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Andivius Hedulio by Edward Lucas White

Part 8 out of 12

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other living creatures, were mild to me. I tended her hives, under her
supervision, for I knew nothing of bees; according to her directions I
captured several swarms for her. Also I, when the time came, removed combs
from such hives as she designated.

Spring was in its full glory and I felt the exhilaration of it. Each home-
coming was a delight. And I was much away, for the _Villicus_ had me
convoyed about the countryside to every estate which possessed an unbroken
colt or an intractable horse. I gentled successfully every one I
encountered.

After all the bad horses and raw colts for miles around had been tamed I
spent some days idling about my cottage and getting acquainted with it and
with Septima. But within not many days I grew restive. I told the
_Villicus_ I wanted something to do.

"Well," he said, "five steers have eluded one of my herd-gangs and no one
can find them. Question the men (he named them) so as to get the right
start, and try your luck."

I was off, trailing those five steers, for three days and two nights. By
sunset of the third day I had them back at the villa.

After that I was called on to hunt down and round up all stampeded cattle
and all strays, whether cattle, horses, goats, sheep or swine. I enjoyed
my lone outings and between them basked contentedly in the comfort of my
cottage and the amenity of Septima's cheeriness. During my stays at home I
thoroughly familiarized myself with the villa, its outbuildings and all
their inhabitants. Also I put a good deal of time on Selinus, whom I
transformed from an insane man-killer into one of the gentlest stallions I
ever heard of. I taught him all the niceties of obedience acclaimed in
perfect parade horses till he would stand, sidle, back, sidle diagonally,
curvet and execute all the show-steps promptly at the signalling touch or
sound. I tamed him till he would let anybody gentle him, till it was
perfectly safe for anyone to ride him. I even trusted Septima on him and
he justified my confidence in my training of him and in him. In fact, from
being a man-killer who had to be kept penned up in the dark, whom not even
the boldest horse-master dare approach, he became so gentle and so
trustworthy that he could be let run at large, mild to all human beings,
even to strangers.

He grew to love me like a pet dog, followed me about when I was not riding
him, and would come to me from far away to a call or gesticulation; and he
could see me and recognize me at such distances that I revised my notions
as to the powers of sight possessed by horses, for I had held the common
opinion that no horse can see clearly or definitely any object at all far
from him. Selinus repeatedly saw and recognized me a full half-mile away
and galloped to me, approaching with every demonstration of joy.

During my horse-wrangling expeditions and my excursions after wandering
stock I had grown well acquainted with the country-side and its
inhabitants. I was on terms of comradeship with all my fellow-slaves, of
easy sociability with the yeomanry; while I was treated by the overseers,
the _Villicus_, and inspectors with marked consideration. Thus I rapidly
learnt all there was to know of the idiosyncrasies of the locality, since
everybody seemed to trust me and no one held aloof or was reticent with
me.

I found conditions in the Umbrian mountains as amazing, as incredible as
in the _ergastulum_ at Nuceria. There the two vital facts were the
negligence and impotence of the warders and the secret system for cheating
and thwarting them. Here all the thoughts of slaves, peasants and yeomen
on the one hand, and of overseers, inspectors and landowners on the other,
pivoted on the existence in the district of a post of road-constabulary on
the lookout for bandits and of a camp of brigands owing allegiance to the
King of the Highwaymen.

The wealthy proprietors, the gentlemanly landowners, the inspectors of the
Estate, its _Villicus_ and his overseers all suspected the presence of the
bandits and were doing all they could to assist the road-constabulary to
locate them, pounce on them and capture them. Their efforts were
completely futile. Neither any of the constabulary nor any of the well-to-
do persons who sided with them, could ever get an inkling of the location
of the outlaws' various camps nor was any of them ever able to be really
sure that bandits were actually within a few miles. For the whole body of
yeomanry, peasants and slaves, even the slaves of those proprietors
keenest on the scent of the brigands and most eager to nab them, were
leagued to bamboozle, thwart and oppose their masters and betters, and to
aid the outlaws, to keep them posted on everything said and proposed by
the loyal inhabitants, and to assist them in outwitting the authorities,
the constabulary and all persons who sided with them. In this they were
notably successful.

It is my keen recollection of this condition of things which determines me
to omit from this part of my narrative all names of persons and places.
The generality of the population made a sort of religion out of their
complicity with the outlaws. They took an almost religious pride in
cooperating with them and in antagonizing their adversaries. They hated
all the adversaries of the outlaws, whether landowners, constabulary or
inspectors. But, above all, they loathed, abhorred, abominated and
detested with a white-hot animosity any yeoman, peasant or slave who
failed to do all in his power to foster the interests of the outlaws;
regarding such persons, male or female, as traitors to the cause of the
populace. Especially did they cherish an envenomed and malignant grudge
against anyone who actually sided with the constabulary, gave them
information or betrayed the outlaws: or even against anyone who helped or
shielded any such informer.

As I was the means of spoiling the long-prepared and much-hoped for coup
on which the robbers had set their highest hopes, as not a few men and
women assisted me with information, aided me in other ways and protected
me afterwards, I dare not name any names for fear that some survivor or
some son or grandson of some participant in these doings might learn
through me of long suspected but never verified treason to the unwritten
law of the country-side and might bloodily avenge it on a surviving helper
of mine or on any such helper's children or grandchildren. The Umbrian
mountaineers are spleenful, tenacious of a grudge and ferociously
acrimonious.

I learnt all these amazing facts without difficulty, for slaves, peasants
and yeoman alike assumed that I was of their party and was heart and soul
with the outlaws. I was not subject to suspicion because I visited the
post of the constabulary, became acquainted with every man of them, their
sergeants and their officers and frequented their company. All the
yeomen, peasants and slaves whose abodes were near the post, were, on the
surface, on the best of terms with the road-constables; pretended to help
them with information, retailing to them as rumors all sorts of inventions
calculated to throw them off the scent of the outlaws, always with an air
of the friendliest good-will; and loitered, idling about the post,
chatting of local gossip.

I was so entirely trusted that I was taken to the outlaws' camp and made
acquainted with the entire band. Paradoxically the members of the band
were all hulking burly ruffians of twenty-five to thirty-five years,
whereas their chief, while big and brawny enough, was inferior in size to
any of his subordinates and younger by six full years than the youngest of
them. To him I was boisterously presented as a brother, for his name also
was Felix. In fact, he was the man since famous as Felix Bulla, for long
the most redoubtable outlaw in Italy. Then he was hardly more than a lad,
for all his bulk and strength and ferocity. He had been appointed chief of
the band by the King of the Highwaymen in person, who held him in the
warmest regard for his ruthlessness, courage, skill, and cunning,
especially for his cunning, rating him, as I was told by all the band, and
having proclaimed him to them, as the most subtle and crafty outlaw alive
after himself.

Bulla, like everybody else, appeared to take to me and treated me as an
equal, after conversing with me for hours at a time. I was always a
welcome guest at any of the bandits' camps and they often made me show off
my admired powers on fox-cubs, badgers, weasels and other such wild
creatures which they or their peasant friends had trapped alive. My
ability to tame, handle, fondle and make tractable to anyone such animals
appeared a source of unflagging interest and unceasing entertainment to
these ruffians.

As I was allowed to dispose of my time as I chose, whenever I was not busy
rounding up strayed stock or taming raw colts, I had plenty of leisure to
ride about the country-side, make friends, get intimate with the
constabulary and the outlaws and idle many of my days as appeared most
pleasant. I took full advantage of my partial liberty.

The weather, from my arrival at the Imperial estate, was mostly fine and
often glorious. Spring came early and merged beautifully into summer. I
enjoyed myself hugely. Besides local peculiarities and the humors of the
tacit league to thwart the constabulary and foster the interests of the
outlaws, I derived much entertainment from the traffic on the Flaminian
Highway. Of course, there were Imperial couriers, travellers of all sorts,
and convoys of every kind of goods, long strings of wagons, carts or pack-
mules laden with wheat, other grains, wine, oil, flax, charcoal, firewood,
ingots of bronze, lead or iron, and countless other commodities on their
way to Rome; or convoys of clothing, hangings, furniture, utensils and the
like, going northwards from the City.

CHAPTER XXVI

THE OUTLAWS

From early spring, however, all this normal traffic was interfered with,
delayed, hindered and even totally blockaded by column after column of
wains and wagons passing southwards, huge wagons, drawn by six or eight or
even ten horses or mules or by as many big long-horned white oxen, every
wagon laden with a cage or two or more cages containing beasts being
conveyed to the Colosseum in Rome. This amazing procession roused my
interest as soon as it began to pass; filling, clogging, blocking the
highway and continuing without intermission day after day, ceasing its
movement, indeed, each night, but making the roadside almost a continuous
camp of teamsters and caretakers, barely half of them sleeping, the moiety
busy about their draft-cattle or the cages of their charges.

The endless stream of caravans amazed me. I had seen beast-fights without
number in the Colosseum, but had never thought of the enormous labor and
expense incident on the preparations for even one morning's exhibition of,
say, a hundred lions and other beasts in proportion. Now I meditated over
the thousands of trappers and other hunters who must scour the forests of
Dacia, Moesia, Thrace, Illyricum, Pannonia, Noricum, Rhaetia and Germany
to gather such a supply of beasts for exhibition. I saw wolves, bears and
boars by the thousand, and hundreds of lynxes, elk and wild bulls, both
the strange forest-bisons, unlike our cattle, with low rumps and high
shoulders and their horns turned downwards and forwards, parallel to each
other, and the huger and even fiercer bulls, much like farm bulls, but
larger, taller and leaner and with horns incredibly long, so that their
tips were often two yards and more apart. I had no idea of the vast
numbers of such beasts which were yearly poured into Rome from all the
mountains and forests to the north and east of the Alps. I was amazed.

Even more was I amazed to see hundreds upon hundreds of cages containing
beasts not from northern Europe, but from Africa, or even from Asia: lions
without number, panthers and leopards by the hundred, many tigers,
antelopes of all kinds by scores of each kind, rhinoceroses, and
hippopotami in enormous cages on gigantic wains drawn by twelve yoke of
oxen; even a dozen huge gray elephants pacing sedately, their turbaned
_mahouts_ rocking on their necks.

I knew that the traffic in beasts from the northern forests concentrated
at Aquileia and I had a hazy notion that they were customarily shipped
from there by sea round Italy and through the straits to the Tiber. My
curiosity was excited as to why they were now coming overland instead of
going by sea. Still more was I curious as to why these hordes of animals
from the south should be traversing Italy from the north.

I asked questions and could get no satisfaction from the natives of the
district: slaves, peasants, yeomen, proprietors, overseers, _Villicus_ and
all, they one and all knew nothing. If they claimed to know, what they
alleged merely emphasized their ignorance.

The constabulary knew, but were inclined to be reticent and, when they
spoke, were laconic. Yet their briefest utterances contained hints which
confirmed the only fact I had elicited from the natives: namely, that this
traffic was not only unusual along the Flaminian Highway, but had never
been seen on it before; was a complete novelty, even a portent. They also
confirmed my impression that few animals destined for beast-fights in the
amphitheatres reached Rome overland; as I had thought, practically all had
hitherto come by sea and up the Tiber.

Still curious, I made friends with the teamsters. Some were from Ravenna,
and even these grumbled at the two hundred and fifty miles as ruinous to
their cattle. The animals they convoyed had come overland from Aquileia to
Altinum and from there to Ravenna by sea. In this way had come the
crocodiles, hippopotami and rhinoceroses.

