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Adventures of a Roman Nobleman in the Days of the Empire
EDWARD LUCAS WHITE
Mirum atque inscitum somniavi somnium. –PLAUTUS
[Illustration: THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN THE SECOND CENTURY A.D. To Show The Wanderings Of ANDIVIUS HEDULIO]
[Illustration: THE CITY OF ROME UNDER THE EMPIRE]
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON WHO, IN READING FICTION, LOVED “THE OPEN ROAD AND THE BRIGHT EYES OF DANGER”
BOOK I. DISASTER
I. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
II. A COUNTRY DINNER
III. TENANTRY AND SLAVERY
IV. HOROSCOPES AND MARVELS
VI. A RATHER BAD DAY
VII. A RATHER GOOD DAY
VIII. THE WATER GARDEN
IX. THE SQUALL OF THE LEOPARD
BOOK II. DISAPPEARANCE
XIII. THE LONELY HUT
XIV. WINTER IN THE MOUNTAINS
XV. THE HUNT
XVI. THE CAVE
XVII. THE FESTIVAL
XIX. MARSEILLES AND TIBER WHARF
BOOK III. DIVERSITIES
XXII. THE MUTINEERS
XXIII. THE EMPEROR
XXIV. THE MASSACRE
XXV. THE OPEN COUNTRY
XXVI. THE OUTLAWS
XXVII. THE POINT OP VIEW
BOOK IV. DISSIMULATIONS
XXXIV. PALUS THE INCOMPARABLE
XXXIX. THE TULLIANUM
By no means absurd, it seems to me, but altogether reasonable, is the impulse which urges me to write out a detailed narrative of my years of adversity and of the vicissitudes which befell me during that wretched period of my life. My adventures, in themselves, were worthy of record and my memories of them and of the men and women encountered in them are clear and vivid. It is natural that I should wish to set them down for the edification of my posterity and of any who may chance to read them.
For my experience has been, I believe, unique. Since the establishment of the Principate in our Republic many men, even an uncountable horde of men, have incurred Imperial displeasure. Of these not a few, after banishment from Italy or relegation to guarded islands or to some distant frontier outpost, have survived the Prince who exiled them and have, by the favor of his successors, been permitted to return to Rome and to the enjoyment of their property. But I believe that no Roman nobleman implicated, justly or unjustly, in any conspiracy against the life of his Sovereign, ever escaped the extreme penalty of death. Some, by their own hands, forestalled the arrival of the Imperial emissaries, others perished by the weapons or implements of those designated to abolish the enemies of the Prince. Except myself not one ever survived to regain Imperial favor in a later reign; except myself not one ever recovered his patrimony and enjoyed, to a green old age, the income, position and privileges to which he had been born. If such a thing ever occurred, certainly there is no record of any other nobleman domiciled in Italy, except myself, having grasped at the slender chance of escape afforded by the device of arranging that he be supposed dead, of disguising himself, of vanishing among the populace, of passing himself off for a man of the people. I not only was led, by my clever slave, to attempt this histrionic feat, but I succeeded in the face of unimaginable difficulties. An experience so notably without a parallel seems peculiarly deserving of such a record as follows.
AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
When I look back on the beginning of my adventures, I can set the very day and hour when the tranquil course of my early life came to an end, when the comfortable commonplaces of my previous existence altered, when the placid current of my former life broke suddenly and without warning into the tumultuous rapids which hurried me from surprise to surprise and from peril to peril. The last hour of my serene youth was about the ninth of the day, nearly midafternoon, on the Nones of June in the 937th year of the city, [Footnote: A.D. 184. See Note C.] while Cossonius Marullus and Papirius Aelian were consuls, when Commodus had already been four years Emperor.
It was not that misfortune then suddenly overwhelmed me, not that, sharp as a blown trumpet, I heard the voice of doom blare over me; not that, as one sees the upper rim of the sun vanish beneath the waves where the skyline meets the sea, and knows day ended and night begun, not thus that I recognized the end of my prosperity and the beginning of my disasters. That moment came later, as I shall record. It was rather that; as, in certain states of the weather, long before sunset one may be suddenly aware that afternoon is past and evening approaches; so, though I had no intimation at the moment, yet, reviewing my memories I realize that at that instant began the chain of trivial circumstances which led up to my calamity and enmeshed me in ruin.
And just here I cannot but remark, what I have often meditated over, how trifling, how apparently insignificant, are the circumstances which determine the felicity or misery of human beings. I was possessed of an ample estate; I was, in most difficult conditions, in unruffled amity with all my neighbors, on both sides of the great feud, except only my hereditary enemy; I was high in the favor of the Emperor; I was in a fair way to marry the youngest, the most lovely and the richest widow in Rome. In the twinkling of an eye I was cast down from the pinnacle of good fortune into an abyss of adversity. And upon what did my catastrophe hinge? Upon the whims of a friend and upon one oversight of my secretary. I should have had no story to tell, I should have been a man continuously happy, affluent and at ease, early married and passing from one high office to the next higher in an uninterrupted progress of success, had it not entered the head of my capricious crony to pay me an unexpected and unannounced visit, had he not arrived precisely at the time at which he came, had he not encountered just the persons he met just where he did meet them, had not his prankishness hatched in him the vagary which led him to give quizzical replies to their questions; had I not, carried away by my elation at my prosperity and fine prospects, been a trifle too indulgent to my tenantry.
Even after, as a result, the nexus of circumstances had been woven about me and after I found myself embroiled with both my powerful neighbors, I should have escaped any evil consequences had not my secretary, than whom no man ever was more loyal to his master or more wary and inclusive in his foresight upon every conceivable eventuality, failed to forecast the possible effects of a minor omission.
When my story begins I had already had one small adventure, nothing much out of the ordinary. Agathemer and I were returning from my final inspection of my estate. As we rode past one of the farmsteads we heard cries for help. Reining up and turning into the barn-yard, we found the tenant himself being attacked by his bull. I dismounted and diverted the animal’s attention. After the beast was securely penned up I was riding homewards more than a little tired, rumpled and heated and very eager for a bath.
As we approached my villa we saw a runner coming up the road, a big Nubian in a fantastic livery which when he reached us turned to be entirely unknown to me. My grooms were just taking our horses. The grinning black, not a bit out of breath after his long run, saluted and addressed me.
“My master has sent me ahead to say he is coming to visit you.”
“Who is your master?” I asked.
“My master,” he said, still grinning goodnaturedly, “enjoined me not to tell you who he is.”
I turned to Agathemer.
“What do you make of this?” I asked.
“There is but one man in Italy,” he replied, “who is likely to send you such a message, and his name is on the tip of your tongue.”
“And on the tip of yours, I’ll wager,” said I. “Both together now!”
I raised my finger and counted.
“One! Two! Three!”
Both together we uttered:
There was no variation in the Nubian’s non-committal grin. We went up the steps and stood by the balustrade of the terrace, where it commanded a good view of the valley. We could see a party approaching, a mounted intendant in advance, a litter, extra bearers and runners and several baggage mules.
“Nobody but Tanno would send me such a message,” I said to Agathemer.
“No one else,” he agreed, “but I should be no more surprised to see the Emperor himself in this part of the world.”
“One of his wild whims,” I conjectured. “Nothing else would tear him away from the city.”
“Our arrangements for dinner,” I continued, “fall in very well with his coming. I suppose the guest-rooms are all ready, but you had best go see to that, and meanwhile turn this fellow over to Ofatulenus.”
Agathemer nodded. The pleasantest of his many good qualities was that whatever he might be asked to do he carried out without comment or objection. Nothing was too big or too small for him. If he were asked to arrange for an interview with the Emperor or to attend to the creasing of a toga he was equally painstaking and obliging. He went off, followed by the negro. I waited on the terrace for Tanno. There was no use attempting to bathe until after his arrival. Presently a cheerful halloo from the litter reached my ears. It was Tanno to a certainty. Nobody else of my acquaintance had voice enough to make himself heard at that distance or was sufficiently lacking in dignity to emit a yawp in that fashion. When his escort came near enough I could see that all his bearers wore the same livery as his runner. Tanno was forever changing his liveries and each fresh invention he managed to make more fantastic than the last. There were eight bearers to the litter and some twenty reliefs. Travelling long distances by litter, begun as a necessity to such invalids as my uncle, had become a fashion through the extreme coxcombery of wealthy fops and the practice of the young Emperor. Tanno’s litter had all its panels slid back, and the curtains were not drawn. He was sitting almost erect, propped up by countless down cushions. He greeted me with many waves of the hand and a smile as genial as his halloo. I went down a little from the terrace to meet him and walked a few paces beside the litter. He rolled out and embraced me cordially, appearing as glad to see me as I was delighted to see him.
“I do not know,” I said, “whether I am more surprised or pleased to see you. To what do I owe my good fortune?”
“We simply cannot get on without you,” he answered, “and I am going to take you back to Rome with me. How soon can you start?”
“You came at the nick of time,” said I, “I had expected to go down three days from now, but I found out this afternoon that I can get away tomorrow morning.”
“Praise be to Hercules and all the gods,” said Tanno. “I love the country frantically, especially when I am in the city. I love it so that three days on the road is enough country for me. I have been bored to death and do so want a bath.”
“The bath is all hot and ready,” said I, “and the slaves waiting. But I am giving a dinner this evening and nearly all my neighbors are coming. The diners are almost due to arrive, I need a bath and want one, but I meant to wait for my guests.”
“Well,” he said, “you have one guest here already and that’s enough. Let’s bathe once, at once, and you can bathe again when your Sabine clodhoppers get here. Life is too short for a man to get enough baths, anyhow. Two a day is never enough for me. A pretext for two in an afternoon is always welcome. Come on, let’s bathe quick, so as to have it over with before the first of the other guests arrives, then we can get a breath of fresh air and be as keen for the second bath as for the first.”
