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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 2. - 12/12 -


could not utter a word, for his heart thumped violently; but presently be so far controlled himself as to be able to answer. This time at any rate, he was determined to seize Fortune by the forelock and not to be taken advantage of, so he said:

"Five talents will not do; bid higher."

"Then let us say six."

"If you say double that we are agreed."

"I cannot put it beyond ten talents; why, for that sum you might build a small palace."

"I stand out for twelve."

"Well, be it so, but not a sesterce more."

"I cannot bear to part with my splendid work of art," sighed Keraunus. "But I will take your offer, and give you my Apelles."

"It is not that picture I am dealing for," replied Gabinius. "It is of trifling value, and you may continue to enjoy the possession of it. It is another work of art in this room that I wish to have, and which has hitherto seemed to you scarcely worth notice. I have discovered it, and one of my rich customers has asked me to find him just such a thing."

"I do not know what it is."

"Does everything in this room belong to you?"

"Whom else should it belong to?"

"Then you may dispose of it as you please?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Very well, then--the twelve Attic talents which I offer you are to be paid for the picture that is under our feet."

"The mosaic! that? It belongs to the palace."

"It belongs to your residence, and that, I heard you say yourself, has been inhabited for more than a century by your forefathers. I know the law; it pronounces that everything which has remained in undisputed possession in one family, for a hundred years, becomes their property."

"This mosaic belongs to the palace."

"I assert the contrary. It is an integral portion of your family dwelling, and you may freely dispose of it."

"It belongs to the palace."

"No, and again no; you are the owner. Tomorrow morning early you shall receive twelve Attic talents in gold, and, with the help of my son, later in the day I will take up the picture, pack it, and when it grows dark, carry it away. Procure a carpet to cover the empty place for the present. As to the secrecy of the transaction--I must of course insist on it as strongly--and more so--than yourself."

"The mosaic belongs to the palace," cried the steward, this time in a louder voice, "Do you hear? it belongs to the palace, and whoever dares touch it, I will break his bones."

As he spoke Keraunus stood up, his huge chest panting, his cheeks and forehead dyed purple, and his fist, which he held in the dealer's face, was trembling. Gabinius drew back startled, and said:

"Then you will not have the twelve talents!"

"I will--I will!" gasped Keraunus, "I will show you how I beat those who take me for a rogue. Out of my sight, villain, and let me hear not another word about the picture, and the robbery in the dark, or I will send the prefect's lictors after you and have you thrown into irons, you rascally thief!"

Gabinius hurried to the door, but he there turned round once more to the groaning and gasping colossus, and cried out, as he stood on the threshold:

"Keep your rubbish! we shall have more to say to each other yet."

When Selene and Arsinoe returned to the sitting-room they found their father breathing hard and sitting on the couch, with his head drooping forward. Much alarmed, they went close up to him, but he exclaimed quite coherently:

"Water--a drink of water!--the thief!--the scoundrel!"

Though hardly pressed, it had not cost him a struggle or a pang to refuse what would have placed him and his children in a position of ease; and yet he would not have hesitated to borrow it, aye, or twice the sum, from rich or poor, though he knew full certainly that he would never be in a position to restore it. Nor was he even proud of what he had done; it seemed to him quite natural in a Macedonian noble. It was to him altogether out of the pale of possibility that he should entertain the dealer's proposition for an instant.

But where was he to get the money for Arsinoe's outfit? how could he keep the promise given at the meeting?

He lay meditating on the divan for an hour; then he took a wax tablet out of a chest and began to write a letter on it to the prefect. He intended to offer the precious mosaic picture which had been discovered in his abode, to Titianus for the Emperor, but he did not bring his composition to an end, for he became involved in high-flown phrases. At last he doubted whether it would do at all, flung the unfinished letter back into the chest, and disposed himself to sleep.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

A well-to-do man always gets a higher price than a poor one I must either rest or begin upon something new


The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 2. - 12/12

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