Part 5 out of 12
cut up the goat. The offal we fed to Hylactor, not much at a time. Most of
the rest of her we ate, a little at a time, as the frost kept the meat
The kidneys Agathemer used first. He washed them, soaked them, parboiled
them, cut them into bits, fried the bits in olive oil, and then, when they
were crisp, stirred some of them through one of his crocks of cooked
barley. The result was delicious. The kidneys sufficed for two or three
crocks of barley. Then he did something similar with the liver with a
result almost as appetizing.
We had some chops, broiled over the hot coals; also collops, spitted, with
bits of fat bacon between. But neither of us cared much for goat's meat,
and Agathemer's attempt at a broth made of the tougher meat was not a
success. It had a repulsive smell and a more repulsive taste, though it
seemed nourishing. He made only one pot of broth. After that we fed the
coarser parts, little by little, to Hylactor.
This loss of one goat led Agathemer to do some thinking. There was a
pretty large supply of hay, but not enough to keep in good milk all
through the winter, until grass grew next spring, two cows, eight ewes and
twenty goats. We talked the matter over. The ram and the he-goat were
manifestly of choice breeding stock, probably carefully selected and
cherished. We judged their owner would be angry if he did not find them on
his return. So Agathemer considered which of the ewes gave the least milk
and promised least as a breeder, and, after all the goat's meat was used
up, we killed her. Sheep's-kidneys and sheep's-liver are better eating
than goat's-kidneys and goat's-liver. We both agreed on that and we liked
mutton chops and mutton cutlets. Hylactor got only the offal and the
coarser bits, the rest Agathemer made into a relishable broth flavored
with marjoram, bay-leaves and other herbs.
During the winter he killed six more goats and one more ewe, so that we
fed, all winter, six ewes and twelve goats. For these the hay sufficed and
not a little was left when we departed.
For ourselves, while we wasted nothing, we were lavish with the food
stores. The bitter cold and our unremitting toil all day long, at a
thousand other tasks and always at preparing fire-wood, contributed to
keep us ravenous. We ate heartily twice a day, never taking anything
between meals except all the milk we chose to drink, and I found ewes'
milk and goats' milk, yet warm, or milked that morning, good to drink in
cold weather. Often we mixed hot water with the goats' milk and drank the
mixture while warm.
One intensely cold and brilliantly clear day, as I was riving a log,
panting and glowing with the labor, yet with fingers numb and feet aching
with the cold, I heard a yell from Agathemer. Axe in hand, my left hand
making sure that my knife was loose in its sheath, where I wore it stuck
in my belt, I raced to the store-house. There I found Agathemer alone,
unhurt, standing by an olive-jar, staring into it.
"What is wrong?" I queried.
"Nothing wrong," he said, "but something amazing."
He fumbled in the jar, reaching his arm down into it as far as he could,
his arm-pit tight down on the rim. After some straining he held up his
hand, all dripping with dregs, and, between his thumb and forefinger,
exhibited an unmistakable gold coin. How many there were in that jar we
never knew; there were too many to count. We turned the jar over on its
side, with some labor, and made sure that there were enough gold coins in
it to weigh more than either I or Agathemer weighed and we were about
normal-sized men, in every way.
We discussed this find a good deal. We agreed that the coins were of no
use to us and could be of no use to us. As we meant to pass ourselves off
for Sabine cattle-buyers until we were out of Umbria, as we meant to press
on to Aquileia, as soon as the weather was warm enough, as we meant to
pass ourselves off for runaway slaves, if we were arrested and questioned
gold coins in our possession would have been most dangerous to us. We
agitated the idea of sewing a few into the hems of our tunics and into the
ends of our belts; but we came to the conclusion that any attempt to
exchange a gold coin for silver would be very dangerous and much too risky
We also agreed that if the master of the place returned he must not
suspect that we knew of his hoard. So we replaced the jar as it had stood,
effaced all signs of its having been moved and refilled it with olives,
taking them from another jar, which proved to contain olives only, all the
way to the bottom.
This find led Agathemer to investigate every jar on the place, running a
long rod of tough wood down into each as a sounder. In another jar of
olives he found a similar hoard of silver denarii. Of these we took as
many as were necessary to replenish the store of coins Chryseros had
furnished us with. Even of silver we dared not carry too much. The hoard
was so large that the handful of coins we took was unlikely ever to be
The little girls, early in our stay, became entirely accustomed to us and
utterly trustful of us. In the chests Agathemer found other tunics, warmer
than those they had on when we came, which were suited to them. But there
were no cloaks small enough for them to wear. With our precious scissors
Agathemer cut in two the smallest warm cloak he could find and, with the
needles and thread Chryseros had given us, he roughly hemmed the cut edge.
The two awkwardly-shaped cloaks, thus made, the children wore till spring.
We could find no shoes for the children and they went barelegged and
barefooted all the winter. They did not seem to mind it, except on the
most bitterly cold days, when the wind howled about the hut, roaring
through the pines and naked-boughed oaks, blowing before it the snow in
silver dust. Then they kept inside the hut all day. But, on sunny and
windless days, they ran about barefoot in the snow and seemed entirely
indifferent to the cold, though they always appeared glad to dry and warm
their little pink toes at the fire, after they returned to the hut.
Agathemer, more knowing than I, would not let them approach the fire until
they had bathed their feet in a crock of water he kept standing ready
inside the hut door and had partially dried them afterwards. He said that
otherwise their feet would puff and swell and perhaps inflame. They seemed
happy-hearted little beings and Secunda was bright. But Prima was very
dull and less intelligent than her younger sister. We concluded that she
was, while not anything like an idiot, certainly a very backward child,
lacking the wit of a normal child of her age.
After the first snow fell we had no more trouble with violent outbreaks
from the sick woman; or, at least, very little. Her next fit of raving
came about ten days after the first snowfall and began in the daytime,
when both Agathemer and I were in the hut. We forced her back into her bed
and then Agathemer had an inspiration. He bade me hold her where she was
and he took down his flageolet, from where it hung on a high peg on the
partition, and began to play it.
The woman quieted at once and seemed to sink to sleep. After that her
fits, which recurred at frequent intervals, took up little of our time, as
upon each we had only to get her back into her bed and compose her by
means of Agathemer's music.
It was well along towards spring, certainly far towards the end of the
winter, when Agathemer made his most astonishing discovery. By that time
the animals gave no more milk than sufficed for the five of us; there was
no surplus to feed back to the best milkers. Also we had a little reserve
of firewood and did not have to drive ourselves so unremittingly to escape
death by freezing if our fuel gave out.
I was chopping wood in a leisurely way, and enjoying the exercise. The
little girls were inside the hut at the moment, after playing about most
of the morning. Agathemer came out of the store-house, glanced around, and
beckoned to me: together we went inside. There he showed me where he, led
by a very slight difference of color, had dug into the earth floor and
come upon a small maple-wood chest, like a temple treasure-box. It was,
outside, perhaps a foot wide and about as high, and not over a foot and a
half long. He had forced it open with the hatchet and a heavy knife, like
a Spartan wood-knife. The wood of the chest was so thick that the inside
cavity was comparatively small. But it was big enough to have held, say,
two quarts of wine. And it was almost full of jewels; opals, turquoises,
topazes, amethysts, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
Agathemer shut the store-house door and fastened it so the little girls
could not open it if they should chance to try. Then he spread his cloak
on the earth floor and dumped the contents of the chest on it. Most of the
gems were small, at least two score were very large, and there were many,
of notable, though moderate, size. We could see them fairly well, though
the store-house was dim, since, with the door shut, the only light was
what came through chinks. We ran our fingers through the heap of jewels,
picked up the largest and held them to the light and gained a general idea
of the value of the hoard. We put them all back into the chest, shut it,
and reburied it. It showed no marks of Agathemer's dexterous attempts at
opening it, for the lid was held down only by a clasp outside, and by the
swelling of the inside flange of wood against the overlapping rim of the
We went out to the woodpile and I resumed my chopping, while Agathemer set
to riving logs with the wedges and maul. We had always kept the little
girls away from the woodpile and so were sure of being alone. Also we
talked Greek as an extra precaution.
Agathemer, resting between assaults on a very big log, said:
"I am of the same opinion I have held since we found the gold. This place
belongs to some Umbrian farmer who is in partnership with a bandit chief
or the leader of a gang of footpads. Just as the King of the Highwaymen is
said to have a brother in Rome, important among the Imperial spies, so
most outlaws have some anchor somewhere with associates apparently honest
and respectable. The owner of this place may be brother of a brigand, or
related to one in some other way or merely a trusted friend. At any rate I
am of the opinion that this fastness is used as a repository for robbers'
loot. Everything points to it. The gems and the coins make it certain, to
my thinking, but even if we had found none of these it is pretty plain
from everything else. There is no sign that there ever was a pig anywhere
about here: yet the store of fine old bacon surpasses anything any mere
farm ever kept on hand; there is not a square yard of ground hereabouts
that ever has been plowed, spaded or hoed: yet the place is crammed with
all sorts of farm produce. Manifestly it was all brought here, where there
are no pigeons to reveal the place by their flight above it, nor any cock
to call attention to it by his crowing. This is not a farm, it is a
treasure-house, lavishly provided with everything portable.
"The absence of the man and the flight of the slaves puzzles me. As for
the slaves, I can form no conjecture. But I am inclined to think it
possible that the man was betrayed somehow to the authorities and is in
prison or has been executed. We must assume, however, that he is alive and
will return and must comport ourselves accordingly.
"Now I tell you what I mean to do. In such a hoard of gems a few of medium
size could never be missed, even if missed, their abstraction could never
be proved. I'm going to select the best of the medium-sized emeralds,
topazes, rubies and sapphires; enough to fill the leather amulet-bags
Chryseros gave us. All slaves wear amulet-bags, if they can get them; ours
are old, worn and soiled and will make unsurpassable hiding places for as
many gems as they will hold. I'll take out the amulets and sew them into
the hems of our tunics, at the corners. I'll fill the bags as full of gems
as is possible without making them look unusually plump. Then, if we reach
Aquileia, we shall have a source of cash enough to last us years; for I
can sell the jewels one at a time at high prices."
"Are you sure that the stones are worth all that care?" I cavilled. "May
you not be mistaken as to their value or even as to their genuineness?"
"Not I," Agathemer bragged. "I am one of the foremost gem experts alive.
Your uncle, as you know, held it a wicked waste of money for a sickly
bachelor to buy gems; but he was a natural-born gem fancier. He knew every
famous jewel in Rome: every one of the Imperial regalia, every one ever
worn by anyone at any festival or entertainment, every one in every
fancier's collection of jewels. From him I learned all I know: I myself
possess the faculties to profit by my training. I know more of gems than
most, I tell you!"
I agreed, and, during the nest few days, he selected the stones he judged
most valuable, enough to fill the hollow of one of my hands and as much
for him, and sewed the two batches up in our emptied amulet-bags. The
amulets, which were two Egyptian scarabs and two Babylonian seals, very
crude in workmanship and of the meanest glazed pottery, he sewed into the
corners of our tunics.
