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Title: A Thorny Path — Volume 07
Author: Ebers, Georg
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Thorny Path — Volume 07" ***


By Georg Ebers

Volume 7.


The high-priest of Serapis presided over the sacrifices to be offered
this morning.  Caesar had given beasts in abundance to do honor to the
god; still, the priest had gone but ill-disposed to fulfill his part; for
the imperial command that the citizens' houses should be filled with the
troops, who were also authorized to make unheard-of demands on their
hosts, had roused his ire against the tyrant, who, in the morning, after
his bath, had appeared to him unhappy indeed, but at the same time a
gifted and conscientious ruler, capable of the highest and grandest

Melissa, in obedience to the lady Euryale, had taken an hour's rest, and
then refreshed herself by bathing.  She now was breakfasting with her
venerated friend, and Philostratus had joined them.  He was able to tell
them that a swift State galley was already on its way to overtake and
release her father and brother; and when he saw how glad she was to hear
it, how beautiful, fresh, and pure she was, he thought to himself with
anxiety that it would be a wonder if the imperial slave to his own
passions should not desire to possess this lovely creature.

Euryale also feared this, and Melissa realized what filled them with
anxiety; yet she by no means shared the feeling, and the happy confidence
with which she tried to comfort her old friends, at the same time
pacified and alarmed them.  It seemed to her quite foolish and vain to
suppose that the emperor, the mighty ruler of the world, should fall in
love with her, the humble, obscure gem-cutter's child, who aspired to one
suitor alone.  It was merely as a patient wishes for the physician, she
assured herself, that the emperor wished for her presence--Philostratus
had understood that.  During the night she had certainly been seized with
great fears, but, as she now thought, without any cause.  What she really
had to dread was that she might be falsely judged by his followers;
still, she cared nothing about all these Romans.  However, she would beg
Euryale to see Diodoros, and to tell him what forced her to obey the
emperor's summons, if he should send for her.  It was highly probable
that the sick man had been informed of her interview with Caracalla, and,
as her betrothed, he must be told how she felt toward Caesar; for this
was his right, and jealous agitation might injure him.

Her face so expressed the hope and confidence of a pure heart that when,
after a little time, she withdrew, Euryale said to the philosopher:

"We must not alarm her more!  Her trustful innocence perhaps may protect
her better than anxious precautions."

And Philostratus agreed, and assured her that in any case he expected
good results for Melissa, for she was one of those who were the elect of
the gods and whom they chose to be their instruments.  And then he
related what wonderful influence she had over Caesar's sufferings, and
praised her with his usual enthusiastic warmth.

When Melissa returned, Philostratus had left the matron.  She was again
alone with Euryale, who reminded her of the lesson conveyed in the
Christian words that she had explained to her yesterday.  Every deed,
every thought, had some influence on the way in which the fulfillment of
time would come for each one; and when the hour of death was over, no
regrets, repentance, or efforts could then alter the past.  A single
moment, as her own young experience had taught her, was often sufficient
to brand the name of an estimable man.  Till now, her way through life
had led along level paths, through meadows and gardens, and others had
kept their eyes open for her; now she was drawing near to the edge of a
precipice, and at every turning, even at the smallest step, she must
never forget the threatening danger.  The best will and the greatest
prudence could not save her if she did not trust to a higher guidance;
and then she asked the girl to whom she raised her heart when she prayed;
and Melissa named Isis and other gods, and lastly the manes of her dead

During this confession, old Adventus appeared, to summon the girl to his
sovereign.  Melissa promised to follow him immediately; and, when the old
man had gone, the matron said:

"Few here pray to the same gods, and he whose worship my husband leads is
not mine.  I, with several others, know that there is a Father in heaven
who loves us men, his creatures, and guards us as his children.  You do
not yet know him, and therefore you can not hope for anything from him;
but if you will follow the advice of a friend, who was also once young,
think in the future that your right hand is held firmly by the invisible,
beloved hand of your mother.  Persuade yourself that she is by you, and
take care that every word, yes, every glance, meets with her approval.
Then she will be there, and will protect you whenever you require her

Melissa sank on the breast of her kind friend, embracing her as closely
and kissing her as sincerely as if she had been the beloved mother to
whose care Euryale had commended her,

The counsels of this true friend agreed with those of her own heart, and
so they must be right.  When at last they had to part, Euryale wished to
send for one of the gentlemen of the court, whom she knew, that he might
escort her through the troops of Caesar's attendants and friends who were
waiting, and of the visitors and petitioners; but Melissa felt so happy
and so well protected by Adventus, that she followed him without further
delay.  In fact, the old man had a friendly feeling for her, since she
had covered his feet so carefully the day before; she knew it by the tone
of his voice and by the troubled look in his dim eyes.

Even now she did not believe in the dangers at which her friends trembled
for her, and she walked calmly across the lofty marble halls, the
anteroom, and the other vast rooms of the imperial dwelling.  The
attendants accompanied her respectfully from door to door, in obedience
to the emperor's commands, and she went on with a firm step, looking
straight in front of her, without noticing the inquisitive, approving,
or scornful glances which were aimed at her.

In the first rooms she needed an escort, for they were crowded with
Romans and Alexandrians who were waiting for a sign from Caesar to appeal
for his pardon or his verdict, or perhaps only wishing to see his
countenance.  The emperor's "friends" sat at breakfast, of which
Caracalla did not partake.  The generals, and the members of his court
not immediately attached to his person, stood together in the various
rooms, while the principal people of Alexandria--several senators and
rich and important citizens of the town--as well as the envoys of the
Egyptian provinces, in magnificent garments and rich gold ornaments, held
aloof from the Romans, and waited in groups for the call of the usher.

Melissa saw no one, nor did she observe the costly woven hangings on the
walls, the friezes decorated with rare works of art and high reliefs, nor
the mosaic floors over which she passed.  She did not notice the hum and
murmur of the numerous voices which surrounded her; nor could she indeed
have understood a single coherent sentence; for, excepting the ushers and
the emperor's immediate attendants, at the reception-hour no one was
allowed to raise his voice.  Expectancy and servility seemed here to
stifle every lively impulse; and when, now and then, the loud call of
one of the ushers rang above the murmur, one of those who were waiting
spontaneously bowed low, or another started up, as if ready to obey any
command.  The sensation, shared by many, of waiting in the vicinity of a
high, almost godlike power, in whose hands lay their well-being or
misery, gave rise to a sense of solemnity.  Every movement was subdued;
anxious, nay, fearful expectation was written on many faces, and on
others impatience and disappointment.  After a little while it was
whispered from ear to ear that the emperor would only grant a few more
audiences; and how many had already waited in vain yesterday, for hours,
in the same place!

Without delay Melissa went on till she had reached the heavy curtain
which, as she already knew, shut off Caesar's inner apartments.

The usher obligingly drew it back, even before she had mentioned her
name, and while a deputation of the town senators, who had been received
by Caracalla, passed out, she was followed by Alexandrian citizens, the
chiefs of great merchant-houses, whose request for an audience he had
sanctioned.  They were for the most part elderly men, and Melissa
recognized among them Seleukus, Berenike's husband.

Melissa bowed to him, but he did not notice her, and passed by without a
word.  Perhaps he was considering the enormous sum to be expended on the
show at night which he, with a few friends, intended to arrange at the
circus in Caesar's honor.

All was quite still in the large hall which separated the emperor's
reception-room from the anteroom.  Melissa observed only two soldiers,
who were looking out of window, and whose bodies were shaking as though
they were convulsed with profound merriment.

It happened that she had to wait here some time; for the usher begged her
to have patience until the merchants' audience was over.  They were the
last who would be received that day.  He invited her to rest on the couch
on which was spread a bright giraffe's skin, but she preferred to walk up
and down, for her heart was beating violently.  And while the usher
vanished from the room, one of the warriors turned his head to look about
him, and directly he caught sight of Melissa he gave his comrade a push,
and said to him, loud enough for Melissa to hear:

"A wonder!  Apollonaris, by Eros and all the Erotes, a precious wonder!"

The next moment they both stepped back from the window and stared at the
girl, who stood blushing and embarrassed, and gazed at the floor when she
found with whom she had been left alone.

They were two tribunes of the praetorians, but, notwithstanding their
high grade, they were only young men of about twenty.  Twin brothers of
the honorable house of the Aurelia, they had entered the army as
centurions, but had soon been placed at the head of a thousand men, and
appointed tribunes in Caesar's body-guard.  They resembled one another
exactly; and this likeness, which procured them much amusement, they
greatly enhanced by arranging their coal-black beards and hair in exactly
the same way, and by dressing alike down to the rings on their fingers.
One was called Apollonaris, the other Nemesianus Aurelius.  They were of
the same height, and equally well grown, and no one could say which had
the finest black eyes, which mouth the haughtiest smile, or to which of
them the thick short beard and the artistically shaved spot between the
under lip and chin was most becoming.  The beautifully embossed ornaments
on their breast-plates and shirts of mail, and on the belt of the short
sword, showed that they grudged no expense; in fact, they thought only of
enjoyment, and it was merely for the honor of it that they were serving
for a few years in the imperial guard.  By and by they would rest, after
all the hardships of the campaign, in their palace at Rome, or in the
villas on the various estates that they had inherited from their father
and mother, and then, for a change, hold honorary positions in the public
service.  Their friends knew that they also contemplated being married on
the same day, when the game of war should be a thing of the past.

In the mean time they desired nothing in the world but honor and
pleasure; and such pleasure as well-bred, healthy, and genial youths,
with amiability, strength, and money to spend, can always command, they
enjoyed to the full, without carrying it to reckless extravagance.  Two
merrier, happier, more popular comrades probably did not exist in the
whole army.  They did their duty in the field bravely; during peace, and
in a town like Alexandria, they appeared, on the contrary, like mere
effeminate men of fashion.  At least, they spent a large part of their
time in having their black hair crimped; they gave ridiculous sums to
have it anointed with the most delicate perfumes; and it was difficult to
imagine how effectively their carefully kept hands could draw a sword,
and, if necessary, handle the hatchet or spade.

To-day Nemesianus was in the emperor's anteroom by command, and
Apollonaris, of his own freewill, had taken the place of another tribune,
that he might bear his brother company.  They had caroused through half
the night, and had begun the new day by a visit to the flower market,
for love of the pretty saleswomen.  Each had a half-opened rose stuck in
between his cuirass and shirt of mail on the left breast, plucked, as the
charming Daphnion had assured them, from a bush which had been introduced
from Persia only the year before.  The brothers, at any rate, had never
seen any like them.

While they were looking out of the window they had passed the time by
examining every girl or woman who went by, intending to fling one rose at
the first whose perfect beauty should claim it, and the other flower at
the second; but during the half-hour none had appeared who was worthy of
such a gift.  All the beauties in Alexandria were walking in the streets
in the cool hour before sunset, and really there was no lack of handsome
girls.  The brothers had even heard that Caesar, who seemed to have
renounced the pleasures of love, had yielded to the charms of a lovely

Directly they saw Melissa they were convinced that they had met the
beautiful plaything of the imperial fancy, and each with the same action
offered her his rose, as if moved by the same invisible power.

