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The Twilight of The Gods and Other Tales by Richard Garnett - Contents

 

THE TALISMANS

What a wondrous creature is man! What feats the humblest among us perform, which, if related of another order of beings, we should deem incredible!

By what magic could the young student escape the weary old professor, who was prosily proving Time merely a form of thought; a proposition of which, to judge by the little value he appeared to set on the subject of his discourse, he must himself have been fully persuaded? Without exciting his suspicions in the smallest degree, the student stole away to a region inconceivably remote, and presented himself at the portal of a magnificent palace, guarded by goblins, imps, lions, serpents, and monsters whose uncouthness forbids description.

A singular transformation seemed to have befallen the student. In the professor's class he had been noted as timid, awkward, and painfully respectful. He now strode up with an air of alacrity and defiance, brandishing a roll of parchments, and confronted the seven principal goblins, by whom he was successively interrogated.

"Hast thou undergone the seven probations?"

"Yes," said the student.

"Hast thou swallowed the ninety-nine poisons?"

"Ninety-nine times each," said the student.

"Hast thou wedded a Salamander, and divorced her?"

"I have," said the student.

"Art thou at this present time betrothed to a Vampire?"

"I am," said the student.

"Hast thou sacrificed thy mother and sister to the infernal powers?"

"Of course," said the student,

"Hast thou attestations of all these circumstances under the hands and seals of a thousand and one demons?"

The student displayed his parchments.

"Thou hast undergone every trial," pronounced the seventh goblin; "thou hast won the right to enter the treasury of the treasurer of all things, and to choose from it any one talisman at thy liking."

The imps cheered, the goblins congratulated, the serpents shrank hissing away, the lions fawned upon the student, a centaur bore him upon his back to the treasurer's presence,

The treasurer, an old bent man, with a single lock of silvery hair, received the adventurer with civility.

"I have come," said the student, "for the talismans in thy keeping, to the choice among which I have entitled myself."

"Thou hast fairly earned them," replied the old man, "and I may not say thee nay. Thou canst, however, only possess any of them in the shape which it has received at my hands during the long period for which these have remained in my custody."

"I must submit to the condition," said the student.

"Behold, then, Aladdin's lamp," said the ancient personage, tendering a tiny vase hardly bigger than a pill-box, containing some grains of a coarse, rusty powder.

"Aladdin's lamp!" cried the student.

"All of it, at least, that I have seen fit to preserve," replied the old man. "Thou art but just in time for this even. It is proper to apprise thee that the virtues of the talisman having necessarily dwindled with its bulk, it is at present incompetent to evoke any Genie, and can at most summon an imp, of whose company thou wilt never be able to rid thyself, inasmuch as the least friction will inevitably destroy what little of the talisman remains."

"Confusion!" cried the young man, "Show me, then, Aladdin's ring."

"Here," replied the old man, producing a plain gold hoop,

"This, at least," asked the student, "is not devoid of virtue?"

"Assuredly not, if placed on the finger of some fair lady. For, its magic properties depending wholly upon certain engraved characters, which I have gradually obliterated, it is at present unadapted to any other use than that of a wedding-ring, which it would subserve to admiration."

"Produce another talisman," commanded the youth,

"These," said the ancient treasurer, holding up two shapeless pieces of leather, "are the shoes of swiftness, incomparable until I wore them out."

"This, at least, is bright and weighty," exclaimed the student, as the old man displayed the sword of sharpness.

"In truth a doughty weapon," returned the treasurer, "if wielded by a stronger arm than thine, for it will no longer fly in the air and smite off heads of its own accord, since the new blade hath been fitted to the new hilt."

After a hasty inspection of the empty frame of a magic mirror, and a fragment of the original setting of Solomon's seal, the youth's eye lighted upon a volume full of mysterious characters.

"Whose book is this?" he inquired. "Heavens, it is Michael Scott's!"

"Even so," returned the venerable man, "and its spells have lost nothing of their efficacy. But the last leaf, containing the formula for dismissing spirits after they have been summoned from the nether world, hath been removed by me. Inattention to this circumstance hath caused several most respectable magicians to be torn in pieces, and hath notably increased the number of demons at large."

"Thou old villain!" shouted the exasperated youth, "is this the way in which the treasures in thy custody are protected by thee? Deemest thou that I will brook being thus cheated of my dear-bought talisman? Nay, but I will deprive thee of thine. Give me that lock of hair."

"O good youth," supplicated the now terrified and humbled old man, "bereave me not of the source of all my power. Think, only think of the consequences!"

"I will not think," roared the youth. "Deliver it to me, or I'll rend it from thy head with my own hands."

With a heavy sigh, Time clipped the lock from his brow and handed it to the youth, who quitted the place unmolested by any of the monsters.

Entering the great city, the student made his way by narrow and winding streets until, after a considerable delay, he emerged into a large public square. It was crowded with people, gazing intently at the afternoon sky, and the air was rife with a confused murmur of altercations and exclamations.

"It is." "No, I tell you, it is impossible." "It cannot be." "I see it move." "No, it's only my eyes are dazzled." "Who could have believed it?" "Whatever will happen next?"

Following the gaze of the people, the youth discovered that the object of their attention was the sun, in whose aspect, however, he could discover nothing unusual.

"No," a man by him was saying, "it positively has not moved for an hour. I have my instruments by me. I cannot possibly be mistaken."

"It ought to have been behind the houses long ago," said another.

"What's o'clock?" asked a third. The inquiry made many turn their eyes towards the great clock in the square. It had stopped an hour ago. The hands were perfectly motionless. All who had watches simultaneously drew them from their pockets. The motion of each was suspended; so intense, in turn, was the hush of the breathless crowd, that you could have heard a single tick, but there was none to hear.

"Time is no more," proclaimed a leader among the people.

"I am a ruined man," lamented a watchmaker.

"And I," ejaculated a maker of almanacks.

"What of quarter-day?" inquired a landlord and a tenant simultaneously.

"We shall never see the moon again," sobbed a pair of lovers.

"It is well this did not happen at night," observed an optimist.

"Indeed?" questioned the director of a gas company.

"I told you the Last Day would come in our time," said a preacher.

It was still long before the people realised that the trance of Time had paralysed his daughter Mutability as well. Every operation depending on her silent processes was arrested. The unborn could not come to life. The sick could not die. The human frame could not waste. Every one in the enjoyment of health and strength felt assured of the perpetual possession of these blessings, unless he should meet with accident or violent death. But all growth ceased, and all dissolution was stayed. Mothers looked with despair on infants who could never be weaned or learn to walk. Expectant heirs gazed with dismay on immortal fathers and uncles. The reigning beauties, the fashionable boxers and opera dancers were in the highest feather. Nor did the intellectual less rejoice, counting on endless life and unimpaired faculties, and vowing to extend human knowledge beyond the conceivable. The poor and the outcast, the sick and the maimed, the broken-hearted and the dying made, indeed, a dismal outcry, the sincerity of which was doubted by some persons.