Conversation with Tanno consisted mostly in listening and interjecting questions. He wallowed in the cold tank like a porpoise; caught me and ducked me until I yelled for mercy, and while I was trying to get my breath, half drowned me with the water he splashed over me with both hands; talking incessantly, except when his head was under water. When we lay down on the divan in the warm room he rattled on.
“You needn’t tell me,” he said, “that your runners haven’t taken letters to Vedia, but she is supposed not to hear from you, so, as I told of two of your letters to me, I have, in a way been held responsible for you and have been pelted with inquiries. Nemestronia loves you like a grandson, and, if you ask me, I say Vedia is in love with you out and out. As I had heard from you and nobody else had, I began to feel as if I ought to look after you. Everything was abominably humdrum and I deceived myself into thinking I should enjoy the smell of green fields. I certainly should have turned back less than half way if I had been concerned with anybody else than you; and when we turned off the Via Salaria into your country byroad I cursed you and your neighbors and all Sabinum. The most deserted stretch of road I ever travelled in all my life. I saw only six human beings before I reached your villa and I had heard that this valley was populous and busy. I slept last night at Vicus Novus and I started this morning, bright and early. When we turned up the road below Villa Satronia I was never more disgusted in my life. My men are perfectly matched in height, weight, pace and action and any eight of the lot will carry me at full speed as smoothly as a pleasure-barge. But they could make nothing of that road. It is all washed, guttered, dusty in the open places, puddly where trees hang over it and full of loose stones on top everywhere.
“I was so horribly jolted that I called the bearers to stop. I made Dromanus get off his horse and give me his poncho and his big felt hat. Then I got on his horse and told him to get into the litter. He was embarrassed.
“‘Pooh’, said I, ‘you cannot walk and we should look like fools with an empty litter. Get in and be jounced! Draw the curtains; if we meet anybody I’ll give you an impressive title.’ He rolled in among the cushions, looking as foolish as possible. His horse ambled perfectly and I felt more comfortable. I went on ahead. We had not met anybody since we turned into the crossroads; about half a mile beyond the place where I had left my litter I came around one of the innumerable curves a little ahead of the procession and saw two men approaching on foot. When they came abreast of me they saluted me politely and the taller, a black-haired, dark-faced fellow with a broad jaw, inquired (in the tone he would have used to Dromanus) whose litter I was escorting. I was rather tickled that they took me for my own intendant. I judged we must be approaching the entrance to Villa Satronia and that they were people from there. I assumed an exaggerated imitation of Dromanus’ most grandiloquent manner and in his orotund unctuous delivery I declaimed:
“‘My master is Numerius Vedius Vindex. He is asleep.’ (They swallowed that awful lie, they did not realize how bad their own road was.) ‘We are on our way to Villa Vedia.’
“They looked sour enough at that, I promise you, and I made out that they were Satronians for certain. The two fellows exchanged a glance, thanked me politely and went on.
“I knew the entrance to the Satronian estate by the six big chestnut- trees, you had often described them to me; and I knew the next private road by the single huge plane tree. But when we crossed the second bridge, the little one, I went over that round hill and did not recognize the foot of your road when we came to it. I was for going on. Dromanus called from behind the curtains of the litter:
“‘This is Hedulio’s road: turn to the right.’
“I was stubborn and sang back at him:
“‘Hedulio has told me all about this country. This is not his land. It is further on at the next brook.’
“We went on over the next bridge past the entrance to the south, and I felt more and more that Dromanus was right and I was wrong, and yet I grew more and more stubborn. When we passed the sixth bridge and I saw the stream getting bigger and turning to the left, I knew I was wrong. At the crossroads I realized we were at the entrance to Villa Vedia, but I would not give up, I took the left-hand turn and went down stream. Beyond the first bend in the road we found ourselves approaching a long, straggling, one-street village of tall, narrow stone houses along the eastern bank of the little river. By the road, just before the first house, watching five goats, was a boy, a boy with a crooked twitching face.
“‘The village idiot,’ I put in. ‘They can never let him out of sight and he is always beside the road.’
“He was not too big an idiot to tell us it was Vediamnum.”
“He was enough of an idiot,” I said, “to forget you, and your question the next minute. The boy is almost a beast.”
“He had enough sense to tell us the name of the village,” Tanno retorted, “and I had to acknowledge to Dromanus he was right, and so we turned round. When we were hardly more than out of sight of Vediamnum we met another party, a respectable-looking man, much like a farm bailiff, on horseback, and two slaves afoot. I had not seen them before, and they, apparently, had not previously seen us. The rider asked, very decently, whose was the party. I treated them as I had the others.
“‘My master is asleep,’ I said again. (It was not such an improbable lie that time, for the road by Vediamnum is pretty good.) ‘I have the honor to escort Mamercus Satronius Sabinus.’
“I had guessed that they were Vedians and I was sure of it when I said that. The slaves scowled and the bailiff saluted very stiffly.
“Just after we turned into your road, I stopped the escort and told Dromanus to take his horse. He had relieved me of his hat and poncho and I had one hand on the litter, ready to climb in, when I heard hoofs behind us on the road. I looked back. There was a rider on a beautiful bay mare coming up at a smartish lope. Just as he came abreast of us she shied at the litter and reared and began to prance about. I give you my word I never had such a fright in my life. If you can imagine Commodus in an old weather-beaten, broad-brimmed hat of soft, undyed felt and a mean, cheap, shaggy poncho of undyed wool, and worse than the hat, that was the man on the mare. He was left-handed, too.”
“How did you know that?” I asked.
“By the way he handled his reins, of course,” said Tanno.
“The mare was a magnificent beast, vicious as a fury, with a mouth as hard as an eighty-pound tunny. He sat her like Castor himself. She pirouetted back and forth across the road and my fellows scampered from under her hoofs. The mare was such a beauty I could not take my eyes off her.”
“Yes,” I put in, “Ducconius has a splendid stud.”
“Was he Ducconius?” Tanno exclaimed. “Your adversary in your old law- suit?”
“His son Marcus, from your description,” I amplified. “He is proprietor of the property now. His father died last year.”
“Well,” Tanno went on. “You know that look Commodus has, like a healthy, well-fed country proprietor with no education, no ideas and no thoughts beyond crops and deer-hunting and boar-hunting, with a vacuous, unintelligent stare? Well, that was just the way he looked.”
“That is the way young Ducconius looks,” I rejoined. “He ought to. You have described exactly what he is.”
“Does he know he looks like the Emperor?” Tanno asked, “and how does it happen?”
“Pure coincidence,” said I. “The family have been reared in these hills for generations, none of them ever went to Rome. Reate is the end of the world for them.”
“Well,” Tanno commented, “he might be Commodus’ twin brother, by his looks. He’ll be a head shorter, in a hurry, if Commodus ever hears of him. He is the duplicate of him. I stood in the road, staring after him, and forgot to climb into the litter. When I woke up and climbed in, my lads swung up your road at a great pace, and here I am. If I had had any sense I’d have been here not much after noon. As it is I have wasted most of the day.”
When we went into the hot room, I asked him,
“Where did you get your new bearers? They look to me like Nemestronia’s. What have you done with your Saxons?”
“Nemestronia has them,” he explained, “and my Nubians were hers. The dear old lady took a fancy to my Saxons and teased and wheedled until I agreed to exchange. Nobody ever can refuse anything to Nemestronia. I argued a good deal. I told her that even if she is the youngest-looking old lady in Rome it would never do in the world to set herself in contrast to such blue eyes and pink skins and such yellow hair: that Nubians were much more appropriate and that nothing could be more trying than Saxons, even for a bride. She told me I mustn’t make fun of her old age and decrepitude. She said that the Saxons had such cheerful, bright faces and looked such infantile giants that she really must have them. So I let her have her way. The Nubians stand the heat better and the Saxons were almost too showy.”
Even while the attendant was thumping and kneading him on the slab, Tanno went on talking a cheerful monologue of frothy gossip. I asked him about the Emperor.
“As fretful as possible,” he said. “The trouble with Commodus is that he is growing tired of exhibiting himself as an athlete to invited audiences in the Palace. He is perfectly frantic to show himself off in the Circus or in the Amphitheatre. He oscillates between the determination to disregard convention and to do as he likes and virtuous resolutions, when he has been given a good talking-to by his old councillors and has made up his mind to behave properly. He will break out yet into public exhibitions of himself. He is really pathetically unhappy over his hard lot and positively wails about the amount of his time which is taken up with State business and about the pitifully small opportunity he has for training and exercise.”
My bath was broken off, sooner than I had intended, by the appearance of one of the kitchen-boys, who asked for me so tragically and so urgently and was so positive that no one else would suffice, that I went down into the kitchen in a towering rage at being interrupted and wondering why on earth I could be needed. I found Ofatulena, wife of the Villa-farm bailiff, in violent altercation with my head-cook. He asserted that she had no business in his kitchen and must get out. Her contention was that she, as bailiff’s wife, was above all slaves whatever, that she knew her place and that when a distinguished stranger visited the Villa she would show him what old-fashioned Sabine cooking was like, so she would. The cook had had, through Agathemer, my directions for a formal dinner and he declared that one more guest made no difference and that his dinner was good enough for anybody. I compromised by telling him to continue as he had planned, but to allow Ofatulena to prepare one dish for each course and to add to each one of her own. I was rather pleased at her intrusion, for there was no better cook in Sabinum, and anything old-fashioned was sure to be a novelty to Tanno.
I found Tanno on the terrace, basking comfortably in the late sunshine and gazing down the valley,
“What is that big hill away off to the East?” he asked.
