On arriving at the mansion of Gracchus, Sempronius led Malchus to the apartment occupied by Flavia. Her face lighted with satisfaction.
“You have done well, my Sempronius,” she said; “I shall not forget your ready gratification of my wish. So this is the young Carthaginian? My friends will all envy me at having so handsome a youth to attend upon me. Do you speak our tongue?” she asked graciously.
“A few words only,” Malchus answered. “I speak Greek.”
“It is tiresome,” Flavia said, addressing Sempronius, “that I do not know that language; but Julia has been taught it. Tell him, Sempronius, that his duties will be easy. He will accompany me when I walk abroad, and will stand behind me at table, and will have charge of my pets. The young lion cub that Tiberius procured for me is getting troublesome and needs a firm hand over him; he nearly killed one of the slaves yesterday.”
Sempronius translated Flavia’s speech to Malchus.
“I shall dress him,” Flavia said, “in white and gold; he will look charming in it.”
“It is hardly the dress for a slave,” Sempronius ventured to object.
“I suppose I can dress him as I please. Lesbia, the wife of Emilius, dresses her household slaves in blue and silver, and I suppose I have as much right as she has to indulge my fancies.”
“Certainly, Lady Flavia,” Sempronius said reverentially. “I only thought that such favours shown to the Carthaginian might make the other slaves jealous.”
Flavia made no answer, but waved her fan to Sempronius in token of dismissal. The young Roman, inwardly cursing her haughty airs, took his leave at once, and Flavia handed Malchus over to the charge of the chief of the household, with strict directions as to the dress which was to be obtained for him, and with orders to give the animals into his charge.
Malchus followed the man, congratulating himself that if he must serve as a slave, at least he could hardly have found an easier situation. The pets consisted of some bright birds from the East, a Persian greyhound, several cats, a young bear, and a half grown lion. Of these the lion alone was fastened up, in consequence of his attack upon the slave on the previous day.
Malchus was fond of animals, and at once advanced boldly to the lion. The animal crouched as if for a spring, but the steady gaze of Malchus speedily changed its intention, and, advancing to the full length of its chain, it rubbed itself against him like a great cat. Malchus stroked its side, and then, going to a fountain, filled a flat vessel with water and placed it before it. The lion lapped the water eagerly. Since its assault upon the slave who usually attended to it, none of the others had ventured to approach it. They had, indeed, thrown it food, but had neglected to supply it with water.
“We shall get on well together, old fellow,” Malchus said. “We are both African captives, and ought to be friends.”