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Title: Marzio's Crucifix and Zoroaster
Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Marzio's Crucifix and Zoroaster" ***

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The Novels of F. Marion Crawford
In Twenty-five Volumes, Authorized Edition

MARZIO'S CRUCIFIX

and

ZOROASTER

by

F. MARION CRAWFORD

With Frontispiece

P.F. Collier & Son
New York

1887



[Illustration: HE MOVED NOT THROUGH THE LONG HOURS OF DAY.
--_Zoroaster_.]



[Illustration]



MARZIO'S CRUCIFIX



CHAPTER I


"The whole of this modern fabric of existence is a living lie!" cried
Marzio Pandolfi, striking his little hammer upon the heavy table with an
impatient rap. Then he dropped it and turning on his stool rested one
elbow upon the board while he clasped his long, nervous fingers together
and stared hard at his handsome apprentice. Gianbattista Bordogni looked
up from his work without relinquishing his tools, nodded gravely, stared
up at the high window, and then went on hammering gently upon his little
chisel, guiding the point carefully among the delicate arabesques traced
upon the silver.

"Yes," he said quietly, after a few seconds, "it is all a lie. But what
do you expect, Maestro Marzio? You might as well talk to a stone wall as
preach liberty to these cowards."

"Nevertheless, there are some--there are half a dozen--" muttered
Marzio, relapsing into sullen discontent and slowly turning the body of
the chalice beneath the cord stretched by the pedal on which he pressed
his foot. Having brought under his hand a round boss which was to become
the head of a cherub under his chisel, he rubbed his fingers over the
smooth silver, mechanically, while he contemplated the red wax model
before him. Then there was silence for a space, broken only by the
quick, irregular striking of the two little hammers upon the heads of
the chisels.

Maestro Marzio Pandolfi was a skilled workman and an artist. He was one
of the last of those workers in metals who once sent their masterpieces
from Rome to the great cathedrals of the world; one of the last of the
artistic descendants of Caradosso, of Benvenuto Cellini, of Claude
Ballin, and of all their successors; one of those men of rare talent who
unite the imagination of the artist with the executive skill of the
practised workman. They are hard to find nowadays. Of all the twenty
chisellers of various ages who hammered from morning till night in the
rooms outside, one only--Gianbattista Bordogni--had been thought worthy
by his master to share the privacy of the inner studio. The lad had
talent, said Maestro Marzio, and, what was more, the lad had
ideas--ideas about life, about the future of Italy, about the future of
the world's society. Marzio found in him a pupil, an artist and a
follower of his own political creed.

It was a small room in which they worked together. Plain wooden shelves
lined two of the walls from the floor to the ceiling. The third was
occupied by tables and a door, and in the fourth high grated windows
were situated, from which the clear light fell upon the long bench
before which the two men sat upon high stools. Upon the shelves were
numerous models in red wax, of chalices, monstrances, marvellous ewers
and embossed basins for the ablution of the priests' hands, crucifixes,
crowns, palm and olive branches--in a word, models of all those things
which pertain to the service and decoration of the church, and upon
which it has been the privilege of the silversmith to expend his art and
labour from time immemorial until the present day. There were some few
casts in plaster, but almost all were of that deep red, strong-smelling
wax which is the most fit medium for the temporary expression and study
of very fine and intricate designs. There is something in the very
colour which, to one acquainted with the art, suggests beautiful
fancies. It is the red of the Pompeian walls, and the rich tint seems to
call up the matchless traceries of the ancients. Old chisellers say that
no one can model anything wholly bad in red wax, and there is truth in
the saying. The material is old--the older the better; it has passed
under the hand of the artist again and again; it has taken form, served
for the model of a lasting work, been kneaded together in a lump, been
worked over and over by the boxwood tool. The workman feels that it has
absorbed some of the qualities of the master's genius, and touches it
with the certainty that its stiff substance will yield new forms of
beauty in his fingers, rendering up some of its latent capacity of shape
at each pressure and twist of the deftly-handled instrument.

At the extremities of the long bench huge iron vices were fixed by
staples that ran into the ground. In one of these was fastened the long
curved tool which serves to beat out the bosses of hollow and
small-necked vessels. Each of the workmen had a pedal beneath his foot
from which a soft cord ascended, passed through the table, and pressed
the round object on which he was working upon a thick leather cushion,
enabling him to hold it tightly in its place, or by lifting his foot to
turn it to a new position. In pots full of sand were stuck hundreds of
tiny chisels, so that the workmen could select at a glance the exact
form of tool needful for the moment. Two or three half balls of heavy
stone stood in leathern collars, their flat surfaces upwards and covered
with a brown composition of pitch and beeswax an inch thick, in which
small pieces of silver were firmly embedded in position to be chiselled.

The workshop was pervaded by a smell of wax and pitch, mingled with the
curious indefinable odour exhaled from steel tools in constant use, and
supplemented by the fumes of Marzio's pipe. The red bricks in the
portion of the floor where the two men sat were rubbed into hollows, but
the dust had been allowed to accumulate freely in the rest of the room,
and the dark corners were full of cobwebs which had all the air of being
inhabited by spiders of formidable dimensions.

Marzio Pandolfi, who bent over his work and busily plied his little
hammer during the interval of silence which followed his apprentice's
last remark, was the sole owner and master of the establishment. He was
forty years of age, thin and dark. His black hair was turning grey at
the temples, and though not long, hung forward over his knitted eyebrows
in disorderly locks. He had a strange face. His head, broad enough at
the level of the eyes, rose to a high prominence towards the back, while
his forehead, which projected forward at the heavy brows, sloped
backwards in the direction of the summit. The large black eyes were deep
and hollow, and there were broad rings of dark colour around them, so
that they seemed strangely thrown into relief above the sunken,
colourless cheeks. Marzio's nose was long and pointed, very straight,
and descending so suddenly from the forehead as to make an angle with
the latter the reverse of the one most common in human faces. Seen in
profile, the brows formed the most prominent point, and the line of the
head ran back above, while the line of the nose fell inward from the
perpendicular down to the small curved nostrils. The short black
moustache was thick enough to hide the lips, though deep furrows
surrounded the mouth and terminated in a very prominent but pointed
chin. The whole face expressed unusual qualities and defects; the gifts
of the artist, the tenacity of the workman and the small astuteness of
the plebeian were mingled with an appearance of something which was not
precisely ideality, but which might easily be fanaticism.

Marzio was tall and very thin. His limbs seemed to move rather by the
impulse of a nervous current within than by any development of normal
force in the muscles, and his long and slender fingers, naturally yellow
and discoloured by the use of tools and the handling of cements, might
have been parts of a machine, for they had none of that look of humanity
which one seeks in the hand, and by which one instinctively judges the
character. He was dressed in a woollen blouse, which hung in odd folds
about his emaciated frame, but which betrayed the roundness of his
shoulders, and the extreme length of his arms. His apprentice,
Gianbattista Bordogni, wore the same costume; but beyond his clothing he
bore no trace of any resemblance to his master. He was not a bad type
of the young Roman of his class at five-and-twenty years of age. His
thick black hair curled all over his head, from his low forehead to the
back of his neck, and his head was of a good shape, full and round,
broad over the brows and high above the orifice of the ear. His eyes
were brown and not over large, but well set, and his nose was slightly
aquiline, while his delicate black moustache showed the pleasant curve
of his even lips. There was colour in his cheeks, too--that rich colour
which dark men sometimes have in their youth. He was of middle height,
strong and compactly built, with large, well-made hands that seemed to
have more power in them, if less subtle skill, than those of Maestro
Marzio.

"Remember what I told you about the second indentation of the acanthus,"
said the elder workman, without looking round; "a light, light hand--no
holes in this work!"

Gianbattista murmured a sort of assent, which showed that the warning
was not wanted. He was intent upon the delicate operation he was
performing. Again the hammers beat irregularly.

"The more I think of it," said Marzio after the pause, "the more I am
beside myself. To think that you and I should be nailed to our stools
here, weekdays and feast-days, to finish a piece of work for a
scoundrelly priest--"

"A cardinal," suggested Gianbattista.

"Well! What difference is there? He is a priest, I suppose--a creature
who dresses himself up like a pulcinella before his altar--to--"

"Softly!" ejaculated the young man, looking round to see whether the
door was closed.

"Why softly?" asked the other angrily, though his annoyance did not seem
to communicate itself to the chisel he held in his hand, and which
continued its work as delicately as though its master were humming a
pastoral. "Why softly? An apoplexy on your softness! The papers speak as
loudly as they please--why should I hold my tongue? A dog-butcher of a
priest!"

"Well," answered Gianbattista in a meditative tone, as he selected
another chisel, "he has the money to pay for what he orders. If he had
not, we would not work for him, I suppose."

"If we had the money, you mean," retorted Marzio. "Why the devil should
he have money rather than we? Why don't you answer? Why should he wear
silk stockings--red silk stockings, the animal? Why should he want a
silver ewer and basin to wash his hands at his mass? Why would not an
earthen one do as well, such as I use? Why don't you answer? Eh?"

"Why should Prince Borghese live in a palace and keep scores of
horses?" inquired the young man calmly.

"Ay--why should he? Is there any known reason why he should? Am I not a
man as well as he? Are you not a man--you young donkey? I hate to think
that we, who are artists, who can work when we are put to it, have to
slave for such fellows as that--mumbling priests, bloated princes, a
pack of fools who are incapable of an idea! An idea! What am I saying?
Who have not the common intelligence of a cabbage-seller in the street!
And look at the work we give them--the creation of our minds, the labour
of our hands--"

"They give us their money in return," observed Gianbattista. "The
ancients, whom you are so fond of talking about, used to get their work
done by slaves chained to the bench--"

"Yes! And it has taken us two thousand years to get to the point we have
reached! Two thousand years--and what is it? Are we any better than
slaves, except that we work better?"

"I doubt whether we work better."

"What is the matter with you this morning?" cried Marzio. "Have you been
sneaking into some church on your way here? Pah! You smell of the
sacristy! Has Paolo been here? Oh, to think that a brother of mine
should be a priest! It is not to be believed!"

"It is the irony of fate. Moreover, he gets you plenty of orders."

"Yes, and no doubt he takes his percentage on the price. He had a new
cloak last month, and he asked me to make him a pair of silver buckles
for his shoes. Pretty, that--an artist's brother with silver buckles! I
told him to go to the devil, his father, for his ornaments. Why does he
not steal an old pair from the cardinal, his bondmaster? Not good
enough, I suppose--beast!"

Marzio laid aside his hammer and chisel, and lit the earthen pipe with
the rough wooden stem that lay beside him. Then he examined the
beautiful head of the angel he had been making upon the body of the
ewer. He touched it lovingly, loosed the cord, and lifted the piece from
the pad, turning it towards the light and searching critically for any
defect in the modelling of the little face. He replaced it on the table,
and selecting a very fine-pointed punch, laid down his pipe for a moment
and set about putting the tiny pupils into the eyes. Two touches were
enough. He began smoking again, and contemplated what he had done. It
was the body of a large silver ewer of which Gianbattista was
ornamenting the neck and mouth, which were of a separate piece. Amongst
the intricate arabesques little angels'-heads were embossed, and on one
side a group of cherubs was bearing a "monstrance" with the sacred Host
through silver clouds. A hackneyed subject on church vessels, but which
had taken wonderful beauty under the skilled fingers of the artist, who
sat cursing the priest who was to use it, while expending his best
talents on its perfections.

"It is not bad," he said rather doubtfully. "Come and look at it,
Tista," he added. The young man left his place and came and bent over
his master's shoulder, examining the piece with admiration. It was
characteristic of Marzio that he asked his apprentice's opinion. He was
an artist, and had the chief peculiarities of artists--namely,
diffidence concerning what he had done, and impatience of the criticism
of others, together with a strong desire to show his work as soon as it
was presentable.

"It is a masterpiece!" exclaimed Gianbattista. "What detail! I shall
never be able to finish anything like that cherub's face!"

"Do you think it is as good as the one I made last year, Tista?"

"Better," returned the young man confidently. "It is the best you have
ever made. I am quite sure of it. You should always work when you are in
a bad humour; you are so successful!"

"Bad humour! I am always in a bad humour," grumbled Marzio, rising and
walking about the brick floor, while he puffed clouds of acrid smoke
from his coarse pipe. "There is enough in this world to keep a man in a
bad humour all his life."

"I might say that," answered Gianbattista, turning round on his stool
and watching his master's angular movements as he rapidly paced the
room. "I might abuse fate--but you! You are rich, married, a father, a
great artist!"

"What stuff!" interrupted Marzio, standing still with his long legs
apart, and folding his arms as he spoke through his teeth, between which
he still held his pipe. "Rich? Yes--able to have a good coat for
feast-days, meat when I want it, and my brother's company when I don't
want it--for a luxury, you know! Able to take my wife to Frascati on the
last Thursday of October as a great holiday. My wife, too! A creature of
beads and saints and little books with crosses on them--who would leer
at a friar through the grating of a confessional, and who makes the
house hideous with her howling if I choose to eat a bit of pork on a
Friday! A good wife indeed! A jewel of a wife, and an apoplexy on all
such jewels! A nice wife, who has a face like a head from a tombstone in
the Campo Varano for her husband, and who has brought up her daughter to
believe that her father is condemned to everlasting flames because he
hates cod-fish--salt cod-fish soaked in water! A wife who sticks images
in the lining of my hat to convert me, and sprinkles holy water on me
Then she thinks I am asleep, but I caught her at that the other night--"

"Indeed, they say the devil does not like holy water," remarked
Gianbattista, laughing.

"And you want to many my daughter, you young fool," continued Marzio,
not heeding the interruption. "You do. I will tell you what she is like.
My daughter--yes!--she has fine eyes, but she has the tongue of the--"

"Of her father," suggested Gianbattista, suddenly frowning.

"Yes--of her father, without her father's sense," cried Marzio angrily.
"With her eyes, those fine eyes!--those eyes!--you want to marry her. If
you wish to take her away, you may, and good riddance. I want no
daughter; there are too many women in the world already. They and the
priests do all the harm between them, because the priests know how to
think too well, and women never think at all. I wish you good luck of
your marriage and of your wife. If you were my son you would never have
thought of getting married. The mere idea of it made you send your
chisel through a cherub's eye last week and cost an hoax's time for
repairing. Is that the way to look at the great question of humanity?
Ah! if I were only a deputy in the Chambers, I would teach you the
philosophy of all that rubbish!"

"I thought you said the other day that you would not have any deputies
at all," observed the apprentice, playing with his hammer.

"Such as these are--no! A few of them I would put into the acid bath, as
I would a casting, to clean them before chiselling them down. They might
be good for something then. You must begin by knocking down, boy, if you
want to build up. You must knock down everything, raze the existing
system to the ground, and upon the place where it stood shall rise the
mighty temple of immortal liberty."

"And who will buy your chalices and monstrances under the new order of
things?" inquired Gianbattista coldly.

"The foreign market," returned Marzio. "Italy shall be herself again, as
she was in the days of Michael Angelo; of Leonardo, who died in the arms
of a king; of Cellini, who shot a prince from the walls of Saint Angelo.
Italy shall be great, shall monopolise the trade, the art, the greatness
of all creation!"

"A lucrative monopoly!" exclaimed the young man.

"Monopolies! There shall be no monopolies! The free artisan shall sell
what he can make and buy what he pleases. The priests shall be turned
out in chain gangs and build roads for our convenience, and the
superfluous females shall all be deported to the glorious colony of
Massowah! If I could but be absolute master of this country for a week I
could do much."

"I have no doubt of it," answered Gianbattista, with a quiet smile.

"I should think not," assented Marzio proudly; then catching sight of
the expression on the young man's face, he turned sharply upon him. "You
are mocking me, you good-for-nothing!" he cried angrily. "You are
laughing at me, at your master, you villain you wretch, you sickly
hound, you priest-ridden worm! It is intolerable! It is the first time
you have ever dared; do you think I am going to allow you to think for
yourself after all the pains I have taken to educate you, to teach you
my art, you ungrateful reptile?"

"If you were not such a great artist I would have left you long ago,"
answered the apprentice. "Besides, I believe in your principles. It is
your expression of them that makes me laugh now and then; I think you go
too far sometimes!"

"As if any one had ever gone far enough" exclaimed Marzio, somewhat
pacified, for his moods were very quick. "Since there are still men who
are richer than others, it is a sign that we have not gone to the
end--to the great end in which we believe. I am sure you believe in it
too, Tista, don't you?"

"Oh yes--in the end--certainly. Do not let us quarrel about the means,
Maestro Marzio. I must do another leaf before dinner."

"I will get in another cherub's nose," said his master, preparing to
relight his pipe for a whiff before going to work again. "Body of a dog,
these priests!" he grumbled, as he attacked the next angel on the ewer
with matchless dexterity and steadiness. A long pause followed the
animated discourse of the chiseller. Both men were intent upon their
work, alternately holding their breath for the delicate strokes, and
breathing more freely as the chisel reached the end of each tiny curve.

"I think you said a little while ago that I might marry Lucia," observed
Gianbattista, without looking up, "that is, if I would take her away!"

"And if you take her away," retorted the other, "where will you get
bread?"

"Where I get it now. I could live somewhere else and come here to work;
it seems simple enough."

"It seems simple, but it is not," replied Marzio. "Perhaps you could try
and get Paolo's commissions away from me, and then set up a studio for
yourself; but I doubt whether you could succeed. I am not old yet, nor
blind, nor shaky, thank God!"

"I did not catch the last words," said Gianbattista, hiding his smile
over his work.

"I said I was not old, nor broken down yet, thanks to my strength,"
growled the chiseller; "you will not steal my commissions yet awhile.
What is the matter with you to-day? You find fault with half I say, and
the other half you do not hear at all. You seem to have lost your head,
Tista. Be steady over those acanthus leaves; everybody thinks an
acanthus leaf is the easiest thing in the world, whereas it is one of
the most difficult before you get to figures. Most chisellers seem to
copy their acanthus leaves from the cabbage in their soup. They work as
though they had never seen the plant growing. When the Greeks began to
carve Corinthian capitals, they must have worked from real leaves, as I
taught you to model when you were a boy. Few things are harder than a
good acanthus leaf."

"I should think women could do the delicate part of our work very well,"
said the apprentice, returning to the subject from which Marzio was
evidently trying to lead him. "Lucia has such very clever fingers."

"Idiot!" muttered Marzio between his teeth, not deigning to make any
further answer.

The distant boom of a gun broke upon the silence that followed, and
immediately the bells of all the neighbouring churches rang out in quick
succession. It was midday.

"I did not expect to finish that nose," said Marzio, rising from his
stool. He was a punctual man, who exacted punctuality in others, and in
spite of his thin frame and nervous ways, he loved his dinner. In five
minutes all the men had left the workshop, and Marzio and his apprentice
stood in the street, the former locking the heavy door with a lettered
padlock, while the younger man sniffed the fresh spring air that blew
from the west out of the square of San Carlo a Catenari down the Via dei
Falegnami in which the establishment of the silver-chiseller was
situated.

As Marzio fumbled with the fastenings of the door, two women came up and
stopped. Marzio had his back turned, and Gianbattista touched his hat in
silence. The younger of the two was a stout, black-haired woman of
eight-and-thirty years, dressed in a costume of dark green cloth, which
fitted very closely to her exuberantly-developed bust, and was somewhat
too elaborately trimmed with imitation of jet and black ribands. A high
bonnet, decorated with a bunch of purple glass grapes and dark green
leaves, surmounted the lady's massive head, and though carefully put on
and neatly tied, seemed too small for the wearer. Her ears were adorned
by long gold earrings, in each of which were three large garnets, and
these trinkets dangled outside and over the riband of the bonnet, which
passed under her chin. In her large hands, covered with tight black
gloves, she carried a dark red parasol and a somewhat shabby little
black leather bag with steel fastenings. The stout lady's face was of
the type common among the Roman women of the lower class--very broad and
heavy, of a creamy white complexion, the upper lip shaded by a dark
fringe of down, and the deep sleepy eyes surmounted by heavy straight
eyebrows. Her hair, brought forward from under her bonnet, made smooth
waves upon her low forehead and reappeared in thick coils at the back of
her neck. Her nose was relatively small, but too thick and broad at the
nostrils, although it departed but little from the straight line of the
classic model. Altogether the Signora Pandolfi, christened Maria Luisa,
and wife to Marzio the silver-chiseller, was a portly and
pompous-looking person, who wore an air of knowing her position, and of
being sure to maintain it. Nevertheless, there was a kindly expression
in her fat face, and if her eyes looked sleepy they did not look
dishonest.

Signora Pandolfi's companion was her old maid-of-all-work, Assunta,
commonly called Suntarella, without whom she rarely stirred abroad--a
little old woman, in neat but dingy-coloured garments, with a grey
woollen shawl drawn over her head like a cowl, instead of a bonnet.

Marzio finished fastening the door, and then turned round. On seeing his
wife he remained silent for a moment, looking at her with an expression
of dissatisfied inquiry. He had not expected her.

"Well?" he ejaculated at last.

"It is dinner time," remarked the stout lady.

"Yes, I heard the gun," answered Marzio drily. "It is the same as if you
had told me," he added ironically, as he turned and led the way across
the street.

"A pretty answer!" exclaimed Maria Luisa, tossing her large head as she
followed her lord and master to the door of their house. Meanwhile
Assunta, the old servant, glanced at Gianbattista, rolled up her eyes
with an air of resignation, and spread out her withered hands for a
moment with a gesture of despair, instantly drawing them in again
beneath the folds of her grey woollen shawl.

"Gadding!" muttered Marzio, as he entered the narrow door from which the
dark steps led abruptly upwards. "Gadding--always gadding! And who minds
the soup-kettle when you are gadding, I should like to know? The cat, I
suppose! Oh, these women and their priests! These priests and these
women!"

"Lucia is minding the soup-kettle," gasped Maria Luisa, as she puffed up
stairs behind her thin and active husband.

"Lucia!" cried Marzio angrily, a flight of steps higher. "I suppose you
will bring her up to be woman of all work? Well, she could earn her
living then, which is more than you do! After all, it is better to mind
a soup-kettle than to thump a piano and to squeal so that I can hear her
in the shop opposite, and it is better than hanging about the church all
the morning, or listening to Paolo's drivelling talk. By all means keep
her in the kitchen."

It was hard to say whether Signora Pandolfi was puffing or sighing as
she paused for breath upon the landing, but there was probably something
of both in the labour of her lungs. She was used to Marzio. She had
lived with him for twenty years, and she knew his moods and his ways,
and detected the coming storm from afar. Unfortunately, or perhaps
fortunately, for her, there was little variety in the sequence of his
ideas. She was accustomed to his beginning at the grumbling stage before
dinner, and proceeding by a crescendo movement to the pitch of rage,
which was rarely reached until he had finished his meal, when he
generally seized his hat and dragged Gianbattista away with him,
declaring loudly that women were not fit for human society. The daily
excitement of this comedy had long lost its power to elicit anything
more than a sigh from the stout Maria Luisa, who generally bore Marzio's
unreasonable anger with considerable equanimity, waiting for his
departure to eat her boiled beef and salad in peace with Lucia, while
old Assunta sat by the table with the cat in her lap, putting in a word
of commiseration alternately with a word of gossip about the lodgers on
the other side of the landing. The latter were a young and happy pair:
the husband, a chorus singer at the Apollo, who worked at glove cleaning
during the day time; his wife, a sempstress, who did repairs upon the
costumes of the theatre. Their apartments consisted of two rooms and a
kitchen, while Marzio and his family occupied the rest of the floor, and
entered their lodging by the opposite door.

Maria Luisa envied the couple in her sleepy fashion. Her husband was
indeed comparatively rich, and though economical in his domestic
arrangements, he had money in the bank enough to keep him comfortably
for the rest of his days. His violence did not extend beyond words and
black looks, and he was not miserly about a few francs for dress, or a
dinner at the Falcone two or three times a year. But in the matter of
domestic peace his conduct left much to be desired. He was a sober man,
but his hours were irregular, for he attended the meetings of a certain
club which Maria Luisa held in abhorrence, and brought back opinions
which made her cross herself with her fat fingers, shuddering at the
things he said. As for Gianbattista Bordogni, who lived with them, and
consequently received most of his wages in the shape of board and
lodging, he loved Lucia Pandolfi, his master's daughter, and though he
shared Marzio's opinions, he held his tongue in the house. He understood
how necessary to him the mother's sympathy must be, and, with subtle
intelligence, he knew how to create a contrast between himself and his
master by being reticent at the right moment.

Lucia opened the door in answer to the bell her father had rung, and
stood aside in the narrow way to let members of the household pass by,
one by one. Lucia was seventeen years old, and probably resembled her
mother as the latter had looked at the same age. She was slight, and
tall, and dark, with a quantity of glossy black hair coiled behind her
head. Her black eyes had not yet acquired that sleepy look which
advancing life and stoutness had put into her mother's, as a sort of
sign of the difficulty of quick motion. Her figure was lithe, though she
was not a very active girl, and one might have predicted that at forty
she, too, would pay her debt to time in pounds of flesh. There are thin
people who look as though they could never grow stout, and there are
others whose leisurely motion and deliberate step foretells increase of
weight. But Gianbattista had not studied these matters of physiological
horoscopy. It sufficed him that Lucia Pandolfi was at present a very
pretty girl, even beautiful, according to some standards. Her thick
hair, low forehead, straight classic features, and severe mouth
fascinated the handsome apprentice, and the intimacy which had developed
between the two during the years of his residence under Marzio's roof,
from the time when Lucia was a little girl to the present day, had
rendered the transition from friendship to love almost imperceptible to
them both. Gianbattista was the last of the party to enter the lodging,
and as he paused to shut the door, Lucia was still lingering at the
threshold.

"Hist! They will see!" she protested under her breath.

"What do I care!" whispered the apprentice, as he kissed her cheek in
the dusky passage. Then they followed the rest.



CHAPTER II


That evening Marzio finished the last cherub's head on the ewer before
he left the shop. He had sent Gianbattista home, and had dismissed the
men who were working at a huge gilded grating ordered by a Roman prince
for a church he was decorating. Marzio worked on by the light of a
strong lamp until the features were all finished and he had indicated
the pupils of the eyes with the fine-pointed punch. Then he sat some
time at his bench with the beautiful piece of workmanship under his
fingers, looking hard at it and straining his eyes to find imperfections
that did not exist. At last he laid it down tenderly upon the stuffed
leather pad and stared at the green shade of the lamp, deep in thought.

The man's nature was in eternal conflict with itself, and he felt as
though he were the battle-ground of forces he could neither understand
nor control. A true artist in feeling, in the profound cultivation of
his tastes, in the laborious patience with which he executed his
designs, there was an element in his character and mind which was in
direct contradiction with the essence of what art is. If art can be said
to depend upon anything except itself, that something is religion. The
arts began in religious surroundings, in treating religious subjects,
and the history of the world from the time of the early Egyptians has
shown that where genius has lost faith in the supernatural, its efforts
to produce great works of lasting beauty in the sensual and material
atmosphere of another century have produced comparatively insignificant
results. The science of silver-chiselling began, so far as this age is
concerned, in the church. The tastes of Francis the First directed the
attention of the masters of the art to the making of ornaments for his
mistresses, and for a time the men who had made chalices for the Vatican
succeeded in making jewelry for Madame de Chateaubriand, Madame
d'Etampes, and Diane de Poitiers. But the art itself remained in the
church, and the marvels of _repoussé_ gold and silver to be seen in the
church of Notre Dame des Victoires, the masterpieces of Ossani of Rome,
could not have been produced by any goldsmith who made jewelry for a
living.

Marzio Pandolfi knew all this better than any one, and he could no more
have separated himself from his passion for making chalices and
crucifixes than he could have changed the height of his stature or the
colour of his eyes. But at the same time he hated the church, the
priests, and every one who was to use the beautiful things over which he
spent so much time and labour. Had he been indifferent, a careless,
good-natured sceptic, he would have been a bad artist. As it was, the
very violence of his hatred lent spirit and vigour to his eye and hand.
He was willing to work upon the figure, perfecting every detail of
expression, until he fancied he could feel and see the silver limbs of
the dead Christ suffering upon the cross under the diabolical skill of
his long fingers. The monstrous horror of the thought made him work
marvels, and the fancied realisation of an idea that would startle even
a hardened unbeliever, lent a feverish impulse to this strange man's
genius.

As for the angels on the chalices, he did not hate them; on the
contrary, he saw in them the reflection of those vague images of
loveliness and innocence which haunt every artist's soul at times, and
the mere manual skill necessary to produce expression in things so
minute, fascinated a mind accustomed to cope with difficulties, and so
inured to them as almost to love them.

Nevertheless, when a man is constantly a prey to strong emotions, his
nature cannot long remain unchanged. The conviction had been growing in
Marzio's mind that it was his duty, for the sake of consistency, to
abandon his trade. The thought saddened him, but the conclusion seemed
inevitable. It was absurd, he repeated to himself, that one who hated
the priests should work for them. Marzio was a fanatic in his theories,
but he had something of the artist's simplicity in his idea of the way
they should be carried out. He would have thought it no harm to kill a
priest, but it seemed to him contemptible to receive a priest's money
for providing the church with vessels which were to serve in a worship
he despised.

Moreover, he was not poor. Indeed, he was richer than any one knew, and
the large sums paid for his matchless work went straight from the
workshop to the bank, while Marzio continued to live in the simple
lodgings to which he had first brought home his wife, eighteen years
before, when he was but a young partner in the establishment he now
owned. As he sat at the bench, looking from his silver ewer to the green
lampshade, he was asking himself whether he should not give up this life
of working for people he hated and launch into that larger work of
political agitation, for which he fancied himself so well fitted. He
looked forward into an imaginary future, and saw himself declaiming in
the Chambers against all that existed, rousing the passions of a
multitude to acts of destruction--of justice, as he called it in his
thoughts--and leading a vast army of angry men up the steps of the
Capitol to proclaim himself the champion of the rights of man against
the rights of kings. His eyelids contracted and the concentrated light
of his eyes was reduced to two tiny bright specks in the midst of the
pupils; his nervous hand went out and the fingers clutched the jaws of
the iron vice beside him as he would have wished to grapple with the
jaws of the beast oppression, which in his dreams seemed ever tormenting
the poor world in which he lived.

There was something lacking in his face, even in that moment of secret
rage as he sat alone in his workroom before the lamp. There was the
frenzy of the fanatic, the exaltation of the dreamer, clearly expressed
upon his features, but there was something wanting. There was everything
there except the force to accomplish, the initiative which oversteps the
bank of words, threats, and angry thoughts, and plunges boldly into the
stream, ready to sacrifice itself to lead others. The look of power, of
stern determination, which is never absent from the faces of men who
change their times, was not visible in the thin dark countenance of the
silver-chiseller. Marzio was destined never to rise above the common
howling mob which he aspired to lead.

This fact asserted itself outwardly as he sat there. After a few minutes
the features relaxed, a smile that was almost weak--the smile that shows
that a man lacks absolute confidence--passed quickly over his face, the
light in his eyes went out, and he rose from his stool with a short,
dissatisfied sigh, which was repeated once or twice as he put away his
work and arranged his tools. He made the rounds of the workshop, looked
to the fastenings of the windows, lighted a taper, and then extinguished
the lamp. He threw a loose overcoat over his shoulders without passing
his arms through the sleeves, and went out into the street. Glancing up
at the windows of his house opposite, he saw that the lights were
burning brightly, and he guessed that his wife and daughter were waiting
for him before sitting down to supper.

"Let them wait," he muttered with a surly grin, as he put out the taper
and went down the street in the opposite direction.

He turned the street corner by the dark Palazzo Antici Mattei, and
threaded the narrow streets towards the Pantheon and the Piazza Sant'
Eustachio. The weather had changed, and the damp south-east wind was
blowing fiercely behind him. The pavement was wet and slippery with the
strange thin coating of greasy mud which sometimes appears suddenly in
Rome even when it has not rained. The insufficient gas lamps flickered
in the wind as though they would go out, and the few pedestrians who
hurried along clung closely to the wall as though it offered them some
protection from the moist scirocco. The great doors of the palaces were
most of them closed, but here and there a little red light announced a
wine-shop, and as Marzio passed by he could see through the dirty panes
of glass dark figures sitting in a murky atmosphere over bottles of
coarse wine. The streets were foul with the nauseous smell of decaying
vegetables and damp walls which the south-east wind brings out of the
older parts of Rome, and while few voices were heard in the thick air,
the clatter of horses' hoofs on the wet stones rattled loudly from the
thoroughfares which lead to the theatres. It was a dismal night, but
Marzio Pandolfi felt that his temper was in tune with the weather as he
tramped along towards the Pantheon.

The streets widened as he neared his destination, and he drew his
overcoat more closely about his neck. Presently he reached a small door
close to Sant' Eustachio, one of the several entrances to the ancient
Falcone, an inn which has existed for centuries upon the same spot, in
the same house, and which affords a rather singular variety of
accommodation. Down stairs, upon the square, is a modern restaurant with
plate-glass windows, marble floor, Vienna cane chairs, and a general
appearance of luxury. A flight of steps leads to an upper story, where
there are numerous rooms of every shape and dimension, furnished with
old-fashioned Italian simplicity, though with considerable cleanliness.
Thither resort the large companies of regular guests who have eaten
their meals there during most of their lives. But there is much more
room in the house than appears. The vast kitchen on the ground floor
terminates in a large space, heavily vaulted and lighted by oil lamps,
where rougher tables are set and spread, and where you may see the
well-to-do wine-carter eating his supper after his journey across the
Campagna, in company with some of his city acquaintances of a similar
class. In dark corners huge wine-casks present their round dusty faces
to the doubtful light, the smell of the kitchen pervades everything,
tempered by the smell of wine from the neighbouring cellars; the floor
is of rough stone worn by generations of cooks, potboys, and guests.
Beyond this again a short flight of steps leads to a narrow doorway,
passing through which one enters the last and most retired chamber of
the huge inn. Here there is barely room for a dozen persons, and when
all the places are full the bottles and dishes are passed from the door
by the guests themselves over each other's heads, for there is no room
to move about in the narrow space. The walls are whitewashed and the
tables are as plain as the chairs, but the food and drink that are
consumed there are the best that the house affords, and the society,
from the point of view of Marzio Pandolfi and his friends, is of the
most agreeable.

The chiseller took his favourite seat in the corner furthest from the
window. Two or three men of widely different types were already at the
table, and Marzio exchanged a friendly nod with each. One was a florid
man of large proportions, dressed in the height of the fashion and with
scrupulous neatness. He was a jeweller. Another, a lawyer with a keen
and anxious face, wore a tightly-buttoned frock coat and a black tie.
Immense starched cuffs covered his bony hands and part of his fingers.
He was supping on a salad, into which he from time to time poured an
additional dose of vinegar. A third man, with a round hat on one side of
his head, and who wore a very light-coloured overcoat, displaying a
purple scarf with a showy pin at the neck, held a newspaper in one hand
and a fork in the other, with which he slowly ate mouthfuls of a ragout
of wild boar. He was a journalist on the staff of an advanced radical
paper.

"Halloa, Sor Marzio!" cried this last guest, suddenly looking up from
the sheet he was reading, "here is news of your brother."

"What?" asked Marzio briefly, but as though the matter were utterly
indifferent to him. "Has he killed anybody, the assassin?" The
journalist laughed hoarsely at the jest.

"Not so bad as that," he answered. "He is getting advancement. They are
going to make him a canon of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is in the
_Osservatore Romano_ of this evening."

"He is good for nothing else," growled Marzio. "It is just like him not
to have told me anything about it."

"With the sympathy which exists between you, I am surprised," said the
journalist. "After all, you might convert him, and then he would be
useful. He will be an archdeacon next, and then a bishop--who
knows?--perhaps a cardinal!"

"You might as well talk of converting the horses on Monte Cavallo as of
making Paolo change his mind," replied Pandolfi, beginning to sip the
white wine he had ordered. "You don't know him--he is an angel, my
brother! Oh, quite an angel! I wish somebody would send him to heaven,
where he is so anxious to be!"

"Look out, Marzio!" exclaimed the lawyer, glancing from the vinegar
cruet towards the door and then at his friend.

"No such luck," returned the chiseller. "Nothing ever happens to those
black-birds. When we get as far as hanging them, my dear brother will
happen to be in Paris instead of in Rome. You might as well try to catch
a street cat by calling to it _micio, micio_! as try and catch a priest.
You may as well expect to kill a mule by kicking it as one of those
animals, Burn the Vatican over their heads and think you have destroyed
them like a wasps' nest, they will write you a letter from Berlin the
next day saying that they are alive and well, and that Prince Bismarck
protests against your proceedings."

"Bravo, Sor Marzio!" cried the journalist. "I will put that in the paper
to-morrow--it is a fine fulmination. You always refresh my ideas--why
will you not write an article for us in that strain? I will publish it
as coming from a priest who has given up his orders, married, and opened
a wine-shop in Naples. What an effect! Magnificent! Do go on!"

Marzio did not need a second invitation to proceed upon his favourite
topic. He was soon launched, and as the little room filled, his pale and
sunken cheeks grew red with excitement, his tongue was unloosed, and he
poured out a continuous stream of blasphemous ribaldry such as would
have shocked the ears of a revolutionist of the year '89 or of a
_pétroleuse_ of the nineteenth century. It seemed as though the spring
once opened would never dry. His eyes flashed, his fingers writhed
convulsively on the table, and his voice rang out, ironical and cutting,
with strange intonations that roused strange feelings in his hearers. It
was the old subject, but he found something new to say upon it at each
meeting with his friends, and they wondered where he got the imagination
to construct his telling phrases and specious, virulent arguments.

We have all wondered at such men. They are the outcome of this age and
of no previous time, as it is also to be hoped that their like may not
arise hereafter. They are found everywhere, these agitators, with their
excited faces, their nervous utterances, and their furious hatred of all
that is. They find their way into the parliaments of the world, into the
dining-rooms of the rich, into the wine-shops of the working men, into
the press even, and some of their works are published by great houses
and read by great ladies, if not by great men. Suddenly, when we least
expect it, a flaming advertisement announces a fiery tirade against all
that the great mass of mankind hold in honour, if not in reverence.
Curiosity drives thousands to read what is an insult to humanity, and
even though the many are disgusted, some few are found to admire a
rhetoric which exalts their own ignorance to the right of judging God.
And still the few increase and grow to be a root and send out shoots and
creepers like an evil plant, so that grave men say among themselves that
if there is to be a universal war in our times or hereafter it will be
fought by Christians of all denominations defending themselves against
those who are not Christians.

Marzio sat long at his table, and his modest pint of wine was enough to
moisten his throat throughout the time during which he held forth. When
the liquor was finished he rose, took down his overcoat from the peg on
which it hung, pushed his soft hat over his eyes, and with a sort of
triumphant wave of the hand, saluted his friends and left the room. He
was a perfectly sober man, and no power would have induced him to
overstep the narrow limit he allowed to his taste. Indeed, he did not
care for wine itself, and still less for any excitement it produced in
his brain. He ordered his half-litre as a matter of respect for the
house, as he called it, and it served to wet his throat while he was
talking. Water would have done as well. Consumed by the intensity of his
hatred for the things he attacked, he needed no stimulant to increase
his exaltation.

When he was gone, there was silence in the room for some few minutes.
Then the journalist burst into a loud laugh.

"If we only had half a dozen fellows like that in the Chambers, all
talking at once!" he cried.

"They would be kicked into the middle of Montecitorio in a quarter of an
hour," answered the thin voice of the lawyer. "Our friend Marzio is
slightly mad, but he is a good fellow in theory. In practice that sort
of thing must be dropped into public life a little at a time, as one
drops vinegar into a salad, on each leaf. If you don't, all the vinegar
goes to the bottom together, and smells horribly sour."

While Marzio was holding forth to his friends, the family circle in the
Via dei Falegnami was enjoying a very pleasant evening in his absence.
The Signora Pandolfi presided at supper in a costume which lacked
elegance, but ensured comfort--the traditional skirt and white cotton
jacket of the Italian housewife. Lucia wore the same kind of dress, but
with less direful effects upon her appearance. Gianbattista, as usual
after working hours, was arrayed in clothes of fashionable cut, aiming
at a distant imitation of the imaginary but traditional English tourist.
A murderous collar supported his round young chin, and a very
stiffly-constructed pasteboard-lined tie was adorned by an exquisite
silver pin of his own workmanship--the only artistic thing about him.

Besides these members of the family, there was a fourth person at
supper, the person whom, of all others, Marzio detested, Paolo Pandolfi,
his brother the priest, commonly called Don Paolo. He deserves a word of
description, for there was in his face a fleeting resemblance to Marzio,
which might easily have led a stranger to believe that there was a
similarity between their characters. Tall, like his brother, the priest
was a little less thin, and evidently far less nervous. The expression
of his face was thoughtful, and the deep, heavily-ringed eyes were like
Marzio's, but the forehead was broader, and the breadth ascended higher
in the skull, which was clearly defined by the short, closely-cropped
hair and the smooth tonsure at the back. The nose was larger and of more
noble shape, and Paolo's complexion was less yellow than his brother's;
the features were not surrounded by furrows or lines, and the leanness
of the priest's face threw them into relief. The clean shaven upper lip
showed a kind and quiet mouth, which smiled easily and betrayed a sense
of humour, but was entirely free from any suggestion of cruelty. Don
Paolo was scrupulous of his appearance, and his cassock and mantle were
carefully brushed, and his white collar was immaculately clean. His
hands were of the student type--white, square at the tips, lean, and
somewhat knotty.

Marzio, in his ill-humour, had no doubt flattered himself that his
family would wait for him for supper. But his family had studied him and
knew his ways. When he was not punctual, he seldom came at all, and a
quarter of an hour was considered sufficient to decide the matter.

"What are we waiting to do?" exclaimed Maria Luisa, in the odd Italian
idiom. "Marzio is in his humours--he must have gone to his friends. Ah!
those friends of his!" she sighed. "Let us sit down to supper," she
added; and, from her tone, the idea of supper seemed to console her for
her husband's absence.

"Perhaps he guessed that I was coming," remarked Don Paolo, with a
smile. "In that case he will be a little nervous with me when he comes
back. With your leave, Maria Luisa," he added, by way of announcing that
he would say grace. He gave the short Latin benediction, during which
Gianbattista never looked away from Lucia's face. The boy fancied she
was never so beautiful as when she stood with her hands folded and her
eyes cast down.

"Marzio does not know what I have come for," began Don Paolo again, as
they all sat down to the square table in the little room. "If he knew,
perhaps he might have been here--though perhaps he would not care very
much after all. You all ask what it is? Yes; I will tell you. His
Eminence has obtained for me the canonry that was vacant at Santa Maria
Maggiore--"

At this announcement everybody sprang up and embraced Don Paolo, and
overwhelmed him with congratulations, reproaching him at the same time
for having kept the news so long to himself.

"Of course, I shall continue to work with the Cardinal," said the
priest, when the family gave him time to speak. "But it is a great
honour. I have other news for Marzio--"

"I imagine that you did not count upon the canonry as a means of
pleasing him," remarked the Signora, Pandolfi, with a smile.

"No, indeed," laughed Lucia. "Poor papa--he would rather see you sent to
be a curate in Cività Lavinia!"

"Dear me! I fear so," answered Don Paolo, with a shade of sadness. "But
I have a commission for him. The Cardinal has ordered another crucifix,
which he desires should be Marzio's masterpiece--silver, of course, and
large. It must be altogether the finest thing he has ever made, when it
is finished."

"I daresay he will be very much pleased," said Maria Luisa, smiling
comfortably.

"I wish he could make the figure solid, cast and chiselled, instead of
_repoussé_," remarked Gianbattista, whose powerful hands craved heavy
work by instinct.

"It would be a pity to waste so much silver; and besides, the effects
are never so light," said Lucia, who, like most artists' daughters, knew
something of her father's work.

"What is a little silver, more or less, to the Cardinal?" asked
Gianbattista, with a little scorn; but as he met the priest's eye his
expression instantly became grave.

The apprentice was very young; he was not beyond that age at which, to
certain natures, it seems a fine thing to be numbered among such men as
Marzio's friends. But at the same time he was not old enough, nor
independent enough, to exhibit his feelings on all occasions. Don Paolo
exercised a dominant influence in the Pandolfi household. He had the
advantage of being calm, grave, and thoroughly in earnest, not easily
ruffled nor roused to anger, any more than he was easily hurt. By
character sensitive, he bore all small attacks upon himself with the
equanimity of a man who believes his cause to be above the need of
defence against little enemies. The result was that he dominated his
brother's family, and even Marzio himself was not free from a certain
subjection which he felt, and which was one of the most bitter elements
in his existence. Don Paolo imposed respect by his quiet dignity, while
Marzio asserted himself by speaking loudly and working himself
voluntarily into a state of half-assumed anger. In the contest between
quiet force and noisy self-assertion the issue is never doubtful. Marzio
lacked real power, and he felt it. He could command attention among the
circle of his associates who already sympathised with his views, but in
the presence of Paolo he was conscious of struggling against a superior
and incomprehensible obstacle, against the cool and unresentful
disapprobation of a man stronger than himself. It was many years since
he had ventured to talk before his brother as he talked when he was
alone with Gianbattista, and the latter saw the change that came over
his master's manner before the priest, and guessed that Marzio was
morally afraid. The somewhat scornful allusion to the Cardinal's
supposed wealth certainly did not constitute an attack upon Don Paolo,
but Gianbattista nevertheless felt that he had said something rather
foolish, and made haste to ignore his words. The influence could not be
escaped.

It was this subtle power that Marzio resented, for he saw that it was
exerted continually, both upon himself and the members of his household.
The chiseller acknowledged to himself that in a great emergency his
wife, his daughter, and even Gianbattista Bordogni, would most likely
follow the advice of Don Paolo, in spite of his own protests and
arguments to the contrary. He fancied that he himself alone was a free
agent. He doubted Gianbattista, and began to think that the boy's
character would turn out a failure. This was the reason why he no longer
encouraged the idea of a marriage between his daughter and his
apprentice, a scheme which, somewhat earlier, had been freely discussed.
It had seemed an admirable arrangement. The young man promised to turn
out a freethinker after Marzio's own heart, and showed a talent for his
profession which left nothing to be desired. Some one must be ready to
take Marzio's place in the direction of the establishment, and no one
could be better fitted to undertake the task than Gianbattista. Lucia
would inherit her father's money as the capital for the business, and
her husband should inherit the workshop with all the stock-in-trade.
Latterly, however, Marzio had changed his mind, and the idea no longer
seemed so satisfactory to him as at first. Gianbattista was evidently
falling under the influence of Don Paolo, and that was a sufficient
reason for breaking off the match. Marzio hardly realised that as far as
his outward deportment in the presence of the priest was concerned, the
apprentice was only following his master's example.

Marzio had been looking about him for another husband for his daughter,
and he had actually selected one from among his most intimate friends.
His choice had fallen upon the thin lawyer--by name Gasparo
Carnesecchi--who, according to the chiseller's views, was in all
respects a most excellent match. A true freethinker, a practising lawyer
with a considerable acquaintance in the world of politics, a discreet
man not far from forty years of age, it seemed as though nothing more
were required to make a model husband. Marzio knew very well that
Lucia's dowry would alone have sufficed to decide the lawyer to marry
her, and an interview with Carnesecchi had almost decided the matter. Of
course, he had not been able to allude to the affair this evening at the
inn, when so many others were present, but the preliminaries were
nearly settled, and Marzio had made up his mind to announce his
intention to his family at once. He knew well enough what a storm he
would raise, and, like many men who are always trying to seem stronger
than they really are, he had determined to choose a moment for making
the disclosure when he should be in a thoroughly bad humour. As he
walked homewards from the old inn he felt that this moment had arrived.
The slimy pavement, the moist wind driving through the streets and round
every corner, penetrating to the very joints, contributed to make him
feel thoroughly vicious and disagreeable; and the tirade in which he had
been indulging before his audience of friends had loosed his tongue,
until he was conscious of being able to face any domestic disturbance or
opposition.

The little party had adjourned from supper, and had been sitting for
some time in the small room which served as a place of meeting.
Gianbattista was smoking a cigarette, which he judged to be more in
keeping with his appearance than a pipe when he was dressed in civilised
garments, and he was drawing an elaborate ornament of arabesques upon a
broad sheet of paper fixed on a board. Lucia seated at the table was
watching the work, while Don Paolo sat in a straight-backed chair, his
white hands folded on his knee, from time to time addressing a remark
to Maria Luisa. The latter, being too stout to recline in the deep
easy-chair near the empty fireplace, sat bolt upright, with her feet
upon the edge of a footstool, which was covered by a tapestry of
worsted-work, displaying an impossible nosegay upon a vivid green
ground.

They had discussed the priest's canonry, and the order for the crucifix.
They had talked about the weather. They had made some remarks upon
Marzio's probable disposition of mind when he should come home, and the
conversation was exhausted so far as the two older members were
concerned. Gianbattista and Lucia conversed in a low tone, in short,
enigmatic phrases.

"Do you know?" said the apprentice.

"What?" inquired Lucia.

"I have spoken of it to-day." Both glanced at the Signora Pandolfi. She
was sitting up as straight as ever, but her heavy head was slowly
bending forward.

"Well?" asked the young girl

"He was in a diabolical humour. He said I might take you away."
Gianbattista smiled as he spoke, and looked into Lucia's eyes. She
returned his gaze rather sadly, and only shook her head and shrugged her
shoulders for a reply.

"If we took him at his word," suggested Gianbattista.

"Just so--it would be a fine affair!" exclaimed Lucia ironically.

"After all, he said so," argued the young man. "What does it matter
whether he meant it?"

"Things are going badly for us," sighed his companion. "It was different
a year ago. You must have done something to displease him, Tista. I wish
I knew!" Her dark eyes suddenly assumed an angry expression, and she
drew in her red lips.

"Wish you knew what?" inquired the apprentice, in a colder tone.

"Why he does not think about it as he used to. He never made any
objections until lately. It was almost settled."

Gianbattista glanced significantly at Don Paolo, shrugged his shoulders,
and went on drawing.

"What has that to do with it?" asked Lucia impatiently.

"It is enough for your father that it would please his brother. He would
hate a dog that Don Paolo liked."

"What nonsense!" exclaimed the girl. "It is something else. Papa sees
something--something that I do not see. He knows his own affairs, and
perhaps he knows yours too, Tista. I have not forgotten the other
evening."

"I!" ejaculated the young man, looking up angrily.

"You know very well where I was--at the Circolo Artistico. How do you
dare to think--"

"Why are you so angry if there is no one else in the case?" asked Lucia,
with a sudden sweetness, which belied the jealous glitter in her eyes.

"It seems to me that I have a right to be angry. That you should suspect
me after all these years! How many times have I sworn to you that I went
nowhere else?"

"What is the use of your swearing? You do not believe in anything--why
should you swear? Why should I believe you?"

"Oh--if you talk like that, I have finished!" answered Gianbattista.
"But there--you are only teasing me. You believe me, just as I believe
you. Besides, as for swearing and believing in something besides
you--who knows? I love you--is not that enough?"

Lucia's eyes softened as they rested on the young man's face. She knew
he loved her. She only wanted to be told so once more.

"There is Marzio," said Don Paolo, as a key rattled in the latch of the
outer door.

"At this hour!" exclaimed the Signora Pandolfi, suddenly waking up and
rubbing her eyes with her fat fingers.



CHAPTER III


Marzio, having divested himself of his heavy coat and hat, appeared at
the door of the sitting-room.

Everybody looked at him, as though to discern the signs of his temper,
and no one was perceptibly reassured by the sight of his white face and
frowning forehead.

"Well, most reverend canon," he began, addressing Don Paolo, "I am in
time to congratulate you, it seems. It was natural that I should be the
last to hear of your advancement, through the papers."

"Thank you," answered Don Paolo quietly. "I came to tell you the news."

"You are very considerate," returned Marzio. "I have news also; for you
all." He paused a moment, as though to give greater effect to the
statement he was about to make. "I refer," he continued very slowly, "to
the question of Lucia's marriage."

"Indeed!" exclaimed the priest. "I am glad if it is to be arranged at
last."

The other persons in the room held their breath. The young girl blushed
deeply under her white skin, and Gianbattista grew pale as he laid aside
his pencil and shaded his eyes with his hands. The Signora Pandolfi
panted with excitement and trembled visibly as she looked at her
husband. His dark figure stood out strongly from the background of the
shabby blue wall paper, and the petroleum lamp cast deep shadows in the
hollows of his face.

"Yes," he continued, "I talked yesterday with Gasparo Carnesecchi--you
know, he is the lawyer I always consult. He is a clever fellow and
understands these matters. We talked of the contract; I thought it
better to consult him, you see, and he thinks the affair can be arranged
in a couple of weeks. He is so intelligent. A marvel of astuteness; we
discussed the whole matter, I say, and it is to be concluded as soon as
possible. So now, my children--"

Gianbattista and Lucia, seated side by side at the table, were looking
into each other's eyes, and as Marzio fixed his gaze upon them, their
hands joined upon the drawing-board, and an expression of happy surprise
overspread their faces. Marzio smiled too, as he paused before
completing the sentence.

"So that now, my children," he continued, speaking very slowly, "you may
as well leave each other's hands and have done with all this nonsense."

The lovers looked up suddenly with a puzzled air, supposing that Marzio
was jesting.

"I am in earnest," he went on. "You see, Tista, that it will not be
proper for you to sit and hold Lucia's hand when she is called Signora
Carnesecchi, so you may as well get used to it."

For a moment there was a dead silence in the room. Then Lucia and
Gianbattista both sprang to their feet.

"What!" screamed the young girl in an agony of terror. "Carnesecchi!
what do you mean?"

"_Infame!_ Wretch!" shouted Gianbattista, beside himself with rage as he
sprang forward to grasp Marzio in his hands.

But the priest had risen too, and placed himself between the young man
and Marzio to prevent any struggle. "No violence!" he cried in a tone
that dominated the angry voices and the hysterical weeping of Maria
Luisa, who sat rocking herself in her chair. Gianbattista stepped back
and leaned against the wall, choking with anger. Lucia fell back into
her seat and covered her face with her hands.

"Violence? Who wants violence?" asked Marzio in contemptuous tones. "Do
you suppose I am afraid of Tista? Let him alone, Paolo; let us see
whether he will strike me."

The priest now turned his back on the apprentice, and confronted Marzio.
He was not pale like the rest, for he was not afraid of the chiseller,
and the generous flush of a righteous indignation mounted to his calm
face.

"You are mad," he said, meeting his brother's gaze fearlessly.

"Not in the least," returned Marzio. "Lucia shall marry Gasparo
Carnesecchi at once, or she shall not marry any one; what am I saying?
She shall have no choice. She must and she shall marry the man I have
chosen. What have you to do with it? Have you come here to put yourself
between me and my family? I advise you to be careful. The law protects
me from such interference, and fellows of your cloth are not very
popular at present."

"The law," answered the priest, controlling his wrath, "protects
children against their parents. The law which you invoke provides that a
father shall not force his daughter to marry against her will, and I
believe that considerable penalties are incurred in such cases."

"What do you know of law, except how to elude it?" inquired Marzio
defiantly.

Not half an hour had elapsed since he had been haranguing the admiring
company of his friends, and his words came easily. Moreover, it was a
long time since he had broken through the constraint he felt in Don
Paolo's presence, and the opportunity having presented itself was not to
be lost.

"Who are you that should teach me?" he repeated, raising his voice to a
strained key and gesticulating fiercely. "You, your very existence is a
lie, and you are the server of lies, and you and your fellow liars would
have created them if they didn't already exist, you love them so. You
live by a fraud, and you want to drag everybody into the comedy you play
every day in your churches, everybody who is fool enough to drop a coin
into your greedy palm! What right have you to talk to men? Do you work?
Do you buy? Do you sell? You are worse than those fine gentlemen who do
nothing because their fathers stole our money, for you live by stealing
it yourselves! And you set yourselves up as judges over an honest man to
tell him what he is to do with his daughter? You fool, you thing in
petticoats, you deceiver of women, you charlatan, you mountebank, go! Go
and perform your antics before your altars, and leave hardworking men
like me to manage their families as they can, and to marry their
daughters to whom they will!"

Marzio had rolled off his string of invective in such a tone, and so
rapidly, that it had been impossible to interrupt him. The two women
were sobbing bitterly. Gianbattista, pale and breathing hard, looked as
though he would throttle Marzio if he could reach him, and Don Paolo
faced the angry artist, with reddening forehead, folding his arms and
straining his muscles to control himself. When Marzio paused for breath,
the priest answered him with an effort.

"You may insult me if it pleases you," he said, "it is nothing to me. I
cannot prevent your uttering your senseless blasphemies. I speak to you
of the matter in hand. I tell you simply that in treating these two, who
love each other, as you are treating them, you are doing a thing
unworthy of a man. Moreover, the law protects your daughter, and I will
see that the law does its duty."

"Oh, to think that I should have such a monster for a husband," groaned
the fat Signora Pandolfi, still rocking herself in her chair, and hardly
able to speak through her sobs.

"You will do a bad day's work for yourself and your art when you try to
separate us," said Gianbattista between his teeth.

Marzio laughed hoarsely, and turned his back on the rest, beginning to
fill his pipe at the chimney-piece. Don Paolo heard the apprentice's
words, and understood their meaning. He went and laid his hand on the
young man's shoulder.

"Do not let us have any threats, Tista," he said quietly. "Sor Marzio
will never do this thing--believe me, he cannot if he would."

"Go on," cried Marzio, striking a match. "Go on--sow the seeds of
discord, teach them all to disobey me. I am listening, my dear Paolo."

"All the better, if you are," answered the priest, "for I assure you I
am in earnest. You will have time to consider this thing. I have a
matter of business with you, Marzio. That is what I came for this
evening. If you have done, we will speak of it."

"Business?" exclaimed Marzio in loud ironical tones. "This is a good
time for talking of business--as good as any other! What is it?"

"The Cardinal wants another piece of work done, a very fine piece of
work."

"The Cardinal? I will not make any more chalices for your cardinals. I
am sick of chalices, and monstrances, and such stuff."

"It is none of those," answered Don Paolo quietly. "The Cardinal wants a
magnificent silver crucifix. Will you undertake it? It must be your
greatest work, if you do it at all."

"A crucifix?" repeated Marzio, in a changed tone. The angry gleam faded
from his eyes, and a dreamy look came into them as he let the heavy lids
droop a little, and remained silent, apparently lost in thought. The
women ceased sobbing, and watched his altered face, while Gianbattista
sank down into a chair and absently fingered the pencil that had fallen
across the drawing-board.

"Will you do it?" asked Don Paolo, at last.

"A crucifix," mused the artist. "Yes, I will make a crucifix. I have
made many, but I have never made one to my mind. Yes, tell the Cardinal
that I will make it for him, if he will give me time."

"I do not think he will need it in less than three or four months,"
answered Don Paolo.

"Four months--that is not a long time for such a work. But I will try."

Thereupon Marzio, whose manner had completely changed, puffed at his
pipe until it burned freely, and then approached the table, glancing at
Gianbattista and Lucia as though nothing had happened. He drew the
drawing-board which the apprentice had been using towards him, and,
taking the pencil from the hand of the young man, began sketching heads
on one corner of the paper.

Don Paolo looked at him gravely. After the words Marzio had spoken, it
had gone against the priest's nature to communicate to him the
commission for the sacred object. He had hesitated a moment, asking
himself whether it was right that such a man should be allowed to do
such work. Then the urgency of the situation, and his knowledge of his
brother's character, had told him that the diversion might avert some
worse catastrophe, and he had quickly made up his mind. Even now he
asked himself whether he had done right. It was a question of theology,
which it would have taken long to analyse, and Don Paolo had other
matters to think of in the present, so he dismissed it from his mind. He
wanted to be gone, and he only stayed a few minutes to see whether
Marzio's mind would change again. He knew his brother well, and he was
sure that no violence was to be feared from him, except in his speech.
Such scenes as he had just witnessed were not uncommon in the Pandolfi
household, and Don Paolo did not believe that any consequence was to be
expected after he had left the house. He only felt that Marzio had been
more than usually unreasonable, and that the artist could not possibly
mean seriously what he had proposed that evening.

The priest did not indeed think that Gianbattista was altogether good
enough for Lucia. The boy was occasionally a little wild in his speech,
and though he was too much in awe of Don Paolo to repeat before him any
of the opinions he had learned from his master, his manner showed
occasionally that he was inclined to take the side of the latter in most
questions that arose. But the habit of controlling his feelings in order
not to offend the man of the church, and especially in order not to hurt
Lucia's sensitive nature, had begun gradually to change and modify the
young man's character. From having been a devoted admirer of Marzio's
political creed and extreme free thought, Gianbattista had fallen, into
the way of asking questions of the chiseller, to see how he would answer
them; and the answers had not always satisfied him. Side by side with
his increasing skill in his art, which led him to compare himself with
his teacher, there had grown up in the apprentice the habit of comparing
himself with Marzio from the intellectual point of view as well as from
the artistic. The comparison did not appear to him advantageous to the
elder man, as he discovered, in his way of thinking, a lack of logic on
the one hand, and a love of frantic exaggeration on the other, which
tended to throw a doubt upon the whole system of ideas which had
produced these defects. The result was that the young man's mental
position was unbalanced, and he was inclined to return to a more normal
condition of thought. Don Paolo did not know all this, but he saw that
Gianbattista had grown more quiet during the last year, and he hoped
that his marriage with Lucia would complete the change. To see her
thrown into the arms of a man like Gasparo Carnesecchi was more than the
priest's affection for his niece could bear. He hardly believed that
Marzio would seriously think again of the scheme, and he entertained a
hope that the subject would not even be broached for some time to come.

Marzio continued to draw in silence, and after a few minutes, Don Paolo
rose to take his leave. The chiseller did not look up from his pencil.

"Good-night, Marzio--let it be a good piece of work," said Paolo.

"Good-night," growled the artist, his eyes still fixed on the paper. His
brother saluted the rest and left the room to go home to his lonely
lodgings at the top of an old palace, in the first floor of which dwelt
the Cardinal, whom he served as secretary. When he was gone, Lucia rose
silently and went to her room, leaving her father and mother with
Gianbattista. The Signora Pandolfi hesitated as to whether she should
follow her daughter or stay with the two men. Her woman's nature feared
further trouble, and visions of drawn knives rose before her swollen
eyes, so that, after making as though she would rise twice, she finally
remained in her seat, her fat hands resting idly upon her knees, staring
at her husband and Gianbattista. The latter sat gloomily watching the
paper on which his master was drawing.

"Marzio, you do not mean it?" said Maria Luisa, after a long interval of
silence. The good woman did not possess the gift of tact.

"Do you not see that I have an idea?" asked her husband crossly, by way
of an answer, as he bent his head over his work.

"I beg your pardon," said the Signora Pandolfi, in a humble tone,
looking piteously at Gianbattista. The apprentice shook his head, as
though he meant that nothing could be done for the present. Then she
rose slowly, and with a word of good-night as she turned to the door,
she left the room. The two men were alone.

"Now that nobody hears us, Sor Marzio, what do you mean to do?" asked
Gianbattista in a low voice. Marzio shrugged his shoulders.

"What I told you," he answered, after a few seconds. "Do you suppose
that rascally priest of a brother has made me change my mind?"

"No, I did not expect that, but I am not a priest; nor am I a boy to be
turned round your fingers and put off in this way--sent to the wash like
dirty linen. You must answer to me for what you said this evening."

"Oh, I will answer as much as you please," replied the artist, with an
evil smile.

"Very well. Why do you want to turn me out, after promising for years
that I should marry Lucia with your full consent when she was old
enough?"

"Why? because you have turned yourself out, to begin with. Secondly,
because Carnesecchi is a better match for my daughter than a beggarly
chiseller. Thirdly, because I please; and fourthly, because I do not
care a fig whether you like it or not. Are those reasons sufficient or
not?"

"They may satisfy you," answered Gianbattista. "They leave something to
be desired in the way of logic, in my humble opinion."

"Since I have told you that I do not care for your opinion--"

"I will probably find means to make you care for it," retorted the young
man. "Don Paolo is quite right, in the first place, when he tells you
that the thing is simply impossible. Fathers do not compel their
daughters to marry in this century. Will you do me the favour to explain
your first remark a little more clearly? You said I had turned myself
out--how?"

"You have changed, Tista," said Marzio, leaning back to sharpen his
pencil, and staring at the wall. "You change every day. You are not at
all what you used to be, and you know it. You are going back to the
priests. You fawn on my brother like a dog."

"You are joking," answered the apprentice. "Of course I would not want
to make trouble in your house by quarrelling with Don Paolo, even if I
disliked him. I do not dislike him. This evening he showed that he is a
much better man than you."

"Dear Gianbattista," returned Marzio in sour tones, "every word you say
convinces me that I have done right. Besides, I am busy--you see--you
disturb my ideas. If you do not like my house, you can leave it. I will
not keep you. I daresay I can educate another artist before I die. You
are really only fit to swing a censer behind Paolo, or at the heels of
some such animal."

"Perhaps it would be better to do that than to serve the mass you sing
over your work-bench every day," said Gianbattista. "You are going too
far, Sor Marzio. One may trifle with women and their feelings. You had
better not attempt it with men."

"Such as you and Paolo? There was once a mule in the Pescheria Vecchia;
when he got half-way through he did not like the smell of the fish, and
he said to his leader, 'I will turn back.' The driver pulled him along.
Then said the mule, 'Do not trifle with me. I will turn round and kick
you.' But there is not room for a mule to turn round in the Pescheria
Vecchia. The mule found it out, and followed the man through the fish
market after all. I hope that is clear? It means that you are a fool."

"What is the use of bandying words?" cried the apprentice angrily. "I
will offer you a bargain, Sor Marzio. I will give you your choice.
Either I will leave the house, and in that case I will carry off Lucia
and marry her in spite of you. Or else I will stay here--but if Lucia
marries any one else, I will cut your throat. Is that a fair bargain?"

"Perfectly fair, though I cannot see wherein the bargain consists,"
answered Marzio, with a rough laugh. "I prefer that you should stay
here. I will run the risk of being murdered by you, any day, and you may
ran the risk of being sent to the galleys for life, if you choose. You
will be well cared for there, and you can try your chisel on
paving-stones for a change from silver chalices."

"Never mind what becomes of me afterwards, in that case," said the young
man. "If Lucia is married to some one else, I do not care what happens.
So you have got your warning!"

"Thank you. If you had remained what you used to be, you might have
married her without further difficulty. But to have you and Lucia and
Maria Luisa and Paolo all conspiring against me from morning till night
is more than I can bear. Good-night, and the devil be with you, you
fool!"

"_Et cum spiritu tuo_," answered Gianbattista as he left the room.

When Marzio was alone he returned to the head he was drawing--a head of
wonderful beauty, inclined downwards and towards one side, bearing a
crown of thorns, the eyelids drooped and shaded in death. He glanced at
it with a bitter smile and threw aside the pencil without making another
stroke upon the paper.

He leaned back, lighted another pipe, and began to reflect upon the
events of the evening. He was glad it was over, for a strange weakness
in his violent nature made it hard for him to face such scenes unless he
were thoroughly roused. Now, however, he was satisfied. For a long time
he had seen with growing distrust the change in Gianbattista's manner,
and in the last words he had spoken to the apprentice he had uttered
what was really in his heart. He was afraid of being altogether
overwhelmed by the majority against him in his own house. He hated Paolo
with his whole soul, and he had hated him all his life. This calm,
obliging brother of his stood between him and all peace of mind. It was
not the least of his grievances that he received most of his commissions
through the priest who was constantly in relation with the cardinal and
rich prelates who were the patrons of his art. The sense of obligation
which he felt was often almost unbearable, and he longed to throw it
off. The man whom he hated for his own sake and despised for his
connection with the church, was daily in his house; at every turn he met
with Paolo's tacit disapprobation or outspoken resistance. For a long
time Paolo had doubted whether the marriage between the two young people
would turn out well, and while he expressed his doubts Marzio had
remained stubborn in his determination. Latterly, and doubtless owing to
the change in Gianbattista's character, Paolo had always spoken of the
marriage with favour. This sufficed at first to rouse Marzio's
suspicions, and ultimately led to his opposing with all his might what
he had so long and so vigorously defended; he resolved to be done with
what he considered a sort of slavery, and at one stroke to free himself
from his brother's influence, and to assure Lucia's future. During
several weeks he had planned the scene which had taken place that
evening, waiting for his opportunity, trying to make sure of being
strong enough to make it effective, and revolving the probable answers
he might expect from the different persons concerned. It had come, and
he was satisfied with the result.

Marzio Pandolfi's intelligence lacked logic. In its place he possessed
furious enthusiasm, an exaggerated estimate of the value of his social
doctrines, and a whole vocabulary of terms by which to describe the
ideal state after which he hankered. But though he did not possess a
logic of his own, his life was itself the logical result of the
circumstances he had created. As, in the diagram called the
parallelogram of forces, various conflicting powers are seen to act at a
point, producing an inevitable resultant in a fixed line, so in the plan
of Marzio's life, a number of different tendencies all acted at a
centre, in his overstrained intelligence, and continued to push him in a
direction he had not expected to follow, and of which even now he was
far from suspecting the ultimate termination.

He had never loved his brother, but he had loved his wife with all his
heart. He had begun to love Lucia when she was a child. He had felt a
sort of admiring fondness for Gianbattista Bordogni, and a decided pride
in the progress and the talent of the apprentice. By degrees, as the
prime mover, his hatred for Paolo, gained force, it had absorbed his
affection for Maria Luisa, who, after eighteen years of irreproachable
wifehood, seemed to Marzio to be nothing better than an accomplice and a
spy of his brother's in the domestic warfare. Next, the lingering love
for his child had been eaten up in the same way, and Marzio said to
himself that the girl had joined the enemy, and was no longer worthy of
his confidence. Lastly, the change in Gianbattista's character and ideas
seemed to destroy the last link which bound the chiseller to his family.
Henceforth, his hand was against each one of his household, and he
fancied that they were all banded together against himself.

Every step had followed as the inevitable consequence of what had gone
before. The brooding and suspicious nature of the artist had persisted
in seeing in each change in himself the blackest treachery in those who
surrounded him. His wife was an implacable enemy, his daughter a spy,
his apprentice a traitor, and as for Paolo himself, Marzio considered
him the blackest of villains. For all this chain of hatreds led
backwards, and was concentrated with tenfold virulence in his great
hatred for his brother. Paolo, in his estimation, was the author of all
the evil, the sole ultimate cause of domestic discord, the arch enemy of
the future, the representative, in Marzio's sweeping condemnation, not
only of the church and of religion, but of that whole fabric of existing
society which the chiseller longed to tear down.

Marzio's socialism, for so he called it, had one good feature. It was
sincere of its kind, and disinterested. He was not of the common herd, a
lazy vagabond, incapable of continuous work, or of perseverance in any
productive occupation, desiring only to be enriched by impoverishing
others, one of the endless rank and file of Italian republicans, to whom
the word "republic" means nothing but bread without work, and the
liberty which consists in howling blasphemies by day and night in the
public streets. His position was as different from that of a private in
the blackguard battalion as his artistic gifts and his industry were
superior to those of the throng. He had money, he had talent, and he had
been very successful in his occupation. He had nothing to gain by the
revolutions he dreamed of, and he might lose much by any upsetting of
the existing laws of property. He was, therefore, perfectly sincere, so
far as his convictions went, and disinterested to a remarkable degree.
These conditions are often found in the social position of the true
fanatic, who is the more ready to run to the greatest length, because he
entertains no desire to better his own state. Marzio's real weakness lay
in the limited scope of his views, and in a certain timid prudence which
destroyed his power of initiative. He was an economical man, who
distrusted the future; and though such a disposition produces a good
effect in causing a man to save money against the day of misfortune, it
is incompatible with the career of the true enthusiast, who must be
ready to risk everything at any moment. The man who would move other
men, and begin great changes, must have an enormous belief in himself,
an unbounded confidence in his cause, and a large faith in the future,
amounting to the absolute scorn of consequence.

These greater qualities Marzio did not possess, and through lack of them
the stupendous results of which he was fond of talking had diminished to
a series of domestic quarrels, in which he was not always victorious.
His hatred of the church was practically reduced to the detestation of
his brother, and to an unreasoning jealousy of his brother's influence
in his home. His horror of social distinctions, which speculated freely
upon the destruction of the monarchy, amounted in practice to nothing
more offensive than a somewhat studious rudeness towards the few
strangers of high position who from time to time visited the workshop in
the Via dei Falegnami. In the back room of his inn, Marzio could find
loud and cutting words in which to denounce the Government, the
monarchy, the church, and the superiority of the aristocracy. In real
fact, Marzio took off his hat when he met the king in the street, paid
his taxes with a laudable regularity, and increased the small fortune he
had saved by selling sacred vessels to the priests against whom he
inveighed. Instead of burning the Vatican and hanging the College of
Cardinals to the pillars of the Colonnade, Marzio Pandolfi felt a very
unpleasant sense of constraint in the presence of the only priest with
whom he ever conversed, his brother Paolo. When, on very rare occasions,
he broke out into angry invective, and ventured to heap abuse upon the
calm individual who excited his wrath, he soon experienced the
counter-shock in the shape of a strong conviction that he had injured
his position rather than bettered it, and the melancholy conclusion
forced itself upon him that by abusing Paolo he himself lost influence
in his own house, and not unfrequently called forth the contempt of
those he had sought to terrify.

The position was galling in the extreme; for, like many artists who are
really remarkable in their profession, Marzio was very vain of his
intellectual superiority in other branches. It may be a question whether
vanity is not essential to any one who is forced to compete in
excellence with other gifted men. Vanity means emptiness, and in the
case of the artist it means that emptiness which craves to be filled
with praise. The artist may doubt his own work, but he is bitterly
disappointed if other people doubt it also. Marzio had his full share of
this kind of vanity, which, as in most cases, extended beyond the sphere
of his art. How often does one hear two or three painters or sculptors
who are gathered together in a studio, laying down the law concerning
Government, society, and the distribution of wealth. And yet, though
they make excellent statues and paint wonderful pictures, there are very
few instances on record of artists having borne any important part in
the political history of their times. Not from any want of a desire to
do so, in many cases, but from the real want of the power; and yet many
of them believe themselves far more able to solve political and social
questions than the men who represent them in the Parliament of their
country, or the persons who by innate superiority of tact have made
themselves the arbiters of society.

Marzio's vanity suffered terribly, for he realised the wide difference
that existed between his aims and the result actually produced. For this
reason he had determined to bring matters to a point of contention in
his household, in order to assert once and for all the despotic
authority which he believed to be his right. He knew well enough that in
proposing the marriage of Lucia with Carnesecchi, he had hit upon a plan
which Paolo would oppose with all his might. It seemed as though he
could not have selected a question more certain to produce a hot
contention. He had brought forward his proposal boldly, and had not
hesitated to make a most virulent personal attack on his brother when
the latter had shown signs of opposition. And yet, as he sat over his
drawing board, staring at the clouds of smoke that rose from his pipe,
he was unpleasantly conscious that he had not been altogether
victorious, that he had not played the part of the despot to the end, as
he had intended to do, that he had suddenly felt his inferiority to
Paolo's calmness, and that upon hearing of the proposition concerning
the crucifix he had acted as though he had received a bribe to be quiet.
He bit his thin lips as he reflected that all the family must have
supposed his silence from that moment to have been the effect of the
important commission which Paolo had communicated to him; for it seemed
impossible that they should understand the current of his thoughts.

