From A Roman Reporter, by Arthur Aikin Brodribb, London: The Society for The Promotion of Christian Knowledge, New York: E. & J. B. Young & Co.; [c. 1893], pp. 101-124.
A ROMAN REPORTER
by A. A. Brodribb
HE terrible sentence of the law had been carried out, and Marcellinus’s brave spirit was at rest before Numerius, in the press of other business, bethought him of the insolent old reporter. When the governor of the gaol reminded him of the prisoner, he ordered that the old man should have another day or two in which to cool his temper, and, in the meanwhile, should be treated with humanity. Cassianus’s quarters, therefore, were not uncomfortable; but he reflected that Numerius was not a man to be trifled with, and cherished the gloomiest possible apprehensions. Gaudentius visited him every day, vainly attempting to cheer him with the news of his daughter’s 102 slow recovery. Cassianus, however, pronounced it “all mighty fine, but what is the girl to do without me, and what on earth shall I say to this abominable villain?” He had many conversations with Gaudentius, and at first the old man had been anxious that Florus, and Lycas too, if he could be found, should be arrested and punished by law; but from this Gaudentius with difficulty dissuaded him. He admitted that no punishment could be too severe for such a scoundrel, but he pointed out modestly that he had himself done something in that direction already, which, indeed, was indisputable, seeing that Florus’s face was now scarcely human, and that his friends would probably not know him again. But the main consideration was Cassianus’s own trouble; and it was finally settled that the old man should make his apologies as best he could, explain the relation which the ill-fated Marcellinus had stood to him, and not to complicate matters by any reference to Florus.
And Marcellinus, how did he die? Like a hero, Gaudentius enthusiastically declared. He had not seen him before the axe fell, but those of 103 his friends who had been present had told him that the condemned man had met his death with the greatest calmness and courage, and had walked to the place of execution as though the occasion had been rather festive than tragical. “Ah,” said Cassianus, mournfully, “just like the famous Regulus; you remember the lines” — and then he quoted, from mere force of habit, his favourite Horace.
“Nay,” said Gaudentius; “like Regulus, if you will, but also like Stephen, who first died for the faith, and many hundreds besides who were equally firm.”
“I am grieved,” said Cassianus; “grieved for the poor fellow himself, and for the poor girl’s sake too. But I knew at once how it would be. It will be a sad return for poor Priscilla, if ever we get back to Imola. I wish we were home again.”
As the two friends were talking, the gaoler entered, and told Cassianus, not uncivilly, to follow him, as the Judge would speak to him alone.
“That is better than being tried in open court,” 104 remarked Gaudentius, intending to comfort the old man.
“I am not at all sure of that,” said Cassianus, very nervously.
“Let us hope for the best,” said Gaudentius; but his friend was much agitated, and made no reply as he left the cell. It was bad enough to be imprisoned, but it seemed infinitely worse to be unexpectedly called upon to face the man whom he had insulted. Moreover, he was quite uncertain as to the powers of the Judge in such a case as the present, and could not understand why Numerius should wish to see him privately, and at that hour of the day. But whatever the reason might be, he was painfully aware that the Judge had very large powers, and that something unpleasant was probably in store for him.
He was led by the gaoler through several dim corridors, till at last he came to the private room of the governor of the prison. As he entered, the governor withdrew, leaving him alone with Numerius. The awful interview began, and the old reporter almost literally 104 quaked in his shoes in the presence of his superior. He inclined his head respectfully to Numerius, who sat at ease in his arm-chair and took no notice of his courtesy.
Cassianus threw himself into an attitude of awkward humility. The Judge crossed one leg over the other, rested his elbows on the arms of his chair, and with an occasional languid movement of his white hands, said —
“I shall not detain you long. The governor of the prison tells me that you are a respectable old man, and in punishing your for you offence I shall not forget this fact. You are the reporter of this court, I understand?”
“Why have I never seen you before?”
“My duties are frequently done by deputy.”
“You live at Imola, I believe, and teach shorthand?”
