After two more days of rest Lucius felt his strength perfectly restored, and was ready for the start, which it had been arranged that he should make on the following morning. He continued, of course, to be the guest of Spartacus, and was charmed with the ex-gladiator's courtesy, good sense, and good feeling. He was just about to take leave of his host on the night before his departure, when a message reached the general, informing him that some prisoners had just been brought into the camp. Spartacus left the tent to inquire into the matter, and in the course of about half an hour returned, followed by the party. It was evident that he was disturbed and perplexed in no common degree.
The captured party consisted of two women and a man. The younger of the two women was a girl who might have numbered about sixteen years. (She was really, as Lucius afterwards found, about a year younger.) Her dress, simply made and without ornament, but of the richest materials, her tall and graceful figure, and her noble bearing, showed that she was rich and well-born. Her beauty was remarkable. Her face was of the purest Greek type, save that the line of the nose and forehead was not quite as straight as might sometimes be seen. No one, however, would have hinted a fault in the delicate curve, from which an outline that might otherwise have seemed too severe gained a certain softness. The cheek was exquisitely rounded, though it still kept something of the fulness of childhood. The mouth was small, with a certain firmness about the lips which would have made a sculptor feel that she would have suited better as a model for a Diana than for a Venus. Her hair was tied in the usual Grecian knot, but her hasty journey had somewhat disarranged it, and a lock dropped over the collar of her purple mantle, against which it made, with its rich golden brown, an exquisite contrast. Her agitation as she stood, the object of all eyes, was evidently great, but it was caused, one might guess, as much by anger as by fear. Her bosom, which had a girlish delicacy of outline, rose and fell quickly, and her face was pale; but her eyes, which were blue and clear as sapphires, were fixed unflinchingly on the general's face, and were full of an angry light. Her companion was a stout, middle-aged woman, apparently an upper attendant. She was almost senseless with terror, and swayed herself helplessly backward and forward—a motion which she only interrupted from time to time to wring her hands. The man appeared to be of the same rank and of about the same age as the older woman. He was, in fact, her husband.
"Lady," said Spartacus in a kind and gentle voice, "will you tell me your name? "
"I am Philareté, daughter of Theron, a citizen of Tarentum."
"You were ill-advised to travel in this country except with an army for escort; and even then I do not know that you would have been quite safe."
"So they told me, but I could not choose but go."
"Why so, lady, if I may ask?"
"How could I stay when my father was ill, perhaps dying?"
"The gods reward you for your piety, my daughter! Meanwhile," he added in a low voice, "I wish one of them would condescend to give me a hint of what I am to do."
He marched up and down the tent several times with huge strides, biting his nails and muttering to himself. The girl's courage never seemed to falter for a moment. As for the older woman, she had sunk in a shapeless mass upon the ground. The man stood as he had done from the beginning, in stolid silence, his eyes fixed upon the girl.
Spartacus spoke again. His voice was now harsh and rough, not, as it seemed to Lucius, because he was angry, but because he felt an agitation which he could not conceal. "You cannot stay here. I cannot have women in my camp; much less such women as you. But how are you to go? I cannot send an escort with you, and you cannot go alone. Stay—I have it; if you have the courage of your looks there is a way. You must change your sex for the time. There is a lad here of about your height. His clothes will suit you to a nicety, and you must condescend to dress yourself up in them; and here is your escort," he went on, pointing to Lucius. "By the greatest good fortune in the world here is a Roman citizen, an exchanged prisoner who was going to leave the camp to-night or to-morrow morning under a safe-conduct. The lad of whom I spoke was to have gone with him as a guide. You must take the guide's place. These two, your attendants I suppose, must stay. There will be no trouble about them. What say you, lady?"
The girl was silent for a moment. Her bearing had greatly changed while Spartacus was speaking. The proud eyes were drooped to the ground; the pale cheek was crimson with shame. She cast a look, half inquiring, half imploring, at Spartacus and the young Roman. Something in their looks seemed to re-assure her. "I will do it," she said; "perhaps, if the gods are kind, I may see my father again."
