The Sisters by Georg Ebers
Klea obeyed the high-priest's command at once, and wandered--not knowing exactly whither--from one corridor to another of the huge pile, till she was startled by the sound of the great brazen plate, struck with mighty blows, which rang out to the remotest nook and corner of the precincts. This call was for her too, and she went forthwith into the great court of assembly, which at every moment grew fuller and fuller. The temple-servants and the keepers of the beasts, the gate-keepers, the litter-bearers, the water-carriers-all streamed in from their interrupted meal, some wiping their mouths as they hurried in, or still holding in their hands a piece of bread, a radish, or a date which they hastily munched; the washer-men and women came in with hands still wet from washing the white robes of the priests, and the cooks arrived with brows still streaming from their unfinished labors. Perfumes floated round from the unwashed hands of the pastophori, who had been busied in the laboratories in the preparation of incense, while from the library and writing-rooms came the curators and scribes and the officials of the temple counting-house, their hair in disorder, and their light working-dress stained with red or black. The troop of singers, male and female, came in orderly array, just as they had been assembled for practice, and with them came the faded twins to whom Klea and Irene had been designated as successors by Asclepiodorus. Then came the pupils of the temple-school, tumbling noisily into the court-yard in high delight at this interruption to their lessons. The eldest of these were sent to bring in the great canopy under which the heads of the establishment might assemble.
Last of all appeared Asclepiodorus, who handed to a young scribe a complete list of all the inhabitants and members of the temple, that he might read it out. This he proceeded to do; each one answered with an audible "Here" as his name was called, and for each one who was absent information was immediately given as to his whereabouts.
Klea had joined the singing-women, and awaited in breathless anxiety a long-endlessly long-time for the name of her sister to be called; for it was not till the very smallest of the school-boys and the lowest of the neat-herds had answered, "Here," that the scribe read out, "Klea, the water-bearer," and nodded to her in answer as she replied "Here!"
Then his voice seemed louder than before as he read. "Irene, the water-bearer."
No answer following on these words, a slight movement, like the bowing wave that flies over a ripe cornfield when the morning breeze sweeps across the ears, was evident among the assembled inhabitants of the temple, who waited in breathless silence till Asclepiodorus stood forth, and said in a distinct and audible voice:
"You have all met here now at my call. All have obeyed it excepting those holy men consecrated to Serapis, whose vows forbid their breaking their seclusion, and Irene, the water-bearer. Once more I call, 'Irene,' a second, and a third time--and still no answer; I now appeal to you all assembled here, great and small, men and women who serve Serapis. Can any one of you give any information as to the whereabouts of this young girl? Has any one seen her since, at break of day, she placed the first libation from the Well of the Sun on the altar of the god? You are all silent! Then no one has met her in the course of this day? Now, one question more, and whoever can answer it stand forth and speak the words of truth.
"By which gate did this lady of rank depart who visited the temple early this morning?--By the eastern gate--good.
"Was she alone?--She was.
"By which gate did the epistolographer Eulaeus depart?--By the east.
"Was he alone?--He was.
"Did any one here present meet the chariot either of the lady or of Eulaeus?"
"I did," cried a car-driver, whose daily duty it was to go to Memphis with his oxen and cart to fetch provisions for the kitchen, and other necessaries.
"Speak," said the high-priest.
"I saw," replied the man, "the white horses of my Lord Eulaeus hard by the vineyard of Khakem; I know them well. They were harnessed to a closed chariot, in which besides himself sat a lady."
"Was it Irene?" asked Asclepiodorus.
"I do not know," replied the tarter, "for I could not see who sat in the chariot, but I heard the voice of Eulaeus, and then a woman's laugh. She laughed so heartily that I had to screw my mouth up myself, it tickled me so."
While Klea supposed this description to apply to Irene's merry laugh-which she had never thought of with regret till this moment--the high-priest exclaimed:
"You, keeper of the eastern gate, did the lady and Eulaeus enter and leave this sanctuary together?"
"No," was the answer. "She came in half an hour later than he did, and she quitted the temple quite alone and long after the eunuch."
"And Irene did not pass through your gate, and cannot have gone out by it?--I ask you in the name of the god we serve!"
"She may have done so, holy father," answered the gate-keeper in much alarm. "I have a sick child, and to look after him I went into my room several times; but only for a few minutes at a time-still, the gate stands open, all is quiet in Memphis now."
