Chapter XXI: The Gaulish Slave
 

On arriving at the mansion of Gracchus, Sempronius led Malchus to the apartment occupied by Flavia. Her face lighted with satisfaction.

"You have done well, my Sempronius," she said; "I shall not forget your ready gratification of my wish. So this is the young Carthaginian? My friends will all envy me at having so handsome a youth to attend upon me. Do you speak our tongue?" she asked graciously.

"A few words only," Malchus answered. "I speak Greek."

"It is tiresome," Flavia said, addressing Sempronius, "that I do not know that language; but Julia has been taught it. Tell him, Sempronius, that his duties will be easy. He will accompany me when I walk abroad, and will stand behind me at table, and will have charge of my pets. The young lion cub that Tiberius procured for me is getting troublesome and needs a firm hand over him; he nearly killed one of the slaves yesterday."

Sempronius translated Flavia's speech to Malchus.

"I shall dress him," Flavia said, "in white and gold; he will look charming in it."

"It is hardly the dress for a slave," Sempronius ventured to object.

"I suppose I can dress him as I please. Lesbia, the wife of Emilius, dresses her household slaves in blue and silver, and I suppose I have as much right as she has to indulge my fancies."

"Certainly, Lady Flavia," Sempronius said reverentially. "I only thought that such favours shown to the Carthaginian might make the other slaves jealous."

Flavia made no answer, but waved her fan to Sempronius in token of dismissal. The young Roman, inwardly cursing her haughty airs, took his leave at once, and Flavia handed Malchus over to the charge of the chief of the household, with strict directions as to the dress which was to be obtained for him, and with orders to give the animals into his charge.

Malchus followed the man, congratulating himself that if he must serve as a slave, at least he could hardly have found an easier situation. The pets consisted of some bright birds from the East, a Persian greyhound, several cats, a young bear, and a half grown lion. Of these the lion alone was fastened up, in consequence of his attack upon the slave on the previous day.

Malchus was fond of animals, and at once advanced boldly to the lion. The animal crouched as if for a spring, but the steady gaze of Malchus speedily changed its intention, and, advancing to the full length of its chain, it rubbed itself against him like a great cat. Malchus stroked its side, and then, going to a fountain, filled a flat vessel with water and placed it before it. The lion lapped the water eagerly. Since its assault upon the slave who usually attended to it, none of the others had ventured to approach it. They had, indeed, thrown it food, but had neglected to supply it with water.

"We shall get on well together, old fellow," Malchus said. "We are both African captives, and ought to be friends."

Finding from the other slaves that until the previous day the animal had been accustomed to run about the house freely and to lie in Flavia's room, Malchus at once unfastened the chain and for some time played with the lion, which appeared gentle and good tempered. As the master of the household soon informed the others of the orders he had received respecting Malchus, the slaves saw that the newcomer was likely, for a time at least, to stand very high in the favour of their capricious mistress, and therefore strove in every way to gain his goodwill.

Presently Malchus was sent for again, and found Julia sitting on the couch by the side of her mother, and he at once acknowledged to himself that he had seldom seen a fairer woman. She was tall, and her figure was full and well proportioned. Her glossy hair was wound in a coil at the back of her head, her neck and arms were bare, and she wore a garment of light green silk, and embroidered with gold stripes along the bottom, reaching down to her knees, while beneath it a petticoat of Tyrian purple reached nearly to the ground.

"Is he not good looking, Julia?" Flavia asked. "There is not a slave in Rome like him. Lesbia and Fulvia will be green with envy."

Julia made no reply, but sat examining the face of Malchus with as much composure as if he had been a statue. He had bowed on entering, as he would have done in the presence of Carthaginian ladies, and now stood composedly awaiting Flavia's orders.

"Ask him, Julia, if it is true that he is a cousin of Hannibal and the captain of his guard. Such a youth as he is, I can hardly believe it; and yet how strong and sinewy are his limbs, and he has an air of command in his face. He interests me, this slave."

Julia asked in Greek the questions that her mother had dictated.

"Ask him now, Julia," Flavia said, when her daughter had translated the answer, "how he came to be captured."

