Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Andivius Hedulio - Adventures of a Roman Nobleman in the Days of the Empire
Author: White, Edward Lucas, 1866-1934
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Andivius Hedulio - Adventures of a Roman Nobleman in the Days of the Empire" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



ANDIVIUS HEDULIO
Adventures of a Roman Nobleman in the Days of the Empire

BY
EDWARD LUCAS WHITE



Mirum atque inscitum somniavi somnium.
     --PLAUTUS


[Illustration: THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN THE SECOND CENTURY A.D.
To Show The Wanderings Of ANDIVIUS HEDULIO]

[Illustration: THE CITY OF ROME UNDER THE EMPIRE]



THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
WHO, IN READING FICTION, LOVED "THE OPEN ROAD AND THE BRIGHT EYES OF
DANGER"



CONTENTS

BOOK I. DISASTER

HEDULIO'S PREFACE

CHAPTER

I. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST

II. A COUNTRY DINNER

III. TENANTRY AND SLAVERY

IV. HOROSCOPES AND MARVELS

V. ENCOUNTERS

VI. A RATHER BAD DAY

VII. A RATHER GOOD DAY

VIII. THE WATER GARDEN

IX. THE SQUALL OF THE LEOPARD


BOOK II.  DISAPPEARANCE

X. ESCAPE

XI. HIDING

XII. SUCCOUR

XIII. THE LONELY HUT

XIV. WINTER IN THE MOUNTAINS

XV. THE HUNT

XVI. THE CAVE

XVII. THE FESTIVAL

XVIII. GALLOPING

XIX. MARSEILLES AND TIBER WHARF

XX. CHARIOTEERING

XXI. MISADVENTURES


BOOK III.  DIVERSITIES

XXII. THE MUTINEERS

XXIII. THE EMPEROR

XXIV. THE MASSACRE

XXV. THE OPEN COUNTRY

XXVI. THE OUTLAWS

XXVII. THE POINT OF VIEW

XXVIII. MOONLIGHT


BOOK IV.  DISSIMULATIONS

XXIX. FELIX

XXX. FESTUS

XXXI. RECOGNITION

XXXII. PHORBAS

XXXIII. IMPOSTURE

XXXIV. PALUS THE INCOMPARABLE

XXXV. MURMEX

XXXVI. ANXIETY

XXXVII. ACCUSATION

XXXVIII. TORTURE

XXXIX. THE TULLIANUM

XL. SEVERUS

EPILOGUE

NOTES



ANDIVIUS HEDULIO



HEDULIO'S PREFACE

(PRAEFATIO HEDULIONIS)


By no means absurd, it seems to me, but altogether reasonable, is the
impulse which urges me to write out a detailed narrative of my years of
adversity and of the vicissitudes which befell me during that wretched
period of my life. My adventures, in themselves, were worthy of record and
my memories of them and of the men and women encountered in them are clear
and vivid. It is natural that I should wish to set them down for the
edification of my posterity and of any who may chance to read them.

For my experience has been, I believe, unique. Since the establishment of
the Principate in our Republic many men, even an uncountable horde of men,
have incurred Imperial displeasure. Of these not a few, after banishment
from Italy or relegation to guarded islands or to some distant frontier
outpost, have survived the Prince who exiled them and have, by the favor
of his successors, been permitted to return to Rome and to the enjoyment
of their property. But I believe that no Roman nobleman implicated, justly
or unjustly, in any conspiracy against the life of his Sovereign, ever
escaped the extreme penalty of death. Some, by their own hands,
forestalled the arrival of the Imperial emissaries, others perished by the
weapons or implements of those designated to abolish the enemies of the
Prince. Except myself not one ever survived to regain Imperial favor in a
later reign; except myself not one ever recovered his patrimony and
enjoyed, to a green old age, the income, position and privileges to which
he had been born. If such a thing ever occurred, certainly there is no
record of any other nobleman domiciled in Italy, except myself, having
grasped at the slender chance of escape afforded by the device of
arranging that he be supposed dead, of disguising himself, of vanishing
among the populace, of passing himself off for a man of the people. I not
only was led, by my clever slave, to attempt this histrionic feat, but I
succeeded in the face of unimaginable difficulties. An experience so
notably without a parallel seems peculiarly deserving of such a record as
follows.



BOOK I

DISASTER



CHAPTER I

AN UNEXPECTED GUEST


When I look back on the beginning of my adventures, I can set the very day
and hour when the tranquil course of my early life came to an end, when
the comfortable commonplaces of my previous existence altered, when the
placid current of my former life broke suddenly and without warning into
the tumultuous rapids which hurried me from surprise to surprise and from
peril to peril. The last hour of my serene youth was about the ninth of
the day, nearly midafternoon, on the Nones of June in the 937th year of
the city, [Footnote: A.D. 184. See Note C.] while Cossonius Marullus and
Papirius Aelian were consuls, when Commodus had already been four years
Emperor.

It was not that misfortune then suddenly overwhelmed me, not that, sharp
as a blown trumpet, I heard the voice of doom blare over me; not that, as
one sees the upper rim of the sun vanish beneath the waves where the
skyline meets the sea, and knows day ended and night begun, not thus that
I recognized the end of my prosperity and the beginning of my disasters.
That moment came later, as I shall record. It was rather that; as, in
certain states of the weather, long before sunset one may be suddenly
aware that afternoon is past and evening approaches; so, though I had no
intimation at the moment, yet, reviewing my memories I realize that at
that instant began the chain of trivial circumstances which led up to my
calamity and enmeshed me in ruin.

And just here I cannot but remark, what I have often meditated over, how
trifling, how apparently insignificant, are the circumstances which
determine the felicity or misery of human beings. I was possessed of an
ample estate; I was, in most difficult conditions, in unruffled amity with
all my neighbors, on both sides of the great feud, except only my
hereditary enemy; I was high in the favor of the Emperor; I was in a fair
way to marry the youngest, the most lovely and the richest widow in Rome.
In the twinkling of an eye I was cast down from the pinnacle of good
fortune into an abyss of adversity. And upon what did my catastrophe
hinge? Upon the whims of a friend and upon one oversight of my secretary.
I should have had no story to tell, I should have been a man continuously
happy, affluent and at ease, early married and passing from one high
office to the next higher in an uninterrupted progress of success, had it
not entered the head of my capricious crony to pay me an unexpected and
unannounced visit, had he not arrived precisely at the time at which he
came, had he not encountered just the persons he met just where he did
meet them, had not his prankishness hatched in him the vagary which led
him to give quizzical replies to their questions; had I not, carried away
by my elation at my prosperity and fine prospects, been a trifle too
indulgent to my tenantry.

Even after, as a result, the nexus of circumstances had been woven about
me and after I found myself embroiled with both my powerful neighbors, I
should have escaped any evil consequences had not my secretary, than whom
no man ever was more loyal to his master or more wary and inclusive in his
foresight upon every conceivable eventuality, failed to forecast the
possible effects of a minor omission.

When my story begins I had already had one small adventure, nothing much
out of the ordinary. Agathemer and I were returning from my final
inspection of my estate. As we rode past one of the farmsteads we heard
cries for help. Reining up and turning into the barn-yard, we found the
tenant himself being attacked by his bull. I dismounted and diverted the
animal's attention. After the beast was securely penned up I was riding
homewards more than a little tired, rumpled and heated and very eager for
a bath.

As we approached my villa we saw a runner coming up the road, a big Nubian
in a fantastic livery which when he reached us turned out to be entirely
unknown to me. My grooms were just taking our horses. The grinning black,
not a bit out of breath after his long run, saluted and addressed me.

"My master has sent me ahead to say he is coming to visit you."

"Who is your master?" I asked.

"My master," he said, still grinning goodnaturedly, "enjoined me not to
tell you who he is."

I turned to Agathemer.

"What do you make of this?" I asked.

"There is but one man in Italy," he replied, "who is likely to send you
such a message, and his name is on the tip of your tongue."

"And on the tip of yours, I'll wager," said I. "Both together now!"

I raised my finger and counted.

"One! Two! Three!"

Both together we uttered:

"Opsitius Tanno!"

There was no variation in the Nubian's non-committal grin. We went up the
steps and stood by the balustrade of the terrace, where it commanded a
good view of the valley. We could see a party approaching, a mounted
intendant in advance, a litter, extra bearers and runners and several
baggage mules.

"Nobody but Tanno would send me such a message," I said to Agathemer.

"No one else," he agreed, "but I should be no more surprised to see the
Emperor himself in this part of the world."

"One of his wild whims," I conjectured. "Nothing else would tear him away
from the city."

I meditated.

"Our arrangements for dinner," I continued, "fall in very well with his
coming. I suppose the guest-rooms are all ready, but you had best go see
to that, and meanwhile turn this fellow over to Ofatulenus."

Agathemer nodded. The pleasantest of his many good qualities was that
whatever he might be asked to do he carried out without comment or
objection. Nothing was too big or too small for him. If he were asked to
arrange for an interview with the Emperor or to attend to the creasing of
a toga he was equally painstaking and obliging. He went off, followed by
the negro. I waited on the terrace for Tanno. There was no use attempting
to bathe until after his arrival. Presently a cheerful halloo from the
litter reached my ears. It was Tanno to a certainty. Nobody else of my
acquaintance had voice enough to make himself heard at that distance or
was sufficiently lacking in dignity to emit a yawp in that fashion. When
his escort came near enough I could see that all his bearers wore the same
livery as his runner. Tanno was forever changing his liveries and each
fresh invention he managed to make more fantastic than the last. There
were eight bearers to the litter and some twenty reliefs. Travelling long
distances by litter, begun as a necessity to such invalids as my uncle,
had become a fashion through the extreme coxcombery of wealthy fops and
the practice of the young Emperor. Tanno's litter had all its panels slid
back, and the curtains were not drawn. He was sitting almost erect,
propped up by countless down cushions. He greeted me with many waves of
the hand and a smile as genial as his halloo. I went down a little from
the terrace to meet him and walked a few paces beside the litter. He
rolled out and embraced me cordially, appearing as glad to see me as I was
delighted to see him.

"I do not know," I said, "whether I am more surprised or pleased to see
you. To what do I owe my good fortune?"

"We simply cannot get on without you," he answered, "and I am going to
take you back to Rome with me. How soon can you start?"

"You came at the nick of time," said I, "I had expected to go down three
days from now, but I found out this afternoon that I can get away tomorrow
morning."

"Praise be to Hercules and all the gods," said Tanno. "I love the country
frantically, especially when I am in the city. I love it so that three
days on the road is enough country for me. I have been bored to death and
do so want a bath."

"The bath is all hot and ready," said I, "and the slaves waiting. But I am
giving a dinner this evening and nearly all my neighbors are coming. The
diners are almost due to arrive, I need a bath and want one, but I meant
to wait for my guests."

"Well," he said, "you have one guest here already and that's enough. Let's
bathe once, at once, and you can bathe again when your Sabine clodhoppers
get here. Life is too short for a man to get enough baths, anyhow. Two a
day is never enough for me. A pretext for two in an afternoon is always
welcome. Come on, let's bathe quick, so as to have it over with before the
first of the other guests arrives, then we can get a breath of fresh air
and be as keen for the second bath as for the first."

Conversation with Tanno consisted mostly in listening and interjecting
questions. He wallowed in the cold tank like a porpoise; caught me and
ducked me until I yelled for mercy, and while I was trying to get my
breath, half drowned me with the water he splashed over me with both
hands; talking incessantly, except when his head was under water. When we
lay down on the divan in the warm room he rattled on.

"You needn't tell me," he said, "that your runners haven't taken letters
to Vedia, but she is supposed not to hear from you, so, as I told of two
of your letters to me, I have, in a way been held responsible for you and
have been pelted with inquiries. Nemestronia loves you like a grandson,
and, if you ask me, I say Vedia is in love with you out and out. As I had
heard from you and nobody else had, I began to feel as if I ought to look
after you. Everything was abominably humdrum and I deceived myself into
thinking I should enjoy the smell of green fields. I certainly should have
turned back less than half way if I had been concerned with anybody else
than you; and when we turned off the Via Salaria into your country byroad
I cursed you and your neighbors and all Sabinum. The most deserted stretch
of road I ever travelled in all my life. I saw only six human beings
before I reached your villa and I had heard that this valley was populous
and busy. I slept last night at Vicus Novus and I started this morning,
bright and early. When we turned up the road below Villa Satronia I was
never more disgusted in my life. My men are perfectly matched in height,
weight, pace and action and any eight of the lot will carry me at full
speed as smoothly as a pleasure-barge. But they could make nothing of that
road. It is all washed, guttered, dusty in the open places, puddly where
trees hang over it and full of loose stones on top everywhere.

"I was so horribly jolted that I called the bearers to stop. I made
Dromanus get off his horse and give me his poncho and his big felt hat.
Then I got on his horse and told him to get into the litter. He was
embarrassed.

"'Pooh', said I, 'you cannot walk and we should look like fools with an
empty litter. Get in and be jounced! Draw the curtains; if we meet anybody
I'll give you an impressive title.' He rolled in among the cushions,
looking as foolish as possible. His horse ambled perfectly and I felt more
comfortable. I went on ahead. We had not met anybody since we turned into
the crossroads; about half a mile beyond the place where I had left my
litter I came around one of the innumerable curves a little ahead of the
procession and saw two men approaching on foot. When they came abreast of
me they saluted me politely and the taller, a black-haired, dark-faced
fellow with a broad jaw, inquired (in the tone he would have used to
Dromanus) whose litter I was escorting. I was rather tickled that they
took me for my own intendant. I judged we must be approaching the entrance
to Villa Satronia and that they were people from there. I assumed an
exaggerated imitation of Dromanus' most grandiloquent manner and in his
orotund unctuous delivery I declaimed:

"'My master is Numerius Vedius Vindex. He is asleep.' (They swallowed that
awful lie, they did not realize how bad their own road was.) 'We are on
our way to Villa Vedia.'

"They looked sour enough at that, I promise you, and I made out that they
were Satronians for certain. The two fellows exchanged a glance, thanked
me politely and went on.

"I knew the entrance to the Satronian estate by the six big chestnut-
trees, you had often described them to me; and I knew the next private
road by the single huge plane tree. But when we crossed the second bridge,
the little one, I went over that round hill and did not recognize the foot
of your road when we came to it. I was for going on. Dromanus called from
behind the curtains of the litter:

"'This is Hedulio's road: turn to the right.'

"I was stubborn and sang back at him:

"'Hedulio has told me all about this country. This is not his land. It is
further on at the next brook.'

"We went on over the next bridge past the entrance to the south, and I
felt more and more that Dromanus was right and I was wrong, and yet I grew
more and more stubborn. When we passed the sixth bridge and I saw the
stream getting bigger and turning to the left, I knew I was wrong. At the
crossroads I realized we were at the entrance to Villa Vedia, but I would
not give up, I took the left-hand turn and went down stream. Beyond the
first bend in the road we found ourselves approaching a long, straggling,
one-street village of tall, narrow stone houses along the eastern bank of
the little river. By the road, just before the first house, watching five
goats, was a boy, a boy with a crooked twitching face.

"'The village idiot,' I put in. 'They can never let him out of sight and
he is always beside the road.'

"He was not too big an idiot to tell us it was Vediamnum."

"He was enough of an idiot," I said, "to forget you, and your question the
next minute. The boy is almost a beast."

"He had enough sense to tell us the name of the village," Tanno retorted,
"and I had to acknowledge to Dromanus he was right, and so we turned
round. When we were hardly more than out of sight of Vediamnum we met
another party, a respectable-looking man, much like a farm bailiff, on
horseback, and two slaves afoot. I had not seen them before, and they,
apparently, had not previously seen us. The rider asked, very decently,
whose was the party. I treated them as I had the others.

"'My master is asleep,' I said again. (It was not such an improbable lie
that time, for the road by Vediamnum is pretty good.) 'I have the honor to
escort Mamercus Satronius Sabinus.'

"I had guessed that they were Vedians and I was sure of it when I said
that. The slaves scowled and the bailiff saluted very stiffly.

"Just after we turned into your road, I stopped the escort and told
Dromanus to take his horse. He had relieved me of his hat and poncho and I
had one hand on the litter, ready to climb in, when I heard hoofs behind
us on the road. I looked back. There was a rider on a beautiful bay mare
coming up at a smartish lope. Just as he came abreast of us she shied at
the litter and reared and began to prance about. I give you my word I
never had such a fright in my life. If you can imagine Commodus in an old
weather-beaten, broad-brimmed hat of soft, undyed felt and a mean, cheap,
shaggy poncho of undyed wool, and worse than the hat, that was the man on
the mare. He was left-handed, too."

"How did you know that?" I asked.

"By the way he handled his reins, of course," said Tanno.

"The mare was a magnificent beast, vicious as a fury, with a mouth as hard
as an eighty-pound tunny. He sat her like Castor himself. She pirouetted
back and forth across the road and my fellows scampered from under her
hoofs. The mare was such a beauty I could not take my eyes off her."

"Yes," I put in, "Ducconius has a splendid stud."

"Was he Ducconius?" Tanno exclaimed. "Your adversary in your old law-
suit?"

"His son Marcus, from your description," I amplified. "He is proprietor of
the property now. His father died last year."

"Well," Tanno went on. "You know that look Commodus has, like a healthy,
well-fed country proprietor with no education, no ideas and no thoughts
beyond crops and deer-hunting and boar-hunting, with a vacuous,
unintelligent stare? Well, that was just the way he looked."

"That is the way young Ducconius looks," I rejoined. "He ought to. You
have described exactly what he is."

"Does he know he looks like the Emperor?" Tanno asked, "and how does it
happen?"

"Pure coincidence," said I. "The family have been reared in these hills
for generations, none of them ever went to Rome. Reate is the end of the
world for them."

"Well," Tanno commented, "he might be Commodus' twin brother, by his
looks. He'll be a head shorter, in a hurry, if Commodus ever hears of him.
He is the duplicate of him. I stood in the road, staring after him, and
forgot to climb into the litter. When I woke up and climbed in, my lads
swung up your road at a great pace, and here I am. If I had had any sense
I'd have been here not much after noon. As it is I have wasted most of the
day."

When we went into the hot room, I asked him,

"Where did you get your new bearers? They look to me like Nemestronia's.
What have you done with your Saxons?"

"Nemestronia has them," he explained, "and my Nubians were hers. The dear
old lady took a fancy to my Saxons and teased and wheedled until I agreed
to exchange. Nobody ever can refuse anything to Nemestronia. I argued a
good deal. I told her that even if she is the youngest-looking old lady in
Rome it would never do in the world to set herself in contrast to such
blue eyes and pink skins and such yellow hair: that Nubians were much more
appropriate and that nothing could be more trying than Saxons, even for a
bride. She told me I mustn't make fun of her old age and decrepitude. She
said that the Saxons had such cheerful, bright faces and looked such
infantile giants that she really must have them. So I let her have her
way. The Nubians stand the heat better and the Saxons were almost too
showy."

Even while the attendant was thumping and kneading him on the slab, Tanno
went on talking a cheerful monologue of frothy gossip. I asked him about
the Emperor.

"As fretful as possible," he said. "The trouble with Commodus is that he
is growing tired of exhibiting himself as an athlete to invited audiences
in the Palace. He is perfectly frantic to show himself off in the Circus
or in the Amphitheatre. He oscillates between the determination to
disregard convention and to do as he likes and virtuous resolutions, when
he has been given a good talking-to by his old councillors and has made up
his mind to behave properly. He will break out yet into public exhibitions
of himself. He is really pathetically unhappy over his hard lot and
positively wails about the amount of his time which is taken up with State
business and about the pitifully small opportunity he has for training and
exercise."

My bath was broken off, sooner than I had intended, by the appearance of
one of the kitchen-boys, who asked for me so tragically and so urgently
and was so positive that no one else would suffice, that I went down into
the kitchen in a towering rage at being interrupted and wondering why on
earth I could be needed. I found Ofatulena, wife of the Villa-farm
bailiff, in violent altercation with my head-cook. He asserted that she
had no business in his kitchen and must get out. Her contention was that
she, as bailiff's wife, was above all slaves whatever, that she knew her
place and that when a distinguished stranger visited the Villa she would
show him what old-fashioned Sabine cooking was like, so she would. The
cook had had, through Agathemer, my directions for a formal dinner and he
declared that one more guest made no difference and that his dinner was
good enough for anybody. I compromised by telling him to continue as he
had planned, but to allow Ofatulena to prepare one dish for each course
and to add to each one of her own. I was rather pleased at her intrusion,
for there was no better cook in Sabinum, and anything old-fashioned was
sure to be a novelty to Tanno.

I found Tanno on the terrace, basking comfortably in the late sunshine and
gazing down the valley.

"What is that big hill away off to the East?" he asked.

"That is on the Aemilian property," I answered. "Villa Aemilia has a
direct outlet to the Via Valeria and the Aemilian Estate does not belong
to this neighborhood at all. It runs back to the Tolenus and mostly drains
and slopes that way. Huge as the Vedian estates are, and though the
Satronian estates are still huger, yet the Aemilian estates are so vast
that they are larger than both the Vedian and Satronian lands together.
The Aemilian land has much woodland along its western borders and blankets
and almost encloses the Vedian and Satronian estates and all of us in
between. The road you came up is a sort of detour east of the Salarian
way. The Satronians and Vedians and we in between all use it, turning to
the right towards Reate and to the left towards Rome."

Tanno blinked at the soft, hazy view and swept his arm southward.

"That is all Satronian over there?" he asked.

"All," I said, "as far as the Aemilian domain."

"Which way," he queried, "is Villa Vedia?"

"To see it from here," I said, "you would have to look straight through
this house and half a dozen hills. It is almost due north."

"Vedians to the northward," he continued, "Satronians to the southward,
and just you and Ducconius sandwiched in between, clapper-clawing each
other."

"No, quite otherwise!" I retorted. "My property does not touch Vedian or
Satronian land anywhere, and Ducconius has barely half a mile of boundary
line along the Satronian domain. There are six other estates, the largest
half as big as mine, the smallest not much bigger than the largest of my
tenant-farms; three are on one side of me and three on the other. You will
meet the proprietors at dinner, as I told you. They should be here now."

"Goggling country bumpkins?" he conjectured.

"Not a bit like that," I countered, "though you would scarcely call them
cultured. There is no art connoisseur among them. They care little for
books, but they are educated gentlemen and can talk of other subjects
besides vine-growing and cattle breeding. They have all been to Rome, the
Ducconians are the only stay-at-home, stick-in-the-mud family in this
valley. You will find all your fellow-diners keenly interested in anything
you can tell them about the latest fashions and the latest gossip from
Rome. They think and talk of the doings of Rome's fast set much more than
you do."

"They have nothing to do with the feud?" he queried.

"Three of them," I explained, "are on the Vedian side, three on the
Satronian side, though they are always polite to each other. But it is a
frigid politeness and I was anticipating the dinner tonight as a frightful
trial. I fancy your presence will ensure its passing off comfortably.
Entedius Hirnio will be here, too. His estates are beyond Vediamnum and he
has never taken sides in the feud any more than Ducconius or my family."

"Do you ever see Ducconius?" he asked.

"Oh, never," said I, "we take care never to recognize each other, I
assure you. We cannot help meeting occasionally, but I never see him and
he never sees me. We meet mostly on the road. The lower part of this
valley-road where he overtook you is as much his right-of-way as mine, up
to where the road forks and is crossed by the Bran Brook. You can see the
bridge from here."

Tanno shaded his eyes with his hand.

"That is all his land over there, on the other side of the Bran Brook," I
continued. "Further up the valley the brook has three feeders. The Flour
rises back of my land on the Vedian estate. The Chaff brook is all mine
and the Bran rises in his woodlands."

"Will he appeal the case or reopen it now your uncle is dead?" Tanno
queried.

"There is no possibility of appeal," I said, "or of reopening. The case is
closed and I have won it forever. And all thanks to Agathemer. But for
Agathemer, Ducconius would have won the final hearing as he had won all
the intermediate appeals. His defeat after so many victories has
embittered him more than if we had won every time and he hates me worse
than ever.

"The only unpleasant feature for me is that the tenant of the farm so long
in dispute cannot be ousted. He was heart and soul with Ducconius all
through the period of the suit. His daughter is married to one of
Ducconius' tenants and his younger son has taken one of Ducconius' farms
since three of his tenant-families died off year before, last with the
plague. This makes old Chryseros Philargyrus by no means a pleasant tenant
for me."

"Old Love-Gold Love-Silver," Tanno commented, "is that a nickname or is it
really his name?"

"Really his name," I affirmed. "His mother was so extravagant and wasteful
that his father named him Chryseros Philargyrus as a sort of antidote
incantation, in the hope that it might prove a good omen of his
disposition and predispose him to parsimony. He certainly has turned out
sufficiently close-fisted to justify the choice."

"I don't understand your talk about tenantry," said Tanno. "Do you mean
you cannot change a bailiff on a farm which you have won incontestably on
final appeal in a suit at law?"

"He is no bailiff," I answered him. "He is a free man, just as much as you
or I. Sabinum is not like Latium or Etruria or Campania, where the free
tenantry has vanished, or like Bruttium or Spain, where there never was
any free tenantry. The free tenantry have survived in Sabinum more
completely than in any part of the world. I have only one bailiff here and
he manages only the villa-farm with a very moderate gang of slaves under
him. I do not own any more slaves on my estate. The slaves on the farms
are all owned by my tenants and there are eight farms besides the villa-
farm; counting Chryseros, there are nine tenant farmers. Each owns slaves
enough to work his farms. All the estates about here are managed in that
way: Aemilian, Vedian, Satronian, Entedian and all the rest, big or
little. We are rather proud of the system and very proud of our tenants."

"It must be a fine system," Tanno sneered. "I have been wondering what
kept you away from Rome. I suppose it has been the beautifully smooth and
marvellously easy working of your farm-tenant system."

"It works just as well as one slave-gang under one bailiff, if not
better," I retorted, hotly.

"Oh, yes," Tanno drawled, "it works just as well as one slave-gang under
one bailiff. That is why you have not had to inspect your estates in
Bruttium, why you have not visited Bruttium at all, why you have not so
much as thought of visiting Bruttium, whereas you have had to spend more
than two months here in these fascinating wilds. You can trust your
tenantry so completely that you only have to spend two months making sure
they are not idling or cheating you: you can trust your Bruttian bailiff
so poorly that you let him alone absolutely."

I was more than a little nettled by his ironical mood.

"I spent three months of the year out of the past four years in Bruttium,"
I argued. "I know every inch of the ranches perfectly. My uncle never
allowed me to become acquainted with anything up here. I was his
representative and factor in Bruttium. When I visited him here I was no
more than a guest and I have had to learn all the workings of the estate
from the beginning."

"Nonsense!" Tanno rejoined. "You know each when you see it. If the tenants
pay their rent on time, what do you need to know about how they run their
farms?"

"They pay cash and on time," I explained, "but the cash represents half
the yield and each manages the sale of his own produce. It is necessary
for the proprietor to understand the capacities of each farm."

"And you are proud of a tenantry," he sneered, "so honest that you cannot
trust them not to swindle you out of your just dues and on whom you have
to spy all the time to get what you should get from them."

"You do not understand," I declared.

"Right you are," said Tanno. "I do not and I do not want to."

"Just wait a moment and do not interrupt," I urged. "You do not
understand, there is no use in being a proprietor if you do not know more
than your tenantry. There are a thousand, there are ten thousand details
in which the management of the farms may be made more profitable or less
profitable, and all these details have to be watched and must be well in
the proprietor's mind."

"Could you not get some kind of overseeing general estate bailiff to do
all that for you?" he suggested.

"I can," I said, "and I'm going to get one. My uncle's overseer died of
the plague and my uncle was too old and too set in his ways to get
another, so he acted as his own overseer for the last four years of his
life. I must know of my own knowledge just how the place ought to be
managed or I can never detect and forestall unnecessary and ruinous
friction and trouble between my tenantry and any new superintending
overseer."

"I do not know," Tanno ruminated, "which to admire more, the beauties of
the Sabine tenant system or the wonders of the Sabine character. Any other
man I know would have stayed in Rome and attended strictly to his
courtship and let his estates take care of themselves. You are supposed to
be violently in love and you certainly behave like it: yet you leave Rome
and Vedia and shut yourself up among these damp cold hills and inspect and
reinspect and make a final inspection, and delay for one last peep and
linger for one final glance, where any other man would ignore the property
and be with the widow."

"I do not see anything extraordinary about it," I disclaimed. "A man needs
an income, a lover most of all."

"Income!" he snorted. "Isn't your income from your Bruttian estates ten
times the gross return from the property?"

"More than ten times," I admitted.

"Why worry about it at all then?" he demanded. "Isn't your Bruttian income
enough?"

"No income is enough," I declared, "if a man has a chance to get in more."

"Of course," he beamed, "you do not see anything extraordinary in your
petting this property. A Sabine would use up a year to get in a sesterce
from a frog pond. You are a Sabine. All Sabines worship the Almighty
Sesterce. But to anybody not a Sabine it is amazing to see a lover
postponing prayers to Lord Cupid until he has finished the last detail of
his ceremonial duties to Chief Cash, Greatest and Best."



CHAPTER II

A COUNTRY DINNER


Just then Tanno caught sight of a horseman approaching up the valley. I
looked where he pointed.

"That will be Entedius Hirnio," I said. "Of my dinner guests he lives
furthest away and so he always comes in first to any festivity."

"How far beyond Vediamnum does he live?" Tanno enquired.

"On the other side of the Vedian lands," I explained. "His property is
over the divide towards the Tolenus, in between Villa Vedia and Villa
Aemilia."

Entedius it was, as I made sure, when he drew nearer, by his magnificent
black mare. He covered the last hundred paces at a furious gallop, pulled
up his snorting mare abruptly, and dismounted jauntily. Plainly, at first
sight, he and Tanno liked each other. When I had introduced them they
looked each other up and down appraisingly, Entedius appearing to relish
Tanno's swarthy vigor, warm coloring and exuberant health as much as did
Tanno his hard-muscled leanness and weather-beaten complexion.

"Are you any relation to Entedia Jucunda?" Tanno queried.

"Very distant," Hirnio replied, "very distant indeed: too far for us to
call each other 'cousin.' When I am in Rome I always call on her; once in
a while she invites me to one of her very big dinners; otherwise we never
see each other."

Almost before they had exchanged greetings Mallius Vulso rounded the house
from the east and then Neponius Pomplio from the west; after he had been
presented, the two other Satronians, Bultius Seclator and Juventius Muso,
cantered up, followed closely by Fisevius Rusco and Lisius Naepor, both
adherents of the Vedian side of the feud.

As soon as the stable-boys had led off their horses we started bathwards,
delayed a moment by the arrival of a slave of Entedius, on a mule, leading
another heavily laden with two packs. We made a quick bath, with no
loitering, and at once went in to dinner. My uncle had been to the last
degree conservative and old-fashioned. He would have nothing to do with
any new inventions, save his own. So he would not hear of any alterations
in the furnishings of his villa, except those suggested by his ideas of
sanitation. Otherwise it had been kept just as my grandfather had left it
to him. In particular uncle could not be brought to like the newly popular
C-shaped dining sofas, which all Rome and all fashionables all over Italy
and the provinces had so acclaimed and so promptly adopted along with
circular-topped dining-tables. My _triclinium_ still held grandfather's
square-topped table and the three square sofas about it. Uncle's will, in
fact, had stipulated that no furnishings of the villa must be altered
within five years of the date of his death. As I had to adjust my formal
dinners to the old style, I was not only delighted to have Tanno with us
for himself and for his jollity, but also because he just made up the nine
diners demanded by ancient convention.

Agathemer had asked me, as a special favor, to leave the decoration of the
_triclinium_ entirely to him, and I had agreed, when he fairly begged me,
not to enter the _triclinium_ or even pass its door, after my noonday
siesta. When I did enter it with my guests I was dazzled. The sun had just
set and the northwestern sky was all a blaze of golden brightness,
streaked with long pink and rosy streamers of cloud, from which the
evening light, neither glaring nor dim, flooded through the big
northwestern windows. The spacious room was a bower of bloom. Great
armfuls of flowers hid the capitals of the pilasters, others their bases;
garlands--heavy, even corpulent garlands--were looped from pilaster to
pilaster; every vase was filled with flowers, the little vases on the
brackets, the big ones alternating with the statues in the niches, the
huge floor-vases in the corners: the table, the sofas, the floor, all were
strewn with smaller blossoms, tiny flowers or fresh petals of roses. The
garlands for our heads, which were offered us heaped on a tray, were to
the last degree exquisite. I adjusted mine as if in a dream. I was dazed.
I knew that the flowers could not have been supplied by our gardens; I
could not conjecture whence they came.

Agathemer, bowing and grinning, stood in the inner doorway. My eyes
questioned his.

"I have a note here," he said, "which I was enjoined not to hand you until
you had lain down to dinner."

The two second assistant waiter boys took our shoes and we disposed
ourselves on the sofas, Tanno in the place of honor, I rejoicing again
that his presence had solved, acceptably to all the rest, the otherwise
insoluble problem of to whom I should accord that location.

Agathemer handed me the note. At sight of it I recognized the handwriting
of Vedius Caspo. Of course, like my uncle before me, I always invited to
any of my formal entertainments all my neighbors except Ducconius Furfur,
our enemy, and the only neighbor with whom we were not on good terms.
Equally, of course, Vedius Caspo at Villa Vedia and Satronius Dromo at
Villa Satronia, regularly found some transparent pretext for declining my
invitation, each fearing that, if he accepted, the other might by some
prank of the gods of chance accept also, and they might encounter each
other.

The thread was too strong for me to break. I tore it out of the seal, and,
asking my guests' indulgence, I opened the note. It read:

    "Vedius Caspo to his good friend Andivius Hedulio. If you are well I
    am well also. I was writing at Villa Vedia on the day before the Nones
    of June. I had written you some days before and explained my inability
    to avail myself of your kind invitation to dinner on the Nones. I
    purposed sending you, with this, what flowers my gardens afford
    towards decorating your _triclinium_ for your feast. I beg that
    you accept these as a token of my good will. When you reach Rome I beg
    that, at your leisure and convenience, you transmit my best wishes to
    my kinswoman, Vedia Venusta.

    "Farewell."

This note staggered me more than the sight of the flowers. It was amazing
that Vedius should have taken the trouble to be so gracious to me; that
he should go out of his way to write me the vague and veiled, but
unequivocal intimation of his approval of my suit for Vedia implied in the
last sentences of his letter was astounding. Vedia had a very large
property inherited from her father, from two aunts and from others of the
Vedian clan. The whole clan was certain to be very jealous of her choice
of a second husband. I had anticipated their united opposition to my suit.
To be assured of his approbation by the beloved brother of the head of the
clan made me certain that I should meet with no opposition at all.

My delight must have irradiated my face. Tanno, the irresistible, at once
urged me to read the note aloud, saying:

"Don't be a hog. Don't keep all those good things to yourself. Let us have
a share of the tid-bits. Read it out to all of us."

I yielded.

Of course the three Satronians looked sour. But Tanno knew how to smooth
out any embarrassing situation. He beamed at me and fairly bubbled with
glee.

"I bet on you," he said. "The widow will be yours at this rate. But don't
show her that note till you two are married."

Before anybody else could speak he went on:

"I'm famished. So are we all. Flowers are fine to look at and to smell,
but give me food. Let's get at our dinner."

We did. We fell upon the relishes, disposing of them with hardly the
interchange of a word.

When the boys cleared the table I observed with some pride that Tanno eyed
with an expression of approval the table cloth and the big silver tray
which they set on it, laden with the second course.

"You are," he said, "pretty well equipped for house-keeping in these
remote wilds, Caius. Your table-cloth is far above the average for town
tables and your tray is magnificent."

That started a round of talk on city usages, town etiquette and court
gossip. Tanno, very naturally, did much of the talking, the rest mostly
questioning and listening. He spoke at length of the Emperor, but of
course more guardedly than while talking to me alone.

When the tray with the first course was removed and while that with the
second course was being brought in the talk ebbed. Tanno gave it a turn,
which at first seemed likely to prove unfortunate, by saying:

"Now I've told you the latest news from Rome and the current gossip and
the popular fads. Turn about is fair play. It is time for some of you to
tell me what just now most interests this country-side. My idea of country
life is that it is about as exciting as the winter sleep of a dormouse or
of a hibernating bear; but for all I know, it may be as lively in its way
as life in town; you may be agog over some occurrence as important to you
as a change of Palace Prefects would be at Rome. Speak out somebody, if
there is anything worth telling."

"Whether it be worth telling I do not know," spoke up Bultius Seclator,
"but the country-side hereabouts is agog just now over a recent case of
abduction."

(I shuddered: here was the feud to the fore in spite of everything. And I
shuddered yet more as I saw set and harden the features of Vulso, Rusco
and Naepor.)

"To make clear to you," he went on, "I'll have to explain the
circumstances. You undoubtedly know both Satronius Dromo of this valley
and his father, Satronius Satro, at Rome. Satro's father, old Satronius
Satronianus, among the horde of slaves set free by his will, liberated a
number of artisans of various kinds, who, scattered about among the
neighboring towns and villages, had lived like free men, in dwellings
belonging to him or in rented abodes, plying their trades and returning to
their master a better income than he could have derived from their
activities in any other way, since one of his assistant overseers saw to
it that they paid in, unfailingly and promptly, the stipulated percentage
of their gains. Among these was a cobbler named Turpio, at Trebula. He was
so expert, so deft, so quick and so ingratiating to customers, that the
overseer insisted on his paying a percentage of his earnings larger than
that paid by any other similar slave. Now cobbling, at the best of it, is
not an occupation at which one would fancy that anyone would become
wealthy. Yet Turpio grew to be very well off. He early amassed savings
enough to pay for his own freedom, but his master would not agree to that,
so Turpio bought the house in which he lived and his workshop. In the
course of time he accumulated possessions of no mean value and owned
several slaves, whom he employed as assistant cobblers. By his master's
will all that he had amassed became his property, of course, when he was
freed. He was, as he is, very popular in Trebula and among all the
country-folk round about who visit Trebula. He is esteemed by all who know
him and by all Satronians of every degree.

"Now Turpio, some years ago, partly on account of his kind-heartedness,
partly since he could never resist a bargain and he got her for almost
nothing, partly, perhaps because of his canny foresight, bought a
wretched, puny, sickly, little runt of a four-year-old slave-girl, a mere
rack of bones covered with yellow skin. She continued sickly for some
years, then, when she was more than half grown, the fresh air of Trebula,
its good water, the kindness with which she was treated, the generous fare
accorded her, all working together, suddenly began to show results. She
plumped out, grew tall, vigorous, active, graceful and charming. She also
acquired notable skill at weaving. His intimates congratulated Turpio on
his luck or prescience and foretold for him notable profits from her sale.
Turpio averred that he and his spouse were so fond of the girl that he was
unwilling to part with her except to a master or mistress whom she took to
and who seemed likely to be kind to her. He refused several handsome
offers for her. She became notable in Trebula as its most beautiful
inhabitant and all who knew her wished her well.

"Not long ago, Vedius Molo of Concordia, not a bad specimen of a noble
lad, I will say, came to Villa Vedia. He roamed about the country as a
young nobleman will. By some chance he caught sight of Xantha, for that is
her name, and, of course, like many another, fell in love with her. He
promptly offered to buy her. But Xantha did not like him at all and
Turpio, as always, consulted her before deciding to sell her. Opposition
inflamed Molo and he bid Turpio up till his business instincts all but
overcame his doting affection for Xantha. But Xantha liked Molo less and
less the more she saw of him. She begged Turpio not to sell her to Molo.
He was obdurate, although Molo bid on up till he was offering a really
fabulous price, though one well within his means. He could not credit that
Turpio would not yield. When he was convinced that he could not wheedle
him he lost his temper. Turpio told him that the negotiations were at an
end and warned him not to return. Molo went off in a rage.

"Two nights later Turpio's house was broken into by a considerable body of
men, armed, certainly with clubs or staffs. Turpio and his household
defended themselves vigorously and were all severely mishandled in the
affray, Turpio most severely of all. They were overcome, even overwhelmed,
and, before their neighbors could come to their assistance or the townsmen
in general rally to help, Xantha was carried off by the intruders, who,
beating the night watchman insensible, escaped through the postern of the
north gate.

"This highhanded outrage has greatly incensed all Trebula and the entire
neighborhood. The night was very dark, neither Turpio nor any of his
household nor yet the watchman at the postern claims to have recognized
any of the abductors. Yet all impute the outrage to Vedius Molo. Every
magistrate is alert to punish the delinquents and to return Xantha to her
master. Yet she has totally vanished. After they passed the postern her
abductors left no trace. Whether they had or had not with them a two-
wheeled or a four-wheeled carriage or a litter or a sedan-chair cannot be
determined; nor whether they were on foot or on horseback. The weather was
dry and windy and the rocky roads out of Trebula showed no tracks of any
kind. The country has been scoured in every direction and all persons
questioned, not only at the change-stations on the main roads, and at
crossroads, but at all villages. Not a clue has been found; though all
Turpio's friends more than suspect Vedius Molo, there is not an iota of
evidence on which anyone could base a demand for a warrant to search Villa
Vedia or any other specified villa, farmstead or other piece of property.
Xantha has vanished. There are rumors that she is at Villa Vedia, but they
seem as baseless as the rumor of a party of horsemen conveying a closed
litter, which rumor has radiated from uncountable localities all about
here, not one of which localities could, when their inhabitants were
questioned, substantiate the rumor in any way. Equally baseless appear the
numerous rumors that this or that individual has it on unimpeachable
authority that Xantha's abductors are camped somewhere in this or that
woodland and are preparing to smuggle Xantha into Villa Vedia by that
route which they deem least probable for such a venture and therefore
least watched. With all this the country-side is agog, I can assure you."

"Fairly exciting, I admit," Tanno remarked when Bultius paused. "Sounds
like the tales of goings-on in Latium in the days when the Aequi, Volsci
and Hernici raided up to the gates of Rome four summers out of five. I had
not thought Sabinum so primitive."

Before I could speak, Fisevius Rusco cut in.

"Bultius," he said, "Vulso and Naepor and I have listened without any
interruptions to your version of the occurrences you have narrated, and I
must say you have told them as fairly as could be expected from any one
with your leanings. I have no remarks to make on your story nor anything
to say in rebuttal. But it seems to me, it is now your turn, along with
Nepronius and Juventius, to listen with equal patience, while I narrate a
similar story."

The three Satronians bowed stiffly and in silence.

Rusco resumed, addressing Tanno:

"I shall not," he said, "be compelled to go into details as minutely as
did Bultius. You can comprehend my story with less background.

"At Reate, for some years past, there lived a worthy couple, freedman and
freedwoman of Vedius Vindex. The husband died more than a year ago,
leaving a young and childless widow, named Greia Posis, possessed of a
good town-house and of three small farms not far out in the country.
Naturally as she was comely and well-off, Greia soon had suitors aplenty.
For some time she showed no favor to any, but lately it has been plain
that she would marry either Helvidius Flaccus, a tenant-farmer holding his
land under one of the Vedian clan near Reate, or Annius Largus, similarly
a tenant of one of the Satronian properties. Although Helvidius was on
Greia's side of our local feud, while Annius was on the other, idlers at
Reate were laying wagers that Annius would win Greia, considering him most
in her favor.

"Recently, however, Greia had some sort of a quarrel with Annius, and
announced her intention of marrying Helvidius.

"You must understand that Greia has the best sort of reputation, is
universally respected, and is greatly liked by all her neighbors and
acquaintances and is popular in Reate.

"Now, a day or two after the abduction which Bultius has narrated, Greia
had visited one of her farms and, towards dark, was returning home to
Reate in a two-wheeled gig driven by a slave of hers, a deaf-mute lad.
What occurred can only be conjectured, as the deaf-mute cannot relate it,
but, at all events, he was found insensible, bruised and bleeding, by the
road, apparently having been unmercifully beaten. Not far from him the
mule was grazing by the roadside, his harness in perfect condition and the
gig unharmed. Greia, however, had vanished. No one had seen Annius in the
neighborhood, yet it is generally assumed that he managed to abduct Greia
in broad daylight without any one sighting him either coming or going:
which, if the fact, would be an almost miraculous feat.

"Certainly Greia has disappeared. The magistrates of Reate searched
Annius' farmstead, but found neither Greia nor, indeed, any trace of
Annius himself. It is conjectured that he is hiding, with Greia, at some
farm or villa under the Satronian protection. But there is no shadow of
any tangible basis for the conjecture, nor for the rumors, which, like
those concerning Xantha which Bultius had told you of, run all over the
country-side; very similar rumors, too; for some are to the effect that
Annius is holding Greia in durance at Villa Satronia; others that a
cortege of horsemen escorting a closed litter has been seen here or there
on some road; others that someone has learnt that Annius is about to
attempt to reach Villa Satronia with Greia, convoyed by an escort of his
clansmen. The country-side buzzes with such whispers.

"And let me point out to you, what you undoubtedly comprehend, that
serious as is the forcible abduction of a slave-girl, the abduction of a
freewoman, even if a freedwoman, is a far more serious matter. Not only is
Helvidius on fire to reclaim his bride and to revenge himself on Largus,
not only are all his relations, friends and well-wishers eager to assist
him by every means in their power, not only are all right-thinking men
incensed at the outrage, but the magistrates of Reate are determined to
bring the guilty man to justice and to free Greia."

Pomplio paused.

"Very well told," was Tanno's comment, "and I comprehend far better than
you perhaps imagine. Not only are the magistrates of Reate hot on the
trail of Annius and those of Trebula equally keen after Vedius Molo, but
all Vedians are eager to shield Molo and to help catch and convict Annius
Largus, and all Satronians conversely doing all they can to shield Largus
and get Molo. Oh, I twig! Moreover I realize that all Vedians regard the
abduction of Greia as not so much a hot-headed folly of Largus as a
Satronian retort to the abduction of Xantha; and conversely, all
Satronians regard it as merely an insufficient counter to Xantha's
abduction. Oh, I comprehend the feud atmosphere. I have no doubt that
scores of poniards of the Vedian clan are sharp and daily sharpened
sharper, for use on Largus and as many Satronian dirks for use on Molo;
that every road hereabouts has watchers posted along it; that bands of
lusty lads are camped here and there waiting summonses or are actually in
likely ambushes by the roadsides. I foresee shindies of great amplitude.
You need not say any more; neither of you need say any more; none of you
need say any more. In fact, I beg that the whole subject be dropped right
here. I comprehend the feud atmosphere and I don't want any more of it in
this _triclinium_. Let's forget or ignore the feud and enjoy Hedulio's
good fare."

His compelling personality exerted its magic, as usual. All six feudists
relaxed. I could feel the social tension dissolve. We all felt relieved.

By that time we had disposed of the fish and roasts, the boys had lighted
the hanging lamps and the standing lamps, had removed the tray with what
we had left of the roasts and had brought in the third-course tray with
the birds and salads. As we sampled them Tanno remarked:

"You have a cook, astonishingly good, Caius, for anywhere outside of Rome
and amazingly good for a villa in the hills, far from a town. I must see
your cook and question him. His roasts, his broiled, baked and fried
dishes are above the averages, yet nothing wonderful. But his ragouts or
fricassees or whatever you call them, are marvellous. This salmi of fig-
peckers (or of some similar bird, for it is so ingeniously flavored and
spiced, that I cannot be sure) is miraculous. There was a sort of chowder,
too, of what fish I could not conjecture, which was so appetizing that I
could have gorged on it. Just as provocative and alluring was one of the
concoctions of the second course, apparently of lamb or kid, but
indubitably a masterpiece. I certainly must see your cook."

"My cook," I confessed, "was not the artist of the dishes you praise so
highly. Hereabouts we do not give them such high-sounding names as you
apply to them, we call them hashes or stews. Ofatulena, the wife of my
villa-farm bailiff, devised them and prepared them. She is famous
hereabouts for her cooking."

"What," cried Tanno, "a woman cook! Never saw a woman cook, never heard of
one, never read of one. Egypt, Babylonia, Lydia, Persia, Greece and Italy,
all cooks have always been men. I ought to know all about cookery, what
with my library on cookery and my travels to all the cities famous for
cookery. But you have taught me something novel and wholly unsuspected.
Trot out your female cook. Let's have a look at her."

I sent for Ofatulena and she came in, pleased and embarrassed, flushed
brick-red all over her full moon of a face, diffident and elated,
trembling and giggling.

Tanno questioned her and satisfied himself that she had prepared the
dishes which had won his approbation and also that she was no hit-or-miss
cook, but a real artist in the kitchen, and really knew what she was
doing.

"Beware, Hedulio," he said as he dismissed her. "You Sabines will have
three abductions to gossip over if you do not look out. I'm half tempted
now to suborn some of the riff-raff of the Subura to kidnap this miracle-
worker of yours and hale her to Rome into my kitchen to amaze my guests."

When she was gone he resumed:

"Everything is topsy turvy in Sabinum, woman cooks and tenant farmers!
What next? I gather that all of you, Satronians, Vedians and outsiders,
have your estates parcelled out among free tenant farmers. Am I right?"

Hirnio, Seclator and the rest assured him that he was right.

"Well, then," he said, "tenant farming must be a subject perfectly safe
for all persons present. Let's talk about it. Hedulio has tried to expound
to me the beauties of the system, but he had no great success. I fail so
far, to comprehend how the institution ever came into existence, why it
has maintained itself only in Sabinum and what are its advantages. Tell me
about it."

Tanno had hit upon one of the few subjects on which all present felt
concordantly. His utterance started a hubbub, all my guests talking at
once, each trying to out-talk all the others and all voicing our local
enthusiasm for our local farm-system. The _triclinium_ rang with paeans of
praise of our Sabine yeomanry, and when the excitement had abated enough
to permit of intelligible discourse, Tanno was regaled with a series of
tales illustrating the sterling worth of the Sabine yeomen, their
knowledge of farming, their diligence, their patience, their unflagging
energy, their parsimony, their amazing productivity in respect to crop-
yield, stock, implements and all things raised or made on their farms,
their devotion to their landlords, the charm of the ties between the
gentry and the yeomanry and the universal Sabine cult of the tenant
system.

With all this talk we lingered longer than usual over Ofatulena's
bewitching salads, which Tanno lauded even above her ragouts.

When it was time for the last course, after the service-boys had slid the
third-course tray off the table, I was amazed to see my four strongest
table slaves enter fairly staggering under the load put upon them by
Grandfather's biggest dinner-tray heaped with fruit, among which I
descried African pomegranates and other exotics. Still more was I amazed
when other slaves crowded in behind them, carrying baskets of hot-house
melons of astonishing size and insistent perfume. Last of the procession
was Agathemer, who stood in the doorway, grinning and beaming.

Tanno, not less than the guests in chorus, acclaimed this unexpected
profusion.

Again I looked interrogatively at Agathemer. He responded as at the
commencement of our meal.

"I have a note here," he said, "which I was enjoined not to hand you until
after this fruit had been set upon your table."

He handed me the missive, the superscription of which was, to my
astonishment, in the handwriting of Satronius Dromo. While my fingers
tugged at the thread, Tanno commanded:

"Read it out loud at once, like the other. No secrets here. Let us all
in."

The letter began with all the traditional polite formalities, as had that
from Vedius. It read:

    "Satronius Dromo to his valued friend Andivius Hedulio. If you are
    well I am well also. I was writing at Villa Satronia on the day before
    the Nones of June. Some days before I had written you expressing my
    regret at the circumstances which prevented me from accepting your
    most welcome invitation to dine with you on the Nones. I intended
    dispatching to you, with this, what fruit my establishment has fit for
    your acceptance, which I ask of you, this fruit being sent as an
    earnest of my cordiality. When you are settled at Rome I beg that,
    when perfectly convenient to you, you convey my warmest regards to my
    cousin's widow, Vedia Venusta.

    "Farewell."

At this letter I was fairly thunderstruck. That Satronius should take any
notice of me at all was more amazing than the graciousness of Vedius. That
he should have ransacked the provinces and overstrained the capabilities
of rowers and horseflesh to send me costly rarities out of season was
astounding. That his last sentence should practically duplicate the last
sentence of the letter from Vedius was most incredible of all. For if all
Vedians were sure to be very decidedly hypercritical as to anyone likely
to become Vedia's second husband, it was still more a certainty that the
entire Satronian connection would scrutinize minutely everything
concerning any man likely to come into control of the great properties
which she had inherited from her husband, Satronius Patavinus. That I
should be disfavored by the entire Satronian connection had seemed to me
more than likely. Dromo's intimation of his warm approval of my suit for
Vedia, coming on top of Caspo's, cleared of all obstacles my path towards
matrimony with the woman of my heart's choice. I was more than elated, I
was drunk with ecstacy.

After I had finished reading, dead silence reigned in the _triclinium_;
even Tanno was too dumbfounded to utter any sound.

Hirnio spoke first.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I beg of you to hear me out with attention. Like
our Caius here and like his hereditary antagonist, Ducconius Furfur, I
have never taken sides in our age-long local feud. Like all outsiders and
like a majority of its partisans, I have grieved at its existence,
deplored its unfortunate results and hoped for its extinction. I think I
may say with truth that there was not one inhabitant of this neighborhood
who did not rejoice when the heads of the two families, with the abolition
of the feud and the creation of the permanent amity in view, arranged a
marriage between the lovely daughter of the head of the northern branch
of the Vedian House and the son of the northern branch of the Satronian
House. Satronian or Vedian; freeman or slave, everyone was delighted at
the prospect of lasting harmony. The sudden death of Satronius Patavinus
not only blasted these hopes, but intensified antagonisms; for all the
Vedians felt that a daughter of the clan had been sacrificed in vain and
all Satronians regretted that vast properties about Padua, long possessed
by Satronians, passed by the will of her husband to a young widow, born of
the Vedian House. All saw the prospect of exacerbated enmities and their
probable results.

"Now it must be apparent to you that the two letters which we have heard
read would never have been written without their writers having consulted
with the heads of their respective houses. These letters are an intimation
to our Caius that both her kinsmen and the kinsmen of her first husband
smile upon his suit for the most lovely, the most charming and the
wealthiest widow in Rome. This means, to a certainty, that both Satronius
Satro and Vedius Vedianus descry the possibility that Vedia's union with a
second husband acceptable to both clans and opposed to neither may work
for mitigation of the feud spirit and for establishment of harmonious
amity almost as powerfully as would have the permanency of her membership
of the Satronian clan. I conceive that all of us, outsiders and partisans,
may congratulate Caius without reservation or afterthought, heartily and
enthusiastically."

To this all present agreed in chorus, all drank my health.

Vulso, rather hesitatingly, spoke next.

"As all we say here," he began, "is under the rose and will not be
repeated or hinted at, I do not mind saying that I feel as does Hirnio."

To this Rusco and Naepor agreed, with less hesitancy.

Similarly the three Satronians expressed their concurrence.

Again they all congratulated me on my luck, drank to the success of my
suit, and to my prosperity and health.

Complete harmony reigned and the strained social atmosphere attending a
dinner in the feud area vanished completely.

By this time the moon, which was nearly full, was high enough to bathe the
world with silvery light. Tanno peering across the table and through the
windows, remarked:

"You have a fine prospect, Caius. I admired it when I first lay down, but
our interest in the flowers and in your letter from Vedius diverted my
intention to speak of it. It is a charming outlook even by moonlight."

"Yes," I admitted, with not a little pride. "Grandfather, of course, dined
earlier than is fashionable nowadays. He built this _triclinium_ so that
he could bask in the rays of the declining sun and could watch the sunset
colors as they varied and deepened. My uncle used to dine as early as his
father and, even in the hottest weather, enjoyed the direct rays of the
sun on him as he dined, for he was always rheumatic and chilly, yet he
enjoyed the beauty of the view even more."

"It is charming even by moonlight," Tanno repeated, "and that although the
villa is between our outlook and the moon, so its shadow darkens the
nearer prospect."

We all contemplated the view through the window. "Who are those men I see
just beyond the shadow of the house?" Tanno queried. "Quite an assemblage,
it seems to me; almost a mob for these lonely districts."

I looked where he indicated and could not conjecture what it was that I
saw.



CHAPTER III

TENANTRY AND SLAVERY


Agathemer came in and explained that my tenants had a petition to present
to me and had gathered, hoping that I would receive them after dinner.
(Doubtless, I thought, conjecturing that I would be, just after dinner, in
the most accommodating humor possible.)

"I must see this and hear what they have to say," Tanno declared. "Have
you any objections to our going with you, Caius?" he asked.

On my saying that I should be glad to have him come along, he said:

"Come on, all of you, it will be fun, and standing out in the night cool
will freshen our zest for our wine."

All nine of us went out on the terrace. The prospect was indeed beautiful,
only the brighter stars showing in the pale sky, the far hills outlined
against it, the nearer hills darkly glimmering in the moon-rays, the
valleys all full of pearly moonlit haze, the pleasance about the villa
vague in the witchery of the moon's full radiance.

In that full radiance, on the path below the balustrade of the terrace,
were my nine tenant farmers. Not one, as was natural among our healthy
hills, but was my elder. Yet, according to our customary mode of address
from master to tenant, I said to them:

"What brings you here, lads, so long after your habitual bed-time?"

Ligo Atrior acted as spokesman.

"We have a request to prefer," he said, "and we judged this an opportune
time."

"Speak out," I said, "our wine is waiting for me and my guests, and I am
listening. Speak out!"

He set forth, at considerable length and with many halts and repetitions,
that all their farms were in excellent order and in an exceedingly forward
condition, promising very well for the future in all respects; that I had
just assured myself of all this by a minute inspection; that they were
keenly emulous of each other and each thought his farm the best of the
nine; that they were and had been very curious to learn which of the nine
farms I thought the best kept; that someone had suggested that, if I
judged any one of the nine distinctly better than his fellows', it would
be proper to distinguish the man of my choice by some gift, bonus,
exemption or privilege, if his farm was really the best kept; that while
discussing these matters someone had remarked that he envied me my
approaching visit to Rome, as he had never been there; that this had
brought to their notice that not one of them had ever seen Rome, though it
was less than three days' journey away; that someone had suggested that
perhaps I might be induced not only to specify which of them I considered
the best farmer, but to indicate my preference by allowing the best of
them to visit Rome later in the summer, after the crops were all
harvested; that they had agreed to abide loyally by my choice and that
they prayed me to declare which of them, in my opinion, was the best
farmer.

When Ligo paused, old Chryseros Philargyrus, his wiry leanness manifest
even in the moonlight, although he was well muffled up against the
dampness of the night, pushed himself to the front and said that he
claimed that, in any such competition, he ought to stand on a level with
my eight other tenants, even if they had been life-long tenants of the
estate, whereas he, like his father and grandfather, had paid rent to
Ducconius Furfur. He claimed that the court decision by which Ducconius
had had to refund to my uncle all the rents received from the farm in
dispute since the first decision of the lowest court had awarded it to a
Ducconius had been, in effect, an affirmation that his ancestors and he
had always been, constructively, tenants of the Andivian estate.

The old man spoke well and tersely, made his points neatly and stated his
arguments lucidly, and, in conclusion he said:

"And you must realize, Sir, that whatever my feelings have been up to
today, after what happened this afternoon I have forgotten that I or mine
ever owned Ducconius Furfur as master. I am your man henceforward, body
and soul; I call you not only patron but savior and father. I make my plea
for treatment putting me on full equality with my fellows, and I value
myself so highly that I hope for the prize. Yet if I am not the lucky man,
I shall loyally and in silence abide by your decision."

I was pleased with his words and I admitted the correctness of his
contentions, but rebuked him for his self-assertive manner.

Then Ligo spoke again.

"Please publish your opinion, Master, for we are sleepy and long to be
abed. But much more do we long for your decision, for each one of us
considers himself a better farmer than any other and expects to be the
chosen man."

I smiled.

"Suppose," I said, "that I am of the opinion that no one of you is better
than all his fellows, but that two of you are better than the other seven,
but equal to each other in merit?"

Ligo stood at loss, but old Chryseros spoke out at once, saying:

"In that case, Master, it would be proper that both men go to Rome, as
such a prize could not be divided into shares."

His forwardness angered me. I told him sharply to mind his manners and to
keep his place; that Ligo had been chosen spokesman and that he was to
hold his peace. I also pointed out that I had not agreed to give any such
prize for distinguished excellence, that far less had I agreed that a
visit to Rome should be the prize.

All nine of them stood mute.

I was tingling with my elation over my prospects of winning Vedia, for I
felt sure of her personal favor, and the two notes from my great neighbors
had thrown me into a sort of trance of rapture. I was genuinely pleased
with the frugality, diligence and skill of my tenants. My estate was in a
way to return far more than I had expected of it. I was in a position to
be liberal, I felt indulgent.

"Lads," I cried, "everyone of the nine of you is as good a farmer as
everyone of the other eight. You are the nine best farmers in Sabinum. You
are such good farmers that you have put your farms in a state where your
bailiffs can oversee the harvest as well as if under your own eyes.
Everyone of you has earned a visit to Rome and everyone of you shall have
it, and not at some future time, which may never come, but now. I start
for Rome at daybreak and the whole nine of you shall go with me!"

This unexpected liberality they heard in silence: they stood dumb and
motionless.

All but Philargyrus. Gesticulating, he pressed forward among them from
where he had retired to the rear after my late rebuke. Gesticulating, his
voice rising into a senile scream, he upbraided me for folly,
extravagance, unthrift and prodigality. He declared that such indulgence
would ruin me, would debauch him and his fellows and would, by its evil
example, infect, corrupt and deprave the whole countryside. He railed at
me. He vowed that, whatever the rest might do, he would use all his powers
of persuasion to urge them to stick to their farms till harvest was over
and he swore that he himself would, under no circumstances, leave his till
the last ear of grain, the last root, the last fruit, was garnered, stored
and safe for the winter.

I let him shriek himself hoarse and talk himself mute; then I spoke calmly
and sternly:

"I am master here and master of all of you. The loyalty due from a free
tenant is, in Sabinum, as mandatory a bond as the obedience legally due
from a slave. I speak. Listen, all of you. I set out for Rome at dawn. See
that every man of the nine of you is on horseback at the east courtyard
gate at dawn, with an ample pack of all things needed for a month's
absence properly girthed on a led mule. If any of you dare to disobey I
shall find some effective means to make him smart for his temerity."

Ligo, finding his voice, thanked me for the nine, and they trudged away.

When we were back again on the dining-sofas Tanno, as was his habit, took
charge of things after his breezy fashion.

"With the permission of our Caius," he said, without asking my permission,
of which he was sure, "I appoint myself King of the Revels. Where's the
head butler?"

When my major-domo came forward, Tanno queried:

"How much water did you mix with the wine we've been drinking with our
dinner?"

The butler replied:

"Two measures of water to one of wine."

Tanno nodded to me, smiling.

"You've mighty good wine, Caius," he said. "No one is more an expert than
I and I should have conjectured three to two."

"Lads," he continued, to the guests collectively, "this is the sort of
master-of-the-revels I am. I mean to start for Rome at dawn with Caius and
I intend that both of us shall start cold sober. Therefore all of us must
go to bed reasonably sober. You must submit to my rulings."

Then he instructed the butler:

"Give us no more of the mixture we have been drinking. Mix a big bowl
three to one and ladle that out to us."

When our goblets had been filled he spoke to me!

"Caius, I want to know what that old hunks of a Chryseros Philargyrus
meant when he said that after what had occurred this afternoon he was your
man, body and soul. What happened?"

"Nothing much." I said. "As Agathemer and I were riding home and were
passing his barn-yard gate, we heard yells for help. I dismounted and ran
in. I found Chryseros rather at a disadvantage in handling a bull. I
helped him get the beast into his pen. His gratitude seems exaggerated."

"Not any more exaggerated than your modesty," spoke up Neponius Pomplio,
who had hardly uttered a word since he arrived. Turning to Tanno he
continued:

"You'll never get Hedulio to tell you anything more definite than the very
vague and hazy adumbration of his exploit he has already given. I heard
some rumors of his feat as I rode down here from my house. I conjecture
that the story is worth telling, to its least detail. If you want to hear
what really occurred, call in Agathemer; he was with Hedulio when it
happened."

"Good idea," said Tanno, "and I want Agathemer here for another reason.
May I call him in, Caius?"

I assented and Agathemer came in, as smiling and obsequious as always.

"Agathemer," Tanno queried, "have you finished your dinner?"

"Long ago," said Agathemer, "and plenty too."

"Then, have a chair," said Tanno, rolling himself luxuriously on the deep,
soft mattress of one of my uncle's superlatively comfortable sofas. "No!"
he said sharply. "No demurring. Sit down, man! Do as I tell you! I've a
batch of questions to put to you and you'll be long answering me. I want
you entirely at ease while you talk. You can't talk as I want you to
unless you forget everything else. If you stand you'll be thinking of your
tired legs instead of talking without thinking at all."

Agathemer, embarrassed, seated himself in the lowest and simplest chair in
the room.

"We called you in for something else," said Tanno, "but first of all I
want to ask you why you were not with us at dinner? Caius has written me
again and again how he and you dine together evening after evening and how
you are so entertaining that he enjoys a dinner just with you almost as
much as if he has novel guests. Why were you left out of this? Is Hedulio
shy of more or less than nine at table, like his uncle, or does his
uncle's dining-room outfit coerce him? Or what _was_ the reason?"

Agathemer turned red and visibly writhed, mute and sweating.

I cut in.

"Here, Caius," I said to Tanno, "this isn't the torture chamber nor you
the executioner, nor yet has Agathemer deserved the rack. You are putting
him in an excruciating dilemma. He is too courteous to tell you that you
ought to ask me, not him, and he is too loyal to tell you the reason."

I was nearer to being angry with Tanno than I had ever been in our lives.
I comprehended why he, with all his superlative equipment of tact and
intuition, had blundered; he could not but assume that circumstances were
as they should have been rather than as they were; yet the blunder was, in
a sense, unforgivable, and had created a social situation than which
nothing could be more awkward.

Agathemer's face cleared as I spoke.

Tanno rounded on me.

"You tell me, then!" he said. "I guess from their faces that I have
advertised my ignorance of what is perfectly well known to everybody else
here. Remove my disabilities."

I hesitated and then went in with a rush.

"It does not matter a particle," I said, "how often I lie down to dinner
with Agathemer when we are alone. Since I am then the only freeman in the
villa there are no witnesses of our dining together. But if I have him to
dinner with any guest he becomes thereby a freeman, as you very well know.
And if I were free to set him free and chose to free him in that fashion,
I should have to advise my friends in advance of my intentions and ask
whether they were willing to lend themselves to such a proceeding. One
cannot invite a man without previous explanation and then, when he's
already in one's house, ask him to lie down to dinner with a slave."

"Slave!" Tanno roared at me, his face red as the back of a boiled lobster.
If I had just missed being angry with him, there was no doubt that he was
in a tearing fury with me.

"Slave?" he repeated. "Agathemer still a slave? Are you joking or are you
serious? Is this true?"

"Entirely and literally true." I affirmed.

Tanno, so red that I should have thought it impossible that he could grow
redder, grew redder.

"If your uncle," he roared, "did not free him in his will he was a hog. If
you haven't freed him yourself, you're a hog. Free him here and now! Show
some decency and some gratitude! Better late than never. Here, Agathemer,
get off that boy's stool and lie down between me and Entedius."

"Go slow, Caius!" I admonished him. "You just confessed that you know
nothing of the circumstances, yet you give orders in my house, orders
affecting my property-rights, without first acquainting yourself with all
the conditions on which such orders should be based, even if you had asked
and received my permission to issue them."

Tanno was impulsive, even headlong, but he never wrangled or quarrelled
and seldom lost his temper. I had feared a still more violent outburst
from him, but my admonition brought him to himself.

"I apologize," he said, the red fading from his face. "Tell me the whole
matter, so that I may comprehend. I'll listen in silence."

"The vital fact," I said, "is that, although I fully expected my uncle, in
his will, to free Agathemer, he not only did not free him, but he enjoined
me not to free him within five years after my entrance into my
inheritance."

"Well," said Tanno, "I take back what I said of you when I called you a
hog, but, even if we are taught to utter nothing but good of the dead, I
repeat that your uncle was a hog. What do you think of it, Agathemer?"

Agathemer sat at ease now on his stool and his face was placid.

"Since you have asked what I think," he said, "may I assume that you
accord me permission to utter what I think, as if I were even a free man?"

"Utter precisely what you think, without any reservations or
modifications," said Tanno. "I want to have exactly what you think and all
you think."

"I think," spoke Agathemer, "that you are neither wise to speak so of the
dead nor justified in speaking so of my former master. He was a just man
and a wise man. Though I cannot conjecture his reason, I am sure that what
he did was, somehow, for the best."

Tanno stared at him with a puzzled expression.

He turned to me.

"Isn't it true," he queried, "that your uncle had on his hands an
hereditary lawsuit of the most exasperating sort, in the course of which
the other side had won the first decision and every appeal?"

"Everybody knows that, Socrates," I admitted.

"Didn't Agathemer," Tanno pressed me, "just before the case was heard in
the highest court, make a suggestion which your uncle's lawyers utilized
and through which they won the case?"

"That is also true," I affirmed.

"Didn't they all say, that Agathemer's suggestion was just what they
should have thought of at the very first and didn't they admit that they
had not thought of it until Agathemer suggested it and that they never
would have thought of it if he had not suggested it?"

"Those are the facts," I confessed.

"In view of those facts," Tanno continued, "what did you yourself expect
your uncle to do for Agathemer in his will?"

I ruminated.

"The very least I anticipated," I said, "was that he would free Agathemer
and make him a present equal to the value of half the property in dispute
in the lawsuit. As Ducconius had had to repay to my uncle the full amount
of the rents paid since his family first gained possession of the
property, that would have been a very moderate reward for Agathemer's
service. I also conjectured that he might free Agathemer and will him a
sum equivalent to the net proceeds of the repaid rents, less the costs of
the suit. I should not have been surprised if he had made him a present of
the whole farm out and out. Many an owner has done more for a slave who
had done less for him."

"And you would have regarded it as fair if your uncle had taken any of
those methods of recompensing Agathemer?"

"Certainly!" I affirmed.

"Then why, in the name of Mercury," he demanded, "didn't you free
Agathemer the moment the will was read?"

"I have told you over and over," I retorted impatiently, "that my uncle's
will enjoined me not to free Agathemer within five years, though he also
enjoined that I was to make a new will at once so as to leave Agathemer
free and recompensed if I died before the five years elapsed."

"But the injunction was not binding," Tanno persisted, "either in law or
by religious custom. No dead man can prevent his heirs freeing slaves he
leaves them. Why heed the injunction?"

"I could not contravene so explicit a behest of the dead," I demurred,
"especially of a man I loved and revered. And you must recall my uncle's
queer habit of acting on intuitions and the way he expressed them, always
saying:

"'It has been revealed to me that....' And his intuitions always seemed to
amount to prevision, he never seemed to have acted amiss, however
eccentric his act, however baseless his premonition. I have a feeling that
in Agathemer's case he acted on some such presentiment."

Tanno turned to Agathemer.

"Do you feel that way too?" he demanded.

"I most certainly do," said Agathemer, "I have a feeling that my remaining
a slave is going to be of vital service to Hedulio, somehow, sometime."

"Then you are content to remain a slave?" Tanno queried.

"No one wants to remain a slave," Agathemer confessed, "and every slave
longs to be a free man and is impatient to be free at once. But I try to
be resigned, of course, and, except that I cannot rejoice in not being
free, I am as well fed, clothed and housed as I should be as a free man
and have as much leisure."

Tanno glowered at both of us.

I cut in:

"You must remember that Agathemer was raised almost as a free man and
almost as my brother. We slept and played together from the time we could
walk. We had the same tutors, always, when in the country, both in
Bruttium and in Sabinum. In Rome, while I was at school, Agathemer was
taught the same subjects at home. We love each other almost as brothers.
Both of us were amazed when grandfather left Agathemer to my Uncle instead
of to my father or to me. We were more amazed at Uncle's will. But as
things are between us, Agathemer not only looks forward to freedom and an
estate within five years, but knows that his interval of waiting will be
pleasant, as pleasant as I can make it."

"But," Tanno objected, "think of the danger he is in while a slave. For
instance, just suppose--(may the gods avert the omen)--that you were
murdered in your bed this very night and no clue to the murderer found.
Nothing could save Agathemer from being tortured along with all your other
slaves."

"Pooh!" I cried. "You are behind the times! You may be an unsurpassable
expert on dress and manners, on perfumery and jewels, but you could know
more law. All those ferocious old statutes have been abolished by the
enactments of Antoninus and Aurelius. A slave, during good behavior, is
almost as safe as a freedman."

"It is you," Tanno countered, "who are behind the times. Commodus has had
rescinded every edict ameliorating the condition of slaves promulgated
since the accession of Trajan. As Nerva did little for them the status of
slaves is now practically what it was at the death of Domitian."

"Anyhow," spoke up Agathemer, "whatever real or fancied perils hang over
me, by my late master's will and wish, a slave I am and a slave I remain
till the five years elapse. Even thereafter I shall be Hedulio's devoted
servitor, meanwhile I am his devoted slave."

"Does being his slave inhibit you from telling the truth about him?" Tanno
queried.

"If it is to his discredit, certainly," Agathemer answered.

"Suppose it is to his credit, very much to his credit," Tanno pursued.

"Then I am permitted to tell the truth," laughed Agathemer.

"Then," said Tanno, "tell us the whole truth about Hedulio and Chryseros
Philargyrus and the bull."

Agathemer laughed out loud.

"Delighted to oblige you," he bowed.  Tanno looked at me.

"Hedulio is blushing," he said, "this promises to be interesting. As king
of the revels I forbid Hedulio from interrupting. Everybody drain a
goblet. Boy, pour a goblet for Agathemer. Agathemer, take a good long
drink, so you may start in good voice. And, boy, fill his goblet again
when it gets low. Keep an eye on it. Begin, Agathemer."

"It is a shorter story than you anticipate," Agathemer began.

"Hedulio and I had completed the final inspection of the estate. We had
begun each inspection with Chryseros' farm and had taken the farms in
rotation, ending up with Feliger's. We had inspected Macer's farm in the
morning, had had a leisurely bath, lunch and snooze and had ridden out to
Feliger's. After looking over the last details of the toolsheds and
henneries we were riding home under the over-arching elms down Bran Lane.
As we passed Chryseros' entrance we heard yells for help. Hedulio spurred
his horse up the avenue and towards the yells, I after him. The yells
guided us to the lower barn-yard gate. Hedulio reined up abruptly, leaped
off, leaving me to catch his mare, and vaulted the gate. I tethered our
mounts as quickly as I could and climbed the gate. I saw old Chryseros
pinned against the wall of his barley-barn, in between the horns of his
white bull. The points of the bull's horns were driven into the wood of
the barn and the horns were so long that Chryseros was in no immediate
danger of being crushed between the bull's forehead and the barn wall. The
bull was so enraged that he was pushing with all his might, puffing and
bellowing, spraying Chryseros' legs with froth, grunting and lowing
between bellows. As long as he kept on pushing Chryseros was more scared
than hurt; but, sooner or later, the bull was certain to draw back, lunge,
and skewer Chryseros on one or the other of his horns.

"When I first saw them Chryseros and the bull were as I have described.
Hedulio was twisting the bull's tail.

"The bull paid no more attention to the tail-twisting than if Hedulio had
been in the moon.

"Hedulio shouted to Chryseros to hold tight to the bull's horns, as he was
already doing, and to stand still. He let go the bull's tail and turned
round. Seeing me, he ordered me to get back over the gate and to stay
there. He looked about, ran to the stable door, peered in, went in and
returned with a manure fork. With that in his hand he ran back to the bull
and jabbed him with the fork.

"Then the bull did roar. He backed suddenly away from the barn, shaking
his horns loose from the futile grip Chryseros had on them, and whirled on
Hedulio. Hedulio jabbed him in the neck with the fork. The bull bellowed
with rage, it seemed, more than with pain, lowered his head and charged at
Hedulio.

"Hedulio side-stepped as deftly as a professional beast-fighter in an
amphitheatre and to my amazement, well as I knew him, threw away the fork.

"The bull's rush carried him almost the whole breadth of the barn-yard.
When he turned round he stood, pawing the ground, shaking his head and
bellowing. I never saw a bull angrier-looking. He lowered his head to
charge.

"But he never charged.

"Hedulio was walking toward him and the bull just stood and pawed and
bellowed till Hedulio caught hold of the ring in his nose and led him off
to his pen.

"Chryseros, who had dodged through the little door into the barn and had
slammed it after him, had peered out of it just before Hedulio reached the
bull and had stood, mouth open, hands hanging, letting the door swing wide
open.

"Hedulio led the bull into the pen, patted him on the neck and then turned
his back on him and sauntered out of the pen, shutting the gate without
hurry.

"Chryseros ran to him, stumbling as he ran, fell on his knees, caught
Hedulio's hand, and poured out a torrent of thanks."

"Did all that really happen?" Tanno queried.

"Precisely as I have told it." Agathemer affirmed.

"Well," said Tanno, "I know why Caius did not want to tell it. He knew I'd
think it an impudent lie."

"Don't you believe it?" Agathemer asked, respectfully.

"Well," Tanno drawled, "I've been watching the faces of the audience.
Nobody has laughed or smiled or sneered. I'm an expert on curios and
antiques and other specialties, but I am no wiser on bulls than any other
city man. So I suppose I ought to believe it. But it struck me, while I
listened to you, as the biggest lie I ever heard. I apologize for my
incredulity."

"It would be incredible," said Juventius Muso, "if told of any one except
Hedulio and it would probably be untrue. As it is told of Hedulio it is
probably true and also entirely credible."

"Why of Caius any more than any one else?" queried Tanno.

Muso stared at him.

"I beg pardon," he said, "but I somehow got the idea that you were an old
and close friend of our host."

"I was and am," Tanno asserted.

"And know nothing," Muso pressed him, "of his marvellous powers over
animals of all kinds, even over birds and fish?"

"Never heard he had any such powers." Tanno confessed.

"How's this, Hedulio?" Juventius demanded of me.

"I suppose," I said, "that Tanno and I have mostly been together at Rome.
Animals are scarcer there than in the country and human beings more
plentiful. He knows more of my dealings with men and women than with other
creatures."

"Besides," Tanno cut in, "you must all remember that our Caius not only
never boasts but is absurdly reticent about anything he has done of such a
kind that most men would brag of it. Towards his chums and cronies he is
open-hearted and as unreserved as a friend could be about everything else,
but especially close with them about such matters. So I know nothing of
his powers concerning which you speak."

My guests cried out in amazement, all talking at once.

"I'm king of the revels," Tanno reminded them.

"Juventius was talking; let him say his say. Everyone of you shall talk
his fill, I promise you. I am immensely interested and curious, as I
expect to hear many things which I should have heard from Caius any time
these ten years. Speak out, Juventius!"

"Before I say what I meant to say," Muso began, "I want to ask some
questions. What you have just told me has amazed me and what little you
have said leaves me puzzled. Surely there are dogs in Rome?"

"Plenty," Tanno assured him.

"Haven't you ever seen a vicious dog fly at Hedulio?" Muso pursued.

"Many a time," Tanno admitted.

"Did you ever see one bite him?" Muso asked.

"Never!" Tanno affirmed.

"Can you recall what happened?" queried Muso.

Tanno rubbed his chin.

"It seems to me," he said, "that every time I saw a snarling cur or an
open-mouthed watch-dog rush at Caius, the dog slowed his rush before he
reached him, circled about him, sniffing, and trotted back where he came
from."

"Did you never see Hedulio beckon such a dog, handle and gentle him, even
pet him."

"Once I did, as I now recall," Tanno confessed, "yet I thought nothing of
it at the time and forgot it at once."

"Probably," Muso conjectured, "you thought the dog was only pretending to
be cross and was really tame."

"Just about that, I suppose," Tanno ruminated.

"Well," said Muso, "I take it that any one of the dogs you saw run at
Hedulio was affected by him just as was the bull this afternoon; each
began by acting towards him as he would have towards any other man; each
was cowed and tendered mild by the nearer sight of him. That is the way
Hedulio affects all animals whatever."

"Tell us some cases you have seen yourself," Tanno suggested.

"I fear your skepticism, even your derision," Muso demurred.

"I haven't a trace of either left in me by now," Tanno declared. "What you
say has knocked the mental wind out of me, so to speak, and I see that the
others feel as you do and seem to have similar ideas to express. I vow I
believe you, gentlemen, though something inside me is still numb with
amazement. Tell us, Juventius, the biggest story you know of these alleged
powers of our Caius."

"I told you so," said Muso. "In spite of your disclaimers you slip in that
'alleged.' I don't like that 'alleged' of yours, Opsitius."

"That wasn't mine." Tanno laughed. "That was the numb something inside me
talking in its sleep. I'm all sympathetic interest, with no admixture of
unbelief. I can see you have startling anecdotes to tell. Tell the most
startling."

"The most startling," Juventius began, "I most solemnly aver is literally
true. Hedulio and I were once riding along a woodcutters' road through the
forests on the Aemilian estate, in the wildest portion of it. The road
forms a part of a good short-cut from Villa Aemilia to this valley. It was
hot weather and very dry. We were both thirsty. There is a cool and
abundant spring not many paces up a steep path on the left of that road.
At the path we tethered our horses and walked to the spring. When we had
quenched our thirst and had started down the little glade below the spring
we saw the head of a big gray wolf appear among some ferns at the lower
end of the glade by the path on our left. I stopped, for we had no
weapons. Hedulio, however, went on, never altering his easy saunter. The
wolf came out of the ferns and paced up to Hedulio like a house dog.
Hedulio patted his head, pulled his ears and the wolf not only did not
attack him nor snap at him, nor even snarl, but showed his pleasure as
plainly as any pet dog. When Hedulio had stopped petting him, I reached
them. We two went on as if we were alone, leaving the wolf standing
looking after us as if he were watch-dog at the house of an intimate
friend."

"Rome," said Tanno, when Muso paused, "is rated the most wonderful place
on earth. Rome is my home. Rome rates Sabinum low, except for olives,
wines, oaks, sheep and mules. Wonders are not named among the staple
products of Sabinum. Yet I come to Sabinum for the first time and hear
wonders such as I never dreamed of at Rome."

"And you are only at the beginning of such wonders," spoke up Entedius
Hirnio. "That tale of Muso's is mild to one I can tell and I take oath in
advance to every word of my story."

"Begin it then, in the name of Hercules," Tanno urged him. "If it is what
you herald we cannot have it too quickly."

"When Hedulio and I were hardly more than boys," Hirnio began, "we bird-
nested and fished and hunted and roamed the woods like any pair of country
lads. Parts of our woodland hereabouts are wilder than anything on the
Aemilian estate, and we liked the wildest parts best. I had an uncle at
Amiternum and it happened that Hedulio's uncle allowed him to go with me
once when my father visited his brother. My uncle had a farm high up in
the mountains east of Amiternum and Hedulio and I there revelled in
wildness wilder than anything hereabouts. We had no fear and ranged the
hillsides, ravines and pine-woods eager and unafraid.

"High up the mountains we blundered on a bear's den with two cubs in it.
They were old enough to be playful and young enough not to be fierce or
dangerous. I was for carrying them off, but Hedulio said that if the
mother returned before we were well on our way home she would certainly
catch us before we could reach a place of safety and we should certainly
be killed.

"'We had better stop playing with these fascinating little brutes,' he
said, 'and be as far off as possible before she comes back.'

"Just as he said it we heard twigs snapping, the crash of rent underbrush,
and I looked up and saw the bear coming.

"I had never seen a wild bear till then. She looked to me as big as a half
grown calf, and as fat as a six-year-old sow. She came like a race-horse.
Besides my instantaneous sense of her size, weight and speed, I saw only
her great red mouth, wide-open, set round with gleaming white teeth, from
which came a snarl like the roar of a cataract.

"I sprang to the nearest tree which promised a refuge, caught the lowest
boughs and scrambled up, the angry snarls of the bear filling my ears. As
I reached the first strong branch the snarls stopped.

"I settled myself and looked down.

"The bear was standing still, some paces from her den, peering at it and
snuffing the air, working her nose it seemed to me, and moving her head
from side to side.

"Hedulio had not moved. He stood just where I had left him, one cub in his
arms, the other cuddled at his feet.

"The bear, growling very short, almost inaudible growls, approached him
slowly, moving only one foot at a time and pausing before she lifted
another foot. She sniffed at the cub on the ground, sniffed at Hedulio's
legs, and looked up at the cub in his arms. She made a sound more like a
whine than a growl. Hedulio lowered the cub and she sniffed at it. Then
Hedulio caught her by the back of the neck. She did not snarl but yielded
to his pull and rolled over on her side. He picked up the cub on the
ground and laid both by her nipples. They went to, nursing avidly, almost
like little pigs, yet also somewhat like puppies. Hedulio sauntered away
and to my tree, beckoned me down and we strolled away as if there were no
bear near: she in fact paying no attention to either of us after the cubs
began nursing her."

Tanno looked wildly about.

"Boys," he said, "forgive me if I am dazed, and don't be insulted. I
recall that Entedius prefaced his narrative with an oath to its veracity.
I am ready to believe all this if he reaffirms it. But I have a horrible
feeling that you farmers think you have caught a city ignoramus and that
it is your duty to stuff me with the tallest stories you can invent.
Please set me right. If you are stuffing me the joke is certainly on me,
for these incredible tales seem true: if they are true the joke is doubly
on me. As I am the butt, either way, don't be too hard on me: Please set
me right."

They chorused at him that they had all heard the story, most of them soon
after the marvel took place; that they had always believed it, and
believed it then. I corroborated Hirnio's exactitude as to all the
details.



CHAPTER IV

HOROSCOPES AND MARVELS


Tanno looked about again, less wildly, but still like a man in a daze.

"But," he cried, "if you do such wonders, how do you do them, Caius?"

"I don't know now," I said, "any more than I knew the first time I gentled
a fierce strange dog. It came natural then, it always has come natural."

"Naturally," said Lisius Naepor, "since it is part of your nature from
before birth. Do you mean to tell us, Opsitius, that Hedulio has never
shown you his horoscope?"

"Never!" said Tanno, "and he never spoke of it to me. I'm Spanish, you
know, by ancestry, and Spaniards are not Syrians or Egyptians. Horoscopes
don't figure largely in Spanish life. I never bothered about horoscopes, I
suppose. So I never mentioned horoscopes to Hedulio nor he to me."

"Nor he to you of course," said Neponius Pomplio, "he is too modest."

"In fact," said Naepor. "I should never have known of Hedulio's horoscope
if his uncle had not shown me a copy. Caius has never mentioned it, unless
one of us talked of it first."

"What's the point of the horoscope?" Tanno queried.

"Why you see," Naepor explained. "Hedulio was born in the third watch of
the night on the Ides of September.

"Now it is well known that persons are likely to be competent trainers of
animals if they are born under the influence of the Whale or of the
Centaur or the Lion or the Scorpion or when the Lesser Bear rises at dawn
or in those watches of the night when the Great Bear, after swinging low
in the northern sky, is again beginning to swing upwards, or at those
hours of the day when, as it can be established by calculations, the Great
Bear, though invisible in the glow of the sunlight, is in that part of its
circle round the northern pole.

"It is disputed which of these constellations has the most powerful
influence, but it is generally reckoned that the Whale is most
influential, next the Centaur, next the Lion, and the Scorpion least of
all, while the dawn rising of the Lesser Bear and the beginning of the
upward motion of the Great Bear are held to have merely auxiliary
influence when the other signs are favorable. If two or more of these are
at one and the same time powerful in the sky at the moment of any one's
birth, he will be an unusually capable animal-tamer, the more puissant
according as more of the potent stars shine upon his birth.

"It is manifest that, at no day and hour, will all of these signs conspire
at their greatest potency. For clearly, for instance, the Lion and the
Scorpion, being both in the Zodiac, and being separated in the Zodiac by
the interposition of two entire constellations, can never be in the
ascendant at one and the same time, nor can one be near the ascendant when
the other is in that position. Yet there are times when a majority of them
all exert their most potent or nearly their most potent influence, there
are some moments when their possible combination of influences is nearly
at its maximum potency.

"Now the day, hour, and moment of Hedulio's birth is, as astrologers
agree, precisely that instant of the entire year when the stars combine
their magic powers with their most puissant force to produce their
greatest possible effect on the nature of a child born at that instant, in
order that he may have irresistible sway over the wills of all fierce,
wild and ferocious animals.

"Such, from his birth and by the divine might of his birth-stars, is our
Hedulio."

"After all that," said Tanno, "I should believe anything. I believe the
tale of the she-bear. Who has another to tell?"

"Before anyone begins another anecdote," said Neponius Pomplio, "I want to
state my opinion that Hedulio's habitual and instantaneous subjugation of
vicious dogs which have never before set eyes on him and his miraculous
powers of similarly pacifying such wild animals as bears and wolves, while
inexpressibly marvellous, is no more wonderful, if, in fact, as wondrous
as his power to attract to him, even from a great distance, creatures
naturally solitary, or timorous."

"It is strange," said Juventius Muso, "that I should have begun by telling
the story of the wolf at the spring, an occurrence of which I was the only
witness, instead of mentioning first Hedulio's power over deer, something
known to all of us, and many miracles which everyone of us has seen. I
suppose we each thought of the most spectacular example of Hedulio's
powers known to us, whereas he had so generally handled and gentled deer
that we instinctively regarded that as commonplace."

"I think you are right," said Lisius Naepor, "for Hedulio's ability to
approach a doe with fawns and to handle the young in sight of the mother
without her showing any sign of alarm or concern, is, to my mind, quite as
marvellous as his dealings with the she-bear. It seems to me as miraculous
to overcome the timidity of the doe as the ferocity of the bear. And we
have all seen him play with fawns, fawns so young that they had barely
begun to follow their dam. We have all seen a herd of deer stand placidly
and let him approach them, move about among them, handle them. We have all
seen him handle and gentle stags, even old stags in the rutting season.
There is no gainsaying our Hedulio's power over animals, it is a matter of
too general and too common knowledge."

"I have seen a mole," said Fisevius Rusco, "come out of its burrow at dusk
and eat earth worms out of Hedulio's hand."

"I," said Naepor, "have watched him catch a butterfly and, holding it
uncrushed, walk into a wood, and have seen a woodthrush flutter down to
him, take the butterfly from his fingers, speed away with it to feed its
young and presently return to his empty hand, as if expecting another
insect, perch on his hand, peck at it and remain some time; and there is
no song-bird more fearful of mankind, more aloof, more retiring, more
secret than a wood-thrush."

Several of the others told of my similarly attracting seed-eating birds
with handfuls of millet, wheat or other grains or seeds; of squirrels,
anywhere in the forests, coming down trees to me and taking nuts from my
fingers.

Bultius Seclator said:

"I have seen Hedulio seat himself on a rock in the sunshine and seen a
golden eagle, circling in the sky, circle lower and lower till he perched
on Hedulio's wrist and not only perched there, but sat there some time,
preening his feathers as if alone on the dead topmost limb of a tall tree,
eye Hedulio's face without pecking at him and finally take wing and leave
Hedulio's arm not only untorn by his talons, but unscratched, without even
a mark of the claw-points."

Said Mallius Vulso:

"Hedulio has a way of catching flies with a quick sweep of his hand. I
have seen him catch a fly and hold him, buzzing between his fingers and
thumb and have seen a lizard run up to him and dart at the fly."

"And I," said Lisius Naepor, "have seen fish in a tank rise to his hand
and let him take them out of the water, handle them and slip them back
into the water again, all without a struggle."

"More wonderful than that," spoke up Juventius Muso, "I have seen lampreys
feed from his hand without biting it, and I have even seen him pick up
lampreys out of the water without their attempting to bite him. I'll wager
no other man ever did the like."

"True," ruminated Naepor, "Hedulio can pick up and handle a puff-adder and
it will never strike at him and he can similarly handle any kind of
snake."

"Well," Tanno summed up, after they had talked the subject out, "you
countrymen beat me. Here I've been cronying with Caius for years and years
and never suspected any such wizardry in him."

"May I speak?" asked Agathemer from his stool, where he had sat silent,
sipping his wine very moderately at infrequent intervals.

"Certainly, man," said Tanno, "speak up if you have anything to tell as
good as the bull story."

"Although I know my master's modesty." Agathemer said, "I cannot conceive
how you can have associated with him so long without knowing of his power
over animals. Have you never seen him, for instance, with Nemestronia's
leopard?"

"Never that I recall," said Tanno, "and if I had I should have thought
nothing of it. Nemestronia's leopard has been tame since it learned to
suck milk from Nemestronia's fingers, before its eyes were half open. It
always has been tame and is tame with everybody, not only with all
Nemestronia's household, not only with frequenters of her reception rooms,
but also with casual visitors, total strangers to it. Nobody would think
it anything wonderful for Hedulio to handle Nemestronia's leopard."

"I do not mean merely handling," said Agathemer respectfully. "I mean
something quite amazing in itself. And that leads me to remark that none
of you gentlemen has mentioned or referred to what I regard as one of my
master's most amazing feats and one which he has repeated countless times
in the presence of uncountable witnesses: I mean taking a bone away from a
vicious dog which has never seen him before. I think that amounts to a
portent, or would if it had not happened so often."

"Incredible!" cried Tanno.

Then the whole room broke into a hubbub of confirmations and
corroborations of Agathemer's statement.

"I give in," Tanno declared, "now for the leopard."

"I am told," said Agathemer, "that all such animals, lions, tigers,
leopards, panthers and lynxes, when they set out on their nocturnal
prowlings, intent on catching prey, have the strange habit of giving
notice to all creatures within hearing that they are about to begin
hunting, by a series of roars, snarls, squalls, screams, screeches or
whatever they may be properly called for each variety of animal.

"Now one of the tricks of Nemestronia's leopard, which she is fond of
exhibiting to her guests, is its method of approaching any live creature
exposed to its mercy for its food. If a kid, hare, lamb, porker or what
not is turned into one of Nemestronia's walled gardens and the leopard let
in, she will, at first sight of the game, crouch belly-flat on the ground
and give out a really appalling series of screams or whatever they should
be called, entirely unlike any other noise she ever makes. Her hunting-
squall, as Nemestronia calls it, rises and falls like a tune on an organ,
and besides changing from shriller to less shrill alters in volume from
louder to less loud and louder again. It is an experience to hear it, for
it is like no sound anyone in Rome ever heard and is unforgettable."

"There you are wrong," Tanno cut in, "it is the normal hunting cry of a
leopard. But not many leopards in captivity ever give it. She is the only
leopard I ever heard give it in captivity, but I have heard it in the
deserts south of Gaetulia and Africa, when I was there with my cohort,
while I was still in the army. And let me tell you right here, what I have
often told Nemestronia, only the dear self-willed old lady will not listen
to me at all, there will be trouble yet with that leopard. She has been a
parlor and bedroom pet from birth and she is tame, not only to all
Nemestronia's household but to all visitors. But the mere fact that she is
old enough to give her hunting-squall for small game is warning enough, if
Nemestronia would only realize it, that she is getting fiercer as she gets
older. It's only a question of time, no matter how liberally she is fed,
that she will turn on her human associates. Possibly she'll give them
warning with her hunting-squall, and precious little help it will be
towards escaping her, but most likely she'll just turn on someone, without
warning, and there'll be a corpse and a pool of blood on the floor or
pavement. You mark my words: that is coming as sure as fate, if
Nemestronia keeps that leopard about her mansion."

"That may all be true," Hirnio cut in, "but Opsitius, do let Agathemer say
his say, whatever it may be."

"You are right and I was wrong," Tanno admitted.

"Proceed, Agathemer."

"Let me describe her behavior fully, for the sake of others," Agathemer
resumed. "When she sights a victim she flattens herself out on the ground
and gives her long, quavering squall. If the victim remains stationary she
crawls toward it very slowly, almost imperceptibly, moving one paw only at
a time. If it runs about she ceases her advance and pivots around until it
is again stationary and she facing it. She keeps that up until she is
within springing distance. But if she sees it near a gate or a door and
apparently trying to escape through that, she springs and bounds on it.
Otherwise, if the victim keeps quiet and still, she spends a long time in
her approach, seeming to enjoy every breath she draws and to be gloating
over her helpless prey."

"Just so, gentlemen," Tanno put in, "Agathemer is exact. I have seen all
that over and over."

"It is the more astonishing to me," Agathemer went on, "that you have
never seen Hedulio divert her attention and entice her away from her
victim, even when she is within leaping distance and ready for her final
spring. That, to me, is the only thing I ever saw Hedulio do surpassing
his repeated success in taking a bone from a cross dog without resistance
from the dog."

"Never saw him do it," Tanno declared. "Never heard of it from
Nemestronia, and she'll talk 'leopard' by the hour, if you let her. Never
suspected any such sorcery from Hedulio. How does he do it? Expound his
methods."

"Very simple," said Agathemer. "He calls to her or he walks in front of
her. At once she turns her attention to him, appears to forget her prey
altogether, rubs against him, purrs, lets him chafe her ears, head and
neck, seems to beg for more chafing, rolls on the ground by him and
invites him to play with her. Sometimes she seems to insist on his playing
with her and to threaten to lose her temper unless he does play with her."

"What do you mean by playing with her?" Tanno queried.

"Have you ever seen any of these little Egyptian cats which some folks
have nowadays for pets?" Agathemer asked in his turn. "Creatures about as
long as your forearm and rather gentle?"

"Certainly," said Tanno. "I've seen a number of them at ultra-fashionable
mansions of the fast set, who must have the latest novelty."

"Ever see any of their kittens?" Agathemer asked.

"Two or three times I have," Tanno replied. "Amusing, fluffy little
creatures, not much bigger than a man's hand."

"Ever see one play with a ball?" Agathemer asked.

Tanno laughed.

"Run after a ball, you mean," he said, "slap it first with one paw and
then with the other, bound after it and all that?"

"No," said Agathemer, "I do not mean that way; I mean the way a kitten
will pretend that a ball is another kitten, will lie on the floor with the
ball between its paws, will kick it with its hind feet and paw at it with
its forefeet and yet not really claw it."

"I've seen that, too," said Tanno.

"Well," said Agathemer, "Hedulio acts as the ball or the other kitten for
that big leopard. He lies down on the pavement by her and they tussle like
two puppies, only it is cat-play not dog-play. Hedulio kicks and slaps the
leopard and she kicks and slaps him, and they are all mixed up like a pair
of wrestlers, and she growls and mouths his hands and arms and shoulders,
yet she never bites or claws him, does all that clawing of him with her
claws sheathed; never hurts him, and, when she has had enough play, lets
him lead her off to her cage."

"Miraculous!" cried Tanno, "but beastly undignified. Fancy a Roman, of
equestrian rank, moving in Rome's best society circles, a friend of the
Emperor, sprawling on a pavement playing with a stinking leopard, letting
her tousle him and rumple his clothes, and letting her slobber her foul
saliva all over his arms and shoulders! I'm ashamed of you, Hedulio!"

"Nothing to be ashamed of!" I said. "I thought it fun, every time I have
done it, and I did it only for Nemestronia and a few of her intimates,
never before any large gathering."

"I should hope not!" Tanno cried, "and I trust you will never try it
again. It's disgraceful! And it's too risky. If you keep it up some fine
day she'll slash the face off you or bite your whole head off at one
snap."

I was surprised and abashed at Tanno's reception of the leopard story and
Agathemer seemed similarly affected and more so than I. He tried to start
a diversion.

"Most marvellous of all Hedulio's exploits," he said, "I account his
encounter with the piebald horse."

"Tell us about it," said Tanno. "Horse-training is, at least, and always,
an activity fit for a gentleman and wholly decent and respectable."

"It happened last year," said Agathemer, "in the autumn, before Andivius
died; in fact, before we had any reason to dread that the end of his life
was near. Entedius saw it, perhaps he would be a more suitable narrator
than I."

"Go on," said Hirnio, "I'd rather listen to you than talk myself."

Agathemer resumed.

"We were at Reate Fair. You know how such festivals are always attended by
horse-dealers and all sorts of such cheats and mountebanks. There was a
plausible and ingratiating horse-dealer with some good horses. Entedius
bought one and has it yet."

"And no complaints to make," said Hirnio, "the brute was as represented
and has given satisfaction in every way."

"Some others in our party bought horses of him also." Agathemer continued.
"Later, when the sports were on, he brought out a tall, long-barrelled
piebald horse, rather a well-shaped beast, and one which would have been
handsome had he been cream or bay. He showed off his paces and then
offered him as a free gift to anyone who could stick on him without a
fall. Several farm-lads tried and he threw them by simple buckings and
rearings. Some more experienced horse-wranglers tried, but he threw one
after the other.

"Then there came forward Blaesus Agellus, the best horse-master about
Reate. He had watched till he thought he knew all the young stallion's
tricks. No kicking, rearing or bucking could unseat him and the beast
tried several unusual and bizarre contortions. Blaesus stuck on. Then the
horse-dealer seemed to give a signal, as the horse cantered tamely round
the ring.

"Instantly the horse, without any motion which gave warning of what he was
about to do, threw himself sideways flat on the ground.

"Blaesus was stunned and his right leg badly bruised, though not broken.

"The owner gloried in his treasure and boasted of his control over the
horse, even at a distance.

"Then Hedulio came forward. The crowd was visibly amazed to see a young
nobleman put himself on a level with the commonality. But they all knew
Hedulio's affable ways and there were no hoots or jeers.

"Hedulio examined the horse carefully, fetlocks, hoofs, mouth and all.
Then he gentled and patted it. When he vaulted into the saddle, the brute
did a little rearing, kicking and bucking, but soon quieted.

"Hedulio trotted him round the ring, calling to the owner:

"I dare you to try all your signals.'

"The owner seemed to try, at first far back in the crowd, so confident was
he of his control of the horse, then nearer, then standing in the front
row of spectators.

"The horse remained quiet.

"So Hedulio rode him home and all at the villa acclaimed the horse a great
prize.

"The marvel was that he was only a two-year-old, as all experts agreed. I
have seen many trick horses, but seldom a good trick horse under eight
years old and never a well-trained trick horse under four years old. This
was barely two."

"Is he still in your stables?" Tanno asked.

"Let Agathemer finish his tale," I replied.

"Two mornings afterward," Agathemer summed up, "we found the stable was
broken into and the young stallion gone. No other horse had been stolen."

"Just what might have been expected," said Tanno, "and now, as king of the
revels, I pronounce this symposium at an end. I mean to be up by dawn and
to get Hedulio up soon after I am awake. I mean to start back for Rome
with him as soon after dawn as I can arrange. You other gentlemen can
sleep as late as you like, of course."

"I'm going with you," Hirnio cut in. "I came prepared, with my servant and
led-mule loaded with my outfit. I'm to be up as soon as you two."

"Let's all turn in," Tanno proposed.

Mallius Vulso and Neponius Pomplio, who lived nearest me, declared their
intention of riding home in the moon-light. The others discussed whether
they should also go home or sleep in the rooms ready for them. I urged
them to stay, but finally, they all decided to ride home.

Agathemer went to give orders for their horses to be brought round.

"By the way, Caius," Tanno asked, "how are you going to travel?"

"On horseback," I replied.

"Why not in your carriage?" he queried. "I was hoping to ride with you to
the Via Salaria, at least, unless your roads jolt a carriage as badly as
bearers on them jolt a litter. What's wrong with the superperfect
travelling carriage of your late Uncle?"

"I have lent it," I explained, "to Marcus Martius, to travel to Rome in
with his bride. I wrote you of his wedding. He has just married my uncle's
freedwoman Marcia. I wrote you about it."

"Pooh!" cried Tanno, "how should I remember the marriage of a freedwoman I
never saw with a bumpkin I never heard of?"

"No bumpkin," cut in Lisius Naepor. "Not any more of a bumpkin than I or
any of the rest of us here. You are too high and mighty, Opsitius. It is
true that in our countryside the only senators are Aemilius, Vedius and
Satronius, and that in our immediate vicinity Hirnio and Hedulio are the
only proprietors of equestrian rank but we commoners here are no bumpkins
or clodhoppers."

"I apologize," Tanno spoke conciliatingly. "You are right to call me down.
We Romans of Rome really know the worth of farmers and provincials and the
like. But we are so used, among ourselves, to thinking of Rome as the
whole world, that our speech belies our esteem for our equals. I should
not have spoken so. Who is Marcus Martius, Caius, and who is Marcia?"

"Marcus Martius," I said, "is a local landowner like the rest of us. He
would have been here to-night but for his recent marriage and approaching
journey to Rome. I have always asked him to my dinners."

"Then how, in the name of Ops Consiva," cried Tanno, "did he come to marry
your uncle's freedwoman?"

"This time I agree with you, Opsitius," said Naepor. "Your tone of scorn
is wholly justified. Marrying freedwomen is getting far too common. If
things go on this way there will be no Roman nobility nor gentry nor even
any Roman commonality; just a wish-wash of counterfeit Romans, nine-tenths
foreign in ancestry, with just enough of a dash of Roman blood to bequeath
them our weaknesses and vices."

