Serapis by Georg Ebers
The great Hippodrome of Alexandria was outside the Canopic gate, on the northern side of the road leading to Eleusis which to-day was crowded with passengers, all moving in the same direction. The tumult roused by the intelligence that Serapis was overthrown made all the more peaceful and peace-loving of the spectators hurry homewards; and as these, for the most part, were of the richer classes, who came and went in litters or chariots, their conveyances left but scanty space on the wide causeway for foot passengers, still, there they were, in considerable numbers, all wending their way towards the city, and the heathen who came rushing towards the Hippodrome behind the first heralds of the disaster, had great difficulty in making their way against the stream.
Marcus and Dada allowed themselves to be carried onward by the throng which was tending towards the city-walls and the Canopic gate. Phabis, Mary's old steward, whose duty it had been to help his young master to dress after the races were over, had snatched the agitator's cap from the youth's head and flung a cloak over his shoulders, hastily following him as he went off with the young girl by his side. The old man quite understood what was in the wind for he it was who had conducted Dame Herse to his mistress' presence. He had thought her a shrewd and kind-hearted woman, and it now struck him that she must certainly have been in the right when she accused Marcus of designs on her pretty niece. At the time he had refused to believe it, for he had never in his life detected his young master in any underhand or forbidden courses; but, after all, Marcus was his father's son, and, in his younger days, the old man had often and often had to risk his skin in Apelles' love-intrigues. And now it was the Son's turn--and if he were to take his fancy for that pretty chit as seriously as he did most things, if he got the notion into his head of marrying the little singer--what a storm there was brewing between him and his mother!
The old man did his best to keep up with Marcus who did not see or heed him, for his eyes and attention were centered on the fair companion who was clinging to his arm, while he tried to force a passage through the mob, towards the gate. Miracle on miracle seemed to him to have been wrought in his behalf; for Heaven had not only sent him Dada, but she was wearing blue ribbands; and when he asked her why, she had replied "For your sake, and because I like your Faith."
He was tired to death; but as soon as Dada had put her hand through his arm he lead felt refreshed as if by magic. His swollen and blistered hands, to be sure, were painful and his shoulders ached and winced from stiffness; but as she pressed his arm to her side and looked up gladly in his face--telling him how happy she was while he responded: "And how I love you!"--he felt himself in Heaven, and pain and discomfort were forgotten. The crush did not allow them to say more than a few words; but the things their eyes and lips could smile were sweeter and dearer than anything they had ever known before.
They had got through the gate and were in the Canopic way when Dada suddenly perceived that his lips were white, and felt the arm tremble on which her hand was lying. She asked him what ailed him; he made no reply, but put his hand to his head, so she led him aside into the public garden that lay to their right between the little Stadium and the Maeandrian circus. In this pretty spot, fresh with verdure and spring flowers, she soon found a bench shaded by a semicircular screen of dark-tufted tamarisk, and there she made him lie down. He yielded at once, and his pale face and fixed gaze showed her that he was in a fainting state. Indeed, he must be quite worn out by the terrible struggle of the race, and after it was over he had not given himself time to take a cup of drink or a scrap of food for refreshment. It was only too natural that his strength should fail him, so, without feeling at all alarmed but only very pitiful and anxious to help, she ran back to a fruit-stall which they had passed at the entrance to the garden from the street.
How glad she was that she still had the four drachmae which she had coaxed out of Karnis in the Xenodochium that evening; she could buy whatever she liked for her lover. When she went back-loaded with oranges, apples, hard-boiled eggs, bread and salt, in the skirt of her dress that she gathered up with one hand, and with a flask of wine and water, and a gourdbowl in the other-she found him still lying unconscious. However, when she had moistened his forehead and lips he opened his eyes, and then she peeled him an orange as daintily as she could and begged him to try it, and as she was herself very hungry she took a hearty share. She was enchanted at making him her guest, and at finding that he enjoyed the simple meal and soon was quite revived. In fact, in a few minutes he had altogether recovered his strength and consciousness of satisfaction; and as he lay back with Dada's hand in his, gazing happily and thankfully into her sweet eyes, a sense of peace, rest and bliss came over him such as he had never before known. He thought he had never tasted such delicious food, or such exquisite wine as the wretched Mareotic from the fruitstall. He took the apple she had begun eating out of her hand and bit it where her white teeth had been; he made her drink first out of the gourd-cup, and, as one of the three eggs she had brought with her was bad, they had quite a little battle for the last, till he finally gave way and eat it.
