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A Friend of Caesar - A Tale of the Fall of the Roman Republic. Time, 50-47 B.C.
by William Stearns Davis
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[60] Four sesterces, 16 cents.

"Where are you leading me?" asked Ahenobarbus, a second time, after all his efforts to communicate with the usually fluent Greek met with only monosyllables.

"To the lanista[61] Dumnorix," replied Pratinas, quickening an already rapid pace.

[61] Keeper of a school of gladiators.

"And his barracks are—?"

"By the river, near the Mulvian bridge."

At length a pile of low square buildings was barely visible in the haze. It was close to the Tiber, and the rush of the water against the piling of the bridge was distinctly audible. As the two drew near to a closed gateway, a number of mongrel dogs began to snap and bark around them. From within the building came the roar of coarse hilarity and coarser jests. As Pratinas approached the solidly barred doorway, a grating was pushed aside and a rude voice demanded:—

"Your business? What are you doing here?"

"Is Dumnorix sober?" replied Pratinas, nothing daunted. "If so, tell him to come and speak with me. I have something for his advantage."

Either Pratinas was well known at the gladiators' school, or something in his speech procured favour. There was a rattling of chains and bolts, and the door swung open. A man of unusual height and ponderous proportions appeared in the opening. That was all which could be seen in the semi-darkness.

"You are Pratinas?" he asked, speaking Latin with a northern accent. The Hellene nodded, and replied softly: "Yes. No noise. Tell Dumnorix to come quietly."

The two stepped in on to the flags of a courtyard, and the doorkeeper, after rebolting, vanished into the building. Ahenobarbus could only see that he was standing in a large stone-paved court, perhaps one hundred and forty feet wide and considerably longer. A colonnade of low whitewashed pillars ran all about: and behind them stretched rows of small rooms and a few larger apartments. There were tyros practising with wooden swords in one of the rooms, whence a light streamed, and a knot of older gladiators was urging them on, mocking, praising, and criticising their efforts. Now and then a burly gladiator would stroll across the court; but the young noble and his escort remained hidden in shadow.

Presently a door opened at the other end of the courtyard, and some one with a lantern began to come toward the entrance. Long before the stranger was near, Ahenobarbus thought he was rising like a giant out of the darkness; and when at last Dumnorix—for it was he—was close at hand, both Roman and Greek seemed veritable dwarfs beside him.

Dumnorix—so far as he could be seen in the lantern light—was a splendid specimen of a northern giant. He was at least six feet five inches in height, and broad proportionately. His fair straight hair tumbled in disorder over his shoulders, and his prodigiously long mustaches seemed, to the awed Ahenobarbus, almost to curl down to his neck. His breath came in hot pants like a winded horse, and when he spoke, it was in short Latin monosyllables, interlarded with outlandish Gallic oaths. He wore cloth trousers with bright stripes of red and orange; a short-sleeved cloak of dark stuff, falling down to the thigh; and over the cloak, covering back and shoulders, another sleeveless mantle, clasped under the chin with a huge golden buckle. At his right thigh hung, from a silver set girdle, by weighty bronze chains, a heavy sabre, of which the steel scabbard banged noisily as its owner advanced.

"Holla! Pratinas," cried the Gaul, as he came close. "By the holy oak! but I'm glad to see you! Come to my room. Have a flagon of our good northern mead."

"Hist," said the Greek, cautiously. "Not so boisterous. Better stay here in the dark. I can't tell who of your men may hear us."

"As you say," said Dumnorix, setting down the light at a little distance and coming closer.

"You remember that little affair of last year," said Pratinas, continuing;—"how you helped me get rid of a witness in a very troublesome law case?"

"Ha! ha!" chuckled the giant, "I wish I had the sesterces I won then, in my coffer now."

"Well," replied Pratinas, "I don't need to tell you what I and my noble friend here—Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus—have come for. A little more business along the same line. Are you our man?"

"I should say so," answered Dumnorix, with a grin worthy of a baboon. "Only make it worth my while."

"Now," said Pratinas, sinking his voice still lower, "this affair of ours will pay you well; but it is more delicate than the other. A blunder will spoil it all. You must do your best; and we will do the fair thing by you."

"Go on," said the Gaul, folding his huge paws on his breast.

"Have you ever been in Praeneste?" questioned Pratinas.

"I matched two mirmillones[62] of mine there against two threces[63] of another lanista, and my dogs won the prize; but I can't say that I am acquainted with the place," answered the other.

[62] Gladiators equipped as Gaulish warriors.

[63] Buckler men.

"You should find out, then," said Pratinas, "for here lies your work." And then he proceeded, with occasional prompting from the better-informed Ahenobarbus, to point out the location of Drusus's estate, and the character and habits of the man whom Dumnorix was cheerfully proposing to put out of the way. Dumnorix assented and bade him go on, with hoarse grunts; and when the Greek had concluded, growled out in his barbarous Latin:—

"But why all this pother? Why not let me send a knave or two and knock the fellow some dark night in the head? It will save us both time and trouble."

"My excellent master of the gladiators," said Pratinas, as smoothly as ever, "you must not take it ill, if I tell you that to have a taking off such as you propose would be a very bad thing both for you and the most noble Ahenobarbus. This Drusus is not a helpless wight, without friends, waiting to become the fair prey of any dagger man.[64] He has friends, I have learned, who, if he were to be disposed of in such a rude and bungling manner, would not fail to probe deeply into the whole thing. Flaccus the great banker, notably, would spare no pains to bring the responsibility of the matter home, not merely to the poor wretch who struck the blow, but the persons who placed the weapon in his hands. All of which would be very awkward for Ahenobarbus. No, your rough-and-ready plan won't in the least work."

[64] Sicarius.

"Well," replied Dumnorix, testily, "I'm a man of shallow wits and hard blows. If I had been of keener mind, the gods know, I would have been a free chief among the Nervii, instead of making sport for these straw-limbed Romans. If what I propose won't answer, what can be done?"

"A great deal," said Pratinas, who knew perfectly how to cringe low, yet preserve his ascendency; "first of all, it is very necessary that the murderers of the amiable Drusus should receive a meet reward for their crime—that justice should be speedy and severe."

"Man!" cried Dumnorix, griping the Greek's arm in his tremendous clutch. "What are you asking?"

"By Zeus!" burst out Pratinas, rubbing his crushed member. "What a grip is yours! Don't be alarmed. Surely you would be as willing to have one or two of your newest tiros hung on a cross, as stabbed on the arena—especially when it will pay a great deal better?"

"I don't follow you," said the Gaul, though a little reassured.

"Simply this," said Pratinas, who evidently felt that he was coming to the revealing of an especially brilliant piece of finesse. "My general proposal is this. Let you and your company march through Praeneste,—of course carefully timing your march so as to find the innocent and unfortunate Drusus at his farm. You will have a very disorderly band of gladiators, and they begin to attack Drusus's orchard, and maltreat his slaves. You try to stop them,—without avail. Finally, in a most unfortunate and outrageous outbreak they slay the master of the house. The tumult is quelled. The heirs proceed against you. You can only hand over the murderers for crucifixion, and offer to pay any money damages that may be imposed. A heavy fine is laid upon you, as being responsible for the killing of Drusus by your slaves. You pay the damages. Ahenobarbus marries Cornelia and enters upon the estate. The world says that all that can be done to atone for Drusus's murder has been done. All of the guilty are punished. The dead cannot be recalled. The matter is at an end. Ahenobarbus has what he wished for; you have all the money you paid in damages quietly refunded; also the cost of the poor rascals crucified, and a fair sum over and above for your trouble."

"By the god Belew!"[65] cried the enthusiastic Dumnorix. "What a clever plan! How the world will be cheated! Ha! ha! How sharp you little Greeks must be. Only I must have fair return for my work, and an oath that the business shall never be coming to the point of giving my eyes to the crows. I can't risk my life in anything but a square fight."

[65] The Gallic sun-god.

"Well," said Pratinas, after a few words with his companion, "how will this proposition suit you? All expenses, before and after the affair itself, of course refunded; one hundred thousand sesterces clear gain for doing the deed, twenty-five thousand sesterces for every poor fellow we have to nail up to satisfy the law, and you to be guaranteed against any evil consequence. Is this sufficient?"

"I think so," growled Dumnorix, in his mustaches, "but I must have the oath."

