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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 5. - 5/12 -
"Oh Pollux, I am so happy, the world is so good!"
"Nay, I could hate it!" cried the sculptor. "To hear this--and to have an old mother wide awake at home, and to be obliged to walk steadily on in a street crowded with men--it is unendurable! I shall not hold out much longer--sweetest of girls--here it is quiet and dark."
Yes, in a little nook made by two contiguous houses, and into which Pollux drew Arsinoe, it was pitch dark, as he hastily pressed his first kiss on her innocent lips; but in their hearts it was light-radiant sunshine.
She had thrown her arms round his neck and would willingly have clung to him till day should end; but they heard the approach of a noisy procession of slaves. These unfortunate creatures began soon after midnight singing and shouting so as to avail themselves to the extremist limit of the holiday, which released them for a short time from their tasks and duties; Pollux knew well how unbounded the license of their pleasures could be, and as he walked on with Arsinoe he enjoined her to keep with him as close as possible to the houses.
"How jolly they are!" he said pointing to the merry-makers. "Their masters will wait on themselves a little to-day, and the best day in the year is just beginning for them, but for us the best day in all our lives."
"Yes, yes," cried Arsinoe, and she clasped his strong arm with both her hands.
Then they both laughed merrily, for Pollux had noticed that the old slave-woman had gone on past them with her head sunk on her breast, and was following another pair.
"I will call her," Arsinoe said.
"No, no, let her be," said the artist. "The couple in front certainly require her protection more than we do."
"But how could she possibly mistake that little man for you?" laughed Arsinoe.
"I wish I were a little smaller," replied Pollux with a sigh. "Only picture to yourself the vast amount of burning love and tormenting longing that can be contained in so large a body as mine!" She slapped him on the arm, and to punish her he hastily pressed his lips on her forehead.
"Don't--think of the people," she said reprovingly, but he gaily answered:
"It is not a misfortune to be envied."
Here the streets came to an end, and they found themselves in front of the garden belonging to Pudeus' widow; Pollux knew it, for Paulina who owned it was the sister of Pontius, the architect, who himself owned a magnificent house in the city. But could it be possible? Had invisible hands brought them here already? The gate of the enclosure was locked. Pollux roused a porter, told him what he wanted, and was conducted by him with Arsinoe to apart of the grounds where a bright light shone out from dame Hannah's little abode, for he had had instructions to admit the sick girl's friends even during the night.
A crescent moon lighted the paths, which were strewed with shells; the shrubs and trees in the garden threw sharply-defined shadows on their gleaming whiteness, the sea sparkled brightly, and as soon as the porter had left the happy young pair together, and they found themselves in a shadowy alley, Pollux said, opening his arms to the girl:
"Now--one more kiss, just for a remembrance, while I wait."
"Not now," begged Arsinoe.
"I am no longer happy since we came in here. I cannot help thinking of poor Selene."
"I have not a word to say against that," replied Pollux submissively. "Then when waiting is over may I have my reward?"
"No, no, now, at once," cried Arsinoe throwing herself on his breast, and then she hurried towards the house.
He followed her, and when she paused in front of a brightly-lighted window on the ground floor, he stopped also. They both looked in on a lofty and spacious room, kept in the most perfect order and cleanliness; it had one door only opening on the roofless forecourt of the house; the walls of the room were plainly painted of a light green color, and the only ornament it contained was one piece of carved work over the door.
On the farther side stood the bed on which Selene was lying; a few paces from it sat the deformed girl asleep, while dame Hannah softly went up to the patient with a wet compress in her hand which she carefully laid on her head.
Pollux touched Arsinoe and whispered to her:
"Your sister lies there in her sleep like an Ariadne deserted by Dionysus. How wretched she will feel when she comes to herself."
"She looks to me less pale than usual."
"Look now, how she bends her arm, and what a lovely attitude as she puts her hand to her head!"
"Go--" said Arsinoe. "You ought not to be spying here."
