Four-and-Twenty Years Afterwards
The time is the early morning of a day towards the end of February, when the short winter of Southern Greece is nearing its end. A young man and a girl, both of remarkable beauty, are watching the sun as it rises from behind the snow-capped hills of Arcadia. At the first glance one would fancy that the four-and-twenty years are a dream, that this youth is the very same Lucius Marius whom we have followed in many a perilous adventure by sea and land; this girl the fair Tarentine, Philareté, whom he had won for his bride when we last bade him farewell. Looking a little closer, we see a difference that was not at first sight perceptible. They are indeed a young Marius, a young Philareté, but each has caught something from the other parent, the boy something of a Greek fineness of feature and figure from his mother; the girl, something of Roman strength from her father. He is, perhaps, less sturdy, she, perhaps, less beautiful, but they are certainly not degenerate. But see, here comes our old friend himself. Now we see that the four-and-twenty years are no dream. His figure is somewhat fuller than it was when we last saw him, his beard just streaked with gray, his step a shade slower. The young people seem, indeed, to have outstripped him.
"Ho, youngsters!" he cries, "have you no pity on an old man, that you climb the hill at so merciless a pace? Lucius, you might win the foot-race at the games next midsummer, but that your barbarian father has unluckily spoiled your pedigree. Rhodium [this, meaning Little Rose, was the girl's name], you are as swift of foot as Atalanta. But let us halt a while, and wait for Sciton and the dogs."
The spot where they stood was one of remarkable beauty. Just below them was the wooded valley up the eastern side of which they had climbed, with a river showing here and there its gleaming pools amongst the trees and brushwood. Behind was a long stretch of forest, still full, as in the days of the old soldier and sportsman who had once been the owner of the place, of game, great and small. On the east rose, ridge over ridge, the mountains of Arcadia. In front was the most famous place in Greece, the plain of Olympia, with its river, its groves of plane and olive, and its temples and treasure-houses just catching on their gilded roofs the first rays of morning.
It was a view of which the father and his children were never weary; still they had not come to look at the prospect. A glance at their dress and equipment will show that they have a more practical purpose. The elder of the two men has a stout hunting spear with a broad point in his hand, the younger a staff and a sling in his girdle, an implement with which he is singularly expert, being able to hit a flying bird of moderate size not less than nine times out of ten. Even the girl is prepared for the chase. A light bow is slung at her side; over her left shoulder hangs a quiver gayly adorned with purple and gold; meant, we may perhaps guess, for ornament rather than use, for, huntress as she is, she has a woman's heart, and loves all beasts both great and small.
They have not waited long before Sciton comes up with the dogs in two leashes. There are four of them, not unlike the beagles of the present time, but somewhat stouter in build, somewhat bow-legged, and with curiously long ears.
"I have set the nets, sir," says Sciton, "one between the two rocks at the south end of the wood, the other in the old place by the spring. A hare has been there, I could see, not later than last night."
The party now moved forwards about a hundred yards, till they came to the edge of the wood. Here the dogs were uncoupled, and the search for game began, the animals, encouraged by Sciton, who acted as huntsman, searching the thick brushwood in a most methodical way. The party had not to wait long. In a few minutes' time a short bark was heard, soon taken up by other voices.
Diana be thanked!" cries the young man; "that was Warder's voice. He has found something, and something worth hunting. I never knew him taken in."
In a moment the hounds are in full cry, heading away, it may be guessed from the direction of their voices, for the wildest part of the wood.
"You had best stay here, Rhodium," says Lucius Marius: "the country yonder is too rough for you to follow. But very likely the hare will double back this way. Don't wait too long for us; if we are not back by the time that the sun has got behind the pine-tree yonder, make the best of your way home. I shall leave the hunting spear here. Don't trouble yourself about it. Some one shall come for it if we should not come back this way."
The girl was not in the least disconcerted at being thus left alone; nor did she seem likely to be dull. Her first care was to gather two large bunches of flowers, one of violets, blue and white, the other of anemones and narcissus. Her mother always expected her to bring home at least this spoil from her hunting. This done she took a scroll from a fold in her tunic, and seating herself under a lime-tree that was just bursting into leaf, prepared herself to read; for reading was at least as dear to her as hunting. She was soon engrossed in her book, one which she knew almost by heart, but of which she was never tired, the story of how Sparta and Athens, with more than half Greece either false or indifferent, turned back the hosts of the Persians.