Apollonaris, who had come into the world a little sooner than his
brother, and who, by right of birth, had therefore a more audacious
manner, stepped boldly up to Melissa and presented his, while Nemesianus
at the same instant bowed to her, and begged her to give his the

Though their speeches were flattering and well-worded, Melissa repulsed
them by remarking sharply that she did not want their flowers.

"We can easily believe that," answered Apollonaris, "for are you not
yourself a lovely, blooming rose?"

"Vain flattery," replied Melissa; "and I certainly do not bloom for you."

"That is both cruel and unjust," sighed Nemesianus, "for that which you
refuse to us poor fellows you grant to another, who can obtain everything
that other mortals yearn for."

"But we," interrupted his brother, "are modest, nay, and pious warriors.
We had intended offering up these roses to Aphrodite, but lo! the goddess
has met us in person."

"Her image at any rate," added the other.

"And you should thank the foam-born goddess," continued Apollonaris; "for
she has lent you, in spite of the danger of seeing herself eclipsed, her
own divine charms.  Do you think she will be displeased if we withdraw
the flowers and offer them to you?"

"I think nothing," answered Melissa, "excepting that your honeyed
remarks annoy me.  Do what you like with your roses, I will not accept

"How dare you," asked Apollonaris, approaching her--"you, to whom the
mother of love has given such wonderfully fresh lips--misuse them by
refusing so sternly the humble petition of her faithful worshipers?  If
you would not have Aphrodite enraged with you, hasten to atone for this
transgression.  One kiss, my beauty, for her votary, and she will forgive

Here Apollonaris stretched out his hand toward the girl to draw her to
him, but she motioned him back indignantly, declaring that it would be
reprehensible and cowardly in a soldier to use violence toward a modest

At this the two brothers laughed heartily, and Nemesianus exclaimed, "You
do not belong to the Temple of Vesta, most lovely of roses, and yet you
are well protected by such sharp thorns that it requires a great deal of
courage to venture to attack you."

"More," added Apollonaris, "than to storm a fortress.  But what camp or
stronghold contains booty so well worth capturing?"

Thereupon he threw his arm round Melissa and drew her to him.

Neither he nor his brother had ever conducted themselves badly towards an
honorable woman; and if Melissa had been but the daughter of a simple
craftsman, her reproachful remarks would have sufficed to keep them at a
distance.  But such immunity was not to be granted to the emperor's
sweetheart, who could so audaciously reject two brothers accustomed to
easy conquests; her demure severity could hardly be meant seriously.
Apollonaris therefore took no notice of her violent resistance, but held
her hands forcibly, and, though he could not succeed in kissing her for
her struggling, he pressed his lips to her cheek, while she endeavored to
free herself and pushed him off, breathless with real indignation.

'Till now, the brothers had taken the matter as a joke; but when
Apollonaris seized the girl again, and she, beside herself with fear,
cried for help, he at once set her free.

It was too late; for the curtains of the audience-room were already
withdrawn, and Caracalla approached.  His countenance was red and
distorted; he trembled with rage, and his angry glance fell like a flash
of lightning on the luckless brothers.  Close by his side was the prefect
Macrinus, who feared lest he should be attacked by a fresh fit; and
Melissa shared his fears, as Caracalla cried to Apollonaris in an angry
voice, "Scoundrel that you are, you shall repent of this!"

Still, Aurelius had, by various wanton jokes, incurred the emperor's
wrath before now, and he was accustomed to disarm it by some insinuating
confession, so he answered him with a roguish smile, while raising his
eyes to him humbly:

"Forgive me, great Caesar!  Our poor strength, as you well know, is
easily defeated in conflicts against overpowering beauty.  Dainties are
sweet, not only for children.  Long ago Mars was drawn to Venus; and if

He had spoken these words in Latin, which Melissa did not understand;
but the color left the emperor's face, and, pale with excitement, he
stammered out laboriously:

"You have--you have dared--"

"For  this  rose," began  the youth again,  "I begged a hasty kiss from
the beauty, which certainly blooms for all, and she--"  He raised his
hands and eyes imploringly to the despot; but Caracalla had already
snatched Macrinus's sword from its sheath, and before Aurelius could
defend himself he was struck first on the head with the flat of the
blade, and then received a series of sharp cuts on his brow and face.

Streaming with blood from the gaping wounds which the victim, trembling
with fear and rage, covered with his hands, he surrendered himself to the
care of his startled brother, while Caesar overwhelmed them both with a
flood of furious reproaches.

When Nemesianus began to bind up his wounded brother's head with a
handkerchief handed to him by Melissa, and Caracalla saw the gaping
wounds he had inflicted, he became quieter, and said:

"I think those lips will not try to steal kisses again for some time from
honorable maidens.  You and Nemesianus have forfeited your lives; how
ever, the beseeching look of those all-powerful eves has saved you--you
are spared.  Take your brother away, Nemesianus.  You are not to leave
your quarters until further orders."

With this he turned his back on the twins, but on the threshold he again
addressed them and said:

"You were mistaken about this maiden.  She is not less pure and noble
than your own sister."

The merchants were dismissed from the tablinum more hastily than was due
to the importance of their business, in which, until this interruption,
the sovereign had shown a sympathetic interest and intelligence which
surprised them; and they left Caesar's presence disappointed, but with
the promise that they should be received again in the evening.

As soon as they had retired, Caracalla threw himself again on the couch.

The bath had done him good.  Still somewhat exhausted, though his head
was clear, he would not be hindered from receiving the deputation for
which he had important matters to decide; but this fresh attack of rage
revenged itself by a painful headache.  Pale, and with slightly quivering
limbs, he dismissed the prefect and his other friends, and desired
Epagathos to call Melissa.

He needed rest, and again the girl's little hand, which had yesterday
done him good, proved its healing power.  The throbbing in his head
yielded to her gentle touch, and by degrees exhaustion gave way to the
comfortable languor of convalesence.

To-day, as yesterday, he expressed his thanks to Melissa, but he found
her changed.  She looked timidly and anxiously down into her lap
excepting when she replied to a direct question; and yet he had done
everything to please her.  Her relations would soon be free and in
Alexandria once more, and Zminis was in prison, chained hand and foot.
This he told her; and, though she was glad, it was not enough to restore
the calm cheerfulness he had loved to see in her.

He urged her, with warm insistence, to tell him what it was that weighed
on her, and at last, with eyes full of tears, she forced herself to say:

"You yourself have seen what they take me for."

"And you have seen," he quickly replied, "how I punish those who forget
the respect they owe to you."

"But you are so dreadful in your wrath!"  The words broke from her lips.
"Where others blame, you can destroy; and you do it, too, when passion
carries you away.  I am bound to obey your call, and here I am.  But I
fancy myself like the little dog--you may see him any day--which in the
beast-garden of the Panaeum, shares a cage with a royal tiger.  The huge
brute puts up with a great deal from his small companion, but woe betide
the dog if the tiger once pats him with his heavy, murderous paw--and he
might, out of sheer forgetfulness!"

"But this hand," Caesar broke in, raising his delicate hand covered with
rings, "will never forget, any more than my heart, how much it owes to

"Until I, in some unforeseen way--perhaps quite unconsciously--excite
your anger," sighed Melissa.  "Then you will be carried away by passion,
and I shall share the common fate."

Caracalla was about to reply indignantly, but just then Adventus entered
the room, announcing the chief astrologer of the Temple of Serapis.
Caracalla refused to receive him just then, but he anxiously asked
whether he had any signs to report.  The reply was in the affirmative,
and in a few minutes Caesar had in his hand a wax tablet covered with
words and figures.  He studied it eagerly, and his countenance cleared;
still holding the tablets, he exclaimed to Melissa:

"You, daughter of Heron, have nothing to fear from me, you of all the
world!  In some quiet hour I will explain to you how my planet yearns to
yours, and yours--that is, yourself--to mine.  The gods have created us
for each other, child; I am already under your influence, but your heart
still hesitates, and I know why; it is because you distrust me."

Melissa raised her large eyes to his face in astonishment, and he went
on, pensively:

"The past must stand; it is like a scar which no water will wash out.
What have you not heard of my past?  What did they feel, in their self-
conscious virtue, when they talked of my crimes?  Did it ever occur to
any one, I wonder, that with the purple I assumed the sword, to protect
my empire and throne?  And when  I have used the blade, how eagerly have
fingers pointed at me, how gladly slanderous tongues have wagged!  Who
has ever thought of asking what compulsion led me to shed blood, or how
much it cost me to do it?  You, fair child--and the stars confirm it--you
were sent by fate to share the burden that oppresses me, and to you I
will ease my heart, to you I will confide all, unasked, because my heart
prompts me to do so.  But first you must tell me with what tales they
taught you to hate the man to whom, as you yourself confessed, you
nevertheless felt drawn."

At this Melissa raised her hands in entreaty and remonstrance, and Caesar
went on:

"I will spare you the pains.  They say that I am ever athirst for fresh
bloodshed if only some one is rash enough to suggest it to me.  You were
told that Caesar murdered his brother Geta, with many more who did but
speak his victim's name.  My father-in-law, and his daughter Plautilla,
my wife, were, it is said, the victims of my fury.  I killed Papinian,
the lawyer and prefect, and Cilo--whom you saw yesterday--nearly shared
the same fate.  What did they conceal?  Nothing.  Your nod confesses it--
well, and why should they, since speaking ill of others is their greatest
delight?  It is all true, and I should never think of denying it.  But
did it ever occur to you, or did any one ever suggest to you, to inquire
how it came to pass that I perpetrated such horrors; I--who was brought
up in the fear of the gods and the law, like you and other people?"

"No, my lord, never," replied Melissa, in distress.  "But I beg you, I
beseech you, say no more about such dreadful things.  I know full well
that you are not wicked; that you are much better than people think."

"And for that very reason," cried Caesar, whose cheeks were flushed with
pleasure in the hard task he had set himself, "you must hear me.  I am
Caesar.  There is no judge over me; I need give account to none for my
actions.  Nor do I.  Who, besides yourself, is more to me than the flies
on that cup?"

"And your conscience?" she timidly put in.

"It raises hideous questions from time to time," he replied, gloomily.
"It can be obtrusive, but we can teach ourselves not to answer--besides,
what you call conscience knows the motives for every action, and,
remembering them, judges leniently.  You, child, should do the same; for

"O my lord, what can my poor judgment matter?"  Melissa panted out; but
Caracalla exclaimed, as if the question pained him:

"Must I explain all that?  The stars, as you know, proclaim to you, as to
me, that a higher power has joined us as light and warmth are joined.
Have you forgotten how we both felt only yesterday?  Or am I mistaken?
Has not Roxana's soul entered into that divinely lovely form because it
longed for its lost companion spirit?"

