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Andivius Hedulio by Edward Lucas White

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was cowed and tendered mild by the nearer sight of him. That is the way
Hedulio affects all animals whatever."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I settled myself and looked down.

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

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

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

Tanno looked wildly about.

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

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

CHAPTER IV

HOROSCOPES AND MARVELS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bultius Seclator said:

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

Said Mallius Vulso:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Incredible!" cried Tanno.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Proceed, Agathemer."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanno laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agathemer resumed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I dare you to try all your signals.'

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

"The horse remained quiet.

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

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

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

"Let Agathemer finish his tale," I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"On horseback," I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A freedwoman!" cried Tanno.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Uncle at once fell madly in love with her.

"He offered to buy her.

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

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

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

"Uncle brought her up here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER V

ENCOUNTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we strung out Tanno called to me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hirnio asked him:

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

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

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

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

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

"He seemed to," said Murmex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I did," I called back.

"Do you know who he is?"

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

"Do you know what he is?"

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

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

"Then tell us," I called.

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

He pulled his head inside his litter.

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

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

"He is yet," rejoined Murmex, laconically.

"Then you know him?" Hirnio queried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I should be most grateful," said Murmex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all but dragged her out of the carriage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Murmex and Tanno chiefly caught my eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Xantha, Xantha, rescue Xantha!"

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

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

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

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

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

I was the only man seriously hurt on our side.

Agathemer was for convoying me home.

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

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

He took my horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This should have roused me staring wide awake.

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

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

CHAPTER VI

A RATHER BAD DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had blundered on both ambushes in succession.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I paused Vedius leered at me.

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

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

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

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

He silkily said:

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

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

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

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

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

No finesse about Satronius, not a trace.

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

He roared at me:

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

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

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

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

Satronius roared after me:

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

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

Then my men carried me to the Palace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team after team and chariot after chariot he tried out.

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

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

I was unable to make any conjecture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"For battle purposes chariots, of course, were built for speed and quick
turning, but after that, to avoid upsets. When a man was going to drive a
pair of half-wild stallions across trackless country, over gullies and

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