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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 5. - 3/12 -
"And where was a poor little girl like that to find the talents which it would cost to procure the costume of an Asiatic princess, Alexander's bride?"
"Plutarch, and the prefect's wife had undertaken that."
"A mere beggar."
"How well the family jewels would have suited our daughters!"
"Do we want to show Caesar nothing but a few silly pretty faces?--and not something of our wealth and taste?"
"Supposing Hadrian asks who this Roxana is, and had to be told that a collection had to be made to get her a proper costume."
"Such things never could happen anywhere but in Alexandria."
"Every one wants to know whether she worked in Plutarch's factory. They say it is not true--but the painted old villain still loves a pretty face. He smuggled her in, you may be sure; where there is smoke there is fire, and it is beyond a doubt that she gets money from the old man."
"Ah! you had better enquire of a priest of Aphrodite. It is nothing to laugh at, it is scandalous, audacious!"
Thus and on this wise ran the comments with which the announcement of Arsinoe's preferment to the part of Roxana was received, and hatred and bitter animosity had grown up in the souls of the dealer and his daughter. Praxilla was selected as a companion to Alexander's bride, and she yielded without objecting, but on her way homewards she nodded assent when her father said:
"Let things go on now as they may, but a few hours before the performance begins, I will send them word that you are ill."
The selection of Arsinoe had however, on the other hand, given pleasure as well as pain. Up in the middle places in the amphitheatre sat Keraunus, his legs far apart, his face glowing, panting and choking with sheer delight, and too haughty to draw in his feet even when the brother of the archidikastes tried to squeeze by his bulky person which filled two seats at once. Arsinoe, whose sharp ears had not failed to catch the dealer's remonstrances, and the words in which brave Pollux had taken her part, had, at first, felt dying of shame and terror, but now she felt as though she could fly on the wings of her delight. She had never been so happy in her life, and when she got out with her father, in the first dark street she threw her arms round his neck, kissed both his cheeks, and then told him how kind the lady Julia, the prefect's wife had been to her, and that she had undertaken, with the warmest friendliness, to have her costly dress made for her.
Keraunus had no objection to offer, and, strange to say, he did not consider it beneath his dignity to allow Arsinoe to be supplied with jewels by the wealthy manufacturer.
"People have seen," he said, pathetically, "that we need not shrink from doing as much as other citizens do, but to dress a Roxana as befits a bride would cost millions, and I am very willing to confess to my friends that I have not millions. Where the costume comes from is all the same, be that as it may you will still stand the first of all the maidens in the city, and I am pleased with you for that, my child. To-morrow will be the last meeting, and then perhaps Selene too, may have a prominent part given to her. Happily we are able to dress her as befits. When will the prefect's wife fetch you?"
"To-morrow about noon."
"Then early to-morrow buy a nice new dress."
"Will there not be enough for a new bracelet too?" asked Arsinoe, coaxingly. "This one of mine is too narrow and trumpery."
"You shall have one, for you have deserved it," replied Keraunus, with dignity. "But you must have patience till the day after to-morrow; to-morrow the goldsmiths will be closed on account of the festival."
Arsinoe had never seen her father so cheerful and talkative as he was to-day, and yet the walk from the theatre to Lochias was not a very short one, and it was long past the early hour at which he was accustomed to retire to bed.
By the time the father and daughter reached the palace it was already tolerably late, for, after Arsinoe had quitted the stage, suitable representatives of parts had been selected for three other scenes from the life of Alexander, by the light of torches, lamps and tapers; and before the assemblage broke up, Plutarch's guests were entertained with wine, fruit, syrups, sweet cakes, oyster pasties, and other delicacies. The steward had fallen with good will on the noble drink and excellent food, and when he was replete, he was wont to be in a better humor, and after a modicum of wine, in a more cheerful mood than usual. Just now he was content and kind, for although he had done all that lay in his power, the entertainment had not lasted long enough, for him to arrive at a state of intoxication which could make him surly, or to overload his digestion. Towards the end of their walk, he turned thoughtful and said:
"To-morrow the council does not sit on account of the festival, and that is well; all the world will congratulate me, question me, and notice me, and the gilding on my circlet is quite shabby; and in some places the silver shines through. Your outfit will now cost nothing, and it is quite necessary that before the next meeting I should go to a goldsmith and exchange that wretched thing for one of real gold. A man should show what he is."
