“Well, then, what do we go to talk about?” Norbanus asked.
“We go for information.”
“Dea dia! (the most mysterious of all the Roman deities) We inform ourselves that Rome has been renamed ’The City of Commodus’—that offices are bought and sold—that there were forty consuls in a year, each of whom paid for the office in turn—that no man’s life is safe— that it is wiser to take a cold in the head to Galen than to kiss a mule’s nose (it was a common superstition that a cold in the head could be cured by kissing a mule’s nose)—and then what? I begin to think that Pertinax is wiser to amuse himself with women after all!”
Sextus edged his horse a little closer to the skewbald and for more than a minute appeared to be studying Norbanus’ face, the other grinning at him and making the stallion prance.
“Are you never serious?” asked Sextus.
“Always and forever, melancholy friend of mine! I seriously dread the consequences of that letter that you wrote to Rome! Unlike you, I have not much more than life to lose, but I value it all the more for being less encumbered. Like Apollonius, I pray for few possessions and no needs! But what I have, I treasure; I propose to live long and make use of life!”
“And I!” retorted Sextus.
With a gesture of disgust, he turned to stare behind him at the crowd on its way to Daphne, making such a business of pleasure as reduced the pleasure to a toil of Sisyphus (who had to roll a heavy stone perpetually up a steep hill in the underworld. Before he reached the top the stone always rolled down again).
“I have more than gold,” said Sextus, “which it seems to me that any crooked-minded fool may have. I have a spirit in me and a taste for philosophies; I have a feeling that a man’s life is a gift entrusted to him by the gods—for use—to be preserved—”
“By writing foolish letters, doubtless!” said Norbanus. “Come along, let us gallop. I am weary of the backs of all these roisterers.”
And so they rode to Daphne full pelt, greatly to the anger of the too well dressed Antiochenes, who cursed them for the mud they splashed from wayside pools and for the dung and dust they kicked up into plucked and penciled faces.
II. A CONFERENCE AT DAPHNE
It was not yet dusk. The sun shone on the bronze roof of the temple of Apollo, making such a contrast to, and harmony with, marble and the green of giant cypresses as only music can suggest. The dying breeze stirred hardly a ripple on the winding ponds, so marble columns, trees and statuary were reflected amid shadows of the swans in water tinted by the colors of the sinking sun. There was a murmur of wind in the tops of the trees and a stirring of linen-clad girls near the temple entrance—voices droning from the near-by booths behind the shrubbery— one flute, like the plaint of Orpheus summoning Eurydice—a blossom-scented air and an enfolding mystery of silence.