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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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[87] A common diversion for "young men of spirit."

"The outrageous scapegrace!" cried Cornelia, while her maids hurried along a toilet which, if not as elaborate as Herennia's, took some little time. "I imagined he might do such things! I always detested him!"

"Then you are not so very fond of Lucius Ahenobarbus," said Herennia, raising her carefully painted eyebrows, as if in astonishment. "I am really a little surprised."

"Surprised?" reŽchoed Cornelia. "What have I done or said that makes Lucius Ahenobarbus anything more than a very distant, a very distant acquaintance?"

"My dear girl," exclaimed Herennia, throwing up her hands, "either you are the best actress, or the most innocent little wight, in Rome! Don't you know all that they say about you?"

"Who—say—what—about—me?" stammered Cornelia, rising in her chair so suddenly, as to disarrange all the work Cassandra had been doing on her hair.

"Why, everybody," said Herennia, smiling with an exasperating deliberation. "And then it has all come out in the daily gazette."[88]

[88] Acta Diurna, prepared officially.

"Where is it? Read! Let me see," pleaded Cornelia, agitated and trembling.

"Why, how troubled you are," giggled Herennia. "Yes, I have my freedman copy down the whole bulletin every day, as soon as it is posted by the censor's officers; now let me see," and she produced from under her robe a number of wooden, wax-covered tablets, strung together: "the last praetor's edict; the will of old Publius Blaesus;" and she ran over the headings with maddening slowness: "the speech in the Senate of Curio—what an impudent rascal; the money paid yesterday into the treasury,—how dull to copy all that down!—the meteor which fell over in Tibur, and was such a prodigy; oh, yes, here it is at last; you may as well hear what all Rome knows now, it's at the end, among the private affairs. 'Lucius Ahenobarbus, son of Lucius Domitius, the Consular, and Cornelia, daughter of the late tribune, Caius Lentulus, are in love. They will be married soon.'"

These two brief sentences, which the mechanical difficulties under which journalistic enterprise laboured at that day made it impossible to expand into a modern "article," were quite sufficient to tell a whole story to Rome. Cornelia realized instantly that she had been made the victim of some vile trick, which she doubted not her would-be lover and her uncle had executed in collusion. She took the tablets from Herennia's hand, without a word, read the falsehoods once, twice, thrice. The meaning of the day attached to the terms used intimated the existence of a low intrigue, quite as much as any honourable "engagement." If Cornelia did not soon become the lawful wife of Lucius Ahenobarbus, the world would feel justified in piling scandal upon her name. The blow was numbing in its brutality. Instead of crying and execrating the liars, as Herennia fully expected her to do, Cornelia merely handed back the tablets, and said with cold dignity, "I think some very unfortunate mistake has been made. Lucius Ahenobarbus is no friend of mine. Will you be so kind as to leave me with my maids?"

Herennia was overborne by the calm, commanding attitude of the rival she had meant to annoy. When Cornelia became not the radiant debutante, but the haughty patrician lady, there was that about her which made her wish a mandate. Herennia, in some confusion, withdrew. When she was gone, Cornelia ordered her maids out of the room, stripped off the golden tiara they had been plaiting into her hair, tore away the rings, bracelets, necklaces, and flung herself upon the pillows of the divan, quivering with sobs. She did not know of a single friend who could help her. All the knowledge that she had imbibed taught her that there was no God either to hear prayer, or succour the wronged. Her name would become a laughing-stock and a hissing, to be put on a par with Clodia's or that of any other frivolous woman, unless she not merely gave up the man she loved, but also threw herself into the arms of the man she utterly hated. The craving for any respite was intense. She was young; but for the moment, at least, life had lost every glamour. If death was an endless sleep, why not welcome it as a blessed release? The idea of suicide had a grasp on the ancient world which it is hard at first to estimate. A healthy reaction might have stirred Cornelia out of her despair, but at that instant the impulse needed to make her commit an irrevocable deed must have been very slight. But while she lay on the pillows, wretched and heart-sick, the voice of Agias was heard without, bidding the maids admit him to their mistress.

"Stay outside. I can't see you now," moaned poor Cornelia, feeling that for once the sight of the good-humoured, vivacious slave-boy would be maddening. But Agias thrust back the curtains and boldly entered. What he said will be told in its due time and place; but the moment he had gone Cornelia was calling in Cassandra, and ordering the maids to dress her with all possible speed for the dinner-party.

"I must be all smiles, all enchantments," she was saying to herself. "I must dissemble. I must win confidences. I must do everything, and anything. I have no right to indulge in grief any longer. Quintus's dear life is at stake!"

II

Lentulus did not go to the banquet of Favonius, to see the unwonted graciousness with which his niece received the advances of Lucius Ahenobarbus, Neither was Favonius himself present at his own entertainment. They, and several others of the high magnates of their party, had been called away by an urgent summons, and spent the evening in secluded conference with no less a personage than Pompeius, or as he dearly loved to be called, "the Magnus," in his splendid palace outside the walls on the Campus Martius. And here the conqueror of Mithridates—a stout, soldierly man of six-and-fifty, whose best quality was a certain sense of financial honesty, and whose worst an extreme susceptibility to the grossest adulation—told them that he had received letters from Labienus, Caesar's most trusted lieutenant in Gaul, declaring that the proconsul's troops would never fight for him, that Caesar would never be able to stir hand or foot against the decrees of the Senate, and that he, Labienus, would desert him at the first opportunity.

Cheerful news this to the noble lords, who had for years scented in Caesar's existence and prosperity destruction to their own oligarchic rule of almost the known world. But when Cato, the most violent anti-Caesarian of them all, a sharp, wiry man with angular features, and keen black eyes, demanded:—

"And now, Magnus, you will not hesitate to annihilate the enemies of the Republic?" a look of pained indecision flitted across Pompeius's face.

"Perpol, gentlemen," he exclaimed, "I would that I were well out of this. Sometimes I think that you are leading me into breaking with Caesar for some ends of your own. He was my friend before you had a word of praise for me. He loved Julia; so did I." And the Magnus paused a moment, overcome by the thought of his dead wife. "Perhaps the Republic demands his sacrifice, perhaps—" and he cast a glance half of menace upon Lentulus Crus and Cato, "you are the guilty, not he. But I am in grievous doubt."

"Perhaps, Magnus," said Favonius, with half a sneer, "you think your forces inadequate. The two legions at Luceria are just detached from Caesar. Perhaps you question their fidelity."

"Man," retorted the general, fiercely, bringing his foot down upon the soft rug on the floor, "I have but to stamp upon the ground to call up legions out of Italy; it is not that which I fear!"

The members of the conference looked uneasy; there was still a bare chance that Pompeius would go back to his old friendship with Caesar.

"Gentlemen," went on the Magnus, "I have called you here to reach a final decision—peace or war. Let us consult a higher power than human." And he touched a little silver bell that was upon the table close at hand.

Forthwith there was a rustle of curtains, and out of the gloom of the doorway—for the hour was now very late—advanced a tall, gaunt figure, dressed in a plain, sleeveless robe that fell to the feet. The skin was dry, hard, wrinkled by a hundred furrows; the bones of the face were thrust out prominently; on the head was a plain white turban, and a beard quite as white fell down upon the breast. Only from under the turban shone the eyes, which were bright and piercing as coals of fire.

The stranger advanced without a word, till he stood before Pompeius, then knelt and made an elaborate Oriental prostration. The noble Romans, twelve or more of the magnates of the greatest power on the earth, held their breath in uneasy anticipation. Not one of them perhaps really believed in a personal god; but though atheists, they could not forswear their superstition. Piso, the censor, who notoriously feared neither divine nor human law in his reckless life, spat thrice to ward off the effects of the evil eye, if the stranger were a magician.

"Ulamhala," said Pompeius, addressing the newcomer, "arise. Since I have been in the East,[89] I have consulted you and your science of the stars, in every intended step, and your warnings have never failed."

[89] "Chaldean" astrologers played an almost incredibly important part among even the highest-class Romans of the period.

"My lord doth overcommend the wisdom of his slave," replied Ulamhala (for such was his name) in Syriac Greek, with a second deep obeisance.

"Now, therefore," went on Pompeius—and his voice was unsteady with evident excitement and anxiety,—"I have called you hither to declare the warnings of the stars upon the most important step of my life. What lies now at stake, you know full well. Three days ago I bade you consult the heavens, that this night you might be able to declare their message, not merely to me, but to these my friends, who will shape their actions by mine. Have you a response from the planets?"

"I have, lord," and again Ulamhala salaamed.

"Then declare, be it good or ill;" commanded Pompeius, and he gripped the arms of his chair to conceal his anxiety.

The scene was in a way weird enough. The visitors exchanged uneasy glances, and Cato, who broke out in some silly remark to Favonius, in a bold attempt to interrupt the oppressive silence, suddenly found his words growing thick and broken, and he abruptly became silent. Each man present tried to tell himself that Pompeius was a victim of superstition, but every individual felt an inward monition that something portentous was about to be uttered.

The conference had lasted long. The lamps were flickering low. Dark shadows were loitering in every corner of the room. The aroma of flowers from the adjacent gardens floated in at the open windows, and made the hot air drugged and heavy. Ulamhala slowly and noiseless as a cat stepped to the window, and, leaning out over the marble railing, looked up into the violet-black heavens. There was no moon, but a trembling flame on one of the candelabras threw a dull, ruddy glow over his white dress and snowy turban. His face was hid in the gloom, but the others knew, though they could hardly see, that he was pointing upward with his right hand.

