A Thorny Path by Georg Ebers
Dido was right. Heron's eldest son had returned from his errand. Tired, disappointed, and with fierce indignation in his eyes, he staggered in like a drunken man who has been insulted in his cups; and, without greeting her--as his mother had taught her children to greet even their slaves--he merely asked in hoarse tones, "Is Melissa come in?"
"Yes, yes," replied Dido, laying her finger to her lips. "You roused her from a nap. And what a state you are in! You must not let her see you so! It is very clear what news you bring. The prefect will not help us?"
"Help us!" echoed Philip, wrathfully. "In Alexandria a man may drown rather than another will risk wetting his feet."
"Nay, it is not so bad as that," said the old woman. "Alexander himself has burned his fingers for others many a time. Wait a minute. I will fetch you a draught of wine. There is some still in the kitchen; for if you appear before your sister in that plight--"
But Melissa had recognized her brother's voice, and, although Philip had smoothed his hair a little with his hands, one glance at his face showed her that his efforts had been vain.
"Poor boy!" she said, when, in answer to her question as to what his news was, he had answered gloomily, "As bad as possible."
She took his hand and led him into the work-room. There she reminded him that she was giving him a new brother in Diodoros; and he embraced her fondly, and wished her and her betrothed every happiness. She thanked him out of a full heart, while he swallowed his wine, and then she begged him to tell her all he had done.
He began, and, as she gazed at him, it struck her how little he resembled his father and brother, though he was no less tall, and his head was shaped like theirs. But his frame, instead of showing their stalwart build, was lean and weakly. His spine did not seem strong enough for his long body, and he never held himself upright. His head was always bent forward, as if he were watching or seeking something; and even when he had seated himself in his father's place at the work-table to tell his tale, his hands and feet, even the muscles of his well-formed but colorless face, were in constant movement. He would jump up, or throw back his head to shake his long hair off his face, and his fine, large, dark eyes glowed with wrathful fires.
"I received my first repulse from the prefect," he began, and as he spoke, his arms, on whose graceful use the Greeks so strongly insisted, flew up in the air as though by their own impulse rather than by the speaker's will.
"Titianus affects the philosopher, because when he was young--long ago, that is very certain--his feet trod the Stoa."
"Your master, Xanthos, said that he was a very sound philosopher," Melissa put in.
"Such praise is to be had cheap," said Philip, by the most influential man in the town. But his methods are old-fashioned. He crawls after Zeno; he submits to authority, and requires more independent spirits to do the same. To him the divinity is the Great First Cause. In this world of ours he can discern the working of a purposeful will, and confuses his mind with windy, worn-out ideals. Virtue, he says--but to what end repeat such stale old stuff?"
"We have no time for it," said Melissa, who saw that Philip was on the point of losing himself in a philosophical dissertation, for he had begun to enjoy the sound of his own voice, which was, in fact, unusually musical.
"Why not?" he exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders, and with a bitter smile. "When he has shot away all his arrows, the bowman may rest; and, as you will soon hear, our quiver is empty--as empty as this cup which I have drained."
"No, no!" exclaimed Melissa, eagerly. "If this first attempt has failed, that is the very reason for planning another. I, too, can use figures of speech. The archer who is really eager to hit the object on which he has spent his arrows, does not retire from the fight, but fetches more; and if he can find none, he fights with his bow, or falls on the enemy with stones, fists, and teeth."
Philip looked at her in astonishment, and exclaimed in pleased surprise, without any of the supercilious scorn which he commonly infused into his tone when addressing his humble sister:
"Listen to our little girl! Where did those gentle eyes get that determined flash? From misfortune--from misfortune! They rob the gentle dove of her young--I mean her splendid Alexander--and lo, she becomes a valiant falcon! I expected to find you a heart-broken lamb, over your tear-stained stitching, and behold it is you who try to fire me. Well, then, tell me what arrows we have left, when you have heard me out. But, before I proceed, is Argutis at home again? No? He must go across again, to take various things to Alexander--linen, garments, and the like. I met Glaukias the sculptor, and he begged me not to forget it; for he knows where the lad is hidden, and was on the point of going over to see him. The man had made himself perfectly unrecognizable. He is a true friend, if such a thing there be! And how grieved he was to hear of my father's ill fortune! I believe he is envious of Diodoros."