As for our student, forgetting his faithful Vampire, he made his way to a young lady of great personal attractions, to whom he had been attached in former days. The sight of her beauty, and the thought that it would be everlasting, revived his passion. To convince her of the perpetuity of her charms, and establish a claim upon her gratitude, he cautiously revealed to her that he was the author of this blissful state of things, and that Time's hair was actually in his possession.

"Oh, you dear good man!" she exclaimed, "how vastly I am obliged to you! Ferdinand will never forsake me now."

"Ferdinand! Leonora, I thought you cared for me."

"Oh!" she said, "you young men of science are so conceited!"

The discomfited lover fled from the house, and sought the treasurer's palace. It had vanished with all its monsters. Long did he roam the city ere he mixed again with the crowd, which an old meteorologist was addressing energetically.

"I ask you one thing," he was saying. "Will it ever rain again?"

"Certainly not," replied a geologist and a metaphysician together. "Rain being an agent of Time in the production of change, there can be no place for it under the present dispensation."

"Then will not the crops be burned up? Will the fruits mature? Are they not withering already? What of wells and rivers, and the mighty sea itself? Who will feed your cattle? And who will feed you?"

"This concerns us," said the butchers and bakers.

"Us also," added the fishmongers.

"I always thought," said a philosopher, "that this phenomenon must be the work of some malignant wizard."

"Show us the wizard that we may slay him," roared the mob.

Leonora had been communicative, and the student was immediately identified by twenty persons. The lock of hair was found upon him, and was held up in sight of the multitude.

"Kill him!"

"Burn him!"

"Crucify him!"

"It moves! it moves!" cried another division of the crowd. All eyes were bent on the hitherto stationary luminary. It was moving—no, it wasn't; yes, it certainly was. Dared men believe that their shadows were actually lengthening? Was the sun's rim really drawing nigh yonder great edifice? That muffled sound from the vast, silent multitude was, doubtless, the quick beating of innumerable hearts; but that sharper note? Could it be the ticking of watches? Suddenly all the public clocks clanged the first stroke of an hour—an absurdly wrong hour, but it was an hour. No mortal heard the second stroke, drowned in universal shouts of joy and gratitude. The student mingled with the mass, no man regarding him.

When the people had somewhat recovered from their emotion, they fell to disputing as to the cause of the last marvel. No scientific man could get beyond a working hypothesis. The mystery was at length solved by a very humble citizen, a barber.

"Why," he said, "the old gentleman's hair has grown again!"

And so it had! And so it was that the unborn came to life, the dying gave up the ghost, Leonora pulled out a grey hair, and the student told the professor his dream.

THE ELIXIR OF LIFE

The aged philosopher Aboniel inhabited a lofty tower in the city of Balkh, where he devoted himself to the study of chemistry and the occult sciences. No one was ever admitted to his laboratory. Yet Aboniel did not wholly shun intercourse with mankind, but, on the contrary, had seven pupils, towardly youths belonging to the noblest families of the city, whom he instructed at stated times in philosophy and all lawful knowledge, reserving the forbidden lore of magic and alchemy for himself.

But on a certain day he summoned his seven scholars to the mysterious apartment. They entered with awe and curiosity, but perceived nothing save the sage standing behind a table, on which were placed seven crystal phials, filled with a clear liquid resembling water.

"Ye know, my sons," he began, "with what ardour I am reputed to have striven to penetrate the hidden secrets of Nature, and to solve the problems which have allured and baffled the sages of all time. In this rumour doth not err: such hath ever been my object; but, until yesterday, my fortune hath been like unto theirs who have preceded me. The little I could accomplish seemed as nothing in comparison with what I was compelled to leave unachieved. Even now my success is but partial. I have not learned to make gold; the talisman of Solomon is not mine; nor can I recall the principle of life to the dead, or infuse it into inanimate matter. But if I cannot create, I can preserve. I have found the Elixir of Life."

The sage paused to examine the countenances of his scholars. Upon them he read extreme surprise, undoubting belief in the veracity of their teacher, and the dawning gleam of a timid hope that they themselves might become participators in the transcendent discovery he proclaimed. Addressing himself to the latter sentiment—"I am willing," he continued, "to communicate this secret to you, if such be your desire."

An unanimous exclamation assured him that there need be no uncertainty on this point.

"But remember," he resumed, "that this knowledge, like all knowledge, has its disadvantages and its drawbacks. A price must be paid, and when ye come to learn it, it may well be that it will seem too heavy. Understand that the stipulations I am about to propound are not of my imposing; the secret was imparted to me by spirits not of a benevolent order, and under conditions with which I am constrained strictly to comply. Understand also that I am not minded to employ this knowledge on my own behalf. My fourscore years' acquaintance with life has rendered me more solicitous for methods of abbreviating existence, than of prolonging it. It may be well for you if your twenty years' experience has led you to the same conclusion."

There was not one of the young men who would not readily have admitted, and indeed energetically maintained, the emptiness, vanity, and general unsatisfactoriness of life; for such had ever been the doctrine of their venerated preceptor. Their present behaviour, however, would have convinced him, had he needed conviction, of the magnitude of the gulf between theory and practice, and the feebleness of intellectual persuasion in presence of innate instinct. With one voice they protested their readiness to brave any conceivable peril, and undergo any test which might be imposed as a condition of participation in their master's marvellous secret.

"So be it," returned the sage, "and now hearken to the conditions.

"Each of you must select at hazard, and immediately quaff one of these seven phials, in one of which only is contained the Elixir of Life. Far different are the contents of the others; they are the six most deadly poisons which the utmost subtlety of my skill has enabled me to prepare, and science knows no antidote to any of them. The first scorches up the entrails as with fire; the second slays by freezing every vein, and benumbing every nerve; the third by frantic convulsions. Happy in comparison he who drains the fourth, for he sinks dead upon the ground immediately, smitten as it were with lightning. Nor do I overmuch commiserate him to whose lot the fifth may fall, for slumber descends upon him forthwith, and he passes away in painless oblivion. But wretched he who chooses the sixth, whose hair falls from his head, whose skin peels from his body, and who lingers long in excruciating agonies, a living death. The seventh phial contains the object of your desire. Stretch forth your hands, therefore, simultaneously to this table; let each unhesitatingly grasp and intrepidly drain the potion which fate may allot him, and be the quality of his fortune attested by the result."

