A Romance of Ancient Ephesus
LONDON ELLIOT STOCK, 62, PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C. 1900
CHAPTER PAGE I. THE AGORA 1 II. THE MESSENGER OF EROS 4 III. THE CURSE OF HECATE 9 IV. SANCTUARY 18 V. THE TEMPLE OF DIANA 23 VI. LUCIUS 28 VII. CAUGHT 34 VIII. PAYING THEIR VOWS 38 IX. THE STUDIO OF CHIOS 41 X. THE RIBBON OF GOLD 46 XI. THE PRIESTESS OF DIANA 50 XII. THE FESTIVAL OF ARTEMIS 53 XIII. CHIOS THE GREEK 60 XIV. THE GROVE OF HECATE 66 XV. AT VENUSTA'S HOUSE 76 XVI. A GARDEN ON CORESSUS 83 XVII. THE PICTURE 85 XVIII. WARNING 91 XIX. THE DAWN OF FAITH 97 XX. PLEADING 105 XXI. THE WITCH 108 XXII. THE LOVE-PHILTRE 111 XXIII. THE CHARMED WINE 120 XXIV. THE MINSTREL 125 XXV. THE SACRED HOUNDS 131 XXVI. ON THE VERGE 135 XXVII. ONE FOR ANOTHER 145 XXVIII. SPIRITS OF THE DEEP 153 XXIX. MYRTLE AND OLEANDER 162 XXX. BY THE RIVER CAYSTER 165 XXXI. THE DOOMED CITY 171 XXXII. ENDORA 175 XXXIII. NIKA 180 XXXIV. THE HOROSCOPE 184 XXXV. THE VIRGIN CAVE 191 XXXVI. REVERIE 195 XXXVII. THE MESSAGE 199 XXXVIII. THE DEAD PRIEST 204 XXXIX. CONSTERNATION 209 XL. TWO MASTER MINDS 212 XLI. DAYBREAK 221 XLII. VARRO 227 XLIII. MYSTERY 231 XLIV. ACRATUS, THE TEMPLE SPOILER 235 XLV. REVELATION 238 XLVI. THE CROWN OF LIFE 249 XLVII. PARTING 253
The sun had risen in all its splendour, and was flooding the bay and mountains with silvery light. The river Cayster moved on its course, and mixed its waters with the blue of the AEgean Sea, and washed the shores of Samos, appearing like a purple vision on the ocean. Boats and ships of quaint form and gorgeous colouring, propelled by a gentle breeze, moved to and fro, and glided up the shining way which led to the great city of Ephesus, the chief of Ionia, and the home of the goddess. Not far away was shining like a brilliant star the marble pillars of the Temple of Diana. Ephesus was now fully awake, and the people were moving along its streets, some wending their way to the temples to offer their morning devotions, others hastening to the great theatre, and many more directing their course towards their daily toil; for men must work, even within the precincts of a city where all is splendour. The city, with its wealth of art and stores of gold, was envied of conquerors. Situated between the mountains, its inhabitants had a noble chance of making it beautiful, and, being skilled in art and endowed with learning, they built temples of the noblest design, erected statues of the richest order, painted pictures of the grandest conception. Odeum and theatre all sprang forth in magical beauty and power, whilst villas replete with elegance combined to make it one of the loveliest cities, surrounded with hills and groves and the traditions of a line of centuries.
The great market was being filled with men and women offering the most tempting products of the land. Groups were selling and buying fruits, flowers and perfumes, bread, fish and wine. Ribbon-sellers, chaplet-weavers, money-changers—all were there; and the people purchased for their daily needs, whilst others bought rich offerings for the temples of their goddess and their gods.
Here and there the ground was covered with flowers of richest shades and sweetest fragrance, and great branches with clustering blossoms of crimson oleander and myrtle lay around.
From the house of the Roman Lady Venusta the slave Saronia had come to buy. She was clothed in the simplest manner, tall and beautifully formed, with eyes speaking a tale of sadness and a weariness of life; a dignified slave, but a slave nevertheless, purchased but a year ago, and brought hither by a trading-barque from Sidon, in Phoenicia, where she had served as a slave from childhood.
She gathered together her pomegranates, citrons, almonds, olives, and flowers, placed them in her basket of wickerwork, walked out of the market, and passed up the way which led to the home of her mistress. But the splendour to which she hastened was a prison to her. She so full of young life, she who felt within her the rising for supremacy (an unquenchable spirit), she with a mystic flame burning up her soul, felt it was not a home but a waiting-place until the Fates passed by and led her on.
True, Venusta treated Saronia fairly well, but Nika, her daughter, hated her—from the first she hated her. And why this hate? Nika herself could scarcely say; but who has not felt this subtle power to love or hate at first sight—an intuitive something which draws or repels without our reason or consent? Perhaps it was the great sadness of Saronia's eyes, the overflowing influence of a mighty spirit, that Nika disliked so much; or perhaps it was that when Chios, the Greek, came to visit the Romans, he spoke kindly to the slave, and thus Nika detested her. It may be so.
Passing by the great theatre and the Odeum, she went up the shaded way over the side of Mount Coressus, and came to the beautiful home of Venusta, passed in laden with fruit and flowers, great clusters of sweet-scented blossoms falling from the basket as she raised it from her head. For a moment she stood as in a dream, with girdled drapery falling to her feet, and her gaze firmly fixed upon the great temple appearing full in view as she looked through the window, which allowed the sunlight to penetrate into her room.
That night, when her work was done, she mounted the marble steps surrounding the house, and breathed the pleasant, perfumed air which came down the mountain-side and danced through the myrtle groves.
The moon had well-nigh reached her meridian and sent forth her pale, cool light, bathing the city in its glory, making the great hills look so strange and lonely, as star after star struggled to show their quivering rays; but the light of the Queen of Heaven, the great Moon Goddess, absorbed them all.
'Twas then the spirit of the girl was moved, and she said to herself:
'Ah! what am I, most Holy Mother, most chaste Luna, great Orb which symbols forth all Nature's mother, thou great Ashtoreth whom I was taught to adore in childhood when in Sidon? Well do I remember when I raised my tiny hand and kissed it unto thee. And they tell me here, also, thou art the same mother, but under another name; that in Ionia they call thee Diana instead of Ashtoreth, and that yonder mighty temple is thy dwelling-place, around whose sacred pillars spreads a sanctuary where those who flee are safe. Holy Mother! May I flee to thee? They say even a slave may come to thy sanctuary, and once there with a just cause, is ever safe from the fiercest Roman or the rudest Greek.'
And thus she spoke until a flock of night-birds flew along and like a cloud obscured the moon, and a voice, sounding like a silver lute, seemed to say:
'My face is veiled with earth-born things; those birds are dark to thee, but every wing before my gaze is tipped with light and silver sheened. So shalt thou see thy sorrows when thou fully knowest me.'
THE MESSENGER OF EROS
The great theatre at Ephesus was thronged; over fifty thousand people had gathered together to witness a new play. Amongst them were Nika and Chios.
'Dost thou like the play?' she asked. 'They tell me the tragedy was wrought in Phoenicia, and has been played with great success in Sidon, from thence to Cyprus, and now here. It pleases thee, Chios?'
'Yes, fairly so; and would do so more were it not that through it runs a vein of suffering, making one wish he could fit disjointed elements so properly together as to make the poor richer, the weak stronger, and the mighty less tyrannical.'
'Chios, again thou art a dreamer. Thou shouldst have a planet all thine own, and, after setting up thy kings governing each particular section of thine orb, thou then shouldst sit enthroned above them all and play the mighty demigod.'
'Nay, Nika, stay thy wit; thou makest sport of my poor sympathies.'
'Yes, yes; it is well, perchance, that thou shouldst bridle in my tongue. But, after all, thou art too kind; there are those of meaner dust who would build upon thy kindness until thou be but the hidden foundation for their super-structure of selfishness. Look, for instance, at that slave-girl of mine, Saronia the Sidonian, naturally haughty, arrogant—if I were to free her, she would spit at me. No, no, a place for everything. A serpent crawls the earth; let it crawl. Dost thou know, Chios, methinks that girl, with her deep unfathomable eyes of night-gloom, is not quite so innocent as one might imagine. I suspect her——'
'Of what? Why, the old story. She has a lover, and meets him secretly—so speaks the rumour of our other household slaves. What thinkest thou?'
'Think? Think it is a base slander on a defenceless maid. She is as pure as the first dawn of day—a mighty spirit is she, as wild as the north wind and as untamable as the winged lightning, but as chaste as the snow on the mountains of Tmolus.'
'Thy words are so sweet for this scornful girl that surely the power of her magical love encircles thy heart and will eat out thy life. What next? Wilt thou offer Lucius, my father, a ransom and wed her?'
'Nay, Nika, what thou sayest is not so, may not be; nevertheless, am I not free to love anything the gods have created and blessed?'
'Yes, yes, go thy ways; but, for all that, it is more seemly for an eagle to mate with an eagle than with a screech-owl. Thou wilt see her anon; thy pet slave waiteth without for her mistress. Now go to her for me and bid her come; and, love-sick boy, be sure she does not fascinate thee that thou be so transfixed to her side that passers-by think they see two statues by Scopas, dressed by some wanton wit to imitate the life.'
'Ah, Nika, thou wert always merry; would thou wert as tender-hearted as humorous. I obey thee.'
