Part 3 out of 12
boulders, through bushes, up and down hill, often along a gravelly
hillside, he saw to it that his chariot would keep right side up no matter
how it bounced and tilted and swerved. He made sure that his axle was
long, his wheels far apart, and their spokes short, so that his chariot-
bed was as low as possible. He was right.
"But, after fighting from chariots was wholly a thing of the past in Italy
and chariots were used, as they are used, for racing only, why cling to
provisions for obsolete uses?
"A good general thinks of winning victories, not, like the fools I have
disgracing me along the Rhine, of avoiding defeats. So a good charioteer
ought to think, not of avoiding upsets, but of winning races. Yet all
charioteers appear to want their vehicles as low built as possible, with
short spoked wheels, wide apart on the ends of a long axle. That makes
them feel safer on a short turn, and, so help me Hercules, I hardly blame
them, anyhow. Besides, they all want to spraddle their legs apart and set
their feet wide, so as to stand firm on the chariot bed, so they want the
chariot body made as wide as possible.
"Now I don't need to plant my feet far apart when I drive. I believe I
could drive on one foot and keep my balance. So I hold a broad chariot
body is worse than unnecessary. More than that I maintain that the lower
the axle is set, the less the team's strength goes into attaining speed.
The lower the axle is set, the more sharply the pole slopes upward from
the axle to the yoke-ring; the less of the team's energy goes into pulling
the chariot along, the more of it is wasted, so to speak, on lifting the
chariot into the air at every leap forward. The higher the axle is set,
the nearer the pole is to being level, the less power is wasted on that
upward pull and the more is utilized on the forward pull and goes to
"Then again, I maintain that the farther apart the wheels are set the more
one drags against the other, not only at the turns, where anyone can see
the outer wheel drag on the inner, but at every swerve of the team on the
straightaway. All such dragging reduces speed and tires the team with
pulling which is energy utterly wasted.
"I hold the ideal racing chariot should have a chariot body as narrow as
possible, not much wider than the width of the driver's hips; should have
the wheels as close together as possible, to diminish the drag of one
wheel against the other, should have the axle set as high as can be
"All charioteers exclaim that such a chariot tends to overset. So it does.
But I never have had an overset and I never expect to overset. I know how
to drive and poise myself so as to keep my chariot right side up, and I
never think of oversetting, I think of winning my race, and always do.
"Anyhow, here before your eyes, is my new racing chariot and of all the
chariots ever made on earth this has the longest wheel-spokes, the
highest-set axle, the closest-set wheels and the narrowest chariot body.
Now I'm going to try it out and show it off."
He did to admiration, amid excited acclaims, his four cream-colored mares
fairly flying along the straights and taking the turns at a pace which
made us hold our breath.
After this thrilling exhibition he came back under the arcade and spoke to
"Hedulio," he said, "you are one of the most competent horsemasters I ever
knew. What do you think of my idea of the best form for a racing chariot?"
"I think," I said, "that it has all the merits you claim for it, but that
not one charioteer in ten thousand could drive in it and avoid an upset,
sooner or later, at a turn."
"Right you are!" he replied, "but I am one charioteer in ten thousand."
"Say in a hundred thousand," I ventured to add. "For surely you could not
find, among all the professionals in the Empire, any other man to equal
you in team-driving."
He beamed at me.
When we left the Palace Tanno saw me in my litter and insisted on
following behind mine in his until he had seen me out of mine and into my
There I had a very brief and very light lunch, Agathemer hovering over me
and reminding me of Galen's orders for my diet, so that I found myself
forbidden every viand which I craved and asked for, and limited to the
very simple fare which had been prepared for me.
After lunch I went to bed and to sleep.
I woke soon and very wide awake. When I rolled into bed I had felt so
utterly done up with the excitement of my interviews with Vedius and
Satronius, with the exertion of standing in the Throne-room and through
the Emperor's lecture on chariot design, that I had renounced my intention
of calling on Vedia and had resigned myself to postponing my attempt to
see her until the morrow.
I woke all feverish energy and restless determination to go to see her at
once. Therefore, between the siesta hour and the hour of the bath, I
presented myself at Vedia's mansion.
I was at once ushered into her atrium, where I found myself alone and
where I sat waiting some time.
When a maid summoned me into her _tablinum_, I found her alone, seated in
her favorite lounging chair, charmingly attired and, I thought, more
lovely than I had ever seen her.
"Oh, Caia!" I cried.
She bridled and stared at me haughtily.
"'Vedia,'" if you please, she said coldly. "You have no manner of right to
'Caia' me, Andivius."
The distant formality of her address, her disdainful tone, the affront of
her words, chilled me like a dash of cold water.
"Caia!" I stammered, "Vedia, I mean. What has happened? What is wrong?"
For I could not credit that she would be incensed with me because of my
involvement in the affray in Vediamnum nor that she would condemn me
unheard, especially as Tanno had told me, in the Stadium of the Palace,
that he had taken care to call on Vedia, and give her his version of my
She glowered at me.
"Your effrontery," she burst out, "amazes me. I am incredulous that I
really see you in my home, that you really have the shamelessness to force
yourself into my presence! It is an unforgivable affront that you should
pretend love for me and aspire to be my husband and all the while be
philandering after a freedwoman; but that you should parade yourself on
the high road with her all the way from your villa to Rome, with the hussy
enthroned in your own travelling carriage, is far worse. That you should
get involved in roadside brawls with competitors for the possession of the
minx is worse yet. Worst of all that you should advertise by all these
doings, to all our world, your infatuation for such a creature and your
greater interest in her than in me. I am indignant that I have considered
marrying a suitor capable of such vileness, of such fatuity, of such
I was like a sailboat taken all aback by a sudden change of wind. I could
not believe my ears.
"I never took the slightest interest in Marcia," I protested, "except to
keep my uncle from marrying her, after he set her free. She made eyes at
me also, of course, for she made eyes at every marriageable man within
reach. But I never had anything to do with her, never called on her by
myself, never so much as talked to her alone. I went to her dinners, of
course. All widowers and bachelors of our district went to her dinners.
But her dinners were the pattern of propriety in every way. Your own
grandmother's famous dinners were not more decorous. Except for being a
guest, with others, at her dinners, I never was at her villa. I lent my
carriage not to her but to her bridegroom, Marcus Martius, a prosperous
gentleman of my neighborhood, of whom you have often heard me speak, a
friend of my uncle's and a friend of mine since boyhood. The fights, as
Tanno explained to you, had nothing to do with Marcia and her involvement
in them was as accidental as mine."
Vedia did not look a particle mollified.
"You men," she said, "are all alike. You will philander about your nasty
jades. But, at least, when you vow that you love one woman and one only,
and use every artifice to induce her to marry you, you should feel it
incumbent on you to keep away from such creatures as this Marcia of yours.
But you must needs dangle about her and go to her dinners. That was bad
enough. But, while wooing me, to arrange a mock marriage for her with a
local confederate and then positively bring her to Rome with you was
infinitely worse. I am insulted, of course. But, above and beyond your
treachery to me, I am insulted at your bungling your clumsy intrigues and
flaunting the minx in the face of all the world and setting all
fashionable Rome to gossiping about you and your hussy and to wondering
how I am going to act about it.
"I'll show them and you how I am going to act! I'm angry at your double-
dealing; at your lies I am furious. I hate you. I hope I'll never set eyes
on you again. The sooner you are gone, the better I'll like it. And I'll
give orders to ensure your never darkening my doors again!"
I tried to argue with her, to persuade her, to convince her, to induce her
to listen to me.
She raged at me.
Dazed, I groped my way to my litter and, once in it, lost consciousness
entirely, not in a faint, but in the sleep of total exhaustion.
As I rolled into my litter, feeling utterly unfit to enjoy a bath with any
natural associates, I had ordered my bearers to take me home.
There I rested a while, for I waked before I reached home. Then I bathed,
ate a simple dinner, alone with Agathemer, and went at once to bed.
A RATHER GOOD DAY
I slept soundly all night but woke at the first appearance of light. I lay
abed, my mind milling over my situation, over Vedia's unexpected jealousy
of Marcia, over the absurdity of it, over her illogical but impregnable
indignation and over the equally baseless but similarly unalterable
hostility of Vedius and Satronius.
I concluded to try again to placate all three. It seemed to me I could
recall many omissions and infelicities in what I had said to both
magnates, while in dealing with Vedia I seemed to myself to have been
tongue-tied and fragmentary.
After the bit of bread and hot mulled wine which I did not crave, but
which Agathemer insisted on my taking according to Galen's orders, I held
a brief morning reception. My nine farmer-tenants were all present, all
pathetically and touchingly glad to see me again about, even old Chryseros
They had a petition to prefer, namely, that I should give them permission
to leave Rome and return home, jointly and severally, just as soon as they
pleased. Ligo Atrior acted as spokesman and said that they had come
provided for a month's stay, as I had ordered, but they felt that they
could see all the sights of Rome which would interest them before the
month was out, and some sooner than others. Moreover they felt that
although they had left their farms in the best of condition and in
faithful hands, yet their desire to return home would soon overcome their
interest in sight-seeing and would grow more overmastering daily.
I readily accorded what they asked.
Murmex Lucro was there, and his appearance of superhuman strength
impressed me even more than on the road, I bade him meet me at the Palace,
and instructed him by which entrance to approach it and at what portal and
precisely where to take his stand in order that I might not miss him.
Agathemer suggested that I detail one of my slaves to act as his guide and
I did so.
My salutants disposed of without hurry and to the last man, in spite of
Agathemer's protests, I ordered my litter.
At the Vedian mansion I was refused admission. Agathemer and even I argued
and expostulated, but the doorkeeper said he had explicit orders not to
admit me, and the four big Nubians flanking the vestibule, two on a side,
looked capable of using muscular force on any would-be intruder and
appeared eager for a pretext for hurling themselves on me.
I climbed back into my litter.
As my men shouldered it, the doorkeeper or some one of his helpers made
the mistake of unchaining the watch-dog at me.
He was a big, short-haired, black and white Aquitanian dog. He flew at the
calves of my bearers, snarling, and would have bitten them badly had I not
half rolled, half fallen from my litter, almost into his jaws; in fact,
not a foot in front of him.
