A Thorny Path by Georg Ebers
A week later Caracalla quitted Alexandria to make war on the Parthians. What finally drove the unhappy man to hurry from the hated place was the torturing fear of sharing his lion's fate, and of being sent after the murdered Tarautas by the friends who had heard his appeal to fate.
Quite mad he was not, for the illusions which haunted him were often absent for several hours, when he spoke with perfect lucidity, received reports, and gave orders. It was with peculiar terror that his soul avoided every recollection of his mother, of Theokritus, and all those whose opinion he had formerly valued and whose judgment was not indifferent to him.
In constant terror of the dagger of an avenger--a dread which, with many other peculiarities, the leech could hardly ascribe to the diseased phenomena of his mental state--he only showed himself to his soldiers, and he might often be seen making a meal off a pottage he himself had cooked to escape the poison which had been fatal to his lion. He was never for an instant free from the horrible sense of being hated, shunned, and persecuted by the whole world.
Sometimes he would remember that once a fair girl had prayed for him; but when he tried to recall her features he could only see the charred arm with the golden snake held up before him as he had pictured it that night after the most hideous of his massacres; and every time, at the sight of it, that word came back to him which still tortured his soul above all else--"The deed." But his attendants, who heard him repeating it day and night, never knew what he meant by it.
When Zminis met his end by the wild beasts in the arena, it was before half-empty seats, though several legions had been ordered into the amphitheatre to fill them. The larger number of the citizens were slain, and the remainder were in mourning for relatives more or less near; and they also kept away from the scene to avoid the hated despot.
Macrinus now governed the empire almost as a sovereign, for Caesar, formerly a laborious and autocratic ruler, shrank from all business. Even before they left Alexandria the plebeian prefect could see that Serapion's prophecy was fulfilling itself. He remained in close intimacy with the soothsayer; but only once more, and just before Caesar's departure, could the magian be induced to raise the spirits of the dead, for his clever accomplice, Castor, had fallen a victim in the massacre because, prompted by the high price set on Alexander's head, and his own fierce hatred of the young painter, he would go out to discover where he and his sister had concealed themselves.
When at last the unhappy monarch quitted Alexandria one rainy morning, followed by the curses of innumerable mourners--fathers, mothers, widows, and orphans--as well as of ruined artisans and craftsmen, the ill-used city, once so proudly gay, felt itself relieved of a crushing nightmare. This time it was not to Caesar that the cloudy sky promised welfare--his life was wrapped in gloom--but to the people he had so bitterly hated. Thousands looked forward hopefully to life once more, in spite of their mourning robes and widows' veils, and notwithstanding the serious hindrances which the malice of their "afflicted" sovereign had placed in the way of the resuscitation of their town, for Caracalla had commanded that a wall should be built to divide the great merchant city into two parts.
Nay, he had intended to strike a death-blow even at the learning to which Alexandria owed a part of her greatness, by decreeing that the Museum and schools should be removed and the theatres closed.
Maddening alike to heart and brain was the memory that he left behind him, and the citizens would shake their fists if only his name were spoken. But their biting tongues had ceased to mock or jest. Most of the epigramatists were silenced forever, and the nimble wit of the survivors was quelled for many a month by bitter curses or tears of sorrow.
But now--it was a fortnight since the dreadful man had left--the shops and stores, which had been closed against the plunderers, were being reopened. Life was astir again in the deserted and silent baths and taverns, for there was no further fear of rapine from insolent soldiers, or the treacherous ears of spies and delators. Women and girls could once more venture into the highways, the market was filled with dealers, and many an one who was conscious of a heedless speech or suspected of whistling in the circus, or of some other crime, now came out of his well-watched hiding-place.
Glaukias, the sculptor, among others, reopened his work-rooms in Heron's garden-plot. In the cellar beneath the floor the gem-cutter had remained hidden with Polybius and his sister Praxilla, for the easy-going old man could not be induced to embark in the vessel which Argutis had hired for them. Sooner would he die than leave Alexandria. He was too much petted and too infirm to face the discomforts of a sea voyage. And his obstinacy had served him well, for the ship in which they were to have sailed, though it got out before the harbor was closed, was overtaken and brought back by an imperial galley.
Polybius was, however, quite willing to accept Heron's invitation to share his hiding-place.
