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Lucius. Adventures of a Roman Boy by  Alfred J. Church




[286] THE meeting between the two lovers, after a separation of nearly eight years, we shall not attempt to describe. The young lad to whom Philareté had given her girlish affections was now a veritable hero, one whom great generals had honored and trusted, who had been praised by men who were themselves praised by all, and now she admired him almost as much as she loved him. And he had never forgotten her. That, the young man would have said, had he been asked, was nothing to be wondered at. Who could have forgotten so peerless a creature? But the woman, living quietly at home, and remembering how her lover had been courted and flattered, and had been the guest of princes and kings, put a higher value than he did himself on his constancy and faithfulness, and loved him for it all the more. As for Lucius, the woman whose image he had carried with him in his heart through all these years seemed to him far more lovely and admirable even than he had fancied. And indeed Philareté's beauty had not in the least waned. It had grown, on the contrary, riper and more thoughtful; full of the spirituality and tenderness which love, disciplined as hers had been by years of unselfish care, can alone produce.

[287] The one drawback to the joy of their meeting was the failing health of the merchant. He had overstrained his powers. Without feeling the vulgar desire to grow inordinately rich, he had had great ambition in his own occupation. To spread the empire of his trade over the habitable world, to make his ventures in every country, to have his ships in every harbor, his merchandise in every market, this had been the ruling desire of his life, and had possessed him as strongly as the passion for conquest had possessed a Pyrrhus and an Alexander. But this made a tremendous drain upon his strength. While he was still in the vigor of manhood all went well; had he had a son to take up at least a part of his work as his years increased and his powers diminished, no harm might have been done, though it would have been a singular piece of good fortune if the son had been a capable colleague and successor in that vast kingdom of commerce; but as it was he was alone. The burden increased, and the strength with which it was to be borne diminished. His memory, his grasp of facts, his presence of mind, failed him. Then came mistakes, ventures which might be called unlucky, but were probably ill-judged. And there were disasters, real misfortunes which no prudence could have foreseen or averted. Commerce in those days had not the protection of insurance, which now gives a certain safety to its ventures, and at the same time its perils were greater. A gale of wind might send a fleet of merchantmen to the bottom, and there were no underwriters to pay for the damage. Every merchant had bad times; the Tarentine had had them in the past, and, when both his strength and misfortunes were more elastic, had got through them easily enough; [288] now, when they came upon failing powers and means, they were almost overwhelming.

Fortunately he was still enough master of himself to understand the situation and to meet it. He made no desperate efforts such as a gamester might make to retrieve his losses; he accepted and made the best of them. He contracted his operations, and, so to speak, made no more ventures. Still all this trouble and disappointment told upon him. The spring and hope were gone out of his life. He seemed to have nothing to look forward to, and there is nothing that does more than this to make a man look old before his time.

The return of Lucius was a great delight to him for many reasons. He had himself a strong affection for the young man. He saw his daughter made happy beyond expression; and he saw at hand a long-desired opportunity of laying down a burden that was too heavy for him. He would not disturb the first few days of reunion by introducing any unwelcome business, but when these were past he set the whole subject before Lucius.

"And now," he went on, after exactly explaining the position in which he stood, his means and his liabilities, "and now what will you do? Things are not hopeless; a vigorous hand might take up the threads which a failing one has dropped. You might win back all that I have lost." As he spoke something of his old fire kindled again in his eye. "You have capacities for commerce. I saw that even in the short experience that I had of you. I should be here, for a time at least, to help you; and though I am too old and feeble now for a sovereign I am still equal to being an [289] adviser. My name, too, has not lost its old power. I have still credit, I may say, in every market of the world. What say you?"

"My father, if I may call you so," said Lucius, "I hope that you will not be disappointed if I say that I have no ambition of the kind. I think that I understand the interest you feel in these things, and I respect it; but I don't share it. And not sharing it I am sure that I should not succeed in the life which you suggest."

