A Friend of Caesar - A Tale of the Fall of the Roman Republic. Time, 50-47 B.C.
by William Stearns Davis
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

A Friend of Caesar

A Tale of the Fall of the Roman Republic

Time, 50-47 B.C.

By William Stearns Davis

"Others better may mould the life-breathing brass of the image, And living features, I ween, draw from the marble, and better Argue their cause in the court; may mete out the span of the heavens, Mark out the bounds of the poles, and name all the stars in their turnings. Thine 'tis the peoples to rule with dominion—this, Roman, remember!— These for thee are the arts, to hand down the laws of the treaty, The weak in mercy to spare, to fling from their high seats the haughty."

—VERGIL, AEn. vi. 847-858.

New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers 1900

To My Father

William Vail Wilson Davis

Who Has Taught Me More Than All My Books


If this book serves to show that Classical Life presented many phases akin to our own, it will not have been written in vain.

After the book was planned and in part written, it was discovered that Archdeacon Farrar had in his story of "Darkness and Dawn" a scene, "Onesimus and the Vestal," which corresponds very closely to the scene, "Agias and the Vestal," in this book; but the latter incident was too characteristically Roman not to risk repetition. If it is asked why such a book as this is desirable after those noble fictions, "Darkness and Dawn" and "Quo Vadis," the reply must be that these books necessarily take and interpret the Christian point of view. And they do well; but the Pagan point of view still needs its interpretation, at least as a help to an easy apprehension of the life and literature of the great age of the Fall of the Roman Republic. This is the aim of "A Friend of Caesar." The Age of Caesar prepared the way for the Age of Nero, when Christianity could find a world in a state of such culture, unity, and social stability that it could win an adequate and abiding triumph.

Great care has been taken to keep to strict historical probability; but in one scene, the "Expulsion of the Tribunes," there is such a confusion of accounts in the authorities themselves that I have taken some slight liberties.

W. S. D.

Harvard University, January 16,1900.


Chapter Page

I. Praeneste 1

II. The Upper Walks of Society 21

III. The Privilege of a Vestal 37

IV. Lucius Ahenobarbus Airs His Grievance 50

V. A Very Old Problem 73

VI. Pompeius Magnus 102

VII. Agias's Adventure 117

VIII. "When Greek Meets Greek" 146

IX. How Gabinius Met with a Rebuff 159

X. Mamercus Guards the Door 172

XI. The Great Proconsul 198

XII. Pratinas Meets Ill-Fortune 217

XIII. What Befell at Baiae 241

XIV. The New Consuls 262

XV. The Seventh of January 277

XVI. The Rubicon 302

XVII. The Profitable Career of Gabinius 329

XVIII. How Pompeius Stamped with His Feet 334

XIX. The Hospitality of Demetrius 364

XX. Cleopatra 387

XXI. How Ulamhala's Words Came True 409

XXII. The End of the Magnus 433

XXIII. Bitterness and Joy 448

XXIV. Battling for Life 464

XXV. Calm after Storm 496

Chapter I



It was the Roman month of September, seven hundred and four years after Romulus—so tradition ran—founded the little village by the Tiber which was to become "Mother of Nations," "Centre of the World," "Imperial Rome." To state the time according to modern standards it was July, fifty years before the beginning of the Christian Era. The fierce Italian sun was pouring down over the tilled fields and stretches of woodland and grazing country that made up the landscape, and the atmosphere was almost aglow with the heat. The dust lay thick on the pavement of the highway, and rose in dense, stifling clouds, as a mule, laden with farm produce and driven by a burly countryman, trudged reluctantly along.

Yet, though the scene suggested the heat of midsummer, it was far from being unrefreshing, especially to the eyes of one newly come. For this spot was near "cool Praeneste," one of the favourite resorts of Latium to the wealthy, invalid, or indolent of Rome, who shunned the excessive heat of the capital. And they were wise in their choice; for Praeneste, with its citadel, which rose twelve hundred feet over the adjoining country, commanded in its ample sweep both the views and the breezes of the whole wide-spreading Campagna. Here, clustering round the hill on which stood the far-famed "Temple of Fortune," lay the old Latin town of the Praenestians; a little farther westward was the settlement founded some thirty odd years before by Sulla as a colony. Farther out, and stretching off into the open country, lay the farmhouses and villas, gardens and orchards, where splendid nuts and roses, and also wine, grew in abundant measure.

A little stream ran close to the highway, and here an irrigating machine[1] was raising water for the fields. Two men stood on the treadmill beside the large-bucketed wheel, and as they continued their endless walk the water dashed up into the trough and went splashing down the ditches into the thirsty gardens. The workers were tall, bronze-skinned Libyans, who were stripped to the waist, showing their splendid chests and rippling muscles. Beside the trough had just come two women, by their coarse and unpretentious dress evidently slaves, bearing large earthen water-pots which they were about to fill. One of the women was old, and bore on her face all the marks which a life of hard manual toil usually leaves behind it; the other young, with a clear, smooth complexion and a rather delicate Greek profile. The Libyans stopped their monotonous trudge, evidently glad to have some excuse for a respite from their exertions.

[1] Water columbarium.

"Ah, ha! Chloe," cried one of them, "how would you like it, with your pretty little feet, to be plodding at this mill all the day? Thank the Gods, the sun will set before a great while. The day has been hot as the lap of an image of Moloch!"[2]

[2] The Phoenician god, also worshipped in North Africa, in whose idol was built a fire to consume human sacrifices.

"Well, Hasdrubal," said Chloe, the younger woman, with a pert toss of her head, "if my feet were as large as yours, and my skin as black and thick, I should not care to complain if I had to work a little now and then."

"Oh! of course," retorted Hasdrubal, a little nettled. "Your ladyship is too refined, too handsome, to reflect that people with black skins as well as white may get heated and weary. Wait five and twenty years, till your cheeks are a bit withered, and see if Master Drusus doesn't give you enough to make you tired from morning till night."

"You rude fellow," cried Chloe, pouting with vexation, "I will not speak to you again. If Master Drusus were here, I would complain of you to him. I have heard that he is not the kind of a master to let a poor maid of his be insulted."

"Oh, be still, you hussy!" said the elder woman, who felt that a life of labour had spoiled what might have been quite the equal of Chloe's good looks. "What do you know of Master Drusus? He has been in Athens ever since you were bought. I'll make Mamercus, the steward, believe you ought to be whipped."

What tart answer Chloe might have had on the end of her tongue will never be known; for at this moment Mago, the other Libyan, glanced up the road, and cried:—

"Well, mistress, perhaps you will see our master very soon. He was due this afternoon or next day from Puteoli, and what is that great cloud of dust I see off there in the distance? Can't you make out carriages and horsemen in the midst of it, Hasdrubal?"

Certainly there was a little cavalcade coming up the highway. Now it was a mere blotch moving in the sun and dust; then clearer; and then out of the cloud of light, flying sand came the clatter of hoofs on the pavement, the whir of wheels, and ahead of the rest of the party two dark Numidian outriders in bright red mantles appeared, pricking along their white African steeds. Chloe clapped her little hands, steadied her water-pot, and sprang up on the staging of the treadmill beside Mago.

"It is he!" she cried. "It must be Master Drusus coming back from Athens!" She was a bit excited, for an event like the arrival of a new master was a great occurrence in the monotonous life of a country slave.

The cortege was still a good way off.

"What is Master Drusus like?" asked Chloe "Will he be kind, or will he be always whipping like Mamercus?"

"He was not in charge of the estate," replied Lais, the older woman, "when he went away to study at Athens[3] a few years ago. But he was always kind as a lad. Cappadox, his old body-servant, worshipped him. I hope he will take the charge of the farm out of the steward's hands."

[3] A few years at the philosophy schools of that famous city were almost as common to Roman students and men of culture as "studying in Germany" to their American successors.

"Here he comes!" cried Hasdrubal. "I can see him in the nearest carriage." And then all four broke out with their salutation, "Salve! Salve, Domine!"[4] "Good health to your lordship!"

[4] Master, "Lord" of slaves and freedmen.

A little way behind the outriders rolled a comfortable, four-wheeled, covered carriage,[5] ornamented with handsome embossed plate-work of bronze. Two sleek, jet-black steeds were whirling it swiftly onward. Behind, a couple of equally speedy grey mules were drawing an open wagon loaded with baggage, and containing two smart-looking slave-boys. But all four persons at the treadmill had fixed their eyes on the other conveyance. Besides a sturdy driver, whose ponderous hands seemed too powerful to handle the fine leather reins, there were sitting within an elderly, decently dressed man, and at his side another much younger. The former personage was Pausanias, the freedman and travelling companion[6] of his friend and patron, Quintus Livius Drusus, the "Master Drusus" of whom the slaves had been speaking. Chloe's sharp eyes scanned her strange owner very keenly, and the impression he created was not in the least unfavourable. Drusus was apparently of about two and twenty. As he was sitting, he appeared a trifle short in stature, with a thick frame, solid shoulders, long arms, and large hands. His face was distinctively Roman. The features were a little irregular, though not to an unpleasant extent. The profile was aquiline. His eyes were brown and piercing, turning perpetually this way and that, to grasp every detail of the scene around. His dark, reddish hair was clipped close, and his chin was smooth shaven and decidedly firm—stern, even, the face might have been called, except for the relief afforded by a delicately curved mouth—not weak, but affable and ingenuous. Drusus wore a dark travelling cloak,[7] and from underneath it peeped his tunic, with its stripe of narrow purple—the badge of the Roman equestrian order.[8] On his finger was another emblem of nobility—a large, plain, gold ring, conspicuous among several other rings with costly settings.

[5] Rheda.

[6] Most wealthy Romans had such a major domo, whose position was often one of honour and trust.

[7] Paenula.

[8] The second order of the Roman nobility.

"Salve! Salve, Domine!" cried the slaves a second time, as the carriage drew near. The young master pushed back the blue woollen curtains in order to gain a better view, then motioned to the driver to stop.

"Are you slaves of mine?" was his question. The tone was interested and kindly, and Mago saluted profoundly, and replied:—

"We are the slaves of the most noble Quintus Livius Drusus, who owns this estate."

"I am he," replied the young man, smiling. "The day is hot. It grows late. You have toiled enough. Go you all and rest. Here, Pausanias, give them each a philippus,[9] with which to remember my home-coming!"

[9] A Greek gold piece worth about $3.60 at the time of the story. At this time Rome coined little gold.

"Eu! Eu! Io![10] Domine!" cried the slaves, giving vent to their delight. And Chloe whispered to Lais: "You were right. The new master will be kind. There will not be so many whippings."

