Part 11 out of 12
But, if I left him to himself, I invariably found him glooming over the
gems which no longer gave him any real pleasure. And I could not blame
him. Indoors one felt reasonably safe in Rome that June, for no residences
had been broken into anywhere in the city, though many shops had been
looted and some burnt. But, in the streets, the insolence of the
Praetorians was unendurable and their unbridled license and arrogance
terrorized the entire population, especially the upper classes. Going
anywhere in broad daylight was dangerous, even going to the Baths of Titus
from the Esquiline was risky. Anyone like Falco was certain to feel safer
indoors. And the tense uncertainty of those twenty-four days made
everybody restless, feverish, fidgety and morose: civil war between
Severus and Pescennius Niger, lord of the East, was inevitable. How
Clodius Albinus, in control of Gaul, Spain and Britain, would act, was
problematical. We were all keyed-up, apprehensive and wretched.
Our suspense was shorter since it turned out that Severus had made up his
mind and begun to make his rapid and effective arrangements as soon as he
heard of the murder of Pertinax. Pertinax was murdered on the fifth day
before the Kalends of April and so swiftly travelled the imperial couriers
who were his friends and who arranged to set out at once and carry Severus
the news, that the first of them rode more than eight hundred miles in
eight days and reached him at Caruntum in Pannonia on the Nones of April.
Severus was cautious, kept secret what he had heard and moved seventy-two
miles nearer Rome to Sabaria in Pannonia, where, after the news was
confirmed beyond question, he harangued the soldiers and was by them
saluted Emperor on the Ides of April. At once he assured himself of the
support or acquiescence of his officers and won over the local authorities
and garrisons all over Illyricum, Noricum and Rhaetia. Bands of his most
trusted soldiers set off towards Rome by every road. He gathered his
forces, made sure of their loyalty and began his march. He was already at
Aquileia when the news of the death of Julianus reached him there on the
Nones of June. He marched straight to Rome and on the tenth day before the
Kalends of July, the day of the summer solstice, was outside the city,
accompanied by the delegation of senators who had met him at Interamnia
and surrounded by the six hundred picked men who acted as his personal
guards, who, it was rumored, had not taken off their corselets day nor
night since they left Sabaria.
The next day, the ninth day before the Kalends of July, we heard with
amazement that the Praetorians had been cowed, had surrendered their
standards to Severus and had been disarmed. Certainly knots of them hung
about the streets and squares, all in ordinary tunics and rain hats, shorn
of their uniforms as well as of their weapons, and looking not only
humbled but frightened. It was rumored that all of those directly
concerned with the murder of Pertinax had been not only disarmed and
stripped of their uniforms, but actually stripped naked and scourged out
of the camp by the Illyrian legionaries who had surrounded and cowed them,
and ordered to flee the neighborhood of Rome and never again to approach
within a hundred miles of the capitol.
From noon of that day the whole city was in a ferment, preparing for the
entry on the morrow of our new Emperor. This was acclaimed the most
magnificent spectacle ever beheld in Rome; certainly I was never spectator
of anything so impressive. The day was fair, almost cloudless, mild and
warm, but pleasant with a gentle breeze. From where Falco and I viewed the
procession, nearer the Forum, we gazed about on a wondrous picture: the
blue sky above, under it a frame of roofs, mostly of red tiles, some of
green weathered bronze among them giving variety, and here and there a
temple roof of silver gleaming in the sun, not a few gilded and flashing.
As far as we could see about us every balcony was hung with tapestries gay
with particolored patterns, every doorway and window was wreathed in
flowers, countless braziers sent up columns of scented smoke. The streets
were lined with throngs habited in togas newly whitened; spectators of
both sexes, the men in white togas, their women in the brightest silks,
crowded every window, loggia, balcony, roof, and other viewpoint. The
chattering of the crowds ceased when the head of the procession appeared,
and, in a breathless hush, we saw leading it on horseback, with two
mounted aides, Flavius Juvenalis, who had been third and last Prefect of
the Praetorium to Julianus and who, as an honorable gentleman and loyal
official, had been confirmed and continued in this post by Severus. Behind
him tramped, in serried ranks, an entire legion of the Pannonian troops,
in full armor with their great shields gleaming and the sun sparkling on
their gilded helmets and their spear-points.
Behind them came ten of the elephants with which Julianus, in his futile,
bungling attempts at preparations for resistance, had had some of his men
drill. Each now carried in his tower eight Danubians, four tall Dacian
spearmen and four Scythian archers, bow in hand, leaning over the edge of
Behind the elephants came Norican legionaries carrying the surrendered
standards of the disbanded Praetorian Guard; not held aloft, but trailed,
Then, amid roars of cheers, came Severus himself, habited not in his
general's regalia, but in the gorgeous Imperial robes, as if already in
the Palace and about to give a public levee. Though thus clad as in time
of peace and walking all the way on foot, he was hedged about by his
faithful six hundred, every man stepping alertly, helmet-plumes waving,
helmets glittering, shields gleaming, spear-points asparkle, kilt-straps
flapping, scabbards clanking, a grim advertisement of irresistible power.
After this guard walked our entire Senate, and, as the Emperor and Senate
acknowledged the acclamations of the onlookers, passing amid thunders of
cheering, behind we saw a long serpent ribbon of Illyrian legionaries,
every man fully armed and armored as for instant battle, their even tramp
sounding grim and monotonous when the cheerers paused for breath, their
resistless might manifest. Indubitably Rome belonged to Severus, he was
Falco, hopeful, yet awed, said little. Once inside his housewalls he fled
to his beloved gems and solaced himself with them till it was time for his
bath, which he took in his private bathrooms. He and I dined alone and
talked chiefly of our hopes of the new Emperor. Falco particularly
remarked his appearance of hard commonsense, ruthless decision and flinty
Next day, soon after dawn, we heard many rumors of disorders by the
Illyrian troops, of their having used temples for barracks that night, of
cook-shops forced to feed them without payment, of shops plundered and
pedestrians robbed. Naturally the entire household kept indoors, except
such slaves as went out for fresh vegetables, fruits and fish. I solaced
myself by reading the Tragedies of Ennius. I read parts of his Hector,
Achilles, Neoptolemus, Ajax and Andromache, with much emotion, and
especially the Bellerophon, forgetting everything else. Then I slept until
late in the afternoon.
Waking I bathed unhurriedly and then went to call Falco, who liked to
bathe at the last possible moment before dinner. I walked round the rear
gallery of the peristyle, sure of finding him among his jewels. The door
of the middle room was not shut, and barely ajar. Against the sill of the
door, on the brown and white mosaic pavement of the gallery, a glint of
color caught my eye. I stooped and picked up a fine uncut emerald, one of
Falco's chief treasures.
A qualm of apprehension shot through me. I pushed the door, entered and
swept the room with a glance. A confusion of jewel-trays cluttered the
floor, no sign of Falco. Nor was he in the left-hand room, which had been
But, when I turned and peered through the right-hand inner door I saw,
across the marble center-table, horridly sprawled, what I instantly knew
for his corpse, so unmistakably did the head hang loose, the arms dangle,
the legs trail: he was manifestly a corpse, even without sight of the
dagger-hilt projecting from his back.
I rushed to him and touched him.
He was yet warm, the blood still trickled from about the dagger, driven
deep under the left shoulder blade, slanting upwards, the very stroke
Agathemer had drilled me in early in our flight, the stroke with which I
had slaughtered two of the five bullies at Nona's hut!
I plucked out the dagger, gazing at it in horror.
As I did so I heard footsteps behind me and turned to face Casperius
Asellio, and Vespronius Lustralis, two of the most persistent of the
toadies who hung about Falco, both of whom hated me consumedly.
In a flash I realized my situation. Had I been a freeman I should have
been commiserated by all as a gentleman who had had the misfortune to find
his best friend foully murdered; as a slave I would be assumed by all Rome
to have been caught in the act of assassinating my kind and indulgent
master; and, recalling Tanno's invectives against me at my last dinner at
Villa Andivia, I knew I was liable to be tortured until I confessed my
Asellio and Lustralis flung themselves on me with execrations and their
yells brought the entire household. My protestations were unheeded. No one
would listen to my valet's assertion that he had found the janitor asleep
in his cell and roused him just before Lustralis and Asellio reached the
entrance, that he had but just finished dressing me when he went down to
the vestibule. No one heeded my denials or my urgings that I could not
have rifled the collection, that the looters and the murderers must be the
same individuals, that I was clearly innocent. Asellio and Lustralis not
merely seized me, but rained blows on me. I knew I could knock both
senseless without half trying, but, in my character of effeminate oriental
exquisite, I must not advertise my real strength. I struggled, but half-
The house-boys and any of Falco's retinue who could reach me, thumped me
and mauled me. I was horrified to realize all of a sudden that those who
had made most of me had always envied me in secret; that, to a man, they
hated me; that each and all would use every effort to ensure my ruin; that
I had to face perjury, unanimous perjury, gushing from an abundant well-
head of malignity, spite, and enmity. My valet alone seemed on my side,
and he could assist me not at all.
I was bound with ropes knotted till my hands and feet swelled, till the
cords cut into my flesh. I was abused, my clothing torn till I was half
naked. I was whacked and clawed till I was bleeding in a dozen places; I
was reviled, jeered at and threatened. Trussed like a fowl to be roasted,
I was half hustled half dragged, almost carried, down into the courtyard.
From there, after no long wait, I was haled off to the slaves' prison in
the Slave-Dealers' Exchange next the Slave-Market. There I was released
from my bonds, heavy shackles were riveted on my ankles and I was cast
into the lower dungeon.
I had had time to tell Dromo, my faithful valet, to inform Agathemer. I
knew he, in turn, would inform Tanno and Vedia. I was certain that they
would do all that they could. But I dreaded that they could do nothing. I
was despondent, despairing. Actually, Dromo must have been clever, prompt
and judicious, and Agathemer equally quick and resourceful, with the
fullest possible help from Tanno and Vedia, and they must have taxed to
the utmost their influence and their means.
After a night almost sleepless I was visited at dawn by no less a person
than Galen himself.
"My boy," he said, "you, are in a terrible situation and we were in a
quandary how to advise you. But, after much discussion, we are agreed that
you have some chance of life as Phorbas the slave, accused of murdering
his master, whereas you have no chance at all as Andivius Hedulio,
proscribed along with Egnatius Capito. Our new Emperor seems to feel that
all enemies of former Princes are foes of his; he seems to have ordered
his agents to be on the lookout for all living persons accused, relegated,
or banished under Julianus, Pertinax and Commodus. Those taken in Rome
have been promptly executed. By all means, whatever happens to you,
whatever threatens you, give no hint that you are Andivius Hedulio. Endure
what befalls and hope for life and safety and ultimate rehabilitation.
"Of course I can see you as often as I please without exciting any
suspicion. You were, while yourself and prosperous, only one of my
countless patients, never among those I made much of. You, as Phorbas,
have been under my special care, as the darling of poor Falco, who was one
of my best friends, though I had known him so short a time. My visits here
cannot prejudice your welfare and may help you, even save you.
