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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 3. - 4/11 -
Pontius, he exclaimed:
"I bless my decision to come here now! I have had a good evening, a quite delightful evening."
The Emperor had not felt so cheerful and free from care for years as on this occasion, and when in spite of the late hour he found the workmen still busy everywhere, and saw all that had already been restored in the old palace and what was being done for its renovation, the restless man could not resist expressing his satisfaction, and exclaimed to Antinous:
"Here we may see that even in our sordid times miracles may be wrought by good-will, industry, and skill. Explain to me my good Pontius how you were able to construct that enormous scaffold."
More pleasant hours were to follow on the amusing arrival of the Emperor at his half-finished residence at Lochias that night. Pontius proposed to him to inspect several well-preserved rooms, which had in the first instance been reserved for the gentlemen of his suite; and one of these with an open outlook on the harbor, the town, and the island of Antirrhodus he suggested should be provisionally furnished for the Emperor's reception. Thanks to the architect's foresight, to Mastor's practised hand, and to the numbers of men employed in the palace who were accustomed to all kinds of service--provision was soon made for the night, for Hadrian and his companions. The comfortable couch which the prefect had sent to Lochias for Pontius was carried into the Emperor's sleeping-room, and the camp-beds for Antinous and the suite were soon set up in the other rooms. Tables, pillows, and various household vessels which had already been sent in from the manufactories of Alexandria, and which stood packed in bales and cases in the large central court of the palace were soon taken out, and so far as they were applicable for use were carried into the hastily-arranged rooms. Even before Hadrian, under the prefect's guidance, had reached the last room in which restorations were being carried out, Pontius was ready with his arrangements, and could assure the Emperor that to-night he would find a good bed and very tolerable quarters, and that by to-morrow he should have a really elegantly-furnished room.
"Charming, quite delightful," cried the Emperor, as he entered his room. "One might fancy you had some industrious demons at your command. Pour some water over my hands, Mastor, and then to supper! I am as hungry as a beggar's clog."
"I think we shall find all you need," replied Titianus, while Hadrian washed his hands and his bearded face.
"Have you eaten all that I sent down to Lochias to-day, my dear Pontius?"
"Alas! we have," sighed Pontius.
"But I gave orders that a supper for five should be sent."
"It sufficed for six hungry artists," answered the architect, "if only I could have guessed for whom the food was intended! And now what is to be done? There are wine and bread still in the hall of the Muses, meanwhile"
"That must satisfy us," said the Emperor, as he wiped his face. "In the Dacian war, in Numidia, and often when out hunting, I have been glad if only one or the other was to be obtained."
Antinous, who was very hungry and tired, made a melancholy face at these words of his master, and Hadrian perceiving it, added with a smile:
"But youth needs something more to live upon than bread and wine. You pointed out to me just now the residence of the palace-steward. Might we not find there a morsel of meat or cheese, or something of the kind?"
"Hardly," replied Pontius. "For the man stuffs his fat stomach and his eight children with bread and porridge. But an attempt will at any rate be worth making."
"Then send to him; but conduct us at once to the hall where the Muses have preserved some bread and wine for me and these good fellows, though they do not always provide them for their disciples."
Pontius at once conducted the Emperor into the hall. On the way thither, Hadrian asked:
"Is the steward so miserably paid that he is forced to content himself with such meagre fare?"
"He has a residence rent free, and two hundred drachmae a month."
"That is not so very little. What is the man's name, and of what kith and kin is he?"
"He is called Keraunus, and is of ancient Macedonian descent. His ancestors from time immemorial have held the office he now fills, and he even supposes himself to be related to the extinct royal dynasty through the mistress of some one of the Lagides. Keraunus sits in the town council and never stirs out in the streets without his slave, who is one of the sort which the merchants in the slave market throw into the bargain with the buyer. He is as fat as a stuffed pig, dresses like a senator, loves antiquities and curiosities, for which he will let himself be cheated of his last coin, and bears his poverty with more of pride than of dignity; and still he is an honorable man, and can be made useful, if he is taken on the right side."