Melissa shook a finger at him; but she turned pale, and curiously inquired whether her brother had remembered to warn Glaukias on no account to tell Alexander that it was in his power to release his father.
Philip struck his brow, and, with a helpless fall of the mouth, which was usually so firmly set and ready to sneer, he exclaimed, like a boy caught in mischief: "That, that--I can not imagine how I forgot it, but I did not mention it. What strange absence of mind! But I can remedy it at once on the spot. Argutis--nay, I will go myself."
He sprang up, and was on the point of carrying out his sudden purpose, but Melissa detained him. With a decisiveness which again amazed him, she desired him to remain; and while he paced the workroom with rapid strides, heaping abuse on himself, now striking his breast, and now pushing his fingers through his disordered hair, she made it clear to him that he could not reach Alexander in time to prevent his knowing all, and that the only result of his visit would be to put the watch on the track. Instead of raving and lamenting, he would do better to tell her whither he had been.
First, he hastily began, he had gone to the prefect Titianus, who was an elderly man of a noble family, many of whose members had ere now occupied the official residence of the prefect in Alexandria, and in other towns of Egypt. He had often met Philip at the disputations he was wont to attend in the Museum, and had a great regard for him. But of late Titianus had been out of health, and had kept his house. He had undergone some serious operation shortly before Caesar's arrival at Alexandria had been announced, and this had made it impossible for him to be present at the grand reception, or even to pay his respects to Caracalla.
When Philip had sent in his name, Titianus had been very ready to receive him; but while the philosopher was still waiting in the anteroom, wondering to find it so empty--for it was usually crowded with the clients, petitioners, and friends of the most important man in the province--a bustle had arisen behind him, and a tall man had been ushered in past him, whom he recognized as the senator on whose arm Caracalla had leaned in the morning. This was the actor, whom the priest of Serapis had pointed out to Melissa as one of Caesar's most powerful favorites. From being a mere dancer he had risen in the course of a few years to the highest dignities. His name was Theocritus, and although he was distinguished by great personal beauty and exceptional cleverness, his unbridled greed had made him hated, and he had proved equally incompetent as a statesman and a general.
As this man marched through the anteroom, he had glanced haughtily about him, and the look of contempt which fell on the philosopher probably reflected on the small number of persons present, for at that hour the anterooms of Romans of rank were commonly thronged. Most visitors had been dismissed, by reason of the prefect's illness, and many of the acquaintances and supplicants who were generally to be found here were assembled in the imperial quarters, or in the rooms of the praetorian prefect and other powerful dignitaries in Caracalla's train. Titianus had failed to be present at the emperor's arrival, and keen courtier noses smelled a fall, and judged it wise to keep out of the way of a tottering power.
Besides all this, the prefect's honesty was well known, and it was strongly suspected that he, as steward of all the taxes of this wealthy province, had been bold enough to reject a proposal made by Theocritus to embezzle the whole freight of a fleet loaded with corn for Rome, and charge it to the account of army munitions. It was a fact that this base proposal had been made and rejected only the evening before, and the scene of which Philip became the witness was the result of this refusal.
Theocritus, to whom an audience was always indispensable, carefully left the curtains apart which divided the prefect's sick-room from the antechamber, and thus Philip was witness of the proceedings he now described to his sister.
Titianus received his visitor, lying down, and yet his demeanor revealed the self-possessed dignity of a high-born Roman, and the calm of a Stoic philosopher. He listened unmoved to the courtier, who, after the usual formal greetings, took upon himself to overwhelm the older man with the bitterest accusations and reproaches. People allowed themselves to take strange liberties with Caesar in this town, Theocritus burst out; insolent jests passed from lip to lip. An epigram against his sacred person had found its way into the Serapeum, his present residence--an insult worthy of any punishment, even of death and crucifixion.
