Part 6 out of 6
What could this mean? He began to conjecture, and soon both of us felt
filled with horror.
"I recognize the hand of Providence!" exclaimed the judge. "A terrible
crime has evidently been committed, and would never have come to light
had it not been for this accident. I shall do my duty, and will not
rest until I have brought the assassin to the scaffold."
My friend Zarco was one of the keenest criminal judges in Spain. Within
a very few days he discovered that the corpse to which this skull
belonged had been buried in a rough wooden coffin which the grave
digger had taken home with him, intending to use it for firewood.
Fortunately, the man had not yet burned it up, and on the lid the judge
managed to decipher the initials: "A.G.R." together with the date of
interment. He had at once searched the parochial books of every church
in the neighborhood, and a week later found the following entry:
"In the parochial church of San Sebastian of the village of ----,
on the 4th of May, 1843, the funeral rites as prescribed by our
holy religion were performed over the body of Don Alfonzo
Gutierrez Romeral, and he was buried in the cemetery. He was a
native of this village and did not receive the holy sacrament, nor
did he confess, for he died suddenly of apoplexy at the age of
thirty-one. He was married to Dona Gabriela Zahara del Valle, a
native of Madrid, and left no issue him surviving."
The judge handed me the above certificate, duly certified to by the
parish priest, and exclaimed: "Now everything is as clear as day, and I
am positive that within a week the assassin will be arrested. The
apoplexy in this case happens to be an iron nail driven into the man's
head, which brought quick and sudden death to A.G.R. I have the nail,
and I shall soon find the hammer."
According to the testimony of the neighbors, Senor Romeral was a young
and rich landowner who originally came from Madrid, where he had
married a beautiful wife; four months before the death of the husband,
his wife had gone to Madrid to pass a few months with her family; the
young woman returned home about the last day of April, that is, about
three months and a half after she had left her husband's residence to
go to Madrid; the death of Senor Romeral occurred about a week after
her return. The shock caused to the widow by the sudden death of her
husband was so great that she became ill and informed her friends that
she could not continue to live in the same place where everything
recalled to her the man she had lost, and just before the middle of May
she had left for Madrid, ten or twelve days after the death of her
The servants of the deceased had testified that the couple did not live
amicably together and had frequent quarrels; that the absence of three
months and a half which preceded the last eight days the couple had
lived together was practically an understanding that they were to be
ultimately separated on account of mysterious disagreements which had
existed between them from the date of their marriage; that on the date
of the death of the deceased, both husband and wife were together in
the former's bedroom; that at midnight the bell was rung violently and
they heard the cries of the wife; that they rushed to the room and were
met at the door by the wife, who was very pale and greatly perturbed,
and she cried out: "An apoplexy! Run for a doctor! My poor husband is
dying!" That when they entered the room they found their master lying
upon a couch, and he was dead. The doctor who was called certified that
Senor Romeral had died of cerebral congestion.
Three medical experts testified that death brought about as this one
had been could not be distinguished from apoplexy. The physician who
had been called in had not thought to look for the head of the nail,
which was concealed by the hair of the victim, nor was he in any sense
to blame for this oversight.
The judge immediately issued a warrant for the arrest of Dona Gabriela
Zahara del Valle, widow of Senor Romeral.
"Tell me," I asked the judge one day, "do you think you will ever
capture this woman?"
"I'm positive of it."
"Because in the midst of all these routine criminal affairs there
occurs now and then what may be termed a dramatic fatality which never
fails. To put it in another way: when the bones come out of the tomb to
testify, there is very little left for the judge to do."
In spite of the hopes of my friend, Gabriela was not found, and three
months later she was, according to the laws of Spain, tried, found
guilty, and condemned to death in her absence.
I returned home, not without promising to be with Zarco the following
That winter I passed in Granada. One evening I had been invited to a
great ball given by a prominent Spanish lady. As I was mounting the
stairs of the magnificent residence, I was startled by the sight of a
face which was easily distinguishable even in this crowd of southern
beauties. It was she, my unknown, the mysterious woman of the
stagecoach, in fact, No. 1, of whom I spoke at the beginning of this
I made my way toward her, extending my hand in greeting. She recognized
me at once.
"Senora," I said, "I have kept my promise not to search for you. I did
not know I would meet you here. Had I suspected it I would have
refrained from coming, for fear of annoying you. Now that I am here,
tell me whether I may recognize you and talk to you."
"I see that you are vindictive," she answered graciously, putting her
little hand in mine. "But I forgive you. How are you?"
"In truth, I don't know. My health--that is, the health of my soul, for
you would not ask me about anything else in a ballroom--depends upon
the health of yours. What I mean is that I could only be happy if you
are happy. May I ask if that wound of the heart which you told me about
when I met you in the stagecoach has healed?"
"You know as well as I do that there are wounds which never heal."
With a graceful bow she turned away to speak to an acquaintance, and I
asked a friend of mine who was passing: "Can you tell me who that woman
"A South American whose name is Mercedes de Meridanueva."
On the following day I paid a visit to the lady, who was residing at
that time at the Hotel of the Seven Planets. The charming Mercedes
received me as if I were an intimate friend, and invited me to walk
with her through the wonderful Alhambra and subsequently to dine with
her. During the six hours we were together she spoke of many things,
and as we always returned to the subject of disappointed love, I felt
impelled to tell her the experience of my friend, Judge Zarco.
She listened to me very attentively and when I concluded she laughed
and said: "Let this be a lesson to you not to fall in love with women
whom you do not know."
"Do not think for a moment," I answered, "that I've invented this
"Oh, I don't doubt the truth of it. Perhaps there may be a mysterious
woman in the Hotel of the Seven Planets of Granada, and perhaps she
doesn't resemble the one your friend fell in love with in Sevilla. So
far as I am concerned, there is no risk of my falling in love with
anyone, for I never speak three times to the same man."
"Senora! That is equivalent to telling me that you refuse to see me
"No, I only wish to inform you that I leave Granada to-morrow, and it is
probable that we will never meet again."
"Never? You told me that during our memorable ride in the stagecoach,
and you see that you are not a good prophet."
I noticed that she had become very pale. She rose from the table
abruptly, saying: "Well, let us leave that to Fate. For my part I
repeat that I am bidding you an eternal farewell."
She said these last words very solemnly, and then with a graceful bow,
turned and ascended the stairway which led to the upper story of the
I confess that I was somewhat annoyed at the disdainful way in which
she seemed to have terminated our acquaintance, yet this feeling was
lost in the pity I felt for her when I noted her expression of
We had met for the last time. Would to God that it had been for the
last time! Man proposes, but God disposes.