He spoke vehemently, with a quivering of his eyelids; but feeling her
hand tremble in his own, he collected himself, and went on in a lower
tone, but with urgent emphasis:

"I will let you glance into this bosom, closed to every other eye; for
my desolate heart is inspired by you to fresh energy and life; I am as
grateful to you as a drowning man to his deliverer.  I shall suffocate
and die if I repress the impulse to open my heart to you!"

What change was this that had come over this mysterious being?  Melissa
felt as though she was gazing on the face of a stranger, for, though his
eyelids still quivered, his eyes were bright with ecstatic fire and his
features looked more youthful.  On that noble brow the laurel wreath he
wore looked well.  Also, as she now observed, he was magnificently
attired; he wore a close-fitting tunic, or breast-plate made of thick
woolen stuff, and over it a purple mantle, while from his bare throat
hung a precious medallion, shield-shaped, and set in gold and gems, the
center formed by a large head of Medusa, with beautiful though terrible
features.  The lion-heads of gold attached to each corner of the short
cloak he wore over the sham coat of mail, were exquisite works of art,
and sandals embroidered with gold and gems covered his feet and ankles.
He was dressed to-day like the heir of a lordly house, anxious to charm;
nay, indeed, like an emperor, as he was; and with what care had his body-
slave arranged his thin curls!

He passed his hand over his brow and cast a glance at a silver mirror on
the low table at the head of his couch.  When he turned to her again his
amorous eyes met Melissa's.

She looked down in startled alarm.  Was it for her sake that Caesar had
thus decked himself and looked in the mirror?  It seemed scarcely
possible, and yet it flattered and pleased her.  But in the next instant
she longed more fervently than she ever had before for a magic charm
by which she might vanish and be borne far, far away from this
dreadful man.  In fancy she saw the vessel which the lady Berenike had in
readiness.  She would, she must fly hence, even if it should part her for
a time from Diodoros.

Did Caracalla read her thought?  Nay, he could not see through her; so
she endured his gaze, tempting him to speak; and his heart beat high with
hope as he fancied he saw that she was beginning to be affected by his
intense agitation.  At this moment he felt convinced, as he often had
been, that the most atrocious of his crimes had been necessary and
inevitable.  There was something grand and vast in his deeds of blood,
and that--for he flattered himself he knew the female heart--must win
her admiration, besides the awe and love she already felt.

During the night, at his waking, and in his bath, he had felt that she
was as necessary to him as the breath of life and hope.  What he
experienced was love as the poets had sung it.  How often had he laughed
it to scorn, and boasted that he was armed against the arrows of Eros!
Now, for the first time, he was aware of the anxious rapture, the ardent
longing of which he had read in so many songs.  There stood the object of
his passion.  She must hear him, must be his--not by compulsion, not by
imperial command, but of the free impulse of her heart.

His confession would help to this end.

With a swift gesture, as if to throw off the last trace of fatigue,
he sat up and began in a firm voice, with a light in his eyes:

"Yes, I killed my brother Geta.  You shudder.  And yet, if at this day,
when I know all the results of the deed, the state of affairs were the
same as then, I would do it again!  That shocks you.  But only listen,
and then you will say with me that it was Fate which compelled me to act
so, and not otherwise."

He paused, and then mistaking the anxiety which was visible in Melissa's
face for sympathetic attention, he began his story, confident of her

"When I was born, my father had not yet assumed the purple, but he
already aimed at the sovereignty.  Augury had promised it to him; my
mother knew this, and shared his ambition.  While I was still at my
nurse's breast he was made consul; four years later he seized the throne.
Pertinax was killed, the wretched Didius Julianus bought the empire, and
this brought my father to Rome from Pannonia.  Meanwhile he had sent us
children, my brother Geta and me, away from the city; nor was it till he
had quelled the last resistance on the Tiber that he recalled us.

"I was then but a child of five, and yet one day of that time I remember
vividly.  My father was going through Rome in solemn procession.  His
first object was to do due honor to the corpse of Pertinax.  Rich
hangings floated from every window and balcony in the city.  Garlands of
flowers and laurel wreaths adorned the houses, and pleasant odors were
wafted to us as we went.  The jubilation of the people was mixed with the
trumpet-call of the soldiers; handkerchiefs were waved and acclamations
rang out.  This was in honor of my father, and of me also, the future
Caesar.  My little heart was almost bursting with pride; it seemed to me
that I had grown several heads taller, not only than other boys, but than
the people that surrounded me.

"When the funeral procession began, my mother wished me to go with her
into the arcade where seats had been placed for the ladies to view, but
I refused to follow her.  My father became angry.  But when he heard me
declare that I was a man and the future Emperor, that I would rather see
nothing than show myself to the people among the women, he smiled.  He
ordered Cilo, who was then the prefect of Rome, to lead me to the seats
of the past consuls and the old senators.  I was delighted at this; but
when he allowed my younger brother Geta to follow me, my pleasure was
entirely spoiled."

"And you were then five years old?"  asked Melissa, astonished.

"That surprises you!" smiled Caracalla.  "But I had already traveled
through half the empire, and had experienced more than other boys of
twice my age.  I was, at any rate, still child enough to forget
everything else in the brilliant spectacle that unfolded before my eyes.
I remember to this day the colored wax statue which represented Pertinax
so exactly that it might have been himself risen from the grave.  And the
procession!  It seemed to have no end; one new thing followed another.
All walked past in mourning robes, even the choir of singing boys and
men.  Cilo explained to me who had made the statues of the Romans who had
served their country, who the artists and scholars were, whose statues
and busts were carried by.  Then came bronze groups of the people of
every nation in the empire, in their costumes.  Cilo told me what they
were called, and where they lived; he then added that one day they would
all belong to me; that I must learn the art of fighting, in case they
resisted me, and should require suppressing.  Also, when they carried the
flags of the guilds past, when the horse and foot soldiers, the race-
horses from the circus and several other things came by, he continued to
explain them.  I only remember it now because it made me so happy.  The
old man spoke to me alone; he regarded me alone as the future sovereign.
He left Geta to eat the sweets which his aunts had given him, and when I
too wanted some my brother refused to let me have any.  Then Cilo stroked
my hair, and said: 'leave him his toys.  When you are a man you shall
have the whole Roman Empire for your own, and all the nations I told you
of.'  Geta meanwhile had thought better of it, and pushed some of the
sweetmeats toward me.  I would not have them, and, when he tried to make
me take them, I threw them into the road."

"And you remember all that?" said Melissa.

"More things than these are indelibly stamped on my mind from that day,"
said Caesar.  "I can see before me now the pile on which Pertinax was to
be burned.  It was splendidly decorated, and on the top stood the gilt
chariot in which he had loved to ride.  Before the consuls fired the logs
of Indian wood, my father led us to the image of Pertinax, that we might
kiss it.  He held me by the hand.  Wherever we went, the senate and
people hailed us with acclamations.  My mother carried Geta in her arms.
This delighted the populace.  They shouted for her and my brother as
enthusiastically as for us, and I recollect to this day how that went to
my heart.  He might have the sweets and welcome, but what the people had
to offer was due only to my father and me, not to my brother.  At that
moment I first fully understood that Severus was the present and I the
future Caesar.  Geta had only to obey, like every one else.

"After kissing the image, I stood, still holding my father's hand, to
watch the flames.  I can see them now, crackling and writhing as they
gained on the wood, licking it and fawning, as it were, till it caught
and sent up a rush of sparks and fire.  At last the whole pile was one
huge blaze.  Then, suddenly, out of the heart of the flames an eagle
rose.  The creature flapped its broad wings in the air, which was golden
with sunshine and quivering with heat, soaring above the smoke and fire,
this way and that.  But it soon took flight, away from the furnace
beneath.  I shouted with delight, and cried to my father: 'Look at the
bird!  Where is he flying?'  And he eagerly answered: 'Well done!
If you desire to preserve the power I have conquered for you always
undiminished, you must keep your eyes open.  Let no sign pass unnoticed,
no opportunity neglected.'

"He himself acted on this rule.  To him obstacles existed only to be
removed, and he taught me, too, to give myself neither peace nor rest,
and not to spare the life of a foe.--That festival secured my father the
suffrages of the Romans.  Meanwhile Pescennius Niger rose up in the East
with a large army and took the field against Severus.  But my father was
not the man to hesitate.  Within a few months of the obsequies of
Pertinax his opponent was a headless corpse.

"There was yet another obstacle to be removed.  You have heard of Clodius
Albinus.  My father had adopted him and raised him to share his throne.
But Severus could not divide the rule with any man.

"When I was nine years old I saw, after the battle of Lugdunum, the dead
face of Albinus's head; it was set up in front of the Curia on a lance.

"I now was the second personage in the empire, next to my father; the
first among the youth of the whole world, and the future emperor.  When
I was eleven the soldiers hailed me as Augustus; that was in the war
against the Parthians, before Ktesiphon.  But they did the same to Geta.
This was like wormwood in the sweet draught; and if then--But what can
a girl care about the state, and the fate of rulers and nations?"

"Yes, go on," said Melissa.  "I see already what you are coming to.  You
disliked the idea of sharing your power with another."

"Nay," cried Caracalla, vehemently, "I not only disliked it, it was
intolerable, impossible!  What I want you to see is that I did not grudge
my brother his share of my father's inheritance, like any petty trader.
The world--that is the point--the world itself was too small for two of
us.  It was not I, but Fate, which had doomed Geta to die.  I am certain
of this, and so must you be.  Yes, it was Fate.  Fate prompted the
child's little hand to attempt its brother's life.  And that was long
before my brain could form a thought or my baby-lips could stammer his
hated name."

"Then you tried to kill your brother even in infancy?" asked Melissa, and
her large eyes dilated with horror as she gazed at the terrible narrator.
But Caracalla went on, in an apologetic tone:

"I was then but two years old.  It was at Mediolanum, soon after Geta's
birth.  An egg was found in the court of the palace; a hen had laid it
close to a pillar.  It was of a purple hue-red all over like the imperial
mantle, and this indicated that the newly born infant was destined to
sovereignty.  Great was the rejoicing.  The purple marvel was shown even
to me who could but just walk.  I, like a naughty boy, flung it down; the
shell cracked, and the contents poured out on the pavement.  My mother
saw it, and her exclamation, 'Wicked child, you have murdered your
brother!' was often repeated to me in after-years.  It never struck me as
particularly motherly."

Here he paused, gazing meditatively into vacancy, and then asked the
girl, who had listened intently:

"Were you never haunted by a word so that you could not be rid of it?"

"Oh, yes," cried Melissa; "a striking rhythm in a song, or a line of

Caracalla nodded agreement, and went on more vehemently: "That is what I
experienced at the words, 'You have murdered your brother!'  I not only
heard them now and then with my inward ear, but incessantly, like the
dreary hum of the flies in my camp-tent, for hours at a time, by day and
by night.  No fanning could drive these away.  The diabolical voice
whispered loudest when Geta had done anything to vex me; or if things had
been given him which I did not wish him to have.  And how often that
happened!  For I--I was only Bassianus to my mother; but her youngest was
her dear little Geta.