The seven disciples contemplated each other with visages of sevenfold blankness. They next unanimously directed their gaze towards their preceptor, hoping to detect some symptom of jocularity upon his venerable features. Nothing could be descried thereon but the most imperturbable solemnity, or, if perchance anything like an expression of irony lurked beneath this, it was not such irony as they wished to see. Lastly, they scanned the phials, trusting that some infinitesimal distinction might serve to discriminate the elixir from the poisons. But no, the vessels were indistinguishable in external appearance, and the contents of each were equally colourless and transparent.

"Well," demanded Aboniel at length, with real or assumed surprise, "wherefore tarry ye thus? I deemed to have ere this beheld six of you in the agonies of death!"

This utterance did not tend to encourage the seven waverers. Two of the boldest, indeed, advanced their hands half-way to the table, but perceiving that their example was not followed, withdrew them in some confusion.

"Think not, great teacher, that I personally set store by this worthless existence," said one of their number at last, breaking the embarrassing silence, "but I have an aged mother, whose life is bound up with mine."

"I," said the second, "have an unmarried sister, for whom it is meet that I should provide."

"I," said the third, "have an intimate and much-injured friend, whose cause I may in nowise forsake."

"And I an enemy upon whom I would fain be avenged," said the fourth.

"My life," said the fifth, "is wholly devoted to science. Can I consent to lay it down ere I have sounded the seas of the seven climates?"

"Or I, until I have had speech of the man in the moon?" inquired the sixth.

"I," said the seventh, "have neither mother nor sister, friends nor enemies, neither doth my zeal for science equal that of my fellows. But I have all the greater respect for my own skin; yea, the same is exceedingly precious in my sight."

"The conclusion of the whole matter, then," summed up the sage, "is that not one of you will make a venture for the cup of immortality?"

The young men remained silent and abashed, unwilling to acknowledge the justice of their master's taunt, and unable to deny it. They sought for some middle path, which did not readily present itself.

"May we not," said one at last, "may we not cast lots, and each take a phial in succession, as destiny may appoint?"

"I have nothing against this," replied Aboniel, "only remember that the least endeavour to contravene the conditions by amending the chance of any one of you, will ensure the discomfiture of all."

The disciples speedily procured seven quills of unequal lengths, and proceeded to draw them in the usual manner. The shortest remained in the hand of the holder, he who had pleaded his filial duty to his mother.

He approached the table with much resolution, and his hand advanced half the distance without impediment. Then, turning to the holder of the second quill; the man with the sister, he said abruptly:

"The relation between mother and son is notoriously more sacred and intimate than that which obtains between brethren. Were it not therefore fitting that thou shouldst encounter the first risk in my stead?"

"The relationship between an aged mother and an adult son," responded the youth addressed, in a sententious tone, "albeit most holy, cannot in the nature of things be durable, seeing that it must shortly be dissolved by death. Whereas the relationship between brother and sister may endure for many years, if such be the will of Allah. It is therefore proper that thou shouldst first venture the experiment."

"Have I lived to hear such sophistry from a pupil of the wise Aboniel!" exclaimed the first speaker, in generous indignation. "The maternal relationship—"

"A truce to this trifling," cried the other six; "fulfil the conditions, or abandon the task."

Thus urged, the scholar approached his hand to the table, and seized one of the phials. Scarcely, however, had he done so, when he fancied that he detected something of a sinister colour in the liquid, which distinguished it, in his imagination, from the innocent transparency of the rest. He hastily replaced it, and laid hold of the next. At that moment a blaze of light burst forth upon them, and, thunderstruck, the seven scholars were stretched senseless on the ground.

On regaining their faculties they found themselves at the outside of Aboniel's dwelling, stunned by the shock, and humiliated by the part they had played. They jointly pledged inviolable secrecy, and returned to their homes.

The secret of the seven was kept as well as the secret of seven can be expected to be; that is to say, it was not, ere the expiration of seven days, known to more than six-sevenths of the inhabitants of Balkh. The last of these to become acquainted with it was the Sultan, who immediately despatched his guards to apprehend the sage, and confiscate the Elixir. Failing to obtain admission at Aboniel's portal, they broke it open, and, on entering his chamber, found him in a condition which more eloquently than any profession bespoke his disdain for the life-bestowing draught. He was dead in his chair. Before him, on the table, stood the seven phials, six full as previously, the seventh empty. In his hand was a scroll inscribed as follows;

"Six times twice six years have I striven after knowledge, and I now bequeath to the world the fruit of my toil, being six poisons. One more deadly I might have added, but I have refrained,

"Write upon my tomb, that here he lies who forbore to perpetuate human affliction, and bestowed a fatal boon where alone it could be innoxious."

The intruders looked at each other, striving to penetrate the sense of Aboniel's last words. While yet they gazed, they were startled by a loud crash from an adjacent closet, and were even more discomposed as a large monkey bounded forth, whose sleek coat, exuberant playfulness, and preternatural agility convinced all that the deceased philosopher, under an inspiration of supreme irony, had administered to the creature every drop of the Elixir of Life.

THE POET OF PANOPOLIS

I

Although in a manner retired from the world during the fifth and sixth Christian centuries, the banished Gods did not neglect to keep an eye on human affairs, interesting themselves in any movement which might seem to afford them a chance of regaining their lost supremacy, or in any person whose conduct evinced regret at their dethronement. They deeply sympathised with the efforts of their votary Pamprepius to turn the revolt of Illus to their advantage, and excused the low magical arts to which he stooped as a necessary concession to the spirit of a barbarous age. They ministered invisibly to Damascius and his companions on their flight into Persia, alleviating the hardships under which the frames of the veteran philosophers might otherwise have sunk. It was not, indeed, until the burning of the Alexandrian library that they lost all heart and lapsed into the chrysalis-like condition in which they remained until tempted forth by the young sunshine of the Renaissance.

