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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 8. - 2/10 -
pleasure in her own beauty, and its costly adornment which delighted her beyond measure. Arsinoe now clapped her hands with delight, now had the mirror handed to her, and now, with all the frankness of a child, expressed her satisfaction not only with the costly clothes she wore, but with her own surprisingly grand appearance in them.
The dress-maker was enchanted with her, proud and delighted, and could not resist the impulse to give a kiss to the charming girl's white, beautifully round throat.
"If only Pollux could see me so!" thought Arsinoe. "After the performance perhaps I might show myself in my dress to Selene, and then she would forgive my taking part in the show. It is really a pleasure to look so nice!"
The children all stood round her while she was being dressed, and shouted with admiration each time some new detail of the princess's attire was added. Helios begged to be allowed to feel her dress, and after satisfying herself that his little hands were clean she stroked them over the glistening white silk.
She had now advanced so far that her father and the tailor could be called in. She felt remarkably content and happy. Drawn up to her tallest, like a real king's daughter, and yet with a heart beating as anxiously as that of any girl would who is on the point of displaying her beauty--hitherto protected and hidden in her parents' home--to the thousand eyes of the gaping multitude, she went towards the sitting-room; but she drew back her hand she had put forth to raise the latch, for she heard the voices of several men who must just now have joined her father.
"Wait a little while, there are visitors," she cried to the seamstress who had followed her, and she put her ear to the door to listen. At first she could not make out anything that was going on, but the end of the strange conversation that was being carried on within was so hideously intelligible that she could never forget it so long as she lived.
Her father had ordered two new dresses for her, beating down the price with the promise of prompt payment, when Mastor came into the steward's room and informed Keraunus that his master and Gabinius, the curiosity- dealer from Nicaea, wished to speak with him.
"Your master," said Keraunus haughtily, "may come in; I think that he regrets the injury he has done me; but Gabinius shall never cross this threshold again, for he is a scoundrel."
"It would be as well that you should desire that man to leave you for the present," said the slave, pointing to the tailor.
"Whoever comes to visit me," said the steward loftily, "must be satisfied to meet any one whom I permit to enter my house."
"Nay, nay," said the slave urgently, "my master is a greater man than you think. Beg this man to leave the room."
"I know, I know very well," said Keraunus with a smile. "Your master is an acquaintance of Caesar's. But we shall see, after the performance that is about to take place, which of us two Caesar will decide for. This tailor has business here and will stay at my pleasure. Sit in the corner there, my friend."
"A tailor!" cried Mastor, horrified. "I tell you he must go."
"He must!" asked Keraunus wrathfully. "A slave dares to give orders in my house? We will see."
"I am going," interrupted the artisan who understood the case. "No unpleasantness shall arise here on my account, I will return in a quarter of an hour."
"You will stay," commanded Keraunus. "This insolent Roman seems to think that Lochias belongs to him; but I will show him who is master here."
But Mastor paid no heed to these words spoken in a high pitch; he took the tailor's hand and led him out, whispering to him:
"Come with me if you wish to escape an evil hour."
The two men went off and Keraunus did not detain the artisan, for it occurred to his mind that his presence did him small credit. He purposed to show himself in all his dignity to the overbearing architect, but he also remembered that it was not advisable to provoke unnecessarily the mysterious bearded stranger, with the big clog. Much excited, and not altogether free from anxiety, he paced up and down his room. To give himself courage he hastily filled a cup from the wine-jar that stood on the breakfast table, emptied it, refilled it and drank it off a second time without adding any water, and then stood with his arms folded and a strong color in his face awaiting his enemy's visit.
The Emperor walked in with Gabinius. Keraunus expected some greeting, but Hadrian spoke not a word, cast a glance at him of the utmost contempt and passed by him without taking any more notice of him than if he had been a pillar or a piece of furniture. The blood mounted to the steward's head and heated his eyes and for fully a minute he strove in vain to find words to give utterance to his rage. Gabinius paid no more heed to Keraunus than the Roman had done. He walked on ahead and paused in front of the mosaic for which he had offered so high a price, and over which a few days since he had been so sharply dealt with by the steward.
"I would beg you," he said, "to look at this masterpiece."
