Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 8. - 3/10 -
belonged to the palace, contrasting his conduct with his own rectitude. Now the calumniated man was dead, and the truth could never come to light; this was necessarily a satisfaction to the miserable man, but he derived even greater pleasure from the reflection that Arsinoe could not now fill the part of Roxana, and that consequently there was once more a possibility that it might devolve on his daughter.
Hadrian walked on in front of him, silent and thoughtful. Gabinius followed him into his writing-room, and there said with fulsome smoothness:
"Ah, great Caesar, thus do the gods punish with a heavy hand the crimes of the guilty."
Hadrian did not interrupt him, but he looked him keenly and enquiringly in the face, and then said, gravely, but coolly:
"It seems to me, man, that I should do well to break off my connection with you, and to give some other dealer the commissions which I proposed to entrust to you."
"Caesar!" stammered Gabinius, "I really do not know--"
"But I do know," interrupted the Emperor. "You have attempted to mislead me, and throw your own guilt on the shoulders of another."
"I--great Caesar? I have attempted--" began the Ligurian, while his pinched features turned an ashy grey. "You accused the steward of a dishonorable trick," replied Hadrian. "But I know men well, and I know that no thief ever yet died of being called a scoundrel. It is only undeserved disgrace that can cost a man's life."
"Keraunus was full-blooded, and the shock when he learnt that you were Caesar--"
"That shock accelerated the end no doubt," interrupted the monarch, "but the mosaic in the steward's room is worth a million of sesterces, and now I have seen enough to be quite sure that you are not the man to save your money when a work like that mosaic is offered you for sale--be the circumstances what they may. If I see the case rightly, it was Keraunus who refused your demand that he should resign to you the treasure in his charge. Certainly, that was the case exactly! Now, leave me. I wish to be alone."
Gabinius retired with many bows, walking backwards to the door, and then turned his back on the palace of Lochias muttering many impotent curses as he went.
The steward's new 'body-servant,' the old black woman, Mastor, the tailor and his slave, helped Arsinoe to carry her father's lifeless body and lay it on a couch, and the slave closed his eyes. He was dead--so each told the despairing girl, but she would not, could not believe it. As soon as she was alone with the old negress and the dead, she lifted up his heavy, clumsy arm, and as soon as she let go her hold it fell by his side like lead. She lifted the cloth from the dead man's face, but she flung it over him again at once, for death had drawn his features. Then she kissed his cold hand and brought the children in and made them do the same, and said sobbing:
"We have no father now; we shall never, never see him again."
The little blind boy felt the dead body with his hands, and asked his sister:
"Will he not wake again to-morrow morning and make you curl his hair, and take me up on his knee?"
"Never, never; he is gone, gone for ever."
As she spoke Mastor entered the room, sent by his master. Yesterday had he not heard from the overseer of the pavement-workers the comforting tidings that after our grief and suffering here on earth there would be another, beautiful, blissful and eternal life? He went kindly up to Arsinoe and said:
"No, no, my children; when we are dead we become beautiful angels with colored wings, and all who have loved each other here on earth will meet again in the presence of the good God."
Arsinoe looked at the slave with disapproval.
"What is the use," she asked, "of cheating the children with silly tales? Their father is gone, quite gone, but we will never, never forget him."
"Are there any angels with red wings?" asked the youngest little girl.
"Oh! I want to be an angel!" cried Helios, clapping his hands. "And can the angels see?"
"Yes, dear little man," replied Mastor, "and their eyes are wonderfully bright, and all they look upon is beautiful."
"Tell them no more Christian nonsense," begged Arsinoe. "Ah! children, when we shall have burned our father's body there will be nothing left of him but a few grey ashes."
But the slave took the little blind boy on his knees and whispered to him:
"Only believe what I tell you--you will see him again in Heaven."
Then he set him down again, gave Arsinoe a little bag of gold pieces in Caesar's name, and begged her--for so his master desired--to find a new abode and, after the deceased was burned on the morrow, to quit Lochias with the children. When Mastor was gone Arsinoe opened the chest, in which lay her father's papyri and the money that Plutarch had paid for the ivory cup, put in the heavy purse sent by the Emperor, comforting herself while her tears flowed, with the reflection that she and the children were provided at any rate against immediate want.