A few days later business affairs brought me to the town wherein
resided my friend Judge Zarco. I found him as lonely and as sad as at
the time of my last visit. He had been able to find out nothing about
Blanca, but he could not forget her for a moment. Unquestionably this
woman was his fate; his heaven or his hell, as the unfortunate man was
accustomed to saying.
We were soon to learn that his judicial superstition was to be fully
The evening of the day of my arrival we were seated in his office,
reading the last reports of the police, who had been vainly attempting
to trace Gabriela, when an officer entered and handed the judge a note
which read as follows:
"In the Hotel of the Lion there is a lady who wishes to speak to Judge
"Who brought this?" asked the judge.
"Who sent him?"
"He gave no name."
The judge looked thoughtfully at the smoke of his cigar for a few
moments, and then said: "A woman! To see me? I don't know why, but this
thing frightens me. What do you think of it, Philip?"
"That it is your duty as a judge to answer the call, of course. Perhaps
she may be able to give you some information in regard to Gabriela."
"You are right," answered Zarco, rising. He put a revolver in his
pocket, threw his cloak over his shoulders and went out.
Two hours later he returned.
I saw at once by his face that some great happiness must have come to
him. He put his arms about me and embraced me convulsively, exclaiming:
"Oh, dear friend, if you only knew, if you only knew!"
"But I don't know anything," I answered. "What on earth has happened to
"I'm simply the happiest man in the world!"
"But what is it?"
"The note that called me to the hotel was from _her_."
"But from whom? From Gabriela Zahara?"
"Oh, stop such nonsense! Who is thinking of those things now? It was
she, I tell you, the other one!"
"In the name of heaven, be calm and tell me whom you are talking
"Who could it be but Blanca, my love, my life?"
"Blanca?" I answered with astonishment. "But the woman deceived you."
"Oh, no; that was all a foolish mistake on my part."
"Listen: Blanca adores me!"
"Oh, you think she does? Well, go on."
"When Blanca and I separated on the fifteenth of April, it was
understood that we were to meet again on the fifteenth of May. Shortly
after I left she received a letter calling her to Madrid on urgent
family business, and she did not expect me back until the fifteenth of
May, so she remained in Madrid until the first. But, as you know, I, in
my impatience could not wait, and returned fifteen days before I had
agreed, and not finding her at the hotel I jumped to the conclusion
that she had deceived me, and I did not wait. I have gone through two
years of torment and suffering, all due to my own stupidity."
"But she could have written you a letter."
"She said that she had forgotten the address."
"Ah, my poor friend," I exclaimed, "I see that you are striving to
convince yourself. Well, so much the better. Now, when does the
marriage take place? I suppose that after so long and dark a night the
sun of matrimony will rise radiant."
"Don't laugh," exclaimed Zarco; "you shall be my best man."
"With much pleasure."
* * * * *
Man proposes, but God disposes. We were still seated in the library,
chatting together, when there came a knock at the door. It was about
two o'clock in the morning. The judge and I were both startled, but we
could not have told why. The servant opened the door, and a moment
later a man dashed into the library so breathless from hard running
that he could scarcely speak.
"Good news, judge, grand news!" he said when he recovered breath. "We
The man was the prosecuting attorney.
"Explain yourself, my dear friend," said the judge, motioning him to a
chair. "What remarkable occurrence could have brought you hither in
such haste and at this hour of the morning?"
"We have arrested Gabriela Zahara."
"Arrested her?" exclaimed the judge joyfully.
"Yes, sir, we have her. One of our detectives has been following her
for a month. He has caught her, and she is now locked up in a cell of
"Then let us go there at once!" exclaimed the judge. "We will
interrogate her to-night. Do me the favor to notify my secretary. Owing
to the gravity of the case, you yourself must be present. Also notify
the guard who has charge of the head of Senor Romeral. It has been my
opinion from the beginning that this criminal woman would not dare deny
the horrible murder when she was confronted with the evidence of her
crime. So far as you are concerned," said the judge, turning to me, "I
will appoint you assistant secretary, so that you can be present
without violating the law."
I did not answer. A horrible suspicion had been growing within me, a
suspicion which, like some infernal animal, was tearing at my heart
with claws of steel. Could Gabriela and Blanca be one and the same? I
turned to the assistant district attorney.
"By the way," I asked, "where was Gabriela when she was arrested?"
"In the Hotel of the Lion."
My suffering was frightful, but I could say nothing, do nothing without
compromising the judge; besides, I was not sure. Even if I were
positive that Gabriela and Blanca were the same person, what could my
unfortunate friend do? Feign a sudden illness? Flee the country? My
only way was to keep silent and let God work it out in His own way. The
orders of the judge had already been communicated to the chief of
police and the warden of the prison. Even at this hour the news had
spread throughout the city and idlers were gathering to see the rich
and beautiful woman who would ascend the scaffold. I still clung to the
slender hope that Gabriela and Blanca were not the same person. But
when I went toward the prison I staggered like a drunken man and was
compelled to lean upon the shoulder of one of the officials, who asked
me anxiously if I were ill.
We arrived at the prison at four o'clock in the morning. The large
reception room was brilliantly lighted. The guard, holding a black box
in which was the skull of Senor Romeral, was awaiting us.
The judge took his seat at the head of the long table; the prosecuting
attorney sat on his right, and the chief of police stood by with his
arms folded. I and the secretary sat on the left of the judge. A number
of police officers and detectives were standing near the door.
The judge touched his bell and said to the warden:
"Bring in Dona Gabriela Zahara!"
I felt as if I were dying, and instead of looking at the door, I looked
at the judge to see if I could read in his face the solution of this
I saw him turn livid and clutch his throat with both hands, as if to
stop a cry of agony, and then he turned to me with a look of infinite
"Keep quiet!" I whispered, putting my finger on my lips, and then I
added: "I knew it."
The unfortunate man arose from his chair.
"Judge!" I exclaimed, and in that one word I conveyed to him the full
sense of his duty and of the dangers which surrounded him. He
controlled himself and resumed his seat, but were it not for the light
in his eyes, he might have been taken for a dead man. Yes, the man was
dead; only the judge lived.
When I had convinced myself of this, I turned and looked at the
accused. Good God! Gabriela Zahara was not only Blanca, the woman my
friend so deeply loved, but she was also the woman I had met in the
stagecoach and subsequently at Granada, the beautiful South American,
All these fantastic women had now merged into one, the real one who
stood before us, accused of the murder of her husband and who had been
condemned to die.
There was still a chance to prove herself innocent. Could she do it?
