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- A Thorny Path, Volume 4. - 4/10 -
a heart which beat with compassion for him!
Several sick persons, eager for some communication from the gods, and some who, without being sick, had slept in the Serapeum, had by this time left their beds, and were taking counsel in the great hall with interpreters and physicians. The bustle was like that of a market-place, and there was one old man with unkempt hair and fiery eyes who repeated again and again in a loud voice, "It was the god himself who appeared to me, and his three-headed dog licked my cheeks." And presently a hideous old woman plucked at Melissa's robe, whispering: "A healing draught for your lover; tears from the eyes of the infant Horus. I have them from Isis herself. The effect is rapid and certain. Come to Hezron, the dealer in balsams in the street of the Nekropolis. Your lover's recovery--for five drachmae."
But Melissa, who was no stranger here since her mother's last sickness, went on without pausing, following the litter down the long hall full of beds, a room with a stone roof resting on two rows of tall columns. Familiar to her too was the aromatic scent of kyphi,--[incense]--which filled the hall, although fresh air was constantly pouring in from outside through the high windows. Red and green curtains hung in front of them, and the subdued light which came through fell in tinted twilight on the colored pictures in relief of the history of the gods, which covered the walls. Speech was forbidden here, and their steps fell noiseless on the thick, heavy mats.
Most of the beds were already empty; only those between the long wall and the nearest row of columns were still for the most part occupied by the sick who sought the help of the god. On one of these Diodoros was laid, Melissa helping in silence, and with such skill as delighted even the physicians. Still, this did not wake him, though on the next bed lay a man who never ceased speaking, because in his dream he had been bidden to repeat the name of Serapis as many times as there were drops in a cup of water filled from the Agathodaemon Canal.
"A long stay in this strong perfume will be bad for him," whispered Ptolemaeus to the freedman. "Galenus sent word that he would visit the sick early to-day; but he is not here yet. He is an old man, and in Rome, they say, it is the custom to sleep late."
He was interrupted by a stir in the long hall, which broke in on the silence, no one knew from whence; and immediately after, officious hands threw open the great double doors with a loud noise.
"He is coming," whispered their priestly guide; and the instant after an old man crossed the threshold, followed by a troop of pastophori, as obsequious as the courtiers at the heels of a prince.
"Gently, brothers," murmured the greatest physician of his age in a low voice, as, leaning on a staff, he went toward the row of couches. It was easy to see the traces of his eighty years, but his fine eyes still gleamed with youthful light.
Melissa blushed to think that she could have mistaken Serenus Samonicus for this noble old man. He must once have been a tall man; his back was bent and his large head was bowed as though he were forever seeking something. His face was pale and colorless, with a well-formed nose and mouth, but not of classic mold. Blue veins showed through the clear white skin, and the long, silky, silvery hair still flowed in unthinned waves round his massive head, bald only on the crown. A snowy beard fell over his breast. His aged form was wrapped in a long and ample robe of costly white woolen stuff, and his whole appearance would have been striking for its peculiar refinement, even if the eyes had not sparkled with such vivid and piercing keenness from under the thick brows, and if the high, smooth, slightly prominent forehead had not borne witness to the power and profundity of his mind. Melissa knew of no one with whom to compare him; he reminded Andreas of the picture of John as an old man, which a wealthy fellow-Christian had presented to the church of Saint Mark.
If this man could do nothing, there was no help on earth. And how dignified and self-possessed were the movements of this bent old man as he leaned on his staff! He, a stranger here, seemed to be showing the others the way, a guide in his own realm. Melissa had heard that the strong scent of the kyphi might prove injurious to Diodoros, and her one thought now was the desire that Galenus might soon approach his couch. He did not, in fact, begin with the sick nearest to the door, but stood awhile in the middle of the hall, leaning against a column and surveying the place and the beds.
When his searching glance rested on that where Diodoros was lying, an answering look met his with reverent entreaty from a pair of beautiful, large, innocent eyes. A smile parted his bearded lips, and going up to the girl he said: "Where beauty bids, even age must obey. Your lover, child, or your brother?"
"My betrothed," Melissa hastened to reply; and the maidenly embarrassment which flushed her cheek became her so well that he added:
"He must have much to recommend him if I allow him to carry you off, fair maid."
With these words he went up to the couch, and looking at Diodoros as he lay, he murmured, as if speaking to himself and without paying any heed to the younger men who crowded round him:
"There are no true Greeks left here; but the beauty of the ancestral race is not easily stamped out, and is still to be seen in their descendants. What a head, what features, and what hair!"
