He raised the waxen boards, glanced at the memoranda of wagers, and tossed them down.
"Denarii, only denarii--coin of cartmen and butchers!" he said, with a scornful laugh. "By the drunken Semele, to what is Rome coming, when a Caesar sits o' nights waiting a turn of fortune to bring him but a beggarly denarius!"
The scion of the Drusi reddened to his brows, but the bystanders broke in upon his reply by surging closer around the table, and shouting, "The Messala! the Messala!"
"Men of the Tiber," Messala continued, wresting a box with the dice in it from a hand near-by, "who is he most favored of the gods? A Roman. Who is he lawgiver of the nations? A Roman. Who is he, by sword right, the universal master?"
The company were of the easily inspired, and the thought was one to which they were born; in a twinkling they snatched the answer from him.
"A Roman, a Roman!" they shouted.
"Yet--yet"--he lingered to catch their ears--"yet there is a better than the best of Rome."
He tossed his patrician head and paused, as if to sting them with his sneer.