"Behold," began the astrologer, "three thousand seven hundred and fifty years since the days of the great Sargon of Agade have we of the race of the Chaldeans studied the stars. One generation of watchers succeeded another, scanning the heavens nightly from our ziggurats,[90] and we have learned the laws of the constellations; the laws of Sin the moon, the laws of Samas the sun, the laws of the planets, the laws of the fixed stars. Their motions and their influence on the affairs of men our fathers discovered, and have handed their wisdom down to us."

[90] Babylonian temple towers.

"But the word of the stars to us?" broke in Pompeius, in extreme disquietude, and trying to shake off the spell that held him in mastery.

"Know, lord, that thy slave has not been disobedient unto thy commandment. Look, yonder burneth a bright red planet, called by us Nergal, which ye Westerns call by the name of Mars. Who denieth that when Mars shines in the heavens, war will break forth among men? Know that I have carefully compared the settings, risings, and movements of the planets at this season with their settings, risings, and movements at the time when my lord was born; and also at the time of the birth of his great enemy. I have made use of the tables which my wise predecessors among the Chaldees have prepared; and which I myself, thy slave, copied from those at the Temple of Bel, in Babylon."

"And they say?" breathlessly interrupted Lentulus.

"This is the message from the planets," and Ulamhala's form grew higher, his voice firmer; he raised his long bony arms above his head, and stood in the dull light like a skeleton arisen in all its white grave clothes to convey a warning to the living. "To the Lord Pompeius, this is the warning, and to his enemy,

"'He that is highest shall rise yet higher; He that is second shall utterly fall!'

I have said."

And before the noble Romans could command the free play of their senses, the vision at the window had vanished, either out of doors, or behind some doorway or curtain. The company sat gazing uneasily at each other for several minutes. The Magnus was breathing heavily, as though he had passed through a terrible mental ordeal. Cato, the Stoic and ascetic, had his eyes riveted on the carpet, and his face was as stony as an Egyptian Colossus.

Then a coarse forced laugh from Piso broke the spell.

"Capital, Pompeius! You are a favourite of the gods!"

"I?" ventured the Magnus, moving his lips slowly.

"Of course," cried several voices at once, catching the cue from Piso. "You are the first in the world, Caesar the second! You are to rise to new glories, and Caesar is to utterly fall!"

"The stars have said it, gentlemen," said Pompeius, solemnly; "Caesar shall meet his fate. Let there be war."

* * * * *

Lentulus Crus rode away from the conference, his litter side by side with that of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the consular, whom we will know as Domitius to distinguish from his son and namesake. Domitius, a handsome, highly polished, vigorous, but none the less unprincipled man, who was just reaching the turn of years, was in high spirits. No oligarch hated Caesar more violently than he, and the decision of Pompeius was a great personal triumph, the crowning of many years of political intrigue. What Pompeius had said, he had said; and Caesar, the great foe of the Senate party, was a doomed man.

Lentulus had a question to ask his companion.

"Would you care to consider a marriage alliance between the Lentuli and the Domitii?" was his proposition.

"I should be rejoiced and honoured to have the opportunity," was the reply; and then in another tone Domitius added, "Lentulus, do you believe in astrologers?"

"I do not really know," answered the other, uneasily.

"Neither do I," continued Domitius. "But suppose the stars speak truly; and suppose," and here his voice fell, "it is Caesar who is highest in power, in ability, in good fortune;—what then for Pompeius? for us?"

"Be silent, O prophet of evil!" retorted Lentulus, laughing, but not very naturally.



Chapter VII

Agias's Adventure

I

Pisander's view of life became a score of shades more rosy when he seized the hand of the handsome slave-boy, then embraced him, and began praising the gods for preserving his favourite's life. Then the worthy philosopher recollected that his wisdom taught him there were no gods, and he plunged into a rambling explanation of his position, which would have lasted forever, unless Agias had cut him short with a merry gibe, and told him that he must positively come to a tavern and enjoy at least one beaker of good Massic in memory of old friendship. And Pisander, whose spareness of living arose more from a lack of means than from a philosophic aversion to food and good cheer, was soon seated on a bench in one of the cheap restaurants[91] that abounded in the city, balancing a very large goblet, and receiving a volley of questions which Agias was discharging about Valeria's eccentricities, Calatinus's canvass, Arsinoe, Semiramis, and the rest of the household of which he had been a member.

[91] Popinae.

"But you haven't told me, Agias," finally interrupted the poor philosopher, who had been struggling in turn to satisfy his curiosity, "how you are here, and not—ugh! I hate to think of it—feeding the dogs and the crows."

Agias's face grew grave while he gave the story of his release by the Vestal, and subsequent transfer of ownership.

"What was the name of the young man who purchased you, eh?" interpolated Pisander. "I didn't get it."

"Quintus Livius Drusus," replied Agias.

"Who?" cried the philosopher, starting up.

"Quintus Drusus, of Praeneste," repeated the other.

"Ai! Ai! In the name of Zeus!" cried Pisander, dropping the beaker, and spilling the wine all over his threadbare himation. "Oh, such a plot! Such a crime! Was ever anything so villanous ever heard of before!"

"My dear Pisander," exclaimed Agias, all amazement, "what is the matter? Your speech is as obscure as Cinna's[92] poem called 'Zmyrna,' which I've heard was ten years in being written, and must be very fine, because no one can understand it. No more can I fathom you."

[92] A poet at that time of some little reputation.

"What a stroke of fortune!" raved the philosopher. "How we will be revenged on that rascal, Pratinas! O Destiny, thy decrees are just!"

Again Agias expostulated, and at last brought out of Pisander a tolerably coherent account of the conversation which he had heard between Valeria and Pratinas. Then, indeed, the merry slave-boy was troubled. Accustomed to a rather limited ambition in life, he had attached himself with implicit devotion to Cornelia; first because his preserver, Drusus, had so enjoined him, and second because each day he grew more drawn to her personally. The peril which yawned before the unfortunate Drusus menaced at the same time the happiness of his mistress and his own welfare,—for if Lucius Ahenobarbus had his way, Agias himself would become the slave of that not very gentle patrician. Cornelia and Drusus had had troubles enough before; but in the present crisis, actual destruction stared Agias's saviour in the face. The situation was maddening, was sickening. Agias wrung his hands in anguish. Then came the healthy reaction. Drusus was still alive and well. He could be warned. The plot could be thwarted. Pratinas and Ahenobarbus were not yet beyond the reach of retribution. He—Agias—was no longer to be a mere foot-boy and lackey; he was to match his keen Greek wits in subtle intrigue against foemen worthy of his steel. He would save Drusus's life, would save Cornelia's happiness. If he succeeded, who knew but that his owner would reward him—would give him freedom. And with a natural rebound of spirits, Agias's eyes glittered with expectation and excitement, his cheeks flushed, his form expanded to a manly height.

"Euge! Well done, old friend!" he cried, with the merriment of intense excitement. "No matter if you say you were only able to hear a small part of what our dear fellow-Hellene, Pratinas, told Valeria. I have gathered enough to defeat the plotters. Leave all to me. If you learn anything new, send word to the house of Lentulus Crus, and ask to see me. And now I must forsake this pleasant wine untasted, and hurry away. My mistress will bless you, and perhaps there will be some reward."

And leaving the bewildered Pisander to wipe the wine from his dress, Agias had darted out of the tavern, and was lost in the hurly-burly of the cattle-market.

How Agias had forced his way into Cornelia's presence we have related. The young Greek had stated his unpleasant intelligence as diplomatically and guardedly as possible; but Cornelia had borne this shock—following so soon upon one sufficiently cruel—grievously enough. After all, she was only a girl—perhaps more mature for her years than the average maiden of her age of to-day, but almost friendless, hopeless, and beset with many trials. And this new one was almost more than she could bear. We have said that to her suicide had but just before appeared a refuge to be desired; but to have Quintus die, to have him taken out of that life that ought to be so fair for him, no matter how darksome it was for her; to have him never realize her ambition that he become a statesman, warrior, philosopher, in short her ideal hero—this was unbearable! This phase of the question was so overpowering that she forgot to feel rage against Ahenobarbus and his wily ally. Cornelia threw herself down upon the floor, and cried to Agias to slay her quickly. She did not care to live; she could endure no more.

Agias here manifested exquisite tact. Instead of attempting any ordinary means of expostulation, he pleaded with her not to give way to despair; that Drusus was not yet at the mercy of his enemies; that she, if she would, could do an infinite deal to assist him.

"I save Quintus?" questioned Cornelia, with white, quivering lips.

"You can do much, my lady," replied Agias, kindly taking her by the hand, and with gentle pressure forcing her to sit on the divan. "You can do what neither I, nor Pisander, nor any one else can accomplish. You can make Lucius Ahenobarbus betray his own plot. You, and you only, can penetrate the final plans of the conspirators. Therefore be strong, and do not despair."

"I? What can I do?" cried Cornelia, staring at him with sad, tearless eyes.

"Lady Cornelia," said Agias, delicately, "Drusus would never receive back his life if it were to be purchased by any sacrifice of honour on your part. But this is not needed. Lucius Ahenobarbus—forgive my plain speech—worships the ground whereon you tread. A smile from you raises him to Olympus; a compliment from you makes him feel himself a god; a soft word from you creates him the peer of Zeus. Lady, I know you hate that man; but for Master Drusus's sake make Ahenobarbus believe that you are not indifferent to his advances. Slander Drusus before him. Complain of the provisions of your father's will that, despite your uncle's intention, will make it difficult to avoid a hateful marriage. If in the past you have been cold to Ahenobarbus, grow gracious; but not too rapidly. Finally, at the proper time, do not hesitate to urge him to commit the act we know he is meditating. Then he will make you a full partner of his plot, and Pratinas and he can be permanently thwarted."

