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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 5. - 12/12 -
one of the garden-gods that followed in his train, sprang laughing on to the ass, and desired the driver to show him the way. At the corner of the next street, he met two litters, carried with difficulty through the crowd by their bearers. In the first sat Keraunus, whose saffron-colored cloak was conspicuous from afar, as fat as Silenus the companion of Dionysus, but looking very sullen. In the second sat Arsinoe, looking gaily about her, and so fresh and pretty that the Roman's easily-stirred pulses beat more rapidly.
Without reflecting, he took the flowers from the hand of the garden-god-- the flowers intended for Selene--laid them on the girl's litter, and said:
"Alexander greets Roxana, the fairest of the fair." Arsinoe colored, and Verus, after watching her for some time as she was carried onwards, desired one of his boys to follow her litter, and to join him again in the flower-market, where he would wait, to inform him whither she had gone.
The messenger hurried off, and Verus, turning his ass's head soon reached a semicircular pillared hall on the shady side of a large open space, under which the better sort of gardeners and flower dealers of the city exposed their gay and fragrant wares to be sold by pretty girls. To-day every stall had been particularly well supplied, but the demand for wreaths and flowers had steadily increased from an early hour, and although Verus had all that he could find of fresh flowers arranged and tied together, still the nosegay, though much larger, was not half so beautiful as that intended for Selene, and for which he substituted it.
Now this annoyed the Roman. His sense of justice prompted him to make good the loss he had inflicted on the sick girl. Gay ribbons were wound round the stalks of the flowers, and the long ends floated in the air, so Verus took a brooch from his dress and stuck it into the bow which ornamented the stem of the nosegay; then he was satisfied, and as he looked at the stone set in a gold border--an onyx on which was engraved Eros sharpening his arrows--he pictured to himself the pleasure, the delight of the girl that the handsome Bithynian loved, as she received the beautiful gift.
His slaves, natives of Britain, who were dressed as garden-gods, were charged with the commission to proceed to dame Hannah's under the guidance of the donkey-driver to deliver the nosegay to Selene from 'the friend at Lochias,' and then to wait for him outside the house of Titianus, the prefect; for thither, as he had ascertained from his swift- footed messenger, had Keraunus and his daughter been carried.
Verus needed a longer time than the boy, to make his way through the crowd. At the door of the prefect's residence he laid aside his mask, and in an anteroom where the steward was sitting on a couch waiting for his daughter, he arranged his hair and the folds of his toga, and was then conducted to the lady Julia with whom he hoped, once more, to see the charming Arsinoe.
But in the reception-room, instead of Arsinoe he found his own wife and the poetess Balbilla and her companion. He greeted the ladies gaily, amiably and gracefully, as usual, and then, as he looked enquiringly round the large room without concealing his disappointment, Balbilla came up to him and asked him in a low voice:
"Can you be honest, Verus?"
"When circumstances allow it, yes."
"And will they allow it here?"
"I should suppose so."
"Then answer me truly. Did you come here for Julia's sake, or did you come--"
"Or did you expect to find the fair Roxana with the prefect's wife?"
"Roxana?" asked Verus, with a cunning smile. "Roxana! Why she was the wife of Alexander the Great, and is long since dead, but I care only for the living, and when I left the merry tumult in the streets it was simply and solely--"
"You excite my curiosity."
"Because my prophetic heart promised me, fairest Balbilla, that I should find you here."
And that you call honest!" cried the poetess, hitting the praetor a blow with the stick of the ostrich-feather fan she held in her hand. "Only listen, Lucilla, your husband declares he came here for my sake." The praetor looked reproachfully at the speaker, but she whispered:
"Due punishment for a dishonest man." Then, raising her voice, she said:
"Do you know, Lucilla, that if I remain unmarried, your husband is not wholly innocent in the matter."
"Alas! yes, I was born too late for you," interrupted Verus, who knew very well what the poetess was about to say.
"Nay--no misunderstanding!" cried Balbilla. "For how can a woman venture upon wedlock when she cannot but fear the possibility of getting such a husband as Verus."
"And what man," retorted the praetor, "would ever be so bold as to court Balbilla, could he hear how cruelly she judges an innocent admirer of beauty?"
"A husband ought not to admire beauty--only the one beauty who is his wife."
"Ah Vestal maiden," laughed Verus. "I am meanwhile punishing you by withholding from you a great secret which interests us all. No, no, I am not going to tell--but I beg you my lady wife to take her to task, and teach her to exercise some indulgence so that her future husband may not have too hard a time of it."
"No woman can learn to be indulgent," replied Lucilla. "Still we practise indulgence when we have no alternative, and the criminal requires us to make allowance for him in this thing or the other."
Verus made his wife a bow and pressed his lips on her arm, then he asked. "And where is dame Julia?"
"She is saving the sheep from the wolf," replied Balbilla.
"That as soon as you were announced she carried off little Roxana to a place of safety."
"No, no," interrupted Lucilla. "The tailor was waiting in an inner room to arrange the charming child's costume. Only look at the lovely nosegay she brought to Julia. And do you deny my right to share your secret?"
"How could I?" replied Verus.
"He is very much in need of your making allowances!" laughed Balbilla, while the praetor went up to, his wife and told her in a whisper what he had learnt from Mastor. Lucilla clasped her hands in astonishment, and Verus cried to the poetess:
"Now you see what a satisfaction your cruel tongue has deprived you of?"
"How can you be so revengeful most estimable Verus," said the lady coaxingly. "I am dying of curiosity."
"Live but a few days longer fair Balbilla, for my sake," replied the Roman, "and the cause of your early death will be removed."
"Only wait, I will be revenged!" cried the girl threatening him with her finger, but Lucilla led her away saying:
"Come now, it is time we should give Julia the benefit of our advice."
"Do so," said Verus. "Otherwise I am afraid my visit to-day would seem opportune to no one.--Greet Julia from me."
As he went away he cast a glance at the nosegay which Arsinoe had given away as soon as she had received it from him, and he sighed: "As we grow old we have to learn wisdom."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Avoid all useless anxiety To know half is less endurable than to know nothing Who do all they are able and enjoy as much as they can get
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