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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 9. - 4/10 -
When Pontius had fairly escaped the throng he took a bath; then he had some food brought to him, but even while he ate and drank, he was not unoccupied, for he read the letters which awaited him, and examined some drawings which his assistants had prepared during his absence.
"Give yourself an hour's respite," said the old housekeeper, who had been his nurse and who loved him as her own son.
"I must go to my sister," he answered with a shrug. "We know her of old," said the old woman. "For nothing, and less than nothing, she has sent for you be fore now; and you absolutely need rest. There--are your cushions right--so? And let me ask you, has the humblest stone-carrier so hard a life as you have? Even at meals you never have an hour of peace and comfort. Your poor head is never quiet; the nights are turned into day; something to do, always something to do. If one only knew who it is all for?"
"Aye--who for, indeed?" sighed Pontius, pushing his arm under his head, between it and the pillow. "But, you see, little mother, work must follow rest as surely as day follows night or summer follows winter. The man who has something he loves in the House--a wife and merry children, it may be, for aught I care--who sweeten his hours of rest and make them the best of all the day, he, I say is wise when he tries to prolong them; but his case is not mine--"
"But why is it not yours, my son Pontius?"
"Let me finish my speech. I, as you know full well, do not care for gossip in the bath nor for reclining long over a banquet. In the pauses of my work I am alone, with myself and with you, my very worthy Leukippe. So the hours of rest are not for me the fairest scenes, but empty waits between the acts of the drama of life; and no reasonable man can find fault with me for trying to abridge them by useful occupation."
"And what is the upshot of this sensible talk? Simply this: you must get married."
Pontius sighed, but Leukippe added eagerly:
"You have not far to look! The most respectable fathers and mothers are running after you and would bring their prettiest daughters into your door."
"A daughter whom I do not know, and who might perhaps spoil the pauses between the acts, which at present I can at any rate turn to some account."
"They say," the old woman went on, "that marriage is a cast of the dice. One throws a high number, another a low one; one wins a wife who is a match for the busy bee, another gets a tiresome gnat. No doubt there is some truth in it; but I have grown grey with my eyes open and I have often seen it happen, that how the marriage turned out depended on the husband. A man like you makes a bee out of a gnat--a bee that brings honey to the hive. Of course a man must choose carefully."
"First see the parents and then the child. A girl who has grown up surrounded by good habits, in the house of a sensible father and a virtuous mother--"
"And where in this city am I to find such a miracle? Nay, nay, Leukippe, for the present all shall be left to my old woman. We both do our duty, we are satisfied with each other and--"
"And time is flying," said the housekeeper, interrupting her master in his speech. "You are nearly thirty-five years of age, and the girls--"
"Let them be! let them be! They will find other men! Now send Cyrus with my shoes and cloak, and have my litter got ready, for Paulina has been kept waiting long enough."
The way from the architect's house to his sister's was long, and on his way he found ample time for reflection on various matters besides Leukippe's advice to marry. Still, it was a woman's face and form that possessed him heart and soul; at first, however, he did not feel inclined to feast his fancy on Balbilla's image, lovely as it appeared to him; on the contrary, with self-inflicted severity he sought everything in her which could be thought to be opposed to the highest standard of feminine perfections. Nor did he find it difficult to detect many defects and deficiencies in the Roman damsel; still he was forced to admit that they were quite inseparable from her character, and that she would no longer be what she was, if she were wholly free from them. Each of her little weaknesses presently began to appear as an additional charm to the stern man who had himself been brought up in the doctrine of the Stoics.
He had learnt by experience that sorrow must cast its shadow over the existence of every human being; but still, the man to whom it should be vouchsafed to walk through life hand-in-hand with this radiant child of fortune could, as it seemed to him, have nothing to look forward to but pure sunshine. During his journey to Pelusium and his stay there he had often thought of her, and each time that her image had appeared to his inward eye he had felt as though daylight had shone in his soul. To have met her he regarded as the greatest joy of his life, but he dared not aspire to claim her as his own.
