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

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A HUNTING-PARTY

[184] THE travellers were to be allowed a couple of days to rest and refresh themselves after the fatigues of their journey. Then the king was expected to give an audience, at which the envoys from Tarsus were to produce their presents, and at which it had been arranged that Lucius himself should present his letters of introduction.

The reception was held in the open air, in the court-yard of the palace. It was a cold day, but the king seemed quite insensible to the weather. Lucius indeed was struck with his extraordinary vigor and youthfulness. He must be, he knew, at least in his seventieth year; but no one, so upright was his figure, so fresh his complexion, would have put him down for more than fifty. His hair too, a rich auburn in color, showed but a few streaks of gray here and there. Almost the only signs of age about him were the wrinkles which a close observer might have traced under his eyes and on his forehead. He stood during the whole of the audience, though a chair, over which was thrown a rich purple coverlet; edged with gold, stood ready for his use. He wore a riding-dress, and had no mark of his rank except a collar of twisted gold about his neck, and hanging from it a sapphire of [185] unusual size and brilliancy. His face was not unpleasing, as it was certainly powerful. He looked like a man who was commonly good-natured, but could be absolutely implacable and merciless on occasion. On either side of the king stood the nobles, all of them, with the exception of a few older men, dressed like the king, and wearing similar chains though without the jewel. Lucius was struck with their appearance, which was very unlike that of the ordinary natives of the country. In the first place they were unusually tall, few of them being under six feet, while some of them must have measured as much as seven, and one gigantic chieftain exceeded even this stature, as Lucius afterwards found out, by at least six inches. Their complexions were singularly fair, their hair, which fell in long curls over their necks, varied in hue from the auburn of the king to a deep yellow. He was reminded at once of some of the soldiers whom he had seen in the camp of Spartacus, and of whom he had been told at the time that they were Gauls. It was indeed to this race that both the king and his nobles belonged. More than two hundred years had passed since their ancestors had left their home in Europe, but they were still European in look. The envoys from Tarsus stepped forward, and one of them delivered a long speech, on which the chief professor of rhetoric in the university had exerted himself to the utmost to flatter and magnify both his own city and the king. The gifts were then presented, the king received them, handed them over to an attendant, and returned thanks with commendable brevity. It was now the turn of Lucius to step forward. Quickly bending one knee to the ground, an act of homage which it cost his Roman [186] pride some effort to make, he presented the letter of recommendation from Tullius. When the king had read it he said:

"You are welcome, sir. A friend of Marcus Tullius cannot but be a friend of Deiotarus. Give me a little time to consider how I may make the virtues which, now that they are vouched by so excellent an authority, I know to be in you, most useful both to yourself and to me. Meanwhile you are my guest."

On retiring from the king's presence Lucius was accosted by one of the king's chamberlains, who showed him to the apartment which had been assigned to him, and promised to have his effects transferred from the lodgings at which he had temporarily taken up his abode. He dined with a sufficiently gay company of courtiers, and on his return to his chamber found a billet inviting him to a hunting-party which the king proposed to hold the next day.

Early the next morning the young Roman presented himself at the rendezvous  of the hunt. The king received his salutation with great courtesy, and said to an attendant, "Bring Irene  for the Roman guest."

