The Unwilling Vestal. A Tale of Rome Under the Caesars - Edward Lucas White - ebook

The Unwilling Vestal. A Tale of Rome Under the Caesars ebook

Edward Lucas White

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The Unwilling Vestalm, written by Edward Lucas White, tells the story of the difficult choice of the main character. Young girl in imperial Rome. She is in love with a young nobleman, but her father insists that she marry another man, Kalvaster, or becomea Vestal virgin. The woman becomes Vestal, one of the six virgin priestesses of the goddess Vesta, whose duty was to protect the sacred flame in the Temple of Vesta. If the flame ever goes out, it will have dire consequences for Rome.

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Liczba stron: 430

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Contents

Author's Preface

Book I

The Rage of Disappointment

Chapter I. Precocity

Chapter II. Sieves

Chapter III. Stutterings

Chapter IV. Pestilence

Chapter V. Escapades

Chapter VI. Notoriety

Chapter VII. Audience

Book II

The Revolt of Despondency

Chapter VIII. Scourging

Chapter IX. Alarms

Chapter X. Conference

Chapter XI. Farewell

Chapter XII. Observances

Chapter XIII. Perversity

Chapter XIV. Amazement

Book III

The Rebellion of Desperation

Chapter XV. Rehabilitation

Chapter XVI. Vagary

Chapter XVII. Recklessness

Chapter XVIII. Fury

Chapter XIX. Comfort

Book IV

The Revulsion of Delight

Chapter XX. Accusation

Chapter XXI. Ordeal

Chapter XXII. Triumph

Chapter XXIII. Salvage

Author's Preface

THE title of this romance is likely to prejudice any reader against it. There exists a popular delusion that fiction with a classical setting is bound to be dull and lumbering, that it is impossible for it to possess that quality of bravura slangily denominated “punch.” Anybody will be disabused of that notion upon reading this story.

On the other hand, after having read it, almost any one will be likely to imagine that a novel with so startling a heroine and with incidents so bizarre cannot possibly be based on any sound and genuine knowledge of its background; that the author has conjured out of his fantasy not only his plot and chief characters, but also their world; that he has created out and out not merely his Vestal, but his Vestals, their circumstances and the life which they are represented as leading: that he has manufactured his local color to suit as he went along.

Nothing could be further from the actuality. The details of rule and ritual, of dress and duties, of privileges and punishments are set forth in accordance with a full first-hand and intimate acquaintance with all available evidence touching the Vestals; including all known inscriptions relating to them, every passage in Roman or Greek literature in any way concerning them, the inferences drawn from all existing or recorded sculptures and coins which add to our knowledge of them, and every treatise written since the revival of learning in Europe in which the Vestals are discussed. The story contains no preposterous anachronisms or fatuous absurdities. Throughout, it either embodies the known facts or is invented in conformity with the known facts.

Any one to whom chapter twenty-one seems incredible should consult an adequate encyclopedia article or an authoritative treatise on physics and read up on the surface tension of liquids.

Book I

The Rage of Disappointment

I. PRECOCITY

“BRINNARIA!” he said severely, “you will marry any man I designate.”

“I never shall marry any man,” she retorted positively, “except the man I want to marry.”

She gazed unflinchingly into her father’s imperious eyes, wide-set on either side of a formidable Roman nose. His return gaze was less incensed than puzzled. All his life he had been habituated to subserviency, had never met opposition, and to find it from his youngest daughter, and she a mere child, amazed him. As she faced him she appeared both resolute and tremulous. He looked her up and down from the bright blue velvety leather of her little shoes on which the gilt sole-edges and gilt laces glittered to the red flower in her brown hair. Inside her clinging red robe the soft outlines of her young shape swelled plump and healthy, yet altogether she seemed to him but a fragile creature. Resistance from her was incredible.

Perhaps this was one more of her countless whims. While he considered her meditatively he did not move his mighty arms or legs; the broad crimson stripe down his tunic rose and fell slowly above his ample paunch and vaster chest as his breath came evenly; on his short bull neck his great bullet head was as moveless as if he had been one of the painted statues that lined the walls all about. As the two regarded each other they could hear the faint splash of the fountain in the tank midway of the courtyard.

Her father, a true Roman to his marrow, with all a Roman’s arbitrary instincts, reverted to the direct attack.

“You will marry Pulfennius Calvaster,” he commanded.

“I will not!” she declared.

He temporized.

“Why not?” he queried.

The obstinacy faded from Brinnaria’s handsome, regular face. She looked merely reflective

“In the first place,” she said, “because I despise him and hate him worse than any young man I ever knew; I would not marry Calvaster if he were the only man left alive. In the second place, because, if all the men on earth were courting me at once, all rich and all fascinating and Caius were poor and anything and everything else that he isn’t, I’d marry nobody ever except Caius. You hear me, Father. Caius Segontius Almo is the only, only man I’ll ever marry. Nothing can shake my resolution, never.”

She was breathing eagerly, her cheeks flushed a warm red through her olive complexion, her eyes shining till tiny specks sparkled green and yellow in the wide brown of her big irises.

Her father’s jaw set.

