EDWARD LUCAS WHITE
[Illustration: THE CITY OF ROME UNDER THE EMPIRE]
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
WHO IN READING FICTION LOVED "THE OPEN ROAD AND THE BRIGHT EYES OF
BOOK I. DISASTER
I. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
II. A COUNTRY DINNER
III. TENANTRY AND SLAVERY
IV. HOROSCOPES AND MARVELS
VI. A RATHER BAD DAY
VII. A RATHER GOOD DAY
VIII. THE WATER GARDEN
IX. THE SQUALL OF THE LEOPARD
BOOK II. DISAPPEARANCE
XIII. THE LONELY HUT
XIV. WINTER IN THE MOUNTAINS
XV. THE HUNT
XVI. THE CAVE
XVII. THE FESTIVAL
XIX. MARSEILLES AND TIBER WHARF
BOOK III. DIVERSITIES
XXII. THE MUTINEERS
XXIII. THE EMPEROR
XXIV. THE MASSACRE
XXV. THE OPEN COUNTRY
XXVI. THE OUTLAWS
XXVII. THE POINT OP VIEW
BOOK IV. DISSIMULATIONS
XXXIV. PALUS THE INCOMPARABLE
XXXIX. THE TULLIANUM
By no means absurd it seems to me but altogether reasonable is the
impulse which urges me to write out a detailed narrative of my years of
adversity and of the vicissitudes which befell me during that wretched
period of my life. My adventures in themselves were worthy of record and
my memories of them and of the men and women encountered in them are clear
and vivid. It is natural that I should wish to set them down for the
edification of my posterity and of any who may chance to read them.
For my experience has been I believe unique. Since the establishment of
the Principate in our Republic many men even an uncountable horde of men
have incurred Imperial displeasure. Of these not a few after banishment
from Italy or relegation to guarded islands or to some distant frontier
outpost have survived the Prince who exiled them and have by the favor
of his successors been permitted to return to Rome and to the enjoyment
of their property. But I believe that no Roman nobleman implicated justly
or unjustly in any conspiracy against the life of his Sovereign ever
escaped the extreme penalty of death. Some by their own hands
forestalled the arrival of the Imperial emissaries others perished by the
weapons or implements of those designated to abolish the enemies of the
Prince. Except myself not one ever survived to regain Imperial favor in a
later reign; except myself not one ever recovered his patrimony and
enjoyed to a green old age the income position and privileges to which
he had been born. If such a thing ever occurred certainly there is no
record of any other nobleman domiciled in Italy except myself having
grasped at the slender chance of escape afforded by the device of
arranging that he be supposed dead of disguising himself of vanishing
among the populace of passing himself off for a man of the people. I not
only was led by my clever slave to attempt this histrionic feat but I
succeeded in the face of unimaginable difficulties. An experience so
notably without a parallel seems peculiarly deserving of such a record as
AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
When I look back on the beginning of my adventures I can set the very day
and hour when the tranquil course of my early life came to an end when
the comfortable commonplaces of my previous existence altered when the
placid current of my former life broke suddenly and without warning into
the tumultuous rapids which hurried me from surprise to surprise and from
peril to peril. The last hour of my serene youth was about the ninth of
the day nearly midafternoon on the Nones of June in the 937th year of
the city [Footnote: A.D. 184. See Note C.] while Cossonius Marullus and
Papirius Aelian were consuls when Commodus had already been four years
It was not that misfortune then suddenly overwhelmed me not that sharp
as a blown trumpet I heard the voice of doom blare over me; not that as
one sees the upper rim of the sun vanish beneath the waves where the
skyline meets the sea and knows day ended and night begun not thus that
I recognized the end of my prosperity and the beginning of my disasters.
That moment came later as I shall record. It was rather that; as in
certain states of the weather long before sunset one may be suddenly
aware that afternoon is past and evening approaches; so though I had no
intimation at the moment yet reviewing my memories I realize that at
that instant began the chain of trivial circumstances which led up to my
calamity and enmeshed me in ruin.
And just here I cannot but remark what I have often meditated over how
trifling how apparently insignificant are the circumstances which
determine the felicity or misery of human beings. I was possessed of an
ample estate; I was in most difficult conditions in unruffled amity with
all my neighbors on both sides of the great feud except only my
hereditary enemy; I was high in the favor of the Emperor; I was in a fair
way to marry the youngest the most lovely and the richest widow in Rome.
In the twinkling of an eye I was cast down from the pinnacle of good
fortune into an abyss of adversity. And upon what did my catastrophe
hinge? Upon the whims of a friend and upon one oversight of my secretary.
