Accompanied on the Flute by F. Anstey
The Consul Duilius was entertaining Rome in triumph after his celebrated
defeat of the Carthaginian fleet at Mylæ. He had won a great naval
victory for his country with the first fleet that it had ever
possessed—which was naturally a gratifying reflection, and he would
have been perfectly happy now if he had only been a little more
But he was standing in an extremely rickety chariot, which was crammed
with his nearer relations, and a few old friends, to whom he had been
obliged to send tickets. At his back stood a slave, who held a heavy
Etruscan crown on the Consul's head, and whenever he thought his master
was growing conceited, threw in the reminder that he was only a man
after all—a liberty which at any other time he might have had good
reason to regret.
Then the large Delphic wreath, which Duilius wore as well as the crown,
had slipped down over one eye, and was tickling his nose, while (as both
his hands were occupied, one with a sceptre the other with a laurel
bough, and he had to hold on tightly to the rail of the chariot whenever
it jolted) there was nothing to do but suffer in silence.
They had insisted, too, upon painting him a beautiful bright red all
over, and though it made him look quite new, and very shining and
splendid, he had his doubts at times whether it was altogether becoming,
and particularly whether he would ever be able to get it off again.
But these were but trifles after all, and nothing compared with the
honour and glory of it! Was not everybody straining to get a glimpse of
him? Did not even the spotted and skittish horses which drew the
chariot repeatedly turn round to gaze upon his vermilioned features? As
Duilius remarked this he felt that he was, indeed, the central personage
in all this magnificence, and that, on the whole, he liked it.
He could see the beaks of the ships he had captured bobbing
up and down in the middle distance; he could see the white
bulls destined for sacrifice entering completely into the spirit of
the thing, and redeeming the procession from any monotony by
occasionally bolting down a back street, or tossing on their
gilded horns some of the flamens who were walking solemnly in
front of them.
He could hear, too, above five distinct brass bands, the
remarks of his friends as they predicted rain, or expressed a
pained surprise at the smallness of the crowd and the absence of
any genuine enthusiasm; and he caught the general purport of
the very offensive ribaldry circulated at his own expense among
the brave legions that brought up the rear.
This was merely the usual course of things on such occasions,
and a great compliment when properly understood, and Duilius
felt it to be so. In spite of his friends, the red paint, and the
familiar slave, in spite of the extreme heat of the weather and
his itching nose, he told himself that this, and this alone, was
worth living for.
And it was a painful reflection to him that, after all, it would
only last a day; he could not go on triumphing like this for the
remainder of his natural life—he would not be able to afford it
on his moderate income; and yet—and yet—existence would
fall woefully flat after so much excitement.
It may be supposed that Duilius was naturally fond of ostentation
and notoriety, but this was far from being the case; on
the contrary, at ordinary times his disposition was retiring and
almost shy, but his sudden success had worked a temporary change
in him, and in the very flush of triumph he found himself sighing
to think, that in all human probability, he would never go
about with trumpeters and trophies, with flute-players and
white oxen, any more in his whole life.
And then he reached the Porta Triumphalis, where the chief
magistrates and the Senate awaited them, all seated upon spirited
Roman-nosed chargers, which showed a lively emotion at the
approach of the procession, and caused most of their riders to
dismount with as much affectation of method and design as their
dignity enjoined and the nature of the occasion permitted.
There Duilius was presented with the freedom of the city and
an address, which last he put in his pocket, as he explained, to
read at home.
And then an Ædile informed him in a speech, during which he twice lost
his notes, and had to be prompted by a lictor, that the grateful
Republic, taking into consideration the Consul's distinguished services,
had resolved to disregard expense, and on that auspicious day to give
him whatever reward he might choose to demand—"in reason," the Ædile
added cautiously, as he quitted his saddle with an unexpectedness which
scarcely seemed intentional.
Duilius was naturally a little overwhelmed by such liberality, and, like
every one else favoured suddenly with such an opportunity, was quite
incapable of taking complete advantage of it.
For a time he really could not remember in his confusion anything he
would care for at all, and he thought it might look mean to ask for
At last he recalled his yearning for a Perpetual Triumph, but his
natural modesty made him moderate, and he could not find courage to ask
for more than a fraction of the glory that now attended him.
So, not without some hesitation, he replied that they were
exceedingly kind, and since they left it entirely to his discretion,
he would like—if they had no objection—he would like a flute-player
to attend him whenever he went out.
Duilius very nearly asked for a white bull as well; but, on
second thoughts, he felt it might lead to inconvenience, and
there were many difficulties connected with the proper management
of such an animal. The Consul, from what he had seen
that day, felt that it would be imprudent to trust himself in
front of the bull, while, if he walked behind, he might be mistaken
for a cattle-driver, which would be odious. And so he gave
up that idea, and contented himself with a simple flute-player.