She had been thus engaged for about an hour, closing her book every now and then to dream of what she might be if the old days could come back, when the silence was broken by a faint sound in the distance. The hunt, it seemed, was coming back. It grew louder as she listened till she could distinguish, she thought, the voices of her father and brother as they cheered on the dogs. But what is this that comes crashing through the bushes? Manifestly it is something much larger than a hare. Is it a stag, or possibly, for such visitants are not unknown even close to the house, a bear or a wild boar? She is not long left in doubt. A boar, one of the largest of his kind, with shining white tusks at least nine inches long, the bristles on his back erect with rage, his small eyes shining with a fiery green light, bursts out of the thicket. She sees that he is making straight for her, and there is just a hundred yards of open ground between the wood and the seat under the tree before he is upon her. The brave girl showed herself worthy of her race. An observer might have seen that her face was a little paler than its wont, but that her eyes flashed with a fire which no one would have thought hidden in their violet depths. She sounded the whistle that hung from her neck three times, the usual signal of urgent need. Then catching at her father's hunting spear, with an inward thanksgiving to the gods that had inspired him with the thought of leaving it, she prepared to receive the attack. Kneeling on one knee, she planted the end of the spear on the ground and rested the haft on her leg, holding it firmly with both hands, so that the point was about two feet from the ground. She had small hope of being able to stop the brute's charge, but she might check it for a few moments, and meanwhile, though it was but a slender hope, her whistle might have brought help. The boar was now close upon her, but she saw with delight that two of the dogs were in close pursuit. The animal, blinded with rage, charged full upon the spear. Held in the sinewy, practised hands of a hunter it might have pierced him to the heart; as it was, she had pointed it too high, and of course had not held it with sufficient strength, and it made only a slight wound in the monster's tough hide. But it did her a more useful service in a quite unexpected way. When the rush of the brute pushed aside the point, the shaft caught her on the side and threw her on the ground, somewhat roughly it is true, but at least out of the direct path of her enemy. The moment's delay was worth every thing. The dogs were now upon him, biting fiercely at his hocks. He turned first upon one assailant, then upon the other, and inflicted rather an ugly wound on Warder, who was older and less nimble than his comrade. Meanwhile, Rhodium, who had received no worse hurt from her tumble than a little loss of breath, recovered her spear and prepared to resume her attitude of defence. Happily it was not needed. Her brother, who was unmatched for speed and wind in all the country-side, had been but a few yards behind the dogs, and now appeared upon the scene. He had, indeed, a dangerous task to do, such as no hunter would venture on, save under the pressure of the most urgent need. He had no available weapon but his long hunting knife, and if he failed to drive that home at the first blow his own chance of life was small. Fortunately the boar was busily engaged with the dogs which were attacking him in front, and did not notice the hunter's approach. He seized the opportunity, and drove the knife with all his might behind the near foreleg. No second stroke was needed, as none certainly could have been given. The fierce brute, with one great shudder, fell dead upon its side.
Rhodium, now that the peril was past, felt the usual reaction, and could scarcely stand. Lucius, who had forgotten that girls are not made of stuff quite as strong as men, and that even for a man a first encounter with a wild boar is a somewhat exhausting experience, was admiring the magnificent proportions of his prey, when he heard a deep sigh behind him. Turning he saw that his sister was pale and trembling. Happily a remedy was at hand. A flask was then as now part of the usual equipment of the hunter. That which Lucius carried held a small quantity of potent wine of Chios, so prepared that it was nearly as thick as treacle and as strong as brandy. He poured a few spoonfuls of the cordial into the girl's mouth. It acted like magic, a result not to be wondered at when we remember that she had never tasted any stimulant before. Philareté had kept up for herself and her daughter the tradition of the best times of Greece, that wine was not for women. By the time her father had come up—and his anxiety had very nearly made him keep pace with his fleet-footed son—she was herself again, and could tell the story of her danger and escape with gayety and spirit. In fact it was he who now trembled and turned pale, though he tried to hide his feeling by a laugh and a jest.
