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Caesar Dies By Talbot Mundy Characters: 35658

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was not yet dusk. The sun shone on the bronze roof of the temple of Apollo, making such a contrast to, and harmony with, marble and the green of giant cypresses as only music can suggest. The dying breeze stirred hardly a ripple on the winding ponds, so marble columns, trees and statuary were reflected amid shadows of the swans in water tinted by the colors of the sinking sun. There was a murmur of wind in the tops of the trees and a stirring of linen-clad girls near the temple entrance-voices droning from the near-by booths behind the shrubbery- one flute, like the plaint of Orpheus summoning Eurydice-a blossom- scented air and an enfolding mystery of silence.

Pertinax, the governor of Rome, had merely hinted at Olympian desire, whereat some rich Antiochenes, long privileged, had been ejected with scant ceremony from a small marble pavilion on an islet, formed by a branch of the River Ladon that had been guided twenty years ago by Hadrian's engineers in curves of exquisitely studied beauty. From between Corinthian columns was a view of nearly all the temple precincts and of the lawns where revelers would presently forget restraint. The first night of the Daphne season usually was the wildest night of all the year, but they began demurely, and for the present there was the restraint of expectation.

Because there was yet snow on mountain-tops and the balmy air would carry a suggestion of a chill at sunset, there were cunningly wrought charcoal braziers set near the gilded couches, grouped around a semicircular low table so as to give each guest an unobstructed view from the pavilion. Pertinax-neither guest nor host, but a god, as it were, who had arrived and permitted the city of Antioch to ennoble itself by paying his expenses-stretched his long length on the middle couch, with Galen the physician on his right hand, Sextus on his left. Beyond Galen lay Tarquinius Divius and Sulpicius Glabrio, friends of Pertinax; and on Sextus' left was Norbanus, and beyond him Marcus Fabius a young tribune on Pertinax' staff. There was only one couch unoccupied.

Galen was an older man than Pertinax, who was already graying at the temples. Galen had the wrinkled, smiling, shrewd face of an old philosopher who understood the trick of making himself socially prominent in order to pursue his calling unimpeded by the bitter jealousies of rivals. He understood all about charlatanry, mocked it in all its disguises and knew how to defeat it with sarcastic wit. He wore none of the distinguishing insignia that practising physicians usually favored; the studied plainness of his attire was a notable contrast to the costly magnificence of Pertinax, whose double-purple-bordered and fringed toga, beautifully woven linen and jeweled ornaments seemed chosen to combine suggestions of the many public offices he had succeeded to.

He was a tall, lean, handsome veteran with naturally curly fair hair and a beard that, had it been dark, would have made him look like an Assyrian. There was a world of humor in his eyes, and an expression on his weathered face of wonder at the ways of men-an almost comical confession of his own inferiority of birth, combined with matter-of-fact ability to do whatever called for strength, endurance and mere ordinary common sense.

"You are almost ashamed of your own good fortune," Galen told him. "You wear all that jewelry, and swagger like the youngest tribune, to conceal your diffidence. Being honest, you are naturally frugal; but you are ashamed of your own honesty, so you imitate the court's extravagance and made up for it with little meannesses that comfort your sense of extremes. The truth is, Pertinax, you are a man with a boy's enthusiasms, a boy with a man's experience."

"You ought to know," said Pertinax. "You tutored Commodus. Whoever could take a murderer at the age of twelve and keep him from breaking the heart of a Marcus Aurelius knows more about men and boys than I do."

"Ah, but I failed," said Galen. "The young Commodus was like a nibbling fish; you thought you had him, but he always took the bait and left the hook. The wisdom I fed to him fattened his wickedness. If I had known then what I have learned from teaching Commodus and others, not even Marcus Aurelius could have persuaded me to undertake the task-medical problem though it was, and promotion though it was, and answer though it was to all the doctors who denounced me as a charlatan. I bought my fashionable practise at the cost of knowing it was I who taught young Commodus the technique of wickedness by revealing to him all its sinuosities and how, and why, it floods a man's mind."

"He was a beast in any case," said Pertinax.

"Yes, but a baffled, blind beast. I removed the bandage from his eyes."

"He would have pulled it off himself."

"I did it. I turned a mere golden-haired savage into a criminal who knows what he is doing."