"On the other hand," said Juventius Muso, "while agreeing with Naepor as
to the propriety of the tone, I object to the question. Instead of asking
how Martius came to marry Marcia, had you been acquainted with the recent
past history of this neighborhood, Opsitius, you would have asked how most
of the rest of us managed to escape marrying her."

"A freedwoman!" cried Tanno.

"A most unusual freedwoman," Hirnio asserted, "as she was almost a portent
as a slave-girl. Haven't you ever heard of her, Opsitius?"

"We Romans," Tanno bantered, "are lamentably ignorant on the life-
histories of brood-sows, slave-girls, prize-heifers and such-like
notabilities of Sabinum."

"She is no Sabine," Hirnio retorted, "but, as far as the locality of her
birth and upbringing goes, is as Roman as you are. Did you never hear of
Ummidius Quadratus?"

"Hush!" Tanno breathed. "I have heard of the man you have named, heard of
him on the deaf side of my head, as did all Rome. But, in the name of
Minerva, do not utter his name. It is best forgotten. Even so long after
his execution and so far from Rome, the mention of the name of anyone
implicated as he was might have most unfortunate results."

"Not here and among us," Hirnio declared. "The point is that Quadratus had
a eunuch less worthless than most eunuchs. He became a very clever surgeon
and physician, and endeared himself to Quadratus by many cures among his
countless slaves, and even among his kin. Quadratus made him his chief
physician and trusted him utterly. Naturally he let him set up an
establishment of his own, allowing him to select a location. Hyacinthus,
for that is the eunuch's name, instead of choosing for a home any one of a
dozen desirable neighborhoods well within his means with the liberal
allowance Quadratus gave him, settled in a peculiarly vile slum, because,
as he said, his associates mostly lived there; meaning by his associates
the votaries of some sort of Syrian cult, chiefly peddlers and such,
living like ants or maggots, all packed together in the rookeries of that
quarter.

"Hyacinthus was not only a member of their sect, but their hierophant, or
whatever they call it, and presided at the ceremonies of their religion at
their little temple somewhere in the same part of the city.

"He divided his energies between his calling of surgeon, at which he
prospered amazingly, and his avocation of hierophant.

"As head of their cult it fell to him to care for the orphans of their
poorer families and for foundlings, for such Asiatics never expose infants
or fail to succor exposed infants.

"Marcia was a foundling and brought up by Hyacinthus, therefore, legally a
slave of Quadratus.

"Quadratus saw her and took a fancy to her. He had her taught not only
dancing, music and such accomplishments, but had her educated almost as if
she had been his niece or daughter.

"When she was yet but a half-grown girl, she had acquired such a hold on
him that he used to bewail it. What was it he said, Hedulio?"

"I have heard him say to my uncle," I said, "that Marcia was as imperious
as if she were Empress and that living with her was as bad as being
married. Quadratus was born to be a bachelor and never thought of
matrimony. But though he had solaced himself with a long series of
beauties in all previous cases his word had been law and not one of his
concubines had had any will of her own. Marcia's word was law to him, even
her tone or look. She had wheedled him into lavishing on her flowers,
perfumery, jewels, an incredibly varied and costly wardrobe, maids,
masseuses, bathgirls, a mob of waiters, cooks, doorkeepers, litter-bearers
and what not and the most costly equipages.

"He groaned, but was too infatuated to deny her anything.

"My uncle sympathized with him and, with the idea of disabusing him of his
folly, somehow, while visiting him, saw Marcia.

"Uncle at once fell madly in love with her.

"He offered to buy her.

"That was just before Quadratus became involved in the intrigues radiating
from Lucilla's conspiracy, was implicated in the conspiracy itself and so
disgraced and executed.

"Marcia seems to have had some prevision or inkling of what was coming.
Anyhow she could not have acted more for her own interest if she had had
accurate information of what was impending. She cajoled Uncle into buying
her and coaxed Quadratus into selling her.

"'Take her,' Quadratus told him, 'at your own price. If you don't or if
somebody else don't free me from this vampire, I'll be fool enough to
manumit her and marry her as soon as she is free!'

"Uncle brought her up here.

"Did she wail at leaving Rome and mourn over seclusion in our hills? Not
she.

"She made as big a fool of Uncle as she had of Quadratus.

"He, with his ill health and his frequent illnesses, got as much
satisfaction out of Marcia as a blind man would get from a painting. But
he indulged her far beyond his means. He gave her the little west villa
for her home, and a small horde of servants. She wheedled him into freeing
her and then, from the day she was freed, set herself to marry and marry
well. She had every bachelor and widower hereabouts visiting her, dangling
about her, competing for her smiles, showering gifts on her, soliciting
her favor!

"When they found, one by one, that the only road to her favors was by
matrimony, they sheered off in terror, one by one.

"She nearly married Vedius Caspo, came almost as near with Satronius
Sabinus.

"Then, when she saw no hope left of a senator, she almost landed Hirnio,
tried to marry Uncle, and tried to marry me."

"And just missed all three," said Hirnio, fervently. "I am still equally
congratulating myself on my escape and wondering over it. I was sure
Andivius would marry her, sure of it until his last illness made it
impossible. And I feared for our Hedulio here.

"The only man hereabouts whom she did not try to marry was Ducconius
Furfur. She had made eyes at his father, and Ducconius was precious afraid
she would be his stepmother. At first he railed at her. Then, just before
his father's death, it was manifest to everybody that he was yielding to
her fascinations, himself. Hardly was old Ducconius buried when young
Furfur lost his head completely and fell madly in love with Marcia. She
could have married him easily; in fact, he offered marriage, not only to
her in private, but before witnesses. She, for some reason, would not hear
of marrying him. In fact, Furfur, it seems, was the only bachelor
hereabouts whom she was unwilling to marry. She flouted him, derided him,
and finally forbade him her house and ordered him never to dare to
approach her. He kept away, sulky and morose and low-spirited.

"After that episode she had a go at Muso, the only other bachelor among us
seven.

"Finally she fastened on Marcus Martius, who is not quite as rich as Muso,
but yet comfortably well off. She married him day before yesterday."

"Thanks be to Hercules," Tanno cried, "that I have never set eyes on the
jade. I'm for matrimony only with an heiress of my own class and only with
such an heiress as I personally fancy. No matrimony for me otherwise."

With this the party broke up. We all went out on the terrace. My six
neighbors mounted and cantered off on their various roads home; Tanno,
Hirnio and I went in and to bed.



CHAPTER V

ENCOUNTERS


Next morning I was wakened by a dash of cold water over me and sat up in
bed dripping and angry. Tanno was bending over me.

"I had to souse you," he explained. "I've been shaking you and yelling at
you and you stayed as fast asleep as before I touched you. Get up and
let's start for Rome."

We enjoyed a brief rubdown and after Entedius joined us each relished a
small cup of mulled wine and one of Ofatulena's delicious little hot,
crisp rolls.

In the east courtyard we found our equipages and I descried my tenants
outside the gate, all horsed and each muffled in a close rain-cloak,
topped off by a big umbrella hat, its wide brim dripping all round its
edge, for the weather was atrocious; foggy mist blanketing all the world
under a gray sky from which descended a thin, chilly drizzle.

Hirnio was inspecting Tanno's litter and chatting with Tanno about it.

"Never saw one with poles like this," he said. "All I have seen had one
long pole on each side, a continuous bar of wood from end to end. What's
the idea of four poles, half poles you might call them, two on a side?"

"You see," Tanno explained, "It is far harder to get sound, flawless,
perfect poles full length. Then, too, full-length spare poles are very
bothersome and inconvenient to carry. With a litter equipped in this
fashion one man can carry a spare pole, and they are much easier and
quicker to put in if a pole snaps."

"I should think," Hirnio remarked, "that the half-poles would pull out of
the sockets."

"Not a bit," said Tanno, "they clamp in at the end, this way. See? The
clamps fasten instantly and release at a touch, but hold tenaciously when
shut."

Under the arcade my household had gathered to say farewell and wish me
good luck. I spoke briefly to each and thanked Ofatulena for her
distinguished cookery, both in respect to the credit her masterpieces had
done me at dinner and also for the taste of her rolls, which yet lingered
in mouth and memory. Tanno also expressed his admiration of her powers.

Last I said farewell to my old nurse and foster mother Uturia, who, when I
was scarcely a year old, had closed the eyes of my dying mother, and not
much later of my father, and who had not merely suckled me, but had been
almost as my real mother to me in my childhood.

She could not keep back her tears, as always at our partings; the more as
she had had dreams the night before and she took her dreams very
seriously.

"Deary," she sobbed, "it has been revealed to me that you go into great
perils when you set out to-day. I saw danger all about you, danger from
men and danger from beasts. Beware of strangers, of narrow streets, of
walled gardens, of plots, of secret conferences. All these threaten you
especially."

I kissed her as heartily as if she had been my own mother.

"Don't worry, Uturia," I said, "as long as I live I'll take care of you
and if I die you shall be a free woman with a cottage and garden and three
slaves of your own."

But she only sobbed harder, both as she clung to me and after I had
mounted.

Tanno, of course, rolled into his litter and slid the panels against the
rain. His bearers were muffled up precisely like my tenants. So was
Tanno's intendant, so was Hirnio, so was I. The entire caravan was a mere
column of horses, cloaks and hats, not a man visible, all the faces hid
under the flapping hat-brims, no man recognizable.

Hirnio and I led, next came Tanno in his litter, then his extra bearers,
next his intendant on horseback, then my nine tenants, each horsed and
leading a pack-mule, last the mounted servants, Tanno's, Hirnio's and
mine, similarly leading pack-mules, in all twenty-seven men afoot, sixteen
mounted and twelve led mules.

As we strung out Tanno called to me:

"Luck for us if we don't blunder into one of those ambushes we heard about
at dinner last night. With all this cavalcade everybody we meet cannot
fail to conjecture that so large a party can only be from either Villa
Vedia or Villa Satronia, such an escort misbefits anyone not of senatorial
rank. If we do blunder into an ambush either side will know we are not
their men and will assume we are of the other party. No one can recognize
anybody in this wet-weather rig. Any ambush will attack first and
investigate afterwards or not at all."

Had I heeded his chance words I might, even then, have saved myself. But
while my ears heard him my wits were deaf. I called back:

"There are no ambushes. Each side spreads such rumors to discredit the
other, but neither so much as thinks of ambush. If Xantha or Greia is
located, the clan concerned for her freedom will gather a rescue-party and
there may be fight over her, but there are no ambushes."

At the foot of my road Hirnio and I turned to our left. Tanno from his
litter emitted a howl of protest.

"Nothing," he yelled, "will induce me to traverse that road again. I told
you so. You promised to take the other road. What do you mean?"

"Don't worry, Opsitius," Hirnio reassured him. "We turned instinctively
according to habit. You shall have your way. It is not much farther by the
other road."

"Anyhow," I added, "Martius is not in sight. He was to have been here
before us. If we went this way we should have to wait for him. If we go
the other we shall most likely meet him at the fork of the road."

We turned to our right towards Villa Vedia and Vediamnum. About half way
to the entrance to Villa Vedia, at the top of the hill between the two
bridges, the rain for a brief interval fairly cascaded from the sky.
During this temporary downpour, as we splashed along, we saw loom out of
the rain, fog and mist the outline of what might have been an equestrian
statue, but which, as we drew up to it, we found a horse and rider,
stationary and motionless to the south of the road, on a tiny knoll,
facing the road and so close to it that I might have put out my right hand
and touched the horse's nose as we passed.

Like everyone in our convoy the rider was enveloped in a rain-cloak and
his head and face hidden under a wide-brimmed umbrella hat. He saluted as
I came abreast of him, but his salutation was merely a perfunctory wave of
a hand, an all-but-imperceptible nod and an inarticulate grunt.

I barely caught a glimpse of his face, but I made sure he was no one I had
ever seen before and equally sure that he was not a Sabine.

When we reached the entrance of Villa Vedia, which was also the crossroad
down which Marcus Martius and his bride must come, there was no sign of a
travelling carriage, nor any fresh ruts in the road.

We halted and peered into the mist. Nothing was in sight on the road, but
there was a stir in the bushes by the roadside. Out of them appeared a
bare head, with a shock of tousled, matted, rain-soaked gray hair, a
hatchet face, brow like a bare skull, bleared eyes, far apart and deepset
on either side of a sharp hooked nose like the beak of a bird of prey,
high cheekbones under the thin, dry, tight-drawn skin above the sunken
cheeks, a wide, thin-lipped mouth and a chin like a ship's prow. The rain
trickled down the face.

Up it rose, till there was visible under it a lean stringy neck, a
tattered garment, and the outline of a gaunt, emaciated body, that of a
tall, spare, half-starved old woman.

I recognized the Aemilian Sibyl, as all the countryside called her, an old
crone who had, since before the memory of our oldest patriarchs, lived in
a cave in the woods on the Aemilian Estate, supported by the gifts doled
out to her by the kindness, respect or fear of the slaves and peasantry
living nearest her abode, for she had a local reputation for magical
powers in the way of spells to cure or curse, charms for wealth or health,
love philtres, fortune-telling, prophecy and good advice on all subjects
likely to cause uncertainty of mind in farm-life.

She towered out of the dripping shrubberies and pointed a long skinny
finger at me.

"I know you under your cloak and hat, Hedulio," she wheezed. "Well for you
if younger folk than I had such, eyes in their heads as I have in my
spirit. I know you, Andivius Hedulio. You turn your face towards Reate,
but you shall never see Reate this day. You might as well take the road to
Rome and be done with it, for to Rome you shall go, whether you will or
not. Whether you will or not, whatever road your feet take, you will find
it leads you to Rome, whatever ship you take, no matter to what port she
steers, will land you at Rome's Wharf. They say all roads lead to Rome.
For you, in truth, every road leads to Rome, whether you face towards Rome
or away from Rome.

"Be warned! Yield to your fate! If you would have luck, go to Rome, abide
in Rome; and if you must leave Rome, return to Rome.

"And hearken to my words, let them sink deep into your mind, remember them
and heed them; beware of a man with a hooked nose, beware of secret
conferences, beware of  plots, walled gardens, beware of narrow streets,
for these will be your undoing."

Agathemer had edged his horse along the roadside the length of our
cavalcade and had joined me. He dismounted, strode to the hag and held out
his hand to her, some silver pieces on its palm, saying:

"My master thanks you for your warning and offers you these as a guerdon."

"Greek!" she screamed. "I warn not for guerdons, but at the behest of the
God of Prophecy. Begone with your silver! Silver I scorn and gold and all
the treasures of mankind's folly and all the joys of mankind's life. I am
the Sibyl!"

And she tramped off through the crackling underbrush till the trees hid
her and the noise of her going died away, till she was so far off that we
heard the rain drops drip from the boughs and the horses fret at their
bits.

So at a standstill, as we stared expectantly up the crossroad, we saw come
into sight, not a travelling carriage, but a horseman, looming huge out of
the fog, a vast bulk of a man on a big black horse like a farm work-horse.

He drew rein and saluted civilly, tilting up his hat. His face was ruddy,
his eyes blue, his expression that of a mountaineer from a village or
small town.

"I have lost my way," he said. "My name is Murmex Lucro. I come from
Nersae and am bound for Rome. I was told of a short cut that should have
brought me out on the Salarian Road near Trebula. But I must have taken a
wrong turn, for I was wholly at a loss at dusk yesterday and so camped in
the woods by a spring. I have not met a human being since daylight. Where
am I and how can I reach the Via Salaria?"

"You are not far from it," Hirnio told him. "We are bound for Rome and if
you join us you can reach Via Salaria with us by the road on which we are
going. Should you prefer to follow the road along which we have come,
which is rough, but less roundabout, you can, by taking every turn to the
right, reach the Via Salaria some miles nearer Rome than where our road
will bring us out on it."

"I'll join your cavalcade, if you have no objection," the stranger said.

Hirnio and I expressed our entire willingness to have his company.

Hirnio asked him:

"Are you in any way related to Murmex Frugi?"

"He was my father," Murmex replied, simply.

"Was!" Hirnio repeated. "The word strikes ominously on my ear. Someone
from this neighborhood, I forget who, was in Nersae since the roads became
fit for travelling this spring and returned from there, or perhaps some
wayfarer from Nersae stopped with someone hereabouts. At any rate we heard
he had seen Murmex Frugi still hale and sound, even at his advanced age."

"My father," said Murmex, "was still hale and sound on the Kalends of May
and for a day or two thereafter. He fell ill with a cough and fever, and
died after only two nights' illness, on the Nones of May, barely more than
a month ago."

"He lived to a green old age," said Hirnio, "and must have enjoyed every
moment of his life."

"He seemed to," said Murmex.

"And I conjecture," I put in, "that he was proud of his son."

"He seemed so," Murmex admitted, "but he was never a tenth as proud of me
as I of him."

"It is an honor," I said, "to be the son of the greatest gladiator of our
fathers' days, of the man esteemed the best swordsman Italy ever saw live
out his term of service and live to retire on his savings."

"It is," Murmex said, as simply as before.

Here we were interrupted by a yell from Tanno, as he leaned out of his
litter.

"Are we going to take root here," he bawled, "like Phaethon's sisters? We
were supposed to be journeying to Rome. We appear to be bound for Hades;
we shall certainly reach it if we continue sinking into your Sabine mud!"

"Martius agreed to wait for me, if I was late," I shouted back to him. "I
agreed to wait for him; I keep my word. If you choose, we'll get out of
your way and let you pass on. We can catch up with you."

"Bah!" he roared. "No going it alone on a Sabine road for me! I'm tied to
you hand and foot. But this waiting in the rain is no fun! Did you notice
that man on horseback we passed on the road?"

"I did," I called back.

"Do you know who he is?"

"Never set eyes on him before," I replied.

"Do you know what he is?"

"No," I answered, "I do not. What is he, according to your conjecture?"

"I'm not depending on any conjectures," Tanno bellowed, "I know to a
certainty."

"Then tell us," I called.

"Not here!" cried Tanno. "I'll tell you later."

He pulled his head inside his litter.

We again stared up the crossroad. Nothing was in sight.

"It seems to me," Hirnio again addressed Murmex, "that not only your
father was a Nersian, but also Pacideianus and that I have heard that he
also was living in retirement at Nersae."

"He is yet," rejoined Murmex, laconically.

"Then you know him?" Hirnio queried.

"My mother," said Murmex, "is his sister."

"Your uncle!" cried Hirnio, "son to one of the two greatest retired
gladiators in Italy, nephew to the other! Living in the same town with
them! Did either of them ever teach you anything of sword play?"

"Both of them," said Murmex, "taught me everything they knew of sword
play, from the day I could hold a toy lath sword."

"Hercules!" I cried, "and what did they say of your proficiency?"

"My father with his last breath," said Murmex solemnly, "and my uncle
Pacideianus as he bade me farewell, told me that I am the best swordsman
alive."

"Why have you never," I asked, "tried your luck in the arena?"

"My father forbade me," Murmex explained. "He bade me wait. He trowed a
grown man was worth ten growing lads, and he said so and stuck to that. On
his death-bed he told me I was almost seasoned. After we buried him I felt
I could abide Nersae no longer. Uncle agreed with me that I had best
follow my instincts. I fare to Rome to seek my fortune as a swordsman on
the sand in the amphitheatres."

"You have fallen into good company," I said, "for I can bring you at once
to the Emperor's notice."

"I should be most grateful," said Murmex.

At that instant we heard an halloo from the road and saw a horseman appear
out of the mist, then a travelling carriage behind him. It was Martius.
When he was near enough I could see his grave, handsome, mediocre face far
back in the carriage, and beside it Marcia's; small, delicate, shell-pink,
her intense blue eyes bright even in that blurred gloomy daylight, shining
close together over her little aquiline nose.

We conferred and he agreed to fall in behind Tanno's extra bearers,
between them and my farmers, Tanno's intendant getting in front of the
litter where he normally belonged.

We got properly into line as arranged and plodded on down the road.

Just outside of Vediamnum was, as Tanno had related, the village idiot,
guarding his flock of goats. He mowed and gibbered at us and then spoke
some intelligible words, as he occasionally did.

"I know you, Hedulio," he called. "You can't hide yourself under that hat
nor inside that raincloak. I know you, Hedulio. But nobody but an idiot
would ever recognize you inside that rig and with all this escort. I know
you, you aren't Vedius Vindex, you aren't Satronius Sabinus. You're
Andivius Hedulio. I know you. But nobody else will guess who you are.
Nobody else around here is an idiot!"

Again, as with Tanno's utterance when we were leaving my villa, the words
fell on my ears but did not penetrate to my thinking consciousness. Had I
noted what I heard, had I thought instantaneously of what the idiot's
words really signified, I might even then have saved myself.

We plodded on, a long cavalcade of horsemen and bevy of men afoot,
convoying a shut litter and a closed travelling carriage.

Round the turn of the road, after passing the idiot and his goats, with
the brawling stream of the Bran Brook, now swollen to a respectable little
river, on our left, with the wooded hills rising on our right, we entered
the long, narrow winding single street of Vediamnum, a paved lane along
the close-crowded tall stone houses built against the hillside on the
northeast, with the stream along it to the southwest, and houses wedged
between the street and the stream, brokenly, for about half of its length,
with open intervals between.

As we entered the village I saw ahead on the street not a human form, saw
no face at any door of any house. I wondered over this, wondered
uncomprehendingly. I had never seen the street of Vediamnum. wholly
deserted, not even in rains much harder than that which descended on us.
Still wondering, still uncomprehending, when we were far enough into the
village for the travelling carriage to be already between the first
houses, I saw fall across the roadway, in front of me, two stout trunks of
trimmed trees, straight like pine trees; I heard the crash as they jarred
on the stones of the stream-side wall, I saw them quiver as they settled;
breast high and shoulder high from house-wall to house-wall, effectually
blocking the highway.

At the same instant there sounded a chorus of yells, shouts, calls, cheers
and commands; and men poured out of the house doors, out of the alleys
between the houses, up the river bank in the unbuilt intervals; men
hatless and cloakless, clad only in their tunics, men with clubs, with
staffs, with staves, with bludgeons, with cudgels, men yelling:

"Greia! Greia! Rescue Greia! Club 'em! Brain 'em! Chase 'em! Vedius
forever! At 'em boys! Mustard's the word! Make 'em run! Rescue Posis!"

They clubbed us. They clubbed the horses, they clubbed the mules, they
clubbed the bearers and their reliefs. They gave us no time to explain,
and though I yelled out who I was and who was with me, though Hirnio and
Tanno and Martius yelled similarly, their explanations were unheard in the
hubbub or unheeded. Also our effort to explain was brief. Swathed as we
were in our cloaks the hot gush of rage that flamed up in us drove us
instinctively to free our arms and fight.

Now anyone might suppose that it would be an easy matter for some eighteen
horsemen to ride down and scatter a mob of varlets afoot. So it would be
in the open, when the riders were aware of the attack and ready to meet
it. We were taken wholly by surprise whereas our assailants were ready and
agreed. For a moment it looked like a rout for us, our horses and mules
rearing and kicking, our whole caravan in confusion, jammed together
higgledy-piggledy, with all our attackers headed for the carriage,
mistaking Marcia for Greia.

Marcia never screamed, never moved, sat still and silent, apparently calm
and placid.

They all but dragged her out of the carriage.

In fact we should indubitably have been frightfully mauled and Marcia
carried off had it not been for Murmex and Tanno.

At first onset Tanno had yelled explanations; but almost with his first
yell he rolled out of his litter, snatched a spare pole from a relief, and
with it laid about him; Murmex did the like. The two of them, one on the
right of the litter and carriage, the other on the left, bore the whole
shock of our attackers' first rush and alone delayed it.

Somehow, probably by Tanno's orders, perhaps by their own instincts, the
reliefs with the other poles handed them to Hirnio and me as we
dismounted. Three of the clever blacks caught our horses and Murmex's.
Others detached the poles from the litter and the four biggest bearers
seized them and used them vigorously.

Thus, actually quicker than it takes to tell of it, eight powerful,
skillful and justly incensed men on our side were plying litter poles
against the cudgels of our attackers.

I was severely bruised before I warmed up to my work; when I did warm up I
laid a man flat with every blow of the pole I wielded.

When my adversaries had had a sufficient taste of my skill to cause them
to draw away from me, as far as they could in that press of men, horses
and mules, and I had cleared a space around me, I looked about.

Agathemer, light built as he was, had wrenched a bludgeon from some Vedian
and was wielding it not ineffectually.

Hirnio was doing his part in the fighting like a gentleman and an expert.

But Murmex and Tanno chiefly caught my eye.

It was wonderful to see Tanno fight. Every swing of his pole cracked on a
skull. Men fell about him by twos and threes, one on the other.

If Tanno was wonderful Murmex was marvellous. Never had I seen a man
handle a staff so rapidly and effectively.

By this time my nine tenants were afoot, and uncloaked. Now a Sabine
farmer, afoot or horsed, is never without his trusty staff of yew or holly
or thorn. These the nine used to admiration, if less miraculously than
Tanno and Murmex.

Since there were now a round dozen skilled fencers plying their staffs on
our side, and four huge and mighty Nubians doing their best (with no mean
skill of their own, either) to assist us, we soon were on the way to
victory.

The remnant of our adversaries still on their feet fled; fled up the
alleys between the houses, into the houses, down the bank towards the
stream or into the stream, over the barricade of the twin logs.

That barricade made it impossible for us to go on. The number of men laid
low, some of whom were reviving from their stunned condition and crawling
or staggering away from under the hoofs of the crazed horses and mules,
made it unthinkable that any explanation of the mistake which had led to
the fracas could be possible, or if possible, that explanation could
quench the fires of animosity which blazed in the breasts of all
concerned.

With one accord, without any conference or the exchange of a word, our
party made haste to escape from Vediamnum before our assailants rallied
for a second onset. No horse or mule was hamstrung or lamed, no man had
been knocked senseless. All of us were more or less bruised and sore, some
were bleeding, two of my tenants had blood pouring from torn scalps, but
every man, horse and mule was fit to travel.

We carried, lifted, dragged or rolled out of the way the disabled Vedians
in the roadbed, making sure that not one was killed, we somehow got the
travelling carriage turned round, no small feat in that narrow space; we
readjusted the litter-poles, Tanno climbed in, Hirnio and Murmex and I
mounted, Tanno's extra litter bearers led my farmers' horses and mules and
we set off on our retreat, my nine tenants, even with two of them half
scalped, forming a rearguard of entirely competent bludgeoners; certainly
they must have impressed the Vedians as adequate, for no face so much as
showed at a doorway until we were clear of the village and my tenants
remounted. Then came a few derisive yells after us as the mist cut off our
view of the nearest houses.

We made haste, you may be sure. Outside of the village we passed the idiot
and his goats. He mowed and grinned at us, but uttered no word. We saw no
other human figure till we had passed the entrance to Villa Vedia and felt
safer. Nor did we pass anyone between that cross-road and the foot of my
road, save only the same immobile horseman on the same knoll, in the same
position, and, apparently, at precisely the same spot, as if he were
indeed an equestrian statue. His salutation was as curt as before.

At the foot of my road we held a consultation. Hirnio advised returning to
my villa and demanding an apology from Vedius, even instituting legal
proceedings at Reate if he did not make an apology and enter a disclaimer.
But Tanno, Martius and all my tenants, even the two with cracked heads,
were for going on, and, of course, Murmex, who talked as if he had been a
member of our company from the first.

"Hercules be good to me," Tanno cried, "to get out of this cursed
neighborhood I am willing even to face the horrors of the bit of road I
suffered on as I came up. Let us be off on our road to Rome."

"With all my heart," I said. "But first tell me who or what is that
voiceless and moveless horseman we passed twice between here and the
crossroads. You said you knew."

"I do know," Tanno grunted, "and I'm not fool enough to blurt it out on a
country road, either. Let's be off. Attention! Form ranks! Ready! Forward!
March!"

Off we set, ordering our caravan as at first, except that Agathemer rode
by me, with Hirnio and Murmex in advance.

We plodded down the muddy road, through the fine, continuous drizzle,
wrapped in our cloaks, all the world about us helmed in fog, mist and
rain, the trees looming blurred and gray-green in the wet air.

Without meeting any wayfarers, with little talk among ourselves, we had
passed the entrance to Villa Satronia and were no great distance from the
Salarian Highway, when, where the road traversed a dense bit of woodland,
the trees of which met overhead, the underbrush on both sides of the road
suddenly rang with yells and was alive with excited men.

It was almost the duplicate of our experience in Vediamnum, save that our
assailants were more numerous and shouted:

"Xantha, Xantha, rescue Xantha!"

"Satronius forever! Eat 'em alive, boys! Get Xantha! Get Xantha!" and such
like calls.

This time we had an infinitesimally longer warning, as the bushes to right
and left of the road were further apart than had been the houses lining
the streets of Vediamnum; also we reacted more quickly to the yells,
having heard the like such a short time before.

The fight was fully joined all along the line and was raging with no
advantage for either side, when I missed a parry and knew no more.

Afterwards I was told that I fell stunned from a blow on the head and lay,
bleeding not only from a terrific scalp wound but also from a dozen other
abrasions, until the fight was over, our assailants routed and completely
put to flight, and Tanno with the rest of the pursuers returned to the
travelling carriage and litter to find Marcia, pink and pretty and placid,
seated as she had been when she left home, and me, weltering in a pool of
blood.

A dozen Satronians lay stunned. Tanno reckoned two of them dead men.

I was the only man seriously hurt on our side.

Agathemer was for convoying me home.

Tanno hooted at the idea, expatiating on the distance from Reate and the
improbability of such a town harboring a competent physician, on the
number of excellent surgeons in Rome, on the advisability of getting me
out of the locality afflicted with our Vedian-Satronian feud, and so on.

He had me bandaged as best might be and composed in his litter.

He took my horse.

To me the journey to Rome was and is a complete blank. I was mostly
insensible, and, when I showed signs of consciousness, was delirious. I
recall nothing except a vague sense of endless pain, misery and horror. I
have no memory of anything that occurred on the road after I was hit on
the head, nor of the first night at Vicus Novus nor of the second at
Eretum. I first came to myself about the tenth hour of the third day, when
we were but a short distance from Rome and in full sight of it.  The view
of Rome, from any eminence outside the city from which a view of it may be
had, has always seemed to me the most glorious spectacle upon which a
Roman may feast his eyes. As a boy my tutors had yielded to my
importunities and had escorted me to every one of those elevations near
the city famous as viewpoints. As a lad I had ridden out to each many
times, whenever the weather promised a fine view, to delight my soul with
the aspect of the great city citizenship in which was my dearest heritage.
To have been born a Roman was my chief pride; to gaze at Rome, to exult at
the beauty of Rome, was my keenest delight.

More even than the acclaimed viewpoints, to which residents like me and
visitors from all the world flocked on fine afternoons, did I esteem those
places on the roads radiating from Rome where a traveller faring Romeward
caught his first sight of the city; or those points where, if one road had
several hill-crests in succession, one had the best view possible anywhere
along the road.

Of the various roads entering Rome it always appeared to my judgment that
the Tiburtine Highway afforded the most charming views of the city.

But, along the Salarian Highway, are several rises at the top of each of
which one sees a fascinating picture when looking towards Rome. Of these
my favorite was that from the crest of the ascent after one crosses the
Anio, just after passing Antemnae, near the third milestone.

This view I love now as I have always loved it, as I loved it when a boy.
To halt on that crest of the road, of a fair, still, mild, brilliant
afternoon when the sun is already visibly declining and its rays fall
slanting and mellow; to view the great city bathed in the warm, even
light, its pinnacles, tower-roofs, domes, and roof-tiles flashing and
sparkling in the late sunshine, all of it radiant with the magical glow of
an Italian afternoon, to see Rome so vast, so grandiose, so majestic, so
winsome, so lovely; to know that one owns one's share in Rome, that one is
part of Rome; that, I conceive, confers the keenest joy of which the human
heart is capable.

It so happened that Tanno had his litter opened, that I might get all the
air possible, and the curtains looped back tightly. Somehow, at the very
crest of that rise on the Salarian Road, on a perfect afternoon, about the
tenth hour, I came to myself.

I was aching in every limb and joint, I was sore over every inch of my
surface, I was all one jelly of bruises, my head and my left shin hurt me
acutely. More than all that I was permeated by that nameless horror which
comes from weakness and a high fever.

Now it would be impossible to convey, by any human words, the strangeness
of my sensations. My sufferings, my illness, my distress of mind enveloped
me and permeated me with a general misery in which I could not but loathe
life, the world and anything I saw, and I saw before me the most
magnificent, the most noble, the most inspiriting sight the world affords.

At the instant of reviving I was overwhelmed by my sensations, by my
recollections of the two fights and of all they meant to me of misfortune
and disaster, and I was more than overwhelmed by the glory spread before
me. I went all hot and cold inside and all through me and lost
consciousness.

After this lapse I was not conscious of anything until I began to be dimly
aware that I was in my own bed in my own bedroom, in my own house and
tended by my own personal servants.

Strangely enough this second awakening was as different as possible from
my momentary revival near Antemnae. Then I had been appalled by the rush
of varying sensations, crowding memories, conflicting emotions and
daunting forebodings, each of which seemed as distinct, vivid and keen as
every other of the uncountable swarm of impressions: I had felt acutely
and cared extremely. Now every memory and sensation was blurred, no
thought of the future intruded, I accepted without internal questionings
whatever was done for me, and lay semi-conscious, incurious and
indifferent. Mostly I dozed half-conscious. I was almost in a stupor, at
peace with myself and all the world, wretched, yet acquiescing in my
wretchedness, not rebellious nor recalcitrant.

This semi-stupor gradually wore off, my half-consciousness between long
sleeps growing less and less blurred, my faculties more alive, my
personality emerging.

When I came entirely to myself I found Tanno seated by my bed.

"You're all right now, Caius," he said, "I have kept away till Galen said
you were well enough for me to talk to you."

"Galen?" I repeated, "have I been as ill as all that?"

"Not ill," Tanno disclaimed, "merely bruised. You are certainly a portent
in a fight. I never saw you fight before, never saw you practice at really
serious fencing, never heard anybody speak of you as an expert, or as a
fighter. But I take oath I never saw a man handle a stave as you did. You
were quicker than lightning, you seemed in ten places at once, you were as
reckless as a Fury and as effectual as a thunderbolt. You laid men out by
twos and threes. But jammed as you were in a press of enemies you were hit
often and hard, so often and so hard that, after you were downed by a blow
on the head, you never came to until I had you where you are."

"Yes I did," I protested, "I came to on the hilltop this side of
Antemnae."

"Not enough to tell any of us about it," he soothed me. "Anyhow, you are
mending now and will soon be yourself."

I was indifferent. My mind was not yet half awake.

"Did I fight as well as you say?" I asked, "or are you flattering me?"

"No flattery, my boy," he said. "You are a portent."

Then he told me of the result of the fight with the Satronians, of their
complete discomfiture and rout, of how he had brought me to Rome, seen me
properly attended and looked after my tenants.

"They are having the best time," he said, "they ever had in all their
lives."

And he told me where he had them lodged and which sights of Rome they had
seen from day to day.

"Just as soon as I had seen to you and them," he said, "I called on dear
old Nemestronia and told her of your condition. She is full of solicitude
for you and will overwhelm you with dainties as soon as you are well
enough to relish any."

He did not mention Vedia and I was still too dazed, too numb, too weak,
too acquiescent to ask after her, or even to think of asking after her or
to notice that he had not mentioned her.

"While I was talking to Nemestronia," Tanno said, "I took care to warn her
about that cursed leopard. She would not agree to cage it, at least not
permanently. She did agree to cage it at night and said she would not let
it have the run of her palace even by day, as it has since she first got
it, but would keep it shut up in the shrubbery garden, as she calls it,
where they usually feed it and where you and I have seen it crawl up on
its victims and pounce on them."

I could not be interested in leopards, or Nemestronia or even in Vedia, if
he had mentioned Vedia. I fell into a half doze. Just on the point of
going fast asleep I half roused, queerly enough.

"Caius!" I asked, "do you remember that man on horseback we passed in the
rain between my road entrance and Vediamnum?"

"You can wager your estate I remember him!" Tanno replied.

"What sort of man was he?" I queried, struggling with my tendency to
sleep. "You said you knew."

"I do know," Tanno asserted, "I cannot identify him, though I have
questioned those who should know and who are safe. I should know his name,
but I cannot recall it or place him. But I know his occupation. He is a
professional informer in the employ of the palace secret service, an
Imperial spy.

"Now what in the name of Mercury was he doing in the rain, on a Sabine
roadside? I cannot conjecture."

This should have roused me staring wide awake.

But I was too exhausted to take any normal interest in anything.

"I can't conjecture either," I drawled thickly.



CHAPTER VI

A RATHER BAD DAY


Next morning, strangely enough, I wakened at my normal, habitual time for
wakening when in town, and wakened feeling weak indeed and still sore in
places, but entirely myself in general and filled with a sort of sham
energy and spurious vigor.

By me, when I woke, was Occo, my soft-voiced, noiseless-footed, deft-
handed personal attendant. At my bidding he summoned Agathemer. When I
told him that I proposed to get up, dress and go out as I usually did when
in Rome, in fact that I intended to follow the conventional and
fashionable daily routine to which I had been habituated, he protested
vigorously. He said that both Celsianus and Galen, the two most acclaimed
physicians in Rome, who had been called in in consultation by my own
physician, but also he himself, had enjoined most emphatically that I must
remain abed for some days yet, must keep indoors for many days more, if I
was to continue on the road to recovery on which their ministrations had
set me, and that all three had bidden him tell me that any transgression
of their instructions would expose me to the probability of a relapse far
more serious than my initial illness and to a far longer period of
inactivity.

I was determined and obstinate. When he added that I must not only remain
quiet, but must not talk for any length of time nor concern myself with
any news or any matters likely to excite me, I revolted. I commanded him
to obey me and to be silent as to the physicians' orders.

I began by asking him what day it was. I then learned that I had been ill
fifteen days since reaching Rome, for I had left my villa on the eighth
day before the Ides of June and it was now the ninth day before the
Kalends of July.

Next I asked after my tenants. Agathemer said that they had most dutifully
presented themselves each morning to salute me and attend my reception, if
I should be well enough to hold one; to ask after my progress towards
recovery if I was not; that Ligo Atrior, as recognized leader among them,
had also come each evening between bath-time and dinner-time to ask
personally after my condition; that, as all the physicians had, the day
before, stated that I must by no means be allowed to see anyone save Tanno
or to leave my bedroom, for some days, he had told Ligo the evening before
not to diminish his and his fellows' time for sight-seeing by coming on
this particular morning; that Ligo had expressed his unalterable intention
of coming each evening in any case.

I commended Agathemer's discretion but told him to tell Ligo, when he came
in the afternoon, that I intended to hold a reception next morning and
wanted to see all nine of them at it.

I then asked about Murmex. Agathemer said that Tanno had offered to bring
him to the Emperor's notice, but that Murmex had declined, thanking him,
but remarking that, as I had offered to bring him to the Emperor's notice,
it would be bad manners on his part to appear under the countenance of any
other patron and would moreover be inviting bad luck instead of good luck
on his presentation.

Agathemer said Murmex had called twice to ask after me and had told him
where he lodged. I instructed him to apprise Murmex of my intention to
hold a morning reception. I knew Agathemer would send out notifications to
all my city clients of long standing without any admonition of mine.

He told me that no message of any kind had come from Vedia nor from Vedius
Vedianus, the head of her clan, nor from Satronius Satro. I could not
conjecture just why Vedia had remained silent, and I was not only worried
over the fact of her silence and aloofness, but felt myself wearied, even
after a very short time, by the uncontrollable turmoil of my mind,
puzzling as to why she had ignored me.

As to Vedius and Satronius, I was vividly aware of their state of mind and
acutely wretched over it.

Only nineteen days before I had seen my _triclinium_ walled and floored
with flowers presented by the local leader of one clan; had seen my dinner
table groan under the fruit sent me by the local leader of the other clan,
had known that both clans were competing for my favor and that I was high
in the good graces of each.

Now I felt that all men of both clans must be bitterly incensed with me,
for I knew their clan-pride. No man of either clan would weigh the facts:
that neither fight had been of my seeking; that both fights had been
forced on me; that I could not by any exercise of ingenuity have avoided
either, once the onset began; that each had been the result of the
headlong impetuosity and self-deception of my assailants, that both were
the outcome of conditions which I could not be expected to recognize as
dangerous beforehand, of a mistake not of my causing, for which I was in
no way to blame. I knew that every man of both clans, and most of all the
head of each clan, would consider nothing except that I had participated
in a roadside brawl in which men of their clan had been roughly handled,
some of them by me personally, and from which their men had fled in
confusion, routed partly by my participation.

I saw myself embroiled with both clans, conjectured that the two fights
were the staple of the clan gossip on both sides, and that animosity
against me was increasing from day to day. I felt impelled to state my
case to both Vedius and Satronius, but I knew that even if I had been in
the best of health, even if I should be eloquent beyond my best previous
effort, there was little or no chance that anything I might say would
avail to placate either magnate or to abate either's hostility toward me.
And I knew that, in my dazed condition, the chances were that I would
bungle the simplest mental task.

Yet I formed the purpose of attempting, that very morning, to see both
Satronius and Vedius, and of attempting, if I was admitted to either, to
convince him that he had no reason to be incensed with me, but that he
should rather be incensed against my assailants: an aim impossible of
attainment, as I knew, but would not admit to myself.

As I was to have no reception that morning I lay abed a while longer, at
Agathemer's earnest solicitation.

Little good it did me. In my mind, behind my shut eyelids, I rehearsed the
unfortunate occurrences on the road, I groped back to their causes.

I could see that Tanno's jesting replies to the Satronians he had met on
the road had given them the idea that Xantha was being conveyed, in a shut
litter, to Villa Vedia: similarly his quizzical words to the Vedians he
had met had given them a similar notion that Greia was being smuggled
behind slid panels and drawn curtains, to Villa Satronia.

The men of each side had spread their conjecture among their clansmen.
Each side had made the forecast that the abductors would try to carry off
their prize to Rome: each had calculated that the other side would try to
fool them, that they would not travel the obvious road, but try to escape
by boldly following the route least to be expected. So the Vedians
inferred that the Satronians, instead of taking their direct road to the
Salarian Highway, would expect an ambush along it and would try to sneak
through Vediamnum. Therefore they were in ambush at Vediamnum. Similarly
and for similar reasons the Satronians were in ambush below their road
entrance, calculating that the Vedians would pass that way.

I had blundered on both ambushes in succession.

I lay, eyes closed, raging at my lack of foresight and at my hideous bad
luck.

When Agathemer knew that I could not be kept longer abed he brought me a
cup of delicious hot mulled wine and a roll almost as well-flavored as
Ofatulena's, for my town cook was fit for a senator's kitchen. I lay still
a while longer.

When I stood up I felt dizzy and faint, but I was resolved and stubborn.
Besides, I craved fresh air and thought that an airing would revive me. In
fact, once out of doors and in my litter, with all Uncle's sliding panels
open, I felt very much better. I told my bearers to take me to the Vedian
mansion.

There the doorkeeper, indeed, stared, and the footmen nudged each other,
but I was received civilly and was shown into the atrium, which I found
crowded with the clan clients and with gentlemen like myself.

The atrium of the Vedian mansion had kept, by family tradition, a sort of
affectation of old-fashioned plainness. It was indeed lined with expensive
marbles, but it was far soberer in coloring, far simpler in every detail,
than most atriums of similar houses. Instead of striving for an effect of
opulent gorgeousness by every device of material, color and decoration,
the heads of the Vedian family had expressed, in their atrium, their cult
of primitive simplicity. Compared with others of the houses of senators
their atrium appeared bare and bleak.

His guests gazed at me curiously as I advanced to greet our host.

Vedius, the smallest man in the throng, stood blinking at me with his red
eyelids, his bald head shining from its top to the thin fringe of reddish
hair above his big flaring ears, his small wizened face all screwed up
into a knot, his thin lips pursed, his little ferret eyes, close-set
against his mean, miserly nose, peering at me under their blinking red
lids.

His expression was malign and sneering, his tone sarcastic, but his mere
words were not discourteous.

"I am delighted to see you, Andivius," he said, "and very much amazed to
see you here.

"I have been told that on the eighth day before the Ides, you entered
Vediamnum early of a rainy morning, with an escort so numerous that none
could have conjectured that the cavalcade was yours; that, when three or
four of the inhabitants of the village accosted you civilly and asked who
you were and where you were going, your men, without any reply, fell on
them and beat them unmercifully; that, when the population of Vediamnum
rushed to the assistance of their fellows, your convoy set upon them and
started a pitched battle, mishandling them so frightfully that the street
was strewn with stunned and bleeding villagers; that you not only
participated in the affray, but fomented it and led it; that the two men
who have since died, fell under blows from your own quarter-staff.

"Now, the fact that I see you here leads me to conjecture that, after the
occurrences which I have rehearsed, you would not have presented yourself
before me and come to salute me, had you not had some version of these
events other than that uniformly reported to me. If you have any version
differing from those which I have heard, speak; we listen."

I had begun to feel dizzy and faint just as soon as I was indoors, I
seemed dazed and as if my faculties were numb; at his ironical mock-
courtesy I felt myself hot and cold all over. Yet I essayed to state my
side of the case.

I explained all the circumstances, narrated Tanno's unexpected arrival,
his quizzical bantering of the persons whom he encountered on the road, my
tenants' petition, my agreement with Marcus Martins, the accretion of
Hirnio and Murmex to our party, Tanno's insistence on reaching the
Salarian Highway through Vediamnum, and all the other trivial factors
which had conspired to my undoing; I described the affray in Vediamnum,
both as I had seen it and as Tanno and Agathemer had told me of it;
similarly the fight below Villa Satronia. I thought I was lucid and
convincing.

When I paused Vedius leered at me.

"Andivius," he said, "I am not such a fool as you take me for. I am not in
any way deceived by all that rigmarole. I see through you and your words
as I saw through your actions. I comprehend perfectly that you connived
with the Satronians to entice my people into a roadside brawl to discredit
our clan. I understand how ingeniously you made all your arrangements,
even to concocting a sham fight with the Satronians to enable you to put
forward the excuses you have offered.

"Your plans miscarried at only two points: you did not mean to leave any
corpses, yet you caused the deaths of two of my retainers; you did not
mean to suffer anything yourself, yet in your sham fight you were
accidentally hit on the head.

"Blows on the head often unsettle the intellect. I take that into
consideration in dealing with you. If you go home now and recover from
your injury your mind will clear. Then you will have wit enough to decide
how soon and how often it will be advisable for you to return here!"

His labored sarcasm was entirely intelligible. I bade him farewell as
ceremoniously as I could manage.

He silkily said:

"I have a bit of parting advice for you, Andivius. The climate of Bruttium
is far better than that of Rome or Sabinum in promoting a recovery from
any sort of illness; it is also far more conducive to long life. If you
are wise Rome will not see you linger here, nor will either Sabinum or
Rome see you return; a word to the wise is enough."

Somehow I reached my litter. I understood his implied threat and saw
endless difficulties and perils confronting me.

At the Satronian mansion the lackeys were insolent and it needed all
Agathemer's tact and self-control, and all mine to browbeat them into
admitting me.

As much as possible in contrast with the Vedian atrium was the Satronian
atrium, a hall decorated as gorgeously, floridly and opulently as any in
Rome; fairly walled with statues almost jostling in their niches, so
closely were the niches set; and all behind, between and above them ablaze
with crimson and glittering with gilding; every inch of walls and ceiling
carved, colored, gilded and glowing.

Satronius was similarly in contrast with Vedius, a man tall, bulky,
swarthy, rubicund and overbearing.

No finesse about Satronius, not a trace.

From amid his bevy of sycophants and toadies, over the heads of his
fashionably garbed guests, he towered, his face red as a beacon, his big
bullet head wagging, his great mouth open.

He roared at me:

"What brings you here, with your hands red with the blood of three of my
henchmen? No Greek can outdo you in effrontery, Andivius. You are the
shame of our nobility. To force your way into my morning reception after
having killed three of my men in an unprovoked assault on them on the open
road on my own land!"

I kept my temper and somehow kept my head clear, though it buzzed, and I
kept my feet though I seemed to myself to reel. I spoke up for myself
boldly and, I thought, expounded the circumstances and my version of the
brawls even better than I had to Vedius.

To my amazement Satronius, in more brutal language, all but duplicated
what Vedius had said to me, only reversing the clan names. He was
convinced that I had assaulted his men by prearrangement with the Vedians,
after a mock fight with them at Vediamnum.

I saw I was accomplishing nothing and endeavored to escape after a formal
farewell.

Satronius roared after me:

"You left three corpses on the roadway below my villa. I'll not forget
them nor will any man of my name. If you have sense you'll keep away from
Sabinum, you'll get out of Rome, you'll hide yourself far away. My men
have long memories and keen eyes. There'll be another corpse found
somewhere by and by and the score paid off."

I laughed mirthlessly to myself as I climbed into my litter. I had, in
fact, embroiled myself hopelessly with both sides of the feud.

Then my men carried me to the Palace.

The enormousness and magnificence of the great public throne-room had
always overwhelmed me with a sense of my own insignificance. On that
morning, chagrined at my reception by Vedius and Satronius, weak, ill and
tottering on my feet, needing all my will power to stand steadily and not
reel, with my head buzzing and my ears humming, feeling large and light
and queer, I was abased and crushed by the vastness and hugeness of the
room and by the uncountable crowd which thronged it.

Necessarily I was kept standing a long time in the press, and, in my
weakened condition, I found my toga more than usually a burden, which is
saying a great deal.

I suppose the toga was a natural enough garment for our ancestors, who
practically wore nothing else, as their tunics were short and light. But
since we have adopted and even developed foreign fashions in attire, we
are sufficiently clad without any toga at all. To have to conceal one's
becoming clothes under a toga, on all state and official occasions, is
irritating to any well-dressed man even in the coldest weather, when the
weight of the toga is unnoticed, since its warmth is grateful.

But to have to stew in a toga in July, when the lightest clothing is none
too light, is a positive affliction, even out of doors on a breezy day.
Indoors, in still and muggy weather, when one is jammed in a throng for an
hour or two, a toga becomes an instrument of torture. Yet togas we must
wear at all public functions, and though we rage at the infliction and
wonder at the queerness of the fate which has, by mere force of
traditional fashion, condemned us to such unconscionable sufferings, yet
no one can devise any means of breaking with our hereditary social
conventions in attire. Therefore we continue to suffer though we rail.

If a toga is a misery to a strong, well man, conceive of the agonies I
suffered in my weakened state, when I needed rest and fresh air, and had
to stand, supporting that load of garments, the sweat soaking my inner
tunic, fainting from exhaustion and heat.

I somewhat revived when Tanno edged his way through the crowd and stood by
me. We talked of my health, he rebuking me for my rashness in coming out
so soon, I protesting that I was plenty well enough and feeling better for
my outing.

There we stood an hour or more, very uncomfortable, Tanno making
conversation to keep me cheerful.

I needed his companionship and the atmosphere he diffused. For in addition
to my illness and the circumstances I have described, I suffered from the
proximity of Talponius Pulto, my only enemy among my acquaintances in the
City. I had seen him once already that morning, in the Vedian atrium,
where he had stood beside Vedius Vedianus, towering over his diminutive
host, for he was a very tall man. Now, in the Imperial Audience Hall, he
was almost a full head taller than any man in the press about him, so that
I could not but be aware of his satirical gaze.

He was a singularly handsome man, surpassed by few among our nobility, and
I had remarked how he dwarfed Vedius, how he made him appear stunted and
contemptible. He had a head well shaped and well set, curly brown hair,
fine and abundant, a high forehead, wide-set dark blue eyes, a chiseled
nose, a perfect mouth and a fine, rounded chin. His neck was the envy of
half our most beautiful women. His carriage was noble and he always looked
a very distinguished man.

I could never divine why he hated me, but hate me he had from our earliest
encounters. He derided me, maligned me and had often thwarted me from,
apparently, mere spitefulness.

As I knew his evil gaze on me I now, in my weakened condition, somehow
felt unable to bear it.

Yet I was somewhat buoyed up, as I stood there, by a recurrence of
thoughts which I had often had before under similar circumstances. Most
men of my rank seemed to take their wealth and position as matters of
course. I never could. I have, all my life, at times meditated on my good
fortune in being a Roman and a Roman of equestrian rank. While waiting in
the great Audience Hall of the Palace, especially, the emotions aroused by
these meditations often became so poignant as almost to overcome me, on
this day in particular. As I viewed the splendor of the Hall and the
gorgeousness of the crowd that thronged it, my heart swelled at the
thought of being part of all that magnificence. It thrilled me to feel
that I had a share and had a right to a share in Rome's glory.

The Emperor was busy with a succession of embassies, delegations and so
on, and, as far as I could see, was in a good humor and trying to appear
affable and not to seem bored.

After the deputations were disposed of the senators passed before the
throne and saluted the Prince. Commodus barely spoke to most of them; it
seemed to me, indeed, that he said more to Vedius and Satronius than to
any other senators.

Then came the turn of us knights, far more numerous than the senators. The
ushers positively hurried us along.

To me, to my amazement, the Emperor spoke very kindly.

"I am delighted to see you here today, Hedulio." he said.

"And I am sorry that I have no time for what I want to ask you and say to
you.

"I have heard of your illness and I know how it originated. Galen told me
you ought to keep your bed for days yet. Are you sure you are well enough
to be out?"

"I think it is doing me good, your Majesty," I replied. "Your words are, I
know."

"If you feel too ill to come here tomorrow," he said, "I'll hold you
excused, but in that case send a message early. I want you here tomorrow,
specially, come if you can.

"Meanwhile, tell me, has coming here to-day tired you? Can you stay
longer?"

"I certainly can," I replied, elated at his notice.

"Then stay here till this tiresome ceremonial is over," he said, "and
accompany me to the Palace Stadium. I have some yokes of chariot horses to
look over and try out, and some new chariots to try. I want you there. I
may need your advice."

Flattered, I felt strength course through my veins and fatigue vanish. I
passed completely round the lower part of the room and, with Tanno, took
my stand near the southeastern door, by which he would pass out if on his
way to the Stadium.

Few senators passed through that door with the party of which I was one,
the invitations being based on horsemanship and good fellowship, not on
wealth, social prominence or political importance.

In the Stadium, of course, it was not only possible but natural to sit
down and Tanno and I took our seats in the shade and as far back as our
rank permitted.

I was amazed to find how much I needed to sit down, what a relief it was,
and to realize how near I had been to fainting. In the breezy shade I soon
revived and felt my strength come back.

From my comfortable seat I watched one of those exhibitions of miraculous
horsemanship of which only Commodus was capable.

The Palace Stadium, of course, is a very large and impressive structure
and its arena of no mean extent. But compared, not merely with the Circus
Maximus, but with the Flaminian Circus or Domitian's Stadium it seemed
small and contracted.

In this comparatively cramped space Commodus, divested of his official
robes and clad only in a charioteer's tunic, belt and boots, performed
some amazing feats of horsemastery.

The pace to which he could speed up a four-horse team on that short
straight-away, his ability to postpone slowing them down for the turn, and
yet to pull them in handily and in time, the deftness and precision of his
short turns, the promptness with which he compelled them to gather speed
after the turn, these were astonishing, enough; but far more astonishing
were his grace of pose, his perfect form in every motion, the ease of all
his manoeuvres, the sense of his effortless control of his vehicle, of
reserve strength greatly in excess of the strength he exerted; these were
nothing short of dazzling. His pride in his artistry, for it amounted to
that, and his enjoyment of every detail of what he did and of the sport in
general, was infectious and delightful. I felt my love of horses growing
in me with my admiration for so perfect a horseman, felt the like in all
the spectators.

Team after team and chariot after chariot he tried out.

Meanwhile Tanno and I, seated comfortably side by side, varied our
watching of Commodus and our praises of his driving with talk of my
embroilment with both sides of the feud, with rehearsing to each other the
unseen missteps which had led me into such a hideous predicament, and with
discussions of what might be done to set me right with both clans. Also he
described again to me what had occurred on the road after I was knocked
senseless and rehearsed his version of both fights, I commenting and
telling him what I recalled.

"What occupies my thoughts most," he said, "is that statuesque horseback
informer planted by the roadside in the rain. What in the name of Mercury
was he doing in your Sabine fog so early on a wet day?"

I was unable to make any conjecture.

For some time Commodus was almost uninterruptedly on the arena, making his
changes from team to team, with scarcely an instant's interval. When he
lingered under the arcade at the starting end of the Stadium Tanno
remarked:

"We had best join the gathering. Do you feel sufficiently rested?"

I stood up and, for the first time that day, did so without any dizziness,
lightheadedness or weakness in my knees. I felt almost myself.

Under the arcade we found Commodus explaining the merits of a new chariot
made after his own design. It was a beautiful specimen of the vehicle-
maker's art, its pole tipped with a bronze lion's head exquisitely chased,
the pole itself of ash, the axle and wheel-spokes of cornel-wood, all the
woodwork gilded, the hubs and tires of wrought bronze, also gilded, the
front of the chariot-body of hammered bronze, embossed with figures
depicting two of the Labors of Hercules; every part profusely decorated
and the whole effect very tasteful.

Commodus ignored all these beauties entirely and discoursed of its
measurements.

"Come close, Hedulio," he commanded, "this is just what I wanted you for."

The jockeys, athletes, acrobats and mimes about him made way for Tanno and
me and some other gentlemen.

"I have always had very definite theories of chariot construction,"
Commodus went on. "I hold that the popular makes are all bad; in fact I am
positively of the opinion that the tendencies in chariot building have
been all in the wrong direction for centuries. They have followed and
intensified the traditions from ancient days, when chariots were chiefly
used for battle and only once in a while for racing.

"For battle purposes chariots, of course, were built for speed and quick
turning, but after that, to avoid upsets. When a man was going to drive a
pair of half-wild stallions across trackless country, over gullies and
boulders, through bushes, up and down hill, often along a gravelly
hillside, he saw to it that his chariot would keep right side up no matter
how it bounced and tilted and swerved. He made sure that his axle was
long, his wheels far apart, and their spokes short, so that his chariot-
bed was as low as possible. He was right.

"But, after fighting from chariots was wholly a thing of the past in Italy
and chariots were used, as they are used, for racing only, why cling to
provisions for obsolete uses?

"A good general thinks of winning victories, not, like the fools I have
disgracing me along the Rhine, of avoiding defeats. So a good charioteer
ought to think, not of avoiding upsets, but of winning races. Yet all
charioteers appear to want their vehicles as low built as possible, with
short spoked wheels, wide apart on the ends of a long axle. That makes
them feel safer on a short turn, and, so help me Hercules, I hardly blame
them, anyhow. Besides, they all want to spraddle their legs apart and set
their feet wide, so as to stand firm on the chariot bed, so they want the
chariot body made as wide as possible.

"Now I don't need to plant my feet far apart when I drive. I believe I
could drive on one foot and keep my balance. So I hold a broad chariot
body is worse than unnecessary. More than that I maintain that the lower
the axle is set, the less the team's strength goes into attaining speed.
The lower the axle is set, the more sharply the pole slopes upward from
the axle to the yoke-ring; the less of the team's energy goes into pulling
the chariot along, the more of it is wasted, so to speak, on lifting the
chariot into the air at every leap forward. The higher the axle is set,
the nearer the pole is to being level, the less power is wasted on that
upward pull and the more is utilized on the forward pull and goes to
produce speed.

"Then again, I maintain that the farther apart the wheels are set the more
one drags against the other, not only at the turns, where anyone can see
the outer wheel drag on the inner, but at every swerve of the team on the
straightaway. All such dragging reduces speed and tires the team with
pulling which is energy utterly wasted.

"I hold the ideal racing chariot should have a chariot body as narrow as
possible, not much wider than the width of the driver's hips; should have
the wheels as close together as possible, to diminish the drag of one
wheel against the other, should have the axle set as high as can be
managed.

"All charioteers exclaim that such a chariot tends to overset. So it does.
But I never have had an overset and I never expect to overset. I know how
to drive and poise myself so as to keep my chariot right side up, and I
never think of oversetting, I think of winning my race, and always do.

"Anyhow, here before your eyes, is my new racing chariot and of all the
chariots ever made on earth this has the longest wheel-spokes, the
highest-set axle, the closest-set wheels and the narrowest chariot body.
Now I'm going to try it out and show it off."

He did to admiration, amid excited acclaims, his four cream-colored mares
fairly flying along the straights and taking the turns at a pace which
made us hold our breath.

After this thrilling exhibition he came back under the arcade and spoke to
me first.

"Hedulio," he said, "you are one of the most competent horsemasters I ever
knew. What do you think of my idea of the best form for a racing chariot?"

"I think," I said, "that it has all the merits you claim for it, but that
not one charioteer in ten thousand could drive in it and avoid an upset,
sooner or later, at a turn."

"Right you are!" he replied, "but I am one charioteer in ten thousand."

"Say in a hundred thousand," I ventured to add. "For surely you could not
find, among all the professionals in the Empire, any other man to equal
you in team-driving."

He beamed at me.

When we left the Palace Tanno saw me in my litter and insisted on
following behind mine in his until he had seen me out of mine and into my
own house.

There I had a very brief and very light lunch, Agathemer hovering over me
and reminding me of Galen's orders for my diet, so that I found myself
forbidden every viand which I craved and asked for, and limited to the
very simple fare which had been prepared for me.

After lunch I went to bed and to sleep.

I woke soon and very wide awake. When I rolled into bed I had felt so
utterly done up with the excitement of my interviews with Vedius and
Satronius, with the exertion of standing in the Throne-room and through
the Emperor's lecture on chariot design, that I had renounced my intention
of calling on Vedia and had resigned myself to postponing my attempt to
see her until the morrow.

I woke all feverish energy and restless determination to go to see her at
once. Therefore, between the siesta hour and the hour of the bath, I
presented myself at Vedia's mansion.

I was at once ushered into her atrium, where I found myself alone and
where I sat waiting some time.

When a maid summoned me into her _tablinum_, I found her alone, seated in
her favorite lounging chair, charmingly attired and, I thought, more
lovely than I had ever seen her.

"Oh, Caia!" I cried.

She bridled and stared at me haughtily.

"'Vedia,'" if you please, she said coldly. "You have no manner of right to
'Caia' me, Andivius."

The distant formality of her address, her disdainful tone, the affront of
her words, chilled me like a dash of cold water.

"Caia!" I stammered, "Vedia, I mean. What has happened? What is wrong?"
For I could not credit that she would be incensed with me because of my
involvement in the affray in Vediamnum nor that she would condemn me
unheard, especially as Tanno had told me, in the Stadium of the Palace,
that he had taken care to call on Vedia, and give her his version of my
mishap.

She glowered at me.

"Your effrontery," she burst out, "amazes me. I am incredulous that I
really see you in my home, that you really have the shamelessness to force
yourself into my presence! It is an unforgivable affront that you should
pretend love for me and aspire to be my husband and all the while be
philandering after a freedwoman; but that you should parade yourself on
the high road with her all the way from your villa to Rome, with the hussy
enthroned in your own travelling carriage, is far worse. That you should
get involved in roadside brawls with competitors for the possession of the
minx is worse yet. Worst of all that you should advertise by all these
doings, to all our world, your infatuation for such a creature and your
greater interest in her than in me. I am indignant that I have considered
marrying a suitor capable of such vileness, of such fatuity, of such
folly."

I was like a sailboat taken all aback by a sudden change of wind. I could
not believe my ears.

"I never took the slightest interest in Marcia," I protested, "except to
keep my uncle from marrying her, after he set her free. She made eyes at
me also, of course, for she made eyes at every marriageable man within
reach. But I never had anything to do with her, never called on her by
myself, never so much as talked to her alone. I went to her dinners, of
course. All widowers and bachelors of our district went to her dinners.
But her dinners were the pattern of propriety in every way. Your own
grandmother's famous dinners were not more decorous. Except for being a
guest, with others, at her dinners, I never was at her villa. I lent my
carriage not to her but to her bridegroom, Marcus Martius, a prosperous
gentleman of my neighborhood, of whom you have often heard me speak, a
friend of my uncle's and a friend of mine since boyhood. The fights, as
Tanno explained to you, had nothing to do with Marcia and her involvement
in them was as accidental as mine."

Vedia did not look a particle mollified.

"You men," she said, "are all alike. You will philander about your nasty
jades. But, at least, when you vow that you love one woman and one only,
and use every artifice to induce her to marry you, you should feel it
incumbent on you to keep away from such creatures as this Marcia of yours.
But you must needs dangle about her and go to her dinners. That was bad
enough. But, while wooing me, to arrange a mock marriage for her with a
local confederate and then positively bring her to Rome with you was
infinitely worse. I am insulted, of course. But, above and beyond your
treachery to me, I am insulted at your bungling your clumsy intrigues and
flaunting the minx in the face of all the world and setting all
fashionable Rome to gossiping about you and your hussy and to wondering
how I am going to act about it.

"I'll show them and you how I am going to act! I'm angry at your double-
dealing; at your lies I am furious. I hate you. I hope I'll never set eyes
on you again. The sooner you are gone, the better I'll like it. And I'll
give orders to ensure your never darkening my doors again!"

I tried to argue with her, to persuade her, to convince her, to induce her
to listen to me.

She raged at me.

Dazed, I groped my way to my litter and, once in it, lost consciousness
entirely, not in a faint, but in the sleep of total exhaustion.

As I rolled into my litter, feeling utterly unfit to enjoy a bath with any
natural associates, I had ordered my bearers to take me home.

There I rested a while, for I waked before I reached home. Then I bathed,
ate a simple dinner, alone with Agathemer, and went at once to bed.



CHAPTER VII

A RATHER GOOD DAY


I slept soundly all night but woke at the first appearance of light. I lay
abed, my mind milling over my situation, over Vedia's unexpected jealousy
of Marcia, over the absurdity of it, over her illogical but impregnable
indignation and over the equally baseless but similarly unalterable
hostility of Vedius and Satronius.

I concluded to try again to placate all three. It seemed to me I could
recall many omissions and infelicities in what I had said to both
magnates, while in dealing with Vedia I seemed to myself to have been
tongue-tied and fragmentary.

After the bit of bread and hot mulled wine which I did not crave, but
which Agathemer insisted on my taking according to Galen's orders, I held
a brief morning reception. My nine farmer-tenants were all present, all
pathetically and touchingly glad to see me again about, even old Chryseros
Philargyrus.

They had a petition to prefer, namely, that I should give them permission
to leave Rome and return home, jointly and severally, just as soon as they
pleased. Ligo Atrior acted as spokesman and said that they had come
provided for a month's stay, as I had ordered, but they felt that they
could see all the sights of Rome which would interest them before the
month was out, and some sooner than others. Moreover they felt that
although they had left their farms in the best of condition and in
faithful hands, yet their desire to return home would soon overcome their
interest in sight-seeing and would grow more overmastering daily.

I readily accorded what they asked.

Murmex Lucro was there, and his appearance of superhuman strength
impressed me even more than on the road, I bade him meet me at the Palace,
and instructed him by which entrance to approach it and at what portal and
precisely where to take his stand in order that I might not miss him.
Agathemer suggested that I detail one of my slaves to act as his guide and
I did so.

My salutants disposed of without hurry and to the last man, in spite of
Agathemer's protests, I ordered my litter.

At the Vedian mansion I was refused admission. Agathemer and even I argued
and expostulated, but the doorkeeper said he had explicit orders not to
admit me, and the four big Nubians flanking the vestibule, two on a side,
looked capable of using muscular force on any would-be intruder and
appeared eager for a pretext for hurling themselves on me.

I climbed back into my litter.

As my men shouldered it, the doorkeeper or some one of his helpers made
the mistake of unchaining the watch-dog at me.

He was a big, short-haired, black and white Aquitanian dog. He flew at the
calves of my bearers, snarling, and would have bitten them badly had I not
half rolled, half fallen from my litter, almost into his jaws; in fact,
not a foot in front of him.

As all such animals always do with me, he checked, cowered, fawned and
then exhibited every symptom of recognition, delight and affection. I
patted him, pulled his ears, smoothed his spine and climbed back into my
litter. The dog took his place under it as naturally as if I had raised
him from a puppy and kept neatly underneath it, all the way to the
Satronian Mansion.

There, at sight of me, as I descended from my litter, the doorkeeper
loosed his big fawn-colored Molossian hound at me. And he came in silence,
but his lips wrinkled off his teeth, swift as a lion and looking in fact
as big as a yearling lioness and not unlike one in outline and color.

The Aquitanian from under the litter flew at him with a snarl, the
Molossian replied with a louder snarl, the two dogs clinched and tore each
other, snarling, and hung to each other, worrying and growling and
snarling, to the delight of my bearers.

Out of the Satronian mansion poured a small mob of footmen, lackeys and
such house-slaves. But not one dared approach the two dogs. At a safe
distance they watched the fight.

I seized the dogs, spoke to them, quieted them, separated them and when I
ordered them, they lay down side by side under the litter.

I climbed in.

As my bearers shouldered the litter, the Satronian doorkeeper came forward
and said truculently:

"That is our dog under your litter."

"Is he your dog?" I retorted. "Prove it! Take hold of him."

The doorkeeper tried and the Molossian snarled at him. He called the
footmen to help him.

At that somehow, I both lost my temper and felt prankish.

"Chase 'em, Terror," I called. "Chase 'em, Fury!"

It was a wonder to see the Aquitanian obey, to see the Molossian obey was
a portent.

Into the mansion scuttled the doorkeeper, the footmen, the lackeys, the
hangers-on, the two dogs barking at their heels.

I called them off in time to forestall any lacerated ankles, and still
more marvellously they obeyed instantly, checked, withdrew to under the
litter and there paced, side by side, to Vedia's home.

There, also, I was denied admission, but urbanely, the porter asserting
that his mistress was not at home.

While I was questioning the porter, who was becomingly respectful, a bevy
of Vedian retainers, house-lackeys and other slaves, overtook me,
demanding the return of the Aquitanian watchdog.

"Take him!" I said, "take him if you can!"

The boldest of them approached the dog, calling him by name and
wheedlingly. When he was but a yard or so away the dog flew at his throat
and almost set his fangs into it, for they snapped together a mere hand's
breadth short.

The fellow recoiled and, when the dog followed like an arrow from a bow,
took to his heels, his companions with him, and they ran helter-skelter
down the street, the dog pursuing them to the corner of the Carinae, and
returning, his tongue hanging out, his tail wagging, with all the
demonstrations of a dog who feels he has done his full duty and has earned
approbation.

Hardly had he returned when a band of Satronians appeared and a similar
scene was enacted, with the Molossian as chief actor.

When the last Satronian had vanished round the corner of the thoroughfare
I reëntered my litter and we set off for the Palace, both dogs sedately
pacing side by side underneath.

At the Palace portal Agathemer had no difficulty in locating Murmex, even
in the crowd which packed all approaches to that entrance. I spoke to the
centurion on duty at the portal and to the head out-door usher, meaning to
arrange that Murmex should be let in among the first when the commonality
were admitted after the senators and knights had paid their duty to the
Emperor. To my amazement the head usher looked at a list or memorandum
which he had in his hand and said:

"You are Andivius Hedulio, are you not? You are to take in with you
anybody you please, to the number of ten. Caesar has given special orders
about you." Murmex therefore passed in with me and took up a position in
the lower part of the Audience Hall, where I could send a page to summon
him if my plans worked out as I hoped.

We were early and the vast public throne-room almost empty. Tanno joined
me after I had stood but a short time and not long afterwards the Emperor
entered, just as a fair crowd of senators had assembled.

The formal salutation began at once and I noticed that the Emperor said
something personal to Vedius and that Vedius stepped out of the line of
salutants and took up a position behind the Emperor on his left. Similarly
he spoke to Satronius, who similarly took his station behind the Emperor
on his right.

When, in the long line of my equals, in an Audience Hall now jammed to the
doors, I drew near to the throne, I felt a growing embarrassment at seeing
the Emperor flanked by my two enemies. But, when I made my salutation, to
my amazement, the Emperor took my hand and leaned over and kissed me as if
I had been a senator.

"I love you, Hedulio," he said, "and I am proud of you. I have heard very
laudatory reports of you. My agents all agree in reporting that you have,
in very difficult circumstances, done your utmost to avoid giving offence
to any of your neighbors in Sabinum, and that, if you have given offense,
it was not your fault. They also agree in reporting that, mild and
peaceful as you are by disposition, you know how to defend yourself when
attacked, that you are not only a bold and resolute man in a tight place,
but resourceful and prompt, a hard and quick hitter, and what is more, a
past master at quarter-staff play. I love brave men and good fighters. I
commend you."

He turned ironically to Vedius and asked:

"Did you miss any part of what I have just said to Andivius? I meant you
to hear every word of it."

Vedius, his mean face lead-gray, bowed and said:

"Your Majesty was completely audible."

Then Commodus similarly questioned Satronius. He, his big face brick-red,
his eyes popping out, seemed half strangled by his efforts to speak.

"I could hear it all," he managed to say.

"You two stand facing me," Commodus commanded. "Stand on either side of
Andivius."

They so placed themselves with a very bad grace.

The Emperor raised his voice.

"Come near, all you senators," he commanded. "I want all of you to hear
what I am about to say and to be witnesses to it."

Everybody, senators, knights and commoners crowded as close to the throne
as etiquette and the ushers would allow.

"Now listen to me," spoke Commodus. "You know I hate all sorts of official
business and should greatly prefer to put my entire time and energies on
athletics, horsemanship and swordsmanship, archery and other things really
worth while. I make no secret of my love for the activities at which I am
best and of my detestation of my duties.

"But, just because I hate my duties, it does not follow that I neglect
them. A lot of you think I do. I'll show you you are not always right, nor
often right. Just because I surround myself with wrestlers and charioteers
and gladiators and other good fellows, not with senile self-styled
philosophers, prosy and with unkempt beards and rough cloaks, as my father
did, half of you think I am incapable of being serious, or haven't
intellect enough to understand government or sense enough to care for the
Empire.

"You are mightily mistaken. I realize the importance of my
responsibilities and the magnificence of my opportunities. I hate routine,
but I know well the value of our Empire and that I, as Prince of the
Republic, [Footnote: See Note A.] have a bigger stake in it than any other
citizen of our Republic. I am not wholly absorbed in the joys of
practicing feats of strength and skill. I put more time on governing than
you think.

"I am autocrat of our world, and I know how to make my influence felt when
I choose. I have very positive views about fighting. Fighting has to go
on, on the frontiers of the Empire. My army can keep off our foes, but it
cannot kill off the Moorish and Arab and Scythian nomads, nor the hordes
of the German forests and the Caledonian moors. The Marcomanni and the
rest will claw at us. There must be fighting on the frontiers. It is
proper that there should be fighting where necessary, on any frontier, and
corpses scattered about.

"Also corpses are in place on any arena of any amphitheatre anywhere
inside our frontiers; fighting inside amphitheatres is proper and seemly.

"But I will tolerate no fighting inside our frontiers outside the
amphitheatres. I'll not condone any corpses on the pavement of any street
or on the road of any highway or byways. I'll not permit any battles, set-
tos, affrays or brawls in towns or villages or on roads. You hear me? You
hear me, Vedius? You hear me, Satronius? You hear me, all of you?

"Now it so happened that I had heard of your disgraceful Sabine feud,
which mars the peace of a whole countryside near Reate, and I had sent a
competent and reliable agent with four assistants to investigate and
report. For once luck was with me: generally my luck as a ruler is as bad
as it is good for me as an athlete. It so happened that my agents had just
completed their preliminary investigations and acquainted themselves with
general conditions when your idiotic feud broke loose in two abductions of
women, one by each side, that put my agents on their mettle. They kept
awake. They are no fools. My head man has a keen scent for incipient
trouble; he managed to have one of his helpers get among the ambushers in
Vediamnum and another among those on your byway, Satronius. Each of these
two severally heard all the talk of the ambushers with whom he mingled; so
I have had a faithful report of just what the Vedian ambush meant to do to
the Satronian convoy they lay in wait for and similarly of the other side.
Each was waiting for a sheep; both caught a wildcat. If the men in the
ambushes had had any eyes or any sense, no fight would have occurred. As
it was they got no more than they deserved. Hedulio was set on without
provocation and merely defended himself and his associates as any self-
respecting free man would. I have no fault to find with Hedulio. I take
you all to witness.

"Now that disposes of what is past. As to the future I shall tolerate no
illegalities of any kind anywhere in the City, in Italy or in the Empire.
You'll see. Dr. Commodus will cure this epidemic of lawlessness which
afflicts the Republic. You'll see my agents run down, catch and bring to
punishment the ingenious rascals who have been amusing themselves by
masquerading as Imperial Messengers, scampering across the landscape for
the fun of the thing, eating lavish meals at my cost, running the legs off
my best horses, lodging luxuriously in the best bed at every inn they stop
at, showing forged papers, or showing none at all, using no other means
than effrontery and assurance. I'll have them stopped. I'll stop them. And
I'll quell, I'll squelch this outburst of banditry of which we have too
much. I'll see that my agents hunt down and capture and execute these
highwaymen who rob not only rich travellers, but government treasure-
convoys, who even rob Imperial Messengers. A pretty state of affairs when
my couriers are fair game alike for impostors and robbers. I'll make the
slyest and the boldest quail at the idea of interfering with one of my
despatch riders and I'll exterminate all highwaymen. I'll have no one
swaggering up and down Italy, now in Liguria, now in Apulia, mocking the
law and its guardians, looting as he pleases, uncatchable, untraceable,
hidden and helped by mountaineers and farm-laborers and farmers, even
welcomed secretly in villages and towns, acclaimed as King of the
Highwaymen, until songs are made on him and sung even in Rome. He'll soon
decorate a gibbet, impaled there and spiked there too. You'll see. And
still less will I tolerate lawlessness among men of property and position.
The past actions of you magnates I dislike. As to the future I may say
that my agents were at your morning reception yesterday, Vedius, and heard
and reported your covert threats to Hedulio: likewise two were at your
house, Satronius, and heard and reported your open threats.

"Now I perfectly understand what you two implied. You threatened Andivius
with assassination, if he returned to his estates in Sabinum or if he so
much as remained in Rome.

"Beware! Be warned! Take care! I am easy-going enough, but I am Caesar and
I'll brook no trenching on my personal prerogatives or my legal authority.
I have the tribunician power for life, I am commissioned thereby to forbid
anything in the Republic and to see to it that no magistrate or citizen
oversteps the limits of what is permitted him. By your threats to Hedulio
you practically arrogate to yourself the right to exile a Roman of
equestrian rank. Banishment is a governmental power and a prerogative of
Caesar. I'll have no magnates of such overweening behavior. I am jealous
of my prerogatives, more than jealous!

"I know what you intend and what you can accomplish by your henchmen. I
comprehend that hundreds of stilettos are being sharpened, up there in the
Sabine Hills, and down here in the slums, for a chance at Hedulio.

"Now I can do much by legal authority and more by personal prerogative. Be
quick. Pass the word swiftly to all your satellites, here and in Sabinum.
Let them all know that if Andivius Hedulio dies by poison or violence or
is injured by any weapon, you two at Rome and your brother at Villa Vedia
and your son, Satro, at Villa Satronia, will not see two more sunrises. I
know how to enforce my will, and well you know that. Your lives are in
pawn for his, let all your clansmen know in good time.

"And more: if you dare, either of you, to move against Hedulio in any
court at Reate or elsewhere in Sabinum for his participation in the brawls
which you fomented and he fell into, I shall see to it that not your
influence dominates any trial, but evenhanded justice, jealously watched
over by my best legal advisers. You know what that means to you."

The Emperor spoke with a sustained, white-hot fury and it was comical to
watch Satronius and Vedius, as I did by sidelong glances when the
Emperor's eyes were not on my face.

When he stopped, both magnates bowed low and each in turn expressed his
loyal submissiveness.

The Emperor dismissed them with a wave of his hand. To me he said:

"That will keep you alive, Hedulio and, I trust, help you to get back into
good health. Horrible bore, these small-size local matters; worse, if
anything, even, than the maintenance of the Rhine frontier. I loathe all
this routine. But my agents serve me pretty well. Besides putting me in
touch, with all this feud idiocy they have incidentally informed me that
you brought to Rome with you a son of Murmex Frugi, also a nephew of
Pacideianus, and a pupil of both, who has come to Rome to try his luck at
their former profession. Did you bring him here today? I hoped you would."

"I did," I answered, "and thanks to your orders, I was able to pass him in
with me. He is in this hall now."  "Fine!" cried the Emperor, "and how
about your nine tenants, who stood by you so well in both fights. Did you
bring them too?"

"I should never have so presumed," I stammered, amazed, "It would never
have entered my head to ask entry here for such simple rustics. I should
have anticipated your wrath had I so far forgot myself."

"Rustics," said Commodus, smiling, even grinning, "who can fight as I am
told your tenants can fight are always to my mind. Bring them here
tomorrow, if you like. I'll see them in the Palaestra. I'm going there
today after this function is finished. Bring your swordsman there. You
know the door. I have given orders to admit you in my retinue."

In the Palaestra Tanno cheerfully presented Murmex to some of his favorite
prize-fighters and he stood talking with them, they appraisingly conning
the son of Murmex Frugi.

Tanno and I seated ourselves well back on the middle tier of the
spectators' benches and chatted until the Emperor should have returned
from his dressing-room and should seem at leisure to notice us.

"You must not be too puffed up at your good luck of today," Tanno warned
me.

"In fact, I advise you to be very wary and to comport yourself most
modestly. You know Commodus. It has too often happened that when he has
overwhelmed a courtier with favors, his very condescension seems to cause
a reaction in his feelings and he becomes insanely suspicious. Respond
promptly to all his suggestions, of course, but do not obtrude yourself on
his notice. In particular ask no favor of him for a long time to come."

I thanked him for his advice and assured him that I most heartily agreed
with his ideas.

Presently a page summoned me, and Tanno came, too.

Commodus had rid himself of his official robes and was now clad only in an
athlete's tunic and soft-soled shoes. I presented Murmex and the Emperor
questioned him, as to his age, his upbringing, his father's years in
retirement at Nersae, as to Pacideianus and put questions about thrusts
and parries designed to test his knowledge of fence.

Then he seated himself on his throne on the little dais by the fencing-
floor and had Murmex called to him, made him stand by him, and asked his
opinion of several pairs of fighters whom he had fence, one pair after the
other.

Appearing pleased with the replies he elicited he bade Murmex go with one
of the pages, rub down and change into fencing rig. While Murmex was gone
he viewed more fencing by young aspirants matched against accredited
Palace-school trainers.

When Murmex returned he had him matched with the best of these tiros. But,
almost at once, he called to the _lanista_:

"Save that novice! Murmex will kill him, even with that lath sword, if you
don't separate them."

He then had Murmex pitted against a succession of experts, each better
than his predecessor. Murmex acquitted himself so brilliantly that
Commodus cried:

"I must try this man myself."

He stood up and stepped down from the dais. Then he spent some time in
selecting a pair of cornel-wood fencing-swords of equal length and weight
and of similar balance, repeatedly hefting the sword he had chosen and
repeatedly asking Murmex whether he was satisfied with his sword, whether
it suited him; and similarly of the choice of shields.

When they faced each other they made as pretty a spectacle as I had ever
seen: Murmex stocky, so burly that he did not look tall, square-
shouldered, deep-chested, vast of chest-girth, huge in every dimension and
yet neither heavy nor slow in his movements; Commodus tall, slender,
sinewy, lithe and graceful, quick in every movement and amazingly
handsome.

They had made but a few passes when Commodus exclaimed:

"You show your training: it is some fun to fence with you."

After not many more thrusts and parries he called out:

"Be on your guard! I'm going to attack in earnest."

There followed a hot burst of sword-play and when both adversaries were
out of breath and stepped back and stood panting, Commodus praised Murmex
highly.

"You have the best guard I have ever encountered," he said, "steady-eyed,
cautious, wary yet quick too, and always with the threat of attack in your
defense. You are a credit to your training."

When they stepped forward again Commodus commanded:

"Attack now, attack your fiercest and show your quality. I shall not be
angry if you land on me, I shall be pleased. Do your utmost!"

After the second bout he said:

"You are most dangerous in attack. At last I have found a man really worth
fencing with. You gave me all I could do to protect myself. You are a
pearl!"

He looked round at the envious faces of more than two score seasoned
professionals and addressed the gathering at large.

"We have here a man who is nephew of Pacideianus and son to Murmex Frugi,
trained since infancy by both. No wonder he is a marvel. I have never
faced a swordsman who gave me so much trouble to protect myself or who
held off my attacks so easily and completely. He is the only man alive, so
far as I know, really in my class as a fencer."

As he was eyeing the assembly to note their manner of receiving this
proclamation his expression changed.

"Egnatius!" he called sharply. "Come here!"

Egnatius Capito came forward. Like Tanno and myself he was conspicuous
since he was in his toga, most of those present being athletes and clad
for practice.

"I did not notice you among your fellow senators at my levee," said the
Emperor.

"I was not there," Egnatius admitted. "I had a press of clients at my own
levee this morning and reached the Palace just in time to hear what you
had to say to Vedius and Satronius. I tried to catch your eye as you
passed out, but you did not notice me at all."

"I had rather see you here than in the throne-room," Commodus said. "I am
told that you have let your tongue run entirely too wild in talking of me
lately. If I had not been also told that you had had too much wine I
should animadvert on your effrontery officially. As it is I prefer to
prove you wrong before these experts and gentlemen."

"Of what have I been accused?" Capito queried, steadily.

"There has been no accusation," Commodus disclaimed. "But I have been told
that, at more than one dinner, you have been fool enough to say that I am
only a sham swordsman, that I take a steel sword and face an adversary
whose sword has a blade of lead: that it is no wonder that no one scores
off me, and that I run up big scores in all my bouts."

"If I ever said anything like that," spoke Capito boldly, "I was so drunk
that I have no recollection of having said it. And I am a sober man and a
light drinker. Also I have never harbored such thoughts unless too drunk
to know what I thought or said."

"You are cold sober now, aren't you?" Commodus queried.

"Entirely sober," Egnatius agreed.

"And you are a fencer far above the average?" he pursued.

"I have been told I have no mean skill," said Capito modestly.

"Such being the case," said Commodus, "you and I shall fence. Go with the
attendants and change into fencing kit. You'll find all styles and sizes
of everything needed in the dressing-rooms. First pick out a pair of
cornel-wood swords, entirely to your mind."

When Capito had selected a pair of swords which suited both him and the
Emperor, he went off to change. While he was gone Commodus had the armorer
drill a tiny hole near the point of one sword and insert in it one of
those thorn-like little steel points which are commonly used on the ends
of donkey-goads.

When Capito returned he showed him the two swords. Capito looked up at him
questioningly and amazedly.

"The idea is this," Commodus explained. "I mean to demonstrate my perfect
ability to defend myself, as well as my dangerousness in attack. You are
to use the sword with the goad point set in it; so that, if you succeed in
hitting me, you will tear a long slash in my hide; for I am going to fence
with you in my skin only, stark; mother-naked as I was born. I shall use
the unaltered sword and you will have on your fencing-tunic, so that if I
hit you, it won't hurt you nearly as much as a hit from you will hurt me.

"If you draw blood from me, I'll pay you one hundred thousand sesterces:
if I fail to lay you out on the pavement, totally insensible, in three
bouts, I'll pay you two hundred thousand sesterces. You can pick any
_lanista_ here to judge the fight and tell us when to separate and rest."

Capito, cool enough, indicated Murmex as referee.

"He's not a _lanista_," Commodus objected.

"He's Frugi's pupil," Capito maintained, "and therefore the best _lanista_
here."

"I agree," said Commodus, and he called:

"Who's the physician on duty?"

When the official came forward he said truculently:

"Get your plasters ready and your revivers. You'll have to attend a man
flat on the pavement, insensible and with a bad scalp wound, before much
time has passed."

And actually, though Capito fenced well, he was no match for Commodus.

The bout was worth watching. The adversaries were just the same height and
differed little in weight. Capito seemed more compact and steady; Commodus
more lithe and agile. Capito was a handsome man and made a fine figure in
his scanty, leek-green fencing tunic. Commodus, always vain, of his good
looks, delighted in exhibiting himself totally nude, not only because he
loved to shock elderly noblemen imbued with old-fashioned ideas of
propriety, but also because he rightly thought himself one of the best
formed men alive. He was fond of being told that he was like Hercules but,
except in the paintings of Zeuxis, Hercules has always been depicted as
brawnier and more mature than Commodus was then or ever became, to his
last hour. To me he suggested Mercury, especially as he appears in the
paintings of Polygnotus, or Apollo, as Apelles depicted him.

Besides the grace and good looks of the two, they fenced very well, Capito
correctly and with good judgment, Commodus with amazing dash and
originality.

Capito, though bold, was wholly unable to touch Commodus, while Commodus
slashed him, even through his tunic, till his blood ran from a dozen
scratches. Before the second bout was well joined Capito was felled by a
blow on the head, which laid him flat and insensible, bleeding from a
terrible scalp wound.

After Capito had been carried off by the attendants, the Emperor, wrapped
in an athlete's blanket, talked a while to Murmex and then went off to
bathe, for he bathed many times a day.

Set free, I went out and was helped into my litter. The two dogs were
still by it, took their places under it as if they had belonged to me
since puppyhood and under it trotted as I returned home. Once home I ate
the lunch permitted me and had an hour's sound, dreamless sleep.

I woke feeling so well that I sent for Agathemer, bade him have my litter
ready and told him I was going to the Baths of Titus.

Inevitably Agathemer protested that I was not well enough; naturally I
insisted and, of course, I had my way.

As with court levees, I have never been able to take as a matter of course
without wonder and admiration, the marvellous spectacle afforded by an
assemblage of our nobility and gentry gathered for their afternoon bath in
any of our splendid Thermae. Of these I hold the Baths of Titus not only
the most magnificent, which is conceded by everybody, but also I hold them
the most impressive mass of buildings in Rome, both outside and inside,
and surpassing in every respect every other great public building in the
city. Most connoisseurs appraise the Temple of Venus and Rome as our
capital's most splendid structure, but I could never bring myself to admit
it superior to or even equal to the Baths of Titus. To enter this
surpassing building, always congratulating myself on my right to enter the
baths and use them; to be one of the courtly throng of fashionable
notables resorting to them: I could never take these things as a matter of
course.

Nor could I ever take as a matter of course the sight of the bulk of
Rome's nobility, gentlemen and ladies together, thronging the great pools
and halls or roaming about the corridors, passage-ways or galleries, all
totally nude.

Social convention is an amazing factor in human life. One may say that
anything fashionable is accepted and that anything unfashionable is
banned. But that does not help one to explain to one's self the oddity of
some social conventions.

Oddest of all our Roman social conventions is the contrast between the
insistence on complete concealment of the human figure everywhere else and
the universal acceptance of its display at the Thermae.

At home, if receiving guests, on the streets, at a formal dinner, at
Palace levees, at the Circus games or in the Amphitheatre, a man must be
wrapped up in his toga. Any exposure of too much of the left arm, of
either ankle, is hooted at as bad form, is decried as indecent.

So of our ladies, on dinner sofas, on their reclining chairs in their
reception rooms, in their homes, in their litters abroad, at the
Amphitheatre or at the Circus games, from neck to instep they are muffled
up. If one catches a glimpse of a beauty's ankle as she goes up a stair,
one is thrilled, one watches eagerly, one cranes to look.

Yet one encounters the same beauty the same afternoon in a corridor of the
Baths of Titus, with nothing on but a net over her elaborate coiffure and
the bracelet with the key and number of the locker in which the attendant
has put away her clothing and valuables and one not only cannot stare at
her, one cannot look at her, not even if she accosts one and lingers for a
chat.

I have pondered over this, the most singular of our social conventions,
and the most mandatory and inescapable; and the more I ponder the more
singular it seems.

Yet it is real, it is a fact. One meets the wives of all one's friends,
the wives of all Rome's nobility, naked as they were born; they mingle
with the men in the swimming pools, in the ante-rooms, in the rest-rooms,
everywhere except in the shower-bath cabinets and the rubbing-down rooms;
one swims with them, lounges with them, joins groups of chatting gentlemen
and ladies, chats, goes off, and all the while one cannot, one simply
cannot stare at a nude woman, any more than any of the women ever stares
at any man.

It is a social convention. But not the less amazing, although a fact.

One not only cannot scrutinize a woman, one cannot scrutinize a group of
women, even at a distance, even all the way across a swimming pool. So,
hoping to encounter Vedia in the gathering, I yet could not look for her.

I had met and talked with many of my acquaintances, notably Marcus Martius
and his bride Marcia.

Marcia, rosy as the inside of a sea-shell, with her gold hair confined by
a net of gold wire, was a bewitching creature, if I had been able to let
my eyes dwell on her.

She was as contained and slow spoken and soft-voiced as always, but she
was, for her, notably complimentary as to my share in the two fights;
thanked me warmly for defending her, declared that she would certainly
have been carried off, either as Xantha or Greia, or as a hostage for one
or the other, if I had not fought "like both the Dioscuri at once," as she
phrased it.

Martius corroborated her opinion of my services to them and thanked me
warmly.

Delayed by chats with friends and acquaintances, held up by distant
acquaintances and even by persons hardly known to me by sight, who
congratulated me on the Emperor's public championing of me against my
powerful Sabine neighbors, I felt my strength ebbing and sometimes saw a
gray blur between my eyes and what I looked at.

I was, in fact, so weak that I nearly fainted when, unseen in the swarm of
bathers until he was close to me, I encountered Talponius Pulto, tall,
handsome, disdainful, sneering and malignant as usual. From his proximity
I escaped as unobtrusively as I could and as promptly.

The cold douche and a swim in the cold pool had revived me. Also, in the
cold pool I had encountered Nemestronia, still personable enough at
eighty-odd to mingle daily with her social world, as nude as they, and
enjoy herself thoroughly. Yet, at her age, she knew she looked better when
under water, and spent most of her time in the pools. She and I did some
fancy swimming together, while she questioned me about my health.

I did not spend any more time than I could help between the cold pool and
the tepid pool; no more at least than importunate acquaintances exacted of
me.

In the tepid pool I felt, somehow, weaker and more relaxed than at any
time since I had gone out the previous morning. The effect of the
Emperor's favor, the effect of the cold plunge, were wearing off: mind and
body were losing tone. I swam languidly, alone, on my back and so swimming
found myself about one third of the way from the upper end of the pool and
about midway of its width. I was staring up at the panels of the vaulting,
relishing the beauty of the color scheme, the gold rosettes brilliant
against the deep blue of the soffits, set off by the red of the coffering.

So swimming and staring my eyes roamed downward to the great round-headed
coved window above the gallery. The railing of the gallery had a sort of
wicket in it, by which bathers could emerge one by one on to the bracket-
like platform which overhung the pool at that end, for use as a take-off
for a high dive.

Suddenly, on this diving-stand, poised for her dive, outlined against the
window behind her, I recognized Vedia; Vedia, my angered sweetheart, rosy
as Marcia, more lovely, and nude as Venus rising from the sea.

Seeing her thus, and seeing her thus unexpectedly, woke in me a volcanic
outburst of conflicting emotions altogether too much for my weakened
condition.

I fainted.

When I came to I felt weak and queer and did not at first open my eyes. I
heard subdued voices all about me, as of an interested crowd; I felt all
wet, I felt the cold of a wet mosaic pavement under me, but my head and
shoulders were pillowed on a support wet indeed, as I was, but soft and
warm.

I opened my eyes.

I realized that my head was in Vedia's lap, for I saw above me her
dripping breasts and, higher, her anxious face looking down at mine.

I fainted again.



CHAPTER VIII

THE WATER-GARDEN


Just how long I was entirely unconscious I do not know. For after I began
to come to myself at intervals which grew shorter, for periods which grew
longer, I was too weak to move a muscle or to utter a syllable. I lay,
flaccid, in my big, deep, soft bed, very dimly aware of Occo or of
Agathemer hovering about me, generally recalled to consciousness by an
eggspoonful of hot spiced wine being forced through my slow-opening lips
and teeth.

How many times I was sufficiently conscious to know that I was being fed,
but too ill for any thoughts whatever, I cannot conjecture. When I began
to have mental feelings the first was one of dazed confusion of mind, of
groping to recollect where I was and why and what had last happened to me.

When I recalled my last waking experience I lay bathed in sleepy
contentment. I could think connectedly enough to reason out, or my
unthinking intuitions presented to me without my thinking, the conviction
that, if Vedia could recognize me in a big pool among scores of swimmers,
if her perceptions in regard to me were acute enough and quick enough for
her and her alone to notice that I had fainted in the water, if she cared
enough for me and was sufficiently indifferent to what society might say
of her, for her to rescue me and sit down on the pavement of the
_tepidarium_ and pillow my wet head on her wet thighs till I showed signs
of life, I need not worry about whether Vedia cared for me or not. I was
permeated with the conviction that, however difficult it might be to get
her to acknowledge it, however great or many might be the obstacles in the
way of my marrying her, Vedia loved me almost as consumedly as I loved
her.

In this frame of mind I convalesced steadily, if slowly, incurious of the
flight of time, of news, of anything; content to get well whenever it
should please the gods and confident that happiness, even if long
deferred, was certain to follow my recovery.

After I could talk to Occo and Agathemer and seemed to want to ask
questions, which both of them discouraged, one morning, on wakening for
the second time, after a minute allowance of nourishment and a refreshing
nap, I found Galen by my bedside.

He looked me over and asked questions, as physicians invariably do,
concerning my bodily sensations. After he seemed satisfied he asked:

"My son, were you ever ill before you were hit on the head in your recent
affrays?"

"Never that I remember," I answered.

"I judge so," he said. "If you had not been blessed with the very best
physique and constitution you would have died in your friend's litter on
the Salarian Highway. Thanks to your general strength and healthiness, and
thanks, to some extent, to my care and that of my colleagues, you are
alive and on the way to complete, permanent recovery and to long life with
good health. But you very nearly committed suicide when you went out and
about contrary to my orders. I say all this solemnly, for I want you to
remember it. If you disobey again, you will, most likely, be soon buried.
If you obey you have every chance of getting so well that you can safely
forget that you ever were ill.

"But, until I tell you that you are well, do not forget that you are ill."

"I shall remember," I said, "and I shall be scrupulously obedient."

"Good !" he ejaculated. "I infer that you find life worth living."

"Very well worth living," I rejoined devoutly.

"Then listen to me," he said. "You must remain abed until I tell you to
get up; when you first get up, it must be for only an hour or so. You must
not attempt to go out until I give you permission. You must not risk
eating such meals as you are used to. You must take small amounts of
specified foods at stated intervals. Agathemer will see to all that, with
Occo to help him. Do you promise to acquiesce?"

"I promise," I said.

"Remember," he cautioned me, "that the number, variety and severity of the
blows rained on you in your two fights were so great that you were almost
beaten to death. You had no bones broken, but the injury to your muscles
and ligaments was sufficient to kill a man only ordinarily strong, while
the blows affecting your kidneys, liver and other internal organs were in
themselves, without the bruising of all your surface, enough to cause
death. I had you convalescing promptly and rapidly; you went out and
overstrained all your vitalities. Your recklessness almost ended you. You
were far nearer death in your relapse than at first, and that is saying a
great deal. If you obey me you will certainly recover. If you disobey you
will probably kill yourself."

"I shall take all that to heart," I said. "I have promised to be docile:
I'll keep my word and obey my slaves as if every day were the Saturnalia."

"Good!" he exclaimed. "You are getting better."

He looked me over again and asked:

"Is there anything you want?"

"I want to see Tanno," I said.

"You shall the day after tomorrow," he promised, "or perhaps tomorrow, if
I find you improving faster than I anticipate."

Actually, after a brief visit from him the next day, Tanno was ushered
into my sick-room.

My first question was about my tenants. Not one such tenant-farmer in a
million would ever have a chance of being personally presented to Caesar.
They had been awestruck when I told them of their amazing good fortune.
They had said almost nothing. But I knew that they were, all nine of them,
as nearly rapt into ecstasy as Sabine farmers could be at the prospect of
personally saluting Caesar in his Palace, in his Audience Hall on his
throne. I had been too inert to worry about anything, but I almost worried
at the thought of their disappointment, through my relapse.

Tanno told me that he, knowing the Emperor's character pretty well, had
taken it upon himself to have them passed in with him as the Emperor had
ordered, and had himself asked permission to present them and had
presented them. The next day, he said, everyone of them had returned home.

I heaved a deep sigh of relief: my tenants and my Sabine Estate were off
my mind; I might be entirely easy about all things in Sabinum.

He then told me what a brilliant success Marcia was among the pleasure-
loving, novelty-loving, luxurious high-living set in our city society.

"Since the enforcement of the old-fashioned laws relaxed and became a dead
letter and some were even repealed," he said, "not a few men of equestrian
rank have married freed-women and such occurrences no longer cause any
scandal or much remark. But the results are not generally productive of
any social success for the ill-assorted pair.

"I have known a few freedwomen married to men of wealth, and equestrian
rank, who gained some vague approximation of social standing among the
wives of their husbands' friends. But Marcia is the first freedwoman I
ever knew or heard of to be treated, by everybody and at once, as if she
had been freeborn and since birth in her husband's class. Martius has not
brought this about, or aided much; he is a good enough fellow, but he has
no social qualities; for all the power he has of attracting friends he
might as well be an archaic statue. Marcia has done it all. She's a
wonder."

Then he told me of Murmex: how he was already rated Rome's champion
swordsman; how the Palace Palaestra was jammed with notables eager to see
him fence, how magnates competed for invitations to such exhibitions, how
Murmex was overwhelmed with attentions of all kinds from all sorts of
people, had had a furnished apartment put at his disposal by one admirer,
a litter and bearers presented him by another, already saw his domicile
crowded with presents of statuary, paintings, furniture, flowers and all
possible gifts, how he was an immediate and brilliant success with all
classes, even the populace talking of him, crowding behind his litter, and
demanding him for the next public exhibition of gladiators.

That such luck had befallen a man whom I had presented to Court augured
well for me, indubitably.

After I had been out of bed an hour or more for several consecutive days
Galen said to me:

"You are almost well enough to be about, but not quite. If you go back to
your habitual hours of sleep you will fret and fidget indoors, and you are
not yet sufficiently recovered to resume your normal life. You need fresh
air. I have considered what is best and what is possible. I have talked
with your friend Opsitius. Through him I have arranged for you to have
short outings in this manner. On fair days if you feel like going out you
may call for your litter. In it you must keep the panels closed and the
curtains drawn. Agathemer will give your bearers directions. Nemestronia
has offered you the use of her lower garden. You are to have it all to
yourself, whenever you want it, as long as my directions to Agathemer
permit you to remain in it; and you need not remain a moment unless you
enjoy being there."

I understood without asking any questions. Nemestronia's palace was one of
the most desirable, magnificent and spacious abodes in Rome. Her father,
who had been accustomed to say that he was too great a man to have to live
in a fashionable neighborhood, that any neighborhood in which he settled
would thereby become fashionable, had bought a very generous plot of land
nearly on the crest of the Viminal Hill and had there built himself a
dwelling which was at once noted among the dozen finest private dwellings
in the Eternal City. In one respect it was preëminent. From its lofty
position it had, down the slope of the hill, a wide view over the city and
this view was unobstructed, for below his palace Nemestronius had had laid
out six separate gardens, two large and four small. Next the house the
ground fell away so sharply that he had been able to create a terraced
garden, the only private terraced garden in Rome, extending across the
entire rear of his palace and with three terraces, from the uppermost of
which the view was almost as good as from the upper windows of the
mansion. Below this, each extending along but half the length of the
terraces, was a grass-garden, where it was possible to play ball-games, it
being a mere expanse of sward shut in by high walls covered with flowering
vines; and a formal garden, in the fashionable style. Below the grass-
garden was one of similar size, all flower-beds, to supply roses, lilies,
violets and other staple blossoms for his banqueting-hall, below the
formal garden was one called the wild-garden or shrubbery-garden, like the
grass-garden in being covered with sward almost from wall to wall, but
unlike it, in that it had four shade trees, no two alike, and many
flowering shrubs of all kinds and sizes. Lastly below these two was the
water-garden, the same size as the terraced garden, taken up with
fountains and pools, and all gay in season, with the flowers which thrive
in or beside ponds and pools. It had also eight beautiful lotus trees.

High walls, through which one might pass from one to the other only by
gates generally shut fast, separated and enclosed these gardens, for their
creator's intention was to enjoy the peculiar charm of each undistracted
by the contrasting charms of the others. From the upper gardens it was
possible to see, to some extent, into those lower down the hill; but, from
the lower, one could see nothing of those above.

One side of the property was flanked by a street, a mere narrow, walled
lane on which no dwelling opened. Along this were posterns in the wall,
giving access to or exit from the terrace-garden, the formal-garden, the
wild-garden and the water-garden.

I understood at once what I later heard from Agathemer. The water-garden
was to be mine for my airings. I was to leave my litter at its postern in
the unfrequented lane and reenter my litter there.

There I went next day and revelled in the beauty of the garden, in the
sunshine, in the breeze and in the sensations of returning health and
strength which inundated me. There I went for some days in succession
similarly.

On the eighth day before the Kalends of August Galen came to see me, not
early in the morning, but about the bath-hour of the afternoon. He seemed
well pleased with his inspection of me and with my answers to his
questions.