"Well, my daughter, Atalanta herself could not kill the great boar without the help of the heroes. She gave him the first wound, just as you did to the beast yonder, and I dare say was glad enough to have a Meleager at hand to finish him. And now, as we have had enough hunting for the day, let us turn homeward."
A walk of about two miles brought the party to their home, a plain one-storied house, charmingly situated at the upper end of the valley. Philareté stood under the porch waiting for their return. Time had touched her too as lightly as her husband. The complexion of "roses and milk." was less brilliant than of old; the tell-tale sun might have showed a faint line or so upon her forehead; but her figure was as straight and almost as delicately outlined as ever.
"What has happened?" she cried at once, the keen mother's eye discerning at once that there was something unusual, perhaps because the gayety was just a little over-done.
Nothing new, except, if that is new, that you are the mother of heroes. We have been in the wars, but no one is the worse, except poor Warder, and he will do well I do not doubt. Come, Sciton, let the mistress see him."
Sciton, who had skilfully sewn up the poor beast's wound, and was now carrying him in his arms, brought him forward; and all were glad to see that the faithful creature was not too weak to lick Philareté's hand, and even to dispose of a little honey-cake which she produced from her pouch.
In the course of a few minutes the family was seated at breakfast. Some broiled fish of the trout kind, a pile of bread made into loaves of every variety of shape, a cheese very much like what is sometimes called cream but should be called curd cheese among ourselves, a dish of grapes dried in the sun, apples whose rosy cheeks were just beginning to wrinkle, and a great bowl of milk made up the meal. A small flask of wine was placed by the seat of the master of the house, but any one who had watched it from day to day might have noted that it was taken away, time after time, untouched. The story of the morning's adventure was duly told, not without some tremors on the part of the mother, who could hardly be satisfied that Rhodium had escaped unhurt from so terrible a foe. "My darling," she cried, "you must never run such a risk again!"
"Oh, mother," answered Rodium, "and you a Spartan! This is not like 'with your shield or on it.'"
"Hush! Rhodium," said her father, "you must not answer your mother. Still we won't keep you spinning at home, but we must see that your hunting is a little safer than it was to-day. The truth is, we ought never to have left you. But who would have thought to find a wild boar within a mile of the house! I have never heard of such a thing before."
The day was not to pass without further excitement. Breakfast was just finished when a young slave entered the room.
"My lord," he said, "a letter-carrier is here, who says that he has come from Tarentum, with a letter for the lady Philareté."
"Bring him in," said Marius.
The next minute the messenger was ushered in. He was a spare, well-knit man of thirty or thereabouts, so curiously sunburnt that he might have been taken for an Asiatic, though he was really a Spaniard from one of the northern districts. He had boots of untanned leather, with leggings of the same material, a short tunic like a kilt just reaching to the knees, and an upper garment somewhat resembling a Norfolk jacket, belted at the waist, with a pouch hanging over the left hip. He made a low reverence to each of the party as soon as he was in the room, and then, approaching Philareté, knelt on one knee and lifted the hem of her garment to his lips.
"Rise," she said; "and now for the message!"
The man took a small parcel from his pouch. It had a wrapping of purple cloth fastened together by a cord of the same color. This cord was tied in an elaborate knot. Untying this with skilful fingers he presented the enclosure to Philareté, again bending his knee as he did so, but returning to an upright position. It was a small roll of parchment, stained of a yellow color on the back. A cord had been passed through and round it, secured with a seal of clay that had been stained of a vermilion color.
After a look of inquiry to her husband, answered by him with a smiling nod, Philareté cut the cord and began to read.
Marius dismissed the letter-carrier, saying at the same time to the slave who was waiting for orders outside the door, "See that he has all he wants, and let me see him again a little before sunset."
Philareté meanwhile had been reading her letter with eyes that opened wider and wider with astonishment. "Come, dearest," she said to her husband, "and tell me whether I am in my senses or not."