Soon after this came the first thaw of the spring; a mild sunny day
cleared every bough of every tree of the last vestiges of clinging snow or
ice. Then we had two days of warm rain, sometimes a drizzle, sometimes a
downpour. Then, on the fourth day, the sky was clear again and the
As usual after my morning duties, I went in to take a look at our
insensible hostess. She lay, as she had mostly lain all winter, breathing
almost imperceptibly, her eyes closed. As I bent over her, her eyes
She sat up, wide-eyed, startled, the picture of amazement and it came over
me that she was no peasant woman, but a lady.
"Who are you?" she demanded, supporting herself on one elbow. "I do not
know you; what are you doing here?"
"I have been helping to nurse you," I said. "You have been ill a long time
and have needed much care. Lie down; you will hinder your recovery if you
exert yourself too soon."
She lay back, but propped herself up on her pillows, and in no weak voice
insisted on knowing who I was.
At that instant Agathemer entered. He, far more diplomatic than I, took
charge of the situation. The woman, instead of losing consciousness again
at once, as I expected, appeared possessed of much more strength than
anyone would have anticipated and asked searching questions.
Agathemer, tactfully but without any attempt at beating about the bush,
told her the whole truth, as to her illness, our finding her alone with
the two children, our care of her, and the length of our stay. He said
afterwards that he hoped the shock would cure her.
"Am I to understand you to say," she asked, "that I have been in this bed
since the middle of the autumn and that it is now almost spring?"
"Just that," said Agathemer simply.
"And that you two men have been, practically, in possession of this entire
place all that time?"
"That is true also," I said.
Agathemer and I looked at each other. We had used our one pair of scissors
mutually and our hair and beards were not shaggy or bushy. But we were a
rough, rather fierce-looking, pair.
"This," she said, "is terrible, terrible! Where are my daughters?"
"Playing about out in the sunshine," I said. "Plump and well-fed, and
healthy and cheerful."
"This," she repeated, "is terrible, terrible! May I not see them, may I
not speak to them, will you not bring them to me?"
"Indeed we will," I said and motioned to Agathemer. While he was gone the
woman and I regarded each other without speaking. When Agathemer returned
with the children I said:
"We will leave you to talk to your daughters alone. When you wish us to
return send one of the children for us."
The joy of the two at the sight of their mother, sensible and able to
recognize them, was pathetic. Sobbing and laughing, they flung themselves
on the bed and embraced her, kissing her and she kissing each.
We went out and set to chopping and riving wood.
Before very long Secunda came out and said her mother wanted to speak to
me. Leaving Agathemer plying his maul I went in.
The woman was now well propped up against a heap of pillows. She told the
children to run off and play till she sent for them. Then she motioned me
to seat myself on the chest. I did so.
She regarded me fixedly, as she had while Agathemer had gone for the
children. When she spoke she asked:
"What god do you worship?"
I was amazed at this unusual and unexpected question and hesitated a
moment before I answered:
"Mercury, chiefly. Of course, Jupiter and Juno; Dionysius, Apollo,
Minerva. But most of all Mercury."
"I had expected a very different answer," she said. "But, whatever god or
gods you worship, you are a good man and your servant is a good man. I am
amazed. My children were truthful till I fell ill. I am sure they could
not have changed in one winter. In any case Secunda's precocity and
Prima's vacuity seem equally incapable of any deception. What they tell me
is all but incredible, yet I believe it. You two men have acted to me and
mine as if you had been my blood kin. If you two had been my own brothers
you could have done no more for us. I shall always be grateful. What are
Agathemer and I had agreed to use the names Sabinus Felix and Bruttius
Asper. These names, common enough in Sabinum, we, in fact, had given at
the farms where Agathemer's flageolet-playing won us entertainment in the
autumn. I gave them now. I added:
"It seems best to me that you should not ask either whence we came or
whither we are bound."
"I understand," she said.
"And now," said I, "since you have our names, tell us how we should
address the mother of Prima and Secunda."
"My name," she said, "is Nona. [Footnote: Ninth.] My mother had a larger
family than I am ever likely to be blest with."
Nona recovered with marvellous rapidity. The weather continued fair and
warm, with no strong winds, only steady, gentle breezes. This aided her,
as it dried out the hut. She slept well at night, she said, and heavily in
the afternoons. When awake she ate heartily and was almost alert. She
questioned me again and again as to the condition in which we had found
the place. I told her the exact truth, except as to finding the hoards of
coins and jewels, to the smallest detail. I also told her of our
stewardship and of our having killed and eaten a brace of ewes and eight
goats. She approved.
I asked her about the children's tale of the slaves running away.
"I should have trusted any one of the seven," she said. "I believed that
any one of them would have been faithful. I suppose almost all slaves are
alike, after all. Hermes died about midsummer. He was the oldest of them
and the best. I suppose that, in past winters, he had kept the others to
their duty. But then, I was never ill before. Without Hermes to lead them,
without me to order them, I suppose what they did was natural."
I told her of the great cold and abundant snow of the winter. She
questioned me and said:
"Evidently you have had more cold and snow in one winter than I have had
On the third day after her revival she was able to get out of bed and,
leaning heavily on me, to reach the door of the hut. There she sat basking
in the sun, Secunda on one side of her, Prima on the other, Hylactor at
Hylactor had proved himself a perfect watchdog that winter. We had never
allowed him to sleep in the hut, as he would have done if permitted, and
as he tried to do at first. Agathemer had fashioned him a tiny shelter and
into it he crawled nightly. Out of it, also, he dashed, if any sound or
scent roused him. Tracks of wolves were frequent in the snow out in the
forest, and not a few approached our clearing. But we lost not one sheep
or goat to any wolf. Hylactor frightened off most and killed three, a
medium-sized female and two full-grown young males, at the acme of their
fighting powers. We rated Hylactor a paragon among dogs.
The warm weather held on, though unseasonable so early in the year. Nona
recovered so rapidly that she was able to visit each of the outbuildings.
Just when she was well enough to walk alone and firmly came a sharp spell
of cold, as unseasonable as had been the heat. It began about noon, one
clear day, with a high wind. By sunset everything was frozen.
"You two have had more than your share of sleeping on the earth floor by
the fire. My bed will hold me and my girls, for a few nights. You two take
their bed. It will be cold on the floor tonight."
That night, therefore, Agathemer and I enjoyed a sound night's sleep in a
deep, soft bed. It was our first night in a Gallic bed, and we liked it.
Since our crawl through the drain we had slept abed but four times, at
farms in the Umbrian mountains. This was best of all. And we had a
succession of nights of it, for the cold held on and, even when it abated,
Nona insisted on our continuing to sleep so.
During the cold she mixed a batch of bread, and Agathemer baked it. She
had praised his cookery, especially his savory messes of steamed barley,
flavored with cheese, raisins and what not. But when the cold snap came
after the thaws she suggested that we grind some wheat and she make bread.
We acceded with alacrity. The bread tasted unbelievably good.
As soon as the weather was again warm it was plain that spring was coming
in earnest. Nona stood out of doors after sunset, went out again after
dark, staring up at the sky.
Next morning, while the children were at play, she said to me:
"Felix, you and Asper must leave this place at once and be on your way. My
husband will return soon. He may return any day now. He is a terrible man.
He will come with too many men for you to resist and he will not ask any
questions until after he has killed you both. I know him. If I could be
sure of telling him before he saw you what manner of men you are and how
deeply I am in your debt he would repay you lavishly, for he is liberal
and generous. But, being what he is, if he finds you here, you will be
dead before I can explain. You must go. Prepare to set off at dawn
I told Agathemer and he agreed with me that we had best do as Nona said.
She was, as she averred, well enough to care for herself and the children.
But we lingered next day. By dusk she was frantic, begging, imploring us
to depart at dawn. I feared a recurrence of her illness and gave her my
We set off, actually, not at dawn, but about an hour after sunrise, the
broad brims of our travelling hats flapping in the wind, our cloaks close
about us, our wallets slung over our shoulders, our staffs in our hands.
At the hut door Nona, Prima and Secunda bade us farewell, Nona thanking
and blessing us. Hylactor was for following us: we had to order him back,
for he paid more attention to us than to Nona.
With a last backward glance at the edge of the clearing we plunged into
the forest by the track leading northward.
We had not gone a hundred paces when I thought I heard a scream and
stopped. Agathemer declared he had heard nothing. But, listening, we did
hear twigs snapping and Hylactor bounded into sight. He did not fawn on
us, but seized my cloak in his teeth and tugged, growling and snarling.
"That dog," said Agathemer, "is asking for help. He knows what is too much
for him to fight."
We threw off our shoes, wallets and cloaks, tucked up our tunics and,
staffs in one hand and sheathless knives in the other, barefoot, raced
back along the track after the guiding dog.
From that entrance of the clearing the outbuildings hid the hut from us.
When our rush brought us in sight of the hut door we were not six paces
from it and just in time to see Hylactor spring on and bear to the earth a
man who stood before it. Leaving him to Hylactor we dashed inside, urged
by indubitable shrieks.
In the dim interior we made out each child struggling with a man and Nona
with two. Before they could turn our knives had slaughtered the children's
assailants. One of the survivors Agathemer cracked over the head with his
staff. I stabbed the other. Whereupon Agathemer cut the throat of the man
he had downed, and dashing outside, finished the man Hylactor was
worrying. Quicker than it takes to tell it the five were dead.
Nona had fainted, as we rescued her. But Agathemer revived her with a dash
of cold water in her face and some strong wine poured between her lips. We
laid her on her bed and told the children to watch her. Then we dragged
out the corpses, laid them in a row and considered them. All five were
pattern ruffians; black-haired, burly, brutal and fierce. We had had
amazing luck to dispose of them so easily. Five lucky flukes, Agathemer
called it, and we without a scratch.
One by one we picked them up and carried them off, down the slope, to a
soft bit of soil among some beeches. There we laid them in a row. On them
we found a few silver coins, five daggers, five knives, five amulet-bags,
nothing else. Their tunics and cloaks were old and of poor material.
Back to the hut we went and found Nona revived and at the door.
"Begone!" she said. "Flee! Hasten! That man was my husband's bitterest
enemy. He was intent on revenge. But he could never have found this place
save by tracking my husband and conjecturing his destination. My husband
must have camped last night less than a day's journey from here. He will
be here today, he may be here any moment. Save yourselves. Begone!"
Agathemer and I looked at each other.
"We shall not set off," I said, "until we have buried the five corpses.
I'm not going to be haunted on my way and perhaps for life by any such
spooks as the ghosts of those five ruffians. We shall make sure that they
are safely buried."
Agathemer agreed with me and we set about the task. During the winter we
had found mattocks, pickaxes, hoes, spades and shovels hid in the most
unlikely places, each by itself, and had hafted them; with these we dug a
big pit and in it laid the five corpses, and buried them too deep for any
wolf, badger or other creature to be at all likely to smell them and dig
them out or dig down to them.
When the men were buried it was past noon. We went back to the hut, drank
a second draught of the strongest and sweetest wine and drank it unmixed,
as we had drunk our first before we set about carrying the corpses into
the forest. Nona renewed her adjurations to begone.