As all such animals always do with me, he checked, cowered, fawned and
then exhibited every symptom of recognition, delight and affection. I
patted him, pulled his ears, smoothed his spine and climbed back into my
litter. The dog took his place under it as naturally as if I had raised
him from a puppy and kept neatly underneath it, all the way to the
There, at sight of me, as I descended from my litter, the doorkeeper
loosed his big fawn-colored Molossian hound at me. And he came in silence,
but his lips wrinkled off his teeth, swift as a lion and looking in fact
as big as a yearling lioness and not unlike one in outline and color.
The Aquitanian from under the litter flew at him with a snarl, the
Molossian replied with a louder snarl, the two dogs clinched and tore each
other, snarling, and hung to each other, worrying and growling and
snarling, to the delight of my bearers.
Out of the Satronian mansion poured a small mob of footmen, lackeys and
such house-slaves. But not one dared approach the two dogs. At a safe
distance they watched the fight.
I seized the dogs, spoke to them, quieted them, separated them and when I
ordered them, they lay down side by side under the litter.
I climbed in.
As my bearers shouldered the litter, the Satronian doorkeeper came forward
and said truculently:
"That is our dog under your litter."
"Is he your dog?" I retorted. "Prove it! Take hold of him."
The doorkeeper tried and the Molossian snarled at him. He called the
footmen to help him.
At that somehow, I both lost my temper and felt prankish.
"Chase 'em, Terror," I called. "Chase 'em, Fury!"
It was a wonder to see the Aquitanian obey, to see the Molossian obey was
Into the mansion scuttled the doorkeeper, the footmen, the lackeys, the
hangers-on, the two dogs barking at their heels.
I called them off in time to forestall any lacerated ankles, and still
more marvellously they obeyed instantly, checked, withdrew to under the
litter and there paced, side by side, to Vedia's home.
There, also, I was denied admission, but urbanely, the porter asserting
that his mistress was not at home.
While I was questioning the porter, who was becomingly respectful, a bevy
of Vedian retainers, house-lackeys and other slaves, overtook me,
demanding the return of the Aquitanian watchdog.
"Take him!" I said, "take him if you can!"
The boldest of them approached the dog, calling him by name and
wheedlingly. When he was but a yard or so away the dog flew at his throat
and almost set his fangs into it, for they snapped together a mere hand's
The fellow recoiled and, when the dog followed like an arrow from a bow,
took to his heels, his companions with him, and they ran helter-skelter
down the street, the dog pursuing them to the corner of the Carinae, and
returning, his tongue hanging out, his tail wagging, with all the
demonstrations of a dog who feels he has done his full duty and has earned
Hardly had he returned when a band of Satronians appeared and a similar
scene was enacted, with the Molossian as chief actor.
When the last Satronian had vanished round the corner of the thoroughfare
I reentered my litter and we set off for the Palace, both dogs sedately
pacing side by side underneath.
At the Palace portal Agathemer had no difficulty in locating Murmex, even
in the crowd which packed all approaches to that entrance. I spoke to the
centurion on duty at the portal and to the head out-door usher, meaning to
arrange that Murmex should be let in among the first when the commonality
were admitted after the senators and knights had paid their duty to the
Emperor. To my amazement the head usher looked at a list or memorandum
which he had in his hand and said:
"You are Andivius Hedulio, are you not? You are to take in with you
anybody you please, to the number of ten. Caesar has given special orders
about you." Murmex therefore passed in with me and took up a position in
the lower part of the Audience Hall, where I could send a page to summon
him if my plans worked out as I hoped.
We were early and the vast public throne-room almost empty. Tanno joined
me after I had stood but a short time and not long afterwards the Emperor
entered, just as a fair crowd of senators had assembled.
The formal salutation began at once and I noticed that the Emperor said
something personal to Vedius and that Vedius stepped out of the line of
salutants and took up a position behind the Emperor on his left. Similarly
he spoke to Satronius, who similarly took his station behind the Emperor
on his right.
When, in the long line of my equals, in an Audience Hall now jammed to the
doors, I drew near to the throne, I felt a growing embarrassment at seeing
the Emperor flanked by my two enemies. But, when I made my salutation, to
my amazement, the Emperor took my hand and leaned over and kissed me as if
I had been a senator.
"I love you, Hedulio," he said, "and I am proud of you. I have heard very
laudatory reports of you. My agents all agree in reporting that you have,
in very difficult circumstances, done your utmost to avoid giving offence
to any of your neighbors in Sabinum, and that, if you have given offense,
it was not your fault. They also agree in reporting that, mild and
peaceful as you are by disposition, you know how to defend yourself when
attacked, that you are not only a bold and resolute man in a tight place,
but resourceful and prompt, a hard and quick hitter, and what is more, a
past master at quarter-staff play. I love brave men and good fighters. I
He turned ironically to Vedius and asked:
"Did you miss any part of what I have just said to Andivius? I meant you
to hear every word of it."
Vedius, his mean face lead-gray, bowed and said:
"Your Majesty was completely audible."
Then Commodus similarly questioned Satronius. He, his big face brick-red,
his eyes popping out, seemed half strangled by his efforts to speak.
"I could hear it all," he managed to say.
"You two stand facing me," Commodus commanded. "Stand on either side of
They so placed themselves with a very bad grace.
The Emperor raised his voice.
"Come near, all you senators," he commanded. "I want all of you to hear
what I am about to say and to be witnesses to it."
Everybody, senators, knights and commoners crowded as close to the throne
as etiquette and the ushers would allow.
"Now listen to me," spoke Commodus. "You know I hate all sorts of official
business and should greatly prefer to put my entire time and energies on
athletics, horsemanship and swordsmanship, archery and other things really
worth while. I make no secret of my love for the activities at which I am
best and of my detestation of my duties.
"But, just because I hate my duties, it does not follow that I neglect
them. A lot of you think I do. I'll show you you are not always right, nor
often right. Just because I surround myself with wrestlers and charioteers
and gladiators and other good fellows, not with senile self-styled
philosophers, prosy and with unkempt beards and rough cloaks, as my father
did, half of you think I am incapable of being serious, or haven't
intellect enough to understand government or sense enough to care for the
"You are mightily mistaken. I realize the importance of my
responsibilities and the magnificence of my opportunities. I hate routine,
but I know well the value of our Empire and that I, as Prince of the
Republic, [Footnote: See Note A.] have a bigger stake in it than any other
citizen of our Republic. I am not wholly absorbed in the joys of
practicing feats of strength and skill. I put more time on governing than
"I am autocrat of our world, and I know how to make my influence felt when
I choose. I have very positive views about fighting. Fighting has to go
on, on the frontiers of the Empire. My army can keep off our foes, but it
cannot kill off the Moorish and Arab and Scythian nomads, nor the hordes
of the German forests and the Caledonian moors. The Marcomanni and the
rest will claw at us. There must be fighting on the frontiers. It is
proper that there should be fighting where necessary, on any frontier, and
corpses scattered about.
"Also corpses are in place on any arena of any amphitheatre anywhere
inside our frontiers; fighting inside amphitheatres is proper and seemly.
"But I will tolerate no fighting inside our frontiers outside the
amphitheatres. I'll not condone any corpses on the pavement of any street
or on the road of any highway or byways. I'll not permit any battles, set-
tos, affrays or brawls in towns or villages or on roads. Yon hear me? You
hear me, Vedius? You hear me, Satronius? You hear me, all of you?
"Now it so happened that I had heard of your disgraceful Sabine feud,
which mars the peace of a whole countryside near Reate, and I had sent a
competent and reliable agent with four assistants to investigate and
report. For once luck was with me: generally my luck as a ruler is as bad
as it is good for me as an athlete. It so happened that my agents had just
completed their preliminary investigations and acquainted themselves with
general conditions when your idiotic feud broke loose in two abductions of
women, one by each side, that put my agents on their mettle. They kept
awake. They are no fools. My head man has a keen scent for incipient
trouble; he managed to have one of his helpers get among the ambushers in
Vediamnum and another among those on your byway, Satronius. Each of these
two severally heard all the talk of the ambushers with whom he mingled; so
I have had a faithful report of just what the Vedian ambush meant to do to
the Satronian convoy they lay in wait for and similarly of the other side.
Each was waiting for a sheep; both caught a wildcat. If the men in the
ambushes had had any eyes or any sense, no fight would have occurred. As
it was they got no more than they deserved. Hedulio was set on without
provocation and merely defended himself and his associates as any self-
respecting free man would. I have no fault to find with Hedulio. I take
you all to witness.
"Now that disposes of what is past. As to the future I shall tolerate no
illegalities of any kind anywhere in the City, in Italy or in the Empire.
You'll see. Dr. Commodus will cure this epidemic of lawlessness which
afflicts the Republic. You'll see my agents run down, catch and bring to
punishment the ingenious rascals who have been amusing themselves by
masquerading as Imperial Messengers, scampering across the landscape for
the fun of the thing, eating lavish meals at my cost, running the legs off
my best horses, lodging luxuriously in the best bed at every inn they stop
at, showing forged papers, or showing none at all, using no other means
than effrontery and assurance. I'll have them stopped. I'll stop them. And
I'll quell, I'll squelch this outburst of banditry of which we have too
much. I'll see that my agents hunt down and capture and execute these
highwaymen who rob not only rich travellers, but government treasure-
convoys, who even rob Imperial Messengers. A pretty state of affairs when
my couriers are fair game alike for impostors and robbers. I'll make the
slyest and the boldest quail at the idea of interfering with one of my
despatch riders and I'll exterminate all highwaymen. I'll have no one
swaggering up and down Italy, now in Liguria, now in Apulia, mocking the
law and its guardians, looting as he pleases, uncatchable, untraceable,
hidden and helped by mountaineers and farm-laborers and farmers, even
welcomed secretly in villages and towns, acclaimed as King of the
Highwaymen, until songs are made on him and sung even in Rome. He'll soon
decorate a gibbet, impaled there and spiked there too. You'll see. And
still less will I tolerate lawlessness among men of property and position.
The past actions of you magnates I dislike. As to the future I may say
that my agents were at your morning reception yesterday, Vedius, and heard
and reported your covert threats to Hedulio: likewise two were at your
house, Satronius, and heard and reported your open threats.
"Now I perfectly understand what you two implied. You threatened Andivius
with assassination, if he returned to his estates in Sabinum or if he so
much as remained in Rome.
"Beware! Be warned! Take care! I am easy-going enough, but I am Caesar and
I'll brook no trenching on my personal prerogatives or my legal authority.