[10] Good! Good! Hurrah!

But while Pausanias was fumbling in the money-bags, a new instance of the generosity of Drusus was presented. Down a by-path in the field filed a sorrowful company; a long row of slaves in fetters, bound together by a band and chain round the waist of each. They were a disreputable enough gang of unkempt, unshaven, half-clothed wretches: Gauls and Germans with fair hair and giant physiques; dark-haired Syrians; black-skinned Africans,—all panting and groaning, clanking their chains, and cursing softly at the two sullen overseers, who, with heavy-loaded whips, were literally driving them down into the road.

Again Drusus spoke.

"Whose slaves are these? Mine?"

"They are your lordship's," said the foremost overseer, who had just recognized his newly come employer.

"Why are they in chains?" asked Drusus.

"Mamercus found them refractory," replied the guard, "and ordered them to be kept in the underground prison,[11] and to work in the chain gang."

[11] Ergastulum.

The young man made a motion of disgust.

"Bah!" he remarked, "the whole familia[12] will be in fetters if Mamercus has his way much longer. Knock off those chains. Tell the wretches they are to remain unshackled only so long as they behave. Give them three skins to-night from which to drink their master's health. Drive on, Cappadox!"

[12] Slave household.

And before the fettered slaves could comprehend their release from confinement, and break out into a chorus of barbarous and uncouth thanksgivings and blessings, the carriage had vanished from sight down the turn of the road.


Who was Quintus Livius Drusus? Doubtless he would have felt highly insulted if his family history had not been fairly well known to every respectable person around Praeneste and to a very large and select circle at Rome. When a man could take Livius[13] for his gentile name, and Drusus for his cognomen, he had a right to hold his head high, and regard himself as one of the noblest and best of the imperial city. But of course the Drusian house had a number of branches, and the history of Quintus's direct family was this. He was the grandson of that Marcus Livius Drusus[14] who, though an aristocrat of the aristocrats, had dared to believe that the oligarchs were too strong, the Roman Commons without character, and that the Italian freemen were suffering from wrongs inflicted by both of the parties at the capital. For his efforts to right the abuses, he had met with a reward very common to statesmen of his day, a dagger-thrust from the hand of an undiscovered assassin. He had left a son, Sextus, a man of culture and talent, who remembered his father's fate, and walked for a time warily in politics. Sextus had married twice. Once to a very noble lady of the Fabian gens, the mother of his son Quintus. Then some years after her death he took in marriage a reigning beauty, a certain Valeria, who soon developed such extravagance and frivolity, that, soon after she bore him a daughter, he was forced "to send her a messenger"; in other words, to divorce her. The daughter had been put under the guardianship of Sextus's sister-in-law Fabia, one of the Vestal virgins at Rome. Sextus himself had accepted an appointment to a tribuneship in a legion of Caesar in Gaul. When he departed for the wars he took with him as fellow officer a life-long friend, Caius Cornelius Lentulus; and ere leaving for the campaign the two had formed a compact quite in keeping with the stern Roman spirit that made the child the slave of the father: Young Quintus Drusus should marry Cornelia, Lentulus's only child, as soon as the two came to a proper age. And so the friends went away to win glory in Gaul; to perish side by side, when Sabinus's ill-fated legion was cut off by the Eburones.[15]

[13] Every Roman had a praenomen, or "Christian name"; also a gentile name of the gens or clan to which he belonged; and commonly in addition a cognomen, usually an epithet descriptive of some personal peculiarity of an ancestor, which had fastened itself upon the immediate descendants of that ancestor. The Livii Drusi were among the noblest of the Roman houses.

[14] Died in 91 B.C.

[15] In 54 B.C.

The son and the daughter remained. Quintus Drusus had had kindly guardians; he had been sent for four years to the "University" at Athens; had studied rhetoric and philosophy; and now he was back with his career before him,—master of himself, of a goodly fortune, of a noble inheritance of high-born ancestry. And he was to marry Cornelia. No thought of thwarting his father's mandate crossed his mind; he was bound by the decree of the dead. He had not seen his betrothed for four years. He remembered her as a bright-eyed, merry little girl, who had an arch way of making all to mind her. But he remembered too, that her mother was a vapid lady of fashion, that her uncle and guardian was Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, Consul-elect,[16] a man of little refinement or character. And four years were long enough to mar a young girl's life. What would she be like? What had time made of her? The curiosity—we will not call it passion—was overpowering. Pure "love" was seldom recognized as such by the age. When the carriage reached a spot where two roads forked, leading to adjacent estates, Drusus alighted.

[16] The two Roman consuls were magistrates of the highest rank, and were chosen each year by the people.

"Is her ladyship Cornelia at the villa of the Lentuli?" was his demand of a gardener who was trimming a hedge along the way.

"Ah! Master Drusus," cried the fellow, dropping his sickle in delight. "Joy to see you! Yes, she is in the grove by the villa; by the great cypress you know so well. But how you have changed, sir—"

But Drusus was off. The path was familiar. Through the trees he caught glimpses of the stately mazes of colonnades of the Lentulan villa, surrounded by its artificially arranged gardens, and its wide stretches of lawn and orchard. The grove had been his playground. Here was the oak under which Cornelia and he had gathered acorns. The remnants of the little brush house they had built still survived. His step quickened. He heard the rush of the little stream that wound through the grove. Then he saw ahead of him a fern thicket, and the brook flashing its water beyond. In his recollection a bridge had here crossed the streamlet. It had been removed. Just across, swayed the huge cypress. Drusus stepped forward. At last! He pushed carefully through the thicket, making only a little noise, and glanced across the brook.

There were ferns all around the cypress. Ivies twined about its trunk. On the bank the green turf looked dry, but cool. Just under the tree the brook broke into a miniature cascade, and went rippling down in a score of pygmy, sparkling waterfalls. On a tiny promontory a marble nymph, a fine bit of Greek sculpture, was pouring, without respite, from a water-urn into the gurgling flood. But Drusus did not gaze at the nymph. Close beside the image, half lying, half sitting, in an abandon only to be produced by a belief that she was quite alone, rested a young woman. It was Cornelia.

Drusus had made no disturbance, and the object on which he fastened his eyes had not been in the least stirred out of a rather deep reverie. He stood for a while half bashful, half contemplative. Cornelia had taken off her shoes and let her little white feet trail down into the water. She wore only her white tunic, and had pushed it back so that her arms were almost bare. At the moment she was resting lazily on one elbow, and gazing abstractedly up at the moving ocean of green overhead. She was only sixteen; but in the warm Italian clime that age had brought her to maturity. No one would have said that she was beautiful, from the point of view of mere softly sensuous Greek beauty. Rather, she was handsome, as became the daughter of Cornelii and Claudii. She was tall; her hair, which was bound in a plain knot on the back of her head, was dark—almost black; her eyes were large, grey, lustrous, and on occasion could be proud and angry. Yet with it all she was pretty—pretty, said Drusus to himself, as any girl he had seen in Athens. For there were coy dimples in her delicate little chin, her finely chiselled features were not angular, while her cheeks were aglow with a healthy colour that needed no rouge to heighten. In short, Cornelia, like Drusus, was a Roman; and Drusus saw that she was a Roman, and was glad.

Presently something broke the reverie. Cornelia's eyes dropped from the treetops, and lighted up with attention. One glance across the brook into the fern thicket; then one irrepressible feminine scream; and then:—

"Cornelia!" "Quintus!"

Drusus sprang forward, but almost fell into the brooklet. The bridge was gone. Cornelia had started up, and tried to cover her arms and shake her tunic over her feet. Her cheeks were all smiles and blushes. But Drusus's situation was both pathetic and ludicrous. He had his fiancee almost in his arms, and yet the stream stopped him. Instantly Cornelia was in laughter.

"Oh! My second Leander," she cried, "will you be brave, and swim again from Abydos to Sestos to meet your Hero?"

"Better!" replied Drusus, now nettled; "see!" And though the leap was a long one he cleared it, and landed close by the marble nymph.

Drusus had not exactly mapped out for himself the method of approaching the young woman who had been his child playmate. Cornelia, however, solved all his perplexity. Changing suddenly from laughter into what were almost tears, she flung her arms around his neck, and kissed him again and again.

"Oh, Quintus! Quintus!" she cried, nearly sobbing, "I am so glad you have come!"

"And I am glad," said the young man, perhaps with a tremor in his voice.

"I never knew how I wanted you, until you are here," she continued; "I didn't look for you to-day. I supposed you would come from Puteoli to-morrow. Oh! Quintus, you must be very kind to me. Perhaps I am very stupid. But I am tired, tired."

Drusus looked at her in a bit of astonishment.

"Tired! I can't see that you look fatigued."

"Not in body," went on Cornelia, still holding on to him. "But here, sit down on the grass. Let me hold your hands. You do not mind. I want to talk with you. No, don't interrupt. I must tell you. I have been here in Praeneste only a week. I wanted to get away from Baiae.[17] I was afraid to stay there with my mother."

[17] The famous watering-place on the Bay of Naples.

"Afraid to stay at that lovely seashore house with your mother!" exclaimed Drusus, by no means unwilling to sit as entreated, but rather bewildered in mind.

"I was afraid of Lucius Ahenobarbus, the consular[18] Domitius's second son. I don't like him! there!" and Cornelia's grey eyes lit up with menacing fire.

[18] An ex-consul was known by this title.

"Afraid of Lucius Ahenobarbus!" laughed Drusus. "Well, I don't think I call him a very dear friend. But why should he trouble you?"

"It was ever since last spring, when I was in the new theatre[19] seeing the play, that he came around, thrust himself upon me, and tried to pay attentions. Then he has kept them up ever since; he followed us to Baiae; and the worst of it is, my mother and uncle rather favour him. So I had Stephanus, my friend the physician, say that sea air was not good for me, and I was sent here. My mother and uncle will come in a few days, but not that fellow Lucius, I hope. I was so tired trying to keep him off."

[19] Built by Pompeius the Great, in 55-54 B.C.

"I will take care of the knave," said Drusus, smiling. "So this is the trouble? I wonder that your mother should have anything to do with such a fellow. I hear in letters that he goes with a disreputable gang. He is a boon companion with Marcus Laeca, the old Catilinian,[20] who is a smooth-headed villain, and to use a phrase of my father's good friend Cicero—'has his head and eyebrows always shaved, that he may not be said to have one hair of an honest man about him.' But he will have to reckon with me now. Now it is my turn to talk. Your long story has been very short. Nor is mine long. My old uncle Publius Vibulanus is dead. I never knew him well enough to be able to mourn him bitterly. Enough, he died at ninety; and just as I arrive at Puteoli comes a message that I am his sole heir. His freedmen knew I was coming, embalmed the body, and wait for me to go to Rome to-morrow to give the funeral oration and light the pyre. He has left a fortune fit to compare with that of Crassus[21]—real estate, investments, a lovely villa at Tusculum. And now I—no, we—are wealthy beyond avarice. Shall we not thank the Gods?"