As he glanced at the head he had drawn he understood himself better than
others had understood him, for he saw on the corner of the paper the
masterly sketch of an ideal Christ he had sought after for years without
ever reaching it. He knew that that ideal had presented itself to his
mind at the very moment when Paolo had proposed the work to him--the
result perhaps, of the excitement under which he laboured at the moment.
From that instant he had been able to think of nothing. He had been
impelled to draw, and the expression of his thought had driven
everything else out of his mind. Paolo had gained a fancied victory by
means of a fancied bribe. Marzio determined to revenge himself for the
unfair advantage his brother had then taken, by showing himself
inflexible in his resolution concerning the marriage. It was but a small
satisfaction to have braved Gianbattista's boyish threats, after having
seemed to accept the bribe of a priest.



CHAPTER IV


On the following morning, Marzio left the house earlier than usual
Gianbattista had not finished his black coffee, and was not in a humour
to make advances to his master, after the scene of the previous evening.
So he did not move from the table when the chiseller left the room, nor
did he make any remark upon the hour. The door that led to the stairs
had hardly closed after Marzio, when Lucia put her head into the room
where Gianbattista was seated.

"He is gone," said the young man; "come in, we can talk a few minutes."

"Tista," began, Lucia, coming forward and laying her fingers on his
curly hair, "what did all that mean last night? Have you understood?"

"Who understands that lunatic!" exclaimed Gianbattista, passing his arm
round the girl's waist, and drawing her to him. "I only understand one
thing, we must be married as soon as possible and be done with it. Is it
not true, Lucia?"

"I hope so," answered his companion, with a blush and a sigh. "But I am
so much afraid."

"Do not be afraid, leave it all to me, I will protect you, my darling,"
replied the young man, tapping his breast with the ready gesture of an
Italian, as though to prove his courage.

"Oh, I am sure of that! But how can it be managed? Of course he cannot
force me to marry Carnesecchi, as Uncle Paolo explained to him. But he
will try, and he is so bad!"

"Let him try, let him try," repeated Gianbattista. "I made a bargain
with him last night after you had gone to bed. Do you know what I told
him? I told him that I would stay with him, but that if you married any
one but me, I would cut his throat--Sor Marzio's throat, do you
understand?"

"Oh, Tista!" cried Lucia. "How did you ever have the courage to tell him
such a thing? Besides, you know, you would not do it, would you?"

"Do not trouble yourself, he saw I was in earnest, and he will think
twice about it. Besides, he said yesterday that I might have you if I
would take you away."

"A nice thing for a father to say of his daughter!" exclaimed the girl
angrily. "And what did you answer him then, my love?"

"Oh! I said that I had not the slightest objection to the proceeding.
And then he tried to prove to me that we should starve without him, and
then he swore at me like a Turk. What did it matter? He said I was
changed. By Diana! Any man would change, just for the sake of not being
like him!"

"How do you mean that you are changed, dear?" asked Lucia anxiously.

"Who knows? He said I fawned on Don Paolo like a dog, instead of hating
the priests as I used to do. What do you think, love?"

"I think Uncle Paolo would laugh at the idea," answered the girl,
smiling herself, but rather sadly. "I am afraid you are as bad as ever,
in that way."

"I am not bad, Lucia. I begin to think I like Don Paolo. He was splendid
last night. Did you see how he stared your father out of countenance,
and then turned him into a lamb with the order for the crucifix? Don
Paolo has a much stronger will than Sor Marzio, and a great deal more
sense. He will make your father change his mind."

"Of course it would be for the better if we could be married without any
objection, and I am very glad you are growing fond of Uncle Paolo. But I
have seen it for some time. He is so good!"

"Yes. That is the truth," answered Gianbattista in meditative tone. "He
is too good. It is not natural. And then he has a way of making me feel
it. Now, I would have strangled Sor Marzio last night if your uncle had
not been there, but he prevented me. Of course he was right. Those
people always are. But one hates to be set right by a priest. It is
humiliating!"

"Well, it is better than not to be set right at all," said Lucia. "You
see, if you had strangled poor papa, it would have been dreadful! Oh,
Tista, promise me that you will not do anything violent! Of course he is
very unkind, I know. But it would be terrible if you were to be angry
and hurt him. You will not, Tista? Tell me you will not?"

"We shall see; we shall see, my love!"

"You do not love me if you will not promise."

"Oh, if that is all, my love, I will promise never to lay a finger on
him until you are actually married to some one else. But then--"
Gianbattista made the gesture which means driving the knife into an
enemy.

"Then you may do anything you please," answered Lucia, with a laugh. "He
will never make me marry any one but you. You know that, my heart!"

"In that case we ought to be married very soon," argued the young man.
"We need not live here, you know. Indeed, it would be out of the
question. We will take one of those pretty little places in the new
quarter--"

"That is so far away," interrupted the girl.

"Yes, but there is the tramway, and there are omnibuses. It only takes a
quarter of an hour."

"But you would be so far from me all day, my love. I could not run into
the studio at all hours, and you would not come home for dinner. Oh! I
could not bear it!"

"Very well, we will try and find something near here," said
Gianbattista, yielding the point. "We will get a little apartment near
the Minerva, where there is sun."

"And we will have a terrace on the top of the house, with pots of
carnations."

"And red curtains on rings, that we can draw; it is such a pretty light
when the sun shines through them."

"And green wall paper with blue furniture," suggested Lucia. "It is so
gay."

"Or perhaps the furniture of the same colour as the paper--you know they
have it so in all fashionable houses."

"Well, if it is really the fashion, I suppose we must," assented the
girl rather regretfully.

"Yes, it is the fashion, my heart, and you must have everything in the
fashion. But I must be going," added the young man, rising from his seat.

"Already? It is early, Tista--" she hesitated, "Dear Tista," she began
again, her dark eyes resting anxiously on his face, "what will you say
to him in the workshop? You will tell him that I would rather die than
marry Carnesecchi, that we are solemnly promised, that nothing shall
part us! You will make him see reason, Tista, will you not? I cannot go
to him, or I would; and mamma, poor mamma, is so afraid of him when he
is in his humours. There are only you and Uncle Paolo to manage him; and
after the way he insulted Uncle Paolo last night, it will be all the
harder. Think of it, Tista, while you are at work, and bring me word
when you come to dinner."

"Never fear, love," replied Gianbattista confidently; "what else should
I think of while I am hammering away all day? A little kiss, to give me
courage."

In a moment he was gone, and his quick step resounded on the stairs as
he ran down, leaving Lucia at the door above, to catch the last good-bye
he called up to her when he reached the bottom. His fresh voice came up
to her mingled with the rattle of the lumbering carts in the street. She
answered the cry and went in.

Just then the sleepy Signora Pandolfi emerged from her chamber, clad in
the inevitable skirt and white cotton jacket, her heavy black hair
coiled in an irregular mass on the top of her head, and held in place
by hair-pins that seemed to be on the point of dropping out.

"Ah, Lucia, my darling! Such a night as I have passed!" she moaned,
sinking into a chair beside the table, on which the coffee-pot and the
empty cups were still standing. "Such a night, my dear! I have not
closed an eye. I am sure it is the last judgment! And this scirocco,
too, it is enough to kill one!"

"Courage, mamma," answered Lucia gaily. "Things are never so bad as they
seem."

"Oh, that monster, that monster!" groaned the fat lady. "He would make
an angel lose his patience! Imagine, my dear, he insists that you shall
be married in a fortnight, and he has left me money to go and buy things
for your outfit! Oh dear! What are we to do? I shall go mad, my dear,
and you will all have to take me to Santo Spirito! Oh dear! Oh dear!
This scirocco!"

"I think papa will go mad first," said Lucia. "I never heard of such an
insane proposition in my life. All in a moment too--I think I am to
marry Tista--papa gets into a rage and--_patatunfate!_ a new
husband--like a conjuror's trick, such a comedy! I expected to see the
door open at every minute, Pulcinella walk in and beat everybody with a
blown bladder! But Uncle Paolo did quite as well."

"Oh, my head!" complained the Signora Pandolfi. "I have not slept a
wink!"

"And then it was shameful to see the way papa grew quiet and submissive
when Uncle Paolo gave him the order for the crucifix! If it had been
anybody but papa, I should have said that a miracle had been performed.
But poor papa! No--the miracle of the soldi--that is the truth. I would
like to catch sight of the saint who could work a miracle on papa!
Capers, what a saint he would have to be!"

"Bacchus!" ejaculated Maria Luisa, "San Filippo Neri would be nowhere!
The Holy Father would have to make a saint on purpose to convert that
monster! A saint who should have nothing else to do. Oh, how hot it is!
My head is splitting. What are we to do, Lucia, my heart? Tell me a
little what we are to do--two poor women--all alone--oh dear!"

"In the first place, it needs courage, mamma," answered Lucia, "and a
cup of coffee. It is still hot, and you have not had any--"

"Coffee! Who thinks of coffee?" cried the Signora Pandolfi, taking the
cup from her daughter's hands, and drinking the liquid with more
calmness than might have been anticipated.

"That is right," continued the girl. "Drink, mamma, it will do you good.
And then, and then--let me see. And then you must talk to Suntarella
about the dinner. That old woman has no head--"

"Dinner!" cried the mother, "who thinks of dinner at such a time? And he
left me the money for the outfit, too! Lucia, my love, I have the
fever--I will go to bed."

"Eh! What do you suppose? That is a way out of all difficulties,"
answered Lucia philosophically.

"But you cannot go out alone--"

"I will stay at home in that case."

"And then he will come to dinner, and ask to see the things--"

"There will be no things to show him," returned the young girl.

"Well? And then where should we be?" inquired the Signora Pandolfi. "I
see him, my husband, coming back and finding that nothing has been done!
He would tear his hair! He would kill us! He would bring his broomstick
of a lawyer here to marry you this very afternoon, and what should we
have gained then? It needs judgment, Lucia, my heart--judgment,
judgment!" repeated the fat lady, tapping her forehead.

"Eh! If you have not enough for two, mamma, I do not know what we shall
do."

"At the same time, something must be done," mused Maria Luisa. "My head
is positively bursting! We might go out and buy half a dozen
handkerchiefs, just to show him that we have begun. Do you think a few
handkerchiefs would quiet him, my love? You could always use them
afterwards--a dozen would be too many--"

"Bacchus!" exclaimed Lucia, "I have only one nose."

"It is a pity," answered her mother rather irrelevantly. "After all,
handkerchiefs are the cheapest things, and if we spread them out, all
six, on the green sofa, they will make a certain effect--these men! One
must deceive them, my child."

"Suppose we did another thing," began Lucia, looking out of the window.
"We might get some things--in earnest, good things. They will always do
for the wedding with Tista. Meanwhile, papa will of course have to
change his mind, and then it will be all right."

"What genius!" cried the Signora Pandolfi. "Oh, Lucia! You have found
it! And then we can just step into the workshop on our way--that will
reassure your father."

"Perhaps, after all, it would be better to go and tell him the truth,"
said Lucia, beginning to walk slowly up and down the room. "He must know
it, sooner or later."

"Are you mad, Lucia?" exclaimed her mother, holding up her hands in
horror. "Just think how he would act if you went and faced him!"

"Then why not go and find Uncle Paolo?" suggested the girl. "He will
know what is best to be done, and will help us, you may be sure. Of
course, he expected to see us before anything was done in the matter.
But I am not afraid to face papa all alone. Besides, Tista is talking to
him at this very minute. I told him all he was to say, and he has so
much courage!"

"I wish I had as much," moaned the Signora Pandolfi, lapsing into
hesitation.

"Come, mamma, I will decide for you," said Lucia. "We will go and find
Uncle Paolo, and we will do exactly as he advises."

"After all, that is best," assented her mother, rising slowly from her
seat.

Half an hour later they left the house upon their errand, but they did
not enter the workshop on their way. Indeed, if they had, they would
have been surprised to find that Marzio was not there, and that
Gianbattista was consequently not talking to him as Lucia had supposed.

When Gianbattista reached the workshop, he was told that Marzio had only
remained five minutes, and had gone away so soon as everybody was at
work. He hesitated a moment, wondering whether he might not go home
again and spend another hour in Lucia's company; but it was not possible
to foretell whether Marzio would be absent during the whole morning, and
Gianbattista decided to remain. Moreover, the peculiar smell of the
studio brought with it the idea of work, and with the idea came the love
of the art, not equal, perhaps, to the love of the woman but more
familiar from the force of habit.

All men feel such impressions, and most of all those who follow a fixed
calling, and are accustomed to do their work in a certain place every
day. Théophile Gautier confessed in his latter days that he could not
work except in the office of the _Moniteur_--elsewhere, he said, he
missed the smell of the printers' ink, which brought him ideas. Artists
know well the effect of the atmosphere of the studio. Five minutes of
that paint-laden air suffice to make the outer world a mere dream, and
to recall the reality of work. There was an old dressing-gown to which
Thackeray was attached as to a friend, and which he believed
indispensable to composition. Balzac had his oval writing-room, when he
grew rich, and the creamy white colour of the tapestries played a great
part in his thoughts. The blacksmith loves the smoke of the forge and
the fumes of hot iron on the anvil, and the chiseller's fingers burn to
handle the tools that are strewn on the wooden bench.

Gianbattista stood at the door of the studio, and had he been master
instead of apprentice, he could not have resisted the desire to go to
his place and take up the work he had left on the previous evening. In a
few minutes he was hammering away as busily as though there were no such
thing as marriage in the world, and nothing worth living for but the
chiselling of beautiful arabesques on a silver ewer. His head was bent
over his hands, his eyes followed intently the smallest movements of the
tool he held, he forgot everything else, and became wholly absorbed in
his occupation.

Nevertheless, much of a chiseller's work is mechanical, and as the
smooth iron ran in and out of the tiny curves under the gentle tap of
the hammer, the young man's thoughts went back to the girl he had left
at the top of the stairs a quarter of an hour earlier; he thought of
her, as he did daily, as his promised wife, and he fell to wondering
when it would be, and how it would be. They often talked of the place in
which they would live, as they had done that morning; and as neither of
them was very imaginative, there was a considerable similarity between
the speculations they indulged in at one time and at another. It was
always to be a snug home, high up, with a terrace, pots of carnations,
and red curtains. Their only difference of opinion concerned the colour
of the walls and furniture. Like most Italians, they had very little
sense of colour, and thought only of having everything gay, as they
called it; that is to say, the upholstery was to be chosen of the most
vivid hues, probably of those horrible tints known as aniline. Italians,
as a rule, and especially those who belong to the same class as the
Pandolfi family, have a strong dislike for the darker and softer tones.
To them anything which is not vivid is sad, melancholy, and depressing
to the senses. Gianbattista saw in his mind's eye a little apartment
after his own heart, and was happy in the idea. But, as he followed the
train of thought, it led him to the comparison of the home to which he
proposed to take his wife with the one in which they now lived under her
father's roof, and suddenly the scene of the previous evening rose
clearly in the young man's imagination. He dropped his hammer, and
stared up at the grated windows.

He went over the whole incident, and perhaps for the first time realised
its true importance, and all the danger there might be in the future
should Marzio attempt to pursue his plan to the end. Gianbattista had
only once seen the lawyer who was thus suddenly thrust into his place.
He remembered a thin, cadaverous man, in a long and gloomy black coat,
but that was all. He did not recall his voice, nor the expression of his
face; he had only seen him once, and had thought little enough of the
meeting. It seemed altogether impossible, and beyond the bounds of
anything rational, that this stranger should ever really be brought
forward to be Lucia's husband.

For a moment the whole thing looked like an evil dream, and Gianbattista
smiled as he looked down again at his work. Then the reality of the
occurrence rose up again and confronted him stubbornly. He was not
mistaken, Marzio had actually pronounced those words, and Don Paolo had
sprung forward to prevent Gianbattista from attacking his master then
and there. The young man looked at his work, holding his tools in his
hands, but hesitating to lay the point of the chisel on the silver, as
he hesitated to believe the evidence of his memory.



CHAPTER V


Marzio had risen early that morning, as has been said, and had left the
house before any one but Gianbattista was up. He was in reality far from
inclined to drink his coffee in the company of his apprentice, and would
have avoided it, if possible. Nor did he care to meet Lucia until he had
found time and occasion to refresh his anger. His wife was too sleepy to
quarrel, and hardly seemed to understand him when he gave her money and
bade her look to Lucia's outfit, adding that the wedding was to take
place immediately.

"Will you not let me sleep in peace, even in the morning?" she groaned.

"Magari! I wish you would sleep, and for ever!" growled Marzio, as he
left the room.

He drank his coffee in silence, and went out. After looking into the
workshop he walked slowly away in the direction of the Capitol. The damp
morning air was pleasant to him, and the gloomy streets through which he
passed were agreeable to his state of feeling. He wished Home might
always wear such a dismal veil of dampness, scirocco, and cloud.

A man in a bad humour will go out of his way to be rained upon and blown
against by the weather. We would all like to change our surroundings
with our moods, to fill the world with sunshine when we are happy, and
with clouds when we have stumbled in the labyrinths of life. Lovers wish
that the whole earth might be one garden, crossed and recrossed by
silent moonlit paths; and when love has taken the one and left the
other, he who stays behind would have his garden changed to an angry
ocean, and the sweet moss banks to storm-beaten rocks, that he may drown
in the depths, or be dashed to pieces by the waves, before he has had
time to know all that he has lost.

As we grow older, life becomes the expression of a mood, according to
the way we have lived. He who seeks peace will find that with advancing
age the peaceful moment, that once came so seldom, returns more readily,
and that at last the moments unite to make hours, and the hours to build
up days and years. He who stoops to petty strife will find that the
oft-recurring quarrel has power to perpetuate the discontented weakness
out of which it springs, and that it can make all life a hell. He who
rejoices in action will learn that activity becomes a habit, and at last
excludes the possibility of rest, and the desire for it; and his lot is
the best, for the momentary gladness in a great deed well done is worth
a millennium of sinless, nerveless tranquillity. The positive good is as
much better than the negative "non-bad," as it is better to save a life
than not to destroy a life. But whatever temper of mind we choose will
surely become chronic in time, and will be known to those among whom we
live as our temper, our own particular temper, as distinguished from the
tempers of other people.

Marzio had begun life in a bad humour. He delighted in his imaginary
grievances, and inflicted his anger on all who came near him, only
varying the manifestation of it to suit the position in which he chanced
to find himself. With his wife he was overbearing; with his brother he
was insolent; with his apprentice he was sullen; and with his associates
at the old Falcone he played the demagogue. The reason of these phases
was very simple. His wife could not oppose him, Don Paolo would not
wrangle with him, Gianbattista imposed upon him by his superior calm and
strength of character, and, lastly, his socialist friends applauded him
and nattered his vanity. It is impossible for a weak man to appear
always the same, and his weakness is made the more noticeable when he
affects strength. The sinews of goodness are courage, moral and
physical, a fact which places all really good men and women beyond the
reach of ridicule and above the high-water mark of the world's
contempt.

Marzio lacked courage, and his virulence boiled most hotly when he had
least to fear for his personal safety. It was owing to this innate
weakness that such a combination of artistic sensitiveness and spasmodic
arrogance was possible. The man's excitable imagination apprehended
opposition where there was none, and his timidity made him fear a
struggle, and hate himself for fearing it. As soon as he was alone,
however, his thoughts generally returned to his art, and found
expression in the delicate execution of the most exquisite fancies.
Under other circumstances his character might have developed in a widely
different way; his talent would still have been the same. There is a
sort of nervous irritability which acts as a stimulant upon the
faculties, and makes them work faster. With Marzio this unnatural state
was chronic, and had become so because he had given himself up to it. It
is a common disease in cities, where a man is forced to associate with
his fellow-men, and to compete with them, whether he is naturally
inclined to do so or not. If Marzio could have exercised his art while
living as a hermit on the top of a lonely mountain he might have been a
much better man.

He almost understood this himself as he walked slowly through the Via
delle Botteghe Oscure--"the street of dark shops"--in the early
morning. He was thinking of the crucifix he was to make, and the
interest he felt in it made him dread the consequences of the previous
night's domestic wrangling. He wanted to be alone, and at the same time
he wanted to see places and things which should suggest thoughts to him.
He did not care whither he went so long as he kept out of the new Rome.
When he reached the little garden in front of San Marco he paused,
looked at the deep doorway of the church, remembered the barbarous
mosaics within, and turned impatiently into a narrow street on the
right--the beginning of the Via di Marforio.

The network of by-ways in this place is full of old-time memories. Here
is the Via Giulio Romano, where the painter himself once lived; here is
the Macel dei Corvi, where Michael Angelo once lodged; hard by stood the
statue of Marforio, christened by the mediæval Romans after _Martis
Forum_, and famous as the interlocutor of Pasquino. The place was a
centre of artists and scholars in those days. Many a simple question was
framed here, to fit the two-edged biting answer, repeated from mouth to
mouth, and carefully written down among Pasquino's epigrams. First of
all the low-born Roman hates all that is, and his next thought is to
express his hatred in a stinging satire without being found out.

Like every real Roman, Marzio thought of old Marforio as he strolled up
the narrow street towards the Capitol, and regretted the lawless days of
conspiracy and treacherous deeds when every man's hand was against his
fellow. He wandered on, his eyes cast down, and his head bent. Some one
jostled against him, walking quickly in the opposite direction. He
looked up and recognised Gasparo Carnesecchi's sallow face and long
nose.

"Eh! Sor Marzio--is it you?" asked the lawyer.

"I think so," answered the artist. "Excuse me, I was thinking of
something."

"No matter. Of what were you thinking, then? Of Pasquino?"

"Why not? But I was thinking of something else. You are in a hurry, I am
sure. Otherwise we would speak of that affair."

"I am never in a hurry when there is business to be treated," replied
Carnesecchi, looking down the street and preparing to listen.

"You know what I mean," Marzio began. "The matter we spoke of two days
ago--my plans for my daughter."

The lawyer glanced quickly at his friend and assumed an indifferent
expression. He was aware that his position, was socially superior to
that of the silver-chiseller, in spite of Marzio's great talent. But he
knew also that Lucia was to have a dowry, and that she would ultimately
inherit all her father possessed. A dowry covers a multitude of sins in
the eyes of a man to whom money is the chief object in life.
Carnesecchi, therefore, meant to extract as many thousands of francs
from Marzio as should be possible, and prepared himself to bargain. The
matter was by no means settled, in spite of the chiseller's instructions
to his wife concerning the outfit.

"We must talk," said Carnesecchi. "Not that I should be altogether
averse to coming easily to an understanding, you know. Bat there are
many things to be considered. Let us see."

"Yes, let us see," assented the other. "My daughter has education. She
is also sufficiently well instructed. She could make a fine marriage.
But then, you see, I desire a serious person for my son-in-law. What
would you have? One must be prudent."

It is not easy to define exactly what a Roman means by the word
"serious." In some measure it is the opposite of gay, and especially of
what is young and unsettled. The German use of the word Philistine
expresses it very nearly. A certain sober, straitlaced way of looking at
life, which was considered to represent morality in Rome fifty years
ago; a kind of melancholy superiority over all sorts of amusements,
joined with a considerable asceticism and the most rigid economy in the
household--that is what was meant by the word "serious." To-day its
signification has been slightly modified, but a serious man--_un uomo
serio_--still represents to the middle-class father the ideal of the
correct son-in-law.

"Eh, without prudence!" exclaimed Carnesecchi, elliptically, as though
to ask where he himself would have been had he not possessed prudence in
abundance.

"Exactly," answered Marzio, biting off the end of a common cigar and
fixing his eyes on the lawyer's thin, keen face. "Precisely. I think--of
course I do not know--but I think that you are a serious man. But then,
I may be mistaken."

"Well, it is human to err, Sor Marzio. But then, I am no longer of that
age--what shall I say? Everybody knows I am serious. Do I lead the life
of the café? Do I wear out my shoes in Piazza Colonna? Capers! I am a
serious man."

"Yes," answered Marzio, though with some hesitation, as though he were
prepared to argue even this point with the sallow-faced lawyer. He
struck a match on the gaudy little paper box he carried and began to
smoke thoughtfully. "Let us make a couple of steps," he said at last.

Both men moved slowly on for a few seconds, and then stopped again. In
Italy "a couple of steps" is taken literally.

"Let us see," said Carnesecchi. "Let us look at things as they are. In
these days there are many excellent opportunities for investing money."

"Hum!" grunted Marzio, pulling a long face and looking up under his
eyebrows. "I know that is your opinion, Sor Gasparo. I am sorry that you
should put so much faith in the stability of things. So you, too, have
got the malady of speculation. I suppose you are thinking of building a
Palazzo Carnesecchi out at Sant' Agnese in eight floors and thirty-two
apartments."

"Yes, I am mad," answered the lawyer ironically.

"Who knows?" returned the other. "I tell you they are building a Pompeii
in those new quarters. When you and I are old men, crazy Englishmen will
pay two francs to be allowed to wander about the ruins."

"It may be. I am not thinking of building. In tine first place I have
not the _soldi_."

"And if you had?" inquired Marzio.

"What nonsense! Besides, no one has. It is all done on credit, and the
devil take the hindmost. But if I really had a million--eh! I know what
I would do."

"Let us hear. I also know what I would do. Besta! What is the use of
building castles in the air?"

"In the air, or not in the air, if I had a million, I know what I would
do."

"I would have a newspaper," said Marzio. "Whew! how it would sting!"

"It would sting you, and bleed you into the bargain," returned the
lawyer with some contempt. "No one makes mosey out of newspapers in
these times. If I had money, I would be a deputy. With prudence there is
much to be earned in the Chambers, and petitioners know that they must
pay cash."

"It is certainly a career," assented the artist "But, as you say, it
needs money for the first investment."

"Not so much as a million, though. With a good opening, and some
knowledge of the law, a small sum would be enough."

"It is a career, as I said," repeated Marzio. "But five thousand francs
would not give you an introduction to it."

"Five thousand francs!" exclaimed Carnesecchi, with a scornful laugh.
"With five thousand francs you had better play at the lottery. After
all, if you lose, it is nothing."

"It is a great deal of money, Sor Gasparo," replied the chiseller. "When
you have made it little by little--then you know what it means."

"Perhaps. But we have been standing here more than a quarter of an
hour, and I have a client waiting for me about a big affair, an affair
of millions."

"Bacchus!" ejaculated Marzio. "You are not in a hurry about the matter.
Well, we can always talk, and I will not keep you."

"We might walk together, and say what we have to say."

"I am going to the Capitol," Marzio said, for he had been walking in
that direction when they met.

"That is my way, too," answered the lawyer, forgetting that he had run
into Marzio as he came down the street.

"Eh! That is lucky," remarked the artist with an almost imperceptible
smile. "As I was saying," he continued, "five thousand francs is not the
National Bank, but it is a very pretty little sum, especially when there
is something more to be expected in the future."

"That depends on the future. But I do not call it a sum. Nothing under
twenty thousand is a sum, properly speaking."

"Who has twenty thousand francs?" laughed Marzio, shrugging his
shoulders with an incredulous look.

"You talk as though Rome were an asylum for paupers," returned
Carnesecchi. "Who has twenty thousand francs? Why, everybody has. You
have, I have. One must be a beggar not to have that much. After all, we
are talking about business, Sor Marzio. Why should I not say it? I have
always said that I would not marry with less than that for a dowry. Why
should one throw away one's opportunities? To please some one? It is not
my business to try and please everybody. One must be just."

"Of course. What? Am I not just? But if justice were done, where would
some people be? I say it, too. If you marry my daughter, you will expect
a dowry. Have I denied it? And then, five thousand is not so little.
There is the outfit, too; I have to pay for that."

"That is not my affair," laughed the lawyer. "That is the business of
the woman. But five thousand francs is not my affair either. Think of
the responsibilities a man incurs when he marries! Five thousand! It is
not even a cup of coffee! You are talking to a _galantuomo_, an honest
man, Sor Marzio. Reflect a little."

"I reflect--yes! I reflect that you ask a great deal of money, Signer
Carnesecchi," replied Marzio with some irritation.

"I never heard that anybody gave money unless it was asked for."

"It will not be for lack of asking if you do not get it," retorted the
artist.

"What do you mean, Signor Pandolfi?" inquired Carnesecchi, drawing
himself up to his full height and then striking his hollow chest with
his lean hand. "Do you mean that I am begging money of you? Do you mean
to insult an honest man, a _galantuomo_? By heaven, Signor Pandolfi, I
would have you know that Gasparo Carnesecchi never asked a favour of any
man! Do you understand? Let us speak clearly."

"Who has said anything?" asked Marzio. "Why do you heat yourself in this
way? And then, after all, we shall arrange this affair. You wish it. I
wish it. Why should it not be arranged? If five thousand does not suit
you, name a sum. We are Christians--we will doubtless arrange. But we
must talk. How much should you think, Sor Gasparo?"

"I have said it. As I told you just now, I have always said that I would
not marry with less than eighteen thousand francs of dowry. What is the
use of repeating? Words are not roasted chestnuts."

"Nor eighteen thousand francs either," answered the other. "Magari! I
wish they were. You should have them in a moment. But a franc is a
franc."

"I did not say it was a cabbage," observed Carnesecchi. "After all, why
should I marry?"

"Perhaps you will not," suggested Marzio, who was encouraged to continue
the negotiations, however, by the diminution in the lawyer's demands.

"Why not?" asked the latter sharply, "Do you think nobody else has
daughters?"'

"If it comes to that, why have you not married before?"

"Because I did not choose to marry," answered Carnesecchi, beginning to
walk more briskly, as though to push the matter to a conclusion.

Marzio said nothing in reply. He saw that his friend was pressing him,
and understood that, to do so, the lawyer must be anxious to marry
Lucia. The chiseller therefore feigned indifference, and was silent for
some minutes. At the foot of the steps of the Capitol he stopped again.

"You know, Sor Gasparo," he said, "the reason why I did not arrange
about Lucia's marriage a long time ago, was because I was not
particularly in a hurry to have her married at all. And I am not in a
hurry now, either. We shall have plenty of opportunities of discussing
the matter hereafter. Good-bye, Sor Gasparo. I have business up there,
and that client of yours is perhaps impatient about his millions."

"Good-bye," answered Carnesecchi. "There is plenty of time, as you say.
Perhaps we may meet this evening at the Falcone."

"Perhaps," said Marab drily, and turned away.

He had a good understanding of his friend's character, and though in his
present mood he would have been glad to fix the wedding day, and sign
the marriage contract at once, he had no intention of yielding to
Carnesecchi's exorbitant demands. The lawyer was in need of money,
Marzio thought, and as he himself was the possessor of what the other
coveted, there could be little doubt as to the side on which the
advantage would ultimately be taken. Marzio went half-way up the steps
of the Capitol, and then stopped to look at the two wretched wolves
which the Roman municipality thinks it incumbent on the descendants of
Romulus to support. He thought one of them very like Carnesecchi. He
watched the poor beasts a moment or two as they tramped and swung and
pressed their lean sides against the bars of their narrow cage.

"What a sympathetic animal it is!" he exclaimed aloud. A passer-by
stared at him and then went on hurriedly, fearing that he might be mad.
Indeed, there was a sort of family likeness between the lawyer, the
chiseller, and the wolves.

Other thoughts, however, occupied Marzio's attention; and as soon as he
was sure that his friend was out of the way, he descended the steps. He
did not care whither he went, but he had no especial reason for climbing
the steep ascent to the Capitol. The crucifix his brother had ordered
from him on the previous evening engaged his attention, and it was as
much for the sake of being alone and of thinking about the work that he
had taken his solitary morning walk, as with the hope of finding in some
church a suggestion or inspiration which might serve him. He knew what
was to be found in Roman churches well enough; the Crucifixion in the
Trinità dei Pellegrini and the one in San Lorenzo in Lucina--both by
Guido Reni, and both eminently unsympathetic to his conception of the
subject--he had often looked at them, and did not care to see them
again. At last he entered the Church of the Gesù, and sat down upon a
chair in a corner.

He did not look up. The interior of the building was as familiar to him
as the outside. He sat in profound thought, occasionally twisting his
soft hat in his hands, and then again remaining quite motionless. He did
not know how long he stayed there. The perfect silence was pleasant to
him, and when he rose he felt that the idea he had sought was found, and
could be readily expressed. With a sort of sigh of satisfaction he went
out again into the air and walked quickly towards his workshop.

The men told him that Gianbattista was busy within, and after glancing
sharply at the work which was proceeding, Marzio opened the inner door
and entered the studio. He strode up to the table and took up the body
of the ewer, which lay on its pad where he had left it the night before.
He held it in his hands for a moment, and then, pushing the leather
cushion towards Gianbattista, laid it down.

"Finish it," he said shortly; "I have something else to do."

The apprentice looked up in astonishment, as though he suspected that
Marzio was jesting.

"I am afraid--" he answered with hesitation.

"It makes no difference; finish it as best you can; I am sick of it; you
will do it well enough. If it is bad, I will take the responsibility."

"Do you mean me really to finish it--altogether?"

"Yes; I tell you I have a great work on hand. I cannot waste my time
over such toys as acanthus leaves and cherubs' eyes!" He bent down and
examined the thing carefully. "You had better lay aside the neck and
take up the body just where I left it, Tista," he continued. "The
scirocco is in your favour. If it turns cold to-morrow the cement may
shrink, and you will have to melt it out again."

Marzio spoke to him as though there had not been the least difference
between them, as though Gianbattista had not proposed to cut his throat
the night before, as though he himself had not proposed to marry
Carnesecchi to Lucia.

"Take my place," he said. "The cord is the right length for you, as it
is too short for me. I am going to model."

Without more words Marzio went and took a large and heavy slate from
the corner, washed it carefully, and dried it with his handkerchief.
Then he provided himself with a bowl full of twisted lengths of red wax,
and with a couple of tools he sat down to his work. Gianbattista, having
changed his seat, looked over the tools his master had been using, with
a workman's keen glance, and, taking up his own hammer, attacked the
task given him. For some time neither of the men spoke.

"I have been to church," remarked Marzio at last, as he softened a piece
of wax between his fingers before laying it on the slate. The news was
so astounding that Gianbattista uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"You need not be frightened," answered the artist. "I only went to look
at a picture, and I did not look at it after all. I shall go to a great
many more churches before I have finished this piece of work. You ought
to go to the churches and study, Tista. Everything is useful in our
art--pictures, statues, mosaics, metal-work. Now I believe there is not
a really good crucifix, nor a crucifixion, in Rome. It is strange, too,
I have dreamed of one all my life."

Gianbattista did not find any answer ready in reply to the statement.
The words sounded so strangely in Marzio's mouth this morning, that the
apprentice was confused. And yet the two had often discussed the subject
before.

"You do not seem to believe me," continued Marzio quietly. "I assure you
it is a fact. The other things of the kind are not much better either.
Works of art, perhaps, but not satisfactory. Even Michael Angelo's
_Pietà_ in Saint Peter's does not please me. They say it did not please
the people of his time either--he was too young to do anything of that
sort--he was younger than you, Tista, only twenty-four years old when he
made that statue."

"Yes," answered Gianbattista, "I have heard you say so." He bent over
his work, wondering what his master meant by this declaration of taste.
It seemed as though Marzio felt the awkwardness of the situation and was
exerting himself to make conversation. The idea was so strange that the
apprentice could almost have laughed. Marzio continued to soften the wax
between his fingers, and to lay the pieces of it on the slate, pressing
them roughly into the shape of a figure.

"Has Paolo been here?" asked the master after another long pause.

Gianbattista merely shook his head to express a negative.

"Then he will come," continued Marzio. "He will not leave me in peace
all day, you may be sure."

"What should he come for? He never comes," said the young man.

"He will be afraid that I will have Lucia married before supper time. I
know him--and he knows me."

"If he thinks that, he does not know you at all," answered Gianbattista
quietly.

"Indeed?" exclaimed Marzio, raising his voice to the ironical tone he
usually affected when any one contradicted him. "To-day, to-morrow, or
the next day, what does it matter? I told you last night that I had made
up my mind."

"And I told you that I had made up mine."

"Oh yes--boy's threats! I am not the man to be intimidated by that sort
of thing. Look here, Tista, I am in earnest. I have considered this
matter a long time; I have determined that I will not be browbeaten any
longer by two women and a priest--certainly not by you. If things go on
as they are going, I shall soon not be master in my own house."

"You would be the only loser," retorted Gianbattista.

"Have done with this, Tista!" exclaimed Marzio angrily. "I am tired of
your miserable jokes. You have gone over to the enemy, you are Paolo's
man, and if I tolerate you here any longer it is merely because I have
taught you something, and you are worth your wages. As for the way I
have treated you during all these years, I cannot imagine how I could
have been such a fool. I should think anybody might see through your
hypocritical ways."

"Go on," said Gianbattista calmly. "You know our bargain of last night"

"I will risk that. If I see any signs of your amiable temper I will have
you arrested for threatening my life. I am not afraid of you, my boy,
but I do not care to die just at present. You have all had your way long
enough, I mean to have mine now."

"Let us talk reasonably, Sor Marzio. You say we have had our way. You
talk as though you had been in slavery in your own house. I do not think
that is the opinion of your wife, nor of your daughter. As for me, I
have done nothing but execute your orders for years, and if I have
learnt something, it has not been by trying to overrule you or by
disregarding your advice. Two years ago, you almost suggested to me that
I should marry Lucia. Of course, I asked nothing better, and we agreed
to wait until she was old enough. We discussed the matter a thousand
times. We settled the details. I agreed to go on working for the same
small wages instead of leaving you, as I might have done, to seek my
fortune elsewhere. You see I am calm, I acknowledge that I was grateful
to you for having taught me so much, and I am grateful still. You have
just given me another proof of your confidence in putting this work into
my hands to finish. I am grateful for that. Well, we have talked of the
marriage often; I have lived in your house; I have seen Lucia every day,
for you have let us be together as much as we pleased; the result is
that I not only am more anxious to marry her than I was before--I love
her; I am not ashamed to say so. I know you laugh at women and say they
are no better than monkeys with parrots' heads. I differ from you. Lucia
is an angel, and I love her as she loves me. What happens? One day you
take an unreasonable dislike for me, without even warning me of the
fact, and then, suddenly, last night, you come home and say she is to
marry the Avvocato Gasparo Carnesecchi. Now, for a man who has taught me
that there is no God but reason, all this strikes me as very
unreasonable. Honestly, Sor Marzio, do you not think so yourself?"

Marzio looked at his apprentice and frowned, as though hesitating
whether to lose his temper and launch into the invective style, or to
answer Gianbattista reasonably. Apparently he decided in favour of the
more peaceable course.

"It is unworthy of a man who follows reason to lose his self-control and
indulge in vain threats," he answered, assuming a grand didactic air.
"You attempt to argue with me. I will show you what argument really
means, and whither it leads. Now answer me some questions, Tista, and I
will prove that you are altogether in the wrong. When a man is devoted
to a great and glorious cause, should he not do everything in his power
to promote its success against those who oppose it?"

"Undoubtedly," assented Gianbattista.

"And should not a man be willing to sacrifice his individual preferences
in order to support and to further the great end of his life?"

"Bacchus! I believe it!"

"Then how much the more easy must it be for a man to support his cause
when there are no individual preferences in the way!" said Marzio
triumphantly. "That is true reason, my boy. That is the inevitable logic
of the great system."

"I do not understand the allegory," answered Gianbattista.

"It is as simple as roasted chestnuts," returned Marzio. "Even if I
liked you, it would be my duty to prevent you from marrying Lucia. As I
do not like you--you understand?"

"I understand that," replied the young man. "For some reason or other
you hate me. But, apart from the individual preferences, which you say
it is your duty to overcome, I do not see why you are morally obliged
to hinder our marriage, after having felt morally obliged to promote
it?"

"Because you are a traitor to the cause," cried Marzio, with sudden
fierceness. "Because you are a friend of Paolo. Is not that enough?"

"Poor Don Paolo seems to stick in your throat," observed Gianbattista.
"I do not see what he has done, except that he prevented me from killing
you last night!"

"Paolo! Paolo is a snake, a venomous viper! It is his business, his only
aim in life, to destroy my peace, to pervert my daughter from the
wholesome views I have tried to teach her, to turn you aside from the
narrow path of austere Italian virtue, to draw you away from following
in the footsteps of Brutus, of Cassius, of the great Romans, of me, your
teacher and master! That is all Paolo cares for, and it is enough--more
than enough! And he shall pay me for his presumptuous interference, the
villain!"

Marzio's voice sank into a hissing whisper as he bent over the wax he
was twisting and pressing. Gianbattista glanced at his pale face, and
inwardly wondered at the strange mixture of artistic genius, of
bombastic rhetoric and relentless hatred, all combined in the strange
man whom destiny had given him for a master. He wondered, too, how he
had ever been able to admire the contrasts of virulence and weakness,
of petty hatred and impossible aspirations which had of late revealed
themselves to him in a new light. Have we not most of us assisted at the
breaking of the Image of Baal, at the destruction of an imaginary
representative of an illogical ideal?

"Well, Sor Marzio," said Gianbattista after a pause, "if I were to
return to my worship of you and your principles--what would you do?
Would you take me back to your friendship and give me your daughter?"

Marzio looked up suddenly, and stared at the apprentice in surprise. But
the fresh young face gave no sign. Gianbattista had spoken quietly, and
was again intent upon his work.

"If you gave me a proof of your sincerity," answered Marzio, in low
tones, "I would do much for you. Yes, I would give you Lucia--and the
business too, when I am too old to work. But it must be a serious
proof--no child's play."

"What do you call a serious proof? A profession of faith?"

"Yes--sealed with the red wax that is a little thicker than water,"
answered Marzio grimly, his eyes still fixed on Gianbattista's face.

"In blood," said the young man calmly. "Whose blood would you like, Sor
Marzio?"

"Paolo's!"

The chiseller spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, and bent low over
his slate, modelling hard at the figure under his fingers.

"I thought so," muttered Gianbattista between his teeth. Then he raised
his voice a little and continued: "And have you the courage, Sor Marzio,
to sit there and bargain with me to kill your brother, bribing me with
the offer of your daughter's hand? Why do you not kill him yourself,
since you talk of such things?"

"Nonsense, my dear Tista--I was only jesting," said the other nervously.
"It is just like your folly to take me in earnest." The anger had died
out of Marzio's voice and he spoke almost persuasively.

"I do not know," answered the young man. "I think you were in earnest
for a moment. I would not advise you to talk in that way before any one
else. People might interpret your meaning seriously."

"After all, you yourself were threatening to cut my throat last night,"
said Marzio, with a forced laugh. "It is the same thing. My life is as
valuable as Paolo's. I only suggested that you should transfer your
tender attentions from me to my brother."

"It is one thing to threaten a man to his face. It is quite another to
offer a man a serious inducement to commit murder. Since you have been
so very frank with me, Sor Marzio, I will confess that if the choice lay
between killing you, or killing Don Paolo, under the present
circumstances I would not hesitate a moment."

"And which would you--"

"Neither," replied the young man, with a cool laugh. "Don Paolo is too
good to be killed, and you are not good enough. Come and look at the
cherub's head I have made."



CHAPTER VI


Lucia's cheerfulness was not genuine, and any one possessing greater
penetration than her mother would have understood that she was, in
reality, more frightened than she was willing to show. The girl had a
large proportion of common sense, combined with a quicker perception
than the stout Signora Pandolfi. She did not think that she knew
anything about logic, and she had always shown a certain inconsistency
in her affection for Gianbattista, but she had nevertheless a very clear
idea of what was reasonable, a quality which is of immense value in
difficulties, though it is very often despised in every-day life by
people who believe themselves blessed by the inspirations of genius.

It seems very hard to make people of other nationalities understand that
the Italians of the present day are not an imaginative people. It is
nevertheless true, and it is only necessary to notice that they produce
few, if any, works of imagination. They have no writers of fiction, no
poets, few composers of merit and few artists who rank with those of
other nations. They possessed the creative faculty once; they have lost
it in our day, and it does not appear that they are likely to regain it.
On the other hand, the Italians are remarkable engineers, first-rate
mathematicians, clever, if unscrupulous, diplomatists. Though they
overrate their power and influence, they have shown a capacity for
organisation which is creditable on the whole. If they fail to obtain
the position they seek in Europe, their failure will have been due to
their inordinate vanity and over-governing, if I may coin the word,
rather than to an innate want of intelligence.

The qualities and defects of the Italian nation all existed in the
Pandolfi family. Marzio possessed more imagination than most of his
countrymen, and he had, besides, that extraordinary skill in his manual
execution of his work, which Italians have often exhibited on a large
scale. On the other hand, he was full of bombastic talk about principles
which he called great. His views concerning society, government, and the
future of his country, were entirely without balance, and betrayed an
amazing ignorance of the laws which, direct the destinies of mankind. He
suffered in a remarkable degree from that mental disease which afflicts
Italians--the worship of the fetish--of words which mean little, and are
supposed to mean much, of names in history which have been exalted by
the rhetoric of demagogues from the obscurity to which they had been
wisely consigned by the judgment of scholars. He was alternately weak
and despotic, cunning about small things which concerned his own
fortunes, and amazingly foolish about the set of ideas which he loosely
defined as politics.

Lucia's nature illustrated another phase of the Italian character, and
one which, if it is less remarkable, is much more agreeable. She
possessed the character which looks at everything from the point of view
of daily life. Without imagination, she regarded only the practical side
of existence. Her vanity was confined to a modest wish to make the best
of her appearance, while her ambition went no further than the strictest
possibility, in the shape of a marriage with Gianbattista Bordogni, and
a simple little apartment with a terrace and pots of pinks. Had she
known how much richer her father was than she suspected him of being,
the enlargement of her views for the future would have been marked by a
descent, from the fourth story of the house which was to be her
imaginary home, to the third story. It could never have entered her head
that Gianbattista ought to give up his profession until he was too old
to work any longer. In her estimation, the mere possession of money
could not justify a change of social position. She had been accustomed
from her childhood to hear her father air his views in regard to the
world in general, but his preaching had produced but little impression
upon her. When he thought she was listening in profound attention to his
discourse, she was usually wishing that he could be made to see the
absurdity of his theories. She wished also that he would sacrifice some
of his enthusiasm for the sake of a little more quiet in the house, for
she saw that his talking distressed her mother. Further than this she
cared little what he said, and not at all for what he thought. Her mind
was generally occupied with the one subject which absorbed her thoughts,
and which had grown to be by far the most important part of her nature,
her love for Gianbattista Bordogni.

Upon that point she was inflexible. Her Uncle Paolo might have led her
to change her mind in regard to many things, for she was open to
persuasion where her common sense was concerned. But in her love for
Gianbattista she was fixed and determined. It would have been more easy
to turn her father from his ideas than to make Lucia give up the man she
loved. When Marzio had suddenly declared that she should marry the
lawyer, her first feeling had been one of ungovernable anger which had
soon found vent in tears. During the night she had thought the matter
over, and had come to the conclusion that it was only an evil jest,
invented by Marzio to give her pain. But in the morning it seemed to
her as though on the far horizon a black cloud of possible trouble were
gathering; she had admitted to herself that her father might be in
earnest, and she had felt something like the anticipation of the great
struggle of her life. Then she felt that she would die rather than
submit.

She had no theatrical desire to swear a fearful oath with Gianbattista
that they should drown themselves at the Ponte Quattro Capi rather than
be separated. Her nature was not dramatic, any more than his. The young
girl dressed herself quickly, and made up her mind that if any pressure
were brought to bear upon her she would not yield, but that, until then,
there was no use in making phrases, and it would be better to be as
cheerful as possible under the circumstances. But for Lucia's reassuring
manner, the Signora Pandolfi would have doubtless succumbed to her
feelings and gone to bed. Lucia, however, had no intention of allowing
her mother any such weakness, and accordingly alternately comforted her
and suggested means of escape from the position, as though she were
herself the mother and Maria Luisa were her child.

They found Don Paolo in his small lodging, and he bid them enter, that
they might all talk the matter over.

"In the first place," said the priest, "it is wrong. In the second
place it is impossible. Thirdly, Marzio will not attempt to carry out
his threat."

"Dear me! How simple you make it seem!" acclaimed the Signora Pandolfi,
reviving at his first words, like a tired horse when he sees the top of
the hill.

"But if papa should try and force me to it--what then?" asked Lucia, who
was not so easily satisfied.

"He cannot force you to it, my child--the law will not allow him to do
so. I told you so last night"

"But the law is so far off--and he is so violent" answered the young
girl.

"Never fear," said Don Paolo, reassuring her. "I will manage it all.
These will be a struggle, perhaps; but I will make him see reason. He
had been with his friends last night, and his mind was excited; he was
not himself. He will have thought differently of it this morning;"

"On the contrary," put in the Signora Pandolfi, "he waked me up at
daylight and gave me a quantity of money to go and buy Lucia's outfit.
And he will come home at midday and ask to see the things I have
brought, and so I thought perhaps we had better buy something just to
show him--half a dozen handkerchiefs--something to make a figure, you
understand?"

Don Paolo smiled, and Lucia looked sympathetically from him to her
mother.

"I am afraid that half a dozen handkerchiefs would have a bad effect,"
said the priest. "Either he would see that you are not in earnest, and
then he would be very angry, or else he would be deceived and would
think that you were really buying the outfit. In that case you would
have done harm. This thing must not go any further. The idea must be got
out of his head as soon as possible."

"But if I do nothing at all before dinner he will be furious--he will
cry out that we are all banded together against him--"

"So we are," said Don Paolo simply.

"Oh dear, oh dear!" moaned the Signora Pandolfi, looking for her
handkerchief in the anticipation of fresh tears.

"Do not cry, mamma. It is of no use," said Lucia.

"No, it is of no use to cry," assented the priest. "There is nothing to
be done but to go and face Marzio, and not leave him until he has
changed his mind. You are afraid to meet him at midday. I will go now to
the workshop and find him."

"Oh, you are an angel, Paolo!" cried Maria Luisa, regaining her
composure and replacing her handkerchief in her pocket. "Then we need
not buy anything? What a relief!"

"I told you Uncle Paolo would know what to do," said Lucia. "He is so
good--and so courageous. I would not like to face papa this morning.
Will you really go, Uncle Paolo?" The young girl went and took down his
cloak and hat from a peg on the wall, and brought them to him.

"Of course I will go, and at once," he answered. "But I must give you a
word of advice."

"We will do everything you tell us," said the two women together.

"You must not ask him any questions, nor refer to the matter at all when
he comes home."

"Diana! I would as soon speak of death!" exclaimed the Signora Pandolfi.

"And if he begins to talk about it you must not answer him, nor irritate
him in any way."

"Be easy about that," answered the fat lady. "Never meddle with sleeping
dogs--I know."

"If he grows very angry you must refer him to me."

"Oh, but that is another matter! I would rather offer pepper to a cat
than talk to him of you. You would see how he would curse and swear and
call you by bad names."

"Well, you must not do anything to make him swear, because that would be
a sin; but if he only abuses me, I do not mind. He will do that when I
talk to him. Perhaps after all, if he mentions the matter, you had
better remain silent."

"Eh! that will be easy. He talks so much, and he talks so fast, never
waiting for an answer. But are you not afraid for yourself, dear Paolo?"

"Oh, he will not hurt me--I am not afraid of him," answered the priest.
"He will talk a little, he will use some big words, and then it will be
finished. You see, it is not a great thing, after all. Take courage,
Maria Luisa, it will be a matter of half an hour."

"Heaven grant it may be only that!" murmured Marzio's wife, turning up
her eyes, and rising from her chair.

Lucia, who, as has been said, had a very keen appreciation of facts, did
not believe that things would go so smoothly.

"You had better come back with him to our house when it is all over,"
she said, "just to give us a sign that it is settled, you know, Uncle
Paolo."

Don Paolo himself had his doubts about the issue, although he put such a
brave face on it, and in spite of the Signora Pandolfi. That good lady
was by nature very sincere, but she always seemed to bring an irrelevant
and comic element into the proceedings.

The result of the interview was that, in half an hour, Don Paolo knocked
at the door of the workshop in the Via dei Falegnami, where Marzio and
Gianbattista were at work. The chiseller's voice bade him enter.

Don Paolo had not found much time to collect his thoughts before he
reached the scene of battle, but his opinion of the matter in hand was
well formed. He loved his niece, and he had begun to like Gianbattista.
He knew the lawyer, Carnesecchi, by reputation, and what he had heard of
him did not prejudice him in the man's favour. It would have been the
same had Marzio chosen any one else. In the priest's estimation,
Gianbattista had a right to expect the fulfilment of the many promises
which had been made to him. To break those promises for no ostensible
reason, just as Gianbattista seemed to be growing up to be a sensible
man, was an act of injustice which Don Paolo would not permit if he
could help it. Gianbattista was not, perhaps, a model man, but, by
contrast with Marzio, he seemed almost saintly. He had a good
disposition and no vices; married to Lucia and devoted to his art, much
might be expected of him. On the other hand, Gasparo Carnesecchi
represented the devil in person. He was known to be an advanced
freethinker, a radical, and, perhaps, worse than a radical--a socialist.
He was certainly not very rich, and Lucia's dowry would be an object to
him; he would doubtless spend the last copper of the money in attempting
to be elected to the Chambers. If he succeeded, he would represent
another unit in that ill-guided minority which has for its sole end the
subversion of the existing state of things. He would probably succeed in
getting back the money he had spent, and more also, by illicit means. If
he failed, the money would be lost, and he would go from bad to worse,
intriguing and mixing himself up with the despicable radical press, in
the hope of getting a hearing and a place.

There is a scale in the meaning of the word socialist. In France it
means about the same thing as a communist, when one uses plain language.
When one uses the language of Monsieur Dramont, it means a Jew. In
England a socialist is equal to a French conservative republican. In
America it means a thief. In Germany it means an ingenious individual of
restricted financial resources, who generally fails to blow up some
important personage with wet dynamite. In Italy a socialist is an
anarchist pure and simple, who wishes to destroy everything existing for
the sake of dividing a wealth which does not exist at all. It also means
a young man who orders a glass of water and a toothpick at a _café_, and
is able to talk politics for a considerable time on this slender
nourishment. Signor Succi and Signor Merlatti have discovered nothing
new. Their miracles of fasting may be observed by the curious at any
time in a Roman _café_.

Don Paolo regarded the mere idea of an alliance with Gasparo
Carnesecchi as an outrage upon common sense, and when he entered
Marzio's workshop he was determined to say so. Marzio looked up with an
air of inquiry, and Gianbattista foresaw what was coming. He nodded to
the priest, and brought forward the old straw chair from the corner;
then he returned to his work in silence.

"You will have guessed my errand," Don Paolo began, by way of
introducing his subject.

"No," answered Marzio doggedly. "Something about the crucifix, I
suppose."

"Not at all," returned the priest, folding his hands over the handle of
his umbrella. "A much more delicate matter. You suggested last night an
improbable scheme for marrying Lucia."

"You had better say that I told you plainly what I mean to do. If you
have come to talk about that, you had better talk to the workmen
outside. They may answer you. I will not!"

Don Paolo was not to be so easily put off. He waited a moment as though
to give Marzio time to change his mind, and then proceeded.

"There are three reasons why this marriage will not take place," he
said. "In the first place, it is wrong--that is my point of view. In the
second place, it is impossible--and that is the view the law takes of
it. Thirdly, it will not take place because you will not attempt to push
it. What do you say of my reasons, Marzio?"

"They are worthy of you," answered the artist. "In the first place, I do
not care a fig for what you think is wrong, or right either. Secondly, I
will take the law into my own hands. Thirdly, I will bring it about and
finish it in a fortnight; and fourthly, you may go to the devil! What do
you think of my reasons, Paolo? They are better than yours, and much
more likely to prevail."

"My dear Marzio," returned the priest quietly, "you may say anything you
please, I believe, in these days of liberty. But the law will not permit
you to act upon your words. If you can persuade your daughter to marry
Gasparo Carnesecchi of her own free will, well and good. If you cannot,
there is a statute, I am quite sure, which forbids your dragging her up
the steps of the Capitol, and making her sign her name by force or
violence in the presence of the authorities. You may take my word for
it; and so you had better dismiss the matter from your mind at once, and
think no more about it."

"I remember that you told her so last night," growled Marzio, growing
pale with anger.

"Certainly."

"You--you--you priest!" cried the chiseller, unable in his rage to find
an epithet which he judged more degrading. Don Paolo smiled.

"Yes, I am a priest," he answered calmly.

"Yea, you are a priest," yelled Marzio, "and what is to become of
paternal authority in a household where such fellows as you are
listening at the keyholes? Is a man to have no more rights? Are we to be
ruled by women and creatures in petticoats? Viper! Poisoning my
household, teaching my daughter to disobey me, my wife to despise me, my
paid workmen to--"

"Silence!" cried Gianbattista in ringing tones, and with the word he
sprang to his feet and clapped his hand on Marzio's mouth.

The effect was sudden and unexpected. Marzio was utterly taken by
surprise. It was incredible to him that any one should dare to forcibly
prevent him from indulging in the language he had used with impunity for
so many years. He leaned back pale and astonished, and momentarily dumb
with amazement. Gianbattista stood over him, his young cheeks flushed
with anger, and his broad fist clenched.

"If you dare to talk in that way to Don Paolo, I will kill you with my
hands!" he said, his voice sinking lower with concentrated
determination. "I have had enough of your foul talk. He is a better man
than you, as I told you last night, and I repeat it now--take care--"

Marzio made a movement as though he would rise, and at the same instant
Gianbattista seized the long, fine-pointed punch, which served for the
eyes of the cherubs--a dangerous weapon in a determined hand.

Don Paolo had risen from his chair, and was trying to push himself
between the two. But Gianbattista would not let him.

"For heaven's sake," cried the priest in great distress, "no violence,
Tista--I will call the men--"

"Never fear," answered the apprentice quietly; "the man is a coward."

"To me--you dare to say that to me!" exclaimed Marzio, drawing back at
the same time.

"Yes--it is quite true. But do not suppose that I think any the worse of
you on that account, Sor Marzio."

With this taunt, delivered in a voice that expressed the most profound
contempt, Gianbattista went back to his seat and took up his hammer as
though nothing had happened. Don Paolo drew a long breath of relief. As
for Marzio, his teeth chattered with rage. His weakness had been
betrayed at last, and by Gianbattista. All his life he had succeeded in
concealing the physical fear which his words belied. He had cultivated
the habit of offering to face danger, speaking of it in a quiet way, as
he had observed that brave men did. He had found it good policy to tell
people that he was not afraid of them, and his bearing had hitherto
saved him from physical violence. Now he felt as though all his nerves
had been drawn out of his body. He had been terrified, and he knew that
he had shown it. Gianbattista's words stung in his ears like the sting
of wasps.

"You shall never enter this room again," he hissed out between his
teeth. The young man shrugged his shoulders as though he did not care.
Don Paolo sat down again and grasped his umbrella.

"Gianbattista," said the priest, "I am grateful to you for your
friendship, my boy. But it is very wrong to be violent--"

"It is one of the seven deadly sins!" cried Marzio, finding his voice at
last, and by a strange accident venting his feelings in a sentence which
might have been spoken by a confessor to a penitent.

Gianbattista could not help laughing, but he shook his head as though to
explain that it was not his fault if he was violent with such a man.

"It is very wrong to threaten people, Tista," repeated Don Paolo; "and
besides it does not hurt me, what Marzio says. Let us all be calm.
Marzio, let us discuss this matter reasonably. Tista, do not be angry at
anything that is said. There is nothing to be done but to look at the
question quietly."

"It is very well for you to talk like that," grumbled Marzio,
pretending to busy himself over his model in order to cover his
agitation.

"It is of no use to talk in any other way," answered the priest "I
return to the subject. I only want to convince you that you will find it
impossible to carry out your determination by force. You have only to
ask the very man you have hit upon, the Avvocato Garnesecchi, and he
will tell you the same thing. He knows the law better than you or I. He
will refuse to be a party to such an attempt. Ask him, if you do not
believe me."

"Yes; a pretty position you want to put me in, by the body of a dog! To
ask a man to marry my daughter by force! A fine opinion he would
conceive of my domestic authority! Perhaps you will take upon yourself
to go and tell him--won't you, dear Paolo? It would save me the
trouble."

"I think that is your affair," answered Don Paolo, taking him in
earnest. "Nevertheless, if you wish it--"

"Oh, this is too much!" cried Marzio, his anger rising again. "It is not
enough that you thwart me at every turn, but you come here to mock me,
to make a figure of me! Take care, Paolo, take care! You may go too
far."

"I would not advise you to go too far, Sor Marzio," put in
Gianbattista, turning half round on his stool.

"Cannot I speak without being interrupted? Go on with your work, Tista,
and let us talk this matter out. I tell you, Paolo, that I do not want
your advice, and that I have had far too much of your interference. I
will inquire into this matter, so far as it concerns the law, and I will
show you that I am right, in spite of all your surmises and prophecies.
A man is master in his own house and must remain so, whatever laws are
made. There is no law which can force a man to submit to the dictation
of his brother--even if his brother is a priest."

Marzio spoke more calmly than he had done hitherto, in spite of the
sneer in the last sentence. He had broken down, and he felt that Paolo
and Gianbattista were too much for him. He desired no repetition of the
scene which had passed, and he thought the best thing to be done was to
temporise for a while.

"I am glad you are willing to look into the matter," answered Don Paolo.
"I am quite sure you will soon be convinced."

Marzio was silent, and it was evident that the interview was at an end.
Don Paolo was tolerably well satisfied, for he had gained at least one
point in forcing his brother to examine the question. He remained a
moment in his seat, reviewing the situation, and asking himself whether
there was anything more to be said. He wished indeed that he could
produce some deeper impression on the artist. It was not enough, from
the moral point of view, that Marzio should be made to see the
impossibility of his scheme, although it was as much as could be
expected. The good man wished with all his heart that Marzio could be
softened a little, that he might be made to consider his daughter's
feelings, to betray some sign of an affection which seemed wholly dead,
to show some more human side of his character. But the situation at
present forbade Don Paolo from making any further effort. The presence
of Gianbattista, who had suddenly constituted himself the priest's
defender, was a constraint. Alone with his brother, Marzio might
possibly have exhibited some sensibility, but while the young man who
had violently silenced him a few moments earlier was looking on, the
chiseller would continue to be angry, and would not forget the
humiliation he had suffered. There was nothing more to be done at
present, and Don Paolo prepared to take his departure, gathering his
cloak around him, and smoothing the felt of his three-cornered hat while
he held his green umbrella under his arm.

"Are you going already, Don Paolo?" asked Gianbattista, rising to open
the door.

"Yes, I must go. Good-bye, Marzio. Bear me no ill-will for pressing you
to be cautious. Good-bye, Tista." He pressed the young man's hand
warmly, as though to thank him for his courageous defence, and then left
the workshop. Marzio paid no attention to his departure. When the door
was closed, and as Gianbattista was returning to his bench, the artist
dropped his modelling tools and faced his apprentice.

"You may go too," he said in a low tone, as though he were choking. "I
mean you may go for good. I do not need you any longer."

He felt in his pocket for his purse, opened it, and took out some small
notes.

"I give you an hour to take your things from my house," he continued.
"There are your wages--you shall not tell the priest that I cheated
you."

Gianbattista stood still in the middle of the room while Marzio held out
the money to him. A hot flush rose to his young forehead, and he seemed
on the point of speaking, but the words did not pass his lips. With a
quick step he came forward, took the notes from Marzio's hand, and
crumpling them in his fingers, threw them in his face with all his
might. Then he turned on his heel, spat on the floor of the room, and
went out before Marzio could find words to resent the fresh insult.

The door fell back on the latch and Marzio was alone. He was very pale,
and for a moment his features worked angrily. Then a cruel smile passed
over his face. He stooped down, picked up the crumpled notes, counted
them, and replaced them in his purse. The economical instinct never
forsook him, and he did the thing mechanically. Glancing at the bench
his eyes fell on the pointed punch which Gianbattista had taken up in
his anger. He felt it carefully, handled it, looked at it, smiled again
and put it into his pocket.

"It is not a bad one," he muttered. "How many cherubs' eyes I have made
with that thing!"

He turned to the slate and examined the rough model he had made in wax,
flat still, and only indicated by vigorous touches, the red material
smeared on the black surface all around it by his fingers. There was
force in the figure, even in its first state, and there was a strange
pathos in the bent head, the only part as yet in high relief. But Marzio
looked at it angrily. He turned it to the light, closed his eyes a
moment, looked at it again, and then, with an incoherent oath, his long,
discoloured hand descended on the model, and, with a heavy pressure and
one strong push, flattened out what he had done, and smeared it into a
shapeless mass upon the dark stone.

"I shall never do it," he said in a low voice. "They have destroyed my
idea."

For some minutes he rested his head in his hand in deep thought. At
last he rose and went to a corner of the workshop in which stood a
heavily ironed box. Marzio fumbled in his pocket till he found a key,
bright from always being carried about with him, and contrasting oddly
with the rusty lock into which he thrust it. It turned with difficulty
in his nervous fingers, and he raised the heavy lid. The coffer was full
of packages wrapped in brown paper. He removed one after another till he
came to a wooden case which filled the whole length and breadth of the
safe. He lifted it out carefully and laid it on the end of the bench.
The cover was fastened down by screws, and he undid them one by one
until it moved and came off in his hands. The contents were wrapped
carefully in a fine towel, which had once been white, but which had long
grown yellow with age. Marzio unfolded the covering with a delicate
touch as though he feared to hurt what was within. He took out a large
silver crucifix, raising it carefully, and taking care not to touch the
figure. He stood it upon the bench before him, and sat down to examine
it.

It was a work of rare beauty, which he had made more than ten years
before. With the strange reticent instinct which artists sometimes feel
about their finest works, he had finished it in secret, working at night
alone, and when it was done he had put it away. It was his greatest
feat, he had said to himself, and, as from time to time he took it out
and looked at it, he gradually grew less and less inclined to show it to
any one, resolving to leave it in its case, until it should be found
after his death. It had seemed priceless to him, and he would not sell
it. With a fantastic eccentricity of reasoning he regarded it as a
sacred thing, to part with which would be a desecration. So he kept it.
Then, taking it out again, it had seemed less good to him, as his mind
became occupied with other things, and he had fancied he should do
better yet. At last he screwed it up in a wooden case and put it at the
bottom of his strong box, resolving never to look at it again. Many
years had passed since he had laid eyes upon it.

The idea which had come to him when Paolo had communicated the order to
him on the previous evening, had seemed absolutely new. It had appeared
to him as a glorification of the work he had executed in secret so long
ago. Time, and the habit of dissatisfaction had effaced from his mind
the precise image of the work of the past, and the emotions of the
present had seemed something new to him. He had drawn and modelled
during many hours, and yet he was utterly disappointed with the new
result. He felt the innate consciousness of having done it before, and
of having done it better.

And now the wonderful masterpiece of his earlier years stood before
him--the tall and massive ebony cross, bearing the marvellous figure of
the dead Saviour. A ray of sunlight fell through the grated window upon
the dying head, illuminating the points of the thorns in the crown, the
falling locks of hair, the tortured hands, and casting a shadow of death
beneath the half-closed eyes.

For several minutes Marzio sat motionless on his stool, realising the
whole strength and beauty of what he had done ten years before. Then he
wanted to get a better view of it. It was not high enough above him, for
it was meant to stand upon an altar. He could not see the face. He
looked about for something upon which to make it stand, but nothing was
near. He pushed away his stool, and turning the cross a little, so that
the sunlight should strike it at a better angle, he kneeled down on the
floor, his hands resting on the edge of the bench, and he looked up at
the image of the dead Christ.



CHAPTER VII


When Don Paolo left the workshop, he immediately crossed over and
entered the street door of Marzio's house, intending to tell Maria Luisa
and Lucia the result of the interview. He had not got to the top of the
first flight of stairs when he heard Gianbattista's step behind him, and
turning he saw the young man's angry face.

"What is the matter, Tista?" asked the priest, stopping on the steps and
laying his hand on the iron railing.

"I am discharged, turned out, insulted by that animal!" answered the
apprentice hotly. "He is like a piece of wood! You might as well talk to
a wall! You had only just closed the door when he pulled out his purse,
counted my wages, and told me to take my things from his house in an
hour. I threw the money in his face--the beast!"

"Hush, Tista," said Don Paolo. "Do not be angry--we will arrange it all
before night. He cannot do without you, and after all it is my fault.
Calm yourself, Tista, my boy--we will soon set that straight."

"Yes--in an hour I will have left the house. Then it will be straight
enough, as you call it. Oh! I would like to strangle him! Dear Don
Paolo, nobody but you can arrange this affair--"

"Hush, hush, Tista. I cannot hear you talk in this way. Come, we will go
back to Marzio. He will listen to reason--"

"Do you know what he said to me not a quarter of an hour before you came
in?" asked Gianbattista quickly, laying his hand on the priest's arm.
"He said I might have Lucia and welcome if I would kill you! Do you
understand? I wish you could have seen the look in his eyes!"

"No, no, my boy--he was angry. He did not mean it."

"Mean it! Bacchus! He would kill you himself if he were not such a
dastardly coward!"

Don Paolo shook his head with an incredulous smile, and looked kindly
into the young man's eyes.

"You have all lost your heads over this unfortunate affair, Tista. You
are all talking of killing each other and yourselves as though it were
as simple as 'good-morning.' It is very wrong to talk of such things,
and besides, you know, it is not really worth while--"

"It seems simple enough to me," answered the young man, frowning and
clenching his hand.

"Come with me," urged the other, making as though he would descend the
steps. "Come back to the workshop, and we will talk it all over."

"Wait a minute, Don Paolo. There is one thing--one favour I want to ask
of you." Gianbattista lowered his voice. "You can do it for us--I am
sure you will. I will call Lucia, and we will go with you--"

"Where?" asked the priest, not understanding the look of the young man.

"To church, of course. You can marry us in ten minutes, and the thing
will be all over. Then we can laugh at Sor Marzio."

Don Paolo smiled.

"My dear boy," he answered, "those things are not done in a moment like
roasting chestnuts. There are banns to be published. There is a civil
marriage at the Capitol--"

"I should be quite satisfied with your benediction--a _Pater Noster_, an
_Oremus_ properly said--eh? Would it not be all right?"

"Really, Tista!" exclaimed the good man, holding up his hands in horror.
"I had no idea that your religious education had been so neglected! My
dear child, marriage is a very solemn thing."

"By Diana! I should think so! But that need not make it such a long
ceremony. A man dies in a moment--_paff!_--the light is out!--you are
dead. It is very solemn. The same thing for marriage. The priest looks
at you, says _Oremus_--_paff!_ You are married, and it cannot be undone!
I know it is very serious, but it is only the affair of a moment."

Don Paolo did not know whether to laugh or to look grave at this
exposition of Gianbattista's views of death and matrimony. He put it
down to the boy's excitement.

"There is another reason, Tista. The law does not allow a girl of
seventeen to be married without her father's consent."

"The law again!" exclaimed Gianbattista in disgust. "I thought the law
protected Lucia from her father. You said so last night, and you
repeated it this morning."

"Certainly, my boy. But the law also protects parents against any
rashness their children may meditate. It would be no marriage if Lucia
had not Marzio's consent."

"I wish there were no laws," grumbled the young man. "How do you come to
know so much about marriage, Don Paolo?"

"It is my profession. Come along; we will talk to Marzio."

"What can we say to him? You do not suppose I will go and beg to be
taken back?"

"You must be forgiving--"

"I believe in forgiveness when the other side begins," said
Gianbattista.

"Perhaps Marzio will forgive too," argued the priest.

"He has nothing to forgive," answered the young man. The reasoning
seemed to him beyond refutation.

"But if he says he has no objection, if he begs you to come back, I
think you might make some advance on your side, Tista. Besides, you were
very rough with him this morning."

"He turned me out like a dog--after all these years," said Gianbattista.
"I will go back and work for him on one condition. He must give me Lucia
at once."

"I am afraid that as a basis of negotiations that plan leaves much to be
desired," replied Don Paolo, in a meditative tone. "Of course, we are
all determined that you shall marry her in the end; but unless
Providence is pleased to change Marzio's state of mind, you may have to
wait until she is of age. He will never consent at present."

"In that case I had better go and take my things away from his house,"
returned the apprentice. "And say good-bye to Lucia--for a day or two,"
he added in a low voice.

"Of course, if you will not agree to be conciliatory it is of no use for
you to come with me," said Don Paolo rather sadly. "Dear me! Here comes
Maria Luisa with Suntarella!"

"Ah, dear Paolo, dear Paolo!" cried the stout lady, puffing up the
stairs with the old woman close behind her. "How good you are! And what
did he say? We asked if you had gone at the workshop, and they said you
had, so Lucia went in to ask her father whether he would have the
chickens boiled or roasted. Well, well, tell me all about it. These
stairs! Suntarella, run up and open the door while I get my breath! Dear
Paolo, you are an angel of goodness!"

"Softly, Maria Luisa," answered the priest. "There is good and bad. He
has admitted that he will have to consider the matter because he cannot
make Lucia marry without her consent. But on the other hand--poor
Tista--" he looked at the young man and hesitated.

"He has turned me out," said Gianbattista. "He has given me an hour to
leave his house. I believe a good part of the hour has passed already--"

"And Tista says he will not go back at any price," put in Don Paolo. The
Signora Pandolfi gasped for breath.

"Oh! oh! I shall faint!" she sobbed, pressing the handle of her parasol
against her breast with both hands. "Oh, what shall we do? We are lost!
Paolo, your arm--I shall die!"

"Courage, courage, Maria Luisa," said the priest kindly. "We will find
a remedy. For the present Tista can come to my house. There is the
little room Where the man-servant sleeps, who is gone to see his sick
wife in the country. The Cardinal will not mind."

"But you are not going like tins?" cried the stout lady, grasping
Gianbattista's arm and looking into his face with an expression of
forlorn bewilderment. "You cannot go to-day--it is impossible,
Tista--your shirts are not even ironed! Oh dear I oh dear! And I had
anticipated a feast because I was sure that Marzio would see reason
before midday, and there are chickens for dinner--with rice, Tista, just
as you like them--oh, you cannot go, Tista, I cannot let you go!"

"Courage, Maria Luisa," exhorted Don Paolo. "It is not a question of
chickens."

"Dear Sora Luisa, you are too good," said Gianbattista. "Let us go
upstairs first, to begin with--you will catch cold here on the steps.
Come, come, courage, Sora Luisa!"

He took the good woman's arm and led her upwards. But Don Paolo stayed
behind. He believed it to be his duty to return to the workshop, and to
try and undo the harm Gianbattista had done himself by the part he had
played in the proceedings of the morning. The Signora Pandolfi suffered
herself to be led upstairs, panting and sobbing as she went, and
protesting still that Gianbattista could not possibly be allowed to
leave the house.

When Don Paolo had parted from the two women an hour earlier, they had
not gone home as he had supposed, but, chancing to meet old Assunta near
the house, the three had gone together to make certain necessary
purchases. On their return they had inquired for Paolo at the workshop,
as Maria Luisa had explained, and Lucia had entered in the confident
expectation of finding that the position of things had mended
considerably since the early morning. Moreover, since the announcement
of the previous evening, the young girl had not seen her father alone.
She wanted to talk to him on her own account, in order to sound the
depth of his determination. She was not afraid of him. The fact that for
a long time he had regarded favourably the project of her marriage with
Gianbattista had given her a confidence which was not to be destroyed in
a moment, even by Marzio's strange conduct. She passed through the outer
rooms, nodding to the workmen, who touched their caps to the master's
daughter. A little passage separated the large workshop from the inner
studio. The door at the end was not quite closed. Lucia went up to it,
and looked through the opening to see whether Gianbattista were with her
father. The sight she saw was so surprising that she leaned against the
door-post for support. She could not believe her eyes.