I have the tribunician power for life, I am commissioned thereby to forbid
anything in the Republic and to see to it that no magistrate or citizen
oversteps the limits of what is permitted him. By your threats to Hedulio
you practically arrogate to yourself the right to exile a Roman of
equestrian rank. Banishment is a governmental power and a prerogative of
Caesar. I'll have no magnates of such overweening behavior. I am jealous
of my prerogatives, more than jealous!
"I know what you intend and what you can accomplish by your henchmen. I
comprehend that hundreds of stilettos are being sharpened, up there in the
Sabine Hills, and down here in the slums, for a chance at Hedulio.
"Now I can do much by legal authority and more by personal prerogative. Be
quick. Pass the word swiftly to all your satellites, here and in Sabinum.
Let them all know that if Andivius Hedulio dies by poison or violence or
is injured by any weapon, you two at Rome and your brother at Villa Vedia
and your son, Satro, at Villa Satronia, will not see two more sunrises. I
know how to enforce my will, and well you know that. Your lives are in
pawn for his, let all your clansmen know in good time.
"And more: if you dare, either of you, to move against Hedulio in any
court at Reate or elsewhere in Sabinum for his participation in the brawls
which you fomented and he fell into, I shall see to it that not your
influence dominates any trial, but evenhanded justice, jealously watched
over by my best legal advisers. You know what that means to you."
The Emperor spoke with a sustained, white-hot fury and it was comical to
watch Satronius and Vedius, as I did by sidelong glances when the
Emperor's eyes were not on my face.
When he stopped, both magnates bowed low and each in turn expressed his
The Emperor dismissed them with a wave of his hand. To me he said:
"That will keep you alive, Hedulio and, I trust, help you to get back into
good health. Horrible bore, these small-size local matters; worse, if
anything, even, than the maintenance of the Rhine frontier. I loathe all
this routine. But my agents serve me pretty well. Besides putting me in
touch, with all this feud idiocy they have incidentally informed me that
you brought to Rome with you a son of Murmex Frugi, also a nephew of
Pacideianus, and a pupil of both, who has come to Rome to try his luck at
their former profession. Did you bring him here today? I hoped you would."
"I did," I answered, "and thanks to your orders, I was able to pass him in
with me. He is in this hall now." "Fine!" cried the Emperor, "and how
about your nine tenants, who stood by you so well in both fights. Did you
bring them too?"
"I should never have so presumed," I stammered, amazed, "It would never
have entered my head to ask entry here for such simple rustics. I should
have anticipated your wrath had I so far forgot myself."
"Rustics," said Commodus, smiling, even grinning, "who can fight as I am
told your tenants can fight are always to my mind. Bring them here
tomorrow, if you like. I'll see them in the Palaestra. I'm going there
today after this function is finished. Bring your swordsman there. You
know the door. I have given orders to admit you in my retinue."
In the Palaestra Tanno cheerfully presented Murmex to some of his favorite
prize-fighters and he stood talking with them, they appraisingly conning
the son of Murmex Frugi.
Tanno and I seated ourselves well back on the middle tier of the
spectators' benches and chatted until the Emperor should have returned
from his dressing-room and should seem at leisure to notice us.
"You must not be too puffed up at your good luck of today," Tanno warned
"In fact, I advise you to be very wary and to comport yourself most
modestly. You know Commodus. It has too often happened that when he has
overwhelmed a courtier with favors, his very condescension seems to cause
a reaction in his feelings and he becomes insanely suspicious. Respond
promptly to all his suggestions, of course, but do not obtrude yourself on
his notice. In particular ask no favor of him for a long time to come."
I thanked him for his advice and assured him that I most heartily agreed
with his ideas.
Presently a page summoned me, and Tanno came, too.
Commodus had rid himself of his official robes and was now clad only in an
athlete's tunic and soft-soled shoes. I presented Murmex and the Emperor
questioned him, as to his age, his upbringing, his father's years in
retirement at Nersae, as to Pacideianus and put questions about thrusts
and parries designed to test his knowledge of fence.
Then he seated himself on his throne on the little dais by the fencing-
floor and had Murmex called to him, made him stand by him, and asked his
opinion of several pairs of fighters whom he had fence, one pair after the
Appearing pleased with the replies he elicited he bade Murmex go with one
of the pages, rub down and change into fencing rig. While Murmex was gone
he viewed more fencing by young aspirants matched against accredited
When Murmex returned he had him matched with the best of these tiros. But,
almost at once, he called to the _lanista_:
"Save that novice! Murmex will kill him, even with that lath sword, if you
don't separate them."
He then had Murmex pitted against a succession of experts, each better
than his predecessor. Murmex acquitted himself so brilliantly that
"I must try this man myself."
He stood up and stepped down from the dais. Then he spent some time in
selecting a pair of cornel-wood fencing-swords of equal length and weight
and of similar balance, repeatedly hefting the sword he had chosen and
repeatedly asking Murmex whether he was satisfied with his sword, whether
it suited him; and similarly of the choice of shields.
When they faced each other they made as pretty a spectacle as I had ever
seen: Murmex stocky, so burly that he did not look tall, square-
shouldered, deep-chested, vast of chest-girth, huge in every dimension and
yet neither heavy nor slow in his movements; Commodus tall, slender,
sinewy, lithe and graceful, quick in every movement and amazingly
They had made but a few passes when Commodus exclaimed:
"You show your training: it is some fun to fence with you."
After not many more thrusts and parries he called out:
"Be on your guard! I'm going to attack in earnest."
There followed a hot burst of sword-play and when both adversaries were
out of breath and stepped back and stood panting, Commodus praised Murmex
"You have the best guard I have ever encountered," he said, "steady-eyed,
cautious, wary yet quick too, and always with the threat of attack in your
defense. You are a credit to your training."
When they stepped forward again Commodus commanded:
"Attack now, attack your fiercest and show your quality. I shall not be
angry if you land on me, I shall be pleased. Do your utmost!"
After the second bout he said:
"You are most dangerous in attack. At last I have found a man really worth
fencing with. You gave me all I could do to protect myself. You are a
He looked round at the envious faces of more than two score seasoned
professionals and addressed the gathering at large.
"We have here a man who is nephew of Pacideianus and son to Murmex Frugi,
trained since infancy by both. No wonder he is a marvel. I have never
faced a swordsman who gave me so much trouble to protect myself or who
held off my attacks so easily and completely. He is the only man alive, so
far as I know, really in my class as a fencer."
As he was eyeing the assembly to note their manner of receiving this
proclamation his expression changed.
"Egnatius!" he called sharply. "Come here!"
Egnatius Capito came forward. Like Tanno and myself he was conspicuous
since he was in his toga, most of those present being athletes and clad
"I did not notice you among your fellow senators at my levee," said the
"I was not there," Egnatius admitted. "I had a press of clients at my own
levee this morning and reached the Palace just in time to hear what you
had to say to Vedius and Satronius. I tried to catch your eye as you
passed out, but you did not notice me at all."
"I had rather see you here than in the throne-room," Commodus said. "I am
told that you have let your tongue run entirely too wild in talking of me
lately. If I had not been also told that you had had too much wine I
should animadvert on your effrontery officially. As it is I prefer to
prove you wrong before these experts and gentlemen."
"Of what have I been accused?" Capito queried, steadily.
"There has been no accusation," Commodus disclaimed. "But I have been told
that, at more than one dinner, you have been fool enough to say that I am
only a sham swordsman, that I take a steel sword and face an adversary
whose sword has a blade of lead: that it is no wonder that no one scores
off me, and that I run up big scores in all my bouts."
"If I ever said anything like that," spoke Capito boldly, "I was so drunk
that I have no recollection of having said it. And I am a sober man and a
light drinker. Also I have never harbored such thoughts unless too drunk
to know what I thought or said."
"You are cold sober now, aren't you?" Commodus queried.
"Entirely sober," Egnatius agreed.
"And you are a fencer far above the average?" he pursued.
"I have been told I have no mean skill," said Capito modestly.
"Such being the case," said Commodus, "you and I shall fence. Go with the
attendants and change into fencing kit. You'll find all styles and sizes
of everything needed in the dressing-rooms. First pick out a pair of
cornel-wood swords, entirely to your mind."
When Capito had selected a pair of swords which suited both him and the
Emperor, he went off to change. While he was gone Commodus had the armorer
drill a tiny hole near the point of one sword and insert in it one of
those thorn-like little steel points which are commonly used on the ends
When Capito returned he showed him the two swords. Capito looked up at him
questioningly and amazedly.
"The idea is this," Commodus explained. "I mean to demonstrate my perfect
ability to defend myself, as well as my dangerousness in attack. You are
to use the sword with the goad point set in it; so that, if you succeed in
hitting me, you will tear a long slash in my hide; for I am going to fence
with you in my skin only, stark; mother-naked as I was born. I shall use
the unaltered sword and you will have on your fencing-tunic, so that if I
hit you, it won't hurt you nearly as much as a hit from you will hurt me.
"If you draw blood from me, I'll pay you one hundred thousand sesterces:
if I fail to lay you out on the pavement, totally insensible, in three
bouts, I'll pay you two hundred thousand sesterces. You can pick any
_lanista_ here to judge the fight and tell us when to separate and rest."
Capito, cool enough, indicated Murmex as referee.
"He's not a _lanista_," Commodus objected.
"He's Frugi's pupil," Capito maintained, "and therefore the best _lanista_
"I agree," said Commodus, and he called:
"Who's the physician on duty?"
When the official came forward he said truculently:
"Get your plasters ready and your revivers. You'll have to attend a man
flat on the pavement, insensible and with a bad scalp wound, before much
time has passed."
And actually, though Capito fenced well, he was no match for Commodus.
The bout was worth watching. The adversaries were just the same height and
differed little in weight. Capito seemed more compact and steady; Commodus
more lithe and agile. Capito was a handsome man and made a fine figure in
his scanty, leek-green fencing tunic. Commodus, always vain, of his good
looks, delighted in exhibiting himself totally nude, not only because he
loved to shock elderly noblemen imbued with old-fashioned ideas of
propriety, but also because he rightly thought himself one of the best
formed men alive. He was fond of being told that he was like Hercules but,
except in the paintings of Zeuxis, Hercules has always been depicted as
brawnier and more mature than Commodus was then or ever became, to his
last hour. To me he suggested Mercury, especially as he appears in the
paintings of Polygnotus, or Apollo, as Apelles depicted him.
