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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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Caesar stopped in his impetuous pacings.

"Look here," he exclaimed, almost fiercely, "you wish to be happy. You are still very young; life is sweet. You have just forsaken wealth, friends, love, because you have a fantastic attachment for my cause. You will live to repent of your boyish decision. You will wish to win back all you have lost. Well, I will give you the chance; do what I tell you, and you shall ride into Rome the hero of Senate and people! The consuls will be to you all smiles. Pompeius will canvass for you if you desire to become a candidate for curule office before you reach the legal age limit. Cicero will extol your name in an immortal oration, in which he will laud your deed above the slaying of the dangerous demagogue Maelius by Servilius Ahala. Will you do as I shall bid you?"

Drusus's eyes had been riveted on those of the general. He saw that at Caesar's side was girded a long slender dagger in an embossed silver sheath. He saw the Imperator draw out the blade halfway, then point off into the river where the water ran sluggishly through a single deep mist-shaded pool.

"Do you understand?" went on Caesar, as calmly as though he had been expounding a problem of metaphysics. "You can take this ring of mine, and by its aid go through the whole legion, and obtain the best horses for flight, before anything is discovered. Your conscience need not trouble you. You will only have done as I earnestly requested."

The cold sweat started to Drusus's forehead, his head swam; he knew that it was more than the mist of the river-fog that drifted before his eyes. Then, filled with a sudden impulse, he sprang on the general and wrenched the dagger from its sheath.

"Here!" cried Caesar, tearing back the mantle from his breast.

"There!" cried Drusus, and the bright blade glinted once in the air, and splashed down into the dark ripple. He caught the Imperator about the arms, and flung his head on the other's neck.

"Oh! Imperator," he cried, "do not desert us. Do not desert the Commonwealth! Do not hand us back to new ruin, new tyrants, new wars! Strike, strike, and so be merciful! Surely the gods have not led you thus far, and no farther! But yesterday you said they were leading us. To-day they still must guide! To you it has been given to pull down and to build up. Fail not! If there be gods, trust in them! If there be none slay me first, then do whatever you will!"

Caesar shook himself. His voice was harsh with command.

"Unhand me! I must accomplish my own fate!" and then, in a totally different tone, "Quintus Drusus, I have been a coward for the first time in my life. Are you ashamed of your general?"

"I never admired you more, Imperator."

"Thank you. And will you go aside a little, please? I will need a few moments for meditation."

Drusus hesitated. His eyes wandered off to the river. In one spot it was quite deep.

"Phui!" said the proconsul, carelessly, "I am too brave for such a venture now. Leave me on my embankment, like Diogenes and his tub."

Drusus clambered part way up the slope, and seated himself under a stunted oak tree. The light was growing stronger. The east was overshot with ripples of crimson and orange, here blending into lines each more gorgeous than a moment before. The wind was chasing in from the bosom of Adria, and driving the fleeting mists up the little valley. The hills were springing out of the gloom, the thrushes were swinging in the boughs overhead, and pouring out their morning song. Out from the camp the bugles were calling the soldiers for the march; the baggage trains were rumbling over the bridge. But still below on the marge lingered the solitary figure; now walking, now motionless, now silent, now speaking in indistinct monologue. Drusus overheard only an occasional word, "Pompeius, poor tool of knaves! I pity him! I must show mercy to Cato if I can! Sulla is not to be imitated! The Republic is fallen; what I put in its place must not fall." Then, after a long pause, "So this was to be my end in life—to destroy the Commonwealth; what is destined, is destined!" And a moment later Drusus saw the general coming up the embankment.

"We shall find horses, I think, a little way over the bridge," said Caesar; "the sun is nearly risen. It is nine miles to Ariminum; there we can find refreshment."

The Imperator's brow was clear, his step elastic, the fatigues of the night seemed to have only added to his vigorous good humour. Antiochus met them. The good man evidently was relieved of a load of anxiety. The three approached the bridge; as they did so, a little knot of officers of the rear cohort, Asinius Pollio and others, rode up and saluted. The golden rim of the sun was just glittering above the eastern lowlands. Caesar put foot upon the bridge. Drusus saw the blood recede from his face, his muscles contract, his frame quiver. The general turned to his officers.

"Gentlemen," he said quietly, "we may still retreat; but if we once pass this little bridge, nothing is left for us but to fight it out in arms."

The group was silent, each waiting for the other to speak. At this instant a mountebank piper sitting by the roadway struck up his ditty, and a few idle soldiers and wayfaring shepherds ran up to him to catch the music. The man flung down his pipe, snatched a trumpet from a bugler, and, springing up, blew a shrill blast. It was the "advance." Caesar turned again to his officers.

"Gentlemen," he said, "let us go where the omens of the gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us! The die is now cast!"

And he strode over the bridge, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left. As his feet touched the dust of the road beyond, the full sun touched the horizon, the landscape was bathed with living, quivering gold, and the brightness shed itself over the steadfast countenance, not of Caesar the Proconsul, but of Caesar the Insurgent.

The Rubicon was crossed!



Chapter XVII

The Profitable Career of Gabinius

Very wretched had been the remnants of Dumnorix's band of gladiators, when nightfall had covered them from pursuit by the enraged Praenestians. And for some days the defeated assassins led a desperate struggle for existence on the uplands above the Latin plain. Then, when the hue and cry aroused by their mad exploit had died away, Dumnorix was able to reorganize his men into a regular horde of banditti. In the sheltered valleys of the upper Apennines they found moderately safe and comfortable fastnesses, and soon around them gathered a number of unattached highwaymen, who sought protection and profit in allying themselves with the band led by the redoubtable lanista. But if Dumnorix was the right arm of this noble company, Publius Gabinius was its head. The Roman had sorely missed the loss of the thousand and one luxuries that made his former life worth living. But, as has been said, he had become sated with almost every current amusement and vice; and when the freshness of the physical hardships of his new career was over, he discovered that he had just begun to taste joys of which he would not soon grow weary.

And so for a while the bandits ranged over the mountains, infested the roads, stopped travellers to ease them of their purses, or even dashed down on outlying country houses, which they plundered, and left burning as beacons of their handiwork. Even this occupation after a time, however, grew monotonous to Gabinius. To be sure, a goodly pile of money was accumulating in the hut where he and Dumnorix, his fellow-leader, made their headquarters; and the bandits carried away with them to their stronghold a number of slave and peasant girls, who aided to make the camp the scene of enough riot and orgy to satisfy the most graceless; but Gabinius had higher ambitions than these. He could not spend the gold on dinner parties, or bronze statuettes; and the maidens picked up in the country made a poor contrast to his city sweethearts. Gabinius was planning a great piece of finesse. He had not forgotten Fabia; least of all had he forgotten how he had had her as it were in his very arms, and let her vanish from him as though she had been a "shade" of thin air. If he must be a bandit, he would be an original one. A Vestal taken captive by robbers! A Vestal imprisoned in the hold of banditti, forced to become the consort, lawful or unlawful, of the brigands' chief! The very thought grew and grew in Gabinius's imagination, until he could think of little else. Dumnorix and his comrades trusted him almost implicitly; he had been successful as their schemer and leader in several dark enterprises, that proved his craft if not his valour. He would not fail in this.

An overmastering influence was drawing him to Rome. He took one or two fellow-spirits in his company, and ventured over hill and valley to the suburbs of the city on a reconnoissance, while by night he ventured inside the walls.

The capital he found in the ferment that preceded the expulsion of the tribunes, on the fateful seventh of January. Along with many another evil-doer, he and his followers filched more than one wallet during the commotions and tumults. He dared not show himself very openly. His crime had been too notorious to be passed over, even if committed against a doomed Caesarian like Drusus; besides, he was utterly without any political influence that would stand him in good stead. But around the Atrium Vestae he lurked in the dark, spying out the land and waiting for a glimpse of Fabia. Once only his eye caught a white-robed stately figure appearing in the doorway toward evening, a figure which instinct told him was the object of his passion. He had to restrain himself, or he would have thrown off all concealment then and there, and snatched her away in his arms. He saved himself that folly, but his quest seemed hopeless. However weak the patrol in other parts of the city, there was always an ample watch around the Atrium Vestae.

Gabinius saw that his stay around Rome was only likely to bring him into the clutches of the law, and reluctantly he started back, by a night journey in a stolen wagon, for the safer hill country beyond the Anio. But he was not utterly cast down. He had overheard the street talk of two equites, whom in more happy days he had known as rising politicians.

"I hope the consuls are right," the first had said, "that Caesar's army will desert him."

"Perpol," responded the other, "your wish is mine! If the proconsul really does advance, nothing will stand between him and the city!"

Gabinius kept his own counsel. "In times of war and confusion, the extremity of the many is the opportunity of the few," was the maxim he repeated to himself.

When he was well out of the city and moving up the Via Salaria, the trot and rattle of an approaching carriage drifted up upon him.

"Shall we stop and strip them?" asked Dromo, one of the accompanying brigands, in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Ay," responded Gabinius, reining in his own plodding draught-horse, and pulling out a short sword. "Let us take what the Fates send!"

A moment later and Servius Flaccus was being tumbled out of his comfortable travelling carriage, while one brigand stood guard over him with drawn sabre, a second held at bay his trembling driver and whimpering valet, and a third rifled his own person and his conveyance. There was a bright moon, and the luckless traveller's gaze fastened itself on the third bandit.

"By all the gods, Gabinius!" cried Servius, forgetting to lisp his Greekisms, "don't you know me? Let me go, for old friendship's sake!"

Gabinius turned from his task, and held to his nose a glass scent-bottle he had found in the vehicle.

"Ah! amice," he responded deliberately, "I really did not anticipate the pleasure of meeting you thus! You are returning very late to Rome from your Fidenae villa. But this is very excellent oil of rose!"

"Enough of this, man!" expostulated the other. "The jest has gone quite far enough. Make this horrible fellow lower that sword."

"Not until I have finished making up my package of little articles," replied Gabinius, "and," suiting the action to the word, "relieved your fingers of the weight of those very heavy rings."

"Gabinius," roared Servius, in impotent fury, "what are you doing? Are you a common bandit?"

"A bandit, my excellent friend," was his answer, "but not a common one; no ordinary footpad could strip the noble Servius Flaccus without a harder struggle."