"You say that Drusus can be saved by this?" asked Cornelia, steadying herself as she rose from the divan;

"I will warn him at once," replied Agias. "Any premature attempt on his life will certainly fail. But it is not Ahenobarbus that I fear; it is Pratinas. Pratinas, if baffled once, will only be spurred on to use all his cunning in a second trial. We must enmesh the conspirators so completely that when their stab is parried, not merely will their power to repeat it be gone, but they themselves will be in danger of retribution. And for this, some one must be confederate to their final plan."

"Agias," said Cornelia, quietly, "Quintus said that you would be a faithful servant to him and to myself. I believe he was right. You have asked a great thing of me, Agias. I would not do it unless I believed that you were unlike other slaves. I might imagine that Lucius Ahenobarbus had bribed you to tell me this story, in order that I should put myself in his power. But I trust you. I will do anything you say. For you Hellenes have wits as keen as sharp steel, and I know that you will do all you may to repay your debt to Quintus."

Agias knelt down and kissed the robe of his mistress. "My lady," he said gently, "it is no grievous thing to be a slave of such as you. Believe me; I will not betray my trust. And now if you can let me leave you, I will hurry to Praeneste, and for the present our minds may be at rest. For old Mamercus will, I am sure, be able to take good care of Master Drusus for yet awhile."

"Go, and the gods—if there be gods—go with you!" replied Cornelia. Agias kissed her robe a second time, and was gone. His mistress stood in the middle of the empty room. On the wall facing her was a painting of "Aphrodite rising from the Foam," which Drusus had given her. The sensuous smiles on the face of the goddess sickened Cornelia, as she looked upon it. To her, at the moment, laughter was more hideous than any sobbing. Outside the door she heard the gay, witless chatter of the maids and the valets. They were happy—they—slaves, "speaking tools,"—and she with the blood of the Claudii and Cornelii in her veins, a patrician among patricians, the niece of a consul-elect, a woman who was the heiress of statesmen and overturners of kingdoms,—she was miserable beyond endurance. Cornelia paced up and down the room, wishing she might order the giggling maids to be flogged and their laughter turned into howling. Then she summoned Cassandra.

* * * * *

Cornelia had never before tried to play the actress, but that night she flung herself into the game for life and death with all the earnestness of an energetic, intelligent, and spontaneous woman. She had been barely civil to Lucius Ahenobarbus before; to-night the young man began to persuade himself that the object of his affections was really a most adorable coquette, who used a certain brusqueness of speech to add to her witchery. He had heard that there had been some very disagreeable scenes at Praeneste, when Lentulus had told his niece that Drusus, on account of his dangerous politics, was unfit to be her husband. But Ahenobarbus was sure that either these accounts were exaggerated, or more likely, Cornelia, like most women, was quick to fall in love and quick to leave an old sweetheart for a new one. Be that as it may, Lucius felt that night on good terms with himself and all the world. Phormio had consented to continue his loans—until his debtor could realize on "certain property." Pratinas had said that Dumnorix would shortly start with a band of gladiators for some local festival at Anagnia, a little beyond Praeneste; and on the way back, if nothing went amiss, the prearranged programme could be carried out. Some pretext must be found for keeping Drusus on his estate at the time when Dumnorix would march past it, and that task could be confided to Phaon, Lucius's freedman, a sly fox entirely after his patron's own heart.

Cornelia, to whom the dinner-party at Favonius's house began as a dreary enough tragedy, before long discovered that it was by no means more easy to suck undiluted sorrow than unmixed gladness out of life. It gratified her to imagine the rage and dismay of the young exquisite whose couch was beside her chair,[93] when he should learn how completely he had been duped. Then, too, Lucius Ahenobarbus had a voluble flow of polite small talk, and he knew how to display his accomplishments to full advantage. He had a fair share of wit and humour; and when he fancied that Cornelia was not impervious to his advances, he became more agreeable and more ardent. Once or twice Cornelia frightened herself by laughing without conscious forcing. Yet it was an immense relief to her when the banquet was over, and the guests—for Favonius had ordered that none should be given enough wine to be absolutely drunken—called for their sandals and litters and went their ways.

[93] Women sat at Roman banquets, unless the company was of a questionable character.

"And you, O Adorable, Calypso, Circe, Nausicaa, Medea,—what shall I call you?—you will not be angry if I call to see you to-morrow?" said Ahenobarbus, smiling as he parted from Cornelia.

"If you come," was her response, "I shall not perhaps order the slaves to pitch you out heels over head."

"Ah! That is a guarded assent, indeed," laughed Lucius, "but farewell, pulcherrima!"[94]

[94] Most beautiful.

Cornelia that night lay down and sobbed herself to sleep. Her mother had congratulated her on her brilliant social success at the dinner-party, and had praised her for treating Lucius Ahenobarbus as she had.

"You know, my dear," the worthy woman had concluded, "that since it has seemed necessary to break off with Drusus, a marriage with Lucius would be at once recommended by your father's will, and in many ways highly desirable."

II

Only a very few days later Lucius Ahenobarbus received a message bidding him come to see his father at the family palace on the Palatine. Lucius had almost cut himself clear from his relations. He had his own bachelor apartments, and Domitius had been glad to have him out of the way. A sort of fiction existed that he was legally under the patria potestas,[95] and could only have debts and assets on his father's responsibility, but as a matter of fact his parent seldom paid him any attention; and only called on him to report at home when there was a public or family festival, or something very important. Consequently he knew that matters serious were on foot, when he read in his father's note a request to visit Domitius's palace as soon as convenient. Lucius was just starting, in his most spotless toga,—after a prolonged season with his hairdresser,—to pay a morning call on Cornelia, and so he was the more vexed and perturbed.

[95] Sons remained under the legal control of a father until the latter's death, unless the tie was dissolved by elaborate ceremonies.

"Curses on Cato,[96] my old uncle," he muttered, while he waited in the splendid atrium of the house of the Ahenobarbi. "He has been rating my father about my pranks with Gabinius and Laeca, and something unpleasant is in store for me."

[96] Cato Minor's sister Portia was the wife of Lucius Domitius. Cato was also connected with the Drusi through Marcus Livius Drusus, the murdered reformer, who was the maternal uncle of Cato and Portia. Lucius Ahenobarbus and Quintus Drusus were thus third cousins.

Domitius presently appeared, and his son soon noticed by the affable yet diplomatic manner of his father, and the gentle warmth of his greeting, that although there was something in the background, it was not necessarily very disagreeable.

"My dear Lucius," began Domitius, after the first civilities were over, and the father and son had strolled into a handsomely appointed library and taken seats on a deeply upholstered couch, "I have, I think, been an indulgent parent. But I must tell you, I have heard some very bad stories of late about your manner of life."

"Oh!" replied Lucius, smiling. "As your worthy friend Cicero remarked when defending young Caelius, 'those sorts of reproaches are regularly heaped on every one whose person or appearance in youth is at all gentlemanly.'"

"I will thank you if you will not quote Cicero to me," replied the elder man, a little tartly. "He will soon be back from Cilicia, and will be prodding and wearying us in the Senate quite enough, with his rhetoric and sophistries. But I must be more precise. I have found out how much you owe Phormio. I thought your dead uncle had left you a moderately large estate for a young man. Where has it gone to? Don't try to conceal it! It's been eaten up and drunk up—spent away for unguents, washed away in your baths, the fish-dealer and the caterer have made way with it, yes, and butchers and cooks, and greengrocers and perfume sellers, and poulterers—not to mention people more scandalous—have made off with it."

Lucius stretched himself out on the divan, caught at a thick, richly embroidered pillow, tossed it over his head on to the floor, yawned, raised himself again upright, and said drawlingly:—

"Y-e-s, it's as you say. I find I spend every sesterce I have, and all I can borrow. But so long as Phormio is accommodating, I don't trouble myself very much about the debts."

"Lucius," said Domitius, sternly, "you are a graceless spendthrift. Of course you must have the sport which all young blood needs. But your extravagance goes beyond all bounds. I call myself a rich man, but to leave you half my fortune, dividing with your older brother Cnaeus, who is a far steadier and saner man than you, would be to assure myself that Greek parasites and low women would riot through that part of my estate in a twelvemonth. You must reform, Lucius; you must reform."

This was getting extremely disagreeable in spite of his expectations, and the young man yawned a second time, then answered:—

"Well, I presume Uncle Cato has told you all kinds of stories; but they aren't at all true. I really never had a great deal of money."

"Lucius," went on his father, "you are grown to manhood. It is time that you steadied in life. I have let you live by yourself too long. You are even too indolent to engage in politics, or to go into the army. I have come to a determination. You must marry the woman I have selected for you."

Ahenobarbus pricked up his ears. As a matter of fact, he had surmised what was coming, but he had no intention of admitting anything prematurely.

"Really, father," he said, "I hope you won't use your legal right and force a wife on me. I have no desire to tie myself up to a decent married life."

"I hardly think," said Domitius, smiling, "that you will resist my wishes long. I have seen Lentulus Crus the consul-elect, and he and I agree that since your mother's distant kinsman Quintus Drusus of Praeneste is an unsuitable husband for Cornelia, Lentulus's niece, on account of his very dangerous political tendencies, no happier alliance could bind our families together than a marriage between Cornelia and yourself."

Lucius yawned a third time and fell back on the couch.

"It's true," he ventured, "I have cared a good deal for Cornelia; and I've thrown over that little Greek Clyte and all the others for her; but then, to make a girl your sweetheart and to make her your wife are two very different things. Vina Opimia is best; but because one drinks a cyathus[97] of that, why should he forego a good nil of Thasian or Caecuban? If I could have but one choice, give me plenty of the good, and I'll give up my few drops of the best."

[97] About one-twelfth pint.