"So the years passed.  We had, while still quite young, our own teams in
the circus.  One day, when we were driving for a wager-we were still
boys, and I was ahead of the other lads--the horses of my chariot shied
to one side.  I was thrown some distance on the course.  Geta saw this.
He turned his horses to the right where I lay.  He drove over his brother
as he would over straw and apple-parings in the dust; and his wheel broke
my thigh.  Who knows what else it crushed in me?  One thing is certain--
from that date the most painful of my sufferings originated.  And he, the
mean scoundrel, had done it intentionally.  He had sharp eyes.  He knew
how to guide his steeds.  He had never driven his wheel over a hazel-nut
in the sand of the arena against his will; and I was lying some distance
from the driving course."

Caesar's eyelids blinked spasmodically as he uttered this accusation, and
his very glance revealed the raging fire that was burning in his soul.
Melissa's sad cry of:

"What terrible suspicion!" he answered with a short, scornful laugh and
the furious assertion:

"Oh, there were friends enough who informed me what hope Geta had founded
on this act of treachery.  The disappointment made him irritable and
listless, when Galenus had succeeded in curing me so far that I was able
to throw away my Crutch; and my limp--at least so they tell me--is hardly

"Not at all, most certainly not at all," Melissa sympathetically assured
him.  He, however, went on:

"Yet what I endured meanwhile!--and while I passed so many long weeks of
pain and impatience on a couch, the words my mother had said about the
brother whom I murdered rang constantly in my ears as though a reciter
were engaged by day and night to reiterate them.

"But even this passed away.  With the pain, which had spoiled many good
hours for me, the quiet had brought me something more to the purpose-
thoughts and plans.  Yes, during those peaceful weeks the things my
father and tutor had taught me became clear and real for the first time.
I realized that I must become energetic if I meant ever to be a thorough
sovereign.  As soon as I could use my foot again I became an industrious
and docile pupil under Cilo.  From a child up to the time of this cruel
experience, my youthful heart had clung to my nurse.  She was a Christian
from my father's African home--I knew she loved me best on earth.  My
mother knew of no higher destiny than that of being the Domna,--[Domna,
lady or mistress, in corrupt Latin.  Hence her name of Julia Domna] the
lady of the soldiers, the mother of the camp, and the lady philosopher
among the sages.  What she gave me in the way of love was but copper
alms.  She threw golden solidi of love into Geta's lap in lavish
abundance.  And her sister and her nieces, who often lived with us,
treated me exactly as she did.  They were distantly civil, or they
shunned me; but my brother was their spoiled plaything.  I was as
incapable as Geta was master of the art of stealing hearts; but in my
childhood I needed none of them: for, if I wished for a kind word,
a sweet kiss, or the love of a woman, my nurse's arms were open to me.
Nor was she an ordinary woman.  As the widow of a tribune who had fallen
in my father's service, she had undertaken to attend on me.  She loved me
as no one else ever did.  She was also the only person whom I would
willingly obey.  I came into the world full of wild instincts, but she
knew how to tame them kindly.  My aversion to my brother was the one
thing she checked but feebly, for he was a thorn in her side too.  I
learned this when she, who was so gentle, explained to me, with asperity
in her tone, that there was but one God in heaven, and on earth but one
emperor, who should govern the world in his name.  She also imparted
these convictions to others, and this turned to her disadvantage.  My
mother parted us, and sent her back to her African home.  She died soon
after."  He was silent, and gazed pensively into vacancy; soon, however,
he collected his thoughts and said, lightly:

"Well, I became Cilo's diligent pupil."

"But," asked Melissa, "did you not say that at one time you attempted his

"I did so," replied Caracalla darkly;  "for a moment arrived when I
cursed his teaching, and yet it was certainly wise and well meant.  You
see, child, all of you who go through life humbly and without power are
trained to submit obediently to the will of Heaven.  Cilo taught me to
place my own power, and the greatness of the realm which it would be
incumbent on me to reign over, above everything, even above the gods.
It was impressed upon you and yours to hold the life of another sacred;
to us, our duty as the sovereign transcends this law.  Even the blood of
a brother must flow if it is for the good of the state intrusted to us.
My nurse had taught me that being good meant doing unto others as we
would be done by; Cilo cried to me: 'Strike down, that you may not be
struck down--away with mercy, if the welfare of the state is threatened!'
And how many hands are raised against Rome, the universal empire, which I
rule over!  It needs a strong hand to keep its antagonistic parts
together.  Otherwise it would fall apart like a bundle of arrows when the
string that bound them is broken.  And I, even as a boy, had sworn to my
father, by the Terminus stone in the Capitol, never to abandon a single
inch of his ground without fighting for it.  He, Severus, was the wisest
of the rulers.  Only the blind love for his second son, encouraged by the
women, caused him to forget his moderation and prudence.  My brother Geta
was to reign together with me over the empire, which ought to have been
mine alone as the first-born.  Every year festivals were kept, with
prayers and sacrifices, to the "love of the brothers."  You have perhaps
seen the coins, which show us hand in hand, and have on them the
inscription, 'Eternal union'!

"I in union--I hand in hand with the man I most hated under the sun!
It almost maddened me only to hear his voice.  I would have liked best
of all to spring at his throat when I saw him with his learned fellows
squandering their time.  Do you know what they did?  They invented the
names by which the voices of different animals were to be known.  Once I
snatched the pencil out of the hand of the freedman as he was writing the
sentences, 'The horse neighs, the pig grunts, the goat bleats, the cow
lows, the sheep baas.'  'He, himself,' I added, 'croaks like a hoarse

"That I should share the government with this miserable, faint-hearted,
poisonous nobody could never be,--this enemy, who, when I said 'Yes,'
cried 'No!'  Who frustrated all my measures,--it was impossible!  It
would have caused the destruction of the state, as certainly as it was
the unfairest and unwisest of the deeds of Severus, to place the younger
brother as co-regent with the first-born, the rightful heir to the
throne.  I, whom my father had taught to watch for signs, was reminded
every hour that this unbearable position must come to an end.

"After the death of Severus, we lived at first close to one another in
separate parts of the same palace like two lions in a cage across which a
partition has been erected, so that they may not reciprocally mangle each

"We used to meet at my mother's.

"That morning my mastiff had bitten Geta's wolfhound and killed him,
and they had found a black liver in the beast he had sent for sacrifice.
I had been informed of this.  Destiny was on my side.  This indolent
inactivity must be brought to a close.  I myself do not know how I felt
as I mounted the steps to my mother's rooms.  I only remember distinctly
that a demon cried continually in my ear, 'You have murdered your
brother!'  Then I suddenly found myself face to face with him.  It was
in the empress's reception-room.  And when I saw the hated flat-shaped
head so close to me, when his beardless mouth with its thick underlip
smiled at me so sweetly and at the same time so falsely, I felt as if I
again heard the cry with which he had cheered on his horse.  And I felt
 .  .  .  I even felt the pain-as if he broke my thigh again with his
wheel.  And at the same time a fiend whispered in my ear: 'Destroy him,
or he will kill you, and through him Rome will perish!'

"Then I seized my sword.  In his odious, peevish voice he said something
--I forget what nonsense--to me.  Then it appeared to me as if all the
sheep and goats over which he had squandered his time were bleating at
me.  The blood rushed to my head.  The room spun round me in a circle.
Black spots on a red ground danced before my eyes.

"And then--What flashed in my right hand was my own naked sword!  I
neither heard nor said anything further.  Nor had I planned, nor ever
thought of, what then occurred.  .  .  .  But suddenly I felt as if a
mountain of oppressive lead had fallen from my breast.  How easily I
could breathe again!  All that had just before turned round me in a mad,
whirling dance stood still.  The sun shone brightly in the large room; a
shaft of light, showing dancing dust, fell on Geta.  He sank on his knees
close to me, with my sword in his breast.  My mother made a fruitless
effort to shield him.  His blood trickled over her hand.  I can still see
every ring on those slender, white fingers.  I also remember distinctly
how, when I raised my sword against him, my mother rushed in between us
to protect her favorite.  The sharp blade, as she tried to seize it,
accidentally grazed her hand--I know not how--only the skin was slightly
cut.  Yet what a scream she gave over the wound which the son had given
his mother!  Julia Maesa, her daughter Mammara, and the other women,
rushed in.  How they exaggerated!  They made a river out of every drop of

"So the dreadful deed was done; and yet, had I let the wretch live, I
should have been a traitor to Rome, to myself, and to my father's life's
work.  That day, for the first time, I was ruler of the world.  Those who
accuse me of fratricide no doubt believe themselves to be right.  But
they certainly are not.  I know better.  You also know now with me that
destiny, and not I, struck Geta out from among the living."

Here he sat for some time in breathless silence.  Then he asked Melissa:

"You understand now how I came to shed my brother's blood?"

She started, and repeated gently after him: "Yes, I understand it."

Deep compassion filled her heart, and yet she felt she dare not sanction
what she had heard and deplored.  Torn by deep and conflicting feelings
she threw back her head, brushed her hair off her face, and cried: "Let
me go now; I can bear it no longer!"

"So soft-hearted?"  asked he, and shook his head disapprovingly.  "Life
rages more wildly round the throne than in an artist's home.  You will
have to learn to swim through the roaring torrent with me.  Believe me,
even enormities can become quite commonplace.  And, besides, why does it
still shock you when you yourself know that it was indispensable?"

"I am only a weak girl, and I feel as if I had witnessed these fearful
deeds, and had to bear the terrible blood-guiltiness with you!" broke
from her lips.

"That is what you must and shall do!  It is to that end that I have
confided to you what no one else has ever heard from my mouth!" cried
Caracalla, his eyes flashing more brightly.  She felt as though this cry
called her from her slumbers and revealed the precipice to which she had
strayed in her sleepwalking.

When Caracalla had begun telling her of his youth, she had only listened
with half an ear; for she could not forget Berenike's rescuing ship.  But
soon his confessions completely attracted her attention, and the lament
of this powerful man on whom so many injuries and wrongs had fallen, who
even in childhood had been deprived of the happiness of a mother's love,
had touched her tender heart.  That which was afterward told to her she
had identified with her own humble life; she heard with a shudder that it
was to the malice of his brother that this unhappy being owed the injury
which, like a poisonous blight, had marred for him all the joys of
existence, while she owed all that was loveliest and best in her
young life to a brother's love.

The grounds on which Caracalla had based the assertion that destiny had
compelled him to murder Geta appeared to her young and inexperienced mind
as indisputable.  He was only the pitiable victim of his birth and of a
cruel fate.  Besides, the humblest and most sober-minded can not resist
the charm of majesty; and this hapless man, who had honored Melissa with
his confidence, and who had assured her so earnestly that she was of such
importance to him and could do so much for him, was the ruler of the

She had also felt, after Caesar's confession, that she had a right to be
proud, since he had thought her worthy to take an interest in the tragedy
in the imperial palace, as if she had been a member of the court.  In her
lively imagination she had witnessed the ghastly act to which he--as she
had certainly believed, even when she had replied to his question--had
been forced by fate.