"Cheer up! Agathemer says that the real murderers are certain to betray
themselves by attempting to dispose of some of the stolen gems. He is
right. And he had taken measures to ensnare them. He has warned or is
warning every gem-dealer in Rome, from Orontides himself down to the most
disreputable scoundrel who makes a living by exchanging his cash for
stolen gems. He has sent off despatches already along many postroads, by
the couriers who set out at dawn, notifying all gem-dealers in the towns
along these roads to be on the watch for the miscreants. He will continue
this until the warning is all over Italy from Rhegium and Brundisium to
the Alps, and that within a few days. Those precious gentry are certain to
be nabbed either in Rome or elsewhere. Whenever they are identified and in
durance it will be easy to clear you.
"Meanwhile you will be tried as a slave accused of murdering his master
and the investigation will include the questioning of every slave in the
house at the time of the murder. I know you are aquiver with dread of
torture; there will be torture, but I assure you you will not be tortured.
As much can be done today by influence and bribery as could be done under
Perennis or Cleander, only it cannot be done so crudely and openly, and
much else can be done openly.
"We have endeavored to arrange to have you tried by a bunch of jurymen
presided over by a praetor, just as if you were a freeman, according to
Hadrian's law. But Commodus had repealed all such laws mitigating the
rigors of procedure in the ease of slaves and Severus has not had them
reenacted. So you will be tried by a magistrate, a deputy of the Prefect
of the City, as slaves were tried before Hadrian's time.
"We shall have, at the trial, to cheer you up, to counsel you, and, if
necessary, to intervene in your behalf, as clever an advocate as any in
Rome. Keep up a good heart, and read these letters."
And he went off.
I had a proof of the truth of what he said of bribery within half an hour,
for I was bathed, my hurts dressed, and I was clothed in new, clean and
comfortable garments and served with abundant eatable food and good wine.
I had promptly read the letters.
Agathemer's Galen had anticipated, mostly. Besides briefly telling me of
his measures for detecting the murderers, and prophesying their success,
he assured me of his devotion and alertness to take advantage of any
chance to help me.
Tanno pledged me his utmost efforts to assist me, and emphasized his hope
that the influences which he and Vedia could enlist in my behalf and the
cash at their disposal would protect me from the worst horrors of trial as
a slave and would ultimately clear me and free me from danger.
"The Leopard-Tamer's bride gives greeting to the Leopard-Tamer. Keep up
your courage! Do not be despondent, but have a hopeful heart. All that
gold, all that influence can do for you, shall be done. Cheer up! You will
live to see yourself a free man, unsmirched by any accusation, you and I
will be married and live many years of happiness afterwards: Farewell."
Investigations of murders are prompt in Rome and trials of accused slaves
quickly disposed of. Before the next morning was half way to noon, on the
fifth day before the Ides of July, I found myself, still shackled, but
well fed and well clad, in the Basilica Sempronia, before the magistrate
charged with deciding such cases. He turned out to be young Lollius
Corbulo, whom I had not set eyes on until he came to know me as Phorbas,
for he was an art amateur of high standing, considering his youth.
I never have discovered how much he was influenced by his natural
kindliness of disposition, how much by personal regard for me, how much by
Tanno, acting for himself and Vedia, whether he had been bribed or not.
He, when I questioned him in after years, passed it off with a smile
saying that anyone would accept a gift on condition of doing what he meant
to do uninfluenced, that no one needed a gift to make him do the right
thing. From Agathemer, Tanno and Vedia I have never been able to extract
any admissions as to their activities in my behalf. Anyhow Corbulo gave a
demonstration of the great latitude which is permitted both by law and
custom to such a magistrate in such a case. He ordered my shackles
removed, and, while they were being filed through, sent off three of his
apparitors in charge of Dromo to fetch some of my own garments from my
apartments in Falco's house.
He went about his investigation like a fair-minded man who meant to favor
no one and to ferret out the exact truth.
Corbulo in his full senatorial attire, the broad crimson stripe more
conspicuous than the white of his toga, sat in his chair at the center of
the apse of the basilica, his apparitors behind him. In the nave of the
basilica, surrounded by guards, were herded those members of Falco's
retinue who had been in his house at the time of his murder. Further down
the nave were many outsiders, come to listen to the trial. In the aisles
were gathered hangers-on of the court. In the apse, to the left and right
of the tribunal, stood many of Falco's friends, among whom I recognized
Casperius Asellio and Vespronius Lustralis. Among those on the other side
of the magistrate were Tanno and Galen.
The bare, bleak interior of the ancient, old-fashioned basilica, with its
blackened roof-beams, unadorned walls, Travertine columns of the severest
Tuscan pattern, and plain window-lattices, made an austere setting for the
trial. I saw nowhere any rack, winches, horse, or any other engine or
torture; but, while Dromo was gone, four muscular court-slaves came
tramping In, each supporting a pole end. The two long poles were passed
through the four ear-handles of a bronze brazier all of five feet square,
level full of glowing charcoal, the brilliant bed of coals radiating an
intense heat perceptible as they passed near me. When they had set it down
in full view of all and near the tribunal one of them shook out and folded
four-thick a thin Spanish blanket of harsh wiry wool and spread the square
of it by the brazier, squatting on it to tend the coals with a long-
handled five pronged altar-hook.
When Dromo returned with my garments and I was clad as Phorbas, Corbulo
questioned me as to when Falco had bought me, where and from whom. To my
relief he did not ask me how Rufius Libo had acquired me. He did ask my
age, but nothing else concerning my past. As to my life with Falco in
Africa and at Rome, he questioned me closely. I told him all about Falco's
character, his gem-collecting, the effect on him of the murders of
Commodus and Pertinax, his forebodings and his utterances to me about his
will. When he felt that he knew all I had to tell along these lines, he
"Now tell me your version of your master's death."
He heard me out and said:
"I believe you. You speak like a truth-teller."
He then questioned the janitor, who babbled and cringed, half
unintelligibly, but stoutly denying that he had slept at his post on the
seventh day before the Kalends of July.
"I am of the opinion," said Corbulo, drily, "that you are lying."
Then to his apparitors he said:
The court-slave, the charcoal-tender, stood up off his folded blanket and
shook it out. The janitor, stripped and bound, ankles lashed, hands
trussed behind him, was haled towards the brazier. The blanket was flung
round him and four apparitors lifted him as if he had been a log and held
him near the brazier, the enveloping blanket drawn tight over his left
thigh and its outer underside nearest the coals, tilting him sideways to
bring the soft thickness of the thigh closest to the heat. They watched
the tight blanket over his thigh and moved him a little away from the
brazier when the wool began to smoke.
I had never seen nor heard of this kind of torture, but it seemed
effectual. The fellow writhed, groaned, squalled and protested. After
Corbulo had him brought back before him he confessed that he had been
asleep in his cell from some time before Falco's murder until he was
aroused by Dromo, just before the arrival of Casperius and Vespronius.
One by one the other slaves were questioned. Three declared that they had
seen the janitor asleep not long before they heard the alarm.
Several more testified that the janitor had often been asleep. More than
half of them confirmed my story of the theft of the silver on the Nones of
May. Except the janitor not one was tortured, though Corbulo threatened
with torture several who hesitated in their testimony.
After the slaves Corbulo questioned Asellio and Lustralis.
Then, when they had stood aside, he gazed about at the spectators in the
nave, at the crowd behind them, interested in the next case or in others
to come up later, at the hangers-on in the side aisles; for a time, mute,
he stared at the glowing charcoal fire in the big brazier.
When he spoke he said:
"It is my opinion that Phorbas is innocent. I have inspected the house
where the murder took place. From the condition of the looted rooms it is
plain that more jewelry was stolen than any one man could carry off.
Manifestly two men participated in the robbery and murder and escaped
with their booty, very likely the same pair who robbed Falco's
_triclinium_ on the Nones of May. The janitor's confessed delinquency
explains how they entered and got away unhindered and unseen. The dead
man's heirs should punish the janitor. I hold no other slave at fault. Has
any man anything which he wishes to say before I pass formal judgment for
official record?' Lustralis asked permission to speak and amazed me by his
fluency, his ingratiating delivery, his vehemence, his ingenuity and the
fantastic malignity of his contentions. Corbulo heard him out to the end,
unmoving as a statue.
"You do not look like a lunatic nor act like one, Lustralis," he said,
"but you talk like one. Phorbas has impressed me by every feature of his
tale. He appears to have told the truth. He seems to have been a sincere
friend to his late master. I cannot credit the wild suggestion that a man
of his character would plot his master's death, or that a man of his
intelligence, with a full knowledge of the terms of his master's will,
would expose himself to suspicion by so plotting; far less that such a man
as he would ignore the perils of such a crime and so desire his freedom
and the legacies promised him as to league himself with two criminals,
assist them to enter the house and to escape from it, and hope to come off
unscathed and unsuspected and forever unbetrayed.
"But, suppose all you imagine and insinuate is true in fact. Prove it!
Produce the two robbers. Prove them the robbers by recovering their booty.
If they, so convicted of the robbery, are brought before me, if they
accuse Phorbas of being their accomplice, if they tell a consistent and
convincing tale, if any colorable motive for such association and such a
crime can be alleged against Phorbas, then I'll believe him guilty, and
not till then."
He eyed Lustralis, who spoke further.
"Torture Phorbas!" Corbulo cried. "Absurd! In my court I never torture men
like him, any more than if they were freemen. And though it might be
imperative to torture him for a confession if all the testimony pointed to
his guilt, it is ridiculous to suggest torturing him merely to corroborate
evidence demonstrating his innocence.
"I, hereby, officially as the representative of the Commonwealth,
pronounce Phorbas cleared of all charges connected with this case. I
hereby enjoin all men to assist the Republic to detect and apprehend the
murderers who robbed Falco and killed him."
Lustralis and Asellio looked baffled and sour. A murmur of approval ran
through the bystanders. My fellow-slaves congratulated each other and
rejoiced, save only the janitor.
Galen approached me.
"Phorbas," he said, "as you are now a freeman by your late master's will,
which will soon be read and its provisions put into effect, at which
reading I shall be present as one of the legatees, you may now go where
you like. I invite you to come with me."
I thanked Corbulo, who said:
"Don't thank me. I did just what any sane, clear-headed, fair-minded
magistrate must do, affirmed the manifest truth."
Galen led me off to a modest apartment near the Carinae. I found
everything prepared for my comfort, slaves to wait on me and nothing
omitted. I thanked him.
"Tanno," he said, "deputed me to hire this lodging for you. He has kept in
the background. These are my slaves, put at your disposal and enjoined to
obey you as they would obey me in person. Keep quiet here till I can
arrange for you to take possession of your legacies from Falco. I think he
left you all your personal belongings and the slaves who waited on you. As
soon as the necessary formalities are completed I'll send them to you.