"Come, come," said Domitius, a little impatiently, "you must positively reform. Besides, while appearances must be kept up, there is no need for leading the life of a Stoic. You won't find Cornelia a hard companion. You have your pleasures and she hers, and you will live harmoniously enough and not the least scandal."

And with this remark Domitius closed the matter, and Lucius was actually delighted at the situation. What his father had said had been true enough; half, nay, nearly all, Rome lived in the manner Domitius had guardedly proposed for his son and intended daughter-in-law. Marriage was becoming more and more a mere formality, something that was kept up as the ancient state Pagan worship was kept up by the remnants of old-time superstition, and as a cloak to hide a multitude of sins. Fifty-nine years before, the consul Metellus Numidicus had declaimed, "Quirites, we would fain be free from all this annoyance (of marriage); but since nature has so brought it about that it is neither possible to live pleasantly with our wives nor by any means to live (as a race) without them, we ought to consider the welfare of the future rather than the mere passing pleasure of the present." And ever since that day Romans had been striving desperately to make the married state as endurable as possible; usually by reducing the importance of lawful wedlock to a minimum.

Of course the announcement of the informal betrothal was soon spread over Rome. The contracting parties were in the very highest life, and everybody declared that the whole affair was a political deal between Lentulus Crus and Domitius. It was commonly reported, too, how Cornelia had broken with Drusus, and every one remarked that if the young man had cared to enforce her father's will in the courts, his claim to her hand and fortune would be valid unless—and here most people exchanged sly winks, for they knew the power of Domitius and Lentulus Crus over a jury.

And how had Cornelia borne it—she at whom Herennia had stared in amazement, when that "dear friend" discovered the friendship the other was displaying to Lucius Ahenobarbus? Cornelia had received the announcement very quietly, one might almost say resignedly. She had one great hope and consolation to support her. They would not force her to marry Lucius Ahenobarbus until Drusus was dead or had reached the age of five-and-twenty. The marriage formula with Ahenobarbus once uttered, while Quintus lived, and by no possibility, save by an open spoliation that would have stirred even calloused Rome, could Lucius touch a sesterce of his intended victim's property. Cornelia's hope now, strangely enough, was in the man she regarded as the most consummate villain in the world, Pratinas. Ahenobarbus might have his debts paid by his father, and forego risk and crime if he did not absolutely need Drusus's fortune; but Pratinas, she knew, must have planned to secure rich pickings of his own, and if Ahenobarbus married permanently, all these were lost; and the Greeks never turned back or let another turn back, when there was a fortune before them. It was a fearful sort of confidence. Drusus had been warned promptly by Agias. Old Mamercus had straightway taken every precaution, and forced his foster son to put himself in a sort of custody, which was sufficiently galling, in addition to the ever present sense of personal danger. The villa at Praeneste was guarded quietly by several armed slaves and peasants; not a morsel or drop passed Drusus's lips that had not been tested and tasted by a trusty dependent. The young man was not to go to Rome, despite his infinite yearning to see Cornelia, for every opportunity would be given in the dark city streets for an assassin. In fact, Drusus was virtually a prisoner in his own estates, for only there could he feel reasonably safe from attack.

All these precautions Cornelia knew, for Agias was a master at smuggling letters in and out. She had told Drusus frankly all that had passed, and how that she was acting as she did only for his sake. She asked him to trust her, and he wrote back that no doubt of her fidelity to him had crossed his mind; he was not worthy of such love as she had for him; it did not matter very much if Ahenobarbus did kill him, except that it would give her new grief and pain, and the thought of that he could not bear. Cornelia had replied that if Drusus was murdered, she was woman enough and Roman enough to stab Lucius Ahenobarbus on their marriage night, and then plunge the dagger into her own breast. And there the fearful matter had rested; Cornelia smiled by day, and dazzled all she met by her vivacity, and her aggressive queenliness; and by night cried with tearless sobs, which came out of the depths of her heart. And all the time she waited for Agias to foil the plot, and assure Drusus of his life. Let Quintus once be safe, and then—how could she resist the irresistible pressure that would be brought to bear to force her into a hated marriage, which Ahenobarbus—balked though he might be of a fortune—would no longer care to defer? And when Cornelia thought of this, and when she was alone, she would open a little casket, of which no other had the key, and touch the ivory-carved hilt of a small damascened knife. The blade was very sharp; and there was a sticky gum all along the edge,—deadly poison; only a very slight scratch put one beyond aid of physician.

The bitterest cup of all was the attitude she felt forced to assume toward Lucius Ahenobarbus. There were limits of familiarity and simulated affection beyond which she could not drive herself to go. Lucius was with her at all hours and in all places. The more she saw of him the more she abhorred his effeminate sensuality and lack of almost every quality that made life worth the living. But she must—she must learn the plot against Drusus, and precisely how and when the trap was to be sprung. And in a measure, at least so far as Lucius was concerned, she succeeded. By continually and openly reviling Quintus, by professing to doubt the legality of a marriage contracted against the terms of her father's will, by all but expressing the wish that her late lover were out of harm's way, she won her point. In a fit of half-drunken confidence Ahenobarbus assured her that she would not be troubled by Drusus for long; that he would soon be unable to annoy her. And then came a great disappointment. When Cornelia asked—and how much the request cost her, only she herself knew—to be let into the plot, Lucius owned that he had left the details in the hands of Pratinas, and did not himself know just how or when the blow was to fall. In Pratinas—whom Cornelia met very seldom—she met with a sphinx, ever smiling, ever gracious, but who, as if regretting the burst of confidence he had allowed Valeria, kept himself closed to the insinuations and half-questions of every one else. The truth was, the lanista Dumnorix was unwilling to do his part of the business until the festival at Anagnia brought him and his band through Praeneste, and this festival had been postponed. Consequently, the projected murder had been postponed a few days also. Agias had tried to penetrate into the secrets of Pratinas, but found that judicious intriguer had, as a rule, carefully covered his tracks. He spent a good deal of time and money, which Cornelia gave him, trying to corrupt some of the gladiators of Dumnorix's band and get at the intentions of their master; but he was not able to find that any of these wretches, who took his gold greedily enough, really knew in the least what were the appointments and engagements of the Gallic giant. As a matter of fact, the boy began to feel decidedly discouraged. Pisander had nothing more to tell; and, moreover, the worthy philosopher often gave such contradictory accounts of what he had overheard in Valeria's boudoir, that Agias was at his wit's end when and where to begin.

So passed the rest of the month since Cornelia had been brought from Praeneste to Rome.

III

Cornelia began to grow sick at heart. The conviction was stealing over her that she was the victim of a cruel destiny, and it was useless to fight against fate. She had made sacrifices for Drusus's sake that had cost her infinitely. All Rome said that Cornelia returned the love of Lucius Ahenobarbus. And with it all, she knew that she had not succeeded in discovering the real plot of Pratinas, and could not thwart it. She knew that nearly every one placed her, if actually not as vicious as the rest, at least in the same coterie with Clodia, and the wife of Lentulus Spinther the younger Metella, and only a grade better than such a woman as Arbuscula, the reigning actress of the day. There was no defence to offer to the world. Did she not go with her mother to the gay gathering, in the gardens by the Tiber? Was she not waited on by half the fashionable young aristocrats of Rome? Was she not affianced to a man who was notoriously a leader of what might to-day be called the "fast set" of the capital? And from Drusus, poor fellow, she gained not the least consolation. That he loved her as she loved him, she had never cause to doubt. But in his self-renunciation he gave her advice that sprang out of his own sorrow and pessimism. It was no use, ran his letters, for a woman like her to try and battle against the evident decrees of Fortune. He was a man, and must fight his battle or die his death bravely; but she was not called on for this. There was no reason why she should not really enjoy herself, in the way most of the world thought she was enjoying herself. She had better wed Lucius Ahenobarbus, and stoop to the inevitable. Her husband could go his way and she go hers, and none would complain. Perhaps the Epicureans were right,—this life was all, and it was best to suck from it all the sweets one might, and not be disturbed by pricks of conscience. Drusus and Cornelia were not lovers of a modern romance, to entertain fantastic ideas of love and duty, to throw themselves away for a fancy, or tie themselves with vows which militated against almost every worldly advantage. They were both Romans, and by that we mean eminently practical persons, faithful to one another, pure and noble in their affections, but habituated to look a situation in the face and accept the plain consequences. In this spirit Drusus had advised as he did, and Cornelia became discouraged accordingly. Her reason told her to submit to the inevitable. Her heart cried out against it. And so she continued to finger the hilt of the little dagger, and look at its keen poison-smeared edge.

But one day at the end of this dreary period Agias appeared before his mistress with a smiling face.

"Don't raise high hopes, my lady, but trust me. I have struck a path that I'm sure Pratinas will wish I'd never travelled." And that was all he would say, but laid his finger on his lips as though it was a great secret. When he was gone, for Cornelia the sun shone brighter, and the tinkling of the water in the fountain in the peristylium sounded sweeter than before. After all, there had come a gleam of hope.

Cornelia needed the encouragement. That same day when Herennia called to see her, that excellent young lady—for not the least reason in the world—had been full of stories of poisoning and murders, how some years ago a certain Balbutius of Larinum was taken off, it was said, at a wedding feast of a friend for whom the poison had been intended; and then again she had to tell how, at another time, poison had been put in a bit of bread of which the victim partook. The stories were old ones and perhaps nothing more than second-hand scandal, but they were enough to make poor Cornelia miserable; so she was doubly rejoiced when Agias that evening pressed his lips again and smiled and said briefly: "All is going well. We shall have the root of the matter in a few days."