“That is on the Aemilian property,” I answered. “Villa Aemilia has a direct outlet to the Via Valeria and the Aemilian Estate does not belong to this neighborhood at all. It runs back to the Tolenus and mostly drains and slopes that way. Huge as the Vedian estates are, and though the Satronian estates are still huger, yet the Aemilian estates are so vast that they are larger than both the Vedian and Satronian lands together. The Aemilian land has much woodland along its western borders and blankets and almost encloses the Vedian and Satronian estates and all of us in between. The road you came up is a sort of detour east of the Salarian way. The Satronians and Vedians and we in between all use it, turning to the right towards Reate and to the left towards Rome.”
Tanno blinked at the soft, hazy view and swept his arm southward.
“That is all Satronian over there?” he asked.
“All,” I said, “as far as the Aemilian domain.”
“Which way,” he queried, “is Villa Vedia?”
“To see it from here,” I said, “you would have to look straight through this house and half a dozen hills. It is almost due north.”
“Vedians to the northward,” he continued, “Satronians to the southward, and just you and Ducconius sandwiched in between, clapper-clawing each other.”
“No, quite otherwise!” I retorted. “My property does not touch Vedian or Satronian land anywhere, and Ducconius has barely half a mile of boundary line along the Satronian domain. There are six other estates, the largest half as big as mine, the smallest not much bigger than the largest of my tenant-farms; three are on one side of me and three on the other. You will meet the proprietors at dinner, as I told you. They should be here now.”
“Goggling country bumpkins?” he conjectured.
“Not a bit like that,” I countered, “though you would scarcely call them cultured. There is no art connoisseur among them. They care little for books, but they are educated gentlemen and can talk of other subjects besides vine-growing and cattle breeding. They have all been to Rome, the Ducconians are the only stay-at-home, stick-in-the-mud family in this valley. You will find all your fellow-diners keenly interested in anything you can tell them about the latest fashions and the latest gossip from Rome. They think and talk of the doings of Rome’s fast set much more than you do.”
“They have nothing to do with the feud?” he queried.
“Three of them,” I explained, “are on the Vedian side, three on the Satronian side, though they are always polite to each other. But it is a frigid politeness and I was anticipating the dinner tonight as a frightful trial. I fancy your presence will ensure its passing off comfortably. Entedius Hirnio will be here, too. His estates are beyond Vediamnum and he has never taken sides in the feud any more than Ducconius or my family.”
“Do you ever see Ducconius?” he asked.
“Oh, never,” said I, “we take care never to recognize each, other, I assure you. We cannot help meeting occasionally, but I never see him and he never sees me. We meet mostly on the road. The lower part of this valley-road where he overtook you is as much his right-of-way as mine, up to where the road forks and is crossed by the Bran Brook. You can see the bridge from here.”
Tanno shaded his eyes with his hand.
“That is all his land over there, on the other side of the Bran Brook,” I continued. “Further up the valley the brook has three feeders. The Flour rises back of my land on the Vedian estate. The Chaff brook is all mine and the Bran rises in his woodlands.”
“Will he appeal the case or reopen it now your uncle is dead?” Tanno queried.
“There is no possibility of appeal,” I said, “or of reopening. The case is closed and I have won it forever. And all thanks to Agathemer. But for Agathemer, Ducconius would have won the final hearing as he had won all the intermediate appeals. His defeat after so many victories has embittered him more than if we had won every time and he hates me worse than ever.
“The only unpleasant feature for me is that the tenant of the farm so long in dispute cannot be ousted. He was heart and soul with Ducconius all through the period of the suit. His daughter is married to one of Ducconius’ tenants and his younger son has taken one of Ducconius’ farms since three of his tenant-families died off year before, last with the plague. This makes old Chryseros Philargyrus by no means a pleasant tenant for me.”
“Old Love-Gold Love-Silver,” Tanno commented, “is that a nickname or is it really his name?”
“Really his name,” I affirmed. “His mother was so extravagant and wasteful that his father named him Chryseros Philargyrus as a sort of antidote incantation, in the hope that it might prove a good omen of his disposition and predispose him to parsimony. He certainly has turned out sufficiently close-fisted to justify the choice.”
“I don’t understand your talk about tenantry,” said Tanno. “Do you mean you cannot change a bailiff on a farm which, you have won incontestably on final appeal in a suit at law?”
“He is no bailiff,” I answered him. “He is a free man, just as much as you or I. Sabinum is not like Latium or Etruria or Campania, where the free tenantry has vanished, or like Bruttium or Spain, where there never was any free tenantry. The free tenantry have survived in Sabinum more completely than in any part of the world. I have only one bailiff here and he manages only the villa-farm with a very moderate gang of slaves under him. I do not own any more slaves on my estate. The slaves on the farms are all owned by my tenants and there are eight farms besides the villa- farm; counting Chryseros, there are nine tenant farmers. Each owns slaves enough to work his farms. All the estates about here are managed in that way: Aemilian, Vedian, Satronian, Entedian and all the rest, big or little. We are rather proud of the system and very proud of our tenants.”
“It must be a fine system,” Tanno sneered. “I have been wondering what kept you away from Home, I suppose it has been the beautifully smooth and marvellously easy working of your farm-tenant system.”
“It works just as well as one slave-gang under one bailiff, if not better,” I retorted, hotly.
“Oh, yes,” Tanno drawled, “it works just as well as one slave-gang under one bailiff. That is why you have not had to inspect your estates in Bruttium, why you have not visited Bruttium at all, why you have not so much as thought of visiting Bruttium, whereas you have had to spend more than two months here in these fascinating wilds. You can trust your tenantry so completely that you only have to spend two months making sure they are not idling or cheating you: you can trust your Bruttian bailiff so poorly that you let him alone absolutely.”
I was more than a little nettled by his ironical mood.
“I spent three months of the year out of the past four years in Bruttium,” I argued. “I know every inch of the ranches perfectly. My uncle never allowed me to become acquainted with anything up here. I was his representative and factor in Bruttium. When I visited him here I was no more than a guest and I have had to learn all the workings of the estate from the beginning.”
“Nonsense!” Tanno rejoined. “You know each when you see it. If the tenants pay their rent on time, what do you need to know about how they run their farms?”
“They pay cash and on time,” I explained, “but the cash represents half the yield and each manages the sale of his own produce. It is necessary for the proprietor to understand the capacities of each farm.”
“And you are proud of a tenantry,” he sneered, “so honest that you cannot trust them not to swindle you out of your just dues and on whom you have to spy all the time to get what you should get from them.”
“You do not understand,” I declared.
“Right you are,” said Tanno. “I do not and I do not want to.”
“Just wait a moment and do not interrupt,” I urged. “You do not understand, there is no use in being a proprietor if you do not know more than your tenantry. There are a thousand, there are ten thousand details in which the management of the farms may be made more profitable or less profitable, and all these details have to be watched and must be well in the proprietor’s mind.”
“Could you not get some kind of overseeing general estate bailiff to do all that for you?” he suggested.
“I can,” I said, “and I’m going to get one. My uncle’s overseer died of the plague and my uncle was too old and too set in his ways to get another, so he acted as his own overseer for the last four years of his life. I must know of my own knowledge just how the place ought to be managed or I can never detect and forestall unnecessary and ruinous friction and trouble between my tenantry and any new superintending overseer.”
“I do not know,” Tanno ruminated, “which to admire more, the beauties of the Sabine tenant system or the wonders of the Sabine character. Any other man I know would have stayed in Rome and attended strictly to his courtship and let his estates take care of themselves. You are supposed to be violently in love and you certainly behave like it: yet you leave Rome and Vedia and shut yourself up among these damp cold hills and inspect and reinspect and make a final inspection, and delay for one last peep and linger for one final glance, where any other man would ignore the property and be with the widow.”
“I do not see anything extraordinary about it,” I disclaimed. “A man needs an income, a lover most of all.”
“Income!” he snorted. “Isn’t your income from your Bruttian estates ten times the gross return from the property?”
“More than ten times,” I admitted.
“Why worry about it at all then?” he demanded. “Isn’t your Bruttian income enough?”
“No income is enough,” I declared, “if a man has a chance to get in more.”
“Of course,” he beamed, “you do not see anything extraordinary in your petting this property. A Sabine would use up a year to get in a sesterce from a frog pond. You are a Sabine. All Sabines worship the Almighty Sesterce. But to anybody not a Sabine it is amazing to see a lover postponing prayers to Lord Cupid until he has finished the last detail of his ceremonial duties to Chief Cash, Greatest and Best.”
A COUNTRY DINNER
Just then Tanno caught sight of a horseman approaching up the valley. I looked where he pointed.
“That will be Entedius Hirnio,” I said. “Of my dinner guests he lives furthest away and so he always comes in first to any festivity.”
“How far beyond Vediamnum does he live?” Tanno enquired.
“On the other side of the Vedian lands,” I explained. “His property is over the divide towards the Tolenus, in between Villa Vedia and Villa Aemilia.”
Entedius it was, as I made sure, when he drew nearer, by his magnificent black mare. He covered the last hundred paces at a furious gallop, pulled up his snorting mare abruptly, and dismounted jauntily. Plainly, at first sight, he and Tanno liked each other. When I had introduced them they looked each other up and down appraisingly, Entedius appearing to relish Tanno’s swarthy vigor, warm coloring and exuberant health as much as did Tanno his hard-muscled leanness and weather-beaten complexion.
“Are you any relation to Entedia Jucunda?” Tanno queried.
“Very distant,” Hirnio replied, “very distant indeed: too far for us to call each other ‘cousin.’ When I am in Rome I always call on her; once in a while she invites me to one of her very big dinners; otherwise we never see each other.”
Almost before they had exchanged greetings Mallius Vulso rounded the house from the east and then Neponius Pomplio from the west; after he had been presented, the two other Satronians, Bultius Seclator and Juventius Muso, cantered up, followed closely by Fisevius Rusco and Lisius Naepor, both adherents of the Vedian side of the feud.
