“No, my Quintus,” said one, speaking to him with the crown, “it is ill of Fortune to take thee from us so soon. Only yesterday thou didst return from the seas beyond the Pillars. Why, thou hast not even got back thy land legs.”
“By Castor! if a man may swear a woman’s oath,” said another, somewhat worse of wine, “let us not lament. Our Quintus is but going to find what he lost last night. Dice on a rolling ship is not dice on shore- eh, Quintus?”
“Abuse not Fortune!” exclaimed a third. “She is not blind or fickle. At Antium, where our Arrius questions her, she answers him with nods, and at sea she abides with him, holding the rudder. She takes him from us, but does not always give him back with a new victory?”
“The Greeks are taking him away,” another broke in. “Let us abuse them, not the gods. In learning to trade, they forgot how to fight.”
With these words, the party passed the gateway, and came upon the mole, with the bay before them beautiful in the morning light. To the veteran sailor the plash of the waves was like a greeting. He drew a long breath, as if the perfume of the water were sweeter than that of the nard, and held his hand aloft.
“My gifts were at Praeneste, not Antium- and see! Wind from the west. Thanks, O Fortune, my mother!” he said, earnestly.
The friends all repeated the exclamation, and the slaves waved their torches.
“She comes- yonder!” he continued, pointing to a galley outside the mole. “What need has a sailor for other mistress? Is your Lucrece more grateful, my Caius?”
He gazed at the coming ship, and justified his pride. A white sail was bent to the low mast, and the oars dipped, arose, poised a moment, then dipped again, with wing-like action, and in perfect time.
“Yes, spare the gods,” he said, soberly, his eyes fixed upon the vessel. “They send us opportunities. Ours the fault if we fail. And as for the Greeks, you forget, O my Lentulus, the pirates I am going to punish are Greeks. One victory over them is of more account than a hundred over the Africans.”
“Then thy way is to the AEgean?”
The sailor’s eyes were full of his ship.
“What grace, what freedom! A bird hath not less care for the fretting of the waves. See!” he said, but almost immediately added, “thy pardon, my Lentulus. I am going to the AEgean; and as my departure is so near, I will tell the occasion- only keep it under the rose. I would not that you abuse the duumvir when next you meet him. He is my friend. The trade between Greece and Alexandria, as ye may have heard, is hardly inferior to that between Alexandria and Rome. The people in that part of the world forgot to celebrate the Cerealia, and Triptolemus paid them with a harvest not worth the gathering. At all events, the trade is so grown that it will not brook interruption a day. Ye may also have heard of the Chersonesan pirates, nested up in the Euxine; none bolder, by the Bacchae! Yesterday word came to Rome that, with a fleet, they had rowed down the Bosphorus, sunk the galleys of Byzantium and Chalcedon, swept the Propontis, and, still unsated, burst through into the AEgean. The corn-merchants who have ships in the East Mediterranean are frightened. They had audience with the Emperor himself, and from Ravenna there go to-day a hundred galleys, and from Misenum”- he paused as if to pique the curiosity of his friends, and ended with an emphatic- “one.”