Besides the grace and good looks of the two, they fenced very well, Capito
correctly and with good judgment, Commodus with amazing dash and
Capito, though bold, was wholly unable to touch Commodus, while Commodus
slashed him, even through his tunic, till his blood ran from a dozen
scratches. Before the second bout was well joined Capito was felled by a
blow on the head, which laid him flat and insensible, bleeding from a
terrible scalp wound.
After Capito had been carried off by the attendants, the Emperor, wrapped
in an athlete's blanket, talked a while to Murmex and then went off to
bathe, for he bathed many times a day.
Set free, I went out and was helped into my litter. The two dogs were
still by it, took their places under it as if they had belonged to me
since puppyhood and under it trotted as I returned home. Once home I ate
the lunch permitted me and had an hour's sound, dreamless sleep.
I woke feeling so well that I sent for Agathemer, bade him have my litter
ready and told him I was going to the Baths of Titus.
Inevitably Agathemer protested that I was not well enough; naturally I
insisted and, of course, I had my way.
As with court levees, I have never been able to take as a matter of course
without wonder and admiration, the marvellous spectacle afforded by an
assemblage of our nobility and gentry gathered for their afternoon bath in
any of our splendid Thermae. Of these I hold the Baths of Titus not only
the most magnificent, which is conceded by everybody, but also I hold them
the most impressive mass of buildings in Rome, both outside and inside,
and surpassing in every respect every other great public building in the
city. Most connoisseurs appraise the Temple of Venus and Rome as our
capital's most splendid structure, but I could never bring myself to admit
it superior to or even equal to the Baths of Titus. To enter this
surpassing building, always congratulating myself on my right to enter the
baths and use them; to be one of the courtly throng of fashionable
notables resorting to them: I could never take these things as a matter of
Nor could I ever take as a matter of course the sight of the bulk of
Rome's nobility, gentlemen and ladies together, thronging the great pools
and halls or roaming about the corridors, passage-ways or galleries, all
Social convention is an amazing factor in human life. One may say that
anything fashionable is accepted and that anything unfashionable is
banned. But that does not help one to explain to one's self the oddity of
some social conventions.
Oddest of all our Roman social conventions is the contrast between the
insistence on complete concealment of the human figure everywhere else and
the universal acceptance of its display at the Thermae.
At home, if receiving guests, on the streets, at a formal dinner, at
Palace levees, at the Circus games or in the Amphitheatre, a man must be
wrapped up in his toga. Any exposure of too much of the left arm, of
either ankle, is hooted at as bad form, is decried as indecent.
So of our ladies, on dinner sofas, on their reclining chairs in their
reception rooms, in their homes, in their litters abroad, at the
Amphitheatre or at the Circus games, from neck to instep they are muffled
up. If one catches a glimpse of a beauty's ankle as she goes up a stair,
one is thrilled, one watches eagerly, one cranes to look.
Yet one encounters the same beauty the same afternoon in a corridor of the
Baths of Titus, with nothing on but a net over her elaborate coiffure and
the bracelet with the key and number of the locker in which the attendant
has put away her clothing and valuables and one not only cannot stare at
her, one cannot look at her, not even if she accosts one and lingers for a
I have pondered over this, the most singular of our social conventions,
and the most mandatory and inescapable; and the more I ponder the more
singular it seems.
Yet it is real, it is a fact. One meets the wives of all one's friends,
the wives of all Rome's nobility, naked as they were born; they mingle
with the men in the swimming pools, in the ante-rooms, in the rest-rooms,
everywhere except in the shower-bath cabinets and the rubbing-down rooms;
one swims with them, lounges with them, joins groups of chatting gentlemen
and ladies, chats, goes off, and all the while one cannot, one simply
cannot stare at a nude woman, any more than any of the women ever stares
at any man.
It is a social convention. But not the less amazing, although a fact.
One not only cannot scrutinize a woman, one cannot scrutinize a group of
women, even at a distance, even all the way across a swimming pool. So,
hoping to encounter Vedia in the gathering, I yet could not look for her.
I had met and talked with many of my acquaintances, notably Marcus Martius
and his bride Marcia.
Marcia, rosy as the inside of a sea-shell, with her gold hair confined by
a net of gold wire, was a bewitching creature, if I had been able to let
my eyes dwell on her.
She was as contained and slow spoken and soft-voiced as always, but she
was, for her, notably complimentary as to my share in the two fights;
thanked me warmly for defending her, declared that she would certainly
have been carried off, either as Xantha or Greia, or as a hostage for one
or the other, if I had not fought "like both the Dioscuri at once," as she
Martius corroborated her opinion of my services to them and thanked me
Delayed by chats with friends and acquaintances, held up by distant
acquaintances and even by persons hardly known to me by sight, who
congratulated me on the Emperor's public championing of me against my
powerful Sabine neighbors, I felt my strength ebbing and sometimes saw a
gray blur between my eyes and what I looked at.
I was, in fact, so weak that I nearly fainted when, unseen in the swarm of
bathers until he was close to me, I encountered Talponius Pulto, tall,
handsome, disdainful, sneering and malignant as usual. From his proximity
I escaped as unobtrusively as I could and as promptly.
The cold douche and a swim in the cold pool had revived me. Also, in the
cold pool I had encountered Nemestronia, still personable enough at
eighty-odd to mingle daily with her social world, as nude as they, and
enjoy herself thoroughly. Yet, at her age, she knew she looked better when
under water, and spent most of her time in the pools. She and I did some
fancy swimming together, while she questioned me about my health.
I did not spend any more time than I could help between the cold pool and
the tepid pool; no more at least than importunate acquaintances exacted of
In the tepid pool I felt, somehow, weaker and more relaxed than at any
time since I had gone out the previous morning. The effect of the
Emperor's favor, the effect of the cold plunge, were wearing off: mind and
body were losing tone. I swam languidly, alone, on my back and so swimming
found myself about one third of the way from the upper end of the pool and
about midway of its width. I was staring up at the panels of the vaulting,
relishing the beauty of the color scheme, the gold rosettes brilliant
against the deep blue of the soffits, set off by the red of the coffering.
So swimming and staring my eyes roamed downward to the great round-headed
coved window above the gallery. The railing of the gallery had a sort of
wicket in it, by which bathers could emerge one by one on to the bracket-
like platform which overhung the pool at that end, for use as a take-off
for a high dive.
Suddenly, on this diving-stand, poised for her dive, outlined against the
window behind her, I recognized Vedia; Vedia, my angered sweetheart, rosy
as Marcia, more lovely, and nude as Venus rising from the sea.
Seeing her thus, and seeing her thus unexpectedly, woke in me a volcanic
outburst of conflicting emotions altogether too much for my weakened
When I came to I felt weak and queer and did not at first open my eyes. I
heard subdued voices all about me, as of an interested crowd; I felt all
wet, I felt the cold of a wet mosaic pavement under me, but my head and
shoulders were pillowed on a support wet indeed, as I was, but soft and
I opened my eyes.
I realized that my head was in Vedia's lap, for I saw above me her
dripping breasts and, higher, her anxious face looking down at mine.
I fainted again.
Just how long I was entirely unconscious I do not know. For after I began
to come to myself at intervals which grew shorter, for periods which grew
longer, I was too weak to move a muscle or to utter a syllable. I lay,
flaccid, in my big, deep, soft bed, very dimly aware of Occo or of
Agathemer hovering about me, generally recalled to consciousness by an
eggspoonful of hot spiced wine being forced through my slow-opening lips
How many times I was sufficiently conscious to know that I was being fed,
but too ill for any thoughts whatever, I cannot conjecture. When I began
to have mental feelings the first was one of dazed confusion of mind, of
groping to recollect where I was and why and what had last happened to me.
When I recalled my last waking experience I lay bathed in sleepy
contentment. I could think connectedly enough to reason out, or my
unthinking intuitions presented to me without my thinking, the conviction
that, if Vedia could recognize me in a big pool among scores of swimmers,
if her perceptions in regard to me were acute enough and quick enough for
her and her alone to notice that I had fainted in the water, if she cared
enough for me and was sufficiently indifferent to what society might say
of her, for her to rescue me and sit down on the pavement of the
_tepidarium_ and pillow my wet head on her wet thighs till I showed signs
of life, I need not worry about whether Vedia cared for me or not. I was
permeated with the conviction that, however difficult it might be to get
her to acknowledge it, however great or many might be the obstacles in the
way of my marrying her, Vedia loved me almost as consumedly as I loved
In this frame of mind I convalesced steadily, if slowly, incurious of the
flight of time, of news, of anything; content to get well whenever it
should please the gods and confident that happiness, even if long
deferred, was certain to follow my recovery.
After I could talk to Occo and Agathemer and seemed to want to ask
questions, which both of them discouraged, one morning, on wakening for
the second time, after a minute allowance of nourishment and a refreshing
nap, I found Galen by my bedside.
He looked me over and asked questions, as physicians invariably do,
concerning my bodily sensations. After he seemed satisfied he asked:
"My son, were you ever ill before you were hit on the head in your recent
"Never that I remember," I answered.
"I judge so," he said. "If you had not been blessed with the very best
physique and constitution you would have died in your friend's litter on
the Salarian Highway. Thanks to your general strength and healthiness, and
thanks, to some extent, to my care and that of my colleagues, you are
alive and on the way to complete, permanent recovery and to long life with
good health. But you very nearly committed suicide when you went out and
about contrary to my orders. I say all this solemnly, for I want you to
remember it. If you disobey again, you will, most likely, be soon buried.
If you obey you have every chance of getting so well that you can safely
forget that you ever were ill.
"But, until I tell you that you are well, do not forget that you are ill."
"I shall remember," I said, "and I shall be scrupulously obedient."
"Good !" he ejaculated. "I infer that you find life worth living."
"Very well worth living," I rejoined devoutly.
"Then listen to me," he said. "You must remain abed until I tell you to
get up; when you first get up, it must be for only an hour or so. You must
not attempt to go out until I give you permission. You must not risk
eating such meals as you are used to. You must take small amounts of
specified foods at stated intervals. Agathemer will see to all that, with
Occo to help him. Do you promise to acquiesce?"
"I promise," I said.
"Remember," he cautioned me, "that the number, variety and severity of the
blows rained on you in your two fights were so great that you were almost
beaten to death. You had no bones broken, but the injury to your muscles
and ligaments was sufficient to kill a man only ordinarily strong, while
the blows affecting your kidneys, liver and other internal organs were in
themselves, without the bruising of all your surface, enough to cause
death. I had you convalescing promptly and rapidly; you went out and
overstrained all your vitalities. Your recklessness almost ended you. You
were far nearer death in your relapse than at first, and that is saying a
great deal. If you obey me you will certainly recover. If you disobey you
will probably kill yourself."