Such a phenomenon for the fifth century as the Dionysiaca of Nonnus of Panopolis could not fail to excite their most lively interest. Forty-eight books of verse on the exploits of Bacchus in the age of pugnacious prelates and filthy coenobites, of imbecile rulers and rampant robbers, of the threatened dissolution of every tie, legal, social, or political; an age of earthquake, war, and famine! Bacchus, who is known from Aristophanes not to have excelled in criticism, protested that his laureate was greater than Homer; and, though Homer could not go quite so far as this, he graciously conceded that if he had himself been an Egyptian of the fifth century, with a faint glimmering of the poetical art, and encumbered with more learning than he knew how to use, he might have written almost as badly as his modern representative. More impartial critics judged Nonnus's achievement more favourably, and all agreed that his steadfastness in the faith deserved some special mark of distinction. The Muses under Pallas's direction (being themselves a little awkward in female accomplishments) embroidered him a robe; Hermes made a lyre, and Hephaestus forged a plectrum. Apollo added a chaplet of laurel, and Bacchus one of ivy. Whether from distrust of Hermes' integrity, or wishing to make the personal acquaintance of his follower, Phoebus volunteered to convey the testimonial in person, and accordingly took his departure for the Egyptian Thebaid.

As Apollo fared through the sandy and rugged wilderness under the blazing sun of an African summer afternoon, he observed with surprise a vast crowd of strange figures swarming about the mouth of a cavern like bees clustering at the entrance to a hive. On a nearer approach he identified them as a posse of demons besetting a hermit. Words cannot describe the enormous variety of whatever the universe holds of most heterogeneous. Naked women of surpassing loveliness displayed their charms to the anchorite's gaze, sturdy porters bent beneath loads of gold which they heaped at his feet, other shapes not alien from humanity allured his appetite with costly dishes or cooling drinks, or smote at him with swords, or made feints at his eyes with spears, or burned sulphur under his nose, or displayed before him scrolls of poetry or learning, or shrieked blasphemies in his ears, or surveyed him from a little distance with glances of leering affection; while a motley crowd of goblins, wearing the heads of boars or lions, or whisking the tails of dragons, winged, or hoofed, or scaled, or feathered, or all at once, incessantly jostled and wrangled with each other and their betters, mopping and mowing, grunting and grinning, snapping, snarling, constantly running away and returning like gnats dancing over a marsh. The holy man sat doggedly at the entrance of his cavern, with an expression of fathomless stupidity, which seemed to defy all the fiends of the Thebaid to get an idea into his head, or make him vary his attitude by a single inch.

"These people did not exist in our time," said Apollo aloud, "or at least they knew their place, and behaved themselves."

"Sir," said a comparatively grave and respectable demon, addressing the stranger, "I should wish your peregrinity to understand that these imps are mere schoolboys—my pupils, in fact. When their education has made further progress they will be more mannerly, and will comprehend the folly of pestering an unintellectual old gentleman like this worthy Pachymius with beauty for which he has no eyes, and gold for which he has no use, and dainties for which he has no palate, and learning for which he has no head. But I'll wake him up!" And waving his pupils away, the paedagogic fiend placed himself at the anchorite's ear, and shouted into it—

"Nonnus is to be Bishop of Panopolis!"

The hermit's features were instantly animated by an expression of envy and hatred.

"Nonnus!" he exclaimed, "the heathen poet, to have the see of Panopolis, of which I was promised the reversion!"

"My dear sir," suggested Apollo, "it is all very well to enliven the reverend eremite; but don't you think it is rather a liberty to make such jokes at the expense of my good friend Nonnus?"

"There is no liberty," said the demon, "for there is no joke. Recanted on Monday. Baptized yesterday. Ordained to-day. To be consecrated to-morrow."

The anchorite poured forth a torrent of the choicest ecclesiastical curses, until he became speechless from exhaustion, and Apollo, profiting by the opportunity, addressed the demon:

"Would it be an unpardonable breach of politeness, respected sir, if I ventured to hint that the illusions your pupils have been trying to impose upon this venerable man have in some small measure impaired the confidence with which I was originally inspired by your advantageous personal appearance?"

"Not in the least," replied the demon, "especially as I can easily make my words good. If you and Pachymius will mount my back I will transport you to Panopolis, where you can verify my assertion for yourselves."

The Deity and the anchorite promptly consented, and seated themselves on the demon's shoulders. The shadow of the fiend's expanded wings fell black and vast on the fiery sand, but diminished and became invisible as he soared to a prodigious height, to escape observation from below. By-and-by the sun's glowing ball touched earth at the extremity of the horizon; it disappeared, the fires of sunset burned low in the west, and the figures of the demon and his freight showed like a black dot against a lake of green sky, growing larger as he cautiously stooped to earth. Grazing temples, skimming pyramids, the party came to ground in the precincts of Panopolis, just in time to avoid the rising moon that would have betrayed them. The demon immediately disappeared. Apollo hastened off to demand an explanation from Nonnus, while Pachymius repaired to a neighbouring convent, peopled, as he knew, by a legion of sturdy monks, ever ready to smite and be smitten in the cause of orthodoxy.

II

Nonnus sat in his study, wrinkling his brow as he polished his verses by the light of a small lamp. A large scroll lay open on his knees, the contents of which seemed to afford him little satisfaction. Forty-eight more scrolls, resplendent with silver knobs and coquettishly tied with purple cord, reposed in an adjoining book-case; the forty-eight books, manifestly, of the Panopolitan bard's Dionysiaca. Homer, Euripides, and other poets lay on the floor, having apparently been hurriedly dislodged to make room for divers liturgies and lives of the saints. A set of episcopal robes depended from a hook, and on a side table stood half-a-dozen mitres, which, to all appearance, the designated prelate had been trying on.

"Nonnus," said Phoebus, passing noiselessly through the unresisting wall, "the tale of thy apostasy is then true?"

It would be difficult to determine whether surprise, delight, or dismay preponderated in Nonnus's expression as he lifted up his eyes and recognised the God of Poetry. He had just presence of mind to shuffle his scroll under an enormous dictionary ere he fell at Apollo's feet.

"O Phoebus," he exclaimed, "hadst thou come a week ago!"

"It is true, then?" said Apollo. "Thou forsakest me and the Muses. Thou sidest with them who have broken our statues, unroofed our temples, desecrated our altars, and banished us from among mankind. Thou rejectest the glory of standing alone in a barbarous age as the last witness to culture and civilisation. Thou despisest the gifts of the Gods and the Muses, of which I am even now the bearer. Thou preferrest the mitre to the laurel chaplet, and the hymns of Gregory to the epics of Homer?"