"You have done very wrong," said Asclepiodorus severely, "but since you have told the truth you may go unpunished. We have learned enough. All you gate-keepers now listen to me. Every gate of the temple must be carefully shut, and no one--not even a pilgrim nor any dignitary from Memphis, however high a personage he may be--is to enter or go out without my express permission; be as alert as if you feared an attack, and now go each of you to his duties."
The assembly dispersed; these to one side, those to another.
Klea did not perceive that many looked at her with suspicion as though she were responsible for her sister's conduct, and others with compassion; she did not even notice the twin-sisters, whose place she and Irene were to have filled, and this hurt the feelings of the good elderly maidens, who had to perform so much lamenting which they did not feel at all, that they eagerly seized every opportunity of expressing their feelings when, for once in a way, they were moved to sincere sorrow. But neither these sympathizing persons nor any other of the inhabitants of the temple, who approached Klea with the purpose of questioning or of pitying her, dared to address her, so stern and terrible was the solemn expression of her eyes which she kept fixed upon the ground.
At last she remained alone in the great court; her heart beat faster unusual, and strange and weighty thoughts were stirring in her soul. One thing was clear to her: Eulaeus--her father's ruthless foe and destroyer--was now also working the fall of the child of the man he had ruined, and, though she knew it not, the high-priest shared her suspicions. She, Klea, was by no means minded to let this happen without an effort at defence, and it even became clearer and clearer to her mind that it was her duty to act, and without delay. In the first instance she would ask counsel of her friend Serapion; but as she approached his cell the gong was sounded which summoned the priests to service, and at the same time warned her of her duty of fetching water.
Mechanically, and still thinking of nothing but Irene's deliverance, she fulfilled the task which she was accustomed to perform every day at the sound of this brazen clang, and went to her room to fetch the golden jars of the god.
As she entered the empty room her cat sprang to meet her with two leaps of joy, putting up her back, rubbing her soft head against her feet with her fine bushy tail ringed with black stripes set up straight, as cats are wont only when they are pleased. Klea was about to stroke the coaxing animal, but it sprang back, stared at her shyly, and, as she could not help thinking, angrily with its green eyes, and then shrank back into the corner close to Irene's couch.
"She mistook me!" thought Klea. "Irene is more lovable than I even to a beast, and Irene, Irene--" She sighed deeply at the name, and would have sunk down on her trunk there to consider of new ways and means--all of which however she was forced to reject as foolish and impracticable--but on the chest lay a little shirt she had begun to make for little Philo, and this reminded her again of the sick child and of the duty of fetching the water.
Without further delay she took up the jars, and as she went towards the well she remembered the last precepts that had been given her by her father, whom she had once been permitted to visit in prison. Only a few detached sentences of this, his last warning speech, now came into her mind, though no word of it had escaped her memory; it ran much as follows:
"It may seem as though I had met with an evil recompense from the gods for my conduct in adhering to what I think just and virtuous; but it only seems so, and so long as I succeed in living in accordance with nature, which obeys an everlasting law, no man is justified in accusing me. My own peace of mind especially will never desert me so long as I do not set myself to act in opposition to the fundamental convictions of my inmost being, but obey the doctrines of Zeno and Chrysippus. This peace every one may preserve, aye, even you, a woman, if you constantly do what you recognize to be right, and fulfil the duties you take upon yourself. The very god himself is proof and witness of this doctrine, for he grants to him who obeys him that tranquillity of spirit which must be pleasing in his eyes, since it is the only condition of the soul in which it appears to be neither fettered and hindered nor tossed and driven; while he, on the contrary, who wanders from the paths of virtue and of her daughter, stern duty, never attains peace, but feels the torment of an unsatisfied and hostile power, which with its hard grip drags his soul now on and now back.
"He who preserves a tranquil mind is not miserable, even in misfortune, and thankfully learns to feel con tented in every state of life; and that because he is filled with those elevated sentiments which are directly related to the noblest portion of his being--those, I mean--of justice and goodness. Act then, my child, in conformity with justice and duty, regardless of any ulterior object, without considering whether your action will bring you pleasure or pain, without fear of the judgment of men or the envy of the gods, and you will win that peace of mind which distinguishes the wise from the unwise, and may be happy even in adverse circumstances; for the only real evil is the dominion of wickedness, that is to say the unreason which rebels against nature, and the only true happiness consists in the possession of virtue. He alone, however, can call virtue his who possesses it wholly, and sins not against it in the smallest particular; for there is no difference of degrees either in good or in evil, and even the smallest action opposed to duty, truth or justice, though punishable by no law, is a sin, and stands in opposition to virtue.
