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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 5. - 4/12 -
to see the patient. With you it is rather different as you are her sister."
"Come father," begged Arsinoe, "first let us see to the children, and then you shall come with me to see Selene. Oh! why did I not go with her. Oh! if she should die."
Keraunus and his daughter reached their rooms less quickly than usual, for the steward dreaded a fresh attack from the blood-hound, which, to-night however, was sharing Antinous' room. They found the old slavewoman up, and in great excitement, for she loved Selene, she was frightened at her absence, and in the children's sleeping-room all was not as it should be.
Arsinoe went without delay to see the little ones, but the black woman remained with her master, and told him with many tears, while he exchanged his saffron-colored pallium for an old cloak, that the joy of her heart, little blind Helios had been ill, and could not sleep, even after she had given him some of the drops which Keraunus himself was accustomed to take.
"Idiotic animal!" exclaimed Keraunus, "to give my medicine to the child," and he kicked off his new shoes to replace them with shabbier ones. "If you were younger I would have you flogged."
"But you did say the drops were good," stammered the old woman.
"For me," shouted the steward, and without fastening his shoe-straps round his ankles, so that they flapped and pattered on the ground, he hurried off into the children's room. There sat his darling blind child, his 'neir' as he liked to call him, with his pretty, fair, curly head resting on Arsinoe's breast. The child recognized his step, and began his little lament:
"Selene was away, and I was frightened, and I feel so sick, so sick."
The steward laid his hand on the child's forehead, and feeling how hot it was he began to walk restlessly up and down by the little bed.
"That is just how it always happens," he said. "When one misfortune comes another always follows. Look at him Arsinoe. Do you remember how the fever took poor Berenice? Sickness, uneasiness, and a burning head. --"Have you any pain in your head my boy?"
"No," answered Helios, "but I feel so sick."
The steward opened the child's little shirt to see if he had any spots on his breast, but Arsinoe said, as she bent over him:
"It is nothing much, he has only overloaded his stomach. The stupid old woman gives him every thing he asks for, and she let him have half of the currant cake, which we sent her to fetch before we went out."
"But his head is burning," repeated Keraunus.
"He will be quite well again by to-morrow morning," replied Arsinoe. "Our poor Selene needs us far snore than he does. Come father. The old woman can stay with him."
"I want Selene to come," whimpered the child. "Pray, pray, do not leave me alone again."
"Your old father will stay with you my pet," said Keraunus tenderly, for it cut him to the soul to see this child suffer. "You none of you know what this boy is to us all."
"He will soon go to sleep," Arsinoe asserted. "Do let us go, or it will be too late."
"And leave the old woman to commit some other stupid blunder?" cried Keraunus. "It is my duty to stay with the poor little boy. You can go to your sister and take the old woman with you."
"Very good, and to-morrow early I will come back."
"To-morrow morning?" said Keraunus surprised. "No, no, that will not do. Doris said just now that Selene will be well nursed by the Christians. Only see how she is, give her my love, and then come back."
"Besides you must remember that the prefect's wife expects you to-morrow at noon to choose the stuff for your dress, and you must not look as if you had been sitting up all night."
"I will rest a little while in the morning."
"In the morning? And how about curling my hair? And your new frock? And poor little Helios?--No child, you are only just to see Selene and then come back again. Early in the morning too the holiday will have begun, and you know what goes on then; the old woman would be of no use to you in the throng. Go and see how Selene is, you are not to stay."
"I will see--"
"Not a word about seeing--you come home again. I desire it; in two hours you are to be in bed."
Arsinoe shrugged her shoulders, and two minutes after she was standing with the old slave-woman in front of the gate-house.
A broad beam of light still fell through the half-open door of the bowery little room, so Euphorion and Doris had not retired to rest and could at once open the palace-gate for her. The Graces set up a bark as Arsinoe crossed the threshold of her old friends' house, but they did not leave their cushion for they soon recognized her.