Now they could both come out again; but these few weeks had affected them very differently. The gem-cutter looked like the shadow of himself, and had lost his upright carriage. He knew, indeed, that Melissa was alive, and that Alexander, after being wounded, had been carried by Andreas to the house of Zeno, and was on the way to recovery; but the death of his favorite son preyed on his mind, and it was a great grievance that his house should have been wrecked and burned. His hidden gold, which was safe with him, would have allowed of his building a far finer one in its stead, but the fact that it should be his fellow-citizens who had destroyed it was worst of all. It weighed on his spirits, and made him morose and silent.
Old Dido, who had risked her life more than once, looked at him with mournful eyes, and besought all the gods she worshiped to restore her good master's former vigor, that she might once more hear him curse and storm; for his subdued mood seemed to her unnatural and alarming--a portent of his approaching end.
Praxilla, too, the comfortable widow, had grown pale and thin, but old Dido had learned a great deal from her teaching. Polybius only was more cheerful than ever. He knew that his son and Melissa had escaped the most imminent dangers. This made him glad; and then his sister had done wonders that he might not too greatly miss his cook. His meals had nevertheless been often scanty enough, and this compulsory temperance had relieved him of his gout and done him so much good that, when Andreas led him out into daylight once more, the burly old man exclaimed: "I feel as light as a bird. If I had but wings I could fly across the lake to see the boy. It is you, my brother, who have helped to make me so much lighter." He laid his arm on the freedman's shoulder and kissed him on the cheeks. It was for the first time; and never before had he called him brother. But that his lips had obeyed the impulse of his heart might be seen in the tearful glitter of his eyes, which met those of Andreas, and they, too, were moist.
Polybius knew all that the Christian had done for his son and for Melissa, for him and his, and his jest in saying that Andreas had helped to make him lighter referred to his latest achievement. Julianus, the new governor of the city, who now occupied the residence of the prefect Titianus, had taken advantage of the oppressed people to extract money, and Andreas, by the payment of a large sum, had succeeded in persuading him to sign a document which exonerated Polybius and his son from all criminality, and protected their person and property against soldiers and town guards alike. This safe-conduct secured a peaceful future to the genial old man, and filled the measure of what he owed to the freedman, even to overflowing. Andreas, on his part, felt that his former owner's kiss and brotherly greeting had sealed his acceptance as a free man. He asked no greater reward than this he had just received; and there was another thing which made his heart leap with gladness. He knew now that the fullness of time had come in the best sense for the daughter of the only woman he had ever loved, and that the Good Shepherd had called her to be one of His flock. He could rejoice over this without a pang, for he had learned that Diodoros, too, had entered on the path which hitherto he had pointed out to him in vain.
A calm cheerfulness, which surprised all who knew him, brightened the grave man; for him the essence of Christian love lay in the Resurrection, and he saw with astonishment that a wonderful new vitality was rising out of death. For Alexandria, too, the time was fulfilled. Men and women crowded to the rite of baptism. Mothers brought their daughters, and fathers their sons. These days of horror had multiplied the little Christian congregation to a church of ten thousand members. Caracalla turned hundreds from heathenism by his bloody sacrifices, his love of fighting, his passion for revenge, and the blindness which made him cast away all care for his eternal soul to secure the enjoyment of a brief existence. That the sword which had slain thousands of their sons should have been dedicated to Serapis, and accepted by the god, alienated many of the citizens from the patron divinity of the town. Then the news that Timotheus the high-priest had abdicated his office soon after Caesar's departure, and, with his revered wife Euryale, had been baptized by their friend the learned Clemens, confirmed many in their desire to be admitted into the Christian community.
After these horrors of bloodshed, these orgies of hatred and vengeance, every heart longed for love and peace and brotherly communion. Who of all those that had looked death in the face in these days was not anxious to know more of the creed which taught that the life beyond the grave was of greater importance than that on earth?--while those who already held it went forth to meet, as it were, a bridegroom. They had seen men trodden down and all their rights trampled on, and now every ear was open when a doctrine was preached which recognized the supreme value of humanity, by ascribing, even to the humblest, the dignity of a child of God. They were accustomed to pray to immortal beings who lived in privileged supremacy and wild revelry at the golden tables of the Olympian banquet; and now they were told that the church of the Christians meant the communion of the faithful with their fatherly God, and with His Son who had mingled with other mortals in the form of man and who had done more for them than a brother, inasmuch as He had taken upon Himself to die on the cross for love of them.
