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قراءة كتاب Continental Monthly , Vol. 6, No. 1, July, 1864 Devoted to Literature and National Policy.

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‏اللغة: English
Continental Monthly , Vol. 6,  No. 1, July, 1864
Devoted to Literature and National Policy.

Continental Monthly , Vol. 6, No. 1, July, 1864 Devoted to Literature and National Policy.

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 9

possible price. She would never mind, and there were many comforts which he needed, and which an extra gold piece or two would enable him to procure for himself.

Then, as he weighed the purse and pondered over it, numerous wants and requirements, which he had hardly known until that time, came into his mind. He might supply them all, if he were not too timid or scrupulous in availing himself of an opportunity such as might never come to him again. Had even his first valuation of the slave been a sufficient one? He ought certainly to consider that the man could read and write, and was of such beauty and grace that he could be trained to a most courtly air; and it was hardly proper to sell him for no more than the price of a couple of gladiators, mere creatures of bone and brawn. And, in any event, it was hardly probable that Ænone knew the true value of slaves, or even remembered how much her purse had contained.

Thus meanly reflecting, the centurion dropped more of the gold pieces into his pocket, all the while eying the slave with keen scrutiny, as though calculating the market value of every hair upon his head. Then, with a sigh, he handed back the purse, most wofully lightened of its contents, and turned from the room, endeavoring to compose his features into a decent appearance of sober indifference, and muttering that he would not have allowed himself to be betrayed into giving up such a prize so cheaply had it not been that he had an especial regard for the imperator Sergius Vanno, and that the house of Porthenus had never nourished mere traders to wrangle and chaffer over their property.

In one of his conjectures he had been correct. It was little that Ænone knew or cared about the price she was paying. Had the purse been returned to her entirely empty, she would have thrown it unheedingly into the drawer, and have never dreamed but that all had been rightly done. There was now but one idea filling her heart. She thought not about money nor any imprudence which she was committing, nor yet upon the chance of recognition. She only reflected that the day of her triumph had come—that at the sight of the long-absent lover, Leta would abandon the wrong path in which she had been straying, would throw herself into his arms, would tell him how, through the loss of him, she had become reckless, and had allowed her suffering mind to become perverted from the right—but that now all was again well; and thus confessing and being forgiven, would, in the ever-present joy of that forgiveness, lead for the future a different life, and, instead of a rival, become to her mistress a friend and ally.

Glowing with this bright hope, Ænone scarcely noticed the shuffling departure of the centurion, but, fixing her eyes upon the captive, keenly scrutinized his appearance. Not that it was likely that Leta, in the first flush of her joy at meeting him, would notice or care in what guise he was presented, so long as the soul which had so often responded to her own was there. But it was well that there should be nothing neglected which, without being directly essential to the production of a proper impression, might be tributary to it.

The inspection was satisfactory. Not only was the dress of the captive clean, neat, becoming, and suitable to his station, but his appearance had undergone visible improvement since Ænone had last seen him. The rest and partial composure of even the few intervening days had sufficed to restore tone to his complexion, roundness to his cheeks, and something of the old merry smile to his eyes. And though complete restoration was not yet effected, enough had been accomplished to show that there was much latent beauty which would not fail to develop itself under the stimulant of additional rest and kindly treatment.

'Go in, thither,' said Ænone, pointing to the adjoining room, in which Leta was occupied. 'When you are there, you will—it will be told you what you are to do.'

Cleotos bowed low, and passed through into the other room; and Ænone followed him with a glance which betrayed the longing she felt to enter with him and witness the meeting of the two lovers. But a sense of propriety outweighed her curiosity and restrained her. It was not right, indeed, that she should intrude. Such recognitions should be sacred to the persons directly interested in them. She would therefore remain outside, and there await Cleotos's return. And as she took into her hands a little parchment ode which lay upon her table, and nervously endeavored to interest herself in it, she delightedly pictured the sudden transport of those within the next room, and the beaming joy with which, hand in hand, they would finally emerge to thank her for their newly gained happiness.

In the mean time, Leta, having delivered her message, and received her rebuke for the interruption, had retired to the other room, and there, as usual, resumed her daily task of embroidery. Bending low over the intricate stitches and counting their spaces, her features, at a casual glance, still bore their impress of meek and unconscious humility, so far did her accustomed self-control seem to accompany her even when alone. But a more attentive scrutiny would have detected, half hidden beneath the fringed eyelids, a sparkle of gratified triumph, and, in the slightly bent corners of the mouth, a shade of haughty disdain; and little by little, as the moments progressed, these indications of an inner, irrepressible nature gained in intensity, and, as though her fingers were stayed by a tumult of thought, her work slowly began to slip from her grasp.

At length, lifting her head, and, perhaps, for the first time realizing that she was alone and might indulge her impulses without restraint, she abruptly threw from her the folds of the embroidery, and stood erect. Why should she longer trifle with that weak affair of velvet and dyes? Who was the poor, inanimate, and tearful statue in the next room, to order her to complete those tasks? What to herself were the past deeds of the Vanni, that they should be perpetuated in ill-fashioned tapestry, to be hung around a gilded banquet hall? By the gods! she would from that day make a new history in the family life; and it should be recorded, not with silken threads upon embroidered velvet, but should be engraved deeply and ineffaceably upon human hearts!

Standing motionless in the centre of the room, with one foot upon the half-completed tapestry, she now for the first time, and in a flash of inspiration, gave shape and comeliness to her previously confusedly arranged ideas. Until the present moment she had had but little thought of accomplishing anything beyond skilfully availing herself of her natural attractions so as to climb from her menial position into something a little better and higher. If, in the struggle to raise herself from the degradation of slavery, she were obliged to engage in a rivalry with her mistress, and, by robbing her of the affection naturally belonging to her, were to crush her to the earth, it was a thing to be deplored, but it must none the less be done. She might, perhaps, pity the victim, but the sacrifice must be accomplished all the same.

But now these vague dreams of a somewhat better lot, to be determined by future chance circumstances, rolled away like a shapeless cloud, and left in their place one bright image as the settled object of her ambition. So lofty, so dazzling seemed the prize, that another person would have shrunk in dismay from even the thought of striving for it, and even she, for the moment, recoiled. But she was of too determined a nature to falter long. The higher the object to be attained the fewer would be the competitors, and the greater the chance of success to unwearying determination. And if there were but one chance of success in a thousand, it were still worth the struggle.

This great thought which stimulated her ambition was nothing less than the resolution to become the wife