He did not undervalue himself and knew that he might well be proud of the position he had won by his own industry and talents; and still she was the grandchild of the man who had had the right to sell his grandfather for mere coin, and was so high-born, rich and distinguished that he would have thought it hardly more audacious to ask the Emperor what he would take for the purple than to woo her. But to shelter her, to warn her, to allow his soul to be refreshed by the sight of her and by her talk--this he felt was permissible, this happiness no one could deprive him of. And this she would grant him--she esteemed him and would give him the right to protect her, this he felt, with thankfulness and joy. He would, then and there, have gone through the exertions of the last few hours all over again if he could have been certain that he should once more be refreshed with the draught of water from her hand. Only to think of her and of her sweetness seemed greater happiness than the possession of any other woman.
As he got out of his litter at the door of his sister's town-house he shook his head, smiling at himself; for he confessed to himself that the whole of the long distance he had hardly thought of anything but Balbilla.
Paulina's house had but few windows opening upon the street and these belonged to the strangers' rooms, and yet his arrival had been observed. A window at the side of the house, all grown round with creepers, framed in a sweet girlish head which looked down from it inquisitively on the bustle in the street. Pontius did not notice it, but Arsinoe--for it was her pretty face that looked out--at once recognized the architect whom she had seen at Lochias and of whom Pollux had spoken as his friend and patron.
She had now, for a week, been living with the rich widow; she wanted for nothing, and yet her soul longed with all its might to be out in the city, and to inquire for Pollux and his parents, of whom she had heard nothing since the day of her father's death. Her lover was no doubt seeking her with anxiety and sorrow; but how was he to find her?
Three days after her arrival she had discovered the little window from which she had a view of the street. There was plenty to be seen, for it led to the Hippodrome and was never empty of foot-passengers and chariots that were proceeding thither or to Necropolis. No doubt it was a pleasure to her to watch the fine horses and garlanded youths and men who passed by Paulina's house; but it was not merely to amuse herself that she went to the bowery little opening; no, she hoped, on the contrary, that she might once see her Pollux, his father, his mother, his bother Teuker or some one else they knew pass by her new home. Then she might perhaps succeed in calling them, in asking what had become of her friends, and in begging them to let her lover know where to seek her.
Her adoptive mother had twice found her at the window and had forbidden her, not unkindly but very positively, to look out into the street. Arsinoe had followed her unresistingly into the interior of the house, but as soon as she knew that Paulina was out or engaged, she slipped back to the window again and looked out for him, who must at every hour of the day be thinking of her. And she was not happy amid her new and wealthy surroundings. At first she had found it very pleasant to stretch her limbs on Paulina's soft cushions, not to stir a finger to help herself, to eat the best of food and to have neither to attend to the children nor to labor in the horrible papyrus-factory; but by the third day she pined for liberty--and still more for the children, for Selene and Pollux. Once she went out driving with Paulina in a covered carriage for the first time in her life. As the horses started she had enjoyed the rapid movement and had leaned out at one side to see the houses and men flying past her; but Paulina had regarded this as not correct--as she did so many other things that she herself thought right and permissible--had desired her to draw in her head, and had told her that a well-conducted girl must sit with her eyes in her lap when out driving.
Paulina was kind, never was irritable, had her dressed and waited upon like her own daughter, kissed her in the morning and when she bid her good-night; and yet Arsinoe had never once thought of Paulina's demand that she should love her. The proud woman, who was so cool in all the friendly relations of life, and who, as she felt was always watching her, was to her only a stranger who had her in her power. The fairest sentiments of her soul she must always keep locked up from her.
Once, when Paulina, with tears in her eyes had spoken to her of her lost daughter, Arsinoe had been softened and following the impulse of her heart, had confided to her that she loved Pollux the sculptor and hoped to be his wife.
"You love a maker of images!" Paulina had exclaimed, with as much horror as if she had seen a toad; then she had paced uneasily up and down and had added with her usual calm decision:
"No, no, my child! you will forget all this as soon as possible; I know of a nobler Bridegroom for you; when once you have learned to know Him you will never long for any other. Have you seen one single image in this house?"
"No," replied Arsinoe, "but so far as regards Pollux--"
"Listen to me" said the widow, "have I not told you of our loving Father in Heaven? Have I not told you that the gods of the heathen are unreal beings which the vain imaginings of fools have endowed with all the weaknesses and crimes of humanity? Can you not understand how silly it is to pray to stones? What power can reside in these frail figures of brass or marble?
"Idols we call them. He who carves them, serves them and offers sacrifice to them; aye and a great sacrifice, for he devotes his best powers, to their service. Do you understand me?"
"No--Art is certainly a lofty thing, and Pollux is a good man, full of
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