"Well, drink and forget it!" said Pertinax. "I, too, have done things that are best forgotten. We attain success by learning from defeat, and we forget defeat in triumph. I know of no triumph that did not blot out scores of worse things than defeat. When I was in Britain I subdued rebellion and restored the discipline of mutinying legions. How? I am not such a fool as to tell you all that happened! When I was in Africa men called me a great proconsul. So I was. They would welcome me back there, if all I hear about the present man is true. But do you suppose I did not fail in certain instances? They praise me for the aqueducts I built, and for the peace I left along the border. But I also left dry bones, and sons of dead men who will teach their grandsons how to hate the name of Rome! I sent a hundred thousand slaves from Africa. Sometimes, when I have dined unwisely and there is no Galen near to freshen up my belly juices, I have nightmares, in which men and women cry to me for water that I took from them to pour into the cities. I have learned this, Galen: Do one thing wisely and you will commit ten follies. You are lucky if you have but ten failures to detract from one success-as lucky as a man who has but ten mistresses to interfere with his enjoyment of his wife!"

He spoke of mistresses because the girls were coming down the temple steps to take part in the sunset ceremony. The torches they carried were unlighted yet; their figures, draped in linen, looked almost super-humanly lovely in the deepening twilight, and as they laid their garlands on the marble altar near the temple steps and grouped themselves again on either side of it their movements suggested a phantasmagoria fading away into infinite distance, as if all the universe were filled with women without age or blemish. There began to be a scent of incense in the air.

"We only imitate this kind of thing in Rome," said Pertinax. "A larger scale, a coarser effect. What I find thrilling is the sensation they contrive here of unseen mysteries. Whereas-"

"There won't be any mystery left presently! They'll strip your last veil from imagination!" Sextus interrupted, laughing. "Men say Hadrian tried to chasten this place, but he only made them realize the artistic value of an appearance of chastity, that can be thrown off. Hark! The evening hymn."

The torches suddenly were lighted by attendant slaves. The stirring, shaken sistra wrought a miracle of sound that set the nerves all tingling as the high priest, followed by his boys with swinging censers and the members of the priestly college, four by four, came chanting down the temple steps. To an accompanying pleading, sobbing note of flutes the high priest laid an offering of fruit, milk, wine and honey in the midst of the heaped-up garlands (for Apollo was the god of all fertility as well as of healing and war and flocks and oracles). Then came the grand Homeric hymn to Glorious Apollo, men's and boys' and women's voices blending in a surging paean like an ocean's music.

The last notes died away in distant echoes. There was silence for a hundred breaths; then music of flute and lyre and sistra as the priests retreated up the temple steps followed by fanfare on a dozen trumpets as the door swung to behind the priests. Instantly, then, shouts of laughter-torchlight scattering the shadows amid gloom-green cypresses -fire-color splurging on the bosom of the water-babel of hundreds of voices as the gay Antiochenes swarmed out from behind the trees-and a cheer, as the girls by the altar threw their garments off and scampered naked along the river-bank toward a bridge that joined the temple island to the sloping lawns, where the crowd ran to await them.

"Apollo having healed the world of sin, we now do what we like!" said Sextus. "Pertinax, I pledge you continence for this one night! Good Galen, may Apollo's wisdom ooze from you like sweat; for all our sakes, be you the arbiter of what we drink, lest drunkenness deprive us of our reason! Comites, let us eat like warriors-one course, and then discussion of tomorrow's plan."

"Your military service should have taught you more respect for your seniors, as well as how to eat and drink temperately," said Pertinax. "Will you teach your grandmother to suck eggs? I was the first grammarian in Rome before you were born and a tribune before you felt down on your cheek. I am the governor of Rome, my boy. Who are you, that you should lecture me?"

"If you call that a lecture, concede that I dared," Sextus answered. "I did not flatter you by coming here, or come to flatter you. I came because my father tells me you are a Roman beyond praise. I am a Roman. I believe praise is worthless unless proven to the hilt-as for instance: I have come to bare my thoughts to you, which is a bold compliment in these days of treachery."

"Keep your thoughts under cover," said Pertinax, glancing at the steward and the slaves who were beginning to carry in the meal. But he was evidently pleased, and Sextus's next words pleased him more:

"I am ready to do more than think about you, I will follow where you lead-except into licentiousness!"