As soon as the stable-boys had led off their horses we started bathwards, delayed a moment by the arrival of a slave of Entedius, on a mule, leading another heavily laden with two packs. We made a quick bath, with no loitering, and at once went in to dinner. My uncle had been to the last degree conservative and old-fashioned. He would have nothing to do with any new inventions, save his own. So he would not hear of any alterations in the furnishings of his villa, except those suggested by his ideas of sanitation. Otherwise it had been kept just as my grandfather had left it to him. In particular uncle could not be brought to like the newly popular C-shaped dining sofas, which all Rome and all fashionables all over Italy and the provinces had so acclaimed and so promptly adopted along with circular-topped dining-tables. My _triclinium_ still held grandfather’s square-topped table and the three square sofas about it. Uncle’s will, in fact, had stipulated that no furnishings of the villa must be altered within five years of the date of his death. As I had to adjust my formal dinners to the old style, I was not only delighted to have Tanno with us for himself and for his jollity, but also because he just made up the nine diners demanded by ancient convention.
Agathemer had asked me, as a special favor, to leave the decoration of the _triclinium_ entirely to him, and I had agreed, when he fairly begged me, not to enter the _triclinium_ or even pass its door, after my noonday siesta. When I did enter it with my guests I was dazzled. The sun had just set and the northwestern sky was all a blaze of golden brightness, streaked with long pink and rosy streamers of cloud, from which the evening light, neither glaring nor dim, flooded through the big northwestern windows. The spacious room was a bower of bloom. Great armfuls of flowers hid the capitals of the pilasters, others their bases; garlands–heavy, even corpulent garlands–were looped from pilaster to pilaster; every vase was filled with flowers, the little vases on the brackets, the big ones alternating with the statues in the niches, the huge floor-vases in the corners: the table, the sofas, the floor, all were strewn with smaller blossoms, tiny flowers or fresh petals of roses. The garlands for our heads, which were offered us heaped on a tray, were to the last degree exquisite. I adjusted mine as if in a dream. I was dazed. I knew that the flowers could not have been supplied by our gardens; I could not conjecture whence they came.
Agathemer, bowing and grinning, stood in the inner doorway. My eyes questioned his.
“I have a note here,” he said, “which I was enjoined not to hand you until you had lain down to dinner.”
The two second assistant waiter boys took our shoes and we disposed ourselves on the sofas, Tanno in the place of honor, I rejoicing again that his presence has solved, acceptably to all the rest, the otherwise insoluble problem of to whom I should accord that location.
Agathemer handed me the note. At sight of it I recognized the handwriting of Vedius Caspo. Of course, like my uncle before me, I always invited to any of my formal entertainments all my neighbors except Ducconius Furfur, our enemy, and the only neighbor with whom we were not on good terms. Equally, of course, Vedius Caspo at Villa Vedia and Satronius Dromo at Villa Satronia, regularly found some transparent pretext for declining my invitation, each fearing that, if he accepted, the other might by some prank of the gods of chance accept also, and they might encounter each other.
The thread was too strong for me to break. I tore it out of the seal, and, asking my guests’ indulgence, I opened the note. It read:
“Vedius Caspo to his good friend Andivius Hedulio. If you are well I am well also. I was writing at Villa Vedia on the day before the Nones of June. I had written you some days before and explained my inability to avail myself of your kind invitation to dinner on the Nones. I purposed sending you, with this, what flowers my gardens afford towards decorating your _triclinium_ for your feast. I beg that you accept these as a token of my good will. When you reach Rome I beg that, at your leisure and convenience, you transmit my best wishes to my kinswoman, Vedia Venusta.
This note staggered me more than the sight of the flowers. It was amazing that Vedius should have taken the trouble to be, so gracious to me; that he should go out of his way to write me the vague and veiled, but unequivocal intimation of his approval of my suit for Vedia implied in the last sentences of his letter was astounding. Vedia had a very large property inherited from her father, from two aunts and from others of the Vedian clan. The whole clan was certain to be very jealous of her choice of a second husband. I had anticipated their united opposition to my suit. To be assured of his approbation by the beloved brother of the head of the clan made me certain that I should meet with no opposition at all.
My delight must have irradiated my face. Tanno, the irresistible, at once urged me to read the note aloud, saying:
“Don’t be a hog. Don’t keep all those good things to yourself. Let us have a share of the tid-bits. Read it out to all of us.”
Of course the three Satronians looked sour. But Tanno knew how to smooth out any embarrassing situation. He beamed at me and fairly bubbled with glee.
“I bet on you,” he said. “The widow will be yours at this rate. But don’t show her that note till you two are married.”
Before anybody else could speak he went on:
“I’m famished. So are we all. Flowers are fine to look at and to smell, but give me food. Let’s get at our dinner.”
We did. We fell upon the relishes, disposing of them with hardly the interchange of a word.
When the boys cleared the table I observed with some pride that Tanno eyed with an expression of approval the table cloth and the big silver tray which they set on it, laden with the second course.
“You are,” he said, “pretty well equipped for house-keeping in these remote wilds, Caius. Your table-cloth is far above the average for town tables and your tray is magnificent.”
That started a round of talk on city usages, town etiquette and court gossip. Tanno, very naturally, did much of the talking, the rest mostly questioning and listening. He spoke at length of the Emperor, but of course more guardedly than while talking to me alone.
When the tray with the first course was removed and while that with the second course was being brought in the talk ebbed. Tanno gave it a turn, which at first seemed likely to prove unfortunate, by saying:
“Now I’ve told you the latest news from Rome and the current gossip and the popular fads. Turn about is fair play. It is time for some of you to tell me what just now most interests this country-side. My idea of country life is that it is about as exciting as the winter sleep of a dormouse or of a hibernating bear; but for all I know, it may be as lively in its way as life in town; you may be agog over some occurrence as important to you as a change of Palace Prefects would be at Rome. Speak out somebody, if there is anything worth telling.”
“Whether it be worth telling I do not know,” spoke up Bultius Seclator, “but the country-side hereabouts is agog just now over a recent case of abduction.”
(I shuddered: here was the feud to the fore in spite of everything. And I shuddered yet more as I saw set and harden the features of Vulso, Rusco and Naepor.)
“To make clear to you,” he went on, “I’ll have to explain the circumstances. You undoubtedly know both Satronius Dromo of this valley and his father, Satronius Satro, at Rome. Satro’s father, old Satronius Satronianus, among the horde of slaves set free by his will, liberated a number of artisans of various kinds, who, scattered about among the neighboring towns and villages, had lived like free men, in dwellings belonging to him or in rented abodes, plying their trades and returning to their master a better income than he could have derived from their activities in any other way, since one of his assistant overseers saw to it that they paid in, unfailingly and promptly, the stipulated percentage of their gains. Among these was a cobbler named Turpio, at Trebula. He was so expert, so deft, so quick and so ingratiating to customers, that the overseer insisted on his paying a percentage of his earnings larger than that paid by any other similar slave. Now cobbling, at the best of it, is not an occupation at which one would fancy that anyone would become wealthy. Yet Turpio grew to be very well off. He early amassed savings enough to pay for his own freedom, but his master would not agree to that, so Turpio bought the house in which he lived and his workshop. In the course of time he accumulated possessions of no mean value and owned several slaves, whom he employed as assistant cobblers. By his master’s will all that he had amassed became his property, of course, when he was freed. He was, as he is, very popular in Trebula and among all the country-folk round about who visit Trebula. He is esteemed by all who know him and by all Satronians of every degree.
“Now Turpio, some years ago, partly on account of his kind-heartedness, partly since he could never resist a bargain and he got her for almost nothing, partly, perhaps because of his canny foresight, bought a wretched, puny, sickly, little runt of a four-year-old slave-girl, a mere rack of bones covered with yellow skin. She continued sickly for some years, then, when she was more than half grown, the fresh air of Trebula, its good water, the kindness with which she was treated, the generous fare accorded her, all working together, suddenly began to show results. She plumped out, grew tall, vigorous, active, graceful and charming. She also acquired notable skill at weaving. His intimates congratulated Turpio on his luck or prescience and foretold for him notable profits from her sale. Turpio averred that he and his spouse were so fond of the girl that he was unwilling to part with her except to a master or mistress whom she took to and who seemed likely to be kind to her. He refused several handsome offers for her. She became notable in Trebula as its most beautiful inhabitant and all who knew her wished her well.
“Not long ago, Vedius Molo of Concordia, not a bad specimen of a noble lad, I will say, came to Villa Vedia. He roamed about the country as a young nobleman will. By some chance he caught sight of Xantha, for that is her name, and, of course, like many another, fell in love with her. He promptly offered to buy her. But Xantha did not like him at all and Turpio, as always, consulted her before deciding to sell her. Opposition inflamed Molo and he bid Turpio up till his business instincts all but overcame his doting affection for Xantha. But Xantha liked Molo less and less the more she saw of him. She begged Turpio not to sell her to Molo. He was obdurate, although Molo bid on up till he was offering a really fabulous price, though one well within his means. He could not credit that Turpio would not yield. When he was convinced that he could not wheedle him he lost his temper. Turpio told him that the negotiations were at an end and warned him not to return. Molo went off in a rage.
“Two nights later Turpio’s house was broken into by a considerable body of men, armed, certainly with clubs or staffs. Turpio and his household defended themselves vigorously and were all severely mishandled in the affray, Turpio most severely of all. They were overcome, even overwhelmed, and, before their neighbors could come to their assistance or the townsmen in general rally to help, Xantha was carried off by the intruders, who, beating the night watchman insensible, escaped through the postern of the north gate.
