Serapis by Georg Ebers
While Marcus carried out his brother's instructions Dada was expecting him and Eusebius with the greatest impatience. Gorgo had charged her waiting-woman to conduct the girl into the music-room and to tell her that she would join her there if her father was in such a state as to allow of it. Some refreshments were brought in to her, all delicate and tempting enough; but Dada would not touch them, for she fancied that the merchant's daughter was avoiding her intentionally, and her heart ached with a sense of bereavement and loneliness. To distract her thoughts she wandered round the room, looking at the works of art that stood against the walls, feeling the stuffs with which the cushions were covered and striking a lute which was leaning against the pedestal of a Muse. She only played a few chords, but they sufficed to call up a whole train of memories; she sank on a divan in the darkest corner she could find in the brilliantly-lighted room, and gave herself up to reviewing the many events of the last few days. It was all so bright, so delightful, that it hardly seemed real, and her hopes were so radiantly happy that for a moment she trembled to think of their fulfilment--but only for a moment; her young soul was full of confidence and elation, and if a doubt weighed it down for an instant it was soon cast off and her spirit rose with bold expectancy.
Her heart overflowed with happiness and thankfulness as she thought of Marcus and his love for her; her fancy painted the future always by his side, and though her annoyance at Gorgo's continued absence, and her dread of her lover's mother slightly clouded her gladness, the sense of peace and rapture constantly came triumphantly to the front. She forgot time as it sped, till at length Gorgo made her appearance.
She had not deliberately kept out of the little singer's way; on the contrary, she had been detained by her father, for not till now had she dared to tell him that his mother, the beloved mistress of his house, was no more. In the Serapeum she had not mentioned it, by the physician's orders; and now, in addition, through the indiscretion of a friend, he had received some terrible tidings which had already been known for some hours in the city and which dealt him a serious blow. His two sons were in Thessalonica, and a ship, just arrived from thence, brought the news-only too well substantiated, that fifteen thousand of the inhabitants of that town had been treacherously assassinated in the Circus there.
This hideous massacre had been carried out by the Imperial troops at Caesar's command, the wretched citizens having been bidden to witness the races and then ruthlessly butchered. A general of the Imperial army--a Goth named Botheric--had been killed by the mob, and the Emperor had thus avenged his death.
Porphyrius knew only too well that his sons would never have been absent from any races or games. They certainly must have been among the spectators and have fallen victims to the sword of the slaughterer. His mother and two noble sons were snatched from him in a day; and he would again have had recourse to poison as a refuge from all, if a dim ray of hope had not permitted him to believe in their escape. But all the same he was sunk in despair, and behaved as though he had nothing on earth left to live for. Gorgo tried to console him, encouraged his belief in her brothers' possible safety, reminded him that it was the duty of a philosopher to bear the strokes of Fate with fortitude; but he would not listen to her, and only varied his lamentations with bursts of rage.
At last he said he wished to be alone and reminded Gorgo that she ought to go to Dada. His daughter obeyed, but against her will; in spite of all that Demetrius had said in the young girl's favor she felt a little shy of her, and in approaching her more closely she had something of the feeling of a fine lady who condescends to enter the squalid hovel of poverty. But her father was right: Dada was her guest and she must treat her with kindness.
Outside the door of the music-room she dried away her tears for her brothers, for her emotion seemed to her too sacred to be confessed to a creature who boldly defied the laws laid down by custom for the conduct of women. From Dada's appearance she felt sure that all those lofty ideas, which she herself had been taught to call "moral dignity" and "a yearning for the highest things," must be quite foreign to this girl with whom her cousin had condescended to intrigue. She felt herself immeasurably her superior; but it would be ungenerous to allow her to see this, and she spoke very kindly; but Dada answered timidly and formally.
"I am glad," Gorgo began, "that accident brought you in our way;" and Dada replied hastily: "I owe it to your father's kindness, and not to accident."
"Yes, he is very kind," said Gorgo, ignoring Dada's indignant tone. "And the last few hours have brought him terrible sorrows. You have heard, no doubt, that he has lost his mother; you knew her--she had taken quite a fancy to you, I suppose you know."
"Oh! forget it!" cried Dada.
"She was hard to win," Gorgo went on, "but she liked you. Do you not believe me? You should have seen how carefully she chose the dress you have on at this minute, and matched the ornaments to wear with it."
"Pray, pray say no more about it," Dada begged. "She is dead, and I have forgiven her--but she thought badly, very badly of me."
