Page images

reign of women at an end.' Seizing, however, on the instant, another lance, he was known to exclaim, by a few who stood near him, but who did not take the meaning of his words: With a better mark, there may be a better aim.' Then resuming his position, he made at first, by a long and steady aim, as if he were going, with certainty now, to hit the shield; but, changing suddenly the direction of his lance, he launched it with fatal aim, and a giant's force, at the slave who had uttered those words. It went through him, as he had been but a sheet of papyrus, and then sung along the plain. The poor wretch gave one convulsive leap into the air, and dropped dead.

'Zenobia!' exclaimed Julia.

'Great queen!' said Fausta.

'Shameful!'-' dastardly!'-'savage!'

other of the company.

[ocr errors]

broke from one and an

That's the mark I never miss,' coolly observed Antiochus; and at the same time regaled his nose from a box of perfume.

T is his own chattel,' said the queen; he may do with it as he lists. He has trenched upon no law of the realm, but only upon those of breeding and humanity. Our presence, and that of this company, might, we think, have claimed a more gentle observance.'

[ocr errors]

Dogs!' fiercely shouted Antiochus

who, as the queen said these words, her eyes fastened indignantly upon him, had slunk sulkily to his seat-dogs,' said he, aiming suddenly to brave the matter, 'off with yonder carrion! - it offends the queen.'

[ocr errors]

Would our cousin,' said Zenobia, win the hearts of Palmyra, this surely is a mistaken way. Come, let us to the palace. This spot is tainted. But that it may be sweetened, as far as may be, slaves!' she cried, bring to the gates the chariot, and other remaining chattels of Antiochus !'

Antiochus, at these words, pale with the apprehensions of a cowardly spirit, rose and strode toward the palace, from which, in a few moments, he was on his way to the city.

[ocr errors]

You may judge me needlessly harsh, Piso,' said the queen, to me, as we now sauntered toward the palace, but truly the condition of the slave is such, that seeing the laws protect him not, we must do something to enlist in his behalf the spirit of humanity. The breach of courtesy, however, was itself not to be forgiven.'

It was a merciful fate that of the slave,' said I, 'compared with what our Roman slaves suffer. To be lashed to death, or crucified, or burned, or flayed alive, or torn by dogs, or thrown as food for fishes, is something worse than this quick exit of the slave of Antiochus. You of these softer climes are in your natures milder than we, and are more moved by scenes like this. What would you think, queen, to see not one, but scores or hundreds of these miserable beings, upon bare suspicion of attempts against their master's life, condemned, by their absolute irresponsible possessors, to death in all its most revolting forms? Nay, even our Roman women, of highest rank, and gentlest nurture, stand by while their slaves are scourged, or themselves apply the lash. If under this torture they die, it is thought of but as the death of vermin. has made with us this sort of property of so cheap possession, that to destroy it is often a necessary measure of economy. By a Roman,


nothing is less regarded than life. And in truth, I see not how it can be otherwise.'

But surely,' said Julia, 'you do not mean to defend this condition of life. It is not like the sentiments I have heard you express.'


I defend it only thus,' I replied: so long as we have wars - and when will they cease? - there must be captives; and what can these be but slaves? To return them to their own country, were to war to no purpose. To colonize them, were to strip war of its horrors. To make them freemen of our own soil, were to fill the land with foes and traitors. Then if there must be slaves, there must be masters and And the absolute master of other human beings, responsible to no one, can be no other than a tyrant. If he has, as he must have, the power to punish at will, he will exercise it, and that cruelly. If he has the power to kill, as he must have, then will he kill and kill cruelly, when his nature prompts. And this his nature will prompt, or if not his nature absolutely, yet his educated nature. Our children grow up within the sight and sound of all the horrors and sufferings of this state of things. They use their slaves with which, almost in infancy, they are provided-according to their pleasure as dogs, as horses; they lash, they scourge them, long before they have the strength to kill. What wonder if the boy, who, when a boy, used a slave as his beast of burden, or his footstool, when he grows to be a man, should use him as a mark to be shot at? The youth of Antiochus was reared in Rome. I presume to say that his earliest play-things were slaves, and the children of slaves. I am not surprised at his act. And such acts are too common in Rome, for this to disturb me much. The education of Antiochus was continued and completed, I may venture also to say, at the circus. I think the result very natural. It cannot be very different, where slavery and the sports of the amphitheatre exist.'

