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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE FLIGHT OF MARIUS

[315] WHEN Marius fled from Rome, he hastened to Ostia, a seaport at the mouth of the Tiber. So eager was he to escape that he sailed without waiting for his son, young Marius, whom he had sent to procure provisions.

Young Marius, meanwhile, had reached the farm where his father-in-law lived, and had spent the night there undisturbed.

But when morning dawned a servant rushed into the house, saying that he had seen soldiers riding in the direction of the farm. The steward at once ran to his barn, dragged out a wagon full of beans, and hid young Marius under them. Then, without any apparent haste, he yoked his oxen to the wagon and drove off toward the city.

Before he had driven far he passed the search party, which, unconscious that it had missed it prey, went on at a sharp trot toward the farm. In this way Marius reached the coast safely, and sailed to Africa.

But Marius, the father, was no sooner on board the ship, in which he had so hurriedly embarked, than difficulty after difficulty beset him.

Before he had sailed far along the coast of Italy a violent storm arose and blew the vessel to the shore.

Here Marius and his few followers were forced to land, and to wander about in a desolate country in search of food and shelter.

At length they met some herdsmen, but they had neither roof nor bread which they could share with the fugitives.

The herdsmen warned them, however, that horsemen were scouring the country; so, almost fainting with hunger, [316] they struggled on, until they came to a wood, and here they hid themselves for the night.

In the morning, weak as he was, and still famished for want of food, Marius dragged himself along in the direction of the sea, for there lay his one hope of escape.

The old soldier still carried with him a brave spirit, and he believed that he would yet overcome his misfortunes. He begged his companions not to forsake him, telling them that he would reward their faithfulness. Had not the diviners assured him that he would be Consul a seventh time?

The poor little company struggled on, encouraged, it may be, by the promises of Marius. They were now only about two miles from the sea, and not far off the coast, ships under sail were visible. Surely now they would soon be safe on board one of these vessels!

But just as their hopes began to rise, the sound of horses' feet struck upon their ears. The sound grew nearer and nearer.

In desperate fear the wanderers, feeble as they were, began to run, and at length actually reached the shore, and plunging into the water, swam toward the ships.

Marius had to be helped by two of his followers, for he was too heavy to swim with ease. He was only just safe on board when a troop of soldiers on horseback reached the edge of the water.

The soldiers shouted to the crew of the vessel on which Marius had found refuge, bidding them either to send the fugitive back to the shore, or to throw him into the water.

With tears streaming down his cheeks Marius implored the sailors to save him from his enemies.

At length, after thinking now that it would send the unfortunate man to shore, now that it would sail away with him, the crew made up its mind to put off to sea.

But even then the troubles of Marius were not ended.

In a very short time the sailors again changed their minds. They were, after all, afraid to keep the man whom [317] Rome had banned, so, although they had not given him up to the enemy, they now determined to desert him.

They therefore put in to land near a town called Minturnæ, and bidding Marius go on shore, they told him to rest until a more favourable wind arose.

Marius had no suspicion that the sailors intended to desert him. Perhaps he was too bewildered with the hardships he had already endured to think of others that might yet befall him.

But the sailors had no sooner got rid of their unwelcome guest than they sailed away, leaving Marius alone. His companions had, it seems, gone on board another ship.

When at length Marius realised that the sailors had played him false, he struggled to his feet and looked around. The ground was full of bogs and marsh, but he stumbled on, for shelter he must find. In time he reached the hut of an old man who worked in the fens.

Marius begged the old man to hide him, and he appeared willing to do so, for he led the stranger to a secret place in the fens and covered him with rushes.

Even here, however, Marius was not safe. The horsemen succeeded in tracing him to the hut, and Marius could hear their loud voices as they threatened to punish the old man for concealing an enemy of Rome.

He must escape, and that without delay! So, hastily stripping off his clothes, Marius plunged deep into the thick and muddy bog, hoping to find a ditch into which he might slip and yet baffle his pursuers. But his hope was vain.

The horsemen had dismounted, and were searching everywhere for their prey. At last one of them caught sight of the desperate man, and darting into the bog, pulled Marius out, covered with mire.

Thus, naked and begrimed, he was carried to the magistrates of Minturnæ.


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