THE ROMAN TRAITOR:
THE DAYS OF CICERO, CATO AND CATALINE.
A TRUE TALE OF THE REPUBLIC.
BY HENRY WILLIAM HERBERT AUTHOR OF "CROMWELL," "MARMADUKE WYVIL," "BROTHERS," ETC.
Why not a Borgia or a Catiline?—POPE.
This is one of the most powerful Roman stories in the English language, and is of itself sufficient to stamp the writer as a powerful man. The dark intrigues of the days which Caesar, Sallust and Cicero made illustrious; when Cataline defied and almost defeated the Senate; when the plots which ultimately overthrew the Roman Republic were being formed, are described in a masterly manner. The book deserves a permanent position by the side of the great Bellum Catalinarium of Sallust, and if we mistake not will not fail to occupy a prominent place among those produced in America.
Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, NO. 102 CHESTNUT STREET
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1853, by T.B. PETERSON, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
PHILADELPHIA: STEREOTYPED BY GEORGE CHARLES, No. 9 Sansom Street.
A few words are perhaps needed as an introduction to a work of far more ambitious character, than any which I have before attempted. In venturing to select a subject from the history of Rome, during its earlier ages, undeterred by the failure or, at the best, partial success of writers far more eminent than I can ever hope to become, I have been actuated by reasons, which, in order to relieve myself from the possible charge of presumption, I will state briefly.
It has long been my opinion, then, that there lay a vast field, rich with a harvest of material almost virgin, for the romancer's use, in the history of classic ages. And this at a period when the annals of every century and nation since the Christian era have been ransacked, and reproduced, in endless variety, for the entertainment of the hourly increasing reading world, is no small advantage.
Again, I have fancied that I could discover a cause for the imperfect success of great writers when dealing with classic fiction, in the fact of their endeavoring to be too learned, of their aiming too much at portraying Greeks and Romans, and too little at depicting men, forgetful that under all changes of custom, and costume, in all countries, ages, and conditions, the human heart is still the human heart, convulsed by the same passions, chilled by the same griefs, burning with the same joys, and, in the main, actuated by the same hopes and fears.
With these views, I many years ago deliberately selected this subject, for a novel, which has advanced by slow steps to such a degree of completeness as it has now attained.
Having determined on trying my success in classical fiction, the conspiracy of Cataline appeared to me, a theme particularly well adapted for the purpose, as being an actual event of vast importance, and in many respects unparalleled in history; as being partially familiar to every one, thoroughly understood perhaps by no one, so slender are the authentic documents concerning it which have come down to us, and so dark and mysterious the motives of the actors.
It possessed, therefore, among other qualifications, as the ground-work of a historical Romance, one almost indispensable—that of indistinctness, which gives scope to the exercise of imagination, without the necessity of falsifying either the truths or the probabilities of history.
Of the execution, I have, of course, nothing to say; but that I have sedulously avoided being overlearned; that few Latin words will be found in the work—none whatsoever in the conversational parts, and none but the names of articles which have no direct English appellation; and that it is sufficiently simple and direct for the most unclassical reader.
I hope that the costume, the manners of the people, and the antiquarian details will be found sufficiently correct; if they be not, it is not for want of pains or care; for I have diligently consulted all the authorities to which I could command access.
To the history of the strange events related in this tale, I have adhered most scrupulously; and I believe that the dates, facts, and characters of the individuals introduced, will not be found in any material respect, erroneous or untrue; and here I may perhaps venture to observe, that, on reading the most recently published lectures of Niebuhr, which never fell in my way until very lately, I had the great satisfaction of finding the view I have always taken of the character and motives of Cataline and his confederates, confirmed by the opinion of that profound and sagacious critic and historian.
I will only add, that it is hardly probable that "the Roman Traitor" would ever have been finished had it not been for the strenuous advice of a friend, in whose opinion I have the utmost confidence, Mr. Benjamin, to whom some of the early chapters were casually shown, two or three years ago, and who almost insisted on my completing it.
It is most fitting, therefore, that it should be, as it is, introduced to the world under his auspices; since but for his favourable judgment, and for a feeling on my own part that to fail in such an attempt would be scarce a failure, while success would be success indeed, it would probably have never seen the light of day!
With these few remarks, I submit the Roman Traitor to the candid judgment of my friends and the public, somewhat emboldened by the uniform kindness and encouragement which I have hitherto met; and with some hope that I may be allowed at some future day, to lay another romance of the most famous, before the citizens of the youngest republic.
CHAPTER PAGE I. THE MEN 9 II. THE MEASURES 25 III. THE LOVERS 37 IV. THE CONSUL 51 V. THE CAMPUS 69 VI. THE FALSE LOVE 89 VII. THE OATH 108 VIII. THE TRUE LOVE 121 IX. THE AMBUSH 137 X. THE WANTON 146 XI. THE RELEASE 166 XII. THE FORGE 183 XIII. THE DISCLOSURE 197 XIV. THE WARNINGS 209 XV. THE CONFESSION 223 XVI. THE SENATE 235
I. THE OLD PATRICIAN 3 II. THE CONSULAR 12 COMITIA III. THE PERIL 21 IV. THE CRISIS 29 V. THE ORATION 38 VI. THE FLIGHT 54 VII. THE AMBASSADORS 65 VIII. THE LATIN VILLA 75 IX. THE MULVIAN BRIDGE 88 X. THE ARREST 101 XI. THE YOUNG 113 PATRICIAN XII. THE ROMAN FATHER 123 XIII. THE DOOM 136 XIV. THE TULLIANUM 150 XV. THE CAMP IN THE 158 APPENINES XVI. THE WATCHTOWER OF 168 USELLA XVII. TIDINGS FROM ROME 185 XVIII. THE RESCUE 192 XIX. THE EVE OF BATTLE 205 XX. THE FIELD OF 215 PISTORIA XXI. THE BATTLE 223 XXII. A NIGHT OF HORROR 233
THE ROMAN TRAITOR;
OR, THE DAYS OF
CICERO, CATO AND CATALINE.
A TRUE TALE OF THE REPUBLIC.
But bring me to the knowledge of your chiefs. MARINO FALIERO.
Midnight was over Rome. The skies were dark and lowering, and ominous of tempest; for it was a sirocco, and the welkin was overcast with sheets of vapory cloud, not very dense, indeed, or solid, but still sufficient to intercept the feeble twinkling of the stars, which alone held dominion in the firmament; since the young crescent of the moon had sunk long ago beneath the veiled horizon.
The air was thick and sultry, and so unspeakably oppressive, that for above three hours the streets had been entirely deserted. In a few houses of the higher class, lights might be seen dimly shining through the casements of the small chambers, hard beside the doorway, appropriated to the use of the Atriensis, or slave whose charge it was to guard the entrance of the court. But, for the most part, not a single ray cheered the dull murky streets, except that here and there, before the holy shrine, or vaster and more elaborate temple, of some one of Rome's hundred gods, the votive lanthorns, though shorn of half their beams by the dense fog-wreaths, burnt perennial.
The period was the latter time of the republic, a few years after the fell democratic persecutions of the plebeian Marius had drowned the mighty city oceans-deep in patrician gore; after the awful retribution of the avenger Sylla had rioted in the destruction of that guilty faction.
He who was destined one day to support the laurelled diadem of universal empire on his bald brows, stood even now among the noblest, the most ambitious, and the most famous of the state; though not as yet had he unfurled the eagle wings of conquest over the fierce barbarian hordes of Gaul and Germany, or launched his galleys on the untried waters of the great Western sea. A dissipated, spendthrift, and luxurious youth, devoted solely as it would seem to the pleasures of the table, or to intrigues with the most fair and noble of Rome's ladies, he had yet, amid those unworthy occupations, displayed such gleams of overmastering talent, such wondrous energy, such deep sagacity, and above all such uncurbed though ill-directed ambition, that the perpetual Dictator had already, years before, exclaimed with prescient wisdom,—"In yon unzoned youth I perceive the germ of many a Marius."
At the same time, the magnificent and princely leader, who was to be thereafter his great rival, was reaping that rich crop of glory, the seeds of which had been sown already by the wronged Lucullus, in the broad kingdoms of the effeminate East.
Meanwhile, as Rome had gradually rendered herself, by the exertion of indomitable valor, the supreme mistress of every foreign power that bordered on the Mediterranean, wealth, avarice, and luxury, like some contagious pestilence, had crept into the inmost vitals of the commonwealth, until the very features, which had once made her famous, no less for her virtues than her valor, were utterly obliterated and for ever.
Instead of a paternal, poor, brave, patriotic aristocracy, she had now a nobility, valiant indeed and capable, but dissolute beyond the reach of man's imagination, boundless in their expenditures, reckless as to the mode of gaining wherewithal to support them, oppressive and despotical to their inferiors, smooth-tongued and hypocritical toward each other, destitute equally of justice and compassion toward men, and of respect and piety toward the Gods! Wealth had become the idol, the god of the whole people! Wealth—and no longer service, eloquence, daring, or integrity,—was held the requisite for office. Wealth now conferred upon its owner, all magistracies all guerdons—rank, power, command,—consulships, provinces, and armies.