"Do not attempt to communicate with Vedia or Tanno. Do nothing which might
betray you as your actual self. Our new Emperor seems resolute to
exterminate, to the last individual, all persons implicated in any
conspiracy not only against Julianus or Pertinax, but against Commodus,
from the date of his accession. All such persons apprehended are promptly
executed. Keep quiet. Efface yourself till I give you the word. I can
communicate with you freely, can see you daily, if need be, since I am one
of poor Falco's heirs and was your physician during his life here in Rome.
I'll do all I can for you."
He left and I bathed, ate, and slept the rest of that day and slept sound
Next day passed similarly. But, early on the following day, the third day
before the Kalends of July, not long after sunrise, my new valet came to
me his face ashen. He babbled some unintelligible syllables and before I
could comprehend him, my bedroom was entered by a Pannonian sergeant, grim
as the centurions from Britain who had liberated Agathemer and me from the
_ergastulum_ at Placentia. Behind him were four legionary soldiers. I was
I was promptly haled off to the same prison where Galen had visited me
three days before. There I was again deprived of my garments and clad in
others, new, but of cheap material, coarse and uncomfortable. Also
shackles, heavier shackles, were at once riveted on my ankles, and I was
again consigned to the lower dungeon. I was, to be sure, given good and
abundant food and wine not too unpalatable. Otherwise I had no indulgences
and there I spent the night.
Next day, the last day of June, Galen again visited me.
"My lad," he said, "the first rule of medicine is to cheer up the patient,
but I must say that your case looks grave and I have little cheer for you.
I shall do my best and so will Tanno, Vedia and Agathemer. But we are all
dazed. We cannot understand what has happened, nor who has brought it to
pass, nor what influences are working against us.
"But someone has gotten the ear of Juvenalis or of Severus himself. It has
been represented plausibly to the Prefect of the Praetorium, or perhaps
even to the Emperor in person, that the courts here in Rome have fallen
into a shocking state of disrepute on account of decisions in scandalous
contravention of the evidence, brought about by favoritism and bribery. It
has also been plausibly represented that the slave-population has little
respect for the lives or property of their masters, less loyalty towards
them and very little dread of punishment. Your alleged murder of poor
Falco is held up as a flagrant example of the latter condition, your
acquittal as an even more flagrant instance of the degradation of the
"Believing that a shocking miscarriage of justice has taken place
concerning an atrocious crime, the Prefect or the Prince has ordered you
rearrested and retried, tomorrow, this time before Cassius Ravillanus."
I shuddered, not metaphorically, but actually. I felt cold all over, as if
plunged into an icy mountain stream. Ravillanus claimed as his ancestor
Cassius Ravilla and aimed at emulating him. Certainly, as a magistrate, he
quite frankly talked and acted as if acquittal were a disgrace to the
court, and the object of each trial not impartial justice but the
conviction of the accused. He was perfectly sincere, upright in every
intention, incorruptible, fanatical, self-opinionated, austere, ascetic,
stern and harsh. I shuddered again and again at the thought of him.
"Ravillanus has the reputation of being unbribable," Galen went on, 'and
it is a question whether an attempt at bribery might not prejudice your
case more than letting matters be. Yet I have employed an agent far too
clever to bungle any approach, and something may be done for you. Vedia is
despondent, but resolute to keep her head and help you all she can, and
she has cash to spare and much influence. Tanno has even more of both.
Agathemer is hopeful of running down the real murderers, as they are
loaded with their booty. If they are caught we can clear you.
"Keep up a brave heart."
I tried to, but it was impossible. I ate little and slept hardly at all.
The next day, the Kalends of July, saw me haled again to the Basilica
There I beheld a scene almost a duplicate of my first trial; a similar
throng of spectators, very similar bevies of expectant witnesses,
advocates and prosecutors; the same batch of my former fellow-slaves,
surrounded by the same guards; the very same charcoal-brazier tended by
the same slave squatting on the same folded blanket; similar knots of
notables in the apse, about and behind the magistrate's tribunal; the same
carved arm-chair; in it not Corbulo, but Cassius Ravillanus, lean, dry,
tanned, leathery, smooth-shaven, bald and stern.
He glared at me when my guards halted me four yards or so in front of him;
then he beckoned to one of his apparitors and spoke to him in an
undertone. The fellow went off as if on an errand.
Ravillanus then gave, even more positively than Corbulo, a demonstration
of the great latitude permitted such a magistrate in procedure, of how
completely it lies within his discretion what to do and how to do it.
"Fellow!" he ranted, "you have plotted to rob and murder your master, you
have done both and you have, by favor and influence and perhaps even by
bribery, arranged for your easy acquittal. I am charged by the Prince of
the Republic to see to it, that the majesty of the law, the sacredness of
the lives of Roman noblemen, and the security of their property be
publicly vindicated: I am here to undo all that Lollius Corbulo supinely
allowed to be done. You shall perceive that I am wholly unlike any such
trifler. Of one feature only of his procedure do I approve. I highly
acclaim his notions as to the right kind of torture. Slaves like you,
however pampered, are property, like horses or cattle. Their value lies in
their usefulness. Any slave, after torture, should be as useful to his
owners as before. If a slave is placed upon the horse and weights hung to
his feet, his legs are often made helpless, he cannot ever walk again, he
is a cripple. Still oftener does the rack leave a slave utterly useless.
Our courts have always desired some form of torture by which the
recalcitrant could be made to suffer acute pain, but not in any way
injured. Lollius has introduced a torture which never injures anyone
subjected to it, but which causes extreme agony while in use. Only stretch
a hard-yarn Spanish blanket over a thigh, draw it tight and hold the thigh
at just the right distance from just the right size of brazier with its
coals properly tended, and the subject can be made to tell the truth; but
not broiled alive, for the blanket will singe before the flesh under it
cooks. You had best tell the truth, not such an ingenious string of lies
as you told before Lollius."
Then he had all my fellow-slaves brought up and ranged before him.
"Your master," he said, "has been foully done to death. If the guilt of
this hideous crime can be indubitably fastened upon one of you or two or
any few, the rest of you shall be held innocent and shall suffer no
penalties. If no facts can be ascertained limiting the guilt to some of
you, all of you, according to the ancient law concerning such cases, shall
be put to death by crucifixion or exposure to the beasts in the arena, as
our Prince may prefer. I have no desire to send to death any guiltless
man. I enjoin you all to tell the truth and to assist the law. The truth-
tellers will suffer less of the torture."
He then, beginning with the scullions, had every boy and man tortured over
the brazier, asking no question of any till he had felt the heat of the
fire and had begun to yell for mercy. Then he would interrupt the torture,
question the victim, bid the torturers again hold their subject close to
the fire; and again suspend the torture and ask questions. Naturally the
victims, frantic with pain and terror, said whatever they thought would
get them off.
Also, to my horror, I realized for the first time, what I had only vaguely
suspected before, how venomously they had envied me, how violently
embittered most of them were against me, how they had hated their master's
favorite. They were glad to slander me, they enjoyed assisting at my ruin,
they relished the prospect of my being tortured and executed. Moreover it
appeared that they had been carefully coached in what they were to say or
had agreed among themselves, without any outside hints, or after such
The whole household made it appear that they had always suspected me of
desiring Falco's death in order that I might gain my freedom and enjoy his
promised legacies; that I had enticed and wheedled him into leaving me in
his will an absurdly large share of his property.
They were also unanimous in declaring that they had been unable to bring
home to me the devising of the robbery of the _triclinium_, but they had
all felt certain from the first that I had arranged to have confederates
of mine steal the table silver. They were equally consistent in asserting
that they all believed that I had murdered Falco, after arranging for the
looting of the gem-collection as a blind.
Hour after hour I had to stand and watch wretch after wretch held to the
glowing coals, had to listen to the shrieks of the victims, could not but
realize that Ravillanus was bent on my conviction, that nothing would
swerve him from his purpose.
Dromo, alone of all the household, alone of my obsequious, indulged
personal servants, held out against the torture and though he writhed,
yelled, sobbed and even endured the pain until he fainted more than once,
refused to say anything against me.
After Dromo my turn came. When I was stripped Ravillanus rubbed his hands
"You have your character written on your back! How could Falco trust a
fellow so branded and scarred! Easy-going masters like Falco not only
bring on their own deaths, but sap the foundations of safety for all
slave-owners. Your back, in advance, advertises you guilty. Better own
I pass over the details. But I must confess that I was far from heroic.
Perhaps it is true, and not an invention, that Marcus Scaevola voluntarily
thrust his hand into the altar-fire and stood mute and smiling, and
watched it burn and char. If any man ever did that he had more self-
control than I ever had. I could repress every indication of my agonies. I
fainted so many times that I lost count. The afternoon was drawing on
towards evening before Ravillanus began to lose patience.
Tanno and Galen had been from the first among those about the tribunal.
Now, in a pause, while I was being brought back to consciousness to be
again tortured, Galen succeeded in gaining the attention of Ravillanus
enough to induce him, though grudgingly, to permit the celebrated
advocate, Memmius Tuditanus, whom they had brought with them, to speak in
my behalf. I had regained consciousness before he began to speak and heard
most of what he said. He spoke well.
His chief point was that a gem-expert and art-amateur like me, knowing
that he was to inherit one of the finest and most carefully chosen
collections of gems and art objects in all the world, would be the last
man on earth to allow it to be disturbed, let alone to plot its
ransacking, the pillage of its cases and the dispersal of their precious
contents. No man could better have exposed the absurdity of the whole
flimsy and preposterous fabrication that I had had two confederates, who
had, in my interest and at my suggestion, robbed first the _triclinium_
and then the gem-collection, after which last I had myself murdered Falco.
But his logic, his lucidity and his eloquence fell on deaf ears.
Ravillanus was unmoved. He permitted Lustralis to make a rambling and
incoherent harangue, setting forth his ridiculous contentions.
Then he passed judgment:
"I hold you all innocent save Phorbas alone. Dromo is manifestly devoted
to Phorbas and has lied in his behalf. But Dromo, apparently, was no
accomplice in the plot or in the murder. I acquit him with the rest.
Phorbas, who vilely plotted against his master, who foully murdered him, I
adjudge guilty of his death and I hereby condemn him to be kept chained in
the slaves' prison until the next day of beast-fighting in the Colosseum,
then, in the arena, to be exposed to the ferocity of the famished wild
beasts of the desert, wilderness and forest, by them to be lacerated and
torn to pieces, as he richly deserves."
Tanno and Galen could indicate their grief and sympathy only by looks and
gestures, for they dared not attempt to approach me.
Then Ravillanus called:
"Where is that barber?"
The apparitor who had gone off before the trial began produced a barber.
"Trim his hair and beard!" Ravillanus ordered. And I had to submit to
having my long locks shorn and my beard clipped close, leaving me far too
like my true former self for my comfort, since I still had hopes of
Agathemer catching the real murderers in time to save me from the doom
impending over me because of the fanaticism of Ravillanus, while I
anticipated nothing but inescapable death should I be recognized as not
Phorbas, but as Andivius Hedulio.
I was then, late in the afternoon of the Kalends of July, haled off to the
Colosseum and immured in one of the cells of the lowermost crypt, far
below the street level. To my amazement I found myself sharing the cell
with Narcissus, who had been similarly condemned to exposure to the
beasts, as the murderer of Commodus.