But the demand which had followed her answer now recurred to her.  The
picture of Diodoros, which had completely vanished from her thoughts
while she had been listening, suddenly appeared to her, and, as she
fancied, he looked at her reproachfully.

Had she, then, transgressed against her betrothed?

No, no, indeed she had not!

She loved him, and only him; and for that very reason, her upright
judgment told her now, that it would be sinning against her lover to
carry out Caracalla's wish, as if she had become his fellow-culprit,
or certainly the advocate of the bloody outrage.  She could think of no
answer to his "That is what you must and shall do!" that would not awaken
his wrath.  Cautiously, and with sincere thanks for his confidence in
her, she begged him once more to allow her to leave him, because she
needed rest after such a shock to her mind.  And it would also do him
good to grant himself a short rest.  But he assured her he knew that he
could only rest when he had fulfilled his duty as a sovereign.  His
father had said, a few minutes before he drew his last breath:

"If there is anything more to be done, give it me to do," and he, the
son, would do likewise.

"Moreover," he concluded, "it has done me good to bring to light that
which I had for so long kept sealed within me.  To gaze in your face at
the same time was, perhaps, even better physic."

At this he rose and, seizing the startled girl by both hands, he cried:

"You, child, can satisfy the insatiable!  The love which I offer you
resembles a full bunch of grapes, and yet I am quite content if you will
give me back but one berry."

At the very commencement, this declaration was drowned by a loud shout
which rang through the room in waves of sound.

Caracalla started, but, before he could reach the window, old Adventus
rushed in breathless; and he was followed, though in a more dignified
manner, with a not less hasty step and every sign of excitement, by
Macrinus, the prefect of the praetorians, with his handsome young son and
a few of Caesar's friends.

"This is how I rest!" exclaimed Caracalla, bitterly, as he released
Melissa's hand and turned inquiringly to the intruders.

The news had spread among the praetorians and the Macedonian legions,
that the emperor, who, contrary to his custom, had not shown himself for
two days, was seriously ill, and at the point of death.  Feeling
extremely anxious about one who had showered gold on them, and given them
such a degree of freedom as no other imperator had ever allowed them,
they had collected before the Serapeum and demanded to see Caesar.
Caracalla's eyes lighted up at this information, and, excitedly pleased,
he cried:

"They only are really faithful!"

He asked for his sword and helmet, and sent for the 'paludamentum',
the general's cloak of purple, embroidered with gold, which he never
otherwise wore except on the field.  The soldiers should see that he
intended leading in future battles.

While they waited, he conversed quietly with Macrinus and the others;
when, however, the costly garment covered his shoulders, and when his
favorite, Theocritus, who had known best how to support him during his
illness, offered him an arm, he answered imperiously that he required no

"Nevertheless, you should, after so serious an attack--" the physician in
ordinary ventured to exhort him; but he interrupted him scornfully, and,
glancing toward Melissa, exclaimed:

"Those little hands there contain more healing power than yours and the
great Galenus's put together."

Thereupon he beckoned to the young girl, and when she once more besought
his permission to go, he left the room with the commanding cry, "You are
to wait!"

He had rather far to go and some steps to mount in order to reach the
balcony which ran round the base of the cupola of the Pantheon which his
father had joined to the Serapeum, yet he undertook this willingly, as
thence he could best be seen and heard.

A few hours earlier it would have been impossible for him to reach this
point, and Epagathos had arranged that a sedan-chair and strong bearers
should be waiting at the foot of the steps; but he refused it, for he
felt entirely restored, and the shouts of his warriors intoxicated him
like sparkling wine.

Meanwhile Melissa remained behind in the audience-chamber.  She must obey
Caesar's command.  Yet it frightened her; and, besides, she was woman
enough to feel it as an offense that the man who had assured her so
sincerely of his gratitude, and who even feigned to love her, should have
refused so harshly her desire to rest.  She foresaw that, as long as he
remained in Alexandria, she would have to be his constant companion.  She
trembled at the idea; yet, if she tried to fly from him, all she loved
would be lost.  No, this must not be thought of!  She must remain.

She threw herself on a divan, lost in thought, and as she realized the
confidence of which the unapproachable, proud emperor had thought her
worthy, a secret voice whispered to her that it was certainly a
delightful thing to share the overwhelming agitations of the highest
and greatest.  And was he then really bad, he who felt the necessity of
vindicating himself before a simple girl, and to whom it appeared so
intolerable to be misjudged and condemned even by her?  Besides being
the emperor and a suffering man, Caracalla had also become her wooer.
It never once entered her mind to accept him; but still it flattered
her extremely that the greatest of men should declare his love for her.
Why, then, need she fear him?  She was so important to him, she could do
so much for him, that he would surely take care not to insult or offend
her.  This modest child, who till quite lately had trembled before her
own father's temper, now, in the consciousness of Caesar's favor, felt
herself strong to triumph over the wrath and passions of the most
powerful and most terrible of men.  In the mean time she dared not risk
confessing to him that she was another's bride, for that might determine
him to let Diodoros feel his power.  The thought that the emperor could
care about her good opinion greatly pleased her; it even had the effect
of raising the hope in her inexperienced mind that Caracalla would
moderate his passion for her sake--when old Adventus came into the room.

He was in a hurry; for preparations had to be made in the dining-hall
for the reception of the ambassadors.  But when at his appearance Melissa
rose from the divan he begged her good-naturedly to continue resting.
No one could tell what humor Caracalla might be in when he returned.
She had often seen how rapidly that chameleon could change color.
Who that had seen him just now, going to meet his soldiers, would believe
that he had a few hours before sent away, with hard words, the widow of
the Egyptian governor, who had come to beg mercy for her husband?

"So that wretch, Theocritus, has really carried out his intention of
ruining the honest Titianus?" asked Melissa, horrified.

"Not only of ruining him," answered the chamberlain; "Titianus is by this
time beheaded."

The old man bowed and left the room; but Melissa remained behind, feeling
as if the floor had opened in front of her.  He, whose ardent assurance
she had just now believed, that he had been forced to shed the blood of
an impious wretch, in obedience to an overpowering fate, was capable of
allowing the noblest of men to be beheaded, unjudged, merely to please
a mercenary favorite!  His confession, then, had been nothing but a
revolting piece of acting!  He had endeavored to vanquish the disgust she
felt for him merely to ensnare her and her healing hand more surely--as
his plaything, his physic, his sleeping draught.  And she had entered the
trap, and acquitted him of the most horrible blood-guiltiness.

He had that very day rejected, without pity, a noble Roman lady who
petitioned for her husband's life, and with the same breath he had
afterwards befooled her!

She started up, indignant and deeply wounded.  Was it not ignominious
even to wait here like a prisoner in obedience to the command of this
wretch?  And she had dared for one moment to compare this monster with
Diodoros, the handsomest, the best, and most amiable of youths!

It seemed to her inconceivable.  If only he had not the power to destroy
all that was dearest to her heart, what pleasure it would have been to
shout in his face:

"I detest you, murderer, and I am the betrothed of another, who is as
good and beautiful as you are vile and odious!"

Then the question occurred to her whether it was only for the sake of her
healing hands that he had felt attracted to her, and had made her an
avowal as if she were his equal.

The blood mounted to her face at this thought, and with a burning brow
she walked to the open window.

A crowd of presentiments rushed into her innocent and, till then,
unsuspecting heart, and they were all so alarming that it was a relief to
her when a shout of joy from the panoplied breasts of several thousand
armed men rent the air.  Mingling with this overpowering demonstration of
united rejoicing from such huge masses, came the blare of the trumpets
and horns of the assembled legions.  What a maddening noise!

Before her lay the square, filled with many legions of warriors who
surrounded the Serapeum in their shining armor, with their eagles and
vexilla.  The praetorians stood by the picked men of the Macedonian
phalanx, and with these were all the troops who had escorted the imperial
general hither, and the garrisons of the city of Alexander who hoped to
be called out in the next war.

On the balcony, decorated with statues which surrounded the colonnade of
the Pantheon on which the cupola rested, she saw Caracalla, and at a
respectful distance a superb escort of his friends, in red and white
togas, bordered with purple stripes, and wearing armor.  Having taken off
his gold helmet, the imperial general bowed to his people, and at every
nod of his head, and each more vigorous movement, the enthusiastic cheers
were renewed more loudly than ever.

Macrinus then stepped up to Caesar's side, and the lictors who followed
him, by lowering their fasces, signaled to the warriors to keep silence.

Instantly the ear-splitting din changed to a speechless lull.

At first she still heard the lances and shields, which several of the
warriors had waved in enthusiastic joy, ringing against the ground, and
the clatter of the swords being put back in their sheaths; then this also
ceased, and finally, although only the superior officers had arrived on
horseback, the stamping of hoofs, the snorting of the horses, and the
rattle of the chains at their bits, were the only sounds.

Melissa listened breathlessly, looking first at the square and the
soldiers below, then at the balcony where the emperor stood.  In spite
of the aversion she felt, her heart beat quicker.  It was as if this
immeasurable army had only one voice; as if an irresistible force drew
all these thousands of eyes toward one point--the one little man up there
on the Pantheon.

Directly he began to speak, Melissa's glance was also fixed on Caracalla.

She only heard the closing sentence, as, with raised voice, he shouted to
the soldiers; and from it she gathered that he thanked his companions in
arms for their anxiety, but that he still felt strong enough to share all
their difficulties with them.  Severe exertions lay behind them.  The
rest in this luxurious city would do them all good.  There was still much
to be conquered in the rich East, and to add to what they had already
won, before they could return to Rome to celebrate a well-earned triumph.
The weary should make themselves comfortable here.  The wealthy merchants
in whose houses he had quartered them had been told to attend to their
wants, and if they neglected to do so every single warrior was man enough
to show them what a soldier needed for his comfort.  The people here
looked askance at him and his soldiers, but too much moderation would be

There certainly were some things even here which the host was not bound
to supply to his military; he, Caesar, would provide them with these, and
for that purpose he had put aside two million denarii out of his own
poverty to distribute among them.

This speech had several times been interrupted by applause, but now such
a tremendous shout of joy went up that it would have drowned the loudest
thunder.  The number of voices as well as their power seemed to have

Caracalla had added another link to the golden chain which already bound
him to these faithful people; and, as he smiled and nodded to the
delighted crowd from the balcony, he looked like a happy, light-hearted
youth who had prepared a great treat for himself and several beloved

What he said further was lost in the confusion of voices in the square.
The ranks were broken up, and the cuirasses, helmets, and arms of the
moving warriors caught the sun and sent bright beams of light crossing
one another over the wide space surrounded with dazzling white marble

When Caracalla left the balcony, Melissa drew back from the window.