Malchus recounted the story of his being blown by a gale into the Roman ports; then, on her own account, Julia inquired whether he had been present at the various battles of the campaign. After an hour's conversation Malchus was dismissed. In passing through the hall beyond he came suddenly upon a female who issued from one of the female apartments. They gave a simultaneous cry of astonishment.

"Clotilde!" Malchus exclaimed, "you here, and a captive?"

"Alas! yes," the girl replied. "I was brought here three months since."

"I have heard nothing of you all," Malchus said, "since your father returned with his contingent after the battle of Trasimene. We knew that Postumius with his legion was harrying Cisalpine Gaul, but no particular has reached us."

"My father is slain," the girl said. "He and the tribe were defeated. The next day the Romans attacked the village. We, the women and the old men, defended it till the last. My two sisters were killed. I was taken prisoner and sent hither as a present to Flavia by Postumius. I have been wishing to die, but now, since you are here, I shall be content to live even as a Roman slave."

While they were speaking they had been standing with their hands clasped. Malchus, looking down into her face, over which the tears were now streaming as she recalled the sad events at home, wondered at the change which eighteen months had wrought in it. Then she was a girl, now she was a beautiful woman -- the fairest he had ever seen, Malchus thought, with her light brown hair with a gleam of gold, her deep gray eyes, and tender, sensitive mouth.

"And your mother?" he asked.

"She was with my father in the battle, and was left for dead on the field; but I heard from a captive, taken a month after I was, that she had survived, and was with the remnant of the tribe in the well nigh inaccessible fastnesses at the head of the Orcus."

"We had best meet as strangers," Malchus said. "It were well that none suspect we have met before. I shall not stay here long -- if I am not exchanged. I shall try to escape whatever be the risks, and if you will accompany me I will not go alone."

"You know I will, Malchus," Clotilde answered frankly. "Whenever you give the word I am ready, whatever the risk is. It should break my heart were I left here alone again."

A footstep was heard approaching, and Clotilde, dropping Malchus' hands, fled away into the inner apartments, while Malchus walked quietly on to the part of the house appropriated to the slaves. The next day, having assumed his new garments, and having had a light gold ring, as a badge of servitude, fastened round his neck, Malchus accompanied Flavia and her daughter on a series of visits to their friends.

The meeting with Clotilde had delighted as much as it had surprised Malchus. The figure of the Gaulish maiden had been often before his eyes during his long night watches. When he was with her last he had resolved that when he next journeyed north he would ask her hand of the chief, and since his journey to Carthage his thoughts had still more often reverted to her. The loathing which he now felt for Carthage had converted what was, when he was staying with Allobrigius, little more than an idea, into a fixed determination that he would cut himself loose altogether from corrupt and degenerate Carthage, and settle among the Gauls. That he should find Clotilde captive in Rome had never entered his wildest imagination, and he now blessed, as a piece of the greatest good fortune, the chance, which had thrown him into the hands of the Romans, and brought him into the very house where Clotilde was a slave. Had it not been for that he would never again have heard of her. When he returned to her ruined home he would have found that she had been carried away by the Roman conquerors, but of her after fate no word could ever have reached him.

Some weeks passed, but no mode of escape presented itself to his mind. Occasionally for a few moments he saw Clotilde alone, and they were often together in Flavia's apartment, for the Roman lady was proud of showing off to her friends her two slaves, both models of their respective races.

Julia had at first been cold and hard to Malchus, but gradually her manner had changed, and she now spoke kindly and condescendingly to him, and would sometimes sit looking at him from under her dark eyebrows with an expression which Malchus altogether failed to interpret. Clotilde was more clear sighted. One day meeting Malchus alone in the atrium she said to him: "Malchus, do you know that I fear Julia is learning to love you. I see it in her face, in the glance of her eye, in the softening of that full mouth of hers."

"You are dreaming, little Clotilde," Malchus said laughing.

"I am not," she said firmly; "I tell you she loves you."

"Impossible!" Malchus said incredulously. "The haughty Julia, the fairest of the Roman maidens, fall in love with a slave! You are dreaming, Clotilde."

"But you are not a common slave, Malchus, you are a Carthaginian noble and the cousin of Hannibal. You are her equal in all respects."