[20] A member of the band who with Catiline conspired in 63 B.C. to overthrow the Roman government.

[21] The Roman millionaire who had just been slain in Parthia.

"I thank them for nothing," was her answer; then more shyly, "except for your own coming; for, Quintus, you—you—will marry me before very long?"

"What hinders?" cried the other, in the best of spirits. "To-morrow I go to Rome; then back again! And then all Praeneste will flock to our marriage train. No, pout no more over Lucius Ahenobarbus. He shan't pay disagreeable attentions. And now over to the old villa; for Mamercus is eating his heart out to see me!"

And away they went arm in arm.

Drusus's head was in the air. He had resolved to marry Cornelia, cost what it might to his desires. He knew now that he was affianced to the one maiden in the world quite after his own heart.


The paternal villa of Drusus lay on the lower part of the slope of the Praeneste citadel, facing the east. It was a genuine country and farming estate—not a mere refuge from the city heat and hubbub. The Drusi had dwelt on it for generations, and Quintus had spent his boyhood upon it. The whole mass of farm land was in the very pink of cultivation. There were lines of stately old elms enclosing the estate; and within, in regular sequence, lay vineyards producing the rather poor Praeneste wine, olive orchards, groves of walnut trees, and many other fruits. Returning to the point where he had left the carriage, Drusus led Cornelia up a broad avenue flanked by noble planes and cypresses. Before them soon stood, or rather stretched, the country house. It was a large grey stone building, added to, from time to time, by successive owners. Only in front did it show signs of modern taste and elegance. Here ran a colonnade of twelve red porphyry pillars, with Corinthian capitals. The part of the house reserved for the master lay behind this entrance way. Back of it rambled the structure used by the farm steward, and the slaves and cattle. The whole house was low—in fact practically one-storied; and the effect produced was perhaps substantial, but hardly imposing.

Up the broad avenue went the two young people; too busy with their own gay chatter to notice at a distance how figures were running in and out amid the colonnade, and how the pillars were festooned with flowers. But as they drew nearer a throng was evident. The whole farm establishment—men, women, and children—had assembled, garlanded and gayly dressed, to greet the young master. Perhaps five hundred persons—nearly all slaves—had been employed on the huge estate, and they were all at hand. As Drusus came up the avenue, a general shout of welcome greeted him.

"Ave! Ave! Domine!" and there were some shouts as Cornelia was seen of, "Ave! Domina!"

"Domina[22] here very soon," said Drusus, smiling to the young lady; and disengaging himself from her, he advanced to greet personally a tall, ponderous figure, with white, flowing hair, a huge white beard, and a left arm that had been severed at the wrist, who came forward with a swinging military stride that seemed to belie his evident years.

[22] Domina, mistress.

"All hail, dearest Mamercus!" exclaimed the young man, running up to the burly object. "Here is the little boy you used to scold, fondle, and tell stories to, back safe and sound to hear the old tales and to listen to some more admonitions."

The veteran made a hurried motion with his remaining hand, as if to brush something away from his eyes, and his deep voice seemed a trifle husky when he replied, speaking slowly:—

"Mehercle![23] All the Gods be praised! The noble Sextus living again in the form of his son! Ah! This makes my old heart glad;" and he held out his hand to Drusus. But the young man dashed it away, and flinging his arms around Mamercus's neck, kissed him on both cheeks. Then when this warm greeting was over, Drusus had to salute Titus Mamercus, a solid, stocky, honest-faced country lad of eighteen, the son of the veteran; and after Titus—since the Mamerci and Drusi were remotely related and the jus oscului[24]—less legally, the "right of kissing"—existed between them, he felt called upon to press the cheek of AEmilia, Mamercus's pretty daughter, of about her brother's age. Cornelia seemed a little discomposed at this, and perhaps so gave her lover a trifling delight. But next he had to shake all the freedmen by the hand, also the older and better known slaves; and to say something in reply to their congratulations. The mass of the slaves he could not know personally; but to the assembled company he spoke a few words, with that quiet dignity which belongs to those who are the heirs of generations of lordly ancestors.

[23] By Hercules.

[24] The right of kissing kinsfolk within the sixth degree.

"This day I assume control of my estate. All past offences are forgiven. I remit any punishments, however justly imposed. To those who are my faithful servants and clients I will prove a kind and reasonable master. Let none in the future be mischievous or idle; for them I cannot spare. But since the season is hot, in honour of my home-coming, for the next ten days I order that no work, beyond that barely needed, be done in the fields. Let the familia enjoy rest, and let them receive as much wine as they may take without being unduly drunken. Geta, Antiochus, and Kebes, who have been in this house many years, shall go with me before the praetor, to be set free."

And then, while the slaves still shouted their aves and salves, Mamercus led Drusus and Cornelia through the old villa, through the atrium where the fountain tinkled, and the smoky, waxen death-masks of Quintus's noble ancestors grinned from the presses on the wall; through the handsomely furnished rooms for the master of the house; out to the barns and storehouses, that stretched away in the rear of the great farm building. Much pride had the veteran when he showed the sleek cattle, the cackling poultry-yard, and the tall stacks of hay; only he growled bitterly over what he termed the ill-timed leniency of his young patron in releasing the slaves in the chain-gang.

"Oh, such times!" he muttered in his beard; "here's this young upstart coming home, and teaches me that such dogs as I put in fetters are better set at large! There'll be a slave revolt next, and some night all our throats will be cut. But it's none of my doing."

"Well," said Drusus, smiling, "I've been interested at Athens in learning from philosophy that one owes some kindness even to a slave. But it's always your way, Mamercus, to tell how much better the old times were than the new."

"And I am right," growled the other. "Hasn't a man who fought with Marius, and helped to beat those northern giants, the Cimbri and Teutones, a right to his opinion? The times are evil—evil! No justice in the courts. No patriotism in the Senate. Rascality in every consul and praetor. And the 'Roman People' orators declaim about are only a mob! Vah! We need an end to this game of fauns and satyrs!"

"Come," said Drusus, "we are not at such a direful strait yet. There is one man at least whom I am convinced is not altogether a knave; and I have determined to throw in my lot with him. Do you guess, Mamercus?"


Drusus nodded. Mamercus broke out into a shout of approval.

"Euge! Unless my son Decimus, who is centurion with him, writes me false, he is a man!"

But Cornelia was distressed of face.

"Quintus," she said very gravely, "do you know that I have often heard that Caesar is a wicked libertine, who wishes to make himself tyrant? What have you done?"

"Nothing rashly," said Drusus, also quite grave; "but I have counted the matter on both sides—the side of Pompeius and the Senate, and the side of Caesar—and I have written to Balbus, Caesar's manager at Rome, that I shall use my tiny influence for the proconsul of the Gauls."

Cornelia seemed greatly affected; she clasped and unclasped her hands, pressed them to her brows; then when she let them fall, she was again smiling.

"Quintus," she said, putting her arm around him, "Quintus, I am only a silly little girl. I do not know anything about politics. You are wiser than I, and I can trust you. But please don't quarrel with my uncle Lentulus about your decision. He would be terribly angry."

Quintus smiled in turn, and kissing her, said: "Can you trust me? I hope so. And be assured I will do all I may, not to quarrel with your uncle. And now away with all this silly serious talk! What a pity for Mamercus to have been so gloomy as to introduce it! What a pity I must go to Rome to-morrow, and leave this dear old place! But then, I have to see my aunt Fabia, and little Livia, the sister I haven't met since she was a baby. And while I am in Rome I will do something else—can you guess?" Cornelia shook her head. "Carpenters, painters, masons! I will send them out to make this old villa fresh and pretty for some one who, I hope, will come here to live in about a month. No, don't run away," for Cornelia was trying to hide her flushed face by flight; "I have something else to get—a present for your own dear self. What shall it be? I am rich; cost does not matter."

Cornelia pursed her lips in thought.

"Well," she remarked, "if you could bring me out a pretty boy, not too old or too young, one that was honest and quick-witted, he would be very convenient to carry messages to you, and to do any little business for me."

Cornelia asked for a slave-boy just as she might have asked for a new pony, with that indifference to the question of humanity which indicated that the demarcation between a slave and an animal was very slight in her mind.

"Oh! that is nothing," said Drusus; "you shall have the handsomest and cleverest in all Rome. And if Mamercus complains that I am extravagant in remodelling the house, let him remember that his wonderful Caesar, when a young man, head over ears in debt, built an expensive villa at Aricia, and then pulled it down to the foundations and rebuilt on an improved plan. Farewell, Sir Veteran, I will take Cornelia home, and then come back for that dinner which I know the cook has made ready with his best art."

Arm in arm the young people went away down the avenue of shade trees, dim in the gathering twilight. Mamercus stood gazing after them.

"What a pity! What a pity!" he repeated to himself, "that Sextus and Caius are not alive; how they would have rejoiced in their children! Why do the fates order things as they do? Only let them be kind enough to let me live until I hold another little Drusus on my knee, and tell him of the great battles! But the Gods forbid, Lentulus should find out speedily that his lordship has gone over to Caesar; or there will be trouble enough for both his lordship and my lady. The consul-elect is a stubborn, bitter man. He would be terribly offended to give his niece in marriage to a political enemy. But it may all turn out well. Who knows?" And he went into the house.

Chapter II

The Upper Walks of Society


It was very early in the morning. From the streets, far below, a dull rumbling was drifting in at the small, dim windows. On the couch, behind some faded curtains, a man turned and yawned, grunted and rubbed his eyes. The noise of the heavy timber, stone, and merchandise wagons hastening out of the city before daybreak,[25] jarred the room, and made sleep almost impossible. The person awakened swore quietly to himself in Greek.

[25] No teaming was allowed in Rome by day.

"Heracles! Was ever one in such a city! What malevolent spirit brought me here? Throat-cutting on the streets at night; highwaymen in every foul alley; unsafe to stir at evening without an armed band! No police worth mentioning; freshets every now and then; fires every day or else a building tumbles down. And then they must wake me up at an unearthly hour in the morning. Curses on me for ever coming near the place!" And the speaker rolled over on the bed, and shook himself, preparatory to getting up.