"The oath?" said Pratinas, "oh, certainly!" and the Greek raised his hands toward heaven, and muttered some words to the effect that "if he and his friend did not fulfil their oath, let Zeus, the regarder of oaths, destroy them," etc., etc.—an imprecation which certainly, so far as words went, was strong enough to bind the most graceless. Then he proceeded to arrange with Dumnorix how the latter should wait until it was known Drusus had gone back to Praeneste, and was likely to stay there for some time; as to how many gladiators the lanista was to have ready. Dumnorix complained that the rather recent law against keeping gladiators at Rome prevented him from assembling in his school any considerable number. But out of his heterogeneous collection of Gauls, Germans, Spaniards, Greeks, and Asiatics he would find enough who could be used for the purpose without letting them know the full intent with which they were launched against Drusus. At all events, if their testimony was taken, it would have to be as slaves on the rack; and if they accused their master of instigating them to riot, it was what any person would expect of such degraded and lying wretches. So, after promising to come again with final word and some bags of earnest-money, Pratinas parted with the lanista, and he and Lucius Ahenobarbus found themselves again in the now entirely darkened Campus Martius. Lucius again feared brigands, but they fell in with no unpleasant nocturnal wayfarers, and reached the city without incident. Ahenobarbus seemed to himself to be treading on air—Cornelia, villas, Drusus's money—these were dancing in his head in a delightful confusion. He had abandoned himself completely to the sway of Pratinas; the Greek was omniscient, was invincible, was a greater than Odysseus. Ahenobarbus hardly dared to think for himself as to the plan which his friend had arranged for him. One observation, however, he made before they parted.

"You swore that Dumnorix should get into no trouble. May it not prove expensive to keep him out of difficulty?"

"My dear Lucius," replied Pratinas, "in cases of that kind there is a line from the Hippolytus of the immortal tragedian Euripides, which indicates the correct attitude for a philosopher and a man of discretion to assume. It runs thus,—

"'My tongue an oath took, but my mind's unsworn.'

Not an inelegant sentiment, as you must see."

III

We left the excellent man of learning, Pisander, in no happy frame of mind, after Agias had been dragged away, presumably to speedy doom. And indeed for many days the shadow of Valeria's crime, for it was nothing else, plunged him in deep melancholy. Pisander was not a fool, only amongst his many good qualities he did not possess that of being able to make a success in life. He had been tutor to a young Asiatic prince, and had lost his position by a local revolution; then he had drifted to Alexandria, and finally Rome, where he had struggled first to teach philosophy, and found no pupils to listen to his lectures; then to conduct an elementary school, but his scholars' parents were backward in paying even the modest fees he charged. Finally, in sheer despair, to keep from starving, he accepted the position as Valeria's "house-philosopher."

His condition was infinitely unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons. The good lady wished him to be at her elbow, ready to read from the philosophers or have on hand a talk on ethics or metaphysics to deliver extempore. Besides, though not a slave or freedman, he fared in the household much worse sometimes than they. A slave stole the dainties, and drained a beaker of costly wine on the sly. Pisander, like Thales, who was so intent looking at the stars that he fell into a well, "was so eager to know what was going on in heaven that he could not see what was before his feet."[66] And consequently the poor pedant dined on the remnants left after his employer and her husband had cleared the board; and had rancid oil and sour wine given him, when they enjoyed the best. The slaves had snubbed him and made fun of him; the freedmen regarded him with absolute disdain; Valeria's regular visitors treated him as a nonentity. Besides, all his standards of ethical righteousness were outraged by the round of life which he was compelled daily to witness. The worthy man would long before have ceased from a vassalage so disgraceful, had he possessed any other means of support. Once he meditated suicide, but was scared out of it by the thought that his bones would moulder in those huge pits on the Esquiline—far from friend or native land—where artisans, slaves, and cattle, creatures alike without means of decent burial, were left under circumstances unspeakably revolting to moulder away to dust.

[66] See Plato's "Theaetetus," 174.

The day of Agias's misfortune, Pisander sat in his corner of the boudoir, after Valeria had left it, in a very unphilosophical rage, gnawing his beard and cursing inwardly his mistress, Pratinas, and the world in general.

Arsinoe with a pale, strained face was moving about, replacing the bottles of cosmetics and perfumery in cabinets and caskets. Pisander had been kind to Arsinoe, and had taught her to read; and there was a fairly firm friendship between the slave and the luckless man, who felt himself degraded by an equal bondage.

"Poor Agias," muttered Pisander.

"Poor Agias," repeated Arsinoe, mournfully; then in some scorn, "Come, Master Pisander, now is the time to console yourself with your philosophy. Call out everything,—your Zeno, or Parmenides, or Heraclitus, or others of the thousand nobodies I've heard you praise to Valeria,—and make thereby my heart a jot the less sore, or Agias's death the less bitter! Don't sit there and snap at your beard, if your philosophy is good for anything! People used to pray to the gods in trouble, but you philosophers turn the gods into mists or thin air. You are a man! You are free! Do something! Say something!"

"But what can I do?" groaned Pisander, bursting into tears, and wishing for the instant Epicureans, Stoics, Eclectics, Peripatetics, and every other school of learning in the nethermost Hades.

"Phui! Fudge!" cried Arsinoe. "What is life made for then, if a man who has spent all his days studying it is as good as helpless! Look at me! Have I not hands, feet, a head, and wits? Am I not as well informed and naturally capable as three fine ladies out of every four? Would I not look as handsome as they, if I had a chance to wear their dresses and jewels? Have I any blemish, any defect, that makes me cease to be a woman, and become a thing? Bah, master Pisander! I am only a slave, but I will talk. Why does my blood boil at the fate of Agias, if it was not meant that it should heat up for some end? And yet I am as much a piece of property of that woman whom I hate, as this chair or casket. I have a right to no hope, no ambition, no desire, no reward. I can only aspire to live without brutal treatment. That would be a sort of Elysium. If I was brave enough, I would kill myself, and go to sleep and forget it all. But I am weak and cowardly, and so—here I am."

Pisander only groaned and went away to his room to turn over his Aristotle, and wonder why nothing in the "Nicomachean Ethics" or any other learned treatise contained the least word that made him contented over the fate of Agias or his own unhappy situation. Arsinoe and Semiramis, when he went from them, cried, and cried again, in pity and helpless grief at their whole situation. And so a considerable number of days passed. Calatinus could have given joy to the hearts of several in his household if he had simply remembered that Agias had not been scourged to death, but sold. But Calatinus feared, now that he was well out of the matter, to stir up an angry scene with his wife, by hinting that Agias had not been punished according to her orders. Alfidius, too, and the other slaves with him, imagined that his mistress would blame them if they admitted that Agias was alive. So the household gathered, by the silence of all concerned, that the bright Greek boy had long since passed beyond power of human torment. Pisander recovered part of his equanimity, and Arsinoe and Semiramis began to see life a shade less darkened.

Pratinas occasionally repeated his morning calls upon Valeria. He seemed much engrossed with business, but was always the same suave, elegant, accomplished personage that had endeared him to that lady's heart. One morning he came in, in unusually good spirits. "Congratulate me," he exclaimed, after saluting Valeria; "I have disposed of a very delicate piece of work, and my mind can take a little rest. At least I have roughly chiselled out the matter, as a sculptor would say, and can now wait a bit before finishing. Ah! what elegant study is this which is engrossing your ladyship this morning?"

"Pisander is reading from the works of Gorgias of Leontini," said Valeria, languidly.

"To be sure," went on Pratinas; "I have always had the greatest respect for the three nihilistic propositions of that philosopher. To read him one is half convinced of the affirmation that nothing exists; that if anything existed, the fact could not be known, and that if the fact were known, it could not be communicated; although of course, my dear madam, there are very grave objections to accepting such views in their fulness."

"Of course," echoed Valeria. "Pisander, read Pratinas that little poem of Archilochus, whose sentiment I so much admired, when I happened on it yesterday."

Pisander fumbled among his rolls, then read, perhaps throwing a bit of sarcasm into his tone:—

"Gyges'[67] wealth and honours great Come not nigh to me! Heavenly pow'r, or tyrant's state, I'll not envy thee. Swift let any sordid prize Fade and vanish from my eyes!"

[67] A Lydian king whose wealth was placed on a par with that of the better known Croesus.

"Your ladyship," said Pratinas, appearing entranced by the lines, "is ever in search of the pearls of refined expression!"

"I wish," said Valeria, whose mind ran from Gorgias to Archilochus, and then back to quite foreign matters, with lightning rapidity, "you would tell Kallias, the sculptor, that the head-dress on my statue in the atrium must be changed. I don't arrange my hair that way any longer. He must put on a new head-dress without delay."[68]

[68] Such alterations were actually made in Rome.

"Certainly," assented the Greek.

"And now," said the lady, half entreating, half insinuating, "you must tell me what has made you so abstracted lately; that business you mentioned, which compelled you to restrict your calls."

"My dear Valeria," said Pratinas, casting a glance over at Pisander in his corner, "I dislike mysteries; but perhaps there are some things which I had better not reveal to any one. Don't be offended, but—"

"I am offended," exclaimed the lady, striking her lap with her hands, "and I accept no 'buts.' I will be as silent about all your affairs as about the mysteries of the Bona Dea.[69]"

[69] To whose mysteries only women were admitted.

"I believe I can be confident you will not betray me," said Pratinas, who in fact considered precautions that were necessary to take among so blundering and thick-witted people as the Latins, almost superfluous. He muttered to himself, "I wouldn't dare to do this in Alexandria,—prate of a murder,—" and then glanced again toward Pisander.