"It is very bad of you to speak so," interrupted Gorgo, making no attempt to conceal her annoyance at the girl's reply. "She--who is dead--deserves more gratitude for her liberality and kindness!"
Dada shook her head.
"No," she said firmly. "I am grateful, even for the smallest kindness; I have not often met with disinterested generosity. But she had an end in view--I must say it once for all. She wanted to make use of me to bring shame on Marcus and grief on his mother. You surely must know it; for why should you have thought me too vile to sing with you if you did not believe that I was a good-for-nothing hussy, and quite ready to do your dead grandmother's bidding? Everybody, of course, looked down upon us all and thought we must be wicked because we were singers; but you knew better; you made a distinction; for you invited Agne to come to your house and sing with you.--No, unless you wish to insult me, say no more about my owing the dead lady a debt of gratitude!"
Gorgo's eyes fell; but presently she looked up again and said:
"You do not know what that poor soul had suffered. Mary, her son's widow, had been very cruel to her, had done her injuries she could never forgive--so perhaps you are right in your notion; but all the same, my grandmother had a great liking for you--and after all her wish is fulfilled, for Marcus has found you and he loves you, too, if I am not mistaken!"
"If you are not mistaken!" retorted Dada. "The gods forefend!--Yes, we have found each other, we love each other. Why should I conceal it?"
"And Mary, his mother--what has she to say to it?" asked Gorgo.
"I do not know," replied Dada abashed.
"But she is his mother, you know!" cried Gorgo severely. "And he will never--never--marry against her will. He depends on her for all that he has in the world."
"Then let her keep it!" exclaimed Dada. "The smaller and humbler the home he gives me the better I shall like it. I want his love and nothing more. All--all he desires of me is right and good; he is not like other men; he does not care for nothing but my pretty face. I will do whatever he bids me in perfect confidence; and what he thinks about me you may judge for yourself, for he is going to put me in the care of his tutor Eusebius."
"Then you have accepted his creed?" asked Gorgo. "Certainly I have," said Dada.
"I am glad of that for his sake," said the merchant's daughter. "And if the Christians only did what their preachers enjoin on them one might be glad to become one. But they make a riot and destroy everything that is fine and beautiful. What have you to say to that--you, who were brought up by Karnis, a true votary of the Muses?"
"I?" said Dada. "There are bad men everywhere, and when they rise to destroy what is beautiful I am very sorry. But we can love it and cherish it all the same."
"You are happy indeed if you can shut your eyes at the dictates of your heart!" retorted Gorgo, but she sighed. "Happy are they and much to be envied who can compel their judgment to silence when it is grief to hear its voice. I--I who have been taught to think, cannot abandon my judgment; it builds up a barrier between me and the happiness that beckons me. And yet, so long as truth remains the highest aim of man, I will bless the faculty of seeking it with all the powers of my mind. My betrothed husband, like yours, is a Christian; and I would I could accept his creed as unflinchingly as you; but it is not in my nature to leap into a pool when I know that it is full of currents and whirlpools.--However, the present question has to do with you and not with me. Marcus, no doubt, will be happy to have won you; but if he does not succeed in gaining his mother's consent he will not continue happy you may rely upon it. I know these Christians! they cannot conceive of any possible joy in married life without their parents' blessing, and if Marcus defies his mother he will torture his conscience and lead a death-in-life, as though he were under some heavy load of guilt."
"For all that, and all that," Dada insisted, "he can no more be happy without me than I can without him. I have never in my life paid court to any one, but I have always met with kindness. Why then should I not be able to win his mother's heart? I will wager anything and everything that she will take kindly to me, for, after all, she must be glad when she sees her son happy. Eusebius will speak for us and she will give its her blessing! But if it is not to be, if I may never be his wife honestly and in the face of the world, still I will not give him up, nor he me. He may deal with me as he will--as if he were my god and I were his slave!"
"But, my poor child, do you know nothing of womanly honor and womanly dignity?" cried Gorgo clasping her hands. "You complain of the lot of a singing-girl, and the cruel prejudices of the world--and what are you saying? Let me have my way, you would say, or I scorn your morality?"