"Bah! Can these Roman dogs never learn that power is to be used, not abused? Why don't they spend some of their revenues to level these seven hills that shut off the light, and straighten and widen their abominable, ill-paved streets, and keep houses from piling up as if to storm Olympus? Pshaw, I had better stop croaking, and be up and about."

The speaker sat up in bed, and clapped his hands. Into the ill-lighted and unpretentiously furnished room came a tall, bony, ebon-skinned old Ethiopian, very scantily attired, who awaited the wishes of his master.

"Come, Sesostris," said the latter, "get out my best himation[26]—the one with the azure tint. Give me a clean chiton,[27] and help me dress."

[26] Greek outer mantle.

[27] Greek under garment.

And while the servant bustled briskly about his work, Pratinas, for such was his lord's name, continued his monologue, ignoring the presence of his attendant. "Not so bad with me after all. Six years ago to-day it was I came to Rome, with barely an obol of ready money, to make my fortune by my wits. Zeus! But I can't but say I've succeeded. A thousand sesterces here and five hundred there, and now and then a better stroke of fortune—politics, intrigues, gambling; all to the same end. And now?—oh, yes, my 'friends' would say I am very respectable, but quite poor—but they don't know how I have economized, and how my account stands with Sosthenes the banker at Alexandria. My old acquaintance with Lucius Domitius was of some use. A few more months of this life and I am away from this beastly Rome, to enjoy myself among civilized people."

Pratinas went over to a large wooden chest with iron clasps, unlocked it, and gazed for a moment inside with evident satisfaction. "There are six good talents in there," he remarked to himself, "and then there is Artemisia."

He had barely concluded this last, hardly intelligible assertion, when the curtain of the room was pushed aside, and in came a short, plump, rosy-faced little maiden of twelve, with a clearly chiselled Greek profile and lips as red as a cherry. Her white chiton was mussed and a trifle soiled; and her thick black hair was tied back in a low knot, so as to cover what were two very shapely little ears. All in all, she presented a very pretty picture, as the sunlight streamed over her, when she drew back the hangings at the window.

"Good morning, Uncle Pratinas," she said sweetly.

"Good morning, Artemisia, my dear," replied the other, giving her round neck a kiss, and a playful pinch. "You will practise on your lyre, and let Sesostris teach you to sing. You know we shall go back to Alexandria very soon; and it is pleasant there to have some accomplishments."

"And must you go out so early, uncle?" said the girl. "Can't you stay with me any part of the day? Sometimes I get very lonely."

"Ah! my dear," said Pratinas, smoothly, "if I could do what I wished, I would never leave you. But business cannot wait. I must go and see the noble Lucius Calatinus on some very important political matters, which you could not understand. Now run away like a good girl, and don't become doleful."

Artemisia left the room, and Pratinas busied himself about the fine touches of his toilet. When he held the silver mirror up to his face, he remarked to himself that he was not an unhandsome man. "If I did not have to play the philosopher, and wear this thick, hot beard,[28] I would not be ashamed to show my head anywhere." Then while he perfumed himself with oil of saffron out of a little onyx bottle, he went on:—

[28] At an age when respectable men were almost invariably smooth shaven, the philosophers wore flowing beards, as a sort of professional badge.

"What dogs and gluttons these Romans are! They have no real taste for art, for beauty. They cannot even conduct a murder, save in a bungling way. They have to call in us Hellenes to help them. Ha! ha! this is the vengeance for Hellas, for the sack and razing of Corinth and all the other atrocities! Rome can conquer with the sword; but we Greeks, though conquered, can, unarmed, conquer Rome. How these Italians can waste their money! Villas, statues, pretty slaves, costly vases, and tables of mottled cypress,[29] oysters worth their weight in gold, and I know not what else! And I, poor Pratinas, the Greek, who lives in an upper floor of a Subura house at only two thousand sesterces rental, find in these noble Roman lords only so much plunder. Ha! ha! Hellas, thou art avenged!"

[29] A "fad" of this time. Such tables often cost $20,000.

And gathering his mantle about him, he went down the several flights of very rickety stairs, and found himself in the buzzing street.


The Romans hugged a fond belief that houses shut out from sunlight and air were extremely healthy. If such were the fact, there should have been no sickness in a great part of the capital. The street in which Pratinas found himself was so dark, that he was fain to wait till his eyes accommodated themselves to the change. The street was no wider than an alley, yet packed with booths and hucksters,—sellers of boiled peas and hot sausage, and fifty other wares. On the worthy Hellene pressed, while rough German slaves or swarthy Africans jostled against him; the din of scholars declaiming in an adjoining school deafened him; a hundred unhappy odors made him wince. Then, as he fought his way, the streets grew a trifle wider; as he approached the Forum the shops became more pretentious; at last he reached his destination in the aristocratic quarter of the Palatine, and paused before a new and ostentatious mansion, in whose vestibule was swarming a great bevy of clients, all come in the official calling costume—a ponderous toga—to pay their respects to the great man. But as the inner door was pushed aside by the vigilant keeper, all the rest of the crowd were kept out till Pratinas could pass within.

The atrium of the house was a splendid sight, with its veined marble pillars, mosaic floor, bubbling fountain, choice frescoes, and expensive furniture upholstered in Tyrian purple. A little in the rear of this gorgeous room was seated in a high armchair the individual who boasted himself the lord of this establishment, Lucius Atilius Calatinus. He was a large, coarse man, with a rough, bull-dog face and straight red hair. He had been drinking heavily the night before, and his small bluish eyes had wide dark circles beneath them, and his breath showed strongly the garlic with which he had seasoned the bread and grapes of his early lunch. He was evidently very glad to see his Greek visitor, and drove the six large, heavily gemmed rings which he wore on one of his fat fingers, almost into the other's hand when he shook it.

"Well met, Pratinas!" was his salutation. "Tell me, is that little affair of yours settled? Have you stopped the mouth of that beastly fellow, Postumus Pyrgensis, who said that I was a base upstart, with no claim to my gentile name, and a bad record as a tax farmer in Spain, and therefore should not be elected tribune[30]?"

[30] The ten tribunes had power to convene the people and Senate, propose laws and "veto" the actions of other magistrates.

"I have stopped him," said Pratinas, with a little cough. "But it was expensive. He stuck out for ten thousand sesterces."

"Oh, cheaply off," said Calatinus, laughing. "I will give you my cheque on Flaccus the banker. But I want to know about the other matter. Can you make sure of the votes of the Suburana tribe? Have you seen Autronius?"

"I have seen him," said Pratinas, dryly.

"And he said?"

"Twenty thousand sesterces for him to deposit with trustees[31] until the election is over. Then he as go-between[32] will make sure of a majority of the tribesmen, and distribute to them the money if all goes well at the comitia.[33] It was the best bargain I could make; for Autronius really controls the tribe, and some one might outbid us."

[31] Sequestres.

[32] Interpres.

[33] Assembly of the Roman tribes for election.

"All right," broke out Calatinus with a laugh, "another cheque on Flaccus."

"One thing else," said Pratinas; "I must have a little money to shut up any complaints that those ridiculous anti-bribery Licinian and Pompeian Laws are being broken. Then there is my fee."

"Oh, yes," replied the other, not to be daunted in his good humour, "I'll give you fifty thousand in all. Now I must see this rabble."

And the mob of clients swept up to the armchair, grasping after the great man's hand, and raining on him their aves, while some daring mortals tried to thrust in a kiss.

Pratinas drew back and watched the crowd with a smile half cynical, half amused. Some of the visitors were regular hangers-on, who perhaps expected an invitation to dine; some were seekers of patronage; some had an eye to political preferment, a few were real acquaintances of Calatinus or came on some legitimate business. Pratinas observed three friends waiting to speak with Calatinus, and was soon in conversation.

The first of the trio was known as Publius Gabinius, who was by far the oldest. Coarse-featured, with broken complexion, it needed but a glance to proclaim him as gifted with no other distinctions than those of a hard drinker, fast liver, and the owner of an attenuated conscience. Servius Flaccus, the second, was of a different type. He was languid; spirited only when he railed at a slave who brushed against his immaculate toga. The frills on his robes made him almost feminine; and he spoke, even in invective, in a soft, lisping voice. Around him floated the aroma of countless rare unguents, that made his coming known afar off. His only aim in life was evidently to get through it with as little exertion of brain or muscle as was possible. The third friend was unlike the others. Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus clearly amounted to more than either of his companions. A constant worship of three very popular gods of the day—Women, Wine, and Gaming—with the other excitements of a dissipated life, had ruined a fine fair complexion. As it was, he had the profile of a handsome, affable man; only the mouth was hard and sensual, and his skin was faded and broken. He wore a little brown beard carefully trimmed around his well-oiled chin after the manner of Roman men of fashion; and his dark hair was crimped in regular steps or gradations, parting in the middle and arranged on both sides like a girl's.[34]

[34] Suet., "Nero," 51.

"Good morning, Pratinas!" said Lucius, warmly, taking the Greek's hand. "How glad we are to find you here. I wanted to ask you around to Marcus Laeca's to-night; we think he will give something of a feast, and you must see my latest sweetheart—Clyte! She is a little pearl. I have had her head cut in intaglio on this onyx; is she not pretty?"

"Very pretty," said Pratinas, looking at the engraving on the ring. "But perhaps it is not right for me, a grave philosopher, to go to your banquet."

"How (h)absurd! (H)of c(h)ourse you c(h)an!" lisped Flaccus, who affected Greek so far as to aspirate every word beginning with a vowel, and to change every c into a ch.

"Well," said Pratinas, laughing, for he was a dearly loved favourite of all these gilded youth, "I will see! And now Gabinius is inviting Calatinus also, and we are dispersing for the morning."

"Alas," groaned Ahenobarbus, "I must go to the Forum to plead with that wretch Phormio, the broker, to arrange a new loan."

"And I to the Forum, also," added Calatinus, coming up, "to continue this pest of a canvass for votes."

The clients fell into line behind Calatinus like a file of soldiers, but before Pratinas could start away with the other friends, a slave-boy came running out from the inner house, to say that "the Lady Valeria would be glad of his company in her boudoir." The Greek bowed his farewells, then followed the boy back through the court of the peristylium.[35]

[35] An inner private court back of the atrium.


The dressing room occupied by Valeria—once wife of Sextus Drusus and now living with Calatinus as her third husband in about four years—was fitted up with every luxury which money, and a taste which carried refinement to an extreme point, could accomplish. The walls were bright with splendid mythological scenes by really good artists; the furniture itself was plated with silver; the rugs were magnificent. The mistress of this palatial abode was sitting in a low easy-chair, holding before her a fairly large silver mirror. She wore a loose gown of silken texture, edged to an ostentatious extent with purple. Around her hovered Arsinoe and Semiramis, two handsome Greek slave-girls, who were far better looking than their owner, inasmuch as their complexions had never been ruined by paints and ointments. They were expert hairdressers, and Valeria had paid twenty-five thousand sesterces for each of them, on the strength of their proficiency in that art, and because they were said to speak with a pure Attic Greek accent. At the moment they were busy stripping off from the lady's face a thick layer of dried enamel that had been put on the night before.