Servius burst into lamentations.

"My box of unguents! My precious rings! My money-bag! You are not leaving me one valuable! Have you sunk as low as this?"

"Really," returned the robber, "I have no time to convince you that the brigand's life is the only one worth living. You do not care to join our illustrious brotherhood? No? Well, I must put these trinkets and fat little wallet in my own wagon. I leave you your cloak out of old friendship's sake. Really you must not blame me. Remember Euripides's line:—

"'Money can warp the judgment of a God.'

Thus I err in good company. And with this, vale!"

Flaccus was left with his menials to clamber back into his plundered carriage. Gabinius drove his horse at topmost speed, and before morning was saluted by the remainder of the banditti, near their mountain stronghold. Dumnorix met him with news.

"It is rumoured in the country towns that Caesar is driving all before him in the north, and will be down on Rome in less days than I have fingers."

Gabinius clapped his hands.

"And we will be down on Rome, and away from it, before a legionary shows himself at the gates!"



Chapter XVIII

How Pompeius Stamped with His Feet

I

A messenger to the consuls! He had ridden fast and furious, his horse was flecked with foam and straining on his last burst of speed. On over the Mulvian Bridge he thundered; on across the Campus Martius; on to the Porta Ratumena—with all the hucksters and street rabble howling and chasing at his heels.

"News! News for the consuls!"

"What news?" howled old Laeca, who was never backward in a street press.

"Terrible!" shouted the messenger, drawing rein, "Caesar is sweeping all before him! All Thermus's troops have deserted him at Iguvium. Attius Varus has evacuated Auximum, and his troops too have dispersed, or joined Caesar. All the towns are declaring for the enemy. Vah! He will be here in a few days at most! I am the last of the relay with the news. I have hardly breathed from Eretum!"

And the courier plunged the spur into his hard-driven mount, and forced his way into the city, through the mob. "Caesar advancing on Rome!" The Jewish pedlers took up the tale, and carried it to the remotest tenement houses of Janiculum. The lazy street-idlers shouted it shrilly. Laeca, catching sight of Lucius Ahenobarbus, just back from Baiae, and a little knot of kindred spirits about him, was in an instant pouring it all in their ears. The news spread, flew, grew. The bankers on the Via Sacra closed their credit books, raised their shutters, and sent trusted clerks off to suburban villas, with due orders how to bury and hide weighty money-bags. The news came to that very noble lady Claudia, sister-in-law of the consul, just at the moment when she was discussing the latest style of hairdressing with the most excellent Herennia; and the cheeks of those patrician ladies grew pale, and they forgot whether or not it was proper to wear ivory pins or a jewel-set head-band, at the dinner-party of Lucius Piso that evening. The news came to Lentulus Crus while he was wrangling with Domitius as to who should be Caesar's successor as Pontifex Maximus—and those distinguished statesmen found other things to think of.

The news flew and grew. The noble senators overheard their slaves whispering,—how it was rumoured on the street or in the Forum that Caesar was in full advance on the city, that his cavalry were close to the gates. Caesar at the gates! Why had they not remembered how rapidly he could advance? Why had they trusted the assurance of the traitor Labienus that the legions would desert their Imperator? Resist? By what means? The walls were walls only in name; the city had long outgrown them, spreading through a thousand breaches. There was not a trained soldier this side of Capua, whither Pompeius had departed only the day before to take command of the Apulian legions. Caesar was coming! Caesar—whose tribunes the oligarchs had chased from the Senate! Caesar—whom they had proclaimed a rebel and public enemy! He was coming like a second Marius, who thirty-eight years before had swept down on Rome, and taken a terrible vengeance on enemies less bitter to him than they to the great Julian. "Moriendum est,"[157] had been the only reply to every plea for mercy. And would Caesar now be more lenient to those who had aimed to blast his honour and shed his blood?

[157] He has got to die.

Evening drew on, but the calamity was only delayed. There was not a soldier to confront the invader. Few men that night could sleep. Rich and poor alike, all trembled. To their imaginations their foe was an ogre, implacable, unsparing. "Remember how it was in Sulla's day," croaked Laeca to Ahenobarbus. "Remember how he proscribed forty senators and sixteen hundred equites with one stroke. A fine example for Caesar! And Drusus, who is with the rebels, is little likely to say a good word in your behalf, eh?"

"The gods blast your tongue!" cried the young man, wringing his hands in terror; for that Drusus would ruin him, if he gained the chance, Lucius had not the least doubt in the world.

So passed the night, in fear and panic. When morning came everything save flight seemed suicide. There was a great government treasure in the Temple of Saturn. The Senate had voted that the money be delivered to Pompeius. But the consuls were too demoralized to take away a denarius. They left the great hoard under mere lock and key—a present to their bitterest enemy. Then began the great exodus. Hardly a man had done more than gather a few valuables together: property, children, wives—all these were left to the avenger. Down the Via Appia, toward Campania, where was their only safety, poured the panic-stricken company. Every carriage, every horse, was in service. The hard-driven chariots of the consuls were the tokens merely of the swiftest flight. Lentulus Crus fled; Caius Marcellus, his colleague, was close behind; Domitius fled, with his sons; Cato fled, ironically exclaiming that they would have to leave everything to Pompeius now, "for those who can raise up great evils can best allay them." Favonius fled, whose first words, when he met the Magnus, were to command him to "stamp on the ground for the legions so sorely needed." Piso, Scipio, and many another fled—their guilty hearts adding wings to their goings. Cicero fled—gazing in cynical disgust at the panic and incompetence, yet with a sword of Damocles, as he believed, hanging over his head also. "I fear that Caesar will be a very Phalaris, and that we may expect the very worst," he wrote to his intimate friend Atticus, who, safe from harm and turmoil, was dwelling under the calm Athenian sky. A great fraction of the Senate departed; only those stayed who felt that their loyalty to the advancing Imperator was beyond dispute, or who deemed themselves too insignificant to fall beneath his displeasure. In the hour of crisis the old ties of religion and superstition reasserted themselves. Senators and magistrates, who had deemed it a polite avocation to mock at the gods and deny the existence of any absolute ethical standards, now, before they climbed into their carriages for flight, went, with due ritual, into the temples of the gods of their fathers, and swore hecatombs of milk-white Umbrian steers to Capitoline Jove, if the awful deity would restore them to the native land they then were quitting. And as they went down from the temples and hastened toward the gates, friends and clients who could not join their flight crowded after them, sighing, lamenting, and moaning. Out over the Campagna they streamed, this company of senators, praetors, consuls—men who had voted thrones to kings, and decreed the deposition of monarchs; whose personal wealth was princely, whose lineage the noblest in the world, whose ancestors had beaten down Etruscan, Gaul, Samnite, and Carthaginian, that their posterity might enjoy the glory of unequalled empire. And these descendants fled, fled not before any foe, but before their own guilty consciences; abandoning the city of their fathers when not a sword had flashed against her gates! The war had been of their making; to send Caesar into outlawry the aristocracy had laboured ten long years. And now the noble lords were exiles, wanderers among the nations. To Capua they went, to find small comfort there, and thence to join Pompeius in further flight beyond the seas to Greece. But we anticipate. Enough that neither Lentulus Crus, nor Domitius, nor Cato, nor the great Magnus himself, ever saw Rome again.

II

Agias stood in a shop by the Sacred Way watching the stream of fugitives pouring down toward the Porta Capena. At his side was a person whom a glance proclaimed to be a fellow-Greek. The stranger was perhaps fifty, his frame presented a faultless picture of symmetry and manly vigour, great of stature, the limbs large but not ungainly. His features were regular, but possessed just enough prominence to make them free from the least tinge of weakness. The Greek's long, thick, dark but grey-streaked beard streamed down upon his breast; his hair, of similar hue, was long, and tossed back over his shoulders in loose curls. His dress was rich, yet rude, his chiton and cloak short, but of choice Milesian wool and dyed scarlet and purple; around his neck dangled a very heavy gold chain set with conspicuously blazing jewels. The ankles, however, were bare, and the sandals of the slightest and meanest description. The stranger must once have been of a light, not to say fair, complexion; but cheeks, throat, arms, and feet were all deeply bronzed, evidently by prolonged exposure to wind and weather. Agias and his companion watched the throng of panic-struck exiles. The younger Greek was pointing out, with the complacency of familiar knowledge, the names and dignities of the illustrious fugitives.

"Yonder goes Cato," he was saying; "mark his bitter scowl! There goes Marcus Marcellus, the consular. There drives the chariot of Lucius Domitius, Caesar's great enemy." And Agias stopped, for his friend had seized his arm with a sudden grasp, crushing as iron. "Why, by all the gods, Demetrius, why are you staring at him that way?"

"By Zeus!" muttered the other, "if I had only my sword! It would be easy to stab him, and then escape in this crowd!"

"Stab him!" cried Agias. "Demetrius, good cousin, control yourself. You are not on the deck of your trireme, with all your men about you. Why should you be thus sanguinary, when you see Lucius Domitius? Why hate him more than any other Roman?"

The consular, unaware of the threat against him, but with a compelling fear of Caesar's Gallic cavalry lending strength to the arm with which he plied the whip—for the law against driving inside the city no man respected that day—whirled out of sight.

Demetrius still strained at his cousin's arm.

"Listen, Agias," he said, still hoarsely. "Only yesterday I ran upon you by chance in the crowd. We have many things to tell one another, chiefly I to tell you. Why do I hate Lucius Domitius? Why should you hate him? Who made you a slave and me an outlaw? Your father died bankrupt; you know it was said that Philias, his partner, ruined him. That was truth, but not the whole truth. Philias was under deep obligations to a certain Roman then in the East, who knew of several crimes Philias had committed, crimes that would bring him to the cross if discovered. Do you understand?"

"Hardly," said Agias, still bewildered. "I was very young then."

