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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 3. - 2/11 -
It was a fruit piece. Melons, gourds, apples, and green leaves. The drawing was but so-so, and the color impossibly vivid, still the composition was pleasing from its solidity and richness. And after all, when one sees it, one cannot but feel that such superfluity is better than meagreness and feebleness. The larger fruits, especially under the exuberant sappy foliage, were so huge that they might have been grown in the garden of luxury itself, still the whole had a look of reality. I mitigated the colors somewhat in my transcript; you may still see a copy of the picture at my house, it hangs in the studio where my men draw. Nealkes, the rich hanging-maker, has had a tapestry woven from it which Pontius proposes to use as a hanging for a wall of the work-room, but I have made a fine frame on purpose for it."
"Say rather for its designer."
"Or yet rather," added the most loquacious of the painters, "for the visit he may possibly pay your workshops."
"I only wish the Emperor may come to ours too! I should like to sell him my picture of Alexander saluted by the priests in the temple of Jupiter Ammon."
"I hope that when you agree about the price you will remember we are partners," said his fellow-artist smugly.
"I will follow your example strictly," replied the other.
"Then you will certainly not be a loser," cried Papias, "for Eustorgius is fully aware of the worth of his works. And if Hadrian is to order works from every master whose art he dabbles in, he will require a fleet on purpose to carry his purchases to Rome."
"It is said," continued Eustorgius, laughing, "that he is a painter among poets, a sculptor among painters, an astronomer among musicians, and a sophist among artists--that is to say, that he pursues every art and science with some success as his secondary occupation."
As he spoke the last words Pontius returned to the table where the artists were standing round the winejar; he had heard the painter's last remark and interrupted him by saying:
"But my friend you forget that he is a monarch among monarchs--and not merely among those of today--in the fullest meaning of the word. Each of us separately can produce something better and more perfect in his own line; but how great is the man who by earnestness and skill can even apprehend everything that the mind has ever been able to conceive of, or the creative spirit of the artist to embody! I know him, and I know that he loves a really thorough master, and tries to encourage him with princely liberality. But his ears are everywhere, and he promptly becomes the implacable enemy of those who provoke his resentment. So bridle your restive Alexandrian tongues, and let me tell you that my colleague from Rome is in the closest intimacy with Hadrian. He is of the same age, resembles him greatly, and repeats to him everything that he hears said about him. So cease talking about Caesar and pass no severer judgments on dilettanti in the purple than on your wealthy pupils, who paint and chisel for the mere love of it, and for whom you find it so easy to lisp out 'charming,' or 'wonderfully pretty,' or 'remarkably nice.' Take my warning in good part, you know I mean it well."
He spoke the last words with a cordial, manly feeling, of which his voice was peculiarly capable, and which was always certain to secure him the confidence even of the recalcitrant.
The artists exchanged greetings and hand-shakings and left the hall; a slave carried away the wine-jar and wiped the table, on which Pontius proceeded to lay out his sketches and plans. But he was not alone, for Pollux was soon at his side, and with a comical expression of pathos and laying his finger on his nose, he said:
"I have come out of my cage to say something more to you."
"The hour is approaching when I may hope to repay the beneficent deeds, which, at various times, you have done to my interior. My mother will to-morrow morning, set before you that dish of cabbage. It could not be done sooner, because the only perfect sausage-maker, the very king of his trade, prepares these savory cylinders only once a week. A few hours ago he completed the making of the sausages, and to-morrow morning my mother will warm up for our breakfasts the noble mess, which she is preparing for us this evening--for, as I have told you, it is in its warmed-up state that it is the ideal of its kind. What will follow by way of sweets we shall owe again to my mother's art; but the cheering and invigorating element--I mean the wine that I drives dull care away, we owe to my sister."
"I will come," said Pontius, "if my guest leaves me an hour free, and I shall enjoy the excellent dish. But what does a gay bird like you know of dull care?"
"The words fit into the metre," replied Pollux. "I inherit from my father--who, when he is not gate-keeping, sings and recites-- a troublesome tendency whenever anything incites me to drift into rhythm."
"But to-day you have been more silent than usual, and yet you seemed to me to be extraordinarily content. Not your face only, but your whole length--a good measure--from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head was like a brimming cask of satisfaction."