"Scorn!" exclaimed Dada firing up. "Do you say I scorn morality? No, indeed no. I am an insignificant little person; there is nothing proud or great about me, and as I know it full well I am quite humble; in all my life I never dared to think of scorn, even of a child. But here, in my heart, something was awoke to life--through Marcus, only through him--something that makes me strong; and when I see custom and tradition in league against me because I am a singer, when they combine to keep me out of what I have a right to have--well, within these few hours I have found the spirit to defend myself, to the death if need be! What you call womanly honor I have been taught to hold as sacred as you yourself, and I have kept it as untainted as any girl living. Not that I meant to do anything grand, but you have no idea of what it is when every man thinks he has a right to oppress and insult a girl and try to entrap her. You, and others like you, know nothing of small things, for you are sheltered by walls and privileges. We are every man's game, while they approach you as humbly as if you were goddesses.--Besides! It is not only what I have heard from Karnis, who knows the world and fine folks like you; I have seen it for myself at Rome, in the senators' houses, where there were plenty of young lords and great men's daughters--for I have not gone through life with my eyes shut; with you love is like lukewarm water in a bath, but it catches us like fire. Sappho of Lesbos flung herself from the Leucadian rock because Phaon flouted her, and if I could save Marcus from any calamity by doing the same, I would follow her example.--You have a lover, too; but your feeling for him, with all the 'intellect' and 'reflections,' and 'thought' of which you spoke, cannot be the right one. There is no but or if in my, love at any rate; and yet, for all that, my heart aches so sorely and beats so wildly, I will wait patiently with Eusebius and submit to whatever I am bidden.--And in spite of it all you condemn me unheard, for you. . . . But why do you stand and look like that? You look just like you did that time when I heard you sing. By all the Muses! but you, too, like us, have some fire in your veins, you are not one of the lukewarm sort; you are an artist, and a better one than I; and if you ever should feel the right love, then--then take care lest you break loose from propriety and custom--or whatever name you give to the sacred powers that subdue passion--even more wildly than I--who am an honest girl, and mean to remain so, for all the fire and flame in my breast!"
Gorgo remembered the hour in which she had, in fact, proffered to the man of her choice as a free gift, the love which, by every canon of propriety, she ought only to have granted to his urgent wooing. She blushed and her eyes fell before the humble little singer; but while she was considering what answer she could make men's steps were heard approaching, and presently Eusebius and Marcus entered the room, followed by Gorgo's lover. Constantine was in deep dejection, for one of his brothers had lost his life in the burning of his father's ship-yard, and as compared with this grief, the destruction of the timber stores which constituted the chief part of his wealth scarcely counted as a calamity.
Gorgo had met him with a doubtful and embarrassed air; but when she learnt of the blow that had fallen on him and his parents, she clung to him caressingly and tried to comfort him. The others sympathized deeply with his sorrow; but soon it was Dada's turn to weep, for Eusebius brought the news of her foster-parent's death in the fight at the Serapeum, and of Orpheus being severely wounded.
The cheerful music-room was a scene of woe till Demetrius came to conduct his brother and Dada to the widow Mary who was expecting them. He had arrived in a chariot, for he declared his legs would no longer carry him. "Men," said he, "are like horses. A swift saddle-horse is soon tired when it is driven in harness and a heavy cart-horse when it is made to gallop. His hoofs were spoilt for city pavements, and scheming, struggling and running about the streets were too much for his country brains and wore him out, as trotting under a saddle would weary a plough-horse. He thanked the gods that this day was over. He would not be rested enough till to-morrow to be really glad of all his success."--But in spite of this assertion he was radiant with overflowing satisfaction, and that in itself cheered the mourners whom he tried to encourage. When he said they must be going, Gorgo kissed the little singer; indeed, as soon as she saw how deeply she was grieved, shedding bitter but silent tears, she had hastened to take her in her arms and comfort her like a sister.
Constantine, Gorgo and old Eusebius were left together, and the young girl was longing to unburden her over-full heart. She had agreed to her lover's request that she would at once accompany him to see his sorrowing parents; still, she could not appear before the old Christian couple and crave their blessing in her present mood. Recent events had embittered her happy belief in the creed into which she had thrown herself, and much as it pained her to add a drop to Constantine's cup of sorrow, duty and honesty commanded that she should show him the secrets of her soul and the doubts and questionings which had begun to trouble her. The old priest's presence was a comfort to her; for her earnest wish was to become a Christian from conviction; as soon as they were alone she poured out before them all the accusations she had to bring against the adherents of their Faith: They had triumphed in ruining the creations of Art; the Temple of Isis and the ship-yard lay in ashes, destroyed by Christian incendiaries; their tears were not yet dry when they flowed afresh for the sons of Porphyrius--Christians themselves--who, unless some happy accident had saved them, must have perished with thousands of innocent sufferers--believers and infidels together--by the orders of the Emperor whom Constantine had always lauded as a wise sovereign and pious Christian, as the Defender of the Faith, and as a faithful disciple of the Redeemer.