The senate—once the most grave and stern and just assembly that the world had seen—was now, with but a few superb exceptions, a timid, faithless, and licentious oligarchy; while—name whilome so majestical and mighty!—the people, the great Roman people, was but a mob! a vile colluvion of the offscourings of all climes and regions—Greeks, Syrians, Africans, Barbarians from the chilly north, and eunuchs from the vanquished Orient, enfranchised slaves, and liberated gladiators—a factious, turbulent, fierce rabble!
Such was the state of Rome, when it would seem that the Gods, wearied with the guilt of her aggrandisement, sick of the slaughter by which she had won her way to empire almost universal, had judged her to destruction—had given her up to perish, not by the hands of any foreign foe, but by her own; not by the wisdom, conduct, bravery of others, but by her own insanity and crime.
But at this darkest season of the state one hope was left to Rome—one safeguard. The united worth of Cicero and Cato! The statesmanship, the eloquence, the splendid and unequalled parts of the former; the stern self-denying virtue, the unchanged constancy, the resolute and hard integrity of the latter; these, singular and severally, might have availed to prop a falling dynasty—united, might have preserved a world!
The night was such as has already been described: gloomy and lowering in its character, as was the aspect of the political horizon, and most congenial to the fearful plots, which were even now in progress against the lives of Rome's best citizens, against the sanctity of her most solemn temples, the safety of her domestic hearths, the majesty of her inviolable laws, the very existence of her institutions, of her empire, of herself as one among the nations of the earth.
Most suitable, indeed, was that dim murky night, most favorable the solitude of the deserted streets, to the measures of those parricides of the Republic, who lurked within her bosom, thirsty for blood, and panting to destroy. Nor had they overlooked the opportunity. But a few days remained before that on which the Consular elections, fixed for the eighteenth of October, were to take place in the Campus Martius—whereat, it was already understood that Sergius Cataline, frustrated the preceding year, by the election of the great orator of Arpinum to his discomfiture, was about once more to try the fortunes of himself and of the popular faction.
It was at this untimely hour, that a man might have been seen lurking beneath the shadows of an antique archway, decorated with half-obliterated sculptures of the old Etruscan school, in one of the narrow and winding streets which, lying parallel to the Suburra, ran up the hollow between the Viminal and Quirinal hills.
He was a tall and well-framed figure, though so lean as to seem almost emaciated. His forehead was unusually high and narrow, and channelled with deep horizontal lines of thought and passion, across which cut at right angles the sharp furrows of a continual scowl, drawing the corners of his heavy coal-black eyebrows into strange contiguity. Beneath these, situated far back in their cavernous recesses, a pair of keen restless eyes glared out with an expression fearful to behold—a jealous, and unquiet, ever-wandering glance—so sinister, and ominous, and above all so indicative of a perturbed and anguished spirit, that it could not be looked upon without suggesting those wild tales, which speak of fiends dwelling in the revivified and untombed carcasses of those who die in unrepented sin. His nose was keenly Roman; with a deep wrinkle seared, as it would seem, into the sallow flesh from either nostril downward. His mouth, grimly compressed, and his jaws, for the most part, firmly clinched together, spoke volumes of immutable and iron resolution; while all his under lip was scarred, in many places, with the trace of wounds, inflicted beyond doubt, in some dread paroxysm, by the very teeth it covered.
The dress which this remarkable looking individual at that time wore, was the penula, as it was called; a short, loose straight-cut overcoat, reaching a little way below the knees, not fitted to the shape, but looped by woollen frogs all down the front, with broad flaps to protect the arms, and a square cape or collar, which at the pleasure of the wearer could be drawn up so as to conceal all the lower part of the countenance, or suffered to fall down upon the shoulders.
This uncouth vestment, which was used only by men of the lowest order, or by others solely when engaged in long and toilsome journeys, or in cold wintry weather, was composed of a thick loose-napped frieze or serge, of a dark purplish brown, with loops and fibulae, or frogs, of a dull dingy red.
The wearer's legs were bare down to the very feet, which were protected by coarse shoes of heavy leather, fastened about the ancles by a thong, with a clasp of marvellously ill-cleaned brass. Upon his head he had a petasus, or broad-brimmed hat of gray felt, fitting close to the skull, with a long fall behind, not very unlike in form to the south-wester of a modern seaman. This article of dress was, like the penula, although peculiar to the inferior classes, oftentimes worn by men of superior rank, when journeying abroad. From these, therefore, little or no aid was given to conjecture, as to the station of the person, who now shrunk back into the deepest gloom of the old archway, now peered out stealthily into the night, grinding his teeth and muttering smothered imprecations against some one, who had failed to meet him.
The shoes, however, of rude, ill-tanned leather, of a form and manufacture which was peculiar to the lowest artizans or even slaves, were such as no man of ordinary standing would under any circumstances have adopted. Yet if these would have implied that the wearer was of low plebeian origin, this surmise was contradicted by several rings decked with gems of great price and splendor—one a large deeply-engraved signet—which were distinctly visible by their lustre on the fingers of both his hands.
His air and carriage too were evidently in accordance with the nobility of birth implied by these magnificent adornments, rather than with the humble station betokened by the rest of his attire.
His motions were quick, irritable, and incessant! His pace, as he stalked to and fro in the narrow area of the archway, was agitated, and uneven. Now he would stride off ten or twelve steps with strange velocity, then pause, and stand quite motionless for perhaps a minute's space, and then again resume his walk with slow and faltering gestures, to burst forth once again, as at the instigation of some goading spirit, to the same short-lived energy and speed.
Meantime, his color went and came; he bit his lip, till the blood trickled down his clean shorn chin; he clinched his hands, and smote them heavily together, and uttered in a harsh hissing whisper the most appalling imprecations—on his own head—on him who had deceived him—on Rome, and all her myriads of inhabitants—on earth, and sea, and heaven—on everything divine or human!
"The black plague 'light on the fat sleepy glutton!—nay, rather all the fiends and furies of deep Erebus pursue me!—me!—me, who was fool enough to fancy that aught of bold design or manly daring could rouse up the dull, adipose, luxurious loiterer from his wines—his concubines—his slumbers!—And now—the dire ones hunt him to perdition! Now, the seventh hour of night hath passed, and all await us at the house of Laeca; and this foul sluggard sottishly snores at home!"
While he was cursing yet, and smiting his broad chest, and gnashing his teeth in impotent malignity, suddenly a quick step became audible at a distance. The sound fell on his ear sharpened by the stimulus of fiery passions and of conscious fear, long ere it could have been perceived by any ordinary listener.
"'Tis he," he said, "'tis he at last—but no?" he continued, after a pause of a second, during which he had stooped, and laid his ear close to the ground, "no! 'tis too quick and light for the gross Cassius. By all the gods! there are two! Can he, then, have betrayed me? No! no! By heavens! he dare not!"
At the same time he started back into the darkest corner of the arch, pulled up the cape of his cassock, and slouched the wide-brimmed hat over his anxious lineaments; then pressing his body flat against the dusky wall, to which the color of his garments was in some sort assimilated, he awaited the arrival of the new-comers, perhaps hoping that if foreign to his purpose they might pass by him in the gloom.
As the footsteps now sounded nearer, he thrust his right hand into the bosom of his cassock, and drew out a long broad two-edged dagger, or stiletto; and as he unsheathed it, "Ready!" he muttered to himself, "ready for either fortune!"
Nearer and nearer came the footsteps, and the blent sounds of the two were now distinctly audible—one a slow, listless tread, as of one loitering along, as if irresolute whether to turn back or proceed; the other a firm, rapid, and decided step.
"Ha! it is well!" resumed the listener; "Cassius it is; and with him comes Cethegus, though where they have joined company I marvel."
And, as he spoke, he put his weapon back into his girdle, where it was perfectly concealed by the folds of the penula.
"Ho!—stand!" he whispered, as the two men whose steps he had heard, entered the archway, "Stand, Friends and Brethren."
"Hail, Sergius!" replied the foremost; a tall and splendidly formed man, with a dark quick eye, and regular features, nobly chiselled and in all respects such—had it not been for the bitter and ferocious sneer, which curled his haughty lip, at every word—as might be termed eminently handsome.
He wore his raven hair in long and flowing curls, which hung quite down upon his shoulders—a fashion that was held in Rome to the last degree effeminate, indeed almost infamous—while his trim whiskers and close curly beard reeked with the richest perfumes, impregnating the atmosphere through which he passed with odors so strong as to be almost overpowering.
His garb was that of a patrician of the highest order; though tinctured, like the arrangement of his hair, with not a little of that soft luxurious taste which had, of latter years, begun so generally to pervade Rome's young nobility. His under dress or tunic, was not of that succinct and narrow cut, which had so well become the sturdy fathers of the new republic! but—beside being wrought of the finest Spanish wool of snowy whiteness, with the broad crimson facings indicative of his senatorial rank, known as the laticlave—fell in loose folds half way between his knee and ancle.
