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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 1. - 3/11 -
grizzled beard; then he went on as if speaking to himself:
"That is a question which reason fails to answer, before which my lips find no words; and, if I had them at my command, who among the rabble would understand me? Such questions can best be answered by means of parables. Those who take part in life are actors, and the world is their stage. He who wants to look tall on it wears the cothurnus, and is not a mountain the highest vantage ground that a man can find for the sole of his foot? Kasius there is but a hill, but I have stood on greater giants than he, and seen the clouds rise below me, like Jupiter on Olympus."
"But you need climb no mountains to feel yourself a god," cried Antinous; "the godlike is your title--you command and the world must obey. With a mountain beneath his feet a man is nearer to heaven no doubt than he is on the plain."
"I dare not say what came into my mind."
"I knew a little girl who when I took her on my shoulder would stretch out her arms and exclaim, 'I am so tall!' She fancied that she was taller than I then, and yet was only little Panthea."
"But in her own conception of herself, it was she who was tall, and that decides the issue, for to each of us a thing is only that which it seems to us. It is true they call me godlike, but I feel every day, and a hundred times a day, the limitations of the power and nature of man, and I cannot get beyond them. On the top of a mountain I cease to feel them; there I feel as if I were great, for nothing is higher than my head, far or near. And when, as I stand there, the night vanishes before my eyes, when the splendor of the young sun brings the world into new life for me, by restoring to my consciousness all that just before had been engulfed in gloom, then a deeper breath swells my breast, and my lungs fill with the purer and lighter air of the heights. Up there, alone and in silence, no hint can reach me of the turmoil below, and I feel myself one with the great aspect of nature spread before me. The surges of the sea come and go, the tree-tops in the forest bow and rise, fog and mist roll away and part asunder hither and thither, and up there I feel myself so merged with the creation that surrounds me that often it even seems as though it were my own breath that gives it life. Like the storks and the swallows, I yearn for the distant land, and where should the human eye be more likely to be permitted, at least in fancy, to discern the remote goal than from the summit of a mountain?
"The limitless distance which the spirit craves for seems there to assume a form tangible to the senses, and the eye detects its border line. My whole being feels not merely elevated, but expanded, and that vague longing which comes over me as soon as I mix once more in the turmoil of life, and when the cares of state demand my strength, vanishes. But you cannot understand it, boy. These are things which no other mortal can share with me."
"And it is only to me that you do not scorn to reveal them!" cried Antinous, who had turned round to face the Emperor, and who with wide eyes had not lost one word.
"You?" said Hadrian, and a smile, not absolutely free from mockery, parted his lips. "From you I should no more have a secret than from the Cupid by Praxiteles, in my study at Rome."
The blood mounted to the lad's cheeks and dyed them flaming crimson. The Emperor observed this and said kindly:
"You are more to me than the statue, for the marble cannot blush. In the time of the Athenians Beauty governed life, but in you I can see that the gods are pleased to give it a bodily existence, even in our own days, and to look at you reconciles me to the discords of existence. It does me good. But how should I expect to find that you understand me; your brow was never made to be furrowed by thought; or did you really understand one word of all I said?"
Antinous propped himself on his left arm, and lifting his right hand, he said emphatically:
"And which," asked Hadrian.
"I know what longing is."
"For many things."
"Tell me one."
"Some enjoyment that is not followed by depression. I do not know of one."
"That is a desire you share with all the youth of Rome, only they are apt to postpone the reaction. Well, and what next?"
"I cannot tell you."
"What prevents your speaking openly to me?"
"You, yourself did."
"Yes, you; for you forbid me to speak of my home, my mother, and my people."
The Emperor's brow darkened, and he answered sternly:
"I am your father and your whole soul should be given to me."
"It is all yours," answered the youth, falling back on to the bear-skin, and drawing the pallima closely over his shoulders, for a gust blew coldly in at the side of the tent, through which Phlegon, the Emperor's private secretary, now entered and approached his master. He was followed by a slave with several sealed rolls under his arms.
"Will it be agreeable to you, Caesar, to consider the despatches and letters that have just arrived?" asked the official, whose carefully- arranged hair had been tossed by the sea-breeze.
"Yes, and then we can make a note of what I was able to observe in the heavens last night. Have you the tablets ready?"
"I left them in the tent set up especially for the work, Caesar."
"The storm has become very violent."
"It seems to blow from the north and east both at once, and the sea is very rough. The Empress will have a bad voyage."
"When did she set out?"
"The anchor was weighed towards midnight. The vessel which is to fetch her to Alexandria is a fine ship, but rolls from side to side in a very unpleasant manner."
Hadrian laughed loudly and sharply at this, and said:
"That will turn her heart and her stomach upside down. I wish I were there to see--but no, by all the gods, no! for she will certainly forget to paint this morning; and who will construct that edifice of hair if all her ladies share her fate. We will stay here to-day, for if I meet her soon after she has reached Alexandria she will be undiluted gall and vinegar."
With these words Hadrian rose from his couch, and waving his hand to Antinous, went out of the tent with his secretary.
A third person standing at the back of the tent had heard the Emperor's conversation with his favorite; this was Mastor, a Sarmatian of the race of the Taryges. He was a slave, and no more worthy of heed than the dog which had followed Hadrian, or than the pillows on which the Emperor had been reclining. The man, who was handsome and well grown, stood for some time twisting the ends of his long red moustache, and stroking his round, closely-cropped head with his bands; then he drew the open chiton together over his broad breast, which seemed to gleam from the remarkable whiteness of the skin. He never took his eyes off Antinous, who had turned over, and covering his face with his hands had buried them in the bear's hairy mane.
Mastor had something he wanted to say to him, but he dared not address him for the young favorite's demeanor could not be reckoned on. Often he was ready to listen to him and talk with him as a friend, but often, too, he repulsed him more sharply than the haughtiest upstart would repel the meanest of his servants. At last the slave took courage and called the lad by his name, for it seemed less hard to submit to a scolding than to smother the utterance of a strong, warm feeling, unimportant as it might be, which was formed in words in his mind. Antinous raised his head a little on his hands and asked:
"What is it?"
"I only wanted to tell you," replied the Sarmatian, "that I know who the little girl was that you so often took upon your shoulders. It was your little sister, was it not, of whom you were speaking to me lately?"
The lad nodded assent, and then once more buried his head in his hands, and his shoulders heaved so violently that it would seem that he was weeping.--Mastor remained silent for a few minutes, then he went up to Antinous and said:
"You know I have a son and a little daughter at home, and I am always glad to hear about little girls. We are alone and if it will relieve your heart."
"Let me alone, I have told you a dozen times already about my mother and little Parthea," replied Antinous, trying to look composed.
"Then do so confidently for the thirteenth," said the slave. "In the camp and in the kitchen I can talk about my people as much as I like. But you--tell me, what do you call the little dog that Panthea made a scarlet cloak for?"
"We called it Kallista," cried Antinous wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "My father would not allow it but we persuaded my mother. I was her favorite, and when I put my arms round her and looked at her imploringly she always said 'yes' to anything I asked her."
A bright light shone in the boy's weary eyes; he had remembered a whole wealth of joys which left no depression behind them.
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