THE boy’s mother let the book fall, and, walking restlessly to the doorway, flung aside the curtains that separated the library from the larger and open hall. The December afternoon was sharp and cold, and she had courted an hour’s forgetfulness within a secluded room, bidding her maid bring a brazier and draw the curtains close, and deliberately selecting from her son’s books a volume of Lucretius. But her oblivion had been penetrated by an unexpected line, shot like a poisoned arrow from the sober text: —

Breast of his mother should pierce with a wound sempiternal, unhealing.

That was her own breast, she said to herself, and there was no hope of escape from the fever of its wound. A curious physical fear took possession of her, parching her throat and robbing her of breath. It was a recoil from the conviction that she must continue to suffer because her son, so young, even for his twenty years, had openly flouted her for one of the harpies of the city and delivered over his manhood to the gossip-mongers of Rome.

Seeking now the sting of the winter air which she had been avoiding, she pushed the heavy draperies aside and hurried into the atrium. Through an opening in the roof a breath from December blew refreshingly, seeming almost to ruffle the hair of the little marble Pan who played his pipes by the rim of the basin sunk in the centre of the hall to catch the rain-water from above. She had taken pains years ago to bring the quaint goat-footed figure to Rome from Assisi, because the laughing face, set there within a brightcolored garden, had seemed to her a happy omen on the day when she came as a bride to her husband’s house, and in the sullen hours of her later sorrow had comforted her more than the words of her friends.

As she saw it now, exiled and restrained within a city house, a new longing came upon her for her Umbrian home. Even the imperious winds which sometimes in the winter swept up the wide valley and leaped over the walls of Assisi, and shrieked in the streets, were better than the Roman Aquilo, which during these last days had been biting into the very corners of the house. And how often, under the winter sun, the northern valley used to lie quiet and serene, its brown vineyards and expectant olive orchards held close within the shelter of the blue hills which stretched protectingly below the snowcovered peaks of the Apennines. How charming, too, the spring used to be, when the vineyards grew green, and the slow, white oxen brought the produce of the plain up the steep slopes to the town.

She wondered now why, in leaving Assisi, when Propertius was a child, she had not foreseen her own regretful loneliness. Her reason for leaving had been the necessity of educating her son, but the choice had been made easy by the bitterness in her own life. Her husband had died when the child was five years old, and a year later her brother, who had bulwarked her against despair, had been killed in the terrible siege of Perugia.

Her own family and her husband’s had never been friendly to Cæsar’s successor. Her husband’s large estates had been confiscated when Octavius came back from Philippi, and her brother had eagerly joined Antony’s brother in seizing the old Etruscan stronghold across the valley from Assisi and holding it against the national troops. The fierce assaults, the prolonged and cruel famine, the final destruction of a prosperous city by a fire which alone saved it from the looting of Octavius’s soldiers, made a profound impression upon all Umbria. Her own home seemed to be physically darkened by evil memories. Her mind strayed morbidly in the shadows, forever picturing her brother’s last hours in some fresh guise of horror. She recovered her self-control only through the shock of discovering that her trouble was eating into her boy’s life also.

He was a sensitive, shrinking child, easily irritated, and given to brooding. One night she awoke from a fitful sleep to find him shivering by her bed, his little pale face and terrified eyes defined by the moonlight that streamed in from the opposite window. ‘It is my uncle,’ he whispered; ‘he came into my room all red with blood; he wants a grave; he is tired of wandering over the hills.’ As she caught the child in her arms her mind found a new mooring in the determination to seek freedom for him and for herself from the memories of Assisi, where night brought restless spectres and day revealed the blackened walls and ruins of Perugia.

That was fourteen years ago, but to-day she knew that in Rome she herself had never wholly been at home. Her income had sufficed for a very modest establishment in the desirable Esquiline quarter; and her good, if provincial, ancestry had placed her in an agreeable circle of friends. She and her son had no entrée among the greater Roman nobles, but they had a claim on the acquaintance of several families connected with the government, and of others well-known in the business world. There was, however, much about city life which offended her tastes. Its restlessness annoyed her, its indifference chilled her. Architecture and sculpture failed to make up to her for the intimate presence of mountain and valley. Ornate temples, crowded with fashionable votaries, more often estranged than comforted her. Agrippa’s new Pantheon was now the talk of the day, but to her the building seemed cold and formal. And two years ago, when all Rome flocked to the dedication of the new temple of Apollo on the Palatine, her own excitement had given way to tender memories of the dedication of Minerva’s temple in her old home. Inside the spacious Portico, with its columns of African marble, and its wonderful images of beasts and mortals and gods, and in front of the gleaming temple, with its doors of carven ivory, and the sun’s chariot poised above its gable peak, she had been conscious chiefly of a longing to see once more the homely market-place of Assisi, to climb the high steps to the exquisite temple-porch which faced southward toward the sunbathed valley, and then to seek the cool dimness within, where the Guardian of Woman’s Work stood ready to hear her prayers.

