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


 

 

A MEETING

[153] WHEN Lucius regained his senses he felt that he was no longer on the boat. More than that he was at first too weak, languid, and confused to take in. To sleep on something of which he only knew that it was much softer and more pleasant than the keel of a boat, to lie half-awake with little thought of any thing beyond the sensation that he was comfortable and safe, to take food and drink from some one who seemed to be always at hand to supply them, but about whom he knew and cared to know nothing more – this for some time was enough for him. But by degrees, as the pulse of life, which had been so perilously near stopping, began to beat more strongly, his brain cleared, and he began first to question with himself where he was, and then to look about in the hopes of finding out. His first discovery was that he was wearing a tunic of some very fine woolen stuff, that he was lying on a particularly soft mattress, which was furnished with a fine sheet of linen and a crimson rug. Looking about him a little more he found that he was in a room which it was easy to recognize as a particularly handsome and spacious cabin. The sides were furnished with purple-covered couches, and the floor covered with [154] carpets of a make such as he did not remember to have seen before. The slightly arched ceiling was adorned with festoons of flowers painted on a ground of delicate green. By his bedside was a small table with an ivory slab, on which stood a flagon and a silver cup. No one was visible at the moment; but at the slight noise which he made in moving round to complete his survey of the apartment an elderly woman, who had been sitting behind a curtain, came forward. A look of pleasure came into her face when she saw the change that had taken place in her patient, but she was too good a nurse not to know that the first use he would naturally make of his newly gained strength would be to overdo it. She put her finger on her lips in token of silence, and glided out of the cabin. In a few moments she returned, followed by an elderly man whose dress and bearing seemed to indicate that he was a man of considerable importance. He sat down by Lucius' side, and taking his wrist in his hand felt his pulse.

"I am glad, my friend," he said, "to find you better. Your pulse is steadier and stronger. Of course you want to know where you are and how you came here. But you must wait a while. You must be content to know that you are in good hands, if I may say so much of myself."

"How is my friend?" asked Lucius.

"He is well," briefly replied the other; "but no more questions at present, or the head nurse will be blaming me. And now take this draught and go to sleep again."

Lucius was tired enough even by this brief conversation to offer no objection: he obediently drank the potion which his host offered him, turned his face to the side of the cabin, and was soon sound asleep.

[155] It was late in the afternoon when he woke. The light was softer and more subdued, and a delicious breeze, moderated by the silken curtains which were stretched across the windows of the cabin, cooled the air. Both the nurse the and stranger of the morning were sitting by his bedside. The latter again felt the lad's pulse and put his hand upon forehead. The result of the examination was apparently satisfactory.

I find you much stronger than you were this morning; and now I may venture to introduce myself. I am by name Theron, a merchant of Tarentum, on my way to Tarsus, and have had the good fortune, if I reap no other advantage from my voyage, to save your life. And now do you think you can bear a little surprise—I venture to think a pleasant little surprise?"

Something familiar in the look and tones of his host had already struck the young Roman, and while he spoke he had vainly attempted to think of whom they reminded him.

"I can bear any thing, thanks to your kind care."

"Well, then, you shall see an old friend."

As he spoke he raised a small silver whistle to his lips. At the sound the cabin door opened and Lucius saw again a figure which for the last two months had never long been absent from his thoughts, whether he was awake or asleep—the beautiful Philareté. The sea air and the sunshine had given a somewhat richer coloring to her complexion; and her hair, cut almost close to her head when Lucius last saw it, had grown in clustering ringlets down to her neck. She stood waiting at the door till her father—for such, as our readers will have guessed, the merchant was—beckoned [156] her to approach. She came forward with downcast eyes and a blush on her cheek; for, to tell the truth, the young Roman had been nearly as much in her thoughts as she had been in his.

"And now you two are quits if you choose to think so," gayly said the father, who, after the manner of fathers, did not perceive or did not understand his daughter's emotion. "You saved her life in that dreadful ride from Spartacus' camp, and now she has saved yours. Yes, if it hadn't been for her obstinacy, which I must allow may sometimes be a good thing, you would not be here. You must hear the story. Two or three days ago, about noon, when we were working our way slowly along the coast, in as dead and hot a calm as ever I saw even at this time of year, we noticed about half a mile to larboard a small flock of sea-gulls hovering over something in the water, but what the something was we could not clearly see, particularly as there was a considerable haze in the air. One thought it might be a shoal of fish; the birds will follow a shoal, you know, for a hundred miles. Another thought it might be a dead dolphin or shark, and indeed there did seem to be something black on the top of the water. Whatever it was, it didn't seem worth while for us to go out of our course to look at it, and we should have gone on our way but for this girl here. 'O father,' she said, 'suppose that it should be a boat with a dying man on it! I am sure it looks like a boat.' How she was sure I don't know, for I could see nothing of the kind, or the sailors either. But she stuck to her point. Nothing would satisfy her but we must go and look. And she had her way. I dare say you guess she commonly does have her way. [157] Indeed I verily believe that there would have been a mutiny among the crew if I had not yielded. So we went, and sure enough, when we came close there was a boat turned bottom uppermost and two men upon it, one of them tied by a cord to the other."

"Ah!" cried Lucius, remembering with remorse that in the delight of his own recovery he had almost forgotten his friend. The merchant's beaming face was clouded in an instant with an expression of grief, and Philareté's eyes were filled with tears. Lucius guessed the truth.

"But you said this morning when I asked you about him that he was well."