“The improved Cassian system,” said the prisoner, “a revision of all previous systems. I have the honour to teach your nephew.”
“I am not discussing your profession,” said the Judge, blandly, “and I do not wish to hear 106 about it. Your conduct is more to the point. Answer me a few plain questions. In the first place, what led you to insult a high official like myself?”
Cassianus stammered out a word or two, and was silent.
“In short,” pursued Numerius, “you lost your head?”
“Furor brevis,” quoted the old man, eagerly, “a momentary madness, for which I humbly apologize. I never did such a thing before.”
“So I should imagine,” said the Judge, drily, “and it is possible that you may never have the chance of doing so again. I suppose that you thought the sentence too severe?”
This was a question that the prisoner thought it more judicious not to answer.
“Perhaps you think so still?” continued the judge, in a quiet and amused tone of voice.
“I was sorry and angry, my lord,” said Cassianus at length, “angry for the loss of my friend.”
“Your friend! That is strange, indeed, considering how he injured your daughter.”107
Cassianus made a gesture of supreme horror and surprise. “My lord,” said he, with much emotion, “that is not so. You have been misinformed. Marcellinus was indeed betrothed to my daughter, but he would have died rather than injure a hair of her head. I have to lament as true and honourable a man as ever breathed, though he was a Christian. Believe, me, he never dreamed of wronging my daughter. Whoever insinuated that knew nothing of my poor friend.”
Numerius smiled. “My acquaintance does not lie much among centurions. I presume that he had the virtues and vices of a soldier.”
“He had all the military virtues,” said Cassianus, losing his nervousness, and speaking freely in praise of the dead man. “As for his vices, I know not, but he loved my daughter truly, and saved me once from a robber, and perhaps from a murderer. It was about this time last year, and I was walking on the Ravenna road ——”
“There; never mind your story. I can imagine it. I understand all about you now. 108 You are a respectable old man, I see, but extremely foolish and hot-headed, or you would never have insulted a Judge in open court. And now tell me one thing more. Do you now who it was that slandered your friend and your daughter?”
“I could guess,” replied Cassianus, considerably embarrassed; “I have no doubt it was an enemy whom I took to be a friend. I would rather not name, him, my lord, without orders.”
“You need not do so,” said Numerius, perfectly appreciating the prisoner’s prudent reticence; “but you have no occasion to fear, I know the whole story; all Ravenna knows it. The villain and his accomplice have been arrested, and are here this moment. He is not my nephew any more, but a common malefactor.”
As he said this Numerius pointed to the floor of the room, to indicate that it was in some subterranean cell that the worthy Florus and Lycas were confined. The old man fixed his eyes on the aristocratic white hand, and could only mumble out: — “I had meant to keep 109 silence. But the gods are good, my lord, and my daughter at least is saved from violence and dishonour.”
“That is well,” said Numerius, more kindly, recognising that the prisoner, in spite of his absurd outbreak in court, had been more sinned against than sinning. “But as regards yourself, I shall not punish an affront to me as though it were a crime against the state.”
“No, my lord,” said Cassianus, mechanically, not looking up, but still staring at the elegant white hand that hung down from the arm of the chair.
“I shall not punish you, but you must resign your appointment in court.”
“Yes, my lord,” assented the old man, as before.
“And you had better go and live at Imola.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“And, and — and now you may go.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“You are dismissed,” repeated Numerius, rather more loudly, as Cassianus, with his eyes still riveted on the judge’s hand, did not move 110 away, but came a little nearer. “You are free. Do you not understand? What are you staring at? You ought to be glad enough to escape. If you have anything further to say, say it.”
“The ring, my lord — your signet,” stammered Cassianus, hardly knowing what he said. Numerius instant removed his hand.
“Go, and think yourself lucky. You are becoming impertinent.”
“My lord, I am an old man, and mean no impertinence,” said Cassianus, looking the judge earnestly in the face; “but the ring is a singular ring — I should have said a unique ring if I did not possess its fellow at home.”
