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- A Thorny Path, Volume 9. - 2/8 -
The Christian had strongly disapproved of this last clause; but Berenike had paid no heed, and had left the court-yard, followed by Alexander.
The shouts of the indignant multitude had rung in their ears, and, in spite of her warning, they had sounded like a terrible threat. Johannes, to be sure, had remained, to move them to moderation by further remonstrances.
"What were the mad creatures plotting?" Euryale anxiously broke in; and he hastily went on "They call Caesar by no name but Tarautas; every mouth is full of gibes and rage at the new and monstrous taxes, the billeting of the troops, and the intolerable insolence of the soldiery, which Caracalla wickedly encourages. His contemptuous indifference has deeply offended the heads of the town. And then his suit to my sister! Young and old are wagging their tongues over it."
"It would be more like them to triumph in it," said the matron, interrupting him. "An Alexandrian in the purple, on the throne of the Caesars!"
"I too had hoped that," cried Alexander, "and it seemed so likely. But who can understand the populace? Every woman in the place, I should have thought, would hold her head higher, at the thought that an Alexandrian girl was empress; but it was from the women that I heard the most vindictive and shameless abuse. I heard more than enough; for, as we got closer to the Serapeum, the more slowly was the chariot obliged to proceed, to make its way through the crowd. And the things I heard! I clinch my fists now as I only think of them.--And what will it be in the Circus? What will not Melissa have to endure!"
"It is envy," the matron murmured to herself; but she was immediately silent, for the young girl came toward them, out of the bedroom. Her toilet was complete; the beautiful white dress became her well. The wreath of roses, with diamond dewdrops, lay lightly on her hair, the snake-shaped bracelet which her imperial suitor had sent her clasped her white arm, and her small head, somewhat bent, her pale, sweet face, and large, bashful, inquiring, drooping eyes formed such an engaging, modest, and unspeakably touching picture, that Euryale dared to hope that even in the Circus none but hardened hearts could harbor a hostile feeling against this gentle, pure blossom, slightly drooping with silent sorrow. She could not resist the impulse to kiss Melissa, and the half-formed purpose ripened within her to venture the utmost for the child's protection. The pity in her heart had turned to love; and when she saw that to this sweet creature, at the mere sight of whom her heart went forth, the most splendid jewels, in which any other girl would have been glad to deck herself, were as a heavy burden to be borne but sadly, she felt it a sacred duty to comfort her and lighten this trial, and shelter Melissa, so far as was in her power, from insult and humiliation.
It was many years since she had visited the Amphitheater, where the horrible butchery was an abomination to her; but to-day her heart bade her conquer her old aversion, and accompany the girl to the Circus.
Had not Melissa taken the place in her heart of her lost daughter? Was not she, Euryale, the only person who, by showing herself with Melissa and declaring herself her friend, could give the people assurance that the girl, who was exposed to misapprehension and odium by the favor she had met with from the ruthless and hated sovereign, was in truth pure and lovable? Under her guardianship, by her side, the girl, as she knew, would be protected from misapprehension and insult; and she, an old woman and a Christian, should she evade the first opportunity of taking up a cross in imitation of the Divine Master, among whose followers she joyfully counted herself--though secretly, for fear of men? All this flashed through her mind with the swiftness of lightning, and her call, "Doris!" addressed to her waiting-woman, was so clear and unexpected that Melissa's overstrung nerves were startled. She looked up at the lady in amazement, as, without a word of explanation, she said to the woman who had hurried in:
"The blue robe I wore at the festival of Adonis, my mother's diadem, and a large gem with the head of Serapis for my shoulder. My hair--oh, a veil will cover it! What does it matter for an old woman?--You, child, why do you look at me in such amazement? What mother would allow a pretty young daughter to appear alone in the Circus? Besides, I may surely hope that it will confirm your courage to feel that I am at your side. Perhaps the populace may be moved a little in your favor if the wife of the high-priest of their greatest god is your companion."
But she could scarcely end her speech, for Melissa had flown into her arms, exclaiming, "And you will do this for me?" while Alexander, deeply touched by gratitude and joy, kissed her thin arm and the hem of her peplos.
While Melissa helped the matron to change her dress--in the next room Alexander paced to and fro in great unrest. He knew the Alexandrians, and there was not the slightest doubt but that the presence of this universally revered lady would make them look with kindlier eyes on his sister. Nothing else could so effectually impress them with the entire propriety of her appearance in the Circus. The more seriously he had feared that Melissa might be deeply insulted and offended by the rough demonstrations of the mob, the more gratefully did his heart beat; nay, his facile nature saw in this kind act the first smile of returning good fortune.