But where was she to go with the little ones? Where could she hope to find a refuge at once? What was to become of them when all they now possessed was spent. The gods be thanked! she was not forlorn; she still had friends. She could find protection and love with Pollux and look to dame Doris for motherly counsel.
She quickly dried her eyes and changed the remains of her splendor for the dark dress in which she was accustomed to work at the papyrus factory; then, as soon as she had taken the pearls out of her hair, she went down to the little gate-house.
She was only a few steps from the door--but why did not the Graces come springing out to meet her? Why did she see no birds, no flowers in the window? Was she deceived, was she dreaming or was she tricked by some evil spirit? The door of the dear home-like little dwelling was wide open and the sitting-room was absolutely empty, not a chattel was left behind, forgotten--not a leaf from a plant was lying on the ground; for dame Doris, in her tidy fashion, had swept out the few rooms where she had grown grey in peace and contentment as carefully as though she were to come into them again to-morrow.
What had happened here? Where were her friends gone? A great terror came over her, all the misery of desolation fell upon her, and as she sank upon the stone bench outside the gate-house to wait for the inhabitants who must presently return, the tears again flowed from her eyes and fell in heavy drops on her hands as they lay in her lap.
She was still sitting there, thinking with a throbbing heart of Pollux and of the happy morning of this now dying day, when a troup of Moorish slaves came towards the deserted house. The head mason who led them desired her to rise from the bench, and in answer to her questions, told her that the little building was to be pulled down, and that the couple who had inhabited it were evicted from their post, turned out of doors and had gone elsewhere with all their belongings. But where Doris and her son had taken themselves no one knew. Arsinoe as she heard these tidings felt like a sailor whose vessel has grounded on a rocky shore, and who realizes with horror that every plank and beam be neath him quivers and gapes. As usual, when she felt too weak to help herself unaided, her first thought was of Selene, and she decided to hasten off to her and to ask her what she could do, what was to become of her and the children.
It was already growing dark. With a swift step, and drying her eyes from time to time on her peplum as she went, she returned to her own room to fetch a veil, without which she dared not venture so late into the streets. On the steps--where the dog had thrown down Selene--she met a man hurrying past her; in the dim light she fancied he bore some resemblance to the slave that her father had bought the day before; but she paid no particular heed, for her mind was full of so many other things. In the kitchen sat the old negress in front of a lamp and the children squatted round her; by the hearth sat the baker and the butcher, to whom her father owed considerable sums and who had come to claim their dues, for ill news has swifter wings than good tidings, and they had already heard of the steward's death. Arsinoe took the lamp, begged the men to wait, went into the sitting-room, passing, not without a shudder, the body of the man who a few hours since had stroked her cheeks and looked lovingly into her eyes.
How glad she felt to be able to pay her dead father's debts and save the honor of his name! She confidently drew the key out of her pocket and went up to the chest. What was this? She knew, quite positively, that she had locked it before going out and yet it was now standing wide open; the lid, thrown back, hung askew by one hinge; the other was broken. A dread, a hideous suspicion, froze her blood; the lamp trembled in her hand as she leaned over the chest which ought to have contained every thing she possessed. There lay the old documents, carefully rolled together, side by side, but the two bags with Plutarch's money and the Emperor's, had vanished. She took out one roll after another; then she tossed them all out on to the floor till the bottom of the chest was bare--but the gold was really gone, nowhere to be found.
The new slave had forced open the lid of the chest and stolen the whole possessions of the orphans of the man who, to gratify his own vanity, had brought him into the house.
Arsinoe screamed aloud, called in her creditors, explained to them all that had occurred and implored them to pursue the thief; and when they only listened to her with an incredulous shrug, she swore that she was speaking the truth, and promised that whether the slave were caught or not she would pay them with the price of her own and her father's personal ornaments. She knew the name of the dealer of whom her father had bought the slave and told it to the unsatisfied dealers, who at last left her to follow up the thief as promptly as possible.
Once more Arsinoe was alone. Tearless, but shivering and scarcely mistress of herself from misery and agitation, she took out her veil, flung it over her head, and hurried through the court and along the streets to her sister.
Verily, since Sabina's visit to the palace all good spirits had deserted
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything