Edward Lucas White
Part 4 out of 12
I got from the stable to my villa without encountering any human being.
Outside I found Agathemer, as I had hoped I would, sunning himself on the
He was even more amazed than Ofatulenus and began to exclaim. I silenced
him and questioned him as to his health. He told me that his back was
entirely healed and that, while any effort still caused him not a little
pain, he was capable of the customary activities of his normal life.
I then told him why I had returned home. He listened in silence, except
that he here and there put in a query when I omitted some detail in my
When he understood my situation thoroughly he asked:
"And what do you propose to do?"
"I propose," I said, "to live here unobtrusively, visiting no one,
receiving no one and, by all the means in our power, arranging that as few
persons as possible may know of my presence here. There is not the
faintest scintilla of hope in my doing anything whatever. But if I merely
exist without calling attention to my existence there may be some hope for
me. No man accused as I am is ever allowed an opportunity to clear
himself: but it has often happened that, by keeping away from Rome for a
time, a man in my situation has given his friends a chance to use their
influence in his behalf, to gain the ear of someone powerful at Court, to
get an unbiassed hearing for what they had to say, to prove his complete
innocence and rehabilitate him. Vedia and Tanno will do all they can for
me. I have hosts of friends, not a few of whom will aid Vedia and Tanno as
far as they are able. By keeping quiet here I shall give my friends a
chance to save me, if I can be saved. If not, I shall here await such
orders as may be sent me, or my arrest, if I am to be seized."
"Is that your whole plan?" Agathemer queried.
"All," I said.
"May I speak?" he asked. "May I speak out my full mind?"
"Certainly!" I agreed. "Speak!"
"If you stay here as you propose," he said, "you will be arrested not
later than tomorrow and haled to your death, if not butchered at sight. At
most the centurion in charge might allow you an hour in which to commit
suicide. But if you remain here inactive your death is certain, you will
never see two sunrises.
"But I agree with you that your friends will do what they can and I
heartily believe that Opsitius and Vedia will move sky, earth and sea and
Hades beneath all, as far as their powers go, to save you. If they have
any chance of succeeding they will need more time than Perennis will give
them. If you stay here you will be dead before they can so much as lay
plans to gain them the ear of Saoteros and Anteros or some other Palace
favorite, let along groping through all the complicated intrigues
necessary to arrange for an audience with the Emperor when he might be in
a compliant humor.
"Your plan means certain death for you. I think I can save you if you will
put yourself in my hands. Will you?"
"I most certainly will," I said, "and without reservation. If you think
you can save me, tell me what you want me to do and I shall do it. I shall
follow your suggestions implicitly."
"Well," said Agathemer, "since remaining here means certain death and
since there seems a chance of final salvation for you through the efforts
of your friends and especially those of Opsitius and Vedia, since they
will need plenty of time to save you, if you can be saved, from every
point of view the right course of action is not merely inaction, not
merely hiding, but an immediate and complete disappearance. If you are
found you will be ordered to kill yourself or will be put to death. If you
cannot be found you cannot be killed or made to kill yourself. Since you
cannot be found you will stay alive until you can be rehabilitated with
the Emperor. If that cannot be done or is not done, at least you will be
alive. My deduction is, disappear at once and completely. You have many
times, for a lark, disguised yourself as an ordinary country proprietor or
small farmer and mingled with the crowd at a fair without being
recognized. What you have done for an evening in jest now attempt in
earnest and for as long a period as is necessary. And to begin with,
vanish from here at once and completely."
"But how?" I queried.
"If you are to disappear," said Agathemer, "why should I waste time in
explaining how. Let us disappear together, leaving no trace and let us do
it at once."
"But," I cried, "I could never consent to anything like that! You are not
in any danger. You will be manumitted by my will and you can live safely,
comfortably and at ease. Why should I drag you into I know not what
miseries, hardships and privations along with me? Tell me what to do and I
will proceed to do it. But do you stay here."
"If I told you my plan," said Agathemer, "you could not carry it out
alone. My scheme for your escape and vanishment pivots on my disappearing
along with you. If you agree, as I beg that you will, we shall both be
safe, I hope and trust; alive, able to return here if it can be arranged,
able to live elsewhere, somehow, if it cannot be arranged. If you refuse
your assent, I shall die with you or soon after you; I am resolute not to
"I agree," I said. "I am under your orders henceforth, not you under
Agathemer at once guided me into the house and upstairs to his rooms, for
he inhabited the guest-suite next my rooms, which had been my uncle's.
"The first thing to do," he said, "is for both of us to eat heartily, for
we do not know when we shall eat again. I have been choicy and whimmy
about my eating since I came back here and mostly my meals have revolted
me and I have left the _triclinium_ practically unfed, whereas I have
often been seized with imperative hunger between meals. I have an
overabundant supply of all sorts of tempting cold viands up here."
And, in fact, in the room he used as a reading and writing room, on a side
table, I found an inviting array of cold meats, jellies, cakes, and fancy
breads, with an assortment of wines. We ate till we could eat no more,
masticating our food carefully and taking wine in moderation.
Then Agathemer put up a liberal supply of bread and relishes in a small
linen bag, obliterated all traces of our meal and presence and went into
his dressing-room, where he stripped stark naked and rubbed himself down
with a rough towel, carefully disposing of his garments in his wardrobes.
From one of his tables he took a small silver case containing flint, steel
and tinder. Then we went into my rooms, where he stripped me, rubbed me
down, and disposed of my garments as he had of his. My wallet he took
pains to hide in the bottom of a chest, after emptying it and putting the
contents about so that each article was hidden in a different place and
none could be connected with the others or with the wallet. The little
horn case with flint and steel he retained.
The ante-room to what had been my uncle's bed-room and was now mine, had
on its walls trophies of hunting-spears and other weapons of the chase.
Agathemer selected two knives for killing wounded stags, dependable
implements, blade and shank one piece of fine steel, the handles of stag-
horn, fastened on with copper rivets.
With the bag of food, the two knives and the two tinder boxes we went up
my uncle's private stair to his library and reading room.
My uncle had had his own ideas as to nearly everything, usually much at
variance with other people's ideas. As to building his ideas, perhaps,
were less aberrant than his opinions on other subjects, but, certainly he
was as tenacious of them as of his other notions.
He held, in the first place, that sleeping-rooms on the ground-floor of
any house were unhealthy and a relic of primitive barbarism. He was
equally positive that, in the country, where there was ample room for a
building to spread out, it was folly to construct a dwelling of three or
more stories: such villas he railed at as exhibitions of silly
extravagance and of a desire to appear different from one's neighbors. His
villa, therefore, was of two stories only.
But, on the other hand, he loved fresh air, light, and wide prospects from
his windows; also he spent most of his daylight reading or writing, or
both. To gratify to the full all his chief tastes at once he included in
the plans of his villa a sort of tower, at the northwest corner, rising
well above the remainder of the structure, so that the floors of its third
story were on a level higher than that of the ridge-poles of the roofs of
the other parts of the villa and from the wide windows of its rooms there
was an unobstructed view over the tiles of the villa upon the farm-
buildings and beyond them across the fields to the woodlands and the
forested eastern and southern horizon as well as a fine outlook down the
valley northward and across it westward.
In this third story of this tower he housed his library and there he spent
most of his time. It was reached by three stairs. One was connected with
the villa in general and was used by him when going down to meals in his
_triclinium_, or when escorting visitors up to his library, as he
sometimes did with his particular favorites; and this stair was also used
by such servants as he might summon to him while in his library or as
might have to go up there to attend to it in his absence. The second stair
connected with his living-rooms on the second floor, which rooms looked
northwestward, as he detested being waked early by the rays of the rising
sun and loved basking in the mellow radiance of afternoon sunlight. The
third stair is not easy to describe and was one of my uncle's oddest
eccentricities. It was inside a sort of minor tower built against the
tower in which his library was set aloft, which minor tower extended far
up towards the sky, like a great chimney. What was the primary purpose of
this minor tower I shall explain later. In it, however, was a narrow,
cramped, spiral stair, unlit by any window or loop-hole, unconnected with
the second or first floor of the villa, opening at the top into the
library and at the bottom into a cellar, a cellar so far down the hillside
that its vault was below the level of the floors of the cellars under the
villa in general. This stair my uncle had had constructed to enable him to
apply his idea that a master could ensure the diligence of his tenants and
slaves only if he was known to be in the habit of coming upon them
unexpectedly at any hour of the day, only if they never knew when he might
appear and so were spurred to continual diligence for fear he might catch
them idling. For my uncle, though he habitually spent his entire daylight
in his library, might at any hour slip down this stair, slip out onto the
northwestern slope from the villa through a door locked to all but him and
of which he kept the key, or might slip out southeastward or southwestward
or northeastward, through similar doors on the ground floor, reached by
passages built between the many cellars of the upper level of cellars
under the ground floor of the villa. By this plan and by popping out
sometimes many times a day, sometimes after an interval of many days, he
kept his underlings alert.
My uncle's tastes in respect to books were as peculiar as in all other
respects. He had a really magnificent library, including all the Greek
poets, all our own, and other noble works of literature, such as the
historians in both the Greek and Latin tongues; the orators, and the
writers on painting, sculpture, architecture and music.
But he paid more attention to his personal fads. He had a creditable
collection of all works on divination, a similarly inclusive assemblage of
works on the theory of government, and an almost complete array of the
writings of the Emperors, from the Divine Julius to the Divine Aurelius,
whose meditations he extolled.
But he extolled above all other Princes and authors the Divine Julius.
"Caius Julius Caesar," he was never tired of saying, "was, in all
respects, the greatest man who ever lived on earth. He was also the
greatest author earth has ever produced. His poems, his mimes, his
comedies, his dramas, compare favorably with the best of their kind. His
accounts of his wars, whether against the Gauls or against his domestic
adversaries, are models of narration, of lucidity, of terseness and of
style. His astronomy is the best manual of that subject in Latin. His
works on Engineering surpass anything of their kind in clearness and
preserve for the benefit of future generations more useful and original
ideas than ever before came from the brain of any one man. His works on
divination, particularly that on Auspices, excel everything previously
written on that most important of all human arts.
"But his two books against Cato are his masterpiece. It is wonderful that
any man could have, in the space of eight days, written, with his own
hand, so fiery an invective, so compelling of the attention of any reader,
so completely annihilative of his antagonist's pretensions and
contentions, so convincingly establishing his own: to have made of it, in
the course of composition so rapid and totally unrevised, such a jewel of
Latinity, in a style not only pure and impeccable, but glowing and
charming, is astonishing. But it is downright miraculous that he should
have embodied in it the whole theory of government with all its principles
marshalled in their array with the most perfect subordination of
considerations of lesser importance to main principles. The two
Anticatones contain all that a ruler or any minister of a ruler need know
to guide him aright in his tasks. The First Book displays a complete
theory of internal policy, the Second of external policy. The two together
form a whole which is the most brilliant product of Rome's literary and
In accordance with his high esteem for Caesar's masterpiece he had
possessed himself of a beautiful copy of it, written by the celebrated
calligrapher Praxitelides, upon papyrus of the finest quality. It was in
seven rolls, each book of Caesar's text occupying two rolls, the index a
fifth, and the commentaries of grammarians two more. The rollers inside
the rolls were of Nubian ivory, their ends carved into pine cones, each of
the fourteen representing the cone of a different variety of pine. Each
roll was enclosed in a copper cylinder made accurately to be both
watertight and airtight. The seven cylinders were housed in an ebony case,
inlaid with mother of pearl. I have never seen any literary work more
When Agathemer and I were in the library he shut and locked the door at
the top of my uncle's private stair, as he had the door at the bottom of
it. The two keys he hid far apart, where neither was at all likely to be
found easily or soon. He had laid the knives, tinder-boxes and bag of food
on a table. He went to the case containing my uncle's most highly prized
treasures. From it he took the ebony box, opened it and took out two of
the cylinders. From these he removed the rolls embodying the grammarians'
comments. These rolls he put back in the box, shut it, returned it to the
case and closed the case.