"I shall take all that to heart," I said. "I have promised to be docile:
I'll keep my word and obey my slaves as if every day were the Saturnalia."
"Good!" he exclaimed. "You are getting better."
He looked me over again and asked:
"Is there anything you want?"
"I want to see Tanno," I said.
"You shall the day after tomorrow," he promised, "or perhaps tomorrow, if
I find you improving faster than I anticipate."
Actually, after a brief visit from him the next day, Tanno was ushered
into my sick-room.
My first question was about my tenants. Not one such tenant-farmer in a
million would ever have a chance of being personally presented to Caesar.
They had been awestruck when I told them of their amazing good fortune.
They had said almost nothing. But I knew that they were, all nine of them,
as nearly rapt into ecstasy as Sabine farmers could be at the prospect of
personally saluting Caesar in his Palace, in his Audience Hall on his
throne. I had been too inert to worry about anything, but I almost worried
at the thought of their disappointment, through my relapse.
Tanno told me that he, knowing the Emperor's character pretty well, had
taken it upon himself to have them passed in with him as the Emperor had
ordered, and had himself asked permission to present them and had
presented them. The next day, he said, everyone of them had returned home.
I heaved a deep sigh of relief: my tenants and my Sabine Estate were off
my mind; I might be entirely easy about all things in Sabinum.
He then told me what a brilliant success Marcia was among the pleasure-
loving, novelty-loving, luxurious high-living set in our city society.
"Since the enforcement of the old-fashioned laws relaxed and became a dead
letter and some were even repealed," he said, "not a few men of equestrian
rank have married freed-women and such occurrences no longer cause any
scandal or much remark. But the results are not generally productive of
any social success for the ill-assorted pair.
"I have known a few freedwomen married to men of wealth, and equestrian
rank, who gained some vague approximation of social standing among the
wives of their husbands' friends. But Marcia is the first freedwoman I
ever knew or heard of to be treated, by everybody and at once, as if she
had been freeborn and since birth in her husband's class. Martius has not
brought this about, or aided much; he is a good enough fellow, but he has
no social qualities; for all the power he has of attracting friends he
might as well be an archaic statue. Marcia has done it all. She's a
Then he told me of Murmex: how he was already rated Rome's champion
swordsman; how the Palace Palaestra was jammed with notables eager to see
him fence, how magnates competed for invitations to such exhibitions, how
Murmex was overwhelmed with attentions of all kinds from all sorts of
people, had had a furnished apartment put at his disposal by one admirer,
a litter and bearers presented him by another, already saw his domicile
crowded with presents of statuary, paintings, furniture, flowers and all
possible gifts, how he was an immediate and brilliant success with all
classes, even the populace talking of him, crowding behind his litter, and
demanding him for the next public exhibition of gladiators.
That such luck had befallen a man whom I had presented to Court augured
well for me, indubitably.
After I had been out of bed an hour or more for several consecutive days
Galen said to me:
"You are almost well enough to be about, but not quite. If you go back to
your habitual hours of sleep you will fret and fidget indoors, and you are
not yet sufficiently recovered to resume your normal life. You need fresh
air. I have considered what is best and what is possible. I have talked
with your friend Opsitius. Through him I have arranged for you to have
short outings in this manner. On fair days if you feel like going out you
may call for your litter. In it you must keep the panels closed and the
curtains drawn. Agathemer will give your bearers directions. Nemestronia
has offered you the use of her lower garden. You are to have it all to
yourself, whenever you want it, as long as my directions to Agathemer
permit you to remain in it; and you need not remain a moment unless you
enjoy being there."
I understood without asking any questions. Nemestronia's palace was one of
the most desirable, magnificent and spacious abodes in Rome. Her father,
who had been accustomed to say that he was too great a man to have to live
in a fashionable neighborhood, that any neighborhood in which he settled
would thereby become fashionable, had bought a very generous plot of land
nearly on the crest of the Viminal Hill and had there built himself a
dwelling which was at once noted among the dozen finest private dwellings
in the Eternal City. In one respect it was preeminent. From its lofty
position it had, down the slope of the hill, a wide view over the city and
this view was unobstructed, for below his palace Nemestronius had had laid
out six separate gardens, two large and four small. Next the house the
ground fell away so sharply that he had been able to create a terraced
garden, the only private terraced garden in Rome, extending across the
entire rear of his palace and with three terraces, from the uppermost of
which the view was almost as good as from the upper windows of the
mansion. Below this, each extending along but half the length of the
terraces, was a grass-garden, where it was possible to play ball-games, it
being a mere expanse of sward shut in by high walls covered with flowering
vines; and a formal garden, in the fashionable style. Below the grass-
garden was one of similar size, all flower-beds, to supply roses, lilies,
violets and other staple blossoms for his banqueting-hall, below the
formal garden was one called the wild-garden or shrubbery-garden, like the
grass-garden in being covered with sward almost from wall to wall, but
unlike it, in that it had four shade trees, no two alike, and many
flowering shrubs of all kinds and sizes. Lastly below these two was the
water-garden, the same size as the terraced garden, taken up with
fountains and pools, and all gay in season, with the flowers which thrive
in or beside ponds and pools. It had also eight beautiful lotus trees.
High walls, through which one might pass from one to the other only by
gates generally shut fast, separated and enclosed these gardens, for their
creator's intention was to enjoy the peculiar charm of each undistracted
by the contrasting charms of the others. From the upper gardens it was
possible to see, to some extent, into those lower down the hill; but, from
the lower, one could see nothing of those above.
One side of the property was flanked by a street, a mere narrow, walled
lane on which no dwelling opened. Along this were posterns in the wall,
giving access to or exit from the terrace-garden, the formal-garden, the
wild-garden and the water-garden.
I understood at once what I later heard from Agathemer. The water-garden
was to be mine for my airings. I was to leave my litter at its postern in
the unfrequented lane and reenter my litter there.
There I went next day and revelled in the beauty of the garden, in the
sunshine, in the breeze and in the sensations of returning health and
strength which inundated me. There I went for some days in succession
On the eighth day before the Kalends of August Galen came to see me, not
early in the morning, but about the bath-hour of the afternoon. He seemed
well pleased with his inspection of me and with my answers to his
"You are practically well," he said, "and much sooner than I anticipated.
I am tempted to tell you to return to your normal routine of meals, eating
what you please; and to give you permission to resume your usual social
activities But I think it better, in a case like yours, to wait a month
too long rather than to be a day too soon. So I shall enjoin an adherence
to your diet and a continuance of your long rest hours and brief outings
for some days yet."
He had me summon Agathemer and repeated to him much of what he had said to
"He might go out at once," he said, "but we had best be cautious. Limit
him to morning outings in Nemestronia's gardens. He may, however, see
friends, one at a time, according to his wishes and your directions. And
be particular as to his diet. Give him more of each viand at each feeding.
Feed him as soon as he wakes. Then time the feedings two hours apart. Are
your _clepsydras_ [Footnote: water-clocks] good?"
"Of the best," I interjected. "My uncle was a fancier of time-keepers and
had one in every room, and no two alike in ornamentation, all beautifully
"The ornamentation doesn't matter," said Galen, impatiently. "Do they keep
time with anything approaching accuracy?"
"As near accuracy," I said, "as any _clepsydras_ ever made."
"Well," he said, "_clepsydras_ always work better when nearly full than
when nearly empty. When you feed him have a full _clepsydra_ handy and
start it when he begins to eat. Then by it feed him again after two hours.
Keep to that interval and to the diet I have enjoined."
Next day I spent over three hours in Nemestronia's water-garden, Tanno
with me for most of the time. Twice, during the chat, Agathemer brought me
a tray with the drink and food enjoined for that hour of the day. Each
time I left not a drop or crumb: I was ravenous.
The following morning Agathemer let in to me, in that same garden, Murmex
Lucro, who thanked me for my good offices with Commodus and narrated his
triumphal progress of professional and social success ever since I had
seen him fence with the Emperor.
Agathemer did not permit Murmex to linger long, saying that it was against
Galen's orders. After I was alone and had eaten what he brought I basked
and idled happily, thinking of Vedia, entirely unruffled by the fact that
I had had no missive or message from her, considering her silence merely
discreet and judicious after her spectacular rescue of me in the
_Tepidarium_, and confident of seeing her as soon as I was entirely well.
While I was in this mood my hostess came to chat with me. Nemestronia, at
eighty-odd, was as dainty and charming an old lady as the sun ever shone
on. And as lovable as any woman alive. I loved her dearly, as all Rome
loved her dearly, and I ranked myself high among her countless honorary
grandsons, for her motherly ways made her seem an honorary grandmother to
all young noblemen whom she favored.
After a heart-warming chat she said:
"I must go now, by Galen's orders. Before I go I want to ask you whether
you are coming here tomorrow?"
"Certainly!" I cried, looking about me with delight. "Could there, can
there, be in Rome a more Elysian spot in which to feel health being
restored to one?"
She beamed at me.
"Be sure to be here," she said. "You will not regret coming."
Between naps that afternoon and before I slept that night I soothed myself
with the hope that I was, by Nemestronia's influence, to have an interview
Next morning the weather was beautiful, the sky clear, the air neither too
cool nor too warm, the breeze soft and steady. Nemestronia's water-garden
appeared to me even more delightful than the day before. I admired the
lotus trees, the water-lily pads in the pools, the jets of the fountains,
the bright strips of flowers along the pools, particularly some water-
flags or some flowers resembling water-flags.
I was idling in the sun on a cushion which Agathemer had arranged for me
on a marble seat against the upper wall, nearly midway of the garden, but
in sight of the postern gate by which I had entered. So idling and
dreaming day dreams I let my eyes rove languidly about the scene before
me. While meditating and staring at the pavement at my feet I heard
footsteps on the walk and looked up.
To my amazement I saw Egnatius Capito approaching.
No wonder I was amazed. I knew him but slightly. I should never have
thought of asking to see him, as I had asked to be allowed to see several
of my semi-intimates. Agathemer had insisted that I postpone seeing them,
because an interview with any of them was likely to overtire me. I knew
that no one could have entered that garden without Agathemer's knowledge.
I could not conceive how Capito came to be there.
