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THE LION'S BROOD

by

DUFFIELD OSBORNE

Author of "The Spell of Ashtaroth," "The Secret of the Crater"







[Frontispiece: Here and there a Gaul would bound
forward . . . to throw himself prone beneath
the vermilion hoofs.]



New York
Doubleday Page & Company
1904
Copyright, 1901,
by Doubleday, Page & Co.




To the Memory of

HOWARD SEELY

BRILLIANT WRITER, TRUE-HEARTED GENTLEMAN,

STANCH AND LOYAL FRIEND





CONTENTS.


PART I.

INTRODUCTION


CHAPTER

I. NEWS
II. WORDS
III. PARTING
IV. FABIUS
V. TEMPTATION
VI. DISOBEDIENCE
VII. PUNISHMENT
VIII. DISGRACE
IX. HOME
X. CONVALESCENCE
XI. POLITICS
XII. BRAWLINGS
XIII. THE RED FLAG
XIV. CANNAE
XV. "WITHIN THE RAILS"


PART II.

I. THE QUEEN OF THE WAYS
II. THE GATE
III. PACUVIUS CALAVIUS
IV. THE HOUSE OF THE NINII CELERES
V. THE BANQUET
VI. ALLIES
VII. "FREEDOM"
VIII. DIPLOMACY
IX. THE BAIT
X. MELKARTH
XI. THE SLAVE
XII. FLIGHT
XIII. WINTER QUARTERS




PART I.


THE LION'S BROOD.


INTRODUCTION.

Centuries come and go; but the plot of the drama is unchanged, and the
same characters play the same parts. Only the actors cast for them are
new.


It is much worn,--this denarius,--and the lines are softened and
blurred,--as of right they should be, when you think that more than two
thousand years have passed since it felt the die. It is lying before
me now on my table, and my eyes rest dreamily on its helmeted head of
Pallas Nicephora. There, behind her, is the mint-mark and that word of
ancient power and glory, "Roma." Below are letters so worn and
indistinct that I must bend close to read them: "--M. SERGI," and then
others that I cannot trace.

Perhaps I have dozed a bit, for I must have turned the coin,
unthinking, and now I see the reverse: a horseman, in full panoply,
galloping, with naked sword brandished in his left hand, from which
depends a severed head tight-clutched by long, flowing hair.

The clouds hang low over the city, as I peer from my tower
window,--driving, ever driving, from the east, and changing, ever
changing, their fantastic shapes. Now they are the waving hands and
gowns of a closely packed multitude surging with human passions; now
they are the headlong rout of a flying army upon which press hordes of
riders, dark, fierce, and barbarous--horses with tumultuous manes, and
hands with brandished darts. Surely it is a sleepy, workless day! It
will be vain to drive my pen across the pages.

I do not see the cloud forms now--not with my eyes, for they have
closed themselves perforce; but my brain is awake, and I know that the
eyes of Pallas Nicephora see them, and grow brighter as if gazing on
well-remembered scenes.

Why not? How many thousand clinkings of coin against coin in purse and
pouch, how many hundred impacts of hands that long since are dust, have
served to dim your once clear relief!

Surely, Pallas, you have looked upon all this and much more. Shall I
see aught with your eyes, lady of my Sergian denarius? Shall I see,
if, with you before me, I look fixedly at the legions of clouds that
cross my window an hour--two--three--even until the night closes in?

Grant but a grain of this, O Goddess, and lo! I vow to thee a troop of
pipe-players upon the Ides of June.




I.

NEWS.

"A troop of pipe-players to Minerva on the Ides of June, if we win!"

"And my household to Mars, if we have lost!"

The speakers were hurrying along the street that leads down from the
Palatine Hill toward the Forum, and both were young. Their high shoes
fastened with quadruple thongs and adorned with small silver crescents
proclaimed their patrician rank.

"Why do you vow as if the gods had already passed judgment, Lucius?"

"Because, my Caius, I am very sure that a battle has been fought. What
else do these rumours mean that are flying through the city? rumours
that none can trace to a source. It is only a few minutes, since my
freedman, Atius, told me how the slaves report that our neighbour
Marcus Sabrius rode in last night through the Ratumenian Gate; and when
I sent to his house to inquire, the doorkeeper feigned ignorance. That
is only one of a hundred tales. Note the crowd thickening around us as
we approach the Forum, and how all are pressing in the same direction.
Study their faces, and doubt what I say if you can."

"But is it victory or defeat?"

"Answer me your own question, Caius. Is 'victory' or 'defeat' the word
that men do not dare to utter?"