"There is no time to be lost. Make yourself ready as quickly as a woman can. But I must first get you your clothes."
He stepped to the door of the tent and called, "Cleon." When the lad appeared he gave him some whispered directions, adding in a louder voice: "Be silent as the grave; you know that I do not speak in vain."
Cleon left the tent, and speedily reappeared carrying a bundle of clothing in his hand. This Spartacus handed to the girl, pointing as he did so to one of the sleeping compartments of the tent. When she was gone Spartacus turned to the young Roman: "I will go with you to the camp gate and see you safely out, and I will give you a safe-conduct which will take you past my outposts or any out-lying bands that may belong to my army. But you have others to think of. There is always a fringe of rascals hanging on to any business of this kind. There are fellows whom I have turned out of my army, and there are fellows who have never been in it, and they both use my name for their own villanous purposes. They rob and ravish and murder, and of course it is all put down to my account. Well, you'll have to reckon with these. You may escape them altogether; you are more likely to fall in with some of them. Get out of their way if you can; if you can't, I won't say to a Roman, Do not be afraid of them; but I say, Be hopeful. They are mostly great cowards, and happily they seldom go about in more than twos and threes. You told me, I think, that you were a pretty fair swordsman. Very good; that will serve you in good stead. Take this sword with you. You can use it or your own, as you think fit, though mine, I think, is a handier weapon. In any case it will be of no harm to have a spare one at hand. One hears of the things breaking just when they are most wanted; mine, I will warrant, will not break. I had it from a man who had been with Sertorius, and it is made from the very best Spanish iron. See now how splendidly tempered it is."
He took it and bent it round his neck till the point touched the hilt.
"And take this," he went on, giving Lucius a dagger. "If some fellow does get you down somehow, you will find this useful. And now sit down and write the safe-conduct, for, as you may guess, writing is not one of my arts."
Lucius accordingly sat down and wrote at the general's dictation:
"Spartacus, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Freedom, to all whom it may concern.
"You will take notice by this that you are to pass on, assist, and succor, Lucius Marius, a Roman prisoner duly exchanged, who bears this letter, and Theron, one of my servants, who is acting as his guide."
The general then dipped his signet-ring in the ink and marked the document.
Philareté by this time had finished her toilet, and appeared in the main tent ready equipped for her journey. She wore a tight-fitting tunic, girded at the waist with a leathern belt. Happily for her purpose it had long sleeves adapting it for the use of a wearer who might be exposed to weather. This had made it easier for her to retain her own under tunic, the superfluous length of which she had contrived to conceal by deftly fastening it up over her shoulder. She wore a short cloak of some woolen material. Long riding-boots, which would have been inconveniently large had it been necessary for her to walk, completed her costume. The two men stood dumb with astonishment, so complete was the transformation. Who was this slim handsome youth that stood before them? The girl's spirits had risen when she had boldly faced the inevitable. She said to Spartacus, with the first approach to a smile that had been yet seen on her features:
"And how will this do?—But I must first ask you to do the barber's office for me."
As she spoke she drew out of the knot into which her hair was gathered the golden arrow which kept it together. "Give this," she said, "to poor Theron, whose clothes I am taking so unscrupulously. He will think mine a poor exchange, but this perhaps will help to recompense him." As she spoke the mass of her hair fell, a wealth of rippling tresses, far below her waist, its golden hue glistening in the light of the lamp which hung from the roof of the tent. Lucius thought as he looked that he had never seen any thing so beautiful, and something seemed to whisper in his heart that this was an eventful day in his life. It was just upon his lips to say, "How monstrous to spoil such hair!" when Spartacus, who felt that there was no time for sentiment, stepped forward with a pair of shears, and with a touch that was gentle though decided shortened the beautiful tresses to such a length as a somewhat foppish young lad might wear. "There is one thing still to be done. You are too fair, lady, for the character you are to play. We must tone down this too brilliant hue."
He took a little flask containing a brown dye from a little receptacle of various articles of disguise; for disguise was an art in which the spies of Spartacus were particularly expert. A little of this applied with a napkin to the girl's face, neck, and hands still further completed her disguise.
