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- Serapis, Volume 3. - 4/11 -
The prefect turned on his heel and went towards the steps leading to the garden; but Gorgo flew after him and seized his hand, calling out to the old woman:
"No, no, grandmother; he is in the right, I am certain he is in the right. Stop, Constantine--wait, stay, and forgive my folly! If you love me, mother, say no more--he will explain it all presently."
The soldier heaved a sigh of relief and assented in silence, while the slave went on with her story: "And when my lord Constantine was gone, my lord Demetrius came and he--but what should poor Sachepris say--ask my lord Demetrius himself to tell you."
"That is soon done," replied Demetrius, who had failed to understand a great deal of all that had been going forward. My brother Marcus is over head and ears in love with the little puss--she is a pretty creature--and to save that simple soul from mischief I thought I would take the business on my own shoulders which are broader and stronger than his. I went boldly to work and offered the girl--more shame for me, I must say--the treasures of Midas; however, offering is one thing and accepting is another, and the child snapped me up and sent me to the right about-- by Castor and Pollux! packed me off with my tail between my legs! My only comfort was that Constantine had just quitted the pretty little hussy. By the side of the god of war, thought I, a country Pan makes but a poor figure; but this Ares was dismissed by Venus, and so, if only to keep up my self-respect, I was forced to conclude that the girl, with all her pertness, was of a better sort than we had supposed. My presents, which would have tempted any other girl in Alexandria to follow a cripple to Hades, she took as an insult; she positively cried with indignation, and I really respect pretty little Dada!"
"She is my very own sister's child," Herse threw in, honestly angered by the cheap estimation in which every one seemed to hold her adopted child. "My own sister's," she insisted, with an emphasis which seemed to imply that she had a whole family of half-sisters. "Though we now earn our bread as singers, we have seen better days; and in these hard times Croesus to-day may be Irus to-morrow. As for us, Karnis did not dissipate his money in riotous living. It was foolish perhaps but it was splendid--I believe we should do the same again; he spent all his inheritance in trying to reinstate Art. However, what is the use of looking after money when it is gone! If you can win it, or keep it you will be held of some account, but if you are poor the dogs will snap at you!--The girl, Dada--we have taken as much care of her as if she were our own, and divided our last mouthful with her before now. Karnis used to tease her about training her voice--and now, when she could really do something to satisfy even good judges--now, when she might have helped us to earn a living-now. . ."
The good woman broke down and burst into tears, while Karnis tried to soothe and comfort her.
"We shall get on without them somehow," he said. "'Nil desperandum' says Horace the Roman. And after all they are not lizards that can hide in the cracks of the walls; I know every corner of Alexandria and I will go and hunt them up at once."
"And I will help you, my friend," said Demetrius, "We will go to the Hippodrome--the gentry you will meet with there are capital blood-hounds after such game as the daughter of your 'own sister,' my good woman. As to the black-haired Christian girl--I have seen her many a time on board ship. . ."
"Oh! she will take refuge with some fellow-Christians," remarked Porphyrius. "Olympius told me all about her. I know plenty of the same sort in the Church. They fling away life and happiness as if they were apple-peelings to snatch at something which they believe to constitute salvation. It is folly, madness! pure unmitigated madness! To have sung in the temple of the she-devil Isis with Gorgo and the other worshippers would have cost her her seat in Paradise. That, as I believe, is the cause of her flight."
"That and nothing else!" cried Karnis. "How vexed the noble Olympius will be. Indeed, Apollo be my witness! I have not been so disturbed about anything for many a day. Do you happen to recollect," he went on, turning to Demetrius, "our conversation on board ship about a dirge for Pytho? Well, we had transposed the lament of Isis into the Lydian mode, and when this young lady's wonderful voice gave it out, in harmony with Agne's and with Orpheus' flute, it was quite exquisite! My old heart floated on wings as I listened! And only the day after to-morrow the whole crowd of worshippers in the temple of Isis were to enjoy that treat!--It would have roused them to unheard-of enthusiasm. Yesterday the girl was in it, heart and soul; nay, only this morning she and the noble Gorgo sang it through from beginning to end. One more rehearsal to-morrow, and then the two voices would have given such a performance as perhaps was never before heard within the temple walls."
Constantine had listened to this rhapsody with growing agitation; he was standing close to Gorgo, and while the rest of the party held anxious consultation as to what could be done to follow up and capture the fugitives, he asked Gorgo in a low voice, but with gloomy looks:
"You intended to sing in the temple of Isis? Before the crowd, and with a girl of this stamp?"