Together we spent five dreadful days in the darkness, dampness, chill and
foulness of that tiny cell. I found that influence such as Tanno and Vedia
possessed and cash such as they had at their disposal, could do much even
for the occupant of such a cell, destined to such a doom. I was visited by
Galen, more than once, and he emphasized the still hopeful possibility,
nay probability, that Agathemer might, in time, save me, run down and
bring before a magistrate the real murderers. I was gloomy, I admit. But
his presence in that horrible hole and his words cheered me, by
brightening the hope I had never wholly lost.
Also I was tended, massaged, rubbed, chafed, washed each day in warm water
brought in big pails and poured into a big, shallow pan; I was anointed;
clothed in a comfortable tunic, strengthened with plenty of good food and
strong wine and provided with a cot and bedding and blankets. I was able
to have Narcissus indulged also, in order that he might be a less
He talked to me freely of life in the Palace, of Commodus, of Marcia, of
Ducconius Furfur, of his own fatal mistake, of the amazing likeness, even
apparent identity, between Furfur and Commodus, of the naturalness of his
inability to tell them apart.
I drank and ate all the food and wine I could swallow, slept all I could,
and tried to be hopeful.
Thus passed five horrible days and six hideous nights.
After no more than twelve days, as I learned later, Severus felt himself
securely established as Prince of the Republic. By spending almost every
moment of daylight on official business, denying himself more than the
merest minimum of sleep and food, he had put every department of the
government sufficiently in order to feel assured of their smooth and
effective operation. His troops were now all outside the City, comfortably
camped, well supplied and content; the City was orderly and its life had
resumed its normal aspect and activities. He felt free to win the regard
of the populace by magnificent exhibitions in the amphitheater, on the
occasion of the eight days of the Games of Apollo, beginning the day
before the Nones of July.
Early next day Narcissus and I were haled from our cell and led, by
passages only too well known to me since my service in the Choragium, to
the iron-gated doorway from which condemned criminals were thrust out into
the arena for the lions or other beasts to tear. From inside that doorway
I could look across the sand of the arena and could see not only the
herald on his tiny platform, elevated above the leap of the most agile
panther, not only the arena-wall opposite me, but also the faces of the
senators in their private boxes on the _podium_, even a portion of the
nobility behind them and of the populace higher up and further back.
The day was hot, still and clear, and the July sunshine, still slant in
the early morning, struck under the awning and long shafts of the mellow
radiance brightened the sand.
From that doorway, craning over the heads of the wretches in front of me,
I caught glimpses of the fury of several beasts as they vented their
ferocity upon some ordinary criminals and assuaged their ravenous hunger
on their blood and flesh.
My time was not far off, yet I still hoped against hope that Agathemer
might, even yet, have caught the thieving murderers and would intervene
before it was too late. I did not at all fear the beasts; I knew that no
bear, panther, leopard, tiger or lion would hurt me, but I felt certain
that, when the beasts left me unharmed, I should be recognized as Festus
the Beast-Wizard: and then, as the scrutiny of the whole audience would be
riveted on me, identified as Andivius Hedulio.
Narcissus was led out, stepping jauntily between his guards, treading
springily, with no sign of panic or dejection, a pattern Hercules, naked
save for a loin-cloth, his skin pink and fresh, in spite of his days in a
dungeon, his mighty muscles rippling all over his huge form. The herald
proclaimed to all that this was Narcissus, professional wrestler, for long
the crony of Commodus, who had strangled his master and was to be punished
for his treachery and crime by being torn to pieces in sight of all Rome.
They let out on him a full-grown, young Mauretanian lion, starved and
ravenous. Narcissus was naked and empty-handed, his close-clipped hair,
standing like the bristles of a brush, yellow as gold wire, shining in the
sun. He stood almost as immobile as had Palus and faced the lion, which,
after a bound or two towards him, flattened down on the sand and began to
crawl nearer, preparing for a spring.
When it sprang Narcissus performed one of the most miraculous feats ever
beheld in the amphitheater. He did not dodge but ducked slightly, the
wide-spread, taloned paws missing his head on each side. His arms shot out
as the lion sprang, and, though the brute came at him through the air like
a log-arrow from a catapult, his hands gripped each side of the wide-open
mouth and his thumbs pushed the inner corners of the lips between the
parted upper and lower cheek-teeth. Therefore to close his jaws on his
victim the lion had to crush a roll or fold of his own lips. This
incredibly difficult feat prolonged his life a few breaths. The whole
populace howled in ecstasy at the wretch's coolness, courage, strength,
swiftness and adroitness.
The lion's momentum and weight bore Narcissus to the ground, but his
thumbs did not slip nor his hold loosen. On the sand lion and man rolled
and wrestled, for a brief time. Then the lion, lashing out with his hind
legs, caught with the claws of one the wrestler's belly and half
disemboweled him. Narcissus collapsed and the great fangs met in his
The populace redoubled their yells.
When silence fell, after the lion had been chased back into his cage and
the cage lowered down the lift-shaft, after the mangled corpse of
Narcissus had been dragged away and sand sprinkled to hide the red patches
where his blood had soaked it, I was haled forth and stood in the very
center of the arena. From his perch the herald proclaimed that I was
Phorbas, the slave of Pompeianus Falco of Carthage and Rome, who had
plotted his master's death in order sooner to gain freedom from his
testament, and had himself dealt Falco his deathblow. The populace jeered
and booed at me.
I had, as Festus the Animal-Tender, often viewed the interior of the
Colosseum from the arena. But never when I was myself the cynosure of all
eyes. There I stood, naked except for a loin-cloth, empty-handed, my
shoulder-brand and scarred back visible to half the spectators, glared at
and reviled. From my viewpoint the spectacle was singularly magnificent:
the dark blue sky overhead, varied by some large, solid-looking, white
clouds; the fluttering banners waving from the awning poles; the
particolored, sagging awning, shading half the audience; the beauty of the
upper colonnade under the awning; the solidly packed throng of spectators
which crowded the colonnade, the aisles, the steps and every seat in the
hollow of the amphitheater; the dignified ease of the nobility in their
spaced chairs, of the senators in their ample armchairs; the gorgeousness
of the Imperial Pavilion, filled with a retinue brilliant in blue and
silver, in green and gold, in white and crimson, about the hard, spare,
soldierly figure on the throne.
I was the only human being on the sand, eyed by all onlookers.
From a door in the _podium_-wall a famished lion was loosed at me. He
bounded towards me, roaring; but, three or four lengths from me he paused,
stood still regarding me, circled about me and then turned his back on me
and loped off to the arena-wall, along which he rounded the arena,
apparently searching for a way out. The populace, at first mute with
astonishment, voiced their amazement in yells of a notably different
quality from those they had uttered while watching Narcissus.
Another lion behaved similarly, except that he, after inspecting me,
merely walked in circles far out in the arena, ignoring me as if I were
not there at all.
They loosed on me five more lions, four tigers, four leopards, four
panthers and four bears, of the fierce Alpine breed. Some of these animals
delighted the populace by attacking each other and affording entertainment
by savage and ferocious fighting. But not one showed any disposition to
As beast after beast approached me, conned me and spared me, the upper
tiers began to call:
"He is innocent."
"He is guiltless."
"The beasts know."
"He is not guilty."
"The gods declare him clean of guilt!" and other such cries.
Also they began to show signs of being restless and bored. Some yelled for
A seventh lion was loosed at me. He paused like the others and eyed me;
then he strolled up to me, snuffed at me, and rubbed his mane against my
hip, emitting a rambling purr. I laid my hand on his mane.
Instantly, from all sides at once, rang out cries of,
"Festus the Beast-Wizard!"
"He's no Phorbas, he's Festus come back!"
I was not far from the Imperial Pavilion and one of the retinue leaned
over the _podium_-coping and called to me. I walked towards him. When I
was within earshot he called in Greek:
"The King commands that you lead the beasts back to their cages."
Elated and hoping for a reprieve, for vindication, for life, for
rehabilitation, for Imperial favor, I led beast after beast back to its
cage on a shaft-lift, or to a door in the wall. When the last one was
caged an officer of the Imperial retinue, a frontiersman only lately come
to Rome, stepped out of one of the postern doors, two arena-slaves with
him. They led me to the center of the arena, trussed my hands behind me,
bound my ankles and wrapped round my head an evil-smelling old quilt,
probably taken from the cot of some arena-slave housed in some cell under
the hollow of the amphitheater. Half suffocated by it, unable to shake it
off, for they tied it fast, I stood there, blind, realizing that the
Emperor still believed me guilty, was inexorable and meant me to be torn
to pieces then and there; believing, as I did, that my immunity from
attack was due to the effect of my gaze on the beasts I made mild.
Now you, who read, know that I was not devoured. But I had no shred of
hope left. I thought that my end had come. I anticipated only the agony of
great fangs rending my flesh.
I felt only the hot breath of a beast snuffing at my legs. Perhaps I
fainted. Certainly my next sensation was of lying on the sand, with
several unseen animals growling near me and one or more snuffing at my
feet and legs.
The amphitheater was quiet, even hushed.
Then, suddenly, a lion uttered a full-throated, coughing roar, jagged and
rumbling. When it died away a universal yell arose from the populace. I
heard cries of:
"He is innocent!"
"Set him free!"
"We behold the justice of the gods!"
"This proves him guiltless!"
"Festus or Phorbas, he is not guilty!"
And other such exclamations.
Ridiculously, what passed through my mind, besides disgust at the foul
odor of the quilt about my head, was the thought that, if I had known that
ferocious beasts would avoid me even when they could not see my gaze, I
should, on that unforgettable moonlit evening in Sabinum, have gone off
home to my cottage, to Septima, and have missed my encounter with Vedia,
and our night in her traveling coach.
Then I heard the voices of the animal-tenders essaying, with their long-
handled tridents, to chase back into their cages the beasts loose about
Soon someone cut my ankle-thongs and the cords about the quilt, also my
arm-thongs. The quilt was twitched from my face and I was assisted to my
feet. The amphitheater was full of the yells of the populace, affirming my
innocence and the manifest intervention of the gods in my behalf. I rolled
my gaze around the audience and sought to interpret the demeanor of the
Then, as I gazed at the Emperor, too far off for me to make out his
expression, the yells altered their quality.
I turned round.
I saw, running towards me across the sand, Agathemer!
Behind him was an official in the robes of a magistrate!
Behind him six more human shapes, four lictors convoying two bound
Agathemer embraced me and I him.
"Saved," he breathed, "we've got 'em and most of the loot. Enough to
convict 'em and clear you!"
As we loosed our embrace I looked at the approaching magistrate.
He was Flavius Clemens!
Before the shock of recognizing him had passed I forgot him entirely.
For I had recognized the two prisoners.
Though I had seen them but once and that by moonlight, and that eight
years before, I recognized the two drunken robbers who had helped us to
our couriers' equipment and sent us off galloping to Marseilles.
