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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 5. - 2/12 -
old man answered sometimes with an assenting nod, and sometimes with a deprecatory motion of his hands.
Arsinoe listened with suspended breath to the herald's proclamation; she started and colored all over, with her eyes fixed on the bunch of flowers in her hand, when she heard from the stage loudly uttered and plain to be heard by all present:
"Arsinoe, the second daughter of Keraunus, the Macedonian and a Roman citizen."
The ship-builder's daughter had already been called before her, and had immediately left her seat, but Arsinoe waited modestly till some older ladies rose. She then joined them and went among the last members of the little procession which went down to the orchestra and from thence up the steps for the chorus, on to the stage.
There the ladies and young girls were placed in two ranks, and looked at with amiable consideration by the artists. Arsinoe was not long in perceiving that these gentlemen looked at her longer and more often than at the others; and then, after the masters of the festival had gone aside in groups to discuss the matter they looked at her constantly and were talking, she felt sure, about her. Nor did it escape her that she had become the centre of many glances from the lookers-on who were sitting in the theatre, and it occurred to her that on several sides people were pointing at her with their fingers. She did not know which way she should look and began to feel bashful; still she was pleased at being remarked by so many people, and as she stood looking at the ground out of sheer embarrassment to hide the delight she felt, Verus, who had gone up to the group of artists, called out, putting his hand on the prefect's arm.
"Charming-charming! a Roxana that might have sprung straight out of the picture."
Arsinoe heard these words, and guessing that they referred to her she became more confused than ever, while her awkward smile gradually changed to an expression of joyful but anxious expectation of a delight which was almost painful in its magnitude.
Now one of the artists pronounced her name, and as she ventured to raise her eyes to see if it were not Pollux who had spoken, she observed the wealthy Plutarch who, with his two living crutches and Gabinius, the lean curiosity-dealer, was inspecting the ranks of her companions. Presently he had come quite close to her, and as he was helped towards her with tottering steps, he dug the dealer in the ribs and said, kissing the back of his hand, and winking his great eyes: "I know--I know! It is not easily forgotten. Ivory and red coral!"
Arsinoe started, the blood left her cheeks, and all satisfaction fled from her heart when the old man came to a stand-still in front of her, and said kindly:
"Ah! ah! a bud out of the papyrus factory among all these proud roses and lilies. Ah! ah! out of my work-rooms to join my assembly! Never mind- never mind, beauty is everywhere welcome. I do not ask how you got here. I am only glad that you are here."
Arsinoe covered part of her face with her hand, but he tapped her white arm three times with his middle finger, and then tottered on laughing to himself. The dealer had caught Plutarch's words, and asked him, when they had gone a few steps from Arsinoe, with eager indignation:
"Did I hear you rightly? a work-woman in your factory, and here among our daughters?"
"So it is--two busy hands among so many idle ones," said the old man, gaily.
"Then she must have forced her way in, and must be turned out."
"Certainly she shall not--Why, she is charming."
"It is revolting! here, in this assembly!"
"Revolting?" interrupted Plutarch. "Oh dear, no! we must not be too particular. And how are we to obtain mere children from you antiquity- mongers?" Then he added pleasantly:
"This lovely creature must I should think, delight your fine sense of beauty; or are you afraid that she may seem better suited to the part of Roxana than your own charming daughter? Only listen to the men up there! Let us see what is going on."
These words referred to a loud discussion which had arisen close by the couches of the prefect and Verus, the praetor. They, and with them most of the painters and sculptors present, were of opinion that Arsinoe would be a wonderfully effective Roxana; they maintained that her face and figure answered perfectly to those of the Bactrian princes as they were represented by Action, whose picture was, to a certain extent, to serve as the basis of the living group. Only Papias and two of his fellow- artists, declared against this choice, and eagerly asserted that among all the damsels present one, and one alone, was worthy to appear before the Emperor as Alexander's bride, and that one was Praxilla, the daughter of Gabinius. All three were in close business relations with the father of the young girl, who was tall, and slim, and certainly very lovely, and they wanted to do a pleasure to the rich and knowing purchaser. Their zeal even assumed a tone of vehemence, when the dealer, following in the wake of Plutarch, joined the group of disputants, and they were certain of being heard by him.