The two cylinders he had laid on the table by the things which he had
brought up stairs. Inside each cylinder he placed a knife, a tinder-box,
and a selection of the food. The bag, with what remained of the food, he
tied up again. He handed me one cylinder.
"Now," he said, "we are prepared to escape. My idea is to leave no trace
of how we leave this villa, to have no one see us leave, to have nothing
with us which could identify us after we have left. We are to go down the
secret stair, crawl out through the big lower drain pipe, hide in the
bushes till dark, take to the woods, hide by day, creep northward by
night, and, if we succeed in reaching a district where no one would
recognize us, press on northward boldly, passing ourselves off as runaway
slaves if anyone encounters us."
"We'd be locked up as runaway slaves," I said, "advertised, sold to the
highest bidder if unclaimed and henceforth kept in slavery."
"I'm in slavery now," said Agathemer. "You, if kept in slavery, would at
least be alive and in no danger of being recognized."
"Let us go," said I.
We looked at each other and burst out laughing. We made a sufficiently
absurd spectacle, each stark naked, each holding a copper cylinder, as we
stood in that elegant and luxurious room. According to the fashion of the
time, which aped the ways of the young Emperor, we wore our hair
moderately long and as both had hair naturally curly, were perfectly in
style as to hair. Our beards, also, we wore clipped but not shaved, and
long enough to show a tendency to curl, as the Emperor wore his.
Our laugh over I gave a farewell glance about my little-used library. It
was then about the fifth hour. Agathemer gazing rather outside at the
landscape than inside at the room remained frozen stiff, staring northward
down the valley.
"We are barely in time," he said. "Mercury is with us and Fortune."
"Before I left Rome," I said, "I prayed to Fortune and sacrificed to
"Time well spent," he said. "Look there!"
Peering where he pointed I saw, where the road was first visible in the
distance, fully two miles away, a dozen or more horsemen, manifestly, even
at that distance, of military bearing: I caught, against the sunrays, a
gleam of crimson and a glint of gold; I conjectured a detail of Praetorian
Guards coming to arrest me or to put me out of the way.
Agathemer opened the upper door of the secret stair, which unlike most
doors, could be locked on either side, for my uncle always wanted to lock
the doors he used, whichever way he passed through them. After we had
passed this door Agathemer closed it behind us, and, as we stood in the
pitch dark, locked it.
We groped our way down the dizzying turns of the steep stair, Agathemer
going first and, at the bottom, whacking his knee-cap on the lower door.
This he unlocked and I found myself in a dim-lit cellar which I had
visited but twice before. Agathemer locked the stair-door behind us.
Now the minor tower, in which was the spiral stair, was built as a vent to
carry up into the air, far above the roofs of the villa, any miasma,
effluvium or exhalation from the drainage-water of the villa's baths,
kitchen and latrines. On the subject of harmful vapours from drains my
uncle was fanatical and to bear out his contentions he quoted from the
works of many celebrated philosophers and physicians, including those of
Pursuant with his notions as to how to get rid of the exhalations from
drainage and to make certain that no whiff of any such vapours ever found
its way up any offset into his kitchen or any latrine or bathroom, he had
built in this small high tower a shaft reaching its top and full six feet
square all the way up. At its bottom it widened out into a chamber fully
twelve feet square, carried down below the level of the cellar floor to
form a cemented tank, vat, cistern or cesspool fully as deep as it was
wide. The outfall from this trap was by a terra-cotta pipe of considerable
size, its opening at such a point that the drain-water in the trap never
reached higher than a foot or so below the level of the cellar floor. The
various drainage-pipes from different parts of the villa were so led into
this trap-room that their lower ends were always under water, so that no
exhalations could ever pass up any of them.
To the bottom of the trap settled the solid matter and sediment from the
drainage-water. The trap was cleaned by slaves so often that the ooze in
it never rose high enough to escape down the outfall pipe and befoul the
Bran Brook. For cleaning out the trap-room had an outer door, of heavy,
solid oak, carefully locked, which when opened enabled the slaves
entrusted with this task to dredge or bale or scoop out the filth and
convey it off to be used as garden manure. There was also an inner door,
as heavy and solid as the other, opening from the cellar, which enabled my
uncle to inspect the trap at his convenience. This door Agathemer opened.
I peered in and, after my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, descried
the opening of the outfall drain opposite me. It was large enough for lean
men like me and Agathemer to crawl through, but certainly barely large
enough. I could see, after some moments, the lower ends of the drain
pipes, two dozen or more, dipping into the foul liquid which filled the
cistern. It was very foul, for since my uncle's death the cleaning out of
the trap had been neglected and the ooze came almost to the top of the
Agathemer hunted about the cellar, found some bits of stone about the size
of apples, put them in the bag of food, tied up its neck again, and threw
it into the trap, where it sank out of sight. After it he threw in the two
Now was the moment for our plunge into the unknown. Agathemer's plan
implied that we must crawl a full furlong through the outfall drain. We
might be drowned, at any point of the crawl, by a rush of water from the
bath-tank. We might suffocate in the foul vapours of the drain. But,
plainly, Agathemer had pitched upon our only chance of escape, and we must
escape that way and at once or not at all.
Agathemer threw the two copper cylinders, one after the other, neatly and
deftly into the mouth of the outfall drain.
"Now," he said, "one of us must jump for that opening, and must cling to
it, his arms inside, his body in the ooze of the trap. The other must
stand on the narrow stone ledge inside this door, must contrive to slam
the door behind him so that it will shut fast and stay shut, must then, in
the pitch dark, jump for the shoulders of the other. If the drag of his
weight pulls the other down, both of us will drown in this deep trap in
the vile ooze. If the under man clings on, the upper must crawl over him
into the drain, pass back to him one of the cylinders and then we shall be
ready for our crawl down. Which goes first?"
"You choose," said I.
"Can you slam the door?" Agathemer queried.
I considered the door, the sill, the ledge inside, the jambs of the door,
its edges; stood on the ledge, went through the motions and concluded that
I could slam the door shut and not be knocked off into the ooze by its
impact or topple off because of the sill's narrowness. I said so.
"Then I'll go first," said Agathemer. "You are, even yet, far more
impaired in strength by your beating than I by my flogging. If I came
second you might not be able to hold on to the opening of the drain. I
know I can hold on, no matter how much filth is plastered over my head as
you crawl over me. I should not like the idea of defiling your head with
filth in crawling over you. Jump so that your clutching hands just reach
my shoulders; so that your weight will come on me gradually as you sink
into the ooze. Take your time about crawling over me. Be sure to pass back
to me one cylinder."
Then he drilled me as to the signals he would give me by pinching my feet.
When he was sure we both knew them he grinned a wry grin, and made a
whimsical boyish gesture with his uplifted right hand, took a careful
stand on the sill, balanced himself and jumped.
"I'm all right," he called back, "and ready for you."
Three times I tried to slam that door and failed to shut it. The fourth
time I found myself, my back against the shut door, my toes sticking out
over the edge of the stone sill, balanced in the pitch dark on a too
"Lean back against the door," Agathemer called, thickly. "If it gives it
is not shut."
It did not give.
I said so.
"Then no one will ever know how we got out," said Agathemer; adding: "Jump
when you are ready, but say 'now.'"
I jumped and my fingers caught his shoulders. He held on. My body sank
slowly through the ooze, which gave way with a sickening sliminess, until
I was in contact with Agathemer all the way to my toes. Then I began to
try to crawl up over him. I found it far harder than either of us had
All slippery as we were with the foul ooze it was a fearful struggle for
me to scramble up over him, I slipped back so often. After what seemed an
hour of effort and apprehension I had my head, shoulders and most of my
body in the drain and knew I had succeeded. I wriggled forward till I felt
my feet beyond the opening, then about as far ahead, pushing before me the
cylinders. When Agathemer touched my foot I pushed a cylinder past my body
and felt, with my ankle, that he pulled it back.
After that, escape was a matter of wriggling on down the drain. And
wriggling was not impossible, though excessively difficult and exhausting.
The drain was nowhere choked with silt, but all along was furred with ooze
and there was more than an inch of ooze along its bottom. In this,
hitching myself forward on my elbows by violent contortions, I slipped
back almost as much as I heaved forward.
Agathemer seemed to have as much trouble as I had and to find the effort
as exhausting. For he had instructed me that I was not to crawl forward
until he pinched my foot. One pinch was to mean "advance," two pinches
"rest." More than once he had signalled me to rest.
Our worst moment came somewhere near half way down the sewer. There I
encountered a cracked drain-pipe, the ragged edge of the broken terra-
cotta projecting into the sewer, its point toward me. I wriggled my
shoulders by it, though it gouged my shoulder-muscle on that side; but, at
my hips, it stuck into me so that I could not get past it.
Agathemer, behind, kept pinching my foot, signalling for me to go forward.
I bellowed explanations, but could not suppose that he could hear them in
that horrible tube. But he either heard or guessed, he never could be sure
which. Anyhow, he felt that we must get forward or perish. In desperation
he sunk his teeth into the soft part of the inner side of the sole of my
left foot. The pain made me give a convulsive wriggle and I scraped past
the obstacle, tearing my hip badly in getting clear.
From there on we wriggled frantically till I could see ahead a round patch
of light at the lower outfall of the drain.
It seemed an age before I reached the opening, but reach it I did. I lay
there, my head just inside, panting and guzzling clean air in great
gulping gasps. Agathemer pinched my foot. I slipped out into the oozy pool
below the outfall, slid out as quietly as I could and kept myself
submerged up to my chin, clutching my cylinder with one hand, pulling
myself clear of the drain and keeping my head out of the drainage by
holding to the stem of an alder bush growing by the brook's edge.
I came to rest, the sunlight dazzling my eyes, though the outfall was
shaded by willows above the alders, and looked for Agathemer. He, his face
purple, kept his head inside the sewer and I could see him suck in the
clean air in long gasps as I had.
At that instant there was a squawking above us and, through the alders,
came, quacking and flapping their wings, a hundred or more of my uncle's
valued white ducks. Their alarm made me peep through the alder stems. I
saw, not ten yards from my face, the legs of horses, heard their hoofs
thud on the roadway, descried men's feet against their bellies, recognized
the gilded edges of the boot-soles, the make of the boots, the gilt scales
on the kilt-straps, the gilded breast plates, the crimson tunics and
short-cloaks, the gilded sword-sheaths and helmets. There, just above us,
was passing the detachment of Praetorian Guards sent to arrest or despatch
They clanked by us, never suspecting our proximity, though the ducks
resented our presence in their favorite pool and quacked at us
protestingly. They continued, in fact, to quack at us most of the time
until sunset, so that both of us were in an agony of dread for fear that
some passer-by might notice their voluble expressions of displeasure and
might take a notion to investigate to discover what was exciting their
But no one was attracted by the ducks' noise and, if anyone passed up or
down the road we, where we were, did not know it.