I should have had no story to tell I should have been a man continuously
happy affluent and at ease early married and passing from one high
office to the next higher in an uninterrupted progress of success had it
not entered the head of my capricious crony to pay me an unexpected and
unannounced visit had he not arrived precisely at the time at which he
came had he not encountered just the persons he met just where he did
meet them had not his prankishness hatched in him the vagary which led
him to give quizzical replies to their questions; had I not carried away
by my elation at my prosperity and fine prospects been a trifle too
indulgent to my tenantry.
Even after as a result the nexus of circumstances had been woven about
me and after I found myself embroiled with both my powerful neighbors I
should have escaped any evil consequences had not my secretary than whom
no man ever was more loyal to his master or more wary and inclusive in his
foresight upon every conceivable eventuality failed to forecast the
possible effects of a minor omission.
When my story begins I had already had one small adventure nothing much
out of the ordinary. Agathemer and I were returning from my final
inspection of my estate. As we rode past one of the farmsteads we heard
cries for help. Reining up and turning into the barn-yard we found the
tenant himself being attacked by his bull. I dismounted and diverted the
animal's attention. After the beast was securely penned up I was riding
homewards more than a little tired rumpled and heated and very eager for
As we approached my villa we saw a runner coming up the road a big Nubian
in a fantastic livery which when he reached us turned to be entirely
unknown to me. My grooms were just taking our horses. The grinning black
not a bit out of breath after his long run saluted and addressed me.
"My master has sent me ahead to say he is coming to visit you."
"Who is your master?" I asked.
"My master" he said still grinning goodnaturedly "enjoined me not to
tell you who he is."
I turned to Agathemer.
"What do you make of this?" I asked.
"There is but one man in Italy" he replied "who is likely to send you
such a message and his name is on the tip of your tongue."
"And on the tip of yours I'll wager" said I. "Both together now!"
I raised my finger and counted.
"One! Two! Three!"
Both together we uttered:
There was no variation in the Nubian's non-committal grin. We went up the
steps and stood by the balustrade of the terrace where it commanded a
good view of the valley. We could see a party approaching a mounted
intendant in advance a litter extra bearers and runners and several
"Nobody but Tanno would send me such a message" I said to Agathemer.
"No one else" he agreed "but I should be no more surprised to see the
Emperor himself in this part of the world."
"One of his wild whims" I conjectured. "Nothing else would tear him away
from the city."
"Our arrangements for dinner" I continued "fall in very well with his
coming. I suppose the guest-rooms are all ready but you had best go see
to that and meanwhile turn this fellow over to Ofatulenus."
Agathemer nodded. The pleasantest of his many good qualities was that
whatever he might be asked to do he carried out without comment or
objection. Nothing was too big or too small for him. If he were asked to
arrange for an interview with the Emperor or to attend to the creasing of
a toga he was equally painstaking and obliging. He went off followed by
the negro. I waited on the terrace for Tanno. There was no use attempting
to bathe until after his arrival. Presently a cheerful halloo from the
litter reached my ears. It was Tanno to a certainty. Nobody else of my
acquaintance had voice enough to make himself heard at that distance or
was sufficiently lacking in dignity to emit a yawp in that fashion. When
his escort came near enough I could see that all his bearers wore the same
livery as his runner. Tanno was forever changing his liveries and each
fresh invention he managed to make more fantastic than the last. There
were eight bearers to the litter and some twenty reliefs. Travelling long
distances by litter begun as a necessity to such invalids as my uncle
had become a fashion through the extreme coxcombery of wealthy fops and
the practice of the young Emperor. Tanno's litter had all its panels slid
back and the curtains were not drawn. He was sitting almost erect
propped up by countless down cushions. He greeted me with many waves of
the hand and a smile as genial as his halloo. I went down a little from
the terrace to meet him and walked a few paces beside the litter. He
rolled out and embraced me cordially appearing as glad to see me as I was
delighted to see him.
"I do not know" I said "whether I am more surprised or pleased to see
you. To what do I owe my good fortune?"
"We simply cannot get on without you" he answered "and I am going to
take you back to Rome with me. How soon can you start?"
"You came at the nick of time" said I "I had expected to go down three
days from now but I found out this afternoon that I can get away tomorrow
"Praise be to Hercules and all the gods" said Tanno. "I love the country
frantically especially when I am in the city. I love it so that three
days on the road is enough country for me. I have been bored to death and
do so want a bath."
"The bath is all hot and ready" said I "and the slaves waiting. But I am
giving a dinner this evening and nearly all my neighbors are coming. The
diners are almost due to arrive I need a bath and want one but I meant
to wait for my guests."
"Well" he said "you have one guest here already and that's enough. Let's
bathe once at once and you can bathe again when your Sabine clodhoppers
get here. Life is too short for a man to get enough baths anyhow. Two a
day is never enough for me. A pretext for two in an afternoon is always
welcome. Come on let's bathe quick so as to have it over with before the
first of the other guests arrives then we can get a breath of fresh air
and be as keen for the second bath as for the first."