"Save for this gold collar," Malchus said, touching the badge of slavery lightly.

"Are you sure you do not love her in return, Malchus? She is very beautiful."

"Is she?" Malchus said carelessly. "Were she fifty times more beautiful it would make no difference to me, for, as you know as well as I do, I love some one else."

Clotilde flushed to the brow. "You have never said so," she said softly.

"What occasion to say so when you know it? You have always known it, ever since the day when we went over the bridge together."

"But I am no fit mate for you," she said. "Even when my father was alive and the tribe unbroken, what were we that I should wed a great Carthaginian noble? Now the tribe is broken, I am only a Roman slave."

"Have you anything else to observe?" Malchus said quietly.

"Yes, a great deal more," she went on urgently. "How could you present your wife, an ignorant Gaulish girl, to your relatives, the haughty dames of Carthage? They would look down upon me and despise me."

"Clotilde, you are betraying yourself," Malchus said smiling, "for you have evidently thought the matter over in every light. No," he said, detaining her, as, with an exclamation of shame, she would have fled away, "you must not go. You knew that I loved you, and for every time you have thought of me, be it ever so often, I have thought of you a score. You knew that I loved you and intended to ask your hand from your father. As for the dames of Carthage, I think not of carrying you there; but if you will wed me I will settle down for life among your people."

A footstep was heard approaching. Malchus pressed Clotilde for a moment against his breast, and then he was alone. The newcomer was Sempronius. He was still a frequent visitor, but he was conscious that he had lately lost rather than gained ground in the good graces of Julia. Averse as he had been from the first to the introduction of Malchus into the household, he was not long in discovering the reason for the change in Julia, and the dislike he had from the first felt of Malchus had deepened to a feeling of bitter hatred.

"Slave," he said haughtily, "tell your mistress that l am here."

"I am not your slave," Malchus said calmly, "and shall not obey your orders when addressed in such a tone."

"Insolent hound," the young Roman exclaimed, "I will chastise you," and he struck Malchus with his stick. In an instant the latter sprang upon him, struck him to the ground, and wrenching the staff from his hand laid it heavily across him. At that moment Flavia, followed by her daughter, hurried in at the sound of the struggle. "Malchus," she exclaimed, "what means this?"

"It means," Sempronius said rising livid with passion, "that your slave has struck me -- me, a Roman patrician. I will lodge a complaint against him, and the penalty, you know, is death."

"He struck me first, Lady Flavia," Malchus said quietly, "because I would not do his behests when he spoke to me as a dog."

"If you struck my slave, Sempronius," Flavia said coldly, "I blame him not that he returned the blow. Although a prisoner of war, he is, as you well know, of a rank in Carthage superior to your own, and I wonder not that, if you struck him, he struck you in return. You know that you had no right to touch my slave, and if you now take any steps against him I warn you that you will never enter this house again."

"Nor will I ever speak a word to you," Julia added.

"But he has struck me," Sempronius said furiously; "he has knocked me down and beaten me."

"Apparently you brought it upon yourself," Flavia said. "None but ourselves know what has happened; therefore, neither shame nor disgrace can arise from it. My advice to you is, go home now and remain there until those marks of the stick have died out; it will be easy for you to assign an excuse. If you follow the matter up, I will proclaim among my friends how I found you here grovelling on the ground while you were beaten. What will then be said of your manliness? Already the repeated excuses which have served you from abstaining to join the armies in the field have been a matter for much comment. You best know whether it would improve your position were it known that you had been beaten by a slave. Why, you would be a jest among young Romans."

Sempronius stood irresolute. His last hopes of winning Julia were annihilated by what had happened. The tone of contempt in which both mother and daughter had spoken sufficiently indicated their feelings, and for a moment he hesitated whether he would not take what revenge he could by denouncing Malchus. But the thought was speedily put aside. He had been wrong in striking the domestic slave of another; but the fact that Malchus had been first attacked, and the whole influence of the house of Gracchus, its relations, friends, and clients exerted in his behalf, would hardly suffice to save him. Still the revenge would be bought dearly in the future hostility of Flavia and her friends, and in the exposure of his own humiliating attitude. He, therefore, with a great effort subdued all signs of anger and said:

"Lady Flavia, your wish has always been law to me, and I would rather that anything should happen than that I should lose your favour and patronage, therefore, I am willing to forget what has happened, the more so as I own that I acted wrongly in striking your slave. I trust that after this apology you will continue to be the kindly friend I have always found you."

