They were now passing a row of shops on the Via Claudia. The emperor, putting his hand out of the door, motioned to his lecticarii and they halted.
“Come with me,” said the great man. They left the litter and entered a large shop. There Augustus bought many gifts for the young man—new arms, a beautiful corselet, a girdle of the look of knitted gold—for the Roman wore a girdle in Judea—articles of apparel suited to the climate of the Far East. The shop had filled with people, who tried to cover their curiosity by the purchase of trifles.
“This cloth would make a fine toga,” said the shopkeeper.
The emperor surveyed it closely.
“Let me hold it up to the light and then you will see its texture,” the other continued.
“You are a hard master,” said Augustus.
“You would have us walk on the house-tops to show the fineness of our togas? It is enough. Let us pass, good people.”
A cheer, starting at the shop door, went to the far sides of the city. It signified that the emperor was out among the people and in his best mood.
Their nomenclator cleared a way for them to the litter and they sat down again, facing each other, the emperor and the boy.
“If I had your riches,” the great man remarked, as they went on, “I wonder what I should do with them.”
“You jest with me, good father,” said Vergilius.
“Nay, but I envy you; for have you not youth and love and the beauty of Apollo?”
He laid his hand upon the arm of the boy, and there was in his voice and manner a gentleness to make one regret that he lived not in a better time; for, perhaps, after all, he was what he had to be as the ruthless conqueror of a savage world.
“And I—what have I but burdens I dare not lay aside? When I sleep, even, they press upon me. I am weary—but if I should let them fall, what, think you, would happen?”
His keen eyes, seeing before them, possibly, the great down-rush to madness, pressed a glance into the very soul of the young man. The latter started to reply, but with a look the emperor forbade him.
“Think, good youth—learn to think. It will profit you—there is so little competition. By-and-by Rome will need you.”
Gently, forcefully this teacher of statesmen had given the young knight his first lesson. It was nearing its end now. The litter had stopped hard by the gate of the Lady Lucia.
“I wonder how you knew my destination,” said Vergilius.
“You credit me with small discernment. Learn to know things that are not told you—it is the beginning of wisdom.”
Arria met them in the atrium. She saw not the great father of Rome, but only her lover, and ran to him with a little cry of delight.
The playful emperor mounted a chair and stood looking down at them.