"Let it be so," said the merchant in reply; "doubtless you are right. I fully expected that this would be your answer, and have made up my mind accordingly. When I was a young man I used to dream of building up an empire of commerce and bequeathing it to a line of successors who should raise it yet higher and higher. But the gods have decided otherwise, and they are wiser than we. And now about business. I know that you have never counted upon marrying the daughter of a rich man, and so you will not be disappointed by what I have told you. But you will not have a wife without a dowry. As soon as my daughter was born I set aside a sum for her portion, put it in a safe investment which I will explain to you hereafter, and have never touched either principal or interest. This amounts to about three million sesterces (£27,000). What may be the remains of my own fortune after all my affairs are settled and all my accounts closed, I cannot say, but I am sure that there will be something not inconsiderable in my favor; enough, at all events, to keep me for the rest of my days. Then there are the sums that I hold for you, what you left in my hands, and what you have remitted from time to time. [290] These I have managed as well as I have been able, keeping them separate from the rest of my affairs. They amount to four hundred and fifty thousand sesterces (£5,000), to which must be added two hundred thousand more (£1,800) which King Deiotarus paid to me on your account. And you tell me that you have brought back three hundred thousand (£2,700) from your campaigns, and that Pompey has promised you a share of the prize-money. We may fairly reckon that as two hundred thousand more. You will not be dangerously rich, but you will have enough for all reasonable wants."

"I am content, and more than content," said Lucius, "but I have something more to tell you which may have a little to do with the subject."

He then told the merchant the secret of the buried treasure in the pirates' island, just as it had been communicated to him by the young Galatian.

"But I have been thinking," he went on, "whether, supposing that we find the treasure, it would be really ours. It seems to me that it would belong to those from whom it was taken, if we could find them."

"'Undoubtedly it would," said the elder man. "Our best course, it seems to me, would be to go, if you consent, to the magistrates of Tarsus and put the whole matter before them. That the treasure should be recovered is quite clear, and that you are the man to recover it; what should be done with it when recovered is not quite so evident, and is indeed too important a matter to be decided by any private individual. I say most certainly, go to the magistrates. But have you told Philareté? I trust a woman's judgment [291] in such matters as much as I would that of the cleverest and most upright man alive."

Lucius gladly accepted this last suggestion, and Philareté was taken into their confidence.

"Above all things," she said at once, "you must keep your hands clean. Put it out of people's power to say that you want to keep this treasure for yourselves. By all means, I should say, go to the magistrates."

The merchant and Lucius accordingly lost no time in waiting upon the provost of the city, and told him the whole story. The provost immediately called a meeting of his colleagues, and after administering the oath of secrecy which it was usual to take in matters of great importance which it would be dangerous to divulge, introduced Lucius into the council-chamber, and bade him repeat what he had already told himself. A brief consultation in private followed. When this was finished Lucius and the merchant were summoned before the meeting.

"You have done well," said the provost, addressing them, "and as becomes the men of honor whom we before this knew you to be. The council has deliberated on the matter which you have put before it, and has come to this conclusion. You are requested to undertake the discovery of this treasure. We leave you to find your own means of doing so at your discretion, offering on our part to give you such help as you may desire. If it so please you we will send a commissioner—one of ourselves—to be present at the search. As to the disposal of what may be found, it is not possible, while all things are so uncertain, to speak definitely. But it seems to us that not less [292] than a tithe of the value of the whole should be paid to you."

No time was to be lost if the island was to be reached at the proper time. The distance from Tarsus to Crete, in the neighborhood of which it was, was considerable; and though fine weather might be counted on with something like certainty the prevailing winds would not be favorable to a ship travelling westward, and the tedious labor of the oar would have to be greatly used. Preparations for the voyage were therefore made with all speed. The trustiest men that could be found were chosen for the crew, some being found by the merchant, some by the city authorities. A veteran captain was put in command. Philareté, whom it was at one time proposed to leave behind, made a point of being of the party, and neither Lucius nor her father was disposed to object. The other passenger was the city commissioner, of whose presence the merchant and Lucius, determined to put themselves in all respects above suspicion, made a great point.

