"Chapter Three" by Petronius.
On the approach of night we took our way to the market-place, where we saw an abundance of goods for sale, not indeed articles of any great value, but rather such as needed the kindly veil of darkness, considering their rather shady origin. Thither we also conveyed our stolen riding-cloak, and seizing the opportunity, displayed a corner of it in a quiet spot, hoping a buyer might be attracted by the beauty of the garment.
It was not long before a countryman, whose face seemed somehow familiar to me, approached in company with a young woman, and began to examine the cloak minutely. On the other part Ascyltos, casting his eye on the rustic customer's shoulders, was instantly struck dumb with surprise. Nor could I myself avoid some perturbation of mind when I saw him; for he appeared to be the identical peasant who had found our old tunic in the loneliness of the wood. Yes! he was the very man. But Ascyltos, afraid to trust his eyes and anxious not to do anything rash, first went up to the fellow as a would-be purchaser, drew the tunic from his shoulders and began to scrutinize it carefully.
By a wonderful stroke of luck the rustic had not as yet had the curiosity to search the seams, but was offering the thing for sale with an indifferent air as some beggar-man's leavings. When Ascyltos saw our money was intact and that the vendor was a person of no great account, he drew me a little aside from the throng and said, "Do you observe, comrade, our treasure that I was regretting as lost is come back again? That is our tunic and it seems to have the gold pieces in it still: they haven't been touched. But what can we do about it? How are we to prove ownership?" I was greatly cheered not only at beholding our loot once more, but also because I thus found myself freed from a villainous suspicion, and at once declared against any sort of beating about the bush. I advised we should bring a civil action right out to compel him to give up the property to its rightful owners by law, if he refused to do so otherwise.
Not so Ascyltos, who had a wholesome fear of the law. "Who knows us," he said, "in this place, or will believe what we say? My own strong opinion is we should buy the property, our own though it be, now we see it, and rather pay a small sum to recover our treasure than get mixed up in a lawsuit, the issue of which is uncertain."
What worth our laws, when pelf alone is king,
When to be poor is to be always wrong?
The Cynic sage himself, stern moralist,
Is not averse to sell his words for gold;
Justice is bought, the highest bidder wins,
A partial Judge directs a venal Court.
But alas! except for a brace of copper coins, which we had purposed to spend on lupines and peas, we were penniless just then. So, for fear the prey might escape us meanwhile, we resolved to part with the cloak at a lower price, making the profit on the one transaction balance the loss on the other. Accordingly we spread out our merchandise; but the woman who had hitherto been standing beside the countryman closely muffled, now suddenly, after carefully scanning certain marks on the cloak, laid hold of the hem with both hands, and screamed out "Stop, thieves! Stop, thieves!" at the top of her voice.
At this we were not a little disconcerted, but that we might not seem to acquiesce without a protest, we in our turn seized the tattered, filthy tunic, and declared no less spitefully it was our goods they had in their possession. But our case was far from being on all fours with theirs; and the crowd, that had gathered at the outcry, began to make fun of our impertinent claim, and not unnaturally, when on the one side they asserted their right to a most valuable cloak, but we to this old rag hardly worth mending. However Ascyltos adroitly stopped their ridicule by crying out, directly he could get a
hearing, "Well! look you, every man likes his own property best; let ‘em give us up our tunic, and they shall have their cloak."
Both the rustic and the young woman were ready enough to make the exchange; but a couple of attorneys, or to give them their true name, night-prowlers, who wanted to appropriate the cloak themselves, demanded that both the articles in dispute should be deposited with them, and the Judge look into the case in the morning; for not only must the ownership of these be investigated, but quite another question altogether as well, to wit, a suspicion of theft on the part of both parties.
The bystanders were by this time all in favor of sequestration, and an individual in the crowd, a bald man with a very pimply face, who was in the habit of undertaking occasional jobs for the lawyers, impounded the cloak, saying he would produce it on the morrow. But the real object was self-evident, that the knavish crew having once got hold of the article in question, they might smuggle it out of the way, while we should be scared by the fear of a charge of theft from putting in an appearance at the appointed time. This was very much what we wanted ourselves, and luck seconded the wishes of both parties. For the countryman, indignant at our requiring the surrender of an old rag, threw the tunic in Ascyltos's face, and withdrawing his own claim altogether, merely demanded the sequestration of the cloak as the only object of litigation. Having thus recovered our treasure, as we felt, we rush off full speed for our inn, and bolting the room door, start making merry over the astuteness both of our opponents and of the crowd, who had exercised so much ingenuity in giving us back our money!
As we were unstitching the tunic to take out the gold pieces, we overheard some one asking the innkeeper what kind of people they were who had just entered his house. Terrified at the question, I went down after he had gone, to see what was the matter, and found that a Pretor's lictor, whose duty it was to see the names of strangers entered in the public registers, had seen two such enter the inn, whose names he had not yet taken down, and was therefore making inquiries as to their nationality and business. This information the inn-keeper gave in such an offhand manner as made me suspect his house was not altogether a safe place for us; so, to avoid the chance of arrest, we determined to leave the place and not return till after dark. Accordingly we sallied forth, leaving the care of providing our dinner to Giton.
