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- Serapis, Volume 6. - 2/10 -
old deacon's discourse, it had for the first time been stilled; she had felt then and there that, helpless and simple as she was, and even if she were to remain parted from her foster parents, she need never feel abandoned, but could rest and hope in a supreme, loving, and helpful power. And indeed she needed such a protector; she was so easily beguiled. Stephanion, a flute-player she had known in Rome, had wheedled everything she had a fancy for out of poor Dada, and when she had got into any mischief laid it all on Dada's shoulders. There must be something particularly helpless about her, for everyone, as a matter of course, took her in hand and treated her like a child, or said things that made her angry.
In the Hippodrome, however, she forgot everything in the present pleasure, and was happy enough in finding herself in the lowest row of places, in the comfortable seats on the shady side, belonging to Posidonius, the wealthy Magian. This was quite different from her experience in Rome, where once, in the Circus Maximus, she had stood in the second tier of the wooden gallery and had been squeezed and pushed, while no one had taken any notice of her and she had only seen the races from a distance, looking down on the heads of the men and horses. Herse never would take her a second time, for, as they came out, they had been followed and spoken to by men, young and old; and after that her aunt had fancied she never could be safe, scenting danger at every turn, and would not allow her ever again to go out alone in the city.
This was altogether a much finer place, for here she was parted from the race-course only by a narrow watercourse which, as it happened, was bridged over just in front of her; the horses would pass close to her; and besides, it was pleasant to be seen and to feel conscious of a thousand flattering glances centered on herself.
Even the great Cynegius, Caesar's envoy and deputy, who had often noticed her on board ship, turned again and again to look at her. He was carried in on a golden litter by ten huge negroes, preceded by twelve lictors bearing fasces wreathed with laurel; and he took his seat, robed in purple and embroidery, on a magnificent throne in the middle of the tribune above the starting sheds; however, Dada troubled herself no more about the overdressed old man.
Her eyes were everywhere, and she made Medius or his daughter name everybody and explain everything. Demetrius was delighted with her eager enjoyment; presently, nudging the singer, she whispered to him with much satisfaction:
"Look how the people down below are craning their necks to look at us! My dress is so very pretty--I wonder where your friend Posidonius gets these lovely roses. There are above a hundred buds in this garland across my shoulders and down to my girdle, I counted them in the litter as I came along. It is a pity they should die so soon; I shall dry the leaves and make scent of them."
Demetrius could not resist the temptation; he leaned forward and said over her shoulder: "There are hardly enough for that."
At this unexpected address Dada looked round, and she blushed as she recognized Marcus' brother; he, however, hastened to assure her that he deeply regretted his audacious proposals of two days since, and the girl laughed, and said that he had come off worst, and that she might have sent him away a little more civilly perhaps; but the truth was she had been out of temper to begin with--any one would be cross that was treated as Dame Herse had treated her: hiding her shoes and leaving her a prisoner on the deck of a barge in the middle of a lake! Then she introduced him to Medius, and finally enquired about Marcus and his horses, and whether he had any chance of winning the race.
The countryman answered all her questions; and when, presently, a flower- girl came along the ranks of seats, selling wreaths of blue and red flowers and ribbands, Demetrius bought two lovely olive-wreaths to fling to the winner--his brother he hoped. Medius and his daughter wore red knots--the color of the Heathen, and Dada, following their example, had a similar bow on her shoulder; now, however, she accepted a blue ribband that Demetrius bought for her and pinned it in the place of the red one as being the color of Marcus, to the old singer's great annoyance. Demetrius laughed loudly in his deep bass tones, declaring that his brother was already most anxious to win, and that, when he saw her with these ribbands he would strain every nerve, in gratitude for her partisanship. He could assure her that Marcus thought of her constantly.
"I am glad of that," she said simply; and she added that it was the same with her, for she had been thinking all night of Marcus and his horses. Medius could not help remarking that Karnis and Herse would take it very ill that she should display the Christian color to-day of all days; to which she only replied that she was sorry for that, but that she liked blue better than red. The answer was so abrupt and short that it startled Demetrius, who had hitherto seen Dada gentle and pliant; and it struck him at once how deep an aversion the girl felt for her present protectors.
There was music, as usual, in the towers at either end of the row of carceres; but it was less stirring and cheerful than of yore, for flutes, and several of the heathen airs had been prohibited. Formerly, too, the Hippodrome had been a place where lovers could meet and where many a love-affair had been brought to a happy climax; but to-day none of the daughters of the more respectable families were allowed to quit the women's apartments in their own homes, for danger was in the air; the course of events in the Serapeum had kept many of the younger men from witnessing the races, and some mysterious influence seemed to weigh upon the gaiety and mirth of which the Hippodrome on a gala day was usually the headquarters.