We talked, at intervals, in whispers. Agathemer said that he had been
barely grazed by the broken drain-pipe and hardly noticed his scratches.
I, on the other hand, was in great pain from the gouge along my hip, and
hardly less pained by the tear in my shoulder. The water, under which I
had to keep up to my chin, dulled the pain of my wounds, but chilled me
till my teeth chattered, though the weather was hot; so hot in fact, that
the sunrays on my head seemed to scorch my hair, even through the willows
and alders. I was devoutly glad when the sunrays became more slanting and
the daylight began to wane, and the ducks, still quacking protestingly,
It was fully dark before we dared to leave our hiding-place and attempt
the risky venture of essaying to reach a safer shelter or refuge in the
forests without attracting the attention of any dog at any of the several
farmsteads which we must pass.
Agathemer led and I followed, my teeth chattering and the night insects
biting me severely. Hugging our precious copper cylinders we waded more
than waistdeep in the water, up the Bran Brook, sometimes all but
swimming, as we skirted some of the deeper pools. There was no moon and we
could see but little by the faint starlight. We had to go slowly, as we
could not swim and keep hold of our cylinders; and must not risk losing
one if Agathemer went over his head in a deep pool. It seemed to me that
we had been threading the curves of the brook for at least two hours when
I began to feel as if something were wrong. Even in the dark I had been
aware of a sort of recognition of each pool, shallow, riffle, bend, bank
or what not. Now, gradually, it came over me that I was among surroundings
as unfamiliar as if I had not been in Sabinum, or even in Italy.
I caught Agathemer by the arm.
"Where are we?" I whispered.
"Don't talk!" he warned.
But I insisted; for, as we were by now no more than knee-deep in the
water, I knew we must be well up towards the headwaters and it came over
me that we had not turned off anywhere as sharply as we should had we
turned up either the Chaff or the Flour.
"Are we going up the Bran?" I queried.
"Precisely!" Agathemer breathed.
I almost spoke out loud.
"This," I said, "is the last place on earth I'd expect you to guide me
"Precisely," he repeated, "and it's the last place on earth anybody else
would expect me to lead you to or you to be in, by any chance; therefore
it's the last place in Italy where any one will look for you; therefore it
is, just now, the safest place in Italy for you. Come on, I know every
stone of this brook."
I followed him. His logic was good, but, on Ducconius Furfur's land I felt
hopelessly lost and overwhelmed by despair.
We had not gone far from where I had forced Agathemer to reveal his ruse,
when he turned round and whispered:
"This is the place. Here we leave the water. Follow me."
I was dimly aware of a blacker blackness before us, as of a big, tall
rock. This we skirted and then stepped out of the brook towards the left.
There we stepped into deep drifts of dead leaves.
"Here is bedding," said Agathemer, "such as Ulysses was content with after
his long sea-swim to the island of the Phaeacians. Perhaps we can get
along in such bedding."
Naked as we were we burrowed into the dead leaves, and, after a bit I felt
less chilly, though by no means warm.
Agathemer took from me the cylinder I had been carrying; opened one of the
two, a matter of some difficulty, as the top was so tight; sniffed at it,
and took from it some morsels of food: a bit of cold ham, a bit of cold
fowl and a bit of bread. These I ate, chewing them slowly. At the same
time he ate, as slowly, an equal share.
After eating we tried to sleep. I was too weary and drowsy to keep awake,
and too cold and too much in pain from the scratch on my shoulder and the
gouge on my hip to be able to sleep long. I got some sleep before dawn,
hut not much.
Fortunately for us the night had been clear, warm and windless. Even so we
suffered severely with the cold; since the chilled air, of course, rolled
down the hillsides into the hollow along the bed of the brook, till the
valley was filled with thick mist and every leaf and twig dripped with
moisture. Through the mist the dawn broke pearly gray at first and then
iridescent; and, when the first sunrays penetrated the white haze and
gilded every leaf-edge, turning the tree-tops to gold and making every
waterdrop a diamond, no lovelier morning could be imagined.
The trees about and above us were mostly beeches, with many chestnuts and
a few plane-trees and poplars. We were in a clump of willows with thick
alders under them, so that, even with no other protection, we could not
have been seen from any distance. And we were most excellently protected,
being on a little island where the brook forked and flowed, three or four
yards wide and nearly a yard deep, round a huge gray rock, fully fifteen
yards across and nearly seven yards high, a bulge of worn stone, shaped
much like half a melon and almost as symmetrical. And, as one might lay
half a melon, curve up, and then split it with one blow of a kitchen-
knife, so this great rock, as if cleft by a single sweep of a Titan's
sword, was rent in half and the halves left about four yards apart. The
fracture was clean and smooth, except that a piece about two yards square
had cracked loose at the ground level from the southern half and lay
bedded in the mud, its top a foot or so above the earth, leaving in the
face of one rock a rectangular niche about a man's length each way, in
which cavity two men could shelter from the rain.
As soon as it was light enough to see I was for crawling into this little
cavern. But Agathemer restrained me.
"The face of the rock," he said, "would feel cold as ice to your skin. You
have, even if you do not realize it, somewhat warmed the leaves next you.
For the present we are least uncomfortable where we are. The dawn-wind
cannot get at our hides while we are under these leaves. Keep still."
He kept himself as much as possible under the leaves but wriggled nearer
the altar-shaped bit of rock. Half-sitting, half crouching by it, little
besides his head out of the heap of leaves in which he was, he opened both
cylinders and laid out on the top of the stone what food was in them. This
he divided into six equal portions, two he put back in each cylinder. We
munched interminably, making every morsel last as long as possible.
The food revived me, and even before the dawn-wind had died, the rays of
the sun began to make themselves felt. I began to be restless; Agathemer
again checked me.
"Keep still," he commanded. "As soon as the sun has dried the dew off the
leaves I can make you more comfortable. Just now we are best as we are."
I kept under the leaves, but I peered about. At each end of the cleft
between the two halves of the rock I could see the brook brawling by among
the worn stones. The line of the cleft was directly across the bed of the
brook; and, along the cleft, past the detached, almost buried, altar-
shaped stone, I descried, barely discernible but unmistakable, such a path
as is made by the bare or sandalled feet of even one human being following
daily the same track. I conned it. I judged that it was many, many decades
old and had been trodden daily for a lifetime or so, but that it had been
totally disused for at least a year and possibly for more.
I pointed it out to Agathemer and asked him about it.
"That," he said, "is part of what used to be the shorter and more used of
the two paths from Furfur's villa to Philargyrus's farmstead. Naturally,
since the Philargyrus farm has been detached from Furfur's estate and has
become part of yours, there must be very little intercommunication between
the farm and the villa and I judged that any slave going from one to the
other would avoid the more obvious path and sneak round the longer way.
Therefore I judged it safer to locate here, as this path is probably
"How did you know of it?" I queried.
Up to his neck in leaves, arms under too, only his head out, Agathemer
blushed all over his handsome face.
"Before Andivius won the suit," he said, "while Philargyrus was still
Furfur's tenant, I had an impassioned love-affair with one of Furfur's
slave-girls. We used to meet here, at first on moonlit nights, and, later,
when we each knew every inch of our way here and home again, more often on
moonless nights. I always waded up and down the bed of the brook, so as to
leave no scent for any dog to follow. I know this nook well and thought of
it the instant I began to plan an escape for you."
I said nothing.
"It is barely possible," he said, "that some one may use this path, even
if no one has passed along it for months. That is just the way luck turns
out. I mean to be invisible if anyone does come. There was no likelihood
of anyone coming by at dawn, and no possibility of doing anything if
anyone did come. Now it is warm enough for me to pick off the outer layer
of dew-wet leaves from whatever heaps of dead leaves are hereabouts. I can
gather the dry leaves into that little grotto. We can lie on a bed of
them, wrapped up in them we can cower under them, we can even pull our
heads under and be invisible if we hear footsteps approaching. You keep
He then stood up and went off. After a time he returned with a great
armful of leaves, which he threw into the niche. After many trips he had
the niche almost full of fairly dry dead leaves. By this time the warmth
of the sun was making itself felt and I stood up and stretched myself. I
did not feel weak, but my shoulder and hip, where the drain-pipe had torn
me, and the sole of my foot, where Agathemer had bitten me, were decidedly
painful. Agathemer, solicitously, steadied me on my feet and led me to the
streamside. There I seated myself on a convenient rock and he bathed my
foot, hip and shoulder. There was no sign of puffiness or heat in any of
the three wounds, but all three were raw and sore. We had nothing with
which to dress them and Agathemer merely dried them as well as he could by
Meanwhile, even in my misery and despair, even hungry, weak and cold and
in pain as I was, I could not but feel a gleam of pleasure at the
enchanting beauty of the woodland scene about our hiding place. I gazed up
at the bits of blue sky between the sunlit boughs, at the canopy of green,
at the tenderer green of the underwood, at the carpet of grass, ferns,
sedges and flowering plants which hid the earth and I almost rejoiced at
Agathemer led me back to our retreat and ensconced me in the nook of rock,
on a soft deep bed of dry dead leaves, under a coverlet of more. Into the
heaps he burrowed. The warmth of his naked body warmed me a trifle. There
we lay still till dark. I slept, I think, from about noon till after
While we could still see, Agathemer, making me keep flat as I was,
wriggled out of the leaves and pushed them aside from my head and face. We
then ate half our remaining food. As it grew dark Agathemer expounded to
me his plans.
"Last night," he said, "there was no sense in doing anything. Hiding and
keeping out of sight was the best thing we could do. But tonight I must
try to steal what we need most. The risk must be taken. If I do not return
you will know I have done my best. But I feel confident of returning
before midnight. I know every farmstead on Furfur's estate and all the
dogs know me. On your estate I not only know the dogs, but I have just
finished an inspection and I know the location of every dairy, smoke-
house, larder and oven, I might almost say of every loaf, cheese, ham,
flitch, wine-vat and oil-jar on the estate, not to mention every store-
room where I might get us hats, tunics, sandals, quilts and what not.
"If I cannot do it otherwise, as a last resort I'll wake Uturia and tell
her of our situation; she will help and will be secret. But I'll not
resort to her if I can help it. Her most willing secrecy will not be as
safe as her ignorance of our fate. No torture could surmount that."
I wanted to say "Farewell," but restrained myself and uttered a not too
"Good luck and a prosperous return!"
After that, I lay and quaked till long past midnight. Then, I seemed to
hear sounds which I could but interpret as heralding Agathemer's approach.
In fact he soon spoke to me from close by and I heard the unmistakable
blurred noise made by a soft and yet heavy pack deposited on the ground by
my bed of leaves.
"I've nearly everything I wanted," said Agathemer. "Keep still while I
untie the quilt I carried it all in, and find things in the dark."
Presently he said:
"Stand up, and I'll try to dress you."
In the dark his hand found my hand and he guided me so that I extricated
myself from the heap of leaves without hitting my head on the jutting roof
of rock and without slipping on the wet earth or stumbling from weakness.
In the dark he slipped over my head a coarse, patched tunic. (I could feel
against my skin the rude stitching of the patches.) Then he wrapped about
me a coarse cloak, also much patched.