To-day as she walked feverishly up and down, fretted by the walls of her Roman house, her homesickness grew into a violent desire for the old life. Perugia was rebuilt, and rehabilitated, in spite of the conquering name of Augustus superimposed upon its most ancient Etruscan portal. Assisi was plying a busy and happy life on the opposite hillside. The intervening valley, once cowering under the flail of war, was given over now to plenty and to peace. Its beauty, as she had seen it last, recurred to her vividly. She had left home in the early morning. The sky was still flushed with rose, and the white mists were just rising from the valley and floating away over the tops of the awakening hills. She had held her child in her lap as the carriage passed out under the gate of the town and began the descent into the plain, and the buoyant freshness of the morning had entered into her heart and given her hope for the boy’s future. He was to grow strong and wise, his childish impetuosity was to be disciplined, he was to study and become a lawyer and serve his country as his ancestors had before him. His father’s broken youth was to continue in him, and her life was to fructify in his and in his children’s, when the time came.

The mother bowed her head upon her clenched hands. How empty, empty her hopes had been! Even his boyhood had disappointed her, in spite of his cleverness at his books. The irritability of his childhood had become morosencss, and he had alienated more often than he had attached his friends. A certain passionate sincerity, however, had never been lacking in his worst moods; and toward her he had been a loyal, if often heedless, son. In this loyalty, as the years passed, she had come to place her last hope that he would be deaf to the siren calls of the great city. Outdoor sports and wholesome friendships he had rejected, even while his solitary nature and high-strung temperament made some defense against temptation imperative.

When he was eighteen he refused to go into law, and declared for a literary life. She had tried hard to conceal her disappointment and timid chagrin. She realized that the literary circle in Rome was quite different from any she knew. It was no more aristocratic than her own, and yet she felt intuitively that its standards were even more fastidious and its judgments more scornful. If Propertius were to grow rich and powerful, as the great Cicero had, and win the friendship of the old senatorial families, she could more easily adjust herself to formal intercourse with them than to meeting on equal terms such men as Tibullus and Ponticus and Bassus, and perhaps even Horace and Virgil. But later her sensitive fear that she could not help her son in his new career had been swallowed up in the anguish of learning that he had entirely surrendered himself to a woman of the town. This woman, she had been told, was much older than Propertius, beautiful and accomplished, and the lure of many rich and distinguished lovers. Why should she seek out a slight, pale boy who had little to give her except a heart too honest for her to understand?

When the knowledge first came to her, she had begged for her son’s confidence, until, in one of his morose moods, he had flung away from her, leaving her to the weary alternations of hope and fear. Two weeks ago, however, all uncertainty had ended. The sword had fallen. Propertius had published a series of poems boasting of his love, scorning all the ideals of courage and manhood in which she had tried to nurture him, exhibiting to Rome in unashamed nakedness the spectacle of his defeated youth. Since the day when her slave had brought home the volume from the book-store, and she had read it at night in the privacy of her bedroom, she had found no words in which to speak to him about his poetry. Any hope that she had ever had of again appealing to him died before his cruel lines, —

Never be dearer to me even love of a mother belovèd,
Never an interest in life, dear, if of thee I ’m bereft.
Thou and thou only to me art my home, to me, Cynthia, only
Father and mother art thou — thou all my moments of joy.

He had, indeed, been affectionate toward her once more, and had made a point of telling her things that he thought would please her. He had even, some days before, seemed boyishly eager for her sympathetic pleasure in an invitation to dine with Mæcenas.

‘I am made, mother,’ he said, ‘if he takes me up.’

‘Made! ’ she repeated now to herself. Made into what?

