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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 9. - 7/10 -
"Hadrian said you had helped valiantly in the rescue."
"I was sorry for the poor rats whose gathered store of provisions the flames were so rapidly devouring, and all hot as I was from my supper, I flung myself in among the men who were extinguishing the fire. My first reward was a bath of cold, icy-cold sea-water, which was poured over my head out of a full skin. All doctrines of ethics are in disgrace with me, and I have long considered all the dramatic poets, in whose pieces virtue is rewarded and crime punished, as a pack of fools; for my pleasantest hours are all due to my worst deeds; and sheer annoyance and misery, to my best. No hyena can laugh more hoarsely that I now speak; some portion of me inside here, seems to have been turned into a hedgehog whose spines prick and hurt me, and all this because I allowed myself to be led away into doing things which the moralists laud as virtuous."
"You cough, and you do not look well. He down awhile."
"On my birthday? No, my young friend. And now let me just ask you before I go: Can you tell me what Hadrian read in the stars?"
"Not even if I put my Perseus at your orders for every thing you may require of him? The man knows Alexandria and is as dumb as a fish."
"Not even then, for what I do not know I cannot tell. We are both of us ill, and I tell you once more you will be wise to take care of yourself." Verus left the room, and Antinous watched him go with much relief.
The praetor's visit had filled him with disquietude, and had added to the dislike he felt for him. He knew that he had been used to base ends by Verus, for Hadrian had told him so much as that he had gone up to the observatory not to question the stars for himself but to cast the praetor's horoscope, and that he had informed Verus of his intention.
There was no excuse, no forgiveness possible for the deed he had done; to please that dissolute coxcomb, that mocking hypocrite, he had become a traitor to his master and an incendiary, and must endure to be overwhelmed with praises and thanks by the greatest and most keen-sighted of men. He hated, he abhorred himself, and asked himself why the fire which had blazed around him had been satisfied only to inflict slight injuries on his hands and hair. When Hadrian returned to him he asked his permission to go to bed. The Emperor gladly granted it, ordered Mastor to watch by his side, and then agreed to his wife's request that he would visit her.
Sabina had not been to the scene of the fire, but she had sent a messenger every hour to inquire as to the progress of the conflagration and the well-being of her husband. When he had first arrived at the Caesareum she had met and welcomed him and then had retired to her own apartments.
It wanted only two hours of midnight when Hadrian entered her room; he found her reclining on a couch without the jewels she usually wore in the daytime but dressed as for a banquet.
"You wished to speak with me?" said the Emperor. "Yes, and this day-- so full of remarkable events as it has been--has also a remarkable close since I have not wished in vain."
"You so rarely give me the opportunity of gratifying a wish."
"And do you complain of that?"
"I might--for instead of wishing you are wont to demand."
"Let us cease this strife of idle words."
"Willingly. With what object did you send for me?"
"Verus is to-day keeping his birthday."
"And you would like to know what the stars promise him?"
"Rather how the signs in the heavens have disposed you towards him."
"I had but little time to consider what I saw. But at any rate the stars promise him a brilliant future."
A gleam of joy shone in Sabina's eyes, but she forced herself to keep calm and asked, indifferently:
"You admit that, and yet you can come to no decision?"
"Then you want to hear the decisive word spoken at once, to-day?"
"You know that without my answering you."
"Well, then, his star outshines mine and compels me to be on my guard against him."
"How mean! You are afraid of the praetor?"
"No, but of his fortune which is bound up with you?"
"When he is our son his greatness will be ours."
"By no means, since if I make him what you wish him to be, he will certainly try to make our greatness his. Destiny--"
"You said it favored him; but unfortunately I must dispute the statement."
"You? Do you try too, to read the stars?"
"No, I leave that to men. Have you heard of Ammonius, the astrologer?"
"Yes. A very learned man who observes from the tower of the Serapeum, and who, like many of his fellows in this city has made use of his art to accumulate a large fortune."
"No less a man than the astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus referred me to him."
"The best of recommendation."
"Well, then, I commissioned Ammonius to cast the horoscope for Verus during the past night and he brought it to me with an explanatory key. Here it is."
The Emperor hastily seized the tablet which Sabina held out to him, and as he attentively examined the forecasts, arranged in order according to the hours, he said:
"Quite right. That of course did not escape me! Well done, exactly the same as my own observations--but here--stay--here comes the third hour, at the beginning of which I was interrupted. Eternal gods! what have we here?"
The Emperor held the wax tablet prepared by Aminonius at arm's length from his eyes and never parted his lips again till he had come to the end of the last hour of the night. Then he dropped the hand that held the horoscope, saying with a shudder:
"A hideous destiny. Horace was right in saying the highest towers fall with the greatest crash."
"The tower of which you speak," said Sabina, "is that darling of fortune of whom you are afraid. Vouchsafe then to Verus a brief space of happiness before the horrible end you foresee for him."
While she spoke Hadrian sat with his eyes thoughtfully fixed on the ground, and then, standing in front of his wife, he replied:
"If no sinister catastrophe falls upon this man, the stars and the fate of men have no more to do with one another than the sea with the heart of the desert, than the throb of men's pulses with the pebbles in the brook. If Ammonius has erred ten times over still more than ten signs remain on this tablet, hostile and fatal to the praetor. I grieve for Verus--but the state suffers with the sovereign's misfortunes.--This man can never be my successor."
"No?" asked Sabina rising from her couch. "No? Not when you have seen that your own star outlives his? Not though a glance at this tablet shows you that when he is nothing but ashes the world will still continue long to obey your nod?"
"Compose yourself and give me time.--Yes, I still say not even so."
"Not even so," repeated Sabina sullenly. Then, collecting herself, she asked in a tone of vehement entreaty:
"Not even so--not even if I lift my hands to you in supplication and cry in your face that you and Fate have grudged me the blessing, the happiness, the crown and aim of a woman's life, and I must and I will attain it; I must and I will once, if only for a short time, hear myself called by some dear lips by the name which gives the veriest beggar-woman with her infant in her arms preeminence above the Empress who has never stood by a child's cradle. I must and I will, before I die, be a mother, be called mother and be able to say, 'my child, my son--our son.'" And as she spoke she sobbed aloud and covered her face with her hands.
The Emperor drew back a step from his wife. A miracle had been wrought before his eyes. Sabina--in whose eyes no tear had ever been seen-- Sabina was weeping, Sabina had a heart like other women. Greatly astonished and deeply moved he saw her turn from him, utterly shaken by the agitation of her feelings, and sink on her knees by the side of the couch she had quitted to hide her face in the cushions. He stood motionless by her side, but presently going nearer to her:
"Stand up, Sabina," he said. "Your desire is a just one. You shall have the son for whom your soul longs."
The Empress rose and a grateful look in her eyes, swimming in tears, met his glance. Sabina could smile too, she could look sweet! It had taken a lifetime, it had needed such a moment as this to reveal it to Hadrian.
He silently drew a seat towards her and sat down by her side; for some time he sat with her hand clasped in his, in silence. Then he let it go and said kindly:
"And will Verus fulfil all you expect of a son?" She nodded assent.
"What makes you so confident of that?" asked the Emperor. "He is a Roman and not lacking in brilliant and estimable gifts. A man who shows such mettle alike in the field and in the council-chamber and yet can play the part of Eros with such success will also know how to wear the purple without disgracing it. But he has his mother's light blood, and
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