It had sleeves, too, a thing esteemed unworthy of a man—and was fringed at the cuffs, and round the hem, with a deep passmenting of crimson to match the laticlave. His toga of the thinnest and most gauzy texture, and whiter even than his tunic, flowed in a series of classical and studied draperies quite to his heels, where like the tunic it was bordered by a broad crimson trimming. His feet were ornamented, rather than protected, by delicate buskins of black leather, decked with the silver sigma, in its old crescent shape, the proud initial of the high term senator. A golden bracelet, fashioned like a large serpent, exquisitely carved with horrent scales and forked tail, was twined about the wrist of his right arm, with a huge carbuncle set in the head, and two rare diamonds for eyes. A dozen rings gemmed with the clearest brilliants sparkled upon his white and tapering fingers; in which, to complete the picture, he bore a handkerchief of fine Egyptian cambric, or Byssus as the Romans styled it, embroidered at the edges in arabesques of golden thread.
His comrade was if possible more slovenly in his attire than his friend was luxurious and expensive. He wore no toga, and his tunic—which, without the upper robe, was the accustomed dress of gladiators, slaves, and such as were too poor to wear the full and characteristic attire of the Roman citizen—was of dark brownish woollen, threadbare, and soiled with spots of grease, and patched in many places. His shoes were of coarse clouted leather, and his legs were covered up to the knees by thongs of ill-tanned cowhide rolled round them and tied at the ancles with straps of the same material.
"A plague on both of you!" replied the person, who had been so long awaiting them, in answer to their salutation. "Two hours have ye detained me here; and now that ye have come, in pretty guise ye do come! Oh! by the gods! a well assorted pair. Cassius more filthy than the vilest and most base tatterdemalion of the stews, and with him rare Cethegus, a senator in all his bravery! Wise judgment! excellent disguises! I know not whether most to marvel at the insane and furious temerity of this one, or at the idiotic foolery of that! Well fitted are ye both for a great purpose. And now—may the dark furies hunt you to perdition!—what hath delayed you?"
"Why, what a coil is here", replied the gay Cethegus, delighted evidently at the unsuppressed anger of his confederate in crime, and bent on goading to yet more fiery wrath his most ungovernable temper. "Methinks, O pleasant Sergius, the moisture of this delectable night should have quenched somewhat the quick flames of your most amiable and placid humor! Keep thy hard words, I prithee, Cataline, for those who either heed or dread them. I, thou well knowest, do neither."
"Peace, peace! Cethegus; plague him no farther," interrupted Cassius, just as the fierce conspirator, exclaiming in a deep harsh whisper, the one word "Boy!" strode forth as if to strike him. "And thou, good Cataline, listen to reason—we have been dogged hitherward, and so came by circuitous byeways!"
"Dogged, said ye—dogged? and by whom?—doth the slave live, who dared it?"
"By a slave, as we reckon," answered Cassius, "for he wore no toga; and his tunic"—
"Was filthy—very filthy, by the gods!—most like thine own, good Cassius," interposed Cethegus. "But, in good sooth, he was a slave, my Sergius. He passed us twice, before I thought much of it. Once as we crossed the sacred way after descending from the Palatine—and once again beside the shrine of Venus in the Cyprian street. The second time he gazed into my very eyes, until he caught my glance meeting his own, and then with a quick bounding pace he hurried onward."
"Tush!" answered Cataline, "tush! was that all? the knave was a chance night-walker, and frightened ye! Ha! ha! by Hercules! it makes me laugh—frightened the rash and overbold Cethegus!"
"It was not all!" replied Cethegus very calmly, "it was not all, Cataline. And, but that we are joined here in a purpose so mighty that it overwhelms all private interests, all mere considerations of the individual, you, my good sir, should learn what it is to taunt a man with fear, who fears not anything—least of all thee! But it was not all. For as we turned from a side lane into the Wicked(1) street that scales the summit of the Esquiline, my eye caught something lurking in the dark shadow cast over an angle of the wall by a large cypress. I seized the arm of Cassius, to check his speech"—
"Ha! did the fat idiot speak?—what said he?" interrupted Cataline.
"Nothing," replied the other, "nothing, at least, of any moment. Well, I caught Cassius by the arm, and was in the act of pointing, when from the shadows of the tree out sprang this self-same varlet, whereon I——".
"Rushed on him! dragged him into the light! and smote him, thus, and thus, and thus! didst thou not, excellent Cethegus?" Cataline exclaimed fiercely in a hard stern whisper, making three lounges, while he spoke, as if with a stiletto.
"I did not any of these things," answered the other.
"And why not, I say, why not? why not?" cried Cataline with rude impetuosity.
"That shall I answer, when you give me time," said Cethegus, coolly. "Because when I rushed forth, he fled with an exceeding rapid flight; leaped the low wall into the graveyard of the base Plebeians, and there among the cypresses and overthrown sepulchres escaped me for a while. I beat about most warily, and at length started him up again from the jaws of an obscene and broken catacomb. I gained on him at every step; heard the quick panting of his breath; stretched out my left to grasp him, while my right held unsheathed and ready the good stiletto that ne'er failed me. And now—now—by the great Jove! his tunic's hem was fluttering in my clutch, when my feet tripped over a prostrate column, that I was hurled five paces at the least in advance of the fugitive; and when I rose again, sore stunned, and bruised, and breathless, the slave had vanished."
"And where, I prithee, during this well-concerted chase, was valiant Cassius?" enquired Cataline, with a hoarse sneering laugh.
"During the chase, I knew not," answered Cethegus, "but when it was over, and I did return, I found him leaning on the wall, even in the angle whence the slave fled on our approach."
"Asleep! I warrant me—by the great gods! asleep!" exclaimed the other; "but come!—come, let us onward,—I trow we have been waited for—and as we go, tell me, I do beseech thee, what was't that Cassius said, when the slave lay beside ye?—"
"Nay, but I have forgotten—some trivial thing or other—oh! now I do bethink me, he said it was a long walk to Marcus Laeca's."
"Fool! fool! Double and treble fool! and dost thou call this nothing? Nothing to tell the loitering informer the very head and heart of our design? By Erebus! but I am sick—sick of the fools, with whom I am thus wretchedly assorted! Well! well! upon your own heads be it!" and instantly recovering his temper he walked on with his two confederates, now in deep silence, at a quick pace through the deserted streets towards their perilous rendezvous.
Noiseless, with stealthy steps, they hurried onward, threading the narrow pass between the dusky hills, until they reached a dark and filthy lane which turning at right angles led to the broad thoroughfare of the more showy, though by no means less ill-famed Suburra. Into this they struck instantly, walking in single file, and keeping as nearly as possible in the middle of the causeway. The lane, which was composed of dwellings of the lowest order, tenanted by the most abject profligates, was dark as midnight; for the tall dingy buildings absolutely intercepted every ray of light that proceeded from the murky sky, and there was not a spark in any of the sordid casements, nor any votive lamp in that foul alley. The only glimpse of casual illumination, and that too barely serving to render the darkness and the filth perceptible, was the faint streak of lustre where the Suburra crossed the far extremity of the bye-path.
Scarce had they made three paces down the alley, ere the quick eye of Cataline, for ever roving in search of aught suspicious, caught the dim outline of a human figure, stealing across this pallid gleam.
"Hist! hist!" he whiskered in stern low tones, which though inaudible at three yards' distance completely filled the ears of him to whom they were addressed—"hist! hist! Cethegus; seest thou not—seest thou not there? If it be he, he 'scapes us not again!—out with thy weapon, man, and strike at once, if that thou have a chance; but if not, do thou go on with Cassius to the appointed place. Leave him to me! and say, I follow ye! See! he hath slunk into the darkness. Separate ye, and occupy the whole width of the street, while I dislodge him!"
And as he spoke, unsheathing his broad poignard, but holding it concealed beneath his cassock, he strode on boldly, affecting the most perfect indifference, and even insolence of bearing.
Meanwhile the half-seen figure had entirely disappeared amid the gloom; yet had the wary eye of the conspirator, in the one momentary glance he had obtained, been able to detect with something very near to certainty the spot wherein the spy, if such he were, lay hidden. As he approached the place—whereat a heap of rubbish, the relics of a building not long ago as it would seem consumed by fire, projected far into the street—seeing no sign whatever of the man who, he was well assured, was not far distant, he paused a little so as to suffer his companions to draw near. Then as they came up with him, skilled in all deep and desperate wiles, he instantly commenced a whispered conversation, a tissue of mere nonsense, with here and there a word of seeming import clearly and audibly pronounced. Nor was his dark manoeuvre unsuccessful; for as he uttered the word "Cicero," watching meanwhile the heap of ruins as jealously as ever tiger glared on its destined prey, he caught a tremulous outline; and in a second's space, a small round object, like a man's head, was protruded from the darkness, and brought into relief against the brighter back ground.
Then—then—with all the fury—all the lythe agile vigor, all the unrivalled speed, and concentrated fierceness of that tremendous beast of prey, he dashed upon his victim! But at the first slight movement of his sinewy form, the dimly seen shape vanished; impetuously he rushed on among the piles of scattered brick and rubbish, and, ere he saw the nature of the place, plunged down a deep descent into the cellar of the ruin.
Lucky was it for Cataline, and most unfortunate for Rome, that when the building fell, its fragments had choked three parts of the depth of that subterranean vault; so that it was but from a height of three or four feet at the utmost, that the fierce desperado was precipitated!
Still, to a man less active, the accident might have been serious, but with instinctive promptitude, backed by a wonderful exertion of muscular agility, he writhed his body even in the act of falling so that he lighted on his feet; and, ere a second had elapsed after his fall, was extricating himself from the broken masses of cement and brickwork, and soon stood unharmed, though somewhat stunned and shaken, on the very spot which had been occupied scarcely a minute past by the suspected spy.