A friend had told her that the Forum was ringing with the fame of this new writer, and that from the Palatine to the Subura his poetry was taking like wildfire. She was dumb before such strange comfort. What was this ‘fame’ to which men were willing to sacrifice their citizenship? Nothing in Rome had so shocked her as the laxity of family life, the reluctance of young men to marry, the frequency of divorce. She had felt her first sympathy with Augustus when he had endeavored to force through a law compelling honorable marriage. Now, all that was best in her, all her loyally to the traditions of her family, rose in revolt against a popular

favor that applauded the rhymes of a ruined boy, and admired the shameless revelations of debauchery.

These plain words, spoken to herself, acted upon her mind like a tonic. In facing the facts at their worst, she gained courage to believe that there must still be something she could do, if she could only grow calmer and think more clearly. She stopped her restless walking, and taking a chair forced herself to lean back and rest. The afternoon was growing dark, and a servant was beginning to light the lamps. In the glow of the little yellow flames, Pan seemed to be piping a jocund melody.

The frenzy of despair left her, and she began to remember her son’s youth and the charming boyish things about him. Perhaps among his new friends some would love him and help him where she and his earlier friends had failed. There was Virgil, for example. He was older, but Propertius’s enthusiasm for him seemed unbounded. He had pored over the Georgies when they came out in his early boyhood, and only the other day he had told her that the poet was at work on an epic that would be greater than the Iliad. The boy’s likes and dislikes were always violent, and he had said once, in his absurd way, that he would rather eat crumbs from Virgil’s table than loaves from Horace’s.

She knew that Virgil believed in noble things, and she had heard that he was kind and full of sympathy. As the son of a peasant he did not seem too imposing to her. He had been pointed out to her one day in the street, and the memory of his shy bearing and of the embarrassed flush on his face as he saw himself the object of interest, now gave her courage to think of appealing to him.

Her loosened thoughts hurried on more ambitiously still. Of Mæcenas’s recent kindness, Propertius was inordinately proud. Would it not be possible to reach the great man through Tullus, her son’s faithful friend, whose government position gave him a claim upon the prime minister’s attention? Surely, if the older man realized how fast the boy was throwing his life away he would put out a restraining hand. She had always understood that he set great store by Roman morals. Rising from her chair with fresh energy, she bade a servant bring her writing materials to the library. The swift Roman night had fallen, and the house looked dull and dim except within the short radius of each lamp. But to her it seemed lit by a new and saving hope.

Nearly a week later Horace was dining quietly with Mæcenas. It was during one of the frequent estrangements between the prime minister and his wife, and Mæcenas often sent for Horace when the strain of work had left him with little inclination to collect a larger company. The meal was over, and on the polished citron-wood table stood a silver mixing-bowl, and an hospitable array — after the princely manner of the house — of gold cups, crystal flagons, and tall, slender glasses which looked as if they might have been cut out of deep-hued amethyst. The slaves had withdrawn, as it was one of the first nights of the Saturnalia, and their duties were lightened by a considerate master. The unusual cold and the savage winds that had held Rome in their grip for the past few days were forgotten within the beautiful diningroom. A multitude of lamps, hanging from the lacquered ceiling, standing around the room on tall Æginetan candelabra, and resting on low graceful standards on the table itself, threw a warm radiance over the mosaic floor and over the walls painted with architectural designs, through which, as if through colonnades of real marble, charming landscapes lured and beckoned. One of the choicest Greek wines in the host’s famous cellar had been brought in for the friends. There was enough snow on Soracte, Mæcenas had said laughingly, to justify the oldest Chian, if Horace could forego his Italian numbers and his home-brewed Sabine for one night.

’I will leave both my metre and my stomach to the gods,’ Horace had retorted, ‘if you will turn over to them your worry about Rome, and pluck the blossom of the hour with me. Augustus is safe in Spain, you cannot be summoned to the Palatine, and to-morrow is early enough for the noise of the Forum. By the way,’ he added somewhat testily and unexpectedly, ‘I wish I could ever get to your house without being held up for “news.” A perfect stranger — he pretended to know me — stopped me to-night and asked me if I thought there was anything in the rumor that Augustus has no intention of going on to get the standards back from the Parthians, but is thinking only of the Spanish gold-mines. “ Does he think to wing our Roman eagles with money or with glory?” he asked, with what I thought was an insolent sneer. I shook him off, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. However,’ smiling again as he saw a familiar impassiveness settle upon his host’s face, ‘for you tonight there shall be neither Parthians nor budgets. I offer myself as the victim of your thoughts. You may even ask me why I have not published my Odes since you last saw me.’