Early in August all the preparations were complete. The distance to be traversed was, roughly speaking, about five hundred miles; and it was not safe to reckon on more than thirty miles a day. They might have to struggle all the way with head winds. The island, too, might not at once be identified, nor the entrance to the harbor immediately discovered. Lucius had only seen it once, and that some years before, in an uncertain light, and when he was thinking more of the chances of getting away than of coming back.

The voyage was made without accident, and with more speed than the travellers had hoped for; and August was [293] not much more than half over when they sighted the eastern headland of Crete. Then began the difficulties of their search. There were several small islands answering more or less exactly to the description of that for which they were looking. One after another these were examined; but the entrance to the harbor, as Lucius remembered to have seen it, could not be found. Nearly ten days had been spent in vain, and the hopes of the party began to wane. The weather, too, began to look threatening; and it was possible that they might be compelled to put into harbor, and practically to postpone the search to another year. At last Philareté made a suggestion which Lucius always declared helped them out of their difficulty.

"Don't you think, dearest Lucius," she said as they were sitting over their evening meal on the last day but one of August, "that you do wrong by always looking for this place in broad daylight? You have only seen it once, and then it was the early morning twilight. You know how the aspect of a place is changed by different lights and shadows. Why not search for it when it looks just as it did when you saw it before?"

"Madam," said the city commissioner with enthusiasm, "I have always been thankful for the happy thought which prompted you to give us your company on this voyage; but now my gratitude to the gods for what was, beyond all doubt, their inspiration, is increased tenfold. You have found us the clew out of, or perhaps I should rather say into, this confounded labyrinth."

The vessel's course was at once directed to the most likely of the islands, which was happily not so far but that it could [294] be reached before sunrise next morning. The experiment was at once successful. Lucius recognized the spot which he had left behind him in his escape nine years before, and could only wonder that he had not recognized it before.

After this a very short time was enough to bring them to the object of their search, or, if this must be considered to have been the treasure rather than the island, to the first stage in its discovery.

The harbor, when they made their way into it, presented a desolate aspect—very different from that of the busy scene which Lucius remembered on the last occasion. It was evident that no one had visited it for some years. Two or three ships, drawn up on the beach by the little stream, were almost covered by the vegetation which had grown up about them. The grass in the meadow was long and coarse, and evidently had not been trodden for some time past by the foot of man. It was at least probable that no one had anticipated them in their search.

It was now necessary to communicate the secret to some of the ship's crew. The captain, who had all along been in possession of it, was intrusted with the choice; and he selected two who were to assist in the search. It was arranged that the passengers, who might reasonably be expected to like a change from the somewhat close quarters a the vessel, should spend the night on shore, and that the captain and the two men selected should act as their escort. The rest of the crew were to remain on board the ship.

The party accordingly landed, the sailors carrying what was necessary for the bivouac which they proposed to make. The measurements directed by the pirate captain's son were [295] carefully made while it was still day; and the open spot in the woods, as described by him, was found without much difficulty. There remained some anxiety about the weather. Till within half an hour of sunset it was still overcast; then a gentle breeze from the north-west sprang up and cleared the sky. Throughout the evening, which seemed to all one of the longest which they had ever spent, little was said. As midnight approached every eye watched eagerly for the appearance of the constellation which was to be their guide, and when it was seen exactly in the spot indicated all felt that success was assured; and so, indeed, it was.

Nothing was done during the night; but as it began to be light the spot that had been marked in the darkness was excavated. A few minutes' labor sufficed to show that the earth had been disturbed before. Two or three hours' labor brought them to what appeared to be a door; and this, when broken through, was found to open into an arched passage. This again led them to a natural cavern, which appeared to be about fifty feet high and about sixty or seventy every way.

It was not entirely dark in this place. A little light made its way in by the passage through which they had entered, and a little more by some very narrow chinks in the roof. This roof, they now perceived by what they had observed of the ground outside, must be the top of what had seemed to them an inaccessible rock.

