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- The Sisters, v5 - 4/10 -
"What--although you feel strong enough to remain with me, and in spite of my desire to conduct you at once to Apollodorus and Irene?" asked Publius astonished, and he withdrew his hand. "The mule is waiting out there. Lean on my arm. Come and do as I request you."
"No, Publius, no. You are my lord and master, and I will always obey you unresistingly. In one thing only let me have my own way, now and in the future. As to what becomes a woman I know better than you, it is a thing that none but a woman can decide."
Publius made no reply to these words, but he kissed her, and threw his arm round her; and so, clasped in each other's embrace, they reached the gate of the Serapeum, there to part for a few hours.
Klea was let into the temple, and as soon as she had learned that little Philo was much better, she threw herself on her humble bed.
How lonely her room seemed, how intolerably empty without Irene. In obedience to a hasty impulse she quitted her own bed, lay herself down on her sister's, as if that brought her nearer to the absent girl, and closed her eyes; but she was too much excited and too much exhausted to sleep soundly. Swiftly-changing visions broke in again and again on her sincerely devotional thoughts and her restless half-sleep, painting to her fancy now wondrously bright images, and now most horrible ones--now pictures of exquisite happiness, and again others of dismal melancholy. And all the time she imagined she heard distant music and was being rocked up and down by unseen hands.
Still the image of the Roman overpowered all the rest.
At last a refreshing sleep sealed her eyes more closely, and in her dream she saw her lover's house in Rolne, his stately father, his noble mother --who seemed to her to bear a likeness to her own mother--and the figures of a number of tall and dignified senators. She felt herself much embarrassed among all these strangers, who looked enquiringly at her, and then kindly held out their hands to her. Even the dignified matron came to meet her with effusion, and clasped her to her breast; but just as Publius had opened his to her and she flew to his heart, and she fancied she could feel his lips pressed to hers, the woman, who called her every morning, knocked at her door and awoke her.
This time she had been happy in her dream and would willingly have slept again; but she forced herself to rise from her bed, and before the sun was quite risen she was standing by the Well of the Sun and, not to neglect her duty, she filled both the jars for the altar of the god.
Tired and half-overcome by sleep, she set the golden vessels in their place, and sat down to rest at the foot of a pillar, while a priest poured out the water she had brought, as a drink-offering on the ground.
It was now broad daylight as she looked out into the forecourt through the many-pillared hall of the temple; the early sunlight played round the columns, and its slanting rays, at this hour, fell through the tall doorway far into the great hall which usually lay in twilight gloom.
The sacred spot looked very solemn in her eyes, sublime, and as it were reconsecrated, and obeying an irresistible impulse she leaned against a column, and lifting up her arms, and raising her eyes, she uttered her thankfulness to the god for his loving kindness, and found but one thing to pray for, namely that he would preserve Publius and Irene, and all mankind, from sorrow and anxiety and deception.
She felt as if her heart had till now been benighted and dark, and had just disclosed some latent light--as if it had been withered and dry, and was now blossoming in fresh verdure and brightly-colored flowers.
To act virtuously is granted even to those who, relying on themselves. earnestlv strive to lead moral, just and honest lives; but the happy union of virtue and pure inner happiness is solemnized only in the heart which is able to seek and find a God--be it Serapis or Jehovah.
At the door of the forecourt Klea was met by Asclepiodorus, who desired her to follow him. The high-priest had learned that she had secretly quitted the temple: when she was alone with him in a quiet room he asked her gravely and severely, why she had broken the laws and left the sanctuary without his permission. Klea told him, that terror for her sister had driven her to Memphis, and that she there had heard that Publics Cornelius Scipio, the Roman who had taken up her father's cause, had saved Irene from king Euergetes, and placed her in safety, and that then she had set out on her way home in the middle of the night.
The high-priest seemed pleased at her news, and when she proceeded to inform him that Serapion had forsaken his cell out of anxiety for her, and had met his death in the desert, he said:
"I knew all that, my child. May the gods forgive the recluse, and may Serapis show him mercy in the other world in spite of his broken oath! His destiny had to be fulfilled. You, child, were born under happier stars than he, and it is within my power to let you go unpunished. This I do willingly; and Klea, if my daughter Andromeda grows up, I can only wish that she may resemble you; this is the highest praise that a father can bestow on another man's daughter. As head of this temple I command you to fill your jars to-day, as usual, till one who is worthy of you comes to me, and asks you for his wife. I suspect he will not be long to wait for."