Irene  was a singularly beautiful and well-proportioned mare of a bright bay color, just such a mount, as far as appearance went, as the favored guest of a king might feel himself flattered to have. But Lucius happened to be an uncommonly good judge of horses, and his quick eye noticed one or two little tokens that the animal's temper might not be altogether as good as her looks, or as peaceable as her name would have suggested. He noticed that as he [187] approached to mount her she gave a peculiarly vicious roll of the eye, and laid back her ears for a moment. It was only for a moment, for she had all the deceptive arts which have been attributed to her sex; but the significant gestures were not lost upon her rider. He fancied, too, that he had noticed something like a twinkle in the king's eye as he gave the order for the animal to be brought out; while it was certain that the hunting-party, which had grown curiously silent in a moment, were watching him with more attention than the appearance of an insignificant stranger would seem likely to excite. All this was quite enough to put him on his guard. Still Irene  permitted him to mount her quietly, and to ride her round the little meadow in which the hunting-party was assembled. Lucius felt, however, that the ordeal was by no means over. His companions were still as silent, and were watching him as intently, as before. Accordingly he did not relax his attention for a moment. Still he was almost taken by surprise when the mare began the manœuvres by which she was accustomed to dismount her riders. She first lifted herself almost perpendicularity on her hind-legs. Lucius threw himself forward in the saddle, and with a strong sideways wrench at her mouth made her drop again upon her feet. Her next manœuvre was to rise very much in the same way on her fore-feet, and she continued to make variations between these two till Lucius began to feel that if the contest was continued much longer his strength would hardly hold out. A happy thought occurred to him. An old Sabine servant of his father's had had a great reputation for taming refractory horses; and his secret, so far as there had been a secret beyond the man's remarkable knowledge [188] of the animal's ways, had been a peculiar whisper, which he had taught his young master how to imitate. Its magic consisted not in the words, and indeed a Greek horse could hardly be expected to understand an Italian dialect, but in the peculiar tone. Lucius felt doubtful whether, not having used it for some time, he could imitate it now. To try, however, could do no harm, and accordingly in an interval of quiet he made the experiment. The result was a success beyond his expectations. The mare seemed to tremble when she heard the whisper. He repeated it when she seemed about to renew her efforts to throw him, and she was reduced to quiet in a moment. His victory was complete, and was greeted with a murmur of approval from the assembled company.

Something still remained to be done before the preparations for a start were complete. A priest robed in white with a chaplet of bay about his head, had been sacrificing a goat to Artemis, the patroness of hunters; and was now inspecting the entrails, to discover from them whether good luck or bad would attend the proceedings of the day.

"That is always the king's Way," said a young Galatian chief who had introduced himself to Lucius by bestowing some very hearty praises on his horsemanship. "If the old priest does not give a good account of what he sees, it is quite possible that we may be all ordered back. I have known a most beautiful scenting-day lost because there was or was not—for I am sure that I cannot remember what it ought to be—some line or other in the animal's shin. Sometimes he won't go out at all; sometimes he goes, does not seem to expect any good luck, and of course does [189] not get it. And depend upon it, he wants to know something about you. I have seen a guest sent about his business if there happened to be something wrong with the sacrifice. But see, the priest is showing him the tokens. The king looks pleased. We may take it for settled that we shall go."

The young chief was right. The king raised his hand and made a gesture commanding silence. "The gods promise success," he said in a loud voice; "do your best to deserve it."

Lucius, who had been furnished by one of the attendants with a hunting-spear and a long knife, with the admirable temper of which he was greatly pleased, rode forward with his new friend. The hunting-ground for which they were making was about seven miles from the city. It was a forest of great extent, far too dense for the horses, which had accordingly to be left outside in the charge of the attendants. Hundreds of beaters had been employed for days in driving the game, which was now crowded together in the portion that had been left undisturbed. In this portion the ground was most favorably situated for the operations of the hunting-party. A wall of cliffs, varying in height from a hundred to fifty feet, divided it from the plain cultivated country outside. This wall was broken in one place by a valley formed by the action of a small stream which, though of insignificant size, had in the course of many ages made for itself a channel of more than two hundred yards in breadth. The bed of the stream itself was but a few feet wide; the rest of the valley was covered with dense brushwood. It was to this opening that the greater part of the game would [190] naturally rush when the beaters should begin to advance from behind; and here it was that the king himself with a number of the party had taken up his post. But there were two or three other outlets where the cliff had been broken down by the action of the weather. At each of these were placed two or more of the hunters, according to the size of the opening. The younger Deiotarus, the king's only son, had chosen one of these places for his own station, and had had Lucius and his companion told off to attend him. The prince was a young man of about twenty, pleasing in appearance, but far inferior in vigor and strength, as it was easy to see, to his father. A detachment of the party had meanwhile been making the best of their way through the wood to get into the rear of the beaters. It would be their business to dispose, as best they might, of such of the game as might break back through the line of the beaters. When these had reached their place the business of the day began.