"Irene," thus Philotas had concluded his injunctions, "cannot as yet understand this doctrine, but you are grave and have sense beyond your years. Repeat this to her daily, and when the time comes impress on your sister--towards whom you must fill the place of a mother--impress on her heart these precepts as your father's last will and testament."
And now, as Klea went towards the well within the temple-wall to fetch water, she repeated to herself many of these injunctions; she felt herself encouraged by them, and firmly resolved not to give her sister up to the seducer without a struggle.
As soon as the vessels for libation at the altar were filled she returned to little Philo, whose state seemed to her to give no further cause for anxiety; after staying with him for more than an hour she left the gate-keeper's dwelling to seek Serapion's advice, and to divulge to him all she had been able to plan and consider in the quiet of the sick-room.
The recluse was wont to recognize her step from afar, and to be looking out for her from his window when she went to visit him; but to-day he heard her not, for he was stepping again and again up and down the few paces which the small size of his tiny cell allowed him to traverse. He could reflect best when he walked up and down, and he thought and thought again, for he had heard all that was known in the temple regarding Irene's disappearance; and he would, he must rescue her--but the more he tormented his brain the more clearly he saw that every attempt to snatch the kidnapped girl from the powerful robber must in fact be vain.
"And it must not, it shall not be!" he had cried, stamping his great foot, a few minutes before Klea reached his cell; but as soon as he was aware of her presence he made an effort to appear quite easy, and cried out with the vehemence which characterized him even in less momentous circumstances:
"We must consider, we must reflect, we must puzzle our brains, for the gods have been napping this morning, and we must be doubly wide-awake. Irene--our little Irene--and who would have thought it yesterday! It is a good-for-nothing, unspeakably base knave's trick--and now, what can we do to snatch the prey from the gluttonous monster, the savage wild beast, before he can devour our child, our pet little one?
"Often and often I have been provoked at my own stupidity, but never, never have I felt so stupid, such a godforsaken blockhead as I do now. When I try to consider I feel as if that heavy shutter had been nailed clown on my head. Have you had any ideas? I have not one which would not disgrace the veriest ass--not a single one."
"Then you know everything?" asked Klea, "even that it is probably our father's enemy, Eulaeus, who has treacherously decoyed the poor child to go away with him?"
"Yes, Yes!" cried Serapion, "wherever there is some scoundrel's trick to be played he must have a finger in the pie, as sure as there must be meal for bread to be made. But it is a new thing to me that on this occasion he should be Euergetes' tool. Old Philammon told me all about it. Just now the messenger came back from Memphis, and brought a paltry scrap of papyrus on which some wretched scribbler had written in the name of Philometer, that nothing was known of Irene at court, and complaining deeply that Asclepiodorus had not hesitated to play an underhand game with the king. So they have no idea whatever of voluntarily releasing our child."
"Then I shall proceed to do my duty," said Klea resolutely. "I shall go to Memphis, and fetch my sister."
The anchorite stared at the girl in horror, exclaiming: "That is folly, madness, suicide! Do you want to throw two victims into his jaws instead of one?"
"I can protect myself, and as regards Irene, I will claim the queen's assistance. She is a woman, and will never suffer--"
"What is there in this world that she will not suffer if it can procure her profit or pleasure? Who knows what delightful thing Euergetes may not have promised her in return for our little maid? No, by Serapis! no, Cleopatra will not help you, but--and that is a good idea--there is one who will to a certainty. We must apply to the Roman Publius Scipio, and he will have no difficulty in succeeding."
"From him," exclaimed Klea, coloring scarlet, "I will accept neither good nor evil; I do not know him, and I do not want to know him."
"Child, child!" interrupted the recluse with grave chiding. "Does your pride then so far outweigh your love, your duty, and concern for Irene? What, in the name of all the gods, has Publius done to you that you avoid him more anxiously than if he were covered with leprosy? There is a limit to all things, and now--aye, indeed--I must out with it come what may, for this is not the time to pretend to be blind when I see with both eyes what is going on--your heart is full of the Roman, and draws you to him; but you are an honest girl, and, in order to remain so, you fly from him because you distrust yourself, and do not know what might happen if he were to tell you that he too has been hit by one of Eros' darts. You may turn red and white, and look at me as if I were your enemy, and talking contemptible nonsense. I have seen many strange things, but I never saw any one before you who was a coward out of sheer courage, and yet of all the women I know there is not one to whom fear is less known than my bold and resolute Klea. The road is a hard one that you must take, but only cover your poor little heart with a coat of mail, and venture in all confidence to meet the Roman, who is an excellent good fellow. No doubt it will be hard to you to crave a boon, but ought you to shrink from those few steps over sharp stones? Our poor child is standing on the edge of the abyss; if you do not arrive at the right time, and speak the right words to the only person who is able to help in this matter, she will be thrust into the foul bog and sink in it, because her brave sister was frightened at--herself!"