"You are practically well," he said, "and much sooner than I anticipated.
I am tempted to tell you to return to your normal routine of meals, eating
what you please; and to give you permission to resume your usual social
activities But I think it better, in a case like yours, to wait a month
too long rather than to be a day too soon. So I shall enjoin an adherence
to your diet and a continuance of your long rest hours and brief outings
for some days yet."

He had me summon Agathemer and repeated to him much of what he had said to
me.

"He might go out at once," he said, "but we had best be cautious. Limit
him to morning outings in Nemestronia's gardens. He may, however, see
friends, one at a time, according to his wishes and your directions. And
be particular as to his diet. Give him more of each viand at each feeding.
Feed him as soon as he wakes. Then time the feedings two hours apart. Are
your _clepsydras_ [Footnote: water-clocks] good?"

"Of the best," I interjected. "My uncle was a fancier of time-keepers and
had one in every room, and no two alike in ornamentation, all beautifully
decorated."

"The ornamentation doesn't matter," said Galen, impatiently. "Do they keep
time with anything approaching accuracy?"

"As near accuracy," I said, "as any _clepsydras_ ever made."

"Well," he said, "_clepsydras_ always work better when nearly full than
when nearly empty. When you feed him have a full _clepsydra_ handy and
start it when he begins to eat. Then by it feed him again after two hours.
Keep to that interval and to the diet I have enjoined."

Next day I spent over three hours in Nemestronia's water-garden, Tanno
with me for most of the time. Twice, during the chat, Agathemer brought me
a tray with the drink and food enjoined for that hour of the day. Each
time I left not a drop or crumb: I was ravenous.

The following morning Agathemer let in to me, in that same garden, Murmex
Lucro, who thanked me for my good offices with Commodus and narrated his
triumphal progress of professional and social success ever since I had
seen him fence with the Emperor.

Agathemer did not permit Murmex to linger long, saying that it was against
Galen's orders. After I was alone and had eaten what he brought I basked
and idled happily, thinking of Vedia, entirely unruffled by the fact that
I had had no missive or message from her, considering her silence merely
discreet and judicious after her spectacular rescue of me in the
_Tepidarium_, and confident of seeing her as soon as I was entirely well.

While I was in this mood my hostess came to chat with me. Nemestronia, at
eighty-odd, was as dainty and charming an old lady as the sun ever shone
on. And as lovable as any woman alive. I loved her dearly, as all Rome
loved her dearly, and I ranked myself high among her countless honorary
grandsons, for her motherly ways made her seem an honorary grandmother to
all young noblemen whom she favored.

After a heart-warming chat she said:

"I must go now, by Galen's orders. Before I go I want to ask you whether
you are coming here tomorrow?"

"Certainly!" I cried, looking about me with delight. "Could there, can
there, be in Rome a more Elysian spot in which to feel health being
restored to one?"

She beamed at me.

"Be sure to be here," she said. "You will not regret coming."

Between naps that afternoon and before I slept that night I soothed myself
with the hope that I was, by Nemestronia's influence, to have an interview
with Vedia.

Next morning the weather was beautiful, the sky clear, the air neither too
cool nor too warm, the breeze soft and steady. Nemestronia's water-garden
appeared to me even more delightful than the day before. I admired the
lotus trees, the water-lily pads in the pools, the jets of the fountains,
the bright strips of flowers along the pools, particularly some water-
flags or some flowers resembling water-flags.

I was idling in the sun on a cushion which Agathemer had arranged for me
on a marble seat against the upper wall, nearly midway of the garden, but
in sight of the postern gate by which I had entered. So idling and
dreaming day dreams I let my eyes rove languidly about the scene before
me. While meditating and staring at the pavement at my feet I heard
footsteps on the walk and looked up.

To my amazement I saw Egnatius Capito approaching.

No wonder I was amazed. I knew him but slightly. I should never have
thought of asking to see him, as I had asked to be allowed to see several
of my semi-intimates. Agathemer had insisted that I postpone seeing them,
because an interview with any of them was likely to overtire me. I knew
that no one could have entered that garden without Agathemer's knowledge.
I could not conceive how Capito came to be there.

He greeted me formally and asked permission to seat himself beside me. I
gave it rather grudgingly.

He asked after my health and I answered only less grudgingly.

"I conjecture," he said, "that you are surprised to see me here?"

"I am surprised," I said shortly.

"Will you permit me to explain?" he asked courteously.

I could not be less courteous than he and signified my assent.

"Your secretary," he said, "is of the opinion that your illness, while
caused by your injuries in the affrays into which you were entrapped, was
greatly intensified by your chagrin at finding yourself embroiled with
both the Vedian and Satronian clans, and he also thinks that brooding over
the condition of affairs has delayed your recovery."

"I assumed all that," I interrupted, "but I cannot conceive why he has
talked to you about it."

Capito was always ingratiating. He gazed at me reproachfully, gently,
winningly.

"If I have your permission," he said, "I shall explain."

"Explain!" I cried impatiently.

"Agathemer," he went on, "has left no stone unturned to find some means
for placating both clans and for reconciling you with both. In pursuit of
this aim he has been cautious, discreet, tactful and secret. He has
covertly tried many plans of approach. It was intimated to him, truly,
that I had on foot a scheme which promised to succeed in reconciling both
clans with each other and he rightly inferred that I might be able to
arrange for reconciling both with you at the same time. I am confident
that I can, as I told him when he tentatively approached me and
unostentatiously sounded me on this matter. I told him that it was only
necessary that I have an interview with you as soon as might be. Believing
that an early dissipation of your embroilment would conduce to your quick
and complete recovery he arranged for me to meet you as I have."

While he was saying this my eyes roved about the garden. To my
astonishment I saw a man standing against the shut postern door, intently
regarding us as we sat on the marble seat conferring. In my half
convalescent state I had become used to acquiescence in anything and
everything, I was inert mentally and physically and my perceptive
faculties dulled and slow as were my intellectual processes. While
hearkening to Capito I gazed at the man uncomprehendingly, only half
conscious. I thought him a queer-looking fellow to be in Capito's retinue;
he did not look like a slave, but like a free man of the lowest class. I
did not recognize him, yet it seemed to me that I should; I did not like
the way he looked at us, yet I said nothing. He seemed to see me looking
at him, opened the postern, stepped through it and shut it after him. As
he went I was shot through with the conviction that I had seen him
somewhere before.

"If you have in you," I said to Capito, "any such supernatural powers as
you would need for success in what you aim at, if you have any reasons for
anticipating success, Agathemer was fully justified in what he has done.
If you can really accomplish what you seem to believe you can accomplish,
I shall be grateful to you to the last breath I draw. But I am skeptical.
Speak on. Convince me."

"I must first," he said, "have your pledge of secrecy for what I am about
to say."

"What sort of secrecy?" I queried, repelled and suspicious.

"If I am to disclose what I wish to disclose," he said, "you must give me
your word not to reveal by word, look, act or silence anything I may make
known to you, from your pledge until the termination of our interview."

I was uneasy, but curious. I gave my pledge as he asked.

He looked about, warily. He leaned closer to me. He spoke in a subdued
tone.

"It must be known to you," he said, "that many of us nobles, many men of
equestrian rank, many senators, are gravely anxious concerning the
Republic, gravely dissatisfied with the character and behavior, I might
say the misbehavior, of our present Prince."

"I don't wonder that you pledged me to secrecy," I blurted out. "You are
talking treason."

"Hear me to the end," he begged, "and you will find that I am talking not
treason but patriotism."

I grunted and he went on.

"Many of us are of the opinion that the Republic, which was never as
prosperous as within the past eighty years, is in grave danger of losing
much of its Empire, so gloriously extended by Trajan, so well maintained
by his three successors, if it continues to be neglected and mismanaged as
it is. To save the commonwealth and retain its provinces we must have a
Caesar competent, diligent, discreet and brave; and not one of these
epithets can be properly applied to the autocrat now in power. We feel
that he must be removed and that there must be substituted for him a ruler
who is all that the State needs and has the right to expect."

"Fine words," I said. "Masking a conspiracy to assassinate our Emperor."

He looked shocked and pained.

"Hear me out," he pleaded.

"I am curious, I confess," I admitted, "to learn what all this has to do
with reconciling Vedius and Satronius and regaining me the good graces of
both. I ought to terminate the interview, but I am weak. Go on."

"Naturally," he said, "both Vedius and Satronius resent what the Emperor
did and said concerning your entanglement in their feud and they are both
infuriated at their humiliation and at the effective means he took to tie
their hands as far as concerns you and to ensure your safety, as far as
they were concerned."

"Commodus," I interrupted, "is not altogether a bungler when he gives his
mind to the duties of his office."

"May I go on?" Capito enquired, mildly, even reproachfully and, I might
say, irresistibly. He was a born leader of a conspiracy, for few men could
be alone with him and not fall under his influence.

"Go on," I said. "I am consumed with curiosity to discover how their rage
at the Emperor could lead to a reconciliation between them."

"It is not obvious, I admit," he said, "but when I explain, you will see
how naturally, how inevitably a reconciliation might be expected to
result.

"You have seen, perhaps often, a peasant or laborer beating his wife?"

"Everybody has," I replied. "What has that to do with what you were
talking of?"

"Be patient!" he pleaded. "You have seen some bystander interfere in such
a domestic fracas?"

"Often," I agreed.

"You have also seen," he continued, "not only the husband turn on the
outsider, but the wife join her spouse in attacking her would-be rescuer,
have seen both trounce the interloper and in their mutual help forget
their late antagonism."

"Certainly," I agreed.

"Well," he pursued, "human nature, male or female, low-life or high-life,
is the same in essence. Vedius and Satronius are so incensed with Caesar
for balking their appetite for revenge on you that they are thirsting for
revenge on Caesar and ready to forget all their hereditary animosities and
join in abasing him. In fact, they have joined the league of patriots of
which I am the leader. And they are so bent on their new purpose that they
are ready to be hearty friends to anyone sworn as our confederate. I can
arrange to obliterate, even to annihilate forever, all trace of enmity
between you and either of them, if you will but agree to let your natural
inherent patriotism overcome all other feelings in your heart and aid us
to abolish the shame of our Republic and to safeguard the Commonwealth and
the Empire."

All this while I had been half listening to him, half occupied in trying
to recall where I had seen the man who had stepped through the postern. At
this instant, as Capito paused, I suddenly realized that he was the
immobile horseman whom we had twice passed in the rain by the roadside the
morning I had started from my villa for Rome. His hooked nose was
unmistakable.

Somehow this realization, along with the recollection of what Tanno had
said of the fellow, woke me to a sense of the danger to which I was
exposed by being with Capito and also to a sense of the craziness of his
ideas and plans.

I felt my face redden.

"You have said enough!" I cut him short. "I perfectly understand. You
think yourself the destined savior of Rome and the deviser of priceless
plans for Rome's future. You are not so much a conspirator as a lunatic.
Your schemes are half idiocy, half moonshine. I have pledged you my word
to be secret as to what you have told me. My pledge holds if you now keep
silent, rise from this seat and walk straight out to your litter, by the
same way by which you came from it. If you utter another syllable to me,
if you do not rise promptly, if you hesitate about going, if you linger on
your path, I'll call my litter, I'll go straight to the Palace, I'll ask
for a private audience, I'll wait till I get one, I'll tell the Emperor
every word you have said to me. If you want protection for yourself from
my pledge, leave me. Go!"

He gave one glance at me and went.



CHAPTER IX

THE SQUALL OF THE LEOPARD


When he was gone, when I had seen the postern door shut behind him, I felt
suddenly weak and faint. I was amazed to find how exhausted I was left by
the ebbing of the hot wave of indignation and rage which had surged
through me as I revolted from his absurd and contemptible proposals. I
felt flaccid and limp.

At this instant Agathemer brought me a tray of food. My impulse was to
burst out at him with reproaches for having, without consulting me,
presumed to arrange for me an interview with a man not among my intimates.
But I was so enraged that I dreaded the effect on me, in my weakened
state, if I let myself go in respect to rebuking my slave. I kept silent
and was mildly surprised to find myself tempted by the food. I ate and
drank all that was on the tray, and Agathemer vanished noiselessly,
without a word.

I sat there, revived by the food and wine, feeling the weakness caused by
my rage gradually passing off and meditating on the sudden change in my
condition. Before Capito accosted me I had felt perfectly well and was
looking forward to resuming my normal life next day, to going to the
Palace Levee, to enjoying a bath with my acquaintances at the Thermae of
Titus. Since Capito had left me I had felt so overcome that I was ready to
look forward to some days yet of strict regimen and isolation.

Thus meditating I was again aware of footsteps on the walk.

I looked up and was more amazed than when I had caught sight of Capito.
Approaching me, but a few paces from me, was one of the most detestable
bores in Rome, a man whom I sedulously avoided, Faltonius Bambilio. His
father, the Pontifex of Vesta, was an offensively and absurdly unctuous
and pompous man. His son, who had already held several minor offices in
the City Government, had been one of the quaestors the year before, and so
was now a senator. But he was, as he always had been, as he remained, a
booby. I do not believe that there was any man in Rome I detested so
heartily.

He greeted me as if he had a right to my notice and said:

"I was told that Egnatius Capito was in this garden."

"He was," I replied curtly, "but he has left it."

"I certainly am disappointed," he said, seating himself by me, uninvited.
"I particularly wanted to speak to Capito at once."

"You might find him at his house," I suggested.

But Bambilio was impervious to suggestions.

"I wanted to talk to him and you together," he said, "but that can be
managed some other time."

I was about to reply tartly, but I remembered how my irritation with
Capito had affected me and recalled Galen's injunction that I must avoid
all causes of excitement and emotion. I held my peace.

Bambilio, as if he had been an intimate and had been specially invited,
lolled comfortably on the bench and gazed approvingly about.

"Fine garden, Andivius," he said. "Fine trees, fine flowers and I say,
what a jewel of a slave-girl, eh! Hedulio!"

I could have hit him, I was so incensed at his familiarity, I was already
choking with internal rage at Agathemer for having let anyone in to talk
to me in that garden, still more at his having done so without consulting
me and most of all that after doing so he had not made sure that no one
but Capito could pass the postern door. But I almost exploded into voluble
wrath when I looked where he indicated, saw a pretty, shapely young woman
in the scanty attire of a slave-girl picking flag-flowers into a basket
she carried, and recognized Vedia. That Agathemer's presumption should
have spoiled the interview with Vedia which she and Nemestronia had
manifestly arranged for us, that it should have exposed Vedia in her
undignified disguise to recognition by the greatest ass and blatherskite
in the senate, this infuriated me till I felt internally like Aetna or
Vesuvius on the verge of eruption.

Vedia, for it was she, had evidently been approaching me circuitously,
hoping to be noticed and hailed from afar. Now when she was near enough
for not merely a lover but for any acquaintance to recognize her, she
looked up at me over her basket as she laid a flower-stalk in it.

Instantly her face flamed, she turned away and went on picking flowers
diligently. After she had moved a few steps she sprang into the path and
scampered off like a child, her basket swinging, vanishing through a door
in the upper wall on my left.

"Neat little piece!" Bambilio commented. "Taking, and every part of her
pretty. Fine calves, especially."

I was by this time in a condition which, had I been old and fat, must have
brought on an apoplexy. But my hot rage cooled to an icy haughtiness, and,
though it took a weary, tedious long time, I kept my temper and my
demeanor, look, tone and word, managed to convey to him, even through the
thick armor of his self-conceit, that he was not welcome. He rose, said
farewell and waddled off to the postern. As soon as he was outside, more
rapidly than I had moved since I was felled in the roadside affray, I
walked to that door and made sure that it was bolted.

I was strolling unhurriedly back to the seat I had left and was perhaps
half way to it, when I heard, loud and clear, the long-drawn, blood-
curdling hunting-squall of Nemestronia's pet leopard; heard in it more of
menace, more of adult ferocity, more of the horrible joy of the power to
kill than I had ever heard before.

Instantly I comprehended what had happened. Either Agathemer when he took
off my tray or Vedia when she escaped had passed through the wild-garden
(probably it had been Vedia, who would not know that the leopard was
confined there), and had left a door imperfectly closed. The leopard,
which might have been asleep, under the shrubberies and invisible, had
roused and had passed through the unfastened door up into the terrace-
garden. This was the kind of morning on which Nemestronia would have many
visitors, the kind of weather which would tempt them to have their chairs
out on the upper terrace, the hour of the morning at which they would be
most likely to be out there. The leopard, I instantly inferred, was
stalking, not some hare, porker, kid or lamb, but her owner and her
owner's guests.

I disembarrassed myself of my outer garments, threw off my sun-hat, and,
clad only in my shoes and tunic, sprinted for the door into the wild-
garden, through it, through its upper door, which, as I had forecasted, I
found open, and out on the lower terrace. From there I could not see
anything on the upper terrace, but, as I cleared the door, I heard again,
rising, quavering, sinking, rising, the leopard's hunting cry from the
upper terrace. I sprang up the stair to the middle terrace, and half way
up that to the upper; but, when my head was about on a level with the
pavement of the walk along the upper terrace, I checked myself and moved a
hairs-breadth at a time; for the rescue on which I had come was a delicate
task and any quick movement might precipitate the leopard's killing-
spring.

Through the spaces between the yellow Numidian marble balusters I saw what
I had anticipated. Partly under the big middle awning, but mostly out in
front of it on the walk, were set a score of light chairs. On those
furthest out were seated nine ladies: Nemestronia, Vedia, Urgulania,
Entedia, Aemilia Prisca, Magnonia, Claudia Ardeana, Semnia, Papiria and
Cossonia. They were rigid in their chairs, white with terror and yet
afraid to move a muscle. Belly flat on the walk, about twelve paces from
them, crouched the leopard, moving forward a paw at a time. As I gained a
view of her she emitted a third squall.

I saw that I was in time and felt so relieved that I almost fainted in the
revulsion from my agony of anxiety. As I began to move my mind was free
enough to wonder how Vedia had found time to change from her slave-girl
disguise into a bewitching fashionable toilet. Among those leaders of
Roman society, the very pick of Rome's noblewomen, she showed her best and
outshone them all.

I moved evenly and steadily up the steps and along the balustrade till I
was past the crouching leopard and then on round till I was in her line of
sight and half between her and her victims.

She recognized me at once, the evil switching of her tail ceased, she half
rose; she began to purr, a purr that sounded to me as loud as the roar of
a water-fall in a gorge; she took a few steps towards me, then, suddenly,
she made a peculiar movement hard to describe, something like the
curvetting of a mettlesome colt, but characteristic of a leopard and
therefore like the movement of no other animal save a leopard or lion or
tiger; she leapt daintily clear of the pavement and struck sideways with
her forepaws. The antic perfectly expressed playful delight and
friendliness.

I recognized her mood and knew that I had not only distracted her from her
bloodthirst but had her entire attention. I knew what I must do, but I
raged at the ridiculous exhibition which I must make of myself before the
most fastidious and conventional of Rome's noblewomen. Yet, if I was to
save them, I must not hesitate. I threw myself flat on my side on the
pavement and made clawing motions with my hands and feet, the leopard
responded to my suggestion, capered again as before and, when close to me,
lay down before me on the pavement and began to paw at me, purring loudly
in her throat, now and then snarling softly. She played with me as she had
often played before, all her claws sheathed and her paws soft as
thistledown; mumbling my hands and forearms in her hot mouth, slavering
over them, yet never so much as bruising the skin with her needle-sharp
teeth. Yet I seemed to detect a subtle difference in her mood and, from
moment to moment, dreaded that she might claw me to ribbons or sink her
fangs in my shoulders or face.

All the while she was mouthing, pawing and kicking me I was raging at
Agathemer for having put me in a position where I had to make so
undignified an exhibition of myself before such an assemblage.

Presently I recognized that alteration in her mood which made it possible
for me to rise, take her by the scruff of the neck, and lead her off to
her cage.

When I had her inside I realized how hot, sweaty, dusty tousled, rumpled
and mussed I was. Her cage was under the vaulted arcade beneath the second
terrace. I was, when I shot its bolts, altogether out of sight of Vedia,
Nemestronia and the other noble ladies who had been spectators of my
tussle with the leopard. I did not want them to see me again in my
dishevelled and dirty condition: I sneaked into the house by the passage
from the arcade into the cellars and up the scullery stairs, made the
first slave I saw escort me to the guest-room I usually occupied when at
Nemestronia's and bade him summon bath-attendants and dressers.
Nemestronia had a store-room lined with wardrobes of men's attire
containing every sort of garment of every style and size. I was soon clean
and clad as a gentleman should be in a fresh tunic and in the garment I
had left in the water-garden, which a footman had fetched for me.

Then I went out on the upper terrace.

There I found the nine ladies, with some maids and waiters. Before the
ladies, facing Nemestronia, stood Agathemer; behind and about him
Nemestronia's six big, husky, bull-necked slave-lashers, the two head-
lashers with their many-lashed scourges.

I realized at once what had happened. Nemestronia had needed no one to
inform her that it was through Agathemer's negligence or mismanagement
that the leopard had escaped from the wild-garden. She had not waited to
ask me to investigate the matter and punish my slave. She had, like the
great noblewoman she was, assumed my acquiescence and approval and
summoned and questioned Agathemer. Before I appeared his answers had
convicted him. She did not look round at me as I joined the group and
seated myself in a vacant chair on her left, between Vedia and Claudia
Ardeana. As I seated myself she gave the order:

"Strip him and give him a hundred lashes!"

Now, then and there I found myself in the most cruel and painful situation
I had ever been in my life. Agathemer and I had been playmates almost from
our cradles; comrades, cronies, chums all our lives. Neither of us had
ever had a brother. Each had been, since infancy, a brother to the other.
I could not have loved a real brother any more than I loved Agathemer, nor
could he have had more implicit confidence in the goodwill of a blood
brother. I was, in fact, as solicitous for Agathemer's welfare as for my
own, and I rejoiced with his joys and mourned with his griefs. I would
have done anything to protect him and save him, as he had faithfully and
tirelessly nursed and cared for me in my illness.

But I knew that no explanations could ever make Nemestronia understand our
mutual relations or accept my views of them; to her a slave was a slave;
she felt as unalterable a gulf between free man and slave as between
mankind and cattle. I could only let her have her way, though I was
inundated with misery at the thought of Agathemer's approaching agonies. I
had been hotly wrathful with him and had meditated, as I dressed, what
sort of punishment would befit his fault: now that Nemestronia had ordered
him flogged my resentment against him had all oozed out of me and I was
filled with sympathy for him and scorn of my cowardice in not protecting
him. I glanced at him as the lashers stripped and bound him. He sent back
at me a glance which said, as plain as words:

"I am to blame. I know you are sorry for me. But give no sign, I must go
through this alone."

And I had to sit there while the head-lasher flogged him till the pavement
on which he lay was all a pool of gore, till his back was in tatters from
neck to hips, till he was carried off, insensible, perhaps dead.

Also I had to express my approbation of Nemestronia's orders, and had to
sit there and chat with the ladies, seven of whom were inclined to be
facetious over the figure I had cut sprawling on the mosaic walk, tussling
with that abominable leopard. They thanked me for saving their lives, or
at least, the life of some one of them. But they were sly about my comical
appearance while the leopard mauled and tousled me.

Two did not speak.

Vedia was cold and mute and spoke only when she rose, excusing herself to
Nemestronia and calling for her litter first of them all.

Nemestronia was so weak from the reaction after her fright and so
unwilling to display her weakness that she hardly spoke, limiting herself
to the brief words courtesy demanded.

When I reached home I forgot everything else in my solicitude for
Agathemer. I not only called for my own physician, but sent urgent
messages summoning Galen and Celsianus. Celsianus was affronted at the
suggestion that he stoop to prescribe for a slave and incensed at having
been called in haste for such a trifle: but Galen, who came in while
Celsianus was expressing his indignation, diverted his mind at once by
rejoicing that I was sufficiently recovered to take that much interest in
one of my slaves. He made haste to see, inspect and assist Agathemer: when
he was somewhat relieved and we had left him abed with Occo to watch him
and with injunctions that quiet was the best medicine for him, Galen
turned to me.

"You have had a shock," he said, "and a superabundance of excitement. Tell
me all about it."

When I had told him what had happened, omitting only Vedia's disguise and
her presence in the water-garden, he said:

"I certainly should not have prescribed any such excitements and efforts
as medicaments for a case like yours. But it sometimes happens that being
startled accomplishes more towards a cure than long rest can. Your
perturbation of mind and activity of body has cured you. You are, as far
as I can judge, well. I am of the opinion that you may safely eat and
drink what you like in moderation, rest only as you please and may resume
your normal life."

I was, naturally, much pleased, but had no impulse to resume my habits
that day. I kept indoors, denied myself to all visitors, slept long after
Galen had left, ate a moderate dinner and went early to bed.

Next day I went through the normal routine of a Roman of my rank. The
story of the leopard had been noised about and the husbands of the ladies
concerned every one came to salute me at my morning reception and to thank
me for my miraculous intervention, as they called it. As six of the eight
were senators my atrium had an aspect seldom seen at the reception of a
man of equestrian rank.

At the Palace I found the tale of the leopard had reached the ears of the
Emperor. He congratulated me, saying:

"You are not only a good fighter, Hedulio, but also incredibly bold and
marvellously favored by the gods."

Tanno was at the Palace to say farewell for the summer, as he was off for
Baiae to enjoy the scenery and sea-breezes.

"I envy you," said Commodus. "I must remain, here many days yet to get rid
of the most pressing matters on my crowded files of official papers."

After the Palace levee was over I went to Vedia's mansion and tried to see
her, but was rebuffed, the porter declaring that, by her physician's
orders, she was denying herself to all visitors.

At home I found Agathemer still suffering terribly, but without fever,
with no sign of proud flesh anywhere on his flayed back and not only
entirely able to talk to me but eager to do so. We had a long talk on the
entire subject of our peculiar relations as a master and slave who were
more like brothers. He assured me that I had done just right to act as I
had and he begged my pardon for his blunders in arranging to have Capito
admitted to talk to me, in arranging it without my permission or even
knowledge, in neglecting to guard the outer door of the garden and so
admitting Bambilio, and in causing the escape of the leopard. I heartily
forgave him, told him to forget all that, that I forgot it all and, on my
side, begged his forgiveness for his agonies. He said there was nothing to
forgive: that my uncle's injunctions had compelled my leaving him a slave
and the rest had been his fault, not mine.

I told him that I would do anything in my power to make him well,
comfortable and happy, except setting him free, from which I was
restrained by my uncle's behests.

He asked to be allowed to return to Villa Andivia as soon as the
physicians pronounced him fit to travel.

I agreed: commanded that my travelling carriage, which Marcus Martius had
returned to me, should be put in order and prepared for the journey; and
consulted Galen, who came of his own accord to see Agathemer two days in
succession. On his third visit he gave Agathemer permission to travel by
carriage the next day and he accordingly set off for Villa Andivia on the
Ides of August.

Each day I had spent most of my afternoon at the Baths of Titus. Each
afternoon I had seen Vedia at a distance, but she had always taken pains
to avoid me, and one cannot pursue or seem to pursue, a lady in the
Thermae.

Each day, also, I had called to see her at her house; each day I had been
rebuffed. On the morning of the nineteenth day before the Kalends of
September one of the runners brought me a letter. It read:

    "Vedia gives greetings to Andivius. If you are well I am well also."

But this formal opening altered at once to familiar writing.

    "You are acting like a silly boy. As things are, both in my cousins'
    clan and in that of my late husband, I cannot receive you at my house,
    and you ought to have sense enough to realize that without being told.
    Be patient and I shall arrange for an interview with you. Please avoid
    me at the Baths, as I have you.

    "Farewell."

This letter greatly encouraged me and I felt so elated that I really
enjoyed life for the next few days, which were filled up with a reception
of my own each morning, a round of receptions to salute magnates, my
salutation to the Emperor, a lunch always with some friends, a long nap at
home, a lingering afternoon at the Baths of Titus, and a jolly dinner at
some friend's house, for I was invited out twice each day.

On the seventh day before the Kalends of September, as I was on my way to
the Palace levee, a runner inconspicuously clad ranged himself alongside
my litter and handed me a letter.

It read:

    "She whose handwriting he will recognize gives greeting to Hedulio.
    Take care! Do not let anyone see this letter; take care to seem
    negligent and uninterested as you read it.

    "A conspiracy against the life of Caesar has been detected and
    reported. Its leader is said to be Egnatius Capito. As some informer,
    sponsored by Talponius Pulto, claims to have seen you in Capito's
    company, you are implicated. Save yourself. Do not return home. Do not
    go to the Palace, order yourself carried immediately to the
    Querquetulan Gate. On the way there purchase a raincloak and an
    umbrella hat and whatever else may be needful for your journey.
    Outside the _Porta Querquetulana_, in front of Plosurnia's tavern, you
    will find one of the fastest horses in Italy, a blood-bay, noticeable
    for light-blue reins with silver bosses, his saddlecloth light-blue
    with a silver edge. Descend from your litter in front of the tavern,
    accost the man holding the horse, say to him:

    "'Is this the leopard-tamer's horse?'

    "He will reply:

    "'It is.'

    "Then say:

    "'I am the leopard-tamer.'

    "He will then allow one of your spare bearers to take the horse.

    "Divest yourself of your toga then, not sooner. Equip yourself for
    your journey. Mount and order your bearers to take your empty litter
    home. Follow the Praenestine Highroad till it meets the _Via
    Labicana_. Then take the first crossroad to the Highroad to Tibur.
    From Tibur press on to Carseoli. Prom there return to Villa Andivia as
    you judge best. Provide for yourself thereafter as best you may.

    "Farewell."

I recognized Vedia's handwriting. I trusted her implicitly. I was far more
elated at her concern for me than I was depressed at my impending ruin.
Somehow the fact that she had taken the trouble not only to warn me, but
to think out for me all the details of a plan of at least temporary
escape, the inference that she hoped, hoped against hope, that I might be
somehow saved, heartened me amazingly; so that I was rather inspirited at
the prospect of adventure than daunted by the shadow of inescapable doom.
I gathered myself together, determined to take as much advantage as
possible of Vedia's warning, and of the respite it afforded me. I resolved
to follow her suggestions. I had set out for the Palace unusually early. I
had plenty of time. I ordered my bearers to carry me through the heart of
the City down the whole length of the _Vicus Tuscus_ to the meat market.

I should, I suppose, have been in an agony of vain regrets; I rather
expected from moment to moment to be drowned in an inundation of such
sensations, I was more than a little surprised at my actual feelings. Here
I was, hitherto a wealthy Roman nobleman in excellent standing with my
fellows, my superiors and the Prince; from now on a hunted fugitive and
not likely to postpone my last hour more than a few days. I was,
presumably, viewing the throbbing heart of glorious Rome for the last
time. I should have felt chief mourner at my own funeral. Actually I
relished, I hugely enjoyed, every pace of my progress through the filling
streets, where the passers-by and idlers were still fresh, and lively
after a night's sleep and where everything was irradiated by cheerful
morning sunlight. I felt cheerful as the sunlight.

Beyond the Meat Market I had my bearers stop at the Temple of Fortune,
which I entered, there I prayed fervently before the statue of the
Goddess.

When I was again out in the market I bought two live white hens, young and
plump, and assigned one of my relief-bearers to carry carefully the basket
in which the old market-woman ensconced them, after I had paid her well
for her basket as well as her hens.

Then I had my men carry me down the straight empty street along the
southwest flank of the Circus Maximus. Half way along it I halted them
before the Temple of Mercury. This I entered and, bidding one of the
attendants lead me to the priest in charge at that hour, I requested him
to offer for me the two white hens and beseech for me the favor of the
God.

Outside I reëntered my litter and made my bearers trot all the way round
by the big and little Coelian Hills to the Querquetulan Gate. We passed on
this route many cheap shops. From one I bought a pair of horseman's high
boots, soft and supple and mud-proof. All the way I enjoyed hugely my
outing and the sights and sounds around me. From another shop one of my
reliefs brought me an umbrella hat which fitted me and a voluminous
horseman's raincloak which could not but protect anybody; at another I had
bought for me a wallet; at another flint and steel in a good horn case,
compact and neat.

Outside the Querquetulan Gate, which my bearers reached blown and
sweating, although the reliefs had changed at short intervals, we had no
difficulty in locating Plosurnia's tavern. The holder of the bay horse
with the blue and silver trappings recognized my pass-words and
surrendered his charge to one of my extra bearers. At the tavern another
lined my wallet with bread, sausages, olives, dried figs and cheese, while
I was changing into horseman's kit.

I put into the wallet my money, more than enough cash for my journey home,
and Vedia's letter. I then mounted, gave my boys their orders and set off
at an easy canter. I knew I must show no signs of haste until I was on the
Highroad, so I took my time about working round to it. Once on the _Via
Tiburtina_, where horsemen at a tearing gallop, going in either direction,
were too common a sight to cause any remarks, I let out my mettlesome
mount and covered the remainder of the twenty-four miles to Tibur not long
before noon.

Between the bridge over the Anio and Tibur are a number of hilltops, from
each of which one has a fine view of Rome, if the weather is clear and
bright. The weather was very bright and clear and the views very fine. At
each hilltop I checked my mount, wheeled him and remained so for sometime,
contemplating the magnificence I might never see again, the glory upon
which my gaze, most likely, would never again feast. I should have felt my
eyes fill with tears at each of these prospects, the viewing of which was,
each time, in the nature of a last farewell. Yet, somehow, most
irrationally, I felt anything but dejected, rather hopeful and full of
conjectures about my future, instead of being filled with forebodings of
doom, with sorrow for my hard fate.



BOOK II

DISAPPEARANCE



CHAPTER X

ESCAPE


At Tibur I put up at a clean little inn I had known of since boyhood, but
which I had never before entered or even seen, so that I felt safe there
and reasonably sure to pass as a traveller of no rank whatever. My
knowledge of country ways, too, enabled me to behave like a landed
proprietor of small means.

After a hearty lunch I pushed boldly on up the Valerian Highway and
covered the twenty-two miles between Tibur and Carseoli without visibly
tiring my mount. He was no more winded nor lathered than any traveller's
horse should be at the end of a day on the road. At Carseoli I again knew
of a clean, quiet inn, and there I dined and slept.

Thence I intended to follow the rough country roads along the Tolenus.
Stream-side roads are always bad, so I allowed two days more in which to
reach home, and I could hardly have done it quicker. The night after I
left Carseoli I camped by a tributary of the Tolenus in a very pretty
little grove. From Carseoli on the weather was fine.

About the third hour of the day, on the fifth day before the Kalends of
September, of a fair, bright morning, I came to my own estate. On the road
nearing it I had met no one. I met no one along the woodland tracks
leading into my property from that side: on my estate I met no one save
just as I was about to enter my villa. Then I encountered Ofatulenus,
bailiff of the Villa Farm. He, of course, was amazed to see me. I bade him
mention to no one, not even to his wife, that I had returned home.

"Be secret!" I enjoined.

He nodded.

I believed he would be dumb. Give me a Sabine to keep a secret; I'd back
any Sabine against any other sort of human being.

Ofatulenus took my horse and swore that no one outside of the stable
should know it was there or suspect it. I told him to lock the trappings
in the third locker in my harness-room, which locker I knew should be
empty.

I got from the stable to my villa without encountering any human being.
Outside I found Agathemer, as I had hoped I would, sunning himself on the
terrace.

He was even more amazed than Ofatulenus and began to exclaim. I silenced
him and questioned him as to his health. He told me that his back was
entirely healed and that, while any effort still caused him not a little
pain, he was capable of the customary activities of his normal life.

I then told him why I had returned home. He listened in silence, except
that he here and there put in a query when I omitted some detail in my
excitement.

When he understood my situation thoroughly he asked:

"And what do you propose to do?"

"I propose," I said, "to live here unobtrusively, visiting no one,
receiving no one and, by all the means in our power, arranging that as few
persons as possible may know of my presence here. There is not the
faintest scintilla of hope in my doing anything whatever. But if I merely
exist without calling attention to my existence there may be some hope for
me. No man accused as I am is ever allowed an opportunity to clear
himself: but it has often happened that, by keeping away from Rome for a
time, a man in my situation has given his friends a chance to use their
influence in his behalf, to gain the ear of someone powerful at Court, to
get an unbiassed hearing for what they had to say, to prove his complete
innocence and rehabilitate him. Vedia and Tanno will do all they can for
me. I have hosts of friends, not a few of whom will aid Vedia and Tanno as
far as they are able. By keeping quiet here I shall give my friends a
chance to save me, if I can be saved. If not, I shall here await such
orders as may be sent me, or my arrest, if I am to be seized."

"Is that your whole plan?" Agathemer queried.

"All," I said.

"May I speak?" he asked. "May I speak out my full mind?"

"Certainly!" I agreed. "Speak!"

"If you stay here as you propose," he said, "you will be arrested not
later than tomorrow and haled to your death, if not butchered at sight. At
most the centurion in charge might allow you an hour in which to commit
suicide. But if you remain here inactive your death is certain, you will
never see two sunrises.

"But I agree with you that your friends will do what they can and I
heartily believe that Opsitius and Vedia will move sky, earth and sea and
Hades beneath all, as far as their powers go, to save you. If they have
any chance of succeeding they will need more time than Perennis will give
them. If you stay here you will be dead before they can so much as lay
plans to gain them the ear of Saoteros and Anteros or some other Palace
favorite, let along groping through all the complicated intrigues
necessary to arrange for an audience with the Emperor when he might be in
a compliant humor.

"Your plan means certain death for you. I think I can save you if you will
put yourself in my hands. Will you?"

"I most certainly will," I said, "and without reservation. If you think
you can save me, tell me what you want me to do and I shall do it. I shall
follow your suggestions implicitly."

"Well," said Agathemer, "since remaining here means certain death and
since there seems a chance of final salvation for you through the efforts
of your friends and especially those of Opsitius and Vedia, since they
will need plenty of time to save you, if you can be saved, from every
point of view the right course of action is not merely inaction, not
merely hiding, but an immediate and complete disappearance. If you are
found you will be ordered to kill yourself or will be put to death. If you
cannot be found you cannot be killed or made to kill yourself. Since you
cannot be found you will stay alive until you can be rehabilitated with
the Emperor. If that cannot be done or is not done, at least you will be
alive. My deduction is, disappear at once and completely. You have many
times, for a lark, disguised yourself as an ordinary country proprietor or
small farmer and mingled with the crowd at a fair without being
recognized. What you have done for an evening in jest now attempt in
earnest and for as long a period as is necessary. And to begin with,
vanish from here at once and completely."

"But how?" I queried.

"If you are to disappear," said Agathemer, "why should I waste time in
explaining how. Let us disappear together, leaving no trace and let us do
it at once."

"But," I cried, "I could never consent to anything like that! You are not
in any danger. You will be manumitted by my will and you can live safely,
comfortably and at ease. Why should I drag you into I know not what
miseries, hardships and privations along with me? Tell me what to do and I
will proceed to do it. But do you stay here."

"If I told you my plan," said Agathemer, "you could not carry it out
alone. My scheme for your escape and vanishment pivots on my disappearing
along with you. If you agree, as I beg that you will, we shall both be
safe, I hope and trust; alive, able to return here if it can be arranged,
able to live elsewhere, somehow, if it cannot be arranged. If you refuse
your assent, I shall die with you or soon after you; I am resolute not to
survive you."

"I agree," I said. "I am under your orders henceforth, not you under
mine."

Agathemer at once guided me into the house and upstairs to his rooms, for
he inhabited the guest-suite next my rooms, which had been my uncle's.

"The first thing to do," he said, "is for both of us to eat heartily, for
we do not know when we shall eat again. I have been choicy and whimmy
about my eating since I came back here and mostly my meals have revolted
me and I have left the _triclinium_ practically unfed, whereas I have
often been seized with imperative hunger between meals. I have an
overabundant supply of all sorts of tempting cold viands up here."

And, in fact, in the room he used as a reading and writing room, on a side
table, I found an inviting array of cold meats, jellies, cakes, and fancy
breads, with an assortment of wines. We ate till we could eat no more,
masticating our food carefully and taking wine in moderation.

Then Agathemer put up a liberal supply of bread and relishes in a small
linen bag, obliterated all traces of our meal and presence and went into
his dressing-room, where he stripped stark naked and rubbed himself down
with a rough towel, carefully disposing of his garments in his wardrobes.

From one of his tables he took a small silver case containing flint, steel
and tinder. Then we went into my rooms, where he stripped me, rubbed me
down, and disposed of my garments as he had of his. My wallet he took
pains to hide in the bottom of a chest, after emptying it and putting the
contents about so that each article was hidden in a different place and
none could be connected with the others or with the wallet. The little
horn case with flint and steel he retained.

The ante-room to what had been my uncle's bed-room and was now mine, had
on its walls trophies of hunting-spears and other weapons of the chase.
Agathemer selected two knives for killing wounded stags, dependable
implements, blade and shank one piece of fine steel, the handles of stag-
horn, fastened on with copper rivets.

With the bag of food, the two knives and the two tinder boxes we went up
my uncle's private stair to his library and reading room.

My uncle had had his own ideas as to nearly everything, usually much at
variance with other people's ideas. As to building his ideas, perhaps,
were less aberrant than his opinions on other subjects, but, certainly he
was as tenacious of them as of his other notions.

He held, in the first place, that sleeping-rooms on the ground-floor of
any house were unhealthy and a relic of primitive barbarism. He was
equally positive that, in the country, where there was ample room for a
building to spread out, it was folly to construct a dwelling of three or
more stories: such villas he railed at as exhibitions of silly
extravagance and of a desire to appear different from one's neighbors. His
villa, therefore, was of two stories only.

But, on the other hand, he loved fresh air, light, and wide prospects from
his windows; also he spent most of his daylight reading or writing, or
both. To gratify to the full all his chief tastes at once he included in
the plans of his villa a sort of tower, at the northwest corner, rising
well above the remainder of the structure, so that the floors of its third
story were on a level higher than that of the ridge-poles of the roofs of
the other parts of the villa and from the wide windows of its rooms there
was an unobstructed view over the tiles of the villa upon the farm-
buildings and beyond them across the fields to the woodlands and the
forested eastern and southern horizon as well as a fine outlook down the
valley northward and across it westward.

In this third story of this tower he housed his library and there he spent
most of his time. It was reached by three stairs. One was connected with
the villa in general and was used by him when going down to meals in his
_triclinium_, or when escorting visitors up to his library, as he
sometimes did with his particular favorites; and this stair was also used
by such servants as he might summon to him while in his library or as
might have to go up there to attend to it in his absence. The second stair
connected with his living-rooms on the second floor, which rooms looked
northwestward, as he detested being waked early by the rays of the rising
sun and loved basking in the mellow radiance of afternoon sunlight. The
third stair is not easy to describe and was one of my uncle's oddest
eccentricities. It was inside a sort of minor tower built against the
tower in which his library was set aloft, which minor tower extended far
up towards the sky, like a great chimney. What was the primary purpose of
this minor tower I shall explain later. In it, however, was a narrow,
cramped, spiral stair, unlit by any window or loop-hole, unconnected with
the second or first floor of the villa, opening at the top into the
library and at the bottom into a cellar, a cellar so far down the hillside
that its vault was below the level of the floors of the cellars under the
villa in general. This stair my uncle had had constructed to enable him to
apply his idea that a master could ensure the diligence of his tenants and
slaves only if he was known to be in the habit of coming upon them
unexpectedly at any hour of the day, only if they never knew when he might
appear and so were spurred to continual diligence for fear he might catch
them idling. For my uncle, though he habitually spent his entire daylight
in his library, might at any hour slip down this stair, slip out onto the
northwestern slope from the villa through a door locked to all but him and
of which he kept the key, or might slip out southeastward or southwestward
or northeastward, through similar doors on the ground floor, reached by
passages built between the many cellars of the upper level of cellars
under the ground floor of the villa. By this plan and by popping out
sometimes many times a day, sometimes after an interval of many days, he
kept his underlings alert.

My uncle's tastes in respect to books were as peculiar as in all other
respects. He had a really magnificent library, including all the Greek
poets, all our own, and other noble works of literature, such as the
historians in both the Greek and Latin tongues; the orators, and the
writers on painting, sculpture, architecture and music.

But he paid more attention to his personal fads. He had a creditable
collection of all works on divination, a similarly inclusive assemblage of
works on the theory of government, and an almost complete array of the
writings of the Emperors, from the Divine Julius to the Divine Aurelius,
whose meditations he extolled.

But he extolled above all other Princes and authors the Divine Julius.

"Caius Julius Caesar," he was never tired of saying, "was, in all
respects, the greatest man who ever lived on earth. He was also the
greatest author earth has ever produced. His poems, his mimes, his
comedies, his dramas, compare favorably with the best of their kind. His
accounts of his wars, whether against the Gauls or against his domestic
adversaries, are models of narration, of lucidity, of terseness and of
style. His astronomy is the best manual of that subject in Latin. His
works on Engineering surpass anything of their kind in clearness and
preserve for the benefit of future generations more useful and original
ideas than ever before came from the brain of any one man. His works on
divination, particularly that on Auspices, excel everything previously
written on that most important of all human arts.

"But his two books against Cato are his masterpiece. It is wonderful that
any man could have, in the space of eight days, written, with his own
hand, so fiery an invective, so compelling of the attention of any reader,
so completely annihilative of his antagonist's pretensions and
contentions, so convincingly establishing his own: to have made of it, in
the course of composition so rapid and totally unrevised, such a jewel of
Latinity, in a style not only pure and impeccable, but glowing and
charming, is astonishing. But it is downright miraculous that he should
have embodied in it the whole theory of government with all its principles
marshalled in their array with the most perfect subordination of
considerations of lesser importance to main principles. The two
Anticatones contain all that a ruler or any minister of a ruler need know
to guide him aright in his tasks. The First Book displays a complete
theory of internal policy, the Second of external policy. The two together
form a whole which is the most brilliant product of Rome's literary and
political genius."

In accordance with his high esteem for Caesar's masterpiece he had
possessed himself of a beautiful copy of it, written by the celebrated
calligrapher Praxitelides, upon papyrus of the finest quality. It was in
seven rolls, each book of Caesar's text occupying two rolls, the index a
fifth, and the commentaries of grammarians two more. The rollers inside
the rolls were of Nubian ivory, their ends carved into pine cones, each of
the fourteen representing the cone of a different variety of pine. Each
roll was enclosed in a copper cylinder made accurately to be both
watertight and airtight. The seven cylinders were housed in an ebony case,
inlaid with mother of pearl. I have never seen any literary work more
beautifully enshrined.

When Agathemer and I were in the library he shut and locked the door at
the top of my uncle's private stair, as he had the door at the bottom of
it. The two keys he hid far apart, where neither was at all likely to be
found easily or soon. He had laid the knives, tinder-boxes and bag of food
on a table. He went to the case containing my uncle's most highly prized
treasures. From it he took the ebony box, opened it and took out two of
the cylinders. From these he removed the rolls embodying the grammarians'
comments. These rolls he put back in the box, shut it, returned it to the
case and closed the case.

The two cylinders he had laid on the table by the things which he had
brought up stairs. Inside each cylinder he placed a knife, a tinder-box,
and a selection of the food. The bag, with what remained of the food, he
tied up again. He handed me one cylinder.

"Now," he said, "we are prepared to escape. My idea is to leave no trace
of how we leave this villa, to have no one see us leave, to have nothing
with us which could identify us after we have left. We are to go down the
secret stair, crawl out through the big lower drain pipe, hide in the
bushes till dark, take to the woods, hide by day, creep northward by
night, and, if we succeed in reaching a district where no one would
recognize us, press on northward boldly, passing ourselves off as runaway
slaves if anyone encounters us."

"We'd be locked up as runaway slaves," I said, "advertised, sold to the
highest bidder if unclaimed and henceforth kept in slavery."

"I'm in slavery now," said Agathemer. "You, if kept in slavery, would at
least be alive and in no danger of being recognized."

"Let us go," said I.

We looked at each other and burst out laughing. We made a sufficiently
absurd spectacle, each stark naked, each holding a copper cylinder, as we
stood in that elegant and luxurious room. According to the fashion of the
time, which aped the ways of the young Emperor, we wore our hair
moderately long and as both had hair naturally curly, were perfectly in
style as to hair. Our beards, also, we wore clipped but not shaved, and
long enough to show a tendency to curl, as the Emperor wore his.

Our laugh over I gave a farewell glance about my little-used library. It
was then about the fifth hour. Agathemer gazing rather outside at the
landscape than inside at the room remained frozen stiff, staring northward
down the valley.

"We are barely in time," he said. "Mercury is with us and Fortune."

"Before I left Rome," I said, "I prayed to Fortune and sacrificed to
Mercury."

"Time well spent," he said. "Look there!"

Peering where he pointed I saw, where the road was first visible in the
distance, fully two miles away, a dozen or more horsemen, manifestly, even
at that distance, of military bearing: I caught, against the sunrays, a
gleam of crimson and a glint of gold; I conjectured a detail of Praetorian
Guards coming to arrest me or to put me out of the way.

Agathemer opened the upper door of the secret stair, which unlike most
doors, could be locked on either side, for my uncle always wanted to lock
the doors he used, whichever way he passed through them. After we had
passed this door Agathemer closed it behind us, and, as we stood in the
pitch dark, locked it.

We groped our way down the dizzying turns of the steep stair, Agathemer
going first and, at the bottom, whacking his knee-cap on the lower door.
This he unlocked and I found myself in a dim-lit cellar which I had
visited but twice before. Agathemer locked the stair-door behind us.

Now the minor tower, in which was the spiral stair, was built as a vent to
carry up into the air, far above the roofs of the villa, any miasma,
effluvium or exhalation from the drainage-water of the villa's baths,
kitchen and latrines. On the subject of harmful vapours from drains my
uncle was fanatical and to bear out his contentions he quoted from the
works of many celebrated philosophers and physicians, including those of
Galen.

Pursuant with his notions as to how to get rid of the exhalations from
drainage and to make certain that no whiff of any such vapours ever found
its way up any offset into his kitchen or any latrine or bathroom, he had
built in this small high tower a shaft reaching its top and full six feet
square all the way up. At its bottom it widened out into a chamber fully
twelve feet square, carried down below the level of the cellar floor to
form a cemented tank, vat, cistern or cesspool fully as deep as it was
wide. The outfall from this trap was by a terra-cotta pipe of considerable
size, its opening at such a point that the drain-water in the trap never
reached higher than a foot or so below the level of the cellar floor. The
various drainage-pipes from different parts of the villa were so led into
this trap-room that their lower ends were always under water, so that no
exhalations could ever pass up any of them.

To the bottom of the trap settled the solid matter and sediment from the
drainage-water. The trap was cleaned by slaves so often that the ooze in
it never rose high enough to escape down the outfall pipe and befoul the
Bran Brook. For cleaning out the trap-room had an outer door, of heavy,
solid oak, carefully locked, which when opened enabled the slaves
entrusted with this task to dredge or bale or scoop out the filth and
convey it off to be used as garden manure. There was also an inner door,
as heavy and solid as the other, opening from the cellar, which enabled my
uncle to inspect the trap at his convenience. This door Agathemer opened.

I peered in and, after my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, descried
the opening of the outfall drain opposite me. It was large enough for lean
men like me and Agathemer to crawl through, but certainly barely large
enough. I could see, after some moments, the lower ends of the drain
pipes, two dozen or more, dipping into the foul liquid which filled the
cistern. It was very foul, for since my uncle's death the cleaning out of
the trap had been neglected and the ooze came almost to the top of the
water.

Agathemer hunted about the cellar, found some bits of stone about the size
of apples, put them in the bag of food, tied up its neck again, and threw
it into the trap, where it sank out of sight. After it he threw in the two
keys.

Now was the moment for our plunge into the unknown. Agathemer's plan
implied that we must crawl a full furlong through the outfall drain. We
might be drowned, at any point of the crawl, by a rush of water from the
bath-tank. We might suffocate in the foul vapours of the drain. But,
plainly, Agathemer had pitched upon our only chance of escape, and we must
escape that way and at once or not at all.

Agathemer threw the two copper cylinders, one after the other, neatly and
deftly into the mouth of the outfall drain.

"Now," he said, "one of us must jump for that opening, and must cling to
it, his arms inside, his body in the ooze of the trap. The other must
stand on the narrow stone ledge inside this door, must contrive to slam
the door behind him so that it will shut fast and stay shut, must then, in
the pitch dark, jump for the shoulders of the other. If the drag of his
weight pulls the other down, both of us will drown in this deep trap in
the vile ooze. If the under man clings on, the upper must crawl over him
into the drain, pass back to him one of the cylinders and then we shall be
ready for our crawl down. Which goes first?"

"You choose," said I.

"Can you slam the door?" Agathemer queried.

I considered the door, the sill, the ledge inside, the jambs of the door,
its edges; stood on the ledge, went through the motions and concluded that
I could slam the door shut and not be knocked off into the ooze by its
impact or topple off because of the sill's narrowness. I said so.

"Then I'll go first," said Agathemer. "You are, even yet, far more
impaired in strength by your beating than I by my flogging. If I came
second you might not be able to hold on to the opening of the drain. I
know I can hold on, no matter how much filth is plastered over my head as
you crawl over me. I should not like the idea of defiling your head with
filth in crawling over you. Jump so that your clutching hands just reach
my shoulders; so that your weight will come on me gradually as you sink
into the ooze. Take your time about crawling over me. Be sure to pass back
to me one cylinder."

Then he drilled me as to the signals he would give me by pinching my feet.
When he was sure we both knew them he grinned a wry grin, and made a
whimsical boyish gesture with his uplifted right hand, took a careful
stand on the sill, balanced himself and jumped.

"I'm all right," he called back, "and ready for you."

Three times I tried to slam that door and failed to shut it. The fourth
time I found myself, my back against the shut door, my toes sticking out
over the edge of the stone sill, balanced in the pitch dark on a too
narrow ledge.

"Lean back against the door," Agathemer called, thickly. "If it gives it
is not shut."

It did not give.

I said so.

"Then no one will ever know how we got out," said Agathemer; adding: "Jump
when you are ready, but say 'now.'"

I jumped and my fingers caught his shoulders. He held on. My body sank
slowly through the ooze, which gave way with a sickening sliminess, until
I was in contact with Agathemer all the way to my toes. Then I began to
try to crawl up over him. I found it far harder than either of us had
anticipated.

All slippery as we were with the foul ooze it was a fearful struggle for
me to scramble up over him, I slipped back so often. After what seemed an
hour of effort and apprehension I had my head, shoulders and most of my
body in the drain and knew I had succeeded. I wriggled forward till I felt
my feet beyond the opening, then about as far ahead, pushing before me the
cylinders. When Agathemer touched my foot I pushed a cylinder past my body
and felt, with my ankle, that he pulled it back.

After that, escape was a matter of wriggling on down the drain. And
wriggling was not impossible, though excessively difficult and exhausting.
The drain was nowhere choked with silt, but all along was furred with ooze
and there was more than an inch of ooze along its bottom. In this,
hitching myself forward on my elbows by violent contortions, I slipped
back almost as much as I heaved forward.

Agathemer seemed to have as much trouble as I had and to find the effort
as exhausting. For he had instructed me that I was not to crawl forward
until he pinched my foot. One pinch was to mean "advance," two pinches
"rest." More than once he had signalled me to rest.

Our worst moment came somewhere near half way down the sewer. There I
encountered a cracked drain-pipe, the ragged edge of the broken terra-
cotta projecting into the sewer, its point toward me. I wriggled my
shoulders by it, though it gouged my shoulder-muscle on that side; but, at
my hips, it stuck into me so that I could not get past it.

Agathemer, behind, kept pinching my foot, signalling for me to go forward.
I bellowed explanations, but could not suppose that he could hear them in
that horrible tube. But he either heard or guessed, he never could be sure
which. Anyhow, he felt that we must get forward or perish. In desperation
he sunk his teeth into the soft part of the inner side of the sole of my
left foot. The pain made me give a convulsive wriggle and I scraped past
the obstacle, tearing my hip badly in getting clear.

From there on we wriggled frantically till I could see ahead a round patch
of light at the lower outfall of the drain.

It seemed an age before I reached the opening, but reach it I did. I lay
there, my head just inside, panting and guzzling clean air in great
gulping gasps. Agathemer pinched my foot. I slipped out into the oozy pool
below the outfall, slid out as quietly as I could and kept myself
submerged up to my chin, clutching my cylinder with one hand, pulling
myself clear of the drain and keeping my head out of the drainage by
holding to the stem of an alder bush growing by the brook's edge.

I came to rest, the sunlight dazzling my eyes, though the outfall was
shaded by willows above the alders, and looked for Agathemer. He, his face
purple, kept his head inside the sewer and I could see him suck in the
clean air in long gasps as I had.

At that instant there was a squawking above us and, through the alders,
came, quacking and flapping their wings, a hundred or more of my uncle's
valued white ducks. Their alarm made me peep through the alder stems. I
saw, not ten yards from my face, the legs of horses, heard their hoofs
thud on the roadway, descried men's feet against their bellies, recognized
the gilded edges of the boot-soles, the make of the boots, the gilt scales
on the kilt-straps, the gilded breast plates, the crimson tunics and
short-cloaks, the gilded sword-sheaths and helmets. There, just above us,
was passing the detachment of Praetorian Guards sent to arrest or despatch
me.

They clanked by us, never suspecting our proximity, though the ducks
resented our presence in their favorite pool and quacked at us
protestingly. They continued, in fact, to quack at us most of the time
until sunset, so that both of us were in an agony of dread for fear that
some passer-by might notice their voluble expressions of displeasure and
might take a notion to investigate to discover what was exciting their
wrath.

But no one was attracted by the ducks' noise and, if anyone passed up or
down the road we, where we were, did not know it.

We talked, at intervals, in whispers. Agathemer said that he had been
barely grazed by the broken drain-pipe and hardly noticed his scratches.
I, on the other hand, was in great pain from the gouge along my hip, and
hardly less pained by the tear in my shoulder. The water, under which I
had to keep up to my chin, dulled the pain of my wounds, but chilled me
till my teeth chattered, though the weather was hot; so hot in fact, that
the sunrays on my head seemed to scorch my hair, even through the willows
and alders. I was devoutly glad when the sunrays became more slanting and
the daylight began to wane, and the ducks, still quacking protestingly,
departed.



CHAPTER XI

HIDING


It was fully dark before we dared to leave our hiding-place and attempt
the risky venture of essaying to reach a safer shelter or refuge in the
forests without attracting the attention of any dog at any of the several
farmsteads which we must pass.

Agathemer led and I followed, my teeth chattering and the night insects
biting me severely. Hugging our precious copper cylinders we waded more
than waistdeep in the water, up the Bran Brook, sometimes all but
swimming, as we skirted some of the deeper pools. There was no moon and we
could see but little by the faint starlight. We had to go slowly, as we
could not swim and keep hold of our cylinders; and must not risk losing
one if Agathemer went over his head in a deep pool. It seemed to me that
we had been threading the curves of the brook for at least two hours when
I began to feel as if something were wrong. Even in the dark I had been
aware of a sort of recognition of each pool, shallow, riffle, bend, bank
or what not. Now, gradually, it came over me that I was among surroundings
as unfamiliar as if I had not been in Sabinum, or even in Italy.

I caught Agathemer by the arm.

"Where are we?" I whispered.

"Don't talk!" he warned.

But I insisted; for, as we were by now no more than knee-deep in the
water, I knew we must be well up towards the headwaters and it came over
me that we had not turned off anywhere as sharply as we should had we
turned up either the Chaff or the Flour.

"Are we going up the Bran?" I queried.

"Precisely!" Agathemer breathed.

I almost spoke out loud.

"This," I said, "is the last place on earth I'd expect you to guide me
to."

"Precisely," he repeated, "and it's the last place on earth anybody else
would expect me to lead you to or you to be in, by any chance; therefore
it's the last place in Italy where any one will look for you; therefore it
is, just now, the safest place in Italy for you. Come on, I know every
stone of this brook."

I followed him. His logic was good, but, on Ducconius Furfur's land I felt
hopelessly lost and overwhelmed by despair.

We had not gone far from where I had forced Agathemer to reveal his ruse,
when he turned round and whispered:

"This is the place. Here we leave the water. Follow me."

I was dimly aware of a blacker blackness before us, as of a big, tall
rock. This we skirted and then stepped out of the brook towards the left.
There we stepped into deep drifts of dead leaves.

"Here is bedding," said Agathemer, "such as Ulysses was content with after
his long sea-swim to the island of the Phaeacians. Perhaps we can get
along in such bedding."

Naked as we were we burrowed into the dead leaves, and, after a bit I felt
less chilly, though by no means warm.

Agathemer took from me the cylinder I had been carrying; opened one of the
two, a matter of some difficulty, as the top was so tight; sniffed at it,
and took from it some morsels of food: a bit of cold ham, a bit of cold
fowl and a bit of bread. These I ate, chewing them slowly. At the same
time he ate, as slowly, an equal share.

After eating we tried to sleep. I was too weary and drowsy to keep awake,
and too cold and too much in pain from the scratch on my shoulder and the
gouge on my hip to be able to sleep long. I got some sleep before dawn,
but not much.

Fortunately for us the night had been clear, warm and windless. Even so we
suffered severely with the cold; since the chilled air, of course, rolled
down the hillsides into the hollow along the bed of the brook, till the
valley was filled with thick mist and every leaf and twig dripped with
moisture. Through the mist the dawn broke pearly gray at first and then
iridescent; and, when the first sunrays penetrated the white haze and
gilded every leaf-edge, turning the tree-tops to gold and making every
waterdrop a diamond, no lovelier morning could be imagined.

The trees about and above us were mostly beeches, with many chestnuts and
a few plane-trees and poplars. We were in a clump of willows with thick
alders under them, so that, even with no other protection, we could not
have been seen from any distance. And we were most excellently protected,
being on a little island where the brook forked and flowed, three or four
yards wide and nearly a yard deep, round a huge gray rock, fully fifteen
yards across and nearly seven yards high, a bulge of worn stone, shaped
much like half a melon and almost as symmetrical. And, as one might lay
half a melon, curve up, and then split it with one blow of a kitchen-
knife, so this great rock, as if cleft by a single sweep of a Titan's
sword, was rent in half and the halves left about four yards apart. The
fracture was clean and smooth, except that a piece about two yards square
had cracked loose at the ground level from the southern half and lay
bedded in the mud, its top a foot or so above the earth, leaving in the
face of one rock a rectangular niche about a man's length each way, in
which cavity two men could shelter from the rain.

As soon as it was light enough to see I was for crawling into this little
cavern. But Agathemer restrained me.

"The face of the rock," he said, "would feel cold as ice to your skin. You
have, even if you do not realize it, somewhat warmed the leaves next you.
For the present we are least uncomfortable where we are. The dawn-wind
cannot get at our hides while we are under these leaves. Keep still."

He kept himself as much as possible under the leaves but wriggled nearer
the altar-shaped bit of rock. Half-sitting, half crouching by it, little
besides his head out of the heap of leaves in which he was, he opened both
cylinders and laid out on the top of the stone what food was in them. This
he divided into six equal portions, two he put back in each cylinder. We
munched interminably, making every morsel last as long as possible.

The food revived me, and even before the dawn-wind had died, the rays of
the sun began to make themselves felt. I began to be restless; Agathemer
again checked me.

"Keep still," he commanded. "As soon as the sun has dried the dew off the
leaves I can make you more comfortable. Just now we are best as we are."

I kept under the leaves, but I peered about. At each end of the cleft
between the two halves of the rock I could see the brook brawling by among
the worn stones. The line of the cleft was directly across the bed of the
brook; and, along the cleft, past the detached, almost buried, altar-
shaped stone, I descried, barely discernible but unmistakable, such a path
as is made by the bare or sandalled feet of even one human being following
daily the same track. I conned it. I judged that it was many, many decades
old and had been trodden daily for a lifetime or so, but that it had been
totally disused for at least a year and possibly for more.

I pointed it out to Agathemer and asked him about it.

"That," he said, "is part of what used to be the shorter and more used of
the two paths from Furfur's villa to Philargyrus's farmstead. Naturally,
since the Philargyrus farm has been detached from Furfur's estate and has
become part of yours, there must be very little intercommunication between
the farm and the villa and I judged that any slave going from one to the
other would avoid the more obvious path and sneak round the longer way.
Therefore I judged it safer to locate here, as this path is probably
totally unused."

"How did you know of it?" I queried.

Up to his neck in leaves, arms under too, only his head out, Agathemer
blushed all over his handsome face.

"Before Andivius won the suit," he said, "while Philargyrus was still
Furfur's tenant, I had an impassioned love-affair with one of Furfur's
slave-girls. We used to meet here, at first on moonlit nights, and, later,
when we each knew every inch of our way here and home again, more often on
moonless nights. I always waded up and down the bed of the brook, so as to
leave no scent for any dog to follow. I know this nook well and thought of
it the instant I began to plan an escape for you."

I said nothing.

"It is barely possible," he said, "that some one may use this path, even
if no one has passed along it for months. That is just the way luck turns
out. I mean to be invisible if anyone does come. There was no likelihood
of anyone coming by at dawn, and no possibility of doing anything if
anyone did come. Now it is warm enough for me to pick off the outer layer
of dew-wet leaves from whatever heaps of dead leaves are hereabouts. I can
gather the dry leaves into that little grotto. We can lie on a bed of
them, wrapped up in them we can cower under them, we can even pull our
heads under and be invisible if we hear footsteps approaching. You keep
still."

He then stood up and went off. After a time he returned with a great
armful of leaves, which he threw into the niche. After many trips he had
the niche almost full of fairly dry dead leaves. By this time the warmth
of the sun was making itself felt and I stood up and stretched myself. I
did not feel weak, but my shoulder and hip, where the drain-pipe had torn
me, and the sole of my foot, where Agathemer had bitten me, were decidedly
painful. Agathemer, solicitously, steadied me on my feet and led me to the
streamside. There I seated myself on a convenient rock and he bathed my
foot, hip and shoulder. There was no sign of puffiness or heat in any of
the three wounds, but all three were raw and sore. We had nothing with
which to dress them and Agathemer merely dried them as well as he could by
patting them.

Meanwhile, even in my misery and despair, even hungry, weak and cold and
in pain as I was, I could not but feel a gleam of pleasure at the
enchanting beauty of the woodland scene about our hiding place. I gazed up
at the bits of blue sky between the sunlit boughs, at the canopy of green,
at the tenderer green of the underwood, at the carpet of grass, ferns,
sedges and flowering plants which hid the earth and I almost rejoiced at
its loveliness.

Agathemer led me back to our retreat and ensconced me in the nook of rock,
on a soft deep bed of dry dead leaves, under a coverlet of more. Into the
heaps he burrowed. The warmth of his naked body warmed me a trifle. There
we lay still till dark. I slept, I think, from about noon till after
sunset.

While we could still see, Agathemer, making me keep flat as I was,
wriggled out of the leaves and pushed them aside from my head and face. We
then ate half our remaining food. As it grew dark Agathemer expounded to
me his plans.

"Last night," he said, "there was no sense in doing anything. Hiding and
keeping out of sight was the best thing we could do. But tonight I must
try to steal what we need most. The risk must be taken. If I do not return
you will know I have done my best. But I feel confident of returning
before midnight. I know every farmstead on Furfur's estate and all the
dogs know me. On your estate I not only know the dogs, but I have just
finished an inspection and I know the location of every dairy, smoke-
house, larder and oven, I might almost say of every loaf, cheese, ham,
flitch, wine-vat and oil-jar on the estate, not to mention every store-
room where I might get us hats, tunics, sandals, quilts and what not.

"If I cannot do it otherwise, as a last resort I'll wake Uturia and tell
her of our situation; she will help and will be secret. But I'll not
resort to her if I can help it. Her most willing secrecy will not be as
safe as her ignorance of our fate. No torture could surmount that."

I wanted to say "Farewell," but restrained myself and uttered a not too
gloomy:

"Good luck and a prosperous return!"

After that, I lay and quaked till long past midnight. Then, I seemed to
hear sounds which I could but interpret as heralding Agathemer's approach.
In fact he soon spoke to me from close by and I heard the unmistakable
blurred noise made by a soft and yet heavy pack deposited on the ground by
my bed of leaves.

"I've nearly everything I wanted," said Agathemer. "Keep still while I
untie the quilt I carried it all in, and find things in the dark."

Presently he said:

"Stand up, and I'll try to dress you."

In the dark his hand found my hand and he guided me so that I extricated
myself from the heap of leaves without hitting my head on the jutting roof
of rock and without slipping on the wet earth or stumbling from weakness.

In the dark he slipped over my head a coarse, patched tunic. (I could feel
against my skin the rude stitching of the patches.) Then he wrapped about
me a coarse cloak, also much patched.

"Now," he said, "stand where you are till I make some sort of a bed for
you."

He fumbled about in the dark, grunting and making, I thought, too much
rustling in the leaves. Presently he said:

"I've laid a doubled quilt on the leaves and packed them down. Give me
your hand and I'll arrange you on it. Then I'll cover you with another
quilt."

He did, deftly and solicitously.

I began to feel warm for the first time since I had sunk into the ooze of
the drain-trap.

Agathemer fumbled about in the dark for a while and then came near again
and felt me, making sure where my head was. He made me sit up.

"Smell that!" he said, "and catch hold of it."

I smelt ewe's-milk cheese and my fingers closed on a generous piece of it.
Then, he put into my other hand a big chunk of bread, not yet entirely
cold.

I bit the bread. It was Ofatulena's unsurpassable farm bread, half wheat
flour and half barley flour and at that more appetizing and flavorsome
than any wheat-bread I ever tasted.

"There is plenty for both of us," Agathemer said, "eat all you want, but
eat slow and be careful not to bolt a morsel."

He sat down by me and we munched in silence.

By and by he asked:

"Do you want any more?"

"No," I answered, "you judged my capacity pretty well. I am filled up."

"Don't lie down," he said, "I have a small kid-skin of wine."

We laughed a good deal before he made sure precisely where my mouth was
and put into it the reed which projected from one leg of the kid-skin. I
drank in abundance of a thin, sour wine, such as we kept for the slaves.
It gave me new life.

After that draught of wine I composed myself to sleep and went to sleep at
once. I knew nothing of Agathemer's doings after that and did not feel him
when he lay down by me. I slept till broad daylight.

When I waked Agathemer gave me a moderate draught of wine and all the
bread and cheese I chose to eat: also a handful of olives. Then he
displayed the total of his plunder: hats, with brims neither too broad nor
too narrow, the best pattern if one was to have only one hat, worn and
battered enough to suit us as being inconspicuous, yet nowhere torn,
broken or slit; a tunic and cloak apiece, about the oldest and most
patched in my villa-farm storage-loft, such as Ofatulena would hand out to
newly bought and untried slaves; three quilts, as bad as the cloaks and
tunics, yet, like them, fairly serviceable and far from worn out; the kid-
skin of wine, a whole loaf of bread and the remains of the one we had been
eating, what was left of a cheese and another whole; a little, tall,
narrow jar of olive oil; a small bag of olives; a tiny box full of salt,
the box of beechwood and about the size of a man's three fingers; a
whetstone, a pair of rusty scissors; two small beechwood cups; a little
copper dipper; some rags, old and worn, but perfectly clean; and a
flageolet!

"In the name of Dionysius!" I cried laughing, "why the flageolet?"

Agathemer laughed also.

"My hand," he said, "came on it in the dark while feeling for the
scissors. I could not resist bringing it. It is small, it weighs little,
it will not add to our burdens and, once far away from here, I can play on
it when we are lonely and so cheer us up."

"You appear," I said, "to have been able to help yourself as you pleased."

"No more trouble," said he, "than if I had walked out of the villa night
before last and poked about the out-buildings to see whether everything
was as when I inspected them by day; only three dogs barked, and they
quieted down almost immediately. I am sure I roused no one and am ready to
wager that every slave was as sound asleep as if I had not been there."

I lazily readjusted myself on my quilt and leaf mattress, tucking my quilt
close about me. The morning was still, warm and cloudy, not a ray of
sunshine visible, even for a moment, since sunset the night before.

"Time to dress your wounds!" said Agathemer.

He brought from the brook a cupful of water, and, with the smallest of the
rags, solicitously bathed the gouge on my hip. He pronounced it healing
healthily. He then anointed it with olive oil. The bathing and anointing
comforted me greatly. Then, he similarly treated my shoulder and foot.
When I was composed and covered he said:

"Now for the scissors!" and he sharpened them on his whetstone until he
felt satisfied that he could get them no sharper, then he clipped my hair
and beard, as closely as those scissors could. Then I sat up and clipped
him, awkwardly and unevenly, but effectively.

Hardly were we shorn when drops of rain began to patter on the leaves
above us. Agathemer wrapped his bread in the rags, put it between the two
hats and tucked it under the leaves in one inner corner of the little
grotto; bestowed the other things on it, or by it or in the other corner;
and then lay down by me and pulled his quilt over him, then managing to
cover both of us with leaves so that no trace of our presence would be
visible to any passer-by, yet we could breathe comfortably behind or under
our screen of leaves.

It rained all day, a sluggish drizzle, soaking the earth, but not
accumulating enough water on it to produce visible trickles flowing on the
surface. The air was perfectly windless, so that no rain blew in on us as
we lay; we were damp, but not wet.

Before dusk the rain ceased and a brisk, warm wind shook the drops from
the trees. We ate and Agathemer declared his intention of going on another
raid about an hour after dark.

"What are you after this time?" I queried.

"More food," he said, "all I dare steal. I must not steal too much from
any one place. I'll wager my pilferings of last night will pass, not
merely unheeded, but entirely unnoticed. Ofatulena herself is so scatter-
brained that she will never be sure that two loaves vanished from her
oven; I doubt if she will so much as suspect any loss. But I cannot repeat
that depletion of her baking tonight; she might talk. She is not quick-
witted enough to conjecture the truth, if she did her utter loyalty would
keep her mute; she'd impute the theft to some slave and likely as not have
an investigation and advertise her loss. If there happened to be a crafty
inspector with the Praetorians and if they have lingered, they might
suspect the truth, beat the woods for us and capture us. So I must take a
little here and a little there.

"Then I want another quilt for myself, and shoes for both of us. Is there
anything else you can think of?"

"Manifestly!" I said, "we need a slave-scourge, a branding-iron with the
long F for 'runaway', [Footnote: _Fugitivus_. The short F stood for _fur_,
"thief."] a brazier big enough to heat the branding iron and enough
charcoal to fire it once."

"What, in the name of Mercury," he whispered amazedly, "do you want of a
branding-iron and a scourge?"

"We are to pass as runaway slaves, if caught, according to your outline of
a plan," I said, "we had best do all we can to be sure of being thought
ordinary runaway slaves. Few slaves travel far from their owners' land
when they first venture to run away. We should be branded, to seem old
offenders.

"As for you, thanks to Nemestronia, your back is all it should be to help
play the part we intend. My back has no scars. You must scourge me till I
have as many as you."

In the late dusk, inside that grotto, under the dead leaves, I could see
the horror on his face.

"I scourge you!" he cried aloud.

"Hush!" I admonished him. "Scourged I must be, if I am to hope to escape
Caesar's agents as you have cleverly conceived that I might. Steal a
scourge and a branding-iron tonight, and let us be ready for the road as
soon as may be; we cannot set out northwards till my back is healed and
the brands on both of us, too."

We wrangled and argued till it was past time for him to start on his
expedition. I finally declared that, unless he fetched a scourge and a
branding-iron, I would, at daybreak, walk back to my villa and give myself
up to the authorities. At that he consented.

I went to sleep soon after he was gone and never woke till daylight.

I woke from a troubled sleep, haunted by nightmare dreams, woke aware of a
general discomfort, misery and horror, and of acute pain in my wounds. I
seemed to have a good appetite and ate with relish; but, hardly had I
ceased eating, when I appeared definitely feverish and the pain in my foot
became unbearable.

I told Agathemer how I felt and he examined my wounds. All three were
puffy, red, even purplish, and with pus at the edges. It was then and has
always been since a puzzle to both of us why wounds, seemingly healing
naturally when unwashed and undressed, should inflame and fester after
careful washing and dressing.

My fever was not high, but enough to make me fretful and irritable. The
day was very hot and still. I made Agathemer show me what spoil he had
brought and at once ordered him to light the charcoal brazier, heat the
iron and brand me. He demurred.

"If you feel feverish," he said, "the pain of the branding will double
your fever and, if you have three inflamed wounds, the brand will fester
to a certainty. You'll probably die of it, if I brand you."

"As well die one way as another," I said. "If we stay here we are certain
to be discovered sooner or later. Our only hope is to get away as soon as
may be. That cannot be until my back and both brands heal enough for us to
tramp northward. Your back is healed, so your brand will heal promptly. I
have to get over these wounds and the branding and scourging too. We must
be quick."

He argued, but I was half delirious and wholly unreasonable. I again
threatened to go straight to the villa and give myself up unless I had my
way.

Agathemer, distraught and aghast, yielded. I argued that in the early
haze, the little trifle of smoke from the charcoal could not attract
notice. He complied. He had trouble getting a light from his flint and
steel, but he succeeded, and, when the charcoal caught, set the little
brazier close to our nook and fanned it with a leafy bough to disperse the
smoke. When no further trace of smoke appeared and the charcoal glowed
evenly, he put the iron to heat.

When it was hot enough he suggested, again, that we put off branding me
till next day, and that he brand only himself. I insisted on his branding
me and branding me first.

To my amazement, when he had bared my shoulder, set me in position, and
snatched the iron from the brazier, I shrank back with a sort of weak
scream.

Agathemer instantly replaced the iron in the brazier and turned, staring
at me in silence.

Instantly I had a revulsion of resolution, of obstinacy, of delirious
rage. I reviled him. I commanded, I threatened.

Coolly he bared his left shoulder, knelt by the brazier and made as if to
brand himself.

"You can't do it," I protested, "you'll scar yourself to no purpose and
anyone will know the mark is not a brand. Fetch the iron here and hand it
to me."

He did, deftly. Without a wince or squeak he, kneeling and leaning, held
his shoulder to the white-hot iron. I could not have done better if I had
been well and standing, instead of delirious and sitting, wrapped in a
quilt, in a bed of dried leaves. I set the iron fair on the muscle of his
shoulder, held it there just the brief instant required for branding
without injury and snatched it away without any drag sideways.

After witnessing the stoical heroism of my slave I could not but insist on
his branding me and was exalted to the point of nerve-tension at which I
bit in my half-uttered scream as the heat seared my flesh. Agathemer
dressed each brand with an oil-soaked rag and we composed ourselves to
hide until dark.



CHAPTER XII

SUCCOUR


As on the days before, no one passed us and, indeed, as far as I could
judge, no living thing came near us, except a hare or two. We kept close
under our heap of leaves, inside our niche of rock. But this time I did
not snuggle inside my cloak and quilt; I cast off, first the quilt, then
the cloak, and lay in my tunic only, panting and gasping. For it was a
very hot, still day, and my fever increased, increased so much, in fact,
that I could stomach but little food at dusk and took but little interest
in anything; in my condition, in Agathemer's brand, in his departure.

His return, late at night, was to me only one incident of a sort of
continuous nightmare: I was half asleep, wholly delirious and every
impression was as the half-delusion of a half-waking dream. I was barely
half-conscious, yet I had sense enough to lie still, except for writhing
and turning over, and to restrain myself from singing or screaming.

At dawn I ate even less than at dusk, but I did eat something. Eating
roused me enough for me to insist on Agathemer's stripping me and
scourging me. He felt my forehead, my wrists and my feet, and shook his
head.

"You have a terrific fever," he said, "and four festering wounds, for the
brand-mark is festering already; you are in danger of death anyhow as it
is; you will never recover from a scourging."

I, with all a delirious man's unreasoning, insisted and again threatened
to give myself up.

The sun was about two hours high, gilding the treetops and sending shafts
of golden light through the still wet foliage. One such shaft of sunshine
shot between the two halves of the great rock that sheltered us and fell
on the table-topped fragment of stone, like a nearly buried altar, which
lay midway of them.

Writhing and groaning I slipped out of my quilt, cloak and tunic, and,
groaning, I crawled to the flat-topped stone. Face down on it I lay, my
chest against it, my knees on the ground, my arms outstretched, my fingers
gripping the far edge of the altar-stone.

So placed I bade Agathemer lay on with the scourge.

"Flay me!" I ordered. "I should be torn raw from neck to hips. The worse I
am scored and ripped the more protection the scars will be. Lay on
furiously. If I faint, finish the job before you revive me."

He began lashing me, but hesitatingly; I reviled him for a coward; but the
pain, even of the first strokes, was too much for me. I could feel the
sweat on my forehead, my finger nails dug into the sides of the stone, its
sharp edge cut into the soft inside of my clutching fingers, I bit my
tongue to keep from shrieking, yet my voice, as I taunted Agathemer and
railed at him, rose to a sort of scream.

He laid on more fiercely. After a dozen blows or more a harder blow made
me groan. At that instant I was aware of a shadow above me, of a human
figure rushing past me, and the blows ceased.

I let go my clutch on the rock and tried to stand up. I did succeed in
kneeling up, supported by my hand on the altar stone. So half erect I
looked round.

Agathemer lay under the intruder, who had him by the throat with both
hands. Partly by sight, even from behind him, partly by the objurgation
which he panted out, I recognized Chryseros Philargyrus and realized that
he thought that Agathemer had been torturing me in revenge for his
flogging at Nemestronia's.

I instantly forgot my plight and my natural instincts asserted themselves.
As if I had been then what I had been ten days before, I ordered Chryseros
to loose Agathemer and he obeyed me, as if I had been what I felt myself,
his master.

He and Agathemer stood up and looked at me and each other: I must have
made a laughable spectacle, swaying as I knelt, my hands on the rock, my
hair and beard mere clipped stubble, and I naked, with my back bleeding
and both shoulders and one hip inflamed, purple-red and puffy. Certainly
both Chryseros and Agathemer appeared comical to me, even in my pain and
misery and weakness and through the enveloping horror of my fever.
Agathemer, his hair and beard a worse stubble than mine, was gasping and
ruefully rubbing his throat, making a ridiculous figure in his brown
tunic, patched with patches of red, yellow and blue, all sewed on with
white thread. Chryseros was panting, and his bald head shone in the sun.
He had cast off his cloak as he rushed at Agathemer and stood only in his
rusty brown tunic, himself as dry and lean as a dead limb of a tree.

Although he had obeyed instantly when I ordered him to loose Agathemer,
yet, perhaps from some vagary of my fever, I stared at Chryseros without
any other feeling than that he had been for most of his life the tenant of
our family enemy. As I looked at him I felt utterly lost, as if there was
now no hope for me, as if Chryseros would certainly betray me to the
authorities. I felt utterly despairing and totally reckless. This mood,
oddly enough, urged me to do the very best thing I could have done.

Either from right instinct or delirious folly, I informed Chryseros fully
of our purposes, doings and plans. He apologized to Agathemer for his
assault on him, affirmed his complete loyalty to me and promised all
possible assistance and perfect secrecy. He examined me and said:

"I'll have your wounds clean, your back dried up, every inch of you
healing properly and your fever cooled before morning. Here, Agathemer,
help get him abed."

They washed my back and laid me, naked as I was, on the quilt laid over
the bed of leaves, then they covered me with the other quilt.

"You two keep close till I come back," Chryseros advised. "Someone else
might use this path. I'll be back soon and I'll arrange to excite no
suspicion."

When he returned he had me out on the flat-topped stone, washed my back
and wounds, and then bathed them with some lotion which, when first
applied, felt cooling and soothing, but almost at once burnt into me till
every part of my back, my hip and both my shoulders smarted worse than had
the one shoulder as the brand seared it: at least that was how I felt. I
writhed and groaned.

"Keep still!" Chryseros admonished me. "Keep quiet! This is doing you
good."

And he chafed my back, inundating it with his fiery liniment till I was on
the verge of fainting from mere pain. Half fainting I was as the two
raised me to my feet and put the tunic on me, as they helped me back to my
bed in the little grotto. When I was recumbent Chryseros made me drink a
nauseous, black, bitter liquid and then lie flat.

"Keep there till morning," he said, "and fast. Food can do you no good
while you have such a fever and fasting can do you no harm."

Actually I was asleep before I knew it and slept all day and all night,
not waking until Agathemer, when Chryseros ordered it, roused me. They
pressed on me a quart bowl of milk warm from the cow, and I drank most of
it. I felt much better and Chryseros pronounced me free from fever and
after he had inspected my back and wounds and again inundated them with
his fiery lotion, declared all inflammation had vanished and that I was
healing up properly. He enjoined Agathemer to let me have no food but
milk, said he would bring more after sunset, and told us to keep close in
the niche. I slept all day long, and after a second draught of milk at
dusk, all night till the sun was well up.

I woke feeling stiff and sore, uncomfortable on my back, hip and
shoulders, but with no positive pain anywhere: also I felt like my usual
self. And I may say here, parenthetically, that I never had another day's
illness through all the vicissitudes of my flight, hiding, adventures and
misfortunes.

Chryseros brought me milk; excellent wheat bread; a smooth and appetizing
veal-stew, with beans and lentils in it and seasoned with spices; cheese
newly made from fresh curds, and luscious plums. He let me eat my fill and
drink all the milk I wanted. But he would not let me taste the wine of
which Agathemer drank moderately.

"If you feel sleepy," said Chryseros, "roll over, cover yourself and go to
sleep; we can talk tomorrow."

"I do not feel sleepy," I declared, "and I feel very much like asking
questions."

"Then we'll talk at once," he said, "we'll take all the time needed for
your recovery; but once you are recovered, we'll waste no time in getting
you out of Sabinum."

The morning was fair and warm, with a light breeze. I was on my bed of
leaves inside my nook of rock. Agathemer was squatted by my head, his back
against that edge of the niche; by my feet, leaning against the opposite
edge of the niche, facing Agathemer, and therefore where I could best see
and hear him sat Chryseros.

He began by telling me that I must remain where I was until he judged me
fit to travel, even if I remained ten days more; but that he thought I
might be able to start to-morrow night and would make his preparations
accordingly. His first idea, he said, had been to set off on horseback for
Spolitum, near, which he had a sister married to a prosperous farmer, to
whom he had paid visits at intervals of about five years. He had thought
that it would be easy and safe to take me and Agathemer with him on foot,
disguised as slaves. This idea, however, Agathemer had antagonized,
pointing out that any convoy from my estate would be severely scrutinized
and every man examined and searched; that there was no chance of our
escaping by such a plan.

At this point of his discourse he told me that the Praetorians had already
departed from Villa Andivia leaving in charge Gratillus, a treasury
officer of the confiscation department, a man whom I knew too well as also
a member of the secret service, an articled Imperial spy and an active
professional informer, moreover a man who had always hated my uncle, and
who had hated me from my boyhood.

According to Chryseros, Gratillus had made no great effort to find me,
since, in fact, neither he nor anyone connected with the government had
had any suspicion that I had returned home. He had merely made a
perfunctory investigation to assure himself, as he thought, that I had not
so returned. He had examined all the tenantry and slaves, had asked
questions, but had tortured no one and had been quite satisfied with the
answers he had received. Oddly enough, while he had closely questioned
himself and my other eight tenants as to the date of my departure for Rome
and as to whether they had seen me since they last saw me in Rome, and
while he had questioned Uturia and Ofatulena as to whether they had seen
me since I set off for Rome, he had somehow omitted or forgotten to ask
Ofatulenus the same questions, so that he had been able to answer
truthfully the only questions asked of him. Agathemer, I found, had told
Chryseros that only he and Ofatulenus had seen me between my return and
escape.

Gratillus had especially questioned the wives of my eight tenants, and as
Chryseros was a widower, his widowed daughter, who lived with him. Each of
these he had summoned before him separately and had interrogated alone and
at length. This was like Gratillus.

He had made but one arrest, and this dumbfounded me. Ducconius Furfur had
been interrogated, like all my neighbors, but, while the rest had been
dismissed after answering what questions were put to them, Furfur, with
two servants, had accompanied to Rome the Praetorians when they went away.

The more I reflected on this the stranger it seemed.

Neither Chryseros nor Agathemer had any doubt that a close watch was being
quietly kept to make sure that I could not now return to Villa Andivia
without being caught; nor yet leave it if I did return or had returned.

As a result of his discussion with Agathemer they had agreed that we were
to leave by night and on foot, as we had originally intended. But he had
argued that, while it was perfectly sensible for us to plan to pass
ourselves off as runaway slaves if arrested and questioned, there was no
sense whatever in doing anything to appear like runaway slaves unless we
were actually arrested and questioned. Agathemer had admitted this, but
had pointed out that, while we had no hope of any assistance whatever, and
were planning to escape by our own unaided efforts, there was no
possibility of our trying to appear anything else than runaway slaves, as
he could easily steal slaves' cloaks and tunics from my spare stores, but
had no hope of getting his hands on any other garments. He had joyfully
accepted the ideas and suggestions which Chryseros put forward, as well as
his proffers of assistance.

Chryseros directed that the two copper cylinders and most of the spoils of
Agathemer's pilferings should be left in our little grotto, hidden under
the dead leaves. He would then smuggle them away and dispose of them. He
would supply us with rusty brown tunics and cloaks of undyed mixed wool,
such as were worn by poor or economical farmers throughout Sabinum. Also
he would supply us with hats better than those Agathemer had fetched;
belts; and travelling wallets, neither too big nor too small, neither too
new nor too worn, and each with a shoulder-strap for easy carriage; good,
heavy shoes, two pair of them for each of us, so that we might carry a
spare pair in each wallet. In the wallets also we were to hide the hunting
knives Agathemer had taken from my uncle's collection; which knives,
blades, handles and sheaths Chryseros highly approved.

At sight of the flageolet he grinned, the only smile I saw on his face
while he was helping us in our hiding and out of it. Agathemer,
obstinately, insisted on taking that flageolet. And Chryseros grudgingly
admitted that it might prove a really valuable possession, perhaps. We
took, of course, our two little flint and steel cases.

Chryseros said we ought to eat all we could manage to swallow up to the
moment of our departure. He would pack our wallets with food which could
be made to last four or five days and would be plenty for two days. Most
important of all he would supply us with money, half copper and half
silver, as much as our wallets could properly hold, so as not to make us
appear thieves, if we were suspected and haled before a magistrate. With
money we could travel openly and by day after we were well out of Sabinum.

We planned to make our way eastward, inclining very little to the north,
towards Fisternae. The crossing of the Tolenus and Himella should give us
no trouble whatever. We would pass south of Cliternia and north of
Fisternae. Chryseros questioned Agathemer closely as to his knowledge of
the byroads, and applauded him highly, only on a few points correcting him
or amplifying what he knew. North of Fisternae we could gain the mountains
and work northwards.

The most dangerous part of our proposed route, the critical point of our
escape, would be the crossing of the Avens and the Salarian Highway, which
we must effect somewhere near Forum Decii, between Interocrium and
Falacrinum. Once in the mountains we should be able easily to continue on
northwards into Umbria.

Chryseros suggested that, once in Umbria, we could pass ourselves off as
buyers of cattle, goats and mules, all of which were bred on the mountain
farms and regularly bought up by itinerant dealers who drove them or had
them driven to Rome. The Umbrian mountains had no such numbers of these
animals as Sabinum produced and their quality was far inferior, so that
the dealers were always men of small means, driving close bargains.

All this sounded very promising and, about half way between sunrise and
noon, he left us to hide for the rest of the day. I slept well and woke
feeling almost myself, with merely trifling discomfort from my fast
healing wounds.

When Chryseros returned in the dusk, I ate ravenously. He brought us good,
coarse tunics and cloaks, also hats, shoes, and belts; and for each of us,
a small leather case containing two good needles and a little hank of
strong linen thread. We talked in subdued tones, as before, and kept it up
until long after dark.

Next morning I woke full of hope and eager to be off. Chryseros brought
our wallets and we packed them with everything they were to hold except
most of the food. We had a long wrangle over the money, as Chryseros
wanted to force on us more silver than I thought it safe to carry.

That night, after a generous meal and a long final talk with Chryseros, we
set off to sneak our way into the Aemilian Estate and from there eastward.
Before we set off Chryseros insisted on hanging round each of our necks,
by the usual leathern thong, one of those tiny, flat leathern pouches, in
which slaves were accustomed to wear protective amulets. He declared that
these contained talismans of great potency and of inestimable value to us
in our flight, as in any risk or venture. At the moment of parting, to my
amazement, he burst into tears, threw his arms around me, held me close
and clung to me sobbing, and kissing me as if I had been his own son. As
we moved off I could still hear his sobs.

We had excellent luck. Hiding by day and threading devious paths by night
we reached and passed the Avens and the Salarian Highway without any
encounter with any human being; and indeed without near proximity to any.
Our daytime hiding-places all turned out to have been well chosen and no
one approached us in any one of them. The moon, which was in her first
quarter on the night of our setting out, helped us nightly. There was no
rain and only some moderate cloudiness, enough to be helpful at the time
of the full moon, when there was enough light all night for us to see to
travel at a good rate of speed and without any error at forks in the
paths; and yet not enough light to make us conspicuous to any who might be
abroad late at night.

Once beyond the Nar and almost at the borders of Umbria, we grew bolder,
travelled by day, bought food as we needed it, put up at inns and acted
the character we had assumed, of Sabines intent on stock-buying in the
Umbrian mountains. No one appeared to suspect us and we had no adventures.

But, inevitably, once we had escaped, we did not so much think of
immediate danger as of permanent safety. Chryseros had confirmed our
instinctive opinion that, as Sabines, we should be much less likely to
arouse suspicion in Umbria and the Po Valley than in Samnium, Lucania or
Bruttium. We had never thought of escape southward; northward we had meant
to work our way, from the instant of conceiving the idea of escaping. But
we had no settled, coherent plan as to how to achieve safety and keep
alive. We could not hide in the mountains indefinitely.

We both agreed that we could hide best in a large city. Marseilles might
have been a perfect hiding-place could we have reached it, full as it
always was of riff-raff from all the shores of the Mediterranean and from
all parts of Italy. But Marseilles we could reach only by the Aurelian
Highway, through Genoa along the coast, and the Aurelian Highway was
certain to be sown with spies and likely enough might be travelled upon by
officials who had known me from childhood and would probably know me
through any disguise.

Aquileia, on the other hand, was far more populous than Marseilles, even
more a congeries of rabble from all shores and districts, even more easy-
going. In Aquileia we should be able to earn a comfortable living by not
too onerous activities and to be wholly unsuspected. Towards Aquileia we
decided to try to make our way. The roads, being less travelled, would be
less spied-on and we should meet officials less likely to recognize me.

But, if we were to reach Aquileia, we must husband our silver. Agathemer's
idea was that, from where we reached the borders of Umbria, somewhere
between Trebia and Nursia, we should keep as near as possible to the chine
of the mountain-chain, using the roads, paths, tracks or trails highest up
the slope of the mountains; avoiding being seen as much as possible, and,
if we were seen, claiming to have lost our way through misunderstanding
the directions given us by the last natives we had met. He proposed to
steal food for us, instead of buying it, and expounded his ideas,
maintaining that it would be easy and not dangerous.

We tried his plan and succeeded well with it. So wild and untravelled were
the districts which we traversed that, nearly half the time, we were
welcomed at farmsteads, (to which welcome Agathemer's flageolet-playing
greatly assisted us), invited to spend the night and had lavished upon our
entertainment all their rustic abundance, so that we visibly grew fat.
When such luck did not befall us we had no trouble in helping ourselves to
supplies, for, far up the mountains, most habitations were shacks tenanted
only in summer and only by lads acting as goat-herds or herdsmen, who
spent the day abroad with their charges, so that we could readily enter
their deserted cabins and take what we pleased; especially as, if a dog
had been left to guard the hut, I could always master him so that he
greeted me fawning and stood wagging his tail as we made off.

Except these not very risky raids for provender and such encounters as
called for more than usually ingenious lying from Agathemer, we had no
adventures.

But we realized from day to day and more and more insistently, that we
were progressing slowly, far slower than we had anticipated. It was plain
that we could not hope to reach Aquileia before winter set in. It was
manifest that it would be unsafe to attempt to winter anywhere in the Po
valley between the mountains and Aquileia. At Ravenna, Bononia or Padua we
should be noticed, investigated and perhaps recognized: anywhere in the
open country, at any village or farm, we should, even more certainly
excite suspicion. We must winter in the mountains. But how or where?

The question was solved for us by our first considerable adventure. I
never knew the precise locality. We had, in traversing the mountains
trails, avoided any semblance of ignorance of our general locality and had
sedulously refrained from asking any questions except as to our way to
some nearby objective, generally imaginary. All I know is that we were
somewhere on the northeastern slope of the long chain of mountains beyond
Iguvium and Tifernum perhaps near the headwaters of the Sena. On the
morning of our adventure we were on a long spur of the main range, so that
we were headed not northwest but northeast. The weather was still fine and
warm, but autumn was not far off. We hadn't seen a habitation since that
at which we had passed the night, and we had made about three leagues
since we left it, following what was at first a good mountain road, but
which grew worse and worse till it became a mere trail.



CHAPTER XIII

THE LONELY HUT


Some time before noon we were threading a barely visible track not far
below the crest of the spur, a track bordered and overshadowed by
chestnuts and beeches, but chestnuts and beeches intermingled with not a
few pines and firs, when, out of the bushes on our left hand, from the up
slope above us, appeared a large mouse-colored Molossian dog, very lean
and starved looking. I first saw his big, square-jowled, short-muzzled
head peering out between some low cornel bushes, his brown eyes regarding
me questioningly.

He fawned on me, of course, and I made friends with him, fondled him,
pulled his ears and played with him a while.

Agathemer tartly enquired whether we really had time to waste on
skylarking with strange dogs. I laughed, picked up my wallet, and started
to follow him as he swung round and strode on, ordering the dog to go back
home, a command which, from me, almost always won instant compliance and
disembarrassed me of any casual roadside friends.

But the dog did not obey. He pawed at me, whined, and caught my cloak in
his teeth, tugging at it and whining. I could not induce him to let go,
could not shake him off, and was much puzzled. Agathemer, impatient and
irritated, halted again and urged our need of haste.

After exhausting every wile by which I had been accustomed to rid myself
of too fond animals, I began to realize that the dog did not want to
follow us, did not want us to remain where we were and go on playing with
him, but, as plainly as if he spoke Latin, he was begging us to accompany
him somewhere.

I said to Agathemer:

"I'm going with this dog; come along."

He remonstrated.

I declared that I had an intuition that to follow the dog was the right
thing to do. Agathemer, contemptuous and reluctant, yielded. The dog led
us along an all but undistinguishable track through densely growing trees,
up steep slopes and out into a flattish glade or clearing at the brow of
the slope, overhung by merely a few hundred feet of wooded mountain side
and bare cliffs to the crest. The clearing was clothed in soft, late,
second-growth grass, and had plainly been mown at haying time and pastured
on since. In it we found some well-built, well-thatched farm-buildings: a
sheepfold, a goatpen, a cowshed, a strongly built structure like a granary
or store-house, another like a repository for wine-jars and oil-jars;
hovels such as all mountain farms have for slave-quarters and a house or
cabin little better than a hut, mud-walled, like the other buildings, but
new thatched. It was nearly square and had no ridge-pole, the four slopes
of the roof running together, at the top, yet not into a point, but as if
there were a smoke-vent: in fact I thought I saw a suggestion of smoke
rising from the peak of the roof.

To this hut the dog led us. The heavy door of weathered, rough-hewn oak
was shut, but, when I pushed it, proved to be unfastened. I found myself
looking into a largish room, roofed with rough rafters from which hung
what might have been hams, flitches and cheeses. It was mud-walled and had
a floor of beaten earth, in which was a sand-pit, nearly full of ashes and
with a small fire smouldering in the middle of it. Opposite me was a rough
plank partition with two doors in it, both open. Against the partition,
between the doors, hung bronze lamps, iron pots and pottery jars. The room
was dim, lighted only from the door, in which I stood, and from the narrow
smoke-vent overhead.

By the fire, on their hands and knees, and apparently poking at it, each
with a bit of wood, or about to lay the bits of wood on it, were two
little girls, shock-headed, barefoot and bare-legged, clad only in coarse
tunics of rusty dark wool. I am not accurate as to children's ages: I took
these girls for seven and five; but they may have been six and four or
eight and six. At sight of us they scrambled to their feet and fled
through one of the doors, one shrieking, the other screaming:

"Mamma! Mamma! Strange men! Strange men!"

In her panic she did not attempt to shut the door behind her and bolt it,
both of which, as I afterwards discovered, she might have done.

No other voices came to our ears and I followed the children into the rear
room in which they had taken refuge. It was totally dark, except for what
light found its way through its door, and was cramped and small and half
filled by a Gallic bed. I had never seen a Gallic bed before. Such a bed
is made like the body of a travelling-carriage or travelling litter,
entirely encased in panelling, topped off with a sort of flat roof of
panelling, and with sliding panels above the level of the cording, so that
the occupants can shut themselves in completely; a structure which looks
to a novice like a device for smothering its occupants, but which is a
welcome retreat and shelter on cold, windy, winter nights, as I have
learned by later experience. As this was my first sight of one I was
amazed at it.

Usually, as I learned later, such a bedstead is piled up with feather-
beds, so that the occupant is much above the level of the top edge of the
lower front on which the panels slide. But this bed was poorly provided
with mattresses and I had to stare down into it to descry the children's
mother, who lay like a corpse in a coffin, but half buried in bedding and
quilts, only her face visible. She was certainly alive, for her breathing
was loud and stertorous; but she was, quite certainly, unconscious.
Between the shrieking children, who clung to the frame of the bed, I spoke
to her and assured her that we were friends. She gave no sign of
understanding me, of hearing me, of knowing of my presence; but my
repeated assurances quieted the elder girl, who not only ceased screaming
but endeavored to calm her little sister.

Seeing her so sensible, I questioned the child. All I could learn from her
was that her father had been away nearly ten days, her mother ill for five
and insensible for three and their four slaves had run away the day
before, taking everything they chose to carry off. I then examined the
other room which had a similar bed in it, and in which, the child told me,
she and her sister slept. She declared that she did not know her mother's
name, that her father never called her anything but "mother"; she also
declared that she did not know her father's name, her mother, always
calling him "father," as she and her sister did. Her name was Prima and
her sister's Secunda.

As I could not rouse the woman and learned that the slaves had been gone
more than a full day, Agathemer and I went to save the bellowing and
bleating stock. We found in the shed two fine young cows with udders
appallingly distended. But our attention was momentarily distracted from
them by the sight of eight full-sized bronze pails, finer than those at
any public well in Reate or Consentia, which hung on pegs by the door,
four on each side of it. They were flat-bottomed, bulged, but narrowed at
the rim so that no water would splash out in carrying. The rims were
ornamented with chased or cast patterns, scallops, leaves, egg and dart
and wall of Troy: four patterns, showing that they were pairs. All had
heavy double handles. We looked for carrying-yokes, but could see none.
Such pails, which would be the treasures of any village and the pride of
most towns, amazed us in this fastness. Glancing at the pails took us less
time than it does to tell of it. The cows needed us sorely and we each
picked up one of the suitable earthenware jars which stood inverted just
inside the shed door and milked them at once. Agathemer said he thought we
were in time to forestall any serious and permanent harm to them. But
their udders were frightfully swelled and blood came with the milk from
one teat of the cow I attended to.

The sheep were in a worse state than the cows. Not a lamb was visible;
besides the ewes there was only a two-year-old ram penned by himself in a
corner of the fold. There were eight fine young ewes, in full milk. As
with one cow, so among these ewes, four gave bloody milk from one teat
each, and we milked that onto the earth. We found plenty of empty
earthenware crocks, clean, and turned upside down, in which to save the
good milk.

The he-goat, a noble young specimen, was penned by himself, like the ram.
There were nineteen she-goats, with not a kid anywhere, yet all in full
milk and far worse off than the ewes. All but two gave bloody milk and
three gave no clean milk. These three I judged might die, but Agathemer
vowed he could save them.

When we had finished milking we searched about for water. Towards the
northeast the clearing narrowed and here we came upon a tiny rill
trickling through a fringe of sedge. It came from a clear and abundant
spring in a cleft of rock against the sharp up slope which rose there
under the pines. At the lower edge of that part of the clearing, near the
margin of the more nearly level ground, just before it plunged over the
rim of the flat, it was dammed into a drinking pool for the stock. We did
not dare let them out to drink and so laboriously carried water, I from
the spring and Agathemer from the pond, using each a pair of the bronze
pails, pouring the water into the troughs made of hollow logs, which were
set, one to each, in the shed, pen and fold. We kept this up till every
goat and ewe had had her fill, and then watered the he-goat and ram. The
cows, of course, we had watered first. After the watering we gave each cow
a feed of mixed barley and millet and then filled with hay all the mangers
and racks.

When we had concluded this exhausting toil we filled the water-jar which
stood in one corner of the cabin and then carried some milk into the
house, and offered Prima and Secunda whichever they preferred. They chose
ewe's milk and drank their fill. Prima was much impressed by the dog's
confidence in me and seemed to give me hers. She said the dog's name was
Hylactor. I tried to make the mother drink some cow's milk, but she
swallowed only a few drops which I forced through her teeth by the help of
a small horn spoon which I found on the floor of the outer room.