"I will go on. It was shortly before Pompeius returned to Rome from the East. Your father had charge of the banking firm in Alexandria, Philias of the branch at Antioch. I was a clerk in the Antioch banking-house. I knew that Philias was misusing his partner's name and credit. The Roman whom I have mentioned knew it too, and had a supple Greek confidant who shared his spoils and gave the touches to his schemes. He had good cause to know: he was levying blackmail on Philias. At last a crisis came; the defalcation could be concealed no longer. Philias was duly punished; he was less guilty than he seemed. But the Roman—who had forced from him the money—he was high on the staff of the proconsul—let his confederate and tool suffer for his own fault. He kept his peace. I would not have kept mine; I would not have let the real ruiner of my uncle escape. But the Roman had me seized, with the aid of his Greek ally; he charged me with treasonable correspondence with the Parthians. He, through his influence with the proconsul, had me bound to the oar as a galley slave for life. I would have been executed but for another Roman, of the governor's suite, who was my friend. He pleaded for my life; he believed me innocent. He saved my life—on what terms! But that is not all he did. He bribed my guards; I escaped and turned outlaw. I joined the last remnants of the Cilician pirates, the few free mariners who have survived Pompeius's raid. And here I am in Rome with one of my ships, disguised as a trader, riding at the river wharf."

"And the name of the Roman who ruined you and my father?" said Agias.

"Was Lucius Domitius. The friend who saved me was Sextus Drusus, son of Marcus Drusus, the reformer. And if I do not recompense them both as they deserve, I am not Demetrius the pirate, captain of seven ships!"

"You will never recompense Sextus Drusus," remarked Agias, quietly. "He has been dead, slain in Gaul, these five years."

"Such is the will of the gods," said Demetrius, looking down.

"But he has left a son."

"Ah! What sort of a man?"

"The noblest of all noble Romans. He is the Quintus Drusus who saved my life, as last night I told you."

"Mithras be praised! The name is so common among these Latins that I did not imagine any connection when you mentioned it. What can I do to serve him?"

"Immediately, nothing. He is with Caesar, and, as you see, the enemies of the Imperator are not likely, at present, to work his friends much mischief. Yet it is singular that his chief enemy and yours are so near akin. Lucius Ahenobarbus, son of Domitius, is thirsting for Drusus's blood."

"If I had my sword!" muttered Demetrius, clapping his hand to his thigh. "It is not too late to run after the fugitives!"

"Come, come," remonstrated Agias, feeling that his newly found cousin was indeed a fearful and wonderful man after twelve years of lawless and godless freebooter's life. "At my lodgings we will talk it all over; and there will be time enough to scheme the undoing of Domitius and all his family."

And with these words he led the sanguinary sea-king away.

* * * * *

Agias indeed found in Demetrius a perfect mine of bloody romance and adventure. It had been the banking clerk's misfortune, not his fault, that every man's hand had been against him and his against every man. Demetrius had been declared an outlaw to Roman authority; and Roman authority at that time stretched over very nearly every quarter of the civilized world. Demetrius had been to India, to intercept the Red Sea traders. He had been beyond the Pillars of Hercules and set foot on those then half-mythical islands of the Canaries. He had plundered a hundred merchantmen; he had fought a score of Roman government galleys; he had been principal or accessory to the taking of ten thousand lives. All this had been forced upon him, because there was no tolerable spot on the planet where he might settle down and be free from the grasp of punishment for a crime he had never committed.

Demetrius had boldly come up to Rome on a light undecked yacht.[158] The harbor masters had been given to understand that the captain of the craft was an Asiatic princeling, who was visiting the capital of the world out of a quite legitimate curiosity. If they had had any doubts, they accepted extremely large fees and said nothing. The real object of the venture was to dispose of a large collection of rare gems and other valuables that Demetrius had collected in the course of his wanderings. Despite the perturbed state of the city, the worthy pirate had had little difficulty in arranging with certain wealthy jewellers, who asked no questions, when they bought, at a very large discount, bargains of a most satisfactory character. And so it came to pass, by the merest luck, that the two cousins were thrown together in a crowd, and partly Agias, through his dim childish recollections of his unfortunate relative, and partly Demetrius, through memories of his uncle's boy and the close resemblance of the lad to his father, had been prompted first to conversation, then to mutual inquiries, then to recognition.

[158] A celox of one bank of oars, a small ship much used by the pirates.

Demetrius had no intention of leaving Rome for a few days. Under existing circumstances the chances of his arrest were not worth considering. His cousin was eager to show him all the sights; and the freebooter was glad of a little relaxation from his roving life, glad to forget for an instant that his country was his squadron, his rights at law were his cutlass. Moreover, he had taken a vast liking to Agias; deeply dipped in blood himself, he dared not desire his cousin to join him in his career of violence—yet he could not part with the bright, genial lad so hastily. Agias needed no entreaties, therefore, to induce his cousin to enjoy his hospitality.

III

Fabia the Vestal was in direful perplexity. Her heart had gone with Drusus in his flight to Ravenna; she had wished herself beside him, to be a man, able to fight a man's battles and win a man's glory. For the first time in her life the quiet routine of the Temple service brought her no contentment; for the first time she felt herself bound to a career that could not satisfy. She was restless and moody. The younger Vestals, whose attendance on the sacred fire and care of the Temple she oversaw, wondered at her exacting petulance. Little Livia brought her aunt to her senses, by asking why she, Fabia, did not love her any more. The lady summoned all her strength of character, and resumed her outward placidity. She knew that Drusus was safe with Caesar, and exposed only to the ordinary chances of war. She became more at ease as each successive messenger came into the city, bearing the tidings of the Gallic proconsul's advance. Too innocent herself of the political turmoils of the day to decide upon the merits of the parties, her hopes and wishes had gone with those of her nephew; so pure and unquestioning was her belief that he would espouse only the right. And when the great panic came; when trembling consulars and pallid magistrates rushed to the Temple of Vesta to proffer their last hurried vows, before speeding away to Capua, their refuge; Fabia stood all day beside the altar, stately, gracious, yet awe-inspiring, the fitting personification of the benignant Hearth Goddess, who was above the petty passions of mortals and granted to each an impartial favour.

Yet Fabia was sorely distressed, and that too on the very day of the great exodus of the Senate. She had heard for some time past rumours of the depredations of a certain band of robbers upon the Sabine and AEquian country. It was said that a gang of bandits, headed by a gigantic Gaul, had plundered some farms near Carsioli and infested the mountain regions round about. Fabia had connected this gang and its chieftain with Dumnorix and the remnant of his gladiators, who escaped after their disastrous affray at Praeneste. As for Publius Gabinius, who had on one occasion given her such distress, nothing had been heard or seen of him since the Praeneste affair. It was generally believed, however, that he was still with Dumnorix. And a few days before the panic in the city, Fabia had received a letter. A strange slave had left it at the Atrium Vestae, and had gone away without explanations. It ran thus:—

"To the very noble Vestal, the Lady Fabia, greeting:—

Though I am now so unfortunate as to be barred from the doors of all law-abiding men, do not imagine this will forever continue. In the confusion and readjustments of war, and the calamities of many, the affairs of some, one time enemies of Fortune, come to a happy issue. Do not say that Mars may not lead Amor and Hymen in his train. All things come to them who wait. I wait. Remember the life you spend in the Temple is no longer obligatory. Be no cage bird who will not fly out into the sunlight when the door is opened freely. Be surprised and angry at nothing. Vale."

There was no date, no signature. The hand was distorted, evidently for disguise. Fabia was in a dilemma. She did not need to be told that in all probability—though she had no proof—the writer was Gabinius. She was extremely reluctant to tell any one of her escape from his clutches in the villa by the Appian Way. However, some confidant seemed necessary. She knew that Fonteia, the senior Vestal, the Maxima, would never treat her other than as a sister, and to her she read the letter and imparted her story and fears. Fonteia did not regard the matter in a very serious light. She was herself an old woman, grown grey in the service of Vesta. She said that Fabia had been most fortunate to remain in the Temple service so long as she had and not be harassed by more than one impious and overbold suitor. The only thing to do was to be careful and avoid anything that would give false appearances. As for Fabia's fears that Gabinius would attempt to carry her away perforce, as he had perhaps treated earlier sweethearts, Fonteia scoffed at the suggestion. The Atrium Vestae was in the heart of the city; there was a constant patrol on duty. For a man to enter the Building at night meant the death penalty. Whosoever did violence to a Vestal fell under a religious curse; he was a homo sacer, a "sacred man," a victim devoted to the gods, whom it was a pious deed to slay. And thus comforted, with the assurance that the whole power of the Republic would rise for her personal defence, Fabia was fain to put the disquieting letter from her heart.

Then followed the night of panic, and the succeeding day. There were no longer any magistrates in Rome. The great palaces of the patricians stood deserted, exposed to the unfaithful guardianship of freedmen and slaves. The bankers' booths were closed, the shops did not raise their shutters. On the streets swarmed the irresponsible and the vicious. Men of property who had not fled barred their doors and stood guard with their servants to beat back would-be plunderers. There were no watchmen at the gates, no courts sitting in the basilicas. After the great flight of the early morning, Rome was a city without warders, police, or government.

Fabia did not realize this fact until late in the afternoon, when she started forth, on foot and unattended, to visit a friend on the Caelian. The half-deserted streets and barricaded houses filled her with uneasy tremors. The low, brutish creatures that she met gave her little heed; but the sight of them, alone and not offset by any more respectable fellow-strollers, made her turn back to the Atrium Vestae. As she hastened on her way homeward an uneasy sensation haunted her that she was being followed. She halted, faced about. The street was narrow, the light was beginning to fade. The figure of a man was vanishing in the booth of some bold vintner, who had ventured to risk plunder for the sake of sales. She proceeded. A moment later a half glance over the shoulder and a straining of the eyes told her that the stranger was continuing his pursuit. He kept very close to the side of the buildings. His face and form were quite lost in shadow. Fabia quickened her pace; the stranger increased his also, yet made no effort to cut down the distance between them. The Vestal began to feel the blood mantling to her cheeks and leaving them again. She was so near to the Forum and the Atrium Vestae now that she could not be overtaken. But why did the stranger follow?

There was a gap in the houses ahead. Through a narrow alley the dying light was streaming. Fabia passed it, timed herself, glanced back. For an instant, and only an instant (for the stranger walked rapidly), the light glared full upon his face. But Fabia needed to see no more. It was the face of Publius Gabinius. By a mighty effort she prevented herself from breaking into a run. She passed into the doorway of the Atrium Vestae, and sank upon a divan, shivering with fright. Recollecting herself, she went to Fonteia and told her the discovery. The Maxima, however, by that singular fatuity which sometimes takes possession of the wisest of people,—especially when the possible danger is one which never in all their long experience has come to a head,—received her warnings with blank incredulity.