At the same point of time in which the conspirator fell, the person, whosoever he was, in pursuit of whom he had plunged so heedlessly into the ruins, darted forth from his concealment close to the body and within arm's length of the fierce Cethegus, whose attention was for the moment distracted from his watch by the catastrophe which had befallen his companion. Dodging by a quick movement—so quick that it seemed almost the result of instinct—so to elude the swift attempt of his enemy to arrest his progress, the spy was forced to rush almost into the arms of Cassius.
Yet this appeared not to cause him any apprehension; for he dashed boldly on, till they were almost front to front; when, notwithstanding his unwieldy frame and inactivity of habit, spurred into something near to energy by the very imminence of peril, the worn-out debauchee bestirred himself as if to seize him.
If such, however, were his intention, widely had he miscalculated his own powers, and fatally underrated the agility and strength of the stranger—a tall, thin, wiry man, well nigh six feet in height, broad shouldered, and deep chested, and thin flanked, and limbed like a Greek Athlete.
On he dashed!—on—right on! till they stood face to face; and then with one quick blow, into which, as it seemed, he put but little of his strength, he hurled the burly Cassius to the earth, and fled with swift and noiseless steps into the deepest gloom. Perceiving on the instant the necessity of apprehending this now undoubted spy, the fiery Cethegus paused not one instant to look after his discomfited companions; but rushed away on the traces of the fugitive, who had perhaps gained, at the very utmost, a dozen paces' start of him, in that wild midnight race—that race for life and death.
The slave, for such from his dark tunic he appeared to me, was evidently both a swift and practised runner; and well aware how great a stake was on his speed he now strained every muscle to escape, while scarce less fleet, and straining likewise every sinew to the utmost, Cethegus panted at his very heels.
Before, however, they had run sixty yards, one swifter than Cethegus took up the race; and bruised although he was, and stunned, and almost breathless when he started, ere he had overtaken his staunch friend, which he did in a space wonderfully brief, he seemed to have shaken off every ailment, and to be in the completest and most firm possession of all his wonted energies. As he caught up Cethegus, he relaxed somewhat of his speed, and ran on by his side for some few yards at a sort of springy trot, speaking the while in a deep whisper,
"Hist!" he said, "hist!—I am more swift of foot than thou, and deeper winded. Leave me to deal with this dog! Back thou, to him thou knowest of; sore is he hurt, I warrant me. Comfort him as thou best mayest, and hurry whither we were now going. 'Tis late even now—too late, I fear me much, and doubtless we are waited for. I have the heels of this same gallowsbird, that can I see already! Leave me to deal with him, and an he tells tales on us, then call me liar!"
Already well nigh out of breath himself, while the endurance of the fugitive seemed in nowise affected, and aware of the vast superiority of his brother conspirator's powers to his own, Cethegus readily enough yielded to his positive and reiterated orders, and turning hastily backward, gathered up the bruised and groaning Cassius, and led him with all speed toward the well-known rendezvous in the house of Laeca.
Meanwhile with desperate speed that headlong race continued; the gloomy alley was passed through; the wider street into which it debouched, vanished beneath their quick beating footsteps; the dark and shadowy arch, wherein the chief conspirator had lurked, was threaded at full speed; and still, although he toiled, till the sweat dripped from every pore like gouts of summer rain, although he plied each limb, till every over-wrought sinew seemed to crack, the hapless fugitive could gain no ground on his inveterate pursuer; who, cool, collected and unwearied, without one drop of perspiration on his dark sallow brow, without one panting sob in his deep breath, followed on at an equable and steady pace, gaining not any thing, nor seeming to desire to gain any thing, while yet within the precincts of the populous and thickly-settled city.
But now they crossed the broad Virbian street. The slave, distinctly visible for such, as he glanced by a brightly decorated shrine girt by so many brilliant lamps as shewed its tenant idol to have no lack of worshippers, darted up a small street leading directly towards the Esquiline.
"Now! now!" lisped Cataline between his hard-set teeth, "now he is mine, past rescue!"
Up the dark filthy avenue they sped, the fierce pursuer now gaining on the fugitive at every bound; till, had he stretched his arm out, he might have seized him; till his breath, hot and strong, waved the disordered elf-locks that fell down upon the bare neck of his flying victim. And now the low wall of the Plebeian burying ground arose before them, shaded by mighty cypresses and overgrown with tangled ivy. At one wild bound the hunted slave leaped over it, into the trackless gloom. At one wild bound the fierce pursuer followed him. Scarcely a yard asunder they alighted on the rank grass of that charnel grove; and not three paces did they take more, ere Cataline had hurled his victim to the earth, and cast himself upon him; choking his cries for help by the compression of his sinewy fingers, which grasped with a tenacity little inferior to that of an iron vice the miserable wretch's gullet.
He snatched his poniard from his sheath, reared it on high with a well skilled and steady hand! Down it came, noiseless and unseen. For there was not a ray of light to flash along its polished blade. Down it came with almost the speed and force of the electric fluid. A deep, dull, heavy sound was heard, as it was plunged into the yielding flesh, and the hot gushing blood spirted forth in a quick jet into the very face and mouth of the fell murderer. A terrible convulsion, a fierce writhing spasm followed—so strong, so muscularly powerful, that the stern gripe of Cataline was shaken from the throat of his victim, and from his dagger's hilt!
In the last agony the murdered man cast off his slayer from his breast; started erect upon his feet! tore out, from the deep wound, the fatal weapon which had made it; hurled it far—far as his remaining strength permitted—into the rayless night; burst forth into a wild and yelling cry, half laughter and half imprecation; fell headlong to the earth—which was no more insensible than he, what time he struck it, to any sense of mortal pain or sorrow—and perished there alone, unpitied and unaided.
"HABET!—he hath it!" muttered Cataline, quoting the well-known expression of the gladiatorial strife; "he hath it!—but all the plagues of Erebus, light on it—my good stiletto lies near to him in the swart darkness, to testify against me; nor by great Hecate! is there one chance to ten of finding it. Well! be it so!" he added, turning upon his heel, "be it so, for most like it hath fallen in the deep long grass, where none will ever find it; and if they do, I care not!"
And with a reckless and unmoved demeanor, well pleased with his success, and casting not one retrospective thought toward his murdered victim, not one repentant sigh upon his awful crime, he too hurried away to join his dread associates at their appointed meeting.
For what then do they pause? An hour to strike. MARINO FALIERO.
The hours of darkness had already well nigh passed, and but for the thick storm-clouds and the drizzling rain, some streaks of early dawn might have been seen on the horizon, when at the door of Marcus Laeca, in the low grovelling street of the Scythemakers—strange quarter for the residence of a patrician, one of the princely Porcii—the arch-conspirator stood still, and glared around with keen suspicious eyes, after his hurried walk.
It was, however, yet as black as midnight; nor in that wretched and base suburb, tenanted only by poor laborious artizans, was there a single artificial light to relieve the gloom of nature.
The house of Laeca! How little would the passer-by who looked in those days on its walls, decayed and moss-grown even then, and mouldering—how little would he have imagined that its fame would go down to the latest ages, imperishable through its owner's infamy.
The house of Laeca! The days had been, while Rome was yet but young, when it stood far aloof in the gay green fields, the suburban villa of the proud Porcian house. Time passed, and fashions changed. Low streets and squalid tenements supplanted the rich fields and fruitful orchards, which had once rendered it so pleasant an abode. Its haughty lords abandoned it for a more stately palace nigh the forum, and for long years it had remained tenantless, voiceless, desolate. But dice, and wine, and women, mad luxury and boundless riot, had brought its owner down to indigence, and infamy and sin.
The palace passed away from its inheritor. The ruin welcomed its last lord.
And here, meet scene for orgies such as it beheld, Rome's parricides were wont to hold their murderous assemblies.
With a slow stealthy tread, that woke no echo, Cataline advanced to the door. There was no lamp in the cell of the atriensis; no sign of wakefulness in any of the casements; yet at the first slight tap upon the stout oaken pannel, although it was scarce louder than the plash of the big raindrops from the eaves, another tap responded to it from within, so faint that it appeared an echo of the other. The rebel counted, as fast as possible, fifteen; and then tapped thrice as he had done before, meeting the same reply, a repetition of his own signal. After a moment's interval, a little wicket opened in the door, and a low voice asked "Who?" In the same guarded tone the answer was returned, "Cornelius." Again the voice asked, "Which?" and instantly, as Cataline replied, "the third," the door flew open, and he entered.
The Atrium, or wide hall in which he stood, was all in utter darkness; there was no light on the altar of the Penates, which was placed by the impluvium—a large shallow tank of water occupying the centre of the hall in all Roman houses—nor any gleam from the tablinum, or closed gallery beyond, parted by heavy curtains from the audience chamber.
There were no stars to glimmer through the opening in the roof above the central tank, yet the quick eye of the conspirator perceived, upon the instant, that two strong men with naked swords, their points within a hand's breadth of his bosom, stood on each side of the doorway.