And leaving her, he passed out, and saw Saronia—saw her leaning, tired and thoughtful, against a pillar, and around its base were richly carved in strong relief the stories of the gods. Stepping towards her, he said:
'Sleepest thou, or art thou thinking of thy far-away Sidon, or perchance peering into the future to divine thy fortune? What are the omens? Have fair ones passed thee as thou standest here?'
'Nay, good sire, I was thinking of neither the past nor the future, but of the present. I know I am but a slave, a thing who has no right to speak or move or scarcely think without my mistress's bidding.'
'I pity thee, and have tried to befriend thee.'
'Thou art kind, but it will serve me little; they hate me—they all hate me, and make my life a misery—but it will not ever be thus. Just now a woman of peculiar mien stood before me—a woman skilled, she told me, in the mysteries of fate. Looking at me, she said my star was rising full of splendour, and would lead me by its power into a knowledge deep and high—deep as death, high as the heavens. Think you, master, there be any truth in such woman's talk?'
'I cannot say, Saronia. Of those hidden things I am not given to understand. I lean towards the new faith, whose founder is one Christ. Of Him I know little, but 'tis said He is both God and man. What thinkest thou of this?'
'I know not what to think. I do not know the faith, neither does it seem to rise for a hearing in my soul. No; born within me is the faith of Ashtoreth, and as it seems akin to much that is worshipped here, I think I should feel more at home were I to understand the mysteries of Hecate and worship at her shrine.'
'Thou dost not know what thou askest, Saronia. The way to those mysteries is dark and to thee impenetrable. Thou art too good to load thy spirit with such things of gloom, too young to sacrifice thee there. Around her darkness hovers—night, everlasting night, abides. I have heard those who know say this. Are there no brighter hopes for thee? If not, slave art thou indeed—slave in body, slave in soul.'
'True,' said the girl. 'Slaves are we either in body or spirit, whomsoever we serve—men or women, goddesses or gods; to such must we submit and lose our will in that of the greater. Serve, then, the one thou likest best. For myself, I think I like Diana as Hecate. She, I am told, rules the underworld. I aspire no higher; my pinions were shorn away, and I now grovel on the earth, and wish to worship in her bosom.'
'Of what mould art thou, Saronia? I understand thee not. I fear thee somewhat; my soul quails before the power thou already wieldest. What wouldst thou be with that great dark spirit of thine if thou only moved out upon the great ocean of the Ephesian faith? Verily thou wouldst be a bird of ill-omen to those thou didst hate. Didst thou ever love, Saronia?'
'What is love?' said she. 'I know it not. Is it a new god?'
'Yes, girl, call it a god if thou pleasest. Call it Eros, call it Venus, call it what thou mayest, thou wilt fall before it one day and worship—worship madly and perchance too well. Haste thee now to thy mistress, Nika; I have already kept thee too long.'
That night, when all were asleep, Saronia stood looking again towards the great Temple of Artemis. Dimly could she see it by the stars. Two great passions were arranging themselves within her bosom—not two passions joined in common sympathy, but each one striving for itself, and both against the great citadel of her heart. One she recognised, that which drew her on like some great master mind beseeching her to grasp the key and unlock the great secrets of Nature's goddess. The other she knew not; it was a strange passion to her. It was wild, tumultuous, and then calm as a summer's eve—like a storm which bows down the lofty pines on Mount Coressus, and yet as gentle and melodious as the softest Ionian music which ever broke the stillness of the evening air. And as the maid stood there with her long tresses falling over her graceful form, visions rose before her, visions of the future stretching down the great highway leading into eternity, and a voice rang through her soul, crying, 'What is love?'
And she said within herself: 'Can this strange passion be the messenger of Eros?' A form rose before her mind like unto Chios. The great clouds rolled up from the west, the lightnings flashed across the sky, illuminating for a moment the great white marble Temple with its roof of cedar and its plates of gold. The frightened, shivering girl drew her garments tightly around her and hid her face.
How long she remained there she knew not, but when she awoke from a swoon and raised herself from the ground, the scarlet shafts of sunrise were moving up the eastern sky, and the birds were singing from the myrtle groves.
THE CURSE OF HECATE
The day had well-nigh lost its youth. Nika and her mother had retired to the room called 'Golden,' because of the rich chasings of gold on its walls of purest marble, and the threads of gold and vermilion which interlaced in chaste design the polished floor of malachite and aqua marine.
Across the entrance to this room hung a richly embroidered curtain, dyed twice in Tyrian purple, which being drawn back exposed to view a colonnade of varied beauty and richly carved, many of the carvings being the work of Venusta's friends.
Behind the peristyle the walls were hung with beautiful pictures created by artists long since dead, Parrhasius and Apelles, Evenor and Zeuxis; each painting was framed with a panel of exquisite mosaic. Statuary of rarest loveliness by Phidias, Praxiteles and Scopas, Thrason, Myron, Pharax and Phradmon, stood between the pillars. Within the court were fragrant flowers of every shade, and in the centre towered one grand design in fountain form, from which came sprays of perfumed water, hiding the sultry sky and falling back with musical rhythm into the many-coloured marble basin. Slaves with fans of gorgeous plumage wafted the perfumed air into the Golden Room.
In this retiring room, on a couch of citrus-wood inlaid with precious stones and pearls, reclined Venusta. She was clothed in a linen robe of saffron-yellow, with delicate pattern interwoven, and embroidered borders from Phrygia and Babylon. Her face spoke plainly that the Romans ruled the Ionians.
Close by her was Nika, standing like a beautiful dream. She was draped in white silk from the Isle of Cos, and through this diaphanous dress the outlines of her lovely form were seen. Around her waist circled a zone of gems—ruby, sapphire, emerald, hyacinth, garnet, topaz, aqua marine—blended together in magnificent confusion. A splendid opal glinted above her brow, and her hair, like sunlight mixed with gold, came forward shading eyes of loveliest blue, then flowed back like rippling wavelets move towards the shore.
'Take the cithra and play one of thy sweetest melodies,' said Venusta. 'Play that soft Ionian air I heard from thee but yester eve.'
Nika did not respond, but restlessly plucked the petals of a lovely oleander, and as she flung them to the floor murmured:
'Thus would I pluck her life—her life, and end it in nothingness.'
'What ails thee, girl? Art thou ill?'
'No; but impatient for revenge.'
'On the slave Saronia, who stands yonder in the court, dressed in golden brown, looking like a dark fiend as she rests her head against the porphyry pillar that Scopas carved.'
'Wherein has she offended, Nika?'
'In this wise. Thou knowest, mother, I never liked her, and ever as I know her I like her less. And now she poisons with her charms the mind of Chios; not that I care for Chios, but why should such a scorpion stand between us, even if the obstruction be as thin as the mountain mist which flees before the first blush of day? Listen, mother. 'Twas but yesterday, at the great theatre, I sent Chios to bid her come to me. His lengthened stay, his silent mood when he returned, her haughty bearing, all told me another drama had been enacted outside the theatre to which I dare not be bidden. But I will hear of it. I will clearly understand it. She shall speak it again before us, and besides her own she shall act the part of Chios.'
'Do you believe this being is treacherous?'
'I do, mother.'
'Then we will bid her come to us.'
Venusta touched a silver bell. Saronia entered and stood before them—stood without one quiver on her beautiful lips, although she could see by the countenance of her mistress that a storm was at hand. There she stood, pale and self-contained, a smouldering fire burning within her, and the voice of the wise woman ringing in her ears: 'Thy star is rising, full of splendour.'
'Slave, my daughter says thy conduct is uncertain. Knowest thou the penalty of this?'
'Were it true, I know some of the penalties. But wherein have I disobeyed?'
'It is not that thou failest to obey—that would be rebellion, and I myself would probably slay thee, as my husband is away from Ephesus. No! It is this: thou presumest too much—and this, mark you, is the least can be said of it. 'Tis said thou art given to converse freely with our beloved friend Chios, and if this be true 'tis inconsistent with thy position as my slave. But tell us, what hast thou said to him? what did he say to thee during the long interview yesterday outside the great theatre? What passed between you? Tell it quickly; our spirits are of that nature which cannot entertain delay. Now tell it quickly and begone.'
'He told me nothing I may say again; nor will it interest my mistress.'
'How dost thou know?'
'If thou wouldst know, my lady mistress, it comes to this only. I bemoaned my state of slavery, and he, true open-hearted man, did sympathize with me. I deem this matter no offence.'
'Reptile which thou art! Mistress of lies! Thou liest now. Dost think to make believe that he would stoop to sympathize with carrion? Didst thou not entice him? Speak out, or, by the gods, I promise I will have thee tied to the wheel and whipped with rods until thou shalt not even know thyself. Speak, slave! or I will take that tongue of thine from out thy poisonous mouth, and brand thee on thy forehead as a wretch. Once more I speak to thee: tell me the truth!'
Then answered Saronia:
'Lady of Rome, I spoke the truth—the gods can do no better. Thou mayest torture me, and I may die. I have, perchance, lived long enough, and it would be well to pass where I may serve the gods only.'
'Who art thou, slave, and what art thou, who speakest thus?'
'I know not who I am. What I am thou mayest know hereafter.'
'Understand I have power to torture thee!'
'I know all, and have dared to reply.'
