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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 10. - 6/13 -
of the flashes which light up this tent so incessantly, like a living stream of light were to strike you, or me, and all of us--I should not wonder. Terrible--terrible things hang over us! It requires some courage under such omens as these, to keep an untroubled gaze and not to quail."
"Only use your own arms against the fighting arms of the Egyptian gods; they are powerful," said Antinous; but Hadrian let his head sink on his breast, and said, in a tone of discouragement:
"The gods themselves must succumb to Destiny."
The thunder continued to roar. More than once the storm snapped the tent-ropes, and the slaves were obliged to hold on to the Emperor's fragile shelter with their hands; the chambers of the clouds poured mighty torrents out upon the desert range which for years had not known a drop of rain, and every rift and runlet was filled with a stream or a torrent.
Neither Hadrian nor Antinous closed their eyes that fearful night. The Emperor had as yet opened only one of the rolls that were in the day's letter-bag; it contained the information that Titianus the prefect was cruelly troubled by his old difficulty of breathing, with a petition from that worthy official to be allowed to retire from the service of the state and to withdraw to his own estate. It was no small matter for Hadrian to dispense for the future with this faithful coadjutor, to lose the man on whom he had had his eye to tranquillize Judaea--where a fresh revolt had raised its head, and to reduce it again to subjection without bloodshed. To crush and depopulate the rebellious province was within the power of other men, but to conquer and govern it with kindness belonged only to the wise and gentle Titianus. The Emperor had no heart to open a second letter that night. He lay in silence on his couch till morning began to grow gray, thinking over every evil hour of his life-- the murders of Nigrinus, of Tatianus and of the senators, by which he had secured the sovereignty--and again he vowed to the gods immense sacrifices if only they would protect him from impending disaster.
When he rose next morning Antinous was startled at his aspect, for Hadrian's face and lips were perfectly bloodless. After he had read the remainder of his letters he started, not on foot but on horseback, with Antinous and Mastor for Besa, there to await the rest of the escort.
The unchained elements had raged that night with equal fury over the Nile city of Besa. The citizens of this ancient town had done all they could to give the Imperial traveller a worthy reception. The chief streets had been decked with ropes of flowers strung from mast to mast and from house to house, and by the harbor, close to the river shore, statues of Hadrian and his wife had been erected. But the storm tore down the masts and the garlands, and the lashed waters of the Nile had beaten with irresistible fury on the bank; had carried away piece after piece of the fertile shore, flung its waves, like liquid wedges into the rifts of the parched land; and excavated the high bank by the landing-quay.
After midnight the storm was still raging with unheard-of fury; it swept the palm thatch from many of the houses, and beat the stream with such violence that it was like a surging sea. The full unbroken force of the flood beat again and again on the promontory on which stood the statues of the Imperial couple. Shortly before the first dawn of light the little tongue of land, which was protected by no river wall, could no longer resist the furious attack of the waters; huge clods of soil slipped and fell with a loud noise into the river and were followed by a large mass of the cliff, with a roar as of thunder the plateau behind sank, and the statue of the Emperor which stood upon it began to totter and lean slowly to its fall. When day broke it was lying with the pedestal still above ground, but the head was buried in the earth.
At break of day the citizens left their houses to inquire of the fishermen and boatmen what had occurred in the harbor during the night. As soon as the storm had abated, hundreds, nay thousands, of men, women and children thronged the landing-place round the fallen statue--they saw the land-slip and knew that the current had torn the land from the bank and caused the mischief. Was it that Hapi, the Nile-god, was angry with the Emperor? At any rate the disaster that had befallen the image of the sovereign boded evil, that was clear.
The Toparch, the chief municipal authority, at once set to work to reinstate the statue which was itself uninjured, for Hadrian might arrive in a few hours. Numerous men, both free and slaves, crowded to undertake the work, and before long the statue of Hadrian, executed in the Egyptian style, once more stood upright and gazing with a fixed countenance towards the harbor. Sabina's was also put back by the side of her husband's and the Toparch went home satisfied. With him most of the starers and laborers left the quay, but their place was taken by other curious folks who had missed the statue from its place, where the land had fallen, and now expressed their opinions as to the mode and manner of its fall.
