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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 4. - 1/9 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
THE EMPEROR, Part 1.
By Georg Ebers
After the Emperor's body-slave had started up to go to the aid of Selene, who was attacked by his sovereign's dog, something had happened to him which he could not forget; he had received an impression which he could not wipe out, and words and tones had stirred his mind and soul which incessantly echoed in them, so that it was in a preoccupied and half- dreamy way that he had done his master those little services which he was accustomed to perform every morning, briskly and with complete attention.
Summer and winter Mastor was accustomed to leave his master's bedroom before sunrise to prepare everything that Hadrian could need when he rose from his slumbers. There was the gold plating to clean on the narrow greaves and the leather straps which belonged to his master's military boots, his clothes to air and to perfume with the slight, hardly perceptible scent that he liked, but the preparations for Hadrian's bath were what took up most of his time. At Lochias there were not as yet-- as there were in the imperial palace at Rome--properly-filled baths; still his servant knew that here, as there, his master would use a due abundance of water. He had been told that if he required anything for his master he was to apply to Pontius. Him he found, without seeking him, outside the room meant for Hadrian's sitting-room, to which, while the Emperor still slept, he was endeavoring, with the help of his assistants, to give a comfortable and pleasing aspect. The architect referred the slave to the workmen who were busy laying the pavement in the forecourt of the palace; these men would carry in for him as much water as ever he could need. The body-servant's position relieved him of such humble duties, still, when on the chase, when travelling, or as need arose, he was accustomed to perform them unasked, and very willingly.
The sun had not yet risen when he went out into the court, a number of slaves were lying on their mats asleep, others had camped round a fire and were waiting for their early broth, which was being stirred with wooden sticks by an old man and a boy. Mastor would not disturb either group; he went up to a party of workmen, who seemed to be talking together, and yet remained attentive to the speech of an old man who was evidently telling them a story.
The poor fellow's heart was heavy and his mind was little bent on tales and amusements. All life was embittered. The services required of him usually seemed to him of paramount importance, beyond everything else; but to-day it was different. He had an obscure feeling as though fate herself had released him from all his duties, as if misfortune had cut the bonds which bound him to his service to the Emperor, and had made him an isolated and lonely being. It even came into his head whether he should not take in his hand all the gold pieces given him sometimes by Hadrian, or which the wealthy folks who wished to be the foremost of those introduced into the Emperor's presence, after waiting in the antechamber, had flung to him or slipped into his hand--make his escape and carouse away all that he possessed in the taverns of the great city, in wine and the gay company of women. It was all the same to him what might happen to him.
If he were caught he would probably be flogged to death; but he had had kicks and blows in plenty before he had got into the Emperor's service, nay; when he was brought to Rome he had once even been hunted with dogs. If he lost his life, after all what would it matter? He would have done with it then, once for all, and the future offered him no prospect but perpetual fatigue in the service of a restless master, anxiety and contempt. He was a thoroughly good-hearted being who could not bear to hurt any one, and who found it equally hard to disturb a fellow-man in his pleasures or amusement. He felt particularly disinclined to do so just now, for a wounded soul is keenly alive to the moods and feelings of others; so, as he approached the group of workmen, from among whom he proposed to choose his water-carrier, he determined that he would not interrupt the story-teller, on whose lips the gaze of his audience was riveted with interest.
The glare of the blaze under the soup-kettle fell full on the speaker's face. He was an old laborer, but his long hair proclaimed him a freeman. His abundant white beard induced Mastor to suppose that he must be a Jew or a Phoenician, but there was nothing remarkable in the old man, who was dressed in a poor and scanty tunic, excepting his peculiarly brilliant eyes, which were immovably fixed on the heavens, and the oblique position in which he held his head, supporting it on the left side with his raised hands.
"And now," said the speaker, dropping his arms, "let us go back to our labors, my brethren. 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,' it is written. It is often hard to us old men to heave stones and bend our stiff backs for so long together, but we are nearer than you younger ones to the happy future. Life is not easy to all of us, but it is we who labor and are heavy laden--we above all others--that the Lord has bidden to be his guests, and not last among us the slaves."
"Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you," interrupted one of the younger men repeating the words of Christ.
