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Non sibi sed omnibus
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IN the year 23 A.D. there lived in Rome a youth named Gannon. He was a comely lad, seventeen years old, with a bright and happy face covered with a light down. His profile was Greek. His head was poised gracefully on his vigorous young shoulders. His dark eyebrows were slightly curved, and two bright black eyes sparkled under them. His black hair was short and brushed forward. He was neither tall nor stout. He wore a tunic which came down to above his knees, leaving bare his well-shaped neck, arms, and legs. On his small feet were leather sandals, held on by a string of the same material, interlaced and tied above his ankles. His whole air betokened a frank, ingenuous nature; and a cheery influence seemed to surround him, invisible yet perceptible to every one with whom he came in contact.
He was sitting in a room of the Praetorian Camp, translating a letter from Greek into Latin.
The task was not a difficult one; for his parents were Greek, and he had been taught by his father to speak and write both languages with fluency and exactness. His duties consisted in copying despatches, writing and translating letters, and taking care of some of the private correspondence of Sejanus, the commander of the Praetorians. The situation, although a responsible one for so young a lad, had been easily secured. Through a friend of his father he had obtained a position as secretary to Macro, an officer in the camp. One day, noticing his intelligent and handsome face, Sejanus took him to his office and tested his ability. The result was so favorable that he made Gannon one of his own secretaries.
Gannon's father, Alcmaeon, taught Greek in one of the schools of the city. He earned barely enough to support his family of three,—wife, son, and daughter. It was, therefore, with joy that he welcomed the day when Gannon was able to earn his own livelihood. He looked upon his son's advancement with pride and yet with foreboding. While in the employ of Macro, Gannon had always spent his nights at home; now he was permitted to go home only one night each week. Under Macro he had done only clerical work; now his duties were such that he might learn some important and dangerous secrets.
With Macro he worked alone; now he was thrown into the company of unprincipled companions. At first, when Gannon heard the rough stories that circulated around the camp, he modestly retired; but now he could hear the coarsest ones with little show of shame.
The history of Alcmaeon was a sad one. His father had been wealthy, but had lost his patrimony when Antony marched through Greece to fight Octavianus. With what little he had left he moved with his wife to Brundusium, a great seaport town in Italy, where Alcmaeon was born. They lived there until Alcmaeon grew to manhood and married. After the death of his father Alcmaeon took his mother and his wife, Hera, and moved to Rome, where he rented a small house outside the city, on a little road that crossed the Appian Way.
As there was more demand for Greek teachers in Rome than in Brundusium, he soon found employment in one of the schools. But his life was again saddened by the death of his mother. Her delicate constitution could not brave the fever that hovered over the suburbs of the city. Soon after this second loss his daughter, Psyche, was born, and in the following year Gannon. With their coming a new era began for Alcmaeon. After his day's work at school he hastened home in joyful anticipation of seeing the smiling faces of his children. How it pleased him to watch his little ones grow, day by day! With what delight he taught their baby lips to speak the language of his fatherland! How he loved to put them to sleep, while Hera removed the remains of the evening meal! During this, the children's hour, he would tenderly take them into his arms for a frolic, and gradually quiet them until their eyelids grew heavy and closed in sleep. Then he would gently put them to bed, and softly kiss them good-night.
When the position as secretary to Sejanus was offered to Gannon, the lad nearly danced with joy. His young heart beat stronger and faster as he broke the news to his family. With such an opportunity he thought he might advance, by diligent application, until he should occupy a post of high honor. He thought that the prayers of his parents, as well as his own, were at last being answered; that through him the fortunes of his family were to be restored. He told his parents that he would take them back to dear old Greece; that they should live once more in the country where, as Alcmaeon said, "The music of soul-stirring phrases and glorious ideas was forged by great men on the anvils of poetry and philosophy." He worked earnestly and diligently, and progressed steadily, until he was trusted with communications to carry to the emperor. He so promptly responded to every summons, and so cheerfully carried out the orders of Sejanus, as to win the favor of that sternest of masters. His proud and graceful bearing and refined manners greatly aided in his advancement. Chiefly because of these advantages, he had been chosen to carry letters from his master to Livilla, the wife of Drusus and the daughter-in-law of Tiberius.
His situation, however, was not one of unalloyed happiness. His promotion engendered little jealousies and quarrels. At first the other secretaries in the office of Sejanus treated Gannon contemptuously. They watched his advancement invidiously, and one of them, named Alvus, who had previously been employed to carry letters to Livilla, quarrelled with him. Words led to blows, and, although Gannon fought bravely, he was badly beaten. However, the secretaries understood that they could not intimidate him. But there was continual friction, until, one day, Alvus fell ill. With no feeling of resentment towards Alvus, Gannon performed not only his own work, but also that of his sick associate. By this generous act, by other favors, and by the ingenuous manner in which he taught his companions to ornament their speech with Greek words, a fashion of the day, he completely won their friendship.
When Gannon carried the first letter to Livilla, he looked upon that event as the most important in his life. He impatiently awaited his night of freedom, so that he could describe to his family the magnificent palace on the Esquiline Hill. When the night finally came, he hurried home. On his arrival the evening meal was ready, and his family were awaiting him.
"Hail, father, and thee, mother, and thee, Psyche!" he cried joyfully, as he entered the house.
"Art thou not late, my son?" asked Hera.
"Ay, mother. We are always busy at the camp. To-day many letters came from Greece."
He lovingly kissed his family. His happy talk and gay spirits affected them as a flood of light brightens a darkened room.
"Art thou not hungry, my son?" asked Alcmaeon.
"As hungry as a starving Argonaut," said Gannon, laughing.
"Come, Hera! Be the Medea to this starving Jason," said the father, catching the infection of his son's high spirits.
Hera went to the hearth, and distributed from a boiling pot a thick soup of barley and vegetables.
"O my mother! My favorite broth!" exclaimed Gannon. "A kiss for thy kindness and thy goodness."
Hera smiled as she received her son's token of gratitude and affection.
"What news hast thou to feed our curiosity to-night, my son?" asked Alcmaeon.
"I have carried letters to Livilla since I last saw thee."
"To the wife of Drusus?" he asked, in surprise.
"Ay, father,—but wait until the meal is over. I will then tell thee all. Where is Gyges?" he asked roguishly, looking at Psyche.
" he has gone to Capua to try some horses," Psyche replied.
"Of a truth, Fortune smiles upon him," said Gannon.
"Do you speak of his wealth?" asked Psyche, shyly.
"Thou dost not understand me, O my sister. I mean that he is fortunate in winning thee."
"Rather, Fortune is good to me, my brother. I am to marry a noble man."
"The gods be thanked for such a union of true and loving hearts," said Alcmaeon.
"Thy bowl is empty, my son," interrupted Hera. "Wilt thou have more broth?"
"If thou canst spare some," said Gannon.
Hera gladly refilled Gannon's bowl.
"In the past week thou hast not visited me at school," said Alcmaeon.
"Nay, father; but it was not because the desire was lacking. I had not the time."
"Hast thou been sent again with letters to the emperor?" inquired the father, with anxious interest.
"Only once," replied Gannon; "but I saw not the emperor. On the way I passed Nero, that most fortunate of princes. He assumes the manly habit in a few days."
"In the games and entertainments which he gives the people to celebrate that event, Psyche will dance," proudly said the mother.
"What character portrayest thou, my sister?" asked Gannon.
"Niobe," she replied.
"I like thy Daphne better," he suggested.
"'Tis more pleasing, but the character of Niobe requires more art."
"Ay, but the movements are more graceful in Daphne. Niobe is too sad."
"The dance begins in lively fashion," she insisted.
"True. But I like Apollo better when he pursues a lovely maiden than when he shoots to kill," said Gannon, still unconvinced.
At this moment Hera, who had left the room, reappeared, carrying a plateful of cakes.
"What, my mother! My favorite cakes too!" exclaimed the youth.
"I kept them hidden so as to surprise thee," replied the fond mother.
"Thou couldst not have pleased me better, my dear mother," exclaimed Gannon, with evident appreciation.
After they had eaten the cakes, and the room was arranged for the night, Alcmaeon threw himself upon a couch. Gannon seated himself beside him, so that, upon leaning back, his head touched his father's shoulder. Hera and Psyche sat near them, side by side.
"Now, my son," gently commanded Alcmaeon, "describe to us the palace on the Esquiline Hill."
"Oh, my dear father, it is like a dream," Gannon began, in a voice filled with enthusiasm. "The meandering walk that leads from the massive iron gates to the palace is bordered with short-trimmed boxwood, over which peep dark crimson anemones, golden daffodils, purple violets, pale-blue hyacinths, and the starlike blooms of the white narcissus. Superb pine-trees interweave their branches across the walk, revealing the blue sky as through the meshes of a green net. Roofs of verdure embower pure white statues of Diana, Daphne, naiads, and dancing fauns. Fountains play sweet and endless music. Quiet pools of water, with lilies floating on the surface, are bordered by majestic firs. Carved marble benches are placed in shady nooks and corners, and rustic summer-houses here and there invite to rest. The words of Homer seem to have become living things. O my father, Maecenas, the rich minister of the Divine Augustus, well knew how to group the gifts of the gods in delightful harmony."
"Maecenas was more Greek than Roman, my son," said Alcmaeon. "No Roman, except the Divine Augustus, understood beauty as he did."
"Maecenas built his palace of marble as temples are built," continued Gannon. "Graceful columns with Corinthian capitals support the roof of the atrium, peristyle, and corridors. Some of the rooms have walls of polished marble. All are lavishly decorated with rare paintings, exquisite carvings, beautiful statues,—all the work of the deft fingers of our countrymen. It is not surpassed even by the palace of Tiberius, which I described to thee last week."
"As if by magic, my son," said Alcmaeon, proudly, "Greek hands have congealed and fixed forever the ecstasies of the affections. Painting, sculpture, and architecture, O Gannon, are the gifts of the Greeks to the world."
"On the opposite sides of the atrium," continued Gannon, "with their faces towards each other, are two wonderful busts of Plato and Socrates. So lifelike are they that they seem to speak."
"They are well placed, my son. Plato looks to Socrates for intellectual light; Socrates looks to Plato to transmit that light to souls that sit in darkness."
"Verily, my father, 'tis strange what influence the Greeks have over the Romans."
"Ah! Forget not, my son," said Alcmaeon, "that beauty, art, and understanding still rule the world. Rome has conquered Greece by military force; but Greece has conquered the world by that higher celestial force, intellect. Greece has had her day of wealth and power; but her genius, her art, her architecture, her statues, her poetry, and her philosophy are living influences, before whose vitality the Roman legions are impotent."
"True, my father. Yet before the Roman legions the world trembles," said Gannon.
"The world trembles from fear, not from the thrill of Roman intellectual power," earnestly asserted Alcmaeon. "Rome rules the body; Greece, the mind. Rome creates worldly dominions; Greece, heavenly kingdoms. Rome stands for war; Greece stands for peace."
"The Greeks were brave, O my father. Are they not still brave?" interjected Gannon.
Without replying directly to the eager question of his son, Alcmaeon resumed: " Prometheus brought fire to mortals and was punished; Greece brought reasoning and was punished. But Prometheus is now free; Greece still feeds from her vitals the hunger of the Roman eagle, greedy for gold. Where is the Hercules that will set her free?"
"Is Greek heroism, then, dead?" asked Gannon. "Will no Leonidas, no Themistocles, no Alexander, ever arise again?"
"Nations, like homes, buildings, armies, cities, and individuals, have their genii, my son," replied Alcmaeon. "Who, therefore, knows the caprices of Fate?"
Alcmaeon spoke the last words slowly, with a slight tremor in his voice.
"But why should my companions in the camp taunt me by saying that the Greeks are weak, effeminate, and cowardly?" asked Gannon.
"The Romans are a vulgar, brutal, and licentious people," answered Alcmaeon. "Few of them understand the higher life, according to our philosophy. We have done nothing to cause the blush of shame, O my son. The Romans believe us weak because we have ceased to fight. Physical strength wanes with age, but the mind often retains its vigor. The Romans call us effeminate. Because our stomachs cannot hold as much wine as theirs do, are we soft? Because we, in our Pentathlons, run, jump, wrestle, throw the discus and javelin; and because the Romans in their games kill one another and drink one another's blood, are we effeminate? Be proud to be called effeminate under such conditions, O my son!"
Alcmaeon became more earnest as he proceeded. Gannon turned so as to see his father's face. Hera and Psyche leaned forward, with breathless attention.
"They call us cowards! Those who do so lie!" he continued. "Nations are not cowards if they are conquered while fighting to the death. We are Corinthians, O my children, and on the awful day when we were defeated by the Romans under the inhuman Mummius, the hopes of Greece fell. Our ancestors were sold as slaves. Our city was razed and burnt. By the gods of Olympus!" he exclaimed, "we were not cowards, and we are not cowards!"
This Alcmaeon said with such fervor that Gannon, filled with emotion, cried out, "O my father, I thank thee for those words!"
"What else have the Romans done besides conquer nations?" added Alcmaeon, stirred by Gannon's enthusiasm. "The Iliad that appeared at the dawn of our history is still the dew that nourishes the very radicles of our souls. Have the Romans produced a Homer? Art became plastic in the quick fingers of the Greeks. Have the Romans produced a Praxiteles or a Scopas? Greek painting deceived human eyes. Have the Romans produced an Apelles? Where is the Roman Phidias, the Roman Demosthenes, the Roman Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides? Where are the Roman counterparts of the greatest men who ever reflected on human minds the light of the other world? Where, O my children, where is the Roman Socrates, the Roman Plato and Aristotle?"
"I understand thee now, my father! I understand thee now!" cried Gannon, carried to a higher plane of conception by his father's superb climax. "I have fought my companions and have been beaten. Of a truth, words and thoughts are more powerful than brute force. My companions may ridicule my lack of physical strength, but they have become my friends. They now respect me."
"Ay. The Romans understand not the finer and purer instincts, my son," said Alcmaeon, flushed with indignation. "They are a coarse, vulgar, and brutal people; the Greeks are refined, elegant, and humane."
With an effort to calm her father's agitation, Psyche now interposed in a voice that seemed to sing rather than to speak: "But, my father, beauty is understood by both nations. Is it not so?"
"Ay, my Psyche; but there are two kinds of beauty,—the pure beauty of the Greeks and the corrupt beauty of the Romans."
"Tell us of Livilla's beauty, my brother," begged Psyche, somewhat weary of this discussion, and with a natural and innocent curiosity to know more about the daughter-in-law of the emperor.
"So beautiful, stately, and majestic is she, my sister, that I feel, when I stand before her, as if I stood in a temple, beholding a living goddess."
"Has she not one fault?" asked Hera, doubtfully.
"To Greek eyes," replied the youth, "her lips may seem too thick, her eyes too dreamy."
"Few women possess the exquisite beauty of our daughter, my son," said Hera, weaving the fingers of her daughter's hand into those of her own.
"Would that her figure could be reproduced in marble!" said Gannon, with an admiring glance at his sister.
"Psyche's dancing, my son, leaves an impression that a sculptured form could not produce," replied Hera.
"True, O mother," said Gannon; "but the veil of age dims loveliness. A statue of Psyche would preserve her beauty forever."
"My son, hast thou watched the attentive faces of the spectators when Psyche dances?" asked Alcmaeon. "Hast thou noticed the mouths firmly compressed or half open, the foreheads contracted or expanded? Hast thou noticed the light of joy and the shadow of sorrow alternate on their faces? Memories of Psyche's impersonations may be perishable, but to me they are preferable to a figure in marble."
"What thinks Gyges, my sister?" slyly asked Gannon.
"He wishes only the living me," laughed Psyche, modestly blushing.
"Besides," added Alcmaeon, "no sculptor now lives who can create life in marble."
"Are all our sculptors dead too?" asked Gannon.
"Art died under foreign oppression, my son. Artists now copy; they do not create," replied his father.
But again the conversation reverted to Livilla. Hera and Psyche were filled with curiosity to know the smallest details about the first woman in Rome. The night was far spent when they had exhausted Gannon's information. When the family separated for the night, Alcmaeon, with his heart full of love, took his handsome boy by the arms and said, "You are the picture of your grandfather." This was the highest encomium he could bestow.
In the Praetorian Camp Gannon was working on a translation. He was all attention. His eyes would dance from the letter to the copy, and then he would write rapidly until a word puzzled him. After pausing a few moments, and biting his stylus or running his fingers through his short hair, he would once more write rapidly, softly breathing a happy song as he did so; for no noise was allowed in the office of Sejanus. The other secretaries were working near him. From time to time officers would pass through the room and hand out reports to be copied. While Gannon was thus occupied, he heard his name called in a commanding tone. He quickly answered the summons, and was bidden to carry a letter to Livilla.
Carrying messages was the easiest and pleasantest duty that Gannon had to perform. It was a rest to his eyes to see the streets filled with people. Especially did he enjoy a trip to the Palatine Hill; for at first he passed some of the palaces of the richest men on the Quirinal Hill, and caught delightful glimpses of wealth and power. He would walk through the Forum of Augustus, with its beautiful temple of Mars Ultor and its galleries filled with statues of the greatest Roman generals. He would pass through the Forum of Caesar, with its temple to Venus Genetrix, and then through the Forum Magnum, and, finally, up the Clivus Victoriae to the palace of Tiberius. Of late, carrying a letter to Livilla had become an embarrassing errand. Several times lately she had kept him waiting before her while she wrote her reply, and occasionally she would pause and look at him with such a fervent glance that Gannon would modestly lower his gaze.
Livia—or Livilla, as hereafter she shall be called, in order to distinguish her from Livia, the mother of Tiberius—was at this time in the bloom of her womanhood. She was the daughter of Drusus and Antonia. Drusus was the brother of Tiberius; Antonia, the daughter of Marc Antony and Octavia, the sister of Augustus. Therefore there flowed in the veins of Livilla the blood of both the Julian and Claudian families. She was a sister of Claudius and Germanicus. She had married Drusus, the son of Tiberius, and she made the emperor and her husband happy by giving birth first to a daughter, Julia, and then to, male twins. In these boys centred the hopes of Tiberius for the continuation of the Claudian family as rulers of the empire.
The wife of Drusus was considered the most beautiful woman in Rome. Her face was purely Roman. She had large, black, dreamy eyes that shone through long lashes, a prominent but handsome nose, lips that were red and voluptuous, and a bold forehead, crowned with black and lustrous hair.
When Gannon presented the letter from Sejanus, she was languidly reclining upon a cushioned couch in a small but beautifully furnished room. As she lay there, the graceful lines of her figure were revealed through the folds of a loose tunica, or dress, held closely to her figure by bands of light-blue silk. There was a certain fervor in her languid movement that made Gannon retreat a few steps; for her fingers had touched his, and slightly pressed them. Her whole form seemed to palpitate under the voluptuous impulse of an evil thought. After she had read the letter, she looked at Gannon and softly said: "Why standest thou so far away? What fearest thou?"
"I fear nothing," Gannon timidly replied, with a slight smile; "but I know not the etiquette required before great people, my lady."
"For thee there is nothing to learn. Be natural," said Livilla. She turned her handsome face towards Gannon. She smiled, and showed her pretty teeth as she added, "Come hither."
Gannon, somewhat embarrassed, bashfully approached. "Has no one told thee that thou art handsome?" she asked.
"Why should they?" shyly asked Gannon.
"Because 'tis true. Thine eyes and mouth are too handsome for a lad. They would make the fairest woman in Rome proud. Hast thou a brother?"
"Nay, my lady. I have only a sister."
"Thy parents are living?"
"Ay, my lady."
"What is the name of thy sister?"
"Is she pretty?"
"Beautiful, my lady. She dances at the theatre."
"I have seen her," said Livilla. Seeing that Gannon was more at ease, she asked him, "Wouldst thou like to be a lady's secretary?"
"I do not know, my lady."
"Come, leave the service of Sejanus. I will pay thee more, and thy duties will be lighter. Come, take care of my correspondence."
"I know not what to say," answered Gannon, looking at her with an expression of surprise and anxiety. "To me the details of social life are unknown, and I am dull at learning. I like my master. The duty at the camp is more suitable for me than composing a lady's letters."
"My offer is always open," said Livilla, still gazing intently at the handsome lad with her wonderful eyes. She noticed that while he looked at her his face became flushed. She tossed her head coquettishly, and smiling and extending her hand, said: "Do not be shy. Come nearer. Give me your hand."
Gannon awkwardly approached. He placed his hand in hers, and feeling a slight pressure, fell on one knee and kissed her fingers. A fascination seemed to overcome him, and he slightly trembled. He raised his eyes, fearing a reproof; but the evil look which he met in her eyes frightened him. Her expression was one of triumph. Several times before she had tried to break through Gannon's reserve. Now she thought her ends were accomplished. She exultantly raised him, and placing her face near his, murmured some inarticulate words that Gannon did not understand. He felt her breath on his cheek, and his first impulse was to kiss the lips so near his own. He hesitated, and hesitation brought with it fear. He drew back quickly and said, in a voice choked with emotion, "The answer, I pray thee."
This simple and innocent request was made in an excited manner. Gannon's face wore a frightened look. Misunderstanding his true feelings, and thinking that he was diffident on account of their difference in rank, Livilla tried to calm him by reassuring words. Again she put out her hand and drew him near her; but her sensuous kiss was given on Gannon's cheek, for he had turned his head. Angered at his indifference and at her defeat, she hastily took up a stylus and wrote a reply.
"Begone!" she ordered, as she handed it to him.
In embarrassed silence Gannon took the letter, and bowed himself from the room. He breathed more freely as he walked down the path that led to the street. "What did she mean?" he asked himself. "The daughter of Antonia in love with a schoolmaster's son!" Gannon thought he must have been dreaming. "Surely she was angry when she handed me the letter," he continued. "What wrong have I committed?" He thought of what had happened, but recalled nothing for which he could reproach himself. A feeling of shame possessed him, like that which he felt when he first heard a coarse story in the camp. His face grew stern. Looking at the letter which had been so roughly handed him, he was astonished to find it unsealed. Never before had Livilla failed to seal her letters. His first impulse was to return, but he could not go back just then. He decided that an unsealed letter must be one of little importance, and he proceeded towards the camp.
As he lightly walked along, he began to wonder what could be the import of the frequent communications that passed between Livilla and Sejanus.
Here was an opportunity to satisfy his curiosity. The desire to read Livilla's reply began to possess him. He checked it by his stern sense of honor. But the probability that Livilla might have written about his forwardness in kissing her hand stimulated his curiosity. He decided to look inside, even if he did not read the words.
He quickly opened the letter and glanced inside. As quickly he closed it; but the swiftness of his motion did not prevent him from reading the words, "Lygdus is a good man to do the deed. Come and see me." New thoughts now rushed through his mind. At last he had learned a secret, a thing against which his father had always warned him. He would have liked to tear the words from his mind, but they were as indelibly fixed there as if carved in stone. Lygdus, the leering eunuch, whom Gannon knew and despised, was to commit a secret deed,—perhaps a crime. Gannon trembled. So uncertain was the condition of his mind that he dared not return immediately to the camp. He went instead to the Forum of Augustus. Before the beautiful statues of the great Roman generals and heroes in the shadow of the wonderful temple of Mars, he became calmer.
But questions shrouded in mystery still presented themselves to him. "Why had Livilla chosen the wicked Lygdus to do some dark deed? Were Sejanus and Livilla lovers? Did their letters contain a plan to rid them of a hateful rival?" he asked himself. In the camp he remembered to have heard the soldiers say that one day Drusus struck Sejanus in the face. Sejanus, he had been told, had never forgotten that insult. But after carefully weighing the perplexing questions, Gannon decided that carrying letters was his duty, no matter what they contained. Still he wished he had left Livilla's reply unread. When he reached the camp and handed her letter to Sejanus, he had regained his usual composure.
"Where is the seal?" immediately demanded Sejanus.
"It was not sealed, my lord," Gannon replied, with nervous haste.
"Hast thou read the letter?" he imperiously asked.
"Nay, my lord."
"It is of little importance," said Sejanus, closely watching Gannon's face. "Hereafter every communication carried to or from me must bear a seal. The failure to observe this rule will cost more than a dismissal. Go to thy room. Speak to no one. Wait until I send for thee."
Gannon walked slowly from the room. A sudden impulse came over him to return and confess to Sejanus that he had read the letter; but at that moment he was prevented by the entrance of another secretary, who handed a letter to Sejanus. With a heavy heart Gannon went along the corridor outside of the office, and slowly mounted the flight of steps that led to his room. When he arrived there, he threw himself upon his couch and buried his face in his hands.
Sejanus had spoken harshly to him. "The order to go to my room was given in anger," Gannon said to himself. He now felt sure that Livilla's reply was more important than Sejanus had admitted. "What did he mean when he said that hereafter the failure to have letters sealed would mean more than a dismissal?" he thought. "Could he mean imprisonment, or, worse, could he mean death?" The thought of being imprisoned without being able to communicate with his parents tortured the lad's very soul.
This was his first trouble, and in facing it he realized his own weakness. A window in his room looked out upon a large courtyard where the soldiers practised their manoeuvres. Leaving his couch, he watched them in their various formations. But the words, "Lygdus is a good man to do the deed," were constantly recurring to his mind. "What would Sejanus do if he thought I had read Livilla's reply?" he asked himself.
"Would he see that my tongue is forever hushed?" Gannon shook with fear. He felt that he must communicate with his family, but how? He sat down and wrote a letter, but that he destroyed. " Who would carry it to them?" he asked himself. His handsome face had grown haggard with anxiety. His young heart was burdened with the consciousness of his deceit. Finally a plan for communicating with his family occurred to him, like a thought of hope to a despairing soul. Taking up a scrap of cloth, he wrote upon it in the smallest possible Greek characters the following words: " Have done wrong. Read a letter from L to S about Lygdus." This he sewed to the under side of his tunic. Then, more contented, he threw himself upon his couch and waited to be called. He waited many hours.
AELIUS SEJANUS, commander of the Praetorians, was a tall and robust man, with a fine commanding head, set upon a coarse thick neck. He had a bold, hard, and evil face, which could at times appear weak, gentle, and friendly. His light-gray eyes were commanding and yet kind; his large mouth was voluptuous, yet firm. In fact, his nature was so complex and deceptive that he could instantly change from love to hate, from proud authority to fawning servility, from dignified sincerity to unctuous flattery. He was a man and yet a beast; an honest friend, a brave soldier, and a detestable villain. He was a living lie.
Years before, the Divine Augustus had been satisfied to distribute his guards among the surrounding towns of Rome; but the cowardly Tiberius had built a huge camp of bricks and marble, and in it he placed his soldiers, so that he could mobilize them more quickly in case of need. Over the soldiers he stationed his faithful minister, Sejanus, whom he trusted as he did no other man. Money had been so lavishly expended upon the building that it resembled a palace more than a guard-house. Its spacious rooms, polished marble corridors, grand, imposing stairways, and courtyards surrounded by beautiful columns with finely wrought capitals, were elaborately adorned with carved candelabra, tables of variegated marbles, statues, and fountains. At one end of a spacious corridor stood the statue of Tiberius. At the other end, by the emperor's order, one of Sejanus had recently been erected. A soldier, commenting upon this arrangement, said, "Sejanus watches the emperor day and night."
Though of low origin, Sejanus had succeeded in attaching himself, some years before, to Caius Caesar, the grandson of the Divine Augustus. When Livia, the mother of Tiberius, had accomplished the death of that heir, Sejanus sold himself to the greatest epicure and spendthrift of the time, Apicius. In order that the flame of literature might not become extinct during the inglorious reign of Tiberius, Apicius composed a cook-book! His wealth was enormous; yet, fearing that he might some day die penniless, he committed suicide. With money dishonorably obtained by pandering to the low tastes of Apicius, Sejanus bought the friendship of the dissolute men who circled around Tiberius. At this time the emperor was beginning to cast his evil shadow over the city. With infernal ingenuity Sejanus so endeared himself to Tiberius that the emperor withdrew his favor from the other satellites and made Sejanus his adviser and minister.
Like a serpent, Sejanus would coil himself around his victim, and if the victim proved too strong to crush, he would use his poisoned fangs. Like a panther, he would crouch in the vilest holes; and when he saw his prey unguarded, he would steal upon it with padded feet, spring upon it, and strike it down. Like a huge tarantula, he would suck the life-blood of some wealthy man; but, less merciful than the tarantula, he allowed his victim to live on and suffer.
At present he was captain of the guards, chief officer of the most important military body in the empire. Moreover, he was the associate and particular friend of the emperor. He was yet more,—the confidant and principal adviser of the emperor. In all the emperor's shameless pleasures, fiendish intrigues, and atrocious villainies, Sejanus was an abettor and a panderer. Step by step he had risen; and although these steps were stained with vice, robbery, and murder, he had reached the eminence of being the second man in Rome. In this rise to power Sejanus had not abandoned his old associates; but as he mounted higher, he drew them with him. Neither did he allow the halo of influence to dazzle and bewilder him. On the contrary, like the eagle, the higher he soared, the better view he took of his surroundings. He was always easy of access, and by his servility to the emperor and by his graciousness to those below him he had gathered about him a cordon of friends, so that whenever he walked through the streets he was greeted with cheers.
Such was his versatile nature that he was equally at ease in the palaces of the most refined and in the camp with his soldiers over their cups. He could talk the airy nothings of social gossip to the flippant ladies of the city, and then join the noble matrons and converse on serious subjects. He was the friend of virtuous senators and of vicious profligates, of pure aristocrats and learned philosophers, of foul vermin of the under strata and of vulgar voluptuaries. Cruelty was another trait of his character. When he beat his little son so hard that he broke a limb, he watched the sufferings of the child without raising a helping hand. He could look at one of his slaves—punished for some trivial offence—writhing under the lash, and smile even when the welts were sweating blood. Without a gleam of pity he would torture a man to swear to a lie until the flame of his victim's life was nearly extinct. As he found that his wife and children weighed heavily upon him and prevented him from progressing, he abandoned them. With all his servility, graciousness, and dissimulation, there was only one idea that ruled him,—ambition.
He had made Livilla, the wife of Drusus, believe that he loved her, and had even penetrated to her chamber and so compromised her that an exposure of her indiscretion would have meant death or exile to them both. The letter that Gannon had carried from Livilla contained her acquiescence to a foul and terrible deed. Sejanus believed that Gannon had not read the letter; but doubt on a question so important made him ill at ease. After having sent Gannon to his room, he went to see Livilla.
Livilla and her little twin sons were playing with some gold-fish in a fountain when Sejanus was announced. She left the little boys in charge of their nurse and retired to her room.
Sejanus greeted her like an ardent lover; she received him with a nervous reserve. She trembled slightly when he asked, "Where is Drusus?"
"he has gone to Bovilla."
"When will he return?"
"Shall we, then, be alone until sundown, O my Livilla?"
"Ay, my Sejanus. But I wish to talk with thee concerning Lygdus."
"The eunuch will be here to-morrow morning," replied Sejanus.
"Art thou sure of him?" she asked anxiously.
"He is like the second half of my heart, my Livilla."
"But is he trustworthy and silent?" she persisted.
"In important transactions his lips are as silent as those of the dead."
"I sometimes fear—" she began.
"What!" he interrupted. "Art thou beginning to fear at this time?"
"Ay, my Sejanus."
"Hearken unto me, O daughter of Antonia. The plans that Sejanus makes never miscarry."
"But I hesitate at this last step," she faltered.
"Ah, Livilla," said Sejanus, fervently, "thou rulest my life, my heart, my very soul, but I cannot now defer action. A plan may be well formed, but hesitation brings disaster."
"But is there no other way?" she pleaded.
"There is no other way," he replied impressively. "But why fearest thou? Be strong. Be brave. Trust in me. Tullia took this course to find happiness with Tarquinius. Clytemnestra gave up Agamemnon for Aegisthus. Art thou weaker than they were? In thy veins flows the blood of the mighty Marc Antony. Did thy noble ancestor tremble at the death of his enemies? Tullia and Clytemncstra were dissolute. Thou art an outraged woman."
"Not so loud, O my love," she whispered cautiously. "We may be overheard."
"Where is thy servant Marcia?" he asked.
"She is within calling distance. Have a care," she warned him.
He softened his tone as he poured out his passion. "I can no longer live apart from thee, O my love," he exclaimed. "I love thee! oh, how I love thee! The gods alone understand a love that cannot be told. If all the openings in this room were ears, if all the sparkling objects were eyes, they would hear and see that I love thee. A dangerous love, sayest thou? Ay; but if death be the ultimate reward, I will be content if I have obtained thy love."
As a sleeping child is wooed by the whisper of a mother's voice, so Livilla succumbed to the loving words of Sejanus. They affected her like a narcotic. Her objections gave way, her nervousness disappeared, and her fear completely vanished. Her face, which at first was overspread with an unnatural pallor, gradually became flushed. Her eyes lost their frightened stare, and grew soft and dreamy. Her quivering mouth became firm and composed. Observing the change that was passing over her, Sejanus approached and took her in his arms.
"I love thee, O Sejanus!" exclaimed Livilla, abandoning herself to his caresses. Suddenly, as if struck by a happy inspiration, she asked, "Could we not leave Rome and live together in a foreign country?"
"Ah, but what corner of the empire could long hide the daughter of Antonia and the minister of Tiberius?" he asked.
"But, O my love, I cannot here in Rome become thy wife," she cried.
"Thy love is impotent if so thy feelings are ruled. That is not like the love I bear thee. O my Livilla, I have sacrificed wife, children, friends, for thee. Ay, for thee I would even sacrifice my power. What more can a man do?"
His passionate words overcame her fear. She yielded and said, "I consent." Then she whispered: "Send Lygdus to me. Complete thy plans. I will share everything with thee, bear everything with thee."
"Of a truth, thou canst not desire to live longer with the man who abuses thee worse than his slaves," said Sejanus. "Gamblers, drunkards, unscrupulous and dissolute men and women, are his friends. He loves the mute statues on these walls more than he loves thee. He would not sacrifice a cup of wine to make thee happy."
Sejanus again placed his arms around her, and with his lips near hers he continued: "I love thee, O my Livilla, with all the strength of my nature. In the very marrow of my bones I long for thee always. True love is no crime. The gods have so loved. Forsake Drusus, who insults thee. Come to the arms of one who adores thee."
"May the gods forgive me if it be a sin; but I love thee, O my Sejanus, I love thee!"
As Livilla spoke these words, he covered her mouth with kisses. He led her to a couch, and seating himself beside her, said: "I have never seen thee more beautiful than thou art now. This struggle has made thy lovely face more radiant than that of Eos. Be not gloomy! A bird sings louder and more joyously when freed from its cage. Love's flame burns brighter when fed by pure oil. Thy beautiful hands will never be stained with my crimes. Let me kiss thy fingers! Let me kiss thy mouth! Let me love thee now."
The splash of the water in the fountain, the happy voices of the little twins at play, a joyful song from the lips of Julia, Livilla's daughter, were the only sounds that entered through the curtained door while the wicked lovers sat locked in each other's arms. Livilla started when she thought of the time, and said, "The day is fleeting, O my love; thou must now depart."
"Tell me, before I go," asked Sejanus, loosening his embrace, "was the letter sealed which thou didst send me this morning?"
"Ay, my Sejanus. Never do I send a letter without a seal."
"Gannon gave it me unsealed."
"I like not thy Gannon," she said, frowning. "He is impertinent. He angered me this morning. I wrote the letter hastily, but I am sure I did not forget the seal."
"Have I been so mistaken in the boy?" questioned Sejanus. "He told me he did not read the reply."
"Hast thou such faith in him?" she asked. Then in a warning tone she said: "Beware, O Sejanus! Trust him not. But go! Send Lygdus to-morrow morning! Come to me after the dinner to-morrow night!"
The shameless lovers then embraced and separated.
Sejanus, with his few followers, had hardly left the entrance to the palace, when Drusus, highly indignant, arrived there with a crowd of clients, freedmen, and slaves. The cause of his indignation was that the guards had refused to obey an order which he had given them, basing their refusal upon the ground of a contrary order from Sejanus. This exhibition of effrontery was very humiliating to Drusus, especially since it had taken place before his followers. But such clashing of authority had become of frequent occurrence of late. These daily conflicts kept the jealous Drusus continually in a state of ill humor. He dismissed his friends and walked up the path that led to the palace, cursing the author of his troubles.
Drusus had inherited the vices of his father, Tiberius, and none of the virtues of his mother, Vipsania. He had a bloated, sullen face, with a large Roman nose and bloodshot eyes, overshadowed by a brow that always frowned. His mouth was large, with thick, voluptuous lips. He looked upon life gloomily, and seldom found anything worth a smile. His drinking was excessive, his behavior dissolute. His impressionable nature bore the imprints of his wicked associates, who, believing that he was to be their next emperor, pandered to all his vicious passions.
But he had not always been sullen and profligate. His star of good fortune once shone brightly. He had successfully waged war against the Illyrians and Pannonians. However, on his return to Rome after his brilliant campaigns, although he was the son of an emperor, he had little authority. The empty, high-sounding titles bestowed upon him by his father humiliated more than they elated him. He was disappointed, enraged, to see favors, wealth, and honors showered upon Sejanus and his friends, while he, the emperor's son, and his retainers, received no substantial recognition. The insults he daily experienced, the opposition, and the ridicule,—all these things had so embittered his nature that he had become indifferent to everything except the gratification of his desires and pleasures.
The visits of Sejanus, and the knowledge that letters passed between his wife and Sejanus, excited him to violent anger. He doubted Livilla's fidelity, but sufficient proofs of her wrongdoing were lacking. Being informed by a servant that Sejanus had just left the palace, he broke into a towering passion and sent for Livilla.
"Sejanus has been here again!" he bellowed, when she appeared.
"He has, my lord," she replied. "On his way to the Palatine Hill he called to pay his respects."
"His respects," sneered Drusus. "Let him be more respectful to his family; ay, more respectful to me!"
"He came to say that he would not be at dinner to-morrow night," she ventured, with forced composure.
"Thou liest, O wicked woman!" he shrieked. "'Tis not true! He came to insult me, to tell thee that I am a brute, to try to turn thee against me!"
"Nay, my lord; he—"
"Have done with thy deceit!" he interrupted. "Has he written thee also to-day?"
"He has, my lord," she fearlessly replied.
"What mean these meetings, O deceitful woman? What is in these letters he sends thee? Where didst thou see him?"
"In my room—"
"Alone?" he bawled. "In thy room with that villain! Thou hast the insolence to tell me that?"
"We were not alone. My servants were with me."
"Thou liest!" he shrieked. "There is no truth in thee. Thy face is fair, thy heart evil!" cried the infuriated man, pacing up and down the room.
Neither spoke for some time. Suddenly Drusus stopped walking, and roared a command that the servant Marcia should be brought before him. When the trembling maid appeared, he asked her, "Where wert thou when Sejanus was here?"
The poor woman knew not how to reply. She looked beseechingly at Livilla.
"Strip her and lash her until her tongue is loosened," ordered Drusus, breathing heavily.
At the sight of her favorite maid being brutally handled by the servants of Drusus, Livilla became infuriated. Rushing between them, her eyes flashing fire, she cried: "Canst thou not believe a truthful wife, O son of Tiberius, without questioning her servants? I have told thee that Sejanus came here to say that he would not be at the dinner to-morrow evening."
Taking this cue from her mistress, the woman now easily answered the questions of Drusus.
When the ordeal was over and Drusus and Livilla were left alone, he said: "Marcia must be dismissed. One of my selection will take her place. And now, O Livilla, never again must that man see thee in thy room. I hate him. No hatred can be more intense. He hates me too. He would have preferred to see my father without an heir, for then there would have been one obstacle less between him and his coveted goal. He is a thorn in my side. So continually does he torment me that my only solace is in the cup."
