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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 10. - 5/13 -
world because He whom they call their Redeemer, the crucified Christ, has saved them from all sufferings by His death."
"And can a man take upon him the sufferings of others, think you, like a garment or a burden?"
"They say so, and my friend from Athens is quite convinced. In books of magic there are many formulas by which misfortunes may be transferred not merely from men to beasts, but from one human being to another. Very remarkable experiments have even been carried out with slaves, and to this day I have to struggle in several, provinces to suppress human sacrifices by which the gods are to be reconciled or propitiated. Only think of the innocent Iphigenia who was dragged to the altar; did not the gulf in the Forum close when Curtius had leaped into it? When Fate shoots a fatal arrow at you and I receive it in my breast, perhaps she is content with the chance victim and does not enquire as to whom she has hit."
"The gods would be exorbitant indeed if they were not content with your blood for mine!"
"Life is life, and that of the young is of better worth than that of the old. Many joys will yet bloom for you."
"And you are indispensable to the whole world."
"After me another will come. Are you ambitious, boy?"
"No, my Lord."
"What then can be the meaning of this: that every one wishes me joy of my son Verus excepting you. Do you not like my choice?"
Antinous colored and looked at the ground, and Hadrian went on:
"Say honestly what you feel."
"The praetor is ill."
"He can have but a few years to live, and when he is dead--"
"He may recover--"
"When he is dead, I must look out for another son. What do you think now? Who is the being that every man, from a slave to a consul, would soonest hear call him 'Father?"'
"Some one he tenderly loved."
"True--and particularly when that one clung to him with unchangeable fidelity. I am a man like any other, and you, my good fellow, are always nearest to my heart, and I shall bless the day when I may authorize you, before all the world, to call me 'Father.' Do not interrupt me. If you resolutely concentrate your will and show as keen a sense for ruling men as you do for the chase, if you try to sharpen your wits and take in what I teach you, it may some day happen that Antinous instead of Verus--"
"Nay, not that, only not that!" cried the lad, turning very pale and raising his hands beseechingly.
"The greatness with which Destiny surprises us seems terrible so long as it is new to us," said Hadrian. "But the seaman is soon accustomed to the storms, and we come to wear the purple as you do your chiton."
"Oh, Caesar, I entreat you," said Antinous, anxiously, "put aside these ideas; I am not fit for great things."
"The smallest saplings grow to be palms."
"But I am only a wretched little herb that thrives awhile in your shadow. Proud Rome--"
"Rome is my handmaid. She has been forced before now to be ruled by men of inferior stamp, and I should show her how the handsomest of her sons can wear the purple. The world may look for such a choice from a sovereign whom it has long known to be an artist, that is a high-priest of the Beautiful. And if not, I will teach it to form its taste on mine."
"You are pleased to mock me, Caesar," cried the Bithynian. "You certainly cannot be in earnest, and if it is true that you love me--"
"What now, boy?"
"You will let me live unknown for you, care for you; you will ask nothing of me but reverence and love and fidelity."
"I have long had them, and I now would fain repay my Antinous for all these treasures."
"Only let me stay with you, and if necessary let me die for you."
"I believe, boy, you would be ready to make the sacrifice we were speaking of for me!"
"At any moment without winking an eyelash."
"I thank you for those words. It has turned out a pleasant evening, and what a bad one I looked forward to--"
"Because the woman by the tomb startled you?"
"'Dead,' is a grim word. It is true that 'death'--being dead--can frighten no wise man; but the step out of light into darkness is fearful. I cannot get the figure of the old hag and her shrill cry out of my mind. Then the Christian came up, and his discourse was strange and disturbing to my soul. Before it grew dark he and the limping girl went homewards; I stood looking after them and my eyes were dazzled by the sun which was sinking over the Libyan range. The horizon was clear, but behind the day-star there were clouds. In the west, the Egyptians say, lies the realm of death. I could not help thinking of this; and the oracle, the misfortunes that the stars threatened me with in the course of this year, the cry of the old woman--all these crowded into my mind together. But then, as I observed how the sun struggled with the clouds and approached nearer and nearer to the hill-tops on the farther side of the river, I said to myself: If it sets in full radiance you may look confidently to the future; if it is swallowed up by clouds before it sinks to rest, then destiny will fulfil itself; then you must shorten sail and wait for the storm."
"And what happened?"
"The fiery globe burnt in glowing crimson, surrounded by a million rays. Each seemed separate from the rest and shone with glory of its own; it was as though the sinking disc had been the centre of bow-shots innumerable and golden arrow-shafts radiated to the sky in every direction. The scene was magnificent and my heart beat high with happy excitement, when suddenly and swiftly a dark cloud fell, as though exasperated by the wounds it had received from those fiery darts; a second followed, and a third, and sinister Daimons flung a dark and fleecy curtain over the glorious head of Helios, as the executioner throws a coarse black cloth over the head of the condemned, when he sets his knee against him to strangle him."
At this narrative Antinous covered his face with both hands, and murmured in terror:
"Frightful, frightful! What can be hanging over us? Only listen, how it thunders, and the rain thrashes the tent."
"The clouds are pouring out torrents; see the water is coming in already. The slaves must dig gutters for it to run off. Drive the pegs tighter you fellows out there or the whirlwind will tear down the slight structure."
"And how sultry the air is!"
"The hot wind seems to warm even the flood of rain. Here it is still dry; mix me a cup of wine, Antinous. Have any letters come?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"Give them to me, Mastor."
The slave, who was busily engaged in damming up with earth and stones, the trickling stream of rain-water that was soaking into the tent, sprang up, hastily dried his hands, took a sack out of the chest in which the Emperor's despatches were kept and gave it to his master. Hadrian opened the leather bag, took out a roll, hastily broke it open, and then, after rapidly glancing at the contents, exclaimed:
"What is this? I have opened the record of the oracle of Apis. How did it come among to-day's letters?"
Antinous went up to Hadrian, looked at the sack, and said:
"Mastor has made a mistake. These are the documents from Memphis. I will bring you the right despatch-bag."
"Stay!" said Hadrian, eagerly seizing his favorite's hand. "Is this a mere trick of chance or a decree of Fate? Why should this particular sack have come into my hands to-day of all others? Why, out of twenty documents it contains, should I have taken out this very one? Look here.--I will explain these signs to you. Here stand three pairs of arms bearing shields and spears, close by the name of the Egyptian month that corresponds to our November. These are the three signs of misfortune. The lutes up there are of happier omen. The masts here indicate the usual state of affairs. Three of these hieroglyphics always occur together. Three lutes indicate much good fortune, two lutes and one mast good fortune and moderate prosperity, one pair of arms and two lutes misfortune, followed by happiness, and so forth. Here, in November, begin the arms with weapons, and here they stand in threes and threes, and portend nothing but unqualified misfortune, never mitigated by a single lute. Do you see, boy? Have you understood the meaning of these signs?"
"Perfectly well; but do you interpret them rightly? The fighting arms may perhaps lead to victory."
"No. The Egyptians use them to indicate conflict, and to them conflict and unrest are identical with what we call evil and disaster."
"That is strange!"
"Nay, it is well conceived; for they say that everything was originally created good by the gods, but that the different portions of the great All changed their nature by restless and inharmonious mingling. This explanation was given me by the priest of Apis, and here--here by the month of November are the three fighting arias--a hideous token. If one
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