When they had finished Dada's purchases to the last mouthful she asked him, for the first time, where he meant to take her, and he said he intended placing her in the house of his former tutor, Eusebius, the deacon, where she would be a welcome guest and find her old companion Agne. Of this she was sincerely glad; and when, on hearing the title of Deacon, she questioned Marcus further, and identified Eusebius as the worthy old man whose discourse in the basilica had so deeply impressed her, she told Marcus how she had gone into the church, and how, from that hour, she had felt at peace. A quite new feeling had sprung up in her soul, and since then she had constantly longed to see him again and talk it all over with him:--The little she had learnt of Christian doctrine did her heart good and had given her comfort and courage. The world was so beautiful, and there were many more good men than bad. It was a pleasure to love one's neighbor, and as for forgiving a wrong--that she had never found difficult. It must be good to live on earth if everyone loved his neighbor as she loved him and he loved her; and life could not be a great hardship if in every trouble there was some one who was always ready to hear our cry and help us, out of pure beneficence.
Her innocent talk was to Marcus the greatest marvel of this day of miracles. The soul which he had dreamed that he was called to save had, of its own accord, turned to walk in the path of salvation; he went on to tell her of the things which he felt to be most sublime and glorious in his creed, and at length he confessed that, though he had always loved his neighbor for Christ's sake, never till now had true and perfect love been revealed to him. No power on earth could now part him from her, and when she should have been baptized there would be no further difficulty; their love might last till, and beyond, death, through all the ages of eternity. And she listened to him, perfectly content; and said that she was his, wholly his, now, and for ever and ever.
There were to-day but few people in the garden which was usually full in the afternoon, of idlers, and of children with their nurses; but the disturbance in the streets had kept these at home, and the idlers had found more to attract them at the Hippodrome and in the crowded roads. This favored the lovers, who could sit hand in hand, looking into each other's eyes; and when old Phabis, who had lost sight of them long since, at length discovered them in the park, he could see from his lurking-place as he crept closer, that his young master, after glancing cautiously round, pressed a kiss on the little singer's hair, and then on her eyes and at last on her lips.
The hours flew fast between serious talk and delightful dalliance, and when they tore themselves away from their quiet retreat it was already dusk. They soon found themselves in the Canopic way, in the thick of the crowd which they were now occasionally obliged to meet, for those who were making homewards had long since dispersed, and thousands were still crowding to the Hippodrome where a brisk fight was still going on. As they passed his mother's house Marcus paused and, pointing it out to Dada, told her that the day was not far distant when he should bring her home hither. But the girl's face fell.
"Oh no!" she exclaimed, in a low voice. "Not here-not to this great palace in a street. Let us live in a little house, quite quietly, by ourselves. A house with a garden, and a seat in the shade. Your mother lives here!"
And then she blushed scarlet and looked down. He guessed, however, what was passing in her mind, and bid her only to have patience, for as soon as she was a baptized Christian Eusebius would intercede for her. And he spoke warmly of his mother's piety and virtues, and asked Dada if she had seen her at the races.
"Yes," she replied timidly; and when he went on to ask her if she had not thought Mary very handsome and dignified, she answered frankly: "Yes--very; but then she is so tall and grand-looking-she must wish for a daughter-in-law very different from a poor, forsaken orphan like me--a mere singer, looked down upon by every one! It is different with you; you are satisfied with me as I am, and you know that I love you. If I never find my uncle again I have no one on earth to care for me but you; but I want no other, for you are my one and only hope, and to live for you and with you is enough. Only you must never leave me or I shall die! But you never can, for you told me that my soul was dearer to you than your own life; and so long as I have you and your love I shall grow better and better every day; but if you ever let me be parted from you I shall be utterly lost. Yes, understand that once for all--ruined and lost, body and soul!--I do not know what it is that terrifies me, but do let us go on, away from this house. Suppose your mother were to see us!"
He did as she wished and tried to soothe her, praising his mother's virtues with the affectionate blindness of a son; but she only half listened to his eulogy, for, as they approached Rhacotis the throng grew denser, they had no opportunities for conversation, they could think of nothing but battling their way through the crowd; still, they were happy.
They thus got to the street of the Sun--one of the main arteries of the city cutting the Canopic way at right angles--and they went down it towards the Gate of Helios in the south wall. The Serapeum lay to their right, several streets leading to it from the street of the Sun. To reach the house where Eusebius lived they ought to have turned down the street of the Acropolis, but a compact mass of frenzied creatures came storming down it from the Serapeum, and towards them. The sun was now fast setting over the City of the Dead on the western horizon. Marcus tried to get out of the middle of the road and place Dada in safety by the house at the corner, but in vain; the rabble that came crowding out of the side street was mad with excitement, and could think of nothing but the trophies it had snatched from the temple. Several dozen men, black and white alike--and among them some monks and even women, had harnessed themselves to an enormous truck, commonly used for the carriage of beams, columns, and heavy blocks of stone, on which they had erected a huge but shapeless mass of wood, the core, and all that remained, of the image of Serapis; this they were dragging through the streets.
"To the Hippodrome! Burn it! Down with the idols! Look at the divine form of Serapis! Behold the god!"