He greeted me formally and asked permission to seat himself beside me. I
gave it rather grudgingly.
He asked after my health and I answered only less grudgingly.
"I conjecture," he said, "that you are surprised to see me here?"
"I am surprised," I said shortly.
"Will you permit me to explain?" he asked courteously.
I could not be less courteous than he and signified my assent.
"Your secretary," he said, "is of the opinion that your illness, while
caused by your injuries in the affrays into which you were entrapped, was
greatly intensified by your chagrin at finding yourself embroiled with
both the Vedian and Satronian clans, and he also thinks that brooding over
the condition of affairs has delayed your recovery."
"I assumed all that," I interrupted, "but I cannot conceive why he has
talked to you about it."
Capito was always ingratiating. He gazed at me reproachfully, gently,
"If I have your permission," he said, "I shall explain."
"Explain!" I cried impatiently.
"Agathemer," he went on, "has left no stone unturned to find some means
for placating both clans and for reconciling you with both. In pursuit of
this aim he has been cautious, discreet, tactful and secret. He has
covertly tried many plans of approach. It was intimated to him, truly,
that I had on foot a scheme which promised to succeed in reconciling both
clans with each other and he rightly inferred that I might be able to
arrange for reconciling both with you at the same time. I am confident
that I can, as I told him when he tentatively approached me and
unostentatiously sounded me on this matter. I told him that it was only
necessary that I have an interview with you as soon as might be. Believing
that an early dissipation of your embroilment would conduce to your quick
and complete recovery he arranged for me to meet you as I have."
While he was saying this my eyes roved about the garden. To my
astonishment I saw a man standing against the shut postern door, intently
regarding us as we sat on the marble seat conferring. In my half
convalescent state I had become used to acquiescence in anything and
everything, I was inert mentally and physically and my perceptive
faculties dulled and slow as were my intellectual processes. While
hearkening to Capito I gazed at the man uncomprehendingly, only half
conscious. I thought him a queer-looking fellow to be in Capito's retinue;
he did not look like a slave, but like a free man of the lowest class. I
did not recognize him, yet it seemed to me that I should; I did not like
the way he looked at us, yet I said nothing. He seemed to see me looking
at him, opened the postern, stepped through it and shut it after him. As
he went I was shot through with the conviction that I had seen him
"If you have in you," I said to Capito, "any such supernatural powers as
you would need for success in what you aim at, if you have any reasons for
anticipating success, Agathemer was fully justified in what he has done.
If you can really accomplish what you seem to believe you can accomplish,
I shall be grateful to you to the last breath I draw. But I am skeptical.
Speak on. Convince me."
"I must first," he said, "have your pledge of secrecy for what I am about
"What sort of secrecy?" I queried, repelled and suspicious.
"If I am to disclose what I wish to disclose," he said, "you must give me
your word not to reveal by word, look, act or silence anything I may make
known to you, from your pledge until the termination of our interview."
I was uneasy, but curious. I gave my pledge as he asked.
He looked about, warily. He leaned closer to me. He spoke in a subdued
"It must be known to you," he said, "that many of us nobles, many men of
equestrian rank, many senators, are gravely anxious concerning the
Republic, gravely dissatisfied with the character and behavior, I might
say the misbehavior, of our present Prince."
"I don't wonder that you pledged me to secrecy," I blurted out. "You are
"Hear me to the end," he begged, "and you will find that I am talking not
treason but patriotism."
I grunted and he went on.
"Many of us are of the opinion that the Republic, which was never as
prosperous as within the past eighty years, is in grave danger of losing
much of its Empire, so gloriously extended by Trajan, so well maintained
by his three successors, if it continues to be neglected and mismanaged as
it is. To save the commonwealth and retain its provinces we must have a
Caesar competent, diligent, discreet and brave; and not one of these
epithets can be properly applied to the autocrat now in power. We feel
that he must be removed and that there must be substituted for him a ruler
who is all that the State needs and has the right to expect."
"Fine words," I said. "Masking a conspiracy to assassinate our Emperor."
He looked shocked and pained.
"Hear me out," he pleaded.
"I am curious, I confess," I admitted, "to learn what all this has to do
with reconciling Vedius and Satronius and regaining me the good graces of
both. I ought to terminate the interview, but I am weak. Go on."
"Naturally," he said, "both Vedius and Satronius resent what the Emperor
did and said concerning your entanglement in their feud and they are both
infuriated at their humiliation and at the effective means he took to tie
their hands as far as concerns you and to ensure your safety, as far as
they were concerned."
"Commodus," I interrupted, "is not altogether a bungler when he gives his
mind to the duties of his office."
"May I go on?" Capito enquired, mildly, even reproachfully and, I might
say, irresistibly. He was a born leader of a conspiracy, for few men could
be alone with him and not fall under his influence.
"Go on," I said. "I am consumed with curiosity to discover how their rage
at the Emperor could lead to a reconciliation between them."
"It is not obvious, I admit," he said, "but when I explain, you will see
how naturally, how inevitably a reconciliation might be expected to
"You have seen, perhaps often, a peasant or laborer beating his wife?"
"Everybody has," I replied. "What has that to do with what you were
"Be patient!" he pleaded. "You have seen some bystander interfere in such
a domestic fracas?"
"Often," I agreed.
"You have also seen," he continued, "not only the husband turn on the
outsider, but the wife join her spouse in attacking her would-be rescuer,
have seen both trounce the interloper and in their mutual help forget
their late antagonism."
"Certainly," I agreed.
"Well," he pursued, "human nature, male or female, low-life or high-life,
is the same in essence. Vedius and Satronius are so incensed with Caesar
for balking their appetite for revenge on you that they are thirsting for
revenge on Caesar and ready to forget all their hereditary animosities and
join in abasing him. In fact, they have joined the league of patriots of
which I am the leader. And they are so bent on their new purpose that they
are ready to be hearty friends to anyone sworn as our confederate. I can
arrange to obliterate, even to annihilate forever, all trace of enmity
between you and either of them, if you will but agree to let your natural
inherent patriotism overcome all other feelings in your heart and aid us
to abolish the shame of our Republic and to safeguard the Commonwealth and
All this while I had been half listening to him, half occupied in trying
to recall where I had seen the man who had stepped through the postern. At
this instant, as Capito paused, I suddenly realized that he was the
immobile horseman whom we had twice passed in the rain by the roadside the
morning I had started from my villa for Rome. His hooked nose was
Somehow this realization, along with the recollection of what Tanno had
said of the fellow, woke me to a sense of the danger to which I was
exposed by being with Capito and also to a sense of the craziness of his
ideas and plans.
I felt my face redden.
"You have said enough!" I cut him short. "I perfectly understand. You
think yourself the destined savior of Rome and the deviser of priceless
plans for Rome's future. You are not so much a conspirator as a lunatic.
Your schemes are half idiocy, half moonshine. I have pledged you my word
to be secret as to what you have told me. My pledge holds if you now keep
silent, rise from this seat and walk straight out to your litter, by the
same way by which you came from it. If you utter another syllable to me,
if you do not rise promptly, if you hesitate about going, if you linger on
your path, I'll call my litter, I'll go straight to the Palace, I'll ask
for a private audience, I'll wait till I get one, I'll tell the Emperor
every word you have said to me. If you want protection for yourself from
my pledge, leave me. Go!"
He gave one glance at me and went.
THE SQUALL OF THE LEOPARD
When he was gone, when I had seen the postern door shut behind him, I felt
suddenly weak and faint. I was amazed to find how exhausted I was left by
the ebbing of the hot wave of indignation and rage which had surged
through me as I revolted from his absurd and contemptible proposals. I
felt flaccid and limp.
At this instant Agathemer brought me a tray of food. My impulse was to
burst out at him with reproaches for having, without consulting me,
presumed to arrange for me an interview with a man not among my intimates.
But I was so enraged that I dreaded the effect on me, in my weakened
state, if I let myself go in respect to rebuking my slave. I kept silent
and was mildly surprised to find myself tempted by the food. I ate and
drank all that was on the tray, and Agathemer vanished noiselessly,
without a word.
I sat there, revived by the food and wine, feeling the weakness caused by
my rage gradually passing off and meditating on the sudden change in my
condition. Before Capito accosted me I had felt perfectly well and was
looking forward to resuming my normal life next day, to going to the
Palace Levee, to enjoying a bath with my acquaintances at the Thermae of
Titus. Since Capito had left me I had felt so overcome that I was ready to
look forward to some days yet of strict regimen and isolation.
Thus meditating I was again aware of footsteps on the walk.
I looked up and was more amazed than when I had caught sight of Capito.
Approaching me, but a few paces from me, was one of the most detestable
bores in Rome, a man whom I sedulously avoided, Faltonius Bambilio. His
father, the Pontifex of Vesta, was an offensively and absurdly unctuous
and pompous man. His son, who had already held several minor offices in
the City Government, had been one of the quaestors the year before, and so
was now a senator. But he was, as he always had been, as he remained, a
booby. I do not believe that there was any man in Rome I detested so
He greeted me as if he had a right to my notice and said:
"I was told that Egnatius Capito was in this garden."
"He was," I replied curtly, "but he has left it."
"I certainly am disappointed," he said, seating himself by me, uninvited.
"I particularly wanted to speak to Capito at once."
"You might find him at his house," I suggested.
But Bambilio was impervious to suggestions.
"I wanted to talk to him and you together," he said, "but that can be
managed some other time."
I was about to reply tartly, but I remembered how my irritation with
Capito had affected me and recalled Galen's injunction that I must avoid
all causes of excitement and emotion. I held my peace.
Bambilio, as if he had been an intimate and had been specially invited,
lolled comfortably on the bench and gazed approvingly about.
"Fine garden, Andivius," he said. "Fine trees, fine flowers and I say,
what a jewel of a slave-girl, eh! Hedulio!"
I could have hit him, I was so incensed at his familiarity, I was already
choking with internal rage at Agathemer for having let anyone in to talk
to me in that garden, still more at his having done so without consulting
me and most of all that after doing so he had not made sure that no one
but Capito could pass the postern door. But I almost exploded into voluble
wrath when I looked where he indicated, saw a pretty, shapely young woman
in the scanty attire of a slave-girl picking flag-flowers into a basket
she carried, and recognized Vedia. That Agathemer's presumption should
have spoiled the interview with Vedia which she and Nemestronia had
manifestly arranged for us, that it should have exposed Vedia in her
undignified disguise to recognition by the greatest ass and blatherskite
in the senate, this infuriated me till I felt internally like Aetna or
Vesuvius on the verge of eruption.