Had Valeria been willing, she might have feared no comparison with her maids; for from a merely sensuous standpoint, she would have been reckoned very beautiful. She had by nature large brown eyes, luxuriant brown hair, and what had been a clear brunette skin, and well-rounded and regular features. But her lips were curled in hard, haughty lines, her long eyelashes drooped as though she took little interest in life; and, worse than all, to satisfy the demands of fashion, she had bleached her hair to a German blonde, by a process ineffective and injurious. The lady was just fuming to herself over a gray hair Arsinoe had discovered, and Arsinoe went around in evident fear lest Valeria should vent her vexation on her innocent ministers.

Over in one corner of the room, on a low divan, was sitting a strange-looking personage. A gaunt, elderly man clothed in a very dingy Greek himation, with shaggy grey hair, and an enormous beard that tumbled far down his breast. This personage was Pisander, Valeria's "house-philosopher," who was expected to be always at her elbow pouring into her ears a rain of learned lore. For this worthy lady (and two thousand years later would she not be attending lectures on Dante or Browning?) was devoted to philosophy, and loved to hear the Stoics[36] and Epicureans expound their varying systems of the cosmos. At this moment she was feasting her soul on Plato. Pisander was reading from the "Phaidros," "They might have seen beauty shining in brightness, when the happy band, following in the train of Zeus (as we philosophers did; or with the other gods, as others did), saw a vision, and were initiated into most blessed mysteries, which we celebrated in our state of innocence; and having no feeling of evils yet to come; beholding apparitions, innocent and simple and calm and happy as in a mystery; shining in pure light; pure ourselves, and not yet enchained in that living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body ..."

[36] The opponents of the Epicureans; they nobly antagonized the mere pursuit of pleasure held out as the one end of life by the Epicurean, and glorified duty.

"Pratinas, to see her ladyship!" bawled a servant-boy[37] at the doorway, very unceremoniously interrupting the good man and his learnedly sublime lore. And Pratinas, with the softest and sweetest of his Greek smiles, entered the room.

[37] Cubicularius.

"Your ladyship does me the honour," he began, with an extremely deferential salutation.

"Oh, my dear Pratinas," cried Valeria, in a language she called Greek, seizing his hand and almost embracing him, "how delighted I am to see you! We haven't met since—since yesterday morning. I did so want to have a good talk with you about Plato's theory of the separate existence of ideas. But first I must ask you, have you heard whether the report is true that Terentia, Caius Glabrio's wife, has run off with a gladiator?"

"So Gabinius, I believe," replied Pratinas, "just told me. And I heard something else. A great secret. You must not tell."

"Oh! I am dying to know," smirked Valeria.

"Well," said the Greek, confidentially, "Publius Silanus has divorced his wife, Crispia. 'She went too much,' he says, 'with young Purpureo.'"

"You do not say so!" exclaimed the lady. "I always knew that would happen! Now tell me, don't you think this perfume of iris is delicate? It's in that little glass scent bottle; break the neck.[38] I shall use it in a minute. I have just had some bottles sent up from Capua. Roman perfumes are so vulgar!"

[38] To let out the ointment. Capua was a famed emporium for perfumes and like wares.

"I fear," said Pratinas, doing as bidden, and testing the essence with evident satisfaction, "that I have interrupted your philosophical studies." And he glanced at Pisander, who was sitting lonesome and offended in his corner.

"Oh! not in the least," ran on Valeria; "but though I know you are Epicurean, surely you enjoy Plato?"

"Certainly," said Pratinas, with dramatic dignity, "I suck the sweets from the flowers left us by all the wise and good. Epicurean though I am, your ladyship must permit me to lend you a copy of an essay I have with me, by that great philosopher, the Stoic Chrysippos,[39] although I cannot agree with all his teachings; and this copy of Panaitios, the Eclectic's great Treatise on Duty, which cannot fail to edify your ladyship." And he held out the two rolls.

[39] Born 180 B.C.

"A thousand thanks," said Valeria, languidly, "hand them to Pisander. I will have him read them. A little more white lead, Arsinoe, I am too tanned; make me paler. Just run over the veins of my temples with a touch of blue paint. Now a tint of antimony on my eyelids."

"Your ladyship seems in wonderfully good spirits this morning," insinuated Pratinas.

"Yes," said Valeria, with a sigh, "I endure the woes of life as should one who is consoled by philosophy."

"Shall I continue the Plato?" edged in poor Pisander, who was raging inwardly to think that Pratinas should dare to assume the name of a "lover of learning."

"When you are needed, I can tell you," snapped Valeria, sharply, at the feeble remonstrance. "Now, Semiramis, you may arrange my hair."

The girl looked puzzled. To tell the truth, Valeria was speaking in a tongue that was a babel of Greek and Latin, although she fondly imagined it to be the former, and Semiramis could hardly understand her.

"If your ladyship will speak in Latin," faltered the maid.

"Speak in Latin! Speak in Latin!" flared up Valeria. "Am I deceived? Are you not Greeks? Are you some ignorant Italian wenches who can't speak anything but their native jargon? Bah! You've misplaced a curl. Take that!" And she struck the girl across the palms, with the flat of her silver mirror. Semiramis shivered and flushed, but said nothing.

"Do I not have a perfect Greek pronunciation?" said the lady, turning to Pratinas. "It is impossible to carry on a polite conversation in Latin."

"I can assure your ladyship," said the Hellene, with still another bland smile, "that your pronunciation is something exceedingly remarkable."

Valeria was pacified, and lay back submitting to her hairdressers[40], while Pratinas, who knew what kind of "philosophy" appealed most to his fair patroness, read with a delicate yet altogether admirable voice, a number of scraps of erotic verse that he said friends had just sent on from Alexandria.

[40] Ornatrices.

"Oh! the shame to call himself a philosopher," groaned the neglected Pisander to himself. "If I believed in the old gods, I would invoke the Furies upon him."

But Valeria was now in the best of spirits. "By the two Goddesses,"[41] she swore, "what charming sentiments you Greeks can express. Now I think I look presentable, and can go around and see Papiria, and learn about that dreadful Silanus affair. Tell Agias to bring in the cinnamon ointment. I will try that for a change. It is in the murrhine[42] vase in the other room."

[41] Demeter and Persephone, a Greek woman's oath.

[42] A costly substance, probably porcelain agate.

Iasus the serving-boy stepped into the next apartment, and gave the order to one of his fellow slaves. A minute later there was a crash. Arsinoe, who was without, screamed, and Semiramis, who thrust her head out the door, drew it back with a look of dismay.

"What has happened?" cried Valeria, startled and angry.

Into the room came Arsinoe, Iasus, and a second slave-boy, a well-favoured, intelligent looking young Greek of about seventeen. His ruddy cheeks had turned very pale, as had those of Iasus.

"What has happened?" thundered Valeria, in a tone that showed that a sorry scene was impending.

The slaves fell on their knees; cowered, in fact, on the rugs at the lady's feet.

"A! A! A! Lady! Mercy!" they all began in a breath. "The murrhina vase! It is broken!"

"Who broke it?" cried their mistress, casting lightning glances from one to another.

Now the truth had been, that while Agias was coming through a door covered with a curtain, carrying the vase, Iasus had carelessly blundered against him and caused the catastrophe. But there had been no other witnesses to the accident; and when Iasus saw that his mistress's anger would promptly descend on somebody, he had not the moral courage to take the consequences of his carelessness. What amounted to a frightful crime was committed in an instant.

"Agias stumbled and dropped the vase," said Iasus, telling the truth, but not the whole truth.

"Send for Alfidius the lorarius,"[43] raged Valeria, who, with the promptness that characterizes a certain class of women, jumped at a conclusion and remained henceforth obstinate. "This shall not happen again! Oh! my vase! my vase! I shall never get another one like it! It was one of the spoils of Mithridates, and"—here her eye fell on Agias, cringing and protesting his innocence in a fearful agony.

[43] Whipper; many Roman houses had such a functionary, and he does not seem to have lacked employment.

"Stand up, boy! Stop whining! Of course you broke the vase. Who else had it? I will make you a lesson to all the slaves in my house. They need one badly. I will get another serving-boy who will be more careful."

Agias was deathly pale; the beads of sweat stood out on his forehead; he grasped convulsively at the hem of his mistress's robe, and murmured wildly of "mercy! mercy!" Pratinas stood back with his imperturbable smile on his face; and if he felt the least pity for his fellow-countryman, he did not show it.

"Alfidius awaits the mistress," announced Semiramis, with trembling lips.

Into the room came a brutish, hard-featured, shock-headed man, with a large scar, caused by branding, on his forehead. He carried a short rope and scourge,[44]—a whip with a short handle to which were attached three long lashes, set at intervals with heavy bits of bronze. He cast one glance over the little group in the room, and his dull piglike eyes seemed to light up with a fierce glee, as he comprehended the situation.

[44] Flagellum.

"What does your ladyship wish?" he growled.

"Take this wretched boy," cried Valeria, spurning Agias with her foot; "take him away. Make an example of him. Take him out beyond the Porta Esquilina and whip him to death. Let me never see him again."

Pisander sprang up in his corner, quivering with righteous wrath.

"What is this?" he cried. "The lad is not guilty of any real crime. It would be absurd to punish a horse for an action like his, and a slave is as good as a horse. What philosopher could endure to see such an outrage?"

Valeria was too excited to hear him. Pratinas coolly took the perturbed philosopher round the waist, and by sheer force seated him in a chair.

"My friend," he said calmly, "you can only lose your place by interfering; the boy is food for the crows already. Philosophy should teach you to regard little affairs like this unmoved."

Before Pisander could remonstrate further Alfidius had caught up Agias as if he had been an infant, and carried him, while moaning and pleading, out of the room. Iasus was still trembling. He was not a knave—simply unheroic, and he knew that he had committed the basest of actions. Semiramis and Arsinoe were both very pale, but spoke never a word. Arsinoe looked pityingly after the poor boy, for she had grown very fond of his bright words and obliging manners. For some minutes there was, in fact, perfect silence in the boudoir.

Alfidius carried his victim out into the slaves' quarters in the rear of the house; there he bound his hands and called in the aid of an assistant to help him execute his mistress's stern mandate.