This was my one supreme hope, as it was that of my poor friend.
Gabriela (we will call her now by her real name) was deathly pale, but
apparently calm. Was she trusting to her innocence or to the weakness
of the judge? Our doubts were soon solved. Up to that moment the
accused had looked at no one but the judge. I did not know whether she
desired to encourage him or menace him, or to tell him that his Blanca
could not be an assassin. But noting the impassibility of the
magistrate and that his face was as expressionless as that of a corpse,
she turned to the others, as if seeking help from them. Then her eyes
fell upon me, and she blushed slightly.
The judge now seemed to awaken from his stupor and asked in a harsh
"What is your name?"
"Gabriela Zahara, widow of Romeral," answered the accused in a soft
Zarco trembled. He had just learned that his Blanca had never existed;
she told him so herself--she who only three hours before had consented
to become his wife!
Fortunately, no one was looking at the judge, all eyes being fixed upon
Gabriela, whose marvelous beauty and quiet demeanor carried to all an
almost irresistible conviction of her innocence.
The judge recovered himself, and then, like a man who is staking more
than life upon the cast of a die, he ordered the guard to open the
"Madame!" said the judge sternly, his eyes seeming to dart flames,
"approach and tell me whether you recognize this head?"
At a signal from the judge the guard opened the black box and lifted
out the skull.
A cry of mortal agony rang through that room; one could not tell
whether it was of fear or of madness. The woman shrank back, her eyes
dilating with terror, and screamed: "Alfonzo, Alfonzo!"
Then she seemed to fall into a stupor. All turned to the judge,
murmuring: "She is guilty beyond a doubt."
"Do you recognize the nail which deprived your husband of life?" said
the judge, arising from his chair, looking like a corpse rising from
"Yes, sir," answered Gabriela mechanically.
"That is to say, you admit that you assassinated your husband?" asked
the judge, in a voice that trembled with his great suffering.
"Sir," answered the accused, "I do not care to live any more, but
before I die I would like to make a statement."
The judge fell back in his chair and then asked me by a look: "What is
she going to say?"
I, myself, was almost stupefied by fear.
Gabriela stood before them, her hands clasped and a far-away look in
her large, dark eyes.
"I am going to confess," she said, "and my confession will be my
defense, although it will not be sufficient to save me from the
scaffold. Listen to me, all of you! Why deny that which is
self-evident? I was alone with my husband when he died. The servants
and the doctor have testified to this. Hence, only I could have killed
him. Yes, I committed the crime, but another man forced me to do it."
The judge trembled when he heard these words, but, dominating his
emotion, he asked courageously:
"The name of that man, madame? Tell us at once the name of the
Gabriela looked at the judge with an expression of infinite love, as a
mother would look at the child she worshiped, and answered: "By a
single word I could drag this man into the depths with me. But I will
not. No one shall ever know his name, for he has loved me and I love
him. Yes, I love him, although I know he will do nothing to save me!"
The judge half rose from his chair and extended his hands beseechingly,
but she looked at him as if to say: "Be careful! You will betray
yourself, and it will do no good."
He sank back into his chair, and Gabriela continued her story in a
quiet, firm voice:
"I was forced to marry a man I hated. I hated him more after I married
him than I did before. I lived three years in martyrdom. One day there
came into my life a man whom I loved. He demanded that I should marry
him, he asked me to fly with him to a heaven of happiness and love. He
was a man of exceptional character, high and noble, whose only fault
was that he loved me too much. Had I told him: 'I have deceived you, I
am not a widow; my husband is living,' he would have left me at once. I
invented a thousand excuses, but he always answered: 'Be my wife!' What
could I do? I was bound to a man of the vilest character and habits,
whom I loathed. Well, I killed this man, believing that I was
committing an act of justice, and God punished me, for my lover
abandoned me. And now I am very, very tired of life, and all I ask of
you is that death may come as quickly as possible."
Gabriela stopped speaking. The judge had buried his face in his hands,
as if he were thinking, but I could see he was shaking like an
"Your honor," repeated Gabriela, "grant my request that I may die
The judge made a sign to the guards to remove the prisoner.
Before she followed them, she gave me a terrible look in which there
was more of pride than of repentance.
* * * * *
I do not wish to enter into details of the condition of the judge
during the following day. In the great emotional struggle which took
place, the officer of the law conquered the man, and he confirmed the
sentence of death.
On the following day the papers were sent to the Court of Appeals, and
then Zarco came to me and said: "Wait here until I return. Take care of
this unfortunate woman, but do not visit her, for your presence would
humiliate instead of consoling her. Do not ask me whither I am going,
and do not think that I am going to commit the very foolish act of
taking my own life. Farewell, and forgive me all the worry I have
Twenty days later the Court of Appeals confirmed the sentence, and
Gabriela Zahara was placed in the death cell.
* * * * *
The morning of the day fixed for the execution came, and still the
judge had not returned. The scaffold had been erected in the center of
the square, and an enormous crowd had gathered. I stood by the door of
the prison, for, while I had obeyed the wish of my friend that I should
not call on Gabriela in her prison, I believed it my duty to represent
him in that supreme moment and accompany the woman he had loved to the
foot of the scaffold.
When she appeared, surrounded by her guards, I hardly recognized her.
She had grown very thin and seemed hardly to have the strength to lift
to her lips the small crucifix she carried in her hand.
"I am here, senora. Can I be of service to you?" I asked her as she
passed by me.
She raised her deep, sunken eyes to mine, and, when she recognized me,
"Oh, thanks, thanks! This is a great consolation for me, in my last
hour of life. Father," she added, turning to the priest who stood
beside her, "may I speak a few words to this generous friend?"
"Yes, my daughter," answered the venerable minister.
Then Gabriela asked me: "Where is he?"
"He is absent--"
"May God bless him and make him happy! When you see him, ask him to
forgive me even as I believe God has already forgiven me. Tell him I
love him yet, although this love is the cause of my death."
We had arrived at the foot of the scaffold stairway, where I was
compelled to leave her. A tear, perhaps the last one there was in that
suffering heart, rolled down her cheek. Once more she said: "Tell him
that I died blessing him."
Suddenly there came a roar like that of thunder. The mass of people
swayed, shouted, danced, laughed like maniacs, and above all this
tumult one word rang out clearly:
At the entrance to the square appeared a man on horseback, galloping
madly toward the scaffold. In his hand he waved a white handkerchief,
and his voice rang high above the clamor of the crowd: "Pardoned!
It was the judge. Reining up his foaming horse at the foot of the
scaffold, he extended a paper to the chief of police.