The Emperor looked at the ground, but hardly had he begun to study the picture, of which he quite understood and appreciated the beauty, when just behind him he heard in a hoarse voice these words uttered with difficulty:
"In Alexandria--it is the custom, to greet--to say something--to the people you visit." Hadrian half turned his head towards the speaker and said indifferently but with strong and insulting contempt:
"In Rome too it is the custom to greet honest people." Then looking down again at the mosaic he said, "Exquisite, exquisite an inestimable and precious work." At Hadrian's words Keraunus' eyes almost started out of his head. His face was crimson and his lips pale; he went close up to him and as soon as he had found breath to speak he said:
"What have you--what are your words intended to convey?"
Hadrian turned suddenly and full upon the steward; in his eyes sparkled that annihilating fire which few could endure to gaze on and his deep voice rolled sullenly through the room as he said to the miserable man:
"My words are intended to convey that you have been an unfaithful steward, that I know what you would rather I should not know, that I have learned how you deal with the property entrusted to you, that you--"
"That I?"--cried the steward trembling with rage and stepping close up to the Emperor.
"That you," shouted Hadrian in his face, "tried to sell this picture to this man; in short that you are a simpleton and a scoundrel into the bargain."
"I--I," gasped Keraunus slapping his hand on his fat chest. "I--a--a-- but you shall repent of these words."
Hadrian laughed coldly and scornfully, but Keraunus sprang on Gabinius with a wonderful agility for his size, clutched him by the collar of his chiton and shook the feeble little man as if he were a sapling, shrieking meanwhile:
"I will choke you with your own lies--serpent, mean viper!"
"Madman!" cried Hadrian "leave hold of the Ligurian or by Sirius you shall repent it."
"Repent it?" gasped the steward. "It will be your turn to repent when Caesar comes. Then will come a day of reckoning with false witnesses, shameless calumniators who disturb peaceful households, while credulous idiots--"
"Man, man," interrupted Hadrian, not loudly but sternly and ominously, "you know not to whom you speak."
"Oh I know you--I know you only too well. But I--I--shall I tell you who I am?"
"You--you are a blockhead," replied the monarch shrugging his shoulders contemptuously. Then he added calmly, with dignity--almost with indifference:
"I am Caesar."
At these words the steward's hand dropped from the chiton of the half- throttled dealer. Speechless and with a glassy stare he gazed in Hadrian's face for a few seconds. Then he suddenly started, staggered backwards, uttered a loud choking, gurgling, nameless cry, and fell back on the floor like a mass of rock shaken from its foundations by an earthquake. The room shook again with his fall.
Hadrian was startled and when he saw him lying motionless at his feet he bent over him--less from pity than from a wish to see what was the matter with him; for he had also dabbled in medicine. Just as he was lifting the fallen man's hand to feel his pulse Arsinoe rushed into the room. She had heard the last words of the antagonists with breathless anxiety and her father's fall and now threw herself on her knees by the side of the unhappy man, just opposite to Hadrian, and as his distorted and grey- white face told her what had occurred she broke out in a passionate cry of anguish. Her brothers and sisters followed at her heels, and when they saw their favorite sister bewailing herself they followed her example without knowing at first what Arsinoe was crying for, but soon with terror and horror at their father lying there stiff and disfigured. The Emperor, who had never had either son or daughter of his own, found nothing so intolerable as the presence of crying children. However he endured the wailing and whimpering that surrounded him till he had ascertained the condition of the man lying on the ground before him.
"He is dead," he said in a few minutes. "Cover his face, Master."
Arsinoe and the children broke out afresh, and Hadrian glanced down at them with annoyance. When his eye fell on Arsinoe, whose costly robe, merely pinned and slightly stitched together had come undone with the vehemence of her movements and were hanging as flapping rags in tumbled disorder, he was disgusted with the gaudy fluttering trumpery which contrasted so painfully with the grief of the wearer, and turning his back on the fair girl he quitted the chamber of misery.
Gabinius followed him with a hideous smirk. He had directed the Emperor's attention to the mosaic pavement in the steward's room, and had shamelessly accused Keraunus of having offered to sell him a work that
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