Agias had been born for far better things than to be a slave. His father had been a cultured Alexandrine Greek, a banker, and had given his young son the beginnings of a good education. But the rascality of a business partner had sent the father to the grave bankrupt, the son to the slave-market to satisfy the creditors. And now Alfidius and his myrmidon bound their captive to a furca, a wooden yoke passing down the back of the neck and down each arm. The rude thongs cut the flesh cruelly, and the wretches laughed to see how the delicate boy writhed and faltered under the pain and the load.

"Ah, ha! my fine Furcifer,"[45] cried Alfidius, when this work was completed. "How do you find yourself?"

[45] Furca-bearer, a coarse epithet.

"Do you mock at me, you 'three letter man'?" retorted Agias in grim despair, referring cuttingly to FVR[46] branded on Alfidius's forehead.

[46] Thief. Branding was a common punishment for slaves.

"So you sing, my pretty bird," laughed the executioner. "I think you will croak sorrowfully enough before long. Call me 'man of letters' if you will; to-night the dogs tear that soft skin of yours, while my hide is sound. Now off for the Porta Esquilina! Trot along with you!" and he swung his lash over the wretched boy's shoulders.

Agias was led out into the street. He was too pained and numbed to groan, resist, or even think and fear. The thongs might well have been said to press his mind as much as his skin.

Chapter III

The Privilege of a Vestal


Drusus started long before daybreak on his journey to Rome; with him went Cappadox, his ever faithful body-servant, and Pausanias, the amiable and cultivated freedman who had been at his elbow ever since he had visited Athens. For a while the young master dozed in his carriage; but, as they whirled over mile after mile of the Campagna, the sun arose; then, when sleep left him, the Roman was all alive to the patriotic reminiscences each scene suggested. Yonder to the far south lay Alba, the old home of the Latins, and a little southward too was the Lake of Regillus, where tradition had it the free Romans won their first victory, and founded the greatness of the Republic. Along the line of the Anio, a few miles north, had marched Hannibal on his mad dash against Rome to save the doomed Capua. And these pictures of brave days, and many another vision like them, welled up in Drusus's mind, and the remembrance of the marble temples of the Greek cities faded from his memory; for, as he told himself, Rome was built of nobler stuff than marble;—she was built of the deeds of men strong and brave, and masters of every hostile fate. And he rejoiced that he could be a Roman, and share in his country's deathless fame, perhaps could win for her new honour,—could be consul, triumphator, and lead his applauding legions up to the temple of Capitoline Jove—another national glory added to so many.

So the vision of the great city of tall ugly tenement houses, basking on her "Seven Hills," which only on their summits showed the nobler temples or the dwellings of the great patricians, broke upon him. And it was with eyes a-sparkle with enthusiasm, and a light heart, that he reached the Porta Esquilina, left the carriage for a litter borne by four stout Syrians sent out from the house of his late uncle, and was carried soon into the hubbub of the city streets.

Everywhere was the same crowd; shopping parties were pressing in and out the stores, outrunners and foot-boys were continually colliding. Drusus's escort could barely win a slow progress for their master. Once on the Sacred Way the advance was more rapid; although even this famous street was barely twenty-two feet wide from house wall to house wall. Here was the "Lombard" or "Wall Street" of antiquity. Here were the offices of the great banking houses and syndicates that held the world in fee. Here centred those busy equites, the capitalists, whose transactions ran out even beyond the lands covered by the eagles, so that while Gaul was yet unconquered, Cicero could boast, "not a sesterce in Gaul changes hands without being entered in a Roman ledger." And here were brokers whose clients were kings, and who by their "influence" almost made peace or war, like modern Rothschilds.

Thither Drusus's litter carried him, for he knew that his first act on coming to Rome to take possession of his uncle's property should be to consult without delay his agent and financial and legal adviser, lest any loophole be left for a disappointed fortune-hunter to contest the will. The bearers put him down before the important firm of Flaccus and Sophus. Out from the open, windowless office ran the senior partner, Sextus Fulvius Flaccus, a stout, comfortable, rosy-faced old eques, who had half Rome as his financial clients, the other half in his debt. Many were his congratulations upon Drusus's manly growth, and many more upon the windfall of Vibulanus's fortune, which, as he declared, was too securely conveyed to the young man to be open to any legal attack.

But when Drusus intimated that he expected soon to invite the good man to his marriage feast, Flaccus shook his head.

"You will never get a sesterce of Cornelia's dowry," he declared. "Her uncle Lentulus Crus is head over ears in debt. Nothing can save him, unless—"

"I don't understand you," said the other.

"Well," continued Flaccus, "to be frank; unless there is nothing short of a revolution."

"Will it come to that?" demanded Drusus.

"Can't say," replied Flaccus, as if himself perplexed. "Everybody declares Caesar and Pompeius are dreadfully alienated. Pompeius is joining the Senate. Half the great men of Rome are in debt, as I have cause to know, and unless we have an overturn, with 'clean accounts' as a result, more than one noble lord is ruined. I am calling in all my loans, turning everything into cash. Credit is bad—bad. Caesar paid Curio's debts—sixty millions of sesterces.[47] That's why Curio is a Caesarian now. Oh! money is the cause of all these vile political changes! Trouble is coming! Sulla's old throat cuttings will be nothing to it! But don't marry Lentulus's niece!"

[47] I.e. $2,400,000; a sesterce was about 4 cents.

"Well," said Drusus, when the business was done, and he turned to go, "I want Cornelia, not her dowry."

"Strange fellow," muttered Flaccus, while Drusus started off in his litter. "I always consider the dowry the principal part of a marriage."


Drusus regained his litter, and ordered his bearers to take him to the house of the Vestals,—back of the Temple of Vesta,—where he wished to see his aunt Fabia and Livia, his little half-sister. The Temple itself—a small, round structure, with columns, a conical roof which was fringed about with dragons and surmounted by a statue—still showed signs of the fire, which, in 210 B.C., would have destroyed it but for thirteen slaves, who won their liberty by checking the blaze. Tradition had it that here the holy Numa had built the hut which contained the hearth-fire of Rome,—the divine spark which now shed its radiance over the nations. Back of the Temple was the House of the Vestals, a structure with a plain exterior, differing little from the ordinary private dwellings. Here Drusus had his litter set down for a second time, and notified the porter that he would be glad to see his aunt and sister. The young man was ushered into a spacious, handsomely furnished and decorated atrium, where were arranged lines of statues of the various maximae[48] of the little religious order. A shy young girl with a white dress and fillet, who was reading in the apartment, slipped noiselessly out, as the young man entered; for the novices were kept under strict control, with few liberties, until their elder sisters could trust them in male society. Then there was a rustle of robes and ribbons, and in came a tall, stately lady, also in pure white, and a little girl of about five, who shrank coyly back when Drusus called her his "Liviola"[49] and tried to catch her in his arms. But the lady embraced him, and kissed him, and asked a thousand things about him, as tenderly as if she had been his mother.

[48] Senior Vestals.

[49] A diminutive of endearment.

Fabia the Vestal was now about thirty-seven years of age. One and thirty years before had the Pontifex Maximus chosen her out—a little girl—to become the priestess of Vesta, the hearth-goddess, the home-goddess of Pagan Rome. Fabia had dwelt almost all her life in the house of the Vestals. Her very existence had become identified with the little sisterhood, which she and her five associates composed. It was a rather isolated yet singularly pure and peaceful life which she had led. Revolutions might rock the city and Empire; Marians and Sullians contend; Catilina plot ruin and destruction; Clodius and his ruffians terrorize the streets; but the fire of the great hearth-goddess was never scattered, nor were its gentle ministers molested. Fabia had thus grown to mature womanhood. Ten years she had spent in learning the Temple ritual, ten years in performing the actual duties of the sacred fire and its cultus, ten years in teaching the young novices. And now she was free, if she chose, to leave the Temple service, and even to marry. But Fabia had no intention of taking a step which would tear her from the circle in which she was dearly loved, and which, though permitted by law, would be publicly deplored as an evil omen.

The Vestal's pure simple life had left its impress on her features. Peace and innocent delight in innocent things shone through her dark eyes and soft, well-rounded face. Her light brown hair was covered and confined by a fillet of white wool.[50] She wore a stola and outer garment of stainless white linen—the perfectly plain badge of her chaste and holy office; while on her small feet were dainty sandals, bound on by thongs of whitened leather. Everything about her dress and features betokened the priestess of a gentle religion.

[50] Infula.

When questions and repeated salutations were over, and Livia had ceased to be too afraid of her quite strange brother, Fabia asked what she could do for her nephew. As one of the senior Vestals, her time was quite her own. "Would he like to have her go out with him to visit friends, or go shopping? Or could she do anything to aid him about ordering frescoers and carpenters for the old Praeneste villa?"

This last was precisely what Drusus had had in mind. And so forth aunt and nephew sallied. Some of the streets they visited were so narrow that they had to send back even their litters; but everywhere the crowds bowed such deference and respect to the Vestal's white robes that their progress was easy. Drusus soon had given his orders to cabinet-makers and selected the frescoer's designs. It remained to purchase Cornelia's slave-boy. He wanted not merely an attractive serving-lad, but one whose intelligence and probity could be relied upon; and in the dealers' stalls not one of the dark orientals, although all had around their necks tablets with long lists of encomiums, promised conscience or character. Drusus visited, several very choice boys that were exhibited in separate rooms, at fancy prices, but none of these pretty Greeks or Asiatics seemed promising.

Deeply disgusted, he led Fabia away from the slave-market.

"I will try to-morrow," he said, vexed at his defeat. "I need a new toga. Let us go to the shop on the Clivus Suburanus; there used to be a good woollen merchant, Lucius Marius, on the way to the Porta Esquilina."

Accordingly the two went on in the direction indicated; but at the spot where the Clivus Suburanus was cut by the Vicus Longus, there was so dense a crowd and so loud a hubbub, that their attendants could not clear a way. For a time it was impossible to see what was the matter. Street gamins were howling, and idle slaves and hucksters were pouring forth volleys of taunts and derision at some luckless wight.

"Away with them! the whip-scoundrel! Verbero!"[51] yelled a lusty produce-vender. "Lash him again! Tan his hide for him! Don't you enjoy it? Not accustomed to such rough handling, eh! my pretty sparrow?"

[51] A coarse epithet.

Fabia without the least hesitation thrust herself into the dirty-robed, foul-mouthed crowd. At sight of the Vestal's white dress and fillets the pack gave way before her, as a swarm of gnats at the wave of a hand. Drusus strode at her heels.