"O Phoebus," replied Nonnus, "were it any God but thou, I should bend before him in silence, having nought to reply. But thou art a poet, and thou understandest the temper of a poet. Thou knowest how beyond other men he is devoured by the craving for sympathy. This and not vulgar vanity is his motive of action; his shaft is launched in vain unless he can deem it embedded in the heart of a friend. Thou mayest well judge what scoffings and revilings my Dionysiac epic has brought upon me in this evil age; yet, had this been all, peradventure I might have borne it. But it was not all. The gentle, the good, the affectionate, they who in happier times would have been my audience, came about me, saying, Nonnus, why sing the strains against which we must shut our ears? Sing what we may listen to, and we will love and honour thee. I could not bear the thought of going to my grave without having awakened an echo of sympathy, and weakly but not basely I have yielded, given them what they craved, and suffered them, since the Muses' garland is not theirs to bestow, to reward me with a mitre."

"And what demanded they?" asked Apollo.

"Oh, a mere romance! Something entirely fabulous."

"I must see it," persisted Apollo; and Nonnus reluctantly disinterred his scroll from under the big dictionary, and handed it up, trembling like a schoolboy who anticipates a castigation for a bad exercise.

"What trash have we here?" cried Phoebus—


  "Αχρονος ην, ακιχητος, εν αρρητω Λογος αρχη,
  'Ισοφυης Γενετηρος όμηλικος Τιος αμητωρ,
  Και Λογος αυτοφυτοιο Θεου, φως, εκ φαεος φως.

"If it isn't the beginning of the Gospel of John! Thy impiety is worse than thy poetry!"

Apollo cast the scroll indignantly to the ground. His countenance wore an expression so similar to that with which he is represented in act to smite the Python, that Nonnus judged it prudent to catch up his manuscript and hold it shield-wise before his face.

"Thou doest well," said Apollo, laughing bitterly; "that rampart is indeed impenetrable to my arrows."

Nonnus seemed about to fall prostrate, when a sharp rap came to the door.

"That is the Governor's knock," he exclaimed. "Do not forsake me utterly, O Phoebus!" But as he turned to open the door, Apollo vanished. The Governor entered, a sagacious, good-humoured-looking man in middle life.

"Who was with thee just now?" he asked. "Methought I heard voices."

"Merely the Muse," explained Nonnus, "with whom I am wont to hold nocturnal communings."

"Indeed!" replied the Governor. "Then the Muse has done well to take herself off, and will do even better not to return. Bishops must have no flirtations with Muses, heavenly or earthly—not that I am now altogether certain that thou wilt be a bishop."

"How so?" asked Nonnus, not without a feeling of relief.

"Imagine, my dear friend," returned the Governor, "who should turn up this evening but that sordid anchorite Pachymius, to whom the see was promised indeed, but who was reported to have been devoured by vermin in the desert. The rumour seemed so highly plausible that it must be feared that sufficient pains were not taken to verify it—cannot have been, in fact; for, as I said, here he comes, having been brought, as he affirms, through the air by an angel. Little would it have signified if he had come by himself, but he is accompanied by three hundred monks carrying cudgels, who threaten an insurrection if he is not consecrated on the spot. My friend the Archbishop and I are at our wits' end: we have set our hearts on having a gentleman over the diocese, but we cannot afford to have tumults reported at Constantinople. At last, mainly through the mediation of a sable personage whom no one seems to know, but who approves himself most intelligent and obliging, the matter is put off till to-morrow, when them and Pachymius are to compete for the bishopric in public on conditions not yet settled, but which our swarthy friend undertakes to arrange to every one's satisfaction. So keep up a good heart, and don't run away in any case. I know thou art timid, but remember that there is no safety for thee but in victory. If thou yieldest thou wilt be beheaded by me, and if thou art defeated thou wilt certainly be burned by Pachymius."

With this incentive to intrepidity the Governor withdrew, leaving the poor poet in a pitiable state between remorse and terror. One thing alone somewhat comforted him! the mitres had vanished, and the gifts of the Gods lay on the table in their place, whence he concluded that a friendly power might yet be watching over him.

III

Next morning all Panopolis was in an uproar. It was generally known that the pretensions of the candidates for the episcopate would be decided by public competition, and it was rumoured that this would partake of the nature of an ordeal by fire and water. Nothing further had transpired except that the arrangements had been settled by the Governor and Archbishop in concert with two strangers, a dingy Libyan and a handsome young Greek, neither of whom was known in the city, but in both of whom the authorities seemed to repose entire confidence. At the appointed time the people flocked into the theatre, and found the stage already occupied by the parties chiefly concerned. The Governor and the Archbishop sat in the centre on their tribunals: the competitors stood on each side, Pachymius backed by the demon, Nonnus by Apollo; both these supporters, of course, appearing to the assembly in the light of ordinary mortals. Nonnus recognised Apollo perfectly, but Pachymius's limited powers of intelligence seemed entirely engrossed by the discomfort visibly occasioned him by the proximity of an enormous brass vessel of water, close to which burned a bright fire. Nonnus was also ill at ease, and continually directed his attention to a large package, of the contents of which he seemed instinctively cognisant.

All being ready, the Governor rose from his seat, and announced that, with the sanction of his Grace the Archbishop, the invidious task of determining between the claims of two such highly qualified competitors had been delegated to two gentlemen in the enjoyment of his full confidence, who would proceed to apply fitting tests to the respective candidates. Should one fail and the other succeed, the victor would of course be instituted; should both undergo the probation successfully, new criterions of merit would be devised; should both fall short, both would be set aside, and the disputed mitre would be conferred elsewhere. He would first summon Nonnus, long their fellow-citizen, and now their fellow-Christian, to submit himself to the test proposed.

Apollo now rose, and proclaimed in an audible voice, "By virtue of the authority committed to me I call upon Nonnus of Panopolis, candidate for the bishopric of his native city, to demonstrate his fitness for the same by consigning to the flames with his own hands the forty-eight execrable books of heathen poetry composed by him in the days of his darkness and blindness, but now without doubt as detestable to him as to the universal body of the faithful." So saying, he made a sign to an attendant, the wrapping of the package fell away, and the forty-eight scrolls of the Dionysiaca, silver knobs, purple cords, and all, came to view.

"Burn my poem!" exclaimed Nonnus. "Destroy the labours of twenty-four years! Bereave Egypt of its Homer! Erase the name of Nonnus from the tablet of Time!"

"How so, while thou hast the Paraphrase of St. John?" demanded Apollo maliciously.

"Indeed, good youth," said the Governor, who wished to favour Nonnus, "methinks the condition is somewhat exorbitant. A single book might suffice, surely!"

"I am quite content," replied Apollo. "If he consents to burn any of his books he is no poet, and I wash my hands of him."

"Come, Nonnus," cried the Governor, "make haste; one book will do as well as another. Hand them up here."

"It must be with his own hands, please your Excellency," said Apollo.

"Then," cried the Governor, pitching to the poet the first scroll brought to him, "the thirteenth book. Who cares about the thirteenth book? Pop it in!"