He clapped his hands, and a servant appeared.
"Thou shalt remain with me, O Livilla," he commanded.
"Nay, my lord. I wish to be alone," she replied, as she proudly walked from the room.
"I will not be alone!" he cried to his servant. "Go! Seek some friends! Tell them that Drusus will drink to-night. Tell them that Bacchus will rule on the Esquiline. Go, boy!"
On a sumptuous couch in a gorgeously furnished apartment of the Praetorian Camp Sejanus proudly reclines. It is midnight. The room is lighted by a bronze lamp, shaped like a satyr's face. It rests on a slender bronze pedestal with a base of three cloven feet. Carved figures of fauns, sylphs, and nereids in graceful poses come out of the shadows like dancing sprites. Red and yellow oriental silks, carelessly thrown over the chairs, look in the sallow light like tongues of flame. In a bronze tripod, ornamented with naked sylphs and satyrs, burns perfumed charcoal. An odor of incense pervades the room. The light seems to be a reflection from the lower world. Everything suggests an incantation.
Sejanus is happy. His face, in the yellow light, looks like that of a leering demon. As he reclines there, he is building huge and lofty castles in the air. He looks into the future. He sees a man seated on a curule chair, imperiously making laws and rendering decisions. That man is Sejanus. Again he sees a man clad in triumphal robes of purple adorned with gold. He is standing in a chariot of silver, drawn by four white horses abreast. In his right hand he carries a laurel branch; in his left, an ivory sceptre. Behind him a slave holds a golden crown over his head. The Forum is thronged with people, dressed in soft white togas and crowned with shining leaves or bright flowers. Songs of boys and girls, chants of priests and priestesses, war songs of the legions, joyful notes poured from long golden trumpets, and acclamations of the people, all rend the air. The glad tumult echoes from pillar to pillar of the pure white temples garlanded with flowers, as the Victor rides along the Via Sacra towards the Capitoline Hill. That Victor is Sejanus. Again he sees, seated on a throne, a man before whom senators, ambassadors, and kings of nations prostrate themselves, all anxiously, breathlessly, waiting to hear the words that fall from his lips. That emperor is Sejanus. Once more he looks into the future, and he sees a statue of a man placed amongst those of the gods. He sees the people falling down and worshipping it, as they do those of the Divine Julius and the Divine Augustus. He sees a body of priests and priestesses chanting litanies and making sacrifices to this new god. That new god is SEJANUS.
However, these dreams of self-advancement and self-glorification are far from being assured facts; for between him and the consummation of his dreams are many obstacles. There is Drusus, the son of Tiberius; there are the twins, sons of Drusus and Livilla; there are the sons of Germanicus,—Drusus, Nero, and Caligula,— these last being real princes of the blood of the Divine Augustus; there is the emperor himself.
But to this man, who can compass seeming impossibilities, nothing is too difficult. With such immense odds against him, he does not falter. Murder, the infamous tool that Livia and Tiberius had wielded to cement their power, is understood equally well by him. The five atrocious murders in the family of the Divine Augustus had sown in the heart of Sejanus seeds that have matured into deadly fruit.
He had recently executed a murder for the emperor in a peculiarly skilful and satisfactory manner. In gratitude for this service the emperor decreed that wherever one of his own statues stood, a statue of Sejanus should be erected beside that of his royal master. With this supreme honor conferred upon him, with the flattery of senate, soldiers, and common people, and with the conquest of Livilla's heart, and her consent to his ambitious and murderous schemes, he feels well content with himself as he lies there. He is an emperor in everything except the name. But one thing must be done before he can feel absolutely secure. He calls a soldier, and gives an order, after which he takes up a silver cup and with an evil smile slowly sips his wine.
While Sejanus lies there dreaming, Gannon is pondering over his troubles. The poor lad patiently awaits some sign that can be construed as a hope of pardon. He has seen no one except a servant, who carried him some supper. The time passes slowly, and the monotony of silence is broken only by the soldiers as they call out the hours for changing the watch. He is sleepy, and decides to go to bed. Just then he is startled by hearing footsteps in the corridor. He hears his name called, and receives an order to appear on the roof. Joyfully he springs from his couch, for he thinks he is now pardoned. Yet the command is an unusual one. What can it mean? With his young heart bounding with hope, he mounts the steps lightly, taking care not to stumble in the darkness. When he reaches the last step, the soldier, who had shortly before received an order from Sejanus, catches him by the throat, another seizes his body, and before the poor boy can collect his thoughts, he is carried to the railing that borders the edge of the roof, and is thrown into the street below.
As he strikes the ground,-a pitiful groan is heard. A spasmodic tremor passes through his body, and then all is still.
WHILE Gannon was anxiously considering how he could communicate with his family, they were safe and happy at home. The evening meal was finished, and they were seated in the atrium of their one-storied house of four rooms. On a wooden table burned a small terra-cotta lamp, which shed a dim light through the room. Psyche and her mother were seated together. Alcmaeon lay on a couch near them.
"Hast thou finished rehearsing for the celebration, O daughter?" asked Alcmaeon.
"On the afternoon of the morrow the last rehearsal will take place, O my father," she replied.
Psyche was a charming maiden, eighteen years old. She had an exquisite face, with large soulful eyes, like a young doe's, a mouth like that of a sculptured Aphrodite, and pretty nose, cheeks and forehead like those of the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Leda. All her features blended so harmoniously with the refined sinuous lines and curves of her body that she formed a perfect figure of beauty. Like the beloved of Eros, whose name she bore, she would have been persecuted by the jealous Venus if she had not had, like that other Psyche, a devoted protector.
When a little girl, she had taken part in religious processions. As she grew older and her beauty developed, she led these processions. Instinctively, while taking part in them, she learned so easily to portray the pure emotions by her pose, gait, and dance, that she had been drawn gradually into theatrical spectacles. At first Alcmaeon objected to Psyche's dancing in public; but her graceful movements so pleased him, and her success in pleasing others was so pronounced, that he finally consented.
It was marvellous what force she could put into her movements. By her grace of action alone, she could represent the tragic Iocasta, the majestic Clytemnestra, and the pleading Penelope. Whether she were delineating the happy Aspasia, the outraged Lucretia, or the proud Cornelia, she budded and bloomed in the attentive air of her audience like a soft flower of feminine grace. She could so adjust her costume that she appeared like a butterfly floating about the stage, trembling in her pauses as if she were hovering over a flower. Her greatest characterizations were those of the inquisitive and mournful Psyche, the nimble and fleeting Daphne, and the tearful and grief-stricken Niobe. In these representations she was an embodied thought of a Phidias or Praxiteles.
At the games to be given by Nero, Agrippina's son, on his arrival at the manly age, she was to portray the character of Niobe at Pompey's Theatre.
"Art thou not sorry that this dance will be thy last, my daughter?" asked Hera.
"Ay, my mother."
"The wife of Gyges must lead a more serious life than that of a dancing girl," said Alcmaeon.
"Dost thou yet know where thy new home is to be?" asked Hera.
"Nay, my mother. Gyges wishes to surprise me."
"Wherever it be, O daughter, thy home will be a pleasant one," said Alcmaeon. "Gyges is a good and noble son of Greece. He inherits his father's mild temper and goodness. He is wealthy. Thy new home will contain more luxuries than thy old one. But hearts cannot beat with love for thee more than ours do, my daughter."
"As the wife of Gyges, I am no less the daughter of Alcmaeon. When I wed, thou losest not a daughter, thou gainest another son," said Psyche, sweetly.
"Oh that Gannon were here to-night!" said Hera. "Does not thy heart yearn for our son, my Alcmaeon?"
"Ay, my Hera. 'Twas I who allowed him to go to the camp. Would that I had found him another position!"
"But he is paid well for his services," said the mother.
"I would rather that he received less and were home more. I like not Sejanus," said Alcmaeon, thoughtfully.
"Hast thou seen Gannon to-day, my father?" asked Psyche.
"I saw him only yesterday."
"Said he naught of us?" questioned the mother.
"Ay, O Hera. He asked for thee, and thee, too, Psyche. He said only a few words; but they were happy ones. After he had gone, they seemed to me to have come from the smiling lips of his soul. Ah! if it would not break his heart, I would take him away from the camp."
"When he next comes home, let us ask him to leave the camp," said Hera.
"Dost thou remember, O my Hera, the night he told us of his promotion? Then he spoke with difficulty; joy choked his words. His handsome young face was as radiant as that of Apollo, who drives the sun on its daily course. To have stemmed the flood of his enthusiasm at that time would have been an outrage. In his roseate view of the future he had us all transported back to the country of our fathers,—back to Corinth, to the city that was the glory of the Hellenes."
"Verily he shall accomplish his purpose!" exclaimed Psyche, her face flushing with the reflection of her father's deep emotion.
"Ay, few boys are as buoyant and hopeful as Gannon," replied Alcmaeon. " He is a thorough Greek. He knows well the history, the language, and the religion of our beloved country. He is a true son of the Iliad."
"Ay, my Alcmaeon, a true son of the Iliad, and a true son of our ancestors," added Hera.
"With joy I shall welcome the day when I go to Corinth," said Psyche, with enthusiasm.
"When shalt thou go?" asked Alcmaeon.
"I know not; but I have the promise of Gyges to go there with me some day. Thou knowest that his ancestors were also of Corinth."
"Before I married thy mother, O Psyche," said Alcmaeon, "my father took me to Corinth. A desire had always burned in me to see that glorious city. A relation having died, we went to collect a legacy. We sailed from Brundusium. The boat was crowded with passengers. Never shall I forget the day when we sailed from the Ionian Sea into the Corinthian Gulf, between the islands Zacynthus and Cephallenia, As we floated into the heart of the Iliad, my feelings were preternatural. It seemed as if my heart were like a sail which, being swollen by the breath of religion, drew my soul into a haven of peace.
"It was near sundown," continued Alcmaeon. "The sea was calm. The bireme seemed to float quickly along, like a bird skimming the surface of the water. The oar-tortured waves grew white with foamy bubbles. A poet's eye could have seen in those waters the breasts and happy faces of wandering nereids. Across the water the shadow of Ithaca's crags extended over the ship. Through that shadow, as through a violet mist, I saw the glory of Odysseus.
"That night," he continued, "we anchored at Patros. I did not sleep. So enveloped was I in the glory of the past that the present lost its identity. I did not live; I dreamed. In the morning the surface of the sea trembled. The morning star reflected in the waters, like the smile of Eos. We raised anchor and proceeded along the coast."
As Alcmaeon described his voyage, Hera and Psyche gazed fixedly at the pale light on the table. They felt moved by so strange an emotion that their natural sight was dimmed. As sorrowful eyes see solace through tears, so Hera and Psyche saw cheer and a new pleasure in Alcmaeon's words. In the intonation with which he pronounced the old names of towns, heroes, and gods, they heard, as if floating on a river of melody, a Parthenic song.
"The bow of the boat cleaved the water like a swan's breast," continued Alcmaeon. "The historic shores of the gulf unfolded scene after scene, picture after picture,—all so beautiful in the dawn that they seemed to be glimpses into Elysium. The boat seemed to be drawn by an invisible force; the air seemed to vibrate with emotion; our hearts beat faster, when suddenly, like a lightning flash, directly in front, there sparkled a glorious mountain. The captain shouted, 'Parnassus! Parnassus!' I became as one transfixed; for in that mountain I saw the flaming celestial face of the god of the Sun, Apollo. The weight of humanity burdened me. I wished to fly to the mountain tops. Oh! to have been like the eagle, which from the heights of heaven flies along the windy ways towards its nest!
"Soon after, I beheld Aegira, Sicyon, and finally the home of my ancestors, Corinth. I saw the Acrocorinthus, and I became lost in an oblivion of joy. O my Hera! O my Psyche! above all earthly music, above the song of the Iliad, there floated to me from that glorious place the cradle-song of my forefathers."
At this part of the description Alcmaeon paused. He smoothed his brow with his hand. Hera and Psyche bestowed upon him fond glances, showing their intense sympathy with his emotion. He continued in a trembling voice: "We disembarked. We climbed towards the city. We reached the walls. O ye gods! we gazed upon the mutilated remains of the once proud town. The Romans under Mummius and his swine made of that once glorious city a trough. Our ancestors were sold into slavery. Our branch of the family was redeemed."
Again Alcmaeon paused. The last words he had uttered were full of irony. He passed his hand over his eyes and continued: "But these are bitter recollections. Sing an Homeric song, O Hera, and thou too, Psyche. Let our dreams float away from the iron city of Rome to the celestial cities of the Iliad."
Hera began to sing an old cradle-song that had been sung in her family from generation to generation. It was the same sweet song which, like gentle fingers, had closed the eyelids of Gannon and Psyche in the slumber of childhood. Taking her mother's hand in hers and smoothing it, Psyche also sang. Alcmaeon softly added his deep bass voice to theirs. On the spirit of the song they were drawn into the land of happy reveries. From songs they changed to hymns. So moved was Alcmaeon that he rose from the couch and seated himself between Hera and Psyche, with an arm thrown about each of them. In the sacredness of the words and music they were supremely happy. Their souls were melted in religious fervor.
While they were thus singing, they heard a scratching at the door. The noise sounded like a cat trying to enter. Alcmaeon opened the door, and saw on the threshold a poor humpbacked girl who was trembling and weeping.
"What has happened to thee, Lupa?" he asked.
When Lupa's name was spoken, Psyche hastened to the door. So rough and unmannerly were the neighbors of Alcmaeon that they were almost entirely ignored by Alcmaeon and his family. Lupa was the only exception. The poor deformed child of eleven was the youngest of six children. She was cruelly treated by her family, who looked upon her deformity as a crime. Psyche was the only one in the neighborhood who took an interest in the sad, misshapen, but good-natured girl. In reply to Alcmaeon's question, Lupa said, "They have beaten me."
"Enter and tell us why, O Lupa," said Psyche, gently.
"They gave me a jar of water to carry," replied the poor child. "It was too heavy. I let it fall. To punish me, they beat me, and put me out of the house for the night."
"Thou canst rest here. Weep no more. Art thou hungry?" asked Psyche.
The deformed girl timidly nodded her head.
After arranging a couch for her, Psyche brought her some bread, and said: "Eat and sleep in peace, O unhappy Lupa. No one shall hurt thee here."
At noon on the following day Alcmaeon's house was deserted. Poor Lupa had gone back to her cheerless home; Alcmaeon was at school; and Psyche and Hera had gone to the rehearsal at Pompey's Theatre.
Of all the celebrations that were to be given the people by Nero on his arriving at the manly age, the dancing at Pompey's Theatre would be the least exciting. The taste of most Romans dwelt on vulgarity, on obscene comedy, and on exciting gladiatorial combat and horse-races. Still, many delighted in watching the evolutions of the dance. Psyche was to portray Niobe,—a sad but beautiful impersonation. As all the dancers knew their different roles, the rehearsal required little repetition. Hera remained only a short time. Having met Gyges, whom she playfully called Eros, she left Psyche under his watchful eyes. These she thought were better guardians than her own.
Gyges was no golden-winged, heaven-descended god, like the mythical protector of the goddess Psyche, but a rich young charioteer, twenty-two years old. He was a Greek, and a perfect specimen of manly strength and symmetry. He had an oval face, with a pair of sharp, quick black eyes, a bold nose and forehead, and a small mouth, with lips that were thick and gracefully curved,—especially the short upper one, which was shaped like the bow of Eros. His rich, black curly hair was cut short. His body was graceful, lithe, and muscular. He was a living counterpart of the Hermes of Praxiteles at Olympia. At the races he always wore the green color; and as that color was the favorite, the betting odds changed whenever he drove. His intrepid and daring appearance, as he stood in the chariot, with the reins strapped around his body, his right foot resting on the chariot shield in front of him, his body bent back, his eyes flashing with fire, his clear voice shouting to his horses, inspired the spectators with wild enthusiasm. The excitement and rush of the chariots, as they rounded the last turn, with the finish line dead ahead of them,—on, on, in breathless anxiety, on to victory,— so thrilled the multitudes that they rose to their feet and rent the air with cheers.
The parents of Gyges, like those of Psyche, had been aristocratic Greeks; but having lost their property, they had moved to Rome to retrieve their fortune. Both were now dead. The mother died when Gyges was but a child; the father but recently. An old freed slave named Nana took care of the home of Gyges. She had been a second mother to him. By her tender care, and through the excellent education and training given him by his father, he had developed into worthy and successful manhood. At the age of sixteen he had mastered the art of wrestling; but liking horses, and preferring the excitement of a charioteer's life, he had taken racing as a profession. So successful had he become that he had accumulated a neat fortune of a million sesterces. On this day Gyges had left his horses and had come to the rehearsal to watch Psyche in her fascinating movements. So delighted was he by her grace and charm that he frequently broke out with applause. When the rehearsal was over, and Psyche had received congratulations from the instructor and the other dancing-girls, Gyges said to her, "Truly, O Psyche, never have I seen thee dance so well."
"'Tis the character I love best to portray," answered Psyche.
"Dost thou feel too tired to walk along the Via Sacra?"
"All weariness flees at the sight of thee, O Gyges," replied Psyche, "I could walk until evening."
In order to reach the Via Sacra, they passed the Flaminian Circus, walked in the beautiful pillared porticos of Philippus and Octavia, passed the Theatre of Marcellus, went through the Porta Triumphalis, in the Servian wall, and entered the Forum near the Basilica Julia. The Forum was crowded. The lovers worked their way through the busy and noisy throng, and were soon among the shops that bordered the Via Sacra.
"What shall I buy thee, O Psyche?" asked Gyges, when they stopped before a jeweller's shop.
"Nothing, my Gyges. I wish only to look at the beautiful objects displayed here."
"But buying a jewel hinders thee not from regarding it with admiration."
"True, O Gyges," said Psyche, smiling; "but there are many things for which I have no use. Look at that chain with the small gold links and the hyacinth stones in the centre! Is not that graceful?"
"It may be."
"Why 'maybe,' O Gyges?"
"I am no judge of ornament, O Psyche," replied Gyges, "unless it be a decoration for harness or chariot. Sculpture interests me more. Thine enthusiasm, however, pleases me more than the jewelry. Of a truth, dost thou like the chain with the hyacinth stones?"
"'Tis beautiful. Thinkest thou it is very costly?"
"Shall I ask?" he suggested.
"Nay, nay," returned Psyche, with a smile. "Raise not the jeweller's hopes. What heavy ear-rings are being worn now! Wouldst thou not think that they would tear the ear? Jewelry is not adornment when it disfigures. Dost thou not think so?"
"Ear-rings please me not," said Gyges. "Are not those hair-nets and bands pretty?"
"Ay, my Gyges. But look!" she added quickly. "There is a ring like the one thou didst buy me. Dost thou remember the day we saw a similar one in a shop in the Suburra? Thou didst ask the price. Was not the amount one-half what thou didst pay here? Thou wert angry that day."
"Truly, not angry!" he protested.
"Perchance thou wert provoked," she playfully remarked. "Truly, however, we know that no inferior jewelry is sold here. Thou wilt never know how proud I was when I heard that my ring was bought here,—in this shop which senators and wealthy men patronize. Look there, Gyges! What a beautiful set of jewels is being shown that—"
"Softly, my Psyche," interrupted Gyges. "The purchaser of those jewels is Nero."
"What! Nero, who is soon to assume the manly habit?"
"Ay, my Psyche. Wouldst thou like to have a set like that?"
"Ornament does not make people happy, my Gyges," said Psyche, as they left the jeweller's shop. "I am happier dressed in plain clothes, with no ornament, than the women who recline amidst soft cushions, and who are so loaded with jewels that they have to be assisted when they walk. But look yonder! What a quantity of silk that matron has bought! Doubtless a daughter is to be wed."
Gyges greatly enjoyed Psyche's light chatter. He allowed her to continue unchecked in her girlish enthusiasm. Every store they passed brought forth exclamations of pleasure from Psyche. She was so busily engaged looking at some sandals that she did not observe the disappearance of Gyges. He quickly returned to the jewelry shop, made a purchase, and was again at Psyche's side almost as soon as she missed him.
"Where hast thou been?" she asked.
"I wished to look once more at a jewel," he replied.
"And therefore, my Gyges, I have been speaking to myself."
"What didst thou say?"
"I was admiring those sandals of colored leather."
"Dost thou like them too, O Psyche?" asked Gyges, laughing. "Surely the Via Sacra is thy celestial path. Thou standest more patient and more wrapped in contemplation than in a temple to a god. But come, let us to the art dealer. Let us admire the prettiest thing on earth,— the human form."
"Behold that small copy of the Faun of Praxiteles," said Gyges, when they had arrived before the sculptor's shop. "Yonder is a copy of the Venus of Cnidus and the Hermes of the same sculptor. But look at this Ares! What a creation of beauty!"
"Oh, what grace, what action!" exclaimed Psyche.
"Ay," assented Gyges, "'tis full of life. How alive and quick are the legs and arms! What sensuous grace, what soft outlines! Yet how heroic! 'Twas carved by a Greek. The Romans carve only fortunes and kingdoms."
"But tell me, why is it not sold?" asked Psyche.
"I know not. Three months have I seen it there, begging its price. But tastes have changed, O Psyche. Busts of the Divine Augustus are now sought. Then, too, the statues of Tiberius when he was a lad are in demand; for his now hideous face was once handsome. Didst thou ever see the emperor, my Psyche?"
"Not closely, my Gyges. Gannon says he is ugly."
"The emperor may despise the games at the circus and the gladiatorial combats," said Gyges, "but 'twould have been better if he had loved them more. Probably his face would not now show the results of his dissolute life. The stories about him that are slyly circulated in the circus are terrible, though we are not allowed to speak of him disrespectfully. Only yesterday my stable-boy, Aldo, a lad only fifteen years old, was lashed ten times for using the name of Tiberius in an oath.. Times have changed, O Psyche,—but we are happy. In a few days thou shalt be the mistress of a new home. Tell me, what dost thou wish most for a present?"
"Ah, my Gyges, thou understandest thy horses better than thou dost a woman's heart. Joy is lost in knowing beforehand what gift will be received."
"Be it as thou wilt, O Psyche. Some days ago I told thee that I bought a house. To-day that house is ready to receive its mistress. Shall we go there now?"
"O my lover, I have been burning with curiosity since that day! Nothing would be more pleasing than to go there now," said Psyche, trembling with joy at the prospect of seeing her future home.
They left the Forum, walked around the Palatine Hill, and turned down a narrow street near the Porta Capena. Here they stopped before a small house.
"This is our new home, O Psyche," said Gyges, as he knocked at the door.
The door was opened by Nana, who gladly welcomed them.
"I have brought the bird for the new cage, O Nana," said Gyges.
"Wilt thou make of me a prisoner, my Gyges?" asked Psyche, with a shy smile.
"The door of this cage will always be open," replied Gyges, laughing merrily.
Psyche behaved like a child with a new gift. Her face was radiant. As each newly furnished room was shown her, she burst into exclamations of pleasure. The house consisted of a peristyle, around which opened five small rooms. In the centre of the peristyle played a small fountain, bordered by blooming flowers. At one end a stone bench, large enough for only two, invitingly held open its arms. Nana wisely left the happy lovers alone amid the flowers, and retired.
"How happy we shall be here, O Gyges!" said Psyche, throwing her arms around Gyges' neck and kissing him.
"Dost thou now wonder, O my love," he responded, "why the gods and goddesses left the heavens and came to earth to love mortals?"
The lovers seated themselves on the marble bench and watched the playing fountain. Borne on the perfumed breath of the flowers, the splashing sound of the water affected the lovers with an indescribable sense of joy. The dancing drops fell now on one side and then on the other side of the basin, according as the wind blew against the spouting jet. In their happy meditations the lovers saw in the jet of water a life of pleasure breaking into drops of joy, and reflecting, after it fell into the basin, the radiant heavens. Everything about them was cheerful, bright, and sunny. The lovers remained quiet and thoughtful. They built mental pictures on the peaceful background of their new home. Gyges broke the silence by saying, as he kissed her hand, "What beautiful hands thou hast, O my love!"
"They are no less finely moulded than thine are, O my lover. But thy fingers and wrists are strong as iron; mine are more supple."
"Ay, my love; thine can be broken like a tender flower. These hands must never grow hard and coarse. Nana will do all the hard work. Then thou must find some one to help thee."
"Thou wilt spoil me, O Gyges. Nana and I can do everything."
"Why canst thou not bring Lupa here? She would have a happy home with us."
"Poor unfortunate child!" said Psyche. "Last night she was beaten and put out of her home. We cared for her. Canst thou, O Gyges, provide for so many people?"
"Ay, my love," said Gyges, cheerfully. "Charioteers are well paid. I am doubly fortunate in being a favorite with the people. When we tire of this house, we can buy another better, larger, grander."
"Shall we end by living on the Palatine Hill, 0 my lover?" laughed Psyche.
"Not so high are my ambitions," said Gyges, with a smile. "I must always see my Psyche beautiful, free from care and trouble. I must always see on her cheek the rosy bloom which I shall try to brush away with kisses. Lay thy head on my shoulder. My lips thirst for kisses, 0 my love. Let me press thine eyes with my lips. Let me press thy lips with mine. Are we not happy?"
"Never was the beloved of Eros happier than I am with thee now, O my lover."
"For the wish to kiss lips like thine, O my love, the Trojan war was fought. The desire for a kiss changed Arethusa into a fountain, Daphne into the aromatic laurel-tree, Adonis into the tremulous flower of the wind. A kiss, my love, is the knot that unites the cords of love, and therefore completes the circle of happiness."
While Psyche rested on her lover's bosom, Gyges slyly placed in her hand the package which he had carried from the jeweller's. Feeling the object in her hand, Psyche started.
"What is that, O my lover?" she asked.
"Thou didst not like the ear-rings, my love. Perhaps thou wilt like a golden hair-net."
"Whilst I looked at the sandals thou didst buy a present?" she asked, as she carefully opened the package.
"Ay, my love. A golden hair-net will require to—"
"A golden hair-net! Why, 'tis the necklace with the hyacinth stones!" she cried with delight. "O my lover, thou art too, too good to me!"
She seated herself on his knees and mutely expressed her thanks in the kisses she gave him.
They relapsed into silence, the happy medium in which the hearts of lovers beat. 'Tis in silence that the leaves whisper their secrets to the gentle zephyrs. 'Tis in silence that the butterflies tell their thoughts to the flowers. The blossoms pour their mysterious perfume on the wings of the air in silence. It was in silence that Aphrodite stole the slumbering Ascanius from his home. She laid him on a bank of violets shaded by bushes covered with luxuriant roses, bent in reverence before his beauty.
Psyche and Gyges, silently clasped in each other's arms, had become transcendent beings. Sacred reveries filled their souls. The bridge over which they walked from the past to the future was one of gold. The stream that flowed beneath was one of crystal joy. The sun that filled their lives was at its zenith. They seemed to hear an Hellenic song. It was the music of their souls, singing the song of beatific love.
Long they sat there, lost in happiness. Gyges suddenly gave a start, and exclaimed: "Look, O my love! The fountain has stopped playing."
They hastened to the fountain to see why the water had ceased flowing. Gyges found a small fish caught in the opening. The little fish was dead.
"What means this omen?" he asked, in a tone of sadness.
There flashed upon his mind that so, too, the spontaneous flow of their happiness, which he had so lately likened to the play of the fountain, might be checked by death.
"Is the fish dead?" she asked, affrighted.
"Ay, my love." Then, after a long silence, he added with an air of sad conviction, "Some one whom we love is dead."
"Say not so, O lover," cried Psyche. "This cannot mean anything to us. But look! Even the sun has left us."
"Evening is drawing near," he sadly responded.
"Come, let us go home," said Psyche, tearfully.
Silently they took a last look at their new home, said farewell to Nana, went out into the street, and proceeded along the Via Appia. When they reached the street that led to Psyche's home, they concluded to walk farther and view the Campagna and the hills beyond, lit up by the setting sun.
WHEN Hera left Pompey's Theatre, she went directly home. On the way pleasant recollections of her children filled her mind. She recalled Psyche as a little child. Once more she heard with the ear of imagination difficult Greek words childishly syllabled on Psyche's lips. She heard again her childish voice strained with excessive happiness, singing an old Greek song. She recalled her childish expressions of joy and of sorrow. She thought of the small wooden doll that Psyche had loved like a mother; of the toys and household objects endeared to the whole family by association with Psyche's childhood. She thought of Psyche in the religious festivals,—a little child, clad in pure white, her face suffused with holy zeal. She thought of her later, when Psyche led the chorus of youths and maidens, all carrying garlands of roses and daisies, and singing sacred melodies to Maia, goddess of spring.
But when Psyche ceased to take part in the festivals, when maidenhood dimmed the radiance of childhood, that was the first vapor which veiled the sun of Hera's happiness. However, this waning light of childhood merged almost imperceptibly into the silvery light of Psyche's public career. Now even this was to be shadowed; for womanhood, like a semi-transparent shade of alabaster, would forever obscure the light of maidenhood.
As she walked along, she was so occupied in contemplation that she passed a shrine of Apollo without offering a prayer. When she became aware of this omission, she was filled with anxious forebodings. To omit praying at Apollo's shrine was a bad omen.
But again her thoughts reverted to her children. Her heart's love belonged to them. This time she thought especially of Gannon. Once again she followed him through all the changes of his young life. The first smile, the little outstretched hands, the first trembling footsteps, the loving caresses to her cheek, the tearful eyes,—all these pictures presented themselves to her. She heard his broken words echo in her ears, his complaints, his songs, and cries of joy. How her heart beat with delight when she saw her children in the innocent ecstasies of play! How she had smiled at their childish ideas!
As she walked along, a wan-faced woman who was quieting a sickly child held out her scrawny hand for alms, saying, "For the love of the Mother of God, give me food for my dying child!"
Hera stopped, looked at the wan face of the mother, then at the miserable, sickly child, whose lips were nearly as white as the curds of milk in its half-open mouth. She pressed a piece of money into the mother's hand. At that moment the babe convulsively moved, gave a feeble cry, rolled its eyes, and then grew rigid. The child died before Hera's eyes. The poor mother shrieked with anguish. Hera trembled. The unsaid prayers at Apollo's shrine and the sight of the dead child were the most ominous signs that had ever come into her experience. She silently went her way, deeply impressed by these warnings. She wished for some one to talk to. "Would that Alcmaeon or Psyche were only with me!" she said to herself.
If Hera's heart beat for her children, her love for Alcmaeon was the power that controlled the pulsations. Her soul belonged to him. But her life was completely wrapped up in her family. Rarely did she see or talk with any one but them. Her life had been one bright summer in the sunshine of their love. No dark cloud had shadowed her life as yet, and no cloud was visible on the horizon of her happiness. To counteract the evil effects of the warnings she had received, she softly sung a hymn as she walked along. So absorbed was she in contemplation that she did not observe two soldiers before her, carrying a litter. She did not even see them when they turned down her street. But when they stopped before her house, she hastened forward in alarm.
While she quickly opened the door and helped them place the litter on the table, she anxiously asked them what had happened. They told her that an accident had befallen Gannon. Thinking that he was only injured, she tremblingly drew back the cover. She beheld the dead face of her dear son. She uttered a piercing shriek of horror and despair. Her cry aroused the neighbors, who collected around the door and curiously looked inside. The distracted mother quickly closed the door. Wringing her hands, she asked, in a voice broken by sobs, how he had died. In a dazed manner she gathered from the replies of the soldiers that at midnight, while on the roof of the camp, he had lost his balance and had fallen to the ground.
The distance between her happy recollections of the past and the tragic events of the present was too great to be traversed by Hera's mind in so short a time. Her heart felt heavy, like a stone falling into dark waters. Alone with her grief, she felt afraid. In falling, Gannon had broken his neck. The only marks on his body were a gash on the back of his head and bruises around his neck. His uninjured, handsome face was white, but natural in expression. The wretched mother looked into his face. She touched and petted it. She covered it with tears and kisses. She touched his hands, but they were cold and stiff. She hastily drew hers back. Nearly beside herself, she threw her arms around him. Shedding tears and moaning his name, she trembled above him. At last she lost her powers of self-control and swooned away.
While Hera lay over the body of Gannon, Lupa entered. Learning from the gossip of the neighbors that some one was dead, she knocked on Alcmaeon's door. As no one answered, she opened it and whispered Psyche's name. Not hearing a reply the second time, she entered, and saw Hera prostrate upon a body which lay on a litter. She quietly approached and lightly touched her. There was no response. She called aloud, "O Hera, Hera!" and shook her. Hera slowly returned to consciousness and looked vacantly around the room. When she saw Lupa's homely face so full of sympathy, she whispered that Gannon was dead. Lupa made no reply. Throwing her long arms around Hera's neck, she sobbed aloud. Soon after, they heard some one outside. It was Alcmaeon, coming home from school.
"Hail, wife!" he cheerfully sang out, as he opened the door. But the happy words of greeting had hardly died on his lips when he saw Hera and Lupa weeping. Hera quickly ran to meet him; Lupa slipped quietly out of the room. Through tears and sobs Hera then told him the terrible news. He seemed stunned. He looked upon Gannon's face and walked away. So greatly shocked was he that at first he did not understand the weight of his affliction. Gradually its full force descended upon his heart with crushing power. He could not weep. He groaned. He began to rave. He looked to heaven and called upon the gods. When he became more calm, he said with a trembling voice, "This was no accident, O wife! This was no accident!"
"Why, what meanest thou, O husband?"
"When didst thou say he was on the roof?" he asked suspiciously.
"At midnight," she replied.
"How came he on the roof at that time unless he was ordered?" he asked, more suspicious than before.
"I know not, O husband."
"Has he not told us that after his dinner 'twas his custom to work until he went to bed? The night was not warm, O Hera. Believe me, he was ordered there," said Alcmaeon, with an air of conviction.
"Ay; then 'twas an unusual command."
"Hearken unto me, O wife. Gannon has been murdered!" exclaimed Alcmaeon.
"Say not so, O Alcmaeon!" said Hera, excitedly.
"Ay, murdered!" repeated Alcmaeon.
"But who would wish him harm?" she asked sorrowfully.
"Have I not always said there might be danger in knowing a secret? Woe to him who knows a secret in that den of murderers! Gannon has learned one. This secret has been one that even prison walls could not keep quiet. Death was the only way to silence him," groaned Alcmaeon.
"O Alcmaeon! Woe is on our house!" cried Hera.
"Ay, Hera. Gannon did not fall; he was thrown. Mark thou, Hera, 'twas a crime, a crime! O Zeus and ye other eternal gods, avenge this dastardly deed!" he called to heaven.
"A curse is upon Greece and her people," said Hera.
"Ay, a curse is upon us, O Hera," added Alcmaeon. "And how can a schoolmaster contend against such men? Ah, we must live silently. We must bow our heads without raising a revengeful hand. Oh! is this not worse than slavery?" he cried.
"Ah, Alcmaeon! Oh that we might have had some word from him, some last word that we could forever remember!" she said, weeping.
"No doubt the dear lad tried to send us word, but he could not."
Alcmaeon now approached the table. He drew away entirely the cloth that covered the dead body of his son. He looked lovingly into Gannon's face. His eyes began to float in tears as the memories of his dear boy surged through his mind; he completely broke down and sobbed like a child.
"Why should I have lived to see this day, O Hera?" he cried. "There has gone from my life a light that can never again shine upon my way. My hopes lie shattered there. O Zeus and ye eternal gods, send solace to a household burdened with so great a calamity!" he prayed.
Recovering his self-command, the stricken father tenderly removed Gannon's tunic, and handing it to Hera, procured a basin of water and bathed Gannon's body. Hera took the tunic, which she shook and folded. While they were thus employed, Alcmaeon was startled by hearing his wife call: "Come quickly, O husband! Here, inside Gannon's tunic, is some writing!"
In an instant Alcmaeon was at his wife's side, and read excitedly the words, "Have done wrong. Read a letter from L to S about Lygdus."
"Ah, said I not so, O wife?" he cried. "He learned a secret. Ah, the poor lad turned his thoughts to his family before he died. While we were singing hymns yester eve, he was in trouble. O my dear, dear son! Why did I ever take thee to the camp? O my son, my son!"
"But what means the 'L to S'?" asked Hera, when Alcmaeon had again become quiet.
"I know not. The 'S' must mean Sejanus. But who is Lygdus?"
"Is not Lygdus the eunuch that Gannon disliked, O husband?" asked Hera.
"Ay, I remember," said Alcmaeon, shaking his head. "But what means the 'L'?"
"Gannon has mentioned no name that begins with an 'L' except that of Livilla," said Hera.
"True, O Hera. 'Tis Livilla," said Alcmaeon, as if convinced. "Ah, so Sejanus and Livilla are conspiring! But hold, wife! What is this that Gannon has done?" asked Alcmaeon, in a tone of fear.
"What dost thou mean, O Alcmaeon?" cried Hera.
"Ah, my son, thou hast told us the same secret that caused thy death! O Hera! we are as guilty as the dead lad! Not a word to any one of what thou hast read! Where is Psyche?"
"She is with Gyges."
"Oh, what a sad home-coming for the dear child! But tell her not of the writing, my Hera! Let that knowledge be forever sealed in thy memory."
Greatly excited and impressed by the writing on Gannon's tunic, Alcmaeon stationed himself again by the body of his murdered son. Hera took the tunic and began to tear away the cloth that bore Gannon's message. Suddenly they heard the tramping of feet outside the door. They were startled when the door was thrust open and an officer of the Praetorians entered and said, "The inhabitants of this house are under arrest."
Not having finished detaching the message, Hera dropped the tunic and ran to Alcmaeon, who rose, exclaiming, "Ye gods! What have we done?"
"A soldier never questions his orders. There is a daughter; where is she?" demanded the officer.
"She will be home at sundown," replied Alcmaeon. "But what does this mean?"
"It means that thou and thy wife must immediately go with me to the Praetorian Camp," replied the officer, in a rough tone.
"But the body of my dead son is unburied! How long shall we be detained?" asked Alcmaeon, pitifully.
"I have orders to care for Gannon's body," said the officer. "You must leave at once."
"But may we not wait for our daughter?" pleaded Hera.
"No. We leave at once," repeated the officer, impatiently.
Ordering two soldiers to await Psyche, and two others to carry Gannon's body to a crematory, the officer gave the command to depart. The grief-stricken and terrified parents, after taking a heart-breaking farewell of their beloved son, were then led away.
Sejanus was dictating a letter when Alcmaeon and Hera were led into his office. They were obliged to wait until he had finished. Before the murderer of his son Alcmaeon trembled; before the great Sejanus the schoolmaster felt like a child. Hera tightly held Alcmaeon's arm in hers and talked to him in a subdued but nervous tone. She was repeatedly warned by Alcmaeon not to acknowledge having seen the writing on Gannon's tunic. At last they were ordered to come forward. Sejanus addressed Alcmaeon first, saying, "Thy son is dead."
"Ay, O great Sejanus."
"He was impertinent."
"Say not so, O Sejanus—"
"Ay, impertinent; and he inquisitively pried into my letters."
"Truly, O Sejanus!" exclaimed Alcmaeon, greatly surprised.
"What has he told thee?" asked Sejanus, in a rough tone.
"Nothing; he was—"
Sejanus impatiently interrupted him. "Having read important letters, he has told thee nothing?"
"Of a truth, he told us nothing, O Sejanus."
"I believe thee not," said Sejanus. He turned to Hera and asked her the same questions, and received the same replies that Alcmaeon had given. Wishing to terrify them into a declaration, he continued: "Ye both have lied. Fairly have ye been treated. One more chance will I give ye. What knowest thou, O Alcmaeon?"
"Nothing," replied Alcmaeon, emphatically.
"And thou, woman?"
