrian, had been well educated and could read:
"Mary, the widow of Apelles, to the wife of Karnis, the singer." And then followed the same urgent request as she had already received by word of mouth. To reassure herself entirely she called the slave-woman aside, and asked her whether Phabis was indeed a trust worthy servant of the widow's. Evidently there was no treason to be apprehended and she must obey the invitation, though it disturbed her greatly; but she was a cautious woman, with not only her heart but her brains and tongue in the right place, and she at once made up her mind what must be done under the circumstances. While she gave a few decorative touches to her person she handed the tablet to the waiting-woman, whom she had taken into her own room, and desired her to carry it at once to her husband, and tell him whither she had gone, and to beg him to return without delay to take care of Dada. But what if her husband and son could not come away? The girl would be left quite alone, and then. . . The picture rose before her anxious mind of Marcus appearing on the scene and tempting Dada on shore--of her niece stealing away by herself even, if the young Christian failed to discover her present residence--loitering alone along the Canopic way or the Bruclumn, where, at noon, all that was most disreputable in Alexandria was to be seen at this time of year--she saw,
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