When the eyes of the party had become sufficiently accustomed to the dim twilight of the cavern they could see that they were in a treasury. Rows of large chests, sometimes piled one upon the other, stood by the walls. As those [296] who had stored them there had relied for the safety of their contents on their hiding-place, these chests were not fastened in any difficult way. When opened they revealed a vast variety of wealth, collected, it was evident, from many places and through a course of many years. Much was sacred property, small images of gold and silver, some of them strangely antique in shape; sacrificial bowls and plates; knives in which the primitive flint, used in all ages long before all record, was incased in massy gold, and cups richly chased and jeweled, and often inscribed with the names of the pious who had presented them. Secular spoils were still more numerous, and presented indeed almost every conceivable variety of ornament. Besides an enormous amount of gold and silver plate, there were massive rings and jewels, often unset and sometimes even uncut and unpolished; of works of art not in the precious metals there were very few. Those who had stored away the treasure had evidently looked to what could easily be turned into money. The quantity of gold and silver in bars and coins was enormous. The chests were rapidly sealed by the city commissioner as soon as their contents had been examined, and were left to be taken down by degrees to the ship. This could not, of course, be done altogether without the knowledge of the rest of the crew. But though some suspicion was raised that valuables were being taken on board, the secret was fairly well kept, and no one but the trusted few knew of the enormous value of the cargo which was being carried on the return voyage; and these, it may easily be imagined, felt not a little relief when they reached the harbor of Tarsus in safety.

[297] When the treasure came to be accurately examined and valued it was found that the tithe reserved for the finders would not be less than four million and a half of sesterces (£50,000). Lucius reserved half of this for himself, and after handsomely rewarding the few intrusted with the secret and doubling the pay of all the crew, presented the rest as a charitable fund to be at the disposal of the city government. It was found that after all the property that could be identified had been restored to its lawful owners, and large grants had been made to towns which had been injured in former years by the ravages of the pirates, a great sum remained, which fell to the share of the city.

The return voyage had been speedily accomplished by the help of uniformly favorable winds, and the merchant, who had for some time been busy winding up his affairs in Tarsus, proposed to leave for Tarentum before the end of September.

"I should like," he said to Lucius, "that your marriage should take place in Tarentum. It is my daughter's birth-place, and the few kinsfolk that we have are there. We shall have ample time to reach it before the 6th of November, the day that we sea-going folk are wont to say is the last for safe travelling."

Lucius had nothing to object to a plan which promised a speedy end to his long courtship, and Philareté was delighted with the prospect of seeing her old home again. The voyage was made in safety, the party reaching Tarentum on the 25th of October. A week afterwards the lovers were united.

The next year Lucius was summoned to take part in [298] Pompey's triumph. Our readers can find elsewhere, if they will, the description of this the most splendid show that the world had ever seen. All that concerns our story is the fact that our hero received as his share of prize-money, which, by the kindness of Pompey, was calculated as if he had been a military tribune, nearly twice as much as he had expected.

The morning after he had returned from Rome the merchant summoned him to his chamber, which, indeed, he now rarely left.

"I have," he said, "a little surprise for you which will not, I hope, be wholly unwelcome. After providing, as I know you would wish me to do, for some old clerks and dependents, I have invested what remains of my property in an estate in the Peloponnesus. It is called Scyllus, and it was once, as doubtless you know, the residence of the Athenian Xenophon. I have reserved the enjoyment of it to myself for my life, though, indeed, I shall never see it, for I hope to end my days here. In fact, I have given the late owner a lease which will be terminated by my death. Till then you must be content to be owner only in prospect. I say 'you,' for I have left it to you, not to Philareté. I think that a man should live in his own house, not in his wife's." The old man lingered for about a year after this, and then calmly expired, having first had the happiness to embrace and bless a little grandson, who was pronounced by common consent to be the most beautiful child in Tarentum.

In the summer of the same year Lucius and his wife set out for their new home in Greece, and there for the present we will leave them.

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