He lay on both elbows and stared at the scene with disgust. Naked girls, against a background of the torchlit water and the green and purple gloom of cypresses, was nothing to complain of; statuary, since it could not move, was not as pleasing to the eye; but shrieks of idiotic laughter and debauchery of beauty sickened him.

There came a series of sounds at the pavilion entrance, where a litter was set down on marble pavement and a eunuch's shrill voice criticized the slow unrolling of a carpet.

"What did I warn you?" Norbanus whispered, laughing in Sextus's ear.

Pertinax got to his feet, long-leggedly statuesque, and strode toward the antechamber on his right, whence presently he returned with a woman on his arm, he stroking her hand as it rested on his. He introduced Sextus and Norbanus; the others knew her; Galen greeted her with a wrinkled grin that seemed to imply confidence.

"Now that Cornificia has come, not even Sextus need worry about our behavior!" said Galen, and everybody except Sextus grinned. It was notorious that Cornificia refined and restrained Pertinax, whereas his lawful wife Flavia Titiana merely drove him to extremes.

This Roman Aspasia had an almost Grecian face, beneath a coiled extravagance of dark brown hair. Her violet eyes were quietly intelligent; her dress plain white and not elaborately fringed, with hardly any jewelry. She cultivated modesty and all the older graces that had grown unfashionable since the Emperor Marcus Aurelius died. In all ways, in fact, she was the opposite of Flavia Titiana-it was hard to tell whether from natural preference or because the contrast to his wife's extremes of noisy gaiety and shameless license gave her a stronger hold on Pertinax. Rome's readiest slanderers had nothing scandalous to tell of Cornificia, whereas Flavia Titiana's inconstancies were a by-word.

She refused to let Galen yield the couch on Pertinax's right hand but took the vacant one at the end of the half-moon table, saying she preferred it-which was likely true enough; it gave her a view of all the faces without turning her head or appearing to stare.

For a long time there was merely desultory conversation while the feast, restricted within moderate proportions by request of Pertinax, was brought on.

There were eels, for which Daphne was famous; alphests and callichthys; pompilos, a purple fish, said to have been born from sea-foam at the birth of Aphrodite; boops and bedradones; gray mullet; cuttle-fish; tunny-fish and mussels. Followed in their order pheasants, grouse, swan, peacock and a large pig stuffed with larks and mincemeat. Then there were sweetmeats of various kinds, and a pudding invented in Persia, made with honey and dates, with a sauce of frozen cream and strawberries. By Galen's order only seven sorts of wine were served, so when the meal was done the guests were neither drunk nor too well fed to carry on a conference.

No entertainers were provided. Normally the space between the table and the front of the pavilion would have been occupied by acrobats, dancers and jugglers; but Pertinax dismissed even the impudent women who came to lean elbows on the marble railing and sing snatches of suggestive song. He sent slaves to stand outside and keep the crowd away, his lictor and his personal official bodyguard being kept out of sight in a small stone house near the pavilion kitchen at the rear among the trees, in order not to arouse unwelcome comment. It was known he was in Daphne; there was even a subdued expectation in Antioch that his unannounced visit portended the extortion of extra tribute. The Emperor Commodus was known to be in his usual straits for money. Given a sufficient flow of wine, the sight of bodyguard and lictor might have been enough to start a riot, the Antiochenes being prone to outbreak when their passions were aroused by drink and women.

There was a long silence after Pertinax had dismissed the steward. Galen's old personal attendant took charge of the amphora of snow-cooled Falernian; he poured for each in turn and then retired into a corner to be out of earshot, or at any rate to emphasize that what he might hear would not concern him. Pertinax strolled to the front of the pavilion and looked out to make sure there were no eavesdroppers, staring for a long time at the revelry that was warming up into an orgy. They were dancing in rings under the moon, their shadowy figures rendered weird by smoky torchlight. Cornificia at last broke on his reverie:

"You wish to join them, Pertinax? That would dignify even our Roman

Hercules-to say nothing of you!"

He shrugged his shoulders, but his eyes were glittering.

"If Marcia could govern Commodus as you rule me, he would be safer on the throne!" he answered, coming to sit upright on the couch beside her. It was evident that he intended that speech to release all tongues; he looked from face to face expectantly, but no one spoke until Cornificia urged him to protect himself against the night breeze. He threw a purple-bordered cloak over his shoulders. It became him; he looked so official in it, and majestic, that even Sextus-rebel that he was against all modern trumpery-forebore to break the silence. It was Galen who spoke next:

"Pertinax, if you might choose an emperor, whom would you nominate?

