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- Serapis, Volume 5. - 2/10 -
and tenderly for her, was now stilled for ever; that the spirit which, even in sleep, had never been at rest, had now found eternal peace. The slave-woman had hastily taken her place, had closed the dead woman's eyes and mouth, and done all she could to diminish the horror of the scene, and the terrible aspect of the dead in the sight of the girl who had been her one darling. But Gorgo had remained by her side, and, while she did everything in her power to revive the stiffening body, the overwhelming might of Death had come home to her with appalling clearness. She felt the limbs of one she had loved growing cold and rigid under her hands, and her spirit rose in obstinate rebellion against the idea that annihilation stood between her and the woman who had so amply filled a mother's place. She insisted on having every method of resuscitation tried that had ever been heard of, and made her nurse send for physicians, though the woman solemnly assured her that human help was of no avail: then she sent for the priest of Saturn who--as the dead woman herself had told her--knew mighty spells which had called back many a departed spirit to the body it had quitted.
When, at last, she was alone and gazed on the hard, set features of the dead, though she shuddered with horror, she so far controlled herself as to press her lips in sorrow and gratitude to the thin hand whose caresses she had been wont to accept as a mere matter of course. How cold and heavy it was! She shivered and dropped it, and the large rings on the fingers rattled on the wooden frame of the couch. There was no hope; she understood that her friend and mother was indeed dead and silent forever.
Deep and bitter grief overwhelmed her completely, with the sense of abandoned loneliness, the humiliating feeling of helplessness against a brutal power that marches on, scorning humanity, as a warrior treads down the grass and flowers in his path. She fell on her knees by the corpse, sobbing passionately, and crying like an indignant child when a stronger companion has robbed it of some precious possession. She wept with rage at her own impotence; and her tears flowed faster and faster as she more fully realized how lonely she was, and what a blow this must be to her father. In this hour no pleasant reminiscences of past family happiness came to infuse a drop of sweetness into the bitterness of her grief. Only one reflection brought her any comfort, and that was the thought that the grave which had yawned already for her grandmother would soon, very soon, open for herself and all living souls. On the table, close at hand, lay the evidence of their impending doom, and a longing for that end gradually took complete possession of her, excluding every other feeling. Thinking of this she rose from her knees and ceased to weep.
When, presently, her waiting-woman should return, she was resolved to leave the house at once; she could not bear to stay; her feelings and duty alike indicated the place where she might find the last hour's happiness that she expected or desired of life. Her father must learn from herself, and not from a stranger, of the loss that had befallen them, and she knew that he was in the Serapeum--on the very spot where she might hope next morning to meet Constantine. It would be her lover's duty to open the gate to destruction, and she would be there to pass through it at his side.
She waited a long, long time, but at last there was a noise on the stairs. That was her nurse's step, but she was not alone. Had she brought the leech and the exorciser? The door opened and the old steward came in, carrying a three-branched lamp; then followed the slave-woman, and then--her heart stood still then came Constantine and his mother.
Gorgo, pale and speechless, received her unexpected visitors. The nurse had failed to find the physician, whose aid would, at any rate, have come too late; and as the housekeeper had taken herself off with others of the Christian slaves, the faithful soul had said to herself that "her child" would want some womanly help and comfort in her trouble, and had gone to the house of their neighbor Clemens, to entreat his wife to come with her to see the dead, and visit her forlorn young mistress. Constantine, who had come home a short time previously, had said nothing, but had accompanied the two women.
While Constantine gazed with no unkindly feelings at the still face of Damia--to whom, after all, he owed many a little debt of kindness--and then turned to look at Gorgo who stood downcast, pale, and struggling to breathe calmly, Dame Marianne tried to proffer a few words of consolation. She warmly praised everything in the dead woman which was not in her estimation absolutely reprobate and godless, and brought forward all the comforting arguments which a pious Christian can command for the edification and encouragement of those who mourn a beloved friend; but to Gorgo all this well-meant discourse was as the babble of an unknown tongue; and it was only when, at length, Marianne went up to her and drew her to her motherly bosom, to kiss her, and bid her be welcome under Clelnens' roof till Porphyrius should be at home again, that she understood that the good woman meant kindly, and honestly desired to help and comfort her.
But the allusion to her father reminded her of the first duty in her path; she roused her energies, thanked Marianne warmly, and begged her only to assist her in carrying the corpse into the thalamos, and then to take charge of the keys. She herself, she explained, meant at once to seek her father, since he ought to learn from no one but herself of his mother's death. Nor would she listen for a moment to her friend's pressing entreaties that she would put off this task, and pass the night, at any rate, under her roof.