"The wind can never have overturned this heavy mass of limestone," said a ropemaker: "And see how far it stands from the broken ground."
They say it fell on the top of land-slip," answered a baker.
"That is how it was," said a sailor.
"Nonsense!" cried the ropemaker. "If the statue had stood on the ground now carried away, it must have fallen at once into the water and have sunk to the bottom--any child can see that other powers have been at work here."
"Very likely," said a temple-servant who devoted himself to the interpretation of signs: "The gods may have overset the proud image to give a warning token to Hadrian."
"The immortals do not mix in the affairs of men in our day," said the sailor; "but in such a fearful night as this peaceful citizens remain within doors and so leave a fair field for Caesar's foes."
"We are all faithful subjects," said the baker indignantly.
"You are a pack of rebellious rabble," retorted a Roman soldier, who like the whole cohort quartered in the province of Hermopolis, had formerly served in Judaea under the cruel Tinnius Rufus. "Among you worshippers of beasts squabbles never cease, and as to the Christians, who have made their nests out there on the other side of the valley, say the worst you can of them and still you would be flattering them."
"Brave Fuscus is quite right!" cried a beggar. The wretches have brought the plague into our houses; wherever the disease shows itself there are Christian men and women to be seen. They came to my brother's house; they sat all night by his sick children and of course both died."
"If only my old governor Tinnius Rufus were here," growled the soldier, "they would none of them be any better off than their own crucified god."
"Well, I certainly have nothing in common with them," replied the baker. "But what is true must continue true. They are quiet, kind folks and punctual in payment, who do no harm and show kindness to many poor creatures."
"Kindness?" cried the beggar, who had received alms himself from the deacon of the church at Besa, but had also been exhorted to work. "All the five priests of Sekket of the grotto of Artemis have been led away by them and have basely abandoned the sanctuary of the goddess. And is it good and kind that they should have poisoned my brother's children with their potions?"
"Why should they not have killed the children?" asked the soldier. "I heard of the same things in Syria; and as to this statue, I will never wear my sword again--"
"Hark! listen to the bold Fuscus," cried the crowd. "He has seen much."
"I will never wear my sword again if they did not knock over the statue in the dark."
"No, no," cried the sailor positively. "It fell with the land that was washed away; I saw it lying there myself."
"And are you a Christian, too?" asked the soldier, "or do you suppose that I was in jest when I swore by my sword? I have served in Bithynia, in Syria, and in Judaea. I know these villains, good people. There were hundreds of Christians to be seen there who would throw away life like a worn-out shoe because they did not choose to sacrifice to the statues of Caesar and the gods."
"There, you hear!" cried the beggar. "And did you see a single man of them among the citizens who set to work to restore the statue to its place?"
"There were none of them there," said the sailor, who was beginning to share the soldier's views.
"The Christians threw down the Emperor's statue," the beggar shouted to the crowd. "It is proved, and they shall suffer for it. Every man who is a friend of the divine Hadrian come with me now and have them out of their houses."
"No uproar!" interrupted the soldier to the furious man. "There is the tribune, he will hear you."
The Roman officer, who now came past with a troop of soldiers to receive the Emperor outside the city, was greeted by the crowd with loud shouting. He commanded silence and made the soldier tell him what had so violently excited the people.
"Very possibly," said the tribune, a sinewy and stern-looking man, who, like Fuscus, had served under Tinnius Rufus, and had risen from a sutler to be an officer, "Very possibly--but where are your proofs?"
"Most of the citizens helped in reerecting the statue, but the Christians held aloof from the work," cried the beggar. "There was not one to be seen. Ask the sailor, my lord; he was by and he can bear witness to it."
"That certainly is more than suspicious. This matter must be strictly inquired into. Pay heed, you people."
"Here comes a Christian girl!" cried the sailor.
"Lame Martha; I know her well," interrupted the beggar. "She goes into all the plague-stricken houses and poisons the people. She stayed three days and three nights at my brother's turning the children's pillows till they were carried out. Wherever she goes death follows."
Selene, now known as Martha, paid no heed to the crowd, but with her blind brother Helios, now called John, went calmly on her way which led
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