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- A Thorny Path, Volume 3. - 5/9 -
with what unhesitating determination she could carry out a purpose; and he feared that, if he told her the truth, she would at once make her way into Caesar's quarters, in defiance of every obstacle, to crave the assistance of the true Galen. He must leave her in error, and yet he could not bear to do so, for there was no art in which he was so inexpert as that of deceit. How hard it was to find the right answer, when she asked him whether he did not hope everything from the great physician's intervention, or when she inquired what were the works to which Galen owed his chief fame!
As they came near to the landing-stage whence the ferry started, she wanted to know how old he should suppose the Roman leech to be; and again he avoided answering, for Galen was above eighty, and Serenus scarcely seventy.
She looked up at him with large, mournful eyes, saying, "Have I offended you, or is there something you are concealing from me?"
"What could you do to offend me?" he replied; "life is full of sorrows, my child. You must learn to have patience."
"Patience!" echoed Melissa, sadly. "That is the only knowledge I have ever mastered. When my father is more sullen than you are, for a week at a time, I scarcely heed it. But when you look like that, Andreas, it is not without cause, and that is why I am anxious."
"One we love is very sick, child," he said, soothingly; but she was not to be put off so, and exclaimed with conviction:
"No, no, it is not that. We have learned nothing fresh about Diodoro-- and you were ready enough to answer me when we came away from the Christian's house. Nothing but good has happened to us since, and yet you look as if the locusts had come down on your garden."
They had reached a spot on the shore where a ship was being unloaded of its cargo of granite blocks from Syene. Black and brown slaves were dragging them to land. An old blind man was piping a dismal tune on a small reed flute to encourage them in their work, while two men of fairer hue, whose burden had been too heavy for them, had let the end of the column they were carrying sink on the ground, and were being mercilessly flogged by the overseer to make them once more attempt the impossible.
Andreas had watched the scene; a surge of fury had brought the blood to his face, and, stirred by great and genuine emotion, he broke out:
"There--there you see the locusts which destroy my garden--the hail which ruins my crops! It falls on all that bears the name of humanity--on me and you. Happy, girl? None of us can ever be happy till the Kingdom shall arise for which the fullness of the time is come."
"But they dropped the column; I saw them myself," urged Melissa.
"Did you, indeed?" said Andreas. "Well, well, the whip, no doubt, can revive exhausted powers. And that is how you look upon such deeds!--you, who would not crush a worm in the garden, think this is right and just!"
It suddenly struck Melissa that Andreas, too, had once been a slave, and the feeling that she had hurt him grieved her to the heart. She had often heard him speak sternly and gravely, but never in scorn as he did now, and that, too, distressed her; and as she could not think of the right thing to say in atonement for the wrong she had done, she could only look up with tearful entreaty and murmur, "Forgive me!"
"I have nothing to forgive," he replied in an altered tone. "You have grown up among the unjust who are now in power. How should you see more clearly than they, who all walk in darkness? But if the light should be shown to you by one to whom it hath been revealed, it would not be extinguished again.--Does it not seem a beautiful thing to you to live among none but brethren and sisters, instead of among oppressors and their scourged victims; or is there no place in a woman's soul for the holy wrath that came upon Moses the Hebrew? But who would ever have spoken his great name to you?"
Melissa was about to interrupt his vehement speech, for, in a town where there were so many Jews, alike among the citizens and the slaves, even she had heard that Moses had been their lawgiver; but he prevented her, by adding hastily: "This only, child, I would have you remember--for here is the ferry--the worst ills that man ever inflicts on his fellow-man are the outcome of self-interest; and, of all the good he may do, the best is the result of his achieving self-forgetfulness to secure the happiness and welfare of others."
He said no more, for the ferry-boat was about to put off, and they had to take their places as quickly as possible.
The large flat barge was almost unoccupied; for the multitude still lingered in the town, and more than one seat was empty for the weary girl to rest on. Andreas paced to and fro, for he was restless; but when Melissa beckoned to him he came close to her, and, while he leaned against the little cabin, received her assurance that she now quite understood his desire to see all slaves made free. He, if any one, must know what the feelings of those unhappy creatures were.
"Do I not know!" he exclaimed, with a shake of the head. Then, glancing round at the few persons who were sitting at the other end of the boat, he went on sadly: "To know that, a man must himself have been branded with the marks of his humiliation." He showed her his arm, which was usually hidden by the long sleeve of his tunic, and Melissa exclaimed in sorrowful surprise: "But you were free-born! and none of our slaves bear such a brand. You must have fallen into the hands of Syrian pirates."