Gabriela, who had already mounted some of the steps, turned and gave
the judge a look of infinite love and gratitude.
"God bless you!" she exclaimed, and then fell senseless.
As soon as the signatures and seals upon the document had been verified
by the authorities, the priest and the judge rushed to the accused to
undo the cords which bound her hands and arms and to revive her.
All their efforts were useless, however. Gabriela Zahara was dead.
"I know nothing at all about it, your honor!"
"Nothing at all? How can that be? It all happened within fifty yards of
"'Nothing at all,' I said, ... in an off-hand way; but really, next to
nothing. I am a barber, your honor, and Heaven be praised! I have
custom enough to keep me busy from morning till night. There are three
of us in the shop, and what with shaving and combing and hair-cutting,
not one of the three has the time to stop and scratch his head, and I
least of all. Many of my customers are so kind as to prefer my services
to those of my two young men; perhaps because I amuse them with my
little jokes. And, what with lathering and shaving this face and that,
and combing the hair on so many heads--how does your honor expect me to
pay attention to other people's affairs? And the morning that I read
about it in the paper, why, I stood there with my mouth wide open, and
I said, 'Well, that was the way it was bound to end!'"
"Why did you say, 'That was the way it was bound to end'?"
"Why--because it had ended that way! You see--on the instant, I called
to mind the ugly face of the husband. Every time I saw him pass up or
down the street--one of those impressions that no one can account
for--I used to think, 'That fellow has the face of a convict!' But of
course that proves nothing. There are plenty who have the bad luck to
be uglier than mortal sin, but very worthy people all the same. But in
this case I didn't think that I was mistaken."
"But you were friends. He used to come very often and sit down at the
entrance to your barber shop."
"Very often? Only once in a while, your honor! 'By your leave,
neighbor,' he would say. He always called me 'neighbor'; that was his
name for everyone. And I would say, 'Why, certainly.' The chair stood
there, empty. Your honor understands that I could hardly be so uncivil
as to say to him, 'No, you can't sit down.' A barber shop is a public
place, like a cafe or a beer saloon. At all events, one may sit down
without paying for it, and no need to have a shave or hair-cut, either!
'By your leave, neighbor,' and there he would sit, in silence, smoking
and scowling, with his eyes half shut. He would loaf there for half an
hour, an hour, sometimes longer. He annoyed me, I don't deny it, from
the very start. There was a good deal of talk."
"What sort of talk?"
"A good deal of talk. Your honor knows, better than I, how evil-minded
people are. I make it a practice not to believe a syllable of what I am
told about anyone, good or evil; that is the way to keep out of
"Come, come, what sort of talk? Keep to the point."
"What sort of talk? Why, one day they would say this, and the next day
they would say that, and by harping on it long enough, they made
themselves believe that the wife--Well, your honor knows that a pretty
wife is a chastisement of God. And after all, there are some things
that you can't help seeing unless you won't see!"
"Then it was he, the husband--"
"I know nothing about it, your honor, nothing at all! But it is quite
true that every time he came and sat down by my doorway or inside the
shop, I used to say to myself, 'If that man can't see, he certainly
must be blind! and if he won't see, he certainly must be--Your honor
knows what I mean. There was certainly no getting out of that--out of
that--Perhaps your honor can help me to the right word?"
"Dilemma, yes, your honor. And Biasi, the notary, who comes to me to be
shaved, uses another word that just fits the case, begging your honor's
"Then, according to you, this Don Nicasio--"
"Oh, I won't put my finger in the pie! Let him answer for himself.
Everyone has a conscience of his own; and Jesus Christ has said, 'Judge
not, lest ye be judged.' Well, one morning--or was it in the evening? I
don't exactly remember--yes, now it comes back to me that it was in the
morning--I saw him pass by, scowling and with his head bent down; I was
in my doorway, sharpening a razor. Out of curiosity I gave him a
passing word as well as a nod, adding a gesture that was as good as a
question. He came up to me, looked me straight in the face, and
answered: 'Haven't I told you that, sooner or later, I should do
something crazy? And I shall, neighbor, yes, I shall! They are dragging
me by the hair!' 'Let me cut it off, then!' I answered jokingly, to
make him forget himself."
"So, he had told you before, had he? How did he happen to tell you
"Oh, your honor knows how words slip out of the mouth at certain
moments. Who pays attention to them? For my part, I have too many other
things in my head--"
"Come, come--what had he been talking about, when he told you before?"
"Great heavens, give me time to think, your honor! What had he been
talking about? Why, about his wife, of course. Who knows? Some one must
have put a flea in his ear. It needs only half a word to ruin a poor
devil's peace of mind. And that is how a man lets such words slip out
of his mouth as 'Sooner or later I shall do something crazy!' That is
all. I know nothing else about it, your honor!"
"And the only answer you made him was a joke?"
"I could not say to him, 'Go ahead and do it,' could I? As it was he
went off, shaking his head. And what idea he kept brooding over, after
that, who knows? One can't see inside of another man's brain. But
sometimes, when I heard him freeing his mind--"
"Then he used to free his mind to you?"
"Why, yes, to me, and maybe to others besides. You see, one bears
things and bears things and bears things; and at last, rather than
burst with them, one frees one's mind to the first man who comes
"But you were not the first man who came along. You used to call at his
"Only as a barber, your honor! Only when Don Nicasio used to send for
me. And very often I would get there too late, though I tried my best."
"And very likely you sometimes went there when you knew that he was not
"On purpose, your honor? No, never!"
"And when you found his wife alone, you allowed yourself--"
"Calumnies, your honor! Who dares say such a thing? Does she say so? It
may be that once or twice a few words escaped me in jest. You know how
it is--when I found myself face to face with a pretty woman--you know
how it is--if only not to cut a foolish figure!"
"But it was very far from a joke! You ended by threatening her!"
"What calumnies! Threaten her? What for? A woman of her stamp doesn't
need to be threatened! I would never have stooped so low! I am no
"Passion leads men into all sorts of folly."
"That woman is capable of anything! She would slander our Lord himself
to His face! Passion? I? At my age? I am well on in the forties, your
honor, and many a gray hair besides. Many a folly I committed in my
youth, like everyone else. But now--Besides, with a woman like that! I
was no blind man, even if Don Nicasio was. I knew that that young
fellow--poor fool, he paid dearly for her--I knew that he had turned
her head. That's the way with some women--they go their own gait,
they're off with one and on with another, and then they end by becoming
the slave of some scalawag who robs and abuses them! He used to beat
her, your honor, many and many a time, your honor! And I, for the sake
of the poor husband, whom I pitied--Yes, that is why she says that I
threatened her. She says so, because I was foolish enough to go and
give her a talking to, the day that Don Nicasio said to me, 'I shall do
something crazy!' She knew what I meant, at least she pretended that
"No; this was what you said--"
"Yes, your honor, I remember now exactly what I said. 'I'll spoil your
sport,' I told her, 'if it sends me to the galleys!' but I was speaking
in the name of the husband. In the heat of the moment one falls into a
"The husband knew nothing of all this."