The Senate, visibly relieved by so unassuming a request,
granted it with positive effusion; Duilius was invited to select
his musician, and chose the biggest, after which the procession
moved on through the arch and up the Capitoline Hill, while
the Consul had time to remember things he would have liked
even better than a flute-player, and to suspect dimly that he
might have made rather an ass of himself.
That night Duilius was entertained at a supper given at the public
expense; he went out with the proud resolve to show his sense of the
compliment paid him by scaling the giddiest heights of intoxication. The
Romans of that day only drank wine and water at their festivals, but it
is astonishing how inebriated a person of powerful will can become, even
on wine and water, if he only gives his mind to it. And Duilius, being a
man of remarkable determination, returned from that hospitable board
particularly drunk; the flute-player saw him home, however, helped him
to bed, though he could not induce him to take off his sandals, and
lulled him to a heavy slumber by a selection from the popular airs of
So that the Consul, although he awoke late next day with a bad headache
and a perception of the vanity of most things, still found reason to
congratulate himself upon his forethought in securing so invaluable an
attendant, and planned, rather hopefully, sundry little ways of making
him useful about the house.
As the subsequent history of this great naval commander is examined with
the impartiality that becomes the historian, it is impossible to be
blind to the melancholy fact that in the first flush of his elation
Duilius behaved with an utter want of tact and taste that must have gone
far to undermine his popularity, and proved a source of much
gratification to his friends.
He would use that flute-player everywhere—he overdid the thing
altogether: for example, he used to go out to pay formal calls, and
leave the flute-player in the hall tootling to such an extent that at
last his acquaintances were forced in self-defence to deny themselves to
When he attended worship at the temples, too, he would bring the
flute-player with him, on the flimsy pretext that he could assist the
choir during service; and it was the same at the theatres, where
Duilius—such was his arrogance—actually would not take a box unless
the manager admitted the flute-player to the orchestra and guaranteed
him at least one solo between the acts.
And it was the Consul's constant habit to strut about the Forum with his
musician executing marches behind him, until the spectacle became so
utterly ridiculous that even the Romans of that age, who were as free
from the slightest taint of humour as a self-respecting nation can
possibly be, began to notice something peculiar.
But the day of retribution dawned at last. Duilius worked the flute so
incessantly that the musician's stock of airs was very soon exhausted,
and then he was naturally obliged to blow them through once more.
The excellent Consul had not a fine ear, but even he began to hail the
fiftieth repetition of "Pugnare nolumus," for instance—the great
national peace anthem of the period—with the feeling that he had heard
the same tune at least twice before, and preferred something slightly
fresher, while others had taken a much shorter time in arriving at the
The elder Duilius, the Consul's father, was perhaps the most annoyed by
it; he was a nice old man in his way—the glass and china way—but he
was a typical old Roman, with a manly contempt for pomp, vanity, music,
and the fine arts generally, so that his son's flute-player, performing
all day in the courtyard, drove the old gentleman nearly mad, until he
would rush to the windows and hurl the lighter articles of furniture at
the head of the persistent musician, who, however, after dodging them
with dexterity, affected to treat them as a recognition of his efforts
and carried them away gratefully to sell.
Duilius senior would have smashed the flute, only it was never laid
aside for a single instant, even at meals; he would have made the
player drunk and incapable, but he was a member of the Manus Spei, and
he would with cheerfulness have given him a heavy bribe to go away, if
the honest fellow had not proved absolutely incorruptible.
So he would only sit down and swear, and then relieve his feelings by
giving his son a severe thrashing, with threats to sell him for whatever
he might fetch; for, in the curious conditions of ancient Roman society,
a father possessed both these rights, however his offspring might have
distinguished himself in public life.
Naturally, Duilius did not like the idea of being put up to auction, and
he began to feel that it was slightly undignified for a Roman general
who had won a naval victory and been awarded a first-class Triumph to be
undergoing corporeal punishment daily at the hands of an unflinching
parent, and accordingly he determined to go and expostulate with his
He was beginning to find him a nuisance himself, for all his old shy
reserve and unwillingness to attract attention had returned to him; he
was fond of solitude, and yet he could never be alone; he was weary of
doing everything to slow music, like the bold, bad man in a melodrama.
He could not even go across the street to purchase a postage-stamp
without the flute-player coming stalking out after him, playing away
like a public fountain; while, owing to the well-known susceptibility of
a rabble to the charm of music, the disgusted Consul had to take his
walks abroad at the head of Rome's choicest scum.
Duilius, with a lively recollection of these inconveniences,
would have spoken very seriously indeed to his musician, but
he shrank from hurting his feelings by plain truth. He simply
explained that he had not intended the other to accompany him
always, but only on special occasions; and, while professing the
sincerest admiration for his musical proficiency, he felt, as he
said, unwilling to monopolise it, and unable to enjoy it at the
expense of a fellow-creature's rest and comfort.
