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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 2. - 10/12 -
drew it away, for her sister Selene had come out on the balcony and was calling her.
It was for his elder playfellow and not for Arsinoe that Pollux had set his work in this place, but, just now, her gaze fell like a disturbing chill on his excited mood.
"There stands your mother's portrait," he called up to the balcony in an explanatory tone, pointing to the bust.
"I see it," she replied coldly. "I will look at it presently more closely. Come up Arsinoe, father wants to speak to you."
Again Pollux stood alone.
As Selene withdrew into the room, she gently shook her pale head, and said to herself:
"'It was to be for me,' Pollux said; something for me, for once--and even this pleasure is spoilt."
The palace-steward, to whom Selene had called up his younger daughter, had just returned from the meeting of the citizens; and his old black slave, who always accompanied him when he went out, took the saffron- colored pallium from his shoulders, and from his head the golden circlet, with which he loved to crown his curled hair when he quitted the house. Keraunus still looked heated, his eyes seemed more prominent than usual and large drops of sweat stood upon his brow, when his daughter entered the room where he was. He absently responded to Arsinoe's affectionate greeting with a few unmeaning words, and before making the important communication he had to disclose to his daughters, he walked up and down before them for some time, puffing out his fat cheeks and crossing his arms. Selene was alarmed, and Arsinoe had long been out of patience, when at last he began:
"Have you heard of the festivals which are to be held in Caesar's honor?"
Selene nodded and her sister exclaimed:
"Of course we have! Have you secured places for us on the seats kept for the town council?"
"Do not interrupt me," the steward crossly ordered his daughter. "There is no question of staring at them. All the citizens are required to allow their daughters to take part in the grand things that are to be carried out, and we all were asked how many girls we had."
"And how are we to take part in the show?" cried Arsinoe, joyfully clapping her hands.
"I wanted to withdraw before the summons was proclaimed, but Tryphon, the shipwright, who has a workshop down by the King's Harbor, held me back and called out to the assembly that his sons said that I had two pretty young daughters. Pray how did he know that?"
With these words the steward lifted his grey brows and his face grew red to the roots of his hair. Selene shrugged her shoulders, but Arsinoe said:
"Tryphon's shipyard lies just below and we often pass it; but we do not know him or his sons. Have you ever seen them Selene? At any rate it is polite of him to speak of us as pretty."
"Nobody need trouble themselves about your appearance unless they want to ask my permission to marry you," replied the steward with a growl.
"And what did you say to Tryphon?" asked Selene.
"I did as I was obliged. Your father is steward of a palace which at present belongs to Rome and the Emperor; hence I must receive Hadrian as a guest in this, the dwelling of my fathers, and therefore I, less than any other citizen--cannot withhold my share in the honors which the city council has decreed shall be paid to him."
"Then we really may," said Arsinoe, and she went up to her father to give him a coaxing pat. But Keraunus was not in the humor to accept caresses; he pushed her aside with an angry: "Leave me alone," and then went on:
"If Hadrian were to ask me 'Where are your daughters on the occasion of the festival?' and if I had to reply, 'They were not among the daughters of the noble citizens,' it would be an insult to Caesar, to whom in fact I feel very well disposed. All this I had to consider, and I gave your names and promised to send you to the great Theatre to the assembly of young girls. There you will be met by the noblest matrons and maidens of the city, and the first painters and sculptors will decide to what part of the performance your air and appearance are best fitted."
"But, father," cried Selene, "we cannot show ourselves in such an assembly in our common garments, and where are we to find the money to buy new ones?"
"We can quite well show ourselves by any other girls, in clean, white woollen dresses, prettily smartened with fresh ribbons," declared Arsinoe, interposing between her father and her sister.
"It is not that which troubles me," replied the steward; "it is the costumes, the costumes! It is only the daughters of the poorer citizens who will be paid by the council, and it would be a disgrace to be numbered among the poor--you understand me, children."