"You should not go out of the house and Temple," she said, "until there is some proper policing of the city. No doubt Gabinius has come back for the sake of riot and plunder, and having met with you by chance could not resist the temptation to try to have an interview; but you are in no possible danger here."

"But, Fonteia," urged the younger Vestal, "I know him to be a bold, desperate man, who fears not the gods, and who from the law can expect no mercy. And we in this house are but weak women folk. Our only defence is our purity and the reverence of the people. But only the evil wander the streets to-night; and our virtuous lives make us only the more attractive prey to such men as Gabinius."

"Fabia," said the other Vestal, severely, "I am older than you. I have beheld sights you have never seen. I saw the riots when Saturninus and Glaucia came to their ends; when Marius was chased from Rome and Sulpicius put to death; when Marius returned with Cinna; and all the massacres and strife attending the taking of the city by Sulla. But never has the name of Vesta been insufficient to protect us from the violence of the basest or the most godless. Nor will it now. I will trust in the goddess, and the fear of her, which protects her maidens against all men. We will sleep to-night as usual. I will not send anywhere to have guards stationed around the house and Temple."

Fabia bowed her head. The word of the aged Maxima was law in the little community. Fabia told herself that Fonteia was right—not even Gabinius would dare to set unhallowed foot inside the Atrium Vestae. But the vision of the coarse, sensual face of her unloved lover was ever before her. In ordinary times she would have been tempted to go to one of the consuls and demand that Fonteia be overruled; but in ordinary times there would not have been the least need of adding to the already sufficient city watch. It lacked four hours of midnight before she brought herself to take her tablets and write the following brief note:—

"Fabia the Vestal to Agias her good friend, greeting. I am in some anxiety to-night. Gabinius, Lucius Ahenobarbus's friend, is in the city. He means, I fear, to work me some mischief, though the cause whereby I have good reason to dread him is too long here to write. The Atrium Vestae has nothing to protect it to-night—as you well may understand—from impious, violent men. Can you not guard me overnight? I do not know how. Gabinius may have all Dumnorix's band with him. But you alone are equal to an host. I trust you, as Drusus and Cornelia have trusted you. Vale."

Fabia called one of the young slave-girls who waited on the Vestals. The relation between servant and mistress, in the Temple company, was almost ideal in its gentle loyalty. The slaves were happy in their bondage.

"Erigone," she said, putting the tablets in the girl's hand, "I am about to ask of you a very brave thing. Do you dare to take this letter through the city?" and she told her how to find Agias's lodgings. "Come back in the morning if you dread a double journey. But do not tell Fonteia; she would be angry if she knew I sent you, though there is nothing but what is right in the letter."

"I will carry the tablets to Scythia for you, domina," replied the girl, kissing the hem of her mistress's robe. "I know all the streets. If I live, the letter shall be delivered."

"Go by the alleys," enjoined Fabia; "they are safer, for you will not be seen. Speak to no one. Let none stop you."

Erigone was gone in the night, and Fabia went to her chamber. She was reproaching herself for having sent the letter. Rome by darkness was an evil place for a young maid to traverse, and never worse than that night. Fabia repeated to herself that she had committed an act of selfish folly, possibly sacrificing an implicitly loyal servant to the mere gratification of a perfectly ungrounded panic. She was undressed by her other women, and lay down with Livia fast asleep in her arms; and she kissed the little one again and again before slumber stole over her.

IV

Demetrius had been astonishing his cousin that evening by the quantity of strong wine he could imbibe without becoming in the least tipsy. Agias marvelled at the worthy pirate's capacity and hardness of head, and, fortunately for his own wits, did not attempt to emulate the other's potations. Consequently, as the evening advanced, Demetrius simply became more and more good-natured and talkative, and Agias more entranced with his cousin's narration of the Indian voyage.

The younger Greek was about to order his yawning servants to fill up another krater,[159] when the conversation and drinking were interrupted by the arrival of Erigone. She, poor girl, had set out bravely enough; but once outside of the Atrium Vestae every shadow had been a refuge of cutthroats, every noise the oncoming of goblins. Fortunately for her, she did not know the contents of the tablets she carried pressed to her breast, or she would have been all the more timorous. Once a few half-sober topers screamed ribald words after her, as she stole past a low tavern. She had lost her way, in the darkness and fright, among the alleys; she had dodged into a doorway more than once to hide from approaching night rovers. But at last she had reached her destination, and, pale and weary, placed the letter in Agias's hands. The young Greek read and grew grave. Even better than Fabia he understood how reckless a profligate Publius Gabinius might be, and how opportune was the night for carrying out any deed of darkness.

[159] Wine-mixing bowl.

"Brave girl!" he said, commending Erigone for persevering on her errand. "But how long ago did you leave your mistress?"

"It was the second hour of the night[160] when I started," she replied.

[160] The Romans divided the night into 12 hours (from sunrise to sunset); thus the length of the hour varied with the seasons: but at the time here mentioned the "second hour" was about 8 P.M. The water-clocks could show only regular, not solar, time.

Agias glanced at the water-clock.

"By Zeus!" he cried, "it is now the fourth hour! You have been two hours on the way! Immortal gods! What's to be done? Look here, Demetrius!"

And he thrust the letter before his cousin, and explained its meaning as rapidly as he could.

Demetrius puffed hard through his nostrils.

"Mu! mu! This is bad business. If there were time I could have twenty as stout men as ever swung sword up from the yacht and on guard to die for any relative or friend of Sextus Drusus. But there's not a moment to lose. Have you any arms?"

Agias dragged two short swords out of a chest. Demetrius was already throwing on his cloak.

"Those are poor, light weapons," commented the pirate. "I want my heavy cutlass. But take what the gods send;" and he girded one about him. "At least, they will cut a throat. Do you know how to wield them?"

"After a fashion," replied Agias, modestly, making haste to clasp his paenula.

Leaving Erigone to be cared for by the slaves and sent home the next morning, the two Greeks hastened from the house. Agias could hardly keep pace with his cousin's tremendous stride. Demetrius was like a war-horse, which snuffs the battle from afar and tugs at the rein to join in the fray. They plunged through the dark streets. Once a man sprang out from a doorway before them with a cudgel. He may have been a footpad; but Demetrius, without pausing in his haste, smote the fellow between the eyes with a terrible fist, and the wretched creature dropped without a groan. Demetrius seemed guided to the Forum and Via Sacra as if by an inborn instinct. Agias almost ran at his heels.

"How many may this Dumnorix have with him?" shouted the pirate over his shoulder.

"Perhaps ten, perhaps twenty!" gasped Agias.

"A very pretty number! Some little credit to throttle them," was his answer; and Demetrius plunged on.

The night was cloudy, there was no moonlight. The cold, chill wind swept down the Tiber valley, and howled mournfully among the tall, silent basilicas and temples of the Forum. The feet of the two Greeks echoed and reŽchoed as they crossed the pavement of the enclosure. None addressed them, none met them. It was as if they walked in a city of the dead. In the darkness, like weird phantoms, rose the tall columns and pediments of the deserted buildings. From nowhere twinkled the ray of lamp. Dim against the sky-line the outlines of the Capitoline and its shrines were now and then visible, when the night seemed for an instant to grow less dark.

They were close to the Atrium Vestae. All was quiet. No light within, no sound but that of the wind and their own breathing without.

"We are not too late," whispered Agias.

The two groped their way in among the pillars of the portico of the Regia,[161] and crouched down under cover of the masonry, half sheltered from the chilly blasts. They could from their post command a tolerably good view of one side of the Atrium Vestae. Still the darkness was very great, and they dared not divide their force by one of them standing watch on the other side. The moments passed. It was extremely cold. Agias shivered and wound himself in his mantle. The wine was making him drowsy, and he felt himself sinking into semiconsciousness, when a touch on his arm aroused him.

[161] The official residence of the Pontifex Maximus.

"St!" whispered Demetrius. "I saw a light moving."

Agias stared into the darkness.

"There," continued the pirate, "see, it is a lantern carefully covered! Only a little glint on the ground now and then. Some one is creeping along the wall to enter the house of the Vestals!"

"I see nothing," confessed Agias, rubbing his eyes.

"You are no sailor; look harder. I can count four men in the gloom. They are stealing up to the gate of the building. Is your sword ready? Now—"

But at this instant Demetrius was cut short by a scream—scream of mortal terror—from within the Atrium Vestae. There were shouts, howls, commands, moans, entreaties, shrieks. Light after light blazed up in the building; women rushed panic-struck to the doorway to burst forth into the night; and at the open portal Agias saw a gigantic figure with upraised long sword, a Titan, malevolent, destroying, terrible,—at the sight whereof the women shrank back, screaming yet the more.

"Dumnorix!" shouted Agias; but before he spoke Demetrius had leaped forward.

Right past the sword-wielding monster sprang the pirate, and Agias, all reckless, was at his heels. The twain were in the atrium of the house. A torch was spluttering and blazing on the pavement, shedding all around a bright, flickering, red glare. Young Vestals and maid-servants were cowering on their knees, or prone on cushions, writhing and screaming with fear unspeakable. A swart Spanish brigand, with his sabre gripped in his teeth, was tearing a gold-thread and silk covering from a pillow; a second plunderer was wrenching from its chain a silver lamp. Demetrius rushed past these also, before any could inquire whether he was not a comrade in infamy. But there were other shouts from the peristylium, other cries and meanings. As the pirate sprang to the head of the passage leading to the inner house, a swarm of desperadoes poured through it, Gauls, Germans, Africans, Italian renegadoes,—perhaps ten in all,—and in their midst—half borne, half dragged—something white!

"Io triumphe!" called a voice from the throng, "my bird will leave her cage!"

