Andivius Hedulio. Adventures of a Roman Nobleman in the Days of the Empire - Edward Lucas White - ebook

Andivius Hedulio. Adventures of a Roman Nobleman in the Days of the Empire ebook

Edward Lucas White

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Edward Lucas White has written a number of historical novels, including Andivius Hedulio. Amazing story of a Roman during the reign of Commodus. This is an exciting adventure! You will feel that you are in ancient Rome.

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Contents

Book I

Disaster

Hedulio's Preface

Chapter I. An Unexpected Guest

Chapter II. A Country Dinner

Chapter III. Tenantry And Slavery

Chapter IV. Horoscopes And Marvels

Chapter V. Encounters

Chapter VI. A Rather Bad Day

Chapter VI. A Rather Good Day

Chapter VIII. The Water Garden

Chapter IX. The Squall Of The Leopard

Book II

Disappearance

Chapter X. Escape

Chapter XI. Hiding

Chapter XII. Succour

Chapter XIII. The Lonely Hut

Chapter XIV. Winter In The Mountains

Chapter XV. The Hunt

Chapter XVI. The Cave

Chapter XVII. The Festival

Chapter XVIII. Galloping

Chapter XIX. Marseilles And Tiber Wharf

Chapter XX. Charioteering

Chapter XXI. Misadventures

Book III

Diversities

Chapter XXII. The Mutineers

Chapter XXIII. The Emperor

Chapter XXIV. The Massacre

Chapter XXV. The Open Country

Chapter XXVI. The Outlaws

Chapter XXVIII. Moonlight

Book IV

Dissimulations

Chapter XXIX. Felix

Chapter XXX. Festus

Chapter XXXI. Recognition

Chapter XXXII. Phorbas

Chapter XXXIII. Imposture

Chapter XXXIV. Palus The Incomparable

Chapter XXXV. Murmex

Chapter XXXVI. Anxiety

Chapter XXXVII. Accusation

Chapter XXXVIII. Torture

Chapter XXXIX. The Tullianum

Chapter XL. Severus

Epilogue

Notes

Book I

Disaster

HEDULIO’S PREFACE (PRAEFATIO HEDULIONIS)

By no means absurd, it seems to me, but altogether reasonable, is the impulse which urges me to write out a detailed narrative of my years of adversity and of the vicissitudes which befell me during that wretched period of my life. My adventures, in themselves, were worthy of record and my memories of them and of the men and women encountered in them are clear and vivid. It is natural that I should wish to set them down for the edification of my posterity and of any who may chance to read them.

For my experience has been, I believe, unique. Since the establishment of the Principate in our Republic many men, even an uncountable horde of men, have incurred Imperial displeasure. Of these not a few, after banishment from Italy or relegation to guarded islands or to some distant frontier outpost, have survived the Prince who exiled them and have, by the favor of his successors, been permitted to return to Rome and to the enjoyment of their property. But I believe that no Roman nobleman implicated, justly or unjustly, in any conspiracy against the life of his Sovereign, ever escaped the extreme penalty of death. Some, by their own hands, forestalled the arrival of the Imperial emissaries, others perished by the weapons or implements of those designated to abolish the enemies of the Prince. Except myself not one ever survived to regain Imperial favor in a later reign; except myself not one ever recovered his patrimony and enjoyed, to a green old age, the income, position and privileges to which he had been born. If such a thing ever occurred, certainly there is no record of any other nobleman domiciled in Italy, except myself, having grasped at the slender chance of escape afforded by the device of arranging that he be supposed dead, of disguising himself, of vanishing among the populace, of passing himself off for a man of the people. I not only was led, by my clever slave, to attempt this histrionic feat, but I succeeded in the face of unimaginable difficulties. An experience so notably without a parallel seems peculiarly deserving of such a record as follows.

I. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST

When I look back on the beginning of my adventures, I can set the very day and hour when the tranquil course of my early life came to an end, when the comfortable commonplaces of my previous existence altered, when the placid current of my former life broke suddenly and without warning into the tumultuous rapids which hurried me from surprise to surprise and from peril to peril. The last hour of my serene youth was about the ninth of the day, nearly midafternoon, on the Nones of June in the 937th year of the city, while Cossonius Marullus and Papirius Aelian were consuls, when Commodus had already been four years Emperor.