Wild excitement, expectation strung to the highest pitch, and party- feeling, both for and against, had always, of course, been rife here; but to-day they were manifest in an acuter form--hatred had added its taint and lent virulence to every emotion. The heathen were oppressed and angered, their rights abridged and defied; they saw the Christians triumphant at every point, and hatred is a protean monster which rages most fiercely and most venomously when it has lurked in the foul career of envy.
The Christians could hate, too, and they hated the idolaters who gloried with haughty self-sufficiency in their intellectual inheritance; the traditions of a brilliant past. They, who had been persecuted and contemned, now had the upper hand; they were in power, and the more insolently they treated their opponents, the more injustice they did them, and the less the victimized heathen were able to revenge themselves, the more bitterly did the Christians detest the party they contemned as superstitious idolaters. In their care for the soul--the spiritual and divine part--the Christians had hitherto neglected the graces of the body; thus the heathen had remained the undisputed masters of the palaestra and the hippodrome. In the gymnasium the Christian refused even to compete, for the exhibition of his naked body he regarded as an abomination; but on the race-course he had lately been willing to display his horses, and many times had disputed the crown with the hereditary victors, so that, even here, the heathen felt his time-honored and undisputed supremacy endangered. This was intolerable--this must be averted--the mere thought of being beaten on this ground roused the idolaters to wrath and malice. They displayed their color in wreaths of scarlet poppies, pomegranate flowers and red roses, with crimson ribbands and dresses; white and green, the colors formerly adopted by the competitors, were abandoned; for all the heathen were unanimous in combining their forces against the common foe. The ladies used red sun- shades and the very baskets, in which the refreshments were brought for the day, were painted red.
The widow Mary, on the other hand, and all the Christians were robed in blue from head to foot, their sandals being tied with blue ribbands; and Dada's blue shoulder-knot was in conspicuous contrast to her bright rose- colored dress.
The vendors of food who wandered round the circus had eggs dyed blue and red, cakes with sugared icing and refreshing drinks in jars of both colors. When a Christian and a Heathen found themselves seated side by side, each turned a shoulder to the other, or, if they were forced to sit face to face, eyed each other with a scowl.
Cynegius did all he could to postpone the races as long as possible; he was anxious to wait till the Comes had finished his task in the Serapeum, so that the troops might be free to act in any emergency that might arise before the contests in the Hippodrome were fairly ended. Time did not hang heavy on his hands for the vast multitude here assembled interested him greatly, though he had frequently been a spectator of similar festivities in Rome and Constantinople; but this crowd differed in many particulars from the populace of those cities. In the topmost tiers of free seats black and brown faces predominated greatly over white ones; in the cushioned and carpeted ranks of the stone podium--the lower portion of the amphitheatre--mingled with Greeks and Egyptians, sat thousands of splendidly dressed men and women with strongly-marked Semitic features: members of the wealthy Jewish community, whose venerable head, the Alabarch, a dignified patriarch in Greek dress, sat with the chief members of the senate, near the envoy's tribune.
The Alexandrians were not a patient race and they were beginning to rebel against the delay, making no small noise and disturbance, when Cynegius rose and with his white handkerchief waved the signal for the races to begin. The number of spectators had gradually swelled from fifty to sixty and to eighty thousand; and no less than thirty-six chariots were waiting behind the carceres ready to start.
Four 'missus' or races were to be run. In each of the three first twelve chariots were to start, and in the fourth only the leaders in the three former ones were to compete. The winner of the olive-wreath and palmbranch in this final heat would bear the honors of the day; his party would be victorious and he would quit the Hippodrome in triumph.
Lots were now drawn in the oppidum to decide which shed each chariot was to start from, and in which naissus each was to run. It was Marcus' fate to start among the first lot, and, to the horror of those who had backed his chances, Hippias, the hero of the Hippodrome, was his rival, with the four famous bays.
Heathen priests poured libations to Poseidon, and Phoebus Apollo, the patron divinities of horses and of the Hippodrome--for sacrifices of blood were prohibited; while Christian presbyters and exorcists blessed the rival steeds in the name of the Bishop. A few monks had crept in, but they were turned out by the heathen with bitter jeers, as unbidden intruders.
Cynegius repeated his signal. The sound of the tuba rang through the air, and the first twelve chariots were led into the starting-sheds. A few minutes later a machine was set in motion by which a bronze eagle was made to rise with outspread wings high into the air, from an altar in front of the carceres; this was the signal for the chariots to come forth from their boxes. They took up their positions close behind a broad chalk line, traced on the ground with diagonal slope, so as to reduce the disadvantage of standing outermost and having a larger curve to cover.
Until this moment only the privileged possessors of the seats over the carceres had been able, by craning backwards, to see the horses and drivers; now the competitors were visible to the multitude which, at their first appearance, broke out into vociferous applause. The
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