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- A Thorny Path, Volume 8. - 10/10 -

power are as hateful to me as the flowers yonder with their false dew. I was ever taught to close my ear to the voice of selfishness. If I have any wish for myself, it is that I may keep my faith with him to whom it was promised. But for love of my father, and if I could be certain of saving many from death and misery, I would stay, though I should despise myself and be separated forever from my beloved!"

"Submit to the inevitable," interposed the philosopher, with eager entreaty. "The immortal gods will reward you with the blessings of hundreds whom a word from you will have saved from ruin and destruction."

"And what say you?" asked the maiden, gazing with anxious expectancy into the matron's face. "Follow your own heart!" replied the lady, deeply moved.

Melissa had hearkened to both counselors with eager ear, and both hung anxiously on her lips, while, as if taken out of herself, she gazed with panting bosom into the empty air. They had not long to wait. Suddenly the maiden approached Philostratus and said with a firmness and decision that astonished her friend:

"This will I do--this--I feel it here--this is the right. I remain, I renounce the love of my heart, and accept what Fate has laid upon me. It will be hard, and the sacrifice that I offer is great. But I must first have the certainty that it shall not be in vain."

"But, child," cried Philostratus, "who can look into the future, and answer for what is still to come?"

"Who?" asked Melissa, undaunted. "He alone in whose hand lies my future. To Caesar himself I leave the decision. Go you to him now and speak for me. Bring him greeting from me, and tell him that I, whom he honors with his love, dare to entreat him modestly but earnestly not to punish the aged Claudius Vindex and his nephew for the fault they were guilty of on my account. For my sake would he deign to grant them life--and liberty? Add to this that it is the first proof I have asked of his magnanimity, and clothe it all in such winning words as Peitho can lay upon your eloquent lips. If he grants pardon to these unfortunate ones, it shall be a sign to me that I may be permitted to shield others from his wrath. If he refuses, and they are put to death, then will he himself have decided our fate otherwise, and he sees me for the last time alive in the Circus. Thus shall it be--I have spoken."

The last words came like a stern order, and Philostratus seemed to have some hopes of the emperor's clemency, for his love's sake, and the philosopher's own eloquence. The moment Melissa ceased, he seized her hand and cried, eagerly:

"I will try it; and, if he grant your request, you remain?"

"Yes," answered the maiden, firmly. "Pray Caesar to have mercy, soften his heart as much as you are able. I expect an answer before going to the Circus."

She hurried back into the sleeping-room without regarding Philostratus's answer. Once there, she threw herself upon her knees and prayed, now to the manes of her mother, now--it was for the first time--to the crucified Saviour of the Christians, who had taken upon himself a painful death to bring happiness to others. First she prayed for strength to keep her vow, come what might; and then she prayed for Diodoros, that he might not be made wretched if she found herself compelled to break her troth with him. Her father and brothers, too, were not forgotten, as she commended their lives to a higher power.

When Euryale looked into the room, she found Melissa still upon her knees, her young frame shaken as with fever. So she withdrew softly, and in the Temple of Serapis, where her husband served as high-priest, she prayed to Jesus Christ that he who suffered little children to come unto him would lead this wandering lamb into the right path.

A Thorny Path, Volume 8. - 10/10

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