"Now," he said, "stand where you are till I make some sort of a bed for
He fumbled about in the dark, grunting and making, I thought, too much
rustling in the leaves. Presently he said:
"I've laid a doubled quilt on the leaves and packed them down. Give me
your hand and I'll arrange you on it. Then I'll cover you with another
He did, deftly and solicitously.
I began to feel warm for the first time since I had sunk into the ooze of
Agathemer fumbled about in the dark for a while and then came near again
and felt me, making sure where my head was. He made me sit up.
"Smell that!" he said, "and catch hold of it."
I smelt ewe's-milk cheese and my fingers closed on a generous piece of it.
Then, he put into my other hand a big chunk of bread, not yet entirely
I bit the bread. It was Ofatulena's unsurpassable farm bread, half wheat
flour and half barley flour and at that more appetizing and flavorsome
than any wheat-bread I ever tasted.
"There is plenty for both of us," Agathemer said, "eat all you want, but
eat slow and be careful not to bolt a morsel."
He sat down by me and we munched in silence.
By and by he asked:
"Do you want any more?"
"No," I answered, "you judged my capacity pretty well. I am filled up."
"Don't lie down," he said, "I have a small kid-skin of wine."
We laughed a good deal before he made sure precisely where my mouth was
and put into it the reed which projected from one leg of the kid-skin. I
drank in abundance of a thin, sour wine, such as we kept for the slaves.
It gave me new life.
After that draught of wine I composed myself to sleep and went to sleep at
once. I knew nothing of Agathemer's doings after that and did not feel him
when he lay down by me. I slept till broad daylight.
When I waked Agathemer gave me a moderate draught of wine and all the
bread and cheese I chose to eat: also a handful of olives. Then he
displayed the total of his plunder: hats, with brims neither too broad nor
too narrow, the best pattern if one was to have only one hat, worn and
battered enough to suit us as being inconspicuous, yet nowhere torn,
broken or slit; a tunic and cloak apiece, about the oldest and most
patched in my villa-farm storage-loft, such as Ofatulena would hand out to
newly bought and untried slaves; three quilts, as bad as the cloaks and
tunics, yet, like them, fairly serviceable and far from worn out; the kid-
skin of wine, a whole loaf of bread and the remains of the one we had been
eating, what was left of a cheese and another whole; a little, tall,
narrow jar of olive oil; a small bag of olives; a tiny box full of salt,
the box of beechwood and about the size of a man's three fingers; a
whetstone, a pair of rusty scissors; two small beechwood cups; a little
copper dipper; some rags, old and worn, but perfectly clean; and a
"In the name of Dionysius!" I cried laughing, "why the flageolet?"
Agathemer laughed also.
"My hand," he said, "came on it in the dark while feeling for the
scissors. I could not resist bringing it. It is small, it weighs little,
it will not add to our burdens and, once far away from here, I can play on
it when we are lonely and so cheer us up."
"You appear," I said, "to have been able to help yourself as you pleased."
"No more trouble," said he, "than if I had walked out of the villa night
before last and poked about the out-buildings to see whether everything
was as when I inspected them by day; only three dogs barked, and they
quieted down almost immediately. I am sure I roused no one and am ready to
wager that every slave was as sound asleep as if I had not been there."
I lazily readjusted myself on my quilt and leaf mattress, tucking my quilt
close about me. The morning was still, warm and cloudy, not a ray of
sunshine visible, even for a moment, since sunset the night before.
"Time to dress your wounds!" said Agathemer.
He brought from the brook a cupful of water, and, with the smallest of the
rags, solicitously bathed the gouge on my hip. He pronounced it healing
healthily. He then anointed it with olive oil. The bathing and anointing
comforted me greatly. Then, he similarly treated my shoulder and foot.
When I was composed and covered he said:
"Now for the scissors!" and he sharpened them on his whetstone until he
felt satisfied that he could get them no sharper, then he clipped my hair
and beard, as closely as those scissors could. Then I sat up and clipped
him, awkwardly and unevenly, but effectively.
Hardly were we shorn when drops of rain began to patter on the leaves
above us. Agathemer wrapped his bread in the rags, put it between the two
hats and tucked it under the leaves in one inner corner of the little
grotto; bestowed the other things on it, or by it or in the other corner;
and then lay down by me and pulled his quilt over him, then managing to
cover both of us with leaves so that no trace of our presence would be
visible to any passer-by, yet we could breathe comfortably behind or under
our screen of leaves.
It rained all day, a sluggish drizzle, soaking the earth, but not
accumulating enough water on it to produce visible trickles flowing on the
surface. The air was perfectly windless, so that no rain blew in on us as
we lay; we were damp, but not wet.
Before dusk the rain ceased and a brisk, warm wind shook the drops from
the trees. We ate and Agathemer declared his intention of going on another
raid about an hour after dark.
"What are you after this time?" I queried.
"More food," he said, "all I dare steal. I must not steal too much from
any one place. I'll wager my pilferings of last night will pass, not
merely unheeded, but entirely unnoticed. Ofatulena herself is so scatter-
brained that she will never be sure that two loaves vanished from her
oven; I doubt if she will so much as suspect any loss. But I cannot repeat
that depletion of her baking tonight; she might talk. She is not quick-
witted enough to conjecture the truth, if she did her utter loyalty would
keep her mute; she'd impute the theft to some slave and likely as not have
an investigation and advertise her loss. If there happened to be a crafty
inspector with the Praetorians and if they have lingered, they might
suspect the truth, beat the woods for us and capture us. So I must take a
little here and a little there.
"Then I want another quilt for myself, and shoes for both of us. Is there
anything else you can think of?"
"Manifestly!" I said, "we need a slave-scourge, a branding-iron with the
long F for 'runaway', [Footnote: _Fugitivus_. The short F stood for _fur_,
"thief."] a brazier big enough to heat the branding iron and enough
charcoal to fire it once."
"What, in the name of Mercury," he whispered amazedly, "do you want of a
branding-iron and a scourge?"
"We are to pass as runaway slaves, if caught, according to your outline of
a plan," I said, "we had best do all we can to be sure of being thought
ordinary runaway slaves. Few slaves travel far from their owners' land
when they first venture to run away. We should be branded, to seem old
"As for you, thanks to Nemestronia, your back is all it should be to help
play the part we intend. My back has no scars. You must scourge me till I
have as many as you."
In the late dusk, inside that grotto, under the dead leaves, I could see
the horror on his face.
"I scourge you!" he cried aloud.
"Hush!" I admonished him. "Scourged I must be, if I am to hope to escape
Caesar's agents as you have cleverly conceived that I might. Steal a
scourge and a branding-iron tonight, and let us be ready for the road as
soon as may be; we cannot set out northwards till my back is healed and
the brands on both of us, too."
We wrangled and argued till it was past time for him to start on his
expedition. I finally declared that, unless he fetched a scourge and a
branding-iron, I would, at daybreak, walk back to my villa and give myself
up to the authorities. At that he consented.
I went to sleep soon after he was gone and never woke till daylight.
I woke from a troubled sleep, haunted by nightmare dreams, woke aware of a
general discomfort, misery and horror, and of acute pain in my wounds. I
seemed to have a good appetite and ate with relish; but, hardly had I
ceased eating, when I appeared definitely feverish and the pain in my foot
I told Agathemer how I felt and he examined my wounds. All three were
puffy, red, even purplish, and with pus at the edges. It was then and has
always been since a puzzle to both of us why wounds, seemingly healing
naturally when unwashed and undressed, should inflame and fester after
careful washing and dressing.
My fever was not high, but enough to make me fretful and irritable. The
day was very hot and still. I made Agathemer show me what spoil he had
brought and at once ordered him to light the charcoal brazier, heat the
iron and brand me. He demurred.
"If you feel feverish," he said, "the pain of the branding will double
your fever and, if you have three inflamed wounds, the brand will fester
to a certainty. You'll probably die of it, if I brand you."
"As well die one way as another," I said. "If we stay here we are certain
to be discovered sooner or later. Our only hope is to get away as soon as
may be. That cannot be until my back and both brands heal enough for us to
tramp northward. Your back is healed, so your brand will heal promptly. I
have to get over these wounds and the branding and scourging too. We must
He argued, but I was half delirious and wholly unreasonable. I again
threatened to go straight to the villa and give myself up unless I had my
Agathemer, distraught and aghast, yielded. I argued that in the early
haze, the little trifle of smoke from the charcoal could not attract
notice. He complied. He had trouble getting a light from his flint and
steel, but he succeeded, and, when the charcoal caught, set the little
brazier close to our nook and fanned it with a leafy bough to disperse the
smoke. When no further trace of smoke appeared and the charcoal glowed
evenly, he put the iron to heat.
When it was hot enough he suggested, again, that we put off branding me
till next day, and that he brand only himself. I insisted on his branding
me and branding me first.
To my amazement, when he had bared my shoulder, set me in position, and
snatched the iron from the brazier, I shrank back with a sort of weak
Agathemer instantly replaced the iron in the brazier and turned, staring
at me in silence.
Instantly I had a revulsion of resolution, of obstinacy, of delirious
rage. I reviled him. I commanded, I threatened.
Coolly he bared his left shoulder, knelt by the brazier and made as if to
"You can't do it," I protested, "you'll scar yourself to no purpose and
anyone will know the mark is not a brand. Fetch the iron here and hand it
He did, deftly. Without a wince or squeak he, kneeling and leaning, held
his shoulder to the white-hot iron. I could not have done better if I had
been well and standing, instead of delirious and sitting, wrapped in a
quilt, in a bed of dried leaves. I set the iron fair on the muscle of his
shoulder, held it there just the brief instant required for branding
without injury and snatched it away without any drag sideways.
After witnessing the stoical heroism of my slave I could not but insist on
his branding me and was exalted to the point of nerve-tension at which I
bit in my half-uttered scream as the heat seared my flesh. Agathemer
dressed each brand with an oil-soaked rag and we composed ourselves to
hide until dark.
As on the days before, no one passed us and, indeed, as far as I could
judge, no living thing came near us, except a hare or two. We kept close
under our heap of leaves, inside our niche of rock. But this time I did
not snuggle inside my cloak and quilt; I cast off, first the quilt, then
the cloak, and lay in my tunic only, panting and gasping. For it was a
very hot, still day, and my fever increased, increased so much, in fact,
that I could stomach but little food at dusk and took but little interest
in anything; in my condition, in Agathemer's brand, in his departure.
His return, late at night, was to me only one incident of a sort of
continuous nightmare: I was half asleep, wholly delirious and every
impression was as the half-delusion of a half-waking dream. I was barely
half-conscious, yet I had sense enough to lie still, except for writhing
and turning over, and to restrain myself from singing or screaming.
At dawn I ate even less than at dusk, but I did eat something. Eating
roused me enough for me to insist on Agathemer's stripping me and
scourging me. He felt my forehead, my wrists and my feet, and shook his
"You have a terrific fever," he said, "and four festering wounds, for the
brand-mark is festering already; you are in danger of death anyhow as it
is; you will never recover from a scourging."
I, with all a delirious man's unreasoning, insisted and again threatened
to give myself up.
The sun was about two hours high, gilding the treetops and sending shafts
of golden light through the still wet foliage. One such shaft of sunshine
shot between the two halves of the great rock that sheltered us and fell
on the table-topped fragment of stone, like a nearly buried altar, which
lay midway of them.