Agathemer roused the fire and piled more wood on it. There were no less
than seven tripods lying about the floor of the cabin, but all roughly
made and of the squat, short-legged pattern which holds a pot barely clear
of a low bed of coals; not one was fit to hold a cauldron over a newly
made deep fire of half-caught wood.

On the tallest of them, or rather on that least squatty, Agathemer set a
small pot, which he filled with fresh water. When he had this where it
seemed likely to boil and certain to heat, he ferretted about for
supplies. He found a brick oven with about half a baking of bread in it;
medium-sized loaves of coarse wheat bread. Two forked sticks stood in one
corner of the cabin and with one he lifted from its peg in the rafters a
partly used flitch of good coarse bacon. There was a jar more than half
full of olive oil by the sticks in the same corner of the cabin. In a
small pot set in the ashes Agathemer stewed some of the onions he lifted
down from the rafters. In the other corner of the cabin was an amphora
nearly full of harsh, sour wine. We made a full meal of bread, onions,
bacon, olives and some raisins, drinking our fill of the wine. The little
girls ate heartily with us, now convinced that we were friends and
accepting us as such. They seemed to some extent habituated to their
mother's condition of helplessness and insensibility.

As soon as we had fed we inspected the place. The glade or clearing was
enclosed all around by the tall trees of a thick primitive forest. Towards
the up slope and the cliffs below the crest of the mountain the trees were
all pines, firs or such-like dark and somber evergreens. There were a few
of these also on the lower slopes, but there, as along all that rim of the
clearing, the forest was mostly of oak, beech, chestnut and other cheerful
trees. Their tops towered far above the verge of the slope and screened
the clearing all round. Nowhere could we catch sight of any sign of a
town, village or farmstead, though there were three several rifts in the
forest through which we could see far into the valleys to the eastward.
The cliff above the clearing ran nearly from southwest to northeast, so
that the place was well situated towards the sun.

The cow-shed was divided by a partition and half of it had been used for
stabling mules. Agathemer judged that no mule had been in it for about ten
days. We inferred that the children's father had taken the mules with him
when he departed. Over the cow-shed was a loft, well stored with good hay,
as were the smaller lofts over the sheds which formed one side of the
sheepfold and goat-pen. The hay was not mountain hay, but distinctly
meadow hay, such as is mown in valleys along streams. It was all in
bundles, such bundles as are carried on mule-back, two to a mule. This was
queer; even queerer the absence of any fowls or pigeons, or of any sign
that any had ever been about the place. An Umbrian mountain farm without
pigeons was unthinkable.

In the granary we found an amazingly large store of excellent barley, but
only two jars of wheat, and that not very good, and neither jar entirely
full. On the floor were loose piles of turnips, beets and of dried pods of
coarse beans. There were jars of chick-peas, cow-peas, lentils, beans and
millet, more millet than wheat. From the rafters hung dried bean-bushes,
with the pods on; long strings of onions, dried herbs, marjoram, thyme,
sage, bay-leaves and other such seasonings, dried peppers, strung like the
onions, and bunches of big sweet raisins. Also many rush-mats of dried
figs, the biggest and best of figs, some of them indubitably Caunean figs.
On the floor, in heaps, were some hard-headed cabbages, only one or two
spoiled. It was a very ample store and we marvelled at it and wondered
whence it all came and how it came where it was.

The other store-house amazed us. It was, as we had conjectured, full of
great jars; jars of wine, of olive oil, of pickled olives, of pickled
fish, of pickled pork, of vinegar, of plums in vinegar, and smaller jars
of honey, sauces and prepared relishes. The rafters were set full of
cornel-wood pegs till they looked like weavers-combs. From the pegs hung
hams, flitches, strings of smoked sausage, cheeses of all sizes, smoked so
heavily that they appeared mere lumps of soot, and bags of a shape
unfamiliar to both of us. Agathemer knocked one down and opened it. It was
full of tight packed fish, salted, dried and smoked, a fish of a kind
unknown to us.

There was, along the upper edge of the clearing, under the boughs of the
pine trees, a huge pile of trimmed logs of oak, chestnut, pine and fir,
with a scarcely smaller heap of cut lengths of boughs and branches. Under
a lean-to shed was a small store of cut fire-wood. In a corner of the same
shed were four big cornel-wood mauls and eleven good iron wedges, not one
of them bearing any sign of ever having been used, but appearing as if
fresh from the maker's hands. By the woodpile were four even heavier
mauls, showing plenty of marks of hard usage and near them or about the
woodpile we found eight rusty wedges.

We could find no axe, hatchet or any other such tool anywhere about the
place. The logs and six-foot lengths of boughs afforded a lavish supply of
fuel for two long winters; the cut fire-wood could not be made to keep the
fire going ten days.

The slave-quarters, as I said, were mere hovels, but they were provided
with bedding, quilts, and stores of clothing by no means such as are
generally used for slaves. Slaves' quilts are mostly old and worn, made of
patches of woollen or linen cloth all but worn out by previous use; and
then, when torn, patched with a patch on a patch and a patch on that.
These quilts were the best of their kind, such as ladies of leisure make
for their own amusement, of squares and triangles of woolen stuff unworn
and unsoiled. The mattresses were stuffed with dried grass or sedge,
craftily packed to make a soft bed for any sleeper. The pillows were of
lambs' wool, as good as the best pillows. And, in a big chest in each
hovel, were good, new, clean tunics, cloaks, rain-cloaks, and with them
sandals, shoes, hats, rain-hats and all sorts of clothing, not as if for
slaves, but as if for middle-class farmers, prosperous and self-indulgent.

We were dumbfounded at such abundance in such a place.

By each bed in the hut was a chest. These we opened and found in both
women's clothing; tunics, robes, cloaks and rolls of linen and fine woolen
stuffs.

The woman, although moaning and stirring in her bed, gave no more signs of
life than when we first saw her. Agathemer said, speaking Greek so the
children would not understand:

"We must try to save this woman's life. You manage to get the children to
follow you outside and I'll lift her out of the bed, and wash her, put a
clean tunic on her, put clean bedding in the bed and put her back in it; I
can do all that handily. She is so ill she will never know."

We went out in the slave-hovels and chose what bedding seemed suitable and
carried it into the hut. Agathemer had put more fuel on the fire and set a
big pot of water on the tripod. We put the bedding in a corner of the hut
and selected from the contents of the chests a tunic and some rough
towels, of which there were some in each chest.

I was not hopeful of being able to wheedle the children; but my first
attempt was a complete success. I suggested to Prima that she tell me the
names of the sheep and goats and she at once became absorbed in
instructing me. Each had a name, she was certain; but, I found, very
uncertain as to which name belonged to which and not very sure of some of
the names. Her hesitations and efforts to remember took up so much time
that we were still at the goat-pen, Secunda with one hand clinging
confidingly to mine, when Agathemer called to me from the door of the hut.

He told me in Greek that he had done all he could for the woman, had
effaced all traces of his activities and had put the soiled bedding out in
the late sunshine to dry and air. We strolled about the clearing,
remarking again that it seemed out of sight from any possible inhabited or
travelled viewpoint. Agathemer fetched a rough ladder he had seen in the
cow-shed, set it against the hut, which was highest on the slope, and
climbed to the top of its roof. From there, he said, he could descry
nothing in any direction which looked like a town, village, farmstead or
bit of highway. The place was well hidden, by careful calculation, for
this could not have come about by accident.

We peered into each of the buildings and poked about in them, hoping to
find an axe or hatchet, and marvelling that a place so liberally, so
lavishly, so amazingly oversupplied with hams, flitches, sausages and
other such food should show nowhere any trace of the presence of hogs.
There was no hog-pen nor any place where one might have been, nor did any
part of the clearing show any signs indicating a former wallow, nor had
any portion of it been rooted up. It was very puzzling.

As we returned to the house, about an hour before sunset, we
simultaneously uttered, in Greek:

"Here we stay--"

"Go on," said I checking.

"Here we stay," he began again, "until the husband comes home, or, if he
does not return, until spring."

"That is my idea, also," I said, "and there is but one drawback."

"Pooh," said Agathemer, "if we do not find an axe somewhere hereabouts
I'll steal one from a farm if I have to spend two days and a night on the
quest."

We agreed that there was no question but that we must spend the night
where we were. The stock, after their long neglect and late milking, would
be best left unmilked and unwatered till morning. As we must not leave the
woman unwatched, we must sleep in the hut. We could bring in sedge
mattresses and quilts from the hovels and sleep on the earth floor by the
fire. When we had agreed on these points we forced some more milk on the
semi-unconscious woman, gave the stock more hay, ate an abundant meal of
bread, oil, sausages broiled over the fire on a spit, olives and raisins;
and, soon after sunset, composed ourselves to sleep by the well-covered
fire, leaving open the door into the woman's bedroom, but shutting the two
children into theirs after telling them by no means to stir until we
called them in the morning.

Hylactor curled up outside the cabin door, almost against it, after
Agathemer had convinced him that we would not let him sleep in the hut. We
slept unbrokenly till dawn woke us.

It was cold before sunrise so high up the mountains. My face felt cold
even inside the hut and by the smouldering fire. I was reluctant to roll
out of my quilts. But, what with Agathemer's urgings and my own
realization of what was required, I did my share of the milking, watering
and feeding of the stock and ate a hearty breakfast. For, as when hiding
in Furfur's woods, as when anywhere on our escape, since it was not
possible to eat as if at home and at ease, we ate our fill soon after dawn
and again before dark, but during the day we ate nothing. We had from
necessity already formed the habit of two meals a day, at sunrise and
sunset.

The woman seemed less violently ill than the day before. When we first saw
her she had been in the throes of a violent fever and it had lasted until
after Agathemer bathed her. From then on it seemed to abate, but, when I
last felt her forehead and hands before we lay down to sleep, she was
still feverish. When we first went to her in the morning she was
unconscious and as if in a stupor, but showed no signs of fever. She did
not struggle against feeding as on the previous day, but swallowed, a
spoonful at a time, as much milk as Agathemer thought good for her.

When we had done what seemed necessary Agathemer suggested that I remain
by the cabin while he investigated the woods round the clearing to make
sure how many roads or paths led out of it. He proposed to carry his
sheath-knife and the stout and tried staff which had helped him along the
mountain trails, as a similar one had helped me, and to take Hylactor with
him: to make a circuit about the clearing some ten yards or so inside the
forest and, if necessary a second circuit, further away from our glade.
These two circuits should make him sure how many tracks led from or to our
clearing. Then he would follow each track and acquaint himself with it,
and, if possible, learn where it led. I approved.

Before noon he reported that only three tracks approached our location;
that by which we had reached it up the slope of the mountain, and one
along the slope in each direction. About mid-afternoon he returned up the
track by which we had come, stating that the trail southwards, about a
league south of us, joined the road along which we had travelled till
Hylactor diverted us: he had made the circuit along the length of the
league or more of trail, back along the road by which we had travelled and
up the track by which Hylactor had led us; he had met no living thing,
save a hare or two, too fleet for Hylactor to catch; he had caught sight
of no town, village or farmstead, even afar. He had made sure that the
mules had left the clearing by the track he had followed out of it, so
that, probably, the children's father had gone south. Exploring the other
trail he had put off till the next day.

Next day he found that the other track joined the lower road only about
half a league to northeastwards. He turned back along the lower road and
returned by the uphill track, as he had done the day before to the south.
He met no one and saw no town, village or farmstead anywhere in sight, and
at some places he could see far to the eastward.

We discussed his proposal to go off alone, with a wallet of food and try
to steal an axe. Plainly he would have to go far. It would be easy enough
to sneak back to the farm where we had spent our last night before meeting
Hylactor, but we both felt bound by the obligation of our hospitable
entertainment there: though nameless fugitives we were still under the
spell of the standards of our former lives. We admitted to each other that
he might steal an axe from that farm and I condone the knavery and avail
myself of its proceeds; but we agreed that such baseness must be stooped
to only as a desperate last resort. He was to set off northwards next day.

That night the woman, who had been inert and manageable, in a half-stupor,
became violently delirious and for a time it took all the strength
Agathemer and I jointly possessed to hold her in bed. Prima and Secunda,
waked by her shrieks, were in a pitiable panic, Secunda merely dazed and
aghast, Prima begging us not to kill her mother, fancying we were
attacking her. We managed to convince the child that we were doing our
best and what was best for her mother and that her mother's ravings would
quiet and that she might regain her reason and health. I induced both
children to return to their bed and shut and bolted their door. Agathemer
and I, by turns, and twice again each helping the other, kept the poor
woman in her bed all night. At dawn she quieted and fell into a profound
stupor. But the vigil left me and Agathemer worn out. We attended to the
milking, feeding and watering of the stock and then I went to sleep in one
of the slave hovels, which were free from vermin, not the least amazing of
the many amazing features of our place of sojourn.

This outbreak of our insensible hostess made impossible the immediate
execution of Agathemer's project. He had to have adequate rest before he
could set off. After I had slept all the morning, he slept most of the
afternoon. During his nap I found, behind the water-jar in the hut, a
hatchet-head, with the handle broken off and what was left of it jammed in
the hole. It was small, but not very rusty or dull. Before Agathemer
wakened I had it well sharpened. We had found a mallet in the storehouse,
and, with this and a cornel-wood peg he whittled with his sheath-knife,
Agathemer drove out the broken bit of hatchet handle. He then fashioned
with his sheath-knife a good handle of tough, seasoned ash from a piece he
had found in one of the buildings. With this hatchet we could cut up small
boughs selected from the big woodpile, but it was too small to enable us
to cut logs into lengths or split lengths of logs.

Again, when Agathemer was planning for the next day his axe-stealing
expedition, the woman had a fit of raving. This lasted a night, a day and
a night and left both of us to the last degree weary and drowsy. Before we
had recuperated our firewood was almost used up. The situation looked
hopeless. It was well along into the Autumn, though we were now unsure of
what month we were in, so completely had we lost count of the days. Again
Agathemer projected an expedition for the next day, in the faint hope of
obtaining us an axe, and I feared he now aimed for our last harborage. At
dusk, as he hunted for small wood under the margin of the woodpile, he
found a good, big, double-edged axe-head. It was dull and very rusty, and
he had a vast deal of trouble getting out the fragment of broken handle
and shaping a new handle, in which he was greatly helped by a fairly good
draw-knife, which I had that very morning found hanging on a peg behind
the hay in the loft over the cow-shed. He had quite as much trouble in
fitting the handle into the axe-head and in sharpening both edges. But he
did all that before we composed ourselves to sleep. Besides those on the
partition we had found a score of fine bronze lamps and we had olive oil
enough for all uses for two winters.

Next morning we woke to find all our world buried under a foot of snow,
the pines laden with it, the boughs of the beeches, oaks and chestnuts
furred with it along their tops. It was a magic outlook, the like of which
neither of us had ever seen.

After that, all through the winter, our life was an unvarying routine of
milking, feeding and watering the stock, preparing and eating meals
limited only by our appetites, nursing the sick woman, and chopping
firewood. From the first streak of dawn till the last gleam of twilight
one or the other of us chopped the firewood. Neither of us was an adept at
handling an axe. But Agathemer, with his half Greek ancestry and his
wholly Greek versatility and adaptability, taught himself to be a good
axeman in ten days. I bungled and blundered away at it all winter.
Agathemer could cut a two-foot oak log into suitable lengths with a
minimum of effort, with clean, effective strokes of the ringing axe, the
cuts sharp and even; I could cut any log into lengths and enjoyed the
effort, but I sweated over it and laid half my strokes awry, so that the
ends of my lengths were notched and unsightly.

Also I broke five several axe-helves in the course of the winter. The
first time I broke a helve Agathemer had no substitute ready, and, what
was more, the fragment of the old helve was in so tight that he had to
burn it out in the fire and then retemper and resharpen our one precious
axe-head. His retempering and resharpening turned out all right, but he
said his success was accidental and he might ruin the axe if he tried
again. So he made two extra helves and had a dozen cornel-wood pegs ready
to drive out the bit of broken handle next time I broke it; as I did,
according to his laughing forecast.

The incessant labor of our days hardened both of us. Our muscles were like
steel rods. We slept on our mattresses by that ash-covered fire as I had
never slept at Villa Andivia or at my mansion in Rome. We ate enormously
and relished every mouthful.

Riving lengths of logs with wedges and maul was a kind of work calling for
no special skill; Agathemer taught me all he knew in a day or two. All
winter we alternated this work with woodchopping, afterwards chopping the
riven lengths into firewood lengths and then splitting these into
firewood. Although we worked at riving and chopping and splitting every
moment of daylight when we were not busy at something else, we never
accumulated any comfortable store of firewood, so as to be able to rest
even one day. We drank new milk by the quart, with both our meals; wine,
abundantly as we were supplied with it and good as it proved to be, we
drank sparingly, merely a draught at waking, one after each meal, and one
at bedtime. What we took we took strong, mixing wine and water in equal
proportions.

Both Agathemer and I preferred cows' milk and drank that only, as we gave
cows' milk only to the sick woman. Both children preferred ewes' milk. As
we had no hogs to feed we were put to it what to do with our surplus milk.
Agathemer made a sort of soft cheese, by putting sour curds in a bag and
hanging it up to drain. We both liked this and so did the little girls.
But we could not use much this way. Agathemer, always resourceful, fed the
dog all the goat's milk he would lap up, and, after he had set to curdle
what seemed enough, mixed the rest, while fresh and sweet, with water and
gave this mixture to the cows to drink, saying it increased their yield of
milk. As the winter wore on he fed similarly the best milkers among the
ewes and goats.



CHAPTER XIV

WINTER IN THE MOUNTAINS


Neither Agathemer nor I knew anything about bread-making. He tried, but
merely wasted flour. And both of us hated the wearisome labor of grinding
grain in either of the rough hand-mills which were in the store-house. He
found a means of keeping us well fed, satisfied and looking forward to the
next meal with pleasure. He screened a peck or so of barley, put it to
soak in a crock, and then, when it was swelled, put it in a crock or flat-
bottomed jar, with just enough water to cover it, and bedded this in the
hot coals by the edge of the fire. There, under a tight lid, it stewed and
swelled and steamed all day, unless he judged it done sooner. When it was
cooked to his taste he mixed through it cheese, raisins, and several sorts
of flavorings, also a little honey. The porridge-like product he baked, as
it were, by turning a larger crock over the crock containing it. The
result was always tasty and relishable.

I asked him why he used barley, not wheat, of which there was quite a
supply. He said barley was supposed to be heating, and we certainly needed
all the heating we could get.

The old smoked cheeses, of which an amazing number hung in the hut and
store-houses, were, to me, very appetizing, used in this way, though too
strongly flavored for me to eat any quantity of any sort as one would eat
normal cheese. Agathemer said they had all been smoked too soon, while the
cheese was yet soft, so that the smoke had penetrated all through the
cheese. Certainly the outside of each cheese was mere soot to the depth of
an inch, so that we had to throw it away. Even Hylactor would not eat it.

Soon after the first hard freeze we found, one morning, one of the goats
with a leg broken. Agathemer, with me to help him, got her out into one of
the buildings, out of sight or hearing of the other animals; and, there
later, butchered her. We had, by this time, found butchering knives and
kitchen knives, to the number of a score, but each hidden by itself, and
in the oddest places, one under a sill of the cowshed, another under a
wine-jar, several between the rafters and thatch, most buried in the
thatch itself, as if they had been hidden on purpose. They were all rusty,
but we soon had them bright and sharp. With some of these we butchered and
cut up the goat. The offal we fed to Hylactor, not much at a time. Most of
the rest of her we ate, a little at a time, as the frost kept the meat
from spoiling.

The kidneys Agathemer used first. He washed them, soaked them, parboiled
them, cut them into bits, fried the bits in olive oil, and then, when they
were crisp, stirred some of them through one of his crocks of cooked
barley. The result was delicious. The kidneys sufficed for two or three
crocks of barley. Then he did something similar with the liver with a
result almost as appetizing.

We had some chops, broiled over the hot coals; also collops, spitted, with
bits of fat bacon between. But neither of us cared much for goat's meat,
and Agathemer's attempt at a broth made of the tougher meat was not a
success. It had a repulsive smell and a more repulsive taste, though it
seemed nourishing. He made only one pot of broth. After that we fed the
coarser parts, little by little, to Hylactor.

This loss of one goat led Agathemer to do some thinking. There was a
pretty large supply of hay, but not enough to keep in good milk all
through the winter, until grass grew next spring, two cows, eight ewes and
twenty goats. We talked the matter over. The ram and the he-goat were
manifestly of choice breeding stock, probably carefully selected and
cherished. We judged their owner would be angry if he did not find them on
his return. So Agathemer considered which of the ewes gave the least milk
and promised least as a breeder, and, after all the goat's meat was used
up, we killed her. Sheep's-kidneys and sheep's-liver are better eating
than goat's-kidneys and goat's-liver. We both agreed on that and we liked
mutton chops and mutton cutlets. Hylactor got only the offal and the
coarser bits, the rest Agathemer made into a relishable broth flavored
with marjoram, bay-leaves and other herbs.

During the winter he killed six more goats and one more ewe, so that we
fed, all winter, six ewes and twelve goats. For these the hay sufficed and
not a little was left when we departed.

For ourselves, while we wasted nothing, we were lavish with the food
stores. The bitter cold and our unremitting toil all day long, at a
thousand other tasks and always at preparing fire-wood, contributed to
keep us ravenous. We ate heartily twice a day, never taking anything
between meals except all the milk we chose to drink, and I found ewes'
milk and goats' milk, yet warm, or milked that morning, good to drink in
cold weather. Often we mixed hot water with the goats' milk and drank the
mixture while warm.

One intensely cold and brilliantly clear day, as I was riving a log,
panting and glowing with the labor, yet with fingers numb and feet aching
with the cold, I heard a yell from Agathemer. Axe in hand, my left hand
making sure that my knife was loose in its sheath, where I wore it stuck
in my belt, I raced to the store-house. There I found Agathemer alone,
unhurt, standing by an olive-jar, staring into it.

"What is wrong?" I queried.

"Nothing wrong," he said, "but something amazing."

He fumbled in the jar, reaching his arm down into it as far as he could,
his arm-pit tight down on the rim. After some straining he held up his
hand, all dripping with dregs, and, between his thumb and forefinger,
exhibited an unmistakable gold coin. How many there were in that jar we
never knew; there were too many to count. We turned the jar over on its
side, with some labor, and made sure that there were enough gold coins in
it to weigh more than either I or Agathemer weighed and we were about
normal-sized men, in every way.

We discussed this find a good deal. We agreed that the coins were of no
use to us and could be of no use to us. As we meant to pass ourselves off
for Sabine cattle-buyers until we were out of Umbria, as we meant to press
on to Aquileia, as soon as the weather was warm enough, as we meant to
pass ourselves off for runaway slaves, if we were arrested and questioned
gold coins in our possession would have been most dangerous to us. We
agitated the idea of sewing a few into the hems of our tunics and into the
ends of our belts; but we came to the conclusion that any attempt to
exchange a gold coin for silver would be very dangerous and much too risky
a venture.

We also agreed that if the master of the place returned he must not
suspect that we knew of his hoard. So we replaced the jar as it had stood,
effaced all signs of its having been moved and refilled it with olives,
taking them from another jar, which proved to contain olives only, all the
way to the bottom.

This find led Agathemer to investigate every jar on the place, running a
long rod of tough wood down into each as a sounder. In another jar of
olives he found a similar hoard of silver denarii. Of these we took as
many as were necessary to replenish the store of coins Chryseros had
furnished us with. Even of silver we dared not carry too much. The hoard
was so large that the handful of coins we took was unlikely ever to be
missed.

The little girls, early in our stay, became entirely accustomed to us and
utterly trustful of us. In the chests Agathemer found other tunics, warmer
than those they had on when we came, which were suited to them. But there
were no cloaks small enough for them to wear. With our precious scissors
Agathemer cut in two the smallest warm cloak he could find and, with the
needles and thread Chryseros had given us, he roughly hemmed the cut edge.
The two awkwardly-shaped cloaks, thus made, the children wore till spring.

We could find no shoes for the children and they went barelegged and
barefooted all the winter. They did not seem to mind it, except on the
most bitterly cold days, when the wind howled about the hut, roaring
through the pines and naked-boughed oaks, blowing before it the snow in
silver dust. Then they kept inside the hut all day. But, on sunny and
windless days, they ran about barefoot in the snow and seemed entirely
indifferent to the cold, though they always appeared glad to dry and warm
their little pink toes at the fire, after they returned to the hut.
Agathemer, more knowing than I, would not let them approach the fire until
they had bathed their feet in a crock of water he kept standing ready
inside the hut door and had partially dried them afterwards. He said that
otherwise their feet would puff and swell and perhaps inflame. They seemed
happy-hearted little beings and Secunda was bright. But Prima was very
dull and less intelligent than her younger sister. We concluded that she
was, while not anything like an idiot, certainly a very backward child,
lacking the wit of a normal child of her age.

After the first snow fell we had no more trouble with violent outbreaks
from the sick woman; or, at least, very little. Her next fit of raving
came about ten days after the first snowfall and began in the daytime,
when both Agathemer and I were in the hut. We forced her back into her bed
and then Agathemer had an inspiration. He bade me hold her where she was
and he took down his flageolet, from where it hung on a high peg on the
partition, and began to play it.

The woman quieted at once and seemed to sink to sleep. After that her
fits, which recurred at frequent intervals, took up little of our time, as
upon each we had only to get her back into her bed and compose her by
means of Agathemer's music.

It was well along towards spring, certainly far towards the end of the
winter, when Agathemer made his most astonishing discovery. By that time
the animals gave no more milk than sufficed for the five of us; there was
no surplus to feed back to the best milkers. Also we had a little reserve
of firewood and did not have to drive ourselves so unremittingly to escape
death by freezing if our fuel gave out.

I was chopping wood in a leisurely way, and enjoying the exercise. The
little girls were inside the hut at the moment, after playing about most
of the morning. Agathemer came out of the store-house, glanced around, and
beckoned to me: together we went inside. There he showed me where he, led
by a very slight difference of color, had dug into the earth floor and
come upon a small maple-wood chest, like a temple treasure-box. It was,
outside, perhaps a foot wide and about as high, and not over a foot and a
half long. He had forced it open with the hatchet and a heavy knife, like
a Spartan wood-knife. The wood of the chest was so thick that the inside
cavity was comparatively small. But it was big enough to have held, say,
two quarts of wine. And it was almost full of jewels; opals, turquoises,
topazes, amethysts, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.

Agathemer shut the store-house door and fastened it so the little girls
could not open it if they should chance to try. Then he spread his cloak
on the earth floor and dumped the contents of the chest on it. Most of the
gems were small, at least two score were very large, and there were many,
of notable, though moderate, size. We could see them fairly well, though
the store-house was dim, since, with the door shut, the only light was
what came through chinks. We ran our fingers through the heap of jewels,
picked up the largest and held them to the light and gained a general idea
of the value of the hoard. We put them all back into the chest, shut it,
and reburied it. It showed no marks of Agathemer's dexterous attempts at
opening it, for the lid was held down only by a clasp outside, and by the
swelling of the inside flange of wood against the overlapping rim of the
lid.

We went out to the woodpile and I resumed my chopping, while Agathemer set
to riving logs with the wedges and maul. We had always kept the little
girls away from the woodpile and so were sure of being alone. Also we
talked Greek as an extra precaution.

Agathemer, resting between assaults on a very big log, said:

"I am of the same opinion I have held since we found the gold. This place
belongs to some Umbrian farmer who is in partnership with a bandit chief
or the leader of a gang of footpads. Just as the King of the Highwaymen is
said to have a brother in Rome, important among the Imperial spies, so
most outlaws have some anchor somewhere with associates apparently honest
and respectable. The owner of this place may be brother of a brigand, or
related to one in some other way or merely a trusted friend. At any rate I
am of the opinion that this fastness is used as a repository for robbers'
loot. Everything points to it. The gems and the coins make it certain, to
my thinking, but even if we had found none of these it is pretty plain
from everything else. There is no sign that there ever was a pig anywhere
about here: yet the store of fine old bacon surpasses anything any mere
farm ever kept on hand; there is not a square yard of ground hereabouts
that ever has been plowed, spaded or hoed: yet the place is crammed with
all sorts of farm produce. Manifestly it was all brought here, where there
are no pigeons to reveal the place by their flight above it, nor any cock
to call attention to it by his crowing. This is not a farm, it is a
treasure-house, lavishly provided with everything portable.

"The absence of the man and the flight of the slaves puzzles me. As for
the slaves, I can form no conjecture. But I am inclined to think it
possible that the man was betrayed somehow to the authorities and is in
prison or has been executed. We must assume, however, that he is alive and
will return and must comport ourselves accordingly.

"Now I tell you what I mean to do. In such a hoard of gems a few of medium
size could never be missed, even if missed, their abstraction could never
be proved. I'm going to select the best of the medium-sized emeralds,
topazes, rubies and sapphires; enough to fill the leather amulet-bags
Chryseros gave us. All slaves wear amulet-bags, if they can get them; ours
are old, worn and soiled and will make unsurpassable hiding places for as
many gems as they will hold. I'll take out the amulets and sew them into
the hems of our tunics, at the corners. I'll fill the bags as full of gems
as is possible without making them look unusually plump. Then, if we reach
Aquileia, we shall have a source of cash enough to last us years; for I
can sell the jewels one at a time at high prices."

"Are you sure that the stones are worth all that care?" I cavilled. "May
you not be mistaken as to their value or even as to their genuineness?"

"Not I," Agathemer bragged. "I am one of the foremost gem experts alive.
Your uncle, as you know, held it a wicked waste of money for a sickly
bachelor to buy gems; but he was a natural-born gem fancier. He knew every
famous jewel in Rome: every one of the Imperial regalia, every one ever
worn by anyone at any festival or entertainment, every one in every
fancier's collection of jewels. From him I learned all I know: I myself
possess the faculties to profit by my training. I know more of gems than
most, I tell you!"

I agreed, and, during the nest few days, he selected the stones he judged
most valuable, enough to fill the hollow of one of my hands and as much
for him, and sewed the two batches up in our emptied amulet-bags. The
amulets, which were two Egyptian scarabs and two Babylonian seals, very
crude in workmanship and of the meanest glazed pottery, he sewed into the
corners of our tunics.

Soon after this came the first thaw of the spring; a mild sunny day
cleared every bough of every tree of the last vestiges of clinging snow or
ice. Then we had two days of warm rain, sometimes a drizzle, sometimes a
downpour. Then, on the fourth day, the sky was clear again and the
sunshine strong.

As usual after my morning duties, I went in to take a look at our
insensible hostess. She lay, as she had mostly lain all winter, breathing
almost imperceptibly, her eyes closed. As I bent over her, her eyes
opened.

She sat up, wide-eyed, startled, the picture of amazement and it came over
me that she was no peasant woman, but a lady.

"Who are you?" she demanded, supporting herself on one elbow. "I do not
know you; what are you doing here?"

"I have been helping to nurse you," I said. "You have been ill a long time
and have needed much care. Lie down; you will hinder your recovery if you
exert yourself too soon."

She lay back, but propped herself up on her pillows, and in no weak voice
insisted on knowing who I was.

At that instant Agathemer entered. He, far more diplomatic than I, took
charge of the situation. The woman, instead of losing consciousness again
at once, as I expected, appeared possessed of much more strength than
anyone would have anticipated and asked searching questions.

Agathemer, tactfully but without any attempt at beating about the bush,
told her the whole truth, as to her illness, our finding her alone with
the two children, our care of her, and the length of our stay. He said
afterwards that he hoped the shock would cure her.

"Am I to understand you to say," she asked, "that I have been in this bed
since the middle of the autumn and that it is now almost spring?"

"Just that," said Agathemer simply.

"And that you two men have been, practically, in possession of this entire
place all that time?"

"That is true also," I said.

Agathemer and I looked at each other. We had used our one pair of scissors
mutually and our hair and beards were not shaggy or bushy. But we were a
rough, rather fierce-looking, pair.

"This," she said, "is terrible, terrible! Where are my daughters?"

"Playing about out in the sunshine," I said. "Plump and well-fed, and
healthy and cheerful."

"This," she repeated, "is terrible, terrible! May I not see them, may I
not speak to them, will you not bring them to me?"

"Indeed we will," I said and motioned to Agathemer. While he was gone the
woman and I regarded each other without speaking. When Agathemer returned
with the children I said:

"We will leave you to talk to your daughters alone. When you wish us to
return send one of the children for us."

The joy of the two at the sight of their mother, sensible and able to
recognize them, was pathetic. Sobbing and laughing, they flung themselves
on the bed and embraced her, kissing her and she kissing each.

We went out and set to chopping and riving wood.

Before very long Secunda came out and said her mother wanted to speak to
me. Leaving Agathemer plying his maul I went in.

The woman was now well propped up against a heap of pillows. She told the
children to run off and play till she sent for them. Then she motioned me
to seat myself on the chest. I did so.

She regarded me fixedly, as she had while Agathemer had gone for the
children. When she spoke she asked:

"What god do you worship?"

I was amazed at this unusual and unexpected question and hesitated a
moment before I answered:

"Mercury, chiefly. Of course, Jupiter and Juno; Dionysius, Apollo,
Minerva. But most of all Mercury."

She sighed.

"I had expected a very different answer," she said. "But, whatever god or
gods you worship, you are a good man and your servant is a good man. I am
amazed. My children were truthful till I fell ill. I am sure they could
not have changed in one winter. In any case Secunda's precocity and
Prima's vacuity seem equally incapable of any deception. What they tell me
is all but incredible, yet I believe it. You two men have acted to me and
mine as if you had been my blood kin. If you two had been my own brothers
you could have done no more for us. I shall always be grateful. What are
your names?"

Agathemer and I had agreed to use the names Sabinus Felix and Bruttius
Asper. These names, common enough in Sabinum, we, in fact, had given at
the farms where Agathemer's flageolet-playing won us entertainment in the
autumn. I gave them now. I added:

"It seems best to me that you should not ask either whence we came or
whither we are bound."

"I understand," she said.

"And now," said I, "since you have our names, tell us how we should
address the mother of Prima and Secunda."

"My name," she said, "is Nona. [Footnote: Ninth.] My mother had a larger
family than I am ever likely to be blest with."

Nona recovered with marvellous rapidity. The weather continued fair and
warm, with no strong winds, only steady, gentle breezes. This aided her,
as it dried out the hut. She slept well at night, she said, and heavily in
the afternoons. When awake she ate heartily and was almost alert. She
questioned me again and again as to the condition in which we had found
the place. I told her the exact truth, except as to finding the hoards of
coins and jewels, to the smallest detail. I also told her of our
stewardship and of our having killed and eaten a brace of ewes and eight
goats. She approved.

I asked her about the children's tale of the slaves running away.

She sighed.

"I should have trusted any one of the seven," she said. "I believed that
any one of them would have been faithful. I suppose almost all slaves are
alike, after all. Hermes died about midsummer. He was the oldest of them
and the best. I suppose that, in past winters, he had kept the others to
their duty. But then, I was never ill before. Without Hermes to lead them,
without me to order them, I suppose what they did was natural."

I told her of the great cold and abundant snow of the winter. She
questioned me and said:

"Evidently you have had more cold and snow in one winter than I have had
in ten."

On the third day after her revival she was able to get out of bed and,
leaning heavily on me, to reach the door of the hut. There she sat basking
in the sun, Secunda on one side of her, Prima on the other, Hylactor at
her feet.

Hylactor had proved himself a perfect watchdog that winter. We had never
allowed him to sleep in the hut, as he would have done if permitted, and
as he tried to do at first. Agathemer had fashioned him a tiny shelter and
into it he crawled nightly. Out of it, also, he dashed, if any sound or
scent roused him. Tracks of wolves were frequent in the snow out in the
forest, and not a few approached our clearing. But we lost not one sheep
or goat to any wolf. Hylactor frightened off most and killed three, a
medium-sized female and two full-grown young males, at the acme of their
fighting powers. We rated Hylactor a paragon among dogs.

The warm weather held on, though unseasonable so early in the year. Nona
recovered so rapidly that she was able to visit each of the outbuildings.
Just when she was well enough to walk alone and firmly came a sharp spell
of cold, as unseasonable as had been the heat. It began about noon, one
clear day, with a high wind. By sunset everything was frozen.

Nona said:

"You two have had more than your share of sleeping on the earth floor by
the fire. My bed will hold me and my girls, for a few nights. You two take
their bed. It will be cold on the floor tonight."

That night, therefore, Agathemer and I enjoyed a sound night's sleep in a
deep, soft bed. It was our first night in a Gallic bed, and we liked it.
Since our crawl through the drain we had slept abed but four times, at
farms in the Umbrian mountains. This was best of all. And we had a
succession of nights of it, for the cold held on and, even when it abated,
Nona insisted on our continuing to sleep so.

During the cold she mixed a batch of bread, and Agathemer baked it. She
had praised his cookery, especially his savory messes of steamed barley,
flavored with cheese, raisins and what not. But when the cold snap came
after the thaws she suggested that we grind some wheat and she make bread.
We acceded with alacrity. The bread tasted unbelievably good.

As soon as the weather was again warm it was plain that spring was coming
in earnest. Nona stood out of doors after sunset, went out again after
dark, staring up at the sky.

Next morning, while the children were at play, she said to me:

"Felix, you and Asper must leave this place at once and be on your way. My
husband will return soon. He may return any day now. He is a terrible man.
He will come with too many men for you to resist and he will not ask any
questions until after he has killed you both. I know him. If I could be
sure of telling him before he saw you what manner of men you are and how
deeply I am in your debt he would repay you lavishly, for he is liberal
and generous. But, being what he is, if he finds you here, you will be
dead before I can explain. You must go. Prepare to set off at dawn
tomorrow."

I told Agathemer and he agreed with me that we had best do as Nona said.
She was, as she averred, well enough to care for herself and the children.
But we lingered next day. By dusk she was frantic, begging, imploring us
to depart at dawn. I feared a recurrence of her illness and gave her my
promise.

We set off, actually, not at dawn, but about an hour after sunrise, the
broad brims of our travelling hats flapping in the wind, our cloaks close
about us, our wallets slung over our shoulders, our staffs in our hands.
At the hut door Nona, Prima and Secunda bade us farewell, Nona thanking
and blessing us. Hylactor was for following us: we had to order him back,
for he paid more attention to us than to Nona.

With a last backward glance at the edge of the clearing we plunged into
the forest by the track leading northward.

We had not gone a hundred paces when I thought I heard a scream and
stopped. Agathemer declared he had heard nothing. But, listening, we did
hear twigs snapping and Hylactor bounded into sight. He did not fawn on
us, but seized my cloak in his teeth and tugged, growling and snarling.

"That dog," said Agathemer, "is asking for help. He knows what is too much
for him to fight."

We threw off our shoes, wallets and cloaks, tucked up our tunics and,
staffs in one hand and sheathless knives in the other, barefoot, raced
back along the track after the guiding dog.

From that entrance of the clearing the outbuildings hid the hut from us.
When our rush brought us in sight of the hut door we were not six paces
from it and just in time to see Hylactor spring on and bear to the earth a
man who stood before it. Leaving him to Hylactor we dashed inside, urged
by indubitable shrieks.

In the dim interior we made out each child struggling with a man and Nona
with two. Before they could turn our knives had slaughtered the children's
assailants. One of the survivors Agathemer cracked over the head with his
staff. I stabbed the other. Whereupon Agathemer cut the throat of the man
he had downed, and dashing outside, finished the man Hylactor was
worrying. Quicker than it takes to tell it the five were dead.

Nona had fainted, as we rescued her. But Agathemer revived her with a dash
of cold water in her face and some strong wine poured between her lips. We
laid her on her bed and told the children to watch her. Then we dragged
out the corpses, laid them in a row and considered them. All five were
pattern ruffians; black-haired, burly, brutal and fierce. We had had
amazing luck to dispose of them so easily. Five lucky flukes, Agathemer
called it, and we without a scratch.

One by one we picked them up and carried them off, down the slope, to a
soft bit of soil among some beeches. There we laid them in a row. On them
we found a few silver coins, five daggers, five knives, five amulet-bags,
nothing else. Their tunics and cloaks were old and of poor material.

Back to the hut we went and found Nona revived and at the door.

"Begone!" she said. "Flee! Hasten! That man was my husband's bitterest
enemy. He was intent on revenge. But he could never have found this place
save by tracking my husband and conjecturing his destination. My husband
must have camped last night less than a day's journey from here. He will
be here today, he may be here any moment. Save yourselves. Begone!"

Agathemer and I looked at each other.

"We shall not set off," I said, "until we have buried the five corpses.
I'm not going to be haunted on my way and perhaps for life by any such
spooks as the ghosts of those five ruffians. We shall make sure that they
are safely buried."

Agathemer agreed with me and we set about the task. During the winter we
had found mattocks, pickaxes, hoes, spades and shovels hid in the most
unlikely places, each by itself, and had hafted them; with these we dug a
big pit and in it laid the five corpses, and buried them too deep for any
wolf, badger or other creature to be at all likely to smell them and dig
them out or dig down to them.

When the men were buried it was past noon. We went back to the hut, drank
a second draught of the strongest and sweetest wine and drank it unmixed,
as we had drunk our first before we set about carrying the corpses into
the forest. Nona renewed her adjurations to begone.

But neither I nor Agathemer would listen to her. I said I was far too
tired to travel until after a night's sleep and that after having saved
her and her daughters, it was no more than fair that she should stand
watch over us while we slept all the afternoon: she could easily watch at
the hut door and explain matters to her terrible husband if he came and
were as terrible as she averred.

We retrieved our wallets, cloaks and shoes, threw them down in a corner of
the hut, ate some bread with plenty of milk to wash it down, and went to
sleep in the children's bed, as we had slept the night before. We woke
before sunset, did what was needful about the place, ate a hearty dinner
of bread, bacon, olives, raisins and wine and at once went to bed for the
night. After dark Nona ceased adjuring us to begone; she said that, if her
husband came, she would hear him at the hut door and make him aware of the
facts in time to prevent any trouble. We slept till sunrise.  Then Nona
declared that she and the children could milk the animals. We agreed with
her, for they had little milk by then. We ate a hearty breakfast and set
off.



CHAPTER XV

THE HUNT


That day we met no one and made a long march north-westwards along the
flank of the mountain, camping at dusk by a spring. There we rehearsed our
rescue of Nona and marvelled at the ease with which we had disposed of
five burly ruffians. Agathemer agreed with me that it had been mostly the
effect of complete surprise. But he took a good deal of the credit to
himself. He reminded me how he had practiced me, ever since we began our
flight, at the art of fighting with knives, at knife attack in general. In
particular he had drilled me, as well as he could without a corpse or
dummy to practice on, at the favorite stroke of professional murderers,
the stab under the left shoulder-blade, the point of the knife or dagger
directed a little upward so as to reach the heart. By this stroke I had
killed both my victims, and he one of his. I acknowledged his claims, but
was inclined to thank the gods for special aid and favor. We discussed
that amazingly lucky fight until too sleepy to talk any more.

Next day we met some charcoal burners, who were both friendly and
unsuspicious and who gave us intelligible directions for making our way
towards Sarsina. The second night we again camped in the woods; the third
we spent at a farmhouse, thanks to Agathemer's flageolet.

The farmer, whose name was Caesus, told a grewsome tale of the horrors of
the plague and of the death of almost all his slaves. He was gloomy about
his future, as he, his two sons, and their surviving slave were too few to
work his farm. He seemed to regard us as fugitives from justice and as men
whom it was his duty to help and protect. As the season was too early for
comfortable travelling along byways or for safety from suspicion along
highways, and as he welcomed us, we spent a month with him, well fed, well
lodged and rather enjoying the hard farm work and the outdoor life, though
we spent also much time under-cover, working at what could be done under
shelter during heavy rains.

After he had come to feel at ease with us, our host, one day when we three
were alone, asked:

"Are you some of the King of the Highwaymen's men?"

On our disclaiming any connection with the King of the Highwaymen, or any
knowledge of such a character, he sighed and said:

"Oh, well! Of course, if you were, you would deny it, anyhow. You may be
or you may not be. Anyhow, if you are, tell him I treated you well and
shall always do my best for any man I take for one of his men.

"You don't look like his kind nor act like any I ever was sure of, but he
has all sorts. I thought it best to make sure. It is best to stand well
with him. He passes somewhere near here every spring or early summer on
his way north and again in the autumn on his way south."

We left this bourne only on the solstice, the tenth day before the Kalends
of July, and trudged comfortably to Sarsina, where we put up at the inn,
frequented by foot-farers like us. So also at Caesena and Faventia. There
we agreed that we had had enough of the highway, as we might encounter
some Imperial spies of the regular secret service department, and not a
few of these spies might know me by sight in any disguise. So we struck
off due north through the almost level open country, intending to keep on
northward until we came to the Spina and to follow that to the Po. As
Agathemer said, if we could not find ferrymen by day we could steal a
skiff by night.

Not far north of Faventia, after an easy-going day's march under a mild
spring sky, we came, just before sunset, to a forest of considerable
extent. As we could not conjecture whether to turn east or west, we camped
at its edge and slept soundly, comfortable in our cloaks, for the night
was warm and still.

Next morning the weather was so charming that we were tempted to plunge
into the forest and cross it as nearly due north as we could guide
ourselves by the sun. Since we reached the edge of the forest we had seen
no human-being near enough for us to ask in which direction we had best
try to go round it. We plunged into it and in it we wasted the entire day.

The country is very flat between Faventia and the Spina. I do not believe
that in any part of that forest the surface of the soil was four yards
higher than in any other part. And it was marshy, all quagmires and
sloughs, with narrow, sinuous ribbons, as it were, of fairly dry land
between them. We were hopelessly involved among its morasses before we
realized our plight and, after we did realize it, we seemed to make little
progress. We agreed that it would be folly to try to regain our camp: we
held to our purpose and tried to advance northwards. But we doubled right
and left, had to retrace our steps often and could form no idea how far we
had penetrated.

There was an astonishing abundance of game in that forest: hares
everywhere; does with fawns, young does, and not a few stags; wild boars,
which fled, grunting, out of their wallows as we approached; foxes of
which we three times glimpsed one at a distance; and we came on
indubitable wolf tracks. We had plenty of food and ate some at noon, for
we were tired. Then we spent the day threading the mazes of that swampy
forest. We were careful not to get bogged and we kept our tunics and
cloaks dry, though we were mired to the knees. But our very care delayed
us. The day was breezy and mild but not really warm, so that we did not
suffer from the heat. But by nightfall we were exhausted and had no idea
how far we had advanced northward. Just at dusk we came to reasonably firm
going and walked due north about a furlong. There, as the twilight
deepened, we encountered another stretch of ooze. We retreated from it a
dozen paces and camped under some swamp-maples on comfortably dry ground.
We ate about half of our food, bread, olives, and dried figs; and while
eating dried and warmed our feet and shanks at a generous fire of fallen
boughs, which Agathemer, who was clever with flint and steel, had made
quickly. When our feet felt as if they really belonged to us, we wrapped
ourselves in our cloaks and slept soundly.

We slept, indeed, so soundly, that it was broad day when, we waked. And we
waked to hear the wood ringing with the barking and baying of dogs and
with the cries of hunters and beaters. Instantly we realized that we were
in danger. For a hunt of such size as was approaching us must have been
gotten up by a coterie of wealthy land-owners; and such magnates, if they
caught sight of us, would at once suspect us of being runaway slaves. It
had been easy enough to pass ourselves off for farmerly cattle-buyers in
the Umbrian Mountains. But, habited as we were, camped in the depths of a
thick, swampy forest, we were sure to be suspected of being runaway slaves
by anyone who encountered us; and such gentry as organize big hunts with
swarms of beaters are always prone to suspect any footfarers of being
runaway slaves.

We hastily girded ourselves for flight, meanwhile reminding each other of
the story we had planned to tell if caught.

At first we seemed to have luck. We turned westwards away from the beaters
and found and passed the upper end of the morass which had stopped us the
night before. From there the going was good, through open underbrush,
beneath big beeches and chestnuts, over firm and gently rolling ground.
Stopping and listening we tried to judge by the sounds the location of the
line of beaters. We seemed to have a chance of getting beyond its western
end. We set off again; just as we started on nine deer dashed past us, a
big stag, two young stags and six does.

Then we did run, for we knew it was our last chance and, indeed, but
little further, a young wolf raced down a ferny glade, vanishing into some
alders on the further side of the glade. I nearly trod on a fleeing hare.
The beaters could not be far off.

Yet, for a bit, we seemed to be gaining on them, although we were
quartering their front on a long slant. The third time we stopped to pant
and listen we thought that our next dash would carry us where we might
crouch in the first thicket and let their line sweep past us.

But, some fifty yards or so beyond, when we came to the dancing red
feathers on the cord and thought we would be safe in a few breaths, there
rose at us, from behind the feathered cord, three stocky men, armed with
broad-bladed hunting-spears, who yelled at us:

"Halt! Stand! Surrender!"

We recoiled from them, amazed, threw away our wallets, threw off our
cloaks, and bolted, incredulous; and as we ran, we heard them yelling:

"Here! Here! Here they are! We see them! This way, all of you! We've got
them! Here they are!"

No bogs, no sloughs turned us or delayed us. The going was good, over firm
footing, through light underwoods, among wide-set, big trees. For our
lives we ran. There seemed a very slender chance of our crossing the whole
length of the line of beaters and escaping on the other side, but that
slender chance seemed our only chance. We ran fit to burst our hearts.

And the hunt was plainly converging on us. The noises of the beaters drew
nearer. We seemed in a swarm of fleeing hares: more deer and more deer
passed us, this time, I thought, does with young fawns. We caught a
glimpse of another wolf, of two foxes. And, in a moist hollow, we barely
avoided a nasty rush of eight panic-stricken, grunting wild swine.

We did run across the entire line of beaters, but little good it did us.
Again we saw before us the feathered cord, the scarlet plumes dancing in
the sun. At it we ran, sure of safety if we passed it unseen and
penetrated even ten yards beyond it into the underbrush. But we were again
disappointed.

This time only two huntsmen rose at us, but they, too, flourished hunting
spears with gleaming points, as big as spades. They too yelled at us and
yelled to their fellows:

"Halt! You are caught! Hands up! Give yourselves up!"

And:

"There they go! Both of them! Come on! Here they are!"

Off we went again, slanting back across the approaching line of dogs and
beaters, now closer together as they drew on towards the nets, and already
appallingly close to us. Again we crossed the whole line, now much
shorter. But this time we ran, not against part of the long stretch of
feathered cord, but against the outer yard-high net. Of course this was
well guarded and again we were yelled at and turned back.

Doubling back, now steaming, panting, gasping, with knees trembling under
us, we reached the net on the other side.

Turned again, we found the beaters so near us and so close together, that
we ran away from them rather than across their line. We ran, in fact, in
a sort of mob of hares, foxes, boars, deer and even wolves, for some of
each were in sight every moment.

So running we came where we could see the line of nets, now of six-foot,
heavy-meshed nets, on either side of us. We made a last, desperate dash at
one of the nets, I hoping to leap it or vault it or clamber over it and
escape, after all. But six keepers, all with broad-bladed hunting spears,
rose at us beyond it, rose with triumphant yells:

"We've got you now! We've got you now!"

From them we shied off and ran, half staggering with exhaustion and
despair, between the converging lines of nets, ran in a veritable press of
terrified game of all sorts, ran madly, since we heard now, not the
barking and whine of dogs straining at their leashes, but the exultant
yelping, barking and baying of great packs of dogs unleashed behind their
game.

Of course, although no single dog, however infuriated, would ever attack
me in daylight, when it could see my face, yet I could do nothing whatever
to protect myself, and far less Agathemer, against the massed onset of
more than a hundred maddened hunting dogs, each bigger than a full-grown
wolf.

So running, staggering, stumbling, at the end of our strength, we found
ourselves running into the battue-pocket at the meeting of the two long
converging lines of nets. Anything would be better than that. We tried to
double back and were met by a dozen big dogs, some Gallic dogs of the
breed of Tolosa, spotted black and white, others mouse-colored Molossians.
To escape them we dodged apart, each ran for a tree, each jumped, each
caught the lowest limb of a thick-foliaged maple, the two not much over
five yards apart. So thick were their leaves that I could hardly make out
Agathemer in his tree. The two maples were close to the beginning of the
pocket net. From my perch I could see plainly how cunningly the pocket had
been set.

It was of strong, close-meshed nets fully three yards high stretched on
sturdy forked stakes and well guyed back outside to pegs like tent-pegs.
These pocketing nets were set along the tops of the two banks of a gully
about twenty yards wide, sloping sharply downward from its top near our
trees and with sides three or four yards high and steep. Once in this
gully, between the pocketing nets along the upper edge of its sides, no
boar could scramble out, the lower meshes of the pocketing nets were too
fine for any hare to squeeze through; no doe, no stag even, could leap
such nets at the top of such banks.

I could just spy a part of the heaviest net across the gully at the end of
the pocket. It seemed a large meshed net of rope thicker than my knee,
with the large meshes filled in with smaller meshes of rope the size of my
wrist.

Hardly was I safe in the crotch of my tree when the last of the game swept
by below us, the dogs hot behind them, up came the press of beaters, and,
from each side, in rushed the hunters, a score of handsome nobles and
gentry, habited in green tunics, wearing small, green, round-crowned,
narrow-brimmed hunting hats and green boots up to just below their knees.
Each carried a heavy shafted hunting spear, tipped with a huge triangular
gleaming head, pointed like a needle, edged like a razor, broad as a spade
at its flare.

Even in my terror and exhaustion I could not but feel a certain pleasure
in the beauty of the scene, a sort of thrill at its strangeness. I had
participated in such hunts in Bruttium and Sabinum, but never as hunted
game.

The sun was not yet half way up the heavens, the dew had not yet dried
from the leaves, owing to the very late spring the freshness of springtime
had not yet passed into the fullness of early summer. Through the tender
green of the young leafage, starry with drops of moisture, the sunshine
shot long shafts of golden light. Under the beautiful canopy of blue sky
and golden green foliage was the amazing turmoil of the hunt.

More than a hundred large animals, pigs, fawns, sows, does, boars and
stags had fled before the beaters and were now jammed pellmell in the
gully, for the end-net held. There they frantically jostled each other and
the half dozen wolves caught among them which, indeed, snapped, slashed
and tore at everything within reach, but, cowed themselves, had no effect
whatever on the maddened victims which all but trod them under and
actually trampled on foxes and on the swarm of squeaking, helpless hares.

Upon this mass of terrified flesh the two hundred dogs flung themselves,
through the nets the huntsmen stabbed at the nearest victims, behind the
dogs the shouting hunters advanced to spear their game, the battue was on
and I watched it till the last animal was flat. The few which, frenzied,
doubled back through the dogs and hunters were met and killed by the
beaters. Not one escaped.

As the battue ended up came the rush of beaters and our trees were soon
surrounded by a crowd of eager, exultant, infuriated beaters and huntsmen.

Up the trees young beaters swarmed and we were plucked down, thumped,
whacked, punched, kicked and manacled, our tunics torn off, ourselves
mishandled till we streamed blood, all amid abuse, threats, epithets,
execrations and curses.

We stood, half fainting, utterly dazed, supported by the two or three
captors who held each of us, but for whose clutches we should have
collapsed on the earth.

We expected to be torn limb from limb, yet could not conjecture why we
were the objects of such infuriated animosity. A beater clutching either
elbow, a hand clutching my neck from behind, my knees knocking together,
naked, bruised, bloody, gasping, fainting, I, like Agathemer, was haled a
few paces to one corner of the pocket net. There we were held till the
gentlemen came up out of the gully.

Up they came, a score of handsome young fellows, mostly each with his hat
in his hand and mopping his forehead.

"Why!" the foremost of them cried. "These are not the men! These are not
the men at all! They are not in the least like them!"

"Not in the least like Lupercus and Rufinus, certainly," another added.

"What a pack of asses you are!" cried a third, "to mishandle two
strangers. Couldn't you look at them before you mauled them?"

"We all took them for Rufinus and Lupercus," the head huntsman rejoined.
"Certainly they are desperate characters and runaways. Look at their
backs."

They turned us round, to display the marks of scourging still plain on us
both.

"They've both been branded," said a gentleman's voice.

"Pooh!" cried another, "that proves nothing. They may have been scourged
and branded by former masters, and manumitted since. I'll have no stranger
ill-treated on my land until he has had a chance to explain himself."

While he was speaking my guards turned me round again and took their hands
off me.

Our champion was a tall, powerful, plump and florid young man, with very
curly golden hair, very light blue eyes, and the merest trace of downy,
curly yellow beard. He was very handsome, with small delicate nose and
mouth, a round chin and the most beautiful ears I ever saw on any man. He
wore senators' boots and a tunic of pure silk, dyed a very brilliant green
and embroidered all over with a flowering vine in a darker, glossier
green.

"What are your names?" asked the elder man who had noticed our brand-
marks. He was swarthy and probably over thirty.

I gave him the name of Felix and Agathemer that of Asper, as we had
agreed, neither of us thinking it advisable to claim to be free Romans by
prefixing, "Sabinus" and "Bruttius."

"Shut up, Marcus," our champion ordered, "can't you see that these poor
fellows are in no condition to answer any questions? We'll interrogate
them after they have bathed, eaten and slept."

"Here, Trogus," he called to one of the chief-huntsman's assistants, "take
charge of these two fellows. Treat them well; if they report any
incivility or omission on your part I'll make you regret it. When they are
bathed and fed, let them sleep all they want to.

"And, here, Umbro" (this to the head-huntsman), "see that their effects
are found and restored to them."

He turned to us.

"Did you have wallets?" he asked.

We nodded, too shaken to speak.

"Umbro," he said, "scour the wood. Have their shoes, their cloaks and
especially their wallets found and brought to me. And make sure that
nothing is taken from those wallets, that they are handed to their owners
as they were found. If they find anything missing, I'll make you and your
men smart. Be prompt! Be lively. Get those wallets and cloaks and shoes."

While he gave these orders, some beaters brought us our torn tunics;
which, even so, were better than no clothing at all. We put them on.

Then we were led off to the edge of a forest, bestowed in a light Gallic
gig, drawn by one tall roan mule only, and in it, the driver sitting at
our feet, sideways, on one shaft, his legs hanging down, we were driven
off through a beautiful gently rolling country, clothed with the
superabundant crops, vines and orchards of the lower Po Valley, all bathed
in brilliant spring sunshine, to a magnificent villa, most opulently
provided with white-walled, neat outbuildings, all roofed with red tiles.
In one of these, apparently the house of the farm-overseer, we were
bathed, clothed with fresh tunics, far better than our own, lavishly fed
and led to rest in tiny white-washed rooms, very plain, but clean and
airy, where we went to sleep on corded cots provided with very thin grass-
stuffed mattresses.

When we woke each found his wallet beside his cot, set on his neatly
folded cloak; with our old worn shoes, well cleaned, on the floor by the
folded cloaks.

Later we were led before our host and champion, who turned out to be
Tarrutenus Spinellus; in no wise, it seemed, affected, by the downfall of
his great kinsman. He questioned us and Agathemer told the story we had
agreed on: that we had been slaves of Numerius Vedius of Aquileia, who had
been kind to both of us and had made him overseer and me accountant of his
vegetable farms on the sandy islets offshore along the coast of the
Adriatic by Aquileia. There we had lived contentedly till we had been
captured by raiding Liburnian pirates from the Dalmatian islands. They had
sold us at Ancona, where we had been horribly mistreated by a cruel and
savage master, who had branded and scourged us for imaginary
delinquencies.

From him we had run away, intent on making our way back to Aquileia and to
our rightful owner.

"This all sounds plausible," said Tarrutenus, "and I believe you, and it
falls out well. For my cousin, Cornelius Vindex, will leave tomorrow or
next day for Aquileia and you can travel in his company all the way."

We were well fed and lodged while at Villa Spinella. While there we
learned that Lupercus and Rufinus, the two escaped malefactors for whom we
had been mistaken by the huntsmen and beaters, had been runaway slaves,
long uncatchable and lurking in swamps and forests, who had lately, tried
to rob at night the store-house of a farmstead: and who, when the farmer
rushed out to defend his property, had murdered him and even thereafter,
in mere wantonness, had also murdered two of his slaves, his wife and a
young daughter. This horrible crime had roused the whole countryside to
hunt them down and the great battue in which we had been involved had been
organized at a time of the year most unusual and ruinous to the increase
of deer-herds, precisely in order to snare the outlaws along with the
game. They had not been caught and we had.

After two nights' good sleep, and a day's rest, with excellent and
abundant meals, we set off at dawn in Cornelius' convoy, our precious
amulet-bags untouched; our wallets just as we had flung them down in the
forest, not a coin missing; and we were clothed in new good tunics, our
bruises pretty well healed up or healing nicely, ourselves well content
with our escape, but meditating a second escape, this time from,
Cornelius.

For we had no stomach for the road to Aquileia, if in such company that we
must present ourselves before Vedius as claiming to be slaves of his.

We escaped easily enough, just after crossing the Po, by sneaking off in
the darkness from a villa where Cornelius, stopped overnight with a
friend. Without any difficulty we recrossed the Po, not far below
Hostilia, and from there made for Parma.

For we agreed that, after our story to Tarrutenus, with Cornelius Vindex
in Aquileia, Aquileia would be no fit bourne for us. So we decided, after
all, to risk the highway from Parma to Dertona and from there make our way
across the Ligurian Mountains to Vada Sabatia and from there along the
highway to Marseilles, where we should be able to hide in the slums among
the mixture of all races in that lively city; and where Agathemer was sure
he could turn gems into cash without danger or suspicion.

All, went well with us till we reached Placentia. There we put up at an
inn. As we were leaving the town next morning, when we were about half way
from the inn to the Clastidian Gate, Agathemer gripped my arm and motioned
me up a side street. We walked with every indication of leisurely
indifference until we had taken several turns and were alone in a narrow
street. Then he told me that we had barely missed coming face to face with
Gratillus himself.

This barely missed encounter with one of the most dreaded of the Emperor's
spies, a man who knew me perfectly and who had always disliked me, so
terrified both of us that we left Placentia by the Nuran Gate and made our
way southwestward into the Apennines.

Once in the mountains we avoided every good road we saw and kept to bad
byways, until we were completely lost.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CAVE


The late spring or early summer weather was hot and clear. We had been
pressing on feverishly and were heated, tired and sleepy, when, while
following a faint track through dense woods, we took a wrong turn and soon
found that we had utterly lost our way. The sunlight was intensely
brilliant and the windless air sweltering. Stumbling over rocks and
through bushes was exhausting. We came upon a little spring and quenched
our thirst. Standing by it and staring about we noticed what looked like
an opening in an inconspicuous vine-clad cliff. It was, in fact, the
entrance to a spacious and, apparently, extensive cave.

The outer opening was about the size of an ordinary door. Though it was
well masked by beeches above and cornel bushes below, such was the
position of the sun and so intense was the flood of light it poured down
from the cloudless sky, that the inside of the cave, for some little
distance, was faintly discernible in the glimmer which penetrated there.
After our eyes had become accustomed to the darkness we could make out
fairly well the shape and proportions of the first considerable grotto.

From the outer opening a passage about a yard wide and two yards high
extended straight into the cliff for about four yards. There it bent
sharply to the right in an elbow. This offset extended three or four yards
and then bent to the left in a similar elbow, opening into a cavern more
than fifteen yards wide, twice as long or longer, and with a roof of dim
white pendants like alabaster, no part of which was less than five yards
from the conveniently level, rather damp floor, while some parts of it
were lofty.

The two elbows in the entrance passage made it impossible to see into this
cavern from anywhere out in the woods, and impossible to see out from
anywhere inside it. Yet, as I said, so brilliant was the sunlight and so
favorable the position, of the sun at the moment of our entrance that,
after the outer dazzle had faded from inside our eyes, we could make out
the form and size of this rocky hall.

To the right of the opening where the outer passage expanded, around a
jutting shoulder of rock, we found a recess about three yards across and
nearly as deep, in which we felt and smelt wood-ashes and charred, half-
burnt wood. We groped among the damp charcoal, convincing ourselves that
many good-sized fires had been made there, but none recently. We stood
back and regarded this recess, which was so placed that no gleam from any
fire, however large, kindled in it, could ever show outside the cave.
Investigating the recess yet again Agathemer looked up and pointed. Above
me, I saw sky. The recess was a natural fire-place with a natural chimney
from it, opening at a considerable height above.

To the right of the fire-place recess, round another smaller shoulder of
rock, was a perfectly vertical wall of smooth stone terminating just above
our reach at an opening three yards wide or more. The top of the wall of
rock at the bottom of the opening was almost as straight as a door-sill.

At first we could descry in the walls of the cavern no other openings than
the entrance, the chimney and this opening above our reach, unless one
boosted the other up. From under it we went all round the cave past the
fire-place and the entrance. The floor was all damp or moist, no place fit
for us to lie down to sleep and we felt along the wall opposite the fire-
place, where the light was too dim to see at all. After feeling for some
yards we emerged or came round into a less dusky space, where we could see
to some extent and so on along the back wall of the cave opposite the
entrance, later groping along the wall, when the light failed.

Some forty to forty-five yards from the entrance, at the far end of this
extensive grotto, we came upon a passage, two or three yards wide and
about as high, leading further back into the bowels of the mountain. We
groped into it a few steps, but it sloped sharply downward and was wet, so
we retreated out of it, it being also pitch dark.

Returning along the other side of the cavern towards the fire-place we
came upon a narrow opening, less than a yard wide and not much over a yard
high. It led into a passage which sloped upwards and was free from
moisture. Agathemer was for exploring it. I remonstrated. He insisted.
After some expostulation I bade him stand at the opening, which was out of
sight of the gleam of daylight at the entrance, being behind a big
shoulder of rock further in than the fire-place. While he stood as I told
him I went out towards the middle of the cavern floor till I could see the
fireplace, though very dimly, and the entrance, quite clearly, by the
mellow glow at it from the outer sunshine reflected along the walls of the
twice bent entrance-passage.

When I had reached a position from which I could certainly see the
entrance and from which, as Agathemer told me, I could be seen by him, I
told him I would stay there while he explored the little passage into the
side of the cavern. I adjured him to be cautious and not venture himself
recklessly in the pitch dark. He declared he could feel his way safely
some distance and be sure of returning. Then he crawled into the narrow
opening.

Before I had waited long enough to grow impatient, I heard him call:

"Why, I can see you!"

The voice came not from the direction of the opening into which he had
crawled, but from near the fire-place.

"Where are you?" I called back.

"Over here," said he, "come towards me."

Advancing towards the voice and peering into the dimness, where the light
dispersed from the entrance made the darkness of the cavern just a little
less dark than blackness, I saw him standing on the sill, as it were, of
the opening up in the wall, beyond the fire-place as one approached from
the entrance, and above the vertical wall of rock.

He had found a passage just big enough to crawl through leading from the
aperture up to this species of gallery-alcove. The passage curved and was
not much over twenty yards long. He pulled me up to the gallery and we
crawled back together out of the aperture by which he had entered the
passage. The whole passage was dry, unlike the floor of the cave.

"I tell you what we ought to do," said Agathemer, "let us go outside and
gather armfuls of small leafy boughs and twigs. These we can throw up into
that gallery-opening and make a fine bed there where it is dry. Then we
can get a good safe sleep, and we need a long sound sleep."

We did as he suggested till we had leaves enough for a good bed. Then we
ate, sparingly, for we had not much food in our wallets. After eating we
wrapped ourselves in our cloaks and went to sleep; Agathemer with his
wallet beside him and his head on his arm, I with my wallet under my head.

I wakened with a hand over my mouth and with Agathemer's voice in my ear
saying:

"Keep still! Lie still! Don't move or speak! Lie still!"

He spoke in a tense whisper, so low that I could hardly understand him
with his mouth against my ear, so full of terror that the tone of it
startled me wide awake.

My first impression was of a glaring orange light on the roof of the
cavern and a diffused reflection of it or from it on the roof of our
gallery-alcove.

"Keep your head down!" Agathemer whispered. "If you turn over, turn over
quietly."

I did turn over, very slowly, a muscle at a time and with great
precautions to avoid rustling the leaves or twigs of the bed on which we
lay.

As soon as I turned over I perceived that a good, big fire must be burning
on the fire-place and that the light on the cavern roof was the direct
glare from that, while the subdued glow on the roof of our alcove was the
light reflected from the farther wall of the cavern or from its roof.

As our alcove was separated from the fire by a jutting pillar of rock, no
direct light from the fire fell on its opening; it and we were well in the
shadow. So shadowed we could hunch ourselves forward as far as we dared
and peer down into the cave.

Its floor was littered with wallets, blankets, staffs and other foot-
farers' gear. About it sat groups of men, every one with a sheath-knife or
dagger in his belt. I counted forty and there were more out of sight round
the shoulder of rock between our alcove and the fire-place.

We smelt flesh roasting or boiling. The squatting groups seemed busy with
preparations for a meal.

The men, except one lad like a shepherd, did not look Italian. Some struck
me as Spanish, others as Gallic, one or two as runaway slaves of mongrel
ancestry. Nearly all of them had the unmistakable carriage and bearing of
soldiers, even specifically of soldiers of out-of-the-way garrisons, in
the mountains or on frontiers. Yet their behavior was tin-soldierly. I
judged them discharged campaigners with an admixture of deserters and
outlaws. They all had travellers' umbrella hats, and all had thrown them
off; their cloaks were coarse and rough, many torn, but none patched,
their tunics similar; their boots of Gallic fashion, coming up nearly to
the knee, like Sicilian hunting-boots. They were all black-haired and
shock-headed, all swarthy, and most of them of medium height and solidly
built. They did not talk loud and they all talked at once, so that we made
out little of what was said and nothing informing.

I could not but remark that, although the weather was exceedingly hot and
the fire seemed large, it made no difference whatever in the feeling of
the very slightly damp, gratefully cool and evenly mild air of the cavern.

Presently the food was ready and was distributed: goat's-flesh, roasted or
broiled, some sort of coarse bread or quickly-made cakes, wine aplenty,
olives and figs. While they ate most of them sat in groups; some stood by
twos or threes; a few stood singly. From their looks, attitudes, the
direction in which they faced and other indications, we inferred that
their chief was seated to the right of the fire, between it and us, with
his back to the pillar of rock and just out of sight of us around it. Some
appeared to be standing in a half-circle before him, listening to him, or
conversing with him. A few of the men ate alone, sitting, standing or
walking about.

One of these, munching a while as he strolled back and forth, came and
took his stand behind and outside of the respectful half circle, standing
facing the fire. When he finished eating and his face quieted as he stood
there silent, gazing at something out of our sight, all at once,
simultaneously, I gripped Agathemer and he gripped me. The fellow was
Caulonius Pelops, two years before secretary to the overseer of my uncle's
estate near Consentia in Bruttium. He had run away not long before my
uncle's death.

I stared at him, revolving in my mind the difference of the attitude of
mind towards runaway slaves of a former master who catches sight of a
runaway from his estates and of the same being while pretending himself to
be a runaway. I could have laughed out loud at the contrast between the
feelings towards Pelops which I felt surge up in me and the feelings I
hoped for towards me, say in Tarrutenus Spinellus.

Pelops, of course, knew me perfectly, knew Agathemer as well, would
recognize either of us at sight. Therefore, if we were now discovered, we
saw lost all that we had thought to gain and thought we had gained by our
crawl through the drain pipe and the other features of our escape up to
now. If Pelops set eyes on me, he, at least, would know that I was yet
alive, he might tell all the band; if he told them, any one of them, even
if not he himself, might inform the authorities and put new life into the
search for me, if it had not been abandoned, or revive it if it had; put
every spy in Italy on the alert to catch me: or even betray me to the
nearest magistrate.

And Pelops had always disliked me and had always envied and hated
Agathemer. We were keyed up with anxiety.

Just as we recognized Pelops a tall, red-headed, sandy lout, with a long
neck and a prominent gullet-knot, came forward into sight from the
direction of the entrance, apparently from beyond the fire. He put up his
right hand and called, slowly and clearly:

"Eating time is over: Now we hold council!"

The men speedily assembled in curving rows facing the fire and sat or
stood as they pleased, all facing where we inferred that their leader sat,
to the right of the fire-place out of our sight round the bulge of the
shoulder of rock.

Between them and the fire, just far enough from it for him to be visible
to us, a burly shock-headed, black-haired southern Gaul took his stand.

Then we clearly heard a voice, which we inferred must be the leader's, a
voice distinct and far-carrying, but a voice amazingly soft, mild and
gentle, say:

"Council is called. Let all other men be silent. Caburus is to speak."

The burly Gaul began blusteringly, with a strong southern Gallic accent
like a Tolosan:

"It is no use, Maternus, trying to bamboozle us with your everlasting
serenity. We decline to be fooled any longer. Somehow, by sorcery or
magic, you infused into us the greatest enthusiasm for your crazy project.
You've dragged us over the Alps and into these Apennines. On the way we've
talked matters over among ourselves. The nearer we get to Rome the crazier
our errand seems. We have made fools of ourselves under your leadership
long enough. We go no further.

"We admit that Commodus ought to be killed; we admit that, if he were
killed, it would be a good thing for all Gaul and for Spain and Britain,
too, and, we suppose, for Italy and all the provinces. We also admit that
it would be a fine thing for us if we could kill Commodus, avoid getting
killed or caught ourselves, and win the rewards we could properly hope for
from the next Emperor, and the glory we'd have at home as successful
heroes.

"But, when free from the spell of your eloquence, we see no chance of
killing the Emperor and surviving to reap the reward of our prowess: none
of surviving: not even any of killing him. You say you have a perfect and
infallible plan which you will reveal when the time comes. You may have a
plan and it may be infallible and as certain of success as the sun is
certain of rising tomorrow and the day after. But we have followed you and
your secret plan long enough. We follow no further unless we know what
plan we are expected to take part in. We have all agreed to that and we
all stick to that."

And the assemblage chorused:

"We have all agreed to that and we all stick to that."

Now, from, where we peered down from our hiding-place Maternus was
entirely out of sight. We could not see what attitude he took nor what
expression his face wore. Yet, by the flickering light of the leaping
fire, which flooded the cavern with its ruddy glare, we could plainly see
the effect of his personality on the assemblage. Even as their shouts of
assent to what Caburus had said still rang through the cave I could see
them half fawning, half cringing towards their chief.

Yet his voice, when he spoke, was not harsh or domineering, but, while
perfectly audible, as bland and placid as a girl's.

"Please remember," he said, "that a plan such as I have conceived, while
it is, if carried out as designed, as certain of success as the swoop of
the hawk upon the hare, is certain of success only while it is not only
undreamed of by its object but totally unsuspected by anyone outside of
our band. The success of our project depends on no one having any inkling
of any such project, far less having an inkling of what kind of a project
it is.

"For your sakes and for your sakes only have I kept the details of my
plans locked in my own bosom. You are venturing your lives to help me to
the realization of my hopes of setting free the world. Your lives must not
be risked needlessly. Little will be the risk any of you will run in
carrying out my plans, so ingeniously are they conceived. But that
smallness of risk can be attained only if the nature of the project is
unknown to anyone save myself up to the latest possible moment before
putting it into effect. Every day, every hour, which elapses between the
giving of my instructions and their execution increases the danger of our
betrayal. We must have guides, we must, occasionally, induct into our
society new associates. Not one of these can be a danger to us as long as
the methods by which we are to effect our purpose is unknown except to me.
I propose no loitering in Rome. I mean to arrive at the right spot at the
right hour, at the hour of opportunity, to strike and to vanish before
anyone save ourselves knows that the blow has been struck. Only thus can
we succeed, only thus can we escape. Upon my silence our success depends.
Once I speak, every day, every hour makes it more likely that someone will
betray to some outsider the nature of our plot or even its details. Then
we shall certainly fail and perish."

Thereupon ensued a long wrangle in which Caburus repeated that Maternus
had said all that before and Maternus repeated the same argument in other
words and brought up other similar arguments. The crowd, while swayed by
Maternus, appeared to lean more and more to the opinions of Caburus. It
became manifest that they would break away and disperse unless Maternus
revealed his intentions. He was, apparently, quick to sense the situation
and finally yielded.

"I have three separate plans," he said, "and I mean to prepare to use all
three, so that, if the first fails the second may succeed; if both the
first and second fail I may hope to succeed with the third.

"I mean to reach Rome two days before the Festival of Cybele and for all
of us to get a sound night's sleep. Then, on the eve of the great day,
most of you may wander about the city sight-seeing; Caburus and I and a
few with us will buy or hire costumes for the Festival.

"As we have all heard, the wildest license in costumes is permitted on the
day of the celebration. Everybody dresses up as extravagantly as possible.
More than that it is so customary for jokers to dress up in burlesque of
notables that such assumptions of the costumes of officials are merely
laughed at and the wearers of them are never arrested or even reprimanded.

"Caburus and I will buy at old-clothing shops or hire from costumers cast
off uniforms of the privates of the Praetorian Guard. Two squads of us,
all volunteers and approved as boldest, strongest and quickest, will dress
up as Praetorians. One will be led by Caburus and I myself shall lead the
other.

"Caburus and his men will mingle with the crowd along the line of the
morning procession. The procession is so long, its route is so jammed with
sight-seeing rabble, the rabble is permitted so close to the line of the
procession, so many wonders and marvels form part of the procession, there
is so much interest in gazing at them, that it is possible that Caburus
may see a chance to achieve our object. I shall leave it to him whether to
give whatever signal he may agree on with his men, or to withhold it. If
he sees an opportunity, that will mean that, in his judgment, there is a
good chance of killing the tyrant and getting away unrecognized. You know
how cautious Caburus is: you will run no risk if he does not give the
signal and little if he does.

"Now, Caburus, what do you think of this plan?"

Not being able to watch Maternus making his speech, I, while straining my
ears to catch his softly uttered words, had kept my eyes on Caburus, had
marvelled to see the dogged spirit of opposition and surly disaffection
fade out of his expression, to see interest and excitement take their
place.

"I think," he shouted, "that you are a marvel! I don't wonder that you
wanted to conceal this plan till the last possible moment. It is so good
that I already want to tell it to somebody, just to see his amazement. But
we'll keep your secret! And as to your plan, I'll risk it. No Gaul with a
drop of sporting blood in his veins would hesitate to embrace the
opportunity to try to carry out so ingenious, so promising a plan.

"And you don't need a second plan or third plan. This plan, under my
leadership, is certain to succeed."

At this a scrawny, tow-headed, long-armed, long-legged fellow sprang to
his feet.

"I don't agree with that at all," he vociferated.

"Just because the first plan pleases Caburus is no reason why we should
not hear the other two plans also."

This utterance started a long discussion, from which Agathemer and I
learned nothing except that there was much insubordination among the men
following Maternus and that the scrawny objector was named Torix.

The upshot of the discussion was a general agreement that Maternus ought
to disclose all three plans.

Maternus then resumed:

"The second plan is already known to Cossedo and it need not be known to
anyone else, as he alone is concerned and he, if Caburus decides not to
make his attempt, will attempt his alone, without any assistance from
anyone and without endangering anyone else; in fact without endangering
himself. I myself thought of this plan, which is so ingenious that, if it
succeeds, no one will ever know how Commodus came to his death; it if
fails no one will ever suspect that it was tried at all.

"You have all been wondering how Cossedo came to be with us. Many of you
have jeered him; many of you have protested to me. But I know what I am
doing. Cossedo can do other things besides walk the tight-rope, juggle
five balls at once, and stand on his head on the back of a galloping
horse. He is just the right man to carry out my idea, which neither I nor
any other of us could put into effect. As Cossedo approves the plan; as he
is to try it alone, no one else need know it."

"Just so," cried the red-headed lout who had heralded the council, coming
forward into the fire-light. "I can try it and I may do it. If I do it,
Commodus will be a corpse. If I fail, no one will know I have tried. And
it is a jewel of a plan."

And he stood on his hands, feet waggling in the air, apparently from mere
exuberance of spirits. Standing up again, he threw three flip-flops
forward, then two backward, then turned a half a dozen cart wheels, during
which gyrations he passed out of our field of view.

Torix sulkily agreed that the second plan remain unknown except to
Maternus and Cossedo, the assemblage not supporting him when he pressed
for its disclosure. But he was insistent about the third plan.

"The third plan," said Maternus, "is merely the first plan over again,
except that I lead instead of Caburus and that we try after dark instead
of by day. From all I can hear the opportunity will be even better by
torchlight in the gardens about the temple than it will be by day in the
jammed streets. I mean to be as cautious as I expect Caburus to be: there
is no use making an attempt unless a really promising chance presents
itself. If I see an opening I'll kill the monster myself, and I do not
expect to need any help from anybody, except a little jostling in the
crowd to increase the confusion. As rigged up in Praetorian uniforms we
will be laughed at and indulged. Either in the noonday swelter or in the
torchlit darkness it ought to be easy to pass from aping, mimicking and
burlesquing Praetorians to personating and counterfeiting Praetorians.
Once mistaken for real guards we ought to be able to get close to
Commodus. Then in the torchlight it should be easy for me to finish him
and for you others to escape. I shall not think of escape until the deed
is done. Then I'll escape, if I can, but I shall let no thought of escape
interfere with my doing what I purpose."

This speech was acclaimed by everyone except Torix. He said:

"All this is most ingenious. But there is in this plan one flaw which no
one has noted. I suppose that you, Maternus, evolved this really promising
idea from pondering on what Claudius told us. All the hearsay about Rome
and its festivals which ever came to the ears of all of us put together is
as nothing at all compared with what Claudius told us in two months.
Claudius had lived in Rome, Claudius knew every alley in Rome. With
Claudius to pilot us we might have hoped to succeed. But Claudius is dead,
dead somewhere in the Alps, where he is no use to us. He had seen the
Emperor, he knew him by sight. Not one of us does. And, as Claudius told
us, at the Festival of Cybele, as at several other religious festivals,
the Emperor does not wear his official robes, so that anyone may recognize
him, but appears in the garb of a priest of the deity celebrated, as High
Priest or Assistant High Priest, or as a dignitary of some other degree,
the rank in the hierarchy varying with the deity worshipped.

"Now not one of us, who have never set eyes on him, can tell Commodus, in
the garb of a priest of Cybele, from any other priest of Cybele. We have
no reasonable assurance of recognizing the mark at which we aim. Thus we
have only a small chance of success, by sunlight or torchlight."

This utterance started another wrangle; the men, apparently, about equally
divided as backers of Maternus and of Torix. As I lay listening to this
hubbub someone stepped on the calf of my leg, his foot slipped off of it,
and he fell on top of me, with a smothered exclamation.

"Who are you?" he demanded, adding some words which I did not catch. It
seemed that another man was occupied similarly with Agathemer.  The man
who had fallen on me, in the act of scrambling up, yelled out:

"Here are two men lying and listening and they do not seem to belong to
us. They do not respond to the pass-word."

At that every voice stilled and every face turned to our alcove-balcony
where our captors, now four, gripped us and had lifted us to our knees.

"Throw 'em down!" came a chorus of voices, "throw 'em down!"

Down we were thrown, none too tenderly, but we landed without breaking any
bones.

Two men clutched each of us and haled us towards the fire. There we had
our first glimpse of Maternus, who sat on a pack, his back against the
rock, not too close to the fire, the light of which played on his left
cheek.

He looked plump and lazy.

"Strip them," he commanded.

As he was being obeyed somebody did something to the fire which increased
the light it gave.

"Turn them round," Maternus commanded. "Humph," he commented, "by their
faces they are a Roman gentleman and his Greek secretary; by their backs
they are fugitive slaves with bad records."

"They are both branded," added Torix, who had been inspecting us.

"Where?" queried Maternus. "I don't see any brand marks."

"On the left shoulder, each of them," Torix replied.

"Humph!" Maternus commented, "rascally slaves and indulgent master, or
canny owner of valuable, if restive, property."

Just as he said this there was a yell at our left and Caulonius Pelops
rushed in from somewhere beyond the firelight, probably from outside the
cave.

"Here's the solution of our dilemma," he cried. "We are all right now.
We've two men who know Commodus by sight. This is Andivius Hedulio, my
former master's nephew, and the other is his secretary, Agathemer."

"What, in the name of Mithras," Maternus breathed, "is your master's
nephew doing in a cave in the Apennines, with his back all scourge-marks
and a runaway-slave brand on his shoulder?"

Then ensued a long series of questions and answers, in the course of which
Agathemer and I pretty well told our story.

Maternus asked the assemblage whether they believed us and the consensus
was that they believed us and Pelops, who reminded them that Claudius had
read to them lists of those involved in conspiracies, who had been
executed or banished and their properties confiscated; that my name had
been among those he read; and that he, Pelops, had then told about me; all
of which most of them did not recollect at all, and the few who claimed to
recollect it recollected only vaguely.

Maternus, in his mild way, suggested that we would make valuable additions
to their association. Torix opposed the idea, but Maternus pointed out
that no one of them had as much to gain by the Emperor's death as I had:
that after it I might hope to be restored to my rank and wealth, and that,
after my miseries, I ought to hate Commodus more viciously than any of
them. The assemblage approved, and, while throat-cutting was not
mentioned, as that was the obvious alternative, Agathemer and I took oath
as brothers in the confraternity.

Upon this we were released and our wallets, cloaks, hats and staffs, which
had been deposited before Maternus, were restored to us. But Maternus
informed us that no member of the band was allowed any money of his own.
We must give up to him any coins we had.

Agathemer spread his cloak, spread mine on it, and upon it I emptied my
wallet, that all might see its contents. I was allowed to retain
everything, except the denarii. Agathemer did the like, with the like
result. But at the sight of his flageolet there were exclamations and
questions. He kept it out when he repacked his belongings, only giving the
coins to Maternus. After we had fed he played tunes on it, to the delight
of the whole band. It seemed to me they would never let him stop playing
that flageolet and I was desperately drowsy.

At last all were for sleep. Maternus decreed that Agathemer and I might
climb up again on the dry shelf where we had been found. Neither he nor
any of the band seemed to object to, or indeed to notice, the dampness of
the cave floor.

Agathemer and I slept at once. Our precious amulet-bags, of course, had
not been investigated, or so much as suspected, and were safe on our neck-
thongs.



CHAPTER XVII

THE FESTIVAL


Thus most strangely, and through no fault of mine, I found myself a full
fledged formally sworn member of a conspiracy against the life of
Commodus.

Maternus, whether from innate considerateness or because it happened to
coincide with his plans, let us have our sleep out and wake naturally. We
woke hungry and fed with the whole band, totalling forty-nine with
ourselves, according to my count and to the statement of Pelops. He was
most absurdly, but naturally, more than a little shy and bashful at
finding himself in a position of complete equality with me. As we ate he
narrated his reasons for running away and how he had escaped to Clampetia,
from there on a fishing-boat to Sarcapus in Sardinia, and from there on a
trading ship to Marseilles. There he had attached himself to a slave-
dealer and with him had travelled to Tolosa and Narbo, where he had gotten
into trouble and had fled to the mountains. There he had joined some
outlaws, who had joined Maternus.

The fellows who had found me and Agathemer told cheerfully how the
shepherd lad, their local guide, who knew nothing of them except that they
were accepted associates of some local mountain brigands, had been showing
them the inner passages of the cave, into which Agathemer and I had not
ventured, and, on their return, had proposed to lead them up the side-
passage to the outlook-opening. There they had trodden on us and so
captured us.

After eating we set out on our way southwards to Rome.

On the march, inevitably, I became acquainted with Maternus and marvelled
at that most amazing man. I had heard of him, of course, for his exploits
as mutineer, outlaw, insurgent and rebel had made him notorious, not only
in Spain and Gaul, but in Italy, even among the circles of society amid
which I moved by inheritance. His reputation for strength, vigor, valor,
resolution, ruthlessness, ferocity and cunning had made me picture him as
different as possible from what he really was.

He was neither tall nor burly and nothing about him gave any hint of the
great strength for which he was reputed and which, on occasion, I have
seen him exert. Only one man of the band was shorter than Maternus and no
other looked so much the reverse of hard and tough.

Maternus, in fact, looked soft. His very outline was plump, his feet and
hands small, his toes and fingers delicate. He was not a handsome man, but
he was by no means ill-looking and in some respects was almost boyish, or
even girlish. He had glossy, straight brown hair, soft brown eyes, a
complexion almost infantile in its rosy freshness, and all his features
were small, his ears close to his head, his mouth even tiny, his nose
likewise: and withal, Maternus was habitually mild, serene of expression,
slow and soft of speech, and deliberate in all his movements. I never
heard him raise his voice or speak or act hurriedly or urgently.

Of course, I had been dumbfounded to find him in Italy and in the
Apennines when everybody supposed him a hunted fugitive, hiding in the
Pyrenees or the Cevennes; or even, perhaps, in the wilds of North Spain.
Still more was I amazed at the boldness of a man who could conceive such
plans for assassinating the Prince of our Republic and could feel serenely
confident of being able to execute them.

He was perfectly open with me. He had been a worshipper and adorer of
Aurelius. If Aurelius had lived to a reasonable old age, he averred, the
Republic would have been firmly established, the Empire solidified, the
administration purified and the frontiers defended. Everything that had
happened in the past five years he blamed on Commodus. It was the
indifference of Commodus which had ruined the administration of the army,
so that incompetent, dishonest, and tyrannical under-officers drove young
patriots like himself into mutiny, outlawry and their consequences. Had
Commodus been a capable ruler he and his fellow malcontents would have
been listened to, placated and sent off, aflame with patriotic enthusiasm
and bent on redeeming their past records, to hurl back from the hardest-
pressed part of our frontiers the most dangerous foes of the Republic.
Upon Commodus he blamed his mutiny, all the atrocities he had committed in
the course of his insurrections, and all the blood he had shed, as well as
all the towns he had sacked and burnt in the course of his raids; also on
Commodus he blamed the destruction of his army of insurgents.

He freely discussed with me his plans for assassinating Commodus. I could
not deny that they were brilliantly conceived.

Almost equally brilliant I thought his management of his expedition. From
where I joined it, near the crest of the Apennines, somewhere between the
head-waters of the Trebia and the Nura, we advanced on Rome as rapidly as
footfarers could travel. In the Ligurian Apennines, until we had crossed
the upper tributaries of the Tarus, the Macra and the Auser, and were
between Luna and Pistoria, we travelled all together, tramping all night
in single file after a guide and sleeping all day in well hidden camps.
Everywhere we were well fed. Nowhere did we lose our way or meet anyone
not forewarned and friendly. It was as if the highwaymen, brigands and
outlaws of the whole Empire had formed an association, so that any of them
could travel secretly anywhere by the help of those of the regions which
they crossed. We advanced as if swift and reliable runners had preceded
us, advised of our approach the outlaws of each district and they had
prepared to entertain us and to forward us on our way.

From somewhere between Pistoria and Luca we broke up into small parties of
three to seven, and travelled by day like ordinary wayfarers. Somewhere
not far south of the Arnus we reassembled, evidently by prearrangement and
as accurately as a well-managed military-expedition. Through the
mountains past Arretium we marched at night as in the Apennines. Again
somewhere to the west of Clusium, before we reached the Pallia, we again
dispersed. We struck the Clodian Highway about halfway between Clusium and
the Pallia. From there we proceeded like ordinary footfarers.

Both between Pistoria and Arretium, along the byroads, and from the Pallia
to Rome, on the Clodian Highway, I was in the party headed by Maternus
himself, a party of five besides us two. When we dispersed near Luca I had
noted that Torix, Pelops and Cossedo with two more made a party; and that
Caburus took Agathemer with him.

As Maternus had been open with me about his past and his plans so he was
perfectly frank about his attitude towards me.

"I assume," he said, "that you are delighted at the opportunity which
chance and I have given you to assist in revenging yourself on Commodus. I
similarly assume that you and Agathemer would keep any oath taken by you.
But prudence compels a leader like me to take no chances. I must, as a
wary guardian of my associates, take all possible precautions. You will
understand."

We did understand. We were watched as if he assumed that we were on the
alert for a chance of escape, as we were. On night marches a leathern
thong was knotted about my waist and the ends knotted similarly about the
waists of the man before me and the man behind me. Agathemer was made
secure in a like fashion. When he lay down to sleep, after he had composed
himself to rest, a blanket was spread over him and a burly ruffian lay
down on either side of him, the edges of the blanket under them. I slept
similarly guarded. On day marches Caburus kept Agathemer close to him; I
was never out of sight of Maternus.

Somewhere in the Etrurian hills north of Arretium I overheard part of a
conversation between Maternus and Caburus. They were talking of me and
Agathemer.

"You cannot be sure," said Maternus. "By every rule of reason Hedulio
ought to hate Commodus consumedly. But loyalty is so inbred in senators
and men of equestrian rank, in all the Roman nobility, that he may have a
soft place in his heart for him, after all. Instead of doing his best to
help us kill him he might try to shield him, at a pinch."

"Just what I have been thinking," said Caburus. "I am half in doubt about
this enterprise, even now. Agathemer may after all, try to fool me and to
shield Commodus, by pointing out some other man to me, at the crucial
moment."

"If you suspect him of anything of the kind," said Maternus gently, "just
drive your dirk good and far into him and be done with him. I'll be on the
lookout for any hanky-panky from Hedulio. If I see the wrong look in his
eye or the wrong expression on his face I'll make a quick end of him. I'll
tolerate no treachery after oath given and oath taken."

It may easily be imagined how nervous and uncomfortable I felt after
hearing this mild, soft-voiced utterance.

My anxiety was accentuated within an hour. Just as I, like the other
members of the band, was composing myself to sleep, I heard high words,
raised voices, threats, an oath and a yell. With the rest I rushed towards
the sounds. There, with the rest, I saw Caulonius Pelops in the agonies of
death, a dagger in his heart. One of our Spanish associates had
momentarily lost his temper.

Maternus, calm and unruffled, mildly inquired the causes of the quarrel,
affirmed his belief in the Spaniard's account, absolved him of all blame
and ordered Pelops buried. Then, as if nothing happened, we all composed
ourselves to sleep.

I did not sleep much. Evidently, stabbing on small provocation was taken
as a matter of course among my present comrades.

At Vulsinii we had a sound sleep at an inn and a bountiful meal at dawn.
We needed both before dark, for Maternus marched us the entire twenty-
eight miles to Forum Cassii by sunset. I was in as hard condition as any
of his band and I stood the long tramp well. Next day we paused for barely
an hour, near noon, at Sutrium, and made the twenty-three miles to
Baccanae easily. The third day we even more easily made the twenty-one
from Baccanae to Rome. Rome, naturally, I approached with emotion. I had
gazed back on it from the road to Tibur, certain that I should never again
behold it. And I was now about to enter it under most amazing
circumstances, as the associate of cutthroats and ruffians, as a sworn
member of a conspiracy to assassinate the Prince of the Republic, as the
prisoner of a ruthless outlaw, as a suspected associate of a chieftain who
might stab me at the slightest false action, motion, word, tone or look.

There is, I think, no view of Rome as one approaches it along the Via
Clodia or the Via Flaminia which is as fine as anyone of a score from
points on the Via Salaria and Via Tiburtina. But, on a clear, mild, mellow
summer afternoon I caught glorious glimpses of the city from the higher
points of the road as we neared it. The sight moved me to tears, tears
which I was careful to conceal. I could not but note the fulfillment of
the prophecy made by the Aemilian Sibyl. I could not but hope that I might
survive to see Rome under happier circumstances.

Amid manifold dangers as I was, I was not gloomy. We entered the city by
the Flaminian Gate, of course, and, in the waning light, walked boldly the
whole length of the Via Lata, diagonally across from the Forum of Trajan,
under his Triumphal Arch, through the Forum of Augustus, and across, the
Forum of Nerva past the Temple of Minerva and so to the Subura. All the
way from the City Gate to the slum district I marvelled at Maternus: he
never asked his way, took every turn correctly; and, amid the splendors of
Trajan's Forum, behaved like a frequenter, habituated to such
magnificence. Equally did he seem at home amid such crowds as he could
never have mingled with. He comported himself so as to attract no remark.

As we passed the Temple of Minerva I sighed and remarked that I would give
anything short of life itself for a bath.

"You need not give that much; we can bathe for a _quadrans_, and, since
you mention it, we shall all be better for a bath."

"There is no reason why you and the rest should not bathe," I rejoined,
ruefully, "but with my back and shoulder a bath is no place for me."

"Pooh!" laughed Maternus, "you grew up in Rome and I never set foot in it
till today, yet you know no bath you dare enter, while I can lead you to a
bath-house where no one will heed or notice brand-marks or scourge-sears."

It was, in fact, close by and I had the first vapor bath I had enjoyed
since leaving Villa Spinella. After we left the bath Maternus bought three
cheap little terra-cotta lamps and a small supply of oil.

At the cheaper sort of cook-shop we ate a hearty meal, with plenty of very
bad wine. Then we went where, manifestly, arrangements had been made for
our lodging, in a seven-story rookery, such as I had never entered and had
hardly seen from outside. Its entrance was from the Subura and opened near
the middle of one of the long sides of the courtyard, the pavement of
which was very uneven from irregular sinking and its many shaped stones
much worn. Out in it, at almost equal distances from the ends, the sides
and each other, stood two circular curb-walls, each about a yard high; one
the well, whence was drawn all the water used by the inmates; the other
the sewer-opening, down which went all manner of refuge. The ascent to the
upper stories was by an open stone stair in one corner of the court. All
round the court was an open arcaded corridor, running behind the stair in
its corner. Above it were six similar arcaded galleries, one for each
upper floor. The rooms, judging from those into which I looked through
open doors, appeared all alike. Ours were floored, walled and roofed with
coarse cement, full of small broken stone, and not very smoothly finished.
The floors were worn smooth by long use. The only opening to each was the
door, over which was a latticed window reaching to the vaulted ceilings of
the gallery and room.

Our rooms were on the fourth floor. There were three rooms, each with
three canvas cots. Maternus left the six others to dispose themselves as
they pleased. He and I took the middle room. Quite as a matter of course
he bolted he door, drew his cot across it, and as soon as I had composed
myself to sleep, sat on his cot and blew out the little terra-cotta lamp.

Next morning he quite unaffectedly discussed with me what he was to do
with me.

"In Rome, anywhere in Rome," he said, "you are likely to be recognized any
moment. I took the risk yesterday evening; I had to, I never attempt
impossibilities or worry over manifest necessities. But I never run
unnecessary risks. The natural thing to do with you is to leave you in
this room all day with two of my lads to watch you. I do not want to
irritate you, but I see no other way."

"I'll agree to come back here and stay here quietly," I said, "if you will
let me go out first for a while with you or any man or men you choose. I
want to go to the Temple of Mercury and I want you to give me back enough
of my money to buy two white hens to offer to the god."

"You surprise me," he said. "I shouldn't have expected a man of your
origin to pay particular attention to gaining the favor of Mercury. He is
more in the line of men like me. I am first and always devoted to Mithras,
of course. But Mercury comes high up on my list. I've a mind to take the
risk, go with you and buy four hens, two for you and two for me."

Actually we went out together shortly after sunrise, down the Subura,
through Nerva's Forum, and diagonally across the Forum itself. There I
quaked, for fear of being recognized; and marvelled at the coolness of
Maternus. He feasted his eyes and mind on the gorgeousness about us, but
with such discretion that no one could have conjectured that he was a
foreigner, viewing Rome for the first time.

On down the Vicus Tuscus we went into the meat market, where he bought
four plump, young, white hens. As we started on with them, each of us
carrying two, he asked his first question.

"What building is that?" nodding.

"The Temple of Hercules," I told him.

"I thought so," he said, "they always build his circular. We'll stop in
there on our way back. I never miss a chance to ask his help."

Whereas, when I made my offering before my flight the previous year, the
street had been deserted, since I passed along it within an hour after
sunrise, now it was humming with unsavory life, the eating-stalls under
the vaults crowded, throngs about the Babylonian and Egyptian seers who
prophesied anyone's future for a copper, tawdry hussies leering before the
doors of their dens, unsavory louts chatting with some of them, idlers
everywhere. This festering cess-pool of humanity Maternus regarded with
disdain and contempt manifest to me, but carefully concealed behind a
bland expression.

When we came out of the Temple of Mercury, after making our offering,
Maternus whispered:

"Walk very much at ease and as if your mind were as much as possible at
peace; two men opposite are watching us."

I assumed my most indifferent air and carefully avoided looking across the
street, except for one cautious glance from the lowest step of the Temple.
Then I glimpsed, leaning against a pier of the outer arcade of the Circus
Maximus, two men wrapped in dingy cloaks, for the morning had been cool.
After we were in the Temple of Hercules, Maternus asked:

"Did you recognize them?"

"One I had never seen," I replied. "The other I have seen before, but I do
not know who he is nor where I have seen him."

Not until after midnight that night did it suddenly pop into my head that
he was the same man whom I had first seen on horseback in the rain on the
crossroad above Vediamnum, the man whom Tanno had asserted was a
professional informer and accredited Imperial spy, the man who had glanced
into Nemestronia's garden and seen me with Egnatius Capito.

After we left the Temple of Hercules I expected him to conduct me back to
our lodgings for the day. He never suggested it, but kept me with him,
strolling about the central parts of the city as if he had nothing to
fear, walking all round the Colosseum and loitering through the Vicus
Cyprius, frankly amused at the sights we saw there.

He had no difficulty in finding shops of costumers: on the eve of the
Festival they displayed placards calling attention to their wares. The
first we entered had no Praetorian uniforms; but, as if the request for
them were a matter of course, its proprietor directed us to the shop of a
cousin of his who made a specialty of them. There I was amazed that such
laxity of law, or of enforcement of law, could possibly exist as would
permit such a trade. There was evidently a regular manufacture for this
festival of costumes simulating and travestying those of the Imperial Body
Guard. We were shown scores of them and the shop had them in a great pile.

The tunics were genuine tunics formerly worn by the actual Praetorian
Guards but discarded and sold as worn or faded. There were also many such
kilts and corselets and helmets. But as helmets, corselets and even kilts
wore out or lost their freshness more slowly than tunics, there were many
imitation kilts and corselets of sheepskin painted, and many cheap, light
helmets of willow-wood, covered with dogskin. But all these had genuine
plumes, as cast-off plumes were even more plentiful than second-hand
tunics.

As there was a strict enforcement of the law forbidding the sale,
transport, storage or possession of the weapons of any part of the
military establishment the shields and swords which went with the costumes
were all imitations; flimsy, but astonishingly deceiving to the eye, even
at a short distance. The shields were of sheep-skin stretched over an
osier frame, but painted outside so as to present the appearance of the
genuine Praetorian shields. The baldricks and belts were also of sheep-
skin, the scabbards of willow-wood, and the blades of the wooden swords of
fig-wood, so as to be completely harmless.

When Maternus proposed to hire twenty-one of these suits the proprietor
took it as a customary transaction, inspected and counted twenty-one
costumes and stated the charge for hiring them until the day after the
Festival. But he also stated that he did not hire costumes except to his
regular customers; strangers must not only make a deposit but produce as
vouchers two Romans in good standing and well known. Seeing Maternus at a
stick he added, easily and at once, that he sold costumes to any purchaser
for cash, without question, and agreed to repurchase the same costumes
after the Festival at nine denarii for every ten of the sale price, if the
costumes were brought back in good condition; if damaged, he would even so
repurchase them, but only at their damaged value.

Maternus at once agreed to buy on those terms and, without haggling,
accepted the price asked and paid it in gold. He then arranged for porters
to carry the costumes where he wanted them. This also was taken as a
matter of course.

Followed by the porters we returned to our lodging. Maternus left two
porters, with their loads, in the courtyard and with the third porter we
climbed three flights of stairs. The porter bestowed his huge pack in my
cell and there Maternus left me in charge of three of the men, with orders
that two must watch me till he returned. The third was to be at my orders
to fetch any eatables or drinkables I wanted; to this man Maternus gave a
handful of carefully counted silver coins.

There I remained until next morning, sleeping all the time I could get to
sleep and stay asleep; trying not to fret when awake; and by no means
displeased with the food and wine brought me.

Maternus slept that night, as the night previous, with his cot across our
door.

Next morning he said to me:

"I feel unusually reckless today. I've been thinking the matter over and
it seems to me that, on the day of the Festival, there will be thousands
of sightseers in dingy cloaks and umbrella hats. I am of the opinion that
you will run little risk on the streets anywhere in the poorer quarters of
the city. I'm going to take you out with me to see the fun. We'll keep far
away from where Caburus and Cossedo and their helpers are to take their
stands. We'll see the morning fun and then eat a hearty meal and sleep all
the afternoon."

Out we sallied, I and one varlet in our travelling outfit, Maternus and
six more habited as imitation Praetorians. Two of the ruffians had a
pretty taste in drollery and amused the crowd with buffooneries. Strange
to say the crowds seemed to think that they travestied Praetorians to a
nicety whereas neither had ever set eyes on a Praetorian and their antics
were the product of mere innate whimsicality.

