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Vergilius by Irving Bacheller

CHAPTER 19 When Appius told his mother and his sister what Augustus had said to himà

When Appius told his mother and his sister what Augustus had said to him, they were greatly distressed. But Arria would not believe that Vergilius had been guilty of dishonor. Such were her anxiety and her fear of injustice falling upon her lover, the girl would have it that she must go to Jerusalem with Appius. She would neither be turned away nor bear with dissuasion. Her brother told her not of the bitter message of Augustus, and, fearing the wiles of the Jewish prince, determined to take her with him. So, therefore, as the sun rose on the nones of November in that year of the birth of Jesus, they set out with a troop of horse on the Appian Way.

They were midland in Thrace on their way to Piraeus, where a ship waited them, when they were overtaken by the cavalcade of Antipater. The prince, summoned by Herod, was now returning, under royal banners, to receive his inheritance of glory and power. A letter had started him, which, according to the great historian of that time, was warm with affectionate greeting. Antipater, also, was to take ship for Judea. He had learned of the departure of Appius and Arria, and had pushed his horses to the limit of their speed in order to overtake them. When he first saw the troop of the young Roman, he left his column and came rushing on to greet them.

The troop of Appius quickly faced about and stood with raised lances.

|Proud son and daughter of Publius,| said Antipater, drawing rein, |my heart, my horses, and my men are at your service!| He was now splendid in royal vestments of purple and gold.

|Our gratitude is not less than our surprise,| said Appius. |How came you flying out of the west like a bluebird?|

|'Tis a winged foot that goes to meet a friend,| said the prince. |I left Rome far behind you and I go to Jerusalem.|

|We took you for a bandit.|

|And I am only a king,| said Antipater, proudly. |I am summoned to take the crown of my father.|

|And is he dead?|

|Nay, but ill and weary of his burden.|

Appius removed his helmet as he made answer:

|The gods give you health, honor, and wisdom, O king! Will you ride with us?|

|Already the gods give me honor,| said the prince, bowing politely as the troop made way for him. |I doubt not they will add health and wisdom. But there is a blessing I put above either.|

They started slowly, Antipater riding between Arria and her brother in advance of the troop.

|And shall we ask the gods to grant it?| said Arria.

|Yes, for it is your favor, sweet girl. I adore you, and shall have no other queen.|

|I cannot give you my heart,| said she, frankly. |It is impossible -- I cannot bear to speak of it.|

|And you would not share my power and glory with me?| said Antipater, turning, with a look of surprise.

Appius answered:

|Once before I have told you, my worthy prince, that whom the emperor chooses she will wed.|

|Think not of that -- I shall make terms with him,| said Antipater. |She shall never wed a weak-hearted tribune.|

|You speak lightly of my friend,| said Appius. |I like it not, good sire.|

|Son of Herod,| said Arria, drawing rein, |we cannot longer enjoy your company.|

Appius halted the troop.

For a little Antipater was dumb with astonishment. He drew aside, and when he spoke his voice trembled with ire, it was near bursting into fury.

|Sweet girl,| said he, caressing the neck of his horse, |not even the power of Rome shall forbid me to love you, and I swear, by the god of my fathers, no man shall live between us!| He turned quickly, and a fierce look came into his eyes and he added, in a hoarse half-whisper, |You shall be my wife, sister of Appius.|

The young Roman wheeled his horse between them. Antipater backed away, threatening with his lance. He shouted to his trumpeter, his troop being hard by, and quickly a call sounded. Then spur went to flank, and the followers of the Jew passed in a quick rush and went thundering off, Antipater at the head of their column. He rode to Athens in ill humor and was at Piraeus three hours in advance of Arria and Appius. The sun had set and the sea lay calm in a purple dusk. He went aboard his trireme at once and called his pilot to him.

|Go find the vessel waiting here for one Appius of Rome,| he commanded.

|It is she that lies near us,| said the other.

|And you know her pilot?|

|Ay, 'tis Tepas the Idumaean. He knows the broad sea as one may know his own vineyard.|

|Bring him to me.|

When Tepas came, Antipater took him aside and spread before him a chart of the vast, purple sea which beat upon the shores of Hellas. He put his finger on a little spot some leagues from the coast of Africa.

|Know you the Isle of Doom?| said he.

|Ay, 'tis a lonely heap of rocks.|

|A roost of sea-birds,| said the prince of Judea. |Know you who am I?|

|You are the son of Herod.|

|And I go to be king of the Jews.|

Antipater took from a bag many pieces of gold and heaped them on the chart above the Isle of Doom.

|Would you earn this money, and much more?| he whispered.

|If you will but show me how,| said Tepas, the fire of greed now burning in his heart.

|Sail close to the Isle of Doom. There your trireme shall be leaking and you shall desert her and seek refuge on the isle and wait for me. You shall have ample store of provisions, and this treasure, and when I come you shall have, also, three talents more and a home in Jerusalem, and my favor as long as you live.|

|But how long must I wait?|

|Not beyond, the ides of January, good man.|

|Then I agree,| said Tepas.

So was it with an evil man those days. If he were armed with power he halted not between his plan and his purpose. There were, indeed, few things so valued as to be above price.

But the cunning of the tempter was to lead his prey into further depths of infamy. The prince took the hand of the sailor and whispered to him:

|If you would be a friend to me, then my enemies should be your enemies.| He paused a moment, looking into the eyes of the pilot and tenderly patting his shoulder. It was like the guile of the black leopard. Presently he continued:

|Now this young Roman is my enemy. If by any chance he, Appius, should die before I come, you shall have six instead of three talents. He is fond of wine, and for such the sea has many perils. Do you understand me?|

|I do,| said Tepas, nodding his approval, and then that heap of gold, lying on the chart, was delivered to him, and without more delay he went to his own vessel. Antipater sat in silence, thinking for a moment, his chin upon his breast. Soon the thought of his enemies and their doom brightened his eyes and lifted the corners of his mouth a little and set his lips quivering. He leaned forward upon a table, softly, as if in fear that some eye would observe him. One might have heard then that menacing, Herodian rumble in his throat. He seemed to caress the table with his hands.

|Dear Appius! Good Vergilius!| he muttered, seizing a piece of vellum and crushing it in his hand. |Soon my power shall close upon you. And Arria, my pretty maiden, you shall repair my heart with kisses.|

A pet kitten leaped upon the table. It seemed to startle him, and he struck it dead with his hand.

Then he sprang up suddenly and looked about, a feline stealth upon him, and ran with catlike paces to the deck.

|Get to work, you sea-rats!| he roared. |Every man to his place. If we are not gone to sea before the moon is up, some of you will be gone to Hades.|

In half a moment slaves were up in the rigging and rushing across the deck and tumbling into the galley.

And that night Antipater pushed his prow into the deep sea.

Meanwhile Arria and Appius, fearing the power of this new king of Judea, and thinking also of the peril of Vergilius, travelled slowly, considering what they should do. Appius feared either to go or to return, but Arria was of better courage.

|I must go to him,| said she. |You know not this love in me, dear brother. I would give up my life to be with him. If he is dead I shall never see the seven hills again. I shall go -- | she paused, covering her eyes a moment.


|To the city of God,| she whispered.

|May all the gods protect us,| said her brother.

And the day after Antipater had set sail, they, too, with Cyran, the slave-girl, were moving southward in the great, middle sea.

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