Constantine had kept in the background; it was not till Gorgo approached the dead and gave the order to carry the body down into the house that he came forward, and with simple feeling offered her his hand. The girl looked frankly in his face, and, as she put her hand in his, she said in a low voice: "I was unjust to you, Constantine. I insulted and hurt you; but I repented sincerely, even before you had left the house. And you owe me no grudge, I know, for you understood how forlorn I must be and came to see me. There is no ill-feeling, is there, nothing to come between us?"
"Nothing, nothing!" he eagerly exclaimed, seizing her other hand with passionate fervor.
She felt as if all the blood in her body had rushed in a full tide to her heart--as if he were some part of her very being, that had been torn out, snatched from her, and that she must have back again, even if it cost them both their life and happiness. The impulse was irresistible; she drew away her hands from his grasp and flung them round his neck, clinging to him as a weary child clings to its mother. She did not know how it had come about--how such a thing was possible, but it was done; and without paying any heed to Marianne, who looked on in dismay while her son's lips were pressed to the brow and lips of the lovely idolatress, she wept upon her lover's shoulders, feeling a thousand roses blossoming in her soul and a thousand thorns piercing and tearing her heart.
It had to be, that she felt; it was at once their union and their parting. Their common destiny was but for a moment, and that moment had come and gone. All that now retrained for them was death--destruction, with all things living; and she looked forward to this, as a man watches for the dawn after a sleepless night. Marianne stood aside; she dimly perceived that something vital was going on, that something inevitable had happened which would admit of no interference. Gorgo, as she freed herself from Constantine's embrace, stood strangely solemn and unapproachable. To the simple matron she was an inscrutable riddle to which she could find no clue; but she was pleased, nevertheless, when Gorgo came up to her and kissed her hand. She could not utter a word, for she felt that whatever she might say, it would not be the right thing; and it was a real relief to her to busy herself over the removal of the body, in which she could be helpful.
Gorgo had covered the dead face; and when old Damia had been carried down to the thalamos and laid in state on the bridal bed, she strewed the couch with flowers.
Meanwhile, the priest of Saturn had been found, and he declared in all confidence that no power on earth could have recalled this departed soul. Damia's sudden end and the girl's great grief went to his faithful heart, and he gladly acceded to Gorgo's request that he would wait for her by the garden-gate and escort her to the Serapeum. When he had left them she gave the keys of her grandmother's chests and cupboards into Marianne's keeping; then she went into the adjoining room, where Constantine had been waiting while she decked the bed of death, and bid him a solemn, but apparently calm, farewell. He put out his arm to clasp her to his heart, but this she would not permit; and when he besought her to go home with them she answered sadly, "No, my dearest... I must not; I have other duties to fulfil."
"Yes," he replied emphatically, "and I, too--I have mine. But you have given yourself to me. You are my very own; you belong to me only, and not to yourself; and I desire, I command you to yield to my first request. Go with my mother, or stay here, if you will, with the dead. Wherever your father may be, it is not, cannot be, the right place for you--my betrothed bride. I can guess where be is. Oh! Gorgo, be warned.
"The fate of the old gods is sealed. We are the stronger and to-morrow, yes to-morrow--by your own head, by all I hold dear and sacred!--Serapis will fall!"
"I know it," she said firmly. "And you are charged to lay hands on the god?"
"I am, and I shall do it."
She nodded approbation and then said submissively and sweetly: "It is your duty, and you cannot do otherwise. And come what may we are one, Constantine, forever one. Nothing can part us. Whatever the future may bring, we belong to each other, to stand or fall together. I with you, you with me, till the end of time." She gave him her hand and looked lovingly into his eyes; then she threw herself into his mother's arms and kissed her fondly.
"Come, come with me, my child," said Marianne; but Gorgo freed herself, exclaiming: "Go, go; if you love me leave me; go and let me be alone."
She went back into the thalamos where the dead lay at peace, and before the others could follow her she had opened a door hidden behind some tapestry near the bed, and fled into the garden.
The night was hot and gloomy. Heavy clouds gathered in the north, and wreaths of mist, like a hot vapor-bath, swayed over the crisply-foaming wavelets that curled the lustreless waters of the Mareotis Lake. The moon peeped, pale and shrouded, out of a russet halo, and ghostly twilight reigned in the streets, still heated by the baked walls of the houses.
To the west, over the desert, a dull sulphurous yellow streaked the black clouds, and from time to time the sultry air was rent by a blinding flash sent across the firmament from the north. There was a hot, sluggish wind blowing from the southwest, which drove the sand across the lake into the streets; the fine grit stung: and burnt the face of the wanderer who
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