Indubitably they were Carex and Junco!
While still numb with amazement I felt upon me the cold gaze of Flavius
Clemens. I looked him full in the face. He was no less astonished than I
and I could read in his expression both amazement and suspicion. I was
acutely aware that Ravillanus, by having my hair and beard clipped, had
made me readily recognizable to anyone and everyone who had known me in
the days of my prosperity. I was even more acutely aware of the keen
intuition which every lover feels toward any actual or potential rival. I
dreaded that Clemens not only recognized me for myself, but had a
glimmering inkling as to why his suit of Vedia had twice failed. But he
said nothing except:
"You are cleared of every imputation in connection with the murder of
Pompeianus Falco. You are free to go where you please."
Agathemer took off his robe, and threw it around me and led me to a
postern. In the vaulted corridor we were met by Tanno, who embraced me and
congratulated me, and Galen, who also embraced me and felicitated me.
"Vedia kept up till Agathemer nabbed the criminals, then she fainted; but
she declares the faint relieved her and that she is entirely herself."
In one of the cells under the hollow of the amphitheater I was given
strong wine, all I wanted, and then washed with warm water already
prepared for me, and afterwards thoroughly massaged. Then I was clad in
garments of my own.
"I feel like myself," I remarked.
Just then Flavius Clemens entered, his expression entirely too
intelligible for me. Looking me full in the eyes he said:
"You have been passing as an art-amateur of Greek ancestry, under the name
of Phorbas, with the status of a slave. Before that you were among the
helpers at the Choragium, held as a slave belonging to the _fiscus_, by
the name of Festus. It seems to me that you are no Greek, nor of Greek
blood, even to the smallest degree, I take you for a full-blooded Roman. I
think I recognize you. Are you not Andivius Hedulio?"
"I am," I acknowledged.
He saluted me courteously and bade me a polite farewell, without any other
Tanno and Galen made no comment, nor did Agathemer. They assisted me out
to Tanno's waiting litter. In it I was borne off to the lodgings which I
had occupied eight days before, between my two trials. There I found a
tempting meal ready for me and ate liberally. Then I was put to bed and at
once fell into the deep sleep of utter exhaustion and slept through till
long after daylight next day.
When I woke I found that Dromo himself was by my bedside, as well as
Agathemer. They tended me, washed me, plied me with wine and fed me with
dainties, asserting that Galen had given orders that I was on no account
to stir from my bed or sit up in it.
I slept again and, when I woke early in the afternoon, insisted on getting
up and being dressed. I was no sooner clad than there entered the
apartment a big, florid, youthful Pannonian sergeant and four legionaries.
I was yet again rearrested!
They led me away, forbidding Agathemer to exchange a word with me, or to
follow us. Through the brilliant July sunlight they led me, along its
northeast flank, up the Steps of Groaning, and to the Mamertine Prison!
There I was handed over to four of the assistants to the Public
Executioner. They stripped me of my outer garments, leaving me naked
except for my tunic. Then they haled me to the trap-door, lifted the trap,
passed ropes under my armpits and lowered me into the dreaded lower
dungeon, the horrible Tullianum!
Gloomy as is the upper cell of the Mamertine Prison there is light enough
there for my eyes to have been utterly blinded by it as I was lowered into
the black pit beneath. I saw nothing in the brief period while I was being
let down, while the ropes were being drawn up, while the trap-door was
shut down and fitted into place. Then I was in the pitchest darkness, into
which no ray, no glimmer of light could penetrate. I saw nothing whatever,
yet I seemed to feel a presence, seemed to hear a faint footfall, seemed
to be aware of another human being standing close to me. Then I heard a
deep, resonant, healthy, pleasant-sounding voice ask:
"Brother in misfortune, who are you?"
I was past any impulse towards dissimulation or any belief in its utility.
"I am Andivius Hedulio."
"You are?" the big, cheerful male voice exclaimed. "You really are? You
amaze me! I am Galvius Crispinillus, lately and for many a year King of
the Highwaymen! Give me your hand!"
Now, whatever distaste I felt for giving my hand to such a criminal,
however great was my repugnance, however utterly I felt myself lost,
however certain I was of the inevitable doom hanging over me, however
short a respite I anticipated before my inescapable death, I was not fool
enough to antagonize my companion in misery, presumably a powerful and
ferocious brute. I held out my hand. His grasped it. Mine returned the
"Come this way!" he said. "This pit is damp and chilly, but even here a
bed of stale straw is better than the rock floor or the patches of mud on
it or the heaps of filth. I know every inch of this hole and I know the
least uncomfortable place to sit. Come along!"
He guided me in the utter blackness to a pile of damp straw. On it we sat
down, half reclining.
"If you are thirsty," he said, "I can guide you to the well. There is a
spring in here and plenty of good water."
"I thank you," I said. "I shall be thirsty enough before long. Just now I
am far more interested to hear how you came here. Nobody believed that you
would ever be caught."
"No more did I!" he ejaculated. "I had so easily defied the utmost efforts
of the government and officials under Aurelius, of the incompetents under
Commodus, of his vaunted Highway Constabulary; had so prospered, had so
come and gone as I pleased and robbed whom I pleased from the Po to the
Straits, that I thought no man could lay for me any snare I could not
foresee, thought myself impeccably wary and prescient, though I had always
taken and would always take all necessary precautions.
"But I was a fool. I comprehended Aurelius and Commodus and their
magistrates and officials and constabulary; I was right in fearing nothing
from Pertinax and Julianus; but I was an ass to think I could cope with
Septimius Severus. That man is deeper than the deepest abyss of mid-ocean!
"I thought I was certain of months of disorder, confusion and laxity in
which I could go where I pleased, act as I pleased, garner a rich harvest
and escape unscathed. Do you know, before he had left Aquileia, perhaps
before he had passed the Alps, possibly before he had set out from
Sabaria, that man had despatched not one but a dozen detachments to
ascertain my whereabouts, consider how best to take me unawares, lie in
wait for me, nab me and hunt down my bands. I believe he had thought out,
far back in that head of his, long before Pertinax was murdered, perhaps
even long before Commodus died, every measure he would initiate if he
became Emperor, down to the smallest detail. He had all his plans framed
and thought out, I'll wager!
"His emissaries were no fools! They, first among those despatched against
me, knew their business. I was trapped near Sentinum, on the Kalends of
this month. Never mind how; even in this plight I'm ashamed of it. They
just missed nabbing Felix Bulla along with me. But he got away that time.
And I prophesy that now he is warned of his danger and knows the
cleverness of the men on his trail, he'll show himself yet cleverer. He is
a marvel, is Felix Bulla, and promises to outdo even my record."
He broke off, breathing audibly.
"By the way," he went on, "are you hungry? I have part of a loaf of bread
in here, not yet stale and no damper than it must get in this foul air. It
hasn't fallen on the floor. It's eatable."
"I'll be hungry enough before long," I replied, "but I am not hungry now.
I had eaten all I wanted and of the best just before I was haled here."
"Speak when you want any," he said. "It will be share and share alike here
for us till they come to finish us.
"And now, tell me about yourself. I have always been curious about you. I
heard all about you when you first got into trouble and I was told that
the official report of your death was fictitious, invented by underlings
too clumsy to capture you and fearful of the consequences of their
incompetence. Also I heard unimpeachable testimony that you were alive
later and had been seen in Rome with Maternus and outside Rome, the next
summer, with the mutineers from Britain. I have often wondered how you got
into such company. Tell me how you came to be with Maternus."
I saw no utility in any further dissimulation of anything or in any
reticence; I began with our springtime stay at the farm in the mountains,
and told my story in detail, from that hour.
When I came to my visit, along with Maternus, to the Temple of Mercury and
mentioned how Maternus had warned me that we were being watched, and how I
had shot one glance towards the watchers and had recognized one of them,
he interrupted me and, without enquiring where I had seen him before,
asked for a description of the watcher I had recognized. I gave it as well
as I could and he said:
"That was my brother, Marcus Galvius Crispinillus, now dead. It was he who
told me that he had seen you with Maternus. Go on."
Again, when I spoke of recognizing Crispinillus by the wayside as I passed
with the mutineers he interjected:
"Yes, he told me he saw you there."
And later, when I spoke of being found with Agathemer after the massacre,
separated from him and led off to the _ergastulum_ at Nuceria he remarked:
"I can't conceive how my brother missed you. Nor could he. He looked for
you among the corpses and went over the survivors twice in search of you."
"I did not see him after the massacre," I declared.
"Mercury protected you," was his comment.
When I finished the story of my giving warning of the plot in the
_ergastulum_ at Nuceria I paused.
"Go on, lad!" he urged. "You have had adventures and you narrate them
I hesitated and then, utterly reckless, I blurted out:
"If I am to go on with my story you might as well know right now, that I
am not only Andivius Hedulio, but also Felix the Horse-Wrangler."
He swore a great oath.
"Boy!" he cried, "I love you! I have admired you since I listened to
Bulla's account of his one failure. At first I was furious at your having
spoiled the best plan I ever laid and the most brilliant chance I ever
had, at your preventing me from making the biggest haul of booty I ever
had hopes of. But, as years passed, my resentment has abated and my
admiration has warmed. I bear you no grudge. I have often thought I should
like to meet you and find out why on earth you desired to thwart me and
how you managed to do it. Go on! Tell me the rest."
I resumed my tale.
When I came to my outlook from the crag and explained my former
acquaintance with Vedia he interrupted.
"Of course, if you knew the lady and she was an old flame of yours, I
don't wonder that you intervened to save her. My lads were so rough and
fierce-looking that they had a worse reputation than they deserved. When
they captured prisoners rich enough to pay any profitable ransom they
treated them with the most scrupulous deference. Business is business and
we were not brigands for fun, but for profit. Also they all dreaded me and
my orders were explicit and emphatic. Your sweetheart would have been as
respected with them as in her own home. But, of course, you couldn't feel
that way. Go on with your story."
I demurred, asserting that I felt sleepy. He assented and we composed
ourselves on the straw. How long I slept or when I wakened I do not know:
I was roused by the opening of the trap-door and by the light which
entered from above. Food was lowered to us; pork-stew, still warm, in a
two-handled, wide-mouthed jug; bread; olives, not wholly spoiled; and a
small kidskin of thin, sour wine. Galvius received the dole and
safeguarded the containers: the ropes were drawn up, the trap-door reset
and we were again in utter darkness.
To my astonishment I felt entirely myself and very hungry. We drank and
ate deliberately and again drank. Galvius was a careful husbander of the
wine, and we drank mostly water from the spring.
Afterwards, nestled in the not unendurably damp straw, chilly, but not
shivering, we sat or lay side by side and he urged me to continue my
story. I began where I had left off, and, going into the smallest details,
brought my history down to the hour of my consignment to our dungeon.
When I paused he sighed, but not gloomily.
"You have had marvellous adventures," he said, "and marvellous luck, both
good and bad. I knew that Marcia had belonged to your uncle. I was
informed of the existence of Ducconius Furfur, of his likeness to
Commodus, of his presence in the Palace, of his utilization as a dummy
Emperor, to set Commodus free to masquerade as Palus, and I heard that he
had been your neighbor.
