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- The Sisters, v5 - 3/10 -
meet again after death--and I believe we shall--I would rather see her once more than any one, for she loved me so much--and I feel now as if I were a child again, and could throw my arms round her neck. In another life, perhaps, I may not be the child of misfortune that I have been in this--in another life--now it grips my heart--in another----Children whatever joys have smiled on me in this, children, it was to you I have owed it--Klea, to you--and there is my little Irene too----"
These were the last words of Serapion the recluse; he fell back with a deep sigh and was dead. Klea and Publius tenderly closed his faithful eyes.
The unwonted tumult that had broken the stillness of the night had not been unobserved in the Greek Serapeum any more than in the Egyptian temple adjoining the Apis-tombs; but perfect silence once more reigned in the Necropolis, when at last the great gate of the sanctuary of Osiris- Apis was thrown open, and a little troop of priests arranged in a procession came out from it with a vanguard of temple servants, who had been armed with sacrificial knives and axes.
Publius and Klea, who were keeping faithful watch by the body of their dead friend, saw them approaching, and the Roman said:
"It would have been even less right in such a night as this to let you proceed to one of the temples with out my escort than to have let our poor friend remain unwatched."
"Once more I assure you," said Klea eagerly "that we should have thrown away every chance of fulfilling Serapion's last wish as he intended, if during our absence a jackal or a hyena had mutilated his body, and I am happy to be able at least to prove to my friend, now he is dead, how grateful I am for all the kindness he showed us while he lived. We ought to be grateful even to the departed, for how still and blissful has this hour been while guarding his body. Storm and strife brought us together--"
"And here," interrupted Publius, "we have concluded a happy and permanent treaty of peace for the rest of our lives."
"I accept it willingly," replied Klea, looking down, "for I am the vanquished party."
"But you have already confessed," said Publius, "that you were never so unhappy as when you thought you had asserted your strength against mine, and I can tell you that you never seemed to me so great and yet so lovable as when in the midst of your triumph, you gave up the battle for lost. Such an hour as that, a man experiences but once in his lifetime. I have a good memory, but if ever I should forget it, and be angry and passionate--as is sometimes my way--remind me of this spot, or of this our dead friend, and my hard mood will melt, and I shall remember that you once were ready to give your life for mine. I will make it easy for you, for in honor of this man, who sacrificed his life for yours and who was actually murdered in my stead, I promise to add his name of Serapion to my own, and I will confirm this vow in Rome. He has behaved to us as a father, and it behoves me to reverence his memory as though I had been his son. An obligation was always unendurable to me, and how I shall ever make full restitution to you for what you have done for me this night I do not yet know--and yet I should be ready and willing every day and every hour to accept from you some new gift of love. 'A debtor,' says the proverb, 'is half a prisoner,' and so I must entreat you to deal mercifully with your conquerer."
He took her hand, stroked back the hair from her forehead, and touched it lightly with his lips. Then he went on:
"Come with me now that we may commit the dead into the hands of these priests."
Klea once more bent over the remains of the anchorite, she hung the amulet he had given her for her journey round his neck, and then silently obeyed her lover. When they came up with the little procession Publius informed the chief priest how he had found Serapion, and requested him to fetch away the corpse, and to cause it to be prepared for interment in the costliest manner in the embalming house attached to their temple. Some of the temple-servants took their places to keep watch over the body, and after many questions addressed to Publius, and after examining too the body of the assassin who had been slain, the priests returned to the temple.
As soon as the two lovers were left alone again Klea seized the Roman's hand, and said passionately: "You have spoken many tender words to me, and I thank you for them; but I am wont always to be honest, and less than any one could I deceive you. Whatever your love bestows upon me will always be a free gift, since you owe me nothing at all and I owe you infinitely much; for I know now that you have snatched my sister from the clutches of the mightiest in the land while I, when I heard that Irene had gone away with you, and that murder threatened your life, believed implicitly that on the contrary you had lured the child away to become your sweetheart, and then--then I hated you, and then--I must confess it\ --in my horrible distraction I wished you dead!"
