"I must have back my sestertium."
And they played again and again; and when day, stealing through the skylights, began to dim the lamps, it found the two in the same places at the same table, still at the game. Like most of the company, they were military attaches of the consul, awaiting his arrival and amusing themselves meantime.
During this conversation a party entered the room, and, unnoticed at first, proceeded to the central table. The signs were that they had come from a revel just dismissed. Some of them kept their feet with difficulty. Around the leader's brow was a chaplet which marked him master of the feast, if not the giver. The wine had made no impression upon him unless to heighten his beauty, which was of the most manly Roman style; he carried his head high raised; the blood flushed his lips and cheeks brightly; his eyes glittered; though the manner in which, shrouded in a toga spotless white and of ample folds, he walked was too nearly imperial for one sober and not a Caesar. In going to the table, he made room for himself and his followers with little ceremony and no apologies; and when at length he stopped, and looked over it and at the players, they all turned to him, with a shout like a cheer.
"Messala! Messala!" they cried.
Those in distant quarters, hearing the cry, re-echoed it where they were. Instantly there were dissolution of groups, and breaking-up of games, and a general rush towards the centre.
Messala took the demonstration indifferently, and proceeded presently to show the ground of his popularity.
"A health to thee, Drusus, my friend," he said to the player next at his right; "a health--and thy tablets a moment."
He raised the waxen boards, glanced at the memoranda of wagers, and tossed them down.