"Now go back, begin your tale at the beginning. Tell me of your getting
into trouble at the first, of how you escaped in the first place. I have
often wondered how you managed it."
"Give me a respite," I demurred, "my voice is tired. It is your turn to
talk. Tell me how you learned about Ducconius Furfur and about Commodus
masquerading as Palus and about Marcia."
"Why," he said, "I had friends in one or more towns when I first took to
the woods. They gave me tips that helped me to make fine hauls on the
highways. As I prospered I made more friends; they helped me and my
growing success gained more, till I had friends in every town in Italy and
in Rome itself and an organized service of road-messengers. Why, Imperial
couriers often carried letters and packets, destined for me, from one town
to another, or even carried onward letters from me to distant friends or
parcels of my booty.
"In Rome itself I had many agents and chiefly my sister, Galvia
Crispinilla, a professional procuress and poisoner, who knew the worst
secrets of the lives of all Rome's wealthy and noble debauchees, and our
brother, Marcus Galvius Crispinillus, a professional informer and a valued
member of the Imperial Secret Service. I never knew why he had a spite
against you, but he had and it was false information given by him that
caused your proscription and ruin and thrust you into your years of
misery. I always felt that you did not deserve what you have suffered, but
his grudges were none of my business.
"He is dead, as is Galvia, for she kept poison about her and gave a supply
to him and to me to use in case of capture. I was caught without mine, for
I was certain that no danger threatened me. He and she took the poison
when they saw capture inevitable, as it will be for most evil-doers all
over the Empire under the sway of such a man as Septimius Severus."
He paused and I meditated awhile, puzzling as to how I could have incurred
the vindictive rancor of any secret-service agent.
Presently I said:
"Tell me how you came to be King of the Highwaymen."
"My boy," he said, "my case is far different from yours. You had an
honorable origin and an honorable past. Nor were any of your adventures
discreditable to you, even if some situations you have been in were
distressing then and are humiliating to remember. You have nothing to be
ashamed of unless it be such a trifling peccadillo as impersonating
"My origin I shall never disclose, not even to a brother in misfortune. My
life has been one long series of perjuries, murders, robberies,
debaucheries and ruthless cruelties. I have been deaf to all
considerations of decency, pity and mercy; as unmoved by such feelings as
will be the savage beasts which spared you but will rend me to shreds. I
am at the end of my crimes; let me hide them. My doom is at hand. Why
should I defile your ears with the tale of my atrocities? Let them remain
"You slander yourself," I demurred. "You cannot make me believe that a man
capable of condoning my balking of your great coup on the Flaminian
Highway, capable of guiding me to this bed of straw and of offering me a
share of his bit of stale bread can be all bad. There must be much in your
past life less dark than you indicate."
"Frankly," he said, "I cannot recall anything I ever did at which a man
like you would not shudder. I have been a good sport, that is why I could
not but chuckle, after my first wrath cooled, at your spoiling my great
coup, as you call it. But, all my life, I have gloried in my treacheries
and cruelties. I have hated all mankind and been merciless to foes, if
they came into my power, and have pretended friendliness I did not feel so
as to make use of those who thought me friendly.
"I can well recall only one human being I really loved: my wife. She had
her weak points, for she was a despiser of the gods, mocking all religion
and addicted to some contemptible Syrian cult of superstition and
puerilities. But I loved her in spite of that failing, for, in every other
way, she was a paragon. She is dead now and spared the agonies she would
have suffered at my capture and fate. Our two daughters are safe; both
healthy, both with the full status of citizens of the Republic, both well
provided with possessions, each married to a good, reliable husband,
though the younger is almost too young to be a wife. I feel at peace about
"I really loved my wife and in a way, her two girls. But, except for them,
I have cheated, ensnared, robbed and killed without pity or remorse."
"You have no regrets?" I queried.
"No remorse," he corrected me. "I should do it all over again if I were
back as I was when I took to brigandage.
"Of course, while my wife was alive and I hoped for an old age with her, I
had a dream of investing my savings in a house in some out-of-the-way town
and in an estate near it and living at ease on the proceeds of my
robberies. But that was always far off in the future; I laid up a hoard to
make it possible, but I was never anywhere near ready to make use of that
hoard. Now it has been divided between my daughters, for, after their
mother's death, I realized that no life but brigandage was possible for
me. If I had not been captured I should have gone on as I was, I should go
on now, could I escape and resume my old life. I feel no remorse.
"But I confess to one regret. I have, all my life, requited every helper
and paid off every grudge. But one benefactor, my greatest benefactor, I
have not repaid, although, when I learned of his inestimable service to
me, I swore a great oath to requite him, if it ever was in my power. I
have never been able to learn who he was, or even whether he is yet
living. If he is, I hate to die without requiting him as he deserves, in
so far as I might.
"And I own that I was and am keenly curious to learn who he was. The mere
curiosity gnaws at me. Perhaps you understand."
"I do," I said. "I also am extremely curious about a mystery I encountered
in the earlier part of my adventures. That memory urges me to comply with
your request for the former half of my story."
And, beginning with my uncle's death, I narrated all my earlier
adventures. When I told of the cloaked and hatted horseman by the roadside
in the rain, the day of the brawl in Vediamnum and the affray near Villa
Satronia, he cut in with:
"That was my brother, Marcus. He was detailed to report on your local
feud. Whether he knew of you before that, whether his queer spite against
you originated then or earlier, I don't know. He took dislikes and likes
without any traceable reasons."
Similarly, when I told of seeing Marcus Crispinillus peer through the
postern door of Nemestronia's water-garden he interjected some remarks.
He uttered admiring ejaculations as I told of wrestling with the leopard
on the terrace at Nemestronia's and of how Agathemer and I crawled through
the drain at Villa Andivia, also at my tale of my branding and scourging
and of the loyalty of Chryseros Philargyrus.
But, when I came to our discovery of the hut in the mountains, he stirred
uneasily in the rustling straw and muttered in his throat. As I described
our winter at the hut he became more and more excited, uttering
ejaculations, half suppressed at first, as if not to interrupt my
narrative, later louder and louder.
When I told of our killing the five ruffians he sprang up.
"Say no more!" he cried. "Come to my arms. Let me embrace you! Let me
clasp you close! You are he! You are my benefactor! The man who tells that
story in suchdetail cannot have heard it from another, he must have lived
it! To think that you are Felix the Horse-Master and also Andivius Hedulio
and that you saved my Nona! My gratitude cannot be expressed, any more
than your service to me can be requited. But I shall do all I can. The
gems you took were but a trifle and you were welcome to them. In fact, I
never missed them. In any case they were but an installment on what you
deserved and now deserve. It is not yet too late for me to save you. I can
cause your speedy release and probably your complete rehabilitation. They
have been keeping me here in the hope of extorting from me information
which would enable them to ferret out my confederates in the towns and
cities. They have wheedled and threatened, but have hesitated to torture
me, since no one doubts that I was, by origin, a freeman. I have held out
and should have held out, even if tortured. Now I'll make a voluntary
confession, enough to delight the magistrates. Chiefly I'll emphasize your
complete innocence and my brother's malignity. I'll have to save some
others along with you and I shall. But, to a certainty, I'll save you!
"It seems to me there is a poplar-pole somewhere in this dungeon."
He felt about and presently I heard a dull thumping, on the trap-door, in
a sort of rhythm, like the foot-beating of spectators at Oscan dances.
After no long interval the trapdoor was lifted; Crispinillus called up:
"Tell them I have changed my mind. I'll confess. I'll make a full
confession. I'll tell the whole story!"
The trap-door was replaced and we were again in complete darkness.
He settled himself beside me in the straw.
"No need to husband our provisions now," he said. "Neither of us will be
left long in this hole. Let's comfort ourselves with food and wine."
I felt inclined the same way and we munched and passed the kidskin back
"Tell me," I said, "how it was that your thumping brought such a quick
"I signalled in the code of knocking known to all jailers," he said.
I expressed my amazement and incredulity.
"Don't you fool yourself," he said. "There is a certain sort of mutual
understanding between executioners and jailers on the one hand and
criminals on the other. There must be a give and take in all trades, even
between man-hunters and hunted men. They were on the watch for any signal
I might give, if it really meant anything. They were pleased to hear.
You'll see the results promptly."
In fact, after no long interval, the trap-door was lifted again and a rope
lowered, up which Crispinillus was bidden to climb.
He embraced me time after time, saying that we should never set eyes on
each other again and that, confession or no confession, he knew his doom
was not far off; but he wanted me, as long as I lived, to remember the
gratitude of Nona's husband, his thankfulness for my treatment of his
family and his efforts to requite the service.
"Keep up a good heart, lad," he said. "You won't be long here alone in the
dark, and you'll soon be as coddled and pampered as a man can be. Long
life to you and good luck and may you be soon married and raise a fine
family. Peace of mind and prosperity to you and yours and a green old age
And he climbed the rope, hand over hand, like the best sailor on Libo's
Not many hours later, I, sleeping soundly in the straw, was wakened by the
raising of the trap-door. Again a rope was let down. This time two of the
Executioner's helpers slid down the dangling rope. They addressed me most
deferentially and asked permission to prepare me to be hauled up,
thereupon adjusting the ropes about me.
In the upper chamber of the prison I was rubbed down and clothed in the
best sort of tunic, shod with the ceremonial boots of a nobleman and
wrapped in a nobleman's outer garments. Then I was led off to the nearest
point to which a litter may approach the Mamertine Prison. The brilliant
sunrays blinded me and the sight of Rome in the glory of a mellow July
afternoon brought the tears to my eyes and made me gulp and swallow. But
the tears did not blind me too much to recognize Imperial liveries on the
litter-bearers and runners and intendant. I was obsequiously invited to
enter the litter, the panels were slid, the curtains drawn, and the
bearers set off. They carried me to the Palace!
There I was received by the new Chamberlain in person, to be sure with
four armed guardsmen accompanying him, but himself as deferential as
possible. By him I was conducted to a luxurious apartment, consisting of a
large anteroom, a private library, a private _triclinium_, a private
bathroom, and two bedrooms, all furnished with the most lavish abundance
and in perfect taste.
I found a small regiment of servants to minister to my wants: a valet, a
masseur, a cook, waiters, errand-pages, a reader and yet others. I could
have anything I asked for in that apartment, but a guard at its outer door
saw to it that I remained in it.
There I was bathed, massaged, obsequiously asked what dainties and wines I
preferred, supplied with all I suggested and clothed in garments to my
liking; huge heaps of togas, mantles, wraps, tunics and shoes being
brought in for me to choose from. There I spent some comfortable days,
sleeping much, having myself read to, mostly from the private letters of
the Emperors, and from the Anticatones of the Divine Julius; and, from the
balcony of the ante-room enjoying the splendid view southwestwards, over
the Circus Maximus, the lower reaches of the Tiber and the Campagna, for
my apartment was on that side of the Palace and high up.