But neither I nor Agathemer would listen to her. I said I was far too
tired to travel until after a night's sleep and that after having saved
her and her daughters, it was no more than fair that she should stand
watch over us while we slept all the afternoon: she could easily watch at
the hut door and explain matters to her terrible husband if he came and
were as terrible as she averred.
We retrieved our wallets, cloaks and shoes, threw them down in a corner of
the hut, ate some bread with plenty of milk to wash it down, and went to
sleep in the children's bed, as we had slept the night before. We woke
before sunset, did what was needful about the place, ate a hearty dinner
of bread, bacon, olives, raisins and wine and at once went to bed for the
night. After dark Nona ceased adjuring us to begone; she said that, if her
husband came, she would hear him at the hut door and make him aware of the
facts in time to prevent any trouble. We slept till sunrise. Then Nona
declared that she and the children could milk the animals. We agreed with
her, for they had little milk by then. We ate a hearty breakfast and set
That day we met no one and made a long march north-westwards along the
flank of the mountain, camping at dusk by a spring. There we rehearsed our
rescue of Nona and marvelled at the ease with which we had disposed of
five burly ruffians. Agathemer agreed with me that it had been mostly the
effect of complete surprise. But he took a good deal of the credit to
himself. He reminded me how he had practiced me, ever since we began our
flight, at the art of fighting with knives, at knife attack in general. In
particular he had drilled me, as well as he could without a corpse or
dummy to practice on, at the favorite stroke of professional murderers,
the stab under the left shoulder-blade, the point of the knife or dagger
directed a little upward so as to reach the heart. By this stroke I had
killed both my victims, and he one of his. I acknowledged his claims, but
was inclined to thank the gods for special aid and favor. We discussed
that amazingly lucky fight until too sleepy to talk any more.
Next day we met some charcoal burners, who were both friendly and
unsuspicious and who gave us intelligible directions for making our way
towards Sarsina. The second night we again camped in the woods; the third
we spent at a farmhouse, thanks to Agathemer's flageolet.
The farmer, whose name was Caesus, told a grewsome tale of the horrors of
the plague and of the death of almost all his slaves. He was gloomy about
his future, as he, his two sons, and their surviving slave were too few to
work his farm. He seemed to regard us as fugitives from justice and as men
whom it was his duty to help and protect. As the season was too early for
comfortable travelling along byways or for safety from suspicion along
highways, and as he welcomed us, we spent a month with him, well fed, well
lodged and rather enjoying the hard farm work and the outdoor life, though
we spent also much time under-cover, working at what could be done under
shelter during heavy rains.
After he had come to feel at ease with us, our host, one day when we three
were alone, asked:
"Are you some of the King of the Highwaymen's men?"
On our disclaiming any connection with the King of the Highwaymen, or any
knowledge of such a character, he sighed and said:
"Oh, well! Of course, if you were, you would deny it, anyhow. You may be
or you may not be. Anyhow, if you are, tell him I treated you well and
shall always do my best for any man I take for one of his men.
"You don't look like his kind nor act like any I ever was sure of, but he
has all sorts. I thought it best to make sure. It is best to stand well
with him. He passes somewhere near here every spring or early summer on
his way north and again in the autumn on his way south."
We left this bourne only on the solstice, the tenth day before the Kalends
of July, and trudged comfortably to Sarsina, where we put up at the inn,
frequented by foot-farers like us. So also at Caesena and Faventia. There
we agreed that we had had enough of the highway, as we might encounter
some Imperial spies of the regular secret service department, and not a
few of these spies might know me by sight in any disguise. So we struck
off due north through the almost level open country, intending to keep on
northward until we came to the Spina and to follow that to the Po. As
Agathemer said, if we could not find ferrymen by day we could steal a
skiff by night.
Not far north of Faventia, after an easy-going day's march under a mild
spring sky, we came, just before sunset, to a forest of considerable
extent. As we could not conjecture whether to turn east or west, we camped
at its edge and slept soundly, comfortable in our cloaks, for the night
was warm and still.
Next morning the weather was so charming that we were tempted to plunge
into the forest and cross it as nearly due north as we could guide
ourselves by the sun. Since we reached the edge of the forest we had seen
no human-being near enough for us to ask in which direction we had best
try to go round it. We plunged into it and in it we wasted the entire day.
The country is very flat between Faventia and the Spina. I do not believe
that in any part of that forest the surface of the soil was four yards
higher than in any other part. And it was marshy, all quagmires and
sloughs, with narrow, sinuous ribbons, as it were, of fairly dry land
between them. We were hopelessly involved among its morasses before we
realized our plight and, after we did realize it, we seemed to make little
progress. We agreed that it would be folly to try to regain our camp: we
held to our purpose and tried to advance northwards. But we doubled right
and left, had to retrace our steps often and could form no idea how far we
There was an astonishing abundance of game in that forest: hares
everywhere; does with fawns, young does, and not a few stags; wild boars,
which fled, grunting, out of their wallows as we approached; foxes of
which we three times glimpsed one at a distance; and we came on
indubitable wolf tracks. We had plenty of food and ate some at noon, for
we were tired. Then we spent the day threading the mazes of that swampy
forest. We were careful not to get bogged and we kept our tunics and
cloaks dry, though we were mired to the knees. But our very care delayed
us. The day was breezy and mild but not really warm, so that we did not
suffer from the heat. But by nightfall we were exhausted and had no idea
how far we had advanced northward. Just at dusk we came to reasonably firm
going and walked due north about a furlong. There, as the twilight
deepened, we encountered another stretch of ooze. We retreated from it a
dozen paces and camped under some swamp-maples on comfortably dry ground.
We ate about half of our food, bread, olives, and dried figs; and while
eating dried and warmed our feet and shanks at a generous fire of fallen
boughs, which Agathemer, who was clever with flint and steel, had made
quickly. When our feet felt as if they really belonged to us, we wrapped
ourselves in our cloaks and slept soundly.
We slept, indeed, so soundly, that it was broad day when, we waked. And we
waked to hear the wood ringing with the barking and baying of dogs and
with the cries of hunters and beaters. Instantly we realized that we were
in danger. For a hunt of such size as was approaching us must have been
gotten up by a coterie of wealthy land-owners; and such magnates, if they
caught sight of us, would at once suspect us of being runaway slaves. It
had been easy enough to pass ourselves off for farmerly cattle-buyers in
the Umbrian Mountains. But, habited as we were, camped in the depths of a
thick, swampy forest, we were sure to be suspected of being runaway slaves
by anyone who encountered us; and such gentry as organize big hunts with
swarms of beaters are always prone to suspect any footfarers of being
We hastily girded ourselves for flight, meanwhile reminding each other of
the story we had planned to tell if caught.
At first we seemed to have luck. We turned westwards away from the beaters
and found and passed the upper end of the morass which had stopped us the
night before. From there the going was good, through open underbrush,
beneath big beeches and chestnuts, over firm and gently rolling ground.
Stopping and listening we tried to judge by the sounds the location of the
line of beaters. We seemed to have a chance of getting beyond its western
end. We set off again; just as we started on nine deer dashed past us, a
big stag, two young stags and six does.
Then we did run, for we knew it was our last chance and, indeed, but
little further, a young wolf raced down a ferny glade, vanishing into some
alders on the further side of the glade. I nearly trod on a fleeing hare.
The beaters could not be far off.
Yet, for a bit, we seemed to be gaining on them, although we were
quartering their front on a long slant. The third time we stopped to pant
and listen we thought that our next dash would carry us where we might
crouch in the first thicket and let their line sweep past us.
But, some fifty yards or so beyond, when we came to the dancing red
feathers on the cord and thought we would be safe in a few breaths, there
rose at us, from behind the feathered cord, three stocky men, armed with
broad-bladed hunting-spears, who yelled at us:
"Halt! Stand! Surrender!"
We recoiled from them, amazed, threw away our wallets, threw off our
cloaks, and bolted, incredulous; and as we ran, we heard them yelling:
"Here! Here! Here they are! We see them! This way, all of you! We've got
them! Here they are!"
No bogs, no sloughs turned us or delayed us. The going was good, over firm
footing, through light underwoods, among wide-set, big trees. For our
lives we ran. There seemed a very slender chance of our crossing the whole
length of the line of beaters and escaping on the other side, but that
slender chance seemed our only chance. We ran fit to burst our hearts.
And the hunt was plainly converging on us. The noises of the beaters drew
nearer. We seemed in a swarm of fleeing hares: more deer and more deer
passed us, this time, I thought, does with young fawns. We caught a
glimpse of another wolf, of two foxes. And, in a moist hollow, we barely
avoided a nasty rush of eight panic-stricken, grunting wild swine.
We did run across the entire line of beaters, but little good it did us.
Again we saw before us the feathered cord, the scarlet plumes dancing in
the sun. At it we ran, sure of safety if we passed it unseen and
penetrated even ten yards beyond it into the underbrush. But we were again
This time only two huntsmen rose at us, but they, too, flourished hunting
spears with gleaming points, as big as spades. They too yelled at us and
yelled to their fellows:
"Halt! You are caught! Hands up! Give yourselves up!"
"There they go! Both of them! Come on! Here they are!"
Off we went again, slanting back across the approaching line of dogs and
beaters, now closer together as they drew on towards the nets, and already
appallingly close to us. Again we crossed the whole line, now much
shorter. But this time we ran, not against part of the long stretch of
feathered cord, but against the outer yard-high net. Of course this was
well guarded and again we were yelled at and turned back.
Doubling back, now steaming, panting, gasping, with knees trembling under
us, we reached the net on the other side.
Turned again, we found the beaters so near us and so close together, that
we ran away from them rather than across their line. We ran, in fact, in
a sort of mob of hares, foxes, boars, deer and even wolves, for some of
each were in sight every moment.
So running we came where we could see the line of nets, now of six-foot,
heavy-meshed nets, on either side of us. We made a last, desperate dash at
one of the nets, I hoping to leap it or vault it or clamber over it and
escape, after all. But six keepers, all with broad-bladed hunting spears,
rose at us beyond it, rose with triumphant yells:
"We've got you now! We've got you now!"
From them we shied off and ran, half staggering with exhaustion and
despair, between the converging lines of nets, ran in a veritable press of
terrified game of all sorts, ran madly, since we heard now, not the
barking and whine of dogs straining at their leashes, but the exultant
yelping, barking and baying of great packs of dogs unleashed behind their
Of course, although no single dog, however infuriated, would ever attack
me in daylight, when it could see my face, yet I could do nothing whatever
to protect myself, and far less Agathemer, against the massed onset of
more than a hundred maddened hunting dogs, each bigger than a full-grown
So running, staggering, stumbling, at the end of our strength, we found
ourselves running into the battue-pocket at the meeting of the two long
converging lines of nets. Anything would be better than that. We tried to
double back and were met by a dozen big dogs, some Gallic dogs of the
breed of Tolosa, spotted black and white, others mouse-colored Molossians.
