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FRAGMENTS OF A ROMAN TALE.
It was an hour after noon. Ligarius was returning from the Campus Martius. He strolled through one of the streets which led to the forum, settling his gown, and calculating the odds on the gladiators who were to fence at the approaching Saturnalia. While thus occupied, he overtook Flaminius, who, with a heavy step and a melancholy face, was sauntering in the same direction. The light-hearted young man plucked him by the sleeve.
“Good day, Flaminius. Are you to be of Catiline's party this evening ?”
Not I.” “Why so? Your little Tarentine girl will break her heart."
“ No matter. Catiline has the best cooks and the finest wine in Rome. There are charming women at his parties. But the twelve-line board and the dice-box pay for all. The Gods confound me if I did not lose two millions of sesterces last night. My villa at Tibur, and all the statues that my father the prætor brought from Ephesus, must go to the auctioneer. That is a high price, you will acknowledge, even for Phoenicopters, Chian, and Callinice.”
“ High indeed, by Pollux."
" And that is not the worst. I saw several of the leading senators this morning. Strange things are whispered in the higher political circles.”
“ The Gods confound the political circles. I have hated the name of politician ever since Sylla's proscription, when I was within a moment of having my throat cut by a politician, who took me for another politician. While there is a cask of Falernian in Campania, or a girl in the Suburra, I shall be too well employed to think on the subject.”
“ You will do well,” said Flaminius gravely, “ to bestow some little consideration upon it at present. Otherwise, I fear, you will soon renew your acquaintance with politicans, in a manner quite as unpleasant as that to which you allude.”
Averting Gods! what do you mean?” “ I will tell you. There are rumours of conspiracy. The order of things established by Lucius Sylla has excited the disgust of the people, and of a large party of the nobles. Some violent convulsion is expected.'
VOL. 1. PART I.
- I can
“What is that to me? I suppose that they will hardly proscribe the vintners and gladiators, or pass a law compelling every citizen to take a wife.”
“You do not understand. Catiline is supposed to be the author of the revolutionary schemes. You must have heard bold opinions at his table repeatedly.”
“I never listen to any opinions upon such subjects, bold or timid.”
“ Look to it. Your name has been mentioned.”
“ Mine! good Gods! I call heaven to witness that I never so much as mentioned Senate, Consul, or Comitia, in Catiline's house."
“ Nobody suspects you of any participation in the inmost counsels of the party. But our great men surmise that you are among those whom he has bribed so high with beauty, or entangled so deeply in distress, that they are no longer their own masters. I shall never set foot within his threshold again. I have been solemnly warned by men who understand public affairs; and I advise you to be cautious."
The friends had now turned into the forum, which was thronged with the gay and elegant youth of Rome. tell you more,” continued Flaminius ; “ somebody was remarking to the Consul yesterday how loosely a certain acquaintance of ours tied his girdle. Let him look to himself,' said Cicero, or the state may find a tighter girdle for his neck.'” « Good Gods! who is it? You cannot surely mean—" « There he is.”
Flaminius pointed to a man who was pacing up and down the forum at a little distance from them. He was in the prime of manhood. His personal advantages were extremely striking, and were displayed with an extravagant but not ungraceful soppery. His gown waved in loose folds; his long dark curls were dressed with exquisite art, and shone and steamed with odours; his step and gesture exhibited an elegant and commanding figure in every posture of polite languor. But his countenance formed a singular contrast to the genera lappearance of his person. The high and imperial brow, the keen aquiline features, the compressed mouth, the penetrating eye, indicated the highest degree of ability and decision. He seemed absorbed in intense meditation. With
With eyes fixed on the ground, and lips working in thought, he sauntered round the area, apparently unconscious how many of the young gallants of Rome were envying the taste of his dress, and the ease of his fashionable stagger.
“Good Heaven!” said Ligarius, “ Caius Cæsar is as unlikely to be in a plot as I am.”
Not at all.”
“He does nothing but game, feast, intrigue, read Greek, and write verses.”
“You know nothing of Cæsar. Though he rarely addresses the Senate, he is considered as the finest speaker there, after the Consul. His influence with the multitude is immense. He will serve his rivals in public life as he served me last night at Catiline's. We were playing at the twelve lines.*-Immense stakes. He laughed all the time, chatted with Valeria over his shoulder, kissed her hand between every two moves, and scarcely looked at the board. I thought that I had him. All at once I found my counters driven into the corner. piece to move, by Hercules. It cost me two millions of Sesterces. All the Gods and Goddesses confound him for it!”
“ As to Valeria,” said Ligarius, “I forgot to ask whether you have heard the news.”
“ Not a word. What?”
“I was told at the baths to-day that Cæsar escorted the lady home. Unfortunately old Quintus Lutatius had come back from his villa in Campania, in a whim of jealousy. He was not expected for three days. There was a fine tumult. The old fool called for his sword and his slaves, cursed his wife, and swore that he would cut Cæsar's throat."
“ And Cæsar?”
“ He laughed, quoted Anacreon, trussed his gown round his left arm, closed with Quintus, flung him down, twisted his sword out of his hand, burst through the attendants, ran a freedman through the shoulder, and was in the street in an instant.”