Agias had actually come upon what he was right in considering a great piece of good fortune. He had easily found the tenement in the Subura where Pratinas lodged, but to learn anything there that would be useful was a far more difficult affair. He had hung around the place, however, as much as he dared, making his headquarters at a tavern conveniently near, and tried to learn Pratinas's habits, and whether he ever took any visitors home with him. All this came to little purpose till one morning he observed an old Ethiop, who was tugging a heavy provision basket, stagger up the street, through the nondescript crowd. The old slave was being assailed by a mob of street gamins and low pedlers who saw in the contents of the hamper so much fair plunder. These vagabonds had just thrown the Ethiop down into the mud, and were about to divide their booty, when Agias, acting on a generous impulse, rushed out from the tavern to the rescue. Nimble, for his age powerful, and armed with a stout staff which he had caught up in the wine-shop to aid him, the young Greek won an easy victory over cowardly antagonists, put all the plunderers to flight, and lifted the old slave out of the mire. The Ethiop was profuse in his thanks.

"And whose slave are you?" demanded Agias, well pleased to be out of the adventure.

"I'm Sesostris, servant of Pratinas the Greek."

Agias pricked up his ears. "And you live—"

"In the top story of this tenement;" and Sesostris tried to pick up the hamper.

"Oh!" laughed his rescuer, "you must let me save you that trouble. I will carry up the basket. Your master is a brute to pile on such loads."

Sesostris again fawned his gratitude, and Agias, with quickened wits and eyes alert, toiled up the dark stairway, and found himself at the top of the building. He had "entered the enemy's country." The Ethiop might not have been open to bribes, but he might be unlocked through friendship, and Agias never needed all his senses more than now. They had reached the topmost flight of stairs, and Sesostris had stopped as if embarrassed whether to invite his deliverer in to enjoy some hospitality, or say him farewell. Then of a sudden from behind the closed door came a clear, sweet, girlish voice, singing, in Greek:—

"O Aitne, mother mine: A grotto fair Scooped in the rocks have I, and there I keep All that in dreams man pictures! Treasured there Are multitudes of she-goats and of sheep, Swathed in whose wool from top to toe I sleep."

It was an idyl of Theocritus, very well known by Agias, and without the least hesitation he took up the strain, and continued:—

"The fire boils my pot; with oak or beech Is piled,—dry beech logs when the snow lies deep. And storm and sunshine, I disdain them each As toothless sires a nut, when broth is in their reach."[98]

[98] Calverly's translation.

Agias paused. There was a silence, then a giggle behind the door, and it half opened, and out peered the plump and rosy face of the young girl we have heard Pratinas salute as his niece, Artemisia. The moment she caught sight of the rather manly form of Agias, the door started to close with a slam, but the latter thrust out his foot, blocked the door, and forced an entrance.

"Eleleu!" cried Agias, pushing into a small but neatly furnished room. "What have we here? Do the muses sing in Subura? Has Sappho brought hither her college of poetesses from Lesbos?"

"Ai!" exclaimed Artemisia, drawing back, "who are you? You're dreadfully rude. I never saw you before."

"Nor I you;" replied Agias, in capital good humour, "but that is no reason why I should take my eyes away from your pretty little face. No, you needn't point your middle finger at me so, to ward off the evil eye. I'm neither Chaldean astrologer, nor Etruscan soothsayer. Come, tell me who you are, and whom you belong to?"

Artemisia did not have the least idea what to say. Agias, partly through youthful love of adventure, partly because he felt that he was playing now for very high stakes and must risk a good deal, had thrown himself on the divan, and was holding Artemisia captive under his keen, genial eyes. She grew redder in face than before, began to speak, then broke off with more confused blushes.

"She means to say," finally ventured Sesostris, "that she is Artemisia, the niece of Pratinas."

"The niece of Pratinas!" exclaimed Agias, settling himself upon the cushions in a manner that indicated his intention to make a prolonged stay; "and does Pratinas keep his pretty niece shut up in a gloomy tenement, when she has the voice of one of the Graces, and more than their share of beauty! Shame on him; I thought he had better sense than that!"

"Sir," ventured Artemisia, trying desperately to stand on her dignity, "I do not know you. My uncle will be greatly vexed to find you here. Will you go away at once?"

"That I will not," replied Agias, firmly; and he drew from the hamper a baker's bun, and began to munch it, as though laying in provision for a lengthy stay.

Artemisia and Sesostris exchanged glances of dismay.

"What shall I do?" said the girl to the Ethiop in a very audible whisper.

"Sing," interrupted Agias. "Let me hear the rest of the Theocritus."

"I don't like to sing those songs," objected Artemisia. "Pratinas makes me, I don't know why."

"Well," said Agias, smiling, "I wouldn't for the-world make you sing against your will. Suppose you tell me about yourself. Tell me when your uncle is away, and when I may come and see you again."

"He's away nearly all the time," said Artemisia, very incautiously. "But who are you? Why do you want to come and see me?"

"Why do I want to look at a flower? Why do I want to hear the nightingale sing? Why do I like a cup of good wine?" laughed Agias. "Then, fair mistress, you may look for my answer when you have answered all of these questions of mine."

"I don't see what you mean," said poor Artemisia, looking dreadfully puzzled.

"I mean," exclaimed the other, "what Sappho meant of the bride,—

'She like an apple turned red; which reddens far up on the tree-top:— Upon the topmost of boughs,—the gatherers they have quite missed it. Yes, they saw it indeed; but too high to dare try to pluck it.'

Only I, if you don't greatly mind, will be the bold tree-climber and pluck the apple."

"But I do mind," cried Artemisia, all blushes, and springing a little back. Old Sesostris looked alarmed.

"You—you mean the girl no ill?" he faltered.

Agias looked from the innocent little thing over to the Ethiop, snapped his finger, and replied:—

"Ill? I am not a human wolf, making pretty objects like this my prey!" Then, choosing his moment carefully, by a quick turn he confronted Sesostris sternly, and almost thundered: "You speak of my doing ill to this maiden? You speak—the slave of Pratinas, who is the leader in every vice and wild prank in Rome! Has the slave as well as the master learned to play the hypocrite? Do you want to be tortured into confessing your part in all your master's crimes when the hour of reckoning comes and he is brought to justice. A! A!" he went on, seeing that Sesostris was rolling the whites of his eyes, and was trembling in every limb, "you know for a certainty how and when Pratinas is to have Quintus Drusus killed! Don't deny it. You will soon be in the meshes. Don't hope to escape. If murder comes to Drusus he may perish, but he has friends who will fearfully avenge his death."

"Mercy! Mercy!" howled the Ethiop, falling on his knees and clutching at the young Greek's robe, "I know very little of the plot. I only know—"

"Don't equivocate," thundered Agias. "If I had known the kind of man you were, I would hardly have saved you from those street ruffians. You don't deserve to live. Well, the crows will soon have you! You Egyptians believe in a judgment of the dead; what defence can you make before the court of Osiris[99] for being privy to a foul murder? You'll come back to earth as a fly, or a toad, or a dung-beetle, to pay the penalty for your sins."

[99] The Egyptian judge of the dead.

"Mercy," whined Sesostris, who was in a paroxysm of fright. "Indeed I am innocent! I am only a poor slave! I can't help knowing what Pratinas is doing; but how can I prevent him? Don't look at me so! I am innocent—innocent!"

"I can scarce believe you," said Agias, affecting great reluctance to show any leniency. "Doubtless you are steeped in blood. Still, you may save yourself this once. Remember, you are known, and the plans of Pratinas against Drusus are partly known. We know about Dumnorix, and Lucius Ahenobarbus, and—"

"Oh!" cried Sesostris, as though a hot iron had touched him, "I will find out everything, and tell you. Indeed I will. Only do not send me to the rack or crucify me if my master's plans go astray!"

"Well," said Agias, still simulating hesitancy, "I will report to my superiors. Perhaps you are not a willing accomplice of your master. In that case, if he is apprehended, your life will doubtless be spared. But we must thwart his plot before it can be carried out. This you must aid us to do. When will Dumnorix start for Praeneste?"

Again Sesostris quailed. "I don't know," he faltered, "there has been a postponement. There was a plan that if Drusus came to the city he was to be lured outside the Esquiline gate, as if going to some villa, and murdered in the sand-pits, as have been many people."

"But this plan has been given up? Speak the truth!" sharply demanded Agias.

"Yes; for Drusus will not stir from Praeneste. So there the scheme must be executed, as originally arranged."

"And Dumnorix will go soon?"

"I think in a few days. I will find out."

"As you love your own life do so! I will call on each day at this hour. If Pratinas is at home, leave some bright garment outside near the door, that I may not stumble on him. Deceive or betray me, and my masters will take a terrible revenge on you; for you haven't the least idea what is the power of the men Pratinas has for enemies."

Agias turned to depart. Then to Artemisia:—

"And you, my pretty,—when I come again, I will try to stay longer, and make you feel as glad to see Agias, as Agias will be to see Artemisia."

Agias was descending the stairs, when Sesostris called him back with a whisper.

"You are a dreadful youth; but since I am so utterly in your power, hear something that may prove that I am not a knave at heart. You have a fancy to the girl?"

"Certainly I have eyes for her face, and ears for her sweet little voice," said Agias, smiling.

"Then listen," went on the Ethiop; "I care for the dear more than anything else in the world. She said she was Pratinas's niece. It isn't true. She is a slave-girl he picked up when very little at Delos,[100] as he told me, though I doubt it. He took a fancy to her, and really thought of adopting her. Then his soul became so set on money, that he saw she would fetch a great price when grown; and sell her he will. He still pretends to call her his niece; but that won't be for long. He is teaching her to sing, to add to her value. A! But my old heart is almost breaking for her sake. Mu, mu!" and Sesostris puffed his groans through his nostrils. "Think of it! He has an idea to sell her to that rich Roman, Lucius Calatinus—and then I don't dare hint what will be her fate."

