First published in 1918, this book went through sixteen printings before it ceased to be a money-maker for its publishers. It provides a fascinating glimpse into a world most of us know nothing about.
It has been slightly re-edited for ease in reading as an e-text. The author's spellings have been left alone even when they are incorrect in English English, American English, and Latin.
End PG editor's note.
THE UNWILLING VESTAL
The Unwilling Vestal A Tale of Rome under the Caesars
EDWARD LUCAS WHITE Author of "El Supremo"
This book presents, for the first time in fiction, a correct and adequate account of the Vestal Virgins, their powers and privileges, as well as of many strange Roman customs and beliefs.
The author combines the power of writing a rattling good story with a sound and full knowledge of conditions of the life which he is depicting. Mr. White brings to the history of Rome all the picturesqueness and power which made his South American novel, "El Supremo," so remarkable. The result is a vivid pageant of imperial Rome and Roman life at the height of its power and splendor.
End of Jacket Blurb
Readers of <The Unwilling Vestal> who are not acquainted at first hand with the lighter and more intimate literature of the Romans may be surprised to discover that the lights of Roman high society talked slang and were interested in horseracing. Most writers who have tried to draw Roman society for us have been either ignorant or afraid of these facts. The author of <The Unwilling Vestal> is neither. He presents to us the upper class Romans exactly as they reveal themselves in the literature of their day; excitable, slangy, sophisticated and yet strangely credulous, enthusiastic sportsmen, hearty eaters and drinkers, and unblushingly keen on the trail of the almighty denarius. In a word, very much like the most up-to-date American society of to-day.
The Publishers feel that it is only fair that it should be made plain that the great difference between the Roman society folk of <The Unwilling Vestal> and those appearing in other novels is due to the author's thorough acquaintance with the people and the period about which he is writing.
Incidentally, the Publishers wish to thank Mr. C. Powell Minnegerode, the Curator of the Corcoran Gallery of Art of Washington, D. C., for his permission to reproduce Leroux' beautiful painting "The Vestal Tuccia" for use on the wrapper of the volume.
[wrapper not available - PG ed.]
End of Publisher's Note
PREFACE by author
The title of this romance is likely to prejudice any reader against it. There exists a popular delusion that fiction with a classical setting is bound to be dull and lumbering, that it is impossible for it to possess that quality of bravura slangily denominated "punch." Anybody will be disabused of that notion upon reading this story.
<<PG EDITOR'S NOTE: The slang is now, alas, over ninety years old. It now sounds even more stilted than the classical language does.>>
On the other hand, after having read it, almost any one will be likely to imagine that a novel with so startling a heroine and with incidents so bizarre cannot possibly be based on any sound and genuine knowledge of its background; that the author has conjured out of his fantasy not only his plot and chief characters, but also their world; that he has created out and out not merely his Vestal, but his Vestals, their circumstances and the life which they are represented as leading: that he has manufactured his local color to suit as he went along.
Nothing could be further from the actuality. The details of rule and ritual, of dress and duties, of privileges and punishments are set forth in accordance with a full first-hand and intimate acquaintance with all available evidence touching the Vestals; including all known inscriptions relating to them, every passage in Roman or Greek literature in any way concerning them, the inferences drawn from all existing or recorded sculptures and coins which add to our knowledge of them, and every treatise written since the revival of learning in Europe in which the Vestals are discussed. The story contains no preposterous anachronisms or fatuous absurdities. Throughout, it either embodies the known facts or is invented in conformity with the known facts.
Any one to whom chapter twenty-one seems incredible should consult an adequate encyclopedia article or an authoritative treatise on physics and read up on the surface tension of liquids.
End of Preface by Author
The Rage of Disappointment
I. Precocity II. Sieves III. Stutterings IV. Pestilence V. Escapades VI. Notoriety VII. Audience
The Revolt of Despondency
VIII. Scourging IX. Alarms X. Conference XI. Farewell XII. Observances XIII. Perversity XIV. Amazement
The Rebellion of Desperation
XV. Rehabilitation XVI. Vagary XVII. Recklessness XVIII. Fury XIX. Comfort
The Revulsion of Delight
XX. Accusation XXI. Ordeal XXII Triumph XXII. Salvage
The Rage of Disappointment
Chapter I - Precocity
"Brinnaria!" he said severely, "you will marry any man I designate."
"I never shall marry any man," she retorted positively, "except the man I want to marry."
She gazed unflinchingly into her father's imperious eyes, wide-set on either side of a formidable Roman nose. His return gaze was less incensed than puzzled. All his life he had been habituated to subserviency, had never met opposition, and to find it from his youngest daughter, and she a mere child, amazed him. As she faced him she appeared both resolute and tremulous. He looked her up and down from the bright blue velvety leather of her little shoes on which the gilt sole-edges and gilt laces glittered to the red flower in her brown hair. Inside her clinging red robe the soft outlines of her young shape swelled plump and healthy, yet altogether she seemed to him but a fragile creature. Resistance from her was incredible.
Perhaps this was one more of her countless whims. While he considered her meditatively he did not move his mighty arms or legs; the broad crimson stripe down his tunic rose and fell slowly above his ample paunch and vaster chest as his breath came evenly; on his short bull neck his great bullet head was as moveless as if he had been one of the painted statues that lined the walls all about. As the two regarded each other they could hear the faint splash of the fountain in the tank midway of the courtyard.
Her father, a true Roman to his marrow, with all a Roman's arbitrary instincts, reverted to the direct attack.
"You will marry Pulfennius Calvaster," he commanded.
"I will not!" she declared.
"Why not?" he queried.
The obstinacy faded from Brinnaria's handsome, regular face. She looked merely reflective
"In the first place," she said, "because I despise him and hate him worse than any young man I ever knew; I would not marry Calvaster if he were the only man left alive. In the second place, because, if all the men on earth were courting me at once, all rich and all fascinating and Caius were poor and anything and everything else that he isn't, I'd marry nobody ever except Caius. You hear me, Father. Caius Segontius Almo is the only, only man I'll ever marry. Nothing can shake my resolution, never."
She was breathing eagerly, her cheeks flushed a warm red through her olive complexion, her eyes shining till tiny specks sparkled green and yellow in the wide brown of her big irises.
Her father's jaw set.
"I've listened to you, daughter," he said. "Now you listen to me. I have no objections to Almo; I rather like him. I have thought of marrying you to him; if Segontius and I had not quarreled, we might have arranged it. There is no possibility of it now. And just now, for some reason or other, Pulfennius is keen on arranging a marriage between you and Calvaster. His offers are too tempting to be rejected and the chance is to good to be missed. Our properties adjoin not only here and at Baiae, but also at Praeneste, at Grumentum and at Ceneta. With our estates so marvellously paired the marriage seems divinely ordained when one comes to think it over. Don't be a fool. Anyhow, if you insist on making trouble for yourself, it will do you no good. My mind is made up. You are to marry Calvaster."
"I won't!" Brinnaria maintained
Her father smiled, a menacing smile
"Perhaps not," he said, "but there will be only one alternative. Unless you agree to obey me I shall go at once to the Pontifex and offer you for a Vestal."
Every trace of apprehension vanished from Brinnaria's expression. She grinned saucily, almost impudently, at her father, and snapped her fingers in his face.
"You can't scare me that way, Daddy!" she mocked him. "I know better than that. There can be only six Vestals. You can offer, if you like, but the Emperors themselves can't take me for a Vestal while the six are alive."
The laugh muffled in her throat; she was fairly daunted. Never had she seen her father's face so dark, so threatening. Not in all her life had he so much as spoken harshly to her; she had been his pet since she had begun to remember. But now, for one twinkling, she feared a blow from him. She almost shrank back from him.
He did not move and he spoke softly.
"Rabulla died this morning before dawn," was all he said.
Instantly Brinnaria. was fluttering with panic.
"You aren't in earnest, Daddy!" she protested. "You can't be in earnest. You're only fooling; you're only trying to frighten me. You don't really mean it; oh, please, Daddy, say you don't really mean it!"
"I really mean it," her father answered heavily. "I never meant anything more genuinely in my life. You know my influence with the Emperors and with the Pontifex of Vesta. You know that if I made the proposal they would disregard any rival petitioners, would override all unnecessary formalities, would have the matter despatched at once. Unless you obey me you will be a Vestal before sunset to-morrow."
Brinnaria was now fairly quivering with terror.
"Oh, Daddy!" she quivered, "you couldn't be so cruel. I'd rather die than have to be a Vestal. I couldn't imagine any life so terrible. Oh, Daddy, please say you are not in earnest."
"I swear," he said, "that I was never more in earnest. I say it solemnly, as sure as my name is Marcus Brinnarius Epulo, I'll have you made a Vestal unless you agree this moment to give up all thoughts of Almo, to obey me about marrying Calvaster, and to be properly polite to him and Pulfennius."
"Daddy!" Brinnaria cried. "Only don't have me made a Vestal and I'll do anything. I'll forget there ever was an Almo. I'll be sweet as honey to Pulfennius till he loves me better than Secunda, and I'll marry Calvaster; I'll marry anybody. Why, Daddy, I'd marry a boar pig rather than be a Vestal."
Her father smiled.
"I thought my little daughter would behave properly," he soothed her, "and you are just in time. That may be your future husband and father-in-law coming now."
In fact they were in a moment ushered in. Pulfennius was a tall man, lean and loose-jointed, with straggling, greenish-gray hair; a long, uneven head, broad at the skull and narrow at the chin; puffy, white bags of flabby flesh under his eyes; irregular yellow teeth and sagging cheeks that made his face look squarish. Calvaster was a mere boy, with a leaden complexion, shifty gray eyes, thin lips, and an expression at once sly and conceited.