"The thirteenth book!" exclaimed Nonnus, "containing the contest between wine and honey, without which my epic becomes totally and entirely unintelligible!"

"This, then," said the Governor, picking out another, which chanced to be the seventeenth,

"In my seventeenth book," objected Nonnus, "Bacchus plants vines in India, and the superiority of wine to milk is convincingly demonstrated."

"Well," rejoined the Governor, "what say you to the twenty-second?"

"With my Hamadryad! I can never give up my Hamadryad!"

"Then," said the Governor, contemptuously hurling the whole set in the direction of Nonnus, "burn which you will, only burn!"

The wretched poet sat among his scrolls looking for a victim. All his forty-eight children were equally dear to his parental heart. The cries of applause and derision from the spectators, and the formidable bellowings of the exasperated monks who surrounded Pachymius, did not tend to steady his nerves, or render the task of critical discrimination the easier,

"I won't! I won't!" he exclaimed at last, starting up defiantly. "Let the bishopric go to the devil! Any one of my similes is worth all the bishoprics in Egypt!"

"Out on the vanity of these poets!" exclaimed the disappointed Governor.

"It is not vanity," said Apollo, "it is paternal affection; and being myself a sufferer from the same infirmity, I rejoice to find him my true son after all."

"Well," said the Governor, turning to the demon: "it is thy man's turn now. Trot him out!"

"Brethren," said the demon to the assembly, "it is meet that he who aspires to the office of bishop should be prepared to give evidence of extraordinary self-denial. Ye have seen even our weak brother Nonnus adoring what he hath burned, albeit as yet unwilling to burn what he hath adored. How much more may be reasonably expected of our brother Pachymius, so eminent for sanctity! I therefore call upon him to demonstrate his humility and self-renunciation, and effectually mortify the natural man, by washing himself in this ample vessel provided for the purpose"

"Wash myself!" exclaimed Pacyhmius, with a vivacity of which he had previously shown no token. "Destroy at one splash the sanctity of fifty-seven years! Avaunt! thou subtle enemy of my salvation! I know thee who thou art, the demon who brought me hither on his back yesterday."

"I thought it had been an angel," said the Governor.

"A demon in the disguise of an angel of light," said Pachymius.

A tumultuous discussion arose among Pachymius's supporters, some extolling his fortitude, others blaming his wrongheadedness.

"What!" said he to the latter, "would ye rob me of my reputation? Shall it be written of me, The holy Pachymius abode in the precepts of the eremites so long as he dwelt in the desert where no water was, but as soon as he came within sight of a bath, he stumbled and fell?"

"Oh, father," urged they, "savoureth not this of vaingloriousness? The demon in the guise of an angel of light, as thou so well saidest even now. Be strong. Quit thyself valiantly. Think of the sufferings of the primitive confessors."

"St. John was cast into a caldron of boiling oil," said one.

"St. Apocryphus was actually drowned," said another.

"I have reason to believe," said a third, "that the loathsomeness of ablution hath been greatly exaggerated by the heretics."

"I know it has," said another. "I have washed myself once, though ye might not think it, and can assert that it is by no means as disagreeable as one supposes."

"That is just what I dread," said Pachymius. "Little by little, one might positively come to like it! We should resist the beginnings of evil."

All this time the crowd of his supporters had been pressing upon the anchorite, and had imperceptibly forced him nearer the edge of the vessel, purposing at a convenient season to throw him in. He was now near enough to catch a glimpse of the limpid element. Recoiling in horror, he collected all his energies, and with head depressed towards his chest, and hands thrust forth as if to ward off pollution—butting, kicking, biting the air—he rushed forwards, and with a preternatural force deserving to be enumerated among his miracles, fairly overthrew the enormous vase, the contents streaming on the crowd in front of the stage.

"Take me to my hermitage!" he screamed. "I renounce the bishopric. Take me to my hermitage!"

"Amen," responded the demon, and, assuming his proper shape, he took Pachymius upon his back and flew away with him amid the cheers of the multitude.

Pachymius was speedily deposited at the mouth of his cavern, where he received the visits of the neighbouring anchorites, who came to congratulate him on the constancy with which he had sustained his fiery, or rather watery trial. He spent most of his remaining days in the society of the devil, on which account he was canonised at his death.

"O Phoebus," said Nonnus, when they were alone, "impose upon me any penance thou wilt, so I may but regain thy favour and that of the Muses. But before all things let me destroy my paraphrase."

"Thou shalt not destroy it," said Phoebus, "Thou shalt publish it. That shall be thy penance."

And so it is that the epic on the exploits of Bacchus and the paraphrase of St. John's Gospel have alike come down to us as the work of Nonnus, whose authorship of both learned men have never been able to deny, having regard to the similarity of style, but never could explain until the facts above narrated came to light in one of the Fayoum papyri recently acquired by the Archduke Rainer.

THE PURPLE HEAD


  Half ignorant, they turned an easy wheel
  That set sharp racks at work to pinch and peel.

I

In the heyday of the Emperor Aurelian's greatness, when his strong right arm propped Rome up, and hewed Palmyra down, when he surrounded his capital with walls fifty miles in circuit, and led Tetricus and Zenobia in triumph through its streets, and distributed elephants among the senators, and laid Etruria out in vineyards, and contemplated in leisure moments the suppression of Christianity as a subordinate detail of administration, a mere ripple on the broad ocean of his policy—at this period Bahram the First, King of Persia, naturally became disquieted in his mind.

"This upstart soldier of fortune," reflected he, "has an unseemly habit of overcoming and leading captive legitimate princes; thus prejudicing Divine right in the eyes of the vulgar. The skin of his predecessor Valerian, curried and stuffed with straw, hangs to this hour in the temple at Ctesiphon, a pleasing spectacle to the immortal gods. How would my own skin appear in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus? This must not be. I will send an embassy to him, and impress him with my greatness. But how?"

He accordingly convoked his counsellors; the viziers, the warriors, the magi, the philosophers; and addressed them thus:

"The king deigns to consult ye touching a difficult matter. I would flatter the pride of Rome, without lowering the pride of Persia. I would propitiate Aurelian, and at the same time humble him. How shall this be accomplished?"