It was a sorry enough sight that met them—though not uncommon in the age and place. Some wretched slave-boy, a slight, delicate fellow, had been bound to the bars of a furca, and was being driven by two brutal executioners to the place of doom outside the gates. At the street-crossing he had sunk down, and all the blows of the driver's scourge could not compel him to arise. He lay in the dust, writhing and moaning, with the great welts showing on his bare back, where the brass knots of the lash had stripped away the cloth.

"Release this boy! Cease to beat him!" cried Fabia, with a commanding mien, that made the crowd shrink further back; while the two executioners looked stupid and sheepish, but did nothing.

"Release this boy!" commanded the Vestal. "Dare you hesitate? Do you wish to undo yourselves by defying me?"

"Mercy, august lady," cried Alfidius,—for the chief executioner was he,—with a supplicatory gesture. "If our mistress knows that her commands are unexecuted, it is we, who are but slaves, that must suffer!"

"Who is your mistress?" demanded Fabia.

"Valeria, wife of Lucius Calatinus."

"Livia's precious mother!" whispered Drusus. "I can imagine her doing a thing like this." Then aloud, "What has the boy done?"

"He dropped a murrhine vase," was the answer.

"And so he must be beaten to death!" exclaimed the young man, who, despite the general theory that most slaves were on a par with cattle, had much of the milk of human kindness in his nature. "Phui! What brutality! You must insist on your rights, aunt. Make them let him go."

Sulkily enough the executioners unbound the heavy furca. Agias staggered to his feet, too dazed really to know what deliverance had befallen him.

"Why don't you thank the Vestal?" said Alfidius. "She has made us release you—you ungrateful dog!"

"Released? Saved?" gasped Agias, and he reeled as though his head were in a whirl. Then, as if recollecting his faculties, he fell down at Fabia's feet, and kissed the hem of her robe.

"The gods save us all now," muttered Alfidius. "Valeria will swear that we schemed to have the boy released. We shall never dare to face her again!"

"Oh! do not send me back to that cruel woman!" moaned Agias. "Better die now, than go back to her and incur her anger again! Kill me, but do not send me back!"

And he broke down again in inward agony.

Drusus had been surveying the boy, and saw that though he was now in a pitiable enough state, he had been good-looking; and that though his back had been cruelly marred, his face had not been cut with the lashes. Perhaps the very fact that Agias had been the victim of Valeria, and the high contempt in which the young Drusian held his divorced stepmother, made him instinctively take the outraged boy's part.

"See here," began Drusus, "were you to be whipped by orders of Calatinus?"

"No," moaned Agias; "Valeria gave the orders. My master was out."

"Ha!" remarked Drusus to his aunt, "won't the good man be pleased to know how his wife has killed a valuable slave in one of her tantrums?" Then aloud. "If I can buy you of Calatinus, and give you to the Lady Cornelia, niece of Lentulus, the consul-elect, will you serve her faithfully, will you make her wish the law of your life?"

"I will die for her!" cried Agias, his despair mingled with a ray of hope.

"Where is your master?"

"At the Forum, I think, soliciting votes," replied the boy.

"Well then, follow me," said Drusus, "our road leads back to the Forum. We may meet him. If I can arrange with him, your executioners have nothing to fear from Valeria. Come along."

Agias followed, with his head again in a whirl.


The little company worked its way back to the Forum, not, as now, a half-excavated ruin, the gazing-stock for excursionists, a commonplace whereby to sum up departed greatness: the splendid buildings of the Empire had not yet arisen, but the structures of the age were not unimposing. Here, in plain view, was the Capitoline Hill, crowned by the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and the Arx. Here was the site of the Senate House, the Curia (then burned), in which the men who had made Rome mistress of the world had taken counsel. Every stone, every basilica, had its history for Drusus—though, be it said, at the moment the noble past was little in his mind. And the historic enclosure was all swarming, beyond other places, with the dirty, bustling crowd, shoppers, hucksters, idlers. Drusus and his company searched for Calatinus along the upper side of the Forum, past the Rostra, the Comitium,[52] and the Temple of Saturn. Then they were almost caught in the dense throng that was pouring into the plaza from the busy commercial thoroughfares of the Vicus Jugarius, or the Vicus Tuscus. But just as the party had almost completed their circuit of the square, and Drusus was beginning to believe that his benevolent intentions were leading him on a bootless errand, a man in a conspicuously white toga rushed out upon him from the steps of the Temple of Castor, embraced him violently, and imprinted a firm, garlic-flavoured kiss on both cheeks; crying at the same time heartily:—

[52] Comitium, assembly-place round the Rostra.

"Oh, my dear Publius Dorso, I am so glad to meet you! How are all your affairs up in Fidenae?"

Drusus recoiled in some disgust, and began rubbing his outraged cheeks.

"Dorso? Dorso? There is surely some mistake, my good man. I am known as Quintus Drusus of Praeneste."

Before he had gotten further, his assailant was pounding and shaking a frightened-looking slave-lad who had stood at his elbow.

"The gods blast you, you worthless nomenclator![53] You have forgotten the worthy gentleman's name, and have made me play the fool! You may have lost me votes! All Rome will hear of this! I shall be a common laughing-stock! Hei! vah! But I'll teach you to behave!" And he shook the wretched boy until the latter's teeth rattled.

[53] Great men, and candidates for office who wished to "know" everybody, kept smart slaves at their elbow to whisper strangers' names in their ears. Sometimes the slaves themselves were at fault.

At this instant a young man of faultless toilet, whom we have already recognized as Lucius Ahenobarbus, pushed into the little knot as a peacemaker.

"Most excellent Calatinus," said he, half suppressing his laughter at the candidate's fury, the nomenclator's anguish, and Drusus's vexed confusion, "allow me to introduce to you a son of Sextus Drusus, who was an old friend of my father's. This is Quintus Drusus, if in a few years I have not forgotten his face; and this, my dear Quintus, is my good friend Lucius Calatinus, who would be glad of your vote and influence to help on his candidacy as tribune."

The atmosphere was cleared instantly. Calatinus forgot his anger, in order to apologize in the most obsequious manner for his headlong salutation. Drusus, pleased to find the man he had been seeking, forgave the vile scent of the garlic, and graciously accepted the explanation. Then the way was open to ask Calatinus whether he was willing to dispose of Agias. The crestfallen candidate was only too happy to do something to put himself right with the person he had offended. Loudly he cursed his wife's temper, that would have wasted a slave worth a "hundred thousand sesterces" to gratify a mere burst of passion.

"Yes, he was willing to sell the boy to accommodate his excellency, Quintus Drusus," said Calatinus, "although he was a valuable slave. Still, in honesty he had to admit that Agias had some mischievous points. Calatinus had boxed his ears only the day before for licking the pastry. But, since his wife disliked the fellow, he would be constrained to sell him, if a purchaser would take him."

The result of the conference was that Drusus, who had inherited that keen eye for business which went with most of his race, purchased Agias for thirty thousand sesterces, considerably less than the boy would have brought in the market.

While Drusus was handing over a money order payable with Flaccus, Lucius Ahenobarbus again came forward, with all seeming friendliness.

"My dear Quintus," said he, "Marcus Laeca has commissioned me to find a ninth guest to fill his triclinium[54] this evening. We should be delighted if you would join us. I don't know what the good Marcus will offer us to-night, but you can be sure of a slice of peacock[55] and a few other nice bits."

[54] Dining room with couch seats for nine, the regular size.

[55] The ne plus ultra of Roman gastronomy at the time.

"I am very grateful," replied Drusus, who felt all the while that Lucius Ahenobarbus was the last man in the world with whom he cared to spend an evening's carousing; "but," and here he concocted a white lie, "an old friend I met in Athens has already invited me to spend the night, and I cannot well refuse him. I thank you for your invitation."

Lucius muttered some polite and conventional terms of regret, and fell back to join Servius Flaccus and Gabinius, who were near him.

"I invited him and he refused," he said half scornfully, half bitterly. "That little minx, Cornelia, has been complaining of me to him, I am sure. The gods ruin him! If he wishes to become my enemy, he'll have good cause to fear my bite."

"You say he's from Praeneste," said Gabinius, "and yet can he speak decent Latin? Doesn't he say 'conia' for 'ciconia,' and 'tammodo' for 'tantummodo'? I wonder you invite such a boor."

"Oh! he can speak good enough Latin," said Lucius. "But I invited him because he is rich; and it might be worth our while to make him gamble."

"Rich!" lisped Servius Flaccus. "Rich (h)as my (h)uncle the broker? That silly straightlac(h)ed fellow, who's (h)a C(h)ato, (h)or worse? For shame!"

"Well," said Lucius, "old Crassus used to say that no one who couldn't pay out of his own purse for an army was rich. But though Drusus cannot do quite that, he has enough sesterces to make happy men of most of us, if his fortune were mine or yours."

"(H)its (h)an (h)outrage for him to have (h)it," cried Servius Flaccus.

"It's worse than an outrage," replied Ahenobarbus; "it's a sheer blunder of the Fates. Remind me to tell you about Drusus and his fortune, before I have drunk too much to-night."

* * * * *

Agias went away rejoicing with his new master. Drusus owned an apartment house on the Vicus Longus, and there had a furnished suite of rooms. He gave Agias into the charge of the porter[56] and ordered him to dress the boy's wounds. Cappadox waited on his master when he lunched.

[56] Porter—Insularius.

"Master Quintus," said he, with the familiar air of a privileged servant, "did you see that knavish-looking Gabinius following Madame Fabia all the way back to the Temple of Vesta?"

"No," said Drusus; "what do you mean, you silly fellow?"

"Oh, nothing," said Cappadox, humbly. "I only thought it a little queer."

"Perhaps so," said his master, carelessly.

Chapter IV

Lucius Ahenobarbus Airs His Grievance


The pomp and gluttony of Roman banquets have been too often described to need repetition here; neither would we be edified by learning all the orgies that Marcus Laeca (an old Catilinian conspirator) and his eight guests indulged in that night: only after the dinner had been cleared, and before the Gadesian[57] dancing girls were called in, the dice began to rattle, and speedily all were engrossed in drink and play.

[57] From Cadiz, Spain.

Lucius Ahenobarbus soon lost so heavily that he was cursing every god that presided over the noble game.

"I am ruined next Ides," he groaned. "Phormio the broker has only continued my loan at four per cent a month. All my villas and furniture are mortgaged, and will be sold at auction. Mehercle, destruction stares me in the face!"

"Well, well, my dear fellow," said Pratinas, who, having won the stakes, was in a mood to be sympathetic, "we must really see what can be done to remedy matters."