Mæcenas’s eyes brightened with affectionate amusement.

‘Well, my friend,’ he said, ‘both money and glory would wing your flight. You have the public car already, and can fix your own royalties with the Sosii. And everybody, from Augustus to the capricious fair, would welcome the published volume. You should think too of my reputation as showman. Messala told me last week that he had persuaded Tibullus to bring out a book of verse immediately, while you and Virgil are dallying between past and future triumphs. I am tempted to drop you both and take up with ambitious youth. Here is Propertius setting the town agog, and yesterday the Sosii told me of another clever boy, the young Ovid, who is already writing verse at seventeen: a veritable rascal, they say, for wit and wickedness, but a born poet.’

‘If he is that,’ Horace said, in a tone of irritation very unusual with him, ‘you had better substitute him for your Propertius. I think his success is little short of scandalous.’

‘You sound like Tullus,’ Mæcenas said banteringly, ‘or like the friend of Virgil’s father who arrived from Mantua last week and began to look for the good old Tatii and Sabines in Pompey’s Portico and the Temple of Isis! Since when have you turned Cato?’

Horace laughed good - humoredly again. ‘At any rate,’ he said, ‘you might have done worse by me than likening me to Tullus. I sometimes wish we were all like him, unplagued by imagination, innocent of Greek, quite sure of the admirableness of admirably administering the government, and of the rightness of everything Roman. What does he think of Propertius’s peccadilloes, by the way? He is a friend of the family, is he not?’

‘Yes,’ said Mæcenas, ‘and he is doing his friendly duty with the dogged persistence you would expect. He has haunted me in the Forum lately, and yesterday we had a long talk. His point of view is obvious. A Roman ought to be a soldier, and he ought to marry and beget more soldiers. Propertius boasts of being deaf to the trumpet if a woman weeps, and the woman is one he cannot marry. Ergo, Propertius is a disgrace to his country. It is as clear as Euclid. All the friends of the family, it seems, have taken a hand in the matter. Tullus himself has tried to make the boy ambitious to go to Athens, Bassus has tried to discount the lady’s charms, Lynceus has urged the pleasures of philosophy, and Ponticus of writing epics. And various graybeards have done their best to make a love-sick poet pay court to wisdom. I could scarcely keep from laughing at the look of perplexity and indignation in Tullus’s face when he quoted Propertius’s reply. The boy actually asked them if they thought the poor flute ought to be set adrift just because swelled cheeks were n’t becoming to Pallas! The long and short of it is that he wants me to interfere and convince Propertius of his public duty. That public duty may conceivably take the form of writing poetry is beyond his grasp.’

Horace laughed. ‘Now, my difficulty,’ he said, ‘is just the reverse. I object to this young man because he is a bad poet.’

‘Why?’ Mæcenas asked, rather abruptly.

‘Because,’ Horace answered, ‘he contorts the Latin language and muddies his thought by Alexandrian débris.’

Mæcenas reached for the silver ladle and slowly filled his cup once more from the mixing-bowl before replying. Then he said in a more serious tone than he had used hitherto, —

‘If you will allow me to say so, Flaccus, that is a cheap criticism to come from the keenest critic in Rome. Is it not possible that you are misled by your personal prejudices? You dislike the young man himself, I know, because he is moody and emotional, and uncontrolled, and because he considers his own emotions fit subjects for discussion. A boy, self-centred, melancholy, and in love — what do you want of him?’

‘Is that quite fair?’ Horace answered. ‘Tibullus is young and in love, and a very Heracleitus for melancholy, and you know that I not only love him as a friend but also value him as a poet, in spite of my belief that elegiac verse is not a fortunate medium for our language. His Latin is limpid and direct, his metre is finished, and his emotion as a lover is properly subordinated to his work as a poet.’

‘Ah,’ said Mæcenas quickly, ‘but just there you betray yourself.’ He hesitated a moment and then went on as if the words were welling up from reluctant depths in his own experience. ‘Flaccus, you have never loved a woman, have you?’

Horace smiled whimsically. ‘Not to the extent of surrendering my standards,’ he said. ‘So far Mercury has always rescued me in time from both Mars and Venus.’