The viziers, the warriors, and the magi answered not a word. Unbroken silence reigned in the assembly, until the turn came to the sage Marcobad, who, prostrating himself, said, "O king, live for ever! In ancient times, as hath been delivered by our ancestors, Persians were instructed in three accomplishments—to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth. Persia still rides and shoots; truth-speaking (praised be Ormuzd!) she hath discontinued as unbefitting an enlightened nation. Thou needest not, therefore, scruple to circumvent Aurelian. Offer him that which thou knowest will not be found in his treasury, seeing that it is unique in thine own; giving him, at the same time, to understand that it is the ordinary produce of thy dominions. So, while rejoicing at the gift, shall he be abashed at his inferiority. I refer to the purple robe of her majesty the queen, the like of which is not to be found in the whole earth, neither do any know where the dye that tinges it is produced, save that it proceeds from the uttermost parts of India."

"I approve thy advice," replied Bahram, "and in return will save thy life by banishing thee from my dominions. When my august consort shall learn that thou hast been the means of depriving her of her robe, she will undoubtedly request that thou mayest be flayed, and thou knowest that I can deny her nothing. I therefore counsel thee to depart with all possible swiftness. Repair to the regions where the purple is produced, and if thou returnest with an adequate supply, I undertake that my royal sceptre shall be graciously extended to thee."

The philosopher forsook the royal presence with celerity, and his office of chief examiner of court spikenard was bestowed upon another; as also his house and his garden, his gold and his silver, his wives and his concubines, his camels and his asses, which were numerous.

While the solitary adventurer wended his way eastward, a gorgeous embassy travelled westward in the direction of Rome.

Arrived in the presence of Aurelian, and at the conclusion of his complimentary harangue, the chief envoy produced a cedar casket, from which he drew a purple robe of such surpassing refulgence, that, in the words of the historian who has recorded the transaction, the purple of the emperor and of the matrons appeared ashy grey in comparison. It was accompanied by a letter thus conceived:

"Bahram to Aurelian: health! Receive such purple as we have in Persia."

"Persia, forsooth!" exclaimed Sorianus, a young philosopher versed in natural science, "this purple never was in Persia, except as a rarity. Oh, the mendacity and vanity of these Orientals!"

The ambassador was beginning an angry reply, when Aurelian quelled the dispute with a look, and with some awkwardness delivered himself of a brief oration in acknowledgment of the gift. He took no more notice of the matter until nightfall, when he sent for Sorianus, and inquired where the purple actually was produced.

"In the uttermost parts of India," returned the philosopher.

"Well," rejoined Aurelian, summing up the matter with his accustomed rapidity and clearness of head, "either thou or the Persian king has lied to me, it is plain, and, by the favour of the Gods, it is immaterial which, seeing that my ground for going to war with him is equally good in either case. If he has sought to deceive me, I am right in punishing him; if he possesses what I lack, I am justified in taking it away. It would, however, be convenient to know which of these grounds to inscribe in my manifesto; moreover, I am not ready for hostilities at present; having first to extirpate the Blemmyes, Carpi, and other barbarian vermin. I will therefore despatch thee to India to ascertain by personal examination the truth about the purple. Do not return without it, or I shall cut off thy head. My treasury will charge itself with the administration of thy property during thy absence. The robe shall meanwhile be deposited in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. May he have it and thee in his holy keeping!"

Thus, in that age of darkness, were two most eminent philosophers reduced to beggary, and constrained to wander in remote and insalubrious regions; the one for advising a king, the other for instructing an emperor. But the matter did not rest here. For Aurelian, having continued the visible deity of half the world for one hundred and fifty days after the departure of Sorianus, was slain by his own generals. To him succeeded Tacitus, who sank oppressed by the weight of rule; to him Probus, who perished in a military tumult; to him Carus, who was killed by lightning; to him Carinus, who was assassinated by one whom he had wronged; to him Diocletian, who, having maintained himself for twenty years, wisely forbore to tempt Nemesis further, and retired to plant cabbages at Salona. All these sovereigns, differing from each other in every other respect, agreed in a common desire to possess the purple dye, and when the philosopher returned not, successively despatched new emissaries in quest of it. Strange was the diversity of fate which befell these envoys. Some fell into the jaws of lions, some were crushed by monstrous serpents, some trampled by elephants at the command of native princes, some perished of hunger, and some of thirst; some, encountering smooth-browed and dark-tressed girls wreathing their hair with the champak blossom or bathing by moonlight in lotus-mantled tanks, forsook their quest, and led thenceforth idyllic lives in groves of banian and of palm. Some became enamoured of the principles of the Gymnosophists, some couched themselves for uneasy slumber upon beds of spikes, weening to wake in the twenty-second heaven. All which romantic variety of fortune was the work of a diminutive insect that crawled or clung heedless of the purple it was weaving into the many-coloured web of human life.

II

Some thirty years after the departure of the Persian embassy to Aurelian, two travellers met at the bottom of a dell in trans-Gangetic India, having descended the hill-brow by opposite paths. It was early morning; the sun had not yet surmounted the timbered and tangled sides of the little valley, so that the bottom still lay steeped in shadow, and glittering with large pearls of limpid dew, while the oval space of sky circumscribed by the summit glowed with the delicate splendour of the purest sapphire. Songs of birds resounded through the brake, and the water lilies which veiled the rivulet trickling through the depths of the retreat were unexpanded still. One of the wayfarers was aged, the other a man of the latest period of middle life. Their raiment was scanty and soiled; their frames and countenances alike bespoke fatigue and hardship; but while the elder one moved with moderate alacrity, the other shuffled painfully along by the help of a staff, shrinking every time that he placed either of his feet on the ground.

They exchanged looks and greetings as they encountered, and the more active of the two, whose face was set in an easterly direction, ventured a compassionate allusion to the other's apparent distress.

'I but suffer from the usual effects of crucifixion,' returned the other; and removing his sandals, displayed two wounds, completely penetrating each foot.

The Cross had not yet announced victory to Constantine, and was as yet no passport to respectable society. The first traveller drew back hastily, and regarded his companion with surprise and suspicion.

"I see what is passing in thy mind," resumed the latter, with a smile; "but be under no apprehension. I have not undergone the censure of any judicial tribunal. My crucifixion was merely a painful but necessary incident in my laudable enterprise of obtaining the marvellous purple dye, to which end I was despatched unto these regions by the Emperor Aurelian."

"The purple dye!" exclaimed the Persian, for it was he. "Thou hast obtained it?"

"I have. It is the product of insects found only in a certain valley eastward from hence, to obtain access to which it is before all things needful to elude the vigilance of seven dragons."

"Thou didst elude them? and afterwards?" inquired Marcobad, with eagerness.

"Afterwards," repeated Sorianus, "I made my way into the valley, where I descried the remains of my immediate predecessor prefixed to a cross."

"Thy predecessor?"

