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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 3. - 3/11 -
receive me here into these old walls, Aglaia, Thalia and Euphrosyne!"
"Good luck to you, Master," old Doris called out to the prefect.
"We come late," said Hadrian.
"That does not matter," said the old woman. "Here at Lochias for the last week we have quite forgotten to distinguish day from night, and a blessing can never come too late."
"I have brought with me to-day an illustrious guest," said Titianus. "The great Roman architect Claudius Venator. He only disembarked a few minutes since."
"Then a draught of wine will do him good. We have in the house some good white Mareotic from my daughter's garden by the lake. If your friend will do us humble folks so much honor, I beg he will step into our room; it is clean, is it not sir? and the cup I will give him to drink it out of would not disgrace the Emperor himself. Who knows what you will find up in the midst of all the muddle yonder?"
"I will accept your invitation with pleasure," answered Hadrian. "I can see by your face that you have a pleasure in entertaining us, and any one might envy you your little house."
"When the climbing-rose and the honey-suckle are out it is much prettier," said Doris, as she filled the cup. "Here is some water for mixing."
The Emperor took the cup carved by Pollux, looked at it with admiration, and before putting it to his lips said:
"A masterpiece, dame; what would Caesar find to drink out of here where the gate-keeper uses such a treasure? Who executed this admirable work, pray?"
"My son carved it for me in his spare time."
"He is a highly-skilled sculptor," Titianus explained.
When the Emperor had half emptied the cup with much satisfaction he set it on the table, and said:
"A very noble drink! I thank you, mother."
"And I you, for styling me mother: there is no better title a woman can have who has brought up good children; and I have three who need never be ashamed to be seen."
"I wish you all luck with them, good little mother," replied the Emperor.
"We shall meet again, for I am going to spend some days at Lochias."
"Now, in all this bustle?" asked Doris.
"This great architect," said Titianus, in explanation, "is to advise and help our Pontius."
"He needs no help!" cried the old woman. "He is a man of the best stamp. His foresight and energy, my son says, are incomparable. I have seen him giving his orders myself, and I know a man when I see him!"
"And what particularly pleased you in him?" asked Hadrian, who was much amused with the shrewd old woman's freedom.
"He never for a moment loses his temper in all the hurry, never speaks a word too much or too little; he can be stern when it is necessary, but he is kind to his inferiors. What his merits are as an artist I am not capable of judging, but I am quite certain that he is a just and able man."
"I know him myself," replied Caesar, "and you describe him rightly; but he seemed to me sterner than he has shown himself to you."
"Being a man he must be able to be severe; but he is so only when it is. necessary, and how kind he can be he shows himself every day. A man grows to the mould of his own mind when he is a great deal alone; and this I have noticed, that a man who is repellant and sharp to those beneath him is not in himself anything really great; for it shows that he considers it necessary to guard against the danger of being looked upon as of no more consequence than the poorer folks he deals with. Now, a man of real worth knows that it can be seen in his bearing, even when he treats one of us as an equal. Pontius does so, and Titianus, and you who are his friend, no less. It is a good thing that you should have come-- but, as I said before, the architect up there can do very well without you."
"You do not seem to rate my capacity very highly, and I regret it, for you have lived with your eyes open and have learned to judge men keenly."
Doris looked shrewdly at the Emperor with her kindly glance, as if taking his mental measure, and then answered confidently:
"You--you are a great man too--it is quite possible that you might see things that would escape Pontius. There are a few choice souls whom the Muses particularly love and you are one of them."
"What leads you to suppose so?"
"I see it in your gaze--in your brow."
"You have the gift of divination, then?"
"No, I am not one of that sort; but I am the mother of two sons on whom also the Immortals have bestowed the special gift, which I cannot exactly describe. It was in them I first saw it, and wherever I have met with it since in other men and artists--they have been the elect of their circle. And you too--I could swear to it, that you are foremost of the men among whom you live."