To a highly cultured race like the Alexandrians it had long seemed an absurdity to try to purchase the favor of the god; by blood-offerings. Many philosophical sects, and especially the Pythagoreans, had forbidden such sacrifices, and had enjoined the bringing of offerings not to purchase good fortune, but only to honor the gods; and now they saw the Christians not making any offerings at all, but sharing a love-feast. This, as they declared, was to keep them in remembrance of their brotherhood and of their crucified Lord, whose blood, once shed, His heavenly Father had accepted instead of every other sacrifice. The voluntary and agonizing death of the Redeemer had saved the soul of every Christian from sin and damnation; and many who in the late scenes of horror had been inconsolable in anticipation of the grave, felt moved to share in this divine gift of grace.
Beautiful, wise, and convincing sentences from the Bible went from lip to lip; and a saying of Clemens, whose immense learning was well known, was especially effective and popular. He had said that "faith was knowledge of divine things through revelation, but that learning must give the proof thereof"; and this speech led many men of high attainments to study the new doctrines.
The lower classes were no doubt those most strongly attracted, the poor and the slaves; and with them the sorrowing and oppressed. There were many of these now in the town; ten thousand had seen those dearest to them perish, and others, being wounded, had within a few days been ruined both in health and estate.
As to Melissa in her peril, so to all these the Saviour's call to the heavy-laden that He would give them rest had come as a promise of new hope to car and heart. At the sound of these words they saw the buds of a new spring-time for the soul before their eyes; any one who knew a Christian improved his intimacy that he might hear more about the tender-hearted Comforter, the Friend of children, the kind and helpful Patron of the poor, the sorrowful, and the oppressed.
Assemblies of any kind were prohibited by the new governor; but the law of Aelius Marcianus allowed gatherings for religious purposes, and the learned lawyer, Johannes, directed his fellow-Christians to rely on that. All Alexandria was bidden to these meetings, and the text with which Andreas opened the first, "Now the fullness of time is come," passed from mouth to mouth.
Apart from that period which had preceded the birth of Christ, these words applied to none better than to the days of death and terror which they had just gone through. Had a plainer boundary-stone ever been erected between a past and a future time? Out of the old vain and careless life, which had ended with such fearful horrors, a new life would now proceed of peace and love and pious cares.
The greater number of the citizens, and at their head the wealthy and proud, still crowded the heathen temples to serve the old gods and purchase their favor with offerings; still, the Christian churches were too small and few to hold the faithful, and these had risen to higher consideration, for the community no longer consisted exclusively of the lower rank of people and slaves. No, men and women of the best families came streaming in, and this creed--as was proclaimed by Demetrius, the eloquent bishop; by Origen, who in power and learning--was the superior of any heathen philosopher; by the zealous Andreas, and many another chosen spirit--this creed was the religion of the future.
The freedman had never yet lived in such a happy and elevated frame of mind; as he looked back on his past existence he often remembered with thankful joy the promise that the last should be first, and that the lowly should be exalted. If the dead had risen from their graves before his eyes it would scarcely have surprised him, for in these latter days he had seen wonder follow on wonder. The utmost his soul had so fervently desired, for which he had prayed and longed, had found fulfillment in a way which far surpassed his hopes; and through what blood and fear had the Lord led His own, to let them reach the highest goal! He knew from the lady Euryale that his desire to win Melissa's soul to the true faith had been granted, and that she craved to be baptized. This had not been confirmed by the girl herself, for, attacked by a violent fever, she had during nine days hovered between life and death; and since then Andreas had for more than a week been detained in the town arranging affairs for Polybius.
The task was now ended which he had set himself to carry through. He could leave the city and see once more the young people he loved. He parted from Polybius and his sister at the garden gate, and led Heron and old Dido to a small cottage which his former master had given him to live in.
The gem-cutter was not to be allowed to see his children till the leech should give leave, and the unfortunate man could not get over his surprise and emotion at finding in his new home not only a work-table, with tools, wax, and stones, but several cages full of birds, and among these feathered friends a starling. His faithful and now freed slave, Argutis, had, by Polybius's orders, supplied everything needful; but the birds were a thought of the Christian girl Agatha. All this was a consolation in his grief, and when the gem-cutter was alone with old Dido he burst into sobs. The slave woman followed his example, but he stopped her with loud, harsh scolding. At first she was frightened; but then she exclaimed with delight from the very bottom of her faithful heart, "The gods be praised!" and from the moment when he could storm, she always declared, Heron's recovery began.