It was not that misfortune then suddenly overwhelmed me, not that, sharp as a blown trumpet, I heard the voice of doom blare over me; not that, as one sees the upper rim of the sun vanish beneath the waves where the skyline meets the sea, and knows day ended and night begun, not thus that I recognized the end of my prosperity and the beginning of my disasters. That moment came later, as I shall record. It was rather that; as, in certain states of the weather, long before sunset one may be suddenly aware that afternoon is past and evening approaches; so, though I had no intimation at the moment, yet, reviewing my memories I realize that at that instant began the chain of trivial circumstances which led up to my calamity and enmeshed me in ruin.

And just here I cannot but remark, what I have often meditated over, how trifling, how apparently insignificant, are the circumstances which determine the felicity or misery of human beings. I was possessed of an ample estate; I was, in most difficult conditions, in unruffled amity with all my neighbors, on both sides of the great feud, except only my hereditary enemy; I was high in the favor of the Emperor; I was in a fair way to marry the youngest, the most lovely and the richest widow in Rome. In the twinkling of an eye I was cast down from the pinnacle of good fortune into an abyss of adversity. And upon what did my catastrophe hinge? Upon the whims of a friend and upon one oversight of my secretary. I should have had no story to tell, I should have been a man continuously happy, affluent and at ease, early married and passing from one high office to the next higher in an uninterrupted progress of success, had it not entered the head of my capricious crony to pay me an unexpected and unannounced visit, had he not arrived precisely at the time at which he came, had he not encountered just the persons he met just where he did meet them, had not his prankishness hatched in him the vagary which led him to give quizzical replies to their questions; had I not, carried away by my elation at my prosperity and fine prospects, been a trifle too indulgent to my tenantry.

Even after, as a result, the nexus of circumstances had been woven about me and after I found myself embroiled with both my powerful neighbors, I should have escaped any evil consequences had not my secretary, than whom no man ever was more loyal to his master or more wary and inclusive in his foresight upon every conceivable eventuality, failed to forecast the possible effects of a minor omission.

When my story begins I had already had one small adventure, nothing much out of the ordinary. Agathemer and I were returning from my final inspection of my estate. As we rode past one of the farmsteads we heard cries for help. Reining up and turning into the barn-yard, we found the tenant himself being attacked by his bull. I dismounted and diverted the animal’s attention. After the beast was securely penned up I was riding homewards more than a little tired, rumpled and heated and very eager for a bath.

As we approached my villa we saw a runner coming up the road, a big Nubian in a fantastic livery which when he reached us turned out to be entirely unknown to me. My grooms were just taking our horses. The grinning black, not a bit out of breath after his long run, saluted and addressed me.

“My master has sent me ahead to say he is coming to visit you.”

“Who is your master?” I asked.

“My master,” he said, still grinning goodnaturedly, “enjoined me not to tell you who he is.”

I turned to Agathemer.

“What do you make of this?” I asked.

“There is but one man in Italy,” he replied, “who is likely to send you such a message, and his name is on the tip of your tongue.”

“And on the tip of yours, I’ll wager,” said I. “Both together now!”

I raised my finger and counted.

“One! Two! Three!”

Both together we uttered:

“Opsitius Tanno!”

There was no variation in the Nubian’s non-committal grin. We went up the steps and stood by the balustrade of the terrace, where it commanded a good view of the valley. We could see a party approaching, a mounted intendant in advance, a litter, extra bearers and runners and several baggage mules.

“Nobody but Tanno would send me such a message,” I said to Agathemer.

“No one else,” he agreed, “but I should be no more surprised to see the Emperor himself in this part of the world.”

“One of his wild whims,” I conjectured. “Nothing else would tear him away from the city.”

I meditated.

“Our arrangements for dinner,” I continued, “fall in very well with his coming. I suppose the guest-rooms are all ready, but you had best go see to that, and meanwhile turn this fellow over to Ofatulenus.”