"Yea, thus saith the Saviour," said the old man approvingly, "and he surely then was thinking of us. I said just now our load is not light, but how much heavier was the burden he took upon him of his own free will to release us from woe. Every one must work, nay even Caesar himself, but he who could dwell in the glory of his Father let himself be mocked and scorned and spit in the face, let the crown of thorns be pressed on his suffering head, bore his heavy cross, sinking under its weight, and endured a death of torment, and all for our sakes, without a murmur. But he suffered not in vain, for God accepted the sacrifice of his Son, and did his will and said, 'All that believe on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' And though a new and weary day is now beginning, and though it should be followed by a thousand wearier still, though death is the end of life--still we believe in our Redeemer, we have God's word bidding us out of sorrows and sufferings into his Heaven, promising us for a brief time of misery in this world, endless ages of joy.--Now go to work. Our sturdy friend Krates will work for you dear Knakias until your finger is healed. When the bread is distributed remember, each of you, the children of our poor deceased brother Philammon. You, poor Gibbus, will find your labors bitter to-day. This man's master, my dear brethren, sold both his daughters yesterday to a dealer from Smyrna; but if you never see them again in Egypt, or in any other country, my friend, you will meet them in the home of your Heavenly Father--of that you may rest assured. Our life on earth is but a pilgrimage, and Heaven is the goal, and the Guide who teaches us never to miss the way, is our Saviour. Weariness and toil, sorrow and suffering are easy to bear, to him who knows that when the solemn hour is near, the King of Kings shall throw open his dwelling-place, and invite him to enter as a favored guest to inhabit there, where all we have loved have found joy and rest."
"Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you," said a man's loud voice again from the circle that sat round the old man. The old man stood up, signed to a boy who distributed the bread in equal shares to the workmen, and took up a jar with handles, out of which he filled a large wooden cup with wine.
Not a word of this discourse had escaped Mastor, and the often repeated verse, "Come unto me all ye that labor," dwelt in his mind like the invitation of a hospitable friend bidding him to happy days of freedom and enjoyment. A distant gleam shone through the weight of his troubles, seeming to promise the dawn of a new day, and he reverently went up to the old man, in the first place to ask him if he was the overseer of the workmen who stood round him.
"I am," replied the old man, and as soon as he learnt what Mastor required as a commission from the controlling architect, he pointed out some young slaves who quickly brought the water that he needed.
Pontius met the Emperor's servant and his water-carriers and remarked, loudly enough for Mastor to understand him, to Pollux who was with him:
"The architect's servant is getting Christians to wait upon his master to-day. They are regular and sober workmen who do their duty silently and well."
While Mastor was giving his master towels, and helping to dry and dress him, he was far less attentive than usual, for he could not get the words he had heard from the overseer's lips out of his mind. He had not understood them all, but he had fully comprehended that there was a kind and loving God who had suffered in his own person the utmost torments, who was especially gracious to the poor, the miserable, and the bondsman, and who promised to refresh them and comfort them, and to re-unite them to those who had once been dear to them. "Come unto me," sounded again and again in his ears, and struck so warmly to his heart that he could not help thinking first of his mother, who, so many a time, when he was a child, had called to him only to clasp him in her arms as he ran towards her, and to press him to her heart. Just so had he often called his poor little dead son, and the feeling that there could be any one who might still call to him--the forsaken lonely man--with loving words to release him from his griefs, to reunite him to his mother, his father, and all the dear ones left behind in his lost and distant home, took half the bitterness from his pain.
He was accustomed to listen to all that was said in the Emperor's presence, and year by year he had learnt to understand more of what he heard. He had often heard the Christians discussed, and usually as deluded but dangerous fools. Many of his fellow-slaves, too, he had heard called Christian idiots, but still not unfrequently very reasonable men, and sometimes even Hadrian himself, had taken the part of the Christians.
This was the first time that Mastor had heard from their own lips what they believed and hoped, and now, while fulfilling his duties he could hardly bear the delay before he could once more seek out the old pavement-worker, to enquire of him, and to have the hopes confirmed which his words had aroused in his soul.
No sooner had Hadrian and Antinous gone into the living-room than Mastor had hastened off across the court to find the Christians. There he tried to open a conversation with the overseer concerning his faith, but the old man answered that there was a season for everything; just now he could not interrupt the work, but that he might come again after sundown, and that he then would tell him of Him who had promised to refresh the sorrow-laden.
Mastor thought no more of making his escape. When he appeared again in
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