To escape them we dodged apart, each ran for a tree, each jumped, each
caught the lowest limb of a thick-foliaged maple, the two not much over
five yards apart. So thick were their leaves that I could hardly make out
Agathemer in his tree. The two maples were close to the beginning of the
pocket net. From my perch I could see plainly how cunningly the pocket had
It was of strong, close-meshed nets fully three yards high stretched on
sturdy forked stakes and well guyed back outside to pegs like tent-pegs.
These pocketing nets were set along the tops of the two banks of a gully
about twenty yards wide, sloping sharply downward from its top near our
trees and with sides three or four yards high and steep. Once in this
gully, between the pocketing nets along the upper edge of its sides, no
boar could scramble out, the lower meshes of the pocketing nets were too
fine for any hare to squeeze through; no doe, no stag even, could leap
such nets at the top of such banks.
I could just spy a part of the heaviest net across the gully at the end of
the pocket. It seemed a large meshed net of rope thicker than my knee,
with the large meshes filled in with smaller meshes of rope the size of my
Hardly was I safe in the crotch of my tree when the last of the game swept
by below us, the dogs hot behind them, up came the press of beaters, and,
from each side, in rushed the hunters, a score of handsome nobles and
gentry, habited in green tunics, wearing small, green, round-crowned,
narrow-brimmed hunting hats and green boots up to just below their knees.
Each carried a heavy shafted hunting spear, tipped with a huge triangular
gleaming head, pointed like a needle, edged like a razor, broad as a spade
at its flare.
Even in my terror and exhaustion I could not but feel a certain pleasure
in the beauty of the scene, a sort of thrill at its strangeness. I had
participated in such hunts in Bruttium and Sabinum, but never as hunted
The sun was not yet half way up the heavens, the dew had not yet dried
from the leaves, owing to the very late spring the freshness of springtime
had not yet passed into the fullness of early summer. Through the tender
green of the young leafage, starry with drops of moisture, the sunshine
shot long shafts of golden light. Under the beautiful canopy of blue sky
and golden green foliage was the amazing turmoil of the hunt.
More than a hundred large animals, pigs, fawns, sows, does, boars and
stags had fled before the beaters and were now jammed pellmell in the
gully, for the end-net held. There they frantically jostled each other and
the half dozen wolves caught among them which, indeed, snapped, slashed
and tore at everything within reach, but, cowed themselves, had no effect
whatever on the maddened victims which all but trod them under and
actually trampled on foxes and on the swarm of squeaking, helpless hares.
Upon this mass of terrified flesh the two hundred dogs flung themselves,
through the nets the huntsmen stabbed at the nearest victims, behind the
dogs the shouting hunters advanced to spear their game, the battue was on
and I watched it till the last animal was flat. The few which, frenzied,
doubled back through the dogs and hunters were met and killed by the
beaters. Not one escaped.
As the battue ended up came the rush of beaters and our trees were soon
surrounded by a crowd of eager, exultant, infuriated beaters and huntsmen.
Up the trees young beaters swarmed and we were plucked down, thumped,
whacked, punched, kicked and manacled, our tunics torn off, ourselves
mishandled till we streamed blood, all amid abuse, threats, epithets,
execrations and curses.
We stood, half fainting, utterly dazed, supported by the two or three
captors who held each of us, but for whose clutches we should have
collapsed on the earth.
We expected to be torn limb from limb, yet could not conjecture why we
were the objects of such infuriated animosity. A beater clutching either
elbow, a hand clutching my neck from behind, my knees knocking together,
naked, bruised, bloody, gasping, fainting, I, like Agathemer, was haled a
few paces to one corner of the pocket net. There we were held till the
gentlemen came up out of the gully.
Up they came, a score of handsome young fellows, mostly each with his hat
in his hand and mopping his forehead.
"Why!" the foremost of them cried. "These are not the men! These are not
the men at all! They are not in the least like them!"
"Not in the least like Lupercus and Rufinus, certainly," another added.
"What a pack of asses you are!" cried a third, "to mishandle two
strangers. Couldn't you look at them before you mauled them?"
"We all took them for Rufinus and Lupercus," the head huntsman rejoined.
"Certainly they are desperate characters and runaways. Look at their
They turned us round, to display the marks of scourging still plain on us
"They've both been branded," said a gentleman's voice.
"Pooh!" cried another, "that proves nothing. They may have been scourged
and branded by former masters, and manumitted since. I'll have no stranger
ill-treated on my land until he has had a chance to explain himself."
While he was speaking my guards turned me round again and took their hands
Our champion was a tall, powerful, plump and florid young man, with very
curly golden hair, very light blue eyes, and the merest trace of downy,
curly yellow beard. He was very handsome, with small delicate nose and
mouth, a round chin and the most beautiful ears I ever saw on any man. He
wore senators' boots and a tunic of pure silk, dyed a very brilliant green
and embroidered all over with a flowering vine in a darker, glossier
"What are your names?" asked the elder man who had noticed our brand-
marks. He was swarthy and probably over thirty.
I gave him the name of Felix and Agathemer that of Asper, as we had
agreed, neither of us thinking it advisable to claim to be free Romans by
prefixing, "Sabinus" and "Bruttius."
"Shut up, Marcus," our champion ordered, "can't you see that these poor
fellows are in no condition to answer any questions? We'll interrogate
them after they have bathed, eaten and slept."
"Here, Trogus," he called to one of the chief-huntsman's assistants, "take
charge of these two fellows. Treat them well; if they report any
incivility or omission on your part I'll make you regret it. When they are
bathed and fed, let them sleep all they want to.
"And, here, Umbro" (this to the head-huntsman), "see that their effects
are found and restored to them."
He turned to us.
"Did you have wallets?" he asked.
We nodded, too shaken to speak.
"Umbro," he said, "scour the wood. Have their shoes, their cloaks and
especially their wallets found and brought to me. And make sure that
nothing is taken from those wallets, that they are handed to their owners
as they were found. If they find anything missing, I'll make you and your
men smart. Be prompt! Be lively. Get those wallets and cloaks and shoes."
While he gave these orders, some beaters brought us our torn tunics;
which, even so, were better than no clothing at all. We put them on.
Then we were led off to the edge of a forest, bestowed in a light Gallic
gig, drawn by one tall roan mule only, and in it, the driver sitting at
our feet, sideways, on one shaft, his legs hanging down, we were driven
off through a beautiful gently rolling country, clothed with the
superabundant crops, vines and orchards of the lower Po Valley, all bathed
in brilliant spring sunshine, to a magnificent villa, most opulently
provided with white-walled, neat outbuildings, all roofed with red tiles.
In one of these, apparently the house of the farm-overseer, we were
bathed, clothed with fresh tunics, far better than our own, lavishly fed
and led to rest in tiny white-washed rooms, very plain, but clean and
airy, where we went to sleep on corded cots provided with very thin grass-
When we woke each found his wallet beside his cot, set on his neatly
folded cloak; with our old worn shoes, well cleaned, on the floor by the
Later we were led before our host and champion, who turned out to be
Tarrutenus Spinellus; in no wise, it seemed, affected, by the downfall of
his great kinsman. He questioned us and Agathemer told the story we had
agreed on: that we had been slaves of Numerius Vedius of Aquileia, who had
been kind to both of us and had made him overseer and me accountant of his
vegetable farms on the sandy islets offshore along the coast of the
Adriatic by Aquileia. There we had lived contentedly till we had been
captured by raiding Liburnian pirates from the Dalmatian islands. They had
sold us at Ancona, where we had been horribly mistreated by a cruel and
savage master, who had branded and scourged us for imaginary
From him we had run away, intent on making our way back to Aquileia and to
our rightful owner.
"This all sounds plausible," said Tarrutenus, "and I believe you, and it
falls out well. For my cousin, Cornelius Vindex, will leave tomorrow or
next day for Aquileia and you can travel in his company all the way."
We were well fed and lodged while at Villa Spinella. While there we
learned that Lupercus and Rufinus, the two escaped malefactors for whom we
had been mistaken by the huntsmen and beaters, had been runaway slaves,
long uncatchable and lurking in swamps and forests, who had lately, tried
to rob at night the store-house of a farmstead: and who, when the farmer
rushed out to defend his property, had murdered him and even thereafter,
in mere wantonness, had also murdered two of his slaves, his wife and a
young daughter. This horrible crime had roused the whole countryside to
hunt them down and the great battue in which we had been involved had been
organized at a time of the year most unusual and ruinous to the increase
of deer-herds, precisely in order to snare the outlaws along with the
game. They had not been caught and we had.
After two nights' good sleep, and a day's rest, with excellent and
abundant meals, we set off at dawn in Cornelius' convoy, our precious
amulet-bags untouched; our wallets just as we had flung them down in the
forest, not a coin missing; and we were clothed in new good tunics, our
bruises pretty well healed up or healing nicely, ourselves well content
with our escape, but meditating a second escape, this time from,
For we had no stomach for the road to Aquileia, if in such company that we
must present ourselves before Vedius as claiming to be slaves of his.
We escaped easily enough, just after crossing the Po, by sneaking off in
the darkness from a villa where Cornelius, stopped overnight with a
friend. Without any difficulty we recrossed the Po, not far below
Hostilia, and from there made for Parma.
For we agreed that, after our story to Tarrutenus, with Cornelius Vindex
in Aquileia, Aquileia would be no fit bourne for us. So we decided, after
all, to risk the highway from Parma to Dertona and from there make our way
across the Ligurian Mountains to Vada Sabatia and from there along the
highway to Marseilles, where we should be able to hide in the slums among
the mixture of all races in that lively city; and where Agathemer was sure
he could turn gems into cash without danger or suspicion.
All, went well with us till we reached Placentia. There we put up at an
inn. As we were leaving the town next morning, when we were about half way
from the inn to the Clastidian Gate, Agathemer gripped my arm and motioned
me up a side street. We walked with every indication of leisurely
indifference until we had taken several turns and were alone in a narrow
street. Then he told me that we had barely missed coming face to face with
This barely missed encounter with one of the most dreaded of the Emperor's
spies, a man who knew me perfectly and who had always disliked me, so
terrified both of us that we left Placentia by the Nuran Gate and made our
way southwestward into the Apennines.
Once in the mountains we avoided every good road we saw and kept to bad
byways, until we were completely lost.
The late spring or early summer weather was hot and clear. We had been
pressing on feverishly and were heated, tired and sleepy, when, while
following a faint track through dense woods, we took a wrong turn and soon
found that we had utterly lost our way. The sunlight was intensely
brilliant and the windless air sweltering. Stumbling over rocks and
through bushes was exhausting. We came upon a little spring and quenched
our thirst. Standing by it and staring about we noticed what looked like
an opening in an inconspicuous vine-clad cliff. It was, in fact, the
entrance to a spacious and, apparently, extensive cave.
The outer opening was about the size of an ordinary door. Though it was
well masked by beeches above and cornel bushes below, such was the
position of the sun and so intense was the flood of light it poured down
from the cloudless sky, that the inside of the cave, for some little
distance, was faintly discernible in the glimmer which penetrated there.
After our eyes had become accustomed to the darkness we could make out
fairly well the shape and proportions of the first considerable grotto.
