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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 6. - 2/9 -
"Oh please, dame Hannah, let me see the flowers?" cried Selene, trying to raise herself.
"Have you a lover, child?" asked the widow.
"A lover?--no, but there is a young man with whom we always used to play when we were quite little--an artist, a kind, good man--and the nosegay must be from him."
Hannah looked with sympathy at the girl, and signing to Mary she said:
"The nosegay is a very large one. You may see it, but it must not remain in the room; the smell of so many flowers might do you harm."
Mary rose from her seat at the head of the bed, and whispered to the sick girl:
"Is that the tall gate-keeper's son?" Selene nodded, smiling, and as the women went away she changed her position from lying on one side, stretched herself out on her back, pressed her hand to her heart, and looked upwards with a deep sigh. There was a singing in her ears, and flashes of colored light seemed to dance before her closed eyes. She drew her breath with difficulty, but still it seemed as though the air she drew in was full of the perfume of flowers.
Hannah and Mary carried in the enormous bunch of flowers. Selene's eyes shone more brightly, and she clasped her hands in admiration. Then she made them show her the lovely, richly-tinted and fragrant gift, first on one side and then on the other, buried her face in the flowers, and secretly kissed the delicate petals of a lovely, half-opened rose-bud. She felt as if intoxicated, and the bright tears flowed in slow succession down her cheeks. Mary was the first to detect the brooch stuck into the ribbons that tied the stems of the flowers. She unfastened it and showed it to Selene, who hastily took it out of her hand. Blushing deeper and deeper, she fixed her eyes on the intaglio carved on the stone of the love god sharpening his arrows. She felt her pain no more pain, she felt quite well, and at the same time glad, proud, too happy. Dame Hannah noted her excitement with much anxiety; she nodded to Mary and said:
"Now my daughter, this must do; we will place the flowers outside the window so that you may see them."
"Already," said Selene, in a regretful tone, and she broke off a few violets and roses from the crowded mass. When she was alone again, she laid the flowers down and once more tenderly contemplated the figures on the handsome gem. It had no doubt been engraved by Teuker, the brother of Pollux. How fine the carving was, how significant the choice of the subject represented! Only the heavy gold setting disturbed the poor child, who for so many years had had to stint and contrive with her money. She said to herself that it was wrong of the young fellow, who, besides being poor, had to support his sister, to rush into such an outlay for her. But his gift gave her none the less pleasure, out of her own possessions nothing would have seemed too precious to give him. She would teach him to be saving by-and-bye.
The women presently returned after they had with much trouble set up the nosegay outside the window, and they renewed the wet handkerchief without speaking. She did not in the least want to talk, she was listening with so much pleasure to the fair promises which her fancy was making, and wherever she turned her eyes they fell on something she could love, The flowers on her bed, the brooch in her hand, the nosegay outside the window, and never dreaming that another--not the man she loved--could have sent it to her, another for whom she cared even less than for the Christians who walked up and down in Paulina's garden, under her window. There she lay, full of sweet contentment and secure of a love that had never been hers--of possessing the heart of a man who never once thought of her, but who, only a few hours since, had rushed off with her sister, intoxicated with joy and delight. Poor Selene!
And her next dreams were of untroubled happiness, but the minutes flew after each other, each bringing her nearer to waking--and what a waking!
Her father had not come, as he had intended, to see her before going to the prefect's house with Arsinoe. His desire to conduct his daughter to Julia in a dress worthy of her prospects had detained him a long time, and even then he had not succeeded in his object. All the weavers, and the shops were closed, for every workman, whether slave or free, was taking part in the festivities, and when the hour fixed by the prefect drew near, his daughter was still sitting in her litter, in her simple white dress and her modest peplum, bound with blue ribbon, which looked even more insignificant by day than in the evening.
The nosegay which had been given to Arsinoe by Verus gave her much pleasure, for a girl is always pleased with beautiful flowers--nay, they have something in common. As she and her father approached the prefect's house Arsinoe grew frightened, and her father could not conceal his vexation at being obliged to take her to the lady Julia in so modest a garb. Nor was his gloomy humor at all enlivened when he was left to wait in the anteroom while Julia and the wife of Verus, aided by Balbilla chose for his daughter the finest colored and costliest stuffs of the softest wool, silk, and delicate bombyx tissue. This sort of occupation has this peculiarity, that the longer time it takes the more assistance is needed, and the steward had to submit to wait fully two hours in the prefect's anteroom, which gradually grew fuller and fuller of clients and visitors. At last Arsinoe came back all glowing and full of the beautiful things that were to be prepared for her.