Perhaps he put the thing a little too delicately to secure the
object he had in view, for the musician, although he was deeply
touched by such unwonted consideration, waved it aside with a
graceful fervour which was quite irresistible.
He assured the Consul that he was only too happy to have
been selected to render his humble tribute to the naval genius
of so great a commander; he would not admit that his own rest
and comfort were in the least affected by his exertions, for,
being naturally fond of the flute, he could, he protested, perform
upon it continuously for whole days without fatigue. And he
concluded by pointing out very respectfully that for the Consul
to dispense, even to a small extent, with an honour decreed (at
his own particular request) by the Republic, would have the
appearance of ingratitude, and expose him to the gravest suspicions.
After which he rendered the ancient love-chant,
"Ludus idem, ludus vetus," with singular sweetness and
Duilius felt the force of his arguments. Republics are proverbially
forgetful, and he was aware that it might not be safe
even for him, to risk offending the Senate.
So he had nothing to do but just go on, and be followed about
by the flute-player, and castigated by his parent in the old
familiar way, until he had very little self-respect left.
At last he found a distraction in his care-laden existence—he
fell deeply in love. But even here a musical Nemesis attended
him, to his infinite embarrassment, in the person of his devoted
follower. Sometimes Duilius would manage to elude him, and
slip out unseen to some sylvan retreat, where he had reason to
hope for a meeting with the object of his adoration. He
generally found that in this expectation he had not deceived
himself; but, always, just as he had found courage to speak of
the passion that consumed him, a faint tune would strike his
ear from afar, and, turning his head in a fury, he would see his
faithful flute-player striding over the fields in pursuit of him
with unquenchable ardour.
He gave in at last, and submitted to the necessity of speaking
all his tender speeches "through music." Claudia did not seem
to mind it, perhaps finding an additional romance in being
wooed thus; and Duilius himself, who was not eloquent, found
that the flute came in very well at awkward pauses in the
Then they were married, and, as Claudia played very nicely
herself upon the tibiæ, she got up musical evenings, when she
played duets with the flute-player, which Duilius, if he had
only had a little more taste for music, might have enjoyed
As it was, beginning to observe for the first time that the musician was
far from uncomely, he forbade the duets. Claudia wept and sulked, and
Claudia's mother said that Duilius was behaving like a brute, and she
was not to mind him; but the harmony of their domestic life was broken,
until the poor Consul was driven to take long country walks in sheer
despair, not because he was fond of walking, for he hated it, but simply
to keep the flute-player out of mischief.
He was now debarred from all other society, for his old friends had long
since cut him dead whenever he chanced to meet them. "How could he
expect people to stop and talk," they asked indignantly, "when there was
that confounded fellow blowing tunes down the backs of their necks all
Duilius had had enough of it himself, and felt this so strongly that one
day he took his flute-player a long walk through a lonely wood, and,
choosing a moment when his companion had played "Id omnes faciunt" till
he was somewhat out of breath, he turned on him suddenly. When he left
the lonely wood he was alone, and near it something which looked as if
it might once have been a musician.
The Consul went home, and sat there waiting for the deed to become
generally known. He waited with a certain uneasiness, because it was
impossible to tell how the Senate might take the thing, or the means by
which their vengeance would declare itself.
And yet his uneasiness was counterbalanced by a delicious relief: the
State might disgrace, banish, put him to death even, but he had got rid
of slow music for ever; and as he thought of this, the stately Duilius
would snap his fingers and dance with secret delight.
All disposition to dance, however, was forgotten upon the arrival of
lictors bearing an official missive. He looked at it for a long time
before he dared to break the big seal, and cut the cord which bound the
tablets which might contain his doom.
He did it at last; and smiled with relief as he began to read: for the
decree was courteously, if not affectionately, worded. The Senate,
considering (or affecting to consider) the disappearance of the
flute-player a mere accident, expressed their formal regret at the
failure of the provision made in his honour.
Then, as he read on, Duilius dashed the tablets into small fragments,
and rolled on the ground, and tore his hair, and howled; for the
senatorial decree concluded by a declaration that, in consideration of
his brilliant exploits, the State hereby placed at his disposal two more
flute-players, who, it was confidently hoped, would survive the wear and
tear of their ministrations longer than the first.
Duilius retired to his room and made his will, taking care to have it
properly signed and attested. Then he fastened himself in; and when they
broke down the door next day they found a lifeless corpse, with a
strange sickly smile upon its pale lips.
No one in Rome quite made out the reason of this smile, but it was
generally thought to denote the gratification of the deceased at the
idea of leaving his beloved ones in comfort, if not in luxury; for,
though the bulk of his fortune was left to Carthaginian charities, he
had had the forethought to bequeath a flute-player apiece to his wife