Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

Marcus' Home

When Marcus came home from school, he did not toss his cap into a corner, and then have to hunt for it the next time he went out; but perhaps this was because he had no cap to toss. Roman boys always went bareheaded, although the sun was hot in Italy.

They generally wore shoes when upon the street, although their arms and legs were as bare as their heads.

The home of Gaius was a beautiful one, but from the street all the houses of Rome looked very much alike. The front doors all opened directly upon the street, and the yards or gardens were at the back of the houses, and were surrounded by high walls.

As Marcus and Lucius came in from school, they saw a very pretty sight. The atrium, or main living-room, was very large, and in the centre of the room there was a beautiful fountain. Beside this fountain sat their little sister Livia, playing with two of her favorite doves.

"How pretty she looks, Lucius!" said Marcus, and in a moment he had tossed her, doves and all, high in the air.

"Oh, I am so glad you are here!" cried Livia, hugging Marcus and Lucius in turn with her dimpled arms.

From the atrium, which was separated from the other rooms of the house only by pillars and curtains, the boys could look out into the garden. This also had a fountain, with graceful statues about it, and many sorts of beautiful flowers.

Gaia, their mother, was in the garden, and Lucius ran to her, picked a scarlet blossom on his way, and when she stooped to kiss him, tucked it lovingly in her hair.

"Where is Terentia? "asked Marcus, as he, too, came into the garden with Livia.

"I am coming," called Terentia, the sister who was between Marcus and Lucius in age. "Mother has been teaching me to spin the wool for weaving," she added, "and I have tried to make my thread as smooth and even as hers."

"And did you succeed? "asked Marcus.

"No, not yet," answered Terentia, "but I mean to keep on trying."

"That is the way to succeed," said a hearty voice behind them, and the children turned quickly, for it was the voice of Gaius, their father, who had come in unobserved.

"Isn't it almost time for dinner, Mother? "asked Lucius, looking at the shadow which the sun-dial cast, in the garden.

"Yes," said Gaia, "I think it will be ready very soon."

"That reminds me, children," said Gaius, "of a curious invention that I saw to-day in the home of Quintus. It was called a water-clock, and it marks the time, as the sun-dial does, but it is better, because the dial can only tell us the time when the sun is shining, while this water-clock tells the time on cloudy days, and also at night."

"What was it like, Father?" asked Marcus with interest.

"It consisted," replied Gaius, "of a vessel filled with water. A scale was marked upon the vessel, and the water dripped from a small opening, so that just a certain amount could escape each hour. The vessel is filled with water each morning, and by looking at the scale, at the level of the water, one can tell the hour of the day. Do you understand it, my son?"

"Yes," replied Marcus, "I think that I do. It seems quite simple, and yet it is curious, too. I must see it the next time I go to visit Tullius."

"I wish the slaves would hasten dinner," said Lucius impatiently, "for school makes me very hungry."

"You must learn to be patient, even though hungry," said Gaius, placing his hand upon Lucius' shoulder, "If you do not, you will never make a good Roman citizen or soldier. Do you remember the story of Mucius?"

"No, Father," said Lucius, who was always ready for a story. "Please tell it to us."

"Caius Mucius," Gaius began, "was a young Roman of noble birth. Lars Porsena, a powerful enemy of Rome, was camped with his army outside the walls of the city, and he had been there so long that the citizens had no food left. But, hungry and weak as they were, the Romans were not ready to surrender, so Caius Mucius made his way into the enemy's camp, determined to kill the king. However, by some strange mistake, he killed the king's secretary instead.

"He was captured and brought before Lars Porsena, who condemned him to be killed. Then Caius Mucius drew himself up and exclaimed, 'There are three hundred more Roman youths ready to do what I have tried to do and failed! And, to show you that we do not fear any punishment, or any pain that you may condemn us to, I will suffer my right hand to be burned in your presence.'

"With that he extended his hand and held it in the flame that was burning upon an altar in the king's tent. His brave countenance showed no sign of suffering as he continued to hold his hand in the flame.

"Then Lars Porsena exclaimed, 'If all Romans are as brave as this, and can endure hardship without flinching, as this man can, I would rather have them for friends than for enemies.' And he straightway offered the city terms of peace.

"After that Caius Mucius was known as Scaevola, which means the left-handed."

"Ah, he was brave!" exclaimed Lucius. "And he saved Rome by it, too, didn't he?" And he continued to look thoughtful as they all went in to dinner.