These were the cries that rent the air from a thousand throats, an ear-splitting accompaniment to the surging storm of humanity.
The monks had torn the desecrated block from the niche in the Serapeum, hauled it through the courts on to the steps, and were now taking it to the arena where it was to be burnt. Others of their kidney, and some of the Christian citizens who had caught the destructive mania, had forced their way into the temple of Anubis, hard by the Serapeumn, where they had overthrown and wrecked the jackal-headed idols and the Canopic gods--four huge jars with lids representing respectively a man's head, an ape's, a hawk's and a jackal's. They were now bearing these heads in triumph, while others were shouldering the limbs of broken statues of Apollo, of Athene, or of Aphrodite, or carrying the fragments in baskets to cast them into the flames in the Hippodrome after the wooden stock of the great Serapis. The mob had broken off the noses of all the heads, had smeared the marble with pitch, or painted it grossly with the red paint they had found in the writing-rooms of the Sera peum. Every one who could get near enough to the remains of the statue, or to a fragment of a ruined idol, spit upon it, struck it or thrust at it; and not a heathen had, as yet, dared to interfere.
Behind the oak block of the image of Serapis and the other trophies of victory, came an endless stream of men of all ages, of monks and of women, compelling a large carruca--[A four-wheeled chariot used in the city and for travelling.]--that had fallen into their hands, and which they had completely surrounded, to keep pace with them. The two fine horses that drew it had to be led by the bridle; they were trembling with terror and excitement and made repeated attempts to kick over the pole or to rear.
In this vehicle was Porphyrius, who had fully recovered consciousness, and by his side sat Gorgo. Constantine had not stirred from the side of the convalescent till Apuleius had pronounced him out of all danger; but then the young officer's duty had called him away. The merchant had hailed the news of his daughter's, union with the companion of her childhood as a most satisfactory and long-expected event.
A party of the Prefect's guards had been charged to bring the carriage for Porphyrius to the door of the temple, and the abbot of a monastery at Arsinoe, who was well known to the Prefect, undertook to escort them on their road home and protect them from the attacks of the raving mob. At the spot where the side street intersected the street of the Sun, and where Marcus and Dada had been forced to stop, unable either to proceed or to return, a troop of armed heathen had given the Christian rabble a check at the very moment when the carruca came up, and falling on the foe who had mocked and insulted their most sacred treasure, began a furious fray. Quite close to the young lovers a heathen cut down a Christian who was carrying the besmirched head of a Muse. Dada clung in terror to Marcus, who was beginning to be seriously alarmed for her when, looking round for aid or refuge, he caught sight of his brother forcing his way through the throng, and gesticulating vehemently. The farmer was telegraphing to the occupants of the carruca as well, and when he at last reached Marcus he briefly explained to him that the first thing to be done was to place Dada in safety.
Only too glad to be out of the crush and danger, the girl nimbly climbed into the chariot, and, after hastily greeting the father and daughter, signed to Marcus to follow her; but Demetrius held his brother back, and it was hurriedly agreed that Dada should be sent for that evening to the house of Porphyrius. Demetrius whispered a few words of enthusiastic praise of the little singer into Gorgo's ear; then the carriage moved on again. Many of the heathen who had collected round it recognized Porphyrius, the noble friend of the great Olympius, and cleared a passage for him, so that at last he got out of the gate uninjured, and turned into the quieter street of Euergetes which led to the temple of Isis, the ship-yard and the merchant's residence.
But few words were exchanged in the chariot, for it was only step by step and with considerable difficulty that the horses could get along. It was now quite dark and the mob had spread even into this usually deserted quarter.
A flaring glow that tinged the temple, the wharf and the deep sky itself with a gorgeous crimson glare, showed very plainly what the populace were employed in doing. The monks had set fire to the temple of Isis and the flames had been driven by the northwest wind down into the ship-yard, where they had found ample food in the enormous timber stacks and the skeletons of ships. Tall jets of rushing and crackling sparks were thrown skywards to mingle with the paler stars. Porphyrius could see what danger his house was in; but thanks to the old steward's foresight and the indefatigable diligence of the slaves, it escaped the conflagration.
The two brothers, meanwhile, had left the mob far behind them. Demetrius was not alone, and as soon as he had introduced Marcus to his companion, an abbot of friendly mien, the monk warmly expressed his pleasure at meeting another son of Apelles, to whom he had once owed his life. Demetrius then told his brother what his adventures had been during the last few hours, and where he had met this worthy Father.