'Hast thou no fear? Beware!'
'I have none, for the gods are with me, and my cause is just.'
'Just? Thou mockest. What justice canst thou demand, perjured one of Hades? Leave me, or I may be tempted to slay thee where thou standest; but that would not do. Sorceress, thy foul blood might haunt the Golden Room!'
* * * * *
Saronia went out, and wept great tears of sorrow.
When she had gone, Nika spoke:
'Now seest thou, mother, what she is: she dares even thee! What canst thou do but punish? A fine episode—a Sidonian slave defies her mistress, a Roman matron. Speak quickly; I am burning to hear what thou thinkest. Speak, great Venusta, wife of Lucius!'
'Silence, Nika! It is not becoming thou shouldst use thy satire even in playfulness to such an one as I.'
'Thou knowest my tongue from veriest childhood was ever the same. It is my dagger. It is better than thy jewelled blade of steel. I can wound the heart without shedding one drop of blood. Come, mother, forgive me, and say what shall be done to punish Saronia.'
'She must be tortured until she speaks the truth.'
'But if she should die, we should never know.'
'True! That is a condition we cannot alter.'
'Listen. Give me a day or two and let me try what I may do with guile.'
'Let it be so, Nika. But see I lose not dignity. Make her know it is through thy intercession I relent. Give her two short periods of the sun, and charm with thy music from her that which Venusta cannot wrench by threatenings. If thou canst, girl; but, for my own part, I should as surely expect a fisher to take fish by casting net on a barren rock as that thou wilt be successful with thine undertaking.'
* * * * *
The next day the Roman girl made it convenient that the slave should be alone with her, and commenced her plan of deceit, saying:
'Sidonian, why dost thou look so sad? Thou art unhappy. Dost fear the Lady Venusta? Trust in me. A mother's love is great towards her child. Trust thou in me, girl, make me thy confidant. I know it is not seemly for the high-born daughter of thy mistress to converse with thee in this manner, but I have read somewhere that "All flesh is as grass; the wind passeth over it and it is gone." So, after all, it may be but the force of circumstances which makes me mistress and thee slave. Come, now, tell me what Chios said to thee, and relieve thy mind from anxious thought.'
'My mistress Nika, I cannot tell thee more.'
'Did not Chios speak some sweet words of love into thine ear? Did he not praise thy lovely form, those clustering tresses, those liquid eyes, and did he not taste thy lips? Now, Saronia, tell me, and one day I may tell thee all of my own love story.'
Then spoke the slave:
'I know not of love. If kind words be love, then spake he kindly to me.'
'Didst thou speak of me to him?'
'And what didst thou say?'
'It may wound thee sore to know.'
'No, no! It will leave no lasting impression on my mind; it will be as a cloud-shadow passing over a granite rock, leaving no trace behind. What didst thou say?'
'Thou hatest me.'
'I hate thee! How dost thou know?'
'I scarcely know how to frame my words to form reply.'
'I cannot! But surely as I feel the throbbing of my heart, so certain am I of thine hatred, and expect no mercy from my mistress or her daughter; yet still I feel thou canst not harm me, and I shall not fail beneath thine hand. My destiny is dark, but not broken. I am not like water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. No; my path lies onward through the ages, perchance where thou mayest not follow. I know not why I speak in this manner to thee. A fire seems eating up my very vitals, my brain whirls, and a power which possesses me bids me defy thee, and say: "The slave Saronia is as good as thou, and the time is not distant—yea, well within the span of this brief mortal life—when thou shalt seek me out for help, when thou shalt call for the Sidonian, when thou shalt beg for aid from dark Saronia!"'
* * * * *
When Venusta returned, she found her daughter lying on the citrous couch with head buried between her beautiful hands; but oh the horror depicted on that lovely face as she raised it and gazed into her mother's eyes!
'Thou art suffering, Nika.'
'Thou sayest truly; my whole being seems to have been lashed into a fury, like unto when the winds of winter sweep over the moaning sea, and break the mast from out the noble ship, scatter her cordage, sever the silver cord of her mariners, and leave her an abandoned wreck, the sport of every yawning wave; and after this the mockery of calm and sunny sky. And I, too, have now the calm, and I may truly call it mockery. 'Tis a calm of awful stillness without a ray of hope—a calm so still, so death-like, leaden, which leaves no room for doubt that I am left alone. The spirits of the gods have left me. I am accursed!'
'By whom art thou accursed? What meanest thou, child?'
'I have received the curse of Hecate. In what form my destiny for ill will work out, I know not; but as surely as the dying one gasping for breath knows his end draws nigh, so feel I the power of this great curse upon me.'
'Nonsense, poor girl: it is some quaint fantasy of the mind.'
'Nay, mother, would it were so; then time would rid me of this frightful living death!'
'But speak plainly, Nika; tell me all.'
'It was thus. I spoke to Saronia; I tried to win from her by honeyed words that which thou requested her to tell me. Then did she disclose to me her knowledge of my hate, and after other words had passed she broke forth like a chained lion, and, snapping her chains as if they were threads of finest silk, she defied me. Standing with hair dishevelled and eyes aflame, I saw her face take form like unto the face of the resplendent statue of the goddess, and I knew she was possessed of Hecate, and I cursed before the words of dreadful meaning had passed her lips. Then spake she words aglow with fire, which burnt into me far deeper than the brand of iron burns into the brows of slaves. Those scars pass with death, mine must go with me through the gateway into Hades, into Tartarus, into my wandering 'midst the darkness, where my unclothed, starving spirit shall move through the sable gloom of a destiny that shall stretch out into the great hereafter. Oh, mother, mother, my agony is great!'
'And where is this fiend gone?' asked Venusta. 'She was not in her accustomed place when I entered, and at that I wondered. Dost thou know where she is, daughter?'
'No, I know not. For when that fearful being had spoken, as I have told thee, I hid my eyes for very fear. Only once did I raise them and see her like a black death still standing by my couch; but she had grasped thy jewelled dagger which lay upon the table, and held it with outstretched hand towards the ground, and with upturned gaze and frightful calm she seemed to plead an answer from the goddess. Then fell I into a deep swoon, and in vision seemed to fall from dark abyss to dark abyss, until my soul was torn asunder, and its portions rent again and dissolved into nothingness, and for ever lost.
'It is horrible to think of; and when I awoke, I was alone—yea, alone. It is an awful thing to feel such loneliness. Glad was I when the shadow of the great cypress-tree yonder came through the open window and lay upon the marble floor; even such as that was company to my cursed soul.'
'Lie still, Nika. I will find her, and ere yon red-globed sun hath sunk behind the purple hills she shall suffer for this power which she pretends to possess. A braying ass within a lion's skin! I will brand her with hot irons, and pour strong ink into the furrows! I will work her like a beast, and, when torn and wrinkled with toil and pain, cast her out upon the hills to die! Such is my right to do, and all my powers shall be enforced.'
'Art thou not afraid?'
'No! I respect the faith of Hecate, and by report well know her power; but this young hag is not elect of such a goddess. That she tortures thee with fearful harrowings shows all this is but a slave's device to make escape from the punishment I threaten!'
'No, no! She is true—I am guilty. Would I were not! I have pained her to the verge of death. I have lied against her, and with cruel words and threatenings made her life a wretched misery! Oh, could I but recall the past! But all is dark. I know a great fate of ill-omen hangs over me. When it will descend, I know not. When it will enwrap me, I know not. But it will come, and at a time I am least ready, that I feel;' and Nika wept like a child.
* * * * *
Venusta kissed her daughter and passed out of the Golden Room.
On arriving at the place where the slaves dwelt, she found Saronia had fled, and no one knew whither. She was seen to take her mantle and leave hurriedly, and that was all.
When Saronia saw that Nika had fallen overpowered, and knew her lot was cast, she felt herself a new creature. Her young blood coursed wildly, and great thoughts trooped through her brain like a force of armed men hastening to war. For a moment reason staggered, but did not fall.
When the tumult of her soul was stayed, she said:
'Has the goddess spoken through me? Am I her beloved? If this be so, why not fly to her sanctuary and trust to her great power? I will away now—even now! I will not question with myself. Farewell, cruel Nika! Farewell, merciless girl! Thou wilt stand in thy lot at the end. I go my way, whither I know not—gloom, night, darkness envelops me. But, chaste Diana, show by thy kindly light the way—I am thine! Behold this tiny crescent graven on my hand when yet a child—true sign my loved ones were the worshippers of Ashtoreth; and now I come to thee, great Goddess Luna, Hecate, Diana, the mother of Nature, adored in Ionia!'
* * * * *
Having passed the threshold of the house, she came down the shaded way, along the side of Mount Coressus.
The tall pines murmured softly their evening hymn; the roadside was covered with great bunches of pink and white flowers; clusters of ripe grapes hung from the trellised vines, and the pomegranate-trees were laden with fruit.
A flock of birds of varied hue flew around her, and an eagle, sporting in the air and clapping its wings, swooped down and sailed from right to left, fairest of omens the gods could give. This she saw, and recognised its import, but the flowers and murmuring pines she heeded not.
Down the lovely way she trod and came to the valley beneath, and joined the crowd passing along the city streets.
From the Odeum came the richest music, pealing forth upon the sultry air, and, breaking into softest harmony, melted into the light.
