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- The Emperor, Part 1, Volume 4. - 6/9 -
something that may correspond to my own expectations of what a marble portrait ought to be, that deserves to be preserved to posterity."
"And those expectations require--?"
Pollux considered for a moment, and then he replied:
"I have not always the right words at my command, for all that I feel as an artist. A plastic presentiment, to satisfy its creator, must fulfil two conditions; first it must record for posterity in forms of eternal resemblance all that lay in the nature of the person it represents; secondly, it must also show to posterity what the art of the time when it was executed, was capable of."
"That is a matter of course--but you are forgetting your own share."
"My own fame you mean?"
"I work for Papias and serve my art, and that is enough; meanwhile Fame does not trouble herself about me, nor do I trouble myself about her."
"Still, you will put your name on my bust?"
"You are as prudent as Cicero."
"Perhaps you would hardly know old Tullius' wise remark that the philosophers who wrote of the vanity of writers put their names to their books all the same."
"Oh! I have no contempt for laurels, but I will not run after a thing which could have no value for me, unless it came unsought, and because it was my due."
"Well and good; but your first condition could only be fulfilled in its widest sense if you could succeed in making yourself acquainted with my thoughts and feelings, with the whole of my inmost mind."
"I see you and talk to you," replied Pollux. Claudia laughed aloud, and said:
"If instead of two sittings of two hours you were to talk to her for twice as many years you would always find something new in her. Not a week passes in which Rome does not find in her something to talk about. That restless brain is never quiet, but her heart is as good as gold, and always and everywhere the same."
"And did you suppose that that was new to me?" asked Pollux. "I can see the restless spirit of my model in her brow and in her mouth, and her nature is revealed in her eyes."
"And in my snub-nose?" asked Balbilla.
"It bears witness to your wonderful and whimsical notions, which astonish Rome so much."
"Perhaps you are one more that works for the hammer of the slaves," laughed Balbilla.
"And even if it were so," said Pollux, "I should always retain the memory of this delightful hour." Pontius the architect here interrupted the sculptor, begging Balbilla to excuse him for disturbing the sitting; Pollux must immediately attend to some business of importance, but in ten minutes he would return to his work. No sooner were the two ladies alone, than Balbilla rose and looked inquisitively round and about the sculptor's enclosed work-room; but her companion said:
"A very polite young man, this Pollux, but rather too much at his ease, and too enthusiastic."
"An artist," replied Balbilla, and she proceeded to turn over every picture and tablet with the sculptor's studies in drawing, raised the cloth from the wax model of the Urania, tried the clang of the lute which hung against one of the canvas walls, was here, there, and everywhere, and at last stood still in front of a large clay model, placed in a corner of the studio, and closely wrapped in cloths.
"What may that be?" asked Claudia.
"No doubt a half-finished new model."
Balbilla felt the object in front of her with the tips of her fingers, and said: "It seems to me to be a head. Something remarkable at any rate. In these close covered dishes we sometimes find the best meat. Let its unveil this shrouded portrait."
"Who knows what it may be?" said Claudia, as she loosened a twist in the cloths which enveloped the bust. There are often very remarkable things to be seen in such workshops.
"Hey, what, it is only a woman's head! I can feel it," cried Balbilla.
"But you can never tell," the older lady went on, untying a knot. "These artists are such unfettered, unaccountable beings."
"Do you lift the top, I will pull here," and a moment later the young Roman stood face to face with the caricature which Hadrian had moulded on the previous evening, in all its grimacing ugliness. She recognized herself in it at once, and at the first moment, laughed loudly, but the longer she looked at the disfigured likeness, the more vexed, annoyed and angry she became. She knew her own face, feature for feature, all that was pretty in it, and all that was plain, but this likeness ignored everything in her face that was not unpleasing, and this it emphasized ruthlessly, and exaggerated with a refinement of spitefulness. The head was hideous, horrible, and yet it was hers. As she studied it in profile, she remembered what Pollux had declared he could read in her features, and deep indignation rose up in her soul.
Her great inexhaustible riches, which allowed her the reckless gratification of every whim, and secured consideration, even for her follies, had not availed to preserve her from many disappointments which other girls, in more modest circumstances, would have been spared. Her kind heart and open hand had often been abused, even by artists, and it was self-evident to her, that the man who could make this caricature, who had so enjoyed exaggerating all that was unlovely in her face, had wished to exercise his art on her features, not for her own sake, but for that of the high price she might be inclined to pay for a flattering likeness. She had found much to please her in the young sculptor's fresh and happy artist nature, in his frank demeanor and his honest way of speech. She felt convinced that Pollux, more readily than anybody else, would understand what it was that lent a charm to her face, which was in no way strictly beautiful, a charm which could not be disputed in spite of the coarse caricature which stood before her.
She felt herself the richer by a painful experience, indignant, and offended. Accustomed as she was to give prompt utterance even to her displeasure, she exclaimed hotly, and with tears in her eyes:
"It is shameful, it is base. Give me my wraps Claudia. I will not stay an instant longer to be the butt of this man's coarse and spiteful jesting."
"It is unworthy," cried the matron, "so to insult a person of your position. It is to be hoped our litters are waiting outside."
Pontius had overheard Balbilla's last words. He had come into the work- place without Pollux, who was still speaking to the prefect, and he said gravely as he approached Balbilla:
"You have every reason to be angry, noble lady. This thing is an insult in clay, malicious, and at the same time coarse in every detail; but it was not Pollux who did it, and it is not right to condemn without a trial."
"You take your friend's part!" exclaimed Balbilla. "I would not tell a lie for my own brother."
"You know how to give your words the aspect of an honorable meaning in serious matters, as he does in jest."
"You are angry and unaccustomed to bridle your tongue," replied the architect. "Pollux, I repeat it, did not perpetrate the caricature, but a sculptor from Rome."
"Which of them? I know them all."
"I may not name him."
"There--you see.--Come away Claudia."
"Stay," said Pontius, decisively. "If you were any one but yourself, I would let you go at once in your anger, and with the double charge on your conscience of doing an injustice to two well-meaning men. But as you are the granddaughter of Claudius Balbillus, I feel it to be due to myself to say, that if Pollux had really made this monstrous bust he would not be in this palace now, for I should have turned him out and thrown the horrid object after him. You look surprised--you do not know who I am that can address you so."
"Yes, yes," cried Balbilla, much mollified, for she felt assured that the man who stood before her, as unflinching as if he were cast in bronze, and with an earnest frown, was speaking the truth, and that he must have some right to speak to her with such unwonted decision. "Yes indeed, you are the principal architect of the city; Titianus, from whom we have heard of you, has told us great things of you; but how am I to account for your special interest in me?"
"It is my duty to serve you--if necessary, even with my life."
"You," said Balbilla, puzzled. "But I never saw you till yesterday."
"And yet you may freely dispose of all that I have and am, for my grandfather was your grandfather's slave."
"I did not know"--said Balbilla, with increasing confusion.
"Is it possible that your noble grandfather's instructor, the venerable Sophinus, is altogether forgotten. Sophinus, whom your grandfather freed, and who continued to teach your father also."
"Certainly not--of course not," cried Balbilla. "He must have been a splendid man, and very learned besides."
"He was my father's father," said Pontius.
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