More teamsters were from Aquileia itself. Some of these with the lighter
wagons for the cages containing wolves, lynxes, small antelopes, hyenas
or African apes, had been able to take the shorter though poorer road by
way of Patavium and Ateste to Bononia, which made their total journey
under five hundred and twenty miles. But most, including all those
conveying bears, boars, panthers, leopards, lions or tigers, had come by
the more northerly road through Verona. Those with panthers, leopards or
small stags had come from Verona, by way of Hostilia to Bononia and from
there southward as did all, making their journey about five hundred and
fifty miles; the men conveying cages of tigers, lions, bears, boars, elk,
or wild bulls had mostly come from Verona through Cremona; from there some
through Regio to Bononia, others through Placentia; and for these their
total teaming did not differ much, about six hundred and twenty miles for
the ones and ten miles more for the others. Teams tugging wains carrying
the heaviest cages containing unusually large elk, boars, bears or bulls,
had had to go by way of Milan and had been put to it to keep their teams
fit for a journey of over seven hundred miles.

Besides the difference in weight of the loads, chiefly depending on the
needed strength of the cages, I found that their divergence of routes was
due, in part, to the efforts which the procurator of all this teaming had
made to avoid choking the roads. The teamsters averred that they knew
nothing as to why the beasts were being brought this way; and no more as
to why animals brought all the way from Africa to Aquileia, a voyage far
longer than the voyage to Rome, should then be conveyed overland from,
Aquileia to the Colosseum.

I enjoyed idling about the teamsters' camps chatting with them and the
attendants who cared for the beasts. One hot evening, just about sunset,
when I was already thinking of riding off home to bathe and dine, while I
was lingering to watch his keepers urging their little gang of slaves to
pour more and more water over a gasping hippopotamus, there was a yell of
alarm all along the line and a scampering, scattering rush of fleeing men;
teamsters, attendants and keepers. A panther had broken out of its cage,
when a wagon overset.

He came down the middle of the highway, keeping to it, as everyone ran off
it to right and left. I had strolled some distance from where I had
tethered my horse. Naturally, as I could not mount and dash off, I did not
run. I stepped into the middle of the road and faced the beast. Of course,
he stopped, stood still and stared at me. I walked towards him, very
deliberately, even pausing between paces, till I was an arm's length from
him. He cringed and cowered. I took him by the scruff of his neck, turned
him round, led him back to his cage, which was not broken, only jarred
open, made him enter it, and closed the door on him.

Thereupon the fugitives flocked back, acclaiming me as a sorcerer. The
superintendent of that caravan insisted on my giving him my name. I told
him I was Felix, the horse-wrangler of the Imperial estate. He gave me a
broad gold piece.

Unable to elicit anything from the natives or the teamsters I resorted to
the outlaws. I had been admonished before I saw any of them that it was
not according to the etiquette of the district for anyone to ride a horse
into the outlaws' camp. If anywhere near it one visited it on foot. If too
far one carefully avoided appearing to ride towards it or from it. When
the camp, for instance, happened to be south of my cottage I would ride
off north, east, or west, fetch a long compass about, tether my horse at
least half a mile from the camp, generally farther away, and stroll
towards it. On leaving I invariably departed by a path different from that
by which I had come. When I reached my horse I was careful similarly to
choose a return route which would bring me home some direction other than
that towards which I had gone off. Of course, I always observed these
precautions, since any neglect of them, if known, would have not only made
me unwelcome to the brigands, but also gotten me into disfavor with the
whole countryside.

When I reached the outlaws' camp I was careful to let them do most of the
talking and to wait for the talk to come round to the subject of the
beast-caravans. I had not long to wait, and, when I expressed my amazement
and curiosity, they showed no reluctance about informing me. Bulla himself
explained that Commodus had become so interested in beast-fighting, had
developed such transcendent skill at fighting beasts and had grown so
infatuated with the sport that he spent most of his time in the arena,
displaying his dexterity to invited audiences composed of senators,
nobles, notabilities and their wives and even children; in which
exhibitions he had killed so many creatures that he had not only depleted
but had almost exhausted the normal reserves constantly kept at Rome,
Ostia and the other Tiber ports. When the procurators in charge of the
supplies of beasts for the arena realized that the Emperor was killing his
victims faster than they normally were brought in, even lavishly as they
had always been provided, they sent out orders urging greatly increased
efforts at hunting, capturing, caring for and rapidly transporting all
sorts of creatures destined for the Colosseum. The Emperor's killing
capacity and love of enjoying and exhibiting his knack so outran their
measures that, by the time the increased supply began to come in, the
royal sportsman's unerrancy and swiftness outran their best results, so
that hasty messages had to be sent to Marseilles, Aquileia, Byzantium,
Antioch and Alexandria ordering the instant despatch to Rome, with the
utmost speed, regardless of expense, not only of all newly captured beasts
as they came in, in contravention of the long-established regulations by
which Rome and the provincial capitals shared each variety of animal, but
also the concurrent despatch of the local reserves, even the emptying of
the beast despositories attached to each amphitheatre. As the voyage from
Aquileia to Rome was of variable duration, owing to the uncertainty and
shiftiness of the winds, orders had been given to forward all its reserves
and supplies, at once, overland. Hence the spectacle which had so excited
the countryside and so amazed me. As Commodus was still slaughtering all
sorts of beasts daily not only with arrows and spears, to show off his
accuracy as a marksman but, even with sword or club, to display his
incredible swiftness of movement and unerrancy in directing and timing a
blow, he was taxing the capacities of his procurators and their gigantic
organization of transports, teams, detention-pens, and hunters merely to
stave off the apparently inevitable day when, whatever might run wild in
the deserts, forests and mountains, there would be, at Rome, far too few
beasts to maintain the autocrat's daily sport.

When I expressed my astonishment at the certainty with which these
explanations were uttered and my wonder as to how they came to be so sure,
Bulla said:

"Why, our King of the Highwaymen has reliable, capable and secret agents,
entirely unsuspected, in every city of Italy. He has a brother and sister
in Rome and equally devoted and unfailing helpers in Capua, Aquileia,
Milan, Brundisium and Naples. He maintains a road service of swift
couriers who bring him promptly all the information collected for him in
the cities, where his backers catch every breeze of rumor and are
forehanded in getting advance information on all important moves of the
authorities as well as in sifting truth from falsehood. Equally prompt are
his couriers in disseminating to subsidiary bands like mine whatever he
judges we should learn; thus we know more of goings-on in Rome and at
Court than do provincial nobles and highway-police."

As I trudged from the camp to my horse, as I trotted homewards, I was
despondent. I had no right to be so, for I was merely one of the
innumerable slaves held by the _fiscus_ as the property of Caesar. As such
I was notably well off. Even in my proper person I congratulated myself on
my amazing luck. I was alive, unsuspected, secure, well-housed, well-clad,
well-cared for, freer than many a freeman, than many a nobleman,
pleasantly busy at occasional tasks very congenial to me and blest with
much leisure among a companionable population in a lovely region full of
diversified and charming scenery set off by an exhilarating climate; I
should have been gay.

Yet my thoughts were those of a Roman nobleman. I was horrified at the
state of the Republic. I knew that Italy had never been entirely free from
outlaws. Even under Tiberius highwaymen had perpetrated successful
robberies and had captured and held for ransom wealthy persons or even
notabilities. But under most of the Emperors these outrages had been few
and had occurred only in the wilder districts. During the civil wars
between Otho and Vitellius brigandage had become rife all over Italy, even
up to the gates of Rome, and Vespasian had had much ado to exterminate the
outlaws. Again, under Nerva, bandits had multiplied and prospered. But
none had ventured into any populous district during the principates of
Trajan, Hadrian and their successors until after the death of Aurelius.
Now, because of the negligence of his son, outlaws had so prospered that
they had a sort of organization among themselves, like a commonwealth
inside the Republic, as I had seen during my captivity with Maternus and
now glimpsed again in Bulla's revelations. It argued a horrible
disintegration of the governmental mechanism of the Republic and of the
Roman character that such things had become possible.

Equally horrifying to me was the contemplation of Caesar's extravagance. I
knew that the Republic's income from all sources was insufficient to keep
up the court establishment and ceremonials at their normal cost; to defray
the expenses of the state festivals with befitting magnificence of games
in the circuses, amphitheatres and theatres; to maintain the Praetorian
guards, city police, road constabulary and frontier garrisons. I knew that
all these branches of the necessary structure of the state were constantly
in want of more funds than could be supplied to them. I knew that this
want of supplies crippled our commanders along the Euphrates, the Danube,
the Rhine and the Wall, as well as far up the Nile and in the Euxine and
made possible the insolence of the Ethiopians and Caledonians as well as
the greater insolence of the Parthians, Goths and Germans.

Yet, when conditions so urgently called for greater expenditures along our
frontiers and for close economy at home, I beheld our Prince stinting his
commanders and their heroic legions and lavishing upon his own pleasure
and the gratification of his amazing vanity sums which would have enabled
our eagles not only to defy all assailants of our frontiers but to humble
and subdue every threatening foe, even to penetrate and subjugate Nubia,
Parthia and inner Germany. I sickened at the thought of our shame along
the frontiers as at the thought of the energies of thousands upon
thousands of hard-muscled, bold-hearted young men wasted on capturing
beasts and the like energies of thousands upon thousands of hardy peasants
who ought to have been busy at productive labor on farms or in forests or
mines, wasted on caring for and transporting swarms of beasts for Commodus
to kill.

Those thoughts were depressing. I could not banish them.

The next day the mood persisted. I had nothing to do, did not feel like
doing anything in particular and yet felt restless. The weather was
perfect. I set off afoot for a place not far from my cottage, not far
enough to be called a long walk, where a big gray crag or small cliff like
an inland promontory, a spur of a forested mountain, towered up from the
southeastern side of the Flaminian Highway. At that point the road was the
boundary of the Imperial estate; the crag lay outside it, and, at that
part of its foot which projected farthest, was not a hundred yards from
the highway. The mountain rose a thousand feet or more from the meadows
along the road. The crag was full three hundred feet high. It was
perfectly possible to toil up the steep wooded slope of the mountain and
walk out on either of two bush-covered shelves which ran round the crag.
From the lower of these, where it belted the front of the vertical cliff,
there was a fine view down upon the highway and along it both ways; from
the upper more of the highway could be seen; from the very top of the
crag, which was bare except for two clumps of gnarled trees and starved
bushes near its brow, the view included a full two miles of the highway in
each direction.

I climbed the slope to the lower shelf and ensconced myself where I was
shaded from the sun and had a clear view of the road both ways. From my
coign I watched the traffic. I judged that the northern supply of arena-
beasts was already overtaxed. The procession of wagons was no longer
continuous. They came now in trains of a hundred or so with some miles
between the convoys. Just as I settled myself no beast-wagons were in
sight, the road-traffic was normal. An Imperial courier dashed into view
from the south, tore past at full gallop, and vanished northwards; three
family travelling carriages, also bound north, pulling to the side of the
road to let him pass; as did a train of a score of mules laden with
charcoal.

The first sign of arena-beasts which I saw after I settled myself to watch
was a string of eight elephants, each with a turbaned mahout rocking on
his back, and seven each with his trunk clasping the tail of the elephant
before him. This was the second batch of elephants I had heard of; the
former, I had been told, came by way of Ateste, since the elephants could
swim the Po and all the other rivers had strong stone bridges. These
looked well after their four hundred mile tramp and fit for the hundred
and odd ahead of them.