From the outer opening a passage about a yard wide and two yards high
extended straight into the cliff for about four yards. There it bent
sharply to the right in an elbow. This offset extended three or four yards
and then bent to the left in a similar elbow, opening into a cavern more
than fifteen yards wide, twice as long or longer, and with a roof of dim
white pendants like alabaster, no part of which was less than five yards
from the conveniently level, rather damp floor, while some parts of it
The two elbows in the entrance passage made it impossible to see into this
cavern from anywhere out in the woods, and impossible to see out from
anywhere inside it. Yet, as I said, so brilliant was the sunlight and so
favorable the position, of the sun at the moment of our entrance that,
after the outer dazzle had faded from inside our eyes, we could make out
the form and size of this rocky hall.
To the right of the opening where the outer passage expanded, around a
jutting shoulder of rock, we found a recess about three yards across and
nearly as deep, in which we felt and smelt wood-ashes and charred, half-
burnt wood. We groped among the damp charcoal, convincing ourselves that
many good-sized fires had been made there, but none recently. We stood
back and regarded this recess, which was so placed that no gleam from any
fire, however large, kindled in it, could ever show outside the cave.
Investigating the recess yet again Agathemer looked up and pointed. Above
me, I saw sky. The recess was a natural fire-place with a natural chimney
from it, opening at a considerable height above.
To the right of the fire-place recess, round another smaller shoulder of
rock, was a perfectly vertical wall of smooth stone terminating just above
our reach at an opening three yards wide or more. The top of the wall of
rock at the bottom of the opening was almost as straight as a door-sill.
At first we could descry in the walls of the cavern no other openings than
the entrance, the chimney and this opening above our reach, unless one
boosted the other up. From under it we went all round the cave past the
fire-place and the entrance. The floor was all damp or moist, no place fit
for us to lie down to sleep and we felt along the wall opposite the fire-
place, where the light was too dim to see at all. After feeling for some
yards we emerged or came round into a less dusky space, where we could see
to some extent and so on along the back wall of the cave opposite the
entrance, later groping along the wall, when the light failed.
Some forty to forty-five yards from the entrance, at the far end of this
extensive grotto, we came upon a passage, two or three yards wide and
about as high, leading further back into the bowels of the mountain. We
groped into it a few steps, but it sloped sharply downward and was wet, so
we retreated out of it, it being also pitch dark.
Returning along the other side of the cavern towards the fire-place we
came upon a narrow opening, less than a yard wide and not much over a yard
high. It led into a passage which sloped upwards and was free from
moisture. Agathemer was for exploring it. I remonstrated. He insisted.
After some expostulation I bade him stand at the opening, which was out of
sight of the gleam of daylight at the entrance, being behind a big
shoulder of rock further in than the fire-place. While he stood as I told
him I went out towards the middle of the cavern floor till I could see the
fireplace, though very dimly, and the entrance, quite clearly, by the
mellow glow at it from the outer sunshine reflected along the walls of the
twice bent entrance-passage.
When I had reached a position from which I could certainly see the
entrance and from which, as Agathemer told me, I could be seen by him, I
told him I would stay there while he explored the little passage into the
side of the cavern. I adjured him to be cautious and not venture himself
recklessly in the pitch dark. He declared he could feel his way safely
some distance and be sure of returning. Then he crawled into the narrow
Before I had waited long enough to grow impatient, I heard him call:
"Why, I can see you!"
The voice came not from the direction of the opening into which he had
crawled, but from near the fire-place.
"Where are you?" I called back.
"Over here," said he, "come towards me."
Advancing towards the voice and peering into the dimness, where the light
dispersed from the entrance made the darkness of the cavern just a little
less dark than blackness, I saw him standing on the sill, as it were, of
the opening up in the wall, beyond the fire-place as one approached from
the entrance, and above the vertical wall of rock.
He had found a passage just big enough to crawl through leading from the
aperture up to this species of gallery-alcove. The passage curved and was
not much over twenty yards long. He pulled me up to the gallery and we
crawled back together out of the aperture by which he had entered the
passage. The whole passage was dry, unlike the floor of the cave.
"I tell you what we ought to do," said Agathemer, "let us go outside and
gather armfuls of small leafy boughs and twigs. These we can throw up into
that gallery-opening and make a fine bed there where it is dry. Then we
can get a good safe sleep, and we need a long sound sleep."
We did as he suggested till we had leaves enough for a good bed. Then we
ate, sparingly, for we had not much food in our wallets. After eating we
wrapped ourselves in our cloaks and went to sleep; Agathemer with his
wallet beside him and his head on his arm, I with my wallet under my head.
I wakened with a hand over my mouth and with Agathemer's voice in my ear
"Keep still! Lie still! Don't move or speak! Lie still!"
He spoke in a tense whisper, so low that I could hardly understand him
with his mouth against my ear, so full of terror that the tone of it
startled me wide awake.
My first impression was of a glaring orange light on the roof of the
cavern and a diffused reflection of it or from it on the roof of our
"Keep your head down!" Agathemer whispered. "If you turn over, turn over
I did turn over, very slowly, a muscle at a time and with great
precautions to avoid rustling the leaves or twigs of the bed on which we
As soon as I turned over I perceived that a good, big fire must be burning
on the fire-place and that the light on the cavern roof was the direct
glare from that, while the subdued glow on the roof of our alcove was the
light reflected from the farther wall of the cavern or from its roof.
As our alcove was separated from the fire by a jutting pillar of rock, no
direct light from the fire fell on its opening; it and we were well in the
shadow. So shadowed we could hunch ourselves forward as far as we dared
and peer down into the cave.
Its floor was littered with wallets, blankets, staffs and other foot-
farers' gear. About it sat groups of men, every one with a sheath-knife or
dagger in his belt. I counted forty and there were more out of sight round
the shoulder of rock between our alcove and the fire-place.
We smelt flesh roasting or boiling. The squatting groups seemed busy with
preparations for a meal.
The men, except one lad like a shepherd, did not look Italian. Some struck
me as Spanish, others as Gallic, one or two as runaway slaves of mongrel
ancestry. Nearly all of them had the unmistakable carriage and bearing of
soldiers, even specifically of soldiers of out-of-the-way garrisons, in
the mountains or on frontiers. Yet their behavior was tin-soldierly. I
judged them discharged campaigners with an admixture of deserters and
outlaws. They all had travellers' umbrella hats, and all had thrown them
off; their cloaks were coarse and rough, many torn, but none patched,
their tunics similar; their boots of Gallic fashion, coming up nearly to
the knee, like Sicilian hunting-boots. They were all black-haired and
shock-headed, all swarthy, and most of them of medium height and solidly
built. They did not talk loud and they all talked at once, so that we made
out little of what was said and nothing informing.
I could not but remark that, although the weather was exceedingly hot and
the fire seemed large, it made no difference whatever in the feeling of
the very slightly damp, gratefully cool and evenly mild air of the cavern.
Presently the food was ready and was distributed: goat's-flesh, roasted or
broiled, some sort of coarse bread or quickly-made cakes, wine aplenty,
olives and figs. While they ate most of them sat in groups; some stood by
twos or threes; a few stood singly. From their looks, attitudes, the
direction in which they faced and other indications, we inferred that
their chief was seated to the right of the fire, between it and us, with
his back to the pillar of rock and just out of sight of us around it. Some
appeared to be standing in a half-circle before him, listening to him, or
conversing with him. A few of the men ate alone, sitting, standing or
One of these, munching a while as he strolled back and forth, came and
took his stand behind and outside of the respectful half circle, standing
facing the fire. When he finished eating and his face quieted as he stood
there silent, gazing at something out of our sight, all at once,
simultaneously, I gripped Agathemer and he gripped me. The fellow was
Caulonius Pelops, two years before secretary to the overseer of my uncle's
estate near Consentia in Bruttium. He had run away not long before my
I stared at him, revolving in my mind the difference of the attitude of
mind towards runaway slaves of a former master who catches sight of a
runaway from his estates and of the same being while pretending himself to
be a runaway. I could have laughed out loud at the contrast between the
feelings towards Pelops which I felt surge up in me and the feelings I
hoped for towards me, say in Tarrutenus Spinellus.
Pelops, of course, knew me perfectly, knew Agathemer as well, would
recognize either of us at sight. Therefore, if we were now discovered, we
saw lost all that we had thought to gain and thought we had gained by our
crawl through the drain pipe and the other features of our escape up to
now. If Pelops set eyes on me, he, at least, would know that I was yet
alive, he might tell all the band; if he told them, any one of them, even
if not he himself, might inform the authorities and put new life into the
search for me, if it had not been abandoned, or revive it if it had; put
every spy in Italy on the alert to catch me: or even betray me to the
And Pelops had always disliked me and had always envied and hated
Agathemer. We were keyed up with anxiety.
Just as we recognized Pelops a tall, red-headed, sandy lout, with a long
neck and a prominent gullet-knot, came forward into sight from the
direction of the entrance, apparently from beyond the fire. He put up his
right hand and called, slowly and clearly:
"Eating time is over: Now we hold council!"
The men speedily assembled in curving rows facing the fire and sat or
stood as they pleased, all facing where we inferred that their leader sat,
to the right of the fire-place out of our sight round the bulge of the
shoulder of rock.
Between them and the fire, just far enough from it for him to be visible
to us, a burly shock-headed, black-haired southern Gaul took his stand.
Then we clearly heard a voice, which we inferred must be the leader's, a
voice distinct and far-carrying, but a voice amazingly soft, mild and
"Council is called. Let all other men be silent. Caburus is to speak."
The burly Gaul began blusteringly, with a strong southern Gallic accent
like a Tolosan:
"It is no use, Maternus, trying to bamboozle us with your everlasting
serenity. We decline to be fooled any longer. Somehow, by sorcery or
magic, you infused into us the greatest enthusiasm for your crazy project.
You've dragged us over the Alps and into these Apennines. On the way we've
talked matters over among ourselves. The nearer we get to Rome the crazier
our errand seems. We have made fools of ourselves under your leadership
long enough. We go no further.
"We admit that Commodus ought to be killed; we admit that, if he were
killed, it would be a good thing for all Gaul and for Spain and Britain,
too, and, we suppose, for Italy and all the provinces. We also admit that
it would be a fine thing for us if we could kill Commodus, avoid getting
killed or caught ourselves, and win the rewards we could properly hope for
from the next Emperor, and the glory we'd have at home as successful
"But, when free from the spell of your eloquence, we see no chance of
killing the Emperor and surviving to reap the reward of our prowess: none
of surviving: not even any of killing him. You say you have a perfect and
infallible plan which you will reveal when the time comes. You may have a
plan and it may be infallible and as certain of success as the sun is
certain of rising tomorrow and the day after. But we have followed you and
your secret plan long enough. We follow no further unless we know what
plan we are expected to take part in. We have all agreed to that and we
all stick to that."
And the assemblage chorused:
"We have all agreed to that and we all stick to that."
Now, from, where we peered down from our hiding-place Maternus was
entirely out of sight. We could not see what attitude he took nor what
expression his face wore. Yet, by the flickering light of the leaping
fire, which flooded the cavern with its ruddy glare, we could plainly see
the effect of his personality on the assemblage. Even as their shouts of
assent to what Caburus had said still rang through the cave I could see
them half fawning, half cringing towards their chief.
