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- A Thorny Path, Volume 9. - 6/8 -
such audacity, she took up her nosegay and waved it toward him as though to refresh him with its fragrance, and then pressed a hasty kiss on the finest of the half-opened buds. His responsive gesture showed that she had been understood, for her lover's expressive eyes beamed with unqualified love and gratitude. Never, she thought, had he gazed more fervently in her face, and again she bent over the bunch of roses.
But even in the midst of her newly found happiness her cheeks tingled with maidenly modesty at her own boldness. Too happy to regret what she had done, but still anxious lest the friend whose opinion was all in all to her should disapprove, she forgot time and place, and, laying her head on Euryale's shoulder, looked up at her in inquiry with her large eyes as though imploring forgiveness. The matron understood, for she had followed the girl's glance and felt what it was that stirred her heart; and, little thinking of the joy she was giving to a third person, she clasped her closely and kissed her on the temple, regardless of the people about them.
At this Diodoros felt as though he had won the prize in a race; and his friend Timon, whose artistic eye was feasting on the magnificent scene, started at the vehement and ardent pressure which Diodoros bestowed on his hand.
What had come over the poor, suffering youth whom he, Timon, had escorted to the Circus out of sheer compassion? His eyes sparkled, and he held his head as high as ever. What was the meaning of his declaring that everything would go well with him now? But it was in vain that he questioned the youth, for Diodoros could not reveal, even to his best friend, what it was that made him happy. It was enough for him to know that Melissa loved him, and that the woman to whom he looked up with enthusiastic reverence esteemed her as highly as ever. And now, for the first time, he began to feel ashamed of his doubts of Melissa. How could he, who had known her from childhood, have believed of her anything so base and foul? It must be some strong compulsion which bound her to Caesar, and she could never have looked at him thus unless she had some scheme--in which, perhaps, the lady Euryale meant to abet her--for escaping her imperial suitor before it was too late. Yes, it must be so; and the oftener he gazed at her the more convinced he felt.
Now he rejoiced in the blaze of light about him, for it showed him his beloved. The words which Euryale had whispered in her ear must have been an admonition to prudence, for she only rarely bestowed on him a loving glance, and he acknowledged that the mute but eager exchange of signals would have been fraught with danger for both of them.
The first sudden illumination had revealed too many things to distract the attention of the spectators, including Caesar's, for their proceedings to be observed. Now curiosity was to some extent satisfied, and even Diodoros felt that reserve was imperative.
Caracalla had not yet shown himself to the people. A golden screen, in which there were holes for him to look through without being seen, hid him from public gaze; still Diodoros could recognize those who were admitted to his presence. First came the givers of the entertainment; then the Parthian envoys, and some delegates from the municipal authorities of the town. Finally, Seleukus presented the wives of the magnates who had shared with him the cost of this display, and among these, all magnificently dressed, the lady Berenike shone supreme by the pride of her demeanor and the startling magnificence of her attire. As her large eyes met those of Caesar with a flash of defiance, he frowned, and remarked satirically:
"It seems to be the custom here to mourn in much splendor!"
But Berenike promptly replied:
"It has nothing to do with mourning. It is in honor of the sovereign who commanded the presence of the mourner at the Circus."
Diodoros could not see the flame of rage in, Caesar's threatening eye, nor hear his reply to the audacious matron:
"This is a misapprehension of how to do me honor, but an opportunity will occur for teaching the Alexandrians better."
Even across the amphitheatre the youth could see the sudden flush and pallor of the lady's haughty face; and immediately after, Macrinus, the praetorian prefect, approached Caracalla with the master of the games, the superintendent of the school of gladiators.
At the same time Diodoros heard his next neighbor, a member of the city senate, say:
"How quietly it is going off! My proposal that Caesar should come in to a dim light, so as to keep him and his unpopular favorites out of sight for a while, has worked capitally. Who could the mob whistle at, so long as they could not see one from another? Now they are too much delighted to be uproarious. Caesar's bride, of all others, has reason to thank me. And she reminds me of the Persian warriors who, before going into battle, bound cats to their bucklers because they knew that the Egyptian foe would not shoot at them so long as the sacred beasts were exposed to being hit by his arrows."
"What do you mean by that?" asked another, and received the brisk reply:
"The lady Euryale is the cat who protects the damsel. Out of respect for her, and for fear of hurting her, too, her companion has hitherto been spared even by those fellows up there."
And he pointed to a party of "Greens" who were laying their heads together in one of the topmost tiers. But his friend replied:
"Something besides that keeps them within bounds. The three beardless fellows just behind them belong to the city watch, who are scattered through the general mass like raisins in doughcakes."
"That is very judicious," replied the senator.