There was her father in his woollen blouse, kneeling, on the brick floor
of the room, before a crucifix, his back turned towards her, his hands
raised, and, as it seemed from the position of the arms, folded in
prayer. The sunlight fell upon the silver figure, and upon the dark
tangled hair of the artist who remained motionless, as though absorbed
in devotion, while his daughter watched him through the half-open door.
The scene was one which would have struck any one; the impression it
made on Lucia was altogether extraordinary. She easily fancied that
Marzio, after his interview with Don Paolo, had felt a great and sudden
revulsion of sentiment. She knew that the priest had not left the studio
many minutes before, and she saw her father apparently praying before a
crucifix. A wonderful conversion had been effected, and the result was
there manifest to the girl's eyes.

She held her breath, and remained at the door, determined not to move
until Marzio should have risen from his knees. To interrupt him at such
a moment would have been almost a sacrilege; it might produce the most
fatal results; it would be an intrusion upon the privacy of a repentant
man. She stood watching and waiting to see what would happen.

Presently Marzio moved. Lucia thought he was going to rise from his
knees, but she was surprised to see that he only changed the position of
the crucifix with one hand. He approached his head so near the lower
part of it that Lucia fancied he was in the act of pressing his lips
upon the crossed feet of the silver Christ. Then he drew back a little,
turned his head to one side, and touched the figure with his right hand.
It was evident, now, that he was no longer praying, but that something
about the workmanship had attracted his attention.

How natural, the girl said to herself, that this man, even in such a
supreme moment, should not forget his art--that, even in prayer, his
eyes should mechanically detect an error of the chisel, a flaw in the
metal, or some such detail familiar to his daily life. She did not think
the worse of him for it. He was an artist! The habit of his whole
existence could not cease to influence him--he could as soon have ceased
to breathe. Lucia watched him and felt something like love for her
father. Her sympathy was with him in both actions; in his silent prayer,
in the inner privacy of his working-room, as well as in the inherent
love of his art, from which he could not escape even when he was doing
something contrary to the whole tenor of his life. Lucia thought how Don
Paolo's face would light up when she should tell him of what she had
seen. Then she wondered, with a delicate sense of respect for her
father's secret feelings, whether she would have the right to tell any
one what she had accidentally seen through the half-closed door of the
studio.

Marzio moved again, and this time he rose to his feet and remained
standing, so that the crucifix was completely hidden from her view. She
knocked at the door. Her father turned suddenly round, and faced the
entrance, still hiding the crucifix by his figure.

"Who is it?" he asked in a tone that sounded as though he were startled.

"Lucia," answered the girl timidly. "May I come in, papa?"

"Wait a minute," he answered. She drew back, and, still watching him,
saw that he laid the cross down upon the table, and covered it with a
towel--the same one in which it had been wrapped.

"Come in," he called out "What is the matter?"

"I only came for a moment, papa," answered Lucia, entering the room and
glancing about her as she came forward. "Mamma sent me in to ask you
about the chickens--there are chickens for dinner--she wanted to know
whether you would like them roasted or boiled with rice."

"Roasted," replied Marzio, taking up a chisel and pretending to be busy.
"It is Gianbattista who likes them boiled."

"Thank you, I will go home and tell her. Papa--" the girl hesitated.

"What is the matter?"

"Papa, you are not angry any more as you were last night?"

"Angry? No. What makes you ask such a question? I was not angry last
night, and I am not angry now. Who put the idea into your head?"

"I am so glad," answered Lucia. "Not with me, not with Tista? I am so
glad! Where is Tista, papa?"

"I have not the slightest idea. You will probably not see Tista any
more, nor Gianbattista, nor his excellency the Signorino Bordogni"

Lucia turned suddenly pale, and rested her hand upon the old straw chair
on which Don Paolo had sat during his visit.

"What is this? What do you tell me? Not see Tista?" she asked quickly.

"Gianbattista had the bad taste to attack me this morning--here--in my
own studio," said Marzio, turning round and facing his daughter. "He put
his hands upon my face, do you understand? He would have stabbed me with
a chisel if Paolo had not interfered. Do you understand that? Out of
deference for your affections I did not kill him, as I might have done.
I dismissed him from my service, and gave him an hour to take his
effects out of my house. Is that clear? I offered him his money. He
threw it in my face and spat at me as he went out. Is that enough? If I
find him at home when I come to dinner I will have him turned out by the
police. You see, you are not likely to set eyes on him for a day or two.
You may go home and tell your mother the news, if she has not heard it
already. It will be sauce for her chickens."

Lucia leaned upon the chair during this speech, her black eyes growing
wider and wider, and her face turning whiter at every word. To her it
seemed, in this first moment, like a hopeless separation from the man
she loved. With a sudden movement she sprang forward, and fell on her
knees at Marzio's feet.

"Oh, my father, I beseech you, in the name of heaven," she cried wildly.

"It is not of the slightest use," answered Marzio, drawing back. Lucia
knelt for one moment before him, with upturned face, an expression of
imploring despair on her features. Then she sank down in a heap upon the
floor against the three-legged stool, which tottered, lost its balance
under her weight, and fell over upon the bricks with a loud crash. The
poor girl had fainted away.

Marzio was startled by the sight and the sound, and then, seeing what
had happened, he was very much frightened. He knelt down beside his
daughter's prostrate body and bent over her face. He raised her up in
his long, nervous arms, and lifted her to the old chair till she sat
upon it, and he supported her head and body, kneeling on the floor
beside her. A sharp pain shot through his heart, the faint indication of
a love not wholly extinguished.

"Lucia, dear Lucia!" he said, in a voice so tender that it sounded
strangely in his own ears. But the gill gave no sign. Her head would
have fallen forward if he had not supported it with his hands.

"My daughter! Little Lucia! You are not dead--tell me you are not dead!"
he cried. In his fright and sudden affection he pressed his lips to her
face, kissing her again and again. "I did not mean to hurt you, darling
child," he repeated, as though she could hear him speak.

At last her eyes opened. A shiver ran through her body and she raised
her head. She was very pale as she leaned back in the chair. Marzio took
her hands and robbed them between his dark fingers, still looking into
her eyes.

"Ah!" she gasped, "I thought I was dead." Then, as Marzio seemed about
to speak, she added faintly: "Don't say it again!"

"Lucia--dear Lucia! I knew you were not dead I knew you would come back
to me," he said, still in very tender tones. "Forgive me, child--I did
not mean to hurt you."

"No? Oh, papa! Then why did you say it?" she cried, suddenly bursting
into tears and weeping upon his shoulder. "Tell me it is not true--tell
me so!" she sobbed.

Marzio was almost as much disconcerted by Lucia's return to
consciousness as he had been by her fainting away. His nature had
unbent, momentarily, under the influence of his strong fear for his
daughter's life. Now that she had recovered so quickly, he remembered
Gianbattista's violence and scornful words, and he seemed to feel the
young man's strong hand upon his mouth, stifling his speech. He
hesitated, rose to his feet, and began to pace the floor. Lucia watched
him with intense anxiety. There was a conflict in his mind between the
resentment which was not half an hour old, and the love for his child,
which had been so quickly roused during the last five minutes.

"Well--Lucia, my dear--I do not know--" he stopped short in his walk and
looked at her. She leaned forward as though to catch his words.

"Do you think you could not--that you would be so very unhappy, I mean,
if he lived out of the house--I mean to say, if he had lodgings,
somewhere, and came back to work?"

"Oh, papa--I should faint away again--and I should die. I am quite sure
of it."

Marzio looked anxiously at her, as though he expected to see her fall to
the ground a second time. It went against the grain of his nature to
take Gianbattista back, although he had discharged him hastily in the
anger of the moment. He turned away and glanced at the bench. There were
the young man's tools, the hammer as he had left it, the piece of work
on the leathern pad. The old impulse of foresight for the future acted
in Marzio's mind. He could never find such another workman. In the
uncertainty of the moment, as often happens, details rose to his
remembrance and produced their effect. He recollected the particular way
in which Gianbattista used to hold the blunt chisel in first tracing
over the drawing on a silver plate. He had never seen any one do it in
the same way.

"Well, Lucia--don't faint away. If you can make him stay, I will take
him back. But I am afraid you will have hard work. He will make
difficulties. He threw the money in my face, Lucia--in your father's
face, girl! Think of that. Well, well, do what you like. He is a good
workman. Go away, child, and leave me to myself. What will you say to
him?"

Lucia threw her arms round her father's neck and kissed him in her
sudden joy. Then she stood a moment in thought.

"Give me his money," she said. "If he will take the money he will come
back."

Marzio hesitated, slowly drew out his purse, and began to take out the
notes.

"Well--if you will have it so," he grumbled. "After all, as he threw it
away, I do not see that he has much right to it. There it is. If he says
anything about that ten-franc note being torn, tell him he tore it
himself. Go home, Lucia, and manage things as you can."

Lucia put the money in her glove, and busied herself for a moment in
brushing the dust from her clothes. Mechanically, her father helped her.

"You are quite sure you did not hurt yourself?" he asked. The whole
occurrence seemed indistinct, as though some one had told something
which he had not understood--as we sometimes listen to a person reading
aloud, and, missing by inattention the verb of the sentence, remain
confused, and ask ourselves what the words mean.

"No--not at all. It is nothing," answered Lucia, and in a moment she was
at the door.

Opening it to go out, she saw the tall figure of Don Paolo at the other
end of the passage coming rapidly towards her. She raised her finger to
her lips and nodded, as though to explain that everything was settled,
and that the priest should not speak to Marzio. She, of course, did not
know that he had been talking with Gianbattista and her mother, nor that
he knew anything about the apprentice's dismissal. She only feared fresh
trouble, now that the prospect looked so much clearer, in case Don Paolo
should again attack her father upon the subject of the marriage. But her
uncle came forward and made as though he would enter the workshop.

"It is all settled," she said quietly. Don Paolo looked at her in
astonishment. At that moment Marzio caught sight of him over the girl's
shoulder, in the dusky entrance.

"Come in, Paolo," he called out "I have something to show you. Go home,
Lucia, my child."

Not knowing what to expect, and marvelling at the softened tone of his
brother's voice, Don Paolo entered the room, waited till Lucia was out
of the passage, and then closed the door behind him. He stood in the
middle of the floor, grasping his umbrella in his hand and wondering
upon what new phase the business was entering.

"I have something to show you," Marzio repeated, as though to check any
question which the priest might be going to put to him. "You asked me
for a crucifix last night. I have one here. Will it do! Look at it."

While speaking, Marzio had uncovered the cross and lifted it up, so that
it stood on the bench where he had at first placed it to examine it
himself. Then he stepped back and made way for Don Paolo. The priest
stood for a moment speechless before the masterpiece, erect, his hands
folded before him. Then, as though recollecting himself, he took off his
hat, which he had forgotten to remove on entering the workshop.

"What a miracle!" he exclaimed, in a low voice.

Marzio stood a little behind him, his hands in the pockets of his
woollen blouse. A long silence followed. Don Paolo could not find words
to express his admiration, and his wonder was mixed with a profound
feeling of devotion. The amazing reality of the figure, clothed at the
same time in a sort of divine glory, impressed itself upon him as he
gazed, and roused that mystical train of religious contemplation which
is both familiar and dear to devout persons. He lost himself in his
thoughts, and his refined features showed as in a mirror the current of
his meditation. The agony of the Saviour of mankind was renewed before
him, culminating in the sacrifice upon the cross. Involuntarily Paolo
bent his head and repeated in low tones the words of the Creed, "_Qui
propter nos homines et propter_ _nostram, salutem descendit de
coelis_," and then, "_Crucifixus etiam pro nobis_."

Marzio stood looking on, his hands in his pockets. His fingers grasped
the long sharp punch he had taken from the table after Gianbattista's
departure. His eyes fixed themselves upon the smooth tonsure at the back
of Paolo's head, and slowly his right hand issued from his pocket with
the sharp instrument firmly clenched in it. He raised it to the level of
his head, just above that smooth shaven circle in the dark hair. His
eyes dilated and his mouth worked nervously as the pale lips stretched
themselves across the yellow teeth.

Don Paolo moved, and turned to speak to his brother concerning the work
of art. Seeing Marzio's attitude, he started with a short cry and
stretched out his arm as though to parry a blow.

"Marzio!"

The artist had quickly brought his hand to his forehead, and the ghastly
affectation of a smile wreathed about his white lips. His voice was
thick.

"I was only shading my eyes from the sun. Don't you see how it dazzles
me, reflected from the silver? What did you imagine, Paolo? You look
frightened."

"Oh, nothing," answered the priest bravely. "Perhaps I am a little
nervous to-day."

"Bacchus! It looks like it," said Marzio, with an attempt to laugh.
Then he tossed the tool upon the table among the rest with an impatient
gesture. "What do you think of the crucifix?"

"It is very wonderful," said Paolo, controlling himself by an effort.
"When did you make it, Marzio? You have not had time--"

"I made it years ago," answered the chiseller, turning his face away to
hide his pallor. "I made it for myself. I never meant to show it, but I
believe I cannot do anything better. Will it do for your cardinal? Look
at the work. It is as fine as anything of the kind in the world, though
I say it. Yes--it is cast. Of course, you do not understand the art,
Paolo, but I will explain it all to you in a few minutes--"

Marzio talked very fast, almost incoherently, and he was evidently
struggling with an emotion. Paolo, standing back a little from the
bench, nodded his head from time to time.

"It is all very simple," continued the artist, as though he dared not
pause for breath. "You see one sometimes makes little figures of real
_repoussé_, half and half, done in cement and then soldered together so
that they look like one piece, but it is impossible to do them well
unless you have dies to press the plate into the first shape--and the
die always makes the same figure, though you can vary the face and twist
the arms and legs about. Cheap silver crucifixes and angels and those
things are all made in that way, and with care a great deal can be done,
of course, to give them an artistic look."

"Of course," assented Don Paolo, in a low voice. He thought he
understood the cause of his brother's eloquence.

"Yes, of course," continued Marzio, as rapidly as before. "But to make a
really good thing like this, is a different matter. A very different
matter. Here you must model your figure in wax, and make moulds of the
parts of it, and chisel each part separately, copying the model. And
then you must join all the parts together with silver-soldering, and go
over the lines carefully. It needs the most delicate handling, for
although the casting is very heavy it is not like working on a chalice
that is filled with cement and all arranged for you, that can be put in
the fire, melted out, softened, cooled, and worked over as often as you
please. There is no putting in the fire here--not more than once after
you have joined the pieces. Do you understand me? Why do you look at me
in that way, Paolo? You look as though you did not follow me."

"On the contrary," said the priest, "I think I understand it very
well--as well as an outsider can understand such a process. No--I merely
look at the finished work. It is superb, Marzio--magnificent! I have
never seen anything like it."

"Well, you may have it to-night," said Marzio, turning away, and
walking about the room. "I will touch it over. I can improve it a
little. I have learned something in ten years. I will work all to-day,
and I will bring it home this evening to show Maria Luisa. Then you may
take it away."

"And the price? I must be able to tell the Cardinal."

"Oh, never mind the price. I will be content to take whatever he gives
me, since it is going. No price would represent the labour. Indeed,
Paolo, if it were any one but you, I would not let it go. Nothing but my
affection for you would make me give it to you. It is the gem of my
studio. Ah, how I worked at it ten years ago!"

"Thank you. I think I understand," answered the priest. "I am very much
obliged to you, Marzio, and I assure you it will be appreciated. I must
be going. Thank you for showing it to me. I will come and get it
to-night."

"Well, good-bye, Paolo," said Marzio. "Here is your umbrella."

As Don Paolo turned away to leave the room, the artist looked curiously
at the tonsure on his head, and his eyes followed it until Paolo had
covered it with his hat. Then he closed the door and went back to the
bench.



CHAPTER VIII


Lucia hastened homewards with the good news she bore. Her young nature
was elastic, and, in the sudden happiness of having secured
Gianbattista's recall, she quickly recovered from the shock she had
received. She did not reflect very much, for she had not the time. It
had all happened so quickly that her senses were confused, and she only
knew that the man she loved must be in despair, and that the sooner she
reached him the sooner she would be able to relieve him from what he
must be suffering. Her breath came fast as she reached the top of the
stairs, and she panted as she rang the bell of the lodging. Apparently
she had rung so loud in her excitement as to rouse the suspicions of old
Assunta, who cautiously peered through the little square that opened
behind a grating in the door, before she raised the latch. On seeing
Lucia she began to laugh, and opened quickly.

"So loud!" chuckled the old thing. "I thought it was the police or Sor
Marzio in a rage."

Lucia did not heed her, but ran quickly on to the sitting-room, where
the Signora Pandolfi was alone, seated on her straight chair and holding
her bonnet in her hand, the bonnet with the purple glass grapes; she was
the picture of despair. Lucia made haste to comfort her.

"Do not cry, mamma," she said quickly. "I have arranged it all. I have
seen papa. I have brought Tista's money. Papa wants him to stay after
all. Yes--I know you cannot guess how it all happened. I went in to ask
about the chickens, and then I asked about Tista, and he told me that I
should not see him any more, and then--then I felt this passion--here in
the chest, and everything went round and round and round like a
whirligig at the Termini, and I fell right down, mamma, down upon the
bricks--I know, my frock is all dusty still, here, look, and here, but
what does it matter? Patience! I fell down like a sack of flour--_pata
tunfate_!"

"T-t-t-t!" exclaimed the Signora Pandolfi, holding up her hands and
drawing in her breath as she clacked her tongue against the roof of her
mouth. "T-t-t-t! What a pity!"

"And when I came to my senses--I had fainted, you understand--I was
sitting on the old straw chair and papa was holding my hands in his and
calling me his angel! _Capperi_! But it was worth while. You can
imagine the situation when he called me an angel! It is the first time I
have ever fainted, mamma--you have no idea--it was so curious!"

"Ah, my dear, it must have softened his heart!" cried Maria Luisa. "If I
could only faint away like that once in a while! Who knows? He might be
converted. But what would you have?" The signora glanced down sadly at
her figure, which certainly suggested no such weakness as she seemed to
desire. "Well, Lucia," she continued, "and then?"

"Yes, I talked to him, I implored him, I told him I should probably
faint again, and, indeed, I felt like it. So he said I might have my
way, and he told me to come home and tell Tista at once. Where is
Tista?"

"Eh! He is in his room, packing up his things. I will go and call him.
Oh dear! What a wonderful day this is, my child! To think that it is not
yet eleven o'clock, and all that has happened! It is enough to make a
woman crazy, fit to send to Santo Spirito. First you are to be married,
and then you are not to be married! Then Gianbattista is sent
away--after all these years, and such a good boy! And then he is taken
back! And then--but the chickens, Lucia, you forgot to ask about the
chickens--"

"Not a bit of it," answered the young girl. "I asked first, before he
told me. Afterwards, I don't know--I should not have had the strength to
speak of chickens. He said roasted, mamma. Poor Tista! He likes them
with rice. Well, one cannot have everything in this world."

The Signora Pandolfi had reached the door, and called out at the top of
her voice to the young man.

"Tista! Tista!" She could have been heard in the street.

"Eh, Sora Luisa! We are not in the Piazza Navona," said Gianbattista,
appearing at the door of his little room. "What has happened?"

"Go and talk to Lucia," answered the good lady, hurrying off in search
of Assunta to tell her the decision concerning the dinner.

Gianbattista entered the sitting-room, and, from the young girl's
radiant expression, he guessed that some favourable change had taken
place in his position, or in the positions of them both. Lucia began to
tell him what had passed, and gave much the same account as she had
given to her mother, though some of the intonations were softer, and
accompanied by looks which told her happiness. When she had explained
the situation she paused for an answer. Gianbattista stood beside her
and held her hand, but he looked out of the window, as though uncertain
what to say.

"Here is the money," said Lucia. "You will take it, won't you? Then it
will be all settled. What is the matter, Tista? Are you not glad?"

"I do not trust him," answered the young man. "It is not like him to
change his mind like that, all in a minute. He means some mischief."

"What can he do?"

"I do not know. I feel as if some evil were coming. Patience! Who knows?
You are an angel, Lucia, darling."

"Everybody is telling me so to-day," answered the young girl. "Papa,
you--"

"Of course. It is quite true, my heart, and so every one repeats it.
What do you think? Will he come home to dinner? It is only eleven
o'clock--perhaps I ought to go back and work at the ewer. Somehow I do
not want to see him just now--"

"Stay with me, Tista. Besides, you were packing up your belongings to go
away. You have a right to take an hour to unpack them. Tell me, what is
this idea you have that papa is not in earnest? I want to understand it.
He was quite in earnest just now--so good, so good, like sugar! Is it
because you are still angry with him, that you do not want to see him?"

"No--why should I still be angry? He has made reparation. After all, I
took a certain liberty with him."

"That is all the more reason. If he is willing to forget it--but I
could tell you something, Tista, something that would persuade you."

"What is it, my treasure?" asked Gianbattista with a smile, bending down
to look into her eyes.

"Oh, something very wonderful, something of which you would never dream.
I could scarcely believe my eyes. Imagine, when I went to find him just
now, the door was open. I looked through before I went in, to see if you
were there. Do you know what papa was doing? He was kneeling on the
floor before a beautiful crucifix, such a beautiful one. I think he was
saying prayers, but I could not see his face. He stayed a long time, and
then when I knocked he covered it up, was not that strange? That is the
reason why I persuaded him so easily to change his mind."

Gianbattista smiled incredulously. He had often seen Marzio kneel on the
floor to get a different view of a large piece of work.

"He was only looking at the work," he answered. "I have seen him do it
very often. He would laugh if he could hear you, Lucia. Do you imagine
he is such a man as that? Perhaps it would not do him any harm--a little
praying. But it is a kind of medicine he does not relish. No, Lucia, you
have been deceived, believe me."

The girl's expression changed. She had quite persuaded herself that a
great moral change had taken place in her father that morning, and had
built many hopes upon it. To her sanguine imagination it seemed as
though his whole nature must have changed. She had seen visions of him
as she had always wished he might be, and the visions had seemed likely
to be realised. She had doubted whether she should tell any one the
story of what she regarded as Marzio's conversion, but she had made an
exception in favour of Gianbattista. Gianbattista simply laughed, and
explained the matter away in half a dozen words. Lucia was more deeply
disappointed than any one, listening to her light talk, could have
believed possible. Her face expressed the pain she felt, and she
protested against the apprentice's explanation.

"It is too bad of you, Tista," she said in hurt tones. "But I do not
think you are right. You have no idea how quietly he knelt, and his
hands were folded on the bench. He bent his head once, and I believe he
kissed the feet--I wish you could have seen it, you would not doubt me.
You think I have invented a silly tale, I am sure you do."

The tears filled her eyes as she turned away and stared vacantly out of
the window at the dark houses opposite. The sun, which had been shining
until that moment, disappeared behind a mass of driving clouds, and a
few drops of rain began to beat against the panes of glass. The world
seemed suddenly more dreary to Lucia. Gianbattista, who was sensitive
where she was concerned, looked at her, and understood that he had
destroyed something in which she had wished to believe.

"Well, well, my heart, perhaps you are right," he said softly, putting
his arm round her.

"No, you do not believe it," she answered.

"For you, I will believe in anything, in everything--even in Sor
Marzio's devotions," he said, pressing her to his side. "Only--you see,
darling, he was talking in such a way a few moments before--that it
seemed impossible--"

"Nothing is quite impossible," replied Lucia. "The heart beats fast.
There may be a whole world between one beat and the next."

"Yes, my love," assented Gianbattista, looking tenderly into her eyes.
"But do you think that between all the beatings of our two hearts there
could ever be a world of change?"

"Ah--that is different, Tista. Why should we change? We could only
change for worse if we began to love each other less, and that is
impossible. But papa! Why should he not change for the better? Who can
tell you, Tista, dear, that in a moment, in a second, after you were
gone, he was not sorry for all he had done? It may have been in an
instant. Why not?"

"Things done so very quickly are not done well," answered the young man.
"I know that from my art. You may stamp a thing in a moment with the
die--it is rough, unfinished. It takes weeks to chisel it--"

"The good God is not a chiseller, Tista."

The words fell very simply from the young girl's lips, and the
expression of her face did not change. Only the tone of her voice was
grave and quiet, and there was a depth of conviction in it which struck
Gianbattista forcibly. In a short sentence she had defined the
difference between his mode of thought and her own. To her mind
omnipotence was a reality. To him, it was an inconceivable power, the
absurdity of which he sought to demonstrate by comparing the magnitude
claimed for it with the capacities of man. He remained silent for a
moment, as though seeking an answer. He found none, and what he said
expressed an aspiration and not a retort.

"I sometimes wish that I could believe as you do," he said. "I am sure I
could do much greater things, make much more beautiful angels, if I were
quite sure that they existed."

"Of course you could," answered Lucia. Then, with a tact beyond her
years, she changed the subject of their talk. She would not endanger the
durability of his aspiration by discussing it. "To go back to what we
were speaking of," she said, "you will go to the workshop this
afternoon, Tista, won't you?"

"Yes," he said mechanically. "What else should I do? Oh, Lucia, my
darling, I cannot bear this uncertainty," he cried, suddenly giving vent
to his feelings. "Where will it end? He may have changed, he may be all
you say he is to-day, all that he was not yesterday, but do you really
believe he has given up his wild idea? It is not all as it should be,
and that is not his nature. It will come upon us suddenly with something
we do not expect. He will do something--I cannot tell what, but I know
him better than you do. He is cruel, he plots over his work, and then,
when all seems calm, the storm breaks. It will not end well."

"We must love each other, Tista. Then all will end well. Who can divide
us?"

"No one," answered the young maid firmly. "But many things may happen
before we are united for ever."

He was not subject to presentiments, and his self-confident nature
abhorred the prospect of trouble. He had arrived at his conclusion by a
logical process, and there seemed no escape from it. As he had told
Lucia, he knew the character of the chiseller better than the women of
the household could know it, for he had been his constant companion for
years, and was not to be deceived in his estimate of Marzio's temper. A
man's natural disposition shows itself most clearly when he is in his
natural element, at his work, busied in the ordinary occupations of his
life. To such a man as Marzio, the workshop is more sympathetic than the
house. Disagreeing on most points with his family, obliged to be absent
during the whole day, wholly absorbed in the production of works which
the women of his household could not thoroughly appreciate, because they
did not thoroughly understand the ideas which originated them, nor the
methods employed in their execution--under these combined circumstances
it was to be expected that the artist's real feelings would find
expression at the work-bench rather than in the society of his wife and
daughter. Seated by Marzio's side, and learning from him all that could
be learned, Gianbattista had acquired at the same time a thorough
knowledge of his instincts and emotions, which neither Maria Luisa nor
Lucia was able to comprehend.

Marzio was tenacious of his ideas and of his schemes. Deficient in power
of initiative and in physical courage, he was obstinate beyond all
belief in his adherence to his theories. That he should suddenly yield
to a devotional impulse, fall upon his knees before a crucifix and cry
_meâ culpâ_ over his whole past life, was altogether out of the
question. In Gianbattista's opinion it was almost as impossible that he
should abandon in a moment the plan which he had announced with so much
resolution on the previous evening. It was certain that before declaring
his determination to marry his daughter to the lawyer he must have
ruminated and planned during many days, as it was his habit to do in all
the matters of his life, without consulting any one, or giving the
slightest hint of his intention. Some part of his remarkable talent
depended upon this faculty of thoroughly considering a resolution before
proceeding to carry it out; and it is a part of every really great
talent in every branch of creative art, for it is the result of a great
continuity in the action of the mind combined with the power of
concentration and the virtue of reticence. Many a work has appeared to
the world to be the spontaneous creation of transcendent genius, which
has, in reality, been conceived, studied, and elaborated during years of
silence. Reticence, concentration, and continuity, are characteristics
which cannot influence one part of a man's life without influencing the
rest as well. The habit of studying before proceeding is co-existent
with the necessity of considering before acting; and a man who is
reticent concerning one half of his thoughts is not communicative about
the other half. Nature does not do things by halves, and the nerves
which animate the gesture at the table are the same which guide the
chisel at the work-bench.

Gianbattista understood Marzio's character, and in his mind tried to
construct the future out of the present. He endeavoured to follow out
what he supposed to be the chiseller's train of thought to its
inevitable conclusion, and the more he reflected on the situation the
more certain he became that Lucia's hypothesis was untenable. It was not
conceivable, under any circumstances whatever, that Marzio should
suddenly turn into a gentle, forgiving creature, anxious only for the
welfare of others, and willing to sacrifice his own inclinations and
schemes to that laudable end.

At twelve o'clock, Marzio appeared, cold, silent, and preoccupied. His
manner did not encourage the idea entertained by Lucia, though the girl
explained it to herself on the ground that her father was ashamed of
having yielded so easily, and was unwilling to have it thought that he
was too good-natured. There was truth in her idea, and it showed a good
deal of common sense and appreciation of character. But it was not the
whole truth. Marzio not only felt humiliated at having suffered himself
to be overcome by his daughter's entreaties; he regretted it, and wished
he could undo what he had done. It was too late, however. To change his
mind a second time would be to show such weakness as his family had
never witnessed in his actions.

He ate his food in silence, and the rest of the party ventured but few
remarks. They inwardly congratulated themselves upon the favourable
issue of the affair, in so far as it could be said to have reached a
conclusion, and they all dreaded equally some fresh outburst of anger,
should Marzio's temper be ruffled. Gianbattista himself set the example
of discretion. As for the Signora Pandolfi, she had ready in her pocket
the money her husband had given her in the morning for the purchase of
Lucia's outfit, and she hoped at every moment that Marzio would ask for
it, which would have been a sign that he had abandoned the idea of the
marriage with Carnesecchi. But Marzio never mentioned the subject. He
ate as quickly as he could, swallowed a draught of weak wine and water,
and rose from the table without a word. With a significant nod to Maria
Luisa and Lucia, Gianbattista left his seat and followed the artist
towards the door. Marzio looked round sharply as he heard the steps
behind him.

"Lucia told me," said the young man simply. "If you wish it, I will come
and work."

Marzio hesitated a moment, beating his soft felt hat over his arm to
remove the dust.

"You can go with the men and put up the prince's grating," he said at
last. "The right hand side is ready fitted. If you work hard you can
finish it before night."

"Very well," answered Gianbattista. "I will see to it. I have the keys
here. In fire minutes I will come across."

Marzio nodded and went out. Gianbattista returned to the room where the
women were finishing their dinner.

"It is all right," he said. "I am to put up the grating this afternoon.
Will you come and see it, Sora Luisa?" He spoke to the mother, but he
included the daughter by his look.

"It is very far," objected the Signora Pandolfi, "and we have been
walking so much this morning. I think this day will never end!"

"Courage, mamma," said Lucia, "it will do you good to walk. Besides,
there is the omnibus. What did he say, Tista? Am I not right?"

"Who knows? He is very quiet," replied the apprentice.

"What is it? What are you right about, my heart?" asked Maria Luisa.

"She thinks Sor Marzio has suddenly turned into a sugar doll," answered
Gianbattista, with a laugh. "It may be. They say they make sugar out of
all sorts of things nowadays."

"_Capperi!_ It would be hard!" exclaimed Maria Luisa. "If there is
enough sugar in him to sweeten a teaspoonful of coffee, write to me,"
she added ironically.

"Well--I shall be at the church in an hour, but it will be time enough
if you come at twenty-three o'clock--between twenty-two and
twenty-three." This means between one hour and two hours before sunset.
"The light is good then, for there is a big west window," added
Gianbattista in explanation.

"We will come before that," said Lucia. "Good-bye, Tista, and take care
not to catch cold in that damp place."

"And you too," he answered, "cover yourselves carefully."

With this injunction, and a parting wave of the hand, he left the house,
affecting a gay humour he did not really feel. His invitation to the two
women to join him in the church had another object besides that of
showing them the magnificent gilded grating which was to be put in
place. Gianbattista feared that Marzio had sent him upon this business
for the sake of getting him out of the way, and he did not know what
might happen in his absence. The artist might perhaps choose that time
for going in search of Gasparo Carnesecchi in order to bring him to the
house and precipitate the catastrophe which the apprentice still feared,
in spite of the last events of the morning. It was not unusual for Maria
Luisa and her daughter to accompany him and Marzio when a finished work
was to be set up, and Gianbattista knew that there could be no
reasonable objection to such, a proceeding.

With an anxious heart he left the house and crossed the street to the
workshop where the men were already waiting for the carts which were to
convey the heavy grating to its destination. The pieces were standing
against the walls, wrapped in tow and brown paper, and immense parcels
lay tied up upon the benches. It was a great piece of work of the
decorative kind, but of the sort for which Marzio cared little. Great
brass castings were chiselled and finished according to his designs
without his touching them with his hands. Huge twining arabesques of
solid metal were prepared in pieces and fitted together with screws that
ran easily in the thread, and then were taken apart again. Then came the
laborious work of gilding by the mercury process, smearing every piece
very carefully with an amalgam of mercury and gold, and putting it into
a gentle, steady fire, until the mercury had evaporated, tearing only
the dull gold in an even deposit on the surfaces. Then the finishing,
the burnishing of the high lights, and the cleaning of the portions
which were to remain dull. Sometimes the gilding of a piece failed, and
had to be begun again, and there was endless trouble in saving the gold,
as well as in preventing the workmen from stealing the amalgam. It was
slow and troublesome work, and Marzio cared little for it, though his
artistic instinct restrained him from allowing it to leave the workshop
until it had been perfected to the highest degree.

At present the artist stood in the outer room among the wrapped pieces,
his pipe in his mouth and his hands in his pockets. A moment after
Gianhattista had entered, two carts rolled up to the door and the
loading began.

"Take the drills and some screws to spare," said Marzio, looking into
the bag of tools the foreman had prepared. "One can never tell in these
monstrous things."

"It will be the first time, if we have to drill a new hole after you
have fitted a piece of work, Maestro Marzio," answered the foreman, who
had an unlimited admiration for his master's genius and foresight.

"Never mind; do as I tell you. We may all make mistakes in this world,"
returned the artist, giving utterance to a moral sentiment which did not
influence him beyond the precincts of the workshop. The workman obeyed,
and added the requisite instruments to the furnishing of his leather
bag.

"And be careful, Tista," added Marzio, turning to the apprentice. "Look
to the sockets in the marble when you place the large pieces. Measure
them with your compass, you know; if they are too loose you have the
thin plates of brass to pack them; if they are tight, file away, but
finish and smooth it well Don't leave anything rough."

Gianbattista nodded as he lent a helping hand to the workmen who were
carrying the heavy pieces to the carts.

"Will you come to the church before night?" he asked.

"Perhaps. I cannot tell. I am very busy."

In ten minutes the pieces were all piled upon the two vehicles, and
Gianbattista strode away on foot with the workmen. He had not thought of
changing his dress, and had merely thrown an old overcoat over his grey
woollen blouse. For the time, he was an artisan at work. When working
hours were over, and on Sundays, he loved to put on the stiff high
collar and the cheeked clothes which suggested the garments of the
English tourist. He was then a different person, and, in accordance with
the change, he would smoke a cigarette and pull his cuffs over his
hands, like a real gentleman, adjusting the angle of his hat from time
to time, and glancing at his reflection in the shop windows as he passed
along. But work was work; it was a pity to spoil good clothes with
handling tools and castings, and jostling against the men, and,
moreover, the change affected his nature. He could not handle a hammer
or a chisel when he felt like a real gentleman, and when he felt like an
artisan he must enjoy the liberty of being able to tuck up his sleeves
and work with a will. At the present moment, too, he was proud of being
in sole charge of the work, and he could not help thinking what a fine
thing it would be to be married to Lucia and to be the master of the
workshop. With the sanguine enthusiasm of a very young man who loves his
occupation, he put his whole soul into what he was to do, assured that
every skilful stroke of the hammer, every difficulty overcome, brought
him nearer to the woman he loved.

Marzio entered the inner studio when Gianbattista was gone, leaving a
boy who was learning to cut little files--the preliminary to the
chiseller's profession--in charge of the outer workshop. The artist shut
himself in and bolted the door, glad to be alone with the prospect of
not being disturbed during the whole afternoon. He seemed not to
hesitate about the work he intended to do, for he immediately took in
hand the crucifix, laid it upon the table, and began to study it, using
a lens from time to time as he scrutinised each detail. His rough hair
fell forward over his forehead, and his shoulders rounded themselves
till he looked almost deformed.

He had suffered very strong emotions during the last twenty-four
hours--enough to have destroyed the steadiness of an ordinary man's
hand; but with Marzio manual skill was the first habit of nature, and it
would have been hard to find a mental impression which could shake his
physical nerves. His mind, however, worked rapidly and almost fiercely,
while his eyes searched the minute lines of the work he was examining.

Uppermost in his thoughts was a confused sense of humiliation and of
exasperation against his brother. The anger he felt had nearly been
expressed in a murderous deed not more than two or three hours earlier,
and the wish to strike was still present in his mind. He twisted his
lips into an ugly smile as he recalled the scene in every detail; but
the determination was different from the reality and more in accordance
with his feelings. He realised again that moment during which he had
held the sharp instrument over his brother's head, and the thought which
had then passed so rapidly through his brain recurred again with
increased clearness. He remembered that beneath the iron-bound box in
the corner there was a trap-door which descended to the unused cellar,
for his workshop had in former times been a wine-shop, and he had hired
the cellar with it. One sharp blow would have done the business. A few
quick movements and Paolo's body would have been thrown down the dark
steps beneath, the trap closed again, the safe replaced in its position.
It was eleven o'clock then, or thereabouts. He would have sent the
workmen to their dinner, and would have returned to the inner studio.
They would have supposed afterwards that Don Paolo had left the place
with him. He would have gone home and would have said that Paolo had
left him--or, no--he would have said that Paolo had not been there, for
some one might see him leave the workshop alone. In the night he would
have returned, his family thinking he had gone to meet his friends, as
he often did. When the streets were quiet he would have carried the body
away upon the hand-cart that stood in the entry of the outer room. It
was not far--scarcely three hundred yards, allowing for the turnings--to
the place where the Via Montella ends in a mud bank by the dark river. A
deserted neighbourhood, too--a turn to the left, the low trees of the
Piazza de' Branca, the dark, short, straight street to the water. At one
o'clock after midnight who was stirring? It would all have been so
simple, so terribly effectual.

And then there would have been no more Paolo, no more domestic
annoyances, no more of the priest's smooth-faced disapprobation and
perpetual opposition in the house. He would have soon brought Maria
Luisa and Lucia to reason. What could they do without the support of
Paolo? They were only women after all. As for Gianbattista, if once the
poisonous influence of Paolo were removed--and how surely
removed!--Marzio's lips twisted as though he were tasting the sourness
of failure, like an acid fruit--if once the priest were gone,
Gianbattista would come back to his old ways, to his old scorn of
priests in general, of churches, of oppression, of everything that
Marzio hated. He might marry Lucia then, and be welcome. After all, he
was a finer fellow for the pretty girl than Gasparo Carnesecchi, with
his claw fingers and his vinegar salad. That was only a farce, that
proposal about the lawyer--the real thing was to get rid of Paolo. There
could be no healthy liberty of thought in the house while this fellow
was sneaking in and out at all hours. Tumble Paolo into a quiet
grave--into the river with a sackful of old castings at his neck--there
would be peace then, and freedom. Marzio ground his teeth as he thought
how nearly he had done the thing, and how miserably he had failed. It
had been the inspiration of the moment, and the details had appeared
clear at once to his mind. Going over them he found that he had not been
mistaken. If Paolo came again, and he had the chance, he would do it. It
was perhaps all the better that he had found time to weigh the matter.

But would Paolo come again? Would he ever trust himself alone in the
workshop? Had he guessed, when he turned so suddenly and saw the weapon
in the air, that the blow was on the very point of descending? Or had
he been deceived by the clumsy excuse Marzio had made about the sum
shining in his eyes?

He had remained calm, or Marzio tried to think so. But the artist
himself had been so much moved during the minutes that followed that he
could hardly feel sure of Paolo's behaviour. It was a chilling thought,
that Paolo might have understood and might have gone away feeling that
his life had been saved almost by a miracle. He would not come back, the
cunning priest, in that case; he would not risk his precious skin in
such company. It was not to be expected--a priest was only human, after
all, like any other man. Marzio cursed his ill luck again as he bent
over his work. What a moment this would be if Paolo would take it into
his head to make another visit! Even the men were gone. He would send
the one boy who remained to the church where Gianbattista was working,
with a message. They would be alone then, he and Paolo. The priest might
scream and call for help--the thick walls would not let any sound
through them. It would be even better than in the morning, when he had
lost his opportunity by a moment, by the twinkling of an eye.

"They say hell is paved with good intentions--or lost opportunities,"
muttered Marzio. "I will send Paolo with the next opportunity to help in
the paving."

He laughed softly at his grim joke, and bent lower over the crucifix.
By this time he had determined what to do, for his reflections had not
interfered with his occupation. Removing two tiny silver screws which
fitted with the utmost exactness in the threads, he loosened the figure
from the cross, removed the latter to a shelf on the wall, and returning
laid the statue on a soft leathern pad, surrounding it with sand-bags
till it was propped securely in the position he required. Then he took a
very small chisel, adjusted it with the greatest care, and tapped upon
it with the round wooden handle of his little hammer. At each touch he
examined the surface with his lens to assure himself that he was making
the improvement he contemplated. It was very delicate work, and as he
did it he felt a certain pride in the reflection that he could not have
detected the place where improvement was possible when he had worked
upon the piece ten years ago. He found it now, in the infinitesimal
touches upon the expression of the face, in the minute increase in the
depressions and accentuated lines in the anatomy of the figure. As he
went over each portion he became more and more certain that though he
could not at present do better in the way of idea and general execution,
he had nevertheless gained in subtle knowledge of effects and in skill
of handling the chisel upon very delicate points. The certainty gave
him the real satisfaction of legitimate pride. He knew that he had
reached the zenith of his capacities. His old wish to keep the crucifix
for himself began to return.

If he disposed of Paolo he might keep his work. Only Paolo had seen it.
The absurd want of logic in the conclusion did not strike him. He had
not pledged himself to his brother to give this particular crucifix to
the Cardinal, and if he had, he could easily have found a reason for
keeping it back. But he was too much accustomed to think that Paolo was
always in the way of his wishes, to look at so simple a matter in such a
simple light.

"It is strange," he said to himself. "The smallest things seem to point
to it. If he would only come!"

Again his mind returned to the contemplation of the deed, and again he
reviewed all the circumstances necessary for its safe execution. What an
inspiration, he thought, and what a pity it had not found shape in fact
at the very moment when it had presented itself! He considered why he
had never thought of it before, in all the years, as a means of freeing
himself effectually from the despotism he detested. It was a despotism,
he reflected, and no other word expressed it. He recalled many scenes in
his home, in which Paolo had interfered. He remembered how one Sunday,
in the afternoon, they had all been together before going to walk in
the Corso, and how he had undertaken to demonstrate to Maria Luisa and
Lucia the folly of wasting time in going to church on Sundays. He had
argued gently and reasonably, he thought. But suddenly Paolo had
interrupted him, saying that he would not allow Marzio to compare a
church to a circus, nor priests to mountebanks and tight-rope dancers.
Why not? Then the women had begun to scream and cry, and to talk of his
blasphemous language until he could not hear himself speak. It was
Paolo's fault. If Paolo had not been there the women would have listened
patiently enough, and would doubtless have reaped some good from his
reasonable discourse. On another occasion Marzio had declared that Lucia
should never be taught anything about Christianity, that the definition
of God was reason, that Garibaldi had baptized one child in the name of
Reason and that he, Marzio, could baptize another quite as effectually.
Paolo had interfered, and Maria Luisa had screamed. The contest had
lasted nearly a month, at the end of which tune, Marzio had been obliged
to abandon the uneven contest, vowing vengeance in some shape for the
future.

Many and many such scenes rose to his memory, and in every one Paolo was
the opposer, the enemy of his peace, the champion of all that he hated
and despised. In great things and small his brother had been his
antagonist from his early manhood, through eighteen years of married
life to the present day. And yet, without Paolo, he could hardly have
hoped to find himself in his present state of fortune.

This was one of the chief sources of his humiliation in his own eyes.
With such a character as his, it is eminently true that it is harder to
forgive a benefit than an injury. He might have felt less bitterly
against his brother if he had not received at his hands the orders and
commissions which had turned into solid money in the bank. It was hard
to face Paolo, knowing that he owed two-thirds of his fortune to such a
source. If he could get rid of the priest he would be relieved at once
from the burden of this annoyance, of this financial subjection, as well
of all that embittered his life. He pictured to himself his wife and
daughter listening respectfully to his harangues and beginning to
practise his principles, Gianbattista, an eloquent member of the society
in the inner room of the old inn, reformed, purged from his sneaking
fondness for Paolo--since Paolo would not be in the world any
longer--and ultimately married to Lucia, the father of children who
should all be baptized in the name of Reason, and the worthy successor
of himself, Marzio Pandolfi.

Scrutinising the statue under his lens, he detected a slight
imperfection in the place where one of the sharp thorns touched the
silver forehead of the beautiful, tortured head. He looked about for a
tool fine enough for the work, but none suited his wants. He took up the
long fine-pointed punch he had thrown back upon the table after the
scene in the morning. It was too long, and over sharp, but by turning it
sideways it would do the work under his dexterous fingers.

"Strange!" he muttered, as he tapped upon the tool. "It is like a
consecration!"

When he had made the stroke he dropped the instrument into the pocket of
his blouse, as though fearing to lose it. He had no occasion to use it
again, though he went on with his work during several hours.

The thoughts which had passed through his brain recurred, and did not
diminish in clearness. On the contrary, it was as though the passing
impulse of the morning had grown during those short hours into a settled
and unchangeable resolution. Once he rose from his stool, and going to
the corner, dragged away the iron-bound safe from its place. A rusty
ring lay flat in a little hollow in the surface of the trap-door. Marzio
bent over it with a pale face and gleaming eyes. It seemed to him as
though, if he looked round, he should see Paolo's body lying on the
floor, ready to be dropped into the space below. He raised the wood and
set the trap back against the wall, peering down into the black depths.
A damp smell came up to his nostrils from the moist staircase. He struck
a match, and held it into the opening, to see in what direction the
stairs led down.

Something moved behind him and made a little noise. With a short cry of
horror Marzio sprang back from the opening and looked round. It was as
though the body of the murdered man had stirred upon the floor. His
overstrained imagination terrified him, and his eyes started from his
head. He examined the bench and saw the cause of the sound in a moment.
The silver Christ, unsteadily propped in the position in which he had
just placed it, had fallen upon one side of the pad by its own weight.

Marzio's heart still beat desperately as he went back to the hole and
carefully reclosed the trap-door, dragging the heavy safe to its
position over the ring. Trembling violently, he sat down upon his stool
and wiped the cold perspiration from his forehead. Then, as he laid the
figure upon the cushion, he glanced uneasily behind him and at the
corner.



CHAPTER IX


When Don Paolo had shut the door of the studio and found himself once
more in the open street, he felt a strangely unpleasant sensation about
the heart, and for a few moments he was very pale. He had suffered a
shock, and in spite of his best efforts to explain away what had
occurred, he knew that he had been in danger. Any one who, being himself
defenceless, has suddenly seen a pistol pointed at him in earnest, or a
sharp weapon raised in the air to strike him, knows the feeling well
enough. Probably he has afterwards tried to reason upon what he felt in
that moment, and has failed to come to any conclusion except the very
simple one, that he was badly frightened. Hector was no coward, but he
let Achilles chase him three times round Troy before he could make up
his mind to stand and fight, and but for Athena he might have run even
further. And yet Hector was armed at all points for battle. He was badly
frightened, brave man as he was.

But when the first impression was gone, and Paolo was walking quickly
in the direction of the palace where the Cardinal lived, he stoutly
denied to himself that Marzio had meant to harm him. In the first place,
he could find no adequate reason for such an attempt upon his life. It
was true that his relations with his brother had not been very amicable
for some time; but between quarrelling and doing murder, Paolo saw a
gulf too wide to be easily overstepped, even by such a person as Marzio.
Then, too, the good man was unwilling to suspect any one of bad
intentions, still less of meditating a crime. This consideration,
however, was not, logically speaking, in Marzio's favour; for since
Paolo was less suspicious than other men, it must necessarily have
needed a severe shock to shake his faith in his brother's innocence. He
had seem the weapon in the air, and had seen also the murderous look in
the artist's eyes.

"I had better not think anything more about it," he said to himself,
fearing lest he should think anything unjust.

So he went on his way towards the palace, and tried to think about
Gianbattista and Lucia, their marriage and their future life. The two
young faces came up before him as he walked, and he smiled calmly,
forgetting what he had so recently passed through, in the pleasant
contemplation of a happiness not his own. He reached his rooms, high up
at the top of the ancient building, and he sighed with a sense of
relief as he sat down upon the battered old chair before his
writing-table.

Presently the Cardinal sent for him. Don Paolo rose and carefully
brushed the dust from his cassock and mantle, and smoothed the long silk
nap of his hat. He was a very neat man and scrupulous as to his
appearance. Moreover, he regarded the Cardinal with a certain awe, as
being far removed beyond the sphere of ordinary humanity, even though he
had known him intimately for years. This idea of the great importance of
the princes of the Church is inherent in the Roman mind. There is no
particular reason why it should be eradicated, since it exists, and does
no harm to any one, but it is a singular fact and worthy of remark. It
is one of those many relics of old times, which no amount of outward
change has been able to obliterate. A cardinal in Rome occupies a
position wholly distinct from that of any other dignitary or hereditary
noble. It is not so elsewhere, except perhaps in some parts of the
south. The Piedmontese scoffs at cardinals, because he scoffs at the
church and at all religion in general. The Florentine shrugs his
shoulders because cardinals represent Rome, and Rome, with all that is
in it, is hateful to Florence, and always was. But the true Roman, even
when he has adopted the ideas of the new school, still feels an
unaccountable reverence for the scarlet mantle. There is a
dignity--often, now, very far from magnificent--about the household of a
cardinal, which is not found elsewhere. The servants are more grave and
tread more softly, the rooms are darker and more severe, the atmosphere
is more still and the silence more intense, than in the houses of lay
princes. A man feels in the very air the presence of a far-reaching
power, noiselessly working to produce great results.

Don Paolo descended the stairs and entered the apartments through the
usual green baize door, which swung upon its hinges by its own weight
behind him. He passed through several large halls, scantily and sombrely
furnished, in the last of which stood the throne chair, turned to the
wall, beneath a red canopy. Beyond this great reception-chamber, and
communicating with it by a low masked door, was the Cardinal's study, a
small room, very high and lighted by a single tall window which opened
upon an inner court of the palace. The furniture was very simple,
consisting of a large writing-table, a few high-backed chairs, and the
Cardinal's own easy-chair, covered with dingy leather and well worn by
use. On the dark green walls hung two engravings, one a portrait of Pius
IX., the other a likeness of Leo XIII. The Cardinal himself sat in the
arm-chair, holding a newspaper spread out upon his knees.

"Good-day, Don Paolo," he said, in a pleasant, but not very musical
voice.

His Eminence was a man about sixty years of age, hale and strong in
appearance, but below the middle height and somewhat inclining to
stoutness. His face was round, and the complexion very clear, which,
with his small and bright brown eyes, gave him a look of cheerful
vitality. Short white hair fringed his head where it was not covered by
the small scarlet skull-cap. He wore a purple cassock with scarlet
buttons and a scarlet silk mantle, which fell in graceful folds over one
arm of the chair.

"Good-day, Eminence," answered Don Paolo, touching the great ruby ring
with his lips. Then, in obedience to a gesture, the priest sat down upon
one of the high-backed chairs.

"What weather have we to-day?" asked the Cardinal after a pause.

"Scirocco, Eminence."

"Ah, I thought so--especially this morning, very early. It is very
disagreeable. Since Padre Secchi found that the scirocco really brings
the sand of the desert with it, I dislike it more than ever. And what
have you been doing, Don Paolo? Have you been to see about the
crucifix?"

"I spoke to my brother about it last night, Eminence. He said he would
do his best to make it in the time, but that he would have preferred to
have a little longer."

"He is a good artist, your brother," said the Cardinal, nodding his head
slowly and joining his hands, while the newspaper slipped to the floor.

"A good artist," repeated Don Paolo, stooping to pick up the sheet. "I
have just seen his best work--a crucifix such as your Eminence wishes.
Indeed, he proposed that you should take it, for he says he can make
nothing better."

"Let us see, let us see," answered the prelate, in a tone which showed
that he did not altogether like the proposal. "You say he has it already
made. Tell me, has your brother much work to do just now?"

"Not much, Eminence. He has just finished the grating of a chapel for
some church or other. I think I saw a silver ewer begun upon his table."

"I thought that perhaps he had not time for my crucifix."

"But he is an artist, my brother!" cried the priest, who resented the
idea that Marzio might wish to palm off an ill-made object in order to
save time. "He is a good artist, he loves the work, he always does his
best! When he says he can do nothing better than what he has already
finished, I believe him."

"So much the better," replied the Cardinal. "But we must see the work
before deciding. You seem to have great faith in your brother's good
intentions, Don Paolo. Is it not true? Dear me! You were almost angry
with me for suggesting that he might be too busy to undertake my
commission."

"Angry! I angry? Your Eminence is unjust. Marzio puts much conscience
into his work. That is all."

"Ah, he is a man of conscience? I did not know. But, being your brother,
he should be, Don Paolo." The prelate's bright brown eyes twinkled.

Paolo was silent, though he bowed his head in acknowledgment of the
indirect praise.

"You do not say anything," observed the Cardinal, looking at his
secretary with a smile.

"He is a man of convictions," answered Paolo, at last.

"That is better than nothing, better than being lukewarm. 'Because thou
art lukewarm,' you know the rest."

"_Incipiam te evomere_," replied the priest mechanically. "Marzio is not
lukewarm."

"_Frigidusne?_" asked the Cardinal.

"Hardly that."

"_An calidus?_"

"Not very, Eminence. That is, not exactly."

"But then, in heaven's name, what is he?" laughed the prelate. "If he is
not cold, nor hot, nor lukewarm, what is he? He interests me. He is a
singular case."

"He is a man who has his opinions," answered Don Paolo. "What shall I
say? He is so good an artist that he is a little crazy about other
things."

"His opinions are not ours, I suppose. I have sometimes thought as much
from the way you speak of him. Well, well--he is not old; his opinions
will change. You are very much attached to your brother, Don Paolo, are
you not?"

"We are brothers, Eminence."

"So were Cain and Abel, if I am not mistaken," observed the Cardinal.
Paolo looked about the room uneasily. "I only mean to say," continued
the prelate, "that men may be brothers and yet not love each other."

"_Come si fà?_ What can one do about it?" ejaculated Paolo.

"You must try and influence him. You must do your best to make him
change his views. You must make an effort to bring him to a better state
of mind."

"Eh! I know," answered the priest. "I do my best, but I do not succeed.
He thinks I interfere. I am not San Filippo Neri. Why should I conceal
the matter? Marzio is not a bad man, but he is crazy about what he calls
politics. He believes in a new state of things. He thinks that
everything is bad and ought to be destroyed. Then he and his friends
would build up the ideal state."

"There would soon be nothing but equality to eat--fried, roast and
boiled. I have heard that there are socialists even here in Rome. I
cannot imagine what they want."

"They want to divide the wealth of the country among themselves,"
answered Don Paolo. "What strange ideas men have!"

"To divide the wealth of the country they have only to subtract a paper
currency from an inflated national debt. There would be more
unrighteousness than mammon left after such a proceeding. It reminds me
of a story I heard last year. A deputation of socialists waited upon a
high personage in Vienna. Who knows what for? But they went. They told
him that it was his duty to divide his wealth amongst the inhabitants of
the city. And he said they were quite right. 'Look here,' said he, 'I
possess about seven hundred thousand florins. It chances that Vienna has
about seven hundred thousand inhabitants. Here, you have each one
florin. It is your share. Good-morning.' You see he was quite just. So,
perhaps, if your brother had his way, and destroyed everything, and
divided the proceeds equally, he would have less afterwards than he had
before. What do you think?"

"It is quite true, Eminence. But I am afraid he will never understand
that. He has very unchangeable opinions."

"They will change all the more suddenly when he is tired of them. Those
ideas are morbid, like the ravings of a man in a fever. When the fever
has worn itself out, there comes a great sense of lassitude, and a
desire for peace."

"Provided it ever really does wear itself out," said Don Paolo, sadly.

"Eh! it will, some day. With such political ideas, I suppose your
brother is an atheist, is he not?"

"I hope he believes in something," replied the priest evasively.

"And yet he makes a good living by manufacturing vessels for the service
of the Church," continued the Cardinal, with a smile. "Why did you never
tell me about your brother's peculiar views, Don Paolo?"

"Why should I trouble you with such matters? I am sorry I have said so
much, for no one can understand exactly what Marzio is, who does not
know him. It is an injury to him to let your Eminence know that he is a
freethinker. And yet he is not a bad man, I believe. He has no vices
that I know of, except a sharp tongue. He is sober and works hard. That
is much in these days. Though he is mistaken, he will doubtless come to
his senses, as you say. I do not hate him; I would not injure him."

"Why do you think it can harm him to let me about him? Do you think that
I, or others, would not employ him if we knew all about him?"

"It would seem natural that your Eminence should hesitate to do so."

"Let us see, Don Paolo. There are some bad priests in the world, I
suppose; are there not?"

"It is to be feared--"

"Yes, there are. There are bad priests in all forms of religion. Yet
they say mass. Of course, very often the people know that they are bad.
Do you think that the mass is less efficacious for the salvation of
those who attend it, provided that they themselves pray with the same
earnestness?"

"No; certainly not. For otherwise it would be necessary that the people
should ascertain whether the priest is in a state of grace every time he
celebrates; and since their salvation would then, depend upon that, they
would be committing a sin if they did not examine the relative morality
of different priests and select the most saintly one."

"Well then, so much the more is it indifferent whether the inanimate
vessels we use are chiselled by a saint or an unbeliever. Their use
sanctifies them, not the moral goodness of the artist. For, by your own
argument, we should otherwise he committing a sin if we did not find
out the most saintly men and set them to silver-chiselling instead of
ordaining them bishops and archbishops. It would take a long time to
build a church if you only employed masons who were in a state of
grace."

"Well, but would you not prefer that the artist should be a good man?"

"For his own sake, Don Paolo, for his own sake. The thing he makes is
not at all less worthy if he is bad. Are there not in many of our
churches pillars that stood in Roman temples? Is not the canopy over the
high altar in Saint Peter's made of the bronze roof of the Pantheon? And
besides, what is goodness? We are all bad, but some are worse than
others. It is not our business to judge, or to distribute commissions
for works of art to those whom we think the best among men, as one gives
medals and prizes to industrious and well-behaved children."

"That is very clear, and very true," answered the priest.

He did not really want to discuss the question of Marzio's belief or
unbelief. Perhaps, if he had not been disturbed in mind by the events of
the morning he would have avoided the subject, as he had often done
before when the Cardinal had questioned him. But to-day he was not quite
himself, and being unable to tell a falsehood of any kind he had spoken
more of idle truth than he had wished. He felt that he had perhaps been
unjust to his brother. He looked ill at ease, and the Cardinal noticed
it, for he was a kindly man and very fond of his secretary.

"You must not let the matter trouble you," said the prelate, after a
pause. "I am an inquisitive old man, as you know, and I like to be
acquainted with my friends' affairs. But I am afraid I have annoyed
you--"

"Oh! Your Eminence could never--"

"Never intentionally," interrupted the Cardinal. "But it is human to
err, and it is especially human to bore one's fellow-creatures with
inquisitive questions. We all have our troubles, Don Paolo, and I am
yours. Some day, perhaps, you will be a cardinal yourself--who knows? I
hope so. And then you will have an excellent secretary, who will be much
too good, even for you, and whom you can torture by the hour together
with inquiries about his relations. Well, if it is only for your sake,
Sor Marzio shall never have any fewer commissions, even if he turn out
more in earnest with his socialism than most of those fellows."

"You are too kind," said Paolo simply.

He was very grateful for the kindly words, for he knew that they were
meant and not said merely in jest. The idea that he had perhaps injured
Marzio in the Cardinal's estimation was very painful to him, in spite
of what he had felt that morning. Moreover, the prelate's plain,
common-sense view of the case reassured him, and removed a doubt that
had long ago disturbed his peace of mind. On reflection it seemed true
enough, and altogether reasonable, but Paolo knew in his heart what a
sensation of repulsion, not to say loathing, he would experience if he
should ever be called upon to use in the sacred services a vessel of his
brother's making. The thought that those long, cruel fingers of Marzio's
had hammered and worked out the delicate design would pursue him and
disturb his thoughts. The sound of Marzio's voice, mocking at all the
priest held holy, would be in his ears and would mingle with the very
words of the canon.

But then, provided that he himself were not obliged to use his brother's
chalices, what could it matter? The Cardinal did not know the artist,
and whatever picture he might make to himself of the man would be
shadowy and indistinct. The feeling, then, was his own and quite
personal. It would be the height of superstitious folly to suppose that
any evil principle could be attached to the silver and gold because they
were chiselled by impious hands. A simple matter this, but one which had
many a time distressed Don Paolo.

There was a long pause after the priest's last words, during which the
prelate looked at him from time to time, examined his own white hands,
and turned his great ruby ring round his finger.

"Let us go to work," he said at length, as though dismissing the subject
of the conversation from his mind.

Paolo fetched a large portfolio of papers and established himself at the
writing-table, while the Cardinal examined the documents one by one, and
dictated what he had to say about them to his secretary. During two
hours or more the two men remained steadily at their task. When the last
paper was read and the last note upon it written out, the Cardinal rose
from his arm-chair and went to the window. There was no sound in the
room but that of the sand rattling upon the stiff surface, as Paolo
poured it over the wet ink in the old-fashioned way, shook it about and
returned it to the little sandbox by the inkstand. Suddenly the old
churchman turned round and faced the priest.

"One of these days, when you and I are asleep out there at San Lorenzo,
there will be a fight, my friend," he said.

"About what, Eminence?" asked the other.

"About silver chalices, perhaps. About many things. It will be a great
fight, such as the world has never seen before."

"I do not understand," said Don Paolo.

"Your brother represents an idea," answered the Cardinal. "That idea is
the subversion of all social principle. It is an idea which must spread,
because there is an enormous number of depraved men in the world who
have a very great interest in the destruction of law. The watchword of
that party will always be 'there is no God,' because God is order, and
they desire disorder. They will, it is true, always be a minority,
because the greater part of mankind are determined that order shall not
be destroyed. But those fellows will fight to the death, because they
know that in that battle there will be no quarter for the vanquished. It
will be a mighty struggle and will last long, but it will be decisive,
and will perhaps never be revived when it is once over. Men will kill
each other where-ever they meet, during months and years, before the end
comes, for all men who say that there is a God in Heaven will be upon
the one side, and all those who say there is no God will be upon the
other."

"May we not be alive to see anything so dreadful!" exclaimed Don Paolo
devoutly.

"No, you and I shall not see it. But those little children who are
playing with chestnuts down there in the court--they will see it. The
world is uneasy and dreads the very name of war, lest war should become
universal if it once breaks out. Tell your brother that."

"It is what he longs for. He is always speaking of it."

"Then it is inevitable. When many millions like him have determined that
there shall be evil done, it cannot long be warded off. Their blood be
on their own heads."

When Don Paolo had climbed again to his lonely lodging, half an hour
later, he pondered long upon what the Cardinal had said to him, and the
longer he thought of it, the more truth there seemed to be in the
prediction.



CHAPTER X


Gianbattista reached the church in which he was to do his work, and
superintended the unloading of the carts. It was but a little after one
o'clock, and he expected to succeed in putting up the grating before
night. The pieces were carefully carried to the chapel where they were
to be placed, and laid down in the order in which they would be needed.
It took a long time to arrange them, and the apprentice was glad he had
advised Maria Luisa and Lucia to come late. It would have wearied them,
he reflected, to assist at the endless fitting and screwing of the
joints, and they would have had no impression of the whole until they
were tired of looking at the details.

For hours he laboured with the men, not allowing anything to be done
without his supervision, and doing more himself than any of the workmen.
He grew hot and interested as the time went on, and he began to doubt
whether the work could be finished before sunset. The workmen
themselves, who preferred a job of this kind to the regular occupation
of the studio, seemed in no hurry, though they did what was expected of
them quietly and methodically. Each one of them was calculating, as
nearly as possible, the length of time needed to drive a screw, to lift
a piece into position, to finish off a shank till it fitted closely in
the prepared socket. Half an hour wasted by driblets to-day, would
ensure them for the morrow the diversion of an hour or two in coming to
the church and returning from it.

From time to time Gianbattista glanced towards the door, and as the
hours advanced his look took the same direction more often. At last, as
the rays of the evening sun fell through the western window, he heard
steps, and was presently rewarded by the appearance of the Signora
Pandolfi, followed closely by Lucia. They greeted Gianbattista from a
distance, for the church being under repairs was closed to the public,
and had not been in use for years, so that the sound of voices did not
seem unnatural nor irreverent.

"It is not finished," said Gianbattista, coming forward to meet them;
"but you can see what it will be like. Another hour will be enough."

At that moment Don Paolo suddenly appeared, walking fast up the aisle in
pursuit of the two women. They all greeted him with an exclamation of
surprise.

"Eh!" he exclaimed, "you are astonished to see me? I was passing and saw
you go in, and as I knew about the grating, I guessed what you came for
and followed you. Is Marzio here?"

"No," answered Gianbattista. "He said he might perhaps come, but I doubt
it. I fancy he wants to be alone."

"Yes," replied Don Paolo thoughtfully, "I daresay he wants to be alone."

"He has had a good many emotions to-day," remarked Gianbattista. "We
shall see how he will be this evening. Of course, you have heard the
news, Don Paolo? Besides, you see I am at work, so that the first great
difference has been settled. Lucia managed it--she has an eloquence,
that young lady! She could preach better than you, Don Paolo."

"She is a little angel," exclaimed the priest, tapping his niece's dark
cheek with his white hand.

"That is four to-day!" cried Lucia, laughing. "First mamma, then
papa--figure to yourself papa!--then Tista, and now Uncle Paolo. Eh! if
the wings don't grow before the Ave Maria--"

She broke off with a pretty motion of her shoulders, showing her white
teeth and turning to look at Gianbattista. Then the young man took them
to see the grating. A good portion of it was put up, and it produced a
good effect. The whole thing was about ten or twelve feet high,
consisting of widely-set gilt bars, between which were fastened large
arabesques and scrolls. On each side of the gate, in the middle, an
angel supported a metal drapery, of which the folds were in reality of
separate pieces, but which, as it now appeared, all screwed together in
its place, had a very free and light effect. It was work of a
conventional kind and of a conventional school, but even here Marzio's
great talent had shown itself in his rare knowledge of effects and free
modelling; the high lights were carefully chosen and followed out, and
the deep shadows of the folds in dull gold gave a richness to the
drapery not often found in this species of decoration. The figures of
the angels, too, were done by an artist's hand--conventional, like the
rest, but free from heaviness or anatomical defects.

"It is not bad," said Don Paolo, in a tone which surprised every one. He
was not often slow to praise his brother's work.

"How, not bad? Is that all you say?" asked Gianbattista, in considerable
astonishment. He felt, too, that as Marzio and he worked together, he
deserved acme part of the credit. "It is church decoration of course,
and not a 'piece,' as we say, but I would like to see anybody do
better."

"Well, well, Tista, forgive me," he answered, "The fact is, Marzio
showed me something to-day so wonderful, that I see no beauty in
anything else--or, at least, not so much beauty as I ought to see. I
went in to find him again, you know, just as Lucia was leaving, and he
showed me a crucifix--a marvel, a wonder!--he said he had had it a long
time, put away in a box."

"I never saw it," said Tista.

"I did!" exclaimed Lucia. She regretted the words as soon as she had
spoken them, and bit her lip. She had not told her mother what she had
told Gianbattista.

"When did you see it? Is it so very beautiful?" asked the Signora
Pandolfi.

"Oh, I only saw it through the door, when I went," she answered quickly.
"The door was open, but I knocked and I saw him hide it. But I think it
was very fine--splendid! What did you talk about, Uncle Paolo? You have
not told us about your visit. I whispered to you that everything was
settled, but you looked as though you did not understand. What did you
say to each other?"

"Oh, nothing--nothing of any importance," said Don Paolo in some
embarrassment. He suddenly recollected that, owing to his brother's
strange conduct, he had left the studio without saying a word about the
errand which had brought him. "Nothing," he repeated. "We talked about
the crucifix, and Marzio gave a very long explanation of the way it was
made. Besides, as Lucia says, she had told me that everything was
settled, and Marzio spoke very quietly."

This was literally true. Marzio's words had been gentle enough. It was
his action that had at first startled Don Paolo, and had afterwards set
him thinking and reflecting on the events of those few minutes. But he
would not for anything in the world have allowed any of his three
companions to know what had happened. He was himself not sure. Marzio
had excused the position of his hand by saying that the sun was in his
eyes. There was something else in his eyes, thought Paolo; a look of
hatred and of eager desire for blood which it was horrible to remember.
Perhaps he ought not to remember it, for he might, be mistaken, after
all, and it was a great sin to suspect any one of wishing to commit such
a crime; but nevertheless; and in spite of his desire that it might not
have been true, Don Paolo was conscious of having received the
impression, and he was sure that it had not been the result of any
foolish fright. He was not a cowardly, man, and although his physical
courage had rarely been put to the test, no one who knew him would have
charged him with the contemptible timidity which imagines danger
gratuitously, and is afraid where no fear is. He was of a better temper
than Marzio, who had been startled so terribly by a slight noise when
his back was turned. And yet he had been profoundly affected by the
scene of the morning, and had not yet entirely recovered his serenity.

Lucia noticed the tone of his answer, and suspected that something had
happened, though her suspicion took a direction exactly opposed to the
fact. She remembered what she had seen herself, and recalling the fact
that Paolo had entered the workshop just as she was leaving it, she saw
nothing unnatural in the supposition that her father's conversation with
her uncle had taken a religious tone. She used the word religion to
express to herself what she meant. She thought it quite possible that
after Marzio had been so suddenly softened, and evidently affected, by
her own fainting fit, and after having been absorbed in some sort of
devotional meditation, he might have spoken of his feelings to Don
Paolo, who in his turn would have seized the opportunity for working
upon his brother's mind. Paolo, she thought, would naturally not care to
speak lightly of such an occurrence, and his somewhat constrained manner
at the present moment might be attributed to this cause. To prevent any
further questions from her mother or Gianbattista, Lucia interposed.

"Yes," she said, "he seemed very quiet. He hardly spoke at dinner. But
Tista says he may perhaps be here before long, and then we shall know."

It was not very clear what was to be known, and Lucia hastened to direct
their attention to the new grating. Gianbattista returned to work with
the men, and the two women and Don Paolo stood looking on, occasionally
shifting their position to get a better view of the work. Gianbattista
was mounted upon a ladder which leaned against one of the marble pillars
at the entrance of the side chapel closed by the grating. A heavy piece
of arabesque work had just been got into its place, and was tied with
cords while the young man ran a screw through the prepared holes to
fasten one side of the fragment to the bar. He was awkwardly placed, but
he had sent the men to uncover and clean the last pieces, at a little
distance from where he was at work. The three visitors observed him with
interest, probably remarking to themselves that it must need good nerves
to maintain one's self in such a position. Don Paolo, especially, was
more nervous than the rest, owing, perhaps, to what had occurred in the
morning. All at once, as he watched Gianbattista's twisted attitude, as
the apprentice strained himself and turned so as to drive the screw
effectually, the foot of the ladder seemed to move a little on the
smooth marble pavement. With a quick movement Don Paolo stepped forward,
with the intention of grasping the ladder.

Hearing the sound of rapid steps, Gianbattista turned his head and a
part of his body to see what had happened. The sudden movement shifted
the weight, and definitely destroyed the balance of the ladder. With a
sharp screech, like that of a bad pencil scratching on a slate, the
lower ends of the uprights slipped outward from the pillar.
Gianbattista clutched at the metal bars desperately, but the long
screw-driver in his hands impeded him, and he missed his hold.

Don Paolo, the sound of whose step had at first made the young man turn,
and had thus probably precipitated the accident, sprang forward, threw
himself under the falling ladder, and grasped it with all his might. But
it was too late. Gianbattista was heavy, and the whole ladder with his
weight upon it had gained too much impetus to be easily stopped by one
man. With a loud crash he fell with the wooden frame upon the smooth
marble floor. Rolling to one side, Gianbattista leapt to his feet, dazed
but apparently unhurt.

The priest lay motionless in a distorted position under the ladder, his
head bent almost beneath his body, and one arm projecting upon the
pavement, seemingly twisted in its socket, the palm upwards. The long
white fingers twitched convulsively once or twice, and then were still.
It was all the affair of a moment. Maria Luisa screamed and leaned
against the pillar for support, while Lucia ran forward and knelt beside
the injured man. Gianbattista, whose life had probably been saved by Don
Paolo's quick action, was dragging away the great ladder, and the
workmen came running up in confusion to see what had happened.

It seemed as though Marzio's wish had been accomplished without his
agency. A deadly livid colour overspread the priest's refined features,
and as they lifted him his limp limbs hung down as though the vitality
would never return to them--all except the left arm, which was turned
stiffly out and seemed to refuse to hang down with the rest. It was
dislocated at the shoulder.

A scene of indescribable confusion followed, in which Gianbattista alone
seemed to maintain some semblance of coolness. The rest all spoke and
cried at once. Maria Luisa and Lucia knelt beside the body where they
had laid it on the steps of the high altar, crying aloud, kissing the
white hands and beating their breasts, praying, sobbing, and calling
upon Paolo to speak to them, all in a breath.

"He is dead as a stone," said one of the workmen in a low voice.

"Eh! He is in Paradise," said another, kneeling at the priest's feet and
rubbing them.

"Take him to the hospital, Sor Tista--"

"Better take him home--"

"I will run and call Sor Marzio--"

"There is an apothecary in the next street."

"A doctor is better--apothecaries are all murderers."

Gianbattista, very pale, but collected and steady, pushed the men gently
away from the body.

"_Cari miei_, my dear fellows," he said, "he may be alive. One of you
run and get a carriage to the side door of the sacristy. The rest of you
put the things together and be careful to leave nothing where it can
fall. We will take him to Sor Marzio's house and get the best doctor."

"There is not even a drop of holy water in the basins," moaned Maria
Luisa.

"He will go to Heaven without holy water," sobbed Lucia. "Oh, how good
he was--"

Gianbattista kneeled down in his turn and tried to find the pulse in the
poor limp wrist. Then he listened for the heart. He fancied he could
hear a faint flutter in the breast. He looked up and a little colour
came to his pale face.

"I think he is alive," he said to the two women, and then bent down
again and listened. "Yes," he continued joyfully. "The heart beats.
Gently--help me to carry him to the sacristy; get his hat one of you.
So--carefully--do not twist that arm. I think I see colour in his
cheeks--"

With four other men Gianbattista raised the body and bore it carefully
to the sacristy. The cab was already at the door, and in a few minutes
poor Don Paolo was placed in it. The hood was raised, and Maria Luisa
got in and sat supporting the drooping head upon her broad bosom. Lucia
took the little seat in front, and Gianbattista mounted to the box,
after directing the four men to follow in a second cab as fast as they
could, to help to carry the priest upstairs. He sent another in search
of a surgeon.

"Do not tell Sor Marzio--do not go to the workshop," he said in a last
injunction. He knew that Marzio would be of no use in such an emergency,
and he hoped that Don Paolo might be pronounced out of danger before the
chiseller knew anything of the accident.