Then he felt the lad's breast, shoulders, and arms, exclaiming in honest admiration, "What a godlike form!"
He laid his delicate old hand, with its network of blue veins, on the sick man's forehead, again glanced round the room, and listened to Ptolemaeus, who gave him a brief and technical report of the case; then, sniffing the heavy scent that filled the hall, he said, as the Christian leech ceased speaking:
"We will try; but not here--in a room less full of incense. This perfume brings dreams, but no less surely induces fever. Have you no other room at hand where the air is purer?"
An eager "Yes," in many voices was the reply; and Diodoros was forthwith transferred into a small cubicle adjoining.
While he was being moved, Galenus went from bed to bed, questioning the chief physician and the patients. He seemed to have forgotten Diodoros and Melissa; but after hastily glancing at some and carefully examining others, and giving advice where it was needful, he desired to see the fair Alexandrian's lover once more.
As he entered the room he nodded kindly to the girl. How gladly would she have followed him! But she said to herself that if he had wished her to be present he would certainly have called her; so she modestly awaited his return. She had to wait a long time, and the minutes seemed hours while she heard the voices of men through the closed door, the moaning and sighing of the sufferer, the splashing of water, and the clatter of metal instruments; and her lively imagination made her fancy that something almost unendurable was being done to her lover.
At last the physician came out. His whole appearance betokened perfect satisfaction. The younger men, who followed him, whispered among themselves, shaking their heads as though some miracle had been performed; and every eye that looked on him was radiant with enthusiastic veneration. Melissa knew, as soon as his eyes met hers, that all was well, and as she grasped the old man's hand she concluded from its cool moisture that he had but just washed it, and had done with his own hand all that Ptolemaeus had expected of his skill. Her eyes were dim with grateful emotion, and though Galenus strove to hinder her from pressing her lips to his hand she succeeded in doing so; he, however, kissed her brow with fatherly delight in her warmhearted sweetness, and said:
"Now go home happy, my child. That stone had hit your lover's brain-roof a hard blow; the pressure of the broken beam--I mean a piece of bone--had robbed him of his consciousness of what a sweet bride the gods have bestowed on him. But the knife has done its work; the beam is in its place again; the splinters which were not needed have been taken out; the roof is mended, and the pressure removed. Your friend has recovered consciousness, and I will wager that at this moment he is thinking of you and wishes you were with him. But for the present you had better defer the meeting. For forty-eight hours he must remain in that little room, for any movement would only delay his recovery."
"Then I shall stay here to nurse him," cried Melissa, eagerly. But Galenus replied, decisively:
"That must not be if he is to get well. The presence of a woman for whom the sufferer's heart is on fire is as certain to aggravate the fever as the scent of incense. Besides, child, this is no place for such as you."
Her head drooped sadly, but he nodded to her cheeringly as he added:
"Ptolemaeus, who is worthy of your entire confidence, speaks of you as a girl of much sense, and you will surely not do anything to spoil my work, which was not easy. However, I must say farewell; other sick require my care."
He held out his hand, but, seeing her eyes fixed on his and glittering through tears, he asked her name and family. It seemed to him of good augury for the long hours before him which he must devote to Caesar, that he should, so early in the day, have met so pure and fair a flower of girlhood.
When she had told him her own name and her father's, and also mentioned her brothers, Philip the philosopher, and Alexander the painter, who was already one of the chief masters of his art here, Galenus answered heartily:
"All honor to his genius, then, for he is the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Like the old gods, who can scarce make themselves heard for the new, the Muses too have been silenced. The many really beautiful things to be seen here are not new; and the new, alas! are not beautiful. But your brother's work," he added, kindly, "may be the exception."
"You should only see his portraits!" cried Melissa.
"Yours, perhaps, among them?" said the old man, with interest. "That is a reminder I would gladly take back to Rome with me."
Alexander had indeed painted his sister not long before, and how glad she was to be able to offer the picture to the reverend man to whom she owed so much! So she promised with a blush to send it him as soon as she should be at home again.
The unexpected gift was accepted with pleasure, and when he thanked her eagerly and with simple heartiness, she interrupted him with the assurance that in Alexandria art was not yet being borne to the grave. Her brother's career, it was true, threatened to come to an untimely end, for he stood in imminent danger. On this the old man--who had taken his
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