The compassionate impulse to lighten the lot of a sufferer, which had
before drawn her so strongly to Caracalla, had now lost its sense and
meaning for this healthy, high-spirited man.  She considered herself
cheated, as if she had been fooled by sham suffering into giving
excessively large alms to an artful beggar.

Besides, she loved her native town, and Caracalla's advice to the
soldiers to force the citizens to provide luxurious living for them,
had made her considerably more rebellious.  If he ever put her again
in a position to speak her mind freely to him, she would tell him all
undisguisedly; but instantly it again rushed into her mind that she must
keep guard over her tongue before the easily unchained wrath of this
despot, until her father and brothers were in safety once more.

Before the emperor returned, the room was filled with people, of whom she
knew none, excepting her old friend the white-haired, learned Samonicus.
She was the aim and center of all eyes, and when even the kindly old man
greeted her from a distance, and so contemptuously, that the blood rushed
to her face, she begged Adventus to take her into the next room.

The Chamberlain did as she wished, but before he left her he whispered to
her: "Innocence is trusting; but it is not of much avail here.  Take
care, child!  They say there are sand-banks in the Nile which, like soft
pillows, entice one to rest.  But if you use them they become alive, and
a crocodile creeps out, with open jaws.  I am talking already in
metaphor, like an Alexandrian, but you will understand me."

Melissa bowed acknowledgment to him, and the old man went on:

"He may perhaps forget you; for many things had accumulated during his
illness.  If the mass of business, as it comes in, is not settled for
twenty four hours, it swells like a mill-stream that has the sluice down.
But when work is begun, it quite carries him away.  He forgets then to
eat and drink.  Ambassadors have arrived also from the Empress-mother,
from Armenia, and Parthia.  If he does not ask for you in half an hour,
it will be suppertime, and I will let you out through that door."

"Do so at once," begged Melissa, with raised, petitioning hands; but the
old man replied: "I should then reward you but ill for having warmed my
feet for me.  Remember the crocodile under the sand!  Patience, child!
There is Caesar's zithern.  If you can play, amuse yourself with that.
The door shuts closely and the curtains are thick.  My old ears just now
were listening to no purpose."

But Caracalla was so far from forgetting Melissa that although he had
attended to the communication brought to him by the ambassadors, and
the various dispatches from the senate, he asked for her even at the door
of the tablinum.  He had seen her from the balcony looking out on the
square; so she had witnessed the reception his soldiers had given him.
The magnificent spectacle must have impressed her and filled her with
joy.  He was anxious to hear all this from her own lips, before he
settled down to work.

Adverntus whispered to him where he had taken her, to avoid the
persecuting glances of the numerous strangers, and Caracalla nodded
to him approvingly and went into the next room.

She sat there with the zithern, letting her fingers glide gently over the

On his entering, she drew back hastily; but he cried to her brightly:
"Do not disturb yourself.  I love that instrument.  I am having a statue
erected to Mesomedes, the great zithern-player--you perhaps know his
songs.  This evening, when the feast and the press of work are over, I
will hear how you play.  I will also playa few airs to you."

Melissa then plucked up courage and said, decidedly: "No, my lord; I am
about to bid you farewell for to-day."

"That sounds very determined," he answered, half surprised and half
amused.  "But may I be allowed to know what has made you decide on this

"There is a great deal of work waiting for you," she replied, quietly.

"That is my affair, not yours," was the crushing answer.

"It is also mine," she said, endeavoring to keep calm; "for you have not
yet completely recovered, and, should you require my help again this
evening, I could not attend to your call."

"No?" he asked, wrathfully, and his eyelids began to twitch.

"No, my lord; for it would not be seemly in a maiden to visit you by
night, unless you were ill and needed nursing.  As it is, I shall meet
your friends--my heart stands still only to think of it--"

"I will teach them what is due to you!" Caracalla bellowed out, and his
brow was knit once more.

"But you can not compel me," she replied, firmly, "to change my mind as
to what is seemly," and the courage which failed her if she met a spider,
but which stood by her in serious danger as a faithful ally, made her
perfectly steadfast as she eagerly added: "Not an hour since you promised
me that so long as I remained with you I should need no other protector,
and might count on your gratitude.  But those were mere words, for, when
I besought you to grant me some repose, you scorned my very reasonable
request, and roughly ordered me to remain and attend on you."

At this Caesar laughed aloud.

"Just so!  You are a woman, and like all the rest.  You are sweet and
gentle only so long as you have your own way."

"No, indeed," cried Melissa, and her eyes filled with tears.  "I only
look further than from one hour to the next.  If I should sacrifice what
I think right, merely to come and go at my own will, I should soon be not
only miserable myself, but the object of your contempt."

Overcome by irresistible distress, she broke into loud sobs; but
Caracalla, with a furious stamp of his foot, exclaimed:

"No tears!  I can not, I will not see you weep.  Can any harm come to
you?  Nothing but good; nothing but the best of happiness do I propose
for you.  By Apollo and Zeus, that is the truth!  Till now you have been
unlike other women, but when you behave like them, you shall--I swear it
--you shall feel which of us two is the stronger!"

He roughly snatched her hand away from her face and thereby achieved his
end, for her indignation at being thus touched by a man's brutal hand
gave Melissa strength to suppress her sobs.  Only her wet cheeks showed
what a flood of tears she had shed, as, almost beside herself with anger,
she exclaimed:

"Let my hand go!  Shame on the man who insults a defenseless girl!  You
swear!  Then I, too, may take an oath, and, by the head of my mother, you
shall never see me again excepting as a corpse, if you ever attempt
violence!  You are Caesar--you are the stronger.  Who ever doubted it?
But you will never compel me to a vile action, not if you could inflict a
thousand deaths on me instead of one!"

Caracalla, without a word, had released her hand and was staring at her
in amazement.

A woman, and so gentle a woman, defying him as no man would have dared to

She stood before him, her hand raised, her bosom heaving; a flame of
anger sparkled in her eyes through their tears, and he had never before
thought her so fair.  What majesty there was in this girl, whose simple
grace had made him more than once address her as "child"!  She was like a
queen, an empress; perhaps she might become one.  The idea struck him for
the first time.  And that little hand which now fell--what soothing power
it had, how much he owed to it!  How fervently he had wished but just now
to be understood by her, and to be thought better of by her than by the
rest!  And this wish still possessed him.  Nay, he was more strongly
attracted than ever to this creature, worthy as she was of the highest in
the land, and made doubly bewitching by her proud willfulness.  That he
should see her for the last time seemed to him as impossible as that he
should never again see daylight; and yet her whole aspect announced that
her threat was serious.

His aggrieved pride and offended sense of absolute power struggled with
his love, repentance, and fear of losing her healing presence; but the
struggle was brief, especially as a mass of business to be attended to
lay before him like a steep hill to climb, and haste was imperative.

He went up to her, shaking his head, and said in the superior tone of a
sage rebuking thoughtlessness:

"Like all the rest of them--I repeat it.  My demands had no object in
view but to make you happy and derive comfort from you.  How hot must the
blood be which boils and foams at the contact of a spark!  Only too like
my own; and, since I understand you, I find it easy to forgive you.
Indeed, I must finally express myself grateful; for I was in danger of
neglecting my duties as a sovereign for the sake of pleasing my heart.
Go, then, and rest, while I devote myself to business."

At this, Melissa forced herself to smile, and said, still somewhat
tearfully: "How grateful I am!  And you will not again require me to
remain, will you, when I assure you that it is not fitting?"

"Unluckily, I am not in the habit of yielding to a girl's whims."

"I have no whims," she eagerly declared.  "But you will keep your word
now, and allow me to withdraw?  I implore you to let me go!"

With a deep sigh and an amount of self-control of which he would
yesterday have thought himself incapable, he let go her hand, and she
with a shudder thought that she had found the answer to the question he
had asked her.  His eyes, not his words, had betrayed it; for a woman can
see in a suitor's look what color his wishes take, while a woman's eyes
only tell her lover whether or no she reciprocates his feelings.

"I am going," she said, but he remarked the deadly paleness which
overspread her features, and her colorless cheeks encouraged him in the
belief that, after a sleepless night and the agitations of the last few
hours, it was only physical exhaustion which made Melissa so suddenly
anxious to escape from him.  So, saying kindly:

"'Till to-morrow, then," he dismissed her.

But when she had almost left the room, he added: "One thing more!
To-morrow we will try our zitherns together.  After my bath is the time
I like best for such pleasant things; Adventus will fetch you.  I am
curious to hear you play and sing.  Of all sounds, that of the human
voice is the sweetest.  Even the shouting of my legions is pleasing to
the ear and heart.  Do you not think so, and does not the acclamation of
so many thousands stir your soul?"

"Certainly," she replied hastily; and she longed to reproach him for
the injustice he was doing the populace of Alexandria to benefit his
warriors, but she felt that the time was ill chosen, and everything
gave way to her longing to be gone out of the dreadful man's sight.

In the next room she met Philostratus, and begged him to conduct her to
the lady Euryale; for all the anterooms were now thronged, and she had
lost the calm confidence in which she had come thither.


As Melissa made her way with the philosopher through the crowd,
Philostratus said to her: "It is for your sake, child, that these
hundreds have had so long to wait to-day, and many hopes will be
disappointed.  To satisfy all is a giant's task.  But Caracalla must do
it, well or ill."

"Then he will forget me!" replied Melissa, with a sigh of relief.

"Hardly," answered the philosopher.  He was sorry for the terrified girl,
and in his wish to lighten her woes as far as he could, he said, gravely:
"You called him terrible, and he can be more terrible than any man
living.  But he has been kind to you so far, and, if you take my advice,
you will always seem to expect nothing from him that is not good and

"Then I must be a hypocrite," replied Melissa.  "Only to-day he has
murdered the noble Titianus."

"That is an affair of state which does not concern you," replied
Philostratus.  "Read my description of Achilles.  I represent him among
other heroes such as Caracalla might be.  Try, on your part, to see him
in that light.  I know that it is sometimes a pleasure to him to justify
the good opinion of others.  Encourage your imagination to think the best
of him.  I shall tell him that you regard him as magnanimous and noble."

"No, no!"  cried Melissa; "that would make everything worse."

But the philosopher interrupted her.

"Trust my riper experience.  I know him.  If you let him know your true
opinion of him, I will answer for nothing.  My Achilles reveals the good
qualities with which he came into the world; and if you look closely you
may still find sparks among the ashes."

He here took his leave, for they had reached the vestibule leading to the
high-priest's lodgings, and a few minutes later Melissa found herself
with Euryale, to whom she related all that she had seen and felt.  When
she told her older friend what Philostratus had advised, the lady stroked
her hair, and said: "Try to follow the advice of so experienced a man.
It can not be very difficult.  When a woman's heart has once been
attached to a man--and pity is one of the strongest of human ties--the
bond may be strained and worn, but a few threads must always remain."

But Melissa hastily broke in:

"There is not a spider's thread left which binds me to that cruel man.
The murder of Titianus has snapped them all."