In half an hour the injured man was lying in Gianbattista's bed. It was
now evident that he was alive, for he breathed heavily and regularly.
But the half-closed eyes had no intelligence in them, and the slight
flush in the hollow cheeks was not natural to see. The twisted arm still
stuck out of the bed-coverings in a painfully distorted attitude. The
two women and Gianbattista stood by the bedside in silence, waiting for
the arrival of the surgeon.

He came at last, a quiet-looking man of middle age, with grizzled hair
and a face deeply pitted with the smallpox. He seemed to know what he
was about, for he asked for a detailed account of the accident from
Gianbattista while he examined the patient. The young man, who was
beginning to feel the effects of the fall, now that the first excitement
had subsided, sat down while he told the story. The surgeon urged the
two women to leave the room.

"The left arm is dislocated at the shoulder, without fracture," said
the surgeon. "Lend me a hand, will you? Hold his body firmly--here and
here--with all your might, while I pull the joint into place. If his
head or spine are not injured the pain may bring him to consciousness.
That will be a good thing. Now, ready--one, two, three, pull!"

The two men gave a vigorous jerk, and to Gianbattista's surprise the arm
fell back in a natural position; but the injured priest's features
expressed no pain. He was evidently quite unconscious. A further
examination led the surgeon to believe that the harm was more serious.
There was a bad bruise on one side of the head, and more than one upon
other parts of the body.

"Will he live?" asked Gianbattista faintly, as he sank back into his
chair.

"Oh yes--probably. He is likely to have a brain fever; One cannot tell.
How old is he?"

He asked one or two other questions, arranging the patient's position
with skilful hands while he talked Then he asked for paper and wrote a
prescription.

"Nothing more can be done for the present," he said. "You should put
some ice on his head, and if he recovers consciousness, so as to speak
before I come back, observe what he says. He may be in a delirium, or he
may talk quite rationally. One cannot tell Send for this medicine and
give it to him if he is conscious. Otherwise, only keep his head cool. I
will come back early in the evening. You are not hurt yourself?" he
inquired, looking at Gianbattista curiously.

"No; I am badly shaken, and my hands are a little cut--that is all,"
answered the young man.

"What a beautiful thing youth is!" observed the surgeon philosophically,
as he went away.

Gianbattista remained alone in the sick-room, seated upon his chair by
the head of the bed. With anxious interest and attention he watched the
expressionless face as the heavy breath came and went between the parted
lips. In the distance he could hear the sobbing and incoherent talk of
the two women, as the doctor explained to them Paolo's condition, but he
was now too much dazed to give any thought to them. It seemed to him
that Don Paolo had sacrificed his life for him, and that he had no other
duty than to sit beside the bed and watch his friend. All the
impressions of the afternoon were very much confused, and the shock of
the fall had told upon his nerves far more severely than he had at first
realised. His limbs ached and his hands pained him; at the same time he
felt dizzy, and the outline of Don Paolo's face grew indistinct as he
watched it. He was roused by the entry of Lucia, who had hastily laid
aside her hat. Her face was pale, and her dark eyes were swollen with
tears; her hair was in disorder and was falling about her neck.
Gianbattista instinctively rose and put his arm about the girl's waist
as they stood together and looked at the sick man. He felt that it was
his duty to comfort her.

"The doctor thinks he may get well," he said.

"Who knows," she answered tearfully, and shook her head, "Oh, Tista, he
was our best friend!"

"It was in trying to save me--" said the young fellow. But he got no
further. The words stuck in his throat.

"If he lives I will be a son to him!" he added presently. "I will never
leave him. But perhaps--perhaps he is too good to live, Lucia!"

"He must not die. I will take care of him," answered Lucia. "You must
pray for him, Tista, and I will--we all will!"

"Eh! I will try, but I don't understand that kind of thing as well as
you," said Gianbattista dolefully. "If you think it is of any use--"

"Of course it is of use, my heart; do not doubt it," replied the young
girl gravely. Then her features suddenly quivered, she turned away, and,
hiding her face on the pillow beside the priest's unconscious, head, she
sobbed as though her heart would break. Gianbattista knelt down at her
side and put his arm round her neck, whispering lovingly in her ear.

The day was fading, and the last glow of the sun in the south-western
sky came through the small window at the other end of the narrow room,
illuminating the simple furniture, the white bed coverings, the upturned
face of the injured man, and the two young figures that knelt at the
bedside. It was Gianbattista's room, and there was little enough in it.
The bare bricks, with only a narrow bit of green drugget by the bed, the
plain deal table before the window, the tiny round mirror set in lead,
at which the apprentice shaved himself, the crazy old chest of
drawers--that was all. The whitewashed walls were relieved by two or
three drawings of chalices and other church vessels, the colour of the
gold or silver, and of the gems, washed into one half of the design and
the other side left in black and white. A little black cross hung above
the bedstead, with a bit of an olive branch nailed over it--a
reminiscence of the last Palm Sunday. There were two nails in another
part of the room, on which some old clothes were hung--that was all. But
the deep light of the failing day shed a peaceful halo aver everything,
and touched the coarse details of a hardworking existence with the
divine light of Heaven.

Lucia's sobbing ceased after a while, and, as the sunset faded into
twilight and dusk, the silence grew more profound; the sick man's
breathing became lighter, as though in his unconsciousness he were
beginning to rest after the day in which he had endured so much. From
the sitting-room beyond the short passage the sound of Maria Luisa's
voice, moaning in concert with old Assunta, gradually diminished till
they were heard only at intervals, and at last ceased altogether. The
household of Marzio Pandolfi was hushed in the presence of a great
sorrow, and awed by the anticipation of a great misfortune.



CHAPTER XI


Marzio, in ignorance of all that was happening at the church, continued
to work in the solitude of his studio, and the current of his thoughts
flowed on in the same channel. He tried to force his attention upon the
details of the design he meditated against his brother's life, and for
some time he succeeded. But another influence had begun to work upon his
brain, since the moment when he had been frightened by the sound behind
him while he was examining the hole beneath the strong box. He would not
own to himself that such a senseless fear could have produced a
permanent impression on him, and yet he felt disturbed and unsettled,
unaccountably discomposed, and altogether uncomfortable. He could not
help looking round from time to time at the door, and more than once his
eyes rested for several seconds upon the safe, while a slight shiver ran
through his body and seemed to chill his fingers.

But he worked on in spite of all this. The habit of the chisel was not
to be destroyed by the fancied scare of a moment, and though his eyes
wandered now and then, they came back to the silver statue as keen as
ever. A little touch with the steel at one point, a little burnishing at
another, the accentuation of a line, the deepening of a shadow--he
studied every detail with a minute and scrupulous care which betrayed
his love for the work he was doing.

And yet the uneasiness grew upon him. He felt somehow as though Paolo
were present in the room with him, watching him over his shoulder,
suggesting improvements to be made, in that voice of his which now rang
distinctly in the artist's ear. His imagination worked morbidly, and he
thought of Paolo standing beside him, ordering him to do this or that
against his will, until he began to doubt his own judgment in regard to
what he was doing. He wondered whether he should feel the same thing
when Paolo was dead. Again he looked behind him, and the idea that he
was not alone gained force. Nevertheless the room was bright, brighter
indeed in the afternoon than it ever was in the morning, for the window
was towards the south, and though the first rays of the sun reached it
at about eleven in the morning, the buildings afterwards darkened it
again until the sun was in the west. Moreover to-day, the weather had
been changeable, and it had rained a little about noon. Now the air was
again clear, and the workshop was lit up so that the light penetrated
even to the ancient cobwebs in the corners, and touched the wax models
and casts on the shelves, and gilded the old wood of the door opposite
with rich brown gold. Marzio had a curtain of dusty grey linen which he
drew across the lower part of the window to keep the sunshine off his
work.

He was impatient with himself, and annoyed by the persistency of the
impression that Paolo was in some way present in the place. As though to
escape from it by braving it he set himself resolutely to consider the
expediency of destroying his brother. The first quick impulse in the
morning had developed to a purpose in the afternoon. He had constructed
the probable occurrences out of the materials of his imagination, and
had done it so vividly as to frighten himself. The fright had in some
measure cooled his intention, and had been now replaced by a new element
in his thoughts, by the apprehension for the future if the deed were
accomplished. He began to speculate upon what would happen afterwards,
wondering whether by any means the murder could be discovered, and if in
that case it could ever be traced to him.

At the first faint suggestion that such a thing as he was devising could
possibly have another issue than he had supposed, Marzio felt a cold
sensation in his heart, and his thoughts took a different direction. It
was all simple enough. To get Paolo into the workshop alone--a
blow--the concealment of the dead body until night--then the short three
hundred yards with the hand-cart--it seemed very practicable. Yes, but
if by any chance he should meet a policeman under those low trees in the
Piazza de' Branca, what would happen? A man with a hand-cart, and with
something shapeless upon the hand-cart, in the dark, hurrying towards
the river--such a man would excite the suspicions of a policeman. Marzio
might be stopped and asked what he was taking away. He would
answer--what would he answer in such a case? The hand-cart would be
examined and found to contain a dead priest. Besides, he reflected that
the wheels would make a terrible clatter in the silent streets at night.
Of course he might go out and walk down to the river first and see if
there was anybody in the way, but even then he could not be sure of
finding no one when he returned with his burden.

But there was the cellar, after all. He could go down in the night and
bury his brother's body there. No one ever went down, not even he
himself. Who would suspect the place? It would be a ghastly job, the
chiseller thought. He fancied how it would be in the cold, damp vault
with a lantern--the white face of the murdered man. No, he shrank from
thinking of it. It was too horrible to be thought of until it should be
absolutely necessary. But the place was a good one.

And then when Paolo was buried deep under the damp stones, who would be
the first to ask for him? For two or three days no one would be much
surprised if he did not come to the house. Marzio would say that he had
met him in the street, and that Paolo had excused himself for not
coming, on the ground of extreme pressure of work. But the Cardinal,
whom he served as secretary, would ask for the missing man. He would be
the first. The Cardinal would be told that Paolo had not slept at home,
in his lodging high up in the old palace, and he would send at once to
Marzio's house to know where his secretary was. Well, he might send,
Marzio would answer that he did not know, and the matter would end
there.

It would be hard to sit calmly at the bench all day with Gianbattista at
his side. He would probably look very often at the iron-bound box.
Gianbattista would notice that, and in time he would grow curious, and
perhaps explore the cellar. It would be a miserable ending to such a
drama to betray himself by his own weakness after it was all done, and
Paolo was gone for ever--a termination unworthy of Marzio, the
strong-minded freethinker. To kill a priest, and then be as nervous and
conscious as a boy in a scrape! The chiseller tried to laugh aloud in
his old way, but the effort was ineffectual, and ended in a painful
twisting of the lips, accompanied by a glance at the corner. It would
not do; he was weak, and was forced to submit to the humiliation of
acknowledging the fact to himself. With a bitter scorn of his
incapacity, he began to wonder whether he could ever get so far as to
kill Paolo in the first instance. He foresaw that if he did kill him, he
could never get rid of him afterwards.

Where do people go when they die? The question rose suddenly in the mind
of the unbeliever, and seemed to demand an answer. He had answered often
enough over a pint of wine at the inn, with Gaspare Carnesecchi the
lawyer and the rest of his friends. Nowhere. That was the answer, clear
enough. When a man dies he goes to the ground, as a slaughtered ox to
the butcher's stall, or a dead horse to the knacker's. That is the end
of him, and it is of no use asking any more questions. You might as well
ask what becomes of the pins that are lost by myriads of millions, to
the weight of many tons in a year. You might as well inquire what
becomes of anything that is old, or worn out, or broken. A man is like
anything else, an agglomeration of matter, capable of a few more tricks
than a monkey, and capable of a few less than a priest. He dies, and is
swallowed up by the earth and gives no more trouble. These were the
answers Marzio was accustomed to give to the question, "Where do people
go to when they die?" Hitherto they had satisfied him, as they appear
to satisfy a very small minority of idiots.

But what would became of Paolo when Marzio had killed him? Well, in time
his body would become earth, that was all. There was something else,
however. Marzio was conscious to certainty that Paolo would in some way
or other be at his elbow ever afterwards, just as he seemed to feel his
presence this afternoon in the workshop. What sort of presence would it
be? Marzio could not tell, but he knew he should feel it. It did not
matter whether it were real to others or not, it would be too real to
him. He could never get rid of the sensation; it would haunt him and
oppress him for the rest of his life, and he should have no peace.

How could it, if it were not a real thing? Even the priests said that
the spirits of dead men did not come back to earth; how much more
impossible must it be in Marzio's view, since he denied that man had a
soul. It would then only be the effect of his imagination recalling
constantly the past deed, and a thing which only existed in imagination
did not exist at all. If it did not exist, it could not be feared by a
sensible man. Consequently there was nothing to fear.

The conclusion contradicted the given facts from which he had argued,
and the chiseller was puzzled. For the first time his method of
reasoning did not satisfy him, and he tried to find out the cause. Was
it, he asked to himself, because there lingered in his mind some early
tradition of the wickedness of doing murder? Since there was no soul,
there was no absolute right and wrong, and everything must be decided by
the standard of expediency. It was a mistake to allow people to murder
each other openly, of course, because people of less intellectual
capacity would take upon themselves to judge such cases in their own
way. But provided that public morality, the darling of the real
freethinker, were not scandalised, there would be no inherent wrong in
doing away with Paolo. On the contrary, his death would be a benefit to
the community at large, and an advantage to Marzio in particular. Not a
pecuniary advantage either, for in Marzio's strange system there would
have been an immorality in murdering Paolo for his money if he had ever
had any, though it seemed right enough to kill him for an idea. That is,
to a great extent, the code of those persons who believe in nothing but
what they call great ideas. The individuals who murdered the Czar would
doubtless have scrupled to rob a gentleman in the street of ten francs.
The same reasoning developed itself in Marzio's brain. If his brothel
had been rich, it would have been a crime to murder him for his wealth.
It was no crime to murder him for an idea. Marzio said to himself that
to get rid of Paolo would be to emancipate himself and his family from
the rule and interference of a priest, and that such a proceeding was
only the illustration on a small scale of what he desired for his
country; consequently it was just, and therefore it ought to be done.

Unfortunately for his logic, the continuity of his deductions was
blocked by a consideration which he had not anticipated. That
consideration could only be described as fear for the future, and it had
been forcibly thrust upon him by the fright he had received while he was
examining the hole in the floor. In order to neutralise it, Marzio had
tried the experiment of braving what he considered to be a momentary
terror by obstinately studying the details of the plan he intended to
execute. To his surprise he found that he returned to the same
conclusion as before. He came back to that unaccountable fear of the
future as surely as a body thrown upwards falls again to the earth. He
went over it all in his mind again, twice, three times, twenty times. As
often as he reached the stage at which he imagined Paolo dead, hidden,
and buried in a cellar, the same shiver passed through him as he glanced
involuntarily behind him. Why? What power could a dead body possibly
exercise over a living man in the full possession of his senses?

Here was something which Marzio could not understand, but of which he
was made aware by his own feelings. The difficulty only increased in
magnitude as he faced it, considered it, and tried to view it from all
its horrible aspects. But he could not overcome it. He might laugh at
the existence of the soul and jest about the future state after death;
he could not escape from the future in this life if he did the deed he
contemplated. He should see the dead man's face by day and night as long
as he lived.

This forced conclusion was in logical accordance with his original
nature and developed character, for it was the result of that
economical, cautious disposition which foresees the consequences of
action and guides itself accordingly. Even in the moment when he had
nearly killed Paolo that morning he had not been free from this
tendency. In the instant when he had raised the tool to strike he had
thought of the means of disposing of the body and of hindering
suspicion. The panorama of coming circumstances had presented itself to
his mind with the rapidity of a flash of lightning, but in that
infinitesimal duration of time Paolo had turned round, and the
opportunity was gone. His mind had worked quickly, but it had not gone
to the end of its reasoning. Now in the solitude of his studio he had
found leisure to follow out the results to the last link of the chain.
He saw clearly that even if he eluded discovery after the crime, he
could never escape from the horror of his dead brother's presence.

He laid the silver figure of the Christ straight before him upon the
leathern pad, and looked intently at it, while his hands played idly
with the tools upon the table. His deep-set, heavy eyes gazed fixedly at
the wonderful face, with an expression which had not yet been there.
There was no longer any smile upon his thin lips, and his dark emaciated
features were restful and quiet, almost solemn in their repose.

"I am glad I did not do it," he said aloud after some minutes.

Still he gazed at his work, and the impression stole over him that but
for a slight thing he might yet have killed his brother. If he had left
the figure more securely propped upon the pad, it could not have slipped
upon the bench; it could not have made that small distinct sound just as
he was examining the place which was to have been his brother's grave;
he would not have been suddenly frightened; he would not have gone over
the matter in his mind as he had done, from the point of view of a
future fear; he would have waited anxiously for another opportunity, and
when it presented itself he would have struck the blow, and Paolo would
have been dead, if not to-day, to-morrow. There would have been a search
which might or might not have resulted in the discovery of the body.
Then there would have been, the heartrending grief of his wife, of
Lucia, and the black suspicious looks of Gianbattista. The young man had
heard him express a wish that Paolo might disappear. His home would have
been a hell, instead of being emancipated from tyranny as he had at
first imagined. Discovery and conviction would have come at last, the
galleys for life for himself, dishonour and contempt for his family.

He remembered Paolo's words as he stood contemplating the crucifix just
before that moment which had nearly been his last. _Qui propter nos
homines et propter nostram salutem_--"Who for us men and for our
salvation came down from Heaven." In a strange revulsion of feeling
Marzio applied the words to himself, with an odd simplicity that was at
once pathetic and startling.

"If Christ had not died," he said to himself, "I should not have made
this crucifix. If I had not made it, it would not have frightened me. I
should have killed my brother. It has saved me. 'For us men and for our
salvation'--those are the words--for my salvation, it is very strange.
Poor Paolo! If he knew to what he owed his life he would be pleased. Who
can believe such things? Who would have believed this if I had told it?
And yet it is true."

For some minutes still he gazed at the figure. Then he shook himself as
though to rouse his mind from a trance, and took up his tools. He did
not glance behind him again, and, for the time at least, his nervous
dislike of the box in the corner seemed to have ceased. He laboured with
patient care, touching and re-touching, believing that each tap of the
hammer should be the last, and yet not wholly satisfied.

The light waned, and he took down the curtain to admit the last glows of
the evening. He could do no more, art itself could have done no more to
beautify and perfect the masterpiece that lay upon the cushion before
him. The many hours he had spent in putting the last finish upon the
work had produced their result. His hand had imparted something to the
features of the dying head which had not been there before, and as he
stood over the bench he knew that he had surpassed his greatest work. He
went and fetched the black cross from the shelf, and polished its smooth
surface carefully with a piece of silk. Then he took the figure tenderly
in his hands and laid it in its position. The small screws turned evenly
in the threads, fitting closely into their well-concealed places, and
the work was finished. Marzio placed the whole crucifix upon the bench
and sat down to look at it.

It made a strong impression upon him, this thing of his own hands, and
again he remained a long time resting his chin upon his folded fingers
and gazing up at the drooping lids. The shadows lay softly on the
modelled silver, so softly that the metal itself seemed to tremble and
move, and in his reverie Marzio could almost have expected the divine
eyes to open and look into his face. And gradually the shadows deepened
more and more, and gathered into gloom till in the dark the black arms
of the cross scarcely stood out from the darkness, and in the last
lingering twilight he could see only the clear outline of the white head
and outstretched hands, that seemed to emit a soft radiance gathered
from the brightness of the departed day.

Marzio struck a match and lit his lamp. His thoughts were so wholly
absorbed that he had not remembered the workmen, nor wondered why they
had not come back. After all, most of them lived in the direction of the
church, and if they had finished their work late they would very
probably go home without returning to the shop. The chiseller wrapped
the crucifix in the old white cloth, and laid it in its plain wooden
box, but he did not screw the cover down, merely putting it on loosely
so that it could be removed in a moment. He laid his tools in order,
mechanically, as he did every evening, and then he extinguished the
light and made his way to the door, carrying the box under his arm.

The boy who alone had remained at work had lighted a tallow candle, and
was sitting dangling his heels from his stool as Marzio came out.

"Still here!" exclaimed the artist.

"Eh! You did not tell me to go," answered the lad.

Marzio locked the heavy outer door and crossed over to his house, while
the boy went whistling down the street in the dusk. Slowly the artist
mounted the stairs, pondering, as he went, on the many emotions of the
day, and at last repeating his conclusion, that he was glad that he had
not killed Paolo.

By a change of feeling which he did not wholly realise, he felt for the
first time in many years that he would be glad to see his brother alive
and well. He had that day so often fancied him dead, lying on the floor
of the workshop, or buried in a dark corner of the cellar, that the idea
of meeting him, calm and well as ever, had something refreshing in it.
It was like the waking from a hideous dream of evil to find that the
harm is still undone, to experience that sense of unutterable relief
which every one knows when the dawn suddenly touches the outlines of
familiar objects in the room, and dispels in an instant the visions of
the night.

Paolo might not come that evening, but at least Maria Luisa and Lucia
would speak of him, and it would be a comfort to hear his name spoken
aloud. Marzio's step quickened with the thought, and in another moment
he was at the door. To his surprise it was opened before he could ring,
and old Assunta came forward with her wrinkled fingers raised to her
lips.

"Hist! hist!" she whispered. "It goes a little better--or at least--"

"What? Who?" asked Marzio, instinctively whispering also.

"Eh! You have not heard? Don Paolo--they have killed him!"

"Paolo!" exclaimed Marzio, staggering and leaning against the door-post.

"He is not dead--not dead yet at least," went on the old woman in low,
excited tones. "He was in the church with Tista--a ladder--"

Marzio did not stop to hear more, but pushed past Assunta with his
burden under his arm, and entered the passage. The door at the end was
open, and he saw his wife standing in the bright light in the
sitting-room, anxiously looking towards him as though she had heard his
coming.

"For God's sake, Gigia," he said, addressing her by her old pet name,
"tell me quickly what has happened!"

The Signora Pandolfi explained as well as she could, frequently giving
way to her grief in passionate sobs. She was incoherent, but the facts
were so simple that Marzio understood them. He was standing by the
table, his hand resting upon the wooden case he had brought, and his
face was very pale.

"Let me understand," he said at last. "Tista was on the ladder. The
ladder slipped, Paolo ran to catch it, and it fell on him. He is badly
hurt, but not dead; is that it, Gigia?"

Maria Luisa nodded in the midst of a fit of weeping.

"The surgeon has been, you say? Yes. And where is Paolo lying?"

"In Tista's room," sobbed his wife. "They are with him now."

Marzio stood still and hesitated. He was under the influence of the most
violent emotion, and his face betrayed something of what he felt. The
idea of Paolo's death had played a tremendous part in his thoughts
during the whole day, and he had firmly believed that he had got rid of
that idea, and was to realise in meeting his brother that it had all
been a dream. The news he now heard filled him with horror. It seemed as
if the intense wish for Paolo's death had in some way produced a
material result without his knowledge; it was as though he had killed
his brother by a thought--as though he had had a real share in his
death.

He could hardly bear to go and see the wounded man, so strong was the
impression that gained possession of him. His fancy called up pictures
of Paolo lying wounded in bed, and he dreaded to face the sight. He
turned away from the table and began to walk up and down the little
room. In a corner his foot struck against something--the drawing board
on which he had begun to sketch the night before. Marzio took it up and
brought it to the light. Maria Luisa stared at him sorrowfully, as
though reproaching him with indifference in the general calamity. But
Marzio looked intently at the drawing. It was only a sketch, but it was
very beautifully done. He saw that his ideal was still the same, and
that upon the piece of paper he had only reproduced the features he had
chiselled ten years ago, with an added beauty of expression, with just
those additions which to-day he had made upon the original. The moment
he was sure of the fact he laid aside the board and opened the wooden
case.

Maria Luisa, who was very far from guessing what an intimate connection
existed between the crucifix and Paolo in her husband's mind, looked on
with increasing astonishment as he took out the beautiful object and Bet
it upon the table in the light. But when she saw it her admiration
overcame her sorrow for one moment.

"_Dio mio!_ What a miracle!" she exclaimed.

"A miracle?" repeated her husband, with a strange expression. "Who
knows? Perhaps!"

At that moment Gianbattista and Lucia entered through the open door, and
stood together watching the scene without understanding what was
passing. The young girl recognised the crucifix at once. She supposed
that her father did not realise Paolo's condition, and was merely
showing the masterpiece to her mother.

"That is the one I saw," she whispered to Gianbattista. The young man
said nothing, but fixed his eyes upon the cross.

"Papa," said Lucia timidly, "do you know?"

"Yes. Is he alone?" asked Marzio in a tone which was not like his own.

"There is Assunta," answered the young girl.

"I will go to him," said the artist, and without further words he lifted
the crucifix from the table and went out. His face was very grave, and
his features had something in them that none of the three had seen
before--something almost of grandeur. Gianbattista and Lucia followed
him.

"I will be alone with him," said Marzio, looking back at the pair as he
reached the door of the sick chamber. He entered and a moment afterwards
old Assunta came out and shuffled away, holding her apron to her eyes.

Marzio went in. There was a small shaded lamp on the deal table, which
illuminated the room with a soft light. Marzio felt that he could not
trust himself at first to look at his brother's face. He set the
crucifix upon the old chest of drawers, and put the lamp near it. Then
he remained standing before it with his back to the bed, and his hands
in the pockets of his blouse. He could hear the regular breathing which
told that Paolo was still alive. For a long time he could not turn
round; it was as though an unseen power held him motionless in his
position. He looked at the crucifix.

"If he wakes," he thought, "he will see it. It will comfort him if he is
going to die!"

With his back still turned towards the bed, he moved to one side, until
he thought that Paolo could see what he had brought, if consciousness
returned. Very slowly, as though fearing some horrible sight, he changed
his position and looked timidly in the direction of the sick man. At
last he saw the pale upturned face, and was amazed that such an accident
should have produced so little change in the features. He came and stood
beside the bed.

Paolo had not moved since the surgeon had left; he was lying on his
back, propped by pillows so that his face was towards the light. He was
pale now, for the flush that had been in his cheeks had subsided; his
eyelids, which had been half open, had dropped and closed, so that he
seemed to be sleeping peacefully, ready to wake at the slightest sound.

Marzio stood and looked at him. This was the man he had hated through so
many years of boyhood and manhood--the man who had faced him and opposed
him at every step--who had stood up boldly before him in his own house
to defend what he believed to be right. This was Paolo, whom he had
nearly killed that morning. Marzio's right hand felt the iron tool in
the pocket of his blouse, and his fingers trembled as he touched it,
while his long arms twitched nervously from the shoulder to the elbow.
He took it out, looked at it, and at the sick man's face. He asked
himself whether he could think of using it as he had meant to, and then
he let it fall upon the bit of green drugget by the bedside.

That was Paolo--it would not need any sharpened weapon to kill him now.
A little pressure on the throat, a pillow held over his face for a few
moments, and it would all be over. And what for? To be pursued for ever
by that same white face? No. It was not worth while, it had never been
worth while, even were that all. But there was something else to be
considered. Paolo might now die of his accident, in his bed. There would
be no murder done in that case, no haunting horror of a presence, no
discovery to be feared, since there would have been no evil. Let him
die, if he was dying!

But that was not all either. What would it be when Paolo should be dead?
Well, he had his ideas, of course. They were mistaken ideas. Were they?
Perhaps, who could tell? But he was not a bad man, this Paolo. He had
never tried to wring money out of Marzio, as some people did. On the
contrary, Marzio still felt a sense of humiliation when he thought how
much he owed to the kindness of this man, his brother, lying here
injured to death, and powerless to help himself or to save himself.
Powerless? yes--utterly so. How easy it would be, after all, to press a
pillow on the unconscious face. There would probably not even be a
struggle. Who should save him, or who could know of it? And yet Marzio
did not want to do it, as he had wished to a few hours ago. As he looked
down on the pale head he realised that he did not want Paolo to die.
Standing on the sharp edge of the precipice where life ends and breaks
off, close upon the unfathomable depths of eternity, himself firmly
standing and fearing no fall, but seeing his brother slipping over the
brink, he would put out his hand to save him, to draw him back. He would
not have Paolo die.

He gazed upon the calm features, and he knew that he feared lest they
should be still for ever. The breath came more softly, more and more
faintly. Marzio thought. He bent down low and tried to feel the warm
air as it issued from the lips. His fears grew to terror as the life
seemed to ebb away from the white face. In the agony of his
apprehension, Marzio inadvertently laid his hand upon the injured
shoulder, unconsciously pressing his weight upon the place.

With a faint sigh the priest's eyes opened and seemed to gaze for a
moment on the crucifix standing in the bright light of the lamp. An
expression of wonderful gentleness and calm overspread the refined
features.

"_Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de
coelis_."

The words came faintly from the dying man's lips, the last syllables
scarcely audible in the intense stillness. A deathly pallor crept
quickly over the smooth forehead and thin cheeks. Marzio looked for one
instant more, and then with a loud cry fell upon his knees by the
bedside, his long arms extended across his brother's body. The strong
hot tears fell upon the bed coverings, and his breast heaved with
passionate sobbing.

He did not see that Paolo opened his eyes at the sound. He did not
notice the rush of feet in the passage without, as Maria Luisa and Lucia
and Gianbattista ran to the door, followed by old Assunta holding up her
apron to her eyes.

"Courage, Sor Marzio," said Gianbattista, drawing the artist back from
the bed. "You will disturb him. Do you not see that he is conscious at
last?"

Lucia was arranging the pillows under Paolo's head, and Maria Luisa was
crying with joy. Marzio sprang to his feet and stared as though he could
not believe what he saw. Paolo turned his head and looked kindly at his
brother.

"Courage, Marzio," he said, "I have been asleep, I believe--what has
happened to me? Why are you all crying?"

Marzio's tears broke out again, mingled with incoherent words of joy. In
his sudden happiness he clasped the two persons nearest to him, and
hugged them and kissed them. These two chanced to be Lucia and
Gianbattista. Paolo smiled, but the effort of speaking had tired him.

"Well," said Marzio at last, with a kinder smile than had been on his
face for many a day--"very well, children. For Paolo's sake you shall
have your own way."

Half an hour later the surgeon made his visit and assured them all that
there was no serious injury, nor any further danger to be feared. The
patient had been very badly stunned, that was all. Marzio remained by
his brother's side.

"You see, Tista," said Lucia when they were in the sitting-room, "I was
quite right about the crucifix and the rest."

"Of course," assented the Signora Pandolfi, though she did not
understand the allusion in the least. "Of course you are all of you
right. But what a day this has been, _cari miei_! What a day! Dear,
dear!" She spread out her fat hands upon her knees, looking the picture
of solid contentment.

THE END



       *       *       *       *       *



ZOROASTER

TO

My Beloved Wife

I DEDICATE THIS DRAMA



CHAPTER I.


The hall of the banquets was made ready for the feast in the palace of
Babylon. That night Belshazzar the king would drink wine with a thousand
of his lords, and be merry before them; and everything was made ready.

From end to end of the mighty nave, the tables of wood, overlaid with
gold and silver, stood spread with those things which the heart of man
can desire; with cups of gold and of glass and of jade; with great
dishes heaped high with rare fruits and rarer flowers; and over all, the
last purple rays of the great southern sun came floating through the
open colonnades of the porch, glancing on the polished marbles, tingeing
with a softer hue the smooth red plaster of the walls, and lingering
lovingly on the golden features and the red-gold draperies of the vast
statue that sat on high and overlooked the scene.

On his head the head-dress of thrice royal supremacy, in his right hand
and his left the sceptre of power and the winged wheel of immortality
and life, beneath his feet the bowed necks of prostrate captives;--so
sat the kingly presence of great Nebuchadnezzar, as waiting to see what
should come to pass upon his son; and the perfume of the flowers and the
fruits and the rich wine came up to his mighty nostrils, and he seemed
to smile there in the evening sunlight, half in satisfaction, half in
scorn.

On each side of the great building, in the aisles and wings, among the
polished pillars of marble thronged the serving-men, bearing ever fresh
spices and flowers and fruits, wherewith to deck the feast, whispering
together in a dozen Indian, Persian and Egyptian dialects, or in the
rich speech of those nobler captives whose pale faces and eagle eyes
stood forth everywhere in strong contrast with the coarser features and
duskier skins of their fellows in servitude,--the race not born to
dominate, but born to endure even to the end. These all mingled together
in the strange and broken reflections of the evening light, and here and
there the purple dye of the sun tinged the white tunic of some poor
slave to as fair a colour as a king's son might wear.

On this side and on that of the tables that were spread for the feast,
stood great candlesticks, as tall as the height of two men, tapering
from the thickness and heavy carving below to the fineness and delicate
tracery above, and bearing upon them cups of bronze, each having its
wick steeped in fine oil mixed with wax. Moreover, in the midst of the
hall, where the seat of the king was put upon a raised floor, the
pillars stood apart for a space, so that there was a chamber, as it
were, from the wall on the right to the wall on the left, roofed with
great carved rafters; and the colour of the walls was red,--a deep and
glorious red that seemed to make of the smooth plaster a sheet of
precious marble. Beyond, beneath the pillars, the panels of the aisles
were pictured and made many-coloured with the story of Nebuchadnezzar
the king, his conquests and his feasts, his captives and his courtiers,
in endless train upon the splendid wall. But where the king should sit
in the midst of the hall there were neither pillars nor paintings; only
the broad blaze of the royal colour, rich and even. Beside the table
also stood a great lamp, taller and more cunningly wrought than the
rest,--the foot of rare marble and chiselled bronze and the lamp above
of pure gold from southern Ophir. But it was not yet kindled, for the
sun was not set and the hour for the feast was not fully come.

At the upper end of the hall, before the gigantic statue of wrought
gold, there was an open space, unencumbered by tables, where the smooth,
polished marble floor came to view in all its rich design and colour.
Two persons, entering the hall with slow steps, came to this place and
stood together, looking up at the face of the golden king.

Between the two there was the gulf of a lifetime. The one was already
beyond the common limit of age, while he who stood beside him was but a
fair boy of fourteen summers.

The old man was erect still, and his snowy hair and beard grew like a
lion's mane about his massive brow and masterful face. The deep lines of
thought, graven deeper by age, followed the noble shaping of his brows
in even course, and his dark eyes still shot fire, as piercing the
bleared thickness of time to gaze boldly on the eternity beyond. His
left hand gathered the folds of a snow-white robe around him, while in
his right he grasped a straight staff of ebony and ivory, of fine
workmanship, marvellously polished, whereon were wrought strange sayings
in the Israelitish manner of writing. The old man stood up to his noble
height, and looked from the burnished face of the king's image to the
eyes of the boy beside him, in silence, as though urging his young
companion to speak for him the thoughts that filled the hearts of both.

The youth spoke not, nor gave any sign, but stood with folded hands and
gazed up to the great features of Nebuchadnezzar.

He was but fourteen years of age, tall and delicately made, full of the
promise of a graceful and elastic power, fine of skin, and instinct with
the nervous strength of a noble and untainted race. His face was fair
and white, tinged with faint colour, and his heavy golden hair fell in
long curls upon his shoulders, thick and soft with the silken fineness
of early youth. His delicate features were straight and noble, northern
rather than Oriental in their type--supremely calm and thoughtful,
almost godlike in their young restfulness. The deep blue eyes were
turned upward with a touch of sadness, but the broad forehead was as
marble, and the straight marking of the brows bounded it and divided it
from the face. He wore the straight white tunic, edged about with fine
embroideries of gold and gathered at the waist with a rich belt, while
his legs were covered with wide Persian trousers wrought in many colours
of silk upon fine linen. He wore also a small cap of linen, stiffened
to a point and worked with a cunning design in gold and silver. But the
old man's head was covered only by the thick masses of his snowy hair,
and his wide white mantle hid the details of his dress from view.

Again he glanced from the statue to his companion's eyes, and at last he
spoke, in a deep smooth voice, in the Hebrew tongue.

"Nebuchadnezzar the king is gathered to his fathers, and his son also,
and Nabonnedon Belshazzar reigns in his stead, yet have I endured to
this day, in Babylon, these threescore and seven years, since
Nebuchadnezzar the king destroyed our place upon the earth and led us
away captive. Unto this day, Zoroaster, have I endured, and yet a little
longer shall I stand and bear witness for Israel."

The old man's eyes flashed, and his strong aquiline features assumed an
expression of intense vitality and life. Zoroaster turned to him and
spoke softly, almost sadly:

"Say, O Daniel, prophet and priest of the Lord, why does the golden
image seem to smile to-day? Are the times accomplished of thy vision
which thou sawest in Shushan, in the palace, and is the dead king glad?
I think his face was never so gentle before to look upon,--surely he
rejoices at the feast, and the countenance of his image is gladdened."

"Nay, rather then should his face be sorrowful for the destruction of
his seed and of his kingdom," answered the prophet somewhat scornfully.
"Verily the end is at hand, and the stones of Babylon shall no longer
cry out for the burden of the sins of Belshazzar, and the people call
upon Bel to restore unto life the King Nebuchadnezzar; nay, or to send
hither a Persian or a Mede to be a just ruler in the land."

"Hast thou read it in the stars, or have thine eyes seen these things in
the visions of the night, my master?" The boy came nearer to the aged
prophet and spoke in low earnest tones. But Daniel only bent his head,
till his brow touched his ebony staff, and so he remained, deep in
thought.

"For I also have dreamed,"--continued Zoroaster, after a short
pause,--"and my dream took hold of me, and I am sorry and full of great
weariness. Now this is the manner of my dreaming." He stopped and
glanced down the great nave of the hall through the open porch at the
other end. The full glory of the red sun, just touching the western
plain, streamed upon his face and made the tables, the preparations and
the crowd of busy serving-men look like black shadows between him and
the light. But Daniel leaned upon his staff and spoke no word, nor moved
from his position.

"I saw in my dream," said Zoroaster, "and there was darkness; and upon
the winds of the night arose the sound of war, and the cry and the clash
of battle, mighty men striving one with another for the mastery and the
victory, which should be to the stronger. And I saw again, and behold it
was morning, and the people were led away captive, by tens, and by
hundreds, and by thousands, and the maidens also and young women into a
far country. And I looked, and the face of one of the maidens was as the
face of the fairest among the daughters of thy people. Then my heart
yearned for her, and I would have followed after into the captivity; but
darkness came upon me, and I saw her no more. Therefore am I troubled
and go heavily all the day."

He ceased and the cadence of the boy's voice trembled and was sad. The
sun set out of sight beneath the plain, and from far off a great sound
of music came in upon the evening breeze.

Daniel raised his snowy head and gazed keenly on his young companion,
and there was disappointment in his look.

"Wouldst thou be a prophet?" he asked, "thou that dreamest of fair
maidens and art disquieted for the love of a woman? Thinkest thou, boy,
that a woman shall help thee when thou art grown to be a man, or that
the word of the Lord dwelleth in vanity? Prophesy, and interpret thy
vision, if so be that thou art able to interpret it. Come, let us
depart, for the king is at hand, and the night shall be given over for a
space to the rioters and the mirth-makers, with whom our portion is not.
Verily I also have dreamed a dream. Let us depart."

The venerable prophet stood up to his height, and grasping his staff in
his right hand, began to lead the way from the hall. Zoroaster laid hold
of him by the arm, as though entreating him to remain.

"Speak, master," he cried earnestly, "and declare to me thy dream, and
see whether it accords with mine, and whether there shall be darkness
and rumour of war in the land."

But Daniel the prophet would not stay to speak, but went out of the
hall, and Zoroaster the Persian youth went with him, pondering deeply on
the present and on the future, and on the nature of the vision he had
seen; and made fearful by the silence of his friend and teacher.

The darkness fell upon the twilight, and within the hall the lamps and
candlesticks were kindled and gave out warm light and rare perfumes. All
down the endless rows of tables, the preparations for the feast were
ready; and from the gardens without, strains of music came up ever
stronger and nearer, so that the winged sounds seemed to come into the
vast building and hover above the tables and seats of honour, preparing
the way for the guests. Nearer and nearer came the harps and the pipes
and the trumpets and the heavy reed-toned bagpipes, and above all the
strong rich chorus of the singers chanting high the evening hymn of
praise to Bel, god of sunlight, honoured in his departing, as in his
coming, with the music of the youngest and most tuneful voices in
Shinar.

First came the priests of Bel, two and two, robed in their white tunics,
loose white garments on their legs, the white mitre of the priestly
order on their heads, and their great beards curled smooth and glossy as
silk. In their midst, with stately dignity, walked their chief, his eyes
upon the ground, his hands crossed upon his breast, his face like dark
marble in the twilight. On either side, those who had officiated at the
sacrifice, bore the implements of their service,--the knife, the axe,
the cord, and the fire in its dish; and their hands were red with the
blood of the victim lately slain. Grand, great men, mighty of body and
broad of brow, were these priests of Bel,--strong with the meat and the
wine of the offerings that were their daily portion, and confident in
the faith of their ancient wisdom.

After the priests the musicians, one hundred chosen men of skill, making
strange deep harmonies in a noble and measured rhythm, marching ten and
ten abreast, in ten ranks; and as they came on, the light streaming from
the porch of the palace caught their silver ornaments and the strange
shapes of their instruments in broken reflections between the twilight
and the glare of the lamps.

Behind these came the singers,--of young boys two hundred, of youths a
hundred, and of bearded men also a hundred; the most famous of all that
sang praises to Bel in the land of Assur. Ten and ten they marched, with
ordered ranks and step in time to the massive beat of the long-drawn
measure.

 _"Mighty to rule the day, great in his glory and the
       pride of his heat,
   Shooting great bolts of light into the dark earth,
       turning death into life,
   Making the seed to grow, strongly and fairly, high
       in furrow and field,
   Making the heart of man glad with his gladness,
       rideth over the dawn
           Bel, the prince, the king of kings.

  "Hotly his flaming hair, streaming with brightness,
       and the locks of his beard
   Curl'd into clouds of heat, sweeping the heavens,
       spread all over the sky:
   Who shall abide his face, fearful and deadly, when
       he devours the land,
   Angry with man and beast, horribly raging, hungry
       for sacrifice?
           Bel, the prince, the king of kings.

  "Striding his three great strides, out of the morning
       through the noon to the night,
   Cometh he down at last, ready for feasting, ready
       for sacrifice:
   Then doth he tread the wine, purple and golden,
       foaming deep in the west;
   Shinar is spread for him, spread as a table, Assur
       shall be his seat:
           Bel, the prince, the king of kings.

  "Bring him the fresh-slain flesh, roast it with fire,
       with the savour of salt,
   Pour him the strength of wine, chalice and goblet,
       trodden for him alone:
   Raise him the song of songs, cry out in praises, cry
       out and supplicate
   That he may drink delight, tasting our off'ring, hearing
       our evening song:
           Bel, the prince, the king of kings.

  "So, in the gentle night, when he is resting,
       peace descendeth on earth;
   High in the firmament, where his steps led him,
       gleam the tracks of his way:
   Where the day felt his touch, there the night also
       breaketh forth into stars,
   These are the flowers of heaven, garlands of blossoms,
       growing to weave his crown:
           Bel, the prince, the king of kings.

  "Hail! thou king of the earth, hail! Belteshazzar,
       hail! and for ever live!
   Born of the gods on high, prince of the nations,
       ruling over the world:
   Thou art the son of Bel, full of his glory, king over
       death and life;
   Let all the people bow, tremble and worship, bow
       them down and adore
           The prince of Bel, the king of kings."_

As the musicians played and the singers sang, they divided their ranks
and came and stood on each side of the broad marble staircase; and the
priests had done so before them, but the chief priest stood alone on the
lowest step.

Then, between the files of those who stood, advanced the royal
procession, like a river of gold and purple and precious stones flowing
between banks of pure white. Ten and ten, a thousand lords of Babylon
marched in stately throng, and in their midst rode Belshazzar the king,
high upon his coal-black steed, crowned with the great tiara of white
linen and gold and jewels, the golden sceptre of the kingdom in his
right hand. And after the lords and the king came a long procession of
litters borne by stalwart slaves, wherein reclined the fairest women of
all Assyria, bidden to the great feast. Last of all, the spearmen of
the guard in armour all chased with gold, their mantles embroidered with
the royal cognisance, and their beards trimmed and curled in the close
soldier fashion, brought up the rear; a goodly company of men of war.

As the rich voices of the singers intoned the grand plain chant of the
last stanza in the hymn, the king was in the middle of the open space at
the foot of the staircase; there he drew rein and sat motionless on his
horse, awaiting the end. As the ripe corn bends in its furrows to the
wind, so the royal host around turned to the monarch, and fell upon
their faces as the music died away at the signal of the high priest.
With one consent the lords, the priests, the singers and the spearmen
bowed and prostrated themselves on the ground; the bearers of the
litters set down their burden while they did homage; and each of those
beautiful women bent far forward, kneeling in her litter, and hid her
head beneath her veil.

Only the king sat erect and motionless upon his steed, in the midst of
the adoring throng. The light from the palace played strangely on his
face, making the sneering smile more scornful upon his pale lips, and
shading his sunken eyes with a darker shadow.

While you might count a score there was silence, and the faint evening
breeze wafted the sweet smell of the roses from the gardens to the
king's nostrils, as though even the earth would bring incense of
adoration to acknowledge his tremendous power.

Then the host rose again and fell back on either side while the king
rode to the staircase and dismounted, leading the way to the banquet;
and the high priest followed him and all the ranks of the lords and
princes and the ladies of Babylon, in their beauty and magnificence,
went up the marble steps and under the marble porch, spreading then like
a river, about the endless tables, almost to the feet of the golden
image of Nebuchadnezzar. And presently, from beneath the colonnades a
sound of sweet music stole out again and filled the air; the serving-men
hurried hither and thither, the black slaves plied their palm-leaf fans
behind each guest, and the banquet was begun.

Surely, a most glorious feast, wherein the hearts of the courtiers waxed
merry, and the dark eyes of the Assyrian women shot glances sweeter than
the sweetmeats of Egypt and stronger than the wine of the south to move
the spirit of man. Even the dark king, wasted and hollow-eyed with too
much pleasure-seeking, smiled and laughed,--sourly enough at first, it
is true, but in time growing careless and merry by reason of his deep
draughts. His hand trembled less weakly as the wine gave him back his
lost strength, and more than once his fingers toyed playfully with the
raven locks and the heavy earrings of the magnificent princess at his
elbow. Some word of hers roused a thought in his whirling brain.

"Is not this day the feast of victories?" he cried in sudden animation;
and there was silence to catch the king's words. "Is not this the day
wherein my sire brought home the wealth of the Israelites, kept holy
with feasting for ever? Bring me the vessels of the unbelievers' temple,
that I may drink and pour out wine this night to Bel, the god of gods!"

The keeper of the treasure had anticipated the king's desire and had
caused everything to be made ready; for scarcely had Belshazzar spoken
when a long train of serving-men entered the hall of the banquet and
came and stood before the royal presence, their white garments and the
rich vessels they bore aloft standing vividly out against the deep even
red of the opposite wall.

"Let the vessels be distributed among us," cried the king,--"to every
man a cup or a goblet till all are served."

And so it was done, and the royal cup-bearer came and filled the huge
chalice that the king held, and the serving-men hastened to fill all the
cups and the small basins; while the lords and princes laughed at the
strange shapes, and eyed greedily enough the thickness and the good
workmanship of the gold and silver. And so each man and each woman had a
vessel from the temple of Jerusalem wherein to drink to the glory of Bel
the god and of Belshazzar his prince. And when all was ready, the king
took his chalice in his two hands and stood up, and all that company of
courtiers stood up with him, while a mighty strain of music burst
through the perfumed air, and the serving-men showered flowers and
sprinkled sweet odours on the tables.

Without stood the Angel of Death, whetting his sword upon the stones of
Babylon. But Belshazzar held the chalice and spoke with a loud voice to
the princes and the lords and the fair women that stood about the tables
in the great hall:

"I, Belshazzar the king, standing in the hall of my fathers, do pour
and drink this wine to the mighty majesty of Bel the great god, who
lives for ever and ever; before whom the gods of the north and of the
west and of the east and of the south are as the sand of the desert in
the blast; at whose sight the vain deities of Egypt crumbled into
pieces, and the God of the Israelites trembled and was made little in
the days of Nebuchadnezzar my sire. And I command you, lords and princes
of Babylon, you and your wives and your fair women, that ye also do pour
wine and drink it, doing this homage to Bel our god, and to me,
Belshazzar the king."

And so saying, he turned about to one side and spilled a few drops of
wine upon the marble floor, and set the cup to his lips, facing the
great throng of his guests; and he drank. But from all the banquet went
up a great shout.

"Hail! king, live for ever! Hail! prince of Bel, live for ever! Hail!
king of kings, live for ever!" Long and loud was the cry, ringing and
surging through the pillars and up to the great carved rafters till the
very walls seemed to rock and tremble with the din of the king's praise.

Slowly Belshazzar drained the cup to the dregs, while with half-closed
eyes he listened to the uproar, and perhaps sneered to himself behind
the chalice, as was his wont. Then he set the vessel down and looked up.
But as he looked he staggered and turned pale, and would have fallen; he
grasped the ivory chair behind him and stood trembling in every joint,
and his knees knocking together, while his eyes seemed starting from
his head, and all his face was changed and distorted with dreadful fear.

Upon the red plaster of the wall, over against the candlestick which
shed its strong rays upon the fearful sight, the fingers of a vast hand
moved and traced letters. Only the fingers could be seen, colossal and
of dazzling brightness, and as they slowly did their work, huge
characters of fire blazed out upon the dark red surface, and their
lambent angry flame dazzled those who beheld, and the terror of terrors
fell upon all the great throng; for they stood before Him whose shadow
is immortality and death.

In a silence that could be felt, the dread hand completed its message
and vanished out of sight, but the strange fire burned bright in the
horrid characters of the writing that remained upon the wall.

This was the inscription in Chaldean letters:

   SUTMM
   IPKNN
   NRLAA

Then at last the king found speech and shrieked aloud wildly, and he
commanded that they should bring in all the astrologers, the Chaldeans
and the diviners, for he was in great terror and he dreaded some fearful
and imminent catastrophe.

"Whoever shall read this writing," he cried, his voice changed and
broken, "and declare to me the meaning of it, shall be clothed in
purple, and shall have a chain of gold about his neck and shall rule as
the third in the kingdom."

Amidst the mighty confusion of fear, the wise men were brought in before
the king.



CHAPTER II.


In Ecbatana of Media Daniel dwelt in his extreme old age. There he built
himself a tower within the seven-fold walls of the royal fortress, upon
the summit of the hill, looking northward towards the forests of the
mountains, and southward over the plain, and eastward to the river, and
westward to Mount Zagros. His life was spent, and he was well-nigh a
hundred years old. Seventeen years had passed since he had interpreted
the fatal writing on the wall of the banquet-hall in Babylon in the
night when Nabonnedon Belshazzar was slain, and the kingdom of the
Assyrians destroyed for ever. Again and again invested with power and
with the governorship of provinces, he had toiled unceasingly in the
reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses, and though he was on the very boundary of
possible lifetime, his brain was unclouded, and his eye keen and
undimmed still. Only his grand figure was more bent and his step slower
than before.

He dwelt in Ecbatana of the north, in the tower he had built for
himself.[1] In the midst of the royal palaces of the stronghold he had
laid the foundations duly to the north and south, and story upon story
had risen, row upon row of columns, balcony upon balcony of black
marble, sculptured richly from basement to turret, and so smooth and
hard, that its polished corners and sides and ornaments glittered like
black diamonds in the hot sun of the noonday, and cast back the
moonbeams at night in a darkly brilliant reflection.

     [Footnote 1: Josephus, _Antiquities of the Jews_, book x. chap.
     xi. 7.]

Far down below, in the gorgeous dwellings that filled the interior of
the fortress, dwelt the kinsfolk of the aged prophet, and the families
of the two Levites who had remained with Daniel and had chosen to
follow him to his new home in Media rather than to return to Jerusalem
under Zerubbabel, when Cyrus issued the writ for the rebuilding of the
temple. There lived also in the palace Zoroaster, the Persian prince,
being now in the thirty-first year of his age, and captain of the city
and of the stronghold. And there, too, surrounded by her handmaidens and
slaves, in a wing of the palace apart from the rest, and more beautiful
for its gardens and marvellous adornment, lived Nehushta, the last of
the descendants of Jehoiakim the king remaining in Media; she was the
fairest of all the women in Media, of royal blood and of more than royal
beauty.

She was born in that year when Babylon was overthrown, and Daniel had
brought her with him to Shushan when he had quitted Assyria, and thence
to Ecbatana. In the care of the prophet's kinswomen the little maid had
thriven and grown fair in the stranger's land. Her soft child's eyes had
lost their wondering look and had turned very proud and dark, and the
long black lashes that fringed the heavy lids drooped to her cheek when
she looked down. Her features were noble and almost straight in outline,
but in the slight bend, at the beginning of the nose, in the wide curved
nostrils, the strong full lips, and in the pale olive skin, where the
blood ebbed and flowed so generously, the signs of the Jewish race were
all present and unmistakable.

Nehushta, the high-born lady of Judah, was a princess in every movement,
in every action, in every word she uttered. The turn of her proud head
was sovereign in its expression of approval or contempt, and Zoroaster
himself bowed to the simple gesture of her hand as obediently as he
would have done before the Great King in all his glory. Even the
venerable prophet, sitting in his lofty tower high above the city and
the fortress, absorbed in the contemplation of that other life which was
so very near to him, smiled tenderly and stretched out his old hands to
greet Nehushta when she mounted to his chamber at sunset, attended by
her maidens and her slaves. She was the youngest of all his
kinsfolk--fatherless and motherless, the last direct descendant of King
Jehoiakim remaining in Media, and the aged prophet and governor
cherished her and loved her for her royalty, as well as for her beauty
and her kinship to himself. Assyrian in his education, Persian in his
adherence to the conquering dynasty and in his long and faithful service
of the Persians, Daniel was yet in his heart, as in his belief, a true
son of Judah; proud of his race and tender of its young branches, as
though he were himself the father of his country and the king of his
people.

The last red glow of the departed day faded and sank above the black
Zagros mountains to westward. The opposite sky was cold and gray, and
all the green plain turned to a dull soft hue as the twilight crept
over it, ever darker and more misty. In the gardens of the palace the
birds in thousands sang together in chorus, as only Eastern birds do
sing at sunrise and at nightfall, and their voices sounded like one
strong, sweet, high chord, unbroken and drawn out.

Nehushta wandered in the broad paths alone. The dry warm air of the
summer's evening had no chill in it, and though a fine woven mantle of
purple from Srinagur hung loosely from her shoulders, she needed not to
draw it about her. The delicate folds of her upper tunic fell closely
around her to her knees, and were gathered at the waist by a magnificent
belt of wrought gold and pearls; the long sleeves, drawn in at the wrist
by clasps of pearls, almost covered her slender hands; and as she walked
her delicate feet moved daintily in rich embroidered sandals with high
golden heels, below the folds of the wide trousers of white and gold
embroidery, gathered in at the ankle. Upon her head the stiff linen
tiara of spotless white sat proudly as a royal crown, the folds of it
held by a single pearl of price, and from beneath it her magnificent
hair rolled down below her waist in dark smooth waves.

There was a terrace that looked eastward from the gardens. Thither
Nehushta bent her steps, slowly, as though in deep thought, and when she
reached the smooth marble balustrade, she leaned over it and let her
dark eyes rest on the quiet landscape. The peace of the evening
descended upon her; the birds of the day ceased singing with the growing
darkness; and slowly, out of the plain, the yellow moon soared up and
touched the river and the meadows with mystic light; while far off, in
the rose-thickets of the gardens, the first notes of a single
nightingale floated upon the scented breeze, swelling and trilling,
quivering and falling again, in a glory of angelic song. The faint air
fanned her cheek, the odours of the box and the myrtle and the roses
intoxicated her senses, and as the splendid shield of the rising moon
cast its broad light into her dreaming eyes, her heart overflowed, and
Nehushta the princess lifted up her voice and sang an ancient song of
love, in the tongue of her people, to a soft minor melody, that sounded
like a sigh from the southern desert.

 _"Come unto me, my beloved, in the warmth of the darkness, come--
    Rise, and hasten thy footsteps, to be with me at night-time, come!

  "I wait in the darkness for him, and the sand of the desert whirling
   Is blown at the door of my tent which is open toward the desert.

  "My ear in the darkness listeth for the sound of his coming nearer,
   Mine eyes watch for him and rest not, for I would not he found me
       sleeping.

  "For when my beloved cometh, he is like the beam of the morning;[2]
   Ev'n as the dawn in a strange land to the sight of a man journeying.

  "Yea, when my beloved cometh, as dew that descendeth from heaven,
   No man can hear when it falleth, but as rain it refresheth all
       things.

  "In his hand bringeth he lilies, in his right hand are many flowers,
   Roses hath he on his forehead, he is crowned with roses from Shinar.

  "The night-winds make sweet songs for him, even in the darkness soft
       music;
   Whithersoever he goeth, there his sweetness goeth before him."_

     [Footnote 2: "Thou art to me as the beam of the east rising in
     a strange land."--_Ossian_.]

Her young voice died away in a soft murmuring cadence, and the
nightingale alone poured out her heartful of lore to the ancient moon.
But as Nehushta rested immovable by the marble balustrade of the
terrace, there was a rustle among the myrtles and a quick step on the
pavement. The dark maiden started at the sound, and a happy smile parted
her lips. But she did not turn to look; only her hand stole out behind
her on the marble where she knew her lover's would meet it. There was in
the movement all the certainty of conquest and yet all the tenderness of
love. The Persian trod quickly and laid his hand on hers, and bent to
her, trying to meet her eyes: for one moment still she gazed out
straight before her, then turned and faced him suddenly, as though she
had withheld her welcome as long as she could and then given it all at
once.

"I did not call you," she said, covering him with her eyes in the
moonlight, but making as though she would withdraw herself a little from
him, as he drew her with his hand, and with his arm, and with his eyes.

"And yet I heard you call me, my beloved," answered Zoroaster. "I heard
your voice singing very sweet things in your own language--and so I
came, for you did call me."

"But did you pride yourself it was for you?" laughed Nehushta. "I sang
of the desert, and of tents, and of whirling sand--there is none of
these things here."

"You said that your beloved brought roses in his hand--and so I do. I
will crown you with them. May I? No--I shall spoil your head-dress. Take
them and do as you will with them."

"I will take them--and--I always do as I will."

"Then will to take the giver also," answered Zoroaster, letting his arm
steal about her, as he half sat upon the balustrade. Nehushta looked at
him again, for he was good to see, and perhaps she loved his straight
calm features the better in that his face was fair, and not dark like
hers.

"Methinks I have taken the giver already," she answered.

"Not yet--not all," said Zoroaster in a low voice, and a shadow of
sadness crossed his noble face that looked white in the moonlight.
Nehushta sighed softly and presently she laid her cheek upon his
shoulder where the folding of his purple mantle made a pillow between
her face and the polished golden scales of his breastplate.

"I have strange news to tell you, beloved," said Zoroaster presently.
Nehushta started and looked up, for his voice was sad. "Nay, fear not!"
he continued, "there is no harm in it, I trust; but there are great
changes in the kingdom, and there will be greater changes yet. The seven
princes have slain Smerdis in Shushan, and Darius is chosen king, the
son of Gushtasp, whom the Greeks call Hystaspes."

"He who came hither last year?" asked Nehushta quickly. "He is not fair,
this new king."

"Not fair," replied the Persian, "but a brave man and a good. He has,
moreover, sent for me to go to Shushan--"

"For you!" cried Nehushta, suddenly laying her two hands on Zoroaster's
shoulders and gazing into his eyes. His face was to the moonlight, while
hers was in the dark, and she could see every shade of expression. He
smiled. "You laugh at me!" she cried indignantly. "You mock me--you are
going away and you are glad!"

She would have turned away from him, but he held her two hands.

"Not alone," he answered. "The Great King has sent an order that I shall
bring to Shushan the kinsfolk of Jehoiakim, saving only Daniel, our
master, for he is so old that he cannot perform the journey. The king
would honour the royal seed of Judah, and to that end he sends for you,
most noble and most beloved princess."

Nehushta was silent and thoughtful; her hand slipped from Zoroaster's
grasp, and her eyes looked dreamily out at the river, on which the beams
of the now fully-risen moon glanced, as on the scales of a silver
serpent.

"Are you glad, my beloved?" asked Zoroaster. He stood with his back to
the balustrade, leaning on one elbow, and his right hand played
carelessly with the heavy gold tassels of his cloak. He had come up from
the fortress in his armour, as he was, to bring the news to Nehushta and
to Daniel; his gilded harness was on his back, half-hidden by the ample
purple cloak, his sword was by his side, and on his head he wore the
pointed helmet, richly inlaid with gold, bearing in front the winged
wheel which the sovereigns of the Persian empire had assumed after the
conquest of Assyria. His very tall and graceful body seemed planned to
combine the greatest possible strength with the most surpassing
activity, and in his whole presence there breathed the consciousness of
ready and elastic power, the graceful elasticity of a steel bow always
bent, the inexpressible ease of motion and the matchless swiftness that
men had when the world was young--that wholeness of harmonious
proportion which alone makes rest graceful, and the inactivity of
idleness itself like a mode of perfect motion. As they stood there
together, the princess of Judah and the noble Persian, they were wholly
beautiful and yet wholly contrasted--the Semite and the Aryan, the dark
race of the south, on which the hot air of the desert had breathed for
generations in the bondage of Egypt, and left its warm sign-manual of
southern sunshine,--and the fair man of the people whose faces were
already set northwards, on whom the north breathed already its icy
fairness, and magnificent coldness of steely strength.

"Are you glad, my beloved?" asked Zoroaster again, looking up and laying
his right hand on the princess's arm. She had given no answer to his
question, but only gazed dreamily out over the river.

She seemed about to speak, then paused again, then hesitated and
answered his question by another.

"Zoroaster--you love me," again she paused, and, as he passionately
seized her hands and pressed his lips to them, she said softly, turning
her head away, "What is love?"

He, too, waited one moment before he answered, and, standing to his
lordly height, took her head between his hands and pressed it to his
breast; then, with one arm around her, he stood looking eastward and
spoke:

"Listen, my beloved, and I, who love you, will tell you what love is. In
the far-off dawn of the soul-life, in the ethereal distance of the outer
firmament, in the mist of the star-dust, our spirits were quickened with
the spirit of God, and found one another, and met. Before earth was for
us, we were one; before time was for us, we were one--even as we shall
be one when there is no time for us any more. Then Ahura Mazda, the
all-wise God, took our two souls from among the stars, and set them in
the earth, clothed for a time with mortal bodies. But we know each
other, that we were together from the first, although these earthly
things obscure our immortal vision, and we see each other less clearly.
Yet is our love none the less--rather, it seems every day greater, for
our bodies can feel joy and sorrow, even as our spirits do; so that I am
able to suffer for you, in which I rejoice, and I would that I might be
chosen to lay down my life for you, that you might know how I love you;
for often you doubt me, and sometimes you doubt yourself. There should
be no doubt in love. Love is from the first, and will be to the end, and
beyond the end; love is so eternal, so great, so whole, that this mortal
life of ours is but as a tiny instant, a moment of pausing in our
journey from one star-world to another along the endless paths of
heavenly glory we shall tread, together--it is nothing, this worldly
life of ours. Before it shall seem long that we have loved, this earth
we stand on, these things we touch, these bodies of ours that we think
so strong and fair, will be forgotten and dissolved into their elements
in the trackless and undiscoverable waste of past mortality, while we
ourselves are ever young, and ever fair, and for ever living in our
immortal love."

Nehushta looked up wonderingly into her lover's eyes, then let her head
rest on his shoulder. The high daring of his thoughts seemed ever trying
to scale heaven itself, seeking to draw her to some wondrous region of
mystic beauty and strange spirit life. She was awed for a moment, then
she, too, spoke in her own fashion.

"I love life," she said, "I love you because you live, not because you
are a spirit chained and tied down for a time. I love this soft sweet
earth, the dawn of it, and the twilight of it; I love the sun in his
rising and in his setting; I love the moon in her fulness and in her
waning; I love the smell of the box and of the myrtle, of the roses and
of the violets; I love the glorious light of day, the splendour of heat
and greenness, the song of the birds of the air and the song of the
labourer in the field, the hum of the locust, and the soft buzzing of
the bee; I love the brightness of gold and the richness of fine purple,
the tramp of your splendid guards and the ring of their trumpets
clanging in the fresh morning, as they march through the marble courts
of the palace. I love the gloom of night for its softness, the song of
the nightingale in the ivory moonlight, the rustle of the breeze in the
dark rose-thickets, and the odour of the sleeping flowers in my gardens;
I love even the cry of the owl from the prophet's tower, and the soft
thick sound of the bat's wings, as he flits past the netting of my
window. I love it all, for the whole earth is rich and young and good to
touch, and most sweet to live in. And I love you because you are more
beautiful than other men, fairer and stronger and braver, and because
you love me, and will let no other love me but yourself, if you were to
die for it. Ah, my beloved, I would that I had all the sweet voices of
the earth, all the tuneful tongues of the air, to tell you how I love
you!"

"There is no lack of sweetness, nor of eloquence, my princess," said
Zoroaster; "there is no need of any voice sweeter than yours, nor of any
tongue more tuneful. You love in your way, I in mine; the two together
must surely be the perfect whole. Is it not so? Nay--seal the deed once
again--and again--so! 'Love is stronger than death,' says your
preacher."

"'And jealousy is as cruel as the grave,' he says, too," added Nehushta,
her eyes flashing fire as her lips met his. "You must never make me
jealous, Zoroaster, never, never! I would be so cruel--you cannot dream
how cruel I would be!"

Zoroaster laughed under his silken beard, a deep, joyous, ringing laugh
that startled the moonlit stillness.

"By Nabon and Bel, there is small cause for your jealousy here," he
said.

"Swear not by your false gods!" laughed Nehushta. "You know not how
little it would need to rouse me."

"I will not give you that little," answered the Persian. "And as for the
false gods, they are well enough for a man to swear by in these days.
But I will swear by any one you command me, or by anything!"

"Swear not, or you will say again that the oath has need of sealing,"
replied Nehushta, drawing her mantle around her, so as to cover half her
face. "Tell me, when are we to begin our journey? We have talked much
and have said little, as it ever is. Shall we go at once, or are we to
wait for another order? Is Darius safe upon the throne? Who is to be
chiefest at the court--one of the seven princes, I suppose, or his old
father? Come, do you know anything of all these changes? Why have you
never told me what was going to happen--you who are high in power and
know everything?"

"Your questions flock upon me like doves to a maiden who feeds them
from her hand," said Zoroaster, with a smile, "and I know not which
shall be fed first. As for the king, I know that he will be great, and
will hold securely the throne, for he has already the love of the people
from the Western sea to the wild Eastern mountains. But it seemed as
though the seven princes would have divided the empire amongst them,
until this news came. I think he will more likely take one of your
people for his close friend than trust to the princes. As for our
journey, we must depart betimes, or the king will have gone before us
from Shushan to Stakhar in the south, where they say he will build
himself a royal dwelling and stay in the coming winter time. Prepare
yourself for the journey, therefore, my princess, lest anything be
forgotten and you should be deprived of what you need for any time."

"I am never deprived of what I need," said Nehushta, half in pride and
half in jest.

"Nor I, when I am with my beloved!" answered the Persian. "And now the
moon is high, and I must bear this news to our master, the prophet."

"So soon?" said Nehushta reproachfully, and she turned her head away.

"I would there were no partings, my beloved, even for the space of an
hour," answered Zoroaster, tenderly drawing her to him; but she resisted
a little and would not look at him.

"Farewell now--good-night, my princess--light of my soul;" he kissed her
dark cheek passionately. "Good-night!"

He trod swiftly across the terrace.

"Zoroaster! prince!" Nehushta called aloud, but without turning. He
came back. She threw her arms about his neck and kissed him almost
desperately. Then she pushed him gently away from her.

"Go--my love--only that," she murmured, and he left her standing by the
marble balustrade, while the yellow moon turned slowly pale as she rose
in the heavens, and the song of the lorn nightingale re-echoed in the
still night, from the gardens to the towers, in long sweet cries of
burning love, and soft, complaining, silvery notes of mingled sorrow and
joy.



CHAPTER III.


In the prophet's chamber, also, the moonbeams fell upon the marble
floor; but a seven-beaked Hebrew lamp of bronze shed a warmer light
around, soft and mellow, yet strong enough to illuminate the scroll that
lay open upon the old man's knee. His brows were knit together, and the
furrows on his face were shaded deeply by the high light, as he sat
propped among many cushions and wrapped in his ample purple cloak that
was thickly lined with fur and drawn together over his snowy beard; for
the years of his life were nearly accomplished, and the warmth of his
body was even then leaving him.

Zoroaster raised the heavy curtain of carpet that hung before the low
square door, and came and bowed himself before the teacher of his youth
and the friend of his manhood. The prophet looked up keenly, and
something like a smile crossed his stern features as his eyes rested on
the young officer in his magnificent armour; Zoroaster held his helmet
in his hand, and his fair hair fell like a glory to his shoulders,
mingling with his silky beard upon his breastplate. His dark blue eyes
met his master's fearlessly.

"Hail! and live for ever, chosen of the Lord!" he said in salutation. "I
bring tidings of great moment and importance. If it be thy pleasure, I
will speak; but if not, I will come at another season."

"Sit upon my right hand, Zoroaster, and tell me all that thou hast to
tell. Art thou not my beloved son, whom the Lord hath given me to
comfort mine old age?"

"I am thy servant and the servant of thine house, my father," answered
Zoroaster, seating himself upon a carved chair at a little distance from
the prophet.

"Speak, my son,--what tidings hast thou?"

"There is a messenger come in haste from Shushan, bearing tidings and
letters. The seven princes have slain Smerdis in his house, and have
chosen Darius the son of Gushtasp to be king."

"Praise be to the Lord who hath chosen a just man!" exclaimed the
prophet devoutly. "So may good come out of evil, and salvation by the
shedding of blood."

"Even so, my master," answered Zoroaster. "It is also written that
Darius, may he live for ever, will establish himself very surely upon
the throne of the Medes and Persians. There are letters by the hand of
the same messenger, sealed with the signet of the Great King, wherein I
am bidden to bring the kinsfolk of Jehoiakim, who was king over Judah,
to Shushan without delay, that the Great King may do them honour as is
meet and right; but what that honour may be that he would do to them, I
know not."

"What is this that thou sayest?" asked Daniel, starting forward from his
reclining position, and fixing his dark eyes on Zoroaster. "Will the
king take away from me the children of my old age? Art not thou as my
son? And is not Nehushta as my daughter? As for the rest, I care not if
they go. But Nehushta is as the apple of my eye! She is as a fair flower
growing in the desert of my years! What is this that the king hath done
to me? Whither will he take her from me?"

"Let not my lord be troubled," said Zoroaster, earnestly, for he was
moved by the sudden grief of the prophet. "Let not my lord be troubled.
It is but for a space, for a few weeks; and thy kinsfolk will be with
thee again, and I also."

"A space, a few weeks! What is a space to thee, child, or a week that
thou shouldest regard it? But I am old and full of years. It may be, if
now thou takest my daughter Nehushta from me, that I shall see her face
no more, neither thine, before I go hence and return not. Go to! Thou
art young, but I am now nigh unto a hundred years old."

"Nevertheless, if it be the will of the Great King, I must accomplish
this thing," answered the young man. "But I will swear by thy head and
by mine that there shall no harm happen to the young princess; and if
anything happen to her that is evil, may the Lord do so to me and more
also. Behold, I have sworn; let not my lord be troubled any more."

But the prophet bowed his head and covered his face with his hands. Aged
and childless, Zoroaster and Nehushta were to him children, and he loved
them with his whole soul. Moreover, he knew the Persian Court, and he
knew that if once they were taken into the whirl and eddy of its
intrigue and stirring life, they would not return to Ecbatana; or
returning, they would be changed and seem no more the same. He was
bitterly grieved and hurt at the thought of such a separation, and in
the grand simplicity of his greatness he felt no shame at shedding
tears for them. Zoroaster himself, in the pride of his brilliant youth,
was overcome with pain at the thought of quitting the sage who had been
a father to him for thirty years. He had never been separated from
Daniel save for a few months at a time during the wars of Cambyses; at
six-and-twenty years of age he had been appointed to the high position
of captain of the fortress of Ecbatana; since which time he had enjoyed
the closest intercourse with the prophet, his master.

Zoroaster was a soldier by force of circumstances, and he wore his
gorgeous arms with matchless grace, but there were two things that, with
him, went before his military profession, and completely eclipsed it in
importance.

From his earliest youth he had been the pupil of Daniel, who had
inspired him with his own love of the mystic lore to which the prophet
owed so much of his singular success in the service of the Assyrian and
Persian monarchs. The boy's poetical mind, strengthened and developed by
the study of the art of reasoning, and of the profound mathematical
knowledge of the Chaldean astronomers, easily grasped the highest
subjects, and showed from the first a capacity and lucidity that
delighted his master. To attain by a life of rigid ascetic practice to
the intuitive comprehension of knowledge, to the understanding of
natural laws not discernible to the senses alone, and to the merging of
the soul and higher intelligence in the one universal and divine
essence, were the objects Daniel proposed to his willing pupil. The
noble boy, by his very nature, scorned and despised the pleasures of
sense, and yearned ever for the realising of an ideal wherein a sublime
wisdom of transcendent things should direct a sublime courage in things
earthly to the doing of great deeds.

Year after year the young Persian grew up in the splendid surroundings
of the court, distinguished before all those of his age for his courage
and fearless honesty, for his marvellous beauty, and for his profound
understanding of all subjects, great and small, that came within the
sphere of his activity; most of all remarkable, perhaps, for the fact
that he cared nothing for the society of women, and had never been known
to love any woman. He was a favourite with Cyrus; and even Cambyses,
steeped in degrading vice, and surrounded by flatterers, panderers, and
priests of the Magians, from the time when he began to suspect his
brother, the real Smerdis, of designs upon the throne, recognised the
exceptional merits and gifts of the young noble, and promoted him to his
position in Echatana, at the time when he permitted Daniel to build his
great tower in that ancient fortress. The dissipated king may have
understood that the presence of such men as Daniel and Zoroaster would
be of greater advantage in an outlying district where justice and
moderation would have a good effect upon the population, than in his
immediate neighbourhood, where the purity and temperance of their lives
contrasted too strongly with the degrading spectacle his own vices
afforded to the court.

Here, in the splendid retirement of a royal palace, the prophet had
given himself up completely to the contemplation of those subjects
which, through all his life, had engrossed his leisure time, and of
which the knowledge had so directly contributed to his singular career;
and in the many hours of leisure which Zoroaster's position allowed him,
Daniel sought to bring the intelligence of the soldier-philosopher to
the perfection of its final development. Living, as he did, entirely in
his tower, save when, at rare intervals, he caused himself to be carried
down to the gardens, the prophet knew little of what went on in the
palace below, so that he sometimes marvelled that his pupil's attention
wandered, and that his language betrayed occasionally a keener interest
in his future, and in the possible vicissitudes of his military life,
than he had formerly been wont to show.

For a new element had entered into the current of Zoroaster's thoughts.
For years he had seen the lovely child Nehushta growing up. As a boy of
twenty summers he had rocked her on his knee; later he had taught her
and played with her, and seen the little child turn to the slender girl,
haughty and royal in her young ways, and dominating her playfellows as a
little lioness might rule a herd of tamer creatures; and at last her
sixteenth year had brought with it the bloom of early southern
womanhood, and Zoroaster, laughing with her among the roses in the
gardens, on a summer's day, had felt his heart leap and sink within him,
and his own fair cheek grow hot and cold for the ring of her voice and
the touch of her soft hand.