Yet his voice, when he spoke, was not harsh or domineering, but, while
perfectly audible, as bland and placid as a girl's.
"Please remember," he said, "that a plan such as I have conceived, while
it is, if carried out as designed, as certain of success as the swoop of
the hawk upon the hare, is certain of success only while it is not only
undreamed of by its object but totally unsuspected by anyone outside of
our band. The success of our project depends on no one having any inkling
of any such project, far less having an inkling of what kind of a project
"For your sakes and for your sakes only have I kept the details of my
plans locked in my own bosom. You are venturing your lives to help me to
the realization of my hopes of setting free the world. Your lives must not
be risked needlessly. Little will be the risk any of you will run in
carrying out my plans, so ingeniously are they conceived. But that
smallness of risk can be attained only if the nature of the project is
unknown to anyone save myself up to the latest possible moment before
putting it into effect. Every day, every hour, which elapses between the
giving of my instructions and their execution increases the danger of our
betrayal. We must have guides, we must, occasionally, induct into our
society new associates. Not one of these can be a danger to us as long as
the methods by which we are to effect our purpose is unknown except to me.
I propose no loitering in Rome. I mean to arrive at the right spot at the
right hour, at the hour of opportunity, to strike and to vanish before
anyone save ourselves knows that the blow has been struck. Only thus can
we succeed, only thus can we escape. Upon my silence our success depends.
Once I speak, every day, every hour makes it more likely that someone will
betray to some outsider the nature of our plot or even its details. Then
we shall certainly fail and perish."
Thereupon ensued a long wrangle in which Caburus repeated that Maternus
had said all that before and Maternus repeated the same argument in other
words and brought up other similar arguments. The crowd, while swayed by
Maternus, appeared to lean more and more to the opinions of Caburus. It
became manifest that they would break away and disperse unless Maternus
revealed his intentions. He was, apparently, quick to sense the situation
and finally yielded.
"I have three separate plans," he said, "and I mean to prepare to use all
three, so that, if the first fails the second may succeed; if both the
first and second fail I may hope to succeed with the third.
"I mean to reach Rome two days before the Festival of Cybele and for all
of us to get a sound night's sleep. Then, on the eve of the great day,
most of you may wander about the city sight-seeing; Caburus and I and a
few with us will buy or hire costumes for the Festival.
"As we have all heard, the wildest license in costumes is permitted on the
day of the celebration. Everybody dresses up as extravagantly as possible.
More than that it is so customary for jokers to dress up in burlesque of
notables that such assumptions of the costumes of officials are merely
laughed at and the wearers of them are never arrested or even reprimanded.
"Caburus and I will buy at old-clothing shops or hire from costumers cast
off uniforms of the privates of the Praetorian Guard. Two squads of us,
all volunteers and approved as boldest, strongest and quickest, will dress
up as Praetorians. One will be led by Caburus and I myself shall lead the
"Caburus and his men will mingle with the crowd along the line of the
morning procession. The procession is so long, its route is so jammed with
sight-seeing rabble, the rabble is permitted so close to the line of the
procession, so many wonders and marvels form part of the procession, there
is so much interest in gazing at them, that it is possible that Caburus
may see a chance to achieve our object. I shall leave it to him whether to
give whatever signal he may agree on with his men, or to withhold it. If
he sees an opportunity, that will mean that, in his judgment, there is a
good chance of killing the tyrant and getting away unrecognized. You know
how cautious Caburus is: you will run no risk if he does not give the
signal and little if he does.
"Now, Caburus, what do you think of this plan?"
Not being able to watch Maternus making his speech, I, while straining my
ears to catch his softly uttered words, had kept my eyes on Caburus, had
marvelled to see the dogged spirit of opposition and surly disaffection
fade out of his expression, to see interest and excitement take their
"I think," he shouted, "that you are a marvel! I don't wonder that you
wanted to conceal this plan till the last possible moment. It is so good
that I already want to tell it to somebody, just to see his amazement. But
we'll keep your secret! And as to your plan, I'll risk it. No Gaul with a
drop of sporting blood in his veins would hesitate to embrace the
opportunity to try to carry out so ingenious, so promising a plan.
"And you don't need a second plan or third plan. This plan, under my
leadership, is certain to succeed."
At this a scrawny, tow-headed, long-armed, long-legged fellow sprang to
"I don't agree with that at all," he vociferated.
"Just because the first plan pleases Caburus is no reason why we should
not hear the other two plans also."
This utterance started a long discussion, from which Agathemer and I
learned nothing except that there was much insubordination among the men
following Maternus and that the scrawny objector was named Torix.
The upshot of the discussion was a general agreement that Maternus ought
to disclose all three plans.
Maternus then resumed:
"The second plan is already known to Cossedo and it need not be known to
anyone else, as he alone is concerned and he, if Caburus decides not to
make his attempt, will attempt his alone, without any assistance from
anyone and without endangering anyone else; in fact without endangering
himself. I myself thought of this plan, which is so ingenious that, if it
succeeds, no one will ever know how Commodus came to his death; it if
fails no one will ever suspect that it was tried at all.
"You have all been wondering how Cossedo came to be with us. Many of you
have jeered him; many of you have protested to me. But I know what I am
doing. Cossedo can do other things besides walk the tight-rope, juggle
five balls at once, and stand on his head on the back of a galloping
horse. He is just the right man to carry out my idea, which neither I nor
any other of us could put into effect. As Cossedo approves the plan; as he
is to try it alone, no one else need know it."
"Just so," cried the red-headed lout who had heralded the council, coming
forward into the fire-light. "I can try it and I may do it. If I do it,
Commodus will be a corpse. If I fail, no one will know I have tried. And
it is a jewel of a plan."
And he stood on his hands, feet waggling in the air, apparently from mere
exuberance of spirits. Standing up again, he threw three flip-flops
forward, then two backward, then turned a half a dozen cart wheels, during
which gyrations he passed out of our field of view.
Torix sulkily agreed that the second plan remain unknown except to
Maternus and Cossedo, the assemblage not supporting him when he pressed
for its disclosure. But he was insistent about the third plan.
"The third plan," said Maternus, "is merely the first plan over again,
except that I lead instead of Caburus and that we try after dark instead
of by day. From all I can hear the opportunity will be even better by
torchlight in the gardens about the temple than it will be by day in the
jammed streets. I mean to be as cautious as I expect Caburus to be: there
is no use making an attempt unless a really promising chance presents
itself. If I see an opening I'll kill the monster myself, and I do not
expect to need any help from anybody, except a little jostling in the
crowd to increase the confusion. As rigged up in Praetorian uniforms we
will be laughed at and indulged. Either in the noonday swelter or in the
torchlit darkness it ought to be easy to pass from aping, mimicking and
burlesquing Praetorians to personating and counterfeiting Praetorians.
Once mistaken for real guards we ought to be able to get close to
Commodus. Then in the torchlight it should be easy for me to finish him
and for you others to escape. I shall not think of escape until the deed
is done. Then I'll escape, if I can, but I shall let no thought of escape
interfere with my doing what I purpose."
This speech was acclaimed by everyone except Torix. He said:
"All this is most ingenious. But there is in this plan one flaw which no
one has noted. I suppose that you, Maternus, evolved this really promising
idea from pondering on what Claudius told us. All the hearsay about Rome
and its festivals which ever came to the ears of all of us put together is
as nothing at all compared with what Claudius told us in two months.
Claudius had lived in Rome, Claudius knew every alley in Rome. With
Claudius to pilot us we might have hoped to succeed. But Claudius is dead,
dead somewhere in the Alps, where he is no use to us. He had seen the
Emperor, he knew him by sight. Not one of us does. And, as Claudius told
us, at the Festival of Cybele, as at several other religious festivals,
the Emperor does not wear his official robes, so that anyone may recognize
him, but appears in the garb of a priest of the deity celebrated, as High
Priest or Assistant High Priest, or as a dignitary of some other degree,
the rank in the hierarchy varying with the deity worshipped.
"Now not one of us, who have never set eyes on him, can tell Commodus, in
the garb of a priest of Cybele, from any other priest of Cybele. We have
no reasonable assurance of recognizing the mark at which we aim. Thus we
have only a small chance of success, by sunlight or torchlight."
This utterance started another wrangle; the men, apparently, about equally
divided as backers of Maternus and of Torix. As I lay listening to this
hubbub someone stepped on the calf of my leg, his foot slipped off of it,
and he fell on top of me, with a smothered exclamation.
"Who are you?" he demanded, adding some words which I did not catch. It
seemed that another man was occupied similarly with Agathemer. The man
who had fallen on me, in the act of scrambling up, yelled out:
"Here are two men lying and listening and they do not seem to belong to
us. They do not respond to the pass-word."
At that every voice stilled and every face turned to our alcove-balcony
where our captors, now four, gripped us and had lifted us to our knees.
"Throw 'em down!" came a chorus of voices, "throw 'em down!"
Down we were thrown, none too tenderly, but we landed without breaking any
Two men clutched each of us and haled us towards the fire. There we had
our first glimpse of Maternus, who sat on a pack, his back against the
rock, not too close to the fire, the light of which played on his left
He looked plump and lazy.
"Strip them," he commanded.
As he was being obeyed somebody did something to the fire which increased
the light it gave.
"Turn them round," Maternus commanded. "Humph," he commented, "by their
faces they are a Roman gentleman and his Greek secretary; by their backs
they are fugitive slaves with bad records."
"They are both branded," added Torix, who had been inspecting us.
"Where?" queried Maternus. "I don't see any brand marks."
"On the left shoulder, each of them," Torix replied.
"Humph!" Maternus commented, "rascally slaves and indulgent master, or
canny owner of valuable, if restive, property."
Just as he said this there was a yell at our left and Caulonius Pelops
rushed in from somewhere beyond the firelight, probably from outside the
"Here's the solution of our dilemma," he cried. "We are all right now.
We've two men who know Commodus by sight. This is Andivius Hedulio, my
former master's nephew, and the other is his secretary, Agathemer."
"What, in the name of Mithras," Maternus breathed, "is your master's
nephew doing in a cave in the Apennines, with his back all scourge-marks
and a runaway-slave brand on his shoulder?"
Then ensued a long series of questions and answers, in the course of which
Agathemer and I pretty well told our story.
Maternus asked the assemblage whether they believed us and the consensus
was that they believed us and Pelops, who reminded them that Claudius had
read to them lists of those involved in conspiracies, who had been
executed or banished and their properties confiscated; that my name had
been among those he read; and that he, Pelops, had then told about me; all
of which most of them did not recollect at all, and the few who claimed to
recollect it recollected only vaguely.
Maternus, in his mild way, suggested that we would make valuable additions
to their association. Torix opposed the idea, but Maternus pointed out
that no one of them had as much to gain by the Emperor's death as I had:
that after it I might hope to be restored to my rank and wealth, and that,
after my miseries, I ought to hate Commodus more viciously than any of
them. The assemblage approved, and, while throat-cutting was not
mentioned, as that was the obvious alternative, Agathemer and I took oath
as brothers in the confraternity.