“This highhanded outrage has greatly incensed all Trebula and the entire neighborhood. The night was very dark, neither Turpio nor any of his household nor yet the watchman at the postern claims to have recognized any of the abductors. Yet all impute the outrage to Vedius Molo. Every magistrate is alert to punish the delinquents and to return Xantha to her master. Yet she has totally vanished. After they passed the postern her abductors left no trace. Whether they had or had not with them a two- wheeled or a four-wheeled carriage or a litter or a sedan-chair cannot be determined; nor whether they were on foot or on horseback. The weather was dry and windy and the rocky roads out of Trebula showed no tracks of any kind. The country has been scoured in every direction and all persons questioned, not only at the change-stations on the main roads, and at crossroads, but at all villages. Not a clue has been found; though all Turpio’s friends more than suspect Vedius Molo, there is not an iota of evidence on which anyone could base a demand for a warrant to search Villa Vedia or any other specified villa, farmstead or other piece of property. Xantha has vanished. There are rumors that she is at Villa Vedia, but they seem as baseless as the rumor of a party of horsemen conveying a closed litter, which rumor has radiated from uncountable localities all about here, not one of which localities could, when their inhabitants were questioned, substantiate the rumor in any way. Equally baseless appear the numerous rumors that this or that individual has it on unimpeachable authority that Xantha’s abductors are camped somewhere in this or that woodland and are preparing to smuggle Xantha into Villa Vedia by that route which they deem least probable for such a venture and therefore least watched. With all this the country-side is agog, I can assure you.”
“Fairly exciting, I admit,” Tanno remarked when Bultius paused. “Sounds like the tales of goings-on in Latium in the days when the Aequi, Volsci and Hernici raided up to the gates of Rome four summers out of five. I had not thought Sabinum so primitive.”
Before I could speak, Fisevius Rusco cut in.
“Bultius,” he said, “Vulso and Naepor and I have listened without any interruptions to your version of the occurrences you have narrated, and I must say you have told them as fairly as could be expected from any one with your leanings. I have no remarks to make on your story nor anything to say in rebuttal. But it seems to me, it is now your turn, along with Nepronius and Juventius, to listen with equal patience, while I narrate a similar story.”
The three Satronians bowed stiffly and in silence.
Rusco resumed, addressing Tanno:
“I shall not,” he said, “be compelled to go into details as minutely as did Bultius. You can comprehend my story with less background.
“At Reate, for some years past, there lived a worthy couple, freedman and freedwoman of Vedius Vindex. The husband died more than a year ago, leaving a young and childless widow, named Greia Posis, possessed of a good town-house and of three small farms not far out in the country. Naturally as she was comely and well-off, Greia soon had suitors aplenty. For some time she showed no favor to any, but lately it has been plain that she would marry either Helvidius Flaccus, a tenant-farmer holding his land under one of the Vedian clan near Reate, or Annius Largus, similarly a tenant of one of the Satronian properties. Although Helvidius was on Greia’s side of our local feud, while Annius was on the other, idlers at Reate were laying wagers that Annius would win Greia, considering him most in her favor.
“Recently, however, Greia had some sort of a quarrel with Annius, and announced her intention of marrying Helvidius.
“You must understand that Greia has the best sort of reputation, is universally respected, and is greatly liked by all her neighbors and acquaintances and is popular in Reate.
“Now, a day or two after the abduction which Bultius has narrated, Greia had visited one of her farms and, towards dark, was returning home to Reate in a two-wheeled gig driven by a slave of hers, a deaf-mute lad. What occurred can only be conjectured, as the deaf-mute cannot relate it, but, at all events, he was found insensible, bruised and bleeding, by the road, apparently having been unmercifully beaten. Not far from him the mule was grazing by the roadside, his harness in perfect condition and the gig unharmed. Greia, however, had vanished. No one had seen Annius in the neighborhood, yet it is generally assumed that he managed to abduct Greia in broad daylight without any one sighting him either coming or going: which, if the fact, would be an almost miraculous feat.
“Certainly Greia has disappeared. The magistrates of Reate searched Annius’ farmstead, but found neither Greia nor, indeed, any trace of Annius himself. It is conjectured that he is hiding, with Greia, at some farm or villa under the Satronian protection. But there is no shadow of any tangible basis for the conjecture, nor for the rumors, which, like those concerning Xantha which Bultius had told you of, run all over the country-side; very similar rumors, too; for some are to the effect that Annius is holding Greia in durance at Villa Satronia; others that a cortege of horsemen escorting a closed litter has been seen here or there on some road; others that someone has learnt that Annius is about to attempt to reach Villa Satronia with Greia, convoyed by an escort of his clansmen. The country-side buzzes with such whispers.
“And let me point out to you, what you undoubtedly comprehend, that serious as is the forcible abduction of a slave-girl, the abduction of a freewoman, even if a freedwoman, is a far more serious matter. Not only is Helvidius on fire to reclaim his bride and to revenge himself on Largus, not only are all his relations, friends and well-wishers eager to assist him by every means in their power, not only are all right-thinking men incensed at the outrage, but the magistrates of Reate are determined to bring the guilty man to justice and to free Greia.”
“Very well told,” was Tanno’s comment, “and I comprehend far better than you perhaps imagine. Not only are the magistrates of Reate hot on the trail of Annius and those of Trebula equally keen after Vedius Molo, but all Vedians are eager to shield Molo and to help catch and convict Annius Largus, and all Satronians conversely doing all they can to shield Largus and get Molo. Oh, I twig! Moreover I realize that all Vedians regard the abduction of Greia as not so much a hot-headed folly of Largus as a Satronian retort to the abduction of Xantha; and conversely, all Satronians regard it as merely an insufficient counter to Xantha’s abduction. Oh, I comprehend the feud atmosphere. I have no doubt that scores of poniards of the Vedian clan are sharp and daily sharpened sharper, for use on Largus and as many Satronian dirks for use on Molo; that every road hereabouts has watchers posted along it; that bands of lusty lads are camped here and there waiting summonses or are actually in likely ambushes by the roadsides. I foresee shindies of great amplitude. You need not say any more; neither of you need say any more; none of you need say any more. In fact, I beg that the whole subject be dropped right here. I comprehend the feud atmosphere and I don’t want any more of it in this _triclinium_. Let’s forget or ignore the feud and enjoy Hedulio’s good fare.”
His compelling personality exerted its magic, as usual. All six feudists relaxed. I could feel the social tension dissolve. We all felt relieved.
By that time we had disposed of the fish and roasts, the boys had lighted the hanging lamps and the standing lamps, had removed the tray with what we had left of the roasts and had brought in the third-course tray with the birds and salads. As we sampled them Tanno remarked:
“You have a cook, astonishingly good, Caius, for anywhere outside of Rome and amazingly good for a villa in the hills, far from a town. I must see your cook and question him. His roasts, his broiled, baked and fried dishes are above the averages, yet nothing wonderful. But his ragouts or fricassees or whatever you call them, are marvellous. This salmi of fig- peckers (or of some similar bird, for it is so ingeniously flavored and spiced, that I cannot be sure) is miraculous. There was a sort of chowder, too, of what fish I could not conjecture, which was so appetizing that I could have gorged on it. Just as provocative and alluring was one of the concoctions of the second course, apparently of lamb or kid, but indubitably a masterpiece. I certainly must see your cook.”
“My cook,” I confessed, “was not the artist of the dishes you praise so highly. Hereabouts we do not give them such high-sounding names as you apply to them, we call them hashes or stews. Ofatulena, the wife of my villa-farm bailiff, devised them and prepared them. She is famous hereabouts for her cooking.”
“What,” cried Tanno, “a woman cook! Never saw a woman cook, never heard of one, never read of one. Egypt, Babylonia, Lydia, Persia, Greece and Italy, all cooks have always been men. I ought to know all about cookery, what with my library on cookery and my travels to all the cities famous for cookery. But you have taught me something novel and wholly unsuspected. Trot out your female cook. Let’s have a look at her.”
I sent for Ofatulena and she came in, pleased and embarrassed, flushed brick-red all over her full moon of a face, diffident and elated, trembling and giggling.
Tanno questioned her and satisfied himself that she had prepared the dishes which had won his approbation and also that she was no hit-or-miss cook, but a real artist in the kitchen, and really knew what she was doing.
“Beware, Hedulio,” he said as he dismissed her. “You Sabines will have three abductions to gossip over if you do not look out. I’m half tempted now to suborn some of the riff-raff of the Subura to kidnap this miracle- worker of yours and hale her to Rome into my kitchen to amaze my guests.”
When she was gone he resumed:
“Everything is topsy turvy in Sabinum, woman cooks and tenant farmers! What next? I gather that all of you, Satronians, Vedians and outsiders, have your estates parcelled out among free tenant farmers. Am I right?”
Hirnio, Seclator and the rest assured him that he was right.
“Well, then,” he said, “tenant farming must be a subject perfectly safe for all persons present. Let’s talk about it. Hedulio has tried to expound to me the beauties of the system, but he had no great success. I fail so far, to comprehend how the institution ever came into existence, why it has maintained itself only in Sabinum and what are its advantages. Tell me about it.”
Tanno had hit upon one of the few subjects on which all present felt concordantly. His utterance started a hubbub, all my guests talking at once, each trying to out-talk all the others and all voicing our local enthusiasm for our local farm-system. The _triclinium_ rang with paeans of praise of our Sabine yeomanry, and when the excitement had abated enough to permit of intelligible discourse, Tanno was regaled with a series of tales illustrating the sterling worth of the Sabine yeomen, their knowledge of farming, their diligence, their patience, their unflagging energy, their parsimony, their amazing productivity in respect to crop- yield, stock, implements and all things raised or made on their farms, their devotion to their landlords, the charm of the ties between the gentry and the yeomanry and the universal Sabine cult of the tenant system.
With all this talk we lingered longer than usual over Ofatulena’s bewitching salads, which Tanno lauded even above her ragouts.
When it was time for the last course, after the service-boys had slid the third-course tray off the table, I was amazed to see my four strongest table slaves enter fairly staggering under the load put upon them by Grandfather’s biggest dinner-tray heaped with fruit, among which I descried African pomegranates and other exotics. Still more was I amazed when other slaves crowded in behind them, carrying baskets of hot-house melons of astonishing size and insistent perfume. Last of the procession was Agathemer, who stood in the doorway, grinning and beaming.