He spoke the words pompously, and Arsinoe eagerly acquiesced, and only begged him, as they went in at the open door, to leave enough for Selene's costume; he laughed quietly to himself, and said:
"We need no longer be so very cautious. I should like to know who the Alexander will be who will be the first to ask for my Roxana as his wife. Rich old Plutarch's only son already has a seat in the council, and has not yet taken a wife. He is no longer very young, but he is a fine man still."
The radiant father's dream of the future was interrupted by Doris, who came out of the gate-house and called him by his name. Keraunus stood still. When the old woman went on:
"I must speak with you."
He answered, repellently: "But I shall not listen to you--neither now nor at any time."
"It was certainly not for my pleasure," retorted Doris, "that I called to you; I have only to tell you that you will not find your daughter Selene at home."
"What do you say?" cried Keraunus.
"I say that the poor girl with her damaged foot could at last walk no farther, and that she had to be carried into a strange house where she is being taken care of."
"Selene!" cried Arsinoe, falling from all her clouds of happiness, startled and grieved--"do you know where she is?"
Before Doris could reply, Keraunus stormed out:
"It is all the fault of the Roman architect and his raging beast of a dog. Very good! very good! now Caesar will certainly help me to my rights. He will give a lesson to those who throw Roxana's sister into a sick-bed, and hinder her from taking any part in the processions. Very good! very good indeed!"
"It is sad enough to cry over!" said the gatekeeper's wife, indignantly. "Is this the thanks she gets for all her care of her little brothers and sisters! Only to think that a father can speak so, when his best child is lying with a broken leg, helpless among strangers!"
"With a broken leg," whimpered Arsinoe.
"Broken!" repeated Keraunus slowly, and now sincerely anxious. "Where can I find her?"
"At dame Hannah's little house at the bottom of the garden belonging to the widow of Pudeus."
"Why did they not bring her here?"
"Because the physician forbade it. She is in a fever, but she is well cared for. Hannah is one of the Christians. I cannot bear the people, but they know how to nurse the sick better than any one."
"With Christians! my child is with Christians!" shrieked Keraunus, beside himself. "At once Arsinoe, at once come with me; Selene shall not stay a moment longer among that accursed rabble. Eternal gods! besides all our other troubles this disgrace too!"
"Nay, it is not so bad as that," said Doris soothingly. "There are very estimable folks even among the Christians. At any rate they are certainly honorable, for the poor hunch-backed creature who first brought the bad news gave me this little bag of money which dame Hannah had found in Selene's pocket."
Keraunus took his daughter's hard-won wages as contemptuously as though he was quite accustomed to gold, and thought nothing of more wretched silver; but Arsinoe began to cry at the sight of the drachmae, for she knew it was for the sake of that money that Selene had left her home, and could divine what frightful pain she must have suffered on the way.
"Honorable this, and honorable that!" cried Keraunus, as he tied up his money-bag. "I know well enough how shameless are the goings on in assemblies of that stamp; kissing and hugging slaves! quite the right sort of thing for my daughter! Come Arsinoe, let us find a litter at once!"
"No, no!" exclaimed Doris eagerly. "For the present you must leave her in peace. I should be glad to conceal it from you as a father--but the physician declared it might cost her her life if she were not left just now in perfect quiet. No one goes to any kind of assembly with a burning wound in the head, a high fever and a broken leg.--Poor dear child!"
Keraunus stood silent in grave consternation, while Arsinoe exclaimed through her tears:
"But I must go to her, I must see her Doris."
"That I cannot blame you for, my pretty one," said the old woman. I have already been to the house of the Christians, but they would not let me in
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