On, further, until the great theatre burst upon her sight, and then for a moment she stood and rested against the sculptured shaft of a mighty pillar and thought of Chios. Suddenly she was confronted with the wise woman who spoke with her not long ago.
'Whither goest thou, pretty slave? Art thou on a mission for thy mistress? or does that star of thine so quickly lead thee to thy fate? Tell me, girl, whither art thou steering?'
'I cannot tell thee; but I pray thee point the nearest way to the pine and cypress grove nigh to the Temple of Diana.'
'Ah, now I know, and will not betray! Sanctuary! Thou seekest sanctuary, and thou shalt have it if I can aid thee; but no time is to be lost. Rush on as if thy life hung on a single thread. Turn to the right, pass the Stadium, wind quickly around the hill Pion, and thou shalt see the Temple bathed in glorious light, and close to it the sacred grove; but I fear the hour has passed to gain access, and the planet Saturn rules. Hide thee among the trees to-night, and when the sun's first rays appear haste thee to thy refuge. That hour is the hour of Jupiter, the next is that of the Sun; thou shalt prevail, and when thou flourisheth, remember me.'
She moved away, and stealing around the hill with its great Acropolis and fortress walls of iron brick, gained the sacred port, at the head of which, standing broadly against the dying day, appeared the mighty Temple—that Temple which she had so often gazed on from Venusta's home.
It was not far away, but she could not reach it in time to claim security that day. If she ran she would be suspected, and her feet seemed weighted with sandals of lead.
She passed the smaller temples, saw the great ships with gorgeous sails and swinging pendants pass up and down the sacred way, and heard the chant of evening song float forth from many a shrine. Still, on she went, footsore and weary, to find, alas! the door of her asylum closed; then, gazing for a moment at the mighty structure within the parabolus walls, she uttered a faint cry and burst into a flood of tears. Nothing could she do but fly to the grove and pass the night there, and, creeping stealthily away, she moved towards the pines and cypress-trees.
* * * * *
That night there raged a storm. The great clouds in wild masses sailed across the sky like leviathans in the blue-tinted darkness of ocean depths. No moon nor star. The mighty winds swayed the trees, and bent the stoutest of them like reeds. Saronia crouched beneath a giant pine, whose summit seemed to pierce the sky. Faint and shivering, she drew her garments closely around her and fell asleep, only to be awakened by the thunderings which seemed to break the universe in twain with echoes like the voices of the gods in combat. A lightning flash flew down like a haunted fiend and blasted her tree from top to base, but it hurt her not.
And after hours had passed, and the furious winds had sailed out over the deep, the rains descended and drenched her flimsy garment. The stormy winds sank down to a melancholy wail, and played their dirge amongst the branches of the cluster-pine, and the dawn came up from the east and struggled between the dark-green foliage.
Saronia arose and staggered through the long wet grass, heeding not the masses of yellow iris or the flaming poppies. When she arrived at the confines of the grove the light had broken through the gray, and soon she saw the sun, and knew it was her hour.
On she went, with her thin brown garments clinging to her lovely form. For a moment, like a thief, she hung around the entrance gate, and with a wild convulsive moan passed within—to sanctuary!
When the priests went by they saw the fallen form, and thought her dead. They raised her tenderly and led her away.
* * * * *
'Who art thou?' said the chief of the priests.
The girl looked beseechingly at him, and said:
'I am the slave of the Roman Venusta, whose home is on the Mount Coressus. Faithfully have I served her, and would have continued but for her cruelty. Before I saw this city my home was Sidon, in Phoenicia. There also I was a slave as far back as my memory serves me. Who I am I know not——'
'What is thy name?'
'Saronia; and hither have I fled to throw myself on the mercy of the goddess, with the hope that I may serve her.'
Then answered he of the Megalobyzi:
'Thou speakest plainly, and we will inquire into the matter;' and, turning to a priestess standing near, he requested her to protect the girl and give her food.
The young priestess was of exquisite beauty, and her face beamed with rarest charity. Her voice was full of sweetness as she said:
'Maiden, lean on my arm, and let me lead thee to thy rest;' and Saronia heard the chanting of the morning hymn, and felt she had reached her goal—the dearest to her heart.
* * * * *
At Venusta's house, just after the morning meal, a slave delivered to her mistress a message. The Roman autocrat broke the ominous seal, and, turning deathly pale, read out the following:
'Great is Diana of the Ephesians, whom all Asia and the inhabited earth worshippeth.
'UNTO THE NOBLE LADY VENUSTA,
'Whereas thy slave-girl Saronia is now within the sacred precincts of the Temple of our Lady Saviour, and claims sanctuary, alleging that by your cruel treatment she has fled your abode;
'And this Notice, in accordance with the Law, demands that you appear at our Tribunal, and if by proof you show her allegations false, she shall forthwith be handed back, you releasing her from all punishment for thus submitting her case to this our High and Sacred Court.
'On the other hand, if she be in the right, then she shall be free to consecrate herself unto the service of the Ephesian goddess, and observe the rites as practised in the Temple of Artemis.'
For a moment Venusta was silent. What was to be done? Her Roman blood ran riot through her veins. Recovering herself, she said to her daughter:
'I will pursue her even to the jaws of death. Shall I thus be taunted by a slave? No; the wife of Lucius will not submit to be taught her duty to a hag such as she! I will reply immediately and use the law to win her back.'
'Leave her,' said Nika. 'See, will it avail thee to have thy name blazoned abroad among the noble ones of Ephesus? She is not worth much—never was, and would be worthless were she back again. Let her go!'
'No, child, my dignity is hurt. Thou knowest the high position held by us in this city, and to remain silent, I fear, in this case is to admit guilt. This would not do.'
'Mother dear, let me speak again, and plainly. I fear her. Should she return, soon must thou prepare the marble urn to receive the ashes of Nika. What could we do with her? She is far too terrible for us. If she spake never a word, her look would kill me. Thou knowest she cannot now be punished, for after having sought sanctuary the law provides a shelter against torture, and think of the scandal were the case tried, and her name in any way coupled with our beloved friend Chios. No, no; let her go. Were it not an insult to offer thee, I would sell my jewels, all, all I possess—everything—and pay her ransom. Say, dearest mother, say to Nika, say for the torn fragment of peace left me, that my request is granted.'
'I will let her go,' said the Roman. 'I think it best as thou hast said. Her destiny seems to lie outside our reach. To bring her back is wrong to thee after what thou hast now said. To let her remain may be humiliation. However, one thing we know: whilst within the Temple she cannot trouble us. To free her and let her wander abroad—well, it would be worse than playing with a deadly serpent. Discussion further may only hamper our best policy. She shall circle in her own orbit.' And Venusta framed reply, stating the slave's assertions quite untrue; but, being desirous of making an offering to the Queen of Heaven, she set her free.
And thus does fate work out our destiny, and prove
'Man's goings are not of his own ways; How then can he direct his paths?'
THE TEMPLE OF DIANA
Bathed in the sunlight of an azure sky, the Temple of Diana raised its lovely head and shone the fairest mistress of the ancient East. Boasting a long list of ancestors, she, the last of a line of temples, the Mighty One that should fight against the coming Christ, a strong fortress wherein her devotees should defend their faith against all detractors—this the last, the eighth, the proudest Temple, the wonder of the world, was now in all its splendour, enthroned at the head of the sacred port, and shone out like a silvery sun.
Built on sure foundations of the Ionic order, with symmetrical proportions, it towered high in majesty, with double rows of fluted marble pillars carved magnificently, many of which were the gifts of kings.
Its pronaos and pediments were resplendent with marble, whilst the vestibule and peristyle were adorned with the richest friezes and the noblest statues.
The roof of cedar was covered with marble and gold, and the staircases were of vine. Around it on every side great flights of marble steps led up to the sacred shrine.
The entrance doors to this mighty Temple were of cypress wood, with ivory panels of richest sculpture set in gold.
Within, the place was full of rarest beauty, and strength abounded on every hand.
Pillars rose on pillars, and the choicest workmanship adorned them. The friezes and the painted walls were all that art could furnish, and the sky appeared through the open roof like a circle of fairest blue.
In the Temple stood the altar, behind the altar the great statue of the Moon Goddess, Diana of the Ephesians, the Lady Saviour, the Resplendent One, the Mother of Nature. This symbol of deity was hidden from the vulgar gaze by a lovely veil of costly make, coloured with purple of Tyre, adorned with figures and arabesques and embroideries from Babylon, and edged with a fringe of purest gold. Behind the statue was the opisthodomus, or retiring chamber.
The Temple floor was of white marble, the purest kind, and polished, the joining of the slabs faced with golden wire.
The quiet splendour of this mighty edifice baffles description. Not only was it magnificent in itself, but it was the grand storehouse for all that was beautiful and costly. It abounded in the sculptured works of Praxiteles and Thrason, and there were the statues of the Amazons, and that by Rhoecus, which the Ephesians called 'Night,' and those by Phidias and Scopas, silver wrought by Mentor, vases made of gold.
The cella walls were hung with costly paintings—pictures by Timarete, the daughter of Nicon; others by Callithon of Samos, portraying 'Discord raising the Battle' and the 'Binding on of the Armour of Patroclus.' There was Euphonor's 'Ulysses feigning Madness,' and that great painting by Timanthes which caused a shudder to pass through the mighty Alexander, and the majestic portrait of that mighty conqueror painted by Apelles.