"The lady! Gabinius!" cried Agias, and, without waiting for his cousin, the young Greek flung himself forward. One stroke of his short sword sent a leering negro prone upon the pavement; one snatch of his hand seized the white mantle, and held it—held it though half a dozen blades were flashing in his face in an eye's twinkling. But the prowess of twenty men was in the arm of Demetrius; his sword was at once attacker and shield; with a single sweeping blow he smote down the guard and cleft the skull of a towering Teuton; with a lightning dart he caught up the ponderous long sword of the falling brigand, passed his own shorter weapon to his left hand, and so fought,—doubly armed,—parrying with his left and striking with his right. And how he struck! The whole agile, supple nature of the Greek entered into every fence. He struck and foiled with his entire body. Now a bound to one side; now a dart at an opponent's head; fighting with feet, head, frame, and not with hands only. And Agias—he fought too, and knew not how he fought! When a blow was aimed at him, Demetrius always parried it before he could raise his sword; if he struck, Demetrius had felled the man first; but he never let go of the white dress, nor quitted the side of the lady. And presently, he did not know after how long—for hours make minutes, and minutes hours, in such a melee—there was a moment's silence, and he saw Publius Gabinius sinking down upon the pavement, the blood streaming over his cloak; and the brigands, such as were left of them, scurrying out of the atrium cowed and panic-struck at the fall of their leader. Then, as he threw his arms about Fabia, and tried to raise her to her feet, he saw the giant Dumnorix, with his flail-like sword, rushing back to the rescue.

Four brigands lay dead in the atrium and none of the others dared look the redoubtable Greek swordsman in the eyes; but Dumnorix came on—the incarnation of brute fury. Then again Demetrius fought,—fought as the angler fights the fish that he doubts not to land, yet only after due play; and the Gaul, like some awkward Polyphemus, rushed upon him, flinging at him barbarous curses in his own tongue, and snorting and raging like a bull. Thrice the Greek sprang back before the monster; thrice the giant swung his mighty sword to cleave his foeman down, and cut the empty air; but at the fourth onset the Hellene smote the ex-lanista once across the neck, and the great eyes rolled, and the panting stopped, and the mighty Gaul lay silent in a spreading pool of blood.

Already there were shouts and cries in the Forum. Torches were dancing hither and thither. The slave-maids of the Vestals ran down the Via Sacra shrieking and calling for aid. Out from the dark tenements rushed the people. The thieves ran from their lairs; the late drinkers sprang from their wine. And when the wretched remnants of Dumnorix's band of ex-gladiators and brigands strove to flee from the holy house they had polluted, a hundred hands were put forth against each one, and they were torn to pieces by the frenzied mob. Into the Atrium Vestae swarmed the people, howling, shouting, praising the goddess, fighting one another—every man imagining his neighbour a cutthroat and abductor.

Agias stood bearing up Fabia in his arms; she was pale as the driven snow. Her lips moved, but no sound passed from them. Fonteia, the old Maxima, with her white hair tumbling over her shoulders, was still huddled in one corner, groaning and moaning in a paroxysm of unreasoning terror, without dignity or self-control. A frightened maid had touched the torch to the tall candelabra, and the room blazed with a score of lights; while in at the doorway pressed the multitude—the mob of low tapsters, brutal butchers, coarse pedlers, and drunkards just staggering from their cups. The scene was one of pandemonium. Dumnorix lay prone on a costly rug, whose graceful patterns were being dyed to a hideous crimson; over one divan lay a brigand—struggling in the last agony of a mortal wound. Three comrades lay stretched stiff and motionless on the floor. Gory swords and daggers were strewn all over the atrium; the presses of costly wood had been torn open, their contents scattered across the room. There was blood on the frescoes, blood on the marble feet of the magnificent Diomedes, which stood rigid in cold majesty on its pedestal, dominating the wreck below.

Agias with Fabia stood at the end of the atrium near the exit to the peristylium. Demetrius, seemingly hardly breathed by his exertions, leaned on his captured long sword at his cousin's side. The multitude, for an instant, as they saw the ruin and slaughter, drew back with a hush. Men turned away their faces as from a sight of evil omen. Who were they to set foot in the mansion of the servants of the awful Vesta? But others from behind, who saw and heard nothing, pressed their fellows forward. The mob swept on. As with one consent all eyes were riveted on Fabia. What had happened? Who was guilty? Why had these men of violence done this wrong to the home of the hearth goddess? And then out of a farther corner, while yet the people hesitated from reverence, staggered a figure, its face streaming with blood, its hands pressing its side.

"Quirites," cried a voice, the voice of one speaking with but one remaining breath, "ye have rewarded me as the law demands; see that she" and a bloody forefinger pointed at Fabia, "who led me to this deed, is not unpunished. She is the more guilty!"

And with a groan the figure fell like a statue of wood to the pavement; fell heavily, and lay stirring not, neither giving any sound. In his last moment Publius Gabinius had sought a terrible revenge.

And then madness seized on the people.

"She is his sweetheart! She is his paramour!" cried a score of filthy voices. "She has brought down this insult to the goddess! There is no pontifex here to try her! Tear her in pieces! Strike! Slay!"

But Demetrius had turned to his cousin.

"Agias," he said, making himself heard despite the clamour, "do you believe the charge of that man?"

"No villain ever would avenge himself more basely."

"Then at all costs we must save the lady."

It was time. A fat butcher, flourishing a heavy cleaver, had leaped forward; Fabia saw him with glassy, frightened eyes, but neither shrieked nor drew back. But Demetrius smote the man with his long sword through the body, and the brute dropped the cleaver as he fell.

"Now," and Demetrius seized the Vestal around the waist, as lightly as a girl would raise a kitten, and flung her across his shoulders. One stride and he was in the passage leading to the peristylium; and before the mob could follow Agias had dashed the door in their faces, and shot the bolt.

"It will hold them back a moment," muttered Demetrius, "but we must hasten."

They ran across the peristylium, the pirate chief with his burden no less swift than Agias. The door to the rear street was flung open, and they were out in a narrow alleyway. Just as they did so, a howl of many voices proclaimed that the peristylium door had yielded.

"Guide me by the straightest way," commanded the sea rover.

"Where?" was Agias's question.

"To the wharves. The yacht is the only safe place for the lady. There I will teach her how I can honour a friend of Sextus Drusus."

Agias felt that it was no time for expostulation. A Vestal Virgin take refuge on a pirate ship! But it was a matter of life and death now, and there was no time for forming another plan. Once let the mob overtake them, and the lives of all three were not worth a sesterce. Agias found it necessary to keep himself collected while he ran, or he would lose the way in the maze of streets. The yacht was moored far below the Pons Sublicius, and the whole way was full of peril. It was no use to turn off into alleys and by-paths; to do so at night meant to be involved in a labyrinth as deadly for them as that of the Cretan Minos. The mob was on their heels, howling, raging. The people were beginning to wake in their houses along the streets. Men bawled "Stop thief!" from the windows, imagining there had been a robbery. Once two or three figures actually swung out into the way before them, but at a stray glint of lantern light falling on Demetrius's naked long sword, they vanished in the gloom. But still the mob pressed on, ever gaining accessions, ever howling the more fiercely. Agias realized that the weight of his burden was beginning to tell on even the iron frame of his cousin. The pursuers and pursued were drawing closer together. The mob was ever reenforced by relays; the handicap on Demetrius was too great. They had passed down the Vicus Tuscus, flown past the dark shadow of the lower end of the Circus Maximus. At the Porta Trigemina the unguarded portal had stood open; there was none to stop them. They passed by the Pons Sublicius, and skirted the Aventine. Stones and billets of wood began to whistle past their ears,—the missiles of the on-rushing multitude. At last the wharves! Out in the darkness stood the huge bulk of a Spanish lumberman; but there was no refuge there. The grain wharves and the oil wharves were passed; the sniff of the mackerel fisher, the faint odour from the great Alexandrian merchantman loaded with the spices of India, were come and gone. A stone struck Agias in the shoulder, he felt numb in one arm, to drag his feet was a burden; the flight with the Caesarians to the Janiculum had not been like to this,—death at the naked sword had been at least in store then, and now to be plucked in pieces by a mob! Another stone brushed forward his hair and dashed, not against Demetrius ahead, but against his burden. There was—Agias could hear—a low moan; but at the same instant the fleeing pirate uttered a whistle so loud, so piercing, that the foremost pursuers came to a momentary stand, in half-defined fright, In an instant there came an answering whistle from the wharf just ahead. In a twinkling half a dozen torches had flashed out all over a small vessel, now barely visible in the night, at one of the mooring rings. There was a strange jargon of voices calling in some Oriental tongue; and Demetrius, as he ran, answered them in a like language. Then over Agias's head and into the thick press of the mob behind, something—arrows no doubt—flew whistling; and there were groans and cries of pain. And Agias found uncouth, bearded men helping or rather casting him over the side of the vessel. The yacht was alive with men: some were bounding ashore to loose the hawsers, others were lifting ponderous oars, still more were shooting fast and cruelly in the direction of the mob, while its luckless leaders struggled to turn in flight, and the multitude behind, ignorant of the slaughter, was forcing them on to death. Above the clamour, the howls of the mob, the shouts of the sailors, the grating of oars, and the creaking of cables, rang the voice of Demetrius; and at his word a dozen ready hands put each command into action. The narrow, easy-moving yacht caught the current; a long tier of white oars glinted in the torchlight, smote the water, and the yacht bounded away, while a parting flight of arrows left misery and death upon the quay.

Agias, sorely bewildered, clambered on to the little poop. His cousin stood grasping one of the steering paddles; the ruddy lantern light gleamed on the pirate's frame and face, and made him the perfect personification of a sea-king; he was some grandly stern Poseidon, the "Storm-gatherer" and the "Earth-shaker." When he spoke to Agias, it was in the tone of a despot to a subject.

"The lady is below. Go to her. You are to care for her until I rejoin my fleet. Tell her my sister shall not be more honoured than she, nor otherwise treated. When I am aboard my flag-ship, she shall have proper maids and attendance. Go!"

Agias obeyed, saying nothing. He found Fabia lying on a rude pallet, with a small bale of purple silk thrust under her head for a pillow. She stared at him with wild, frightened eyes, then round the little cabin, which, while bereft of all but the most necessary comforts, was decorated with bejeweled armour, golden lamps, costly Indian tapestries and ivory—the trophies of half a score of voyages.

"Agias," she faintly whispered, "tell me what has happened since I awoke from my sleep and found Gabinius's ruffians about me. By whatsoever god you reverence most, speak truly!"