[100] At this period the great slave emporium of the world.

"Calatinus!" hissed Agias, concentrating volumes of scorn into a word.

"You know him! You hate him!" cried Sesostris. "Then by Ammon-Ra, by Isis, by every god in whom you believe, save my darling from worse than death! Do that, and I will die for you!"

Sesostris's emotion was too genuine to be a mere trap for ensnaring his visitor; and Agias in turn was stirred.

"Old man," he exclaimed, seizing the other's hand, "you and I have suffered much from evil masters. Thank the gods, I am now serving one I love—albeit unfortunate enough! But we have a common right to punish the wrongdoers, and earn a little bit of happiness for ourselves. Come, now! If Artemisia is a slave, she is in no wise above me. Let me save Drusus from Pratinas, and I pledge my word that I will save Artemisia from him and his nefarious schemes,—yes, and you, too. If Artemisia likes me, why then there will be perhaps more to add to the story. Come—I am your friend, and you, mine."

Sesostris wrung the other's hand. The honest servant was moved too much to speak. His heart and soul had been bound up in Artemisia.

"May your Ka[101] stand before Osiris justified!" he choked. "I have been privy to many a dark action, until I used to try to forget the day when I must answer to the Judge of the Dead for every deed done and word spoken. But I could not stifle my fear for the only dear thing in the world."

[101] The spiritual double which belonged to every man according to the Egyptian ideas.

Agias went away in a happy frame of mind. He had every confidence that Sesostris would worm out of Pratinas the exact details of the plot, and put the conspirators at the mercy of Drusus and Mamercus.

* * * * *

And Agias had felt there was good reason to rejoice in his discovery in more ways than one. Especially was he conscious that there were no lips as red and as merry, no cheeks as rosy, no eyes as dancing, no chatter as sweet, as those of Artemisia. And what is more, he rejoiced to believe that that young lady was not half so shy of him as at first, and was as anxious to see him as he to see her. Thanks to due warnings and precautions, Agias never stumbled on Pratinas, when the latter was at his lodgings. The time he dared to stay was all too short for Artemisia. She was always telling how lonesome she was with only old Sesostris for company, before she knew Agias. Once when the latter was late in his daily visit, he was delighted to find scribbled on the wall, "Artemisia to her Agias: you are real mean." Agias hated to make her erase it lest it fall under Pratinas's eagle eye.

But still Sesostris had nothing to tell about the plot against Drusus. Some days passed. Agias began to grow uneasy. Sesostris had represented that he was conversant with everything his master had on foot; but Pratinas might have been more discreet than to unfold all his affairs, even before his servant; and then, too, there was always the possibility that Sesostris was playing fast and loose, and about to betray Agias to his master. So the latter grew disquieted, and found it a little hard to preserve the character of cheerful mystery which he simulated to Cornelia. The long-sought information came at a time when he was really off his guard. Agias had been visiting Artemisia. Sesostris as well as Pratinas had been out; the two young people were amusing themselves trying to teach a pet magpie to speak, when the Ethiop rushed into the room, all in a tremble with anxious excitement.

"A! A!" he was ejaculating. "Up, speed, don't delay! There's murder afoot!"

Agias let the bird slip from his hands, and never noticed that it fluttered on its clipped wings around the room, to Artemisia's infinite dismay.

"What? Is the plot hatched?"

"Yes, yes," puffed Sesostris, great beads of perspiration on his honest face. "I was attending Pratinas when he met Lucius Ahenobarbus in the Forum. They veiled their talk, but I readily caught its drift. Dumnorix went yesterday with the pick of his band to Anagnia for some games. To-morrow he will return through Praeneste, and the deed will be done. Phaon, Ahenobarbus's freedman, has started already for Praeneste to spy out the ground and be ready to direct Dumnorix where, when, and how to find Drusus. Phaon has been spying at Praeneste, and is the dangerous man!"

"He has gone?" demanded Agias.

"Gone, early this morning!"

"Then,—the gods reward you for your news,—I am gone too!"

And without another word to Artemisia or the old slave, Agias had rushed out into the street. He had a double game to play—to prevent Phaon from ever reaching Praeneste, and then get such help to Drusus as would enable him to beat off Dumnorix and his gang. For Agias felt certain that the hard-hitting Gaul would execute his part of the bargain, whether he met Phaon or not, and afterward look into the consequences of what—unmitigated by the freedman's finesse—would take the form of an open clumsy murder. But Phaon had started that morning; and it was now well into the afternoon. Time was dangerously scanty. Cornelia he felt he should inform; but she could do nothing really to help him. He turned his steps toward the Forum and the Atrium Vestae. He had some difficulty in inducing the porter to summon Fabia, to meet in personal interview a mere slave, but a gratuity won the point; and a minute later he was relating the whole story and the present situation of Drusus to Fabia, with a sincere directness that carried conviction with it. She had known that Drusus had enemies; but now her whole strong nature was stirred at the sense of her nephew's imminent peril.

"If you were a freeman, Agias," were her words, "and could give witness as such, Pratinas and Ahenobarbus—high as the latter is—should know that my influence at the law outweighs theirs. But they shall be thwarted. I will go to Marcellus the consul, and demand that troops be started to Praeneste to-night. But you must go after Phaon."

"You will send word to Cornelia?" requested Agias.

"Yes," said Fabia, "but not now; it is useless. Here is an order on Gallus, who keeps a livery-stable[102] by the Porta Esquilina. He will give you my new white Numidian, that I keep with him. Ride as you have never ridden before. And here is money. Twenty gold philippi in this bag. Bribe, do anything. Only save Drusus! Now go!"

[102] Such establishments were common near the gates, and the Vestals often had their horses at such places.

"Farewell, lady," cried Agias, "may I redeem the debt of gratitude I owe you!"

Fabia stood looking after him, as he hastened out from the quiet atrium into the busy street. Little Livia had cuddled up beside her aunt.

"Oh, Livia," said Fabia, "I feel as though it were of no use to live good and pure in this world! Who knows what trouble may come to me from this day's doings? And why should they plot against your brother's dear life? But I mustn't talk so." And she called for her attendants to escort her abroad.



Chapter VIII

"When Greek Meets Greek"

I

Cornelia had surmised correctly that Pratinas, not Lucius Ahenobarbus, would be the one to bring the plot against Drusus to an issue. Lucius had tried in vain to escape from the snares the wily intriguer had cast about him. His father had told him that if he would settle down and lead a moderately respectable life, Phormio should be paid off. And with this burden off his mind, for reformation was very easily promised, Lucius had time to consider whether it was worth his while to mix in a deed that none of Pratinas's casuistry could quite convince him was not a foul, unprovoked murder, of an innocent man. The truth was, Ahenobarbus was desperately in love with Cornelia, and had neither time nor desire to mingle in any business not connected with the pursuit of his "tender passion." None of his former sweethearts—and he had had almost as many as he was years old—were comparable in his eyes to her. She belonged to a different world from that of the Spanish dancers, the saucy maidens of Greece, or even the many noble-born Roman women that seemed caught in the eddy of Clodia's fashionable whirlpool. Lucius frankly told himself that he would want to be divorced from Cornelia in five years—it would be tedious to keep company longer with a goddess. But for the present her vivacity, her wit, her bright intelligence, no less than her beauty, charmed him. And he was rejoiced to believe that she was quite as much ensnared by his own attractions. He did not want any unhappy accident to mar the smooth course which was to lead up to the marriage in no distant future. He did not need Drusus's money any longer to save him from bankruptcy. The legacy would be highly desirable, but life would be very pleasant without it. Lucius was almost induced by his inward qualms to tell Pratinas to throw over the whole matter, and inform Dumnorix that his services were not needed.

It was at this juncture that Cornelia committed an error, the full consequences of which were, to her, happily veiled. In her anxiety to discover the plot, she had made Lucius believe that she was really pining for the news of the murder of Drusus. Cornelia had actually learned nothing by a sacrifice that tore her very heart out; but her words and actions did almost irreparable harm to the cause she was trying to aid.

"And you have never given me a kiss," Lucius had said one morning, when he was taking leave of Cornelia in the atrium of the Lentuli. "Will you ever play the siren, and lure me to you? and then devour, as it were, your victim, not with your lips, but with your eyes?"

"Eho! Not so bold!" replied Cornelia, drawing back. "How can I give you what you wish, unless I am safe from that awful Polyphemus up in Praeneste?"

When Ahenobarbus went away, his thoughts were to the following effect: "I had always thought Cornelia different from most women; but now I can see that, like them all, she hates and hates. To say to her, 'Drusus is dead,' will be a more grateful present than the largest diamond Lucullus brought from the East, from the treasure of King Tigranes."

And it was in such a frame of mind that he met Pratinas by appointment at a low tavern on the Vicus Tuscus. The Greek was, as ever, smiling and plausible.

"Congratulations!" was his greeting. "Dumnorix has already started. He has my orders; and now I must borrow your excellent freedman, Phaon, to go to Praeneste and spy out, for the last time, the land, and general our army. Let him start early to-morrow morning. The time is ample, and unless some malevolent demon hinder us, there will be no failure. I have had a watch kept over the Drusus estate. An old sentry of a steward, Mamercus,—so I learn,—has been afraid, evidently, of some foul play on the part of the consul-designate, and has stationed a few armed freedmen on guard. Drusus himself keeps very carefully on his own premises. This is all the better for us. Dumnorix will dispose of the freedmen in a hurry, and our man will be in waiting there just for the gladiators. Phaon will visit him—cook up some errand, and inveigle him, if possible, well out in the colonnade in front of the house, before Dumnorix and his band pass by. Then there will be that very deplorable scuffle, and its sad, sad results. Alas, poor Drusus! Another noble Livian gathered to his fathers!"