Writhing and groaning I slipped out of my quilt, cloak and tunic, and,
groaning, I crawled to the flat-topped stone. Face down on it I lay, my
chest against it, my knees on the ground, my arms outstretched, my fingers
gripping the far edge of the altar-stone.
So placed I bade Agathemer lay on with the scourge.
"Flay me!" I ordered. "I should be torn raw from neck to hips. The worse I
am scored and ripped the more protection the scars will be. Lay on
furiously. If I faint, finish the job before you revive me."
He began lashing me, but hesitatingly; I reviled him for a coward; but the
pain, even of the first strokes, was too much for me. I could feel the
sweat on my forehead, my finger nails dug into the sides of the stone, its
sharp edge cut into the soft inside of my clutching fingers, I bit my
tongue to keep from shrieking, yet my voice, as I taunted Agathemer and
railed at him, rose to a sort of scream.
He laid on more fiercely. After a dozen blows or more a harder blow made
me groan. At that instant I was aware of a shadow above me, of a human
figure rushing past me, and the blows ceased.
I let go my clutch on the rock and tried to stand up. I did succeed in
kneeling up, supported by my hand on the altar stone. So half erect I
Agathemer lay under the intruder, who had him by the throat with both
hands. Partly by sight, even from behind him, partly by the objurgation
which he panted out, I recognized Chryseros Philargyrus and realized that
he thought that Agathemer had been torturing me in revenge for his
flogging at Nemestronia's.
I instantly forgot my plight and my natural instincts asserted themselves.
As if I had been then what I had been ten days before, I ordered Chryseros
to loose Agathemer and he obeyed me, as if I had been what I felt myself,
He and Agathemer stood up and looked at me and each other: I must have
made a laughable spectacle, swaying as I knelt, my hands on the rock, my
hair and beard mere clipped stubble, and I naked, with my back bleeding
and both shoulders and one hip inflamed, purple-red and puffy. Certainly
both Chryseros and Agathemer appeared comical to me, even in my pain and
misery and weakness and through the enveloping horror of my fever.
Agathemer, his hair and beard a worse stubble than mine, was gasping and
ruefully rubbing his throat, making a ridiculous figure in his brown
tunic, patched with patches of red, yellow and blue, all sewed on with
white thread. Chryseros was panting, and his bald head shone in the sun.
He had cast off his cloak as he rushed at Agathemer and stood only in his
rusty brown tunic, himself as dry and lean as a dead limb of a tree.
Although he had obeyed instantly when I ordered him to loose Agathemer,
yet, perhaps from some vagary of my fever, I stared at Chryseros without
any other feeling than that he had been for most of his life the tenant of
our family enemy. As I looked at him I felt utterly lost, as if there was
now no hope for me, as if Chryseros would certainly betray me to the
authorities. I felt utterly despairing and totally reckless. This mood,
oddly enough, urged me to do the very best thing I could have done.
Either from right instinct or delirious folly, I informed Chryseros fully
of our purposes, doings and plans. He apologized to Agathemer for his
assault on him, affirmed his complete loyalty to me and promised all
possible assistance and perfect secrecy. He examined me and said:
"I'll have your wounds clean, your back dried up, every inch of you
healing properly and your fever cooled before morning. Here, Agathemer,
help get him abed."
They washed my back and laid me, naked as I was, on the quilt laid over
the bed of leaves, then they covered me with the other quilt.
"You two keep close till I come back," Chryseros advised. "Someone else
might use this path. I'll be back soon and I'll arrange to excite no
When he returned he had me out on the flat-topped stone, washed my back
and wounds, and then bathed them with some lotion which, when first
applied, felt cooling and soothing, but almost at once burnt into me till
every part of my back, my hip and both my shoulders smarted worse than had
the one shoulder as the brand seared it: at least that was how I felt. I
writhed and groaned.
"Keep still!" Chryseros admonished me. "Keep quiet! This is doing you
And he chafed my back, inundating it with his fiery liniment till I was on
the verge of fainting from mere pain. Half fainting I was as the two
raised me to my feet and put the tunic on me, as they helped me back to my
bed in the little grotto. When I was recumbent Chryseros made me drink a
nauseous, black, bitter liquid and then lie flat.
"Keep there till morning," he said, "and fast. Food can do you no good
while you have such a fever and fasting can do you no harm."
Actually I was asleep before I knew it and slept all day and all night,
not waking until Agathemer, when Chryseros ordered it, roused me. They
pressed on me a quart bowl of milk warm from the cow, and I drank most of
it. I felt much better and Chryseros pronounced me free from fever and
after he had inspected my back and wounds and again inundated them with
his fiery lotion, declared all inflammation had vanished and that I was
healing up properly. He enjoined Agathemer to let me have no food but
milk, said he would bring more after sunset, and told us to keep close in
the niche. I slept all day long, and after a second draught of milk at
dusk, all night till the sun was well up.
I woke feeling stiff and sore, uncomfortable on my back, hip and
shoulders, but with no positive pain anywhere: also I felt like my usual
self. And I may say here, parenthetically, that I never had another day's
illness through all the vicissitudes of my flight, hiding, adventures and
Chryseros brought me milk; excellent wheat bread; a smooth and appetizing
veal-stew, with beans and lentils in it and seasoned with spices; cheese
newly made from fresh curds, and luscious plums. He let me eat my fill and
drink all the milk I wanted. But he would not let me taste the wine of
which Agathemer drank moderately.
"If you feel sleepy," said Chryseros, "roll over, cover yourself and go to
sleep; we can talk tomorrow."
"I do not feel sleepy," I declared, "and I feel very much like asking
"Then we'll talk at once," he said, "we'll take all the time needed for
your recovery; but once you are recovered, we'll waste no time in getting
you out of Sabinum."
The morning was fair and warm, with a light breeze. I was on my bed of
leaves inside my nook of rock. Agathemer was squatted by my head, his back
against that edge of the niche; by my feet, leaning against the opposite
edge of the niche, facing Agathemer, and therefore where I could best see
and hear him sat Chryseros.
He began by telling me that I must remain where I was until he judged me
fit to travel, even if I remained ten days more; but that he thought I
might be able to start to-morrow night and would make his preparations
accordingly. His first idea, he said, had been to set off on horseback for
Spolitum, near, which he had a sister married to a prosperous farmer, to
whom he had paid visits at intervals of about five years. He had thought
that it would be easy and safe to take me and Agathemer with him on foot,
disguised as slaves. This idea, however, Agathemer had antagonized,
pointing out that any convoy from my estate would be severely scrutinized
and every man examined and searched; that there was no chance of our
escaping by such a plan.
At this point of his discourse he told me that the Praetorians had already
departed from Villa Andivia leaving in charge Gratillus, a treasury
officer of the confiscation department, a man whom I knew too well as also
a member of the secret service, an articled Imperial spy and an active
professional informer, moreover a man who had always hated my uncle, and
who had hated me from my boyhood.
According to Chryseros, Gratillus had made no great effort to find me,
since, in fact, neither he nor anyone connected with the government had
had any suspicion that I had returned home. He had merely made a
perfunctory investigation to assure himself, as he thought, that I had not
so returned. He had examined all the tenantry and slaves, had asked
questions, but had tortured no one and had been quite satisfied with the
answers he had received. Oddly enough, while he had closely questioned
himself and my other eight tenants as to the date of my departure for Rome
and as to whether they had seen me since they last saw me in Rome, and
while he had questioned Uturia and Ofatulena as to whether they had seen
me since I set off for Rome, he had somehow omitted or forgotten to ask
Ofatulenus the same questions, so that he had been able to answer
truthfully the only questions asked of him. Agathemer, I found, had told
Chryseros that only he and Ofatulenus had seen me between my return and
Gratillus had especially questioned the wives of my eight tenants, and as
Chryseros was a widower, his widowed daughter, who lived with him. Each of
these he had summoned before him separately and had interrogated alone and
at length. This was like Gratillus.
He had made but one arrest, and this dumbfounded me. Ducconius Furfur had
been interrogated, like all my neighbors, but, while the rest had been
dismissed after answering what questions were put to them, Furfur, with
two servants, had accompanied to Rome the Praetorians when they went away.
The more I reflected on this the stranger it seemed.
Neither Chryseros nor Agathemer had any doubt that a close watch was being
quietly kept to make sure that I could not now return to Villa Andivia
without being caught; nor yet leave it if I did return or had returned.
As a result of his discussion with Agathemer they had agreed that we were
to leave by night and on foot, as we had originally intended. But he had
argued that, while it was perfectly sensible for us to plan to pass
ourselves off as runaway slaves if arrested and questioned, there was no
sense whatever in doing anything to appear like runaway slaves unless we
were actually arrested and questioned. Agathemer had admitted this, but
had pointed out that, while we had no hope of any assistance whatever, and
were planning to escape by our own unaided efforts, there was no
possibility of our trying to appear anything else than runaway slaves, as
he could easily steal slaves' cloaks and tunics from my spare stores, but
had no hope of getting his hands on any other garments. He had joyfully
accepted the ideas and suggestions which Chryseros put forward, as well as
his proffers of assistance.
Chryseros directed that the two copper cylinders and most of the spoils of
Agathemer's pilferings should be left in our little grotto, hidden under
the dead leaves. He would then smuggle them away and dispose of them. He
would supply us with rusty brown tunics and cloaks of undyed mixed wool,
such as were worn by poor or economical farmers throughout Sabinum. Also
he would supply us with hats better than those Agathemer had fetched;
belts; and travelling wallets, neither too big nor too small, neither too
new nor too worn, and each with a shoulder-strap for easy carriage; good,
heavy shoes, two pair of them for each of us, so that we might carry a
spare pair in each wallet. In the wallets also we were to hide the hunting
knives Agathemer had taken from my uncle's collection; which knives,
blades, handles and sheaths Chryseros highly approved.
At sight of the flageolet he grinned, the only smile I saw on his face
while he was helping us in our hiding and out of it. Agathemer,
obstinately, insisted on taking that flageolet. And Chryseros grudgingly
admitted that it might prove a really valuable possession, perhaps. We
took, of course, our two little flint and steel cases.
Chryseros said we ought to eat all we could manage to swallow up to the
moment of our departure. He would pack our wallets with food which could
be made to last four or five days and would be plenty for two days. Most
important of all he would supply us with money, half copper and half
silver, as much as our wallets could properly hold, so as not to make us
appear thieves, if we were suspected and haled before a magistrate. With
money we could travel openly and by day after we were well out of Sabinum.
We planned to make our way eastward, inclining very little to the north,
towards Fisternae. The crossing of the Tolenus and Himella should give us
no trouble whatever. We would pass south of Cliternia and north of
Fisternae. Chryseros questioned Agathemer closely as to his knowledge of
the byroads, and applauded him highly, only on a few points correcting him
or amplifying what he knew. North of Fisternae we could gain the mountains
and work northwards.
The most dangerous part of our proposed route, the critical point of our
escape, would be the crossing of the Avens and the Salarian Highway, which
we must effect somewhere near Forum Decii, between Interocrium and
Falacrinum. Once in the mountains we should be able easily to continue on
northwards into Umbria.