When, at last, she came to an end of her indictment she appealed to Constantine and Eusebius to defend the proceedings of their co-religionists, and to give her good grounds for confessing a creed which could sanction such ruthless deeds.
Neither the Deacon nor his pupil attempted to excuse these acts; nay, Constantine thought they were in plain defiance of that high law of Love which the Christian Faith imposes on all its followers. The wicked servant, he declared, had committed crimes in direct opposition to the spirit and the letter of the Master.
But this admission by no means satisfied Gorgo; she represented to the young Christian that a master must be judged by the deeds of his servant; she herself had turned from the old gods only because she felt such intense contempt for their worshippers; but now it had been her lot to see--the Deacon must pardon her for saying so--that many a Christian far outdid the infidels in coarse brutality and cruelty. Such an experience had filled her with distrust of the creed she was required to subscribe to--she was shaken to the very foundations of her being.
Eusebius had, till now, listened in silence; but as she ended he went towards her, and asked her gently whether she would think it right to turn the fertilizing Nile from its bed and leave its shores dry, because, from time to time, it destroyed fields and villages in the excess of its overflow? "This day and its deeds of shame," he went on sadly, "are a blot on the pure and sublime book of the History of our Faith, and every true Christian must bitterly bewail the excesses of a frenzied mob. The Church must no less condemn Caesar's sanguinary vengeance; it casts a shade on his honor and his fair name, and his conscience no doubt will punish him for such a crime. Far be it from me to defend deeds which nothing can justify. . ."
But Gorgo interrupted him. "All this," she said, "does not alter the fact that such crimes are just as possible and as frequent with you, as with those whom I am expected to give up, and who. . ."
"But it is not merely on account of their ill deeds that you are giving them up, Gorgo," Constantine broke in. "Confess, dear girl, that your wrath makes you unjust to yourself and your own heart. It was not out of aversion for the ruthless and base adherents of the old gods but--as I hope and believe--out of love for me that you consented to adopt my faith--our faith."
"True, true," she exclaimed, coloring as she remembered the doubts Dada had cast on the truth of her love.
"True, out of love for you--love of Love and of peace, I consented to become a Christian. But with regard to the deeds committed by your followers, tell me yourself--and I appeal to you reverend Father--what inspired them: Love or Hate."
"Hate!" said Constantine gloomily; and Eusebius added sorrowfully
"In these dark days our Faith is seen under an aspect that by no means fairly represents its true nature, noble lady; trust my words! Have you not yourself seen, even in your short life, that what is highest and greatest can in its excess, be all that is most hideous? A noble pride, if not kept within bounds, becomes overweening ambition; the lovely grace of humility degenerates into an indolent sacrifice of opinion and will; high-hearted enterprise into a mad chase after fortune, in which we ride down everything that comes in the way of success. What is nobler than a mother's love, but when she fights for her child she becomes a raving Megaera. In the same way the Faith--the consoler of hearts--turns to a raging wild-beast when it stoops to become religious partisanship. If you would really understand Christianity you must look neither down to the deluded masses, and those ambitious worldlings who only use it as a means to an end by inflaming their baser passions, nor up to the throne, where power translates the impulse of a disastrous moment into sinister deeds. If you want to know what true and pure Christianity is, look into our homes, look at the family life of our fellow believers. I know them well, for my humble functions lead me into daily and hourly intercourse with them. Look to them if you purpose to give your hand to a Christian and make your home with him. There, my child, you will see all the blessings of the Saviour's teaching, love and soberness, pitifulness to the poor and a real heart-felt eagerness to forgive injuries. I have seen a Christian bestow his last crust on his hapless foe, on the enemy of his house, on the Heathen or the Jew, because they, too, are men, because our neighbor's woes should be as our own--I have seen them taken in and cherished as though they were fellow-Christians.--There you will find a striving after all that is good, a never-fading hope in better days to come, even under the worst afflictions; and when death requires the sacrifice of all that is dearest, or swoops down on life itself, a firm assurance of the forgiveness of sins through Christ. Believe me, mistress, there is no home so happy as that of the Christian; for he who really apprehends the Saviour and understands his teaching need not mar his own joys in this life to the end that he may be a partaker of the bliss of the next. On the contrary: He who called the erring to himself, who drew little children to his heart, who esteemed the poor above the rich, who was a cheerful guest at wedding-feasts, who bid us gain interest on the spiritual talents in our care, who commanded us to remember Him at a social meal, who opened hearts to love--He longed to release the life of the humblest creature from want and suffering. Where love and peace reign must there not be happiness? And as He preached love and peace above all else, He cannot have desired that we should intentionally darken our lives on earth and load them with sorrow and miseries in order to will our share of Heaven. The soul that is full of the happy confidence of being one with Him and his love, is released from the bondage of sin and sorrow, even here below; for Jesus has taken all the sins and pains of the world on himself; and if Fate visits the Christian with the heaviest blows he bears them in silence and patience. Our Lord is Love itself; neither hatred nor envy are known to Him as they are to the gods of the Heathen; and when he afflicts us, it is as the wise and tender pastor of our souls, and for our good. The omniscient Lord knows his own counsel, and the Christian submits as a child does to a wise father whose loving kindness he can always trust; nay, he can even thank him for sorrow and pain as though they were pleasurable benefits."