"My son," said the merchant gravely, "it is well with those who die young and are at rest. I did not tell you the truth plainly this morning, because you were just recovering and it might have thrown you back. But the fact, is your companion was not alive when we reached you. He was still tied to you, but his head hung down almost in the water, and the birds had begun to peck at him. We saved him, anyhow, from their beaks, poor fellow. We were obliged to bury him at sea. So I wrapped him in a tunic with his hands and feet fastened together, and a piece of iron to sink him, and he sleeps as peacefully as he would under the turf. And when we get to harbor he shall have his monument. Let us hope that Charon won't refuse him passage. But let us also," he added in a gayer tone, "be thankful that you have not got to ask the old god to take you across just now. Upon my word I thought at the time that it was all over with you. Only Philareté was determined that you should live; and, as I said just now, she always has her way. Well, [158] to go back to my story, we found you, not dreaming of course, that you were any thing but a stranger. At first my girl did not recognize you; and no wonder, when one thinks what you looked like. And, after all, it was not you, but your book—for we found your Homer in your pocket—it was that book, not you, that she recognized. But when we did know who you were—well, I won't say how glad we were. Such things are not put into works, my dear boy. I  am not quits with you; no nor, ever shall be; for if it hadn't been for you I should have been the unhappiest father in the world. But you have had talking enough for to-day. Now you must go to sleep again, or, if you are not quite ready for that yet, shall Philareté read to you? Reading is often a wonderful thing for sleep, quite as good as poppies."

"It would delight me," said Lucius from his heart, resenting a the same time the thought that Philareté's voice could ever send him  to sleep. The girl sat down by the bedside, and, unrolling the Homer scroll, read in an exquisitely melodious voice, which brought out all of the majestic harmony of the verse, one of her favorite passages—how Hector left the battle that he might bid his countrywomen make supplication to Athené, and how there met him his wife Andromaché, and how they talked together, and how Hector blessed her and his child. But for all the music of her voice and the beauty of the matchless verse, the young Roman's firm conviction that he could listen to such verse and such a voice forever, he was asleep before the reader's voice broke over the pathetic tale how Andromaché and all her maidens wailed for the living Hector as though he were dead, for she thought that she should never see him any more returning safe from the battle.

[159] The girl sat for a few minutes silently watching the sleeper and listening to his regular breathing. Then gently putting her lips to the hand which hung languidly by the side of the couch, she rose and left the cabin.

The next morning Lucius was able to come upon deck.

"Tell us your story," said the merchant as he sat, with his daughter on a cushion at his feet, while the young Roman, who, as an invalid, was still under orders, reclined on a couch. "Tell us your story, or as much as you feel able to get through."

His audience listened to his tale, not without more than muttered maledictions from the Tarentine on the greed and cowardice which had nearly cost the young fellow liberty and life. When it was ended the merchant said:

"And now it is time that you should hear something about us and our plans. I am, as I told you, a merchant of Tarentum, and I am on my way to Tarsus, where I have some important matters to attend to. I shall probably be staying for some time at Tarsus, and I didn't like to leave my daughter behind me. I lost her mother some time since, and we are every thing to one another. And now as to your plans."

"One question," interrupted Lucius. "How about the pirates? How is it that you venture into these seas which are infested with them? And Tarsus is in Cilicia, their headquarters, I have always been given to understand."

The merchant smiled. "I don't wonder at your asking, particularly after the experiences you have had. But you may be reassured. I feel pretty safe, and for two reasons. First, I have a fairly strong, well-manned-ship here, one that [160] the rovers won't meddle with if they can help it. They prefer to bite what can't bite again. And my crew is not only strong and well-armed, but it is faithful. Shall I tell you how I make them so? Well, I give them a share in my profits. They have their wages to begin with, and then, over and above these, they have their share, every one of them, from the captain down to the smallest boy. And, mark you, they are all free. So the ship really belongs to them as long as they are the crew, as much as it belongs to me; and if they had to fight they would be fighting for their own. That is one reason why I feel pretty safe. The other I will tell you in confidence, and, to speak the truth, I am rather ashamed of it. I pay a tax to the pirate fellows, and they let me go free. I can defend myself from any casual attack, but the main body of them have a sort of commander-in-chief, and don't hurt a ship that has his pass. It is not, I know, what ought to be. But that is not my fault. I pay taxes to Rome, and Rome ought to keep the seas free; but as she doesn't I am obliged to look out for myself. But now for your affairs. When we get to Tarsus you must write home to your father, and I should say to Marcus Tullius, and of course to your quæstor. Marcus Tullius may very likely put you in the way of getting something to do out here. I know that he is agent for the tetrarch of Galatia for one thing. Meanwhile you will, of course, be my guest. And don't think," he went on, seeing Lucius was about to interrupt, "don't think that I am putting you under an obligation. I understood from my daughter that you were going out to Sicily to help the quæstor with his accounts. Well, if you will only help me in the same way you will more than [161] repay me for any thing that I can do for you. However, I don't want your answer at once. Think over it, and let me know when you have made up your mind."

"There is very little need to think over it," said Lucius. "You have put the matter so kindly, and I should like the plan in every way so well, than I may say 'yes' at once."

"So be it then," replied the merchant. "Then we may consider that matter is settled."

The days that followed were days of unmixed happiness. The ship, named the Argo, after the most famous craft of the ancient world, drove gayly along before the summer trade-winds. To sit under the deck awning listening to the merchant's tales of a life which, though it had been spent in trade, had not by any means been void of adventure—for had he not been beyond the Pillars of Hercules and sailed on the great Western Ocean? to hear Philareté read Homer, sometimes to read to her, and be corrected in his pronunciation by the most charming of teachers, every now and then to change the book for a game of draughts or "fox and geese;" when they had had enough both of books and games, to hold endless talks together, talks in which there was not a word of love, but which were penetrated throughout with something of its spirit; these were an untiring delight, and Lucius sometimes felt inclined to wish that the Argo was bound, not for Tarsus, but for the end of the world.


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