The sun was setting when Andreas made his way to Zeno's house--a long, white-washed building.
The road led through a palm-grove on the Christian's estate. His anxiety to see the beloved sufferers urged him forward so quickly that he presently overtook another man who was walking in the same direction in the cool of the evening. This was Ptolemaeus, the physician.
He greeted Andreas with cheerful kindness, and the freedman knew what he meant when, without waiting to be asked, he said:
"We are out of the wood now; the fever has passed away. The delirious fancies have left her, and since noon she has slept. When I quitted her an hour ago she was sleeping soundly and quietly. Till now the shaken soul has been living in a dream; but now that the fever has passed away, she will soon be herself again. As yet she has recognized no one; neither Agatha nor the lady Euryale; not even Diodoros, whom I allowed to look at her yesterday for a moment. We have taken her away from the large house in the garden, on account of the children, to the little villa opposite the place of worship. It is quiet there, and the air blows in on her through the open veranda. The Empress herself could not wish for a better sick-room. And the care Agatha takes of her! You are right to hasten. The last glimmer of sunshine is extinct, and divine service will soon begin. I am satisfied with Diodoros too; youth is a soil on which the physician reaps easy laurels. What will it not heal and strengthen! Only when the soul is so deeply shaken, as with Melissa and her brother, matters go more slowly, even with the young. However, as I said, we are past the crisis."
"God be praised!" said Andreas. "Such news makes me young again. I could run like a boy." They now entered the well-kept gardens which lay behind Zeno's house. Noble clumps of tall old trees rose above the green grass plots and splendid shrubs. Round a dancing fountain were carefully kept beds of beautiful flowers. The garden ended at a palm-grove, which cast its shade on Zeno's little private place of worship--an open plot inclosed by tamarisk hedges like walls. The little villa in which Melissa lay was in a bower of verdure, and the veranda with the wide door through which the bed of the sufferer had been carried in, stood open in the cool evening to the garden, the palm-grove, and the place of worship with its garland, as it were, of fragile tamarisk boughs.
Agatha was keeping watch by Melissa; but as the last of the figures, great and small, who could be seen moving across the garden, all in the same direction, disappeared behind the tamarisk screen, the young Christian looked lovingly down at her friend's pale and all too delicate face, touched her forehead lightly with her lips, and whispered to the sleeper, as though she could hear her voice:
"I am only going to pray for you and your brother."
And she went out.
A few moments later the brazen gong was heard--muffled out of regard for the sick--which announced the hour of prayer to the little congregation. It had sounded every evening without disturbing the sufferer, but to-night it roused her from her slumbers.
She looked about her in bewilderment and tried to rise, but she was too weak to lift herself. Terror, blood, Diodoros wounded, Andreas, the ass on which she had ridden that night, were the images which first crowded on her awakening spirit in bewildering confusion. She had heard that piercing ring of smitten brass in the Serapeum. Was she still there? Had she only dreamed of that night-ride with her wounded lover? Perhaps she had lost consciousness in the mystic chambers, and the clang of the gong had roused her.
And she shuddered. In her terror she dared not open her eyes for fear of seeing on all hands the hideous images on the walls and ceiling. Merciful gods! If her flight from the Serapeum and the rescue of Diodoros by Andreas had really been but a dream, then the door might open at any moment, and the Egyptian Zminis or his men might come in to drag her before that dreadful Caesar.
She had half recovered consciousness several times, and as these thoughts had come over her, her returning lucidity had vanished and a fresh attack of fever had shaken her. But this time her head seemed clearer; the cloud and humming had left her which had impeded the use of her ears and eyes.
Her brain too had recovered its faculties. As soon as she tried to think, her restored intelligence told her that if she were indeed still in the Serapeum and the door should open, the lady Euryale might come in to speak courage to her and take her in her motherly arms, and--And she suddenly recollected the promise which had come to her from the Scriptures of the Christians. It stood before her soul in perfect clearness that she had found a loving comforter in the Saviour; she remembered how gladly she had declared to the lady Euryale that the fullness of time had now indeed come to her, and that she had no more fervent wish than to become a fellow-believer with her kind friend--a baptized Christian. And all the while she felt as though light were spreading in her and around her, and the vision she had last seen when she lost consciousness rose again before her inward eye. Again she saw the Redeemer as He had stood before her at the end of her ride, stretching out His arms to her in the darkness, inviting her, who was weary and heavy laden, to be refreshed by him. A glow of thankfulness warmed her heart, and she closed her eyes once more.
