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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 3. - 5/11 -
mantle drawn over the bosom would not disgrace a Phidias. All is broad, characteristic and true. Did the young artist work from the model here at Lochias?"
"I have seen no model, and I believe that he evolved the whole figure out of his head," replied Pontius.
"Impossible, perfectly impossible," cried the Emperor, in the tone of a man who knows well what he is talking about. "Such lines, such forms not Praxiteles himself could have invented. He must have seen them, have formed them as he stood face to face with the living copy. We will ask him. What is to be made out of that newly-set-up mass of clay?"
"Possibly the bust of some princess of the house of the Lagides. To-morrow you shall see a head of Berenice by our young friend, which seems to me to be one of the best things ever done in Alexandria."
"And is the lad a proficient in magic?" asked Hadrian. "It seems to me simply impossible that he should have completed this statue and a woman's bust in these few days."
Pontius explained to the Emperor that Pollux had mounted the head on a bust already to hand, and as he answered his questions without reserve, he revealed to him what stupendous exertions of the arts had been called into requisition to give the dilapidated palace a suitable and, in its kind, even brilliant appearance. He frankly confessed that here he was working only for effect, and talked to Hadrian exactly as he would have discussed the same subject with any other fellow-artist.
While the Emperor and the architect were thus eagerly conversing, and the prefect was hearing from Phlegon, the secretary, all the experience of their journey, Pollux reappeared in the hall of the Muses accompanied by his father. The singer carried before him a steaming mess, fresh cakes of bread, and the pasty which a few hours previously he had carried home to his wife from the architect's table. Pollux held to his breast a tolerably large two-handled jar full of Mareotic wine, which he had hastily wreathed with branches of ivy.
A few minutes later the Emperor was reclining on a mattress that had been laid for him, and was making his way valiantly through the savory mess. He was in the happiest humor; he called Antinous and his secretary, heaped abundant portions with his own hand on their plates, which he bade them hold out to him, declaring as he did so that it was to prevent their fishing the best of the sausages out of the cabbage for themselves. He also spoke highly of the Mareotic wine. When they came to opening the pasty the expression of his face changed; he frowned and asked the prefect in a suspicious tone, severely and sternly:
"How came these people by such a pasty as this?"
"Where did you get it from?" asked the prefect of the singer.
"From the banquet which the architect gave to the artists here," answered Euphorion. "The bones were given to the Graces and this dish, which had not been touched, to me and my wife. She devoted it with pleasure to Pontius' guest."
Titianus laughed and exclaimed:
"This then accounts for the total disappearance of the handsome supper which we sent down to the architect. This pasty-allow me to look at it-- this pasty was prepared by a recipe obtained from Verus. He invited us to breakfast yesterday and instructed my cook how to prepare it."
"No Platonist ever propagated his master's doctrines with greater zeal than Verus does the merits of this dish," said the Emperor, who had recovered his good humor as soon as he perceived that no artful preparation for his arrival was to be suspected in this matter. "What follies that spoilt child of fortune can commit! Does he still insist on cooking with his own hands?"
"No, not quite that," replied the prefect. "But he had a couch placed for him in the kitchen on which he stretched himself at full length and told my cook exactly how to prepare the pasty, of which you are--I should say, of which the Emperor is particularly fond. It consists of pheasant, ham, cow's udder and a baked crust."
"I am quite of Hadrian's opinion," laughed the Emperor; doing all justice to the excellent pie. "You entertain me splendidly my friend, and I am very much your debtor. What did you say your name is young man?"
"Your Urania, Pollux, is a fine piece of work, and Pontius says you executed the drapery without a model. I said, and I repeat, that it is simply impossible."
"You judge rightly, a young girl stood for it."
The Emperor glanced at the architect, as much as to say, I knew it!
Pontius asked in astonishment:
"When? I have never seen a female form within these walls."
"But I have never quitted Lochias for a minute. I have never gone to rest before midnight, and have been on my legs again long before sunrise."