“What,” said Numerius, with evident interest, “you say you possess the fellow to my signet ring?”
“I believe so, if the device be what I think it is.”
Numerius reflected for a moment, and even slightly changed colour. Then he said, “And what do you take to be the device upon my ring?”
“I dare not be certain, but my eyes are good, 111 and as the light fell on it I thought that the gem bore figures representing Numa — doubtless your lordship’s ancestor — and Egeria.”
“Well; you might have seen warrants or other papers bearing my seal.”
“No; I have seen none.” And then, as he caught another momentary glimpse of the ring, he went on pertinaciously; “the two rings exactly correspond, both as to stone and setting. They are facsimiles. Did your lordship ever lose a ring?”
The judge frowned. “Describe your ring as minutely as you can,” he said, angrily.
“the setting,” said Cassianus, “is of gold, chased with dolphins, and the sardonyx, a gem of deepest black and purest white, bears, like your own, two figures — Numa and Egeria — both of them marvels of delicate workmanship. Even within the narrow compass of the gem the artist has wrought cunningly branched trees, and King Numa stands with his hand at his ear, listening for the approach of the wood nymph, whose arms part the daintily carved foliage as she draws near. Is not your lordship’s ring like that?”112
Numerius looked perplexed. It was a most complete description of his sardonyx.
“Is that all you can tell me about your ring?” he asked.
“The stone in the ring of which I speak,” continued Cassianus, “has two faces, either of which may be worn uppermost. One is as I have said; the other appears to embody a more private sentiment, and has on it only two word, namely, ‘Priscilla Vivas.’ Is that the case with your lordship’s ring?”
But Numerius answered nothing. The whole demeanour of the man seemed changed, and an evident struggle was going on within him between a variety of feelings. Forgetting his dignity and his position, and the presence of Cassianus, he leaned forward, and buried his face in his hands. Cassianus himself was equally moved, and not less perplexed. It was clear that he had described the judge’s ring, even to the under surface of the stone, which he had had no opportunity of seeing. But what did it mean, this exact resemblance of the two rings? Cassianus thought he knew, and heartily 113 wished that he had suppressed his surprise and curiosity, and had held his tongue.
At last Numerius looked up, very pale in the face, and said in a hollow voice, “Tell me how you became possessed of your ring. Deal with me honestly, and I will make it worth your while.”
“My lord,” said Cassianus, “I wish I had not spoken, for I suspect that what have to say will give you nothing but pain. I will be frank with you, however, not for the sake of money or reward, for I am not poor, but because plain speaking is better than mystery. About eighteen years ago, when my poor wife was alive, I was assistant reporter at the courts at Bononia, and had not the good fortune to be as well off as I am now. That was before the elaboration of the Cassian system, of course, and before I was rich enough to live at Imola and do my work by deputy. In fact, I was the deputy myself, doing all the work and taking less than half the fees. To put it plainly, we were very poor, as poor as any struggling reporter and his wife could possibly 114 be; and though I was then turned forty the world seemed no easier to me that it did when I began life. Happily, we had no children, or they would almost have starved. Our house, mean as it was, was rather larger than necessary, and a lodger sometimes occupied one of our rooms. And now for the only adventure that ever happened to me in the whole of my life, except, of course, the occasion when I was attacked on the Ravenna road, of which I have already told your lordship. I am a man of peace, and do not love adventures. Well, it was a cold and snowy day in January; I remember it perfectly, and my poor wife and I were dining, or trying to dine, off a cabbage and a scrap of fish, times were so hard with us then, and money so scarce. At the height of the storm a covered carriage came by and stopped in front of our house. Our house was at the very end of the town, and I could hear the driver tell the lady who was inside that it was impossible to travel further that day, and that she had better take shelter before all the houses were left behind. She alighted, therefore, and came into our house 115 with her baby, and my wife did what she could for her comfort. I was not pleased, and fear that I was less hospitably inclined than my wife, but the lady was well dressed, and the prospect of a little money reconciled me to the inconvenience. Besides, who could be so cruel, ‘tam ferreus,’ as Cicero says, as to bid a delicate lady with a little child seek other shelter in such