He nodded, and added, "I and my father."
"But he," the girl eagerly put in, "was a great man."
"Till Fate overtook him," Andreas said.
Melissa's tearful eyes showed the warm sympathy she felt, as she asked:
"But how could it have happened that you were not ransomed by your relations? Your father was, no doubt, a Roman citizen; and the law--"
"The law forbids that such a one should be sold into slavery," Andreas broke in, "and yet the authorities of Rome left him in misery--left--"
At this, her large, gentle eyes flashed with indignation, and, stirred to the depths of her nature, she exclaimed:
"How was such horrible injustice possible? Oh, let me hear. You know how truly I love you, and no one can hear you."
The wind had risen, the waves splashed noisily against the broad boat, and the song of the slaves, as they plied their oars, would have drowned a stronger voice than the freedman's; so he sat down by her side to do her bidding.
And the tale he had to tell was sad indeed.
His father had been of knightly rank, and in the reign of Marcus Aurelius he had been in the service of Avidius Cassius, his fellow-countryman, the illustrious governor of Asia as 'procurator ab epistolis'. As holding this high post, he found himself involved in the conspiracy of Avidius against the emperor. After the assassination of his patron, who had already been proclaimed emperor by the troops, Andreas's father had been deprived of his offices, his citizenship, and his honors; his possessions were confiscated, and he was exiled to the island of Anaphe. It was to Caesar's clemency that he owed his life.
On their voyage into exile the father and son fell into the hands of Syrian pirates, and were sold in the slave-market of Alexandria to two separate masters. Andreas was bought by a tavern-keeper; the procurator, whose name as a slave was Smaragdus, by the father of Polybius; and this worthy man soon learned to value his servant so highly, that he purchased the son also, and restored him to his father. Thus they were once more united.
Every attempt of the man who had once held so proud a position to get his release, by an act of the senate, proved vain. It was with a broken heart and enfeebled health that he did his duty to his master and to his only child. He pined in torments of melancholy, till Christianity opened new happiness to him, and revived hope brought him back from the very brink of despair; and, even as a slave, he found the highest of all dignities--that, namely, which a Christian derives from his faith.
At this point Melissa interrupted her friend's narrative, exclaiming, as she pointed across the waters:
"There! there! look! In that boat--I am sure that is Alexander! And he is making for the town."
Andreas started up, and after convincing himself that she was indeed right, for the youth himself had recognized his sister, who waved her hand to him, he wrathfully exclaimed:
"Madman!" and by intelligible and commanding signs he ordered the reckless young artist to turn his little skiff, and follow in the wake of the ferry-boat, which was by this time nearing land.
But Alexander signaled a negative, and, after gayly blowing a kiss to Melissa, plied his oars again with as much speed and energy as though he were rowing for a wager. How swiftly and steadily the keel of his little boat cut through the crisply foaming waves on which it rose and fell! The daring youth did not lack strength, that was certain, and the couple who watched him with so much uneasiness soon understood that he was striving to overtake another and larger bark which was at some distance in front of him. It was being pulled by slaves, whose stalwart arms made the pace a good one, and under the linen awning which shaded the middle part of it two women were seated.
The rays of the sun, whose fiery globe was now sinking behind the palm- groves on the western shore, flooded the sky with ruby light, and tinged the white robes of these women, the light canopy over their heads, and the whole face of the lake, with a rosy hue; but neither Andreas nor his companion heeded the glorious farewell of departing day.
Melissa pointed out to her friend the strangeness of her brother's attire, and the hood which, in the evening light, seemed to be bordered with gold. He had on, in fact, a Gallic mantle, such as that which had gained Caesar the nickname of Caracalla, and there was in this disguise something to reassure them; for, if Alexander pulled the hood low enough, it would hide the greater part of his face, and make it difficult to recognize him. Whence he had procured this garment was not hard to divine, for imperial servants had distributed them in numbers among the crowd. Caesar was anxious to bring them into fashion, and it might safely be expected that those Alexandrians who had held out their hands to accept them would appear in them on the morrow, as no order required that they should be worn. Alexander could not do better than wear one, if only by such means he could escape Zminis and his men.
But who were the women he was pursuing? Before Melissa could ask the
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