“I’ve listened to you, daughter,” he said. “Now you listen to me. I have no objections to Almo; I rather like him. I have thought of marrying you to him; if Segontius and I had not quarreled, we might have arranged it. There is no possibility of it now. And just now, for some reason or other, Pulfennius is keen on arranging a marriage between you and Calvaster. His offers are too tempting to be rejected and the chance is to good to be missed. Our properties adjoin not only here and at Baiae, but also at Praeneste, at Grumentum and at Ceneta. With our estates so marvellously paired the marriage seems divinely ordained when one comes to think it over. Don’t be a fool. Anyhow, if you insist on making trouble for yourself, it will do you no good. My mind is made up. You are to marry Calvaster.”

“I won’t!” Brinnaria maintained

Her father smiled, a menacing smile

“Perhaps not,” he said, “but there will be only one alternative. Unless you agree to obey me I shall go at once to the Pontifex and offer you for a Vestal.”

Every trace of apprehension vanished from Brinnaria’s expression. She grinned saucily, almost impudently, at her father, and snapped her fingers in his face.

“You can’t scare me that way, Daddy!” she mocked him. “I know better than that. There can be only six Vestals. You can offer, if you like, but the Emperors themselves can’t take me for a Vestal while the six are alive.”

The laugh muffled in her throat; she was fairly daunted. Never had she seen her father’s face so dark, so threatening. Not in all her life had he so much as spoken harshly to her; she had been his pet since she had begun to remember. But now, for one twinkling, she feared a blow from him. She almost shrank back from him.

He did not move and he spoke softly.

“Rabulla died this morning before dawn,” was all he said.

Instantly Brinnaria. was fluttering with panic.

“You aren’t in earnest, Daddy!” she protested. “You can’t be in earnest. You’re only fooling; you’re only trying to frighten me. You don’t really mean it; oh, please, Daddy, say you don’t really mean it!”

“I really mean it,” her father answered heavily. “I never meant anything more genuinely in my life. You know my influence with the Emperors and with the Pontifex of Vesta. You know that if I made the proposal they would disregard any rival petitioners, would override all unnecessary formalities, would have the matter despatched at once. Unless you obey me you will be a Vestal before sunset to-morrow.”

Brinnaria was now fairly quivering with terror.

“Oh, Daddy!” she quivered, “you couldn’t be so cruel. I’d rather die than have to be a Vestal. I couldn’t imagine any life so terrible. Oh, Daddy, please say you are not in earnest.”

He frowned.

“I swear,” he said, “that I was never more in earnest. I say it solemnly, as sure as my name is Marcus Brinnarius Epulo, I’ll have you made a Vestal unless you agree this moment to give up all thoughts of Almo, to obey me about marrying Calvaster, and to be properly polite to him and Pulfennius.”

“Daddy!” Brinnaria cried. “Only don’t have me made a Vestal and I’ll do anything. I’ll forget there ever was an Almo. I’ll be sweet as honey to Pulfennius till he loves me better than Secunda, and I’ll marry Calvaster; I’ll marry anybody. Why, Daddy, I’d marry a boar pig rather than be a Vestal.”

Her father smiled.

“I thought my little daughter would behave properly,” he soothed her, “and you are just in time. That may be your future husband and father-in-law coming now.”

In fact they were in a moment ushered in. Pulfennius was a tall man, lean and loose-jointed, with straggling, greenish-gray hair; a long, uneven head, broad at the skull and narrow at the chin; puffy, white bags of flabby flesh under his eyes; irregular yellow teeth and sagging cheeks that made his face look squarish. Calvaster was a mere boy, with a leaden complexion, shifty gray eyes, thin lips, and an expression at once sly and conceited.

“You come opportunely,” said their host after the greetings had been exchanged, “for you happen to find me alone with the very daughter of whom you and I were talking. This is Brinnaria.”

“This!” Pulfennius exclaimed. “This the girl we were talking about? Impossible! Incredible! There must be some mistake.”

“There is no mistake,” his host assured him. “This is the girl we were talking about, this is Brinnaria.”

The visitor regarded her, respectfully standing now, her brown eyes down- cast, the flush faded from her olive-skinned cheeks, her arms hanging limply at her sides. She was tall for a girl and while slenderly built was well muscled, a fine handsome figure in her red robe.

“This!” he exclaimed again. “Indeed. So this is Brinnaria. I am very glad to have seen her. And now having seen her, do you not think that our business would be better transacted by us three males together?”

“Certainly, if you prefer,” Brinnarius asserted.

He patted Brinnaria and kissed her.

“Run away now, little girl,” he said, “and wait in the peristyle until I want you.”

Brinnaria, once in the rear courtyard, instantly called:

“Guntello!”

Her call was answered by a great brute of a slave, bigger even than her father, a gigantic Goth, pink-skinned, blue-eyed and yellow-haired.

“Now listen to me, Guntello,” his little mistress said, “for if you make any mistake about my errand you’ll get me into no end of trouble.”

The Goth, manifestly devoted to her, leaned his ear close and grinned amiably. She repeated her directions twice and made him repeat them after her in his broken Latin. When she was sure that he understood, she despatched him with a whispered injunction:

“Hurry! Hurry!”

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