"Nothing," timidly replied the stricken mother.
"If you insist on lying, so be it. We sometimes torture in the camp when we wish to know the truth," thundered Sejanus.
"Have we not suffered enough, O Sejanus?" cried Alcmaeon.
But Hera, becoming hysterical at this announcement of Sejanus, revealed what they had read on Gannon's tunic before Alcmaeon could prevent her.
"Ah-h-h!" sarcastically laughed Sejanus. "Gannon has lied to me! His death was an accident. Your knowledge carries with it its
own sentence. Your death will not be by accident. But no! Close confinement will suffice for the present."
At this announcement, made in the most cold-blooded manner, Gannon's parents became horror-stricken. Hera convulsively held to Alcmaeon, who tried to soothe her. The father bore this new affliction with more fortitude than he showed at the announcement of his son's death.
"Where is thy daughter?" asked Sejanus.
"O great Sejanus, she knows nothing!" cried Alcmaeon. "She had not yet arrived home when we left."
"We will see," said Sejanus. He called a soldier and gave this order: "Take these prisoners and place them in a cell together, in close confinement. Go."
Scarcely had they left when he called another soldier, and ordered him to bring to the camp Gannon's tunic. "With that destroyed," he said to himself, "there will be no evidence against us." He rubbed his hands and smiled at the course events were taking. He called for his litter and a small body-guard. Then, sinking back among the luxurious cushions of his litter, he commanded imperiously: "To the Palatine!"
A CROWD of magistrates, proconsuls, priests, Senators, and ambassadors were in the polished-marble council chamber in a sumptuous palace on the Palatine Hill. Seated on a curule chair on a raised platform was a man sixty-two years old. His face was handsome, but disfigured with pimples and plasters. His eyes were large and, like those of a bat, could see in the dark. His lips were thick, puffy, and usually moist and shiny. His stern forehead was so furrowed by a frown that his eyebrows touched. His long hair fell upon and greased his toga. His figure was large and robust, his bearing erect; he held his head stiff and upright. Around his neck, over his imperial tunic, he wore a golden chain studded with jewels. As he sat there he was approached, from time to time, by different men who respectfully bowed and proffered words of salutation. From his demeanor and the manner of those who addressed him it might be inferred that he had no higher rank than that of a consul. Yet the man seated there was feared and hated by every one. He was the most powerful man in the Roman Empire. He was the Emperor, Tiberius!
His early life had been full of disappointment. As step-son to the Divine Augustus he always considered himself worthy of great honors. His aspiring hopes, however, were continually shattered. Augustus, marrying his daughter Julia to his nephew Marcellus, had first adopted Marcellus as his heir. When that unfortunate youth died, Augustus married Julia to Agrippa, and then adopted Julia's second husband as his heir. Agrippa dying and leaving five children, Augustus then adopted as heirs two older sons of Agrippa. Tiberius was then compelled to divorce his wife Vipsania, and to marry the twice-widowed Julia.
While married to Julia he became so gloomy, sullen, and disappointed that, hating the sight of relations and friends thus forced upon him, he voluntarily exiled himself from Rome and lived alone at Rhodes. At that time he was thirty-seven years old. His actions were so childish that he sulked, and hid himself even from friends who passed through Rhodes on their way to the East. To give an appearance of honorable distinction to the exile, Livia, his mother, succeeded in obtaining the title of lieutenant for him. However, such a lewd and vicious life did he lead at Rhodes that the Rhodians insulted him and hurled down his statues.
But Livia worked strenuously for her son. Years before, the death of Marcellus had been accomplished. Now, while her son corrupted the youth of Rhodes, Caius and Lucius were both mysteriously murdered. Tiberius and "Little Agrippa," as he is sometimes called, the third and last son of Agrippa and Julia, were then conjointly adopted by Augustus. But the young Agrippa was cunningly surrounded by such wicked companions that he became demented and was exiled to an island called Planasia. Thus Tiberius finally became the last reluctant choice of the old emperor.
During the mild reign of Augustus the malevolence of Tiberius was restrained. The sullenness of the heir was hidden behind the benign and resplendent deeds of the benefactor. But after the death of Augustus the accumulated evil that had been dammed up for so many years burst forth with terrific violence. The deaths of Marcellus, Caius, and Lucius were secretly accomplished. Now the poor Agrippa was openly murdered. The hand of outrage was then stayed, but for only a short time. The good and loyal Germanicus, the beloved of the Roman people, was the next victim. He was poisoned in Syria. But this only whetted the appetite for crime and intensified the thirst for blood. It seemed as if the infernal region had at last found a medium through which to pour forth its Stygian essences; for when Tiberius sat on the throne the Roman people became submerged in intemperance, felony, and licentiousness, confiscations, pillage, and robbery, envy, hatred, and murder.
Although he behaved deferentially to the Senate, prefixing his remarks when he addressed them with "By your leave," "With your permission," etc., yet that servile body dared not assert its rights, but cringingly obeyed his every request. He detested vice in others, but he himself was saturated with abominations. He also detested men pre-eminent in virtue, because of the unfavorable light in which they placed him. He financially helped some Senators, but others he mercilessly robbed and murdered. Few men were trusted by him. He was taciturn, and rarely smiled an honest smile. He was suspicious of every one. He hated flattery. Gladiatorial combats he prohibited; yet he watched men tortured to death with no nice compunction at seeing blood thus spilt. His soul was filled with evil which was reflected in all his acts. He was gloomy, revengeful, and unforgiving. He was easy to anger. He never forgot an injury. His acts of tyranny were covered by the cloak of hypocrisy. He was a heavy drinker, a profligate, an insatiable, bloody tyrant.
In the council chamber of the palace the emperor had just received a foreign delegation. Orientals clad in silken robes, embroidered with gold and silver, mingled with the high Roman officials, clad in their soft white togas bordered with purple. Both costumes were imposing in their different styles,—the one luxuriously royal, the other regal in its proud simplicity. Among the Romans present were the young sons of Agrippina,—Nero and Drusus. These young princes, grandsons of the Divine Augustus, were loved for their manly virtues and for the veneration in which their murdered father, Germanicus, was held by the Roman people. The simple and childlike brother of Livilla, Claudius, walked among the guests, smiling at the nods of recognition, as if they were great favors bestowed upon him. Drusus, the son of Tiberius, was present. Although he was angered at the wrong done him by his father in the Senate that day, yet he forced a respectful tone when he addressed him.
"Is not the audience at an end, O father?" he asked.
"Ay, my son, 'tis over; but I would see Sejanus before the delegation leaves."
Drusus slightly frowned when the name of Sejanus was pronounced. But smothering his resentment, he said: "Thy presence, O father, is expected on the Esquiline this night. Fail us not. Many days have passed since thou hast honored my home."
"Gladly will I be there, O my son," said Tiberius.
"Let nothing hinder thee," persisted Drusus. "I will be there. But why art thou so anxious?"
"I have much to tell thee," replied the wronged son.
"Thou hast complaints to make?" "Nay, O father. We shall drink the cup of peace."
"I have told thee I will be there. But what makes Claudius so happy to-day, O my son?"
"He is promised some amphorae from Velletri. He is partial to the wine of that district," replied Drusus, with a mechanical smile.
"Happy Claudius!" said Tiberius, working his fingers as he talked and giving to all his words a nasal twang. "Happy Claudius, who lives only for his stomach!"
An attendant here announced to Tiberius that Livia was in the vestibule and would enter.
"Tell my mother, Livia," said Tiberius, the frown on his forehead deepening, "that I will not see her to-day."
But the order was futile. Livia had already walked into the council chamber and was directing her way towards the tribunal on which Tiberius was seated. The people had respectfully divided, leaving a passage for her. The attendant approached her and gave her the reply of Tiberius. Livia received the rebuke, but continued on her way.
The mother of Tiberius was eighty years old. She was a remarkable woman. Her face, although wrinkled, was yet full of healthy color; her eyes were bright and piercing; her hair was white. She walked upright, her bearing full of dignity.
Tiberius hastily rose and went to meet her. The swelling veins on his forehead and the red color of his face showed his anger, yet he dared not use violent words before such a gathering. Watching the quiet dignity of the aged mother and the smothered anger of the enraged son, the guests remained spellbound. Controlling his anger, Tiberius requested her to meet him on the morrow. The wronged mother, however, braved his displeasure and demanded an immediate audience. They retired into an adjoining room. Livia was the first to speak.
"In the Senate to-day thou didst insult me, O Tiberius!" she slowly said, in an injured tone.
"Twas not meant as an insult, O mother," he snarled.
"Then see that thy words are expunged from the records of the Senate," she majestically commanded. "Know, O son, that before a body of august men an insult to a Roman matron, ay, to thy mother, rebounds with redoubled force upon thee. An official position for a friend was my small request. But thou, childish and bitter as thou art, didst say unto the Senate that the position had been extorted from thee by me."
"Ay, 'tis true. I like not thy friend," whined the emperor.
"Say, rather, thou likest not honesty!" firmly declared the aged mother.
"Say rather, O mother, that I have courage to refuse to be responsible for thy friends," he jeered.
"Nay. The brothels and wine-shops are the schools from which men are chosen to office in these degenerate days," said Livia, in a tone of disgust.
"The brothels and wine-shops have truly educated great men," he snarled. "But why didst thou choose this hour to pour out thy complaints?"
"I wish that thou shouldst withdraw thy words of to-day at the meeting of the Senate on the morrow," she commanded. "I go not to the house of Drusus this night."
"That I will not do," he emphatically declared.
"Then let the people and history judge of thy worthlessness and thy puerile nature," she loudly exclaimed. "But tell me, O son of evil, why wilt thou not oblige me?"
"Already have I told thee. I like not thy friend."
"He was trusted by thy divine step-father."
"Ay, my mother. But now I conduct the affairs of the empire."
"Let me but speak to the people, let me but unfold to them thy nature, and thy power will crumble like a child's sand-hill before the rising tide of the ocean," threatened the mother.
"Ah! Once did I fear thee, but never more," drawled Tiberius. "Once I wished thy help, but now thy opinions in affairs of state are no longer sought. Hereafter my wishes shall be observed."
"Thou mockest me, thou tauntest me, O Tiberius!" she cried. "I care not for the loss of power. But public insult is something I cannot and will not endure. Never did the Divine Augustus so treat me, and thou shalt not. In-grate that thou art! no grain of respect or gratitude lives in thy bitter nature. But am I, the wife and the mother of an emperor, to be buffeted about by a thing that associates with the rabble of the street? Am I—"
"Hold, mother!" interrupted Tiberius. "I am thy son. Inheritance has left some marks upon me."
"Ah! Inheritance is the cloak behind which cowards hide," she said with bitter emphasis.
"'Twas not I, O mother, who counselled the death of Agrippa," he pettishly argued.
"'Twas thou who gavest the order," she replied in a taunting tone. "Did Germanicus, the pure, unstained son of Antonia, fall by any wish of mine? His crime was the love he inspired in the hearts of the people. A comparison between his purity and thy uncleanness was more than thou couldst endure. O Tiberius, corruption crowns thy brow! The pimples on thy face are words that all can read. Goodness flees before thee. Joy is strangled in thy presence. Love—"
"Hold!" cried Tiberius, bursting with anger. "Defy me not, O Livia! Thou wearest the honored crown of age, but before abusive words respect flees."
"Thy respect for me, cruel son, died when I placed thee where thou art!"
"Of a truth, O mother Livia, my respect for thee was not increased when I heard, three days ago, of thy actions the night before."
"O spiteful son! O villainous man! Whilst thou didst sleep off the effects of wine, I ran into the Forum and exhorted the men to extinguish the flames in the house of the Vestal Virgins."
"Ay, 'tis not a creditable deed for the wife and the mother of an emperor to run through the streets crying for help. I care not if it were for the cause of extinguishing flames in the Vestals' house. 'Tis not becoming thy sex. But thou art forever interfering in affairs that do not belong to thee. Ah, it tires me," said Tiberius, with bitter disgust.
"Such words to me!—to one who fostered thee, and labored so diligently for thy welfare!" said Livia, astounded at the air he was assuming. "Insolence, shameless effrontery, are, then, the reward for my tireless struggles for thee. But what more should I expect from a hateful child? I gave birth to a thing that has become a monstrosity,—a vile creature, void of all human instinct,—a brazen-faced serpent that now stings me. Ah, ingrate that thou art! Well did the Divine Augustus understand thy malignant disposition. Here, here, are the letters which he wrote and which I have cherished. Read what he says of thee. He calls thee 'a canker feeding on his happiness,' 'a thorn in his flesh.' He says, 'Thy looks are bitter, thy words gall.' He says, 'Thy exile at Rhodes is a relief from thy revolting and disgusting manners.' He also says, 'Thy friends are the dregs of the slums, thy filth a stain on his household.' Read, O wicked Tiberius, what he says of thee, and then ponder over thine infernal life."
Her deliberate and commanding manner and the reproachful and sarcastic tone in which she delivered the last few lines of invective so stung Tiberius that he ground his teeth in rage. She was magnificent in her self-control. He recoiled at her words, which, being sharpened by truth, pierced his very soul. He took up the letters which she had thrown near his feet, and began to destroy them, one by one. His face was purple, and the veins on his forehead were swollen to an abnormal size. Quelling the blasphemy that mounted to his lips, and drawling his words with a repulsive twang, he said: "Thou revilest me with letters written by a jealous man? Thou—"
"Have a care, O Tiberius!" she interrupted. "Revile not the gods. The Romans will not permit the name of the Divine Augustus to be vilified by thee. I will not permit thee!"
"Then leave me! I cannot listen to thee and remain calm. I may strike thee. 'Tis the first time thou hast dared to thus defy me. 'Twill be the last. Leave me, O Livia!"
"I will leave thee," said Livia, magnificent in the control of her temper and actions; "but before I depart I will speak some final words." Her voice was clear and loud as she added: "Woe unto thee, O Tiberius! No astrologer is required to read thy future. 'Tis written on thy evil face. The furrows upon thy brow will deepen. Thy night-seeing, vampire-like eyes will delight in the sight of blood. In thy nostrils will be the stench of the putrefying corpses of thy murdered victims. Thy mouth will be red-stained like that of the Cyclops, not by wine, but by the blood of innocent wretches. 'Twill no longer be the face of a human being, 'twill be the sodden despotic face of a monster."
"Have done, O Livia! have done!" cried Tiberius.
"I will speak. Woe unto thee, Tiberius! Thy life will be more unhappy, if that were possible. Rome, that was happy under the Divine Augustus, will rise and execrate thee. Sejanus, who helps thee in thy infernal plans, carries a scorpion sting behind his smooth and polished servility. Thou shalt dwell in miserable solitude,—in a solitude that shall resound with the yells of the despairing, with the shrieks of the tortured, and with the groans of the dying. Hate has become incarnate in thee. Murder, dripping with blood, will be thy spouse."
"By the eternal gods, cease this tirade! By Hercules—" he cried, as if to strike her.
"Ay, strike me! Strike thine old mother, who has lived too long! Oh that I should have lived to see this unhappy day! But woe unto thee, Tiberius! Thy relations all suffer under the pall of thy displeasure. Thy mother is insulted. Thy son is denied his just rights. Thy adopted daughter, Agrippina, and her children tremble in fear of thee. The pious Antonia's eyes are red with weeping for her son Germanicus. Only the insanity of Claudius protects him against thy hate. The wretched Roman people are becoming enslaved by thy dastardly system of spies. Are thy kinsmen all wrong? Are the people also wrong? Art thou, and thou only, the one who is right? Woe unto thee, O infamous son! I have finished. Would that my words should always ring in thine ears! Woe unto thee; I repeat it,—woe unto thee!"
Saying these words, Livia raised her arms to heaven as if she were invoking a curse. She walked slowly to the door and entered the council chamber. Her face was flushed, and her lips slightly trembled, but her step was firm. As she smiled and bowed to those whom she recognized among the crowd, her bearing was full of composure, dignity, and majesty.
Instead of becoming angry at the last words of Livia, Tiberius sneered and smiled sarcastically. Not wishing to appear before the guests, he sent word that the audience was at an end.
When Sejanus arrived at the palace, he was immediately received.
"Hail to thee, O Tiberius!" said the minister, as he entered the room.
"Thank the gods, thou hast at last appeared, O faithful minister!" said Tiberius, giving a deep sigh of relief.
LIKE a flabby, living tumor, with slimy, infernal eyes and terrific sucking tentacles that draw like death, that most repulsive and revolting of all animals, the octopus, folds itself in the shadowy recesses of a rock. It floats on the waters. It hides amidst the foliage of the sea. With the quintessence of cunning it watches and waits for its prey. The sucking arms dart out like a flash at the approach of a victim, which, after a short struggle, is ground to pieces in the rapacious jaws of the monster. After the meal the swelling paunch palpitates with satisfaction. The octopus then retreats, and awaits the appearance of another victim. When another one of its own ilk draws near, it makes of that other a companion, but in the companionship the stronger rules the weaker. A compact is formed. They repose, watch, and work together.
Such a nefarious compact existed between Tiberius and Sejanus. They skilfully watched, cunningly deceived, and malignantly intrigued together. Both were fearless, yet they worked their designs in a cowardly manner. With evil instinct Tiberius divined the true nature of Sejanus. The true pulsations of the inner heart of Sejanus, in spite of his different moods and actions, were known and felt by Tiberius. No gentle testing was needed between two such natures. They met and immediately recognized each other. No circumlocution was necessary; they spoke directly and plainly. As two equally pitched sounds of a discordant note vibrate in unison and assimilate, so did these two natures. Malignity, violence, and cruelty were the sounds they made and heard with equal zest and intelligence. But day by day the emperor and the minister became more dependent the one upon the other. Their plans grew more intricate and complicated. They became as necessary to each other as the two syllables are to form the words e-vil, en-vy, and mur-der.
Although these men belonged to the same vicious class, yet they were different in kind. Tiberius could be rash; Sejanus must be cautious. Of noble descent, Tiberius was base and mean; of low origin, Sejanus assumed an air of nobility. The one was slow, rough, and plain; the other, quick, smooth, and pompous. When they were together, Tiberius seemed inferior. There was more vigor in the wickedness of Sejanus. He was more elegant, more precise, and more ornate in the forming and working out of his plans.
Tiberius was uncouth, diffuse, and ordinary. In their infernal deeds Tiberius was barbarous; Sejanus, artistic. If they had been sculptors, Tiberius would have carved a brutal and screaming Fury; Sejanus, a sly and deriding Satyr.
Such were the similarities and the differences between these two men who controlled the destinies of the nation. What was the effect of their personalities on the empire and the Roman people? Only at Rome and in Italy were sowed the seeds of violence. The other portions of the empire tranquilly lived under the old laws of the Divine Augustus. At Rome the Senate was deceived into believing that the emperor was no more than a figure-head.
The Curia was apparently respected. All freedom and forms of the old Roman republic seemed to be in force. But underneath this seeming tranquillity sinister ideas were working. The Praetorian soldiers were brought together in one building within the city. Intimidation fell upon the people. Interference with the courts took place. But the most iniquitous system of espionage was promulgated. No house of an important citizen was secure from spies. Traitors lurked in the bosoms of families. Money was freely paid for information. As everything malignant was believed, false testimony multiplied. The courts were filled with trials for treason. The city became a festering mass of sneaking spies, unscrupulous informers, and infamous liars.
Sejanus had already greeted the emperor in the room adjoining the council chamber. With an air of satisfaction Tiberius had replied that the minister was gladly welcome.
"Why has the audience been dismissed so hastily, O Tiberius?" asked Sejanus.
"Sit thou down. I will tell thee," drawled the emperor, as he slowly paced up and down the room. He added: "Life at Rome is unbearable. I long to leave the city and live where I can be free."
"But is not an emperor free, O noble man?" asked the cunning minister.
"Free!" exclaimed the emperor, in a tone of mockery. "The name of emperor is high-sounding; but a hollow ball will make more noise than a solid one. Ah, Sejanus, the criticisms that are made and the satire that circulates against me, the discontent of my relatives, and the unrest of the people in Rome, all affect me, so that I am deprived of all rest. My palace has become the abode of lamentations. The air murmurs complaints. The footsteps on the marble floors echo sighs. The curtains between the rooms, like funeral robes, drop from their folds oppressive rustlings. My bed groans. My crumpling pillow burns my head like a feverish hand. Free? Is the emperor free? Ah, I must live away from those who know me!"
"Thou art all-powerful, O Tiberius. Who dares prevent thee from the full indulgence of thy will?"
"'Tis not that which troubles me, O faithful Sejanus. Where can I behold the face of one who loves me? My mother hates me. Drusus hates me. The she-wolf, Agrippina, and her whelps also hate me. There is not one who trusts me, not one who looks upon me with love. But I care not! Ha, ha! I care not!"
There was no mirth in these ejaculations; they were full of bitter irony.
"Tell me, O good Tiberius, why hast thou become so embittered?"
"Ah, Sejanus, my mother has but shortly left me. Her words were burdened with hateful censure. For years has she cherished letters written to her by the Divine Augustus. To-day, in rage, she gave them me. Here on the floor are the words of invective he wrote her about me. He calls me 'a thorn in his flesh,' 'a canker feeding on his happiness'—ye gods! and I, like a whipped boy, heard the abuse without raising a hand! My mother never loved me. Nay, all the gradations of the word hate express the regard she has always had for me. To-day she parted from me forever."
"Thy mother is aged and—"
"Ay, aged," interposed Tiberius; "but her mind is clear. Then Drusus hates me because I trust thee."
"Full well do I know his hatred," assented Sejanus.
"But—what didst thou say, O honest friend?" asked Tiberius, not grasping the full meaning of Sejanus.
"At last I understand thy son's hatred," repeated Sejanus.
"What dost thou mean?"
"When thou hast finished, I will tell thee."
"Let not passion warp thy true regard for my son," said the emperor, reproachfully.
"Proceed, O noble Tiberius," begged Sejanus.
"Agrippina and her two sons—Nero and Drusus—hate me because of the death of Germanicus and because they do not receive more power. Ah! they all hate me. I hate them. I hate the Senators with their soft words and flattering servility. I hate the city, I hate the people. Bah!"
The tone of Tiberius and the vehemence with which he ended his bitter words of hatred affected Sejanus like water on thirsty lips. Every such storm of abuse gave him a nearer approach to the quaffing of the cup of full power. In all his castle building he had never dreamed of the possibility of the emperor's living outside of Rome.
"Thou hast true cause for hatred, O abused man," said Sejanus.
"Ay! But I know well this game of hate. Woe to those that hate me and those that I hate! The people shall be taught that Tiberius never forgives or forgets. I will go to an island—Dost thou remember Capri, with its inaccessible cliffs? Ay, I will go there. From Capri the blows shall fall. Then can I cry with untrammelled joy, 'I am free! I am free!'"
As he uttered these last words, he gathered in his right hand a part of his toga which had become loosened, and threw it over his left shoulder. This action caused the plaster on his face to loosen. A little watery stream colored with blood trickled down his cheek and dropped upon his toga. Tiberius pressed the plaster with his hand, which, becoming moist with the suppuration, he wiped on his greasy hair.
"Right well do I remember, O Tiberius, the cliffs of Capri," said Sejanus. "There thou shalt be truly free. Ay, and respect for a ruler increases when his power is felt and he is not seen. But thou hast friends in Rome, O Tiberius,—friends who would die for thee."
"Ay, thou art the only man who dost understand my wishes. I love and trust thee. I confide in thee as I confide in no other man. But what knowest thou about Drusus, O truthful friend?"
"Goest thou to his dinner this night?" inquired Sejanus.
"Ay; and thou?" asked the emperor.
"Business in the camp prevents me."
"Always on duty, O faithful Sejanus! Would that others were as attentive as thou art!"
"I shall appear later," he said. He paused a moment, and then continued, "But how can I inform thee of thy danger?"
"By Hercules! To what danger dost thou refer?"
"Thou wouldst not believe me if I should tell thee," replied Sejanus.
"Have I ever doubted thy word?"
"Nay, O Tiberius; but this is incredible."
"Incredible, sayest thou? But hast thou proofs?"
"Ay, convincing and undeniable proofs."
"Then be silent no longer."
"Give me thine ear, O Tiberius," he said dramatically. "There is a plot against thy life!"
"Ah-h-h! By the gods! Some one wishes me dead? Continue, O Sejanus!"
"Ay; but there is no danger. I have worked with my spies and know all the details," said the minister, assuringly. "This night, whilst thou drinkest with Drusus, an attempt will be made to poison thee."
"Drusus will try to poison me?"
"Said I not that it was incredible?"
"Surely thou art wrong!" shouted the emperor. "His mind is too weak to plot. He indulges too much in the pleasures of life to wish to rule."
"What I have said, O Tiberius, is true. At the end of the dinner he will approach thee with a cup of wine. Drink not the first cup. Heed my words; for of a truth I know of what I speak."
"Who has told thee this?"
"An honest spy, who never loses sight of thy son," replied Sejanus. "Drusus bought some poison. He also purchased a golden cup. In that cup death will lurk. Touch it not!"
"Have I not said he hates me? Yet never did I believe that he would go so far," said Tiberius, fearfully impressed by the announcement of the minister.
"Was he at the audience?" asked Sejanus.
"Ay," replied the emperor. "Well do I remember the anxiety he expressed to have me present at the dinner this night. By Jupiter! I will remain at home."
"Remain at home if it be thy pleasure," said the minister; "but in remaining at home thou losest the opportunity for proof. Continually wilt thou be liable to danger from him. Go, O noble Tiberius! Watch carefully, eat fearlessly, but drink ever cautiously."
Tiberius paused a short time, and then with an air of determination said: "I will go. But fail not to meet me before the evening is over."
"WHAT mellow wine is sold here, O Sulpicius!" said a young Roman named Sabinus.
"Ay, near the Grape God's Temple good wine only must be sold, O Sabinus," replied Sulpicius.
The speakers were free and careless young Romans. Under no restraint, they spent their lives in pleasure. They were seated at a table opposite each other, in a vine-covered bower which occupied a corner of a summer garden not far from the Via Appia. At the right the garden extended to a Temple of Bacchus. Farther to the right, at the foot of a small hill, was a Grotto of Egeria.[*] Back of the garden was the Sacred Forest[*], where the old Roman king Numa held interviews with the nymph Egeria.
[' These are still shown to visitors to-day.]
Seated beside Sabinus was a dancing-girl named Merope; beside Sulpicius was another, named Elea. Merope was fair; her face was pretty, with ravishing lips, soft, rosy cheeks, and pure blue eyes like miraculous flowers. Elea was equally beautiful, but her beauty was of a different type. She was dark, with a soft olive complexion, voluptuous lips, and eyes that appeared to have gathered into their depths the light of a summer evening. Their necks and arms were bare except where shoulder-straps held loosely the fronts and backs of their tunicae. They were happy maidens. Their smiles seemed perpetual. Every word they spoke carried with it a ring of pleasure.
A boy, with large, black, inquisitive eyes, a handsome young face, short hair, with bare arms and legs, stood before the group, awaiting an order. A thin man, poorly dressed, with musical reeds in his hand, sat on the ground, and reclined against a stone building where wine was stored in large amphorae.
"Ho, boy! Our lips are still thirsty. Bring us more wine," ordered Sabinus, drawing Merope's hand into his.
The boy quickly obeyed, playfully kicking the feet of the poor musician as he went into the stone building.
Elea caressed the cheek of Sulpicius with her delicate hand, and, bending gracefully over and looking into his eyes, said, "How happy is life!"
"Ay, my Elea, life is happy in the sunny days of youth and plenty. Yonder is a poor son of Pan. Ho, pipe-blower, come hither! Knowest thou a joyful air?"
"Expect not sweet music from a sour face, O Sulpicius," said Sabinus.
"Homely flowers give the sweetest honey," said the reed-player, who had risen and presented himself before the happy group.
"Ah, a poet! What dost thou call thyself, O son of Pan?" asked Sulpicius.
"I am sometimes called Narcissus."
"Ha, ha! and why, forsooth?"
"My words bloom and die like flowers."
"Ay, but that is true of all words."
"Nay, O Sunny Life. Beautiful and fragile are the words of Narcissus."
"The sun is golden," he replied, lightly playing upon the word.
"Then, thou flowery poet, give us a song. Well shalt thou be paid if thou dost please us."
"Hold, I pray thee, O Sulpicius!" interrupted Sabinus, as he turned to a little flower-girl who just then entered the garden. "Come hither, little maid, and give us thy flowers. How fresh they are!"
"They were gathered and watered in the early morn. Not until the sun began to descend were they placed in my basket," replied the little girl.
"We will buy them all, frail little flower. What is thy name?"
"Rosilla," replied the child, bashfully.
"Take thy basket. Here is a coin. Art thou content, O Rosilla?" asked Sabinus.
The child, surprised and contented, bashfully withdrew without making any reply.
"What pretty things flowers are!" added Sabinus. "Here are blue iris and violets for thee, O Merope. And for thee, O Elea, are gorgeous roses. Here is one like a kissing mouth. Ah, Merope, with these violets in thy fair hair thou art a Flora."
"If thy Merope is a Flora, my Elea is the Greek Chloris," added Sulpicius.
"Dost thou mean the Greek goddess of flowers or the daughter of Niobe, O Sulpicius?" asked Elea.
"Whichever is the prettier, my fragrant flower. But why?" he asked.
"Verily, I am Chloris, Niobe's daughter, in the dance to be given at Pompey's Theatre."
"Who is the Niobe in the dance?"
"The Greek, Psyche. Hast thou seen her?"
"Ay, a beautiful girl."
"A wonderful dancer," added Merope.
"She dances not, O Merope. So light is she that she seems to float in the air," said Elea.
"Is she not young for a Niobe?" asked Sabinus.
"Ay, her face is like that of a celestial Hora; but she carries years in the dignity of her pose."
"'Tis her last dance."
"Meanest thou that she leaves Rome?"
"Nay, she becomes the bride of Gyges."
"The young charioteer?" asked Sulpicius.
"Ay, and a handsome man," replied Elea.
"Dost thou dance also with her, O Merope?" asked Sulpicius.
"Ay, I am Lydia. I die soon in the dance."
"Dost thou die also, O Elea?" asked Sabinus, laughing.
"Nay, Chloris was the only daughter of Niobe that was saved," replied Elea.
"But look ye, Narcissus droops under the weight of his poetic mind," said Sulpicius. "Come! A cup of wine, Narcissus. Words flow more freely from lips wet by the juice of the grape."
Narcissus eagerly swallowed his wine. He then blew on his reeds plaintive notes like those with which shepherds collect their flocks. The garden was wrapped in silence. The clear air was motionless. The sun was near the western hills, and the light that fell on the happy revellers was such as filters through soft olive-trees. The piping of the reeds seemed to produce a pastoral environment. Narcissus sang: "On the side of Ida's classic mount a shepherd tends his flock. With graceful form, quick in motion, eyes bright as stars, face like Apollo's! O happy shepherd!"
Again Narcissus played the shepherds' call. Suddenly he altered the theme, giving more melody to his song and making it a softer and gentler phrase than the shepherds' air. He sang: "By the bank of a crystal brook near by, a maiden sang a song. With eyes of blue like bits of sky, with face as fresh as lovely dawn, O happy maid!"
With clever art Narcissus now played a new tune, ingeniously combining the themes of both the preceding airs. He sang: "No words float on the crystal air, but words are heard by both. The shepherd gazes towards the brook, the maiden towards the pure white flock. O happy flying thoughts!"
Now the reed-player softly breathed upon the pipes, which whispered a motive of joy. Then he sang these words: "The shepherd leaves his peaceful flock, the maiden the transparent brook. On their pure lips no words come forth, the time is used for kisses only. O happy shepherd! O happy maid!"
With a flourish of notes Narcissus finished the picture.
Elea, who was seated near Sulpicius, with her face partially buried in the roses, listened to this modest song of love. Sulpicius threw his arm around her and drew her near him. Slightly pressing the flowers so that they partially hid her pretty face, he kissed her lips between the roses. Neither could Sabinus resist the tempting lips of Merope.
Narcissus, feeling solitary, inquired, "Will my fingers be kissed with money, O happy youths?"
"Ay," said Sulpicius, smiling. "Dost thou prefer a copper kiss or one of silver?"
"One of silver would be more gentle. 'Tis many a day since I have known that touch."
"So be it. Here is thy reward."
Narcissus played a new air and then sang: "Drink life, O happy souls! as the flowers drink of dew. Drink of the waters that carry odors of deep woods. Be as cheerful as the daisy, whose glorious centre is bordered by pure white foliage. Be as gentle as the little myosotis, in whose blossoms hides the color of heaven. Be like the pure lily, perfumed snow, O happy souls! Let thy thoughts be like the brook flowing among lotus and iris, ferns and waterlilies, kissing the shadowy bank of forgetfulness, O happy youths! Be—"
"Hold!" cried Sulpicius. "We have been well entertained for our money. Now leave us. Look ye! Psyche and Gyges enter."
At the sight of friends Psyche and Gyges, who had been depressed when they entered the garden, grew more cheerful.
"Hail, Sulpicius and Sabinus! Hail to thee, Merope, and thee, Elea!" said Gyges. "Whence these fair flowers?"
"The violets are the eyes of Merope," said Sabinus.
"The roses are the lips of Elea," added Sulpicius.
"Our minds have been fed on the words of a poet, O Psyche," said Merope, laughing.
"'Tis sweet food for the mind, O Merope. What a beautiful evening draws near!" said Psyche.
"Ay; the sky is cloudless," replied Merope.
"How clear are yonder Alban Mountains!" said Gyges.
"Ay; like a crown, with the villas sparkling among the trees like jewels," said Sulpicius.
"Sit ye down and drink a cup of wine," invited Sabinus.
"We dare not tarry long, O friends," said Gyges, as he and Psyche seated themselves. "But," he added, "a cup of wine will refresh us."
Laughing and talking with their happy friends, the depression of Psyche and Gyges soon vanished. After they had drunk the wine they rose to depart.
"What a handsome chain, O Psyche!" said Elea.
"'Tis a gift of Gyges," said Psyche.
"Truly, 'tis a perfect gift!" exclaimed Merope.
"Can ye not stay and eat with us?" asked Sulpicius.
"Nay, we must away. Fare ye well, O happy friends! May smiles be always on thy lips!" said Gyges, as he and Psyche went on their way.
"Are they not lovely maidens, O Gyges?" asked Psyche, when they were out upon the Via Appia, walking towards home.
"Ay, my Psyche," he assented.
"They dance well too," she added.
"Elea dances the better," said Gyges. "She makes a good Chloris to thy Niobe."
"Are we not late? See, the sun has set long since! Wilt thou not dine with us this night, O Gyges?" she asked.
"Ay; 'tis Gannon's night at home," he replied.
"What new story will he have to tell us, I wonder?" she asked. "He always brings cheer when he comes home. Last week he told us of Livilla."
"Ay, he is truly a happy youth."
"His large eyes will open wider when he sees his sister's new home," said Psyche.
Their conversation was still running on Gannon when they turned down the street that led to Alcmaeon's home. Noticing the soldiers stationed before the house, the lovers quickened their steps. When they arrived at the door, Gyges asked one of the soldiers, "What dost thou wish?"
"Alcmaeon and his family are under arrest," replied the soldier. "He and his wife have gone to the camp. We await the daughter."
At this announcement Psyche excitedly inquired: "What have they done? I am their daughter."
"I know not. Long enough have we waited for thee," said the soldier, angrily. "Come, thou must go at once!"
"But give me leave to go to my room," said Psyche, trembling, as she opened the door.
While she was gone, Gyges asked for more information. He learned that Gannon had fallen and was dead, and that the lad's body had been sent to be cremated. With a heavy heart he entered the house and called Psyche. She ran to him; and reading in his face that something horrible had occurred, she cried, "O Gyges, what has happened?"
"O my love, the little dead fish was a true omen."
"But no one is dead?" asked Psyche, excitedly.
He drew her towards him as he said: "Be brave, O love! A great calamity has befallen thee and thy parents."
"Tell me the truth, O Gyges."
"Gannon is dead," he quietly whispered.
Psyche, overwhelmed with grief, buried her face on her lover's shoulder. Through her sobs she asked, "How did he die?"
"He fell from the roof of the camp."
"May I not see him?" she asked.
"'Tis best thou shouldst not," replied her lover.
"But what means the arrest, O Gyges?"
"I know not, O love,—but we must go. Soldiers have no hearts. Be brave, my Psyche! Pray to the gods for strength."
"But there," he suddenly exclaimed, "is a tunic!"
Hastily taking up the garment from which Hera had begun to remove the cloth that held Gannon's message, Gyges gave the tunic to Psyche, saying, "'Tis Gannon's."
"Ah, 'tis poor comfort to see only his tunic," she said, as she kissed it. "But look!" she quickly added, "here is some writing! Come to the light and read the words." When they reached the small courtyard, she read: "Have done wrong. Read a letter from L to S about Lygdus."
"Come, you must go!" roughly commanded the soldier, opening the door.
Gyges received permission to accompany Psyche, and the sorrowful lovers left the house. The walk to the camp was a painfully sad one. They both recalled their happy afternoon in their future home. Fresh tears gushed from Psyche's eyes when they passed the street on which the house stood. As they went along, Gyges, who had been trying to unravel the mystery of Gannon's message, suddenly whispered to Psyche, "Oh that we had not seen that writing!"
"Why, what harm can those words do? They were the last we shall ever hear from him," whispered Psyche through her sobs.
"Nay, my love; I fear they are dangerous." Then he added apprehensively, "I know Lygdus."
"But I do not understand thee."
"Speak not so loud, O Psyche, the soldiers may hear us. Thy dear brother wrote, 'Have done wrong.' I fear he had learned some terrible secret, and that we, in reading these words, have gained a clue to that secret. Oh that we had not seen that writing!" he repeated.
"There can be no harm in knowing about Lygdus."
"Ay, my love, there is harm," he insisted. "Never acknowledge having read that message. If thou art asked about it in the camp, deny all knowledge concerning it. Promise me this, O my love."
"I promise thee, O my Gyges."
At the Praetorian Camp Gyges repeated this warning, and then the lovers parted. Feeling assured that she would see Gyges the next day, Psyche said farewell with no great misgivings. Oppressed with anguish at the terrible death of Gannon, but as yet unconscious of the approach of new misfortune, she was led into the office of Sejanus. The minister had just returned from his visit to the palace on the Palatine Hill. A dim light revealed him seated on a curule chair surrounded by a few soldiers, to whom he was issuing orders. When Psyche was announced, he dismissed his attendants. When they were left alone, he said, "Truly, art thou the dancing-girl?"
"Ay, my lord Sejanus," said Psyche, in a plaintive tone.
"Art thou Gannon's sister?"
"Thou wast not at home when thy parents were brought here?" Sejanus roughly interrupted her.
"Nay, my lord Sejanus."
"Where wert thou?"
"With Gyges, walking upon the Via Appia."
"Who is Gyges?"
"Ah! I remember. He wears the green color. I know him. Is he a relative?"
"He is my lover," she shyly responded.
"True. All dancing-girls have their lovers," he sneered. "But didst thou return home?"
"Ay," answered Psyche, drawing herself up with dignity.
"Whom didst thou see at home?"
"There was a tunic there. Didst thou see it?"
"Ay, my lord Sejanus."
"Thou didst have it in thy hands?"
"Thou didst read a message from Gannon sewed upon it?"
"Nay, O Sejanus," calmly replied the unfortunate maid.
"I say thou didst read it."
"I repeat I did not read it."
"Was Gyges with thee when thou didst have the tunic?"
"Ay, my lord."
Sejanus called a soldier, who promptly appeared.
"Search immediately for Gyges the charioteer! Arrest him!"
"What have I said that makes thee arrest him?" asked Psyche, in a tone of fear.
