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- A Thorny Path, Volume 3. - 4/9 -
needles too fine for me. Why, just now, when Caesar is here, and gain and honor be in the streets for such a one as you only to stoop for--why, I say, you should waste precious time on that poring fellow from the Museum, I can not understand."
A superior smile parted the Magian's lips; he stepped back into the room, followed by Annianus, and replied:
"You know how many who call themselves Magians will crowd round Caesar, and the fame of Sosibius, Hananja, and Kaimis, is not much behind mine. Each plies his art by his own formulas, though he may call himself a Pythagorean or what not. None dare claim to belong to any recognized school, since the philosophers of the guild pride themselves on condemning the miracle-mongers. Now, in his youth, Caracalla went through his courses of philosophy. He detests Aristotle, and has always attached himself to Plato and the Pythagoreans. You yourself told me that by his desire Philostratus is writing a life of Apollonius of Tyana; and, though he may turn up his nose at the hair-splitting and frittering of the sages of the Museum, it is in his blood to look for marvels from those privileged philosophers. His mother has made courtiers of them again; and he, who looks for everything from the magic arts, has never yet met a Magian who could have been one of them."
At this the Syrian clapped his hands, exclaiming: "And you propose to use Philip as your signbearer to talk to the emperor of a thaumaturgist who is hand in hand with all the learning of the Museum? A cursed good idea! But the gem-cutter's son does not look like a simpleton; and he is a skeptic into the bargain, and believes in nothing. If you catch him, I shall really and truly believe in your miraculous powers."
"There are harder things than catching him," said the Magian.
"You mean to break his will," said the Syrian, looking down at the ground, "by your eye and the laying on of hands, as you did mine and Triphis's two years ago?"
"That, no doubt, formed the first bond between us," said Serapion. "I now need only your ventriloquism. Philip himself will come half-way to meet me on the main point."
"And what is that?"
"You called him a skeptic, and he does, in fact, pride himself on going further than the old masters of the school. Diligent study has brought him to the point of regarding nothing as certain, but, on the other hand, everything as possible. The last result he can arrive at is the probability--since certainty there is none--that it is impossible ever to know anything, be it what it may. He is always ready to listen with sympathetic attention to the arguments for the reappearance of the souls of the dead in the earthly form they have quitted, to visit and converse with the living. He considers it a fallacy to say that anything is impossible; and my arguments are substantial. Korinna will appear to him. Castor has discovered a girl who is her very image. Your arts will convince him that it is she who speaks to him, for he never heard her voice in life, and all this must rouse his desire to see her again and again. And thus the skeptic will be convinced, in spite of his own doctrine. In this, as in every other case, it is the passionate wish that gives rise to the belief."
"And when you have succeeded in getting him to this point?" asked the Syrian, anxiously.
"Then," replied the Magian, "he will help me, with his triumphant dialectics, to win Caesar over to the same conviction; and then we shall be able to satisfy the emperor's desire to hold intercourse with the dead; and for that I count on your power of making voices proceed from any person present."
He said no more. The little man looked up at him approvingly, and said, modestly: "You are indeed wise, Serapion, and I will do my best to help you. The next thing to be done is to seek representatives of the great Alexander, of Apollonius of Tyana, and of Caesar's brother, father-in- law, and wife."
"Not forgetting Papinian, the noblest of his victims," added the Magian. "Back again already, Castor?"
These words were addressed to a tall and apparently elderly man in a long white robe, who had slipped in without a sound. His demeanor was so grave and dignified that he looked precisely like a Christian priest impressed with the sanctity of his office; but hardly had he got into the room, and greeted the Magian with much unction, than he pulled the white garment off over his head, rubbed from his cheeks the lines which gave him twenty added years, stretched his lithe limbs, and exclaimed with delight:
"I have got her! Old Dorothea will bring her to your theatre!"--and the young fellow's mobile face beamed with the happy radiance of success.
It almost seemed as though fermenting wine flowed in the man's veins instead of blood; for, when he had made his report to the Magian, and had been rewarded with a handful of gold-pieces, he tossed the coins in the air, caught them like flies in the hollow of his hand, and then pitched wheel fashion over head and heels from one end of the room to the other. Then, when he stood on his feet once more, he went on, without a sign of breathlessness:
"Forgive me, my lord! Nature asserts her rights. To play the pious for three whole hours! Eternal gods, that is a hard task, and a man must--"
"I know all about it," Serapion broke in with a smile and a threatening finger. "Now go and stretch your limbs, and then share your lightly earned gains with some pretty flute-player. But I want you again this evening; so, if you feel weak, I shall lock you up."