When the prefect, with evident annoyance, but still quite calmly, desired to know what this extraordinary insult might be, Theocritus showed that even in his high position he had preserved the accurate memory of the mime, and, half angry, but yet anxious to give full effect to the lines by voice and gesture, he explained that "some wretch had fastened a rope to one of the doors of the sanctuary, and had written below it the blasphemous words:
'Hail! For so welcome a guest never came to the sovereign of Hades. Who ever peopled his realm, Caesar, more freely than thou? Laurels refuse to grow green in the darksome abode of Serapis; Take, then, this rope for a gift, never more richly deserved.'"
"It is disgraceful!" exclaimed the prefect.
"Your indignation is well founded. But the biting tongue of the frivolous mixed races dwelling in this city is well known. They have tried it on me; and if, in this instance, any one is to blame, it is not I, the imprisoned prefect, but the chief and captain of the night-watch, whose business it is to guard Caesar's residence more strictly."
At this Theocritus was furious, and poured out a flood of words, expatiating on the duties of a prefect as Caesar's representative in the provinces. "His eye must be as omniscient as that of the all-seeing Deity. The better he knew the uproarious rabble over whom he ruled, the more evidently was it his duty to watch over Caesar's person as anxiously as a mother over her child, as a miser over his treasure."
The high-sounding words flowed with dramatic emphasis, the sentimental speaker adding to their impressiveness by the action of his hands, till it was more than the invalid could bear. With a pinched smile, he raised himself with difficulty, and interrupted Theocritus with the impatient exclamation, "Still the actor!"
"Yes, still!" retorted the favorite, in a hard voice. "You, however, have been even longer--what you have, indeed, been too long--Prefect of Egypt!" With an angry fling he threw the corner of his toga over his shoulder, and, though his hand shook with rage, the pliant drapery fell in graceful folds over his athletic limbs. He turned his back on the prefect, and, with the air of a general who has just been crowned with laurels, he stalked through the anteroom and past Philip once more.
The philosopher had told his sister all this in a few sentences. He now paused in his walk to and fro to answer Melissa's question as to whether this upstart's influence were really great enough to turn so noble and worthy a man out of his office.
"Can you ask?" said Philip. "Titianus had no doubts from the first; and what I heard in the Serapeum--but all in good time. The prefect was sorry for my father and Alexander, but ended by saying that he himself needed an intercessor; for, if it were not to-day, at any rate to-morrow, the actor would inveigle Caesar into signing his death-warrant."
"Impossible!" cried the girl, spreading out her hands in horror; but Philip dropped into a seat, saying:
"Listen to the end. There was evidently nothing to be hoped for from Titianus. He is, no doubt, a brave man, but there is a touch of the actor in him too. He is a Stoic; and where would be the point of that, if a man could not appear to look on approaching death as calmly as on taking a bath?
"Titianus plays his part well. However, I next went to the Serapeum--it is a long way, and it was very hot in the sun--to ask for help from my old patron, the high-priest. Caesar is now his guest; and the prefect, too, had advised me to place my father's cause in his hands."
Here Philip sprang up again, and rushed up and down, sometimes stopping for a moment in front of his sister while he went on with his story.
Theocritus had long since reached the Serapeum in his swift chariot when the philosopher at last arrived there on foot. He was well known as a frequent visitor, and was shown at once into the hall of that part of his abode which Timotheus had reserved for himself when he had given up all the best rooms to his imperial visitor.
The anteroom was crowded, and before he got any farther he heard that the favorite's accusations had already led to serious results, and rumors were rife concerning the luckless witticisms of some heedless youth, which would bring grief upon the peaceable citizens. But before he could ask what was meant, he was admitted to the high-priest's room.
This was a marked favor on such a day as this, and the benevolence with which he was received by the head of the priesthood of the whole city filled him with good hopes of a successful issue. But hardly had Philip begun to speak of his brother's misdemeanor, than Timotheus laid his hand on his bearded lips, as a hint to be cautious, and whispered in his ear, "Speak quickly and low, if you love your life!"