Before they were out of sight there came into view the head of a column of
wagons which turned out to be loaded with cages of bears, lynxes, bison,
aurochs, elk, wolves and other northern animals. I watched them pass and
meditated. After they were gone the road was normal for a full two hours,
during which I pondered the thoughts which obsessed me and gloomed with
shame over the condition of the Empire. I had brought food and water with
me and ate about noon, slept an hour or more and woke to watch the passage
of two trains of cages full of lions, tigers, leopards and panthers. The
second train was overtaken and passed by two Imperial couriers from the
north, racing each other, the former more than a half mile ahead of the
latter, and, apparently lengthening his lead. I spent the day on the crag.
Also I spent other days there, sometimes on one shelf, sometimes on the
other, sometimes on the top.

Not many days elapsed before I again visited the outlaws' camp and had
another chat with Bulla; not we two alone, for there was always an easy
sociability about the bandits and, if none took part in or broke into
their chief's talk, usually two or more lay or sat about listening and
sharing our interview.

In the course of our talk Bulla discoursed of his importance, of the
importance of the band, of the warm regard in which he and they were held
by their head chief, the King of the Highwaymen.

Some quirk inside my head made me venturesome.

"What is his name?" I queried. "You never name him."

"His orders!" Bulla snapped. "I know his name; not another man of our band
knows it. He never uses it and takes great pains to keep all outsiders who
know his name from suspecting that he is King of the Highwaymen; and
similarly to make sure that all outsiders who know him as King of the
Highwaymen get no inkling of his name. If the knowledge got abroad the
usefulness to him of his brother and sister in Rome would be destroyed."

I apologized for my question.

"No harm done," Bulla smiled. "I don't have to answer any questions unless
I want to, and I don't mind questions from you."

"If you don't," I pursued, emboldened, "perhaps you'll be willing to
explain how it can be that your king holds you and your band in such high
esteem, whereas, to all appearances, you have not acquired a sesterce-
worth of loot since long before I reached this neighborhood; in fact, as
far as I can hear, have not succeeded in robbing anyone since you located
your camp here?"

"I am perfectly willing to explain," laughed Bulla, looking more
formidable when he smiled or laughed than when expressionless. "We are no
cheap bandits to rob market-women, poor farmers, ordinary travellers or
such small fry. We angle for bigger fish. We bide our time. We are here to
make three big strokes and then a quick disappearance. Once we have our
hands on our chosen prisoners to be held for ransom we shall be off for
the mountain heights and the thickest forests; once we have the booty we
hope for, those in charge of it will ride fast and far and get clear out
of this part of Italy. Is that intelligible?"

"Entirely," said I, and was mute.

Bulla gazed at me almost genially.

"I don't in the least mind telling you," he said, "just what we are
waiting for. Half the countryside knows and are alert to help us all they
know how.

"In the first place we have word of a big consignment of gold on the way
to Rome; ingots from the mines in the mountains of Noricum, nuggets and
dust washed from the rivers of Dacia and Pannonia and Moesia. Of course it
is in charge of a wary official and has a strong guard, but we have good
hopes of getting it. If we do, it will be the biggest haul that any of our
bands ever made, and that he has put me here to try for it is proof of my
King's esteem for me.

"In the second place a wealthy senator, just the right man to capture and
hold for ransom, is coming up from Rome in charge of a big chest of gold
coin to be paid out by the administrators of Asia and Macedonia and
Achaia. He himself is going out as propraetor of Asia. With him is a
wealthy widow, going north to be married at Aquileia, and taking with her
a big jewel-chest full of the finest and largest gems in the most
magnificent settings. So we have in prospect three prisoners for ransom
and three rich treasures.

"The difficulty is that it will be almost impossible to make both
captures. If we nab the propraetor and widow, with the coin and gems, the
rumor or report of it is almost certain to warn the procurator with the
raw gold so that he will elude us. Similarly if we get him, news of our
presence will most likely reach and alarm the propraetor and the widow. If
one comes ten days or even five before the other we can scarcely hope for
complete success. If fewer days intervene we might get both. I am here to
get both. The King thinks me capable of the feat. His instructions are
that, in case I judge that I can get but one, I am to try for the
procurator and his gold, as it is estimated that his gold is worth at
least twice the coin and gems together, even adding the possible ransoms
of the widow and the propraetor.

"I am hoping they will come only a day apart or even the same day; all our
couriers with letters about the progress of the gold convoy and the
widow's preparations indicate that they will reach this part of the road
at about the same time. They might meet each other right here where, we
want them together. I keep nursing that hope.

"Now you know as much as you need to know about our plans."

I thanked him and marvelled at his frankness. But, as I rode home, I
reflected that thinking me the Imperial slave I appeared, he thought me
certain to be secret and, if possible, helpful.

I spent the next day and the next on my crag, watching the fascinating
spectacle afforded by the highway.

On the third day the _Villicus_ chided me for having told my name to the
sub-procurator after I had recaged the panther.

"An Imperial courier has just passed," he said. "He is a close friend of a
trusty friend of mine in Rome. Like most couriers he is obliging and will
carry letters for his friends, even packets. He dropped here a note for
me, warning me that I am likely to lose you. My friend is a crony of some
of the upper slaves in the Palace and of others in the Beast Barracks.

"Your manumission, which was urged by the aldermen of Nuceria, has been
favorably reported and may be ordered. On the other hand, the procurator
in charge of the reserves of arena-beasts has heard of you and vows he
must have you for service in or for the Colosseum. I am likely to lose you
either way. I don't mind your manumission; I'll wager that I can induce
you to stay on as you are. But I am all worked up over the prospect of a
requisition for you from the Beast Barracks. If one comes it will be your
fault."

I told him I was more stirred up about it than he was; that I should hate
to leave him and loathed the very idea of being cooped up in Rome amid
fetid cages; caring for lions and such like. We thoroughly understood each
other, and he said:

"I'll have to manage to report you killed, if the requisition comes. I'm
determined to keep you. I'll have to set my wits to work to arrange for
it."

I hoped he might, but I felt nervous. I dreaded being dragged to Rome and
recalled the prophecy of the Aemilian Sibyl. I had a feeling that to Rome
I was going, my situation was too good to last. I thought of leaving
Septima with much regret. Not that I loved her or even cared for her; but
she was a girl no man could but respect and admire and wish well to. If I
must leave her I resolved to leave her as well off as I could.

Making sure that I was far from any human being and unobserved I opened my
amulet-bag, looked over the gems it contained, selected a medium-sized
emerald of perfect color, sewed it into the hem of my tunic and sewed up
the amulet-bag with the rest of the gems inside it.

At the first opportunity, I revisited the outlaws' camp, with the usual
precautions, and found Bulla idle and genial. I told him I needed cash,
all the cash I could get, and had an emerald I thought would be worth a
noble store of gold and silver coin.

"Show it to me!" he commanded.

I took out my sheath-knife, ripped the emerald out of its hiding-place and
passed it to him.

He conned it.

"You are right, brother," he said; "this is a fine gem. I tell you what
I'll do. I'll ride, myself, to Sentinum and exchange this for cash, part
gold and part silver. Sentinum seems an unlikely place in which to find a
cash purchaser for a gem like this, but our King has a friend there who
acts as his agent in several respects; among others he keeps cash in hand
to exchange any time for precious loot; especially jewelry. He'll hand me
the cash without hesitation.

"But if I am to do it for you, you must agree in advance to accept his
valuation of the jewel and to divide with me, share and share alike,
whatever he pays me for your emerald. In a case like this I charge half
the proceeds of the sale as my commission for making the deal and as my
fee for my time, risk and trouble. Do you agree?"

"Certainly," I said, "and I am amazed at your offer. How can you be away
three days or more at this juncture? Might not your prizes: procurator,
propraetor, widow, jewels, coin, and gold all slip through your hands
during your absence in my behalf?"

"No fear, lad!" he laughed; "our advices never deceive us. The procurator
with his gold is far away and approaching slowly; neither the widow nor
the propraetor is ready to leave Rome; both are occupied with endless
preparations. I have plenty of time. And it won't take me any three days
to reach Sentinum and return. I'll set off at sunset. About the third hour
tomorrow I'll be at Sentinum, my mount lathered and blown, but far from
used up; about the ninth hour I'll pass out of one of the gates of
Sentinum on my return, completely refreshed myself and with my mount fit
for the return journey: I'll be here in camp at dawn day after tomorrow,
with the coin bags. You can come for your cash any time after the third
hour day after tomorrow. Is it a bargain?"

"Done!" said I.

"Then get home," he said. "If I'm to go two nights without sleep I'll give
orders now, post my out-pickets and what not and snooze till dusk."

I spent the next day on my crag. Several trains of wagons with arena-
beasts passed, but they were farther apart than ten days before. The other
traffic on the road was normal.

Next day, not long after the third hour, I was in the outlaws' camp. Bulla
I found awake and with no signs of drowsiness or fatigue. In full sight of
all of his men he spread a blanket, and, on it placed four coin-bags, two
small and two full size. From the larger he spilt their contents on the
blanket and, each of us taking a bag, we picked up the silver one piece at
a time, both keeping count together. There was an odd piece.

"It's yours, lad!" said Bulla. "I've enough here."

The gold pieces similarly spilled and counted, came out even.

"Are you satisfied?" Bulla queried.

"Both with the amount and the division," I replied, "and now I'll be off.
You must need sleep."

"Sit still!" Bulla commanded.

He rose and went into his tent, for the outlaws had excellent hide tents.
He returned with a fine new coin-belt of pigskin leather.

"Here," he said as he squatted down and handed it to me, "is a little gift
from Bulla. Wear it next your skin. And remember to keep it flat and
loose. Many a man has lost his life with his coin in a tight place because
a bulging belt betrayed him to greedy ruffians. My lads will respect you,
but you may encounter bandits who have no inkling that you are under my
protection. Don't attempt to carry too much, of your coin about your
waist."

I thanked him and tramped off.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE POINT OF VIEW

That evening, after our dinner, a perfect dinner eaten under a grape-
arbor, lingering over the fruit and honey in the mingled light of waning
dusk and a clear crescent moon, I showed Septima my belt and bags, put in
the belt what silver would fill it to a flaccid and comfortable flatness,
and gave her all the gold and the rest of the silver. I had already
explained to her what impended over us, and had emphasized my wish to
remain with her and my anxiety to know that she was provided for, if we
were to be separated.

I did not visit the post of the road-constabulary as often as the camp of
the outlaws. Next day I rode over to their post and chatted with one of
the sergeants and several of the men. They were in doubt between, two
opinions: most held that their presence in the district had frightened the
bandits away and that they had left the neighborhood and transferred their
attention to a wholly different region; only a few maintained the view
that the brigands had been lurking near from before their arrival and that
all their efforts had failed to locate their hiding place. I heard nothing
which led me to believe that they had any inkling of the location of the
outlaws' camp, of their purposes, or of their intended coup.

After a day of happy idling on my crag I visited Bulla. He was gay.

"It promises well," he volunteered. "The procurator and his gold are well
on this side of Ariminum and the propraetor and widow left Rome yesterday.
They'll he here within two days of each other, if he holds the rate he has
kept all the way from Bononia and they travel as such luxurious folks
generally do. Come over as often as you like. No one will suspect you or
follow you. I'll keep you posted as to what our advices promise us. You
may be able to help us."

By this time I was so interested in Bulla and his plans that I oscillated
between my crag, the outlaws' camp and the constabulary post, with no more
other occupations than what I judged absolutely needful to forestall any
unwelcome interest in my doings and the possibility of too many persons
knowing of my visits to the outlaws.