He only longed to be hopeful once more, to enjoy the present--as so many philosophers and poets advised--and especially the show in the Circus, his last pleasure, perhaps; to forget the imminent future.
The old bright look came back to his face; but it soon vanished, for even while he pictured himself in the amphitheatre, he remembered that there, too, his former acquaintances might refuse to speak to him; that the odious names of "Tarautas' brother-in-law" or of "traitor" might be shouted after him on the road. A cold chill came over him, and the image of pretty Ino rose up before him--Ino, who had trusted in his love; and to whom, of all others, he had given cause to accuse him of false- heartedness. An unpleasant sense came over him of dissatisfaction with himself, such as he, who always regarded self-accusation, repentance, and atonement as a foolish waste of life, had never before experienced.
The fine, sunny autumn day had turned to a sultry, dull evening, and Alexander went to the window to let the sea-breeze fan his dewy brow; but he soon heard voices behind him, for Euryale and Melissa had re-entered the room, followed by the house-steward, who presented to his mistress a sealed tablet which a slave had just brought from Philostratus. The women had been talking of Melissa's vow; and Euryale had promised her that, if Fate should decide against Caesar, she would convey the girl to a place of safety, where she could certainly not be discovered, and might look forward in peace to the future. Then she had impressed on her that, if things should be otherwise ordered, she must endure even the unendurable with patience, as an obedient wife, as empress, but still ever conscious of the solemn and beneficent power she might wield in her new position.
The tablets would now settle the question; and side by side the two women hastily read the missive which Philostratus had written on the wax, in his fine, legible hand. It was as follows:
"The condemned have ceased to live. Your efforts had no effect but to hasten their end. Caesar's desire was to rid you of adversaries even against your will. Vindex and his nephew are no more; but I embarked soon enough to escape the rage of him who might have attained the highest favors of fortune if he had but known how to be merciful."
"God be praised!--but alas, poor Vindex!" cried Euryale, as she laid down the tablets. But Melissa kissed her, and then exclaimed to her brother:
"Now all doubts are at an end. I may fly. He himself has settled the matter!"
Then she added, more gently, but still urgently "Do you take care of my father, and Philip, and of yourself. The lady Euryale will protect me. Oh, how thankful am I!"
She looked up to heaven with fervent devotion Euryale whispered to them: "My plan is laid. As soon as the performance is over, Alexander shall take you home, child, to your father's house; you must go in one of Caesar's chariots. Afterward come back here with your brother; I will wait for you below. But now we will go together to the Circus, and can discuss the details on our way. You, my young friend, go now and order away the imperial litter; bid my steward to have the horses put to my covered harmamaxa. There is room in it for us all three."
By the time Alexander returned, the daylight was waning, and the clatter of the chariots began to be audible which conveyed Caesar's court to the Circus.
The great Amphitheatre of Dionysus was in the Bruchium, the splendid palatial quarter of the city, close to the large harbor between the Choma and the peninsula of Lochias. Hard by the spacious and lofty rotunda, in which ten thousand spectators could be seated, stood the most fashionable gymnasia and riding-schools. These buildings, which had been founded long since by the Ptolemiac kings, and had been repeatedly extended and beautified, formed, with the adjoining schools for gladiators and beast- fighters, and the stables for wild beasts from every part of the world, a little town by themselves.
At this moment the amphitheatre looked like a beehive, of which every cell seems to be full, but in which a whole swarm expects yet to find room. The upper places, mere standing-room for the common people, and the cheaper seats, had been full early in the day. By the afternoon the better class of citizens had come in, if their places were not reserved; and now, at sunset, those who were arriving in litters and chariots, just before the beginning of the show, were for the most part in Caesar's train, court officials, senators, or the rich magnates of the city.
The strains of music were by this time mingling with the shouting and loud talk of the spectators, or of the thousands who were crowding round the building without hoping to obtain admission. But even for them there was plenty to be seen. How delightful to watch the well-dressed women, and the men of rank and wealth, crowned with wreaths, as they dismounted; to see the learned men and artists arrive--more or less eagerly applauded, according to the esteem in which they were held by the populace! The most splendid sight of all was the procession of priests, with Timotheus, the high-priest of Serapis, at their head, and by his side the priest of Alexander, both marching with dignity under a canopy. They were followed by the animals to be slaughtered for sacrifice, and the images of the gods and the deified Caesars, which were to be placed in the arena, as the most worshipful of all the spectators. Timotheus wore the splendid insignia of his office; the priest of Alexander was in purple, as being the idiologos and head of all the temples of Egypt, and representative of Caesar.
The advent of the images of the Caesars gave rise to a sort of judgment of the dead: for the mob hailed that of Julius Caesar with enthusiasm, that of Augustus, with murmurs of disapproval; when Caligula appeared, he
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