"Altogether a queer fellow. And you say he is fat, is he jolly?"
"As far from it as possible."
"Ah, people who are fat and cross are my aversion. What is this by way of an erection?"
"Behind that screen works Papias' best scholar. His name is Pollux, and he is the son of the couple who keep the gate-house. You will be pleased with him."
"Call him here," said the Emperor.
But before the architect could comply with his desire the sculptor's head had appeared above the screen. The young man had heard the approaching voices and steps; he greeted the prefect respectfully from his elevated position, and after satisfying his curiosity was about to spring down from the stool on which he had climbed when Pontius called to him that Claudius Venator, the architect from Rome, wished to make his acquaintance.
"That is very kind in him, and still more kind in you," Pollux answered from above, "since it is only from you that he can know that I exist beneath the moon, and use the hammer and chisel. Allow me to descend from my four-legged cothurnus, for at present you are forced to look up to me, and from all I have heard of your talents from Pontius, nothing can be more absolutely the reverse of what it ought to be."
"Nay, stop where you are," answered Hadrian. "We, as fellow-artists, may waive ceremony.--What are you doing in there?"
"I will push the screen back in a moment and show you our Urania. It is very good for an artist to hear the opinion of a man who thoroughly understands the thing."
"Presently, friend-presently; first let me enjoy a scrap of bread, for the severity of my hunger might very possibly influence my judgment."
As he was speaking the architect offered the Emperor a salver with bread, salt, and a cup of wine, which his own slave had carried to him. When Pollux observed this modest meal, he called out:
"That is prisoners' fare, Pontius; have we nothing better in the house than that?"
"Possibly you yourself assisted in demolishing the dainty dishes I had sent down for the architect," cried Titianus, pretending to threaten him.
"You are defacing a fair memory," sighed the sculptor, with mock melancholy. "But, by Hercules, I did my fair share of the work of destruction. If only now--but stay! I have an idea worthy of Aristotle himself! that breakfast, to which I invited you to-morrow morning, most noble Pontius, is all ready at my mother's, and can be warmed up in a few minutes. Do not be alarmed, worthy sir, but the dish in question is cabbage with sausages--a mess which, like the soul of an Egyptian, possesses at the instant of resurrection, nobler qualities than when it first sees the light."
"Excellent," cried Hadrian. "Cabbage and sausages!" He wiped his full lips with his hand, smiling with gratification, and he broke into a hearty laugh of amusement as he heard a loud "Ah!" of satisfaction from Antinous, who drew nearer to the canvas screen. "There is another whose mouth waters and whose imagination revels in a happy future," said the Emperor to the prefect, pointing to his favorite.
But he had misinterpreted the lad's exclamation, for it was the mere name of the dish--which his mother had often set on the table of his humble home in Bithynia--which reminded him of his native country and his childhood, and transplanted him in thought back into their midst. It was a swift leap at his heart, and not merely the pleasant watering of his gums, that had forced the "Ah" to his lips. Still, he was glad to see his native dish again, and would not have exchanged it against the richest banquet. Pollux had meanwhile come out of his nook, and said:
"In a quarter of an hour I shall set before you the breakfast which has been turned into a supper. Mitigate your worst hunger with some bread and salt, and then my mother's cabbage-stew will not only satisfy you, but will be enjoyed with calm appreciation."
"Greet dame Doris from me," Hadrian called after the sculptor; and when Pollux had quitted the hall he turned to Titianus and Pontius and said:
"What a splendid young fellow. I am curious to see what he can do as an artist."
"Then follow me," replied Pontius, leading the way.
"What do you say to this Urania? Papias made the head of the Muse, but the figure and the drapery Pollux formed with his own hand in a few days."
The imperial artist stood in front of the statue, with his arms crossed, and remained there for some time in silence. Then he nodded his bearded head approvingly, and said gravely:
"A well-considered work, and carried out with remarkable freedom; this
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