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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 4. - 5/9 -
The tailor's nimble apprentice helped Arsinoe to arrange her dress and Selene's, and was never weary of praising the sheen and silkiness of Arsinoe's hair, while she twisted it with ribbons, built it up and twisted it at the back so gracefully with a comb, that it fell in a thick mass of artfully-curled locks down her neck and back. When Keraunus came back, he gazed with justifiable pride at his beautiful child; he was immensely pleased, and even chuckled softly to himself as he laid out the gold pieces which were brought to him by the curiosity-dealer's servant, and set them in a row and counted them. While he was thus occupied, Arsinoe went up to him and asked laughing: "Hiram has not cheated me then?" Keraunus desired her not to disturb him, and added:
"Think of that sword, the weapon of the great Antony, perhaps the very one with which he pierced his own breast.--Where can Selene be?"
An hour, an hour and a half had slipped by, and when the fourth half- hour was well begun, and still his eldest daughter did not return, the steward announced that they must set out, for that it would not do to keep the ship-builder's wife waiting. It was a sincere grief to Arsinoe to be obliged to go without Selene. She had made her sister's dress look as nice as her own, and had laid it carefully on the divan near the mosaic pavement. She had taken a great deal of trouble. Never before had she been out in the streets alone, and it seemed impossible to enjoy anything without the companionship and supervision of her absent sister. But her father's assertion, that Selene would have a place gladly found for her, even later, among the maidens, reassured the girl who was overflowing with joyful expectation.
Finally she perfumed herself a little with the fragrant extract which Keraunus was accustomed to use before going to the council, and begged her father to order the old slave-woman to go and buy the promised cakes for the little ones during her absence. The children had all gathered round her, admiring her with loud ohs! and ahs! as if she were some wondrous incarnation, not to be too nearly approached, and on no account to be touched. The elaborate dressing of her hair would not allow of her stooping over them as usual. She could only stroke little Helios' curls, saying: "Tomorrow you shall have a ride in the air, and perhaps Selene will tell you a pretty story by-and-bye."
Her heart beat faster than usual as she stepped into the litter, which was waiting for her just in front of the gate-house. Old Doris looked at her from a distance with pleasure, and while Keraunus stepped out into the street to call a litter for himself, the old woman hastily cut the two finest roses from her bush, and pressing her fingers to her lips with a sly smile, put them into the girl's hand.
Arsinoe felt as if it were in a dream that she went to the ship-builder's house, and from thence to the theatre, and on her way she fully understood, for the first time, that alarm and delight may find room side by side in a girl's mind, and that one by no means hinders the existence of the other.
Fear and expectation so completely overmastered her, that she neither saw nor heard what was going on around her; only once she noticed a young man with a garland on his head, who, as he passed her, arm in arm with another, called out to her gaily: "Long live beauty!"
From that moment she kept her eyes fixed on her lap and on the roses dame Doris had given her. The flowers reminded her of the kind old woman's son, and she wondered whether tall Pollux had perhaps seen her in her finery. That, she would have liked very much; and after all, it was not at all impossible, for, of course, since Pollux had been working at Lochias he must often have gone to his parents. Perhaps even he had himself picked the roses for her, but had not dared to give them to her as her father was so near.
But the young sculptor had not been at the gatehouse when Arsinoe went by. He had thought of her often enough since meeting her again by the bust of her mother; but on this particular afternoon his time and thoughts were fully claimed by another fair damsel. Balbilla had arrived at Lochias about noon, accompanied, as was fitting, by the worthy Claudia, the not wealthy widow of a senator, who for many years had filled the place of lady-in-attendance and protecting companion to the rich fatherless and motherless girl. At Rome, she conducted Balbilla's household affairs with as much sense and skill as satisfaction in the task. Still she was not perfectly content with her lot, for her ward's love of travelling, often compelled her to leave the metropolis, and in her estimation, there was no place but Rome where life was worth living. A visit to Baiae for bathing, or in the winter months a flight to the Ligurian coast, to escape the cold of January and February--these she could endure; for she was certain there to find, if not Rome, at any rate Romans; but Balbilla's wish to venture in a tossing ship, to visit the torrid shores of Africa, which she pictured to herself as a burning oven, she had opposed to the utmost. At last, however, she was obliged to put a good face on the matter, for the Empress herself expressed so decidedly her wish to take Balbilla with her to the Nile, that any resistance would have been unduteous. Still; in her secret heart, she could not but confess to herself that her high-spirited and wilful foster-child--for so she loved to call Balbilla--would undoubtedly have carried out her purpose without the Empress' intervention.