"What have I done, O Sejanus, that I should be here? Where are my parents?" she plaintively pleaded.
"Thy brother read a letter," replied Sejanus. "He sewed into his tunic a message about that letter. Thy parents read the message. Thou didst hold the tunic in thy hands, thou sayest, and therefore thou also must have read the message."
"Nay, 'tis not true, O Sejanus. I saw no message."
"I do not believe thee. Thy brother lied to me. Thy parents lied to me. Now the sister lies to me."
"I lie not, O Sejanus."
"We sometimes press the thumbs until they are flat, in order to learn the truth. 'Twould be a pity to press thy pretty thumbs—"
"Oh! Sejanus," she cried in terror, "thou wilt not torture me?"
"Ay. A soldier will do anything to learn the truth," he cruelly replied.
"But I tell thee the truth."
"And I believe thee not."
"Thou wilt not torture me!" she cried, now thoroughly alarmed. "Nay, nay, nay, O Sejanus! Where are my parents?"
"Thou wilt never see them again."
"Never see them again!" screamed Psyche. "Are they dead too?"
"Nay; calm thyself. They are in prison. Now tell me, didst thou read the message?"
"I have already answered thee."
"Then prepare for torture."
"O Gyges, Gyges!" cried Psyche. "Would that thou wert here to help me!
"No one can help thee," said the implacable tyrant.
"But have I not suffered enough?" she said, breathing quickly and stamping nervously with her foot on the marble floor. "Do not press my thumbs! I have told thee the truth! I know nothing! Ah!" she screamed suddenly, as a new thought surged in her mind. "I understand. Gannon did not fall. He was killed, ay, killed!"
"Come, O pretty maid; not so loud. Pray be calm."
"Ay, killed, for knowing what? My parents are in prison for the same cause—what? And I am to be tortured to confess—what?"
"Time will show," said Sejanus, grimly, as he noticed the hysterical condition of Psyche. He called a soldier and said: "Place this prisoner in a private cell. Go!"
"May I not see my parents?" cried Psyche, beseechingly.
"No," he abruptly replied. As she left the office, moaning and crying, he said to himself, "A very fair maiden, and perchance—" A smile passed over his evil face as he thought of Psyche alone and in his power.
Shortly after, the soldier who had been despatched for Gannon's tunic returned and handed it to his master. After reading Gannon's writing, Sejanus craftily said, "Art thou content with thy position?"
"Ay, O noble lord," replied the soldier.
"Thou canst be advanced. Write me a sentence in Greek."
"I know not Greek, my lord."
"Surely thou knowest the letters. Write a few of them."
"Neither do I know the letters, O Sejanus."
"For knowing how to write one sentence I would promote thee."
"Truly, O master, I know nothing of the language."
"Where wert thou born?"
"At the Etruscan town of Nepete."
"When didst thou leave thy native town?"
"Two years since."
"How long hast thou been a soldier in the camp?"
"Two years, my lord."
"Thou art dismissed," commanded Sejanus, satisfied with the soldier's answers.
Tearing the message from Gannon's tunic, Sejanus exultantly burned in a lamp all traces of the lad's knowledge concerning Lygdus.
IN the palace of Drusus the important dinner, whose outcome so many anxiously waited, had been prepared, but the emperor had not arrived. He was impatiently awaited in the atrium by Drusus and Livilla. Julia, their daughter, was with them. Near by the guests were laughing and talking. Livilla's mother and brother, An-tonia and Claudius, were there. Among the other relatives were Agrippina and her daughters, Agrippina, Drusilla, and Julia; and her sons, Nero, Drusus, and Caligula. Outside of the family only the consul and a few Senators with their wives were present. Livilla appeared excited and talked hurriedly. She asked Drusus, "Art thou sure the emperor will come?"
"Ay, Livilla; I am positive that he will be here," replied Drusus, assuringly.
"'Tis late. I wonder what hinders him," she nervously asked.
"Be not so excited, O Livilla," replied her husband. "Why dost thou tremble? What dost thou fear?"
"I fear nothing," she answered, forcing an air of composure.
"Then be calm, I pray thee. Didst thou ever see thy mother so ill at ease, O daughter Julia?"
"Her hands are cold," said Julia. "Art thou ill, O mother?"
"Nay, my daughter," replied the mother, trying to smile.
A burst of laughter interrupted them. Claudius, who was the centre of a small group, was receiving humorous attacks made upon him by Nero.
"Of a truth, Livilla," said Drusus, "thy brother grows stouter every day. His life can be summed up in three words,—eat, drink, and sleep. Go, Julia, join thy cousins and be happy."
"But why tarries the emperor?" again impatiently asked Livilla.
"Mayhap Sejanus detains him," said Drusus. "New honors, O Livilla, have been awarded the minister, while I receive nothing. Insulted in the Senate has our grandmother, Livia, been this day by our father. Insulted also have I been by him. The Senate decreed me honors which my father would not allow. O Livilla, Sejanus, my enemy, is loved by my father, whilst I, the heir, am hated. Verily do I believe that my death would be welcomed by them both!"
Livilla made no reply. She played with the rings on her fingers as she gazed vacantly before her. She started when Drusus added, "Is not that true?"
"What didst thou say, O Drusus?"
"Ah! thy thoughts drift far away, O Livilla. What troubles thee? Thou dreamest with thine eyes open."
"I dream of the future, my lord."
"But our future can be more happy than the present. Truly, I have been tormented by the man I hate. I am rough, but I love my family. Let us quarrel no more, O wife. Why dost thou tremble?"
"I know not, my lord. I feel a sinking in my heart. A cup of wine will strengthen me."
A slave brought a cup of wine, which she hastily drank. With an effort she controlled herself and forced a smile. She and Drusus then joined Antonia, who was talking to her daughter-in-law, Agrippina. Caligula, the thin and pale twelve-year-old son of Agrippina, stood with his arm locked in his mother's.
"Thou art sad, O mother," said Livilla to Antonia.
"Ay; we were speaking of thy brother, Germanicus," replied Antonia.
"Truly, 'twas this very day, six years ago, that his ashes were laid in the mausoleum of the Divine Augustus. I had forgotten," said Livilla.
"But the lad, Caligula, bears on his face the stamp of thy noble husband, O Agrippina," said Drusus.
"Nero resembles his father more than Caligula does, O Drusus," objected Antonia.
"The eyes of a grandmother are rarely deceived," said Agrippina, looking with pride upon her son Nero, who stood not far from her.
"Then whom do I resemble?" asked Caligula, playing with his mother's hand.
"Thou lookest more like thy mother, O child," said his grandmother, Antonia.
"My masters say that I resemble the bust of my divine ancestor when he was a lad," said Caligula, bashfully.
The arrival of the emperor checked all further conversation. Silence fell upon the crowd. With his face stolid and severe, Tiberius nodded to the guests, who replied with murmured words of salutation. At the sight of the emperor Livilla appeared more at ease. She kissed him upon the forehead, and after the dinner had been announced she walked with him into the triclinium.
The sumptuous dining-room, whose marble walls had echoed with the poetic words of Horace, Virgil, and Propertius, was brightly lighted by curiously wrought silver lamps, resting on graceful onyx columns. Grouped around a table in a semicircle and covered with cushions of variegated colored silks, were the couches on which the guests reclined. As the different courses were served, Drusus endeavored to enliven the conversation, but the voices which at the appearance of Tiberius had become hushed were still restrained. Tiberius conversed chiefly with Antonia. When he sometimes addressed others, he snapped his words like a snarling dog. In spite of the efforts of Drusus to be entertaining, no one was at ease. Agrippina conversed in an undertone. Her children forced an air of gayety. Livilla nervously regarded her husband. The Senators spoke only when they were addressed.
"Hast thou no hunger, O father Tiberius?" asked Drusus, when the emperor had refused three courses in succession.
"My appetite has lately left me," answered Tiberius, closely regarding his son.
Drusus lowered his gaze as he said, "Thou wilt not refuse a cup of wine?"
Again Tiberius glanced critically at Drusus. "Offer me no wine at present, O Drusus," he replied.
Still addressing his father, Drusus said, "'Twas with great regret I learned that our grandmother Livia could not attend our dinner."
To these words, which were received as an insult, Tiberius sarcastically replied, "With equal regret I heard that it would be impossible for Sejanus to attend."
Drusus had meant no insolence, but the words of his father were a direct affront. Curbing his anger, but speaking in a loud tone, he said, "Henceforth, O father, refrain from speaking that name before me."
At the loud, harsh tones of Drusus the guests became even more constrained. With a deeper frown on his forehead and a sneer on his lips, Tiberius said: "Thou knowest not the man thou abusest. No one in Rome sacrifices personal pleasures for public duties more than he does. Affairs of state occupy all his time. His unselfish nature is one that all should imitate. Vilify the sluggard who revels continually. Revile not the just. Sejanus is my friend, and nothing shall be spoken before me that tends to dishonor him."
Hearing his father thus championing the cause of Sejanus, Drusus, although chagrined, assumed a respectful demeanor, and rising from his couch and approaching his father, said: "Then let discord go her way, O father Tiberius! The impetuosity of anger often produces burning words. We will drink a toast to peace. Let bitterness be washed away by the crimson wine! What, ho! a toast!"
At this command Lygdus entered, bearing on a silver tray several cups of silver and one of gold. A slave bore a large urn filled with wine. Drusus took the vessel and filled the golden cup and one of silver.
Lygdus passed the cups to the emperor, who took the one of silver.
Drusus, seeing the golden cup left for him, said, "This cup is for thee, O father!"
"Nay, my son," said Tiberius, with his eyes riveted on Drusus.
"But I insist, O father!"
"Golden words of peace should be bathed with wine from a golden cup," said Tiberius, with an effort at calmness. "But come," he added, "a toast to peace and the absent Sejanus!"
Livilla anxiously watched every motion of Tiberius, Drusus, and Lygdus. She nervously clutched a pillow from the couch, and unconsciously compressed it with such violence that she felt the firm pressure of her fingers on the palm of her hand. In her excitement she drew her cheek between her teeth, and bit it so hard that it bled.
At first, when the wine was offered him, Tiberius started. Every detail was being enacted as Sejanus had predicted. The emperor watched his son's expression, and marvelled at the indifferent air with which Drusus insisted upon offering him the golden cup. He marvelled still more when Drusus, with no show of fear, took the golden cup in his own hands. Tiberius thought the dissimulation of Drusus was most cleverly done.
But Drusus was innocent of the terrible crime which his father attributed to him. He did not dream that an infamous plot was being ingeniously carried out. He lightly raised the golden cup, and at the toast to peace he readily nodded assent. But when Tiberius added to the toast the name of Sejanus, Drusus recoiled and trembled. If there were any doubts in the mind of Tiberius that Drusus wished to poison him, these doubts vanished at the confusion with which Drusus appeared to be seized. With visible emotion Drusus took the cup, and in one swallow drank half the contents.
The crafty eunuch watched minutely every expression and action of Drusus and Tiberius. Having been informed by Sejanus which cup Tiberius would choose, the eunuch had put poison into the golden cup. When Drusus drank from that cup, the face of Lygdus remained passive, but his snake-like eyes sparkled with satisfaction.
After drinking the wine Drusus turned towards his couch, carrying the golden cup in his hand. He staggered before he reached it, and the cup dropped from his hand and bounded upon the floor. He recovered himself and finally reached his couch. In a thick voice he called for water. Before the water could be given him he became unconscious. Writhing in the throes of agony, he fell heavily upon the floor and expired.
At this horrible sight the guests were filled with consternation and became almost panic-stricken. They hastily departed, mingling expressions of fear and condolence. Tiberius exulted in the narrow escape he had had, and looked upon the death of his son as a just visitation; for now he believed completely the story of Sejanus. Ordering the body to be carried to the room of Drusus, and disdaining to proffer words of consolation to Livilla and her weeping daughter Julia, he departed. In a short time the triclinium was deserted by all except the servants, who moved about in awe-struck silence. Not so with Lygdus, who smiled exultantly as he removed every trace of the horrible crime.
At the sight of the lifeless form of Drusus, prone on the marble floor, Livilla felt a guilty pang. She shed no tears, but a wild impulse came upon her to hide herself. Antonia had remained to comfort the stricken family. Julia being hysterical, the grandmother remained with her. When the palace had become quiet, and no sound could be heard but the sobs of the fatherless Julia, Sejanus triumphantly entered.
Lygdus met him, and together they went into the chamber of Drusus. Sejanus smiled as he contemptuously pushed the dead face of his innocent victim.
"Was it soon over?" whispered Sejanus.
"Ay; 'twas a tame death. He called for water, became unconscious, fell upon the floor, and died," answered the eunuch in a low tone.
"Were the guests frightened?"
"Verily; they waited not the emperor's departure."
"But I must hasten! Await me at the palace entrance," ordered Sejanus, as he went towards Livilla's room.
Livilla was anxiously awaiting his arrival. Scarcely had the curtain covered the door when she threw herself into his arms. Clasped in the embrace of her infamous lover, she received strength and assurance.
"'Tis over," she said in a whisper.
"Ay, my heart's love; now thou art free!"
"Softly, O Sejanus, my mother is near," said Livilla, drawing away.
"Did the emperor tremble?" he asked.
"Nay; he appeared anxious only to leave," she replied.
"His face remained stolid during the most critical moments."
"Ah! Said I not that he was trustworthy? He shall be well paid for his performance."
"Ah, my lover, I feel a heaviness in my breast, and my head pains me."
"'Tis but the excitement, Livilla. But I must hasten to the Palatine Hill! Thou shalt see me on the morrow. Fare thee well, my love!"
"Happy omens be thy speed, O my lover," said Livilla, kissing him.
As he left, the noise of a crying child was heard. It was one of the little twins, who, awakening and feeling lonely, wished for a soothing hand to caress him. Livilla hastened to the little boy and patted him gently. He whispered, "Father, father," and fell peacefully asleep. She stood there some time, oppressed and tormented by her thoughts. Finally she buried her face in the covers of his little bed and broke into smothered sobs. So did her mother find her, and so was her mother deceived into believing that those tears were the tears of a loving and sorrowing wife.
HAVING said farewell to Psyche, Gyges stood in deep depression, watching her retreating figure until she disappeared within the grim walls of the camp. Clenching his hands and shaking his head with a profound sigh, he walked away. At first, not knowing where to go, he wandered aimlessly. A confused aggregation of thoughts surged through his mind,—thoughts that were filled with horrible forebodings. He could think of no plan of action. As Gannon had been perplexed by the words of Livilla, and as Alcmaeon and Hera had been troubled by Gannon's message, so Gyges was now harassed by the same dreadful doubts concerning Lygdus. The manner in which Gannon had communicated with his family made Gyges confident that the message was written when Gannon was under grievous restraint. The words "Have done wrong" sounded in Gyges' ears like the wail of a crushed spirit. "The poor lad was in the depths of despair when he wrote that," thought Gyges. "But how could he fall from the camp? He did wrong, he was imprisoned—ye gods! Can it be possible that he was murdered? Ay; no one ever falls from the roof of the camp at midnight! He was thrown! O Gannon!—poor, poor lad! What was thy crime?"
"About Lygdus." These words were the most mysterious part of Gannon's message; for Gyges understood thoroughly the character of the eunuch. It was Lygdus who had tried to bribe him to lose a race. It was Lygdus who had tried in the most dastardly manner to drug him. It was the detestable Lygdus who had dared to tamper with his horses. Moreover, the eunuch had been accused of murder; but this accusation, by some subtle means, had been prevented from reaching the courts. He was a panderer to the lust of Sejanus. He was a poor, despicable degenerate, who revelled in all the lowest forms of wickedness. "This is the being," said Gyges to himself, "who has somehow caused Gannon's death. To the house of Lygdus I will go. Perchance something may be learned there."
Gyges now directed his steps to the house of the eunuch. A servant answered his knock at the door.
"Is thy master at home?"
"Nay, O stranger."
"Where can he be found?" asked Gyges,
"I know not," replied the servant, as if annoyed.
"When did he leave?"
"When will he return?"
"I know not. Mayhap on the morrow."
"But I must see him," said Gyges, anxiously.
"Inquire at the Praetorian Camp," suggested the servant.
"I come from there," said Gyges, as he feigned an important air.
"And no one could tell thee?"
"No one," Gyges replied; but immediately added, "I am the bearer of important news."
"Carry thy news to Sejanus. He can tell thee the whereabouts of my master. I know nothing," said the servant, with increasing irritation.
"Then will I go to Sejanus," said Gyges, as he walked away.
"I have learned nothing there," he said to himself. "Truly, a servant of Lygdus would not know whither his master would go. Sejanus and his accomplices leave no traces. Ah! a charioteer's mind works slowly on a clue to an infernal plot! But is this an infernal plot? Gannon wrote: 'Have done wrong. Read a letter from L to S.'" A new idea suddenly entered the mind of Gyges. "The letter was from 'L to S'" he continued to reason. "Can it be that the 'L' is for Livilla? Psyche mentioned that name as we were walking together. Ay, I should have gone to the house of Drusus with my inquiry. I will go there immediately."
There came to his mind, as he walked towards the Esquiline Hill, soothing recollections of the day spent with Psyche. He remembered her graceful dancing, the applause of the other dancers, and the praise of the master. He recalled her joyful exclamations as she passed the shops on the Via Sacra. Psyche's childish delight at the sight of her new home came to him like the memory of a sweet melody. Like the iridescence of a sunbeam in a crystal dew-drop was the remembrance of the blissful moments spent with her amid the flowers of the peristyle. Again he felt the same pang that he felt when the dead fish checked the flow of the fountain. "But the fountain played again," he said to himself. He recalled the walk into the Campagna, the meeting of the happy friends, and the walk to Psyche's home. But suddenly the fearful events that had succeeded broke these happy recollections.
He remembered her surprise and fear at the sight of the soldiers, her nervousness as she requested a little time to go to her room, her courage when she heard the terrible news of Gannon's death. He remembered how lovingly she had kissed Gannon's tunic, how tenderly she had caressed the little scrap of cloth on which Gannon had painfully inscribed his last sad words to his family. He pictured her as she walked to the barracks, sad but not crushed. His last words to her were a caution against revealing any knowledge of the writing on Gannon's tunic. She had replied, "I promise thee, O my Gyges."
"Would that Gannon had not written that message!" he said to himself. "Would that we had not seen it! Ay, would also that Psyche had gone directly home from the theatre! Then she would have seen Gannon. Perchance she would now be free." But such wishes were worse than useless. In one short day the happiness of the family of Alcmaeon had been utterly destroyed. Gannon had been killed; Alcmaeon, Hera, and Psyche were prisoners. "Had Alcmaeon and Hera seen that writing?" he questioned. "What if Psyche should be tempted to an admission? What if Sejanus and the brutes in the camp should torture her and make her confess? Would she, too, be killed? Perhaps Alcmaeon and Hera were already murdered!" he trembled as he groaned aloud, "It cannot be! It cannot be!"
But Gyges, usually buoyant and hopeful, soon subdued these despondent thoughts. He now argued that Sejanus was justified in questioning Gannon's family. He began to believe that after a few days they would all be free. So occupied had he been in contemplation that he now remembered he had not dined; but notwithstanding his hunger he proceeded on his way to the Esquiline Hill.
When he arrived before the grated entrance to the gardens of Drusus, he called to the gatekeeper, "What ho!"
"What dost thou wish?" asked the gate-keeper, carrying a lantern as he approached the grating.
In the dim light Gyges saw some slaves and litters outlined against the dark foliage of the garden. "I come to inquire of one named Lygdus," he replied.
"I know of no guest by that name."
"A guest?" asked Gyges, surprised.
"Ay; there is a dinner in the palace this night," replied the gate-keeper.
"But Lygdus would not be a guest," said Gyges.
"A servant arrived this morning to act as cupbearer. I know not his name," replied the gate-keeper.
"Tell me, O gate-keeper, was he short and stout, with a sleek face?"
"Ay; he talked in a—"
"The litter of Agrippina!" interrupted an excited voice from the palace. "The litter of Drusilla!" cried another voice.
Hearing these orders, the gate-keeper abruptly ended his conversation. Gyges retreated to a wall opposite the iron grating. Other calls were now heard. Then there was a confusion of slaves as they marched up the path, carrying the litters on their shoulders. Shortly after, flickering through the trees, were seen lighted torches borne by slaves preceding their masters. As the gatekeeper swung open the gate, Gyges saw the excited faces of Nero and Drusus. Following them, Gyges recognized Claudius, who with heavy step and panting breath tried to keep up with them. One by one the litters were borne out. Finally a cry, "The emperor! The emperor!" was heard, and a gorgeous litter with drawn curtains and surrounded by a guard of soldiers passed down the path and through the entrance. Then there was a silence, broken only by a few stragglers who hastened to join those already departed. To one of these stragglers Gyges said, "A pardon for my boldness, but what has happened?"
"A dire calamity!"
"Some one is dead?"
"Ay; my lord Drusus."
"The son of the emperor?" asked Gyges, astounded.
"Ay; 'twas sudden! He died at dinner!"
"May the gods be gracious to thee!" said Gyges, as he withdrew.
The words of Gannon's message again flashed over his mind. They burned into his brain like red-hot irons. Their full import now dawned upon him. He now understood why Sejanus wished to silence the boy's lips. The terrible possibilities of Psyche's fate, if she but acknowledged having read Gannon's writing, tortured him so that he knew not what to do. Finally he decided to go to the house of Alcmaeon, procure the tunic, and destroy the evidence. As he left the palace gate, he heard the tramp of feet on the lava-paved street. He concealed himself in the shadow of the wall and waited. A litter escorted by a few soldiers stopped near him. He saw a man descend, and he heard an order to wait at the entrance. He saw the gate swing open. The faint light of the porter's lantern revealed the features of the minister and murderer, Sejanus.
At the sight of the man who had caused Gannon's murder and Psyche's imprisonment, there rushed over Gyges such a flood of bitterness and hatred that with supreme difficulty he restrained an impulse to spring and strangle him. But Sejanus quickly disappeared in the darkness, and Gyges was again left alone with his thoughts. This time he thought of himself.
Questions such as these arose in his mind: "What if Sejanus knew that I was with Psyche when she was arrested? What if he knew that I had read Gannon's message? What if he knew that I have full insight into his infernal crime?" Gyges trembled. The terrible significance of his position almost overwhelmed him.
But his unhappy meditations were cut short by the return of Sejanus. The minister was not alone. Some one kissed his hand. The massive gate was opened by the porter. As the gate closed, a face from within looked through the iron bars. Gyges started; for in the dim light he recognized the leering features of Lygdus.
As soon as Sejanus and his guards had passed on, Gyges, with trembling speed, fled in the opposite direction.
AS the frightened deer flees at the sound of cracking twigs and crunching leaves, so fled Gyges, startled by his thoughts. He ran, he knew not why. The dark streets through which he passed were lighted only by lamps burning before small shrines. Sounds of merry laughter, of loud conversation, of joyful songs, and of crying children came from the houses; but he heard nothing. He took no note of the dark shadows that seemed to flee to one side to let him pass. The impulse to get away from his horrible revelation drove him on, on, on, until he arrived before the Temple of Julius Caesar in the Forum. While he stopped to regain his breath, he noticed that a slight mist was falling. He felt a chill pass over him. The smoke that came from the altar of the Temple of Vesta hovered in the damp air. Here and there from the windows in the palace of Tiberius on the Palatine Hill near by could be seen flickering lights.
His fine physique could not now prevent him from falling a prey to the terrors of his excited imagination. The keen eye that could judge distances with nice exactness in the Circus Maximus could now see no path before him. The hands that could draw the reins and check the impetuous plunge of his horses were stronger than his will was to check the rushing of his thoughts. His courage, that used to ring in his voice and inspire the horses to make a supreme effort to gain the finish line, melted now before the heat of his convictions. His adamantine nature had finally been pierced. He suffered under the writhings of a tormented soul.
Resting against the rostra before the Temple of Julius Caesar, he dropped his face into his hands and breathed a pathetic "Oh-h-h" that came from the profound depths of his soul. He heard near by the footsteps of some one who groaned at every step. He saw indistinctly in the darkness the small figure of a lad.
"Ho, boy!" called Gyges.
The lad stopped and asked, "Who calls?"
"'Tis one who pities thee. Why moanest thou?"
"O Master Gyges, flee! flee!" whispered the boy, excitedly.
"Ah! 'Tis thou, Aldo. What ails thee?"
"The soldiers are looking for thee."
"For me? And why?"
"They have an order for thy arrest"
"An order for my arrest? How didst thou leave the stables? Does not thy back pain thee?"
"Ay, my master; but I wished to warn thee."
"Didst thou go to my rooms?"
"Ay; the soldiers are there."
"Whither hast thou been?"
"At thy new house. But hasten, O master!"
"Do the soldiers know of my new home?" asked Gyges, quickly.
"Nay, master; they know nothing."
"Then come with me. Speak no more until I command thee."
With the strong arm of Gyges supporting that of the stable-boy, they went along the Via Sacra and around the Palatine Hill towards the Porta Capena. It was the same walk that Psyche and Gyges had taken a few hours before. The shutters that closed the shops on the Via Sacra appeared to Gyges like coverings of tombs. The sparkling merchandise that had evoked such pleasure in Psyche seemed to him now as black as the abyss that separated the two lovers.
By the side of his master, Aldo bravely suppressed all sighs and groans. He was a bright, sprightly, slender lad of fifteen, with short light hair, clear blue eyes, and small mouth. He spoke quickly, with a sharp ringing voice. He was descended from Greeks who had been slaves. Gyges had bought him, and had taught him how to care for horses. The little slave was devoted to his master because Gyges had promised him freedom. Both master and slave now walked silently along. The mist had turned to rain.
Arriving before his new home, Gyges rapped sharply upon the door. At first no one answered. He rapped longer and harder. Finally a voice from within asked, "Who wishes to enter?"
"Open, Nana. 'Tis I!"
"What is thy name?" she demanded.
"Knowest thou not my voice?" asked Gyges.
"Verily, 'tis thou, O Gyges," exclaimed Nana, as she opened the door.
Gyges and Aldo entered.
"What means thy visit at this hour?" asked Nana, excitedly.
"Ah, Nana, prepare to hear sad and terrible news."
"Has any one died?" she asked excitedly.
"This boy has told me that the soldiers are seeking me," he cried, evading her question.
"What hast thou done?" she ejaculated.
"Nothing," answered Gyges. "At the camp they probably believe that I know a secret. Oh, may the gods give thee strength to hear the other horrible things that have happened this day!"
The voice of Gyges trembled as he spoke.
In a frightened tone Nana said: "When thy mother died, my Gyges, Nana became thy comforter. Tell me all."
"Ay, Nana; but this news is terrifying," said Gyges, shuddering. "Gannon is dead."
"Gannon dead!" exclaimed Nana. "May the gods comfort his family!"
"His parents have been arrested," continued Gyges, in a louder tone.
"Nay, 'tis not possible!" she exclaimed.
"Psyche is a prisoner and I am pursued," cried Gyges, in a voice broken with anguish.
So overwhelmed by this sudden and horrible news was Nana that she remained silent for some time. Finally she softly moaned, "O Mother of God, celestial Cybele, comfort us!"
"Ay, Nana," groaned Gyges. "I feel as if a crushing hand were thrust into my bosom and were compressing my heart. But this poor lad suffers. I pray thee go bathe and anoint his back! Leave me alone with my burden of woe!"
She kissed his forehead, saying: "Words cannot comfort thee. Thy spirit must wrestle alone with this grievous affliction." she paused a moment and asked, "Wouldst thou have me light a lamp?"
"Nay; the darkness of this room is brighter than that which fills my heart," he sadly replied.
As a feather drops from the wing of a soaring bird and is driven aimlessly by the winds, so were the thoughts of Gyges controlled by the currents of his imagination. Alone in the room that was to have been Psyche's nuptial chamber, he stood and deeply deliberated. Grave and ponderous questions burdened him. Should he try to escape? Should he leave Psyche defenceless? How could he save her? What should he do with his horses? He felt that he must act quickly; but how? The darkness of night is sometimes mocked by the lightning. The feeble glitter that at first revealed hopes of safety in flight now became a flash, and Gyges decided to attempt escape. He immediately went to the room where Aldo, greatly refreshed, awaited his commands.
"How dost thou feel?" asked Gyges.
"I feel no more pain, only stiffness," replied the lad. "Curses rest upon the man who beat me!"
"The blows were cruelly dealt," said Nana.
"But come, we must act quickly! Aldo, return thou to the stables!"
"O my master, can I not go with thee?" pleaded the slave.
"Nay, boy; thou must care for the horses," replied Gyges.
"But Alvarus cares for them better than I do," cried Aldo. "Take me with thee, O my master! Go not alone!"
"Nay, I must go alone," replied Gyges, firmly.
Tears flowed down the lad's cheeks as he threw himself on his knees before Gyges, crying, "At the stables without thy protection they will kill me."
"And why?" asked the master.
"They hate a Greek slave," answered the boy.
"But thy back is not healed."
"I can run and jump. See!" he said, as he ran and jumped around the room, concealing his pain like a little Stoic.
"Rest content; thou mayst go with me," relented Gyges.
The little slave nearly danced with joy.
"O Nana," continued Gyges, "I know not what to do. Who will now care for my horses? They know my walk, my every motion. Their gentle eyes follow me whenever I am with them. They place their noses against my face and caress me like human beings."
"They were restless when I left the stable, O master. They missed thee," said Aldo.
"Ah, Ambrosia, Phaeo, Zephyrus, and Notus, who will love you as I did? But come, Nana!" he quickly called. "A light! I must write two letters!"
Nana took a small terra-cotta lamp and preceded Gyges into the small dining-room.
"How much money hast thou?" asked Gyges.
"I have paid nothing for the household furniture. I still have the money," replied the faithful Nana.
"Then give it me," he gently commanded. Nana left the room. When she returned, Gyges had finished a short order. "Take this to the banker Tullius, at the Basilica Aemelia. That will procure for thee enough money to keep thee."
"How long wilt thou be gone?" asked Nana, anxiously.
"I know not, my Nana," replied Gyges.
"Whither goest thou?"
"'Tis best thou shouldst not know," answered the young master, sadly.
He now wrote another letter for Alvarus at the stables. "Send this to the Circus Maximus," he ordered. "Let no one know it came from here." he arose and cried in a plaintive tone: "Ah, that I should be obliged to leave Psyche! But I may do more for her by being free. 'Tis best that I should go. Come, Aldo! Guard well this little home, my Nana. Care for it as if Psyche and I were to enter it on the morrow."
"That will I do, O Gyges," said Nana, weeping.
"Pray for her, O Nana! Pray for me," he softly said.
"Come, Aldo," he added. "We must go. Go thou by the Via Latina to Tusculum and await me there at the theatre entrance. Here is some money. Beg thy way. Use the money only when necessary. Keep thy lips sealed. I shall be at Tusculum at midday on the morrow. Fare thee well, my Nana."
"The gods guard thy life, O my Gyges!" sobbed the good woman.
Wrapping their cloaks about them as a protection from the rain, Gyges and Aldo left the house. At the Porta Capena they separated, the master taking the Via Appia, the road that led to Albanum. He went directly to Alcmaeon's house. The door had been left partly open. As Gyges entered, he felt the key in the lock on the outside, as it had been left by Hera. With a spark from the embers in the fireplace he lit a lamp. The house was as dreary as a tenantless cave. He felt some satisfaction at the prospect of destroying Gannon's message; but he could not find the tunic. In a flash he concluded that Psyche had confessed. He felt as if a breath from an unfathomable abyss had breathed upon his soul. "She is lost forever!" he groaned aloud. As if incapable of further reasoning, he unconsciously extinguished the lamp, locked the door, hid the key, and went on his way towards Albanum, with a heart completely crushed.
ON the border of a desert where vegetation struggles against the arid breath of sterility, appear smiling and restful oases. But these oases perish, one by one, with the drying up of the life-giving springs. When the flame of an untempered summer burns out life, when the brackish water sinks in the wells under the spade of anxious man, when all the emerald isles of the desert vanish until one only is left, there arises in that one, amid the cries of overwhelming despair, a fervent prayer for help and protection. Such was the life of Agrippina [*],the solitary grandchild of the Divine Augustus.
[* Agrippina, grandmother of Emperor Nero.]
The early springtime of her life was filled with sunshine and the blossoms of happiness. Her mother, Julia, was the proud daughter and only child of Augustus. Her father, Agrippa, was the greatest general of his day, and a man of noble character. She had three brothers and one sister. All were smiled upon by Fortune, and all were loved by Augustus and the Roman people. When her father died, Augustus, still living, watched over her and her family. Her widowed mother then married Tiberius. The entrance of this man into the Julian family was the ominous cloud that first veiled the effulgence of her springtime.
She had married Germanicus, the son of Drusus, and brother of Claudius and Livilla. He was the noblest endowed, both in body and mind, of any Roman of that day. He was a man of handsome appearance, of extraordinary courage, of wonderful oratorical talents, and of powerful influence. Happy in the possession of the love of this best of men, the life of Agrippina was as beautiful and joyous as a perfect day in spring.
Suddenly, in the clear day of her life, her brother Caius was murdered in Lycia. Eighteen months later another brother, Lucius, was murdered in Marseilles. Shortly after, her mother was exiled to the island of Pandataria, and her sister to another island, Trimetus. When her mother left Rome, Tiberius crawled from his vile nest at Rhodes, and braving the insult and opprobrium of the people, came back to the city.
But the terrible disaster which then happened to the legions under Varus in Germany threw the aged emperor into paroxysms of grief and fear. Too old to go in person to the borders of the empire, he despatched Tiberius. The voluntary retreat of the Germans removed the menace that hung over Italy; but the people suffered the indignity of seeing the standards of the Roman legions fall into the hands of barbarians. Tiberius was then recalled. The old emperor chose him as his heir, in conjunction with Agrippa, Agrippina's only surviving brother. Some time afterward Agrippa, becoming demented, was sent away in exile. In making his final choice of an heir, Augustus wavered between Tiberius and Germanicus; but that important title was finally bestowed upon Tiberius on account of his years and military experience. Germanicus was forced to become the adopted son of the new heir.
With increasing anxiety Agrippina beheld the gradual extinction of her family. When her brother Lucius fell a victim to the intrigues of the mother of Tiberius, she was distressed, but not dismayed. She was still loved by her aged grandfather, for her noble character and virtuous life. Before the emperor died she had given birth to eight children. The first and second died in infancy. A third, a boy, was so beautiful that his statue, carved in marble, was placed in the Temple of Venus on the Capitoline Hill. In the bedroom of the emperor was placed a similar statue, which Augustus kissed every time he entered the apartment. But this child also died. Of the other five children,—two girls and three boys,—Caligula, the youngest, was three years old when Augustus died. Three years after that event, the last child, Julia, was born.
With seeming tranquillity, after the adoption of Tiberius as his heir, Augustus gradually withdrew from the affairs of government. Germanicus was ordered to take command of the legions in Germany, and Agrippina accompanied him. Drusus, the son of Tiberius, was sent to pacify the mutinous legions in Pannonia. The emperor passed the remaining days of his life at Capri, Neapolis, and Nola. In the last-named town he died. Soon after the death of this great man Agrippa was murdered. Two years later Agrippina's mother was starved to death. Then in the following year Germanicus was poisoned in Syria.
Thus had the life of this noble woman been blasted by the violent deeds of the Claudian family. Thus, one by one, had dried up the fountains that gave her life and courage. Thus was she driven to one solitary comfort, to one refreshing oasis,—the love of her family. For six long years after the death of Germanicus she had guarded her children with jealous care and anxious forebodings.
Amid the legions in Gaul and in the palaces of Syria she had passed with her husband the last years of his life. She had once been gentle, with a sweet disposition and a peaceful face. The six years of her widowhood had embittered her life. Her face was now impassive and determined, her eyes piercing and melancholy, her mouth nervous and firm. "The Mother of the Camp," as the soldiers had honorably addressed her, the proud mother of nine children, and the descendant of a family that had been pronounced divine, would not bow her princely pride before the vulgar and domineering son of Livia. Although nearly crushed by disaster, yet she bravely and imperiously carried herself through all her tribulations.
With her six children she lived in a small house that Germanicus had built near the Temple of Jupiter Victor on the Palatine Hill. Alongside and connected to the house by a crypto-porticus was the sumptuous palace erected by Tiberius. The contrast between the imposing palace of Tiberius and the small house of the daughter of divine ancestors aroused in the Roman people sarcastic criticism.
The house of Germanicus [*] was divided into two parts,—one for the reception of friends and clients, the other for family life. The part where the family lived consisted of two stories. The first story was on a level with the street, which bordered it on three sides. In this story were the sleeping, dressing, and bath rooms. The servants occupied the story above. These stories were connected to the part where friends were received by a narrow staircase, which opened into the rectangular atrium, sunk considerably below the level of the street. On one of the long sides of the atrium were three halls or rooms; on the other the vestibule, which was the only entrance to the house. The vestibule connected with the crypto-porticus that led to the Palace of Tiberius. On one of the short sides of the atrium was the dining-room; the other was a plain wall. Near it was an altar that held the family gods.
[* This house is shown to visitors on the Palatine Hill at the present time.]
In the largest of the three rooms opposite the vestibule Agrippina was reclining one morning on a richly covered couch. Her son Drusus was seated at her head, on a Syrian rug, which partly covered the mosaic floor. A few days had elapsed since the terrible death of Drusus, the son of the emperor.
The lad Drusus was a graceful lad of fifteen. He had an unhappy face, with dull black eyes, a large mouth, with thick lips. He had just returned from the palace on the Esquiline and had thrown himself near his mother to report what he had seen there.
"Is thy grandmother, Antonia, still at the palace?" asked Agrippina.
"Ay, my mother; Julia has not left her room since her father's death."
"Is she ill?" asked the mother.
"Not seriously," answered Drusus.
"Verily, I must go and see her. And how is thy aunt Livilla?"
"She smiled at me," replied the youth. "Truly, no one laments my uncle's death but his daughter Julia. Even thou, O mother, art not sad."
"Ah, my son, I have suffered and still suffer," sadly responded the mother. "Nothing but excruciating sorrow can affect one who is constantly beset with grief."
"Didst thou not like Drusus, my mother?"
"In his death the family of Germanicus suffered a great loss," replied Agrippina.
"Why, O mother?"
"He loved thy father. He loved thee, thy sisters, and thy brothers. He suffered from the neglect of an unnatural father. Sejanus was his enemy. Beware of that man, my son! Ay," she continued, as if dreaming, "Drusus loved us, but his love brought with it the hate of Sejanus. Now the minister, in these few days, has become friendly. I repeat it, beware of that man! His words are poison. Hast thou seen the emperor?"
"He will see no one but Sejanus," replied Drusus.
"What news of Livia?"
"She is resigned. She also will not leave her palace. But when my father died the whole city put on mourning. Now the death of the emperor's son causes only an extra meeting of the Senate."
"Thy father was idolized by the people," said Agrippina, proudly. "Hast thou forgotten the encomium that was pronounced when his body was reduced to ashes? I taught thee the words. Let me hear thee say them."
The youth thought a moment and then began: "He was as graceful as Alexander the Great; of equally illustrious descent; in years the same; both fell victims to the machinations of their countrymen, in the midst of foreign nations; but Germanicus was gentle towards his friends, moderate in his pleasures; the husband of one wife; his children legitimate. Had he been sole arbiter of his destiny, had he possessed the sovereignty and the title of royalty, he would have surpassed Alexander in military renown as greatly as he surpassed him in clemency, in moderation, and in all other virtues."
"Thou hast the best memory of all my sons!" said Agrippina, smiling sorrowfully.
"Where will they bury Drusus, my mother?" asked the lad.