"I will not take part in the procession," said Selene resolutely, but Arsinoe interrupted her.
"It is inconvenient and horrible to be poor, but it certainly is no disgrace! The most powerful Romans of ancient times, regarded it as honorable to die poor. Our Macedonian descent remains to us even if the state should pay for our costumes."
"Silence," cried the steward. "This is not the first time that I have detected this low vein of feeling in you. Even the noble may submit to the misfortunes entailed by poverty, but the advantages it brings with it he can never enjoy unless he resigns himself to being so no longer."
It had cost the steward much trouble to give due expression to this idea, which he did not recollect to have heard from another, which seemed new to him, and which nevertheless fully represented what he felt; and he slowly sank, with all the signs of exhaustion, into a couch which formed a divan round a side recess in the spacious sitting-room.
In this room Cleopatra might have held with Antony those banquets of which the unequalled elegance and refinement had been enhanced by every grace of art and wit. On the very spot where Keraunus now reclined the dining-couch of the famous lovers had probably stood; for, though the whole hall had a carefully-laid pavement, in this recess there was a mosaic of stones of various colors of such beauty and delicacy of finish that Keraunus had always forbidden his children to step upon it. This, it is true, was less out of regard for the fine work of art than because his father had always prohibited his doing so, and his father again before him. The picture represented the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and the divan only covered the outer border of the picture, which was decorated with graceful little Cupids.
Keraunus desired his daughter to fetch him a cup of wine, but she mixed the juice of the grape with a judicious measure of water. After he had half drunk the diluted contents of the goblet, with many faces of disgust, he said:
"Would you like to know what each of your dresses will cost if it is to be in no respect inferior to those of the others?"
"Well," said Arsinoe anxiously.
"About seven hundred drachmae;--[$115 in 1880]--Philinus, the tailor, who is working for the theatre, tells me it will be impossible to do anything well for less."
"And you are really thinking of such insane extravagance," cried Selene. "We have no money, and I should like to know the man who would lend us any more."
The steward's younger daughter looked doubtfully at the tips of her fingers and was silent, but her eyes swimming in tears betrayed what she felt. Keraunus was rejoiced at the silent consent which Arsinoe seemed to accord to his desire to let her take part in the display at whatever cost. He forgot that he had just reproached her for her low sentiments, and said:
"The little one always feels what is right. As for you, Selene, I beg you to reflect seriously that I am your father, and that I forbid you to use this admonishing tone to me; you have accustomed yourself to it with the children and to them you may continue to use it. Fourteen hundred drachmae certainly, at the first thought of it, seems a very large sum, but if the material and the trimming required are bought with judgment, after the festival we may very likely sell it back to the man with profit."
"With profit!" cried Selene bitterly, "not half is to be got for old things-not a quarter! And even if you turn me out of the house--I will not help to drag us into deeper wretchedness; I will take no part in the performances."
The steward did not redden this time, he was not even violent; on the contrary, he simply raised his head and compared his daughters as they stood--not without an infusion of satisfaction. He was accustomed to love his daughters in his own way, Selene as the useful one, and Arsinoe as the beauty; and as on this occasion all he cared for was to satisfy his vanity, and as this end could be attained through his younger daughter alone, he said:
"Stay with the children then, for all I care. We will excuse you on the score of weak health, and certainly, child, you do look extremely pale. I would far rather find the means for the little one only."
Two sweet dimples again began to show in Arsinoe's cheeks, but Selene's lips were as white as her bloodless cheeks as she exclaimed:
"But, father--father! neither the baker nor the butcher has had a coin paid him for the last two months, and you will squander seven hundred drachmae!"
"Squander!" cried Keraunus indignantly, but still in a tone of disgust rather than anger. "I have already forbidden you to speak to me in that way. The richest of our noble youths will take part in the games; Arsinoe is handsome and perhaps one of them may choose her for his wife. And do you call it squandering, when a father does his utmost to find a
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