When next I visited them Bulla told me that something had alarmed the
procurator. Either some rumor of their presence along the road had reached
him or he knew of the bad reputation of the stretch of the Flaminian
Highway through the Umbrian mountains between Forum Sempronii and Nuceria,
which it had acquired some years before when the King of the Highwaymen
himself had made on it a succession of valuable captures which had yielded
him princely booty and the reports of which had spread all over Italy.
Anyhow their advices informed them that he had packed his bullion-chests
with stones and old-iron and had parcelled out his packets of dust and
nuggets among the wagons of a long train of arena-beasts.

"We'll fool him!" Bulla boasted. "We'll nab him and hold him for a big
ransom. Also we'll not only make sure of his bullion chests in case our
information is false, or based on an intentional rumor he has given out as
a blind; but we'll get that bullion, too, if it is not in the chests, but
hidden in the wagons in the guise of dusty packets of provender for the
draft-cattle or of meat for the caged beasts. We'll get it!"

Prom his mention of the wagons we fell into talk of the increasing
difficulty of getting fresh meat for the lions and other beasts, of the
depletion of the flocks and herds along the roads from Aquileia, to Rome;
and he told me that his advices reported that the whole country near the
highways was already swept clean of all goats, sheep and cattle, except
breeding stock, milch stock and their choicest young kept for breeding.
The inhabitants could get no beef, mutton or goats' flesh for themselves;
all had gone into the maws of hyenas, tigers, wolves and the rest; and the
procurators were insisting on the farmers selling their kids, lambs,
calves, ewes and cows-in-milk, any stock, even mules and horses; any
animals fit to butcher for lion-food.

From this we came round to chatting of my talks with the teamsters and of
my prospect from my crag. I had told Bulla of the crag long before, but he
did not seem to have taken in the idea. Now he was delighted.

"If I'd paid attention to you soon enough," he said, "I'd have put in a
day or two with you watching the show. It's too late now. Our prayed for
chances are coming soon, and not far apart."

Next day he was gleeful.

"It's all going to work out like the end of a theater-play," he said. "The
procurator and the propraetor and his charge are practically certain to
come along tomorrow afternoon. I calculate that they will meet not far
south of your crag. I've planned to post one ambush near the foot of your
crag, just south of it, another at a judicious interval down the road
nearer Rome. I'll have 'em between the two ambushes about the middle of
the afternoon or between that and sunset. We'll nab all three ransom
prizes at once and we'll lay our hands on the jewels, coin and gold almost
at the same instant. I've arranged to lead the constables off on a false
scent about noon and they'll be miles away up a lonely crossroad when we
pull off our coup. We'll make our getaway, with the swag, hours before
they can get wind of the occurrence and follow on our trail. We'll have a
long start of them.

"You can watch the whole thing from your crag. This ideal weather is going
to last many days yet. And the moon will be full two nights from now, so
its light will help us two nights on our getaway. I envy you up on that
crag watching the show, comfortable as a senator at a theater, aloft like
Jupiter on Olympus in the Iliad."

Next day I made sure that the _Villicus_ would not want me, had Septima
put up for me an abundant supply of her inviting food and set off about
the middle of the morning for my crag, on foot, of course. I climbed to
the very top and ensconced myself under and among sheltering bushes so
that I was certain that I could not be seen from the road in either
direction, yet could view it both ways as far as the horizon, except just
at the foot of the crag and where, in the distance, hilltops hid the
hollows behind them. Close by me I placed my precious kidskin of much
watered wine, I might say of water flavored with wine, so that it would
keep cool in the thickest shade. The day was hot, clear and still and the
rays of the sun fierce. The occasional slight breezes were very welcome.

The outlook was really magnificent; a broad prospect of rolling pasturage,
hilly pasturage, and wooded mountains; the grass-lands and grassy
hillsides diversified by scattered trees, clumps of trees and small
groves; the lower levels of woodland broken by grassy glades; the brighter
green of the forests of chestnut, beech, and oak merging imperceptibly
into the darker green of the pine-forests; the score of farms in sight
brilliant in the green landscapes like semi-jewels; all the wide prospect
glowing under a deep blue sky, varied by a very few very white clouds, the
intense sunlight beating down on everything. It was a perfect summer day.

I conned the road, on which I saw only the rear of a column of wagons
convoying arena-beasts receding over the hilltops to southwards, and the
normal traffic, horsemen or two-horse carriages or wagons far apart and
few. I dozed.

I must have slept a full hour. I waked hot, but much refreshed, feeling
lively and full of interest in what was to come. Just after I waked I saw
the constabulary, the officers and about a third of the men on horseback,
the rest afoot, come up the road from the direction of their post, which
was south of the crag. The infantrymen, tramped their fastest and the
mounted men kept pace with them. They were evidently off on their wild-
goose chase. As they came into sight below me, after passing my perch, I
watched them double-quick northwards and wheel to their right into the
first crossroad. They were barely out of sight among the forested hills
when I saw momentarily, on the Highway, fully four miles to northward, on
a sunlit hilltop, what I took to be the first wagon of a train of teams
drawing cages of arena-beasts. I watched the road in that direction. What
I saw confirmed my conjecture. Soon the road to northward was filled from
its farthest visible hilltop to just below my crag with wagon-teams such
as I had many times watched transporting cages of lions, tigers, leopards,
panthers and the like. I made out also some cages which I was certain
contained hyenas.

Every little while I glanced the other way. Just as the first wagons of
the long train vanished from my sight into that section of the road
immediately below me where my crag hid it from my view, I saw appear on a
hilltop to southwards what I made sure was the travelling carriage of a
wealthy noble. I conjectured that it had inside of it the ransomable
propraetor. I kept my eyes on the road in that direction, only glancing
northward from time to time. One such glance caught a glimpse of a
travelling carriage among the beast-wagons; probably the procurator in
charge of the bullion.

After I had caught glimpses of it on several successive hilltops the
propraetor's carriage was near enough, on one of them, for me to recognize
it. Of course, I had known from childhood the travelling carriages of our
senate and nobility. As everybody knows, each, has a certain unmistakable
individuality. Our makers of travelling carriages never make two precisely
alike, and, what is more, the tastes of different families are so
different that patterns are very unlike. I recognized the carriage for
that of Faltonius Bambilio.

Why he was going out as propraetor of Asia so long after his term as
praetor was a puzzle to me. I accepted it as one of the countless
eccentricities of Imperial administration under Commodus. The
irregularities of the management of the provinces ruled in the name of
Caesar by prefects and procurators had notoriously extended to the
provinces ruled by proconsuls and propraetors in the name of the senate. I
had always disliked, despised and even hated Bambilio for his pomposity,
self-esteem and bad manners. I rejoiced at the opportunity to look on at
his capture.

It was by this time past the middle of the afternoon, the day still
surpassingly fair and lovely, with few clouds in the sky, a steady light
breeze, the mellow afternoon sunlight bathing the world and the sun
already visibly declining towards the western horizon.

While I was grinning at my thoughts and watching the advance of Bambilio's
carriage, glancing back at intervals at the beast-train and the
procurator's coach, I caught sight, on the highway behind Bambilio's
carriage, of another travelling carriage of which I had descried no
glimpse before, though I must have missed seeing it as it topped several
hills further south. When I caught sight of it, it was near enough for me
to recognize it at first view.

Vedia's travelling coach!

Between the first and second beat of my thumping heart, I went through an
amazing variety of complex, shifting and lucid thinking. And my thinking,
multifold and effective as it was, was but as a chip on the surface of a
freshet in a mountain gorge amid the torrent of emotions which inundated
me.

Since I had begun to mend as the result of the succour and medication of
old Chryseros Philargyrus I had resolutely refrained from, thinking of
Vedia. I had argued with myself that it was impossible for me to forget or
ignore the daily and hourly contrasts between my former status as a
wealthy nobleman and my present condition as a fugitive always in danger
and generally in acute discomfort. Amid the inevitable resultant
depression I might keep alive, healthy and sane if I concentrated my
thoughts on self-congratulation at my survival. If I dwelt on my downfall
I should lose my wits. If, in addition to thoughts of my loss of rank,
wealth, friends and ease I yielded to my inclination to brood over my loss
of Vedia, I should infallibly go insane. I resolutely put thoughts of her
away. I succeeded in keeping them away. During my winter at the hut in the
mountains, during my succeeding adventures, I had not thought of Vedia;
thoughts of her had crossed my mind but seldom and fleetingly.

Now, all at once, I was overwhelmed by the realization of how ardently,
how unalterably I loved her, how keenly I longed for her, how tenderly I
felt towards her. Nothing, past, present or future, mattered to me except
Vedia and her welfare. I had been thinking with relished amusement of the
dismay of some pampered beauty haled from, her luxurious coach and off
through the wild mountains, immured in some lonely cave in the forests,
guarded by coarse ruffians, reduced to the most primitive diet and
bedding, forced to endure all sorts of discomforts, and threatened with
death or worse if an enormous ransom were not forthcoming promptly. I had
been chuckling at the prospect of getting a far-off glimpse of the first
act of this comedy.

My revulsion of feeling was dazing. I was hot and cold with horror at the
thought of Vedia's agony, terror and misery and of her danger among
Bulla's swarthy, brutal ruffians with their black curly hair and beards
intensifying the villainy of their lowering faces, with their mighty hands
always close to their daggers. Vedia I must save!

How?

Almost as I recognized her carriage, my eyes, instinctively sweeping my
entire outlook, caught sight of Selinus feeding among a small herd of
young mares on a hillside midway of the extensive pasture on the other
side of the road just to north of my crag. I knew there was, a little to
the north of the crag, on the same side of the road, a knoll from which
that bit of hillside was plainly visible at no great distance. I had my
plan worked out in all its details.

I drank all I could hold of my watered wine, left my cloak by the kidskin,
tucked a small packet of food into my belt-wallet, and raced down, the
steep slope of the mountainside to the north of the crag, leaping from
rock to rock under the huge forest trees. I reached the gentler slopes
near the highway and gained the top of the knoll. Selinus was in plain
view, grazing among his brides, and by good luck, all were headed towards
me. I stood on the summit of the knoll and waved my arms. Selinus caught
sight of me and galloped joyously down the slope of the pasture towards
me. When he was near I ran towards him down the slope of the knoll, being
careful that he should not lose sight of me. My luck held and he and I
approached the highway and each, other where there was a comfortable
interval between the lion's cage on the wagon which had been passing when
I topped the knoll and the leading yoke of the team tugging the wagon next
behind. The wind, also, was towards me, so that Selinus did not smell the
lions till he and I met in the highway and I had mounted him. Like a
hunting dog bounding over a fallen tree Selinus had leapt the tall thorn
hedge which bordered the highway to keep stock off it and in the meadow.

Once I was on his back we set off northward at full gallop, which almost
at once quickened into a maddened run. He had shied violently as we passed
the first cage and he winded the lion in it, but I stuck on him. Also I
stuck on at each, less violent sideways lurch as we passed cage after
cage: tiger, panther, leopard, hyenas or lion; all smelt equally
terrifying to him, but he only ran faster and his terror went into speed
ahead rather than into leaps aside.

When we reached the crossroad, up which the constabulary had turned, the
procurator's carriage was still somewhere up the highway; I had not seen
it since I left the top of the crag. The train of beast-wagons seemed
endless.

Into the crossroad we turned and up it Selinus tore. I chuckled. No road-
police, no matter how young, nimble and long-winded, could maintain a
double-quick any distance on that up-slope. Selinus mounted the hills like
a grayhound after a hare. We were sure to overtake the detachment soon.
They could not have gone far.