Agias fell on his knees, kissed the hem of her robe, kissed her hands. Then he told her all,—as well as his own sorely confused wits would admit. Fabia heard him through to the end, then laid her face between her hands.

"Would that—would that they had murdered me as they wished! It would be all over now," she agonized. "I have no wish again to see the light. Whether they believe me innocent or guilty of the charge is little; I can never be happy again."

"And why not, dear lady?" cried Agias.

"Don't ask me! I do not know. I do not know anything! Leave me! It is not fit that you should see me crying like a child. Leave me! Leave me!"

And thus conjured, Agias went up to the poop once more.

The yacht was flying down the current under her powerful oarage. Demetrius was still standing with his hands fixed on the steering paddle; his gaze was drifting along in the plashing water. The shadowy outlines of the great city had vanished; the yacht was well on her way down the river to Ostia. Save for the need to avoid a belated merchantman anchored in midstream for the night, there was little requiring the master's skill. Agias told his cousin how Fabia had sent him away.

"A! Poor lady!" replied the pirate, "perhaps she was the Vestal I saw a few days since, and envied her, to see the consuls' lictors lowering their rods to her, and all the people making way before her; she, protected by the whole might of this terrible Roman people, and honoured by them all; and I, a poor outlaw, massing gold whereof I have no need, slaying men when I would be their friend, with only an open sea and a few planks for native land. And now, see how the Fates bring her down so low, that at my hands she receives hospitality, nay, life!"

"You did not seem so very loath to shed blood to-night," commented Agias, dryly.

"No, by Zeus!" was his frank answer. "It is easy to send men over the Styx after having been Charon's substitute for so many years. But the trade was not pleasant to learn, and, bless the gods, you may not have to be apprenticed to it."

"Then you will not take me with you in your rover's life?" asked Agias, half-disappointedly.

"Apollo forbid! I will take you and the lady to some place where she can be safe until she may return vindicated, and where you can earn an honest livelihood, marry a wife of station, in accordance with the means which I shall give you, dwell peaceably, and be happy."

"But I cannot accept your present," protested the younger Greek.

"Phui! What use have I of money? To paraphrase AEschylus: 'For more of money than I would is mine.' I can't eat it, or beat swords out of gold, or repair my ships therewith."

"Then why amass it at all?"

"Why drink when you know it is better to keep sober? I can no more stop plundering than a toper leave a wine-jar. Besides, perhaps some day I may see a road to amnesty open,—and, then, what will not money do for a man or woman?"

"Quintus Drusus, my patron, the Lady Cornelia, and the Lady Fabia all are rich. But I would not take up their sorrows for all their wealth."

"True," and Demetrius stared down into the inky water. "It will not give back those who are gone forever. Achilles could ask Hephaestus for his armour, but he could not put breath into the body of Patroclus. Plutus and Cratus[162] are, after all, but weaklings. A! This is an unequal world!"

[162] Riches and strength.

When Agias fell asleep that night, or rather that morning, on a hard seaman's pallet, two names were stirring in his heart, names inextricably connected: Cornelia, whom he had promised Quintus Drusus to save from Ahenobarbus's clutches, and Artemisia. In the morning the yacht, having run her sixteen miles to Ostia, stood out to sea, naught hindering.

* * * * *

It was two months later when Quintus Drusus reentered Rome, no more a fugitive, but a trusted staff officer of the lawfully appointed dictator Julius Caesar. He had taken part in a desperate struggle around Corfinium, where his general had cut off and captured the army with which Domitius had aimed to check his advance. Drusus had been severely wounded, and had not recovered in time to participate in the futile siege of Brundusium, when Caesar vainly strove to prevent Pompeius's flight across the sea to Greece. Soon as he was convalescent, the young officer had hurried away to Rome; and there he was met by a story concerning his aunt, whereof no rational explanation seemed possible. And when, upon this mystery, was added a tale he received from Baiae, he marvelled, yet dreaded, the more.



Chapter XIX

The Hospitality of Demetrius

I

While grave senators were contending, tribunes haranguing, imperators girding on the sword, legions marching, cohorts clashing,—while all this history was being made in the outside world, Cornelia, very desolate, very lonely, was enduring her imprisonment at Baiae.

If she had had manacles on her wrists and fetters on her feet, she would not have been the more a prisoner. Lentulus Crus had determined, with the same grim tenacity of purpose which led him to plunge a world into war, that his niece should comply with his will and marry Lucius Ahenobarbus. He sent down to Baiae, Phaon,—the evil-eyed freedman of Ahenobarbus,—and gave to that worthy full power to do anything he wished to break the will of his prospective patroness. Cassandra had been taken away from Cornelia—she could not learn so much as whether the woman had been scourged to death for arranging the interview with Drusus, or no. Two ill-favoured slatternly Gallic maids, the scourings of the Puteoli slave-market, had been forced upon Cornelia as her attendants—creatures who stood in abject fear of the whip of Phaon, and who obeyed his mandates to the letter. Cornelia was never out of sight of some person whom she knew was devoted to Lentulus, or rather to Phaon and his patron. She received no letters save those from her mother, uncle, or Ahenobarbus; she saw no visitors; she was not allowed to go outside of the walls of the villa, nor indeed upon any of its terraces where she would be exposed to sight from without, whether by land or sea. At every step, at every motion, she was confronted with the barriers built around her, and by the consciousness that, so long as she persisted in her present attitude, her durance was likely to continue unrelaxed.

Cornelia was thirsty for the news from the world without. Her keepers were dumb to the most harmless inquiry. Her mother wrote more of the latest fashions than of the progress of events in the Senate and in the field; besides, Claudia—as Cornelia knew very well—never took her political notions from any one except her brother-in-law, and Cornelia noted her mother's rambling observations accordingly. Lentulus studiously refrained from adverting to politics in letters to his niece. Ahenobarbus wrote of wars and rumours of wars, but in a tone of such partisan venom and overreaching sarcasm touching all things Caesarian, that Cornelia did not need her prejudices to tell her that Lucius was simply abusing her credulity.

Then at last all the letters stopped. Phaon had no explanation to give. He would not suffer his evil, smiling lips to tell the story of the flight of the oligarchs from Rome, and confess that Lentulus and Claudia were no farther off than Capua. The consul had ordered that his niece should not know of their proximity and its cause,—lest she pluck up hope, and all his coercion be wasted. So there was silence, and that was all. Even her mother did not write to her. Cornelia grew very, very lonely and desolate—more than words may tell. She had one consolation—Drusus was not dead, or she would have been informed of it! Proof that her lover was dead would have been a most delightful weapon in Lentulus's hands, too delightful to fail to use instantly. And so Cornelia hoped on.

She tried again to build a world of fantasy, of unreal delight, around her; to close her eyes, and wander abroad with her imagination. She roamed in reverie over land and sea, from Atlantis to Serica; and dwelt in the dull country of the Hyperboreans and saw the gold-sanded plains of the Ethiops. She took her Homer and fared with Odysseus into Polyphemus's cave, and out to the land of Circe; and heard the Sirens sing, and abode on Calypso's fairy isle; and saw the maiden Nausicaa and her maids at the ball-play on the marge of the stream. But it was sorry work; for ever and again the dream-woven mist would break, and the present—stern, unchanging, joyless—she would see, and that only.

Cornelia was thrown more and more back on her books. In fact, had she been deprived of that diversion, she must have succumbed in sheer wretchedness; but Phaon, for all his crafty guile, did not realize that a roll of AEschylus did almost as much to undo his jailer's work as a traitor among his underlings.

The library was a capacious, well-lighted room, prettily frescoed, and provided with comfortably upholstered couches. In the niches were a few choice busts: a Sophocles, a Xenophon, an Ennius, and one or two others. Around the room in wooden presses were the rolled volumes on Egyptian papyrus, each labelled with author and title in bright red marked on the tablet attached to the cylinder of the roll. Here were the poets and historians of Hellas; the works of Plato, Aristotle, Callimachus, Apollonius Rhodius and the later Greek philosophers. Here, too, were books which the Greek-hating young lady loved best of all—the rough metres of Livius Andronicus and Cnaeus Naevius, whose uncouth lines of the old Saturnian verse breathed of the hale, hearty, uncultured, uncorrupted life of the period of the First Punic War. Beside them were the other great Latinists: Ennius, Plautus, Terence, and furthermore, Pacuvius and Cato Major, Lucilius, the memoirs of Sulla, the orations of Antonius "the orator" and Gracchus, and the histories of Claudius Quadrigarius and Valerius Antias.

The library became virtually Cornelia's prison. She read tragedy, comedy, history, philosophy,—anything to drive from her breast her arch enemy, thought. But if, for example, she turned to Apollonius Rhodius and read—

"Amidst them all, the son of AEson chief Shone forth divinely in his comeliness, And graces of his form. On him the maid Looked still askance, and gazed him o'er;"[163]

[163] Elton, translator.

straightway she herself became Medea, Jason took on the form of Drusus, and she would read no more; "while," as the next line of the learned poet had it, "grief consumed her heart."

Only one other recreation was left her. Artemisia had not been taken away by Phaon, who decided that the girl was quite impotent to thwart his ends. Cornelia devoted much of her time to teaching the bright little Greek. The latter picked up the scraps of knowledge with a surprising readiness, and would set Cornelia a-laughing by her naivete, when she soberly intermixed her speech with bits of grave poetical and philosophical lore, uttered more for sake of sound than sense.

As a matter of fact, however, Cornelia was fast approaching a point where her position would have been intolerable. She did not even have the stimulus that comes from an active aggressive persecution. Drusus was in the world of action, not forgetful of his sweetheart, yet not pent up to solitary broodings on his ill-fated passion. Cornelia was thrust back upon herself, and found herself a very discontented, wretched, love-lorn, and withal—despite her polite learning—ignorant young woman, who took pleasure neither in sunlight nor starlight; who saw a mocking defiance in every dimple of the sapphire bay; who saw in each new day merely a new period for impotent discontent. Something had to determine her situation, or perhaps she would not indeed have bowed her head to her uncle's will; but she certainly would have been driven to resolutions of the most desperate nature.

