Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories HTML version
The Referendarius had three junior clerks to carry on the business of his
department, and they in their turn were assisted by two scribes, who did most of
the copying and kept the records. The work of the Department consisted in filing
and annotating the petitions and cases which were referred from the lower
Courts, through the channel of the Referendarius, to the Emperor.
The three clerks and their two scribes occupied a high marble room in the
spacious office. It was as yet early in April, but, nevertheless, the sun out of
doors was almost fierce. The high marble rooms of the office were cool and stuffy
at the same time, and the spring sunshine without, the soft breeze from the sea,
the call of the flower-sellers in the street, and the lazy murmur of the town had, in
these shaded, musty, and parchment-smelling halls, diffused an atmosphere of
laziness which inspired the clerks in question with an overwhelming desire to do
There was, indeed, no pressing work on hand. Only from time to time the
Referendarius, who occupied a room to himself next door to theirs, would
communicate with them through a hole in the wall, demanding information on
some point or asking to be supplied with certain documents. Then the clerks
would make a momentary pretence of being busy, and ultimately the scribes
would find either the documents or the information which were required.
As it was, the clerks were all of them engaged in occupations which were remote
from official work. The eldest of them, Cephalus by name-- a man who was
distinguished from the others by a certain refined sobriety both in his dark dress
and in his quiet demeanour--was reading a treatise on algebra; the second,
Theophilus, a musician, whose tunic was as bright as his flaming hair, was
mending a small organ; and the third, Rufinus, a rather pale, short-sighted, and
untidy youth, was scribbling on a tablet. The scribes were busy sorting old
records and putting them away in their permanent places.
Presently an official strolled in from another department. He was a middle-aged,
corpulent, and cheerful-looking man, dressed in gaudy coloured tissue, on which
all manner of strange birds were depicted. He was bursting with news.
"Phocas is going to win," he said. "It is certain."
Cephalus looked vaguely up from his book and said: "Oh!"
Theophilus and Rufinus paid no attention to the remark.
"Well," continued the new-comer cheerfully, "Who will come to the races with
As soon as he heard the word races, Rufinus looked up from his scribbling. "I will
come," he said, "if I can get leave."
"I did not know you cared for that sort of thing," said Cephalus.
Rufinus blushed and murmured something about going every now and then. He
walked out of the room, and sought the Referendarius in the next room. This
official was reading a document. He did not look up when Rufinus entered, but
went on with his reading. At last, after a prolonged interval, he turned round and
said: "What is it?"