Gorgo shook her head.
"That all sounds very beautiful and good; it is required of the Christian, and sometimes, no doubt, fulfilled; but the Stoa demands the same virtues of its disciples. You, Constantine, knew Damon the Stoic, and you will remember how strictly he enjoined on all that they should rise superior to pain and grief. And then, when his only daughter lost her sight--she was a great friend of mine--he behaved like one possessed. My father, too, has often spoken to you of philosophy as a help to contemning the discomforts of life, and bearing the sports of Fate with a lofty mind; and now? You should see the poor man, reverend Father. What good have all the teachings of the great master done him?"
"But he has lost so much--so much!" sighed Constantine thinking of his own loss; and Eusebius shook his head.
"In sorrow such as his, no philosophy, no mental effort can avail. The blows that wound the affections can only be healed by the affections, and not by the intellect and considerations of reason. Faith, child! Faith is the true Herb of Grace. The intellect is its foe; the feelings are its native soil where it finds constant nourishment; and however deep the bleeding wound of the mourner may be, Faith can heal it and reconcile the sufferer to his loss. You have been taught to value a fine understanding, to measure everything by it, to build everything on its decisions. To you the knowledge you have attained to by argument and inference is supreme; but the Creator has given us a heart as well as a brain; our affections, too, stir and grow in their own way, and the knowledge they can attain to, my child, is Faith. You love--and Love is part of your affections; and now take my advice; do not let that reasoning intelligence, which has nothing to do with love, have anything to say in the matter; cherish your love and nurture it from the rich stores of your heart; thus only can it thrive to beauty and harmony.--And this must suffice for to-day, for I have already kept the wounded waiting too long in the Serapeum. If you desire it, another time I will show you Christianity in all its depth and beauty, and your love for this good man will prepare the way and open your heart to my teaching. A day will come when you will be able to listen to the voice of your heart as gladly as you have hitherto obeyed the dictates of your intellect; something new will be born in you which you will esteem as a treasure above all you ever acquired by reason and thought. That day will assuredly dawn on you; for he whom you love has opened the path for you that leads to the gates of Truth; and as you seek you will not fail to find.--And so farewell. When you crave a teacher you have only to come to him--and I know he will not have long to wait."
Gorgo looked thoughtfully at the old man as he went away and then went with Constantine to see his parents. It was in total silence that they made their way along the short piece of road to the house of Clemens. Lights were visible in the viridarium and the curtains of the doorway were drawn back; as they reached the threshold Constantine pointed to a bier which had been placed in the little court among the flower-beds; his parents were on their knees by the side of it.
Neither he nor Gorgo ventured to disturb their wordless devotions, but presently the ship-master rose, drawing his fine, stalwart figure to its full height; then turning his kind, manly, grave face to his wife, who had also risen to her feet, he laid one hand on her still abundant white hair and held out the other which she took in hers. Mariamne dried her eyes and looked up, in her husband's face as he said firmly and calmly:
"The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away!' She hid her face on his shoulder and responded sadly but fervently:
"Blessed be the name of the Lord!"
"Yea--Blessed!" repeated Clemens emphatically but he passed his arm across his eyes. "For thirty-two years hath He lent him to us; and in our hearts . . . ." and he struck his broad breast, "in here, he will never die for you or for me. As for the rest--and there was a deal of property of our own and of other folks in these wood-piles--well, in time we shall get over that. We may bless the Almighty for what we have left!"
Gorgo felt her lover's hand grasp hers more tightly and she understood what he meant; she clung closer to him and whispered softly: "Yes, that is grand--that is the Truth."