"Yes," she said firmly.
"And you knew yesterday that I had come home?" She nodded.
"And yet, this morning even, while you were actually expecting me, you could practise the hymn with such a creature?"
"Agne is not such another as the girl who played tricks with your helmet," replied Gorgo, and the black arches of her eyebrows knit into something very like a scowl. "I told you just now that I was not yours today, nor to-morrow. We still serve different gods."
"Indeed we do!" he exclaimed, so vehemently that the others looked round, and old Damia again began to fidget in her chair.
Then with a strong effort he recovered himself and, after standing for some minutes gazing in silence at the ground, he said in a low tone:
"I have borne enough for to-day. Gorgo, pause, reflect. God preserve me from despair!"
He bowed, hastily explained that his duties called him away, and left the spot.
The amateurs of horse-racing who assembled in the Hippodrome could afford no clue to Dada's hiding-place, because she had not, in fact, run away with any gay young gallant. Within a few minutes of her sending Sachepris to fetch her a pair of shoes, Medius had hailed her from the shore; he wanted to speak with Karnis, and having come on an ass it was not in vain that the incensed damsel entreated him to take her with him. He had in fact only come to try to persuade Karnis and his wife to spare Dada for a few performances, such as he had described, in the house of Posidonius. His hopes of success had been but slender; and now the whole thing had settled itself, and Dada's wish that her people should not, for a while, know where to find her was most opportune for his plans.
In the days when Karnis was the manager of the theatre at Tauromenium Medius had led the chorus, and had received much kindness at the hands of the girl's uncle. All this, he thought, he could now repay, for certainly his old patron was poor enough, and he intended honestly to share with his former benefactor the profits he expected to realize with so fair a prodigy as Dada. No harm could come to the girl, and gold-- said he to himself--glitters as brightly and is just as serviceable, even when it has been earned for us against our will.
Medius, being a cautious man, made the girl bring her new dress away with her, and the girdle and jewels belonging to it, and his neat hands packed everything into the smallest compass. He filled up the basket which he took for the purpose with sweetmeats, oranges and pomegranates "for the children at home," and easily consoled Dada for the loss of her shoes. He would lead the ass and she should ride. She covered her face with a veil, and her little feet could be hidden under her dress. When they reached his house he would at once have "a sweet little pair of sandals" made for her by the shoemaker who worked for the wife of the Comes and the daughters of the Alabarch--[The chief of the Jewish colony in Alexandria.]--These preparations and the start only took a few minutes; and their rapid search and broken conversation caused so much absurd confusion that Dada had quite recovered her spirits and laughed merrily as she tripped bare-foot across the strand. She sprang gaily on to the little donkey and as they made their way along the road, the basket containing her small wardrobe placed in front of her on the ass's shoulders, she remarked that she should be mistaken for the young wife of a shabby old husband, returning from market with a load of provisions.
She was delighted to think of what Herse's face would be when, on her return home, she should discover that the prisoner could make her escape even without shoes.
"Let her have a good hunt for me!" she cried quite enchanted. "Why should I always be supposed to be ready for folly and wickedness! But one thing I warn you: If I am not comfortable and happy with you, and if I do not like the parts you want me to fill, we part as quickly as we have come together.--Why are you taking me through all these dirty alleys? I want to ride through the main streets and see what is going on." But Medius would not agree to this, for in the great arteries of the town there were excitement and tumult, and they might think themselves fortunate if they reached his house unmolested.
He lived in a little square, between the Greek quarter and Rhacotis where the Egyptians lived, and his house, which was exactly opposite the church of St. Marcus, accommodated Medius himself, his wife, his widowed daughter and her five children, besides being crammed from top to bottom with all sorts of strange properties, standing or hanging in every available space. Dada's curiosity had no rest, and by the time she had spent a few hours in the house her host's pretty little grandchildren were clinging to her with devoted affection.
Agne had not been so fortunate as to find a refuge so easily. With no escort, unveiled, and left entirely to her own guidance, leading the little boy, she hurried forward, not knowing whither. All she thought was to get away--far away from these men who were trying to imperil her immortal soul.
She knew that Karnis had actually bought her, and that she was, therefore, his property and chattel. Even Christian doctrine taught her that the slave must obey his master; but she could not feel like a slave, and if indeed she were one her owner might destroy and kill her body, but not her soul. The law, however, was on the side of Karnis, and it allowed him to pursue her and cast her into prison. This idea haunted her, and for fear of being caught she avoided all the chief thoroughfares and kept close to the houses as she stole through the side streets and
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