Chryseros suggested that, once in Umbria, we could pass ourselves off as
buyers of cattle, goats and mules, all of which were bred on the mountain
farms and regularly bought up by itinerant dealers who drove them or had
them driven to Rome. The Umbrian mountains had no such numbers of these
animals as Sabinum produced and their quality was far inferior, so that
the dealers were always men of small means, driving close bargains.
All this sounded very promising and, about half way between sunrise and
noon, he left us to hide for the rest of the day. I slept well and woke
feeling almost myself, with merely trifling discomfort from my fast
When Chryseros returned in the dusk, I ate ravenously. He brought us good,
coarse tunics and cloaks, also hats, shoes, and belts; and for each of us,
a small leather case containing two good needles and a little hank of
strong linen thread. We talked in subdued tones, as before, and kept it up
until long after dark.
Next morning I woke full of hope and eager to be off. Chryseros brought
our wallets and we packed them with everything they were to hold except
most of the food. We had a long wrangle over the money, as Chryseros
wanted to force on us more silver than I thought it safe to carry.
That night, after a generous meal and a long final talk with Chryseros, we
set off to sneak our way into the Aemilian Estate and from there eastward.
Before we set off Chryseros insisted on hanging round each of our necks,
by the usual leathern thong, one of those tiny, flat leathern pouches, in
which slaves were accustomed to wear protective amulets. He declared that
these contained talismans of great potency and of inestimable value to us
in our flight, as in any risk or venture. At the moment of parting, to my
amazement, he burst into tears, threw his arms around me, held me close
and clung to me sobbing, and kissing me as if I had been his own son. As
we moved off I could still hear his sobs.
We had excellent luck. Hiding by day and threading devious paths by night
we reached and passed the Avens and the Salarian Highway without any
encounter with any human being; and indeed without near proximity to any.
Our daytime hiding-places all turned out to have been well chosen and no
one approached us in any one of them. The moon, which was in her first
quarter on the night of our setting out, helped us nightly. There was no
rain and only some moderate cloudiness, enough to be helpful at the time
of the full moon, when there was enough light all night for us to see to
travel at a good rate of speed and without any error at forks in the
paths; and yet not enough light to make us conspicuous to any who might be
abroad late at night.
Once beyond the Nar and almost at the borders of Umbria, we grew bolder,
travelled by day, bought food as we needed it, put up at inns and acted
the character we had assumed, of Sabines intent on stock-buying in the
Umbrian mountains. No one appeared to suspect us and we had no adventures.
But, inevitably, once we had escaped, we did not so much think of
immediate danger as of permanent safety. Chryseros had confirmed our
instinctive opinion that, as Sabines, we should be much less likely to
arouse suspicion in Umbria and the Po Valley than in Samnium, Lucania or
Bruttium. We had never thought of escape southward; northward we had meant
to work our way, from the instant of conceiving the idea of escaping. But
we had no settled, coherent plan as to how to achieve safety and keep
alive. We could not hide in the mountains indefinitely.
We both agreed that we could hide best in a large city. Marseilles might
have been a perfect hiding-place could we have reached it, full as it
always was of riff-raff from all the shores of the Mediterranean and from
all parts of Italy. But Marseilles we could reach only by the Aurelian
Highway, through Genoa along the coast, and the Aurelian Highway was
certain to be sown with spies and likely enough might be travelled upon by
officials who had known me from childhood and would probably know me
through any disguise.
Aquileia, on the other hand, was far more populous than Marseilles, even
more a congeries of rabble from all shores and districts, even more easy-
going. In Aquileia we should be able to earn a comfortable living by not
too onerous activities and to be wholly unsuspected. Towards Aquileia we
decided to try to make our way. The roads, being less travelled, would be
less spied-on and we should meet officials less likely to recognize me.
But, if we were to reach Aquileia, we must husband our silver. Agathemer's
idea was that, from where we reached the borders of Umbria, somewhere
between Trebia and Nursia, we should keep as near as possible to the chine
of the mountain-chain, using the roads, paths, tracks or trails highest up
the slope of the mountains; avoiding being seen as much as possible, and,
if we were seen, claiming to have lost our way through misunderstanding
the directions given us by the last natives we had met. He proposed to
steal food for us, instead of buying it, and expounded his ideas,
maintaining that it would be easy and not dangerous.
We tried his plan and succeeded well with it. So wild and untravelled were
the districts which we traversed that, nearly half the time, we were
welcomed at farmsteads, (to which welcome Agathemer's flageolet-playing
greatly assisted us), invited to spend the night and had lavished upon our
entertainment all their rustic abundance, so that we visibly grew fat.
When such luck did not befall us we had no trouble in helping ourselves to
supplies, for, far up the mountains, most habitations were shacks tenanted
only in summer and only by lads acting as goat-herds or herdsmen, who
spent the day abroad with their charges, so that we could readily enter
their deserted cabins and take what we pleased; especially as, if a dog
had been left to guard the hut, I could always master him so that he
greeted me fawning and stood wagging his tail as we made off.
Except these not very risky raids for provender and such encounters as
called for more than usually ingenious lying from Agathemer, we had no
But we realized from day to day and more and more insistently, that we
were progressing slowly, far slower than we had anticipated. It was plain
that we could not hope to reach Aquileia before winter set in. It was
manifest that it would be unsafe to attempt to winter anywhere in the Po
valley between the mountains and Aquileia. At Ravenna, Bononia or Padua we
should be noticed, investigated and perhaps recognized: anywhere in the
open country, at any village or farm, we should, even more certainly
excite suspicion. We must winter in the mountains. But how or where?
The question was solved for us by our first considerable adventure. I
never knew the precise locality. We had, in traversing the mountains
trails, avoided any semblance of ignorance of our general locality and had
sedulously refrained from asking any questions except as to our way to
some nearby objective, generally imaginary. All I know is that we were
somewhere on the northeastern slope of the long chain of mountains beyond
Iguvium and Tifernum perhaps near the headwaters of the Sena. On the
morning of our adventure we were on a long spur of the main range, so that
we were headed not northwest but northeast. The weather was still fine and
warm, but autumn was not far off. We hadn't seen a habitation since that
at which we had passed the night, and we had made about three leagues
since we left it, following what was at first a good mountain road, but
which grew worse and worse till it became a mere trail.
THE LONELY HUT
Some time before noon we were threading a barely visible track not far
below the crest of the spur, a track bordered and overshadowed by
chestnuts and beeches, but chestnuts and beeches intermingled with not a
few pines and firs, when, out of the bushes on our left hand, from the up
slope above us, appeared a large mouse-colored Molossian dog, very lean
and starved looking. I first saw his big, square-jowled, short-muzzled
head peering out between some low cornel bushes, his brown eyes regarding
He fawned on me, of course, and I made friends with him, fondled him,
pulled his ears and played with him a while.
Agathemer tartly enquired whether we really had time to waste on
skylarking with strange dogs. I laughed, picked up my wallet, and started
to follow him as he swung round and strode on, ordering the dog to go back
home, a command which, from me, almost always won instant compliance and
disembarrassed me of any casual roadside friends.
But the dog did not obey. He pawed at me, whined, and caught my cloak in
his teeth, tugging at it and whining. I could not induce him to let go,
could not shake him off, and was much puzzled. Agathemer, impatient and
irritated, halted again and urged our need of haste.
After exhausting every wile by which I had been accustomed to rid myself
of too fond animals, I began to realize that the dog did not want to
follow us, did not want us to remain where we were and go on playing with
him, but, as plainly as if he spoke Latin, he was begging us to accompany
I said to Agathemer:
"I'm going with this dog; come along."
I declared that I had an intuition that to follow the dog was the right
thing to do. Agathemer, contemptuous and reluctant, yielded. The dog led
us along an all but undistinguishable track through densely growing trees,
up steep slopes and out into a flattish glade or clearing at the brow of
the slope, overhung by merely a few hundred feet of wooded mountain side
and bare cliffs to the crest. The clearing was clothed in soft, late,
second-growth grass, and had plainly been mown at haying time and pastured
on since. In it we found some well-built, well-thatched farm-buildings: a
sheepfold, a goatpen, a cowshed, a strongly built structure like a granary
or store-house, another like a repository for wine-jars and oil-jars;
hovels such as all mountain farms have for slave-quarters and a house or
cabin little better than a hut, mud-walled, like the other buildings, but
new thatched. It was nearly square and had no ridge-pole, the four slopes
of the roof running together, at the top, yet not into a point, but as if
there were a smoke-vent: in fact I thought I saw a suggestion of smoke
rising from the peak of the roof.
To this hut the dog led us. The heavy door of weathered, rough-hewn oak
was shut, but, when I pushed it, proved to be unfastened. I found myself
looking into a largish room, roofed with rough rafters from which hung
what might have been hams, flitches and cheeses. It was mud-walled and had
a floor of beaten earth, in which was a sand-pit, nearly full of ashes and
with a small fire smouldering in the middle of it. Opposite me was a rough
plank partition with two doors in it, both open. Against the partition,
between the doors, hung bronze lamps, iron pots and pottery jars. The room
was dim, lighted only from the door, in which I stood, and from the narrow
By the fire, on their hands and knees, and apparently poking at it, each
with a bit of wood, or about to lay the bits of wood on it, were two
little girls, shock-headed, barefoot and bare-legged, clad only in coarse
tunics of rusty dark wool. I am not accurate as to children's ages: I took
these girls for seven and five; but they may have been six and four or
eight and six. At sight of us they scrambled to their feet and fled
through one of the doors, one shrieking, the other screaming:
"Mamma! Mamma! Strange men! Strange men!"
In her panic she did not attempt to shut the door behind her and bolt it,
both of which, as I afterwards discovered, she might have done.
No other voices came to our ears and I followed the children into the rear
room in which they had taken refuge. It was totally dark, except for what
light found its way through its door, and was cramped and small and half
filled by a Gallic bed. I had never seen a Gallic bed before. Such a bed
is made like the body of a travelling-carriage or travelling litter,
entirely encased in panelling, topped off with a sort of flat roof of
panelling, and with sliding panels above the level of the cording, so that
the occupants can shut themselves in completely; a structure which looks
to a novice like a device for smothering its occupants, but which is a
welcome retreat and shelter on cold, windy, winter nights, as I have
learned by later experience. As this was my first sight of one I was
amazed at it.
Usually, as I learned later, such a bedstead is piled up with feather-
beds, so that the occupant is much above the level of the top edge of the
lower front on which the panels slide. But this bed was poorly provided
with mattresses and I had to stare down into it to descry the children's
mother, who lay like a corpse in a coffin, but half buried in bedding and
quilts, only her face visible. She was certainly alive, for her breathing
was loud and stertorous; but she was, quite certainly, unconscious.
Between the shrieking children, who clung to the frame of the bed, I spoke
to her and assured her that we were friends. She gave no sign of
understanding me, of hearing me, of knowing of my presence; but my
repeated assurances quieted the elder girl, who not only ceased screaming
but endeavored to calm her little sister.
Seeing her so sensible, I questioned the child. All I could learn from her
was that her father had been away nearly ten days, her mother ill for five
and insensible for three and their four slaves had run away the day
before, taking everything they chose to carry off. I then examined the
other room which had a similar bed in it, and in which, the child told me,
she and her sister slept. She declared that she did not know her mother's
name, that her father never called her anything but "mother"; she also
declared that she did not know her father's name, her mother, always
calling him "father," as she and her sister did. Her name was Prima and
her sister's Secunda.