But Mæcenas went on gravely, ‘You are then incapacitated for appreciating the force and fervor of a certain kind of genius. I know that you have never understood Catullus, and I have a feeling that something of his spirit is reappearing in this boy to-day. If Propertius lacks his virility and directness, that may well be because of a stormier heart in which there is a conflict of warring elements. Certainly his passion transcends the vivacious sentiment of poor Gallus. I tell you, my wary critic, I am almost willing to believe that through this silly young dandy we are getting a new voice in our literature. Who knows? who knows? It is un-Roman, yes, incoherent and moody and subversive of law and order, but is it false to human life? A man may choose to dwell apart with his own heart rather than with Lucretius’s Science or Virgil’s Nature, or your own practical philosophy. Certain lines that this boy has written haunt me — perhaps they will prove true: —

Then you will wonder, and often, at me not ignoble a poet;
Then midst the talent of Rome I shall be ranked in the van;
Then will the youths break silence by side of my grave and be saying:
‘Dead! Thou of passion our lord! Great one,
O poet, laid low! ’1

A silence fell between the friends. Two slaves, their faces flushed with unusual wine, came in to replenish the small lamps on the table, and stole quietly out again. Horace watched his friend with grave affection, knowing well where his thoughts had strayed. Presently Mæcenas shook himself with a laugh.

‘Exit Terentia’s husband,’ he said, ‘and reënter the galley-slave of the Roman State. I have, indeed, been thinking for some time that this new talent ought to be deflected into other lines. Its energy would put vitality into national themes. A little less Cynthia, and a little more Cæsar, will please us all. I mean to suggest some historical subjects to the boy. Thinking about them may stiffen up this oversoft Muse of his.’

‘You speak hopefully,’ Horace said, ‘but you have our Hostia (I understand the “Cynthia” is an open secret) to reckon with. She is not going to loosen her hold on a young man who is making her famous, and whose sudden success with you is due to poetry about her. We have to acknowledge that she is almost as wonderful as the young fool thinks she is.’

‘Certainly,’ Mæcenas answered, ‘she has insight. Her favor must have been won by his talent, for he has n’t money enough to meet her price.’

‘And I,’ scoffed Horace, ‘think the dice about equal between her favor and his talent. However, I wish you luck, and shall look for a crop of songs on Cæsar and Carthage and the Cambrians.’

With a smile of mutual understanding the friends pledged each other in one last draught of Chian, as Horace rose to take his leave.

’How lately have you heard from Virgil?’ Mæcenas asked while they waited for Davus to be summoned from the festivities in the servants’ hall.

‘A letter came yesterday,’ Horace answered, ‘and it troubled me greatly. He wrote in one of his blackest moods of despair over the Æneid. He says he feels as if he were caught in a nightmare, trying madly to march along a road, while his feet drag heavily, and his tongue refuses to form sounds and words. I confess that I am anxious, for I think his mind may prey too far upon his physical strength. Only last week Varius told me that he thought Virgil himself was obsessed by the idea that he might die before he has finished his work, he had begged him so often to promise to destroy whatever is left uncompleted.’

A suden sadness, like the shadow of familiar pain, fell upon Mæcenas’s face.

‘Flaccus, my Flaccus,’ he exclaimed, ‘it is I who shall die, die before Virgil finishes his Æneid, or you your Odes. My life will have been futile. The Romans do not understand. They want their standards back from the Parthians, they want the mines of Spain and the riches of Arabia. They cast greedy eyes on Britain and make much ado about ruling Gaul and Asia and Greece and Egypt. And they think that I am one of them. But the Etruscan ghosts within me stir strangely at times, and walk abroad through the citadel of my soul. Then I know that the idlest dream of a dreamer may have form when our civilization shall have crumbled, and that the verse of a poet, even of this boy Propertius, will outlast the toil of my nights. You and Virgil often tell me that you owe your fortunes to me, — your lives, you sometimes say with generous exaggeration. But I tell you that the day is coming when I shall owe my life to you, when, save for you, I shall be a mere name in the rotting archives of a forgotten state. Why, then, do you delay to fulfill my hope? Virgil at least is working. What are you doing, my best of friends? ’

Davus had come in, and was laying the soft, thick folds of a long coat over his master’s shoulders, as Mæcenas’s almost fretful appeal came to an end.