When I asked if I might despatch letters to my friends I was told that the
Emperor had given orders that I was to communicate with no one and no one
with me. I worried over Vedia's anxiety and almost as much over the
probable disquiet of Agathemer, Tanno and even of Galen. But I was
helpless and endeavored to be calm. I was certainly comfortable and
hopeful, though impatient.
At last, after six days of this luxurious imprisonment, on the day before
the Ides of July, sometime before noon, my apartment was entered by
Juvenalis himself in the full regalia of Prefect of the Palace. He greeted
me deferentially and was most respectful. He informed me that the Emperor
desired an interview with me and through him conveyed to me his regrets
that it had had to be postponed so long and that I had been so long kept
in confinement and seclusion. He had now come to conduct me to the
Emperor, who was at last free to spend with me an hour or more. When my
valet had made me comfortable and had prepared me for my private audience,
Juvenalis escorted me to the upper private audience-hall, a chamber
spacious and magnificent, though somewhat smaller than the lower private
audience-hall and far smaller than the great hall for public audiences or
the vast throne-room.
I followed Juvenalis along the corridors, elated by my nobleman's attire,
but nervous at the prospect of coming face to face with the master of Rome
and Italy, with the prospective (as he turned out to be in fact) master of
I was ushered in and Juvenalis withdrew, shutting the door and leaving me
alone with the great man. He rose from his chair, for it could not be
called a throne, took a step or two towards me and greeted me affably, as
one nobleman another. He bade me be seated, did not sit down himself until
I had taken the chair he indicated; then he settled himself deliberately.
We eyed each other, in silence. I cannot conjecture what he thought of me,
but I can never forget the impression made on me by him.
He wore the Imperial robes consciously. I had often noted how Commodus
wore his without thought, as any fisherman wears his rags. Severus was
aware of his regalia, and especially of the sky-blue shoes with the
Imperial Eagles embroidered on them in gold thread. He looked a man in the
best of health, completely fit for a frontier command, for open
campaigning, full of surplus energy, hard-muscled, spare and enduring.
Also he looked as competent, discerning, clear-headed and ruthless as a
man could be. Most of all I diagnosed him as economical of himself, of his
men and of his possessions, especially of cash; as swayed by self-interest
alone, as flinty-hearted; yet as capable of kindliness when it did not
interfere with his plans and was not too expensive.
I waited in silence for him to speak. He said:
"I am a very busy man, even far too busy. Commodus left the treasury empty
and every department of the government inefficient. Pertinax refilled the
treasury, but his attempts at reorganization merely disorganized
everything and prepared for the general confusion which came about under
Julianus. With insufficient funds I must fill the Treasury, reorganize the
whole governmental machinery, get it to working dependably and smoothly,
and at the same time prepare for a civil war which I hope to win, but of
which I can foretell the outcome no better than could the Divine Julius be
sure of the outcome of his when he crossed the Rubicon. Amid all these
cares and occupations I must keep fit and must do all I can to win the
confidence and respect of all classes by rectifying, as far as I may, the
consequences of the inattention of my predecessors and of the knavery and
venality of their subordinates. And I must hurry off to deal with
Pescennius Niger, who is no mean antagonist. Altogether I have no time for
"But I do not reckon your case as a trifle, though the safety of the
Republic by no means hinges on it. And I am more interested in you than in
any one individual outside of my family and connections. I have never
heard of a man brought so near death, so ruined, but for the singular
favor of the gods so utterly and so hopelessly ruined, subjected to such
dangers and miseries, so baselessly, by such malevolent misrepresentations
and fabrications. You deserve to be recompensed. You shall be. And besides
the merits of your case I am curious about you.
"You must be curious yourself.
"When I foresaw that I was likely to be acclaimed Emperor by my soldiers
and welcomed by the Senate as Prince of the Republic, I set on foot
various measures certain to benefit the Commonwealth and the Empire.
Especially I made an effort to abolish or at least curb the banditry,
brigandage and outlawry which corrupts the entire rural population of
Italy and is a national disgrace. I was successful in so far as that my
emissaries broke up most of the bands of outlaws and captured many of
them, particularly the most famous of all, known as the King of the
"I had made sure to have secret agents watching all my emissaries, on
whatever errand I had sent them. These secret agents reported that
powerful influences were at work to bring about the escape of this arch-
criminal. I set reliable men to find out what those influences were. Their
investigations led straight to Marcus Galvius Crispinillus, a life-long
member of the Imperial secret service, universally known as a professional
informer, yet considered second to no man in the secret service as to
usefulness and reliability, the only man among the spies of Commodus who
had been trusted and retained by Pertinax and Julianus, the very man whom
my relations in Rome, who had kept me posted as to conditions here, had
represented as most likely to be dependable and serviceable. I ordered him
apprehended but he and his despicable sister, Galvia Crispinilla, escaped
arrest by taking some of her poison. Their papers were seized, but so huge
was the mass of them and so great their confusion that they could not be
put in order and their secrets utilized at once. So sluggishly did their
unravelling proceed that, although it was manifest at once that the
precious pair had been agents in Rome for the King of the Highwaymen, had
marketed for him his booty, had kept up an almost daily correspondence
with him, had warned him of all facts and rumors likely to affect him, had
maintained a highly organized and cleverly concealed system of secret
agents and road-messengers for his benefit and theirs; yet, until his
voluntary confession, neither I nor anyone else concerned had the
slightest inkling that the King of the Highwaymen was named Caius Galvius
Crispinillus and was a full brother to the procuress and poisoner and the
professional spy, who had committed suicide to escape retribution for
their villainies. Until his confession was brought to my attention I had
equally no inkling that all relevant aspersions upon you had originated
with or been transmitted by Marcus Galvius Crispinillus.
"The case against you, on the basis of the papers filed at Secret Service
Headquarters, was most damnatory. You were represented to have been the
man who had suggested to Egnatius Capito the formation of his conspiracy
against Commodus; and to have planned for him the inclusion in it of all
undetected survivors of the members of Lucilla's abortive conspiracy of
the year before; to have offered yourself as the most likely man to
succeed in assassinating Commodus, as he held you in high regard for some
exploit in some roadside affray in Sabinum; to have pretended illness as a
cloak for your machinations. Then it was represented, circumstantially,
that, after the detection and foiling of Capito's conspiracy, you had
taken ship for Spain, made your way to the camp of the rebel, Maternus,
won his confidence, suggested to him the idea of a secret march on Rome,
of the assassination of Commodus during the Festival of Cybele, planned
for him the details of that secret march, managed it for him and come all
the way from Spain to Rome with him.
"When his attempt failed, you, alone among his henchmen, escaped. You
then, according to the reports, went straight to Britain, visited every
important camp, infused into the garrisons the spirit of discontent,
engineered their mutiny, suggested to them the sending of a dangerously
large deputation to Rome, led that deputation and were its controlling
spirit all the way to Rome, vanishing successfully when the mutineers were
induced by Oleander to return to Britain and their associates, by his
device, were massacred or consigned to _ergastula_.
"With such reports in my hands, with additions declaring that while
neither your presence nor your influence could be proved, you were
probably the guiding spirit in the assassination of Pertinax, it is no
wonder that I, crediting these apparently sincere and trustworthy
statements, considered you the most dangerous among all the survivors of
conspiracies against my predecessors, which conspirators, on principle, I
meant to exterminate as an obvious measure of mere sensible precaution.
"No one seems to have recognized you as Andivius Hedulio while you were in
the service of Pompeianus Falco under the name of Phorbas, except only
Galen, who has explained and justified to me his reasons for protecting
you, of which I entirely approve. He did well. As Phorbas I heard of you
first, when it was represented to me that you had murdered your late
master and been cleared by that indulgent humanitarian, Lollius Corbulo;
that the case was a most flagrant miscarriage of justice and that such
slackness would breed a crop of such murders unless temptation was
counteracted by severity. I then directed Cassius Ravillanus to deal with
you, for I trusted him.
"When, in the arena of the Colosseum, I saw the savage, ravening beasts
not only spare you but fawn on you, I felt sure that you had been falsely
convicted, that you were innocent and that the gods had intervened to save
you. Later, when I heard the cries of 'Festus' and they were explained to
me, I was doubly incensed against you. That no beast would touch you, even
when bound and your face covered, convinced me of your complete innocence.
"Thereupon, after I had ordered you released, I had turned my attention
again to the spectacle of the games in the arena, promising myself an
interview with you later, for I was intensely curious about you. But, that
very day, before dark, Flavius Clemens craved a brief private audience
with me and informed me that he had recognized you as Andivius Hedulio and
that you had confessed your identity. I ordered you at once into the
Tullianum, pending my decision as to how to wring from you a complete
disclosure of your villainies and accomplices before putting you to death.
"Then, to my amazement, the confession of the King of the Highwaymen
represented you as a wholly innocent man, incredibly slandered and
calumniated, and all by Marcus Galvius Crispinillus, why and for what end
"I at once ordered you released and brought to the Palace. Here I have
kept you in unmerited confinement until the papers of your traducer could
be sifted and I could go over those relevant to your case. Manifestly you
never had anything to do with inciting any conspiracy or any march on
Rome. All aspersions on you were invented by Crispinillus. I am
inexpressibly curious about you. I want you to tell me your story in your
own way, in detail, taking your time. In particular I want to learn how
you came to be with Maternus and later with the mutineers from Britain. I
am at leisure to harken."
He had put me entirely at my ease. Manifestly he wanted to hear my story,
was in the mood to listen, and rather enjoyed the respite from care which
this carefully arranged interval of leisure gave him. I felt emboldened
and began with an explanation of the feud between the Satronians and the
Vedians, of the lawsuit between Ducconius Furfur and my uncle, and of his
purchase of Marcia from Ummidius Quadratus and his manumission of her.
After these preliminaries I launched into my story. He listened
attentively and with every indication of lively interest, with few
interruptions. Once he clapped for his pages and had in snow-cooled wine
to refresh me and soothe my throat. Upon my account of my wrestle with
Nemestronia's leopard he cut in with a series of questions as to my power
over animals. When I came to my encounter with Pescennius Niger he was
keenly interested, as in my report of his reputation in Marseilles,
according to Doris, and uttered one or two remarks. Otherwise he was
apparently absorbed in my narrative.
When it was over he said:
"I believe you, your story sounds true; all of it. You have had amazing
adventures and have escaped alive manifestly by the special favor of the
immortal gods, particularly of Mercury. Like you, I pay special attention
to winning and keeping the favor of Mercury, though, of course, for me, as
for all soldiers, Mithras is the most important god.
"You may be very sure that I shall, as far as may be, provide that no
informer or secret-service agent can ever again succeed in gaining
credence for baseless fabrications, such as those from which you have
suffered. I shall endeavor to have it arranged that reports of any one
agent be checked up by reports of another, the two being wholly unknown to
each other. Thus no man shall, if I can prevent it, again be persecuted as
you have been. I am shocked at such laxity and I shudder at the power
wielded by Marcus Galvius Crispinillus, and at his misuse of it. I can
find no trace of any reasonable motive; he seems to have slandered you
from mere whim or the mere love of causing misery, or some spite or
perhaps to increase the impression of his own importance.