It was several years since Arsinoe, in obedience to her father's strict prohibition had set foot in the snug the house, and her heart was deeply touched as she saw again all the surroundings she had loved as a child, and had not forgotten as she grew into girlhood. There were the birds, the little dogs, and the lutes on the wall near the Apollo. On worthy dame Doris' table there had always been something to eat, and there, now, good a lovely, golden-brown cake, by the side of the wine-jar. How often as a child had she sneaked in to beg a sweet morsel, how often to see whether tall Pollux were not there, Pollux, whose bold devices and original suggestions, gave his work and his play alike, the stamp of genius, and lent them a peculiar charm. And there sat her saucy playfellow in person, his legs stretched at full length in front of him, and talking, eagerly. Arsinoe heard him relating the end of the history of her being chosen for Roxana, and caught her own name, graced with such epithets as brought the blushes to her cheeks, and gave her double pleasure because he could not guess that she could overhear them. From a boy he had grown to a man, and a fine man, and a great artist--but he was still the old kind and audacious Pollux.
The sudden leap with which he sprang from his seat to welcome her, the frank laughter with which he several times interrupted her speech, the childlike loving way in which he held his arm round his little mother while he greeted her, and asked why she was going out so late, the winning, touching tone of his voice as he expressed his regret at Selene's mishaps--all went home to Arsinoe as a thing known and loved, of which she had long been deprived, and she clung to the two strong hands he held out to her. If at that moment he had taken her up, and clasped her to his heart before the very eyes of Eupliorion and his mother she really would have been incapable of resisting him.
It was with a heavy heart that Arsinoe had gone into dame Doris, but in the gate-keeper's house there reigned an atmosphere in which care and anxiety could not breathe, and the light-hearted girl's vision of her sister as tormented with pain and threatened with danger was changed in a wonderfully short time to that of a sufferer comfortably in bed, with only a severely-injured foot. In the place of consuming anxiety she felt only hearty sympathy, and this sounded in her voice as she begged the singer Euphorion to open the gate for her, because she wanted to go out with her slave-woman to ascertain how Selene was.
Doris soothed her, repeating her assurance that the patient would be nursed with the utmost care in dame Hannah's hands; still, she thought her wish to see her sister very justifiable, and eagerly seconded Pollux when he entreated Arsinoe to accept his escort; for the festival would be beginning soon after midnight, the streets would be full of rough and impudent people, and a bunch of feathers would be about as much use against the drunken slaves as her black scarecrow, who had been falling into decrepitude even before she had done the stupidest deed of her life and roused the steward's anger against herself.
So they went along the dark streets which grew full of people the farther they went, side by side in silence. Presently Pollux said:
"Put your arm through mine; you ought to feel that I am protecting you, and I--I should like to feel at every step that I have found you once more, and am allowed to be near you--so sweet a creature."
The words did not sound impertinent, on the contrary, they sounded very much in earnest, and the sculptor's deep voice trembled with emotion as he spoke them with deep tenderness. They knocked at the door of the girl's heart with the urgent hand of love; she unhesitatingly put her hand through his arm and answered softly:
"You will take care of me now."
"Yes," said he, and he took her little hand, which rested on his right arm, in his left hand. She did not draw it away, and after they had gone on thus for a few paces he sighed and said:
"Do you know how I feel?"
"Nay, I myself cannot put it into words. Rather as if I had triumphed in the Olympian games, or as if Caesar had invested me with the purple!--But who cares for the wealth or the purple! You are hanging on my arm, and I have hold of your hand; compared with this, all is as nought. If it were not for the people about I--I do not know what I could do."
She looked up at him with happy content, but he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed it to them long and fervently. Then he let it go again and said, with a sigh that came up from the bottom of his heart:
"Oh Arsinoe, my sweet Arsinoe, how I love you!"
As the words came softly yet hotly from his lips the girl clasped his arm closely to her bosom, leaned her head on his shoulder, looked up at him with a wide-eyed, tender gaze, and said softly:
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