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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 3. - 6/11 -
He had met her with grateful sympathy and devotion; her bright and lively nature had delighted him, and at each thoughtless word she uttered he would have liked to give her some warning sign, as though she were near to him through some tie of blood, or some old established friendship that might warrant his right to do so. The defiant, half gallant way in which Verus, the dissipated lady-killer, had spoken to her had enraged him and filled him with anxiety, and long after the illustrious visitors had left Lochias he had thought of her again and again, and had resolved, if it were possible, to keep a watchful eye on the descendant of the benefactor of his family. He felt it as a sacred duty to shelter and protect her, seeming to him as she did, an airy, pretty, defenceless song-bird.
The Emperor's caricature had the same effect on his feelings as though some one had insulted and scorned, before his eyes, something that ought to be regarded as sacred. And there stood the monarch, a man no longer young, gazing at his performance and never weary of the amusement it afforded him. It pained Pontius keenly, for like all noble natures, he could not bear to discover anything mean or vulgar in a man to whom he had always looked up as to a strong exceptional character. As an artist Hadrian ought not to have vilified beauty, as a man he ought not to have insulted unprotected innocence.
In the soul of the architect, who had hitherto been one of the Emperor's warmest admirers, a slight aversion began to dawn, and he was glad, when, at last, Hadrian decided to withdraw to rest.
The Emperor found in his room every requisite he was accustomed to use, and while his slave undressed him, lighted his night-lamp and adjusted his pillows, he said:
"This is the best evening I have enjoyed for years. Is Antinous comfortably in bed?"
"As much so as in Rome."
"And the big dog?"
"I will lay his rug in the passage at your door."
"Has he had any food?"
"Bones, bread and water."
"I hope you have had something to eat this evening."
"I was not hungry, and there was plenty of bread and wine."
"To-morrow we shall be better supplied. Now, good-night. Weigh your words for fear you should betray me. A few days here undisturbed would be delightful!"
With these words the Emperor turned over on his couch and was soon asleep.
Mastor, too, lay down to rest after he had spread a rug for the dog in the corridor outside the Emperor's sleeping-room. His head rested on a curved shield of stout cowhide under which lay his short sword; the bed was but a hard one, but Mastor had for years been used to rest on nothing better, and still had enjoyed the dreamless slumbers of a child; but to- night sleep avoided him, and from time to time he pressed his hand on his wearily open eyes to wipe away the salt dew which rose to them again and again. For a long time he had restrained these tears bravely enough, for the Emperor liked to see none but cheerful faces among his servants; nay, he had once said that it was in consequence of his bright eyes that he had entrusted to him the care of his person. Poor, cheerful Mastor! He was nothing but a slave, still he had a heart which lay open to joy and suffering, to pleasure and trouble, to hatred and to love.
In his childhood his native village had fallen into the hands of the foes of his race. He and his brother had been carried away as slaves, first into Asia Minor, and then as they were both particularly pretty fair- haired boys, to Rome. There they had been bought for the Emperor; Mastor had been chosen to wait on Hadrian's person, his brother had been put to work in the gardens. Nothing was lacking to either except his liberty; nothing tormented them but their longing for their native home, and even this altogether faded away after he had married the pretty little daughter of a superintendent of the gardens, a slave like himself. She was a lively little woman with sparkling eyes, whom no one could pass by without noticing.
The slave's duties left him but little time to enjoy the society of his pretty partner and of the two children she bore him, but the consciousness of possessing them made him happy when he followed his master to the chase, or in the journeys through the empire. Now, for seven months he had heard nothing of his family; but a short letter had reached him at Pelusium, which had been sent with the despatches for the Emperor from Ostia to Egypt. He could not read, and in consequence of the Emperor's rapid travelling, it was not till he reached Lochias, that he was put in possession of its contents.
Before going to rest Antinous had read him the letter, which had been written for his brother by a public scribe, and its contents were enough to wreck the heart even of a slave. His pretty little wife had fled from her home and from the Emperor's service to follow a Greek ship's captain across the world; his eldest child, a boy, the darling of his heart, was dead; and his fair-haired tender little Tullia, with her pearly teeth, her round little arms, and her pretty tiny fingers that had often tried to pull his close-cropped hair, and had fondly stroked and patted it, had been carried off to the miserable refuge, under whose squalid roof the children of deceased slaves were reared. Only two hours since, and in fancy he had possessed a home, and a group of human beings, whom he could love. Now, this was all over and with however hard a hand the deepest woes might fall on him, he might not sob or groan aloud, or even roll from side to side as again and again he was violently prompted to do, for his lord slept lightly and the least noise might wake him. At sunrise he must appear before the Emperor as cheerful as usual, and yet he felt as if he must himself perish miserably as his happiness had done. His heart was bursting with anguish, still he neither groaned nor stirred.