Overtake them we did and the maddened run at which Selinus scaled those
steep hills caught their officer's attention. I had rehearsed what I meant
to say and wasted no words. What I said conveyed the whole situation to
him.

"We are too few horsemen to overcome them," he said, "but we can scare
them from their booty and maybe from their captives. We'll ride our
fastest and we have time to reach them before they are thinking of flight.
The complete surprise will save the jewels, coin and gold and most likely
the lady and the officials.

"But you fellows must double-quick after us to support us in case they
recover from their amazement, rally and round on us from some near
vantage-ground. You can retrace your steps in a tenth of the time it took
us to reach here. Race!

"And you, Felix, give me that racer of yours. Fall in with the men. Here
Caius, give Felix your saddle and bridle. Your mare is giving out. Felix,
saddle and bridle your horse for me. Caius, take my horse."

In a moment I was afoot among the infantry constables, the officer was in
the saddle on Selinus, the reins in his hands, and the horsemen were off
at a tearing gallop, with us footmen after them at a run which carried us
almost by leaps down the steep slope.

When we reached the highway neither the mounted police nor any outlaws
were anywhere in sight. But it was plain that more time than I had
realized had elapsed since I vaulted on Selinus. Not only was the sun near
the horizon, but the bandits had evidently been further up the road than
this. For an instant I marvelled that they had come this far at all when
both their ambushes were south of the crag. Then I realized that they had
been searching the wagons for the bullion. Every wagon was stalled, half
were overset, the tongue-yoke of each was hamstrung, every cage was empty,
not a lion, tiger or leopard, panther or hyena to be seen; all,
apparently, let out that their cages might be ransacked. I conjectured
that letting them out had taken less time than it would have taken to kill
them.

Panting, sweating, nearing exhaustion, we hastened along the highway at a
jolting run not much faster than the quick walk of untired men, but our
best speed. We passed scores of stalled wagons, every cage empty, two
hamstrung oxen or mules or even horses lying in agony before each wagon,
the rest of the cattle either loosed and gone or held fast by the stalled
wagons behind them. We saw not one teamster, not one beast. The long
series of stalled wagons, with their hamstrung or stalled cattle and empty
cages extended to the foot of the crag and beyond it. Beyond it we came on
the procurator's carriage, empty; no horse to it or by it. Still we had
seen no human being.

A half-mile further, midway of a flat stretch of road, on one side of
which was an expanse of swampy ground, varied with pools bordered by
sedge, reeds and bushes, with areas of tussocks and with clumps of willows
and alders, we came on Bambilio's and Vedia's carriages, their gilded
decorative carvings, coral-red panel-bars, pearl-shell panel-panes, gilded
rosette-bosses, silver-plated hubs and gilded spokes and fellies
glittering in the late sunshine.

His coach was without any sign of a horse near it, hers with all four
hamstrung; their white leather harness, with its gold and silver bosses,
horridly stained with the blood they had spattered all over them as they
lay struggling and trying to kick. Both carriages were empty, their
cushions and mattresses and other contents scattered about on the roadway.

The sun was near setting. Our sergeants, blown as their men and as I,
paused and mopped their faces. We scanned the outlook. Far away well up
the mountain side we caught sight of a group of burly men, and among them
a slender figure clad in a garb of pale lavender hue with the sheen of
silk. Below and close a similar group among which were two figures
conspicuous for crimson cloaks or the like. Far below and much nearer us
we glimpsed the pursuing horsemen.

Off we set, and our fresh excitement seemed to put fresh vigor into all of
us. We ran a full mile straight across pastures and wooded hills towards
the point where I had glimpsed Vedia.

The sun set.

The constables ran on, panting, but by no means failing.

I gave out.

The hopelessness of such pursuit took all the heart out of me.

I stopped.

I could not hope to keep up with the excited police. I could not believe
that they would give any effective support to their mounted comrades or
even that they could overtake the outlaws after sunset in such broken and
wooded country, or that any or all of them could rescue any of the
prisoners I shuddered to think of Vedia in the clutches of such ruthles
villains. But I could accomplish nothing towards helping her. I turned to
slink homewards.

Half way to the spot where we had left the highway I encountered a lion.
He did not attack me or menace me and I was not afraid of him. But the
sight of him brought to my attention that the light was waning and that I
was, for a man afoot, a considerable distance from my cottage in broken
country full of escaped beasts of prey. I had never understood my power
over all animals, but I had always conceived that it depended on the way I
looked to them when they gazed at me. I was totally unafraid of the most
ferocious beast by daylight, but by no means comfortable in twilight or
dusk, while after dark I had no reason to think that a lion, or tiger
would prove more tractable to me than to any other man. I felt that I must
hasten home, if I was ever to reach it alive. With what breath I had left
I ran the rest of the easy downhill path to the highway.

When I reached it twilight had not yet deepened into dusk and I could see
fairly well. The four hamstrung horses were struggling pitifully to rise
and screaming at intervals. With my sheathknife I put them out of their
misery; as also the four pack-mules which lay, similarly hamstrung, in the
roadway, behind the carriage.

In spite of my dread of carnivora after dark I examined the coach and what
lay about it on the road. There were two kidskins, bulging roundly,
presumably with wine. Three covered food hampers, unopened; and, intact, a
beautiful little inlaid chest, such as ladies have for their combs,
brushes, ointment-pots and similar toilet articles. From their condition I
conjectured that the bandits had just commenced to rummage the coach when
the unexpected approach of the mounted constables, whose small numbers
they most likely did not realize, had scared them away.

Reluctant to be off and fearing to remain, I glanced about, irresolute. In
a clump of willows and alders in the midst of the swampy tract I caught
sight of a bit of color out of keeping with anything which naturally
belonged there and suggesting a woman's garment. There was a dryshod way
to that clump of trees and bushes. I threaded it towards what I had
glimpsed. When I was hardly more than half way from the road to the clump
I thought I heard a sob. I made haste.

Hearing the place I saw a young and slender and graceful woman dressed as
a slave girl. Somehow the sight of her brought to my mind's-eye vivid
recollections of my convalescent outings in Nemestronia's water-garden.
She looked terrified and yet hesitating to flee from me, as if she feared
the swamp. A step nearer I realized that Vedia's maid, a woman not unlike
her in build, as faithful to her as Agathemer was to me and amazingly
astute, had had the shrewdness and also the time to fool the brigands by
exchanging clothes with her mistress in the carriage.

"Vedia!" I exclaimed. "Caia!"

"Castor!" she screamed. "You know me? You call me Caia? Are you a ghost?
Are you alive? And that voice! Oh, are you real?"

"Real and alive," I answered. "I am myself. I am Hedulio."

To my amazement there, in the dusk under the willows, among the alders,
she gave a half-smothered shriek and the next instant her arms were round
my neck and mine round her, and she was sobbing on my shoulder, repeating:

"Call me Caia again. This is too good to be true."

CHAPTER XXVIII

MOONLIGHT

When our transports had abated a little I was aware that the twilight was
deepening into dusk and that I must somehow save Vedia from the roaming
wild beasts. I guided her along the twisting track from her hiding-place
to the road. As we gained it I heard a loud snarl of a lion or tiger or
panther far off towards the crag. We must make haste.

I reflected that it would be a very strong and enterprising beast, even if
a lion, which would break into Vedia's coach when its panels were slid and
fastened.

"We are too far from any habitation," I said, "for us to reach any while
the light holds. I dare not make the attempt with you among all these
freed wild beasts. I should be afraid to try it alone in this deepening
dusk. The best thing we can do is to get inside your carriage, slide the
panels and trust to them to keep out any inquisitive leopard or lion. With
the carcasses of four well-fed horses and as many mules laid ready to eat,
no tiger ought to be hungry enough to be eager after us."

"I had thought that, too," she agreed.

I peered through the open door into the coach, which was roomy. Then I
replaced in it its mattresses and cushions, Vedia showing me how they
fitted and, going round to the other door and opening it, helping me to
lay smooth the unmanageable feather-stuffed upper-cushions. She also
showed me the receptacles for her toilet-box, the food hampers and the
kidskins. While we were thus busied the almost full moon rose clear and
bright over a distant mountain. I helped Vedia into the coach and she
disposed herself at full length on its cushions, sinking into the
feathers. I walked round the coach and slid all the panels except the
front panel through which the moonlight entered, then I climbed inside,
shut and fastened the door, shut the panels, fastened each and stretched
out by Vedia, like her with plenty of cushions and pillows under my head
and shoulders.

As I fastened the last panels we heard the hunting-squall of a leopard at
no great distance. Vedia clung to me, shuddering.

"You have saved me, Caius," she said. "As you did on the terrace at
Nemestronia's."

Naturally, for a while, we exchanged kisses and caresses without any
intermingled words.

When, she spoke she said:

"How do you come to be alive?"

"That," I said, "is thanks to Agathemer and is a long tale. I am faint
with hunger and thirst, you yourself should be in need of nourishment and
might be the better for it. There should be food in those hampers and wine
in the kidskins."

"There is," she said, "and plenty. I am as hungry and thirsty as you, now
I am no longer terrified and am recovering from my panic. But I am
intensely eager to hear your story. Do begin at the beginning just as soon
as you can, and tell it while we eat."

Then she showed me how to dispose the hampers as they were designed to be
arranged while the occupants of the coach ate. They were very generously
filled with the most luxurious fare: hard-boiled eggs, ham, cold roast
pork, sliced thin; breast of roast goose, breast of roast duck, young
guinea-fowls, broiled whole and cut up, broiled chickens, broiled squabs;
half a. dozen kinds of bread, a quarter loaf and different sorts of rolls;
lettuce and radishes; bottles of oil, vinegar, garum sauce, and other
sauces; salt smoked fish; figs, both big green figs and small purple figs;
a jar of strained honey, several kinds of cakes, and plenty of salt,
pepper, other relishes, and a lavish provision of knives and of silver,
plates, spoons, cups and other utensils.

"Why all this profusion?" I queried. "You have enough here for a party of
ten."

"I always have a variety like this," she explained. "I generally have very
little appetite on a journey so I tell Lydia to put in all the things she
can get which she knows I like. Then something is likely to tempt me."

We feasted by moonlight, while I told my story from the moment when I had
received her warning letter.

"I knew that you mounted the horse in front of Plosurnia's Tavern," she
said, "but I have never heard of you after that. Tanno and I did all we
could to find out what had become of you; all we could without risking the
secret service getting an inkling that we had a hope that you were not
dead.

"In fact it was not only advertised from the Palace in due course, but
circumstantially reported to us privately, that the secret service had
learned that you had arranged for a fishing-vessel to take you to sea from
Sipontum. They had then set three detachments of Praetorians to intercept
you, one on each road, with watchers to warn them if you were recognized.
You were seen or betrayed somewhere between Hadria and Auximum, one
account said at Ortona, and the Praetorians killed you.

"Tanno said that the secret service always gave out such an account if
they failed to locate and capture any man they should have arrested. But
the confirmation of the story by three different private agencies plainly
destroyed his hopes that you might still be alive. I tried to keep on
hoping, but, after a whole year, I stopped lying awake and sobbing in the
dark; while I felt more grief for you than I ever felt for Satronius
Patavinus and more truly widowed than when he died, I ceased to grieve and
regained my interest in gaieties and suitors. Don't you think that was
natural?"

"Very natural," I admitted and went on with my story.

The moon rose higher and its rays no longer struck on our faces, but,
striking through the open panel, diffused from what part of the cushion or
sides of the coach they fell on directly, lit up the whole interior with a
pearly glimmer. By this subdued light Vedia looked bewitchingly charming
and coquettish, all the more because of the contrast between her elaborate
coiffure and the simple costume her maid had worn.