For a time all was quiet, except for the occasional cry of a deer, the bleat of a wild goat, or the growl of some beast of prey. Before long the noise made by the approaching line of beaters reached the expectant hunters. This noise was indeed loud and incessant. The greater the din the safer the men and the more terrified the beasts, some of which were, as may be supposed, very formidable enemies. Accordingly the beaters shouted at the top of their voices, now reproaching or encouraging each other, now warning the hunters behind of some animal that had gone back. Meanwhile the agitation in the densely-crowded region of forest upon which the beaters were advancing grew more and more intense. Cries of fear and rage, in every variety [191] of note, from the shrillest treble to the deepest bass, went up without ceasing. The hunters outside were scarcely less excited as they waited for the wild inhabitants of the forest to show themselves. The first to appear were the hares and rabbits. With these the boys of the party busied themselves, using their bows and arrows, weapons which some of them handled with uncommon skill, or setting their dogs, which were chiefly of the lurcher kind, and very effective animals, upon the chase. It was not long before the larger animals began to show themselves. At first they turned hack into the covert, the danger in front seeming even more terrible than that behind. Then the still advancing line of beaters drove them forward again; compelled to face the new peril they charged the hunters, and the fun became fast and furious. Each sportsman was accompanied by three or four slaves, who supplied their masters with javelins, gathered up the arrows to be used again, and gave the coup de grace to animals that were wounded. The old king enjoyed the day to the utmost. Stationed, of course, in the place where most game was likely to come, his hand was never idle, while his aim, which he never exercised on any prey less noble than a stag, a wolf, or a leopard, was almost unerring. The prince, with his two young companions, was fairly successful. If the animals that came in their way were not very numerous, they were, on the other hand, conspicuously large; and the native hunter who accompanied the party was in ecstasies over one or two of the heads, which would beat, he said, any thing that had been taken in the hunt for many a long year. There had been a long interval in which they had found little to do, and were naturally beginning to [192] grow a little inattentive, when the hunter roused them by a sharp cry of warning. Almost at the same instant a huge panther burst out of the thicket. So huge was he, so far beyond all that even the hunter, with the experience of nearly forty years, had seen, that the whole party stood, as it were, paralyzed with astonishment, and seemed to forget that they had weapons in their hands. The beast saw them, hesitated for a moment whether he should attack or fly, resolved upon flight, and in another moment had again disappeared in the wood.

The hunter was the first to recover his breath: "Artemis! what a monster! A panther indeed!—a tiger, I should have said, only that I never heard of them in Galatia."

"Monster indeed!" said the prince; "the very Caledonian boar among panthers. But say, Ambiorix" (this was the old hunter's name, come down from his Gallic forefathers), "say, what shall we do? It would be intolerable to miss such a booty. I would sooner lose half my kingdom."

"We will wait," said Ambiorix. "He is sure to come back to us."

They waited accordingly, but seemingly in vain, the prince growing furiously impatient as the time went by. One of the slaves came forward, and lifting the hem of the prince's cloak to his lips, stood silently seeking leave to speak.

"What is it, Sciton?" said the young man. "Say on."

"My lord," said the man, "I have heard tell of this panther before; and I have always thought that I saw him once when I happened to be in company with old Gelon, the hunter, who died last year. I have heard the country people, too, talking about a monstrously big beast that has killed [193] their oxen. And they have always fancied that its den was in the back of the cliff, about three hundred paces to the eastward."

"Can you guide us to this place?" said the prince.

"Yes, if my lord so pleases."

"Very well; and I promise you that if we find him and kill him you shall be free. Yes, on my word as the king's son, you shall be free!

The man's eyes glistened with delight. "Death or freedom," he murmured to himself; "in any case I shall do well."

He led the party straight into the wood. For the first hundred yards the undergrowth was so thick that it seemed as if no living creature of any kind could ever have made its way through it. But when they had gone so far they came on what was evidently the track of some large animal. Something like a tunnel had been made through the brush-wood by some creature which they guessed from the size of the passage to be not less than four feet high.

The slave uttered a cry of satisfaction. "We have found it, my lord!" he cried, and he led the way.

Three or four hundred yards of walking followed, which, so well worn was the track, had little difficulty about it, except the stooping posture which the party were obliged to maintain. They now reached the mouth of a cave. A hurried consultation was held as to what was to be done, and how the attack should be made.

"You are sure," said the prince, "that the cave has no ether entrance but this?"

The question seemed to strike the slave with something him dismay.

[194] "Pardon me, my lord, I had forgotten. I remember now the old hunter thought that there was another opening, and that the beast must have escaped so long because both had not been watched."

The question was where this other opening could be. One of the party advanced to the mouth of the cave with a lighted pine torch, and advancing a few steps beyond the entrance peered as far as he could into the darkness. The conclusion to which he came was that the direction of the cave was very nearly straight. After a careful consideration of all the circumstances it was agreed that the other opening, if such there was, would be found about a hundred yards to the left of the spot at which they had entered the wood.