"I can see nothing!" was his answer.

"Won't your father come to the rescue?" put in Gabinius, between deep pulls on a beaker.

"My father!" snapped Ahenobarbus. "Never a sesterce will I get out of him! He's as good as turned me adrift, and Cato my uncle is always giving him bad reports of me, like the hypocritical Stoic that Cato is."

"By the bye," began Gabinius again, putting down the wine-cup, "you hinted to-day that you had been cheated out of a fortune, after a manner. Something about that Drusus of Praeneste, if I recollect. What's the story?"

Lucius settled down on his elbow, readjusted the cushions on the banqueting couch, and then began, interrupted by many a hiccough because of his potations.

"It is quite a story, but I won't bore you with details. It has quite as much to do with Cornelia, Lentulus Crus's pretty niece, as with Drusus himself. Here it is in short. Sextus Drusus and Caius Lentulus were such good friends that, as you know, they betrothed their son and daughter when the latter were mere children. To make the compact doubly strong, Sextus Drusus inserted in his will a clause like this: 'Let my son Quintus enjoy the use of my estate and its income, until he become twenty-five and cease to be under the care of Flaccus his tutor.[58] If he die before that time, let his property go to Cornelia, the daughter of Caius Lentulus, except;' and here Sextus left a small legacy for his own young daughter, Livia. You see Drusus can make no will until he is five-and-twenty. But then comes another provision. 'If Cornelia shall marry any person save my son, my son shall at once be free to dispose of my estates.' So Cornelia is laid under a sort of obligation also to marry Quintus. The whole aim of the will is to make it very hard for the young people to fail to wed as their fathers wished."

[58] Commercial adviser required for young men under five-and-twenty.

"True," said Gabinius; "but how such an arrangement can affect you and your affairs, I really cannot understand."

"That is so," continued Ahenobarbus, "but here is the other side of the matter. Caius Lentulus was a firm friend of Sextus Drusus; he also was very close and dear to my father. Caius desired that Cornelia wed young Drusus, and so enjoined her in his will; but out of compliment to my father, put in a clause which was something like this: 'If Quintus Drusus die before he marry Cornelia, or refuse to marry Cornelia at the proper time, then let Cornelia and all her property be given to Lucius, the second son of my dearly loved friend, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus,' Now I think you will begin to see why Quintus Drusus's affairs interest me a little. If he refuse to marry Cornelia before he be five-and-twenty, she falls to me. But I understand that Lentulus, her uncle, is badly in debt, and her dowry won't be much. But if Drusus is not married to her, and die before he is twenty-five, his property is hers and she is mine. Do you understand why I have a little grudge against him?"

"For what?" cried Laeca, with breathless interest.

"For living!" sighed Ahenobarbus, hopelessly.

The handsome face of Pratinas was a study. His nostrils dilated; his lips quivered; his eyes were bright and keen with what evidently passed in his mind for a great discovery.

"Eureka!" cried the Greek, clapping his hands. "My dear Lucius, let me congratulate you! You are saved!"

"What?" exclaimed the young man, starting up.

"You are saved!" repeated Pratinas, all animation. "Drusus's sesterces shall be yours! Every one of them!"

Lucius Ahenobarbus was a debauchee, a mere creature of pleasure, without principle or character; but even he had a revulsion of spirit at the hardly masked proposal of the enthusiastic Greek. He flushed in spite of the wine, then turned pale, then stammered, "Don't mention such a thing, Pratinas. I was never Drusus's enemy. I dare not dream of such a move. The Gods forefend!"

"The Gods?" repeated Pratinas, with a cynical intonation. "Do you believe there are any?"

"Do you?" retorted Lucius, feeling all the time that a deadly temptation had hold of him, which he could by no means resist.

"Why?" said the Greek. "Your Latin Ennius states my view, in some of your rather rough and blundering native tetrameters. He says:—

"'There's a race of gods in heaven; so I've said and still will say. But I deem that we poor mortals do not come beneath their sway. Otherwise the good would triumph, whereas evil reigns to-day.'"

"And you advise?" said Ahenobarbus, leaning forward with pent-up excitement.

"I advise?" replied Pratinas; "I am only a poor ignorant Hellene, and who am I, to give advice to Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, a most noble member of the most noble of nations!"

If Pratinas had said: "My dear Lucius, you are a thick-headed, old-fashioned, superstitious Roman, whom I, in my superior wisdom, utterly despise," he would have produced about the same effect upon young Ahenobarbus.

But Lucius still fluttered vainly,—a very weak conscience whispering that Drusus had never done him any harm; that murder was a dangerous game, and that although his past life had been bad enough, he had never made any one—unless it were a luckless slave or two—the victim of bloodthirsty passion or rascality.

"Don't propose it," he groaned. "I don't dare to think of such a thing! What disgrace and trouble, if it should all come out!"

"Come, come, Ahenobarbus," thrust in Marcus Laeca, who had been educated in Catilina's school for polite villains and cut-throats. "Pratinas is only proposing what, if you were a man of spirit, would have been done long ago. You can't complain of Fortune, when she's put a handsome estate in your hands for the asking."

"My admirable fellow," said Pratinas, benevolently, "I highly applaud your scruples. But, permit me to say it, I must ask you to defer to me as being a philosopher. Let us look at the matter in a rational way. We have gotten over any bogies which our ancestors had about Hades, or the punishments of the wicked. In fact, what we know—as good Epicureans—is that, as Democritus of Abdera[59] early taught, this world of ours is composed of a vast number of infinitely small and indivisible atoms, which have by some strange hap come to take the forms we see in the world of life and matter. Now the soul of man is also of atoms, only they are finer and more subtile. At death these atoms are dissolved, and so far as that man is concerned, all is over with him. The atoms may recombine, or join with others, but never form anew that same man. Hence we may fairly conclude that this life is everything and death ends all. Do you follow, and see to what I am leading?"

[59] Born about 470 B.C.

"I think so," said the wretched Lucius, feeling himself like a bird caught in a snare, yet not exactly grasping the direct bearing of all this learned exposition.

"My application is this," went on Pratinas, glibly. "Life is all—all either for pleasure or pain. Therefore every man has a right to extract all the sweetness he can out of it. But suppose a man deliberately makes himself gloomy, extracts no joy from life; lets himself be overborne by care and sorrow,—is not such a man better dead than living? Is not a dreamless sleep preferable to misery or even cold asceticism? And how much more does this all apply when we see a man who makes himself unhappy, preventing by his very act of existence the happiness of another more equably tempered mortal! Now I believe this is the present case. Drusus, I understand, is leading a spare, joyless, workaday sort of existence, which is, or by every human law should be, to him a burden. So long as he lives, he prevents you from enjoying the means of acquiring pleasure. Now I have Socrates of imperishable memory on my side, when I assert that death under any circumstances is either no loss or a very great gain. Considering then the facts of the case in its philosophic and rational bearings, I may say this: Not merely would it be no wrong to remove Drusus from a world in which he is evidently out of place, but I even conceive such an act to rise to the rank of a truly meritorious deed."

Lucius Ahenobarbus was conquered. He could not resist the inexorable logic of this train of reasoning, all the premises of which he fully accepted. Perhaps, we should add, he was not very unwilling to have his wine-befuddled intellect satisfied, and his conscience stilled. He turned down a huge beaker of liquor, and coughed forth:—

"Right as usual, Pratinas! By all the gods, but I believe you can save me!"

"Yes; as soon as Drusus is dead," insinuated the Greek who was already computing his bill for brokerage in this little affair, "you can raise plenty of loans, on the strength of your coming marriage with Cornelia."

"But how will you manage it?" put in the alert Gabinius. "There mustn't be any clumsy bungling."

"Rest assured," said Pratinas, with a grave dignity, perhaps the result of his drinking, "that in my affairs I leave no room for bungling."

"And your plan is—" asked Lucius.

"Till to-morrow, friend," said the Greek; "meet me at the Temple of Saturn, just before dusk. Then I'll be ready."


Lucius Ahenobarbus's servants escorted their tipsy master home to his lodgings in a fashionable apartment house on the Esquiline. When he awoke, it was late the next day, and head and wits were both sadly the worse for the recent entertainment. Finally a bath and a luncheon cleared his brain, and he realized his position. He was on the brink of concocting a deliberate murder. Drusus had never wronged him; the crime would be unprovoked; avarice would be its only justification. Ahenobarbus had done many things which a far laxer code of ethics than that of to-day would frown upon; but, as said, he had never committed murder—at least had only had crucified those luckless slaves, who did not count. He roused with a start, as from a dream. What if Pratinas were wrong? What if there were really gods, and furies, and punishments for the wicked after death? And then came the other side of the shield: a great fortune his; all his debts paid off; unlimited chances for self-enjoyment; last, but not least, Cornelia his. She had slighted him, and turned her back upon all his advances; and now what perfect revenge! Lucius was more in love with Cornelia than he admitted even to himself. He would even give up Clyte, if he could possess her. And so the mental battle went on all day; and the prick of conscience, the fears of superstition, and the lingerings of religion ever grew fainter. Near nightfall he was at his post, at the Temple of Saturn. Pratinas was awaiting him. The Greek had only a few words of greeting, and the curt injunction:—"Draw your cloak up to shield your face, and follow me." Then they passed out from the Forum, forced their way through the crowded streets, and soon were through the Porta Ratumena, outside the walls, and struck out across the Campus Martius, upon the Via Flaminia. It was rapidly darkening. The houses grew fewer and fewer. At a little distance the dim structures of the Portico and Theatre of Pompeius could be seen, looming up to an exaggerated size in the evening haze. A grey fog was drifting up from the Tiber, and out of a rift in a heavy cloud-bank a beam of the imprisoned moon was struggling. Along the road were peasants with their carts and asses hastening home. Over on the Pincian Mount the dark green masses of the splendid gardens of Pompeius and of Lucullus were just visible. The air was filled with the croak of frogs and the chirp of crickets, and from the river came the creak of the sculls and paddles of a cumbrous barge that was working its way down the Tiber.

Ahenobarbus felt awed and uncomfortable. Pratinas, with his mantle wrapped tightly around his head, continued at a rapid pace. Lucius had left his attendants at home, and now began to recall gruesome tales of highwaymen and bandits frequenting this region after dark. His fears were not allayed by noticing that underneath his himation Pratinas occasionally let the hilt of a short sword peep forth. Still the Greek kept on, never turning to glance at a filthy, half-clad beggar, who whined after them for an alms, and who did not so much as throw a kiss after the young Roman when the latter tossed forth a denarius,[60] but snatched up the coin, muttered at its being no more, and vanished into the gathering gloom.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse