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Lords of the World by  Alfred J. Church

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BEYOND THE SUNSET

[378] THE party, which was increased by some manumitted slaves of Greek origin, sailed for Utica in the early autumn of the year, and reached that port after a quick and prosperous voyage. Their first destination was the court of King Gulussa. It so happened that their arrival coincided with a meeting of the three brothers. One of the wilder tribes on the desert border had invaded the kingdom, and it was necessary to make arrangements for an expedition of more than usual proportions. Micipsa had brought with him his two sons, and a younger lad, Jugurtha by name, his son by a wife of inferior rank, of whom we have heard before, and of whom the world was to hear a great deal more before many years had passed.

Gulussa and his brother kings gave a most complimentary welcome to their guests. But when Cleanor, who was naturally the spokesman of the party, unfolded his scheme, they took no pains to conceal their incredulity.

"It would be a thousand pities," said Gulussa, "if you were to throw away your lives on a romantic folly of this kind. Why not stop here, where you have something ready to your hands, not quite so splendid as these dreams of yours, but, [379] believe me, a hundred times more solid and real. Now, listen to what I have got to say. We—that is, my brothers and I—have been talking matters over since you came, and we have made up our minds to make you an offer that it may be really worth your while to accept. Enter our service; you are both skilful soldiers. My father, than whom there never was a better judge of men, thought very highly of you, Cleanor; the name of Scipio would be commendation enough, even if we did not know how worthily it is borne by your friend. Details we can settle afterwards, but you may depend upon it, that you will never have to find fault with our liberality. Don't answer at once," Gulussa went on, as Cleanor was beginning to reply, "but think the matter over carefully, and let us know your decision, say, three days hence."

The princes spared no pains to make their guests' sojourn at court agreeable to them. A great hunting party was arranged for each day, and the two young men were furnished with magnificent mounts and allotted the best places. At the banquet which followed they occupied seats of honour. Meanwhile the ladies of the party were welcomed in the royal harem, received the most flattering attention from the queens and princesses, and were loaded with handsome presents.

"We might do worse than stay, Cleanor," said Scipio to his friend, for his unimaginative temper could not help comparing these present splendours [380] with the remote prospects of Cleanor's scheme, not a little to the disadvantage of the latter.

Cleanor shook his head.

"How long do you think it would last? I don't say anything about the chances that our hosts might not always be as friendly as they are now. They are a fickle race. But let that pass. Yet how long will this Numidian kingdom stand? I remember what the old king said when I was in attendance on him before he died. He was sure that Rome would swallow it up before long. There is sure to be some quarrel sooner or later, and then who can doubt which of the two will go to the wall. And there is another thing. If the kingdom lasts, will it always be in the same hands? Have you noticed that lad Jugurtha? I remember that the old king warned me specially against him. 'That viper,' he called him; and as King Gulussa said the other day, Masinissa was an excellent judge of character. The brothers are elderly men, and, to judge from their looks, not very strong. Micipsa's two sons, who by rights should come after him, are feeble creatures; Jugurtha is his father's favourite, and he will come to the top of the tree sooner or later. And Jugurtha hates us; you first, perhaps because you are a Roman, and his hatred for the Romans is a proverb,—and me next. No, it would not be well, I am sure, in any case to stop here; and to stop with a chance of finding ourselves under Jugurtha's thumb would be madness."

[381] Scipio could not but acknowledge the force of these arguments, and gave way. At the appointed time the friends announced their decision to the kings. Gulussa shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he said, "you must have your own way. If you should come back—very few do come back, I am told—and I am still alive, you will find me as ready to be your friend as ever. Meanwhile let us do what we can for you. The queen tells me that you have brought your wives that are to be with you. Let us have the honour of providing your marriage feast, and remain with us afterwards for as long as you like and may find convenient. If you are bent on this wild voyage of yours you must go prepared."

The friends gladly accepted this hospitable invitation. Preparations were at once commenced for performing the marriage ceremonies with due solemnity. While these were going on, Cleanor made his way to the coast to find a captain and crew who would be willing to take part in his adventure.

His first care was to discover Syphax, the old sailor with whom, as you may remember, he had made his voyage to Sicily. The old man listened with eager interest to his exposition of his plans, but shook his head when the question whether he would go was put to him.

"Ah!" he said, "if you had only come to me with this scheme twenty years ago! But what am [382] I saying? old fool that I am! Twenty years ago you were little more than a baby in arms. I mean that I am too old. I am not fit for anything more now than pottering about with my fishing-lines. And there is my old wife. She couldn't go, poor thing; she hasn't set her foot outside the hut for the last ten years, and I certainly could not go without her. But there's my son Mago. He can't settle down in the new state of things, for Rome is likely to be a much harder master than Carthage ever was. Mago is your man; let me send for him.

Mago came, and Cleanor talked his plans over with him, and found him all that he wanted. The general scheme, and such particulars as the capacity of the vessel required, the Mores, the cargo of articles for trade with native tribes, were settled between them, and Mago was left to carry out the details, while Cleanor returned to the court of King Gulussa.

Two months later,—for I shall not weary my readers with describing the marriage festivities, the good ship Pallas  lay ready for sea inn the harbour of Utica. The piers and quays were filled with a dense crowd of spectators, for the fame of this adventurous voyage had spread through the city, and brought together a multitude of curious sight-seers. Loud and hearty were the cheers that went up as a soft breeze from the east slowly filled the sails, and the Pallas—her prow [383] appropriately adorned with the figure of the goddess friend of Ulysses, prince of adventurous heroes—forged her way round the end of the western pier and shaped a course towards the setting sun.

Sail on, swift ship, to the region that lies beyond the darkness of the west. You leave behind you a world over which the shadows of civil strife and desolating war are gathering. Who knows what lies before you—Islands of the Blest, where nature smiles for ever, her fair face untouched by frost or storm, and where man still keeps primeval faith and innocence; or, perhaps, to a world that is but a meaner copy of that from which you are fleeing? Yet sail on, happy at least for the hour that is, in the unfaltering confidence of youth and hope.


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