Remember: He must be a soldier, used to the stench of marching legions.

None could govern Rome whose nose goes up in the air at the smell of

sweat and garlic."

There was a murmur of approval. Cornificia stroked the long, strong fingers of the man she idolized. Sextus gave rein to his impulse then, brushing aside Norbanus' hand that warned him to bide his time:

"Many more than I," he said, "are ready to throw in our lot with you, Pertinax-aye, unto death! You would restore Rome's honor. I believe my father could persuade a hundred noblemen to take your part, if you would lead. I can answer for five or six men of wealth and influence, not reckoning a friend or two who-"

"Why talk foolishness!" said Pertinax. "The legions will elect Commodus' successor. They will sell Rome to the highest bidder, probably; and though they like me as a soldier they dislike my discipline. I am the governor of Rome and still alive in spite of it because even Commodus' informers know it would be silly to accuse me of intrigue. Not even Commodus would listen to such talk. I lead the gay life, for my own life's sake. All know me as a roisterer. I am said to have no ambition other than to live life sensuously."

Galen laughed.

"That may deceive Commodus," he said. "The thoughtful Romans know you as a frugal governor, who stamped out plague and-"

"You did that," said Pertinax.

"Who enabled me?"

"It was a simple thing to have the tenements burned. Besides, it profited the city-new streets; and there was twice the amount of tax on the new tenements they raised. I, personally, made a handsome profit on the purchase of a few burned houses."

"And as the governor who broke the famine," Galen continued.

"That was simple enough, but you may as well thank Cornificia. She found out through the women who the men were who were holding corn for speculation. All I did was to hand their names to Commodus; he confiscated all the corn and sold it-at a handsome profit to himself, since it had cost him nothing!"

"While we sit here and cackle like Asian birds, Commodus renames Rome the City of Commodus and still lives!" Sextus grumbled.

"Nor can he be easily got rid of," remarked Daedalus the tribune. "He goes to and fro from the palace through underground tunnels. Men sleep in his room who are all involved with him in cruelties and infamy, so they g

uard him carefully. Besides, whoever tried to murder him would probably kill Paulus by mistake! The praetorian guard is contented, being well paid and permitted all sorts of privileges. Who can get past the praetorian guard?"

"Any one!" said Pertinax. "The point is not, who shall kill Commodus? But who shall be raised in his place? There are thirty thousand ways to kill a man. Ask Galen!"

Old Galen laughed at that.

"As many ways as there are stars in heaven; but the stars have their say in the matter! None can kill a man until his destiny says yes to it. Not even a doctor," he added, chuckling. "Otherwise the doctors would have killed me long ago with jealousy! A man dies when his inner man grows sick and weary of him. Then a pin-prick does it, or a sudden terror. Until that time comes you may break his skull, and do not more than spoil his temper! As a philosopher I have learned two things: respect many, but trust few. But as a doctor I have learned only one thing for certain: that no man actually dies until his soul is tired of him."

"Whose soul should grow sick sooner than that of Commodus?" asked


"Not if his soul is evil and delights in evil-as his does!" Galen retorted. "If he should turn virtuous, then perhaps, yes. But in that case we should wish him to live, although his soul would prefer the contrary and leave him to die by the first form of death that should appear-in spite of all the doctors and the guards and tasters of the royal food."

"Some one should convert him then!" said Sextus. "Cornificia, can't Marcia make a Christian of him; Christians pretend to oppose all the infamies he practises. It would be a merry joke to have a Christian emperor, who died because his soul was sick of him! It would be a choice jest-he being the one who has encouraged Christianity by reversing all Marcus Aurelius' wise precautions against their seditious blasphemy!"

"You speak fanatically, but you have touched the heart of the problem," said Cornificia. "It is Marcia who makes life possible for Commodus- Marcia and her Christians. They help Marcia protect him because he is the only emperor who never persecuted them, and because Marcia sees to it that they are free to meet together without having even to bribe the police. There is only one way to get rid of Commodus: Persuade Marcia that her own life is in danger from him, and that she will have a full voice in nominating his successor."

"Probably true," remarked Pertinax. "Whom would she nominate? That is the point."