I found the procession really interesting, with its various wonders and
marvels. I had never been in Rome at the time of the Feast of Cybele,
which was, of all the Festivals of the Gods, peculiarly the poor man's
frolic. And I had always wondered how it was possible so to tame and train
two healthy full-grown male lions as to have them draw a chariot with
Demeter's statue through miles of crowded streets. After seeing them pass
I concluded that they were dazed by the glare, the crowds and the noise,
and too cowed to be dangerous.

At the license in the streets I was amazed. I saw a dozen men, each
attired as Prefect of the Palace; a score of loose women dressed in an
unmistakable imitation of the Empress, consuls by scores and similar
counterfeits of every honored official or acclaimed individual. In
particular, every corner had a laborious presentation of Murmex Lucro, the
most popular gladiator in Rome. Almost equally frequent were presentments
of Agilius Septentrio, the celebrated pantomimist; and of Palus, champion
charioteer.

And I saw, amid roars of laughter, jeers, cat-calls and plaudits, no less
than three different roisterers got up, cautiously and in inexpensive
stuffs, but recognizably, as caricatures of the Emperor himself; not, of
course, in his official robes, but in such garments as he wore in his
sporting hours. These audacious merrymakers were ignored by the police and
military guards.

Not long after noon Maternus declared that he had had enough. We ate at a
decidedly good cook-shop, where we had excellent food and good medium
wine. When I waked near sunset Maternus reported that he had slept all the
afternoon: certainly I had.

He then explained to me that he was to make his attempt in the Gardens of
Lucius Verus, where Commodus had this year decreed the torchlight
procession. He was again entirely frank.

"Your part," he said, "will be merely to point out Commodus to me. If I
decide not to make any attempt on him I shall expect you to return here
with me and abide by whatever decision our association makes at its next
meeting: I cannot foresee whether they will vote to disband or to plan
another venture. If I make my attempt, and I think I shall, for,
apparently, both Caburus and Cossedo have blenched or failed, since no
rumors of any excitement have reached us, you will be free the moment you
see me stab Commodus. You must then look out for yourself and fend for
yourself: you and I are never to meet again unless by some unimaginable
series of miracles."

And he gave me four silver pieces, saying:

"This will keep you in food for a long time, if you are sparing. Good
luck!"

Then, habited as in the morning, we sallied out, and ate at a cook-shop we
had never before entered, which was full of revellers dressed as votaries
of Isis, as Egyptians, as cut-laws, as Arabians, as anything and
everything. And as we crossed the city on our way to the Aelian Bridge,
as we were passing through a better part of it, I was struck with the
craziness of the costumes, many imitating every imaginable style of garb:
Gallic, Spanish, Moorish, Syrian, Persian, Lydian, Thracian, Scythian and
many more; but many also devised according to no style that ever existed,
but invented by the wearers, in a mad competition to don the most
fantastic and bizarre garb imagination could suggest.

In the torchlit gardens I perceived at once that it would be very easy for
Maternus to edge close to the actual bodyguard, mingle with them, pass
himself off as one, get near the Emperor and make a rush at him. He had
chosen a spot where the procession was to circle thrice about a great
statue of Cybele set up for that occasion on a temporary base in the
middle of a round grass-plot. His idea was that I was to point out
Commodus to him on the first round and he to consider the disposition of
the participants in the procession and make his attempt on the second or
third round.

Standing, as we did, in the front row of a mass of revellers packed as
spectators along the incurved outer rim of the ring, we had a surpassingly
good view of the procession as it entered the circle. There were various
bands of votaries and then six eunuch priests, their faces whitened with
flour, their garb a flowing robe of light vivid yellow, convoying a brace
of panthers, pacing as sedately as the brace of lions in the morning
procession, drawing a light chariot in which sat a diademed, robed and
garlanded image of Cybele, very gaudy and garish. Behind the chariot paced
two priests of Cybele, not Phrygian Eunuchs, but Roman officials, in their
pontifical robes, a pair of dignified old senators, ex-consuls both,
Vitrasius Pollio and Flavius Aper, full of self-importance. Then came the
Chief Priest, tall, full-bearded, swarthy, his robes a blaze of gold and
jewels, pacing solemnly, on either side of him, as assistant priest, a
young Roman nobleman, chosen from the college of the Pontiffs of Cybele,
habited in very gorgeous robes. One was Marcus Octavius Vindex, son of the
ex-consul, a very handsome young man; the other, to my amazement,
Talponius Pulto.

At sight of my life-long enemy who had always rebuffed my overtures
towards the establishment of courteous relations between us, who had
insulted me a thousand times, who had sponsored the informer whose
insinuations had caused my downfall, revengeful rage and self-
congratulation at my opportunity filled me.

For, between the two pompous old senators and this dignified, showy and
impressive trio, capered a score of eunuch priests clashing cymbals and
among them Commodus also clashing cymbals and amazingly garbed. I have
never been able to conjecture how his headgear was managed. He had a band
round his forehead and from that band rose a sphere of some light
material, apparently a framework of whalebone covered with silk, a sphere
fully a yard in diameter, all gleaming with the sheen of silk, and white
with an unsurpassable whiteness. His robe, or tunic or whatever it was,
was of the same or a similar glossy white silk. Round his neck was a
golden collar, and gold anklets of a similar pattern clanked on his
ankles. From the links or bosses of the collar to the links or bosses of
the anklets streamed silken ribbons of the same intense light yellow we
had seen in the robes of the panther-keepers. Two of the eunuch priests
fanned him with peacock feather fans, so that the ribbons fluttered and
shimmered in the torchlight. He wore soft shoes or slippers of the same
vivid yellow. Clashing his cymbals he shrieked and capered with the eunuch
priests.

I was more than shocked to see the Prince of the Republic so degrade
himself, to see him exhibit the acme of the craze for devising
unimaginably fantastic costumes for this Festival.

Besides being shocked, I was terrified, even numb with terror. I knew that
Maternus would never believe me if I indicated this gaping zany and
asserted that it was our Emperor: yet Maternus had such an uncanny power
of interpreting the expression of face of any interlocutor that I dreaded
to tell him anything save the exact truth. I was in a dilemma, equally
afraid to tell the truth, for fear the improbability of it would infuriate
Maternus and convince him of my treachery; or to take the obvious course,
for fear some subtle shade of my tone or look might similarly impel him to
stab me.

As the convoy passed Maternus whispered, softly and unhurriedly:

"Which is he?"

In my panic I chose the less dangerous alternative. Pulto was by far the
most Imperial figure in the throng; his great height, the fine poise of
his head, his royal bearing, his regal expression, his stately port, all
contributed to make him dominate the assemblage. I felt that Maternus
might believe him Commodus and could never believe Commodus an Emperor or
even a noble.

I indicated Pulto, haughty, dignified, handsome and magnificently habited.

Maternus, apparently, believed me implicitly.

He whispered again.

"I am sure to get him when they come round again. Watch for my blow. If I
land or if I am seized, fend for yourself. Good luck and Mercury be good
to both of us. Farewell."

As the procession came round again I could hear my heart thump; but, to my
gaze, Maternus, handsome in his imitation Praetorian uniform, appeared the
personification of calmness.

When again the Imperial zany and his fan-bearers and posturing eunuchs had
passed us and the High Priest and his Acolytes were opposite us, Maternus
slipped forward between two of the Praetorians of the escort.

At that instant I felt a grip on my arm and Agathemer's voice whispered:

"Come!"

Together we slunk back into the crowd, and when the yell arose behind us,
presumably at sight of Pulto slaughtered by Maternus, we were well clear
of the press and in the act of darting into the shrubbery. In fact we got
clear away unpursued, unmolested, unhindered.



CHAPTER XVIII

GALLOPING


As the Gardens of Verus are north of the Tiber we had no difficulty
whatever in casting a wide circuit to the left and coming out on the
Aurelian Highway. All the way to it we had met no one; on it we met no
one. After striking the highway we walked along it as fast as we dared. We
should have liked to run a mile or two, but we were careful to comport
ourselves as wayfarers and not act so as to appear fugitives. The night
was overcast and pitch dark. We must have walked fully four miles, which
is about one third of the way to Loria.

Then, being tired and with no reason whatever for going anywhere in
particular, we sat down to rest on the projecting base-course of a
pretentious tomb of great size but much neglected. It was so dilapidated,
in fact, that Agathemer, feeling about by where he sat, found an aperture
big enough for us to crawl into. It began to rain and we investigated the
opening. Apparently this huge tomb had been hastily built by dishonest
contractors, for here, low down, where the substructure should have been
as durable and solid as possible, they had cheapened the wall by inserting
some of those big earthenware jars which are universally built into the
upper parts of high walls to lighten the construction. A slab of the
external shell of gaudy marbles had fallen out, leaving an aperture nearly
as big as the neck of the great jar.

As the rain increased to a downpour we wriggled and squirmed through the
hole, barely squeezing ourselves in, and found the jar a bit dusty but dry
and comfortable. We wrapped ourselves in our cloaks, rejoicing to be out
of the torrent of water which now descended from the sky. Also we composed
ourselves to sleep, if we could.

We discussed our situation. We had our tunics, cloaks, umbrella hats and
road shoes, but no staffs, wallets or extras. Agathemer mourned for his
flageolet. Between us we had seven silver denarii and a handful of
coppers; Maternus had given Agathemer four denarii, as he had me, but
early in the day, and he had broken one to buy two meals.

He said that Caburus had either feared to make an attempt on Commodus, or
judged that no opportunity presented itself. Of Cossedo he knew no more
than I. Caburus had turned him over to two ruffians to watch and he had
eluded them in the crowds and made his way to the Gardens of Verus
expressly to find me, if possible, and help me to escape.

He said that our coins could not be made to last any length of time. Nor
could we well beg our way so near the city. Our store of gems in our
amulet-bags was of no use, because, as he said, he was personally known to
every gem-expert in Rome. Perusia was the nearest town to northward where
he might hope to find prompt secret buyers for gems of dubious ownership;
Perusia was far beyond the reach of two footfarers, without wallets and
with only seven denarii.

We argued that, whatever happened, the wisest course was to get some
sleep. Agathemer declared that we could fast over next day and night, if
necessary, and that we had best keep in our hole till next night, anyhow.
I acceded and we went to sleep.

We were waked by loud voices in altercation. The sky had cleared, the late
moon was half way up, and we conjectured that the time was about midway
between midnight and dawn, the time when all roads are most deserted.

Close to us, plain in the brilliant moonlight, were two stocky men on roan
or bay horses. The moonlight was bright enough to make it certain that
they were wearing the garb of Imperial couriers. The trappings of their
horses, frontlets, saddle cloths, saddle bags and all suited their attire.

But their actions, words, accents and everything about them was most
discordant with their horses and equipment.

Both were so drunk that they could just stick on their stationary and
impassive mounts, so drunk that they talked thickly. And they were
disputing and arguing and wrangling with their voices raised almost to a
shout. Thickly as they talked, we had listened to them but a few moments
when we were sure that they were low-class highwaymen who had robbed two
Imperial couriers, tied and gagged them, changed clothes with them and
ridden off on their horses, but had stopped to drink, raw and unmixed, the
couriers' overgenerous supply of heady wine; two kid-skins, by their
utterances. Now they were reviling each other, each claiming a larger
proportion of the coins than he had.

Here was a present from Mercury, indeed. It was a matter of no difficulty
to crawl out of our hole, to approach Carex and Junco, as they called each
other, to pluck their daggers from their sheaths and to render the
highwaymen harmless, to pull them from their saddles, tie their hands with
the lashings of their saddle-bags and to gag them with strips torn from
their tunics; for they were too drunk to know that they were being
attacked; so drunk that each, as we dragged him from his horse, fancied
that the other was assaulting him and expostulated at such unfair behavior
on the part of a pal. So drunk were they that both were snoring before we
tied their feet with more strips torn from their tunics.

Like sacks we hauled them out of the moonlight, into the shadow of the
tomb and then stripped them except of their tunics, fitted on ourselves
the accoutrements they had stolen, and thrust them, trussed, gagged,
snoring and helpless, into the hole where we had taken shelter.

On horseback we rode like couriers, full gallop, passed Loria before the
first hint of dawn showed through the moonlight and, about half way
between Fregena and Alsium turned aside into a lovely little grove about
an old shrine of Ops Consiva, a grove whose beauty and the openness of
whose tree-embowered, grass-carpeted spaces was plain even by the
moonlight.

As soon as it was light enough to see we took stock of our windfall. The
horses were both bays and of the finest; their trappings new and in
perfect condition. Our attire was made up of the best horsemen's boots, a
trifle too large for us, but not enough to be so noticeable as to betray
us, or even enough to make us uncomfortable; of horsemen's long rain-
cloaks and of excellent umbrella hats, all of the regulation material,
design and color. In the saddle-bags were excellent blankets, our
despatches, legibly endorsed with the name, Munatius Plancus, of the
official at Marseilles to whom we were to deliver them; and our
credentials, entitling us to all possible assistance from all men and to
fresh horses at all change-houses. From these diplomas we learned that our
names were Sabinus Felix and Bruttius Asper.

This crowned our luck. We crowed with glee over the unimaginably helpful
coincidence that these diplomas should be made out for couriers with the
very names which we had chosen at haphazard at the commencement of our
flight and had been using to each other ever since.

The provision of cash was ample: besides plenty of silver there was more
than enough gold to have carried us all the way to Marseilles, on the most
lavish scale of expenditure, without resorting to our credentials to get
us fresh horses.

We ate liberally of the couriers' generous provision of bread, cheese,
sausage, olives and figs; well content to quench our thirst at the spring
by the shrine. Then we muffled ourselves in our cloaks, tightened the
straps of our umbrella hats, jammed them down on our heads, pulled the
brims over our faces, mounted and set off, elated, sure of ourselves, well
fed, well clad, well horsed, opulent, accredited, gay.

As couriers vary in their theories of horse-husbanding and in their
practice of riding, we had a wide choice, and elected to get every mile we
could out of these fine horses and not change until as far as possible
from Rome. We found their most natural lope and, pausing to drink and to
water them sparingly at the loneliest springs we descried, we pressed on
through or past the Towers, Pyrgos, and Castrum Novum to Centumcellae.
That was all of forty-one miles from the shrine of Ops Consiva and full
fifty from Rome, but, partly because we had to spare ourselves, as we had
not been astride of a horse since we crawled through the drain at Villa
Andivia, we so humored our horses that we arrived in a condition which the
ostler took as a matter of course, and it was then not quite noon, which
we both considered a feat of horsemanship.

At Centumcellae we ate liberally and enjoyed the inn's excellent wine.
Also we set off on strong horses. From there only the danger of getting
saddle-sick after our long disuse of horses and the certainty of getting
saddle-sore, as we did, restrained us. We tore on through Martha, Forum
Aurelii, and a nameless change-house, spurring and lashing as much as we
dared, for we dared not disable ourselves with blisters, changing at each
halt and getting splendid horses, our diplomas unquestioned. Thus at dusk
we reached Cosa, forty-nine miles from Centumcellae and a hundred and nine
miles from Rome.

We dreaded that we should wake too sore to ride, perhaps too sore to
mount, perhaps even too sore to get out of bed. But, while stiff and in
great pain, we managed to breakfast and get away.

That day we, perforce, rode with less abandon, though we both felt less
discomfort after we warmed to the saddle. We nooned at Rosellae, thirty-
three miles on, and slept at Vada, the port of Volaterrae, fifty-six miles
further, a day of eighty miles. Next day we were, if anything, yet sorer
and stiffer, certainly we were less frightened. So we took it easier,
nooning at Pisa, thirty miles on, and sleeping at Luna, thirty-five
further, a day of only sixty-five miles, rather too little for Imperial
couriers. Our third morning we woke feeling hardened and fit: we made
thirty-nine miles before noon and ate at Bodetia; from there we pushed on
forty-five miles to Genoa, an eighty-four mile day, more in character.

At Genoa we were for taking the coast road. We were all for haste. We had
ridden amazingly well for men who had not been astride of a horse for
nearly a year; we had ridden fairly well for Imperial couriers; but we had
not ridden fast enough to suit ourselves. From Cosa onward we had been
haunted by the same dread. We had imagined the real Bruttius Asper and
Sabinus Felix reporting their loss of everything save their tunics, we
imagined the hue and cry after us, the most capable men in the secret
service, riding fit to kill their horses on our trail. At Cosa, at Vada,
at Luna we had waked dreading to find the avengers up with us and
ourselves prisoners; at Rosellae, at Pisa, at Bodetia, we had eaten with
one eye on the door, expecting every instant to see our pursuers enter; so
at every change-station, while our trappings were taken from our weary
cattle and girthed on fresh mounts. So we were for the coast road as
shortest.

But the innkeeper, who was also manager of the change-stables, told us
that between Genoa and Vada Sabatia the road was blocked by landslides,
washouts and the destruction of at least three bridges by freshets. He
advised us to take the carriage-road by Dertona, the Mineral Springs,
Crixia and Canalicum. But we thought of the pursuers thundering after us
and anyhow we wanted none of Dertona, recalling our encounter with
Gratillus at Placentia. We took the coast road, and, though we had to ford
two streams and swam our horses over one, although we had to slide down
slopes and toil up others afoot, leading our horses after us, although a
full third of the road was mere rough track, like a wild mountain trail,
though the distance was all of forty-five miles, yet we slept at Vada
Sabatia, very thankful to have done in one day what would have taken us at
least three by the hundred and fifty-one mile mountain-detour through
Dertona, and still more thankful for the lonely safety of the coast road.

From Vada Sabatia the coast road was better, but still far from easy. We
were well content to noon at a tiny change-house between Albingaunum and
Albintimilium and to sleep at Lumo, seventy-seven miles on. Next morning
early, only six miles from Lumo, but six miles of hard climbing up a
twisty, rock-cut road, we came out at its crest, where there is a
wonderful view up and down the coast and out southwards to sea, and there
passed the boundary of Italy and entered Gaul. That night we slept at
Matavonium, eighty-four miles forward and but seventy-four miles from
Marseilles.

So far we had had no adventures, had been accepted without question
everywhere, had seen no look of suspicion from anyone, had encountered no
other couriers, except those whom we met and passed on the road, we and
they lashing, spurring and hallooing, each party barely visible to the
other through the cloud of dust both raised.

On that day, our eighth out from Rome, at noon at Tegulata, we had
adventure enough.

The common room of the inn was low-ceiled, I could have jumped and touched
the carved beams with my hand. But it was very large indeed, something
like thirty yards long and fully twenty yards wide, with two Tuscan
columns about ten yards apart in the middle of it, supporting the seven
great beams, smoke-blackened till their carving was blurred, on which the
ceiling-joists were laid. The floor was of some dark, smooth-grained
stone, polished by the feet which had trod it for generations; there were
six wide-latticed windows, and, opposite the door, a great fire-place,
with an ample chimney above and four bronze cranes for pots or roasts.
Each arm had several chains and actually, when we entered, four pots were
boiling, and a kid was roasting over the cunningly bedded fire of clear
red coals, the fresh caught wood at the back, where the smoke would not
disflavor the roasting meat. It was the most civilized inn we had entered
on our post-ride and spoke of the nearness of Marseilles, though every
detail of its construction, furnishings and methods was Gallic, not Greek.

Unlike our inns, where the drink and food is set on low, round-topped,
one-legged, three-footed tables, about which are placed the backless
stools or low-backed, wooden-seated chairs on which the customers sit, it
had, Gallic fashion, big, heavy-topped, high-set, rectangular, six-legged
tables with benches along their long sides, others with chairs, like those
at the ends of every table; solid, high-backed chairs, comfortable for the
guests, whose knees were well under the high-topped, solid-legged tables.

Agathemer and I took seats at the table in the far corner to the right of
the door; only two of the five were occupied, and they by but two at each;
plainly local customers. We told the host that we were in haste and asked
for whatever fare he had ready. He brought us an excellent stew of fowl,
with bread and wine and recommended that we wait till he had broiled some
sea-fish, saying they were small but toothsome, fresh-caught and would be
ready in a few moments. The fish tempted us, and, so near Marseilles, we
felt no hurry at all, for we meant to loiter on the road and pass the gate
about an hour before sunset, calculating that the later in the day we
arrived the better chance we had of delivering our despatches, as we must,
without being exposed as not the men we passed for, and of somehow
disembarrassing ourselves of our accoutrements and donning ordinary attire
bought at some cheap shop.

As we sat, tasting the eggs, shrimps, and such like relishes before
attacking the stew, which was too hot as yet, there entered two men in the
attire of Imperial couriers. Agathemer kept his face, but I am sure I
turned pale. I expected, of course, that they would walk over to our
table, greet us, ask our names, and like as not turn out intimates of
Bruttius Asper and Sabinus Felix, so that we would be exposed then and
there.

But they merely saluted, perfunctorily, and took seats at the table
nearest the door on their left, diagonally the whole space of the room
from us. Agathemer and I returned their salute as precisely as we could
imitate it, thankful that they had saluted, so as to let us see what the
couriers' salute was, for we had felt much anxiety all along the road,
since neither of us, often as we had seen it, could recall it well enough
to be sure of giving it properly, if we met genuine couriers, or, terrible
thought, encountered an inspector making sure that the service was all it
should be and on the outlook for irregularities.

The moment they were at the table they bawled for instant service, urged
the host, reviled the slaves, fell on their food like wolves, eating
greedily and hurriedly and guzzling their wine. We could catch most of
their orders, but of their almost equally loud conversation, since they
talked with their mouths full, we caught only the words "Dertona" and
"Crixia"; these comforted us; either they had left Rome before us and we
had overtaken them, or they came from Ancona or somewhere on the road from
Ancona to Dertona or more likely from Aquileia, or somewhere on the road
from it, or perhaps even from beyond it.

They disposed of relishes, boiling stew, a mountain of bread, and a lake
of wine, besides olives and fruit, in an incredibly short time, and then,
again perfunctorily saluting us, rushed out.

Our fish had just been served and were as good as prophesied. A moment
after the exit of the couriers there entered a plump, pompous individual,
every line of whose person and attire advertised him a local dandy, while
every lineament and expression of his face, his every attitude and
movement, equally proclaimed him a busybody.

He walked straight to our table, bowed to us and nodded to one of the
slave-waiters, who instantly and obsequiously vanished. Our new table-
companion at once entered into conversation with us, speaking civilly, but
with an irritating self-sufficiency.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I am acquainted with many of your calling who pass
through here, but I do not recall having ever seen you before. My estates
are near Tegulata and I am chiefly concerned with wine-growing. My wines,
indeed, are reckoned the best between Baeterrae and Verona. My name is
Valerius Donnotaurus; may I know yours?"

I kept my eyes on his face as I introduced Agathemer as Bruttius Asper and
he me as Sabinus Felix. It seemed to me that his expression was not
altogether free from a momentary gleam of suspicion; but my anxiety might
have seen what was not there, I could not be sure. At any rate he bowed
politely, asked me whence we came, when we had left Rome, and the latest
news. He commended our speed and our having overcome the difficulties of
the coast road between Genoa and Vada Sabatia.

The waiter, according to some subtle characteristic of his nod, brought
wine for three, which he assured us was wine from his estates, though not
his best, yet worth trying, and he invited us to drink with him. We could
not well refuse and we were glad to be able to praise the wine, which, for
Gallic wine, was really not so bad. Before we had finished our fish he
excused himself and went out.

We dallied with our food, counting on giving the two couriers time to get
away before we came out into the courtyard. But we learned afterwards
that, as we had shown our credentials and ordered fresh horses before we
entered the inn, the change-master would not give them the two best horses
which he was holding ready for us and had in the yard no other horses.
They had demanded our fresh horses, cursed him and blustered, but could
not move him and so were still berating him when Donnotaurus came out to
them. He, after introducing himself, asking their names and route and,
commiserating them on the poor supply of horses, had casually inquired
whether they were acquainted with two couriers named Bruttius Asper and
Sabinus Felix. On their answering that they knew both of them he had
chatted a while longer and then asked them to reënter with him the inn's
common-room, alleging that they could assist him on an important matter
touching the service of the Emperor. According to the change-master, who
told us all this later, they had complied in a hesitating and unwilling
manner, as if numb and bewildered.

We, dallying over some excellent fruit and the not unpalatable wine,
knowing nothing of all this, saw the three reënter together and approach
us, the couriers looking not only reluctant, but dazed: up to us
Donnotaurus led them.

"Do you know these gentlemen?" he demanded.

"Never set eyes on them in my life," one of them disclaimed. The other
nodded.

"I thought so!" Donnotaurus cried. "These men claim to be Bruttius Asper
and Sabinus Felix. You say you know Bruttius Asper and Sabinus Felix. You
do not know these men. Therefore they are passing under false names. They
are not Imperial couriers, but some of the scoundrels who have been posing
as Imperial couriers and using the post-roads for their own private ends.
I thank you for assisting me to expose them. It now remains to arrest
them!"

I had thought when the two entered first and saluted us that their
expression of face was queer; now it was queerer: they looked like some of
the deer we had seen in the net-pocket at Spinella, frantic to escape and
seeing no way out.

One mumbled something about having barely seen Bruttius Asper and Sabinus
Felix and not being sure that we were not they. But Donnotaurus neither
heard nor heeded.

"Here, Tectosax!" he called to the host, "come help us arrest these men!
They are bogus! They are shams! They are not couriers!"

"One man arrest two!" the host demurred.

"I only want your help," Donnotaurus bawled. "Call Arecomus and the
ostlers. They can make short work of it."

At this point Agathemer found his voice, and he spoke steadily, coolly and
firmly, even with a bit of a drawl.

"Don't do anything you will have to be sorry for," he said. "Better not
make any mistake."

At his utterance the two couriers were manifestly even more uncomfortable
than before. But Donnotaurus only bawled louder to the host.

"I don't arrest travellers," the host protested, "I feed 'em. Arecomus
don't arrest travellers, he horses 'em. Anyhow, there's no magistrate
here; talking of arresting is folly.

"And I wish you'd quit your foolishness, Donnotaurus. This is the third
row you've started here within six months. You're giving my inn a bad name
and ruining my trade. You're my best customer, yourself, but you are more
nuisance than all the rest of my customers put together. I'd rather you'd
move out of the neighborhood or keep away from my inn than go on with such
nonsense. I don't want anybody arrested on my premises or threatened with
arrest. And you've nothing to go on in this case, anyhow."

Donnotaurus appeared at a loss, but obstinate and about to insist, when
the doors opened and there entered a bevy of staff officers, all green and
gold and blue and silver, clustered about a huge man in the full regalia
of a general, his crimson plumes nodding above his golden helmet, his
crimson cloak dangling about his golden cuirass, his gilt kilt-straps
gleaming over his crimson tunic-skirt. There was no mistaking that
incredible expanse of face, seemingly as big as the body of an ordinary
man, those bleary gray eyes under the shaggy eyebrows, their great baggy
lower lids, the heavy cheeks and the vast sweep of russet beard.

It was Pescennius Niger himself!

As he was later proclaimed Emperor and narrowly missed overcoming his
competitors and emerging master of the world, the mere encounter has a
certain interest. Its details, I think, even more.

Up to us he strode.

"What's all this?" he demanded in his big, authoritative voice. Agathemer
and I stood up and saluted.

I expected Agathemer, who knew the value of speaking first, to anticipate
Donnotaurus, but he let Donnotaurus give his version of the affair.

"I'm competent to decide this," said Pescennius, "and I shall."

And he eyed us, asking: "What have you two to say?"

"In the first place," said Agathemer, "I ask you to examine our papers."

He took from the seat of his chair, where he had placed it as he stood up,
our despatch bag, opened it, and displayed its contents; the package of
despatches, our credentials, and the diploma entitling us to change of
horses, with the endorsement of each change-master from Centumcellae
onwards.

Pescennius examined these meditatively.

"These papers," he said, "are in perfect order. But they do not prove that
you are the men named in them though they incline me to believe it. I
should believe it, but these men deny that you are Bruttius Asper and
Sabinus Felix."

"And why do they deny it?" Agathemer queried triumphantly. "Why, because
they were caught by this busybody and asked whether they knew Bruttius
Asper and Sabinus Felix and they said they did; then haled in here by him
and confronted with us and asked whether they knew us and of course said
they did not, as they did not. And why do they not know us? Because they
are not couriers at all, but men passing themselves off as couriers. Our
papers are in perfect order, as you say. Ask them for their papers. They
haven't any!"

By the faces of the two I saw that Agathemer had guessed right. They, in
fact, were impostors. They had no despatches, no credentials, no papers at
all, except a diploma with entries from Bononia, through Parma, Placentia
and Clastidium to Dertona and so onwards; a diploma so manifestly a clumsy
forgery that, at sight of it, I wondered how it had fooled the stupidest
change-master.

Pescennius barely glanced at it. To his apparitors, he said:

"Arrest these three!"

In a trice Donnotaurus and the two impostors were seized.

To us he said:

"Gentlemen, I apologize for having doubted you, even for a moment. And I
thank you for having so cleverly and quietly exposed these precious
gentry. I shall keep an eye on them and on this local meddler; I'll
investigate them in Marseilles.

"Meantime I must eat. So I'll remain here. You are in haste and you have
eaten. Your horses are ready. I need not detain you. I'll see you at
Marseilles tomorrow. I congratulate you on your horsemanship. To have
overtaken me, even when I am travelling by carriage, is no mean exploit. I
am pleased to have made your acquaintance."

And he bade us farewell, allowed us to pass out, and seated himself at our
table.



CHAPTER XIX

MARSEILLES AND TIBER WHARF


We rode the first mile at full gallop and then slowed to an easy canter
which permitted of conversation. All the way to Calcaria we discussed our
situation, prospects and plans. We revised our previous view and agreed
that we had best not be too late entering Marseilles, as we might not have
time to buy cloaks, hats and footgear, change and get rid of our equipment
and find lodgings.

Then again, of course, we fell into a panic at the idea of riding into
Couriers' Headquarters and perhaps facing a dozen men who knew Sabinus
Felix and Bruttius Asper as well as we knew each other. We went over, for
the tenth time, a series of absurd suggestions and tried to conceive some
way by which we might sneak in at some other gate than that to which our
road led, might avoid delivering our despatches and might find ourselves
safe in ordinary clothes in some obscure lodging.

But we came to the conclusion that, it would be highly suspicious to act
otherwise than as genuine couriers would act. There was nothing for it but
to ask our way to Couriers' Headquarters, which would not arouse
suspicion, since couriers unacquainted with Marseilles must be constantly
arriving there, as green or shifted couriers did at all cities; to ride
boldly in; to take what came if we were exposed, to deliver our despatches
and stroll out for an airing if we had luck.

Even if we had luck so far I could not forecast our being able to buy
ordinary clothing and change into it without causing suspicion,
investigation, and our arrest and ruin. Agathemer argued that, if Maternus
could find, in Rome, a bath where we could bathe without anyone so much as
noticing our brand-marks and scourge-scars, he ought to be able to find in
wicked, easy-going Marseilles a shop whose proprietor would ask no
question except had we the cash. I was palpitating with panic and could
foresee in a shopkeeper only an informer, greedy for a reward for our
apprehension.

Agathemer asked:

"Didn't I get us out of our troubles at Tegulata?"

"You certainly did!" I replied. "To a marvel."

"Well," he pursued, "I have full confidence in my intuition and my
resourcefulness. I feel that I can get us out of our troubles at
Marseilles, if you will let me alone and not interfere."

"I certainly won't interfere," I said, "to spoil any chance you think you
see. If you see one, signal me and I'll let you use all your dexterity."

After that we rode evenly to Calcaria and even gaily from there to
Marseilles, which we entered about two hours before sunset of a mild,
fair, delightful afternoon.

The gate-guard took our questions as a matter of course and directed us to
Couriers' Headquarters. There we found only one very stupid Gallic
provincial in charge, with a few slaves.

"I," said he, "am Gaius Valerius Procillus."

And he fingered the package of despatches, eyeing us meditatively. I
quaked, but kept my countenance.

He eyed us yet longer, but made no comment, wrote out a formal receipt for
the despatches, handed it to Agathemer and said:

"Munatius will not be back here at Headquarters till tomorrow. So I cannot
tell you whether you will have a day or more of rest, which you have
earned, or must set off again at once. Nor can I tell you whether, when
you do set off, it will be back to Rome, or onward with some of these same
despatches to Spain or Britain or Germany.

"Make the most of your time for rest and refreshment. You are free till
tomorrow at sunrise. Dromo will show you your quarters."

And he beckoned one of the slaves.

Headquarters was a low rectangle of two stories only, built of some stone
like lime-stone, roofed with red tiles and set about a spacious courtyard.
The ground floor seemed mostly stables; but, besides the office in which
we had found Procillus, it had other office rooms, a common-room, and we
glimpsed a bath and a kitchen. Dromo led us up the stone stair and along
the colonnaded portico of the second floor to clean rooms, provided with
comfortable cots, chests, stools, and not much else.

We threw our wallets on our cots and sat on stools. As soon as Dromo was
gone we opened our wallets, made ourselves comfortable, disposed all our
money about us in the body-belts we had bought at Genoa and went out,
unopposed and apparently unremarked.

Through the lively streets of Marseilles, in the mellow glow of the
evening sunshine, we made for the harborside, Agathemer nosing the air
like a dog on the scent. Presently he remarked:

"We are not far from what I am looking for."

And he turned up a side street to our right. As we took turn after turn
each street was less savory and more disreputable than the last till we
were in a sort of alley populated it seemed by slatternly trulls and
trollops.

"This," said Agathemer, "is the quarter of the town I am after, but not
quite the part of it I want."

At the end of the alley he questioned a boy, a typical Marseilles street
gamin. The lad nodded and led us still to our right, doubling back. After
two or three turns Agathemer was for dismissing him. But the lad insisted
on convoying us to some definite destination he had in mind.

Agathemer displayed a coin.

"Take that and get out and you are welcome to it," he said. "If you do not
agree to get out and to take it, you get nothing."

The boy eyed his face, took the coin, and vanished.

Unescorted we strolled along a clean street, all whitewashed blank lower
walls and latticed overhanging balconies; in the walls every door was
fast; through the lattices I thought I discerned eyes watching us.

Ahead of us a lattice opened and two faces looked out. In fact two girls
leaned out. Their type was manifest: well-housed, well clad, well fed,
luxurious, loose-living, light-hearted minxes.

One was plump, full-breasted, merry-faced, with intensely black and glossy
hair, a brunette complexion and in her cheeks a great deal of brilliant
color, which I afterwards found was all her own, but which at first I took
for paint. She wore a gown of a yellow almost as intense as the garb of
the priests of Cybele in the Gardens of Verus. Its insistent yellow was
intensified and set off by a girdle of black silk cords, braided into a
complicated pattern, and by shoulder-knots of black silk, with dangling
fringes, and by black silk lacings along her smocked sleeves.

Her companion was tall and slender and melancholy faced, her hair a dull
reddish-gold or golden-red, her face without color and a bit freckled, her
gown of pale blue.

The black-haired girl called:

"You've had a long ride and you deserve recreation and refreshment. Come
in. We don't know you two, but we have entertained couriers before this.
This is the place for you."

"Ah, my dear," Agathemer replied, "we not only have had a long ride but we
may have to set out on a longer tomorrow, and you know the proverb:

"'Light lovers are seldom long lopers.'"

"If you were too much disinclined to being light lovers," the girl
retorted, "you'd never be strolling down this street. Come in!"

"My dear," said Agathemer, "we'd love to come in. But remember the
proverb:

"'Gay girls are not good for great gallopers.'"

"Oh, hang your proverbs," the girl laughed down at us. "I don't know what
you are up to, but I like you. You don't look as austere as you talk. And
I don't mind your asceticism. If you don't appreciate the entertainment
offered you, you can have any sort of entertainment you prefer. A goblet
of wine and an hour's chat won't enervate you or make you less fit. Come
in."

A horrible old Lydian woman, one-eyed, obese, clean enough of body and
clothing, but a foul old beast for all that, let us in.

Agathemer introduced me as Felix and himself as Asper. The merry dark-
haired girl was named Doris and her languorous comrade Nebris. A more
garish and gaudy creature than Doris I have never beheld. I was struck
with her profusion of jewels, mostly topazes, but also many carbuncles and
garnets; rings, bracelets, a necklace, a hair-comb and many big-headed
hair pins. Nebris was equally bejewelled with turquoises and opals, but,
somehow, they did not glitter like the jewelry on Doris, but partook of
their wearer's subdued coloring. As Doris remarked next day:

"Nebris is very graceful and almost pretty; but she was born faded, and
nothing can brighten her."

We found the girls housed in as neat, cosy and charming a little nest as
heart could wish for. The atrium was tiny, the courtyard was tiny,
everything was tiny. But it all had an air which put us at our ease and
made us feel at home. Doris, the dark-haired, red-cheeked, full-contoured
lass, was plainly much taken with Agathemer and he with her; I always had
a weakness for red-headed girls and felt genuinely pleased that Nebris,
her long-limbed, long-fingered, pale-skinned, blurred, bleached comrade
seemed equally taken with me. The sofas of the tiny _triclinium_ were soft
and comfortable and, after eight days in the saddle, without a bath, we
were glad to loll on them. The wine was good and, without any effort, the
four of us fell into cheerful chatter about nothing in particular. I
complimented Doris on her dwelling and its furnishings and she at once
insisted on showing us all over it: the kitchen, bath and latrine beyond
the tiny courtyard and upstairs a second _triclinium_, as tiny as that
below, and four tiny bed-rooms, with handsomely carved beds, piled with
deep, soft feather beds and feather-pillows. Doris and Nebris each had her
bed-room furnished to harmonize with her own coloring. I complimented both
on their taste.

In Nebris's room Agathemer spied a flageolet.

"Do you play on this?" he asked.

"Sometimes," she said, "but Doris declares that my music makes her
melancholy, it's so dismal."

"I'll play you any number of lively tunes," Agathemer promised, possessing
himself of the flageolet.

We all went down into the lower _triclinium_, where we had left the wine,
and Agathemer charmed the girls with his music and, indeed, enlivened me
as much as them.

After a score of tunes, while our first goblets of wine were not yet
emptied, Agathemer said:

"Felix, I believe I see a way out of our troubles."

"Asper," I replied, "I leave it all to you."

"Doris, my dear," said Agathemer, "we are not Imperial Couriers at all."

Doris stared.

"You mean it?" she asked.

"So help me Hercules," said Agathemer solemnly.

"Well," she meditated, with a sharp intake of her breath. "You fooled me.
I thought you were genuine. How did you come in this rig?"

"We belong in Rome, both of us," Agathemer began. "How we came in
Placentia is no part of the story. But we were in Placentia and we got
into trouble. It wasn't serious trouble; we hadn't killed anybody, or
stolen anything, or cheated anybody; but it was trouble enough and aplenty
and we decided to get out of Placentia. Roads, road-houses, the towns
wouldn't have been healthy for us just then, so we took to the mountains.
Not as brigands, you understand, but we hadn't much cash and coin will go
farther in the mountains than anywhere else; and the weather was fine and
we meant to camp out all we could and stay out all summer and let things
blow over. It was hot, burning hot and we blundered on a cave, a nice,
big, airy dry cave. We went in to cool off and sleep. And we slept sound."

Then he told our entire story, just as it happened, from our capture by
Maternus and his band, all down to Rome, into the Gardens of Verus, out
along the Aurelian Highway among the tombs, all about the two drunken
robbers, in the moonlight, all about our gallop along the coast, all about
our encounter with Pescennius Niger.

Nebris kept looking from Agathemer to me, her pale gray eyes wide; but
Doris kept her snapping brown eyes on Agathemer's face from his first word
to his last.

"My!" she cried, "you have had adventures! Or you are the biggest liar and
the cleverest story-teller I ever met. If you invented that story you
deserve help as a paragon among improvisators; if you had all those
adventures you deserve help ten times over and you certainly need it.
Somehow I believe you. I'll help you all I can. You are in the right
place."

And she called:

"Mother, tell Parmenio to find Alopex and bring him to me at once. Tell
him to be quick."

One of the slaves went out, slamming the door after him.

"Doris," said Nebris, "can you really save these lads?"

"I can!" Doris asserted.

"With Pescennius Niger after them?" Nebris quavered.

"Even with Pescennius Niger after them," Doris declared.

"You must remember," she went on, "that Pescennius told these lads he
would not expect to see them till tomorrow morning. That gives me till
dark to set things going and till about two hours after sunrise to finish
the job. Unless, indeed, messengers announcing the robbery of the real
Sabinus Felix and Bruttius Asper happen to overtake Pescennius at Tegulata
or between there and Marseilles. Even then he can hardly get on these
lads' trail before dark. I think we shall be able to get these lads away
safe, no matter what happens. Anyhow let's be cheerful and make the best
of things."

And she filled our goblets.

Alopex could not have been far away. Very shortly we heard the door open
and shut and a youth came in, whom Doris introduced as Alopex. A more
repulsive being I have never seen. He was of medium height, slender,
habited in the embroidered, be-fringed garb fashionable among Marseilles
dandies, his hair curled and perfumed, his face much like a weasel's, his
complexion like cold porridge. I then had my first glimpse of a Marseilles
pimp, and I never want to see another. To me he looked capable of any
meanness, of any treachery, of any dishonor, of any crime.

"Alopex," Doris commanded, "look these gentlemen, over and take their
measure, then go out and buy hats, cloaks, boots and wallets for them,
suitable for a sea-voyage, as inconspicuous as possible, durable and
water-proof. Get a porter and bring them back with you, in a bag, so no
one on the streets will know what the porter is carrying. Be quick."

"Six gold pieces," said Alopex.

"If you spend six gold pieces on that outfit," said Doris, "you are an
ass; you shall have six gold pieces, but bring back a reasonable sum in
change, after paying the porter."

I gave Alopex six gold pieces and he went out.

"When he comes back," Agathemer asked, "can he pilot us to a bath, where
we shall be as safe as Felix was in Rome in the bath which Maternus knew
of?"

"He can and he shall," Doris replied. "You two certainly need a bath: and
however you are marked by scourges and brands, the marks won't be noticed
at the bath to which he will lead you."

"How about a dinner?" Agathemer queried.

"Asper, my dear," said Doris, "you said you had plenty of cash."

"We have," said Agathemer.

"Then," said she, "just give me one of those gold pieces you got from the
two drunken robbers and while you are bathing I'll order as fine a dinner
as Marseilles affords and have it here ready to serve when you two get
back from your bath."

Alopex soon appeared with a complete outfit for us and the prices which he
announced appeared reasonable to me and were agreed to by Doris. He handed
Agathemer a gold piece and three silver pieces.

"Change," Doris commanded, and we took off our boots and put on those
Alopex had brought us. Doris had Parmenio bundle up our couriers' attire,
boots and hats and said:

"I hate to see anything wasted. These outfits are going to be found at
Couriers' Headquarters and no one will ever suspect how they got there.
You can arrange that, Alopex, can't you?"

"Easy as that," said Alopex, snapping his fingers.

"Then you do it," she ordered, "and now take these gentlemen to Sosia's
bathhouse and give him the tip that they are all right."

Alopex acceded sulkily but obediently. That bath refreshed me amazingly
and Agathemer seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. It was after sunset
when we were back with Doris and Nebris, but still far from dark; in fact,
light enough to see well.

"Now Alopex," said Doris, briskly, "make your best speed to the harborside
and see if you can find a sure ship sailing at dawn, with a captain we can
trust, to get these lads out of Marseilles at once. I doubt if you can
find one, but do your best."

"We want a ship for Antioch," Agathemer put in.

"Alopex," said Doris, "find a ship to get these lads out of Marseilles at
dawn, never mind where it is bound for. Now go. And come back and report,
tonight, sure, and as soon as you can."

When he was gone she rounded on Agathemer:

"Asper," said she, "I am ashamed of you. You are a fool. With Pescennius
Niger likely after you, foaming at the mouth, raging because he let you
slip through his fingers, you talk of picking and choosing a destination?
Why lad, it makes no difference where the ship is bound so it is
seaworthy, has a captain I can trust and is headed away from Marseilles.
The point for you two is to get away from Marseilles quick. Whether you
land at Carthage, or even Cadiz, makes no difference. You can reship from
anywhere to anywhere, once you are clear of Marseilles. You might linger
in Marseilles, under my protection, but for your encounter with Pescennius
Niger. But after that there is nothing for you to do but get away quick."

She paused for breath, shaking her finger at us, like a nurse at naughty
children.

"And now," said she, "let's get at that dinner. I'm hungry and I'm sure
you ought to be."

We were. And the dinner was excellent, much of it unfamiliar. The
Marseilles oysters had a flavor novel, odd, not agreeable at first, but
very likable after a bit of experience with it. Everything out of the sea
was tasty. The main dish was a wonderful stew of fish, for which, Nebris
told us, Marseilles was famous. It was flavored with any number of
vegetables and relishes, and had bits of meat in it, but fish was the
chief ingredient and the blended flavors made it a most appetizing viand.

We ate slowly, had just finished our fruit and Agathemer was playing the
flageolet to the accompaniment of enthusiastic applause from both girls
when Alopex returned. He reported that no ship could possibly be gotten
for us the next morning and vowed that it would likely take him all day to
find one for the morning after.

"Then run off, like a good boy," said Doris, "and get a good long sleep so
as to be fresh tomorrow. Start before daylight and report to me before
noon. Run along."

"How about lodging for us?" Agathemer queried.

Doris half chuckled, half snorted.

"Run along, Alopex," she commanded.

When he was gone she faced Agathemer, arms akimbo.

"Asper," she said, "I'm going to save you two lads, no matter how
idiotically you act or talk. I like you, in spite of your ridiculous
ascetic airs and your nonsensical assumption of austerity. You can't make
me angry nor lose my protection, no matter how rude and chilly you are. If
you two don't appreciate the kind of entertainment we are offering you and
haven't sense enough and manners enough to accept it and be thankful, you
can sleep here anyhow, where and how you prefer. But you don't go out of
this house tonight, nor yet tomorrow, not if I know it. I'm going to save
you two, in spite of your folly."

Naturally, after that, we stayed where we were.

Next morning, not much more than an hour after sunrise, as we were again
enjoying flageolet music from Agathemer, Alopex returned and reported that
he had found a clean, roomy, seaworthy ship, captained by a man well and
favorably known to him and Doris, which would sail for Rome at dawn next
day.

"That's your ship," said Doris to us.

"After what I told you," Agathemer protested, "do you seriously advise us
to set sail for Rome?"

"I do," Doris declared. "Any place on earth is healthier for you two than
Marseilles. Were you in trouble in Rome before you got into trouble in
Placentia?"

"We were," said Agathemer, "and trouble of the deepest dye."

"Asper, my dear," said Doris, "no matter what sort of trouble you were in
at Rome, Rome can't be as dangerous for you as Marseilles. And by all I
hear, Tiber Wharf is a fine locality in which to hide and Ostia nearly as
good. Take my advice and sail. From Rome or Ostia you ought to find it
easy to ship for Antioch."

"I believe you," said Agathemer, "but I'd like to have more cash with me
than I have and I'd like to give you two girls enough gold pieces to serve
as a sort of indication of our gratitude. No gold either Felix or I shall
ever possess would be enough to repay you for what you have done for us.

"Now I have an emerald of fair size and of the best water and flawless at
that, sewn into the hem of my tunic. Since you are so capable at finding
safe shops and baths and ships, perhaps Alopex could guide me to a gem-
expert who would like to buy a fine emerald and who would pay a fair price
for it and keep his mouth shut."

"I had not meant you so much as to poke your nose out of doors till
tomorrow before sunrise," said Doris, meditatively, "but Pescennius won't
be suspicious yet unless a post with news of the robbery you profited by
has already reached here. I fancy it will be a safe risk for Alopex to
escort you to our gem-expert. He'll pay you an honest three-quarters of
the full value of your emerald. Alopex and I get a rake-off on his
profits, as we do on the fare of the men we ship out of Marseilles. Gems
and fugitives are part of my regular line of trade, with efficient help
from Alopex."

Actually Agathemer was gone about two hours and came back with a portly
bag of gold pieces. He found us in the _triclinium_, Nebris lying on the
sofa with me, and playing a dismal tune on her flageolet, Doris on the
other sofa laughing at us. He lay down by Doris, spilled the gold on the
inlaid dining table, divided it into four equal portions, pouched one,
made me pouch another, and piled one in Doris's lap, while I similarly
piled the other in Nebris's lap.

"Share and share alike," said Agathemer, "and you are welcome to whatever
part of his rake-off Alopex turns over to you."

"Asper," said Doris, "you are a dear. Play us a decent tune. Nebris's
music makes me doleful."

We spent the day eating, drinking, chatting, napping and listening to
Agathemer's very lively music.

For dinner we had another Marseilles fish-stew, entirely different from
the former, and entirely different from anything I had ever eaten
elsewhere.

Next morning Doris had us all up, bathed as well as we could in her tiny
bath, fed and ready to set out long before the first streak of dawn
appeared in the east. Agathemer, on his gem-selling expedition, had bought
all we needed to line our wallets except food, and that Doris supplied in
abundance and variety and of a sort calculated to be palatable two or
three days out at sea.

Doris was a creature no man could forget. She was buxom and buoyant and
completely content with her home, her way of life, her friends and her
prospects; and as capable and competent a human being as I ever met. When
Alopex gave his cautious tap on the door and slipped inside she bade us
farewell unaffectedly, kissed me like a mother, and gave Agathemer one
sisterly hug and one smacking kiss. If there were tears in her eyes none
ran down either cheek.

Nebris, on the other hand, wept over me and clung to me, with many kisses.

"There are not many like you," she sobbed. "You are gentle and courteous.
Our friends are generous enough, but they drink too much and are
boisterous and rough and coarse. I wish you weren't going. But I'm glad
I've had you even for so short a time."

And she gave Agathemer her flageolet, holding it out to him with her left
hand, her right arm round my neck.

"Come, come!" Doris bustled, "act sensible, child!"

We tore ourselves away and followed our unsavory guide through the dim,
foggy streets. I distrusted Alopex and should not have been astonished had
he turned us over to a batch of guards, waiting for us at any corner. But
he led us to a fine stone quay by which was moored as trig a merchantman
as I ever saw, new and fresh painted. Her captain was a bluff, hearty,
wind-tanned Maltese, Maganno by name, swarthy, hook-nosed and with a shock
of black curls. He counted the gold pieces Alopex gave him and said, in
Latin with a strong Punic accent:

"My ship is yours from here to Tiber wharf."

We shook hands on it, went on board and she cast off at once and was out
of the harbor before the sun had dispersed the fog. To our surprise we set
a course not about southeast as we had expected, but along the coast until
we passed Ulbia, and then almost due east. Maganno explained:

"Give me the open sea. You Italians are always for hugging the shore: we
Maltese, like our Phoenician ancestors, are all for clear water. I've
sailed between Corsica and Sardinia, and once was enough for me. I've made
this cruise many times and I always prefer to weather the Holy Cape."

North of Corsica, in fact, we sped, with a fair following wind and we had
an unsurpassably fortunate voyage; skies clear, wind always favorable,
steady and neither too gentle nor too strong. Our time we spent on deck
from before sunrise till long after sunset, dozing through the heat of the
day; Agathemer, when awake, playing on his flageolet, more often than he
was silent, to the delight of all on board. The crew were mostly Maltese,
like their master, using indifferently their own dialect, Greek of a sort
and very poor Latin. Maganno's Latin was better than theirs, but all racy
with his accent.

When we were already in sight of the month of the Tiber he sat down by us
and said:

"I was told that you lads were in trouble. But, certainly, you are lucky
voyagers. I have sailed from Ostia to Marseilles and from Marseilles to
Ostia forty-one times, and this forty-second is the easiest and quickest
passage ever I made. I like you lads. Anybody Doris recommends I always
help, for her sake. I'll also help you for your own. Tell me your plans
and I'll do my best for you."

He agreed with us that both the Northern Harbor and Ostia were certain to
be swarming with spies and secret-service agents and informers: so, for
that matter, was the harbor-side of Rome along the Tiber: but Rome, being
many times as large as Ostia, was likely to be proportionately easier to
hide in.

"That's where a small merchantman like mine," said he, "beats any big one.
That's why I sail always a small ship, never a big ship. A big merchantman
must berth at Ostia or at the Northern Harbor. My ship can sail on up the
Tiber to Rome. And I shall. You come on up with me."

His advice seemed good. We decided to stay on the ship all the way up to
Rome, and we did, lolling on deck to Agathemer's piping in the mellow
sunshine.

So idling we spoke more than once of the Aemilian Sibyl and of this second
fulfillment of her acrid prophecy.

Maganno promised to find us a ship loading for Antioch; seaworthy, roomy
and with a trustworthy captain.

This could not be done quickly and, he found us, meantime, lodgings with a
friend of his, a fat, bald, one-eyed cook-shopkeeper named Colgius, who
rented us a tiny room over his eating-room, which was not far from the
Ostian Gate, between the public warehouses and the slope of the Aventine.

At his table we fared pretty well, for his prices were low, his wine
drinkable, and most of his food eatable, though we did not try a second
time the viands for which he had the briskest demand: a very greasy pork
stew of which he was inordinately proud, amazingly rank ham, and
incredibly strong Campanian cheese; all three of which seemed to delight
his customers, who were an astonishing medley of slaves and freemen:
porters, stevedores, inspectors' assistants, coopers, mariners, jar-
markers, gig-drivers, teamsters, drivers of all sorts of hired vehicles,
drovers who herded cattle from Ostia to the cattle-market, vendors of
sulphur-dipped kindling-splints, collectors of street filth and others
equally low in class, equally novel to me.

Colgius took a fancy to us and undertook to show us Rome. It struck me
oddly that, whereas Nona, in every fiber an Umbrian Gaul, and Maternus,
who had spent all his life beyond the Alps, had both, at first glance,
recognized us for what we were, Roman master and Greek servant, this Roman
of the Romans, keen for personal profit, habituated to the sight of men
from all ports, accepted us for Gallic provincials, and never suspected
that we were anything else.



CHAPTER XX

CHARIOTEERING


Sight-seeing in Rome, in the guise of Gallic wastrels, under the tutelage
of a harborside slum host, was truly an experience for me after my former
station as a nobleman of the Republic, and my ruin and disguise and
flight. I positively enjoyed it.

First of all Colgius was for showing us over the stables of the Reds, for
he was mad about racing and boasted that he had bet on the Reds since he
was six years old and his father gave him his first copper. But I demurred
and pointed out that none of the racing-stables were fit places for us,
since a steady stream of Spanish horses trickled through Marseilles and on
through Vada Sabatia and Genoa to Rome, and there was too great a
probability that we might come face to face with some groom, hostler or
hanger-on from Marseilles who would know us at sight. Colgius yielded to
this argument and agreed that we must avoid all the racing stables. This
greatly relieved us, since, while neither I nor Agathemer had been
devotees of the sport, both of us had been through all six establishments
often enough to be likely to be recognized in any one of them.

Baffled in his first choice and, apparently, in his only choice, Colgius
asked us what we wanted to see. I said I wanted most to see a day of
racing in the circus, blurting out this rather foolish utterance without
reflection, merely because I thought it would seem natural to him. He
replied that that would be easy, but that the next racing day was day
after tomorrow: what would we like to do today?

I said I wanted first of all to be shown the Temple of Mercury, for I
wanted to make an offering to the god.

"Oh, yes," he said, "Mercury is your chief god in Gaul, isn't he, and you
put him ahead of Jupiter. What is it you call him?"

"You are thinking of the Belgians," I said, "and of the Gauls in the
Valley of the Liger. They call Mercury Tiv or Tir and regard him as their
chief god. But we provincials never had any such ideas: we worship the
same gods as you, in the same way. But I, personally, while revering
Jupiter as king of the gods, have always particularly sought the favor of
Mercury."

Off we went to the meat market and I bought there two white hens, as on
the day of my flight, more than a year before. With one under each arm I
then followed Colgius to the Temple of Mercury and there made my prayers
and offering.

When we came out he, of course, began to display the outside of the Great
Circus and to tell me of its glories, which, he said, he would show me
from the inside the day after tomorrow. The life there was much as
Maternus and I had seen it twenty-three days before.

We could not avoid following Colgius about Rome, round the Palatine, the
Colosseum and the Baths of Titus and through the Forums of Vespasian,
Nerva, Augustus and Trajan. At Trajan's Temple he reiterated his regrets
that we dare not go on to the stables of the Reds, and turned back through
Trajan's Forum, the Forum of the Divine Julius and the Great Forum. Of
course, I was quaking with dread for fear some lifelong acquaintance would
recognize me, even in my coarse attire. But none did: in fact I set eyes
on no one I knew, except Faltonius Bambilio, who was pompously lecturing
ten victims in the Ulpian Basilica. I was certain that his eyes were only
on his auditors; the sight of him did not alarm me, he never paid any
attention to those he considered his inferiors.

All along Agathemer and I were bursting with suppressed giggles: Colgius
paid very little attention to the Palace, the Great Amphitheater, the
magnificent public baths, the temples or to any of the glories about us;
he was all for cook-shops and hauled us into cook-shops without number,
sometimes presenting his Gallic friends, Asper and Felix, to his good
friend, the proprietor, sometimes bursting into invectives against the bad
cookery, infinitesimal portions or absurd prices of his enemies'
establishments. In cook-shops Agathemer and I felt safe, near a cook-shop
we felt almost safe, between cook-shops, companioned by Colgius and any
cook-shop frequenters we met, we felt more than a little safe. To our
thinking no spy, informer or secret service agent would feel suspicious
towards Colgius and his friends, nor towards us in their company, and he
presented us to idlers, loafers, louts, betting agents, sellers of tips on
the races, friends of jockeys, cousins of hostlers and such like to an
amazing number.

We found all Rome, as we saw it in the company of Colgius, humming with
two names and we made sure that, if they buzzed in such company as we were
in they also formed the chief topics of conversation in all parts of the
city and at every level of society from the senators down.

One name we had heard when in Rome with Maternus, but had barely heard it;
now we heard it everywhere; the name of Palus, the charioteer; Palus, the
incomparable jockey; Palus, the king of horsemasters; Palus the chum of
Commodus. Both of him, and about him, not only from the men who talked to
us, but also from bystanders, diners and idlers, who never noticed us or
knew that we overheard them, we heard the most amazing stories:

He could guide six horses galloping abreast between the test-pillars for
tyros driving four-abreast and never jostle a pillar or throw a horse; he
had done it time after time; he had won three races, driving seven horses
abreast, his competitors driving four abreast; he had won a race, with a
team of four Cappodocian stallions, guiding them without reins, by his
voice only; he was the most graceful charioteer, bar no one, ever seen in
Rome.

As to his origin and personality the stories were not only fantastic, but
divergent, contradictory or incompatible.

If we might believe what we heard he had been presented to Commodus by the
same nobleman who had presented Murmex Lucro, and on the very next day; he
was from Apulia; he was a Roman all his days; he was a Sabine; he was a
nobleman in disguise, he had been a foundling brought up in the Subura; he
was a half brother of Commodus, offspring of an amour between Faustina and
a gladiator, reared in Samnium on a farm, lately recognized and accepted
by the Emperor; he was Commodus himself in disguise.

All this, you may be sure, made us prick up our ears. Still more did we at
the sound of the other much-bandied name. Here again the tales were
varied, inconsistent, antagonistic.

But the name!

That name was:

Marcia!

Marcia was in control of Commodus, of the Emperor, of the Republic, of the
Empire. She was domiciled in the Palace, she was treated as Empress, she
had all the honors ever accorded an Empress except that she never
participated in public sacrifices or other ceremonial rituals. Crispina
had been divorced and was no longer Empress, but had been relegated, under
guard, to a distant island; Crispina was still Empress, but had withdrawn
in disdain from the Palatine, occupied the Vectilian Palace on the Caelian
Hill, still received Commodus when he visited her, but would not set foot
on the Palatine nor take part in any ritual or ceremonial; Crispina had
been murdered by Marcia's orders, in her presence, with the Emperor's
consent; Marcia got on well with the Empress, there was no jealousy
between them, Crispina was glad to have someone who could soothe Commodus
in his periodic rages and humor him when he sulked; every possible variety
of story about Crispina was told, but every tale represented Marcia as
undisputed and indisputable mistress of the Palace and of everybody in it.

Of her origin we heard mostly versions of the true story; often we heard
named Hyacinthus and Ummidius Quadratus, never my uncle nor Marcus
Martius. We dared not seem to know anything about Marcia and so could not
name Marcus Martius or ask after him. From all the talk we heard,
addressed to us or about us, his name was as absent as if he had never
existed.

How Marcia came to the Emperor's attention, won his notice, acquired her
mastery of him, as to all this we heard not one word: of her complete
control of him and of all Rome everyone talked openly.

The next day we escaped the unwelcome attention of Colgius because Maganno
came after us to introduce us to the captain who was to take us to
Antioch, to show us his ship, and to make sure we knew the wharf at which
she lay and how to reach her. The ship was to sail two days later. The
captain's name was Orontides, which struck both me and Agathemer as being
the same as that of the most fashionable jeweler in Rome, whose
grandfather had come from Antioch, where, I suppose, the name would be as
natural and frequent as Tiberius with us.

He was a Syrian Greek, with curly brown hair and brown eyes, by no means
so wind-tanned and weather-beaten as Maganno, but manifestly a seaman. He
was bow-legged and had very large flat feet.

Orontides looked us over, approved us, required a deposit of twenty gold
pieces, counted them, said we might pay the rest of his charges at
Antioch, and we shook hands on the bargain.

Yet, as the cost of the voyage would land us in Syria with but a few
coins, it was well for us that, later in the day, Agathemer found a dealer
in gems lately come to Rome and sold him another jewel. This filled our
pouches and left us certain of having gold to spare until he could manage
to find a purchaser for yet another gem in Antioch or elsewhere.

Colgius, when we returned to our lodgings, talked of nothing but the Games
which were to be celebrated next day. He first exhibited the togas which
he had hired for us to wear; we, as fugitives, having, of course, no togas
of our own. We found them clean and tried them on. Colgius approved and
went on with his enthusiasm.

There were to be twenty-four faces, all of four-horse chariots only,
twelve in the morning, of six chariots, one for each of the racing
companies; twelve in the afternoon, of twelve chariots, two for each of
the racing companies. Colgius discoursed at length as to his opinions
concerning the six companies, inveighing against the Golds and the
Crimsons, declaring that they were rich men's companies, in which only
senators and nobles took any interest and the existence of which spoiled
racing.

"You never heard of a plain man like me betting on the Crimson or the
Gold," he ranted, "all folks of moderate means, all the plain people, all
the populace, bet on the Reds, Whites, Greens or Blues. I agree that the
Greens are the most popular company, most popular with all classes from
the senators and nobles to the poorest, but I will never admit, as many
claim, that the Blues have the second place in the affections of the
people; the Blues, I maintain, come third and the Reds have second place
with all classes. The Whites are a strong fourth. But, as to the Golds and
the Crimsons, no one ever lays a wager on them except the enormously rich
nobles and senators whose ancestors organized them under Domitian a
hundred years ago. But they, being so enormously rich, can buy the best
horses and have the best jockeys. Now they have Palus. The Reds have
Scopas and the Greens Diocles, and both have been wonderful, but Palus can
beat anybody.

"They say he has wagered an enormous sum that he will win all of the
twelve races in which he is to run, the first six odd numbers and the last
six even numbers, and that he will do so in a previously specified way;
that he will take and keep first place in the first race; that, in the
others he will, at the start, take second place, third place and so on
progressively further back in each, till he lets the whole of five get
ahead of him in the eleventh race and the whole field of eleven have the
start of him in the last race."

Colgius was afraid Palus would succeed in doing precisely what he
purposed. The Reds, if they won any races, must win in those in which
Palus did not start. He judged they could not hope to win more than eight
of those twelve. He was gloomy.

Next day dawned fair, mild, and with a gentle breeze, perfect weather for
spending a day in the Circus. To this Agathemer and I looked forward with
some trepidation, for service men, spies and informers were always in all
parts of the Circus and one might recognize me. But we comforted ourselves
with the hope that they were no longer on the lookout for me. If I knew
the ways of secret-service men I conjectured that they would never have
been willing to report the truth: that they could find no trace of me,
that I had vanished utterly and completely. I would have been willing to
wager that, within a month of my disappearance, some corpse somewhere was
identified as mine and my suicide reported as verified; which report had
probably been accepted at the Palace; whereafter I would be off the minds
of all secret-service men everywhere. Therefore I felt reasonably sure
that no agent would be on the lookout for me. Of course there was a chance
that one might recognize me by accident. But this was so unlikely that we
did not worry over it much.

I was more concerned for fear of arousing suspicion in Colgius by not
behaving as he would expect a Gallic Provincial to behave at his first
sight of the great games in the Circus Maximus. I could not be sure at
what he would expect me to exclaim, what I ought to wonder at and remark
on to seem natural in my assumed role of Marseilles scapegrace.

We were a party of eight, Colgius, his wife Posilla, and two teamsters or
drovers named Ramnius and Uttius, who conveyed goods or convoyed cattle
between Ostia and the markets of Rome. They had their wives with them, but
I forget their names. The three women were arrayed in wonderful costumes
of cheap fabrics dyed in gaudy hues and adorned with jewelry of gilt or
silvered bronze set with bits of colored glass. I had seen such at a
distance, but never so close.

Both Agathemer and I liked Ramnius and Uttius; we felt at ease with them
at first sight. And they were evidently intimates of Colgius and high in
his favor. He and they wore their togas with all the awkwardness to be
expected from men who donned togas only for Circus games and Amphitheatre
shows. To my amazement I found myself really delighted at again wearing a
toga. Like all gentlemen I had always loathed the hot, heavy things. But I
found myself positively thrill at being again garbed as befits a Roman on
a holiday or at a ceremonial. Besides I found that a toga, over a poor
man's tunic, was not nearly so uncomfortable as it was over the more
complicated garb of a fashionable person of means and position.

The interior of the Circus, from my novel location, appeared sufficiently
strange to lull my dread that I might seem too familiar with it. Of course
we were very far back, only five rows in front of the arcade, whereas as
long as I was a nobleman of Rome in good standing, I had always sat in the
second tier, far forward.

But what made much more difference than sitting far back and high up
instead of well forward and low down was that we were on the other side of
the Circus from my old seat and almost directly opposite it. I had always
sat in section E, about the middle of the east side of the Circus and not
far from the Imperial Pavilion in section C. We were in section P,
directly facing E, and not far from the judges' stand in section O.

Now from where I had been used to sitting, facing a little south of west,
I had viewed only the tiers of seats and of spectators, the upper arcade,
and, above that the roofs of the not very lofty, large or magnificent
temples on the Aventine Hill. From where we sat with Colgius we faced the
Palatine and I was overwhelmed by the vastness, beauty and grandeur of the
great mass of buildings which make up the Imperial Palace. On a festival
day, of course, they were exceptionally gorgeous, for every window was
garlanded at the top and most displayed tapestries or rugs hung over the
sill, every balcony was decorated similarly and with greater care than the
windows, and every window, balcony and portico was a mass of eager faces.
Especially my eye was caught by the crowd of Palace officials and servants
on the bulging loggia built by Hadrian in order to be able to catch
glimpses of games when he was too busy to occupy the Imperial Pavilion in
the Circus itself. That Pavilion, as yet occupied only by a few guards, I
gazed at with mixed feelings.

Colgius put Agathemer next him, then me; beyond me sat Ramnius and his
wife and then Uttius and his. But across Posilla we were introduced to two
cattle inspectors named Clitellus and Summanus of whom we felt
uncomfortably suspicious from the instant we laid eyes on them. They
looked to me like secret-service agents and Agathemer nodded towards them,
when they were not looking, raised his eyebrows and touched his lips.

I for some time satiated myself with gazing at the Palace, with admiring
the wonderful charm of the outlook from this side of the Circus, with
revelling in the sense of delight at being again in it, with feasting my
eyes on its gorgeousness, on the magnificence of its vastness, of its
colonnade, of its costly marbles, of its tiers of seats, of the obelisks,
shrines, monuments and other decorations of the _spina_.

Then, after the upper seats were well packed with commonality, the gentry
and nobility began to dribble into the lower tiers and even a few
senatorial parties entered their boxes in the front row. I began to peer
at party after party, outwardly trying to keep my face blank, inwardly
excited at the probability of recognizing many former friends and
acquaintances.

The first man I recognized was Faltonius Bambilio, unmistakably pompous
and self-satisfied. Although a senator he came early. Later I saw Vedius
Vedianus and, far from him, Satronius Satro. Didius Julianus, always the
most ostentatious of the senators, was unmistakable even in section B,
further from me than any part of the Circus except the left hand starting
stalls and their neighborhood.

I looked for Tanno in section D, and early made him out.

But, even after the equestrian seats and senatorial boxes had all filled,
nowhere could I descry any feminine shape at all suggestive of Vedia. I
was still peering and sweeping the senatorial seats with my eyes, hoping
to espy her, when the bugles announced the Emperor's approach and the
audience stood up. My eyes were on the Imperial Dais watching for the
appearance of the Emperor. But when he came into sight, and I joined in
the cheers, I viewed without emotion this man, who had honored me with his
favor, yet who had credited to the utmost, without investigation, my
inclusion among the number of his dangerous enemies. I reflected that no
man accused of participating in a conspiracy against any Prince of the
Republic had ever been given any sort of hearing or his friends allowed to
try to clear him.

I used all my powers of eyesight to con the Emperor, distinctive in his
official robes but too far off to be seen well. He appeared to me to have
lost something of his elegance of carriage and grace of movement. He
seemed less elastic in bearing, less springy of gait. There was, even at
that distance, something familiar in his attitude and stride, but it did
not seem precisely the presence of Commodus as I had known him. I stared
puzzled and groping in my mind. But I felt no emotion as I stared and
peered at him.

Oddly enough, from the moment when I received Vedia's letter of warning
until I caught sight of the head of the procession about to enter the
Circus through the Procession gate, I had had not one instant of
despondency or of self-pity. But, at sight of the head of that magnificent
procession, a sort of wave of misery surged through me and inundated me
with a sudden sense of wistful regret for all that I had lost and also
with an acute realization of the precarious hold I had on life, of the
peril I was in from hour to hour. This unexpected and unwelcome dejection
possessed me until the whole line of floats displaying the images of the
gods had passed and the racing chariots came along.

The very first of these drawn by a splendid team of four dapple grays, was
driven by a charioteer wearing the colors of the Crimsons' Company. I did
not need to hear the exclamation of Colgius:

"There is Palus! That is Palus!" to recognize this Prince of Charioteers.
The descriptions I had heard were enough to have told me who he was. For
at even a distant sight of him I did not wonder at the tales which gave
out that he was a half brother of Commodus, or Commodus in disguise. He
was more like Commodus than any half brother would have been likely to
have been; like as a twin brother, like enough to be actually Commodus
himself. He had all Commodus' comeliness of port and refinement of poise.
Every attitude, every movement, was a joy to behold. I stared back and
forth from this paragon in a charioteer's tunic to the stolid lump on the
Imperial throne, perplexed at the enigma, feeling just on the verge of
comprehension, but baffled. I kept gazing from one to the other till Palus
rounded the further goal and was largely hidden by the posts, the stand
for the bronze tally-eggs, the obelisk and the other ornaments of the
_spina_. [Footnote: See Note G.]

There were about two hundred chariots, for very few teams were entered to
race twice. More than a third were driven by charioteers, the rest by
grooms, or others, quite competent to control them at a walk, though some
of the more fiery had also men on foot holding their bits.

"Felix," Agathemer queried, "did you notice anything peculiar about the
first chariot?"

"Yes, Asper," I replied, "I did. I never saw a chariot with its wheels so
close together, nor with such long spokes. Its axle is higher from the
ground than any I ever set eyes on."

"I recall," said Agathemer, "hearing you recount a lecture on chariot-
design you once heard from a man of lofty station."

"The design of that chariot," I replied, "certainly tallies with the
design advocated in that lecture. It would seem to indicate that Palus has
accepted the views of that very distinguished lecturer."

"Perhaps," said Agathemer drily. "Perhaps it indicates something more
notable."

"Perhaps," I admitted.

Most of the teams were white or dapple gray, those being the favorite
colors of all the racing companies except the Whites themselves, among
whom it was a tradition that teams of their racing-colors were unlucky for
them. Next most frequent were bays, then sorrels, while roans and
piebalds, as usual, were distinctly scarce. In fact there were but three
teams of roans, all with the white colors, and two of piebalds, one
belonging to the Greens and one to the Blues. The Blue team caught my eye,
even at so great a distance. When it came opposite us I nudged Agathemer
and queried:

"Asper, did you ever see any of these horses before?"

"Yea, Felix," he replied. "You are quite right in your judgment; the left-
hand yoke-mate is the very stallion you are thinking of, which you and I
have seen and handled before to-day. You and I know where you rode him and
how he passed out of your ken."

It was, in fact, the trick stallion I had ridden at Reate fair and won as
a prize of my riding him, which had been spirited away from my stables not
many nights after he came into my possession. At once I foresaw some
attempt at altogether unusual trickery in the course of this racing-day.
The team of four splendid piebald stallions, about five years old, was one
of the few entered for two races. I could not conjecture how a horse which
had spent his youth as trick-horse in possession of an itinerant fakir,
had acquired, since I knew him, reputation enough to be yoke-mate in a
team highly enough thought of to be entered for two races the same day in
the Circus Maximus. This was a puzzle almost as absorbing as the likeness
and contrast between the Emperor and Palus.

The racing had many remarkable features, but I am concerned to relate only
those in which Palus took part.

At once after the procession he drove in the first race, always a perilous
honor. When we saw the chariots dart out of the starting-stalls, the
Crimson emerged from the stall furthest to the left, just that which is
the worst possible position from which to start. Although thus handicapped
the Crimson seemed a horse-length ahead before the other chariots had
cleared the sills of their stalls and a full chariot-length ahead before
it reached the near end of the _spina_ wall. We saw Palus take the wall
easily and hold it throughout the race, after the first turn never less
than two full chariot-lengths ahead of the Green, which came second. The
Red was third, which comforted Colgius a little. As Palus passed the
judges' stand he threw up an arm, with a gesture so boyish, so debonair,
so graceful, so altogether characteristic of Commodus, that I felt a qualm
all over me. And a second gesture of exultation as he vanished through the
Gate of Triumph was equally individual.

The Red won the second race, which put Colgius, Uttius and Ramnius in high
good humor and seemed to make their fat, smiling wives even more smiling.

Agathemer and I agreed that the rumors retailed by Colgius concerning the
wager said to have been made by Palus were probably correct; for he did
just what that rumor specified and so singular and spectacular a series of
feats could hardly have been fortuitous. It was quite plain that he pulled
in his team in the third race, and let a Gold team get the lead of him and
keep it till five eggs and five dolphins had been taken down by the tally-
keepers' menials and there were but two full laps to run. Then he took the
lead easily in the middle of the straight and won by four full lengths.

So of the other races in which he drove. He pulled in his team at the
start and each time allowed to get ahead of him one more team than in his
last race. Then he joyously and without apparent effort passed first one,
in one straight, then another in another, varying his methods from race to
race, watching for and seizing his opportunities, biding his time, dashing
into top speed as he chose, all smoothly and in perfect form.

The Blue team of piebalds with my trick-stallion among them won the fourth
race in which Palus did not compete.

The eleventh race, in which Palus let the whole field of five precede him,
was most exciting, especially because of the length of lead he gave even
to the fifth team, and the impression of inevitableness about his victory
afterwards. The thirteenth, in which he did not drive, was notable for an
appalling smash-up of five chariots, in which three jockeys were killed
and eight horses killed outright or so badly injured that the clearing-
crew had to put them out of their agonies.

The fourteenth race would have been spoiled by an even worse massacre had
it not been for the superlative skill of Palus and his amazing luck. He
had passed five of the seven chariots which had the lead of him at the
start and was a close third to the two Blue teams, with the entire field
well up behind, three abreast, mostly, bunched up in a fashion which
seldom happens. The whole dozen had gathered way after the tenth turn, as
they came up the straight past the judges and us on the first lap, while
two eggs and two dolphins still remained on the tally stands. Two thirds
up the straight, just when all twelve teams were at their top speed, the
Blue chariot furthest out from the _spina_ wall swerved to the right as if
the jockey had lost control of his team. Palus lashed his four and they
increased their speed as if they had been held in before and darted
between the two Blues. As the twelve horses were nose to nose the outer
Blue pulled sharply inward in a way which appeared certain to pocket Palus
and wreck his team and chariot, but even more certain to wreck the
swerving Blue. What Palus did I was too far off to see, but the roar of
delight from the front rows, which spread north, south and west till it
sounded like surf in a tempest, advertised that he had done something
superlatively adequate. Certainly he slipped between the two Blue teams
and won his race handily, as he did every other in succession, though
eight, nine, ten and eleven chariots led him at the start of each in
succession.

"What do you think of that, Asper?" I asked Agathemer.

"Felix," he replied, "there has never been but one man on earth who could
manage horses like that. I've seen him do it. I've been smuggled in to
watch him, like many another servant supposed to be waiting for his master
outside. I recognize the inimitable witchery of him."

"No need to name him," I said. "But if you are right, who is wearing his
robes and occupying his usual seat to-day?"

"Don't ask me!" Agathemer replied. "But you yourself, Felix, who have seen
him drive so much oftener than I have must agree with me about Palus."

I was mute.

I never saw a better managed racing-day. The first twelve races of six
chariots each were over and done with more than an hour before noon and we
had plenty of time to eat the abundant lunch Posilla and her two friends
had put up for us, to drink all we wanted of the wine served in the tavern
in the vault to the left of the entrance stair, underneath the seats of
our section, and to return to our seats, refreshed like the rest of that
fraction of the spectators which went out and came back, most of them
sitting tight in their seats, unwilling to miss any of the tight-rope-
walking, jugglers' tricks, fancy riding and rest of the diversions which
filled up the noon interval. Also the twelve afternoon races of twelve
chariots each were so promptly started, with so little interval between,
that the last race was run a full two hours before sunset, while the light
was still strong; stronger, in fact, than earlier in the day, for a sort
of film of cloud had mitigated the glare of noon, while by the start of
the last race the sky was the deepest, clearest blue and the sun's
radiance undimmed by any hindrance.

That last race! Palus passed nine competitors in ten half laps, and, in
the first half of the sixth lap, was again third to two Blue teams one of
which was the piebald team with the Reate trick-stallion as left-hand
yoke-mate. Again, as in the fourteenth race, the field was close up,
widespread, bunched, and thundering at top speed. Palus was driving the
dapple grays with which he had won the first race.

Now, what happened, happened much quicker than it can be told, happened in
the twinkling of an eye. The inner leading Blue team apparently hugged the
_spina_ wall too close and jammed its left-hand hub-end against the
marble, stopping the chariot, so that the axle and pole slewed and so that
the horses, since the pole and the traces did not snap, were brought nose
on against the wall and piled up horridly, just at the goal-line, opposite
the judges stand, and falling so that as they fell they straightened out
the pole and brought the chariot to a standstill with its axle neatly
across the course.

The other Blue, with the piebalds, was not close in to the leaders, but
fairly well out and about a length behind. As the wall-team piled up
something happened among the free-running piebalds. Of course, I
conjecture that the trick-stallion threw himself sideways at a signal. But
it seems incredible that a creature as timid as a horse, so compellingly
controlled by the instinct to keep on its feet, should, in the frenzy of
the crisis of a race, while in the mad rush of a full-speed gallop, obey a
signal so out of variance with his natural impulse. Agathemer vows he saw
the trick-stallion throw himself against the chief horse while he and the
other two were running strong and true. I did not see that; I only saw the
four piebalds go down in a heap in front of their chariot, saw the chariot
stop dead, saw, even at that distance, that its axle was perfectly in line
with the axle of the other wrecked chariot, both chariots right side up
and too close together for any chariot to pass between them.

Palus, skimming the sand not three horse lengths behind the piebalds, was
trapped and certain to be piled up against the wrecked Blues, under three
or four more of the field thundering behind him.

Actually, at that distance, I saw his pose, the very outline of his neck
and shoulders, express not alarm but exultation. Although his right ear
and part of the back of his head was towards me, I could almost see him
yell. I could descry how the lash of his whip flew over his team, how
craftily he managed his reins.

Right at the narrow gap he drove. In it his horses did not jam or fall or
stumble or jostle. The yoke-mates held on like skimming swallows, the
trace-mates seemed to rise into the air. I seemed to see the two wheels of
his chariot interlock with the two wheels of the upright, stationary
wrecked chariots, his left-hand wheel between the chariot-body and right-
hand wheel of the chariot on his left, his right-hand wheel between the
chariot-body and left-hand wheel of the chariot on his right.

Certainly I saw his chariot, with him erect in it, rise in the air, saw it
bump on the ground beyond the two stationary chariots, saw it leap up
again from its wheels' impact upon the sand, all four of his dapple grays
on their feet and running smoothly, saw him speed on and round the upper
goal-posts.

As Palus came round the next lap, well ahead of the diminished field, he
craftily avoided the heap of wreckage. As he won he dropped his reins
altogether, threw up both, arms, and yelled like a lad. As he vanished
through the Triumphal Gateway, he again dropped his reins, left his team
to guide themselves, and turned half round to wave an exultant farewell to
the spectators.

"What do you think, Asper?" I asked Agathemer.

"Felix," said he, "I wouldn't bet a copper that the occupant of the throne
is not Commodus. But I'll wager my amulet-bag and all it contains that
Palus is not Ducconius Furfur."

He said it under his breath, that I alone might hear.

"My idea, precisely, Asper," I replied.



CHAPTER XXI

MISADVENTURES


As we left the Circus I heard in the crowd near us, along with fierce
denunciations of the Crimsons and Golds, execrated by all the commonality
as merely rich men's companies, the most enthusiastic laudations of Palus
and expressions of hopes that the Blues, Greens, Reds or Whites, according
to the preference of the speaker, might yet win him over and benefit by
his prowess.

Colgius, although the Reds had won but five races, was in a high good
humor and insisted on the whole party coming in to a family dinner. The
three wives occupied the middle sofa, while Agathemer and I had the upper
all to ourselves. The fare was abundant and good, with plenty of the
cheaper relishes to begin with; roast sucking-pig, cold sliced roast pork,
baked ham, and veal stew for the principal dishes, with cabbage, beans and
lentils; the wine was passable, and there was plenty of olives, figs,
apples, honey and quince marmalade.

The women talked among themselves and the men, with us putting in a word
now and then, of Palus. They argued a long time as to just what he did in
the fourteenth race and how he had saved himself at the critical moment.
As to his victory in the last race, all three of them were loud in their
praises. Colgius said:

"Nothing like that has ever happened before. The chariot which Palus drove
had the shortest axle I ever saw or anybody else. No other chariot but
that could have passed between the two wrecked chariots; any other would
have crashed its two wheels against the wrecked chariot-bodies and would
have smashed to bits. His chariot was so narrow that its wheels passed
between the two chariot-bodies, clear.

"Even so any other chariot would have stopped dead when its wheels hit the
axles of the stalled chariots, for it was plain that his wheels
interlocked with the wheels of the stalled chariots and hit the axles. But
his chariot had the longest spokes ever seen in Rome, or, I believe,
anywhere else, and so had the tallest wheels ever seen and had its axle
higher above the sand than any other chariot; so its wheels engaged the
stalled axles well below their hub-level and so the team pulled them right
over the axles and on."

"Yes," said Uttius, "but that never would have happened but for Palus'
instantaneous grasp of the situation and lightning decision. Any other
charioteer would have reined in or tried to swing round to the right; he
lashed his team and guided them so perfectly that, with not a hand's-
breadth to spare anywhere, the two wheels passed precisely where there was
the only chance of their passing, and he guided his horses so perfectly
that the yoke-mates shot between the stalled wheels without jostling them
or each other. No man has ever displayed such skill as Palus."

"Nor had such luck," Ramnius cut in. "No man could have guided the yoke-
mates as he did and, at the same time, exerted any influence whatever on
the trace-mates. They showed their breed. Each saw the stalled wheel in
front of him, neither tried to dodge. Each went straight at that wheel,
reared at it, and leapt it clean. As they leapt they were not helping to
pull the chariot, the yoke-mates pulled it over the stalled axles. But the
momentary check as the chariot hit the axles and leapt up gave the leaping
trace-mates just the instant of time they needed to find their feet and
regain their stride. The whole thing was a miracle; of training, of skill
and of luck."

"But don't forget," said Colgius, "that the skill and judgment Palus
displayed counted for more than the breed of his team and his luck. Do not
forget the perfect form he showed: not an awkward pose, not a sign of
effort, not a hint of anxiety; self-possession, courage, self-confidence
all through and the most perfect grace of movement, ease, and suggestion
of reserve strength. He is a prodigy."

After Agathemer and I were alone in the dark on our cots we whispered to
each other a long time.

"Do you really believe," I said, "that Commodus is so insane about horse-
racing as to be willing to put Furfur on his throne in his robes so that
he can degrade himself under the name of Palus?"

"I do," said Agathemer. "No other conjecture fits what we saw. The man on
the throne was certainly the image of Commodus, but had not his elegance
of port and grace of movement. Palus has all the inimitable gracefulness
which Commodus displayed when driving teams in the Palace Stadium."

"He is incredibly stupid in undervaluing and failing to prize his
privileges as Emperor," I said, "and amazingly reckless in allowing anyone
else to occupy his throne, wearing his robes."

"He is yet more reckless to race as he does," Agathemer commented, "and I
should not be astonished if we have seen his last public appearance as a
charioteer."

"Why?" I queried startled.

"Because," said Agathemer, "he must be incredibly stupid not to perceive,
now, what opportunities the Circus offers for getting rid of an Emperor
posing as a charioteer.

"A stupider man than Commodus can possibly be should be able to comprehend
that there must have been a very carefully planned plot in the Blue
Company, a plot which must have cost a mountain of gold to carry so far
towards success, a plot which never would have been laid for a mere
jockey, however much his rivalry threatened the Company's winnings and
prestige. Only a coterie of very wealthy men could have devised and pushed
it. It cost money to induce charioteers to come so close to almost certain
death in order to compass the destruction of another charioteer. It cost
money to sacrifice a company's teams in that fashion. Such a plot was
never laid to get rid of Palus the jockey; it was aimed at ridding the
nobility of an Emperor they fear and hate, however popular he may be with
the commonality.

"I miss my guess if there is not a violent upheaval in the Blue Company,
and if there is not an investigation scrutinizing the behavior and loyalty
of every man affiliated with them, from their board of managers down to
the stall-cleaners. I prophesy that the informers, spies and secret-
service men will have fat pickings off the Blues for many a day to come.
I'll bet the guilty men are putting their affairs in order now and hunting
safe hiding-places. Commodus may be insane about horse-racing and fool
enough to put a dummy Emperor in his place, so he can be free to enjoy
jockeying, but he is no fool when it comes to attempts at assassination.
He'll run down the guilty or exterminate them among a shoal of innocents."

I agreed.

But I added:

"What is the world coming to when the Prince of the Republic prizes his
privileges so little that he neglects state business for horse-jockeying,
when he is so crazy over charioteering that he lets another man wear his
robes and occupy his throne? It is a mad world."

Next morning we were early on Orontides' ship and once more Agathemer
charmed a crew with his flageolet.

At Ostia Orontides found he must lay over for some valuable packages
consigned to a jeweler at Antioch for the conveyance of which he was
highly paid. He suggested that, as the day was hot for so late in the
year, we go ashore and see the sights which, indeed, we found well worth
seeing, for Ostia has some buildings outmatching anything to be found
outside of Rome. We took his hint, but he warned us:

"I have some sailors I don't trust. Don't leave anything aboard. Take your
wallets with you."

We passed a pleasant, idle day, lunching and taking our siesta at an inn
outside the Rome Gate. We had planned to dine at an inn near the harbor-
front, on the west side of the town, not far from the Sea Gate: there we
had barely sat down and begun tasting the relishes, when in came Clitellus
and Summanus. They seemed surprised and pleased to recognize us, greeted
us as if we had been old friends and close intimates, appeared to assume
that we were as glad to see them as they were to see us, and, as a matter
of course, joined us at dinner, telling the waiter-boy to bring them
whatever we had ordered, only doubling the quantity of every order.

They talked of the races we had seen, of Palus, of his driving; of the
smash-ups, of Posilla, of Colgius and of everything and anything. They
announced that they would accompany us to our ship and see us safe aboard.
Both Agathemer and I more than suspected that they had associates in
waiting to follow them and, at a signal, fall on us and seize us. I felt
all that and Agathemer whispered to me a word or two in Greek which
advised me of his suspicions.

We prolonged our meal all we could, but there was no shaking them off.
Agathemer ordered more wine, Falernian, and had it mixed with only one
measure of water. Watching his opportunity he threw at me, in a whisper,
two Greek words which advised me, since they were the first in a well-
known quotation from Menander, that our only hope was to drink our
tormentors dead drunk.

It turned out to be a question whether we would drink them drunk or they
us. Certainly they showed no hesitation about pouring down the wine as
fast as it was mixed and served, nor did either of them appear to notice
that we drank less than they; they seemed able to hold any amount and stay
sober and keep on drinking. As dusk deepened and the waiter-boys lit the
inn lamps, I found myself perilously near sliding off my chair to the
floor and very doubtful whether, if I did, I should be able to get up
again or to resist my tendency to go to sleep then and there.

I was, in fact, just about to give up any attempt to resist my impulse to
collapse when Summanus collapsed, slid to the floor, rolled over, spread
out and snored.

Clitellus thickly objurgated his comrade and all weak-heads, worthless
fellows who could not drink a few goblets without getting drunk. To prove
his vast superiority and his prowess, he poured more wine down his throat,
spilling some down into his tunic.

Agathemer winked at me and fingered the strap of his wallet. I groped for
mine and fumbled at it.

Clitellus, with a hiccough, slid to the floor beside Summanus.

I was for trying to rise.

"Let us be sure," said Agathemer in Greek, "perhaps they are pretending to
be drunk, just to catch us."

But, after a brief contemplation of the precious pair, we concluded that
no acting could be as perfect as this reality. They were drunk at last and
safely asleep.

Agathemer paid the whole amount, for all four of us, adjured the waiter-
boy to be good to Clitellus and Summanus, gave him an extra coin, and
signalled me to rise. I lurched to my feet, swaying, almost as drunk as
our victims and beholding Agathemer swaying before me, not only because of
my blurred eyesight, but also because of his unsteadiness on his feet.

We almost fell, but not quite. Somehow we staggered to the door, where,
once outside, the cool night air made us feel almost sobered, though still
too nearly drunk to be sure of our location or direction.

More by luck than anything else we took the right turn and found the
harbor front before the night was entirely black. In the half gloom we
tried to find the pier from which we had come that morning. As we explored
we heard a cheerful hail.

"Is that you, Orontides?"

Agathemer called.

"Aye, Aye!" came back the cheery answer. "Come aboard!"

And we were met and assisted up the gang-plank and down over the bulwarks.

"I was afraid you boys were lost," the shipmaster said, "and I am to sail
at dawn, after all; everything is aboard. I'm glad to see you. You've
dined pretty liberally. Come over here and get to sleep."

And he led us to where we found something soft to sleep on.

I was asleep almost as soon as I lay down.

I awoke with a terrific headache and an annoying buzzing in my ears, awoke
only partially, not knowing where I was or why and without any distinct
recollections of recent events. My first sensation was discomfort, not
only from the pain of my headache, but also from the heat of the sunrays
beating on me, and that despite the fact that I could feel a strong cool
breeze ruffling my hair and beard.

I sat up and looked about me. Agathemer was snoring. The sun was not low;
in fact, at that time of the year, it was near its highest. I had slept
till noon!

Then, all of a sudden I realized that the ship was wholly strange to me
and that it was headed not southeast, but northwest. That realization
shocked me broad awake. At the same instant I saw the shipmaster
approaching. He was not Orontides, nor was he at all like him. He had
small feet, was knock-kneed, tall, lean, had a hatchet-face and red hair.

"Awake at last!" he commented. "You lads must have dined gloriously last
night. You don't look half yourselves, yet."

He stared at me, and at Agathemer, who had waked, into much the same sort
of daze in which I had been at first.

"Neptune's trident!" the shipmaster exclaimed. "You two aren't the two
lads I was to convoy! Who are you and how did you get here?"

"We were hunting for our ship after dark," Agathemer said, "and somebody
hailed us. We asked whether it was Orontides and the answer that came back
was: 'Aye, Aye!' We were pretty thoroughly drunk and were glad to be
helped aboard and shown our beds. That's all I know."

"Kingdom of Pluto!" the shipmaster cried, "my name's Gerontides, not
Orontides. I heard your question, but you were so drunk I never knew the
difference: probably I shouldn't have known the difference if you had been
sober. I was on the lookout for two lads much like you two who had part
paid me to carry them to Genoa. They'll be in a fix."

"'Bout ship," said Agathemer, "and put back to Ostia. You can't be far on
your way yet. We'll pay you what you ask to set us ashore at Ostia."

"I wouldn't 'bout ship," said Gerontides, "for twenty gold pieces."

"We'll pay you thirty," said Agathemer.

"Don't bid any higher, son," Gerontides laughed. "If you were made of
gold, to Genoa you go. I've a bigger stake in a quick landing at Genoa
than any sum you could name would overbalance. Best be content!"

And content we had to be, no arguments, no entreaties, nothing would move
him.

"I'll be fair with you," he said. "The lads I took you for had paid me all
I had asked them except one gold piece each on landing at Genoa. That's
all you'll have to pay me."

Nothing would budge him from his resolution. Agathemer in despair drowned
his misery in flageolet playing. It seemed to comfort him and certainly
comforted me. The crew were delighted. After a voyage as easy and pleasant
as our cruise with Maganno, we landed on the eighth day before the Ides of
September, at Genoa, paid our two gold pieces and set about getting out of
that city as quickly as might be. We avoided, of course, the posting-
station where we had changed horses while in couriers' trappings. But
there was a posting-station at each gate of Genoa and we, having talked
over all possibilities in the intervals of flageolet playing, were for
Dertona. We had little trouble in buying a used travelling-carriage.
Horses we did not have to wait long for, as hiring teams were luckily
plentiful that day and Imperial agents scarce. Off we set for Milan.

We were in haste but there was no hurrying postillions on those mountain
roads. We nooned at some nameless change-house and were glad to make the
thirty-six miles to Libarium by dusk. The next day was consumed in
covering the thirty-five miles to Dertona. From there on we travelled, in
general down hill, and so quicker, but not much quicker, so that a third
day entire was needed for making the fifty-one miles to Placentia.

Placentia, a second time, was unlucky for us. It might have been worse,
for we did not again encounter Gratillus, or anyone else who might have
recognized me. But I made a fool of myself. I am not going to tell what
happened; Agathemer never reproached me for my folly, not even in our
bitterest misery; but I reproached myself daily for nearly three years; I
am still ashamed of myself and I do not want to set down my idiotic
behavior.

Let it suffice, that, through no fault of Agathemer's, but wholly through
my fault, we were suspected, interrogated, arrested, stripped, our brand-
marks and scourge-scars observed and ourselves haled before a magistrate.
To him Agathemer told the same tale he had told to Tarrutenus Spinellus.
It might have served had we been dealing with a man of like temper, for
travellers from Aneona for Aquileia regularly passed through Placentia
turning there from northwest along the road from Aneona to northeast along
the road to Aquileia.

But Stabilius Norbanus was a very different kind of man.

"Your story may be true," he said, "but it impresses me as an ingenious
lie. If I believed it I'd not send men like you, with their records
written in welts on their backs, with any convoy, no matter how strict, on
the long journey to Aquileia, on which you'd have countless opportunities
of escape. I do not believe your tale. Yet I'll pay this much attention to
it: I'll write to Vedius Aquileiensis and ask him if he owned two slaves
answering your descriptions and lost them through unexplained
disappearance or known crimping by Dalmatian pirates at about the time you
indicate.

"Meantime I'll commit you to an _ergastulum_ [Footnote: See Note H.] where
you'll be herded with your kind, all safely chained, so that no escape is
possible, and all doing some good to the state by some sort of productive
labor. A winter at the flour-mills will do you two good."

Our winter at the mills may have benefited us, but it was certainly, with
its successor at similar mills, one of the two most wretched winters of my
life. And Agathemer, I think, suffered every bit as acutely as I. We were
not chained, except for a few days and about twice as many more nights; as
soon as the manager of the _ergastulum_ felt that he knew us he let us go
unchained like the rest of his charges.

This was because of the structure of the _ergastulum_. It was located in
the cellars of one of the six or more granaries of Placentia, which has,
near each city gate, an extensive public store-house. The granary under
which we were immured was that near the Cremona gate. Above ground it was
a series of rectangles about courtyards each just big enough to
accommodate four carts, all unloading or loading at once. It was
everywhere of four stories of bin-rooms, all built of coarse hard-faced
rubble concrete. The cellars were very extensive, and not all on one
level, being cunningly planned to be everywhere about the same depth
underground. Where their floor-levels altered the two were joined by short
flights of three, four or five stone steps, under a vaulted doorway, in
the thick partition walls.

Each cellar-floor was about four yards below the ground level so that a
tall man, standing on a tall man's shoulders, could barely reach with his
outstretched fingers the tip of the sill of one of the low windows. These
windows, each about a yard high and two yards broad, were heavily barred
with gratings of round iron bars as thick as a man's wrist, set too close
together for a boy's head to pass between them, and each two bars hot-
welded at each intersection, so that each grating was practically one
piece of wrought iron, made before the granary was built and with the ends
of each bar set deep in the flinty old rubble concrete. The inmates need
not be chained, as no escape was possible through the windows, though raw
night air, rain, snow at times and the icy winter blasts came in on us
through them.

Similarly no escape was possible up the one entrance to the cellars, which
was through an inner courtyard, from which led down a stone stair with
four sets of heavy doors; one at the bottom, one at each end of a landing
lighted by a heavily barred window, and one at the top. Between the inner
and outer courtyard were two sets of heavier doors and two equally heavy
were at the street entrance of the outer courtyard. On the stair-landing
was the chained-up porter-accountant seated under the window on a backless
stool by a small, heavy accountant's table on which stood a tall
_clepsydra_ by his big account-book. Checking the hours by the
_clepsydra_, he entered the name of every human being passing, up or down
that stair, even the name of the manager every time he came in or went
out. By him always stood a wild Scythian, armed with a spear, girt with a
sabre, and with a short bow and a quiver of short arrows hanging over his
back. Similar Scythians guarded the doorways, a pair of them to each door.
The slide by which the grain was lowered into the _ergastulum_, the other
slide by which the flour, coarse siftings and bran were hauled up, were
similarly guarded. Escape was made so difficult by these precautions that,
while I was there, no one escaped out of the three hundred wretches
confined in the _ergastulum_.

There we suffered sleepless nights in our hard bunks, under worn and
tattered quilts, tormented by every sort of vermin. Swarming with vermin
we toiled through the days, from the first hint of light to its last
glimmer, shivering in our ragged tunics, our bare feet numb on the chilly
pavements. We were cold, hungry, underfed on horribly revolting food,
reviled, abused, beaten and always smarting from old welts or new weals of
the whip-lashes.

It was all a nightmare: the toil, the lashings, if our monotonous walk
around our mill, eight men to a mill, two to each bar, did not suit the
notions of the room-overseer; the dampness, the cold, the vermin, the pain
of our unhealed bruises, the scanty food and its disgusting uneatableness.

The food seemed the worst feature of our misery. So, in fact, it appears
to have seemed to our despicable companions. Certainly, of the food they
complained more than of the toil, the cold, the vermin, the malignity of
the overseers or even of the barbarity of the Scythian guards. Anyhow
their fury at the quality of their food brought to me and Agathemer an
alleviation of our misery. For some hotheaded wretches, goaded beyond
endurance, jerked the bars of their mill from their sockets and with them
felled, beat to death and even brained the cook and his two assistants.

After their corpses had been removed, the floor swabbed up and the
murderers turned over to the gloating Scythians to be done to death by
impalement, Scythian fashion, with all the tortures Scythian ferocity
could devise, the manager went from cellar to cellar, all through the
_ergastulum_, enquiring if any prisoner could cook. No one volunteered,
and, when he questioned more than a few, everyone denied any knowledge of
cookery.

A second time he made the tour of his domain, promising any cook a warm
tunic, a bunk with a thick mattress and two heavy quilts, all the food he
could eat and two helpers; the helpers to have similar indulgences. On
this second round, in our cellar, a Lydian, nearer to being fat than any
prisoner in the _ergastulum_, admitted that he could make and bake bread,
but vowed that he could not do anything else connected with cooking.
Spurred on by his confession and tempted by the offers of better clothing
and bedding and more food, also by the memories of Agathemer's cookery the
winter before, I blurted out that Agathemer could not make bread, but
could do everything else needed in cookery. Agathemer, after one
reproachful glance at me, admitted that he was a cook of a sort, but
declared that he was almost as bad a cook as the wretch just murdered. The
overseer bade him go to the kitchen and told him he might select a helper;
the baker would have been the other helper. As helper Agathemer,
naturally, selected me.

After that we suffered less. The slaves acclaimed Agathemer's cooking;
for, if their rations were still scanty by order of the watchful manager,
at least their food was edible. Far from being ultimately killed, like our
predecessors, and continually threatened and reviled, we were blessed by
our fellow-slaves. We slept better, in spite of the vermin, on our grass-
stuffed mattresses, under our foul quilts, we shivered less in our thicker
tunics. We were not too tired to discuss, at times, the oddities of our
vicissitudes, to congratulate each other on being, at least, alive, on my
not being suspected of being what I actually was, and, above all, on the
safety of our old, blackened, greasy, worthless-looking, amulet-bags, with
their precious contents. To be reduced to carrying food to three hundred
of the vilest rascals alive was a horrible fate for a man who had, two
years before, been a wealthy nobleman, but it was far better than death as
a suspected conspirator. And Agathemer was hopeful of our future, of
survival, of escape, of comfort somewhere after he had sold another
emerald, ruby, or opal. Nothing could, for any length of time, dim or
cloud the light of Agathemer's buoyancy of disposition.



BOOK III

DIVERSITIES



CHAPTER XXII

THE MUTINEERS


Our promotion from the mills to the kitchen took place early in March of
the year when Manius Acilius Glabrio, after an interval of thirty-four
years since his first consulship, was consul for the second time and had
as nominal associate Commodus, preening himself, for the fifth time, on
the highest office in the Republic, which he had done little to deserve,
and while he held it, did less to justify himself in possessing, since he
left most of the duties of the consulship to Glabrio, as he left most of
the Principate to Perennis, his Prefect of the Praetorium. All of this, of
course, we learnt later in the year; for, inside our prison, we knew
nothing of what went on in Placentia, let alone of what went on in Italy
and in Rome itself.

We had been cooking for more than three months, when, about the middle of
June, our attention in the cellars was distracted from doling out food, as
that of the wretches we served was distracted from eating their scanty
rations, by an unusual uproar in the street outside of our windows. We
could descry, in the morning sunlight, military trappings, tattered
cloaks, ragged tunics, dingy kilt-straps, sheenless helmets, unkempt
beards, and brawny arms in the crowds which packed the narrow streets. The
mob seemed made up of rough frontier soldiery, and we marvelled at the
presence of such men in Italy.

The uproar increased and we heard it not only from the streets but from
the courtyards; we could not make out any words, but the tone of the
tumultuous growls was menacing and imperative. After no long interval the
doors at the foot of the one stair burst open and there entered to us
three centurions, indubitably from distant frontier garrisons, accompanied
by six or seven _optiones_ [Footnote: See Note F.] and a dozen or more
legionaries. The privates and corporals stood silent while one of the
three sergeants addressed us:

"No one shall be compelled to join us. Every man of you shall have his
unforced choice. All who join us shall be free. Such as prefer to remain
where they are sit down! All who select to join us stand up!"

If any man sat down I did not see him. Through the door we flowed without
jostling or crowding, for at the first appearance of a tendency to push
forward the sergeant's big voice bellowed a warning and order reigned. Up
the stair we poured, passing on the landing the mute, motionless porter-
accountant and his Scythian guard, cowed immobile between two burly
frontier centurions; out into the courtyard we streamed, more and more
following till the courtyard was packed. The whole movement was made in
silence, without a cheer or yell, for, like the porter and the Scythians,
the most unconscionable villains in our _ergastulum_ quailed before the
truculence of the frontier sergeants.

In the outer court, at the suggestion of one of those same centurions,
every man of us drank his fill at the well-curb, pairs of the legionaries
taking turns at hauling up the buckets and watering us, much as if we had
been thirsty workhorses. After they had made sure that none had missed a
chance to quench his thirst, they roughly marshalled us into some
semblance of order and out into the street we trooped, where we found
ourselves between two detachments of frontier soldiers, one filling the
street ahead of us from house-wall to house-wall, the other similarly
blocking the street behind us. Between them we were marched to the market-
square, where we had plenty of room, for we had it all to ourselves, the
soldiery having cleared it and a squad of them blocking the entrance of
each street leading into it, so that the townsfolk were kept out and we
herded among the frontier soldiery.

Their centurions, to the number of eighteen, stood together on the stone
platform from which orators were accustomed to address or harangue such
crowds as might assemble in the market-square. Before it we packed
ourselves as closely as we could, eager to hear. About us idled the
soldiery not occupied in guarding the approach to the square.