Cornelia had practically lost reckoning of time and seasons. She had ceased hoping for a letter from her mother; even a taunting missive from Ahenobarbus would have been a diversion. She was so closely guarded that she found herself praying that Drusus would not try to steal a second interview, for the attempt might end in his murder. Only one stray crumb of comfort at last did she obtain, and it was Artemisia who brought it to her. The girl had been allowed by Phaon to walk outside the grounds of the villa for a little way, and her pretty face had won the good graces of one or two slave-boys in an adjoining seaside house. Artemisia came back full of news which they had imparted: the consuls had fled from Rome; Pompeius was retreating before Caesar; the latest rumour had it that Domitius was shut up in Corfinium and likely to come off hardly.

The words were precious as rubies to Cornelia. She went all that day and the next with her head in the air. Perhaps with a lover's subtle omniscience she imagined that it was Drusus who had some part in bringing Domitius to bay. She pictured the hour when he—with a legion no doubt at his back—would come to Baiae, not a stealthy, forbidden lover, but a conqueror, splendid in the triumph of his arms; would enter the villa with a strong hand, and lead her forth in the eyes of all the world—his wife! and then back to Praeneste, to Rome—happy as the Immortals on Olympus; and what came after, Cornelia neither thought nor cared.

On those days the sea was lovely, the sunlight fair, and all the circling sea-gulls as they hovered over the waves cried shrilly one to the other; "How good is all the world!" And then, just as Cornelia was beginning to count the hours,—to wonder whether it would be one day or ten before Drusus would be sufficiently at liberty to ride over hill and dale to Baiae,—Phaon thrust himself upon her.

"Your ladyship," was his curt statement, "will have all things prepared in readiness to take ship for Greece, to-morrow morning."

"For Greece!" was the agonized exclamation.

"Certainly; it is useless to conceal matters from your ladyship now. Caesar has swept all Italy. Corfinium may fall at any time. His excellency the consul Lentulus is now at Brundusium. He orders me to put you on board a vessel that has just finished her lading for the Piraeus."

This then was the end of all those glittering day-dreams! Caesar's victories only would transfer Cornelia to a more secure bondage. She had enough pride left not to moan aloud and plead with an animal like Phaon not to crush her utterly. In fact she was benumbed, and did not fully sense the changed situation. She went through a mechanical process of collecting her wardrobe, of putting her jewellery in cases and boxes, of laying aside for carriage a few necessaries for Artemisia. Phaon, who had expected a terrible scene when he made his announcement, observed to himself that, "The domina is more sensible than I supposed. I think her uncle will have his way now soon enough, if Master Lucius does not get his throat cut at Corfinium." And having thus concluded to himself,—satisfactorily, if erroneously,—he, too, made arrangements for the voyage impending.

II

Cornelia's sleeping room was large and airy. It had windows overlooking the sea—windows closed by the then extravagant luxury of panes of glass. When these were swung back the full sweep of the southwest wind poured its mild freshness into the room. The apartment was decorated and furnished with every taste and luxury. In one corner was the occupant's couch,—the frame inlaid with ivory and tortoise-shell, the mattress soft with the very choicest feathers of white German geese. Heaped on the cushion were gorgeous coverlets, of purple wool or even silk, and embroidered with elaborate figures, or covered with rare feather tapestry. Around the room were silver mirrors, chairs, divans, cabinets, dressers, and elegant tripods.

On one of the divans slept Artemisia, and just outside of the door one of the Gallic maids, whom Cornelia detested so heartily.

When Artemisia's curly head touched her pillow, its owner was fast asleep in an instant. When her patroness sank back on the cushions worth a king's ransom, Somnus, Hypnus, or whatever name the drowsy god may be called by, was far from present. Cornelia tossed on the pillows, tossed and cried softly to herself. The battle was too hard! She had tried: tried to be true to Drusus and her own higher aspirations. But there was some limit to her strength, and Cornelia felt that limit very near at hand. Earlier in the conflict with her uncle she had exulted in the idea that suicide was always in her power; now she trembled at the thought of death, at the thought of everything contained in the unlovely future. She did not want to die, to flicker out in nothingness, never to smile and never to laugh again. Why should she not be happy—rightly happy? Was she not a Cornelian, a Claudian, born to a position that a princess might enjoy? Was not wealth hers, and a fair degree of wit and a handsome face? Why then should she, the patrician maiden, eat her heart out, while close at hand Artemisia, poor little foundling Greek, was sleeping as sweetly as though people never grieved nor sorrows tore the soul?

Cornelia was almost angry with Artemisia for being thus oblivious to and shielded from calamity. So hot in fact did her indignation become against the innocent girl, that Cornelia herself began to smile at her own passion. And there was one thought very comforting to her pride.

"Artemisia is only an uneducated slave, or little better than a slave; if she were in my station she would be just as unhappy. I am wretched just in proportion to the greatness of my rank;" then she added to herself, "Hei! but how wretched then the gods must be!" And then again she smiled at admitting for an instant that there were any gods at all; had not her philosophy taught her much better?

So at last Cornelia turned over the pillows for the last time, and finally slept, in heavy, dreamless slumber.

* * * * *

Cornelia did not know at what watch of the night she awoke; awoke, not suddenly, but slowly, as consciousness stole over her that something was happening. It was a dark, cloudy night, yet a strange red light was glinting faintly through the windows and making very dim panels on the rugs of the floor. There was a bare gleam of fire from the charcoal in the portable metal stove that stood in a remote corner of the room to dispel the chill of night. Artemisia was stirring in her sleep, and saying something—probably in a one-sided dream-dialogue. Cornelia opened her eyes, shut them again; peeped forth a second time, and sat up in bed. There was a confused din without, many voices speaking at once, all quite unintelligible, though now and then she caught a few syllables of Greek. The din grew louder and louder. At the same time, as if directly connected with the babel, the strange light flamed up more brightly—as if from many advancing torches. Cornelia shook the sleep from her eyes, and flung back the coverlets. What was it? She had not yet reached the stage of feeling any terror.

Suddenly, drowning all lesser noise, came the blows of a heavy timber beating on the main door of the villa.

Crash! and with the stroke, a torrent of wild shouts, oaths, and imprecations burst forth from many score throats.

Crash! The slaves sleeping near the front door began to howl and shout. The great Molossian hound that stood watch was barking and snapping. The Gallic maid sprang from her pallet by Cornelia's door, and gave a shrill, piercing scream. Artemisia was sitting up on her bed, rubbing her eyes, blinking at the strange light, and about to begin to cry. Cornelia ran over the floor to her.

"A! A! what is going to happen!" whimpered the girl.

"I do not know, philotata"[164] said Cornelia in Greek, putting her hand on Artemisia's cheek; "but don't cry, and I'll soon find out."

[164] Dearest one.

Crash! and at this the door could be heard to fall inward. Then, with yells of triumph and passion, there was a great sweep of feet over the threshold, and the clang of weapons and armour. Cornelia found herself beginning to tremble. As she stepped across the room, she passed before her largest mirror, whereon the outside light was shining directly. She saw herself for an instant; her hair streaming down her back, her only dress her loose white tunic, her arms bare, and nothing on her throat except a string of yellow amber beads. "And my feet are bare," she added to herself, diverted from her panic by her womanly embarrassment. She advanced toward the door, but had not long to wait. Down below the invaders had burst loose in wild pillage, then up into the sleeping room came flying a man—Phaon, his teeth chattering, his face ghastly with fright.

"Domina! domina!" and he knelt and seized Cornelia's robe. "Save, A! save! We are undone! Pirates! They will kill us all! Mu! mu! don't let them murder me!"

A moment longer and Cornelia, in her rising contempt, would have spurned him with her foot. There were more feet on the stairway. Glaring torches were tossing over gold inlaid armour. A man of unusual height and physique strode at the head of the oncomers, clutching and dragging by the wrist a quivering slave-boy.

"Your mistress, boy! where is she? Point quickly, if you would not die!" cried the invader, whom we shall at once recognize as Demetrius.

Cornelia advanced to the doorway, and stood in her maidenly dignity, confronting the pirates, who fell back a step, as though before an apparition.

"I am the Lady Cornelia, mistress of the villa," she said slowly, speaking in tones of high command. "On what errand do you come thus unseasonably, and with violence?"

Whereat, out from the little group of armed men sprang one clad in costly, jewel-set armour, like the rest, but shorter than the others, and with fair hair flowing down from his helmet on to his shoulders.

"Domina, do you not know me? Do not be afraid."

"Agias!" cried Cornelia, in turn giving back a step.

"Assuredly," quoth the young Hellene, nothing dismayed; "and with your leave, this great man is Demetrius, my cousin, whose trade, perchance, is a little irregular, but who has come hither not so much to plunder as to save you from the clutches of his arch-enemy's son, Lucius Ahenobarbus."

Cornelia staggered, and caught the curtain in the doorway to keep from falling.

"Has Master Drusus sent him to me?" she asked, very pale around the lips.

"Master Drusus is at Corfinium. No one knows what will be the issue of the war, for Pompeius is making off. It is I who counselled my cousin to come to Baiae."

"Then what will you do with me? How may I dare to trust you? Deliver myself into the hands of pirates! Ah! Agias, I did not think that you would turn to such a trade!"

The youth flushed visibly, even under the ruddy torchlight.

"Oh, lady," he cried, "have I not always been true to you? I am no pirate, and you will not blame my cousin, when you have heard his story. But do not fear us. Come down to the ship—Fabia is there, waiting for you."

"Fabia!" and again Cornelia was startled. Then, fixing her deep gaze full on Agias, "I believe you speak the truth. If not you—whom? Take—take me!"

And she fell forward in a swoon, and Demetrius caught her in his powerful arms.

"This is the affianced wife of Quintus Drusus?" he cried to Agias.

"None other."

"She is worthy of Sextus's son. A right brave lady!" cried the pirate. "But this is no place for her, poor thing. Here, Eurybiades," and he addressed a lieutenant,—an athletic, handsome Hellene like himself,—"carry the lady down to the landing, put her on the trireme, and give her to Madam Fabia. Mind you lift her gently."

"Never fear," replied the other, picking up his burden carefully. "Who would not delight to bear Aphrodite to the arms of Artemis!"