"But still there were several hours between your going to sleep, and waking up again," replied Pollux. "Ah, youth--youth!" exclaimed the Emperor, and a satirical smile played upon his lips.
"Part Damon and Phyllis by iron doors, and they will find their way to each other through the key-hole."
Euphorion looked seriously at his son, the architect shook his head and refrained from further questions, but Hadrian rose from his couch, dismissed Antinous and his secretary to bed, requested Titianus to go home and to give his wife his kindly greetings, and then desired Pollux to conduct him within this screen, since he himself was not tired and was accustomed to do with only a few hours sleep.
The young sculptor was strongly attracted by this commanding personage. It had not escaped him that the gray-bearded stranger greatly resembled the Emperor; but Pontius had prepared him for the likeness, and in fact there was much in the eyes and mouth of the Roman architect that he had never traced in any portrait of Hadrian 'Imperator.' And as they stood before his scarcely-finished statue his respect increased for the new visitor to Lochias; for, with earnest frankness, he pointed out to him certain faults, and while praising the merits of the rapidly-executed figure he explained in a few brief and pithy phrases his own conception of the ideal Urania. Then shortly but clearly, he stated his views as to how the plastic artist must deal with the problems of his art.
The young man's heart beat faster, and more than once he turned hot and cold by turns as he heard things uttered by the bearded lips of this imposing man, in a rich voice and in lucid phrases, which he had often divined or vaguely felt, but for which, while learning, observing, and working, he had never sought expression in words. And how kindly the great master took up his timid observations, how convincingly he answered them. Such a man as this he had never met, never had he bowed with such full consent before the superiority and sovereign power of another mind.
The second hour after midnight had begun, when Hadrian, standing before the rough-cast clay bust, asked Pollux:
"What is this to be?"
"A portrait of a girl."
"Probably of the complaisant model who ventures into Lochias at night?"
"No; a lady of rank will sit to me."
"Oh, no. A beauty in the train of the Empress."
"What is her name? I know all the Roman ladies."
"Balbilla? There are many of that name. What is she like, the lady you mean?" asked Hadrian, with a cunning glance of amusement.
"That is easier to ask than to answer," replied the artist, who, seeing his gray-bearded companion smile, recovered his gay vivacity, "But stay-- you have seen a peacock spread its tail--now only imagine that every eye in the train of Hera's bird was a graceful round curl, and that in the middle of the circle there was a charming, intelligent girl's face, with a merry little nose, and a rather too high forehead, and you will have the portrait of the young damsel who has graciously permitted me to model from her person."
Hadrian laughed heartily, threw off his cloak, and exclaimed:
"Stand aside--I know your maiden--and if I mean a different one you shall tell me."
While he was still speaking he had plunged his powerful hands into the yielding clay, and kneading and pinching like a practised modeller, wiping off and pressing on, he formed a woman's face with a towering structure of curls, which resembled Balbilla, but which reproduced every conspicuous peculiarity with such whimsical exaggeration that Pollux could not contain his delight. When at last Hadrian stepped back from the happy caricature and called upon him to say whether that were not indeed the Roman lady, Pollux exclaimed:
"It is as surely she, as you are not merely a great architect, but an admirable sculptor. The thing is coarse, but unmistakably characteristic."
The Emperor himself seemed to enjoy his artistic joke hugely, for he looked at it, and laughed again and again. Pontius, however, seemed to view it differently; he had listened with eager sympathy to the conversation between Hadrian and the sculptor, and had watched the former as he began his work; but as it went on he turned away, for he hated that distortion of fine forms, which he often found that the Egyptians took a special delight in. It was positively painful to him to see a graceful, highly-gifted and defenceless creature, to whom, too, he felt himself bound by ties of gratitude, mocked at in this way by such a man as Hadrian. He had only to-day met Balbilla for the first time, but he had heard from Titianus that she was staying at the Caesareum with the Empress, and the prefect had also told him that she was the granddaughter of that same governor, Claudius Balbillus, who had granted freedom to his own grandfather, a learned Greek slave.
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