"Pisander," said Valeria, sharply, noting Pratinas's disquietude, "go out of the room. I don't need you at present."

Pisander, unlike many contemporaries, was affected by a sensitive conscience. But if there was one man whom he despised to the bottom of his soul, it was Pratinas. Pratinas had lorded it over him and patronized him, in a way which drove the mild-tempered man of learning to desperation. The spirit of evil entered into the heart of Pisander as he left the room. The average chatter of Pratinas and Valeria had been gall and wormwood to him, and he had been glad enough to evade it; but here was Pratinas with a secret which he clearly did not wish Pisander to know. And Pisander, prompted by most unphilosophical motives, resolved within himself to play the eavesdropper. The boudoir was approached by three doors, one from the peristylium, one from Valeria's private sleeping chamber, one from the servants' quarters. Pisander went out through the first, and going through other rooms to the third, took his station by that entrance. He met Arsinoe, and took the friendly maid into his plot, by stationing her on guard to prevent the other servants from interfering with him. Then applying his ear to the large keyhole of the door, he could understand all that was passing in the boudoir. What Pratinas was saying it is hardly necessary to repeat. The Greek was relating with infinite zest, and to Valeria's intense delight and amusement, the story of the two wills which placed Drusus's estate and the hand of Cornelia within reach of Lucius Ahenobarbus; of the manner in which this last young man had been induced to take steps to make way with an unfortunate rival. Finally, in a low, half-audible tone, he told of the provisional arrangements with Dumnorix, and how very soon the plan was to be put in execution.

"And you must be sure and tell me," cried Valeria, clapping her hands when Pratinas concluded, "what the details of the affair all are, and when and how you succeed. Poor Quintus Drusus! I am really sorry for him. But when one doesn't make use of what Fortune has given him, there is nothing else to do!"

"Yes," said Pratinas, sententiously. "He who fails to realize what is for him the highest good, forfeits, thereby, the right to life itself."

Pisander slipped away from the keyhole, with a white face, and panting for breath. Briefly, he repeated what he had gathered to Arsinoe, then blurted out:—

"I will go in and meet that well-oiled villain face to face. By Zeus! I will make him feel the depths of an honest man's scorn and indignation!"

"You will be a fool," replied Arsinoe, quietly, "if you do. Valeria would instantly dismiss you from her service."

"I will go at once to Drusus," asserted Pisander.

"Drusus may or may not be convinced that what you say is true," answered the girl; "but he, I gather from what you repeat, has just gone back to Praeneste. Before you could reach Praeneste, you are a dead man."

"How so?" demanded the excited philosopher, brandishing his fists. "I am as strong as Pratinas."

"How little wisdom," commented Arsinoe, "you do gather from your books! Can't you see Pratinas is a reckless scoundrel—with every gladiator in Dumnorix's school at his call if needs be—who would stop at nothing to silence promptly the mouth of a dangerous witness? This isn't worse than many another case. Don't share the ruin of a man who is an utter stranger! We have troubles enough of our own."

And with this consolation Arsinoe left him, again consumed with impotent rage.

"Villain," fumed Pisander to himself, "if I could only place my fingers round your neck! But what can I do? What can I do? I am helpless, friendless, penniless! And I can only tear out my heart, and pretend to play the philosopher. I, a philosopher! If I were a true one, I would have had the courage to kill myself before this."

And in this mental state he continued, till he learned that Pratinas had taken his farewell, and that Calatinus wished him—since all the slaves seemed busy, and the poor house philosopher was often sent on menial errands—to go to the Forum Boarium,[70] and bring back some ribs of beef for a dinner that evening. Pisander went as bidden, tugging a large basket, and trying to muster up courage to continue his walk to the Fabrician Bridge, and plunge into the Tiber. In classic days suicide was a commendable act under a great many circumstances, and Pisander was perfectly serious and sincere in his belief that he and the world had been companions too long for the good of either. But the jar and din of the streets certainly served to make connected philosophical meditation upon the futility and unimportance of human existence decidedly unfruitful. By the time he reached the cattle-market the noise of this strange place drove all suicidal intentions from him. Butchers were slaughtering kine; drovers were driving oxen off of barges that had come down the Tiber; sheep and goats were bleating—everywhere around the stalls, booths, shops, and pens was the bustle of an enormous traffic. Pisander picked his way through the crowd, searching for the butcher to whom he had been especially sent. He had gone as far as the ancient shrine of Mater Matuta, which found place in these seemingly unhallowed precincts, when, as he gazed into the throng before him, his hair stood as it were on end, his voice choked in his throat, and cold sweat broke out over him. The next moment his hand was seized by another, young and hearty, and he was gasping forth the name of Agias.

[70] Cattle-market.



Chapter V

A Very Old Problem

I

Drusus had at last finished the business which centred around the death of his uncle, old Publius Vibulanus. He had walked behind the bier, in company with the other relatives of the deceased—all very distant, saving himself. On the day, too, of the funeral, he had been obliged to make his first public oration—a eulogy delivered in the Forum from the Rostra—in which Drusus tried to pay a graceful but not fulsome tribute to the old eques, who had never distinguished himself in any way, except the making of money. The many clients of Vibulanus, who now looked upon the young man as their patron, had raised a prodigious din of applause during the oration, and Quintus was flattered to feel that he had not studied rhetoric in vain. Finally, as next of kin, he had to apply the torch to the funeral pyre, and preside over the funeral feast, held by custom nine days after the actual burning, and over the contests of gladiators which took place at this festivity. Meanwhile Sextus Flaccus had been attending to the legal business connected with the transfer of the dead man's estate to his heir. All this took time—time which Drusus longed to be spending with Cornelia in shady and breezy Praeneste, miles from unhealthy, half-parched Rome.

Drusus had sent Agias ahead to Cornelia, as soon as the poor boy had recovered in the least from his brutal scourging. The lad had parted from his deliverer with the most extravagant demonstrations of gratitude, which Quintus had said he could fully repay by implicit devotion to Cornelia. How that young lady had been pleased with her present, Drusus could not tell; although he had sent along a letter explaining the circumstances of the case. But Quintus had other things on his mind than Agias and his fortunes, on the morning when at last he turned his face away from the sultry capital, and found his carriage whirling him once more over the Campagna.

Drusus had by personal experience learned the bitterness of the political struggle in which he had elected to take part. The Caesarians at Rome (Balbus, Antonius, and Curio) had welcomed him to their number, for young as he was, his wealth and the prestige of the Livian name were not to be despised. And Drusus saw how, as in his younger days he had not realized, the whole fabric of the state was in an evil way, and rapidly approaching its mending or ending. The Roman Republic had exported legions; she had imported slaves, who heaped up vast riches for their masters, while their competition reduced the free peasantry to starvation. And now a splendid aristocracy claimed to rule a subject world, while the "Roman people" that had conquered that world were a degenerate mob, whose suffrages in the elections were purchasable—almost openly—by the highest bidder. The way was not clear before Drusus; he only saw, with his blind, Pagan vision, that no real liberty existed under present conditions; that Pompeius and his allies, the Senate party, were trying to perpetuate the aristocracy in power, and that Caesar, the absent proconsul of the Gauls, stood, at least, for a sweeping reform. And so the young man made his decision and waited the march of events.

But once at Praeneste all these forebodings were thrust into the background. The builders and frescoers had done their work well in his villa. A new colonnade was being erected. Coloured mosaic floors were being laid. The walls of the rooms were all a-dance with bright Cupids and Bacchantes—cheerful apartments for their prospective mistress. But it was over to the country-house of the Lentuli that Drusus made small delay to hasten, there to be in bliss in company with Cornelia,

"And how," he asked, after the young lady had talked of a dozen innocent nothings, "do you like Agias, the boy I sent you?"

"I can never thank you enough—at least if he is always as clever and witty as he has been since I have had him," was the reply. "I was vexed at first to have a servant with such dreadful scars all over him; but he is more presentable now. And he has a very droll way of saying bright things. What fun he has made of Livia's dear mother, his former mistress! I shall have to give up reading any wise authors, if it will make me grow like Valeria. Then, too, Agias has won my favour, if in no other way, by getting a thick grass stem out of the throat of my dear little pet sparrow, that was almost choking to death. I am so grateful to you for him!"

"I am very glad you are fond of him," said Drusus. "Has your uncle come back from Rome yet? I did not meet him while there. I was busy; and besides, to speak honestly, I have a little hesitation in seeing him, since the political situation is so tense."

"He returns to-night, I believe," replied Cornelia. Then as if a bit apprehensive, "Tell me about the world, Drusus; I don't care to be one of those fine ladies of the sort of Clodia,[71] who are all in the whirl of politics, and do everything a man does except to speak in the Senate; but I like to know what is going on. There isn't going to be a riot, I hope, as there was two years ago, when no consuls were elected, and Pompeius had to become sole magistrate?"

[71] She was a sister of Clodius, a famous demagogue, and was a brilliant though abandoned woman.

"There have been no tumults so far," said Drusus, who did not care to unfold all his fears and expectations.