Tanno, not less than the guests in chorus, acclaimed this unexpected profusion.
Again I looked interrogatively at Agathemer. He responded as at the commencement of our meal.
“I have a note here,” he said, “which I was enjoined not to hand you until after this fruit had been set upon your table.”
He handed me the missive, the superscription of which was, to my astonishment, in the handwriting of Satronius Dromo. While my fingers tugged at the thread, Tanno commanded:
“Read it out loud at once, like the other. No secrets here. Let us all in.”
The letter began with all the traditional polite formalities, as had that from Vedius. It read:
“Satronius Dromo to his valued friend Andivius Hedulio. If you are well I am well also. I was writing at Villa Satronia on the day before the Nones of June. Some days before I had written you expressing my regret at the circumstances which prevented me from accepting your most welcome invitation to dine with you on the Nones. I intended dispatching to you, with this, what fruit my establishment has fit for your acceptance, which I ask of you, this fruit being sent as an earnest of my cordiality. When you are settled at Rome I beg that, when perfectly convenient to you, you convey my warmest regards to my cousin’s widow, Vedia Venusta.
At this letter I was fairly thunderstruck. That Satronius should take any notice of me at all was more amazing than the graciousness of Vedius. That he should have ransacked the provinces and overstrained the capabilities of rowers and horseflesh to send me costly rarities out of season was astounding. That his last sentence should practically duplicate the last sentence of the letter from Vedius was most incredible of all. For if all Vedians were sure to be very decidedly hypercritical as to anyone likely to become Vedia’s second husband, it was still more a certainty that the entire Satronian connection would scrutinize minutely everything concerning any man likely to come into control of the great properties which she had inherited from her husband, Satronius Patavinus. That I should be disfavored by the entire Satronian connection had seemed to me more than likely. Dromo’s intimation of his warm approval of my suit for Vedia, coming on top of Caspo’s, cleared of all obstacles my path towards matrimony with the woman of my heart’s choice. I was more than elated, I was drunk with ecstacy.
After I had finished reading, dead silence reigned in the _triclinium_; even Tanno was too dumbfounded to utter any sound.
Hirnio spoke first.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I beg of you to hear me out with attention. Like our Caius here and like his hereditary antagonist, Ducconius Furfur, I have never taken sides in our age-long local feud. Like all outsiders and like a majority of its partisans, I have grieved at its existence, deplored its unfortunate results and hoped for its extinction. I think I may say with truth that there was not one inhabitant of this neighborhood who did not rejoice when the heads of the two families, with the abolition of the feud and the creation of the permanent amity in view, arranged a marriage between, the lovely daughter of the head of the northern branch of the Vedian House and the son of the northern, branch of the Satronian House. Satronian or Vedian; freeman or slave, everyone was delighted at the prospect of lasting harmony. The sudden death of Satronius Patavinus not only blasted these hopes, but intensified antagonisms; for all the Vedians felt that a daughter of the clan had been sacrificed in vain and all Satronians regretted that vast properties about Padua, long possessed by Satronians, passed by the will of her husband to a young widow, born of the Vedian House. All saw the prospect of exacerbated enmities and their probable results.
“Now it must be apparent to you that the two letters which we have heard read would never have been written without their writers having consulted with the heads of their respective houses. These letters are an intimation to our Caius that both her kinsmen and the kinsmen of her first husband smile upon his suit for the most lovely, the most charming and the wealthiest widow in Rome. This means, to a certainty, that both Satronius Satro and Vedius Vedianus descry the possibility that Vedia’s union with a second husband acceptable to both clans and opposed to neither may work for mitigation of the feud spirit and for establishment of harmonious amity almost as powerfully as would have the permanency of her membership of the Satronian clan. I conceive that all of us, outsiders and partisans, may congratulate Caius without reservation or afterthought, heartily and enthusiastically.”
To this all present agreed in chorus, all drank my health.
Vulso, rather hesitatingly, spoke next.
“As all we say here,” he began, “is under the rose and will not be repeated or hinted at, I do not mind saying that I feel as does Hirnio.”
To this Rusco and Naepor agreed, with less hesitancy.
Similarly the three Satronians expressed their concurrence.
Again they all congratulated me on my luck, drank to the success of my suit, and to my prosperity and health.
Complete harmony reigned and the strained social atmosphere attending a dinner in the feud area vanished completely.
By this time the moon, which was nearly full, was high enough to bathe the world with silvery light. Tanno peering across the table and through the windows, remarked:
“You have a fine prospect, Caius. I admired it when I first lay down, but our interest in the flowers and in your letter from Vedius diverted my intention to speak of it. It is a charming outlook even by moonlight.”
“Yes,” I admitted, with not a little pride. “Grandfather, of course, dined earlier than is fashionable nowadays. He built this _triclinium_ so that he could bask in the rays of the declining sun and could watch the sunset colors as they varied and deepened. My uncle used to dine as early as his father and, even in the hottest weather, enjoyed the direct rays of the sun on him as he dined, for he was always rheumatic and chilly, yet he enjoyed the beauty of the view even more.”
“It is charming even by moonlight,” Tanno repeated, “and that although the villa is between our outlook and the moon, so its shadow darkens the nearer prospect.”
We all contemplated the view through the window. “Who are those men I see just beyond the shadow of the house?” Tanno queried. “Quite an assemblage, it seems to me; almost a mob for these lonely districts.”
I looked where he indicated and could not conjecture what it was that I saw.
TENANTRY AND SLAVERY
Agathemer came in and explained that my tenants had a petition to present to me and had gathered, hoping that I would receive them after dinner. (Doubtless, I thought, conjecturing that I would be, just after dinner, in the most accommodating humor possible.)
“I must see this and hear what they have to say,” Tanno declared. “Have you any objections to our going with you, Caius?” he asked.
On my saying that I should be glad to have him come along, he said:
“Come on, all of you, it will be fun, and standing out in the night cool will freshen our zest for our wine.”
All nine of us went out on the terrace. The prospect was indeed beautiful, only the brighter stars showing in the pale sky, the far hills outlined against it, the nearer hills darkly glimmering in the moon-rays, the valleys all full of pearly moonlit haze, the pleasance about the villa vague in the witchery of the moon’s full radiance.
In that full radiance, on the path below the balustrade of the terrace, were my nine tenant farmers. Not one, as was natural among our healthy hills, but was my elder. Yet, according to our customary mode of address from master to tenant, I said to them:
“What brings you here, lads, so long after your habitual bed-time?”
Ligo Atrior acted as spokesman.
“We have a request to prefer,” he said, “and we judged this an opportune time.”
“Speak out,” I said, “our wine is waiting for me and my guests, and I am listening. Speak out!”
He set forth, at considerable length and with many halts and repetitions, that all their farms were in excellent order and in an exceedingly forward condition, promising very well for the future in all respects; that I had just assured myself of all this by a minute inspection; that they were keenly emulous of each other and each thought his farm the best of the nine; that they were and had been very curious to learn which of the nine farms I thought the best kept; that someone had suggested that, if I judged any one of the nine distinctly better than his fellows’, it would be proper to distinguish the man of my choice by some gift, bonus, exemption or privilege, if his farm was really the best kept; that while discussing these matters someone had remarked that he envied me my approaching visit to Rome, as he had never been there; that this had brought to their notice that not one of them had ever seen Rome, though it was less than three days’ journey away; that someone had suggested that perhaps I might be induced not only to specify which of them I considered the best farmer, but to indicate my preference by allowing the best of them to visit Rome later in the summer, after the crops were all harvested; that they had agreed to abide loyally by my choice and that they prayed me to declare which of them, in my opinion, was the best farmer.
When Ligo paused, old Chryseros Philargyrus, his wiry leanness manifest even in the moonlight, although he was well muffled up against the dampness of the night, pushed himself to the front and said that he claimed that, in any such competition, he ought to stand on a level with my eight other tenants, even if they had been life-long tenants of the estate, whereas he, like his father and grandfather, had paid rent to Ducconius Furfur. He claimed that the court decision by which Ducconius had had to refund to my uncle all the rents received from the farm in dispute since the first decision of the lowest court had awarded it to a Ducconius had been, in effect, an affirmation that his ancestors and he had always been, constructively, tenants of the Andivian estate.
The old man spoke well and tersely, made his points neatly and stated his arguments lucidly, and, in conclusion he said:
“And you must realize, Sir, that whatever my feelings have been up to today, after what happened this afternoon I have forgotten that I or mine ever owned Ducconius Furfur as master. I am your man henceforward, body and soul; I call you not only patron but savior and father. I make my plea for treatment putting me on full equality with my fellows, and I value myself so highly that I hope for the prize. Yet if I am not the lucky man, I shall loyally and in silence abide by your decision.”
I was pleased with his words and I admitted the correctness of his contentions, but rebuked him for his self-assertive manner.
Then Ligo spoke again.
“Please publish your opinion, Master, for we are sleepy and long to be abed. But much more do we long for your decision, for each one of us considers himself a better farmer than any other and expects to be the chosen man.”
“Suppose,” I said, “that I am of the opinion that no one of you is better than all his fellows, but that two of you are better than the other seven, but equal to each other in merit?”
Ligo stood at loss, but old Chryseros spoke out at once, saying:
“In that case, Master, it would be proper that both men go to Rome, as such a prize could not be divided into shares.”
His forwardness angered me. I told him sharply to mind his manners and to keep his place; that Ligo had been chosen spokesman and that he was to hold his peace. I also pointed out that I had not agreed to give any such prize for distinguished excellence, that far less had I agreed that a visit to Rome should be the prize.
All nine of them stood mute.
I was tingling with my elation over my prospects of winning Vedia, for I felt sure of her personal favor, and the two notes from my great neighbors had thrown me into a sort of trance of rapture. I was genuinely pleased with the frugality, diligence and skill of my tenants. My estate was in a way to return far more than I had expected of it. I was in a position to be liberal, I felt indulgent.
