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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 4. - 2/9 -
his master's presence there was such a sunny light in his blue eyes that Hadrian left the angry words he had prepared for him unspoken, and cried to Antinous, laughing and pointing to the slave:
"I really believe the rascal has consoled himself already, and found a new mate. Let us, too, follow the precept of Horace, so far as we may, and enjoy the present day. The poet may let the future go as it will, but I cannot, for, unfortunately, I am the Emperor."
"And Rome may thank the gods that you are," replied Antinous.
"What happy phrases the boy hits upon sometimes," said Hadrian with a laugh, and he stroked the lad's brown curls. "Now till noon I must work with Phlegon and Titianus, whom I am expecting, and then perhaps we may find something to laugh at. Ask the tall sculptor there behind the screens, at what hour Balbilla is to sit to him for her bust. We must also inspect the architect's work, and that of the Alexandrian artists by daylight; that, their zeal has well deserved."
Hadrian retired to the room where his private secretary had ready for him the despatches and papers for Rome and the provinces, which the Emperor was required to read and to sign. Antinous remained alone in the sitting-room, and for an hour he continued to gaze at the ships which came to anchor in the harbor, or sailed out of the roads, and amused himself with watching the swift boats which swarmed round the larger vessels, like wasps round ripe fruit. He listened to the songs of the sailors, and the music of the flute-players, to the measured beat of the oars, which came up from the triremes in the private harbor of the Emperor as they went out to sea. Even the pure blue of the sky and the warmth of the delicious morning were a pleasure to him, and he asked himself whether the smell of tar, which pervaded the seaport, were agreeable or not.
Presently as the sun mounted in the sky, its bright sphere dazzled him; he left the window with a yawn, stretched himself on a couch, and stared absently up at the ceiling of the room without thinking of the subject which the faded picture on it was intended to represent.
Idleness had long since grown to be the occupation of his life; but accustomed to it as he was, he was sometimes conscious of its dark attendant shadow ennui--as of a disagreeable and intrusive interruption to the enjoyment of life. Generally in such lonely hours of idle reverie his thoughts reverted to his belongings in Bithynia, of whom he never dared to speak before the Emperor, or perhaps of the hunting excursions he had made with Hadrian, of the slaughtered game, of the fish he--an experienced angler--had caught, or such like. What the future might bring him troubled him not, for to the love of creativeness, to ambition --to all, in short, that bore any resemblance to a passionate excitement his soul had, so far, remained a stranger. The admiration which was universally excited by his beauty gave him no pleasure, and many a time he felt as though it was not worth while to stir a limb or draw a breath. Almost everything he saw was indifferent to him excepting a kind word from the lips of the Emperor, whom he regarded as great above all other men, whom he feared as Destiny incarnate, and to whom he felt himself bound as intimately as the flower to the tree, the blossom that must die when the stem is broken, on which it flaunts as an ornament and a grace.
But, to-day, as he flung himself on the divan his visions took a new direction. He could not help thinking of the pale girl whom he had saved from the jaws of the blood-hound--of the white cold hand which for an instant had clung to his neck--of the cold words with which she had afterwards repelled him.
Antinous began to long violently to see Selene. That same Antinous, to whom in all the cities he had visited with the Emperor, and in Rome particularly, the noble fair ones had sent branches of flowers and tender letters, and who nevertheless, since the day when he left his home, had never felt for any woman or girl half so tender a sentiment, as for the hunter the Emperor had given him, or for the big dog. This girl stood before his memory like breathing marble. Perchance the man might be doomed to death who should rest on her cold breast, but such a death must be full of ecstasy, and it seemed to him that it would be far more blissful to die with the blood frozen in his veins, than of the too rapid throbbing of his heart.
"Selene," he murmured, now and again, with soft hesitation; a strange unrest foreign to his calm nature seemed to propagate itself through all his limbs, and he who commonly would be stretched on a couch for hours without stirring, lost in dreams, now sprang up and paced the room, sighing deeply, and with long strides.
It was a passionate longing for Selene that drove him up and down, and his wish to see her again crystallized into resolve, and prompted him to contrive the ways and means of meeting her once more before the Emperor's return.
Simply to invade her father's lodging without farther ceremony, seemed to him out of the question, and yet he was certain of finding her there, since her injured foot would of course keep her at home. Should he once more go to the steward with a request for bread and salt? But he dared not ask anything of Keraunus in Hadrian's name after the scene which had so recently taken place. Should he go there to carry her a new pitcher in the place of the broken one? But that would only freshly enrage the arrogant official.