"How do you know, father,--" asked Klea, coloring.
"I can read it in your eyes," said Asclepiodorus, and he gazed kindly after her as, at a sign from him, she quitted the room.
As soon as he was alone he sent for his secretary and said:
"King Philometor has commanded that his brother Euergetes' birthday shall be kept to-day in Memphis. Let all the standards be hoisted, and the garlands of flowers which will presently arrive from Arsinoe be fastened up on the pylons; have the animals brought in for sacrifice, and arrange a procession for the afternoon. All the dwellers in the temple must be carefully attired. But there is another thing; Komanus has been here, and has promised us great things in Euergetes' name, and declares that he intends to punish his brother Philometor for having abducted a girl-- Irene--attached to our temple. At the same time he requests me to send Klea the water-bearer, the sister of the girl who was carried off, to Memphis to be examined--but this may be deferred. For to-day we will close the temple gates, solemnize the festival among ourselves, and allow no one to enter our precincts for sacrifice and prayer till the fate of the sisters is made certain. If the kings themselves make their appearance, and want to bring their troops in, we will receive them respectfully as becomes us, but we will not give up Klea, but consign her to the holy of holies, which even Euergetes dare not enter without me; for in giving up the girl we sacrifice our dignity, and with that ourselves."
The secretary bowed, and then announced that two of the prophets of Osiris-Apis desired to speak with Asclepiodorus.
Klea had met these men in the antechamber as she quitted the high-priest, and had seen in the hand of one of them the key with which she had opened the door of the rock-tomb. She had started, and her conscience urged her to go at once to the priest-smith, and tell him how ill she had fulfilled her errand.
When she entered his room Krates was sitting at his work with his feet wrapped up, and he was rejoiced to see her, for his anxiety for her and for Irene had disturbed his night's rest, and towards morning his alarm had been much increased by a frightful dream.
Klea, encouraged by the friendly welcome of the old man, who was usually so surly, confessed that she had neglected to deliver the key to the smith in the city, that she had used it to open the Apis-tombs, and had then forgotten to take it out of the new lock. At this confession the old man broke out violently, he flung his file, and the iron bolt at which he was working, on to his work-table, exclaiming:
"And this is the way you executed your commission. It is the first time I ever trusted a woman, and this is my reward! All this will bring evil on you and on me, and when it is found out that the sanctuary of Apis has been desecrated through my fault and yours, they will inflict all sorts of penance on me, and with very good reason--as for you, they will punish you with imprisonment and starvation."
"And yet, father," Klea calmly replied, "I feel perfectly guiltless, and perhaps in the same fearful situation you might not have acted differently."
"You think so--you dare to believe such a thing?" stormed the old man. "And if the key and perhaps even the lock have been stolen, and if I have done all that beautiful and elaborate work in vain?"
"What thief would venture into the sacred tombs?" asked Klea doubtfully.
"What! are they so unapproachable?" interrupted Krates. "Why, a miserable creature like you even dared to open them. But only wait--only wait; if only my feet were not so painful--"
"Listen to me," said the girl, going closer up to the indignant smith. "You are discreet, as you proved to me only yesterday; and if I were to tell you all I went through and endured last night you would certainly forgive me, that I know."
"If you are not altogether mistaken!" shouted the smith. "Those must be strange things indeed which could induce me to let such neglect of duty and such a misdemeanor pass unpunished."
And strange things they were indeed which the old man now had to hear, for when Klea had ended her narrative of all that had occurred during the past night, not her eyes only but those of the old smith too were wet with tears.
"These accursed legs!" he muttered, as his eyes met the enquiring glance of the young girl, and he wiped the salt dew from his cheeks with the sleeve of his coat. "Aye-a swelled foot like mine is painful, child, and a cripple such as I am is not always strong-minded. Old women grow like men, and old men grow like women. Ah! old age--it is bad to have such feet as mine, but what is worse is that memory fades as years advance. I believe now that I left the key myself in the door of the Apis-tombs last evening, and I will send at once to Asclepiodorus, so that he may beg the Egyptians up there to forgive me--they are indebted to me for many small jobs."
All the black masses of clouds which during the night had darkened the blue sky and hidden the light of the moon had now completely disappeared. The north-east wind which rose towards morning had floated them away, and Zeus, devourer of the clouds, had swallowed them up to the very last. It was a glorious morning, and as the sun rose in the heavens, and pierced
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