[ocr errors]

I perceive your meaning,' said Julia: Antiochus you affirm to be the natural product of the customs and institutions which now prevail. It is certainly so, and must continue so, until some new element shall be introduced into society, that shall ultimately reform its practices, by first exalting the sentiments and the character of the individual. Such an element do I detect

In christianity,' said Fausta: this is your panacea. May it prov all you desire; yet methinks it gives small promise, seeing it has already been at work nearly three hundred years, and has accomplished no more.'

'A close observer,' replied Julia, 'sees much of the effect of christianity beside that which appears upon the surface. If I err not greatly, a few years more will reveal what this religion has been doing these nearly three centuries. Revolutions which are acted out in a day have often been years or centuries in preparation. An eye that will see, may see the final issue, a long time foreshadowed in the tendencies and character of a preceding age.'

The princess uttered this with earnestness. I have reflected upon it. And if you, my Curtius, will look around upon the state of the empire, you will find many things to startle you. But of this another time.

Assembled in the evening in the court of the elephant, we were made to forget whatever had proved disagreeable during the day, while we listened to the Frogs,' read by Julia and Longinus.

[ocr errors]

The following day was appointed for the chase, and early in the morning I was waked by the braying of trumpets, and the baying of dogs. I found the queen already mounted, and equipped for the sport, surrounded by Zabdas, Longinus, and a few of the nobles of Palmyra. We were soon joined by Julia and Fausta. In order to insure our sport, a tiger, made fierce by being for some days deprived of food, had the preceding evening been let loose from the royal collection into the neighboring forests. These forests, abounding in game, commence immediately, as it were, in the rear of the palace. They present a boundless continuity of crag, mountain, and wooded plain, offering every variety of ground to those who seek the pleasures of the chase. The sun had not been long above the horizon, when we sallied forth from the palace gates, and from the smooth and shaven fields of the royal demesne, plunged at once into the

[blocks in formation]

It was a moment of inexpressible horror. At the same instant, our eyes caught the form of the famished tiger, just in the act to spring from the crag upon the unconscious queen. But before we had time to alarm Zenobia - which would indeed have been useless

a shaft

from an unerring arm arrested the monster mid-air, whose body then tumbled heavily at the feet of Zenobia's Arab. The horse, rearing with affright, had nearly dashed the queen against the opposite rocks, but keeping her seat, she soon, by her powerful arm and complete hersemanship, reduced him to his obedience, though trembling like a child through every part of his body. A thrust from my hunting spear quickly despatched the dying beast. We now gathered around the queen,

Multa desunt.

Hardly were we arrived returning from the chase at the lawn in front of the palace, when a cloud of dust was observed to rise in the direction of the road to Palmyra, as if caused by a body of horse in rapid movement. What may this mean?' said Zenobia: 'orders were strict, that our brief retirement should not be disturbed. This indicates an errand of some urgency.'


'Some embassy from abroad, perhaps,' said Julia, 'that cannot brook delay. It may be from your great brother at Rome.'

While we, in a sportive humor, indulged in various conjectures, an official of the palace announced the approach of a Roman herald, 'who craved permission to address the Queen of Palmyra.' He was ordered to advance.

In a few moments, upon horse covered with dust and foam, appeared the Roman herald. Without one moment's hesitancy, he saw in Zenobia the queen, and taking off his helmet, and bending to his saddle-bow, he said, 'that Caius Petronius and Cornelius Varro, ambassadors of Aurelian, were in waiting at the outer gates of the palace, and asked a brief audience of the Queen of Palmyra, upon affairs of deepest interest, both to Zenobia and the emperor.'

It is not our custom,' said Zenobia in reply, when seeking repose, as now, from the cares of state, to allow aught to break it. But we will not be selfish nor churlish. Bid the servants of your emperor draw near, and we will hear them.'

I was not unwilling that the messengers of Aurelian should see

Zenobia just as she was now. Sitting upon her noble Arabian, and leaning upon her hunting spear, her countenance glowing with a higher beauty than ever before, as it seemed to me - - her head surmounted with a Parthian hunting-cap, from which drooped a single ostrich feather, springing from a diamond worth a nation's rental, her costume also Parthian, and revealing in the most perfect manner the just proportions of her form I thought I had never seen even her, when she so filled and satisfied the eye and the mind and, for that moment, I was almost a traitor to Aurelian. Had Julia filled her seat, I should have been quite so. As it was, I could worship her who sat her steed with no less grace, upon the left of the queen, without being guilty of that crime. On Zenobia's right were Longinus and Zabdas, Gracchus, and the other noblemen of Palmyra. I and Fausta were near Julia. In this manner, just as we had come in from the chase, did we await the ambassadors of Aurelian.

