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By Baroness Emmuska Orczy Orczy
Scribes were also in great demand for copying purposes. The disseminators of the news of the day were willing to pay high prices for quick shorthand writers who had learned their business in the house of Arminius the censor.
In the meanwhile the throng in the Forum had become more and more dense. Already one or two gorgeously draped litters had been seen winding their way in from the Sacra Via or the precincts of the temples, their silken draperies making positive notes of brilliant colour against the iridescent whiteness of Phrygian marble walls.
The lictors now had at times to use their flails against the crowd. Room had to be made for the masters of Rome, the wealthy and the idle, who threw sesterces about for the gratification of their smallest whim, as a common man would shake the dust from his shoes.
Young Hortensius Martius, the rich patrician owner of five thousand slaves, had stepped out of his litter, and a way being made for him in the crowd by his men, he had strolled up to the rostrum, and mounting its first gradient he leaned with studied grace against the block of white marble, giving to the common herd below the pleasing spectacle of a young exquisite, rich and well—favoured–his handsome person carefully perfumed and bedecked after the morning bath, his crisp fair hair daintily curled, his body clad in a tunic of soft white wool splendidly worked in purple stripes, the insignia of his high patrician state.
He passed a languid eye over the bundle of humanity spread out for sale at his feet and gave courteous greeting to the praefect.
“Thou art early abroad, Hortensius Martius,” quoth Taurus Antinor in response; “’tis not often thou dost grace the Forum with thy presence at this hour.”
“They told me it would be amusing,” replied young Hortensius lazily, “but methinks that they lied.”
He yawned, and with a tiny golden tool he began picking his teeth.
“What did they tell thee?” queried the other, “and who were they that told?”
“There was Caius Nepos and young Escanes, and several others at the bath. They were all talking about the sale.”
“Are they coming hither?”
“They will be here anon; but some declared that much rubbish would have to be sold ere the choice bargains be put up. Escanes wants a cook who can fry a capon in a special way they wot of in Gaul. Stuffed with ortolans and covered with the juice of three melons–Escanes says it is mightily pleasing to the palate.”
“There is no cook from Gaul on the list,” interposed the praefect curtly.
“And Caius Nepos wants some well—favoured girls to wait on his guests at supper to—morrow. He gives a banquet, as thou knowest. Wilt be there, Taurus Antinor?”
He had spoken these last words in a curious manner which suggested that some significance other than mere conviviality would be attached to the banquet given by Caius Nepos on the morrow. And now he drew nearer to the praefect and cast a quick glance around him as if to assure himself that the business of the sale was engrossing everyone’s attention.
“Caius Nepos,” he said, trying to speak with outward indifference, “asked me to tell thee that if thou wilt come to his banquet to—morrow thou wilt find it to thine advantage. Many of us are of one mind with regard to certain matters and could talk these over undisturbed. Wilt join us, Taurus Antinor?” he added eagerly.
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