"It would be simpler to kill Marcia," said Daedalus. "Thereafter let things take their course. Without Marcia to protect him-"

"No man knows much," Galen interrupted. "Marcia's soul may be all the soul Commodus has! If she should grow sick of him-!"

"She grew sick long ago," said Cornificia. "But she is forever thinking of her Christians and knows no other way to protect them than to make Commodus love her. Ugh! It is like the story of Andromeda. Who is to act Perseus?"

(In the fable, Andromeda had to be chained to a cliff to be devoured by a monster, in order to save her people from the anger of the god Poseidon. Perseus slew the monster.)

"There are thirty thousand ways of killing," Pertinax repeated, "but if we kill one monster, four or five others will fight for his place, unless, like Perseus, we have the head of a Medusa with which to freeze them into stone! There is no substitute for Commodus in sight. The only man whose face would freeze all rivals is Severus the Carthaginian!"

"We are none of us blind," said Cornificia.

"You mean me? I am too old," answered Pertinax. "I don't like tyranny, and people know it. It is something they should not know. An old man may be all very well when he has reigned for twenty years and men are used to him, and he used to the task, as was Augustus; but an old man new to the throne lacks energy. And besides, they would never endure a man whose father was a charcoal-seller, as mine was. I have made my way in life by looking at facts and refusing to deceive myself; with the exception of that, I have no especial wisdom, nor any unusual ability."

"If wisdom were all that is needed," said Sextus, "we should put good

Galen on the throne!"

"He is too old and wise to let you try to do it!" Galen answered. "But you spoke about the head of a Medusa, Pertinax, and mentioned Lucius Septimius Severus. He commands three legions at Caruntum in Pannonia. (Roughly speaking, the S.W. portion of modern Hungary whose frontiers were then occupied by very warlike tribes.) If there is one man living who can freeze men's blood by scowling at them, it is he! And he is not as old as you are."

"I have thought of him only to hate him," said Pertinax. "He would not follow me, nor I him. He is one of three men who would fight for the throne if somebody slew Commodus, although he would not run the risk of slaying him himself, and he would betray us if we should take him into confidence. I know him well. He is a lawyer and a Carthaginian. He would never ask for the nomination; he is too crafty. He would say his legions nominated him against his will and that to have disobeyed them would have laid him open to the punishment for treason. (This is what Severus actually did, later on, after Pertinax's death.) The other two are Pescennius Niger, who commands the legions in Syria, and Clodius Albinus who commands in Britain. We must find a man who can forestall all three of them by winning, first, the praetorian guard, and then the senate and the Romans by dint of sound reforms and justice."

"You are he! Rome trusts you. So does the senate," said Cornificia.

"Marcia trusts me. The praetorian guard trusts her. If I can persuade

Marcia that her life is in danger from Commodus-"

"But how?" Daedalus interrupted.

"We can take the praetorian guard by surprise," Cornificia went on, ignoring him. "They can be tricked into declaring for the man whom Marcia's friends nominate. Having once declared for him they will be too proud of having made an emperor, and too unwilling to seem vacillating, to reverse themselves in any man's favor, even though he should command six legions. The senate will gladly accept one who has governed Rome as frugally as Pertinax has done. If the senate confirms the nominee of the praetorian guard, the Roman populace will do the rest by acclamation. Then, three months of upright government-deification by the senate-"

Pertinax laughed explosively-an honest, chesty laugh, unqualified by any subtleties, suggesting a trace of the peasantry from which he sprang. It made Cornificia wince.

"Can you imagine me a god?" he asked.

"I can imagine you an emperor," said Sextus. "It is true; you have no following among the legions just at present. But I make one, and there are plenty of energetic men who think as I do. My friend Norbanus here will follow me. My father-"

Noises near the open window interrupted him. An argument seemed to be going on between the slaves whom Pertinax had set to keep the roisterers away and some one who demanded admission. Near at hand was a woman's voice, shrilling and scolding. Then another voice-Scylax, the slave who had ridden the red mare. Pertinax strode to the window again and leaned out. Cornificia whispered to Galen:

"If the truth were known, he is afraid of Flavia Titiana. As a wife she is bad enough, but as an empress-"

Galen nodded.

"If you love your Pertinax," he answered, "keep him off the throne! He has too many scruples."

She frowned, having few, which were firm and entirely devoted to

Pertinax' fortune.