"Well, there is much that is lovely in this world!" cried Pollux, stretching himself comfortably and lifting his arms with his hands clasped far above his head towards heaven.
"Has anything specially pleasant happened to you?"
"There is no need for that! Here I live in excellent company, the work progresses, and--well, why should I deny it? There was something specially to mark to-day; I met an old acquaintance again."
"An old one?"
"I have already known her sixteen years; but when I first saw her she was in swaddling clothes."
"Then this venerable damsel friend is more than sixteen, perhaps seventeen! Is Eros the friend of the happy, or does happiness only follow in his train?" As the architect thoughtfully said these words to himself, Pollux listened attentively to a noise outside, and said:
"Who can be passing out there at this hour? Do you not hear the bark of a big dog mingle with the snapping of the three Graces?"
"It is Titianus conducting the architect from Rome," replied Pontius excitedly.
"I will go to meet him. But one thing more my friend, you too have an Alexandrian tongue. Beware of laughing at the Emperor's artistic efforts in the presence of this Roman. I repeat it: the man who is now coming is superior to us all, and there is nothing more repellant to me than when a small man assumes a strutting air of importance because he fancies he has discovered in some great man a weak spot where his own little body happens to be sound. The artist I am expecting is a grand man, but the Emperor Hadrian is a grander. Now retire behind your screens, and tomorrow morning I will be your guest."
Pontius threw his pallium over the chiton he commonly wore at his work and went forward to meet the sovereign of the world, whose arrival had been announced to him in the prefect's letter. He was perfectly calm, and if his heart beat a little faster than usual, it was only because he was pleased once more to meet the wonderful man whose personality had made a deep impression on him before.
In the happy consciousness of having done all that lay in his power and of deserving no blame, he went through the ante-chambers and chief entrance of the palace into the fore-court, where a crowd of slaves were busied by torch-light in laying new marble slabs. Neither these workmen nor their overseers had paid any heed to the barking of the dogs and the loud talking which had for some little time been audible in the vicinity of the gate-keeper's lodge; for a special rate of payment had been promised to the laborers and their foremen if they should have finished a set piece of the new pavement by a certain hour, to the satisfaction of the architect. No one who heard the deep man's-voice ring through the court from the doorway guessed to whom it belonged.
The Emperor had been delayed by adverse winds and had not run into the harbor till a little before midnight.
Titianus, who was watching for him, he greeted as an old friend with heartfelt warmth, and with him and Antinous he stepped into the prefect's chariot, while Phlegon the secretary, Hermogenes his physician, and Mastor with the luggage, among which were their campbeds, were to follow in another vehicle. The harbor watchmen hastened to array themselves indignantly to oppose the chariot, as it rolled noisily along the street, and the huge dog that destroyed the peace of the night with its baying; but as soon as they recognized Titianus they respectfully made way. The gate-keeper and his wife, obedient to the prefect's warning, had remained up, and as soon as the singer heard the chariot approaching which bore the Emperor, he hastened to open the palace-gates. The broken-up pavement and the swarms of men engaged in repairing it, obliged Titianus and his companions to quit the chariot here and to pass close to the little gate-house. Hadrian, whose observation nothing ever escaped which came in his way and seemed worth noticing, stood still before Euphorion's door and looked into the comfortable little room, with its decoration of flowers and birds and the statue of Apollo; while dame Doris in her newest garments, stood on the threshold to watch for the prefect. And Titianus greeted her warmly, for he was wont whenever he came to Lochias to exchange a few merry or wise words with her. The little dogs had already crept into their basket, but as soon as they caught sight of a strange dog they rushed past their mistress into the open air, and dame Doris found herself obliged, while she returned the kindly greeting of her patron, to shout at Euphrosyne, Thalia and Aglaia more than once by their pretty names.
"Splendid, splendid!" cried Hadrian, pointing into the little house. "An idyl, a perfect idyl. Who would have expected to find such a smiling nook of peace in the most restless and busy town in the empire."
"I and Pontius were equally surprised at this little nest, and we therefore left it untouched," said the prefect.
"Intelligent people understand each other, and I owe you thanks for preserving this little home," answered the Emperor. "What an omen, what a favorable, in every way favorable augury, it offers me. The Graces
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