"Was I to boast to him of what I had done? A friend either gives his
services or else he doesn't. That is how I understand it."
"Why were you so much concerned about it? ".
"I ought not to have been, your honor. I have too soft a heart."
"Your threats became troublesome. And not threats alone, but promise
after promise! And gifts besides, a ring and a pair of earrings--"
"That is true. I won't deny it. I found them in my pocket, quite by
chance. They belonged to my wife. It was an extravagance, but I did it,
to keep poor Don Nicasio from doing something crazy. If I could only
win my point, I told myself, if I could only get that young fellow out
of the way, then it would be time enough to say to Don Nicasio, 'My
friend, give me back my ring and my earrings!' He would not have needed
to be told twice. He is an honorable man, Don Nicasio!"
"But when she answered you, 'Keep them yourself, I don't want them!'
you began to beg her, almost in tears--"
"Ah, your honor! since you must be told--I don't know how I managed to
control myself--I had so completely put myself in the place of the
husband! I could have strangled her with my own hands! I could have
done that very same crazy thing that Don Nicasio thought of doing!"
"Yet you were very prudent, that is evident. You said to yourself: 'If
not for me, then not for him!' The lover, I mean, not Don Nicasio. And
you began to work upon the husband, who, up to that time, had let
things slide, either because he did not believe, or else because he
preferred to bear the lesser evil--"
"It may be that some chance word escaped me. There are times when a man
of honor loses his head--but beyond that, nothing, your honor. Don
Nicasio himself will bear me witness."
"But Don Nicasio says--"
"He, too? Has he failed me? Has he turned against me? A fine way to
show his gratitude!"
"He has nothing to be grateful for. Don't excite yourself! Sit down
again. You began by protesting that you knew nothing at all about it.
And yet you knew so many things. You must know quite a number more.
Don't excite yourself."
"You want to drag me over a precipice, your honor! I begin to
"Men who are blinded by passion walk over precipices on their own
"But--then your honor imagines that I, myself--"
"I imagine nothing. It is evident that you were the instigator, and
something more than the instigator, too."
"Calumny, calumny, your honor!"
"That same evening you were seen talking with the husband until quite
"I was trying to persuade him not to. I said to him, 'Let things alone!
Since it is your misfortune to have it so, what difference does it make
whether he is the one, or somebody else?' And he kept repeating,
'Somebody else, yes, but not that rotten beast!' His very words, your
"You stood at the corner of the adjoining street, lying in wait."
"Who saw me there? Who saw us, your honor?"
"You were seen. Come, make up your mind to tell all you know. It will
be better for you. The woman testifies, 'There were two of them,' but
in the dark she could not recognize the other one."
"Just because I wanted to do a kind act! This is what I have brought on
myself by trying to do a kind act!"
"You stood at the street corner--"
"It was like this, your honor. I had gone with him as far as that. But
when I saw that it was no use to try to stop him--it was striking
eleven--the streets were deserted--I started to leave him indignantly,
without a parting word--"
"Well, what next? Do I need tongs to drag the words out of your mouth?"
"What next? Why, your honor knows how it is at night, under the
lamplight. You see and then you don't see--that's the way it is. I
turned around--Don Nicasio had plunged through the doorway of his
home--just by the entrance to the little lane. A cry!--then nothing
"You ran forward? That was quite natural."
"I hesitated on the threshold--the hallway was so dark."
"You couldn't have done that. The woman would have recognized you by
the light of the street lamp."
"The lamp is some distance off."
"You went in one after the other. Which of you shut the door? Because
the door was shut immediately."
"In the confusion of the moment--two men struggling together--I could
hear them gasping--I wanted to call for help--then a fall! And then I
felt myself seized by the arm: 'Run, neighbor, run! This is no business
of yours!' It didn't sound like the voice of a human being. And that
was how--that was how I happened to be there, a helpless witness. I
think that Don Nicasio meant to kill his wife, too; but the wretched
woman escaped. She ran and shut herself up in her room. That is--I read
so afterwards, in the papers. The husband would have been wiser to have
killed her first. Evil weeds had better be torn up by the roots. What
are you having that man write, your honor?"
"Nothing at all, as you call it. Just your deposition. The clerk will
read it to you now, and you will sign it."
"Can any harm come to me from it? I am innocent! I have only said what
you wanted to make me say. You have tangled me up in a fine net, like a
little fresh-water fish!"
"Wait a moment. And this is the most important thing of all. How did it
happen that the mortal wounds on the dead man's body were made with a
"Oh, the treachery of Don Nicasio! My God! My God! Yes, your honor. Two
days before--no one can think of everything, no one can foresee
everything--he came to the shop and said to me, 'Neighbor, lend me a
razor; I have a corn that is troubling me.' He was so matter-of-fact
about it that I did not hesitate for an instant. I even warned him, 'Be
careful! you can't joke with corns! A little blood, and you may start a
cancer!' 'Don't borrow trouble, neighbor,' he answered."
"But the razor could not be found. You must have brought it away."
"I? Who would remember a little thing like that? I was more dead than
alive, your honor. Where are you trying to lead me, with your
questions? I tell you, I am innocent!"
"Do not deny so obstinately. A frank confession will help you far more
than to protest your innocence. The facts speak clearly enough. It is
well known how passion maddens the heart and the brain. A man in that
state is no longer himself."
"That is the truth, your honor! That wretched woman bewitched me! She
is sending me to the galleys! The more she said 'No, no, no!' the more
I felt myself going mad, from head to foot, as if she were pouring fire
over me, with her 'No, no, no!' But now--I do not want another man to
suffer in my place. Yes, I was the one, I was the one who killed him! I
was bewitched, your honor! I am willing to go to the galleys. But I am
coming back here, if I have the good luck to live through my term. Oh,
the justice of this world! To think that she goes scot free, the real
and only cause of all the harm! But I will see that she gets justice,
that I solemnly swear--with these two hands of mine, your honor! In
prison I shall think of nothing else. And if I come back and find her
alive--grown old and ugly, it makes no difference--she will have to pay
for it, she will have to make good! Ah, 'no, no, no!' But I will say,
'Yes, yes, yes!' And I will drain her last drop of blood, if I have to
end my days in the galleys. And the sooner, the better!"