When Philip had hastily explained that Zminis had imprisoned his father, the old man started to his feet with a promptitude to which his majestic person was unaccustomed, and pointed to a curtained doorway on one side of the room.
"Through that door," he whispered, "you will reach the western steps, and the passage leading out of the precincts to the stadium. You are known to the Romans in the anteroom. It is not the god to whom this building is dedicated who now rules within these walls. Your brother's rash words are repeated everywhere, and have even come to Caesar's knowledge; and he has been told that it was the same traitor--who has for the moment escaped Zminis and his men--who nailed a rope on one of our doors, and with it an audacious inscription. To speak a single word in behalf of Alexander or your father would be to fling myself into the fire without putting it out. You do not know how fiercely it is burning. Theocritus is feeding the flame, for he needs it to destroy the prefect. Now, not another word; and, come what may, so long as the Roman visitors dwell under this roof, beware of it!"
And the high-priest opened the door with his own hand.
"I hurried home," Philip added, "and if I forgot, in my dismay at this fresh disaster, to warn Glaukias to be careful--But, no, no! It is unpardonable!--Alexander is by this time crossing the lake, perhaps. I am like Caracalla--my brother's murderer!"
But Melissa laid her arm on his shoulder and besought the poor fellow to be comforted; and her loving words of excuse seemed to have some good effect. But why was he always so reserved? Why could not Philip be as frank with her as Alexander was? She had never been very near to him; and now he was concealing from her something which moved him deeply.
She turned away sadly, for she could not even comfort him. But then again Philip sighed from the bottom of his heart, and she could contain her self no longer. More tenderly than she had ever addressed him before, she besought her brother to open his heart to her. She would gladly help him to endure what oppressed him; and she could understand, for she herself had learned what the joys and sorrows of love were.
She had found the right clew. Philip nodded, and answered gloomily:
"Well, then, listen. It may do me good to speak." And thereupon he began to tell her what she had already heard from Alexander; and, covering her tingling cheeks with her hands, she listened with breathless attention, not missing a word, though the question rose to her mind again and again whether she should tell him the whole truth, which he as yet could not know, or whether it would be better to spare his already burdened soul.
He described his love in glowing colors. Korinna's heart, he said, must have gone forth to him; for, at their last meeting on the northern shore of the lake, her hand had rested in his while he helped her out of the boat; he could still feel the touch of her fingers. Nor had the meeting been pure accident, for he had since seen and recognized the presence on earth of her departed soul in her apparently living form. And she, too, with the subtle senses of a disembodied spirit, must have had a yearning towards him, for she had perceived all the depth and fervor of his passion. Alexander had given him this certainty; for when he had seen Korinna by the lake, her soul had long since abandoned its earthly tenement. Before that, her mortal part was already beyond his reach; and yet he was happy, for the spirit was not lost to him. Only last night magic forces had brought her before him--his father, too, had been present, and no deception was possible. He had gone to bed in rapturous excitement, full of delicious hopes, and Korinna had at once appeared to him in a dream, so lovely, so kind, and at the same time so subtle a vision, ready to follow him in his thoughts and strivings. But just as he had heard a full assurance of her love from her own lips, and was asking her by what name he should call her when the craving to see her again should wax strong in him, old Dido had waked him, to cast him out of elysium into the deepest earthly woes.
But, he added--and he drew himself up proudly--he should soon possess the Magian's art, for there was no kind of learning he could not master; even as a boy he had proved that to his teachers. He, whose knowledge had but yesterday culminated in the assurance that it was impossible to know anything, could now assert with positive conviction, that the human soul could exist apart from the matter it had animated. He had thus gained that fixed footing outside the earth which Archimedes had demanded to enable him to move it; and he should soon be able to exert his power over departed souls, whose nature he now understood as well as--ay, and better than--Serapion. Korinna's obedient spirit would help him, and when once he should succeed in commanding the souls of the dead, as their master, and in keeping them at hand among the living, a new era of happiness would begin, not only for him and his father, but for every one who had lost one dear to him by death.