"You come opportunely," said their host after the greetings had been exchanged, "for you happen to find me alone with the very daughter of whom you and I were talking. This is Brinnaria."
"This!" Pulfennius exclaimed. "This the girl we were talking about? Impossible! Incredible! There must be some mistake."
"There is no mistake," his host assured him. "This is the girl we were talking about, this is Brinnaria."
The visitor regarded her, respectfully standing now, her brown eyes down-cast, the flush faded from her olive-skinned cheeks, her arms hanging limply at her sides. She was tall for a girl and while slenderly built was well muscled, a fine handsome figure in her red robe.
"This!" he exclaimed again. "Indeed. So this is Brinnaria. I am very glad to have seen her. And now having seen her, do you not think that our business would be better transacted by us three males together?"
"Certainly, if you prefer," Brinnarius asserted.
He patted Brinnaria and kissed her.
"Run away now, little girl," he said, "and wait in the peristyle until I want you."
Brinnaria, once in the rear courtyard, instantly called:
Her call was answered by a great brute of a slave, bigger even than her father, a gigantic Goth, pink-skinned, blue-eyed and yellow-haired.
"Now listen to me, Guntello," his little mistress said, "for if you make any mistake about my errand you'll get me into no end of trouble."
The Goth, manifestly devoted to her, leaned his ear close and grinned amiably. She repeated her directions twice and made him repeat them after her in his broken Latin. When she was sure that he understood, she despatched him with a whispered injunction:
Meanwhile, in the gorgeous atrium, the fathers' conference had continued. The moment she had gone Pulfennius said:
"I do not believe in discussing misunderstandings before females; evidently there is some misunderstanding here. I want for my son a bride younger than he is, even if he has to wait two or even four years to claim her. You assured me that your daughter Brinnaria was not yet ten years of age and you show me a grown woman and tell me that she is Brinnaria. What is the explanation?"
"A very simple explanation," he was answered. "Merely that Brinnaria is unusually well grown and well developed for her age. I have seen other cases of early ripening in children and so must you."
"I've seen girls grown beyond their years," Pulfennius admitted, "but no case comparable to this. Why, man, that girl who has just left us would be taken for over eighteen years old by any stranger at first sight of her, and no one on earth could look at her carefully and hazard the conjecture that she might possibly be under sixteen."
"Quite so," his host agreed, "and the better you know Brinnaria the more you wonder at her. She not only looks sixteen or eighteen and acts as if she were that age, but she talks as if she were that old and thinks as if she were even older, and she is actually three full months, more than three months, to be precise three months and twelve days, under ten years of age."
"Amazing!" spluttered Pulfennius, "astounding! inexplicable!"
"Don't you believe me?" Brinnarius queried sharply.
"Certainly I believe you," his guest disclaimed, "but I cannot realize that it can be true; I am bewildered; I am dazed."
"Perhaps," the other suggested, "you would realize it better if Quartilla added her assurances to mine."
"Oh," the other deprecated, "I do not require anybody's corroboration to your statement. But if her mother is at home, perhaps her presence would be as well for other reasons."
When summoned his host's wife appeared as a medium-sized woman, neither plump nor slender, with a complexion neither brown nor white, with yellow-brown hair, gray-brown eyes, and in every outline, hue, and feature as neutral and inconspicuous a creature as could be conceived of.
"Yes," Quartilla said, "everybody is surprised at Brinnaria's growth. I was scared, when she first began to grow so fast, and had special prayers offered and sacrifices made at the temples of Youth and Health. Also I had a Babylonian seer consult the stars concerning her birth-signs. Everybody said she was born to long life, good health and great luck. But I can't fancy what ever made her grow so. She was fed like her brothers and sisters and she never seems to eat any heartier or any oftener. Till she was two and a half she was just like any other child. But she has grown more in seven years than any other child I ever knew of ever grew in fourteen and she's so old for her years too. Not but that she plays with dolls and toys and jacks; and she runs about just like any other child of her age, in spite of her size; but she says such grown-up things and she has such a womanly mind. She understands the family accounts better than I do, is keen on economy and could oversee the providing for the entire household. She astonishes me over and over. But there is no doubt about her age. Both my sisters were with me when she was born and Nemestronia too. Ask any of the three. Or I can tell you a dozen other ladies who know just as well. Brinnaria will not be ten years old until the Ides of September."
"Wonderful! marvellous!" Pulfennius exclaimed. "Madam, you amaze me. But if this is true so much the better. I had thought my boy must wait two years or more for a wife, as I am determined that no more of my sons shall marry wives of their own age, let alone older. If your daughter is so young, she will just suit me, and since she is already grown up we shall not have to wait for her to grow up. We can arrange for the wedding for this month."
They chaffered a long time about the marriage settlement,Calvaster sitting silent, biting his lips, staring about him and fidgetting; Quartilla equally silent, but entirely placid, without the twitch of a muscle or any shift of gaze; the two men doing all the talking. Some of the talking was almost vehement, Pulfennius disclaiming promises which his host declared he had made. Once they came to a deadlock and then Brinnarius, his voice suddenly mild and soft, mentioned Rabulla's death and his notion of offering Brinnaria for her successor. At once Pulfennius became manageable and supple and all eagerness for the happiness of the young couple.
When it seemed that they had reached an agreement on every point Quartilla had her say.
"I think you will find Brinnaria everything you could wish as a daughter-in-law. The most uncanny thing about her precocious habits of thought is her tenacity of any resolve and her grave and earnest attitude towards all questions of duty and propriety. She takes clan traditions very seriously and is determined to comport herself according to ancestral precedents. You will have no fault to find with her respectfulness towards you and Herrania or with her behavior as a wife. She will be circumspect in her deportment towards all men and is sure to turn out an excellent housewife. She has lofty inherited standards to live up to and she is deeply devoted to them.
"This is the more to be wondered at since she is strangely undignified in many ways. I trust this will wear off as she grows up. It is only in this respect that Brinnaria has ever given me any cause for concern. She is more like a boy than a girl in many ways. She not only plays with boys and plays boys' games and plays them as well as boys or better, not only climbs trees when she is in the country, and rides bareback and goes fishing and swimming in any stream or pool, and ranges the woods and cannot be restrained; but also she will indulge in the wildest pranks, the most unthinkable freaks, play rough practical jokes on anybody and everybody, laugh out loud, shout and yell, gesticulate and contort herself into undignified postures and act generally in an uproarious and uncurbed fashion. She keeps up that sort of thing even in town, and is boisterous and unexpected beyond anything I ever heard of in any young girl She is most docile in all really important things, but in respect to her jokings and shriekings and carryings-on she is really beyond my control. She is never openly disobedient, yet she is most ingenious at devising methods for avoiding obedience. Sometimes I lose patience with Brinnaria. But, when I really think it all over, there is no harm in any of it. Strangers, however, would think her a very terrible girl; she belies herself so. Any one becoming cognizant of some of her vagaries would form a very unfavorable judgment of her and most unjustly. In her heart she is anything but the wild creature she makes herself appear. Her squawks of merriment, her rude interruptions of her elders, her pert remarks, her sarcastic jokes, are all the manifestations of mere overflowing animal spirits, of warm-blooded youth and hearty health. She will tone down. She is the most startling and incalculable child I ever heard of. No one could anticipate her eccentricities. There is an originality of invention about her pranks which amazes me. But I am sure she will turn out all that I could wish."
"I trust so, indeed," said Pulfennius dryly. "I am grateful to you for warning me; I promise not to misjudge her because of any childish freakishness. And now it seems to me that we should make the young lady herself a party of this conference and bring the matter to a final settlement."
Brinnarius called a slave and bade him fetch Brinnaria.
Almost at once the fellow, a dark-skinned, obsequious Lydian, returned looking scared and yet on the verge of laughter. He could barely control his merriment, yet was plainly afraid to utter what he had to say. His master ordered him to speak.
"Instead of coming with me," he said, "the young lady sent a message. But I am afraid to give it to you. I am afraid of a thrashing if I give the message as she gave it to me."
"Another of her jokes," her father growled. "You shan't suffer for any of her impudence. Repeat her exact words; I'll hold you excused, Dastor."
Dastor, reassured, grinned with anticipated enjoyment and said:
"She says she is sitting down and very comfortable where she is, that she will not stand up till she feels inclined, and that if you want to see her you can come to her, for she will not come to you."
For a moment there was a tense silence.
Pulfennius spoke first.
"If this is a sample of the sort of deportment which my future daughter-in-law is expected to outgrow I might as well be shown just what this kind of behavior is like. Let us acquiesce and go to the little witch, if you do not object."
"I don't object at all to going," his host replied, "but I object to her behavior; I'll make her smart for it. Come, let us have it over with; I'll show you a submissive Brinnaria or I'll know the reason why."
They stood up and from the open atrium passed into a narrow passage lighted only from the two ends and so into the larger courtyard with gleaming marble columns at each end and long rows of them down each side. The tank under the open sky was much larger than that in the atrium and had two fountains in it. Pigeons cooed on the tiles of the roofs, and two or three of them strutted on the mosaic pavement among the columns.
The party, dumbfounded and stunned, stood without voice or movement, gazing at the picture before them.
The pavement was a cool grayish white in effect, for its mosaic work was all of pale neutral tints. Above it the background was all white,—white marble walls, the white marble polished pillars of the peristyle, white marble entablature above them, the general whiteness emphasized by the mere streak of red tiled roof visible against the intense blue of the sky.