"We might otherwise have had to quit the Circus a great deal quicker than we came in. We shall hardly get home with dry garments as it is. Look how the lights up there are flaring; you can hear the lashing of the storm, and such flashes are not produced by machinery. Zeus is preparing his bolts, and if the storm bursts--"
Here his discourse was interrupted by the sound of trumpets, mingling with the roar of distant thunder following a vivid flash. The procession now began, which was the preliminary to every such performance.
The statues of the gods had, before Caesar's arrival, been placed on the pedestals erected for them to prevent any risk of a demonstration at the appearance of the deified emperors. The priests now first marched solemnly round these statues, and Timotheus poured a libation on the sand to Serapis, while the priest of Alexandria did the same to the tutelary hero of the town. Then the masters of the games, the gladiators, and beast-fighters came out, who were to make proof of their skill. As the priests approached Caesar's dais, Caracalla came forward and greeted the spectators, thus showing himself for the first time.
While he was still sitting behind the screen, he had sent for Melissa, who had obeyed the command, under the protection of Euryale, and he had spoken to her graciously. He now took no further notice of her, of her father, or her brother, and by his orders their places had been separated by some little distance from his. By the advice of Timotheus he would not let her be seen at his side till the stars had once more been consulted, and he would then conduct Melissa to the Circus as his wife- the day after to-morrow, perhaps. He thanked the matron for having escorted Melissa, and added, with a braggart air of virtue, that the world should see that he, too, could sacrifice the most ardent wish of his heart to moral propriety.
The elephant torch-bearers had greatly delighted him, and in the expectation of seeing Melissa again, and of a public recognition that he had won the fairest maid there, he had come into the Circus in the best spirits. He still wore his natural expression; yet now and then his brow was knit, for he was haunted by the eyes of Seleukus's wife. The haughty woman--"that bedizened Niobe" he had contemptuously called her in speaking to Macrinus--had appeared to him as an avenging goddess; strangely enough, every time he thought of her, he remembered, too, the consul Vindex and his nephew, whose execution Melissa's intercession had only hastened, and he was vexed now that he had not lent an ear to her entreaties. The fact that the name Vindex signified an avenger disturbed him greatly, and he could no more get it out of his mind than the image of the "Niobe" with her ominous dark eyes.
He would see her no more; and in this he was helped by the gladiators, for they now approached him, and their frantic enthusiasm kept him for some time from all other thoughts. While they flourished their weapons- some the sword and buckler, and others the not less terrible net and harpoon--the time-honored cry rose from their husky throats in eager acclamation: "Hail, Caesar! those about to die salute thee!" Then, in rows of ten men each, they crossed the arena at a rapid pace.
Between the first and second group one man swaggered past alone, as though he were something apart, and he strutted and rolled as he walked with pompous self-importance. It was his prescriptive right, and in his broad, coarse features, with a snub nose, thick lips, and white, flashing teeth like those of a beast of prey, it was easy to see that the adversary would fare but ill who should try to humble him. And yet he was not tall; but on his deep chest, his enormous square shoulders, and short, bandy legs, the muscles stood out like elastic balls, showing the connoisseur that in strength he was a giant. A loin-cloth was all he wore, for he was proud of the many scars which gleamed red and white on his fair skin. He had pushed back his little bronze helmet, so that the terrible aspect of the left side of his face might not be lost on the populace. While he was engaged in fighting three panthers and a lion, the lion had torn out his eye and with it part of his cheek. His name was Tarautas, and he was known throughout the empire as the most brutal of gladiators, for he had also earned the further privilege of never fighting but for life or death, and never under any circumstances either granting or asking quarter. Where he was engaged corpses strewed the plain.
Caesar knew that he himself had been nicknamed Tarautas after this man, and he was not ill pleased; for, above all things, he aimed at being thought strong and terrible, and this the gladiator was without a peer in his own rank of life. They knew each other: Tarautas had received many a gift from his imperial patron after hard-won victories in which his blood had flowed. And now, as the scarred veteran, who, puffed up with conceit, walked singly and apart in the long train of gladiators, cast a roving and haughty glance on the ranks of spectators, he was filled out of due time with the longing to center all eyes on himself, the one aim of his so frequently risking his life in these games. His chest swelled, he braced up the tension of his supple sinews, and as he passed the imperial seats he whirled his short sword round his head, describing a circle in the air, with such skill and such persistent rapidity, that it appeared like a disk of flashing steel. At the same time his harsh, powerful voice bellowed out, "Hail, Caesar!" sounding above the shouts of his comrades like the roar of a lion; and Caracalla, who had not yet vouchsafed a friendly word or pleasant look to any Alexandrian, waved his hand graciously again and again to this audacious monster, whose strength
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