"In the mausoleum destined for our remains," replied Agrippina, "among the ashes of Marcellus, Octavia, my father, Agrippa, thy greatgrandfather, the Divine Augustus, my brothers Caius, Lucius, and Agrippa, and thy noble father."
"Ay, my mother; but Drusus belongs not to the Julian family."
"As husband to Livilla, my son, his ashes will have that distinction."
"Although I was but a child of nine," said Drusus, thoughtfully, "when I went with Nero to meet thee, at Terracina, carrying the ashes of my dear father, yet clearly do I remember that day."
"'Twas the saddest day of my voyage home," she sadly replied. "At Brundusium, O my son, the country round about poured forth its people so that the wharves, the buildings, and the temples of that city were black with crowds clad in mourning robes. In that dense throng were friends and relatives, as well as officers and soldiers who had served under thy father in many campaigns. When the bireme that bore thy father's remains floated into the harbor of that great city, a simultaneous groan arose from that multitude. As I walked from the bireme, carrying the urn that contained the ashes of thy father, and followed by Caligula and the babe Julia, in the arms of her nurse, men wept like women, women like children. The journey from Brundusium to Terracina was one long lament."
"Ay, mother, I remember to have seen the people throw stones at the temples, in anger that the gods should have permitted that catastrophe."
"Thine uncle Drusus has been called a stonyhearted man; but when he met me at Terracina he burst into tears,—may the gods grant peace to his spirit! With him were Claudius, Nero, Agrippina, Drusilla, and thyself, O Drusus. As we moved on towards Rome, every temple along the way poured forth clouds of incense. Traffic ceased in the cities, and the people lined the road in one compact mass. A catafalque covered with wreaths and flowers and bearing the silver funeral urn was borne upon the shoulders of tribunes and centurions. At Albanum I was met by the consuls, the Senate, the knights in purple mantles, and the Roman people in black robes. Their sobs and cries rent the air. Never before had such mourning been seen and heard in the streets of Rome." As she lived over in memory that sad journey to Rome, tears filled her eyes.
"Weep not, O mother," said Drusus, laying his hand upon hers.
"Ay, but what followed?" said Agrippina, drying her eyes and sitting upright upon the couch. "Did the emperor meet me? Did he pay any respect to those precious ashes? Where was Livia? The mother of Germanicus, Antonia, was at home, prostrated. But, my son, where was the public funeral that great men deserve? When the father of Germanicus died, Tiberius met his body, and, in the depths of winter, from the snowy mountains he came on foot to the city. At Rome, around the bier of that illustrious man, were the images of the Claudian and Julian families. In the Forum he was mourned. Encomiums were pronounced on the rostra. Every honor that could be conceived was heaped upon him. But thy father, the great Germanicus, had nothing. Except for the moaning of the people, his remains were silently placed beside those of his father and my Divine grandsire." she paused a few moments and then continued: "Amid those groans could be heard passionate exclamations. People cried: 'The commonwealth is lost! Henceforth there remains no hope for Rome!'"
"Ay, O mother, despair not; for the sons of Germanicus will sit on the throne of their father's hopes," said Drusus, full of enthusiasm.
"But nothing, my son, pierced the heart of Tiberius more than the titles bestowed upon me. Then prayers—"
"Thy children know well those titles, O mother. Do not hesitate to mention them. Of a truth they were right when they called thee 'the ornament of her country, the only blood of Augustus, and an unparalleled example of primitive virtue'"
"Then prayers," continued Agrippina, slightly smiling at her son's loyalty, "were offered in the temples for the preservation of you children, that you might outlive your oppressor."
"But the emperor loves the children of Germanicus, O mother. Does he not provide for them?"
"Ay, my son, he provides for them, but with the wealth that should be theirs."
"Does he not pay for the games that Nero gives?"
"Ay— But didst thou not hear a noise?"
"What kind of noise?" asked Drusus, springing to his feet.
"Go into the atrium," she whispered, affrightened, "and see who has overheard us."
Drusus rushed into the atrium, and in the room that adjoined the one where his mother reclined, he saw a servant conceal something in the bosom of his tunic.
"What have you hidden there?" demanded Drusus.
"Nothing, my master," replied the servant, as he hastened away.
"Hold!" cried Agrippina, as she appeared in the atrium. "Move not a step! What ho! Artus, Mano!" she called. When these two servants appeared, she commanded: "Search that servant; he has stolen something."
In a moment Artus and Mano discovered, hidden in the tunic of the servant, a tablet with a stylus attached to it by a cord.
"Give it me," said Agrippina. Rapidly glancing at it, she read a portion of her conversation with Drusus. "Ah!" she exclaimed. "Thou art a spy! Beat him and send him into the streets!" she ordered, as she smoothed away the writing on the waxen tablet. There was a struggle as Artus and Mano led the spy up the steps to the servants' quarters. Shortly after deadened blows were heard, followed by cries and groans.
"Oh that a descendant of the gods should be subjected to such indignity!" exclaimed Agrippina. "Even my words are copied and reported to Tiberius! O son, I have spoken to thee plainly. Thou hast good judgment. Speak not a word of what I have said to thee. Guard well thy words. Weigh each one of them. The walls carry messages, the stones speak in these days of terror."
The calls of Agrippina and the tumult of the servants had penetrated into the room of Caligula, who was studying with his master. The lad left his instructor and ran downstairs into the atrium, crying, "What has happened, my mother?"
"Nothing, my child. Go back to thy master. A servant has been corrected."
"Nothing more?" he asked in a disappointed tone.
"Nothing, Caius," replied Drasus, smiling.
The little fellow quickly turned, ran up the stairs, and was soon again at work upon his studies.
"Thou always callest him Caius," said Agrippina.
"Ay, my mother; I like not the other name."
"Caligula is the name given him by the soldiers," said the mother.
"Caius pleases me better," insisted the youth.
"Thy sisters, Agrippina and Drusilla, will then remain for their midday meal in the house of mourning with thy cousin Julia?" inquired Agrippina, as she again reclined upon the couch in the middle room.
"And Nero, where didst thou leave him?"
"He left me in the Forum."
"Whither did he go?"
"He went to the camp to see Sejanus."
"Possibly the games will be postponed now that Drusus is dead," said Agrippina. "In one year thou, too, my son, wilt reach the manly age. By that time Nero will be wed."
"Whom will he wed, O mother?"
"The emperor has not made his—"
But she was interrupted by the appearance of Nero, who entered the atrium, and sitting down on his mother's couch, sadly said, "'Tis over!"
"What has been decided?" asked Agrippina.
"There will be no games," said Nero.
Nero was the sixteen-year-old son of Agrippina, and was her favorite because he had inherited the manly bearing and the handsome features of his father. His black eyes were bright and quick, and his face was expressive of joy and kindness.
"But I had already told thee that out of respect for thine uncle's death the games might be prevented," said Agrippina.
"I had thought they might be postponed," said Nero, in a disappointed tone.
"Who has told thee?" asked Agrippina.
"Sejanus," answered Nero. "Instead, gratuities will be given the people."
"Strive higher, O my son, than to amuse the people," gently advised Agrippina. "Aim for the greatest distinction that the Roman can bestow,—the triumph. There is no more glorious picture than that of a hero marching with his captives along the Via Sacra towards the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Such honors did thy ancestors enjoy. Be a true descendant of the Divine Julius and the Divine Augustus. Be a true son of thy father."
"Verily, I will try," said Nero.
"Dost thou remember thy father's triumph, O Drusus?"
"Ay, mother. 'Twas a day that I shall never forget."
"'Twas the seventh day before the calends of June," said Agrippina. "Caius Coelius and Lucius Pomponius were consuls. In that magnificent procession, led by the Conscript Fathers, there was one spectacle at which the people, carried away by their enthusiasm, kissed their hands and wept tears of joy. For, my children, more splendid than all the gold or silver, ay, more splendid than all the glories of this world, there, borne aloft, were the standards that had been recaptured by the valor of thine august father. Ye were with him on that supremely glorious day. But, my Nero, didst thou learn aught else this morning?"
"Ay; on my way home I went into the Temple of Concord," replied Nero. "The emperor was there. At last he has broken his silence. Seeing the Consuls, out of respect for the dead Drusus, sitting with the other Senators on the ordinary benches, he upbraided them for lack of dignity."
"Did he appear sad?" asked Agrippina.
"Nay," answered the eldest son. "When some Senators shed tears, he censured them. Without a sigh and with his usual hesitation he made an address.—Oh for thy memory, brother Drusus!—His speech was apologetic and yet imperious. I forget the words."
"My sons," warned the mother, "be not embittered when ye see the splendid funeral of Drusus. Mark ye, the emperor will make of that a grand display. Silently regard the pageant. Let not thy words reflect thy thoughts during the ceremony."
"Sejanus angered me this morning," exclaimed Nero.
"What said he?" asked Agrippina, anxiously.
"He compared the virtues of my father with the vices of Drusus," explained Nero. " he said that the emperor would try to show that the commonwealth had suffered a greater blow than when my father died. So did he stir me that I cursed—"
"Nay, nay, my son!" cried Agrippina. "Curse no one before that man!"
"I cursed the Fates who so wrongfully treat us," replied Nero.
"Ah, my son," exclaimed Agrippina, reproachfully, "have a care! Never let thy feelings overcome thy judgment. I warned Drusus but a moment ago to guard his words. Guard thine also. O my son, enemies lurk on every side. But this morning, while talking with Drusus, we found a servant transcribing on a tablet our conversation. Even in our home we must be guarded in our speech."
"Thy favorite charioteer has run away, my brother," said Nero, looking at Drusus.
"Who? Gyges?" quickly asked his brother.
"Ay, Gyges," replied Nero.
"What has he done?" inquired Drusus.
"I know not. He has been tracked to Al-banum," answered Nero.
"But why should he run away?" asked Drusus. "He was the most honest charioteer in the Circus."
"Ay. I know not," said Nero. "He loved the dancing-girl, Psyche."
"The pretty little Greek?" asked Agrippina.
"Ay; she was to have danced at Pompey's Theatre," explained Nero.
"Did he run away with her?" asked Drusus.
"Nay; she is in prison," said Nero.
"What has she done?" inquired Agrippina.
"No one can say. Where is Caligula?" asked Nero.
"He is at his studies," replied the mother.
"He asked for a copy of Cicero's orations," said Nero. "I have brought him this. What ho! Caligula!" he shouted, as he went to the stairs. "But stay! I am coming up," he added, when he heard the light patter of Caligula's sandals on the stairs. As he met Caligula, Agrippina and Drusus heard him say, "Master the language of that great man, my brother, and thou wilt become the best orator in Rome."
"How happy thy brother is!" said Agrippina to Drusus, rising from her couch. As she walked towards the stairs, she added: "Cultivate a happy nature, my son. 'Twill help thee overcome burdensome grief."
"Verily, I will try, O best of mothers," he said as she disappeared.
Left alone, Drusus threw himself on his mother's couch. The thought of the disappearance of his favorite charioteer was uppermost in his mind. Many times he had sat on the pulvinar before the palace of Augustus, and had watched the horse-races in the Circus Maximus. With youthful enthusiasm he had regarded Gyges as a hero. He had even entered the stables and talked with him. "What will the green faction do without him?" he thought. But his meditations were checked by the entrance of Sejanus.
"Hail, Sejanus!" he said, as he sprang from the couch.
"Hail to thee, O son of Germanicus!" said Sejanus. "Where is thy mother?"
"With Nero," replied the lad.
"He is thy mother's favorite son," said Sejanus, as he watched the face of Drusus.
"Ay; Nero is loved by us all."
"By thee, too?" asked the minister, craftily trying to sow seeds of envy in the heart of Drusus.
"Ay, by me too! Why not?"
"He loves thee not," answered Sejanus.
"How knowest thou that?" demanded Drusus.
"He told me but this morning that thou art slow and easily imposed upon," replied Sejanus, contemptuously.
"Nero said that!" said Drusus, with a cry of surprise.
"Ay; that and more," continued Sejanus. "But I do not wish to breed enmity between brothers."
"What more has he said about me?" commanded Drusus, angrily.
"He says thou wilt never be a man," replied the wily Sejanus.
"And why?" asked Drusus, flushed with anger.
"Be not angry if I tell thee."
"Nay, O Sejanus."
"He says thou art advised too much by thy mother."
"No one seeks her counsel more than he does," cried Drusus.
"Princes of the blood of the Divine Augustus should receive counsel from statesmen," slyly suggested the minister.
"I do not agree with thee, Sejanus. The emperor has always been guided by his mother, Livia."
"True," said Sejanus, for a moment caught in bad reasoning by the answer of Drusus. He quickly added, "But Nero said other things about thee."
Before Drusus could reply they were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. A soldier entered. Seeing Sejanus and Drusus, he said in a loud tone, "Nero and Drusus are ordered by the emperor to appear at once in the Temple of Concord."
"What ho, Nero!" cried Drusus, calling up the stairs. "Come hither immediately!"
A few moments after Nero appeared, followed by Agrippina.
"Hail to thee, O noble Agrippina, and to thee again, O Nero!" said Sejanus, greeting them.
"What message hast thou brought, O Sejanus?" asked Agrippina.
"Thou and I, my brother, are ordered by the emperor to appear immediately in the Temple of Concord. Come, let us go!" said Drusus.
"New honors may befall ye both," said Sejanus, as the two youths quickly left the room.
"The death of Drusus has created mixed feelings among the people," continued Sejanus, addressing Agrippina. "Some are sad, others are happy."
"Truly, no one is glad, O Sejanus?"
"Through the city reports are flying that the Julian family rejoices," he remarked, with a crafty glance at Agrippina.
"'Tis not true! Drusus was a protector to the Julian family," challenged Agrippina.
"The heir to the empire a protector to rival claimants!" exclaimed Sejanus,
"Ay; well dost thou know he treated my children as his own," said Agrippina.
"I know he tried to win the love of the people by his mock protection," sneered Sejanus.
"Revile not the dead, O Sejanus."
"Then the Julian family grieves?" he asked.
"The Julian family rejoices not over the grief of others," she replied, carefully choosing her words.
"Where is thy mourning, O descendant of Augustus?" he inquired. "When Germanicus—peace be to his spirit!—died, the whole city put on mourning. To-day few are clothed in black."
"Is that fault to be charged against the Julian family?" asked Agrippina.
"Nay," he replied, vexed at her self-controL
Then he added: "The funeral of Drusus will take place two days hence. 'Twill be a gorgeous display. All the effigies of the Julian and Claudian families will be borne in the procession."
"The effigies of the Julian family are to be carried!" exclaimed Agrippina. "But he had not blood of that family in his veins!"
"Ay; effigies that were forbidden at the funeral of the noble Germanicus are to be borne at the funeral of Drusus," he declared, rejoicing that he had at last moved her.
"Are those the orders of the emperor?" she asked.
"Ay, O Agrippina," he replied.
"Then must we be content," she most diplomatically responded.
"Art thou not enraged to see these symbols so dishonored?" he insisted.
"Nay; the Roman people must be the judges of this act. The lips of Agrippina are sealed."
"But the thoughts of Agrippina?"
"The thoughts of Agrippina are her own," replied Agrippina, imperiously.
"Thou speakest not freely, O Agrippina. Surely thou canst trust one who wishes thee and thy family well."
"I trust no one," she retorted, looking at him so piercingly that he lowered his eyes. "My house is an ear that gathers our conversation for a brain that is heated against us. But this morning I found a spy writing down the words I spoke to Drusus. Ah!—but I will say no more."
"Art thou sure he was a spy?" he inquired.
"Why dost thou ask that question?" she bitterly demanded.
"Who could wish to spy upon thee?" he asked in a tone of surprise.
"That is another question, answered before asked," she retorted.
"Confide in me, O Agrippina," he said in a tender tone. "I revere the Julian family. Was I not in the service of thy beloved brother Caius? Did I not serve him well? The death of Drusus opens the way for one of thy sons to rule. Nero will now inherit the fortunes of the empire. I will serve him as faithfully as I do the emperor. Fear me not."
"I do not fear thee, O Sejanus. I trust no one," she said calmly.
"'Tis no secret that the Julian family dislikes Tiberius," he ventured.
"Tis no secret that Tiberius dislikes the Julian family," she returned.
"Come, O granddaughter of the Divine Augustus, tell me thy complaints."
"My complaints? I have none."
"But thou sufferest!"
"I suffer not."
"Ay, thou art distrustful."
"But distrust is not always suffering!" she exclaimed. "I lack resolution."
"Then thou hast fear," he asserted.
"Nay, nor have I fear, O Sejanus. Distrust has stunted the growth of my faith. Mine eyes are shadowed by anxiety, my life is clouded by doubts, but I do not fear."
"Then if thou art so brave, I will withhold my warnings."
"To be distrustful, O Sejanus, hinders me not from being grateful."
"Thou hast said the emperor dislikes thee," he said. "I will add that thou art in danger."
"Ha! the emperor wishes my death also?"
"Then thou accusest the emperor of causing the deaths of thy relatives?"
"I said not so."
"Thou didst use the word 'also.' "
"Ay; but well dost thou understand my meaning. I repeat it in other words. Besides the indignities to which my family are already subjected, he also wishes my death?"
"I will say, O Agrippina, that I advise thee to refrain from eating at his table."
"Good news, O mother!" cried Nero, joyfully, as he rushed into the atrium, followed by Drusus. At the sight of Sejanus Nero checked his enthusiasm.
"What has taken place in the Senate?" asked Agrippina.
"When we entered the Temple of Concord, we were led directly to the emperor," said Nero. "He took our hands in his and spoke. Repeat his words, Drusus. Thou hast the better memory."
"He said," began Drusus, "'These fatherless youths I committed to my son Drusus to rear and nourish as his own blood, to train them so that they might be worthy of him and of posterity. Now that my son has been snatched from us, I address the same prayers to you, O Conscript Fathers—'"
"Some of the Senators, at these words, burst into tears," interrupted Nero. "Proceed, brother."
"He said, still addressing the Senate," continued Drusus: "'In the presence of the gods, the face of your country, I conjure you, receive into your protection, take under your tuition, the great-grandchildren of the Divine Augustus,—children descended from ancestors the most glorious in the state; towards them fulfil your own and my duty!' "Drusus delivered these words like a young orator, using graceful gestures, and giving well-marked emphasis to the phrases.
"He added more," said Nero. "He said to us: 'Nero and Drusus, to you these Senators stand in the place of fathers. Such are the circumstances of your birth that the good and evil which befalls you must needs extend to the commonwealth.'"
Sejanus listened to the joyful words of Drusus and Nero without comment and then said farewell. As he turned away, he said to Agrippina in an undertone, "The gods sometimes elevate those whom they wish to destroy."
PSYCHE had passed her second month in solitude in the prison of the Praetorian Camp. Her first days had been lived under the crushing effects of her grief. Gradually the hope that throbs in the heart of youth gave her some consolation. Full of thankfulness for the warning of Gyges, which had sealed her lips concerning the writing on Gannon's tunic, she concluded that she had nothing to fear. There were no proofs against her that could keep her under restraint for a great length of time. But the days passed slowly.
Her cell was a rectangular room, with a bed in one corner. There were no openings except a small grating that looked towards the Campagna. For hours she would stand and look out of this small window upon the enormous sweep of cultivated land, bordered by the Sabine Mountains, that appeared to frown upon the all-powerful city of Rome. On clear days Tibur would sparkle amidst the purplish-green background of the mountains, like some little city seen in happy dreams. The Viae Tiburtina, Nomentana, and Praenestina ran through the farms and cultivated fields of the Campagna like large light-colored veins on an enormous leaf.
But there were times when mountains, fields, and even the prison seemed to the captive Psyche to vanish in a cloud of oblivion. However, the breaking of the cloud would reveal plaintive and pleasant recollections of the past. Not as sensations are stimulated by the impulsations along the five different roads of the senses did these recollections come to her, but as beautiful and pure thoughts born from the sowing of seeds in solitude.
She would think of her dear brother, the remembrance of whose words and acts became clearer since his death. The bright and happy face she saw, the ringing words of cheer she heard, the laugh that would irresistibly bring smiles to other lips, the quick movements that kept the watching eyes alert,—all these things were in her dreams of her brother. "Poor Gannon!" she would say to herself, "thy life was like the incessant tremble on a summer sea. Ah! poor, poor Gannon!"
Her home-life had been an experience of unbroken peace. Her mother had been her only friend in childhood, maidenhood, and womanhood; and her father had found no pleasures outside of his own family. She recalled the happy evenings together when they would talk of art, beauty, and the glorious country of Greece. The songs that were sung after the evening meals would come floating into Psyche's memory like sweet exhalations from rivers of melody.
With tearful eyes she would recall the happy days spent with her lover. In imagination she would see his strong, quick, and handsome figure. She would hear whispered words of love that would come to her like distant music from the doors of a temple. So ardent were her recollections, that she seemed to feel again his actual caresses. The last afternoon they had passed together appeared like some sunny day that would never come again. She would take the necklace he had given her and fondle it as if she saw in the gems his eyes, and in the little golden links the visible tokens of the ties which had bound their hearts together during many happy days. She pictured their lives like two votive candles, waiting to be lighted upon the altar in the temple of love.
On the second day of her imprisonment she asked the keeper, "Knowest thou of a Greek man and wife imprisoned in the camp?"
The keeper made no reply.
"Canst thou tell me whether a young man named Gyges has been arrested?"
There was no reply.
"Tell me, O keeper, when shall I be free?"
Still there was no reply. Her words seemed to die in the air before they reached him. Again and again she repeated her questions, but received no satisfaction. Her jailer was deaf and dumb. With gestures she tried to procure a tablet and stylus; but the jailer worked like an automaton and she accomplished nothing. With no words to break the stillness, she became like a daughter of silence surrounded by profound solitude. In her loneliness she would approach the thrones of the gods, with offerings and prayers. The ways were quiet along which her thoughts danced, marched, and fell. Yes, in her world of silence her spirit would hear celestial melodies and human sobs; it would see bright thrones of her hopes and dark beds of her sorrows; it would taste the sweet juices of joy and the bitter acid of torment; it would breathe the perfume of peace and the exhalation of strife; it would gently touch a living form and a dead body. But all these things were the works of imagination. No messages from her loved ones reached her through the impenetrable and silent walls of her cell. She sat as if immersed in oblivion.
Harrowed by the uncertainty regarding the fate of Gyges and her parents, she passed her days in hope, fear, and despair. One morning she was surprised to hear a commanding voice give an order in the corridor. These were the first words she had heard since her imprisonment. When she recognized the voice of Sejanus, she gave a start. She heard him stop before her door and order that no one should be allowed to walk in the corridor while he was there. When he had entered and locked the door, he noticed that Psyche had retreated to the farther end of the cell.
"Thou fearest me?" he said.
Psyche made no reply. She stood upright and clenched her hands.
"Thou dost not fear me," he said, answering his own question as he sat down upon her bed.
Still Psyche remained silent.
"If thou dost not fear, thou must be glad to see me," he said with an evil smile.
"What dost thou wish here?" she asked.
"Be not frightened. I am not a severe man. I have even refrained from torturing thee. I keep thee and thy parents in the camp, on account of laws that rule me. In my soldier nature, O light-footed dancer, there runs a vein of kindness. Thy brother was treated well in the camp. I even promoted him. But in despair at being caught in a dishonest act, he threw himself from the roof of the barracks. Oh that he might have given me an opportunity to forgive him!"
"What dishonest act did he perform?"
"He read my private letters."
"Art thou sure, O Sejanus?"
"Ay; thy parents have confessed that he did."
"Where are my parents?"
"They still live in the barracks, prisoners, as thou art."
"And Gyges, O Sejanus, where is he?"
"He escaped; but shortly he will also be a prisoner."
"I thank the gods that he is free. But why dost thou keep me here?"
"Thou hast told me that thou didst not read the writing on thy brother's tunic. I believe thou didst read it."
"I can say no more than I have not, O Sejanus. Is it just to imprison innocent people?"
"Thou findest life a burden here? Thou wishest to be free?"
"Ay, O Sejanus. Why am I kept here? Why are my parents prisoners? Why is Gyges to be arrested?"
"I cannot tell thee, my graceful creature. Pray be calm. Sit thou down near me."
Psyche still remained in the corner of the cell. She was frightened at the familiar tone of her oppressor. She asked, "What dost thou wish here?"
"I have come to relieve the monotony of thy solitude."
"Then leave me. I prefer to be alone," she pleaded.
"So thou art the dancing-girl who delightedst the people with thy impersonations?" he asked, disregarding Psyche's trembling appeal. "I have seen thee dance. Truly thou hast mastered well that art."
"l am a dancing-girl. 'Tis an honest profession."
"Ay; all professions are sometimes honest."
"The life of a dancing-girl is sometimes misunderstood," she replied.
"Nay, O pretty one, not by me. The lives of dancing-girls are never monotonous. A lover is always at hand. Presents brighten their fleeting days. Loving words and tender glances cheer their lives. Art thou not lonely in this cell?"
Psyche knew not what reply to make. His voice had become soft and enticing. She said: "When can I see my parents? Persecute me no longer, O Sejanus! I am innocent."
"Thou art not persecuted, O pretty maiden! Thy cell is bright; we have darker ones below the ground. Thy food is good; we sometimes only give bread and water. Thou art lonely and I have come to relieve thy solitude."
"Then leave me," said Psyche, in a commanding tone.
"Leave thee? Why, I too am often lonely. This day I feel the need of some one to share that loneliness with me. Come, sit thou down."
"Leave me, I pray thee!"
"Thou art a dancing-girl and hungerest after love."
"Leave me, I say, I understand thee not," she cried.
"Dancing-girls need little instruction in the art of love."
"I have told thee that they are misjudged."
"I have told thee that they are not misjudged by me. Come, confess thy thoughts to me."
"I have nothing to confess."
"Confess that thou dost love."
"Love! Whom?" she asked.
"Love me," he replied with a wicked smile. "Confess that thou wishest to love me, as thou didst love the youths at the theatre. Prison life will soon lose its dullness if thou wilt love me."
"I do not understand thy meaning!" said Psyche, white with fear.
"Cell life has dulled thy senses. Come, sit thou down. I ask not for thy respect, but for thy love."
"Respect! Love! Art thou mad? Thou, the murderer of my brother; thou who art tormenting my parents; thou who wouldst thrust into thy dungeon an innocent man,—thou now comest before me, before one whose heart is torn and whose wounds are still fresh, and, villain that thou art, thou askest for love! Thou mayest be the emperor's minister, but there is a limit to thy power! I detest thee! Leave me!"
"Hold, my pretty one! Thou sayest that I am powerful. Ay; that is true. My power can and will win thee. I have come here to love thee and I will not leave without that satisfaction."
With intense fear the poor maiden threw herself on her knees and, looking up to heaven, cried in tragic accents: "O Mother of God, Celestial Rhea, hear the prayer from virgin lips! Deliver me from the power of this fiend! Grant me death rather than defilement! Protect thy persecuted child! Save! Oh, save!—"
"The gods hear no prayers in the Praetorian Camp," jeered Sejanus, with an infernal smile on his lips.
He approached her and caught her in his arms.
"O Gyges, Gyges!" she screamed, struggling against him with all her might.
"Struggle, scream, ay, yell! Thy cries fall on deaf ears. No one can save thee."
Although excitement gave her unnatural strength, yet in the arms of Sejanus she was powerless. He kissed her cheeks, though she tried to avoid his caress by leaning backwards. He whispered words of love, but she spat in his face. She clutched his head in her hands and tore his hair. But this nervous force soon spent itself, and she grew weak. She sobbed, pleaded, and struggled; she called upon the gods, but with no avail. Sejanus, like an enraged beast, threw her on her straw mattress—but a loud knock on the door arrested him. Infuriated by the interruption, and fully prepared to fell the man who had broken his strict orders, he opened the door, and saw standing in the corridor his master—the Emperor.
BEFORE the emperor the anger of Sejanus melted into mild servility. With customary composure he greeted Tiberius as if nothing whatever had happened. He locked the cell door, and as he walked towards his office he said to the emperor: "Truly am I tormented by that wench. She knows a secret, and even slight bodily punishment cannot unseal her lips. Verily I shall be compelled to resort to painful torture to learn the truth."
"Who is she?"
"I crave thy pardon, O Tiberius, but I will answer thee in my office."
When they had entered the business room of Sejanus, both seated themselves at a cedar-wood table, covered with reports and letters. Sejanus was the first to speak. "Since the death of thy son, I have already told thee, the friends of Agrippina and Germanicus are jubilant; for the brothers Nero and Drusus are now regarded as thy successors. This woman with whom thou didst find me has bought poison. She is in the employ of Sosia."
"Sosia, the wife of Caius Silius and the friend of Agrippina?" asked the emperor, greatly surprised.
"And thine enemy," added Sejanus.
"What has Sosia done?"
Sejanus took up a tablet and read: "'Sosia received Agrippina in her palace three times in four days. Sosia called at the Palatine to see Agrippina the same number of times on the same days.' Their conversations at both places are recorded," added Sejanus, laying down the tablet. "Germanicus was extolled. His death, they said, was due to poisoning by Cneius Piso, acting under thine orders. Sosia has openly made statements reviling thee."
"Agrippina is sowing her suspicions in the hearts of her friends. The harvest will be a large one," said Tiberius, with a wicked smile.
"Caius Silius, the husband of Sosia, is equally guilty," continued Sejanus. "He was a commander, as thou knowest, under Germanicus. He has won many victories for his country. He boasts too much. Here is his conversation with Sabinus," he said, pointing to a tablet.
"Titius Sabinus, the great and wealthy senator, also talks against me?" gasped the emperor, alarmed.
"O noble Tiberius, these men not only talk against thee, but they are working against thee."
"But what of the son of Sabinus? Is he loyal?" asked Tiberius.
"He is ruining himself with dissipation. He frequents the taverns and consorts with dancing-girls," replied Sejanus.
"These men are too beloved by the people to be thrust aside," Tiberius said, with a significant nod of his head.
"But believe me, O noble Tiberius, in the city there is an undercurrent of discontent, set in motion by these friends of Agrippina, that, if not stemmed in time, will break forth into civil war. Already sides are being taken, and I can prove to thee that there are some who call themselves 'partisans of Agrippina.'"
"Art thou sure of the information from Agrippina's house?"
"Ay, O great Tiberius; her maid faithfully reports every two days. The servant who spied for us before was caught. Agrippina had him beaten and cast into the streets. The maid is his sister. We have good reason to trust her reports."
"What are thy suggestions against these great men?" asked the emperor.
"Charge them with treason."
"Accuse her also."
"Are there others who dare to talk openly against me?"
"Ay; through my spies I have learned of Calpurnius Piso."
"One of that illustrious and noble family is also mine enemy!" exclaimed Tiberius.
"Ay; he has openly said he would abandon Rome so as to be free from the despot and his informers."
"I have always hated Piso. Are there any more traitors?" bitterly asked the emperor.
"Here is a list of them," said Sejanus, handing a scroll to his master. "Serenus is the most important after Piso. Thinkest thou not, O Tiberius, that our attack against Sosius and Sabinus will quiet the others?"
"The others shall be marked men," was the significant reply of the emperor.
"If thou hadst the time to read these reports, thou wouldst fear this seditious movement. These men quickly seek notoriety amongst the people by slyly whispering words of sympathy for Agrippina and her children."
"Sympathy for the she-wolf and her cubs," cried the emperor, "while the emperor receives condemnation? For what? Is not the country prosperous? Are not the poor fed? What does Agrippina wish? Of a truth, O vigilant Sejanus, is sedition spreading in the city?"
"Ay, more! I have learned that Agrippina is encouraging her sons to form alliances with the legions."
"By Hercules! And through whom?" thundered Tiberius.
"By the infernal deities!" roared Tiberius, as he clutched the arms of his curule chair. "She is leaguing with the friends of Germanicus? Can she not wait for my death? What greater honor could she wish than my bestowing the hand of my granddaughter Julia on her son Nero?"
"She has told Piso that she fears thou wilt poison her."
Tiberius pounded his hand on the table as he said in his drawling tone: "Is that why she refuses to eat when she attends my dinners? Ah! she fears me!"
"Nay, she fears no one," said Sejanus, recalling his conversation with her. "She distrusts thee and thy friends."
"She insults me with her imperiousness. Her cousin, Claudia Pulchra, is also insolent."
"Cannot the pride of Agrippina be broken by an attack on her dearest relation, Claudia?"
"Claudia is a model of purity," said Tiberius.
"Models of purity can be easily remodelled," sneered Sejanus.
"What wouldst thou do?" asked the emperor. "No one would take a case against her."
"Domitius Afer, an orator, comes highly recommended," suggested Sejanus. "He is young and has his honors to gain. Give him the case. Bribed accusers can easily be obtained. Teach the people, O Tiberius, teach Agrippina the respect that is due thee."
"Ay, that will I do. But what shall Claudia's crime be?"
"Prostitution, adultery, witchcraft, and spells cast upon thee would be a good charge," slyly advised the minister.
"Adultery with whom?"
"Some one of your enemies,—Furnius."
"Furnius, Furnius?" said Tiberius, trying to recall the name. "Ay, he who writes lampoons against me."
"Ay, make the people hold their tongues."
"Charge them both," was his imperious order.
"Then, O noble Tiberius, Cremutius Cordus, the historian, has written in his annals praises to Brutus. He has even called Cassius 'the last of the Romans.' Men are daring everything! Is this not a direct insult against the Divine Julius and the Divine Augustus? Shall annals be written lauding men who fought for the Roman republic? Let this stimulation of the republican idea once course through the veins of the people and the emperor falls, and with his fall the empire will crumble."
"Who has told thee this?"
"My agents are everywhere."
"Truly, O faithful minister, thine eyes never close. Duty has become incarnate in thee. Charge the historian Cordus with his crime. All thoughts of the republic must be stifled. Ah! even the Senate begins to act with freedom. But the attacks against Sosius and Sabinus will quiet that body. Behind their servile flattery, which I abhor, there lurks bitter hatred of me. Oh! verily must I leave Rome and its people! Not a moment of peace is found here."
"Ay, O worthy Tiberius, the hurry of business in the city, the conflux of suitors in the palace, and the suspicions of treachery everywhere,—all these things burden thee too heavily. Art thou still inclined to go to Capri?"
"Ay; near the shores of the Bay of Neapolis I shall surely find rest and comfort."
"In retirement and quiet, O Tiberius, the greatest facilities will be afforded for deliberation on important matters. At Capri thou wilt be safe from the importunities of office-seekers and from the intrigues of the dissatisfied."
"Send to Capri! Have prepared for my reception the palace where the Divine Augustus spent his last days!" said the emperor, as he rose to depart. "Order plans to be made for a new palace to be placed on the higher inaccessible cliffs. Ay, though eleven palaces are already there, one is lacking to complete the number of the divinities. Have prepared plans for a palace that will outrival all the others. This new one we will call the Villa Jovis. Fare thee well, O honest minister!"
"Happy omens be thy speed, O mighty emperor!"
ABOUT a year after the death of the emperor's son Drusus, the youth Sabinus and the dancing-maid Merope were reposing on the deck of a bireme bound for Piraeus. Other passengers were grouped in the different parts of the vessel. It was midday, and the sun shone from a cloudless sky. The water moved by a gentle breeze that blew from the glorious shores of the island of Salamis. The bireme was three hours' distant from its destined port.
"What are thy thoughts, my Sabinus?" asked Merope, looking at him with her pure blue eyes.
"The gloom that enshrouded me when we left Rome and Brundusium still hovers over me," replied Sabinus, gazing at the beautiful purple mountains that form the shore line of the historic island.
"But the day is bright and we are near Athens. Throw off thy dreary oppression."
"Ay, I fear that thy trip with me will be one that thou wilt never wish to repeat."
"Thou dost not fear that thy father's persecutors will follow thee?"
"Nay; but no Roman of a distinguished family can be safe in these days of terror."
"Thy father is not yet dead. Perhaps there may be hope," she said in a tone of sympathy.
"Ah! there is no hope," he gloomily responded.
"But hast thou not many friends?" she asked.
"One by one they have left me," was his sad reply.
"Ay, even he."
"But why, O my Sabinus?"
"Since Sosius, my father's confidant and friend, voluntarily killed himself so as to escape the horrible insult of an unjust sentence, and since Sosia has been exiled, my friends have become suspicious of me. I, who have done nothing but revel in pleasures, am looked upon as one who would try to conspire."
"Thou didst conspire and won me," said Merope, forcing an air of gaiety.
"Ay," said Sabinus, laying his hand upon hers. "But since the death of Sosius, my honored father has been incessantly followed by soldiers in disguise. He dared not leave Rome. Didst thou ever see," he suddenly asked her, "Claudia Pulchra?"
"Ay, my Sabinus; she is one of the most beautiful women in the city."
"She has been strangled."
"For what crime?"
"Friendship for Agrippina. They were cousins. A purer woman never lived in Rome. But she was accused of adultery with an obscure poet, and both are now dead. Even Calpurnius Piso destroyed himself because of the attacks made upon him by the emperor."
"Truly, the life of a dancing-girl is safer than that of people in higher station."
"Ay, thou art right, my Merope.
"Tell me again why thou art leaving Rome," said Merope, as she watched a seagull floating in the air above the bireme.
"When the blow struck the family of Sosius, my father was charged with treason. But sufficient proofs against him were wanting. Mark thou, Merope, what plans Sejanus then formed. Latiaris, who was always considered a stanch friend of our family, was chosen as the instrument to deal the final blow. He sent to my father an invitation to a dinner, which was gladly accepted. At the dinner were only Latiaris and my father; but friends of Sejanus were hidden in a room adjoining. The door that led to that room was carefully covered by a curtain."
"Ah! 'twas a trap," said Merope.
"Wait thou a moment When the meal was half over, Latiaris addressed my father, praising him for his constancy in his loyalty to the oppressed family of Agrippina. He spoke at the same time commending words about Germanicus and bemoaned the fate of Agrippina. My father, who worshipped Germanicus and who loved the children of that wonderful man, was so affected by the words of Latiaris that he burst into tears. Carried away by his emotion, he spoke against Sejanus; nor did Tiberius escape his invectives."
"Is it, then, forbidden the Romans to praise their friends and criticise the conduct of the rulers?"
"Ay, my Merope. Such fear now hovers over all the great houses in Rome that no one trusts another. But hearken to what follows. While my father uttered the words against the emperor, he heard muffled voices in the adjoining room. He feigned sickness, quickly left his couch, drew aside the curtain, and entered the room from which the sound had come. He beheld there his worst enemies."
"Oh, what a cruel plot!" exclaimed Merope.
"The sight of those men was my father's death-warrant. I know not what happened after that horrible disclosure in the house of Latiaris. When he returned home, he called me and ordered me to leave the city at once. He gave me an order to sell at Athens his estates in Greece. With money thus obtained, he hopes to save his family from poverty; for at his death everything will be confiscated. With tears in his eyes, he bade me farewell. 'I shall never see thee again, O my son, my son!' were his last words. Ah, Merope, those who are able are leaving the city. Informers are everywhere. Mayhap even our conversation may be reported."
Merope cautiously looked around them, but no one was near. "Truly, such stories frighten me," she said.
"And, Merope, people are ofttimes charged with saying words that were never uttered by them."
"When will this terror cease?"
"I know not, O Merope—but look at the beautiful mountains. Oh, would that the spirit which dwells in those lofty heights and that which has seen history blossom and die, would speak to doubting and tormented hearts!"
"Rather, would that life would always be as gentle as this sea," she slowly said. "But how long shall we be at Athens?"
"When the estates are sold, we shall go to Crete. In a few days my family sail for that historic island. But come, let us try to throw off our sadness. Those laughing eyes must be as bright as the sky and not dimmed with tears. At Athens we will drink of new wine and be happy in forgetting the world. Wilt thou not be glad to see Athens?"