Agathemer nodded. The pleasantest of his many good qualities was that whatever he might be asked to do he carried out without comment or objection. Nothing was too big or too small for him. If he were asked to arrange for an interview with the Emperor or to attend to the creasing of a toga he was equally painstaking and obliging. He went off, followed by the negro. I waited on the terrace for Tanno. There was no use attempting to bathe until after his arrival. Presently a cheerful halloo from the litter reached my ears. It was Tanno to a certainty. Nobody else of my acquaintance had voice enough to make himself heard at that distance or was sufficiently lacking in dignity to emit a yawp in that fashion. When his escort came near enough I could see that all his bearers wore the same livery as his runner. Tanno was forever changing his liveries and each fresh invention he managed to make more fantastic than the last. There were eight bearers to the litter and some twenty reliefs. Travelling long distances by litter, begun as a necessity to such invalids as my uncle, had become a fashion through the extreme coxcombery of wealthy fops and the practice of the young Emperor. Tanno’s litter had all its panels slid back, and the curtains were not drawn. He was sitting almost erect, propped up by countless down cushions. He greeted me with many waves of the hand and a smile as genial as his halloo. I went down a little from the terrace to meet him and walked a few paces beside the litter. He rolled out and embraced me cordially, appearing as glad to see me as I was delighted to see him.

“I do not know,” I said, “whether I am more surprised or pleased to see you. To what do I owe my good fortune?”

“We simply cannot get on without you,” he answered, “and I am going to take you back to Rome with me. How soon can you start?”

“You came at the nick of time,” said I, “I had expected to go down three days from now, but I found out this afternoon that I can get away tomorrow morning.”

“Praise be to Hercules and all the gods,” said Tanno. “I love the country frantically, especially when I am in the city. I love it so that three days on the road is enough country for me. I have been bored to death and do so want a bath.”

“The bath is all hot and ready,” said I, “and the slaves waiting. But I am giving a dinner this evening and nearly all my neighbors are coming. The diners are almost due to arrive, I need a bath and want one, but I meant to wait for my guests.”

“Well,” he said, “you have one guest here already and that’s enough. Let’s bathe once, at once, and you can bathe again when your Sabine clodhoppers get here. Life is too short for a man to get enough baths, anyhow. Two a day is never enough for me. A pretext for two in an afternoon is always welcome. Come on, let’s bathe quick, so as to have it over with before the first of the other guests arrives, then we can get a breath of fresh air and be as keen for the second bath as for the first.”

Conversation with Tanno consisted mostly in listening and interjecting questions. He wallowed in the cold tank like a porpoise; caught me and ducked me until I yelled for mercy, and while I was trying to get my breath, half drowned me with the water he splashed over me with both hands; talking incessantly, except when his head was under water. When we lay down on the divan in the warm room he rattled on.

“You needn’t tell me,” he said, “that your runners haven’t taken letters to Vedia, but she is supposed not to hear from you, so, as I told of two of your letters to me, I have, in a way been held responsible for you and have been pelted with inquiries. Nemestronia loves you like a grandson, and, if you ask me, I say Vedia is in love with you out and out. As I had heard from you and nobody else had, I began to feel as if I ought to look after you. Everything was abominably humdrum and I deceived myself into thinking I should enjoy the smell of green fields. I certainly should have turned back less than half way if I had been concerned with anybody else than you; and when we turned off the Via Salaria into your country byroad I cursed you and your neighbors and all Sabinum. The most deserted stretch of road I ever travelled in all my life. I saw only six human beings before I reached your villa and I had heard that this valley was populous and busy. I slept last night at Vicus Novus and I started this morning, bright and early. When we turned up the road below Villa Satronia I was never more disgusted in my life. My men are perfectly matched in height, weight, pace and action and any eight of the lot will carry me at full speed as smoothly as a pleasure-barge. But they could make nothing of that road. It is all washed, guttered, dusty in the open places, puddly where trees hang over it and full of loose stones on top everywhere.

“I was so horribly jolted that I called the bearers to stop. I made Dromanus get off his horse and give me his poncho and his big felt hat. Then I got on his horse and told him to get into the litter. He was embarrassed.