“Lads,” I cried, “everyone of the nine of you is as good a farmer as everyone of the other eight. You are the nine best farmers in Sabinum. You are such good farmers that you have put your farms in a state where your bailiffs can oversee the harvest as well as if under your own eyes. Everyone of you has earned a visit to Rome and everyone of you shall have it, and not at some future time, which may never come, but now. I start for Rome at daybreak and the whole nine of you shall go with me!”
This unexpected liberality they heard in silence: they stood dumb and motionless.
All but Philargyrus. Gesticulating, he pressed forward among them from where he had retired to the rear after my late rebuke. Gesticulating, his voice rising into a senile scream, he upbraided me for folly, extravagance, unthrift and prodigality. He declared that such indulgence would ruin me, would debauch him and his fellows and would, by its evil example, infect, corrupt and deprave the whole countryside. He railed at me. He vowed that, whatever the rest might do, he would use all his powers of persuasion to urge them to stick to their farms till harvest was over and he swore that he himself would, under no circumstances, leave his till the last ear of grain, the last root, the last fruit, was garnered, stored and safe for the winter.
I let him shriek himself hoarse and talk himself mute; then I spoke calmly and sternly:
“I am master here and master of all of you. The loyalty due from a free tenant is, in Sabinum, as mandatory a bond as the obedience legally due from a slave. I speak. Listen, all of you. I set out for Rome at dawn. See that every man of the nine of you is on horseback at the east courtyard gate at dawn, with an ample pack of all things needed for a month’s absence properly girthed on a led mule. If any of you dare to disobey I shall find some effective means to make him smart for his temerity.”
Ligo, finding his voice, thanked me for the nine, and they trudged away.
When we were back again on the dining-sofas Tanno, as was his habit, took charge of things after Ms breezy fashion.
“With the permission of our Caius,” he said, without asking my permission, of which he was sure, “I appoint myself King of the Revels. Where’s the head butler?”
When my major-domo came forward, Tanno queried:
“How much water did you mix with the wine we’ve been drinking with our dinner?”
The butler replied:
“Two measures of water to one of wine.”
Tanno nodded to me, smiling.
“You’ve mighty good wine, Caius,” he said. “No one is more an expert than I and I should have conjectured three to two.”
“Lads,” he continued, to the guests collectively, “this is the sort of master-of-the-revels I am. I mean to start for Rome at dawn with Caius and I intend that both of us shall start cold sober. Therefore all of us must go to bed reasonably sober. You must submit to my rulings.”
Then he instructed the butler:
“Give us no more of the mixture we have been drinking. Mix a big bowl three to one and ladle that out to us.”
When our goblets had been filled he spoke to me!
“Caius, I want to know what that old hunks of a Chryseros Philargyrus meant when he said that after what had occurred this afternoon he was your man, body and soul. What happened.”
“Nothing much.” I said. “As Agathemer and I were riding home and were passing his barn-yard gate, we heard yells for help. I dismounted and ran in. I found Chryseros rather at a disadvantage in handling a bull. I helped him get the beast into his pen. His gratitude seems exaggerated.”
“Not any more exaggerated than your modesty,” spoke up Neponius Pomplio, who had hardly uttered a word since he arrived. Turning to Tanno he continued:
“You’ll never get Hedulio to tell you anything more definite than the very vague and hazy adumbration of his exploit he has already given. I heard some rumors of his feat as I rode down here from my house. I conjecture that the story is worth telling, to its least detail. If you want to hear what really occurred, call in Agathemer; he was with Hedulio when it happened.”
“Good idea,” said Tanno, “and I want Agathemer here for another reason. May I call him in, Caius?”
I assented and Agathemer came in, as smiling and obsequious as always.
“Agathemer,” Tanno queried, “have you finished your dinner?”
“Long ago,” said Agathemer, “and plenty too.”
“Then, have a chair,” said Tanno, rolling himself luxuriously on the deep, soft mattress of one of my uncle’s superlatively comfortable sofas. “No!” he said sharply. “No demurring. Sit down, man! Do as I tell you! I’ve a batch of questions to put to you and you’ll be long answering me. I want you entirely at ease while you talk. You can’t talk as I want you to unless you forget everything else. If you stand you’ll be thinking of your tired legs instead of talking without thinking at all.”
Agathemer, embarrassed, seated himself in the lowest and simplest chair in the room.
“We called you in for something else,” said Tanno, “but first of all I want to ask you why you were not with us at dinner? Caius has written me again and again how he and you dine together evening after evening and how you are so entertaining that he enjoys a dinner just with you almost as much as if he has novel guests. Why were you left out of this? Is Hedulio shy of more or less than nine at table, like his uncle, or does his uncle’s dining-room outfit coerce him? Or what _was_ the reason?”
Agathemer turned red and visibly writhed, mute and sweating.
I cut in.
“Here, Caius,” I said to Tanno, “this isn’t the torture chamber nor you the executioner, nor yet has Agathemer deserved the rack. You are putting him in an excruciating dilemma. He is too courteous to tell you that you ought to ask me, not him, and he is too loyal to tell you the reason.”
I was nearer to being angry with Tanno than I had ever been in our lives. I comprehended why he, with all his superlative equipment of tact and intuition, had blundered; he could not but assume that circumstances were as they should have been rather than as they were; yet the blunder was, in a sense, unforgivable, and had created a social situation than which nothing could be more awkward.
Agathemer’s face cleared as I spoke.
Tanno rounded on me.
“You tell me, then!” he said. “I guess from their faces that I have advertised my ignorance of what is perfectly well known to everybody else here. Remove my disabilities.”
I hesitated and then went in with a rush.
“It does not matter a particle,” I said, “how often I lie down to dinner with Agathemer when we are alone. Since I am then the only freeman in the villa there are no witnesses of our dining together. But if I have him to dinner with any guest he becomes thereby a freeman, as you very well know. And if I were free to set him free and chose to free him in that fashion, I should have to advise my friends in advance of my intentions and ask whether they were willing to lend themselves to such a proceeding. One cannot invite a man without previous explanation and then, when he’s already in one’s house, ask him to lie down to dinner with a slave.”
“Slave!” Tanno roared at me, his face red as the back of a boiled lobster. If I had just missed being angry with him, there was no doubt that he was in a tearing fury with me.
“Slave?” he repeated. “Agathemer still a slave? Are you joking or are you serious? Is this true?”
“Entirely and literally true.” I affirmed.
Tanno, so red that I should have thought it impossible that he could grow redder, grew redder.
“If your uncle,” he roared, “did not free him in his will he was a hog. If you haven’t freed him yourself, you’re a hog. Free him here and now! Show some decency and some gratitude! Better late than never. Here, Agathemer, get off that boy’s stool and lie down between me and Entedius.”
“Go slow, Caius!” I admonished him. “You just confessed that you know nothing of the circumstances, yet you give orders in my house, orders affecting my property-rights, without first acquainting yourself with all the conditions on which such orders should be based, even if you had asked and received my permission to issue them.”
Tanno was impulsive, even headlong, but he never wrangled or quarrelled and seldom lost his temper. I had feared a still more violent outburst from him, but my admonition brought him to himself.
“I apologize,” he said, the red fading from his face. “Tell me the whole matter, so that I may comprehend. I’ll listen in silence.”
“The vital fact,” I said, “is that, although I fully expected my uncle, in his will, to free Agathemer, he not only did not free him, but he enjoined me not to free him within five years after my entrance into my inheritance.”
“Well,” said Tanno, “I take back what I said of you when I called you a hog, but, even if we are taught to utter nothing but good of the dead, I repeat that your uncle was a hog. What do you think of it, Agathemer?”
Agathemer sat at ease now on his stool and his face was placid.
“Since you have asked what I think,” he said, “may I assume that you accord me permission to utter what I think, as if I were even a free man?”
“Utter precisely what you think, without any reservations or modifications,” said Tanno. “I want to have exactly what you think and all you think.”
“I think,” spoke Agathemer, “that you are neither wise to speak so of the dead nor justified in speaking so of my former master. He was a just man and a wise man. Though I cannot conjecture his reason, I am sure that what he did was, somehow, for the best.”
Tanno stared at him with a puzzled expression.
He turned to me.
“Isn’t it true,” he queried, “that your uncle had on his hands an hereditary lawsuit of the most exasperating sort, in the course of which the other side had won the first decision and every appeal?”
“Everybody knows that, Socrates,” I admitted.
“Didn’t Agathemer,” Tanno pressed me, “just before the case was heard in the highest court, make a suggestion which your uncle’s lawyers utilized and through which they won the case?”
“That is also true,” I affirmed.
“Didn’t they all say, that Agathemer’s suggestion was just what they should have thought of at the very first and didn’t they admit that they had not thought of it until Agathemer suggested it and that they never would have thought of it if he had not suggested it?”
“Those are the facts,” I confessed.
“In view of those facts,” Tanno continued, “what did you yourself expect your uncle to do for Agathemer in his will?”
“The very least I anticipated,” I said, “was that he would free Agathemer and make him a present equal to the value of half the property in dispute in the lawsuit. As Ducconius had had to repay to my uncle the full amount of the rents paid since his family first gained possession of the property, that would have been a very moderate reward for Agathemer’s service. I also conjectured that he might free Agathemer and will him a sum equivalent to the net proceeds of the repaid rents, less the costs of the suit. I should not have been surprised if he had made him a present of the whole farm out and out. Many an owner has done more for a slave who had done less for him.”
“And you would have regarded it as fair if your uncle had taken any of those methods of recompensing Agathemer?”
“Certainly!” I affirmed.
“Then why, in the name of Mercury,” he demanded, “didn’t you free Agathemer the moment the will was read?”
“I have told you over and over,” I retorted impatiently, “that my uncle’s will enjoined me not to free Agathemer within five years, though he also enjoined that I was to make a new will at once so as to leave Agathemer free and recompensed if I died before the five years elapsed.”