"Ay; we shall see pure Greeks there."
"Ay; we shall see some Greek dancers."
"Dost thou remember Psyche, O Sabinus?"
"The little Greek dancer at Pompey's Theatre? Ay, that do I."
"I have often wondered what she did to be arrested?"
"Is she not yet free?"
"Nay; Elea and I walked to her home some time since. We found the door broken open and the house bare of everything."
"Dost thou recall the day we met her with Gyges in the summer garden near the Temple of Bacchus?"
"Ay; 'twas on that day she was arrested. She appeared sad; dost thou remember?"
"I have forgotten."
"She was the prettiest dancer in the Theatre."
"She was all grace and refinement."
"Too pure, Merope."
"She was betrothed to Gyges."
"Ay; he disappeared at the same time. Was he arrested?"
"I know not. He drives no more at the Circus."
"Psyche was to have danced her last time at the spectacles given by Nero."
"Ay; but Elea danced well at the games given by Drusus," said Sabinus.
"Elea cannot dance the roles that Psyche used to portray. But does not Drusus marry shortly?"
"He marries this very day, Merope."
"Who will his bride be?" she asked.
"Ah! Wealth always marries wealth."
"Ay, Merope; but wealth creates envy; envy leads to death and confiscations."
"The Acropolis! The Acropolis!" shouted a sailor, pointing to a white speck that glistened like pure snow on one of the hills directly ahead. Springing to their feet, the passengers looked at that inspiring sight with the same eagerness with which a sibyl would gaze upon a sacred revelation.
WHEN depressed with distrust, when oppressed with suspicion, and when burdened with discontent, the heart looks to the future, from which it hopes to drink the nectar of peace. But the golden chalice from which Agrippina had hoped to drink the blessings of peace had become a brazen cup filled with intense and increasing bitterness. Over twelve months had elapsed since her beloved son Nero had reached the manly age; and each month had brought with it fresh disaster. So undermined had her courage become that, when alone, her soul, in terrible silence, listened and awaited the next calamity without a respiration.
She trembled at the movements of the wings of her imagination, at the fall of the withered leaves of her hope, at the overflowing drops from the fountain of her grief. The parched lips of her soul craved a cool spring from which they might drink of peaceful strength. She longed for a strong arm that would help her carry her burdens, for a confiding friend who would direct her thoughts and actions, and for a tender heart that would reciprocate her affection. For these things did she strenuously seek as a grand oak in the dark earth gropes for strength and sustenance.
At times, so enshrouded was she by her danger that the sun and moon appeared to vanish, the world to disappear, and the stars to melt away. Through the profound darkness of this oblivion a beautiful face would sometimes glow and deceive her. It seemed the face of hope. On close scrutiny she would see around this face vipers and snakes. It was the head of Medusa. With her blood congealed by terror, Agrippina would try to close the eyes of her imagination, but the face of the horrible gorgon would still be before her, turning into stones both her thoughts and her actions.
During the year her son Nero had married Julia, the daughter of Livilla, and had left the small house on the Palatine Hill, moving into the palace that belonged to his uncle Drusus, on the Esquiline. Her second son, Drusus, had assumed the manly robes, and having married Aemelia Lepida, a descendant of an illustrious family, lived in a palace on the Quirinal. Agrippina, her oldest daughter, had been given in marriage to a brutal and villainous man, Cneius Domitius. The bitter seeds of hatred that Sejanus had sown in the hearts of her sons had now matured, and the brothers had become violent enemies. With infernal art the malicious minister had even succeeded in breaking through the reserve with which Agrippina had received him.
Tormented by the discord engendered in her family and by the sufferings of her friends, the poor woman had become dangerously ill. She was now convalescing, and was permitted to receive short visits from her friends.
Always alert, and never losing a chance to advance his cause, Sejanus was the first to visit the convalescent. When he called, Agrippina was resting upon a cathedra in the atrium. Her face was pale and thin, her eyes were still piercing and melancholy. Although weakened by her illness, she still bore herself proudly. She languidly returned the greeting of the minister.
"Have I the honor to be the first among thy friends to call on thee, O woman favored of the gods?"
"I have no friends," she coldly replied.
"Truly thou hast suffered!" he exclaimed.
"Ay," she slowly replied.
"Thou art better?" he asked.
"My body is better; my mind worse."
"Thy body should then control thy mind," said Sejanus.
"Would that my mind controlled my body! Then would my body die."
"But thou hast suffered pain. Convalescence is a new birth, and thou wilt find life happier when thou art stronger. A trip to Velletri or Baiae would benefit thee. Wilt thou not go to Baiae?"
"A prisoner doth not choose his cell."
"What dost thou mean, O Agrippina?"
"The mind tied to this body is freer than Agrippina is in her own home, watched by such a vigilant jailer."
"I do not understand thee," said Sejanus, who comprehended her meaning only too well.
"Have words lost their meaning since I have been ill, O Sejanus?"
"Art thou still distrustful?" he asked reproachfully.
"I trust no one," she impressively responded.
"What if the emperor should leave Rome?" he said, as he watched her closely. Agrippina did not move a muscle.
"He has daily been threatening for a year to leave the city," she said.
"Ay; but I believe he will go shortly."
"If he leaves Rome he may never return."
"Friends may become friends again."
"And what then?"
"While the emperor is away great events may happen."
"I do not understand thee," she faltered.
"Have words lost their meaning since thou hast been ill?" he asked, quoting her own words with an evil smile.
"If the emperor leaves Rome will blood cease to flow?" she asked.
"The guilty will always suffer," replied the minister.
"Can friends greet each other without exile or death being pronounced?"
"Honest friends have never been molested."
"Was Claudia dishonest?"
"I fought to save her life more than thou didst," said Sejanus.
"It is terrible to think of that persecuted and outraged woman," said Agrippina, passing her hand over her eyes.
"Ay; the blame of that deed rests with the Senate."
"That is hard to believe," she said with a sigh.
Abruptly dropping this embarrassing subject, Sejanus exclaimed, "Thy son Nero will rejoice when Tiberius leaves the city."
"Has he told thee so?" she asked quickly.
"Nay; but he will be more free."
"Thinkest thou so?"
"Ay. Nero is a promising son of the noble Germanicus. He is beloved by the Senate."
"He deserves their affection."
"And Drusus is also beloved, but by the legions. He prefers the life of a soldier."
"Ay; but that will be denied him."
"Why? When the emperor is absent, Drusus may not be hindered from joining the legions. He is a noble youth, and is loved by the Praetorians."
"Speakest thou the truth, O Sejanus?"
"I have eyes and ears, and I can feel the pulse of the legions as no one else can."
"But what if the soldiers love Drusus?" she queried.
"I will make reply to that question after the emperor leaves the city. May the gods bless thee and thy family, O granddaughter of the Divine Augustus! I will not tire thee now with more of my words. Fare thee well, O woman favored by the gods!"
"Fare thee well, O Sejanus!"
After passing through this ordeal, Agrippina breathed a sigh of relief. She recalled the words that she had spoken, and analyzed them to see what different meanings they might contain, but she could recall nothing that could be construed as treasonable. She called for a cup of water and ordered a slave to fan her gently. While she thus reclined on her comfortable cathedra, a message was brought that the emperor was coming to visit her.
She had not seen Tiberius since she had pleaded before him for the life of her dear friend Claudia. When he appeared, she remained seated and with great dignity bade him welcome. The emperor had become stouter. The pimples on his face had disappeared, but in their stead ragged and streaked scars had been left, resembling metallic veins in an ugly piece of marble. When he addressed Agrippina, he never looked directly at her, but always gave her a sliding glance.
"The gods have been gracious to thee," he said to her.
"Ay, O Tiberius. For what ends?"
"Our lives are what we make them, O Agrippina."
"True. There are those who smile at grief."
"Where are thy daughters Drusilla and Julia?"
"They are with Antonia."
"But this day I have chosen their husbands."
"Couldst thou not have consulted me before making thy choice?"
"'Twould have been useless. Even if we might have consulted, thou wouldst have had thine objections."
"Ay, my objections to the villain thou didst choose for Agrippina were well founded," she said with deep feeling,
"Cneius Domitius is descended from honorable and illustrious ancestors," replied Tiberius.
"The ancestors of Domitius [*] are not to be blamed for his vicious nature. Did his ancestors ever kill a freedman because he refused to drink more than he could hold? Did his ancestors riding in their chariots cruelly and purposely drive over children, crushing them to pieces? Where is there in the record of the family of Aenobrarbi one who thrust out the eyes of Roman knights in small quarrels? But who are these men that thou hast chosen?"
[* Domitius, father of Emperor Nero.]
"Julia shall marry Marcus Vinicus; Drusilla, Lucius Cassius,—both men of renowned families. Thy daughters will not marry for some years. I wish them to be taught to revere their 'future husbands'"
"Both are honorable men," she said approvingly.
There was a studied and cold politeness in all the words they spoke. Tiberius said, "I have also come to deprive thee of thy son Caligula."
"What wouldst thou with him?" she nervously asked.
"Since the death of one of the twins of Livilla, I propose to rear the remaining one under mine own eyes. I wish that Caligula may be his companion."
"Ay, O Tiberius; but he can be his companion and still live with me. They will be near each other, for thy palace and my house are joined together. Ask me not to give him up at his age."
"There can be no reasons why he should not live in the palace," insisted the cruel emperor.
"Ay, but he is my youngest son and the only one that is left me. Take him not away."
"I have said," he coldly replied. "He will be free to come and see thee, and thou canst visit him. He will not be poisoned there."
"I fear not that, O Tiberius."
"Then why dost thou object? He shall eat at my table and shall be taught to trust me,—something which his mother will not do."
"Thou askest me to trust thee, O Tiberius?"
"The mother of Germanicus trusts me; his wife fears me."
"In the death of Germanicus Antonia lost a son, I lost a husband and a protector."
"Has not the emperor protected thee and thy children?"
The bitter irony hidden in his words increased the feeling of hate in Agrippina as she said, "Thinkest thou, O Tiberius, that I am a lifeless piece of clay, without memory, feeling, or heart?"
"Ah, Agrippina!" he exclaimed. "Thou hast always regarded me through a veil of hate. Every good act I commit becomes distorted."
White with indignation, Agrippina interrupted: "What hast thou done that no one dares to visit me? Thou hast made friendship for Agrippina a crime. Sosius and Sosia were persecuted because they loved me. O Jupiter and ye celestial gods! what crime did the pure Claudia commit? Domitius Afer, an unknown lawyer, with bribed witnesses, tried to prove her an adulteress and a worker in witchcraft against thee. What reason didst thou give me when I pleaded for the life of that chaste and honest matron? Thy words were, 'She shall die.' O Tiberius, her greatest crime was her friendship for me! What has Sabinus done? He loved my husband; he loved me and my children. Of a truth, thou hast turned every friend from me. Thou wouldst like my children to hate me. Even my slaves are paid by some one to spy and lie against me. Do I look at thee through a veil of hate? Who holds that veil?"
"Thou dost not reason calmly," he protested.
"Afflicted as I have been, does it not surprise thee that I can reason at all?" she bitterly asked.
"Thou placest the blame for thy troubles on human agencies. What the gods have sent upon thee thou shouldst bear with calmness," was the hypocritical reply of the tyrant.
"Wouldst thou hate me less if I should respect thee more?" she asked. "Is it thy wish that I should grovel and fawn before thee, and thus defile the blood of the Julian family,—blood the purest and most illustrious in Rome?"
"I have asked of thee no favors. I bestow them," said Tiberius, contemptuously. "Caligula shall come to the palace," he continued relentlessly. Then he added roughly, "Feed less, O Agrippina, on thy daily bread of discontent, which is filled with worms of hate, and thou wilt be happier."
During this conversation Tiberius paced up and down upon the tessellated floor of the atrium, before the altar that held the family gods of Germanicus. He twitched his fingers, and from time to time nervously adjusted the folds of his toga. Agrippina spoke without anger, and with a certain slow emphasis that made her words pierce the pride and dignity of the emperor.
Her mind was so overwhelmed by the flood of things she wished to say that at first she could not think clearly. In answer to his remarks about her food for reflection, she said: "I may eat of that bread, O Tiberius; but who serves it? Upon my bosom I have carried an invisible flower that has weighed upon me like a stone. The noxious odors that I have breathed in these past years have so affected my nature that thou now seest a hideous figure. Mine eyes have so changed that they have become spies upon my inner thoughts. Upon my lips can now be read bitter words that are not spoken. The light-hearted maid who married Germanicus never knew a care. What happened? Her loving brothers, Lucius and Caius, were murdered. By whose hands? Her mother was sent to Pandataria and starved to death. By whose hands? Who was it who murdered her brother Agrippa?"
"Cease thy invective," ordered Tiberius.
But Agrippina ignored the order and continued: "By whose orders was Germanicus poisoned? Who has killed Sosius? Who has exiled Sosia? Ay, who strangled Claudia? The gods? Who but recently arrested Sabinus? Dost thou wish that I should sing and dance? Oh! the aroma from that invisible flower that drags me down bears the odors of savage hate, of murder, of stifling blood!"
Tiberius angrily said to her: "Thy words are the emanations of a diseased mind. Thou wilt talk more calmly when thou art well again. I sacrificed but yesterday to the Divine Augustus, and—"
"Such hypocrisy!" interrupted Agrippina. "Is it consistent in thee to offer victims to the deified Augustus and then to persecute his children? His divine spirit was not transfused into dumb statues. The genuine images of the Divine Augustus are the living descendants of his celestial blood. I myself am one. Why dost thou persecute me?"
"I understand thee, Agrippina. Thou thinkest thou art injured because thou dost not rule."
"Nay, 'tis not power I seek. Relieve my solitude. Give me a husband. I am still young enough for the married state. Cannot Rome afford a man who would think it no dishonor to receive the wife of Germanicus?"
At the announcement of this most just and diplomatic request Tiberius started. He had not thought her capable of such reasoning. To have given her a husband would have been a fatal mistake. He moved towards the vestibule without making reply to this suggestion. He felt that he must consult with Sejanus before committing himself to such a project. Turning to Agrippina, he abruptly said, as he moved towards the door, "Our interview is at an end."
As he entered his palace, he was surrounded by suitors and petitioners, whose noise so infuriated him in his already angered condition that he refused to see them. Entering his private apartments, he immediately sent for Sejanus. When the minister appeared, the ill-humor of the emperor had moderated. "Two days hence I leave Rome. Thou shalt go with me," he commanded.
"What means this sudden determination?" asked Sejanus, concealing his inward joy.
"Rome has become unbearable. Among the crowd of suitors and petitioners I recognize the faces of too many whose friends have been condemned according to the laws. Ay, I sometimes meet my mother, who refuses to speak to me. The she-wolf, Agrippina, continually shows her teeth. Ay, we will leave Rome and strike from a distance."
"Thou hast, then, seen Agrippina?"
"Ay; but for her pale and thin face I would say she had feigned her illness."
"I too called upon her. She is as defiant as ever."
"Ay; Sabinus must be killed. The order for his death shall be the first duty on our way to Neapolis."
"Didst thou question her?"
"Nay. She so used her invective against me that I was forced to depart. If 't were not for her weakened condition, I would not allow her to leave her home for a year."
"She already calls herself a prisoner."
"And whom does she call her jailer?"
"She asked me, 'When will the emperor leave Rome?' I verily believe she will rejoice when she hears that thou hast decided to go away. She said, 'My friends can then come to see me'. Truly, O Tiberius, she speaks too openly against thee."
"Ay; she received me proudly and talked imperiously. Bah! Sejanus, I hate the very air I breathe in this city of informers and evil-doers."
"Who will go with thee to Capri?"
"Caligula and my grandchild. The pompous cubs of Agrippina can live deceived by their free conditions; but with Caligula at Capri I will hold him as a whip above his mother's head. Let her understand that the life of her youngest son depends upon her behavior. O Sejanus, no longer can I endure the hypocrisy of the people and the Senate! The city is a festering mass of discontent, and I will purge it. At Capri the offensive odors of insults, cries, and cursings engendered by my cleansing will not be smelt. In seclusion I will work. For years I have been bound down. No freedom has been allowed me. Men abused my very name. On their ribald lips Tiberius Claudius Nero became Biberius the drunkard, Caldius the infamous, Mero the sot. Let them now tremble. How brave they were in my retirement at Rhodes! My memory is good and their names I well know. They shall be taught that Biberius Caldius Mero never forgets."
"Ay; but these are past wrongs," said Sejanus. "There are now present ones which demand immediate attention. What shall be done with Nero and Drusus? They are being taught that they have been wronged; that their father, Germanicus, was murdered by thine orders. Ay, these sons of Agrippina are being told that the empire belongs to them. The speech thou didst make a year ago, when Nero assumed the manly robe, is now being construed as evidence of thy weakness. Mark thou, it was at thy request the Senate passed resolutions allowing him to offer himself for the quaestorship, five years before the law permitted him. That was well. Look thou now what followed. With no hint from thee, with none of thy counsel or advice, and even in thine absence, the Senate but a few weeks ago conferred those same honors and privileges upon Drusus. What means this? Has the emperor no more power over these children of Germanicus? 'Twas the wish of the Divine Augustus that Germanicus and his children should rule, but it was not his will that they should usurp that power. However, thou art above law. Thy will can change even the wishes of the Divine Augustus. Has not the time arrived when these children should be taught that they owe their positions to thee? Ah! go to Neapolis! Go to Capri! Pull the strings from a distance and make the people dance! Clean the city of intrigue. Make the bones of those who oppose thee rattle in death. The lesson will be severe; but a few deaths judiciously administered will bring the people back to the proper conception of loyalty to thee."
"Ah, Sejanus, thou art as necessary to me as the blood that runs through my veins. Thy words throb with the pulsation of my thoughts. Truly, thou divinest my ideas before they are moulded into phrases. We will teach the Julian family that there is still left one of the Claudian blood. The surviving twin shall be called the little Tiberius."
"Forget not, O mighty Tiberius, that away from Rome thou wilt be untrammelled to revel in dissipation. City gossip will not be heard at Capri."
"Are the pleasures of Rhodes to be enjoyed?"
"Ay! Even more! Sestus Gallus knows how to contrive new pleasures. He was disgraced by the Divine Augustus. Even thou didst once reprimand him in the Senate for his openly lascivious life. Now thou canst repay him by taking him with thee."
"Send for him. Send also for the poet, Asellius Sabinus. His witty and unseemly verse will enliven the evenings there. Make known to him that my liberality will be no less than when I, under the spell of Bacchus, presented him with two hundred thousand sesterces for his poem called 'The Dispute between the Truffle and the Fig-pecker, and the Oyster and the Thrush.'"
"Titus Priscus would be a good addition to thy new household."
"Ha, ha! Priscus, who is ashamed to show his face in Rome? Ay, send for him! Capri will tremble with our orgies!"
Sejanus had never before seen the emperor so contented. Now was the opportunity for which he had waited. On the crest of this happy wave he floated his great and ambitious desire. He stood before the emperor, who had thrown himself on a couch, and said: "Before thou leavest the city, I would crave of thee a favor, O mighty Tiberius. Thou hast been lavish in bestowing upon me honors and distinctions. True, I am a descendant of a Roman knight and have little family record, still I am a supplicant before thee. Accustomed I have been to the kindness of the Divine Augustus, and subsequently to thy numerous decisions in my favor. Therefore would I rather address my hopes and prayers to princes than to gods. Never have I sought the glare of honors. Watching and toiling, like one of the common soldiers, for thy safety has been my choice. However, what has been most glorious for me has been attained,—that is, to be thought worthy of alliance with thee. Hence the foundation for my present hopes; since the Divine Augustus, in the disposal of his daughter, had considered even some of the Roman knights. Therefore I beg thee, O noble Tiberius, if a husband is sought for Livilla, that thou wouldst remember thy friend, who would seek no other advantage than the high honor of such an alliance."
"I will deal candidly with thee, O faithful minister. By the marriage to Livilla, the partisans of the house of Caesar would flame out with far more fury. What would be the consequences if by such a marriage the strife were inflamed? Thou art deceived if thou thinkest to continue in the same rank as now. Livilla, who has already been the wife of Caius Caesar and of Drusus, will not be satisfied to grow old with a husband no higher than a Roman knight. Nay, supposing that I suffered thee afterwards to remain what thou art; believest thou that they who saw her father, her brother, and the ancestors of our house enjoying the highest dignities will ever suffer such a marriage? However, neither thine own inclinations nor those of Livilla shall be thwarted by me. The secret purposes of my own heart towards thee and the further ties of affinity with which I am contriving to bind thee to me I shall at present forbear to reveal. This only will I disclose, that there is nothing too high for thy virtues and thy zeal towards me to merit. When opportunity presents either in the Senate or in popular assembly, I shall not hesitate to express my sentiments. "
"Most willingly do I yield to thy decision," said Sejanus, as he bowed himself from the room.
AT last the emperor started for Capri. A gorgeous litter, supported by six stalwart Syrians, bore him to the Porta Capena, where carriages awaited him and his party. Besides the servants, there were with Tiberius the Senator Nerva, the Knight Atticus, Sejanus, Caligula, the little Tiberius, and a few Greek comedians. To the Senate the emperor had explained that his departure was occasioned by the need of his presence at the dedication of temples in Campania. The news of the emperor's departure spread through the city like the announcement of a great victory of the legions. Crowds had, therefore, collected along the roads that led to the Porta Capena. At the parting signal from the trumpets of the accompanying Praetorian guards, there arose from the people a cry of joy that penetrated the bosom of Tiberius like a sharp poniard.
After a journey of four hours, Aricia was reached,—a small village, embraced by the pine woods of the Alban Hills. Here Tiberius owned a villa that had once belonged to Clodius, the bitter enemy of Cicero. From the beautiful flowered terraces of this villa the whole sweep of the Roman Campagna spread out like a vast rug, woven by the deft fingers of some divinity. At sundown Tiberius and Sejanus stood on one of these terraces looking at the glorious panorama. Turning to the minister, the emperor said, "Tell me, O Sejanus, can there be in the whole empire a view to compare with this?"
"How small Rome appears! Seems it possible that in that speck there can be so much dissension?"
"Ah, farewell to Rome and its deceptions! Didst thou hear the cry of joy from the people when we left the city? Bah! Let them hate me, O Sejanus, so long as they fear me."
As the ride from Aricia to Terracina would require ten hours, the party must needs leave the Alban Hills before the break of dawn on the following morning. The emperor's ill-humor and bitterness had increased. Because his groom had awkwardly fastened the emperor's sandal, Tiberius struck him and felled him to the floor. The servant who had brought his morning meal was sentenced to be deprived of food for three days, because the meal was served cold. When they changed horses at the miserable town of Forum Apii, on the edge of the Pontine Marshes, the displeasure of Tiberius had so increased that he ordered his followers not to speak without his permission. In consequence, the flippant talk of the Greeks was hushed, Nerva and Atticus remained silent, and the princes, Tiberius and Caligula, spoke to each other only in whispers. But on the heights of the beautiful town of Terracina, in a comfortable villa fanned by sea-breezes, Tiberius regained his customary composure. He remained there a day to conduct necessary business. After state affairs had been attended to, letters received and answered, and the terrible order forwarded for the instant death of Sabinus, the party revelled in the mellow wine of that luxuriant country. The lad Caligula was plied with wine until he became intoxicated, so that by his delirious antics he might add to their amusement.
On the following day they went to Formiae. They stopped for their midday meal at a villa near the sea. The day being warm, the meal was served in a grotto. Youths dressed as fauns and satyrs passed the different courses, while young maidens in gauzy attire danced before the revellers. Suddenly, when the meal was at its height, a bank of earth at the entrance to the grotto became detached and fell in upon them all. There was great confusion. However, every one escaped serious injury. The emperor, moving too slowly, had his feet caught by the falling earth. Seeing that all danger had passed, Sejanus quickly threw himself over the emperor, as if to protect him from further harm. At this show of absolute self-sacrifice after all danger was over, Tiberius loaded the minister with praises and expressions of gratitude.
From Formiae the party went to Capua. In this important and luxurious city Tiberius dedicated the temple to Jupiter. From there, with his followers, he went to Nola. In this town, where the death of Augustus had occurred, Tiberius dedicated a temple to his illustrious predecessor. During the journey from Nola to Neapolis the emperor again became sullen and ill-humored. An officer whose duty it was to precede the party neglected to remove a small branch of a tree that projected over the road. This negligence so enraged Tiberius that he commanded the party to halt. Then, ordering the officer to be stripped and beaten, he compelled the party to watch the brutal punishment for this trivial offence. Silenced by fear and by the emperor's displeasure, the party then quickly moved towards Neapolis.
When they embarked for Capri, the bay of Neapolis was as calm and innocent as a sleeping child. The crystal air seemed alive with light. Sharply outlined against the clear deep-blue sky were the edges of the hills that nearly surround that magic circle. The abrupt cliffs of Surrentum, the peaceful slopes around Sabia, the gentle sweep of the land between Vesuvius and Neapolis, and the bold, volcanic islands of Procida and Ischia, were gently kissed by the transparent waters of that glorious bay. Between the promontories of Surrentum and Ischia, Capri, with its profile of a human face, appeared like a huge dark sapphire on the bosom of the sea.
In the bay floated little sprigs of sea-weed, purple fucus, like ravellings from kingly robes, sea-grass and leaves, like waving hair and green roses, watery flowers, as soft as feathery plumes or lashes of dreaming eyes. Under the surface were little sea-horses, swarms of tiny fish that moved among branches of fleshy coral like humming-birds among branches of small blossoming trees. Medusae, living vacuities, trembled and floated like transparent lilies detached from their stems and imbued with life and motion. Ah! the bay of Neapolis appeared like a huge flower-garden, flooded with sparkling dew.
Circling the peaceful garden and crowning the hill-tops and slopes, like an immortal wreath, were the orange and olive groves of Surrentum, the laurels and myrtle of Sabia, the vineyards and fields of Vesuvius—that colossal verdant bell of spring—the pines and cypresses of Neapolis, and the vineyards of Procida, Ischia, and Capri.
It seemed as if Nature were intoxicated with beauty. It seemed as if celestial harmonies, borne on the rays of light, touched the ears with an infinite melody.
A gilded bireme, with purple sails and polished bronze trimmings, floated gracefully on the lovely bay, like some enchanted boat sent by the gods to bear spirits to happy havens of peace. Attached to the mast, the emperor's golden ensign languidly fluttered in the quiet air, like expiring flames on a sacrificial altar to the goddess Flora. Around the bireme were numerous small boats filled with happy people dressed in bright colors. Songs and laughter filled the air. Cheers and acclamations gradually increased in volume as the emperor and his retinue neared the shore. They hastened into the small boats that awaited them, and were soon conducted aboard the bireme. The anchor was quickly raised, the poised oars began to move with regular rhythm, and the boat bounded forward like a living thing. The bow cleaved the smooth water in gentle ripples, and the dripping oars, when raised for the next stroke, showered sparkling drops in the air like tears of joy.
Every one was inspired by the gorgeous sight. The emperor, looking at the retreating shores of Neapolis, pointed out to his companions the different villas that had once belonged to Cicero, Lucullus, and Augustus. Some of the party recited poetry; the Greeks sang extracts from the Odyssey; Nerva quoted the following lines of Virgil:—
"Nor Oebalus, shalt thou unsung from this our story
Whom Telon on nymph Sebethis begat, as tells the tale;
When Teleboan Capreae he reigned o'er, waxen old;
Whose son might not abide to sit within his father's fold."
Caligula and the lad Tiberius amused themselves by watching the fishermen haul their nets and the little nude boys rock small boats whose edges gathered in water at every roll. Every one seemed happy on this delightful day. It seemed impossible that such tranquillity and beauty could ever be ruffled by storms and tempests.
As the mainland grew more and more indistinct, the villas on the north side of Capri gradually became more sharply defined. From the gray rock, dotted with brush and small trees, gradually came into view the bold marble-columned front of one of the palaces built by Augustus. The bireme took a course to the south of the island, towards the palace where Augustus spent the last days of his life. This palace was more inaccessible than the others. No one could approach it without being seen by the occupants.
When the imperial party had arrived at their destination, small boats conveyed them to the shore. When he entered the palace, Tiberius heaved a sigh, and said to Sejanus, "Thanks be to the gods! We have at last arrived! Now I am safe from the intrigues of Rome! Ah, Sejanus, we should have sooner begun the Villa Jovis. In one month I shall be higher up the cliffs, where only the winds can reach me."
"Didst thou say that the Divine Augustus lived in this palace shortly before he died at Nola?"
"Ay, within these very walls, weak as he was, he composed Greek verses. Come with me!" he exclaimed, as he led Sejanus from the palace. They slowly walked to the edge of the cliff. "Yonder," said Tiberius, "on the largest of these islands that stand like sentinels guarding the approach to the landing, the poet Masgabus is buried, and— By the infernal Deities, what is that object moving towards us?" he cried in a tone of fear.
"It has the appearance of a huge sea-monster," said Sejanus.
Slowly creeping up the cliffs was a strange object that had an uncanny look. Tiberius, affrighted, called a soldier to his side. As the singular object approached, it was seen to be the form of a man carrying a basket of fish. The fisherman was one-eyed. His bronzed head was bald; his unshaven face wrinkled and weather-beaten. His toothless mouth was sunken. His whole body was deformed by overwork. He deposited his basket upon the rocks and, moved by a feeling of loyal generosity, took from it the largest fish, which he awkwardly presented to the emperor.
Enraged that any one dared climb those slippery and dangerous rocks, Tiberius ordered the soldier to rub the fisherman's face with the gift he had just presented. "Is there a spot on the island," exclaimed the emperor, "where these things cannot approach?"
"Thou treatest the man too kindly, O Tiberius," said Sejanus.
The fisherman smiled at such treatment, and said to the soldier in his crude Latin dialect, "I am glad that I did not give him the crawfish I carried with me."
"What didst thou say?" growled the emperor.
"Nothing," stammered the frightened fisherman.
"For his insolence, take the crawfish and lacerate his ugly face," ordered Tiberius.
The cries of the poor fisherman were pitiable, as his face was rudely torn by the claws of the crawfish.
"Ah! henceforth the fishermen will avoid my presence," added Tiberius, with an ugly leer.
The next day Sejanus departed for Rome. He carried with him a signed parchment, delegating to him the imperial authority concerning all the minor details of government.
A FEW months after the retreat of Tiberius to Capri, Livia, his aged mother, died at Rome. The news was quickly conveyed to Tiberius, but he excused himself by letter for not immediately appearing at Rome, on the ground that he was pressed with important business. He had never spoken to Livia after she showed him the abusive letters of Augustus. Such hatred did he still bear her that he daily put off going to Rome to attend her funeral. Appeal after appeal was sent him to hasten, as the burial could not longer be delayed. Finally he despatched Caligula to deliver a eulogy in his stead. Out of respect for the wife of the Divine Augustus, the Senate passed a resolution calling her the "Mother of her Country." This the hateful son would not allow. He even annulled her will.
After her interment and Caligula's return to Capri, the government assumed a character of cruel and crushing despotism. Those who had been friends of Livia were attacked and ruthlessly killed. Letters of complaint were sent to the Senate charging Nero with "lewdness," Agrippina with a "turbulent and haughty spirit." If people compared these bloody times with the peaceful reign of Augustus, they were killed. Innocent criticism was punished by death. Freedom of speech was stifled. Everywhere in the city there was a feeling of distrust. The streets of Rome appeared deserted. The surrounding towns and the villas by the sea became crowded. But even here spies were continually on the watch.
As if to increase the gloom that hung over the city, a horrible catastrophe occurred at a small town near Rome, called Fidenae. In this place a freedman had erected a large wooden amphitheatre, and having gathered gladiators from all parts of the country, had promised a wonderful exhibition. People flocked to the games and filled the enormous structure. During the performance the supports gave way, precipitating the great crowd to the ground. Few escaped injury, and over thirty thousand perished. Nor was this all; for at Rome a violent fire broke out which consumed all the houses and temples on the Coelian Hill. The groan of the dying at Fidenae awakened no sympathy in the breast of the tyrant at Capri; but after the terrible fire on the Coelian Hill, the cries of the homeless touched his heart to such an extent that he ordered the public money to be used in rebuilding the devastated district.
Amid all these catastrophes Sejanus did not cease to execute his infernal plots. His greatest desire had not yet been fulfilled. He had removed only one obstacle from his path to ultimate power,—the emperor's son Drusus. By a stroke of good fortune, Tiberius had withdrawn himself from the city. Agrippina and her sons were the last remaining obstacles to be set aside. By artful and vicious enticing, he seduced the wife of Drusus, making her, therefore, a spy upon her husband. Through Livilla's daughter, Julia, he became informed of the innermost thoughts of Nero. Through the young wives of these two princes he worked their destruction. What evidences of a treasonable nature were lacking in the actions of Agrippina he supplied from his fertile imagination. He made a last effort to entrap her. In the atrium of her home, where he had many times before questioned her, he accosted her.
"Thou art jubilant, O Agrippina," he said. "Wherefore art thou so happy?"
"I am not happy, O Sejanus, but I am less distrustful."
"Still distrustful of me?" he asked; but receiving no reply, he added, "What if I were to tell thee that the emperor is a prisoner?"
"What wouldst thou have me say?"
"Mayhap the time is now ripe for thee and thy sons to seize the altars of the gods and cry unto the people for protection. Truly, thou art now more free, for thou receivest again thy friends. Nothing, O Agrippina, hinders thee now from seizing bolder and higher associations. Come, be brave! With thy sons call upon the legions! The power thou seekest is now within thy grasp! No one will hinder thee! The Senate, the Roman people, the legions, ay, Sejanus and the Praetorians will all espouse thy cause! Say but the word and thou shalt rule!"
"Ah! O Sejanus, these are treasonable words! The honors of which thou speakest are not to be seized by violence. Nay, when the gods see—"
"The gods help not those who supinely wait," interrupted Sejanus. "Nay, O daughter of the outraged Julia, nay, O mother of princes of celestial blood, nay, thou, granddaughter of the Divine Augustus, what is now required is action. Let Sejanus honor thee! Let the true friend of the Julian family—the man whom thou seemest to reject as unworthy of thy confidence—let him be the first to throw himself at the feet of the mother of an emperor! Hesitate no longer, but give me thy orders!"
These words of Sejanus were spoken in such an earnest tone that Agrippina was at first deceived. Gradually these treasonable utterances awakened in her a sense of fear. She began to divine a sinister motive in this seeming friendliness of her old enemy.
"What if thy words should be heard by others, O Sejanus?" she whispered in alarm.
"Why should I care for informers, if I am trusted by thee and thy sons? I have seen Nero but yesterday. I have spoken with Drusus. Messengers await my command to carry orders to the legions. Everything, O noble and worthy Agrippina, is ready and awaits thy consent!"
"O Sejanus, thy words ring with the sound of sincerity, but no violence shall be done by me. If the people wish what thou sayest they do, let them inform me through the mouths of my friends. I charge thee, speak no more on this subject and excite not the ambition of my sons! Nay, O Sejanus, the robes of loyalty are not always worn by those who speak the loudest. If thou hast nothing better to offer than treasonable words, thou art dismissed."
The next report that was forwarded to the emperor contained the treasonable words of Sejanus as having come from the lips of Agrippina. Nero and Drusus were charged with sharing their mother's traitorous purposes. The fate of Agrippina and her sons awaited the final judgment of the tyrant at Capri. Orders for their punishment were immediately forwarded to Rome. The mother was banished to the island of Pandataria,
Nero was sent to the island of Ponza, and Drusus was thrust into the dungeons on the Palatine Hill.
While the people of Rome were suffering under the tyranny of their violent ruler, Psyche still remained in solitary confinement. Months had passed, and the seasons with their varying colors had painted the beautiful Campagna; but the young dancing-maiden had lost all idea of time. Day after day, through the weary months, she had seen no one but her deaf and dumb jailer. She had heard no voice but her own. However, she lived in continual dread of another visit from Sejanus. She would pace up and down her little cell; she would gaze for hours upon the wide Campagna; she would sometimes sing an Homeric hymn; but the monotony of her life weighed upon her like a heavy burden.
In her painful solitude, where no zephyrs wafted a human sound, except her own sighs and sobs, where no revelations came to her but in chimerical dreams, she lived like some beautiful flower that hangs over a dark abyss. All the pure springs of her imagination, whether flowing gently in soft but sombre shadows of love for her brother, in calm shade for her parents, or in golden sunlight for her lover, lost themselves in the main stream in the valley of oblivion.
The summits of the hills of solitude are first kissed by the purple rays of religious light. They cleave the air like bold thoughts; they repose in majesty like infinite and immutable truths. From their lofty tops words lose their power to paint the revelations that come to the soul. Burning upon altars on those lofty heights, the thoughts give forth sweet incense mingled with profound prayers. Ay, on these altars lambent flames of meditations mimic the light of the life-giving sun. Ah! But there are also valleys of solitude where the sunlight never enters, where the tears of cloudy days gather into one torrent and violently score the river beds, where pale flowers struggle against the cold breath from unsearchable caverns. There are solitudes which humanity dares not enter. There is a solitude where the mind itself evanesces,—the terrible solitude of oblivion.
Such a solitude was Psyche's; and from her life all hope and joy had fled. Her very dreams were beginning to vanish. Arid anguish pressed her heart. Her ears like parched lips thirsted for words. Her eyes like homesick souls longed for the light of the sun. Her existence was immobile but living, like the silence on lips that are not dumb and yet do not speak. Oh the silence of solitary confinement! Her life was an ocean without a shore, overhung with sombre clouds. From time to time there would appear on the waters a wave both long and low. Only the ear accustomed to silence could hear that moaning note. It sounded like a voice crying, with sad, monotonous iteration, the word 'ob-liv-i-on.'
One evening when she had finished her meal, she heard some one speaking in the corridor. These were the first words she had heard since the visit of Sejanus. "What can it mean?" she asked herself. She heard the key turn in the lock, and when the door was opened she saw a soldier.
"Prepare to leave at once," he ordered.
"Then I am free!" she screamed with joy.
"Nay, thy prison is to be changed."
"But where shall I go?" she asked nervously.
"Thou wilt leave Rome to-night with another prisoner."
IT was a beautiful cloudless day in July. The atmosphere quivered like the breath of a fire over the wide Pontine Marshes. The intense, stifling heat of midday seemed to come from the infernal regions. In invisible clouds pestilential vapors, breathing death, floated in the air. Luxuriant vegetation that had fed on decayed plants for centuries gave forth a putrefying and sickening odor. Dragon-flies sported about in the fever-breeding effluvium. For weeks there had been no rain, and the stream that glides through the marsh, like a river of death, was low and nearly stagnant. By the drying up of the stream and the mire the dust had encroached upon the marsh. Here and there small whirlwinds of dust were twisting, like venomous spirits of the air. Through this death-breeding district, which appeared like a huge sore on the fair plains of Campania, led the Via Appia, connecting Terracina with Forum Appii. Over the road the dust had drifted like snow, but unlike snow it did not melt under the burning sun. At midday the road was always deserted. The beasts of burden and their drivers would rest in the inns and taverns until the sun slanted its rays. But on this day a cloud of dust moved slowly along the road. From time to time there appeared in the cloud the glitter of a helmet, the flash of a spear. A company of equestrian soldiers were escorting a carriage drawn by two horses. Evidently something urgent kept these soldiers on the road this sultry, stifling day.
There being but a slight breeze, the dust fell where it rose, covering the party with a thin yellow layer. The horses breathed hard and sneezed and snorted as the irritating dust penetrated their nostrils. The sun at its zenith beat unmercifully upon the cavalcade. With eyes half closed and cast down, the men moved on, suffering under the intense heat. No one spoke. The clanking of the iron shoes of the horses and the rattling of the swords of the soldiers were the only sounds that broke the silence.