"And yet another touch," said the general with a smile. "Theron has a budding growth on his upper lip of which he is not a little proud. A little charcoal will imitate it passably well—at least while it is dark; and it is only here, till you get out of the camp and beyond the outposts, where he is likely to be known as my servant, that you will need it."
The girl applied the charcoal, readily supplied for the emergency by a burnt stick from the fire, with skilful fingers. She had now regained her spirits and almost her gayety. Nature had given her, as an inheritance, it may well be, from past generations, a singularly fearless temper; and this perilous adventure began to seem to her more and more like a frolic.
"Do I satisfy you now?" she said with a playful salutation to Spartacus.
"Yes; we can do no more. And now not a moment must be lost; the farther you can get from the camp before it grows light, the better. The horses are ready, I hear, and we will start."
Lucius would have helped the girl to mount, but she sprang lightly into the saddle before he could reach out his hand, whispering at the same time: "Beware; remember that I am your servant." In this character she kept her place behind while Lucius rode on in front, Spartacus walking by his side. A few minutes brought them to the southern gate of the camp. At the sight of the general's well-known figure it was opened without question, and the party passed out. When they were out of earshot of the sentinels, Spartacus took leave of his two guests.
"Farewell, young sir," he said to Lucius; "we shall never meet again, but you will think kindly of the gladiator. Do your best for this maiden, and the gods reward as you deserve!" He laid his hand as he spoke with a kindly pressure on the young man's shoulder. Then turning to Philareté he said: "And you too, my daughter, farewell! If you can ever do a kindness to a slave you will repay me for any thing that I have done for you. The gods preserve you! If they fail, as they sometimes will, here is something that will help you in your need."
He put a dagger into her hand as he spoke.
"I have never asked you which way you wish to go, but I have no doubt that your safest and easiest plan will be to go to Heraclea. It is a strong place, and you can make your way from it by sea anywhere you please. You must go at first due east; keep the Great Bear on your left hand—that will be one guide if the night keeps clear, as it promises to do; and let this wind, which is, I know, due south, blow on your right cheeks—that will be another, unless it should change. It will hardly be that both will fail you. This road will take you nearly straight, but of course there are turns and branches where you will have to use your wits. You will strike the river Siris where it is not very large. When you have crossed it turn south. It is now an hour before midnight, and there are still six hours of darkness. Before they are passed you will, I hope, be safe. And now again, farewell! The gods keep you!"
He pressed the hands which the two reached out to him and turned away. They never saw him again. He had still victories to win, but the fate which he foresaw for himself was not far off. Before another year was out he fought his last battle near the head-waters of the Silarus, and fell covered with heaps of slain. Even in the confusion of that terrible rout some of the faithful followers whom his rare qualities had bound to him contrived to carry away and bury his body.
The two strange companions pursued their way. For the present no danger was to be apprehended. The outposts of Spartacus were extended as far as three or four miles from the camp. So far the general's safe-conduct was sufficient protection. Beyond these the utmost caution would be needed. The veteran centurion who commanded the farthest outpost gave them a word of warning. "There are scoundrels hanging about, sir," he said, "who don't care a speck of wool for one side or the other."
They were now on the highest ground over which their road would take them. Behind and somewhat lower, marked by the dim light of its watch-fires, was the camp which they had just left. Before was the darkness into which they were about to venture. It was a brilliantly clear night, just stirred by a breath of the mildest air. The height on which they stood gave them a view, almost unbroken, of the horizon on every side; and Lucius, who had been taught from his boyhood to watch the rising and setting of the stars with a care which we, used to other ways of reckoning time, can scarcely appreciate, felt that his chances of finding the way were excellent.
"It looks well for us, lady," he said. "I know the stars almost as well as I know the road up to my father's house. We shall make our way all right to Heraclea, which can hardly be more than thirty miles away, by daybreak. It will suit you, I trust, to go there; but the general seemed to leave us no choice."