"Love him? I would give him up to see him deified!" she whispered; and again Galen nodded, deeply understanding.

"That is because you have never had children," he assured her, smiling. "You mother Pertinax, who is more than twice your age-just as Marcia has mothered that monster Commodus until her heart is breaking."

"But I thought you were Pertinax' friend?"

"So I am."

"And his urgent adviser to-"

"Yes, so I was. I have changed my opinion; only the maniacs never do that. Pertinax would make a splendid minister for Lucius Severus; and the two of them could bring back the Augustan days. Persuade him to it. He must forget he hates him."

"Let him come!" said the voice of Pertinax. He was still leaning out, with one hand on a marble pillar, much more interested in the moonlit view of revelry than in the altercation between slaves. He strolled back and stood smiling at Cornificia, his handsome face expressing satisfaction but a rather humorous amusement at his inability to understand her altogether.

"Are you like all other women?" he asked. "I just saw a naked woman stab a man with her hairpin and kick his corpse into the shrubbery before the breath was out of it!"

"Galen has deserted you," said Cornificia. The murder was uninteresting; nobody made any comment.

"Not he!" Pertinax answered, and went and sat on Galen's couch. "You find me not man enough for the senate to make a god of me-is that it, Galen?"

"Too much of a man to be an emperor," said Galen, smiling amid wrinkles. "By observing a man's virtues one may infer what his faults are. You would try to rule the empire honestly, which is impossible. A more dishonest man would let it rule itself and claim the credit, whereas you would give the praise to others, who would shoulder off the work and all the blame on to you. An empire is like a human body, which heals itself if the head will let it. Too many heads-a conference of doctors-and the patient dies! One doctor, doing nothing with an air of confidence, and the patient gets well! There, I have told you more than all the senate knows!"

Came Scylax, out of breath, less menial than most men's slaves, his head and shoulders upright and the hand that held a letter thrust well forward as if what he had to do were more important than the way he did it.

"This came," he said, standing beside Sextus' couch. "Cadmus brought it, running all the way from Antioch."

His hand was trembling; evidently Cadmus had by some means learned the contents of the letter and had told.

"I and Cadmus-" he said, and then hesitated.


"-are faithful, no matter what happens."

Scylax stood erect with closed lips. Sextus broke the seal, merely glancing at Pertinax, taking permission for granted. He frowned as he read, bit his lip, his face growing crimson and white alternately. When he had mastered himself he handed the letter to Pertinax.

"I always supposed you protected my father," he said, struggling to appear calm. But his eyes gave the story away-grieved, mortified, indignant. Scylax offered him his arm to lean on. Norbanus, setting both hands on his shoulders from behind, obliged him to sit down.

"Calm!" Norbanus whispered, "Calm! Your friends are your friends. What has happened?"

Pertinax read the letter and passed it to Cornificia, then paced the floor with hands behind him.

"Is that fellow to be trusted?" he asked with a jerk of his head toward

Scylax. He seemed nearly as upset as Sextus was.

Sextus nodded, not trusting himself to speak, knowing that if he did he would insult a man who might be guiltless in spite of appearances.

"Commodus commanded me to visit Antioch, as he said, for a rest," said Pertinax. "The public excuse was, that I should look into the possibility of holding the Olympic games here. Strangely enough, I suspected nothing. He has been flatteringly friendly of late. Those whom I requested him to spare, he spared, even though their names were on his proscription list and I had not better excuse than that they had done no wrong! The day before I left I brought a list to him of names that I commended to his favor-your father's name among them, Sextus."

Pertinax turned his back again and strode toward the window, where he stood like a statue framed in the luminous gloom. The only part of him that moved was his long fingers, weaving together behind him until the knuckles cracked.

Cornificia, subduing her contralto voice, read the letter aloud:

"To Nimius Secundus Sextus, son of Galienus Maximus, the freedman Rufus

Glabrio sends humble greeting.

"May the gods give solace and preserve you. Notwithstanding all your noble father's piety-his respect for elders and superiors-he was accused of treason and of blasphemy toward the emperor, by whose orders he was seized yesterday and beheaded the same day. The estates have already been seized. It is said they will be sold to Asinus Sejanus, who is probably the source of the accusation against your father.

