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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 1. - 2/11 -
It was in fact Hadrian, the Roman Emperor, who walked on in silence before his escort, and it seemed as though his advent had given life to the desert, for as he approached the reed-swamp, the kites flew up in the air, and from behind a sand-hill on the edge of the broader road which Hadrian had avoided, came two men in priestly robes. They both belonged to the temple of Baal of Kariotis, a small structure of solid stone, which faced the sea, and which the Emperor had yesterday visited.
"Do you think he has lost his way?" said one to the other, in the Phoenician tongue.
"Hardly," was the answer. "Master said that he could always find a road again by which he had once gone, even in the dark."
"And yet he is gazing more at the clouds than at the road."
"Still, he promised us yesterday."
"He promised nothing for certain," interrupted the other.
"Indeed he did; at parting he called out--and I heard him distinctly: 'Perhaps I shall return and consult your oracle.'"
"I think he said 'probably.'"
"Who knows whether some sign he has seen up in the sky may not have turned him back; he is going to the camp by the sea."
"But the banquet is standing ready for him in our great hall."
"He will find what he needs down there. Come, it is a wretched morning, and I am being frozen."
"Wait a little longer-look there."
"He does not even wear a hat to cover his grey hair."
"He has never yet been seen to travel with anything on his head."
"And his grey cloak is not very imperial looking."
"He always wears the purple at a banquet."
"Do you know who his walk and appearance remind me of?"
"Of our late high-priest, Abibaal; he used to walk in that ponderous, meditative way, and wear a beard like the Emperor's."
"Yes, yes--and had the same piercing grey eye."
"He too used often to gaze up at the sky. They have both the same broad forehead, too; but Abibaal's nose was more aquiline, and his hair curled less closely."
"And our governor's mouth was grave and dignified, while Hadrian's lips twitch and curl at all he says and hears, as if he were laughing at it all."
"Look, he is speaking now to his favorite--Antonius I think they call the pretty boy."
"Antinous, not Antonius. He picked him up in Bithynia, they say."
"He is a beautiful youth."
"Incomparably beautiful! What a figure and what a face! Still, I cannot wish that he were my son."
"The Emperor's favorite!"
"For that very reason. Why, he looks already as if he had tried every pleasure, and could never know any farther enjoyment."
On a little level close to the sea-shore, and sheltered by crumbling cliffs from the east wind, stood a number of tents. Between them fires were burning, round which were gathered groups of Roman soldiers and imperial servants. Half-naked boys, the children of the fishermen and camel-drivers who dwelt in this wilderness, were running busily hither and thither, feeding the flames with dry stems of sea-grass and dead desert-shrubs; but though the blaze flew high, the smoke did not rise; but driven here and there by the squalls of wind, swirled about close to the ground in little clouds, like a flock of scattered sheep. It seemed as though it feared to rise in the grey, damp, uninviting atmosphere. The largest of the tents, in front of which Roman sentinels paced up and down, two and two, on guard, was wide open on the side towards the sea. The slaves who came out of the broad door-way with trays on their cropped heads-loaded with gold and silver vessels, plates, wine-jars, goblets, and the remains of a meal had to hold them tightly with both hands that they might not be blown over.
The inside of the tent was absolutely unadorned. The Emperor lay on a couch near the right wall, which was blown in and bulged by the wind; his bloodless lips were tightly set, his arms crossed over his breast, and his eyes half closed. But he was not asleep, for he often opened his mouth and smacked his lips, as if tasting the flavor of some viand. From time to time he raised his eyelids--long, finely wrinkled, and blue- veined--turning his eyes up to heaven or rolling them to one side and then downwards towards the middle of the tent. There, on the skin of a huge bear trimmed with blue cloth, lay Hadrian's favorite Antinous. His beautiful head rested on that of the beast, which had been slain by his sovereign, and its skull and skin skilfully preserved, his right leg, supported on his left knee, he flourished freely in the air, and his hands were caressing the Emperor's bloodhound, which had laid its sage- looking head on the boy's broad, bare breast, and now and then tried to lick his soft lips to show its affection. But this the youth would not allow; he playfully held the beast's muzzle close with his hands or wrapped its head in the end of his mantle, which had slipped back from his shoulders.
The dog seemed to enjoy the game, but once when Antinous had drawn the cloak more tightly round its head and it strove in vain to be free from the cloth that impeded its breathing, it set up a loud howl, and this doleful cry made the Emperor change his attitude and cast a glance of displeasure at the boy lying on the bear-skin, but only a glance, not a word of blame. And soon the expression, even of his eyes, changed, and he fixed them on the lads's figure with a gaze of loving contemplation, as though it were some noble work of art that he could never tire of admiring. And truly the Immortals had moulded this child of man to such a type; every muscle of that throat, that chest, those arms and legs was a marvel of softness and of power; no human countenance could be more regularly chiselled. Antinous observing that his master's attention had been attracted to his play with the dog, let the animal go and turned his large, but not very brilliant, eyes on the Emperor.
"What are you doing here?" asked Hadrian kindly.
"Nothing," said the boy.
"No one can do nothing. Even if we fancy we have succeeded in doing nothing we still continue to think that we are unoccupied, and to think is a good deal."
"But I cannot even think."
Every one can think; besides you were not doing nothing, for you were playing."
"Yes, with the dog." With these words Antinous stretched out his legs on the ground, pushed away the dog, and raised his curly head on both hands.
"Are you tired?" asked the Emperor.
"We both kept watch for an equal portion of the night, and I, who am so much older, feel quite wide awake."
"It was only yesterday that you were saying that old soldiers were the best for night-watches."
The Emperor nodded, and then said:
"At your age while we are awake we live three times as fast as at mine, and so we need to sleep twice as long. You have every right to be tired. To be sure it was not till three hours after midnight that we climbed the mountain, and how often a supper party is not over before that."
"It was very cold and uncomfortable up there."
"Not till after the sun had risen."
"Ah! before that you did not notice it, for till then you were busy thinking of the stars."
"And you only of yourself--very true."
"I was thinking of your health too when that cold wind rose before Helios appeared."
"I was obliged to await his rising."
"And can you discern future events by the way and manner of the rising of the sun?"
Hadrian looked in surprise at the speaker, shook his head in negation, looked up at the top of the tent, and after a long pause said, in abrupt sentences, with frequent interruptions:
"Day is the present merely, and the future is evolved out of darkness; the corn grows from the clods of the field; the rain falls from the darkest clouds; a new generation is born of the mother's womb; the limbs recover their vigor in sleep. And what is begotten of the darkness of death--who can tell?"
When, after saying this, the Emperor had remained for some time silent, the youth asked him:
"But if the sunrise teaches you nothing concerning the future why should you so often break your night's rest and climb the mountain to see it?"
"Why? Why?" repeated Hadrian, slowly and meditatively, stroking his
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