"It will suit me excellently," she answered. "My foster-mother lives there, and I cannot do better. And now let us ride as fast as you think we can. I shall not cry halt!"
"Good!" said Lucius; "but mind, if we are pursued and my horse fails, or any thing else happens, you must go on. It is no good for both to perish:"
"Sir, you do not know me, or you would not say such a thing. I am a Spartan, and we are not accustomed to leave our friends."
"The gods grant that there be no need! And I have the best hopes. This beautiful night seems an omen of hope."
They rode on at a moderate pace. They had plenty of time for their journey, and it was necessary to reserve the strength of their horses for a great effort, if such should be called for. The words that passed between them were but few. The intense interest of their journey filled the thoughts of both of them, and seemed to make it almost impossible to speak on any other subject. Lucius too had to watch carefully the direction of the road by which they were journeying. Every mile or so it was necessary to choose between two ways, either of which seemed to have something to recommend it; and it was necessary to know precisely in what direction they had been moving before they reached the doubtful point.
Three hours' riding brought them to a spot where Lucius judged that it would be advisable to make a brief halt. A little rill here crossed the road, widening out into a shallow pool just below it.
"We must give the horses a short rest. We have time enough for that, and indeed even in time we shall lose nothing. I judge that it wants about two hours to sunrise. Do you see that star in the west almost straight behind us? It sets about sunrise at this time of the year, which is, as you know, about twenty-one days after the equinox; and I calculate that it is still about two hours' distance from the horizon. We will let the beasts have a mouthful of grass and a little—but, mind, a very little—water. It seems hard not to let the poor creatures drink their fill, but if we did we could get no speed out of them afterwards. But surely you need something yourself?"
Philareté at first protested that she wanted nothing, but was persuaded to eat one of the hard-boiled eggs with which Lucius had provided himself. The draught from his wine-flask which he offered she positively refused. "You remember," she laughingly said, "in Homer—you have read Homer, I suppose? "
"Yes," answered Lucius, "and have the Iliad this moment in my pocket."
"Well, you remember how Hecuba offers Hector the wine-cup, and he will not take it? You must let me follow his example; and indeed I have never tasted it."
Half an hour's rest was as much as Lucius deemed expedient. Mounting again they proceeded at the same steady pace as before. The road now began to descend considerably, and the travellers had little doubt that they were approaching the valley of the Siris. Once across this river they would, as Spartacus had given them to understand, be in comparative safety; and they now began to hope that they might reach it without being attacked. But this was not to be. They were about two miles from the river when they had to pass a little cross-road, which, as they glanced down it in going by, was made impenetrably dark by closely-overarching trees. But though they could see nothing they had themselves been seen. Their figures had shown clear and distinct against the sky to the watchman of a party that was bivouacked in the lane. Fortunately some little time was lost before the man could rouse his companions, and again before they could mount their horses. Our two travellers had got, therefore, a little start; and the stillness of the night enabled them to hear the clatter of the horses' hoofs as soon as their pursuers had turned on to the high-road.
"There is some one behind us," cried Lucius. "We must not wait to see whether they are friends or foes. Friends, indeed, I fancy, do not ride about at night."
They urged their horses at once to the top of their speed, and for a while at least had the satisfaction of feeling that the sounds did not come nearer. But three or four hours of riding, even at the moderate pace which they had used, had of course taken something from their horses' strength, and after a mile had been passed it was evident that the pursuers were gaining. The road, however, continued to descend. This was to the advantage of our travellers, as even a weary animal can go rapidly down hill, and they were consequently about two furlongs in advance when they reached the river-bank. Here an unexpected difficulty presented. Philareté's horse refused to take the water, and there was no time to coax it into doing so.