The letter which was so astonishing her was written in Latin strongly tinged with Greek idiom. We shall take the liberty of giving it in English.
"Lucius Atilius, Notary of Tarentum, to the Honorable; Lady Philareté, greeting:
"It is my duty to inform you that the honorable citizen,, Marcus Plautinus, for many years one of the senators of this place, departed this life on the thirty-first day of January last. The said Plautinus, by a will which I myself prepared three years ago, and which was duly signed and witnessed as the law directs, has made this disposition of his property:
"To the city of Tarentum four hundred thousand sesterces (£3600), to be lent out, at the discretion of the senators, to good names, the interest thereof to be paid monthly and distributed to the poor.
"To the town of Brundisium the same sum to be invested and employed the same way.
"To the Lady Philareté, wife of Lucius Marius, all that shall be left after payment of the above legacies, whether of lands, houses, money, jewels, furniture, and all other property whatsoever.
"I inform you with the greatest pleasure that this inheritance is of very great magnitude. The said Plautinus died possessed of eighty million sesterces (£720,000), lent out on excellent security to owners of land, to merchants, and to certain municipalities, of which Brundisium is the chief, owing ten million sesterces secured upon the harbor dues.
"He also possessed fifty thousand jugera of land; the fourth part of a fleet of twelve merchant ships, the half of a dyeing factory in this town, and certain smaller properties of which you shall have full information in due time.
"It will be my greatest pleasure to assist you now and for the future in any thing that may concern this property. Meanwhile I would suggest that you should either come yourself or send some trustworthy person to look after various matters which must of necessity be referred to you.
"I send herewith a letter, written by the testator to yourself, which he wished to be sent to you after his death.
"Written from Tarentum, the 6th day of February, in the Seven Hundred and Fifteenth Year of the Building of Rome."
"What does it all mean?" said Marius. "Do you remember this Plautinus at Tarentum?"
"Yes, I think so," replied his wife. "I remember him as already an old man when I was quite a child. He was once a friend of my father's, but they quarreled on some matter of business and never spoke to each other again. I remember having heard that his mother was a Greek, and, I think, a Spartan, of one of the royal families. Perhaps we shall find something in his letter."
She opened the letter, and, after glancing over its contents, read it aloud. It ran thus:
"Marcus Plautinus to Philareté, wife of Lucius Marius, greeting:
"I have left you a great inheritance, because you are of the same race as my mother. She was the best of women, and there cannot fail to be something of good in you. I have not cumbered it with any conditions or burdens, deeming that when a man has lived his life he should loose his hold upon his possessions. Alive, I did not stint the gods of their due, nevertheless, I have not charged that property that once was mine but now is yours, with any due of tithe and offering (the charge of four thousand sesterces yearly to the Temple of the Twin Brethren which lies upon my house in the Forum lay thereon when I bought it, nor have I been able to redeem it). I charge you also to be bountiful while you live; but think not to win the favor of heaven by gifts of that which costs you nothing after you are dead. Be merciful to the poor; be lenient to your debtors; and, if it be possible, suffer not yourself to be corrupted by good fortune. I sometimes doubt whether I have done ill or well to you and yours in leaving you this wealth. May the gods turn it to good! Farewell!
"Written on the first day of January, in the third year of the 185th Olympiad."
The young people had begun to gather their thoughts, and were all excitement; Lucius Marius and Philareté had the look of people who had heard bad tidings. Whatever else the news might mean, it meant a great change, and in middle life changes are seldom welcome. The young man was the first to break the silence.
"When do we start for Tarentum? The mother must go to look after the inheritance, and we will go to look after the mother."
"Start!" cried his father. "Start, my dear boy! not till after the equinox; no, not for all the inheritances in the world. A month ago we might have gone unhurt, but now—You remember what the old merchant says in the play:
Besides there are many things to be settled here, for when we shall see dear Scyllus again who knows? "
That afternoon a letter was written, informing the notary that Philareté and her family intended to arrive at Tarentum as soon as possible after the beginning of April. The letter-carrier started with this in his pouch on the following day, carrying also with him twenty gold pieces securely fastened in his girdle. He had never before carried a letter to such good purpose.