Upon this we were released and our wallets, cloaks, hats and staffs, which
had been deposited before Maternus, were restored to us. But Maternus
informed us that no member of the band was allowed any money of his own.
We must give up to him any coins we had.
Agathemer spread his cloak, spread mine on it, and upon it I emptied my
wallet, that all might see its contents. I was allowed to retain
everything, except the denarii. Agathemer did the like, with the like
result. But at the sight of his flageolet there were exclamations and
questions. He kept it out when he repacked his belongings, only giving the
coins to Maternus. After we had fed he played tunes on it, to the delight
of the whole band. It seemed to me they would never let him stop playing
that flageolet and I was desperately drowsy.
At last all were for sleep. Maternus decreed that Agathemer and I might
climb up again on the dry shelf where we had been found. Neither he nor
any of the band seemed to object to, or indeed to notice, the dampness of
the cave floor.
Agathemer and I slept at once. Our precious amulet-bags, of course, had
not been investigated, or so much as suspected, and were safe on our neck-
Thus most strangely, and through no fault of mine, I found myself a full
fledged formally sworn member of a conspiracy against the life of
Maternus, whether from innate considerateness or because it happened to
coincide with his plans, let us have our sleep out and wake naturally. We
woke hungry and fed with the whole band, totalling forty-nine with
ourselves, according to my count and to the statement of Pelops. He was
most absurdly, but naturally, more than a little shy and bashful at
finding himself in a position of complete equality with me. As we ate he
narrated his reasons for running away and how he had escaped to Clampetia,
from there on a fishing-boat to Sarcapus in Sardinia, and from there on a
trading ship to Marseilles. There he had attached himself to a slave-
dealer and with him had travelled to Tolosa and Narbo, where he had gotten
into trouble and had fled to the mountains. There he had joined some
outlaws, who had joined Maternus.
The fellows who had found me and Agathemer told cheerfully how the
shepherd lad, their local guide, who knew nothing of them except that they
were accepted associates of some local mountain brigands, had been showing
them the inner passages of the cave, into which Agathemer and I had not
ventured, and, on their return, had proposed to lead them up the side-
passage to the outlook-opening. There they had trodden on us and so
After eating we set out on our way southwards to Rome.
On the march, inevitably, I became acquainted with Maternus and marvelled
at that most amazing man. I had heard of him, of course, for his exploits
as mutineer, outlaw, insurgent and rebel had made him notorious, not only
in Spain and Gaul, but in Italy, even among the circles of society amid
which I moved by inheritance. His reputation for strength, vigor, valor,
resolution, ruthlessness, ferocity and cunning had made me picture him as
different as possible from what he really was.
He was neither tall nor burly and nothing about him gave any hint of the
great strength for which he was reputed and which, on occasion, I have
seen him exert. Only one man of the band was shorter than Maternus and no
other looked so much the reverse of hard and tough.
Maternus, in fact, looked soft. His very outline was plump, his feet and
hands small, his toes and fingers delicate. He was not a handsome man, but
he was by no means ill-looking and in some respects was almost boyish, or
even girlish. He had glossy, straight brown hair, soft brown eyes, a
complexion almost infantile in its rosy freshness, and all his features
were small, his ears close to his head, his mouth even tiny, his nose
likewise: and withal, Maternus was habitually mild, serene of expression,
slow and soft of speech, and deliberate in all his movements. I never
heard him raise his voice or speak or act hurriedly or urgently.
Of course, I had been dumbfounded to find him in Italy and in the
Apennines when everybody supposed him a hunted fugitive, hiding in the
Pyrenees or the Cevennes; or even, perhaps, in the wilds of North Spain.
Still more was I amazed at the boldness of a man who could conceive such
plans for assassinating the Prince of our Republic and could feel serenely
confident of being able to execute them.
He was perfectly open with me. He had been a worshipper and adorer of
Aurelius. If Aurelius had lived to a reasonable old age, he averred, the
Republic would have been firmly established, the Empire solidified, the
administration purified and the frontiers defended. Everything that had
happened in the past five years he blamed on Commodus. It was the
indifference of Commodus which had ruined the administration of the army,
so that incompetent, dishonest, and tyrannical under-officers drove young
patriots like himself into mutiny, outlawry and their consequences. Had
Commodus been a capable ruler he and his fellow malcontents would have
been listened to, placated and sent off, aflame with patriotic enthusiasm
and bent on redeeming their past records, to hurl back from the hardest-
pressed part of our frontiers the most dangerous foes of the Republic.
Upon Commodus he blamed his mutiny, all the atrocities he had committed in
the course of his insurrections, and all the blood he had shed, as well as
all the towns he had sacked and burnt in the course of his raids; also on
Commodus he blamed the destruction of his army of insurgents.
He freely discussed with me his plans for assassinating Commodus. I could
not deny that they were brilliantly conceived.
Almost equally brilliant I thought his management of his expedition. From
where I joined it, near the crest of the Apennines, somewhere between the
head-waters of the Trebia and the Nura, we advanced on Rome as rapidly as
footfarers could travel. In the Ligurian Apennines, until we had crossed
the upper tributaries of the Tarus, the Macra and the Auser, and were
between Luna and Pistoria, we travelled all together, tramping all night
in single file after a guide and sleeping all day in well hidden camps.
Everywhere we were well fed. Nowhere did we lose our way or meet anyone
not forewarned and friendly. It was as if the highwaymen, brigands and
outlaws of the whole Empire had formed an association, so that any of them
could travel secretly anywhere by the help of those of the regions which
they crossed. We advanced as if swift and reliable runners had preceded
us, advised of our approach the outlaws of each district and they had
prepared to entertain us and to forward us on our way.
From somewhere between Pistoria and Luca we broke up into small parties of
three to seven, and travelled by day like ordinary wayfarers. Somewhere
not far south of the Arnus we reassembled, evidently by prearrangement and
as accurately as a well-managed military-expedition. Through the
mountains past Arretium we marched at night as in the Apennines. Again
somewhere to the west of Clusium, before we reached the Pallia, we again
dispersed. We struck the Clodian Highway about halfway between Clusium and
the Pallia. From there we proceeded like ordinary footfarers.
Both between Pistoria and Arretium, along the byroads, and from the Pallia
to Rome, on the Clodian Highway, I was in the party headed by Maternus
himself, a party of five besides us two. When we dispersed near Luca I had
noted that Torix, Pelops and Cossedo with two more made a party; and that
Caburus took Agathemer with him.
As Maternus had been open with me about his past and his plans so he was
perfectly frank about his attitude towards me.
"I assume," he said, "that you are delighted at the opportunity which
chance and I have given you to assist in revenging yourself on Commodus. I
similarly assume that you and Agathemer would keep any oath taken by you.
But prudence compels a leader like me to take no chances. I must, as a
wary guardian of my associates, take all possible precautions. You will
We did understand. We were watched as if he assumed that we were on the
alert for a chance of escape, as we were. On night marches a leathern
thong was knotted about my waist and the ends knotted similarly about the
waists of the man before me and the man behind me. Agathemer was made
secure in a like fashion. When he lay down to sleep, after he had composed
himself to rest, a blanket was spread over him and a burly ruffian lay
down on either side of him, the edges of the blanket under them. I slept
similarly guarded. On day marches Caburus kept Agathemer close to him; I
was never out of sight of Maternus.
Somewhere in the Etrurian hills north of Arretium I overheard part of a
conversation between Maternus and Caburus. They were talking of me and
"You cannot be sure," said Maternus. "By every rule of reason Hedulio
ought to hate Commodus consumedly. But loyalty is so inbred in senators
and men of equestrian rank, in all the Roman nobility, that he may have a
soft place in his heart for him, after all. Instead of doing his best to
help us kill him he might try to shield him, at a pinch."
"Just what I have been thinking," said Caburus. "I am half in doubt about
this enterprise, even now. Agathemer may after all, try to fool me and to
shield Commodus, by pointing out some other man to me, at the crucial
"If you suspect him of anything of the kind," said Maternus gently, "just
drive your dirk good and far into him and be done with him. I'll be on the
lookout for any hanky-panky from Hedulio. If I see the wrong look in his
eye or the wrong expression on his face I'll make a quick end of him. I'll
tolerate no treachery after oath given and oath taken."
It may easily be imagined how nervous and uncomfortable I felt after
hearing this mild, soft-voiced utterance.
My anxiety was accentuated within an hour. Just as I, like the other
members of the band, was composing myself to sleep, I heard high words,
raised voices, threats, an oath and a yell. With the rest I rushed towards
the sounds. There, with the rest, I saw Caulonius Pelops in the agonies of
death, a dagger in his heart. One of our Spanish associates had
momentarily lost his temper.
Maternus, calm and unruffled, mildly inquired the causes of the quarrel,
affirmed his belief in the Spaniard's account, absolved him of all blame
and ordered Pelops buried. Then, as if nothing happened, we all composed
ourselves to sleep.
I did not sleep much. Evidently, stabbing on small provocation was taken
as a matter of course among my present comrades.
At Vulsinii we had a sound sleep at an inn and a bountiful meal at dawn.
We needed both before dark, for Maternus marched us the entire twenty-
eight miles to Forum Cassii by sunset. I was in as hard condition as any
of his band and I stood the long tramp well. Next day we paused for barely
an hour, near noon, at Sutrium, and made the twenty-three miles to
Baccanae easily. The third day we even more easily made the twenty-one
from Baccanae to Rome. Rome, naturally, I approached with emotion. I had
gazed back on it from the road to Tibur, certain that I should never again
behold it. And I was now about to enter it under most amazing
circumstances, as the associate of cutthroats and ruffians, as a sworn
member of a conspiracy to assassinate the Prince of the Republic, as the
prisoner of a ruthless outlaw, as a suspected associate of a chieftain who
might stab me at the slightest false action, motion, word, tone or look.
There is, I think, no view of Rome as one approaches it along the Via
Clodia or the Via Flaminia which is as fine as anyone of a score from
points on the Via Salaria and Via Tiburtina. But, on a clear, mild, mellow
summer afternoon I caught glorious glimpses of the city from the higher
points of the road as we neared it. The sight moved me to tears, tears
which I was careful to conceal. I could not but note the fulfillment of
the prophecy made by the Aemilian Sibyl. I could not but hope that I might
survive to see Rome under happier circumstances.
Amid manifold dangers as I was, I was not gloomy. We entered the city by
the Flaminian Gate, of course, and, in the waning light, walked boldly the
whole length of the Via Lata, diagonally across from the Forum of Trajan,
under his Triumphal Arch, through the Forum of Augustus, and across, the
Forum of Nerva past the Temple of Minerva and so to the Subura. All the
way from the City Gate to the slum district I marvelled at Maternus: he
never asked his way, took every turn correctly; and, amid the splendors of
Trajan's Forum, behaved like a frequenter, habituated to such
magnificence. Equally did he seem at home amid such crowds as he could
never have mingled with. He comported himself so as to attract no remark.