"Mount on mine," cried the lad in an imperious voice which silenced the objection that the girl was about to offer. She obeyed without a moment's delay. Happily the other horse was better trained, and entered the river without difficulty. The passage at first was easy enough, the water being well within the depth of both horse and man. Then it suddenly deepened, and both were compelled to swim. Lucius was a bold and strong swimmer. Putting the bridle round his left arm, and thus leaving his motions unimpeded, he struck out for the opposite shore. The distance was not great; but the landing seemed to be difficult if not impossible. A steep bank of ten or twelve feet in height confronted them. Lucius at once guessed what had happened. He had mistaken the direction of the ford. It lay obliquely down the river, and he had supposed it to be straight. Turning the horse's head down stream with a slight bend to the shore which he had left, he soon found his footing again, and had no more difficulty in making the passage. But he found on landing that he could no longer see the point from which he had started, and so could not tell what his pursuers were about. And how was he to resist them, if; knowing the place, as they probably did, they should keep to the true direction of the ford, and so make their way across? The situation was almost desperate. It was something, however, to know what was going on. The cliff, if it was any thing like a solitary rock, would give him an advantage if he had to defend himself against odds. Quickly slipping the reins of the horse around the bough of a tree, he hurried to the cliff, Philareté, with her clumsy boots, doing her best to keep pace with him. He was not a moment too soon. The foremost pursuer had already entered the water and was making his way across. Happily he made the same mistake as Lucius had done, and left the ford, swimming his horse to within two or three yards of the cliff before he saw that a landing was impracticable. Just as he turned, Lucius saw and seized his opportunity. A stone of some five or six pounds in weight happened to lie at his feet. He took it up, with a recollection, which made him almost laugh in the very crisis of the danger, of his favorite Homeric heroes, and threw it with all his force at the head of the swimmer. The man had not caught a glimpse of his assailant, and made no effort to avoid the missile. It struck him on the back of the neck with stunning force, and he slipped from his saddle into the water. His horse, losing the guiding pressure of its rider's hand, turned to the shore which it had left, which it reached as two other riders came up. The men were astonished and alarmed at the sight of the dripping, riderless animal. What had happened to their companion? Had a river-god dragged him from his saddle? For such things could still be believed by the vulgar. The darkness too, always a cause of terror to the ignorant, frightened them; and possibly their conscience, if a conscience the hardened ruffians still had, made cowards of them. They remembered, too, that they had no longer odds on their side. They were but two to two, and their antagonists would have the advantage of meeting them when they were struggling out of the water.
There were now some faint streaks of dawn in the eastern sky. Lucius and his companion, as they crouched behind the brushwood on the cliff, could just see the two horsemen as they stood motionless on the further bank, and could hear their voices in whispered consultations. If they should determine to attempt the passage of the river, it would be his policy to remain where he was on the chance of their coming within reach of such a missile as had disposed of their companion. That failing, he might either await their attack where he stood, or oppose as they came up from the ford, the end of which he could easily reach before them. Fortunately he was not called upon to decide the point. After a few minutes' hesitation the two men tied up their horses and walked down the side of the river, apparently looking out for their companion's body. Lucius, still keeping out of sight, followed down his side till he reached the ford, and from that point watched the brigands till they were out of sight. He then determined to push on for Heraclea, for which they would have to take some road tending south, that might seem to have sufficient traffic on it to be the approach to an important city. He was not long left in doubt. A gentle ascent of about a couple of miles brought them to just such a road as they were looking for. They had already made up their minds to follow it, when they heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Lucius deemed it prudent that they should hide themselves till they could see who the new-comers might be. He was soon satisfied. A flock of sheep was seen coming along the road, followed by eight or nine armed men on horseback. Laying aside his weapons he stepped out into the road, and addressing the person who seemed to be the leader of the party, briefly explained that he was an exchanged Roman prisoner on his way, with a companion, from the camp of Spartacus to the town of Heraclea. When he related his adventure at the river, the farmer (for such he turned out to be) asked him whether he could describe the man whom he had struck with the stone.
"As far as I could see," said Lucius—"but you will remember that it was very dark—he was a big man with a bushy head of hair and beard."
"Then, sir," said the farmer, grasping his hand, and shaking it heartily, "I congratulate you on having rid the country-side of the very worst villain in the south of Italy. He has harried the other side of the Siris, for he did not often come across, the gods be thanked, these ten years. They have sent out, I was going to say, legions against him, and to think that at last a boy should kill him with a stone! Pardon me, sir, for calling you a boy; after all you cannot be much more in years. But anyhow you will take rank from to-day as a man."