"Yet things are in a very bad way, I hear," said Cornelia "Can't Caesar and my uncle's party agree?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Drusus, shaking his head. "Caesar wishes to be consul a second time. Pompeius and he were friends when at Lucca six years ago this was agreed on. Caesar was then promised that he should have his Gallic proconsulship up to the hour when he should be consul, and besides Pompeius promised to have permission granted Caesar to be elected consul, without appearing as a candidate in Rome; so at no moment was Caesar to be without office,[72] and consequently he was not to be liable to prosecution from his enemies. All this was secured to Caesar by the laws,—laws which Pompeius aided to have enacted. But now Crassus the third triumvir is dead; Julia, Caesar's daughter and Pompeius's wife, whom both dearly loved, is dead. And Pompeius has been persuaded by your uncle and his friends to break with Caesar and repudiate his promise. Caesar and Pompeius have long been so powerful together that none could shake their authority; but if one falls away and combines with the common enemy, what but trouble is to be expected?"

[72] Without the imperium—so long as a Roman official held this he was above prosecution.

"The enemy! the enemy!" repeated Cornelia, looking down, and sighing. "Quintus, these feuds are a dreadful thing. Can't you," and here she threw a bit of pathetic entreaty into her voice, "join with my uncle's party, and be his friend? I hate to think of having my husband at variance with the man who stands in place of my father."

Drusus took her face between his hands, and looked straight at her. They were standing within the colonnade of the villa of the Lentuli, and the sunlight streaming between the pillars fell directly upon Cornelia's troubled face, and made a sort of halo around her.

"My dearest, delectissima," said Quintus, earnestly, "I could not honourably take your hand in marriage, if I had not done that which my conscience, if not my reason, tells me is the only right thing to do. It grieves me to hurt you; but we are not fickle Greeks, nor servile Easterns; but Romans born to rule, and because born to rule, born to count nothing dear that will tend to advance the strength and prosperity not of self, but of the state. You would not love me if I said I cared more for keeping a pang from your dear heart, than for the performance of that which our ancestors counted the one end of life—duty to the commonwealth."

Cornelia threw her arms around him.

"You are the noblest man on the whole earth!" she cried with bright enthusiasm. "Of course I would not love you if you did what you believed to be wrong! My uncle may scold, may storm. I shan't care for all his anger, for you must be right."

"Ah! delectissima," cried Drusus, feeling at the moment as if he were capable of refuting senates and confounding kings, "we will not look at too gloomy a side of the picture. Pompeius and Caesar will be reconciled. Your uncle's party will see that it is best to allow the proconsul an election as promised. We will have wise laws and moderate reforms. All will come out aright. And we—we two—will go along through life as softly and as merrily as now we stroll up and down in the cool shade of these columns; and I will turn philosopher and evolve a new system that will forever send Plato and Zeno, Epicurus and Timon, to the most remote and spider-spun cupboard of the most old-fashioned library, and you shall be a poetess, a Sappho, an Erinna, who shall tinkle in Latin metres sweeter than they ever sing in Aiolic. And so we will fleet the time as though we were Zeus and Hera on Olympus."

"Zeus and Hera!" repeated Cornelia, laughing. "You silly Graecule.[73] You may talk about that misbehaved pair, who were anything but harmonious and loving, if Homer tells truly. I prefer our own Juppiter and our Juno of the Aventine. They are a staid and home-keeping couple, worth imitating, if we are to imitate any celestials. But nothing Greek for me."

[73] Contemptuous diminutive for Greek.

"Intolerant, intolerant," retorted Drusus, "we are all Greek, we Romans of to-day—what is left of old Latium but her half-discarded language, her laws worse than discarded, perverted, her good pilum[74] which has not quite lost its cunning, and her—"

[74] The heavy short javelin carried by the Roman legionary, only about six feet long. In practised hands it was a terrible weapon, and won many a Roman victory.

"Men," interrupted Cornelia, "such as you!"

"And women," continued Drusus, "such as you! Ah! There is something left of Rome after all. We are not altogether fallen, unworthy of our ancestors. Why shall we not be merry? A Greek would say that it was always darkest before Eos leaves the couch of Tithonus,[75] and who knows that our Helios is not soon to dawn and be a long, long time ere his setting? I feel like throwing formality to the winds, crying 'Iacchos evoe,' and dancing like a bacchanal, and singing in tipsy delight,—

[75] The "rosy-fingered Dawn" of Homer; Tithonos was her consort.

"'Oh, when through the long night, With fleet foot glancing white, Shall I go dancing in my revelry, My neck cast back, and bare Unto the dewy air, Like sportive faun in the green meadow's glee?'[76]

[76] Milman, translator.

as old Euripides sings in his 'Bacchae.' Yes, the Hellenes were right when they put nymphs in the forest and in the deep. Only our blind practical Latin eyes will not see them. We will forget that we are Romans; we will build for ourselves some cosey little Phaeacia up in the Sabine hills beside some lake; and there my Sappho shall also be my Nausicaa to shine fair as a goddess upon her distressed and shipwrecked Odysseus."

"Yes," said Cornelia, smiling, "a delightful idyl; but Odysseus would not stay with Nausicaa."

"I was wrong," replied Drusus, as they walked arm in arm out from the portico, and down the broad avenue of stately shade trees. "You shall be the faithful Penelope, who receives back her lord in happiness after many trials. Your clever Agias can act as Telemachus for us."

"But the suitors whom Odysseus must slay?" asked Cornelia, entering into the fun.

"Oh, for them," said Drusus, lightly, "we need not search far. Who other than Ahenobarbus?"

II

Rather late in the afternoon, a few days subsequently, the most noble Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, consul-designate, and one of the most prominent politicians of his time and nation, arrived at Praeneste; having hurried away from Rome to escape for a little while the summer heats which made the capital anything but a pleasant place for residence. Drusus's travelling cortege would have seemed small enough compared with the hedge of outriders, footmen, and body-servants that surrounded the great man. But notwithstanding his prospective dignities, and his present importance, Lentulus Crus was hardly an imposing personality. He was a bald-pated, florid individual, with rough features, a low, flat forehead, and coarse lips. He was dressed very fashionably, and was perfumed and beringed to an extent that would have been derided anywhere save in the most select circles of Rome. He was stout, and when he alighted from his carriage, he moved away with a somewhat waddling gait, and lifted up a rasping, high-pitched voice in unsonorous complaint against a slave who let fall a parcel of baggage.

Clearly the master of the house had returned, and all the familia and freedmen bustled about their various tasks with the unusual promptitude and diligence which is the outcome of a healthy fear of retribution for slackness. Lentulus went into the atrium, and there had an angry conference with the local land-steward, over some accounts which the latter presented. In fact, so ill was the humour of the noble lord, that Cornelia avoided going out from her room to meet him, and pretended to be so engrossed in her Ennius that she did not hear he had come.

This pretence, however, could not last long. Lentulus called out in a surly tone to know where his niece was, and the latter was fain to present herself. It could not be said that the meeting between Cornelia and her uncle was extremely affectionate. The interchange of kisses was painfully formal, and then Lentulus demanded somewhat abruptly:—

"How have you been spending your time? With that young ne'er-do-weel son of Sextus Drusus?"

"Quintus was here this morning," said Cornelia, feeling a little reproachful at the manner in which her uncle had spoken of her lover.

"Just back from Rome, I presume?" said Lentulus, icily, "and he must fly over to the cote of his little dove and see that she hasn't flitted away? He'd better have a care in his doings. He'll have something more serious on hand than lovemaking before long."

"I don't understand you, uncle," said Cornelia, turning rather red; "Quintus has never done anything for which he has cause to fear."

"Oh, he hasn't, eh?" retorted Lentulus. "Mehercle! what donkeys you women are! You may go, I want to see your mother."

"She is in her own room," said Cornelia, turning her back; "I wish you would not speak to me in that way again."

Lentulus wandered through the mazes of courts, colonnades, and the magnificently decorated and finished rooms of the villa, until he came to the chamber of Claudia, his sister-in-law. Claudia was a woman of the same fashionable type as Valeria, good-looking, ostentatious, proud, selfish, devoid of any aim in life save the securing of the most vapid pleasure. At the moment, she was stretched out on a thickly cushioned couch. She had thrown on a loose dress of silken texture. A negress was waving over her head a huge fan of long white feathers. A second negress was busy mixing in an Authepsa,—a sort of silver urn, heated by charcoal,—a quantity of spices, herbs, and water, which the lady was to take as soon as it was sufficiently steeped. Claudia had been enjoying an unusually gay round of excitement while at Baiae, and she had but just come up to Praeneste, to recover herself after the exertions of a score of fashionable suppers, excursions on the Lucrine Lake, and the attendant exhausting amusements. When her brother-in-law entered the room, she raised her carefully tinted eyebrows, and observed with great languor:—

"So you have gotten away from Rome, at last, my Lucius?"