But here Melissa interrupted his eager and confident speech. She had listened with increasing uneasiness to the youth who, as she knew, had been cheated. At first she thought it would be cruel to destroy his bright illusions. He should at least in this be happy, till the anguish of having thoughtlessly betrayed his brother to ruin should be a thing of the past! But when she perceived that he purposed involving his father in the Magian's snares by calling up his mother's Manes, she could no longer be silent, and she broke out with indignant warning: "Leave my father alone, Philip! For all you saw at the Magian's was mere trickery."
"Gently, child," said the philosopher, in a superior tone. "I was of exactly the same opinion till after sundown yesterday. You know that the tendency of the school of philosophy to which I belong insists, above all, on a suspension of judgment; but if there is one thing which may be asserted with any dogmatic certainty--"
But Melissa would hear no more. She briefly but clearly explained to him who the maiden was whose hand he had held by the lake, and whom he had seen again at Serapion's house; and as she went on his interruptions became fewer. She did her utmost, with growing zeal, to destroy his luckless dream; but when the blood faded altogether from his colorless cheeks, and he clasped his hand over his brow as if to control some physical suffering, she recovered her self-command; the beautiful fear of a woman's heart of ever giving useless pain, made her withhold from Philip what remained to be told of Agatha's meeting with Alexander.
But, without this further revelation, Philip sat staring at the ground as if he were overwhelmed; and what hurt him so deeply was less the painful sense of having been cheated by such coarse cunning, than the annihilation of the treasured hopes which he had founded on the experiences of the past night. He felt as though a brutal foot had trampled down the promise of future joys on which he had counted; his sister's revelations had spoiled not merely his life on earth, but all eternity beyond the grave. Where hope ends despair steps in; and Philip, with reckless vehemence, flung himself, as it were, into its arms. His was an excitable nature; he had never thought of any one but himself, but labored with egotistical zeal to cultivate his own mind and outdo his fellows in the competition for learning. The sullen words in which he called himself the most wretched man on earth, and the victim of the blackest ill-fortune, fell from his lips like stones. He rudely repelled his sister's encouraging words, like a sick child whose pain is the greater for being pitied, till at last she appealed to his sense of duty, reminding him that something must be done to rescue her father and Alexander.
"They also! They also!" he cried. "It falls on us all. Blind Fate drives us all, innocent as we are, to death and despair, like the Tantalides. What sin have you committed, gentle, patient child; or our father, or our happy-hearted and gifted brother; or I--I myself? Have those whom we call the rulers of the universe the right to punish me because I make use of the inquiring spirit they have bestowed on me? Ah, and how well they know how to torture us! They hate me for my learning, and so they turn my little errors to account to allow me to be cheated like a fool! They are said to be just, and they behave like a father who disinherits his son because, as a man, he notes his parent's weakness. With tears and anguish have I striven for truth and knowledge. There is not a province of thought whose deepest depths I have not tried to fathom; and when I recognized that it is not given to mortals to apprehend the essence of the divinity because the organs bestowed on us are too small and feeble; when I refused to pronounce whether that which I can not apprehend exists or not, was that my fault, or theirs? There may be divine forces which created and govern the universe; but never talk to me of their goodness, and reasonableness, and care for human creatures! Can a reasonable being, who cares for the happiness of another, strew the place assigned to him to dwell in with snares and traps, or implant in his breast a hundred impulses of which the gratification only drags him into an abyss? Is that Being my friend, who suffers me to be born and to grow up, and leaves me tied to the martyr's stake, with very few real joys, and finally kills me, innocent or guilty, as surely as I am born? If the divinity which is supposed to bestow on us a portion of the divine essence in the form of reason were constituted as the crowd are taught to believe, there could be nothing on earth but wisdom and goodness; but the majority are fools or wicked, and the good are like tall trees, which the lightning blasts rather than the creeping weed. Titianus falls before the dancer Theocritus, the noble Papinian before the murderer Caracalla, our splendid Alexander before such a wretch as Zminis; and divine reason lets it all happen, and allows human reason to proclaim the law. Happiness is for fools and knaves; for those who cherish and uphold reason--ay, reason, which is a part of the divinity--persecution, misery, and despair."