Her father rose slowly from his easy seat, and as she hastened towards him the door opened, and through it came Plutarch, freshly wreathed, freshly decked with flowers which were fastened to the breast-folds of his gallium, and lifted into the room by his two human crutches. Every one rose as he came in, and when Keraunus saw that the chief lawyer of the city, a man of ancient family, bowed before him, he did likewise. Plutarch's eyesight was stronger than his legs were, and where a pretty woman was to be seen, it was always very keen. He perceived Arsinoe as soon as he had crossed the threshold and waved both hands towards her, as if she were an old and favorite acquaintance.
The sweet child had quite bewitched him; in his younger days he would have given anything and everything to win her favor; now he was satisfied to make his favor pleasing to her; he touched her playfully two or three times on the arm and said gaily:
"Well pretty Roxana, has dame Julia done well with the dresses?"
"Oh! they have chosen such pretty, such really lovely things!" exclaimed the girl."
"Have they?" said Plutarch, to conceal by speech the fact that he was meditating on some subject; "Have they? and why should they not?"
Arsinoe's washed dress had caught the old man's eye, and remembering that Gabinius the curiosity-dealer had that very morning been to him to enquire whether Arsinoe were not in fact one of his work-girls, and to repeat his statement that her father was a beggarly toady, full of haughty airs, whose curiosities, of which he contemptuously mentioned a few, were worth nothing, Plutarch was hastily asking himself how he could best defend his pretty protege against the envious tongues of her rivals; for many spiteful speeches of theirs had already come to his ears.
"Whatever the noble Julia undertakes is always admirably done," he said aloud, and he added in a whisper: "The day after to-morrow when the goldsmiths have opened their workshops again, I will see what I can find for you. I am falling in a heap, hold me up higher Antaeus and Atlas. So.--Yes, my child you look even better from up here than from a lower level. Is the stout man standing behind you your father?"
"Have you no mother?"
"She is dead."
"Oh!" said Plutarch in a tone of regret. Then turning to the steward he said:
"Accept my congratulations on having such a daughter Keraunus. I hear too that you have to supply a mother's place to her."
"Alas sir! she is very like my poor wife, since her death I live a joyless life."
"But I hear that you take pleasure in collecting rare and beautiful objects. This is a taste we have in common. Are you inclined to part with the cup that belonged to my namesake Plutarch? It must be a fine piece of work from what Gabinius tells me."
"That it is," replied the steward proudly. "It was a gift to the philosopher from Trajan; beautifully carved in ivory. I cannot bear to part with such a gem but," and as he spoke he lowered his voice. "I am under obligations to you, you have taken charge of my daughter's outfit and to offer you some return I will--"
"That is quite out of the question," interrupted Plutarch, who knew men, and who saw from the steward's pompous pretentiousness that the dealer had done him no injustice in describing him as overbearing. "You are doing me an honor by allowing me to contribute what I can towards decorating our Roxana. I beg you to send me the cup, and whatever price you put upon it, I, of course, shall pay, that is quite understood."
Keraunus had a brief internal conflict with himself. If he had not so sorely needed money, if he had not so keenly desired to see a young and comely slave walking behind him, he would have adhered to his purpose of presenting the cup to Plutarch; as it was he cleared his throat, looked at the ground, and said with an embarrassed manner and without a trace of his former confidence:
"I remain your debtor, and it seems you do not wish this business to be mixed up with other matters. Well then, I had two thousand drachmae for a sword that belonged to Antony."
"Then certainly," interrupted Plutarch, "the cup, the gift of Trajan, must be worth double, particularly to me who am related to the illustrious owner. May I offer you four thousand drachmae for your precious possession?"
"I am anxious to oblige you, and so I say yes," replied the steward with much dignity, and he squeezed Arsinoe's little finger, for she was standing close to him. Her hand had for some time been touching his in token of warning that he should adhere to his first intention of making the cup a present to Plutarch.
As the pair, so unlike each other, quitted the anteroom, Plutarch looked after them with a meaning smile and thought to himself: "That is well done. How little pleasure I generally have from my riches! How often when I see a sturdy porter I would willingly change places with him!
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