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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 4. - 4/9 -
position, she looked down on the ground as gravely as if she were trying to find an idea, or a way out of the difficulty, in the pattern on the floor.
The dealer for a moment amused himself in studying her bewilderment, which he thought charming--only wishing that his son, a young painter, were standing in his place. At last he broke the silence however, saying:
"Your father, perhaps, will not agree to our bargain; and yet it is for him you want the money?"
"Who says so?"
"Would he have offered me his own treasures if he had not wanted money?"
"It is only--I can--only--" stammered Arsinoe, who was unaccustomed to falsehood--I would merely not confess to him--"
"I myself saw how innocently you came by the phial," said the dealer, "and Keraunus never need know anything about such a trifle. Fancy yourself, that you have broken it, and that the pieces are lying at the bottom of the sea. Which of all these things does your father value least?"
"This old sword of Antony," answered the child, her face brightening once more. "He says it is much too long, and too slender to be what it pretends to be. For my part I do not believe that it is a sword at all, but a roasting-spit."
"I shall apply it to that very purpose to-morrow morning in my kitchen," said the dealer, "but I offer you two thousand drachmae for it, and will take it with me and send you the amount in a few hours. Will that do?"
Arsinoe dropped her foot, glided from the table, and instead of answering, clapped her hands with glee.
"Only tell him," continued Hiram, "that I am able just now to pay so much for this kind of thing, because Caesar is certain to look about him for the things that belonged to Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Octavianus, Augustus, and other great Romans who have lived in Egypt. The old woman there may bring the spit after me. My slave is waiting outside, and can hide it under his chiton as far as my kitchen door, for if he carried it openly the connoisseurs passing by might covet the priceless treasure, and we must protect ourselves from the evil eye."
The dealer laughed, took the little bottle into his own keeping, gave the sword to the old woman, and then took a friendly leave of the young girl.
As soon as Arsinoe was alone, she flew into the bedroom to put on her sandals, threw her veil over her head, and hastened to the papyrus manufactory. Selene must know of the unexpected good fortune that had befallen her, and all of them, and then she would have the poor girl carried home in a litter, for there were always plenty for hire on the quay.
Things did not always go smoothly--very often very unsmoothly and stormily between the sisters, but still anything of importance that happened to Arsinoe, whether it were good or evil, she must at once tell Selene.
Ye gods! what happiness! She could take her place among the daughters of the great citizens in the processions, no less richly apparelled than they, and still there would remain a nice little sum for her father and sister; and the work in the factory, the nasty dirty work, which she hated and loathed, would be at an end, it was to be hoped, for ever.
The old slave was still sitting on the steps with the children; Arsinoe tossed them up one after the other, and whispered in each child's ear:
"Cakes this evening!" and she kissed the blind child's eyes, and said:
"You may come with me, dear little man. I will find a litter for Selene and put you in, and you will be carried home like a little prince."
The little blind boy threw his arms up with delight, exclaiming: "Through the air, and without falling." While she was still holding him in her arms, her father came up the steps that led from the rotunda to the passage, his face streaming with heat and excitement; and after wiping his brow and panting to regain his breath, he said:
"Hiram, the curiosity-dealer, met me just outside, with the sword that belonged to Antony; and you sold it to him for two thousand drachmae! you little fool!"
"But, father, you would have given the old spit for a pasty and a draught of wine," laughed Arsinoe.
"I?" cried Keraunus. "I would have had three times the sum for that venerable relic, for which Caesar will give its weight in silver; however, sold is sold. And yet-and yet, the thought that I no longer possess the sword of Antony, will give me many sleepless nights."
"If this evening we set you down to a good dish of meat, sleep will soon follow," answered Arsinoe, and she took the handkerchief out of her father's hand, and coaxingly wiped his temples, going on vivaciously: "We are quite rich folks, father, and will show the other citizens' daughters what we can do."
"Now you shall both take part in the festival," said Keraunus, decidedly. "Caesar shall see that I shun no sacrifice in his honor, and if he notices you, and I bring my complaint against that insolent architect before him--"
"You must let that pass," begged Arsinoe, "if only poor Selene's foot is well by that time."
"Where is she?"
"Then her foot cannot be so very bad. She will soon come in, it is to be hoped."
"Probably--I mean to fetch her with a litter."
"A litter?" said Keraunus, in surprise.
"The two thousand drachmae have turned the girl's head."
"Only on account of her foot. It was hurting her so much when she went out."
"Then why did she not stay at home? As usual she has wasted an hour to save a sesterce, and you, neither of you have any time to spare."
"I will go after her at once."
"No--no, you at any rate, must remain here, for in two hours the matrons and maidens are to meet at the theatre."
"In two hours! but mighty Serapis, what are we to put on?"
"It is your business to see to that," replied Keraunus, "I myself will have the litter you spoke of, and be carried down to Tryphon, the ship- builder. Is there any money left in Selene's box?"
Arsinoe went into her sleeping-room, and said, as she returned:
"This is all--six pieces of two drachmae."
"Four will be enough for me," replied the steward, but after a moment's reflection he took the whole half-dozen.
"What do you want with the ship-builder?" asked Arsinoe.
"In the Council," replied Keraunus, "I was worried again about you girls. I said one of my daughters was ill, and the other must attend upon her; but this would not do, and I was asked to send the one who was well. Then I explained that you had no mother, that we lived a retired life for each other, and that I could not bear the idea of sending my daughter alone, and without any protectress to the meeting. So then Tryphon said that it would give his wife pleasure to take you to the theatre with her own daughter. This I half accepted, but I declared at once that you would not go, if your elder sister were not better. I could not give any positive consent--you know why."
"Oh, blessings on Antony and his noble spit!" cried Arsinoe. "Now everything is settled, and you can tell the ship-builder we shall go. Our white dresses are still quite good, but a few ells of new light blue ribbon for my hair, and of red for Selene's, you must buy on the way, at Abibaal, the Phoenician's."
"I will see at once to both the dresses--but, to be sure, when are we to be ready?"
"In two hours."
"Then, do you know what, dear old father?"
"Our old woman is half blind, and does everything wrong. Do let me go down to dame Doris at the gate-house, and ask her to help me. She is so clever and kind, and no one irons so well as she does."
"Silence!" cried the steward, angrily, interrupting his daughter. "Those people shall never again cross my threshold."
"But look at my hair; only look at the state it is in," cried Arsinoe, excitedly, and thrusting her fingers into her thick tresses which she pulled into disorder. "To do that up again, plait it with new ribbons, iron our dresses, and sew on the brooches--why the Empress' ladies-maid could not do all that in two hours."
"Doris shall never cross this threshold," repeated Keraunus, for all his answer.
"Then tell the tailor Hippias to send me an assistant; but that will cost money."
"We have it, and can pay," replied Keraunus, proudly, and in order not to forget his commissions he muttered to himself while he went to get a litter:
"Hippias the tailor, blue ribbon, red ribbon, and Tryphon the ship- builder."
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