“‘Pooh’, said I, ‘you cannot walk and we should look like fools with an empty litter. Get in and be jounced! Draw the curtains; if we meet anybody I’ll give you an impressive title.’ He rolled in among the cushions, looking as foolish as possible. His horse ambled perfectly and I felt more comfortable. I went on ahead. We had not met anybody since we turned into the crossroads; about half a mile beyond the place where I had left my litter I came around one of the innumerable curves a little ahead of the procession and saw two men approaching on foot. When they came abreast of me they saluted me politely and the taller, a black-haired, dark-faced fellow with a broad jaw, inquired (in the tone he would have used to Dromanus) whose litter I was escorting. I was rather tickled that they took me for my own intendant. I judged we must be approaching the entrance to Villa Satronia and that they were people from there. I assumed an exaggerated imitation of Dromanus’ most grandiloquent manner and in his orotund unctuous delivery I declaimed:

“‘My master is Numerius Vedius Vindex. He is asleep.’ (They swallowed that awful lie, they did not realize how bad their own road was.) ‘We are on our way to Villa Vedia.’

“They looked sour enough at that, I promise you, and I made out that they were Satronians for certain. The two fellows exchanged a glance, thanked me politely and went on.

“I knew the entrance to the Satronian estate by the six big chestnut- trees, you had often described them to me; and I knew the next private road by the single huge plane tree. But when we crossed the second bridge, the little one, I went over that round hill and did not recognize the foot of your road when we came to it. I was for going on. Dromanus called from behind the curtains of the litter:

“‘This is Hedulio’s road: turn to the right.’

“I was stubborn and sang back at him:

“‘Hedulio has told me all about this country. This is not his land. It is further on at the next brook.’

“We went on over the next bridge past the entrance to the south, and I felt more and more that Dromanus was right and I was wrong, and yet I grew more and more stubborn. When we passed the sixth bridge and I saw the stream getting bigger and turning to the left, I knew I was wrong. At the crossroads I realized we were at the entrance to Villa Vedia, but I would not give up, I took the left-hand turn and went down stream. Beyond the first bend in the road we found ourselves approaching a long, straggling, one-street village of tall, narrow stone houses along the eastern bank of the little river. By the road, just before the first house, watching five goats, was a boy, a boy with a crooked twitching face.

“‘The village idiot,’ I put in. ‘They can never let him out of sight and he is always beside the road.’

“He was not too big an idiot to tell us it was Vediamnum.”

“He was enough of an idiot,” I said, “to forget you, and your question the next minute. The boy is almost a beast.”

“He had enough sense to tell us the name of the village,” Tanno retorted, “and I had to acknowledge to Dromanus he was right, and so we turned round. When we were hardly more than out of sight of Vediamnum we met another party, a respectable-looking man, much like a farm bailiff, on horseback, and two slaves afoot. I had not seen them before, and they, apparently, had not previously seen us. The rider asked, very decently, whose was the party. I treated them as I had the others.

“‘My master is asleep,’ I said again. (It was not such an improbable lie that time, for the road by Vediamnum is pretty good.) ‘I have the honor to escort Mamercus Satronius Sabinus.’

“I had guessed that they were Vedians and I was sure of it when I said that. The slaves scowled and the bailiff saluted very stiffly.

“Just after we turned into your road, I stopped the escort and told Dromanus to take his horse. He had relieved me of his hat and poncho and I had one hand on the litter, ready to climb in, when I heard hoofs behind us on the road. I looked back. There was a rider on a beautiful bay mare coming up at a smartish lope. Just as he came abreast of us she shied at the litter and reared and began to prance about. I give you my word I never had such a fright in my life. If you can imagine Commodus in an old weather-beaten, broad-brimmed hat of soft, undyed felt and a mean, cheap, shaggy poncho of undyed wool, and worse than the hat, that was the man on the mare. He was left-handed, too.”

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“By the way he handled his reins, of course,” said Tanno.

“The mare was a magnificent beast, vicious as a fury, with a mouth as hard as an eighty-pound tunny. He sat her like Castor himself. She pirouetted back and forth across the road and my fellows scampered from under her hoofs. The mare was such a beauty I could not take my eyes off her.”

“Yes,” I put in, “Ducconius has a splendid stud.”

“Was he Ducconius?” Tanno exclaimed. “Your adversary in your old law- suit?”

“His son Marcus, from your description,” I amplified. “He is proprietor of the property now. His father died last year.”

“Well,” Tanno went on. “You know that look Commodus has, like a healthy, well-fed country proprietor with no education, no ideas and no thoughts beyond crops and deer-hunting and boar-hunting, with a vacuous, unintelligent stare? Well, that was just the way he looked.”