I ate liberally and with relish and she appeared to enjoy her food as I
did.

"You don't seem a bit worried," I remarked, "over the loss of your
jewels."

"Loss!" she exclaimed. "I haven't lost them, they are all in the secret
compartment under us inside the coach body, just where Lydia put them
before we left Rome. The bandits had barely begun to ransack the coach
when we heard the yells of the constabulary and then the hoof-beats of
their horses. They and their horses made so much noise that the brigands
thought they had to do with a hundred or more and fled, dragging off
Bambilio and Lydia and leaving me and the hampers, even the wine-skins.
They never were near laying hands on those jewels. They had Bambilio's
coin-chests, to be sure; but not my jewelry nor so much as a nugget of the
bullion they had expected. They were preparing to torture the procurator
to make him reveal the hiding place of his bullion, when the yelling and
galloping horsemen scared them away."

I congratulated her and we ate with even more relish. Both of us, however,
were sparing of the wine, though I gloated at the savor of the first
really good wine I had tasted for more than two years.

And garum sauce! I had not realized how I had craved such luxuries as
garum.

I told my story to an accompaniment of Vedia's exclamations. She was
amazed at all of it; at our crawl through the drain, at the loyalty of old
Chryseros, at my involvement with Maternus, at my encounter with
Pescennius Niger, at my involvement with the mutineers; but most of all,
at my having been present in the great circus, an eyewitness of the most
spectacular day of racing Commodus ever exhibited under his transparent
pseudonym of Palus and his last day of public jockeying; and, equally, at
Agathemer's device by which we survived the massacre.

We had finished our leisurely meal and I had finished my story, neither
our appetites nor the flow of my narrative marred by the distant squalls
of leopards and roars of lions, nor by the uncanny sounds made by the
hyenas, when, all of a sudden, a lion uttered a powerful and prolonged
roar within a dozen yards of us. Vedia shrieked and clung to me, clutching
me so I had to remonstrate with her in order to be able to slide shut and
fasten the open front panel. I had barely fastened it when another roar as
loud, sudden, and long answered the first from the other side of us,
somewhere in the swamp tract. This time Vedia did not shriek, she only
clung closer to me. I held her as close as she held me and, so clinging to
each other, in the pale glimmer of the moonlight striking on the shell
panes in the panels, we listened to repetitions of the roars, each time
nearer, till the two beasts were roaring at each other not much more than
its length from the carriage, apparently facing each other across the dead
pole-horses. I expected a fight, but they ceased roaring, and, by the
sounds they made, fell to gorging themselves on horse-meat.

When we had become used to their proximity, since, after a lapse of time
which seemed like half an hour or more, they kept on crunching and rending
without any roarings and without coming nearer the carriage, Vedia, her
arms still about me, told me the story of her doings since my downfall.
Most of it was taken up with social gaieties and with rejections of
tolerated suitors.

Then she, shyly, told me of her liking for Orensius Pacullus, of Aquileia,
and her promise to marry him. She explained at length why she had been
called imperatively to Aquileia, why he felt bound to remain there and how
it was that she had agreed to travel to Aquileia to be married there,
instead of his returning to Rome, which would have been the most
conventional arrangement.

While she was telling me this we heard not only the noise of the feeding
of the two lions which were eating the dead horses, but heard also a third
animal as noisily tearing at one of the dead mules behind the coach.

"I cannot believe," she said, "that I ever consented to marry anybody
else, even when I was certain you were dead. But you know, Caius, it is
natural to be married; and to live alone, as maid or widow, is not only
lonesome and unnatural, but unfashionable and absurd.

"But, now that I know you are alive, I shall not care who thinks me
ridiculous or who calls me silly; I shall feel lonely, but lonely merely
because I cannot live with you. I shall jilt poor dear Pacullus, who is as
good a man and as good a fellow as ever lived, and I shall stick to my
widowhood until I die or Commodus joins the company of the gods and we can
arrange for your full rehabilitation and the restoration of your estates
and rank."

Just as she said this we distinctly heard clawing and snuffing against the
panels behind our heads, opposite where the lions were feasting. Vedia did
not shriek, she was too scared to make any sound: she merely clutched me
closer.

Both lions roared in front of the coach; a tiger's rasping yarr answered
from behind it and almost instantly there were noises alongside the coach
indicating that a lion and tiger were at grips; growls, snarls, more
growls and more snarls, each choked off in the middle as it were, half
swallowed and left unfinished. For some reason the noise of the fight
immediately started a chorus of hyenas, emitting their strange cries, much
like human laughter, but the laughter of maniacs. Our situation and
environment was to the last degree uncanny.

The fight lasted no long time. We could not conjecture which combatant was
victorious, but they dashed off, one pursuing the other. The remaining
lion roared twice; long, choking, snarling torrents of thunderous noise;
then it also went away. Except for distant snarls, squalls and roars, we
were in a silent moonlit world, almost peaceful. I ventured to unfasten
the other front panel and slide it a little way open. The rays of the high
moon, poured in on our feet, we looked out on a magical prospect.

Vedia put a relishing warm arm round my neck.

"Call me Caia again," she whispered. "Where you are Caius I am Caia!"
[Footnote: From the Roman marriage-ritual.] The implication thrilled me.
It was as if we were married, had been man and wife for long past.

It may have been midnight, was near midnight when she said:

"I don't want to go to sleep at all. We can do without one night's sleep.
We can sleep tomorrow night, when we are not together. Let's try to keep
awake every minute till daylight."

In fact it was not easy to sleep, for a pack of hyenas, apparently as
friendly with each other as if they had hunted together since they were
weaned, came and picked the bones of the horses and mules, even ate the
bones, which cracked loudly between their powerful jaws. The noise of
their gluttony would have kept awake a pair sleepier than we.

But, when the moon was almost half way down the sky, when the roars and
squalls and snarls of lions and leopards and tigers and the horrid
laughter of hyenas had ceased to sound, when the night silence was so
complete that we could hear the cocks crowing near distant farmsteads and
the faint breezes rustling in the willows, we did sleep, she first, her
arms round me and her head on my shoulder.

When we woke, with the slanted moon rays on the back corner of the coach
behind me, she cuddled to me luxuriously, patted me and presently
whispered, in a bantering, roguish tone which I detected even in her
softest whisper:

"You remember that old sweetheart of yours?"

"I don't remember any sweetheart except you," I retorted. "I never had any
sweetheart except you."

"I mean," she said, "that minx who made eyes at you and all your country
neighbors and certainly tried to marry you and most of your Sabine
friends."

"You mean Marcia?" said I.

"Ah," she said, playfully and teasingly, "I thought you would remember her
name. If you remember her name you must remember her."

"Of course I remember Marcia," I said. "How could I forget her after the
way she led my uncle by the nose, had half the countryside mad for her,
set us all by the ears, rebuffed Ducconius Furfur, and married Marcus
Martius?

"If I had never known her before I'd be bound to recall the creature who
embroiled me with you. My! You were in a wax!"

"I certainly was," she whispered, "and I thought I had reason to be
indignant. But now I believe your version of her relations with you and
feel no qualms at recollecting the slanders I then credited. But, the
point is, you remember her."

"My dear," I said, "if I had never set eyes on Marcia except when I
encountered her in the Baths of Titus the day you rescued me from drowning
when I fainted in the swimming pool, I'd remember her for life. She is too
beautiful to forget."

"Am I so hideous?" she demanded.

"You are the loveliest woman alive," I vowed. "But Marcia is amazingly
spectacular and the pictures she makes impress themselves on one's memory
and eyesight. I could never forget her in that brilliant tableau on the
camp-platform facing the mutineers, even if I had never seen her before."

"I was coming to that," Vedia said. "Marcia, who was a foundling and a
slave as the adopted child of a slave, has risen so high that she is truly
Empress in all but the official title. She has all the honors Faustina or
Crispina ever had, except that she keeps out of those religious rites,
participation in which is confined to women married with the full old-time
ceremonies and observances."

I then told her what Agathemer and I had heard about Marcia while
domiciled with Colgius, and of the absence from all talk about her of any
mention of or allusion to Marcus Martius; I asked if she knew what had
become of him or, indeed, anything about him.

"Oh, yes," she said, "all Roman society knew the main facts and dear old
Tanno supplied me with many of the intimate details. Commodus made a point
of having Martius specially presented to him because he had heard that he
had been, with you and Tanno, one of the foremost fighters in your affrays
in Vediamnum and near Villa Satronia. At his private audience he
congratulated and bepraised Martius and acclaimed his prowess. Martius,
who seems to have been a very fine fellow, disclaimed any pretensions to
such laudations and modestly stated that he had, at the beginning of each
fight, been far in the rear in your travelling-coach, with Marcia; that
she had clung to him and so delayed his getting out; that each time he had
gotten out and picked up the staff of a disabled combatant, but that, in
each combat, he had arrived barely in time to land a few blows on some of
the routed enemy; that in neither affray had he done any real fighting or
been in any danger or performed any exploits.

"Commodus, in his blunt way, had asked whether he was good for anything,
anyhow. Martius had replied that he was considered more than a mediocre
horse-master.

"Commodus had then invited him to demonstrate his prowess in the Stadium
of the Palace. There Martius had shown such skill, courage, agility,
judgment, grace and ease that Commodus was delighted. He had Martius ride
a number of wild, fierce and unmanageable horses and was more and more
charmed with him.

"Next day he had another batch of intractable mounts for him. As Martius
was manoeuvring one which he had almost subdued Commodus stepped too near
the plunging brute and, in saving the Emperor from being run down and
trampled, Martius was somehow thrown and his neck broken.

"Commodus was very penitent, felt that he had caused Martius' death, had
him given a funeral of Imperial magnificence and, as soon as her grief had
quieted enough, paid Marcia a ceremonial visit of condolence, as if she
had been the widow of a full general killed in battle on the frontier.

"One sight of Marcia was enough. Within a very short space of time her
wiles had ensnared him and Crispina raged in vain."

Then she told me all the story of the intrigues by which Marcia poisoned
the Emperor's mind against the Empress, until Crispina fell under all
sorts of suspicion in the eyes of Commodus: of how at the same time Marcia
subtly laid snares for Crispina and enticed her into injudicious behavior
with several gallants, until finally the Emperor put her under
surveillance, later relegated her to Capri, then to some more distant
island, and finally had her brought back to Rome, publicly tried,
convicted and executed.

I told her my conjectures as to the queer outcome of the arrest of
Ducconius Furfur and as to who Palus really was and who occupied the
throne while Palus exhibited himself as wrestler, boxer, charioteer and
what not.

"I know nothing to confirm your surmises," she said, "but we about the
Court have often been puzzled at the way Commodus appeared to be in two
places at once. You set me thinking."

After the second cockcrow, since dawn was not now far away, we fell to
talking of the future.

"I shan't marry anybody, ever, except you, dear!" she promised, without my
asking it and again and again: "I'll remain a widow until I die unless we
outlive Commodus, and Tanno and I succeed in having you rehabilitated. I
have many consolations in my wealth and social position and friends."

"And suitors," I put in, mimicking her tone when she bantered me about
Marcia.

"And suitors!" she replied. "Caius, I love you, and I'll never marry
anyone else, but I do love attention. I love to keep a dozen good catches
dangling about me; their wooings and their gifts and their behavior
generally are no end of good fun. And it's good fun to have half the
marriageable belles furious with me. I cannot help encouraging any man, or
even lad, who moons about after me. But you have never had any reason to
be jealous, you have none now, you never will have."