The rest of the journey was accomplished without any further adventure, and about eight o'clock in the morning the party reached the gates of Heraclea. Philareté's foster-mother, who had been a poor fisherman's wife when she nursed her, was now a lady of some importance in the town. Her husband now owned several vessels of his own, and lived in a comfortable house near the harbor. Eutimé (for this was her name) was at home, superintending the tasks of her two handmaidens, and was not a little surprised when a handsome boy, in wet and dirty clothes that made grievous stains upon her floor, threw himself into her arms. But the voice awoke her memory at once. The girl, whose courage and endurance had never failed when danger and fatigue had to be met, broke down when she found herself in a safe haven of rest. She burst into a passion of tears, and her foster-mother wept and sobbed for sympathy. Lucius thought it best to leave them to themselves, and finding the husband, told him the story of his adventure. This done he reported himself to the prefect of the town, with whom he found a hospitable welcome.
It was a matter of course that he should call next day and inquire after his companion. He was told that she had rested well and was much recovered, but he was not invited to enter the house. When this reception was repeated three or four days in succession, he began to be seriously disappointed and annoyed. It did not occur to him that the girl would hardly like to show herself in the boy's costume which she had worn during the night of their memorable ride, and that she had no female clothing but what she could borrow from her foster-mother or the slave girls. On the fifth day, however, Lucius was admitted, and soon forgot that he had ever been disappointed and vexed. He had half feared, though reproaching himself for his fears, to find a masculine young woman; and the blushing, timid girl who rose to receive him charmed him the more by the exquisite maidenliness of her looks. The eyes, which were but seldom raised, and then only for a moment, were soft and tender. Lucius could not have believed that they could blaze with courage if he had not seen the sight himself; her voice was sweet and low, and the lad found himself remembering with wonder the ring of daring that he had once heard in it. At first she was very silent and reserved, and left all the talking to her foster-mother. It was evident, however, that in her private talks with this lady she had not spared her praises of the young Roman. Eutimé fairly overpowered him with her thanks and blessings, and would not allow for a moment his modest disclaimers of merit. On taking his leave he was heartily invited to return.
A few delightful days followed. Philareté's anxiety about her father had been removed by good news, and Lucius. for the present at least, had no cares. He had sent messages both to Laüs, where his superior might still possibly be, and to Messana, which town he would probably make his landing-place in Sicily, announcing his arrival at Heraclea and asking for instructions. Till an answer could arrive his time was his own, and he asked for nothing better than to spend it in Philareté's company. The girl had been brought up with something of the Spartan tradition of freedom, and met him with a charming frankness that was yet entirely modest. The two soon became excellent friends. Lucius told Philareté about his family, his friends, his school-days, his plans for the future; and the young lady, who was the daughter of a prosperous merchant in Tarentum, was equally confidential. The good foster-mother spun or slumbered at her wheel as the two talked together. Sometimes an excursion on the water was planned, the old sailor being delighted to put all that he had at the disposal of the beautiful girl whom he loved as a daughter. When, at the end of a fortnight, Lucius received a message from the quæstor bidding him repair, without delay, to Messana, he felt that he should carry away with him from the charming Greek town an impression which he never should lose. Like most lads of his age he had rather looked down upon girls, and his feelings were still vague and dim; but there was now a glow and color in his life that were new to it, and he felt that they came from the eyes of the beautiful maiden whom he had guided across the Calabrian hills. He could not speak—indeed he did not know what to say; but when he went the day after his summons came, to say farewell, he felt that she must know something of what was in his heart. And she did know it. Few words passed between them, and they bade each other farewell, an on-looker might have thought, almost coldly. But when, that same evening, he stepped on board the ship that was to take him to Messana, a young slave put into his hand a small packet. It was a locket of gold, with a little curl of golden brown hair, and engraved in Greek letters upon it the two words, COURAGE, FAITH.