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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 1. - 6/11 -
The Apollo and the nine Muses stand in the room you intend for an audience-hall--do they not?"
"They are in fairly good condition, I think."
"Urania is wanting entirely," said the steward, who was still holding the plan out in front of him.
"And what became of her?" asked Titianus, not without excitement.
"Your predecessor, the prefect Haterius Nepos, took a particular fancy to it and carried it with him to Rome."
"Why Urania of all others?" cried Titianus angrily. She, above all, ought not to be missing from the hall of audience of Caesar the pontiff of heaven! What is to be done?"
"It will be difficult to find an Urania ready-made as tall as her sisters, and we have no time to search one out, a new one must be made."
"In eight days?"
"And eight nights."
"But my good friend, only to get the marble--"
"Who thinks of marble? Papias will make us one of straw, rags and gypsum--I know his magic hand--and in order that the others may not be too unlike their new-born sister they shall be whitewashed."
"Capital--but why choose Papias when we have Harmodius?"
"Harmodius takes art in earnest, and we should have the Emperor here before he had completed his sketches. Papias works with thirty assistants at anything that is ordered of him, so long as it brings him money. His last things certainly amaze me, particularly the Hygyeia for Dositheus the Jew, and the bust of Plutarch put up in the Caesareum. they are full of grace and power. But who can distinguish what is his work and what that of his scholars? Enough, he knows how things should be done; and if a good sum is to be got by it he will hew you out a whole sea-fight in marble in five days."
"Then give Papias the commission but the hapless mutilated pavements- what will you do with them?"
"Gypsum and paint must mend them," said Pontius, "and where that will not do, we must lay carpets on the floor in the Eastern fashion. Merciful night! how dark it is growing; give me the plan Keraunus and provide us with torches and lamps for to-day, and the next following ones must have twenty-four hours apiece, full measure. I must ask you for half a dozen trustworthy slaves Titianus; I shall want them for messengers. What are you standing there for man? Lights, I said. You have had half a lifetime to rest in, and when Caesar is gone you will have as many more years for the same laudable purpose--"
As he spoke the steward had silently gone off, but the architect did not spare him the end of the sentence; he shouted after him:
"Unless by that time you are smothered in your own fat. Is it Nile-mud or blood that runs in that huge mortal's veins?"
"I am sure I do not care," said the prefect, "so long as the glorious fire that flows in yours only holds out till the work is done. Do not allow yourself to be overworked at first, nor require the impossible of your strength, for Rome and the world still expect great things of you. I can now write in perfect security to the Emperor that all will be ready for him in Lochias, and as a farewell speech, I can only say, it is folly to be discouraged if only Pontius is at hand to support and assist me."
The prefect ordered the lictors, who were awaiting him with his chariot, to hasten to his house, and to conduct to Pontius several most worthy slaves, familiar with Alexandria--some of whom he named--and at the same time to send the architect a good couch with pillows and coverlets, and to despatch a good meal and fine wine to the old palace at Lochias. Then he mounted his chariot and drove through the Bruchiom along the shore to the great edifice known as the Caesareum. He got on but slowly, for the nearer he approached his destination the denser was the crowd of inquisitive citizens, who stood closely packed round the vast circumference of the building. Quite from a distance the prefect could see a bright light; it rose to heaven from the large pans of pitch which were placed on the towers on each side of the tall gate of the Caesareum which faced the sea. To the right and left of this gate stood a tall obelisk, and on each of these, men were lighting lamps which had been attached to the sides and placed on the top, on the previous day.
"In honor of Sabina," said the prefect to himself. "All that this Pontius does is thoroughly done, and there is no more complete sinecure than the supervision of his arrangements."
Fully persuaded of this he did not think it necessary to go up to the illuminated door-way which led into the temple erected by Octavian in honor of Julius Caesar; on the contrary, he directed the charioteer to stop at a door built in the Egyptian style, which faced the garden of the palace of the Ptolemies, and which led to the imperial residence that had been built by the Alexandrians for Tiberius, and had been greatly extended and beautified under the later Caesars. A sacred grove divided it from the temple of Caesar, with which it communicated by a covered colonnade. Before this door there were several chariots and horses, and a whole host of slaves, black and white, were in attendance with their masters' litters. Here lictors kept back the sight-seeking crowd, officers were lounging against the pillars, and the Roman guard were just assembling with a clatter of arms, to the sound of a trumpet within the door, to await their dismissal.