But she did not sleep; and while she lay fully conscious, with her hands on her bosom as it rose and fell regularly with her deep breathing, thinking of the loving Teacher, of the Christians, and of all the glorious promises she had read in the Sermon on the Mount, and which were addressed to her too, she could fancy that her head rested on Euryale's shoulder, while she saw the form of the Saviour robed in light and beckoning to her.
Her whole frame was wrapped in pleasant languor. Just so had she felt once before-she remembered it well--and she remembered when it was. She had felt just as she did now after her lover had for the first time clasped her to his heart, when, as night came on, she had sat by his side on the marble bench, while the Christian procession passed. She had taken the chanting train for the wandering souls of the dead and--how strange! No--she was not mistaken. She heard at this moment the selfsame strain which they had then sung so joyfully, in spite of its solemn mode. She did know when it had begun, but again it filled her with a bitter-sweet sense of pity. Only it struck deeper now than before, for she knew now that it applied to all human beings, since they were all the children of the same kind Father, and her own brethren and sisters.
But whence did the wonderful music proceed--Was she--and a shock of alarm thrilled her at the thought--was she numbered with the dead? Had her heart ceased to beat when the Saviour had taken her in His arms after her ride through blood and darkness, when all had grown dim to her senses? Was she now in the abode of the blest?
Andreas had painted it as a glorious place; and yet she shuddered at the thought. But was not that foolish? If she were really dead, all terror and pain were at an end. She would see her mother once more; and whatever might happen to those she loved, she might perhaps be suffered to linger near them, as she had done on earth, and hope with assurance to meet them again here, sooner or later.
But no! Her heart was beating still; she could feel how strongly it throbbed. Then where was she?
There certainly had not been any such coverlet as this on her bed in the Serapeum, and the room there was much lower. She looked about her and succeeded in turning on her side toward the evening breeze which blew in on her, so pure and soft and sweet. She raised her delicate emaciated hand to her head and found that her thick hair was gone. Then she must have cut it off to disguise herself.
But where was she? Whither had she fled?
It mattered not. The Serapeum was far away, and she need no longer fear Zminis and his spies. Now for the first time she raised her eyes thankfully to Heaven, and next she looked about her; and while she gazed and let her eyes feed themselves full, a faint cry of delight escaped her lips. Before her, in the silvery light of the bright disk of the young moon lay a splendid blooming garden, and over the palms which towered above all else, in shadowy masses, in the distance the evening star was rising just in front, the moonlight twinkled and flashed in the rising and falling drops of the fountain; and as she lay, stirred to the depths of her soul by this silent splendor, thinking of kindly Selene moving on her peaceful path above, of Artemis hunting in the moonlight, of the nymphs of the waters, and the dryads just now perhaps stealing out of the great trees to dance with sportive fauns, the chant suddenly broke out again in solemn measure, and she heard, to deep manly voices, the beginning of the Psalm:
"Give thanks unto the Lord and declare his name; proclaim his wonders among the nations.
"Sing of him and praise him; tell of all his wonders; glorify his holy name; their hearts rejoice that seek the Lord."
Here the men ceased and the women began as though to confirm their praise of the most High, singing the ninetieth Psalm with enthusiastic joy:
"O Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.
"Before the mountains were brought forth, or, ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
"For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is passed, and as a watch in the night."
Then the men's voices broke in again
"The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
"Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge."
And the women in their turn took up the chant, and from their grateful breasts rose clear and strong the Psalm of David:
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
"Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.
"Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies."
Melissa listened breathlessly to the singing, of which she could hear every word; and how gladly would she have mingled her voice with theirs in thanksgiving to the kind Father in heaven who was hers as well as theirs! There lay His wondrous works before her, and her heart echoed the verse:
"Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies," as though it were addressed especially to her and sung for her by the choir of women.
The gods of whom she had but just been thinking with pious remembrance appeared to her now as beautiful, merry, sportive children, as graceful creatures of her own kind, in comparison with the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the universe, whose works among the nations, whose holy name, whose wonders, greatness, and loving-kindness these songs of praise celebrated. The breath of His mouth dispersed the whole world of gods to whom she had been wont to pray, as the autumn wind scatters the many-tinted leaves of faded trees. She felt as though He embraced the garden before her with mighty and yet loving arms, and with it the whole world. She had loved the Olympian gods; but in this hour, for the first time, she felt true reverence for one God, and it made her proud to think that she might love this mighty Lord, this tender Father, and know that she was beloved by Him. Her heart beat faster and faster, and she felt as though, under the protection of this God, she need never more fear any danger.
