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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 8. - 6/10 -
unrest, could not fail to win Heaven, and there she hoped to meet her innocent child.
Arsinoe reminded her of her Helena, who certainly had been far less fair than the steward's lovely daughter, but whose image had assumed new and glorified forms in the mother's faithful heart. Since her son had left home for a foreign country she had often asked herself whether she might not find some young creature to take into her home, to attach to herself, to bring up as a Christian, and to bring as an offering to her Saviour's feet.
Her daughter had died a heathen, and nothing troubled Paulina so deeply as that her soul was lost, and that her own struggling and striving for grace could not lead her to the goal beyond the grave. No sacrifice seemed too great to purchase her child's beatitude, and now, standing before Arsinoe and looking at her with deep emotion and admiration, she was seized with an idea which swiftly ripened to resolve. She would win this sweet soul for the Redeemer, and implore Him with ceaseless prayers to save her hapless child as a reward for the work of grace in Arsinoe's soul; and she felt as if she had signed the compact with the Redeemer, when, fully determined on this course, she went up to the girl and asked her:
"You are quite forlorn, quite without relations?" Arsinoe bowed her head in assent, and Paulina went on:
"And do you bear your loss with resignation?"
"What is resignation?" asked the girl modestly. Hannah laid her hand on the widow's arm and whispered:
"She is a heathen."
"I know it," said Paulina shortly, and then went on kindly but positively:
"You and yours have lost both parents and a home by your father's death. You shall find a new home in my house, with me; I ask nothing of you in return but your love."
Arsinoe looked at the haughty lady in astonishment. She could not yet feel any impulse of affection towards her, and she did not as yet understand that what was required of her was the one gift which the best will, the most loving heart in the world, could not offer at a command. Paulina did not wait for her reply, but signed to Hannah to follow her to join the congregation now assembled at the evening meal.
A quarter of an hour later the two women returned. The steward's orphans were provided for. Two or three Christian families were ready and willing to take in some of them, and many a kindly house-mother had begged to have the blind child; but in vain, for Hannah had claimed the right to bring up the hapless little boy in her own house, at any rate for the present. She knew how Selene clung to him, and hoped by his presence to be able to work powerfully on the crushed and chilled heart of the poor girl.
Arsinoe did not contravene the arrangements of the two women. She thanked them, indeed, for she felt that she once more stood on firm ground, but she also was immediately aware that it would be strewn with sharp stones. The thought of parting from her little brothers and sisters was terrible and cruel, and never left her mind for an instant, while, accompanied by Hannah in person, she made her way back to Lochias.
The next morning her kind friend appeared again and led her and the little troup to Paulina's town-house. The steward's creditors divided his little possessions; nothing but the chest of papyri followed the girl to her new home. The hour in which the fondly-linked circle of children was riven asunder, when one child was taken here and another there, was the bitterest which Arsinoe had ever experienced or ever could experience through all the after years of her life.
A lovely garden adjoined the Caesareum, the palace in which Sabina was residing. Balbilla was fond of lingering there, and as the morning of the twenty-ninth of December was particularly brilliant--the sky and its infinite mirror the sea, gleaming in indescribably deep blue, while the fragrance of a flowering shrub was wafted in at her window like an invitation to quit the house she had sought a certain bench which, though placed in a sunny spot, was slightly shaded by an acacia. This seat was screened from the more public paths by bushes; the promenaders who did not seek Balbilla could not observe her here, but she could command a view, through a gap in the foliage, of the path, which was strewn with small shells.
To-day, however, the young poetess was far from feeling any curiosity; instead of gazing at the shrubbery enlivened by birds, at the clear atmosphere or the sparkling sea, her eyes were fixed on a yellow roll of papyrus and she was impressing very dry details on her retentive memory.