"Do," said Castor, as earnestly as if he had been promised some pleasure. "What a merry, good-for-nothing set they are!-Dorothea will bring the girl at the appointed hour. Everything is arranged."
Whereupon he danced out of the room, singing a tune.
"An invaluable creature!" said the Syrian, with an admiring glance.
"A better one spoiled," said Serapion. "He has the very highest gifts, but is utterly devoid of conscience to set a limit to his excesses. How should he have one? His father was one of a troupe of Ephesian pantomimists, and his mother a golden-haired Cyprian dancer. But he knows every corner of Alexandria--and then, what a memory! What an actor he would have made! Without even a change of dress, merely by a grimace, he at once becomes an old man, an idiot, or a philosopher."
"And what a genius for intrigue!" Annianus went on enthusiastically. "As soon as he saw the portrait of Korinna he knew that he had seen her double among the Christians on the other side of the lake. This morning he tracked her out, and now she is caught in the snare. And how sharp of him to make Dorothea bring her here!"
"I told him to do that, and use the name of Bishop Demetrius," observed the Magian. "She would not have come with a stranger, and Dorothea must be known to her in the meetings of their congregation."
While this conversation was taking place, Melissa and her companion had reached the shore of the lake, the large inland sea which washed the southern side of the city and afforded anchorage for the Nile-boats. The ferry-boat which would convey them to the gardens of Polybius started from the Agathodaemon Canal, an enlarged branch of the Nile, which connected the lake with the royal harbor and the Mediterranean; they had, therefore, to walk some distance along the shore.
The setting sun shot slanting rays on the glittering surface of the glassy waters in which the numberless masts of the Nile-boats were mirrored.
Vessels large and small, with white or gayly-painted lateen sails gleaming in the evening glow, large galleys, light skiffs, and restless, skimming pleasure-boats, were flitting to and fro; and among them, like loaded wagons among chariots and horsemen, the low corn-barges scarcely seemed to move, piled as they were with pyramids of straw and grain as high as a house.
The bustle on the quay was less conspicuous than usual, for all who were free to follow their curiosity had gone into the city. There were, however, many slaves, and Caesar's visit no more affected their day's toil than it did the course of the sun. To-day, as every other day, they had to pack and unload; and though few ships were sailing, numbers were arriving from the south, and throwing out the landing-bridges which connected them with the shore.
The number of pleasure-boats, on the other hand, was greater than usual; for business was suspended, and many who hated the crowd found pleasure in rowing in their own boats. Others had come to see the imperial barge, which had been newly furnished up, and which was splendid enough to attract even the luxurious Alexandrians. Gold and ivory, purple sails, bronze and marble statues at the prow and stern, and in the little shrines on the after-deck, combined in a gorgeous display, made all the more brilliant by the low sun, which added vividness to every hue.
It was pleasant to linger on the strand at this hour. Spreading sycamores and plumed palms cast a pleasant shade; the heat of the day had abated, and a light air, which always blew in from the lake, fanned Melissa's brow. There was no crushing mob, and no dust came up from the well-watered roadway, and yet the girl had lost her cheerful looks, in spite of the success of her bold venture; and Andreas walked by her side, silent and ill-pleased.
She could not understand him; for, as long as she could remember, his grave looks had always brightened at anything that had brought gladness to her or to her mother. Besides, her success with the Roman would be to the advantage of Diodoros, and the freedman was devoted to him. Every now and then she perceived that his eye rested on her with a compassionate expression, and when she inquired whether he were anxious about the sufferer, he gave her some evasive answer, quite unlike his usual decisive speech. This added to her alarm. At last his dissatisfied and unsatisfactory replies vexed the usually patient girl, and she told him so; for she could not suspect how painfully her triumph in her hasty deed jarred on her truth-loving friend. He knew that it was not to the great Galenus, but to the wealthy Serenus Samonicus, that she had spoken; for the physician's noble and thoughtful features were familiar to him from medals, statues, and busts. He had seen Samonicus, too, at Antioch, and held his medical lore, as expressed in verse, very cheap. How worthless would this man's help be! In spite of his promise, Diodoros would after all have to be conveyed to the Serapeum; and yet Andreas could not bear to crush his darling's hopes.
He had hitherto known her as a patient, dutiful child; to-day he had seen
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