In it were stored the strangest books, and there hung the finest instruments of music.
It was the common treasury for all Asia; all nations deposited their treasures there for safety, and the world wondered at its riches. Deposits were made of all kinds—honorary statues, votive offerings, spoils, and actual treasure—and the people invoked the blessing of the goddess whose presence filled the golden shrine of Ephesus.
* * * * *
An awful stillness reigned within the sacred pile—silence soon to be lightly broken by the entrance of a few priestesses, who led a girl within the folding doors of the great sanctuary.
This was the night prior to initiation, and the novice was taken there that she might recognise solemnly what she was about to do on the morrow.
The moonlight streamed faintly through the open roof, casting shadows on the marble floor.
As Saronia—for it was she who accompanied the priestesses—moved on, she drew her cloak lightly around her, for the night-winds were chill, and her spirit nature was strained to its highest point. They stopped in front of the great altar. The moon threw off her veil of clouds, and the light from her glorious body shone forth, illuminating the veil that hid the statue of the goddess.
'See thou that glorious orb, Saronia—for thou shalt ever retain thy name, a favour granted to few—seest thou that globe of light? 'Tis the symbol of our goddess—the symbol set in the blue heavens—and behind this purple veil her image stands, shadowing her forth, the mother of nature, protector of cities, and dispenser of all good gifts to men. On earth we worship her as such; above she is Luna, the Queen of Heaven; and when the time comes that thou canst bear it, thou shalt know her as Hecate, the goddess of the underworld, she who governs the shades and rules the spirits in Hades with an eternal power. This goddess—the Triformis—thou art about to serve with all thy soul. Is it not so? Canst thou be true to her, forsaking all, follow where her great spirit leads? She will speak to thee, maiden—she will speak to thee; and, having once spoken, that voice will ever reverberate through the deepest recesses of thy being, will live on for ever to bless thee, or wind around thy soul to curse thee down to Tartarus as thou art faithful or false.
'Saronia! Saronia! it is not yet too late to withdraw and throw thyself into the mighty throe of the great world's agony. Which shall it be? It is for thee to decide. No one is pressed into the service of the great goddess Diana, neither may any follow her as a matter of convenience.'
A cloud passed o'er the moon, and they were shrouded in darkness. Then as suddenly passed those cloudlets away, and Saronia, trembling with fear, said:
'Great priestess of the goddess, fear not; my mind is settled. Long, long have I wished for this hour, the hour of joy. My soul thrills with anticipation; my whole being is like one grand instrument tuned to the hand of my lady goddess, Diana Trivia. Let the night hasten; let the darkness be driven with power of the storm-wind; may the night speed on, and make way for the morning. Oh, chaste moon, flee thy way to the west, that the scarlet shafts may appear and I may pour my soul out before thee. My spirit longeth for thee, oh gracious one, that I may dwell in thy Temple evermore.'
Then deep silence fell on all, and the pillars and roof cast great ghostly shadows on the floor, conjuring up mighty forms of weirdness, and the priestesses murmured reverently:
'The goddess is here! Hecate is here!'
The winds were rising and whistling with strange meaning through the sacred pines; the moon sailed down the west as a barque on the wings of a favouring gale; the stars looked down from their distant thrones; the song of the waves came up from the strand; and the night wore on.
The next day's sun arose, mounted the heavens in beauty, and smiled down its splendour on mountain and sea. Saronia breathed the fresh morning air. All nature was alive; the flowers seemed to cast a richer perfume; the birds, to her, warbled their choicest strains; life and joy were everywhere; night and death were asleep.
The great highway to peace was unclouded, and she could look straight down the golden road, until it melted into the altar-steps of heaven.
This was her bridal morn; why should she not be happy? And that day she was wedded to her faith, initiated into the mysteries of Diana, and became a priestess of the goddess.
Ephesus was a scene of gaiety.
Great arches decorated with choice foliage and festooned with lovely flowers spanned the public way; banners of strange beauty waved on the morning breeze; jubilant strains of martial music floated on the perfumed air.
The day was young, yet vast crowds were astir. This was a festive day—the day of the home-coming of Lucius, whose wife was Venusta.
Yes, he was to arrive in port to-day in command of a Roman squadron. Had he not been to far-off Britain and brought a British chieftain captive to Rome?
Already the powerful ships were seen between the Isle of Samos and the main. Soon they drew nearer. Their great square sails set to catch the favouring gale urged them onwards like homesick birds until they drew close to the entrance of the port, and the people flocked to meet them. For Lucius was a valiant commander, and he should have a hearty welcome. Besides, had he not from time to time made costly offerings to their city protectoress, and was there not a tablet in the great theatre recounting the noble deeds of Lucius Erastus?
The fleet had entered the channel leading up to the city port. First came, like flying scouts, groups of gaily painted boats and splendid barges, with sails of many hues, vermilion, azure, golden-coloured, and white, some with stripes, and many-formed devices, others with curious mystic signs.
Streamers hung lazily aloft from masts and yards, prows and sterns, whilst flutes and lyres, syrinx and clarionet, kithra and aulos sent forth the soft Ionian music until the shores were wrapt in softest harmony. Some of the welcomers had ventured beyond the margin of the strand, and now returned in haste to lead the way.
Then came the biremes with their double rows of oars, and clewed-up sails, swinging on the yards. Then the triremes followed with their treble banks of oars, and one among the last of those great ships was greatest. She was commanded by the Roman favourite. Yes, there she comes with beaked prow, projecting ram, castellated cabin, and great oars sweeping the silver sea. Above her gunwale rose a line of polished shields and rows of glittering spears—spears handled by warriors who knew their work.
Flags flew out from end to end, blazoning in wild profusion along the yards and up the mast, gambolling with the cordage and the mighty sail. Following the warships came a host of vessels and boats, and along the banks of the great canal multitudes hastened, shouting as they went great shouts of welcome.
The Roman fleet with its hosts of followers moored within the harbour with the city full in view, and Lucius thought he saw a silvery scarf waving from a house on Mount Coressus.
When he had landed and was near the great theatre, many were the friends who surrounded him, giving greeting; foes also, with envy at heart, time-servers, cried 'Welcome!'
Just then the joyous acclamations for a moment ceased. A cluster of priestesses going from temple to temple passed that way, and the hardy sailor bared his head as the little procession went by. Two eyes met his, and a feeling as if the dead were there crept through his soul; they were dark unfathomable eyes, and the girl was tall and beautiful, with clustering hair. And he said within him: 'Where have I seen that face ere now?'
When she had passed he went his way, but his brow was dark with thought; something had crossed his track leaving a trail of gloom, why, he could not say. Again sweet voices chimed pleasantly, and the softest Ionian cadences floated out from the roofless Odeum. A carpet of bruised and dying roses strewed the ground.
He had soon forgotten the girl with the dark eyes and clustering hair, and entered his princely home on the slopes of Coressus. Around it the pine-trees waved a greeting, and the wind sighed through the branches of the cypress.
That evening the residence of Lucius was a scene of gaiety and splendour.
Venusta welcomed her husband with the true feelings of a loyal wife, and Nika was glad at the return of her father; she could now repose on his protective presence.
Many of the nobles of Ephesus had gathered there—artists and sculptors, philosophers and warriors, lovely women, Greeks and Romans, maidens of Caria, Priene, and girls from Samos blended in one great mass of power and beauty.
The sweet day still cast its soft light, and lit up the lovely flowers and beautiful trees of olive, cypress, pine, and myrtle. The sun had lost its power, the atmosphere was deliciously cool, and many came from within to breathe the refreshing air ere the dew bathed the grass and the night-birds sang from the grove, or the twilight heralded the night and the stars encircled the moon.
Nika, leaning on the arm of Lucius, stood by a great white marble fountain—he the bronzed sea-warrior, and she like a dream of spring.
'Tell me, child—for many seasons have rolled away since I left thee and thy mother to visit those lovely isles in the far-off west—is thy young heart sound like thy father's barque after the battling of the stormy seas, or has Cupid laid siege and thou capitulated?'
'Nay, father, Nika's heart is free, neither could it be otherwise, for it is hard as the marble of this fountain, colder than the water which springs from each chaste design.'
'Ah, girl, thou art, I fear, like others of thy sex, prone to sail under false colours when a lover is in chase. Tell me, where is Chios? I thought he would have been here. Was he not bidden?'
'He was, but there is no written law for him. He moves in his own eccentric orbit. He will come when most unexpected, suddenly, like an eagle from the clear blue depths of the sky, or as a comet from out the midnight gloom.'
'Why, daughter, there he is, conversing with that sweet maid of Smyrna! Let us crowd all sail, and bear down on his weather. Quickly! I like that boy, and, if my reckoning be correct, thou dost not dislike him. Am I right?'
'Well, I like him, and I like him not. He has mixed much with the people of the new faith, and ever as he goes that way his mind becomes o'erclouded with gloom. He is strangely abstracted, scarce a word escapes his lips. Were it not for this strange faith which spells him, I should say he loved, and, if 'twere love, I should not be the idol of his choice.'
'I know not;' and a painful sorrow passed across her brow, but Lucius saw it not.
The night came down, and beacon fires glared out on every hill and mountain-top. Coressus and Pion were aflame, great torches whirled and rushed wildly up and down the mountain-side, and moved in fiery lines throughout the city streets.
