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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 7. - 5/10 -
"From Aquila, my father's disciple."
"Can you calculate what he will learn from the stars in the night preceding the thirtieth of December, as to the destinies of a man who was born in that night, and whose horoscope I possess?"
"I can only answer a conditional yes to that question."
"What should prevent your answering positively?"
"Unforeseen appearances in the heavens."
Are such signs common?"
"No, they are rare, on the contrary."
"But perhaps my fortune is not a common one-and I beg of you to calculate on Hadrian's method what the heavens will predict on that night for the man whose horoscope my slave shall deliver to you early to-morrow morning."
"I will do so with pleasure."
"When can you have finished this work?"
"In four days at latest, perhaps even sooner."
"Capital! But one thing more. Do you regard me as a man, I mean, as a true man?"
"If you were not, would you have given me such reason to be grateful to you?"
"Well then, conceal nothing from me, not even the worst horrors, things that might poison another man's life, and crush his spirit. Whatever you read in the celestial record, small or great, good or evil. I require you to tell me all."
"I will conceal nothing, absolutely nothing."
The praetor offered Ben Jochai his right hand, and warmly pressed the Jew's slender, well-shaped fingers. Before he went away he settled with him how he should inform him when he had finished his labors.
The Alexandrian with his guests and children accompanied the praetor to the door. Only Ben Jamin was absent; he was sitting with his companions in his father's dining-room, and rewarding them for the assistance they had given him with right good wine. Gamaliel heard them shouting and singing, and pointing to the room he shrugged his shoulders, saying, as he turned to his host:
"They are returning thanks to the God of our fathers in the Alexandrian fashion."
And peace was broken no more in the Jew's house but by the firm tramp of lictors and soldiers who kept watch over it, under arms.
In a side street the praetor met the tailor he had knocked down, the sausage-maker, and other ringleaders of the attack on the Israelite's house. They were being led away prisoners before the night magistrates. Verus would have set them at liberty with all his heart, but he knew that the Emperor would enquire next morning what had been done to the rioters, and so he forbore. At any other time he would certainly have sent them home unpunished, but just now he was dominated by a wish that was more dominant than his good nature or his facile impulses.
When he reached the Caesareum the high-chamberlain was waiting to conduct him to Sabina who desired to speak with him notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, and when Verus entered the presence of his patroness, he found her in the greatest excitement. She was not reclining as usual on her pillows but was pacing her room with strides of very unfeminine length.
"It is well that you have come!" she exclaimed to the praetor. "Lentulus insists that he has seen Mastor the slave, and Balbilla declares--but it is impossible!"
"You think that Caesar is here?" asked Verus.
"Did they tell you so too?"
"No. I do not linger to talk when you require my presence and there is something important to be told just now then--but you must not be alarmed."
"No useless speeches!"
"Just now I met, in his own person--"
"You are not mistaken, you are sure you saw him?"
"With these eyes."
"Abominable, unworthy, disgraceful!" cried Sabina, so loudly and violently that she was startled at the shrill tones of her own voice. Her tall thin figure quivered with excitement, and to any one else she would have appeared in the highest degree graceless, unwomanly, and repulsive: but Verus had been accustomed from his childhood to see her with kinder eyes than other men, and it grieved him.
There are women who remind us of fading flowers, extinguished lights or vanishing shades, and they are not the least attractive of their sex: but the large-boned, stiff and meagre Sabina had none of the yielding and tender grace of these gentle creatures. Her feeble health, which was very evident, became her particularly ill when, as at this moment, the harsh acrimony of her embittered soul came to light with hideous plainness.
She was deeply indignant at the affront her husband had put upon her. Not content with having a separate house established for her he kept aloof in Alexandria without informing her of his arrival. Her hands trembled with rage, and stammering rather than speaking she desired the praetor to order a composing draught for her. When Verus returned she was lying on her cushions, with her face turned to the wall, and said lamentably:
"I am freezing; spread that coverlet over me. I am a miserable, ill-used creature."
"You are sensitive and take things too hardly," the praetor ventured to remonstrate.
She started up angrily, cut off his speech, and put him through as keen a cross-examination as if he were an accused person and she his judge. Ere long she had learnt that Verus also had encountered Mastor, that her husband was residing at Lochias, that he had taken part in the festival in disguise, and had exposed himself to grave danger outside the house of Apollodorus. She also made him tell her how the Israelite had been rescued, and whom her friend had met in his house, and she blamed Verus with bitter words for the heedless and foolhardy recklessness with which he had risked his life for a miserable Jew, forgetting the high destinies that lay before him. The praetor had not interrupted her, but now bowing over her, he kissed her hand and said:
"Your kind heart foresees for me things that I dare not hope for. Something is glimmering on the horizon of my fortune. Is it the dying glow of my failing fortunes, is it the pale dawn of a coming and more glorious day? Who can tell? I await with patience whatever may be impending--an early day must decide."
"That will bring certainty, and put an end to this suspense," murmured Sabina.
"Now rest and try to sleep," said Verus with a tender fervency, that was peculiar to his tones. "It is past midnight and the physician has often forbidden you to sit up late. Farewell, dream sweetly, and always be the same to me as a man, that you were to me in my childhood and youth."
Sabina withdrew the hand he had taken, saying:
"But you must not leave me. I want you. I cannot exist without your presence."
"Till to-morrow--always--forever I will stay with you whenever you need me."
The Empress gave him her hand again, and sighed softly as he again bowed over it, and pressed it long to his lips.
"You are my friend, Verus, truly my friend; yes, I am sure of it," she said at last, breaking the silence.
"Oh Sabina, my Mother!" he answered tenderly. "You spoiled me with kindness even when I was a boy, and what can I do to thank you for all this?"
"Be always the same to me that you are to-day. Will you always--for all time be the same, whatever your fortunes may be?"
"In joy and in adversity always the same; always your friend, always ready to give my life for you."
"In spite of my husband, always, even when you think you no longer need my favor!"
"Always, for without you I should be nothing--utterly miserable."
The Empress heaved a deep sigh and sat bolt upright on her couch. She had formed a great resolve, and she said slowly, emphasizing every word:
"If nothing utterly unforeseen occurs in the heavens on your birth-night, you shall be our son, and so Hadrian's successor and heir. I swear it."
There was something solemn in her voice, and her small eyes were wide open.
"Sabina, Mother, guardian spirit of my life!" cried Verus, and he fell on
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