"Certainly, Sempronius," Flavia said graciously, "and I shall not forget your ready acquiescence in my wishes."

It was the more easy for Sempronius to yield, inasmuch as Malchus had, after stating that he had been first struck, quietly left the apartment. For some little time things went on as before. Malchus was now at home in Rome. As a slave of one of the most powerful families, as was indicated by the badge he wore on his dress, he was able, when his services were not required, to wander at will in the city. He made the circuit of the walls, marked the spots which were least frequented and where an escape would be most easily made; and, having selected a spot most remote from the busy quarter of the town, he purchased a long rope, and carrying it there concealed it under some stones close to one of the flights of steps by which access was obtained to the summit of the wall.

The difficulty was not how to escape from Rome, for that, now that he had so much freedom of movement, was easy, but how to proceed when he had once gained the open country. For himself he had little doubt that he should be able to make his way through the territories of the allies of Rome, but the difficulty of travelling with Clotilde would be much greater.

"Clotilde," he said one day, "set your wits to work and try and think of some disguise in which you might pass with me. I have already prepared for getting beyond the walls; but the pursuit after us will be hot, and until we reach the Carthaginian lines every man's hand will be against us."

"I have thought of it, Malchus; the only thing that I can see is for me to stain my skin and dye my hair and go as a peasant boy."

"That is what I, too, have thought of, Clotilde. The disguise would be a poor one, for the roundness of your arms and the colour of your eyes would betray you at once to any one who looked closely at you. However, as I can see no better way, I will get the garments and some for myself to match, and some stuff for staining the skin and hair."

The next day Malchus bought the clothes and dye and managed to bring them into the house unobserved, and to give to Clotilde those intended for her.

The lion, under the influence of the mingled firmness and kindness of Malchus, had now recovered his docility, and followed him about the house like a great dog, sleeping stretched out on a mat by the side of his couch.

Sempronius continued his visits. Malchus was seldom present when he was with Flavia, but Clotilde was generally in the room. It was now the height of summer, and her duty was to stand behind her mistress with a large fan, with which she kept up a gentle current of air over Flavia's head and drove off the troublesome flies. Sometimes she had to continue doing so for hours, while Flavia chatted with her friends.

Sempronius was biding his time. The two slaves were still high in Flavia's favour, but he was in hopes that something might occur which would render her willing to part with them. He watched Julia narrowly whenever Malchus entered the room, and became more and more convinced that she had taken a strong fancy for the Carthaginian slave, and the idea occurred to him that by exciting her jealousy he might succeed in obtaining his object. So careful were Malchus and Clotilde that he had no idea whatever that any understanding existed between them. This, however, mattered but little; nothing was more likely than that these two handsome slaves should fall in love with each other, and he determined to suggest the idea to Julia.

Accordingly one day when he was sitting beside her, while Flavia was talking with some other visitors, he remarked carelessly, "Your mother's two slaves, the Carthaginian and the Gaul, would make a handsome couple."

He saw a flush of anger in Julia's face. For a moment she did not reply, and then said in a tone of indifference:

"Yes, they are each well favoured in their way."

"Methinks the idea has occurred to them," Sempronius said. "I have seen them glance at each other, and doubt not that when beyond your presence they do not confine themselves to looks."

Julia was silent, but Sempronius saw, in the tightly compressed lips and the lowering brow with which she looked from one to the other, that the shaft had told.

"I have wondered sometimes," he said, "in an idle moment, whether they ever met before. The Carthaginians were for some time among the Cisalpine Gauls, and the girl was, you have told me, the daughter of a chief there; they may well have met."

Julia made no reply, and Sempronius, feeling that he had said enough, began to talk on other subjects. Julia scarcely answered him, and at last impatiently waved him away. She sat silent and abstracted until the last of the visitors had left, then she rose from her seat and walked quietly up to her mother and said abruptly to Clotilde, who was standing behind her mistress: "Did you know the slave Malchus before you met here?"