a storm! That storm, my lord, lasted for three whole days, and it was all I could do to get out and buy a few comforts for the poor lady. We saw little of her, partly because she seemed unwilling to associate with poor people like us, and partly because she appeared to suffer in mind as well as body. The snow lay on the ground for three weeks or more, and when it was one, the lady, who had all along seemed fragile and delicate, was too ill to continue her journey. Who she was we knew not, for not once did she say one single syllable about herself; but we summoned a physician, and my wife nursed her with the utmost devotion. It was all in vain, for, to make a long story short, she died a week later, after a stay of one month in our house. A few 116 gold pieces remained in her purse, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing, by which we could identify her. All we knew was that the little black haired baby-girl, the image of her mother, was called Priscilla; and that, as you know, is no very uncommon name. The driver of the hired carriage in which she came could not be found, and we were thus left in charge of a little child who for all we knew might as well have dropped from the clouds. The ring was found with the money in the purse. That is its history, and the little girl is now my own Priscilla, whose lover ——”
Here he broke down, indignation getting the better of him as he thought of Priscilla and Marcellinus; and a stranger coming into the room would have found the little man trying hard to stifle his wrath, and the stern Judge with his head bowed in an agony of remorse. It almost seemed as if the two men had changed places. Cassianus tramped angrily about the room, muttering at every turn, “Two lives wrecked! two lives wrecked!” and Numerius even fancied that he heard him repeat the strong 117 epithet that he had used in court after the trial. “Two lives wrecked!” Not only Marcellinus’s, after all his hard military service, but Priscilla’s also, a girl widowed before she was wed — his own Priscilla, the very apple of his eye. “Two lives wrecked!” he croaked out again.
“Three,” said Numerius, gathering himself up and facing the old man collectedly; “three, for what remains to me now? The gods are just if a man lives long enough to receive his deserts, and they have made me the instrument of my own punishment. Listen to me, but tell no one what you hear. You know all now, or nearly all. It is indeed my ring that is in your possession. I gave it to my wife soon after our marriage, but had it copied, and kept the copy myself. That is the whole story of the ring which has brought about this discovery. The rest, which you can guess for yourself, I shall tell you in outline only. When you were at Bononia, twenty years ago, I was beginning my career as magistrate at Ancona. My wife — but I will not speak of her — it is enough to say that we married with little love on either side. She was beautiful, as 118 you know; I was well-born. She gained rank, and I beauty. The marriage was unhappy, and in that fatal January of which you have spoken she left me, taking with her our only child. I made no doubt that she had fled to Rome, where her father lived, and started in pursuit with all speed. We had news of her, as we thought, at more than one halting place, but neither on the road nor in Rome itself could my servants and I find her. Then came the snowstorm, and I know now what happened before we could return to Ancona. No doubt, when her journey was delayed at Bononia she was intending to hide herself from me in Mutina, Parma, or Placentia. I know now what the end was, and how it came. Man, it has been a weary life for me.”
As he said this he looked straight at Cassianus, and the old man was terrified at the leaden pallor of his face. The composure of his voice was habitual, so that his words failed to express his emotion; but the weary eyes and haggard countenance were eloquent enough. Truly there were three lives wrecked, not two.
Cassianus had never been in greater perplexity; 119 but one thing he had the presence of mind to do. There was wine in the room, and he bought a glass of it to Numerius, who drank it eagerly, and seemed to revive at once. “I wish it were hellebore,” said Numerius, and Cassianus could only murmur, “No, no. Priscilla better now; happier days in store.” He hardly knew what he said, and had no real expectation of any coming happiness, but it was impossible not to pity the proud and miserable man before him. What a discovery! A thousand times he wished he had said nothing about that fatal ring. He would not for all the gems in the world have found Priscilla’s father in such a quarter; in fact, he had no wish to discover him in any quarter whatsoever.
The two men, no longer Judge and prisoner, sat together in silence for some minutes, and then Numerius spoke: —
“Tell me what she is like.”
