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- Veranilda - 67/67 -

visitor into the atrium, and speaking as if the house were full of people who might overhear him. 'Your coming to-day is a strange thing. Have you, perchance, had a dream?'

'What dream should I have had?' answered Sagaris, his superstition at once stirring.

The old man related that last night, for the third time, he had dreamt that a treasure lay buried in this house. Where he could not say, but in his dream he seemed to descend stairs, and to reach a door which, when he opened it, showed him a pile of gold, shining in so brilliant a light that he fell back blinded, whereupon the door closed in his face. To this the Syrian listened very curiously. Cellars there were below the house, as he well knew, and hidden treasure was no uncommon thing in Rome. Having bidden Stephanus light a torch, he went exploring, but though they searched long, they could find no trace of a door long unopened, or of a walled-up entrance.

'You should have more wit in your dreaming, old scarecrow,' said Sagaris. 'If I had had a dream such as that a second time, not to speak of a third, do you think I should not have learnt the way. But you were always a clod-pate.'

Thus did he revenge himself for the contumely he had suffered from Heliodora. As he spoke they were joined by the old man's daughter, who, after begging at many houses, returned with a pocketful of lentils. The girl had been pretty, but was now emaciated and fever-burnt; she looked with ill-will at Sagaris, whom she believed, as did others of his acquaintance, to have murdered Marcian, and to have invented the story of his death at the hands of Basil. Well understanding this, Sagaris amused himself with jesting on the loss of her beauty; why did she not go to the Palatine, where handsome women were always welcome? Having driven her away with his brutality, he advised Stephanus to keep silent about the treasure, and promised to come again ere long.

He now turned his steps to the other side of Tiber, and, after passing through poor streets, where some show of industries was still kept up by a few craftsmen, though for the most part folk sat or lay about in sullen idleness, came to those grinding-mills on the slope of the Janiculum which were driven by Trajan's aqueduct. Day and night the wheels made their clapping noise, seeming to clamour for the corn which did not come. At the door of one of the mills, a spot warmed by the noonday sun, sat a middle-aged man, wretchedly garbed, who with a burnt stick was drawing what seemed to be diagrams on the stone beside him. At the sound of a footstep, rare in that place, he hastily smeared out his designs, and looking up showed a visage which bore a racial resemblance to that of Sagaris. Recognising the visitor, he smiled, pointed to the ground in invitation, and when Sagaris had placed himself near by, began talking in the tongue of their own Eastern land. This man, who called himself Apollonius, had for some years enjoyed reputation in Rome as an astrologer, thereby gaining much money; and even in these dark days he found people who were willing to pay him, either in coin or food, for his counsel and prophecies. Fearful of drawing attention upon himself, as one who had wealth in store, he had come to live like a beggar in this out-of-the-way place, where his money was securely buried, and with it a provision of corn, peas, and lentils which would keep him alive for a long time. Apollonius was the only man living whom Sagaris, out of reverence and awe, would have hesitated to rob, and the only man to whom he did not lie. For beside being learned in the stars, an interpreter of dreams, a prophet of human fate, Apollonius spoke to those he could trust of a religion, of sacred mysteries, much older, he said, and vastly more efficacious for the soul's weal than the faith in Christ. To this religion Sagaris also inclined, for it was associated with memories of his childhood in the East; if he saw the rising of the sun, and was unobserved, he bowed himself before it, with various other observances of which he had forgotten the meaning.

His purpose in coming hither was to speak of Stephanus's dream. The astrologer listened very attentively, and, after long brooding, consented to use his art for the investigation of the matter.

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Veranilda - 67/67

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