Should he--should he--should he not? But no, it was quite impossible-- still, that no doubt--that was the right idea. In his medicine-chest there were a few extracts which had been given to him by the Emperor; he would offer her one of these to dilute with water and apply to her bruised foot. And this act of sympathy could not displease even his master, who liked to prove his healing art on the sick or suffering. He at once called Mastor, and desired him to take charge of the hound which had followed his steps as he paced the room, then he went into his sleeping-room, took out a phial of a most costly essence, which Hadrian had given him on his last birthday, and which had formerly belonged to Trajan's wife, Kotina, and then proceeded to the steward's rooms. On the steps where he had found Selene, he found the black slave with some children. The old man had sat down them and got no farther for fear of the Roman's dog. Antinous went up to him and begged him to guide him to his master's quarters, and the negro immediately showed him the way, opened the door of the antechamber, and pointing to the living-room said:
"There--but Keraunus is absent."
Without troubling himself any further about Antinous the slave went back to the children, but the Bithyman stood irresolute, with his flask in his hand, for besides Selene's voice he heard that of another girl and the deeper tones of a man. He was still hesitating when Arsinoe's loud exclamation of "Who's there?" obliged him to advance.
In the sitting-room Selene was standing dressed in a long light-colored robe with a veil over her head, as if prepared to go out, but Arsinoe was perched on the edge of a table, in such a way as that the tips of her toes only touched the ground, and on the table lay a quantity of old- fashioned things. Before her stood a Phoenician, of middle age, holding in his hand a finely-carved cup; apparently he was in treaty for it with the young girl.
Keraunus had been again to-day to a dealer in curiosities, but he had not found him at home, so he had left word at his shop that Hiram might call upon him in his rooms at Lochias, where he could show him several valuable rarities. The Phoenician had arrived before the return of the steward himself, who had been detained at a meeting of the town council, and Arsinoe was displaying her father's treasures, whose beauties she was extolling with much eloquence. Hiram unfortunately offered a no higher price than Gabinius, whom the steward had sent off so indignantly the previous evening.
Selene had been convinced from the first of the bootlessness of the attempt, and was now anxious to bring the transaction to a speedy conclusion, as the hour was approaching when she and Arsinoe had to go to the papyrus factory. To her sister's refusal to accompany her, and to the old slave-woman's entreaty that she would rest her foot, at any rate for to-day, she had responded only with a resolute, "I am going."
The appearance of the youth on the scene occasioned the girls some embarrassment. Selene recognized him at once, Arsinoe thought him handsome but awkward, while the curiosity-dealer gazed at him in perfect admiration, and was the first to offer him a greeting. Antinous returned it, bowed to the sisters, and then said turning to Selene:
"We heard that your head was cut, and your foot hurt, and as we were guilty of your mishap, we venture to offer you this phial which contains a good remedy for such injuries."
"Thank you," replied the girl. "But I feel already so well that I shall try to go out."
"That you certainly ought not to do," said Antinous, beseechingly.
"I must," replied Selene, gravely.
"Then, at any rate, take the phial to use for a lotion when you return. Ten drops in such a cup as that, full of water."
"I can try it when I come in."
"Do so, and you will see how healing it is. You are not vexed with us any longer?"
"I am glad of that!" cried the boy, fixing his large dreamy eyes on Selene with silent passion. This gaze displeased her, and she said more coldly than before to the Bithyman.
"To whom shall I give the phial when I have used the stuff in it?"
"Keep it, pray keep it," begged Antinous. "It is pretty, and will be twice as precious in my eyes when it belongs to you."
"It is pretty-but I do not wish for presents."
"Then destroy it when you have done with it. You have not forgiven us our dog's bad behavior, and we are sincerely sorry that our dog--"
"I am not vexed with you. Arsinoe pour the medicine into a saucer."
The steward's younger daughter immediately obeyed, and noticing as she did so, how pretty the phial was, sparkling with various colors, she said frankly enough:
"If my sister will not have it, give it to me. How can you make such a pother about nothing, Selene?"
"Take it," said Antinous, looking anxiously at the ground, for it had now just occurred to him how highly the Emperor had valued this little bottle, and that he might possibly ask him some time what had become of it. Selene shrugged her shoulders, and drawing her veil round her head, she exclaimed, with a glance of annoyance at her sister:
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