_The Adventure of the Three Robbers_
The great satire of Lucius Apuleius, the work through which his
name lives after the lapse of nearly eighteen centuries, is "The
Golden Ass," a romance from which the following passage has been
selected and translated for these Mystery Stories. Lucius, the
personage who tells the story, is regarded in some quarters as a
portrayal of the author himself. The purpose of "The Golden Ass"
was to satirize false priests and other contemporary frauds. But
interspersed are many episodes of adventure and strange situations,
one of which is here given.
As Telephron reached the point of his story, his fellow revelers,
befuddled with their wine, renewed the boisterous uproar. And while the
old topers were clamoring for the customary libation to laughter,
Byrrhaena explained to me that the morrow was a day religiously observed
by her city from its cradle up; a day on which they alone among mortals
propitiated that most sacred god, Laughter, with hilarious and joyful
rites. "The fact that you are here," she added, "will make it all the
merrier. And I do wish that you would contribute something amusing out
of your own cleverness, in honor of the god, to help us duly worship
such an important divinity."
"Surely," said I, "what you ask shall be done. And, by Jove! I hope I
shall hit upon something good enough to make this mighty god of yours
reveal his presence."
Hereupon, my slave reminding me what hour of night it was, I speedily
got upon my feet, although none too steadily after my potations, and,
having duly taken leave of Byrrhaena, guided my zigzag steps upon the
homeward way. But at the very first corner we turned, a sudden gust of
wind blew out the solitary torch on which we depended, and left us,
plunged in the unforeseen blackness of night, to stumble wearily and
painfully to our abode, bruising our feet on every stone in the road.
But when at last, holding each other up, we drew near our goal, there
ahead of us were three others, of big and brawny build, expending the
full energy of their strength upon our doorposts. And far from being in
the least dismayed by our arrival, they seemed only fired to a greater
zeal and made assault more fiercely. Quite naturally, it seemed clear
to us both, and especially to me, that they were robbers, and of the
most dangerous sort. So I forthwith drew the blade which I carry hidden
under my cloak for such emergencies, and threw myself, undismayed, into
the midst of these highwaymen. One after another, as they successively
tried to withstand me, I ran them through, until finally all three lay
stretched at my feet, riddled with many a gaping wound, through which
they yielded up their breath. By this time Fotis, the maid, had been
aroused by the din of battle, and still panting and perspiring freely I
slipped in through the opening door, and, as weary as though I had
fought with the three-formed Geryon instead of those pugnacious
thieves, I yielded myself at one and the same moment to bed and to
Soon rosy-fingered Dawn, shaking the purple reins, was guiding her
steeds across the path of heaven; and, snatched from my untroubled
rest, night gave me back to day. Dismay seized my soul at the
recollection of my deeds of the past evening. I sat there, crouching on
my bed, with my interlaced fingers hugging my knees, and freely gave
way to my distress; I already saw in fancy the court, the jury, the
verdict, the executioner. How could I hope to find any judge so mild,
so benevolent as to pronounce me innocent, soiled as I was with a
triple murder, stained with the blood of so many citizens? Was this the
glorious climax of my travels that the Chaldean, Diophanes, had so
confidently predicted for me? Again and again I went over the whole
matter bewailing my hard lot.
Hereupon there came a pounding at our doors and a steadily growing
clamor on the threshold. No sooner was admission given than, with an
impetuous rush, the whole house was filled with magistrates, police,
and the motley crowd that followed. Two officers, by order of the
magistrates, promptly laid hands upon me, and started to drag me off,
though resistance was the last thing I should have thought of. By the
time we had reached the first cross street the entire city was already
trailing at our heels in an astonishingly dense mass. And I marched
gloomily along with my head hanging down to the very earth--I might
even say to the lower regions below the earth.
At length after having made the circuit of every city square, in
exactly the way that the victims are led around before a sacrifice
meant to ward off evil omens, I was brought into the forum and made to
confront the tribunal of justice. The magistrates had taken their seats
upon the raised platform, the court crier had commanded silence, when
suddenly everyone present, as if with one voice, protested that in so
vast a gathering there was danger from the dense crowding, and demanded
that a case of such importance should be tried instead in the public
theater. No sooner said than the entire populace streamed onward,
helter-skelter, and in a marvelously short time had packed the whole
auditorium till every aisle and gallery was one solid mass. Many
swarmed up the columns, others dangled from the statues, while a few
there were that perched, half out of sight, on window ledges and
cornices; but all in their amazing eagerness seemed quite careless how
far they risked their lives. After the manner of a sacrifice I was led
by the public officials down the middle of the stage, and was left
standing in the midst of the orchestra. Once more the voice of the
court crier boomed forth, calling for the prosecutor, whereupon a
certain old man arose, and having first taken a small vase, the bottom
of which ended in a narrow funnel, and having filled it with water,
which escaping drop by drop should mark the length of his speech,
addressed the populace as follows:
"This is no trivial case, most honored citizens, but one which directly
concerns the peace of our entire city, and one which will be handed
down as a weighty precedent. Wherefore, your individual and common
interests equally demand that you should sustain the dignity of the
State, and not permit this brutal murderer to escape the penalty of the
wholesale butchery that resulted from his bloody deeds. And do not
think that I am influenced by any private motives, or giving vent to
personal animosity. For I am in command of the night watch, and up to
this time I think there is no one who will question my watchful
diligence. Accordingly I will state the case and faithfully set forth
the events of last night.
"It was about the hour of the third watch, and I was making my round of
the entire city, going from door to door with scrupulous vigilance,
when suddenly I beheld this bloodthirsty young man, sword in hand,
spreading carnage around him; already, no less than three victims of
his savagery lay writhing at his feet, gasping forth their breath in a
pool of blood. Stricken, as well he might be, with the guilt of so
great a crime, the fellow fled, and, slipping into one of the houses
under cover of the darkness, lay hidden the rest of the night. But,
thanks to the gods who permit no sinner to go unpunished, I forestalled
him at daybreak, before he could make his escape by secret ways, and
have brought him here for trial before your sacred tribunal of justice.
The prisoner at the bar is a threefold murderer; he was taken in the
very act; and, furthermore, he is a foreigner. Accordingly, it is your
plain duty to return a verdict of guilty against this man from a
strange land for a crime which you would severely punish even in the
case of one of your own citizens."