The only color in the picture was to the left of the tank and close to it, where there had been set a big armchair upholstered in blue tapestry. In it sat a tall, fair-haired, curly-headed lad, with merry blue eyes. He wore a robe of pale green, the green of young onion tops. Against that green the red of Brinnaria's gown showed strident and glary, for Brinnaria was sitting on his lap. His arms were round her waist, hers about his neck. She was slowly swinging her blue-shod feet rhythmically and was kissing the lad audibly and repeatedly. As her elders stood still, petrified, mute and motionless with amazement, she imprinted a loud smack on the lad's lips, laid her cheek roguishly to his and peered archly at them, saying:
"Glad to see you again, Pulfennius; what do you think of me for a daughter-in-law?"
"I do not think of you for a daughter-in-law," Pulfennius snarled furiously.
He turned angrily to Brinnarius.
"What does this mean?" he queried.
His host echoed him.
"Brinnaria!" he called, imperatively. "What does this mean?"
"Mean?" she repeated. "It means that I am making the most of Almo while I can. I love Almo; I've promised to forget him, to be a good wife to Calvaster, and of course I'm going to keep my word. >From the moment I'm married to Calvaster I'll never so much as look at Almo, let alone touch him. So I'm touching him all I can while I have the chance."
She paused, kissed Almo twice, lingeringly and loudly, and looked up again.
"How's that for kissing, Calvaster?" she chirped. "Don't you wish it was you?"
"Come, son!" Pulfennius spluttered, "let us be gone! This is no place for us. We are being mocked and insulted."
"Nonsense, Pulfennius!" his host exclaimed. "Can't you see that I had no part in this, that the minx devised it all by herself expressly to thwart me? Don't let her have the satisfaction of outmanoeuvering both of us. Don't let a mere prank of a child spoil all our arrangements. She'll be a good wife as she says."
"A good wife!" Pulfennius snorted. 'I much doubt whether she can now ever be a good wife to any man. I'm sure she'll never be a wife to my son. You'd never convince me that she's fit to be my son's wife. Make her a Vestal, indeed! She a Vestal? She's much more likely to be something very different!"
"Do you mean to insinuate—" his host began.
"I mean to insinuate anything and everything appropriate to her wanton behavior," Pulfennius raged.
The two men glared at each other in a silence through which could be heard the cooing of the doves, the trickle of the two fountains, Brinnaria's low chuckle and the faint lisping sound of three distinct kisses.
"I beg your pardon!" spoke a voice behind them.
The four looked around.
"What brings you here, Segontius?" Brinnarius asked.
"One of my slaves brought me word," the intruder explained, "that my son had entered this house. I knew you had not changed your mind since you forbade him to cross your threshold, so I came here at once to disclaim any share in his intrusion and to take him home. I feared he might get into mischief."
"He has," Brinnarius replied, sententiously, "as you may see."
Brinnaria, entirely at her ease, hugged Almo rapturously and kissed him repeatedly.
"And I thought," Segontius pursued, "that you would probably smash every bone in his body if you caught him."
"I don't know why I haven't," spoke the big man reflectively.
"I know," shouted Pulfennius, "I can tell you. It is because this whole comedy has been rehearsed between you just to make me ridiculous. I know your way, your malignity, your tenacity of a grudge, your pretence of reconciliation, your ingenuity, your well-laid traps. I'll be revenged for this yet!"
"You won't live to be revenged," Brinnarius told him, "unless you get out of here quick. I'll break every bone in your body, for certain, if you address another word to me."
"Come, son, said Pulfennius, and shambled away.
"And now," spoke Segontius, "don't you think, Marcus, that you and I had best forget our quarrels and be friends again? These young folks were plainly meant for each other by all the gods who favor lovers. Let us not stand in the way."
"Indeed, Lucius," spoke the big man, holding out his huge hand. "I am of the same mind. But both of them deserve some punishment for their presumption. They should wait four years at least before they marry. My girl is too young."
"I agree," said Segontius, "and I'll send my boy to Falerii for the present. That will keep them apart and ensure propriety of behavior."
"That is well," growled Brinnarius, "and I'll send my girl to her aunt Septima's."
Brinnaria sprang up.
"Aunt Septima's?" she cried. "Spinach and mallows and a tiny roast lark for dinner every day. I'll starve to death And prim! I'd almost as lief be a Vestal!"
Chapter II - Sieves
To her luxurious but austerely managed villa, Aunt Septima welcomed Brinnaria with heartfelt, if repressed affection. Until the second sunrise Brinnaria controlled herself. Then the good lady endured her overgrown niece for some strenuous days, suffered impatiently for a few more, but finally packed off to Rome "that unspeakable child." At home again Brinnaria demanded pork and cabbage.
"My insides are as empty as the sky," she wailed. "Asparagus is all very well, but it's none too filling, even if you can eat all you want, and aunty says ten stalks is enough for any one meal. Chicken-breast is good, hot or cold, but aunty would never let me have a second helping. She wouldn't even let me have as much bread as I wanted and only one little dish of strawberries. I filled up on raw eggs, all I could find in the nests. But, my, six days of raw eggs was five days too many for me. I'm wild for cabbage, all I want, and pork, big hunks of it."
She got it and slept a sound night's sleep.
The next day she craved an outing on foot. Her mother, prone to the shortest cut to peace on all occasions, acquiesced at once and let her go out with her one-eyed maid, Utta.
Utta, born somewhere beyond the Rhine, had been brought to Rome when a small child and had no memories except memories of Italy. She was the most placid and acquiescent creature imaginable. Her little mistress led her first of all to the nearest pastry-cook's shop where the two ate till they could not swallow another crumb.
Brinnaria, like many eccentric children born to wealth and position, had special favorites, almost cronies, among the lowly. Chief among them was the old sieve-maker of the Via Sacra. To his shop she made Utta lead her. Utta interposed no objection. Utta never objected to anything. But in this case she was especially complaisant, since opposite the sieve-maker's was a fascinating embroidery shop, the keeper of which was entirely willing, when he had no customers, to let Utta lounge on one of his sofas and inspect embroideries to her heart's content. So lounging, rapt in the contemplation of Egyptian appliqus, Syrian gold-thread borders, Spanish linen-work, silk flower patterns from Cos, Parthian animal designs and Celtic cord-labyrinths after originals in leather thongs, Utta could glance up from time to time and make sure that her charge was safe with the sieve-maker.
Safe she would have been without any maid to watch her, for old Truttidius adored her. He was a small, hale, merry, wizened man, his seamed and wrinkled face brown as berry in spite of his lifelong habit of indoor labor and comparative inertia. He had more than a little tact and was an excellent listener. Brinnaria was entirely at ease with him.
His shop was rather large for those days, nearly fifteen feet wide and fully twenty deep. It faced directly on the street, from which it was separated only by the stone counter which occupied all the front except a narrow entrance at one side. Above the counter projected the heavy shutters which closed the shop at night and which, being hinged at the top, were by day pushed upward and outward so as to form a sort of pent like a wooden substitute for an awning. The entrance by the end of the counter was closed by a solid little gate. Behind the counter was the low stool from which Truttidius rose to chaffer with customers, and on which, when not occupied in trading, he sat at work, his bench and brazier by his side, his tools hanging on the wall by his hand, orderly in their neat racks or on their neat rows of hooks. Except for the trifling wall-space which they occupied, the walls were hidden under sieves hanging close together; bronze sieves, copper sieves, rush sieves with rims of white willow wood, white horse-hair sieves whose hoops were stout ash, sieves of black horse-hair stretched in rims of clean steamed oak and linen sieves hooped about with birch. Sieves were piled on the counter, mostly fancy sieves with hoops of carved wood strung with black and white horse-hair interlaced in bold patterns, or copper sieves, polished till they shone, they being most likely to catch the eyes of the passing throng.
Brinnaria, sprawled on the sofa against the wall behind the work-bench, surveyed her surroundings and sighed happily, entirely at home. Truttidius was beating copper wire, a process always fascinating to watch.
"I've had an awful time in the country with Aunt Septima," Brinnaria chatted, "and I had an awful scare before they sent me to the country. Daddy threatened to make me a Vestal."
"In place of Rabulla?" Truttidius queried, glancing up.
"Yes," Brinnaria answered, "but I got off; my, but I was scared though."
"You didn't want to be a Vestal?" Truttidius asked, eyeing her over his work.
"Not I!" Brinnaria declared. "I can't think of anything worse except being killed."
"Well," mused Truttidius, "there is no accounting for tastes. Most girls would be wild with delight at the idea. But there would be no sense in being a Vestal unless you wanted to be one."
"I don't," Brinnaria proclaimed emphatically, "but I have been thinking about Vestals ever since Daddy threatened me and scared me so; I've been thinking about Vestals and sieves. Did anybody ever really carry water in a sieve, Truttidius?"
"Water in a sieve?" the old man exclaimed. "Not anybody that ever I saw. What do you mean?"
"You must have heard the story of Tuccia, the Vestal," Brinnaria wondered, wide-eyed. "She lived ages ago, before Hannibal invaded Italy, when everything was different. They said she was bad and she said it was a lie and they said she could not prove it was a lie and she said she could. She said if she was all she ought to be the Goddess would show it by answering her prayer. And she took a sieve and walked down to the river, right by the end of the Sublician bridge, where the stairs are on the right-hand side. And the five other Vestals, and the flamens, and all the priests, and the Pontifex, and the consuls went with her. And she stood on the lowest step with her toes in the water and prayed out loud to the Goddess to help her and show that she had told the truth and then she stooped over and dipped up water with her sacrificing ladle and poured it into the sieve and it didn't run through, and she dipped up more and more until the sieve was half full of water, as if it had been a pan. And then she hung her ladle at her girdle-hook and took the sieve in both hands and carried the water all the way to the temple. And everybody said that that proved that she had told the truth.