"Do not swear lightly," laughed the Emperor. "We will meet and talk together again little mother, and when I depart I will ask you again whether you have not been deceived in me. Come now, Telemachus, the dame's birds seem to delight you very much."
These words were addressed to Antinous, who had been going from cage to cage contemplating the feathered pets, all sleeping snugly, with much curiosity and pleasure.
"Is that your son?" asked Doris.
"No, dame, he is only my pupil; but I feel as if he were my son."
"He is a beautiful lad!"
"Why, the old lady still looks after the young men!"
"We do not give that up till we are a hundred or till the Parcae cut the thread of life."
"What a confession!"
"Let me finish my speech.--We never cease to take pleasure in seeing a handsome young fellow, but so long as we are young we ask ourselves what he may have in store for us, and as we grow old we are perfectly satisfied to be able to show him kindness. Listen young master. You will always find me here if you want anything in which I can serve you. I am like a snail and very rarely leave my shell."
"Till our next meeting," cried Hadrian, and he and his companions went out into the court.
There the difficulty was to find a footing on the disjointed pavement. Titianus went on in front of the Emperor and Antinous, and so but few words of friendly pleasure could be exchanged by the monarch and his vicegerent on the occasion of their meeting again. Hadrian stepped cautiously forward, his face wearing meanwhile a satisfied smile. The verdict passed by the simple shrewd woman of the people had given him far greater pleasure than the turgid verse in which Mesomedes and his compeers were wont to sing his praises, or the flattering speeches with which he was loaded by the sophists and rhetoricians.
The old woman had taken him for no more than an artist; she could not know who he was, and yet she had recognized--or had Titianus been indiscreet? Did she know or suspect whom she was talking to? Hadrian's deeply suspicious nature was more and more roused; he began to fancy that the gate-keeper's wife had learnt her speech by heart, and that her welcome had been preconcerted; he suddenly paused and desired the prefect to wait for him, and Antinous to remain behind with the clog. He turned round, retraced his steps to the gatehouse and slipped close up to it in a very unprincely way. He stood still by the door of the little house which was still open, and listened to the conversation between Doris and her husband.
"A fine tall man," said Euphorion, "he is a little like the Emperor."
"Not a bit," replied Doris. "Only think of the full-length statue of Hadrian in the garden of the Paneum; it has a dissatisfied satirical expression, and the architect has a grave brow, it is true, but pure friendly kindness lights up his features. It is only the beard that reminds you of the one when you look at the other. Hadrian might be very glad if he were like the prefect's guest."
"Yes, he is handsomer--how shall I say it--more like the gods than that cold marble figure," Euphorion declared. "A grand noble, he is no doubt, but still an artist too; I wonder whether he could be induced by Pontius or Papias or Aristeas or one of the great painters to take the part of Calchas the soothsayer in our group at the festival? He would perform it in quite another way than that dry stick Philemon the ivory carver. Hand me my lute; I have already forgotten again the beginning of the last verse. Oh! my wretched memory! Thank you."
Euphorion loudly struck the strings and sang in a voice that was still tolerably sweet and very well trained:
"'Sabina hail! Oh Sabina!--Hail; victorious hail to the conquering goddess Sabina!' If only Pollux were here he would remind me of the right words. 'Hail; victorious hail, to the thousand-fold Sabina!'--That is nonsense. 'Hail, hail! divine hail to thee O all-conquering Sabina.' No it was not that either. If a crocodile would only swallow this Sabina I would give him that hot cake in yonder dish with pleasure, for his pudding. But stay--I have it. 'Hail, a thousand-fold hail to the conquering goddess Sabina!'"
Hadrian had heard all he wanted; while Euphorion went on repeating his line a score or more of times to impress it on his recalcitrant memory. Caesar turned his back on the gate-house, and while he and his companions picked their way not without difficulty through the workmen who squatted here and there and everywhere on the ground, he clapped Titianus more than once on his shoulder, and after he had been received and welcomed by
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