Книга Imperium. Содержание - Roll XI

Thus it was that I came to have rather a profound conversation with him. On the day after our arrival, the old master was buried in the family vault, then Lucius’s ashes in their alabaster vase were interred beside him, and finally a pig was sacrificed to keep the spot holy. The next morning Cicero took a tour around his newly inherited estate and I went with him in case he needed to dictate any notes, for the place (which was so heavily mortgaged as to be virtually worthless) was in a dilapidated state, and much work needed to be done. Cicero observed that it was originally his mother who had managed the property; his father had always been too much of a dreamer to cope with land agents and agricultural suppliers; after her death, he had slowly let it all go to ruin. This was, I think, the first time in more than a decade in his service that I had heard him mention his mother. Helvia was her name. She had died twenty years earlier, when he was in his teens, by which time he had left for Rome to be educated. I could barely remember anything of her myself, except that she had a reputation for terrible strictness and meanness-the sort of mistress who marked the jars to check if the slaves had stolen anything and took great pleasure in whipping them if she suspected that they had.

“Never a word of praise from her, Tiro,” he said, “either for myself or my brother. Yet I tried so hard to please her.” He stopped and stared across the fields to the fast-moving, ice-cold river-the Fibrenus, it was called-in the center of which was a little island, with a wooded grove and a small pavilion, half tumbled down. “That was where I used to go and sit as a boy,” he said wistfully. “The hours I spent there! In my mind I was going to be another Achilles, albeit of the law courts rather than the battlefield. You know your Homer: ‘Far to excel, out-topping all the rest!’”

He was silent for a while, and I recognized this as my opportunity. And so I put my plan to him-I gabbled it out, fairly ineptly, I suppose: that I might remain here and bring the farm back up to scratch for him-and all the while he kept looking at that childhood island of his. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said with a sigh when I had finished. “I feel it, too. This is the true fatherland of myself and my brother, for we are descended from a very ancient family of this place. Here are our ancestral cults, here is our race, here are many memorials of our forefathers. What more need I say?” He turned to look at me, and I noticed how very clear and blue his eyes were, despite all his recent weeping. “But consider what we have seen this week-the empty, senseless shells of those we loved-and think what a terrible audit Death lays upon a man. Ah!” He shook his head vigorously, as if emptying it of a bad dream, then returned his attention to the landscape. After a while he said, in a very different voice, “Well, I tell you, for my part, I do not propose to die leaving one ounce of talent unspent, or one mile of energy left in my legs. And it is your destiny, my dear fellow, to walk the road with me.” We were standing side by side; he prodded me gently in the ribs with his elbow. “Come on, Tiro! A secretary who can take down my words almost as quickly as I can utter them? Such a marvel cannot be spared to count sheep in Arpinum! So let us have no more talk of such foolishness.”

And that was the end of my pastoral idyll. We walked back up to the house, and later that afternoon-or perhaps it was the following day, the memory plays such tricks-we heard the sound of a horse galloping very fast along the road from the town. It had started to rain, that much I do remember, and everyone was cooped up irritably indoors. Cicero was reading, Terentia sewing, Quintus practicing drawing his sword, Pomponia lying down with a headache. (She still maintained that politics was “boring,” which drove Cicero into a quiet frenzy. “Such a stupid thing to say!” he once complained to me. “Politics? Boring? Politics is history on the wing! What other sphere of human activity calls forth all that is most noble in men’s souls, and all that is most base? Or has such excitement? Or more vividly exposes our strengths and weaknesses? Boring? You might as well say that life itself is boring!”) Anyway, at the noise of hooves clattering to a halt I went out to greet the rider and took from him a letter bearing the seal of Pompey the Great. Cicero opened it himself and let out a shout of surprise. “Rome has been attacked!” he announced, causing even Pomponia to rouse herself briefly from her couch. He read on rapidly. The consular war fleet had been set on fire in its winter anchorage at Ostia. Two praetors, Sextilius and Bellinus, together with their lictors and staff, had been kidnapped. It was all the work of pirates and designed to spread terror, pure and simple. There was panic in the capital. The people were demanding action. “Pompey wants me with him straightaway,” said Cicero. “He is calling a council of war at his country estate the day after tomorrow.”

Roll XI

LEAVING THE OTHERS BEHIND and traveling hard in a two-wheeled carriage (Cicero never went on horseback if he could avoid it), we retraced our route, reaching the villa at Tusculum by nightfall the following day. Pompey’s estate lay on the other side of the Alban Hills, only five miles to the south. The lazy household slaves were stunned to find their master back so quickly and had to scramble to put the place in order. Cicero bathed and went directly to bed, although I do not believe he slept well, for I fancied I heard him in the middle of the night, moving around his library, and in the morning I found a copy of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics half unrolled on his desk. But politicians are resilient creatures. When I went into his chamber he was already dressed and keen to discover what Pompey had in mind. As soon as it was light we set off. Our road took us around the great expanse of the Alban Lake, and when the sun broke pink over the snowy mountain ridge we could see the silhouettes of the fishermen pulling in their nets from the glittering waters. “Is there any country in the world more beautiful than Italy?” he murmured, inhaling deeply, and although he did not express it, I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking it, too: that it was a relief to have escaped the enfolding gloom of Aprinum, and that there is nothing quite like death to make one feel alive.

At length we turned off the road and passed through a pair of imposing gates onto a long driveway of white gravel lined with cypresses. The formal gardens to either side were filled with marble statues, no doubt acquired by the general during his various campaigns. Gardeners were raking the winter leaves and trimming the box hedges. The impression was one of vast, quiet, confident wealth. As Cicero strode through the entrance into the great house he whispered to me to stay close by, and I slipped in unobtrusively behind him, carrying a document case. (My advice to anyone, incidentally, who wishes to be inconspicuous, is always to carry documents: they cast a cloak of invisibility around their bearer that is the equal of anything in the Greek legends.) Pompey was greeting his guests in the atrium, playing the grand country seigneur, with his third wife, Mucia, beside him, and his son, Gnaeus-who must have been eleven by this time-and his infant daughter, Pompeia, who had just learned to walk. Mucia was an attractive, statuesque matron of the Metellus clan, in her late twenties and obviously pregnant again. One of Pompey’s peculiarities, I later discovered, was that he always tended to love his wife, whoever she happened to be at the time. She was laughing at some remark which had just been made to her, and when the originator of this witticism turned I saw that it was Julius Caesar. This surprised me, and certainly startled Cicero, because up to this point we had seen only the familiar trio of Piceneans: Palicanus, Afranius, and Gabinius. Besides, Caesar had been in Spain for more than a year, serving as quaestor. But here he was, lithe and well built, with his lean, intelligent face, his amused brown eyes, and those thin strands of dark hair which he combed so carefully across his sunburnt pate. (But why am I bothering to describe him? The whole world knows what he looked like!)

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