Having thus spoken, the remorseless prosecutor suspended his vindictive
utterance, and the court crier straightway ordered me to begin my
defense, if I had any to make. At first I could not sufficiently
control my voice to speak, although less overcome, alas, by the
harshness of the accusation than by my own guilty conscience. But at
last, miraculously inspired with courage, I made answer as follows:
"I realize how hard it is for a man accused of murder, and confronted
with the bodies of three of your citizens, to persuade so large a
multitude of his innocence, even though he tells the exact truth and
voluntarily admits the facts. But if in mercy you will give me an
attentive hearing, I shall easily make clear to you that far from
deserving to be put on trial for my life, I have wrongfully incurred
the heavy stigma of such a crime as the chance result of justifiable
"I was making my way home from a dinner party at a rather late hour,
after drinking pretty freely, I won't attempt to deny--for that was the
head and front of my offense--when, lo and behold! before the very
doors of my abode, before the home of the good Milo, your
fellow-citizen, I beheld a number of villainous thieves trying to
effect an entrance and already prying the doors off from the twisted
hinges. All the locks and bolts, so carefully closed for the night, had
been wrenched away, and the thieves were planning the slaughter of the
inmates. Finally, one of them, bigger and more active than the rest,
urged them to action with these words:
"'Come on, boys! Show the stuff you are made of, and strike for all you
are worth while they are asleep! No quarter now, no faint-hearted
weakening! Let death go through the house with drawn sword! If you find
any in bed, slit their throats before they wake; if any try to resist,
cut them down. Our only chance of getting away safe and sound is to
leave no one else safe and sound in the whole house.'
"I confess, citizens, that I was badly frightened, both on account of
my hosts and myself; and believing that I was doing the duty of a good
citizen, I drew the sword which always accompanies me in readiness for
such dangers, and started in to drive away or lay low those desperate
robbers. But the barbarous and inhuman villains, far from being
frightened away, had the audacity to stand against me, although they
saw that I was armed. Their serried ranks opposed me. Next, the leader
and standard-bearer of the band, assailing me with brawny strength,
seized me with both hands by the hair, and bending me backward,
prepared to beat out my brains with a paving stone; but while he was
still shouting for one, with an unerring stroke I luckily ran him
through and stretched him at my feet. Before long a second stroke,
aimed between the shoulders, finished off another of them, as he clung
tooth and nail to my legs; while the third one, as he rashly advanced,
I stabbed full in the chest.
"Since I had fought on the side of law and order, in defense of public
safety and my host's home, I felt myself not only without blame but
deserving of public praise. I have never before been charged with even
the slightest infringement of the law; I enjoy a high reputation among
my own people, and all my life have valued a clear conscience above all
material possessions. Nor can I understand why I should suffer this
prosecution for having taken a just vengeance upon those worthless
thieves, since no one can show that there had ever before been any
enmity between us, or for that matter that I had ever had any previous
acquaintance with the thieves. You have not even established any motive
for which I may be supposed to have committed so great a crime."
At this point my emotion again overcame me, and with my hands extended
in entreaty, I turned from one to another, beseeching them to spare me
in the name of common humanity, for the sake of all that they held
dear. I thought by this time they must be moved to pity, thrilled with
sympathy for my wretchedness; accordingly I called to witness the Eye
of Justice and the Light of Day, and intrusted my case to the
providence of God, when lifting up my eyes I discovered that the whole
assembly was convulsed with laughter, not excepting my own kind host
and relative, Milo, who was shaking with merriment. "So much for
friendship!" I thought to myself, "so much for gratitude! In protecting
my host, I have become a murderer, on trial for my life; while he, far
from raising a finger to help me, makes a mock of my misery."
At this moment a woman clad in black rushed down the center of the
stage, weeping and wailing and clasping a small child to her breast. An
older woman, covered with rags and similarly shaken with sobs, followed
her, both of them waving olive branches as they passed around the bier
on which lay the covered bodies of the slain, and lifted up their
voices in mournful outcry: "For the sake of common humanity," they
wailed, "by all the universal laws of justice, be moved to pity by the
undeserved death of these young men! Give to a lonely wife and mother
the comfort of vengeance! Come to the aid of this unhappy child left
fatherless in his tender years, and offer up the blood of the assassin
at the shrine of law and order."
Hereupon the presiding magistrate arose and addressed the people:
"The crime for which the prisoner will later pay the full penalty, not
even he attempts to deny. But still another duty remains to be
performed, and that is to find out who were his accomplices in this
wicked deed; since it does not seem likely that one man alone could
have overcome three others so young and strong as these. We must apply
torture to extract the truth; and since the slave who accompanied him
has made his escape, there is no other alternative left us than to
wring the names of his companions from the prisoner himself, in order
that we may effectually relieve the public of all apprehension of
danger from this desperate gang."
Immediately, in accordance with the Greek usage, fire and the wheel
were brought forth, together with all the other instruments of torture.
Now indeed my distress was not only increased but multiplied when I saw
that I was fated to perish piecemeal. But at this point the old woman,
whose noisy lamentations had become a nuisance, broke out with this
"Honored citizens, before you proceed to torture the prisoner, on
account of the dear ones whom he has taken from me, will you not permit
the bodies of the deceased to be uncovered in order that the sight of
their youth and beauty may fire you with a righteous anger and a
severity proportioned to the crime?"
These words were received with applause, and straightway the magistrate
commanded that I myself should with my own hand draw off the covering
from the bodies lying on the bier. In spite of my struggles and
desperate determination not to look again upon the consequences of my
last night's deed, the court attendants promptly dragged me forward, in
obedience to the judge's order, and bending my arm by main force from
its place at my side stretched it out above the three corpses.
Conquered in the struggle, I yielded to necessity, and much against my
will drew down the covering and exposed the bodies.
Great heavens, what a sight! What a miracle! What a transformation in
my whole destiny! I had already begun to look upon myself as a vassal
of Proserpine, a bondsman of Hades, and now I could only gasp in
impotent amazement at the suddenness of the change; words fail me to
express fittingly the astounding metamorphosis. For the bodies of my
butchered victims were nothing more nor less than three inflated
bladders, whose sides still bore the scars of numerous punctures,
which, as I recalled my battle of the previous night, were situated at
the very points where I had inflicted gaping wounds upon my
adversaries. Hereupon the hilarity, which up to this point had been
fairly held in check, swept through the crowd like a conflagration.
Some gave themselves up helplessly to an unrestrained extravagance of
merriment; others did their best to control themselves, holding their
aching sides with both hands. And having all laughed until they could
laugh no more, they passed out of the theater, their backward glances
still centered upon me.
