Lords of the World - Alfred J. Church

The World Well Lost

Cleanor had been back in Rome some four months, and had nearly completed his work with the committee of translation, when he received a visit from the young Scipio. The latter had not been one of the party at Misenum during the holidays of Saturn, having been summoned to Sicily to fill a casual vacancy on the staff of the quĉstor in that province.

Well," said Cleanor, after an affectionate exchange of greetings, "and how did you like your quĉstor's work in Sicily?"

"I found it most interesting," replied the young man, "and, I must say, most agreeable. My name made me most welcome everywhere. You can hardly imagine what an impression my uncle's action in giving back the statues to the cities has made on the whole island. The simple fact that I was his nephew was enough to make them almost worship me. I happened to be at Agrigentum when the famous Bull was solemnly put back into its place. If I had been the founder of the city come to life again I could not have been treated with more respect. I should be quite ashamed to describe all the oratings and crownings and embracings that I went through. In fact, if I had any complaint to make, it would be that to a modest young man myself the honours were just a little overpowering."

"And what," asked Cleanor, "are you going do now?"

"That," replied the young Roman, "is just what I want to talk to you about. Lentulus, who is proconsul of Sicily, as I dare say you know, has expressed himself very handsomely about my services, and, what is more, has offered to propose me as one of the regular quĉstors for next year. This is all the more satisfactory because he is no kinsman of mine, and in fact is not on the same side in politics as my uncle. If my uncle were to nominate me, I should probably get my election, but this will make it quite certain."

"Well," said Cleanor, "of course you won't hesitate to accept. I give you my congratulations in advance. It will be the first step in the ladder, and we shall see you climb, as your forbears have climbed before you, to be ĉdile, prĉtor, consul."

"Yes, yes," said the young man, "that is so. It is the first step, and I could not take it under better auspices, but—" and he paused, looking like anything but the ambitious young man before whom the greatest career in the world was opening.

"What is the hindrance, then?" asked the young Greek.

Scipio's embarrassment seemed to increase. "I have been to my aunt Cornelia's at Misenum," he added after a long pause.

"And what was her advice?" asked Cleanor. "Surely she had nothing to say against it. I should even have thought, as far as I know anything of your Roman politics, that she would have been especially well pleased to see you come out in public life under the auspices of Lentulus."

"Oh, yes!" returned the young Roman. "That was exactly her view. But—" and the speaker paused in still greater embarrassment than ever. "Well—I must say it sooner or later—I have seen your sister."

"My sister! What has my sister got to do with it?" asked Cleanor in utter bewilderment. "I don't suppose you asked her advice, and if you did, she would not hinder you, I should suppose, from serving your country."

"Well," said Scipio, "I did ask her, though not exactly for her advice, and she said exactly what you supposed she would say."

"Then where is the difficulty? You want the thing yourself; all your friends advise you to take the chances. What is it that hinders? For heaven's sake, my friend, do explain what you mean, for it is quite past my understanding."

"Then, Cleanor, listen; if I offend you, as I can hardly help doing, be patient with me. First and foremost, then, I love your sister Cleoné. It is the dearest wish of my heart to make her my wife, and I think, that is, I hope, that she cares a little for me."

"I am delighted to hear it," cried the young Greek, as he sprang up and seized his friend's hands. "I am delighted to hear it. There isn't a better or braver girl in the world, if I may say so much of my own sister. You have heard her story, of course. Well, she deserves a good husband, if ever a girl did, and I am glad to think that she is likely to find one."

"I am delighted to hear you say so, though I don't feel anything like worthy of her. But now comes what I find it so hard to say. Cleoné is a match for anyone in the world, in birth as well as in herself. But, in the eyes of our law, she is not a match for a Roman citizen. By some accursed chance—though, indeed, but for this said chance I should never have seen her—she was made a slave, and is now a freed woman. Out of that status  nothing, as far as I know, can raise her, and being in that status  she cannot be my wife. In one sense there may be a marriage between us, but it would not be a marriage that would give her the rights and privileges of a Roman matron; it would not be a marriage which would open to our children the career of a Roman citizen. There, my dear friend, the murder is out; that is the bare fact, and if it seems an insult to you—and an insult, I fear, it must seem—pray remember that it is not of my making or doing."

"My dear friend," said Cleanor, "I won't pretend that what you have said hasn't hurt me. We have always been accustomed to think ourselves as good as anybody in point of birth and standing. In fact we Greeks are not a little exclusive, and it is a blow to be told that we are ourselves outside the social pale. But for you, I assure you I haven't a feeling that is not all friendship. I don't draw back from a single word of what I said about my sister. Still we must consider; and of course, before all things, she must know."

"Yes, she must know," replied Scipio. "Of course I have said nothing. She does not know—so far at least as anything that I have said is concerned—that I love her."

"Well," said Cleanor, "we will leave that then for the present. Now listen to what I have been thinking about myself and my own future. I am in love, too, and you have seen the lady. Can you guess who it is?"

