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The Garland
by [?]

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 nothing.

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 me?”

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?”

“May I go to the races?” asked Rufinus.

“Well,” said the high official, “what about your work?”

“We’ve finished everything,” said the clerk.

The Head of the Department assumed an air of mystery and coughed.

“I don’t think I can very well see my way to letting you go,” he said. “I am very sorry,” he added quickly, “and if it depended on me you should go at once. But He,” he added–he always alluded to the Head of the Office as He–“does not like it. He may come in at any moment and find you gone. No; I’m afraid I can’t let you go to-day. Now, if it had been yesterday you could have gone.”

“I should only be away an hour,” said Rufinus, tentatively.

“He might choose just that hour to come round. If it depended only on me you should go at once,” and he laughed and slapped Rufinus on the back, jocularly.