As I could not rouse the woman and learned that the slaves had been gone
more than a full day, Agathemer and I went to save the bellowing and
bleating stock. We found in the shed two fine young cows with udders
appallingly distended. But our attention was momentarily distracted from
them by the sight of eight full-sized bronze pails, finer than those at
any public well in Reate or Consentia, which hung on pegs by the door,
four on each side of it. They were flat-bottomed, bulged, but narrowed at
the rim so that no water would splash out in carrying. The rims were
ornamented with chased or cast patterns, scallops, leaves, egg and dart
and wall of Troy: four patterns, showing that they were pairs. All had
heavy double handles. We looked for carrying-yokes, but could see none.
Such pails, which would be the treasures of any village and the pride of
most towns, amazed us in this fastness. Glancing at the pails took us less
time than it does to tell of it. The cows needed us sorely and we each
picked up one of the suitable earthenware jars which stood inverted just
inside the shed door and milked them at once. Agathemer said he thought we
were in time to forestall any serious and permanent harm to them. But
their udders were frightfully swelled and blood came with the milk from
one teat of the cow I attended to.
The sheep were in a worse state than the cows. Not a lamb was visible;
besides the ewes there was only a two-year-old ram penned by himself in a
corner of the fold. There were eight fine young ewes, in full milk. As
with one cow, so among these ewes, four gave bloody milk from one teat
each, and we milked that onto the earth. We found plenty of empty
earthenware crocks, clean, and turned upside down, in which to save the
The he-goat, a noble young specimen, was penned by himself, like the ram.
There were nineteen she-goats, with not a kid anywhere, yet all in full
milk and far worse off than the ewes. All but two gave bloody milk and
three gave no clean milk. These three I judged might die, but Agathemer
vowed he could save them.
When we had finished milking we searched about for water. Towards the
northeast the clearing narrowed and here we came upon a tiny rill
trickling through a fringe of sedge. It came from a clear and abundant
spring in a cleft of rock against the sharp up slope which rose there
under the pines. At the lower edge of that part of the clearing, near the
margin of the more nearly level ground, just before it plunged over the
rim of the flat, it was dammed into a drinking pool for the stock. We did
not dare let them out to drink and so laboriously carried water, I from
the spring and Agathemer from the pond, using each a pair of the bronze
pails, pouring the water into the troughs made of hollow logs, which were
set, one to each, in the shed, pen and fold. We kept this up till every
goat and ewe had had her fill, and then watered the he-goat and ram. The
cows, of course, we had watered first. After the watering we gave each cow
a feed of mixed barley and millet and then filled with hay all the mangers
When we had concluded this exhausting toil we filled the water-jar which
stood in one corner of the cabin and then carried some milk into the
house, and offered Prima and Secunda whichever they preferred. They chose
ewe's milk and drank their fill. Prima was much impressed by the dog's
confidence in me and seemed to give me hers. She said the dog's name was
Hylactor. I tried to make the mother drink some cow's milk, but she
swallowed only a few drops which I forced through her teeth by the help of
a small horn spoon which I found on the floor of the outer room.
Agathemer roused the fire and piled more wood on it. There were no less
than seven tripods lying about the floor of the cabin, but all roughly
made and of the squat, short-legged pattern which holds a pot barely clear
of a low bed of coals; not one was fit to hold a cauldron over a newly
made deep fire of half-caught wood.
On the tallest of them, or rather on that least squatty, Agathemer set a
small pot, which he filled with fresh water. When he had this where it
seemed likely to boil and certain to heat, he ferretted about for
supplies. He found a brick oven with about half a baking of bread in it;
medium-sized loaves of coarse wheat bread. Two forked sticks stood in one
corner of the cabin and with one he lifted from its peg in the rafters a
partly used flitch of good coarse bacon. There was a jar more than half
full of olive oil by the sticks in the same corner of the cabin. In a
small pot set in the ashes Agathemer stewed some of the onions he lifted
down from the rafters. In the other corner of the cabin was an amphora
nearly full of harsh, sour wine. We made a full meal of bread, onions,
bacon, olives and some raisins, drinking our fill of the wine. The little
girls ate heartily with us, now convinced that we were friends and
accepting us as such. They seemed to some extent habituated to their
mother's condition of helplessness and insensibility.
As soon as we had fed we inspected the place. The glade or clearing was
enclosed all around by the tall trees of a thick primitive forest. Towards
the up slope and the cliffs below the crest of the mountain the trees were
all pines, firs or such-like dark and somber evergreens. There were a few
of these also on the lower slopes, but there, as along all that rim of the
clearing, the forest was mostly of oak, beech, chestnut and other cheerful
trees. Their tops towered far above the verge of the slope and screened
the clearing all round. Nowhere could we catch sight of any sign of a
town, village or farmstead, though there were three several rifts in the
forest through which we could see far into the valleys to the eastward.
The cliff above the clearing ran nearly from southwest to northeast, so
that the place was well situated towards the sun.
The cow-shed was divided by a partition and half of it had been used for
stabling mules. Agathemer judged that no mule had been in it for about ten
days. We inferred that the children's father had taken the mules with him
when he departed. Over the cow-shed was a loft, well stored with good hay,
as were the smaller lofts over the sheds which formed one side of the
sheepfold and goat-pen. The hay was not mountain hay, but distinctly
meadow hay, such as is mown in valleys along streams. It was all in
bundles, such bundles as are carried on mule-back, two to a mule. This was
queer; even queerer the absence of any fowls or pigeons, or of any sign
that any had ever been about the place. An Umbrian mountain farm without
pigeons was unthinkable.
In the granary we found an amazingly large store of excellent barley, but
only two jars of wheat, and that not very good, and neither jar entirely
full. On the floor were loose piles of turnips, beets and of dried pods of
coarse beans. There were jars of chick-peas, cow-peas, lentils, beans and
millet, more millet than wheat. From the rafters hung dried bean-bushes,
with the pods on; long strings of onions, dried herbs, marjoram, thyme,
sage, bay-leaves and other such seasonings, dried peppers, strung like the
onions, and bunches of big sweet raisins. Also many rush-mats of dried
figs, the biggest and best of figs, some of them indubitably Caunean figs.
On the floor, in heaps, were some hard-headed cabbages, only one or two
spoiled. It was a very ample store and we marvelled at it and wondered
whence it all came and how it came where it was.
The other store-house amazed us. It was, as we had conjectured, full of
great jars; jars of wine, of olive oil, of pickled olives, of pickled
fish, of pickled pork, of vinegar, of plums in vinegar, and smaller jars
of honey, sauces and prepared relishes. The rafters were set full of
cornel-wood pegs till they looked like weavers-combs. From the pegs hung
hams, flitches, strings of smoked sausage, cheeses of all sizes, smoked so
heavily that they appeared mere lumps of soot, and bags of a shape
unfamiliar to both of us. Agathemer knocked one down and opened it. It was
full of tight packed fish, salted, dried and smoked, a fish of a kind
unknown to us.
There was, along the upper edge of the clearing, under the boughs of the
pine trees, a huge pile of trimmed logs of oak, chestnut, pine and fir,
with a scarcely smaller heap of cut lengths of boughs and branches. Under
a lean-to shed was a small store of cut fire-wood. In a corner of the same
shed were four big cornel-wood mauls and eleven good iron wedges, not one
of them bearing any sign of ever having been used, but appearing as if
fresh from the maker's hands. By the woodpile were four even heavier
mauls, showing plenty of marks of hard usage and near them or about the
woodpile we found eight rusty wedges.
We could find no axe, hatchet or any other such tool anywhere about the
place. The logs and six-foot lengths of boughs afforded a lavish supply of
fuel for two long winters; the cut fire-wood could not be made to keep the
fire going ten days.
The slave-quarters, as I said, were mere hovels, but they were provided
with bedding, quilts, and stores of clothing by no means such as are
generally used for slaves. Slaves' quilts are mostly old and worn, made of
patches of woollen or linen cloth all but worn out by previous use; and
then, when torn, patched with a patch on a patch and a patch on that.
These quilts were the best of their kind, such as ladies of leisure make
for their own amusement, of squares and triangles of woolen stuff unworn
and unsoiled. The mattresses were stuffed with dried grass or sedge,
craftily packed to make a soft bed for any sleeper. The pillows were of
lambs' wool, as good as the best pillows. And, in a big chest in each
hovel, were good, new, clean tunics, cloaks, rain-cloaks, and with them
sandals, shoes, hats, rain-hats and all sorts of clothing, not as if for
slaves, but as if for middle-class farmers, prosperous and self-indulgent.
We were dumbfounded at such abundance in such a place.
By each bed in the hut was a chest. These we opened and found in both
women's clothing; tunics, robes, cloaks and rolls of linen and fine woolen
The woman, although moaning and stirring in her bed, gave no more signs of
life than when we first saw her. Agathemer said, speaking Greek so the
children would not understand:
"We must try to save this woman's life. You manage to get the children to
follow you outside and I'll lift her out of the bed, and wash her, put a
clean tunic on her, put clean bedding in the bed and put her back in it; I
can do all that handily. She is so ill she will never know."
We went out in the slave-hovels and chose what bedding seemed suitable and
carried it into the hut. Agathemer had put more fuel on the fire and set a
big pot of water on the tripod. We put the bedding in a corner of the hut
and selected from the contents of the chests a tunic and some rough
towels, of which there were some in each chest.
I was not hopeful of being able to wheedle the children; but my first
attempt was a complete success. I suggested to Prima that she tell me the
names of the sheep and goats and she at once became absorbed in
instructing me. Each had a name, she was certain; but, I found, very
uncertain as to which name belonged to which and not very sure of some of
the names. Her hesitations and efforts to remember took up so much time
that we were still at the goat-pen, Secunda with one hand clinging
confidingly to mine, when Agathemer called to me from the door of the hut.
He told me in Greek that he had done all he could for the woman, had
effaced all traces of his activities and had put the soiled bedding out in
the late sunshine to dry and air. We strolled about the clearing,
remarking again that it seemed out of sight from any possible inhabited or
travelled viewpoint. Agathemer fetched a rough ladder he had seen in the
cow-shed, set it against the hut, which was highest on the slope, and
climbed to the top of its roof. From there, he said, he could descry
nothing in any direction which looked like a town, village, farmstead or
bit of highway. The place was well hidden, by careful calculation, for
this could not have come about by accident.
We peered into each of the buildings and poked about in them, hoping to
find an axe or hatchet, and marvelling that a place so liberally, so
lavishly, so amazingly oversupplied with hams, flitches, sausages and
other such food should show nowhere any trace of the presence of hogs.
There was no hog-pen nor any place where one might have been, nor did any
part of the clearing show any signs indicating a former wallow, nor had
any portion of it been rooted up. It was very puzzling.
As we returned to the house, about an hour before sunset, we
simultaneously uttered, in Greek:
"Here we stay--"
"Go on," said I checking.
"Here we stay," he began again, "until the husband comes home, or, if he
does not return, until spring."
"That is my idea, also," I said, "and there is but one drawback."