"Guess!" said Scipio with a smile. "There is no need of guessing. I have known it a long time. Well, I will allow that your Daphne is the fairest woman in the world,—with, of course, one exception."

"Well, when a man is in my plight, he naturally, if he is worthy of being called a man, begins to think of his future. And what future have I here in Italy? I have property enough to live upon, but that is all. But what career is there before me? I have turned the matter over in my mind, and I have asked for information from others. There seems to be positively but one thing for a man in my situation to do. I might become teacher of rhetoric. That is the one solitary employment open to a Greek stranger, and a very precarious employment too. The old-fashion nobles don't like Greek rhetoricians, and it is quite possible that some fine day I might find my banished. That, you will allow, is not a prospect with which a man will readily content himself.

"And do you see any way out of it?" ask Scipio.

"I have dreams," replied the young Greek, "and I have always had, and the dreams of to-day fit on curiously enough to the dreams of the past. When I was a boy I had an ambition to be something beyond the chief citizen of Chelys. As for Carthage, though no one thought that her end was so near, I knew that there was nothing there to satisfy me, even if her honours had been open to me. But there is a world beyond Carthage, and even beyond Rome. It is of that that I dreamed then, and of which I dream still. Say, Scipio, my friend, shall we go and look for it?"

The young men had a long talk on the subject. Cleanor poured out the store of knowledge which, with an enthusiasm that dated back to very early years indeed, he had gathered from every available source. There was, of course, a plentiful admixture of fiction, or fact so transmuted and idealized that it almost had become fiction. There were legends and traditions, travellers' tales, and yarns of adventurous seamen; but there was also a solid substratum of truth. Cleanor's sheet-anchor, so to speak, was the famous Circumnavigation of Hanno. That famous voyager had beyond all doubt passed into the great western ocean through the Pillars of Hercules, and turning southward had seen many a strange and beautiful land, aye, and lived to bring back the report of them. All these things the ardent Greek dwelt upon with an enthusiasm which at last fired the duller fancy of the Roman. Scipio left the house more than half persuaded.

A few days afterwards Cleanor, having fairly finished his part in the work which had so long occupied his leisure, went down with Scipio to Misenum. They had agreed to say nothing of their scheme till they had heard what their hostess had to say to it. Cornelia was doubtful. Cleanor indeed had her fullest sympathy when he declared that he could not be content with any career that fate had left open for him, and that he must seek one elsewhere. It was about her great-nephew that she doubted. She could not bring herself to think him right when he proposed to relinquish his Roman birthright. Not for any woman, not though she was, as Cleoné, one among ten thousand, should a man give up the splendid opportunities of service and reward which Rome held forth to her sons.

The young man found an unexpected ally in his cousin Tiberius. "My duty," he said, "keeps me here; but if I could choose my own way, I would join your search. Sometimes I seem to see further into the future than is commonly given to man, and what I see is dark with the shadow of disaster and death. Our great kinsman has won splendid victories for Rome, and has others to win, but I doubt whether the gods have not granted these victories to our country more in wrath than in love. When we have trodden all our foes and rivals under our feet we shall turn our swords upon ourselves. The wealth of the world that is pouring into our treasury will kindle to a deadlier rage the eternal quarrel between those who have and those who have not. My lot is cast in with the unhappy. The love of woman is not for me; I shall not be able even to keep the affection of my kinsfolk. But I would not avoid my fate, even if I could. You are happier. It would be as great a folly for you to stay, as it would be a crime for me to depart."

After this Cornelia, who was always overawed when the deeper nature of her son revealed itself, silently withdrew her opposition. The elder Scipio, who would almost certainly have used all his influence to bring it to nothing, was fortunately absent from Italy. Daphne put no hindrance in the way. She had secretly worshipped the magnificent hero—for such he seemed to her—who had rescued her and hers from the deadliest peril, and was ready to follow him, if he willed it, to the ends of the world, and, if it might be, even beyond it.

But Scipio found Cleoné far more difficult to deal with. She was very far from disdaining his love, but it filled her with something like rage to think that for her sake he should abandon his career. It was partly that her pride was touched. That she, the long-descended daughter of heroes, who reckoned Ion himself among her far-away ancestors, should bring humiliation and disability on the man to whom she gave her hand! The bare idea was beyond endurance. Such love was a disgrace to both of them. She peremptorily commanded her suitor to forget it. But this stern mood did not last. She was moved not a little by the sight of Daphne's happiness. She was conscious of a craving in her own heart for a happiness of her own. She had herself suffered so much, and it was hard, when at last the sunshine came, to have to shut it out, and still to sit in the darkness. Then the strongest influences were brought to bear upon her. Her brother was urgent in his entreaties that she should not mar their plan. And her refusal would mar it. He could not go if she stayed behind. And the sight of Scipio's suffering touched her, for indeed she loved him tenderly. In the end she gave way.