The suddenness of the question sent the blood up into the cheeks of the Gaulish maiden, and Julia felt at once that the hints of Sempronius were fully justified.

"Yes," Clotilde answered quietly, "I met him when, with Hannibal, he came down from the Alps into our country."

"Why did you not say so before?" Julia asked passionately. "Mother, the slaves have been deceiving us."

"Julia," Flavia said in surprise, "why this heat? What matters it to us whether they have met before?"

Julia did not pay any attention, but stood with angry eyes waiting for Clotilde's answer.

"I did not know, Lady Julia," the girl said quietly, "that the affairs of your slaves were of any interest to you. We recognized each other when we first met. Long ago now, when we were both in a different position -- "

"And when you loved each other?" Julia said in a tone of concentrated passion.

"And when we loved each other," Clotilde repeated, her head thrown back now, and her bearing as proud and haughty as that of Julia.

"You hear that, mother? you hear this comedy that these slaves have been playing under your nose? Send them both to the whipping post."

"My dear Julia," Flavia exclaimed, more and more surprised at her anger, "what harm has been done? You astonish me. Clotilde, you can retire. What means all this, Julia?" she went on more severely when they were alone; "why all this strange passion because two slaves, who by some chance have met each other before, are lovers? What is this Gaulish girl, what is this Carthaginian slave, to you?"

"I love him, mother!" Julia said passionately.

"You!" Flavia exclaimed in angry surprise; "you, Julia, of the house of Gracchus, love a slave! You are mad, girl, and shameless."

"I say so without shame," Julia replied, "and why should I not? He is a noble of Carthage, though now a prisoner of war. What if my father is a consul? Malchus is the cousin of Hannibal, who is a greater man than Rome has ever yet seen. Why should I not wed him?"

"In the first place, it seems, Julia," Flavia said gravely, "because he loves someone else. In the second place, because, as I hear, he is likely to be exchanged very shortly for a praetor taken prisoner at Cannae, and will soon be fighting against us. In the third place, because all Rome would be scandalized were a Roman maiden of the patrician order, and of the house of Gracchus, to marry one of the invaders of her country. Go to, Julia, I blush for you! So this is the reason why of late you have behaved so coldly to Sempronius. Shame on you, daughter! What would your father say, did he, on his return from the field, hear of your doings? Go to your chamber, and do not let me see you again till you can tell me that you have purged this madness from your veins."

Without a word Julia turned and left the room. Parental discipline was strong in Rome, and none dare disobey a parent's command, and although Julia had far more liberty and license than most unmarried Roman girls, she did not dare to answer her mother when she spoke in such a tone.

Flavia sat for some time in thought, then she sent for Malchus. He had already exchanged a few words with Clotilde, and was therefore prepared for her questions.

"Malchus, is it true that you love my Gaulish slave girl?"

"It is true," Malchus replied quietly. "When we met in Gaul, two years since, she was the daughter of a chief, I a noble of Carthage. I loved her; but we were both young, and with so great a war in hand it was not a time to speak of marriage."

"Would you marry her now?"

"Not as a slave," Malchus replied; "when I marry her it shall be before the face of all men -- I as a noble of Carthage, she as a noble Gaulish maiden."

"Hannibal is treating for your exchange now," Flavia said. "There are difficulties in the way, for, as you know, the senate have refused to allow its citizens who surrender to be ransomed or exchanged; but the friends of the praetor Publius are powerful and are bringing all their influence to bear to obtain the exchange of their kinsman, whom Hannibal has offered for you. I will gladly use what influence I and my family possess to aid them. I knew when you came to me that, as a prisoner of war, it was likely that you might be exchanged."

"You have been very kind, my Lady Flavia," Malchus said, "and I esteem myself most fortunate in having fallen into such hands. Since you know now how it is with me and Clotilde, I can ask you at once to let me ransom her of you. Any sum that you like to name I will bind myself, on my return to the Carthaginian camp, to pay for her."

"I will think it over," Flavia said graciously. "Clotilde is useful to me, but I can dispense with her services, and will ask you no exorbitant amount for her. If the negotiations for your exchange come to aught, you may rely upon it that she shall go hence with you."