"Pooh," said Agathemer, "if we do not find an axe somewhere hereabouts
I'll steal one from a farm if I have to spend two days and a night on the
We agreed that there was no question but that we must spend the night
where we were. The stock, after their long neglect and late milking, would
be best left unmilked and unwatered till morning. As we must not leave the
woman unwatched, we must sleep in the hut. We could bring in sedge
mattresses and quilts from the hovels and sleep on the earth floor by the
fire. When we had agreed on these points we forced some more milk on the
semi-unconscious woman, gave the stock more hay, ate an abundant meal of
bread, oil, sausages broiled over the fire on a spit, olives and raisins;
and, soon after sunset, composed ourselves to sleep by the well-covered
fire, leaving open the door into the woman's bedroom, but shutting the two
children into theirs after telling them by no means to stir until we
called them in the morning.
Hylactor curled up outside the cabin door, almost against it, after
Agathemer had convinced him that we would not let him sleep in the hut. We
slept unbrokenly till dawn woke us.
It was cold before sunrise so high up the mountains. My face felt cold
even inside the hut and by the smouldering fire. I was reluctant to roll
out of my quilts. But, what with Agathemer's urgings and my own
realization of what was required, I did my share of the milking, watering
and feeding of the stock and ate a hearty breakfast. For, as when hiding
in Furfur's woods, as when anywhere on our escape, since it was not
possible to eat as if at home and at ease, we ate our fill soon after dawn
and again before dark, but during the day we ate nothing. We had from
necessity already formed the habit of two meals a day, at sunrise and
The woman seemed less violently ill than the day before. When we first saw
her she had been in the throes of a violent fever and it had lasted until
after Agathemer bathed her. From then on it seemed to abate, but, when I
last felt her forehead and hands before we lay down to sleep, she was
still feverish. When we first went to her in the morning she was
unconscious and as if in a stupor, but showed no signs of fever. She did
not struggle against feeding as on the previous day, but swallowed, a
spoonful at a time, as much milk as Agathemer thought good for her.
When we had done what seemed necessary Agathemer suggested that I remain
by the cabin while he investigated the woods round the clearing to make
sure how many roads or paths led out of it. He proposed to carry his
sheath-knife and the stout and tried staff which had helped him along the
mountain trails, as a similar one had helped me, and to take Hylactor with
him: to make a circuit about the clearing some ten yards or so inside the
forest and, if necessary a second circuit, further away from our glade.
These two circuits should make him sure how many tracks led from or to our
clearing. Then he would follow each track and acquaint himself with it,
and, if possible, learn where it led. I approved.
Before noon he reported that only three tracks approached our location;
that by which we had reached it up the slope of the mountain, and one
along the slope in each direction. About mid-afternoon he returned up the
track by which we had come, stating that the trail southwards, about a
league south of us, joined the road along which we had travelled till
Hylactor diverted us: he had made the circuit along the length of the
league or more of trail, back along the road by which we had travelled and
up the track by which Hylactor had led us; he had met no living thing,
save a hare or two, too fleet for Hylactor to catch; he had caught sight
of no town, village or farmstead, even afar. He had made sure that the
mules had left the clearing by the track he had followed out of it, so
that, probably, the children's father had gone south. Exploring the other
trail he had put off till the next day.
Next day he found that the other track joined the lower road only about
half a league to northeastwards. He turned back along the lower road and
returned by the uphill track, as he had done the day before to the south.
He met no one and saw no town, village or farmstead anywhere in sight, and
at some places he could see far to the eastward.
We discussed his proposal to go off alone, with a wallet of food and try
to steal an axe. Plainly he would have to go far. It would be easy enough
to sneak back to the farm where we had spent our last night before meeting
Hylactor, but we both felt bound by the obligation of our hospitable
entertainment there: though nameless fugitives we were still under the
spell of the standards of our former lives. We admitted to each other that
he might steal an axe from that farm and I condone the knavery and avail
myself of its proceeds; but we agreed that such baseness must be stooped
to only as a desperate last resort. He was to set off northwards next day.
That night the woman, who had been inert and manageable, in a half-stupor,
became violently delirious and for a time it took all the strength
Agathemer and I jointly possessed to hold her in bed. Prima and Secunda,
waked by her shrieks, were in a pitiable panic, Secunda merely dazed and
aghast, Prima begging us not to kill her mother, fancying we were
attacking her. We managed to convince the child that we were doing our
best and what was best for her mother and that her mother's ravings would
quiet and that she might regain her reason and health. I induced both
children to return to their bed and shut and bolted their door. Agathemer
and I, by turns, and twice again each helping the other, kept the poor
woman in her bed all night. At dawn she quieted and fell into a profound
stupor. But the vigil left me and Agathemer worn out. We attended to the
milking, feeding and watering of the stock and then I went to sleep in one
of the slave hovels, which were free from vermin, not the least amazing of
the many amazing features of our place of sojourn.
This outbreak of our insensible hostess made impossible the immediate
execution of Agathemer's project. He had to have adequate rest before he
could set off. After I had slept all the morning, he slept most of the
afternoon. During his nap I found, behind the water-jar in the hut, a
hatchet-head, with the handle broken off and what was left of it jammed in
the hole. It was small, but not very rusty or dull. Before Agathemer
wakened I had it well sharpened. We had found a mallet in the storehouse,
and, with this and a cornel-wood peg he whittled with his sheath-knife,
Agathemer drove out the broken bit of hatchet handle. He then fashioned
with his sheath-knife a good handle of tough, seasoned ash from a piece he
had found in one of the buildings. With this hatchet we could cut up small
boughs selected from the big woodpile, but it was too small to enable us
to cut logs into lengths or split lengths of logs.
Again, when Agathemer was planning for the next day his axe-stealing
expedition, the woman had a fit of raving. This lasted a night, a day and
a night and left both of us to the last degree weary and drowsy. Before we
had recuperated our firewood was almost used up. The situation looked
hopeless. It was well along into the Autumn, though we were now unsure of
what month we were in, so completely had we lost count of the days. Again
Agathemer projected an expedition for the next day, in the faint hope of
obtaining us an axe, and I feared he now aimed for our last harborage. At
dusk, as he hunted for small wood under the margin of the woodpile, he
found a good, big, double-edged axe-head. It was dull and very rusty, and
he had a vast deal of trouble getting out the fragment of broken handle
and shaping a new handle, in which he was greatly helped by a fairly good
draw-knife, which I had that very morning found hanging on a peg behind
the hay in the loft over the cow-shed. He had quite as much trouble in
fitting the handle into the axe-head and in sharpening both edges. But he
did all that before we composed ourselves to sleep. Besides those on the
partition we had found a score of fine bronze lamps and we had olive oil
enough for all uses for two winters.
Next morning we woke to find all our world buried under a foot of snow,
the pines laden with it, the boughs of the beeches, oaks and chestnuts
furred with it along their tops. It was a magic outlook, the like of which
neither of us had ever seen.
After that, all through the winter, our life was an unvarying routine of
milking, feeding and watering the stock, preparing and eating meals
limited only by our appetites, nursing the sick woman, and chopping
firewood. From the first streak of dawn till the last gleam of twilight
one or the other of us chopped the firewood. Neither of us was an adept at
handling an axe. But Agathemer, with his half Greek ancestry and his
wholly Greek versatility and adaptability, taught himself to be a good
axeman in ten days. I bungled and blundered away at it all winter.
Agathemer could cut a two-foot oak log into suitable lengths with a
minimum of effort, with clean, effective strokes of the ringing axe, the
cuts sharp and even; I could cut any log into lengths and enjoyed the
effort, but I sweated over it and laid half my strokes awry, so that the
ends of my lengths were notched and unsightly.
Also I broke five several axe-helves in the course of the winter. The
first time I broke a helve Agathemer had no substitute ready, and, what
was more, the fragment of the old helve was in so tight that he had to
burn it out in the fire and then retemper and resharpen our one precious
axe-head. His retempering and resharpening turned out all right, but he
said his success was accidental and he might ruin the axe if he tried
again. So he made two extra helves and had a dozen cornel-wood pegs ready
to drive out the bit of broken handle next time I broke it; as I did,
according to his laughing forecast.
The incessant labor of our days hardened both of us. Our muscles were like
steel rods. We slept on our mattresses by that ash-covered fire as I had
never slept at Villa Andivia or at my mansion in Rome. We ate enormously
and relished every mouthful.
Riving lengths of logs with wedges and maul was a kind of work calling for
no special skill; Agathemer taught me all he knew in a day or two. All
winter we alternated this work with woodchopping, afterwards chopping the
riven lengths into firewood lengths and then splitting these into
firewood. Although we worked at riving and chopping and splitting every
moment of daylight when we were not busy at something else, we never
accumulated any comfortable store of firewood, so as to be able to rest
even one day. We drank new milk by the quart, with both our meals; wine,
abundantly as we were supplied with it and good as it proved to be, we
drank sparingly, merely a draught at waking, one after each meal, and one
at bedtime. What we took we took strong, mixing wine and water in equal
Both Agathemer and I preferred cows' milk and drank that only, as we gave
cows' milk only to the sick woman. Both children preferred ewes' milk. As
we had no hogs to feed we were put to it what to do with our surplus milk.
Agathemer made a sort of soft cheese, by putting sour curds in a bag and
hanging it up to drain. We both liked this and so did the little girls.
But we could not use much this way. Agathemer, always resourceful, fed the
dog all the goat's milk he would lap up, and, after he had set to curdle
what seemed enough, mixed the rest, while fresh and sweet, with water and
gave this mixture to the cows to drink, saying it increased their yield of
milk. As the winter wore on he fed similarly the best milkers among the
ewes and goats.
WINTER IN THE MOUNTAINS
Neither Agathemer nor I knew anything about bread-making. He tried, but
merely wasted flour. And both of us hated the wearisome labor of grinding
grain in either of the rough hand-mills which were in the store-house. He
found a means of keeping us well fed, satisfied and looking forward to the
next meal with pleasure. He screened a peck or so of barley, put it to
soak in a crock, and then, when it was swelled, put it in a crock or flat-
bottomed jar, with just enough water to cover it, and bedded this in the
hot coals by the edge of the fire. There, under a tight lid, it stewed and
swelled and steamed all day, unless he judged it done sooner. When it was
cooked to his taste he mixed through it cheese, raisins, and several sorts
of flavorings, also a little honey. The porridge-like product he baked, as
it were, by turning a larger crock over the crock containing it. The
result was always tasty and relishable.
I asked him why he used barley, not wheat, of which there was quite a
supply. He said barley was supposed to be heating, and we certainly needed
all the heating we could get.
The old smoked cheeses, of which an amazing number hung in the hut and
store-houses, were, to me, very appetizing, used in this way, though too
strongly flavored for me to eat any quantity of any sort as one would eat
normal cheese. Agathemer said they had all been smoked too soon, while the
cheese was yet soft, so that the smoke had penetrated all through the
cheese. Certainly the outside of each cheese was mere soot to the depth of
an inch, so that we had to throw it away. Even Hylactor would not eat it.
Soon after the first hard freeze we found, one morning, one of the goats
with a leg broken. Agathemer, with me to help him, got her out into one of
the buildings, out of sight or hearing of the other animals; and, there
later, butchered her. We had, by this time, found butchering knives and
kitchen knives, to the number of a score, but each hidden by itself, and
in the oddest places, one under a sill of the cowshed, another under a
wine-jar, several between the rafters and thatch, most buried in the
thatch itself, as if they had been hidden on purpose. They were all rusty,
but we soon had them bright and sharp. With some of these we butchered and
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