Conversation with Tanno consisted mostly in listening and interjecting
questions. He wallowed in the cold tank like a porpoise; caught me and
ducked me until I yelled for mercy and while I was trying to get my
breath half drowned me with the water he splashed over me with both
hands; talking incessantly except when his head was under water. When we
lay down on the divan in the warm room he rattled on.
"You needn't tell me" he said "that your runners haven't taken letters
to Vedia but she is supposed not to hear from you so as I told of two
of your letters to me I have in a way been held responsible for you and
have been pelted with inquiries. Nemestronia loves you like a grandson
and if you ask me I say Vedia is in love with you out and out. As I had
heard from you and nobody else had I began to feel as if I ought to look
after you. Everything was abominably humdrum and I deceived myself into
thinking I should enjoy the smell of green fields. I certainly should have
turned back less than half way if I had been concerned with anybody else
than you; and when we turned off the Via Salaria into your country byroad
I cursed you and your neighbors and all Sabinum. The most deserted stretch
of road I ever travelled in all my life. I saw only six human beings
before I reached your villa and I had heard that this valley was populous
and busy. I slept last night at Vicus Novus and I started this morning
bright and early. When we turned up the road below Villa Satronia I was
never more disgusted in my life. My men are perfectly matched in height
weight pace and action and any eight of the lot will carry me at full
speed as smoothly as a pleasure-barge. But they could make nothing of that
road. It is all washed guttered dusty in the open places puddly where
trees hang over it and full of loose stones on top everywhere.
"I was so horribly jolted that I called the bearers to stop. I made
Dromanus get off his horse and give me his poncho and his big felt hat.
Then I got on his horse and told him to get into the litter. He was
"'Pooh' said I 'you cannot walk and we should look like fools with an
empty litter. Get in and be jounced! Draw the curtains; if we meet anybody
I'll give you an impressive title.' He rolled in among the cushions
looking as foolish as possible. His horse ambled perfectly and I felt more
comfortable. I went on ahead. We had not met anybody since we turned into
the crossroads; about half a mile beyond the place where I had left my
litter I came around one of the innumerable curves a little ahead of the
procession and saw two men approaching on foot. When they came abreast of
me they saluted me politely and the taller a black-haired dark-faced
fellow with a broad jaw inquired (in the tone he would have used to
Dromanus) whose litter I was escorting. I was rather tickled that they
took me for my own intendant. I judged we must be approaching the entrance
to Villa Satronia and that they were people from there. I assumed an
exaggerated imitation of Dromanus' most grandiloquent manner and in his
orotund unctuous delivery I declaimed:
"'My master is Numerius Vedius Vindex. He is asleep.' (They swallowed that
awful lie they did not realize how bad their own road was.) 'We are on
our way to Villa Vedia.'
"They looked sour enough at that I promise you and I made out that they
were Satronians for certain. The two fellows exchanged a glance thanked
me politely and went on.
"I knew the entrance to the Satronian estate by the six big chestnut-
trees you had often described them to me; and I knew the next private
road by the single huge plane tree. But when we crossed the second bridge
the little one I went over that round hill and did not recognize the foot
of your road when we came to it. I was for going on. Dromanus called from
behind the curtains of the litter:
"'This is Hedulio's road: turn to the right.'
"I was stubborn and sang back at him:
"'Hedulio has told me all about this country. This is not his land. It is
further on at the next brook.'
"We went on over the next bridge past the entrance to the south and I
felt more and more that Dromanus was right and I was wrong and yet I grew
more and more stubborn. When we passed the sixth bridge and I saw the
stream getting bigger and turning to the left I knew I was wrong. At the
crossroads I realized we were at the entrance to Villa Vedia but I would
not give up I took the left-hand turn and went down stream. Beyond the
first bend in the road we found ourselves approaching a long straggling
one-street village of tall narrow stone houses along the eastern bank of
the little river. By the road just before the first house watching five
goats was a boy a boy with a crooked twitching face.
"'The village idiot' I put in. 'They can never let him out of sight and
he is always beside the road.'
"He was not too big an idiot to tell us it was Vediamnum."
"He was enough of an idiot" I said "to forget you and your question the
next minute. The boy is almost a beast."
"He had enough sense to tell us the name of the village" Tanno retorted
"and I had to acknowledge to Dromanus he was right and so we turned
round. When we were hardly more than out of sight of Vediamnum we met
another party a respectable-looking man much like a farm bailiff on
horseback and two slaves afoot. I had not seen them before and they
apparently had not previously seen us. The rider asked very decently
whose was the party. I treated them as I had the others.
"'My master is asleep' I said again. (It was not such an improbable lie
that time for the road by Vediamnum is pretty good.) 'I have the honor to