The lamps were lit within, and windows made of richly-coloured glass, amber, blue, and ruby, shone forth in lovely harmony and glorious hues, until the myrtle-trees, with their great white blossoms and perfumed breath, seemed quivering with delight. Merry songs, with laughter and rippling music, floated on the lazy air. Joy ran riot in the house of Lucius, and the meanest slave had for a time a share of happiness. The hours rolled on in pleasure, like a stately ship on a sunny sea.
Down deep in the heart of Nika joy was mockery.
The guests departed, and she retired to her chamber. Throwing herself on a couch, she wept great tears of anguish, a tide of tears no joy could stay.
She arose and gazed out into the darkness, and saw the looming of the great Temple rearing its majestic form in sable gloom, darker than the night; and she looked into the great unfathomable depths of the skies, and sighed like the deep moaning of the wind. But the heavens were as brass, and the great sigh died without becoming a prayer.
Moving back silently to her couch, she lay down, but not to sleep, for she heard strange sounds arise from the sacred grove, and she knew the songs of the night came up from the Temple of Hecate.
The morning came, and with it the springs of life revived, and she said: 'Why this sadness? why this harvest of gloom? I will awaken myself, tear this veil of night from around my spirit. I will lay bare my soul to the glorious sunlight, drink in its glory until I am saturated with delight. I will not weep; I will not mourn; I defy this spell; I challenge this curse—this brand of hell! Oh that it were always day, that the sun never set, and my mind were as strong as now!' and she flung the great masses of wavy hair back from her stately forehead, and it fell to the ground, enshrouding her form till she looked like a goddess on earth.
* * * * *
'Why art thou so late, dear, to thy morning meal?' said Venusta. 'Come, sit by my side, and tell me what thinkest thou of last night's innocent revelry? Was it not a right hearty welcome to thy father, most fitting to receive him? and didst thou note that noble Roman who stood next but one to thee when those dancing-girls came forward to dance to us? I know thou sawest him, Nika, for I saw your eyes meet. Well, he has come from Rome to govern. He is the new Proconsul. His influence in the imperial city is great. Besides, he is positively a favourite with the Emperor. I tell thee all this that thou mayest know of him. Moreover, Lucius has bidden him to spend this evening here, and thou wilt have ample time to satisfy thy curious mind respecting him, and, fortunately or unfortunately, as the Fates may determine, Chios also will be here. Nika, take care; this Roman is not a child or a fool! They say he is impetuous, firm, resolute when need be. Now let us join my husband. I see him yonder gathering flowers.'
Lucius came to them, smiling as he came. He offered a rose to Nika, but Venusta said: 'No, no; let me choose first! I will take the rose. Give her an unthorned flower; the emblem of evil and good, pleasure and pain, shall be mine, for we twain are one, husband, and if this flower presages aught than happiness, then may I, thy loving wife, rest on thy strong arm, as this rose clung to the oak from which thou pluckedst it.'
Nika was walking solitary, alone.
'Give her a bloom which speaks the language of hope;' and he approached and gave her the pink-white almond flower.
'Venusta,' said Lucius, 'I have been thinking of that slave girl, the dark Phoenician maid, Saronia; I see her not in her accustomed place. I feel a keen interest in that weird beauty. What of her? Is she dead, or what?'
'She is as good as dead to us, dear. She is at the Temple, and has been initiated as a priestess for the presiding goddess.'
'Priestess! priestess! What does it all mean? Light dawns! I saw her—yes, I saw her—as I passed through the city yesterday. Now I understand. Hear me. As I passed near the great theatre some maidens of the Temple came that way. I stood still, with bared head; the sounds of greeting were stayed until they went with solemn tread; and, as they passed, one with eyes deep-looking like the ocean's depths, turned them full on me, and gazed into my inner soul, and, like a barque which strikes a sunken rock and staggers, so did my spirit. I did my best to divine who she was, but all was dark, and I moved on with clouded mind. Now I know. Why is she there? Some great mystery hangs over it. I am not usually given to fear, but somehow I feel a sorrow of this event.'
Then did Venusta tell him of what had occurred—told him that only which she thought would screen herself and Nika.
The old commander saw too plainly that one side only of the story had been told, and felt confirmed in his suspicions when he saw his daughter's eyes suffused with tears. He, with that true manliness which permeated him, said but little, for fear he might know too much, and deeper wound the pent-up feelings of his child.
That evening the Roman nobleman arrived, and was warmly welcomed by Lucius, and introduced to Venusta and Nika; and Varro was soon at home, for at first sight he loved the sailor's daughter, and at once made up his mind to lay siege; but, Roman-like, he would mature his plans before declaring war. Besides, he knew not if a rival were in the field and would join the girl as firm ally.
It is well known how difficult it is to entertain a stranger the first quarter of an hour. One would know his pet theories and touch on them, so that the newcomer might lead off and rejoice; but even the astute mind of the wife of Lucius was puzzled to divine the inclinations of the Roman—he was impenetrable, a perfect blank; but the truth was this: the Roman tactician had but one thought just then, and that was of Nika, and it developed so rapidly that it was undiscovered. Had it been, it were not food for conversation; so Venusta opened fire with the beauties of the city, for the weather at that season of the year was nearly always fine.
'Well, how dost thou like our noble city, the envied of the world? Hast seen the great Gymnasium, the Serapion, the theatre?'
'Yea, my lady, I have, as much as one can in so short a time as I have lived within the great heart of this beautiful place. Rome is great, but Ephesus is lovely—the very air seems laden with rejoicings. Surely this must be the Elysian city on earth!'
'Thou art too complimentary; but, as thou sayest, it is lovely. Didst thou notice the double colonnade around the Agora, and the many mighty statues there? And what thinkest thou of the lovely little Odeum nestling at the feet of Mount Pion, and the great Stadium around the hillside to the west? Is it not noble?'
'Yes, it is fine, a magnificent racecourse; and I am told seventy thousand people will not fill it to overflowing. Is this so?'
'Yes; and you should see the charioteers in full swing.'
'But thou hast not spoken of the gem of the city, the great Temple of Diana?'
'No, I have not.'
'I passed the Temple on my way hither, and I shall not soon forget when I stood without the Parabolus walls, and, looking through the entrance gate, gazed on the flight of marble steps leading up to the mighty building. I have seen nothing like it in my splendid Rome. Not only is the Temple great, but the very place on which it stands, surrounded with its sacred groves, seems a fit place for the birth of a goddess. I saw the shrine of Hecate lifting its head behind the mightier home of Diana, and heard songs of worship coming forth from both, sometimes low, as the murmur of a sinless child, then rising in great waves—billowy waves of jubilant harmony—until I seemed bound to the place by an invisible chain.'
Just then Chios was announced, and Varro saw by Nika's eyes that she had something more than respect for the Greek. Venusta was glad Chios had come, for she feared the Roman might continue to speak of the Temple, and that the conversation might drift towards the priestesses, and the name of Saronia be mentioned.
Chios appeared happy, save for the far-away look in his eyes. Nika was the only one who could read him and solve his abstraction. She spoke kindly to him, and gradually allowed her manner to change to freezing-point. This was strategic: she showed the Roman she valued little the friendship of the Greek, and Varro was deceived, and thought it true. There was no need for battle against this Ephesian artist. He could even use him to further his own ends to win the girl. No, Nika had slighted Chios—treated him coldly. He could now treat him courteously and fraternize; but, could he have looked into the girl's heart, he would have seen the image of Chios engraved there.
'How long,' said Varro, 'hast thou been in Ephesus?'
'From childhood,' replied Chios.
'And hast thou followed thy profession from youth?'
'Yes, and I love it—am wedded to it for life.'
'What meanest thou? Wilt thou never wed some sweet Ionian girl?'
'Never! As I tell thee, I am wedded to my art. I shall never wed again. Why should I, seeing I love it dearly, as strongly as yonder priesthood love their faith and are content? So am I.'
At this saying of Chios the beautiful mouth of the Roman girl was slightly agitated, and her hand closed tightly on an almond flower, and its petals fell to the ground.
Then came Lucius and his wife, and all joined in pleasant gossip. Varro spoke proudly of Rome, and Lucius of Britain, and the time sped on. The young noble left, but Chios remained.
Nika was ill at ease, her mind was a storm, and, throwing a mantle over her shoulders, she said playfully:
'Come, Chios; take me to the balcony, that we may breathe the fresh night air.'
She was impatient to get at the mind of the Greek. Quick-sighted, she had already read the mind of the Roman. What did she care? She would be bold.
'Chios, why didst thou say thou wilt never wed? Is it really so?'
'Yes, Nika, it is true.'
'Chios, we have known each other long, and have been more than friends. We have been like children of one mother! Thou hast ever spoken freely and kindly to me, and I would ask thee one question—one little question—that is all.'
'Say on, Nika.'
'Didst thou ever love?'
'I may have.'
'I thought so much,' replied she; 'and where is that love? Does it live on, or is it—dead?'
'It lives, but I am trying to kill it.'
'Wouldst thou be a murderer, Chios?'
'No, I mean well.'
'Tell me thy secret, and I will bury it in the grave of my heart. Whom—dost—thou—love?'
'I cannot tell thee, but she is not a Roman.'
