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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 1. - 5/11 -
council with him and the architect as to what could be done in the course of a few days to make the dilapidated residence habitable for Hadrian, and to repair, at any rate, the more conspicuous damage. He then desired the steward to lead him through the rooms.
"Directly--at once," answered the Greek, who had attained his present ponderous dimensions through many years of rest: "I will hasten to fetch the keys." And as he went, puffing and panting, he re-arranged with his short, fat fingers the still abundant hair on the right side of his head. Pontius looked after him.
"Call him back, Titianus," said he. "We disturbed him in the midst of curling his hair; only one side was done when the lictor called him away, and I will wager my own head that he will have the other side frizzled before he comes back. I know your true Greek!"
"Well, let him," answered Titianus. "If you have taken his measure rightly he will not be able to give his attention without reserve to our questions till the other half of his hair is curled. I know, too, how to deal with a Hellene."
"Better than I, I perceive," said the architect in a tone of conviction. "A statesman is used to deal with men as we do with lifeless materials. Did you see the fat fellow turn pale when you said that it would be but a few days before the Emperor would make his entry here? Things must look well in the old house there. Every hour is precious, and we have lingered here too long."
The prefect nodded agreement and followed the architect into the inner court of the palace. How grand and well-proportioned was the plan of this immense building through which the steward Keraunus, who returned with his fine curls complete all round, now led the Romans. It stood on an artificial hill in the midst of the peninsula of Lochias, and from many a window and many a balcony there were lovely prospects of the streets and open squares, the houses, palaces and public buildings of the metropolis, and of the harbor, swarming with ships. The outlook from Lochias was rich, gay and varied to the south and west, but east and north from the platform of the palace of the Ptolemies, the gaze fell on the never-wearying prospect of the eternal sea, limited only by the vault of heaven. When Hadrian had sent a special messenger from Mount Kasius to desire his prefect Titianus to have this particular building prepared for his reception, he knew full well what advantages its position offered; it was the part of his officials to restore order in the interior of the palace, which had remained uninhabited from the time of Cleopatra's downfall. He gave them for the purpose eight, or perhaps nine, days--little more than a week. And in what a condition did Titianus and Pontius find this now dilapidated and plundered scene of former magnificence--the sweat pouring from their foreheads with their exertions as they inspected and sketched, questioned and made notes of it all.
The pillars and steps in the interior were tolerably well preserved, but the rain had poured in through the open roofs of the banqueting and reception-lulls, the fine mosaic pavements had started here and there, and in other places a perfect little meadow had grown in the midst of a hall, or an arcade; for Octavianus Augustus, Tiberius, Vespasian, Titus and a whole series of prefects, had already carefully removed the finest of the mosaics from the famous palace of the Ptolemies, and carried them to Rome or to the provinces, to decorate their town houses or country villas. In the same way the best of the statues were gone, with which a few centuries previously the art-loving Lagides had decorated this residence--besides which they had another, still larger, on the Bruchiom.
In the midst of a vast marbled hall stood an elegantly-wrought fountain, connected with the fine aqueduct of the city. A draught of air rushed through this hall, and in stormy weather switched the water all over the floor, now robbed of its mosaics, and covered, wherever the foot could tread, with a thin, dark green, damp and slippery coating of mossy plants and slime. It was here that Keraunus leaned breathless against the wall, and, wiping his brow, panted rather than said: "At last, this is the end!"
The words sounded as if he meant his own end and not that of their excursion through the palace, and it seemed like a mockery of the man himself when Pontius unhesitatingly replied with decision:
"Good, then we can begin our re-examination here, at once."
Keraunus did not contradict him, but, as he remembered the number of stairs to be climbed over again, he looked as if sentence of death had been passed upon him.
"Is it necessary that I should remain with you during the rest of your labors, which must be principally directed to details?" asked the prefect of the architect.
"No," answered Pontius, "provided you will take the trouble to look at once at my plan, so as to inform yourself on the whole of what I propose, and to give me full powers to dispose of men and means in each case as it arises."
"That is granted," said Titianus. "I know that Pontius will not demand a man or a sesterce more or less than is needed for the purpose."
The architect bowed in silence and Titianus went on.
"But above all things, do you think you can accomplish your task in eight days and nine nights?"
"Possibly, at a pinch; and if I could only have four days more at my disposal, most probably."
"Then all that is needed is to delay Hadrian's arrival by four days and nights."
"Send some interesting people--say the astronomer Ptolemaeus, and Favorinus, the sophist, who await him here--to meet him at Pelusium. They will find some way of detaining him there."
"Not a bad idea! We will see. But who can reckon on the Empress's moods? At any rate, consider that you have only eight days to dispose of."
"Where do you hope to be able to lodge Hadrian?"
"Well, a very small portion of the old building is, strictly speaking, fit to use."
"Of that, I regret to say, I have fully convinced myself," said the prefect emphatically, and turning to the steward, he went on in a tone less of stern reproof than of regret.
"It seems to me, Keraunus, that it would have been your duty to inform me earlier of the ruinous condition of the building."
"I have already lodged a complaint," replied the man, "but I was told in answer to my report that there were no means to apply to the purpose."
"I know nothing of these things," cried Titianus.
"When did you forward your petition to the prefect's office?"
"Under your predecessor, Haterius Nepos."
"Indeed," said the prefect with a drawl.
"So long ago. Then, in your place, I should have repeated my application every year, without any reference to the appointment of a new prefect. However, we have now no time for talking. During the Emperor's residence here, I shall very likely send one of my subordinates to assist you!"
Titianus turned his back on the steward, and asked the architect:
"Well, my good Pontius, what part of the palace have you your eye upon?"
"The inner halls and rooms are in the best repair."
"But they are the last that can be thought of," cried Titianus. "The Emperor is satisfied with everything in camp, but where fresh air and a distant prospect are to be had, he must have them."
"Then let us choose the western suite; hold the plan my worthy friend."
The steward slid as he was desired, the architect took his pencil and made a vigorous line in the air above the left side of the sketch, saying:
"This is the west front of the palace which you see from the harbor. From the south you first come into the lofty peristyle, which may be used as an antechamber; it is surrounded with rooms for the slaves and body- guard. The next smaller sitting-rooms by the side of the main corridor we may assign to the officers and scribes, in this spacious hypaethral hall--the one with the Muses--Hadrian may give audience and the guests may assemble there whom he may admit to eat at his table in this broad peristyle. The smaller and well-preserved rooms, along this long passage leading to the steward's house, will do for the pages, secretaries and other attendants on Caesar's person, and this long saloon, lined with fine porphyry and green marble, and adorned with the beautiful frieze in bronze will, I fancy, please Hadrian as a study and private sitting-room."
"Admirable!" cried Titianus, "I should like to show your plan to the Empress."
"In that case, instead of eight days I must have as many weeks," said Pontius coolly.
"That is true," answered the prefect laughing. "But tell me, Keraunus, how comes it that the doors are wanting to all the best rooms?"
"They were of fine thyra wood, and they were wanted in Rome."
"I must have seen one or another of them there," muttered the prefect.
"Your cabinet-workers will have a busy time, Pontius."
"Nay, the hanging-makers may be glad; wherever we can we will close the door-ways with heavy curtains."
"And what will you do with this damp abode of fogs, which, if I mistake not, must adjoin the dining-hall?"
"We will turn it into a garden filled with ornamental foliage."
"That is quite admissable--and the broken statues?"
"We will get rid of the worst."
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