On, on, they marched, the perspiration rolling like little rivulets down the soldiers' cheeks, through the coating of dust. The beasts' flanks were also wet with a mixture of dust and sweat. Occasionally the officer in charge would give an order so as to encourage the men. Some of the horses began to stumble as they dragged one foot after another. One of them with its sides bloody from the constant spurring of its rider, was gradually left behind the others. The rider dismounted, and with the flat of his sword began to beat the beast. After vain efforts to keep up, the poor horse finally stumbled and dropped upon the burning road to die. The rider proceeded on foot. The sun still relentlessly blazed, and scorched the party. There was no tree along the road, no place where shelter could be found, and there was nothing to do but to travel on.
On, on, on, they went, becoming more and more fatigued as each mile-post was passed. The carriage rolled along the road like a funeral car. From time to time there came from within the drawn curtains the noise of clanking chains. Coughs and gasps, produced by the stifling dust and heat, were mingled with deep and prolonged sighs. When the party arrived at the almost stagnant stream, a boat conveyed the carriage from one side to the other. While the carriage was in the stream, the curtains were drawn aside and one of the occupants looked out, but immediately drew back. The sun burnt too fiercely. The horses walked through the poisonous waters and became slightly refreshed by the passage, but the respite endured only a short time. Again they were on the hot road, proceeding towards Terracina.
The occupants of the carriage were Agrippina and Psyche. Agrippina's wrists were bound together by chains. She rested her head on Psyche's shoulder. All night long they had been on the move and she had had no rest.
"Is it not possible to obtain more air?" asked Agrippina.
"I fear not, my lady," said Psyche, in a tone of forced cheerfulness. "Would that I could bathe thy head with water, but even water is denied us."
"Ah! these chains are too heavy. Look how they have cut my wrists."
"Place the weight on the seat, my lady. There—does not that ease thee a little?"
"Ay, my child. Why should I be shackled?" she said, as she ground her teeth. "What do they fear that I will do? They wish to humble me. Ay, they treat me worse than a barbarian!"
"I wish I could but help thee, O my lady."
"Oh! But this heat is stifling. Feel how it comes through the cover. Ah, I must have water, I must have water, I must have water!" she feverishly stammered.
Psyche noticed a gradual increase of heaviness upon her shoulder. She looked at Agrippina and found that she had fainted. "Stop the carriage!" she cried. "Help! help!"
The order "Halt!" was given, and the party came to a standstill. Through the dust the officer approached the carriage. He heard a call for water.
"My lady has fainted!" cried Psyche. "Quick! Help me! Give me some water!"
The officer poured some wine from a small flagon into a wooden cup. He pushed the cup between the curtains. After a few drops of wine were poured between the lips of Agrippina, she gradually became conscious. The dust having slightly settled, the curtains were drawn aside.
"Cannot this cruel ride be stopped?" asked Agrippina, weakly.
"We cannot stop until we arrive at Terracina," answered the officer.
"But why such haste? Wouldst thou kill us both?"
"My orders are unmistakable: 'Proceed, without stopping, to Terracina.'"
"Ay, but who gave these cruel orders?"
"I know not."
"Hast thou forgotten that along this road I did bear the ashes of Germanicus? Then the people and the soldiers were in mourning. Today the same soldiers who wept when they saw the widow of that great man deny her a cup of water and a little shade. There is a tavern not far from this stream. Where dost thou procure fresh horses?"
"At that same tavern, my lady," said the officer, beginning to show some sympathy.
"There let us rest and cool ourselves," she pleaded.
Ignoring the petition, he asked, "Art thou better?"
"Ay, but weak. Take from me these fetters."
"That I cannot do."
"Dost thou fear that I shall escape?"
"Nay; but the shackles must be worn until Pandataria is reached."
"But the hands of this child are free," she protested.
"Ay, but I cannot help thee. Come!" he said, speaking to his soldiers. "Forward!"
The curtains were drawn together, and the party continued on their way. The prisoners suffered in silence until they arrived at a small inn where the horses were changed. Then they were allowed to alight. But the water they found there was brackish; the wine bitter. Immediately after the horses were changed, the order to proceed was given. As they neared Terracina, the air cooled by the sea gradually began to invigorate them. It was near evening when they neared this small town; but here they were again compelled to move on. They were led down the steep cliffs of Terracina to the shore, placed in a small boat, and rowed to a vessel that awaited them. They were soon on their way to Pandataria.
Refreshed by the salt breezes, Agrippina and Psyche sat upon the deck of the vessel and watched the smooth sea reflecting the setting sun. The great orb was just hovering in glory over the waters, and the skies were aglow with small flaming clouds, clustered near the horizon. The peace that always comes with the sunset hour brooded over the waters.
"What island may that be yonder?" asked Agrippina, turning to the officer who stood near them.
"Ponza, my lady."
"Ah! 'Tis the island where they have imprisoned Nero." She looked in the opposite direction and saw another island. "What is that one named?"
"Near Capri?" she asked, thinking of the emperor in that beautiful retreat.
"Ay, my lady."
She said no more, but gazed vacantly at the sea, lost in gloomy meditation.
"Art thou weary, my lady?" asked Psyche, when she saw Agrippina close her eyes.
"Ay, my child; and thou?"
"I too sink under the burden of fatigue. We have travelled fast and far."
"Ay; we have made the entire journey from Rome in one day. Truly such speed was shown by our ancestors only when the enemy was in our land. I know not why we were brought here in such haste. Slaves are taken from Terracina to Rome in two days. A descendant of the Divine Caesar is hurried over the same road in one day. Oh that the gods should permit such brutality!"
Again they relapsed into silence. The sun had now disappeared.
The eastern heavens were heraldic blue, merging into a paler blue at the zenith and gradually melting into infinite gradations of purple, pink, and red, as they approached the horizon, where the clouds had now become iridescent, like mother-of-pearl. Towards the land the water was an intense dark blue; towards the west it reflected the celestial colors of the dying day. The first star—the boldest eye of the night—sparkled like a vibrating point of fire. On such a night maidens delight to rest on the hearts of their lovers and breathe the peace of happiness, mothers rejoice in caressing their children. But the emotions of the poor prisoners were not stirred by the influences of this lovely night; instead, they were smothered by the darkness that enshrouded their souls.
When they arrived at the island, night had already descended upon the waters. They soon disembarked, and were conducted to a small, one-storied house. Agrippina said to Psyche, "'Twas here my mother passed her last days, my child."
"As a prisoner, my lady?"
"Ay," replied Agrippina, sadly.
"How did she die?" Psyche asked in a soft low voice.
"She was starved to death," replied Agrippina, in a tone of anguish.
After they had entered the house, the officer removed from Agrippina's wrists the manacles that had wounded them. A small supply of food was given the prisoners, and then they were shown their sleeping-rooms,—a large room with one window that looked out upon the sea, connected with a smaller room which had no window. Both were plainly furnished with couches and cathedrae. The large room was assigned to Agrippina; the smaller to Psyche. The poor prisoners were soon resting after their terrible journey from Rome.
The morning after the arrival of the prisoners, Agrippina reclined on a couch near the entrance of the house. This building was located on a desolate part of the island. There were no trees to afford inviting shade, and the prisoners were therefore obliged to retreat into the house to escape the fiery rays of the sun. Psyche sat on the tiled floor near her mistress.
"Tell me again thy name, my child," said Agrippina, with her melancholy eyes resting on Psyche's beautiful face.
"Psyche, my lady."
"Thou art a Greek?"
"Ay, my lady."
"Why wert thou sent with me?"
"Perchance to be thy companion and thy servant, my lady."
"But who art thou?"
"I was a dancing-maiden. Now I am a prisoner."
"Art thou the Psyche who danced at Pompey's Theatre?"
"Ay, my lady."
"I have seen thee portray Niobe."
"'Tis the character I loved best to portray."
"But why art thou a prisoner?"
"I know not, my lady."
"Where are thy parents?"
"They are also prisoners."
"And their crime, my child?"
"I know not their crime, my lady. We lived a peaceful life in a small house outside of the city. In one short day our happy family was torn asunder."
"Hast thou a brother or sister?"
"I had a brother."
"Where is he?"
"I will answer thee in Greek, my lady. He was murdered!" said Psyche, glancing towards the soldier who guarded them.
"By whom?" asked Agrippina, also speaking in Greek.
"Sejanus the minister?"
"Ay, my lady. Gannon, my brother, was employed as his secretary."
"Ah, the atrocious villain has also destroyed thy family!" exclaimed Agrippina.
"I have not seen or heard from my parents or from my betrothed since the day I was led to prison," said Psyche, sadly.
"Thou wert to have been wed?"
"Ay; to the charioteer named Gyges."
"Well do I remember the man who drives for the green faction. Often have I seen him from the palace of Antonia."
"He was also sought for by Sejanus," said Psyche.
"But there must be some reason for such violence. Why was thy brother killed?" asked Agrippina.
"I will tell thee all I know, my lady. In the office of Sejanus, Gannon was a secretary. He wrote and translated letters. Sometimes he was employed to carry messages. One day he happened to read one. On the night of that same day he was murdered."
"How, my child?"
"He was thrown from the roof of the Praetorian barracks. The next day my parents were arrested. At that very hour I was seated with my lover in the peristyle of our new little home. When I returned to my father's house with Gyges, two soldiers were waiting to conduct me to prison. Perchance my parents are now dead," she said sadly. "Perchance Gyges, too, is dead." And she wept bitter tears as she thought of the possibilities of their fate.
"Weep not, my child," said Agrippina, resting her hand caressingly upon Psyche's head.
"The last words I had from my brother," Psyche continued, when she grew calm enough to speak, "were those he had written upon a piece of cloth which he had sewed to the underside of his tunic. By chance only I read them. Gannon's body had been carried away. His tunic lay in a heap on the floor. I took it up and kissed it and I saw the writing. This was the message he had written: 'Have done wrong; read a letter from L to S about Lygdus.' Methought the L must stand for Livilla and the S for Sejanus."
"Who is Lygdus, my child?"
"Gyges told me that he was a eunuch and a most cunning scoundrel."
"My son Nero has mentioned a eunuch as being employed by Livilla in her household. I forget the name. When did this happen?"
"Four days before the games of Nero, thy son.
"The day before Drusus died so suddenly?" inquired Agrippina.
"Is the heir of the emperor, then, dead?" asked Psyche, in surprise.
"Ay, my child," answered Agrippina, mechanically. Suddenly she clutched Psyche by the shoulder. With a wild stare in her eyes that frightened the young maiden, she said: "Can it be, my child, that Drusus was poisoned? Ay, 'tis true! I have often believed that Livilla and Sejanus were lovers. Ye celestial gods! is it possible that this woman conspired against her husband?"
"Ah, my lady, that accounts for Gannon's death," cried Psyche, as the mystery of her arrest became plain; "now do I understand everything."
"It means more," said Agrippina, with deep emotion in her words. "Sejanus has murdered Drusus; he has made Tiberius a captive at Capri; he has, by his nefarious plans, charged myself and my sons with treason. O Psyche," she cried despairingly, "Sejanus will be emperor of Rome! And then there will be no help for us!"
"But can nothing be done?" inquired the trembling girl.
"Letters to or from prisoners are not allowed," said Agrippina, despondently.
The prisoners had passed but a few days upon the island when one morning the vessel that brought food and orders to the soldiers brought news that created great excitement among the guards. It was early, and the sun had not yet driven the people under cover. Agrippina and Psyche were sitting on the rocks not far from the house.
"Go, my Psyche! See what has caused such excitement among the men!" said Agrippina.
Psyche hastened to the landing and inquired what tidings had come from Rome. She heard the story of the soldiers, and at first stood still, not daring to return to her mistress. Agrippina, seeing her hesitate, arose and went to meet her. At the sight of Agrippina coming towards her, Psyche hastened.to her side.
"What has happened, my child?" Agrippina quickly asked.
"I can tell thee better in thy room, O my lady," said Psyche, with pathetic calmness.
When they had entered the house, Psyche softly said, "'Tis easier to carry news of grief, O sweet lady, to those who are happy than to those already weighed down with sorrow."
"They have done no further violence to my children?" asked Agrippina, excitedly.
"Let my sharp words be dulled by the love I bear thee, my lady. Rest thee on thy couch."
"Tell me, my child, what news hast thou?"
"Oh, my gentle mistress, thy son Nero has been strangled at Ponza!" As she said these words, she hid her face in the robe of her mistress. At first Agrippina said nothing. The shock of, this terrible news dulled her mind. Her face became white; her eyes frightful. She gasped. She ran her fingers through her hair and acted as if demented. Finally she spoke, but her voice was a hoarse whisper: "And this will be the end of all my children. Was ever woman born who has endured such suffering as mine has been? My cup of bitterness was already full. This added woe but strangles me as I drink. Tears have deserted mine eyes. The springs of my grief are dried up. Oh! my life is an arid desert, and those who have loved and trusted me have left their whitened bones strewn along the pathway of my weary life. What is it that keeps our spirits bound to our bodies when we yearn to tear them asunder?"
"May the mother of the gods comfort thee, O sad and grief-stricken soul!" said Psyche, as she burst into tears of tender sympathy.
BUT what of the young charioteer? What had Gyges been doing while Psyche was enduring the weary months of her hopeless imprisonment? On the day after the rainy and despairing night of his flight from Rome, he met Aldo at Tusculum, as had been agreed upon. Together they then lived among the oak woods and in the small villages in the Sabine Mountains, until the vigilance of their pursuers gradually decreased. They then went to Casinum, a small town on the Via Latina. Here Gyges found accommodations with a farmer who lived on the outskirts of the town. In order that his muscles might retain their strength and flexibility, the charioteer exercised himself by working in the fields and vineyards.
However, this monotonous life became too irksome. Gyges hungered for the excitement of the Circus and the companionship of his horses. He prevailed upon the farmer to give him a stable. He then ventured to Capua and bought a young unbroken stallion. Again he went and bought a second. Finally he became the happy possessor of four spirited steeds. So adroitly did he train them that in a short time they knew his every word, and they could run four abreast without the use of reins or harness.
Nevertheless, while he trained his horses, he did not cease to be tormented by the fearful uncertainty of Psyche's fate. In everything he did or refrained from doing, her influence seemed to stimulate or to restrain him. In the temple of Apollo, that rested on the mountain towering high above the city, he would fervently offer up a prayer to the sun-god for her deliverance. On the summit of the mountain, which afforded one of the most beautiful views in Italy, he would rest between the marble columns of the temple and drink in the inspiring sight. His thoughts, like birds flying along the ways of the winds to their nests, would revert to his betrothed. He seemed to see in the bright flashes of the far-distant sea her glances; in the solemn mountain-tops covered with verdure her virtues covered with purity; in the bright valleys her depressed spirits. In the sparkling, transparent stream that gently touched the small town and sang a gentle song of peace, he pictured her precious life.
But the knowledge that Sejanus instigated the murder of Drusus, that Livilla acquiesced, and that Lygdus committed the horrible deed, burdened him with the same feeling that weighs upon the criminal when in breathless expectancy he awaits the sentence of death. Whether absorbed in sad meditation upon the past, or partially engrossed with the affairs of the present, his knowledge of the crime seemed to cut him like a double-edged sword. Perpetually fed by the oil of his fears, his conviction appeared to glow within him like a lamp whose flame cannot be quenched.
After the first two months had passed, he could no longer bear the suspense under which he lived. He must know how Psyche was. He finally concluded to write to Macro, the officer in the Praetorian Camp who had been Gannon's first employer and who had been a friend of Alcmaeon. Macro was also well known by Gyges. Many times had the soldier gone into the stables at the Circus and learned from Gyges the perfections, the faults, and the nice little points about horses that only thorough horsemen know. Together they had tried many horses that were to be bought by Macro for the use of the soldiers. Gyges therefore felt that he might divulge his hiding-place to Macro without fear. One day he decided to send Aldo to him with a letter, asking information about Psyche and her parents. He procured a horse for the boy and despatched him on his way.
"Guard well the letter, Aldo," he cautioned. "Let no one see it but Macro. Go not to the stables at the Circus. Thou art not known in the city, but be seen as little as possible."
"Fear not, O master. No one but Macro shall receive the letter," said Aldo, as he nervously sat astride the horse, awaiting leave to start on his mission.
"After thou hast received Macro's reply, go to Nana and tell her that all is well with me. Guard thy words. Speak only when spoken to. Go!"
Six days after the lad had left Casinum he was back again, bright and happy and bursting with news.
"They are well!" he called to Gyges at a distance.
"Didst thou see Macro?" he cried, as the horse and rider approached.
"Ay, and right glad was he, O master, to hear from thee," said Aldo, as he sprang to the ground.
"What message did he send by thee?" asked Gyges, eagerly.
"He left me for some time. When he returned, he said only these three words, 'They are well.'"
"And Nana? Didst thou see her?"
"Ay, my master. I told her what Macro had said and also that thou art safe. She cried with joy."
"Good heart!" said Gyges, smiling at the thought of Nana's emotion. "Didst thou see any one else?"
"Nay, master. I longed to see the horses at the stable, but I dared not go."
Gyges became as happy as a child when he heard that Psyche was safe and well. Each month he sent Aldo to Rome with reports to Nana and with inquiries to Macro. He was thus informed of the emperor's departure from Rome and of Psyche's removal to Pandataria. The last visit of Aldo brought news that startled Gyges. Macro had been appointed sub-prefect of the Praetorians. This position placed the soldier second only to Sejanus. Gyges rejoiced at the promotion of his friend, and believed that now some means could be arranged whereby he could communicate with Psyche.
However, the knowledge of the crime of Sejanus still burdened the mind of the charioteer. He felt that he must tell some one the horrible secret. "Why should I not see Macro and tell him?" he reasoned with himself. "If the emperor could but learn through Macro that Drusus was murdered, the soldier would receive still higher honors. I will write Macro and try to appoint a place of meeting. Ah!" he said to himself, "perhaps the freedom of Psyche may thus be secured!"
He wrote a letter and sent it to Rome by Aldo. Six days passed; seven; then eight; and Aldo did not return. Vague feelings of alarm took possession of Gyges. He could not believe that Aldo had been arrested, but he was tormented by doubts and fears. On the ninth day the lad returned, happy and smiling as ever.
"By Mercury, Aldo! Thou hast given me great fright!"
"The fault was not mine, my master. Macro was out of the city."
"And thou didst await his return?"
"Ay, my master."
"Thou art a good lad, Aldo. Thou hast truly earned thy freedom."
"I do not seek to be free, my master. I wish to live always with thee."
"But where is Macro's reply?"
"He wrote nothing. He read thy letter carefully; then said, 'Kalends—Tusculum—house of Junius—night.'"
"That is three days hence. Well do I know the honest Junius. Where didst thou stay while in Rome?"
"In thy new home, my master."
"Nana is still well?"
"Ay, well, and anxious to see thee."
Gyges shook his head sadly. "She may wait long," he said. "This night, my boy, I start for Tusculum."
"Am I to go with thee?" was Aldo's eager question.
"Nay, my lad. Thou wilt remain here with the horses."
Travelling by night and concealing himself by day, Gyges safely arrived at Tusculum. On the evening of the Kalends he knocked at the door of the house of Junius.
A slave opened the door.
"Thy lord Junius is within?" Gyges inquired.
"Nay," was the reply. "What wouldst thou here?"
"I seek Macro, the sub-prefect of the Praetorians."
"Macro now is master here. Junius is dead. What is thy name?"
"'Tis needless to give my name. I pray thee tell him that a horseman wishes to see him."
The slave closed the door. Soon after he reappeared and said, "Enter."
"Hail, O sub-prefect!" said Gyges, when he saw his friend Macro waiting in the atrium to receive him.
"Hail to thee, Gyges!" said Macro. "I feared thou wouldst have difficulty in reaching here. I should have sent thee a passport, but I am watched too closely in the camp. Come apart with me and let me hear thy story."
He led Gyges into an adjoining room and locked the door behind them. Taking a lighted lamp from a pedestal and carefully looking around the chamber, he went into a second room, locking the door between these two apartments. There were no openings in the last room except that of the closed door. "We shall be safe here from informers," he said.
"Where is Junius, O Macro?" inquired Gyges.
"Dead," replied Macro. "His property was confiscated. I have bought this house."
"Of what sickness did he die?"
"Of a malady far too common in these times," replied Macro, bitterly. "He was wealthy. Sejanus wished his money, and informers charged Junius with treason. The good and innocent man opened his veins. But come, O Gyges, tell me, why wert thou arrested? Why were Gannon's parents and sister put into prison? In the camp I can learn nothing of their crime. They were guarded by special servants of Sejanus. Through a soldier I learned of Psyche's departure. Ah! there are many mysteries in the Praetorian Camp that even the sub-prefect cannot unravel!"
"Art thou sure that no one will overhear us?"
"Ay; I have carefully locked the doors. But come! I cannot hide myself long. What secret hast thou that will make the greatest man in Rome tremble?"
"Dost thou know Lygdus?" asked Gyges.
"Ay; but I know no good of him," said Macro, with a frown.
"Where is he now?"
"That I know not. What knowest thou of him?"
Coming close to Macro, Gyges whispered in his ear, "He murdered the emperor's son!"
Macro started back aghast. "How dost thou know?" he demanded.
"What I shall tell thee, O Macro, will seem incredible. Thy master plotted the death of Drusus, Livilla abetted the dastardly plan, and Lygdus committed the terrible deed."
"By the gods! Gyges, these are startling assertions!" said Macro, doubting the truth of the terrible charge made by Gyges.
"Ay, but there are sufficient proofs," said Gyges, confidently. "Gannon was at one time employed by thee, if I mistake not."
"Ay; and he was the brightest lad I ever had in my employ," said Macro.
"Later he was transferred to the office of Sejanus," continued Gyges. "He carried messages for thy master."
"But that means nothing," said Macro, impatiently.
"Wait thou a moment," returned Gyges. "Hear my story. One day he carried a letter from Livilla to Sejanus, and read the letter—I know not why. That same night he was thrown from the roof of the barracks. He was murdered!"
"Gannon murdered? 'Tis impossible!" exclaimed Macro.
"Nay, O Macro; 'tis too true! The poor boy wrote on a piece of cloth these words, 'Have done wrong; read a letter from L to S about Lygdus.' The piece of cloth he sewed to the under side of his tunic. These words were the last he ever sent to his family. The L and S, my Macro, stand for Livilla and Sejanus."
"But there is no proof in this," objected Macro.
"Why were Alcmaeon and Hera arrested the following day?" asked Gyges, significantly.
"I know not," was the reply.
"Why was Psyche imprisoned?"
"I know not that, either."
"Why have I been sought?" persisted Gyges. "Is there not a reason to suspect that a great crime has been committed, when such innocent people are hunted and hurried to prison? Listen to what follows. Thou knowest that Lygdus is one of the greatest villains in Rome. Why should his name be associated in a letter between Livilla and Sejanus? I was with Psyche when she was arrested. We were at Alcmaeon's house. We entered and saw lying upon the floor Gannon's tunic. By chance we read the words I have told thee. I went to the camp with Psyche and warned her not to acknowledge having seen the writing. After I left her I went to the house of Lygdus. He was not there. I then went to the palace of Drusus and asked the gate-keeper if Lygdus had entered. I learned that the eunuch had but that morning entered the employ of Livilla. Mark thou, Livilla—not Drusus. While I was talking to the gate-keeper, there were hurried calls for litters. I retreated, and watched the people as they came out in wild disorder. It was said that Drusus had died suddenly. Filled with the fear of my convictions, I waited a little longer. Sejanus appeared. He entered, and a short time after came out with Lygdus. The eunuch remained close to the gate. That is my story. The writing on Gannon's tunic is the clue to it all."
"Ye gods! can it be true?" exclaimed Macro.
"Canst thou doubt it?" asked Gyges.
"Nay; I can believe anything about Sejanus. But why hast thou kept silence so long, Gyges?"
"To whom could I tell this story and be believed but to thee, Macro? As soon as I heard of thy promotion, I communicated with thee."
"By Hercules, O Gyges! It may be too late!" exclaimed Macro.
"What dost thou mean?"
"Ah! Now do I begin to understand clearly the plans of Sejanus. By the gods, O Gyges! He is the emperor! He has already strangled Nero. Agrippina and Drusus are in prison. Verily do I believe that Tiberius himself is a prisoner at Capri!"
"Ye gods! Has the power of Sejanus become so great? But where is Livia?"
"The mother of Tiberius is dead," replied Macro.
"What! has she too been murdered?" exclaimed Gyges.
"Nay. Verily do I believe she died of a broken heart," replied Macro.
"But is there no one with whom thou canst communicate?" asked Gyges, despairingly.
Macro thought for a moment, and then replied: "Ay, there is Antonia; but she is the mother of Livilla. However, I will see her and procure a letter from her to Tiberius. I will be silent about her daughter. Sejanus only will I accuse. Ay, Antonia can, and she will, help us. She is the only one in Rome whom Tiberius seems to respect. How can I thank thee for thy information, my Gyges? How can I ever repay thee?"
"Let me but see my Psyche, O Macro. Let me but send her a letter is all I ask."
"But there are important duties now to be done," said Macro, thoughtfully. "All communications that go to the emperor must pass through the hands of Sejanus."
"Then no word can be sent to the emperor?" anxiously asked Gyges.
"Hold!" exclaimed Macro, excitedly. "I possess a duplicate seal of Sejanus. He gave it me to sign his correspondence. That will help us. But come! I must return to Rome this night. Meet me here two nights hence."
"But I may be prevented," replied Gyges. "Thou knowest that I am sought by the soldiers."
"I will give thee a passport—" He hesitated a moment, and then added, "Perchance 'twould be better that thou shouldst rest here in this house until I return."
The sub-prefect immediately departed for Rome. "Fare thee well, O Gyges!" he said, as he parted from the charioteer in the atrium. "Thou hast made the name of Macro great."
"Happy omens be thy speed, O future prefect! Fare thee well!"
THE wind was howling around the bleak cliffs of Capri. Huge waves dashed and broke against the rocks below. On the eastern heights of the island the newly completed Villa Jovis was lost in the clouds. Sheets of rain fell, drenching the island and the surrounding country. Frightful lightnings flashed, and tremendous thunders rolled. The beautiful white columns and statues and the massive walls of the courtyards caught the wind and held it until it escaped with violent whistlings and shriekings. Fields of maturing vines were gutted out by raging torrents. Havoc and ruin relentlessly stalked through the island, uprooting trees and throwing down buildings. A tempestuous sirocco was at its height.
Down in the depths of the palace, in a vault to which no daylight could penetrate, the cowardly Tiberius, with a wreath of laurel on his head, crouched, trembling at every burst of thunder. From time to time he would ask what signs there were of clearing. A statue of Victory fell from its pedestal into the courtyard below and was dashed to pieces. The noise of its fall was heard by Tiberius. The tyrant trembled.
"What was that noise?" he shrieked.
In a few minutes a servant replied, "The statue of Victory has fallen, my lord."
"Call the astrologer!" Tiberius commanded excitedly.
"Ay, my lord."
"Bid him quickly come!" repeated the emperor.
When the astrologer arrived, he quieted the terror-stricken emperor by telling him that an enemy who had long been victorious would soon be crushed.
"But who is mine enemy that has been long victorious?" asked Tiberius.
The astrologer did not directly reply, but asked in turn, "Is there no one who rules over thee, O emperor of the Romans?"
"Mine enemies are either dead or in prison," replied the emperor.
"All thine enemies?" the astrologer asked doubtfully.
"Ay, all mine enemies. Wherefore dost thou doubt?" demanded Tiberius.
"I doubt thee not, O worthy emperor. I have long warned thee that some one was subtly plotting against thee, but thou wouldst not believe me."
"Nay; I must have proofs," said the emperor.
"What better proof couldst thou demand, O mighty emperor, than that which has just been shown thee? The statue fell to-day; proofs should then arrive to-day."
"Who would dare venture upon the water to-day?" asked Tiberius, mockingly. "Ah, thou readest signs badly. No one— By the infernal gods! hear that thunderclap!" he exclaimed, greatly terrified.
"Ay, my lord Tiberius. The storm has now spent its force and will soon abate," prophesied the astrologer.
"The Villa Jovis is well named," cried the emperor. "The ruler of the gods has protected his august name."
Although intended for a residence, the Villa Jovis was in reality a fortress. It was built on an elevation, on three sides of which cliffs dropped perpendicularly into the water. The fourth side, which connected with the lowlands by steps, was protected by a massive wall. Two gates led into the villa. The first gate was easy of access; and between it and the second the visitor was carefully searched before he was allowed to enter. A feeling of insecurity had seized the emperor, and he had stationed soldiers on the walls and around the grounds, as if the villa were in a state of siege. On the mainland heights of Surrentum, not far distant, soldiers were also placed, to give warning by flag-signals when a boat approached the island.
For one whole day no one had dared venture upon the turbulent waters. The emperor therefore anxiously awaited reports from Rome. After the last violent peal of thunder there was a breaking of the clouds. The lightning became less violent. Tiberius then crawled from his hiding-place, like an animal afraid of a revenging attack. He called Caligula, and together they approached the small portico outside of the semicircular triclinium, or dining-room. The emperor still wore on his head the wreath of laurel.
"Hast thou no fear in a storm, my Caligula?" asked Tiberius.
"Nay, my father," replied Caligula. The poor prince was compelled to address the persecutor of his family by that name.
"Thy Divine ancestor, Augustus, always wore a sack of sealskin when it lightened. Jupiter, however, never touches the laurel with his thunderbolts. Look at the water! By the infernal gods! no one will dare attempt to bring my letters to-day. Go, child, to the tower and inquire if there are any signals from the shore."
Caligula departed and quickly returned.
"A boat rowed by four men approaches the island, my father," said Caligula.
"At last I shall receive my letters!" exclaimed Tiberius, with satisfaction. "Where is the little Tiberius?"
"On the tower, my lord."
"Let us join him and watch the landing of the boat. Come!" ordered the emperor.
They climbed the steps to a high tower which overlooked the whole eastern portion of the island.
Since he was brought to Capri, the youngest son of Agrippina had lived a life of continual dread. He had left the island but once,—the time when he pronounced the panegyric at the funeral of his great-grandmother, Livia. After those few days of freedom he had returned directly to the island. He had been informed of the arrest of his mother and brothers, and had heard of the death of Nero, his favorite brother; but he dared not show his grief before the tyrant Tiberius. Sleeping with the Prince Tiberius in a room which adjoined the emperor's, he could not, even at night, show signs of grief over the sad fate of his family.
The impure life at Capri was such that the most chaste and virtuous could hardly escape contamination. The island was filled with vile wretches and loose women, who performed obscene ceremonies in the rooms of the villa. The small gardens were often the scenes of revolting spectacles. At dinner indecent stories were told by pathic Greeks, while the host and his revelling companions ate and drank like beasts. The sleeping-apartments contained suggestive and shameful pictures. In such an atmosphere was the youth Caligula trained and developed. Murder was almost a daily occurrence. The steep cliffs were often streaked with blood. At the base of these cliffs human bones and remnants of bodies were sometimes washed ashore.
Upon the tower of the Villa Jovis the emperor with his grandson and Caligula now stood, watching the small boat dashed about by the tumultuous seas. The oars moved unevenly, but the muscles that wielded them seemed to be conquering the violence of the waves, and the boat slowly approached the island. Occasional clouds still scudded across the heavens, but large patches of blue sky showed that the storm had indeed spent its force, as the astrologer had said.
"Who dares tempt the elements on such a day?" asked Tiberius.
"'Tis not an imperial boat," said Caligula. "The men row too unevenly."
"Ay, my boy," said the emperor, contemptuously, "the rough fishermen can out-pull the lazy sailors who man our vessels. Why does my captain hesitate to launch into the waters when others dare brave them? Bah! He is a child, a babe! Truly, he shall be punished! Verily must I wait the morrow for news from Rome? What ho!" he yelled, calling a soldier. "Signal to yonder peak that some one must attempt to bring me my letters! Ye gods! We are laughed at by four ordinary fishermen!"
"There is a fifth man!" said the little Tiberius.
"What is he doing?" asked the emperor.
"He appears to be bailing out the boat," replied the little prince Tiberius.
"By Neptune! They are swamping!" exclaimed Caligula, as a huge wave struck the boat.
"Ay, they have stopped rowing!" shouted the Prince Tiberius, in a tone of fright.
"Now they are all bailing!" added Caligula, excited at the brave fight the men were making.
"They are beginning to row again!" cried the young Tiberius.
"The boat is once more on its way!" gayly shouted Caligula.
"Of a truth, their bravery deserves to be rewarded," said Tiberius. "Who can be so anxious to reach Capri that they should tempt Fate by such a venture? Here, lad, carry my laurel wreath below. The storm has passed, and these leaves have once again saved my life."
Caligula hastened below with the wreath, and was soon again watching the struggles of the sailors. A signal was made from the mainland that no one could be found to venture upon the sea at such a time.
"Ye infernal deities, drag the wretches to the realms of Pluto!" shouted Tiberius, enraged. "The captain shall not only be beaten, but he shall die."
"Look, they are near the land!" said the Prince Tiberius, still excitedly watching the boat with its five brave occupants.
"Ah, at last they are saved!" cried Caligula, as the boat entered the waters on the lee side of the island.
The spectators of this heroic struggle descended from the tower and walked around the garden of the villa, looking at the destruction caused by the terrific storm. Some time after, while they were thus occupied, a soldier approached the emperor and said, "A messenger from Rome craves admittance."
"Ha! The boat, then, brings tidings from Rome! The news must be urgent!" he exclaimed. "Has the messenger been searched?" he asked, turning to the soldier.
"Ay, my lord; he is the bearer of a letter," replied the man.
"Send him to me," commanded Tiberius.
Drenched to the skin, the young messenger presented himself before the emperor. He handed him a letter, which he had succeeded in preserving from the fury of the elements.
"'Tis from Antonia," said Tiberius, as he looked at the seal.
"Ay, my lord," replied the messenger.
"Follow me," ordered Tiberius, as he led the way into the villa. "What were thy orders?" he inquired, when they had reached the office.
"To rest neither day nor night until the letter was in thy hands," replied the messenger.
"What can she wish that orders so urgent should be given?" he asked himself, as he broke the seal and hastily read the first few lines. When he reached the middle of the letter, he smiled. "Antonia thinks she has discovered a plot against me," he said to himself. "She thinks that Sejanus is aspiring to the throne! This joke is better than any my Greeks have invented!" He read further. When he learned that Drusus had been killed at the instigation of Sejanus, when he further learned that the people in Rome regarded him, the emperor, as a prisoner, he became serious. He turned to the messenger and said, "Who gave thee this letter?"
"Macro, my lord," replied the messenger.
"The sub-prefect gave thee thy passport?" asked the emperor.
"Ay, my lord," was the reply.
"But how didst thou pass the different posts?"
"The seal of Sejanus passes everywhere."
"But how came the seal of Sejanus in the possession of Macro?" asked Tiberius, suspiciously.
"The minister has a duplicate that Macro uses for small commissions," replied the messenger.
"When didst thou leave Rome?"
"Two days since, my lord."
"But how darest thou tempt the elements while my men shake with fear?" growled the emperor, still irritated by the non-arrival of his letters.
"'Lose not a moment!' were the orders of Macro. The fishermen who rowed me were bribed by promises of large reward," replied the young man, modestly.
"What is thy name?" the emperor asked.
"Gyges," replied the young hero; for it was no other than the brave young charioteer that had ventured out upon the turbulent sea.
"Thou art a Greek, the charioteer of the green faction," said Tiberius. "Antonia speaks of thee in this letter. Tell me all thou knowest."
"I was betrothed, my lord, to a maiden named Psyche. She had a brother, a bright lad, named Gannon. He was employed by Sejanus as a secretary and a messenger. He has carried letters even to thee, O mighty Tiberius. One day he happened to read a communication from Livilla to Sejanus. On the night of that day he was murdered by order of Sejanus. But before his death the lad sewed to the under side of his tunic a message. The lad's dead body, clothed in that tunic, was carried to his home. The tunic was there removed. The parents of the lad were seized and imprisoned before they could bury his body. The father is an inoffensive schoolmaster; the mother, a good and honest woman. At the time of their arrest Psyche and I were walking in the Campagna. When we reached her home, she also was arrested. Going into the house, she found the tunic of her dear brother. Broken-hearted, she kissed it, when suddenly she discovered the message. I read it with her. The poor boy wrote that he had done wrong; that he had 'read a letter from L to S about Lygdus.' These initials, my lord, referred without doubt to Livilla and Sejanus; for Gannon had told his parents that he had always carried messages between them. These two names are, therefore, the only ones he could have meant. I have known this Lygdus, and at one time nearly became his victim. On the road to the camp with my betrothed, I besought her not to reveal her knowledge of the writing. Now, O mighty emperor, hearken unto what follows. When I left Psyche at the camp, I went to the house of Lygdus. He was not there. I then went to the palace of Drusus. The gate-keeper informed me that but that very morning the eunuch had entered the service of Livilla as cup-bearer. While I was speaking at the gate, calls of the guests for their litters were heard. I waited and watched the people hastening in confusion from the palace. I learned that Drusus had died suddenly. O noble lord, well do I remember every episode of that horrible night! After the guests had left, Sejanus arrived and entered the palace. When he left, Lygdus bade him farewell at the gate. An order had been issued for my arrest; but my stable-boy warned me and I fled to Casinum. When Macro became sub-prefect, I hastened to him with my story. I have ended, O mighty Tiberius."
While Gyges related his story, the emperor nervously worked his fingers about his mouth. Apparently these startling disclosures made but little impression upon his callous nature. When Gyges finished, he drawled out, "Antonia mentions not her daughter's name."
"'Twas Livilla without doubt, my lord, who sent the message to Sejanus about Lygdus."
"Where is now the lad's tunic?"
"Sejanus has destroyed it."
"Where are the lad's parents?"
"They are still in prison, my lord."
"And the maiden Psyche?"
"She is a prisoner at Pandataria."
"Ah, is she, then, the criminal that Sejanus has described to me?" asked the emperor, now truly surprised.
"Believe me, O mighty emperor, she is as pure and innocent as a Vestal Virgin!" cried the young charioteer. "Can she not be freed, my lord?"
"She shall suffer no harm at Pandataria," said Tiberius, in a tone that gave Gyges hopeful assurance.
"I thank thee, my lord, I thank thee!" exclaimed Gyges, with tremulous emotion.
"Now leave me," ordered Tiberius. "On the morrow at daybreak thou shalt carry from Capri letters to Macro."
Left alone in his office, Tiberius began to reason with himself. "Antonia is right," he said, "Macro is right, and the young man Gyges, whose honesty in the Circus is unquestioned, also seems to speak the truth. Ah, Sejanus, thy cunning, then, has deceived me! Full well do I now understand thy lying statements! Ye gods! I admire thy villany! 'Take not the first cup!' were his words of warning. Ah! Drusus has been wronged! Now do I comprehend why his hand did not tremble when he drank of that cup! Now do I understand why thou, Sejanus, didst wish to marry Livilla! What subterfuge! What villany! But the emperor can outstrip thee! He can— By the infernal deities! can the emperor do anything? Am I truly the emperor? Antonia calls me the 'prisoner of Capri'! Of a truth, nothing can come from Rome except through the office of Sejanus. Ah, he has trapped me! But has he not sacrificed many things for me? Did he not risk his life in the grotto? True, the danger was over when he protected me, and his sacrifices were, after all, but so many steps towards his own glory. Ah, he has made great strides! But I will match my cunning against his. My mind is not yet dead. It can still contrive new plans. Ay, by the essences of Hades! I will make thee consul, O Sejanus; but while thou sippest glory from a golden chalice, I will undermine thy power. Macro shall be the new prefect. Money will win him and the soldiers!"