"Have done!" Melissa exclaimed. "Have the judgments of the immortals not fallen hardly enough on us? Would you provoke them to discharge their fury in some more dreadful manner?"
At this the skeptic struck his breast with defiant pride, exclaiming: "I do not fear them, and dare to proclaim openly the conclusions of my thoughts. There are no gods! There is no rational guidance of the universe. It has arisen self-evolved, by chance; and if a god created it, he laid down eternal laws and has left them to govern its course without mercy or grace, and without troubling himself about the puling of men who creep about on the face of the earth like the ants on that of a pumpkin. And well for us that it should be so! Better a thousand times is it to be the servant of an iron law, than the slave of a capricious master who takes a malignant and envious pleasure in destroying the best!"
"And this, you say, is the final outcome of your thoughts?" asked Melissa, shaking her head sadly. "Do you not perceive that such an outbreak of mad despair is simply unworthy of your own wisdom, of which the end and aim should be a passionless, calm, and immovable moderation?"
"And do they show such moderation," Philip gasped out, "who pour the poison of misfortune in floods on one tortured heart?"
"Then you can accuse those whose existence you disbelieve in?" retorted Melissa with angry zeal. "Is this your much-belauded logic? What becomes of your dogmas, in the face of the first misfortune--dogmas which enjoin a reserve of decisive judgment, that you may preserve your equanimity, and not overburden your soul, in addition to the misfortune itself, with the conviction that something monstrous has befallen you? I remember how much that pleased me the first time I heard it. For your own sake--for the sake of us all--cease this foolish raving, and do not merely call yourself a skeptic--be one; control the passion that is rending you. For love of me--for love of us all--"
And as she spoke she laid her hand on his shoulder, for he had sat down again; and although he pushed her away with some petulance, she went on in a tone of gentle entreaty: "If we are not to be altogether too late in the field, let us consider the situation calmly. I am but a girl, and this fresh disaster will fall more hardly on me than on you; for what would become of me without my father?"
"Life with him has at any rate taught you patient endurance," her brother broke in with a sullen shrug.
"Yes, life," she replied, firmly: "life, which shows us the right way better than all your books. Who can tell what may have detained Argutis? I wilt wait no longer. The sun will have set before long, and this evening Caesar is to sup with Seleukus, the father of Korinna. I happen to know it from Samonicus, who is one of the guests. Seleukus and his wife have a great regard for Alexander, and will do for him all that lies in their power. The lady Berenike, he told me, is a noble dame. It should be your part to entreat her help for our father and brother; but you must not venture where Caesar is. So I will go, and I shall have no rest till Korinna's mother listens to me and promises to aid us."
At this Philip exclaimed, in horror: "What! you will dare to enter the house where Caracalla is feasting with the rabble he calls his friends? You, an inexperienced girl, young, beautiful, whose mere appearance is enough to stir their evil passions? Sooner than allow that, I will myself find my way into the house of Seleukus, and among the spies who surround the tyrant."
"That my father may lose another son, and I my only remaining brother?" Melissa observed, with grave composure. "Say no more, Philip. I am going, and you must wait for me here."
The philosopher broke out at this in despotic wrath:
"What has come over you, that you have suddenly forgotten how to obey? But I insist; and rather than allow you to bring on us not trouble merely, but shame and disgrace, I will lock you into your room!"
He seized her hand to drag her into the adjoining room. She struggled with all her might; but he was the stronger, and he had got her as far as the door, when the Gaul Argutis rushed, panting and breathless, into the work-room through the anteroom, calling out to the struggling couple:
"What are you doing? By all the gods, you have chosen the wrong time for a quarrel! Zminis is on the way hither to take you both prisoners; he will be here in a minute! Fly into the kitchen, girl! Dido will hide you in the wood-store behind the hearth.-You, Philip, must squeeze into the henhouse. Only be quick, or it will be too late!"
"Go!" cried Melissa to her brother. "Out through the kitchen window you can get into the poultry-yard!"