'Then I know—it is Saronia. Let me lean upon thy arm, Chios. Lead me within—the night is chill.'
PAYING THEIR VOWS
From morn to eve great songs of praise and adoration went up before the shrine of Diana, and soft music echoed through the great Temple, sometimes swelling like the martial notes of the Persian hosts when they marched through the vales of Ionia to Abydos, and then sweet melodies sank back into the faintest strains, like a weeping lute or the sighs of a broken heart.
Those plaintive sounds suited one spirit, and that one was the storm-clad soul of Saronia. She had seen her old master on his arrival at Ephesus; he had done her no harm, and her heart went out towards him that she might speak and thank him for his kindness. After all, she had the true instinct of a woman, and must love something: she loved the goddess, but she had a spiritual and a human existence, and both must love. True, her nature was somewhat seared, battling as she had done for existence. There was a time when a kiss, a simple kiss, would have thrilled her very soul; but that was long ago. Since those happy times she had hardened herself against the world—the cold, selfish world made her so. But a nature with true instinctive love cannot long remain in such a state when conditions change; and now Saronia was coming to her former self, removed from the world and surrounded by those who really loved her. Her heart softened, and she felt a keen affection for Lucius.
There were but two men in the teeming millions of the world she cared for; of those two, one had been passively kind, the other an active friend. The latter was Chios, of whom she dared not think. No, she could not even breathe a sigh o'er the remembrances of him, for fear a smouldering dead past might break into a living flame. All this she knew—knew it now when she had passed from death to life, when the night had fled and the day dawned; so she conjured up a mighty gulf between her and the Greek, a gulf over which she would not pass, neither could he come unto her. But of Lucius she felt no fear, and this is the distinction between friendship and love.
Lucius was to visit the Temple of Diana to render thanks for her protecting grace to him whilst he had been battling with many storms; and his mariners had promised a votive offering to the goddess when the winds whistled through the cordage and the waves tossed their ship until it reeled and staggered like a drunken man. And now they came to fulfil their vows. This was not a vain show. Those sons of the ocean had warm hearts, and would lay them there before the shrine. Neither did Lucius desire pomp or show; he would come with his men and worship simply, manly. So, when the sun was low and the winds were hushed, they drew nigh and bowed before the altar, and, offering their libations, whispered forth their prayers. Around the flower-strewn altar stood the priests and priestesses. The chanting songs went upward in deep sonorous rhythm, and as the sacred hymn died out in echoes through the columned sanctuary, the toilers of the sea bent low and sang:
Thanks to Thee, O Lady Saviour. Thanks to Thee, O great Dispenser. Mercy have, and keep us lowly In the hollow of Thine hand. Hail! O hail! Thou mighty Mother. Hail! Thou Giver of all good. Mercy have and keep us lowly, Ever bring us safe to Thee.
Then in deep unison priests and mariners joined in one grand anthem of thanksgiving, and cheeks were wet with the tears of men whose sinews were like iron, and whose hearts were proof against fear.
When they moved away, Lucius looked lovingly towards the shrine, and beheld Saronia, with her robe of purest white, standing in bold relief against the rich colour of the great veil which hid the statue of the goddess from their view; and their eyes met, and from her came a look of sweetest thanks, filling his soul with unfathomable calm, and he knew their hearts were tuned in strange resemblance, and that the priestess of Diana would offer prayer for him whether he dwelt in his lovely home or paced the poop of his lofty ship when the gale grew loud and the storm-birds flew.
For a while stillness reigned, and the priests and priestesses were alone, singing their evening hymns; the great censor swung, and the burning incense filled the Temple with odour. Then they passed through the portals to their rest, and the Temple watchers stood at the gates and kept guard within the Parabolus walls.
The dark eyes of Saronia were filled with tears of joy, for she had seen Lucius; she was at peace, though the sun had set and the shadows fell.
And thus peace cometh to the mind of the tempest-tossed, but such a being as Saronia could not long sustain it. Her soul was a spirit in chase, pursuing something undefinable which she longed to obtain, that she might be for ever satisfied and her measure of happiness complete. A calm to her was like a summer day in winter-time, the harbinger of coming storm.
THE STUDIO OF CHIOS
The studio of Chios was very beautiful, and an artist is pretty well known by the place in which he paints, provided he has means to gratify his tastes. It was not a great room filled with materials, leaving him just a dozen square feet to walk about, but a studio of ample proportions, and kept as it should be with space to move around. Nothing of it could be seen from the road, for great clusters of myrtle-trees, gigantic rose-bushes, and crimson oleanders hid it most effectually; but those of his friends who went that way knew when they had passed through the quiet gateway and between the flower-trees that not far away was one of the sweetest little studios in Ephesus. Yes, there it was close to the pond of water-lilies, with the bees humming from blossom to blossom, and the birds singing cheerfully from the foliage which surrounded it; the birds were quite tame, for Chios was kind to them, and some would light upon his shoulders, and others on his arm.
A few steps led up to the marble portico, with its ceiling of blue decked with little silver stars and a crescent moon. At the entrance stood two small statues by Euphranor and Phidias.
Within all was beauty: the studio, circular in form, with alcoves lit with light which filtered in through the thinnest sheets of coloured marble; the furniture, simple, but choice; a kline or two of cedar-wood, enriched with gold, to recline on when weary; a few chairs of ebony, cypress, and rosewood were placed in the alcoves; a marble thronos for his sitters; a few small tables, three-legged and four-legged, beautifully carved, stood about to hold his brushes and palettes and the choicest flowers, which a good old servant brought him every morning.
These things, with his easels, made up the contents of his studio. It was not so famous for its furniture as for the beauty of its construction, with domed roof and circular opening to the sky, and its floor of marble enriched with precious stones. For Chios was wealthy, and could lavish money as he pleased in decorating his studio.
Behind this working-room were retiring-rooms, and a small but valuable library of choice manuscripts by Callinus, the Elegiac poet; Batalus, the musician; Dion, Andron, Delias, and Daphnus, the philosophers; with works by Phavorinus, Zenodotus, Menander, and many others.
* * * * *
It was a quiet afternoon; the winds were too lazy to stir and had fallen asleep.
Varro passed that way, and said: 'I will drop in and see Chios.'
The artist was outside, painting into his picture some apple-blossoms hanging gracefully from a tree which grew against a piece of old Greek wall. Looking up from his work with a smile, he welcomed the noble Roman.
'I am glad thou art come, for my hand is weary and my brain tired. It is so sultry within that I felt quite unfitted to work there, and sought refuge beneath those shading trees, whilst, as thou seest, a gleam of light comes down between the foliage and strikes upon those blossoms of the apple-tree.'
'I really hope I am not intruding too much, Chios?'
'Oh dear no; I am glad to see thee. Wilt thou sit? Make thyself at home.'
The two men talked of Ephesus and its people until the conversation was of the ladies, and soon the name of Nika was heard, for the Roman could not but speak of her.
'What thinkest thou of her?' said Chios. 'Thou hast seen her?'
'Well, truthfully, I may say, during the interview referred to, my mind was more concerned to think of Chios until I clearly perceived that he had the blank face given him by that beautiful girl. Then my heart grew hopeful, for, to tell thee all, I think I love that maid.'
'Think thou lovest—is that all? A man who loves is sure. A man has no such sure knowledge of anything else on this earth or in the beyond. I am afraid thy love is of the morning cloud thinness, and will soon pass away.'
'No, no. Believe me, it is not so. I spake not so freely, truthfully, as I should. I love her, and am certain of it; but tell me, Chios, that thou lovest her not.'
'Why asketh thou such a question? Did she not give me the cut direct in thy presence?'
'Because I am skilled in the ways of women, and know they frequently act directly opposite to that they mean. I saw her coldness to thee, and saw no reason for it, and at once, in my mind, questioned the proceeding. Say, dost thou love her—hast tried to win her? Is she sporting with thy manly heart? Speak, on the honour of a Greek, and, if such be the case, I leave the field.'
'I love her not.'
'Hast thou failed, and stifled the dawn of love?'
'Is it, then, Nika loves Chios, and Chios is adamant?'
'I am not skilled in the mysteries to be able to read her thoughts.'
'Perhaps not; but, as a man, like myself, thou canst read actions, and they are the outcome of thoughts.'
'Thou forgettest, noble friend, but a moment or so ago thou saidst that frequently actions were contrary to what was really meant. How, then, can I divine her meaning more than thyself?'
'True, thou hast me rather firmly; and such skill in fencing demands my admiration and consideration. I will not press further on thee, Chios, and I have now naught to do but to make love, and make her love me more than ever she loved another.'
'That will be an easy matter, for I saw how satisfied she was with Varro when last we passed the evening together at the house of Lucius. An Ephesian painter would stand no chance against the Proconsul of Ephesus.'
'Come, come, Chios; thou art already jealous of thy rival!'
'No; thou art free to conquer and annex. I am a friend of Nika, and trust may remain so, but I am nothing more, or ever may be.'
'Then I may take thee to be a man callous to the beauty of women, if thou art not charmed with her loveliness, for there is no girl in Ephesus as beautiful as she.'