"Go back," said the prince to the slave, "by the way by which we came, and see if you can find any thing like the place. If you can, enter it and sound there two notes on your whistle. If you get the same answered from us at this end, then you will know that you have found the right place. We, meanwhile, will wait here with all the patience that we can."

The slave hastily departed on his errand. At the end of an hour the prince and his party heard, first very faintly, then clear and unmistakable, the sound of the whistle.

"Now," cried the young Deiotarus, "if he is here at all we have him between us. But let us hope that the slave will stand firm. Suppose that the brute should choose to go out at that end rather than this. Never before in my whole life have I wished so much that I could be in two places at once. But let us go on."


[Illustration]

THE DEATH OF SCITON THE SLAVE.

[195] The party advanced, the young Galatian noble going first, the prince following, not without some grumbling at being kept out of the foremost place; and after the prince came Lucius. The attendants followed, carrying among other things some spare lances and a supply of torches. The whistle was sounded at intervals as the party made its way slowly along, and the signal was regularly returned. The Cavern, which had at first been about eight feet high and five feet broad, now became narrower and lower. At the same time the air became close and almost stifling. At about two hundred yards from the entrance the leading hunter Stopped. "I see him," he said in a whisper, turning to the prince. Orders were given to the attendants to light some additional torches. By their help it could be seen that about thirty yards in front there was a recess at right angles to the line of the passage, and at the mouth a crouching form could be indistinctly seen. The young Galatian had caught die glow of the creature's eye. The eagerness of the prince flow became incontrollable.

"I have the right to be first," he cried to the foremost of the party. "I command you on your obedience to give way!"

"My lord," said the young noble in reply, "I owe you, and am ready to pay you, all respect. But my obedience I owe to the king, your father; and it is his standing order that you are not to be put into unnecessary danger."

"Go on, then," said the prince in an angry voice, "and I will follow."

The party advanced till the distance between them and [196] the animal was less than a spear's cast. "Throw," said the prince, "in the name of all the gods."

The young Galatian obeyed, but it was difficult to aim. The outline of the animal only was visible in the darkness, and this but indistinctly. The spear was heard to strike against the rocky wall of the cavern; but the sound was slight, and it was probable that it had inflicted a flesh-wound on the animal in its passage. An angry growl was heard; and the party, planting their spears firmly against the ground, prepared to receive a charge. It was a formidable chevaux-de-frise  that their weapons presented. If the first defence was broken down there was a second behind, and behind this again a third. But the attack was never delivered. After a moment's hesitation the panther, alarmed by the number of its enemies, whom its eyes, accustomed to the darkness, were able to clearly distinguish, turned and fled, making, it was evident, for the other entrance. The party at once advanced. The rocky passage here took a sudden turn; and two or three steps in advance brought them in sight of the opening, which was now less than a hundred yards' distance. The figure of the slave who had been sent to watch it was plainly visible against the light.

"The gods grant," cried the prince, "that he stand firm, or we shall lose the brute after all!" and he shouted, "Beware! Courage! We follow!"

It was easy to say "We follow," but difficult to do, and it was evident that the struggle would be over before the entrance could possibly be reached. Over, indeed, it was so far as the gallant slave was concerned. He had received the panther's charge on his hunting-spear without flinching, [197] and had driven the point three or four inches into the animal's breast. But the wound was not mortal, and the spear had not checked its rush; and the man had been prostrated by a tremendous blow of the paw, which had torn his right side open with a hideous wound. Still he held with convulsive tenacity to the shaft; and the panther, which might otherwise, having overthrown its antagonist, have continued its flight, was checked till it could disentangle itself from the weapon. The delay, though it could not have lasted long, was long enough to give the pursuing party the coveted opportunity. By right the prince should have had the first stroke; but it was no time for etiquette, and the three knives were buried almost simultaneously in the huge body. At least two of them reached its heart, and with a great shudder it turned over on its side, leaving exposed the prostrate body of the slave. He was still alive, though fast bleeding to death.

"Your promise, my lord," he whispered in a faint voice.

"You are free," said the prince, laying his hand on the dying man's head, "you and yours—I make them my charge."