Vedia, for it was she, had evidently been approaching me circuitously,
hoping to be noticed and hailed from afar. Now when she was near enough
for not merely a lover but for any acquaintance to recognize her, she
looked up at me over her basket as she laid a flower-stalk in it.
Instantly her face flamed, she turned away and went on picking flowers
diligently. After she had moved a few steps she sprang into the path and
scampered off like a child, her basket swinging, vanishing through a door
in the upper wall on my left.
"Neat little piece!" Bambilio commented. "Taking, and every part of her
pretty. Fine calves, especially."
I was by this time in a condition which, had I been old and fat, must have
brought on an apoplexy. But my hot rage cooled to an icy haughtiness, and,
though it took a weary, tedious long time, I kept my temper and my
demeanor, look, tone and word, managed to convey to him, even through the
thick armor of his self-conceit, that he was not welcome. He rose, said
farewell and waddled off to the postern. As soon as he was outside, more
rapidly than I had moved since I was felled in the roadside affray, I
walked to that door and made sure that it was bolted.
I was strolling unhurriedly back to the seat I had left and was perhaps
half way to it, when I heard, loud and clear, the long-drawn, blood-
curdling hunting-squall of Nemestronia's pet leopard; heard in it more of
menace, more of adult ferocity, more of the horrible joy of the power to
kill than I had ever heard before.
Instantly I comprehended what had happened. Either Agathemer when he took
off my tray or Vedia when she escaped had passed through the wild-garden
(probably it had been Vedia, who would not know that the leopard was
confined there), and had left a door imperfectly closed. The leopard,
which might have been asleep, under the shrubberies and invisible, had
roused and had passed through the unfastened door up into the terrace-
garden. This was the kind of morning on which Nemestronia would have many
visitors, the kind of weather which would tempt them to have their chairs
out on the upper terrace, the hour of the morning at which they would be
most likely to be out there. The leopard, I instantly inferred, was
stalking, not some hare, porker, kid or lamb, but her owner and her
I disembarrassed myself of my outer garments, threw off my sun-hat, and,
clad only in my shoes and tunic, sprinted for the door into the wild-
garden, through it, through its upper door, which, as I had forecasted, I
found open, and out on the lower terrace. From there I could not see
anything on the upper terrace, but, as I cleared the door, I heard again,
rising, quavering, sinking, rising, the leopard's hunting cry from the
upper terrace. I sprang up the stair to the middle terrace, and half way
up that to the upper; but, when my head was about on a level with the
pavement of the walk along the upper terrace, I checked myself and moved a
hairs-breadth at a time; for the rescue on which I had come was a delicate
task and any quick movement might precipitate the leopard's killing-
Through the spaces between the yellow Numidian marble balusters I saw what
I had anticipated. Partly under the big middle awning, but mostly out in
front of it on the walk, were set a score of light chairs. On those
furthest out were seated nine ladies: Nemestronia, Vedia, Urgulania,
Entedia, Aemilia Prisca, Magnonia, Claudia Ardeana, Semnia, Papiria and
Cossonia. They were rigid in their chairs, white with terror and yet
afraid to move a muscle. Belly flat on the walk, about twelve paces from
them, crouched the leopard, moving forward a paw at a time. As I gained a
view of her she emitted a third squall.
I saw that I was in time and felt so relieved that I almost fainted in the
revulsion from my agony of anxiety. As I began to move my mind was free
enough to wonder how Vedia had found time to change from her slave-girl
disguise into a bewitching fashionable toilet. Among those leaders of
Roman society, the very pick of Rome's noblewomen, she showed her best and
outshone them all.
I moved evenly and steadily up the steps and along the balustrade till I
was past the crouching leopard and then on round till I was in her line of
sight and half between her and her victims.
She recognized me at once, the evil switching of her tail ceased, she half
rose; she began to purr, a purr that sounded to me as loud as the roar of
a water-fall in a gorge; she took a few steps towards me, then, suddenly,
she made a peculiar movement hard to describe, something like the
curvetting of a mettlesome colt, but characteristic of a leopard and
therefore like the movement of no other animal save a leopard or lion or
tiger; she leapt daintily clear of the pavement and struck sideways with
her forepaws. The antic perfectly expressed playful delight and
I recognized her mood and knew that I had not only distracted her from her
bloodthirst but had her entire attention. I knew what I must do, but I
raged at the ridiculous exhibition which I must make of myself before the
most fastidious and conventional of Rome's noblewomen. Yet, if I was to
save them, I must not hesitate. I threw myself flat on my side on the
pavement and made clawing motions with my hands and feet, the leopard
responded to my suggestion, capered again as before and, when close to me,
lay down before me on the pavement and began to paw at me, purring loudly
in her throat, now and then snarling softly. She played with me as she had
often played before, all her claws sheathed and her paws soft as
thistledown; mumbling my hands and forearms in her hot mouth, slavering
over them, yet never so much as bruising the skin with her needle-sharp
teeth. Yet I seemed to detect a subtle difference in her mood and, from
moment to moment, dreaded that she might claw me to ribbons or sink her
fangs in my shoulders or face.
All the while she was mouthing, pawing and kicking me I was raging at
Agathemer for having put me in a position where I had to make so
undignified an exhibition of myself before such an assemblage.
Presently I recognized that alteration in her mood which made it possible
for me to rise, take her by the scruff of the neck, and lead her off to
When I had her inside I realized how hot, sweaty, dusty tousled, rumpled
and mussed I was. Her cage was under the vaulted arcade beneath the second
terrace. I was, when I shot its bolts, altogether out of sight of Vedia,
Nemestronia and the other noble ladies who had been spectators of my
tussle with the leopard. I did not want them to see me again in my
dishevelled and dirty condition: I sneaked into the house by the passage
from the arcade into the cellars and up the scullery stairs, made the
first slave I saw escort me to the guest-room I usually occupied when at
Nemestronia's and bade him summon bath-attendants and dressers.
Nemestronia had a store-room lined with wardrobes of men's attire
containing every sort of garment of every style and size. I was soon clean
and clad as a gentleman should be in a fresh tunic and in the garment I
had left in the water-garden, which a footman had fetched for me.
Then I went out on the upper terrace.
There I found the nine ladies, with some maids and waiters. Before the
ladies, facing Nemestronia, stood Agathemer; behind and about him
Nemestronia's six big, husky, bull-necked slave-lashers, the two head-
lashers with their many-lashed scourges.
I realized at once what had happened. Nemestronia had needed no one to
inform her that it was through Agathemer's negligence or mismanagement
that the leopard had escaped from the wild-garden. She had not waited to
ask me to investigate the matter and punish my slave. She had, like the
great noblewoman she was, assumed my acquiescence and approval and
summoned and questioned Agathemer. Before I appeared his answers had
convicted him. She did not look round at me as I joined the group and
seated myself in a vacant chair on her left, between Vedia and Claudia
Ardeana. As I seated myself she gave the order:
"Strip him and give him a hundred lashes!"
Now, then and there I found myself in the most cruel and painful situation
I had ever been in my life. Agathemer and I had been playmates almost from
our cradles; comrades, cronies, chums all our lives. Neither of us had
ever had a brother. Each had been, since infancy, a brother to the other.
I could not have loved a real brother any more than I loved Agathemer, nor
could he have had more implicit confidence in the goodwill of a blood
brother. I was, in fact, as solicitous for Agathemer's welfare as for my
own, and I rejoiced with his joys and mourned with his griefs. I would
have done anything to protect him and save him, as he had faithfully and
tirelessly nursed and cared for me in my illness.
But I knew that no explanations could ever make Nemestronia understand our
mutual relations or accept my views of them; to her a slave was a slave;
she felt as unalterable a gulf between free man and slave as between
mankind and cattle. I could only let her have her way, though I was
inundated with misery at the thought of Agathemer's approaching agonies. I
had been hotly wrathful with him and had meditated, as I dressed, what
sort of punishment would befit his fault: now that Nemestronia had ordered
him flogged my resentment against him had all oozed out of me and I was
filled with sympathy for him and scorn of my cowardice in not protecting
him. I glanced at him as the lashers stripped and bound him. He sent back
at me a glance which said, as plain as words:
"I am to blame. I know you are sorry for me. But give no sign, I must go
through this alone."
And I had to sit there while the head-lasher flogged him till the pavement
on which he lay was all a pool of gore, till his back was in tatters from
neck to hips, till he was carried off, insensible, perhaps dead.
Also I had to express my approbation of Nemestronia's orders, and had to
sit there and chat with the ladies, seven of whom were inclined to be
facetious over the figure I had cut sprawling on the mosaic walk, tussling
with that abominable leopard. They thanked me for saving their lives, or
at least, the life of some one of them. But they were sly about my comical
appearance while the leopard mauled and tousled me.
Two did not speak.
Vedia was cold and mute and spoke only when she rose, excusing herself to
Nemestronia and calling for her litter first of them all.
Nemestronia was so weak from the reaction after her fright and so
unwilling to display her weakness that she hardly spoke, limiting herself
to the brief words courtesy demanded.
When I reached home I forgot everything else in my solicitude for
Agathemer. I not only called for my own physician, but sent urgent
messages summoning Galen and Celsianus. Celsianus was affronted at the
suggestion that he stoop to prescribe for a slave and incensed at having
been called in haste for such a trifle: but Galen, who came in while
Celsianus was expressing his indignation, diverted his mind at once by
rejoicing that I was sufficiently recovered to take that much interest in
one of my slaves. He made haste to see, inspect and assist Agathemer: when
he was somewhat relieved and we had left him abed with Occo to watch him
and with injunctions that quiet was the best medicine for him, Galen
turned to me.
"You have had a shock," he said, "and a superabundance of excitement. Tell
me all about it."
When I had told him what had happened, omitting only Vedia's disguise and
her presence in the water-garden, he said:
"I certainly should not have prescribed any such excitements and efforts
as medicaments for a case like yours. But it sometimes happens that being
startled accomplishes more towards a cure than long rest can. Your
perturbation of mind and activity of body has cured you. You are, as far
as I can judge, well. I am of the opinion that you may safely eat and
drink what you like in moderation, rest only as you please and may resume
your normal life."
I was, naturally, much pleased, but had no impulse to resume my habits
that day. I kept indoors, denied myself to all visitors, slept long after
Galen had left, ate a moderate dinner and went early to bed.