“That is the way young Ducconius looks,” I rejoined. “He ought to. You have described exactly what he is.”

“Does he know he looks like the Emperor?” Tanno asked, “and how does it happen?”

“Pure coincidence,” said I. “The family have been reared in these hills for generations, none of them ever went to Rome. Reate is the end of the world for them.”

“Well,” Tanno commented, “he might be Commodus’ twin brother, by his looks. He’ll be a head shorter, in a hurry, if Commodus ever hears of him. He is the duplicate of him. I stood in the road, staring after him, and forgot to climb into the litter. When I woke up and climbed in, my lads swung up your road at a great pace, and here I am. If I had had any sense I’d have been here not much after noon. As it is I have wasted most of the day.”

When we went into the hot room, I asked him,

“Where did you get your new bearers? They look to me like Nemestronia’s. What have you done with your Saxons?”

“Nemestronia has them,” he explained, “and my Nubians were hers. The dear old lady took a fancy to my Saxons and teased and wheedled until I agreed to exchange. Nobody ever can refuse anything to Nemestronia. I argued a good deal. I told her that even if she is the youngest-looking old lady in Rome it would never do in the world to set herself in contrast to such blue eyes and pink skins and such yellow hair: that Nubians were much more appropriate and that nothing could be more trying than Saxons, even for a bride. She told me I mustn’t make fun of her old age and decrepitude. She said that the Saxons had such cheerful, bright faces and looked such infantile giants that she really must have them. So I let her have her way. The Nubians stand the heat better and the Saxons were almost too showy.”

Even while the attendant was thumping and kneading him on the slab, Tanno went on talking a cheerful monologue of frothy gossip. I asked him about the Emperor.

“As fretful as possible,” he said. “The trouble with Commodus is that he is growing tired of exhibiting himself as an athlete to invited audiences in the Palace. He is perfectly frantic to show himself off in the Circus or in the Amphitheatre. He oscillates between the determination to disregard convention and to do as he likes and virtuous resolutions, when he has been given a good talking-to by his old councillors and has made up his mind to behave properly. He will break out yet into public exhibitions of himself. He is really pathetically unhappy over his hard lot and positively wails about the amount of his time which is taken up with State business and about the pitifully small opportunity he has for training and exercise.”

My bath was broken off, sooner than I had intended, by the appearance of one of the kitchen-boys, who asked for me so tragically and so urgently and was so positive that no one else would suffice, that I went down into the kitchen in a towering rage at being interrupted and wondering why on earth I could be needed. I found Ofatulena, wife of the Villa-farm bailiff, in violent altercation with my head-cook. He asserted that she had no business in his kitchen and must get out. Her contention was that she, as bailiff’s wife, was above all slaves whatever, that she knew her place and that when a distinguished stranger visited the Villa she would show him what old-fashioned Sabine cooking was like, so she would. The cook had had, through Agathemer, my directions for a formal dinner and he declared that one more guest made no difference and that his dinner was good enough for anybody. I compromised by telling him to continue as he had planned, but to allow Ofatulena to prepare one dish for each course and to add to each one of her own. I was rather pleased at her intrusion, for there was no better cook in Sabinum, and anything old-fashioned was sure to be a novelty to Tanno.

I found Tanno on the terrace, basking comfortably in the late sunshine and gazing down the valley.

“What is that big hill away off to the East?” he asked.

“That is on the Aemilian property,” I answered. “Villa Aemilia has a direct outlet to the Via Valeria and the Aemilian Estate does not belong to this neighborhood at all. It runs back to the Tolenus and mostly drains and slopes that way. Huge as the Vedian estates are, and though the Satronian estates are still huger, yet the Aemilian estates are so vast that they are larger than both the Vedian and Satronian lands together. The Aemilian land has much woodland along its western borders and blankets and almost encloses the Vedian and Satronian estates and all of us in between. The road you came up is a sort of detour east of the Salarian way. The Satronians and Vedians and we in between all use it, turning to the right towards Reate and to the left towards Rome.”

Tanno blinked at the soft, hazy view and swept his arm southward.

“That is all Satronian over there?” he asked.

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