"I and three other freedmen made our escape and will attempt to reach Tarentum, where we will await instructions from you. Titus, the son of the freedman Paulinus, will convey this letter to Brundisium and thence by boat to Dyrrachium, whence he will send it by post in the charge of a Jew whom he says he can trust.

"It is a certainty that orders will go forth to seize yourself, since the estates in Antioch are known to be of great value. Therefore, we your true friends and devoted servants, urge you to make all speed in escaping. Stay not to make provision for yourself, but travel without encumbrances. Hide! Hasten!

"We commend this letter to you as a sure proof that we ourselves are to be trusted, since, if it should fall into the hands of an informer by the way, our lives undoubtedly would pay the forfeit. We have not much money, but enough for the expenses of a journey to a foreign land. The place where we will hide near Tarentum is known to you. In deep anxiety, and not without such sacrifices to the gods and to the manes of your noble ancestors as means permit, we will await your coming." -RUFUS GLABRIO "Freedman of the illustrious Galienus Maximus."

Pertinax turned from the window. "The Jews have a saying," he said, "that who keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from trouble. Often I warned Maximus that he was too free with his speech. He counted too much on my protection. Now it remains to be seen whether Commodus has not proscribed me!"

Sextus and Norbanus stood together, Scylax behind them, Norbanus whispering; plainly enough Norbanus was urging patience-discretion- deliberate thought, whereas Sextus could hardly think at all for anger that reddened his eyes.

"What can I do for you? What can I do?" wondered Pertinax.

Then Cornificia was on her feet.

"There is nothing-nothing you can do!" she insisted. She avoided

Galen's eyes; the old philosopher was watching her as if she were the

subject of some new experiment. "Let Commodus learn as much as that

Sextus was here in this pavilion and-"

Sextus interrupted, very proudly:

"I will not endanger my friends. Who will lend me a dagger? This toy that I wear is too short and not sharp. You may forget me, Pertinax. My slaves will bury me. But play you the man and save Rome!"

Then the tribune spoke up. He was younger than all of them.

"Sextus is right. They will know he was here. They will probably torture his slaves and learn about that letter that has reached him. If he runs and hides, we shall all be accused of having helped him to escape; whereas-"

"What?" Galen asked him as he hesitated.

"If he dies by his own hand, he will not only save all his slaves from the torture but remove the suspicion from us and we will still be free to mature our-"

"Cowardice!" Norbanus finished the sentence for him.

"Aye, some of us would hardly feel like noble Romans!" Pertinax said grimly. "Possibly I can protect you, Sextus. Let us think of some great favor you can do the emperor, providing an excuse for me to interfere. I might even take you to Rome with me and-"

Galen laughed, and Cornificia drew in her breath, bit her lip.

"Why do you laugh, Galen?" Pertinax strode over to him and stood staring.

"Because," said Galen, "I know so little after all. I cannot tell a beast's blood from a man's. Our Commodus would kill you with all the more peculiar enjoyment because he has flattered you so often publicly and called you 'father Pertinax.' He poisoned his own father; why not you? They will tell him you have frequently befriended Sextus. They will show him Sextus' father's name on that list of names that you commended to his favor. Do you follow me?"

"By Jupiter, not I!" said Pertinax.

"He is sure to learn about this letter that has come." said Galen. "If you, in fearful loyalty to Commodus, should instantly attempt to make a prisoner of Sextus; if, escaping, he is killed, and you bear witness- that would please Commodus almost as much as to see gladiators killed in the arena. If you wept over the death of Sextus, that would please him even more. He would enjoy your feelings. Do you remember how he picked two gladiators who were brothers twins they were-and when the slayer of his twin-brother saluted, Commodus got down into the arena and kissed him? You yourself must announce to him the news of Sextus' death, and he will kiss you also!"

"Vale!" remarked Sextus. "I die willingly enough."

"You are dead already," Galen answered. "Didn't Pertinax see some one's body kicked into the bushes?"

There was silence. They all glanced at one another. Only Galen, sipping at his wine, seemed philosophically calm.

"I personally should not be an eye-witness," Galen remarked. "I am a doctor, whose certificate of death not even Commodus would doubt. In the dark I might recognize Sextus' garments, even though I could not see his features. And-" he added pointedly-"neither I nor any one can tell a beast's blood from a man's."

"Daedalus!" said Pertinax with sudden resolution. "Get my purse. My slave has it. Sextus shall not go empty-handed."

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