As we passed the Temple of Minerva I sighed and remarked that I would give
anything short of life itself for a bath.
"You need not give that much; we can bathe for a _quadrans_, and, since
you mention it, we shall all be better for a bath."
"There is no reason why you and the rest should not bathe," I rejoined,
ruefully, "but with my back and shoulder a bath is no place for me."
"Pooh!" laughed Maternus, "you grew up in Rome and I never set foot in it
till today, yet you know no bath you dare enter, while I can lead you to a
bath-house where no one will heed or notice brand-marks or scourge-sears."
It was, in fact, close by and I had the first vapor bath I had enjoyed
since leaving Villa Spinella. After we left the bath Maternus bought three
cheap little terra-cotta lamps and a small supply of oil.
At the cheaper sort of cook-shop we ate a hearty meal, with plenty of very
bad wine. Then we went where, manifestly, arrangements had been made for
our lodging, in a seven-story rookery, such as I had never entered and had
hardly seen from outside. Its entrance was from the Subura and opened near
the middle of one of the long sides of the courtyard, the pavement of
which was very uneven from irregular sinking and its many shaped stones
much worn. Out in it, at almost equal distances from the ends, the sides
and each other, stood two circular curb-walls, each about a yard high; one
the well, whence was drawn all the water used by the inmates; the other
the sewer-opening, down which went all manner of refuge. The ascent to the
upper stories was by an open stone stair in one corner of the court. All
round the court was an open arcaded corridor, running behind the stair in
its corner. Above it were six similar arcaded galleries, one for each
upper floor. The rooms, judging from those into which I looked through
open doors, appeared all alike. Ours were floored, walled and roofed with
coarse cement, full of small broken stone, and not very smoothly finished.
The floors were worn smooth by long use. The only opening to each was the
door, over which was a latticed window reaching to the vaulted ceilings of
the gallery and room.
Our rooms were on the fourth floor. There were three rooms, each with
three canvas cots. Maternus left the six others to dispose themselves as
they pleased. He and I took the middle room. Quite as a matter of course
he bolted he door, drew his cot across it, and as soon as I had composed
myself to sleep, sat on his cot and blew out the little terra-cotta lamp.
Next morning he quite unaffectedly discussed with me what he was to do
"In Rome, anywhere in Rome," he said, "you are likely to be recognized any
moment. I took the risk yesterday evening; I had to, I never attempt
impossibilities or worry over manifest necessities. But I never run
unnecessary risks. The natural thing to do with you is to leave you in
this room all day with two of my lads to watch you. I do not want to
irritate you, but I see no other way."
"I'll agree to come back here and stay here quietly," I said, "if you will
let me go out first for a while with you or any man or men you choose. I
want to go to the Temple of Mercury and I want you to give me back enough
of my money to buy two white hens to offer to the god."
"You surprise me," he said. "I shouldn't have expected a man of your
origin to pay particular attention to gaining the favor of Mercury. He is
more in the line of men like me. I am first and always devoted to Mithras,
of course. But Mercury comes high up on my list. I've a mind to take the
risk, go with you and buy four hens, two for you and two for me."
Actually we went out together shortly after sunrise, down the Subura,
through Nerva's Forum, and diagonally across the Forum itself. There I
quaked, for fear of being recognized; and marvelled at the coolness of
Maternus. He feasted his eyes and mind on the gorgeousness about us, but
with such discretion that no one could have conjectured that he was a
foreigner, viewing Rome for the first time.
On down the Vicus Tuscus we went into the meat market, where he bought
four plump, young, white hens. As we started on with them, each of us
carrying two, he asked his first question.
"What building is that?" nodding.
"The Temple of Hercules," I told him.
"I thought so," he said, "they always build his circular. We'll stop in
there on our way back. I never miss a chance to ask his help."
Whereas, when I made my offering before my flight the previous year, the
street had been deserted, since I passed along it within an hour after
sunrise, now it was humming with unsavory life, the eating-stalls under
the vaults crowded, throngs about the Babylonian and Egyptian seers who
prophesied anyone's future for a copper, tawdry hussies leering before the
doors of their dens, unsavory louts chatting with some of them, idlers
everywhere. This festering cess-pool of humanity Maternus regarded with
disdain and contempt manifest to me, but carefully concealed behind a
When we came out of the Temple of Mercury, after making our offering,
"Walk very much at ease and as if your mind were as much as possible at
peace; two men opposite are watching us."
I assumed my most indifferent air and carefully avoided looking across the
street, except for one cautious glance from the lowest step of the Temple.
Then I glimpsed, leaning against a pier of the outer arcade of the Circus
Maximus, two men wrapped in dingy cloaks, for the morning had been cool.
After we were in the Temple of Hercules, Maternus asked:
"Did you recognize them?"
"One I had never seen," I replied. "The other I have seen before, but I do
not know who he is nor where I have seen him."
Not until after midnight that night did it suddenly pop into my head that
he was the same man whom I had first seen on horseback in the rain on the
crossroad above Vediamnum, the man whom Tanno had asserted was a
professional informer and accredited Imperial spy, the man who had glanced
into Nemestronia's garden and seen me with Egnatius Capito.
After we left the Temple of Hercules I expected him to conduct me back to
our lodgings for the day. He never suggested it, but kept me with him,
strolling about the central parts of the city as if he had nothing to
fear, walking all round the Colosseum and loitering through the Vicus
Cyprius, frankly amused at the sights we saw there.
He had no difficulty in finding shops of costumers: on the eve of the
Festival they displayed placards calling attention to their wares. The
first we entered had no Praetorian uniforms; but, as if the request for
them were a matter of course, its proprietor directed us to the shop of a
cousin of his who made a specialty of them. There I was amazed that such
laxity of law, or of enforcement of law, could possibly exist as would
permit such a trade. There was evidently a regular manufacture for this
festival of costumes simulating and travestying those of the Imperial Body
Guard. We were shown scores of them and the shop had them in a great pile.
The tunics were genuine tunics formerly worn by the actual Praetorian
Guards but discarded and sold as worn or faded. There were also many such
kilts and corselets and helmets. But as helmets, corselets and even kilts
wore out or lost their freshness more slowly than tunics, there were many
imitation kilts and corselets of sheepskin painted, and many cheap, light
helmets of willow-wood, covered with dogskin. But all these had genuine
plumes, as cast-off plumes were even more plentiful than second-hand
As there was a strict enforcement of the law forbidding the sale,
transport, storage or possession of the weapons of any part of the
military establishment the shields and swords which went with the costumes
were all imitations; flimsy, but astonishingly deceiving to the eye, even
at a short distance. The shields were of sheep-skin stretched over an
osier frame, but painted outside so as to present the appearance of the
genuine Praetorian shields. The baldricks and belts were also of sheep-
skin, the scabbards of willow-wood, and the blades of the wooden swords of
fig-wood, so as to be completely harmless.
When Maternus proposed to hire twenty-one of these suits the proprietor
took it as a customary transaction, inspected and counted twenty-one
costumes and stated the charge for hiring them until the day after the
Festival. But he also stated that he did not hire costumes except to his
regular customers; strangers must not only make a deposit but produce as
vouchers two Romans in good standing and well known. Seeing Maternus at a
stick he added, easily and at once, that he sold costumes to any purchaser
for cash, without question, and agreed to repurchase the same costumes
after the Festival at nine denarii for every ten of the sale price, if the
costumes were brought back in good condition; if damaged, he would even so
repurchase them, but only at their damaged value.
Maternus at once agreed to buy on those terms and, without haggling,
accepted the price asked and paid it in gold. He then arranged for porters
to carry the costumes where he wanted them. This also was taken as a
matter of course.
Followed by the porters we returned to our lodging. Maternus left two
porters, with their loads, in the courtyard and with the third porter we
climbed three flights of stairs. The porter bestowed his huge pack in my
cell and there Maternus left me in charge of three of the men, with orders
that two must watch me till he returned. The third was to be at my orders
to fetch any eatables or drinkables I wanted; to this man Maternus gave a
handful of carefully counted silver coins.
There I remained until next morning, sleeping all the time I could get to
sleep and stay asleep; trying not to fret when awake; and by no means
displeased with the food and wine brought me.
Maternus slept that night, as the night previous, with his cot across our
Next morning he said to me:
"I feel unusually reckless today. I've been thinking the matter over and
it seems to me that, on the day of the Festival, there will be thousands
of sightseers in dingy cloaks and umbrella hats. I am of the opinion that
you will run little risk on the streets anywhere in the poorer quarters of
the city. I'm going to take you out with me to see the fun. We'll keep far
away from where Caburus and Cossedo and their helpers are to take their
stands. We'll see the morning fun and then eat a hearty meal and sleep all
Out we sallied, I and one varlet in our travelling outfit, Maternus and
six more habited as imitation Praetorians. Two of the ruffians had a
pretty taste in drollery and amused the crowd with buffooneries. Strange
to say the crowds seemed to think that they travestied Praetorians to a
nicety whereas neither had ever set eyes on a Praetorian and their antics
were the product of mere innate whimsicality.
I found the procession really interesting, with its various wonders and
marvels. I had never been in Rome at the time of the Feast of Cybele,
which was, of all the Festivals of the Gods, peculiarly the poor man's
frolic. And I had always wondered how it was possible so to tame and train
two healthy full-grown male lions as to have them draw a chariot with
Demeter's statue through miles of crowded streets. After seeing them pass
I concluded that they were dazed by the glare, the crowds and the noise,
and too cowed to be dangerous.
At the license in the streets I was amazed. I saw a dozen men, each
attired as Prefect of the Palace; a score of loose women dressed in an
unmistakable imitation of the Empress, consuls by scores and similar
counterfeits of every honored official or acclaimed individual. In
particular, every corner had a laborious presentation of Murmex Lucro, the
most popular gladiator in Rome. Almost equally frequent were presentments
of Agilius Septentrio, the celebrated pantomimist; and of Palus, champion
And I saw, amid roars of laughter, jeers, cat-calls and plaudits, no less
than three different roisterers got up, cautiously and in inexpensive
stuffs, but recognizably, as caricatures of the Emperor himself; not, of
course, in his official robes, but in such garments as he wore in his
sporting hours. These audacious merrymakers were ignored by the police and
Not long after noon Maternus declared that he had had enough. We ate at a
decidedly good cook-shop, where we had excellent food and good medium
wine. When I waked near sunset Maternus reported that he had slept all the
afternoon: certainly I had.
He then explained to me that he was to make his attempt in the Gardens of
Lucius Verus, where Commodus had this year decreed the torchlight
procession. He was again entirely frank.
"Your part," he said, "will be merely to point out Commodus to me. If I
decide not to make any attempt on him I shall expect you to return here
with me and abide by whatever decision our association makes at its next
meeting: I cannot foresee whether they will vote to disband or to plan
another venture. If I make my attempt, and I think I shall, for,
apparently, both Caburus and Cossedo have blenched or failed, since no
rumors of any excitement have reached us, you will be free the moment you
see me stab Commodus. You must then look out for yourself and fend for
yourself: you and I are never to meet again unless by some unimaginable
series of miracles."