She had determined to keep her word to learn to speak, write, and compose verses in the Aeolian dialect of the Greek tongue. She had chosen for her teacher Apollonius, the great grammarian, who was apt to call his scholars "the dullards;" and the work which was the present object of her studies was derived from the famous library of the Serapeum, which far exceeded in completeness that of the Museum since the siege of Julius Caesar in the Bruchiom, when the great Museum library was burnt.
Any one observing Balbilla at her occupation could hardly have believed that she was studying. There was no fixed effort in her eyes or on her brow; still, she read line for line, not skipping a single word; only she did it not like a man who climbs a mountain with sweat on his brow, but like a lounger who walks in the main street of some great city, and is charmed at every new and strange thing that meets his eye. Each time she came upon some form of structure in the book she was reading that had been hitherto unknown to her, she was so delighted that she clapped her hands and laughed out softly. Her learned master had never before met with so cheerful a student, and it annoyed him, for to him science was a serious matter while she seemed to make a joke of it, as she did of every thing, and so desecrated it in his eyes. After she had been sitting an hour on the bench, studying in her own way, she rolled up the book and stood up to refresh herself a little. Feeling sure that no one could see her, she stretched herself in all her limbs and then stepped up to the gap in the shrubbery in order to see who a man in boots might be who was pacing up and down in the broad path beyond.
It was the praetor--and yet it was not! Verus, under this aspect at any rate, she had never seen till now. Where was the smile that was wont to twinkle in his merry eye like the sparkle of a diamond and to play saucily about his lips--where the unwrinkled serenity of his brow and the defiantly audacious demeanor of his whole handsome person? He was slowly striding up and down with a gloomy fire in his eye, a deeply-lined brow, and his head sunk on his breast: and yet it was not bowed with sorrow. If so, could he have snapped his fingers in the air as he did just as he passed in front of Balbilla, as much as to say: "Come what may! to-day I live and laugh the future in the face!"
But this vestige of his old reckless audacity did not last longer than the time it took to part his fingers again, and the next time Verus passed Balbilla he looked, if possible, more gloomy than before. Something very unpleasant must have arisen to spoil the good humor of her friend's husband; and the poetess was sincerely sorry; for, though she herself had daily to suffer under the praetor's impertinence, she always forgave it for the sake of the graceful form in which he knew how to clothe his incivilities.
Balbilla longed to see Verus content once more, and she therefore came forth from her hiding place. As soon as he saw her he altered the expression of his features and cried out as brightly as ever:
"Welcome, fairest of the fair!"
She made believe not to recognize him, but, as she passed him and bowed her curly head, she said gravely and in deep tones:
"Good day to you, Timon."
"Timon?" he asked, taking her hand.
"Ah! is it you, Verus?" she answered, as though surprised. "I thought the Athenian misanthrope had quitted Hades and come to take the air in this garden."
"You thought rightly," replied the praetor. "But when Orpheus sings the trees dance, the Muse can turn dull, motionless stones into a Bacchante, and when Balbilla appears Timon is at once transformed into the happy Verus."
"The miracle does not astonish me," laughed the girl. "But is it permitted to ask what dark spirit so effectually produced the contrary result, and made a Timon of the fair Lucilla's happy husband?"
"I ought rather to beware of letting you see the monster, or our joyous muse Balbilla might easily become the sinister Hecate. But the malicious sprite is close at hand, for he is hidden in this little roll."
"A document from Caesar?"
"Oh! no, only a letter from a Jew."
"Possibly the father of some fair daughter!"
"Wrongly guessed--as wrong as possible!"
"You excite my curiosity."
"Mine has already been satisfied by this roll. Horace is wise when he says that man should never trouble himself about the future."
"Something of the kind."
"And can that darken this lovely morning to you? Did you ever see me melancholy? Yet my future is threatened by a prophecy--such a hideous prophecy."
"The fate of men is different to the destiny of women."
"Would you like to hear what was prophesied of me?"
"What a question!"
"Listen then; the saying I will repeat to you came to me from no less an oracle than the Delphic Pythia:
"'That which thou boldest most precious and dear
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