She threw herself weeping into his arms, kissed him, and added, hastily: "Whatever happens to us, I shall risk all to save my father and Alexander. Farewell! The gods preserve us!"
She now seized Philip's wrist, as he had before grasped hers, to drag him away; but he freed himself, saying, with an indifference which terrified her: "Then let the worst come. Ruin may take its course. Death rather than dishonor!"
"Madman!" the slave could not help exclaiming; and the faithful fellow, though wont to obey, threw his arms round his master's son to drag him away into the kitchen, while Philip pushed him off, saying:
"I will not hide, like a frightened woman!"
But the Gaul heard the approach of marching men, so, paying no further heed to the brother, he dragged Melissa into the kitchen, where old Dido undertook to hide her.
Philip stood panting in the studio. Through the open window he could see the pursuers coming nearer, and the instinct of self-preservation, which asserts itself even in the strongest, prompted him to follow the slave's advice. But before he could reach the door, in fancy he saw himself joining the party of philosophers airing themselves under the arcades in the great court of the Museum; he heard their laughter and their bitter jests at the skeptic, the independent thinker, who had sought refuge among the fowls, who had been hauled out of the hen-house; and this picture confirmed his determination to yield to force rather than bring on himself the curse of ridicule. But at the same time other reasons for submitting to his fate suggested themselves unbidden--reasons more worthy of his position, of the whole course and aim of his thoughts, and of the sorrow which weighed upon his soul. It beseemed him as a skeptic to endure the worst with equanimity; under all circumstances he liked to be in the right, and he would fain have called out to his sister that the cruel powers whose enmity he had incurred still persisted in driving him on to despair and death, worthy as he was of a better fate.
A few minutes later Zminis came in, and put out his long lean arms to apprehend him in Caesar's name. Philip submitted, and not a muscle of his face moved. Once, indeed, a smile lighted it up, as he reflected that they would hardly have carried him off to prison if Alexander were already in their power; but the smile gave way only too soon to gloomy gravity when Zminis informed him that his brother, the traitor, had just given himself up to the chief of the night-watch, and was now safe under lock and ward. But his crime was so great that, according to the law of Egypt, his nearest relations were to be seized and punished with him. Only his sister was now missing, but they would know how to find her.
"Possibly," Philip replied, coldly. "As justice is blind, Injustice has no doubt all the sharper eyes."
"Well said," laughed the Egyptian. "A pinch of the salt which they give you at the Museum with your porridge--for nothing."
Argutis had witnessed this scene; and when, half an hour later, the men-at-arms had left the house without discovering Melissa's hiding-place, he informed her that Alexander had, as they feared, given himself up of his own free-will to procure Heron's release; but the villains had kept the son, without liberating the father. Both were now in prison, loaded with chains. The slave had ended his tale some minutes, and Melissa still stood, pale and tearless, gazing on the ground as though she were turned to stone; but suddenly she shivered, as if with the chill of fever, and looked up, out through the windows into the garden, now dim in the twilight. The sun had set, night was falling, and again the words of the Christian preacher recurred to her mind: "The fullness of the time is come."
To her and hers a portion of life had come to an end, and a new one must grow out of it. Should the free-born race of Heron perish in captivity and death?
The evening star blazed out on the distant horizon, seeming to her as a sign from the gods; and she told herself that it must be her part, as the last of the family who remained free, to guard the others from destruction in this new life.
The heavens were soon blazing with stars. The banquet in Seleukus's house, at which Caesar was to appear, would begin in an hour. Irresolution and delay would ruin all; so she drew herself up resolutely and called to Argutis, who had watched her with faithful sympathy:
"Take my father's blue cloak, Argutis, to make you more dignified; and disguise yourself, for you must escort me, and we may be followed. You, Dido, come and help me. Take my new dress, that I wore at the Feast of Adonis, out of my trunk; and with it you will see my mother's blue fillet with the gems. My father used to say I should first wear it at my wedding, but--Well, you must bind my hair with it to-night. I am going to a grand house, where no one will be admitted who does not look worthy of people of mark. But take off the jewel; a supplicant should make no display."