- Well done! here he comes. Good day, Caius."
Cæsar lifted his head at the salutation. His air of deep abstraction vanished, and he extended a hand to each of the friends.
“ How are you after your last night's exploit?” “ As well as possible,” said Cæsar laughing. “ In truth we should rather ask how Quintus Lutatius is."
He, I understand, is as well as can be expected of a man with a faithless spouse and a broken head. His freed-man is more seriously hurt. Poor fellow! he shall have half of whatever I win to-night. Flaminius, you shall have your revenge at Catiline's.”
“ You are very kind. I do not intend to be at Catiline's till I wish to part with my town-house. My villa is gone already."
“ Not at Catiline's, base spirit! You are not of his mind, * Duodecim scripta, a game of mixed chance and skill, which seems to have been very fashionable in the higher circles of Rome. The famous lawyer Mucius was renowned for his skill in it.-(Cic. Orat. I. 50.)
my gallant Ligarius. ' Dice, Chian, and the loveliest Greek singing-girl that was ever seen. Think of that, Ligarius. By Venus, she almost made me adore her, by telling me that I talked Greek with the most Attic accent that she had heard in Italy.”
I doubt she will not say the same of me," replied Ligarius. “ I am just as able to decipher an obelisk as to read a line of Homer."
“ You barbarous Scythian, who had the care of your education ?”
“ An old fool,-a Greek pedant,-a stoic. He told me that pain was no evil, and flogged me as if he thought so. At last one day, in the middle of a lecture, I set fire to his enormous filthy beard, singed his face, and sent him roaring out of the house. There ended my studies. From that time to this I have had as little to do with Greece, as the wine that your poor old friend Lutatius calls his delicious Samian.”
“ Well done, Ligarius. I hate a Stoic. I wish Marcus Cato had a beard that you might singe it for him. The fool talked his two hours in the Senate yesterday, without changing a muscle of his face. He looked as savage and as motionless as the mask in which Roscius acted Alecto. I detest every thing connected with him.”
Except his sister Servilia.”
have told her so, Caius.”
“ No matter what they say. Common fame lies like a Greek rhetorician. You might know so much, Ligarius, without reading the philosophers. But come, I will introduce you to little dark-eyed Zoe.”
“ I tell you I can speak no Greek.” “More shame for you. It is high time that you should begin. You will never have such a charming instructress. Of what was your
father thinking when he sent for an old Stoic with a long beard to teach you? There is no language-mistress like a handsome woman. When I was at Athens, I learnt more Greek from a pretty flower-girl in the Peiræus than from all the Portico and the Academy. She was no Stoic, Heaven knows. But come along to Zoe. I will be your interpreter. Woo her in honest Latin, and I will turn it into elegant Greek between the throws of dice. I can make love and mind my game at once, as Flaminius can tell
" Well then, to be plain, Cæsar, Flaminius has been talking
to me about plots, and suspicions, and politicians. I never plagued myself with such things since Sylla's and Marius's days ; and then I never could see much difference between the parties. All that I am sure of is, that those who meddle with such affairs are generally stabbed or strangled. And though I like Greek wine and handsome women, I do not wish to risk my neck for them. Now, tell me as a friend, Caius ;-is there no danger?”
“Danger !” repeated Cæsar, with a short, fierce, disdainful laugh, “what danger do you apprehend?”
“That you should best know,” said Flaminius; far more intimate with Catiline than I. But I advise you to be cautious. The leading men entertain strong suspicions."
Cæsar drew up his figure from its ordinary state of graceful relaxation into an attitude of commanding dignity, and replied in a voice of which the deep and impassioned melody formed a strange contrast to the humourous and affected tone of his ordinary conversation. “ Let them suspect. They suspect because they know what they have deserved. What have they done for Rome?- What for mankind ?-Ask the citizens. Ask the provinces. Have they had any other object than to perpetuate their own exclusive power, and to keep us under the yoke of an oligarchical tyranny, which unites in itself the worst evils of every other system, and combines more than Athenian turbulence with more than Persian despotism?”
“ Good Gods! Cæsar. It is not safe for you to speak, or for us to listen to such thing's, at such a crisis.”
“Judge for yourselves what you will hear. I will judge for myself what I will speak. I was not twenty years old when I defied Lucius Sylla, surrounded by the spears of legionaries and the daggers of assassins. Do you suppose that I stand in awe of his paltry successors, who have inherited a power which they never could have acquired; who would imitate his proscriptions, though they have never equalled his conquests ?”
Pompey is almost as little to be trifled with as Sylla. I heard a consular senator say, that, in consequence of the present alarming state of affairs, he would probably be recalled from the command assigned to him by the Manilian law.”
“Let him come,-the pupil of Sylla's butcheries,-the gleaner of Lucullus's trophies, the thief-taker of the Senate.”
“ For heaven's sake, Caius !--if you knew what the Consul said?
“Something about himself, no doubt. Pity that such talents should be coupled with such cowardice and coxcombry. He is the finest speaker living, --infinitely superior to what Hortensius was, in his best days; a charming companion, except when he tells over for the twentieth time all the jokes that he made at