I expressed my faith in her the best I could.

"You are a dear, dear boy," she said, "and it is good of you not to be
jealous, even when you have so little reason to be jealous. I have much
more. Suppose I raged about Nebris or Septima?"

I tried to change the subject and succeeded, when I suggested that we must
plan what we were to do at dawn and in the future. After a full discussion
and the airing of her ideas and mine, we agreed that there was little or
no likelihood of the road-constables returning or of anyone else
approaching her carriage before full daylight. As soon as there was
sufficient light for it to be safe, I would open the panels enough for us
to keep watch up and down the highway and in the direction the constables
had taken. When we saw them returning I was to wait till they were near
enough to assure her safety and then, at the last moment, I was to slip
out on the other side of the coach. That was next the swamp and I could be
out of sight among the willows and alders when less than two score yards
from the road; also I knew the path across the swamp and could cross it
and go off home through the meadows and pastures beyond it. This was our
plan.

She said she would, whenever the road-constables returned, behave as if
she had been alone in the coach all night. She had no doubt that the
police would give her every assistance in their power.

"Of course," she said, "my intendant galloped off somewhere, somehow and
the coachman and outrider and mule-drivers ran away; you couldn't expect
any or all of them to make a stand against all those armed brigands. If
the constables return, as they will, all my men will come back. Osdarus
will manage to get me horses from the nearest change-station or somewhere
else, somehow. Once at an inn I can get fresh horses. I can buy a team at
Nuceria."

"Can you pay for a team?" I interrupted. "Have you the cash?"

"My gold and silver," she laughed, "are in the other secret compartment.
The outlaws did not get my coin any more than my jewelry. Why look!
Lydia's earrings are in my ears now and her necklace round my neck and her
bracelets on my wrists and her rings on my fingers. The rascals were so
sure of not being interfered with and so much at ease that they were
startled frantic by the galloping horsemen and scuttled off with
Bambilio's coin-chest, dragging him and poor Lydia and totally forgetting
me, thinking me the maid, not even noticing these little trinkets, which
are mostly silver and some of gold and so worth stealing.

"I have the cash to pay for two teams or three: I brought plenty for the
journey to Aquileia, because we could learn little of the state of the
roads beyond Bononia and I thought I might have to travel by Placentia or
even by Milan. I'll get back to Rome, as fast as I can. I don't want to be
married now, so I don't want to go on to Bononia, let alone all the way to
Aquileia. If I did want to go on, the bandits have run off with my maid,
and I could hardly get along without her, and they have also removed my
escort, and I certainly could not keep on without a proper escort. I have
every excuse for turning about at once and making haste to get out of this
dangerous neighborhood and getting back home.

"Poor Lydia! I hate to think of her at the mercy of those brutal ruffians.
They may maltreat her horribly if they discover that they have the maid
instead of the mistress, and by the maid's device. I'll tell everybody I
see that I'll pay any ransom in reason, even beyond reason, for poor
Lydia, if the brigands will restore her to me safe and sound. I fancy
their friends hereabouts, and almost every inhabitant of the district is a
friend of theirs, by your account, will speedily have conveyed to them the
news that their capture is worth almost as much ransom as they hoped to
extort for me. That news ought to protect Lydia while she is among the
outlaws and ought to help me to get her back without much delay.

"As soon as I am in Rome I'll send a trusty agent up here to set on foot
negotiations with the outlaws and to rescue Lydia by paying what they ask
for her.

"And, the moment I reach Rome I'll set in motion all the forces I can
control or enlist, and I can influence many men in high places, I'll have
all I can influence working quietly and most unobtrusively for that
official manumission, of yours. Once you are free you had best travel
secretly and without haste to Bruttium. No folk are more secretive or more
loyal than the herders and foresters of Bruttium. Not only your former
slaves on your uncle's estate there, but all their neighbors will do as
much to keep secret your presence among them, and shield you and to make
you comfortable and happy as the Umbrians hereabouts have been doing to
help and protect Bulla and his band and to shield them from the
constabulary and authorities. In Bruttium you can lurk in safety as long
as Commodus lives and it will even be safe for us two to exchange letters.
In Bruttium it can be arranged that no secret-service agent or Imperial
spy can ever get wind of your existence, let alone of your hiding-place.
You can be free, in a way, housed comfortably, with no duties, able to
pass your time as you please, and well cared for. Tanno and I will see
that you are supplied with cash for the journey and for your needs after
you reach your haven."

The cocks crowed vociferously at all the neighboring farmsteads and we
could hear them plainly across the considerable distances from us to each.
The moon hung low and the pale first light of day began to overcome the
moonlight.

Vedia petted me and I petted her and she repeated her vows of unalterable
fidelity to her pledge to marry no one else and to hope to marry me.

As dawn brightened the hyenas burst into a belated chorus and a lion
roared far away. After that the beasts made no sounds which came to our
ears.

Vedia insisted on my eating more of her delicacies and, I confess, I ate
liberally and with relish. A night with almost no sleep and much
excitement causes an unnatural hunger at dawn and the delicious rarities
tempted me.

She explained, over and over, that I was to behave precisely as if we had
not encountered each other and be sure not to mistake some secret-service
agent for her emissary. The watchword was to be, in memory of that used at
my escape from Rome, that whoever came from her or Tanno to me would ask:

"Can you direct me to the leopard-tamer who rode the horse with the blue
saddle-cloth?"

I was to reply:

"The blue saddle-cloth was bordered with silver."

He was then to respond:

"I have silver for the leopard-tamer."

I was then to say:

"I am the leopard-tamer and I have a pouch for your silver."

After we had rehearsed the passwords till both were sure neither could
forget or misplace a word, as the day was coming on, we kept a keen
lookout through the partly opened panels. Before sunrise I saw the mounted
constables approaching down the mountain trail, for there were several
points on it where horsemen could be seen through the trees, even from
where we were.

I unfastened the coach door next the swamp, we kissed each other again and
again, and, as the horsemen came in sight away across the meadows where
they emerged from the woods, we exchanged a last farewell kiss and I
slipped out and across the swamp.

BOOK IV

DISSIMULATIONS

CHAPTER XXIX

FELIX

From the marsh my path homewards led me past the villa, for it was
directly between my cottage and the swamp. The very first human being I
encountered was the _Villicus_ himself.

"Hullo, Felix," he said. "I've been looking for you. We need you. Septima
says she hasn't seen you since early yesterday. Where have you been all
night?"

"Up a tree," I replied. "Bulla told me day before yesterday that he and
his lads planned a spectacular capture and robbery on the highway south of
Diana's Crag for yesterday afternoon. Most of the days lately on which you
haven't wanted me I have spent on top of the crag, watching the traffic on
the road. I went up there about the third hour yesterday morning, to view
the show Bulla had promised me. I expected to enjoy it, but, somehow, when
I saw the victims' coaches come in sight, the idea of a Roman lady in the
clutches of Bulla's gang went against my gorge. I ran down alongside the
crag towards where Selinus was grazing in the roadside pasture. He came to
me and I galloped up the highway and up the first crossroad to warn the
constabulary, who had gone up that road about noon, on some false
information given them by someone at Bulla's suggestion. Their officer
took my horse and I had to run with the infantrymen. My breath gave out
and my legs too and I dropped behind when they left the highway south of
the crag and struck off across country after the bandits, who had been
scared off by the cavalrymen. It took me a long time to get my breath and
rest my legs. When I felt able to walk it was after sunset. I can gentle
any beast by daylight, but after dusk I'm no better off than any other man
facing a lion or tiger. The brigands had opened scores of cages and the
freed beasts began to roar and snarl soon after sunset. I climbed a maple
and spent the night in a fork about six yards from the ground, where I
felt safe as long as I could keep awake. I dreaded to fall if I dozed, and
I was frightfully drowsy after such a hot day and such a long run. When
the sun rose I started home."

"Come along, prudent youth," he said, "we need you. The sub-procurator in
charge of the beast-train which the brigands interfered with is at the
villa: so are half his beast-tenders and teamsters. The animal-keepers vow
they dare not attempt to recapture their charges and the procurator is
angry and worried and anxious about his responsibility and what will be
expected of him by his superiors. He does not want to lose one single lion
or tiger or even hyena; wants them recaged at once. So do I. I've lost
more stock than I like to think of. The hyenas and panthers and leopards
have slaughtered a host of my sheep and goats, and the lions and tigers
have banqueted on some of my most promising colts and on many of my
cattle.

"Can you duplicate your feat with the panther loose on the highway?"

"I can repeat it as often as I can get anywhere near any of those beasts
by daylight," I said. "Let us start at once. There is no hurry, for the
beasts will do little damage in daytime, as most of them will hide till
dark. But there seems to be a large number loose; I doubt if I can catch
all of them before dusk."

"It'll take you two days, Felix, or three," the _Villicus_ laughed. "The
procurator states that his train had in its cages twenty-five panthers, as
many leopards, fifty tigers, a hundred lions and two hundred hyenas.
That's four hundred beasts for you to catch as fast as they can be located
by their keepers, assisted by my whole force of horse-wranglers, herdsmen,
shepherds, and the rest and all the farmers hereabouts, and all their
slaves. We'll have plenty of help. Three farmers are at the villa now
raving over the loss of sheep or cattle; every farmer will turn out with
his men to help us; anyhow, every bumpkin and yokel will want to enjoy the
fun and they'll all flock to the scene."

I do not know how many days I spent catching the escaped beasts for the
procurator. I enjoyed the first day, did not mind the second and was not
painfully weary on the third; but the rest passed in a daze of exhaustion;
though I had good horses, a fresh horse whenever I asked for it, wine and
good wine as often as I was thirsty, plenty of good food and every
consideration; and although the various farms at which I spent the nights
(for we did not once return to the villa) did all they could for my
comfort, the repetition, for hundreds of times, of dismounting,
approaching a lion or tiger in his daylight lair among reeds or tall grass
or bushes, catching him by the mane or the scruff of his neck, leading him
to his cage and caging him, was extremely, even unbelievably exhausting.

Whenever any of our searchers located a beast in hiding the teamsters
drove their wagons with his cage as near as might be; in no case did I
lead a cowed captive half a mile; seldom two furlongs. But I walked a
great distance in the course of each of these days, rode many miles in the
course of all the riding I did between recaptures, and was never calmed
between my recurrent periods of tense excitement. I felt limp.

My condition was not improved by the occurrence and recurrence of
perturbing excitement from a more disquieting cause. Early on my third day
of animal-catching, just as I stepped back from bolting the door of a cage
on a lion, I felt rather than saw out of the tail of my eye someone rush
towards me from behind, trip when a few yards from me and fall flat. I
whirled to look and beheld a mere lad, one of my fellow-slaves at the
villa, a stable cleaner, scrambling to his feet. When he was half up the
man nearest him, another of my fellow-slaves, an assistant colt-wrangler,
apparently the man who had tripped him, dealt him a smashing blow on the
ear with his clenched fist and felled him again. As he went down I saw
that he had a long-bladed, keen-edged, gleaming dagger in his right hand.
It flew from his grasp as he plowed up the ground with his face. The colt-
wrangler picked it up.

We were on a crossroad, some distance from the highway, in the woods. The
wagon and cage were surrounded by almost a score of the slaves of the
estate, with nearly as many more helpers; farm-slaves, farmers, teamsters,
beast-warders, yokels and stragglers; the _Villicus_ was near.

"Napsus," he said to the colt-wrangler, "kill him with his own dagger!"