"Not so," replied the lady, confidently.  "Pity is the only form of love
which even the worst crime can not eradicate from a kind heart.  You
prayed for Caesar before you knew him, and that was out of pure human
charity.  Exercise now a wider compassion, and reflect that Fate has
called you to take care of a hapless creature raving in fever and hard
to deal with.  How many Christian women, especially such as call
themselves deaconesses, voluntarily assume such duties!  and good is
good, right is right for all, whether they pray to one God or to several.
If you keep your heart pure, and constantly think of the time which shall
be fulfilled for each of us, to our ruin or to our salvation, you will
pass unharmed through this great peril.  I know it, I feel it."

"But you do not know him," exclaimed Melissa, "and how terrible he can
be!  And Diodoros!  When he is well again, if he hears that I am with
Caesar, in obedience to his call whenever he sends for me, and if evil
tongues tell him dreadful things about me, he, too, will condemn me!"

"No, no," the matron declared, kissing her brow and eyes.  "If he loves
you truly, he will trust you."

"He loves me," sobbed Melissa; "but, even if he does not desert me when I
am thus branded, his father will come between us."

"God forbid!" cried Euryale.  "Remain what you are, and I will always be
the same to you, come what may; and those who love you will not refuse to
listen to an old woman who has grown gray in honor."

And Melissa believed her motherly, kind, worthy friend; and, with the new
confidence which revived in her, her longing for her lover began to stir
irresistibly.  She wanted a fond glance from the eyes of the youth who
loved her, and to whom, for another man's sake, she could not give all
his due, nay, who had perhaps a right to complain of her.  This she
frankly confessed, and the matron herself conducted the impatient girl to
see Diodoros.

Melissa again found Andreas in attendance on the sufferer, and she was
surprised at the warmth with which the high-priest's wife greeted the

Diodoros was already able to be dressed and to sit up.  He was pale
and weak, and his head was still bound up, but he welcomed the girl
affectionately, though with a mild reproach as to the rarity of her

Andreas had already informed him that Melissa was kept away by her
mediation for the prisoners, and so he was comforted by her assurance
that if her duty would allow of it she would never leave him again.  And
the joy of having her there, the delight of gazing into her sweet, lovely
face, and the youthful gift of forgetting the past in favor of the
present, silenced every bitter reflection.  He was soon blissfully
listening to her with a fresh color in his cheeks, and never had he seen
her so tender, so devoted, so anxious to show him the fullness of her
great love.  The quiet, reserved girl was to-day the wooer, and with the
zeal called forth by her ardent wish to do him good, she expressed all
the tenderness of her warm heart so frankly and gladly that to him it
seemed as though Eros had never till now pierced her with the right

As soon as Euryale was absorbed in conversation with Andreas, she offered
him her lips with gay audacity, as though in defiance of some stern
dragon of virtue, and he, drunk with rapture, enjoyed what she granted
him.  And soon it was he who became daring, declaring that there would be
time enough to talk another day; that for the present her rosy mouth had
nothing to do but to cure him with kisses.  And during this sweet give
and take, she implored him with pathetic fervor never, never to doubt her
love, whatever he might hear of her.  Their older friends, who had turned
their backs on the couple and were talking busily by a window, paid no
heed to them, and the blissful conviction of being loved as ardently as
she loved flooded her whole being.

Only now and then did the thought of Caesar trouble for a moment the
rapture of that hour, like a hideous form appearing out of distant
clouds.  She felt prompted indeed to tell her lover everything, but it
seemed so difficult to make him understand exactly how everything had
happened, and Diodoros must not be distressed.  And, indeed, intoxicated
as he was with heated passion, he made the attempt impossible.

When he spoke it was only to assure her of his love; and when the lady
Euryale at last called her to go, and looked in the girl's glowing face,
Melissa felt as though she were snatched from a rapturous dream.

In the anteroom they were stopped by Andreas.  Euryale had indeed
relieved his worst fears, still he was anxious to lay before the girl the
question whether she would not be wise to take advantage of this very
night to make her escape.  She, however, her eyes still beaming with
happiness, laid her little hand coaxingly on his bearded mouth, and
begged him not to sadden her high spirits and hopes of a better time by
warnings and dismal forecasts.  Even the lady Euryale had advised her to
trust fearlessly to herself, and sitting with her lover she had acquired
the certainty that it was best so.  The freedman could not bear to
disturb this happy confidence, and only impressed on Melissa that she
should send for him if ever she needed him.  He would find her a hiding-
place, and the lady Euryale had undertaken to provide a messenger.  He
then bade them godspeed, and they returned to the high-priest's dwelling.

In the vestibule they found a servant from the lady Berenike; in his
mistress's name he desired Euryale to send Melissa to spend the night
with her.

This invitation, which would remove Melissa from the Serapeum, was
welcome to them both, and the matron herself accompanied the young girl
down a private staircase leading to a small side-door.  Argutis, who had
come to inquire for his young mistress, was to be her escort and to bring
her back early next morning to the same entrance.

The old slave had much to tell her.  He had been on his feet all day.  He
had been to the harbor to inquire as to the return of the vessel with the
prisoners on board; to the Serapeum to inquire for her; to Dido, to give
her the news.  He had met Alexander in the forenoon on the quay where the
imperial galleys were moored.  When the young man learned that the
trireme could not come in before next morning at the soonest, he had set
out to cross the lake and see Zeus and his daughter.  He had charged
Argutis to let Melissa know that his longing for the fair Agatha gave him
no peace.

He and old Dido disapproved of their young master's feather-brain, which
had not been made more steady and patient even by the serious events of
this day and his sister's peril; however, he did not allow a word of
blame to escape him.  He was happy only to be allowed to walk behind
Melissa, and to hear from her own lips that all was well with her, and
that Caesar was gracious.

Alexander, indeed, had also told the old man that he and Caesar were
"good friends"; and now the slave was thinking of Pandion, Theocritus,
and the other favorites of whom he had heard; and he assured Melissa
that, as soon as her father should be free, Caracalla would be certain to
raise him to the rank of knight, to give him lands and wealth, perhaps
one of the imperial residences on the Bruchium.  Then he, Argutis, would
be house steward, and show that he knew other things besides keeping the
workroom and garden in order, splitting wood, and buying cheaply at

Melissa laughed and said he should be no worse off if only the first wish
of her heart were fulfilled, and she were wife to Diodoros; and Argutis
declared he would be amply content if only she allowed him to remain with

But she only half listened and answered absently, for she breathed faster
as she pictured to herself how she would show Caesar, on whom she had
already proved her power, that she had ceased to tremble before him.

Thus they came to the house of Seleukus.

A large force had taken up their quarters there.  In the pillared hall
beyond the vestibule bearded soldiers were sitting on benches or
squatting in groups on the ground, drinking noisily and singing, or
laughing and squabbling as they threw the dice on the costly mosaic
pavement.  A riotous party were toping and reveling in the beautiful
garden of the impluvium round a fire which they had lighted on the velvet
turf.  A dozen or so of officers had stretched themselves on cushions
under one of the colonnades, and, without attempting to check the wild
behavior of their men, were watching the dancing of some Egyptian girls
who had been brought into the house of their involuntary host.  Although
Melissa was closely veiled and accompanied by a servant, she did not
escape rude words and insolent glances.  Indeed, an audacious young
praetorian had put out his hand to pull away her veil, but an older
officer stopped him.

The lady Berenike's rooms had so far not been intruded on; for Macrinus,
the praetorian prefect, who knew Berenike through her brother-in-law the
senator Coeranus, had given orders that the women's apartments were to be
exempt from the encroachments of the quartermaster of the body-guard.
Breathing rapidly and with a heightened color, Melissa at last entered
the room of Seleukus's wife.

The matron's voice was full of bitterness as she greeted her young
visitor with the exclamation "You look as if you had fled to escape
persecution!  And in my house, too!  Or"--and her large eyes flashed
brightly--"or is the blood-hound on the track of his prey?  My boat is
quite ready--"  When Melissa denied this, and related what had happened,
Berenike exclaimed: "But you know that the panther lies still and gathers
himself up before he springs; or, if you do not, you may see it to-morrow
at the Circus.  There is to be a performance in Caesar's honor, the like
of which not even Nero ever saw.  My husband bears the chief part cf the
cost, and can think of nothing else.  He has even forgotten his only
child, and all to please the man who insults us, robs and humiliates us!
Now that men kiss the hands which maltreat them, it is the part of women
to defy them.  You must fly, child!  The harbor is now closed, but it
will be open again to-morrow morning, and, if your folks are set free in
the course of the day, then away with you at once!  Or do you really hope
for any good from the tyrant who has made this house what you now
see it?"

"I know him," replied Melissa, "and I look for nothing but the worst."

At this the elder woman warmly grasped the girl's hand, but she was
interrupted by the waiting woman Johanna, who said that a Roman officer
of rank, a tribune, craved to be admitted.

When Berenike refused to receive him, the maid assured her that he was a
young man, and had expressed his wish to bring an urgent request to the
lady's notice in a becoming and modest manner.

On this the matron allowed him to be shown in to her, and Melissa hastily
obeyed her instructions to withdraw into the adjoining room.

Only a half-drawn curtain divided it from the room where Berenike
received the soldier, and without listening she could hear the loud voice
which riveted her attention as soon as she had recognized it.

The young tribune, in a tone of courteous entreaty, begged his hostess to
provide a room for his brother, who was severely wounded.  The sufferer
was in a high fever, and the physician said that the noise and rattle of
vehicles in the street, on which the room where he now lay looked out,
and the perpetual coming and going of the men, might endanger his life.
He had just been told that on the side of the women's apartments there
was a row of rooms looking out on the impluvium, and he ventured to
entreat her to spare one of them for the injured man.  If she had a
brother or a child, she would forgive the boldness of his request.

So far she listened in silence; then she suddenly raised her head and
measured the petitioner's tall figure with a lurid fire in her eye.  Then
she replied, while she looked into his handsome young face with a half-
scornful, half-indignant air: "Oh, yes!  I know what it is to see one we
love suffer.  I had an only child; she was the joy of my heart.  Death--
death snatched her from me, and a few days later the sovereign whom
you serve commanded us to prepare a feast for him.  It seemed to him
something new and delightful to hold a revel in a house of mourning.
At the last moment--all the guests were assembled--he sent us word that
he himself did not intend to appear.  But his friends laughed and reveled
wildly enough!  They enjoyed themselves, and no doubt praised our cook
and our wine.  And now--another honor we can duly appreciate!--he sends
his praetorians to turn this house of mourning into a tavern, a wine-
shop, where they call creatures in from the street to dance and sing.
The rank to which you have risen while yet so young shows that you are of
good family, so you can imagine how highly we esteem the honor of seeing
your men trampling, destroying, and burning in their camp-fires
everything which years of labor and care had produced to make our little
garden a thing of beauty.  Only look down on them!  Macrinus, who
commands you, promised me, moreover, that the women's apartments should
be respected.  No praetorian, whether common soldier or commander,' and
here she raised her voice, "shall set foot within them!  Here is his
writing.  The prefect set the seal beneath it in Caesar's name."