A smile passed over the pale features. "Dear Glycera," he murmured, "I am happy!" Glycera was his daughter; she was free, and she had now the hope, which was hardly possible for a slave girl, of being a happy wife and mother.

The slaves extemporized a rude litter of boughs, and carried the corpse back to the place where the main body of the hunters had now assembled. The prince had taken his own cloak and thrown it over the dead man, and walked by the side of the litter. The splendid booty which his attendants carried behind—such a panther as had never before boon seen in Galatia—had lost half its attraction.

[198] The result of the day's sport comprised thousands of animals, both dead and alive. Conspicuous among the latter were a number of panthers and bears which had been taken in nets, and which the king would send as presents to his friends in Italy, or perhaps sell to the dealers in this kind of ware. Wild beasts always found a ready market in Rome. These were secured in cages which were carried on poles by bearers. The dead game was piled in carts. This done, the whole party moved homewards. The proceedings of the day were concluded by a great banquet, at which Lucius had the honor of sitting at the royal table. Deiotarus, who probably owed no little of his singular vigor to his temperance, left the feast early, after appointing the young Roman an hour at which he would give him audience on the morrow.

At the time appointed Lucius was ushered into the royal presence, and met with a very kind and gracious reception. "In the first place," said the king, after repeating in a few courteous words his desire to serve to the utmost the protégé  of so distinguished an orator and so valued a friend as Marcus Tullius,—"in the first place, tell me your story." "You are a brave young fellow," was his comment when Lucius came to the end of his adventures, "and, as I can see from your way of talking, as modest as you are brave. Now I should like to keep you with me; and the best thing that occurs to me is to attach you to the person of the prince, my son. He has taken a great fancy to you from what he saw of you yesterday, and the arrangement will suit his taste exactly. He is too old to be a pupil; and you, though you look older than what you tell me are your years, are too young to be a tutor. But you can be very good friends. You will talk [199] Latin to him; and though he can speak the language very fairly he has got much to learn, especially in accent. You are something of a student (I have been inquiring about you from my good friends of Tarsus); and if you can get him to follow your example, to which at present he is but little inclined, I should be much obliged to you. A king nowadays cannot afford to be ignorant of books, even though he is king only of these barbarous tribes. Above all, do your best to make him like yourself. If you can do that I shall be more than satisfied, and no reward that I can offer will be too much. At present I must ask you to be content with thirty sestertia (£270) a year, with, of course, free quarters. It is not much, but we have little money here. However, you will be able to save something out of it to begin again elsewhere when you are tired of us."

Lucius, who indeed could desire nothing better than such a post, gratefully accepted the king's proposal.

"And now that we have finished our business," said the old man, let us have a little talk together. You are fresh from Italy, and of Italy I am never tired of hearing."

Lucius was accordingly put through a sharp cross-examination, which proved certainly that the old king kept himself tolerably well acquainted with all that was going on. Indeed, many of the questions that he put on politics were quite beyond the young Roman's grasp. At one time the conversation happened to turn upon augury and omens.

"I am told," said the king, "that you Romans don't care so much about these things as you used to do. You keep up the old forms, you have your augurs and all the rest of it. Every fleet or army that goes out has the sacred chickens, [200] and it is supposed that you don't fight except the birds feed properly. But I don't suppose that you believe very much. I have heard that my friend Tullius wonders how one augur can meet another without laughing. Well, now, you will think it strange, perhaps, but I do believe. And I'll tell you why. Nearly fifty years ago, when I was a very young man, I was going to a great feast held in Pessinus. My father was one of the old sort, and was a firm believer. Well, when the morning sacrifice was offered the priest found great signs of trouble at home in the liver of the beast; and my father was so struck that he would not let me go. I stormed and raved, of course; but he had made up his mind, and I did not go. Now mark the end. In the middle of dinner the roof fell in, and every one of the guests was killed. And I took pains to inquire, and not one of the whole number had tried to find out what my father had done. That convinced me: I never doubted again. And you must confess that this morning every thing went just as had been expected."

"I suppose, sir," said Lucius, "that the soothsayers commonly make it as pleasant as they can. They would not be welcome if they were always in opposition."

"Ah!" said the king good-humoredly, "I see you are inclined to doubt. Well, you will see. For my part the future is so dark that I am glad to get any kind of light that may be given us; and I cannot help thinking that the gods do give us a hint now and then. Anyhow, men have believed this for more than a thousand years, and I am not going to give it up."


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