As our wish was to avoid the frequented streets, we went by way of the more lonely districts of the city. Towards nightfall we met in a remote spot two respectably robed and good-looking women, and followed them slowly and softly to a small temple, which they entered, and from which a strange humming was audible, like the sound of voices issuing from the recesses of a cavern. Curiosity impelled us likewise to enter the temple, and there we beheld a number of women, resembling Bacchantes, each brandishing an emblem of Priapus in her right hand. This was all we were permitted to see; for the instant they caught sight of us, they set up such a shouting the vault of the sacred building trembled, and tried to seize hold of us. But we fled as fast as our legs would carry us back to our inn.
Scarcely had we eaten our fill of the dinner Giton had provided us, when the door resounded with a most imperative knocking. Turning pale, we demanded, "Who's there?"-- "Open the door," was the answer, "and you'll find out." We were still arguing when the bolt tumbled off of itself, the door flew open and admitted our visitor. This was a woman with her head muffled, the very same who a little time before had been standing by the countryman's side in the market. "Ah, ha!" she cried, "did you suppose you had really made a fool of me? I am Quartilla's maid, Quartilla whose devotions before the grotto you disturbed. She is coming in person to the inn, and begs to speak with you. Do not be afraid; she brings no accusation, and has no wish to punish your fault. She only wonders what god
it was brought such genteel young men into her district."
We were still dumb, not knowing in the least what kind of response to give, when the mistress herself entered, accompanied only by a young girl, and sitting down on my couch, wept for ever so long. Not even then had we a word to offer, but looked on in amazement at this tearful display of pretended grief. When the enticing shower had exhausted itself, she drew back the hood that concealed her haughty features, and wringing her hands till the finger joints cracked, "What means this recklessness?" she cried; "wherever have you learned these knavish tricks that for audacity outdo the heroes of the story-books. By heaven! I pity you! for be sure no man ever looked with impunity on forbidden sights. Truly our neighborhood is so well stocked with deities to hand, you will easier meet with a god than a man. But don't imagine I've come here vindictively; I'm more moved by your youth than angered by the wrong you have done me. It was in sheer ignorance, I still think, you committed your unpardonable act of sacrilege.
"Last night I was grievously tormented, and shaken with such alarming tremblings, I dreaded an attack of tertian ague. So in my sleep I prayed for a remedy, and was bidden seek you out, that you might assuage the violence of the complaint by means of a cunning contrivance also indicated in my dream. But indeed and indeed it is not so much this cure I am exercised about; what wrings my heart and drives me almost to despair is the dread that in your youthful levity you may reveal what you saw in the shrine of Priapus, and betray the counsels of the gods to the common herd. This is why I stretch forth suppliant hands to your knees, and beg and pray you not to turn into ribaldry and jest our nocturnal rites, nor willingly divulge the secrets of so many years,-- secrets known to barely a thousand persons all told."
After this impassioned appeal she again burst into tears, and shaken by mighty sobs, entirely buried her face and bosom in my couch. Meantime, moved at once by pity and apprehension, I bade her keep a good heart, and be quite easy on either head. For, I assured her, not one of us would divulge the mysteries, and moreover, if the god had revealed any extraordinary means of curing her ague, we would second divine providence, even if it involved danger to ourselves.
The woman cheered up at this promise, and fell to kissing me thick and fast, and changing from tears to laughter, combed back with her fingers some stray locks that had escaped from behind my ears. "I make truce with you," she said, "and withdraw my case against you. But if you had not agreed about the remedy I am
seeking, I had a posse of men all ready for tomorrow to avenge my wrongs and vindicate my honor.
"Contempt is hateful; what I love is power,
To work my will at my own place and hour.
A wise man's scorn bends the most stubborn will,
The noblest victor he who spares to kill."
Next, clapping her hands together, she suddenly burst into such a fit of laughter as quite alarmed us. The maid, who had entered first followed suit, and was followed in turn by the little girl who had come in along with Quartilla.
The whole place reëchoed with their forced merriment; meantime, seeing no reason for this rapid change of mood, we stand staring now at each other, now at the women. At length says Quartilla, "I have given express orders that no mortal be admitted into this inn today, that you may, without interruption, apply the remedy for my ague."
"At this declaration Ascyltos stood for a time appalled; for myself, I turned colder that a Gallic winter, and was unable to utter a word. Still our numbers somewhat reassured me against any disaster. After all, they were only three weak women, quite incapable of any serious assault on us, who if we had nothing else manly about us, were at least of the male sex. Anyway we were all ready prepared for the fray; in fact I had already so arranged the couples, that if it came to a fight, I should myself tackle Quartilla, Ascyltos the waiting-maid, Giton the girl.
In the middle of these reflections, up came Quartilla to me to be cured of her ague; but finding herself sadly disappointed, she flung out of the house in a rage. Returning after a little, she had us seized by some unknown bravos and carried off to a magnificent palace.