"For a few days," replied Lentulus, in no very affable tone; "the heat and din of the city will drive me mad! And I have had no end of troublesome business. The senators are all fools or slaves of Caesar. That treacherous rascal, Curio, is blocking all our efforts. Even Pompeius is half-hearted in the cause. It wouldn't take much to make him go back to Caesar, and then where would we be?"

"Where would we be?" said Claudia, half conscious of what she said, turning over wearily. "Don't talk politics, my dear brother. They are distressingly dull. My head aches at the very word." And she held out her hand and took the golden cup of hot drink which the negress offered her.

"Aye," replied Lentulus, not in the least subdued, "where will we be, if Pompeius and Caesar become friends? If there is no war, no proscription, no chance to make a sesterce in a hurry!"

"My dear brother," said Claudia, still more languidly, and yawning at length, as she handed back the cup, "have I not said that the mere mention of politics makes my head ache?"

"Then let it," said the other, brutally; "I must have some plain words with you." And he pointed toward the door. The two serving-maids took the hint, and retired.

Claudia settled her head back on the pillows, and folded her hands as if to resign herself to a very dull tete-a-tete.

"Have you any new debts?" demanded Lentulus.

"What a tiresome question," murmured the lady. "No—no—yes; I owe Pomponius the fancier—I don't quite know how much—for my last Maltese lap dog."

"Thank the gods that is all," went on her brother-in-law. "Now listen to me. I have been living beyond my means. Last year the canvass to get on the board of guardians of the Sibylline Books—in which that graceless son-in-law of Cicero's, Publius Dolabella, defeated me—cost a deal of money. This year I have the consulship. But it has taken every denarius I own, and more too. All my estates are involved, so that it will require years to redeem them, in the ordinary way."

"How extremely unfortunate!" sighed Claudia, looking dreadfully bored.

"If that was all I had to tell you," snapped back Lentulus, "I would not have disturbed your ladyship's repose. But you must be so indulgent as to listen."

"Well?" said Claudia, yawning again and settling herself.

"Your late husband left some little property," began the other.

"Yes, to be sure; oh! my poor Caius!" and Claudia began to sob and wipe away the tears.

"And this property I have involved," continued Lentulus, driving straight ahead and never heeding the widow's display of emotions. "It will be impossible for me to clear away the encumbrances for some little time."

Claudia was excited now. She sprang up from her cushions and cried, or rather screamed:—

"Brute! Robber of orphans and widows! Heartless wretch! Have you pledged the slender fortune Caius left me, and the dowry of my poor dear Cornelia?" And her voice sank into hoarseness, and she began to sob once more.

Lentulus regarded her with vexation and contempt. "Mehercle! what a fuss you are making! The deed is done, and there's no helping it. I came here, not to offer excuses, but to state the facts. You may call me what you please; I had to do it, or lose the consulship. Now look the matter in the face. You must contract no more debts; I can't discharge the old ones. Live as reasonably as you can."

"And no more nice dinners? No more visits to Baiae?" groaned the lady, rocking to and fro.

"Yes, yes," broke in her brother-in-law, sharply, "I can still raise enough to meet all ordinary expenses. If I let down in my household, my creditors would see I was pinched, and begin to pluck me. I can weather the storm. But look here: Cornelia must have an end with that young Drusus. I can never pay her dowry, and would not have him for a nephew-in-law if I could."

"Cornelia break off with Drusus?" and Claudia stopped whimpering, and sat staring at Lentulus with astonished eyes. To tell the truth she had always liked the young Livian, and thought her daughter was destined for a most advantageous match.

"Certainly, my dear Claudia," said the consul-elect, half relieved to change what had been a very awkward subject; "I can assure you that Quintus is far from being a proper and worthy man for a husband for your daughter. I have heard very evil reports of him while in the city. He has cast in his lot with that gang of knavish Caesarians centring around Marcus Antonius, Caelius, and that Caius Sallustius[77] whom our excellent censors have just ejected from the Senate, because of his evil living and Caesarian tendencies. Do I need to say more of him? A worthless, abandoned, shameless profligate!"

[77] Sallust, the well-known historian.

Claudia had a little sense of humour; and when Lentulus was working himself up into a righteous rage over the alleged misdoings of Drusus, she interrupted:—

"You do well to say so, my dear Lucius; for all men know that your life is as morally severe as your good friend Cato's."

Lentulus was silent for a moment, and bit his lip; then recommenced:—

"What I meant to say was this. Quintus Drusus and I are enemies; and I will not give him my niece in marriage. If we were friends, I would not be able to pay the dowry. You can complain if you please; but you can't alter my inclinations or my inability to carry out the marriage agreement."

Though Claudia in many respects was an empty woman of the world, she had in a way a desire to promote her daughter's happiness, and, as has been said, she had been extremely fond of Drusus. So she replied diplomatically that Quintus was probably willing to wait a reasonable time for the dowry; and that even if he had held communication with the Caesarians, he was little more than a boy and could be shaken out of any unfortunate political opinions.

"I will be reasonable," said Lentulus, after pacing up and down for a few minutes. "I was told of his folly by Caius Calvus.[78] Calvus is as a rule accurate in his information. He said he met Drusus in company with Balbus and Curio. But there may have been some mistake. And the lad, as you declare, may be willing to cut loose from a bad course. If he really cares for Cornelia, he will be moderate in his demands for the dowry. Your suggestion is worth taking, Claudia. Let us send for him, and let him know the only terms on which he can have my niece."

[78] A distinguished poet and orator—a friend of Catullus.

Lentulus clapped his hands, and a serving-boy came in for orders.

"Go to the villa of Quintus Drusus," commanded the master, "and tell him that I would see him at once on business of weight."

Claudia arose, and let her maids throw over her a long white stola,[79] with deep flounces and an elaborate embroidery of sea-nymphs and marine monsters. Lentulus went out into the atrium and walked up and down, biting his nails, and trying to think out the arguments by which he would confute the political heresies of Drusus. Lentulus was too good a politician not to know that the young man would be a valuable catch for the party that secured him; and the consul-elect was determined, not so much to spare breaking the heart of his niece, but to rob the enemy of a valuable adherent. Cornelia had gone back to her book; but when she saw the boy go down the path, evidently on an errand to the villa of the Drusi, she rolled up the volume, and went into the atrium.

[79] A long tunic worn by Roman ladies.

"You have sent after Quintus, uncle?" she asked.

"I have," was the reply; "I expect him shortly."

"What is the matter?" continued Cornelia, growing apprehensive.

"I wish to make the arrangements for your wedding," replied Lentulus, continuing his pacing to and fro.

"Oh, I am so glad!" cried Cornelia, cheerily. "I am so pleased you wish to make everything agreeable for Quintus and for me!"

"I hope so," was the rather gloomy response.

Presently Drusus was seen coming up the shaded path at a very brisk stride. He had been playing at fencing with old Mamercus, and his face was all aglow with a healthy colour; there was a bright light in his eye. When he saw Cornelia in the doorway he gave a laugh and broke into a run, which brought him up to her panting and merry.

Then as he saw Lentulus he paused, half ashamed of his display of boyish ardour, and yet, with a smile and a gracious salutation, asked the older man if he was enjoying good health, and congratulated him on his election.

The consul-designate was a little disarmed by this straightforward mode of procedure. He dropped unuttered the elaborate exordium he had been preparing on the tendency of young men to be led astray by speciously pleading schemers, and found himself replying mildly to questions about himself and various old friends of his, whom Drusus had known as a boy before he went to Athens. But finally the young man interrupted this pacific discourse with the query:—

"And, most noble Lentulus, what is the business on which you sent for me? So far as I am able, the uncle of Cornelia has but to command."

Lentulus glanced at Claudia, as if expecting her to open a delicate subject; but that excellent lady only fingered her palla,[80] and gave vent to a slight cough. Cornelia, whose fears had all passed away, stood beside Drusus, with one arm resting on his shoulder, glancing pertly from one man to the other. Lentulus began:—

[80] A shawl worn over the stola.

"I am very sorry to tell you, Quintus, that I fear your wedding with Cornelia cannot be celebrated as soon as you hoped."

"Must be postponed!" exclaimed the young man, in alarm; and Cornelia dropped her arm, and stared at her uncle in dismay.

"I fear so," said Lentulus, dryly. "I have done my best to husband the fortune Caius left his daughter; but, as perhaps you know, I invested a very large part of it in the tax farming syndicate for farther Spain. The speculation seemed safe, but local wars have so reduced the profits that they amount to nothing, and it will be some time before the principal is set free. Of course, in ordinary times I would make up the sum from my own means, but I have had very heavy expenses lately; consequently, I fear you cannot marry Cornelia until I am in a position to pay over her dowry."

Drusus burst out into a hearty, boyish laugh.

"My dear uncle," cried he, "for do let me call you so, I would have you know that when I take Cornelia I have dowry sufficient. Thanks to old Vibulanus's will, I may call myself passing wealthy. As far as I am concerned, you may pay over the marriage portion to my heirs, if so you wish."