Horace, accustomed to his friend’s overstrained moods, and understanding the cure for them, turned toward him with a gentle respect which was free from all constraint or apology. His voice lost its frequent note of goodtempered mockery, and became warm with feeling, as he answered, —

‘My friend, have patience. You will not die, nor shall I, until I have laid before you a work worthy of your friendship. You are indeed the honor and the glory of my life, and your faith in my lyric gift lifts me to the stars. But you must remember that, my Muse is wayward and my vein of genius not too rich. No Hercules will reward my travail, so do not expect of me the birth-pangs that are torturing Virgil. I have time to look abroad on life and to correct tears by wine and laughter while my hands are busy with the file and pumice-stone. Before you know it, the billboards of the Sosii will announce the completed work, and the dedication shall show Rome who is responsible for my offending.'

The look of anxious irritability faded from Mæcenas’s face, and in restored serenity he walked with Horace from the dining-room, through the spacious unroofed peristyle, where marble pillars and statues, flower-beds and fountains were blanched by the winter moon to one tone of silver, and through the magnificent atrium, where the images of noble ancestors kept their silent watch over the new generation. At the vestibule door a porter, somewhat befuddled by Saturnalian merry-making, was waiting sleepily. When he had opened the door into the street the two friends stood silent a moment in the outer portico, suddenly conscious, after the seclusion of the great house and their evening’s talk, of the city life beyond, — hilarious, disordered, without subtlety in desire and regret, rich in the common passions of humanity. At this moment a troop of revelers stumbled past with wagging torches in their drunken hands. Among them, conspicuous in the moonlight, the boy Propertius swayed unsteadily, and pushed back a torn garland from his forehead. Horace turned to Mæcenas.

‘Cynthia’s wine,’ he said. ‘Do you expect to extract from the lees an ode to Augustus?’

Mæcenas shrugged his shoulders. ‘Probably,’ he said, ‘he will write me a charming poem to explain why he cannot do what I ask. I know the tricks of your tribe.’

With a final laugh and a clasp of the hands the friends parted company. Mæcenas went back to his library to reread dispatches from Spain before seeking his few hours of sleep. Horace, finding that the wind had gone down, and tempted by the moonlight, turned toward the Subura to stroll for another hour among the Saturnalian crowds.

Propertius made his way past the slave at his own door, who was surprised only by his young master’s arrival before daybreak, and stumbled to his bedroom, where the night-lamp was burning. The drinking at Cynthia’s — he always thought of her by that name — had been fast and furious. She had been more beautiful than he had ever seen her. Her eyes had shone like stars, and the garlands had hung down over her face and trailed in her cup of yellow wine. And she had told him that he was the only true poet in Rome and had read his poems aloud in a voice so sweet and clear that he had been nearly crazed with pride and delight. Capriciously she had driven him away early with the other guests, but to-morrow he would see her again, or, perhaps, he could get through her door again to-night — to-night —

His feverish reverie was broken in upon by the frightened and apologetic porter, bringing a letter which his mistress had told him to deliver as soon as the master came home. Propertius dismissed him angrily, and held the letter in an unwilling and shaking hand. Perhaps he would not have read it at all if it had been written on an ordinary wax tablet. But the little parchment roll had an unusual and insistent look about it, and he finally unrolled it and, holding it out as steadily as he could under the small wick of his lamp, read what was written: —

P. Virgilius Maro to his Propertius, greeting.

I hope you will allow me to congratulate you on your recent volume of verse. Your management of the elegiac metre, which my friend Gallus, before his tragic death last year, taught me to understand, seems to me ennobling and enriching, and in both the fire and the pathos of many of your lines I recognize the true poet. Perhaps you will recognize the rustic in me when I add that I also welcomed a note of love for your Umbrian groves of beeches and pines and for water-meadows which you must have seen, perhaps by the banks of your Clitumnus, filled with white lilies and scarlet poppies. Most of all have I been moved by the candor of your idealism. It is rare indeed in this age to hear any scorn of the golden streams of Pactolus and the jewels of the Red Sea, of pictured tapestries and thresholds of Arabian onyx. The knowledge that things like these are as nothing to you compared with love, stirs me to gratitude.

It was in these ways that I was thinking of you yesterday, when I put my own work aside and walked by the shore of the great bay here, looking toward Capri. And will you let a man who has lived nearly a quarter of a century longer than you have add that I wondered also whether before long you will not seek another mistress for your worship, one whose service shall transcend not only riches but all personal passions?