"That's the story. Had you ever heard it?"
"Yes, little lady," Truttidius said, "I have heard it."
"What I want to know," Brinnaria pursued, "is this: Is it a made-up story or is it a true story P"
Little lady," spoke Truttidius, "it is impious to doubt the truth of pious stories handed down from days of old."
"That isn't answering my question," said the practical Brinnaria. "What I want you to tell me is to say right out plain do you believe it. Did anybody really ever carry water in a sieve?"
"You must remember, dear little lady," the sieve-maker said, "that she was a most holy priestess, most pleasing in the eyes of her Goddess, that she was in dire straits and that she prayed to the Goddess to aid her. The Goddess helped her votary; the gods can do all things."
"The gods can do all things," Brinnaria echoed, her eyes flashing, "but the gods don't do all things, not even for their favorites. There are lots and lots of things no god ever did for any votary or ever will. What I want to know is this: Is carrying water in a sieve one of the things the gods not only can do but do do? Did anybody ever carry water in a sieve truly?"
Truttidius smiled, his wrinkles doubling and quadrupling till his face was all a network of tiny folds of hard, dry skin. He put down his work and regarded his guest, his face serious after the fading of his brief smile. The soft-footed sandalled throng that packed the narrow street shuffled and padded by unnoticed. No customer interrupted them. They might have been alone in a Sibyl's cell on a mountain side.
"Little lady," spoke the sieve-maker, "you are, indeed, very old for your age, not only in height and build, but in heart and mind. What other child would bother her head about so subtle a problem? What other child would perceive the verity at the heart of the puzzle and put it so neatly in so few words? To you an old man cannot help talking as to an experienced matron, because to you an old man can talk as to a woman of sense. You deserve to be answered in the spirit of the question."
He reflected. Brinnaria, fascinated and curious, hardly breathed in her intentness, watching his face and waiting for his answer.
"Little lady," he said, after a long silence, "the gods can, indeed, do all things. But as you have yourself perceived the gods do not do all things, even for their favorites. The gods work miracles to vindicate their votaries, but as you divine, each miracle is the happening by the special ordinance of the gods of what might happen even without their mandate, but which does not happen because it is only once in countless ages that all the circumstances necessary to bring about that sort of happening concur to produce so unusual an effect. What folks call a miracle is the occurrence, by the beneficent will of heaven, at just the right time and place, of what might happen anywhere to any one, but almost never does happen anywhere to any one, because it is so unlikely that all things should conspire to bring about so unlikely a result.
"So of carrying water in a sieve.
"Anybody might carry water in a sieve any day. But very seldom, oh, very, very seldom can it come to pass that the kind of person capable of carrying water in a sieve can be just in the condition of muscle and mood to do so and can at just that moment be in possession of just the kind of sieve that will hold water and not let it through. For an actual breathing woman of flesh and blood to carry water in a real ordinary sieve of rush-fibres, or linen thread or horsehair or metal wire, in such a sieve as pastry-cooks use to sift their finest flour; for that to happen in broad daylight under the open sky before a crowd of onlookers, that requires the special intervention of the blessed gods, or of the most powerful of them. And not even all of them together could make that happen to a woman of ordinary quality of hand and eye, with a usual sieve, as most sieves are."
"Explain!" Brinnaria half whispered, "what kind of woman could actually carry water in a sieve and in what kind of a sieve, and under what circumstances?"
"That's three questions," Truttidius counted, "and one at a time is enough.
"In the first place, no god, not all the gods together, could give any votary power to carry water in a sieve, be it rush or linen or horse-hair or metal, of which the meshes had been first scrubbed with natron or embalmers' salt or wood-ashes or fullers' earth. Water would run through such a sieve, did even all the gods will that it be retained. No one ever dipped a sieve into water and brought it up with water in it and saw that water retained by the meshes. Once wet the under side of a sieve and water will run through to the last drop.
"But if a sieve were ever so little greasy or oily, not dripping with oil or clogged with grease, but greasy as a working slave's finger is greasy on a hot day; if such a sieve were free of any drop of water on the underside, if into such a sieve water were slowly and carefully poured, as you say that Tuccia in the story ladled water into her sieve with her libation-dipper, then that water might spread evenly over the meshes to the rim all around, might deepen till it was as deep as the width of two fingers or of three, and might be retained by the meshes even for an hour, even while the sieve was carried over a rough road, up hill and down, through crowded streets.
"But few are the women who could so carry a sieve of water or could even so hold it that the water would not run through at once."
"How could the water be retained at all?" queried Brinnaria the practical. "What is the explanation?"
Truttidius wrinkled up his face in deep thought.
"You have seen wine spilled at dinner," he illustrated. "You have seen a drop of it or a splash of it fall on a sofa-cover, and you have seen it soak in and leave an ugly stain?"
"Of course," Brinnaria agreed, "often and often."
"And then again, not very often," the sieve-maker went on, "you see a patch of spilt wine stand up on a perfectly dry fabric and remain there awhile without soaking in, its surface shining wet and its edges gleaming round and smooth and curved, bright as a star. Well, the retaining of water in a sieve by the open meshes is like the momentary holding up of spilt wine on a woven fabric. I can't explain any better, but the two happenings are similar, only the not soaking in of the splashed liquid is far, oh, far more frequent, countless, uncountable times more frequent, than the sustaining of fluid in a sieve. But as the one can happen and does, so the other could happen and might."
"I see," Brinnaria breathed. "You have made me see that. Now, next point: How must the sieve be held?"
The old man smiled again.
"You keep close to the subject," he chuckled. "You talk like a grandmother of consuls. You have a head on your shoulders."
"That does not answer my question," Brinnaria persisted.
"Your question is easily answered," he said. "For the miracle to happen, in fact, the sieve must be held as level as the top rail of a mason's T-shaped plumb-line frame, and as steady as if clamped in a vise. For a woman to carry water in a sieve the weather must be dry, for in damp weather the water would run through the meshes, even if the threads or wires were just oily enough and not too oily, even if the meshes were just the right size to favor the forming in each mesh of a little pocket of water underneath, like the edges of the upstanding drop of wine on a sofa-cushion. I don't know how it comes to pass, but somehow, if all the conditions are right, little bags of water form on the underside of a sieve, one to each mesh, like drops after a rain hanging from the edge of my shop-shutters, or from the mutules on the cornice of a temple. They are capable of sustaining one or even two finger-thicknesses of water on the upper side of the sieve-web. But if the sieve-web is unevenly woven or unevenly stretched, it will not retain water an instant, and if the sieve-web bags anywhere the water, even if the rest of the sieve-web promises to retain it, will run through at that point. And even if the sieve is perfect, the slightest tilt, the very slightest tilt, will cause the little bags of water to break at the lowest point, and so start all the water to running through. I know; I have tried; I have seen the sieve hold up the water for some breaths. But for the marvel to last any length of time, that would require the intervention of the gods; that would be a miracle. For a woman to hold a sieve so that it would retain water would mean that her hand was as steady as the hand of a sleep-walker or of the priestess of Isis in her trance in the great yearly mystery-festival. That could happen seldom to any woman; such a woman would be rare."
"I see," Brinnaria barely whispered, so intent was she on the old man's words. "Now, what kind of woman could do such a wonder?"
"A very exceptional and unusual kind of woman," the old man declared. "Women, the run of them, are not steady-handed. Even steady-handed women are easily distracted, their attention is readily called away from any definite task. Even a woman usually steady-handed would find her hand tremble if she were conscious of guilt, even a woman high-hearted with her sense of her own worthiness might glance aside at some one in a great crowd of people about her, might let her thoughts wander.
"That is where the miracle would come in. Only a woman directly favored by the mighty gods could so ignore the throng about her, could so forget herself, could so concentrate all her faculties on the receptacle she held, could so perfectly control her muscles or could so completely let her muscles act undisturbed by her will, could possess muscles capable of so long tension at so perfect an adjustment."
"I see," Brinnaria sighed. "The thing may have happened in fact, may happen again, but it could happen only once out of ten times ten thousand times ten thousand chances. I understand. It is a possibility in the ordinary course of events. It was a miracle if it ever took place; it will be a miracle if it ever comes to pass again. It is not impossible, but it's too improbable for anybody to believe it could be, in fact."
"You have it," the sieve-maker assured her.
"I'm glad I have," she said. "Now it'll go out of my head and quit bothering me. I've thought about it day and night ever since Daddy threatened me. Now I'll forget it and sleep sound."
Chapter III - Stuttering
When Brinnaria returned from her outing she found waiting for her her best friend, chum and crony, Flexinna, a girl four years older, not so tall, decidedly more slender and much prettier. Brinnaria was robustly handsome; Flexinna was delicately lovely, yet they did not differ much in tints of hair, eyes or skin and might have been sisters. In fact, they were not infrequently taken for sisters.
They chatted of their girlish interests and of local gossip and family news, like any pair of girls, until Brinnaria described the escapade that led to her rustication.
Flexinna's eyes were wide and wider as she listened.
"D-d-do-you really m-m-mean," she stuttered, "that you had a c-c-chance to be a V-V-Vestal and d-d-didn't jump at it?"
"Jump at it!" exclaimed Brinnaria. "I jumped away from it! I can't think of anything, except death, that would fill me with more horror than the very idea of being made a Vestal. It makes me shiver now just to speak of it."