One of the sergeants made a speech to us, explaining our liberation and
their presence in Placentia. He called us "comrades" and began his
harangue with a long and virulent denunciation of Perennis, the Prefect of
the Palace. Perennis, he declared, had been a slave of the vilest origin
and had won his freedom and the favor of the Palace authorities and of the
Emperor not by merit but by rank favoritism. He maintained that Perennis,
as Prefect of the Palace, had gained such an ascendancy over Commodus that
besides his proper duties as guardian of the Emperor's personal safety,
surely a charge sufficiently heavy to burden any one man and sufficiently
honorable to satisfy any reasonable man, his master had been enticed into
entrusting to Perennis the management of the entire Empire, so that he
alone controlled promotions in and appointments to the navy, army and
treasury services. In this capacity, as sole minister and representative
of the sovereign, Perennis had enriched himself by taking bribes from all
from whom he could extort bribes. By his venality he had gone far towards
ruining the navy and army, which were by now more than half officered by
hopeless incompetents who had bought their appointments. As a result the
legionaries garrisoning the lines along the Euphrates, the Carpathians,
the Danube, the Rhine and the Wall, since they were badly led, had
suffered undeserved mishandling from the barbarians attacking them; and
even the garrisons of mountain districts like Armenia, Pisidia, and
Lusitania had been mauled by the bands of outlaws. He instanced the
rebellion of Maternus as a result of the incompetence and venality of
Perennis.

Worse than this, he said, Perennis was plotting the Emperor's
assassination and the elevation to the Principate of one of his two sons.
This project of his, which he was furthering by astute secret
machinations, had come to the knowledge of a loyal member of the Emperor's
retinue. He had written of it to a brother of his, Centurion [Footnote:
See Note D.] of the Thirteenth Legion, entitled "Victorious" and quartered
on the Wall, along the northern frontier of Britain, towards the
Caledonian Highlands. This letter had reached the quarters of the
Thirteenth Legion late in September. Its recipient had at once
communicated to his fellow-sergeants the horrible intimation which it
contained. They had resolved to do all in their power to save their Prince
by forestalling and foiling the treacherous Perennis. They had called a
meeting of their garrison and disclosed their information to their men.
The legionaries acclaimed their decision. Deputations set out east and
west along the Wall and roused the other cohorts of the Thirteenth Legion
and those of the Twenty-Seventh. From the Wall messengers galloped south
to the garrisons throughout Britain. In an incredibly short time, despite
the approach and onset of winter, they apprised every garrison in the
island. Messengers from every garrison reached every garrison. So rapidly
was mutual comprehension and unanimity established, so secretly did they
operate, that on the Nones of January all the garrisons in Britain
simultaneously mutinied, overpowered their unsuspecting officers,
disclosed to them the reasons for their sedition, and invited them to join
them. Of all the officers on the island only two hesitated to agree with
their men. These, after some expostulation, were killed. The rest resumed
their duties, if competent, or were relegated to civilian life, if
adjudged incompetent.

The three most prominent legions in Britain, the Sixth, Thirteenth and
Twentieth, each entitled, because of prowess displayed in past campaigns,
to the appellation of "Victorious," selected the equivalent of a cohort
apiece to unite into a deputation representing the soldiery of Britain
collectively, to proceed to Rome, reveal to the Emperor his danger, save
him, foil Perennis, and see to it that he was put to death. In pursuance
of this plan the six centuries chosen by the Thirteenth Legion, about five
hundred men, had set out southward from the Wall on the day before the
Ides of January. Accomplishing the march of a hundred and thirty-five
miles to Eburacum, in spite of deep snow and heavy snow-storms, in
fourteen days, there they foregathered with the main body of the Sixth
Legion and were joined by their six selected centuries. The twelve, some
thousand picked men, accomplished the march of eighty-five miles to Deva
in nine days, though hampered by terrible weather. There they were joined
by the delegates of the Twentieth Legion. Together the fifteen hundred
deputies made the march of two hundred and eighty miles to Ritupis by way
of Londinium, in twenty-eight days. At Ritupis they took part in the
festival of Isis, by which navigation was declared open for the year and
navigation blessed. Next day, on the day before the Nones of March, they
had sailed for Gaul and made the crossing in ten hours, without any
hindrance from headwinds or bad weather.

From Gessoriacum they had tramped across Gaul, inducing to join them such
kindred spirits as they encountered among the squads of recent levies
being drilled at each large town preparatory to being forwarded to
reinforce the frontier garrisons. These inexperienced recruits they had
organized into centuries under sergeants elected by the recruits
themselves from among themselves, which elective centurions had handily
learnt their novel duties from instructions given by one or two veterans
detailed to aid in drilling each new century. Before they reached Vapincum
they had associated with them fresh comrades equalling themselves in
number, equipped from town arsenals. With these they had crossed into
Italy through the Cottian Alps.

At Segusio they had been told that, under the misrule of Perennis, the
_ergastula_ of Italy were filled, not half with runaway slaves, petty
thieves, rascals, ruffians and outlaws, but mainly with honest fellows who
had committed no crime, but had been secretly arrested and consigned to
their prisons merely because they had incurred the displeasure of Perennis
or of one of his henchmen, or had been suspected, however vaguely, of
actions, words or even of unspoken opinions distasteful to him or to
anyone powerful through him. Acting on that information they had been
setting free the inmates of _ergastula_ in cities through which they had
passed, such as Turin and Milan, and had formed from these victims two
fresh centuries. They proposed that we join them and march with them to
Rome to inform and rescue our Emperor and foil and kill Perennis.

Of course the liberated riffraff accepted this suggestion with enthusiasm
and without a dissenting voice. We were divided into squads of convenient
size and marched off to the near-by bathing establishments. In that to
which Agathemer and I were led, we, with the rest of our squad, were told
by the sergeant superintending us to strip. Our worn, tattered and lousy
garments were turned over to the bath-attendants to be steamed and then
disposed of as they might. We were thoroughly steamed and scrubbed, so
that every man of us was freed from every sort of vermin. During our bath
the centurion, in charge of us unobtrusively inspected us individually and
collectively. In the dressing-room of the bathing establishments, after we
had been steamed, scrubbed, baked, and dried, we were clad in military
tunics fetched from the town arsenal or its store-houses. Also we were
provided with military boots of the coarsest and cheapest materials, made
after the pattern usual for frontier regiments.

Outside the bath the watchful sergeant divided us into two squads, a
larger and a smaller, the smaller made up of those who, like Agathemer and
me, bore brands, and scourge-marks. In the market-square we were again
herded together, surrounded by the British legionaries and now ourselves
divided into those like me and Agathemer, who were marked as runaway
slaves and the larger number who showed no marks of scourge or brand. From
among the unmarked the frontier centurions picked out thirty whom they
judged likely material for sergeants like themselves. These thirty they
bade select from among themselves three. Then they set the three, an
Umbrian and a Ligurian outlaw, and a Dalmatian pirate, along the front of
the stone platform and asked us whether we would accept those three as our
centurions. Two speakers, one a Venetian and the other an Insubrian Gaul,
objected to the pirate. In his place we were bidden to choose some other
from the twenty-seven already selected by the sergeants. A second Umbrian
outlaw was selected.

Then the centurions bade the newly-elected three to choose each one man in
rotation, until they had made up for each the nucleus of a century from
the unmarked men.

After the three new centuries were thus constituted, they asked them to
decide whether they would accept as comrades and associates the residue of
the inmates of our _ergastulum_ who were marked plainly as runaway slaves.
They voted overwhelmingly to accept us. Then the three new sergeants
proceeded to choose us also into their centuries. The choosing was
interrupted by a Ravenna Gaul, who called the attention of the assembly to
the fact that Agathemer had been cook to the _ergastulum_ and I his
helper; similarly to the baker and his assistant. After some discussion it
was unanimously voted that the baker and his helper be treated as any
others of the liberated rascals, that the three new centurions draw lots
which should have Agathemer for cook to his century and me for his helper,
and that the other two centuries appoint cooks by lot unless cooks and
helpers volunteered. Four of the brand-marked rabble at once volunteered.

After the last man had been selected and the British centurions had
marshalled, inspected and approved the three new centuries thus
constituted, we were marched off to the town arsenal and there equipped
with corselets, strap-kilts, greaves; cloaks, helmets, shields, swords and
spears; only Agathemer, I, and the four other cooks and helpers, were
given no spears, shields, helmets or body-armour, only swords, jackets and
caps.

Then, full-fledged tumultary legionaries, we were marshalled as well as
greenhorns could be ranked and we marched from the market-place the length
of the street leading to the Fidentia Gate. Outside it we found the
semblance of a camping-ground and tents ready for us to set up. Up we set
them, we new recruits, clumsily, under the jeers of the old-timers, to the
tune of taunts and curses from the disgusted veteran centurions.

When the camp was set up a fire was made for each century and we cooks and
helpers fell to our duties, with a squad of privates to cut wood, feed the
fires, fetch water and do any other rough preparatory work, such as
butchering a sheep or a goat, killing, picking and cleaning fowls, and
what not. For this welcome, if clumsy, assistance we had to thank one of
the British centurions, who admonished our newly-elected Umbrian sergeant
that camp-cookery called for any needed number of assistant helpers to the
chief cook if the men were to be fed properly and promptly.

The town officials had sent out to the camp a generous provision of wheat,
barley, lentils, pulse, sheep, goats, fowls, cheese, oil, salt and wine. I
did not learn how the volunteer cooks fared, but the barley-stew, seasoned
with minced fowls, which Agathemer concocted, was acclaimed by our
century.

That night, in our tent, Agathemer and I, talking Greek and whispering,
discussed our situation. After two fulfillments, the prophesy of the
Aemilian Sibyl seemed in a fair way to be fulfilled a third time; we were
headed for Rome.

To Rome we went. We had, in that first consultation, in many similar
consultations later, planned to escape and hoped to escape. But we were
too carefully watched. Whether we were suspected because of our scourge-
marks and brand-marks, or were prized as cooks, or whether there was some
other reason, we could not conjecture. Certainly we were sedulously
guarded on all marches, and kept strictly within, each camp, though we
were free to wander about each camp as we pleased.

We had planned to escape in or near Parma, Mutina, Bononia, or Faventia,
any of which towns Agathemer judged a favorable locality for marketing a
gem from our amulet-bags. But in these, as everywhere else, our guards
gave us no chance of escape.

When not busy cooking I found myself greatly interested in the amazing
company among which I was cast. In my rambles about our camp, when all
were full-fed and groups sat or lay chatting about the slackening camp-
fires, I became acquainted with most of the eighteen centurions from
the legions quartered in Britain, and had talks, sometimes even long
talks, with more than half of them. These bluff, burly frontier sergeants,
like their corporals and men, treated all their volunteer associates as
welcome comrades, even welted and branded runaway slaves acting as cooks.
From them I heard again and again the story of discontent, conspiracy,
mutiny, insurrection and attempt at protest about rectification of the
evils they believed to exist, which tale we had all heard outlined by the
sergeant-orator in the Forum of Placentia.

Among the eighteen centurions there was no sergeant-major nor any
centurion of the upper rank. The highest in army rank was Sextius Baculus
of Isca, a native of Britain and lineally descended, through an original
colonist of Isca, from the celebrated sergeant-major of the Divine Julius.
He had been twelfth in rank in the Sixth Legion, being second centurion of
its second cohort. Not one of his seventeen associates had ranked so high:
the next highest being Publius Cordatus, of Lindum, who had been second
sergeant of the fourth cohort in the Twentieth Legion.

The totality of my mental impressions of what I heard from these two and
other members of this incredible deputation of insurgent mutineers and of
what I saw of the doings of the whole deputation, was vague and confused.
From the confusion emerged a predominating sense of their many
inconsistencies and of the haphazard irresponsibility and inconsequence of
their states of mind and actions. They were, indeed, entirely consistent
in one respect. Unlike Maternus and his men, not one of them blamed
Commodus for anything, not even for having appointed Perennis to his high
office and then having permitted him to arrogate to himself all the
functions of the government of the Republic and Empire. One and all they
excused the Emperor and expressed for him enthusiastic loyalty: one and
all they blamed not only the Prefect's mismanagement but also his own
appointment on Perennis. Consistent as they were in holding these opinions
or in having such feelings, the notions were inconsistent in themselves.

So likewise was their often expressed and manifestly sincere intention to
forestall the consummation of the alleged conspiracy and save the Emperor
inconsistent with their slow progress from Britain towards Rome. Never
having been in Britain and knowing little of it from such reports as I had
heard, I could not controvert their assertion that the state of the roads
and weather there had made impossible greater speed than they had achieved
from their quarters to their port, yet I suspected that men really
systematically in earnest might have accomplished in twenty days marches
which had occupied them for fifty-one days. I was certain that it was
nothing short of ridiculous for legionaries in hard fighting condition and
well fed to consume one hundred and one days in marching from their
landing-port on the coast of Gaul to Placentia: ten miles a day was
despicable marching even for lazy and soft-muscled recruits; any
legionaries should make fifteen, miles at day under any conditions,
earnest men keyed up to hurry should have made twenty and might often
march twenty-five miles between camps. These blatherskites were on fire
with high resolve, by their talk, yet had loafed along for a thousand
miles, camping early, sleeping long after sunrise, resting at midday and
gorging themselves at leisurely meals. All this was amazing.

Equally astonishing was the condition of supineness, of all governmental
officials in Gaul, local and Imperial, as their tale revealed it. Neither
the Prefect of the Rhine, nor any one of the Procurators of Gaul, had, as
far as their story indicated, made any effort to arrest them, turn them
back, stop them, check them, hinder them or even have them expostulated
with. As far as I could infer from all I heard neither had the governing
body of any city or town. For all they were interfered with by any
official they might have been full-time veterans, honorably discharged,
marching homeward under accredited officers provided with diplomas
properly made out, signed, sealed and stamped. Everywhere they had been
fed at public expense, lodged free or provided with camping-grounds and
tents; their pack-animals had been replaced if worn out, and everything
they needed had been provided on their asking for it or even before they
made any request. I could only infer that they had inspired fear by their
numbers and truculence and that each town or district had striven to keep
them in a good humor and to get rid of them as soon as possible by
entertaining them lavishly and speeding them along their chosen way.

As they told of their own behavior there had been no consistency or system
or method in their additions to their company. By their own account they
had enticed men to join them or had ignored likely recruits in the most
haphazard fashion, purely as the humor struck them. The like was true of
their emptyings of _ergastula_ in Italy. At Turin, as well as I could
gather from my chats with this or that centurion or soldier or liberated
slave, they had set free the inmates of the _ergastulum_ by the Segusio
Gate and had then turned aside to that by the Vercellae Gate, but had
ignored the larger _ergastulum_ by the Milan Gate; though they had marched
out of Turin, necessarily, by that gate. Similarly at Milan, they had
emptied two _ergastula_ and ignored the rest; as at Placentia, where they
had expended all their time and energy on the first _ergastulum_ they
happened on inside the Milan Gate and on ours, and then had ignored or
forgotten the four or five others, equally large and equally well filled.

On our progress to Rome I saw similar inconsistencies in their behavior.
They never so much as entered Fidentia, but marched round it, acquiescent
to the gentle suggestion of a trembling and incoherent alderman, quaking
with fear and barely able to enunciate some disjointed sentences. At Parma
they emptied two _ergastula_ and never so much as approached the others,
repeating this inconsistency at Mutina and Bononia. Outside of Faventia
something, I never learned what, enraged a knot of the veterans, so that
their fury communicated itself to all the soldiery from Britain and
inflamed their associates, Gallic and Italian. Whereupon we burst the
Bononia Gate of Faventia, flocked into the town, sacked some of the shops,
left a score of corpses in the market-place and some in the streets near
it, set fire to a block of buildings, and burst out of the Ariminum Gate,
tumultuous and excited, but without so much as trying the outer doors of
any _ergastulum_.

Yet, after this riotous performance, we did no damage at Ariminum, not
even entering the town, not even enquiring if it had an _ergastulum_, as
it must have had.

Similarly at Pisaurum, at Fanum Fortunae, at Forum Sempronii, though these
were small towns and could not have resisted us, we camped outside,
accepted gracefully the tents and food provided for us and made no move to
maltreat anyone or do any looting. But at Nuceria, at Spolitum and at
Narnia we entered the towns and liberated the inmates of two of the
_ergastula_, in each, though we never so much as threatened Interamnia.

Looking back over these proceedings I explain them to myself approximately
as follows: the eighteen centurions from Britain treated each other as if
they all felt on terms of complete mutual equality, none ever assumed any
rights of superiority, seniority, precedence, or authority, none was ever
invested with any right of permanent or temporary leadership. If some whim
prompted any one of the eighteen to take the lead in emptying an
_ergastulum_ or breaking in a town gate, or sacking a shop, not one of his
fellow-sergeants demurred or expostulated or opposed him; they all
concurred in any suggestion of any one of them. And the soldiers followed
their centurions with, apparently, implicit confidence in them, or a blind
instinct of deference. So of submission to the request of any town
decurion, that they stay outside: mostly, they were acquiescent. But if
something irritated a sergeant, or even a soldier, the entire deputation
flamed into fury and burst gates, sacked shops and even fired buildings
until their rage spent itself, after which they were civil and kindly to
all townsmen, whether officials, citizens, slaves or women and children. I
never could detect any reason for any action or inaction of theirs.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE EMPEROR


The liberations of public slaves from _ergastula_ in Turin, Milan,
Placentia, Parma, Mutina, Bononia, Nuceria, Spolitum and Narnia resulted
in the formation of eighteen tumultuary centuries, which, between Narnia
and Ocriculum, during a long noon-halt, were formed into the semblance of
three cohorts, thus we approached Rome as nine cohorts: three of the
deputies from Britain; three more of the recruits from Gaul, presumably
like the British legionaries, loyal patriots, bent on foiling Perennis,
and saving their beloved Emperor; and three more composed of the contents
of a dozen or more _ergastula_, opened as the whim took the veteran
sergeants, and assumed to contain not pilferers, runaways or evil-doers,
but innocent victims of the malignity of the understrappers of that
unspeakable Perennis.

As we drew near Rome Agathemer and I discussed our situation and prospects
with increasing alarm. After we left Narnia the watch on us was not so
close and we might have escaped. But we had seen a score of attempts at
escape, by various rascals, foiled and ending in the butchery of the
would-be fugitives. While escape was possible the risk was very great.
Also, Agathemer argued, we were too near to Rome to be safe if we got
clear away. Between dread of death if caught and fear of we knew not what
if we escaped, we stuck to our cookery. Mixed with our projects for
bettering our prospects we talked much of our amazement at the treatment
which the deputation and its associates had met in Italy. Manifestly the
townsfolk and their officials were not only overawed, but helpless. If
there had been no Rome, no Republic, no Praetorians, no Prefect of the
Palace, no central authority whatever we could not have been more
completely free from hindrance, coercion or question, Yet Agathemer and I
could not but conjecture that the Senate, Perennis and Commodus had been
promptly and minutely informed of all our doings, of our progress, of our
approach; and had taken measures to deal with us and our instigators. We
felt panicky.

Spouting long tirades about their loyalty to the Emperor, their hatred of
Perennis and their eagerness to foil one and save the other, our
irresponsible frontier centurions let their men and us loiter southward
through Cisalpine Gaul and Umbria as they had loitered on the other side
of the Alps, seldom marching more than ten miles a day. So that we left
Ocriculum on the tenth day before the Kalends of August and stopped
overnight at each change-station.

We had had fair weather all the way from Placentia, except a heavy rain at
Ariminum and showers in the mountains between Forum Sempronii and Nuceria.
When day dawned on us at Rostrata Villa, on the eighth day before the
Kalends of August, it dawned cloudy, but not threatening. After the usual
camp breakfast of porridge and wine, we fell in, by now fairly decent
marchers, and set off for Rubrae. But before we had marched a mile, the
low clouds soaked us with such a downpour as I had seldom seen of a July
morning near Rome. So heavy and so unrelenting was the rain that we were
glad to halt at the change-house at the twentieth mile-stone, where the
road from Capena to Veii crosses the Flaminian Highway and where there is
a prosperous village as large as many a small town. There we found
quarters and food ready for us and were well entertained. Ad Vicesimum, as
the place is called, is only four miles nearer Rome than Villa Rostrata.

It was about midway of that four-mile march in the pouring rain that I saw
by the roadside three immobile horsemen, their forms swathed in horsemen's
rain-cloaks, their faces hidden under broad-brimmed rain-hats, lined up
with their horses' noses barely a horse-length from the roadway, watching
from a little knoll our column as it passed. The middle horseman of the
three looked familiar. I glanced back at him and met his eyes, intensely
watching me from under his dripping hat brim, as I trudged on the edge of
the trudging rabble. A hot qualm surged through me. It was, it certainly
was, the very same man I had seen in the very same guise on the road
below Villa Andivia as Tanno and I passed by on our way to our fatal brawl
at Vediamnum; the very man who had peered in at me and Capito during his
fatal conference with me in Nemestronia's water-garden, the man whom Tanno
had asserted that he knew for an Imperial spy. I felt recognition in his
gaze; felt that he knew me for my very self. And his nose was hooked.

At our halting place, when Agathemer and I were alone, I asked him in
Greek if he had noticed the three stationary horsemen. He at once, without
my mentioning my suspicions, declared that he also had recognized the
middle horseman precisely as I had. What his presence there might forbode,
what his apparent recognition of me might portend, we could not
conjecture. We agreed that, although both of us had been on the lookout
for Imperial emissaries all the way from Placentia, and alertly watching
from Ariminum southwards, this was the first time we had set eyes on any
man whom we could take for a secret-service man. That so much time had
elapsed since the authorities must have been warned of our approach, that
we should have advanced so near Rome and yet that this should be the first
visible indication of espionage upon us, amazed both me and Agathemer.

Next day, a cloudy but rainless day, we marched only to Rubrae, the
change-station nearest Rome. There, as at every previous halt, we found
the authorities apprised of our approach and prepared to lodge and feed
us. And, as always since we left Nuceria, we were comfortably sheltered in
a camp all ready for our occupancy and lavishly provided with varied food
and passable wine.

Next day, the sixth day before the Kalends of August, dawned exquisitely
fair and bright, with a soft steady breeze; a perfect July day, mild but
not too warm. Our elected sergeants, now quite habituated to their duties
and authority as centurions, routed us up early and, after a leisurely
camp-breakfast, we fell in and set off on the last stage of this amazing
unopposed march of fifteen hundred insurgent mutineers for nineteen
hundred miles, in making which they had so loitered that they had consumed
on the road more than half a year and along which they had added to their
company casual associates twice as numerous as themselves. We left Rubrae
an excited horde, for the veterans were keyed up to a tense pitch of
expectancy by their anticipation of they knew not what culmination to
their insane adventure and their accidental recruits were aquiver with
uneasiness and apprehension.

The Mulvian Bridge over the Tiber is not more than four miles from Rubrae
along the winding Flaminian Highway and we were crossing it before the
third hour of the day was past. Marching with the first of the three
centuries formed at Placentia I had about five-sixths of our column ahead
of me. So I did not see, did not even glimpse, did not, from far towards
the rear, so much as guess what was happening. I knew only that, as I was
more than half way across the Mulvian Bridge, a wave of cheers started far
forward in our column and ran back to my century and all the way to the
rearmost men. What had occurred we did not know, but we broke ranks and
flowed out of the road to left and right, as did the men ahead of us,
becoming almost a mob, despite the remonstrances and orders of our
disgusted sergeants. They restrained us to some extent, but we were kept
back more by the fact that the foremost men blocked the highway, the men
who had been marching next them blocked the fields to right and left of
the highway and the rest of us were checked behind them, like water above
a dam.

As we stood there, packed together, with hardly a semblance of ranks kept
anywhere, craning to see over the heads of the men in front of us and to
try to see past and between the many big and tall tombs and mausoleums
which flanked the road on either side, a period of tense silence or
blurred murmurings was ended by a second great surge of cheers from front
to rear. We all cheered till we were hoarse. Again we peered and listened
and questioned each other, again came a roar of cheering like a sea
billow. Again and again alternated the half silence and the uproar. Before
we learned what was happening or had happened word came from mouth to
mouth that we were going on. The press in front of us gradually melted
away, we were able to sidle into the roadway, reform ranks and tramp on
Romewards.

After a very brief march we turned aside to our right into a meadow on the
west of the road and its flanking rows of tombs, between the Highway and
the Tiber, about half way from Mulvian Bridge to the Flaminian Gate of
Rome; that is, about half a mile from each. There we found a meticulously
laid-out and perfectly appointed camp, precisely suited to the forty-five
hundred of us and our requisitioned mules, wagons and what not. It
contained some four hundred and fifty tents, set on clipped grass along
rolled and gravelled streets as straight as bricklayers' guide-boards; all
about a paved square of ample size, on the rear of which was set up a
gorgeous commander's tent of the whitest canvas, striped with red almost
as deep, rich and glowing as the Imperial crimson, and manifestly meant to
imitate it as closely as such a dyestuff could. On either side of this
Praetorium were a dozen tents, smaller indeed than the Praetorium, but
much larger than tents set up for us, presumably for the commanders'
aides. In front of the Praetorium, between it and the square, was a wide,
broad and high platform of new brickwork, paved on top, railed with solid,
low, carved railings set in short carved oak posts. The corner posts, and
two others dividing the front and back of the platform equally, were tall
and supported an awning of striped canvas like that of the commander's
tent.

Goggling with curiosity we, as we deployed to our quarters, stared hard at
the magnificent tent and sumptuous platform with its gorgeous awning. Once
at our quarters, I and Agathemer, of course, must cook and serve food to
our century. Only after all were fed did we, in common with all the middle
and rear of our road-column, learn what had occurred.

While we ate, our sergeants, while they also ate somehow, held a
centurions' council, at which those of the fifty-four who had not been far
enough forward on the Highway to see and hear were informed, by those who
had, of what had happened. When our sergeant returned from this council he
told us, in a jumbled and mumbled attempt at an address.

From what he told me and from what I heard later I gather that, as the
column debouched from the bridge, its head was met and checked by a body
of mounted Praetorian Guards. Their tribune, in the name of the Emperor,
ordered the column to halt and bade its centurions deploy their men right
and left and mass them in a largish space free of big tombs. As they
deployed the Praetorians also deployed to left and right of the Highway
and the foremost mutineers descried on the roadway the splendid horses and
gorgeous trappings of the Emperor's personal staff, among whom, from the
statues, busts and painted panel-portraits of him which they had seen
daily in their own quarters and countless times on their road to Rome, the
more alert of them recognized their liege.

Then rose that unexpected wave of cheering which had first apprized us in
the rear that something unusual was toward. Commodus, as I heard from
Publius Cordatus himself, after our nap and before the Emperor's return,
was mounted on a tall sorrel such as his father had always preferred on
his frontier campaigns. Also he was garbed not only as his father had
habitually been when on frontier expeditions, but seemingly, in one of his
old outfits. For not only Cordatus, but a dozen more, declared that his
helmet, corselet and the plates of his kilt-straps, were of ungilded,
unchased, plain steel, not even bright with polishing, but tarnished, all
but rusty, with exposure to rain, mist and sun; his plume and cloak rain-
faded and sun-faded till their crimson showed almost brown; his scabbard
plain, dingy leather; his saddle of similar cheap, durable leather, his
saddle-cloth of a crimson faded as brown as his cloak and plume. This was
precisely the Spartan simplicity which Aurelius, as more than half a
Stoic, had always affected, partly from an innate tendency towards self-
restraint and modesty, partly that his example might, at first, offset the
sumptuosity of Verus and, after his death, might inculcate, by example,
economy in his lavish and self-indulgent retinue.

Whatever the motive, by this semi-histrionic effort at self-effacement the
Emperor made himself tenfold conspicuous among his staff-officers, whose
plumes, cloaks, kilts, and saddle-cloths blazed with crimson, green and
gold, blue and silver and even crimson and gold.

Commodus, in any gear, was not only a tall, well-knit, impressive figure
of a man, but, in his most negligent moods, he had something about him
dominating, masterful, princely and Imperial. The sight of him cowed all
who could then see him. Steadily he eyed them as they finished their
tumultuary deployment and pressed forward to see and hear. When they were
packed as closely as possible till no more could get within earshot he
spoke:

"Fellow soldiers, what does this mean?"

All were too awed at the sight of their venerated Caesar for any man to
speak up at once and the Emperor repeated:

"Fellow-soldiers, what does this mean? Tell me, I am your fellow-soldier."

Then Sextius Baculus himself replied, choking and hesitating, quailing
before his lord:

"We are your loyal soldiers from Britain; a deputation come afoot and
afloat almost two thousand miles to warn you of what no man in Rome, for
fear of you more than of your treacherous Prefect, dares to warn you.
Perennis is no fit guardian of your safety; in fact he is of all men most
unfit. For more than two years now he has been laying his plans to have
you assassinated, and to make Emperor in your place his eldest son, the
darling of the Illyrian legionaries. We have come to save you, foil him
and see him and his dead."

"Fellow-soldiers," the Emperor spoke at once, loudly and clearly, "I
acclaim your purpose and welcome your good intentions. But I mean to prove
to you that I am in fact as well as in title Tribune and Prince of the
Republic, Emperor of its armies, Augustus and Caesar. Your solicitude I
applaud, but I feel better able to take care of myself than can any other
man save myself. I fear no man and appoint no man I distrust. I distrust
few men after appointment. You lodge a grave charge against a man I have
trusted, appointed and then trusted. I condemn few men unheard. As your
Imperator I command you to camp where my legates indicate, to eat a hearty
noon meal, to sleep, or at least rest in your tents, two full hours. About
the tenth hour of the day I shall return, my trusty guards about me and
Perennis himself in my retinue. From the platform of your camp, as a chief
commander should, I will harangue you, and from that platform, after he
has heard from me your accusation, my Prefect of the Praetorium shall make
to you his defense. After he has spoken you shall hear me deliver just and
impartial judgment, a judgment no man of you can but accept as fair and
righteous.

"And now farewell, until the tenth hour."

At which word he had reined up, wheeled and spurred his mettlesome mount
and thereupon vanished with his staff in a cloud of dust, at full gallop.

According to the Emperor's behest we rested in our tents after the
centurions had each harangued his men. But if any slept, it was a marvel.
All were too excited to sleep and every tent, as far as I could learn,
talked without cessation. By the tenth hour, when the sun was visibly
declining and the warmth of the midday abating, we were all assembled in
the camp-square, the men helmeted and with their swords at their sides,
but without shields or spears.

It was perfectly in keeping with the inconsistency of the mutineers that
the crowd of men in the camp-square, instead of being marshalled by
centuries under their sergeants, was allowed to assemble mob-fashion as
each man came and pushed. Thus Agathemer and I, who should have been
preparing to cook our company's evening meal, were not only in the throng,
but well forward among the men and, in fact, pressed legs and chests
against the legs and backs of two veterans not far from the rearmost
centurions of the gathering of sergeants, not sixty feet from the
platform, and nearly opposite its middle, though a little to the left. Few
veteran privates heard and saw better than we.

When the Imperial cortege arrived and the platform began to fill, we two,
like the men around us and like, I feel sure, the entire gathering, were
amazed to see among the men four women, and Agathemer and I were doubly
amazed to recognize one as Marcia. Agathemer, who knew the former slaves
and present freedwomen of the Palace far better than I, whispered that the
others were the sister and wife of Perennis and the wife of Cleander, like
him a former slave and pampered freedman, and for long his rival.

The platform, of course, was lined and partly filled with aides, lictors,
equerries, pages, and other Imperial satellites before the Emperor rode
up, dismounted and appeared among his retinue. He strode springily to the
front and seated himself on the crimson cushion of the ivory curule seat
which a lictor placed for him. Marcia, to my tenfold amazement, then
seated herself on a not dissimilar maple folding-seat, spread for her by a
page. She was placed at the very front of the platform, next him on his
right. Next her was Cleander's wife, also, to my still greater amazement,
similarly seated, as were the two almost as ornately clad ladies with
Perennis, who sat on his left, he standing to the left of the Emperor, who
was set only a short yard in advance of the row of officials and intimates
who lined the front of the platform.

Until all who had a right to places on the platform had mounted it and
each had stationed himself in his proper position, the Emperor sat quietly
regarding the mob of men facing him, eyeing us keenly and steadily. An
equerry leaned over and whispered to him and he stood up. I could feel the
men thrill, even more positively than they had thrilled when he appeared
from among his retinue. I conjectured, instantly, that he had felt, if not
an actual dread of the mutineers, at least a doubt as to his ability to
quell them and a need for all possible adventitious aids. Thus I explained
to myself his having donned, that morning, trappings such as his father
had worn on frontier campaigns, apparently with the purpose of eliciting
the sympathies of the men.

He now wore a gilded helmet, elaborately chased, and its crest a carved
Chimaera spouting golden flames, which golden spout of flames, with the
Chimaera's wings, formed the support from which waved his crimson plume,
all of brilliantly dyed ostrich feathers. His corselet was similarly
gilded or, perhaps, like the helmet, even of pure gold hammered and
chased, adorned with depictions of the battles of the gods and giants
above, and below with Trajan's victories over the Parthians. His kilt-
straps were of crimson leather, plated with gilt or gold overlapping
scales. His cloak was of the newest and most brilliant Imperial crimson.
The platform was so high that I could clearly see his shapely calves and
the gold eagles embroidered on the sky-blue soft leather of his half-
boots. In his hand, he held a short baton or truncheon, such as all field-
commanders carry as an emblem of independent command, such as I had seen
at Tegulata in the hand of Pescennius Niger. It was gilded or gold-plated
and its ends were chased pine-cones. Manifestly every detail of his
habiting had been meticulously considered and the total effect carefully
calculated. Certainly he was not only handsome and winsome, but dignified
and imposing, truly a princely and Imperial figure. Evidently he had
calculatingly arrayed himself so as to appear at one and the same time as
Emperor and as a field-commander. The effect on the men, if I could judge,
was all he had wished, all he could have hoped for. He dominated the mob
of men as he dominated the platform.

There was no need of his wave of the arm enjoining silence. The silence,
from his first movement as he rose, was as complete as possible.

"Fellow-soldiers," he said, and he spoke as well as the most practiced
orator, audibly to all, smoothly and charmingly, "you have come from
Britain across the sea, across Gaul, across the Alps, and half the length
of Italy, with the best intentions, with the sincerest hearts, to apprize
me of danger to me in my own Palace, danger unsuspected by me, as you
believe. Your loyalty, your good intentions, your sincerity I realize and
rejoice over. But I find it hard to believe that any soldiers in distant
frontier garrisons can be better informed than the Prince himself of what
goes on in Italy, in Rome, in the very Palace. You have lodged the gravest
accusations against one of my most important and most trusted officials. I
shall now state your charges, that the accused man may hear them now for
the first time from my own lips and may here and now make his defence to
you and to me."

He paused. My eyes had been on Commodus and now shifted to Perennis.
Perennis was a handsome man, but in spite of, rather than because of, his
build and features. Even through the splendid trappings of Prefect of the
Praetorium he appeared too tall and too thin, his neck was too long, his
face too long, his ears too big, his long nose overhung his upper lip. He
was impressive and capable looking but appeared too crafty, too foxy. I
felt sure that he had not the least suspicion of what was coming. He
looked all vanity, self-satisfaction and vainglorious self-sufficiency.

"Fellow-soldiers," the Emperor went on, "you charge that my Prefect of the
Praetorium is not loyal, but is most treacherous; that he has been, for
more than two years, plotting my death and the elevation to the
Principiate of his eldest son, now Procurator of Illyricum. As he has now
heard the charge, so you shall now hear the defense of my Prefect of the
Praetorium."

I must say that Perennis, though manifestly thunderstruck, kept his
senses, kept his self-command and, after a brief instant in which he
paled, swayed and seemed utterly dazed, rose to the occasion. For that
brief instant he appeared as overcome as his horrified wife and sister,
who all but fainted on their seats; as his horrified sons, who stood,
agape, dead-pale, one by his white-faced mother, and the other by his
incredulous aunt.

Perennis, certainly, gathered himself together promptly, got himself under
full control, had all his wits about him and made a perfectly conceived,
finely delivered, coherent, logical, telling speech in his own defence. It
was long, but nowhere diffuse, and it held the attention manifestly, not
only of the mutineers, but of the Emperor himself, and of all his retinue,
even the most vacuous of the mere courtiers. As he ended it, it was plain
that Perennis believed he had cleared himself completely and had not only
vindicated himself before his master, but had convinced the mutineers of
his guiltlessness and loyalty. His expression of face, as he wound up his
eloquent peroration, was that of a man who, unexpectedly to himself,
transmounts insuperable difficulties and triumphs.

Confidently he turned to Commodus; smiling and at ease, he awaited his
decision. The Emperor stood up, more dominating, if possible, than before.

"Fellow-soldiers," he said, "watch me closely and listen carefully. What I
do shall be as significant as what I say. I have pondered your charges
since you made them this morning. In my mind I have run over all that I
knew of this man's doings and sayings since I made him the guardian of my
personal safety. I have let him hear your charges from my own lips and,
like you, I have listened patiently to his brilliant and able speech in
his own defence. I am Prince of the Republic and Emperor of its armies, to
favor no man, to do and speak impartial justice to all men alike.

"You know what happens to the shirker who sleeps on his post when on
sentry-duty about a camp at night in the face of the enemy. If guilty of
what you charge any Prefect of the Praetorium deserves not otherwise than
such a traitor. I have heard all this man has to say. I did not believe
you this morning. I do not disbelieve you now. I do not believe this man,
I believe he has been treacherous and that in his dexterous defence just
now he lied. Watch me! I turn him over to you."

And, with a really magnificent gesture, he stepped half a pace away from
Perennis, stretched out his left arm, the golden baton in his hand, and,
with that fatal truncheon, touched him on the shoulder.

The roar that rose was the roar of wild beasts ravening for their prey.
The men, packed as they were, somehow surged forward. On the shoulders of
their fellow-centurions, a sort of billow of the foremost sergeants rose
like surf against a rock; like surf breaking against a rock a sort of foam
of them overflowed the front of the platform. For the twinkling of an eye
I beheld above this rising tide of executioners the imperious dignity of
the Emperor, master of the scene, self-confident and certain that all men
would approve of his decision, magnificent in his military trappings; the
incredulous amazement of Perennis, his pale, watery blue eyes bleared in
his lead-colored, bloodless face, as he stood dazed and numb; the horror
of his bedizened wife and sister, both fleshy women, dark-skinned and
normally red-cheeked, now gray with despair, like the two wretched lads
beside them; the cruelly feminine relish, as upon the successful fruition
of long and tortuous intrigues, blazoned on the faces of Marcia and of
Cleander's wife, a very showy woman with golden hair, violet eyes and a
delicately pink and white complexion: a similar expression of relished
triumph on the broad, fat, ruddy face of her big husband, who looked just
what he had been; a man who had started life as a slave; whose master had
thought him likely to be most profitably employed as a street porter, in
which capacity he had for years carried packs, crates, bales, chests,
rafters and such like immensely heavy loads long distances and had thriven
on his exertions; who, whatever brains he had since displayed, however
much character and merit had contributed to his dazzling rise in life, had
retained and still possessed a hearty appetite, a perfect digestion,
mighty muscles, hard and solid, all over his hulking frame, and the vast
strength of his early prime; all these chief actors framed against a
background of gaudily caparisoned officers and courtiers.

In scarcely more than the twinkling of an eye Perennis. was seized by four
brawny frontier sergeants and hurled down among the men, among whom he
vanished like a lynx under a pack of dogs. I caught no afterglimpse of him
nor of his frayed corpse; I descried only a sort of whirlpool of active
men about the spot where he had, as it were, sunk into their vortex.

When the flailing arms ceased flailing and the panting executioners stood
quiet, the Emperor stretched out his right hand for silence; the rumbling
snarls and growls of the mob abated till silence reigned. Into it he
spoke:

"You know the custom of our fathers since Numa. The family of a traitor is
abolished with him."

There came a second roar of the ravening, ferocious men, a second surge of
the foremost up the face of the platform, and, instantly, the sons, wife
and sister of Perennis were pushed from it, cast down among the mob, and
never reappeared. After the mob quieted a second time Commodus again
raised his hand for silence. Quicker than before the men were still. He
spoke loud and clear:  "You have saved me from a treacherous Prefect of
the Praetorium. I have meditated whom to appoint to his vacant post. I
have considered well. I now present him to you; my faithful henchman,
Cleander of Mazaca, who, by his own deserts, has won citizenship in the
Republic, equestrian rank and my favor and gratitude."

The mob cheered.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MASSACRE


Retrospectively, Cleander is talked of, if at all, chiefly as having been
brutish, dull, stupid, venal, avaricious and cruel. Cruel and avaricious
he certainly became; venal and brutish he certainly seemed; but dull or
stupid I cannot admit that he ever was. Indubitably, at the time of his
appointment to be Prefect of the Praetorium, he possessed some qualities
fitting him, as he later was, to be entrusted by his self-indulgent master
with the administration of the whole Empire. Certainly he was quick-
thinking, prompt, ingenious, incredibly persuasive, resolute and ruthless,
which qualities go far towards equipping a ruler. Without these
characteristics he could not have conceived or adopted the plan which he
successfully executed.

Commodus caught Cleander's eye, nodded to him and sat down. Confident and
smiling, Oleander stepped forward to the platform's railing and addressed
us.

"As Prefect of the Praetorium, I am charged with the care of the personal
safety of our Prince in his Palace, in the City and wherever he may be.
Among measures for his personal safety I rate high the maintenance of
discipline and loyalty among his frontier garrisons or their
reëstablishment if impaired. By his command you are to return speedily
whence you came and tell your fellows of the complete success of your
mission. I must be sure that your report will satisfy them, that you set
out on your return fully satisfied yourselves. Are you satisfied? I ask
your senior sergeant to act as spokesman. After he has spoken I shall give
all who desire it the opportunity to speak."

Sextius Baculus at once replied that they were not satisfied while the
post of Procurator of Illyricum was held by the eldest son of Perennis, or
while he held any office, or, in fact, while he was alive.

Cleander, in a loud, far-carrying voice, apprized the entire assemblage of
what Baculus had said, and replied to him:

"From now on I am in charge of all matters pertaining to the personal
safety of Caesar, including the apprehension and execution of all traitors
and potential traitors. You may rely implicitly on me without suggestions
from anyone to take all measures which may be necessary in all such cases.
In this case you may feel assured that I have already initiated measures
which will infallibly lead to the traitor's return to Italy, without any
unsettlement of the loyalty of the Illyrian garrisons, to his being
quietly arrested and as quietly executed. Are you satisfied?"

The answer was a roar of cheers, roar after roar. When the cheering
subsided Cleander, three separate times, urged anyone who wished to speak
up. No man spoke. Then he said:

"I am commissioned by Caesar to repeat to you explicitly what he has
himself partly expressed to you twice today: his appreciation of your
fealty and good intentions, his thanks for your good order on your march
from Britain and for your having saved him from unsuspected peril, and his
gratitude. But please take note and remember that Caesar specially
commissions me to say to you that no similar deputation from Britain or
from anywhere else will ever be permitted to reach Rome, to enter Italy or
even to set out from the posts assigned to its members. Any attempt at
such a deputation will be treated, not as well-meant effort to help our
Sovereign, but as sacrilegious rebellion against him.

"Also please note that, whereas he has accepted your advice and acted upon
it, any further expression of advice from any of you or any future attempt
of any legionaries to advise the Emperor will be regarded as an unbearable
act of insolence and presumption and dealt with as such. Caesar commands
you to be silent and obey.

"Through me he notifies you that your stay at Rome is to be short, that
you are, within a few days, under officers appointed by him, to set out on
your return march to your Gallic port, there to reëmbark for Britain,
there to guard the frontier or keep order in the provinces. As a
preparation, for your return march he bids you rest and feast; and, that
all may feast, he has lavishly provided food and wine, which you will find
ready at your quarters, and with that provision an ample force of cooks
and servitors to prepare and distribute your banquet. Caesar now goes to
dine and bids you disperse to dine. I have spoken for Caesar. Obey!"

Less heartily, perhaps, but universally, this haughty speech was responded
to by loud, tumultuous and long-lasting cheers. More cheers saluted the
Emperor when he stood up and followed him till he had vanished with his
retinue, at full gallop. The men even continued to cheer until Cleander's
wife and Marcia had entered their gilded carriages and been driven off in
the wake of the Imperial cortege.

Our evening meal was truly, as Cleander had called it, a feast and a
banquet. When we reached our quarters the food was ready and just ready
and our repast began at once. It was calculated, in every particular, to
induce gluttonous gorging and guzzling. Before our hunger was really
satisfied, before we had more than barely begun to drink the temptingly
excellent wine, Agathemer whispered in Greek:

"This banquet is an attempt to make all of us sleep far too soundly. Every
man of us will be surfeited with food and fuddled with wine. You and I
must be exceptions. Be sure to eat less than you want and to make a mere
show of drinking. We must keep awake."

We did, and, in our tent, discussed in whispers our situation.

"North of Nuceria," Agathemer said, "I judged that we should be safer by
ourselves than with these fools and rabble, but they kept such close watch
on us that the risks of escape were too great. South of Narnia I have
judged us better off where we were than if wandering alone. Now whatever
the risks of an attempt to escape, whatever the perils we may encounter if
we escape, try to escape we must. I have an intuition that this camp is,
tonight, the most dangerous spot in all Italy."

We peered out of the tent at intervals; without hindrance or danger, for
our tent-mates were utterly asleep. The night was windless and warm. A
moon, more than half full, rose about midnight and, as it climbed the sky,
shed a pearly light through a veil of mist which deepened and thickened.
Near the ground the mist was so thick that it made escape easy, though
blundering likely.

We tried to judge our time so as to start a full hour before the first
streak of dawn. We traversed unhindered a camp sunk in sleep, where we
heard no sound but crapulous snorings. Northward, towards the Mulvian
Bridge, we sneaked out into the tomb-lined meadows. Through or above the
dense fog we could spy the pinnacles of several vast and ambitious
mausoleums glittering in the moon-rays.

We were not a hundred yards from the camp when I dimly perceived ahead of
us through the fog something like a wall or stockade about two yards high.
A step or two further, at the same moment at which I made out that it was
a serried rank of helmetted men, a challenge rang out, sharp and
peremptory.

Instantaneously we dropped on our hands and knees and crawled back to
camp.

"I told you I had a suspicion that this was a dangerous locality,"
Agathemer whispered when we had stood up and gotten our breath. "Those
were regular infantry of some sort. We can only hope that they are on that
side only. Let's try towards Rome."

There, at about the same distance we were similarly challenged.

In camp again Agathemer said:

"Those were Praetorian infantrymen, and they were standing shoulder to
shoulder. This looks bad. But I believe in taking every possible chance.
Let's try towards the road."

Eastwards also we encountered the like obstacle.

Back we crawled unpursued. As we skurried through the snoring camp,
unperceived by the sodden sleepers, Agathemer said, aloud:

"This looks increasingly bad. The Praetorians are standing with
interlocked elbows; they look unpleasantly like samples of a complete
cordon round the camp. The mounted Praetorians are behind them not two
horse-lengths and less than that apart. I divined some sort of troops
massed behind the cavalrymen. I feel frightened."

Out we raced towards the broad Tiber, towards it we crept through fog
across the meadow. Again we were challenged. The cordon was, apparently,
complete.

As we regained the camp Agathemer said:

"If we are to escape alive we need all our craft, and we must be quick."

We sprinted, not to our quarters, but to those of the British veterans.
Into each tent we peered.

Every tent was empty!

Agathemer, plainly, felt in a desperate hurry, yet he took time to glance
into the most of the hundred and fifty tents, tearing along past the lines
of them. He also took time, after our brief inspection was finished, to
pause, get his breath and say:

"This looks worse than bad. I miss my guess if many of these slumberers
wake alive. Strip!"

We stripped of everything except our amulet bags.

Then, at full run, stark naked, our unsheathed sheath-knives in our hands,
we raced through the fog, now glimmering with the first forehint of coming
dawn, along the inner edge of the veterans' tents, till we were opposite
the quarters of the tumultuary century formed from the outpourings of the
_ergastulum_, at Nuceria.

Into one of the veterans' tents we went.

"Knife in teeth!" said Agathemer.

The tents were lavishly provided with unsoldierly comforts, a double
allowance of blankets and mattresses stuffed with dried reeds or sedge.
Motioning me to help, Agathemer doubled a mattress and pressed on it till
it lay so. Then he doubled another and set it so that the two were about a
yard apart, with their folds towards each other. Another pair he set
similarly so that the interval between the folds was over two yards long.
Then we roofed the interval, so to speak, with two mattresses laid flat,
and laid two more on each of these. Not yet satisfied Agathemer led me out
four times to drag in, from the near-by tents, mattresses, two of which we
laid lengthwise over the triple mattress-roof, the others we heaped over
the end of the roofed tunnel furthest from the opening of the tent.

Then we went outside yet again and cut the ropes of the two adjacent tents
and of the one above the pile of mattresses. We threw our knives far away
and bunched up the collapsed canvas of that tent so that it formed a sort
of continuation of the mattress-roofed tunnel. Then we crawled, feet
first, into the tunnel, taking with us two full water-bottles which
Agathemer had found in one of the tents and a quarter loaf of bread, left
over from the banquet. It smelt appetizing.

We wriggled into the tunnel side by side, until our heads were well under
the mattress-roof. We could see out under the huddled, crumpled canvas.
Full in our limited view lay, in the middle of the camp street, a fat
Nucerian, the outline of his big chest and prominent paunch dimly visible
in the increasing light. His gurgling snores were plainly audible.

Agathemer broke off two fragments of the bread and we munched
ruminatively.

We had hardly swallowed three mouthfuls when Agathemer exclaimed:

"Just in time! I can hear the arrows already! Listen!"

We listened. I could hear a sound as of hail on roofs. And, just above us,
I could hear the arrows plunge into our protecting mound with a swishing,
rending thud.

"We ought to be safe," Agathemer whispered. "But we may get skewered even
as we are. Volleyed arrows drive deep."

I heard many a volley and, after the first, since I was listening for it,
I heard faintly before each volley the deep boom of thousands of powerful
bows, twanging all at the same instant.

As the light increased I could see the drunken Nucerian with his hummocky
outline emphasized by five feathered arrows planted in his body. He must
have been killed by any of the five.

When we saw living men pass across our outlook, their legs looked like
those of some sort of foreign auxiliaries. I made the conjecture, from
their movements, that they were killing the merely wounded. Certainly, one
of them drove his long sword through the prostrate, arrow-skewered
Nucerian; and, sometime later, another, with quite a different type of
leg-coverings, did the like.

After daylight we saw pass by the legs of many Praetorian infantrymen and
of some cavalrymen. From the second hour we saw only legs of some novel
sort of regular soldiery whose trappings neither of us could recognize.

It grew hot in our hiding place. We talked in whispers; while talking we
seemed more indifferent to the heat.

Agathemer said:

"All this must have been planned beforehand and carefully and very
skillfully carried out. It took ingenuity, minutely detailed arrangements
and great skill to arrange that banquet so as to get all the tumultuary
additions to the deputation surfeited and dead drunk and yet keep the
veteran legionaries near enough to being sober to be waked up, marshalled
and marched out. And it took amazing eloquence to wheedle their centurions
into abandoning their invited associates. The whole thing is a miracle. I
can't see through it."

I may interpolate here, what I learned more than four years later, after
Cleander's downfall and death and after my return from Africa, that
Agathemer's conjectures, as we talked the matter over in our nook, were
correct. Perennis had formulated the plan and had prepared for it and
given the preliminary orders. His was the policy of allowing the mutineers
to march all the way to Rome unhindered. He, without consulting the
Emperor and with every care to prevent him from suspecting what was afoot,
imported a thousand archers from Crete, and as many mounted bowmen from
Numidia, from Mauretania and from Gaetulia. He planned the banquet-feast,
he made arrangements for the cordon of Praetorians. The massacre was his
idea.

Cleander must have known of all this; he could not, like Commodus, be kept
in ignorance. Either before he came to our camp, or, perhaps, in his
elation at his rival's ruin and his own success, he adopted the ready
plan. Most likely the separation from their fellows of the veteran
mutineers was all his own idea; Perennis was not the man to carry out so
bold a stroke nor so much as to conceive of it. Indubitably, after dark,
the eighteen veteran sergeants were secretly called to a meeting with
Cleander. The fellow must have possessed superhuman powers of persuasion.
Certainly he made a long speech in which he convinced the leaders of the
mutineers that their having associated with themselves tumultuary recruits
in Gaul and the liberated inmates of _ergastula_ in Italy was inconsistent
with their expressed loyalty to Caesar and the Commonwealth; that by such
action, they had gravely imperilled the very existence of the Republic and
the safety of their Emperor. He won them over so completely that they
acceded, without hesitation, to his dictum that they ought to do all in
their power to repair the ill effects of their error of judgment; that the
only way was to abandon their associates, to leave them for him to deal
with and to march with all speed back to Britain to reassure their fellow-
insurgents and reclaim Britain to effective loyalty.

So completely were they under his spell that they returned to their camp,
roused their men without waking any of their tumultuary associates, and
marched the whole body of veterans, in the night, across the Mulvian
Bridge and on all day to a prepared camp near Careiae, where they spent
the night. From there they marched in two days the forty-six miles to
Cosa; whence they followed the Aurelian road to Marseilles, as we had
ridden it, and from there marched across Gaul to Gessoriacum and shipped
for Britain, all in half the time in which they had come.

Agathemer and I spent the whole day in our hiding place, suffering
terribly from the heat, for the day was hot, muggy and breezeless, so that
the still sultry air was stifling. We spared our water-bottles and made
their contents last. Our bread we munched relishingly after noon.

Before sunset we were discovered and unearthed by some of the infantry
whose trappings were unknown to us. We found out later that they belonged
to the newly-enlisted Viarii, cohorts created from picked young men judged
agile, alert, intelligent and loyal, to act as a special road-constabulary
to deal with robbers and especially with the bands obeying the King of the
Highwaymen and with him.

Our captors did not treat us roughly, though they bound our hands behind
us effectually. They laughed over our device for escaping the arrows and
commented on our cleverness. Our amulet-bags they ignored, being more
interested in our brand-marks and scourge-scars. Their sergeant asked us
where we were from.

"Do you think it likely," Agathemer laughed, "that we would tell you;
can't you read on our backs that, wherever we came from it is the last
place on earth we want to go back to?"

The sergeant laughed genially.

"Mark 'em 'unidentified'," he ordered.

They clothed us in tunics innocent of any blood-stains, but which, we felt
sure, had been taken from the corpses of our late associates.

"Put 'em with the rest," the sergeant ordered.

With the rest, some three hundred survivors out of more than three
thousand tumultuaries, we were herded inside a convoy of constabulary and
marched in the dusk and dark to our former camp at Rubrae. There we were
liberally fed on what was, apparently, the leavings from the entertainment
afforded the mutineers there on their down-march.

Next morning we were lined up and inspected by a superior officer with two
orderlies and two secretaries. As he passed down the rank in which
Agathemer and I stood he eyed us keenly. After a time he returned and
said:

"These two rascals are trying to keep together. Separate them!"

Thereafter I saw no more of Agathemer for over four years.

I do not wish to dwell on my wretchedness, after we were parted. Alone
among riffraff, I was very miserable. I mourned for the faithful fellow
and knew he mourned for me. I longed for him as keenly as if he had been
my twin-brother.

I and my fellows were marched on under close convoy, up the Flaminian
Highway and the batch among which I was, was cast into the _ergastulum_ at
Nuceria.

There I passed a miserable winter. Our prison was not unlike the
_ergastulum_ at Placentia; ill-designed, damp, cold, filthy, swarming with
vermin and crowded with wretches like myself. I was despondent in my
loneliness and found harder to bear my shiverings, my fitful half-sleep in
my foul infested bunk, the horrible food, the grinding labor, the stripes
and blows and insults of the guards and overseers and the jeers of my
inhuman fellow-sufferers. This time I had no chance of becoming cook's-
helper or of easing my circumstances in any other manner. I spent the
entire winter haggard for sleep, underclad, underfed, overworked,
shivering, beaten and abused.

Conditions in that _ergastulum_ were more than amazing. It was so utterly
mismanaged that, in fact, very little effective work was done, though the
inmates were roused early, set to their tasks before they could really
see, lashed all day, given but a very brief rest at noon and released only
after dusk. Half the prisoners judiciously directed could have ground
twice as much grain. As it was, the superintendent and overseers had far
less real authority than a sort of dictator elected or selected or
tolerated by the rabble. He had a sort of senate of the six most ruffianly
of the prisoners. These seven ruled the _ergastulum_ and their power was
effective for overworking and underfeeding, even more than the generality,
those whom they disliked, and for diminishing the labors and increasing
the rations of their favorites. The existence of this secret government
among the rabble was in itself astonishing, its methods yet more so.

Unlike the _ergastulum_ at Placentia the watch at the _ergastulum_ at
Nuceria was very lax and haphazard. It was effective at keeping us in;
there were but three escapes all winter. But communication with the
outside world was fairly easy and was kept up unceasingly. Many of the
inmates had friends among the slaves of Nuceria. The gate-guards were so
remiss that, daily, one or more outsiders entered our prison and left when
they pleased. The henchmen of the dictator even managed to slip out and
spend an hour or more where they pleased in the city. This, however, was
possible only if they returned soon, for the superintendent was keen on
calling us over three times a day.

Through the activities of those inmates who arranged to get out and
return, and of their friends who entered and left, since the weighers of
the grain and flour were careless and their inspectors negligent, the
dictator and his friends drove a regular and profitable trade in stolen
flour, which they exchanged for wine, oil, dainties, stolen clothing and
such other articles as they desired; they even sold much of it for cash,
and not only the dictator but each of the six senators had a hoard of
coins, not merely coppers, but broad silver pieces.

In this traffic and its advantages I had no share. In fact, of all his
fellows, I think the dictator hated me most; certainly he bullied me, made
my lot harder in countless petty ways, and abused and insulted me
constantly.

After mid-winter I became aware of a traffic not only in dainties and
wine, but in implements and weapons. Many daggers and knives were smuggled
into the _ergastulum_, not a few files. The senators had a small arsenal
of old swords, regular infantry swords, rusty but dangerous. Gradually I
heard whispers of a plot. The conspirators were to file through the bars
of more than one window, plastering up the filed places with filth and
earth to conceal the filing, leaving a thread of metal to hold the filed
bars in place. Then, when all was ready, they planned to murder the
guards, overseers and superintendent, break out, sack the town-arsenal,
loot shops and mansions, and then, well-clad and fully armed, take to the
mountains and join the bands of the King of the Highwaymen. Two of the
senators claimed to have been men of his before their incarceration and
promised to lead the rest to the haunts of his brigands.

The date set for their attempt was the fourteenth day before the Kalends
of April, a few days before the Vernal Equinox. My gorge rose at the idea
of the burning and sacking of Nuceria, even at the slaughter of our cruel
guards, overseers and superintendent. The more I thought the matter over
the less I liked the prospect. I had every reason to hate the dictator and
senators. I saw no likelihood of betterment for myself if I were carried
off with these riffraff as one of a band of looters, murderers and
outlaws, loose in the forests.

I contrived to disclose the plot to the prison authorities. As a result
the _ergastulum_ was entered by the town guards, rigorously searched by
the aldermen and their apparitors, under the aldermen's eyes, all the sawn
bars, files, knives, daggers and swords discovered, the suspected men
tortured till the ring-leaders were identified, the dictator and his
senators flogged and manacled, and the management of the _ergastulum_
renovated.

I was conducted from the prison, given a bath, clothed in a clean, warm
tunic and cloak, provided with good shoes, abundantly fed and put to sleep
in a clean bed in the house of a freedman who watched closely that I did
not escape, but did everything to make me comfortable.

The next day the chief alderman of Nuceria interrogated me at the town
hall, praised me, declared that I had saved the town many horrors and much
damage and loss, and asked me what reward I craved.

I answered, boldly, that what I craved was what all slaves craved:
freedom.

He replied that, in his opinion, I had merited manumission; but that I was
not the property of the municipality of Nuceria, but of the _fiscus_;
[Footnote: See Note B.] I was, in short, part of the personal property of
the Emperor and could be manumitted only by the Emperor, or by one of his
legal representatives. Such a manumission would be difficult to arrange
and its arrangement would take a long time. He would set to work to try to
arrange for it. Meantime, could I not ask some reward within their power
to grant?

I at once replied that I desired above all things never to be returned to
that _ergastulum_.

This he promised immediately, saying that recommitment there would be
equivalent to a sentence of torture and death, since my late associates,
infuriated at my treachery, as they named it, would certainly inflict on
me all the torments their malignity could suggest and keep on till I died.
He added that he and the other aldermen had never meant to recommit me;
deliverance from that _ergastulum_. they considered part of my reward and
that the least part of it. What else did I desire?

"If," said I, "I must remain a slave and, remaining the property of
Caesar, must be employed as the administration of the _fiscus_ direct, at
least try to arrange that I be employed out of doors far from any town, on
a slave farm, or at herding or wood-cutting or charcoal-burning. I have
heard that many of Caesar's slave-gangs are busy afield, on farms, or
pasture-lands or in the forests."

"That," said the alderman, "will be easy. Afield you shall go--even far
afield. Do you like horses? Can you manage horses?"

"I love all animals," I said, "and most particularly horses."

"Then," said the alderman, "I have already in mind the very place for you,
where none of your rancorous late associates can ever find you, on an
Imperial stock-farm or breeding-ranch in the uplands, among the forested
mountains. Would you consider it a reward, would you consider it the
fulfillment of your wish to be transferred from our town _ergastulum_,
where you were as an Imperial slave rented out to our city, to such an
Imperial estate, where you will be directly under the employees of the
_fiscus_?"

"I certainly should feel rewarded," I said, "by such a transfer."

"In addition," he concluded, "we shall present you with a new tunic and
cloak and new shoes, also an extra tunic, and with a purse containing ten
silver pieces."



CHAPTER XXV

THE OPEN COUNTRY


After some days of rest, abundant food and leisurely hot-baths in the
freedman's house, I left Nuceria under convoy of three genial road-
constables and journeyed deliberately northward along the Flaminian
Highway to the Imperial estate which was to be my abode. I am not going to
locate it precisely nor to name the villages nearest it nor the
neighboring towns. It will be quite sufficient to set down that it was
near the Flaminian Highway and approximately half way between Nuceria and
Forum Sempronii.

My reasons for vagueness are mandatory, to my mind. Feuds in the Umbrian
mountains differ greatly from feuds in the Sabine hills; but, like
Sabinum, Umbria is afflicted with feuds. Now I anticipate that this book
will not only be widely read among our nobility and gentry and much
discussed by them, but also that it will be talked of by more than half
Rome and that copies of it and talk about it will spread all over Italy
and even into the provinces. Talk of it may trickle into the Umbrian
mountains. Umbrian mountaineers live long. Some of those who loved me and
befriended me or loved and befriended those who loved and befriended me,
may still be alive and hearty and likely to live many years yet. So also
may be some of those who hated me. I do not want anyone holding a grudge,
or nursing the grudge of a dead kinsman or friend, to learn through me of
any secret kindness to me which he might regard as treachery to his kin
and so feel impelled to avenge on those who befriended me or their
children or grandchildren. Umbrian enmities ramify incredibly and endure
from generation to generation. I remember with gratitude many Umbrians who
were kind to me; I would not, however, indirectly cause any trouble to
them in their old age, or to their descendants.

The Imperial estate was large and I learned its history. It was made up of
three adjacent properties confiscated at different periods by different
Emperors. One had fallen to the _fiscus_ under Nero, a second under
Domitian, and a third under Trajan, each as the result of its owner being
implicated in a conspiracy against the Emperor. The administration of the
resultant large estate was a perfect sample of the excellent management in
detail and stupid misjudgment in general so common under the _fiscus_. The
estate was hilly, some of it mountainous, and quite unfitted for horse-
breeding, which is best engaged in, as everybody knows, on estates
composed chiefly of wide-spreading plains or gently rolling country with
broad, flat meadows. Good judgment would have put this estate chiefly in
forest, with a few cattle, some sheep and more goats, but no horses. As I
found it, it had, to be sure, many goats, but almost as many sheep and
cattle, and horses almost as numerous as the cattle and far more
important, for to their breeding most of the efforts of the overseer were
directed.

The overseer's house was the best of the three original villas. About it
were ample, commodious and scrupulously clean quarters for slaves like me.
Also it had yards for fowls, ducks, geese, guinea-fowls, and peacocks,
arranged before the confiscation and allowed since to run down, but still
productive and fairly well-filled with birds, as were the big dovecotes.
Besides, there were fish ponds and a rabbit-warren, left from the former
villa. There were extensive stables, cattle-sheds and pens, sheep-folds,
goat-runs and pig-sties adjoining the house. In the quarters I found a
goodly company of hearty, healthy, contented slaves, sty-wards, goatherds,
shepherds, cowmen and horse-wranglers. These were friendly from my first
arrival among them, seemed to look me over deliberately and appraise me,
and appeared to like me.

I was first sent out as one of two assistants to an experienced herder in
charge of a rather large herd of beef-steers. We drove them up the
mountains to a grassy glade and, when they had eaten down the grass there,
to another. Our duties were light, as the steers were not very wild or
fierce and were easy to keep together, to keep in motion by day and to
keep stationary by night. Each night two of us slept by a smouldering fire
and the third circled about the herd as the steers lay sleeping or chewing
their cuds. The circling was done at the horse's slowest walk. Our horses
were good, our food good, and my two companions genial, though reticent.

Only once did any of our charges bolt. Then, when we missed three steers,
our senior asked me:

"Do you think you could find them and fetch them back?"

On my affirming confidence that I could he smiled doubtfully, and shook
his head, but drawled:

"I'll give you the chance, just to try you out."

I found the runaways with no trouble whatever, for their trail was nowhere
faint, turned them easily and brought them back, manifestly, much sooner
than he had hoped. He appeared pleased, but merely grunted.

Yet he must have spoken well of me to the superintendent, for after a
day's rest in the slave-quarters I was assigned the sole care of a small
bunch of young cows with their first calves. It seemed to be assumed that
I would make no attempt to escape. As I had been given a good horse and a
serviceable rain-cloak, I had thoroughly enjoyed my life from the start.

The landscape was charming, the climate agreeable, spring was approaching,
I was out in the open air, camping at night by a fire wherever my charges
lay down to sleep, eating what I chose of the ample supply of good food
which I carried in my saddle-bags. I was happy, thoroughly happy, and I
throve from my arrival. I still mourned for Agathemer, but I did not miss
him as acutely as I had in the _ergastulum_.

After about ten days in the woodland glades I brought my charges back to
the villa for inspection, according to orders. The inspector was pleased
with their condition and commended me. Some of the fellow-herdsmen, off
duty, stood or sat about and they seemed to approve.

One of them asked:

"Have much trouble, Greenhorn?"

"Not a bit," I answered.

"How'd you like to try to milk one of those cows?" another enquired.

"I can milk any one of them," I replied. "I have milked most of them. I've
been drinking all the milk I could hold all the while I was out with
them."

"That's the silliest lie I ever heard," they chorused. "Why, if you tried
to handle any one of those cows she'd gore you to death. You couldn't get
near enough to the udder of any one of them to get your hand on her teats.
Invent a lie we can swallow, or quit bragging. You can't fool us."

I kept my temper, scaled the enclosure of the cow-pen, being careful not
to make any sudden movement, strolled to the nearest cow, stroked her
nose, pulled her ears, walked down her flank, patting her as I went and
handled her udder.

"What have you to say now?" I called to the gaping yokels.

"Try that on another," they shouted back.

I did the like with two more.

They were dumb.

"Hand me a crock," I called, "and I'll get a quart or so of milk, if the
calves have left any."

When, one handed me a small _olla_ I milked it more than half-full from a
dozen cows. I exhibited the milk, offered it to them, and, on their
laughingly replying that they were no milk-sops, they preferred wine, I
drank most of it. Then I went to the nearest calf, gentled it, picked it
up, lifted it onto my back, its legs sticking out in front of me across my
shoulders, and paced back and forth along the inside of the fence, the
mother following me, licking the calf and lowing, but mild and with no
show of anger, let alone any threat of attack on me.

Before I put the calf down the superintendent came along.

"What's all this?" he queried.

"Felix here," he was answered, "is a sort of wizard. He can gentle these
cows, he can milk them, and he has been showing off how one will let him
carry her calf and yet not get excited."

"Can you do as well with bulls, too?" the _Villicus_ enquired.

"I think so," I replied. I had put down the calf and climbed out of the
cow-pen.

"Come along!" the _Villicus_ commanded.

We trooped off to a pen where there was a fine breeding-bull all alone.

"Get inside, lad!" said the _Villicus_; "that is, if you dare. But be sure
you are ready to vault out again, and entirely able to clear the pen."

I climbed into the pen and stood. The bull gazed at me, but made no
threatening movement and his demeanor was placid. I walked up to him, a
pace at a time, patted his nose, pulled his ears, walked round him,
stroking him, took hold of the ring in his nose and led him over toward
the awestruck gapers:

When I climbed out of the pen one man said:

"Try him on old Scrofa."

We trooped off to the hog-pens and there was a six or eight-year-old sow
with a young litter. She was a huge beast, as ugly a sow as ever I saw. I
got into her pen, miring half to my knees in its filth, but keeping my
feet. She made no move to attack me, but grunted enquiringly. I picked up
one of her pigs, it hardly squealed and she grunted scarcely more than she
had already. I dangled the piglet before her, and she only smelt it and
kept on grunting, with no sign of wrath.

"Come out, Felix," the _Villicus_ drawled, "you are sow-proof. But how do
you do it?"

"I don't know," I replied, "but I have always been able to gentle fierce
animals of any kind. No animal ever attacks me."

Thereupon he tried me with three rams famous for butting, two he-goats of
even worse reputation and half a score of watch-dogs. I came unscathed
from close companionship with the goats and rams, and the dogs behaved as
if they had been my pets from their puppyhood.

"Can you do as well with horses?" the _Villicus_ enquired.

"I believe so," I replied; "give me a chance."

"I shall," he asserted. "I'll round up all our colts fit for breaking and
try you on them. I'll get in most of the boys to watch the fun. It'll take
about ten days to get ready. Meanwhile you can take out another bunch of
heifers with new calves. It seems to suit you and the calves and the
heifers."

When I returned from my third outing, hard and fit and happy, the
_Villicus_ asked me how soon I would be ready for colt-breaking.

"Tomorrow," I said.

The next day was made a sort of festival, with all the horse-herders at
the villa paddocks.

First of all four experienced horse-wranglers roped a filly, threw her,
bitted and bridled her while one sat on her head, let her get on her feet,
hobbled her, held her so while two more saddled her and then held her
while one mounted her. When they let her go she reared, bucked, dashed
about, bucked again and again, and continued till exhaustion forced her to
quiet down and obey her rider, who had kept his seat from the first.

"What do you think of that, Felix?" the _Villicus_ asked me.

"As good horse-wrangling as can be seen anywhere," I replied. "Up to
standard and even above normal. But I can do better."

"Bold words," said the _Villicus_; "we'll give you a chance to prove
them."

Another filly was roped, bitted, bridled, and saddled, and her captors
invited me to mount.

"Pooh!" said I. "Let some one else ride her. I don't need all those
preliminaries. I can walk right out into that bunch of colts, catch any
young stallion you point out, hold him by the nose, gentle him without any
rope or thong on him, mount him by vaulting onto his back, and ride him
about unbitted, unbridled, bareback, and as I please, without his rearing
or backing or kicking."

"Son," said the _Villicus_, "you are either a lunatic or a demigod. Go in
and try what you boast you can do. Show us."

"Point out your stallion," I suggested.

He indicated a beautiful bay with a white face. He let me approach him at
my first attempt, let me take him by the nose, let me lead him close to my
dumbfounded audience, let me mount him. I rode him about, turning him to
right or left as the _Villicus_ ordered, at my suggestion. When I got off
I lifted each of his hoofs in succession, crawled under his belly, crawled
between his fore-legs, and then between his hind-legs, while the onlookers
held their breath; finally I stood behind him, slapped his rump and pulled
his tail.

"Is he broken?" I queried.

"Apparently he is gentle as a lamb to you," the _Villicus_ admitted, "but
how about the rest of us?"

"Bring in a saddle and bridle," I suggested, "and I'll bit him and hold
him while two of you saddle him and until one of you mounts him. He should
be no more dangerous than a roped filly."

They did as I suggested and I then rode him about until he appeared used
to the saddle and bit and already, at once, bridle-wise. Then one of the
wranglers rode him.

I gentled colt after colt all that day till sunset, with a very brief
pause for food and rest. Also I kept it up next day until mid-afternoon,
when the last colt had been tamed.

Then, as we stood breathing, one of the horse-wranglers suggested:

"Try him on Selinus."

"That would be plain murder," one of the others cried.

"I am not so sure," the _Villicus_ ruminated. "I am almost ready to feel
that he might even tame Selinus."

Off we trooped to the stable of the choice breeding-stallions. There, in a
darkened box-stall, I was shown a beautiful demon of a horse, four years
old, a sorrel, with a white face and white forefeet. He certainly looked
wicked enough.

"Will you try him?" the _Villicus_ asked me.

"Of course," I said. "Let him out into the yard or the paddock."

Into the paddock he was let out, by means of a door in his stall worked by
winches from above. In the afternoon sunlight he pranced and curvetted
about, a joy to see.

"Let me show Felix what he is like," one of the younger horse-wranglers
suggested.

"You can," the _Villicus_ agreed. "We all know how agile you are and how
quick at vaulting a fence."

The fellow vaulted into the paddock when Selinus was at its further
corner. The moment the beast saw him he charged at full-run, screaming
like an angry gander, the picture of a man-killer, ears laid back,
nostrils wide and red, mouth open, teeth bared, forehoofs lashing out high
in front, an equine fury. The lad vaulted the fence handily when Selinus
was not three yards from him and the brute pawed angrily at the palings
and bit them viciously.

"Want to try, Felix?" the _Villicus_ asked me again.

Without a word I vaulted the enclosure within two yards of Selinus. He
stood, ears cocked forward, nostrils quiet, mouth shut, all four hoofs on
the ground, quivering all over.

Inch by inch I neared him till my hand touched him. He trembled like an
aspen-leaf, but did not attack me.

"Hercules be good to us all!" exclaimed one of the men.

After that I did with Selinus all I had done with the first stallion-colt,
gentling him, leading him by the nose, mounting him, riding him, crawling
under his belly, between his fore-legs and hind-legs, pulling his tail,
slapping him liberally all over. Then, timidly, urged by their comrades'
jeers, the two wranglers whom I invited brought me a saddle and bridle and
I bitted him and held him while they saddled. Then I rode him.

Afterwards, with much misgiving, but shamed into boldness, the chief
horse-wrangler mounted him and rode him.

Selinus was tamed!

"Felix," said the _Villicus_, "you are too valuable to set to herding
cattle. You are henceforward chief horse-wrangler of this estate. I'll
give you a house all to yourself and a girl to keep house for you. When
not horse taming here or wherever I lend you out, you can spend your time
as you please."

The onlookers acclaimed his award and the displaced chief horse-wrangler
shook hands with me and declared that he was proud to be second to such a
wonder as "Felix the Wizard."

After that I lived a life of ease. My dwelling was a neat cottage well
shaded with fine trees and bowered in climbing vines, with a tiny
courtyard, a not too tiny atrium with a hearth, a kitchen, a store-room
and two bed-rooms. It was as clean as possible and well furnished for a
slave's quarters. The girl and I liked each other at first sight. I am not
going to tell her name, but a jest we had between us led me to call her by
the pet name of Septima. If she had been a free-woman, she would have been
described as a young widow. Her former mate, one of the horse-wranglers,
had been killed by Selinus the previous autumn. Their child, not a year
old, had died before his father. Septima had recovered from her grief
during the winter and had become normally cheerful before she was assigned
to me. I found her constitutionally merry, very good company, always
diligent, a surpassing cook, magical with the garden, especially with her
beloved flowers, a capable needle-woman, always neat, and very good-
looking. We got on famously together.

With her beehives only, Septima had trouble. She understood bees
perfectly, but was afraid of them, and with reason, for she was manifestly
obnoxious to bees and was far too often stung. Of course, bees, like all
other living creatures, were mild to me. I tended her hives, under her
supervision, for I knew nothing of bees; according to her directions I
captured several swarms for her. Also I, when the time came, removed combs
from such hives as she designated.

Spring was in its full glory and I felt the exhilaration of it. Each home-
coming was a delight. And I was much away, for the _Villicus_ had me
convoyed about the countryside to every estate which possessed an unbroken
colt or an intractable horse. I gentled successfully every one I
encountered.

After all the bad horses and raw colts for miles around had been tamed I
spent some days idling about my cottage and getting acquainted with it and
with Septima. But within not many days I grew restive. I told the
_Villicus_ I wanted something to do.

"Well," he said, "five steers have eluded one of my herd-gangs and no one
can find them. Question the men (he named them) so as to get the right
start, and try your luck."

I was off, trailing those five steers, for three days and two nights. By
sunset of the third day I had them back at the villa.

After that I was called on to hunt down and round up all stampeded cattle
and all strays, whether cattle, horses, goats, sheep or swine. I enjoyed
my lone outings and between them basked contentedly in the comfort of my
cottage and the amenity of Septima's cheeriness. During my stays at home I
thoroughly familiarized myself with the villa, its outbuildings and all
their inhabitants. Also I put a good deal of time on Selinus, whom I
transformed from an insane man-killer into one of the gentlest stallions I
ever heard of. I taught him all the niceties of obedience acclaimed in
perfect parade horses till he would stand, sidle, back, sidle diagonally,
curvet and execute all the show-steps promptly at the signalling touch or
sound. I tamed him till he would let anybody gentle him, till it was
perfectly safe for anyone to ride him. I even trusted Septima on him and
he justified my confidence in my training of him and in him. In fact, from
being a man-killer who had to be kept penned up in the dark, whom not even
the boldest horse-master dare approach, he became so gentle and so
trustworthy that he could be let run at large, mild to all human beings,
even to strangers.

He grew to love me like a pet dog, followed me about when I was not riding
him, and would come to me from far away to a call or gesticulation; and he
could see me and recognize me at such distances that I revised my notions
as to the powers of sight possessed by horses, for I had held the common
opinion that no horse can see clearly or definitely any object at all far
from him. Selinus repeatedly saw and recognized me a full half-mile away
and galloped to me, approaching with every demonstration of joy.

During my horse-wrangling expeditions and my excursions after wandering
stock I had grown well acquainted with the country-side and its
inhabitants. I was on terms of comradeship with all my fellow-slaves, of
easy sociability with the yeomanry; while I was treated by the overseers,
the _Villicus_, and inspectors with marked consideration. Thus I rapidly
learnt all there was to know of the idiosyncrasies of the locality, since
everybody seemed to trust me and no one held aloof or was reticent with
me.

I found conditions in the Umbrian mountains as amazing, as incredible as
in the _ergastulum_ at Nuceria. There the two vital facts were the
negligence and impotence of the warders and the secret system for cheating
and thwarting them. Here all the thoughts of slaves, peasants and yeomen
on the one hand, and of overseers, inspectors and landowners on the other,
pivoted on the existence in the district of a post of road-constabulary on
the lookout for bandits and of a camp of brigands owing allegiance to the
King of the Highwaymen.

The wealthy proprietors, the gentlemanly landowners, the inspectors of the
Estate, its _Villicus_ and his overseers all suspected the presence of the
bandits and were doing all they could to assist the road-constabulary to
locate them, pounce on them and capture them. Their efforts were
completely futile. Neither any of the constabulary nor any of the well-to-
do persons who sided with them, could ever get an inkling of the location
of the outlaws' various camps nor was any of them ever able to be really
sure that bandits were actually within a few miles. For the whole body of
yeomanry, peasants and slaves, even the slaves of those proprietors
keenest on the scent of the brigands and most eager to nab them, were
leagued to bamboozle, thwart and oppose their masters and betters, and to
aid the outlaws, to keep them posted on everything said and proposed by
the loyal inhabitants, and to assist them in outwitting the authorities,
the constabulary and all persons who sided with them. In this they were
notably successful.

It is my keen recollection of this condition of things which determines me
to omit from this part of my narrative all names of persons and places.
The generality of the population made a sort of religion out of their
complicity with the outlaws. They took an almost religious pride in
cooperating with them and in antagonizing their adversaries. They hated
all the adversaries of the outlaws, whether landowners, constabulary or
inspectors. But, above all, they loathed, abhorred, abominated and
detested with a white-hot animosity any yeoman, peasant or slave who
failed to do all in his power to foster the interests of the outlaws;
regarding such persons, male or female, as traitors to the cause of the
populace. Especially did they cherish an envenomed and malignant grudge
against anyone who actually sided with the constabulary, gave them
information or betrayed the outlaws: or even against anyone who helped or
shielded any such informer.

As I was the means of spoiling the long-prepared and much-hoped for coup
on which the robbers had set their highest hopes, as not a few men and
women assisted me with information, aided me in other ways and protected
me afterwards, I dare not name any names for fear that some survivor or
some son or grandson of some participant in these doings might learn
through me of long suspected but never verified treason to the unwritten
law of the country-side and might bloodily avenge it on a surviving helper
of mine or on any such helper's children or grandchildren. The Umbrian
mountaineers are spleenful, tenacious of a grudge and ferociously
acrimonious.

I learnt all these amazing facts without difficulty, for slaves, peasants
and yeoman alike assumed that I was of their party and was heart and soul
with the outlaws. I was not subject to suspicion because I visited the
post of the constabulary, became acquainted with every man of them, their
sergeants and their officers and frequented their company. All the
yeomen, peasants and slaves whose abodes were near the post, were, on the
surface, on the best of terms with the road-constables; pretended to help
them with information, retailing to them as rumors all sorts of inventions
calculated to throw them off the scent of the outlaws, always with an air
of the friendliest good-will; and loitered, idling about the post,
chatting of local gossip.

I was so entirely trusted that I was taken to the outlaws' camp and made
acquainted with the entire band. Paradoxically the members of the band
were all hulking burly ruffians of twenty-five to thirty-five years,
whereas their chief, while big and brawny enough, was inferior in size to
any of his subordinates and younger by six full years than the youngest of
them. To him I was boisterously presented as a brother, for his name also
was Felix. In fact, he was the man since famous as Felix Bulla, for long
the most redoubtable outlaw in Italy. Then he was hardly more than a lad,
for all his bulk and strength and ferocity. He had been appointed chief of
the band by the King of the Highwaymen in person, who held him in the
warmest regard for his ruthlessness, courage, skill, and cunning,
especially for his cunning, rating him, as I was told by all the band, and
having proclaimed him to them, as the most subtle and crafty outlaw alive
after himself.

Bulla, like everybody else, appeared to take to me and treated me as an
equal, after conversing with me for hours at a time. I was always a
welcome guest at any of the bandits' camps and they often made me show off
my admired powers on fox-cubs, badgers, weasels and other such wild
creatures which they or their peasant friends had trapped alive. My
ability to tame, handle, fondle and make tractable to anyone such animals
appeared a source of unflagging interest and unceasing entertainment to
these ruffians.

As I was allowed to dispose of my time as I chose, whenever I was not busy
rounding up strayed stock or taming raw colts, I had plenty of leisure to
ride about the country-side, make friends, get intimate with the
constabulary and the outlaws and idle many of my days as appeared most
pleasant. I took full advantage of my partial liberty.

The weather, from my arrival at the Imperial estate, was mostly fine and
often glorious. Spring came early and merged beautifully into summer. I
enjoyed myself hugely. Besides local peculiarities and the humors of the
tacit league to thwart the constabulary and foster the interests of the
outlaws, I derived much entertainment from the traffic on the Flaminian
Highway. Of course, there were Imperial couriers, travellers of all sorts,
and convoys of every kind of goods, long strings of wagons, carts or pack-
mules laden with wheat, other grains, wine, oil, flax, charcoal, firewood,
ingots of bronze, lead or iron, and countless other commodities on their
way to Rome; or convoys of clothing, hangings, furniture, utensils and the
like, going northwards from the City.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE OUTLAWS


From early spring, however, all this normal traffic was interfered with,
delayed, hindered and even totally blockaded by column after column of
wains and wagons passing southwards, huge wagons, drawn by six or eight or
even ten horses or mules or by as many big long-horned white oxen, every
wagon laden with a cage or two or more cages containing beasts being
conveyed to the Colosseum in Rome. This amazing procession roused my
interest as soon as it began to pass; filling, clogging, blocking the
highway and continuing without intermission day after day, ceasing its
movement, indeed, each night, but making the roadside almost a continuous
camp of teamsters and caretakers, barely half of them sleeping, the moiety
busy about their draft-cattle or the cages of their charges.

The endless stream of caravans amazed me. I had seen beast-fights without
number in the Colosseum, but had never thought of the enormous labor and
expense incident on the preparations for even one morning's exhibition of,
say, a hundred lions and other beasts in proportion. Now I meditated over
the thousands of trappers and other hunters who must scour the forests of
Dacia, Moesia, Thrace, Illyricum, Pannonia, Noricum, Rhaetia and Germany
to gather such a supply of beasts for exhibition. I saw wolves, bears and
boars by the thousand, and hundreds of lynxes, elk and wild bulls, both
the strange forest-bisons, unlike our cattle, with low rumps and high
shoulders and their horns turned downwards and forwards, parallel to each
other, and the huger and even fiercer bulls, much like farm bulls, but
larger, taller and leaner and with horns incredibly long, so that their
tips were often two yards and more apart. I had no idea of the vast
numbers of such beasts which were yearly poured into Rome from all the
mountains and forests to the north and east of the Alps. I was amazed.

Even more was I amazed to see hundreds upon hundreds of cages containing
beasts not from northern Europe, but from Africa, or even from Asia: lions
without number, panthers and leopards by the hundred, many tigers,
antelopes of all kinds by scores of each kind, rhinoceroses, and
hippopotami in enormous cages on gigantic wains drawn by twelve yoke of
oxen; even a dozen huge gray elephants pacing sedately, their turbaned
_mahouts_ rocking on their necks.

I knew that the traffic in beasts from the northern forests concentrated
at Aquileia and I had a hazy notion that they were customarily shipped
from there by sea round Italy and through the straits to the Tiber. My
curiosity was excited as to why they were now coming overland instead of
going by sea. Still more was I curious as to why these hordes of animals
from the south should be traversing Italy from the north.

I asked questions and could get no satisfaction from the natives of the
district: slaves, peasants, yeomen, proprietors, overseers, _Villicus_ and
all, they one and all knew nothing. If they claimed to know, what they
alleged merely emphasized their ignorance.

The constabulary knew, but were inclined to be reticent and, when they
spoke, were laconic. Yet their briefest utterances contained hints which
confirmed the only fact I had elicited from the natives: namely, that this
traffic was not only unusual along the Flaminian Highway, but had never
been seen on it before; was a complete novelty, even a portent. They also
confirmed my impression that few animals destined for beast-fights in the
amphitheatres reached Rome overland; as I had thought, practically all had
hitherto come by sea and up the Tiber.

Still curious, I made friends with the teamsters. Some were from Ravenna,
and even these grumbled at the two hundred and fifty miles as ruinous to
their cattle. The animals they convoyed had come overland from Aquileia to
Altinum and from there to Ravenna by sea. In this way had come the
crocodiles, hippopotami and rhinoceroses.

More teamsters were from Aquileia itself. Some of these with the lighter
wagons for the cages containing wolves, lynxes, small antelopes, hyenas
or African apes, had been able to take the shorter though poorer road by
way of Patavium and Ateste to Bononia, which made their total journey
under five hundred and twenty miles. But most, including all those
conveying bears, boars, panthers, leopards, lions or tigers, had come by
the more northerly road through Verona. Those with panthers, leopards or
small stags had come from Verona, by way of Hostilia to Bononia and from
there southward as did all, making their journey about five hundred and
fifty miles; the men conveying cages of tigers, lions, bears, boars, elk,
or wild bulls had mostly come from Verona through Cremona; from there some
through Regio to Bononia, others through Placentia; and for these their
total teaming did not differ much, about six hundred and twenty miles for
the ones and ten miles more for the others. Teams tugging wains carrying
the heaviest cages containing unusually large elk, boars, bears or bulls,
had had to go by way of Milan and had been put to it to keep their teams
fit for a journey of over seven hundred miles.

Besides the difference in weight of the loads, chiefly depending on the
needed strength of the cages, I found that their divergence of routes was
due, in part, to the efforts which the procurator of all this teaming had
made to avoid choking the roads. The teamsters averred that they knew
nothing as to why the beasts were being brought this way; and no more as
to why animals brought all the way from Africa to Aquileia, a voyage far
longer than the voyage to Rome, should then be conveyed overland from,
Aquileia to the Colosseum.

I enjoyed idling about the teamsters' camps chatting with them and the
attendants who cared for the beasts. One hot evening, just about sunset,
when I was already thinking of riding off home to bathe and dine, while I
was lingering to watch his keepers urging their little gang of slaves to
pour more and more water over a gasping hippopotamus, there was a yell of
alarm all along the line and a scampering, scattering rush of fleeing men;
teamsters, attendants and keepers. A panther had broken out of its cage,
when a wagon overset.

He came down the middle of the highway, keeping to it, as everyone ran off
it to right and left. I had strolled some distance from where I had
tethered my horse. Naturally, as I could not mount and dash off, I did not
run. I stepped into the middle of the road and faced the beast. Of course,
he stopped, stood still and stared at me. I walked towards him, very
deliberately, even pausing between paces, till I was an arm's length from
him. He cringed and cowered. I took him by the scruff of his neck, turned
him round, led him back to his cage, which was not broken, only jarred
open, made him enter it, and closed the door on him.

Thereupon the fugitives flocked back, acclaiming me as a sorcerer. The
superintendent of that caravan insisted on my giving him my name. I told
him I was Felix, the horse-wrangler of the Imperial estate. He gave me a
broad gold piece.

Unable to elicit anything from the natives or the teamsters I resorted to
the outlaws. I had been admonished before I saw any of them that it was
not according to the etiquette of the district for anyone to ride a horse
into the outlaws' camp. If anywhere near it one visited it on foot. If too
far one carefully avoided appearing to ride towards it or from it. When
the camp, for instance, happened to be south of my cottage I would ride
off north, east, or west, fetch a long compass about, tether my horse at
least half a mile from the camp, generally farther away, and stroll
towards it. On leaving I invariably departed by a path different from that
by which I had come. When I reached my horse I was careful similarly to
choose a return route which would bring me home some direction other than
that towards which I had gone off. Of course, I always observed these
precautions, since any neglect of them, if known, would have not only made
me unwelcome to the brigands, but also gotten me into disfavor with the
whole countryside.

When I reached the outlaws' camp I was careful to let them do most of the
talking and to wait for the talk to come round to the subject of the
beast-caravans. I had not long to wait, and, when I expressed my amazement
and curiosity, they showed no reluctance about informing me. Bulla himself
explained that Commodus had become so interested in beast-fighting, had
developed such transcendent skill at fighting beasts and had grown so
infatuated with the sport that he spent most of his time in the arena,
displaying his dexterity to invited audiences composed of senators,
nobles, notabilities and their wives and even children; in which
exhibitions he had killed so many creatures that he had not only depleted
but had almost exhausted the normal reserves constantly kept at Rome,
Ostia and the other Tiber ports. When the procurators in charge of the
supplies of beasts for the arena realized that the Emperor was killing his
victims faster than they normally were brought in, even lavishly as they
had always been provided, they sent out orders urging greatly increased
efforts at hunting, capturing, caring for and rapidly transporting all
sorts of creatures destined for the Colosseum. The Emperor's killing
capacity and love of enjoying and exhibiting his knack so outran their
measures that, by the time the increased supply began to come in, the
royal sportsman's unerrancy and swiftness outran their best results, so
that hasty messages had to be sent to Marseilles, Aquileia, Byzantium,
Antioch and Alexandria ordering the instant despatch to Rome, with the
utmost speed, regardless of expense, not only of all newly captured beasts
as they came in, in contravention of the long-established regulations by
which Rome and the provincial capitals shared each variety of animal, but
also the concurrent despatch of the local reserves, even the emptying of
the beast despositories attached to each amphitheatre. As the voyage from
Aquileia to Rome was of variable duration, owing to the uncertainty and
shiftiness of the winds, orders had been given to forward all its reserves
and supplies, at once, overland. Hence the spectacle which had so excited
the countryside and so amazed me. As Commodus was still slaughtering all
sorts of beasts daily not only with arrows and spears, to show off his
accuracy as a marksman but, even with sword or club, to display his
incredible swiftness of movement and unerrancy in directing and timing a
blow, he was taxing the capacities of his procurators and their gigantic
organization of transports, teams, detention-pens, and hunters merely to
stave off the apparently inevitable day when, whatever might run wild in
the deserts, forests and mountains, there would be, at Rome, far too few
beasts to maintain the autocrat's daily sport.

When I expressed my astonishment at the certainty with which these
explanations were uttered and my wonder as to how they came to be so sure,
Bulla said:

"Why, our King of the Highwaymen has reliable, capable and secret agents,
entirely unsuspected, in every city of Italy. He has a brother and sister
in Rome and equally devoted and unfailing helpers in Capua, Aquileia,
Milan, Brundisium and Naples. He maintains a road service of swift
couriers who bring him promptly all the information collected for him in
the cities, where his backers catch every breeze of rumor and are
forehanded in getting advance information on all important moves of the
authorities as well as in sifting truth from falsehood. Equally prompt are
his couriers in disseminating to subsidiary bands like mine whatever he
judges we should learn; thus we know more of goings-on in Rome and at
Court than do provincial nobles and highway-police."

As I trudged from the camp to my horse, as I trotted homewards, I was
despondent. I had no right to be so, for I was merely one of the
innumerable slaves held by the _fiscus_ as the property of Caesar. As such
I was notably well off. Even in my proper person I congratulated myself on
my amazing luck. I was alive, unsuspected, secure, well-housed, well-clad,
well-cared for, freer than many a freeman, than many a nobleman,
pleasantly busy at occasional tasks very congenial to me and blest with
much leisure among a companionable population in a lovely region full of
diversified and charming scenery set off by an exhilarating climate; I
should have been gay.

Yet my thoughts were those of a Roman nobleman. I was horrified at the
state of the Republic. I knew that Italy had never been entirely free from
outlaws. Even under Tiberius highwaymen had perpetrated successful
robberies and had captured and held for ransom wealthy persons or even
notabilities. But under most of the Emperors these outrages had been few
and had occurred only in the wilder districts. During the civil wars
between Otho and Vitellius brigandage had become rife all over Italy, even
up to the gates of Rome, and Vespasian had had much ado to exterminate the
outlaws. Again, under Nerva, bandits had multiplied and prospered. But
none had ventured into any populous district during the principates of
Trajan, Hadrian and their successors until after the death of Aurelius.
Now, because of the negligence of his son, outlaws had so prospered that
they had a sort of organization among themselves, like a commonwealth
inside the Republic, as I had seen during my captivity with Maternus and
now glimpsed again in Bulla's revelations. It argued a horrible
disintegration of the governmental mechanism of the Republic and of the
Roman character that such things had become possible.

Equally horrifying to me was the contemplation of Caesar's extravagance. I
knew that the Republic's income from all sources was insufficient to keep
up the court establishment and ceremonials at their normal cost; to defray
the expenses of the state festivals with befitting magnificence of games
in the circuses, amphitheatres and theatres; to maintain the Praetorian
guards, city police, road constabulary and frontier garrisons. I knew that
all these branches of the necessary structure of the state were constantly
in want of more funds than could be supplied to them. I knew that this
want of supplies crippled our commanders along the Euphrates, the Danube,
the Rhine and the Wall, as well as far up the Nile and in the Euxine and
made possible the insolence of the Ethiopians and Caledonians as well as
the greater insolence of the Parthians, Goths and Germans.

Yet, when conditions so urgently called for greater expenditures along our
frontiers and for close economy at home, I beheld our Prince stinting his
commanders and their heroic legions and lavishing upon his own pleasure
and the gratification of his amazing vanity sums which would have enabled
our eagles not only to defy all assailants of our frontiers but to humble
and subdue every threatening foe, even to penetrate and subjugate Nubia,
Parthia and inner Germany. I sickened at the thought of our shame along
the frontiers as at the thought of the energies of thousands upon
thousands of hard-muscled, bold-hearted young men wasted on capturing
beasts and the like energies of thousands upon thousands of hardy peasants
who ought to have been busy at productive labor on farms or in forests or
mines, wasted on caring for and transporting swarms of beasts for Commodus
to kill.

Those thoughts were depressing. I could not banish them.

The next day the mood persisted. I had nothing to do, did not feel like
doing anything in particular and yet felt restless. The weather was
perfect. I set off afoot for a place not far from my cottage, not far
enough to be called a long walk, where a big gray crag or small cliff like
an inland promontory, a spur of a forested mountain, towered up from the
southeastern side of the Flaminian Highway. At that point the road was the
boundary of the Imperial estate; the crag lay outside it, and, at that
part of its foot which projected farthest, was not a hundred yards from
the highway. The mountain rose a thousand feet or more from the meadows
along the road. The crag was full three hundred feet high. It was
perfectly possible to toil up the steep wooded slope of the mountain and
walk out on either of two bush-covered shelves which ran round the crag.
From the lower of these, where it belted the front of the vertical cliff,
there was a fine view down upon the highway and along it both ways; from
the upper more of the highway could be seen; from the very top of the
crag, which was bare except for two clumps of gnarled trees and starved
bushes near its brow, the view included a full two miles of the highway in
each direction.

I climbed the slope to the lower shelf and ensconced myself where I was
shaded from the sun and had a clear view of the road both ways. From my
coign I watched the traffic. I judged that the northern supply of arena-
beasts was already overtaxed. The procession of wagons was no longer
continuous. They came now in trains of a hundred or so with some miles
between the convoys. Just as I settled myself no beast-wagons were in
sight, the road-traffic was normal. An Imperial courier dashed into view
from the south, tore past at full gallop, and vanished northwards; three
family travelling carriages, also bound north, pulling to the side of the
road to let him pass; as did a train of a score of mules laden with
charcoal.

The first sign of arena-beasts which I saw after I settled myself to watch
was a string of eight elephants, each with a turbaned mahout rocking on
his back, and seven each with his trunk clasping the tail of the elephant
before him. This was the second batch of elephants I had heard of; the
former, I had been told, came by way of Ateste, since the elephants could
swim the Po and all the other rivers had strong stone bridges. These
looked well after their four hundred mile tramp and fit for the hundred
and odd ahead of them.

Before they were out of sight there came into view the head of a column of
wagons which turned out to be loaded with cages of bears, lynxes, bison,
aurochs, elk, wolves and other northern animals. I watched them pass and
meditated. After they were gone the road was normal for a full two hours,
during which I pondered the thoughts which obsessed me and gloomed with
shame over the condition of the Empire. I had brought food and water with
me and ate about noon, slept an hour or more and woke to watch the passage
of two trains of cages full of lions, tigers, leopards and panthers. The
second train was overtaken and passed by two Imperial couriers from the
north, racing each other, the former more than a half mile ahead of the
latter, and, apparently lengthening his lead. I spent the day on the crag.
Also I spent other days there, sometimes on one shelf, sometimes on the
other, sometimes on the top.

Not many days elapsed before I again visited the outlaws' camp and had
another chat with Bulla; not we two alone, for there was always an easy
sociability about the bandits and, if none took part in or broke into
their chief's talk, usually two or more lay or sat about listening and
sharing our interview.

In the course of our talk Bulla discoursed of his importance, of the
importance of the band, of the warm regard in which he and they were held
by their head chief, the King of the Highwaymen.

Some quirk inside my head made me venturesome.

"What is his name?" I queried. "You never name him."

"His orders!" Bulla snapped. "I know his name; not another man of our band
knows it. He never uses it and takes great pains to keep all outsiders who
know his name from suspecting that he is King of the Highwaymen; and
similarly to make sure that all outsiders who know him as King of the
Highwaymen get no inkling of his name. If the knowledge got abroad the
usefulness to him of his brother and sister in Rome would be destroyed."

I apologized for my question.

"No harm done," Bulla smiled. "I don't have to answer any questions unless
I want to, and I don't mind questions from you."

"If you don't," I pursued, emboldened, "perhaps you'll be willing to
explain how it can be that your king holds you and your band in such high
esteem, whereas, to all appearances, you have not acquired a sesterce-
worth of loot since long before I reached this neighborhood; in fact, as
far as I can hear, have not succeeded in robbing anyone since you located
your camp here?"

"I am perfectly willing to explain," laughed Bulla, looking more
formidable when he smiled or laughed than when expressionless. "We are no
cheap bandits to rob market-women, poor farmers, ordinary travellers or
such small fry. We angle for bigger fish. We bide our time. We are here to
make three big strokes and then a quick disappearance. Once we have our
hands on our chosen prisoners to be held for ransom we shall be off for
the mountain heights and the thickest forests; once we have the booty we
hope for, those in charge of it will ride fast and far and get clear out
of this part of Italy. Is that intelligible?"

"Entirely," said I, and was mute.

Bulla gazed at me almost genially.

"I don't in the least mind telling you," he said, "just what we are
waiting for. Half the countryside knows and are alert to help us all they
know how.

"In the first place we have word of a big consignment of gold on the way
to Rome; ingots from the mines in the mountains of Noricum, nuggets and
dust washed from the rivers of Dacia and Pannonia and Moesia. Of course it
is in charge of a wary official and has a strong guard, but we have good
hopes of getting it. If we do, it will be the biggest haul that any of our
bands ever made, and that he has put me here to try for it is proof of my
King's esteem for me.

"In the second place a wealthy senator, just the right man to capture and
hold for ransom, is coming up from Rome in charge of a big chest of gold
coin to be paid out by the administrators of Asia and Macedonia and
Achaia. He himself is going out as propraetor of Asia. With him is a
wealthy widow, going north to be married at Aquileia, and taking with her
a big jewel-chest full of the finest and largest gems in the most
magnificent settings. So we have in prospect three prisoners for ransom
and three rich treasures.

"The difficulty is that it will be almost impossible to make both
captures. If we nab the propraetor and widow, with the coin and gems, the
rumor or report of it is almost certain to warn the procurator with the
raw gold so that he will elude us. Similarly if we get him, news of our
presence will most likely reach and alarm the propraetor and the widow. If
one comes ten days or even five before the other we can scarcely hope for
complete success. If fewer days intervene we might get both. I am here to
get both. The King thinks me capable of the feat. His instructions are
that, in case I judge that I can get but one, I am to try for the
procurator and his gold, as it is estimated that his gold is worth at
least twice the coin and gems together, even adding the possible ransoms
of the widow and the propraetor.

"I am hoping they will come only a day apart or even the same day; all our
couriers with letters about the progress of the gold convoy and the
widow's preparations indicate that they will reach this part of the road
at about the same time. They might meet each other right here where, we
want them together. I keep nursing that hope.

"Now you know as much as you need to know about our plans."

I thanked him and marvelled at his frankness. But, as I rode home, I
reflected that thinking me the Imperial slave I appeared, he thought me
certain to be secret and, if possible, helpful.

I spent the next day and the next on my crag, watching the fascinating
spectacle afforded by the highway.

On the third day the _Villicus_ chided me for having told my name to the
sub-procurator after I had recaged the panther.

"An Imperial courier has just passed," he said. "He is a close friend of a
trusty friend of mine in Rome. Like most couriers he is obliging and will
carry letters for his friends, even packets. He dropped here a note for
me, warning me that I am likely to lose you. My friend is a crony of some
of the upper slaves in the Palace and of others in the Beast Barracks.

"Your manumission, which was urged by the aldermen of Nuceria, has been
favorably reported and may be ordered. On the other hand, the procurator
in charge of the reserves of arena-beasts has heard of you and vows he
must have you for service in or for the Colosseum. I am likely to lose you
either way. I don't mind your manumission; I'll wager that I can induce
you to stay on as you are. But I am all worked up over the prospect of a
requisition for you from the Beast Barracks. If one comes it will be your
fault."

I told him I was more stirred up about it than he was; that I should hate
to leave him and loathed the very idea of being cooped up in Rome amid
fetid cages; caring for lions and such like. We thoroughly understood each
other, and he said:

"I'll have to manage to report you killed, if the requisition comes. I'm
determined to keep you. I'll have to set my wits to work to arrange for
it."

I hoped he might, but I felt nervous. I dreaded being dragged to Rome and
recalled the prophecy of the Aemilian Sibyl. I had a feeling that to Rome
I was going, my situation was too good to last. I thought of leaving
Septima with much regret. Not that I loved her or even cared for her; but
she was a girl no man could but respect and admire and wish well to. If I
must leave her I resolved to leave her as well off as I could.

Making sure that I was far from any human being and unobserved I opened my
amulet-bag, looked over the gems it contained, selected a medium-sized
emerald of perfect color, sewed it into the hem of my tunic and sewed up
the amulet-bag with the rest of the gems inside it.

At the first opportunity, I revisited the outlaws' camp, with the usual
precautions, and found Bulla idle and genial. I told him I needed cash,
all the cash I could get, and had an emerald I thought would be worth a
noble store of gold and silver coin.