Followed by their train, and announced by trumpets, they soon wheeled into the lawn, and advanced toward the queen. 'Caius Petronius and Cornelius Varro,' said Zenobia, first addressing the ambassadors, and moving toward them a few paces, we bid you heartily welcome to Palmyra. If we receive you thus without form, you must take the blame partly to yourselves, who have sought us with such haste. We put by the customary observances, that we may cause you no delay. These whom you see, are all friends or councillors. Speak your errand without restraint.'

'We come,' replied Petronius, 'as you may surmise, great queen, upon no pleasing errand. Yet we cannot but persuade ourselves, that the Queen of Palmyra will listen to the proposals of Aurelian, and preserve the good understanding which has lasted so long between the West and the East. There have been brought already to your ears, if I have been rightly informed, rumors of dissatisfaction on the part of our emperor, with the affairs of the East, and of plans of an eastern expedition. It is my business now to say, that these rumors have been well founded. I am farther to say, that the object at which Aurelian has aimed, in the preparations he has made, is not Persia, but Palmyra.' He does us too much honor,' said Zenobia, her color rising, and her eye kindling; and what, may I ask, are specifically his demands, and the price of peace?'

[ocr errors]

For a long series of years,' replied the ambassador, 'the wealth of Egypt, and the East, as you are aware, flowed into the Roman treasury. That stream has been diverted to Palmyra. Egypt, and Syria, and Bythunia, and Mesopotamia, were dependants upon Rome, and Roman provinces. It is needless to say what they now are. The Queen of Palmyra was once but the Queen of Palmyra; she is now Queen of Egypt and of the East Augusta of the Roman empire-her sons styled and arrayed as Cæsars. By whatever consent of former emperors these honors have been won or permitted, it is not, we are required to say, with the consent of Aurelian. By whatever services in behalf of Rome, they may, in the judgment of some, be thought to be deserved, in the judgment of Aurelian, the reward exceeds greatly the value of the service rendered. But while he would not be deemed insensible to those services, and while he honors the greatness and the genius of Zenobia, he would, he conceives, be unfaithful to the interests of those

who have raised him to his high office, if he did not require that in the East, as in the West, the Roman empire should again be restored to the limits which bounded it in the reigns of the virtuuos Antonines. This he holds essential to his own honor, and the glory of the Roman world.'

You have delivered yourself, Caius Petronius,' replied the queen, in a calm and firm voice, as it became a Roman to do, with plainness, and as I must believe, without reserve. So far I honor you. Now hear me, and as you hear, so report to him who sent you. Tell Aurelian that what I am, I have made myself; that the empire which hails me queen, has been moulded into what it is by Odenathus and Zenobia; it is no gift, but an inheritance - a conquest and a possession; it is held, not by favor, but by right of power, and that when he will give away possessions or provinces which he claims as his or Rome's, for the asking, I will give away Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. Tell him that as I have lived a queen, so, the gods helping, I will die a queen, that the last moment of my reign and my life shall be the same. If he is ambitious, let him be told that I am ambitious, too ambitious of an unsullied fame, and of my people's love. Tell him I do not speak of gratitude on the part of Rome, but that posterity will say, that the power which stood between Rome and Persia, and saved the empire in the East, which avenged the death of Valerian, and twice pursued the king of kings as far as the gates of Ctesiphon, deserved some fairer acknowledgment than the message you now bring, at the hands of a Roman emperor.'

Let the queen,' quickly rejoined Petronius, but evidently moved by what he had heard, let the queen fully take me. Aurelian purposes

not to invade the fair region where I now am, and where my eyes are rejoiced by this goodly show of city, plain and country. He hails you Queen of Palmyra! He does but ask again those appendages of your greatness, which have been torn from Rome, and were once the members of her body.'

Your emperor is gracious indeed!' replied the queen, smiling; 'if he may hew off my limbs, he will spare the trunk! —and what were the trunk without the limbs ?'

'And is this,' said Petronius, his voice significant of inward grief, 'that which I must carry back to Rome? Is there no hope of a better adjustment?'

Will not the queen of Palmyra delay for a few days her final answer?' added Varro: I see, happily, in her train, a noble Roman, from whom, as well as from us, she may obtain all needed knowledge of both the character and purposes of Aurelian. We are at liberty to wait her pleasure, or we will return, and her own messengers may bear

her answer to Aurelian.'

'You have our thanks, Romans, for your courtesy, and we accept your offer; although in what I have said, I think I have spoken the sense of my people.'

You have, indeed, great queen,' interrupted Zabdas, with energy. 'Yet, I owe it to my trusty councillor, the great Longinus,' continued the queen, and who now thinks not with me, to look farther into the - which, because they are his, must be strong ones—by which he supports an opposite judgment.'



[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »