Pieces People Ask For/A Howl in Rome
A HOWL IN ROME.
It had been a day of triumph in Capua. Lentulus, returning with victorious eagles, had amused the populace with the sports of the amphitheatre to an extent hitherto unknown, even in that luxurious city. A large number of people from the rural districts had taken advantage of half-rates on the railroad, and had been in town watching the conflict in the arena, listening to the infirm, decrepit ring-joke, and viewing the bogus sacred elephant.
The shouts of revelry had died away. The last loiterer had retired from the free-lunch counter, and the lights in the palace of the victor were extinguished. The restless hyena in the Roman menagerie had sunk to rest, and the Numidian lion at the stock-yards had taken out his false teeth for the night. The moon, piercing the tissue of fleecy clouds, tipped the dark waters of the Tiber with a wavy, tremulous light. The dark-browed Roman soldier moved on his homeward way, the sidewalk flipping up occasionally, and hitting him in the small of the back. No sound was heard, save the low sob of some retiring wave as it told its story to the smooth pebbles on the beach, or the unrelenting boot-jack as it struck the high board fence in the back yard, just missing the Roman tomcat in its mad flight; and then all was still as the breast when the spirit has departed. Anon the half-stifled Roman snore would steal in upon its deathly stillness, and then die away like a hot biscuit in the hands of the hired man.
In the green room of the amphitheatre a little band of gladiators were assembled. The foam of conflict yet lingered on their lips, the scowl of battle yet hung upon their brows, and the large knobs on their profiles indicated that it had been a busy day with them in the arena.
There was an embarrassing silence of about five minutes, when Spartacus, gently laying his chew of tobacco on the banister, stepped forth and addressed them:—
"Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,—Ye call me chief, and ye do well to call him chief who for twelve long years has met in the arena every shape of man or beast that the broad empire of Rome could furnish, and yet has never squealed. I do not say this egotistically, but simply to show that I am the star thumper of the entire outfit.
"If there be one among you who can say that ever in public fight, or private brawl, my actions did belie my words, let him stand forth and say it, and I will spread him around over the arena till the coroner will have to soak him out of the ground with benzine. If there be three in all your company dare face me on the bloody sands, let them come, and I will construct upon their physiognomy such cupolas and cornices and dormer-windows and Corinthian capitals and entablatures, that their own masters would pass them by in the broad light of high noon unrecognized.
"And yet I was not always thus,—a hired butcher,—the savage chief of still more savage men. My ancestors came from Sparta, Wisconsin, and settled among the vine-clad hills and citron-groves of Syracuse. My early life ran as quiet as the clear brook by which I sported. Aside from the gentle patter of my angel mother's slipper on the bustle of my overalls, every thing moved along with the still and rhythmic flow of goose-greese. My boyhood was one long, happy summer day. We stole the Roman muskmelon, and put split sticks on the tail of the Roman dog, and life was a picnic and a hallelujah.
"When, at noon, I led the sheep beneath the shade, and played 'Little Sallie Waters' on my shepherd's flute, there was another Spartan youth, the son of a neighbor, to join me in the pastime; we led our flocks to the same pasture, and together picked the large red ants out of our doughnuts.
"One evening, after the sheep had been driven into the corral, and we were all seated beneath the 'Bammygilead'-tree that shaded our cottage, my grandsire, an old man, was telling of Marathon and Leuctra, and Dr. Mary Walker, and other great men ; and how a little band of Spartans at Milwaukee had stood off the police, and how they fled away into the mountains, and there successfully held an annual pass over the C. M. & St. P. Railway. Held it for a year! I did not know then what war was; but my cheeks burned, I knew not why, and I thought what a glorious thing it would be to leave the reservation, and go upon the war-path. But my mother kissed my throbbing temples, and bade me go and soak my head, and think no more of those old tales and savage wars. That very night the Romans landed on our coasts. They pillaged the whole country, burned the agency buildings, demolished the ranche, rode off the stock, tore down the smoke-house, and ran their war horses over the cucumber-vines.
"To-day I killed a man in the arena; and when I broke his helmet clasps, and looked upon him, behold! he was my friend. The same sweet smile was on his face that I had known when in adventurous boyhood we bathed in the glassy lake by our Spartan home, and he had tied my shirt into 1,752 dangerous and difficult knots. He knew me, smiled faintly, told me always to tell the truth, and to travel by the Milwaukee & St. Paul road, and then ascended the golden stair. I begged of the Praetor that I might be allowed to bear away the body, and have it packed in ice, and shipped to his relatives in Sparta, Wisconsin; but he couldn't see it. As upon my bended knees, amid the dust and blood of the arena. I begged this poor boon, and the Praetor answered, 'Let the carrion rot. There are no noblemen but Romans and Ohio men. Let the show go on. Bring forth the bobtail lion from Abbyssinia.' And the assembled maids and matrons and the rabble shouted in derision, and told me to 'brace up;' and they threw peanut-shells at me, and told me to 'cheese it,' with other Roman flings which I do not now recall.
"And so must you, fellow gladiators, and so must I, die like dogs. To-morrow we are billed to appear at the Coliseum at Rome; and reserved seats are even now being sold for our moral and instructive performance, while I am speaking to you.
"Ye stand here like giants as ye are; but to-morrow some Roman dude will pat your red brawn, and bet his shekels upon your blood.
"O Rome! Rome! Thou hast been a tender nurse to me. Thou hast given to that gentle, timid, shepherd lad, who never knew a harsher tone than a flute note, muscles of iron, and a heart of steel. Thou hast taught him to drive his sword through plaited mail and links of rugged brass, and warm it in the stomach of his foe; to gaze into the glaring-eyeballs of a fierce Numidian lion, even as the smooth-cheeked senator looks into the laughing eyes of the chamber-maid. And he shall pay thee back till the rushing Tiber is red as frothing wine, and in its deepest ooze thy life-blood lies curdled. Ye doubtless hear the gentle murmur of my bazoo.
"Hark! Hear ye yon lion roaring in his den? 'Tis three days since he tasted flesh, but to-morrow he will have gladiator on toast, and don't you forget it; and he will fling your vertebrae around his cage, and wipe his nose on your clustering hair.
"If ye are brutes, then stand here like fat oxen waiting the butcher's knife. If ye are men, arise and follow me! Strike down the warden and the turnkey, slide our baggage out the third story window of the amphitheatre, overpower the public, and cut for the tall timber!
"O comrades! Warriors! Gladiators! If we be men, let us die like men, beneath the blue sky, and by the still waters, and be buried according to Hoyle, instead of having our shin-bones polished off by Numidian lions, amid the groans and hisses of the populace here in Rome, New York. Let us break loose, chaw the ear of the night watchman, buy our tickets via the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railway, and go to farming in Dakota! Then if the fierce Roman don't like our style, he knows our post-office address."