The gate was closed as silently as it had given him entrance; was barred and bolted; and till then no word was interchanged. When all, however, was secure, a deep rich voice, suppressed into a whisper, exclaimed "Sergius?" "Ay!" answered Cataline. "Come on!" and without farther parley they stole into the most secret chambers of the house, fearful as it appeared of the sounds of their own footsteps, much more of their own voices.
Thus with extreme precaution, when they had traversed several chambers, among which were an indoor triclinium, or dining parlor, and a vast picture gallery, groping their way along in utter darkness, they reached a small square court, surrounded by a peristyle or colonnade, containing a dilapidated fountain. Passing through this, they reached a second dining room, where on the central table they found a small lamp burning, and by the aid of this, though still observing the most scrupulous silence, quickly attained their destination—a low and vaulted chamber entirely below the surface of the ground, accessible only by a stair defended by two doors of unusual thickness.
That was a fitting place for deeds of darkness, councils of desperation, such as they held, who met within its gloomy precincts. The moisture, which dripped constantly from its groined roof of stone, had formed stalactites of dingy spar, whence the large gouts plashed heavily on the damp pavement; the walls were covered with green slimy mould; the atmosphere was close and foetid, and so heavy that the huge waxen torches, four of which stood in rusty iron candelabra, on a large slab of granite, burned dim and blue, casting a faint and ghastly light on lineaments so grim and truculent, or so unnaturally excited by the dominion of all hellish passions, that they had little need of anything extraneous to render them most hideous and appalling. There were some twenty-five men present, variously clad indeed, and of all ages, but evidently—though many had endeavoured to disguise the fact by poor and sordid garments—all of the higher ranks.
Six or eight were among them, who feared not, nor were ashamed to appear there in the full splendor of their distinctive garb as Senators, prominent among whom was the most rash and furious of them all, Cethegus.
He, at the moment when the arch-conspirator, accompanied by Laeca and the rest of those who had admitted him, entered the vault, was speaking with much energy and even fierceness of manner to three or four who stood apart a little from the rest with their backs to the door, listening with knitted brows, clenched hands, and lips compressed and bloodless, to his tremendous imprecations launched at the heads of all who were for any, even the least, delay in the accomplishment of their dread scheme of slaughter.
One among them was a large stately looking personage, somewhat inclined to corpulence, but showing many a sign of giant strength, and vigor unimpaired by years or habit. His head was large but well shaped, with a broad and massive forehead, and an eye keen as the eagle's when soaring in his pride of place. His nose was prominent, but rather aquiline than Roman. His mouth, wide and thick-lipped, with square and fleshy jaws, was the worst feature in his face, and indicative of indulged sensuality and fierceness, if not of cruelty combined with the excess of pride.
This man wore the plain toga and white tunic of a private citizen; but never did plebeian eye and lip flash with such concentrated haughtiness, curl with so fell a sneer, as those of that fallen consular, of that degraded senator, the haughtiest and most ambitious of a race never deficient in those qualities, he who, drunk with despairing pride, and deceived to his ruin by the double-tongued Sibylline prophecies, aspired to be that third Cornelius, who should be master of the world's mistress, Rome.
The others were much younger men, for Lentulus was at that period already past his prime, and these—two more especially who looked mere boys—had scarcely reached youth's threshold; though their pale withered faces, and brows seared deeply by the scorching brand of evil passions, showed that in vice at least, if not in years, they had lived long already.
Those two were senators in their full garniture, the sons of Servius Sylla, both beautiful almost as women, with soft and feminine features, and long curled hair, and lips of coral, from which in flippant and affected accents fell words, and breathed desires, that would have made the blood stop and turn stagnant at the heart of any one, not utterly polluted and devoid of every humane feeling.
This little knot seemed fierce for action, fiery and panting with that wolfish thirst, to quench which blood must flow. But all the rest seemed dumb, and tongue-tied, and crest-fallen. The sullenness of fear brooded on every other face. The torpor of despairing crime, already in its own fancy baffled and detected, had fallen on every other heart. For, at the farther end of the room, whispering to his trembling hearers dubious and dark suspicions, with terror on his tongue, stood Cassius, exaggerating the adventures of the night.
Such was the scene, when Cataline stalked into that bad conclave. The fires of hell itself could send forth no more blasting glare, than shot from his dark eyes, as he beheld, and read at half a glance their consternation. Bitter and blighting was the sneer upon his lip, as he stood motionless, gazing upon them for a little space. Then flinging his arm on high and striding to the table he dashed his hand upon it, that it rang and quivered to the blow.
"What are ye?" he said slowly, in tones that thrilled to every heart, so piercing was their emphasis. "Men?—No, by the Gods! men rush on death for glory!—Women? They risk it, for their own, their children's, or their lover's safety!—Slaves?—Nay! even these things welcome it for freedom, or meet it with revenge! Less then, than men! than women, slaves, or beasts!—Perish like cattle, if ye will, unbound but unresisting, all armed but unavenged!—And ye—great Gods! I laugh to see your terror-blanched, blank visages. I laugh, but loathe in laughing! The destined dauntless sacrificers, who would imbue your knives in senatorial, consular gore! kindle your altars on the downfallen Capitol! and build your temples on the wreck of Empire! Ha! do you start? and does some touch of shame redden the sallow cheeks that courage had left bloodless? and do ye grasp your daggers, and rear your drooping heads? are ye men, once again? Why should ye not? what do ye see, what hear, whereat to falter? What oracle, what portent? Now, by the Gods! methought they spoke of victory and glory. Once more, what do ye fear, or wish? What, in the name of Hecate and Hades! What do ye wait for?"
"A leader!" answered the rash Cethegus, excited now even beyond the bounds of ordinary rashness. "A day, a place, a signal!"
"Have them, then, all," replied the other, still half scornfully. "Lo! I am here to lead; the field of Mars will give a place; the consular elections an occasion; the blood of Cicero a signal!"
"Be it so!" instantly replied Cethegus; "be it so! thou hast spoken, as the times warrant, boldly; and upon my head be it, that our deeds shall respond to thy daring words, with equal daring!"
And a loud hum of general assent succeeded to his stirring accents; and a quick fluttering sound ran through the whole assemblage, as every man, released from the constraint of deep and silent expectation, altered his posture somewhat, and drew a long breath at the close. But the conspirator paused not. He saw immediately the effect which had been made upon the minds of all, by what had passed. He perceived the absolute necessity of following that impulse up to action, before, by a revulsion no less sudden than the late change from despondency to fierceness, their minds should again subside into the lethargy of doubt and dismay.
"But say thou, Sergius," he continued, "how shall it be, and who shall strike the blow that is to seal Rome's liberty, our vengeance?"
"First swear we!" answered Cataline. "Laeca, the eagle, and the bowl!"
"Lo! they are here, my Sergius," answered the master of the house, drawing aside a piece of crimson drapery, which covered a small niche or recess in the wall, and displaying by the movement a silver eagle, its pinions wide extended, and its talons grasping a thunderbolt, placed on a pedestal, under a small but exquisitely sculptured shrine of Parian marble. Before the image there stood a votive lamp, fed by the richest oils, a mighty bowl of silver half filled with the red Massic wine, and many paterae, or sacrificial vessels of a yet richer metal.
"Hear, bird of Mars, and of Quirinus"—cried Cataline, without a pause, stretching his hands toward the glittering effigy—"Hear thou, and be propitious! Thou, who didst all-triumphant guide a yet greater than Quirinus to deeds of might and glory; thou, who wert worshipped by the charging shout of Marius, and consecrated by the gore of Cimbric myriads; thou, who wert erst enshrined on the Capitoline, what time the proud patricians veiled their haughty crests before the conquering plebeian; thou, who shalt sit again sublime upon those ramparts, meet aery for thine unvanquished pinion; shalt drink again libations, boundless libations of rich Roman life-blood, hot from patrician hearts, smoking from every kennel! Hear and receive our oaths—listen and be propitious!"
He spoke, and seizing from the pedestal a sacrificial knife, which lay beside the bowl, opened a small vein in his arm, and suffered the warm stream to gush into the wine. While the red current was yet flowing, he gave the weapon to Cethegus, and he did likewise, passing it in his turn to the conspirator who stood beside him, and he in like manner to the next, till each one in his turn had shed his blood into the bowl, which now mantled to the brim with a foul and sacrilegious mixture, the richest vintage of the Massic hills, curdled with human gore.
Then filling out a golden goblet for himself, "Hear, God of war," cried Cataline, "unto whose minister and omen we offer daily worship; hear, mighty Mars, the homicide and the avenger; and thou, most ancient goddess, hear, Nemesis! and Hecate, and Hades! and all ye powers of darkness, Furies and Fates, hear ye! For unto ye we swear, never to quench the torch; never to sheath the brand; till all our foes be prostrate, till not one drop shall run in living veins of Rome's patricians; till not one hearth shall warm; one roof shall shelter; till Rome shall be like Carthage, and we, like mighty Marius, lords and spectators of her desolation! We swear! we taste the consecrated cup! and thus may his blood flow, who shall, for pity or for fear, forgive or fail or falter—his own blood, and his wife's, and that of all his race forever! May vultures tear their eyes, yet fluttering with quick vision; may wolves tug at their heart-strings, yet strong with vigorous life; may infamy be their inheritance, and Tartarus receive their spirits!"