Balbilla had come to the palace, as the reader knows, to sit for her bust.
When Selene was passing by the screen which concealed her playfellow and his work from her gaze, the worthy matron had fallen gently asleep on a couch, and the sculptor was exerting all his zeal to convince the noble damsel that the size to which her hair was dressed was an exaggeration, and that the super-incumbence of such a mass must disfigure the effect of the delicate features of her face. He implored her to remember in how simple a style the great Athenian masters, at the best period of the plastic arts, had taught their beautiful models to dress their hair, and requested her to do her own hair in that manner next day, and to come to him before she allowed her maid to put a single lock through the curling- tongs; for to-day, as he said, the pretty little ringlets would fly back into shape, like the spring of a fibula when the pin was bent back. Balbilla contradicted him with gay vivacity, protested against his desire to play the part of lady's maid, and defended her style of hair-dressing on the score of fashion.
"But the fashion is ugly, monstrous, a pain to one's eyes!" cried Pollux. "Some vain Roman lady must have invented it, not to make herself beautiful, but to be conspicuous."
"I hate the idea of being conspicuous by my appearance," answered Balbilla. "It is precisely by following the fashion, however conspicuous it may be, that we are less remarkable than when we carefully dress far more simply and plainly--in short, differently to what it prescribes. Which do you regard as the vainer, the fashionably-dressed young gentleman on the Canopic way, or the cynical philosopher with his unkempt hair, his carefully-ragged cloak over his shoulders, and a heavy cudgel in his dirty hands?"
"The latter, certainly," replied Pollux. "Still he is sinning against the laws of beauty which I desire to win you over to, and which will survive every whim of fashion, as certainly as Homer's Iliad will survive the ballad of a street-singer, who celebrates the last murder that excited the mob of this town.--Am I the first artist who has attempted to represent your face?"
"No," said Balbilla, with a laugh. "Five Roman artists have already experimented on my head."
"And did any one of their busts satisfy you?"
"Not one seemed to me better than utterly bad."
"And your pretty face is to be handed down to posterity in five-fold deformity?"
"Ah! no--I had them all destroyed."
"That was very good of them!" cried Pollux, eagerly. Then turning with a very simple gesture to the bust before him he said: "Hapless clay, if the lovely lady whom thou art destined to resemble will not sacrifice the chaos of her curls, thy fate will undoubtedly be that of thy predecessors."
The sleeping matron was roused by this speech. "You were speaking," she said, "of the broken busts of Balbilla?"
"Yes," replied the poetess.
"And perhaps this one may follow them," sighed Claudia. "Do you know what lies before you in that case?"
"This young lady knows something of your art."
"I learnt to knead clay a little of Aristaeus," interrupted Balbilla.
"Aha! because Caesar set the fashion, and in Rome it would have been conspicuous not to dabble in sculpture."
"And she tried to improve in every bust all that particularly displeased her," continued Claudia.
"I only began the work for the slaves to finish," Balbilla threw in, interrupting her companion. "Indeed, my people became quite expert in the work of destruction."
"Then my work may, at any rate, hope for a short agony and speedy death," sighed Pollux. "And it is true--all that lives comes into the world with its end already preordained."
"Would an early demise of your work pain you much? "asked Balbilla.
"Yes, if I thought it successful; not if I felt it to be a failure."
"Any one who keeps a bad bust," said Balbilla, "must feel fearful lest an undeservedly bad reputation is handed down to future generations."
"Certainly! but how then can you find courage to expose yourself for the sixth time to a form of calumny that it is difficult to counteract?"
"Because I can have anything destroyed that I choose," laughed the spoilt girl. "Otherwise sitting still is not much to my taste."
"That is very true," sighed Claudia. "But from you I expect something strikingly good."
"Thank you," said Pollux, "and I will take the utmost pains to complete
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