"He who had last made the attempt before me. Upon any one's penetrating the Valley of Purple, as it is termed, with the design I have indicated, the inhabitants, observant of the precepts of their ancestors, append him to a cross by the feet only, confining his arms by ropes at the shoulders, and setting vessels of cooling drink within his grasp. If, overcome with thirst, he partakes of the beverage, they leave him to expire at leisure; if he endures for three days, he is permitted to depart with the object of his quest. My predecessor, belonging, as I conjecture, to the Epicurean persuasion, and consequently unable to resist the allurements of sense, had perished in the manner aforesaid. I, a Stoic, refrained and attained."

"Thou didst bear away the tincture? thou hast it now?" impetuously interrogated the Persian.

"Behold it!" replied the Greek, exhibiting a small flask filled with the most gorgeous purple liquid. "What seest thou here?" demanded he triumphantly, holding it up to the light. "To me this vial displays the University of Athens, and throngs of fair youths hearkening to the discourse of one who resembles myself."

"To my vision," responded the Persian, peering at the vial, "it rather reveals a palace, and a dress of honour. But suffer me to contemplate it more closely, for my eyes have waxed dim by over application to study."

So saying, he snatched the flask from Sorianus, and immediately turned to fly. The Greek sprang after his treasure, and failing to grasp Marcobad's wrist, seized his beard, plucking the hair out by handfuls. The infuriated Persian smote him on the head with the crystal flagon. It burst into shivers, and the priceless contents gushed forth in a torrent over the uncovered head and uplifted visage of Sorianus, bathing every hair and feature with the most vivid purple.

The aghast and thunderstricken philosophers remained gazing at each other for a moment.

"It is indelible!" cried Sorianus in distraction, rushing down, however, to the brink of the little stream, and plunging his head beneath the waters. They carried away a cloud of purple, but left the purple head stained as before.

The philosopher, as he upraised his glowing and dripping countenance from the brook, resembled Silenus emerging from one of the rivers which Bacchus metamorphosed into wine during his campaign in India. He resorted to attrition and contrition, to maceration and laceration; he tried friction with leaves, with grass, with sedge, with his garments; he regarded himself in one crystal pool after another, a grotesque anti-Narcissus. At last he flung himself on the earth, and gave free course to his anguish.

The grace of repentance is rarely denied us when our misdeeds have proved unprofitable. Marcobad awkwardly approached.

"Brother," he whispered, "I will restore the tincture of which I have deprived thee, and add thereto an antidote, if such may be found. Await my return under this camphor tree."

So saying, he hastened up the path by which Sorianus had descended, and was speedily out of sight.

III

Sorianus tarried long under the camphor tree, but at last, becoming weary, resumed his travels, until emerging from the wilderness he entered the dominions of the King of Ayodhya. His extraordinary appearance speedily attracted the attention of the royal officers, by whom he was apprehended and brought before his majesty.

"It is evident," pronounced the monarch, after bestowing his attention on the case, "that thou art in possession of an object too rare and precious for a private individual, of which thou must accordingly be deprived. I lament the inconvenience thou wilt sustain. I would it had been thy hand or thy foot."

Sorianus acknowledged the royal considerateness, but pleaded the indefeasible right of property which he conceived himself to have acquired in his own head.

"In respect," responded the royal logician, "that thy head is conjoined to thy shoulders, it is thine; but in respect that it is purple, it is mine, purple being a royal monopoly. Thy claim is founded on anatomy, mine on jurisprudence. Shall matter prevail over mind? Shall medicine, the most uncertain of sciences, override law, the perfection of human reason? It is but to the vulgar observation that thou appearest to have a head at all; in the eye of the law thou art acephalous."

"I would submit," urged the philosopher, "that the corporal connection of my head with my body is an essential property, the colour of it a fortuitous accident."

"Thou mightest as well contend," returned the king, "that the law is bound to regard thee in thy abstract condition as a human being, and is disabled from taking cognisance of thy acquired capacity of smuggler—rebel, I might say, seeing that thou hast assumed the purple."

"But the imputation of cruelty which might attach to your majesty's proceedings?"

"There can be no cruelty where there is no injustice. If any there be, it must be on thy part, since, as I have demonstrated, so far from my despoiling thee of thy head, it is thou who iniquitously withholdest mine. I will labour to render this even clearer to thy apprehension. Thou art found, as thou must needs admit, in possession of a contraband article forfeit to the crown by operation of law. What then? Shall the intention of the legislature be frustrated because thou hast insidiously rendered the possession of my property inseparable from the possession of thine? Shall I, an innocent proprietor, be mulcted of my right by thy fraud and covin? Justice howls, righteousness weeps, integrity stands aghast at the bare notion. No, friend, thy head has not a leg to stand on. Wouldst thou retain it, it behoves thee to show that it will be more serviceable to the owner, namely, myself, upon thy shoulders than elsewhere. This may well be. Hast thou peradventure any subtleties in perfumery? any secrets in confectionery? any skill in the preparation of soup?"

"I have condescended to none of these frivolities, O king. My study hath ever consisted in divine philosophy, whereby men are rendered equal to the gods."

"And yet long most of all for purple!" retorted the monarch, "as I conclude from perceiving thou hast after all preferred the latter. Thy head must indeed be worth the taking."

"Thy taunt is merited, O king! I will importune thee no longer. Thou wilt indeed render me a service in depriving me of this wretched head, hideous without, and I must fear, empty within, seeing that it hath not prevented me from wasting my life in the service of vanity and luxury. Woe to the sage who trusts his infirm wisdom and frail integrity within the precincts of a court! Yet can I foretell a time when philosophers shall no longer run on the futile and selfish errands of kings, and when kings shall be suffered to rule only so far as they obey the bidding of philosophers. Peace, Knowledge, Liberty—"

The King of Ayodhya possessed, beyond all princes of his age, the art of gracefully interrupting an unseasonable discourse. He slightly signed to a courtier in attendance, a scimitar flashed for a moment from its scabbard, and the head of Sorianus rolled on the pavement; the lips murmuring as though still striving to dwell with inarticulate fondness upon the last word of hope for mankind.

It soon appeared that the principle of life was essential to the resplendence of the Purple Head. Within a few minutes it had assumed so ghastly a hue that the Rajah himself was intimidated, and directed that it should be consumed with the body.

The same full-moon that watched the white-robed throng busied with the rites of incremation in a grove of palms, beheld also the seven dragons contending for the body of Marcobad. But, for many a year, the maids and matrons of Rome were not weary of regarding, extolling, and coveting the priceless purple tissue that glowed in the fane of Jupiter Capitolinus.

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