He who knew so much of mankind, who had lived so long at the court, and
had coldly studied every stage of human nature, where unbridled human
nature ever ruled the hour, knew what he felt; and it was as though he
had received a sharp wound that thrust him through, body and heart and
soul, and cleft his cold pride in two. For days he wandered beneath the
pines and the rhododendron trees alone, lamenting for the fabric of
mighty philosophy he had built himself, in which no woman was ever to
set foot; and which a woman's hand, a woman's eyes had shattered in a
day. It seemed as if his whole life were blasted and destroyed, so that
he was become even as other men, to suffer love and eat his heart out
for a girl's fair word. He would have escaped from meeting the dark
young princess again; but one evening, as he stood alone upon the
terrace of the gardens, sorrowing for the change in himself, she found
him, and there they looked into each other's eyes and saw a new light,
and loved each other fiercely from that day, as only the untainted
children of godlike races could love. But neither of them dared to tell
the prophet, nor to let those of the palace know that they had pledged
each other their troth, down there upon the moonlit terrace, behind the
myrtles. Instinctively they dreaded lest the knowledge of their love
should raise a storm of anger in Daniel's breast at the idea that his
chosen philosopher should abandon the paths of mystic learning and
reduce himself to the level of common mankind by marriage; and Zoroaster
guessed how painful to the true Israelite would be the thought that a
daughter and a princess of Judah should be united in wedlock with one
who, however noble and true and wise, was, after all, a stranger and an
unbeliever. For Zoroaster, while devoting himself heart and soul to the
study of Daniel's philosophy, and of the wisdom the latter had acquired
from the Chaldeans, had nevertheless firmly maintained his independence
of thought. He was not an Israelite, nor would he ever wish to become
one; but he was not an idolater nor a Magian, nor a follower of Gomata,
the half-Indian Brahmin, who had endeavoured to pass himself off as
Smerdis the son of Cyrus.

Either of these causes alone would have sufficed to raise a serious
obstacle to the marriage. Together they seemed insurmountable. During
the disorder and anarchy that prevailed in the seven months of the reign
of Pseudo-Smerdis, it would have been madness to have married, trusting
to the favour of the wretched semi-monarch for fortune and advancement;
nor could Nehushta have married and maintained her state as a princess
of Judah without the consent of Daniel, who was her guardian, and whose
influence was paramount in Media, and very great even at court.
Zoroaster was therefore driven to conceal his passion as best he could,
trusting to the turn of future events for the accomplishment of his
dearest wish. In the meanwhile, he and the princess met daily in public,
and Zoroaster's position as captain of the fortress gave him numerous
opportunities of meeting Nehushta in the solitude of the gardens, which
were jealously guarded and set apart exclusively for the use of Nehushta
and her household.

But now that the moment had come when it seemed as though a change were
to take place in the destinies of the lovers, they felt constrained.
Beyond a few simple questions and answers, they had not discussed the
matter of the journey when they were together; for Nehushta was so much
surprised and delighted at the idea of again seeing the magnificence of
the court at Shushan, which she so well remembered from the period of
her childhood, that she feared to let Zoroaster see how glad she was to
leave Ecbatana, which, but for him, would have been to her little better
than a prison. He, on the contrary, thinking that he foresaw an
immediate removal of all obstacle and delay through the favor of Darius,
was, nevertheless, too gentle and delicate of tact to bring suddenly
before Nehushta's mind the prospect of marrying which presented itself
so vividly to his own fancy. But he felt no less disturbed in his heart
when face to face with the old prophet's sorrow at losing his
foster-daughter; and, for the first time in his life, he felt guilty
when he reflected that Daniel was grieved at his own departure almost as
deeply as on account of Nehushta. He experienced what is so common with
persons of cold and even temperament when brought into close relation
with more expansive and affectionate natures; he was overcome with the
sense that his old master gave him more love and more thought than he
could possibly give in return, and that he was therefore ungrateful; and
the knowledge he alone possessed, that he surely intended to marry the
princess in spite of the prophet, and by the help of the king, added
painfully to his mental suffering.

The silence lasted some minutes, till the old man suddenly lifted his
head and leaned back among his cushions, gazing at his companion's
face.

"Hast thou no sorrow, nor any regret?" he asked sadly.

"Nay, my lord doth me injustice," answered Zoroaster, his brows
contracting in his perplexity. "I should be ungrateful if I repented not
leaving thee even for the space of a day. But let my lord be comforted;
this parting is not for long, and before the flocks come down from
Zagros to take shelter from the winter, we will be with thee."

"Swear to me, then, that thou wilt return before the winter," insisted
the prophet half-scornfully.

"I cannot swear," answered Zoroaster. "Behold, I am in the hands of the
Great King. I cannot swear."

"Say rather that thou art in the hand of the Lord, and that therefore
thou canst not swear. For I say thou wilt not return, and I shall see
thy face no more. The winter cometh, and the birds of the air fly
towards the south, and I am alone in the land of snow and frost; and the
spring cometh also, and I am yet alone, and my time is at hand; for thou
comest not any more, neither my daughter Nehushta, neither any of my
kinsfolk. And behold, I go down to the grave alone."

The yellow light of the hanging lamp above shone upon the old man's
eyes, and there was a dull fire in them. His face was drawn and haggard,
and every line and furrow traced by the struggles of his hundred years
stood out dark and rugged and tremendous in power. Zoroaster shuddered
as he looked on him, and, though he would have spoken, he was awed to
silence.

"Go forth, my son," cried the prophet in deep tones, and as he spoke he
slowly raised his body till he sat rigidly erect, and his wan and
ancient fingers were stretched out towards the young soldier. "Go forth
and do thy part, for thou art in the hand of the Lord, and some things
that thou wilt do shall be good, and some things evil. For thou hast
departed from the path of crystal that leadeth among the stars, and thou
hast fallen away from the ladder whereby the angels ascend and descend
upon the earth, and thou art gone after the love of a woman which
endureth not. And for a season thou shalt be led astray, and for a time
thou shalt suffer great things; and after a time thou shalt return into
the way; and again a time, and thou shalt perish in thine own
imaginations, because thou hast not known the darkness from the light,
nor the good from the evil. By a woman shalt thou go astray, and from a
woman shalt thou return; yet thou shalt perish. But because there is
some good in thee, it shall endure, and thy name also, for generations;
and though the evil that besetteth thee shall undo thee, yet at the last
thy soul shall live."

Zoroaster buried his face in his hands, overcome by the majesty of the
mighty prophet and by the terror of his words.

"Rise and go forth, for the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and no man
can hinder that thou doest. Thou shalt look upon the sun and shalt
delight in him; and again thou shalt look and the light of the air shall
be as darkness. Thou shalt boast in thy strength and in thine armour
that there is none like thee, and again thou shalt cast thy glory from
thee and say, 'This also is vanity.' The king delighteth in thee, and
thou shalt stand before the queen in armour of gold and in fine raiment;
and the end is near, for the hand of the Lord is upon thee. If the Lord
will work great things by thee, what is that to me? Go forth quickly,
and rest not by the way, lest the woman tempt thee and thou perish. And
as for me, I go also--not with thee, but before thee. See that thou
follow after--for I go. Yea, I see even now light in the darkness of the
world, and the glory of the triumph of heaven is over me, triumphing
greatly in the majesty of light."

Zoroaster looked up and fell to the ground upon his knees in wonder and
amazement at Daniel's feet, while his heavy helmet rolled clanging on
the marble pavement. The prophet stood erect as a giant oak, stretching
his withered hands to heaven, all the mass of his snow-white hair and
beard falling about him to his waist. His face was illuminated as from
within with a strange light, and his dark eyes turned upward seemed to
receive and absorb the brightness of an open heaven. His voice rang
again with the strength of youth, and his whole figure was clothed as
with the majesty of another world. Again he spoke:

"Behold, the voice of the ages is in me, and the Lord my God hath taken
me up. My days are ended; I am taken up and shall no more be cast down.
The earth departeth and the glory of the Lord is come which hath no end
for ever."

"The Lord cometh--He cometh quickly. In His right hand are the ages, and
the days and the nights are under His feet. His ranks of the Cherubim
are beside Him, and the armies of the Seraphim are dreadful. The stars
of heaven tremble, and the voice of their moaning is as the voice of the
uttermost fear. The arch of the outer firmament is shivered like a
broken bow, and the curtain of the sky is rent in pieces as a veil in
the tempest. The sun and the moon shriek aloud, and the sea crieth
horribly before the Lord."

"The nations are extinct as the ashes of a fire that is gone out, and
the princes of the earth are no more. He hath bruised the earth in a
mortar, and the dust of it is scattered abroad in the heavens. The stars
in their might hath He pounded to pieces, and the foundations of the
ages to fine powder. There is nothing of them left, and their voices are
dead. There are dim shapes in the horror of emptiness."

"But out of the north ariseth a fair glory with brightness, and the
breath of the Lord breatheth life into all things. The beam of the dawn
is risen, and there shall again be times and seasons, and the Being of
the majesty of God is made manifest in form. From the dust of the earth
is the earth made again, and of the beams of His glory shall He make new
stars."

"Send up the voices of praise, O ye things that are; cry out in
exultation with mighty music! Praise the Lord in whom is Life, and in
whom all things have Being! Praise Him and glorify Him that is risen
with the wings of the morning of heaven; in whose breath the stars
breathe, in whose brightness also the firmament is lightened! Praise Him
who maketh the wheels of the spheres to run their courses; who maketh
the flowers to bloom in the spring, and the little flowers of the field
to give forth their sweetness! Praise Him, winter and summer; praise
Him, cold and heat! Praise Him, stars of heaven; praise Him, men and
women in the earth! Praise and glory and honour be unto the Most High
Jehovah, who sitteth upon the Throne for ever, and ever, and ever...."

The prophet's voice rang out with tremendous force and majestic
clearness as he uttered the last words. Throwing up his arms to their
height, he stood one moment longer, immovable, his face radiantly
illuminated with an unearthly glory. One instant he stood there, and
then fell back, straight and rigid, to his length upon the cushioned
floor--dead!

Zoroaster started to his feet in amazement and horror, and stood staring
at the body of his master and friend lying stiff and stark beneath the
yellow light of the hanging lamp. Then suddenly he sprang forward and
kneeled again beside the pale noble head that looked so grand in death.
He took one of the hands and chafed it, he listened for the beating of
the heart that beat no more, and sought for the stirring of the least
faint breath of lingering life. But he sought in vain; and there, in the
upper chamber of the tower, the young warrior fell upon his face and
wept alone by the side of the mighty dead.



CHAPTER IV.


Thus died Daniel, and for seven days the women sat apart upon the ground
and mourned him, while the men embalmed his body and made it ready for
burial. They wrapped him in much fine linen and poured out very precious
spices and ointments from the store-houses of the palaces. Round about
his body they burned frankincense and myrrh and amber, and the gums of
the Indian benzoe and of the Persian fir, and great candles of pure wax;
for all the seven days the mourners from the city made a great mourning,
ceasing not to sing the praises of the prophet and to cry aloud by day
and night that the best and the worthiest and the greatest of all men
was dead.

Thus they watched and mourned, and sang his great deeds. And in the
lower chamber of the tower the women sat upon the floor, with Nehushta
in their midst, and sorrowed greatly, fasting and mourning in raiment of
sackcloth, and strewing ashes upon the floor and upon themselves.
Nehushta's face grew thin and very pale and her lips white in that time,
and she let her heavy hair hang neglected about her. Many of the men
shaved their heads and went barefooted, and the fortress and the palaces
were filled with the sound of weeping and grief. The Hebrews who were
there mourned their chief, and the two Levites sat beside the dead man
and read long chapters from their scriptures. The Medes mourned their
great and just governor, under the Assyrian name of Belteshazzar, given
first to Daniel by Nebuchadnezzar; and from all the town the noise of
their weeping and mourning came up, like the mighty groan of a nation,
to the ears of those that dwelt in the fortress and the palace.

On the eighth day they buried him, with pomp and state, in a tomb in the
garden which they had built during the week of mourning. The two Levites
and a young Hebrew and Zoroaster himself, clad in sackcloth and
barefooted, raised up the prophet's body upon a bier and bore him upon
their shoulders down the broad staircase of the tower and out into the
garden to his tomb. The mourners went before, many hundreds of Median
women with dishevelled hair, rending their dresses of sackcloth and
scattering ashes upon their path and upon their heads, crying aloud in
wild voices of grief and piercing the air with their screams, till they
came to the tomb and stood round about it while the four men laid their
master in his great coffin of black marble beneath the pines and the
rhododendrons. And the pipers followed after, making shrill and dreadful
music that sounded as though some supernatural beings added their voices
to the universal wail of woe. And on either side of the body walked the
women, the prophet's kinsfolk; but Nehushta walked by Zoroaster, and
ever and anon, as the funeral procession wound through the myrtle walks
of the deep gardens, her dark and heavy eyes stole a glance sidelong at
her strong fair lover. His face was white as death and set sternly
before him, and his dishevelled hair and golden beard flowed wildly
over the rough coarseness of his long sackcloth garments. But his step
never faltered, though he walked barefooted upon the hard gravel, and
from the upper chamber of the tower whence they bore the corpse to the
very moment when they laid it in the tomb, his face never changed,
neither looked he to the right nor to the left. And then, at last, when
they had lowered their beloved master with linen bands to his last
resting-place, and the women came near with boxes of nard and ambergris
and precious ointments, Zoroaster looked long and fixedly at the swathed
head, and the tears rolled down his cheeks and dropped upon his beard
and upon the marble of the coffin; till at last he turned in silence,
and went away through the multitude that parted before him, as pale as
the dead and answering no man's greeting, nor even glancing at Nehushta
who had stood at his elbow. And he went away and hid himself for the
rest of that day.

But in the evening, when the sun was gone down, he came and stood upon
the terrace in the darkness, for there was no moon. He wore again his
arms, and his purple cloak was about him, for he had his duty to perform
in visiting the fortress. The starlight glimmered faintly on his
polished helmet and duskily made visible his marble features and his
beard. He stood with his back to the pillars of the balustrade, looking
towards the myrtles of the garden, for he knew that Nehushta would come
to the wonted tryst. He waited long, but at last he heard a step upon
the gravel path and the rustle of the myrtles, and presently in the
faint light he could see the white skirt of her garment beneath the dark
mantle moving swiftly towards him. He sprang forward to meet her and
would have taken her in his arms, but she put him back and looked away
from him while she walked slowly to the front of the terrace. Even in
the gloom of the starlight Zoroaster could see that something had
offended her, and a cold weight seemed to fall upon his breast and
chilled the rising words of loving greeting.

Zoroaster followed her and laid his hand upon her shoulder.
Unresponsive, she allowed it to remain there.

"My beloved," he said at last, trying in vain to look into her averted
face, "have you no word for me to-night?" Still she answered nothing.
"Has your sorrow made you forget our love?" he murmured close to her
ear. She started back from him a little and looked at him. Even in the
dusk he could see her eyes flash as she answered:

"Had not your own sorrow so utterly got the mastery over you to-day that
you even refused to look at me?" she asked. "In all that long hour when
we were so near together, did you give me one glance? You had forgotten
me in the extremity of your grief!" she cried, scornfully. "And now that
the first torrent of your tears has dwindled to a little stream, you
have time to remember me! I thank my lord for the notice he deigns to
give his handmaiden, but--I need it not. Well--why are you here?"

Zoroaster stood up to his height and folded his arms deliberately,
facing Nehushta, and he spoke calmly, though there was in his voice the
dulness of a great and sudden pain. He knew men well enough, but he knew
little of women.

"There is a time to be sorrowful and a time for joy," he said. "There is
a time for weeping and a time for the glances of love. I did as I did,
because when a man has a great grief for one dead and when he desires to
show his sorrow in doing honour to one who has been as a father to him,
it is not meet that other thoughts should be in his mind; not even those
thoughts which are most dear to him and nearest to his heart. Therefore
I looked not at you when we were burying our master, and though I love
you and in my heart look ever on your face, yet to-day my eyes were
turned from you and I saw you not. Wherefore are you angry with me?"

"I am not angry," said Nehushta, "but think you love me little that you
turn from me so easily." She looked down, and her face was quite hidden
in the dark shadow. Then Zoroaster put his arm about her neck and drew
her to him, and, though she resisted a little, in a moment her head
rested on his breast. Then she struggled again.

"Nay, let me go, for you do not love me!" she said, half in a whisper.
But he held her close.

"Nay, but you shall not go, for I do love you," he answered tenderly.

"Shall not?" cried she, turning in his arms, half fiercely; then her
voice sank and thrilled softly. "Say that I will not," she murmured, and
her arms went round him and pressed him passionately to her. "Oh, my
beloved, why do you ever seem so cold? so cold--when I so love you?"

"I am not cold," he said fondly, "and I love you beyond all power of
words to tell. Said we not that you had your way and I mine? Who shall
tell us which is the sweeter music when both unite in so grand a
harmony? Only doubt not, for doubting is as the drop that falls from the
eaves upon the marble corner-stone, and, by ever falling, wears furrows
in the stone that the whole ocean could not soften."

"I will not doubt any more," said Nehushta suddenly, "only--can you not
love me a little sometimes in the way I do you? It is so sweet,--my way
of loving."

"Indeed I will try, for it is very sweet," answered Zoroaster, and,
bending down, he kissed her lips. Far off from the tower the melancholy
cry of an owl echoed sadly across the gardens, and a cool damp breeze
sprang up suddenly, from the east. Nehushta shuddered slightly, and drew
her cloak about her.

"Let us walk upon the terrace," she said, "it is cold to-night--is not
this the last night here?"

"Yes; to-morrow we must go hence upon our journey. This is the last
night."

Nehushta drew closer to her lover as they paced the terrace together,
and each wound one arm about the other. For some minutes they walked in
silence, each perhaps recalling the many meetings upon that very terrace
since the first time their lips met in love under the ivory moonlight of
the month Tammuz, more than a year ago. At last Nehushta spoke.

"Know you this new king?" she asked. "I saw him but for a few moments
last year. He was a young prince, but he is not fair."

"A young prince with an old man's head upon his shoulders," answered
Zoroaster. "He is a year younger than I--but I would not have his
battles to fight; nor, if I had, would I have taken Atossa to be my
wife."

"Atossa?" repeated Nehushta.

"Yes. The king has already married her--she was the wife of Cambyses,
and also of the false Smerdis, the Magian, whom Darius has slain."

"Is she fair? Have I not seen her?" asked Nehushta quickly.

"Indeed, you must have seen her at the court in Shushan, before we came
to Ecbatana. She was just married to Cambyses then, but he regarded her
little, for he was ever oppressed with wine and feasting. But you were a
child then, and were mostly with the women of your house, and you may
not have seen her."

"Tell me--had she not blue eyes and yellow hair? Had she not a cruel
face--very cold?"

"Aye, it may be that she had a hard look. I remember that her eyes were
blue. She was very unhappy; therefore she helped the Magian. It was not
she that betrayed him."

"You pitied her even then, did you not?" asked Nehushta.

"Yes--she deserved pity."

"She will have her revenge now. A woman with a face like hers loves
revenge."

"Then she will deserve pity no longer," said Zoroaster, with a slight
laugh.

"I hate her!" said the princess, between her teeth.

"Hate her? How can you hate a woman you have never more than seen, and
she has done you no evil in the world?"

"I am sure I shall hate her," answered Nehushta. "She is not at all
beautiful--only cold and white and cruel. How could the Great King be so
foolish as to marry her?"

"May he live for ever! He marries whom he pleases. But I pray you, do
not begin by hating the queen overmuch."

"Why not? What have I to gain from the queen?" asked the princess. "Am I
not of royal blood as well as she?"

"That is true," returned Zoroaster. "Nevertheless there is a prudence
for princesses as well as for other people."

"I would not be afraid of the Great King himself with you beside me,"
said Nehushta proudly. "But I will be prudent to please you. Only--I am
sure I shall hate her."

Zoroaster smiled to himself in the dusk, but he would not have had the
princess see he was amused.

"It shall be as you please," he said; "we shall soon know how it will
end, for we must begin our journey to-morrow."

"It will need three weeks, will it not?" asked Nehushta.

"Yes--it is at least one hundred and fifty farsangs. It would weary you
to travel more than seven or eight farsangs in a day's journey--indeed,
that is a long distance for any one."

"We shall always be together, shall we not?" asked the princess.

"I will ride beside your litter, my beloved," said Zoroaster. "But it
will be very tedious for you, and you will often be tired. The country
is very wild in some parts, and we must trust to what we can take with
us for our comfort. Do not spare the mules, therefore, but take
everything you need."

"Besides, we may not return," said Nehushta thoughtfully.

Her companion was silent. "Do you think we shall ever come back?" she
asked presently.

"I have dreamed of coming back," answered Zoroaster; "but I fear it is
to be even as you say."

"Why say you that you fear it! Is it not better to live at the court
than here in this distant fortress, so shut off from the world that we
might almost as well be among the Scythians? Oh, I long for the palace
at Shushan! I am sure it will seem tenfold more beautiful now than it
did when I was a child."

Zoroaster sighed. In his heart he knew there was to be no returning to
Media, and yet he had dreamed of marrying the princess and being made
governor of the province, and bringing his wife home to this beautiful
land to live out a long life of quiet happiness. But he knew it was not
to be; and though he tried hard to shake off the impression, he felt in
his inmost self that the words of the dying prophet foretold truly what
would happen to him. Only he hoped that there was an escape, and the
passion in his heart scorned the idea that in loving Nehushta he was
being led astray, or made to abandon the right path.

The cold breeze blew steadily from the east, with a chill dampness in
it, sighing wearily among the trees. The summer was not yet wholly come,
and the after-breath of the winter still made itself felt from time to
time. The lovers parted, taking leave of the spot they loved so
well,--Zoroaster with a heavy foreboding of evil to come; Nehushta with
a great longing for the morrow, a mad desire to be on the way to
Shushan.

Something in her way of speaking had given Zoroaster a sense of pain.
Her interest in the court and in the Great King, the strange capricious
hatred that seemed already forming in her breast against Atossa, the
evident desire she betrayed to take part in the brilliant life of the
capital,--indeed, her whole manner troubled him. It seemed so
unaccountable that she should be angry with him for his conduct at the
burial of the prophet, that he almost thought she had wished to take
advantage of a trifle for the sake of annoying him. He felt that doubt
which never comes so suddenly and wounds so keenly as when a man feels
the most certain of his position and of himself.

He retired to his apartment in the palace with a burden of unhappiness
and evil presentiment that was new to him. It was very different from
the sincere sorrow he had felt and still suffered for the death of his
master and friend. That misfortune had not affected him as regarded
Nehushta. But now he had been separated from her during all the week by
the exigencies of the funeral ceremonies, and he had looked forward to
meeting her this evening as to a great joy after so much mourning, and
he was disappointed. She had affected to be offended with him, yet his
reason told him that he had acted naturally and rightly. Could he, the
bearer of the prophet's body, the captain of all the fortress, the man
of all others upon whom all eyes were turned, have exchanged love
glances or spoken soft words to the princess by his side at such a time?
It was absurd; she had no right to expect such a thing.

However, he reflected that a new kind of life was to begin on the
morrow. For the best part of a month he would ride by her litter all day
long, and sit at her table at noonday and evening; he would watch over
her and take care of her, and see that her slightest wants were
instantly supplied; a thousand incidents would occur whereby he might
re-establish all the loving intimacy which seemed to have been so
unexpectedly shaken. And so, consoling himself with the hopes of the
future, and striving to overlook the present, he fell asleep, wearied
with the fatigues and sorrows of the day.

But Nehushta lay all night upon her silken cushions, and watched the
flickering little lamp and the strange shadows it cast among the rich,
painted carvings of the ceiling. She slept little, but waking she
dreamed of the gold and the glitter of Shushan, of the magnificence of
the young king, and of the brilliant hard-featured beauty of Atossa,
whom she already hated or had determined to hate. The king interested
her most. She tried to recall his features and manner as he had appeared
when he tarried one night in the fortress a year previous. She
remembered a black-browed man in the prime of youth, with heavy brows
and an eagle nose; his young beard growing black and square about his
strong dark features, which would have seemed coarse saving for his
bright eyes that looked every man fearlessly in the face. A short man he
seemed in her memory, square built and powerful as a bloodhound, of
quick and decisive speech, expecting to be understood before he had half
spoken his thoughts; a man, she fancied, who must be untiring and
violent of temper, inflexible and brave in the execution of his
purpose--a strong contrast outwardly to her tall and graceful lover.
Zoroaster's faultless beauty was a constant delight to her eyes; his
soft deep voice sounded voluptuously passionate when he spoke to
herself, coldly and deliberately dominating when addressing others. He
moved with perfect certainty and assurance of purpose, his whole
presence breathed a high and superior wisdom and untainted nobility of
mind; he looked and acted like a god, like a being from another world,
not subject to mortal passions, nor to the temptations of common
mankind. She gloried in his perfection and in the secret knowledge that
to her alone he was a man simply and utterly dominated by love. As she
thought of him she grew proud and happy in the idea that such a man
should be her lover, and she reproached herself for doubting his
devotion that evening. After all, she had only complained that he had
neglected her--as he had really done, she added. She wondered in her
heart whether other men would have done the same in his place, or
whether this power of coldly disregarding her presence when he was
occupied with a serious matter were not due to a real and unconquerable
hardness in his nature.

But as she lay there, her dark hair streaming over the yellow silk of
her pillows, her mind strayed from her lover to the life before her, and
the picture rose quickly in her imagination. She even took up the silver
mirror that lay beside her and looked at herself by the dim light of the
little lamp, and said to herself that she was beautiful, and that many
in Shushan would do her homage. She was glad that Atossa was so fair--it
would be a better contrast for her own dark southern beauty.

Towards morning she slept, and dreamed of the grand figure of the
prophet, as she had seen him stretched upon his death-bed in the upper
chamber of the tower; she thought the dead man stirred and opened his
glazed eyes and pointed at her with his bony fingers, and spoke words of
anger and reproach. Then she woke with a short cry in her terror, and
the light of the dawn shone gray and clear through the doorway of the
corridor at the end of her room, where two of her handmaids slept across
the threshold, their white cloaks drawn over their heads against the
chill air of the night.

Then the trumpets rang out in long-drawn clanging rhythm through the
morning air, and Nehushta heard the trampling of the beasts that were
being got ready for the journey, in the court without, and the cries of
the drivers and of the serving-men. She rose quickly from her bed--a
lithe white-clad figure in the dawn light--and pushed the heavy curtains
aside and looked out through the lattice; and she forgot her evil dream,
for her heart leaped again at the thought that she should no more be
shut up in Ecbatana, and that before another month was over she would be
in Shushan, in the palace, where she longed to be.



CHAPTER V.


The sun was almost setting, and his light was already turning to a
golden glow upon the vast plain of Shushan, as the caravan of travellers
halted for the last time. A few stades away the two mounds rose above
the royal city like two tables out of the flat country; the lower one
surmounted by the marble columns, the towers and turrets and gleaming
architraves of the palace; and in front, upon the right, the higher
elevation crowned by the dark and massive citadel of frowning walls and
battlements. The place chosen for the halt was the point where the road
from Nineveh, into which they had turned when about half-way from
Ecbatana, joined the broad road from Babylon, near to the bridge. For
some time they had followed the quiet stream of the Choaspes, and,
looking across it, had watched how the fortress seemed to come forward
and overhang the river, while the mound of the palace fell away to the
background. The city itself was, of course, completely hidden from their
view by the steep mounds, that looked as inaccessible as though they had
been built of solid masonry.

Everything in the plain was green. Stade upon stade, and farsang upon
farsang, the ploughed furrows stretched away to the west and south; the
corn standing already green and high, and the fig-trees putting out
their broad green leaves. Here and there in the level expanse of
country the rays of the declining sun were reflected from the
whitewashed walls of a farmhouse; or in the farther distance lingered
upon the burnt-brick buildings of an outlying village. Beyond the river,
in the broad meadow beneath the turret-clad mound, half-naked, sunburnt
boys drove home the small humped cows to the milking, scaring away, as
they went, the troops of white horses that pastured in the same field,
clapping their hands and crying out at the little black foals that ran
and frisked by the side of their white dams. Here and there a
broad-shouldered, bearded fisherman angled in the stream, or flung out a
brown casting-net upon the placid waters, drawing it slowly back to the
bank, with eyes intent upon the moving cords.

The caravan halted on the turf by the side of the dusty road; the
mounted guards, threescore stalwart riders from the Median plains, fell
back to make room for the travellers, and, springing to the ground, set
about picketing and watering their horses--their brazen armour and
scarlet and blue mantles blazing in a mass of rich colour in the evening
sun; while their wild white horses, untired by the day's march, plunged
and snorted, and shook themselves, and bit each other in play by mane
and tail, in the delight of being at least half free.

Zoroaster himself--his purple mantle somewhat whitened with the dust,
and his fair face a little browned by the three weeks' journey--threw
the bridle of his horse to a soldier and ran quickly forward. A
magnificent litter, closed all around with a gilded lattice, and roofed
with three awnings of white linen, one upon the other, as a protection
against the sun, was being carefully unyoked from the mules that had
borne it. Tall Ethiopian slaves lifted it, and carried it to the
greenest spot of the turf by the softly flowing river; and Zoroaster
himself pushed back the lattice and spread a rich carpet before it.
Nehushta took his proffered hand and stepped lightly out, and stood
beside him in the red light. She was veiled, and her purple cloak fell
in long folds to her feet, and she stood motionless, with her back to
the city, looking towards the setting sun.

"Why do we stop here?" she asked suddenly.

"The Great King, may he live for ever, is said not to be in the city,"
answered Zoroaster, "and it would ill become us to enter the palace
before him." He spoke aloud in the Median language that the slaves might
hear him; then he added in Hebrew and in a lower voice, "It would be
scarcely wise, or safe, to enter Shushan when the king is away. Who can
tell what may have happened there in these days? Babylon has rebelled;
the empire is far from settled. All Persia may be on the very point of a
revolt."

"A fitting time indeed for our journey--for me and my women to be
travelling abroad with a score of horsemen for a guard! Why did you
bring me here? How long are we to remain encamped by the roadside,
waiting the pleasure of the populace to let us in, or the convenience of
this new king to return?"

Nehushta turned upon her companion as she spoke, and there was a ring of
mingled scorn and disappointment in her voice. Her dark eyes stated
coldly at Zoroaster from the straight opening between her veils, and
before he could answer, she turned her back upon him and moved a few
steps away, gazing out at the setting sun across the fertile meadows.
The warrior stood still, and a dark flush overspread his face. Then he
turned pale, but whatever were the words that rose to his lips, he did
not speak them, but occupied himself with superintending the pitching of
the women's tents. The other litters were brought, and set down with
their occupants; the long file of camels, some laden with baggage and
provisions, some bearing female slaves, kneeled down to be unloaded upon
the grass, anxiously craning their long necks the while in the direction
of the stream; the tent-pitchers set to work; and at the last another
score of horsemen, who had formed the rear-guard of the caravan,
cantered up and joined their companions who had already dismounted. With
the rapid skill of long practice, all did their share, and in a few
minutes all the immense paraphernalia of a Persian encampment were
spread out and disposed in place for the night. Contrary to the usual
habit Zoroaster had not permitted the tent-pitchers and other slaves to
pass on while he and his charges made their noonday halt; for he feared
some uprising in the neighbourhood of the city in the absence of the
king, and he wished to keep his whole company together as a measure of
safety, even at the sacrifice of Nehushta's convenience.

She herself still stood apart, and haughtily turned away from her
serving-women, giving them no answer when they saluted her and offered
her cushions and cooling drinks. She drew her cloak more closely about
her and tightened her veil upon her face. She was weary, disappointed,
almost angry. For days she had dreamed of the reception she would have
at the palace, of the king and of the court; of the luxury of rest after
her long journey, and of the thousand diversions and excitements she
would find in revisiting the scenes of her childhood. It was no small
disappointment to find herself condemned to another night in camp; and
her first impulse was to blame Zoroaster.

In spite of her love for him, her strong and dominating temper often
chafed at his calmness, and resented the resolute superiority of his
intelligence; and then, being conscious that her own dignity suffered by
the storms of her temper, she was even more angry than before, with
herself, with him, with every one. But Zoroaster was as impassive as
marble, saving that now and then his brow flushed, and paled quickly;
and his words, if he spoke at all, had a chilled icy ring in them.
Sooner or later, Nehushta's passionate temper cooled, and she found him
the same as ever, devoted and gentle and loving; then her heart went out
to him anew, and all her being was filled with the love of him, even to
overflowing.

She had been disappointed now, and would speak to no one. She moved
still farther from the crowd of slaves and tent-pitchers, followed at a
respectful distance by her handmaidens, who whispered together as they
went; and again she stood still and looked westward.

As the sun neared the horizon, his low rays caught upon a raising cloud
of dust, small and distant as the smoke of a fire, in the plain towards
Babylon, but whirling quickly upwards. Nehushta's eye rested on the
far-off point, and she raised one hand to shade her sight. She
remembered how, when she was a girl, she had watched the line of that
very road from the palace above, and had seen a cloud of dust arise out
of a mere speck, as a body of horsemen galloped into view. There was no
mistaking what it was. A troop of horse were coming--perhaps the king
himself. Instinctively she turned and looked for Zoroaster, and started,
as she saw him standing at a little distance from her, with folded arms,
his eyes bent on the horizon. She moved towards him in sudden
excitement.

"What is it?" she asked in low tones.

"It is the Great King--may he live for ever!" answered Zoroaster. "None
but he would ride so fast along the royal road."

For a moment they stood side by side, watching the dust cloud; and as
they stood, Nehushta's hand stole out from her cloak and touched the
warrior's arm, softly, with a trembling of the fingers, as though she
timidly sought something she would not ask for. Zoroaster turned his
head and saw that her eyes were moistened with tears; he understood, but
he would not take her hand, for there were many slaves near, besides
Nehushta's kinsfolk, and he would not have had them see; but he looked
on her tenderly, and on a sudden, his eyes grew less sad, and the light
returned in them.

"My beloved!" he said softly.

"I was wrong, Zoroaster--forgive me," she murmured. She suffered him to
lead her to her tent, which was already pitched; and he left her there,
sitting at the door and watching his movements, while he called together
his men and drew them up in a compact rank by the roadside, to be ready
to salute the king.

Nearer and nearer came the cloud; and the red glow turned to purple and
the sun went out of sight; and still it came nearer, that whirling
cloud-canopy of fine powdered dust, rising to right and left of the road
in vast round puffs, and hanging overhead like the smoke from some great
moving fire. Then, from beneath it, there seemed to come a distant roar
like thunder, rising and falling on the silent air, but rising ever
louder; and a dark gleam of polished bronze, with something more purple
than the purple sunset, took shape slowly; then with the low roar of
sound, came now and then, and then more often, the clank of harness and
arms; till at last, the whole stamping, rushing, clanging crowd of
galloping horsemen seemed to emerge suddenly from the dust in a
thundering charge, the very earth shaking beneath their weight, and the
whole air vibrating to the tremendous shock of pounding hoofs and the
din of clashing brass.

A few lengths before the serried ranks rode one man alone,--a square
figure, wrapped in a cloak of deeper and richer purple than any worn by
the ordinary nobles, sitting like a rock upon a great white horse. As he
came up, Zoroaster and his fourscore men threw up their hands.

"Hail, king of kings! Hail, and live for ever!" they cried, and as one
man, they prostrated themselves upon their faces on the grass by the
roadside.

Darius drew rein suddenly, bringing his steed from his full gallop to
his haunches in an instant. After him the rushing riders threw up their
right hands as a signal to those behind; and with a deafening
concussion, as of the ocean breaking at once against a wall of rock,
those matchless Persian horsemen halted in a body in the space of a few
yards, their steeds plunging wildly, rearing to their height and
struggling on the curb; but helpless to advance against the strong hands
that held them. The blossom and flower of all the Persian nobles rode
there,--their purple mantles flying with the wild motion, their bronze
cuirasses black in the gathering twilight, their bearded faces dark and
square beneath their gilded helmets.

"I am Darius, the king of kings, on whom ye call," cried the king, whose
steed now stood like a marble statue, immovable in the middle of the
road. "Rise, speak and fear nothing,--unless ye speak lies."

Zoroaster rose to his feet, then bent low, and taking a few grains of
dust from the roadside, touched his mouth with his hand and let the dust
fall upon his forehead.

"Hail, and live for ever! I am thy servant, Zoroaster, who was captain
over the fortress and treasury of Ecbatana. According to thy word I have
brought the kinsfolk of Jehoiakim, king of Judah,--chief of whom is
Nehushta, the princess. I heard that thou wast absent from Shushan, and
here I have waited for thy coming. I also sent thee messengers to
announce that Daniel, surnamed Belteshazzar, who was Satrap of Media
from the time of Cambyses, is dead; and I have buried him fittingly in a
new tomb in the garden of the palace of Ecbatana."

Darius, quick and impulsive in every thought and action, sprang to the
ground as Zoroaster finished speaking, and coming to him, took both his
hands and kissed him on both cheeks.

"What thou hast done is well done,--I know thee of old. Auramazda is
with thee. He is also with me. By his grace I have slain the rebels at
Babylon. They spoke lies, so I slew them. Show me Nehushta, the daughter
of the kings of Judah."

"I am thy servant. The princess is at hand," answered Zoroaster; but as
he spoke, he turned pale to the lips.

By this time it had grown dark, and the moon, just past the full, had
not yet risen from behind the mound of the fortress. The slaves brought
torches of mingled wax and fir-gum, and their black figures shone
strangely in the red glare, as they pressed toward the door of
Nehushta's tent, lighting the way for the king.

Darius strode quickly forward, his gilded harness clanging as he walked,
the strong flaring light illuminating his bold dark features. Under the
striped curtain, drawn up to form the entrance of the tent, stood
Nehushta. She had thrown aside her veil and her women had quickly placed
upon her head the linen tiara, where a single jewel shown like a star in
the white folds. Her thick black hair fell in masses upon her shoulders,
and her mantle was thrown back, displaying the grand proportions of her
figure, clad in tunic and close-fitting belt. As the king came near,
she kneeled and prostrated herself before him, touching her forehead to
the ground, and waiting for him to speak.

He stood still a full minute and his eyes flashed fire, as he looked on
her crouching figure, in very pride that so queenly a woman should be
forced to kneel at his feet--but more in sudden admiration of her
marvellous beauty. Then he bent down, and took her hand and raised her
to her feet. She sprang up, and faced him with glowing cheeks and
flashing eyes; and as she stood she was nearly as tall as he.

"I would not that a princess of thy line kneeled before me," said he;
and in his voice there was a strange touch of softness. "Wilt thou let
me rest here awhile before I go up to Shushan? I am weary of riding and
thirsty from the road."

"Hail, king of the world! I am thy servant. Rest thee and refresh thee
here," answered Nehushta, drawing back into the tent. The king beckoned
to Zoroaster to follow him and went in.

Darius sat upon the carved folding-chair that stood in the midst of the
tent by the main pole, and eagerly drained the huge golden goblet of
Shiraz wine which Zoroaster poured for him. Then he took off his
headpiece, and his thick, coarse hair fell in a mass of dark curls to
his neck, like the mane of a black lion. He breathed a long breath as of
relief and enjoyment of well-earned repose, and leaned back in his
chair, letting his eyes rest on Nehushta's face as she stood before him
looking down to the ground. Zoroaster remained on one side, holding the
replenished goblet in his hand, in case the king's thirst were not
assuaged by a single draught.

"Thou art fair, daughter of Jerusalem," said the king presently. "I
remember thy beauty, for I saw thee in Ecbatana. I sent for thee and thy
kinsfolk that I might do thee honour; and I will also fulfil my words. I
will take thee to be my wife."

Darius spoke quietly, in his usual tone of absolute determination. But
if the concentrated fury of a thousand storms had suddenly broken loose
in the very midst of the tent, the effect could not have been more
terrible on his hearers.

Nehushta's face flushed suddenly, and for a moment she trembled in every
joint; then she fell on her knees, prostrate before the king's feet, all
the wealth of her splendid hair falling loose about her. Darius sat
still, as though watching the result of his speech. He might have sat
long, but in an instant, Zoroaster sprang between the king and the
kneeling woman; and the golden goblet he had held rolled across the
thick carpet on the ground, while the rich red wine ran in a slow stream
towards the curtains of the door. His face was livid and his eyes like
coals of blue fire, his fair locks and his long golden beard caught the
torchlight and shone about him like a glory, as he stood up to his grand
height and faced the king. Darius never quailed nor moved; his look met
Zoroaster's with fearless boldness. Zoroaster spoke first, in low
accents of concentrated fury:

"Nehushta the princess is my betrothed bride. Though thou wert king of
the stars as well as king of the earth, thou shalt not have her for thy
wife."

Darius smiled, not scornfully, an honest smile of amusement, as he
stared at the wrathful figure of the northern man before him.

"I am the king of kings," he answered. "I will marry this princess of
Judah to-morrow, and thee I will crucify upon the highest turret of
Shushan, because thou speakest lies when thou sayest I shall not marry
her."

"Fool! tempt not thy God! Threaten not him who is stronger than thou,
lest he slay thee with his hands where thou sittest." Zoroaster's voice
sounded low and distinct as the knell of relentless fate, and his hand
went out towards the king's throat.

Until this moment, Darius had sat in his indifferent attitude, smiling
carelessly, though never taking his eye from his adversary. Brave as the
bravest, he scorned to move until he was attacked, and he would have
despised the thought of calling to his guards. But when Zoroaster's hand
went out to seize him, he was ready. With a spring like a tiger, he flew
at the strong man's throat, and sought to drag him down, striving to
fasten his grip about the collar of his cuirass, but Zoroaster slipped
his hand quickly under his adversary's, his sleeve went back and his
long white arm ran like a fetter of steel about the king's neck, while
his other hand gripped him by the middle; so they held each other like
wrestlers, one arm above the shoulder and one below, and strove with all
their might.

The king was short, but in his thick-set broad shoulders and knotted
arms there lurked the strength of a bull and the quickness of a tiger.
Zoroaster had the advantage, for his right arm was round Darius's neck,
but while one might count a score, neither moved a hairbreadth, and the
blue veins stood out like cords on the tall man's arm. The fiery might
of the southern prince was matched against the stately strength of the
fair northerner, whose face grew as white as death, while the king's
brow was purple with the agony of effort. They both breathed hard
between their clenched teeth, but neither uttered a word.

Nehushta had leaped to her feet in terror at the first sign of the
coming strife, but she did not cry out, nor call in the slaves or
guards. She stood, holding the tent-pole with one hand, and gathering
her mantle to her breast with the other, gazing in absolute fascination
at the fearful life and death struggle, at the unspeakable and
tremendous strength so silently exerted by the two men before her.

Suddenly they moved and swayed. Darius had attempted to trip Zoroaster
with one foot, but slipping on the carpet wet with wine, had been bent
nearly double to the ground; then by a violent effort, he regained his
footing. But the great exertion had weakened his strength. Nehushta
thought a smile nickered on Zoroaster's pale face and his flashing dark
blue eyes met hers for a moment, and then the end began. Slowly, and by
imperceptible degrees, Zoroaster forced the king down before him,
doubling him backwards with irresistible strength, till it seemed as
though bone and sinew and muscle must be broken and torn asunder in the
desperate resistance. Then, at last, when his head almost touched the
ground, Darius groaned and his limbs relaxed. Instantly Zoroaster threw
him on his back and kneeled with his whole weight upon his chest,--the
gilded scales of the corselet cracking beneath the burden, and he held
the king's hands down on either side, pinioned to the floor. Darius
struggled desperately twice and then lay quite still. Zoroaster gazed
down upon him with blazing eyes.

"Thou who wouldst crucify me upon Shushan," he said through his teeth.
"I will slay thee here even as thou didst slay Smerdis. Hast thou
anything to say? Speak quickly, for thy hour is come."

Even in the extremity of his agony, vanquished and at the point of
death, Darius was brave, as brave men are, to the very last. He would
indeed have called for help now, but there was no breath in him. He
still gazed fearlessly into the eyes of his terrible conqueror. His
voice came in a hoarse whisper.

"I fear not death. Slay on if thou wilt--thou--hast--conquered."

Nehushta had come near. She trembled now that the fight was over, and
looked anxiously to the heavy curtains of the tent-door.

"Tell him," she whispered to Zoroaster, "that you will spare him if he
will do no harm to you, nor to me."

"Spare him!" echoed Zoroaster scornfully. "He is almost dead now--why
should I spare him?"

"For my sake, beloved," answered Nehushta, with a sudden and passionate
gesture of entreaty. "He is the king--he speaks truth; if he says he
will not harm you, trust him."

"If I slay thee not, swear thou wilt not harm me nor Nehushta," said
Zoroaster, removing one knee from the chest of his adversary.

"By the name of Auramazda," gasped Darius, "I will not harm thee nor
her."

"It is well," said Zoroaster. "I will let thee go. And as for taking her
to be thy wife, thou mayest ask her if she will wed thee," he added. He
rose and helped the king to his feet. Darius shook himself and breathed
hard for a few minutes. He felt his limbs as a man might do who had
fallen from his horse, and then he sat down upon the chair, and broke
into a loud laugh.

Darius was well known to all Persia and Media before the events of the
last two months, and such was his reputation for abiding by his promise
that he was universally trusted by those about him. Zoroaster had known
him also, and he remembered his easy familiarity and love of jesting, so
that even when he held the king at such vantage that he might have
killed him by a little additional pressure of his weight, he felt not
the least hesitation in accepting his promise of safety. But remembering
what a stake had been played for in the desperate issue, he could not
join in the king's laugh. He stood silently apart, and looked at
Nehushta who leaned back against the tent-pole in violent agitation; her
hands wringing each other beneath her long sleeves, and her eyes turning
from the king to Zoroaster, and back again to the king, in evident
distress and fear.

"Thou hast a mighty arm, Zoroaster," cried Darius, as his laughter
subsided, "and thou hadst well-nigh made an end of the Great King and of
Persia, Media, Babylon and Egypt in thy grip."

"Let the king pardon his servant," answered Zoroaster, "if his knee was
heavy and his hand strong. Had not the king slipped upon the spilt wine,
his servant would have been thrown down."

"And thou wouldst have been crucified at dawn," added Darius, laughing
again. "It is well for thee that I am Darius and not Cambyses, or thou
wouldst not be standing there before me while my guards are gossiping
idly in the road. Give me a cup of wine since thou hast spared my life!"
Again the king laughed as though his sides would break. Zoroaster
hastily filled another goblet and offered it, kneeling before the
monarch. Darius paused before he took the cup, and looked at the
kneeling warrior's pale proud face. Then he spoke and his voice dropped
to a less mirthful key, as he laid his hand on Zoroaster's shoulder.

"I love thee, prince," he said, "because thou art stronger than I; and
as brave and more merciful. Therefore shalt thou stand ever at my right
hand and I will trust thee with my life in thy hand. And in pledge
hereunto I put my own chain of gold about thy neck, and I drink this cup
to thee; and whosoever shall harm a hair of thine head shall perish in
torments."

The king drank; and Zoroaster, overcome with genuine admiration of the
great soul that could so easily forgive so dire an offence, bent and
embraced the king's knees in token of adherence, and as a seal of that
friendship which was never to be broken until death parted the two men
asunder.

Then they arose, and at Zoroaster's order, the princess's litter was
brought, and leaving the encampment to follow after them, they went up
to the palace. Nehushta was borne between the litters of her women and
her slaves on foot, but Zoroaster mounted his horse and rode slowly and
in silence by the right side of the Great King.



CHAPTER VI.


Athwart the gleaming colonnades of the eastern balcony, the early
morning sun shone brightly, and all the shadows of the white marble
cornices and capitals and jutting frieze work were blue with the
reflection of the cloudless sky. The swallows now and then shot in under
the overhanging roof and flew up and down the covered terrace; then with
a quick rush, they sped forth again into the dancing sunshine with clean
sudden sweep, as when a sharp sword is whirled in the air. Far below,
the soft mist of the dawn still lay upon the city, whence the distant
cries of the water-carriers and fruitsellers came echoing up from the
waking streets, the call of the women to one another from the housetops,
and now and then the neighing of a horse far out upon the meadows; while
the fleet swallows circled over all in swift wide curves, with a silvery
fresh stream of unceasing twittering music.

Zoroaster paced the balcony alone. He was fully armed, with his helmet
upon his head; the crest of the winged wheels was replaced by the ensign
Darius had chosen for himself,--the half-figure of a likeness of the
king with long straight wings on either side, of wrought gold and very
fine workmanship. The long purple mantle hung to his heels and the royal
chain of gold was about his neck. As he walked the gilded leather of his
shoes was reflected in the polished marble pavement and he trod
cautiously, for the clean surface was slippery as the face of a mirror.
At one end of the terrace a stairway led down to the lower story of the
palace, and at the other end a high square door was masked by a heavy
curtain of rich purple and gold stuff, that fell in thick folds to the
glassy floor. Each time his walk brought him to this end Zoroaster
paused, as though expecting that some one should come out. But as it
generally happens when a man is waiting for something or some one that
the object or person appears unexpectedly, so it occurred that as he
turned back from the staircase towards the curtain, he saw that some one
had already advanced half the length of the balcony to meet him--and it
was not the person for whom he was looking.

At first, he was dazzled for a moment, but his memory served him
instantly and he recognised the face and form of a woman he had known
and often seen before. She was not tall, but so perfectly proportioned
that it was impossible to wish that she were taller. Her close tunic of
palest blue, bordered with a gold embroidery at the neck, betrayed the
matchless symmetry of her figure, the unspeakable grace of development
of a woman in the fullest bloom of beauty. From her knees to her feet,
her under tunic showed the purple and white bands that none but the king
might wear, and which even for the queen was an undue assumption of the
royal insignia. But Zoroaster did not look at her dress, nor at her
mantle of royal sea-purple, nor at the marvellous white hands that held
together a written scroll. His eyes rested on her face, and he stood
still where he was.

He knew those straight and perfect features, not large nor heavy, but of
such rare mould and faultless type as man has not seen since, neither
will see. The perfect curve of the fresh mouth; the white forward chin
with its sunk depression in the midst, the deep-set, blue eyes and the
straight pencilled brows; the broad smooth forehead and the tiny ear
half hidden in the glory of sun-golden hair; the milk-white skin just
tinged with the faint rose-light that never changed or reddened in heat
or cold, in anger or in joy--he knew them all; the features of royal
Cyrus made soft and womanly in substance, but unchanging still and
faultlessly cold in his great daughter Atossa, the child of kings, the
wife of kings, the mother of kings.

The heavy curtains had fallen together behind her, and she came forward
alone. She had seen Zoroaster before he had seen her, and she moved on
without showing any surprise, the heels of her small golden shoes
clicking sharply on the polished floor. Zoroaster remained standing for
a moment, and then, removing his helmet in salutation, went to one side
of the head of the staircase and waited respectfully for the queen to
pass. As she came on, passing alternately through the shadow cast by the
columns, and the sunlight that blazed between, her advancing figure
flashed with a new illumination at every step. She made as though she
were going straight on, but as she passed over the threshold to the
staircase, she suddenly stopped and turned half round, and looked
straight at Zoroaster.

"Thou art Zoroaster," she said in a smooth and musical voice, like the
ripple of a clear stream flowing through summer meadows.

"I am Zoroaster, thy servant," he answered, bowing his head. He spoke
very coldly.

"I remember thee well," said the queen, lingering by the head of the
staircase. "Thou art little changed, saving that thou art stronger, I
should think, and more of a soldier than formerly."

Zoroaster stood turning his polished helmet in his hands, but he
answered nothing; he cared little for the queen's praises. But she, it
seemed, was desirous of pleasing him in proportion as he was less
anxious to be pleased, for she turned again and walked forward upon the
terrace.

"Come into the sunlight--the morning air is cold," she said, "I would
speak with thee awhile."

A carved chair stood in a corner of the balcony. Zoroaster moved it into
the sunshine, and Atossa sat down, smiling her thanks to him, while he
stood leaning against the balustrade,--a magnificent figure as the light
caught his gilded harness and gold neckchain, and played on his long
fair beard and nestled in the folds of his purple mantle.

"Tell me--you came last night?" she asked, spreading her dainty hands in
the sunshine as though to warm them. She never feared the sun, for he
was friendly to her nativity and never seemed to scorch her fair skin
like that of meaner women.

"Thy servant came last night," answered the prince.

"Bringing Nehushta and the other Hebrews?" added the queen.

"Even so."

"Tell me something of this Nehushta," said Atossa. She had dropped into
a more familiar form of speech. But Zoroaster was careful of his words
and never allowed his language to relapse from the distant form of
address of a subject to his sovereign.

"The queen knoweth her. She was here as a young child a few years
since," he replied. He chose to let Atossa ask questions for all the
information she needed.

"It is so long ago," she said, with a little sigh. "Is she fair?"

"Nay, she is dark, after the manner of the Hebrews."

"And the Persians too," she interrupted.

"She is very beautiful," continued Zoroaster. "She is very tall." Atossa
looked up quickly with a smile. She was not tall herself, with all her
Beauty.

"You admire tall women?"

"Yes," said Zoroaster calmly--well knowing what he said. He did not wish
to flatter the queen; and besides he knew her too well to do so if he
wished to please her. She was one of those women who are not accustomed
to doubt their own superiority over the rest of their sex.

"Then you admire this Hebrew princess?" said she, and paused for an
answer. But her companion was as cold and calm as she. Seeing himself
directly pressed by a suspicion, he changed his tactics and flattered
Atossa for the sake of putting a stop to her questions.

"Height is not of itself beauty," he answered with a courteous smile.
"There is a kind of beauty which no height can improve,--a perfection
which needs not to be set high for all men to acknowledge it."

The queen simply took no notice of the compliment, but it had its
desired effect, for she changed the tone of her talk a little, speaking
more seriously.

"Where is she? I will go and see her," she said.

"She rested last night in the upper chambers in the southern part of the
palace. Thy servant will bid her come if it be thy desire."

"Presently, presently," answered the queen. "It is yet early, and she
was doubtless weary of the journey."

There was a pause. Zoroaster looked down at the beautiful queen as she
sat beside him, and wondered whether she had changed; and as he gazed,
he fell to comparing her beauty with Nehushta's, and his glance grew
more intent than he had meant it should be, so that Atossa looked up
suddenly and met his eyes resting on her face.

"It is long since we have met, Zoroaster," she said quickly. "Tell me of
your life in that wild fortress. You have prospered in your profession
of arms--you wear the royal chain." She put up her hand and touched the
links as though to feel them. "Indeed it is very like the chain Darius
wore when he went to Babylon the other day." She paused a moment as
though trying to recall something; then continued: "Yes--now I think of
it, he had no chain when he came back. It is his--of course--why has he
given it to you?" Her tones had a tinge of uncertainty in the
question,--half imperious, as demanding an answer, half persuading, as
though not sure the answer would be given. Zoroaster remembered that
intonation of her sweet voice, and he smiled in his beard.

"Indeed," he answered, "the Great King who liveth for ever, put this
chain about my neck with his own hands last night, when he halted by the
roadside, as a reward, I presume, for certain qualities he believeth his
servant Zoroaster to possess."

"Qualities--what qualities?"

"Nay, the queen cannot expect me to sing faithfully my own praises.
Nevertheless, I am ready to die for the Great King. He knoweth that I
am. May he live for ever!"

"It may be that one of the qualities was the successful performance of
the extremely difficult task you have lately accomplished," said Atossa,
with a touch of scorn.

"A task?" repeated Zoroaster.

"Yes--have you not brought a handful of Hebrew women all the way from
Ecbatana to Shushan, through numberless dangers and difficulties, safe
and sound, and so carefully prudent of their comfort that they are not
even weary, nor have they once hungered or thirsted by the way, nor lost
the smallest box of perfume, nor the tiniest of their golden hair-pins?
Surely you have deserved to have a royal chain hung about your neck and
to be called the king's friend."

"The reward was doubtless greater than my desert. It was no great feat
of arms that I had to perform; and yet, in these days a man may leave
Media under one king, and reach Shushan under another. The queen knoweth
better than any one what sudden changes may take place in the empire,"
answered Zoroaster, looking calmly into her face as he stood; and she
who had been the wife of Cambyses and the wife of the murdered
Gomata-Smerdis, and who was now the wife of Darius, looked down and was
silent, turning over in her beautiful hands the sealed scroll she bore.

The sun had risen higher while they talked, and his rays were growing
hot in the clear air. The mist had lifted from the city below, and all
the streets and open places were alive with noisy buyers and sellers,
whose loud talking and disputing came up in a continuous hum to the
palace on the hill, like the drone of a swarm of bees. The queen rose
from her seat.

"It is too warm here," she said, and she once more moved toward the
stairway. Zoroaster followed her respectfully, still holding his helmet
in his hand. Atossa did not speak till she reached the threshold. Then,
as Zoroaster bowed low before her, she paused and looked at him with her
clear, deep-blue eyes.

"You have grown very formal in four years," she said softly. "You used
to be more outspoken and less of a courtier. I am not changed--we must
be friends as we were formerly."

Zoroaster hesitated a moment before he answered:

"I am the Great King's man," he said slowly. "I am, therefore, also the
queen's servant."

Atossa raised her delicate eyebrows a little and a shade of annoyance
passed for the first time over her perfect face, which gave her a look
of sternness.

"I am the queen," she said coldly. "The king may take other wives, but I
am the queen. Take heed that you be indeed my servant." Then, as she
gathered her mantle about her and put one foot upon the stairs, she
touched his shoulder gently with the tips of her fingers and added with
a sudden smile, "And I will be your friend." So she passed down the
stairs out of sight, leaving Zoroaster alone.

Slowly he paced the terrace again, reflecting profoundly upon his
situation. Indeed he had no small cause for anxiety; it was evident that
the queen suspected his love for Nehushta, and he was more than half
convinced that there were reasons why such an affection would inevitably
meet with her disapproval. In former days, before she was married to
Cambyses, and afterwards, before Zoroaster had been sent into Media,
Atossa had shown so marked a liking for him, that a man more acquainted
with the world, would have guessed that she loved him. He had not
suspected such a thing, but with a keen perception of character, he had
understood that beneath the beautiful features and the frank gentleness
of the young princess, there lurked a profound intelligence, an
unbending ambition and a cold selfishness without equal; he had
mistrusted her, but he had humoured her caprices and been in truth a
good friend to her, without in the least wishing to accept her
friendship for himself in return. He was but a young captain of five
hundred then, although he was the favourite of the court; but his strong
arm was dreaded as well as the cutting force of his replies when
questioned, and no word of the court gossip had therefore reached his
ears concerning Atossa's admiration for him. It was, moreover, so
evident that he cared nothing for her beyond the most unaffected
friendliness, that her disappointment in not moving his heart was a
constant source of satisfaction to her enemies. There had reigned in
those days a great and unbridled license in the court, and the fact of
the daughter of Cyrus loving and being loved by the handsomest of the
king's guards, would not of itself have attracted overmuch notice. But
the evident innocence of Zoroaster in the whole affair, and the masterly
fashion in which Atossa concealed her anger, if she felt any, caused the
matter to be completely forgotten as soon as Zoroaster left Shushan, and
events had, since then, succeeded each other too rapidly to give the
courtiers leisure for gossiping about old scandals. The isolation in
which Gomata had lived during the seven months while he maintained the
popular impression that he was not Gomata-Smerdis, but Smerdis the
brother of Cambyses, had broken up the court; and the strong, manly
character of Darius had checked the license of the nobles suddenly, as a
horse-breaker brings up an unbroken colt by flinging the noose about his
neck. The king permitted that the ancient custom of marrying as many as
four wives should be maintained, and he himself soon set an example by
so doing; but he had determined that the whole corrupt fabric of court
life should be shattered at one blow; and with his usual intrepid
disregard of consequences and his iron determination to maintain his
opinions, he had suffered no contradiction of his will. He had married
Atossa,--in the first place, because she was the most beautiful woman in
Persia; and secondly, because he comprehended her great intelligence
and capacity for affairs, and believed himself able to make use of her
at his pleasure. As for Atossa herself, she had not hesitated a moment
in concurring in the marriage,--she had ruled her former husbands, and
she would rule Darius in like manner, she thought, to her own complete
aggrandisement and in the face of all rivals. As yet, the king had taken
no second wife, although he looked with growing admiration upon the
maiden Artystoné, who was then but fifteen years of age, the youngest
daughter of Cyrus and own sister to Atossa.

All this Zoroaster knew, and he recognised, also from the meeting he had
just had with the queen, that she was desirous of maintaining her
friendship with himself. But since the violent scene of the previous
night, he had determined to be the king's man in truest loyalty, and he
feared lest Atossa's plans might, before long, cross her husband's.
Therefore he accepted her offer of friendship coldly, and treated her
with the most formal courtesy. On the other hand, he understood well
enough that if she resented his manner of acting towards her, and
ascertained that he really loved Nehushta, it would be in her power to
produce difficulties and complications which he would have every cause
for fearing. She would certainly discover the king's admiration for
Nehushta. Darius was a man almost incapable of concealment; with whom to
think was to act instantly and without hesitation. He generally acted
rightly, for his instincts were noble and kingly, and his heart as
honest and open as the very light of day. He said what he thought and
instantly fulfilled his words. He hated a lie as poison, and the only
untruth he had ever been guilty of was told when, in order to gain
access to the dwelling of the false Smerdis, he had declared to the
guards that he brought news of importance from his father. He had
justified this falsehood by the most elaborate and logical apology to
his companions, the six princes, and had explained that he only lied for
the purpose of saving Persia; and when the lot fell to himself to assume
the royal authority, he fulfilled most amply every promise he had given
of freeing the country from tyranny, religious despotism and, generally,
from what he termed "lies." As for the killing of Gomata-Smerdis, it was
an act of public justice, approved by all sensible persons as soon as it
was known by what frauds that impostor had seized the kingdom.

With regard to Atossa, Darius had abstained from asking her questions
about her seven months of marriage with the usurper. She must have known
well enough who the man was, but Darius understood her character well
enough to know that she would marry whomsoever she saw in the chief
place, and that her counsel and courage would be of inestimable
advantage to a ruler. She herself never mentioned the past events to the
king, knowing his hatred of lies on the one hand, and that on the other,
the plain truth would redound to her discredit. He had given her to
understand as much from the first, telling her that he took her for what
she was, and not for what she had been. Her mind was at rest about the
past, and as for the future, she promised herself her full share in her
husband's success, should he succeed, and unbounded liberty in the
choice of his successor, should he fail.

But all these considerations did not tend to clear Zoroaster's vision in
regard to his own future. He saw himself already placed in a position of
extreme difficulty between Nehushta and the king. On the other hand, he
dreaded lest he should before long fall into disgrace with the king on
account of Atossa's treatment of himself, or incur Atossa's displeasure
through the great favour he received from Darius. He knew the queen to
be an ambitious woman, capable of the wildest conceptions, and possessed
of the utmost skill for their execution.

He longed to see Nehushta and talk with her at once,--to tell her many
things and to warn her of many possibilities; above all, he desired to
discuss with her the scene of the previous night and the strangely
sudden determination the king had expressed to make her his wife.

But he could not leave his post. His orders had been to await the king
in the morning upon the eastern terrace; and there he must abide until
it pleased Darius to come forth; and he knew Nehushta would not venture
down into that part of the palace. He wondered that the king did not
come, and he chafed at the delay as he saw the sun rising higher and
higher, and the shadows deepening in the terrace. Weary of waiting he
sat down at last upon the chair where Atossa had rested, and folded his
hands over his sword-hilt,--resigning himself to the situation with the
philosophy of a trained soldier.

Sitting thus alone, he fell to dreaming. As he gazed out at the bright
sky, he forgot his life and his love, and all things of the present; and
his mind wandered away among the thoughts most natural and most
congenial to his profound intellect. His attention became fixed in the
contemplation of a larger dimension of intelligences,--the veil of
darkness parted a little, and for a time he saw clearly in the light of
a Greater Universe.



CHAPTER VII.


Atossa quitted the terrace where she had been talking with Zoroaster, in
the full intention of returning speedily, but as she descended the
steps, a plan formed itself in her mind, which she determined to put
into immediate execution. Instead, therefore, of pursuing her way into
the portico of the inner court, when she reached the foot of the
staircase, she turned into a narrow passage that led into a long
corridor, lighted only by occasional small openings in the wall. A
little door gave access to this covered way, and when she entered, she
closed it behind her, and tried to fasten it. But the bolt was rusty,
and in order to draw it, she laid down the scroll she carried, upon a
narrow stone seat by the side of the door; and then, with a strong
effort of both her small white hands, she succeeded in moving the lock
into its place. Then she turned quickly and hastened down the dusky
corridor. At the opposite end a small winding stair led upwards into
darkness. There were stains upon the lowest steps, just visible in the
half light. Atossa gathered up her mantle and her under tunic, and trod
daintily, with a look of repugnance on her beautiful face. The stains
were made by the blood of the false Smerdis, her last husband, slain in
that dark stairway by Darius, scarcely three months before.

Cautiously the queen felt her way upward till she reached a landing,
where a narrow aperture admitted a little light. Higher up there were
windows, and she looked carefully to her dress, and brushed away a
little dust that her mantle had swept from the wall in passing; and once
or twice, she looked back at the dark staircase with an expression of
something akin to disgust. At last she reached a door which opened upon
a terrace, much like the one where she had left Zoroaster a few moments
before, saving that the floor was less polished, and that the spaces
between the columns were half filled with hanging plants and creepers.
Upon the pavement at one end were spread rich carpets, and half a dozen
enormous cushions of soft-coloured silk were thrown negligently one upon
the other. Three doors, hung with curtains, opened upon the
balcony,--and near to the middle one, two slave-girls, clad in white,
crouched upon their heels and talked in an undertone.

Atossa stepped forward upon the marble, and the rustle of her dress and
the quick short sound of her heeled shoes, roused the two slave-girls to
spring to their feet. They did not know the queen, but they thought it
best to make a low obeisance, while their dark eyes endeavoured quickly
to scan the details of her dress, without exhibiting too much boldness.
Atossa beckoned to one of them to come to her, and smiled graciously as
the dark-skinned girl approached.

"Is not thy mistress Nehushta?" she inquired; but the girl looked
stupidly at her, not comprehending her speech. "Nehushta," repeated the
queen, pronouncing the name very distinctly with a questioning
intonation, and pointing to the curtained door. The slave understood
the name and the question, and quick as thought, she disappeared within,
leaving Atossa in some hesitation. She had not intended to send for the
Hebrew princess, for she thought it would be a greater compliment to let
Nehushta find her waiting; but since the barbarian slave had gone to
call her mistress, there was nothing to be done but to abide the result.

Nehushta, however, seemed in no hurry to answer the summons, for the
queen had ample time to examine the terrace, and to glance through the
hanging plants at the sunlit meadows and the flowing stream to
southward, before she heard steps behind the curtain, and saw it lifted
to allow the princess to pass.

The dark maiden was now fully refreshed and rested from the journey, and
she came forward to greet her guest in her tunic, without her mantle, a
cloud of soft white Indian gauze loosely pinned upon her black hair and
half covering her neck. Her bodice-like belt was of scarlet and gold,
and from one side there hung a rich-hilted knife of Indian steel in a
jewelled sheath. The long sleeves of her tunic were drawn upon her arms
into hundreds of minute folds, and where the delicate stuff hung in an
oblong lappet over her hands, there was fine needlework and embroidery
of gold. She moved easily, with a languid grace of secure motion; and
she bent her head a little as Atossa came quickly to meet her.

The queen's frank smile was on her face as she grasped both Nehushta's
hands in cordial welcome, and for a moment, the two women looked into
each other's eyes. Nehushta had made up her mind to hate Atossa from the
first, but she did not belong to that class of women who allow their
feelings to show themselves, and afterwards feel bound by the memory of
what they have shown. She, too, smiled most sweetly as she surveyed the
beautiful fair queen from beneath her long drooping lids, and examined
her appearance with all possible minuteness. She remembered her well
enough, but so warm was the welcome she received, that she almost
thought she had misjudged Atossa in calling her hard and cold. She drew
her guest to the cushions upon the carpets, and they sat down side by
side.

"I have been talking about you already this morning, my princess," began
Atossa, speaking at once in familiar terms, as though she were
conversing with an intimate friend. Nehushta was very proud; she knew
herself to be of a race as royal as Atossa, though now almost extinct;
and in answering, she spoke in the same manner as the queen; so that the
latter was inwardly amused at the self-confidence of the Hebrew
princess.

"Indeed?" said Nehushta, "there must be far more interesting things than
I in Shushan. I would have talked of you had I found any one to talk
with."

The queen laughed a little.

"As I was coming out this morning, I met an old friend of mine upon the
balcony before the king's apartment,--Zoroaster, the handsome captain.
We fell into conversation, how handsome he has grown since I saw him
last!" The queen watched Nehushta closely while affecting the greatest
unconcern, and she thought the shadows about the princess's eyes turned
a shade darker at the mention of the brilliant warrior. But Nehushta
answered calmly enough:

"He took the most excellent care of us. I should like to see him to-day,
to thank him for all he did. I was tired last night and must have seemed
ungrateful."

"What need is there of ever telling men we are grateful for what they do
for us?" returned the queen. "I should think there were not a noble in
the Great King's guard who would not give his right hand to take care of
you for a month, even if you never so much as noticed his existence."

Nehushta laughed lightly at the compliment.

"You honour me too much," she said, "but I suppose it is because most
women think as you do that men call us so ungrateful. I think you judge
from the standpoint of the queen, whereas I--"

"Whereas you look at things from the position of the beautiful princess,
who is worshipped for herself alone, and not for the bounty and favour
she may, or may not, dispense to her subjects."

"The queen is dispensing much bounty and favour to one of her subjects
at this very moment," answered Nehushta quietly, as though deprecating
further flattery.

"How glad you must be to have left that dreadful fortress at last!"
cried the queen sympathetically. "My father used to go there every
summer. I hated the miserable place, with those tiresome mountains and
those endless gardens without the least variety in them. You must be
very glad to have come here!"

"It is true," replied Nehushta, "I never ceased to dream of Shushan. I
love the great city, and the people, and the court. I thought sometimes
that I should have died of the weariness of Ecbatana. The winters were
unbearable!"

"You must learn to love us, too," said Atossa, very sweetly. "The Great
King wishes well to your race, and will certainly do much for your
country. There is, moreover, a kinsman of yours, who is coming soon,
expressly to confer with the king concerning the further rebuilding of
the temple and the city of Jerusalem."

"Zorobabel?" asked Nehushta, quickly.

"Yes--that is his name, I believe. Do you say Zerub-Ebel, or Zerub-Abel?
I know nothing of your language."

"His name is Zorob-Abel," answered Nehushta. "Oh, I wish he might
persuade the Great King to do something for my people! Your father would
have done so much if he had lived."

"Doubtless the Great King will do all that is possible for establishing
the Hebrews and promoting their welfare," said the queen; but a distant
look in her eyes showed that her thoughts were no longer concentrated on
the subject. "Your friend Zoroaster," she added presently, "could be of
great service to you and your cause, if he wished."

"I would that he were a Hebrew!" exclaimed Nehushta, with a little sigh,
which did not escape Atossa.

"Is he not? I always thought that he had secretly embraced your faith.
With his love of study and with his ideas, it seemed so natural."

"No," replied Nehushta, "he is not one of us, nor will he ever be. After
all, though, it is perhaps of little moment what one believes when one
is so just as he."

"I have never been able to understand the importance of religion," said
the beautiful queen, spreading her white hand upon the purple of her
mantle, and contemplating its delicate outline tenderly. "For my own
part, I am fond of the sacrifices and the music and the chants. I love
to see the priests go up to the altar, two and two, in their white
robes,--and then to see how they struggle to hold up the bullock's head,
so that his eyes may see the sun,--and how the red blood gushes out like
a beautiful fountain. Have you ever seen a great sacrifice?"

"Oh yes! I remember when I was quite a little girl, when Cambyses--I
mean--when the king came to the throne--it was magnificent!" Nehushta
was not used to hesitate in her speech, but as she recalled the day when
Cambyses was made king, it suddenly came over her that any reminiscences
of the past might be painful to the extraordinary woman by her side. But
Atossa showed no signs of being disturbed. On the contrary, she smiled
more sweetly than ever, though there was perhaps a slight affectation of
sadness in her voice as she answered:

"Do not fear to hurt me by referring to those times, dear princess. I am
accustomed to speak of them well enough. Yes, indeed I remember that
great day, with the bright sun shining upon the procession, and the cars
with four horses that they dedicated to the sun, and the milk-white
horse that they slaughtered upon the steps of the temple. How I cried
for him, poor beast! It seemed so cruel to sacrifice a horse! Even a few
black slaves would have been a more natural offering, or a couple of
Scythians."

"I remember," said Nehushta, somewhat relieved at the queen's tone. "Of
course I have now and then seen processions in Ecbatana, but Daniel
would not let me go to the temple. They say Ecbatana is very much
changed since the Great King has not gone there in summer. It is very
quiet--it is given over to horse-merchants and grain-sellers, and they
bring all the salted fish there from the Hyrcanian sea, so that some of
the streets smell horribly."

Atossa laughed at the description, more out of courtesy than because it
amused her.

"In my time," she answered, "the horse-market was in the meadow by the
road toward Zagros, and the fish-sellers were not allowed to come within
a farsang of the city. The royal nostrils were delicate. But everything
is changed--here, everywhere. We have had several--revolutions--religious
ones, I mean of course, and so many people have been killed that there is
a savour of death in the air. It is amazing how much trouble people will
give themselves about the question of sacrificing a horse to the sun, or
a calf to Auramazda, or an Ethiopian to Nabon or Ashtaroth! And these
Magians! They are really no more descendants of the priests in the Aryan
home than I am a Greek. Half of them are nearly black--they are Hindus
and speak Persian with an accent. They believe in a vast number of gods
of all sizes and descriptions, and they sing hymns, in which they say that
all these gods are the same. It is most confusing, and as the principal
part of their chief sacrifice consists in making themselves exceedingly
drunk with the detestable milkweed juice of which they are so fond, the
performance is disgusting. The Great King began by saying that if they
wished to sacrifice to their deities, they might do so, provided no one
could find them doing it; and if they wished to be drunk, they might be
drunk when and where they pleased; but that if they did the two together,
he would crucify every Magian in Persia. His argument was very amusing.
He said that a man who is drunk naturally speaks the truth, whereas a man
who sacrifices to false gods inevitably tells lies; wherefore a man who
sacrifices to false gods when he is drunk, runs the risk of telling lies
and speaking the truth at the same time, and is consequently a creature
revolting to logic, and must be immediately destroyed for the good of
the whole race of mankind."

Nehushta had listened with varying attention to the queen's account of
the religious difficulties in the kingdom, and she laughed at the
Megoeric puzzle by which Darius justified the death of the Magians. But
in her heart she longed to see Zoroaster, and was weary of entertaining
her royal guest. By way of diversion she clapped her hands, and ordered
the slaves who came at her summons to bring sweetmeats and sherbet of
crushed fruit and snow.

"Are you fond of hunting?" asked Atossa, delicately taking a little
piece of white fig-paste.

"I have never been allowed to hunt," answered Nehushta. "Besides, it
must be very tiring."

"I delight in it--the fig-paste is not so good as it used to be--there
is a new confectioner. Darius considered that the former one had
religious convictions involving the telling of lies--and this is the
result! We are fallen low indeed when we cannot eat a Magian's pastry! I
am passionately fond of hunting, but it is far from here to the desert
and the lions are scarce. Besides, the men who are fit for lion-hunting
are generally engaged in hunting their fellow-creatures."