And while he spoke, he sipped the cup of horror with unreluctant lips, and dashed the goblet with the residue over the pedestal and shrine. And there was not one there who shrank from that foul draught. With ashy cheeks indeed, but knitted brows, and their lips reeking red with the abomination, but fearless and unfaltering, they pledged in clear and solemn tones, each after each, that awful imprecation, and cast their goblets down, that the floor swam in blood; and grasped each others' hands, sworn comrades from that hour even to the gates of hell.
A long and impressive silence followed. For every heart there, even of the boldest, recoiled as it were for a moment on itself, not altogether in regret or fear, much less in anything approaching to compunction or remorse; but in a sort of secret horror, that they were now involved beyond all hope of extrication, beyond all possibility of turning back or halting! And Cataline, endowed with almost superhuman shrewdness, and himself quite immovable of purpose, perceived the feelings that actuated all the others—which he felt not, nor cared for—and called on Laeca to bring wine.
"Wine, comrades," he exclaimed, "pure, generous, noble wine, to wash away the rank drops from our lips, that are more suited to our blades! to make our veins leap cheerily to the blythe inspiration of the God! and last, not least, to guard us from the damps of this sweet chamber, which alone of his bounteous hospitality our Porcius has vouchsafed to us!" And on the instant, the master—for they dared trust no slaves—bore in two earthen vases, one of strong Chian from the Greek Isle of the Egean, the other of Falernian, the fruitiest and richest of the Italian wines, not much unlike the modern sherry, but having still more body, and many cyathi, or drinking cups; but he brought in no water, wherewith the more temperate ancients were wont to mix their heady wines, even in so great a ratio as nine to one of the generous liquor.
"Fill now! fill all!" cried Cataline, and with the word he drained a brimming cup. "Rare liquor this, my Marcus," he continued; "whence had'st thou this Falernian? 'tis of thine inmost brand, I doubt not. In whose consulship did it imbibe the smoke?"
"The first of Caius Marius."
"Forty-four years, a ripe age," said Cethegus, "but twill be better forty years hence. Strange, by the Gods! that of the two best things on earth, women and wine, the nature should so differ. The wine is crude still, when the girl is mellow; but it is ripe, long after she is——"
"Rotten, by Venus!"—interposed Caeparius, swearing the harlot's oath; "Rotten, and in the lap of Lamia!"
"But heard ye not," asked Cataline, "or hearing, did ye not accept the omen!—in whose first Consulship this same Falernian jar was sealed?"
"Marius! By Hercules! an omen! oh, may it turn out well!" exclaimed the superstitious Lentulus.
"Sayest thou, my Sura? well! drink we to the omen, and may we to the valour and the principles of Marius unite the fortunes of his rival—of all-triumphant Sylla!"
A burst of acclamations replied to the happy hit, and seeing now his aim entirely accomplished, Cataline checked the revel; their blood was up; no fear of chilling counsels!
"Now then," he said, "before we drink like boon companions, let us consult like men; there is need now of counsel; that once finished"——
"Fulvia awaits me," interrupted Cassius, "Fulvia, worth fifty revels!"
"And me Sempronia," lisped the younger and more beautiful of the twin Sylla.
"Meanwhile," exclaimed Autronius, "let us comprehend, so shall we need no farther meetings—each of which risks the awakening of suspicion, and it may well be of discovery. Let us now comprehend, that, when the time comes, we may all perform our duty. Speak to us, therefore, Sergius."
No farther exhortation was required; for coolly the conspirator arose to set before his desperate companions, the plans which he had laid so deeply, that it seemed scarcely possible that they should fail; and not a breath or whisper interrupted him as he proceeded.
"Were I not certain of the men," he said, "to whom I speak, I could say many things that should arouse you, so that you should catch with fiery eagerness at aught that promised a more tolerable position. I could recount the luxuries of wealth which you once knew; the agonies of poverty beneath which, to no purpose, you lie groaning. I could point out your actual inability to live, however basely—deprived of character and credit—devoid of any relics of your fortunes! weighed to the very earth by debts, the interest alone of which has swallowed up your patrimonies, and gapes even yet for more! fettered by bail-bonds, to fly which is infamy, and to abide them ruin! shunned, scorned, despised, and hated, if not feared by all men. I could paint, to your very eyes, ourselves in rags or fetters! our enemies in robes of office, seated on curule chairs, swaying the fate of nations, dispensing by a nod the wealth of plundered provinces! I could reverse the picture. But, as it is, your present miseries and your past deeds dissuade me. Your hopelessness and daring, your wrongs and valor, your injuries and thirst of vengeance, warn me, alike, that words are weak, and exhortation needless. Now understand with me, how matters stand. The stake for which we play, is fair before your eyes:—learn how our throw for it is certain. The consular elections, as you all well know, will be held, as proclaimed already, on the fifteenth day before the calends of November. My rivals are Sulpicius, Muraena, and Silanus. Antonius and Cicero will preside—the first, my friend! a bold and noble Roman! He waits but an occasion to declare for us. Now, mark me. Caius Manlius—you all do know the man, an old and practised soldier, a scar-seamed veteran of Sylla,—will on that very day display yon eagle to twenty thousand men, well armed, and brave, and desperate as ourselves, at Fiesole. Septimius of Camerinum writes from the Picene district, that thirty thousand slaves will rise there at his bidding; while Caius Julius, sent to that end into Apulia, has given out arms and nominated leaders to twice five thousand there. Ere this, they have received my mandate to collect their forces, and to march on that same day toward Rome. Three several armies, to meet which there is not one legion on this side of Cisalpine Gaul! What, then, even if all were peace in Rome, what then could stand against us? But there shall be that done here, here in the very seat and heart, as I may say, of Empire, that shall dismay and paralyse all who would else oppose us. Cethegus, when the centuries are all assembled in the field of Mars, with fifteen hundred gladiators well armed and exercised even now, sets on the guard in the Janiculum, and beats their standard down. Then, while all is confusion, Statilius and Gabinius with their households,—whom, his work done, Cethegus will join straightway—will fire the city in twelve several places, break open the prison doors, and crying "Liberty to slaves!" and "Abolition of all debts!"—rush diverse throughout the streets, still gathering numbers as they go. Meanwhile, with Lentulus and Cassius, the clients of your houses being armed beneath their togas with swords and breast-plates, and casques ready to be donned, I will make sure of Cicero and the rest. Havoc, and slaughter, and flames every where will make the city ours. Then ye, who have no duty set, hear, and mark this: always to kill is to do something! the more, and nobler, so much the better deed! Remembering this, that sons have ready access to their sires, who for the most part are their bitterest foes! and that to spare none we are sworn—how, and how deeply, it needs not to remind you. More words are bootless, since to all here it must be evident that these things, planned thus far with deep and prudent council, once executed with that dauntless daring, which alone stands for armor, and for weapons, and, by the Gods! for bulwarks of defence, must win us liberty and glory, more over wealth, and luxury, and power, in which names is embraced the sum of all felicity. Therefore, now, I exhort you not; for if the woes which you would shun, the prizes which you shall attain, exhort you not, all words of man, all portents of the Gods, are dumb, and voiceless, and in vain! Mark the day only, and remember, that if not ye, at least your sires were Romans and were men!"
"Bravely, my Sergius, hast thou spoken, and well done!" cried at once several voices of the more prominent partisans.
"By the Gods! what a leader!" whispered Longinus Cassius to his neighbor.
"Fabius in council," cried Cethegus, "Marcellus in the field!"
"Moreover, fellow-soldiers," exclaimed Lentulus, "hear this: although he join not with us now, through policy, Antonius, the Consul, is in heart ours, and waits but for the first success to declare himself for the cause in arms. Crassus, the rich—Caesar, the people's idol—have heard our counsels, and approve them. The first blow struck, their influence, their names, their riches, and their popularity, strike with us—trustier friends, by Pollux! and more potent, than fifty thousand swordsmen!"
A louder and more general burst of acclamation and applause than that which had succeeded Cataline's address, burst from the lips of all, as those great names dropped from the tongue of Lentulus; and one voice cried aloud—it was the voice of Curius, intoxicated as it were with present triumph—
"By all the Gods! Rome is our own! our own, even now, to portion out among our friends, our mistresses, our slaves!"
"Not Rome—but Rome's inheritance, the world!" exclaimed another. "If we win, all the universe is ours—and see how small the stake; when, if we fail"—
"By Hades, we'll not fail!" Cataline interrupted him, in his deep penetrating tones. "We cannot, and we will not! and now, for I wax somewhat weary, we will break up this conclave. We meet at the comitia!"
"And the Slave?" whispered Cethegus, with an inquiring accent, in his ear—"the Slave, my Sergius?"
"Will tell no tales of us," replied the other, with a hoarse laugh, "unless it be to Lamia."
Thus they spoke as they left the house; and ere the day had yet begun to glimmer with the first morning twilight—so darkly did the clouds still muster over the mighty city—went on their different ways toward their several homes, unseen, and, as they fondly fancied, unsuspected.
Fair lovers, ye are fortunately met. MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
On the same night, and almost at the same hour of the night, wherein that dreadful conclave was assembled at the house of Laeca, a small domestic group, consisting indeed only of three individuals, was gathered in the tablinum, or saloon, of an elegant though modest villa, situate in the outskirts of the city, fronting the street that led over the Mulvian bridge to the AEmilian way, and having a large garden communicating in the rear with the plebeian cemetery on the Esquiline.