"I don't feel very merry about it," ventured Lucius. "I don't need Drusus's money as much as I did. If it wasn't for Cornelia, I would drop it all, even now. Sometimes I feel there are avenging Furies—Dirae, we Latins call them—haunting me."

Pratinas laughed incredulously. "Surely, my dear fellow," he began, "you don't need to have the old superstitions explained away again, do you?"

"No, no," was his answer; Lucius capitulating another time.

So it came to pass that Pratinas had an interview with Phaon, Lucius's freedman, a sleek, well-oiled Sicilian Greek, who wore his hair very long to cover the holes bored in his ears—the mark of old-time servitude. He was the darling of waiting-maids; the collector of all current scandal; the master spirit in arranging dinners, able to tell a Tuscan from a Lucanian boar by mere taste. He used also to help his patron compose billets-doux, and had, by his twistings and scrapings, repeatedly staved off Phormio, Lucius's importunate creditor. As for Phaon's heart, it was so soft and tender that the pricks of conscience, if he ever had any, went straight through, without leaving a trace behind. And when Pratinas now informed him as to his final duties at Praeneste, Phaon rubbed his beringed hands and smoothed his carefully scraped chin with ill-concealed satisfaction.

"And a word more in closing," said Pratinas, as he parted with Phaon in the tavern—while Lucius, who had been drinking very heavily, nodded stupidly over his goblet of amber Falernian, in a vain attempt to gulp down eight cyathi at once, one measure to each letter in the name of Cornelia—"a word more. Dumnorix is a thick-skulled knave, who is, after all, good for little but blows. I have made an arrangement which will ensure having a careful man at his elbow in time of need. You, of course, will have to do your best to save the unfortunate Quintus from inevitable fate. But I have asked Publius Gabinius to leave for Praeneste very early on the morning when Dumnorix passes through that place. Gabinius has a small villa a little beyond the town, and there will be nothing suspicious in a journey to visit one's country house. He will meet Dumnorix, and be at his side when the pinch comes. You see? He is an adventurous fellow, and will help us just for the sake of the mischief. Besides, I believe he has a grudge against the Drusian family as a whole, for he lately tried to pass some familiarities with Fabia the Vestal, Drusus's aunt, and she proved disgustingly prudish."

"And how much will you and I," said Phaon, with a sly smirk, "gain out of this little business, if all goes well? Of course one should help one's patron, but—"

"It is folly to divide the spoils of Troy before Troy is taken," laughed Pratinas. "Don't be alarmed, my good fellow. Your excellent patron will reward us, no doubt, amply." And he muttered to himself: "If I don't bleed that Lucius Ahenobarbus, that Roman donkey, out of two-thirds of his new fortune; if I don't levy blackmail on him without mercy when he's committed himself, and becomes a partner in crime, I'm no fox of a Hellene. I wonder that he is the son of a man like Domitius, who was so shrewd in that old affair with me at Antioch."

* * * * *

So it came to pass that the next morning, long before Pratinas and Ahenobarbus met in the Forum and reviewed the steps taken in the words that gave Sesostris the key to the situation, Phaon was driving toward Praeneste. Of course a mere freedman, on a journey preferably kept quiet, travelled in not the least state. He rode alone, but had borrowed from his patron two of those small but speedy Gallic horses called mammi, that whirled his gig over the Campagna at a rapid trot. Still there was no great call for haste. He wished to get to Praeneste about dark, and there make a few inquiries as to the whereabouts and recent doings of Drusus. Pratinas had had considerable espionage kept up over his intended victim, and the last results of this detective work were to be reported to Phaon by the slaves of Ahenobarbus performing it. Perhaps there would be no real harm in driving straight through to Praeneste in the open daylight, but it was better not to show himself until the right time. So it was that, halfway on the road, Phaon turned in to the tavern of the decaying little town of Gabii, gave his team to the hostler, and rested himself by fuming over the squalor and poor cooking of the inn.

II

Agias secured the fast Numidian from the stables of Gallus, and was soon away. His frequent journeys between Rome and Praeneste, in service of Cornelia and Drusus, made him a fairly expert rider, and his noble mount went pounding past the mile-stones at a steady, untiring gallop. The young Hellene was all tingling with excitement and expectation; he would save Drusus; he would send the roses back into his beloved mistress's cheeks; and they would reward him, give him freedom; and then the future would be bright indeed.

But it grew late, fast as the horse bore him. He felt it his duty to press on with all speed to Praeneste. He had still a very vague notion of the final form of the conspiracy, especially of the role assigned to Phaon. Of one thing he was certain: to intercept Phaon was to deprive Dumnorix of an essential ally; but how to intercept the wily freedman was nothing easy.

As the Numidian swept into Gabii, Agias drew rein, telling himself that the horse would make better speed for a little rest and baiting. The tavern court into which he rode was exceedingly filthy; the whole building was in a state of decay; the odours were indescribable. In the great public-room a carter was trolling a coarse ditty, while through the doorway ran a screaming serving-maid to escape some low familiarity.

A shock-headed boy with a lantern took Agias's bridle, and the Greek alighted; almost under his eyes the dim light fell on a handsome, two-horse gig, standing beside the entrance to the court. Agias gave the vehicle close attention.

"It belongs to a gentleman from Rome, now inside," explained the boy, "one horse went lame, and the veterinary[103] is coming." Agias's eye caught a very peculiar bend in the hollow in the neck-yoke. He had seen that carriage before, on the fashionable boulevards—along the Tiber, in the Campus Martius—the carriage of Lucius Ahenobarbus. Phaon was waiting in the tavern!

[103] Equarius.

"Care for my horse at once," remarked Agias, a little abruptly. "Time presses." And he turned on his heel, and leaving the boy gaping after him, went into the squalid public-room of the tavern.

The landlord of the establishment, a small, red-faced, bustling man, was fussing over some lean thrushes roasting on a spit before the open fire that was roaring on the hearth. The landlady, lazy, muscular, corpulent, and high-voiced, was expostulating with a pedler who was trying to slip out without settling. Four other persons, slaves and peasants, were sitting on two low benches beside a small, circular table, and were busy pouring down the liquor which a young serving-boy brought them in tumbler-shaped cups, or eating greedily at loaves of coarse bread which they snatched from the table. It was so late that little light came into the room from the door and windows. The great fire tossed its red, flickering glow out into the apartment and cast a rosy halo over the hard brown marble pavement of the floor. Upon the dingy walls and rafters hung from pegs flitches of bacon, sausages, and nets of vegetables. Agias stopped in the doorway and waited till his eyes were fairly accustomed to the fire-light. Over in a remote corner he saw a lamp gleaming, and there, sprawling on a bench, beside a table of his own, well piled with food and drink, he distinguished in solitary majesty Phaon—too exquisite to mingle with the other guests of the tavern.

The landlord quickly noticed his new customer, and sprang up from the fire. Agias had on a coarse grey woollen cloak over his light tunic, and he drew his hood up so as partly to cover his face as he stepped into the room.

"Salve!" was the landlord's salutation. "What hospitality can the Elephant[104] afford you?"

[104] Inns were known by such signs.

The good host did not think Agias anything more by his dress than a common slave, and saw no need of excessive politeness.

Agias noticed that he was expected to join the other drinkers around the centre table.

"Eho, mine host!" cried he, letting the fire give one glint on a gold piece. "Can't you give me a seat at the other end of the room? I don't know these good people, and they won't thank me for thrusting myself on them."

"Certainly, certainly," exclaimed the landlord, all condescension. "There is a gentleman from Rome drinking by himself at that table over there. Perhaps he will not object."

Now was the crisis. Agias had seen Phaon many times with Lucius Ahenobarbus; but he was reasonably certain that the freedman had never degraded himself by taking any notice of the numerous slaves of Lentulus's household. Without waiting for the host to continue, he hastened over to the farther table, and exclaimed with all the effrontery at his command:—

"Hem! Phaon; don't you remember an old friend?"

The freedman for once was completely off his guard. He started up, stared at Agias, and began to mutter excuses for a very short memory.

"Well, well," cried Agias. "You have a poor recollection of faces! Don't you remember how Pratinas took you to the Big Eagle restaurant, down on the Vicus Jugarius, on the last Calends, and how you met me there, and what good Lesbian and Chian wine there was? None of your weak, sickening Italian stuff! Surely you remember Cleombrotus, from whom you won four hundred sesterces."

Phaon, who remembered the tavern, a visit, and winning four hundred sesterces at one time or another, tried to make himself believe that he won them from a young man, like the one before him, and that his name was Cleombrotus.

"Um! Yes, of course," he faltered. "I'm very glad to see you. What brings you here?"

"Business, business," complained Agias; "my master's a grain merchant with dealings at Puteoli, and he has sent me thither, to make some payments." Phaon pricked up his ears. "The Via Appia is more direct, but there is less chance of robbers by the Via Praenestina."

"I hope your master can trust you not to lighten his pouch on the way," remarked Phaon.

"Well," chuckled Agias, "he'll have to take his risk. If it's lost on the road, why, highwaymen stripped me. It is one of the fortunes of trade." Phaon was fully convinced that here was a fine chance to do some picking on his own account.

"Doubtless," he began, "you are not in such haste that you cannot enjoy one of those thrushes that sheep of a landlord is roasting for me. Phui! What a nasty place to have one's horse give out in. You will give me at least a little company to pass the time?"