"Does the Great King hunt?" inquired Nehushta, languidly sipping her
sherbet from a green jade goblet, as she lay among her cushions,
supporting herself upon one elbow.

"Whenever he has leisure. He will talk of nothing else to you--"

"Surely," interrupted Nehushta, with an air of perfect innocence, "I
shall not be so far honoured as that the Great King should talk with
me?"

Atossa raised her blue eyes and looked curiously at the dark princess.
She knew nothing of what had passed the night before, save that the king
had seen Nehushta for a few moments, but she knew his character well
enough to imagine that his frank and, as she thought, undignified manner
might have struck Nehushta even in that brief interview. The idea that
the princess was already deceiving her flashed across her mind. She
smiled more tenderly than ever, with a little added air of sadness that
gave her a wonderful charm.

"Yes, the Great King is very gracious to the ladies of the court," she
said. "You are so beautiful and so different from them all that he will
certainly talk long with you after the banquet this evening--when he has
drunk much wine." The last words were added with a most special
sweetness of tone.

Nehushta's face flushed a little as she drank more sherbet before she
answered. Then, letting her soft dark eyes rest, as though in
admiration, upon the queen's face, she spoke in a tone of gentle
deprecation:

  _"Shall a man prefer the darkness of night to the
       glories of risen day?
    Or shall a man turn from the lilies to pluck the
       lowly flower of the field?"_

"You know our poets, too?" exclaimed Atossa, pleased with the graceful
tone of the compliment, but still looking at Nehushta with curious eyes.
There was a self-possession about the Hebrew princess that she did not
like; it was as though some one had suddenly taken a quality of her own
and made it theirs and displayed it before her eyes. There was indeed
this difference, that while Atossa's calm and undisturbed manner was
generally real, Nehushta's was assumed, and she herself felt that, at
any moment, it might desert her at her utmost need.

"So you know our poets?" repeated the queen, and this time she laughed
lightly. "Indeed I fear the king will talk to you more than ever, for he
loves poetry, I daresay Zoroaster, too, has repeated many verses to you
in the winter evenings at Ecbatana. He used to know endless poetry when
he was a boy."

This time Nehushta looked at the queen, and wondered how she, who could
not be more than two or three and twenty years old, although now married
to her third husband, could speak of having known Zoroaster as a boy,
seeing that he was past thirty years of age. She turned the question
upon the queen.

"You must have seen Zoroaster very often before he left Shushan," she
said. "You know him so well."

"Yes--every one knew him. He was the favourite of the court, with his
beauty and his courage and his strange affection for that old--for the
old Hebrew prophet. That is why Cambyses sent them both away," added she
with a light laugh. "They were far too good, both of them, to be endured
among the doings of those times."

Atossa spoke readily enough of Cambyses. Nehushta wondered whether she
could be induced to speak of Smerdis. Her supposed ignorance of the true
nature of what had occurred in the last few months would permit her to
speak of the dead usurper with impunity.

"I suppose there have been great changes lately in the manners of the
court--during this last year," suggested Nehushta carelessly. She pulled
a raisin from the dry stem, and tried to peel it with her delicate
fingers.

"Indeed there have been changes," answered Atossa, calmly. "A great many
things that used to be tolerated will never be heard of now. On the
whole, the change has been rather in relation to religion than
otherwise. You will understand that in one year we have had three court
religions. Cambyses sacrificed to Ashtaroth--and I must say he made a
most appropriate choice of his tutelary goddess. Smerdis"--continued the
queen in measured tones and with the utmost calmness of manner--"Smerdis
devoted himself wholly to the worship of Indra, who appeared to be a
convenient association of all the most agreeable gods; and the Great
King now rules the earth by the grace of Auramazda. I, for my part, have
always inclined to the Hebrew conception of one God--perhaps that is
much the same as Auramazda, the All-Wise. What do you think?"

Nehushta smiled at the deft way in which the queen avoided speaking of
Smerdis by turning the conversation again to religious topics. But
fearing another lecture on the comparative merits of idolatry, human
sacrifice, and monotheism, she manifested very little interest in the
subject.

"I daresay it is the same. Zoroaster always says so, and that was the
one point that Daniel could never forgive him. The sun is coming through
those plants upon your head--shall we not have our cushions moved into
the shade at the other end?" She clapped her hands and rose languidly,
offering her hand to Atossa. But the queen sprang lightly to her feet.

"I have stayed too long," she said. "Come with me, dearest princess, and
we will go out into the orange gardens upon the upper terrace. Perhaps,"
she added, adjusting the folds of her mantle, "we shall find Zoroaster
there, or some of the princes, or even the Great King himself. Or,
perhaps, it would amuse you to see where I live?"

Nehushta received her mantle from her slaves, and one of them brought
her a linen tiara in place of the gauze veil she had twisted about her
hair. But Atossa would not permit the change.

"It is too beautiful!" she cried enthusiastically. "So new! you must
really not change it."

She put her arm around Nehushta affectionately and led her towards the
door of the inner staircase. Then suddenly she paused, as though
recollecting herself.

"No," she said, "I will show you the way I came. It is shorter and you
should know it. It may be of use to you."

So they left the balcony by the little door that was almost masked by
one of the great pillars, and descended the dark stairs. Nehushta
detested every sort of bodily inconvenience, and inwardly wished the
queen had not changed her mind, but had led her by an easier way.

"It is not far," said the queen, descending rapidly in front of her.

"It is dreadfully steep," objected Nehushta, "and I can hardly see my
way at all. How many steps are there?"

"Only a score more," answered the queen's voice, farther down. She
seemed to be hurrying, but Nehushta had no intention of going any
faster, and carefully groped her way. As she began to see a glimmer of
light at the last turn of the winding stair, she heard loud voices in
the corridor below. With the cautious instinct of her race, she paused
and listened. The hard, quick tones of an angry man dominated the rest.



CHAPTER VIII.


Zoroaster had sat for nearly an hour, his eyes fixed on the blue sky,
his thoughts wandering in contemplation of things greater and higher
than those of earth, when he was roused by the measured tread of armed
men marching in a distant room. In an instant he stood up, his helmet on
his head,--the whole force of military habit bringing him back suddenly
to the world of reality. In a moment the same heavy curtain, from under
which Atossa had issued two hours before, was drawn aside, and a double
file of spearmen came out upon the balcony, ranging themselves to right
and left with well-drilled precision. A moment more, and the king
himself appeared, walking alone, in his armour and winged helmet, his
left hand upon the hilt of his sword, his splendid mantle hanging to the
ground behind his shoulders. As he came between the soldiers, he walked
more slowly, and his dark, deep-set eyes seemed to scan the bearing and
accoutrements of each separate spearman. It was rarely indeed, in those
early days of his power, that he laid aside his breastplate for the
tunic, or his helmet for the tiara and royal crown. In his whole air and
gait the character of the soldier dominated, and the look of the
conqueror was already in his face.

Zoroaster strode forward a few paces, and stood still as the king caught
sight of him, preparing to prostrate himself, according to the ancient
custom. But Darius checked him by a gesture; turning half round, he
dismissed the guard, who filed back through the door as they had come,
and the curtain fell behind them.

"I like not these elaborate customs," said the king. "A simple
salutation, the hand to the lips and forehead--it is quite enough. A man
might win a battle if he had all the time that it takes him to fall down
at my feet and rise up again, twenty times in a day."

As the king's speech seemed to require no answer, Zoroaster stood
silently waiting for his orders. Darius walked to the balustrade and
stood in the full glare of the sun for a moment, looking out. Then he
came back again.

"The town seems to be quiet this morning," he said. "How long did the
queen tarry here talking with thee, Zoroaster?"

"The queen talked with her servant for the space of half an hour,"
answered Zoroaster, without hesitation, though he was astonished at the
suddenness and directness of the question.

"She is gone to see thy princess," continued the king.

"The queen told her servant it was yet too early to see Nehushta,"
remarked the warrior.

"She is gone to see her, nevertheless," asserted Darius, in a tone of
conviction. "Now, it stands in reason that when the most beautiful woman
in the world has been told that another woman is come who is more
beautiful than she, she will not lose a moment in seeing her." He eyed
Zoroaster curiously for a moment, and his thick black beard did not
altogether hide the smile on his face. "Come," he added, "we shall find
the two together."

The king led the way and Zoroaster gravely followed. They passed down the
staircase by which the queen had gone, and entering the low passage, came
to the small door which she had bolted behind her with so much difficulty.
The king pushed his weight against it, but it was still fastened.

"Thou art stronger than I, Zoroaster," he said, with a deep laugh. "Open
the door."

The young warrior pushed heavily against the planks, and felt that one
of them yielded. Then, standing back, he dealt a heavy blow on the spot
with his clenched fist; a second, and the plank broke in. He put his arm
through the aperture, and easily slipped the bolt back, and the door
flew open. The blood streamed from his hand.

"That is well done," said Darius as he entered. His quick eye saw
something white upon the stone bench in the dusky corner by the door. He
stooped and picked it up quickly. It was the sealed scroll Atossa had
left there when she needed both her hands to draw the bolt. Darius took
it to one of the narrow windows, looked at it curiously and broke the
seal. Zoroaster stood near and wiped the blood from his bruised knuckle.

The contents of the scroll were short. It was addressed to one
Phraortes, of Ecbatana in Media, and contained the information that the
Great King had returned in triumph from Babylon, having subdued the
rebels and slain many thousands in two battles. Furthermore, that the
said Phraortes should give instant information of the queen's affairs,
and do nothing in regard to them until further intimation arrived.

The king stood a moment in deep thought. Then he walked slowly down the
corridor, holding the scroll loose in his hand. Just at that instant
Atossa emerged from the dark staircase, and as she found herself face to
face with Darius, she uttered an exclamation and stood still.

"This is very convenient place for our interview," said Darius quietly.
"No one can hear us. Therefore speak the truth at once." He held up the
scroll to her eyes.

Atossa's ready wit did not desert her, nor did she change colour, though
she knew her life was in the balance with her words. She laughed lightly
as she spoke:

"I came down the stairs this morning----"

"To see the most beautiful woman in the world," interrupted Darius,
raising his voice. "You have seen her. I am glad of it. Why did you bolt
the door of the passage?"

"Because I thought it unfitting that the passage to the women's
apartments should be left open when so many in the palace know the way,"
she answered readily enough.

"Where were you taking this letter when you left it at the door?" asked
the king, beginning to doubt whether there were anything wrong at all.

"I was about to send it to Ecbatana," answered Atossa with perfect
simplicity.

"Who is this Phraortes?"

"He is the governor of the lands my father gave me for my own in Media.
I wrote him to tell him of the Great King's victory, and that he should
send me information concerning my affairs, and do nothing further until
he hears from me."

"Why not?"

"Because I thought it possible that the Great King would spend the
summer in Ecbatana, and that I should therefore be there myself to give
my own directions. I forgot the letter because I had to take both hands
to draw the bolt, and I was coming back to get it. Nehushta the princess
is with me--she is now upon the staircase."

The king looked thoughtfully at his wife's beautiful face.

"You have evidently spoken the truth," he said slowly. "But it is not
always easy to understand what your truth signifies. I often think it
would be much wiser to strangle you. Say you that Nehushta is near? Call
her, then. Why does she tarry?"

In truth Nehushta had trembled as she crouched upon the stairs, not
knowing whether to descend or to fly up the steps again. As she heard
the queen pronounce her name, however, she judged it prudent to seem to
have been out of earshot, and with quick, soft steps, she went up till
she came to the lighted part, and there she waited.

"Let the Great King go himself and find her," said Atossa proudly, "if
he doubts me any further." She stood aside to let him pass. But Darius
beckoned to Zoroaster to go. He had remained standing at some distance,
an unwilling witness to the royal altercation that had taken place
before him; but as he passed the queen, she gave him a glance of
imploring sadness, as though beseeching his sympathy in what she was
made to suffer. He ran quickly up the steps in spite of the darkness,
and found Nehushta waiting by the window higher up. She started as he
appeared, for he was the person she least expected. But he took her
quickly in his arms, and kissed her passionately twice.

"Come quickly, my beloved," he whispered. "The king waits below."

"I heard his voice--and then I fled," she whispered hurriedly; and they
began to descend again. "I hate her--I knew I should," she whispered, as
she leaned upon his arm. So they emerged into the corridor, and met
Darius waiting for them. The queen was nowhere to be seen, and the door
at the farther extremity of the narrow way was wide open.

The king was as calm as though nothing had occurred; he still held the
open letter in his hand as Nehushta entered the passage, and bowed
herself before him. He took her hand for a moment, and then dropped it;
but his eyes flashed suddenly and his arm trembled at her touch.

"Thou hadst almost lost thy way," he said. "The palace is large and the
passages are many and devious. Come now, I will lead thee to the
gardens. There thou canst find friends among the queen's noble women,
and amusements of many kinds. Let thy heart delight in the beauty of
Shushan, and if there is anything that thou desirest, ask and I will
give it thee."

Nehushta bent her head in thanks. The only thing she desired was to be
alone for half an hour with Zoroaster; and that seemed difficult.

"Thy servant desireth what is pleasant in thy sight," she answered. And
so they left the passage by the open door, and the king himself
conducted Nehushta to the entrance of the garden, and bade the
slave-woman who met them to lead her to the pavilion where the ladies of
the palace spent the day in the warm summer weather. Zoroaster knew that
whatever liberty his singular position allowed him in the quarter of the
building where the king himself lived, he was not privileged to enter
that place which was set apart for the noble ladies. Darius hated to be
always surrounded by guards and slaves, and the terraces and staircases
of his dwelling were generally totally deserted,--only small detachments
of spearmen guarding jealously the main entrances. But the remainder of
the palace swarmed with the gorgeously dressed retinue of the court,
with slaves of every colour and degree, from the mute smooth-faced
Ethiopian to the accomplished Hebrew scribes of the great nobles; from
the black and scantily-clad fan-girls to the dainty Greek tirewomen of
the queen's toilet, who loitered near the carved marble fountain at the
entrance to the gardens; and in the outer courts, detachments of the
horsemen of the guard rubbed their weapons, or reddened their broad
leather bridles and trappings with red chalk, or groomed the horse of
some lately arrived officer or messenger, or hung about and basked in
the sun, with no clothing but their short-sleeved linen tunics and
breeches, discussing the affairs of the nation with the certainty of
decision peculiar to all soldiers, high and low. There was only room for
a squadron of horse in the palace; but though they were few, they were
the picked men of the guard, and every one of them felt himself as
justly entitled to an opinion concerning the position of the new king,
as though he were at least a general.

But Darius allowed no gossiping slaves nor wrangling soldiers in his own
dwelling. There all was silent and apparently deserted, and thither he
led Zoroaster again. The young warrior was astonished at the way in
which the king moved about unattended, as carelessly as though he were a
mere soldier himself; he was not yet accustomed to the restless
independence of character, to the unceasing activity and perfect
personal fearlessness of the young Darius. It was hard to realise that
this simple, hard-handed, outspoken man was the Great King, and occupied
the throne of the magnificent and stately Cyrus, who never stirred
abroad without the full state of the court about him; or that he reigned
in the stead of the luxurious Cambyses, who feared to tread upon
uncovered marble, or to expose himself to the draught of a staircase;
and who, after seven years of caring for his body, had destroyed himself
in a fit of impotent passion. Darius succeeded to the throne of Persia
as a lion coming into the place of jackals, as an eagle into a nest of
crows and carrion birds--untiring, violent, relentless and brave.

"Knowest thou one Phraortes, of Ecbatana?" the king asked suddenly when
he was alone with Zoroaster.

"I know him," answered the prince. "A man rich, and powerful, full of
vanity as a peacock, and of wiles like a serpent. Not noble. He is the
son of a fish-vendor, grown rich by selling salted sturgeons in the
market-place. He is also the overseer of the queen's farmlands in Media,
and of the Great King's horse-breeding stables."

"Go forth and bring him to me," said the king shortly. Without a word,
Zoroaster made a brief salute and turned upon his heel to go. But it was
as though a man had thrust him through with a knife. The king gazed
after him in admiration of his magnificent obedience.

"Stay!" he called out. "How long wilt thou be gone?"

Zoroaster turned sharply round in military fashion, as he answered:

"It is a hundred and fifty farsangs[3] to Ecbatana. By the king's relays
I can ride there in six days, and I can bring back Phraortes in six days
more--if he die not of the riding," he added, with a grim smile.

     [Footnote 3: Between five and six hundred English miles. South
     American postilions at the present day ride six hundred miles a
     week for a bare living.]

"Is he old, or young? Fat, or meagre?" asked the king, laughing.

"He is a man of forty years, neither thin nor fat--a good horseman in
his way, but not as we are."

"Bind him to his horse if he falls off from weariness. And tell him he
is summoned to appear before me. Tell him the business brooks no delay.
Auramazda be with thee and bring thee help. Go with speed."

Again Zoroaster turned and in a moment he was gone. He had sworn to be
the king's faithful servant, and he would keep his oath, cost what it
might, though it was bitterness to him to leave Nehushta without a word.
He bethought him as he hastily put on light garments for the journey,
that he might send her a letter, and he wrote a few words upon a piece
of parchment, and folded it together. As he passed by the entrance of
the garden on his way to the stables, he looked about for one of
Nehushta's slaves; but seeing none, he beckoned to one of the Greek
tirewomen, and giving her a piece of gold, bade her take the little
scroll to Nehushta, the Hebrew princess, who was in the gardens. Then he
went quickly on, and mounting the best horse in the king's stables,
galloped at a break-neck pace down the steep incline. In five minutes he
had crossed the bridge, and was speeding over the straight, dusty road
toward Nineveh. In a quarter of an hour, a person watching him from the
palace would have seen his flying figure disappearing as in a tiny speck
of dust far out upon the broad, green plain.

But the Greek slave-woman stood with Zoroaster's letter in her hand and
held the gold piece he had given her in her mouth, debating what she
should do. She was one of the queen's women, as it chanced, and she
immediately reflected that she might turn the writing to some better
account than by delivering it to Nehushta, whom she had seen for a
moment that morning as she passed, and whose dark Hebrew face displeased
the frivolous Greek, for some hidden reason. She thought of giving the
scroll to the queen, but then she reflected that she did not know what
it contained. The words were written hastily and in the Chaldean
character. Their import might displease her mistress. The woman was not
a newcomer, and she knew Zoroaster's face well enough from former times;
she knew also, or suspected, that the queen secretly loved him, and she
argued from the fact of Zoroaster, who was dressed for a journey,
sending so hastily a word to Nehushta, that he loved the Hebrew
princess. Therefore, if the letter were a mere love greeting, with no
name written in it, the queen might apply it to herself, and she would
be pleased; whereas, if it were in any way clear that the writing was
intended for Nehushta, the queen would certainly be glad that it should
never be delivered. The result of this cunning argument was that the
Greek woman thrust the letter into her bosom, and the gold piece into
her girdle; and went to seek an opportunity of seeing the queen alone.

That day, towards evening, Atossa sat in an inner chamber before her
great mirror; the table was covered with jade boxes, silver combs, bowls
of golden hair-pins, little ivory instruments, and all the appurtenances
of her toilet. Two or three magnificent jewels lay among the many
articles of use, gleaming in the reflected light of the two tall lamps
that stood on bronze stands beside her chair. She was fully attired and
had dismissed her women; but she lingered a moment, poring over the
little parchment scroll her chief hairdresser had slipped into her hand
when they were alone for a moment. Only a black fan-girl stood a few
paces behind her, and resting the stem of the long palm against one foot
thrust forward, swung the broad round leaf quickly from side to side at
arm's length, sending a constant stream of fresh air upon her royal
mistress, just below the level of the lamps which burned steadily above.

The queen turned the small letter again in her hand, and smiled to
herself as she looked into the great burnished sheet of silver that
surmounted the table. With some difficulty she had mastered the
contents, for she knew enough of Hebrew and of the Chaldean character to
comprehend the few simple words.

"I go hence for twelve days upon the king's business. My beloved, my
soul is with thy soul and my heart with thy heart. As the dove that
goeth forth in the morning and returneth in the evening to his mate, so
I will return soon to thee."

Atossa knew well enough that the letter had been intended for Nehushta.
The woman had whispered that Zoroaster had given it to her, and
Zoroaster would never have written those words to herself; or, writing
anything, would not have written in the Hebrew language.

But as the queen read, her heart rose up in wrath against the Persian
prince and against the woman he loved. When she had talked with him that
morning, she had felt her old yearning affection rising again in her
breast. She had wondered at herself, being accustomed to think that she
was beyond all feeling for man, and the impression she had received from
her half-hour's talk with him was so strong, that she had foolishly
delayed sending her letter to Phraortes, in order to see the woman
Zoroaster admired, and had, in her absence of mind, forgotten the
scroll upon the seat in the corridor, and had brought herself into such
desperate danger through the discovery of the missive, that she hardly
yet felt safe. The king had dismissed her peremptorily from his presence
while he waited for Nehushta, and she had not seen him during the rest
of the day. As for Zoroaster, she had soon heard from her women that he
had taken the road towards Nineveh before noon, alone and almost
unarmed, mounted upon one of the fleetest horses in Persia. She had not
a doubt that Darius had despatched him at once to Ecbatana to meet
Phraortes, or at least to inquire into the state of affairs in the city.
She knew that no one could outride Zoroaster, and that there was nothing
to be done but to await the issue. It was not possible to send a word of
warning to her agent--he must inevitably take his chance, and if his
conduct attracted suspicion, he would, in all probability, be at once
put to death. She believed that, even in that event, she could easily
clear herself; but she resolved, if possible, to warn him as soon as he
reached Shushan, or even to induce the king to be absent from the palace
for a few days at the time when Phraortes might be expected. There was
plenty of time--at least eleven days.

Meanwhile, a desperate struggle was beginning within her, and the letter
her woman had brought her hastened the conclusion to which her thoughts
were rapidly tending.

She felt keenly the fact that Zoroaster, who had been so cold to her
advances in former days, had preferred before her a Hebrew woman, and
was now actually so deeply in love with Nehushta, that he could not
leave the palace for a few days without writing her a word of love--he,
who had never loved any one! She fiercely hated this dark woman, who was
preferred before her by the man she secretly loved, and whom the king
had brutally declared to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She
longed for her destruction as she had never longed for anything in her
life. Her whole soul rose in bitter resentment; not only did Zoroaster
love this black-eyed, dark-browed child of captivity, but the king, who
had always maintained that Atossa was unequalled in the world, even when
he coldly informed her that he would never trust her, now dared to say
before Zoroaster, almost before Nehushta herself, that the princess was
the more beautiful of the two. The one man wounded her in her vanity,
the other in her heart.

It would not be possible at present to be revenged upon the king. There
was little chance of eluding his sleepless vigilance, or of leading him
into any rash act of self-destruction. Besides, she knew him too well
not to understand that he was the only man alive who could save Persia
from further revolutions, and keep the throne against all comers. She
loved power and the splendour of her royal existence, perhaps more than
she loved Zoroaster. The idea of another change in the monarchy was not
to be thought of, now that Darius had subdued Babylon. She had indeed a
half-concerted plan with Phraortes to seize the power in Media in case
the king were defeated in Babylonia, and the scroll she had so
imprudently forgotten that very morning was merely an order to lay
aside all such plans for the present, since the king had returned in
triumph.

As far as her conscience was concerned, Atossa would as soon have
overthrown and murdered the king to gratify the personal anger she felt
against him at the present moment, as she would have wrecked the
universe to possess a jewel she fancied. There existed in her mind no
idea of proportion between the gratification of her passions and the
means she might employ thereto; provided one gratification did not
interfere with another which she always saw beyond. Nothing startled her
on account of its mere magnitude; no plan was rejected by her merely
because it implied ruin to a countless number of human beings who were
useless to her. She coldly calculated the amount of satisfaction she
could at any time obtain for her wishes and desires, so as not to
prejudice the gratification of all the possible passions she might
hereafter experience.

As for injuring Zoroaster, she would not have thought of it. She loved
him in a way peculiar to herself, but it was love, nevertheless,--and
she had no idea of wreaking her disappointment upon the object on which
she had set her heart. As a logical consequence, she determined to turn
all her anger against Nehushta, and she pictured to herself the
delicious pleasure of torturing the young princess's jealousy to
desperation. To convince Nehushta that Zoroaster was deceiving her, and
really loved herself, the queen; to force Zoroaster into some position
where he must either silently let Nehushta believe that he was attached
to Atossa, or, as an alternative, betray the king's secrets by speaking
the truth; to let Nehushta's vanity be flattered by the king's
admiration,--nay, even to force her into a marriage with Darius, and
then by suffering her again to fall into her first love for Zoroaster,
bring her to a public disgrace by suddenly unmasking her to the king--to
accomplish these things surely and quickly, reserving for herself the
final delight of scoffing at her worsted rival--all this seemed to
Atossa to constitute a plan at once worthy of her profound and scheming
intelligence, and most sweetly satisfactory to her injured vanity and
rejected love.

It would be hard for her to see Nehushta married to the king, and
occupying the position of chief favourite even for a time. But the
triumph would be the sweeter when Nehushta was finally overthrown, and
meanwhile there would be much daily delight in tormenting the princess's
jealousy. Chance, or rather the cunning of her Greek tirewoman, had
thrown a weapon in her way which could easily be turned into an
instrument of torture, and as she sat before her mirror, she twisted and
untwisted the little bit of parchment, and smiled to herself, a sweet
bright smile--and leaned her head back to the pleasant breeze of the
fan.



CHAPTER IX.


The noonday air was hot and dry in the garden of the palace, but in the
graceful marble pavilion there was coolness and the sound of gently
plashing water. Rose-trees and climbing plants screened the sunlight
from the long windows, and gave a soft green tinge to the eight-sided
hall, where a fountain played in the midst, its little jet falling into
a basin hollowed in the floor. On the rippling surface a few
water-lilies swayed gently with the constant motion, anchored by their
long stems to the bottom. All was cool and quiet and restful, and
Nehushta stood looking at the fountain.

She was alone and very unhappy. Zoroaster had left the palace without a
word to her, and she knew only by the vague reports her slaves brought
her, that he was gone for many days. Her heart sank at the thought of
all that might happen before he returned, and the tears stood in her
eyes.

"Are you here alone, dear princess?" said a soft, clear voice behind
her. Nehushta started, as though something had stung her, as she
recognised Atossa's tones. There was nothing of her assumed cordiality
of the previous day as she answered. She was too unhappy, too weary of
the thought that her lover was gone, to be able to act a part, or
pretend a friendliness she did not feel.

"Yes--I am alone," she said quietly.

"So am I," answered Atossa, her blue eyes sparkling with the sunshine
she brought in with her, and all her wonderful beauty beaming, as it
were, with an overflowing happiness. "The ladies of the court are gone
in state to the city, in the Great King's train, and you and I are alone
in the palace. How deliciously cool it is in here."

She sat down upon a heap of cushions by one of the screened windows and
contemplated Nehushta, who still stood by the fountain.

"You look sad--and tired, dearest Nehushta," said she presently. "Indeed
you must not be sad here--nobody is sad here!"

"I am sad," repeated Nehushta, in a dreary, monotonous way, as though
scarcely conscious of what she was saying. There was a moment's silence
before Atossa spoke again.

"Tell me what it is," she said at last, in persuasive accents. "Tell me
what is the matter. It may be that you lack something--that you miss
something you were used to in Ecbatana. Will you not tell me, dearest?"

"Tell you what?" asked Nehushta, as though she had not heard.

"Tell me what it is that makes you sad," repeated the queen.

"Tell you?" exclaimed the princess, suddenly looking up, with flashing
eyes, "tell _you?_ oh no!"

Atossa looked a little sadly at Nehushta, as though hurt at the want of
confidence she showed. But the Hebrew maiden turned away and went and
looked through the hanging plants at the garden without. Then Atossa
rose softly and came and stood behind her, and put her arm about her,
and let her own fair cheek rest against the princess's dark face.
Nehushta said nothing, but she trembled, as though something she hated
were touching her.

"Is it because your friend has gone away suddenly?" asked Atossa almost
in a whisper, with the sweetest accent of sympathy. Nehushta started a
little.

"No!" she answered, almost fiercely. "Why do you say that?"

"Only--he wrote me a little word before he went. I thought you might
like to know he was safe," replied the queen, gently pressing her arm
about Nehushta's slender waist.

"Wrote to you?" repeated the princess, in angry surprise.

"Yes, dearest," answered the queen, looking down in well-feigned
embarrassment. "I would not have told you, only I thought you would wish
to hear of him. If you like, I will read you a part of what he says,"
she added, producing from her bosom the little piece of parchment
carefully rolled together.

It was more than Nehushta could bear. Her olive skin turned suddenly
pale, and she tore herself away from the queen.

"Oh no! no! I will not hear it! Leave me in peace--for your gods' sake,
leave me in peace!"

Atossa drew herself up and stared coldly at Nehushta, as though she were
surprised beyond measure and deeply offended.

"Truly, I need not be told twice to leave you in peace," she said
proudly. "I thought to comfort you, because I saw you were sad--even at
the expense of my own feelings. I will leave you now--but I bear no
malice against you. You are very, very young, and very, very foolish."

Atossa shook her head, thoughtfully, and swept from the pavilion in
stately and offended dignity. But as she walked alone through the
garden, she smiled to herself and softly hummed a merry melody she had
heard from an Egyptian actor on the previous evening. Darius had brought
a company of Egyptians from Babylon, and after the banquet, had
commanded that they should perform their music, and dancing, and
mimicry, for the amusement of the assembled court.

Atossa's sweet voice echoed faintly among the orange trees and the
roses, as she went towards the palace, and the sound of it came
distantly to Nehushta's ears. She stood for a while where the queen had
left her, her face pale and her hands wringing together; and then, with
a sudden impulse, she went and threw herself upon the floor, and buried
her head in the deep, soft cushions. Her hands wandered in the wealth of
her black hair, and her quick, hot tears stained the delicate silk of
the pillows.

How could he? How was it possible? He said he loved her, and now, when
he was sent away for many days, his only thought had been to write to
the queen--not to herself! An agony of jealousy overwhelmed her, and she
could have torn out her very soul, and trampled her own heart under her
feet in her anger. Passionately she clasped her hands to her temples;
her head seemed splitting with a new and dreadful pain that swallowed
all her thoughts for a moment, until the cold weight seemed again to
fall upon her breast and all her passion gushed out in abundant tears.
Suddenly a thought struck her. She roused herself, leaning upon one
hand, and stared vacantly a moment at her small gilded shoe which had
fallen from her bare foot upon the marble pavement. She absently reached
forward and took the thing in her hand, and gravely contemplated the
delicate embroidery and thick gilding, through her tears,--as one will
do a foolish and meaningless thing in the midst of a great sorrow.

Was it possible that the queen had deceived her? How she wished she had
let her read the writing as she had offered to do. She did not imagine
at first that the letter was for herself and had gone astray. But she
thought the queen might easily have pretended to have received
something, or had even scratched a few words upon a bit of parchment,
meaning to pass it off upon her as a letter from Zoroaster. She longed
to possess the thing and to judge of it with her own eyes. It would
hardly be possible to say whether it were written by him or not, as far
as the handwriting was concerned; but Nehushta was sure she should
recognise some word, some turn of language that would assure her that it
was his. She could almost have risen and gone in search of the queen at
once, to prove the lie upon her--to challenge her to show the writing.
But her pride forbade her. She had been so weak--she should not have let
Atossa see, even for a moment, that she was hurt, not even that she
loved Zoroaster. She had tried to conceal her feelings, but Atossa had
gone too far, had tortured her beyond all endurance, and she knew that,
even if she had known what to expect, she could not have easily borne
the soft, infuriating, deadly, caressing, goading taunts of that fair,
cruel woman.

Then again, the whole possibility of Zoroaster's unfaithfulness came and
took shape before her. He had known and loved Atossa of old, perhaps,
and now the old love had risen up and killed the new--he had sworn so
truly under the ivory moonlight in Ecbatana. And yet--he had written to
this other woman and not to her. Was it true? Was it Atossa's cruel lie?
In a storm of doubt and furious passion, her tears welled forth again;
and once more she hid her face in the pale yellow cushions, and her
whole beautiful body trembled and was wrung with her sobs.

Suddenly she was aware that some one entered the little hall and stood
beside her. She dared not look up at first; she was unstrung and
wretched in her grief and anger, and it was the strong, firm tread of a
man. The footsteps ceased, and the intruder, whoever he might be, was
standing still; she took courage and looked quickly up. It was the king
himself. Indeed, she might have known that no other man would dare to
penetrate into the recesses of the garden set apart for the ladies of
the palace.

Darius stood quietly gazing at her with an expression of doubt and
curiosity, that was almost amusing, on his stern, dark face. Nehushta
was frightened, and sprang to her feet with the graceful quickness of a
startled deer. She was indolent by nature, but as swift as light when
she was roused by fear or excitement.

"Are you so unhappy in my palace?" asked Darius gently. "Why are you
weeping? Who has hurt you?"

Nehushta turned her face away and dashed the tears from her eyes, while
her cheeks flushed hotly.

"I am not weeping--no one--has hurt me," she answered, in a voice broken
rather by embarrassment and annoyance, than by the sorrow she had nearly
forgotten in her sudden astonishment at being face to face with the
king.

Darius smiled, and almost laughed, as he stroked his thick beard with
his broad brown hand.

"Princess," he said, "will you sit down again? I will deliver you a
discourse upon the extreme folly of ever telling"--he hesitated--"of
saying anything which is not precisely true."

There was something so simple and honest in his manner of speaking, that
Nehushta almost smiled through her half-dried tears as she sat upon the
cushions at the king's feet. He himself sat down upon the broad marble
seat that ran round the eight-sided little building, and composing his
face to a serious expression, that was more than half-assumed, began to
deliver his lecture.

"I take it for granted that when one tells a lie, he expects to be
believed. There must, then, be some thing or circumstance which can help
to make his lies credible. Now, my dear princess, in the present
instance, while I was looking you in the face and counting the tears
upon your very beautiful cheeks, you deliberately told me that you were
not weeping. There was, therefore, not even the shadow of a thing, or
circumstance which could make what you said credible. It is evident that
what you said was not true. Is it not so?"

Nehushta could not help smiling as she looked up and saw the kindly
light in the king's dark eyes. She thought she understood he was amusing
her for the sake of giving her time to collect herself, and in spite of
the determined intention of marrying her he had so lately expressed, she
felt safe with him.

"The king lives for ever," she answered, in the set phrase of assent
common at the court.

"It is very probable," replied Darius gravely. "So many people say so,
that I should have to believe all mankind liars if that were not true.
But I must return to your own particular case. It would have been easy
for you not to have said what you did. I must therefore suppose that in
going out of the way to make an attempt to deceive me in the face of
such evidence--by saying you were not weeping when the tears were
actually falling from those very soft eyes of yours--you had an object
to gain. Men employ truth and falsehood for much the same reason: A man
who does not respect truth will, therefore, lie when he can hope to gain
more by it. The man who lies expects to gain something by his lie, and
the man who tells the truth hopes that, in so doing, he will establish
himself a credit which he can use upon future occasions.[4] But the
object is the same. Tell me, therefore, princess, what did you hope to
gain by trying to deceive me?" Darius laughed as he concluded his
argument and looked at Nehushta to see what she would say--Nehushta
laughed also, she could hardly tell why. The king's brilliant, active
humour was catching. She reached out and thrust her foot into the little
slipper that still lay beside her, before she answered.

     [Footnote 4: Herodotus, book iii. chap. lxxii.]

"What I said was true in one way and not in another," she said. "I had
been crying bitterly, but I stopped when I heard the king come and stand
beside me. So it was only the tears the king saw and not the weeping. As
for the object,"--she laughed a little,--"it was, perhaps, that I might
gain time to dry my eyes."

Darius shifted his position a little.

"I know," he said gravely. "And I know why you were weeping, and it is
my fault. Will you forgive me, princess? I am a hasty man, not
accustomed to think twice when I give my commands."

Nehushta looked up suddenly with an expression of inquiry.

"I sent him away very quickly," continued the king. "If I had thought, I
would have told him to come and bid you farewell. He would not have
willingly gone without seeing you--it was my fault. He will return in
twelve days."

Nehushta was silent and bit her lip as the bitter thought arose in her
heart that it was not alone Zoroaster's sudden departure that had pained
her. Then it floated across her mind that the king had purposely sent
away her lover in order that he might himself try to win her heart.

"Why did you send him--and not another?" she asked, without looking up,
and forgetting all formality of speech.

"Because he is the man of all others whom I can trust, and I needed a
faithful messenger," answered Darius, simply.

Nehushta gazed into the king's face searching for some sign there, but
he had spoken earnestly enough.

"I thought--" she began, and then stopped short, blushing crimson.

"You thought," answered Darius, "that I had sent him away never to
return because I desire you for my wife. It was natural, but it was
unjust. I sent him because I was obliged to do so. If you wish it, I
will leave you now, and I will promise you that I will not look upon
your face till Zoroaster returns."

Nehushta looked down and she still blushed. She could hardly believe her
ears.

"Indeed," she faltered, "it were perhaps--best--I mean--" she could not
finish the sentence. Darius rose quietly from his seat:

"Farewell, princess; it shall be as you desire," he said gravely, and
strode towards the door. His face was pale and his lips set tight.

Nehushta hesitated and then, in a moment, she comprehended the whole
nobility of soul of the young king,--a man at whose words the whole land
trembled, who crushed his enemies like empty egg-shells beneath his
feet, and yet who, when he held the woman he loved completely in his
power, refused, even for a moment, to intrude his presence upon her
against her wish.

She sprang from her seat and ran to him, and kneeled on one knee and
took his hand. He did not look at her, but his own hand trembled
violently in hers, and he made as though he would lift her to her feet.

"Nay," she cried, "let not my lord be angry with his handmaiden! Let the
king grant me my request, for he is the king of men and of kings!" In
her sudden emotion she spoke once more in the form of a humble subject
addressing her sovereign.

"Speak, princess," answered Darius. "If it be possible, I will grant
your request."

"I would--" she stopped, and again the generous blood overspread her
dark cheek. "I would--I know not what I would, saving to thank thee for
thy goodness and kindness--I was unhappy, and thou hast comforted me. I
meant not that it was best that I should not look upon the king's face."
She spoke the last words in so low a tone as she bent her head, that
Darius could scarcely hear them. But his willing ears interpreted
rightly what she said, and he understood.

"Shall I come to you to-morrow, princess, at the same hour?" he asked,
almost humbly.

"Nay, the king knoweth that the garden is ever full of the women of the
court," said Nehushta, hesitating; for she thought that it would be a
very different matter to be seen from a distance by all the ladies of
the palace in conversation with the king.

"Do not fear," answered Darius. "The garden shall be yours. There are
other bowers of roses in Shushan whither the women can go. None but you
shall enter here, so long as it be your pleasure. Farewell, I will come
to you to-morrow at noon."

He turned and looked into her eyes, and then she took his hand and
silently placed it upon her forehead in thanks. In a moment he was gone
and she could hear his quick tread upon the marble of the steps outside,
and in the path through the roses. When she knew that he was out of
sight, Nehushta went out and stood in the broad blaze of the noonday
sun. She passed her hand over her forehead, as though she had been
dazed. It seemed as though a change had come over her and she could not
understand it.

In the glad security of being alone, she ran swiftly down one of the
paths, and across by another. Then she stopped short and bent down a
great bough of blooming roses and buried her beautiful dark face in the
sweet leaves and smelled the perfume, and laughed.

"Oh! I am so happy!" she cried aloud. But her face suddenly became
grave, as she tried to understand what she felt. After all, Zoroaster
was only gone for twelve days, and meanwhile she had secured her
liberty, the freedom of wandering all day in the beautiful gardens, and
she could dream of him to her heart's content. And the letter? It was a
forgery, of course. That wicked queen loved Zoroaster and wished to make
Nehushta give him up! Perhaps she might tell the king something of it
when he came on the next day. He would be so royally angry! He would so
hate the lie! And yet, in some way, it seemed to her that she could not
tell Darius of this trouble. He had been so kind, so gentle, as though
he had been her brother, instead of the Great King himself, who bore
life and death in his right hand and his left, whose shadow was a terror
to the world already, and at whose brief, imperious word a nation rose
to arms and victory. Was this the terrible Darius? The man who had slain
the impostor with his own sword? who had vanquished rebel Babylon in a
few days and brought home four thousand captives at his back? He was as
gentle as a girl, this savage warrior--but when she recalled his
features, she remembered the stern look that came into his face when he
was serious, she grew thoughtful and wandered slowly down the path,
biting a rose-leaf delicately with her small white teeth and thinking
many things; most of all, how she might be revenged upon Atossa for what
she had suffered that morning.

But Atossa herself was enjoying at that very moment the triumph of the
morning and quietly planning how she might continue the torment she had
imagined for Nehushta, without allowing its cruelty to diminish, while
keeping herself amused and occupied to the fullest extent until
Zoroaster should return. It was not long before she learned from her
chief tirewoman that the king had been in the pavilion of the garden
with Nehushta that morning, and it at once occurred to her that, if the
king returned on the following day, it would be an easy thing to appear
while he was with the princess, and by veiled words and allusions to
Zoroaster, to make her rival suffer the most excruciating torments,
which she would be forced to conceal from the king.

But, at the same time, the news gave her cause for serious thought. She
had certainly not intended that Nehushta should be left alone for hours
with Darius. She knew indeed that the princess loved Zoroaster, but she
could not conceive that any woman should be insensible to the
consolation the Great King could offer. If affairs took such a turn, she
fully intended to allow the king to marry Nehushta, while she
confidently believed it in her power to destroy her just when she had
reached the summit of her ambition.

It chanced that the king chose that day to eat his evening meal in the
sole company of Atossa, as he sometimes did when weary of the court
ceremony. When, therefore, they reclined at sundown upon a small
secluded terrace of the upper story, Atossa found an excellent
opportunity of discussing Nehushta and her doings.

Darius lay upon a couch on one side of the low table, and Atossa was
opposite to him. The air was dry and intensely hot, and on each side two
black fan-girls plied their palm-leaves silently with all their might.
The king lay back upon his cushions, his head uncovered, and all his
shaggy curls of black hair tossed behind him, his broad, strong hand
circling a plain goblet of gold that stood beside him on the table. For
once, he had laid aside his breastplate, and a vest of white and purple
fell loosely over his tunic; but his sword of keen Indian steel lay
within reach upon the floor.

Atossa had raised herself upon her elbow, and her clear blue eyes were
fixed upon the king's face, thoughtfully, as though expecting that he
would say something. Contrary to all custom, she wore a Greek tunic
with short sleeves caught at the shoulders by golden buckles, and her
fair hair was gathered into a heavy knot, low down, behind her head. Her
dazzling arms and throat were bare, but above her right elbow she wore a
thick twisted snake of gold, her only ornament.

"The king is not athirst to-night," said Atossa at last, watching the
full goblet that he grasped, but did not raise.

"I am not always thirsty," answered Darius moodily. "Would you have me
always drunk, like a Babylonian dog?"

"No; nor always sober, like a Persian captain."

"What Persian captain?" asked the king, suddenly looking at her and
knitting his brows.

"Why, like him, whom, for his sobriety you have sent to-day on the way
to Nineveh," answered Atossa.

"I have sent no one to Nineveh to-day."

"To Ecbatana then, to inquire whether I told you the truth about my poor
servant Phraortes--Fravartish, as you call him," said the queen, with a
flash of spite in her blue eyes.

"I assure you," answered the king, laughing, "that it is solely on
account of your remarkable beauty that I have not had you strangled. So
soon as you grow ugly you shall surely die. It is very unwise of me, as
it is!"

The queen, too, laughed, a low, silvery laugh.

"I am greatly indebted for my life," said she. "I am very beautiful, I
am aware, but I am no longer the most beautiful woman in the world." She
spoke without a trace of annoyance in her voice or face, as though it
were a good jest.

"No," said Darius, thoughtfully. "I used to think that you were. It is
in the nature of man to change his opinion. You are, nevertheless, very
beautiful--I admire your Greek dress."

"Shall I send my tirewoman with one like it to Nehushta?" inquired
Atossa, raising her delicate eyebrows, with a sweet smile.

"You will not need to improve her appearance in order that she may find
favour in my eyes," answered Darius, laughing. "But the jest is good.
You would rather send her an Indian snake than an ornament."

"Yes," returned the queen, who understood the king's strange character
better than any one. "You cannot in honesty expect me not to hate a
woman whom you think more beautiful than me! It would hardly be natural.
It is unfortunate that she should prefer the sober Persian captain to
the king himself."

"It is unfortunate--yes--fortunate for you, however."

"I mean, it will chafe sadly upon you when you have married her," said
Atossa, calmly.

Darius raised the goblet he still held and setting it to his lips drank
it at a draught. As he replaced it on the table, Atossa rose swiftly,
and with her own hands refilled it from a golden ewer. The wine was of
Shiraz, dark and sweet and strong. The king took her small white hand in
his, as she stood beside him, and looked at it.

"It is a beautiful hand," he said. "Nehushta's fingers are a trifle
shorter than yours--a little more pointed--a little less grasping.
Shall I marry Nehushta, or not?" He looked up as he asked the question,
and he laughed.

"No," answered Atossa, laughing too.

"Shall I marry her to Zoroaster?"

"No," she answered again, but her laugh was less natural.

"What shall I do with her?" asked the king.

"Strangle her!" replied Atossa, with a little fierce pressure on his
hand as he held hers, and without the least hesitation.

"There would be frequent sudden deaths in Persia, if you were king,"
said Darius.

"It seems to me there are enough slain, as it is," answered the queen.
"There are, perhaps, one--or two----"

Suddenly the king's face grew grave, and he dropped her hand.

"Look you!" he said, "I love jesting. But jest not overmuch with me. Do
no harm to Nehushta, or I will make an end of your jesting for ever, by
sure means. That white throat of yours would look ill with a bow-string
about it."

The queen bit her lip. The king seldom spoke to her in earnest, and she
was frightened.

On the following day, when she went to the garden, two tall spearmen
guarded the entrance, and as she was about to go in, they crossed their
lances over the marble door and silently barred the way.



CHAPTER X.



Atossa started back in pure astonishment and stared for a moment at the
two guards, looking from one to the other, and trying to read their
stolid faces. Then she laid her hand on their spears, and would have
pushed them aside; but she could not.

"Whose hounds are ye?" she said angrily. "Know ye not the queen? Make
way!"

But the two strong soldiers neither answered nor removed their weapons
from before the door.

"Dog-faced slaves!" she said between her teeth. "I will crucify you both
before sundown!" She turned and went away, but she was glad that no one
was there in the narrow vestibule before the garden to see her
discomfiture. It was the first time in her life she had ever been
resisted by an inferior, and she could not bear it easily. But when she
discovered, half an hour later, that the guards were obeying the Great
King's orders, she bowed her head silently and went to her apartments to
consider what she should do.

She could do nothing. There was no appeal against the king's word. He
had distinctly commanded that no one save Nehushta, not even Atossa
herself, was to be allowed to enter; he had placed the guards there
himself the previous day, and had himself given the order.

For eleven days the door was barred; but Atossa did not again attempt to
enter. Darius would have visited roughly such an offence, and she knew
how delicate her position was. She resigned herself and occupied her
mind with other things. Daily, an hour before noon, Nehushta swept
proudly through the gate, and disappeared among the roses and myrtles of
the garden; and daily, precisely as the sun reached the meridian, the
king went in between the spearmen, and disappeared in like manner.

Darius had grown so suddenly stern and cold in manner towards the queen,
that she dared not even mention the subject of the garden to him,
fearing a sadden outburst of his anger, which would surely put an end to
her existence in the court, and very likely to her life.

As for Nehushta, she had plentiful cause for reflection and much time
for dreaming. If the days were not happy, they were at least made
bearable for her by the absolute liberty she enjoyed. The king would
have given her slaves and jewels and rich gifts without end, had she
been willing to accept them. She said she had all she needed--and she
said it a little proudly; only the king's visits grew to be the centre
of the day, and each day the visit lengthened, till it came to be nearly
evening when Darius issued from the gate.

She always waited for him in the eight-sided pavilion, and as their
familiarity grew, the king would not even permit her to rise when he
came, nor to use any of those forms of the court speech which were so
distasteful to him. He simply sat himself down beside her, and talked to
her and listened to her answers, as though he were one of his own
subjects, no more hampered by the cares and state of royalty than any
soldier in the kingdom.

It was a week since Zoroaster had mounted to ride to Ecbatana, and
Darius sat as usual upon the marble bench by the side of Nehushta, who
rested among the cushions, talking now without constraint upon all
matters that chanced to occur as subjects of conversation. She thought
Darius was more silent than usual, and his dark face was pale. He seemed
weary, as though from some great struggle, and presently Nehushta
stopped speaking and waited to see whether the king would say anything.

During the silence nothing was heard saving the plash of the little
fountain, and the low soft ripple of the tiny waves that rocked
themselves against the edge of the basin.

"Do you know, Nehushta," he said at last, in a weary voice, "that I am
doing one of the worst actions of my life?"

Nehushta started, and the shadows in her face grew darker.

"Say rather the kindest action you ever did," she murmured.

"If it is not bad, it is foolish," said Darius, resting his chin upon
his hand and leaning forward. "I would rather it were foolish than
bad--I fear me it is both."

Nehushta could guess well enough what it was he would say. She knew she
could have turned the subject, or laughed, or interrupted him in many
ways; but she did none of these things. An indescribable longing seized
her to hear him say that he loved her. What could it matter? He was so
loyal and good that he could never be more than a friend. He was the
king of the world--had he not been honest and kind, he would have needed
no wooing to do as he pleased to do, utterly and entirely. A word from
his lips and the name of Zoroaster would be but the memory of a man
dead; and again a word, and Nehushta would be the king's wife! What need
had he of concealment, or of devious ways? He was the king of the earth,
whose shadow was life and death, whose slightest wish was a law to be
enforced by hundreds of thousands of warriors! There was nothing between
him and his desires--nothing but that inborn justice and truth, in which
he so royally believed. Nehushta felt that she could trust him, and she
longed--out of mere curiosity, she thought--to hear him speak words of
love to her. It would only be for a moment--they would be so soon
spoken; and at her desire, he would surely not speak them again. It
seemed so sweet, she knew not why, to make this giant of despotic power
do as she pleased; to feel that she could check him, or let him
speak--him whom all obeyed and feared, as they feared death itself.

She looked up quietly, as she answered:

"How can it be either bad or foolish of you to make others so happy?"

"It seems as though it could be neither--and yet, all my reason tells me
it is both," replied the king earnestly. "Here I sit beside you, day
after day, deceiving myself with the thought that I am making your time
pass pleasantly till--"

"There is not any deception in that," interrupted Nehushta gently.
Somehow she did not wish him to pronounce Zoroaster's name. "I can never
tell you how grateful I am--"

"It is I who am grateful," interrupted the king in his turn. "It is I
who am grateful that I am allowed to be daily with you, and that you
speak with me, and seem glad when I come--" He hesitated and stopped.

"What is there that is bad and foolish in that?" asked Nehushta, with a
sudden smile, as she looked up into his face.

"There is more than I like to think," answered the king. "You say the
time passes pleasantly for you. Do you think it is less pleasant for
me?" His voice sank to a deep, soft tone, as he continued: "I sit here
day after day, and day after day I love you more and more. I love
you--where is the use of concealing that--if I could conceal it? You
know it. Perhaps you pity me, for you do not love me. You pity me who
hold the whole earth under my feet as an Egyptian juggler stands upon a
ball, and rolls it whither he will." He ceased suddenly.

"Indeed I would that you did not love me," said Nehushta very gravely.
She looked down. The pleasure of hearing the king's words was indeed
exquisite, and she feared that her eyes might betray her. But she did
not love him. She wondered what he would say next.

"You might as well wish that dry pastures should not burn when the sun
shines on them, and there is no rain," he answered with a passing
bitterness. "It is at least a satisfaction that my love does not harm
you--that you are willing to have me for your friend--"

"Willing! Your friendship is almost the sweetest thing I know,"
exclaimed the princess. The king's eyes flashed darkly.

"Almost! Yes, truly--my friendship and another man's love are the
sweetest things! What would my friendship be without his love? By
Auramazda and the six Amshaspands of Heaven, I would it were my love and
his friendship! I would that Zoroaster were the king, and I Zoroaster,
the king's servant! I would give all Persia and Media, Babylon and
Egypt, and all the uttermost parts of my kingdom, to hear your sweet
voice say: 'Darius, I love thee!' I would give my right hand, I would
give my heart from my breast and my soul from my body--my life and my
strength, and my glory and my kingdom would I give to hear you say:
'Come, my beloved, and put thine arms about me!' Ah, child! you know not
what my love is--how it is higher than the heavens in worshipping you,
and broader than the earth to be filled with you, and deeper than the
depths of the sea, to change not, but to abide for you always."

The king's voice was strong, and the power of his words found wings in
it, and seemed to fly forth irresistibly with a message that demanded an
answer. Nehushta regretted within herself that she had let him
speak--but for all the world she could not have given up the possession
of the words he had spoken. She covered her eyes with one hand and
remained silent--for she could say nothing. A new emotion had got
possession of her, and seemed to close her lips.

"You are silent," continued the king. "You are right. What should you
answer me? My voice sounds like the raving of a madman, chained by a
chain that he cannot break. If I had the strength of the mountains, I
could not move you. I know it. All things I have but this--this love of
yours that you have given to another. I would I had it! I should have
the strength to surpass the deeds of men, had I your love! Who is this
whom you love? A captain? A warrior? I tell you because you have so
honoured him, so raised him upon the throne of your heart, I will honour
him too, and I will raise him above all men, and all the nation shall
bow before him. I will make a decree that he shall be worshipped as a
god--this man whom you have made a god of by your love. I will build a
great temple for you two, and I will go up with all the people, and fall
down and bow before you, and worship you, and love you with every sinew
and bone of my body, and with every hope and joy and sorrow of my soul.
He whom you love shall ask, and whatsoever he asks I will give to him
and to you. There shall not be anything left in the whole world that you
desire, but I will give it to you. Am I not the king of the whole
earth--the king of all living things but you?"

Darius breathed savagely hard through his clenched teeth, and rising
suddenly, paced the pavement between Nehushta and the fountain. She was
silent still, overcome with a sort of terror at his words--words, every
one of which he was able to fulfil, if he so chose. Presently he stood
still before her.

"Said I not well, that I rave as a madman--that I speak as a fool
without understanding? What can I give you that you want? Or what thing
can I devise that you have need of? Have you not all that the world
holds for mortal woman and living man? Do you not love, and are you not
loved in return? Have you not all--all--all? Ah! woe is me that I am
lord over the nations, and have not a drop of the waters of peace
wherewith to quench the thirst of my tormented soul! Woe is me that I
rule the world and trample the whole earth beneath my feet, and cannot
have the one thing that all the earth holds which is good! Woe is me,
Nehushta, that you have cruelly stolen my peace from me, and I find it
not--nor shall find it for evermore!"

The strong dark man stood wringing his hands together; his face was pale
as the dead, his black eyes were blazing with a mad fire. Nehushta dared
not look on the tempest she had roused, but she trembled and clasped her
hands to her breast and looked down.

"Nay, you are right," he cried bitterly. "Answer me nothing, for you can
have nothing to answer! Is it your fault that I am mad? Or is it your
doing that I love you so? Has any one sinned in this? I have seen you--I
saw you for a brief moment standing in the door of your tent--and
seeing, I loved you, and love you, and shall love you till the heavens
are rolled together and the scroll of all death is full! There is
nothing, nothing that you can say or do. It is not your fault--it is not
your sin; but it is by you and through you that I am undone,--broken as
the tree in the storm of the mountains, burned up and parched as the
beast perishing in the sun of the desert for lack of water, torn asunder
and rent into pieces as the rope that breaks at the well! By you, and
for you, and through you, I am ruined and lost--lost--lost for ever in
the hell of my wretched greatness, in the immeasurable death of my own
horrible despair!"

With a wild movement of agony, Darius fell at Nehushta's feet, prostrate
upon the marble floor, and buried his face in the skirts of her mantle,
utterly over-mastered and broken down by the tumult of his passion.

Nehushta was not heartless. Of a certainty she would have pitied any one
in such distress and grief, even had the cause thereof come less near to
herself. But, in all the sudden emotion she felt, the pity, the fear,
and the self-reproach, there was joined a vague feeling that no man ever
spoke as this man, that no lover ever poured forth such abundant love
before, and in the dim suspicion of something greater than she had ever
known, her fear and her pity grew stronger, and strove with each other.

At first she could not speak, but she put forth her delicate hand and
laid it tenderly on the king's thick black hair, as gently as a mother
might soothe a passionate child; and he suffered it to rest there. And
presently she raised his head and laid it in her lap, and smoothed his
forehead with her soft fingers, and spoke to him.

"You make me very sad," she almost whispered. "I would that you might be
loved as you deserve love--that one more worthy than I might give you
all I cannot give."

He opened his dark eyes that were now dull and weary, and he looked up
to her face.

"There is none more worthy than you," he answered in low and broken
tones.

"Hush," she said gently, "there are many. Will you forgive me--and
forget me? Will you blot out this hour from your remembrance, and go
forth and do those great and noble deeds which you came into the world
to perform? There is none greater than you, none nobler, none more
generous."

Darius lifted his head from her knee, and sprang to his feet.

"I will do all things, but I will not forget," he said. "I will do the
great and the good deeds,--for you. I will be generous, for you; noble,
for you; while the world lasts my deeds shall endure; and with them, the
memory that they were done for you! Grant me only one little thing."

"Ask anything--everything," answered Nehushta, in troubled tones.

"Nehushta, you know how truly I love you--nay, I will not be mad again;
fear not! Tell me this--tell me that if you had not loved Zoroaster, you
would have loved me."

Nehushta blushed deeply and then turned pale. She rose to her feet, and
took the king's outstretched hands.

"Indeed, indeed, you are most worthy of love--Darius, I could have loved
you well." Her voice was very low, and the tears stood in her eyes.

"The grace of the All-Wise God bless thee!" cried the king, and it was
as though a sudden bright light shone upon his face. Then he kissed her
two hands fervently, and with one long look into her sorrowful eyes, he
turned and left her.

But no man saw the king that day, nor did any know where he was, saving
the two spearmen who stood at the door of his chamber. Within, he lay
upon his couch, dry-eyed and stark, staring at the painted carvings of
the ceiling.



CHAPTER XI.



The time passed, and it was eleven days since Zoroaster had set out. The
king and Nehushta had continued to meet in the garden as before, and
neither had ever referred to the day when the torrent of his heart had
been suddenly let loose. The hours sped quietly and swiftly, without any
event of importance. Only the strange bond, half friendship and half
love, had grown stronger than before; and Nehushta wondered how it was
that she could love two men so well, and yet so differently. Indeed they
were very different men. She loved Zoroaster, and yet it sometimes
seemed as though he would more properly have filled the place of a
friend than of a lover. Darius she had accepted as her friend, but there
were moments when she almost forgot that he was not something more. She
tried to think of her meeting with Zoroaster, whether it would be like
former meetings,--whether her heart would beat more strongly, or not
beat at all when her lips touched his as of old. Her judgment was
utterly disturbed and her heart no longer knew itself. She gave herself
over to the pleasure of the king's society in the abandonment of the
moment, half foreseeing that some great change was at hand, over which
she could exercise no control.

The sun was just risen, but the bridge over the quickly flowing Choaspes
was still in the shadow cast over the plain by the fortress and the
palace, when two horsemen appeared upon the road from Nineveh, riding
at full gallop, and, emerging from the blue mist that still lay over the
meadows, crossed the bridge and continued at full speed towards the
ascent to the palace.

The one rider was a dark, ill-favoured man, whose pale flaccid cheeks
and drooping form betrayed the utmost fatigue. A bolster was bound
across the withers of his horse and another on the croup, so that he sat
as in a sort of chair, but he seemed hardly able to support himself even
with this artificial assistance, and his body swayed from side to side
as his horse bounded over the sharp curve at the foot of the hill. His
mantle was white with dust, and the tiara upon his head was reduced to a
shapeless and dusty piece of crumpled linen, while his uncurled hair and
tangled beard hung forward together in disorderly and dust-clotted
ringlets.

His companion was Zoroaster, fair and erect upon his horse, as though he
had not ridden three hundred farsangs in eleven days. There was dust
indeed upon his mantle and garments, as upon those of the man he
conducted, but his long fair hair and beard blew back from his face as
he held his head erect to the breeze he made in riding, and the light
steel cap was bright and burnished on his forehead. A slight flush
reddened his pale cheeks as he looked upward to the palace, and thought
that his ride was over and his errand accomplished. He was weary, almost
to death; but his frame was elastic and erect still.

As they rode up the steep, the guards at the outer gate, who had already
watched them for twenty minutes as they came up the road, mere moving
specks under the white mist, shouted to those within that Zoroaster was
returning, and the officer of the gate went at once to announce his
coming to the king. Darius himself received the message, and followed
the officer down the steps to the tower of the gateway, reaching the
open space within, just as the two riders galloped under the square
entrance and drew rein upon the pavement of the little court. The
spearmen sprang to their feet and filed into rank as the cry came down
the steps that the king was approaching, and Zoroaster leaped lightly
from his horse, and bid Phraortes do likewise; but the wretched Median
could scarce move hand or foot without help, and would have fallen
headlong, had not two stout spearmen lifted him to the ground, and held
him upon his legs.

Darius marched quickly up to the pair and stood still, while Zoroaster
made his brief salutation. Phraortes, who between deadly fatigue and
deadly fear of his life, had no strength left in him, fell forward upon
his knees as the two soldiers relaxed their hold upon his arms.

"Hail, king of kings! Live for ever!" said Zoroaster. "I have fulfilled
thy bidding. He is alive."

Darius laughed grimly as he eyed the prostrate figure of the Median.

"Thou art a faithful servant, Zoroaster," he answered, "and thou ridest
as the furies that pursue the souls of the wicked--as the devils of the
mountains after a liar. He would not have lasted much farther, this
bundle of sweating dust. Get up, fellow!" he said, touching Phraortes's
head with his toe. "Thou liest grovelling there like a swine in a
ditch."

The soldiers raised the exhausted man to his feet. The king turned to
Zoroaster.

"Tell me, thou rider of whirlwinds," he said, laughing, "will a man more
readily tell the truth, or speak lies, when he is tired?"

"A man who is tired will do whichever will procure him rest," returned
Zoroaster, with a smile.

"Then I will tell this fellow that the sooner he speaks the truth the
sooner he may sleep," said the king. Going near to Zoroaster, he added
in an undertone: "Before thou thyself restest, go and tell the queen
privately that she send away her slaves, and await me and him thou hast
brought in a few minutes. This fellow must have a little refreshment, or
he will die upon the steps."

Zoroaster turned and went up the broad stairs, and threaded the courts
and passages, and mounted to the terrace where he had first met Atossa
before the king's apartments. There was no one there, and he was about
to enter under the great curtain, when the queen herself came out and
met him face to face. Though it was yet very early, she was attired with
more than usual care, and the faint colours of her dress and the few
ornaments she wore, shone and gleamed brightly in the level beams of the
morning sun. She had guessed that Zoroaster would return that day, and
she was prepared for him.

As she came suddenly upon him, she gave a little cry, that might well
have been feigned.

"What! Are you already returned?" she asked, and the joy her voice
expressed was genuine. He looked so godlike as he stood there in the
sunlight--her heart leaped for joy of only seeing him.

"Yes--I bear this message from the Great King to the queen. The Great
King commands that the queen send away her slaves, and await the king
and him I have brought with me, in the space of a few minutes."

"It is well," answered Atossa, "There are no slaves here and I await the
king." She was silent a moment. "Are you not glad to have come back?"
she asked, presently.

"Yes," said Zoroaster, whose face brightened quickly as he spoke. "I am
indeed glad to be here again. Would not any one be glad to have finished
such a journey?"

The queen stood with her back to the curtained doorway and could see
down the whole length of the balcony to the head of the staircase.
Zoroaster faced her and the door. As he spoke, Atossa's quick eyes
caught sight of a figure coming quickly up the last steps of the
stairway. She recognised Nehushta instantly, but no trembling of her
lids or colouring of her cheek, betrayed that she had seen the approach
of her enemy. She fixed her deep-blue eyes upon Zoroaster's, and gazing
somewhat sadly, she spoke in low and gentle tones:

"The time has seemed long to me since you rode away, Zoroaster," she
said.

Zoroaster, astonished at the manner in which she spoke, turned pale, and
looked down coldly at her beautiful face. At that moment Nehushta
stepped upon the smooth marble pavement of the balcony.

Still Atossa kept her eyes fixed on Zoroaster's.

"You answer me nothing?" she said in broken tones. Then suddenly, as
though acting under an irresistible impulse, she threw her arms wildly
about his neck and kissed him passionately again and again.

"Oh Zoroaster, Zoroaster, my beloved!" she cried, "you must never, never
leave me again!" And again she kissed him, and fell forward upon his
breast, holding him so tightly that, for a moment, he did not know which
way to move. He put his hands upon her shoulders, to her waist--to try
to push her from him. But it was in vain; she clung to him desperately
and sobbed upon his breast.

In the sudden and fearful embarrassment in which he was placed, he did
not hear a short, low groan far off behind him, nor the sound of quickly
retreating steps upon the stairs. But Atossa heard and rejoiced
fiercely; and when she looked up, Nehushta was gone, with the incurable
wound in her breast.

Atossa suddenly let her arms fall from the warrior's neck, looked into
his eyes once, and then, with a short, sharp cry, she buried her face in
her hands and leaned back against the door-post by the heavy striped
curtain.

"Oh, my God! What have I done?" she moaned.

Zoroaster stood for one moment in hesitation and doubt. It seemed as
though he had received a sudden revelation of numberless things he had
never understood. He spoke quietly, at last, with a great effort, and
his voice sounded kindly.

"I thank the good powers that I do not love thee--and I would that thou
didst not love me. For I am the Great King's servant, faithful to
death--and if I loved thee I should be a liar, and a coward, and the
basest of all mankind. Forget, I pray thee, that thou hast spoken, and
let me depart in peace. For the Great King is at hand, and thou must not
suffer that he find thee weeping, lest he think thou fearest to meet
Phraortes the Median face to face. Forget, I pray thee--and forgive thy
servant if he have done anything amiss."

Atossa looked up suddenly. Her eyes were bright and clear, and there was
not a trace of tears in them. She laughed harshly.

"I--weep before the king! You do not know me. Go, if thou wilt.
Farewell, Zoroaster,"--her voice softened a little,--"farewell. It may
be that you shall live, but it may be that you shall die, because I love
you."

Zoroaster bent his head in respectful homage, and turned and went his
way. The queen looked after him, and as he disappeared upon the
staircase, she began to smooth her head-dress and the locks of her
golden hair, and for a moment, she smiled sweetly to herself.

"That was a mortal wound, well dealt," she said aloud. But as she gazed
out over the city, her face grew grave and thoughtful. "But I do love
him," she added softly, "I do--I do--I loved him long ago." She turned
quickly, as though fearing some one had overheard her. "How foolish I
am!" she exclaimed impatiently; and she turned and passed away under the
heavy curtain, leaving the long balcony once more empty,--save for the
rush of a swallow that now and then flew in between the pillars, and
hovered for a moment high up by the cornice, and sped out again into the
golden sunshine of the summer morning.

Zoroaster left Atossa with the hope of finding some means of seeing
Nehushta. But it was impossible. He knew well that he could not so far
presume as to go to her apartment by the lower passage where he had last
seen her on the day of his departure for Ecbatana, and the slave whom he
despatched from the main entrance of the women's part of the palace
returned with the brief information that Nehushta was alone in her
chamber, and that no one dared disturb her.

Worn out with fatigue and excitement, and scarcely able to think
connectedly upon the strange event of the morning, Zoroaster wearily
resigned himself to seeing Nehushta at a later hour, and entering his
own cool chamber, lay down to rest. It was evening when he awoke.

Meanwhile the king commanded that Phraortes should be fed and refreshed,
and immediately brought to the queen's apartment. Half an hour after
Zoroaster had left her, Atossa was in the chamber which was devoted to
her toilet. She sat alone before her great silver mirror, calmly
awaiting the turn of events. Some instinct had told her that she would
feel stronger to resist an attack in the sanctuary of her small inner
room, where every object was impregnated with her atmosphere, and where
the lattices of the two windows were so disposed that she would be able
to see the expression of her adversaries without exposing her own face
to the light.

She leaned forward and looked closely at herself in the glass, and with
a delicate brush of camel's hair smoothed one eyebrow that was a little
ruffled. It had touched Zoroaster's tunic when she threw herself upon
his breast; she looked at herself with a genuine artistic pleasure, and
smiled.

Before long she heard the sound of leathern shoes upon the pavement
outside, and the curtain was suddenly lifted. Darius pushed Phraortes
into the room by the shoulders and made him stand before the queen. She
rose and made a salutation, and then sat down again in her carved chair.
The king threw himself upon a heap of thick, hard cushions that formed a
divan on one side of the room, and prepared to watch attentively the two
persons before him.

Phraortes, trembling with fear and excessive fatigue, fell upon his
knees before Atossa, and touched the floor with his forehead.

"Get upon thy feet, man," said the king shortly, "and render an account
of the queen's affairs."

"Stay," said Atossa, calmly; "for what purpose has the Great King
brought this man before me?"

"For my pleasure," answered Darius. "Speak fellow! Render thy account,
and if I like not the manner of thy counting, I will crucify thee."

"The king liveth for ever," said Phraortes feebly, his flaccid cheeks
trembling, as his limbs moved uneasily.

"The queen also liveth for ever," remarked Darius. "What is the state
of the queen's lands at Ecbatana?"

At this question Phraortes seemed to take courage, and began a rapid
enumeration of the goods, cattle and slaves.

"This year I have sown two thousand acres of wheat which will soon be
ripe for the harvest. I have sown also a thousand acres with other
grain. The fields of water-melons are yielding with amazing abundance
since I caused the great ditches to be dug last winter towards the road.
As for the fruit trees and the vinelands, they are prospering; but at
present we have not had rain to push the first budding of the grapes.
The olives will doubtless be very abundant this year, for last year
there were few, as is the manner with that fruit. As for the yielding of
these harvests of grain and wine and oil and fruit, I doubt not that the
whole sales will amount to an hundred talents of gold."

"Last year they only yielded eighty-five," remarked the queen, who had
affected to listen to the whole account with the greatest interest. "I
am well pleased, Phraortes. Tell me of the cattle and sheep--and of the
slaves; whether many have died this year."

"There are five hundred head of cattle, and one hundred calves dropped
in the last two months. From the scarcity of rain this year, the fodder
has been almost destroyed, and there is little hay from the winter. I
have, therefore, sent great numbers of slaves with camels to the farther
plains to eastward, whence they return daily with great loads of hay--of
a coarse kind, but serviceable. As for the flocks, they are now
pasturing for the summer upon the slopes of the Zagros mountains. There
were six thousand head of sheep and two thousand head of goats at the
shearing in the spring, and the wool is already sold for eight talents.
As for the slaves, I have provided for them after a new fashion. There
were many young men from the captives that came after the war two years
ago. For these I have purchased wives of the dealers from Scythia. These
Scythians sell all their women at a low price. They are hideous
barbarians, speaking a strange tongue, but they are very strong and
enduring, and I doubt not they will multiply exceedingly and bring large
profits--"

"Thou art extraordinarily fluent in thy speech," interrupted the king.
"But there are details that the queen wishes to know. Thou art aware
that in a frontier country like the province of Ecbatana, it is often
necessary to protect the crops and the flocks from robbers. Hast thou
therefore thought of arming any of these slaves for this purpose?"

"Let not the king be angry with his servant," returned Phraortes,
without hesitation. "There are many thousand soldiers of the king in
Echatana, and the horsemen traverse the country continually. I have not
armed any of the slaves, for I supposed we were safe in the protection
of the king's men. Nevertheless, if the Great King command me--"

"Thou couldst arm them immediately, I suppose?" interrupted Darius. He
watched Atossa narrowly; her face was in the shadow.

"Nay," replied Phraortes, "for we have no arms. But if the king will
give us swords and spearheads--"

"To what end?" asked Atossa. She was perfectly calm since she saw that
there was no fear of Phraortes making a mistake upon this vital point.
"What need have I of a force to protect lands that are all within a
day's journey of the king's fortress? The idea of carrying weapons would
make all the slaves idle and quarrelsome. Leave them their spades and
their ploughs, and let them labour while the soldiers fight. How many
slaves have I now, Phraortes?"

"There were, at the last return, fourteen thousand seven hundred and
fifty-three men, ten thousand two hundred and sixteen women, and not
less than five thousand children. But I expect--"

"What can you do with so many?" asked Darius, turning sharply to the
queen.

"Many of them work in the carpet-looms," answered Phraortes. "The queen
receives fifty talents yearly from the sales of the carpets."

"All the carpets in the king's apartments are made in my looms," said
Atossa, with a smile. "I am a great merchant."

"I have no doubt I paid you dearly enough for them, too," said the king,
who was beginning to be weary of the examination. He had firmly expected
that either the Median agent, or the queen herself, would betray some
emotion at the mention of arming the slaves, for he imagined that if
Atossa had really planned any outbreak, she would undoubtedly have
employed the large force of men she had at her disposal, by finding them
weapons and promising them their liberty in the event of success.

He was disappointed at the appearance of the man Phraortes. He had
supposed him a strong, determined, man of imperious ways and turbulent
instincts, who could be easily led into revolution and sedition from the
side of his ambition. He saw before him the traditional cunning,
quick-witted merchant of Media, pale-faced and easily frightened; no
more capable of a daring stroke of usurpation than a Jewish pedlar of
Babylon. He was evidently a mere tool in the hands of the queen; and
Darius stamped impatiently upon the floor when he thought that he had
perhaps been deceived after all--that the queen had really written to
Phraortes simply on account of her property, and that there was no
revolution at all to be feared. Impulsive to the last degree, when the
king had read the letter to Phraortes, his first thought had been to see
the man for himself, to ask him a few questions and to put him at once
to death if he found him untruthful. The man had arrived, broken with
excessive fatigue and weak from the fearful journey; but under the very
eye of the king, he had nevertheless given a clear and concise account
of himself; and, though he betrayed considerable fear, he gave no reason
for supposing that what he said was not true. As for the queen, she sat
calmly by, polishing her nails with a small instrument of ivory,
occasionally asking a question, or making a remark, as though it were
all the most natural occurrence in the world.

Darius was impetuous and fierce. His intuitive decisions were generally
right, and he acted upon them instantly, without hesitation; but he had
no cunning and little strategy. He was always for doing and never for
waiting; and to the extreme rapidity of his movements he owed the
success he had. In the first three years of his reign he fought nineteen
battles and vanquished nine self-styled kings; but he never, on any
occasion, detected a conspiracy, nor destroyed a revolution before it
had broken out openly. He was often, therefore, at the mercy of Atossa
and frequently found himself baffled by her power of concealing a subtle
lie under the letter of truth, and by her supreme indifference and
coldness of manner under the most trying circumstances. In his simple
judgment it was absolutely impossible for any one to lie directly
without betraying some hesitation, and each time he endeavoured to place
Atossa in some difficult position, when she must, he thought, inevitably
betray herself, he was met by her inexplicable calm; which he was forced
to attribute to the fact that she was in the right--no matter how the
evidence might be against her.

The king decided that he had made a mistake in the present instance and
that Phraortes was innocent of any idea of revolution. He could not
conceive how such a man should be capable of executing a daring stroke
of policy. He determined to let him go.