Lentulus seemed considerably relieved. Claudia broke out with loud ejaculations to the effect that Drusus, she always knew, was a generous, affectionate fellow, and she loved him dearly. Cornelia, however, looked disturbed, and presently exclaimed:—

"It isn't right, Quintus, that I should come into your house with not a sesterce in my own name, as if you had married some low farmer's daughter."

"Phy! pish!" replied Drusus. "You always scold the Greeks, my good mistress, and yet, like them, you hold that a marriage between people of unequal means is unhappy. A penny for your scruples! I have more money to-day than I know what to do with. Besides, if it will make you happier, your uncle can doubtless pay over the dowry before a great while."

"It's certainly very kind of you, Quintus," said Lentulus (who had quite made up his mind that if the young man could wait for what was a very tidy fortune, through sheer affection for Cornelia, he would be pliable enough in the political matter), "not to press me in this affair. Rest assured, neither you nor my niece will be the losers in the end. But there's one other thing I would like to ask you about. From what Calvus told me in Rome, Curio and certain other still worse Populares[81] were trying to induce you to join their abominable faction. I trust you gave those men no encouragement?"

[81] The party in opposition, since the time of Tiberius Gracchus, to the Senate party—Optimates; at this time the Populares were practically all Caesarians.

Drusus was evidently confused. He was wishing strongly that Cornelia was away, and he could talk to her uncle with less constraint. He felt that he was treading on very dangerous ground.

"It is true," said he, trying painfully to answer as if the words cost him no thought. "Antonius had met many of my father's old comrades in Gaul, and they had sent a number of kind messages to me. Then, too, Balbus invited me to a dinner-party and there I met Curio, and a very pleasant time we had. I cannot recall that they made any special efforts to enlist me as a partisan."

In this last, Drusus spoke truly; for he had already thrown in his lot with the Caesarian cause. But Lentulus knew enough of the case to realize that he was receiving not the whole truth but only a half; and being a man of a sharp temper that was under very imperfect control, threw diplomacy to the winds, and replied vehemently: "Don't attempt to cover up your folly! I know how you have put yourself in the power of those conspirators. Are you planning to turn out another Catilina?"

"My dear sir," expostulated Drusus, doing his best to retain his outward calm, "I cannot understand of what fault I have become guilty. Is it wrong in Rome to accept a kindly invitation from an old family friend to a dinner? Am I responsible for the persons the host summoned to meet me there?"

Drusus had been simply sparring to ward off the real point at issue; like many persons he would not assert his convictions and motives till fairly brought to bay. But that moment came almost instantly.

"Don't equivocate! Mehercle!" cried Lentulus, getting thoroughly angry. "Can't you speak, except to lie and quibble before my face? Have you joined the gang Curio is rallying for Caesar?"

Drusus was losing his own patience now.

"Yes! And we shall shortly see whether the Republic is to be longer ruined by incompetence and corruption!"

"Uncle! Quintus!" implored Cornelia, forcing herself between them, and casting out of her wide-open eyes on each a look full of distress. "Don't contend! For my sake be friends!"

"For your sake!" raged Lentulus, his florid face growing redder and redder. "I will take care to keep you out of the clutches of a man who deliberately chooses to associate with all that is base and villanous. Until your handsome lover throws over connections with Caesar and his fellow-conspirators, let him never ask for your hand!"

"Sir," burst in Drusus, flushing with passion, "do you dare to set at naught the will of your brother and its express commands? Dare you withhold from me what is legally my own?"

"Legally?" replied Lentulus, with sharp scorn. "Don't use that word to a consul-elect, who has the whole Senate and Pompeius behind him. Laws are very dangerous tools for a young man to meddle with in a case like this. You will be wise not to resort to the courts."

"You defy the law!" thundered Drusus, all the blood of his fighting ancestors tingling in his veins. "Do you say that to a Livian; to the heir of eight consuls, two censors, a master of the horse, a dictator, and three triumphators? Shall not he obtain justice?"

"And perhaps," said Lentulus, sinking into an attitude of irritating coldness, "you will further press your claim on the ground that your mother was a Fabian, and the Fabii claim the sole right to sacrifice to Hercules on the Great Altar[82] in the Cattle-market by the Flaminian Circus, because they are descended from Hercules and Evander. I think the Cornelian gens can show quite as many death-masks in its atria, and your mock heroics will only stamp you as a very bad tragedian."

[82] Ara Maxima.

"Uncle! Quintus!" implored Cornelia again, the tears beginning to start from her eyes. "Cease this dreadful quarrel. Go away until you can talk calmly."

"Quintus Livius," shouted Lentulus, dropping the "Drusus," a part of the name which was omitted in formal address, "you can choose here and now. Forswear your Caesarian connections, or consider my niece's betrothal at an end!"

Drusus stood looking in blank dismay from one to the other of the little company. Claudia had started to speak, but closed, her lips without uttering a word. Lentulus faced him, hot, flushed, and with a cynical smile of delight, at the infliction of mental torture, playing over his face. Cornelia had dropped down upon a chair, buried her pretty face in her hands, and was sobbing as if her heart would break. It was a moment Drusus would not soon forget. The whole scene in the atrium was stamped upon his memory; the drops of the fountain seemed frozen in mid-air; the rioting satyr on the fresco appeared to be struggling against the limitations of paint and plaster to complete his bound; he saw Cornelia lift her head and begin to address him, but what she said was drowned by the buzzing and swirl which unsteadied the young man's entire faculties. Drusus felt himself turning hot and cold, and in semi-faintness he caught at a pillar, and leaned upon it. He felt numbed mentally and physically. Then, by a mental reaction, his strong, well-balanced nature reasserted itself. His head cleared, his muscles relaxed their feverish tension, he straightened himself and met the cool leer of Lentulus with a glance stern and high; such a glance as many a Livian before him had darted on foe in Senate or field of battle.

"Lucius Cornelius," said he, his voice perfectly under command, "do you propose to defy law and right and refuse me the hand of your niece, unless I do your will?"

Lentulus thought that in this unimpassioned speech he detected the premonitions of a capitulation on the part of Drusus, and with a voice of ill-timed persuasion, replied, "Be reasonable, Drusus; you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by not thwarting my wishes."

"Your wishes!" retorted Drusus, with a menacing step forward. "Your wishes! You are consul-designate. You have the Senate, you have your tool, Pompeius, you have the gangs of gladiators and street ruffians and all the machinery of your political clubs to invoke to defy the law! I grant it; but though you deny me Cornelia, though by your machinations you bring me any other loss or shame, the grandson of the murdered Marcus Drusus will do that which is right in his own eyes, and accept no mandate from you or any man, against his will!"

"Cornelia," cried Claudia, infinitely distressed, "speak to Quintus, reason with him, implore him, pray him not to resist the requests of your uncle."

"Yes, girl!" said Lentulus, savagely, turning livid with sheer rage, "use all your arts on that graceless would-be conspirator now, or see his face no more!"

But Cornelia interposed in a most summary and unexpected manner. Her face was very white; her nails pressed into her smooth arms, her breath came thick and spasmodically, and her eyes flamed with the intense passion of a strong spirit thoroughly aroused.

"Go, Quintus," she cried, with a strained, loud voice, "go, and never see my face again, until my uncle repents of his cruel madness! He is master here; only woe will come from defying him. Do not anger him further; depart."

"Depart?" burst from Drusus.

"Depart!" replied Cornelia, desperately; "if you stay I shall go mad. I shall beg you to yield,—which would be base of me; and if you heard my prayers, it would be more base in you."

"Fool," shouted Lentulus, "don't you know you will be the first I'll mark for slaughter in the next proscription? You, mistress, go to your room, if you cannot keep a civil tongue! And you, sir, get you gone, unless you wish the slaves to cast you out."

"Farewell, Cornelia!" gasped the young man; and he turned his back, and started out into the colonnade.

"Oh, Quintus, return!" shrieked Claudia, wringing her hands. "All the gods blast you!" muttered Lentulus, quivering with fury; then he shouted at the top of his shrill, harsh voice: "My enemies are my enemies. You are warned. Take care!"

"And do you take warning! A Livian never forgets! Mars regat! Let War rule!" cried Drusus, turning at the vestibule, and brandishing a knotted fist. Lentulus stared after him, half furious, half intimidated. But Claudia glanced back into the room from the just emptied doorway, and gave a scream.

"The servants! Help! Water! Cornelia has fainted!"

III

Drusus strode down the long avenue of shade trees. The gardener stared after him, as the young man went by, his face knitted with a scowl of combined pain and fury, with never a word in reply to the rustic's kindly salutation.

"Papae!"[83] muttered the man, "what has befallen Master Quintus? Has he fallen out with her ladyship?"

[83] "Strange! Marvellous!"

Drusus kept on, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left, until he found himself past the boundary stone between his own estate and that of the Lentuli. Then he stopped and passed his hand over his forehead. It was damp with an unhealthy sweat. His hands and frame were quivering as if in an ague. He seated himself on a stone bench by the roadway, and tried to collect his faculties.