The face of Caius became grave. Then suddenly he burst out with:--

"You are right. I see it all now, even as you speak; and what hope had
we from the first? Who was the demagogue Flaminius that he should
command our army, going forth without the auspices--a consul that was
no consul at all in the sight of the gods! Then, too, there were the
warnings that poured in from all the country: the ships in the sky, the
crow alighting on the couch in the Temple of Juno, the stones rained in
Picinum--"

"Foolish stories, my Caius; the dreams of ignorant rustics," replied
Lucius, smiling faintly. "Besides, you remember they were all
expiated--"

"And who knows that they were expiated truly!" croaked an old woman
from a booth by the road. "Who does not know that, as Varro says, your
patrician magistrates would rather lose a battle than that a plebeian
consul should triumph! Varbo, the butcher, dreamed last night that his
son's blood was drenching his bed, and when he awoke, it was water from
the roof; and Arates, the Greek soothsayer, says that Varbo's son has
been slain in the water, and his blood--"

But the young patricians, who had halted a moment at the interruption,
now hurried on with an expression of contempt on their faces.

"That is what Flaminius stands for," resumed Lucius after a moment of
silence. "How can we look for success when such men are raised to the
command, merely because they _are_ such men; and when a Fabius and a
Claudius are set aside because their fathers' fathers led the armies of
the Republic to victory in the days when this rabble were the slaves
they should still be."

The friends had turned into the Sacred Way. A moment later they
arrived at the Forum lined with its rows of booths nestled away beneath
massive porticoes of peperino, and with its columned temples standing
like divine sentinels about or sweeping away up the rugged slope of the
Capitoline to where the great fane of Jupiter Capitolinus shed its
protecting glory over the destinies of Rome.

Below, the broad expanse of Forum and Comitia was thronged with a
surging crowd--patricians and plebeians,--elbowing and pushing one
another in mad efforts to get closer to the Rostra and to a small group
of magistrates, who, with grave faces, were clustered at the foot of
its steps. These latter spoke to each other in whispers, but such a
babel of sounds swelled up around them that they might safely have
screamed without fear of being overheard.

The booths were emptied of their cooks and butchers and silversmiths.
Waving arms and the flutter of robes emphasized the discussions going
on on every side. Here a rumour-monger was telling his tale to a
gaping cluster of pallid faces; there a plebeian pot-house orator was
arraigning the upper classes to a circle of lowering brows and clenched
fists, while the sneering face of some passing patrician told of a
disdain beyond words, as he gathered his toga closer to avoid the
contamination of the rabble.

One sentiment, however, seemed to prevail over all, and, beside it,
curiosity, party rancour, wrath, and contempt were as nothing. It was
anxiety sharpened even into dread that brooded everywhere and
controlled all other passions, while itself threatening at every moment
to sweep away the barriers and to loose the warm southern blood of the
citizens into a seething flood of furious riot or headlong panic.

The two young men had descended into this maelstrom of popular
excitement, and were making such headway as they could toward the
central point of interest. Now and again they passed friends who
either looked straight into their faces, without a sign of recognition,
or else burst out into floods of information,--prayers for news or
vouchsafings of it,--news, good or bad, true or false. Perhaps
three-fourths of the distance had been covered at the expense of torn
togas and bruised sides, when a sudden commotion in front showed that
something was happening. The next moment the hard, stern face of
Marcus Pomponius Matho, the praetor peregrinus, rose above the crowd,
and then the broad purple band upon his toga, as he mounted the steps
of the Rostra.

It seemed hours--almost days--that he stood there, grave and silent,
looking down into the sea of upturned faces, while the roar of the
multitude died away into a gentle murmur, and then into a silence so
oppressive that each man seemed to be holding his breath. Once the
magistrate's lips moved, but no words came from them, and strange
noises, as of the clenching of teeth and sharp, quick breathing, rose
all about. Then a voice came from his mouth, the very calmness of
which seemed terrible:--

"Quirites, we have been beaten in a great battle. Our army is
destroyed, and Caius Flaminius, the consul, is killed."

For a moment there was stillness deeper almost than before, as if the
leadlike words were sinking slowly but steadily along passage and nerve
down to the central seats of consciousness; then burst forth a sound as
of a single groan--the groan of Jupiter himself in mortal anguish; and
then the noise of women weeping, the shrieking treble of age, and the
rumbling murmur of curses and execrations,--against senate and nobles,
against the rabble and their dead leader, but, above all, against
Carthage and her terrible captain.

"Who are these men that slay consuls and destroy armies?" piped the
shrill voice of an aged cripple who had struggled up from where he sat
upon the steps of Castor, and was shaking the stump of a wrist toward
the north.

"Are they not the men who surrendered Sicily that we might let them
escape from us at Eryx?



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