He called his secretaries and wrote three letters,—one to Macro, one to Statius the Senator, and one to Antonia. He wrote one more,—to Sejanus, the future consul.
At daybreak the next morning, with a passport bearing the emperor's seal, Gyges carried three letters from Capri. The letter for Sejanus was sent by the imperial carriers.
On the day of Gyges' departure from Capri the emperor's nervousness increased. He became gloomy and depressed. Every noise irritated him. He went into the courtyard and watched the men gather the fragments of the overthrown statue of Victory. He thought of the words of the soothsayer, "An enemy who has long been victorious will soon be crushed." "He spoke truly," said Tiberius to himself.
The day after the violent storm was as clear as crystal. The waters had again become tranquil, and the bay of Neapolis, like a huge flower, had unfolded with added beauty in the light of the glorious sun. Tiberius climbed the watchtower and looked towards the city of Neapolis. As he vacantly stared, the waters seemed to change into the Campagna of Rome, which was as red as blood. In the outline of the city he seemed to see the fawning face of Sejanus. The emperor turned away and looked towards Surrentum, but even there he had left his trail of blood. To the south he saw the open sea, but the rocks beneath him were streaked with the blood of those whom he had murdered. He glanced towards the west, but there the islands of Pandataria and Ponza, like bloody fingers, pointed towards him. For on Pandataria Julia, his wife, had been starved; on Ponza, Nero had lately been strangled. Everywhere he looked he saw blood, blood, blood!
That night he retired early. The lights were extinguished, and he tried to find comfort in sleep. But his sleep revealed to him a new world. Indistinct figures moved before him with stealthy steps, like famished jackals. They were images of his own crimes and of his victims. In his vision he saw sturdy, robust men reduced to weak and silly effeminacy by participation with him in the vicious pleasures that consumed vitality around him. He saw fantastic faces of violated virgins, of filthy prostitutes with flabby breasts floating in the foul air of his corrupt nature. There passed before him visions of sweet and lovely children dragged from the heights of purity, ruined by contact with his corruption. He twisted and groaned in torment. He seemed to breathe an air infected with the foul breath of low, vulgar people, the smell of filthy sewers, the stench of carrion, the belching of drunken men, the sweat of panting prostitutes. He yelled as there passed before him apparitions of tortured forms with screaming faces smeared with blood. In all this horrible vision he heard, like the screeching of a monstrous bird of prey, the words of his mother, Livia, "Woe unto thee, Tiberius; woe unto thee!" Suddenly, amid the din of the terrible cries of woe, he saw bloody fingers that wrote prophecies on the filthy mud of his soul.
With frenzied screams he jumped from his couch. He called for lights. He awakened the princes. He must bury the memory of those old crimes, of those old obscenities, of those old murders, with new ones. "Call the Greeks!" he ordered. "Call the dancers! Kill the cowardly captain!" he cried in madness, as the sleepy servants slowly lit the lamps in the luxurious rooms of the villa.
"THE prisoner at Capri confers new honors on his jailer, O Livilla," said Sejanus, with an evil smile, after he had received the letter from Tiberius offering him the consulship. "He begins to fear me."
"As consul, my Sejanus, there is nothing thou canst not do!" replied Livilla.
"'Twill but serve to legalize the things that I now do covertly," he responded.
"Perchance, in his increasing years, Tiberius will make thee co-emperor?" suggested Livilla.
"Long since should I have seized the throne," said Sejanus. "I have been too lenient towards him. But thou must marry me at once, my love. Then usurpation will seem less harsh to the people."
"Are the soldiers still loyal to thee?" asked Livilla.
"Ay, my love, loyalty is easily bought with gold," he replied.
"But if thou becomest emperor, what will become of Tiberius?" she inquired.
"On the day we wed, he dies," contemptuously responded Sejanus.
"Then there are Agrippina and her sons Drusus and Caligula?" she added.
"They shall also die," he said with coldblooded indifference. "Now, my Livilla, thou shalt become an empress! Thy little son, Tiberius, shall be brought from Capri, and educated as the future ruler. Therefore hail to thee, O mother of a line of emperors! Hail to thee! Our lives, my love, must be united in matrimony. Our ambitious plans have been too intricately interwoven for us longer to live separated."
"Be it as thou wishest, my love," she acquiesced, dazzled by the promise of so much glory.
"Thy beauty, my captivating divinity, fades not with time," he added. "Rather does it become more radiant as the years go by. Ah, Livilla, through the years of thy married life I have loved thee. In thy widowhood have I loved thee less? My love is still fresh to-day."
"I too have loved thee, Sejanus," she murmured, as he kissed her lips. "Ah, thou rulest my life!"
"Nay, my love, as empress thou shalt rule me. But what wouldst thou have me do for thee?" he asked.
"There is only one request I would make; send Lygdus away," she answered.
"Dost thou fear him, my love?"
"Ay, his face torments me," replied the guilty woman. "But how progresses the search for Gyges?"
"One of my soldiers living at Casinum admired four stallions that were being driven by a boy," said Sejanus. "Upon inquiry, it was learned that an obscure Greek lodging in a farm-house had trained these horses. The boy's name was Aldo. He worked for Gyges in the stables of the Circus. Aldo was arrested and questioned about his master. The little lad even suffered torture, but his lips remained sealed. A Greek answering the description of Gyges travelled to Capri. Another went to Tusculum. By to-morrow the charioteer will be captured."
"Dost thou not fear him?" she asked.
"I fear no one," he replied with a defiant air. "When we are absolute rulers, my love, none of our enemies shall escape us. This charioteer perchance knows nothing. He is the lover of Gannon's sister. Ah! but trust in me, my love. The plans of Sejanus never fail. Have I not rid the city of our enemies? Everything I have done is for thee. What have I not done to possess thee? What will I not do to retain thee?"
"Ah, my love, of a truth thou hast been a faithful lover. Be now a faithful husband. My love for thee is also as strong as when I first yielded my heart to thy power."
"'Tis no stronger than the love I bear thee, my Livilla. But I must return to the camp," he suddenly added, as he kissed her lips and withdrew from her embrace. "Farewell, sweetheart! Future joys be thine!"
"Farewell, O my lover!" she responded, looking at him lovingly with her dreamy eyes.
After another lingering kiss Sejanus departed. Escorted by his guards, he proceeded towards the camp. As he passed a group of Senators, two of them lowered their gaze. "'Tis an insult!" said Sejanus to himself, hastening on his way. When he was in his office, he sent for Macro.
"Balbus and Statius have dared to insult me. Arrest them!" sharply commanded Sejanus. "Surely the future consul shall brave no affronts from such men! Perchance a new plot is forming against the emperor and me. Be vigilant, O Macro! Let the soldiers be prepared to attack if there be need!"
"Ay, my lord," said Macro, turning away.
"Hold!" roughly ordered Sejanus. "Thou didst go to Tusculum two weeks since."
"Ay, my lord," said Macro, watching carefully his master's face.
"Each time thou didst return the same night. Who was the young man thou didst meet there?" questioned Sejanus.
"'Twas a friend of Antonia," answered Macro.
"Ay?" added Sejanus, interrogatively. "But thou didst also visit Antonia. Thou didst send a letter for her to Capri by this same young man whom thou didst see at Tusculum."
"'Tis true, my lord," said Macro, struggling to regain his composure.
"The passport for the young man was made in the name of Attius," continued Sejanus. "But I have already told thee that no message should be sent to Capri except through my hands."
"Ay, my lord; but this was but a trivial affair," replied Macro, relieved that Sejanus had learned nothing further. "'Twas but a favor for Antonia."
"Hereafter even trivial things pertaining to the emperor must be seen by me," said the minister. "What news of the Greek who left Casinum?"
"The one who went to Capua is arrested, my lord; the other, who went to Tusculum, has now been tracked to Rome. On the morrow he will be a prisoner," said Macro.
"Thou art a faithful servant, O Macro. The office of prefect may soon be thine. On the morrow I will go to the Senate House attended by a guard. Thou shalt accompany me. Let the guards thou choosest be picked men."
"Ay, my lord," said Macro, as he left the office.
The day wore on to midnight. In a gorgeously furnished apartment Sejanus again proudly reclines. A satyr-faced lamp burns on a slender bronze pedestal. Nymphs, fauns, and nereids in fantastic attitudes gleam from the shadowy niches in the walls like dancing sprites. Red and yellow oriental silks, carelessly thrown over the chairs, look in the sallow light like tongues of flame. An odor of incense pervades the room. Everything suggests the lower world, and seems like an incantation to the spirits of evil.
Sejanus is happy. The castles-in-the-air which he had so laboriously designed a year ago have now become actual realities. He looks into the past. He sees a man who was a knight with few friends, with few clients. That man was Sejanus. He sees a man leading soldiers, gathering them into one building and becoming more prominent every day. That man was Sejanus. He sees a man respected by the emperor, advanced to almost equal honors, acclaimed by the Roman Senate and people. That man was Sejanus. He looks into the future. He sees a man sitting on a curule chair, receiving petitions and imperiously granting requests. That man is Sejanus. He finally sees, ruling the world, one man who has reached the highest possible place for mortal man. That man is the Emperor Sejanus!
On the path of his advancement he has left the corpses of some trivial common people, the dead bodies of the heir Drusus and the Prince Nero. With the eye of his mind he sees along his triumphal road the faces of Tiberius, Agrippina, Drusus, and Caligula—pale and rigid in death. No one now stands between him and the throne. The culmination of his triumph is reached. His foot is raised to take the final step. He takes from a table a golden cup, and with infinite satisfaction quaffs a toast to the genius who presides over his destiny.
The next morning, surrounded by a host of suitors and clients, he proceeds to the Senate House. On his way he is slighted by many of the Senators. He hears suppressed cries of "Murderer," "Usurper." Noticing that among the people a decided change has taken place, the suitors and clients, one by one, gradually excuse themselves. When the great minister arrives at the door of the Senate House, he is attended by only his guards and Macro. The soldiers are stationed at the door; Macro and Sejanus enter. The Conscript Fathers, in their soft and majestic woolen togas bordered with purple, have already entered upon the day's routine. They rise and bow, as Sejanus takes his seat amongst them. Macro stations himself near the raised platform on which the consul is seated.
Statius does not take his seat after he has greeted Sejanus. He walks slowly to the tribunal, and petitions the consul for time to read a communication from the emperor. Then, with careful intonation and impressive gestures, he reads the charge of treason against Sejanus. Overwhelmed by this stupendous charge, Sejanus interrupts the speaker. The consul rises quickly from his curule chair and commands silence. As Statius continues reading the letter, all the Senators near Sejanus withdraw to the other side of the house. Left all alone, Sejanus shouts in rage, "'Tis a forgery!"
"There is the emperor's seal!" cries Statius, in a loud tone, pointing to the scroll stamped with the emperor's seal.
At this point Macro, accompanied by two soldiers, approaches Sejanus. The face of the sub-prefect is pale and determined. Drawing his sword and grasping the shoulder of the stupefied minister, he shouts, "I arrest thee in the name of the emperor!"
"I demand a trial!" yells Sejanus.
"'Tis too late," replies Macro. "Here is thy sentence of death."
Sejanus struggles as the soldiers drag him from the Senate Chamber. Outside, cries, groans, and curses are heaped upon him by the same people who but yesterday hailed him with acclamations.
"'Twas Gyges whom I met at Tusculum, O Sejanus," hisses Macro, tauntingly, as they walked along. "'Twas Gyges who carried the evidence of the murder of Drusus. 'Twas Gyges who brought the order for thy death; for die thou shalt at once!" exclaims Macro to the terrified minister, as they proceed towards the prison.
With his face livid with fear, Sejanus beseeches his soldiers for help and pity. But their ears are deaf. He is hurried to the Mamertine Prison near by. For a few moments only, he is left to think of his past life; then he is strangled; and his body, still warm, is thrown out upon the Gemmonian Steps. The suppressed hatred of the people now breaks out in all its fury. In the mob that waits outside of the prison are Senators and tribunes. The dead body is soon stripped of its robes, and after being battered about the streets of the city for a day, it is cast into the rushing muddy Tiber.
ON the island of Pandataria Agrippina and Psyche still lingered in imprisonment. The mother, crushed under her latest affliction, lived a life of savage grief. Her soul trembled with infinite sadness, like the last falling leaf on a solitary tree. Whether in violent storms, in the dashing of the waves against the rocks, in the cries of the sea-gulls, in the fishermen's songs, or in the Homeric songs of Psyche, she heard but one word, intensified or softened: "Woe!" Each morning was to her a new birth of anguish. But Psyche began to brighten under the sunny skies and the comparative freedom in which she lived. The uncertainty regarding the fate of her family and of her lover still oppressed her soul, but she had regained her natural color and had become more beautiful than ever. Grief had changed the face of youthful beauty to one of patient and womanly loveliness.
Both women suffered under overwhelming afflictions; but the grief of Agrippina was vehement, savage, and tragic, while that of Psyche was calm, quiet, and self-controlled. Agrippina had sustained calamitous sorrows. Her sufferings comprehended inexpressible torments, misfortunes without a name, blind struggles, exhausted tears. Psyche had endured more gentle suffering. Her afflictions were lightened by the hope that exists in youth, by the purer faith of a young heart, by the charity that still saw good in others, and, above all, by the belief in answered prayers. Agrippina was the sad flower of grief; Psyche was the perfume.
One evening when they had gone to their rooms, and Agrippina had thrown herself upon her couch, Psyche leaned against the window and looked out upon the night.
"Canst thou breathe the salt air from where thou sittest, my lady?" asked Psyche.
"Ay, my child; 'tis refreshing."
"Dost thou hear a solitary voice singing in the darkness?"
"Ay; 'tis a plaintive song."
"It seems like a musical breath rising from the sea," said Psyche, softly.
"It rests the mind," Agrippina replied abstractedly.
"How bright are the stars!" exclaimed Psyche. "Their reflection on the trembling waters looks like happy smiles. What is happiness, my lady?"
"Ah, my dear child, happiness is made of things intangible and fleeting. 'Tis as light as the feathery thistle-down."
"Ah! my sweet lady, only in my dreams do I now enjoy happiness."
"Even in my dreams, gentle child, am I denied solace," replied Agrippina. "Ah! from the profundities of grief I have drunk great draughts. The sleep of that intoxication is filled with bitter dreams."
"Like a stream that flows and flows, with incessant murmuring, restless struggling, and furious scoring, has been thy grief, my lady," said Psyche, as she left the window and sat down near Agrippina. "In my impersonations I too have palpitated in the waters of grief. With mine eyes floating in tears have I suffered the sorrows of Niobe."
"When I saw thee impersonate Niobe, my sweet child, mine eyes too were veiled with tears. When, one by one, Niobe loses her children, and sorrow is added to sorrow, grief to grief, the gradual increase of anguish thou didst well portray. But, my dear child, like the perfectly carved statue, beautiful but not living, thou didst lack the power to portray a mother's grief. Then I saw it not; but to-day verily do I believe that no one could perfectly act the part unless she had suffered as I have."
"In the mirror of the centuries I have never seen a reflection of grief truer than thine, my lady."
"Give me thine hand, dear Psyche," exclaimed Agrippina. "How warm it feels!"
"Thy hand is cold, my lady."
"Ay; so is my heart."
"Fearest thou further woes, my lady?"
"Ay, my Psyche. Two sons are still left me. Both are in prison. How long will they be spared?"
"They will not die like Nero," said Psyche, reassuringly.
"Ah! when my first brother was murdered, I thought the other two would be spared, but they too fell under the malice of their enemies. My sister has been banished, my mother starved to death, my husband poisoned, my friends cruelly murdered; Nero, my beloved son Nero, has been strangled. Now Drusus is in the dungeon on the Palatine; Caligula is at Capri. Why, oh, why may I not die before I hear of their tragic end? Ah, my dear child, I am like a branch burdened with maturing fruits of grief, broken but living."
"Words cannot comfort thee, my dear lady; let me sing thee a hymn. 'Tis the one my mother was wont to sing when she wished to close my childish eyes in sleep. 'Tis the hymn that has been sung for generations in my fatherland."
"Sit thou on my couch, dear child."
Resting beside her mistress and with the tips of her fingers gently stroking the extended arm of Agrippina, Psyche sang a sweet melody. It was a song that had been nourished on the sacred mountain heights of Greece and had been watered from the immortal fountains of maternal love. Borne on the soft rhythm of the tune, the words appeared like flashes of calm light on a river of melody.
"'Tis a peaceful song, my child," said Agrippina, as Psyche's voice died away in a whisper.
"Ah, my lady, my father taught us that the music and poetry of Greece always touch the soul. He also taught us that life is a continuous song. There are melodies of solitude, of submission, of purification, of passion, of desolation, and of despairing grief. Some of the music is discordant to the ear of youth. 'Tis not until we are aged that we understand the true melody."
"Ay, in Rome 'tis said that youth sees not that which he has to gain. The old man dreams of that which he has lost," said Agrippina.
"Would that we had a copy of Plato, dear lady," said Psyche, dreamily. "Then could I read to thee soothing truths for thy soul. But I weary thee," she said, as she arose. "May sleep breathe on thine eyes sweet forgetfulness!"
"The gods watch over thee, my child!" responded Agrippina.
On a perfect day, not long after, the two prisoners were seated upon the rocks, looking dreamily at the sea.
"Where are thy thoughts, my child?"
"I was thinking," said Psyche, "how happy must be the spirit of the sea!"
"Happier than that of the mountains?" asked Agrippina.
"Ay, my lady; the mountains cast shadows," replied Psyche.
"But the waters, dear child, cover unfathomable abysses."
"True, O lady. Never until now have I lived by the sea. In my prison cell alone, with no sound save that of the breaking of the waves of silence on the shores of meditation, I have sometimes gathered sparkling objects, sprays of broken thoughts and iridescent dreams. At other times I have seen living and crawling objects that frightened me."
"Didst thou have no companionship in the camp, my poor child?"
"I was always alone, my lady. My jailer was a mute, and for months I heard no words."
"Then how didst thou pass the weary hours?"
"I would sometimes sing a hymn to the immortal mother of us all. The melody of hymns in the sea of silence, gentle lady, flashes away like bright sparkles from a gem."
"The gods are sometimes deaf to hymns and prayers, my child."
"Ah, beautiful prayers are never lost, my lady. Yonder where the sun sets are immeasurable seas. Are they not bordered by a land of promise? Ah, O lady, the whole world is an ear. Our petitions may seem to fall like stones into dark waters, but, believe me, they do reach the divinities. Let us pray to Juno this night that sweet Peace, like a new-born child, may come to our minds."
"Speak on, my child. Thy words are gentle. They soothe my soul."
"From the window of my cell," continued Psyche, "so intently have I gazed upon the peaceful Campagna that mine eyes have become intoxicated. The Campagna seemed the bottom of a sea, the purple mountains a shore; 'twas an oblivion of peace."
Agrippina closed her eyes while Psyche was speaking. From time to time she would move her lips and form silent words.
"Ay, my lady," continued Psyche, "but I would awaken from that revery. My life, my grief, would again burden me."
"Ah, dear Psyche, life is, after all, but a dream between two slumbers. Mine has been a fantasy of terror."
"Look, yonder at the provision boat, floating along the water like a sea-gull!" suddenly exclaimed Psyche.
"See how it leans; the sails are well filled," replied Agrippina.
"'Tis a land breeze. Perchance it breathes news from Rome," said Psyche, hopefully.
"Thou art always hopeful, my child!"
"See how it dips! See how it rises! 'Tis a cheering sight," cried Psyche, her eyes sparkling and her lips parting in a pleasing smile.
"Sad news is sometimes borne by smiling faces," said Agrippina, trying to restrain the happy flow of Psyche's spirits.
"Ah, my lady, not on this day! How fresh is the air! How bright are the skies! The birds fly faster! See the boat dance upon the waters! Ah, I seem to breathe an aroma that affects me like a happy song."
"From the clear skies anguish sometimes falls," again Agrippina sadly but kindly warned the gentle maiden.
Intently they watched the boat as it gradually drew near the island. When the anchor had been cast and a small boat had brought some passengers to the land, a cheer rang out from the soldiers who had gathered at the landing. Shortly after, the officer who guarded the prisoners approached them and handed a letter to Psyche.
"A letter for me!" said the dancing-girl, with her eyes opened wide with surprise.
"Perchance, good news!" said the officer, as he went away.
"Look, my lady!" said Psyche, excitedly. "Tis Macro's seal!"
"Let me see, my child," said Agrippina. "Ah! Macro is prefect! Can it be that Sejanus is emperor? Hasten thou, my child; read the contents!"
Quickly breaking the seal, Psyche read the first few words. "'Tis from Gyges!" she screamed with joy. "He is safe! My parents are free! Oh! my lady, said I not that the boat bore good tidings?"
"Read on, O Psyche!"
"Sejanus is dead! Oh! my lady, our enemy has at last received his punishment. Papers for my release have gone to the emperor for his signature! O ye celestial gods, I thank thee! I thank thee!"
"Says Gyges nothing more, my child?" asked Agrippina, moved to unwonted cheerfulness by the excessive joy of Psyche.
"Ay, my lady! I am so happy I know not what to do!"
She continued reading. Her face was radiant, and her black eyes danced as she looked at the letter. Suddenly she uttered a scream. Her face grew white, her eyes frightened. A terrible revulsion of feeling had seized her.
Agrippina quickly asked, "What has happened, my child?"
"O my sweet lady, I love thee. I have tried to lighten thy burden of grief. Yet I had to be the bearer of the news of Nero's death. Tell me that thou lovest me."
"Dear child, I know not what thou meanest. We have lived together many days. We have been more than friends. Why dost thou speak so wildly?"
"I am now calm," said Psyche, breathing a deep sigh. "The path of joy along which I so quickly ran ended on the edge of an abyss."
"Thy parents are not crazed by confinement?"
"Nay, my lady," said Psyche, and then relapsed into silence.
"Ah, my child, I begin to understand thee. The abyss is news of fresh anguish for me. Said I not that from the clearest skies anguish sometimes falls? What—what has now happened to my family?"
"Forgive me, my lady, forgive me! Drusus is no more!"
"They have killed him!" cried Agrippina, bewildered.
"He was starved to death, my lady. Oh, let me shed tears for thee, for thine eyes are dry," said Psyche, as she threw her arms around the neck of her companion and sobbed aloud.
For some time Agrippina uttered no word. Her face had become rigid, her eyes wild. Finally she rose and said: "Come, Psyche, I have been taught how to die. Come, come, come!" The last word was whispered with an indescribable moan.
"Whither goest thou?"
"I too will die."
"Oh! my sweet lady! nay! Speak not such words!"
"Ay, dear child; my mother was starved, Drusus was starved—I too will starve."
Supported by Psyche, she went into the building, into her room. She then prepared for bed, as if it were night. She laid herself upon her couch with eyes closed. She said nothing, but groaned incessantly.
A day passed by—two days—without her eating or drinking anything. She resolutely refused food and drink, notwithstanding the pleadings of her companion.
On the third day the officer presented himself before Agrippina and commanded her to eat and drink.
"That will I not do," said Agrippina.
"I am ordered to make thee eat," said the officer.
"From whom comes that order?"
"From the emperor."
"Tell him that I refuse."
The officer withdrew. He sent a letter to Capri, asking for further instructions. The answer was borne by a new officer, the previous one having been arrested for disobedience.
The new officer was a man with a brutal face. He spoke with a growl. He entered Agrippina's room, accompanied by two soldiers equally brutal in appearance. He said to Agrippina: "The old officer has lost his position for disobedience. That wrong is punishable by death at Capri. I have been ordered to make thee eat."
"Does the emperor think that he can force me?" asked Agrippina.
"Ay; and I have brought thee some bread and water."
Agrippina made no reply.
"I insist that thou shalt eat."
"Again I insist," said the officer, becoming angry.
"Again I refuse."
"In the name of the emperor, I command thee to eat."
Agrippina made no reply.
"Bind her and force open her mouth!" shouted the officer.
Psyche tried to interfere, and called for help.
One of the soldiers held Agrippina's head; the other, with his sword, tried to pry open her mouth. The officer stood leaning over her, with some bread soaked in water. So roughly did the soldier use his sword that it slipped, and, tearing Agrippina's lip and cheek, gouged out her eye. At this sickening sight Psyche swooned. Finally the brutes succeeded in opening her mouth, and the officer forced some bread down her throat. This frightful ordeal ended, the women were then left alone.
When Psyche returned to consciousness, her mind seemed paralyzed with horror, but her tender heart prompted her to relieve the suffering of the tortured woman. She tied a bandage over the wounded eye of Agrippina, and procuring a basin of water, bathed the torn lip and cheek of her mistress.
"Dost thou suffer much pain?" softly whispered Psyche.
"My body pains, my dear child. My mind is dead," she answered in a hollow voice that sounded like a whisper from a tomb.
"What is there that I can do for thee, my lady?"
"Nothing, my child. They may try to force me again, but I am resolved to die. Speak to me no more, I pray thee."
Through the remaining hours of that day and all that night Psyche never left her mistress. The next morning the dancing-girl was cruelly forced to leave Pandataria and go to Rome.
Two days later, the long tragedy was ended. The heroic sufferer had gained her point and had starved herself to death. Her tragic sorrows were over and her triumph had come. She had conquered the emperor.
IN the peristyle of a small house not far from the Porta Capena, a little woman sings a happy song as she tends and gathers her flowers. A fountain adds its liquid sound to her pleasing melody. It is near sundown, and the peristyle is bathed in soft light reflected from a clear blue sky. In a corner of the corridor that surrounds the peristyle, a bright-faced lad lies upon a couch. A hunchbacked girl with long arms and slanting but kind face hands him a cup of water and moves silently away. The little woman takes a tuft of mignonette and gives it to the happy-faced lad, saying, "That will refresh thee after thy tired and anxious day."
"Thou art too kind, my lady."
"Do thy limbs pain thee less, Aldo?" "Ay, my lady," replies the lad, anxious to appear better and stronger than he really is.
"Cruelly did they torture thee, my Aldo."
"Ay; they were brutal. But they learned not from me my master's hiding-place."
"Brave and heroic lad, thy silence saved us all."
"How I long for the stables at the Circus!" cries Aldo. "The horses my master trained at Casinum are the finest beasts that ever appeared at Rome. He will win the race this day!"
"Thinkest thou so? 'Tis the first race he has run since he fled from the city with thee."
"Ah, my lady, he was not idle at Casinum. No one can equal my master. The horses may become frightened, but he will be able to hold them."
"Would that I were less nervous! I cannot look at the Circus without becoming faint. The race must soon be over."
"Nay, my lady; we have not heard the sound of victory."
"Ah, Aldo, I fear thy master has lost."
"Have no fear, my lady; the cheers will come."
The little woman begins to walk nervously around the corridor. Will he win? Will he lose? These are the questions that torment her mind. He had left her at noonday, filled with cheering hopes. He had kissed her and had said: "Ah, little heart, this night we ought to be far richer. I have the winning horses, and everything is propitious. A fair portion of the prize I will bestow upon Hermes if he but guides mine arms!" As the moments pass by, the little woman tears a flower which she holds in her hand. She stops again by Aldo and says, "He has lost!" Suddenly a faint sound is heard, gradually increasing, until a violent cheer rends the air. "He has won! he has won!" screams the little woman. "Nana! he has won!"
The good, faithful old Nana comes into the corridor and adds her enthusiasm to that of her mistress.
"By Hermes! said I not so, my lady?" cries Aldo, with tears of joy running down his cheeks.
"Ay, ay, my boy!" replies the little woman, hysterically.
"Never do the other factions make such a noise when they win. 'Tis the Green! Oh that I could have helped my master to harness the horses!"
"The days have been happy since thou didst enter the house, my mistress," exclaims Nana, appearing in the corridor. "Each day brings added joy."
The little humpback shyly looks from the door of the kitchen.
"Come, Lupa! Share our happiness. Thy master is again the hero of the Green faction."
Some time after, a second cheering is heard. This time it appears nearer. The little woman hastens to the door and looks towards the Via Appia. She sees the victor, crowned with olive and with a palm branch in his hand, coming towards her, escorted by an admiring throng. So filled is she with an indescribable feeling of joy that she rushes towards him, crying, "Gyges, O my Gyges!"
The charioteer, not less excited than the little woman, hastens his steps, and seizing her in his arms and kissing her, exclaims: "O Psyche, my little wife, what intense happiness is ours!"
A new cry of enthusiasm rises from the crowd. At the door of his home Gyges turns to them and says: "Friends, ye are no happier than I am! 'Twas a hard-earned victory. May the Greens always trust me! These muscles are always at their service! At the inn of Furnius I have ordered four thousand cups of wine to be given away. Fare ye well! May Hermes always be gracious towards us, as he has been this day!"
After another prolonged cheer the crowd departs.
In the peristyle, with his arms extended as far as he is able towards his master, Aldo leans from his couch. Gyges takes the extended hands in his. The lad covers those of his master with kisses. "I am so happy! so happy! so happy, my master!" he cries, with large tears gushing from his eyes.
"Ay, my little hero, the horses we trained at Casinum carried me to victory. 'Twas in this manner, O wife.—Ah, Nana, thine eyes are bright and the poor Lupa is also happy!—My horses were fresh but restless. Finally the signal was given, the doors of the carceres were thrown open, and the race began. The pace was unusually fast, but at the fourth turn my horses were nearly as fresh as when they started. The smallest one of the four could not run in the same rhythm with the others."
"The same old fault, my master," said Aldo, with his eyes opened wide with excitement.
"Ay, so busy was I trying to get him under control that at the fifth turn the Red and the White succeeded in pocketing me. Instantly I saw my danger, and quickly reining the horses, who were now moving as one, I made a sudden turn to the right. Nothing, my Psyche, nothing, my Aldo, would have won the race for me if there had been the least fault in that quick turn."
"Ay, ay, my master," said Aldo, nervously patting the cover of his couch.
"But the very thing we trained them for at Casinum, O Aldo, was the trick that saved the day. Never before have I seen horses turn so quickly. In all my experience never have I seen such beautiful movement. The White was taken back with surprise. He tried to cut me out; but one word, one toss of the reins, one long cheer to the horses that know my every whisper, succeeded in bringing me clear of the rest. Oh the speed with which we made the sixth turn! The Red had the inside track and we were even. With the cracking of the whips, the hoof-beats of the horses, and the cheering of the sanguine Greens all ringing in mine ears, I made my supreme effort. I called each horse by name. I steadied them with the last bit of strength in my body. As we reached the final stretch, I was slightly in the lead. Oh, the cries of the people were deafening! Every one of the charioteers was exerting himself to the utmost. By some invisible power I succeeded in instilling into my horses my own enthusiasm. O my lad, on, on, on, we went towards the final goal! The enthusiasm of the vast crowd now passed all bounds, my Psyche. 'He has it! he has it!' were the words that rent the air when, a full chariot's length ahead of them all, I passed the stand of the judges!"
"Said I not my master would win, my lady?" asks Aldo, trembling with excitement.
"Ay, my lad," replies Psyche.
"How feelest thou?" asks Gyges, turning kindly to Aldo.
"A few days more and I shall be able to help thee, my master."
"The physician has been here, my husband. He says that Aldo will be able to walk with crutches two weeks hence. He has so bandaged the lad's limbs that the boy can scarcely move."
"Not two weeks hence, my lady?"
"Spartans must have been thine ancestors, Aldo. Thou wert a true hero to have kept silence under torture. 'Twas that silence, brave lad, that gives us our present happiness. I will not only make thee free, but I share with thee my winnings of this day!"
"Nay, my master; I wish for nothing. I am content if I may live with thee."
"Come, dear heart," says Gyges, taking Psyche's hand, "let us sit together in our favorite place in the peristyle and watch the play of the fountain as the evening dies away."
Seated on the same stone bench where they passed their happy afternoon before Psyche's arrest, the loving couple lose themselves in meditation. The fountain plays its old joyful air.
"The months we were separated, O sweet wife, were bitter ones; but now in happy matrimonial bonds we live a new life of peace."
"True, O Gyges; it seems as if my mind had been meanwhile in dense obscurity. Often does my memory revert to the sufferer with whom I passed the last months of my imprisonment."
"Ay, tyranny did not end with the death of Sejanus," replies Gyges.
"Ah, she was a living Niobe. Never shall I forget her expression when I told her that Drusus had been starved to death—O poor, poor Agrippina!" she exclaims, her eyes filling with tears. "But we are now happy," she adds after a pause. "My life in our new home is a continuous song of joy."
"Thou art the same happy Psyche."
"Thou art the same brave Gyges."
"Braver than my sweet wife, who has struggled so heroically?"
"Without the sustaining hope of thy love, my husband, the dancing-girl would have succumbed under her afflictions. The golden necklace was a great solace. Each stone sparkled with recollections of thee, joined together with golden links of love."
"Thou, sweet wife, wert all in all to me. At Casinum 'twas Psyche who ruled my thoughts. 'Twas Psyche whose name was carried on my prayers. 'Twas thy love that sustained me in my hiding-place. This day, while making the last turn, 'twas the thought of thee that gave me the necessary stimulation to carry me on to glorious victory. Coming from the Circus, I felt as one of the victorious youths must have felt when he left the Olympian Games. The cheers of the people fell upon mine ears like prophetic songs of future victories. When I saw thee at the door of our house, my heart throbbed with supreme joy. O my love, we have reached the summit of our happiness!"
At this point their happy reveries are checked by a knock at the door. Lupa quickly answers the call. Alcmaeon and Hera enter. At the sound of her parents' voices Psyche rushes to meet them.
"We have heard the happy news, O Psyche. Hail to thee, victorious son!" exclaims Alcmaeon.
"'Twas a glorious day, my father! Come, sit thou in the peristyle! The evening meal is not yet ready. Thou, O mother, may sit with Psyche. We can be two lovers and rest at their feet, my father! Come!"
"We are proud of thee, my son!" says Hera. "Again the Greek has conquered. How is the lad Aldo?"
"Ah, my mother, he frets under the restraint of his bandages."
"He is sleeping, O Psyche," whispers Lupa, timidly.
"The prize this day, my father, was a large one," says Gyges to Alcmaeon, as they gather around the stone bench in the peristyle. "When the racing-season is over, we will all go to Corinth."
"A schoolmaster cannot leave his duties."
"Ay; Macro will find another position for thee when thou returnest"
"Ah! shall we all really see the city of our ancestors?" asked Alcmaeon. "Shall we again see Corinth, the eye of Greece, old, 'tis true, but still undimmed in lustre? Breathing the divine air from the sublime heights of Corinth, shall we see the living words of the Iliad? Shall we see the country that stirred the sainted soul of Homer?"
"I shall be glad to lose the sight of cruel Rome," says Hera.
"Ah, my wife," exclaims the happy father, with his old enthusiasm for his wonderful country, "the Greek has conquered the Roman this day. The Greek has thrown Sejanus from his lofty seat. Did I not say, my children, that physical strength is overmatched by intellectual power? Have we accomplished our ends with blaring trumpets? In the silence of Aldo there was more power than in all the vaunted greatness of the infamous Sejanus. If the lad had uttered but a word at that crucial moment, the history of Rome would have been changed."
"Thou speakest truly, O father," says Gyges.
"The Greeks are thought to be weak, O my son, but they were once the greatest nation that ever lived. Ay, in the shadows of divine mountains, in the soft light of sacred valleys, has the truth entered into the souls of our countrymen.
While our ancestors were clanging their swords against the sacred ones suspended over the doors of our columned temples, in order to make themselves invincible in battle; while the seeds of our heroes were ripening on Iliadic plains; while the words of Aeschylus—the heroic Son of a Divinity—were being sung in white theatres to the Hellenes, frenzied with religious dithyrambics,—what were the Romans doing? They were worshipping terra-cotta figures; they were living in huts; they knew neither poetry nor philosophy."
"Thou fillest our souls with love for our Fatherland, O my sire," exclaims Psyche, moved by the words of Alcmaeon.
"Fatherland!" continues Alcmaeon. "Ay, in the minds of the Greeks have originated the truths of the world. The divine spirit of our Fatherland shone in a glorious, effulgent day. Having long warmed the world with celestial rays, the spirit now sleeps. There will be a morrow, my loved ones, when the harvest grown under that heat will be garnered. Ah, shall we ever see the day when triumphant Athene shall take the spear and shield from restless and impetuous Ares and crown his head with the olive-wreath of peace?"
Alcmaeon pauses. His voice is trembling. He seems to be gathering fresh thoughts from the profoundest depths of his mind. The evening has now fallen, and the peristyle is shrouded in darkness. So impressive is the effect of Alcmaeon's words that his pensive hearers are stirred to the very radicles of their souls.
"Fatherland! Fatherland!" he continues, "we shall see the quiet fields of Greece in the pacific radiance of her glorious religion. We shall see our noble temples. We shall encircle with our arms the pure columns,—beautiful sisters of holy hymns. We shall feel in our veins the pulsations of that inspiration which moved the God of Poetry to sing the immortal Iliad. In our Fatherland, where tremble every mountain, every river, every fountain, every grove, every laurel and myrtle, all trembling like a single leaf, all twinkling like a single star, with the fervor of infinite Goodness, infinite Beauty, and infinite Truth,—there, my beloved ones, we shall breathe in the aroma of future incense! We shall feel the Titanic throb of our past greatness! We shall see with prophetic eyes the final triumph of Greek thought over the world!"
From out the darkness, while Alcmaeon spoke these last words, the enraptured listeners hear a clear soprano voice singing a cradle-song. It seems like a voice from another world. It is Aldo, who, moved by his happy dreams, half awake, sings the song that is dearest to him. Alcmaeon starts, and when the song dies away, he asks Gyges, "Where did Aldo learn that song?"
"I know not, O father."
"'Tis a song that is sung only by those who come from Corinth."
Alcmaeon rises and goes towards Aldo's couch. He gently touches him and asks, "Where didst thou learn that song?"
The lad awakes and drowsily asks, "What—what song?"
"Wert thou asleep?"
"Ay. Did I sing in my sleep?"
"Ay, thou didst," replies Alcmaeon; "and 'twas a song that only we who come from Corinth sing."
"I know only one song," says Aldo, "and if I sang, 'twas the one my parents taught me."
"Who were thy parents, my lad?"
"They were Greeks, slaves."
"What was thy father's name, Aldo?"
"Of a truth?" exclaims Alcmaeon, greatly surprised.
"Ay; my name was Alcmaeon, but my Roman master called me Aldo."
"Verily do I believe that thou art one of the family of Alcmaeons. Where is thy bulla?"
Nana interrupts the conversation with the announcement that the evening meal is served.
"Bring me a light, my Nana. Come hither, all!" commands Alcmaeon.
When a light is handed him, he reads on the little copper bulla that hangs on a string around Aldo's neck the words, in Greek, "a child of the Alcmaeons."
"Ah, my lad, thou art a true descendant of the Alcmaeons!" cries the happy schoolmaster. "Here, here is the kiss of relationship. Behold, Hera, Psyche, and Gyges, we have found a hero in our family."
"Am I truly thy kinsman?" asks the wondering lad.
"Ah, Aldo, thou art no longer a slave," cries Gyges. "Thou art free!"
"And I will adopt thee as my son," exclaims Alcmaeon, with tender emotion.
A year rolls by. Meantime the promised visit to Corinth has been made and the family have now returned to Rome. In the house of Gyges there is great excitement. Hera and Psyche are in the cubiculum. Gyges, accompanied by Psyche's father and her foster-brother Aldo, called now Alcmaeon, proudly leaves the house and walks towards the Temple of Juno on the Aventine Hill. He goes to register the birth of a son.
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