"And who is this girl yonder?" asked Papias, pointing to Arsinoe, as the two came up. "Nothing can be said against her beauty, but she is dressed less than simply, and wears no kind of ornament worth speaking of--it is a thousand to one against her parents being in a position to provide her with such a rich dress, and such costly jewels as Roxana certainly ought to display when about to be married to Alexander. The Asiatic princess must appear in silk, gold and precious stones. Now my friend here will be able so to dress his Praxilla that the splendor of her attire might have astonished the great Macedonian himself, but who is the father of that pretty child who is satisfied with the blue ribbon in her hair, her two roses, and her little white frock?"
"Your reflections are just, Papias," interrupted the dealer, with dry incisiveness. "The girl you are speaking of is quite out of the question. I do not say so for my daughter's sake, but because everything in bad taste is odious to me; it is hardly conceivable how such a young thing could have had the audacity to force herself in here. A pretty face, to be sure, opens locks and bars. She is--do not be too much startled--she is nothing more than a work-girl in the papyrus factory of our excellent host, Plutarch."
"That is not the truth," Pollux interrupted, indignantly, as he heard this assertion.
"Moderate your tongue, young man," replied the dealer. "I can call you to witness, noble Plutarch."
"Let her be whom she may," answered the old man, with annoyance. "She is very one of my workwomen, but even if she had come straight here from the gumming-table with such a face and such a figure, she is perfectly in place here and everywhere. That is my opinion."
"Bravo! my fine friend!" cried Verus, nodding to the old man. "Caesar will be far better pleased with such a paragon of charmers as that sweet creature, than with all your old writs of citizenship and heavy purses."
"That is true," the prefect said, confirming this statement. "And I dare swear she is a free maiden, and not a slave. But you stood up for her friend Pollux--what do you know about her?"
"That she is the daughter of Keraunus, the palace-steward, and that I have known her from her childhood," answered the youthful artist emphatically. "He is a Roman citizen, and of an old Macedonian house as well."
"Perhaps even of royal descent," added Titianus, laughing.
"I know the man," answered the dealer hastily. "He is an impecunious insolent old fool."
"I should think," interrupted Verus with lofty composure, but rather as being bored, than as reproving the irritated speaker, "it seems to me that this is hardly the place to conduct a discussion as to the nature and disposition of the fathers of all those ladies and young girls."
"But he is poor," cried the dealer angrily. "A few days since he offered to sell me his few miserable curiosities, but really I could not--"
"We are sorry for your sake if the transaction was unsuccessful," Verus again interposed, this time with excessive politeness. "Now, first let us decide on the persons and afterwards on the costumes. The father of the girl is a Roman citizen then?"
"A member of the council, and in his way a man of position," replied Titianus.
"And I," added his wife Julia, "have taken a great fancy to the sweet little maid, and if the principal part is given to her, and her noble father is without adequate means, as you assert my friend, I will undertake to provide for her costume. Caesar will be charmed with such a Roxana."
The dealer's clients were silent, he himself was trembling with disappointment and vexation, and his fury rose to the utmost when Plutarch, whom till then he thought he had won over to his daughter's side, tried to bow his bent old body before dame Julia, and said with a graceful gesture of regret:
"My old eyes have deceived me again on this occasion. The little girl is very like one of my workwomen; very like--but I see now that there is a certain something which the other lacks. I have done her an injustice and remain her debtor. Permit, me, noble lady to add the ornaments to the dress you provide for our Roxana. I may be lucky enough to find something pretty for her. A sweet child! I shall go at once and beg her forgiveness and tell her what we propose. May I do so noble Julia? Have I your permission gentlemen?"
In a very few minutes it was known all over the stage, and soon after all through the amphitheatre, that Arsinoe, the daughter of Keraunus, had been selected to represent the character of Roxana.
"But who was Keraunus?"
"How was it that the children of the most illustrious and wealthy citizens had been overlooked in assigning this most prominent part?"
"This was just what might be expected when every thing was left to those reckless artists!"
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