It was a gay and beautiful apartment, of small dimensions, but replete with all those graceful objects, those manifold appliances of refined taste and pleasure, for which the Romans, austere and poor no longer, had, since their late acquaintance with Athenian polish and Oriental luxury, acquired a predilection—ominous, as their sterner patriots fancied, of personal degeneracy and national decay.
Divided from the hall of reception by thick soft curtains, woven from the choice wool of Calabria, and glowing with the richest hues of the Tyrian crimson; and curtained with hangings of the same costly fabric around the windows, both of which with the doorway opened upon a peristyle; that little chamber wore an air of comfort, that charmed the eye more even than its decorations. Yet these were of no common order; for the floor was tesselated in rare patterns of mosaic work, showing its exquisite devices and bright colors, where they were not concealed by a footstool of embroidered tapestry. The walls were portioned out into compartments, each framed by a broad border of gilded scroll-work on a crimson ground, and containing an elaborately finished fresco painting; which, could they have been seen by any critical eye of modern days, would have set at rest for ever the question as to the state of this art among the ancients. The subject was a favorite one with all artists of all ages,—from the world-famous Iliad: the story of the goddess-born Achilles. Here tutored by the wise Centaur, Chiron, in horsemanship and archery, and all that makes a hero; here tearing off the virgin mitre, to don the glittering casque proffered, with sword and buckler, among effeminate wares, by the disguised Ulysses; there wandering in the despondent gloom of injured pride along the stormy sea, meet listener to his haughty sorrows, while in the distance, turning her tearful eyes back to her lord, Briseis went unwilling at the behest of the unwilling heralds. Again he was presented, mourning with frantic grief over the corpse of his beloved Patroclus—grief that called up his Nereid mother from the blue depths of her native element; and, in the last, chasing with unexampled speed the flying Hector, who, stunned and destined by the Gods to ruin, dared not await his onset, while Priam veiled his face upon the ramparts, and Hecuba already tore her hair, presaging the destruction of Troy's invincible unshaken column.(2)
A small wood fire blazed cheerfully upon the hearth, round which were clustered, in uncouth attitudes of old Etruscan sculpture, the grim and grotesque figures of the household Gods. Two lamps of bronze, each with four burners, placed on tall candelabra exquisitely carved in the same metal, diffused a soft calm radiance through the room, accompanied by an aromatic odor from the perfumed vegetable oil which fed their light. Upon a circular table of dark-grained citrean wood, inlaid with ivory and silver, were several rolls of parchment and papyrus, the books of the day, some of them splendidly emblazoned and illuminated; a lyre of tortoiseshell, and near to it the slender plectrum by which its cords were wakened to melody. Two or three little flasks of agate and of onyx containing some choice perfumes, a Tuscan vase full of fresh-gathered flowers, and several articles yet more decidedly feminine, were scattered on the board; needles, and thread of various hues, and twine of gold and silver, and some embroidery, half finished, and as it would seem but that instant laid aside. Such was the aspect of the saloon wherein three persons were sitting on that night; who, though they were unconscious, nay, even unsuspicious of the existence of conspiracy and treason, were destined, ere many days should elapse, to be involved in its desperate mazes; to act conspicuous parts and undergo strange perils, in the dread drama of the times.
They were of different years and sex—one, a magnificent and stately matron, such as Rome's matrons were when Rome was at the proudest, already well advanced in years, yet still possessing not merely the remains of former charms, but much of real beauty, and that too of the noblest and most exalted order. Her hair, which had been black in her youth as the raven's wing, was still, though mixed with many a line of silver, luxuriant and profuse as ever. Simply and closely braided over her broad and intellectual temples, and gathered into a thick knot behind, it displayed admirably the contour of her head, and suited the severe and classic style of her strictly Roman features. The straight-cut eye-brows, the clear and piercing eye, the aquiline nose, and the firm thin lips, spoke worlds of character and decision; yet that which might have otherwise seemed stern and even harsh, was softened by a smile of singular sweetness, and by a lighting up of the whole countenance, which at times imparted to those high features an expression of benevolence, gentle and feminine in the extreme.
Her stature was well suited to the style of her lineaments; majestically tall and stately, and though attenuated something by the near approach of old age, preserving still the soft and flowing outlines of a form, which had in youth been noted for roundness and voluptuous symmetry.
She wore the plain white robes, bordered and zoned with crimson, of a patrician lady, but save one massive signet on the third finger of her right hand she had no gem or ornament whatever; and as she sat a little way aloof from her younger companions, drawing the slender threads with many a graceful motion from the revolving distaff into the basket by her side, she might have passed for her, whose proud prayer, that she might be known not as the daughter of the Scipios but as the mother of the Gracchi, was but too fatally fulfilled in the death-earned celebrity of those her boasted jewels.
The other lady was smaller, slighter, fairer, and altogether so different in mien, complexion, stature, and expression, that it was difficult even for those who knew them well to believe that they were a mother and her only child. For even in her flush of beauty, the elder lady, while in the full splendor of Italian womanhood, must ever have been calculated to inspire admiration, not all unmixed with awe, rather than tenderness or love. The daughter, on the other hand, was one whose every gesture, smile, word, glance, bespoke that passion latent in itself, which it awakened in the bosom of all beholders.
Slightly above the middle stature, and with a waist of scarce a span's circumference, her form was exquisitely full and rounded; the sweeping outlines of her snow-white and dimpled arms, bare to the shoulders, and set off by many strings of pearl, which were themselves scarcely whiter than the skin on which they rested; the swan-like curvature of the dazzling neck; the wavy and voluptuous development of her bust, shrouded but not concealed by the plaits of her white linen stola, fastened on either shoulder by a clasp of golden fillagree, and gathered just above her hips by a gilt zone of the Grecian fashion; the small and shapely foot, which peered out with its jewelled sandal under her gold-fringed draperies; combined to present to the eye a very incarnation of that ideal loveliness, which haunts enamored poets in their dreams, the girl just bursting out of girlhood, the glowing Hebe of the soft and sunny south. But if her form was lovely, how shall the pen of mortal describe the wild romantic beauty of her soul-speaking features. The rich redundancy of her dark auburn hair, black where the shadows rested on it as the sable locks of night, but glittering out wherever a wandering ray glanced on its glossy surface like the bright tresses of Aurora. The broad and marble forehead, the pencilled brows, and the large liquid eyes fraught with a mild and lustrous languor; the cheeks, pale in their wonted mood as alabaster, yet eloquent at times with warm and passionate blushes. The lips, redder than aught on earth which shares both hue and softness; and, more than all, the deep and indescribable expression which genius prints on every lineament of those, who claim that rarest and most godlike of endowments.
She was a thing to dream of, not describe; to dream of in some faint and breathless eve of early summer, beside the margin of some haunted streamlet, beneath the shade of twilight boughs in which the fitful breeze awakes that whispering melody, believed by the poetic ancients to be the chorus of the wood-nymph; to dream of and adore—even as she was adored by him who sat beside her, and watched each varying expression, that swept across her speaking features; and hung upon each accent of the low silvery voice, as if he feared it were the last to which his soul should thrill responsive.
He was a tall and powerful youth of twenty-four or five years; yet, though his limbs were sinewy and lithe, and though his deep round chest, thin flanks, and muscular shoulders gave token of much growing strength, it was still evident that, his stature having been prematurely gained, he lacked much of that degree of power of which his frame gave promise. For though his limbs were well formed they were scarcely set, or furnished, as we should say in speaking of an animal; and the strength, which he in truth possessed, was that of elasticity and youthful vigor, capable rather of violent though brief exertion, than that severe and trained robustness, which can for long continuous periods sustain the strongest and most trying labor.
His hair was dark and curling—his eye bright, clear, and penetrating; yet was its glance at times wavering and undetermined, such as would indicate perhaps a want of steadiness of purpose, not of corporeal resolution, for that was disproved by one glance at the decided curve of his bold clean-cut mouth, and the square outlines of his massive jaw, which seemed almost to betoken fierceness. There was a quick short flash at times, keen as the falcon's, in the unsteady eye, that told of energy enough within and stirring spirit to prompt daring deeds, the momentary irresolution conquered. There was a frank and cheery smile that oftentimes belied the auguries drawn from the other features; and, more than all, there was a tranquil sweet expression, which now and then pervaded the whole countenance, altering for the better its entire character, and betokening more mind and deeper feelings, than would at first have been suspected from his aspect.
His dress was the ordinary tunic of the day, of plain white woollen stuff, belted about the middle by a girdle, which contained his ivory tablets, and the metallic pencil used for writing on their waxed surface, together with his handkerchief and purse; but nothing bearing the semblance of a weapon, not so much even as a common knife. His legs and arms were bare, his feet being protected merely by sandals of fine leather having the clasps or fibulae of gold; as was the buckle of his girdle, and one huge signet ring, which was his only ornament.