Agias affected reluctance; then as the host brought up the birds, savory and hot, on an earthen platter, he gracefully accepted the invitation. The thrushes and the rest of the bill of fare, bacon, sweet nut-flavoured oil, bread, and the cheap wine of the Campagna were not unwelcome, though Phaon cursed the coarse food roundly. Then, when hunger had begun to yield, Phaon suggested that Cleombrotus "try to secure revenge for his losses on the Calends"; and Agias, nothing loth, replied that he did not wish to risk a great sum; but if a denarius were worth playing for, there was no objection to venturing a few casts, and "he would ask the host to bring them the gaming implements."

So the landlord brought dice and dice boxes, and Phaon—who had come to the conclusion that he had to deal with a light-headed bumpkin, who represented merely so much fair plunder—began to play with a careless heart. The landlord brought more and more flagons of wine, wine that was mixed with little water and was consequently very heady. But the game—with some veering of fortune—went the freedman's way. He won a denarius; then another; then a third; lost a fourth time; won back everything and five denarii more; and finally his opponent, heated with play, consented to stake two gold pieces.

"What did you say a minute ago to the landlord?" muttered Phaon, feeling that the undiluted liquor was getting the best of him. "This wine is very strong. It makes my head ache."

"Phy!" retorted Agias. "Who complains of good liquor? I only told the host to set another lamp near us. Shall we play again?"

"By Zeus!" exclaimed the delighted freedman. "Here I have cast four 'sixes' once more." And again he drained the beaker.

"Vah!" sniffed Agias. "Luck will turn at last. Let us play for real stakes. More wine, mine host! I will put down ten philippi. This will be worth winning or losing."

"As you say," gleefully chuckled Phaon, tossing the gold on the table. "Yes, more wine, I say too. One always enjoys play when his temples are all athrob."

Agias quietly reached over, took up his opponent's dice box, and rattled it, and appeared inspecting and fingering the tali.[105] "You have won your throws fairly," he said, handing it back. "Now let us invoke the decision of Fortune once more. A libation to the Genius of Good Luck!" And instead of spilling out a few drops only, he canted the flagon too far and spattered the wine on to the floor.

[105] Four-sided dice.

"Heracles!" growled Phaon, "what a poor hazard! I have thrown four 'ones'!"

"And I have all 'fours' and 'sixes,'" cried Agias, in delight, sweeping the money toward him.

"The gods blast my luck," muttered the freedman, "I shall be ruined at this rate." And he poured down more liquor. "I have hardly five philippi left."

"Come," shouted Agias, jumping up; "I make a fair offer. Your five philippi against all my winnings."

Phaon had a dim consciousness that he was getting very drunk, that he ought to start at once for Praeneste, and that it was absolutely needful for him to have some money for bribes and gratuities if he was not to jeopardize seriously the success of his undertaking. But Agias stood before him exultant and provoking. The freedman could not be induced to confess to himself that he had been badly fleeced by a fellow he expected to plunder. In drunken desperation he pulled out his last gold and threw it on the table.

"Play for that, and all the Furies curse me if I lose," he stormed.

Agias cast two "threes," two "fours."

"I must better that," thundered the freedman, slapping the tali out on to the table.

"'Ones' again," roared Agias; "all four! you have lost!"

Phaon sprang up in a storm of anger, and struck over the dice. "Three of them are 'sixes,'" he raged. "I have won! You got loaded dice from the landlord, just now, when he brought the wine!"

"Not at all, you cheating scoundrel," retorted Agias, who had already scooped in the money, "I have you fairly enough."

"Fair?" shouted Phaon, dashing down the dice again, "they are loaded! Lack-shame! Villain! Whipping-post! Tomb-robber! Gallows-bird! You changed them when you pretended to inspect them! Give me my money, thief, or—" and he took a menacing but unsteady step toward Agias.

The young Greek was ready for the emergency. He knew that Phaon was almost overcome with his wine, and had no dread of the issue. A stroke of his fist sent the freedman reeling back against the wall, all the wind pounded from his chest. "You born blackguard," coughed Phaon, "I won it." Agias was renewing the attack, when the landlord interfered. Seizing both of the gamesters by their cloaks, he pushed them out a side door into the court-yard. "Out with you!" cried the host. "Quarrel without, if you must! This is no place for brawls."

Phaon staggered a step or two out into the dark, then reeled and fell heavily upon the dirty pavement. Agias prodded him with his foot, but he was quite insensible. For the present he was harmless enough.

"My good host," said Agias, to the disquieted landlord, "I did not ask you to give us an unmixed wine and those dice for no purpose. This excellent gentleman here seems sadly in need of a bed, where he must stay for some time. But since I have won every sesterce he owns I must needs pay for his board. Take good care of him, and here are six philippi which are yours on condition that you keep him quiet until to-morrow at this time, and suffer no one coming from Rome to see him, or send him a message. To-morrow evening a messenger from Praeneste will come here, and if your guest is still safe in your custody, you shall have six more gold pieces. At that time, doubtless, you can let him go; but don't violate my orders, or—"

"Your excellency pays like a senator," said the landlord, bowing, as he fingered the gold. "Trust me that your wishes shall be obeyed."

"They had better be," hinted Agias. "I am not what I seem by my dress. If you disobey, fear the wrath of a man before whom the world trembles!"

"He must be an agent of Caesar, or Pompeius," muttered the landlord to himself. And Agias, having seen two serving-boys tugging Phaon's prone weight away to a secluded hay-mow, called for his refreshed Numidian, clattered out of the filthy court, and rode away into the night, with the stars burning above him.



Chapter IX

How Gabinius Met with a Rebuff

I

Publius Gabinius, the boon comrade of Lucius Ahenobarbus, differed little from many another man of his age in mode of life, or variety of aspirations. He had run through all the fashionable excitements of the day; was tired of horse-racing, peacock dinners, Oriental sweethearts; tired even of dice. And of late he had begun to grow morose, and his friends commenced to think him rather dull company.

But for some days he had found a new object of interest. With Lucius Ahenobarbus he had been at the Circus Flaminius, waiting for the races to begin, when he startled his friend by a clutch on the arm.

"Look!" was Gabinius's exclamation. "Is she not beautiful?"

He pointed to where Fabia, the Vestal, was taking her seat upon a cushion placed for her by a maid, and all the people around were standing, very respectfully, until she was seated The priestess was clothed in perfect white,—dress, ribbons, fillet—a notable contrast to the brave show of purple, and scarlet, and blue mantles all about her.

"Beautiful? Yes," repeated Lucius, rather carelessly. "But such birds are not for our net."

"Are not?" repeated Gabinius, a little sharply. "What makes you so sure of that?"

"I hardly think that you will find my dear friend Quintus Drusus's aunt, for so I understand she is," said Ahenobarbus, "very likely to reciprocate your devotion."

"And why not?" reiterated Gabinius, in a vexed tone.

"My dear fellow," answered Lucius, "I won't argue with you. There are plenty of women in Rome quite as handsome as Fabia, and much younger, who will smile on you. Don't meddle in a business that is too dangerous to be profitable."

But Gabinius had been wrought up to a pitch of amorous excitement, from which Ahenobarbus was the last one to move him. For days he had haunted the footsteps of the Vestal; had contrived to thrust himself as near to her in the theatre and circus as possible; had bribed one of the Temple servants to steal for him a small panel painting of Fabia; had, in fact, poured over his last romance all the ardour and passion of an intense, violent, uncontrolled nature. Gabinius was not the kind of a man either to analyze his motives, or express himself in the sobbing lyrics of a Catullus. He was thrilled with a fierce passion, and knew it, and it only. Therefore he merely replied to Lucius Ahenobarbus:—

"I can't help myself. What does Terence say about a like case? 'This indeed can, to some degree, be endured; night, passion, liquor, young blood, urged him on; it's only human nature.'"[106]

[106] Terence, "Adelphoe," 467 and 471.

And all the afternoon, while the chariots ran, and wager on wager marked the excitement of the cloud of spectators, Gabinius had only eyes for one object, Fabia, who, perfectly unconscious of his state of fascination, sat with flushed cheeks and bright, eager eyes, watching the fortunes of the races, or turned now and then to speak a few words to little Livia, who was at her side. When the games were over, Gabinius struggled through the crowd after the Vestal, and kept near to her until she had reached her litter and the eight red-liveried Cappadocian porters bore her away. Gabinius continued to gaze after her until Fabia drew the leather curtains of her conveyance and was hid from sight.

"Perpol!" reflected Gabinius. "How utterly enslaved I am!"

* * * * *

The following morning Fabia received a letter in a strange hand, asking her to come to a villa outside the Porta Capena, and receive a will from one Titus Denter, who lay dying. The receiving and safe-keeping of wills was a regular duty of Vestals, and Fabia at once summoned her litter, and started out of the city, along the Via Appia, until, far out in the suburbs where the houses were wide apart, she was set down before the country-house indicated. A stupid-appearing slave-boy received her at the gateway. The villa was old, small, and in very indifferent repair. The slave could not seem to explain whether it had been occupied of late, but hastened to declare that his master lay nigh to death. There was no porter in the outer vestibule.[107] The heavy inner door turned slowly on its pivot, by some inside force, and disclosed a small, darkened atrium, only lighted by a clear sunbeam from the opening above, that passed through and illumined a playing fountain. A single attendant stood in the doorway. He was a tall, gaunt man in servile dress, with a rather sickly smile on his sharp yellow face. Fabia alighted from her litter. There was a certain secluded uncanniness about the house, which made her dislike for an instant to enter. The slave in the door silently beckoned for her to come in. The Vestal informed her bearers that she was likely to be absent some little time, and they must wait quietly without, and not annoy a dying man with unseemly laughter or loud conversation. Then, without hesitancy, Fabia gathered her priestess's cloak about her, and boldly entered the strange atrium. As she did so, the attendant noiselessly closed the door, and what was further, shot home a bolt.

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