Klea had cast down her eyes as the anchorite addressed her thus; she stood for some time frowning at the ground in silence, but at last she said, with quivering lips and as gloomily as if she were pronouncing a sentence on herself.
"Then I will ask the Roman to assist me; but how can I get to him?"
"Ah!--now my Klea is her father's daughter once more," answered Serapion, stretching out both his arms towards her from the little window of his cell; and then he went on: "I can make the painful path somewhat smoother for you. My brother Glaucus, who is commander of the civic guard in the palace, you already know; I will give you a few words of recommendation to him, and also, to lighten your task, a little letter to Publius Scipio, which shall contain a short account of the matter in hand. If Publius wishes to speak with you yourself go to him and trust him, but still more trust yourself.
"Now go, and when you have once more filled the water-jars come back to me, and fetch the letters. The sooner you can go the better, for it would be well that you should leave the path through the desert behind you before nightfall, for in the dark there are often dangerous tramps about. You will find a friendly welcome at my sister Leukippa's; she lives in the toll-house by the great harbor--show her this ring and she will give you a bed, and, if the gods are merciful, one for Irene too."
"Thank you, father," said Klea, but she said no more, and then left him with a rapid step.
Serapion looked lovingly after her; then he took two wooden tablets faced with wax out of his chest, and, with a metal style, he wrote on one a short letter to his brother, and on the other a longer one to the Roman, which ran as follows:
"Serapion, the recluse of Serapis, to Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, the Roman.
"Serapion greets Publius Scipio, and acquaints him that Irene, the younger sister of Klea, the water-bearer, has disappeared from this temple, and, as Serapion suspects, by the wiles of the epistolographer Eulaeus, whom we both know, and who seems to have acted under the orders of King Ptolemy Euergetes. Seek to discover where Irene can be. Save her if thou canst from her ravishers, and conduct her back to this temple or deliver her in Memphis into the hands of my sister Leukippa, the wife of the overseer of the harbor, named Hipparchus, who dwells in the toll-house. May Serapis preserve thee and thine."
The recluse had just finished his letters when Klea returned to him. The girl hid them in the folds of the bosom of her robe, said farewell to her friend, and remained quite grave and collected, while Serapion, with tears in his eyes, stroked her hair, gave her his parting blessing, and finally even hung round her neck an amulet for good luck, that his mother had worn--it was an eye in rock-crystal with a protective inscription. Then, without any further delay, she set out towards the temple gate, which, in obedience to the commands of the high priest, was now locked. The gate-keeper--little Philo's father--sat close by on a stone bench, keeping guard. In a friendly tone Klea asked him to open the gate; but the anxious official would not immediately comply with her request, but reminded her of Asclepiodorus' strict injunctions, and informed her that the great Roman had demanded admission to the temple about three hours since, but had been refused by the high-priest's special orders. He had asked too for her, and had promised to return on the morrow.
The hot blood flew to Klea's face and eyes as she heard this news. Could Publius no more cease to think of her than she of him? Had Serapion guessed rightly? "The darts of Eros"--the recluse's phrase flashed through her mind, and struck her heart as if it were itself a winged arrow; it frightened her and yet she liked it, but only for one brief instant, for the utmost distrust of her own weakness came over her again directly, and she told herself with a shudder that she was on the high-road to follow up and seek out the importunate stranger.
All the horrors of her undertaking stood vividly before her, and if she had now retraced her steps she would not have been without an excuse to offer to her own conscience, since the temple-gate was closed, and might not be opened to any one, not even to her.
For a moment she felt a certain satisfaction in this flattering reflection, but as she thought again of Irene her resolve was once more confirmed, and going closer up to the gate-keeper she said with great determination:
"Open the gate to me without delay; you know that I am not accustomed to do or to desire anything wrong. I beg of you to push back the bolt at once."
The man to whom Klea had done many kindnesses, and whom Imhotep had that very day told that she was the good spirit of his house, and that he ought to venerate her as a divinity--obeyed her orders, though with some doubt and hesitation. The heavy bolt flew back, the brazen gate opened, the water-bearer stepped out, flung a dark veil over her head, and set out on her walk.