The night had been almost as sleepless to Keraunus' daughter Selene as it had been to the hapless slave. Her father's vain wish to let Arsinoe take a part with the daughters of the wealthier citizens had filled the girl's heart with fresh terrors. It was the final blow which would demolish the structure of their social existence, standing as it did on quaking ground, and which must fling her family and herself into disgrace and want. When their last treasure of any value was sold, and the creditors could no longer be put off, particularly during the Emperor's presence in the city, when they should try to sell up all her father's little property, or to carry him off to a debtor's prison, was it not then as good as certain that some one else would be appointed to fill his place, and that she and the other children would fall into misery? And there lay Arsinoe by her side, and slept with as calm and deep a breath as blind Helios and the other little ones.
Before going to bed she had tried with all the fervency and eloquence of which she was mistress, to persuade, entreat, and implore the heedless girl to refuse as positively as she herself had refused to take any part in the processions; but Arsinoe had at first repulsed her crossly, and finally had defiantly declared that means might yet very likely be found, and that what her father permitted, Selene had no right to interfere in, still less to forbid. And when afterwards she saw Arsinoe sleeping so calmly by her side, she felt as if she would like to shake her; but she was so accustomed to bear all the troubles of the family alone, and to be unkindly repelled by her sister whenever she attempted to admonish her, that she forbore.
Arsinoe had a good and tender heart, but she was young, pretty, and vain. With affectionate persuasion she might be won over to anything, but Selene, when ever she remonstrated with her, made her feel her superiority over herself, acquired from her care of the family and her maternal character. Thus, not a day passed without some quarrelling and tears between these two sisters who were so dissimilar, and yet, both so well disposed. Arsinoe was always the first to offer her hand for a reconciliation, but Selene would rarely have a kinder answer ready to her affectionate advances than, "Let be," or "Oh yes, I know!" and their outward intercourse bore an aspect of coolness, which was easily worked up to an outbreak of hostile speeches. Hundreds of times they would go to bed without wishing each other 'good-night,' and still more often would they avoid any morning greeting when they first met in the day.
Arsinoe liked talking, but in Selene's presence she was taciturn; there were few things in which Selene took pleasure, while her sister delighted in every thing which can charm youth. It was the steward's eldest daughter who attended to the daily needs of the children, their food and clothes; it was the second who superintended their games, and their dolls. The eldest watched and taught them with anxious care, detecting in every little fault the germ of some evil tendency in the future, while the other enticed them into follies, it is true, but opened their minds to joyous impressions, and attained more by kisses and kind words than Selene could by fault-finding. The children would call Selene when they wanted her, but would fly to Arsinoe as soon as they saw her. Their hearts were hers, and Selene felt this bitterly; it seemed to her to be unjust, for she saw clearly that her sister could reap, from mere frivolous play in her idle hours, a sweeter reward than she could earn by the anxiety, trouble and exhausting toil, in which she often spent her nights.
But children are not unjust in this way. It is true that they keep an account in their heart and not in their head. Those who give them the warmth of affection they pay back most honestly.
On this particular night it was not, it is certain, with very sisterly feelings that Selene looked at the sleeping Arsinoe, and the words on the girl's lips as she had dropped asleep, had sounded very unkind; but, nevertheless, they felt warmly towards each other, and any one who should have attempted to say a word against the one in the presence of the other would soon have found out how close a bond held together these two hearts, dissimilar as they were. But no girl of nineteen can pass a night altogether without sleeping, however sadly she may turn and turn over and over again in her bed. So slumber overmastered Selene every now and then for a quarter of an hour, and each time she dreamed of her sister.
Once she saw Arsinoe dressed out like a queen, followed by beggar children and pelted with bad words--then she saw her on the rotunda below the balcony romping with Pollux, and in their bold sport they broke her mother's bust. At last she dreamed that she herself was playing--as in the days of her childhood--in the gate-keeper's garden with the sculptor. They were making cakes of sand together, and Arsinoe jumped on the cakes as soon as they were made, and trod them all into dust.
The pretty pale girl had for a long time ceased to know the refreshing, dreamless, sound sleep of youth, for the sweetest slumbers are more apt to seek out those who by day have some rest, than those who are worn out
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