"Now there looms before me the duty of seeing you restored to your rights,
as to both rank and property.
"In respect to your standing as a Roman nobleman there has been, is and
will be no difficulty. I have had everything attended to and all necessary
formalities have been gone through, all official, public records made. You
are a Roman nobleman in good standing with every right which your birth
"As to your property matters are not so simple. I find that you will be
very wealthy, anyhow, as the heir of one-fourth of the estate of your late
master, Pompeianus Falco, and also as inheritor of his marvellous
collection of gems and curios, therefore, even without anything of your
confiscated property, you will be affluent.
"But that does not absolve me from the duty of seeing justice done you; of
putting you in possession of your house here in Rome and of your estates
in Sabinum, and in Bruttium. I find that all these were held by the
_fiscus_ until after the death of Cleander. Owing to the destruction of a
large part of the Palace records in the great fire I cannot make sure
whether what I am told is true. I am told that your town house and country
estates were granted by the _fiscus_, under proper seal, ostensibly by the
command of Commodus, to the present owner. That present owner is in
possession of the official transfer deeds and they are properly made out.
Yet neither from the present owner nor from the deeds can it be
ascertained which Prefect of the Palace authorized the transfer. Between
Cleander and Aemilius Laetus, Commodus had thirty different Prefects of
the Palace, most of them for very brief terms, one for less than a full
day, for he was appointed after noon one day and put to death before noon
of the day following. To a certainty, I cannot ever get legal proof that
the grant was gotten by bribery or was in any way illegal.
"Therefore I cannot command the present holder to return your former
property to the _fiscus_, in order that the _fiscus_ may turn it over to
you. Nor is there any precedent for one Prince revoking a grant made under
a predecessor. Nor is there anything in our law or customs enabling me to
bid the present holder to sell back to the _fiscus_ your entire former
property, even at a high valuation.
"Moreover I do not feel that I ought, unless I must, take from the
treasury the cash necessary to repurchase your house and estates, so as to
be able to restore you to full possession of them; or to hand you a sum in
cash sufficient to recompense you for the confiscation of your heritage.
"Yet, whatever straits the treasury may be in, I pledge you my word that,
if you cannot recover full possession of your estates in any other way, I
shall compel the present holder to release them to the _fiscus_ and shall
order the _fiscus_ to restore them to you, I, out of our depleted
treasury, paying the present holder, but I do not want to resort to this
unless all other means fail.
"Hoping that the matter may be adjusted in another way, easier for all
three of us, I have arranged to have the present holder of your former
estates here in the Palace.
"When this interview between you and me terminates, I shall have you
escorted to a room where you will find awaiting you the present holder of
your former estates. If you two cannot come to some agreement by which,
with full satisfaction to both of you, you become again possessed of your
patrimony, I shall then take the measures to which I have pledged myself.
"To that end I have given orders that, if you formally make request for a
second private audience with me, you shall have it, although I must leave
Rome for the East within eight days and cannot despatch the imperative
business awaiting me, even if I could go without food, rest or sleep. I
mean what I say, you are to ask for a second audience if you really want
one and if you ask for one you shall have it. But do not ask for it unless
"And now, is there anything else you desire to say, or to request or any
query you wish to put to me? If so, I authorize and command you to speak."
Choking, I muttered that I had nothing further to say.
"In that case," said the Emperor, standing up, "this interview is at an
end. You shall be conducted to your conference with the present owner of
your former estates, which I hope may turn out to your full satisfaction."
And he clapped his hands for a page.
The page conducted me through endless corridors, twisting and turning.
During that brief interval I did a great deal of very confused thinking. I
was dazed and puzzled. I had realized as he ended his harangue that it
would have been ridiculous to ask that man to change his mind or even
modify a decision. He was not that sort of Emperor. Yet he had pledged
himself to restore to me my estates or recompense me in cash. I felt that
he meant it; yet I knew that he would never have uttered that pledge if he
had felt that there was the remotest chance of his ever being called on to
fulfill it. He was too parsimonious to promise such generosity unless
absolutely certain that the occasion for it would never confront him. Yet
how could he escape it and why did he feel so sure? How could any
beneficiary from such a grant of confiscated property be induced to
disgorge except by Imperial order and that with full compensation? Why had
Severus so sedulously, yet so obviously, avoided naming the present holder
of my former property? The Emperor was an austere man, stern by habit,
almost grim by nature, certainly serious. He had spoken seriously. Yet I
sensed a jest somewhere in the background of his thoughts. I almost
believed I had caught the glint of a twinkle in his hard, gray eyes. Could
I be wrong? Could I be right?
It seemed like a jest to send me to an interview with a beneficiary of a
grant of confiscated property, enriched thereby, and to imply, even to
suggest, that he might be induced to restore to me his acquisitions,
without pressure, merely by amicable converse. I conjured up before me the
probable appearance of the man I was to meet; perhaps gross and greedy
like Satronius Satro, perhaps dwarfish and mean like Vedius Vedianus,
probably like anyone of the avaricious magnates, associated with
Pullanius, whom I had met while impersonating Salsonius Salinator.
I resented the possibility of an Imperial jest. I was more and more dazed
and puzzled the nearer I approached the inevitable interview and the
nearer I approached it the more futile and hopeless it seemed and the more
despondent I grew.
The page paused at a door, opened it, waved me in and shut it.
I was in a small parlor, and there was no other man in it; I saw only one
seated human figure, a woman, a lady, a graceful young woman, a charming
Then, suddenly, I saw through it all.
My troubles were indeed at an end.
I recognized Vedia!
I do not think it necessary to describe in detail my marriage to Vedia,
nor our dinners at Nemestronia's, at Tanno's, at Segontius Almo's; nor the
dinners we gave at my old home, after it had been fitted up to our liking,
all trace of its occupancy by tenants effaced and we had settled there.
Why tell at length of my manumission of Agathemer, of my endowment of him
with a goodly share of my heritage from poor Falco, or of his disposition
of Falco's gems and his rapid acquisition of vast wealth and of his
When my misfortunes began Nemestronia was past her eighty-fourth birthday.
After my rehabilitation Vedia and I helped at the celebration of her
ninety-fifth, and of three more.
Nemestronia lived almost to her hundredth birthday, in full possession of
her faculties and, until near the end, in marvellously good health. She is
still remembered as having been the oldest noble matron ever known in
Like her, Chryseros Philargyrus, though long past the usual term of human
life when my disasters overtook us, survived my nine winters of adventures
and lived to greet me as a son rearisen from the dead, in the tenth summer
after he had sped me on my way in the midnight woods from Ducconius
Enough to say that Vedia and I, from a second-floor balcony, watched pass
the triumphal procession of our great Prince of the Republic, Septimius
Severus, when he returned victorious over both his rivals and reentered
Rome, indubitably master of the world.
As to my later life I cannot forbear remarking that I am the only man with
pierced ears who ever mingled as an equal with the bathers in the Baths of
Titus, the only man, certainly, with a brand mark on his shoulder and
scourge-scars on his back who ever habitually frequented that most
magnificent of our fashionable pleasure-resorts. My brand-marks and
scourge-scars have not diminished my enjoyment of life except that they
frequently give bores a pretext for insisting on my narrating my
Of course, as in my city mansion, so also at Villa Andivia, I have had
constructed and consecrated a handsome private chapel to Mercury.
NOTES TO ANDIVIUS HEDULIO
A. THE ROMAN ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEM
From the expulsion of the Kings, the people of Rome, assembled in their
voting-field outside their city, each year elected the magistrates for the
year: others, and especially quaestors, answering to our army-paymaster
and custom-house collectors; praetors (judges, generals and governors of
provinces), and two consuls, acting as chief-magistrates and generals-in-
chief. A man was generally first quaestor, later praetor and finally
consul, often holding other intermediary offices.
Ex-officials, who had held the more important offices of the Republic,
became by immemorial custom life-members of the Senate, which was never an
elective, always a selective body, without legal authority but with great
influence. As the Republic's Empire spread the Senate was less and less
able to control provincial governors, until such self-confident geniuses
as Sulla, Caesar and Augustus became able to control it. The Roman
Republic was never abolished, and did not die till the Turks captured
Constantinople in 1453. It conquered a great Empire and when its Senate
could no longer control the magistrates who managed that Empire, its
solders who, by conquering and holding provinces to pay taxes maintained
the Empire and the Republic, wearied of the incompetence of the Senate's
appointees, of the squabbles and strife of their leaders, chose by
acclamation one commander whom they loved and trusted. The Senate, at his
mercy, legalized his sovereignty by conferring on him for life the powers
of a Tribune, an official who could initiate nothing, but had the legal
power to forbid anything and everything.
The Senate continued to administer those provinces reckoned safe from
invasion or insurrection; always two governed by ex-consuls and about ten
governed each by an ex-praetor. It continued to dispose of the funds
derived from their taxes and to recruit itself from ex-magistrates and to
retain much of its influence, dignity and importance.
The outer provinces and those prone to turbulence were governed not by ex-
consuls and ex-praetors acting in the name of the Senate, but each by a
deputy of the Emperor, styled propraetor, praeses, or procurator. These
were called imperial provinces. The magistrates of the senatorial
provinces were, under the Empire, no longer elected by the people, but
appointed by the Senate, with or without an indication of the Emperor's
The Romans never devised any method of choosing a chief magistrate other
than acclamation by an army and confirmation by the Senate, creating an
Emperor. If two commanders at about the same time were separately saluted
"Imperator," as were Septimius Severus and Pescennius Niger, there was no
method of adjudicating their conflicting claims except by Civil War and
the survival of one Imperator only.
B. THE FISCUS
From this word comes our "confiscate," "to turn totally into the Fiscus."
A fiscus was a large basket, such is were used by all Roman financial
concerns to contain live vouchers. The fiscus was the organization
managing the pubic property, income and expenditures of the Roman Emperor.
It controlled the proceeds of the taxes of all the imperial provinces and
of the domains, mines, quarries, fisheries, factories, town property and
whatever else the fiscus held for the Emperors, impersonally. It gathered
in all moneys and possessions forfeited for suicide, crime or treason.
C. THE ROMAN CALENDAR
All primitive calendars went by the moon. Moon and month are the same word
in English. No more than Hengist and Horsa could the early Romans have
conceived of a month not beginning with the day of the new moon, as all
months begin yet in the Jewish and Mohammedan calendars.
The first day of each month the Romans called its Kalends (announcement
day). After that day they called each day so many before the Nones (half
moon), then so many before the Ides (full moon), then so many to the
Kalends of the next month. Julius Caesar, impatient with the difficulties
of fitting together the solar and lunar calendars, bade his experts ignore
the moon and divide the solar year into twelve months. They did, and his
calendar, with trifling improvements, has lasted till our days. The Romans
continued to reckon days before the Nones, Ides and Kalends. The Nones
fell on the seventh of March, May, July and October, on the fifth of the
other months; the Ides on the fifteenth of March, May, July and October