"You ought to be well satisfied with the result of these accounts," he
said, staring hard at Atossa. "You see you know more of your affairs,
and sooner, than you could have known if you had sent your letter. Let
this fellow go, and tell him to send his accounts regularly in future,
or he will have the pains of riding hither in haste to deliver them.
Thou mayest go now and take thy rest," he added, rising and pushing the
willing Phraortes before him out of the room.

"Thou hast done well. I am satisfied with thee, Phraortes," said Atossa
coldly.

Once more the beautiful queen was left alone, and once more she looked
at herself in the silver mirror, somewhat more critically than before.
It seemed to her as she gazed and turned first one side of her face to
the light and then the other, that she was a shade paler than usual. The
change would have been imperceptible to any one else, but she noticed it
with a little frown of disapproval. But presently she smoothed her brow
and smiled happily to herself. She had sustained a terrible danger
successfully.

She had hoped to have been able to warn Phraortes how to act; but,
partly because the meeting had taken place so soon after his arrival,
and partly because she had employed a portion of that brief interval
with Zoroaster and in the scene she had suddenly invented and acted, she
had been obliged to meet her chief agent without a moment's preparation,
and she knew enough of his cowardly character to fear lest he should
betray her and throw himself upon the king's mercy as a reward for the
information he could give. But the crucial moment had passed
successfully and there was nothing more to fear. Atossa threw herself
upon the couch where the king had sat, and abandoned herself to the
delicious contemplation of the pain she must have given in showing
herself to Nehushta in Zoroaster's arms. She was sure that as the
princess could not have seen Zoroaster's face, she must have thought
that it was he who was embracing the queen. She must have suffered
horribly, if she really loved him!



CHAPTER XII.


When Darius left the queen, he gave over the miserable Phraortes to the
guards, to be cared for, and bent his steps towards the gardens. It was
yet early, but he wished to be alone, and he supposed that Nehushta
would come there before noon, as was her wont. Meanwhile, he wished to
be free of the court and of the queen. Slowly he entered the marble gate
and walked up the long walk of roses, plucking a leaf now and then, and
twisting it in his fingers, scenting the fresh blossoms with an almost
boyish gladness, and breathing in all the sweet warmth of the summer
morning. He had made a mistake, and he was glad to be away, where he
could calmly reflect upon the reason of his being deceived.

He wandered on until he came to the marble pavilion, and would have gone
on to stray farther into the gardens, but that he caught sight of a
woman's mantle upon the floor as he passed by the open doorway. He went
up the few steps and entered.

Nehushta lay upon the marble pavement at her full length, her arms
extended above her head. Her face was ghastly pale and her parted lips
were white. She looked as one dead. Her white linen tiara had almost
fallen from her heavy hair, and the long black locks streamed upon the
stone in thick confusion. Her fingers were tightly clenched, and on her
face was such an expression of agony, as Darius had never dreamed of,
nor seen in those dead in battle.

The king started back in horror as he caught sight of the prostrate
figure. He thought she was dead--murdered, perhaps--until, as he gazed,
he saw a faint movement of breathing. Then he sprang forward, and
kneeled, and raised her head upon his knee, and chafed her temples and
her hands. He could reach the little fountain as he knelt, and he
gathered some water in his palm and sprinkled it upon her face.

At last she opened her eyes--then closed them wearily again--then opened
them once more in quick astonishment, and recognised the king. She would
have made an effort to rise, but he checked her, and she let her head
sink back upon his knee. Still he chafed her temples with his broad,
brown hand, and gazed with anxious tenderness into her eyes, that looked
at him for a moment, and then wandered and then looked again.

"What is this?" she asked, vacantly, at last.

"I know not," answered the king. "I found you here--lying upon the
floor. Are you hurt?" he asked tenderly.

"Hurt? No--yes, I am hurt--hurt even to death," she added suddenly. "Oh,
Darius, I would I could tell you! Are you really my friend?"

She raised herself without his help and sat up. The hot blood rushed
back to her cheeks and her eyes regained their light.

"Can you doubt that I am your friend, your best friend?" asked the king.

Nehushta rose to her feet and paced the little hall in great emotion.
Her hands played nervously with the golden tassels of her mantle, her
head-dress had fallen quite back upon her shoulders, and the masses of
her hair were let loose. From time to time she glanced at the king, who
eyed her anxiously as he stood beside the fountain.

Presently she stopped before him, and very gravely fixed her eyes on
him.

"I will tell you something," she said, beginning in low tones. "I will
tell you this--I cannot tell you all. I have been horribly deceived,
betrayed, made a sport of. I cannot tell you how--you will believe me,
will you not? This man I loved--I love him not--has cast me off as an
old garment, as a thing of no price--as a shoe that is worn out and that
is not fit for his feet to tread upon. I love him not--I hate him--oh, I
love him not at all!"

Darius's face grew dark and his teeth ground hard together, but he stood
still, awaiting what she should say. But Nehushta ceased, and suddenly
she began again to walk up and down, putting her hand to her temples, as
though in pain. Once more she paused, and, in her great emotion laid her
two hands upon the shoulder of the king, who trembled at her touch, as
though a strong man had struck him.

"You said you loved me, once," said Nehushta, in short, nervous tones,
almost under her breath. "Do you love me still?"

"Is it so long since I told you I loved you?" asked Darius, with a shade
of bitterness. "Ah! do not tempt me--do not stir my sickness. Love you?
Yea--as the earth loves the sun--as man never loved woman. Love you? Ay!
I love you, and I am the most miserable of men." He shook from head to
foot with strong emotion, and the stern lines of his face darkened as he
went on speaking. "Yet, though I love you so, I cannot harm him,--for my
great oath's sake I cannot--yet for you, almost I could. Ah Nehushta,
Nehushta!" he cried passionately, "tempt me not! Ask me not this, for
you can almost make a liar of the Great King if you will!"

"I tempt you not," answered the princess. "I will not that you harm a
hair of his head. He is not worthy that you should lift the least of
your fingers to slay him. But this I tell you--" she hesitated. The king
in his violent excitement, as though foreseeing what she would say,
seized her hands and held them tightly while he gazed into her eyes.

"Darius," she said, almost hurriedly, "if you love me, and if you desire
it, I will be your wife."

A wild light broke from the king's eyes. He dropped her hands and
stepped backwards from her, staring hard. Then, with, a quick motion, he
turned and threw himself upon the marble seat that ran around the hall,
and buried his face and sobbed aloud.

Nehushta seemed to regain some of her calmness, when once she had said
the fatal words. She went and knelt beside him and smoothed his brow and
wild, rough hair. The great tears stained his dark cheek. He raised
himself and looked at her and put one arm about her neck.

"Nehushta," he whispered, "is it true?"

She bowed her head silently. Darius drew her towards him and laid her
cheek upon his breast. His face bent down to hers, most tenderly, as
though he would have kissed her. But suddenly he drew back, and turned
his eyes away.

"No," he said, as though he had regained the mastery over himself. "It
is too much to ask--that I might kiss you! It is too much--too
much--that you give me. I am not worthy that you should be my wife.
Nay!" he cried, as she would not let him rise from his seat. "Nay, let
me go, it is not right--it is not worthy--I must not see you any more.
Oh, you have tempted me till I am too weak--"

"Darius, you are the noblest of men, the best and bravest." Then with a
sudden impulse it seemed to Nehushta that she really loved him. The
majestic strength of Zoroaster seemed cold and meaningless beside the
fervour of the brave young king, striving so hard to do right under the
sorest temptation, striving to leave her free, even against her will.
For the moment she loved him, as such women do, with a passionate
impulse. She put her arms about him and drew him down to her.

"Darius, it is truth--I never loved you, but I love you now, for, of all
living men, you have the bravest heart." She pressed a kiss hotly upon
his forehead and her head sank upon his shoulder. For one moment the
king trembled, and then, as though all resistance were gone from him,
his arms went round her, locking with hers that held him, and he kissed
her passionately.

When Zoroaster awoke from his long sleep it was night. He had dreamed
evil dreams, and he woke with a sense of some great disaster impending.
He heard unwonted sounds in the hall outside his chamber, and he sprang
to his feet and called one of the soldiers of his guard.

"What is happening?" asked Zoroaster quickly.

"The Great King, who lives for ever, has taken a new wife to-day,"
answered the soldier, standing erect, but eyeing Zoroaster somewhat
curiously. Zoroaster's heart sank within him.

"What? Who is she?" he asked, coming nearer to the man.

"The new queen is Nehushta--the Hebrew princess," answered the spearman.
"There is a great banquet, and a feast for the guard, and much food and
wine for the slaves--"

"It is well," answered Zoroaster. "Go thou, and feast with the rest."

The man saluted, and left the room. Zoroaster remained standing alone,
his teeth chattering together and his strong limbs shaking beneath him.
But he abandoned himself to no frenzy of grief, nor weeping; one seeing
him would have said he was sick of a fever. His blue eyes stared hard at
the lamp-light and his face was white, but he did not so much as utter
an exclamation, nor give one groan. He went and sat down upon a chair
and folded his hands together, as though waiting for some event. But
nothing happened; no one came to disturb him in his solitude, though he
could hear the tramping feet and the unceasing talk of the slaves and
soldiers without. In the vast palace, where thousands dwelt, where all
were feasting or talking of the coming banquet, Zoroaster was utterly
alone.

At last he rose, slowly, as though with an effort, and paced twice from
one end of the room to the other. Upon a low shelf on one side, his
garments were folded together, while his burnished cuirass and helmet
and other arms which he had not worn upon his rapid journey to Ecbatana,
hung upon nails in the wall above. He looked at all these things and
turned the clothes over piece by piece, till he had found a great dark
mantle and a black hood such as was worn in Media. These he put on, and
beneath the cloak he girded a broad, sharp knife about him. Then
wrapping himself closely round with the dark-coloured stuff and drawing
the hood over his eyes, he lifted the curtain of his door and went out,
without casting a look behind him.

In the crowd of slaves he passed unnoticed; for the hall was but dimly
lighted by a few torches, and every one's attention was upon the doings
of the day and the coming feast.

Zoroaster soon gathered from the words he heard spoken, that the banquet
had not yet begun, and he hastened to the columned porch through which
the royal party must pass on the way to the great hall which formed the
centre of the main building. Files of spearmen, in their bronze
breastplates and scarlet and blue mantles, lined the way, which was
strewn with yellow sand and myrtle leaves and roses. At every pillar
stood a huge bronze candlestick, in which a torch of wax and fir-gum
burned, and flared, and sent up a cloud of half pungent, half aromatic
smoke. Throngs of slaves and soldiers pressed close behind the lines of
spearmen, elbowing each other with loud jests and surly complaints, to
get a better place, a sea of moving, shouting, gesticulating humanity.
Zoroaster's great height and broad shoulders enabled him easily to push
to the front, and he stood there, disguised and unknown, peering between
the heads of two of his own soldiers to obtain the first view of the
procession as it came down the broad staircase at the end of the porch.

Suddenly the blast of deep-toned trumpets was heard in the distance, and
silence fell upon the great multitude. With a rhythmic sway of warlike
tone the clangour rose and fell, and rose again as the trumpeters came
out upon the great staircase and began to descend. After them came other
musicians, whose softer instruments began to be heard in harmony with
the resounding bass of the horns, and then, behind them, came singers,
whose strong, high voices completed the full burst of music that went
before the king.

With measured tread the procession advanced. There were neither priests,
nor sacrificers, nor any connected with any kind of temple; but after
the singers came two hundred noble children clad in white, bearing long
garlands of flowers that trailed upon the ground, so that many of the
blossoms were torn off and strewed the sand.

But Zoroaster looked neither on the singers, nor on the children. His
eyes were fixed intently on the two figures that followed them--Darius,
the king, and Nehushta, the bride. They walked side by side, and the
procession left an open spaced ten paces before and ten paces behind
the royal pair. Darius wore the tunic of purple and white stripes, the
mantle of Tyrian purple on his shoulders and upon his head the royal
crown of gold surrounded the linen tiara; his left hand, bare and brown
and soldier-like, rested upon the golden hilt of his sword, and in his
right, as he walked, he carried a long golden rod surmounted by a ball,
twined with myrtle from end to end. He walked proudly forward, and as he
passed, many a spearman thought with pride that the Great King looked as
much a soldier as he himself.

By his left side came Nehushta, clad entirely in cloth of gold, while a
mantle of the royal purple hung down behind her. Her white linen tiara
was bound round with myrtle and roses, and in her hands she bore a
myrtle bough.

Her face was pale in the torchlight, but she seemed composed in manner,
and from time to time she glanced at the king with a look which was
certainly not one of aversion.

Zoroaster felt himself growing as cold as ice as they approached, and
his teeth chattered in his head. His brain reeled with the smoke of the
torches, the powerful, moving tones of the music and the strangeness of
the whole sight. It seemed as though it could not be real. He fixed his
eyes upon Nehushta, but his face was shaded all around by his dark hood.
Nevertheless, so intently did he gaze upon her that, as she came near,
she felt his look, as it were, and, searching in the crowd behind the
soldiers, met his eyes. She must have known it was he, even under the
disguise that hid his features, for, though she walked calmly on, the
angry blood rushed to her face and brow, overspreading her features with
a sudden, dark flush.

Just as she came up to where Zoroaster stood, he thrust his covered head
far out between the soldiers. His eyes gleamed like coals of blue fire
and his voice came low, with a cold, clear ring, like the blade of a
good sword striking upon a piece of iron.

"Faithless!"

That was all he said, but all around heard the cutting tone, that
neither the voices of the singers, nor the clangour of the trumpets
could drown.

Nehushta drew herself up and paused for one moment, and turned upon the
dark-robed figure a look of such unutterable loathing and scorn as one
would not have deemed could be concentrated in a human face. Then she
passed on.

The two spearmen turned quickly upon the man between them, who had
uttered the insult against the new queen, and laid hold of him roughly
by the shoulders. A moment more and his life would have been ended by
their swords. But his strong, white hands stole out like lightning, and
seized each soldier by the wrist, and twisted their arms so suddenly and
with such furious strength, that they cried aloud with pain and fell
headlong at his feet. The people parted for a space in awe and wonder,
and Zoroaster turned, with his dark mantle close drawn around him, and
strode out through the gaping crowd.

"It is a devil of the mountains!" cried one.

"It is Ahriman himself!" said another.

"It is the soul of the priest of Bel whom the king slew at Babylon!"

"It is the Evil Sprit of Cambyses!"

"Nay," quoth one of the spearmen, rubbing his injured hand, "it was
Zoroaster, the captain. I saw his face beneath that hood he wore."

"It may be," answered his fellow. "They say he can break a bar of iron,
as thick as a man's three fingers, with his hand. But I believe it was a
devil of the mountains."

But the procession marched on, and long before the crowd had recovered
enough from its astonishment to give utterance to these surmises,
Zoroaster had passed out of the porch and back through the deserted
courts, and down the wide staircase to the palace gate, and out into the
quiet, starlit night, alone and on foot.

He would have no compromise with his grief; he would be alone with it.
He needed not mortal sympathy and he would not have the pity of man. The
blow had struck home with deadly certainty and the wound was such as man
cannot heal, neither woman. The fabric of happiness, which in a year he
had built himself, was shattered to its foundation, and the fall of it
was fearful. The ruin of it reached over the whole dominion of his soul
and rent all the palace of his body. The temple that had stood so fair,
whither his heart had gone up to worship his beloved one, was destroyed
and utterly beaten to pieces; and the ruin of it was as a heap of dead
bones, so loathsome in decay, that the eyes of his spirit turned in
horror and disgust from the inward contemplation of so miserable a
sight.

Alone and on foot, he went upon his dreary way, dry-eyed and calm. There
was nothing left of all his past life that he cared for. His armour hung
in his chamber in the palace and with it he left the Zoroaster he had
known--the strong, the young, the beautiful; the warrior, the lover, the
singer of sweet songs, the smiter of swift blows, the peerless horseman,
the matchless man. He who went out alone into the great night, was a
moving sorrow, a horror of grief made visible as a walking shadow among
things real, a man familiar already with death as with a friend, and
with the angel of death as with a lover.

Alone--it was a beginning of satisfaction to be away from all the crowd
of known and unknown faces familiar to his life--but the end and
attainment of satisfaction could only come when he should be away from
himself, from the heavy body that wearied him, and from the heavier soul
that was crushed with itself as with a burden. For sorrow was his
companion from that day forth, and grief undying was his counsellor.

Ah God! She was so beautiful and her love was so sweet and strong! Her
face had been as the face of an angel, and her virgin-heart as the
innermost leaves of the rose that are folded together in the bud before
the rising of the sun. Her kiss was as the breath of spring that
gladdens the earth into new life, her eyes as crystal wells, from the
depths whereof truth rose blushing to the golden light of day. Her lips
were so sweet that a man wondered how they could ever part, till, when
they parted, her gentle breath bore forth the music of her words, that
was sweeter than all created sounds. She was of all earthly women the
most beautiful--the very most lovely thing that God had made; and of all
mortal women that have loved, her love had been the purest, the
gentlest, the truest. There was never woman like to her, nor would be
again.

And yet--scarce ten days had changed her, had so altered and disturbed
the pure elements of her wondrous nature that she had lied to herself
and lied to her lover the very lie of lies--for what? To wear a piece of
purple of a richer dye than other women wore, to bind her hair with a
bit of gold, to be called a queen--a queen forsooth! when she had been
from her birth up the sovereign queen of all created women!

The very lie of lies! Was there ever such a monstrous lie since the
world first learned the untruths of the serpent's wisdom? Had she not
sworn and promised, by the holiness of her God, to love Zoroaster for
ever? For ever. O word, that had meant heaven, and now meant hell!--that
had meant joy without any end and peace and all love!--that meant now
only pain eternal, and sorrow, and gnawing torment of a wound that would
never heal! O Death, that yesterday would have seemed Life for her! O
Life, that to-day, by her, was made the Death of deaths!

Emptiness of emptiness--the whole world one hollow cavern of
vanity--lifeless and lightless, where the ghosts of the sorrows of men
moan dismally, and the shadows of men's griefs scream out their wild
agony upon the ghastly darkness! Night, through which no dawn shall
ever gleam, fleet and fair, to touch with rosy fingers the eyes of a
dead world and give them sight! Winter, of unearthly cold, that through
all the revolving ages of untiring time, shall never see the face of
another spring, nor feel its icy veins thawing with the pulses of a
forgotten life, quickened from within with the thrilling hope of a new
and glorious birth!

Far out upon the southern plain Zoroaster lay upon the dew-wet ground
and gazed up into the measureless depths of heaven, where the stars
shone out like myriads of jewels set in the dark mantle of night!

Gradually, as he lay, the tempest of his heart subsided, and the calm of
the vast solitude descended upon him, even as the dew had descended upon
the earth. His temples ceased to throb with the wild pulse that sent
lightnings through his brain at every beat, and from the intensity of
his sorrow, his soul seemed to float upwards to those cool depths of the
outer firmament where no sorrow is. His eyes grew glassy and fixed, and
his body rigid in the night-dews; and his spirit, soaring beyond the
power of earthly forces to weigh down its flight, rose to that lofty
sphere where the morning and the evening are but one eternal day, where
the mighty unison of the heavenly chorus sends up its grand plain-chant
to God Most High.



CHAPTER XIII.


Far in the wild mountains of the south, where a primeval race of
shepherds pastures its flocks of shaggy goats upon the scanty vegetation
of rocky slopes, there is a deep gorge whither men seldom penetrate, and
where the rays of the sun fall but for a short hour at noonday. A man
may walk, or rather climb, along the side of the little stream that
rushes impetuously down among the black rocks, for a full hour and a
half before he reaches the end of the narrow valley. Then he will come
upon a sunken place, like a great natural amphitheatre, the steep walls
of boulders rising on all sides to a lofty circle of dark crags. In the
midst of this open space a spring rises suddenly from beneath a mass of
black stone, with a rushing, gurgling sound, and makes a broad pool,
whence the waters flow down in a little torrent through the gorge till
they emerge far below into the fertile plain and empty themselves into
the Araxes, which flows by the towers and palaces of lordly Stakhar,
more than two days' journey from the hidden circle in the mountains.

It would have been a hard thing to recognise Zoroaster in the man who
sat day after day beside the spring, absorbed in profound meditation.
His tall figure was wasted almost to emaciation by fasting and exposure;
his hair and beard had turned snow-white, and hung down in abundant
masses to his waist, and his fair young face was pale and transparent.
But in his deep blue eyes there was a light different from the light of
other days--the strange calm fire of a sight that looks on wondrous
things, and sees what the eyes of men may not see, and live.

Nearly three years had passed since he went forth from the palace of
Shushan, to wander southwards in search of a resting-place, and he was
but three-and-thirty years of age. But between him and the past there
was a great gulf--the interval between the man and the prophet, between
the cares of mortality and the divine calm of the higher life.

From time to time indeed, he ascended the steep path he had made among
the stones and rocks, to the summit of the mountain; and there he met
one of the shepherds of the hills, who brought him once every month a
bag of parched grain and a few small, hard cheeses of goats' milk; and
in return for these scanty provisions, he gave the man each time a link
from the golden chain he had worn and which was still about his neck
when he left the palace. Three-and-thirty links were gone since he had
come there, and the chain was shorter by more than half its length. It
would last until the thousand days were accomplished, and there would
still be much left. Auramazda, the All-Wise, would provide.

Zoroaster sat by the spring and watched the crystal waters sparkle in
the brief hour of sunshine at noonday, and turn dark and deep again when
the light was gone. He moved not through the long hours of day, sitting
as he had sat in that place now for three years neither scorched by the
short hours of sunlight, nor chilled by winter's frost and snow. The
wild long-haired sheep of the mountain came down to drink at noon, and
timidly gazed with their stupid eyes at the immovable figure; and at
evening the long-bodied, fierce-eyed wolves would steal stealthily among
the rocks and come and snuff the ground about his feet, presently
raising their pointed heads with a long howl of fear, and galloping away
through the dusk in terror, as though at something unearthly.

And when at last the night was come, Zoroaster arose and went to the
spot where the rocks, overhanging together, left a space through which
one might enter; and the white-haired man gave one long look at the
stars overhead, and disappeared within.

There was a vast cave, the roof reaching high up in a great vault; the
sides black and polished, as though smoothed by the hands of cunning
workmen; the floor a bed of soft, black sand, dry and even as the
untrodden desert. In the midst, a boulder of black rock lay like a huge
ball, and upon its summit burned a fire that was never quenched, and
that needed no replenishing with fuel. The tall pointed flame shed a
strangely white light around, that flashed and sparkled upon the smooth
black walls of the cavern, as though they were mirrors. The flame also
was immovable; it neither flickered, nor rose, nor fell; but stood as it
were a spear-head of incandescent gold upon the centre of the dark
altar. There was no smoke from that strange fire, nor any heat near it,
as from other fires.

Then Zoroaster bent and put forth his forefinger and traced a figure
upon the sand, which was like a circle, save that it was cut from
north-west to south-east by two straight lines; and from north-east to
south-west by two straight lines; and at each of the four small arcs,
where the straight lines cut the circumference of the great circle, a
part of a smaller circle outside the great one united the points over
each other. And upon the east side, toward the altar, the great circle
was not joined, but open for a short distance.[5]

     [Footnote 5: The Mazdayashnian Dakhma, or place of death. This
     figure represents the ground-plan of the modern Parsi Tower of
     Silence.]

When the figure was traced, Zoroaster came out from it and touched the
black rock whereon the fire burned; and then he turned back and entered
the circle, and with his fingers joined it where it was open on the east
side through which he had entered. And immediately, as the circle was
completed, there sprung up over the whole line he had traced a soft
light; like that of the fire, but less strong. Then Zoroaster lay down
upon his back, with his feet to the west and his head toward the altar,
and he folded his hands upon his breast and closed his eyes. As he lay,
his body became rigid and his face as the face of the dead; and his
spirit was loosed in the trance and freed from the bonds of earth, while
his limbs rested.

Lying there, separated from the world, cut off within the circle of a
symbolised death by the light of the universal agent,[6] Zoroaster
dreamed dreams and saw visions.

     [Footnote 6: The term "universal agent" has been used in the
     mysticism of ages, to designate that subtle and all-pervading
     fluid, of which the phenomena of light, heat, electricity and
     vitality are considered to be but the grosser and more palpable
     manifestations.]

His mind was first opened to the understanding of those broader
conceptions of space and time of which he had read in the books of
Daniel, his master. He had understood the principles then, but he had
not realised their truth. He was too intimately connected with the life
around him, to be able to see in the clearer light which penetrates with
universal truth all the base forms of perishable matter.

Daniel had taught him the first great principles. All men, in their
ignorance, speak of the infinities of space and time as being those
ideas which man cannot of himself grasp or understand. Man, they say, is
limited in capacity; he can, therefore, not comprehend the infinite. A
greater fault than this could not be committed by a thinking being. For
infinity being unending, it is incapable of being limited; it rejects
definition, which belongs, by its nature, to finite things. For
definition means the placing of bounds, and that which is infinite can
have no bounds. The man, therefore, who seeks to bound what has no
bounds, endeavours to define what is, by its nature, undefinable; and
finding that the one poor means which he has of conveying fallacious
impressions of illusory things to his mind through his deadened senses,
is utterly insufficient to give him an idea of what alone is real, he
takes refuge in his crass ignorance and coarse grossness of language,
and asserts boldly that the human mind is too limited in its nature to
conceive of infinite space, or of infinite time.

Not only is the untrammelled mind of man capable of these bolder
conceptions, but even the wretched fool who sees in the material world
the whole of what man can know, could never get so far as to think even
of the delusive objects on which he pins his foolish faith, unless the
very mind which he insults and misunderstands, had by its nature that
infinite capacity of comprehension which, he says, exists not. For
otherwise, if the mind be limited, there must be a definite limit to its
comprehensive faculty, and it is easy to conceive that such a limit
would soon become apparent to every student; as apparent as it is that a
being, confined within three dimensions of space, cannot, without
altering his nature, escape from these three dimensions, nor from the
laws which govern matter having length, breadth and thickness alone,
without the external fourth dimension, with its interchangeability of
exterior and interior angles.

The very thought that infinite space cannot be understood, is itself a
proof that the mind unconsciously realises the precise nature of such
infinity, in attributing to it at once the all-comprehensiveness from
which there is no escape, in which all dimensions exist, and by virtue
of which all other conceptions become possible; since this infinite
space contains in itself all dimensions of existence--transitory, real
and potential; and if the capacity of the mind is co-extensive with the
capacity of infinite space, since it feels itself undoubtedly capable of
grasping any limited idea contained in any portion of the illimitable
whole, it follows that the mind is of itself as infinite as the space in
which all created things have their transitory form of being, and in
which all uncreated truths exist eternally. The mind is aware of
infinity by that true sort of knowledge which is an intimate conviction
not dependent upon the operation of the senses.

Gradually, too, as Zoroaster fixed his intuition upon the first main
principle of all possible knowledge, he became aware of the chief
cause--of the universal principal of vivifying essence, which pervades
all things, and in which arises motion as the original generator of
transitory being. The great law of division became clear to him--the
separation for a time of the universal agent into two parts, by the
separation and reuniting of which comes light and heat and the hidden
force of life, and the prime rules of attractive action; all things that
are accounted material. He saw the division of darkness and light, and
how all things that are in the darkness are reflected in the light; and
how the light which we call light is in reality darkness made visible,
whereas the true light is not visible to the eyes that are darkened by
the gross veil of transitory being. And as from the night of earth, his
eyes were gradually opened to the astral day, he knew that the forms
that move and have being in the night are perishable and utterly unreal;
whereas the purer being which is reflected in the real light is true and
endures for ever.

Then, by his knowledge and power, and by the light that was in him, he
divided the portion of the universal agent that was in the cave where he
dwelt into two portions, and caused them to reunite in the midst upon
the stone that was there; and the flame burned silently and without heat
upon his altar, day and night, without intermission; and by the division
of the power within him, he could divide the power also that was latent
in other transitory beings, according to those laws which, being
eternal, are manifested in things not eternal, but perishable.

And further, he meditated upon the seven parts of man, and upon their
separation, and upon the difference of their nature.

For the first element of man is perishable matter.

And the second element of man is the portion of the universal agent
which gives him life.

And the third element of man is the reflection of his perishable
substance in the astral light, coincident with him, but not visible to
his earthly eye.

The fourth element of man is made up of all the desires he feels by his
material senses. This part is not real being, nor transitory being, but
a result.

The fifth element of man is that which says: "I am," whereby a man knows
himself from other men; and with it there is an intelligence of lower
things, but no intelligence of things higher.

The sixth element is the pure understanding, eternal and co-extensive
with all infinity of time and space--real, imperishable, invisible to
the eye of man.

The seventh element is the soul from God.

Upon these things Zoroaster meditated long, and as his perishable body
became weakened and emaciated with fasting and contemplation, he was
aware that, at times, the universal agent ceased to be decomposed and
recomposed in the nerves of his material part, so that his body became
as though dead, and with, it the fourth element which represents the
sense of mortal desires; and he himself, the three highest elements of
him,--his individuality, his intelligence and his soul,--became
separated for a time from all that weighed them down; and his mind's
eyes were opened, and he saw clearly in the astral light, with an
intuitive knowledge of true things, and false.

And so, night after night, he lay upon the floor of his cavern, rigid
and immovable; his body protected from all outer harmful influences by
the circle of light he had acquired the power of producing. For though
there was no heat in the flame, no mortal breathing animal could so much
as touch it with the smallest part of his body without being instantly
destroyed as by lightning. And so he was protected from all harm in his
trances; and he left his body at will and returned to it, and it
breathed again, and was alive.

So he saw into the past and into the present and into the future, and
his soul was purified beyond the purity of man, and soared upwards, and
dreamed of the eternal good and of the endless truth; and at last it
seemed to him that he should leave his body in its trance, and never
return to it, nor let it breathe again. For since it was possible thus
to cast off mortality and put on immortality, it seemed to him that it
was but a weariness to take up the flesh and wear it, when it was so
easy to lay it down. Almost he had determined that he would then let
death come, as it were unawares, upon his perishable substance, and
remain for ever in the new life he had found.

But as his spirit thought in this wise, he heard a voice speaking to
him, and he listened.

"One moment is as another, and there is no difference between one time
and another time."

"One moment in eternity is of as great value as another moment, for
eternity changes not, neither is one part of it better than another
part."

"Though man be immortal as to his soul, he is mortal as to his body, and
the time which his soul shall spend in his body is of as great worth to
him as the time which he shall spend without it."

"Think not that by wilfully abandoning the body, even though you have
the power and the knowledge to do so, you will escape from the state in
which it has pleased God to put you."

"Rather shall your pain and the time of your suffering be increased,
because you have not done with the body that which the body shall do."

"The life of the soul while it is in the body, has as much value as when
it has left it. You shall not shorten the time of dwelling in the flesh."

"Though you know all things, you know not God. For though you know your
body which is in the world, and the world which is in time, and time
which is in space, yet your knowledge goeth no farther, for space and
all that therein is, is in God.[7]"

     [Footnote 7: Hermes Trismegistus, _Poemandres_ xi. 2.]

"You have learned earthly things and heavenly things. Learn then that
you shall not escape the laws of earth while you are on earth, nor the
laws of heaven when you are in heaven. Lift up your heart to God, but do
in the body those things which are of the body."

"There are other men put into the world besides you. If you leave the
world, what does your knowledge profit other men? And yet it is to
profit other men that God has put you into the world."

"And not you only, but every man. The labour of man is to man, and the
labour of angels to angels. But the time of man is as valuable in the
sight of God, as the time of angels."

"All things that are not accomplished in their time shall be left
unaccomplished for ever and ever. If while you are in the flesh, you
accomplish not the things of the flesh after the manner of your
humanity, you shall enter into the life of the spirit as one blind, or
maimed; for your part is not fulfilled."

"Wisdom is this. A man shall not care for the things of the world for
himself, and his soul shall be lifted and raised above all that is mean
and perishable; but he shall perform his part without murmuring. He
shall not forget the perishable things, though he soar to the
imperishable."

"For man is to man as one portion of eternity to another; and as
eternity would be imperfect if one moment could be removed, so also the
earth would be imperfect if one man should be taken from it before his
appointed time."

"If a man therefore take himself out of the world, he causes
imperfection, and sins against perfection, which is the law of God."

"Though the world be in darkness, the darkness is necessary to the
light. Though the world perish, and heaven perish not for ever, yet is
the perishable necessary to the eternal."

"For the transitory and the unchangeable exist alike in eternity and are
portions of it. And one moment is as another, and there is no difference
between one time and another time."

"Go, therefore, and take up your body, and do with it the deeds of the
body among men; for you have deeds to do, and unless they are done in
their time, which is now, they will be unfulfilled for ever, and you
will become an imperfect spirit."

"The imperfect spirit shall be finally destroyed, for nothing that is
imperfect shall endure. To be perfect all things must be fulfilled, all
deeds done, in the season while the spirit is in darkness with the body.
The deeds perish, and the body which doeth them, but the soul of the
perfect man is eternal, and the reflection of what he has done, abides
for ever in the light."

"Hasten, for your time is short. You have learned all things that are
lawful to be learnt, and your deeds shall be sooner accomplished."

"Hasten, for one moment is as another, and there is no difference
between the value of one time and of another time."

"The moment which passes returns not, and the thing which a man should
do in one time cannot be done in another time."

The voice ceased, and the spirit of Zoroaster returned to his body in
the cave, and his eyes opened. Then he rose, and standing within the
circle, cast sand upon the portion towards the east; and so soon as the
circle was broken, it was extinguished and there remained nothing but
the marks Zoroaster had traced with his fingers upon the black sand.

He drew his tattered mantle around him, and went to the entrance of the
cave, and passed out. And it was night.

Overhead, the full moon cast her broad rays vertically into the little
valley, and the smooth black stones gleamed darkly. The reflection
caught the surface of the little pool by the spring, and it was turned
to a silver shield of light.

Zoroaster came forward and stood beside the fountain, and the glory of
the moon fell upon his white locks and beard and on the long white hand
he laid upon the rock.

His acute senses, sharpened beyond those of men by long solitude and
fasting, distinguished the step of a man far up the height on the
distant crags, and his keen sight soon detected a figure descending
cautiously, but surely, towards the deep abyss where Zoroaster stood.
More and more clearly he saw him, till the man was near, and stood upon
an overhanging boulder within speaking distance. He was the shepherd
who, from time to time, brought food to the solitary mystic; and who
alone, of all the goatherds in those hills, would have dared to invade
the sacred precincts of Zoroaster's retreat. He was a brave fellow, but
the sight of the lonely man by the fountain awed him; it seemed as
though his white hair emitted a light of its own under the rays of the
moon, and he paused in fear lest the unearthly ascetic should do him
some mortal hurt.

"Wilt thou harm me if I descend?" he called out timidly.

"I harm no man," answered Zoroaster. "Come in peace."

The active shepherd swung himself from the boulder, and in a few moments
he stood among the stones at the bottom, a few paces from the man he
sought. He was a dark fellow, clad in goat-skins, with pieces of
leather bound around his short, stout legs. His voice was hoarse,
perhaps with some still unconquered fear, and his staff rattled as he
steadied himself among the stones.

"Art not thou he who is called Zoroaster?" he asked.

"I am he," answered the mystic. "What wouldest thou?"

"Thou knowest that the Great King with his queens and his court are at
the palace of Stakhar," replied the man. "I go thither from time to time
to sell cheeses to the slaves. The Great King has made a proclamation
that whosoever shall bring before him Zoroaster shall receive a talent
of gold and a robe of purple. I am a poor shepherd--fearest thou to go
to the palace?"

"I fear nothing. I am past fear these three years."

"Will the Great King harm thee, thinkest thou? Thou hast paid me well
for my pains since I first saw thee, and I would not have thee hurt."

"No man can harm me. My time is not yet come."

"Wilt thou go with me?" cried the shepherd, in sudden delight. "And
shall I have the gold and the robe?"

"I will go with thee. Thou shalt have all thou wouldest," answered
Zoroaster. "Art thou ready? I have no goods to burden me."

"But thou art old," objected the shepherd, coming nearer. "Canst thou go
so far on foot? I have a beast; I will return with him in the morning,
and meet thee upon the height. I came hither in haste, being but just
returned from Stakhar with the news."

"I am younger than thou, though my hair is white. I will go with thee.
Lead the way."

He stooped and drank of the fountain in the moonlight, from the hollow
of his hand. Then he turned, and began to ascend the steep side of the
valley. The shepherd led the way in silence, overcome between his awe of
the man and his delight at his own good fortune.



CHAPTER XIV.


It was now three years since Nehushta had been married to Darius, and
the king loved her well. But often, in that time, he had been away from
her, called to different parts of the kingdom by the sudden outbreaks of
revolution which filled the early years of his reign. Each time he had
come back in triumph, and each time he had given her some rich gift. He
found indeed that he had no easy task to perform in keeping the peace
between his two queens; for Atossa seemed to delight in annoying
Nehushta and in making her feel that she was but the second in the
king's favour, whatever distinctions might be offered her. But Darius
was just and was careful that Atossa should receive her due, neither
more nor less.

Nehushta was glad when Zoroaster was gone. She had suffered terribly in
that moment when he had spoken to her out of the crowd, and the winged
word had made a wound that rankled still. In those three years that
passed, Atossa never undeceived her concerning the sight she had seen,
and she still believed that Zoroaster had basely betrayed her. It was
impossible, in her view, that it could be otherwise. Had she not seen
him herself? Could any man do such an action who was not utterly base
and heartless? She had, of course, never spoken to Darius of the scene
upon the terrace. She did not desire the destruction of Atossa, nor of
her faithless lover. Amid all the tender kindness the king lavished upon
her, the memory of her first love endured still, and she could not have
suffered the pain of going over the whole story again. He was gone,
perhaps dead, and she would never see him again. He would not dare to
set foot in the court. She remembered the king's furious anger against
him, when he suspected that the hooded man in the procession was
Zoroaster. But Darius had afterwards said, in his usual careless way,
that he himself would have done as much, and that for his oath's sake,
he would never harm the young Persian. By the grace of Auramazda he
swore, he was the king of kings and did not make war upon disappointed
lovers!

Meanwhile, Darius had built himself a magnificent palace, below the
fortress of Stakhar, in the valley of the Araxes, and there he spent the
winter and the spring, when the manifold cares of the state would permit
him. He had been almost unceasingly at war with the numerous pretenders
who set themselves up for petty kings in the provinces. With unheard-of
rapidity, he moved from one quarter of his dominions to another, from
east to west, from north to south; but each time that he returned, he
found some little disturbance going on at the court, and he bent his
brows and declared that a parcel of women were harder to govern than all
Media, Persia, and Babylon together.

Atossa wearied him with her suggestions.

"When the king is gone upon an expedition," she said, "there is no head
in the palace. Otanes is a weak man. The king will not give me the
control of the household, neither will he give it to any one else."

"There is no one whom I can trust," answered Darius. "Can you not dwell
together in peace for a month?"

"No," answered Atossa, with her winning smile, "it is impossible; the
king's wives will never agree among themselves. Let the king choose some
one and make a head over the palace."

"Whom shall I choose?" asked Darius, moodily.

"The king had a faithful servant once," suggested Atossa.

"Have I none now?"

"Yea, but none so faithful as this man of whom I speak, nor so ready to
do the king's bidding. He departed from Shushan when the king took
Nehushta to wife--"

"Mean you Zoroaster?" asked Darius, bending his brows, and eyeing Atossa
somewhat fiercely. But she met his glance with indifference.

"The same," she answered. "Why not send for him and make him governor of
the palace? He was indeed a faithful servant--and a willing one."

Still the king gazed hard at her face, as though trying to fathom the
reason of her request, or at least to detect some scornful look upon her
face to agree with her sneering words. But he was no match for the
unparalleled astuteness of Atossa, though he had a vague suspicion that
she wished to annoy him by calling up a memory which she knew could not
be pleasant, and he retorted in his own fashion.

"If Zoroaster be yet alive I will have him brought, and I will make him
governor of the palace. He was indeed a faithful servant--he shall rule
you all and there shall be no more discord among you."

And forthwith the king issued a proclamation that whosoever should bring
Zoroaster before him should receive a talent of gold and a robe of
purple as a reward.

But when Nehushta heard of it she was greatly troubled; for Atossa began
to tell her that Zoroaster was to return and to be made governor of the
palace; but Nehushta rose and left her forthwith, with such a look of
dire hatred and scorn that even the cold queen thought she had, perhaps,
gone too far.

There were other reasons why the king desired Zoroaster's return. He had
often wondered secretly how the man could so have injured Nehushta as to
turn her love into hate in a few moments; but he had never questioned
her. It was a subject neither of them could have approached, and Darius
was far too happy in his marriage to risk endangering that happiness by
any untoward discovery. Nehushta's grief and anger had been so genuine
when she told him of Zoroaster's treachery that it had never occurred to
him that he might be injuring the latter in marrying the princess,
though his generous heart had told him more than once, that Nehushta had
married him half from gratitude for his kindness, and half out of anger
with her false lover; but, capricious as she was in all other things,
towards the king she was always the same, gentle and affectionate,
though there was nothing passionate in her love. And now, the idea of
seeing the man who had betrayed her installed in an official position in
the palace, was terrible to her pride. She could not sleep for thinking
how she should meet him, and what she should do. She grew pale and
hollow-eyed with the anticipation of evil and all her peace went from
her. Deep down in her heart there was yet a clinging affection for the
old love, which she smothered and choked down bravely; but it was there
nevertheless, a sleeping giant, ready to rise and overthrow her whole
nature in a moment, if only she could wash away the stain of
faithlessness which sullied his fair memory, and lift the load of
dishonour which had crushed him from the sovereign place he had held in
the dominion of her soul.

Darius was himself curious to ascertain the truth about Zoroaster's
conduct. But another and a weightier reason existed for which he wished
him to return. The king was disturbed about a matter of vital importance
to his kingdom, and he knew that, among all his subjects, there was not
one more able to give him assistance and advice than Zoroaster, the
pupil of the dead prophet Daniel.

The religion of the kingdom was of a most uncertain kind. So many
changes had passed over the various provinces which made up the great
empire that, for generations, there had been almost a new religion for
every monarch. Cyrus, inclining to the idolatry of the Phoenicians, had
worshipped the sun and moon, and had built temples and done sacrifice to
them and to a multitude of deities. Cambyses had converted the temples
of his father into places of fire-worship, and had burnt thousands of
human victims; rejoicing in the splendour of his ceremonies and in the
fierce love of blood that grew upon him as his vices obtained the
mastery over his better sense. But under both kings the old Aryan
worship of the Magians had existed among the people, and the Magians
themselves had asserted, whenever they dared, their right to be
considered the priestly caste, the children of the Brahmins of the Aryan
house. Gomata--the false Smerdis--was a Brahmin, at least in name, and
probably in descent; and during his brief reign the only decrees he
issued from his retirement in the palace of Shushan, were for the
destruction of the existing temples and the establishment of the Magian
worship throughout the kingdom. When Darius had slain Smerdis, he
naturally proceeded to the destruction of the Magi, and the streets of
Shushan ran with their blood for many days. He then restored the temples
and the worship of Auramazda, as well as he was able; but it soon became
evident that the religion was in a disorganised state and that it would
be no easy matter to enforce a pure monotheism upon a nation of men who,
in their hearts, were Magians, nature-worshippers; and who, through
successive reigns, had been driven by force to the adoration of strange
idols. It followed that the people resisted the change and revolted
whenever they could find a leader. The numerous revolutions, which cost
Darius no less than nineteen battles, were, almost without exception,
brought about in the attempt to restore the Magian worship in various
provinces of the kingdom, and it may well be doubted whether, at any
time in the world's history, an equal amount of blood was ever shed in
so short a period in the defence of religious convictions.

Darius himself was a man who had the strongest belief in the power of
Auramazda, the All-Wise God, and who did not hesitate to attribute all
the evil in the world to Ahriman, the devil. He had a bitter contempt
for all idolatry, nature-worship and superstition generally, and he
adhered in his daily life to the simple practices of the ancient
Mazdayashnians. But he was totally unfitted to be the head of a
religious movement; and, although he had collected such of the
priesthood as seemed most worthy, and had built them temples and given
them privileges of all kinds, he was far from satisfied with their mode
of worship. He could not frame a new doctrine, but he had serious doubts
whether the ceremonies his priests performed were as simple and
religious as he wished them to be. The chants, long hymns of endless
repetition and monotony, were well enough, perhaps; the fire that was
kept burning perpetually was a fitting emblem of the sleepless wisdom
and activity of the Supreme Being in overcoming darkness with light. But
the boundless intoxication into which the priests threw themselves by
the excessive drinking of the Haoma, the wild and irregular acts of
frenzy by which they expressed their religious fervour when under the
influence of the subtle drink, were adjuncts to the simple purity of the
bloodless sacrifice which disgusted the king, and he hesitated long as
to some reform in these matters. The oldest Mazdayashnians declared that
the drinking of Haoma was an act, at once pleasing to God and necessary
to stimulate the zeal of the priests in the long and monotonous
chanting, which would otherwise soon sink to a mere perfunctory
performance of a wearisome task. The very repetition which the hymns
contained seemed to prove that they were not intended to be recited by
men not under some extraordinary influence. Only the wild madness of the
Haoma drinker could sustain such an endless series of repeated prayers
with fitting devotion and energy.

All this the king heard and was not satisfied. He attended the
ceremonies with becoming regularity and sat through the performance of
the rites with exemplary patience. But he was disgusted, and he desired
a reform. Then he remembered how Zoroaster himself was a good
Mazdayashnian, and how he had occupied himself with religious studies
from his youth up, and how he had enjoyed the advantage of being the
companion of Daniel, the Hebrew governor, whose grand simplicity of
faith had descended, to some degree, upon his pupil. The Hebrews, Darius
knew, were a sober people of the strongest religious convictions, and he
had heard that, although eating formed, in some way, a part of their
ceremonies, there was no intoxication connected with their worship.
Zoroaster, he thought, would be able to give him advice upon this point,
which would be good. In sending for the man he would fulfil the double
purpose of seeming to grant the queen's request, and at the same time,
of providing himself with a sage counsellor in his difficulties. With
his usual impetuosity, he at once fulfilled his purpose, assuring
himself that Zoroaster must have forgotten Nehushta by this time, and
that he, the king, was strong enough to prevent trouble if he had not.

But many days passed, and though the proclamation was sent to all parts
of the kingdom, nothing was heard of Zoroaster. His retreat was a sure
one and there was no possibility of his being found.

Atossa, who in her heart longed for Zoroaster's return, both because by
his means she hoped to bring trouble upon Nehushta, and because she
still felt something akin to love for him, began to fear that he might
be dead, or might have wandered out of the kingdom; but Nehushta herself
knew not whether to hope that he would return, or to rejoice that she
was to escape the ordeal of meeting him. She would have given anything
to see him for a moment, to decide, as it were, whether she wished to
see him, or not. She was deeply disturbed by the anxiety she felt and
longed to know definitely what she was to expect.

She began to hate Stakhar with its splendid gardens and gorgeous
colonnades, with its soft southern air that blew across the valley of
roses all day long, wafting up a wondrous perfume to the south windows.
She hated the indolent pomp in which she lived and the idle luxury of
her days. Something in her hot-blooded Hebrew nature craved for the
blazing sun and the sand-wastes of Syria, for the breath of the desert
and for the burning heat of the wilderness. She had scarcely ever seen
these things, for she had sojourned during the one-and-twenty years of
her life, in the most magnificent palaces of the kingdom, and amid the
fairest gardens the hand of man could plant. But the love of the sun and
of the sand was bred in the blood. She began to hate the soft cushions
and the delicate silks and the endless flowers scenting the heavy air.

Stakhar[8] itself was a mighty fortress, in the valley of the Araxes,
rising dark and forbidding from the banks of the little river, crowned
with towers and turrets and massive battlements, that overlooked the
fertile extent of gardens, as a stern schoolmaster frowning over a crowd
of fair young children. But Darius had chosen the site of his palace at
some distance from the stronghold; where the river bent suddenly round a
spur of the mountain, and watered a wider extent of land. The spur of
the hill ran down, by an easy gradation, into the valley; and beyond it
the hills separated into the wide plain of Merodasht that stretched
southward many farsangs to the southern pass. Upon this promontory the
king had caused to be built a huge platform which was ascended by the
broadest flight of steps in the whole world, so easy of gradation that a
man might easily have ridden up and then down again without danger to
his horse. Upon the platform was raised the palace, a mighty structure
resting on the vast columned porticoes and halls, built entirely of
polished black marble, that contrasted strangely with the green slopes
of the hills above and with the bright colours of the rose-gardens.
Endless buildings rose behind the palace, and stretched far down towards
the river below it. Most prominent of those above was the great temple
of Auramazda, where the ceremonies were performed which gave Darius so
much anxiety. It was a massive, square building, lower than the palace,
consisting of stone walls surrounded by a deep portico of polished
columns. It was not visible from the great staircase, being placed
immediately behind the palace and hidden by it.

     [Footnote 8: Istakhar, called since the conquest of Alexander,
     Persepolis.]

The walls and the cornices and the capitals of the pillars were richly
sculptured with sacrificial processions, and long trains of soldiers and
captives, with great inscriptions of wedge-shaped letters, and with
animals of all sorts. The work was executed by Egyptian captives; and so
carefully was the hard black marble carved and polished, that a man
could see his face in the even surfaces, and they sent back the light
like dark mirrors.

The valley above Stakhar was grand in its great outlines of crags and
sharp, dark peaks, and the beetling fortress upon its rocky base, far up
the gorge, seemed only a jutting fragment of the great mountain, thrown
off and separated from the main chain by an earthquake, or some vast
accident of nature. But from the palace itself the contrast of the views
was great. On one side, the rugged hills, crag-crowned and bristling
black against the north-western sky; on the other, the great bed of
rose-gardens and orangeries and cultivated enclosures filled the plain,
till in the dim distance rose the level line of the soft blue southern
hills, blending mistily in the lazy light of a far-off warmth. It seemed
as though on one side of the palace were winter, and on the other
summer; on the one side cold, and on the other heat; on the one side
rough strength, and on the other gentle rest.

But Nehushta gazed northward and was weary of the cold, and southward,
and she wearied of the heat. There was nothing--nothing in it all that
was worth one moment of the old sweet moonlit evenings among the myrtles
at Ecbatana. When she thought, there was nothing of all her royal state
and luxury that she would not readily give to have had Zoroaster remain
faithful to her. She had put him away from her heart, driven him out
utterly, as she believed; but now that he was spoken of again, she knew
not whether she loved him a little in spite of all his unfaithfulness,
or whether it was only the memory of the love she had felt before which
stirred in her breast, and made her unconsciously speak his name when
she was alone.

She looked back over the three years that were passed, and she knew that
she had done her duty by the king. She knew also that she had done it
willingly, and that there had been many moments when she said to herself
that she loved Darius dearly. Indeed, it was not hard to find a reason
for loving him, for he was brave and honest and noble in all his
thoughts and ways; and whatever he had been able to do to show his love
for Nehushta, he had done. It was not the least of the things that had
made her life pass so easily, that she felt daily how she was loved
before her rival, and how, in her inmost heart, Atossa chafed at seeing
Darius forsake her society for that of the Hebrew princess. If the king
had wearied of her, Nehushta would very likely have escaped from the
palace, and gone out to face any misfortunes the world might hold for
her, rather than remain to bear the scoffing of the fair smiling woman
she so hated. Or, she would have stolen in by night to where Atossa
slept, and the wicked-looking Indian knife she wore, would have gone
down, swift and sure, to the very haft, into the queen's heart. She
would not have borne tamely any slight upon her beauty or her claims.
But, as it was, she reigned supreme. The king was just, and showed no
difference in the state and attendance of the two queens, but it was to
Nehushta he turned, when he drank deep at the banquet and pledged the
loving cup. It was to Nehushta that he went when the cares of state were
heavy and he needed counsel; and it was upon her lap he laid his weary
head, when he had ridden far and fast for many days, returning from some
hard-fought field.

But the queens hated each other with a fierce hatred, and when Darius
was absent, their divisions broke out sometimes into something like open
strife. Their guards buffeted each other in the courts, and their
slave-women tore out each other's hair upon the stairways. Then, when
the king returned, there reigned an armed peace for a time, which none
dared break. But rumours of the disturbances that had taken place often
reached the royal ears, and Darius was angry and swore great oaths, but
could do nothing; being no wiser than many great men who have had to
choose between the caprices of two women who hated each other.

Now the rumour went abroad that Zoroaster would return to the court; and
for a space, the two queens kept aloof, for both knew that if he came
back, some mortal conflict would of necessity arise between them; and
each watched the other, and was cautious.

The days passed by, but no one answered the proclamation. No one had
seen or heard of Zoroaster, since the night when he left the palace at
Shushan. He had taken nothing with him, and had left no trace behind to
guide the search. Many said he had left the kingdom; some said he was
dead in the wilderness. But Nehushta sighed and took little rest, for do
what she would, she had hoped to see him once more.



CHAPTER XV.


The interior of the temple was lighted with innumerable lamps, suspended
from the ceiling, of bronze and of the simplest workmanship, like
everything which pertained to the worship of Auramazda. In the midst,
upon a small altar of black stone, stood a bronze brazier, shaped like a
goblet, wherein a small fire of wood burned quietly, sending up little
wreaths of smoke, which spread over the flat ceiling and hung like a
mist about the lamps; before the altar lay a supply of fuel--fine,
evenly-cut sticks of white pine-wood, piled in regular order in a
symmetrical heap. At one extremity of the oblong hall stood a huge
mortar of black marble, having a heavy wooden pestle, and standing upon
a circular base, in which was cut a channel all around, with an opening
in the front from which the Haoma juice poured out abundantly when the
fresh milkweed was moistened and pounded together in the mortar. A
square receptacle of marble received the fluid, which remained until it
had fermented during several days, and had acquired the intoxicating
strength for which it was prized, and to which it owed its sacred
character. By the side of this vessel, upon a low marble table, lay a
huge wooden ladle; and two golden cups, short and wide, but made smaller
in the middle like a sand-glass, stood there also.

At the opposite end of the temple, before a marble screen which shielded
the doorway, was placed a great carved chair of ebony and gold and
silver, raised upon a step above the level of the floor.

It was already dark when the king entered the temple, dressed in his
robes of state, with his sword by his side, his long sceptre tipped with
the royal sphere in his right hand, and the many-pointed crown upon his
head. His heavy black beard had grown longer in the three years that had
passed, and flowed down over his vest of purple and white half-way to
his belt. His face was stern, and the deep lines of his strong features
had grown more massive in outline. With the pride of every successive
triumph had come also something more of repose and conscious power. His
step was slower, and his broad brown hand grasped the golden sceptre
with less of nervous energy and more unrelenting force. But his brows
were bent, and his expression, as he took his seat before the screen,
over against the altar of the fire, was that of a man who was prepared
to be discontented and cared little to conceal what he felt.

After him came the chief priest, completely robed in white, with a
thick, white linen sash rolled for a girdle about his waist, the fringed
ends hanging stiffly down upon one side. Upon his head he wore a great
mitre, also of white linen, and a broad fringed stole of the same
material fell in two wide bands from each side of his neck to his feet.
His beard was black and glossy, fine as silk, and reached almost to his
waist. He came and stood with his back to the king and his face to the
altar, ten paces from the second fire.

Then, from behind the screen and from each side of it, the other priests
filed out, two and two, all clad in white like the chief priest, save
that their mitres were smaller and they wore no stole. They came out and
ranged themselves around the walls of the temple, threescore and nine
men, of holy order, trained in the ancient chanting of the Mazdayashnian
hymns; men in the prime and strength of life, black-bearded and
broad-shouldered, whose massive brows and straight features indicated
noble powers of mind and body.

The two who stood nearest to the chief priest came forward, and taking
from his hands a square linen cloth he bore, bound it across his mouth
and tied it behind his neck in a firm knot by means of strings. Then,
one of them put into his left hand a fan of eagles' feathers, and the
other gave him a pair of wrought-iron pincers. Then they left him to
advance alone to the altar.

He went forward till he was close to the bronze brazier, and stooping
down, he took from the heap of fuel a clean white stick, with the
pincers, which he carefully laid upon the fire. Then with his left hand
he gently fanned the flames, and his mouth being protected by the linen
cloth in such a manner that his breath could not defile the sacred fire,
he began slowly and in a voice muffled by the bandage he wore, to recite
the beginning of the sacrificial hymn:

  _"Best of all goods is purity.
    Glory, glory to him
    Who is best and purest in purity.
    For he who ruleth from purity, he abideth according
       to the will of the Lord.
    The All-Wise giveth gifts for the works which man
       doeth in the world for the Lord.
    He who protecteth the poor giveth the kingdom to Ahura."_[9]

     [Footnote 9: Probably the oldest hymns in the Avesta language.]

Then all the priests repeated the verses together in chorus, their
voices sounding in a unison which, though not precisely song, seemed
tending to a musical cadence as the tones rose and fell again upon the
last two syllables of each verse. And then again, the chief priest and
the other priests together repeated the hymn, many times, in louder and
louder chorus, with more and more force of intonation; till the chief
priest stepped back from the fire, and delivering up the pincers and the
fan, allowed the two assistants to unbind the cloth from his mouth.

He walked slowly up the temple on the left side, and keeping his right
hand toward the altar, he walked seven times around it, repeating a hymn
alone in low tones; till, after the seventh time, he went up to the
farther end of the hall, and stood before the black marble trough in
which the fermented Haoma stood ready, having been prepared with due
ceremony three days before.

Then, in a loud voice, he intoned the chant in praise of Zaothra and
Bareshma, holding high in his right hand the bundle of sacred stalks;
which he, from time to time, moistened a little in the water from a
vessel which stood ready, and sprinkled to the four corners of the
temple. The priests again took up the strain in chorus, repeating over
and over the burden of the song.

  _"Zaothra, I praise thee and desire thee with praise!
    Bareshma, I praise thee and desire thee with praise!
    Zaothra, with Bareshma united, I praise you
        and desire you with praise!
    Bareshma, with Zaothra united, I praise you and
        desire you with praise!"_

Suddenly the chief priest laid down the Bareshma, and seizing one of the
golden goblets, filled it, with the wooden ladle, from the dark
receptacle of the juice. As he poured it high, the yellow light of the
lamp caught the transparent greenish fluid, and made it sparkle
strangely. He put the goblet to his lips and drank.

The king, sitting in silence upon his carved throne at the other
extremity of the temple, bent his brows in a dark frown as he saw the
hated ceremony begin. He knew how it ended, and grand as the words were
which they would recite when the subtle fluid had fired their veins, he
loathed to see the intoxication that got possession of them; and the
frenzy with which they howled the sacred strains seemed to him to
destroy the solemnity and dignity of a hymn, in which all that was
solemn and high would otherwise have seemed to be united.

The chief priest drank and then, filling both goblets, gave them to the
priests at his right and left hand; who, after drinking, passed each
other, and made way for those next them; and so the whole number filed
past the Haoma vessel and drank their share till they all had changed
places, and those who had stood upon the right, now stood upon the left;
and those who were first upon the left hand, were now upon the right.
And when all had drunk, the chief priest intoned the great hymn of
praise, and all the chorus united with him in high, clear tones:

  _"The All-Wise Creator, Ahura Mazda, the greatest, the best, the
   most fair in glory and majesty,"

   "The mightiest in his strength, the wisest in his wisdom, the
   holiest in his holiness, whose power is of all power the
   fairest,"

   "Who is very wise, who maketh all things to rejoice afar,"

   "Who hath made us and formed us, who hath saved us, the holiest
   among the heavenly ones,"

   "Him I adore and praise, unto him I declare the sacrifice, him I
   invite,"

   "I declare the sacrifice to the Protector, the Peace-maker, who
   maketh the fire to burn, who preserveth the wealth of the earth;
   the whole earth and the wisdom thereof, the seas and the waters,
   the land and all growing things, I invite to the sacrifice."

   "Cattle and living things, and the fire of Ahura, the sure
   helper, the lord of the archangels,"

   "The nights and the days, I call upon, the purity of all created
   light,"

   "The Lord of light, the sun in his glory, glorious in name and
   worthy of honour,"

   "Who giveth food unto men, and multiplieth the cattle upon the
   earth, who causeth mankind to increase, I call upon and invite to
   the sacrifice,"

   "Water, and the centre of all waters, given and made of God, that
   refresheth all things and maketh all things to grow, I call upon
   and invite."

   "The souls of the righteous and pure, the whole multitude of
   living men and women upon earth, I call upon and invite."

   "I call upon the triumph and the mighty strength of God,"

   "I call upon the archangels who keep the world, upon the months,
   upon the pure, new moon, the lordship of purity in heaven,"

   "I call upon the feasts of the years and the seasons, upon the
   years and the months and days,"

   "I call upon the star Ahura,[10] and upon the one great and
   eternal in purity, and upon all the stars, the works of God,"

   "Upon the star Tistrya I call, the far-shining, the
   magnificent--upon the fair moon that shineth upon the young
   cattle, upon the glorious sun swift in the race of his flight,
   the eye of the Lord."

   "I call upon the spirits and souls of the righteous, on the
   fire-begotten of the Lord, and upon all fires."

   "Mountains and all hills, lightened and full of light."

   "Majesty of kingly honour, the Majesty of the king which dieth
   not, is not diminished,"

   "All wisdom and blessings and true promises, all men who are full
   of strength and power and might,"

   "All places and lands and countries beneath the heavens, and
   above the heavens, light without beginning, existing, and without
   end,"

   "All creatures pure and good, male and female upon the earth."

   "All you I invite and call upon to the sacrifice."

   "Havani, pure, lord of purity!"

   "Shavanghi, pure, lord of purity!"

   "Rapithwina, pure, lord of purity!"

   "Uzayêirina, pure, lord of purity!"

   "Aiwishruthrema, Aibigaya, pure, lord of purity!"

   "Ushahina, pure, lord of purity!"

   "To Havani, Shavanghi and Vishya, the pure, the lords of purity
   most glorious, be honour and prayer and fulfilment and praise."

   "To the days, and the nights, and the hours, the months and the
   years and the feasts of years, be honour and prayer and
   fulfilment and praise before Auramazda, the All-Wise, for ever
   and ever and ever."_[11]

     [Footnote 10: Ahura, Jupiter. Tistrya, Sirius.]

     [Footnote 11: Partly a translation, partly a close imitation in
     a condensed form of Yashna I.]

As the white-robed priests shouted the verses of the long hymn, their
eyes flashed and their bodies moved rhythmically from side to side with
an ever-increasing motion. From time to time, the golden goblets were
filled with the sweet Haoma juice, and passed rapidly from hand to hand
along the line, and as each priest drank more freely of the subtle
fermented liquor, his eyes gained a new and more unnatural light, and
his gestures grew more wild, while the whole body of voices rose
together from an even and dignified chant to an indistinguishable
discord of deafening yells.

Ever more and more they drank, repeating the verses of the hymn without
order or sequence. One man repeated a verse over and over again in
ear-piercing shrieks, swaying his body to and fro till he dropped
forward upon the ground, foaming at the mouth, his features distorted
with a wild convulsion, and his limbs as rigid as stone. Here, a band of
five locked their arms together, and, back to back, whirled madly round,
screaming out the names of the archangels, in an indiscriminate rage of
sound and broken syllables. One, less enduring than the rest, relaxed
his hold upon his fellow's arm and fell headlong on the pavement, while
the remaining four were carried on by the force of their whirling, and
fell together against others who steadied themselves against the wall,
swaying their heads and arms from side to side. Overthrown by the fall
of their companions, these in their turn fell forward upon the others,
and in a few moments, the whole company of priests lay grovelling one
upon the other, foaming at the mouth, but still howling out detached
verses of their hymn--a mass of raging, convulsed humanity, tearing each
other in the frenzy of drunkenness, rolling over and over each otter in
the twisted contortions of frenzied maniacs. The air grew thick with the
smoke of the fire and of the lamps, and the unceasing, indescribable din
of the hoarsely howling voices seemed to make the very roof rock upon
the pillars that held it up, as though the stones themselves must go mad
and shriek in the universal fury of sound. The golden goblets rolled
upon the marble pavement, and the sweet green juice ran in slimy streams
upon the floor. The high priest himself, utterly intoxicated and
screaming with a voice like a wild beast in agony, fell backwards across
the marble vase at the foot of the mortar and his hand and arm plashed
into the dregs of the fermented Haoma.

Never had the drunken frenzy reached such a point before. The king had
sat motionless and frowning upon his seat until he saw the high priest
fall headlong into the receptacle of the sacred Haoma. Then, with a
groan, he laid his two hands upon the arms of his carved chair, and
rose to his feet in utter disgust and horror. But, as he turned to go,
he stood still and shook from head to foot, for he saw beside him a
figure that might, at such a moment, have startled the boldest.

A tall man of unearthly looks stood there, whose features he seemed to
know, but could not recognise. His face was thin to emaciation, and his
long, white hair fell in tangled masses, with his huge beard, upon his
half-naked shoulders and bare chest. The torn, dark mantle he wore was
falling to the ground as he faced the drunken herd of howling priests
and lifted up his thin blanched arms and bony fingers, as though in
protest at the hideous sight. His deep-set eyes were blue and fiery,
flashing with a strange light. He seemed not to see Darius, but he gazed
in deepest horror upon the writhing mass of bestial humanity below.

Suddenly his arms shook, and standing there, against the dark marble
screen, like the very figure and incarnation of fate, he spoke in a
voice that, without effort, seemed to dominate the hideous din of
yelling voices--a voice that was calm and clear as a crystal bell, but
having that in it which carried instantly the words he spoke to the ears
of the very most besotted wretch that lay among the heaps upon the
floor--a voice that struck like a sharp steel blade upon iron.

"I am the prophet of the Lord. Hold ye your peace."

As a wild beast's howling suddenly diminishes and grows less and dies
away to silence, when the hunter's arrow has sped close to the heart
with a mortal wound, so in one moment, the incoherent din sank down, and
the dead stillness that followed was dreadful by contrast. Darius stood
with his hand upon the arm of his chair, not understanding the words of
the fearful stranger; still less the mastering power those words had
upon the drunken priests. But his courage did not desert him, and he
feared not to speak.

"How sayest thou that thou art a prophet? Who art thou?" he asked.

"Thou knowest me and hast sent for me," answered the white-haired man,
in his calm tones; but his fiery eyes rested on the king's, and Darius
almost quailed under the glance. "I am Zoroaster; I am come to proclaim
the truth to thee and to these miserable men, thy priests."

The fear they felt had restored the frenzied men to their senses. One by
one, they rose and crept back towards the high priest himself, who had
struggled to his feet, and stood upon the basement of the mortar above
all the rest.

Then Darius looked, and he knew that it was Zoroaster, but he knew not
the strange look upon his face, and the light in his eyes was not as the
light of other days. He turned to the priests.

"Ye are unworthy priests," he cried angrily, "for ye are drunk with
your own sacrifice, and ye defile God's temple with unseemly cries.
Behold this man--can ye tell me whether he be indeed a prophet?"
Darius, whose anger was fast taking the place of the awe he had felt
when he first saw Zoroaster beside him, strode a step forward, with his
hand upon his sword-hilt, as though he would take summary vengeance
upon the desecrators of the temple.

"He is surely a liar!" cried the high priest from his position beyond
the altar, as though hurling defiance at Zoroaster through the flames.

"He is surely a liar!" repeated all the priests together, following
their head.

"He is a Magian, a worshipper of idols, a liar and the father of lies!
Down with him! Slay him before the altar; destroy the unbeliever that
entereth the temple of Ahura Mazda!"

"Down with the Magian! Down with the idolater!" cried the priests, and
moved forward in a body toward the thin white-haired man who stood
facing them, serene and high.

Darius drew his short sword and rushed before Zoroaster to strike down
the foremost of the priests. But Zoroaster seized the keen blade in the
air as though it had been a reed, and wrenched it from the king's strong
grip, and broke it in pieces like glass, and cast the fragments at his
feet. Darius staggered back in amazement, and the herd of angry men, in
whose eyes still blazed the drunkenness of the Haoma, huddled together
for a moment like frightened sheep.

"I have no need of swords," said Zoroaster, in his cold, clear voice.

Then the high priest cried aloud, and ran forward and seized a brand
from the sacred fire.

"It is Angramainyus, the Power of Evil," he yelled fiercely. "He is come
to fight with Auramazda in his temple! But the fire of the Lord shall
destroy him!"

As the priest rushed upon him, with the blazing brand raised high to
strike, Zoroaster faced him and fixed his eyes upon the angry man. The
priest suddenly stood still, his hand in mid-air, and the stout piece of
burning wood fell to the floor, and lay smouldering and smoking upon the
pavement.

"Tempt not the All-Wise Lord, lest he destroy thee," said Zoroaster
solemnly. "Harken, ye priests, and obey the word from heaven. Take the
brazier from your altar, and scatter the embers upon the floor, for the
fire is defiled."

Silent and trembling, the priests obeyed, for they were afraid; but the
high priest stood looking in amazement upon Zoroaster.

When the brazier was gone, and the coals were scattered out upon the
pavement, and the priests had trodden out the fire with their leathern
shoes, Zoroaster went to the black marble altar, and faced the east,
looking towards the stone mortar at the end. He laid his long, thin
hands upon the flat surface and drew them slowly together; and, in the
sight of the priests, a light sprang up softly between his fingers;
gradually at first, then higher and higher, till it stood like a blazing
spear-head in the midst, emitting a calm, white effulgence that darkened
the lamps overhead, and shed an unearthly whiteness on Zoroaster's white
face.

He stepped back from the altar, and a low murmur of astonishment rose
from all the crowd of white-robed men. Darius stood in silent wonder,
gazing alternately upon the figure of Zoroaster, and upon the fragments
of his good sword that lay scattered upon the pavement.

Zoroaster looked round upon the faces of the priests with blazing eyes:

"If ye be true priests of Ahura Mazda, raise with me the hymn of
praise," he said. "Let it be heard in the heavens, and let it echo
beyond the spheres!"

Then his voice rose calm and clear above all the others, and lifting up
his eyes and hands, he intoned the solemn chant:

  _"He, who by truth ruleth in purity, abideth according to the
   will of the Lord."

   "The Lord All-Wise is the giver of gifts to men for the works
   which men in the world shall do in the truth of the Lord."

   "He who protecteth the poor giveth the kingdom to God."

   "Best of all earthly goods is truth."

   "Glory, glory on high for ever to him who is best in heaven, and
   truest in truth on earth!"_

Zoroaster's grand voice rang out, and all the priests sang melodiously
together; and upon the place which had been the scene of such frenzy and
fury and drunkenness, there descended a peace as holy and calm as the
quiet flame that burned without fuel upon the black stone in the midst.
One by one, the priests came and fell at Zoroaster's feet; the chief
priest first of all.

"Thou art the prophet and priest of the Lord," each said, one after
another. "I acknowledge thee to be the chief priest, and I swear to be a
true priest with thee."

And last of all, the king, who had stood silently by, came and would
have kneeled before Zoroaster. But Zoroaster took his hands, and they
embraced.

"Forgive me the wrong I did thee, Zoroaster," said Darius. "For thou art
a holy man, and I will honour thee as thou wast not honoured before."

"Thou hast done me no wrong," answered Zoroaster. "Thou hast sent for
me, and I am come to be thy faithful friend, as I swore to thee, long
ago, in the tent at Shushan."

Then they took Zoroaster's torn clothes, and they clad him in white
robes and set a spotless mitre upon his head; and the king, for the
second time, took his golden chain from his own neck, and put it about
Zoroaster's shoulders. And they led him away into the palace.



CHAPTER XVI.


When it was known that Zoroaster had returned, there was some stir in
the palace. The news that he was made high priest soon reached
Nehushta's ears, and she wondered what change had come over him in three
years that could have made a priest of such a man. She remembered him
young and marvellously fair, a warrior at all points, though at the same
time an accomplished courtier. She could not imagine him invested with
the robes of priesthood, leading a chorus of singers in the chanting of
the hymns.

But it was not only as a chief priest that Darius had reinstalled
Zoroaster in the palace. The king needed a counsellor and adviser, and
the learned priest seemed a person fitted for the post.

On the following day, Nehushta, as was her wont, went out, in the cool
of the evening, to walk in the gardens, attended by her maidens, her
fan-girls and the slaves who bore her carpet and cushions in case she
wished to sit down. She walked languidly, as though she hardly cared to
lift her delicate slippered feet from the smooth walk, and often she
paused and plucked a flower, and all her train of serving-women stopped
behind her, not daring even to whisper among themselves, for the young
queen was in no gentle humour of mind. Her face was pale and her eyes
were heavy, for she knew the man she had so loved in other days was
near, and though he had so bitterly deceived her, the sound of his sweet
promises was yet in her ears; and sometimes, in her dreams, she felt the
gentle breath of his mouth upon her sleeping lips, and woke with a start
of joy that was but the forerunner of a new sadness.

Slowly she paced the walks of the rose-gardens, thinking of another
place in the far north, where there had been roses, and myrtles too,
upon a terrace where the moonlight was very fair.

As she turned a sharp corner where the overhanging shrubbery darkened
the declining light to a dusky shade, she found herself face to face
with the man of whom she was thinking. His tall thin figure, clad in
spotless white robes, seemed like a shadow in the gloom, and his snowy
beard and hair made a strange halo about his young face, that was so
thin and worn. He walked slowly, his hands folded together, and his eyes
upon the ground; while a few paces behind him two young priests followed
with measured steps, conversing in low tones, as though fearing to
disturb the meditations of their master.

Nehushta started a little and would have passed on, although she
recognised the face of him she had loved. But Zoroaster lifted his eyes,
and looked on her with so strange an expression that she stopped short
in the way. The deep, calm light in his eyes awed her, and there was
something in his majestic presence that seemed of another world.

"Hail, Nehushta!" said the high priest quietly.

But, at the sound of his voice, the spell was broken. The Hebrew woman
lifted her head proudly, and her black eyes flashed again.

"Greet me not," she answered, "for the greeting of a liar is like the
sting of the serpent that striketh unawares in the dark."

Zoroaster's face never changed, only his luminous eyes gazed on hers
intently, and she paused again, as though riveted to the spot.

"I lie not, nor have lied to thee ever," he answered calmly. "Go thou
hence, ask her whom thou hatest, whether I have deceived thee.
Farewell."

He turned his gaze from her and passed slowly on, looking down to the
ground, his hands folded before him. He left her standing in the way,
greatly troubled and not understanding his saying.

Had she not seen with her eyes how he held Atossa in his arms on that
evil morning in Shushan? Had she not seen how, when he was sent away, he
had written a letter to Atossa and no word to herself? Could these
things which she had seen and known, be untrue? The thought was
horrible--that her whole life had perhaps been wrecked and ruined by a
mistake. And yet there was not any mistake, she repeated to herself. She
had seen; one must believe what one sees. She had heard Atossa's
passionate words of love, and had seen Zoroaster's arms go round her
drooping body; one must believe what one sees and hears and knows!

But there was a ringing truth in his voice just now when he said: "I lie
not, nor have lied to thee ever." A lie--no, not spoken, but done; and
the lie of an action is greater than the lie of a word. And yet, his
voice sounded true just now in the dusk, and there was something in it,
something like the ring of a far regret. "Ask her whom thou hatest," he
had said. That was Atossa. There was no other woman whom she hated--no
man save him.