From the moment that I had drawn down that funeral pall I stood fixed
as if frozen into stone, as powerless to move as anyone of the
theater's statues or columns. Nor did I come out of my stupor until
Milo, my host, himself approached and clapping me on the shoulder, drew
me away with gentle violence, my tears now flowing freely and sobs
choking my voice. He led me back to the house by a roundabout way
through the least frequented streets, doing his best meanwhile to
soothe my nerves and heal my wounded feelings. But nothing he could say
availed to lessen my bitter indignation at having been made so
undeservedly ridiculous. But all at once the magistrates themselves,
still wearing their insignia of office, arrived at the house and made
personal amends in the following words:
"We are well aware, Master Lucius, both of your own high merit and that
of your family, for the renown of your name extends throughout the
land. Accordingly, you must understand that the treatment which you so
keenly resent was in no sense intended as an insult. Therefore, banish
your present gloomy mood and dismiss all anger from your mind. For the
festival, which we solemnly celebrate with each returning year in honor
of the God of Laughter, must always depend upon novelty for its
success. And so our god, who owes you so great a debt to-day, decrees
that his favoring presence shall follow you wherever you go, and that
your cheerful countenance shall everywhere be a signal for hilarity.
The whole city, out of gratitude, bestows upon you exceptional honors,
enrolling your name as one of its patrons, and decreeing that your
likeness in bronze shall be erected as a perpetual memorial of to-day."
PLINY, THE YOUNGER
_Letter to Sura_
Our leisure furnishes me with the opportunity of learning from you, and
you with that of instructing me. Accordingly, I particularly wish to
know whether you think there exist such things as phantoms, possessing
an appearance peculiar to themselves, and a certain supernatural power,
or that mere empty delusions receive a shape from our fears. For my
part, I am led to believe in their existence, especially by what I hear
happened to Curtius Rufus. While still in humble circumstances and
obscure, he was a hanger-on in the suite of the Governor of Africa.
While pacing the colonnade one afternoon, there appeared to him a
female form of superhuman size and beauty. She informed the terrified
man that she was "Africa," and had come to foretell future events; for
that he would go to Rome, would fill offices of state there, and would
even return to that same province with the highest powers, and die in
it. All which things were fulfilled. Moreover, as he touched at
Carthage, and was disembarking from his ship, the same form is said to
have presented itself to him on the shore. It is certain that, being
seized with illness, and auguring the future from the past and
misfortune from his previous prosperity, he himself abandoned all hope
of life, though none of those about him despaired.
Is not the following story again still more appalling and not less
marvelous? I will relate it as it was received by me:
There was at Athens a mansion, spacious and commodious, but of evil
repute and dangerous to health. In the dead of night there was a noise
as of iron, and, if you listened more closely, a clanking of chains was
heard, first of all from a distance, and afterwards hard by. Presently
a specter used to appear, an ancient man sinking with emaciation and
squalor, with a long beard and bristly hair, wearing shackles on his
legs and fetters on his hands, and shaking them. Hence the inmates, by
reason of their fears, passed miserable and horrible nights in
sleeplessness. This want of sleep was followed by disease, and, their
terrors increasing, by death. For in the daytime as well, though the
apparition had departed, yet a reminiscence of it flitted before their
eyes, and their dread outlived its cause. The mansion was accordingly
deserted, and, condemned to solitude, was entirely abandoned to the
dreadful ghost. However, it was advertised, on the chance of some one,
ignorant of the fearful curse attached to it, being willing to buy or
to rent it. Athenodorus, the philosopher, came to Athens and read the
advertisement. When he had been informed of the terms, which were so
low as to appear suspicious, he made inquiries, and learned the whole
of the particulars. Yet none the less on that account, nay, all the
more readily, did he rent the house. As evening began to draw on, he
ordered a sofa to be set for himself in the front part of the house,
and called for his notebooks, writing implements, and a light. The
whole of his servants he dismissed to the interior apartments, and for
himself applied his soul, eyes, and hand to composition, that his mind
might not, from want of occupation, picture to itself the phantoms of
which he had heard, or any empty terrors. At the commencement there was
the universal silence of night. Soon the shaking of irons and the
clanking of chains was heard, yet he never raised his eyes nor
slackened his pen, but hardened his soul and deadened his ears by its
help. The noise grew and approached: now it seemed to be heard at the
door, and next inside the door. He looked round, beheld and recognized
the figure he had been told of. It was standing and signaling to him
with its finger, as though inviting him. He, in reply, made a sign with
his hand that it should wait a moment, and applied himself afresh to
his tablets and pen. Upon this the figure kept rattling its chains over
his head as he wrote. On looking round again, he saw it making the same
signal as before, and without delay took up a light and followed it. It
moved with a slow step, as though oppressed by its chains, and, after
turning into the courtyard of the house, vanished suddenly and left his
company. On being thus left to himself, he marked the spot with some
grass and leaves which he plucked. Next day he applied to the
magistrates, and urged them to have the spot in question dug up. There
were found there some bones attached to and intermingled with fetters;
the body to which they had belonged, rotted away by time and the soil,
had abandoned them thus naked and corroded to the chains. They were
collected and interred at the public expense, and the house was ever
afterwards free from the spirit, which had obtained due sepulture.
The above story I believe on the strength of those who affirm it. What
follows I am myself in a position to affirm to others. I have a
freedman, who is not without some knowledge of letters. A younger
brother of his was sleeping with him in the same bed. The latter
dreamed he saw some one sitting on the couch, who approached a pair of
scissors to his head, and even cut the hair from the crown of it. When
day dawned he was found to be cropped round the crown, and his locks
were discovered lying about. A very short time afterwards a fresh
occurrence of the same kind confirmed the truth of the former one. A
lad of mine was sleeping, in company with several others, in the pages'
apartment. There came through the windows (so he tells the story) two
figures in white tunics, who cut his hair as he lay, and departed the
way they came. In his case, too, daylight exhibited him shorn, and his
locks scattered around. Nothing remarkable followed, except, perhaps,
this, that I was not brought under accusation, as I should have been,
if Domitian (in whose reign these events happened) had lived longer.
For in his desk was found an information against me which had been
presented by Carus; from which circumstance it may be conjectured--inasmuch
as it is the custom of accused persons to let their hair grow--that the
cutting off of my slaves' hair was a sign of the danger which threatened
me being averted.
I beg, then, that you will apply your great learning to this subject.
The matter is one which deserves long and deep consideration on your
part; nor am I, for my part, undeserving of having the fruits of your
wisdom imparted to me. You may even argue on both sides (as your way
is), provided you argue more forcibly on one side than the other, so as
not to dismiss me in suspense and anxiety, when the very cause of my
consulting you has been to have my doubts put an end to.