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


 

 

RETURN

[280] "WE are come in time," said the commander of the party whose arrival had been so opportune, "though I am afraid we were too late for this poor young fellow."

It was too true; the young Galatian was dead.

"The king," continued the soldier, "bade me say, if we had the good fortune to find you alive, which, to tell the truth, none of us expected, that he desired to see you as soon as possible."

Lucius was very kindly received by Pharnaces.

"We can hardly hope," he said, "to keep you here any longer with us. Doubtless you are anxious to get home. I propose, therefore, to put you in charge of an embassy which I am about to send to the general. You will take with you the body of my late father, which the embalmers will receive orders to preserve. There will also be various presents which I will intrust to your care. You will proceed to Amisus in a ship which shall be at once made ready for you; and will do well, if the general should not have arrived, though, indeed, I expect that he will, to await there his further orders. Meanwhile I beg you to receive from me for yourself some token of my good-will."

In about four or five days' time every thing was ready for [281] a start. Pharnaces sent some handsome presents to Lucius, among them two swords of Colchian manufacture, exquisite in workmanship and of surprisingly fine temper, some magnificent pieces of amber, two handsome gold cups set with amethysts and topazes, and about 2,000 in gold, coined and uncoined. So he had the satisfaction of feeling that as far as money results were concerned the four years of imprisonment had not been wholly wasted. He had seen the body of his companion decently buried, and gladly turned his back, as he hoped forever, on the inhospitable shores of the Bosphorus.

An opportune north wind carried the ship without any accident or delay to Amisus, which lay in an almost due southerly direction on the opposite shore of the Black Sea. Pompey had arrived there the day before, and Lucius at once waited upon him to receive his instructions. Pompey was most cordial in his greetings and congratulations.

"I have heard," he said, "much good of you both before I left Rome and since I have been in Asia, and I am delighted to see you returned safe and sound. And you have brought, you say, the body of Mithradates. Why should Pharnaces have sent it? Does he think that a Roman likes to glut his eyes with the sight of his dead enemies? The gods forbid that I should do such a thing! No! I will not see the body. It would be horrible, and perhaps unlucky. Still, as it is here, we had better assure ourselves that it is indeed he, that I may report the matter with the more confidence to the senate. This I will ask you to do. When it is done bring back your report; then I shall have more to say to you."

[282] It was a painful duty that Lucius had to perform. The face of the king was changed beyond all recognition, for the embalmers had neglected to take out the brain; but there were other and sufficient proofs of identity. Two slaves who had been the dead man's constant attendants during life swore to certain scars which they declared would be found on the body, and which were found accordingly. Their evidence was put into a formal report; and the corpse was then sent back to Sinop, to be buried in the tombs of the kings of Pontus.

"I have much to do here," said Pompey at his second interview with Lucius, "and shall certainly not be able to return to Rome this year, and hardly the next. If you care to stay with me I can give you plenty of employment, which would not, I may assure you, be wholly unprofitable. But you have been away from home, you tell one, for nine years and more (Lucius had given the general, at his request, an outline of his adventures), and you will be probably glad to get back. Is it so?"

Lucius said that it was.

"It that case," said Pompey, "you shall have a passport which will help you on your way. But remember, I shall expect to see you at my triumph. No one better deserves to be present than you. And I shall not forget you when the prize-money is distributed. You shall have your full share just as if you had been in the field."

The next morning Lucius received the promised passport. It ran thus:

"Cneius Pompeius, commander-in-chief, to all whom it may concern, greeting.

[283] "I notify by this to all persons holding authority in colonies, towns, free and allied cities, and all other places, that Lucius Marius, a citizen of Rome, is travelling on public business, and I hereby command that they furnish him such entertainment as he may require, and forward him on his journey, charging all expenses to the account of the Roman people."

Armed with this document Lucius made his journey comfortably and quickly, reaching Rome early in November. His first days were of course given to his home at Arpinum. Our readers will easily imagine with what affection on the part of his father and kinsfolk, with what enthusiasm and delight from his fellow-townsmen, he was received, what a "lion" he found himself, what endless demands were made upon him to tell and tell again his story. He might indeed, had he chosen, have received the highest honors which the town had to bestow. There happened at the time to be a vacancy in the local senate, and he would certainly have been elected to fill it had he not steadily declined on the ground that all his plans for the future were uncertain.

And indeed his stay at home was soon cut short. Great events were going on at Rome, and it so happened that Arpinum was especially interested in them. Cicero, whose rise to fame and power his fellow-townsmen had naturally watched with the greatest interest, was now consul, and was struggling with all his might to crush a most dangerous conspiracy. This is not the place to tell the story of Catiline; but we may remind our readers that it was at the close of the year (63 B.C.) in which Lucius returned to Rome, that the struggle between the revolutionists and the party of [284] order came to a crisis. Lucius had not been at home more than three days when news reached Arpinum that the life of its great citizen was in danger, that two murderers had actually presented themselves at his door in the early morning of the 7th of November, under pretence of wishing to pay him their respects, but that the servants, happily warned beforehand of the danger, had refused them admittance. A number of young men belonging to the chief families in the town at once hurried to Rome, and offered their services as a personal body-guard to the consul. Cicero had more volunteers for this office than he could possibly employ. Accordingly he declined the offer with warm thanks, not only, he said, because his safety was already provided for, but because he might give offence to the Roman youth if he called in help even from his native town. Lucius, however, whom he was delighted to see again, he asked to remain as his guest, and Lucius, though not formally enrolled in the guard, took care to be always near him as long as the danger lasted. He remained in the outer court of the temple of Jupiter the Stayer while the great orator was unfolding to the senate assembled within, with Catiline sitting pale and dismayed among them, the details of the plot which he had discovered; and he stood immediately in front of the hustings in the market-place on the following day when Cicero told the people from what he had saved them. A strong remonstrance from his father, backed up by Cicero himself, prevented him from joining as a volunteer the army which, when the conspirators left behind in the city had perished, marched against Catiline.

"You really have had your share of honors and dangers," [285] said Cicero to him, "and must not grudge their share to others. Don't try the gods too often. They may get weary of saving your life if you call upon them so often. You have heard, I doubt not, the old proverb about the pitcher and the well. You have gone and come back often enough already. Be content to stay upon the shelf while you are still uncracked."

The young man had no choice but to yield to these remonstrances, but he remained in close attendance upon his powerful friend till after the defeat and death of Catiline. He then felt himself at liberty to finish his interrupted visit at home, intending to sail for the East as soon as the spring equinox was past (the sailors of these days being very unwilling to risk any acquaintance with the sea in winter). Accordingly early in April he set out, first making his way to Corinth, and then taking ship for Tarsus, at which place he arrived about the end of May.


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