"Show it to me!" he commanded.

I took out my sheath-knife, ripped the emerald out of its hiding-place and
passed it to him.

He conned it.

"You are right, brother," he said; "this is a fine gem. I tell you what
I'll do. I'll ride, myself, to Sentinum and exchange this for cash, part
gold and part silver. Sentinum seems an unlikely place in which to find a
cash purchaser for a gem like this, but our King has a friend there who
acts as his agent in several respects; among others he keeps cash in hand
to exchange any time for precious loot; especially jewelry. He'll hand me
the cash without hesitation.

"But if I am to do it for you, you must agree in advance to accept his
valuation of the jewel and to divide with me, share and share alike,
whatever he pays me for your emerald. In a case like this I charge half
the proceeds of the sale as my commission for making the deal and as my
fee for my time, risk and trouble. Do you agree?"

"Certainly," I said, "and I am amazed at your offer. How can you be away
three days or more at this juncture? Might not your prizes: procurator,
propraetor, widow, jewels, coin, and gold all slip through your hands
during your absence in my behalf?"

"No fear, lad!" he laughed; "our advices never deceive us. The procurator
with his gold is far away and approaching slowly; neither the widow nor
the propraetor is ready to leave Rome; both are occupied with endless
preparations. I have plenty of time. And it won't take me any three days
to reach Sentinum and return. I'll set off at sunset. About the third hour
tomorrow I'll be at Sentinum, my mount lathered and blown, but far from
used up; about the ninth hour I'll pass out of one of the gates of
Sentinum on my return, completely refreshed myself and with my mount fit
for the return journey: I'll be here in camp at dawn day after tomorrow,
with the coin bags. You can come for your cash any time after the third
hour day after tomorrow. Is it a bargain?"

"Done!" said I.

"Then get home," he said. "If I'm to go two nights without sleep I'll give
orders now, post my out-pickets and what not and snooze till dusk."

I spent the next day on my crag. Several trains of wagons with arena-
beasts passed, but they were farther apart than ten days before. The other
traffic on the road was normal.

Next day, not long after the third hour, I was in the outlaws' camp. Bulla
I found awake and with no signs of drowsiness or fatigue. In full sight of
all of his men he spread a blanket, and, on it placed four coin-bags, two
small and two full size. From the larger he spilt their contents on the
blanket and, each of us taking a bag, we picked up the silver one piece at
a time, both keeping count together. There was an odd piece.

"It's yours, lad!" said Bulla. "I've enough here."

The gold pieces similarly spilled and counted, came out even.

"Are you satisfied?" Bulla queried.

"Both with the amount and the division," I replied, "and now I'll be off.
You must need sleep."

"Sit still!" Bulla commanded.

He rose and went into his tent, for the outlaws had excellent hide tents.
He returned with a fine new coin-belt of pigskin leather.

"Here," he said as he squatted down and handed it to me, "is a little gift
from Bulla. Wear it next your skin. And remember to keep it flat and
loose. Many a man has lost his life with his coin in a tight place because
a bulging belt betrayed him to greedy ruffians. My lads will respect you,
but you may encounter bandits who have no inkling that you are under my
protection. Don't attempt to carry too much, of your coin about your
waist."

I thanked him and tramped off.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE POINT OF VIEW


That evening, after our dinner, a perfect dinner eaten under a grape-
arbor, lingering over the fruit and honey in the mingled light of waning
dusk and a clear crescent moon, I showed Septima my belt and bags, put in
the belt what silver would fill it to a flaccid and comfortable flatness,
and gave her all the gold and the rest of the silver. I had already
explained to her what impended over us, and had emphasized my wish to
remain with her and my anxiety to know that she was provided for, if we
were to be separated.

I did not visit the post of the road-constabulary as often as the camp of
the outlaws. Next day I rode over to their post and chatted with one of
the sergeants and several of the men. They were in doubt between, two
opinions: most held that their presence in the district had frightened the
bandits away and that they had left the neighborhood and transferred their
attention to a wholly different region; only a few maintained the view
that the brigands had been lurking near from before their arrival and that
all their efforts had failed to locate their hiding place. I heard nothing
which led me to believe that they had any inkling of the location of the
outlaws' camp, of their purposes, or of their intended coup.

After a day of happy idling on my crag I visited Bulla. He was gay.

"It promises well," he volunteered. "The procurator and his gold are well
on this side of Ariminum and the propraetor and widow left Rome yesterday.
They'll he here within two days of each other, if he holds the rate he has
kept all the way from Bononia and they travel as such luxurious folks
generally do. Come over as often as you like. No one will suspect you or
follow you. I'll keep you posted as to what our advices promise us. You
may be able to help us."

By this time I was so interested in Bulla and his plans that I oscillated
between my crag, the outlaws' camp and the constabulary post, with no more
other occupations than what I judged absolutely needful to forestall any
unwelcome interest in my doings and the possibility of too many persons
knowing of my visits to the outlaws.

When next I visited them Bulla told me that something had alarmed the
procurator. Either some rumor of their presence along the road had reached
him or he knew of the bad reputation of the stretch of the Flaminian
Highway through the Umbrian mountains between Forum Sempronii and Nuceria,
which it had acquired some years before when the King of the Highwaymen
himself had made on it a succession of valuable captures which had yielded
him princely booty and the reports of which had spread all over Italy.
Anyhow their advices informed them that he had packed his bullion-chests
with stones and old-iron and had parcelled out his packets of dust and
nuggets among the wagons of a long train of arena-beasts.

"We'll fool him!" Bulla boasted. "We'll nab him and hold him for a big
ransom. Also we'll not only make sure of his bullion chests in case our
information is false, or based on an intentional rumor he has given out as
a blind; but we'll get that bullion, too, if it is not in the chests, but
hidden in the wagons in the guise of dusty packets of provender for the
draft-cattle or of meat for the caged beasts. We'll get it!"

Prom his mention of the wagons we fell into talk of the increasing
difficulty of getting fresh meat for the lions and other beasts, of the
depletion of the flocks and herds along the roads from Aquileia, to Rome;
and he told me that his advices reported that the whole country near the
highways was already swept clean of all goats, sheep and cattle, except
breeding stock, milch stock and their choicest young kept for breeding.
The inhabitants could get no beef, mutton or goats' flesh for themselves;
all had gone into the maws of hyenas, tigers, wolves and the rest; and the
procurators were insisting on the farmers selling their kids, lambs,
calves, ewes and cows-in-milk, any stock, even mules and horses; any
animals fit to butcher for lion-food.

From this we came round to chatting of my talks with the teamsters and of
my prospect from my crag. I had told Bulla of the crag long before, but he
did not seem to have taken in the idea. Now he was delighted.

"If I'd paid attention to you soon enough," he said, "I'd have put in a
day or two with you watching the show. It's too late now. Our prayed for
chances are coming soon, and not far apart."

Next day he was gleeful.

"It's all going to work out like the end of a theater-play," he said. "The
procurator and the propraetor and his charge are practically certain to
come along tomorrow afternoon. I calculate that they will meet not far
south of your crag. I've planned to post one ambush near the foot of your
crag, just south of it, another at a judicious interval down the road
nearer Rome. I'll have 'em between the two ambushes about the middle of
the afternoon or between that and sunset. We'll nab all three ransom
prizes at once and we'll lay our hands on the jewels, coin and gold almost
at the same instant. I've arranged to lead the constables off on a false
scent about noon and they'll be miles away up a lonely crossroad when we
pull off our coup. We'll make our getaway, with the swag, hours before
they can get wind of the occurrence and follow on our trail. We'll have a
long start of them.

"You can watch the whole thing from your crag. This ideal weather is going
to last many days yet. And the moon will be full two nights from now, so
its light will help us two nights on our getaway. I envy you up on that
crag watching the show, comfortable as a senator at a theater, aloft like
Jupiter on Olympus in the Iliad."

Next day I made sure that the _Villicus_ would not want me, had Septima
put up for me an abundant supply of her inviting food and set off about
the middle of the morning for my crag, on foot, of course. I climbed to
the very top and ensconced myself under and among sheltering bushes so
that I was certain that I could not be seen from the road in either
direction, yet could view it both ways as far as the horizon, except just
at the foot of the crag and where, in the distance, hilltops hid the
hollows behind them. Close by me I placed my precious kidskin of much
watered wine, I might say of water flavored with wine, so that it would
keep cool in the thickest shade. The day was hot, clear and still and the
rays of the sun fierce. The occasional slight breezes were very welcome.

The outlook was really magnificent; a broad prospect of rolling pasturage,
hilly pasturage, and wooded mountains; the grass-lands and grassy
hillsides diversified by scattered trees, clumps of trees and small
groves; the lower levels of woodland broken by grassy glades; the brighter
green of the forests of chestnut, beech, and oak merging imperceptibly
into the darker green of the pine-forests; the score of farms in sight
brilliant in the green landscapes like semi-jewels; all the wide prospect
glowing under a deep blue sky, varied by a very few very white clouds, the
intense sunlight beating down on everything. It was a perfect summer day.

I conned the road, on which I saw only the rear of a column of wagons
convoying arena-beasts receding over the hilltops to southwards, and the
normal traffic, horsemen or two-horse carriages or wagons far apart and
few. I dozed.

I must have slept a full hour. I waked hot, but much refreshed, feeling
lively and full of interest in what was to come. Just after I waked I saw
the constabulary, the officers and about a third of the men on horseback,
the rest afoot, come up the road from the direction of their post, which
was south of the crag. The infantrymen, tramped their fastest and the
mounted men kept pace with them. They were evidently off on their wild-
goose chase. As they came into sight below me, after passing my perch, I
watched them double-quick northwards and wheel to their right into the
first crossroad. They were barely out of sight among the forested hills
when I saw momentarily, on the Highway, fully four miles to northward, on
a sunlit hilltop, what I took to be the first wagon of a train of teams
drawing cages of arena-beasts. I watched the road in that direction. What
I saw confirmed my conjecture. Soon the road to northward was filled from
its farthest visible hilltop to just below my crag with wagon-teams such
as I had many times watched transporting cages of lions, tigers, leopards,
panthers and the like. I made out also some cages which I was certain
contained hyenas.

Every little while I glanced the other way. Just as the first wagons of
the long train vanished from my sight into that section of the road
immediately below me where my crag hid it from my view, I saw appear on a
hilltop to southwards what I made sure was the travelling carriage of a
wealthy noble. I conjectured that it had inside of it the ransomable
propraetor. I kept my eyes on the road in that direction, only glancing
northward from time to time. One such glance caught a glimpse of a
travelling carriage among the beast-wagons; probably the procurator in
charge of the bullion.

After I had caught glimpses of it on several successive hilltops the
propraetor's carriage was near enough, on one of them, for me to recognize
it. Of course, I had known from childhood the travelling carriages of our
senate and nobility. As everybody knows, each, has a certain unmistakable
individuality. Our makers of travelling carriages never make two precisely
alike, and, what is more, the tastes of different families are so
different that patterns are very unlike. I recognized the carriage for
that of Faltonius Bambilio.

Why he was going out as propraetor of Asia so long after his term as
praetor was a puzzle to me. I accepted it as one of the countless
eccentricities of Imperial administration under Commodus. The
irregularities of the management of the provinces ruled in the name of
Caesar by prefects and procurators had notoriously extended to the
provinces ruled by proconsuls and propraetors in the name of the senate. I
had always disliked, despised and even hated Bambilio for his pomposity,
self-esteem and bad manners. I rejoiced at the opportunity to look on at
his capture.

It was by this time past the middle of the afternoon, the day still
surpassingly fair and lovely, with few clouds in the sky, a steady light
breeze, the mellow afternoon sunlight bathing the world and the sun
already visibly declining towards the western horizon.

While I was grinning at my thoughts and watching the advance of Bambilio's
carriage, glancing back at intervals at the beast-train and the
procurator's coach, I caught sight, on the highway behind Bambilio's
carriage, of another travelling carriage of which I had descried no
glimpse before, though I must have missed seeing it as it topped several
hills further south. When I caught sight of it, it was near enough for me
to recognize it at first view.

Vedia's travelling coach!

Between the first and second beat of my thumping heart, I went through an
amazing variety of complex, shifting and lucid thinking. And my thinking,
multifold and effective as it was, was but as a chip on the surface of a
freshet in a mountain gorge amid the torrent of emotions which inundated
me.

Since I had begun to mend as the result of the succour and medication of
old Chryseros Philargyrus I had resolutely refrained from, thinking of
Vedia. I had argued with myself that it was impossible for me to forget or
ignore the daily and hourly contrasts between my former status as a
wealthy nobleman and my present condition as a fugitive always in danger
and generally in acute discomfort. Amid the inevitable resultant
depression I might keep alive, healthy and sane if I concentrated my
thoughts on self-congratulation at my survival. If I dwelt on my downfall
I should lose my wits. If, in addition to thoughts of my loss of rank,
wealth, friends and ease I yielded to my inclination to brood over my loss
of Vedia, I should infallibly go insane. I resolutely put thoughts of her
away. I succeeded in keeping them away. During my winter at the hut in the
mountains, during my succeeding adventures, I had not thought of Vedia;
thoughts of her had crossed my mind but seldom and fleetingly.

Now, all at once, I was overwhelmed by the realization of how ardently,
how unalterably I loved her, how keenly I longed for her, how tenderly I
felt towards her. Nothing, past, present or future, mattered to me except
Vedia and her welfare. I had been thinking with relished amusement of the
dismay of some pampered beauty haled from, her luxurious coach and off
through the wild mountains, immured in some lonely cave in the forests,
guarded by coarse ruffians, reduced to the most primitive diet and
bedding, forced to endure all sorts of discomforts, and threatened with
death or worse if an enormous ransom were not forthcoming promptly. I had
been chuckling at the prospect of getting a far-off glimpse of the first
act of this comedy.

My revulsion of feeling was dazing. I was hot and cold with horror at the
thought of Vedia's agony, terror and misery and of her danger among
Bulla's swarthy, brutal ruffians with their black curly hair and beards
intensifying the villainy of their lowering faces, with their mighty hands
always close to their daggers. Vedia I must save!

How?

Almost as I recognized her carriage, my eyes, instinctively sweeping my
entire outlook, caught sight of Selinus feeding among a small herd of
young mares on a hillside midway of the extensive pasture on the other
side of the road just to north of my crag. I knew there was, a little to
the north of the crag, on the same side of the road, a knoll from which
that bit of hillside was plainly visible at no great distance. I had my
plan worked out in all its details.

I drank all I could hold of my watered wine, left my cloak by the kidskin,
tucked a small packet of food into my belt-wallet, and raced down, the
steep slope of the mountainside to the north of the crag, leaping from
rock to rock under the huge forest trees. I reached the gentler slopes
near the highway and gained the top of the knoll. Selinus was in plain
view, grazing among his brides, and by good luck, all were headed towards
me. I stood on the summit of the knoll and waved my arms. Selinus caught
sight of me and galloped joyously down the slope of the pasture towards
me. When he was near I ran towards him down the slope of the knoll, being
careful that he should not lose sight of me. My luck held and he and I
approached the highway and each, other where there was a comfortable
interval between the lion's cage on the wagon which had been passing when
I topped the knoll and the leading yoke of the team tugging the wagon next
behind. The wind, also, was towards me, so that Selinus did not smell the
lions till he and I met in the highway and I had mounted him. Like a
hunting dog bounding over a fallen tree Selinus had leapt the tall thorn
hedge which bordered the highway to keep stock off it and in the meadow.

Once I was on his back we set off northward at full gallop, which almost
at once quickened into a maddened run. He had shied violently as we passed
the first cage and he winded the lion in it, but I stuck on him. Also I
stuck on at each, less violent sideways lurch as we passed cage after
cage: tiger, panther, leopard, hyenas or lion; all smelt equally
terrifying to him, but he only ran faster and his terror went into speed
ahead rather than into leaps aside.

When we reached the crossroad, up which the constabulary had turned, the
procurator's carriage was still somewhere up the highway; I had not seen
it since I left the top of the crag. The train of beast-wagons seemed
endless.

Into the crossroad we turned and up it Selinus tore. I chuckled. No road-
police, no matter how young, nimble and long-winded, could maintain a
double-quick any distance on that up-slope. Selinus mounted the hills like
a grayhound after a hare. We were sure to overtake the detachment soon.
They could not have gone far.

Overtake them we did and the maddened run at which Selinus scaled those
steep hills caught their officer's attention. I had rehearsed what I meant
to say and wasted no words. What I said conveyed the whole situation to
him.

"We are too few horsemen to overcome them," he said, "but we can scare
them from their booty and maybe from their captives. We'll ride our
fastest and we have time to reach them before they are thinking of flight.
The complete surprise will save the jewels, coin and gold and most likely
the lady and the officials.

"But you fellows must double-quick after us to support us in case they
recover from their amazement, rally and round on us from some near
vantage-ground. You can retrace your steps in a tenth of the time it took
us to reach here. Race!

"And you, Felix, give me that racer of yours. Fall in with the men. Here
Caius, give Felix your saddle and bridle. Your mare is giving out. Felix,
saddle and bridle your horse for me. Caius, take my horse."

In a moment I was afoot among the infantry constables, the officer was in
the saddle on Selinus, the reins in his hands, and the horsemen were off
at a tearing gallop, with us footmen after them at a run which carried us
almost by leaps down the steep slope.

When we reached the highway neither the mounted police nor any outlaws
were anywhere in sight. But it was plain that more time than I had
realized had elapsed since I vaulted on Selinus. Not only was the sun near
the horizon, but the bandits had evidently been further up the road than
this. For an instant I marvelled that they had come this far at all when
both their ambushes were south of the crag. Then I realized that they had
been searching the wagons for the bullion. Every wagon was stalled, half
were overset, the tongue-yoke of each was hamstrung, every cage was empty,
not a lion, tiger or leopard, panther or hyena to be seen; all,
apparently, let out that their cages might be ransacked. I conjectured
that letting them out had taken less time than it would have taken to kill
them.

Panting, sweating, nearing exhaustion, we hastened along the highway at a
jolting run not much faster than the quick walk of untired men, but our
best speed. We passed scores of stalled wagons, every cage empty, two
hamstrung oxen or mules or even horses lying in agony before each wagon,
the rest of the cattle either loosed and gone or held fast by the stalled
wagons behind them. We saw not one teamster, not one beast. The long
series of stalled wagons, with their hamstrung or stalled cattle and empty
cages extended to the foot of the crag and beyond it. Beyond it we came on
the procurator's carriage, empty; no horse to it or by it. Still we had
seen no human being.

A half-mile further, midway of a flat stretch of road, on one side of
which was an expanse of swampy ground, varied with pools bordered by
sedge, reeds and bushes, with areas of tussocks and with clumps of willows
and alders, we came on Bambilio's and Vedia's carriages, their gilded
decorative carvings, coral-red panel-bars, pearl-shell panel-panes, gilded
rosette-bosses, silver-plated hubs and gilded spokes and fellies
glittering in the late sunshine.

His coach was without any sign of a horse near it, hers with all four
hamstrung; their white leather harness, with its gold and silver bosses,
horridly stained with the blood they had spattered all over them as they
lay struggling and trying to kick. Both carriages were empty, their
cushions and mattresses and other contents scattered about on the roadway.

The sun was near setting. Our sergeants, blown as their men and as I,
paused and mopped their faces. We scanned the outlook. Far away well up
the mountain side we caught sight of a group of burly men, and among them
a slender figure clad in a garb of pale lavender hue with the sheen of
silk. Below and close a similar group among which were two figures
conspicuous for crimson cloaks or the like. Far below and much nearer us
we glimpsed the pursuing horsemen.

Off we set, and our fresh excitement seemed to put fresh vigor into all of
us. We ran a full mile straight across pastures and wooded hills towards
the point where I had glimpsed Vedia.

The sun set.

The constables ran on, panting, but by no means failing.

I gave out.

The hopelessness of such pursuit took all the heart out of me.

I stopped.

I could not hope to keep up with the excited police. I could not believe
that they would give any effective support to their mounted comrades or
even that they could overtake the outlaws after sunset in such broken and
wooded country, or that any or all of them could rescue any of the
prisoners I shuddered to think of Vedia in the clutches of such ruthless
villains. But I could accomplish nothing towards helping her. I turned to
slink homewards.

Half way to the spot where we had left the highway I encountered a lion.
He did not attack me or menace me and I was not afraid of him. But the
sight of him brought to my attention that the light was waning and that I
was, for a man afoot, a considerable distance from my cottage in broken
country full of escaped beasts of prey. I had never understood my power
over all animals, but I had always conceived that it depended on the way I
looked to them when they gazed at me. I was totally unafraid of the most
ferocious beast by daylight, but by no means comfortable in twilight or
dusk, while after dark I had no reason to think that a lion, or tiger
would prove more tractable to me than to any other man. I felt that I must
hasten home, if I was ever to reach it alive. With what breath I had left
I ran the rest of the easy downhill path to the highway.

When I reached it twilight had not yet deepened into dusk and I could see
fairly well. The four hamstrung horses were struggling pitifully to rise
and screaming at intervals. With my sheathknife I put them out of their
misery; as also the four pack-mules which lay, similarly hamstrung, in the
roadway, behind the carriage.

In spite of my dread of carnivora after dark I examined the coach and what
lay about it on the road. There were two kidskins, bulging roundly,
presumably with wine. Three covered food hampers, unopened; and, intact, a
beautiful little inlaid chest, such as ladies have for their combs,
brushes, ointment-pots and similar toilet articles. From their condition I
conjectured that the bandits had just commenced to rummage the coach when
the unexpected approach of the mounted constables, whose small numbers
they most likely did not realize, had scared them away.

Reluctant to be off and fearing to remain, I glanced about, irresolute. In
a clump of willows and alders in the midst of the swampy tract I caught
sight of a bit of color out of keeping with anything which naturally
belonged there and suggesting a woman's garment. There was a dryshod way
to that clump of trees and bushes. I threaded it towards what I had
glimpsed. When I was hardly more than half way from the road to the clump
I thought I heard a sob. I made haste.

Hearing the place I saw a young and slender and graceful woman dressed as
a slave girl. Somehow the sight of her brought to my mind's-eye vivid
recollections of my convalescent outings in Nemestronia's water-garden.
She looked terrified and yet hesitating to flee from me, as if she feared
the swamp. A step nearer I realized that Vedia's maid, a woman not unlike
her in build, as faithful to her as Agathemer was to me and amazingly
astute, had had the shrewdness and also the time to fool the brigands by
exchanging clothes with her mistress in the carriage.

"Vedia!" I exclaimed. "Caia!"

"Castor!" she screamed. "You know me? You call me Caia? Are you a ghost?
Are you alive? And that voice! Oh, are you real?"

"Real and alive," I answered. "I am myself. I am Hedulio."

To my amazement there, in the dusk under the willows, among the alders,
she gave a half-smothered shriek and the next instant her arms were round
my neck and mine round her, and she was sobbing on my shoulder, repeating:

"Call me Caia again. This is too good to be true."



CHAPTER XXVIII

MOONLIGHT


When our transports had abated a little I was aware that the twilight was
deepening into dusk and that I must somehow save Vedia from the roaming
wild beasts. I guided her along the twisting track from her hiding-place
to the road. As we gained it I heard a loud snarl of a lion or tiger or
panther far off towards the crag. We must make haste.

I reflected that it would be a very strong and enterprising beast, even if
a lion, which would break into Vedia's coach when its panels were slid and
fastened.

"We are too far from any habitation," I said, "for us to reach any while
the light holds. I dare not make the attempt with you among all these
freed wild beasts. I should be afraid to try it alone in this deepening
dusk. The best thing we can do is to get inside your carriage, slide the
panels and trust to them to keep out any inquisitive leopard or lion. With
the carcasses of four well-fed horses and as many mules laid ready to eat,
no tiger ought to be hungry enough to be eager after us."

"I had thought that, too," she agreed.

I peered through the open door into the coach, which was roomy. Then I
replaced in it its mattresses and cushions, Vedia showing me how they
fitted and, going round to the other door and opening it, helping me to
lay smooth the unmanageable feather-stuffed upper-cushions. She also
showed me the receptacles for her toilet-box, the food hampers and the
kidskins. While we were thus busied the almost full moon rose clear and
bright over a distant mountain. I helped Vedia into the coach and she
disposed herself at full length on its cushions, sinking into the
feathers. I walked round the coach and slid all the panels except the
front panel through which the moonlight entered, then I climbed inside,
shut and fastened the door, shut the panels, fastened each and stretched
out by Vedia, like her with plenty of cushions and pillows under my head
and shoulders.

As I fastened the last panels we heard the hunting-squall of a leopard at
no great distance. Vedia clung to me, shuddering.

"You have saved me, Caius," she said. "As you did on the terrace at
Nemestronia's."

Naturally, for a while, we exchanged kisses and caresses without any
intermingled words.

When, she spoke she said:

"How do you come to be alive?"

"That," I said, "is thanks to Agathemer and is a long tale. I am faint
with hunger and thirst, you yourself should be in need of nourishment and
might be the better for it. There should be food in those hampers and wine
in the kidskins."

"There is," she said, "and plenty. I am as hungry and thirsty as you, now
I am no longer terrified and am recovering from my panic. But I am
intensely eager to hear your story. Do begin at the beginning just as soon
as you can, and tell it while we eat."

Then she showed me how to dispose the hampers as they were designed to be
arranged while the occupants of the coach ate. They were very generously
filled with the most luxurious fare: hard-boiled eggs, ham, cold roast
pork, sliced thin; breast of roast goose, breast of roast duck, young
guinea-fowls, broiled whole and cut up, broiled chickens, broiled squabs;
half a. dozen kinds of bread, a quarter loaf and different sorts of rolls;
lettuce and radishes; bottles of oil, vinegar, garum sauce, and other
sauces; salt smoked fish; figs, both big green figs and small purple figs;
a jar of strained honey, several kinds of cakes, and plenty of salt,
pepper, other relishes, and a lavish provision of knives and of silver,
plates, spoons, cups and other utensils.

"Why all this profusion?" I queried. "You have enough here for a party of
ten."

"I always have a variety like this," she explained. "I generally have very
little appetite on a journey so I tell Lydia to put in all the things she
can get which she knows I like. Then something is likely to tempt me."

We feasted by moonlight, while I told my story from the moment when I had
received her warning letter.

"I knew that you mounted the horse in front of Plosurnia's Tavern," she
said, "but I have never heard of you after that. Tanno and I did all we
could to find out what had become of you; all we could without risking the
secret service getting an inkling that we had a hope that you were not
dead.

"In fact it was not only advertised from the Palace in due course, but
circumstantially reported to us privately, that the secret service had
learned that you had arranged for a fishing-vessel to take you to sea from
Sipontum. They had then set three detachments of Praetorians to intercept
you, one on each road, with watchers to warn them if you were recognized.
You were seen or betrayed somewhere between Hadria and Auximum, one
account said at Ortona, and the Praetorians killed you.

"Tanno said that the secret service always gave out such an account if
they failed to locate and capture any man they should have arrested. But
the confirmation of the story by three different private agencies plainly
destroyed his hopes that you might still be alive. I tried to keep on
hoping, but, after a whole year, I stopped lying awake and sobbing in the
dark; while I felt more grief for you than I ever felt for Satronius
Patavinus and more truly widowed than when he died, I ceased to grieve and
regained my interest in gaieties and suitors. Don't you think that was
natural?"

"Very natural," I admitted and went on with my story.

The moon rose higher and its rays no longer struck on our faces, but,
striking through the open panel, diffused from what part of the cushion or
sides of the coach they fell on directly, lit up the whole interior with a
pearly glimmer. By this subdued light Vedia looked bewitchingly charming
and coquettish, all the more because of the contrast between her elaborate
coiffure and the simple costume her maid had worn.

I ate liberally and with relish and she appeared to enjoy her food as I
did.

"You don't seem a bit worried," I remarked, "over the loss of your
jewels."

"Loss!" she exclaimed. "I haven't lost them, they are all in the secret
compartment under us inside the coach body, just where Lydia put them
before we left Rome. The bandits had barely begun to ransack the coach
when we heard the yells of the constabulary and then the hoof-beats of
their horses. They and their horses made so much noise that the brigands
thought they had to do with a hundred or more and fled, dragging off
Bambilio and Lydia and leaving me and the hampers, even the wine-skins.
They never were near laying hands on those jewels. They had Bambilio's
coin-chests, to be sure; but not my jewelry nor so much as a nugget of the
bullion they had expected. They were preparing to torture the procurator
to make him reveal the hiding place of his bullion, when the yelling and
galloping horsemen scared them away."

I congratulated her and we ate with even more relish. Both of us, however,
were sparing of the wine, though I gloated at the savor of the first
really good wine I had tasted for more than two years.

And garum sauce! I had not realized how I had craved such luxuries as
garum.

I told my story to an accompaniment of Vedia's exclamations. She was
amazed at all of it; at our crawl through the drain, at the loyalty of old
Chryseros, at my involvement with Maternus, at my encounter with
Pescennius Niger, at my involvement with the mutineers; but most of all,
at my having been present in the great circus, an eyewitness of the most
spectacular day of racing Commodus ever exhibited under his transparent
pseudonym of Palus and his last day of public jockeying; and, equally, at
Agathemer's device by which we survived the massacre.

We had finished our leisurely meal and I had finished my story, neither
our appetites nor the flow of my narrative marred by the distant squalls
of leopards and roars of lions, nor by the uncanny sounds made by the
hyenas, when, all of a sudden, a lion uttered a powerful and prolonged
roar within a dozen yards of us. Vedia shrieked and clung to me, clutching
me so I had to remonstrate with her in order to be able to slide shut and
fasten the open front panel. I had barely fastened it when another roar as
loud, sudden, and long answered the first from the other side of us,
somewhere in the swamp tract. This time Vedia did not shriek, she only
clung closer to me. I held her as close as she held me and, so clinging to
each other, in the pale glimmer of the moonlight striking on the shell
panes in the panels, we listened to repetitions of the roars, each time
nearer, till the two beasts were roaring at each other not much more than
its length from the carriage, apparently facing each other across the dead
pole-horses. I expected a fight, but they ceased roaring, and, by the
sounds they made, fell to gorging themselves on horse-meat.

When we had become used to their proximity, since, after a lapse of time
which seemed like half an hour or more, they kept on crunching and rending
without any roarings and without coming nearer the carriage, Vedia, her
arms still about me, told me the story of her doings since my downfall.
Most of it was taken up with social gaieties and with rejections of
tolerated suitors.

Then she, shyly, told me of her liking for Orensius Pacullus, of Aquileia,
and her promise to marry him. She explained at length why she had been
called imperatively to Aquileia, why he felt bound to remain there and how
it was that she had agreed to travel to Aquileia to be married there,
instead of his returning to Rome, which would have been the most
conventional arrangement.

While she was telling me this we heard not only the noise of the feeding
of the two lions which were eating the dead horses, but heard also a third
animal as noisily tearing at one of the dead mules behind the coach.

"I cannot believe," she said, "that I ever consented to marry anybody
else, even when I was certain you were dead. But you know, Caius, it is
natural to be married; and to live alone, as maid or widow, is not only
lonesome and unnatural, but unfashionable and absurd.

"But, now that I know you are alive, I shall not care who thinks me
ridiculous or who calls me silly; I shall feel lonely, but lonely merely
because I cannot live with you. I shall jilt poor dear Pacullus, who is as
good a man and as good a fellow as ever lived, and I shall stick to my
widowhood until I die or Commodus joins the company of the gods and we can
arrange for your full rehabilitation and the restoration of your estates
and rank."

Just as she said this we distinctly heard clawing and snuffing against the
panels behind our heads, opposite where the lions were feasting. Vedia did
not shriek, she was too scared to make any sound: she merely clutched me
closer.

Both lions roared in front of the coach; a tiger's rasping yarr answered
from behind it and almost instantly there were noises alongside the coach
indicating that a lion and tiger were at grips; growls, snarls, more
growls and more snarls, each choked off in the middle as it were, half
swallowed and left unfinished. For some reason the noise of the fight
immediately started a chorus of hyenas, emitting their strange cries, much
like human laughter, but the laughter of maniacs. Our situation and
environment was to the last degree uncanny.

The fight lasted no long time. We could not conjecture which combatant was
victorious, but they dashed off, one pursuing the other. The remaining
lion roared twice; long, choking, snarling torrents of thunderous noise;
then it also went away. Except for distant snarls, squalls and roars, we
were in a silent moonlit world, almost peaceful. I ventured to unfasten
the other front panel and slide it a little way open. The rays of the high
moon, poured in on our feet, we looked out on a magical prospect.

Vedia put a relishing warm arm round my neck.

"Call me Caia again," she whispered. "Where you are Caius I am Caia!"
[Footnote: From the Roman marriage-ritual.] The implication thrilled me.
It was as if we were married, had been man and wife for long past.

It may have been midnight, was near midnight when she said:

"I don't want to go to sleep at all. We can do without one night's sleep.
We can sleep tomorrow night, when we are not together. Let's try to keep
awake every minute till daylight."

In fact it was not easy to sleep, for a pack of hyenas, apparently as
friendly with each other as if they had hunted together since they were
weaned, came and picked the bones of the horses and mules, even ate the
bones, which cracked loudly between their powerful jaws. The noise of
their gluttony would have kept awake a pair sleepier than we.

But, when the moon was almost half way down the sky, when the roars and
squalls and snarls of lions and leopards and tigers and the horrid
laughter of hyenas had ceased to sound, when the night silence was so
complete that we could hear the cocks crowing near distant farmsteads and
the faint breezes rustling in the willows, we did sleep, she first, her
arms round me and her head on my shoulder.

When we woke, with the slanted moon rays on the back corner of the coach
behind me, she cuddled to me luxuriously, patted me and presently
whispered, in a bantering, roguish tone which I detected even in her
softest whisper:

"You remember that old sweetheart of yours?"

"I don't remember any sweetheart except you," I retorted. "I never had any
sweetheart except you."

"I mean," she said, "that minx who made eyes at you and all your country
neighbors and certainly tried to marry you and most of your Sabine
friends."

"You mean Marcia?" said I.

"Ah," she said, playfully and teasingly, "I thought you would remember her
name. If you remember her name you must remember her."

"Of course I remember Marcia," I said. "How could I forget her after the
way she led my uncle by the nose, had half the countryside mad for her,
set us all by the ears, rebuffed Ducconius Furfur, and married Marcus
Martius?

"If I had never known her before I'd be bound to recall the creature who
embroiled me with you. My! You were in a wax!"

"I certainly was," she whispered, "and I thought I had reason to be
indignant. But now I believe your version of her relations with you and
feel no qualms at recollecting the slanders I then credited. But, the
point is, you remember her."

"My dear," I said, "if I had never set eyes on Marcia except when I
encountered her in the Baths of Titus the day you rescued me from drowning
when I fainted in the swimming pool, I'd remember her for life. She is too
beautiful to forget."

"Am I so hideous?" she demanded.

"You are the loveliest woman alive," I vowed. "But Marcia is amazingly
spectacular and the pictures she makes impress themselves on one's memory
and eyesight. I could never forget her in that brilliant tableau on the
camp-platform facing the mutineers, even if I had never seen her before."

"I was coming to that," Vedia said. "Marcia, who was a foundling and a
slave as the adopted child of a slave, has risen so high that she is truly
Empress in all but the official title. She has all the honors Faustina or
Crispina ever had, except that she keeps out of those religious rites,
participation in which is confined to women married with the full old-time
ceremonies and observances."

I then told her what Agathemer and I had heard about Marcia while
domiciled with Colgius, and of the absence from all talk about her of any
mention of or allusion to Marcus Martius; I asked if she knew what had
become of him or, indeed, anything about him.

 "Oh, yes," she said, "all Roman society knew the main facts and dear old
Tanno supplied me with many of the intimate details. Commodus made a point
of having Martius specially presented to him because he had heard that he
had been, with you and Tanno, one of the foremost fighters in your affrays
in Vediamnum and near Villa Satronia. At his private audience he
congratulated and bepraised Martius and acclaimed his prowess. Martius,
who seems to have been a very fine fellow, disclaimed any pretensions to
such laudations and modestly stated that he had, at the beginning of each
fight, been far in the rear in your travelling-coach, with Marcia; that
she had clung to him and so delayed his getting out; that each time he had
gotten out and picked up the staff of a disabled combatant, but that, in
each combat, he had arrived barely in time to land a few blows on some of
the routed enemy; that in neither affray had he done any real fighting or
been in any danger or performed any exploits.

"Commodus, in his blunt way, had asked whether he was good for anything,
anyhow. Martius had replied that he was considered more than a mediocre
horse-master.

"Commodus had then invited him to demonstrate his prowess in the Stadium
of the Palace. There Martius had shown such skill, courage, agility,
judgment, grace and ease that Commodus was delighted. He had Martius ride
a number of wild, fierce and unmanageable horses and was more and more
charmed with him.

"Next day he had another batch of intractable mounts for him. As Martius
was manoeuvring one which he had almost subdued Commodus stepped too near
the plunging brute and, in saving the Emperor from being run down and
trampled, Martius was somehow thrown and his neck broken.

"Commodus was very penitent, felt that he had caused Martius' death, had
him given a funeral of Imperial magnificence and, as soon as her grief had
quieted enough, paid Marcia a ceremonial visit of condolence, as if she
had been the widow of a full general killed in battle on the frontier.

"One sight of Marcia was enough. Within a very short space of time her
wiles had ensnared him and Crispina raged in vain."

Then she told me all the story of the intrigues by which Marcia poisoned
the Emperor's mind against the Empress, until Crispina fell under all
sorts of suspicion in the eyes of Commodus: of how at the same time Marcia
subtly laid snares for Crispina and enticed her into injudicious behavior
with several gallants, until finally the Emperor put her under
surveillance, later relegated her to Capri, then to some more distant
island, and finally had her brought back to Rome, publicly tried,
convicted and executed.

I told her my conjectures as to the queer outcome of the arrest of
Ducconius Furfur and as to who Palus really was and who occupied the
throne while Palus exhibited himself as wrestler, boxer, charioteer and
what not.

"I know nothing to confirm your surmises," she said, "but we about the
Court have often been puzzled at the way Commodus appeared to be in two
places at once. You set me thinking."

After the second cockcrow, since dawn was not now far away, we fell to
talking of the future.

"I shan't marry anybody, ever, except you, dear!" she promised, without my
asking it and again and again: "I'll remain a widow until I die unless we
outlive Commodus, and Tanno and I succeed in having you rehabilitated. I
have many consolations in my wealth and social position and friends."

"And suitors," I put in, mimicking her tone when she bantered me about
Marcia.

"And suitors!" she replied. "Caius, I love you, and I'll never marry
anyone else, but I do love attention. I love to keep a dozen good catches
dangling about me; their wooings and their gifts and their behavior
generally are no end of good fun. And it's good fun to have half the
marriageable belles furious with me. I cannot help encouraging any man, or
even lad, who moons about after me. But you have never had any reason to
be jealous, you have none now, you never will have."

I expressed my faith in her the best I could.

"You are a dear, dear boy," she said, "and it is good of you not to be
jealous, even when you have so little reason to be jealous. I have much
more. Suppose I raged about Nebris or Septima?"

I tried to change the subject and succeeded, when I suggested that we must
plan what we were to do at dawn and in the future. After a full discussion
and the airing of her ideas and mine, we agreed that there was little or
no likelihood of the road-constables returning or of anyone else
approaching her carriage before full daylight. As soon as there was
sufficient light for it to be safe, I would open the panels enough for us
to keep watch up and down the highway and in the direction the constables
had taken. When we saw them returning I was to wait till they were near
enough to assure her safety and then, at the last moment, I was to slip
out on the other side of the coach. That was next the swamp and I could be
out of sight among the willows and alders when less than two score yards
from the road; also I knew the path across the swamp and could cross it
and go off home through the meadows and pastures beyond it. This was our
plan.

She said she would, whenever the road-constables returned, behave as if
she had been alone in the coach all night. She had no doubt that the
police would give her every assistance in their power.

"Of course," she said, "my intendant galloped off somewhere, somehow and
the coachman and outrider and mule-drivers ran away; you couldn't expect
any or all of them to make a stand against all those armed brigands. If
the constables return, as they will, all my men will come back. Osdarus
will manage to get me horses from the nearest change-station or somewhere
else, somehow. Once at an inn I can get fresh horses. I can buy a team at
Nuceria."

"Can you pay for a team?" I interrupted. "Have you the cash?"

"My gold and silver," she laughed, "are in the other secret compartment.
The outlaws did not get my coin any more than my jewelry. Why look!
Lydia's earrings are in my ears now and her necklace round my neck and her
bracelets on my wrists and her rings on my fingers. The rascals were so
sure of not being interfered with and so much at ease that they were
startled frantic by the galloping horsemen and scuttled off with
Bambilio's coin-chest, dragging him and poor Lydia and totally forgetting
me, thinking me the maid, not even noticing these little trinkets, which
are mostly silver and some of gold and so worth stealing.

"I have the cash to pay for two teams or three: I brought plenty for the
journey to Aquileia, because we could learn little of the state of the
roads beyond Bononia and I thought I might have to travel by Placentia or
even by Milan. I'll get back to Rome, as fast as I can. I don't want to be
married now, so I don't want to go on to Bononia, let alone all the way to
Aquileia. If I did want to go on, the bandits have run off with my maid,
and I could hardly get along without her, and they have also removed my
escort, and I certainly could not keep on without a proper escort. I have
every excuse for turning about at once and making haste to get out of this
dangerous neighborhood and getting back home.

"Poor Lydia! I hate to think of her at the mercy of those brutal ruffians.
They may maltreat her horribly if they discover that they have the maid
instead of the mistress, and by the maid's device. I'll tell everybody I
see that I'll pay any ransom in reason, even beyond reason, for poor
Lydia, if the brigands will restore her to me safe and sound. I fancy
their friends hereabouts, and almost every inhabitant of the district is a
friend of theirs, by your account, will speedily have conveyed to them the
news that their capture is worth almost as much ransom as they hoped to
extort for me. That news ought to protect Lydia while she is among the
outlaws and ought to help me to get her back without much delay.

"As soon as I am in Rome I'll send a trusty agent up here to set on foot
negotiations with the outlaws and to rescue Lydia by paying what they ask
for her.

"And, the moment I reach Rome I'll set in motion all the forces I can
control or enlist, and I can influence many men in high places, I'll have
all I can influence working quietly and most unobtrusively for that
official manumission, of yours. Once you are free you had best travel
secretly and without haste to Bruttium. No folk are more secretive or more
loyal than the herders and foresters of Bruttium. Not only your former
slaves on your uncle's estate there, but all their neighbors will do as
much to keep secret your presence among them, and shield you and to make
you comfortable and happy as the Umbrians hereabouts have been doing to
help and protect Bulla and his band and to shield them from the
constabulary and authorities. In Bruttium you can lurk in safety as long
as Commodus lives and it will even be safe for us two to exchange letters.
In Bruttium it can be arranged that no secret-service agent or Imperial
spy can ever get wind of your existence, let alone of your hiding-place.
You can be free, in a way, housed comfortably, with no duties, able to
pass your time as you please, and well cared for. Tanno and I will see
that you are supplied with cash for the journey and for your needs after
you reach your haven."

The cocks crowed vociferously at all the neighboring farmsteads and we
could hear them plainly across the considerable distances from us to each.
The moon hung low and the pale first light of day began to overcome the
moonlight.

Vedia petted me and I petted her and she repeated her vows of unalterable
fidelity to her pledge to marry no one else and to hope to marry me.

As dawn brightened the hyenas burst into a belated chorus and a lion
roared far away. After that the beasts made no sounds which came to our
ears.

Vedia insisted on my eating more of her delicacies and, I confess, I ate
liberally and with relish. A night with almost no sleep and much
excitement causes an unnatural hunger at dawn and the delicious rarities
tempted me.

She explained, over and over, that I was to behave precisely as if we had
not encountered each other and be sure not to mistake some secret-service
agent for her emissary. The watchword was to be, in memory of that used at
my escape from Rome, that whoever came from her or Tanno to me would ask:

"Can you direct me to the leopard-tamer who rode the horse with the blue
saddle-cloth?"

I was to reply:

"The blue saddle-cloth was bordered with silver."

He was then to respond:

"I have silver for the leopard-tamer."

I was then to say:

"I am the leopard-tamer and I have a pouch for your silver."

After we had rehearsed the passwords till both were sure neither could
forget or misplace a word, as the day was coming on, we kept a keen
lookout through the partly opened panels. Before sunrise I saw the mounted
constables approaching down the mountain trail, for there were several
points on it where horsemen could be seen through the trees, even from
where we were.

I unfastened the coach door next the swamp, we kissed each other again and
again, and, as the horsemen came in sight away across the meadows where
they emerged from the woods, we exchanged a last farewell kiss and I
slipped out and across the swamp.



BOOK IV

DISSIMULATIONS



CHAPTER XXIX

FELIX


From the marsh my path homewards led me past the villa, for it was
directly between my cottage and the swamp. The very first human being I
encountered was the _Villicus_ himself.

"Hullo, Felix," he said. "I've been looking for you. We need you. Septima
says she hasn't seen you since early yesterday. Where have you been all
night?"

"Up a tree," I replied. "Bulla told me day before yesterday that he and
his lads planned a spectacular capture and robbery on the highway south of
Diana's Crag for yesterday afternoon. Most of the days lately on which you
haven't wanted me I have spent on top of the crag, watching the traffic on
the road. I went up there about the third hour yesterday morning, to view
the show Bulla had promised me. I expected to enjoy it, but, somehow, when
I saw the victims' coaches come in sight, the idea of a Roman lady in the
clutches of Bulla's gang went against my gorge. I ran down alongside the
crag towards where Selinus was grazing in the roadside pasture. He came to
me and I galloped up the highway and up the first crossroad to warn the
constabulary, who had gone up that road about noon, on some false
information given them by someone at Bulla's suggestion. Their officer
took my horse and I had to run with the infantrymen. My breath gave out
and my legs too and I dropped behind when they left the highway south of
the crag and struck off across country after the bandits, who had been
scared off by the cavalrymen. It took me a long time to get my breath and
rest my legs. When I felt able to walk it was after sunset. I can gentle
any beast by daylight, but after dusk I'm no better off than any other man
facing a lion or tiger. The brigands had opened scores of cages and the
freed beasts began to roar and snarl soon after sunset. I climbed a maple
and spent the night in a fork about six yards from the ground, where I
felt safe as long as I could keep awake. I dreaded to fall if I dozed, and
I was frightfully drowsy after such a hot day and such a long run. When
the sun rose I started home."

"Come along, prudent youth," he said, "we need you. The sub-procurator in
charge of the beast-train which the brigands interfered with is at the
villa: so are half his beast-tenders and teamsters. The animal-keepers vow
they dare not attempt to recapture their charges and the procurator is
angry and worried and anxious about his responsibility and what will be
expected of him by his superiors. He does not want to lose one single lion
or tiger or even hyena; wants them recaged at once. So do I. I've lost
more stock than I like to think of. The hyenas and panthers and leopards
have slaughtered a host of my sheep and goats, and the lions and tigers
have banqueted on some of my most promising colts and on many of my
cattle.

"Can you duplicate your feat with the panther loose on the highway?"

"I can repeat it as often as I can get anywhere near any of those beasts
by daylight," I said. "Let us start at once. There is no hurry, for the
beasts will do little damage in daytime, as most of them will hide till
dark. But there seems to be a large number loose; I doubt if I can catch
all of them before dusk."

"It'll take you two days, Felix, or three," the _Villicus_ laughed. "The
procurator states that his train had in its cages twenty-five panthers, as
many leopards, fifty tigers, a hundred lions and two hundred hyenas.
That's four hundred beasts for you to catch as fast as they can be located
by their keepers, assisted by my whole force of horse-wranglers, herdsmen,
shepherds, and the rest and all the farmers hereabouts, and all their
slaves. We'll have plenty of help. Three farmers are at the villa now
raving over the loss of sheep or cattle; every farmer will turn out with
his men to help us; anyhow, every bumpkin and yokel will want to enjoy the
fun and they'll all flock to the scene."

I do not know how many days I spent catching the escaped beasts for the
procurator. I enjoyed the first day, did not mind the second and was not
painfully weary on the third; but the rest passed in a daze of exhaustion;
though I had good horses, a fresh horse whenever I asked for it, wine and
good wine as often as I was thirsty, plenty of good food and every
consideration; and although the various farms at which I spent the nights
(for we did not once return to the villa) did all they could for my
comfort, the repetition, for hundreds of times, of dismounting,
approaching a lion or tiger in his daylight lair among reeds or tall grass
or bushes, catching him by the mane or the scruff of his neck, leading him
to his cage and caging him, was extremely, even unbelievably exhausting.

Whenever any of our searchers located a beast in hiding the teamsters
drove their wagons with his cage as near as might be; in no case did I
lead a cowed captive half a mile; seldom two furlongs. But I walked a
great distance in the course of each of these days, rode many miles in the
course of all the riding I did between recaptures, and was never calmed
between my recurrent periods of tense excitement. I felt limp.

My condition was not improved by the occurrence and recurrence of
perturbing excitement from a more disquieting cause. Early on my third day
of animal-catching, just as I stepped back from bolting the door of a cage
on a lion, I felt rather than saw out of the tail of my eye someone rush
towards me from behind, trip when a few yards from me and fall flat. I
whirled to look and beheld a mere lad, one of my fellow-slaves at the
villa, a stable cleaner, scrambling to his feet. When he was half up the
man nearest him, another of my fellow-slaves, an assistant colt-wrangler,
apparently the man who had tripped him, dealt him a smashing blow on the
ear with his clenched fist and felled him again. As he went down I saw
that he had a long-bladed, keen-edged, gleaming dagger in his right hand.
It flew from his grasp as he plowed up the ground with his face. The colt-
wrangler picked it up.

We were on a crossroad, some distance from the highway, in the woods. The
wagon and cage were surrounded by almost a score of the slaves of the
estate, with nearly as many more helpers; farm-slaves, farmers, teamsters,
beast-warders, yokels and stragglers; the _Villicus_ was near.

"Napsus," he said to the colt-wrangler, "kill him with his own dagger!"

Instantly Napsus stabbed the fallen lad between the shoulders. The thrust
went home neatly, under the left shoulder-blade, deep and inclined a
little upward. It must have reached his heart, for he died after one
violent convulsion which threw him into the air, and turned him completely
over, his corpse slapping the ground like a flopping fish on a stream-
bank.

"Hand me that rope!" the _Villicus_ ordered a teamster.

He knotted a hangman's noose at one end of the rope, tried it to make sure
it worked properly and ordered the estate slaves to hang the body to a
convenient limb of a near by tree. They did.

I stood, gazing questioningly, first at the swinging corpse, then at the
_Villicus_.

"Felix," said he, "I perceive that you do not understand. Tiro meant to
kill you, and would most likely have succeeded had not Napsus first
tripped him and then killed him. Napsus shall be handsomely rewarded in
every fashion within my power. Tiro has been dealt with as he deserved, as
any similar fool deserves. I propose to protect you to the extent of my
abilities and authority, which includes peremptory execution of any estate
slave whom I so much as suspect; I don't have to wait for any overt act,
nor for any threat, uttered or whispered or hinted. You can rely on all
the protection I can give you and I fancy it will suffice. If there is any
other fool about let him take notice."

He spoke loudly, so as to be audible to everyone of the gathering.

I stared numb, puzzled, almost dazed.

"But," I blurted out, "why did he try to kill me? Why should anyone want
to kill me?"

"You don't know Umbria, lad," spoke the _Villicus_, indulgently. "Many
eyes in addition to those of the teamsters and beast-wardens beheld you on
Selinus, galloping your fastest northwards along the highroad. Many saw
you turn Selinus up the crossroad the _viarii_ had taken. Many saw their
officer on Selinus when the cavalrymen charged down the highroad and
scattered the bandits. Many saw you afoot among the infantrymen when they
turned from the crossroad into the highway and as they double-quicked down
it. Every partisan of the outlaws blames you for their discomfiture, and
regards you as a detestable traitor, many a one is looking for such a
chance at you as Tiro thought he saw. I'll give you a body-guard of men I
can trust, for the rest of this beast-catching job. But keep a bright
lookout, yourself. You may need all your own strength and quickness to
save yourself."

The strain of this surprise and anxiety was a hundredfold as trying as the
most daunting beast-catching. I felt it.

I felt it more after a second similar attempt that very afternoon. I had
threaded a dense patch of undergrowth, approached a lurking leopard,
caught her and led her out of the thicket, led her almost to her waiting
cage. By this time our helpers were so used to seeing me cage lions,
panthers, leopards and tigers that they no longer, as at first, hovered at
a distance, gaping at me as I, completely alone with my catch, led it
towards its cage, set ready by its wagon, from which the team had been
loosed and removed: no longer drew off some yards beyond the cage and
wagon and stood ready for instant flight if my capture escaped me; they
now merely drew aside as I approached and opened a lane for me and my
charge, no more afraid than if I had been leading a calf.

As I drew near the cage, my mind intent on the leopard and my eyes on the
open cage door and its fastenings, a slave of one of the neighboring
farmers dashed at me, sheath-knife uplifted. He came from my left side,
from a little behind me. I whirled round to face him, pulling the leopard
round roughly, so that she snarled. I let her go. She was face to face
with my reckless assailant and they were close together. She gave one
joyful, gloating, triumphant squall and one mighty leap. Her claws sank
into his shoulders, her long white fangs met, horridly crunching, in his
throat, and she bore him to the earth where she crouched flat on him,
greedily gulping his blood.

The bystanders fairly fell over backwards in their panic as they
scattered. I stood by the leopard, and when she had exhausted the supply
of hot blood, succeeded in caging her; but dropped limp on the earth once
I had fastened her in her cage, for a beast of prey which had just tasted
human blood was a ward with which I had felt very uncertain of being able
to cope.

After that no one attempted to molest me while out catching the escaped
beasts. But the night before my last day of beast-catching, as I lay abed
very fast asleep at a villa fully ten miles from the Imperial villa where
I belonged, I became gradually aware of some noises, then slowly I
wakened. There was a fight going on at my door. Soon after I got out of
bed our host and my master, the _Villicus_, came with a light and three or
four slaves. The light revealed One of my fellow-slaves flat on his back
and another throttling him. A dagger lay on the floor. Evidently the one
had saved me from the other.

Late next afternoon, far up in the hills near Helvillum, I caught and
caged the last hyena. These, being smaller and more cowardly than the
nobler animals, were harder to locate. It was after sunset when we reached
the villa where we found the procurator in charge of the beast-train; and
along with, him and his men were welcomed and entertained.

After our bath and a lavish dinner the _Villicus_ exchanged a few
whispered words with our host and then he and I had a long conference
alone. He explained that my life was in danger, not only from local
friends of Bulla and partisans of the King of the Highwaymen who all not
merely regarded me with detestation and hatred as a traitor but suspected
me of being a government spy, but also from the King of the Highwaymen
himself, who was certain to be informed by Bulla of how they had been
discomfited and who had a long arm and countless capable and intrepid
agents. He was of the opinion that the three attempts at assassination
which I had escaped were a mere beginning. He was emphatic that I could
not remain on the Imperial estate and survive many days. He advised me
strongly not to return to the villa.

Then he told me that the procurator of the beast-train had sent to Rome by
an Imperial courier, whom he had managed to intercept at a change-station,
a letter setting forth my powers over fierce animals and asking that an
order be sent for my transfer from the horse-breeding estate to the Beast
Barracks attached to the Colosseum, where the animals are housed from
their arrival in Rome, until their display in the arena; that this letter
had come into the hands of the same officials who already had under
consideration the requisition for me made by the procurator in charge of
the Beast Barracks; that somehow these same officials appeared to know
nothing of my identity with the slave who had foiled the conspirators who
were fomenting a mutiny in the _ergastulum_ at Nuceria, and for whose
manumission a request had been made by the aldermen of that town, and
indeed appeared to know nothing of any such request for manumission; that
a requisition for my transfer from the horse-breeding estate to the Beast-
Barracks at Rome had been made out, approved by the higher officials,
sealed, stamped and sent out by an Imperial courier and received that very
afternoon by the procurator of the beast-train, who consequently had
authority to take me to Rome with him as one of the attendants on the
animals of his train, which was now again in order, I having recaged all
the four hundred escaped beasts, except five hyenas, one panther and one
lion which had been killed by stock-owners and their slaves while
attacking stock.

The _Villicus_ went on to say that this fell out very advantageously for
me, in his opinion. He advised me not only to go with the procurator
without demur, but to arrange with him that I drop the name of Felix and
adopt some other. He pointed out that, if it was known that Felix the
Horse-wrangler of Umbria had gone to Rome as Felix the Beast-Tamer, then
the King of the Highwaymen would be able without difficulty to trace me
and set on me his ruthless agents until one of them assassinated me.

I felt that he was right. The danger to my former self as Andivius
Hedulio, implicated in a conspiracy against Caesar, appeared now far off
and unimportant, in spite of the fact that the secret service might still
be keen to catch me and the hue and cry out after me from the Alps to
Rhegium; the danger to my present self from the enmity of Bulla, of his
ruffians, of their partisans in Umbria, of their Chief, the King of the
Highwaymen, whoever he might be, appeared close and menacing. A change of
name would make it impossible for Tanno and Vedia to carry out her plan
for my manumission by the _fiscus_, my clandestine journey to Bruttium and
my comfortable and unsuspected seclusion there until some other prince
succeeded our present Emperor. I had grasped eagerly at the thought of
this plan and had built much on it. But I realized that Bulla's admirers
or the agents of the King of the Highwaymen would make an end of me long
before Vedia's influence could obtain my manumission; and that, if she did
accomplish all she expected, I could never hope to escape the vigilance of
the tenacious and expert pursuers who would inevitably dog my footsteps.

I thought the advice of the _Villicus_ good. I regretted that I was not to
say farewell to Septima; she deserved a most fervent expression of my
esteem, gratitude, regard and good wishes; but, after my encounter with
Vedia, Septima seemed of very little importance. I had my amulet-bag on
its thong about my neck and my coin-belt about my waist. I agreed to go
with the procurator and thanked the _Villicus_ for his solicitude for me,
for his good offices and for his advice.

He said that it would be best that he should not know what name I meant to
adopt. Also he said that, if I was to escape the vengeance of the King of
the Highwaymen, it would be imperative that I be thought dead; he would
give out that I had been killed by one of my fellow-slaves and everybody
would assume that I had perished at the hands of some partisan of the
outlaws; Bulla and the King of the Highwaymen would feel their animosity
satiated.

I reflected that whereas news of my supposed assassination would fill
Vedia with grief and would probably, after her grief abated, leave her
feeling free to marry, yet, if a false report of my death was not spread
abroad, a genuine report of my actual death soon would be. It was a choice
between a lesser and a greater evil. I acquiesced.

I then ventured to ask him if he knew anything as to how far the brigands
had succeeded in spite of my intervention and how far they had failed
because of it. He told me that they had effected their escape with the
propraetor's coin-chests, the propraetor, and the procurator and had
carried off the widow's maid by mistake for the widow, on account of her
clever device of changing clothes with her mistress.

Also that Vedia had announced that she would pay a large ransom for her
maid.

I then felt safe to ask what had become of Vedia, her name being known
from her advertisement. He said she had procured horses and mules and had
returned to Rome, sending up agents from Nuceria to negotiate with the
bandits, rescue Lydia and pay her ransom.

The next day, at dawn, I set off with the beast-train, riding by the
procurator. He and I and the _Villicus_ had had a talk. After the
_Villicus_ left my name was Festus.

I asked the procurator what had become of the bullion on account of which
the brigands had routed out the cages. He laughed and asked whether I had
noted anything peculiar in the handling of the cages while I was returning
their contents to them. I said I had noticed that the rollers lashed to
the wagons were never used, but fresh-cut rollers each time a cage was
taken off a wagon or put back on.

He laughed again.

"You can conjecture then," he said, "why the outlaws got no grain of the
dust, let alone any nugget: six hundred rollers, even with very moderate
holes bored into half of them, would hold more bullion than the procurator
was convoying."

I laughed also.

"I suppose," I said, "it could not be told which rollers were bored out
and might crush if used."

"Just so!" said he.

We journeyed to Rome with as much hurry as could be made by such a beast-
train, which was very slowly for men on good horses. We made excursions up
crossroads, idled at inns, were entertained at villas and I decidedly
enjoyed the beginning of my life as Festus the Beast-Tamer. We were
fourteen full days on the road.

I had time to meditate on the fifth fulfillment of the prophecy of the
Aemilian Sibyl. Also I had time to offer two white hens to Mercury at
Nuceria, at Spolitum, at Interamnia, at Narnia and at Ocriculum.

Towards sunset just before our last night's halt out of the city, from a
hilltop on the highway, I had a glorious view of Rome bathed in mellow
evening sunlight, much as I had viewed it when I came down the same
highroad with the mutineers from Britain. As always this unsurpassable
sight filled me with intense emotions.

We entered Rome, of course, by the Flaminian Gate and at dawn. Before
sunrise I was in the great mass of buildings variously known as the
Choragium, the Therotheca, the Animal Mansions and the Beast-Barracks.
These were mostly of many stories, the ground-level used for the beasts,
the second floor for their keepers and attendants, the cage-cleaners, the
overseers, and the rest of the army of men who cared for the animals, and
the upper floors utilized as store-rooms for all sorts of weapons, armor,
costumes, implements and apparatus used in and for the spectacles; swords,
spears, arrows, shields, helmets, breast-plates, corselets, kilts,
greaves, boots, cloaks, tunics, poles, rope, pulleys, winches, jack-
screws, derricks, wagons, carts, and the like.

The jumble of buildings was without any sort of general plan. Apparently a
courtyard and the structures about it had been found necessary for housing
the beasts and their attendants and had been bought by the management of
the Colosseum. When it was overtaxed, as the number of animals exhibited
increased, an adjacent property had been acquired and annexed. So the
Choragium had been created and extended till it now covered many acres and
had many courtyards, all arcaded on all sides. Under the arcades were set
as many cages as they could accommodate; when the beasts were too numerous
for their cages to be all under the arcades some were stood out in the
courtyards.

I was comfortably housed in light, airy, roomy, clean and well-furnished
quarters on one of the biggest courtyards. From dawn after my first
night's sleep there I was busy quelling vicious beasts so their cages
could be cleaned; keeping others quiet while the beast-surgeons dressed
wounds inflicted by their captors or keepers or sores caused by their
confinement; inducing others to swallow the remedies the animal-doctors
thought good for them; leading beasts out of their cages into others; and
so on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before I had been a full day at my duties the procurator of the Beast-
Barracks complimented me, declared that I was his very ideal of just the
kind of man he had always needed and wanted, averred that I was already
indispensable and vowed that he could not conceive how he or the Choragium
had ever gotten on without me. Within a very few days he came to my
quarters and said:

"I want you to be contented here. I won't listen to a word hinting at your
leaving. Otherwise I'll do all I can to gratify every wish of yours not
inconsistent with your continuing here and keeping up as you have begun.
Of course, within a few days now, you'll have no such rush of all-day toil
as you have been having. You have been doing in the past few days all the
left-over jobs which should have been attended to since warm weather
began. Once you get clear of legacies from the past you'll find a day's
work can be done in much less than a day and will neither exhaust nor
weary you. Now what can I do to make you as comfortable as possible?"

He had sat down and had motioned me to be seated also. I ruminated.

"In the first place," I said, "I do not want to be made to show off in the
arena before audiences. I am willing to tame animals and to keep on taming
animals, but I do not want to be forced to display my powers before the
populace and the nobility, Senate and court. I have the most powerful
antipathy to being compelled to become a performer as part of a public
spectacle."

"Set your mind at rest," he said. "I give my pledge that, unless my
authority is overridden, you shall not take part in public spectacles
except that you may often have to enter the arena to lead out ferocious
beasts which are not to be killed or which the Emperor, or some of the
courtiers, senators, nobles or populace have taken a fancy to for some
display of courage or craft and have ordered spared. The driving into a
cage or out of a postern of such a beast is generally an irritating
matter, delaying the spectacle and often calling for the use of as many as
a hundred muscular, agile and bold attendants. I perceive that you can do
alone, quickly and easily, what a large gang of eager men has often taken
a long time to accomplish. Often they have to kill a recalcitrant beast. I
feel that I need you for this and I trust that you are willing."

"Entirely," I answered.

"Good!" said he, and resumed:

"Now, what is your next point?"

"In the second place," I said, "I do not want to be pestered with
visitors; nobles or wealthy idlers who take a fancy to me and think they
are conferring a favor on me by intruding on me and wasting my time with
their inquisitive questions and patronizing remarks. In particular I have
a horror of the kind of women who have a fad for molesting with their
attentions singers, actors, gladiators, beast-fighters, charioteers and so
on; if one of them gets after me and the infection spreads to more I shall
find life here in Rome altogether unendurable.

"I speak feelingly (I thought it proper to lie like a Greek, if necessary,
in a situation like mine). Where I was before I suffered from the
attentions of enthusiastic admirers and I have had all I want of it and
far more; enough to last half a dozen lifetimes."

"Festus," said the procurator, "where were you before?"

"If you had seen my back," I said, "you wouldn't expect me to tell you."

"I don't expect you to tell me," he laughed, "but I could not help asking;
you are such a wonder that I am tormented with the desire to know all
about you, not merely where you came from and how you got into the
_ergastulum_ at Nuceria. But I shall not press you for any information
about yourself. Keep your own secrets as long as you are willing to work
miracles for me.

"I don't want to see your back; without seeing it I may say that if anyone
ill-treated you he was an amazing fool. You shall not be flogged here, nor
ill-used in any way. I'll take all the measures in my power to ensure that
no visitors bother you and that you are protected not only from genuine
sporting nobles but still more from the silly loungers who think it adds
to their importance to make the acquaintance of all persons of public
reputation. Especially I'll have you guarded from intrusive fine ladies."

"What next?"

"I want plenty of the best fruit," I said boldly.

"You'll get all you can eat of whatever the markets afford," he said, "and
understand right here that I'll indulge you to any extent in anything
relating to your food or wine, as long as you keep sober. Similarly you
can have anything you ask for in the way of extra clothing or bedding or
furnishings for your quarters. If you don't like the slave detailed to
wait on you I'll have another put in his place and keep on changing till
you get one to suit you.

"You are to be indulged and pampered in every way in my power, except that
I mean to keep you hard at work, long hours each day, at the cages,
whenever it is necessary."

I thanked him and agreed to do my best to please him.

Not many days later, as he had foretold, my work became less continuous
and less burdensome. Soon afterwards I settled into a sort of daily
routine which occupied me, but did not wear me out and which often left me
not a little free time.

I found that I was entirely free to go and come as I pleased, when not
occupied. I did go to the Temple of Mercury and offer two white hens
bought in the Forum Boarium, as I had done when in the City with Maternus.
Otherwise I kept pretty close for more than a month. I feared to be
recognized as myself by some secret-service agent; I feared almost as much
to be identified as Felix the Horse-Tamer by some henchman of the King of
the Highwaymen. I wanted to try to communicate with Vedia, but the more I
pondered on how to do so the more I saw only betrayal, recognition and
death as the probable results of every plan I devised.



CHAPTER XXX

FESTUS


Domiciled in the Choragium and busy there and in the Colosseum I spent
almost a year. Until the approach of winter put a stop to spectacles in
the arena and after the outset of spring permitted their resumption, I was
not only continuously busy, but entirely contented. Of the dreary and
tedious winter between, which was intensely dispiriting and appeared
interminable, the less I say the better. I do not want to remind myself of
it.

I was of course free from the bodily miseries which had made my winters at
Placentia and Nuceria so terrible: I did not suffer from cold, hunger,
vermin, sleeplessness, overwork, exhaustion, weakness, blows and abuse. I
was, on the contrary, comfortably lodged and clothed, well attended,
lavishly and excellently fed and humored by the procurator.

But at Placentia and Nuceria I had solaced myself amid the horror of my
situation by reminding myself that I was, at least, alive, and, as long as
I was in an _ergastulum_, entirely safe from any danger of being
recognized and executed. Here, in Rome, often in the arena, under the eyes
of sixty thousand Romans, thousands of whom had known me in my prosperity
and hundreds of whom had known me familiarly from my childhood, I was,
every instant, in peril of recognition and of betrayal to the secret
service. While I was actually in the arena I was so busy or so exhilarated
by my participation in the most magnificent spectacle on earth that I
never worried a moment. I seldom worried while I was occupied with any of
my duties in the Colosseum or Choragium, although I knew I was very liable
to recognition, for the passages and vaults of the Colosseum and the
courtyards of the Choragium were habitually visited by men of sporting
tastes; gentlemen, wealthy idlers, noblemen, senators, courtiers, even the
Emperor himself. I was, in my intellect, conscious of my danger; but,
while I was occupied, it did not perturb my feelings.

During the idleness of the long winter my peril did rob me of sleep, of
appetite and of peace of mind. I had continually to devise excuses for
remaining in my lodgings, for declining invitations to banquets, for
keeping to myself. I dreaded that the procurator himself was growing
suspicious of me. He had, in the kindness of his heart, thrown in my way
offers of opportunities for outings, for diversions, for entertainments,
which any man in my situation might have been expected to accept with
alacrity. My refusals, I felt, might set him to thinking. He was entirely
loyal to the Emperor and the government. If the idea ever crossed his mind
he would, at once, have reported to the secret service that it would be
well to take a look at Festus the Beast-Tamer; he might be other than he
appeared. The anxiety caused by these thoughts preyed upon my mind.

Without reason, apparently. The procurator, as I look back on that deadly
winter, seems to have accepted all my peculiarities without question. If I
would remain content and quell obstreperous beasts when spring opened as I
had until autumn ushered in winter, I might do and be anything I pleased.
If I pleased to mope in my quarters, pace under the arcades of the
courtyard, lie abed from early dusk till after sunrise, what mattered that
to him? Such, apparently, was his attitude of mind. He gave orders that I
was to have my meals alone in my quarters, as I requested. He had brought
to me, from the libraries of the Basilica Ulpia, most of the books I asked
for. I had read all the books on catching, caring for, curing, managing,
taming and fighting beasts which formed the library of the Choragium.
After they were exhausted I asked the procurator for more. As he had a
cousin among the assistant curators at the Ulpian Library he was able to
gratify me. After I could learn of no more books on beasts I took to
comedies and read Naevius, all of Menander and Caecilius, and most of the
best plays of other writers of comedies; then. I turned to histories,
which I thought safe, and spent my days for the remainder of the winter
sleeping early, long and late, eating abundant meals of good food, walking
miles round and round the big courtyard under the empty arcades,
exercising in the gymnasium of the Choragium, steaming and parboiling and
half-roasting myself in its small but very well-appointed and well-served
baths, and, otherwise, reading every bit of my daylight. I kept well and I
remained safe, ignored and unnoticed. The procurator kept his word as to
shielding me from visitors, and he said he had much ado to succeed, for
the ease and certitude with which, in the open arena, before all Rome, I
approached a lion or tiger which had just slaughtered a criminal and
lapped his blood, seized the beast by the mane or scruff of the neck, as
if he had been a tame dog, and led him to a postern or into his cage,
roused much interest, much curiosity, many enquiries and not a little
desire to see me closer, question me, talk with me, get acquainted with me
and learn the secret of my power.

I thanked the procurator for his resolution and success in rebuffing
would-be patrons eager to pamper me. Also, all winter, I dreaded that he
would he less lucky or less adamantine when spring came.

Thus passed my fourth winter since my disaster.

I might have been spared much of my anxiety during the winter if I had
learned sooner that such aloofness as mine was no novelty to the
procurator, that he had, among his most valued subordinates, a man even
more unsociable than I, and even more highly esteemed and more sedulously
pampered. This was the celebrated and regretted Spaniard, Mercablis, who,
for more than thirty years, was accorded by the Choragium a home of his.
own, a retinue of servants and the fulfillment of every whim, of which the
chief was his determination to have as little as possible to do with any
human being except his wife and their three children, for he was not a
slave, but a freeman. In his way Mercablis was as celebrated as Felix
Bulla the brigand or Agyllius Septentrio the actor of mimes, and the
memory of his fame yet lingers in the recollections of the aged and in the
talk of their children and grandchildren. For it was Mercablis who, for
half a life-time, invented, rehearsed, and kept secret till the moment of
its display the noon-hour sensational surprise for each day of games in
the Colosseum.

I have, in my later years, met many persons who congratulated me on my
luck in having personally known and frequently talked with Mercablis, just
as many have similarly envied me my encounters with Felix Bulla. For
myself I have never plumed myself on such features of my adventures,
though they are not unpleasing to recall.

When, in the spring of the next year, while Fuscianus and Silanus were
consuls, I came to know Mercablis and to consider him, I arrived at the
conclusion that his inclination for solitude and his aloofness were not
the result of any dread of strangers or of any need for seclusion, like
mine, but the product of a disposition naturally churlish, crabbed, and
unsocial.

Habituated as the procurator had been to Mercablis and his loathing for
strangers, my desire for privacy had seemed to him as a matter of course.

Resolute as Mercablis was to be let alone, he was enormously vain and
self-conceited and puffed up with his conviction of his own importance. He
never smiled, but some subtle alteration in his countenance betrayed that
any flattery pleased him.

He was a tall, spare, bony man, with a dry, brown, leathery skin, lean
legs and arms, a stringy neck, almost no chin, a hooked nose, deep set
little greeny-gray eyes and intensely black, harsh, stiff, curly hair and
very bushy eyebrows. He wore old, worn, faded garments and stalked about
as if the fate of the universe depended on him.

Certainly he never failed to surprise all Rome when the time came for his
novelty to be displayed. Every one which I saw, either earlier when I was
myself or while in the Choragium as Festus the Beast-Wizard or later,
justified the claim of Mercablis to being the most original-minded
sensation-deviser ever known in the Colosseum or elsewhere.

One of his utterly unpredictable surprises recurs often to my
recollection.

It was a hot July day and, during the noon pause, the vendors of cooling
drinks did a good business among the spectators of the upper tiers. To the
ring-rope round the opening in the awning, over the middle of the arena,
had been fastened a big, strong, pulley block. One of the lightest and
most agile of the awning-boys hung by his hands from the radial rope
stretched from nearest that pulley, worked out to it, sat on it, rove
through it a light cord which he carried coiled at his waist, and worked
back along the radial rope, leaving the cord trailing from the pulley-
wheel to the sand of the arena. By means of the cord the arena-slaves rove
through the pulley first a light rope, then a very strong one.

The end of this rope they fastened to an iron ring, from which hung four
stout chains, three of them of equal length, each about thirty feet, whose
lower ends, at points precisely equidistant from each other, were fastened
to a big iron hoop all of twenty-four feet across. From the hoop hung six
lighter chains, like the fourth chain which hung from the ring. As the six
were fastened to the hoop either where one of the upper chains ended or
exactly between two of them each of the six was precisely twelve feet from
those on either side of it and from the center chain hanging from the
ring. The hoop hung perfectly level and each of the seven chains, about
thirty feet below the level of the hoop, had hung to it an iron disk, a
yard or more across, hanging by a ring-bolt in its center and perfectly
level. From a second ring-bolt in the underside of each disk depended more
of the same light, strong chain, to a length of some thirty feet below the
disks.

I, like all the arena-slaves and Choragium-slaves, like all the
spectators, knew that this apparatus portended some unpredictable
surprise; but I, like the others, like the audience, gaped at it,
incredulous and unable to conjecture what it could be for.

Then arena-slaves carried in and set down on the sand a full hundred feet
from the hoop and chains, a dozen or more wicker crates full of quacking
white ducks with yellow bills. They and the noise they made recalled
unpleasantly to me my sensations as I clung to the alder bush immersed in
Bran Brook, after Agathemer and I had crawled through the drain at Villa
Andivia.

Then there was a delay and I was called out to assist the mahout of the
Choragium's best trick elephant, the smallest full-grown elephant I ever
saw and the worst-dispositioned elephant of any age or size which ever I
encountered. When I and the _mahout_ had put him in a good humor he
entered the arena and stationed himself by the crates of quacking ducks.

Then there marched out into the arena a procession of arena-slaves, four
by four, each four carrying by two poles a strong cage housing a big
African ape. These cages they set down each under one of the chains
depending from the hoop. Then I was called to deal with the baboons.

Now I fear no beast, but of all beasts I most dislike an African ape.
These creatures, inhabiting the mountains of Mauretania, Gaetulia and the
Province of Africa, are big as a big dog and have teeth as long and cruel
as any big dog. They are violent and treacherous. Whereas any wild bear or
wolf I ever approached would permit me to handle him without snarling or
growling, every baboon I ever had to handle made some sort of threatening
noise inside him. Although none ever bit me or attempted any attack on me
yet the hideousness of such apes and their vile odor always made me timid
in dealing with them.

Each of these seven had around his middle an iron hoop-belt, with a strong
ring-bolt in the back. It was my task to affix the end of each pendant
chain to the ring-bolt in the belt of one of the baboons. This was easy to
do, as each cage, in addition to a door in one side, had a trap-door in
its top; and each chain had a snap-hook ringed to its last link. More
difficult was managing so that the apes should be hauled up out of their
cages without any two swinging sideways enough to clutch each, other; for,
while baboons in their native haunts hunt in packs, male baboons not of
the same pack always fight venomously and members of the same pack, if
separated for a time, are as hostile to each other as males of different
packs.

By care and caution, the slaves at the rope obeying my signals promptly, I
at last had all seven apes clear of their cages, and not swinging too
much. Then the cages were removed and the hoop lowered somewhat. Then I
steadied each chain till none had any side-ways swing. Each ape finally
hung on a level with every other ape, and about two yards above the sand
of the arena.

I say finally, for it was at once manifest why the disks were hung to the
chains; each baboon swarmed up his chain; each got no higher than the
disk, for it was too broad for his arm to reach the chain above it, so
that each failed to climb past it, and, after some chattering, and
hesitation, each climbed down his chain again and hung by his belt, every
one mewing and chattering at his neighbors, frantic with hostility and
eager for a fight.

When all seven were quiet the herald proclaimed that wagers might now be
laid on the apes, the survivor of the seven to be the winner. Each had a
different color painted on his iron ring: blue, green, red, yellow and so
on. The spectators appeared to make bets.

Then when the arena was clear between the elephant and the baboons and
beyond them, the mahout spoke to his charge, the elephant inserted his
trunk through the opened lid of a crate of ducks, grasped a duck by the
neck, lifted it out, swung it, and hurled it at the hanging apes. It
hurtled through the air, napping its wings in vain, and passed between the
baboons, they grabbing for it as it shot by, it falling far beyond them on
the sand.

A roar of appreciative yells rose from the spectators.

The elephant threw another duck and another. The third came within reach
of one ape. He seized it and bit it savagely, tearing it to pieces with
vicious glee. Its impact set him swinging.

Duck after duck was hurled till another baboon caught and rent another.
This went on till two of the swinging apes came within grasping distance
of each other. At once they grappled, bit each other and fought till one
was killed.

It made a queer spectacle; the crates of quacking ducks, the thin-legged,
blackskinned, turbaned _mahout_, the wickedly comprehending little
elephant, the chattering baboons, the ducks hurtling through the air, and
running about the sand all over the arena, for many of them fell and
escaped alive, the yelling spectators of the upper tiers, the mildly
amused parties in the Imperial and senatorial boxes, the blaze of sun over
everything.

The duck-throwing was continued till only one ape remained alive.

It was all very exciting and so whimsically odd that it was acclaimed a
most successful surprise. It is yet remembered by those who saw it or
heard of it from them as the most spectacular and peculiar of all the
inventions of the lamented Mercablis.

Of my experiences while in the Choragium and about the amphitheater the
most notable were my opportunities for observing Commodus as a beast-
fighter, the passion for the sport which possessed him, his absorption in
it, even rage for it, his unflagging interest in it, his untiring pursuit
of it, and his amazing strength and astounding skill in the use of arrows,
spears, swords, and even clubs as weapons for killing beasts.

Keen as was his enjoyment of his own dexterity and fond as he was of
displaying it to admiring and applauding onlookers, infatuated as he was
with the intoxication of butchery, proficiency and adulation, he retained
sufficient vestiges of decency and self-respect to restrain him from
exhibiting himself as a beast-fighter in public spectacles before all
Rome. Of late years I have heard not a few persons declare and maintain
that they had seen and recognized him in the arena during the mornings of
public festivals; that his outline, attitudes, movements and his manner of
handling a sword, a club, a spear or a bow were unmistakable. I asseverate
that these persons were and are self-deceived, or talking idly or
repeating what they have heard from others or merely lying. Commodus never
so far debased himself as to take his stand in the arena of the Colosseum
on the morning of a public spectacle with all Rome looking on; still less
did he ever disgrace himself by actually killing beasts in full sight of
the whole populace. I speak from full knowledge. I know.

I may remark here that, taking the other extreme from these detractors or
gossips, there exist persons who maintain that Commodus never drove a
chariot in public, let alone as a competing jockey in a succession of
races in the Circus Maximus on a regular festival day in full view of all
Rome; likewise that he not only never, as a gladiator, killed an adversary
in public combat, but never so much as shed blood in any of his fights;
asserting that he merely practised with lath foils inside the Palace.

These latter persons are of the class who are horrified that a Prince of
the Republic should have debased himself as did Commodus, who feel that it
is discreditable to Imperial Majesty in general that such shameful
occurrences took place and who are foolish enough to fancy that harm done
may be undone by forgetting what happened, by whispering about it, by
keeping silent, by hushing up as much as possible all reports of it, by
expunging all mention of it from the public records, by garbling histories
and annals so as to make it appear that Commodus merely longed to do and
practiced or played at doing what he actually did.

These wiseacres are as far from the truth as his libellers and slanderers.

If anything in addition to my solemn assertion is needful to convince any
reader of this chronicle that I am right, let me remind him that all Rome
knew or knew of Palus the Gladiator, afterwards of Palus the Charioteer,
later yet again of Palus the Gladiator; of Palus, the unsurpassable, the
inimitable, the incomparable: incomparable in his ease, his grace, his
litheness, his agility, his quickness, his amazing capacity for seeing the
one right thing to do, the one thing which no other man could have thought
of, and for doing it without a sign of perturbation, haste or effort, yet
swift as lightning, with the effectiveness of Jove's thunderbolts and with
the joyousness of a happy lad; always the same Palus and always in every
dimension, attitude and movement the picture, the image, the double of
Commodus: whereas no one ever heard or saw Palus the Beast-Fighter.

I think the chief reason why Commodus could not resist the temptation to
degrade himself to the level of a public character and a public gladiator,
yet, despite his infatuation for beast-killing, shrank from dishonoring
himself by appearing at a public festival as a beast-fighter, was that
beast-fighters are not merely more despised than charioteers or gladiators
but the contempt felt for them has in it quite a different quality from
that felt for gladiators and charioteers. Everybody sees criminals killed
by beasts and there are all sorts of variations in the manner in which
criminals are exposed to death by wild animals. Some are turned naked and
weaponless into the arena to be mangled by lions or bears or other huge
beasts: others are left clad in their tunics; some of these are allowed
the semblance of a weapon; a club, knife, dagger or light javelin; so that
their appearance of having some chance may make their destruction more
diverting to the spectators: others, in order to prolong their agonies,
are furnished with real weapons, as a sword, a pike, a trident, even a
hunting spear with a full-sized triangular head, its edges honed sharp as
razors; others are left completely clad, with or without sham weapons or
actual arms, yet others are protected by armor, corselets, kilts, greaves,
or even hip-boots and helmets, and wear swords and carry shields as well
as pikes or spears: these last differ in appearance in no respect from
professional beast-fighters.

This produces, in the minds of persons of all classes a sort of confusion
between beast-fighters and criminals and brings it about that there
attaches to those persons of noble-birth or free-birth who, whether from
hope of gain, from poverty, or from infatuation with the sport or from
mere bravado, abase themselves as beast-fighters, an obloquy far intenser
than that which attaches to freemen or nobles who dishonor themselves by
becoming gladiators or charioteers. Such self-abasements have been known
ever since the reign of Nero, began to become more common under Domitian
and have ceased to be regarded as anything unusual; in fact, so many men
of good birth or even of high birth have become gladiators or charioteers,
so many of these have acquired popularity, so many, even if actually few,
have won wealth and fame, that professional charioteering or swordsmanship
has almost ceased to be regarded as a degradation. Not so beast-fighting.
No one can point to a record of any freeman or noble having appeared in
the arena as a beast-fighter and afterwards having regained by any
acquisition whether of reputation or fortune the position in society which
he had forfeited by his dishonor.

At any rate, Commodus gratified his enthusiasm, for beast-killing in two
entirely different ways. One was by regaling the people with spectacles of
unheard-of, even of incredible magnificence, at which not only the noon-
hour was filled with ingenious and novel feats of trick-riding, tightrope-
walking, jugglery, acrobatics and the like, and one of the surprises
invented by Mercablis and the afternoons ennobled by hosts of gladiators,
paired or fighting by fours, sixes or tens, twenties or in battalions, as
if soldiers in actual battles; but the mornings were exciting with the
slaughter of hordes of animals of all kinds; with fights of ferocious
beasts, and with, the fighting and killing of fierce animals by the most
expert and venturesome beast-fighters. At these spectacles Commodus
participated as a spectator, in the Imperial Pavilion, surrounded by his
officials and the great officers of his household, clad in his princely
robes, seated on his gold-mounted ivory throne.

His other method of gratifying his infatuation was by himself killing all
sorts of beasts, either from the coping of the arena, or from platforms
constructed out on the arena or from the level of the sand itself, for
which feats he had as spectators the whole Senate and the entire body of
our nobility, summoned by special invitation and most of them by no means
reluctant to enjoy the spectacle of the superlative prowess possessed by
their Prince.

When any of the Vestals were present at these eccentric exhibitions they
occupied their front-row box and Marcia usually sat with them, generally
accompanied by as many of her intimates among the wives of senators as the
box would accommodate. The Vestals, as the only human beings in Rome who
did not fear Commodus, were often entirely independent in their behavior
and refused his invitations; but they did it politely, alleging that the
regulations of their cult forbade any Vestal absenting herself from the
Temple and Atrium on that particular day. When no Vestal was present
Marcia occupied their box, by their invitation, and filled it with her
noblest and wealthiest favorites among the senatorial matrons, often wives
of ex-consuls.

On these occasions Commodus wore fulldress boots of a shape precisely as
with his official robes but not of the usual color: they had indeed the
Imperial eagles embroidered on them in gold thread, but, instead of being
of sky-blue dull-finished leather, they were of a shiny, glaze-surfaced
leather as white as milk, their soles gilded along the edges. Gold
embroidery set off his tunic, which was of the purest white silk,
shimmering brilliantly. He always wore many gold rings, set with rubies
and emeralds; also an elaborate necklace matching his rings. His bright,
soft, curly, yellow hair haloed his face as did his almost as bright and
fully as yellow and curly beard. His eyes were very bright blue, his
cheeks very red. He was very handsome. The expression of vacuous
miscomprehension like that on the face of a country bumpkin, which was so
usual with Commodus when dealing with official business or social duties,
never appeared on his countenance when revelling in his favorite sport:
then his expression was intelligent, lively and even charming.

He was at this time in his twenty-sixth year and in the very prime of his
life. Before his death, instead of the rosiness of health on his face and
the glow of youth on his cheeks, his entire countenance was unbecomingly
flushed and florid, like that of a drunkard.

His weapons were as exquisitely designed and finished as his costume. When
he used a club it was of the wood of some Egyptian palm or of cornel-wood,
heavily gilded; a heap of such clubs was always in readiness when he
entered the arena. Similarly there was ready for him an arsenal of swords,
of every style, shape and size, from short Oscan swords not much longer
than daggers to Gallic swords with blades a full yard long and thin as
kitchen spits. All were gold-hilted, sheathed in colored, tooled,
embroidered, gilded or even bejewelled leather; many had their blades
gilded except the edges and points. There was piled up ready for his
choice a mountain of spears, of patterns as various as the swords. All had
their shafts whitened with some novel sort of paint which produced a
gleaming effect like the sheen of the white portions of the finer sorts of
decorated Greek vases. This glaze effect was over all of each shaft except
at the grip, where the natural wood always appeared, roughened like the
surface of a file with criss-cross lines to afford him a surer grasp. His
bows were all gilded, his quivers gilded or of gem-studded, brightly
tinted leather, in many colored patterns; his arrows gilded all over,
points, shafts and feathers; or with feathers dyed red, blue, green or
violet. Every detail of his get-up and equipment was to the last degree
perfect, reliable, beautiful, unusual and costly.

I pondered a great deal over his infatuation and its consequences.

In the first place, as when contemplating the torrent of beast-wagons
flowing down the Flaminian Highroad, I was, being still inwardly a Roman
noble, overwhelmed with shame that the enormous, but even so insufficient,
revenues of the Republic should be diverted from their proper uses for the
maintenance of our prosperity and the defence of the frontiers of the
Empire and squandered on the silly amusements of a great, hulking, empty-
headed lad.

Then I was almost equally ashamed that a man who could, on occasion, if
sufficiently roused, be, for a space, as completely Prince and Emperor as
Commodus had repeatedly shown himself in my sight, could, on the other
hand, waste his time and energies on displaying his dexterity in feats of
archery, javelin-throwing, swordsmanship, agility and mere strength. It
appeared to me not only shameful but incredible that a man who was capable
of such complete adequacy in his proper station in life as Commodus had
shown himself to be, for instance, when berating Satronius and Vedius or,
still more, when facing the mutineers and dooming Perennis, should be
willing to leave the management of the Republic and the ruling of the
Empire to an ex-slave and ex-street porter like Cleander, and occupy his
time with spearing bears, shooting with arrows lions, tigers, or elephants
and what not, burying his sword-blade in bulls, even with clubbing
ostriches.

I oscillated or vacillated between these two lines of thought. The sight
of Commodus dodging the lightning rush of an infuriated ostrich and neatly
despatching him with a single blow on the head from a palm-wood club no
longer and no thicker than his own forearm not only stirred my wonder that
any man could possess such accuracy of eyesight, such power of judging
distances and time, such perfect coördination of his faculties of
observation, of his will and of his muscles; but also roused my disgust
that a man capable of ruling the world and with the opportunity to show
his capabilities should degrade himself to wasting time on tricks of
agility and feats of strength and skill.

On the other hand the sight of Commodus using a full-grown male Indian
elephant as a target for his arrows enraged me. Next to a man an Indian
elephant is the most intelligent creature existing on this earth of ours,
as far as we know. An elephant lives far longer than a man. His life of
useful labor is longer than the total life of a long-lived man. And his
labor can be very useful to mankind. An elephant can travel, day after
day, as fast and far as a horse, he can accomplish easily tasks to which
no team of horses, not even of sixteen horses, is adequate, he can outdo
any gang of men at loading or unloading a ship with massive timbers or
with many other kinds of cargo in heavy and bulky units. It can only be a
shame to kill, for mere sport, so noble a creature. It is bad enough to
exhibit in the arena fights of elephants, which kill each other for our
diversion, when we might utilize their courage and prowess in battle, as
the Indians do. But to use an elephant as a mere target for arrows is far
worse.

Then again, while I watched Commodus killing an elephant with his arrows I
could not but think of the hundreds of men who had been employed in
tracking his herd, building a stockade, driving into it what elephants
they could, fettering them, taming them, caring for this one after he had
been tamed, tending him on his journey of many thousand miles from India,
across Gadrosia, Carmania, Susiana, Mesopotamia and Syria to Antioch and
from there to Rome; on getting food for him on his journey and at
different cities; on the vast expense of all this; and for what? That a
silly and vainglorious overgrown child should shoot him full of arrows
till he bled to death!

I raged inwardly.

I quite agree that Commodus enjoyed killing for killing's sake; it gave
him a sort of sense of triumph to behold any animal succumb to his
weapons. But I think his sense of triumph was also far more for his
repeated self-congratulation on his accuracy of aim for shot or blow, on
the perfection of his really amazing dexterity.

When he shot at elephants the procedure was always the same; two elephants
were turned into the arena, and Commodus was matched against some archer
of superlative reputation, whose prowess had been repeatedly demonstrated
before the audiences of the Colosseum, a Parthian, Scythian, or
Mauretanian. A prize was offered to him if he won and wagers were laid,
mostly of ten to one or more on Commodus; he, of course, betting on
himself with at least one senator at any odds his taker chose. Then the
contest began, Commodus shooting from the Imperial Pavilion, his
competitor from any part of the _podium_ which he might choose, so that
both archers were on an equality, being placed on the coping of the arena
at spots they had chosen. The prize went to whichever killed his elephant
with the fewest arrows. Commodus always won. Not that his competitors did
not do their best. They did. But he was, in fact, the best archer alive.
His accuracy of aim was uncanny and his strength really terrific. He could
himself string a hundred and sixty pound bow and he shot a bow even
stiffer than that without apparent effort and with fascinating and
indescribable grace. He never missed, not only not the animal, but not
even the vital part aimed at. I was told that, when he first practiced on
an elephant, he killed it with arrows in the liver, of which eleven were
required to finish the beast. He then had it cut open under Galen's
supervision, he watching. He thereafter never failed to reach an
elephant's heart with his third arrow, killed most with his second, and
not a few with his first, a feat never equaled or approached by any other
archer, for the killing of an elephant with five arrows by Tilla the Goth
remains the best record ever made in the Colosseum by any other bowman.
The impact of his arrows was so weighty that I have beheld one go entirely
through the paunch of a full-grown male elephant and protrude a foot on
the other side.

With rhinoceroses and hippopotami the procedure was similar. Neither of
these animals could be had as plentifully as elephants, of which I saw
Commodus and his competitors kill more than thirty; mostly Mauretanian
elephants, but some Indian and a few Nubian. I saw killed for his
amusements in similar contests in which he participated four rhinoceroses
and six hippopotami. In these matches he killed one rhinoceros with two
arrows and the rest with one; so of the hippopotami. As with the
elephants, after he had seen a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus cut open
under Galen's direction, he retained so vivid an impression of the
location of its heart that, from any direction, whether the beast was
moving or still, he sent his arrow so as to reach the heart. This sounds
incredible, but it is exactly the truth.

As I watched I kept imagining the baking deserts of Libya or the steaming
swamps of Nubia, the shouting hordes of negroes, the many killed by the
beast, its capture, and the infinite and expensive care necessary to bring
one alive to Rome.

Besides these enormous animals he practiced archery on the huge long-
horned bulls from the forests of Dacia and Germany; on the bisons from the
same regions, beasts with heavy shoulders, low rumps and small horns,
parallel to each other, curving downwards over the brows; on the big stags
from these far-off forests, or any sort of stags! And on two varieties of
African antelope not much inferior in size to stags or bulls. He very
seldom needed a third arrow to put an end to any beast of these kinds, not
often a second arrow, and, actually, killed hundreds, even thousands,
neatly and infallibly with his first shot. All these animals he shot from
the _podium_, often leaning on the coping, his right knee on it, generally
standing, his feet wide apart, the toes of his right foot against the
coping wall; for, as with sword or spear or club, he also shot left-
handed.

Prom the arena itself, standing on the sand on which they scampered about,
he shot multitudes of smaller animals: wild ponies, wild asses, striped
African zebras, gazelles, and at least a dozen varieties of small African
antelopes, for which there are no special names in Latin or even in Greek.
The antelopes and gazelles, although they ran quicker than hares, he never
missed and seldom did he fail to kill with one arrow whatever animal he
aimed at. He never, to my knowledge, missed even the incredibly speedy
wild asses.

Nor did he ever miss an ostrich, though he shot both from the _podium_ and
the sand these birds, which are swifter than even the wild asses. He shot
at them with arrows made specially after a pattern of his own, with
crescent-shaped heads set on the shaft with the two horns of the crescent
pointing forward, the inner curve sharpened to a razor edge. Shooting at
an ostrich racing at top speed he never failed to decapitate it with one
shot, invariably severing its neck about a hands-breadth below its head.

He also killed with javelins or arrows wolves, hyenas, bears, lynxes,
leopards, panthers, tigers and lions. But when killing such dangerous and
ferocious animals he took his stand on a platform, the floor of which was
about three yards square and elevated about that distance above the sand,
constructed well out in the arena so that he could shoot down in any
direction on beasts rushing towards or past the platform or driven past it
or towards it. He slaughtered incredible multitudes of these creatures and
certainly displayed amazing strength and skill, habitually killing a lion
with one javelin, almost as often with one arrow, and the like for tigers;
and oftener for panthers and leopards. He never needed a second arrow to
finish a wolf or hyena or even a lynx. The marvellous accuracy of his aim,
the way he planted his arrow unerringly in the heart of a galloping wolf
scudding across the sand far from him; the way he drove a broad-bladed
hunting-spear clear through a huge shaggy bear, never failed to rouse my
wonder, even my admiration. [Footnote: See Note J.]



CHAPTER XXXI

RECOGNITION


I do not recall any special feat of the Imperial beast-killer during the
summer and autumn of the year in which I had fooled Bulla and been
transferred from the stud-farm to the Choragium, which was the year in
which Crispinus and Aelian were consuls, the nine hundred and fortieth
year of the City, [Footnote: 187 A.D.] and the eighth of the Principate of
Commodus. But, when the season for spectacles in the arena opened with the
first warm, fair weather of the following spring, he returned to his
favorite sport with redoubled zest, amounting to a craze.

It was during the spring and early summer of this year that he began to
make huge wagers with wealthy senators, betting that he could kill a
specified number of a specified variety of animal with a specified number
of spears or arrows; always proposing so to limit himself as to number of
weapons that the exploit appeared impossible. The result was that
avaricious Midases were eager to wager, as they felt certain of winning.
Yet he never lost, not once.

And, after each wager made, or won, he made the next on a narrower margin
at smaller odds, until he struck the whole nobility numb by offering to
wager even money that he could kill one hundred full-grown male bears from
his usual platform with one hundred hunting spears, covenanting that he
was to lose if he needed one hundred and one spear-casts to lay out those
hundred bears limp, flabby and utterly dead. This appeared so utterly an
impossibility that Aufidius Fronto offered to put up two million sesterces
against him. The pompous sham philosopher, who feigned the profoundest
contempt for riches, could not resist what looked like enormous gains. He
made the wager, and Commodus won.

Now I cannot insist too positively on the amazing, the incredible strength
and skill and nerve required for this fatiguing and taxing feat. Any other
man I ever knew or heard of would have shown evidences of weariness long
before he had despatched his hundredth bear; would certainly have betrayed
the terrific strain on his nerves. Commodus was, apparently, as fresh, as
jaunty, as full of reserve strength, as far from being unsure of himself
when he finished the hundredth bear as when he drove his first spear into
the first.

Now it requires altogether exceptional strength so to cast even the best
design of hunting-spear, as keen as possible, as to drive it through the
matted pelt, thick hide and big bones of a bear; in so driving it, to aim
it so that it will pierce his heart calls for superhuman skill. And to
reiterate this feat ninety-nine times in succession argues a perfection of
eye, hand and nerve never possessed by any man save Commodus. Any other
man would have felt the strain, most men would have become so anxious
towards the end as to become agitated. He kept calm and cool.

I thoroughly enjoyed the discomfiture of Aufidius Fronto and relished his
futile efforts to appear indifferent to his money loss.

Not many days later Commodus made a similar and still more hazardous wager
with Didius Julianus, the most opulent and ostentatious of the senators,
who was afterwards nominally Emperor for two months and five days. This
wager covenanted that Commodus, from his platform in the arena, would
despatch one hundred full-grown male lions, in their prime and vigorous,
with one hundred javelins. On this arduous frivolity they wagered ten
million sesterces and had the actual gold, fifty thousand big, broad, gold
pieces, carried into the arena and piled up in a gleaming mound on a
monster crimson rug for all to behold. This bit of ostentation was like
Didius Julianus and not unnatural for Commodus.  I have never seen any man
perform so easily so difficult a feat. Killing a lion with three javelins
requires very unusual strength and skill. To kill ten lions with forty
casts would tax the muscles, dexterity and nerves of the best spearman the
world ever knew. To kill a hundred lions with, barely one javelin apiece
was bravado to propose and miraculous to accomplish. Accomplish it he did
and without any visible effort or strain. Eighty-nine of the hundred he
shot through the heart; the remaining eleven with difficult fancy shots
which he was, against all reason, tempted to essay, and which, against all
probability, uniformly were fully successful.

Didius Julianus paid his wager without any show of chagrin, as he could
well afford to do.

At once Commodus offered to bet that he could kill a hundred similar lions
with a bare hundred arrows. Didius at once wagered the same sum he had
just lost and the bet was made. The exhibition was delayed more than a
month until it had been possible to accumulate at Rome a full hundred
full-grown male lions. Then Commodus again shot in sight of a pile of gold
pieces on an expanse of crimson velvet spread on the sand of the arena.

Commodus won as before, with exactly the same number of heart shots and
fancy shots. If one miracle can be greater than another this feat
surpassed its predecessor. For a lion takes a great deal of killing before
he dies, and each of these hundred lions died as quickly as any lion ever
does. Instant killing of a lion with a javelin is a miracle, even more
miraculous is instant killing of a lion with one arrow. Commodus so killed
the full hundred.

I know of no more astounding demonstration of his infallible and
tremendous muscle power than the fact that, shooting at a lion fully
twenty yards away, and in the act of rearing rampantly at the beginning of
a bound, he sent his arrow into the roof of its mouth, through the brain,
the entire length of the spinal cord and so far that its point protruded
from the dead beast's rump above the root of its tail. Galen, who, as
often, was in the amphitheater in case of injury to the Prince, and who
was in the habit of dissecting such dead beasts as interested him, cut
along the path followed by the missile, cleaving the dead lion in two
lengthwise and laying the two halves hide downward on the sand, so as to
demonstrate to a bevy of curious and awed spectators the incredible path
of that arrow.

Commodus lived on miracles. Of all the thousands of darts, javelins and
spears which I saw him throw, of all the countless arrows I saw him shoot,
not one ever missed its mark, not one merely hit the beast aimed at,
everyone, even if launched at an ostrich skimming the sand or a gazelle,
struck deep and true precisely where he had aimed it.

As I am about to narrate the occurrence which put an end to the insensate
indulgence in beast-killing in which Commodus had revelled, I am reminded
that, besides his vilifiers, who assert that he publicly exhibited himself
as an ordinary beast-fighter, and his apologists, who maintain that he not
only did not do so, but never so much as drove a chariot in public or
spilt human blood with an edged weapon, there are others who, while not
retailing or inventing any fictions or attempting to blink or suppress any
facts, yet inveigh against Commodus as absurdly assuming the attributes of
Hercules while really a weakling and as pretending to powers which he
never possessed, as having been largely or wholly a counterfeit spearman,
a make-believe archer, a sham swordsman and a mock athlete.

Among other alleged proofs of these baseless contentions they cite the
ecstatic joy with which, to the limit of the supply gathered from all
parts of the African deserts, he day after day, on the sands of the arena,
delightedly clubbed ostriches, alleging that killing an ostrich with a
sword or club is child's play and no feat of skill. As to this particular
citation of vaunted evidence, as in their contentions at large, they are
egregiously mistaken and far from the facts and the truth.

Actually, for a lone man, on level ground, far from any shelter, an angry
full-grown young male ostrich is a formidable assailant and a dangerous
antagonist. No living creature that roves the surface of our earth moves
faster than a healthy ostrich. When running it skims the arena, when
attacking it darts. It kicks forward, raising its long and powerful leg
high in the air and bringing it down with a blow so swift that the eye
cannot follow it and so forcible that I have seen one such stroke smash
all together the collar-bone, shoulder-blade, upper arm-bone and half the
ribs on that side of its unfortunate victim, a big, agile, vigorous
Nubian, habituated to ostriches in their haunts. And, if the leg misses
its mark, as it very seldom does, the bird, as it hurls past its enemy,
pecks viciously at his face, its sturdy beak being capable of inflicting a
serious wound wherever it strikes, and often destroying an eye, its usual
target.

To stand alone, far out in the arena, bare-headed, clad only in a
diaphanous silken tunic, armed only with a club no longer or thicker than
his forearm; so habited and armed to await the assault of an infuriated
bird so bulky, so swift, so agile and so powerful; to dodge jauntily, but
infallibly, both the stroke of the leg and the stab of the beak, and
invariably to bring his club down on the darting head and finish the bird
neatly with that one blow; this was equally a feat of self-confidence, of
dexterity, of agility and of strength. I hold no man justified in
condemning Commodus because he gloried in clubbing ostriches.

The incident I recall occurred when spring had already waned and was
merging into summer. The lower tiers of the Colosseum were well filled
with senators, nobles and other persons of sufficient importance to be
invited. None of the Vestals were present and their box was occupied by
Marcia and her intimates. There were enough spectators seated to give the
amphitheater an appearance of gaiety and vivacity almost as great as if it
had been filled by all classes of the populace. The weather was clear,
warm and sunny, with a light, soft breeze.