And so for a while sight, sound, and feeling were at an end for Cornelia, but for Agias the adventures of the evening were but just begun. The pirates had broken loose in the villa, and Demetrius made not the slightest effort to restrain them. On into the deserted bedroom, ahead of the others, for reasons of his own, rushed Agias. As he came in, some one cried out his name, and a second vision in white confronted him.

"Ai! ai! Agias, I knew you would come!" and then and there, with the sword-blades glinting, and the armed men all around, Artemisia tossed her plump arms around his neck.

"The nymph, attendant on Aphrodite!" cried Demetrius, laughing. And then, when Artemisia saw the strange throng and the torches, and heard the din over the villa, she hung down her head in mingled fear and mortification. But Agias whispered something in her ear, that made her lift her face, laughing, and then he in turn caught her up in his arms to hasten down to the landing—for the scene was becoming one of little profit for a maid. Groans and entreaties checked him. Two powerful Phoenician seamen were dragging forward Phaon, half clothed, trembling at every joint. "Mercy! Mercy! Oh! Master Agias, oh! Your excellency, clarissime,[165] despotes![166]" whined the wretched man, now in Latin, now in Greek, "ask them to spare me; don't let them murder me in cold blood!"

[165] Very distinguished sir.

[166] Master.

"Ai!" cried Demetrius. "What fool have we here? Do you know him, Agias?"

"He is the freedman of Lucius Ahenobarbus. I can vouch for his character, after its way."

"O-op!"[167] thundered the chief, "drag him down to the boats! I'll speak with him later!"

[167] O-op—avast there.

And Agias carried his precious burden down to the landing-place, while the seamen followed with their captive.

Once Artemisia safe on her way to the trireme, which was a little off shore, Agias ran back to the villa; the pirates were ransacking it thoroughly. Everything that could be of the slightest value was ruthlessly seized upon, everything else recklessly destroyed. The pirates had not confined their attack to the Lentulan residence alone. Rushing down upon the no less elaborate neighbouring villas, they forced in the gates, overcame what slight opposition the trembling slaves might make, and gave full sway to their passion for plunder and rapine. The noble ladies and fine gentlemen who had dared the political situation and lingered late in the season to enjoy the pleasures of Baiae, now found themselves roughly dragged away into captivity to enrich the freebooters by their ransoms. From pillage the pirates turned to arson, Demetrius in fact making no effort to control his men. First a fragile wooden summer-house caught the blaze of a torch and flared up; then a villa itself, and another and another. The flames shot higher and higher, great glowing, wavering pyramids of heat, roaring and crackling, flinging a red circle of glowing light in toward the mainland by Cumae, and shimmering out over the bay toward Prochyta. Overhead was the inky dome of the heavens, and below fire; fire, and men with passions unreined.

Demetrius stood on the terrace of the burning villa of the Lentuli, barely himself out of range of the raging heat. As Agias came near to him, the gilded Medusa head emblazoned on his breastplate glared out; the loose scarlet mantle he wore under his armour was red as if dipped in hot blood; he seemed the personification of Ares, the destroyer, the waster of cities. The pirate was gazing fixedly on the blazing wreck and ruin. His firm lips were set with an expression grave and hard. He took no part in the annihilating frenzy of his men.

"This is terrible destruction!" cried Agias in his ear, for the roar of the flames was deafening, he himself beginning to turn sick at the sight of the ruin.

"It is frightful," replied Demetrius, gloomily; "why did the gods ever drive me to this? My men are but children to exult as they do; as boys love to tear the thatch from the roof of a useless hovel, in sheer wantonness. I cannot restrain them."

At this instant a seaman rushed up in breathless haste.

"Eleleu! Captain, the soldiers are on us. There must have been a cohort in Cumae."

Whereat the voice of Demetrius rang above the shouts of the plunderers and the crash and roar of the conflagration, like a trumpet:—

"Arms, men! Gather the spoil and back to the ships! Back for your lives!"

Already the cohort of Pompeian troops, that had not yet evacuated Cumae, was coming up on the double-quick, easily guided by the burning buildings which made the vicinity bright as day. The pirates ran like cats out of the blazing villas, bounded over terraces and walls, and gathered near the landing-place by the Lentulan villa. The soldiers were already on them. For a moment it seemed as though the cohort was about to drive the whole swarm of the marauders over the sea-wall, and make them pay dear for their night's diversion. But the masterly energy of Demetrius turned the scale. With barely a score of men behind him, he charged the nearest century so impetuously that it broke like water before him; and when sheer numbers had swept his little group back, the other pirates had rallied on the very brink of tie sea-wall, and returned to the charge.

Never was battle waged more desperately. The pirates knew that to be driven back meant to fall over a high embankment into water so shallow as to give little safety in a dive; capture implied crucifixion. Their only hope was to hold their own while their boats took them off to the ships in small detachments. The conflagration made the narrow battle-field as bright as day. The soldiers were brave, and for new recruits moderately disciplined. The pirates could hardly bear up under the crushing discharge of darts, and the steady onset of the maniples. Up and down the contest raged, swaying to and fro like the waves of the sea. Again and again the pirates were driven so near to the brink of the seawall that one or two would fall, dashed to instant death on the submerged rocks below. Demetrius was everywhere at once, as it were, precisely when he was most needed, always exposing himself, always aggressive. Even while he himself fought for dear life, Agias admired as never before the intelligently ordered puissance of his cousin.

The boats to and from the landing were pulled with frantic energy. The ships had run in as close as possible, but they could not use their balistae,[168] for fear of striking down friend as well as foe. As relays of pirates were carried away, the position of the remainder became the more desperate with their lessening numbers. The boats came back for the last relay. Demetrius drew the remnant of his men together, and charged so furiously that the whole cohort gave way, leaving the ground strewn with its own slain. The pirates rushed madly aboard the boats, they sunk them to the gunwales; other fugitives clung to the oars. At perilous risk of upsetting they thrust off, just as the rallied soldiers ran down to the landing-place. Demetrius and Agias were the only ones standing on the embankment. They had been the last to retire, and therefore the boats had filled without them.

[168] Missile-throwing engines.

A great cry went up from the pirates.

"Save the captain!" and some boats began to back water, loaded as they were; but Demetrius motioned them back with his hand.

"Can you swim, boy!" he shouted to Agias, while both tore off their body-armour. Their shields had already dropped. Agias shook his head doubtfully.

"My arm is hurt," he muttered.

"No matter!" and Demetrius seized his cousin under one armpit, and stepped down from the little landing-platform into the water just below. A single powerful stroke sent the two out of reach of the swing of the sword of the nearest soldier. The front files of the cohort had pressed down on to the landing in a dense mass, loath to let go its prey.

"Let fly, men!" cried Demetrius, as he swam, and javelins spat into the water about him.

It was a cruel thing to do. The three pirate vessels, two large triremes and the yacht, discharged all their enginery. Heavy stones crashed down upon the soldiers, crushing several men together. Huge arrows tore through shield and armour, impaling more than one body. It was impossible to miss working havoc in so close a throng. The troops, impotent to make effective reply, turned in panic and fled toward the upper terraces to get beyond the decimating artillery. The pirates raised a great shout of triumph that shook the smoke-veiled skies. A fresh boat, pulling out from one of the vessels, rescued the captain and Agias; and soon the two cousins were safe on board the trireme Demetrius used as his flagship.

The pirates swarmed on the decks and rigging and cheered the escape of their commander. On shore the burning buildings were still sending up their pillars of flame. The water and sky far out to sea were red, and beyond, blackness. Again the pirates shouted, then at the order of their commander the cables creaked, the anchors rose, hundreds of long oars flashed in the lurid glare, and the three vessels slipped over the dark waves.

Demetrius remained on the poop of his ship; Agias was below in the cabin, bending over Artemisia, who was already smiling in her sleep.

III

When Cornelia awoke, it was with Fabia bending over her at the bedside. The portholes of the cabin were open; the warm, fresh southern wind was pouring in its balmy sweetness. Cornelia pressed her hands to her eyes, then looked forth. The cabin ceiling was low, but studded with rare ornamental bronze work; the furniture glittered with gilding and the smooth sheen of polished ivory; the tapestry of the curtains and on the walls was of the choicest scarlet wool, and Coan silk, semi-transparent and striped with gold. Gold plating shone on the section of the mast enclosed within the cabin. An odour of the rarest Arabian frankincense was wafted from the pastils burning on a curiously wrought tripod of Corinthian brass. The upholsteries and rugs were more splendid than any that Cornelia had seen gracing the palace of Roman patrician.

Thus it came to pass that Fabia repeated over and over again to Cornelia the tale of recent happenings, until the latter's sorely perturbed brain might comprehend. And then, when Cornelia understood it all: how that she was not to go to Greece with Phaon; how that she was under the protection of a man who owed his life to Sextus Drusus, and hated the Ahenobarbi with a perfect hatred; how that Demetrius had sworn to carry her to Alexandria, where, safe out of the way of war and commotion, she might await the hour when Drusus should be free to come for her—when, we repeat, she understood all this, and how it came to pass that the Vestal herself was on the vessel,—then Cornelia strained Fabia to her breast, and laid her head on the elder woman's shoulder, and cried and cried for very relief of soul. Then she arose and let the maids Demetrius had sent to serve her—dark-skinned Hindoos, whose words were few, but whose fingers quick and dexterous —dress her from the very complete wardrobe that the sea prince had placed at her disposal.

Never before had the sunlight shone so fair; never before had the sniff of the sea-breeze been so sweet. The galleys were still in the bay, close by Prochyta, scarce a mile and a half from the nearest mainland. The pirates were landing to procure water from the desolate, unsettled isle. The bay was dancing and sparkling with ten million golden ripples; the sun had risen high enough above the green hills of the coast-land to spread a broad pathway of shimmering fire across the waters. Not a cloud flecked the light-bathed azure. Up from the forward part of the ships sounded the notes of tinkling cithera and the low-breathing double flutes[169] in softest Lydian mood. In and out of the cabin passed bronzed-faced Ethiopian mutes with silver cups of the precious Mareotic white wine of Egypt for the lady, and plates of African pomegranates, Armenian apricots, and strange sweetmeats flavoured with a marvellous powder, an Oriental product worth its weight in gold as a medicine, which later generations were to designate under the name of sugar.

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