“But the injunction was not binding,” Tanno persisted, “either in law or by religious custom. No dead man can prevent his heirs freeing slaves he leaves them. Why heed the injunction?”
“I could not contravene so explicit a behest of the dead,” I demurred, “especially of a man I loved and revered. And you must recall my uncle’s queer habit of acting on intuitions and the way he expressed them, always saying:
“‘It has been revealed to me that….’ And his intuitions always seemed to amount to prevision, he never seemed to have acted amiss, however eccentric his act, however baseless his premonition. I have a feeling that in Agathemer’s case he acted on some such presentiment.”
Tanno turned to Agathemer.
“Do you feel that way too?” he demanded.
“I most certainly do,” said Agathemer, “I have a feeling that my remaining a slave is going to be of vital service to Hedulio, somehow, sometime.”
“Then you are content to remain a slave?” Tanno queried.
“No one wants to remain a slave,” Agathemer confessed, “and every slave longs to be a free man and is impatient to be free at once. But I try to be resigned, of course, and, except that I cannot rejoice in not being free, I am as well fed, clothed and housed as I should be as a free man and have as much leisure.”
Tanno glowered at both of us.
I cut in:
“You must remember that Agathemer was raised almost as a free man and almost as my brother. We slept and played together from the time we could walk. We had the same tutors, always, when in the country, both in Bruttium and in Sabinum. In Rome, while I was at school, Agathemer was taught the same subjects at home. We love each other almost as brothers. Both of us were amazed when grandfather left Agathemer to my Uncle instead of to my father or to me. We were more amazed at Uncle’s will. But as things are between us, Agathemer not only looks forward to freedom and an estate within five years, but knows that his interval of waiting will be pleasant, as pleasant as I can make it.”
“But,” Tanno objected, “think of the danger he is in while a slave. For instance, just suppose–(may the gods avert the omen)–that you were murdered in your bed this very night and no clue to the murderer found. Nothing could save Agathemer from being tortured along with all your other slaves.”
“Pooh!” I cried. “You are behind the times! You may be an unsurpassable expert on dress and manners, on perfumery and jewels, but you could know more law. All those ferocious old statutes have been abolished by the enactments of Antoninus and Aurelius. A slave, during good behavior, is almost as safe as a freedman.”
“It is you,” Tanno countered, “who are behind the times. Commodus has had rescinded every edict ameliorating the condition of slaves promulgated since the accession of Trajan. As Nerva did little for them the status of slaves is now practically what it was at the death of Domitian.”
“Anyhow,” spoke up Agathemer, “whatever real or fancied perils hang over me, by my late master’s will and wish, a slave I am and a slave I remain till the five years elapse. Even thereafter I shall be Hedulio’s devoted servitor, meanwhile I am his devoted slave.”
“Does being his slave inhibit you from telling the truth about him?” Tanno queried.
“If it is to his discredit, certainly,” Agathemer answered.
“Suppose it is to his credit, very much to his credit,” Tanno pursued.
“Then I am permitted to tell the truth,” laughed Agathemer.
“Then,” said Tanno, “tell us the whole truth about Hedulio and Chryseros Philargyrus and the bull.”
Agathemer laughed out loud.
“Delighted to oblige you,” he bowed. Tanno looked at me.
“Hedulio is blushing,” he said, “this promises to be interesting. As king of the revels I forbid Hedulio from interrupting. Everybody drain a goblet. Boy, pour a goblet for Agathemer. Agathemer, take a good long drink, so you may start in good voice. And, boy, fill his goblet again when it gets low. Keep an eye on it. Begin, Agathemer.”
“It is a shorter story than you anticipate,” Agathemer began.
“Hedulio and I had completed the final inspection of the estate. We had begun each inspection with Chryseros’ farm and had taken the farms in rotation, ending up with Feliger’s. We had inspected Macer’s farm in the morning, had had a leisurely bath, lunch and snooze and had ridden out to Feliger’s. After looking over the last details of the toolsheds and henneries we were riding home under the over-arching elms down Bran Lane. As we passed Chryseros’ entrance we heard yells for help. Hedulio spurred his horse up the avenue and towards the yells, I after him. The yells guided us to the lower barn-yard gate. Hedulio reined up abruptly, leaped off, leaving me to catch his mare, and vaulted the gate. I tethered our mounts as quickly as I could and climbed the gate. I saw old Chryseros pinned against the wall of his barley-barn, in between the horns of his white bull. The points of the bull’s horns were driven into the wood of the barn and the horns were so long that Chryseros was in no immediate danger of being crushed between the bull’s forehead and the barn wall. The bull was so enraged that he was pushing with all his might, puffing and bellowing, spraying Chryseros’ legs with froth, grunting and lowing between bellows. As long as he kept on pushing Chryseros was more scared than hurt; but, sooner or later, the bull was certain to draw back, lunge, and skewer Chryseros on one or the other of his horns.
“When I first saw them Chryseros and the bull were as I have described. Hedulio was twisting the bull’s tail.
“The bull paid no more attention to the tail-twisting than if Hedulio had been in the moon.
“Hedulio shouted to Chryseros to hold tight to the bull’s horns, as he was already doing, and to stand still. He let go the bull’s tail and turned round. Seeing me, he ordered me to get back over the gate and to stay there. He looked about, ran to the stable door, peered in, went in and returned with a manure fork. With that in his hand he ran back to the bull and jabbed him with the fork.
“Then the bull did roar. He backed suddenly away from the barn, shaking his horns loose from the futile grip Chryseros had on them, and whirled on Hedulio. Hedulio jabbed him in the neck with the fork. The bull bellowed with rage, it seemed, more than with pain, lowered his head and charged at Hedulio.
“Hedulio side-stepped as deftly as a professional beast-fighter in an amphitheatre and to my amazement, well as I knew him, threw away the fork.
“The bull’s rush carried him almost the whole breadth of the barn-yard. When he turned round he stood, pawing the ground, shaking his head and bellowing. I never saw a bull angrier-looking. He lowered his head to charge.
“But he never charged.
“Hedulio was walking toward him and the bull just stood and pawed and bellowed till Hedulio caught hold of the ring in his nose and led him off to his pen.
“Chryseros, who had dodged through the little door into the barn and had slammed it after him, had peered out of it just before Hedulio reached the bull and had stood, mouth open, hands hanging, letting the door swing wide open.
“Hedulio led the bull into the pen, patted him on the neck and then turned his back on him and sauntered out of the pen, shutting the gate without hurry.
“Chryseros ran to him, stumbling as he ran, fell on his knees, caught Hedulio’s hand, and poured out a torrent of thanks.”
“Did all that really happen?” Tanno queried.
“Precisely as I have told it.” Agathemer affirmed.
“Well,” said Tanno, “I know why Caius did not want to tell it. He knew I’d think it an impudent lie.”
“Don’t you believe it?” Agathemer asked, respectfully.
“Well,” Tanno drawled, “I’ve been watching the faces of the audience. Nobody has laughed or smiled or sneered. I’m an expert on curios and antiques and other specialties, but I am no wiser on bulls than any other city man. So I suppose I ought to believe it. But it struck me, while I listened to you, as the biggest lie I ever heard. I apologize for my incredulity.”
“It would be incredible,” said Juventius Muso, “if told of any one except Hedulio and it would probably be untrue. As it is told of Hedulio it is probably true and also entirely credible.”
“Why of Caius any more than any one else?” queried Tanno.
Muso stared at him.
“I beg pardon,” he said, “but I somehow got the idea that you were an old and close friend of our host.”
“I was and am,” Tanno asserted.
“And know nothing,” Muso pressed him, “of his marvellous powers over animals of all kinds, even over birds and fish?”
“Never heard he had any such powers.” Tanno confessed.
“How’s this, Hedulio?” Juventius demanded of me.
“I suppose,” I said, “that Tanno and I have mostly been together at Rome. Animals are scarcer there than in the country and human beings more plentiful. He knows more of my dealings with men and women than with other creatures.”
“Besides,” Tanno cut in, “you must all remember that our Caius not only never boasts but is absurdly reticent about anything he has done of such a kind that most men would brag of it. Towards his chums and cronies he is open-hearted and as unreserved as a friend could be about everything else, but especially close with them about such matters. So I know nothing of his powers concerning which you speak.”
My guests cried out in amazement, all talking at once.
“I’m king of the revels,” Tanno reminded them.
“Juventius was talking; let him say his say. Everyone of you shall talk his fill, I promise you. I am immensely interested and curious, as I expect to hear many things which I should have heard from Caius any time these ten years. Speak out, Juventius!”
“Before I say what I meant to say,” Muso began, “I want to ask some questions. What you have just told me has amazed me and what little you have said leaves me puzzled. Surely there are dogs in Rome?”
“Plenty,” Tanno assured him.
“Haven’t you ever seen a vicious dog fly at Hedulio?” Muso pursued.
“Many a time,” Tanno admitted.
“Did you ever see one bite him?” Muso asked.
“Never!” Tanno affirmed.
“Can you recall what happened?” queried Muso.
Tanno rubbed his chin.
“It seems to me,” he said, “that every time I saw a snarling cur or an open-mouthed watch-dog rush at Caius, the dog slowed his rush before he reached him, circled about him, sniffing, and trotted back where he came from.”
“Did you never see Hedulio beckon such a dog, handle and gentle him, even pet him.”
“Once I did, as I now recall,” Tanno confessed, “yet I thought nothing of it at the time and forgot it at once.”
“Probably,” Muso conjectured, “you thought the dog was only pretending to be cross and was really tame.”
“Just about that, I suppose,” Tanno ruminated.
“Well,” said Muso, “I take it that any one of the dogs you saw run at Hedulio was affected by him just as was the bull this afternoon; each began by acting towards him as he would have towards any other man; each