"You're a f-f-fool," Flexinna declared, "the f-f-foolest kind of a f-f-fool. This is the f-f-first f-f-foolish thing I ever knew you to d-d-do. I always th-th-thought you s-s-so s-s-sensible, t-t-too. And you've m-m-missed a ch-ch-chance to be a V-V-Vestal. I've n-n-no p-p-patience with you. Any other g-g-girl would j-j-jump at the ch-ch-chance."
"Jump at it!" cried Brinnaria. "Why?"
"Why?" sneered Flexinna, blazing with excitement. "Why, just think what you've m-m-missed! You're as wild as I am to see g-g-gladiators fight, k-k-keener than I am to see a real horse-race in the circus, and you'll have to wait until you're g-g-grown up, as I'll have to, before you s-s-see either. And you'd have g-g-gone to every spectacle, from the very day you were t-t-taken, and not have m-m-missed one. Think of it! F-F-Front seats in the circus, front seats in the amphitheatre, all your life, or for thirty years at least, for certain! And you've m-m-missed it. And that's not half. Your lictor to c-c-clear the way for you whenever you g-g-go out and your choice to g-g-go out in your litter with eight b-b-bearers or in your c-c-carriage, your own c-c-carriage, all your own, and the right to d-d-drive any where in the city any d-d-day in the year. Oh, you f-f-fool, you s-s-silly f-f-fool! A ch-ch-chance to be one of the s-s-seven m-m-most imp-p-portant women in Rome, one of the s-s-six who are on a level with the Empress, and you m-m-missed it! Fancy it; to b-b-be mistress of an income so large that it m-m-makes you d-d-dizzy to think of it, and you throw away the ch-ch-chance! To be able the m-m-moment you were taken, to m-m-make your own w-w-will! To have every legacy c-c-cadger in Rome running after you and m-m-making you p-p-presents and d-d-doing you favors and angling for your n-n-notice all your 1-l-life 1-1-long, and you m-m-miss the ch-ch-chance!"
"Yes," Brinnaria admitted, reflectively, "I have missed all that, that's so. But that's not all there is to think of, when you think about being a Vestal. I've missed a lot of fine privileges, mighty valuable to any girl that would care for that sort of thing; but I've escaped a lot of things that would go with those privileges. I love bright colors, I always did and I look ghastly in white—I look like a ghost. And I'd have had to wear white and nothing else, even white flowers, like a corpse. And a Vestal has to keep her eyes on the ground and walk slow and stately and stand straight and dignified, and talk soft and low. I'd suffer, even if I could learn all the tricks they teach them as well as Gargilia has. And I don't believe I ever could. I'd keep my eyes cast down for a month or a year and then, right in the middle of a sacrifice, I'd see something funny, like the gander squawking under the feet of the pall-bearers at poor old Gibba's funeral at the farm last summer, and I'd wink at the head Vestal or roll my eyes at the whole congregation and spoil the prayers; or, after keeping meek and mum for a year or so I'd be so wild to laugh that I'd roar right out and break up the whole service. I think I'm the last girl alive to be a Vestal. A Vestal mustn't answer back or make a pun, no matter how good a chance she gets. I just can't help cutting in, if I see a chance; the words come out of my mouth before I know it, and, if I trained myself to keep still and look as mild as a lamb, I'd be boiling inside and sometime I'd burst out with a yell just to relieve my feelings or I'd jab a shawl-pin into the Pontifex to see him jump, or put out my toe and trip up somebody just to see him sprawl. I couldn't help it. The more I'd bottle myself up the farther the naughtiness in me would spurt when it burst through the skin. I know. No Vestaling for me! I wasn't born for that trade!"
"Nonsense!" Flexinna disclaimed vigorously. "You'd g-g-get used to the whole thing in a m-m-month and be the most s-s-statuesque of the six in t-t-ten years. Think of it! I'm just raging inside at your f-f-folly. To have the right to an interview with the Emperor whenever you d-d-demand it, to see the m-m-magistrates' lictors lower their fasces to you and s-s-stand aside at the s-s-salute and let you p-p-pass whenever you m-m-meet them in p-p-public. To live in one of the finest p-p-palaces in Rome, one of the most m-m-magnificent residences on earth, to have the ch-ch-chance at all that and m-m-miss it; I've no p-p-patience with you!"
"That's all very fine," Brinnaria countered, "but there's much to be said on the other side. I've been in the Atrium. Aunt Septima took me there to call on Causidiena. It's big, it's gorgeous, it's luxurious, that's all true. But I love sunlight. I'd loathe living in that hole in the ground; why, the shadow of the Palace falls across the courtyard before noon and for all the rest of the day it's gloomy as the bottom of a well. I heard Causidiena tell Aunt Septima how shoes mould and embroideries mildew and what a time they have with the inlays popping off the furniture on account of the dampness and about the walls and lamp-standards sweating moisture. I'd hate the dark, poky, cold place."
"Oh," Flexinna admitted, "there are d-d-drawbacks to any s-s-situation in life, but, really the higher the s-s-station the fewer the drawbacks. The p-p-plain truth is that being a Vestal is the highest s-s-station in Rome except being an Empress. No g-g-girl dare aspire to be an Empress; it would be treason. If any g-g-girl d-d-dreams of it she k-k-keeps her d-d-dreams to herself. But any g-g-girl has a right to aspire to be a Vestal, if she is made perfect and is under ten and has her f-f-father and m-m-mother noble and alive. You've got all that and you are offered what any g-g-girl would envy you and you throw it away! I've no patience with you."
"You forget," Brinnaria argued, "that I'm in love with Almo and I'd have to give up Almo."
"Not f-f-forever," Flexinna retorted. "He's enough in love with you to wait for you, to wait for you! You could have pledged him to wait till your term of service was up and then you two could have married just the same."
"Just the same!" Brinnaria echoed. "A lot of good it'd do me to marry after I'd be an old wrinkled, gray-haired woman of forty, dried up and withered."
"Nemestronia," Flexinna cited, "has married twice since she was forty, and she's not withered yet, not by a great deal, even if she is gray-haired and has a wrinkle or two."
"What's the use of arguing," Brinnaria summed up. "I hate the very idea of being a Vestal. I'd hate the fact a million times more. I'd hate it even if I were not in love with Almo, furiously in love with Almo. Daddy says I've got to wait four years to marry him. I roll around in bed and bite the pillows with rage to think of it, night after night. A fine figure I'd cut trying to wait thirty years for him. I'd swoon with longing for him and write him a note or peep out of the temple to see him go by and then I'd get accused of misbehavior, and accused is convicted for a Vestal; well, you know it. I'd look fine being buried alive in a seven-by-five underground stone cell, with half a pint of milk and a gill of wine to keep me alive long enough to suffer before I starved to death and a thimbleful of oil in a lamp to make me more scared of the dark when the lamp burned out. No burial alive for me. I'm in love. I'm too much in love to balance arguments. I'm not sorry I missed my chance, as you call it. I'm glad I escaped; the chance isn't missed for that matter. Rabulla's place hasn't been filled yet."
"Do you know who is g-g-going to be ch-ch-chosen to fill it?" Flexinna asked. "You d-d-don't? The choice has about narrowed d-d-down to that execrable, weasel-faced little M-M-Meffia."
"Meffia!" Brinnaria cried. "There's no one alive I despise as much as that detestable ninny. I've a mind to chuck Almo and ask Daddy to offer me, just to spite Meffia."
"Why d-d-don't you?" Flexinna stuttered. "D-d-do it n-n-now, right n-n-now. You might be t-t-too late."
"Oh bosh," Brinnaria groaned. "What's the use of talking nonsense? What would be the sense in my spoiling my life to spite Meffia? I hate her. I'll hate to see her putting on airs as a Vestal, but I'd hate worse to be a Vestal myself, and worst of all to lose Almo. I just couldn't give up Almo."
"I wish I were you," Flexinna raged. "If I were only under ten and d-d-didn't s-s-stutter, I'd d-d-do all I c-c-could to g-g-get D-D-Daddy to offer m-m-me."
"Bosh!" Brinnaria sneered. "You're in love with Vocco and you know you wouldn't even think of giving him up if you had the chance."
"Just wouldn't I!" Flexinna retorted. "I love Quintus dearly. But if I had a ch-ch-chance to be a V-V-Vestal, I'd fling poor Quintus hard and never regret him. Not I. Think of the influence a V-V-Vestal has! Every man who wants p-p-promotion in the army or in the fleet, or who wants an appointment to any office would set his sisters and all his women relations to besieging me to use my influence for him. Every temple-carver and shrine-painter in Rome would have his wife showing me attentions. I know; I've heard the talk.
"And b-b-besides, in all the Empire a Vestal is the nearest thing to a p-p-princess we have. We read a lot about Egyptian princesses, and Asiatic princesses and we hear about P-P-Parthian p-p-princesses, but the only p-p-princesses we ever see are the Vestals. They are the only p-p-princesses in the Empire, in Italy, in Rome, the six of them. And you had a chance to be one of the only six p-p-princesses in our world and you didn't take it. Oh, you f-f-fool, you f-f-fool!"
They wrangled about their conflicting views for a long time.
It was only as Flexinna was leaving that she inquired casually:
"Have you heard what Rabulla d-d-died of?"
"No," said Brinnaria. "what was it?"
"Hadn't you heard?" Flexinna wondered. "It was the p-p-pestilence."
Chapter IV - Pestilence
Brinnaria heard the word often during the next few days. Rome talked of little else. It had begun with a few deaths along the river front in the sailors' quarters, and among the stevedores and porters of the grain-warehouses, southwest of the Aventine Hill in the thirteenth ward. Next it came to notice when there were many deaths along the Subura in the very centre of the city. >From there the infection had spread to every wind. Panic seized the people. There was an exodus of all who could afford it, to their country estates, to the mountains, to the seaside. Brinnarius and Quartilla discussed arrangements for their departure to his mountain farm in the Sabine hills above Carsioli. Their difficulty was to decide to whom to commit their great house in Rome. They had no slave whom they implicitly trusted, and no one certainly who would be willing to stay in the city. To close the house was to invite burglary, for in the general panic watchmen were unreliable and house-breakings were frequent. Into their consultation Brinnaria thrust herself uninvited.