As she looked out again at the palm-trees beyond the tamarisks, above whose plumy heads the evening star now rode in the azure blue of the night sky, the singing was taken up again after a pause; she heard once more the angelic greeting which had before struck her soul as so comforting and full of promise when she read it in the Gospel:
"Glory to God on high, on earth peace, good-will toward men."
That which she had then so fervently longed for had, she thought, come to pass. The peace, the rest for which she had yearned so miserably in the midst of terror and bloodshed, now filled her heart-all that surrounded her was so still and peaceful! A wonderful sense of home came over her, and with it the conviction that here she would certainly find those for whom she was longing.
Again she looked up to survey the scene, and she was now aware of a white figure coming toward her from the tamarisk hedge. This was Euryale. She had seen Agatha among the worshipers, and had quitted the congregation, fearing that the sick girl might wake and find no one near her who cared for her or loved her. She crossed the grass plot with a swift step. She had passed the fountain; her head came into the moonlight, and Melissa could see the dear, kind face. With glad excitement she called her by name, and as the matron entered the veranda she heard the convalescent's weak voice and hastened to her side. Lightly, as if joy had made her young again, she sank on her knees by the bed of the resuscitated girl to kiss her with motherly tenderness and press her head gently to her bosom. While Melissa asked a hundred questions the lady had to warn her to remain quiet, and at last to bid her to keep silence.
First of all Melissa wanted to know where she was. Then her lips overflowed with thankfulness and joy, and declarations that she felt as she was sure the souls in bliss must feel, when Euryale had told her in subdued tones that her father was living, that Diodoros and her brother had found a refuge in the house of Zeno, and that Andreas, Polybius, and all dear to them were quite recovered after those evil days. The town had long been rid of Caesar, and Zeno had consented to allow his daughter Agatha to marry Alexander.
In obedience to her motherly adviser, the convalescent remained quiet for a while; but joy seemed to have doubled her strength, for she desired to see Agatha, Alexander, and Andreas, and--she colored, and a beseeching glance met Euryale's eyes--and Diodoros.
But meanwhile the physician Ptolemaeus had come into the room, and he would allow no one to come near her this evening but Zeno's daughter. His grave eyes were dim with tears as, when taking leave, he whispered to the Lady Euryale:
"All is well. Even her mind is saved."
He was right. From day to day and from hour to hour her recovery progressed and her strength improved. And there was much for her to see and hear, which did her more good than medicine, even though she had been moved to fresh grief by the death of her brother and many friends.
Like Melissa, her lover and Alexander had been led by thorny paths to the stars which shine on happy souls and shed their light in the hearts of those to whom the higher truth is revealed. It was as Christians that Diodoros and Alexander both came to visit the convalescent. That which had won so many Alexandrians to the blessings of the new faith had attracted them too, and the certainty of finding their beloved among the Christians had been an added inducement to crave instruction from Zeno. And it had been given them in so zealous and captivating a manner that, in their impressionable hearts, the desire for learning had soon been turned to firm conviction and inspired ardor.
Agatha was betrothed to Alexander.
The scorn of his fellow-citizens, which had fallen on the innocent youth and which he had supposed would prevent his ever winning her love, had in fact secured it to him, for Agatha's father was very ready to trust his child to the man who had rescued her, whom she loved, and in whom he saw one of the lowly who should be exalted.
Alexander was not told of Philip's death till his own wounds were healed; but he had meanwhile confided to Andreas that he had made up his mind to fly to a distant land that he might never again see Agatha, and thus not rob the brother on whom he had brought such disaster of the woman he loved. The freedman had heard him with deep emotion, and within a few hours after Andreas had reported to Zeno the self-sacrificing youth's purpose, Zeno had gone to Alexander and greeted him as his son.
Melissa found in Agatha the sister she had so long pined for; and how happy it made her to see her brother's eyes once more sparkle with gladness! Alexander, even as a Christian and as Agatha's husband, remained an artist.
The fortune accumulated by Andreas--the solidi with which he had formerly paid the scapegrace painter's debts included--was applied to the erection of a new and beautiful house of God on the spot where Heron's house had stood. Alexander decorated it with noble pictures, and as this church was soon too small to accommodate the rapidly increasing congregation, he painted the walls of yet another, with figures whose extreme beauty was famous throughout Christendom, and which were preserved and admired till gloomy zealots prohibited the arts in churches and destroyed their works.
