Open main menu


Why Duillius Dined at Home

BY TUDOR JENKS

WHEN the Romans succeeded at last in defeating the Carthaginian fleet, they could not be blamed for taking considerable credit to themselves.

You know how they did it? Why, of course you do. They put hooked bridges on their galleys, let the Carthaginians come up alongside, dropped the bridges, and then marched some of the finest across to the enemy's decks, and thus changed the "sea power in history" into a plain old Roman set-to wherein Carthage was not worth six sesterces.

Hence the victory.

Now the commander of the Romans was Duillius, a nice old plain fellow, who had run for the consulship just to oblige his wife, so she could show the neighbors that there were some folk on the block besides those stuck-up Quadricentuses whose brother was a Prætor once.

Duillius himself was not much on style, but he was popular. He ran far ahead of his ticket and woke up one morning to find himself consul. This was all very fine in ordinary times, but things suddenly turned squally in Sicily, and Carthage began to make trouble along the coast of Italy.

The other consul, one of the Scipios, was wild to build a Roman fleet; and as soon as it was part done, Scipio sailed out amid a lot of cheering to chase the Carthaginians from the bosom of the deep.

P811, Harper's Magazine 1909--Why Duillius dined at home.png

Duillius, being a sound and level-headed business man, was perfectly willing to let Scipio have the job, since Duillius had seen other brash young Romans undertake the thing before. Duillius said: "Good for you, Scip, old man! Give it to him—good' and hard. Sic 'em, boy! Meanwhile I'll run the primaries here at home and look after our fences. Good luck, old man!"

Well, Scipio looked fine on the prow of one of the new galleys, and disappeared over the horizon in a nice new suit of armor and a clean toga.

Duillius, however, was not greatly surprised when the Acta Diurna came out not long afterward with a scare-head columns "Gone Where The Woodbine! Scipio scooped by sly sailor strategy," and so on.

The Carthaginians had taken Scipio, ships, crews, new armor, toga, and all.

Duillius did not enjoy his breakfast that day, and he was mighty sarcastic and disagreeable with Mrs. Duillius, for he knew what was coming next. And sure enough, the papers began to point out how the "honor of the Roman name demanded" a lot of things, especially that he, Caius Duillius, Esq., who knew a heap more about the price of dried figs than about a navy, should "chastise the insolent foe!"

That meant a sea trip to begin with, a fight with the nasty Carthaginians to go on with, and probably a good sound thrashing and something worse to end up with—all for Duillius. He grumbled to himself—wondering whether "they took him for an Admiral Farragut or a Lord Nelson," and so on. But there was no getting out of it, and on the ides or nones of something or other B.C. our friend Duillius put to sea with the rest of the Roman fleet.

P812a, Harper's Magazine 1909--Why Duillius dined at home.png

Of course it turned out as such things do in real life. Scipio, who was a born military man, like his family before and after him, had to be euchred. Duillius—just a successful grocer and a good judge of beef—had it all his own way. The Carthaginians lost the whole game—cards, spades, aces, and sweeps—and Duillius came galumphing back to port with all the bass-drums whanging, the steam whistles going like mad, and calliopes playing tunes on all the recreation piers from the mouth of the Tiber way out to Alba Longa or farther. You never saw the like till the Centennial.

Duillius thanked his lucky stars, came home just as soon as he could get away from the reception committees, took off his big sea cothurni and other wet things, called for a cigar and a bottle of cough mixture, and settled down to read the accounts of his groceries during his absence.

"No more salt water in mine!" was his wise and comforting thought. Indeed, he would have been glad to let the whole thing pass. He was a hero, of course, and let it go at that, with breakfast at the usual hour, and a game of bridge at the club after dinner.

But here's where the Roman Senate made itself busy. They were as tickled over Duillius as if he were a new teddy bear. The idea of having a real victorious Admiral right in their own city was a delicious novelty, and they meant to show him what an excellent brand of gratitude the Senators could put up on a proper occasion.

So they voted for Duillius something out of the ordinary. They made a law that whenever Duillius should go out to a banquet, he should be attended by a torch-bearer and a flute-player—all at the public expense. The vote was unanimous. If you don't believe it, you can look it up for yourself in any of the histories. It is a cold fact.