"Directly, directly--but if you were lying there no power should stir me from the spot. How carefully Hannah lifts the wet wrapper from her poor broken ankle. You could not touch your eye more gently than the good woman handles Selene's foot."
"Go back, she is looking straight this way."
"What a wonderful face! It would do for a Penelope, but there is something singular in her eyes. Now if I had to make another star-gazing Urania, or a Sappho full of the deity, and with eyes fixed on the heavens in poetic rapture, that is what I would put into her! She is no longer young, but how pure her face is! It is like a sky when the wind has swept it clear of clouds."
"Seriously you must go now," said Arsinoe drawing away her hand, which he had again taken. Pollux saw that his praise of another woman's beauty annoyed her, and he said soothingly:
"Be easy child. You have not your match here in Alexandria, no, nor so far as Greek is spoken. A perfectly clear sky is certainly not the most beautiful to my taste. Pure light, and pure blue, give no satisfaction to the artist, it is only behind a few moving clouds, lighted up by changing gleams of gold and silver, that the firmament has any true charm, and though your face too is like heaven to me it does not lack sweet movement, never twice alike. Now this matron--"
"Only look," interrupted Arsinoe, "how tenderly dame Hannah bends over Selene, and now she is gently kissing her brow. No mother could tend her own daughter more lovingly. I have known her for a long time; she is good, very good; it is hardly credible for she is a Christian."
"The cross up there over the door," said Pollux "is the token by which these extraordinary people recognize each other."
"And what is signified by the dove and fish and anchor round it?" asked Arsinoe.
"They are emblems of the mysteries of the Christians," replied Pollux. "I do not understand them; the things are wretchedly painted; the adherents of the crucified God contemn all art, and particularly my branch of it, for they hate all images of the gods."
"And yet among such blasphemers we find such good men; I will go in at once; Hannah is wetting another handkerchief."
"And how unwearied and kind she looks as she does it; still there is something strange, deserted, and graceless in this large bare room. I should not like to live there."
"Have you noticed the faint scent of lavender that comes through the window?"
"Long since--there your sister is moving and has opened her eyes--now she has shut them again."
"Go back into the garden and wait till I come," Arsinoe commanded him decidedly. "I will only see how Selene is going on; I will not stop long for my father wishes me to return soon, and no one can nurse her better than Hannah!"
The girl drew her hand out of her lover's and knocked at the door of the little house; it was opened and the widow herself led Arsinoe to the bedside of her sister. Pollux at first sat a while on a bench in the garden, but soon sprang up and paced with long steps the path he had previously trodden with Arsinoe. A stone table across the path, brought him to a stand-still, and he took a fancy for leaping it. The third time he came up to it he sprang over it with a long jump. But no sooner had he done the frolicsome deed than he paused, shook his head at himself and muttered to himself: "Like a boy!"--He felt indeed like a happy child. But as he waited he became calmer and graver. He acknowledged to himself, with sincere thankfulness, that he had now found the ideal woman, of whom he had dreamed in his hours of best inspiration, and that she was his, wholly and alone. And after all, what was he? A poor rascal who had many mouths to fill, and was no more than two fingers of his master's hand. This must be altered. He would not reduce his sister's comforts in any way but he must break with Papias, and stand henceforth on his own feet. His courage mounted fast, and when at last, Arsinoe returned from her sister, he had resolved that he must first finish Balbilla's bust with all diligence in his own workshop, and that then he would model his beloved; these two female heads he could not fail in. Caesar must see them, they must be exhibited, and already in his mind's eye, he saw himself refusing order after order, and accepting only the most splendid where all were good.
Arsinoe went home comforted. Selene's sufferings were certainly less than she had pictured them; she did not wish to be nursed by any one besides dame Hannah. She might perhaps have a little fever, but any one who was capable of discussing every little question of house-keeping, and all that related to the children could not be--as Arsinoe thought while she walked back through the garden, leaning on the artist's arm-- really and properly ill.
"It must revive and delight her to have Roxana for a sister!" cried Pollux; but his pretty companion shook her head and said: "She is always
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