While taking Dada down into the arena to join Marcus, he had caught sight of Anubis, the Egyptian slave who had been his father's companion in his last memorable journey to Syria, and who, since the death of Apelles, had totally disappeared, the countryman had instantly followed him, seized him--not without a struggle and some little danger--and then had him led off by the city-guard to the prison by the Prefect's house. Once secured he had been induced to speak, and his narrative proved beyond a doubt that Apelles had perished in a skirmish with the Saracens; the Egyptian slave had only taken advantage of his master's death to make off with the money he had with him. He had found his way to Crete, where he had purchased a plot of ground with his plunder; but then, craving to see his wife and children once more, he had come back to fetch them away to his new home. Finally, to confirm the truth of his story, which--clearing him apparently of the murder of his master--did not invite implicit belief, he told Demetrius that he had seen in Alexandria, only the day before, a recluse who had been present when Apelles fell, and Demetrius had at once set out to find this monk, enquiring among those who had swarmed into the city. He had very soon been successful; Kosnias, who since then had been elected abbot of the monastery to which he belonged, now again told Marcus the story of his father's heroic courage in the struggle with the freebooters who had attacked his caravan. Apelles, he said, had saved his life and that of two other anchorites, one of whom was in Alexandria at this very time. They were travelling from Hebron to Aila, a party of seven, and had placed themselves under the protection of the Alexandrian merchant's escort; everything had gone well till the infidel Saracens had fallen upon them in the high land south of Petra. Four of the monks had been butchered out of hand; but Apelles, with a few of the more resolute spirits in the company, had fought the heathen with the valor of a lion. He, Kosmas, and his two surviving comrades had effected their escape, while Apelles engaged the foe; but from a rocky height which they climbed in their flight they saw him fall, and from that hour they had always mentioned him in their prayers. It would be an unspeakable satisfaction to him to do his utmost to procure for such a man as Apelles the rank he deserved in the list of martyrs for the Faith.
Marcus, only too happy, wanted to hurry away at once to his mother and tell her what he had heard, but Demetrius detained him. The Bishop-he told his brother--had desired his immediate presence, to be congratulated on his victory; his first duty was to obey that mandate, and he should at once avail himself of its favorable opportunity to obtain for his deceased parent the honor he had earned.
It rather startled Marcus to find his brother taking its interest in a matter which, so lately, he had vehemently opposed; however, he proceeded at once to the episcopal palace, accompanied by the abbot, and half an hour later Demetrius, who had awaited his return, met him coming out with sparkling eyes. The Prelate, he said, had received him very graciously, had thanked him for his prowess and had bid him crave a reward. He at once had spoken of his father, and called the recluse to witness to the facts. The Bishop had listened his story, and had ended by declaring himself quite willing to put the name of Apelles on the list of the Syrian martyrs. Theophilus had been most unwilling hitherto to reject the petitions of so good and illustrious Christian as Mary; and now, after such ample testimony as to the manner of her husband's death, it was with sincere satisfaction that he bestowed this high mark of honor on the Christian victor and his admirable mother. "So now," added the young man, "I shall fly home, and how happy my mother will be. . . ."
But Demetrius would not allow him to finish his sentence. He laid his hand on the young man's shoulder saying: "Patience, my dear fellow, patience! You must stay with me for the present, and not go to your mother till I have settled everything that is necessary. Do not contradict me I entreat you, unless you want to deprive me of the happiness of remedying an injustice to your pretty Dada. What you most desire for yourself and her is your mother's blessing--and do you think that will be easy to obtain? Far from it, lad! But I can manage it for you; and I will, too, if only you will do as I bid you, and if the old Heathen's niece can be induced to be baptized. . . ."
"She is a Christian already!" exclaimed Marcus eagerly.
"Well then, she can be yours to-morrow," Demetrius went on calmly, "if you listen to the advice of your older and wiser brother. It cannot be very hard upon you, for you must own that if I had not fought it out with Anubis--and the rascal bit all he could reach like a trapped fox--if I had not got him locked up and almost run my legs off in hunting down the worthy abbot, our father would never have enjoyed the promotion which he is at last to obtain. Who would ever have believed that I should get any satisfaction out of this 'Crown of Martyrdom'? By the gods! It is by no means impossible, and I hope the manes of the deceased will forgive me for your sake. But it is getting late, so only one thing more: for my own share of the business all I claim is my right to tell your mother myself of all that has occurred; you, on your part, must go at once to Eusebius and beg him to receive Dada in his house. If he consents--and he certainly will--take him with you to our uncle Porphyrius and wait there till I come; then, if all goes well, I will take you and Dada to your mother--or, if not, we will go with Eusebius."
"Dada to my mother!" cried Marcus. "But what will she. . . ."
"She will receive her as a daughter," interrupted his brother, "if you hold your tongue about the whole business till I give you leave to speak.--There, the tall gate-keeper is closing the episcopal palace, so nothing more can come out of there to-night. You are a lucky fellow--well good-bye till we meet again; I am in a hurry."
The farmer went off, leaving Marcus with a thousand questions still unasked. However, the young man did his bidding and went, hopeful though not altogether free from doubts, to find his old tutor and friend.