"Why don't you leave me in town?" she suggested. "I hate the country and I hate it near Carsioli worse than any neighborhood I ever saw. I want to stay right here. I love Rome. And I'm not afraid of pestilence. Nobody can die more than once and nobody dies till the gods will it. There's more danger of dying of fright and worry than of pestilence. Anyhow a pestilence never kills all the people in a city, most of the towns- folk stay right at home and keep alive all right. Half the people that die scare or fret themselves to death. I won't fret or worry and I'll keep well here; but if you take me with you I'll be miserable and chafe myself ill. I can run the house as well as mother can. Most of the slaves worship me and will obey me for love, the rest are deadly afraid of me and will not dare to disobey me. I'll keep order and I will not waste a sesterce. Can't I stay, Father?"
Brinnarius knit his brows and looked at his wife. Her eyes answered his.
"It would save a deal of trouble," he said, reflectively.
"It would make a deal of gossip," Quartilla declared. "All my enemies would say that I am an unnatural mother, that I do not love my youngest child, that I hate her, that I am exposing her to certain death, that I am as bad as a murderess."
"Nonsense!" her husband retorted. "We can't bother about all the malice of all the slanderers in Rome. Other people's daughters are remaining. Lucconius means to stay here in Rome with his family. If he ventures to keep Flexinna here we might venture to leave Brinnaria behind."
"You might," that self-assertive child cut in, "and you know there is really no use in taking me if I do not want to go. You know how much trouble it will make for both of you."
"Perhaps we had best leave her," she said. "Certainly the house will be safe and the slaves kept in order. I shan't have an instant's anxiety about that. Then Brinnaria is so genuinely brave that she will really not dread the pestilence, and all the doctors say that there is nothing like that feeling to protect any one from the danger. She makes me feel that she will be safe. I don't believe I'll worry about that either."
"Fine!" Brinnaria squealed. "I'm to stay."
"Not so fast," her father rebuked her. "I haven't said yet that you may stay. But if I say so, then you must stay. I'll not have you changing your mind and deciding to leave Rome after we have arranged to put you in charge here. It would make trouble indeed to have you shutting up this house in a hurry and chasing after us to Carsioli."
"Epulo!" his wife reproached him, "the child has her faults, but changeableness is not one of them. She is the most resolute child I ever knew. If you leave her, she will not fail us. If she gives her word she will keep it. I never knew Brinnaria to break an earnestly made promise."
"Will you promise?" her father asked her.
"I promise," Brinnaria shouted, "I pledge myself. I take oath. I swear by my love of both of you, by my respect for our clan, by my hopes of marrying Almo, that I'll stick it out here in Rome, going out only when necessary, unless you send for me to come away. If anything happens that makes me think I ought to leave the city I shall send a message to you, but I shall not cross the city boundaries nor relax my watch on this house without your permission. I swear."
"That's enough, dearie," her father said, "enough and too much. If your judgment tells you that you ought to flee from Rome, you have my permission to send me a messenger; I know you will not resort to that without real need. I rely on your judgment. The gods be with you, child. You have taken a load of my shoulders, two loads, in fact."
Thereupon preparations for departure were pushed and soon after sunrise on the next day Brinnaria found herself left to her own resources, responsible for the welfare of a large retinue of obsequious slaves, autocrat over them, and mistress of one of the largest private houses in Rome. She acquitted herself well of her duties. She had been right in claiming that she was loved by most and feared by the rest. Certainly she was trusted and respected by all as if she had been five times her age. She made them as comfortable as town-slaves could be and they knew it. To her they accorded instant and implicit obedience. The life of the household went on as smoothly as if the master had been at home. And its life was not gloomy. Although the main subject of conversation was the pestilence, open forebodings were not indulged in and the house was outwardly cheerful.
Equally cheerful was Flexinna, whom Brinnaria saw daily. Neither of them had the slightest fear of the pestilence and no member of either household had shown the slightest symptoms of any kind of illness. Of the daily deaths among their large acquaintance or among the nobilities of the city, they talked calmly, without any feeling of gloom or of dread, secure in the confidence of youth and health.
On the tenth day after Brinnaria had been left to her own devices Flexinna visited her as usual. Early in their talk she said:
"D-D-Dossonia died last night."
"The Chief Vestal?" Brinnaria queried.
"Yes," Flexinna replied, a bright tear in each eye.
"She couldn't live forever," Brinnaria said. "She was ninety-four, wasn't she?"
"Ninety-four years and eight months yesterday," Flexinna replied. "She had been Chief Vestal ever since C-C-Calpurnia P-P-Praetextata died, and that's fifty- six years ago. She had been Chief Vestal longer than any ever and she had lived longer than any Vestal ever."
"Well," said Brinnaria, the practical, "she ought to have been glad to go, and she stone blind for twenty years."
"Yes, I know," Flexinna rejoined, "but she was such an old d-d-dear, she looked so much younger than her age, her face so healthy and pink, and b-b-beautiful even with all its wrinkles, so calm and placid and holy I loved to look at her sitting in her big chair like a great white b-b-butterfly, so plump and handsome and soft- looking. She always put out her hand to my face and recognized me at the first t-t-touch, almost, and gave me her blessing so b-b-beautifully. Sometimes Manlia let me read to the old dear, and she always seemed to enjoy it so much. I'm real shaken at her d-d-death. I really loved her."
"Everybody loved her," Brinnaria declared. "But everybody loves Causidiena too, and she's Chief Vestal now. She's not fat and placid like Dossonia, but she is wonderfully dignified. My, I admire that woman!"
"I wonder," Flexinna reflected, "who will be chosen in her p-p-place."
"Poor wretch!" Brinnaria commented. "I'm sorry for her, whoever she is. Just think, she'll have to pair with that unspeakable little muff of a Meffia. I hate that girl."
"Whoever she is," Flexinna continued, "she is sure to be chosen and taken mighty quick. For with this p-p-pestilence in the city, and all the trouble the P-P-Parthians are making in the East, of the Marcomanni on the Rhine colonies, and the thunder-storms that have raged about lately, there'll be need felt for all the p-p-prayers all the offer. They'll not leave the vacancy open long. I'll bet they have it filled by d-d-day after to-morrow. Old B-B-Bambilio is a stickler for pious precision an observance of all ritual matters and the Emperors are with him."
"Marcus is," Brinnaria agreed, pertly, "but Lucius doesn't care what happens so long as he has his fun."
"You mustn't t-t-t-talk that way about the Emperors," Flexinna cautioned her. "If you were overheard you'd get into no end of trouble. Anyhow, Verus defers to Aurelius in everything, so that whatever Aurelius wishes is as if both wished it. And there never was a more p-p-pious Emperor than Aurelius. So the place is certain to be filled p-p-promptly."
"At once, for sure," Brinnaria agreed. "I wonder who the victim will be? Do you suppose it will be Occurnea?"
"It would have been Occurnea, I think," Flexinna said. "You know it was a chance for a while whether she'd get it instead of Meffia. But she's not eligible now. Her mother d-d-died yesterday."
"Tallentia, perhaps," Brinnaria hazarded.
"Impossible," Flexinna declared. "You remember how recklessly she rode and how her horse f-f-fell on her. She has limped ever since and always will."
"Cuppiena?" suggested Brinnaria.
"Not she," said Flexinna; "she has some k-k-kind of skin rash and has lost almost all her hair."
"Sabbia," Brinnaria proposed.
"Her mother's d-d-dead too," Flexinna reminded her; "has been for months."
"Fremnia," came the next suggestion.
"She's off to Aquileia with her family," said Flexinna; "they all left the d-d-day your folks went."
"Eppia," ventured Brinnaria.
"She's ten years old now," Flexinna demurred. "She celebrated her b-b-birthday three days before the Kalends. I was at the party."
"Pennasia, perhaps," Brinnaria suggested.
"D-d-deaf in one ear like her mother and grandmother," said Flexinna, "and you know it."
"Licinia," Brinnaria ventured.
"She'd be the last they'd choose on account of the b-b-bad luck Vestals of her family have had;" Flexinna reminded her. "The very name suggests disgrace. Anyhow, she's in Baiae with her p-p-people."
"Rentulana," came the next conjecture.
"Has a b-b-big wen on the side of her head," Flexinna proclaimed.
"Numledia?" came next.
"You've lost your memory, Brinnaria," said Flexinna, severely. "She's got a b-b-big purple birthmark on her neck."
"Magnonia," Brinnaria proposed.
"She's far away, in Britain, with her father and mother; might as well be out of the world."
Brinnaria was at a loss. She meditated. "Gavinna!" she said at last.
"She has a bad squint and you know it," laughed Flexinna. "Why don't you think of an eligible c-c-candidate?"
They tried a dozen more names, all of girls out of the city or defective in some way, or with one parent dead.
"But who will it be?" Brinnaria wondered. "It's bound to be somebody and quick."
She jumped to her feet.
"They'll take me! They'll take me! Oh, what am I to do, what am I to do? I'm the only possible candidate in the city. And they'll be after me the moment they run over the lists and find no one else is in town."