His toga, which had been laid aside on entering the saloon, as was the custom of the Romans in their own families, or among private friends, hung on the back of an armed chair; of ample size and fine material, but undistinguished by the marks of senatorial or equestrian rank. Such was the aspect, such the bearing of the youth, who might be safely deemed the girl's permitted suitor, from his whole air and manner, as he listened to the soft voice of his beautiful mistress. For as they sat there side by side, perusing from an illuminated scroll the elegies of some long-perished, long-forgotten poet, now reading audibly the smooth and honeyed lines, now commenting with playful criticism on the style, or carrying out with all the fervor and romance of young poetical temperament the half obscure allusions of the bard, no one could doubt that they were lovers; especially if he marked the calm and well-pleased smile that stole from time to time across the proud features of that patrician lady; who, sitting but a little way apart, watched—while she reeled off skein after skein of the fine Byssine flax in silence—the quiet happiness of the young pair.
Thus had the evening passed, not long nor tediously to any of the party; and midnight was at hand; when there entered from the atrium a grey-headed slave bearing a tray covered with light refreshments—fresh herbs, endive and mallows sprinkled with snow, ripe figs, eggs and anchovies, dried grapes, and cakes of candied honey; while two boys of rare beauty followed, one carrying a flagon of Chian wine diluted with snow water, the other a platter richly chased in gold covered with cyathi, or drinking cups, some of plain chrystal, some of that unknown myrrhine fabric,(3) which is believed by many scholars to have been highly vitrified and half-transparent porcelain.
A second slave brought in a folded stand, like a camp stool in shape, on which the tray was speedily deposited, while on a slab of Parian marble near which the two boys took their stand, the wine and goblets were arranged in glittering order.
So silently, however, was all this done, that, their preparations made, the elder slaves had retired with a deep genuflexion, leaving the boys only to administer at that unceremonious banquet, ere the young couple, whose backs were turned towards the table, perceived the interruption.
The brilliant smile, which has been mentioned, beamed from the features of the elder lady, as she perceived how thoroughly engrossed, even to the unconsciousness of any passing sound, they were, whom, rising for the purpose, and laying by her work, she now proceeded to recall to sublunary matters.
"Paullus," she said, "and you, my Julia, ye are unconscious how the fleeting hours have slipped away. The night hath far advanced into the third watch. I would not part ye needlessly, nor over soon, especially when you must so soon perforce be severed; but we must not forget how long a homeward walk awaits our dear Arvina. Come, then, and partake some slight refreshment, before you say farewell.
"How thoughtless in me, to have detained you thus, and with a mile to walk this murky and unpleasant night. They say, too, that the streets are dangerous of late, haunted by dissolute night-revellers—that villain Clodius and his infamous co-mates. I tremble like a leaf if I but meet them in broad day—and what if you should fall in with them, when flushed with wine, and ripe for any outrage?"
"Fie! dear one, fie!" answered the young man with a smile—"a sorry soldier wouldst thou make of me, who am within so short a space to meet the savages of Pontus, under our mighty Pompey! There is no danger, Julia, here in the heart of Rome; and my stout freedman Thrasea awaits me with his torch. Nor is it so far either to my house, for those who cross, as I shall do, the cemetery on the Esquiline. 'Tis but a step across the sumptuous Carinae to the Caelian."
"But surely, surely, Paul," exclaimed the lovely girl, laying her hand upon his arm, "thou wouldst not cross that fearful burying-ground, haunted by all things awful and obscene, thus at the dead of night. Oh! do not, dearest," she continued, "thou knowest not what wild terrible tales are rife, of sounds and sights unnatural and superhuman, encountered in those loathsome precincts. 'Tis a mere tempting of the Dark Ones, to brave the horrors of that place!"
"The Gods, my Julia," replied the youth unmoved by her alarm, "the Gods are never absent from their votaries, so they be innocent and pure of spirit. For me! I am unconscious of a wilful fault, and fear not anything."
"Well said, Paullus Arvina," exclaimed the elder lady, "and worthily of your descent from the Caecilii"—for from that noble house his family indeed derived its origin. "But, although I," she added, "counsel you not to heed our Julia's girlish terrors, I love you not to walk by night so slenderly accompanied. Ho! boy, go summon me the steward, and bid him straightway arm four of the Thracian slaves."
"No! by the Gods, Hortensia!" the young man interrupted her, his whole face flushing with excitement, "you do shame to my manhood, by your caution. There is in truth no shadow of danger. Besides," he added, laughing at his own impetuosity, "I shall be far beyond the Esquiline ere excellent old Davus could rouse those sturdy knaves of yours, or find the armory key; for lo! I will but tarry to taste one cup of your choice of Chian to my Julia's health, and then straight homeward. Have a care, my fair boy, that flagon is too heavy to be lifted safely by such small hands as thine, and its contents too precious to be wasted. Soh! that's well done; thou'lt prove a second Ganymede! Health, Julia, and good dreams—may all fair things attend thee, until we meet again."
"And when shall that be, Paul," whispered his mistress, a momentary flush shooting across brow, neck, and bosom, as she spoke, and leaving her, a second afterward, even paler than her wont, between anxiety and fear, and the pain even of this temporary parting—"when shall that be? to-morrow?"
"Surely, to-morrow! fairest," he replied, clasping her little hand with a fond pressure, "unless, which may the Gods avert! anything unforeseen prevent me. Give me my toga, boy," he added, "and see if Thrasea waits, and if his torch be lighted."
"Bid him come hither, Geta," Hortensia interposed, addressing the boy as he left the room, "and tell old Davus to accompany him, bringing the keys of the peristyle and of the garden gate. So shalt thou gain the Esquiline more easily."
Her orders were obeyed as soon as they were spoken, and but few moments intervened before the aged steward, and the freedman with his staff and torch, the latter so prepared by an art common to the ancients as to set almost any violence of wind or rain at defiance, stood waiting their commands.
Familiar and kind words were interchanged between those high-born ladies and the trustworthy follower of young Arvina. For those were days, when no cold etiquette fettered the freedom of the tongue, and when no rank, how stately or how proud soever, induced austerity of bearing or haughtiness toward inferiors; and these concluded, greetings, briefer but far more warm, followed between the master and his intended bride.
"Sweet slumbers, Julia, and a happy wakening attend you! Farewell, Hortensia; both of ye farewell!" and passing into the colonnade through the door which Davus had unlocked, he drew the lappet of his toga over his head after the fashion of a hood to shield it from the drizzling rain—for, except on a journey, the hardy Romans never wore any hat or headgear—and hastened with a firm and regular step along the marble peristyle. This portico, or rather piazza, enclosed, by a double row of Tuscan columns, a few small flower beds, and a fountain springing high in the air from the conch of a Triton, and falling back into a large shell of white marble, which it was so contrived as to keep ever full without at any time overflowing.
Beyond this was a summer triclinium or dining room facing the north, and provided with the three-sided couch, from which it took its name, embracing a circular table. Through this they passed into a smaller court adorned like the other by a jet d'eau, surrounded by several small boudoirs and bed chambers luxuriously decorated, which were set apart to the use of the females of the family, and guarded night and day by the most trusty of the slaves.
Hence a strong door gave access to a walled space, throughout the length of which on either hand ran a long range of offices, and above them the dormitories of the slaves, with a small porter's lodge or guard room by the gate, opening on the orchard in the rear.
Therein were stationed the four Thracians, mentioned by Hortensia, whose duty it was to keep watch alternately over the safety of the postern, although the key was not entrusted to their charge; and he, whose watch it was, started up from a bench on which he had been stretched, and looked forth torch in hand at the sound of approaching footsteps. Seeing, however, who it was, and that the steward attended him, he lent his aid in opening the postern, and reverently bowed the knee to Arvina, as he departed from the hospitable villa.
The orchard through which lay his onward progress, occupied a considerable extent of ground, laid out in terraces adorned with marble urns and statues, long bowery walks sheltered by vine-clad trellices, and rows of fruit trees interspersed with many a shadowy clump of the rich evergreen holm-oak, the tufted stone-pine, the clustering arbutus, and smooth-leaved laurestinus. This lovely spot was separated from the plebeian cemetery only—as has been said already—by a low wall; and therefore in those days of universal superstition of the lower orders and the slaves, and many too of their employers, would have eschewed it as a place ominous of evil, if not unsafe and perilous.
The mind of Paul, however, if not entirely free from any touch of superstitious awe, which at that period of the world would have been a thing altogether unnatural and impossible, was at least of too firm a mould to shake at mere imaginary terrors; and he strode on, lighted by his torch-bearer, through the dark mazes of the orchard, with all his thoughts engrossed by the pleasant reminiscences of the past evening. Thoughtless, however, as he was, and bold, he yet recoiled a step, and the blood rushed tumultuously to his heart, as a loud yelling cry, protracted strangely, and ending in a sound midway between a groan and a burst of horrid laughter, rose awfully upon the silent night; and it required an effort to man his heart against a feeling, which crept through him, nearly akin to fear.
But with the freedman Thrasea it was a very different matter, for he shook so much with absolute terror, that he had well nigh dropped the torch; while, drawing nearer to his master's side, with teeth that chattered as if in an ague fit, and a face deserted by every particle of color, he besought him in faltering accents, "by all the Gods! to turn back instantly, lest evil might come of it!"
His entreaties were, however, of no avail with the brave youth, who in a moment had shaken off his transitory terror, and was now resolute, not only to proceed on his homeward route, but to investigate the cause and meaning of the outcry.