"Bear up, Drusus; be a Livian, as you boast yourself," he declaimed frantically to himself. "Cornelia shall still be yours! All things are possible to one who is young and strong, with a clear conscience!"

If this self-debate did not actually stimulate cheerfulness, it at least revived the embers of hope; and Drusus found himself trying to look the situation fairly in the face.

"You have thrown away your right to marry the dearest, loveliest, and noblest girl in the world," he reflected bitterly. "You have made an implacable enemy of one of the most powerful men of the state. In short, your happiness is gone, and perhaps your life is in danger—and for what? A dream of reform which can never be realized? A mad conspiracy to overthrow the commonwealth? Is Caesar to be saviour or despot? For what have you sacrificed yourself?"

Lentulus, he knew perfectly well, was really above law. No jury would ever convict the leader of the Senate party. Drusus could never contract lawful marriage with Cornelia, so long as her guardian withheld consent. And for one moment he regretted of his determination, of his defiance. Then came reaction. Drusus called up all his innate pride, all the strength of his nobler inspirations.

"I have set my face toward that which is honourable and right," cried Drusus to his own soul; "I will not doubt. Whether there be gods, I cannot tell. But this I know, the wise and good have counted naught dear but virtues; and toward this end I will strive."

And by a strong effort at self-command, he forced himself to arise from the bench and walk back to his own estate, and soon he was pouring the whole story into the sympathetic ears of Mamercus, Pausanias, and other worthy retainers.

The scene that had taken place at the villa of the Lentuli, soon was reported through all the adjacent farms; for several slaves had been the mute witnesses of the angry colloquy, and had not been slow to publish the report. The familia of Drusus was in a tumult of indignation. All the brawny Germans and Africans whom the young master had released from the slave-prison, and had since treated with kindness, listened with no unfavourable ear to the proposal which Titus Mamercus—more valorous than discreet—was laying before them: to arm and attack Lentulus in his own villa, and so avenge their lord in a summary fashion.

But the elder Mamercus dashed the martial ambitions of his son.

"Fool," cried the veteran, emphatically, when the project came to his ears, "do you wish to undo yourself and Quintus too? No power short of Jove could protect you and him, if aught were to befall Lentulus, in the way you propose."

"But what can we do, father?" replied Titus, sorry to see his scheme for vengeance blocked; "shall that despicable tyrant defy law and justice, and refuse to give Mistress Cornelia to Quintus?"

"Silence your folly!" thundered the other, who was himself quite nonplussed over the situation, and felt Titus's bold chatter would goad him into something desperate.

The truth was, neither Pausanias nor any other of Quintus's friends could see any means of coercing the consul-elect into receding from his position. He was practically above law, and could not with safety be attacked in any way. Pausanias could only counsel moderation and patience; perhaps some fortunate chance would alter matters. Drusus spent the evening in a pathetically forced attempt to read his Callimachus. He was weary physically, and intended to retire early. AEmilia, who felt sorry enough for the plight of her rather distant cousin, had tried to console him and divert him with guitar[84] music, and had called in an itinerant piper,[85] but these well-meant efforts at amusement had been dreary failures. Drusus had just bidden his body-servants undress him, when he was informed that Agias had come from the Lentulan villa, and wished to see him.

[84] Cithara.

[85] Itinerant pipers have existed in Italy from earliest times; they still survive, albeit in alien lands and with less tuneful instruments.

Agias was full of protestations of delight at beholding his intercessor and ransomer. Drusus could hardly recognize in the supple-limbed, fair-complexioned, vivacious lad before him, the wretched creature whom Alfidius had driven through the streets. Agias's message was short, but quite long enough to make Drusus's pale cheeks flush with new life, his sunken eyes rekindle, and his languor vanish into energy. Cornelia would be waiting for him by the great cypress in the gardens of the Lentulan villa, as soon as the moon rose.

Drusus prepared himself hurriedly, and refused all the entreaties of Titus to take him along as a body-guard. Time coursed on winged feet, as the young man hastened out into the night, and half ran down the familiar pathway. The day had been only moderately warm for the season, and the night was cool, though not cold. A soft east wind was blowing down from the distant Apennines, and all the trees were rustling gently. Up to the giant arm of a gnarled oak, fluttered an owl, which hooted noisily as the young man hurried beneath. The crickets were chirping. A little way off was a small stream plunging over a dam; from it came a liquid roar; and the little wall of white spray was just visible in the darkness. Out from the orchards drifted the fragrant scent of apple, pear, plum, and quince. Still more sweet was the breeze, as it swept over the wide-stretching rose-beds. Overhead Orion and Arcturus were glittering in that hazy splendour which belongs to the heavens on a summer's night.

Drusus kept on, only half noting the beauty of the darkness. When he entered the groves of the Lentulan villa, almost all light failed him, and but for his intimate knowledge—from boyhood—of the whole locality, he could never have kept the path. Then the moonlight began to stream up in the east, and between the trees and thickets lay the long, yellow bars of brightness, while all else was still in gloom. Drusus pushed on with confidence, and soon the gurgle of the tiny cataract told him that he was near the old cypress. A few steps more, and a figure rose from out the fern thicket. It was Cornelia. Her hair was tumbling loosely over her shoulders; she wore a soft, light-blue dress that covered her arms and her feet. In the moonlight her face and hands appeared as bloodless as white marble.

"I knew you would come, Quintus," she cried. "I couldn't say farewell to you, in the presence of my uncle!"

"My beautiful!" cried Drusus; and he caught her in his arms.

The moments that followed were as bitter-sweet as may be conceivable. Each knew that they had small hope of an honourable realization of their love one for another; that the moment of parting would soon come. But for the instant they were in Elysium, caught out of mortal care and mortal sorrow, and knowing nothing but the pure delight of the other's presence. Then, at last, their talk became less enraptured; the vision of Olympus faded little by little; the stern reality confronted them in all its seriousness.

"Cornelia," said Quintus, at length, "you are still a very young woman. This day's heart-breakings may, perhaps, be long painful to you; but the pangs will grow faint in time. You and I may still cherish fondness in our hearts for each other, but how dare we reasonably hope for more? Evil times are at hand. If your uncle's party prevail in the struggle, my ruin is assured. But not yours. There are many worthy men who would be proud to take in marriage the niece of the next consul; and with one of these you can live happily. Do not try to forget me. I don't ask that. But do not let my misfortune cast a shadow over your dear life. Marry some honourable man. Only think kindly of me sometimes."

They had been sitting beside the brooklet, on the soft green-sward. Cornelia had been resting both her hands in Drusus's, but now she drew them back, and sprang to her feet, as if swept away by a gust of anger.

"How dare you!" she cried, "how dare you bid me throw away all that my heart has turned on, and my hopes depended on, and my imagination dreamed of, since our fathers were slain side by side; and more especially since you came back from Athens? Why might not I bid you renounce your adherence to Caesar's cause, and say, 'There is no need of blasting your career by such a sacrifice; remember Caesar and his party kindly, wish them well, but do not dwell too much thereon; submit cheerfully to what is inevitable'? Shall I argue thus? Have I argued thus? If you will, abandon me, and wed some other maiden, and many there are, fair, wealthy, noble, who will be glad to be given in marriage to a Livius Drusus. But till you thus repudiate your father's will, no power of gods or of men shall drive me to violate that of mine."

"Cornelia," said Drusus, in a husky voice, "do you know what you are saying? What resistance to threats and unkind treatment your resolve will mean?"

"I both know the future and accept it," answered the maiden firmly, looking fairly into his face.

"Then by all the powers of earth, sky, and Hades!" cried the young man, lifting one arm toward heaven, and throwing the other about his sweetheart, "I will defy Lentulus, defy Pompeius, defy Senate, army, mob, or any other human might. Hitherto I have thought to play the patriot in espousing Caesar's cause. Now let love and fury fire my ardour. When the party of violence and tyranny falls, then too will fall the power of Lentulus to outrage your right and mine! Ours shall be a triumph of Venus as well as of Mars, and until that time, may you and I endure faithful unto our fathers, ourselves, and one another!"

Hardly had he spoken ere loud voices were heard calling through the grove. Torches were glaring among the trees, and the harsh tones of Lentulus burst out:—

"Take the wretched girl into the house when you find her; but as for her lover, let him not escape!"

"My uncle!" groaned Cornelia, quivering with terror; "one of my maids has betrayed me! Flee! run! He has called out all his slaves; they will kill you!"

"Kill me?" gasped Drusus, incredulously; "commit deliberate murder?"

"Yes," moaned Cornelia; "he dares anything. He is all fury and violence. Escape! Do not throw yourself away in vain!"

The lights flashed nearer; the slaves were shouting and blundering through the bushes.

"Two philippi to the man who strikes Drusus down!" bawled Lentulus.