She stood a moment, considering, then she called Guntello, and a lean Caledonian slave called Intinco. She gave them each a written journey-order to show to any patrol that questioned them, told Guntello to take the best horse in the stable and to give the next best to Intinco, bade Intinco ride to Carsioli and Guntello to Falerii, gave Guntello a letter for Almo and Intinco a letter to her father and told them verbally, in case the letter was lost, to make it plain that she was in danger of being taken for a Vestal and bid her father come quickly to interfere and her lover to ride fast to claim her in time. She enjoined both slaves to spur their horses, gave them money in case they needed to hire fresh mounts and wound up:
"Kill Rhaebus, kill Xanthus, kill as many hired horses as need be, ride without halt or mercy. Get there and get father and Almo here. Be quick. You can't be too quick."
She watched them ride off at a sedate walk, for no man was allowed to trot a horse in the streets of Rome. Both had assured her that they would ride at full gallop from the moment they passed the gates.
Then began for Brinnaria a tense and anxious period of waiting. Flexinna obtained her parents' permission and remained with her friend. The entire household continued in good health and there was nothing to distract t he two from their dread on the one hand that the Pontifex might come to claim Brinnaria before Almo and her father arrived, and their hope on the other hand of seeing them come in time.
On the whole the strain told on Flexinna more than on Brinnaria, who never once shed a tear, attended to her housewifely duties calmly and steadily and talked little. Flexinna fidgeted constantly and talked a good deal.
"If I were in your place," she said, "I shouldn't be waiting here inertly for Faltonius to come and claim me. Instead of dispatching messengers for your father and Almo, you ought to have left the city at once and made your best speed for Carsioli yourself."
"I couldn't," Brinnaria declared, "and you know why. I passed my word to stay in this house and not so much as to go out unless some compelling necessity arose. I pledged myself not to leave here unless I sent a messenger saying I needed to leave and received permission before I started. I took my oath not to cross the city limits without Father's consent. I can't break my oath and I shouldn't break my word, even if I hadn't sworn in addition to promising."
"You f-f-fool!" Flexinna declared.
"All members of our clan keep their word," said Brinnaria proudly. "We do not ask whether it is advantageous to keep our word or pleasant; when we have passed our word we keep it. I've given my word and there's nothing to do but to wait for Almo and Daddy and hope that both, or at least a message from Daddy will get here before Faltonius."
"There is something else you might do," Flexinna suggested. "You might easily arrange to be ineligible before Bambilio comes for you."
"I shall," spoke the matter-of-fact Brinnaria. "The moment Daddy and Almo come, I'll be Alma's wife in less time than it takes to tell it and will be able to snap my fingers at Bambilio."
"Suppose he comes before your father," Flexinna suggested.
"I'd be a Vestal and all hope gone," said Brinnaria,
"I mean," said Flexinna, "suppose Almo comes before your father."
"I've thought of that," Brinnaria admitted. "But I'd hate to break the record of which our family is so proud. None of our women ever were so much as accused of any misbehavior before marriage."
"I've no p-p-patience with you," Flexinna raged. 'You'll throw away your life for a mere scruple. You risk being made a Vestal every moment. Faltonius may be on the way here now. If I were in your place I'd make sure. I'd not wait for Almo. Any lad would do for me. You c-c-could make sure, if you had sense. Almo would forgive you and marry you anyway. Your father would forgive you; he'd never approve, I know."
"Not he!" Brinnaria proclaimed, "and he'll never have any such dishonor to forgive. No man of our clan ever had reason to be ashamed of his daughter or of his sister. I'll not be the first to disgrace the clan. If Faltonius comes he'll find me as eligible as the hour I was born, unless Daddy and Almo come in time for me to be married first."
"At least," Flexinna persisted, "you might say no when he asks you. That would stall the whole ceremony and give you t-t-time."
"Do you suppose," Brinnaria sneered, "that I haven't thought of that? I'm tempted, of course. But that would be to advertise myself a disgrace to the Pontifex during a solemn interrogatory."
"At least," Flexinna pleaded, "you might say you are over age. You look sixteen to anybody, and no one would imagine you are under fourteen. You could halt the proceedings, at least, and gain t-t-time."
"Faltonius has the lists," said Brinnaria wearily, "with all the birthdays sworn to by both parents for every girl on them and attested by four excellent witnesses, besides. He'd know I was lying and it would do me no good."
Flexinna changed the subject.
But when the next day dawned and neither Brinnarius nor Almo appeared, she returned to the attack. Brinnaria was very pale, very tense, but obdurate. She controlled herself, did not forget, did not express her feelings, but she posted a slave at each street corner, right and left of the house-door, and had them look out for what she hoped and what she feared.
Dastor brought word that the Pontifex and his retinue were approaching; three litters, each with eight bearers, preceded by the lictor of the Chief Vestal.
Brinnaria, pale and tense, did her best to look collected and controlled. She succeeded well, heard calmly the announcement of her august visitors, ordered them shown into the atrium, and received them with proper dignity. Her self-possession did not desert her when she recognized in the train of the Pontifex her rejected suitor Calvaster, sly, malignant and with an air of suppressed elation.
Faltonius Bambilio, the Pontifex of Vesta, was a pursy, pudgy, pompous old man, immensely self-important, almost ridiculous in his fussiness, but clothed with a certain impressiveness by the mere fact of his religious office. He gazed about him, stared at Brinnaria, hemmed and hawed and threw himself into poses intended to be stately.
With him was Causidiena, now Chief Vestal, a tall, spare woman of about forty-five, her austere face kindly and reassuring, her dark hair barely showing under her official head-dress, a statuesque figure in her white robes of office.
"My daughter," spoke Faltonius to Brinnaria, "Rome has but five Vestals. I have come to take you into the vacant place. You have been chosen, as best suited to this high dignity, from among those whose names were on the lists of those fit for the office. Was it proper that your name should be on the lists?"
"I believe so," spoke Brinnaria, weakly, almost in a whisper.
"Are you fit to be taken as a Vestal, my daughter?"
"I believe so," came the answer.
"Have you any blemish or defect of body, any impediment of speech, any difficulty of hearing?"
Brinnaria's awe was wearing off, and the irritating pomposity of Faltonius was producing its usual effect of arousing antagonism, as it generally did in those he talked to. Brinnaria felt all her wild self surge up in her.
"I'm sound as a two-year-old racing filly," she replied. "I'm clean as fresh curd; I hear you perfectly and you can hear me perfectly."
Bambilio bristled like a bantam rooster.
"That is not the way for a Vestal to speak," he rebuked.
"I'm not a Vestal yet," Brinnaria retorted, "and that was my answer to those questions. If you don't like it I don't care a shred of bran."
"Come! come!" fussed Bambilio, "answer the interrogatories properly."
"I have and I shall," Brinnaria maintained mutinously.
"Are you fit in mind and in faculties to be a Vestal?" he continued.
"Fit to be Flaminica or Empress," Brinnaria responded.
"Are you pure?" came the next query.
"As when I was born," said Brinnaria emphatically.
"What is your age?" the Pontifex queried his victim.
"I'll be ten on the Ides of next September," quoth his victim.
"Are your parents both alive?" he asked.
"They were the last time I heard of them," spoke Brinnaria flippantly.
"When was that?" he insisted.
"This is the twelfth day since they left Rome," said Brinnaria, "and I've not heard from them since they sent a messenger back from the ninth milestone on the road to Tibur."
Faltonius was irritating her more and more, and she added:
"They may both be dead by this time, for all I know."
"This will not do," spoke Faltonius. "We must be sure that they are both alive."
"Find out," snapped Brinnaria.
Up spoke young Calvaster, his pasty face alight with a sort of malicious glee.
"I passed Quartilla's travelling carriage at Varia last night. Quartilla was alive and well. I passed Brinnarius this morning at dawn, this side of Tibur. He was alive then and puffing."
"How did you get here ahead of him?" Brinnaria interjected.
"I am light built," Calvaster explained with obvious relish, "and I rode the best horse in Italy. His mount labored heavily under his load."
"Both parents are then alive," spoke Faltonius. "I hereupon and hereby pronounce you in all respects fit to be taken as a Vestal. Are you willing?"
"Not I!" Brinnaria fairly shouted.
"Not willing!" Faltonius cried, incredulous.
"Not a fibre of me!" she proclaimed emphatically.
"Wretched girl!" expostulated the Pontiff. "Have you no sense of patriotism? Do you not realize your duty to your country, to the Roman people, to Rome, to the Emperor, to all of us, to the commonwealth? Do yon not realize Rome's need of you? Shall it be said that Rome has need of one of her daughters and that her unnatural child refuses?"
"I have not refused," said Brinnaria. "I only said I was unwilling."
"It is the same thing," declared the bewildered ecclesiastic.
"Not a bit the same thing," Brinnaria disclaimed. "I know my duty in this matter perfectly. Castor be good to me, I know it too well. I know that a refusal would avail me nothing, if I did refuse. I have not refused. I would not, even if I could escape by refusal I realize my duty. If I am taken I shall be all that a Vestal is expected to be, all that she must be to ensure the glory and prosperity and safety of the city and the Empire. I shall not fail the Emperor nor the Roman people, nor Rome. But I am unwilling, and I said so. Little good it will do me. But I am no liar, not even in the tightest place."
"Stand up, my daughter," said Faltonius, rising himself, suddenly clothed in dignity, a really impressive figure, in spite of his globular proportions.
Brinnaria stood, her eyes on the door to the vestibule, her face very pale, trembling a little, but controlled.
The Pontifex took her hand and spoke:
"As priestess of Vesta, to perform those rites which it is fitting that a priestess of Vesta perform for the Roman People and the citizens, as a girl who has been chosen properly, so I take you, Beloved."