Commodus had exhibited his dexterity as an archer by shooting a great
number and great variety of small antelopes, each one of which he had
killed with a single arrow. Next he began clubbing ostriches and disposed
of a dozen or more. Altogether there were about fifty. It was
characteristic of Commodus that he was impatient of any delay between
different exhibitions when he was thus displaying his prowess. After the
ostriches he intended to mount his platform and shoot fifty or sixty
lions. In order to have them handy to begin on as soon as the last ostrich
was despatched he had commanded that those which were to be let out of
posterns should be disposed behind the doors and that some of the cages of
those which were to be liberated from cages should be hoisted from the
crypt and set ready in the arena. A full dozen of such cages had been set
out. I was not with the gang hoisting these cages and marshalling other
lions behind posterns, but was at the opposite end of the arena with a
smaller gang which was engaged in getting ready a score or more of tigers
which were to be let out after the lions and which were giving a great
deal of trouble.

Commodus was facing my end of the arena and so had his back to the lions
in their cages, which were about thirty yards from him. The liberated
ostriches did not seem to pay any attention to the caged lions and each,
as he was driven back towards Commodus by men with long hayforks, with
which they caught the birds' necks and held them off, turned furiously on
Commodus and charged him viciously. Each bird Commodus dodged with one
slight instantaneous and effortless movement; each bird fell dead at once,
neatly clubbed on the head.

As he clubbed the last ostrich I saw a lion step dazedly and tentatively
out of one of the cages. Of course, it was not intended that any of the
lions should be liberated until the Emperor had mounted his platform,
approved the bow selected for him or chosen one for himself, and similarly
inspected and approved as many arrows as he expected to need. It was
hardly possible that any cage-door came open by accident. I conjectured a
plot similar to that which I had seen fail when the piebald horse threw
himself and his fall and the wreck of the chariot he helped to draw failed
to cause the death of Palus the Charioteer.

The lion, once he was wholly out of his cage, sneaked forward his length
or more, crouched, and bounded towards Commodus. A shout of dismay, horror
and warning went up from the audience. Marcia shrieked and leapt to her
feet. Most of the spectators also stood up, the audience rising in a sort
of wave as it emitted its yell of consternation.

Commodus whirled round, saw the lion, stood and eyed him precisely as if
he had been a charging ostrich; appeared to measure the diminishing
distance, showed no sign of perturbation, crouched slightly, dodged as the
lion sprang at him; dodged so slightly that I was sure the lion had him,
but so effectively that no claw touched him; straightened up as the lion,
wholly in the air, shot past him; swung his short club and brought it down
on the lion's neck; and stood there, triumphant, by a lion stretched out
motionless on the sand, totally limp and unmistakably dead.

Marcia fainted.

So did half her guests.

So did some of the older senators.

Commodus, not so much as noticing the perturbation of his guests, not even
Marcia, called out to the overseer in charge of the cages:

"Not a man of you dare move. Stand where you are."

The guards, a batch of whom were stationed at each postern by which the
attendants entered and left the arena, ran towards the Emperor. He ordered
them to summon all their fellows from all through the Colosseum and when
their chief officer approached him gave orders that they form a cordon
behind the cages and see to it that no man of those who had been getting
out the cages should escape.

While this was being done the spectators had reseated themselves, the
inanimate had been revived and even Marcia had recovered consciousness and
composure and, with her guests was as before their fright.

When all were in order Commodus ordered:

"Let out another lion!"

The overseer in charge of the cages and the officer of the guards
demurred.

"Do as I tell you!" Commodus browbeat the overseer. To the officer he
said:

"If I, with only a tunic and club, am not afraid of a lion charging me,
you and your men, in armor and with shields and swords ought not to be
afraid."  "We are not," the officer declared, "we are concerned for you,
not for ourselves."

"Pooh!" said Commodus. "If I could kill the first handily when I was not
expecting him, I can kill all the rest the same way when I know what is
coming. A lion, by that sample, is as easy to dodge and club dead as an
ostrich or easier. Send me another."

Another was let out amid the dead silence of the dazed and astounded
spectators. Commodus killed the second as handily as the first.

Now I must say that no exploit recorded of any human being or traditional
of any legendary hero, outclasses as a feat of strength, coolness, courage
and perfect coordination of all the mental and physical faculties, this
act of Commodus' in killing two successive lions with a palm-wood club. A
charging lion is an object so terrifying as to chill the blood of a
distant onlooker. Very unusually good nerves and very exceptional self-
confidence are required to face with composure a portent which appears so
irresistible. And when the lion emits his tremendous roar and rises,
bodily, into the air in his mortal spring, mouth wide open, its crimson
cavern glaring, teeth gleaming, eyes blazing, mane erect, paws spread,
claws wide, the stoutest heart might well quail. Yet, after barely
escaping one lion, this foolhardy coxcomb, this vainglorious madcap,
joyously called for another and jauntily despatched him: whatever may be
said against Commodus as a man and an Emperor, as an athlete he believed
in himself and justified his belief.

He called for a third, in spite of Marcia's shrieks, gesturing to her to
sit down and keep still, and laughing up at her. But by this time Aemilus
Laetus, who was afterwards the last Prefect of the Praetorium to Commodus
and who was then an officer of the Guards, superior to the officer who had
protested, approached, saluted and spoke to the Emperor. Their conference
was conducted in tones too low to be overheard, but it was afterwards
reported, both by those who claimed to learn of it from Commodus and by
those who claimed to have been informed by Laetus, that he had urged upon
the Emperor that his personal importance to the Republic was too great for
him to risk himself so needlessly, and that Commodus had yielded to his
expostulations.

At any rate Commodus ordered arrested and bound the entire gang who had
been handling the lions' cages. He then walked up to them and enquired who
had let out that lion. When no one confessed to having been responsible
and several were accused by their fellows, the Emperor gave orders to lead
off all concerned, hale them not before the Palace court, nor the
commission in charge of prosecutions for offences against Imperial
Majesty, but before the regular public magistrate in charge of trials for
murder, assassination, poisoning, homicidal conspiracy and the like.

"Let him put the entire gang to the torture," the Emperor was reported as
ordering. "Let him prosecute his enquiry until he gets a confession
plainly naming the man who bribed the poor wretch who left that cage half-
fastened, or the man who bribed the man who forced him to do it, or the
whole chain of scoundrels, from the noble millionaire conspirators who
hatched the idea, through their rabble of go-betweens down to the fool who
hocussed that door-snap."

After the prisoners were marched off Commodus had the herald apologize for
the interruption of the entertainment, proclaim that it would now proceed
and request everyone to remain to enjoy it. Then he mounted his platform.

Yet this was his last exhibition of himself in the role of beast-slayer. I
conjecture that as the episode of the piebald horse enlightened him as to
the facilities for unobtrusive assassination afforded his enemies by his
public appearances as a charioteer, so this episode of the accidentally
liberated lion awakened him to the ease with which it might be arranged,
whenever he entered the arena as a beast-slayer, that some monster might
be loosed at him rather than for him. At any rate he never again took his
stand in the arena for his long idolized sport. Beast-slaying he
thenceforth eschewed.

Of course it was not by any means at once that we in the Choragium
realized that the Emperor had abandoned his vagary. We knew only that we
were suddenly unemployed and were merely glad of the respite and then
uneasy at the change. I had time to reflect how marvellous had been my
luck. Commodus himself had three several times asked me questions about my
ability to control beasts; Galen had many times stood by me or passed near
me, often with his eyes apparently meeting mine. Satronius Satro had stood
and gazed at me, not three yards away. A score of other senators, all of
whom had known me in the days of my prosperity, had been as near me, and
noblemen to the number of something like a hundred. Not one of these had
identified me.

If I escaped recognition it was, I conjectured, because of the deep-seated
habit of mind of noblemen and more exalted personages and of men, like
Galen, who have risen to a station in life which places them on an
equality with nobles; the habit of mind which makes them regard a slave
not as a human being, to be looked at as an individual, as they look at an
equal or any freeman, but as a mere object like a door, or gate or piece
of statuary or of furniture or a sort of utensil. Such men look full at a
slave, if unknown to them, without really perceiving him. From this cause,
I conceive, I escaped recognition, detection, and annihilation.

Much less than a month after the episode of Commodus and the two lions I
was reading in my quarters, when the slave detailed as my personal servant
entered and, cringing, said that there was a gentleman who wanted to see
me. I gazed at him severely and said:

"I think you are mistaken. Please remember what the procurator told you
about persons desiring to intrude on me."

The fellow fairly cowered, visibly sweating and trembling, but insisted:

"I really think that you really will be glad to see this gentleman."

I perceived that some unusual enticement must have been offered the
pitiful wretch to induce him to brave the terrors of the punishments with
which the procurator had threatened him if he allowed any would-be
visitors to reach me. It also appeared to me that the fellow was fond of
me and had the best of intentions.

"Show the gentleman up," I finally said.

He had been gone but a very short time when the door opened and in
came....

Tanno!

He shut the door fast and, without a word, we were clasped in a close
embrace.

When our emotions quieted sufficiently I pressed Tanno into a chair and
resumed mine. We gazed at each other some time before either mastered
himself enough for words. Tanno spoke first, veiling his feelings beneath
his habitual jocularity. He said:

"Caius, you are certainly unkillable or bear a charmed life. You have been
officially certified as dead two several times. First you were butchered
by the Praetorians at Ortona, then you were assassinated by a disgruntled
public-slave in the Umbrian Mountains: after two demises here you are, as
alive as possible. Please explain."

"I feel faint," I said, "and, illogically, both thirsty and hungry."

I signalled for my servitor and, almost at once, he brought plenty of the
Choragium's more than passable wine, fresh bread and a variety of cold
viands. A draught of wine and a mouthful of bread and ham made me feel
myself. Then I told about my close shaves when I three several times
barely escaped assassination at the hands of partizans of Bulla, about the
kindness of the _Villicus_ and procurator and why I had changed my name.

"Why didn't you send at least a tiny note to Vedia and let her know you
were alive after all?" he queried.

"I have lain awake night after night," I replied, "composing letters to
Vedia and to you, letters which would tell you what I wanted if, by good
luck, they came into your hands, but which, if they fell into the hands of
secret-service agents, would tell nothing and not so much as arouse enough
suspicion to cause them to investigate me and take a look at me. I could
not frame, to my satisfaction, even one such letter. I knew that any
messenger I employed would most likely post off to some Imperial spy and
show him my letter before he took it to its destination or instead of
delivering it. I canvassed every possible messenger, from my personal
servitor here in the Choragium, through all the slaves I knew here or in
the Colosseum who are free to run about the city, up to every sort of
street-gamin, idler, loafer, sycophant and what not. I could not think of
any kind of messenger who would be safe, nor of any letter which would not
be dangerous. Much as I wanted to apprise Vedia of my survival I could not
but feel that any attempt on my part to communicate with her or with you
would lead straight to betrayal, detection, recognition and the death from
which Agathemer saved me."

"I believe you were right," Tanno agreed. "It has all come out for the
best. You are alive and unsuspected and I have found you."

"How did you find me?" I queried.

"Galen," he said, to my astonishment, "told me that you were sheltered in
the Choragium, cloaked under the style and title of Festus the Beast-
Tamer. He said he recognized you last fall, but did not judge it wise to
give me or Vedia so much as a hint as long as you were busy in the arena
in full view of all Rome on festival days and under the eyes of our entire
nobility during our Prince's exhibitions of himself as Hercules Delirans.
When Commodus abruptly realized that beast-killing might not suit his
health because of the opportunities it gave for accidentally letting lions
or tigers or what not out of their cages at unexpected moments, since he
was not likely to revert to his renounced sport and you were not likely to
be so much in demand and therefore less likely to be much under
observation, Galen thought it safe to tell me. He says he has always
believed that you had nothing to do with Egnatius Capito's conspiracy, had
merely been seen by some secret-service agent while talking to Capito,
never were a member of his conspiracy, never conspired against Commodus,
never were disloyal, have never been and are not any danger to our Prince,
and therefore are a man to be shielded rather than informed on. So he kept
his face when he recognized you in the arena masquerading as Festus and
kept his counsel till he judged the time ripe to tell me.

"I at once told Vedia, in person and privately. She is overjoyed, and,
just as her encounter with you on the Flaminian Road not only stopped her
proposed marriage to Orensius Pacullus, but made her feel she never wanted
to hear of him again, so your resurrection and reappearance now has
spoiled an apparently prosperous wooing of her by Flavius Clemens, who is
as good a fellow as lives; noble, rich, handsome, charming and just such a
suitor as Vedia might and should have married if you were really dead, and
one she could not, in any case, help flirting with. She must have
admiration, attention and admirers. With all her love of gaiety she loves
you unalterably."

"I infer," I said, "that she told you of our encounter on the Flaminian
Way."

"She did," he answered, "and gave me a full report of your story of your
adventures from Plosurnia's Tavern till she saw you. As soon as we
conferred we both started to use all our influence and any amount of cash
necessary (we both have cash to spare, hoards of it) to arrange for your
legal manumission by the _fiscus_, your disappearance, and your comfort in
some secure shelter until it might be safe for you to reappear as yourself
in your proper station in society.

"We found we should have no difficulty in arranging for your manumission.
It has already been favorably reported on the recommendation of the
authorities of Nuceria. We had only to slip a small bribe or two to
expedite matters. But when we sent off a dependable agent, armed with all
the necessary papers, to set you free from your captivity on the Imperial
estate, and provide you with plenty of cash to make everything smooth for
your disappearance, he was confronted with a most circumstantial story of
your assassination and burial, with the official reports of both and the
affirmation of an upper inspector who had investigated the matter.

"We could not but think you dead in fact and Vedia was as heartbroken as
five years ago, if not more so, for the glamour of that romantic encounter
with you was magical. I believed you dead and was astounded when Galen
gave me his information. Vedia is as amazed as I."

After some mutual desultory chat he fell to questioning me about my
adventures and, drinking and eating when the humor took us, we spent most
of the day together, I rehearsing for him all that I had told Vedia and
much more in detail and also telling of all which had befallen me since
then.

When Tanno left, it was as late as he could possibly remain and yet reach
the Baths of Titus in time for the briefest bath there.

Next day he came again.

By this time both he and I had had time to think over the situation and to
arrive at definite conclusions as to what was best to do. I was delighted
to find that his ideas and mine agreed as to all essentials.

When he first came in he said:

"I had mighty little sleep last night. I could hardly close my eyes for
thinking over your marvellous adventures. The more I ponder over them the
more wonderful they seem; especially your involvement with Maternus; your
encounter with Pescennius Niger; your presence in the Circus Maximus when
Commodus:--I mean Palus:--drove his car over the axles of the stalled
chariots and escaped between them out of the smash and wreckage; your
involvement with the mutineers, and your safety in Rome all these months,
even in the arena of the amphitheater. I congratulate you."

Then he told me his plan which he had already talked over with Vedia and
which she approved. There happened to be in Rome a distinguished and
wealthy provincial of senatorial rank, about to leave for Africa, where
his estates were situated and where he owned vast properties near
Carthage, Hippo Regius, Hadrumetum, Lambaesis and Thysdrus, in all of
which places he had residences of palatial proportions and luxury. He had
been making enquiries among his acquaintances for a slave much of the sort
Agathemer had been to me. He had not found one to suit him. Tanno thought
that I would suit him and could easily pass myself off as the sort of man
he wanted. Then I would get out of Rome unsuspected and be comfortable and
well treated in the most Italian of all our out-provinces, in a delightful
climate, amid abundance of all the good things of life.

I agreed with him.

Then he disclosed his plan for bringing this about. By influence or
bribing or both he would arrange to have me sold out of the Choragium,
ostensibly as now superfluous there, and to have me bought from the
_fiscus_ by a dependable and close-mouthed go-between buyer, who would
agree to hold me for quick resale to a purchaser designated by Tanno. Thus
Nonius Libo, the wealthy provincial who was to be induced to purchase me,
would know nothing of my identity with Festus the Animal Tamer or of my
connection with the Choragium.

I acclaimed this project, as far more promising than Vedia's plan to
seclude me in the dreary wilds of Bruttium.

Tanno gave me a letter and went off. I found the missive a long and loving
letter from Vedia: one to soothe and transport any lover.

Tanno had said that he would not visit me again except as was absolutely
needful, considering it reckless and venturesome to run the risk of some
Imperial spy noticing his visits to the Choragium and making
investigations. Though he remarked that no man in Rome seemed less likely
than he to be suspected of disloyalty, intrigue or of being a danger to
the Prince.

Within a very few days he paid me one more visit to inform me that
everything had gone well, that all necessary arrangements had been made
for my sale by the _fiscus_ out of the Choragium, and all necessary
preparations made to take full advantage of it.

A few days later I was formally sold for cash to a provincial slave-
dealer, named Olynthides. In a slave-barrack which he had hired for the
month only I found myself with a motley crew, but kept apart from them and
comfortably lodged, well fed and considerately treated, as valuable
merchandise.

The day after Olynthides had bought me Nonius Libo came to inspect me. He
talked to me in Latin and in Greek, commended my fluency and polish in the
use of both, had me write out a letter in each at his dictation, read both
and commended my accuracy, script and speed; questioned me about the
history of music, painting, and sculpture and as to my opinions on the
works of various sculptors, painters, architects and composers; asked
about my tastes along these lines and as to jewelry, fine furniture,
tapestries, carpets and the like; also as to my personal tastes concerning
lodging, bathing, hunting, food and clothing and was I a good sailor and
fond of the sea; and stated that I suited him.

I was not present at his chaffering with Olynthides but, after no long
interval I was summoned into the courtyard and Olynthides handed me over
to Nonius Libo, along with a bill of sale.



CHAPTER XXXII

PHORBAS


Olynthides had said to me:

"I make it a point always to forget the names of the slaves I buy for cash
without any guarantees and resell the same way. I have as bad a memory for
names as any man alive and I help my bad memory to be as much worse as I
can. I'll forget your name in a few days. I am not sure I remember it now.
What is it?"

I was ready for him, for I had made up my mind to change my name again and
had selected my new name.

"Phorbas" I answered.

"Oh, yes!" he ruminated, "Phorbas, to be sure. I should have said Florus
or Foslius or something like that. Phorbas! I'll remember Phorbas till
after you are sold and the cash in my hands and you and your new master
out of sight. Then I'll forget that too, like all the rest."

As Phorbas, Phorbas the Art Connoisseur, I began my life with Nonius. He
was domiciled in a palace of a residence on the Carinae, which he had
leased for the short term of his proposed stay in Rome. There I was lodged
in a really magnificent apartment, with a private bath, a luxurious
bedroom, a smaller bedroom for the slave detailed to wait on me, a tiny
_triclinium_ and a jewel of a sitting-room, gorgeous with statuettes and
paintings, crammed with objects of art and walled with a virtuoso's
selection of the best books of the best possible materials and
workmanship.

There I spent some happy days. Nonius had told me I might go out all I
pleased. I had replied that I preferred to remain indoors until we set out
for Carthage. He smiled, nodded and said:

"I understand: do as you like."

I passed my time most agreeably, except for several intrusions by Libo's
wife, Rufia Clatenna. She was a tall, raw-boned, lean woman, with
unmanageable hair which would not stay crimped, a hatchet face, too much
nose and too little chin, a stringy neck, very large, red, knuckly hands
and big flat feet. She had a mania for economy and close bargains, seemed
to regard her husband as an easy mark for swindlers and to be certain that
he had been cheated when he bought me. She thought herself an art-expert,
whereas she had no sound knowledge of any branch of art, no memory for
what she had heard and seen, and no taste whatever. To demonstrate that
her husband had made a bad bargain when he bought me she bored me with
endless questions concerning the contents of her domicile, of which she
understood almost nothing, and concerning famous composers, painters,
sculptors and architects, as to whom she confused the few names, dates and
works she thought she knew about.

Nonius came on us in his atrium while she was putting me through a
questionnaire on every statue, painting and carving in it. The first time
he saw me alone he said, smiling:

"You mustn't mind her; I put up with her, you can, too."

When he came into my apartment and told me he meant to set off from Rome
next day, I ventured to express my puzzlement that he had bought me and
never mentioned to me, since I came into his possession, any of the
subjects on which he had questioned me and for knowledge of which he had,
presumably, wanted me.

"Oh," he said, "I didn't buy you for myself. I know very little about art
and music and am no connoisseur at all. I bought you for my cousin
Pomponius Falco. He is as much interested in such matters as any man in
Africa. He is richer than I and you'll find him the best possible master.
He'll be at Carthage when we get there and I'll resell you to him soon
after we land."

Nonius and Clatenna had no children, but doted on her sister's son, a lad
of not much over twenty, lean as his aunt, but small boned and not
unshapely. He was not, however, handsome, for he had a pasty, grayish
complexion, thin lank hair, almost no beard, and a long nose suggesting a
proboscis. His name was Rufius Libo, and he was Nonius Libo's heir. In his
favor Nonius made a will a few days before we left Rome, leaving him his
entire estate except a jointure to Clatenna, endowments to some municipal
institutions in his home towns, legacies to various friends and
manumission to faithful slaves. Of this will he had several duplicates
made and properly witnessed and sealed. One of these he left on deposit in
Rome; another he despatched to Carthage by a special messenger by way of
Rhegium, Messana, the length of Sicily to Lilybaeum and thence by sea to
Carthage; and he gave one each to Clatenna and to Rufius.

When he gave orders for the despatch of the copy of his will by the
special messenger I was astonished, as I assumed that we were to travel by
the same route. But I found that he meant to sail all the way from the
Tiberside water-front of Rome to Carthage. This amazed me. And not
unnaturally. For we Romans generally dislike or even abhor the sea and
sail it as little as possible, making our journeys as much as we can by
land and as little as may be by water, choosing any detour by land which
will shorten what crossings of the sea cannot be avoided.

Among the few Romans whom I have known who enjoy sea voyages I count
myself. Of all of them Nonius outclassed the rest. He worshiped the water
and was happiest when afloat and well out to sea. He told me that he had
spent more money on his private yacht than on any of his residences, and,
when I saw her, I believed him. A larger, better designed, better
equipped, better manned, better supplied, better appointed private yacht I
never beheld. His rowers kept perfect time and made top speed all down the
Tiber, her crew set sail like man-of-warsmen, her officers were pattern
seamen and got the very most speed on their way from every condition of
wind and weather. Rufius and Clatenna, while not as good sailors as Nonius
and I, were notably good sailors and we had a very pleasant voyage until
we were almost in sight of Carthage. Then we encountered a really terrific
storm.

Now I am not going into any details of our disaster. I do not know whether
all writers of memoirs get shipwrecked or all survivors of shipwrecks
write reminiscences, but I am certain that of all the countless memoirs I
have read in the course of my life, ninety-nine out of every hundred
contained one or more accounts of shipwrecks, narrated with the minutest
detail and dwelling on the horrors, agonies, miseries, fears, discomforts
and uncertainties of the survivors and narrators with every circumstance
calculated to harrow up their readers' feelings. I could write a similar
meticulous narrative of my only shipwreck, and it was sufficiently
uncomfortable, terrifying, ghastly and hideous to glut a reader as greedy
of horrors as could be, but I am going to pass over it as lightly as
possible and summarize it as briefly as I may.

Suffice it to set down here that we were not driven on any rock or reef or
shoal nor did we collide with any other ship. Laboring heavily in the open
sea, straining on the crests and wallowing in the troughs of the
stupendous billows, the yacht, even as carefully built a yacht as Libo's,
began to leak appallingly, the inrush of the water surpassed the utmost
capacity of the pumps and the most frantic efforts of the men at them; the
vessel settled lower and lower, labored more and more heavily and was
manifestly about to founder.

The officers were capable men, the small boats sturdy and their crews and
steersmen skillful and confident. Clatenna was brave and Libo magnificent.
He kept his head, dominated his officers, and insisted that Rufius and I
should embark in a different boat from that to which he and Clatenna
trusted themselves. He personally saw to it that Clatenna and Rufius had,
on their persons, each their copy of his will.

Both boats were successfully launched, and, as we drew away from the
doomed ship, we saw a third and fourth put off with other valued members
of his household. While a fifth and sixth were being swung overboard we
saw, from the top of a huge swell, the yacht go under and vanish; saw,
when we next rose on the chine of a billow, the water dotted with spars,
wreckage and swimmers; saw, five or six times more, the three other boats:
and then many times, high on a vast wave, beheld only the waste of
lifeless waters, without boat or swimmer.

All night we floated and, not long after sunrise, we were seen and rescued
by a trading ship from Carales in Sardinia, bound for Carthage.

At Carthage we were soon in the palace formerly Libo's and now the
property of Rufius. He, on succeeding to his uncle's estate, at once
rewarded with a huge donation the steersman of the boat in which we had
been saved, saying that the other steersmen did their best, but that, if
the others had been as dexterous as he, his aunt and uncle would not have
perished by so deplorable and so untimely a death.

Within a few days he, now my owner by inheritance, sold me to Pomponius
Falco, as Nonius had intended to do himself.

Falco liked me at first sight and I him. He was a man between thirty-five
and forty years of age, a natural born bachelor and art connoisseur. He
was of medium height, of stout build, with curly black hair and a curly
black beard, a swarthy complexion, a bullet head, a bull neck, a huge
chest and plump arms and legs. He was by no means unhandsome in appearance
and very jovial, good-humored, and good-natured; manifestly fond of all
the good things of life and able to discriminate and appreciate the best.

For several days after I came into his possession I was his dearest toy.
He spent most of his waking hours conversing with me about music and
musicians, poetry and poets, literature and authors, paintings and
painters, statuary and sculptors, architecture and architects, gems,
ivories, embroideries, textiles, furniture, pottery and even autographs
and autograph collecting. He seemed to appraise me an expert on all such
lines and to be well pleased with his purchase.

Certainly I was as well clothed, fed, lodged and attended as if I had been
his twin-brother.

Before he had owned me many days Falco said to me:

"Phorbas, I've been puzzling about you. You are a slave and you were sold
to poor Libo and by Rufius to me as a Greek. Yet you have none of the
appearance nor behavior of a Greek nor yet of a slave. You look and act
and talk like a freeman born and a full-blooded Roman, and a noble at
that. Please explain."

Now, of course, in imagining all the forms in which I might be assaulted
by the perils which beset me, I had foreseen just such a query as this
utterance of Falco's involved and I had pondered and rehearsed my answer.
I realized that I must be ready with a reply wholly plausible because
entirely consonant with the facts of our social life, as they existed, so
that no one could take any exception to it. I thought I had framed such a
reply.

"You know how it is," I answered easily. "A Roman master buys a young and
comely Greek handmaid. In due course she has a daughter, legally also a
slave and nominally a Greek, yet half Roman. When she is grown, if she
happens to be comely and the property of a master like most masters, she
has a daughter, a slave and spoken of as a Greek, yet only a quarter
Greek. If she has a similar daughter, that daughter, a slave and called a
Greek, is only one-eighth Greek. I conceive, from all I know, that my
great grandmother, grandmother and mother were such slave women. I, a
slave and ostensibly a Greek, am fifteen-sixteenths Roman noble, by
ancestry, according to my reckoning. No wonder my descent shows in my
bearing, manner and conversation."

This answer was, actually, not so far from the facts, my mother,
grandmother and great-grandmother had, certainly, been Roman noblewomen,
daughters indeed, each of one of the oldest and longest-lineaged houses of
our nobility; and, like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather, my
great-great-grandfather had been a Roman nobleman. But his father, my
great-great-great-grandfather, had been a freed-man, manumitted in the
days of Nero, acquiring great wealth, attaining equestrian rank during the
last years of Nero's reign, and vastly enriched during the confusion of
the civil wars, marrying a young and wealthy widow after Vespasian was
firmly established at Rome by the crushing of the insurrection of Claudius
Civilis.

Probably the general consonance of my answer with the facts made my
utterance of it more convincing. Certainly it appealed to Falco.

"Just about what I conjectured," he said, smiling. "And will you tell me
in what part of Italy and on what estate you were born and how you came by
your air of aristocratic culture and by your marvellous dilettantism?"

"I know what I know and am what I am," I replied, "because I was, from
childhood, treated just as if a son instead of a slave; pampered, indulged
and made much of. That lasted till I was more than full-grown.

"The misfortunes of the family to which I belonged came so suddenly that I
was not manumitted, as I should have been had my master had so much as a
day's warning of his downfall. I was sold to a fool and a brute, as you
have probably inferred from my back. The marks of his barbarity which I
bear, and my lasting grief for the calamity of the household in which I
was born, make me unwilling to tell you anything of my past previous to my
purchase from Olynthides by Nonius Libo."

"Well," he said, "your feeling is natural and I shall not urge my
curiosity on you. I mean to indulge you and even pamper you; mean to
endeavor to indulge you and pamper you so you will feel more indulged and
pampered than ever in your life, I'll make a new will, at once, leaving
you your freedom and a handsome property. I expect to live out a long
life, all my kin have been healthy and long-lived. But one can never be
certain of living and I mean to run no risks of your having any more
troubles. You deserve ease and comfort. And you shall have them if I can
arrange it. I love you like a born brother and mean to treat you as well
as if you were my twin."

The year in which Commodus killed the two lions, each with one blow of his
trifling-looking little palm-wood club, in which year I was sold out of
the Choragium, and purchased by Nonius, in which I crossed the sea, was
wrecked and saved and resold to Falco, was the nine hundred and forty-
first year of the City [Footnote: 188 A.D.] and the ninth of the reign of
Commodus, the year in which the consuls were Allius Fuscianus and Duillius
Silanus, each for the second time. In Africa, with Falco, I spent that and
the following year very comfortably and happily, for I was as well
clothed, fed, lodged and tended as Falco himself. I liked him, even loved
him, and I felt perfectly safe.

The climate of Africa agreed with me, and I liked the fare, especially the
many kinds of fruit which we seldom see in Rome and then not in their best
condition, and some of which we never see in Italy at all. I admired the
scenery, and I delighted in the cities, not only Carthage and Utica, but
both Hippo Regius and Hippo Diarrhytus, and also Hadrumetum, Tacape, Cirta
and Theveste, and even such mere towns as Lambaesis and Thysdrus, which
last has an amphitheater second only to the Colosseum itself. They all had
fine amphitheaters, magnificent circuses, gorgeous theaters and sumptuous
public hot baths. Not one but had a fine library, a creditable public
picture-gallery, and many noble groups of statuary, with countless fine
statues adorning the public buildings, streets and parks. The society of
all these places was delightfully cultured, easy and unaffected. I
revelled in it and could not have been happier except that I never heard
from Vedia or Tanno, let alone had a letter from either. And I wrote to
both and sent off letter after letter to one or the other. For it seemed
to me that a letter in this form could not excite any suspicion.

    "Phorbas gives greeting to Opsitius, and informs him that after he had
    been sold by Olynthides to Nonius Libo, he survived the sinking of his
    owner's yacht and was sold by Libo's heir to Pomponius Falco, in whose
    retinue he now is. Farewell."

I sent off, at least once a season, a letter like this to both Tanno and
Vedia. No word from either ever reached me. I could but conjecture that
all my letters had miscarried.

Meanwhile, besides being reminded of it each time I wrote to Tanno or
Vedia, I did not forget that I was a proscribed fugitive, my life forfeit
if I were detected. I conceived that my best disguise was to dress, act
and talk as much as possible in the character of dilettante art expert and
music-lover, which I had assumed. Falco treated me, as he had prophesied,
almost as a brother. I had a luxurious apartment in each of his town
residences and country villas, and a retinue of servants: valet, bath-
attendant, room-keeper, masseur, reader, messenger, runner and a litter
with three shifts of powerful bearers. Everything Falco could think of in
the way of clothing, furniture and art objects was showered on me and my
slightest hint of a wish was quickly gratified. Also Falco supplied me a
lavish allowance of cash. Therefore I could gratify any whim. Besides, my
amulet-bag was intact and had in it all the gems which Agathemer had
originally placed there, except only the emerald Bulla had sold for me.

I thought up everything I could do to make myself look completely a Greek
virtuoso and as un-Roman-looking as possible. I patronized every
complexion-specialist, friseur, perukier, manicurist and fashionable
barber in that part of the world. I bought every hair tonic for sale in
the colony. Between lotions and expert manipulation I succeeded in growing
a thick curly beard, covering my chest as far as the lower end of my
breast-bone and a thick head of hair so long that, even when elaborately
frizzed and curled, my oiled and scented locks fell as far down my back as
my beard spread on my bosom. Nothing could have made me look more
Corinthian and less Roman.

I wore the gaudiest clothing I could find; tunics and cloaks of pure silk
and of the brightest or most effeminate hues; crimson, emerald-green,
peacock-green, grass-green, apple-green, sea-green, sapphire-blue, sky-
blue, turquoise-blue, saffron, orange, amethystine, violet and any and
every unusual tint; boots of glazed kidskin or of dull finish soft skin,
of hues like my silk garments, always with the edges of the soles heavily
gilded. And, for my shoes as well as for my garments, I chose particolored
materials with the most startling or languorous combinations of unusual
dyes. All my boots and shoes were embroidered in silver thread or gold
thread, all my outer garments embroidered in crimson, deep green, deep
blue, gold or silver, in big, striking, conspicuous patterns. I had
elephants, lions, antelopes, horses, cattle, sheep, stags, goats, storks,
cranes, even fish embroidered on my outer garments amid trees, vines, and
flowers; roses, lilies, violets, poppies and others uncountable. I spent
on such gewgaws a considerable part of my allowance, yet never exhausted
Falco's lavish provision for me.

I also went in for jewelry, loading my fingers with flashy rings, wearing
bracelets on both wrists, two or three on each, always two necklaces and
even earrings, for which I had my ears pierced, like a Lydian.

When I conned myself in my dressing-room mirror, arrayed in such a
superfluity of decorations and fripperies, I felt sure that no one would
take me for a Roman.

In these apparently natural vanities and vagaries Falco humored me,
enquiring of his friends concerning friseurs of acclaimed reputation,
buying me any gaudy fabrics he saw, also presenting me with caskets of
necklaces, amulets, bracelets, finger-rings and earrings. He rallied me on
my oriental tastes, but aided me to gratify them.

He even came to feel his interest in jewelry and gems enhanced by my fad
for them. He took to purchasing antiques in jewelry and rare and unusual
gems and his hoard grew into a notable collection.

By the end of my second winter with Falco I had come to know intimately
all his town and country palaces and all his dilettanti friends and had
enjoyed to the full the many delights of the colony, not only its climate
and fruits, its scenery and cities, its statuary and pictures, its
libraries and public-baths, but its excellent performances of tragedies
and comedies, and its spectacles creditable, not only as to chariot-racing
but also as to beast-fights and exhibitions of gladiators. I found life in
Africa extremely agreeable and looked forward to any length of it with
contentment.

I may remark that during this time Cleander came to the end of his period
of unlimited wealth, power and misrule. I was thus out of Rome at the time
of his downfall and death and while the Praetorium had a score of Prefects
in rapid succession.

In the spring of the nine hundred and forty-third year of the city,
[Footnote: A.D. 190.] and the eleventh of the reign of Commodus, the year
in which he was nominally consul for the sixth time, along with Petronius
Septimianus, Falco startled me, while we were dining alone together, as
Agathemer and I had used to dine together, by saying:

"Phorbas, you talk of Rome differently from any other man I ever heard
talk of it. I have meditated over the quality of what you say of Rome, but
I cannot analyze it or describe it accurately. Yet I may say that others
talk of Rome as holy ground, but you alone make me feel that the soil
inside the Pomoerium is holy ground: others talk of the grandeur of Rome;
you make me realize its grandeur: others prate of their love for Rome:
you, saying little, make me tingle with a subtly communicated sense of how
you love Rome: others babble of how life away from Rome is not life, but
merely existence; of how any dwelling out of Rome is exile, of how they
long for Rome; you, by some sorcery, make me not only feel how you long
for Rome, but have awakened in me a longing for Rome. I have never been
out of this colony of Africa, not even into Mauretania. A man as rich as I
and of equestrian rank can afford to travel, to visit all the interesting
parts of the Empire, to live where he likes, anywhere in Italy or even in
Rome.

"I have never wanted to leave this colony: I love every bit of it and
especially my residences and estates. I have been satisfied here. When my
friends argued with me and tried to persuade me to travel and especially
to visit Rome, I never was convinced by their arguments. I have a dread of
sea-voyaging, a dread accentuated by the death of poor Libo. who was an
enthusiastic voyager and had a yacht as staunch and a crew as capable as
skill could produce, money buy and judgment collect. Yet he perished. I
did not need the warning of his fate to keep me ashore. Then again, I
prefer to be a big frog in a small pond to being a small frog in a big
pond, I am one of the most important men in this colony and, here in
Africa, I am always somebody. In Rome I should be nobody.

"Yet, without my realizing it and later against my will, your
conversation, in some subtle way, has so infected me with the desire to
see Rome that I am going to brave the terrors of the seas, am going to
sink myself into insignificance among the scores of richer and more
influential men who cluster about Caesar. I am even going to put at the
mercy of the sea my precious collection of gems, which I now value more
than you and myself together and twice over.

"I have made all my arrangements. I have put my affairs in order, made
sure that my estates will be properly managed in my absence, bought the
best yacht to be had in the harbor of Carthage, and that is saying a great
deal for its excellence, and I have ordered coffers in which to pack my
beloved gems.

"Prepare to accompany me; within ten days we set off for Rome."

I knew Falco. Easy-going as he was, when he had taken a notion to buy and
indulge a connoisseur-slave, collect gems or visit Rome, opposition,
arguments, artfulness or stratagems were alike useless. I resigned myself
to my fate.

I meditated over this fifth fulfillment of the prophecy of the Aemilian
Sibyl.

Since I had been with Falco and practically a free and rich man, I had
made handsome sacrifices at Mercury's Temples in all the cities we visited
which had temples to Mercury. The morning after Falco announced his
intentions to go to Rome I went out alone and unattended; myself, in the
market place of Carthage, bought two white hens; myself carried them to
the Temple of Mercury and myself had them offered to the god.



CHAPTER XXXIII

IMPOSTURE


We had no bad weather on our voyage to Rome nor any adventure. The day
before we sailed I had conned my image in the mirror in my dressing-room
and had comforted myself with the decision that no human creature could
conceivably suspect of being a Roman this full-bearded, longhaired, long-
nailed, frizzed, curled, oiled, perfumed, gaudy, tawdry, bedizened,
bejeweled, powdered, rouged, painted popinjay.

I laid in an extra supply of nail-polish, nail-tint, rouge, face-paint,
blackening for painting eyebrows and eyelashes, and of perfumery,
cosmetics, unguents and such like. If I were sufficiently whitened,
reddened, rouged, and painted I hoped I should be well enough disguised to
face Gratillus or even Flavius Clemens without a qualm. Actually my
bizarre and fantastic appearance was an almost complete protection to me.

And I needed protection. For Falco was related to many prominent families
and men in Rome; for instance, he was a cousin of Senator Sosius Falco,
who was consul two years later. He was introduced widely and at once and
invited everywhere. I was constantly in attendance on him.

My experiences during my long stay at Rome with Falco were, in truth,
amazing. He bought a fine palace on the Esquiline, near the Baths of
Titus, furnished it lavishly, entertained magnificently and revelled in
the life of Rome. At first I was busy showing him the chief sights of the
City, then the minor sights, then coaching him in the niceties of social
usages, then convoying him on the round of all notable sculptures, picture
galleries, private collections of pictures or statuary, famous museums,
repositories of all kinds of art objects and, especially, the gem
collections, both private and public, particularly the large exhibit in
the temple of Venus Genetrix, placed there by the Divine Julius, and the
smaller exhibit in the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, donated by
Octavia's son, Marcellus.

Later he divided his time between giving dinners and going out to dinners
and haunting the houses of gem collectors and the shops of jewelers.

He began visiting jewelers' shops, to be sure, within a few days of our
arrival in Rome. We had not been there ten days, in fact, when he made me
conduct him to the Porticus Margaritaria, on the Via Sacra, near the great
Forum, which was and is the focus of pearl dealers and gem dealers in
general in Rome.

There we entered several shops and, at last, I could not keep him out of
that of Orontides, who had known me perfectly. His was unique among shops
in Rome and probably was the largest and most splendid jewelry shop in all
the world: more like a small temple of Hercules or a temple-treasury than
a shop. It was not in the Pearl-Dealers' Arcade, where only small, square,
usual shops were possible, but adjacent to it and entered from the Via
Sacra. It was circular, with a door of cast bronze, beautifully ornamented
with reliefs of pearl-divers, tritons, nereids and other marine subjects.
Inside its dome-shaped roof was lined with an intricate mosaic of bits of
glass as brilliant as rubies, emeralds and sapphires, or as gold and
silver. The roof rested on a circular entablature with a very ornate
cornice, under which was a frieze ornamented with reliefs, representing
winged cupids working as gem-cutters and polishers, as chasers of salvers
and goblets, and as goldsmiths and silversmiths. The architrave was as
ornate as the cornice. The entablature was supported by eight Ionic
columns of the slenderest and most delicate type, of dark yellow Numidian
marble, while the lining of the wall-spaces was of the lighter yellow
Mauretanian marble. Of the eight wall-spaces one was occupied by the
doorway, over which was a bronze group representing a combat of two
centaurs. On either side of the door was a wall-space ennobled by a niche
with a life-size, bronze statue, one of Orontides' father, the other of
his grandfather, both of whom had been distinguished gem-dealers at
Antioch. Two more wall-spaces were occupied by ample windows, not of open
lattices, but glazed with almost crystalline glass set in bronze, a form
of window seldom seen except in great temples, the Imperial Palace, and
the residences of the most opulent senators and noblemen.

The three wall-spaces behind the counter were filled from column to column
with tiers of superposed recesses, in size like the urn niches of a burial
columbarium, but each closed with a door of cornel-wood carved and
polished, behind which doors Orontides kept his precious merchandise.

The counter divided the shop across from window to window. It had in the
middle a narrow wicket through which Orontides and his assistants could
crawl in and out. Otherwise the outer face of the counter was of two
blocks of Numidian marble, carved in patterns of twining vines; its top
was of one long slab of the exquisitely delicate white marble from Luna.
On it lay always squares of velvet, in color dark blue, black, dark green,
and crimson, on which were admirably displayed his goldsmith work and
jewelries.

Below the panels about each statued niche was a curved seat of Numidian
marble amply large for four persons at once, so that eight prospective
customers could sit and wait while as many stood at the counter; and,
according to my recollection of the shop in the days of my prosperity, a
shop crowded with customers was the rule rather than the exception with
Orontides.

It was crowded when we entered. I, endeavoring to conserve a natural
demeanor, felt my sight blur. I saw, as we entered, only a row of backs of
customers standing at the counter: three in noblemen's togas, one in the
toga of a senator, their fulldress boots conspicuously red beneath their
robes; four in the silken garments of wealthy ladies, all in pale soft
hues of exquisite Coan dyes.

Of these eight backs two, one of the lady midway of the counter, the other
of her escort, appeared terrifyingly familiar.

In fact, when we entered I had three distinct shocks in quick succession.
Flashy, painted and rouged as I was I dreaded Orontides' eyes. There he
was behind his counter, visible through a rift in the press of handsomely
dressed customers of both sexes.

Instinctively I glanced at the only other interval in the line of absorbed
opulent backs.

Through it I recognized Agathemer smiling at me!

I saw that _he_, at least, recognized me at once and my dread of Orontides
intensified tenfold. I knew Agathemer would be discreet, loyal and trusty.
I dreaded to lose countenance if I kept my eyes on his face and I looked
elsewhere.

I recognized the back of Flavius Clemens!

If he turned round I felt I was lost. Yet I could not flee. Falco was
certain to linger in the shop. I must keep my self-control and prepare to
brazen out anything.

The next instant I recognized the back of the lady next Flavius Clemens.

Vedia!

As I recognized her she turned, saw me, knew me through my disguise,
flushed, and turned back.

I should not have been surprised if she had fainted and crumpled up on the
white and brown mosaic floor in front of the counter. She kept her feet
and her outward self-possession.

Clemens spoke to her in an undertone.

"No," she answered him, in a choked voice, "I have changed my mind. I
won't take these."

She was handling an unsurpassable necklace of big pearls.

He whispered to her.

"No," she said, curtly. "I won't look at any others. I think I'll go
home."

He was so amazed that he never saw me or, I think, anything or anybody
else in that shop just then. He escorted her out.

When I regained my self-possession enough to feel that I appeared at ease
and could trust myself to glance at the other customers as I should have
done had I been in fact what I was trying to appear, I was relieved to
find that not one of them was more than distantly known to me.

The idlers on the benches showed no inclination to rise and approach the
counter. Falco and I occupied the interval vacated by Clemens and Vedia.
Agathemer, of all men on earth, asked what he could do for us. Falco stood
there a long time, saw a goodly fraction of the finest jewels in
Orontides' possession and, manifestly, made as favorable impression of
connoisseurship on Agathemer as Agathemer made on him. They eyed each
other as fellow-adepts. Falco asked that he reserve an antique Babylonian
seal cut in sardonyx and promised to send a messenger with its price
before dark. Agathemer, who was passing under the name of Eucleides,
blandly replied that Orontides would prefer to send the seal to Falco's
residence. Falco agreed, of course, and to my unutterable relief we
finally departed.

Agathemer--Eucleides--brought the seal; and timed his arrival neatly as
Falco returned from the Baths of Titus just before dinner time. He was
giving a big formal dinner and my dinner was to be served in my apartment,
which had a tiny _triclinium_; being as lavishly appointed, and one in
which I was as luxuriously lodged and served, as those I had had in
Carthage and Utica.

I asked Agathemer if he could stay and dine with me and he accepted. We
had a wonderful dinner. The food, of course, was unsurpassable and our
appetites keyed up by our mutual emotions. When the dessert and wine were
brought in I dismissed the waiters, made sure that no man or boy of my
retinue was in my apartment and bolted its door.

Then we fell into each other's arms.

After we had expressed our mutual affection I told him my story from the
morning after the massacre and he told me his, which was commonplace.

He had easily escaped from the slave-convoy between Narnia and Interamnia,
had made his way to Ameria and found shelter there with slaves as an
ordinary runaway slave. After a discreet interval he had travelled to
Rome. There he had found old acquaintances to protect and shield him. I
was presumed to be dead and any fellow-slave would help him in his
situation, he being presumed to be legally a slave of the _fiscus_. He had
no difficulty in disposing of a gem out of his amulet-bag and then rented
lodgings, passed as a freedman, by the name of Eucleides, and gradually
made himself known to various gem-experts who gave him as much protection
as had his fellow-slaves, his former acquaintances. Orontides perfectly
knew who he was, yet engaged him as an assistant by the name of Eucleides
and as being a freedman. Ever since then he had lived safe in his
lodgings, and spent his days at Orontides' shop or about Rome at gem-
dealers. He declared that he was, if possible, more of a gem-expert than
before our adventures began, which was saying a great deal.

He laughed heartily and often at my disguise, acclaimed it a work of art
in every detail and in its total effect and vowed that he believed that I
could spend years in Rome in Falco's retinue and encounter all my old
acquaintances and be in little danger from any and in no danger except
from such professional physiognomists as Galen and Gratillus.

I told him of what Galen had said to Tanno. Agathemer said he had had only
two interviews with Tanno, at which they had deplored my death, I having
been believed to have perished with Nonius Libo. They had also agreed to
avoid each other, for fear of attracting the notice of some secret-service
agent or volunteer spy. Tanno had not mentioned Galen.

We agreed that we, also, must avoid each other and not meet oftener than
say four times a year, for fear of leading to my detection.

He told me of Marcia's unlimited power over Commodus, the whole Palace and
the entire social and governmental world of Rome. He also said that he was
convinced that Ducconius Furfur was domiciled in the Palace and that
Commodus used him as dummy ceremonial Emperor, when he himself was
masquerading as Palus, the Gladiator, for he was now developing for public
exhibitions of his swordsmanship a mania as insensate as those he had had
for charioteering and beast-fighting.

Next day, naturally, I had a visit from Tanno, who even sacrificed his
afternoon bath and came to see me while Falco was at the Baths of Titus.

He embraced me heartily, when we were alone, and talked with his habitual
mask of jocularity.

"Three times dead, Caius," he said, "and still alive and fit. Dying seems
to agree with you, whether it is military execution, rural assassination,
or drowning at sea. I am still incredulous that you are really alive; we
had the most circumstantial accounts of the loss of poor Libo's yacht with
all on board."

"That is odd," I said, "Rufius Libo survived and succeeded to his uncle's
property."

"I knew he inherited all Nonius left," Tanno stated, "but I had no idea
that Nonius had Rufius with him here in Rome and that he was on the yacht;
I thought he was in Carthage all the while. Certainly every account we had
specified that no one was rescued from that yacht."

I told him that Rufius had promised me to write him of my survival and
that I had despatched at least a score of letters to him and as many to
Vedia. He was as puzzled as I that not one had reached either of them.

I gave him an account of my life since he had seen me and he approved of
my disguise as much as had Agathemer and laughed at it even more heartily.

He said:

"Poor Flavius Clemens is in a daze. He cannot conjecture what has gone
wrong with his wooing again a second time. He behaved very tactfully after
his first rebuff ensuing on Galen's tip to me and mine to Vedia. He was so
cautious about not thrusting himself on Vedia that their acquaintance,
quite naturally, warmed again gradually into mutual interest and romantic
affection and was ripening into love when the sight of you yesterday
annihilated his excellent chances of marrying her. He was just about to
buy for her a two-million-sesterce pearl necklace. If she had accepted the
gift it would have been tantamount to a public pledge to marry him. Poor
fellow!"

When he left he gave me a letter from Vedia, a letter as loving as a lover
could wish for. She declared that she would not marry Flavius Clemens nor
anybody except me and would wait for me as long as might be necessary or
stay unmarried until the end of her days, if, by any misfortune, the end
came to her before she and I were free to marry.

She said that we must avoid each other as much as possible and that I must
not spoil my chances of safety either by relying too recklessly on my
disguise or through risking arousing suspicion in Falco by any attempt at
confining myself to my apartment, which would have been altogether
incongruous with the character I had assumed.

The rest of that year and all the winter I passed living the normal life
of an indulged and pampered favorite of an opulent bachelor dilettante
noble. It was a life almost as enjoyable as the life of a wealthy nobleman
to which I had been born and brought up.

I had but one anxiety and that was not small and it steadily increased. It
was caused by a progressive alteration and deterioration in the character
of my master. In all other respects he remained the man he had been when
he first bought me, but as a gem-fancier his hobby became a passion which
deepened into a mania and colored, or discolored, all he did. He had, as
he always had had, a very large surplus of income over and above what was
needful to maintain his huge estates in Africa, his many luxurious villas
and town-palaces there, his yacht and his palaces in Italy at Baiae and at
Rome. The normal accumulation of this surplus had taxed his sagacity as an
investor, for it was always harder for him to find advantageous
investments for his redundant cash than to find cash for tempting
investments. Certainly his excess income more than sufficed for any
reasonable indulgence in gem-collecting.

Yet his outlay for rare gems ran up to and outran and far outran his
resources. The strange result was that he, who had huge revenues from
estates and safe investments, desired a still greater income. He began to
embark in risky ventures which promised large and quick returns. He went
into partnership with two different nobles, who made a practice of bidding
on the taxes of frontier provinces exposed to enemy raids. Bidders were
shy of investing their cash in the problematical returns of such regions
and those who had the hardihood to enter into contracts with the
government made huge profits if lucky. Falco was lucky each time. He
plunged again and again.

He also embarked similarly in bidding for unpromising contracts and in
buying up estates thrown unexpectedly on the market. All his ventures
turned out successfully, he gained great resources for indulging his fad
for gems and rare curios, his collection grew and became one of the most
famous private collections in Rome.

Also his mania for speculation grew as fast as his mania for collecting
gems.

This led to my exposure to the oddest and most alarming peril which I had
run since Agathemer and I crawled through the drain-pipe at Villa Andivia;
greater I think, than the risk I ran when I nearly encountered Gratillus
at Placentia. This happened about eleven months after I came to Rome with
Falco, in the spring of the year when Pedo Apronianus and Valerius Bradua
were consuls.

This occurrence and the circumstances which led up to it I cannot forbear
narrating, but I shall not go into details, for it involves at least
allusion to behavior not at all creditable to my owner and I am unwilling
to disparage or seem to disparage one who was to me a dear friend and a
generous benefactor. The truth is that his passion for gem-collecting had
not only undermined his character but had, in a way, sapped the
foundations of his native uprightness. If he had remained the man he was
when he bought me he would not have been capable of entertaining, let
alone of acting on, the considerations which actuated him.

He thought he saw a chance to make vast profits quickly with no risks. But
to achieve this he needed the presence and the countenance of another
wealthy nobleman of the African province, who, like him when he purchased
me, had never been in Rome or, indeed, out of the colony. The name of this
man, whom I had met while in Thysdrus, was Salsonius Salinator. His
wealth, inherited by his father and grandfather from a long line of
wealthy ancestors, came from many vast salt works along the coast, which,
by the custom of the province, remained private property and merely paid
the government a lease-tax or rent. The family had been, many generations
before, named from these works and was very proud of its names.

Now Falco had so far progressed with his negotiations that the other
parties to the proposed bargain were unwilling to close the deal and sign
a contract with Falco and his associates unless Salsonius Salinator, in
person, appeared to make some necessary statements, and were willing and
eager to sign and seal, the projected agreement if he did appear in person
and did make those required statements. I am averse to smirching Falco's
memory by going more minutely into detail.

Now Salinator had written Falco that he was coming to Rome and later, when
he received a letter from Falco outlining the pending negotiations and
their object, he had written promising to be in Rome by a specified date.
He was most enthusiastic as to Falco's project and thought as well of it
as did Falco. Falco told his associates of Salinator's letter and promise
and they adjusted their outstanding investments so as to be able to close
the contract as soon as Salinator appeared.

He did not appear on the date specified. Naturally Falco was perturbed,
his associates vexed and the men with whom they were dealing increasingly
restive. They threatened to break off the negotiations and close a
contract with other bidders. Falco begged for an extension of the time and
they grudgingly granted it. Still no signs of or word from Salinator. The
negotiations appeared likely to fall through.

In his distress Falco conceived and set about putting into practice a
scheme such as he would never have thought of or entertained if he had
been the man he was when he bought me. When he was himself he had been the
reverse of dishonorable. He came to me and said:

"We are at the end of our tether, Pullanius and his gang will break off
negotiations tomorrow if I can't get hold of Salinator. I have no hope of
his arrival, he may have not yet sailed from Carthage; he may have changed
his mind about coming at all. I am not willing to lose so brilliant a
chance. I have thought of just what to do.

"You would look like a Roman if you had your beard trimmed and your hair
cut and all that powder and paint and rouge washed off your face: I took
you for a full-blooded Roman when I first set eyes on you. What is more
you would look so utterly unlike what you look like in your fantastic
fripperies that no one would even suspect you of being the same man.
Anyhow, Pullanius and his crowd have never set eyes on you, not one of
them.

"All you have to do is to have your beard cut to about the fashionable
length and your hair trimmed to conform similarly with current fashions
for Roman noblemen and get into full-dress shoes, a nobleman's tunic and
toga, and you'll pass anywhere for a genuine, free-born, full-blooded
Roman.

"I'll take you to Pullanius tomorrow and introduce you as Salsonius
Salinator. I'll coach you carefully as to how to behave and what to say.
You are clever enough to assume the natural Roman demeanor to a nicety:
also to rise to any unexpected situations and act and talk precisely as
would Salinator himself.

"It will be sharp practice, in a sense. But I know Salinator would say all
I want him to say, all Pullanius requires him to say, and more, if he were
actually here. He is as keen on closing this contract as I am. So I am not
asking you to be a party to an actual fraud. You will only be bringing
about what would come about without you if something unforeseen had not
prevented Salinator from getting here in time."

Now I had often differed with Falco, argued with him, opposed him, refused
requests of his, and he had acquiesced and had acted as if I were not his
property, but a free man and his complete social equal. But this was a
situation wholly different from any I had encountered before. When it came
to gem-collecting or to anything which gave him or would give him or was
expected to yield him surplus cash for buying more gems for his
collection, Falco was a monomaniac. I dared not refuse, or oppose him or
argue or show any hesitation. A master can change in a twinkling from an
indulgent friend to an infuriated despot. In spite of the laws passed by
Hadrian and his successors limiting the authority of masters over their
slaves and giving slaves certain rights before magistrates, in practice an
angry master can go to any length to coerce a recalcitrant slave. I saw
not only privations, discomforts, hunger, confinement and chains
threatening me, but scourging and torture.

I acquiesced.

Now I am not going into any details as to what I did and said to induce
Pullanius and his associates to execute the desired contract. I acted the
part of Salinator to perfection and my imposture succeeded completely.

But the negotiations dragged, for all that, and I had to impersonate
Salsonius Salinator not only before Pullanius and his partners but
generally all over Rome: had to submit to being shown the sights in my
character of a provincial magnate in Rome for the first time; had to allow
myself to be dragged to morning receptions of senators and wealthy
noblemen and introduced to them; had to accept invitations to dinners
given by noblemen and senators; even had to attend a public morning
reception in the Audience Hall of the Palace. That I escaped undetected
was more than miraculous; I could not believe it myself. But I did escape.

I escaped unsuspected the ordeal of being haled to a morning reception of
Vedius Vedianus and presented to him as Salsonius Salinator of Carthage,
Nepte and Putea. I should have been lost had he had at his elbow to jog
his memory if he forgot a visitor's name the slave he had had in that
capacity seven years before, since that alert _nomenclator_ would have
recognized me at once. But he had died of the plague and his successor had
never set eyes on me. Vedius himself would certainly have known me for my
true self but for his inveterate selfishness, and self-absorption and his
incapacity for being diverted from whatever thought or idea happened to be
uppermost in his narrow mind. He was, for some reason, eager to be done
with his reception and had no eyes for any visitors except those from whom
he expected immediate and positive advantage to himself. I escaped, but I
went out sweating and limp with excitement.

I was even more faint and weak after having to attend a Palace levee.
Fortunately Commodus had wearied of his father's methods of holding
receptions and had reverted to the regulations in vogue under Trajan and
Hadrian, according to which only such senators as were summoned approached
the throne and were personally greeted by the Prince; the rest of the
senators and all the lesser noblemen merely passed before the Emperor as
he stood in front of the throne, passing four abreast along the main
pavement at the foot of the steps of the dais and saluting him as they
passed. Amid this crush of mediocrities I passed unnoticed, unremarked,
unscathed.

But I marvelled at my luck, for I knew many eyes of secret-service experts
scanned that slow-moving column of togaed noblemen and such adepts have a
marvellous memory for the shape of an ear, a nose, a chin, or any such
feature. After my hair and beard had been trimmed to suit Falco's notions
and my face was innocent of powder, rouge and paint and I was habited in a
tunic and toga with stripes of the width belonging to Salinator's rank and
dress-boots of the cut and color proper for him I conned my reflection in
the mirror in my dressing-room and was certain that anyone who had known
me as myself must recognize me at first glance.

My two worst ordeals came when I went out with Falco to my second and
fourth formal dinner in Rome in my character of provincial magnate. I went
with him, altogether, to eight different dinners at the houses of
capitalists associated with or supposed to have influence with Pullanius.
Not once, in any of these eight perilous expeditions, did it occur to
Falco to inform me beforehand where I was to dine. And I thought it best
not to ask him, since I reflected that his complete ignorance of my past
was an important factor in my chances of continued concealment and safety;
and since I felt that some word, tone or look of mine might put him on the
road to suspecting the truth about me. Therefore I set out to each of
these eight dinners totally ignorant of our destination.

The first time I knew I was to dine with Appellasius Clavviger, a Syrian
capitalist who had been in Rome not much longer than Falco himself. Judge
of my feelings when, in the mellow light which bathes Rome just after the
sun has set from a clear sky and before day has begun to fade, I perceived
that my litter-bearers, following Falco's, were turning into the street
where I had lived before my ruin! Imagine my sensations when we halted
before the palatial dwelling which had been my uncle's abode and mine!  I
was even more perturbed and overwhelmed by my emotions when on entering
behind Falco I found nothing changed, scarcely anything altered from what
had been there on the fatal morning on which, without any premonition of
disaster, I had set off to the Palace levee and had, on my way, been saved
by Vedia's intervention and letter. The appointments of the vestibule, of
the porter's lodge, were as I had known them in my uncle's lifetime. So
were the furnishings of the atrium and _tablinum_. Scarcely a statue had
been added or so much as moved, most of the pictures being where my uncle
had had them hung.  Appellasius, a fat, jovial, jolly man, did not see my
confusion. We were the last guests to arrive and he was hungry. We passed
at once into the _triclinium_. There also the wall-decorations were
precisely as I had last seen them; but the square table and three square
sofas had vanished and, in their place, was a new C-shaped sofa and a
circular table covered with a magnificent embroidered cloth.  In the
course of the dinner, the company, as was natural with vulgarians newly
enriched, fell to talking of their residences, of their size, convenience,
and cost. I took the opportunity to compliment Appellasius on his abode
and, as he warmed to the subject, I inquired whether he had inherited it
or bought it.

"Neither," said he. "I have merely leased it, and leased it furnished. It
belongs to the _fiscus_; it was confiscated some years ago when its owner
was proscribed for joining in one of the conspiracies against, the
Emperor. It is a pearl. I am told that the father of its last owner was an
art connoisseur. Anyhow I could not improve on its decorations or
furnishings. I have made few changes, chiefly installing this up-to-date
dining-outfit. The fittings of this room were all of one hundred years
old, very fine in material and ornamentation, but unbearably
inconvenient."

I had learned all I hoped for or dared attempt, and for the rest of the
entertainment I kept to subjects as far as possible from anything likely
to compromise me.

My second and far my severest ordeal was when a few evenings later I was
dazed to realize that my litter, behind Falco's, was halting before the
well-known residence of that booby, Faltonius Bambilio. But I was not
afraid of him. I rated him such a dolt, such an ass, that even if he
exclaimed that I was the image of Andivius Hedulio I had no doubt I could
convince him that I was what I pretended to be and could even expunge from
his mind any recollections of his having noticed such a striking
resemblance. In fact he did not make any remark on my appearance or seem
to have any inkling that he had ever seen me before, but accepted me as an
interesting stranger.

I dreaded what guests he might have and the actuality surpassed my
capacities to forecast possibilities.

 I found the middle sofa at his table, for he adhered to the old-fashioned
furnishings for a _triclinium_, occupied by his wife, Nemestronia and
Vedia!  Vedia, after one tense moment of incredulous numb staring,
regained her composure.

Evidently she had not confided in anyone the fact of my survival and
existence. For, if she had, she would have taken dear old Nemestronia into
her confidence, since she was as able to keep a secret as any woman who
ever lived and had loved me as if I had been her own and only grandson.
For Nemestronia manifestly had believed me dead. At sight of me she was as
thunderstruck as if she had seen an indubitable specter. She was smitten
dumb and rigid and her discomposure was remarked by all present. But she
recovered herself in time, passed off her agitation as having been due to
one of her sudden attacks of pain in the chest. After that she did as much
as Vedia to dispel any tendency to suspicions which she might have
aroused. She was plainly, to my eyes, overjoyed at the sight of me in the
flesh.

I have branded on my memory for life the picture I saw as I entered the
_triclinium_. Its wall decorations expressed old Bambilio's enthusiasm for
Alexandrian art and literature. The ceiling was adorned with a copy of
Apellides' Dance of the Loves; and the walls were decorated with copies of
equally celebrated paintings by masters of similar fame. The wall niches
were filled with statues of the Alexandrian poets, the two opposite the
entrance door with those of Euphorion and Philetas, the brilliant hues of
the paint on them depicting garments as gaudy as I myself had been wearing
a few days before. From the pink faces of the bedizened poets their
jeweled eyes sparkled as if they were chuckling at the situation. Under
the mellow light shed by the numerous hanging lamps, against the intricate
particolored patterns of the wall between the statue-niches, I saw the
vacuous baby face of Asellia, Bambilio's pretty doll of a wife, between
Vedia's countenance cleverly assuming a normal social expression after her
brief glare at me, and Nemestronia's mask of horror, accentuated by the
agony of the gripping spasm which throttled her, for the pain in her chest
was induced by anything which startled her, and was not assumed.

Once we were composed on the sofas the dinner passed off almost
comfortably. For Nemestronia played her part in my behalf fully as well as
did Vedia, who conversed with me easily, her demeanor precisely as if I
had been Salsonius Salinator, a stranger whom she had just met, our talk
mostly about Carthage, salt-works, the lagoons of the edge of the desert,
date palms, local fruits, gazelles and such like topics, Nemestronia
seconding her with questions about temple libraries, the cult of Isis in
Hippo, and such matters. I became almost gay, I was enjoying myself.

The enjoyment, toward the close of the banquet, was marred by Bambilio,
who, inevitably, had told Falco of his capture by brigands on the
Flaminian Highway and, after his tale was told at great length, insisted
on Vedia telling hers.

Worst of all, when she came to her night in her travelling carriage, alone
(as of course all supposed) and surrounded by escaped beasts, hyenas,
leopards, panthers, tigers and lions, Bambilio must needs remark:

"I'll wager you wished that the ghost of your old lover, Hedulio, had come
to your assistance. He could wrestle with leopards; perhaps even his ghost
might be able to control wild beasts."

"Perhaps," Vedia rejoined, unruffled, "maybe he was there to help me and
maybe that was why I never felt really afraid that any beast would burst
into my coach and seize me, though several snuffed at its panels and I
could see them plain in the clear moonlight. Perhaps, in spirit, he was
close to me to keep off the ravenous beasts and to strengthen my heart."

After she also had ended her story Bambilio eyed me:

"Did you ever hear a story excel hers and mine, Salsonius?" he queried.

"Never," I admitted, my gaze full on his.

The booby showed not a gleam of suspicion!

Inwardly I could not but remark that whereas I despised and loathed
Bambilio for his pomposity and self-esteem, he made and kept friends.
Plainly both Nemestronia and Vedia liked him, esteemed him and respected
him.

After we left, I felt positively exhilarated at having had an evening in
Vedia's company and having talked with her. Her escort, fortunately for
me, had not been Flavius Clemens but young Duillius Silanus, son of the
consul, who had never met me before.



CHAPTER XXXIV

PALUS THE INCOMPARABLE


Within a very few days after my encounter with Vedia at Bambilio's dinner
Falco and I had just ascended the stair of his residence after returning
from a conference with Pullanius and his partners at which both sides had
finally agreed on terms to the last detail and the contracts had been
drawn up, executed, signed and sealed. He said:

"Phorbas, I am pleased with you. Such imposture as I have enticed you into
cannot have been palatable to a man of your character. You have manifestly
disrelished it, but you have valiantly stomached it for my sake. Actually
you may be comforted, for it has not really been dishonest or
dishonorable; you have only acted and spoken vicariously for Salinator: to
a certainty he would have done and said just what you have, had he been
present in person.

"You are a wonderful actor. No Greek or part Greek or half Greek or
quarter Greek or thirty-second Greek I ever knew or heard of, clever as
Greeks are at histrionics, could so perfectly act a Roman noble in every
detail of demeanor, manner and word: down to the most trifling expression
of every prejudice inherent in a Roman born. I admire you. Also I thank
you.

"And I am as relieved as you will be to be able to tell you that your
masquerade is at an end, successful and unsuspected.

"Now the important thing is for Salsonius Salinator to vanish from Rome at
once.

"I suppose you have the wigs and false-beards you said you would buy or
have made?"

"They are in my dressing-room," I replied.

"Then," he continued, "have yourself waked early, have your valet paint
you and powder you and rouge you and fit you out with a wig like the head
of hair you had before I made you impersonate Salinator, and with a false
beard no one will suspect; have him rig you up in your favorite attire and
load you with jewelry, then set off in my travelling-carriage for Baiae.
Be out of Rome by sunrise. Travel straight to Baiae as rapidly as you find
practicable without fatiguing yourself. At Baiae you will have the Villa
and servants all to yourself. Stay there until you have grown your hair
and beard as it was before your masquerade. Then return to Rome as
Phorbas."

He paused, gazed at me and added:

"And I mean to make a new will. Besides leaving you your freedom and the
legacy specified in my last will I mean to leave you my gem-collection and
a full fourth of all my other estate. You deserve a lavish reward and I
believe I love you better than any living human being."

I thanked him with my best imitation of the manner of a Greek, but with
genuine feeling and from a full heart.

Actually I was glad to get out of Rome, glad to linger at Baiae. I made my
time as long as I could and resisted several importunities from Falco
before I finally returned to the city more than a year after I had left
it. Thus I was out of Rome during the great fire, which destroyed, along
with the Temple and Altar of Peace, the Temples of the Divine Julius and
the Divine Augustus, the Temple of Vesta, the Atrium of Vesta and most of
the other buildings about the great Forum, also the Porticus Margaritaria
and the shop of Orontides. Strangely enough, when, at Baiae, I read
letters from Falco, Tanno and Agathemer describing the devastation, my
mind dwelt more on the annihilation of the shop where I had encountered
Vedia than on the destruction of the Palace records and most of the public
records, or of the many revered temples which had vanished in the flames.

When I returned to Rome the ruins were already largely cleared, and
rebuilding, especially of the Temple of Vesta, was vigorously under way.

In Falco's household and manner of life I found few changes, except that
Falco, really in excellent health, had become concerned about his trifling
ailments, and, after trying one and another physician, had enrolled
himself among the patients of the most distinguished exponent of the
healing arts. Galen therefore, was a frequent visitor at my home and I saw
him not infrequently. When I had some minor discomfort, Falco, always
pampering me, called Galen in and enrolled me also among his charges.

After my return to the City the chief topic of conversation among persons
of all grades of society and the pivot, so to speak, on which the
spectacles of the amphitheater revolved was Palus the Gladiator.

I may set down here that I, personally, am now, as I was when I saw him
appear as a charioteer for the last time, certain that Palus was Commodus
in person. And I set this down as a fact. It will be seen later that I had
more opportunity than any man in Rome, outside of the Palace, to know the
facts.

Many people then believed and not a few still maintain that Palus was
merely a crony of Commodus. Some whispered that he was a half-brother of
Commodus, a son of Faustina and a favorite gladiator, brought up by the
connivance of her too-indulgent husband; which wild tale suits neither
with Faustina's actual deportment, as contrasted with the lies told of her
by her detractors, nor with the character of Aurelius. Others even hinted
that Palus was a half-brother of Commodus on the other side, off-spring of
Aurelius and a concubine. This invention consorts still worse with the
nature of Aurelius, who was one of the most uxorious of men and by nature
monogamic and austere, almost ascetic. Some contented themselves with
conjecturing that Palus accidentally resembled Commodus, which was not so
far from the truth.

For I knew Ducconius Furfur from our boyhood and I solemnly assert that
Palus was Commodus and that, whenever Palus appeared in the circus and,
later, in the amphitheater, while the Imperial Pavilion was filled by the
Imperial retinue, with the throne occupied apparently by the Emperor, the
throne was occupied by a dummy emperor, Ducconius Furfur, in the Imperial
attire, and Commodus was in the arena as Palus. Anyone who chooses may,
from this pronouncement, set me down as a credulous ninny, if it suits his
notions.

When Palus drove a chariot in the circus he never appeared with his face
fully exposed, but invariably wore over its upper portion the half-mask of
gauze, which is designed to protect a charioteer's eyes from dust and
flying grains of sand. Similarly, when Palus entered the arena as a
gladiator he never fought in any of those equipments in which gladiators
appear bareheaded or with faces exposed: as a _retiarius_, for instance.
He always fought as a _secutor_ or _murmillo_, or in the armor proper to a
Samnite, Thracian, or heavy-armed Greek or Gaul; all of which equipments
include a heavy helmet with a vizor. Palus always fought with his vizor
down.

It seems to me that the plain inference from these facts corroborates my
opinions concerning Palus: certainly it strengthens my belief in my views.
And these facts were and are known to be facts by all who, as spectators
in the circus or in the amphitheater, beheld Palus as charioteer or as
gladiator.

As a gladiator he was more than marvellous, he was miraculous. I was
present at all his public appearances from the time of my return from
Baiae. Also I had seen him closer, from the senatorial boxes in the
amphitheater, three several times during my impersonation of Salsonius
Salinator. Moreover I had seen him as a gladiator not a few times before
that, since Falco, soon after we came to Rome from Africa, because of his
affection for me and his tendency to indulge me in every imaginable way
and to arrange for me every conceivable pleasure, had contrived to use the
influence of some new-found friends to make possible my presence at shows
in the Colosseum, and that in as good a seat as was accessible to any
free-born Roman not a noble or senator.

The very first time I saw Palus in the arena I felt sure he was Commodus
in person, for he had to a marvel every one of his characteristics of
height, build, outline, agility, grace, quickness and deftness and all his
tricks of attitude and movement. The two were too identical to be anything
except the very same man.

It will occur to any reader of these memoirs that Palus was a left-handed
fighter, and that Commodus not only fought left-handed, but wrote, by
preference, with his left hand and with it more easily, rapidly and
legibly than with his right. But I do not lay much stress on this for
about one gladiator in fifty fights left-handed, so that the fact that
Palus was left-handed, while it accords with my views, does not, in my
opinion, help to prove them.

What, to my mind, much more tends to confirm my views, is the well-known
fact that Palus was always equipped with armor and weapons more
magnificent and more expensive than any ever seen on other gladiators.
Everything he used or wore was of gold or heavily gilt; even his spear
heads and sword blades were brilliantly gilded; so were his helmets,
shields, bucklers, corselets, breastplates, the scales of his kilt-straps
when he fought as a Greek, and his greaves, whether of Greek pattern or of
some other fashion. If he appeared in an armament calling for arm-rings,
leg-rings, or leg-wrappings, these were always also heavily gilt. So was
his footgear, whether he wore thigh-boots, full-boots, half-boots,
soldiers' brogues, half-sandals or sandals. His shoulder-guards (called
"wigs" in the slang of the prize-ring) were, apparently, of pure cloth of
gold, which also appeared to be the material of his aprons when his
accoutrements did not include a kilt.

Now it may be said that this merely indicates that his equipment was the
most extravagant instance of the manner in which opulent enthusiasts
lavished their cash on the outfitting of their favorites in the arena. To
me it seems too prodigal for the profusion of any or all of such
spendthrifts: it appears to me more like the self-indulgence of the
vainglorious master of the world. Palus often wore a helmet so bejeweled
that its cost would have overtaxed the wealth of Didius Julianus.

I consider that my opinions are corroborated by the well-known fact that
whenever Palus appeared as a gladiator in the amphitheater, Galen was
present in the arena as chief of the surgeons always at hand to dress the
wounds of victors or of vanquished men who had won the approbation or
favor of the spectators or of the Imperial party. True, Galen was often
there when Palus was not in the arena, for he was always on the watch for
anatomical knowledge to be had from observation of dying men badly
wounded. But, on the other hand, while he was often in the arena when
Palus was not there, he was never absent when Palus was fighting.

Similarly, after Aemilius Laetus was appointed Prefect of the Palace, he
was always present in person in the arena whenever Palus appeared in it.
This, too, makes for my contentions.

The first fight in which I saw Palus revealed to me, and brought home to
me with great force, the reason for his nickname, its origin and its
astonishing appropriateness. The word "_palus_" has a number of very
different meanings: manifestly its fitness as a pet name for the most
perfect swordsman ever seen in any arena came from its use to denote the
paling of a palisade, or any stake or post. Palus, in a fight, always
appeared to stand still: metaphorically he might be said to seem as
immobile as the post upon which beginners in the gladiatorial art practice
their first attempts at strokes, cuts, thrusts and lunges. So little did
he impress beholders as mobile, so emphatically did he impress them as
stationary, that he might almost as well have been an upright stake,
planted permanently deep in the sand.

I first saw him fight as a _secutor_, matched against a _retiarius_. This
kind of combat is, surely, the most popular of all the many varieties of
gladiatorial fights; and justly, for such fights are by far the most
exciting to watch and their incidents perpetually varied, novel and
unpredictable. It is exciting because the _retiarius_, nude except for one
small shoulder-guard and a scanty apron, appears to have no chance
whatever against the _secutor_ with his big vizored helmet, his complete
body-armor, his kilt of lapped leather straps plated with polished metal
scales, his greaves or leg-rings or boots and his full-length, curved
shield and Spanish sword. The _secutor_, always the bigger man and fully
armed and armored, appears invincible against the little manikin of a
_retiarius_ skipping about bareheaded and almost naked and armed only with
his trident, a fisherman's three-tined spear, with a light handle and
short prongs, his little dagger and his cord net, which, when spread, is
indeed large enough to entangle any man, but which he carries crumpled up
to an inconspicuous bunch of rope no bigger than his head.

Yet the fact is the reverse of the appearance. No one not reckless or
drunk ever bet even money on an ordinary _secutor_. The odds on the
_retiarius_ are customarily between five to three and two to one. And most
_secutors_ manifestly feel their disadvantage. As the two men face each
other and the _lanista_ gives the signal anyone can see, usually, that the
_retiarius_ is confident of victory and the _secutor_ wary and cautious or
even afraid. Dreading the certain cast of the almost unescapable net, the
_secutor_ keeps always on the move, and continually alters the direction
and speed and manner of his movement, taking one short step and two long,
then three short and one long, breaking into a dogtrot, slowing to a
snail's-pace, leaping, twisting, curving, zigzagging, ducking and in every
way attempting to make it impossible for the _retiarius_ to foretell from
the movement he watches what the next movement will be.

Palus behaved unlike any other _secutor_ ever seen in the arena. He
availed himself of none of the usual devices, which _lanistae_ taught with
such care, in the invention of which they gloried and in which they
drilled their pupils unceasingly. He merely stood still and watched his
adversary. The cunning cast of the deadly net he avoided by a very slight
movement of his head or body or both. No _retiarius_ ever netted him, yet
the net seldom missed him more than half a hand's breadth. When the
disappointed _retiarius_ skipped back to the length of his net-cord and
retrieved his net by means of it, Palus let him gather it up, never dashed
at him, but merely stepped sedately towards him. If the _retiarius_ ran
away, Palus followed, but never in haste, always at a slow, even walk. No
matter how often his adversary cast his net at him, Palus never altered
his demeanor. The upshot was always the same. The spectators began to jeer
at the baffled _retiarius_, he became flustered, he ventured a bit too
near his immobile opponent, Palus made an almost imperceptible movement
and the _retiarius_ fell, mortally wounded.

I was never close enough to Palus to see clearly the details of his
lunges, thrusts and strokes. I saw him best when I was a spectator in the
Colosseum while impersonating Salsonius Salinator, for in my guise as
colonial magnate I sat well forward. Even then I was not close enough to
him to descry the finer points of his incomparable swordsmanship. Yet what
I saw makes me regard as fairly adequate the current praises of him
emanating from those wealthy enthusiasts who were reckoned the best judges
of such matters. By the reports I heard they said that Palus never cut a
throat, he merely nicked it, but the tiny nick invariably and accurately
severed the carotid artery, jugular vein or windpipe.

I can testify, from my own observation, to his having displayed comparable
skill in an equally effective stab in a different part of his adversary's
body. As is well known, a deep slash of the midthigh, inside, causes death
nearly as quickly as a cut throat; if the femoral artery is divided the
blood pours out of the victim almost as from an inverted pail, a horrible
cascade. Most of the acclaimed gladiators use often this deadly stroke
against the inside midthigh, slashing it to the bone, leaving a long,
deep, gaping wound. Palus never slashed an adversary's thigh; in killing
by a thigh wound he always delivered a lunge which left a small puncture,
but invariably also left the femoral artery completely severed, so that
the life-blood gushed out in a jet astonishingly violent, the victim
collapsing and dying very quickly. Such a parade requires altogether
transcendant powers of accuracy from eye and hand.

Besides fighting as a _secutor_ against a _retiarius_ Palus in the same
accoutrements fought with men similarly equipped, or accoutred as Greeks,
Gauls, Thracians, Samnites, or _murmillos;_ also he appeared in the
equipment of each of these sorts of gladiators against antagonists
equipped like himself or in any of the other fashions.

In all these countless fights he was never once wounded by any adversary
nor did he ever deliver a second stroke, thrust or lunge against any: his
defence was always impregnable, his attack always unerring; when he lunged
his lunge never missed and was always fatal, unless he purposely spared a
gallant foe.

Besides the exhibitions of bravado and self-confidence traditional with
gladiators, all of which he displayed again and again, Palus devised more
than one wholly original with himself.

For instance, he would take his stand in the arena equipped as a
_secutor_, the _lanista_ would have in charge not one _retiarius_, but
ten, or even a dozen. One would attack Palus and when, after a longer or
shorter contest, he was killed, the _lanista_, would, without any respite,
allow a second to rush at Palus; then a third; and so on till everyone had
perished by the _secutor's_ unerring sword. No other secutor ever killed
more than one _retiarius_ without a good rest between the first fight and
the second. Palus, as was and is well known, killed more than, a thousand
adversaries, of whom more than three hundred wore the accoutrements of a
_retiarius_.

Palus was even more spectacular as a _dimachaerus_, so called from having
two sabers, for a _dimachaerus_ is a gladiator accoutred as a Thracian,
but without any shield and carrying a naked saber in each hand. Such a
fighter is customarily matched against an adversary in ordinary Thracian
equipment. He has to essay the unnatural feat of guarding himself with one
sword while attacking with the other. Such a feat is akin to those of
jugglers and acrobats, for a sword is essentially an instrument of assault
and cannot, by its very nature, take the place of a shield as a
protection. Everybody, of course, knows that showy and startling ruse said
to have been invented by the Divine Julius, which consists in surprising
one's antagonist by parrying a stroke with the sword instead of with the
shield and simultaneously using the shield as a weapon, striking its upper
rim against the adversary's chin. But this can succeed only against an
opponent dull-witted, unwary, clumsy and slow, and then as a surprise. A
_dimachaerus_ has to depend on parrying and his antagonist knows what to
expect.

Palus was the most perfect _dimachaerus_ ever seen in the Colosseum.
Without a shield he fought and killed many Thracians, Greeks, Gauls,
_murmillos_, Samnites and _secutors_. He even, many times, fought two
Thracians at once, killing both and coming off unscathed. I saw two of
these exhibitions of insane self-confidence and I must say that Palus made
good his reliance on his incredible skill. He pivoted about between his
adversaries, giving them, apparently, every chance to attack
simultaneously, distract him and kill him. Yet he so managed that, even if
their thrusts appeared simultaneous, there was between them an interval,
brief as a heart-beat, but long enough for him to dispose of one and turn
on the other, or escape one and pierce the other. I could not credit my
own eyes. With my belief as to the identity of Palus I marvelled that a
man whose life was dominated by the dread of assassination, who feared
poison in his wine and food, who hedged himself about with guards and then
feared the guards themselves, who distrusted everybody, who dreaded every
outing, who was uneasy even inside his Palace, felt perfectly at ease and
serenely safe in the arena with no defence but two sabers, and he between
two hulking ruffians, as fond of life as any men, and knowing that they
must kill him or be killed by him. In this deadly game he felt no qualms,
only certitude of easy victory.

The controversies over the identity of Palus have produced a whole
literature of pamphlets, some maintaining that he was Commodus, others
professing to prove that he was not, of which some rehearse every possible
theory of his relationship to Aurelius or Faustina. Among these the most
amazing are those which set forth the view that Palus was Commodus, but no
skillful swordsman, rather a brazen sham, killing ingloriously helpless
adversaries who could oppose to his edged steel only swords of lath or
lead.

This absurdity is in conflict with all the facts. Manifestly the
antagonists of Palus were as well armed as he, both for defence and
attack.

And, what is much more, the populace clamored for Palus, booed and cat-
called if Palus did not appear in the arena; cheered him to the echo when
he did appear; yelled with delight and appreciation at each exhibition of
his prophetic intuition as to what his adversary was about to do, of his
preternaturally perfect judgment as to what to do himself, of the
instantaneous execution of whatever movement he purposed, of its complete
success; and applauded him while he went off as no other gladiator ever
was applauded. It was the popular demand for him which made possible and
justified the unexampled fee paid Palus for each of his appearances in the
arena. The managers of the games were obliged to include Palus in each
exhibition or risk a riot of the indignant populace.

Now no sham fighter could fool the Roman populace. A make-believe
swordsman, such as the pamphlets which I have cited allege Commodus to
have been, might, if Emperor, have overawed the senators and nobles of
equestrian rank and compelled their unwilling applause of sham feats. But
no man, not even an Emperor, could coerce the Roman proletariat into
applauding a fighter unworthy of applause. Our populace, once seated to
view a show of any kind, cannot be controlled, cannot even be swayed. No
fame of any charioteer, beast-fighter or gladiator can win from them
tolerance of the smallest error of judgment, defect of action, attempt at
foul play or hint of fear: they boo anything of which they disapprove and
not Jupiter himself could elicit from them applause of anything except
exhibitions of courage, skill, artistry and quickness fine enough to rouse
their admiration. They admired Palus, they adored him.

This is well known to all men and proves Palus a consummate artist as a
gladiator. Not only would the populace howl a bungler or coward off the
sand, they know every shade of excellence; only a superlatively perfect
swordsman could kindle their enthusiasm and keep it at white heat year
after year as did Palus.

Palus, I may remark, was always a gallant fighter, and a combination of
skill and gallantry in an adversary so won his goodwill that he never
killed or seriously wounded such an opponent. If his antagonist had an
unusually perfect guard and a notably dangerous attack, was handsome,
moved gracefully, displayed courage and fought with impeccable fairness
Palus felt a liking for him, showed it by the way in which he stood on the
defensive and mitigated the deadliness of his attacks, played him longer
than usual to demonstrate to all the spectators the qualities he discerned
in him, and, when he was convinced that the onlookers felt as he felt,
disabled his admired match with some effective but trifling wound.

Then, when his victim collapsed, Palus would leap back from him, sheath
his sword, and saw the air with his empty left hand, fingers extended and
pressed together, thumb flat against the crack between the roots of the
index finger and big finger, twisting his hand about and varying the angle
at which he sawed the air, so that all might see that he wished his fallen
adversary spared and was suggesting that the spectators nearest him
imitate his gesture and give the signal for mercy by extending their arms
thumbs flat to fingers.

Except Murmex Lucro I never saw any other gladiator presume to suggest to
the spectators which signal he would like them to display; and Murmex had
the air of a man taking a liberty with his betters and not very sure
whether they would condone his presumption or resent his insolence;
whereas Palus waved his arm much as Commodus raised his from the Imperial
throne when, as Editor of the games, he decided the fate of a fallen
gladiator concerning whom the populace were so evenly divided between
disfavorers and favorers that neither the victor nor his _lanista_ dared
to interpret so doubtful a mandate.

The most amazing fact concerning Palus was that his audiences never
wearied of watching him fence. It is notorious that the spectators in the
Colosseum always have been and are, in general, impatient of any
noticeable prolongation of a fight. Only a very small minority of the
populace and a larger, but still small, minority of the gentry and
nobility, take delight in the fine points of swordsmanship for themselves.
Most spectators, while acclaiming skilled fence and expecting it, look
upon it merely as a means for adding interest to the preliminaries of what
they desire to behold. Even senators and nobles admit that the pleasure of
viewing gladiatorial shows comes from seeing men killed. Contests are
thrilling chiefly because of their suggestion of the approach of the
moment which brings the supreme thrill.

The populace, quite frankly, rate the fighting as a bore; they do not come
to watch skilled swordsmen fence; they want to see two men face each other
and one kill the other at once. It is the killing which they enjoy. The
upper tiers of spectators in the amphitheater seldom give the signal for
mercy when a defeated man is down and helpless, even though he be handsome
and graceful and has fought bravely, skillfully and gallantly. One seldom
sees an outstretched arm, with the hand extended, fingers close together
and thumb flat against them, raised anywhere from the back seats; their
occupants habitually, in such cases, wave their upraised arms with the
hands clenched and thumbs extended, waggling their thumbs by half rotating
their wrists, to make the thumb more conspicuous, yelling the while, so
that the amphitheater is full of their insistent roar and the upper tiers
aflash with flickering thumbs. They weigh no fine points as to the worth
of the vanquished man, they do not value a good fighter enough to want him
saved to fight again, they come to see men die and they want the defeated
man slaughtered at once.

They are habituated to acquiescing if the Emperor--or the Editor, if the
Prince is not present--or the nobility contravene their wishes and give
the signal for mercy when a gallant fighter is down by accident,
misadventure or because he was outmatched. But there is often a burst of
howls if the signal for mercy comes not from the Imperial Pavilion or the
whole _podium_, but merely from some part of the nobility or senators.
Generally, if the Emperor has not given or participated in the signal for
mercy, scattered individuals among the proletariat proclaim their
disappointment by booing, cat-calls, or strident whistlings.

Now Palus was so popular, so beloved by the slum-dwellers, that whenever
he showed a disposition to spare an opponent, the whole mass of the
populace were quick with the mercy-signal: the moment they saw Palus
sheathe his blade their arms went up with his, almost before his, thumbs
as flat as his, never a thumb out nor any fingers clenched.

More than this, no spectator, while Palus played an adversary, ever yelled
for a prompt finish to the bout, as almost always happened at the first
sign of delay in the case of any other fighter. So comprehensible, so
unmistakable, so manifest, so fascinating were the fine points of the
swordsmanship displayed by Palus that even the rearmost spectator, even
the most brutish lout could and did relish them and enjoy them and crave
the continuance of that pleasure.

Most of all the Colosseum audiences not only insisted on Palus appearing
in each exhibition, not only longed for his entrance, not merely came to
regard all the previous fights of the day as unwelcome postponements of
the pleasure of watching Palus fence, but were manifestly impatient for
the crowning delight of each day, the ecstacy of beholding a bout between
Palus and Murmex Lucro, which contests were always bloodless.



CHAPTER XXXV

MURMEX


Customarily, while Palus flourished, each day began with beast-fights, the
noon pause was filled in by exhibitions of athletes, acrobats, jugglers,
trained animals and such like, and the surprise; then the gladiatorial
shows lasted from early afternoon till an hour before sunset. Palus and
Murmex appeared about mid-afternoon and were matched against the victors
in the earlier fights. Each located himself at one focus of the ellipse of
the arena, at which points two simultaneous fights were best seen by the
entire audience. There they began each fight, not simultaneously, but
alternately, till all their antagonists were disposed of, most killed and
some spared. The spectators seldom hurried Murmex to end a fight; they
never hurried Palus. His longest delay in finishing with an adversary,
even his manifest intention to exhaust an opponent rather than to wound
him, never elicited any protest from any onlooker. All, breathless,
fascinated, craned to watch the perfection of his method, every movement
of his body, all eyes intent on the point of his matchless blade.

Last of the day's exhibitions, came the fencing match between Palus and
Murmex, at the center of the arena, empty save for those two and their two
_lanistae_. All others in the arena, including the surgeons, their helpers
and the guards, drew off to positions close under the _podium_ wall.

Murmex and Palus fenced in all sorts of outfits, except that neither ever
fought as a _retiarius_. Mostly both were equipped as _secutors_, but they
fought also as _murmillos_, Greeks, Gauls, Thracians, Samnites and
_dimachaeri_, or one in any of these equipments against the other in any
other.

Sometimes they delighted the populace by donning padded suits liberally
whitened with flour or white clay, their _murmillos'_ helmets similarly
whitened, and then attacking each other with quarter-staffs of ash,
cornel-wood or holly. A hit, of course, showed plainly on the whitened
suits. As neither could injure the other in this sort of fight, and as
they were willing to humor the populace, each was careless about his guard
and reckless in his attack. Even so hits were infrequent, since each, even
when most lax, had an instinctive guard superior to that of the most
expert and cautious fencer among all other contemporary fighters. Even
when, very occasionally, if Palus happened to be in a rollicking mood,
each substituted a second quarter-staff for his shield and, as it were,
travestied a _dimachaerus_, as what might be called a two-staff-man or a
double-staff-man, hits were still not frequent. Each had a marvellously
impregnable defence and they were very evenly matched in the use of the
quarter-staff in place of a shield as they were in everything else. Palus
fought better with his left hand attacking and his right defending, Murmex
better the other way, but each was genuinely ambidextrous and used either
hand at will, shifting at pleasure. When, amid the flash of their staffs,
either scored, the hit brought a roar of delight from the upper tiers,
even from the front rows, for the most dignified senators caught the
infection of the general enthusiasm and so far forgot themselves as to
yell like street urchins in their ecstasy.

Except in this farcical sort of burlesque fight neither ever scored a hit
on the other, in all the years throughout which their combats finished
each day of every gladiatorial exhibition. Yet the audience never tired of
their bloodless bouts and, while the nobility and gentry never joined in,
the populace invariably roared a protest if they saw the _lanistae_ make a
move to separate them, and yelled for them to go on and fence longer.

The interest of the populace was caused by the fact, manifest and plain to
all, that, while Murmex and Palus loved each other and had no intention of
hurting each other, their matches had no appearance whatever of being sham
fights. From the first parade until they separated every stroke, feint,
lunge and thrust appeared to be in deadly, venomous earnest and each
unhurt merely because, mortal as was his adversary's attack, his guard was
perfect.

It seemed, in fact, as if each man felt so completely safe, felt so
certain that his guard would never fail him, and at the same time felt so
sure that his crony's guard was equally faultless, that there was no
danger of his injuring his chum, that each attacked the other precisely as
he attacked any other adversary. It was commonly declared among expert
swordsmen and connoisseurs of sword-play, as among recent spectators,
when, talking over the features of an exhibition after it was over, that
practically every thrust, lunge or stroke of either in these bouts would
have killed or disabled any other adversary; certainly it appeared so to
me every time I saw them fence and especially while watching their bouts
after I returned from my year at Baiae, for after that I never missed a
gladiatorial exhibition in the Colosseum. To my mind Palus and Murmex were
manifestly playing with each other, like fox-cubs or Molossian puppies or
wolf-cubs; yet the sport so much resembled actual attack and defence, as
with nearly grown wolf-cubs, that it gave less the impression of play
between friends than that of deadly combat between envenomed foes. Many a
time I have heard or overheard some expert or connoisseur or enthusiast or
provincial visitor, prophesy somewhat in this fashion:

"Some day one of those two is going to kill the other unexpectedly and
unintentionally and by mistake. Each thinks the other will never land on
him; each thinks the other has a guard so impregnable that it will never
be pierced; each uses on the other attacks so unexpected, so sudden, so
subtle, so swift, so powerful, so sustained, so varied that no third man
alive could escape any one of them. It is almost a certainty that that
sort of thing cannot go on forever. One or the other of them may age
sufficiently to retire from the arena, as did Murmex Frugi, safe and
unscarred, as he was not. But it is far more likely, since both are full
of vitality and vigor, that neither will notice the very gradual approach
of age, so that they will go on fighting with eyes undimmed, muscles
supple and minds quick, yet not so quick, supple and keen as now: but the
preternatural powers of one will wane a bit sooner than those of the
other. And sooner or later one will err in his guard and be wounded or
killed."

Most spectators agreed with such forecasts. What is more, most of the
spectators admitted that, as they watched, each attack seemed certain to
succeed; every time either man guarded it seemed as if he must fail to
protect himself.

This, I think, explains the unflagging zest with which the entire
audience, senators, nobles and commonality, watched their bouts, revelled
in them, gloated over the memory of them and longed for more and more.
Consciously or unconsciously, every onlooker felt that sometime, some bout
would end in the wounding, disabling or death of one of the two. And so
perfect was their sword-play, so unfeigned their unmitigated fury of
attack, so genuine the impeccable dexterity of their defence that every
spectator felt that the supreme thrill, even while so long postponed, was
certain to arrive. More, each felt, against his judgment, that it was
likely to arrive the next moment. It was this illogical but unescapable
sensation which kept the interest of the whole audience, of the whole of
every audience, at a white heat over the bouts of Murmex and Palus. I
myself experienced this condition of mind and became infected with the
common ardor. I found myself rehearsing to myself the incidents of their
last-seen bout, anticipating the next, longing for it: though I never had
rated myself as ardent over gladiatorial games, but rather as lukewarm
towards them, and considered myself much more interested in paintings,
statuary, reliefs, ornaments, bric-a-brac, furniture, fine fabrics and all
artistries and artisanries. Yet I confessed to myself that, from the time
I saw first a bout between them, anticipation of seeing them fence, or
enjoyment of it, came very high among my interests and my pleasures.

To some extent, I think, the long and unequaled vogue of their popularity
was due to the great variety of their methods and almost complete absence
of monotony in their bouts.

Palus was left-handed, but for something like every third bout or a third
of each bout he fought right-handed, merely for bravado, as if to
advertise that he could do almost as well with the hand less convenient.
Murmex was right-handed, but he too fought often left-handed, perhaps one-
fifth of the time. So, in whatever equipment, one saw each of them fight
both ways. Therefore as _murmillos_ they fought both right-handed, both
left-handed, and each right-handed against the other fighting left-handed.
This gave a perpetually shifting effect of novelty, surprise and interest
to every bout between them. They similarly had four ways of appearing as
Greeks, Gauls, Samnites, Thracians, _secutors_ or _dimachaeri_.

Their bouts as _dimachaeri_ were breathlessly exciting, for it was
impossible, from moment to moment, to forecast with which saber either
would attack, with which he would guard; and, not infrequently, one
attacked and the other guarded with both. When they fought in this fashion
Galen, it always appeared to me, looked uneasy, keyed up and apprehensive.
Yet neither ever so much as nicked, flicked or scratched the other in
their more than sixty bouts with two sabers apiece.

More than a dozen times they appeared as Achilles and Hector, with the
old-fashioned, full-length, man-protecting shield, the short Argive sword
and the heavy lance, half-pike, half-javelin, of Trojan tradition. Murmex
threw a lance almost as far and true as Palus and the emotion of the
audience was unmistakably akin to horror when both, simultaneously, hurled
their deadly spears so swiftly and so true that it seemed as if neither
could avoid the flying death. Palus, true to his nickname, never visibly
dodged, though Murmex's aim was as accurate as his own; he escaped the
glittering, needle-pointed, razor-edged spear-head by half a hand's-breath
or less by an almost imperceptible inclination of his body, made at the
last possible instant, when it seemed as if the lance had already pierced
him. It was indescribably thrilling to behold this.

Besides fencing equipped as Gauls, Samnites, Thracians and _secutors_ they
appeared in every combination of any of these and of Greeks and
_murmillos_ with every other. Palus as a _dimachaerus_ against Murmex as a
_murmillo_ made a particularly delectable kind of bout. Almost as much so
Murmex as a Gaul against Palus as a Thracian. And so without end.

After my return from Baiae Falco pampered me more than ever and, in
particular, arranged to take me with him to all amphitheater shows and
have me sit beside him in the front row of the nobles immediately behind
the boxes of the senators on the _podium_. This does not sound possible in
our later days, when amphitheater regulations are strictly enforced, as
they had been under the Divine Aurelius and his predecessors. But, while
Commodus was Prince much laxity was rife in all branches of the
government. After the orgies of bribe-taking, favoritism and such like in
the heyday of Perennis and of Cleander, all classes of our society became
habituated to ignoring contraventions of rules. Under Perennis and later
under Cleander not a few senators took with them into their boxes
favorites who were not only not of senatorial rank, nor even nobles, but
not Romans at all: foreign visitors, alien residents of Rome, freedmen or
even slaves, and the other senators, as a class exquisitely sensitive to
any invasion of their privileges by outsiders, winked at the practice
partly because some of them participated in it, much more because they
feared to suffer out-and-out ruin, if, by word or look, they incurred the
disfavor of Perennis while he was all-powerful or, later, of the more
omnipotent Cleander. When a senator saw another so violate propriety,
privilege and law, he assumed that the acting Prefect of the Palace had
been bribed and so dared not protest or whisper disapprobation.

Much more than the senators the nobles obtained secret license to ignore
the rules, or ignored them without license, since, when so many violated
the regulations, no one was conspicuous or likely to be brought to book.
Falco, being vastly wealthy, probably bribed somebody, but I never knew:
when I hinted a query he merely smiled and vowed that we were perfectly
safe.

So I sat beside him through that unforgettable December day, at the end of
which came the culmination of what I have been describing.

The day was perfect, clear, crisp, mild and windless. It was not cold
enough to be chilling, but was cold enough to make completely comfortable
a pipe-clayed ceremonial toga over the full daily garments of a noble or
senator, so that the entire audience enjoyed the temperature and basked in
the brilliant sunrays; for, so late in the year, as the warmth of the sun
was sure to be welcome, the awning had not been spread. I, in my bizarre
oriental attire, wore my thickest garments and my fullest curled wig and
felt neither too cold nor too warm.

I never saw the Colosseum so brilliant a spectacle. It was full to the
upper colonnade under the awning-rope poles, not a seat vacant. Spectators
were sitting on the steps all up and down every visible stair; two or even
three rows on each side of each stair, leaving free only a narrow alley up
the middle of each for the passage in or out of attendants or others.
Spectators filled the openings of the entrance-stairs, all but jamming
each. In each of the cross-aisles spectators stood or crouched against its
back-wall, ducking their heads to avoid protests from the luckier
spectators in the seats behind them. The upper colonnade was packed to its
full capacity with standees.

The program was unusual, gladiatorial exhibitions from the beginning of
the show; and nothing else. The morning was full of brisk fights between
young men; provincials, foreigners and some Italians, volunteer
enthusiasts. The noon pause was filled in by routine fights of old or
aging gladiators nearly approaching the completion of their covenanted
term of service. It ended with a novelty, the encounter of two tight-rope
walkers on a taut rope stretched fully thirty feet in the air. It was
proclaimed that they were rivals for the favor of a pretty freedwoman and
that they had agreed on this contest as a settlement of their rivalry.
Certainly the two, naked save for breech-clouts and each armed with a
light lance in one hand and a thin-bladed Gallic sword in the other,
neared each other with every sign of caution, enmity and courage. Their
sparring for an opening lasted some time, but was breathlessly
interesting. The victor kept his feet on the rope and pierced his rival,
who fell and died from the spear-wound or the fall or both.

During the noon pause the Emperor had left his pavilion. When he returned
I, from my nearby location, was certain that Commodus himself had presided
all the morning, but that now Furfur was taking his place. Certainly Palus
and Murmex entered the arena soon after the noon pause and gave an
exhibition almost twice as long as usual, killing many adversaries. Before
the sun was half way down the sky, as Palus finished an opponent with one
of his all but invisible punctures of the thigh-artery, the upper tiers
first and then all ranks acclaimed this as the death of the twelve-
hundredth antagonist who had perished by his unerring steel.

The daylight had not begun to dim when Murmex and Palus faced each other
for the fencing bout which was to end the day. Each was equipped as a
_secutor_, Murmex in silvered armor, Palus all in gold or gilded arms.
Their swords were not regulation army swords, such a _secutors_ normally
carried, but long-bladed Gallic swords, the longest-bladed swords ever
used by any gladiators.

They made a wonderful picture as the _lanistae_ placed them and stepped
back: Murmex, burly, stocky, heavy of build, thick-set, massive, with vast
girth of chest and bull-neck, his neatly-fitting plated gauntlet, huge on
his big right hand, his big plated boots planted solidly on the sand, his
polished helmet, the great expanse of his silvered shield, his silvered
kilt-strap-scales and silvered greave-boots brilliant in the cool late
light; opposite him Palus, tall, lithe, graceful, slim, agile, all in
gleaming gold, helmet, corselet, shield, kilt, greave-boots and all. They
shone like a composite jewel set in the arena as a cameo in the bezel of a
ring. And the picture they made was framed in the hoop of spectators
crowding the slopes of the amphitheater, all silent after the gusts of
cheers which had acclaimed the two as they took their places.

If possible, their feints and assaults were more thrilling than ever,
unexpected, sudden, swift, all but successful. As always neither capered
or pranced, Murmex not built for such antics, Palus by nature steady on
his feet. But, except that their feet moved cannily, every bit of the rest
of either's body was in constant motion and moved swiftly. The gleam and
flicker of thrust and parry were inexpressibly rapid. Even the upper tiers
craned, breathless and fascinated; and we, further forward, were numb and
quivering with excitement.

I have heard a hundred eye-witnesses describe what occurred. There was
close agreement with what I seemed to see as I watched.

Palus lunged just as Murmex made a brilliantly unpredictable shift of his
position. The shift and lunge came so simultaneously that neither had, in
his calculated, predetermined movement, time to alter his intention;
Murmex, you might say, threw his throat at the spot at which Palus had
aimed his lunge. The sword-point ripped his throat from beside the gullet
to against the spine, all one side of it. He collapsed, the blood
spouting.

Palus cast the dripping sword violently from him, the gleaming blade
flying up into the air and falling far off on the sand. The big shield
fell from his right arm. Both his hands caught his big helmet, lifted it
and threw it behind him. On one knee he sank by Murmex and, with his left
hand, strove to staunch the gushing blood.

Before Galen, before even the _lanistae_ could reach the two, Murmex died.

Palus staggered to his feet and put up his gory hand to his yellow curls,
with a convincingly agonized gesture of grief and horror.

He uttered some words, I heard his voice, but not the words. Folk say he
said:

"I have killed the only match I had on earth, the second-best fighter
earth ever saw."

The audience, I among them, stared, awe-struck and fascinated, at Commodus
laying a bloody hand on his own head; we shuddered: I saw many look back
and forth from Palus in the arena to the figure on the Imperial throne.

The guards ran, the surgeons' helpers ran, even Galen ran, but Aemili