Next morning, bright and early, Duillius read it in the paper, and he had hardly got it well into his inner consciousness when the door bell rang, and Buttinsius the freedman came to say that "there was two young fellers at the door who wanted to see him."

It was all right. The two callers were the young men from the Senate, Flutensius and Smokius Torchius, who had been appointed to wait on the great Admiral. Duillius had them into the kitchen, while he thought the thing over. Luckily, he didn't remember that there were any banquet invitations on hand, and so he thought he could arrange about these new attendants.

But when the mail came in—you ought to have seen the stack of invitations! You would have thought all Rome was agog to see Duillius and his new escorts. Everybody "presented their compliments, and begged the honor of Admiral Duillius' company at a banquet on the instant." It was evident that the Admiral, the torch-bearer, and the flutist were to be the thing to have at dinners that season,

P812b, Harper's Magazine 1909--Why Duillius dined at home.png

There was no way out of it. The Roman Senate was not to be monkeyed with, and unless Duillius expected to go back to his corner grocery business, he must make the best of his nigger-minstrel retinue. Of course the old man growled, and inquired, sarcastically, why "they didn't give him an organ-grinder, a snake-charmer, and an educated pig with a clown attachment!"—but he had to make the best of the situation.

Every evening at about 7 p.m. (and that's Latin, all right) Admiral Duillius would get himself up in a clean shirt and coat of mail, the fluter and torcher would line up in front of the stoop, and then, amid the cheers of the small boys and the strains of Pop goes the Weasel or Erit Tempus Calidum in Urbe Antiqua hac Nocte, the Admiral would strike up the Capitoline Hill or along the Appian Way to some blamed banquet or other.

First the Admiral would send the torch on ahead. But he soon got sick of the smell of the thing, which was worse than an automobile. Then he put the flute soloist ahead, but this was worse. Wherever he put them was the worst yet. And the going home was harder to bear than the setting forth. The neighbors at first cheered the outfit. But after the thing had lost its novelty, the home-coming of the Admiral at about 12.30 a.m., with that awful pipe of the flute splitting the ears of tired citizens, and the flaring torch making them think there was a fire, came to be a regular nuisance.

P813a, Harper's Magazine 1909--Why Duillius dined at home.png

"Ah, cut it out!" was shouted from a window at the end of the first week. The Quadricentuses said openly that they believed "they'd have to move." Landlords found their rents running down on the block where Duillius' circus procession passed nightly. And at last Mrs. Duiliius said that she could not and would not "have baby waked up every night by that infernal noise and torch-light procession!"

Duiliius pointed out to her in vain that it wasn't his fault, and invited her to go and see the Senate about it, concluding with the remark:

"Do you think, my love, that it would be murder if I quietly dropped the flute galoot into the Tiber? I'm often tempted to do it—and I shall some day!"

But, after all, most bores cure themselves. When the novelty was dimmed the invitations to banquets began to dwindle. The flute and torch accompaniment came to be a standing joke in Rome, and the street boys had a fashion of falling in behind, forming a rag-tag and bobtail procession behind the unhappy Admiral, imitating the nervous flute-player's notes and throwing things at the torch. So the better class of Romans gradually dropped Duillius from their lists.

P813b, Harper's Magazine 1909--Why Duillius dined at home.png

Then a happy thought struck somebody, and instead of inviting Duillius to a banquet, they used to suggest that he drop around informally for "bridge," and they put in the corner of their notes: "N. B.," meaning No Banquet; and "R. S. V. P.," meaning—I don't know what, as authorities disagree, except in interpreting V. P. as "Vlute-Player"—which seems a forced construction. Anyway, there came no more invitations to banquets, and so the flute-player and the torch-bearer found their occupations gone.

For a few weeks they sat around the Duillius kitchen evenings, and then one of them fell in love with the cook and the other with a housemaid. When Duillius was asked to give his consent to the matches he nearly fainted with joy, and presented each couple with a large farm in Farther Gaul.

But for several years' Duillius could not be persuaded to go out to dinner, and the sound of a flute made him ill.

P814, Harper's Magazine 1909--Why Duillius dined at home.png


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1922, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.