Instantly Napsus stabbed the fallen lad between the shoulders. The thrust
went home neatly, under the left shoulder-blade, deep and inclined a
little upward. It must have reached his heart, for he died after one
violent convulsion which threw him into the air, and turned him completely
over, his corpse slapping the ground like a flopping fish on a stream-
bank.

"Hand me that rope!" the _Villicus_ ordered a teamster.

He knotted a hangman's noose at one end of the rope, tried it to make sure
it worked properly and ordered the estate slaves to hang the body to a
convenient limb of a near by tree. They did.

I stood, gazing questioningly, first at the swinging corpse, then at the
_Villicus_.

"Felix," said he, "I perceive that you do not understand. Tiro meant to
kill you, and would most likely have succeeded had not Napsus first
tripped him and then killed him. Napsus shall be handsomely rewarded in
every fashion within my power. Tiro has been dealt with as he deserved, as
any similar fool deserves. I propose to protect you to the extent of my
abilities and authority, which includes peremptory execution of any estate
slave whom I so much as suspect; I don't have to wait for any overt act,
nor for any threat, uttered or whispered or hinted. You can rely on all
the protection I can give you and I fancy it will suffice. If there is any
other fool about let him take notice."

He spoke loudly, so as to be audible to everyone of the gathering.

I stared numb, puzzled, almost dazed.

"But," I blurted out, "why did he try to kill me? Why should anyone want
to kill me?"

"You don't know Umbria, lad," spoke the _Villicus_, indulgently. "Many
eyes in addition to those of the teamsters and beast-wardens beheld you on
Selinus, galloping your fastest northwards along the highroad. Many saw
you turn Selinus up the crossroad the _viarii_ had taken. Many saw their
officer on Selinus when the cavalrymen charged down the highroad and
scattered the bandits. Many saw you afoot among the infantrymen when they
turned from the crossroad into the highway and as they double-quicked down
it. Every partisan of the outlaws blames you for their discomfiture, and
regards you as a detestable traitor, many a one is looking for such a
chance at you as Tiro thought he saw. I'll give you a body-guard of men I
can trust, for the rest of this beast-catching job. But keep a bright
lookout, yourself. You may need all your own strength and quickness to
save yourself."

The strain of this surprise and anxiety was a hundredfold as trying as the
most daunting beast-catching. I felt it.

I felt it more after a second similar attempt that very afternoon. I had
threaded a dense patch of undergrowth, approached a lurking leopard,
caught her and led her out of the thicket, led her almost to her waiting
cage. By this time our helpers were so used to seeing me cage lions,
panthers, leopards and tigers that they no longer, as at first, hovered at
a distance, gaping at me as I, completely alone with my catch, led it
towards its cage, set ready by its wagon, from which the team had been
loosed and removed: no longer drew off some yards beyond the cage and
wagon and stood ready for instant flight if my capture escaped me; they
now merely drew aside as I approached and opened a lane for me and my
charge, no more afraid than if I had been leading a calf.

As I drew near the cage, my mind intent on the leopard and my eyes on the
open cage door and its fastenings, a slave of one of the neighboring
farmers dashed at me, sheath-knife uplifted. He came from my left side,
from a little behind me. I whirled round to face him, pulling the leopard
round roughly, so that she snarled. I let her go. She was face to face
with my reckless assailant and they were close together. She gave one
joyful, gloating, triumphant squall and one mighty leap. Her claws sank
into his shoulders, her long white fangs met, horridly crunching, in his
throat, and she bore him to the earth where she crouched flat on him,
greedily gulping his blood.

The bystanders fairly fell over backwards in their panic as they
scattered. I stood by the leopard, and when she had exhausted the supply
of hot blood, succeeded in caging her; but dropped limp on the earth once
I had fastened her in her cage, for a beast of prey which had just tasted
human blood was a ward with which I had felt very uncertain of being able
to cope.

After that no one attempted to molest me while out catching the escaped
beasts. But the night before my last day of beast-catching, as I lay abed
very fast asleep at a villa fully ten miles from the Imperial villa where
I belonged, I became gradually aware of some noises, then slowly I
wakened. There was a fight going on at my door. Soon after I got out of
bed our host and my master, the _Villicus_, came with a light and three or
four slaves. The light revealed One of my fellow-slaves flat on his back
and another throttling him. A dagger lay on the floor. Evidently the one
had saved me from the other.

Late next afternoon, far up in the hills near Helvillum, I caught and
caged the last hyena. These, being smaller and more cowardly than the
nobler animals, were harder to locate. It was after sunset when we reached
the villa where we found the procurator in charge of the beast-train; and
along with, him and his men were welcomed and entertained.

After our bath and a lavish dinner the _Villicus_ exchanged a few
whispered words with our host and then he and I had a long conference
alone. He explained that my life was in danger, not only from local
friends of Bulla and partisans of the King of the Highwaymen who all not
merely regarded me with detestation and hatred as a traitor but suspected
me of being a government spy, but also from the King of the Highwaymen
himself, who was certain to be informed by Bulla of how they had been
discomfited and who had a long arm and countless capable and intrepid
agents. He was of the opinion that the three attempts at assassination
which I had escaped were a mere beginning. He was emphatic that I could
not remain on the Imperial estate and survive many days. He advised me
strongly not to return to the villa.

Then he told me that the procurator of the beast-train had sent to Rome by
an Imperial courier, whom he had managed to intercept at a change-station,
a letter setting forth my powers over fierce animals and asking that an
order be sent for my transfer from the horse-breeding estate to the Beast
Barracks attached to the Colosseum, where the animals are housed from
their arrival in Rome, until their display in the arena; that this letter
had come into the hands of the same officials who already had under
consideration the requisition for me made by the procurator in charge of
the Beast Barracks; that somehow these same officials appeared to know
nothing of my identity with the slave who had foiled the conspirators who
were fomenting a mutiny in the _ergastulum_ at Nuceria, and for whose
manumission a request had been made by the aldermen of that town, and
indeed appeared to know nothing of any such request for manumission; that
a requisition for my transfer from the horse-breeding estate to the Beast-
Barracks at Rome had been made out, approved by the higher officials,
sealed, stamped and sent out by an Imperial courier and received that very
afternoon by the procurator of the beast-train, who consequently had
authority to take me to Rome with him as one of the attendants on the
animals of his train, which was now again in order, I having recaged all
the four hundred escaped beasts, except five hyenas, one panther and one
lion which had been killed by stock-owners and their slaves while
attacking stock.

The _Villicus_ went on to say that this fell out very advantageously for
me, in his opinion. He advised me not only to go with the procurator
without demur, but to arrange with him that I drop the name of Felix and
adopt some other. He pointed out that, if it was known that Felix the
Horse-wrangler of Umbria had gone to Rome as Felix the Beast-Tamer, then
the King of the Highwaymen would be able without difficulty to trace me
and set on me his ruthless agents until one of them assassinated me.

I felt that he was right. The danger to my former self as Andivius
Hedulio, implicated in a conspiracy against Caesar, appeared now far off
and unimportant, in spite of the fact that the secret service might still
be keen to catch me and the hue and cry out after me from the Alps to
Rhegium; the danger to my present self from the enmity of Bulla, of his
ruffians, of their partisans in Umbria, of their Chief, the King of the
Highwaymen, whoever he might be, appeared close and menacing. A change of
name would make it impossible for Tanno and Vedia to carry out her plan
for my manumission by the _fiscus_, my clandestine journey to Bruttium and
my comfortable and unsuspected seclusion there until some other prince
succeeded our present Emperor. I had grasped eagerly at the thought of
this plan and had built much on it. But I realized that Bulla's admirers
or the agents of the King of the Highwaymen would make an end of me long
before Vedia's influence could obtain my manumission; and that, if she did
accomplish all she expected, I could never hope to escape the vigilance of
the tenacious and expert pursuers who would inevitably dog my footsteps.

I thought the advice of the _Villicus_ good. I regretted that I was not to
say farewell to Septima; she deserved a most fervent expression of my
esteem, gratitude, regard and good wishes; but, after my encounter with
Vedia, Septima seemed of very little importance. I had my amulet-bag on
its thong about my neck and my coin-belt about my waist. I agreed to go
with the procurator and thanked the _Villicus_ for his solicitude for me,
for his good offices and for his advice.

He said that it would be best that he should not know what name I meant to
adopt. Also he said that, if I was to escape the vengeance of the King of
the Highwaymen, it would be imperative that I be thought dead; he would
give out that I had been killed by one of my fellow-slaves and everybody
would assume that I had perished at the hands of some partisan of the
outlaws; Bulla and the King of the Highwaymen would feel their animosity
satiated.

I reflected that whereas news of my supposed assassination would fill
Vedia with grief and would probably, after her grief abated, leave her
feeling free to marry, yet, if a false report of my death was not spread
abroad, a genuine report of my actual death soon would be. It was a choice
between a lesser and a greater evil. I acquiesced.

I then ventured to ask him if he knew anything as to how far the brigands
had succeeded in spite of my intervention and how far they had failed
because of it. He told me that they had effected their escape with the
propraetor's coin-chests, the propraetor, and the procurator and had
carried off the widow's maid by mistake for the widow, on account of her
clever device of changing clothes with her mistress.

Also that Vedia had announced that she would pay a large ransom for her
maid.

I then felt safe to ask what had become of Vedia, her name being known
from her advertisement. He said she had procured horses and mules and had
returned to Rome, sending up agents from Nuceria to negotiate with the
bandits, rescue Lydia and pay her ransom.

The next day, at dawn, I set off with the beast-train, riding by the
procurator. He and I and the _Villicus_ had had a talk. After the
_Villicus_ left my name was Festus.

I asked the procurator what had become of the bullion on account of which
the brigands had routed out the cages. He laughed and asked whether I had
noted anything peculiar in the handling of the cages while I was returning
their contents to them. I said I had noticed that the rollers lashed to
the wagons were never used, but fresh-cut rollers each time a cage was
taken off a wagon or put back on.

He laughed again.

"You can conjecture then," he said, "why the outlaws got no grain of the
dust, let alone any nugget: six hundred rollers, even with very moderate
holes bored into half of them, would hold more bullion than the procurator
was convoying."

I laughed also.

"I suppose," I said, "it could not be told which rollers were bored out
and might crush if used."

"Just so!" said he.

We journeyed to Rome with as much hurry as could be made by such a beast-
train, which was very slowly for men on good horses. We made excursions up
crossroads, idled at inns, were entertained at villas and I decidedly
enjoyed the beginning of my life as Festus the Beast-Tamer. We were
fourteen full days on the road.

I had time to meditate on the fifth fulfillment of the prophecy of the
Aemilian Sibyl. Also I had time to offer two white hens to Mercury at
Nuceria, at Spolitum, at Interamnia, at Narnia and at Ocriculum.

Towards sunset just before our last night's halt out of the city, from a
hilltop on the highway, I had a glorious view of Rome bathed in mellow
evening sunlight, much as I had viewed it when I came down the same
highroad with the mutineers from Britain. As always this unsurpassable
sight filled me with intense emotions.

We entered Rome, of course, by the Flaminian Gate and at dawn. Before
sunrise I was in the great mass of buildings variously known as the
Choragium, the Therotheca, the Animal Mansions and the Beast-Barracks.
These were mostly of many stories, the ground-level used for the beasts,
the second floor for their keepers and attendants, the cage-cleaners, the
overseers, and the rest of the army of men who cared for the animals, and
the upper floors utilized as store-rooms for all sorts of weapons, armor,
costumes, implements and apparatus used in and for the spectacles; swords,

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