"And you think that wish can offend me or hurt me?" said Publius. "No, my child; it only proves to me that you love me as I could wish to be loved. Such rage under such circumstances is but the dark shadow cast by love, and is as inseparable from love as from any tangible body. Where it is absent there is no such thing as real love present--only an airy vision, a phantom, a mockery. Such an one as Klea does not love nor hate by halves; but there are mysterious workings in your soul as in that of every other woman. How did the wish that you could see me dead turn into the fearful resolve to let yourself be killed in my stead?"
"I saw the murderers," answered Klea, "and I was overwhelmed with horror of them and of their schemes, and of all that had to do with them; I would not destroy Irene's happiness, and I loved you even more deeply than I hated you; and then--but let us not speak of it."
"Nay-tell me all."
"Then there was a moment--"
"Then--in these last hours, while we have been sitting hand in hand by the body of poor Serapion, and hardly speaking, I have felt it all over again--then the midnight hymn of the priests fell upon my heart, and as I lifted up my soul in prayer at their pious chant I felt as if all my inmost heart had been frozen and hardened, and was reviving again to new life and tenderness and warmth. I could not help thinking of all that is good and right, and I made up my mind to sacrifice myself for you and for Irene's happiness far more quickly and easily than I could give it up afterwards. My father was one of the followers of Zeno--"
"And you," interrupted Publius, "thought you were acting in accordance with the doctrine of the Stoa. I also am familiar with it, but I do not know the man who is so virtuous and wise that he can live and act, as that teaching prescribes, in the heat of the struggle of life, or who is the living representative in flesh and blood of the whole code of ethics, not sinning against one of its laws and embodying it in himself. Did you ever hear of the peace of mind, the lofty indifference and equanimity of the Stoic sages? You look as if the question offended you, but you did not by any means know how to attain that magnanimity, for I have seen you fail in it; indeed it is contrary to the very nature of woman, and-- the gods be thanked--you are not a Stoic in woman's dress, but a woman --a true woman, as you should be. You have learned nothing from Zeno and Chrysippus but what any peasant girl might learn from an honest father, to be true I mean and to love virtue. Be content with that; I am more than satisfied."
"Oh, Publius," exclaimed the girl, grasping her friend's hand. "I understand you, and I know that you are right. A woman must be miserable so long as she fancies herself strong, and imagines and feels that she needs no other support than her own firm will and determination, no other counsel than some wise doctrines which she accepts and adheres to. Before I could call you mine, and went on my own way, proud of my own virtue, I was--I cannot bear to think of it--but half a soul, and took it for a whole; but now--if now fate were to snatch you from me, I should still know where to seek the support on which I might lean in need and despair. Not in the Stoa, not in herself can a woman find such a stay, but in pious dependence on the help of the gods."
"I am a man," interrupted Publius, "and yet I sacrifice to them and yield ready obedience to their decrees."
"But," cried Klea, "I saw yesterday in the temple of Serapis the meanest things done by his ministers, and it pained me and disgusted me, and I lost my hold on the divinity; but the extremest anguish and deepest love have led me to find it again. I can no longer conceive of the power that upholds the universe as without love nor of the love that makes men happy as other than divine. Any one who has once prayed for a being they love as I prayed for you in the desert can never again forget how to pray. Such prayers indeed are not in vain. Even if no god can hear them there is a strengthening virtue in such prayer itself.
"Now I will go contentedly back to our temple till you fetch me, for I know that the discreetest, wisest, and kindest Beings will watch over our love."
"You will not accompany me to Apollodorus and Irene?" asked Publius in surprise.
"No," answered Klea firmly. "Rather take me back to the Serapeum. I have not yet been released from the duties I undertook there, and it will be more worthy of us both that Asclepiodorus should give you the daughter of Philotas as your wife than that you should be married to a runaway serving-maid of Serapis."
Publius considered for a moment, and then he said eagerly:
"Still I would rather you should come with me. You must be dreadfully tired, but I could take you on my mule to Apollodorus. I care little for what men say of me when I am sure I am doing right, and I shall know how to protect you against Euergetes whether you wish to be readmitted to the temple or accompany me to the sculptor. But do come--it will be hard on me to part from you again. The victor does not lay aside the crown when he has just won it in hard fight."
"Still I entreat you to take me back to the Serapeum," said Klea, laying her hand in that of Publius.
"Is the way to Memphis too long, are you utterly tired out?"
"I am much wearied by agitation and terror, by anxiety and happiness, still I could very well bear the ride; but I beg of you to take me back to the temple,"
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