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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 3. - 10/11 -
threshold. The old negro presented a lamentable spectacle. The Emperor's dignified and awe-compelling figure, and his favorite's rich garments made him feel embarrassed, and the hound's threatening growl filled him with such terror that he huddled his lean negro-legs together, and, as far as its length would allow, tried to cover them for protection with his threadbare tunic.
Hadrian gazed in astonishment at this image of fear, and then asked:
"Well! what do you want, fellow?"
The slave attempted to advance a step or two, but at a loud command from Hadrian he stood still, and as he looked down at his flat feet, he ruefully scratched his short-cropped grey hair, some of which had fallen off and left a bald patch.
"Well," repeated Hadrian, in a tone which was anything rather than encouraging, as he relaxed his hold on the hound's collar in a somewhat suspicious manner. The slave's bent knees began to quake, and holding out his broad palm to the grey-bearded gentleman, who seemed to him hardly less alarming than the dog, he began to stammer out in fearfully- mutilated Greek the speech which his master had repeated to him several times, and which set forth that he had come "into the presence of the architect, Claudius Venator, of Rome, to announce the visit of his master, a member of the town-council, a Macedonian, and a Roman citizen, Keraunus, the son of Ptolemy, steward of the once royal but now imperial palace at Lochias."
Hadrian unrelentingly allowed the poor wretch to finish his speech, rubbing his hands with amusement, while the sweat of anguish stood on the old slave's face, and to prolong the delightful joke, he took good care not to help the miserable old man when his unaccustomed tongue came to some insuperable difficulty. When, at length, the negro had finished the pompous announcement, Hadrian said, kindly:
"Tell your master he may come in."
Scarcely had the slave left the room, when the sovereign, turning to his favorite, exclaimed:
"This is a delicious joke! What will the Jupiter be like, when the eagle is such a bird as this!"
Keraunus was not long to wait for. While pacing up and down the passage outside the Emperor's room, his bad humor had risen considerably, for he took it as a slight on the part of the architect, that he should allow him--whose birth and dignities he would have learnt from his slave--to wait several minutes, each of which seemed to him a quarter of an hour. His expectation too, that the Roman would come to conduct him in person into his apartment was by no means fulfilled, for the slave's message was briefly--"He may come in."
"Did he say may? Did he not say "please to come in, or have the goodness to come in?" asked the steward.
"He may come in--was what he said," replied the slave.
Keraunus grunted out, "Well!" set his gold circlet straight on his head which he held very upright, crossed his arms over his broad chest with a sigh, and ordered the black man:
"Open the door."
The steward crossed the threshold with much dignity: then, not to commit any breach of courtesy, he bowed low, and was about to begin to utter his reprimand in cutting terms, when a glance at the Emperor and at the splendid decoration which the room had undergone since the day previous, not to mention the very unpleasant growling of the big dog, prompted him to strike a milder string. His slave had followed him and had sought a safe corner near the door, between the wall of the room and a couch, but he himself, conquering his alarm at the dog, went forward some distance into the room. The Emperor had seated himself on the window-sill; he pressed his foot lightly on the head of the dog, and gazed at Keraunus as at some remarkable curiosity. His eye thus met that of the steward and made him clearly understand that he had to do with a greater personage than he had expected. There was something imposing in the person of the man who sat before him; for this very reason, however, his pride stood on tiptoe, and he asked in a tone of swaggering dignity, though not so sharply and abruptly as he had intended.
"Am I standing before the new visitor to Lochias, the architect Claudius Venator of Rome?"
"You are--standing--" replied the Emperor, with a roguish side glance at Antinous.
"You have met with a friendly reception to this palace. Like my fathers, who have enjoyed the stewardship of it for centuries, I know how to exercise the sacred duties of hospitality."
"I am surprised to hear of the high antiquity of your family and bow to your pious sentiments," answered Hadrian, in the same tone as the steward. "What farther may I learn from you?"
"I did not come here to relate history," said Keraunus, whose gall rose as he thought he detected a mocking smile on the stranger's lips. "I did not come here to tell stories, but to complain that you, as a warmly- welcomed guest, show so little anxiety to protect your host from injury."
"How is that?" asked Hadrian, rising from his seat and signing to Antinous to hold back the hound, which manifested a peculiar aversion to the steward. It no doubt detected that he had come to show no special friendliness to his owner.
"Is that dangerous dog, gnashing its teeth there, your property?" asked Keraunus.
This morning it threw down my daughter and smashed a costly pitcher, which she is fond of carrying to fetch water in the dawn."
"I heard of that misadventure," said Hadrian, "and I would give much if I could undo it. The vessel shall be amply made good to you."
"I beg you not to add insult to the injury, we have suffered by your fault. A father whose daughter has been knocked down and hurt--"
"Then, Argus actually bit her?" cried Antinous, horrified.
"No," Keraunus replied. "But as she fell her head and foot have been injured, and she is suffering much pain."
"That is very sad," said Hadrian, "and as I am not ignorant of the healing art, I will gladly try to help the poor girl."
"I pay a professional leech, who attends me and mine," replied the steward, in a repellant tone, "and I came hither to request--or, to be frank with you--to require--"
"First, that my pardon shall be asked."
"That, the artist, Claudius Venator, is always ready to do when any one has suffered damage by his fault. What has happened--I repeat it-- grieves me sincerely, and I beg you tell the maiden to whom the accident happened, that her pain is mine. What more do you desire?"
The steward's features had calmed down at these last words, and he answered with less excitement than before:
"I must request you to chain up your dog, or to shut it up, or in some way to keep it from mischief."
"That is pretty strong!" cried the Emperor.
"It is only a reasonable demand, and I must stand by it," replied Keraunus decidedly. "Neither I--nor my children's lives are safe, so long as this wild beast is prowling about at pleasure."
Hadrian had, ere now, erected monuments to deceased favorites, both dogs and horses, and his faithful Argus was no less dear to him, than other four-footed companions have been to other childless men; hence the queer fat man's demand seemed to him so audacious and monstrous, that he indignantly exclaimed:
"Folly!--the dog shall be watched, but nothing farther."
"You will chain him up," replied Keraunus, with an angry, glare, "or someone will be found who will make him harmless forever."
"That will be an evil attempt for the cowardly murderer!" cried Hadrian. "Eh! Argus, what do you think?"
At these words the dog drew himself up, and would have sprung at the steward's throat if his master and Antinous had not held him back.
Keraunus felt that the dog had threatened him, but at this instant he would have let himself be torn by him without wincing, so completely was he overmastered by the fury born of his injured pride.
"And am I--I too, to be hunted down by a dog, in this house?" he cried defiantly, setting his left fist on his hip. "Every thing has its limits, and so has my patience with a guest who, in spite of his ripe age forgets due consideration. I will inform the prefect Titianus of your proceedings here, and when the Emperor arrives he shall know--"
"What?" laughed Hadrian.
"The way you behave to me."
"Till then the dog shall stay where it is, and really under due restraint. But I can tell you man, that Hadrian is as much a friend of dogs as I am--and fonder of me than even of dogs."
"We will see," growled Keraunus, "I or the dog!"
"I am afraid it will be the dog then."
"And Rome will see a fresh revolt," cried Keraunus, rolling his eyes. "You took Egypt from the Ptolemies."
"And with very good reason--besides that is a stale old story."
"Justice is never stale, like a bad debt."
"At any rate it perishes with persons it concerns; there have been no Lagides left here--how many years?"
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