“Oh, my lord, she is perfect, to my thinking; perfect in all respects, like the beautiful gem of the ring. She has been the very apple of my eye from her childhood, and the joy of my heart since my wife died.”120
“But her appearance?”
“Dark, my lord, like the lady her mother, with dark laughing eyes, or eyes that used to laugh till — er — till recent events; but less tall, less stately, and more homely than her mother. My lord, I cannot describe her,” he added abruptly, not being able to disparage the girl, and fearing to excite the father’s admiration. For what if Numerius chose to claim his daughter, even at the risk of making her miserable, and of publishing the whole story of the runaway wife? The Judge understood his embarrassment, and said —
“Never mind further description. I know exactly what you would say, and what you are thinking of. Is she happy?”
“Happy? Now? No, not now, my lord. She is miserable, after all that has happened.”
“I mean, ordinarily.”
“Yes, she has been happy enough, ordinarily; but ——” the old man paused and hesitated, not knowing how to proceed.
“My lord, I mean no offence, but circumstances have changed, not for the better. I beg 121 you, I implore you to let her remain with me. She has never known any other father, she need never know another; and for yourself in particular she can never have the affection of a daughter, never, never! I entreat you for her sake not to think of it. She is ill. Let me take her back to her old home.”
“I knew you would say that,” said Numerius, sadly, “and I feel it must be so. Truly mine has been a weary and solitary life, with neither man, woman, nor child to love me. Fifty years of it is surely long enough. I suppose ny daughter is a Christian, like the rest of you?”
“Yes, she is, but I am not.”
“A fable, a mere fable; but I am not sorry for it. She will have that strange faith and hope that I always observe in Christians, while I, of course, have none. But I shall have sleep, and I do not care how long it lasts. I am very tired. But as regards the girl, you are right; I cannot be her father now, and she would always hate me. The relation between us has been not parental but judicial. In doing my duty I took away her lover; it only remains for me to take 122 away her father too — her father who will never see her or trouble her. Keep her and be her father still, and, above all, tell her nothing of all this.”
Cassianus was much moved, the man seemed so melancholy and so ill. He could only observe that what Numerius proposed was very noble and very right.
“One thing more,” said Numerius; “are you rich?”
“I have enough to live upon; I am not rich.”
“Neither am I; but I will make ample provision for my daughter. She will want a dowry some day. But tell her nothing, and never speak of me to her. You promise?”
“Then come to see me at the same time to-morrow, at my house. Farewell.” And he left the room.
But Cassianus, now formally released, saw the Judge no more. When he went to the house on the following day, he found it a house of mourning, as far as outward appearance was concerned, and all the servants wearing a semblance 123 of grief. Numerius was dead. He had died, as he had lived, alone, with no one to love or comfort him. In a solemn voice, but without the least trace of affection, the well-bred upper servant told Cassianus that on the previous night his master had taken a warm bath, and that, a much longer time than usual elapsing before he left it, a servant had ventured to enter the room, and had found him still in the bath, with his veins cut, gradually and painlessly bled to death. They were even now arraying the body in the Judge’s official robes, and it was shortly to be burnt according to the ancient usage.
Cassianus was shocked but not greatly surprised at the suddenness of the event, considering what Numerius had said to him the day before. Old wounds had been reopened, and old memories awakened, to no purpose. What wonder was it that the proud and hopeless man had resolved to quit the world? On the whole, it was better so, for no one but himself now knew the secret of Priscilla’s birth, and she would indeed remain his daughter. As for the 124 promised dowry, what did it signify? He would return home in a few days, and the improved Cassian system would continue to be a source of income. Besides, a dowry would certainly not be wanted for a long time, and perhaps never.
But before he left Ravenna he found himself mistaken on one point. Numerius had been as good as his word, for his last act had been to give written orders to his bankers to pay Cassianus a considerable sum of money “for important services.” In this way, though she knew nothing of it, Priscilla received a dowry from the father who had condemned her lover.