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Lords of the World by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

TO ITALY

THE Ino  had a quick and prosperous voyage. But though Cleanor arrived safely at his destination, he learned, not without astonishment, that he had been running a very considerable danger of having a different ending to his travels. The Roman Republic was extending her borders in every direction, and was levelling to the dust the cities which had disputed with her the empire of the world, but she suffered herself to be insulted and her citizens and allies to be maltreated by insignificant enemies. While her legions and fleets were winning great victories abroad, her own coasts were harried by pirates. Near Ithaca the Ino  picked up a boat in which were three sailors reduced to the last stage of exhaustion by hunger and thirst The poor fellows, who were almost unconscious when they were taken on board, had a piteous story to tell when they had recovered sufficient strength to [352] speak. They had been drifting about for nine days, and were the survivors of a company of nine the crew of a trader of Patrę which was bound with a cargo of wine for Tarentum.

"We were overhauled," said the captain, who was one of the three, "when we had accomplished half our voyage by a Cilician pirate galley. They took what they wanted of my cargo, scuttled my ship, and being, for some reason or other, in high good-humour, instead of making us walk the plank, as is their common custom, let us take our chance in our boat, and even gave us a keg of water and a bag of biscuits. This was my first venture on my own account," said the man, with tears in his eyes, "and I have lost everything I had in the world. We pay taxes to the Romans; why don't they keep the seas safe for us?"

"Why, indeed?" said the captain of the Ino. "Things are far worse now," he continued, addressing himself to Cleanor, "than they were when I first began to sail these seas some thirty years ago. They used to be fairly well kept in those days by the Rhodian ships. It was very seldom that the pirates ever came west of Cyprus. But then Rhodes began to go down the hill. She was ruined by Delos being made a free port, and could not afford to keep up her fleet. Since then things have been going from bad to worse. You wouldn't believe, sir, the things that have happened almost in the sight of Rome. Two years ago half of a prętor's [353] establishment was carried off as it was on its way along the coast-road from Barium to Brundisium, and it was only by good luck that they did not lay hands upon the great man himself. He happened to have gone on in advance instead of being behind, as was usual. Perhaps if they had caught him something might have been done. As it is, nobody seems to care."

The next day the Ino  herself had what looked like a narrow escape. At daybreak the look-out man descried in the offing a craft of suspicious-looking build, long, and low in the water. It was then almost a dead calm, and if the stranger was a pirate, as seemed only too likely, her long sweeps would soon bring her dangerously near. "We will have a fight for it," said the captain, as he inspected his stock of arms.

Happily the occasion to use them never arrived. A brisk breeze sprang up as the sun rose higher, and the Ino, which was an excellent sailer, soon left the strange ship far behind. The same evening she was moored to one of the quays in the harbour of Brundisium. By noon next day Cleanor was well on his way along the great Appian Road to Rome.

It was yet early in the autumn, the unhealthiest time of the year, then as now, for the Italian capital, and the city was empty, as far at least as its wealthier inhabitants were concerned. The translation committee, however, was about to commence its work, which was considered to be urgent. [354] Scipio, with the thoughtful kindness which was characteristic of him, had placed a villa of his own near Ostia at the disposal of the members, and they were able to devote themselves to their task under favourable conditions of health and quiet. Under these pleasant circumstances the work progressed rapidly. Cleanor's assistance was found to be of the greatest value. He was now equally familiar with the three languages, Carthaginian, Greek, and Latin. The first two had been spoken almost indifferently in his native town; the third he had learned grammatically in his childhood, and he had since acquired the colloquial use of it. It is easy to understand how useful an educated man, who had had these unusual advantages, could be in dealing with a book which was largely concerned with common things and the affairs of everyday life. Not one of his colleagues united in himself so many qualifications.

The time, taken up as it was with this occupation, passed quickly, and, on the whole, pleasantly enough. Still, the continuous labour, and the sedentary life, so unlike the continuous activity in which he had spent the preceding months, began to tell upon his health and spirits, and he was glad when the approach of the Holidays of Saturn promised an interval of rest and, possibly, a change of [355] scene. It was with no small delight that early in December he received a letter from the younger Scipio. It was as follows:—

L. Cornelius Scipio to his friend Cleanor, heartily greeting.

This is but the third day since I arrived in Italy, and I hasten to make sure that we should meet as soon as possible. My aunt Cornelia, from whose villa at Misenum I am now writing, invites you, as I write at her request, to spend here the approaching holiday. She desires me to say that she now hears for the first time where you are and what you are doing. Other things concerning you have been told her, not without much praise, by some whose names I need not mention. Come, therefore, as soon as circumstances permit. That you will come welcome to many, and especially to me, be assured. Farewell!


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