She had many times asked herself whether or no she loved the king. She
felt something for him that she had not felt for Zoroaster. The
passionate enthusiasm of the strong, dark warrior sometimes carried her
away and raised her with it; she loved his manliness, his honesty, his
unchanging constancy of purpose. And yet Zoroaster had had all these,
and more also, though they had shown themselves in a different way. She
looked back and remembered how calm he had always been, how utterly
superior in his wisdom. He seemed scarcely mortal, until he had one day
fallen--and fallen so desperately low in her view, that she loathed the
memory of that feigned calmness and wisdom and parity. For it must have
been feigned. How else could he have put his arms about Atossa, and
taken her head upon his breast, while she sobbed out words of love?

But if he loved Atossa, she loved him as well. She said so, cried it
aloud upon the terrace where any one might have heard it. Why then had
he left the court, and hidden himself so long in the wilderness? Why,
before going out on his wanderings, had he disguised himself, and gone
and stood where the procession passed, and hissed out a bitter insult as
Nehushta went by? For her sake he had abandoned his brilliant life these
three years, to dwell in the desert, to grow so thin and miserable of
aspect that he looked like an old man. And his hair and beard were
white--she had heard that a man might turn white from sorrow in a day.
Was it grief that had so changed him? Grief to see her wedded to the
king before his eyes? His voice rang so true: "Ask her whom thou
hatest," he had said. In truth she would ask. It was all too
inexplicable, and the sudden thought that she had perhaps wronged him
three long years ago--even the possibility of the thought that seemed so
little possible to her yesterday--wrought strangely in her breast, and
terrified her. She would ask Atossa to her face whether Zoroaster had
loved her. She would tell how she had seen them together upon the
balcony, and heard Atossa's quick, hot words. She would threaten to tell
the king; and if the elder queen refused to answer truth, she would
indeed tell him and put her rival to a bitter shame.

She walked more quickly upon the smooth path, and her hands wrung each
other, and once she felt the haft of that wicked Indian knife she ever
wore. When she turned back and went up the broad steps of the palace,
the moon was rising above the far misty hills to eastward, and there
were lights beneath the columned portico. She paused and looked back
across the peaceful valley, and far down below, a solitary nightingale
called out a few melancholy notes, and then burst forth into glorious
song.

Nehushta turned again to go in, and there were tears in her dark eyes,
that had not stood there for many a long day. But she clasped her hands
together, and went forward between the crouching slaves, straight to
Atossa's apartment. It was not usual for any one to gain access to the
eider queen's inner chambers without first obtaining permission, from
Atossa herself, and Nehushta had never been there. They met rarely in
public, and spoke little, though each maintained the appearances of
courtesy; but Atossa's smile was the sweeter of the two. In private they
never saw each other; and the queen's slaves would perhaps have tried
to prevent Nehushta from entering, but her black eyes flashed upon them
in such dire wrath as she saw them before her, that they crouched away
and let her pass on unmolested.

Atossa sat, as ever at that hour in her toilet-chamber, surrounded by
her tirewomen. The room was larger than the one at Shushan, for she had
caused it to be built after her own plans; but her table was the same as
ever, and upon it stood the broad silver mirror, which she never allowed
to be left behind when she travelled.

Her magnificent beauty had neither changed nor faded in three years.
Such strength as hers was not to be broken, nor worn out, by the mere
petty annoyances of palace life. She could sustain the constant little
warfare she waged against the king, without even so much as looking
careworn and pale for a moment, though the king himself often looked
dark and weary, and his eyes were heavy with sleeplessness for the
trouble she gave him. Yet he could new determine to rid himself of her,
even when he began to understand the profound badness of her character.
She exercised a certain fascination over him, as a man grows fond of
some beautiful, wicked beast he has half-tamed, though it turn and show
its teeth at him sometimes, and be altogether more of a care than a
pastime. She was so fair and evil that he could not hurt her; it would
have seemed a crime to destroy anything so wondrously made. Moreover,
she could amuse him and make many an hour pass pleasantly when she was
so disposed.

She was fully attired for the banquet that was to take place late in
the evening, but her women were still about her, and she looked at
herself critically in the mirror, and would have changed the pinning of
her tiara, so that her fair hair should fall forward upon one side,
instead of backwards over her shoulder. She tried the effect of the
change upon her face, and peered into the mirror beneath the bright
light of the tall lamps; when, on a sudden, as she looked, she met the
reflection of two angry dark eyes, and she knew that Nehushta was behind
her.

She rose to her feet, turning quickly, and the sweep of her long robe
overthrew the light carved chair upon the marble floor. She faced
Nehushta with a cold smile that betrayed surprise at being thus
interrupted in her toilet rather than any dread of the interview. Her
delicate eyebrows arched themselves in something of scorn, but her voice
came low and sweet as ever.

"It is rarely indeed that the queen Nehushta deigns to visit her
servant," she said. "Had she sent warning of her coming, she would have
been more fittingly received."

Nehushta stood still before her. She hated that cool, still voice that
choked her like a tightening bow-string about her neck.

"We have small need of court formalities," answered the Hebrew woman,
shortly. "I desire to speak with you alone upon a matter of importance."

"I am alone," returned Atossa, seating herself upon the carved chair,
which one of the slaves had instantly set up again, and motioning to
Nehushta to be seated. But Nehushta glanced at the serving-women and
remained standing.

"You are not alone," she said briefly.

"They are not women--they are slaves," answered Atossa, with a smile.

"Will you not send them away?"

"Why should I?"

"You need not--I will," returned Nehushta. "Begone, and quickly!" she
added, turning to the little group of women and slave-girls who stood
together, looking on in wonder. At Nehushta's imperious command, they
hurried through the door, and the curtains fell behind them. They knew
Nehushta's power in the palace too well to hesitate to obey her, even in
the presence of their own mistress.

"Strange ways you have!" exclaimed Atossa, in a low voice. She was
fiercely angry, but there was no change in her face. She dangled a
little chain upon her finger, and tapped the ground with her foot as she
sat. That was all.

"I am not come here to wrangle with you about your slaves. They will
obey me without wrangling. I met Zoroaster in the gardens an hour
since."

"By a previous arrangement, of course?" suggested Atossa, with a sneer.
But her clear blue eyes fixed themselves upon Nehushta with a strange
and deadly look.

"Hold your peace and listen to me," said Nehushta in a fierce, low
voice, and her slender hand stole to the haft of the knife by her side.

Atossa was a brave woman, false though she was; but she saw that the
Hebrew princess had her in her power--she saw the knife and she saw the
gleam in those black eyes. They were riveted on her face, and she grew
grave and remained silent.

"Tell me the truth," pursued Nehushta hurriedly. "Did Zoroaster love you
three years ago--when I saw you in his arms upon the terrace the morning
when he came back from Ecbatana?"

But she little knew the woman with whom she had to deal. Atossa had
found time in that brief moment to calculate her chances of safety. A
weaker woman would have lied; but the fair queen saw that the moment had
come wherein she could reap a rich harvest of vengeance upon her rival,
and she trusted to her coolness and strength to deliver her if Nehushta
actually drew the knife she wore.

"I loved him," she said slowly. "I love him yet, and I hate you more
than I love him. Do you understand?"

"Speak--go on!" cried Nehushta, half breathless with anger.

"I loved him, and I hated you. I hate you still," repeated the queen
slowly and gravely. "The letter I had from him was written to you--but
it was brought to me. Nay--be not so angry, it was very long ago. Of
course you can murder me, if you please--you have me in your power, and
you are but a cowardly Jew, like twenty of my slave-women. I fear you
not. Perhaps you would like to hear the end?"

Nehushta had come nearer and stood looking down at the beautiful woman,
her arms folded before her. Atossa never stirred as Nehushta approached,
but kept her eye steadily fixed on hers. Nehushta's arms were folded,
and the knife hung below her girdle in its loose sheath.

Atossa's white arm went suddenly out and laid hold of the haft, and the
keen blue steel flashed out of its scabbard with a sheen like dark
lightning on a summer's evening.

Nehushta started back as she saw the sharp weapon in her enemy's hand.
But Atossa laughed a low sweet laugh of triumph.

"You shall hear the end now," she said, holding the knife firmly in her
hand. "You shall not escape hearing the end now, and you shall not
murder me with your Indian poisoner here." She laughed again as she
glanced at the ugly curve of the dagger. "I was talking with Zoroaster,"
she continued, "when I saw you upon the stairs, and then--oh, it was so
sweet! I cried out that he should never leave me again, and I threw my
arms about his neck--his lordly neck that you so loved!--and I fell, so
that he had to hold me up. And you saw him. Oh, it was sweet! It was the
sweetest moment of my life when I heard you groan and hurry away and
leave us! It was to hurt you that I did it--that I humbled my
queenliness before him; but I loved him, though--and he, he your lover,
whom you despised then and cast away for this black-faced king of
ours--he thrust me from him, and pushed me off, and drove me weeping to
my chamber, and he said he loved me not, nor wished my love. Ay, that
was bitter, for I was ashamed--I who never was shamed of man or woman.
But there was more sweetness in your torment than bitterness in my
shame. He never knew you were there. He screamed out to you from the
crowd in the procession his parting curse on your unfaithfulness and
went out--but he nearly killed those two strong spearmen who tried to
seize him. How strong he was then, how brave! What a noble lover for any
woman! So tall and delicate and fair with all his strength! He never
knew why you left him--he thought it was to wear the king's purple, to
thrust a bit of gold in your hair! He must have suffered--you have
suffered too--such delicious torture, I have often soothed myself to
sleep with the thought of it. It is very sweet for me to see you lying
there with my wound in your heart. It will rankle long; you cannot get
it out--you are married to the king now, and Zoroaster has turned priest
for love of you. I think even the king would hardly love you if he could
see you now--you look so pale. I will send for the Chaldean
physician--you might die. I should be sorry if you died, you could not
suffer any more then. I could not give up the pleasure of hurting
you--you have no idea how delicious it is. Oh, how I hate you!"

Atossa rose suddenly to her feet, with flashing eyes. Nehushta, in sheer
horror of such hideous cruelty, had fallen back against the door-post,
and stood grasping the curtain with one hand while the other was pressed
to her heart, as though to control the desperate agony she suffered. Her
face was paler than the dead, and her long, black hair fell forward over
her ghastly cheeks.

"Shall I tell you more?" Atossa began again. "Should you like to hear
more of the truth? I could tell you how the king----"

But as she spoke, Nehushta threw up her hands and pressed them to her
throbbing temples; and with a low wail, she turned and fled through the
doorway between the thick curtains, that parted with her weight and fell
together again when she had passed.

"She will tell the king," said Atossa aloud, when she was gone. "I care
not--but I will keep the knife," she added, laying the keen blade upon
the table, amid the little instruments of her toilet.

But Nehushta ran fast through the corridors and halls till she came to
her slaves who had waited for her at the entrance to the queen's
apartment. Then she seemed to recollect herself, and slackened her pace,
and went on to her own chambers. But, her women saw her pale face, and
whispered together as they cautiously followed her.

She was wretched beyond all words. In a moment, her doubts and her fears
had all been realised, and the stain of unfaithfulness had been washed
from the memory of her lover. But it was too late to repent her
hastiness. She had been married to Darius now for nearly three years,
and Zoroaster was a man so changed that she would hardly have recognised
him that evening, had she not known that he was in the palace. He looked
more like the aged Daniel whom he had buried at Ecbatana than like the
lordly warrior of three years ago. She wondered, as she thought of the
sound of his voice in the, garden, how she could ever have doubted him,
and the remembrance of his clear eyes was both bitter and sweet to her.

She lay upon her silken pillows and wept hot tears for him she had loved
long ago, for him and for herself--most of all for the pain she had
made him suffer, for that bitter agony that had turned his young, fair
locks to snowy white; she wept the tears for him that she could fancy he
must have shed in those long years for her. She buried her face and
sobbed aloud, so that even the black fan-girl who stood waving the long
palm-leaf over her in the dim light of the bedchamber--even the poor
black creature from the farther desert, whom her mistress did not half
believe human, felt pity for the royal sorrow she saw, and took one hand
from the fan to brush the tears from her small red eyes.

Nehushta's heart was broken, and from that day none saw her smile. In
one hour the whole misery of all possible miseries came upon her, and
bowed her to the ground, and crushed out the life and the light of her
nature. As she lay there, she longed to die, as she had never longed for
anything while she lived, and she would have had small hesitation in
killing the heart that beat with such agonising pain in her breast--saving
that one thought prevented her. She cared not for revenge
any more. What was the life of that cold, cruel thing, the queen, worth,
that by taking it, she could gain comfort? But she felt and knew that,
before she died, she must see Zoroaster once more, and tell him that she
knew all the truth--that she knew he had not deceived her, and that she
implored his forgiveness for the wrong she had done him. He would let
her rest her head upon his breast and weep out her heartful of piteous
sorrow once before she died. And then--the quiet stream of the Araxes
flowed softly, cold and clear, among the rose-gardens below the
palace. The kindly water would take her to its bosom, beneath the
summer's moon, and the nightingales she loved would sing her a gentle
good-night--good-night for ever, while the cool wave flowed over her
weary breast and aching head.



CHAPTER XVII.


On the next day, in the cool of the evening, Nehushta walked again in
the garden. But Zoroaster was not there. And for several days Nehushta
came at that hour, and at other hours in the day, but found him not. She
saw him indeed from time to time in public, but she had no opportunity
of speaking with him as she desired. At last, she determined to send for
him, and to see whether he would come, or not.

She went out, attended only by two slaves; the one bearing a fan and the
other a small carpet and a cushion--black women from the southern parts
of Syria, towards Egypt, who would not understand the high Persian she
would be likely to speak with Zoroaster, though her own Hebrew tongue
was intelligible to them. When she reached a quiet spot, where one of
the walks ended suddenly in a little circle among the rose-trees, far
down from the palace, she had her carpet spread, and her cushion was
placed upon it, and she wearily sat down. The fan-girl began to ply her
palm-leaf, as much to cool the heated summer air as to drive away the
swarms of tiny gnats which abounded in the garden. Nehushta rested upon
one elbow, her feet drawn together upon the carpet of dark soft colours
and waited a few minutes as though in thought. At last she seemed to
have decided, and turned to the slave who had brought her cushion, as
she stood at a little distance, motionless, her hands folded and hidden
under the thickness of the broad sash that girded her tunic at the
waist.

"Go thou," said the queen, "and seek out the high priest Zoroaster, and
bring him hither quickly."

The black woman turned and ran like a deer down the narrow path,
disappearing in a moment amongst the shrubbery.

The breeze of the swinging fan blew softly on Nehushta's pale face and
stirred the locks of heavy hair that fell from her tiara about her
shoulders. Her eyes were half closed as she leaned back, and her lips
were parted in a weary look of weakness that was new to her. Nearly an
hour passed and the sun sank low, but Nehushta hardly stirred from her
position.

It seemed very long before she heard steps upon the walk--the quick soft
step of the slave-woman running before, barefooted and fleet, and
presently the heavier tread of a man's leather shoe. The slave stopped
at the entrance to the little circle of rose-trees, and a moment later,
Zoroaster strode forward, and stood still and made a deep obeisance, a
few steps from Nehushta.

"Forgive me that I sent for thee, Zoroaster," said the queen in quiet
tones. But, as she spoke, a slight blush overspread her face, and
relieved her deadly pallor. "Forgive me--I have somewhat to say which
thou must hear."

Zoroaster remained standing before her as she spoke, and his luminous
eyes rested upon her quietly.

"I wronged thee three years ago, Zoroaster," said the queen in a low
voice, but looking up at him. "I pray thee, forgive me--I knew not what
I did."

"I forgave thee long ago," answered the high priest.

"I did thee a bitter wrong--but the wrong I did myself was even greater.
I never knew till I went and asked--her!" At the thought of Atossa, the
Hebrew woman's eyes flashed fire, and her small fingers clenched upon
her palm. But, in an instant, her sad, weary look returned.

"That is all--if you forgive me," she said, and turned her head away. It
seemed to her that there was nothing more to be said. He did not love
her--he was far beyond love.

"Now, by Ahura Mazda, I have indeed forgiven thee. The blessing of the
All-Wise be upon thee!" Zoroaster bent again, as though to take his
leave, and he would have gone from her.

But when she heard his first footsteps, Nehushta raised herself a little
and turned quickly towards him. It seemed as though the only light she
knew were departing from her day.

"You loved me once," she said, and stopped, with an appealing look on
her pale face. It was very, weak of her; but oh! she was far spent with
sorrow and grief. Zoroaster paused, and looked back upon her, very
calmly, very gently.

"Ay--I loved you once--but not now. There is no more love in the earth
for me. But I bless you for the love you gave me."

"I loved you so well," said Nehushta. "I love you still," she added,
suddenly raising herself and gazing on him with a wild look in her eyes.
"Oh, I love you still!" she cried passionately. "I thought I had put you
away--forgotten you--trodden out your memory that I so hated I could not
bear to hear your name! Ah! why did I do it, miserable woman that I am!
I love you now--I love you--I love you with my whole heart--and it is
too late!" She fell back upon her cushion, and covered her face with
her hands, and her breast heaved with passionate, tearless sobbing.

Zoroaster stood still, and a deep melancholy came over his beautiful,
ethereal face. No regret stirred his breast, no touch of the love that
had been waked his heart that slept for ever in the peace of the higher
life. He would not have changed from himself to the young lover of three
years ago, if he had been able. But he stood calm and sorrowful, as an
angel from heaven gazing on the grief of the world--his thoughts full
of sympathy for the pains of men, his soul still breathing the painless
peace of the outer firmament whence he had come and whither he would
return.

"Nehushta," he said at last, seeing that her sobbing did not cease, "it
is not meet that you should thus weep for anything that is past. Be
comforted; the years of life are few, and you are one of the great ones
of the earth. It is needful that all should suffer. Forget not that
although your heart be heavy, you are a queen, and must bear yourself as
a queen. Take your life strongly in your hands and live it. The end is
not far and your peace is at hand."

Nehushta looked up suddenly and grew very grave as he spoke. Her heavy
eyes rested on his, and she sighed--but the sigh was still broken, by
the trembling of her past sobs.

"You, who are a priest and a prophet," she said,--"you, who read the
heaven as it were a book--tell me, Zoroaster, is it not far? Shall we
meet beyond the stars, as you used to tell me--so long ago?"

"It is not far," he answered, and a gentle smile illuminated his pale
face. "Take courage--for truly it is not far."

He gazed into her eyes for a moment, and it seemed as though some of
that steadfast light penetrated into her soul, for as he turned and went
his way among the roses, a look of peace descended on her tired face,
and she fell back upon her cushion and closed her eyes, and let the
breeze of the palm-fan play over her wan cheeks and through her heavy
hair.

But Zoroaster returned into the palace, and he was very thoughtful. He
had many duties to perform, besides the daily evening sacrifice in the
temple, for Darius consulted him constantly upon many matters connected
with the state; and on every occasion Zoroaster's keen foresight and
knowledge of men found constant exercise in the development of the laws
and statutes Darius was forming for his consolidated kingdom. First of
all, the question of religion seemed to him of paramount importance; and
here Zoroaster displayed all his great powers of organisation, as well
as the true and just ideas he held upon the subject. Himself an ascetic
mystic, he foresaw the danger to others of attempting to pursue the same
course, or even of founding a system of mystical study. The object of
mankind must be the welfare of mankind, and a set of priests who should
shut themselves off from their fellow-men to pursue esoteric studies and
to acquire knowledge beyond the reach of common humanity, must
necessarily forget humanity itself in their effort to escape from it.
The only possible scheme upon which a religion for the world could be
based--especially for such a world as the empire of Darius--must be one
where the broad principle of common good living stood foremost, and
where the good of all humanity should be the good of each man's soul.

The vast influence of Zoroaster's name grew day by day, as from the
palace of Stakhar he sent forth priests to the various provinces, full
of his own ideas, bearing with them a simple form of worship and a rigid
rule of life, which the iron laws of Darius began at once to enforce to
the letter. The vast body of existing hymns, of which many were by no
means distinctly Mazdayashnian, were reduced to a limited number
containing the best and purest; and the multifarious mass of conflicting
caste practices, partly imported from India, and partly inherited by the
pure Persians from the Aryan home in Sogdiana, was simplified and
reduced to a plain rule. The endless rules of purification were cut down
to simple measures of health; the varying practices in regard to the
disposal of the dead were all done away with by a great royal edict
commanding the building of Dakhmas, or towers of death, all over the
kingdom; within which the dead were laid by persons appointed for the
purpose, and which were cleansed by them, at stated intervals. Severe
measures were taken to prevent the destruction of cattle, for there were
evident signs of the decrease of the beasts of the field in consequence
of the many internal wars that had waged of late; and special laws were
provided for the safety of dogs, which were regarded, for all reasons,
as the most valuable companions of men in those times, as a means of
protection to the flocks in the wilderness, and as the scavengers and
cleansers of the great cities. Human life was protected by the most
rigorous laws, and the utmost attention was given to providing for the
treatment of women of all classes. It would have been impossible to
conceive a system better fitted to develop the resources of a
semi-pastoral country, to preserve peace and to provide for the
increasing wants and the public health of a multiplying people.

As for the religious rites, they assumed a form and a character which
made them seem like simplicity itself by the side of the former systems;
and which, although somewhat complicated by the additions and
alterations of a later and more superstitious, generation, have still
maintained the noble and honourable characteristics imparted to them by
the great reformer and compiler of the Mazdayashnian religion.

The days flew quickly by, and Zoroaster's power grew apace. It was as
though the whole court and kingdom had been but waiting for him to come
and be the representative of wisdom and justice beside the conquering
king, who had in so short a time reduced so many revolutions and fought
so many fields in the consolidation of his empire. Zoroaster laid hold
of all the existing difficulties with a master-hand. His years of
retirement seemed to have given him the accumulated force of many men,
and the effect of his wise measures was quickly felt in every quarter of
the provinces; while his words went forth like fire in the mouths of the
priests he sent from Stakhar. He had that strange and rare gift, whereby
a man inspires in his followers the profoundest confidence and the
greatest energy to the performance of his will. He would have overthrown
a world had he found himself resisted and oppressed, but every one of
his statutes and utterances was backed by the royal arms and enforced by
decrees against which there was no appeal. In a few months his name was
spoken wherever the Persian rule was felt, and spoken everywhere with a
high reverence; in which there was no fear mixed, such as people felt
when they mentioned the Great King, and added quickly: "May he live for
ever!"

In a few months the reform was complete, and the half-clad ascetic had
risen by his own wisdom and by the power of circumstances into the
chiefest position in all Persia. Loaded with dignities, treated as the
next to the Great King in all things, wearing the royal chain of office
over his white priest's robes, and sitting at the right hand of Darius
at the feast, Zoroaster nevertheless excited no envy among the
courtiers, nor encroached in any way upon their privileges. The few men
whom Darius trusted were indeed rarely at Stakhar,--the princes who had
conspired against Smerdis, and Hydarnes and a few of the chief officers
of the army,--they were mostly in the various provinces, in command of
troops and fortresses, actively employed in enforcing the measures the
king was framing with Zoroaster, and which were to work such great
changes in the destinies of the empire. But when any of the princes or
generals were summoned to the court by the king and learned to know what
manner of man this Zoroaster was, they began to love him and to honour
him also, as all those did who were near him. And they went away, saying
that never king had so wise and just a counsellor as he was, nor one so
worthy of trust in the smallest as in the greatest things.

But the two queens watched him, and watched his growing power, with
different feelings. Nehushta scarcely ever spoke to him, but gazed at
him from her sad eyes when none saw her; pondering over his prophecy
that foretold the end so near at hand. She had a pride in seeing her old
lover the strongest in the whole land, holding the destinies of the
kingdom as in a balance; and it was a secret consolation to her to know
that he had been faithful to her after all, and that it was for her sake
that he had withdrawn into the desert and given himself to those
meditations from which he had only issued to enjoy the highest power.
And as she looked at him, she saw how he was much changed, and it hardly
seemed as though in his body he were the same man she had so loved. Only
when he spoke, and she heard the even, musical tones of his commanding
voice, she sometimes felt the blood rise to her cheeks with the longing
to hear once more some word of tender love, such as he had been used to
speak to her. But though he often looked at her and greeted her ever
kindly, his quiet, luminous eyes changed not when they gazed on her, nor
was there any warmer touch of colour in the waxen whiteness of his face.
His youth was utterly gone, as the golden light had faded from his hair.
He was not like an old man--he was hardly like a man at all; but rather
like some beautiful, strange angel from another world, who moved among
men and spoke with them, but was not of them. She seemed to look upon a
memory, to love the shadow cast on earth by a being that was gone. But
she loved the memory and the shadow well, and month by month, as she
gazed, she grew more wan and weary.

It would not have been like Darius to take any notice of a trouble that
did not present itself palpably before him and demand his attention.
Nehushta scarcely ever spoke of Zoroaster, and when the king mentioned
him to her, it was always in connection with affairs of state. She
seemed cold and indifferent, and the hot-blooded soldier monarch no
longer looked on Zoroaster as a possible rival. He had white hair--he
was therefore an old man, out of all questions of love. But Darius was
glad that the Hebrew queen never referred to former times, nor ever
seemed to regret her old lover. Had he known of that night meeting in
Atossa's toilet chamber, and of what Atossa had said then, his fury
would probably have had no bounds. But he never knew. Nehushta was too
utterly broken-hearted by the blow she had received to desire vengeance,
and though she quietly scorned all intercourse with the woman who had
injured her, she cared not to tell the king of the injury. It was too
late. Had she known of the cruel deception that had been practised on
her, one hour before she had married Darius, Atossa would have been in
her grave these three years, and Nehushta would not have been queen. But
the king knew none of these things, and rejoiced daily in the wisdom of
his chief counsellor and in the favour Auramazda had shown in sending
him such a man in his need.

Meanwhile, Atossa's hatred grew apace. She saw with anger that her power
of tormenting Nehushta was gone from her, that the spirit she had loved
to torture was broken beyond all sensibility, and that the man who had
scorned her love was grown greater than she. Against his wisdom and the
king's activity, she could do little, and her strength seemed to spend
itself in vain. Darius laughed mercilessly at her cunning objections to
Zoroaster's reforms; and Zoroaster himself eyed hear coldly, and passed
her by in silence when they met.

She bethought herself of some scheme whereby to destroy Zoroaster's
power by a sudden and violent shock; and for a time, she affected at
more than usual serenity of manner, and her smile was sweeter than ever.
If it were possible, she thought, to attract the king's attention and
forces to some distant point, it would not be a difficult matter to
produce a sudden rising or disturbance in Stakhar, situated as the place
was upon the very extreme border of the kingdom, within a few hours'
march across the hills from the uncivilised desert country, which was
infested at that time with hostile and turbulent tribes. She had a
certain number of faithful retainers at her command still, whom she
could employ as emissaries in both directions, and in spite of the scene
that had taken place at Shushan when Phraortes was brought to her by the
king, she knew she could still command his services for a revolution.
He was a Magian at heart, and hated the existing monarchy. He was rich
and powerful, and unboundedly vain--he could easily be prevailed upon to
accept the principality of Media as a reward for helping to destroy the
Persian kingdom; and indeed the matter had been discussed between him
and the queen long ago.

Atossa revolved her scheme in her mind most carefully for two whole
months, and at last she resolved to act. Eluding all vigilance of the
king, and laughing to herself at the folly of Darius and Zoroaster in
allowing her such liberty, she succeeded without much trouble in
despatching a letter to Phraortes, inquiring whether her affairs were
now in such a prosperous condition as to admit of their being extended.

On the other hand, she sent a black slave she owned, with gifts, into
the country of the barbarian tribes beyond the hills, to discover
whether they could be easily tempted. This man she bribed with the
promise of freedom and rich possessions, to undertake the dangerous
mission. She knew him to be faithful, and able to perform the part he
was to play.

In less than two months Phraortes sent a reply, wherein he stated that
the queen's affairs were so prosperous that they might with safety be
extended as she desired, and that he was ready to undertake any
improvements provided she sent him the necessary directions and
instructions.

The slave returned from the land of the dwellers in tents, with the
information that they were numerous as the sands of the sea, riding like
the whirlwinds across the desert, keen as a race of eagles for prey,
devouring as locusts spreading over a field of corn, and greedy as
jackals upon the track of a wounded antelope. Nothing but the terror of
the Great King's name restrained them within their boundaries; which
they would leave at a moment's notice, as allies of any one who would
pay them. They dwelt mostly beyond the desert to eastward in the low
hill country; and they shaved their beards and slept with their horses
in their tents. They were more horrible to look upon than the devils of
the mountains, and fiercer than wolves upon the mountain paths.

Allowing for the imagery of her slave's account, Atossa comprehended
that the people described could be easily excited to make a hostile
descent upon the southern part of the kingdom, and notably upon the
unprotected region about Stakhar, where the fortress could afford
shelter to a handful of troops and fugitives, but could in no wise
defend the whole of the fertile district from a hostile incursion.

Atossa spent much time in calculating the distance from the palace to
the fortress, and she came to the conclusion that a body of persons
moving with some encumbrance might easily reach the stronghold in half a
day. Her plan was a simple one, and easy of execution; though there was
no limit to the evil results its success might have upon the kingdom.

She intended that a revolution should break out in Media, not under the
leadership of Phraortes, lest she herself should perish, having been
already suspected of complicity with him. But a man could be found--some
tool of her powerful agent, who could be readily induced to set himself
up as a pretender to the principality of the province, and he could
easily be crushed at a later period by Phraortes, who would naturally
furnish the money and supplies for the insurrection.

As soon as the news reached Stakhar, Darius would, in all probability,
set out for Media in haste to arrive at the scene of the disturbance. He
would probably leave Zoroaster behind to manage the affairs of state,
which had centred in Stakhar during the last year and more. If, however,
he took him with him, and left the court to follow on as far as Shushan,
Atossa could easily cause an incursion of the barbarous tribes from the
desert. The people of the south would find themselves abandoned by the
king, and would rise against him, and Atossa could easily seize the
power. If Zoroaster remained behind, the best plan would be to let the
barbarians take their own course and destroy him. Separated from any
armed force of magnitude sufficient to cope with a sudden invasion, he
would surely fall in the struggle, or take refuge in an ignominious
flight. With the boldness of her nature, Atossa trusted to circumstances
to provide her with an easy escape for herself; and in the last
instance, she trusted, as she had ever done, to her marvellous beauty to
save her from harm. To her beauty alone she owed her escape from many a
fit of murderous anger in the time of Cambyses, and to her beauty she
owed her salvation when Darius found her at Shushan, the wife and
accomplice of the impostor Smerdis. She might again save herself by that
means, if by no other, should she, by any mischance, fall into the hands
of the barbarians. But she was determined to overthrow Zoroaster, even
if she had to destroy her husband's kingdom in the effort. It was a bold
and simple plan, and she doubted not of being successful.

During the months while she was planning these things, she was very calm
and placid; her eyes met Zoroaster's with a frank and friendly glance
that would have disarmed one less completely convinced of her badness;
and her smile never failed the king when he looked for it. She bore his
jests with unfailing equanimity and gentleness, for she felt that she
should not have to bear them long. Even to Nehushta she gave an
occasional glance as though of hurt sympathy--a look that seemed to say
to the world that she regretted the Hebrew queen's sullen temper and
moody ways, so different from her own, but regarded them all the while
as the outward manifestation of some sickness, for which she was to be
pitied rather than blamed.

But, as the time sped, her heart grew more and more glad, for the end
was at hand, and there was a smell of death in the air of the sweet
rose-valley.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Once more the spring months had come, and the fields grew green and the
trees put forth their leaves. Four years had passed since Daniel had
died in Ecbatana, leaving his legacy of wisdom to Zoroaster; and almost
a year had gone by since Zoroaster had returned to the court at
Stakhar. The time had sped very swiftly, except for Nehushta, whose life
was heavy with a great weariness and her eyes hollow with suffering
sleeplessness. She was not always the same, saving that she was always
unhappy. There were days when she was resigned to her lot and merely
hoped that it would soon be over; and she wondered how it was that she
did not slip out of the gardens at evening, and go and sink her care and
her great sorrow in the cool waves of the Araxes, far down below. But
then the thought came over her that she must see his face once more; and
it was always once more, so that the last time never came. And again,
there were days when she hoped all things, madly, indiscriminately,
without sequence--the king might die, Zoroaster might again love her,
all might be well. But the mood of a hope that is senseless is very
fleet, and despair follows close in its footsteps. Nehushta grew each
time more sad, as she grew more certain that for her there was no hope.

At least it seemed as though Atossa had given up loving Zoroaster and
thought no more of him than of another. Indeed Atossa seemed more
anxious to please the king than formerly, in proportion as Darius seemed
less easily pleased by her. But over all, Zoroaster's supremacy was felt
in the palace, and though he was never known to be angry with any one,
he was more feared than the fierce king himself, for his calm clear eyes
were hard to meet and the words that fell from his lips had in them the
ring of fate. Moreover, he was known and his power was dreaded from one
end of the kingdom to the other, and his name was like the king's
signet, which sealed all things, and there was no appeal.

Upon a fair morning in the spring-time, when the sun was shining outside
upon the roses still wet with dew, the king sat in an inner hall, half
lying upon a broad couch, on which the warm rays of the sun fell through
an upper window. He was watching with absorbed attention the tricks of
an Indian juggler who had lately arrived at the court, and whom he had
summoned that morning to amuse a leisure hour, for when the king was not
actively engaged in business, or fighting, he loved some amusement,
being of a restless temper and mind that needed constant occupation.

Atossa sat near him, upon a carved chair, turning over and over in her
fingers a string of pearls as she gazed at the performances of the
juggler. Two spearmen, clad in blue and scarlet and gold, stood
motionless by the door, and Darius and Atossa watched the sleight-handed
Indian alone.

The man tossed a knife into the air and caught it, then two, then three,
increasing the number in rapid succession till a score of bright blades
made a shining circle in the air as he quickly tossed them up and passed
them from hand to hand and tossed them again. Darius laughed at the
man's skill, and looked up at the queen.

"You remind me of that fellow," said Darius.

"The king is very gracious to his handmaiden," answered Atossa, smiling,
"I think I am less skilful, but more fair."

"You are fairer, it is true," returned the king; "but as for your skill,
I know not. You seem always to be playing with knives, but you never
wound yourself any more than he does."

The queen looked keenly at Darius, but her lips smiled gently. The
thought crossed her mind that the king perhaps knew something of what
had passed between her and Nehushta nearly a year before, with regard to
a certain Indian dagger. The knives the juggler tossed in the air
reminded her of it by their shape. But the king laughed gaily and she
answered without hesitation:

"I would it were true, for then I could be not only the king's wife, but
the king's juggler!"

"I meant not so," laughed Darius. "The two would hardly suit one
another."

"And yet, I need more skill than this Indian fellow, to be the king's
wife," answered the queen slowly.

"Said I not so?"

"Nay--but you meant not so," replied Atossa, looking down.

"What I say, I mean," he returned. "You need all the fairness of your
face to conceal the evil in your heart, as this man needs all his skill
in handling those sharp knives, that would cut off his fingers if,
unawares, he touched the wrong edge of them."

"I conceal nothing," said the queen, with a light laugh. "The king has
a thousand eyes--how should I conceal anything from him?"

"That is a question which I constantly ask myself," answered Darius.
"And yet, I often think I know your thoughts less well than those of the
black girl who fans you when you are hot, and whose attention is
honestly concentrated upon keeping the flies from your face--or of
yonder stolid spearmen at the door, who watch us, and honestly wish they
were kings and queens, to lie all day upon a silken couch, and watch the
tricks of a paid conjurer."

As Darius spoke, the guards he glanced at turned suddenly and faced each
other, standing on each side of the doorway, and brought their heavy
spears to the ground with a ringing noise. In a moment the tall, thin
figure of Zoroaster, in his white robes, appeared between them. He
stopped respectfully at the threshold, waiting for the king to notice
him, for, in spite of his power and high rank, he chose to maintain
rigidly the formalities of the court.

Darius made a sign and the juggler caught his whirling knives, one after
the other, and thrust them into his bag, and withdrew.

"Hail, Zoroaster!" said the king. "Come near and sit beside me, and tell
me your business."

Zoroaster came forward and made a salutation, but he remained standing,
as though the matter on which he came were urgent.

"Hail, king, and live for ever!" he said. "I am a bearer of evil news. A
rider has come speeding from Ecbatana, escaped from the confusion. Media
has revolted, and the king's guards are besieged within the fortress of
Ecbatana."

Darius sat upright upon the edge of his couch; the knotted veins upon
his temples swelled with sudden anger and his brow flushed darkly.

"Doubtless it is Phraortes who has set himself up as king," he said.
Then, suddenly and fiercely, he turned upon Atossa. "Now is your hour
come," he cried in uncontrollable anger. "You shall surely die this day,
for you have done this, and the powers of evil shall have your soul,
which is of them, and of none other."

Atossa, for the first time in her whole life, turned pale to the lips
and trembled, for she already seemed to taste death in the air. But even
then, her boldness did not desert her, and she rose to her feet with a
stateliness and a calmness that almost awed the king's anger to silence.

"Slay me if thou wilt," she said in a low voice, but firmly. "I am
innocent of this deed." The great lie fell from her lips with a calmness
that a martyr might have envied. But Zoroaster stepped between her and
the king. As he passed her, his clear, calm eyes met hers for a moment.
He read in her face the fear of death, and he pitied her.

"Let the king hear me," he said. "It is not Phraortes who has headed the
revolt, and it is told me that Phraortes has fled from Ecbatana. Let the
king send forth his armies and subdue the rebels, and let this woman go;
for the fear of death is upon her and it may be that she has not sinned
in this matter. And if she have indeed sinned, will the king make war
upon women, or redden his hands with the blood of his own wife?"

"You speak as a priest--I feel as a man," returned the king, savagely.
"This woman has deserved death many times--let her die. So shall we be
free of her."

"It is not lawful to do this thing," returned Zoroaster coldly, and his
glance rested upon the angry face of Darius, as he spoke, and seemed to
subdue his furious wrath. "The king cannot know whether she have
deserved death or not, until he have the rebels of Ecbatana before him.
Moreover, the blood of a woman is a perpetual shame to the man who has
shed it."

The king seemed to waver, and Atossa, who watched him keenly, understood
that the moment had come in which she might herself make an appeal to
him. In the suddenness of the situation she had time to ask herself why
Zoroaster, whom she had so bitterly injured, should intercede for her.
She could not understand his nobility of soul, and she feared some trap,
into which she should fall by and by. But, meanwhile, she chose to
appeal to the king's mercy herself, lest she should feel that she owed
her preservation wholly to Zoroaster. It was a bold thought, worthy of a
woman of her strength, in a moment of supreme danger.

With a quick movement she tore the tiara from her head and let it fall
upon the floor. The mass of her silken hair fell all about her like a
vesture of gold, and she threw herself at the king's feet, embracing his
knees with a passionate gesture of appeal. Her face was very pale, and
the beauty of it seemed to grow by the unnatural lack of colour, while
her soft blue eyes looked up into the king's face with such an
expression of imploring supplication that he was fain to acknowledge to
himself that she moved his heart, for she had never looked so fair
before. She spoke no word, but held his knees, and as she gazed, two
beautiful great tears rolled slowly from under her eyelids, and trembled
upon her pale, soft cheeks, and her warm, quick breath went up to his
face.

Darius tried to push her from him, but she would not go, and he was
forced to look at her, and his anger melted, and he smiled somewhat
grimly, though his brows were bent.

"Go to," he said, "I jested. It is impossible for a man to slay anything
so beautiful as you."

Atossa's colour returned to her cheeks, and bending down, she kissed the
king's knees and his hands, and her golden hair fell all about her and
upon the king's lap. But Darius rose impatiently, and left her kneeling
by the couch. He was already angry with himself for having forgiven her,
and he hated his own weakness bitterly.

"I will myself go hence at once with the guards, and I will take half
the force from the fortress of Stakhar and go to Shushan, and thence,
with the army that is there, I will be in Ecbatana in a few days. And I
will utterly crush out these rebels who speak lies and do not
acknowledge me. Remain here, Zoroaster, and govern this province until I
return in triumph."

Darius glanced once more at Atossa, who lay by the couch, half upon it
and half upon the floor, seemingly dazed at what had occurred; and then
he turned upon his heel and strode out of the room between the two
spearmen of the guard, who raised their weapons as he passed, and
followed him with a quick, rhythmical tread down the broad corridor
outside.

Zoroaster was left alone with the queen.

As soon as Darius was gone, Atossa rose to her feet, and with all
possible calmness proceeded to rearrange her disordered hair and to
place her head-dress upon her head. Zoroaster stood and watched her; her
hand trembled a little, but she seemed otherwise unmoved by what had
occurred. She glanced up at him from under her eyelids as she stood with
her head bent down and her hands raised, to arrange her hair.

"Why did you beg the king to spare my life?" she asked. "You, of all
men, must wish me dead."

"I do not wish you dead," he answered coldly. "You have yet much evil to
do in the world, but it will not be all evil. Neither did I need to
intercede for you. Your time is not come, and though the king's hand
were raised to strike you, it would not fall upon you, for you are fated
to accomplish many things."

"Do you not hate me, Zoroaster?"

It was one of the queen's chief characteristics that she never attempted
concealment when it could be of no use, and in such cases affected an
almost brutal frankness. She almost laughed as she asked the
question--it seemed so foolish, and yet she asked it.

"I do not hate you," answered the priest. "You are beneath hatred."

"And I presume you are far above it?" she said very scornfully, and eyed
him in silence for a moment. "You are a poor creature," she pursued,
presently. "I heartily despise you. You suffered yourself to be deceived
by a mere trick; you let the woman you loved go from you without an
effort to keep her. You might have been a queen's lover, and you
despised her. And now, when you could have the woman who did you a
mortal injury be led forth to death before your eyes, you interceded for
her and saved her life. You are a fool. I despise you."

"I rejoice that you do," returned Zoroaster coldly. "I would not have
your admiration, if I might be paid for receiving it with the whole
world and the wisdom thereof."

"Not even if you might have for your wife the woman you loved in your
poor, insipid way--but you loved her nevertheless? She is pale and
sorrowful, poor creature; she haunts the gardens like the shadow of
death; she wearies the king with her wan face. She is eating her heart
out for you--the king took her from you, you could take her from him
to-morrow, if you pleased. The greater your folly, because you do not.
As for her, her foolishness is such that she would follow you to the
ends of the earth--poor girl! she little knows what a pale, wretched,
sapless thing you have in your breast for a heart."

But Zoroaster gazed calmly at the queen in quiet scorn at her scoffing.

"Think you that the sun is obscured, because you can draw yonder curtain
before your window and keep out his rays?" he asked. "Think you that the
children of light feel pain because the children of darkness say in
their ignorance that there is no light?"

"You speak in parables--having nothing plain to say," returned the
queen, thrusting a golden pin through her hair at the back and through
the folds of her linen tiara. But she felt Zoroaster's eyes upon her,
and looking up, she was fascinated by the strange light in them. She
strove to look away from him, but could not. Suddenly her heart sank
within her. She had heard of Indian charmers and of Chaldean
necromancers and wise men, who could perform wonders and slay their
enemies with a glance. She struggled to take her eyes from his, but it
was of no use. The subtle power of the universal agent had got hold upon
her, and she was riveted to the spot so long as he kept his eyes upon
her. He spoke again, and his voice seemed to come to her with a
deafening metallic force, as though it vibrated to her very brain.

"You may scoff at me; shield yourself from me, if you can," said
Zoroaster. "Lift one hand, if you are able--make one step from me, if
you have the strength. You cannot; you are altogether in my power. If I
would, I could kill you as you stand, and there would be no mark of
violence upon you, that a man should be able to say you were slain. You
boast of your strength and power. See, you follow the motion of my hand,
as a dog would. See, you kneel before me, and prostrate yourself in the
dust at my feet, at my bidding. Lie there, and think well whether you
are able to scoff any more. You kneeled to the king of your own will;
you kneel to me at mine, and though you had the strength of a hundred
men, you must kneel there till I bid you rise."

The queen was wholly under the influence of the terrible power
Zoroaster possessed. She was no more able to resist his will than a
drowning man can resist the swift torrent that bears him down to his
death. She lay at the priest's feet, helpless and nerveless. He gazed at
her for a moment as she crouched before him.

"Rise," he said, "go your way, and remember me."

Relieved from the force of the subtle influence he projected, Atossa
sprang to her feet and staggered back a few paces, till she fell upon
the couch.

"What manner of man art thou?" she said, staring wildly before her, as
though recovering from some heavy blow that had stunned her.

But she saw Zoroaster's white robes disappear through the door, even
while the words were on her lips, and she sank back in stupefaction upon
the cushions of the couch.

Meanwhile the trumpets sounded in the courts of the palace and the
guards were marshalled out at the king's command. Messengers mounted and
rode furiously up the valley to the fortress, to warn the troops there
to make ready for the march; and before the sun reached the meridian,
Darius was on horseback, in his armour, at the foot of the great
staircase. The blazing noonday light shone upon his polished helmet and
on the golden wings that stood out on either side of it, and the hot
rays were sent flashing back from his gilded harness, and from the broad
scales of his horse's armour.

The slaves of the palace stood in long ranks before the columns of the
portico and upon the broad stairs on each side, and Zoroaster stood on
the lowest step, attended by a score of his priests, to receive the
king's last instructions.

"I go forth, and in two months I will return in triumph," said Darius.
"Meanwhile keep thou the government in thy hand, and let not the laws be
relaxed because the king is not here. Let the sacrifice be performed
daily in the temple, and let all things proceed as though I myself were
present. I will not that petty strifes arise because I am away. There
shall be peace--peace--peace forever throughout my kingdom, though I
shed much blood to obtain it. And all the people who are evildoers and
makers of strife and sedition shall tremble at the name of Darius, the
king of kings, and of Zoroaster, the high priest of the All-Wise. In
peace I leave you, to cause peace whither I go; and in peace I will come
again to you. Farewell, Zoroaster, truest friend and wisest counsellor;
in thy keeping I leave all things. Take thou the signet and bear it
wisely till I come."

Zoroaster received the royal ring and bowed a low obeisance. Then Darius
pressed his knees to his horse's sides and the noble steed sprang
forward upon the straight, broad road, like an arrow from a bow. The
mounted guards grasped their spears and gathered their bridles in their
hands and followed swiftly, four and four, shoulder to shoulder, and
knee to knee, their bronze cuirasses and polished helmets blazing in the
noonday sun and dashing as they galloped on; and in a moment there was
nothing seen of the royal guard but a tossing wave of light far up the
valley; and the white dust, that had risen, as they plunged forward,
settled slowly in the still, hot air upon the roses and shrubs that hung
over the enclosure of the garden at the foot of the broad staircase.

Zoroaster gazed for a moment on the track of the swift warriors; then
went up the steps, followed by his priests, and entered the palace.

Atossa and Nehushta had watched the departure of the king from their
upper windows, at the opposite ends of the building, from behind the
gilded lattices. Atossa had recovered somewhat from the astonishment and
fear that had taken possession of her when she had found herself under
Zoroaster's strange influence, and as she saw Darius ride away, while
Zoroaster remained standing upon the steps, her courage rose. She
resolved that nothing should induce her again to expose herself to the
chief priest's unearthly power, and she laughed to herself as she
thought that she might yet destroy him, and free herself from him for
ever. She wondered how she could ever have given a thought of love to
such a man, and she summoned her black slave, and sent him upon his last
errand, by which he was to obtain his freedom.

But Nehushta gazed sadly after the galloping guards, and her eye strove
to distinguish the king's crest before the others, till all was mingled
in the distance, in an indiscriminate reflection of moving light, and
then lost to view altogether in the rising dust. Whether she loved him
truly, or loved him not, he had been true and kind to her, and had
rested his dark head upon her shoulder that very morning before he went,
and had told her that, of all living women, he loved her best. But she
had felt a quick sting of pain in her heart, because she knew that she
would give her life to lie for one short hour on Zoroaster's breast and
sob out all her sorrow and die.



CHAPTER XIX.


Four days after the king's departure, Nehushta was wandering in the
gardens as the sun was going down, according to her daily custom. There
was a place she loved well--a spot where the path widened to a circle,
round which the roses grew, thick and fragrant with the breath of the
coming summer, and soft green shrubs and climbing things that twisted
their tender arms about the myrtle trees. The hedge was so high that it
cut off all view of the gardens beyond, and only the black north-western
hills could just be seen above the mass of shrubbery; beyond the
mountains and all over the sky, the glow of the setting sun spread like
a rosy veil; and the light tinged the crests of the dark hills and
turned the myrtle leaves to a strange colour, and gilded the highest
roses to a deep red gold.

The birds were all singing their evening song in loud, happy chorus, as
only Eastern birds can sing; the air was warm and still, and the tiny
gnats chased each other with lightning quickness in hazy swarms
overhead, in the reflected glow.

Nehushta loved the little open space, for it was there that, a year ago,
she had sent for Zoroaster to come to her that she might tell him she
knew the truth at last. She stood still and listened to the singing of
the birds, gazing upwards at the glowing sky, where the red was fast
turning to purple; she breathed in the warm air and sighed softly;
wishing, as she wished every night, that the sunset might fade to
darkness, and there might be no morning for her any more.

She had lived almost entirely alone since Darius had gone to Shushan;
she avoided Atossa, and she made no effort to see Zoroaster, who was
entirely absorbed by the management of the affairs of the state. In the
king's absence there were no banquets, as there used to be when he was
in the palace, and the two queens were free to lead whatever life seemed
best to them, independently of each other and of the courtiers. Atossa
had chosen to shut herself up in the seclusion of her own apartments,
and Nehushta rarely left her own part of the palace until the evening.
But when the sun was low, she loved to linger among the roses in the
garden, till the bright shield of the moon was high in the east, or till
the faint stars burned in their full splendour, and the nightingales
began to call and trill their melancholy song from end to end of the
sweet valley.

So she stood on this evening, looking up into the sky, and her slaves
waited her pleasure at a little distance. But while she gazed, she heard
quick steps along the walk, and the slave-women sprang aside to let some
one pass. Nehushta turned and found herself face to face with Atossa,
who stood before her, wrapped in a dark mantle, a white veil of Indian
gauze wound about her head, and half-concealing her face. It was a year
since they had met in private, and Nehushta drew herself suddenly to her
height, and the old look of scorn came over her dark features. She would
have asked haughtily what brought Atossa there, but the fair queen was
first in her speech. There was hardly even the affectation of
friendliness in her tones, as she stood there alone and unattended,
facing her enemy.

"I came to ask if you wished to go with me," said Atossa.

"Where? Why should I go with you?"

"I am weary of the palace. I think I will go to Shushan to be nearer the
king. To-night I will rest at the fortress."

Nehushta stared coldly at the fair woman, muffled in her cloak and veil.

"What is it to me whether you go to the ends of the earth, or whether
you remain here?" she asked.

"I wished to know whether you desired to accompany me, else I should not
have asked you the question. I feared that you might be lonely here in
Stakhar--will you not come?"

"Again I say, why do you ask me? What have I to do with you?" returned
Nehushta, drawing her mantle about her as though to leave Atossa.

"If the king were here, he would bid you go," said Atossa, looking
intently upon her enemy.

"It is for me to judge what the king would wish me to do--not for you.
Leave me in peace. Go your way if you will--it is nothing to me."

"You will not come?" Atossa's voice softened and she smiled serenely.
Nehushta turned fiercely upon her.

"No! If you are going--go! I want you not!"

"You are glad I am going, are you not?" asked Atossa, gently.

"I am glad--with a gladness only you can know. I would you were already
gone!"

"You rejoice that I leave you alone with your lover. It is very
natural----"

"My lover!" cried Nehushta, her wrath rising and blazing in her eyes.

"Ay, your lover! the thin, white-haired priest, that once was
Zoroaster--your old lover--your poor old lover!"

Nehushta steadied herself for a moment. She felt as though she must tear
this woman in pieces. But she controlled her anger by a great effort,
though she was nearly choking as she drew herself up and answered.

"I would that the powers of evil, of whom you are, might strangle the
thrice-accursed lie in your false throat!" she said, in low fierce
tones, and turned away.

Still Atossa stood there, smiling as ever. Nehushta looked back as she
reached the opposite end of the little plot.

"Are you not yet gone? Shall I bid my slaves take you by the throat and
force you from me?" But, as she spoke, she looked beyond Atossa, and saw
that a body of dark men and women stood in the path. Atossa had not come
unprotected.

"I see you are the same foolish woman you ever were," answered the older
queen. Just then, a strange sound echoed far off among the hills above,
strange and far as the scream of a distant vulture sailing its mate to
the carrion feast--an unearthly cry that rang high in the air from side
to side of the valley, and struck the dark crags and doubled in the
echo, and died away in short, faint pulsations of sound upon the
startled air.

Nehushta started slightly. It might have been the cry of a wolf, or of
some wild beast prowling upon the heights, but she had never heard such
a sound before. But Atossa showed no surprise, and her smile returned
to her lips more sweetly than ever--those lips that had kissed three
kings, and that had never spoken truly a kind or a merciful word to
living man, or child, or woman.

"Farewell, Nehushta," she said, "if you will not come, I will leave you
to yourself--and to your lover. I daresay he can protect you from harm.
Heard you that sound? It is the cry of your fate. Farewell, foolish
girl, and may every undreamed-of quality of evil attend you to your
dying day----"

"Go!" cried Nehushta, turning and pointing to the path with a gesture of
terrible anger. Atossa moved back a little.

"It is no wonder I linger awhile--I thought you were past suffering. If
I had time, I might yet find some way of tormenting you--you are very
foolish----"

Nehushta walked rapidly forward upon her, as though to do her some
violence with her own hands. But Atossa, as she gave way before the
angry Hebrew woman, drew from beneath her mantle the Indian knife she
had once taken from her. Nehushta stopped short, as she saw the bright
blade thrust out against her bosom. But Atossa held it up one moment,
and then threw it down upon the grass at her feet.

"Take it!" she cried, and in her voice, that had been so sweet and
gentle a moment before, there suddenly rang out a strange defiance and a
bitter wrath. "Take what is yours--I loathe it, for it smells of
you--and you, and all that is yours, I loathe and hate and scorn!"

She turned with a quick movement and disappeared amongst her slaves,
who closed in their ranks behind her, and followed her rapidly down the
path. Nehushta remained standing upon the grass, peering after her
retreating enemy through the gloom; for the glow had faded from the
western sky while they had been speaking, and it was now dusk.

Suddenly, as she stood, almost transfixed with the horror of her fearful
anger, that strange cry rang again through the lofty crags and crests of
the mountains, and echoed and died away.

Nehushta's slave-women, who had hung back in fear and trembling during
the altercation between the two queens, came forward and gathered about
her.

"What is it?" asked the queen in a low voice, for her own heart beat
with the anticipation of a sudden danger. "It is the cry of your fate,"
Atossa had said--verily it sounded like the scream of a coming death.

"It is the Druksh of the mountains!" said one.

"It is the howling of wolves," said another, a Median woman from the
Zagros mountains.

"The war-cry of the children of Anak is like that," said a little Syrian
maid, and her teeth chattered with fear.

As they listened, crouching and pressing about their royal mistress in
their terror, they heard below in the road, the sound of horses and men
moving quickly past the foot of the gardens. It was Atossa and her
train, hurrying along the highway in the direction of the fortress.

Nehushta suddenly pushed the slaves aside, and fled down the path
towards the palace, and the dark women hurried after. One of them
stooped and picked up the Indian knife and hid it in her bosom as she
ran.

The whole truth had flashed across Nehushta's mind in an instant. Some
armed force was collecting upon the hills to descend in a body upon the
palace, to accomplish her destruction. Atossa had fled to a place of
safety, after enjoying the pleasure of tormenting her doomed enemy to
the last moment, well knowing that no power would induce Nehushta to
accompany her. But one thought filled Nehushta's mind in her
instantaneous comprehension of the truth; she must find Zoroaster, and
warn him of the danger. They would have time to fly together, yet.
Atossa must have known how to time her flight, since the plot was hers,
and she had not yet been many minutes upon the road.

Through the garden she ran, and up the broad steps to the portico.
Slaves were moving about under the colonnade, leisurely lighting the
great torches that burned there all night. They had not heard the
strange cries from the hills; or, hearing only a faint echo, had paid no
attention to the sound.

Nehushta paused, breathless with running. As she realised the quiet that
reigned in the palace, where the slaves went about their duties as
though nothing had occurred, or were likely to occur, it seemed to her
as though she must have been dreaming. It was impossible that if there
were any real danger, it should not have become known at least to some
one of the hundreds of slaves who thronged the outer halls and
corridors. Moreover there were numerous scribes and officers connected
with the government; some few nobles whom Darius had left behind when he
went to Shushan; there were their wives and families residing in various
parts, of the palace and in the buildings below it, and there was a
strong detachment of Persian guards. If there were danger, some one must
have known it.

She did not know that at that moment the inhabitants of the lower palace
were already alarmed, while some were flying, leaving everything behind,
in their haste to reach the fortress higher up the valley. Everything
seemed quiet where she was, and she determined to go alone in search of
Zoroaster, without raising any alarm. Just as she entered the doorway of
the great hall, she heard the cry again echoing behind her through the
valley. It was as much as she could do to control the terror that again
took hold of her at the dreaded sound, as she passed the files of bowing
slaves, and went in between the two tall spearmen who guarded the inner
entrance, and grounded their spears with military precision as she went
by.

She had one slave whom she trusted more than the rest. It was the little
Syrian maid, who was half a Hebrew.

"Go," she said quickly, in her own tongue. "Go in one direction and I
will go in another, and search out Zoroaster, the high priest, and bring
him to my chamber. I also will search, but if I find him not, I will
wait for thee there."

The dark girl turned and ran through the halls, swift as a startled
fawn, to fulfil her errand, and Nehushta went another way upon her
search. She was ashamed to ask for Zoroaster. The words of her enemy
were still ringing in her ears--"alone with your lover;" it might be the
common talk of the court for all she knew. She went silently on her way.
She knew where Zoroaster dwelt. The curtain of his simple chamber was
thrown aside and a faint light burned in the room. It was empty; a
scroll lay open upon the floor beside a purple cushion, as he had left
it, and his long white mantle lay tossed upon the couch which served him
for a bed.

She gazed lovingly for one moment into the open chamber, and then went
on through the broad corridor, dimly lighted everywhere with small oil
lamps. She looked into the council chamber and it was deserted. The long
rows of double seats were empty, and gleamed faintly in the light. High
upon the dais at the end, a lamp burned above the carved chair of ivory
and gold, whereon the king sat when the council was assembled. There was
no one there. Farther on, the low entrance to the treasury was guarded
by four spearmen, whose arms clanged upon the floor as the queen passed.
But she saw that the massive bolts and the huge square locks upon them
were in their places. There was no one within. In the colonnade beyond,
a few nobles stood talking carelessly together, waiting for their
evening meal to be served them in a brightly illuminated hall, of which
the doors stood wide open to admit the cool air of the coming night. The
magnificently-arrayed courtiers made a low obeisance and then stood in
astonishment as the queen went by. She held up her head and nodded to
them, trying to look as though nothing disturbed her.

On and on she went through the whole wing, till she came to her own
apartment. Not so much as one white-robed priest had she seen upon all
her long search. Zoroaster was certainly not in the portion of the
palace through, which she had come. Entering her own chambers, she
looked round for the little Syrian maid, but she had not returned.

Unable to bear the suspense any longer, she hastily despatched a second
slave in search of the chief priest--a Median woman, who had been with
her in Ecbatana.

It seemed as though the minutes were lengthened to hours. Nehushta sat
with her hands pressed to her temples, that throbbed as though the fever
would burst her brain, and the black fan-girl plied the palm-leaf with
all her might, thinking that her mistress suffered from the heat. The
other women she dismissed; and she sat waiting beneath the soft light of
the perfumed lamp, the very figure and incarnation of anxiety.

Something within her told her that she was in great and imminent danger,
and the calm she had seen in the palace could not allay in her mind the
terror of that unearthly cry she had heard three times from the hills.
As she thought of it, she shuddered, and the icy fear seemed to run
through all her limbs, chilling the marrow in her bones, and freezing
her blood suddenly in its mad course.

"Left alone with your lover"--"it is the cry of your fate"--Atossa's
words kept ringing in her ears like a knell--the knell of a shameful
death; and as she went over the bitter taunts of her enemy, her chilled
pulses beat again more feverishly than before. She could not bear to sit
still, but rose and paced the room in intense agitation. Would they
never come back, those dallying slave-women?

The fan-girl tried to follow her mistress, and her small red eyes
watched cautiously every one of Nehushta's movements. But the queen
waved her off and the slave went and stood beside the chair where she
had sat, her fan hanging idly in her hand. At that moment, the Median
woman entered the chamber.

"Where is he?" asked Nehushta, turning suddenly upon her.

The woman made a low obeisance and answered in trembling tones:

"They say that the high priest left the palace two hours ago, with the
queen Atossa. They say----"

"Thou liest!" cried Nehushta vehemently, and her face turned white, as
she stamped her foot upon the black marble pavement. The woman sprang
back with a cry of terror, and ran towards the door. She had never seen
her mistress so angry. But Nehushta called her back.

"Come hither--what else do they say?" she asked, controlling herself as
best she could.

"They say that the wild riders of the eastern desert are descending from
the hills," answered the slave hurriedly and almost under her breath.
"Every one is flying--everything is in confusion--I hear them even now,
hurrying to and fro in the courts, the soldiers----"

But, even as she spoke, an echo of distant voices and discordant cries
came through the curtains of the door from without, the rapid, uneven
tread of people running hither and thither in confusion, the loud voices
of startled men and the screams of frightened women--all blending
together in a wild roar that grew every moment louder.

Just then, the little Syrian maid came running in, almost tearing the
curtains from their brazen rods as she thrust the hangings aside. She
came and fell breathless at Nehushta's feet and clasped her knees.

"Fly, fly, beloved mistress," she cried, "the devils of the mountains
are upon us--they cover the hills--they are closing every entrance--the
people in the lower palace are all slain----"

"Where is Zoroaster?" In the moment of supreme danger, Nehushta grew
calm, and her senses were restored to her again.

"He is in the temple with the priests--by this time he is surely
slain--he could know of nothing that is going on--fly, fly!" cried the
poor Syrian girl in an agony of terror.

Nehushta laid her hand kindly upon the head of the little maid, and
turning in the pride of her courage, now that she knew the worst, she
spoke calmly to the other slaves who thronged in from the outer hall,
some breathless with fear, others screaming in an agony of acute dread.

"On which side are they coming?" she asked.

"Prom the hills, from the hills they are descending in thousands," cried
half a dozen of the frightened women at once, the rest huddled together
like sheep, moaning in their fear.

"Go you all to the farther window," cried Nehushta, in commanding tones.
"Leap down upon the balcony--it is scarce a man's height--follow it to
the end and past the corner where it joins the main wall of the garden.
Run along upon the wall till you find a place where you can descend.
Through the gardens you can easily reach the road by the northern gate.
Fly and save yourselves in the darkness. You will reach the fortress
before dawn if you hasten. You will hasten," she added with something of
disdain in her voice, for before she had half uttered her directions,
the last of the slave-women, mad with terror, disappeared through the
open window, and she could hear them drop, one after the other, in quick
succession upon the marble balcony below. She was alone.

But, looking down, she saw at her feet the little Syrian maid, looking
with imploring eyes to her face.

"Why do you not go with the rest?" asked Nehushta, stooping down and
laying one hand upon the girl's shoulder.

"I have eaten thy bread--shall I leave thee in the hour of death?" asked
the little slave, humbly.

"Go, child," replied Nehushta, very kindly. "I have seen thy devotion
and truth--thou must not perish."

But the Syrian leaped to her feet, and there was pride in her small
face, as she answered:

"I am a bondwoman, but I am a daughter of Israel, even as thou art.
Though all the others leave thee, I will not. It may be I can help
thee."

"Thou art a brave child," said Nehushta; and she drew the girl to her
and pressed her kindly. "I must go to Zoroaster--stay thou here, hide
thyself among the curtains--escape by the window, if any come to harm
thee." She turned and went rapidly out between the curtains, as calm and
as pale as death.

The din in the palace had partially subsided, and new and strange cries
re-echoed through the vast halls and corridors. An occasional wild
scream--a momentary distant crash as of a door breaking down and
thundering upon the marble pavement; and then again, the long, strange
cries, mingled with a dull, low sound as of a great moaning--all came up
together, and seemed to meet Nehushta as she lifted the curtains and
went out.

But the little Syrian maid grasped the Indian knife in her girdle, and
stole stealthily upon her mistress's steps.



CHAPTER XX.


Nehushta glided like a ghost along the corridors and dimly-lighted
halls. As yet, the confusion seemed to be all in the lower story of the
palace, but the roaring din rose louder every moment--the shrieks of
wounded women with the moaning of wounded men, the clash of swords and
arms, and, occasionally, a quick, loud rattle, as half a dozen arrows
that had missed their mark struck the wall together.

Onward she flew, not pausing to listen, lest in a moment more the tide
of fight should be forced up the stairs and overtake her. She shuddered
as she passed the head of the great staircase and heard, as though but a
few steps from her, a wild shriek that died suddenly into a gurgling
death hiss.

She passed the treasury, whence the guards had fled, and in a moment
more she was above the staircase that led down to the temple behind the
palace. There was no one there as yet, as far as she could see in the
starlight. The doors were shut, and the massive square building frowned
through the gloom, blacker than its own black shadow.

Nehushta paused as she reached the door, and listened. Very faintly
through the thick walls she could hear the sound of the evening chant.
The priests were all within with Zoroaster, unconscious of their danger
and of all that was going on in the palace, singing the hymns of the
sacrifice before the sacred fire,--chanting, as it were, a dirge for
themselves. Nehushta tried the door. The great bronze gates were locked
together, and though she pushed, with her whole strength, they would not
move a hair's breadth.

"Press the nail nearest the middle," said a small voice behind her.
Nehushta started and looked round. It was the little Syrian slave, who
had followed her out of the palace, and stood watching her in the dark.
Nehushta put her hand upon the round head of the nail and pressed, as
the slave told her to do. The door opened, turning slowly and
noiselessly upon its hinges. Both women entered; the Syrian girl looked
cautiously back and pushed the heavy bronze back to its place. The
Egyptian artisan who had made the lock, had told one of the queen's
women whom he loved the secret by which it was opened, and the Syrian
had heard it repeated and remembered it.

Once inside, Nehushta ran quickly through the corridor between the walls
and rushing into the inner temple, found herself behind the screen and
in a moment more she stood before all the priests and before Zoroaster
himself. But even as she entered, the Syrian slave, who had lingered to
close the gates, heard the rushing of many feet outside, and the yelling
of hoarse voices, mixed with the clang of arms.

Solemnly the chant rose around the sacred fire that seemed to burn by
unearthly means upon the black stone altar. Zoroaster stood before it,
his hands lifted in prayer, and his waxen face and snow-white beard
illuminated by the dazzling effulgence.

The seventy priests, in even rank, stood around the walls, their hands
raised in like manner as their chief priest's; their voices going up in
a rich chorus, strong and tuneful, in the grand plain-chant. But
Nehushta broke upon their melody, with a sudden cry, as she rushed
before them.

"Zoroaster--fly--there is yet time. The enemy are come in
thousands--they are in the palace. There is barely time!" As she cried
to him and to them all, she rushed forward and laid one hand upon his
shoulder.

But the high priest turned calmly upon her, his face unmoved, although
all the priests ceased their chanting and gathered about their chief in
sudden fear. As their voices ceased, a low roar was heard from without,
as though the ocean were beating at the gates.

Zoroaster gently took Nehushta's hand from his shoulder.

"Go thou, and save thyself," he said kindly. "I will not go. If it be
the will of the All-Wise that I perish, I will perish before this altar.
Go thou quickly, and save thyself while there is yet time."

But Nehushta took his hand in hers, that trembled with the great
emotion, and gazed into his calm eyes as he spoke--her look was very
loving and very sad.

"Knowest thou not, Zoroaster, that I would rather die with thee than
live with any other? I swear to thee, by the God of my fathers, I will
not leave thee." Her soft voice trembled--for she was uttering her own
sentence of death.

"There is no more time!" cried the voice of the little Syrian maid, as
she came running into the temple. "There is no more time! Ye are all
dead men! Behold, they are breaking down the doors!"

As she spoke, the noise of some heavy mass striking against the bronze
gates echoed like thunder through the temple, and at each blow a chorus
of hideous yells rose, wild and long-drawn-out, as though the fiends of
hell were screaming in joy over the souls of the lost.

The priests drew together, trembling with fear, brave and devoted though
they were. Some of them would have run towards the door, but the Syrian
maid stood before them.

"Ye are dead men and there is no salvation--ye must die like men," said
the little maid, quietly. "Let me go to my mistress." And she pushed
through the crowd of white-robed men, who surged together in their
sudden fear, like a white-crested wave heaved up from the deep by a
fierce wind.

Nehushta still held Zoroaster's hand and stared wildly upon the helpless
priests. Her one thought was to save the man she loved, but she saw well
enough that it was too late. Nevertheless she appealed to the priests.

"Can none of you save him?" she cried.

Foremost in the little crowd was a stern, dark man--the same who had
been the high priest before Zoroaster came, the same who had first
hurled defiance at the intruder, and then had given him his whole
allegiance. He spoke out loudly:

"We will save him and thee if we are able," he cried in brave enthusiasm
for his chief. "We will take you between us and open the doors, and it
may be that we can fight our way out--though we are all slain, he may be
saved." He would have laid hold on Zoroaster, and there was not one of
the priests who would not have laid down his life in the gallant
attempt. But Zoroaster gently put him back.

"Ye cannot save me, for my hour is come," he said, and a radiance of
unearthly glory stole upon his features, so that he seemed transfigured
and changed before them all. "The foe are as a thousand men against one.
Here we must die like men, and like priests of the Lord before His
altar."

The thundering at the doors continued to echo through the whole temple,
almost drowning every other sound as it came; and the yells of the
infuriated besiegers rose louder and louder between.

Zoroaster's voice rang out clear and strong and the band of priests
gathered more and more closely about him. Nehushta still held his hand
tightly between her own, and, pale as death, she looked up to him as he
spoke. The little Syrian girl stood, beside her mistress, very quite and
grave.

"Hear me, ye priests of the Lord," said Zoroaster. "We are doomed men
and must surely die, though we know not by whose hand we perish. Now,
therefore, I beseech you to think not of this death which we must suffer
in our mortal bodies, but to open your eyes to the things which are not
mortal and which perish not eternally. For man is but a frail and
changing creature as regards his mortality, seeing that his life is not
longer than the lives of other created things, and he is delicate and
sickly and exposed to manifold dangers from his birth. But the soul of
man dieth not, neither is there any taint of death in it, but it liveth
for ever and is made glorious above the stars. For the stars, also,
shall have an end, and the earth--even as our bodies must end here this
night; but our soul shall see the glory of God, the All-Wise, and shall
live."

"The sun riseth and the earth is made glad, and it is day; and again he
setteth and it is night, and the whole earth is sorrowful. But though
our sun is gone down and we shall see him rise no more, yet shall we see
a sun which setteth not for ever, and of whose gladness there is no end.
The morning cometh, after which there shall be no evening. The Lord
Ahura Mazda, who made all things, made also these our bodies, and put us
in them to live and move and have being for a space on earth. And now he
demands them again; for he gave them and they are his. Let us give them
readily as a sacrifice, for he who knoweth all things, knoweth also why
it is meet that we should die. And he who hath created all things which
we see and which perish quickly, hath created also the things which we
have not seen, but shall see hereafter;--and the time is at hand when
our eyes shall be opened to the world which endureth, though they be
closed in death upon the things which perish. Raise then a hymn of
thanks with me to the All-Wise God, who is pleased to take us from time
into eternity, from darkness into light, from change to immortality,
from death by death to life undying."

  _"Praise we the All-Wise God, who hath made and
       created the years and the ages;
    Praise him who in the heavens hath sown and hath
       scattered the seed of the stars;
    Praise him who moves between the three ages that are,
       and that have been, and shall be;
    Praise him who rides on death, in whose hand are
       all power and honour and glory;
    Praise him who made what seemeth, the image of
       living, the shadow of life;
    Praise him who made what is, and hath made it
       eternal for ever and ever,
    Who made the days and nights, and created the darkness
       to follow the light,
    Who made the day of life, that should rise up and
       lighten the shadow of death."_

Zoroaster raised one hand to heaven as he chanted the hymn, and all the
priests sang with him in calm and holy melody, as though death were not
even then with them. But Nehushta still held his other hand fast, and
her own were icy cold.

With a crash, as though the elements of the earth were dissolving into
primeval confusion, the great bronze doors gave way, and fell clanging
in--and the yells of the besiegers came to the ears of the priests, as
though the cover had been taken from the caldron of hell, suffering the
din of the damned and their devils to burst forth in demoniac discord.

In an instant the temple was filled with a swarm of hideous men, whose
eyes were red with the lust of blood and their hands with slaughter.
Their crooked swords gleamed aloft as they pressed forward in the rush,
and their yells rent the very roof.

They had hoped for treasure,--they saw but a handful of white-robed
unarmed men, standing around one taller than the rest; and in the
throng they saw two women. Their rage knew no bounds, and their screams
rose more piercing than ever, as they surrounded the doomed band, and
overwhelmed them, and dyed their misshapen blades in the crimson blood
that flowed so red and strong over the fair white vestures.

The priests struggled like brave men to the last. They grasped their
hideous foes by arm and limb and neck, and tossed some of them back upon
their fellows; fighting desperately with their bare hands against the
armed murderers. But the foe were a hundred to one, and the priests fell
in heaps upon each other while the blood flowed out between the feet of
the wild, surging throng, who yelled and slew, and yelled again, as each
priest tottered back and fell, with the death-wound in his breast.

At last, one tall wretch, with bloodied eyes and distorted features,
leaped across a heap of slain and laid hold of Nehushta by the hair with
his reeking hand, and strove to drag her out. But Zoroaster's thin arms
went round her like lightning and clasped her to his breast. Then the
little Syrian maid raised her Indian knife, with both hands, high above
her head, and smote the villain with all her might beneath the fifth
rib, that he died in the very act; but ere he had fallen, a sharp blade
fell swiftly, like a crooked flash of light, and severed the small hands
at the wrist; and the brave, true-hearted little maid fell shrieking to
the floor. One shriek--and that was all; for the same sword smote her
again as she lay, and so she died.

But Nehushta's head fell forward on the high priest's breast, and her
arms clasped him wildly as his clasped her.

"Oh, Zoroaster, my beloved, my beloved! Say not any more that I am
unfaithful, for I have been faithful even unto death, and I shall be
with you beyond the stars for ever!"

He pressed her closer still, and in that awful moment, his white face
blazed with the radiant light of the new life that comes by death alone.

"Beyond the stars and for ever!" he cried. "In the light of the glory of
God most high!"

The keen sword flashed out once more and severed Nehushta's neck, and
found its sheath in her lover's heart; and they fell down dead together,
and the slaughter was done.

But on the third day, Darius the king returned; for a messenger met him,
bringing news that his soldiers had slain the rebels in Echatana, though
they were ten to one. And when he saw what things had been done in
Stakhar, and looked upon the body of the wife he had loved, lying
clasped in the arms of his most faithful and beloved servant, he wept
most bitterly. And he rode forth and destroyed utterly the wild riders
of the eastern hills, and left not one child to weep for its father that
was dead. But two thousand of them he brought to Stakhar, and crucified
them all upon the roadside, that their blood might avenge the blood of
those he had loved so well.

And he took the bodies of Zoroaster the high priest, and of Nehushta the
queen, and of the little Syrian maid, and he buried them with spices
and fine linen, and in plates of pure gold, together in a tomb over
against the palace, hewn in the rock of the mountain.





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