Everything gave way respectfully before the chariot of the prefect, and as Titianus walked through the illuminated arcades of the Caesareum, passing by the masterpieces of statuary placed there, and the rows of pictures--and reached the halls in which the library of the palace was kept, he could not help thinking of all the care and trouble which with the assistance of Pontius, he had for months devoted to rendering this palace which had not been used since Titus had set out for Judaea, fit quarters for Hadrian's reception. The Empress now lived in the rooms intended for her husband, and decorated with the choicest works of art, and Titianus reflected with regret that, after Sabina had once become aware of their presence there, it would be quite impossible to transfer them to Lochias. At the door of the splendid room which he had intended for Hadrian he was met by Sabina's chamberlain who undertook to conduct him at once into the presence of his mistress.
The roof of the hall in which the prefect found the Empress, in summer was open to the sky; but at this season was suitably covered in by a movable copper roof, partly to keep off the rain of the Alexandrian winter, and partly too because, even in the warmer season Sabina was wont to complain of cold; but beneath it a wide opening allowed the air free entrance and exit. As Titianus entered the room a comfortable warmth and subtle perfume met his senses; the warmth was produced by stoves of a peculiar form standing in the middle of the room; one of these represented Vulcan's forge. Brightly glowing charcoal lay in front of the bellows which were worked by an automaton, at short regular intervals, while the god and his assistants modelled in brass, stood round the genial fire with tongs and hammers. The other stove was a large silver bird's-nest, in which likewise charcoal was burning. Above the glowing fuel a phoenix, also in brass, and in the likeness of an eagle, seemed striving to soar heavenwards. Besides these a number of lamps lighted the saloon, which in truth looked too large for the number of people assembled in it, and which was lavishly furnished with gracefully-formed seats, couches, and tables, vases of flowers and statues.
The prefect and Pontius had intended a quite different room to serve for smaller assemblies, and had fitted it up suitably for the purpose, but the Empress had preferred the great hall to the smaller room. The venerable and nobly-born statesman was filled with vexation, nay, with an embarrassment that made him feel estranged, when he had to glance round the room to find the persons in it, collected, as they were, into small knots. He could hear nothing but hushed voices; here an unintelligible murmur and there a suppressed laugh, but from no one a frank speech or full utterance. For a moment he felt as if he had found admittance to the abode of whispering calumny, and yet he knew why here no one dared to speak out or above a murmur. Loud voices hurt the Empress, and a clear voice was a misery to her, and yet few men possessed so loud and penetrating a chest voice as her husband, who was not wont to lay restraint upon himself for any human being, not even for his wife.
Sabina sat on a large divan, more like a couch than a chair; her feet were buried in the shaggy fell of a buffalo, and her knees and ankles wrapped round with down-cushions covered with silk. Her head she held very upright, and it was difficult to imagine how her slender throat could support it, loaded as it was with strings of pearls and precious stones which were braided in the tall structure of her reddish-gold hair, that was arranged in long cylindrical curls pinned closely side by side. The Empress's thin face looked particularly small under the mass of natural and artificial adornment which towered above her brow. Beautiful she could never have been, even in her youth, but her features were regular, and the prefect confessed to himself as he looked at Sabina's face, marked as it was with minute wrinkles and touched up with red and white, that the sculptor who a few years previously had been commissioned to represent her as 'Venus Victrix' might very well have given the goddess a certain amount of resemblance to the imperial model. If only her eyes, which were absolutely bereft of lashes, had not been quite so small and keen--in spite of the dark lines painted round them--and if only the sinews in her throat had not stood out quite so conspicuously from the flesh which formerly had covered them!
With a deep bow Titianus took the Empress's right hand, covered with rings; but she withdrew it quickly from that of her husband's friend and relative, as if she feared that the carefully-cherished limb--useless as it was for any practical purpose, a mere toy among hands--might suffer some injury, and wrapped it and her arm in her upper-robe. But she returned the prefect's friendly greeting with all the warmth at her command. Though formerly at Rome she had been accustomed to see Titianus every day at her house, this was their first meeting in Alexandria; for the previous day, exhausted by the sufferings of her sea-voyage, she had been carried in a closed litter to the Caesareum, and this morning she had declined to receive his visit, as her whole time was given up to her physicians, bathing-women, and coiffeurs.
"How can you survive in this country?" she said in a low but harsh voice, which always made the hearer feel that it was that of a dull, fractious, childless woman. "At noon the sun burns you up, and in the evening it is so cold--so intolerably cold!' As she spoke she drew her robe closer round her, but Titianus, pointing to the stoves in the middle of the hall, said:
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