“I am so small here in the presence of this great king,” said he, as they turned to him. “Were my head as high as the ceiling I am sure I should not be seen.”
“What long, good father?” said Arria, bowing low.
“Love! ’Tis better, I have heard, to be ruler of one than of many. You give him kisses, little tyrant, and me not a glance.”
He looked down, smiling at the pretty maiden.
“Because ’tis he I love,” said she, her cheeks red with blushes, her eyes upon her sandals. “You—you have been cruel.”
“I am sadly out of favor,” said Augustus, playfully, stepping to the floor. “If the great king dared, I am sure he would cut off my head, now. Let him not condemn me without trial. Remember the law of Rome.”
“You are sending my love away.” Her voice trembled as she spoke.
“And happy are you, sweet girl, to have so much to give to your country.”
There was a moment of silence. Then said the emperor: “Be merry. ’Tis not for long.”
“’Tis a thousand years!” said she, sadly.
He was fond of the young, and her frank innocence appealed to all best in the heart of the old emperor. He turned to greet the Lady Lucia.
“Come with me, son of Varro,” said Arria, taking the arm of her lover and leading him away. “It will soon be to-morrow.”
“And I am acquitted?” So spoke the emperor.
“You are condemned to the company of my mother,” said Arria, quickly.
She wore a tunic of the color of violets, with not a jewel. Now she led her lover to a heap of yellow cushions in the triclinium.
“Dear Vergilius,” said she, turning to him with a serious look as they sat down; “tell me again—say to me again how you love me.” She held his hand against her cheek and her eyes looked into his.
“Oh, my beloved! I have thought of naught else since I saw you. I have heard your pretty feet and the rustle of your tunic in my dreams; I have felt the touch of your hands; every moment I have seen your face—now glowing with happiness, now white and lovely with sorrow. And, dear, I love its sorrow—I confess to you that I love its sorrow better than its happiness. I saw in your sad eyes, then, a thing dearer than their beauty. It told me that you felt as I feel—that you would live and, if need be, die for the love of me.”
The girl listened thoughtfully, and moved close to her lover; he took her in his arms. She had dreamed of many things to say, but now she only whispered to him, her lips against his ear, the simple message: “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Then: “But I forgot,” said she, pushing him away, a note of fear in her voice. She straightened the folds of her tunic, and drew the transparent silk close to her full, white bosom. It was all unconscious as the trick of a wooing bird.
“And what did you forget?” he inquired.