"I know of the order, noble lady," interrupted Nemesianus, "and should be
the last to wish to act against it.  I do not demand, I only appeal
humbly to the heart of a woman and a mother.'

"A mother!"  broke  in Berenike, scornfully; "yes! and one whose soul
your lord has pierced with daggers--a woman whose home has been
dishonored and made hateful to her.  I have enjoyed sufficient honor now,
and shall stand firmly on my rights."

"Hear but one thing more," began the youth, timidly; but the lady
Berenike had already turned her back upon him, and returned with a proud
and stately carriage to Melissa in the adjoining apartment.

Breathing hard, as if stunned by her words, the tribune remained standing
on the threshold where the terrible lady had vanished from his sight, and
then, striving to regain his composure, pushed back the curling locks
from his brow.  But scarcely had Berenike entered the other room than
Melissa whispered to her: "The wounded man is the unfortunate Aurelius,
whose face Caracalla wounded for my sake."

At this the lady's eyes suddenly flashed and blazed so strangely that the
girl's blood ran cold.  But she had no time to ask the reason of this
emotion, for the next moment the queenly woman grasped the weaker one by
the wrist with her strong right hand, and with a commanding "Come with
me," drew her back into the room they had just quitted.  She called to
the tribune, whose hand was already on the door, to come back.

The young man stood still, surprised and startled to see Melissa; but the
lady Berenike said, calmly, "Now that I have learned the honor that has
been accorded to you, too, by the master whom you so faithfully serve,
the poor injured man whom you call your brother shall be made welcome
within these walls.  He is my companion in suffering.  A quiet, airy
chamber shall be set apart for him, and he shall not lack careful
attention, nor anything which even his own mother could offer him.
Only two things I desire of you in return: that you admit no one of your
companions-in-arms, nor any man whatever, into this dwelling, save only
the physician whom I shall send to you.  Furthermore, that you do not
betray, even to your nearest friend, whom you found here besides myself."

Under the mortification that had wounded his brotherly heart, Aurelius
Nemesianus had lost countenance; but now he replied with a soldier's
ready presence of mind: "It is difficult for me to find a proper answer
to you, noble lady.  I know right well that I owe you my warmest thanks,
and equally so that he whom you call our master has inflicted as deep a
wrong on us as on you; but Caesar is still my military chief."

"Still!" broke in Berenike.  "But you are too youthful a tribune for me
to believe that you took up the sword as a means of livelihood."

"We are sons of the Aurelia," answered Nemesianus, haughtily, "and it is
very possible that this day's work may be the cause of our deserting the
eagles we have followed in order to win glory and taste the delights of
warfare.  But all that is for the future to decide.  Meanwhile, I thank
you, noble lady, and also in the name of my brother, who is my second
self.  On behalf of Apollinaris, too, I beg you to pardon the rudeness
which we offered to this maiden--"

"I am not angry with you any more," cried Melissa, eagerly and frankly,
and the tribune thanked her in his own and his brother's name.

He began trying to explain the unfortunate occurrence, but Berenike
admonished him to lose no time.  The soldier withdrew, and the lady
Berenike ordered her handmaiden to call the housekeeper and other
serving-women.  Then she repaired quickly to the room she had destined
for the wounded man and his brother.  But neither Melissa nor the other
women could succeed in really lending her any help, for she herself put
forth all her cleverness and power of head and hand, forgetting nothing
that might be useful or agreeable in the nursing of the sick.  In that
wealthy, well-ordered house everything stood ready to hand; and in less
than a quarter of an hour the tribune Nemesianus was informed that the
chamber was ready for the reception of his brother.

The lady then returned with Melissa to her own sleeping apartment, and
took various little bottles and jars from a small medicine-chest, begging
the girl at the same time to excuse her, as she intended to undertake the
nursing of the wounded man herself.  Here were books, and there Korinna's
lute.  Johanna would attend to the evening meal.  Tomorrow morning they
could consult further as to what was necessary to be done; then she
kissed her guest and left the room.

Left to herself, Melissa gave herself up to varying thoughts, till
Johanna brought her repast.  While she hardly nibbled at it, the
Christian told her that matters looked ill with the tribune, and that the
wound in the forehead especially caused the physician much anxiety.  Many
questions were needed to draw this much from the freedwoman, for she
spoke but little.  When she did speak, however, it was with great
kindliness, and there lay something so simple and gentle in her whole
manner that it awakened confidence.  Having satisfied her appetite,
Melissa returned to the lady Berenike's apartment; but there her heart
grew heavy at the thought of what awaited her on the morrow.  When, at
the moment of leaving, Johanna inquired whether she desired anything
further, she asked her if she knew a saying of her fellow-believers,
which ran, "The fullness of time was come."

"Yes, surely," returned the other; "our Lord himself spoke them, and Paul
wrote them to the Galatians."

"Who is this Paul?" Melissa asked; and the Christian replied that of all
the teachers of her faith he was the one she most dearly loved.  Then,
hesitating a little, she asked if Melissa, being a heathen, had inquired
the meaning of this saying.

"Andrew, the freedman of Polybius and the lady Euryale, explained it to
me.  Did the moment ever come to you in which you felt assured that for
you the time was fulfilled?"

"Yes," replied Johanna, with decision; "and that moment comes, sooner or
later, in every life."

"You are a maiden like myself," began Melissa, simply.  "A heavy task
lies before me, and if you would confide to me--"

But the Christian broke in: "My life has moved in other paths than yours,
and what has happened to me, the freedwoman and the Christian, can have
no interest for you.  But the saying which has stirred your soul refers
to the coming of One who is all in all to us Christians.  Did Andrew tell
you nothing of His life?"

"Only a little," answered the girl, "but I would gladly hear more of

Then the Christian seated herself at Melissa's side, and, clasping the
maiden's hand in hers, told her of the birth of the Saviour, of His
loving heart, and His willing death as a sacrifice for the sins of the
whole world.  The girl listened with attentive ear.  With no word did she
interrupt the narrative, and the image of the Crucified One rose before
her mind's eye, pure and noble, and worthy of all love.  A thousand
questions rose to her lips, but, before she could ask one, the Christian
was called away to attend the lady Berenike, and Melissa was again alone.

What she had already heard of the teaching of the Christians occurred to
her once more, and above all that first saying from the sacred Scriptures
which had attracted her attention, and about which she had just asked
Johanna.  Perhaps for her, too, the time was already fulfilled, when she
had taken courage to defy the emperor's commands.

She rejoiced at this action, for she felt that the strength would never
fail her now to set her will against his.  She felt as though she bore a
charm against his power since she had parted from her lover, and since
the murder of the governor had opened her eyes to the true character of
him on whom she had all too willingly expended her pity.  And yet she
shuddered at the thought of meeting the emperor again, and of having to
show him that she felt safe with him because she trusted to his

Lost in deep thought, she waited for the return of the lady and the
Christian waiting-woman, but in vain.  At last her eye fell upon the
scrolls which the lady Berenike had pointed out to her.  They lay in
beautiful alabaster caskets on an ebony stand.  If they had only been
the writings of the Christians, telling of the life and death of their
Saviour!  But how should writings such as those come here?  The casket
only held the works of Philostratus, and she took from it the roll
containing the story of the hero of whom he had himself spoken to her.
Full of curiosity, she smoothed out the papyrus with the ivory stick, and
her attention was soon engaged by the lively conversation between the
vintner and his Phoenician guest.  She passed rapidly over the beginning,
but soon reached the part of which Philostratus had told her.  Under the
form of Achilles he had striven to represent Caracalla as he appeared to
the author's indulgent imagination.  But it was no true portrait; it
described the original at most as his mother would have wished him to be.
There it was written that the vehemence flashing from the hero's bright
eyes, even when peacefully inclined, showed how easily his wrath could
break forth.  But to those who loved him he was even more endearing
during these outbursts than before.  The Athenians felt toward him as
they did toward a lion; for, if the king of beasts pleased them when he
was at rest, he charmed them infinitely more when, foaming with
bloodthirsty rage, he fell upon a bull, a wild boar, or some such
ferocious animal.

Yes, indeed!  Caracalla, too, fell mercilessly upon his prey!  Had she
not seen him hewing down Apollinaris a few hours ago?

Furthermore, Achilles was said to have declared that he could drive away
care by fearlessly encountering the greatest dangers for the sake of his
friends.  But where were Caracalla's friends?

At best, the allusion could only refer to the Roman state, for whose sake
the emperor certainly did endure many a hardship and many a wearisome
task, and he was not the only person who had told her so.

Then she turned back a little and found the words: "But because he was
easily inclined to anger, Chiron instructed him in music; for is it not
inherent in this art to soothe violence and wrath--And Achilles acquired
without trouble the laws of harmony and sang to the lyre."

This all corresponded with the truth, and tomorrow she was to discover
what had suggested to Philostratus the story that when Achilles begged
Calliope to endow him with the gifts of music and poetry she had given
him so much of both as he required to enliven the feast and banish
sadness.  He was also said to be a poet, and devoted himself most
ardently to verse when resting from the toils of war.

To hear that man unjustly blamed on whom her heart is set, only
increases a woman's love; but unmerited praise makes her criticise him
more sharply, and is apt to transform a fond smile into a scornful one.
Thus the picture that raised Caracalla to the level of an Achilles made
Melissa shrug her shoulders over the man she dreaded; and while she even
doubted Caesar's musical capacities, Diodoros's young, fresh, bell-like
voice rose doubly beautiful and true upon her memory's ear.  The image of
her lover finally drove out that of the emperor, and, while she seemed to
hear the wedding song which the youths and maidens were so soon to sing
for them both, she fell asleep.

It was late when Johanna came to admonish her to retire to rest.  Shortly
before sunrise she was awakened by Berenike, who wished to take some
rest, and who told her, before seeking her couch, that Apollinaris was
doing well.  The lady was still sleeping when Johanna came to inform
Melissa that the slave Argutis was waiting to see her.

The Christian undertook to convey the maiden's farewell greetings to her

As they entered the living-room, the gardener had just brought in fresh
flowers, among them three rose-bushes covered with full-blown flowers and
half-opened, dewy buds.  Melissa asked Johanna timidly if the lady
Berenike would permit her to pluck one--there were so many; to which the
Christian replied that it would depend on the use it was to be put to.

"Only for the sick tribune," answered Melissa, reddening.  So Johanna
plucked two of the fairest blooms and gave them to the maiden--one for
the man who had injured her and one for her betrothed.  Melissa kissed
her, gratefully, and begged her to present the flowers to the sick man in
her name.

Johanna carried out her wish at once; but the wounded man, gazing
mournfully at the rose, murmured to himself: "Poor, lovely, gentle
child!  She will be ruined or dead before Caracalla leaves Alexandria!"


Obstacles existed only to be removed
Speaking ill of others is their greatest delight
The past must stand; it is like a scar

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Thorny Path — Volume 07" ***

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