'That may be so, but thou must not take me to be indifferent to the charms of the fair sex because I do not admire Nika's loveliness and think it beyond compare. I may find loveliness in another form; it may be in the virtues of the soul, or spirit, whichever you may choose to name that awful thing. Behind a less lovely face than hers may be enshrined a splendid harmony of thinking, active life, which is building up its destiny, and will continue so to do through the great aeons, down the grand vista of the future, when the face once so fair to look upon has passed into base mould, and been blown hither and thither, the sport of every breeze. To love beauty only is like plucking an apple of Sodom, which has a fair rind to look at, but when pressed sends out little clouds of dust and leaves you nothing but the broken shell.'
'Chios, my friend, I thought thou wert an artist, but lo, thou art a philosopher also! And, if thou art not in love, well, I have never been in Rome! I shall wait; it will develop. I shall know. Well, good-bye, Chios. I have too long kept thee from thy work. The world waits for thy beautiful picture—I must not hinder. Good-bye. We meet at the house of Lucius, where I know thou at least art ever welcome.'
When he had gone, Chios went within, and threw himself upon a seat, clasping his head with both hands. It seemed as if some great agony would rend his being.
'What am I,' he cried, 'to be made the sport of fate? Why this great conflict within me? Why this uprising of my nature to war? He was true—I love hopelessly, and would to the gods I could quench it! If it would lie peacefully in my heart like a loving child upon its mother's bosom I would not care; but it is not so. A year or so ago that love was like a summer wind, but now it rushes through me with the terrible roar of a mighty storm, and tosses me to and fro like a ship whirled in a hurricane. What raises this great tempest? It is not I, Saronia! It is not Chios! I could have loved thee deeply when thou wert a slave, and would have at all hazard plucked thee from thy low estate, and lived for thee; but now I know thou never canst be mine, and fain would let thee rest, and never trouble, but for this mighty power which forces me onwards to declare to thee a love as pure as angels ever knew, but which would be a sacrilege both damned and deep were I to whisper such into thy soul. No, no; it must not be so! I will rise above it: bring into the arena all the might of my manhood, and in this holy war will fight against my star, against my fate, and may the greatest God, whoever He be, look down on this unequal combat and assist the right.'
Chios sank back upon the couch of cedar-wood. The shadows fell upon the marble floor. The night crept on, and he slept.
THE RIBBON OF GOLD
Saronia had been sent on an errand of mercy, and was returning, disguised, towards the Temple, when, as she was passing close to the garden of Chios, a crowd of brawlers, inflated with wine, came towards her. Wishing to avoid them, she turned within the gate left open by Varro; but the fellows were too quick-sighted for her, saw her movements, guessed her mind, and followed her to have some sport, not knowing who she was. She ran quickly down the pathway to hide behind the foliage, and, not daring to follow, they let her go. She heard the shouting of the ribald crew as they passed down the road.
The moon shone out its full, and the silver light lit up the marble building. In passing the steps, she beheld the statue by Phidias, and her love for the beautiful prompted her to steal forward and take a hasty look. Standing near the doorway, she turned her eyes upwards towards the moonlit sky, and, in so doing, caught sight of the word 'Chios' carved over the splendid entrance. For a moment her heart failed her, and she nearly fell to the ground, but, leaning against the statue of Dawn, she recovered herself, and determined to hurry away. But the door of the studio was partly open, and she gazed within. She stepped noiselessly forward another step, and saw the light of the moon falling through the open roof. The light fell full on the face of a man, who seemed as dead. And she knew it was Chios.
Then came back the true nature of the woman who was destined to become great as a priestess of Diana. Old love sprang up anew. The smouldering embers of the almost dead past burst into life. Here was the man she would have loved—perhaps silently—had her course turned otherwise. Here was the man who had befriended her in deepest misery. Here was Chios lying stretched death-like before her. Should she at all hazard go within and see if he lived? Yes, by the goddess whom she worshipped she would venture! She passed noiselessly over the polished floor, step by step, like a night-thief treads; one step more, and she was beside him! She threw back her black mantle, displaying a garment of purest white clasped round the waist with a girdle of gold. Her massive tresses of rich dark hair floating over her brow shadowed her face until she looked like some great spirit queen, the Spirit Queen of Night.
She stooped; she placed her lips close to those of Chios, but they did not touch. She felt his warm breath on her cheeks. He lived! He sighed like the soughing of the wind amongst the reeds. He murmured, 'Saronia.'
She started up; stood near him. He still slept. She stood erect, with arms crossed over her bosom and head bowed, looking sweetly on his manly face. Then, taking from her neck a little silver shrine, in form like unto the Temple, she laid it on his bosom, fled noiselessly as she came, and passed up the road which led towards the great Temple.
* * * * *
Chios awoke, and for a moment was bewildered. He had slept when the golden sunlight smiled, and now the silver moon lit up the sky, lit up the garments of the night, and he said:
'Sleep is a blessed thing. Its mysteries, who can know? Dreams, they say, are fables of the mind. Would to Heaven I could have dreamt on, and have slipped through the thin gauze of mortality, and never more entered this vile clay supposed to be the temple of the soul!
'I wandered on and on into infinite space—without light, without the faintest dawn; no beloved hand led me. Weary and sad I flew from star to star, looking for my rest, but finding none. No chain of sympathy bound me until I drew nigh unto a world as one suspended glory. Then my whole soul stretched out to reach it, and I knew I had found sanctuary. I stood before the gates of a great city whose walls shone forth like a thousand suns, and I essayed to enter; but a being of transcendent loveliness stood before me, and I knew it was Saronia! She said: "Not yet, Chios. Thy humanity still lives, and the silver cord still binds thee to it. Thou must return and work out thy destiny. This city shalt thou dimly see, and then go back to earth."
'And we twain floated upwards, and stood on the diamond floor on the summit of the massive walls.
'And I looked on the great city until its loveliness bewildered, dazzled my comprehension, and I shuddered at my own deformity, and said: "Let us go!"
'Then, with a love radiant with eternal life, she pressed her lips to mine, saying: "My soul shall strengthen thine. Thou hast seen the city wherein is built a home for Saronia and Chios. Go, now, to earth whilst thou hast power. Make use of thy life that thou mayest be found meet to inherit the plane where our palace stands."
'I awoke to find myself lying on this couch, and to hear the whisperings of the evening breeze.
'Ah, me! I will go out and gaze up into the deep blue of the heavens. Perchance I may see the star on which is the City of Light.' And, as he arose, there slipped from the folds of his dress the little silver temple placed there by Saronia. It fell to the ground like a silver bell. Stooping, he took it in his hand. A cloudlet passed from the face of the moon. He grew deathly pale, and said: 'What meaneth this? Whence this charm? Great gods! Its ribbon is marked with the sign of a priestess, and another which tells me 'tis blessed by the goddess! Whose can it be? Has she been here? Is this the kiss of my dream? Is this emblem of faith the symbol of strength to me?
'My brain whirls with a strange delight. But, no, it cannot be! I neither can foster a love for Saronia nor may I embrace her faith.
'Why shall I not do both? No, no, Chios will kill the thought. I am seeking the truth to walk to the great life beyond. It shall be so. Saronia is too pure to miss her way, by whatever coloured light she may be led. She may worship Diana, I the Christ. We shall join hands on the diamond floorway which circles the city of God.
'Little silver shrine, little ribbon of gold, what shall I do with thee? Shall I cast thee from me, and bid farewell with longing eyes, as the mariner bids adieu to the last low streak of misty land ere he launches out on the trackless deep? or shall I wear thee on my breast, hid from the vulgar gaze, in memory of whom—of whom? Saronia? Perchance 'twas her! It shall remain. It cannot harm, and shall be near me until I know the giver.'
So he placed the golden ribbon around his neck, and hid the symbol on his heart, and stood like one drunken with new wine, until the shriek of the night-bird awoke him from his reverie.
THE PRIESTESS OF DIANA
Saronia was now a priestess of Diana Triformis, and initiated into the mysteries of Hecate. She had grown rapidly in favour with her companions, and was looked on as one of the most devoted women of Ephesus.
Her great strength of character eminently fitted her for the position in which she had been placed, and those around looked on the beautiful girl as one destined in due time to fill the mightiest position of honour in the great Temple, and prophesied that she would soon reach the proud eminence of High Priestess.
Saronia was not an ordinary being; one look at the rounded forehead which shone over dark eyebrows and the unfathomable eyes would convince the most sceptical. The mysteries had a charm for her, and now that she had been taught the hidden secrets of Nature, she craved to understand the powers which worked the will, to dive deeply into the sympathies governing the soul, and to become skilled in the magical rites observed in the worship of the goddess of the underworld.
Hers was an exceptional case, and her companions, knowing a great spirit was in their midst, hastened her career until, moving rapidly forwards, she stood inferior in knowledge and power to none save the Arch-Priestess of Diana. Thus the slave became a spiritual princess, and won the confidence of the people; they loved her for her goodness. Ever ready with words of kindness, she won the deepest regard from the suffering and the outcast.
Those duties were but one part of her priestly call—that part which reflected the purest nature of her goddess.
She worshipped one goddess, yet three: Luna in heaven, Diana on earth, Hecate in hell—a terrible gathering together of good and evil, a trinity in unity, but not a trinity in purity, a broken circle representing Morn, Noon, Night, Birth, Life, Death.
It was when Saronia moved into the great darkness of Hecate that the gloom and passion of the priestess were aroused, and the constant warring of evil against goodness within awakened new aspirations for another experience when she might revolve in a circle of truth and unsullied purity.