Melissa could not be safe in Alexandria. After being quietly married in the house of Polybius, she, with her young husband and Andreas, moved to Carthage, where an uncle of Diodoros dwelt. Love went them, and, with love, happiness. They were not long compelled to remain in exile; a few months after their marriage news was brought to Carthage that Caesar had been murdered by the centurion Martialis, prompted by the tribunes Apollinaris and Nemesianus Aurelius. Immediately on this, Macrinus, the praetorian prefect, was proclaimed emperor by the troops.
The ambitious man's sovereignty lasted less than a year; still, the prophecy of Serapion was fulfilled. It cost the Magian his life indeed; for a letter written by him to the prefect, in which he reminded him of what he had foretold, fell into the hands of Caracalla's mother, who opened the letters addressed to her ill-fated son at Antioch, where she was then residing. The warning it contained did not arrive, however, till after Caesar's death, and before the new sovereign could effectually protect the soothsayer. As soon as Macrinus had mounted the throne the persecution of those who had roused the ire of the unhappy Caracalla was at an end. Diodoros and Melissa, Heron and Polybius, could mingle once more with their fellow-citizens secure from all pursuit.
Diodoros and other friends took care that the suspicion of treachery which had been cast on Heron's household should be abundantly disproved. Nay, the death of Philip, and Melissa's and Alexander's evil fortunes, placed them in the ranks of the foremost foes of tyranny.
Within ten months of his accession Macrinus was overthrown, after his defeat at Immae, where, though the praetorians still fought for him bravely, he took ignominious flight; Julia Domna's grandnephew was then proclaimed Caesar by the troops, under the name of Heliogabalus, and the young emperor of fourteen had a statue and a cenotaph erected at Alexandria to Caracalla, whose son he was falsely reputed to be. These two works of art suffered severely at the hands of those on whom the hated and luckless emperor had inflicted such fearful evils. Still, on certain memorial days they were decked with beautiful flowers; and when the new prefect, by order of Caracalla's mother, made inquiry as to who it was that laid them there, he was informed that they came from the finest garden in Alexandria, and that it was Melissa, the wife of the owner, who offered them. This comforted the heart of Julia Domna, and she would have blessed the donor still more warmly if she could have known that Melissa included the name of her crazed son in her prayers to her dying day.
Old Heron, who had settled on the estate of Diodoros and lived there among his birds, less surly than of old, still produced his miniature works of art; he would shake his head over those strange offerings, and once when he found himself alone with old Dido, now a freed-woman, he said, irritably: "If that little fool had done as I told her she would be empress now, and as good as Julia Domna. But all has turned out well--only that Argutis, whom every one treats as if our old Macedonian blood ran in his veins, was sent yesterday by Melissa with finer flowers for Caracalla's cenotaph than for her own mother's tomb--May her new-fangled god forgive her! There is some Christian nonsense at the bottom of it, no doubt. I stick to the old gods whom my Olympias served, and she always did the best in everything."
Old Polybius, too, remained a heathen; but he allowed the children to please themselves. He and Heron saw their grandchildren brought up as Christians without a remonstrance, for they both understood that Christianity was the faith of the future.
Andreas to his latest day was ever the faithful adviser of old and young alike. In the sunshine of love which smiled upon him his austere zeal turned to considerate tenderness. When at last he lay on his death-bed, and shortly before the end, Melissa asked him what was his favorite verse of the Scriptures, he replied firmly and decidedly:
"Now the fullness of time is come."
"So be it," replied Melissa with tears in her eyes. He smiled and nodded, signed to Diodoros to draw off his signet ring--the only thing his father had saved from the days of his wealth and freedom--and desired Melissa to keep it for his sake. Deeply moved, she put it on her finger; but Andreas pointed to the motto, and said with failing utterance:
"That is your road--and mine--my father's motto: Per aspera ad astra. It has guided me to my goal, and you--all of you. But the words are in Latin; you understand them? By rough ways to the stars--Nay what they say to me is: Upward, under the burden of the cross, to bliss here and hereafter--And you too," he added, looking in his darling's face. "You too, both of you; I know it."
He sighed deeply, and, laying his hand on Melissa's head as she knelt by his bed, he closed his faithful eyes in the supporting arms of Diodoros.