At the word "Beloved," which made her irretrievably a Vestal, Brinnaria could not repress a little gasp. Her eyes no longer watched the vestibule door. She looked at the Pontiff. He let go her hand.
"You will now go with your servitor to be clothed as befits your calling."
He indicated one of Causidiena's attendants, a solidly built woman, like a Tuscan villager, who carried over her arm a mass of fresh white garments and robes.
With her and Causidiena Brinnaria left the atrium; with them she presently returned, a slim white figure, her hair braided and the six braids wound round her forehead like a coronet, above them the folds of the plain square headdress of the Vestals.
"I thought," she said, "that my hair would be cut off."
"That will be after you are made at home in the Atrium of Vesta," spoke the Pontiff.
"And remember," he continued sternly, "that you are now a Vestal and that young Vestals may not speak unless spoken to."
Brinnaria bit her lip.
At that moment they heard hoofs and voices outside, the door burst open and Brinnarius entered.
"Too late, Daddy!" cried Brinnaria. "You can't help me now. I'm not your little girl any more; I don't count as your daughter; you don't count as my father; I'm daughter to the Pontifex from now on. I'm a Vestal."
She was trembling, but she kept her countenance. Brinnarius uttered no sound, the whole gathering was still and mute, the noises of the street outside were plainly audible. They heard horse-hoofs again, again the door flew open wide. In burst Almo, wide-eyed and panting.
At him Brinnaria launched a sort of shriek of expostulation.
"Why couldn't you ride! You call yourself a horseman! And you've come too late! I mustn't even kiss you good-bye. And I mustn't speak to you, I mustn't see you, I mustn't so much as think of you for thirty years, for thirty years, !"
CHAPTER V - ESCAPADES
WHEN Brinnaria found herself actually domiciled in the House of the Vestals she experienced an odd mingling of awe and elation. The mere size of it was impressive, for it was nearly two hundred feet wide and almost four hundred feet long. Also it stood alone, bounded by four streets. Besides, it gained much dignity from its location, near the southeast corner of the great Forum of Rome, that most famous of all city squares, and under the very shadow of the Imperial Palace, the walls of which towered nearly three hundred feet above it, where it crouched as it were, on a site scooped out of the huge flank of the Palatine Hill.
Completely as it was dominated by the enormous bulk of the Palace it yet looked very large, having three lofty stories. Inside it was both spacious and stately. Brinnaria was habituated to space and stateliness, for her father's house had both, yet the Atrium of Vesta, as the House of the Vestals was officially denominated, impressed her as vast and splendid. That this immense and magnificent building was to be her home gave her sense of her own importance that thrilled her through and through. Its numerous retinue of deft and obsequious maid-servants added to this impression. Brinnaria's personal attendants, entirely at her beck and call and serving her alone, made up a considerable retinue by themselves. She found herself, like each of the other Vestals, served by a special waitress at table, by a waitress who had nothing to do but look after her wants. Then she had a sort of maid-of-honor, who had no duties except to act as companion, make herself agreeable, read aloud, if requested, accompany her on her outings and help to pass her leisure pleasantly. As she was a mere child in years she had a sort of governess to instruct her in all those subjects in which a Roman girl of good family was generally given lessons: correct reading; a smattering of mathematics, about equivalent to the simple arithmetic of our days; some knowledge of literature; a steady and efficient drill in reading and talking Greek; instrumental music, similar to the guitar-playing of modern times, and embroidery. She had a personal maid to bathe her, arrange her hair and otherwise make her comfortable; also a special maid to attend to her private apartment, which included what we would call a sitting-room, a tiny bedroom, and a large bath-room. The largest room was used mostly as a school-room for lessons with her instructress. Outside the Atrium Brinnaria had her private stable, her carriages, her coachman and ostlers, and her lictor, the red-cloaked runner, who preceded her carriage, announced its coming and cleared the way for it through the crowds of foot-passengers who thronged the streets of Rome. Life in the Atrium was austere and formal, but in no respect ascetic. The austerities extended only to attire and behavior. The decorations of the courtyard, of the corridors and stairs, of the two hundred rooms, were bewilderingly varied and overpoweringly gorgeous. Every appointment of the Atrium was luxurious to the last degree; the furnishings were beautiful and precious, every object a work of art; the bathrooms cunningly devised for comfort, the beds deep and soft, scarcely less so the sofas on which the Vestals reclined at their meals, the table service of exquisite glass-ware and elaborately chased silver, the food abundant and including every delicacy and rarity most appetizing and enjoyable.
Except Meffia her co-Vestals were immediately liked and speedily loved by Brinnaria. Meffia, a month older than herself and looking six years younger, was a small, awkward, ungainly girl, with pale blue eyes, pale yellow hair and babyish pink complexion. She had never had an ill hour in her life, yet she always appeared ailing, shrank from any effort, hated exercise and exertion and at every necessity for movement asserted that she was tired, often that she felt weak. Brinnaria thought her merely innately lazy and a natural shirk. The more she saw of her the more her loathing for her and her hatred of her intensified. Quite the reverse with the others. Manlia was a large young woman of about twenty-two, a typical Roman aristocrat, her hair between dark brown and black, her complexion swarthy, her figure abundant. Gargilia was older than Manlia; a tall, slender creature with intensely black hair and piercing black eyes that looked straight at you out of a face healthfully tinted indeed, but of a whiteness which was the envy of half the beauties in Rome. Numisia Maximilla was much like an older Manlia, but sparer and of markedly haughty bearing and carriage. Causidiena, newly become Chief Vestal, was a woman of about forty-five years of age, mild, gentle, and charming, with cool gray eyes and glossy brown hair, a being who aroused affection, inspired admiration and compelled love from all her household.
She won Brinnaria's heart at once by telling her that she herself, when she had first entered the Atrium of Vesta, had found it difficult to learn the etiquette of the order, had wanted to shout and sing and laugh out loud, to run up and down stairs instead of walking, to skip and jump.
That Causidiena had triumphed over similar tendencies comforted Brinnaria and helped her to try to overcome her own. Most difficult to curb was her tendency to be rude to Meffia. This Causidiena noticed at once and set herself to obliterate. Brinnaria unbosomed herself and Causidiena listened so sympathetically that Brinnaria sat silent through the long lecture that followed and was very submissive during a searching interrogatory. She promised to comport herself as a Vestal should.
"But," she said, "I shall suffer. That girl is unpleasant in ten thousand ways, but the smell of her is the most unpleasant thing about her. She's been tubbed and scrubbed and massaged and perfumed twice a day ever since I came here and she smells worse than a polecat, anyhow, all day long, even the moment after her maid has finished her toilet. A whiff of Meffia sets me frantic. I'd be capable of any crime to get rid of her."
More lecturing followed.
"But it's true!" Brinnaria maintained. "You can't help smelling her yourself; she smells like nothing else on earth. It isn't the smell of a dirty girl or of an ill girl, nor the smell of a girl at all or of any kind of a human being. I can't describe it, but it's a thin sour smell, sharp and shrill like the note of a cricket, if a sound and a smell can be compared. It's horrible; it's not human."
More lecturing, a long session of lecturing, followed this outburst. At the end of it the victim was meek and pliable, or so professed herself. For at least five days Brinnaria kept up her effort to be comradely with Meffia. By the sixth day she was completely exhausted and the two avoided each other as before.
Agonies indeed Brinnaria suffered in her efforts to live up to Causidiena's ideas of what she should be. On the whole she succeeded pretty well and committed few errors of deportment. Outwardly she controlled herself from the first; for, before her first cowed sensations had worn off, her adoration of Causidiena had gained full sway over her. Yet inwardly she suffered more and more acutely as time went on, partly feeling that she must burst out in spite of herself, partly dreading that she would.
At last, after many days, she perpetrated her first and most undignified prank. It was a terrific occurrence, judged by the standards of the Atrium.
The great peristyle of the House of the Vestals, including nearly three-fourths of the whole courtyard, was beautified with a splendid double colonnade, two tiers of pillars, one above the other, the lower of delicately mottled Carystian marble wavily veined with green streaks varying its whiteness, the upper of coral-red brecchia. Midway of the court was a tank lined with marbles and always filled with clear water.
One morning Meffia, walking about the court, in her irritatingly aimless fashion, passed between Brinnaria and the edge of the tank. There was no earthly reason for her so doing, as Brinnaria was barely a yard from the margin of the pool, and on the other side of Brinnaria was the ample expanse of the pavement of the spacious court.
Brinnaria was exasperated by Meffia's proximity, by her lackadaisical manner, by her shambling gait, by her sleep-walking attitude, most of all by the peculiar thin, sour odor which Meffia exhaled. At the sight of Meffia's elaborately disagreeable demeanor of isolation, all Brinnaria's natural self began to boil in her; at the whiff which assailed her nostrils she boiled over, all her uncurbed instincts surging up at once. She put out one foot and gave Meffia a push.
Meffia, with a squall and a great splash, fell into the tank.
She not only fell in, but she went under the water.
She went under and did not come up.
For an instant Brinnaria thought she was shamming to scare her; but, in a twinkling she realized that Meffia had fainted.
Promptly she plunged in and rescued her victim.
Numisia, hurrying to the sound of Meffia's squawk, was horrified at the sight of a dripping Vestal toiling up the steps of the tank carrying over her shoulder another Vestal, equally dripping and limp as a meal-sack, her arms and legs trailing horribly.
Agitation at Meffia's prolonged insensibility postponed inquiry as to how she came to fall into the tank. It so happened that Causidiena first questioned some of the maid-servants, who all hated Meffia and liked Brinnaria. Therefore the ones interrogated told a story as much at variance with the facts as they saw fit.