With an expression of deep gratitude Malchus retired. Flavia, in thus acceding to the wishes of Malchus, was influenced by several motives. She was sincerely shocked at Julia's conduct, and was most desirous of getting both Malchus and Clotilde away, for she knew that her daughter was headstrong as she was passionate, and the presence of Clotilde in the house would, even were Malchus absent, be a source of strife and bitterness between herself and her daughter.

In the second place, it would be a pretty story to tell her friends, and she should be able to take credit to herself for her magnanimity in parting with her favourite attendant. Lastly, in the present state of affairs it might possibly happen that it would be of no slight advantage to have a friend possessed of great power and influence in the Carthaginian camp. Her husband might be captured in fight -- it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that Rome itself might fall into the hands of the Carthaginians. It was, therefore, well worth while making a friend of a man who was a near relation of Hannibal.

For some days Julia kept her own apartment. All the household knew that something had gone wrong, though none were aware of the cause. A general feeling of uneasiness existed, for Julia had from a child in her fits of temper been harsh with her slaves, venting her temper by cruelly beating and pinching them. Many a slave had been flogged by her orders at such a time, for her mother, although herself an easy mistress, seldom interfered with her caprices, and all that she did was good in the eyes of her father.

At the end of the week Flavia told Malchus that the negotiations for his release had been broken off, the Roman senate remaining inflexible in the resolve that Romans who surrendered to the enemy should not be exchanged. Malchus was much disappointed, as it had seemed that the time of his release was near; however, he had still his former plan of escape to fall back upon.

A day or two later Julia sent a slave with a message to Sempronius, and in the afternoon sallied out with a confidential attendant, who always accompanied her when she went abroad. In the Forum she met Sempronius, who saluted her.

"Sempronius," she said coming at once to the purpose, "will you do me a favour?"

"I would do anything to oblige you, Lady Julia, as you know."

"That is the language of courtesy," Julia said shortly; "I mean would you be ready to run some risk?"

"Certainly," Sempronius answered readily.

"You will do it the more readily, perhaps," Julia said, "inasmuch as it will gratify your revenge. You have reason to hate Malchus, the Carthaginian slave."

Sempronius nodded.

"Your suspicion was true, he loves the Gaulish slave; they have been questioned and have confessed it. I want them separated."

"But how?" Sempronius asked, rejoicing inwardly at finding that Julia's wishes agreed so nearly with his own.

"I want her carried off," Julia said shortly. "When once you have got her you can do with her as you will; make her your slave, kill her, do as you like with her, that is nothing to me -- all I want is that she shall go. I suppose you have some place where you could take her?"

"Yes," Sempronius said, "I have a small estate among the Alban Hills where she would be safe enough from searchers; but how to get her there? She never goes out except with Lady Flavia."

"She must be taken from the house," Julia said shortly; "pretty slaves have been carried off before now, and no suspicion need light upon you. You might find some place in the city to hide her for a few days, and then boldly carry her through the gates in a litter. None will think of questioning you."

"The wrath of Lady Flavia would be terrible," Sempronius said doubtfully.

"My mother would be furious at first," Julia said coldly; "but get her a new plaything, a monkey or a Nubian slave boy, and she will soon forget all about the matter."

"But how do you propose it should be done?" Sempronius asked.

"My slave shall withdraw all the bolts of the back entrance to the house," Julia said; "do you be there at two in the morning, when all will be sound asleep; bring with you a couple of barefooted slaves. My woman will be at the door and will guide you to the chamber where the girl sleeps; you have only to gag her and carry her quietly off."

Sempronius stood for a moment in doubt. The enterprise was certainly feasible. Wild adventures of this kind were not uncommon among the dissolute young Romans, and Sempronius saw at once that were he detected Julia's influence would prevent her mother taking the matter up hotly. Julia guessed his thoughts.

"If you are found out," she said, "I will take the blame upon myself, and tell my mother that you were acting solely at my request."

"I will do it, Julia," he agreed; "tonight at two o'clock I will be at the back door with two slaves whom I can trust. I will have a place prepared to which I can take the girl till it is safe to carry her from the city."