It was no time for delay and affectionate leave-taking. The young man threw his arms around Cornelia, kissed her once, twice, and then bounded into the thicket. A moment later several of the servants came splashing over the little stream, and found Cornelia alone beside the great cypress, pale and trembling and sobbing. Drusus caught one last sight of her, surrounded by the torches of the pursuers. Then he struck off into the grove, and thanks to his perfect local knowledge easily avoided meeting Lentulus or his slaves. Lentulus he would gladly have confronted alone. What would have followed, the athletic young man could only surmise grimly; but he was unarmed, and for Cornelia's sake he must take no risks.

Close to the confines of his own land he met the Mamerci, father and son, and several slaves and freedmen, all armed and anxious to know whether the din that had been raised over at the Lentulan villa betokened any danger to their young master.

Drusus satisfied them that he had suffered no injury. The personal peril through which he had passed brought a reaction of excitement which raised his spirits, and he went to bed in a mood at least tolerably cheerful. If he could not enjoy his love, he had at least something else to live for—vengeance; and he told himself that he had a whole mature lifetime left in which to make Lentulus repent of his folly and tyrannical cruelty. He awoke late the next morn in a calm frame of mind, and was able to receive with outward equanimity the news that early in the morning Lentulus had taken his sister-in-law and niece, and a large part of his household, back to Rome. This was only to have been expected, and Drusus listened to the information without useless comment.



Chapter VI

Pompeius Magnus

If we had been painting an ideal heroine, gifted with all the virtues which Christian traditions of female perfection throw around such characters, Cornelia would have resigned herself quietly to the inevitable, and exhibited a seraphic serenity amid tribulation. But she was only a grieved, embittered, disappointed, sorely wronged, Pagan maiden, who had received few enough lessons in forbearance and meekness. And now that her natural sweetness of character had received so severe a shock, she vented too often the rage she felt against her uncle upon her helpless servants. Her maid Cassandra—who was the one that had told Lentulus of her mistress's nocturnal meeting with Drusus—soon felt the weight of Cornelia's wrath. The young lady, as soon as Lentulus was out of the way, caused the tell-tale to receive a cruel whipping, which kept the poor slave-girl groaning in her cell for ten days, and did not relieve Cornelia's own distress in the slightest degree. As a matter of fact, Cornelia was perpetually goaded into fresh outbursts of desperation by the tyrannical attitude of her uncle. Lentulus boasted in her presence that he would accomplish Drusus's undoing. "I'll imitate Sulla," he would announce, in mean pleasure at giving his niece pain; "I'll see how many heads I can have set up as he did at the Lacus Servilius. You can go there, if you wish to kiss your lover."

But Cornelia's life at Rome was rendered unhappy by many other things besides these occasional brutal stabs from her uncle. Her mother, as has been hinted, was a woman of the world, and had an intense desire to draw her daughter into her own circle of society. Claudia cared for Cornelia in a manner, and believed it was a real kindness to tear the poor girl away from her solitary broodings and plunge her into the whirl of the world of Roman fashion. Claudia had become an intimate of Clodia, the widow of Quintus Metellus, a woman of remarkable gifts and a notoriously profligate character. "The Medea of the Palatine Hill," Cicero had bitingly styled her. Nearly all the youth of parts and social distinction enjoyed the wild pleasures of Clodia's garden by the Tiber. Catullus the poet, Caelius the brilliant young politician, and many another had figured as lovers of this soulless and enchanting woman. And into Clodia's gilded circle Claudia tried desperately to drag her daughter. The Lentuli had a handsome palace on the Carinae, one of the most fashionable quarters of the capital; and here there were many gay gatherings and dinner parties. Cornelia was well born enough, by reputation wealthy enough, and in feature handsome enough, to have a goodly proportion of the young men of this coterie her devoted admirers and slaves. Claudia observed her daughter's social triumphs with glee, and did all she could to give Cornelia plenty of this kind of company. Cornelia would not have been a mortal woman if she had not taken a certain amount of pleasure in noticing and exercising her power. The first occasion when she appeared at a formal banquet in the splendid Apollo dinner hall of the Luculli, where the outlay on the feast was fixed by a regular scale at two hundred thousand sesterces, she gathered no little satisfaction by the consciousness that all the young men were admiring her, and all the women were fuming with jealousy. But this life was unspeakably wearisome, after the first novelty had worn away. Cornelia lived in an age when many of the common proprieties and decencies of our present society would have been counted prudish, but she could not close her eyes to the looseness and license that pervaded her mother's world. Woman had become almost entirely independent of man in social and economic matters, though the law still kept its fictions of tutelage. Honourable marriages were growing fewer and fewer. Divorces were multiplying. The morality of the time can be judged from the fact that the "immaculate" Marcus Cato separated from his wife that a friend might marry her; and when the friend died, married her himself again. Scandals and love intrigues were common in the highest circles; noble ladies, and not ballet-dancers[86] merely, thought it of little account to have their names besmirched. Everything in society was splendid, polished, decorous, cultivated without; but within, hollow and rotten.

[86] Mimae.

Cornelia grew weary and sick of the excitement, the fashionable chatter, the mongering of low gossips. She loathed the sight of the effeminate young fops who tried to win her smiles by presenting themselves for a polite call each morning, polished and furbelowed, and rubbed sleek and smooth with Catanian pumice. Her mother disgusted her so utterly that she began to entertain the most unfilial feeling toward the worthy woman. Cornelia would not or could not understand that in such hot weather it was proper to wear lighter rings than in winter, and that each ring must be set carefully on a different finger joint to prevent touching. Cornelia watched her servants, and reached the astonishing conclusion that these humble creatures were really extracting more pleasure out of life than herself. Cassandra had recovered from her whipping, and was bustling about her tasks as if nothing had happened. Agias seemed to have a never failing fund of good spirits. He was always ready to tell the funniest stories or retail the latest news. Once or twice he brought his mistress unspeakable delight, by smuggling into the house letters from Drusus, which contained words of love and hope, if no really substantial promises for the future. But this was poor enough comfort. Drusus wrote that he could not for the time see that any good end would be served by coming to Rome, and he would remain for the present in Praeneste. He and she must try to wait in patience, until politics took such a turn as would drive Lentulus into a more tractable attitude. Cornelia found the days monotonous and dreary. Her uncle's freedman kept her under constant espionage to prevent a chance meeting with Drusus, and but for Agias she would have been little better than a prisoner, ever in charge of his keepers.

In a way, however, Cornelia found that there was enough stirring in the outside world to lend zest and often venom to the average emptiness of polite conversation. Politics were penetrating deeper and deeper into fashionable society. Cornelia heard how Paulus, the consul, had taken a large present from Caesar to preserve neutrality; and how Curio, the tribune, had checked Clodius Marcellus, the other consul, when he wished to take steps in the Senate against Caesar. All that Cornelia heard of that absent statesman was from hostile lips; consequently she had him painted to her as blood-thirsty, treacherous, of flagrant immorality, with his one object to gather a band of kindred spirits to his cause, and become despot. And to hear such reports and yet to keep confident that Drusus was not sacrificing both himself and her in a worse than unworthy cause—this tested her to the uttermost.

To add to her troubles, Lucius Ahenobarbus was ever thrusting in his attentions at every party and at the theatre; and her uncle openly favoured his suit.

"I wish you would be more friendly to him," remarked Lentulus on one occasion. "I should be glad to have a closer tie between his family and ours."

"Uncle," said Cornelia, much distressed, "I do not think I understand what you mean."

"Well," chuckled Lentulus, moving away, "think it over until you do understand."

Cornelia had been reading in the library when this conversation took place. There was to be another party that evening at the house of Marcus Favonius, a prominent anti-Caesarian, and since it was growing late in the afternoon, it was time to dress. Cornelia went into her own room, and was summoning her maids, when a young lady of about her own age, who affected to be on terms of considerable intimacy, was announced—Herennia, a daughter of a certain rich old eques, Caius Pontius, who had kept out of politics and hoarded money, which his daughter was doing her best to spend.

Herennia was already dressed for the party. Her brown hair had been piled up in an enormous mass on her head, eked out by false tresses and puffings, and the whole plentifully powdered with gold dust. She wore a prodigious number of gaudily set rings; her neck and ears and girdle were ablaze with gold and jewels. So far from aiming, as do modern ladies, to reduce the waist to the slenderest possible proportions, Herennia, who was actually quite thin, had carefully padded out her form to proper dimensions, and showed this fact by her constrained motions. She was rouged and painted, and around her floated an incense of a thousand and one rare perfumes. Her amethystine tunic and palla were of pure silk—then literally worth its weight in gold—and embroidered with an elaborate pattern in which pearls and other gems played a conspicuous part. For all this display of extravagance, Herennia was of only very mediocre beauty; and it was on this account that she was always glad to make uncomfortable flings at her "dear friend" Cornelia, whenever possible.

Herennia seated herself on a divan, and proceeded to plunge into all the flying gossip of the day. Incidentally she managed to hint that Servius Maccus, her devoted admirer, had told her that the night before Lucius Ahenobarbus and some of his friends had attacked and insulted a lady on her way back from a late dinner.[87]

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