Like you, I have lain by the Tiber, and watched the skiffs hurrying by, and the slow barges towed along the yellow waves. And my thoughts also have been of the meanness of wealth and of the glory of love. But it was to Rome herself that I made my vows, and in whose service I enlisted. Was there ever a time when she needed more the loyalty of us all? While she is fashioning that Empire which shall be without limit or end and raise us to the lordship of the earth, she runs the risks of attack from impalpable enemies who shall defile her highways and debauch her sons. Arrogance, luxury, violent ambition, false desires, are more to be dreaded than a Parthian victory. The subtle wickedness of the Orient may conquer us when the spears of Britain are of no avail. Antony and Gallus are not the only Romans from whom Egypt has sucked life and honor.

Like you, again, I am no soldier. Your friends and my friends go lustily to Ionia and Lydia and Gaul and Spain, co-workers, as you say, in a beloved government. Is not Rome, then, all the more left to our defense? You pleased me once by saying that you ‘knew every line’ of my Georgics. You know then that I have believed that the sickened minds of to-day could be healed, if men would but return to the intimacies of the soil and farm. Our great master, Lucretius, preached salvation through knowledge of the physical world. I have ventured to say that it could be found through the kindly help of the country gods. But now I am beginning to see deeper. In Rome herself lie the seeds of a new birth. When men see her as she is in her ancient greatness and her immortal future, will not greed and lust depart from their hearts? I think it must have been at dawn, when the sea was first reddening under the early sun, that Æneas sailed up to the mouth of the Tiber, and found at last the heart of that Hesperia whose shores had seemed ever to recede as he drew near them. Now that our sky is blazing with the midday sun, shall we betray and make void those early hopes? Shall the sistrum of Isis drown our prayers to the gods of our country, native-born, who guard the Tiber and our Roman Palatine?

I am seeking to write a poem which shall make men reverence their past and build for their future. Will you not help me to work for Rome’s need? You have sincerity, passion, talent. You have commended a beautiful woman to me. Will you not let me commend my Mistress to you? Farewell.

The letter slipped from the boy’s fingers to the floor. The wonderful voice of Virgil, which made men forget his slight frame and awkward manners, seemed to echo in his ears. In that voice he had heard stately hexameters read until, shutting his eyes, he could have believed Apollo spoke from cloudy Olympus. And this voice condescended now to plead with him and to offer him a new love. Cynthia’s voice or his — or his. He tried to distinguish each in his clouded memory — Virgil’s praising Rome, Cynthia’s praising himself. His head ached violently, and his ears rang. A blind rage seized him because he could not distinguish either voice clearly. The letter was to blame. He would destroy that, and one voice at least would cease its torment. He gathered up the loose roll, twisted it in his trembling fingers, and held it to the flame of the little lamp.

‘To Venus — a hecatomb!’ he shouted wildly.

As the parchment, caught fire, the blaze of light illumined his flushed cheeks and burning eyes, and the boyish curve of his sullen lips.

It was in the spring, when the little marble Pan looked rosy in the warmer sunlight, and the white oxen must have been climbing the steeps of Assisi, that the boy’s mother let go her slight hold on life. In Rome the roses were in bloom, and Soracte was veiled in a soft blue haze.

Tullus came to Mæcenas to excuse Propertius from a dinner, and a slave led him into the famous garden where the prime minister often received his guests. Virgil was with him now, and they both cordially greeted the young official. As he gave his message, his face, moulded into firm, strong lines by his habits of thought, was softened as if by a personal regret. The three men stood in silence for a moment, and then Tullus turned impulsively to Mæcenas.

‘He chose between his mother and his mistress,’ he said. ‘When I talked with you in the winter you said that perhaps his mother would have to face death again to give birth to a poet as she had already to give birth to a child. I have never understood what you meant.’

‘Ah, Tullus,’ Mæcenas answered, laying his hand affectionately upon the shoulder of the younger man, ‘I spoke of a law not inscribed on the Twelve Tables, but cut deep in the bed-rock of life — is it not, my Virgil?’

But the poet toward whom he had quickly turned did not hear him. He stood withdrawn into his own thoughts. A shaft of sun, piercing through the ilex trees, laid upon his white toga a sudden sheen of gold, and Mæcenas heard him say softly to himself, in a voice whose harmonies he felt he had never wholly gauged before, —

Sunt lacrimæ rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
  1. This and the preceding verse translations are by F. G. Allinson.