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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 9. - 5/10 -
the divinity as he works."
"Wait a while, only wait--you will soon learn to understand," Paulina had answered, drawing Arsinoe towards her, and had added, at first speaking gently but then more sternly: "Now go to bed and pray to your gracious Father in Heaven that he may enlighten your heart. You must forget the carved image-maker, and I forbid you ever to speak in my presence again of such a man."
Arsinoe had grown up a heathen, she clung with affection to the gods of her fathers and hoped for happier days after the first bitterness of the loss of her father and the separation from her brothers and sisters was past. She was little disposed to sacrifice her young love and all her earthly happiness for spiritual advantages of which she scarcely comprehended the value. Her father had always spoken of the Christians with hatred and contempt. She now saw that they could be kind and helpful, and the doctrine that there was a loving God in Heaven who cared for all men as his children appealed to her soul; but that we ought to forgive our enemies, to remember our sins, and to repent of them, and to regard all the pleasure and amusement which the gay city of Alexandria could offer as base and worthless--this was absurd and foolish.
And what great sins had she committed? Could a loving God require of her that she should mar all her best days because as a child she had pilfered a cake or broken a pitcher; or, as she grew older had sometimes been obstinate or disobedient? Surely not. And then was an artist, a kind faithful soul like her tall Pollux, to be odious in the eyes of God the Father of all, because he was able to make such wonderful things as that head of her mother, for instance? If this really was so she would rather, a thousand times rather, lift her hands in prayer to the smiling Aphrodite, roguish Eros, beautiful Apollo, and all the nine Muses who protected her Pollux, than to Him.
An obscure aversion rose up in her soul against the stern woman who could not understand her, and of whose teaching and admonitions she scarcely took in half; and she rejected many a word of the widow's which might otherwise easily have found room in her heart, only because it was spoken by the cold-mannered woman who at every hour seemed to try to lay some fresh restraint upon her.
Paulina had never yet taken her with her to of the Christian assemblies in her suburban villa; wished first to prepare her and to open her soul to salvation. In this task no teacher of the congregation should assist her. She, and she alone, should win to the Redeemer the soul of this fair creature that had walked so resolutely in the ways of the heathen; this was required of her as the condition of the covenant that she felt she had made with Him, it was with the price of this labor that she hoped to purchase her own child's eternal happiness. Day after day she had Arsinoe into her own room, that was decked with flowers and with Christian symbols, and devoted several hours to her instruction. But her disciple proved less impressionable and less attentive every day; while Paulina was speaking Arsinoe was thinking of Pollux, of the children, of the festival prepared for the Emperor or of the beautiful dress she was to have worn as Roxana. She wondered what young girl would fill her place, and how she could ever hope to see her lover again. And it was the same during Paulina's prayers as during her instruction, prayers that often lasted more than hour, and which she had to attend, on her knees on Wednesday and Friday, and with hands uplifted on all the other days of the week.
When her adoptive mother had discovered how often she looked out into the street she thought she had found out the reason of her pupil's distracted attention and only waited the return of her brother, the architect, in order to have the window blocked up.
As Pontius entered the lofty hall of his sister's house, Arsinoe came to meet him. Her cheeks were flushed, she had hurried to fly down as fast as possible from her window to the ground floor, in order to speak to the architect before he went into the inner rooms or had talked with his sister, and she looked lovelier than ever. Pontius gazed at her with delight. He knew that he had seen this sweet face before, but he could not at once remember where; for a face we have met with only incidentally is not easily recognized when we find it again where we do not expect it.
Arsinoe did not give him time to speak to her, for she went straight up to him, greeted him, and asked timidly:
"You do not remember who I am?"
"Yes, yes," said the architect, "and yet--for the moment--"
"I am the daughter of Keraunus, the palace-steward at Lochias, but you know of course"
"To be sure, to be sure! Arsinoe is your name; I was asking to-day after your father and heard to my great regret--"
"He is dead."
"Poor child! How everything has changed in the old palace since I went away. The gate-house is swept away, there is a new steward and there- but, tell me how came you here?"
"My father left us nothing and Christians took its in. There were eight of us."
"And my sister shelters you all?"
"No, no; one has been taken into one house and others into others. We shall never be together again." And as she spoke the tears ran down Arsinoe's cheeks; but she promptly recovered herself, and before Pontius could express his sympathy she went on:
"I want to ask of you a favor; let me speak before any one disturbs us."
"Speak, my child."
"You know Pollux--the sculptor Pollux?"
And you were always kindly disposed toward him?"
"He is a good man and an excellent artist."
"Aye that he is, and besides all that--may I tell you something and will you stand by me?"
"Gladly, so far as lies in my power."
Arsinoe looked down at the ground in charming and blushing confusion and said in a low tone:
"We love each other--I am to be his wife."
"Accept my best wishes."
"Ah, if only we had got as far as that! But since my father's death we have not seen each other. I do not know where he and his parents are, and how are they ever to find me here?"
"Write to him."
"I cannot write well, and even if I could my messenger--"
"Has my sister had any search made for him?"
"No--oh, no. I may not even let his name pass my lips. She wants to give me to some one else; she says that making statues is hateful to the God of the Christians."
"Does she? And you want me to seek your lover?"
"Yes, yes, my dear lord! and if you find him tell him I shall be alone to-morrow early, and again towards evening, every day indeed, for then your sister goes to serve her God in her country house."
"So you want to make me a lover's go-between. You could not find a more inexperienced one."
"Ah! noble Pontius, if you have a heart--"
"Let me speak to the end, child! I will seek your lover, and if I find him he shall know where you are, but I cannot and will not invite him to an assignation here behind my sister's back. He shall come openly to Paulina and prefer his suit. If she refuses her consent I will try to take the matter in hand with Paulina. Are you satisfied with this?"
"I must need be. And tell me, you will let me know when you have found out where he and his parents have gone?"
"That I promise you. And now tell the one thing. Are you happy in this house?"
Arsinoe looked down in some embarrassment, then she hastily shook her head in vehement negation and hurried away. Pontius looked after her with compassion and sympathy.
"Poor, pretty little creature!" he murmured to himself, and went on to his sister's room.
The house-steward had announced his visit, and Paulina met him on the threshold. In his sister's sitting-room the architect found Eumenes, the bishop, a dignified old man with clear, kind eyes.
"Your name is in everybody's mouth to-day," said Paulina, after the usual greetings. They say you did wonders last night."
"I got home very tired," said Pontius, "but as you so pressingly desired to speak to me, I shortened my hours of rest."
"How sorry I am!" exclaimed the widow.
The bishop perceived that the brother and sister had business to discuss together, and asked whether he were not interrupting it.
"On the contrary," cried Paulina. "The subject under discussion is my newly-adopted daughter who, unhappily, has her head full of silly and useless things. She tells me she has seen you at Lochias, Pontius."
"Yes, I know the pretty child."
"Yes, she is lovely to look upon," said the widow. "But her heart and mind have been left wholly untrained, and in her the doctrine falls upon stony ground, for she avails herself of every unoccupied moment to stare at the horsemen and chariots that pass on the way to the Hippodrome. By this inquisitive gaping she fills her head with a thousand useless and distracting fancies; I am not always at home, and so it will be best to have the pernicious window walled up."
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