Next day I went through the normal routine of a Roman of my rank. The
story of the leopard had been noised about and the husbands of the ladies
concerned every one came to salute me at my morning reception and to thank
me for my miraculous intervention, as they called it. As six of the eight
were senators my atrium had an aspect seldom seen at the reception of a
man of equestrian rank.
At the Palace I found the tale of the leopard had reached the ears of the
Emperor. He congratulated me, saying:
"You are not only a good fighter, Hedulio, but also incredibly bold and
marvellously favored by the gods."
Tanno was at the Palace to say farewell for the summer, as he was off for
Baiae to enjoy the scenery and sea-breezes.
"I envy you," said Commodus. "I must remain, here many days yet to get rid
of the most pressing matters on my crowded files of official papers."
After the Palace levee was over I went to Vedia's mansion and tried to see
her, but was rebuffed, the porter declaring that, by her physician's
orders, she was denying herself to all visitors.
At home I found Agathemer still suffering terribly, but without fever,
with no sign of proud flesh anywhere on his flayed back and not only
entirely able to talk to me but eager to do so. We had a long talk on the
entire subject of our peculiar relations as a master and slave who were
more like brothers. He assured me that I had done just right to act as I
had and he begged my pardon for his blunders in arranging to have Capito
admitted to talk to me, in arranging it without my permission or even
knowledge, in neglecting to guard the outer door of the garden and so
admitting Bambilio, and in causing the escape of the leopard. I heartily
forgave him, told him to forget all that, that I forgot it all and, on my
side, begged his forgiveness for his agonies. He said there was nothing to
forgive: that my uncle's injunctions had compelled my leaving him a slave
and the rest had been his fault, not mine.
I told him that I would do anything in my power to make him well,
comfortable and happy, except setting him free, from which I was
restrained by my uncle's behests.
He asked to be allowed to return to Villa Andivia as soon as the
physicians pronounced him fit to travel.
I agreed: commanded that my travelling carriage, which Marcus Martius had
returned to me, should be put in order and prepared for the journey; and
consulted Galen, who came of his own accord to see Agathemer two days in
succession. On his third visit he gave Agathemer permission to travel by
carriage the next day and he accordingly set off for Villa Andivia on the
Ides of August.
Each day I had spent most of my afternoon at the Baths of Titus. Each
afternoon I had seen Vedia at a distance, but she had always taken pains
to avoid me, and one cannot pursue or seem to pursue, a lady in the
Each day, also, I had called to see her at her house; each day I had been
rebuffed. On the morning of the nineteenth day before the Kalends of
September one of the runners brought me a letter. It read:
"Vedia gives greetings to Andivius. If you are well I am well also."
But this formal opening altered at once to familiar writing.
"You are acting like a silly boy. As things are, both in my cousins'
clan and in that of my late husband, I cannot receive you at my house,
and you ought to have sense enough to realize that without being told.
Be patient and I shall arrange for an interview with you. Please avoid
me at the Baths, as I have you.
This letter greatly encouraged me and I felt so elated that I really
enjoyed life for the next few days, which were filled up with a reception
of my own each morning, a round of receptions to salute magnates, my
salutation to the Emperor, a lunch always with some friends, a long nap at
home, a lingering afternoon at the Baths of Titus, and a jolly dinner at
some friend's house, for I was invited out twice each day.
On the seventh day before the Kalends of September, as I was on my way to
the Palace levee, a runner inconspicuously clad ranged himself alongside
my litter and handed me a letter.
"She whose handwriting he will recognize gives greeting to Hedulio.
Take care! Do not let anyone see this letter; take care to seem
negligent and uninterested as you read it.
"A conspiracy against the life of Caesar has been detected and
reported. Its leader is said to be Egnatius Capito. As some informer,
sponsored by Talponius Pulto, claims to have seen you in Capito's
company, you are implicated. Save yourself. Do not return home. Do not
go to the Palace, order yourself carried immediately to the
Querquetulan Gate. On the way there purchase a raincloak and an
umbrella hat and whatever else may be needful for your journey.
Outside the _Porta Querquetulana_, in front of Plosurnia's tavern, you
will find one of the fastest horses in Italy, a blood-bay, noticeable
for light-blue reins with silver bosses, his saddlecloth light-blue
with a silver edge. Descend from your litter in front of the tavern,
accost the man holding the horse, say to him:
"'Is this the leopard-tamer's horse?'
"He will reply:
"'I am the leopard-tamer.'
"He will then allow one of your spare bearers to take the horse.
"Divest yourself of your toga then, not sooner. Equip yourself for
your journey. Mount and order your bearers to take your empty litter
home. Follow the Praenestine Highroad till it meets the _Via
Labicana_. Then take the first crossroad to the Highroad to Tibur.
From Tibur press on to Carseoli. Prom there return to Villa Andivia as
you judge best. Provide for yourself thereafter as best you may.
I recognized Vedia's handwriting. I trusted her implicitly. I was far more
elated at her concern for me than I was depressed at my impending ruin.
Somehow the fact that she had taken the trouble not only to warn me, but
to think out for me all the details of a plan of at least temporary
escape, the inference that she hoped, hoped against hope, that I might be
somehow saved, heartened me amazingly; so that I was rather inspirited at
the prospect of adventure than daunted by the shadow of inescapable doom.
I gathered myself together, determined to take as much advantage as
possible of Vedia's warning, and of the respite it afforded me. I resolved
to follow her suggestions. I had set out for the Palace unusually early. I
had plenty of time. I ordered my bearers to carry me through the heart of
the City down the whole length of the _Vicus Tuscus_ to the meat market.
I should, I suppose, have been in an agony of vain regrets; I rather
expected from moment to moment to be drowned in an inundation of such
sensations, I was more than a little surprised at my actual feelings. Here
I was, hitherto a wealthy Roman nobleman in excellent standing with my
fellows, my superiors and the Prince; from now on a hunted fugitive and
not likely to postpone my last hour more than a few days. I was,
presumably, viewing the throbbing heart of glorious Rome for the last
time. I should have felt chief mourner at my own funeral. Actually I
relished, I hugely enjoyed, every pace of my progress through the filling
streets, where the passers-by and idlers were still fresh, and lively
after a night's sleep and where everything was irradiated by cheerful
morning sunlight. I felt cheerful as the sunlight.
Beyond the Meat Market I had my bearers stop at the Temple of Fortune,
which I entered, there I prayed fervently before the statue of the
When I was again out in the market I bought two live white hens, young and
plump, and assigned one of my relief-bearers to carry carefully the basket
in which the old market-woman ensconced them, after I had paid her well
for her basket as well as her hens.
Then I had my men carry me down the straight empty street along the
southwest flank of the Circus Maximus. Half way along it I halted them
before the Temple of Mercury. This I entered and, bidding one of the
attendants lead me to the priest in charge at that hour, I requested him
to offer for me the two white hens and beseech for me the favor of the
Outside I reentered my litter and made my bearers trot all the way round
by the big and little Coelian Hills to the Querquetulan Gate. We passed on
this route many cheap shops. From one I bought a pair of horseman's high
boots, soft and supple and mud-proof. All the way I enjoyed hugely my
outing and the sights and sounds around me. From another shop one of my
reliefs brought me an umbrella hat which fitted me and a voluminous
horseman's raincloak which could not but protect anybody; at another I had
bought for me a wallet; at another flint and steel in a good horn case,
compact and neat.
Outside the Querquetulan Gate, which my bearers reached blown and
sweating, although the reliefs had changed at short intervals, we had no
difficulty in locating Plosurnia's tavern. The holder of the bay horse
with the blue and silver trappings recognized my pass-words and
surrendered his charge to one of my extra bearers. At the tavern another
lined my wallet with bread, sausages, olives, dried figs and cheese, while
I was changing into horseman's kit.
I put into the wallet my money, more than enough cash for my journey home,
and Vedia's letter. I then mounted, gave my boys their orders and set off
at an easy canter. I knew I must show no signs of haste until I was on the
Highroad, so I took my time about working round to it. Once on the _Via
Tiburtina_, where horsemen at a tearing gallop, going in either direction,
were too common a sight to cause any remarks, I let out my mettlesome
mount and covered the remainder of the twenty-four miles to Tibur not long
Between the bridge over the Anio and Tibur are a number of hilltops, from
each of which one has a fine view of Rome, if the weather is clear and
bright. The weather was very bright and clear and the views very fine. At
each hilltop I checked my mount, wheeled him and remained so for sometime,
contemplating the magnificence I might never see again, the glory upon
which my gaze, most likely, would never again feast. I should have felt my
eyes fill with tears at each of these prospects, the viewing of which was,
each time, in the nature of a last farewell. Yet, somehow, most
irrationally, I felt anything but dejected, rather hopeful and full of
conjectures about my future, instead of being filled with forebodings of
doom, with sorrow for my hard fate.
At Tibur I put up at a clean little inn I had known of since boyhood, but
which I had never before entered or even seen, so that I felt safe there
and reasonably sure to pass as a traveller of no rank whatever. My
knowledge of country ways, too, enabled me to behave like a landed
proprietor of small means.
After a hearty lunch I pushed boldly on up the Valerian Highway and
covered the twenty-two miles between Tibur and Carseoli without visibly
tiring my mount. He was no more winded nor lathered than any traveller's
horse should be at the end of a day on the road. At Carseoli I again knew
of a clean, quiet inn, and there I dined and slept.
Thence I intended to follow the rough country roads along the Tolenus.
Stream-side roads are always bad, so I allowed two days more in which to
reach home, and I could hardly have done it quicker. The night after I
left Carseoli I camped by a tributary of the Tolenus in a very pretty
little grove. From Carseoli on the weather was fine.
About the third hour of the day, on the fifth day before the Kalends of
September, of a fair, bright morning, I came to my own estate. On the road
nearing it I had met no one. I met no one along the woodland tracks
leading into my property from that side: on my estate I met no one save
just as I was about to enter my villa. Then I encountered Ofatulenus,
bailiff of the Villa Farm. He, of course, was amazed to see me. I bade him
mention to no one, not even to his wife, that I had returned home.
"Be secret!" I enjoined.
I believed he would be dumb. Give me a Sabine to keep a secret; I'd back
any Sabine against any other sort of human being.
Ofatulenus took my horse and swore that no one outside of the stable
should know it was there or suspect it. I told him to lock the trappings
in the third locker in my harness-room, which locker I knew should be