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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Adventure of the Cloak
By Petronius (c. 27–66)
Translation of L. P. D.

ASCYLTOS wished to push on to Naples that very day. “But,” say I, “it is most imprudent to go to a place where we may be sure close search will be made for us. Let us rather keep clear of the city, and travel about for a few days; we have enough money to do it comfortably.” He falls in with my plan, and we set out for a town, charmingly situated among smiling fields, where not a few of our friends were enjoying the pleasures of the season. Hardly however had we accomplished half our journey, when bucketfuls of rain began to fall from a great cloud, and we fled for refuge to a wayside inn, where we found many others in like plight with ourselves. The crowd prevented our being watched; and so we examined with curious eyes to see what theft stood easiest to our hands, and presently Ascyltos picked up a little sack which proved to contain many gold pieces. Rejoicing that our first omen should be so lucky, but afraid that the bag might be missed, we slipped out by the back door. Here we saw a groom saddling some horses, who presently entered the house in search of something he had forgotten; and during his absence I undid the cords, and made off with a gorgeous cloak which was bound to one of the saddles. Then skirting the stable walls, we took refuge in a wood hard by. Safe in its recesses, we had a great discussion as to the best disposition of our treasure, that we might not excite any suspicion either of being thieves or of possessing valuables. Finally we determined to sew the money into the lining of a worn mantle, which I then threw over my shoulders, while Ascyltos took charge of the cloak; and we planned to make our way by unfrequented roads to the city. But just as we were getting out of the forest, we heard on our left: “They won’t escape: they went into the wood. Split up the party and make a thorough search. In this way we shall catch them easily.” When we heard this we were so frightened that Ascyltos plunged off through the briers toward town, while I rushed back into the wood at such a pace that the precious mantle fell from my shoulders without my knowing it. Worn out at last, and incapable of walking a step further, I threw myself down in the shade of a tree, and then noticed for the first time that my mantle was gone. Grief restored my strength; and rising, I set about recovering my treasure. After a long and fruitless search, overcome by fatigue and sorrow, I found myself in a deep thicket, where for four hours, melancholy and alone, I stayed amid the horrid shades. When I had at last resolved to leave this place, on a sudden I came face to face with a peasant. Then in truth I had need of all my firmness; nor did it fail me. I went boldly up to him, and asked him the way to the city, declaring that I was lost in the forest. My appearance roused his compassion, for I was pale as death and covered with mud; and after asking if I had seen any one in the wood, and receiving a negative answer, he obligingly put me on the high-road, where he met two of his friends, who reported that they had scoured every forest-path and found nothing but the mantle, which they displayed. I had not sufficient audacity to claim it as mine, you may easily believe, though I knew it well enough and its value; but how I regretted it and sighed for the loss of my fortune! The peasants, however, suspected nothing, and with ever more and more lagging footsteps I pursued my way.  1
  It was late when I reached the city; and there at the first inn I found Ascyltos lying, half dead with fatigue, on a miserable pallet. I let myself fall on another bed, and couldn’t utter a single word. Greatly disturbed at not seeing my mantle, he demanded it of me in the most peremptory tones. I was too weak to articulate, and a melancholy glance was my only answer. Later, when my strength returned, I unfolded our misfortune to Ascyltos. He thought I was joking; and in spite of my tears and solemn protestations, did not entirely lay aside his suspicions, but seemed inclined to think that I wanted to cheat him out of the money. This distressed me; and still more the consciousness that the police were on our tracks. When I spoke of this to Ascyltos, he took it lightly enough, because he had escaped from their clutches before. He assured me that we were perfectly safe, as we had no acquaintances, and no one had seen us. Yet we would have liked to feign illness, and keep to our bedroom; but our money was gone, and we had to set out sooner than we had planned, and under the pressure of need sell some of our garments.  2
  As night was closing in, we came to a market-place where we saw a quantity of things on sale, not valuable in truth, and of which the ownership was so questionable that night was surely the best time to dispose of them. We too had brought the stolen cloak; and finding the opportunity so favorable, we took up our stand in a corner, and unfolded an edge of the garment, in the hope that its splendor might attract a purchaser. In a few minutes up comes a peasant well known to me by sight, with a young woman alongside, and begins to examine the cloak carefully. On his part Ascyltos cast a glance towards the shoulders of the rustic, and stood spell-bound; for he saw it was the very man who had picked up my mantle in the forest, neither more nor less. But Ascyltos could not believe his eyes; and to make sure, under pretext of drawing the would-be purchaser towards him, he drew the mantle from his shoulders and fingered it carefully.  3
  Oh, wonderful irony of fortune! the peasant had never felt the seams, and was ready to sell it for a mere mass of rags, which a beggar would scorn. As soon as he had made sure that our deposit was intact, Ascyltos, after surveying the man, drew me to one side and—“Learn, brother,” said he, “that the treasure for which I lamented is restored to us. That is the very mantle and the money in it, to the best of my belief. Now what are we to do to get it back?” I was delighted, not only because I saw the plunder, but because fortune had cleared me of so base a suspicion. I wanted no beating about the bush, but a straightforward appeal to justice; and should the man refuse to give up another’s property on demand, his summons to court.  4
  But Ascyltos stood in dread of the law. “Who knows us here,” said he, “or who would believe what we said? Better buy it, since we know its value, even though it be ours already, than get into court. We shall get it cheap.
  “‘What is the use of laws, where our lady Money sits queen, or
  Where a man who is poor never has right on his side?
Round their frugal board the philosophers mourn at such fashions,
  Yet they too have been found selling their speeches for gold.
So the judges’ rights are reduced to a tariff of prices;
  Knights, when they sit on the bench, prove that the case has been bought.’”
  But save for one small coin, with which we had meant to buy pease and beans, we were penniless. So not to lose our hold, nor run the risk of letting slip the better bargain, we came down in the price of the cloak. As soon as we had unfolded our merchandise, the woman, who with covered head had been standing at the peasant’s side, grasped the garment with both hands, screaming at the top of her voice that she had caught her thieves. In response, for the sake of doing something, though we were horribly frightened, we seized the torn and dirty mantle, and with equal energy announced that it was our property. But our case was weaker than theirs by far, and the crowd, which ran up at the noise, enjoyed a hearty laugh at our expense; seeing that the others were claiming a splendid garment, and we one that was dirty and covered with patches. When they had had their laugh out, Ascyltos said, “You see a man loves his own best: let them give us back our mantle and take their cloak.” This bargain suited both the peasant and the woman; but up came two sheriffs—two night-hawks, rather—and wanted to appropriate the cloak. They demanded that both garments should be deposited with them, saying the judge would decide on the merits of the case the following day. And they said moreover that the real question was, against which party a charge of theft could be brought. They had all but settled on confiscating the goods; and a man in the crowd, bald, with pimply forehead, who had something to do with the courts, took hold of the cloak and declared that he would produce it the following day. It was clear that their real object was to get hold of the cloak and share it among themselves, feeling sure that we would not dare to present ourselves in court. True enough too, and so the case was speedily settled; for the angry peasant, disgusted at our making such a fuss about a mass of patches, threw the mantle in Ascyltos’s face and ordered him to hand over the cloak, the only ground of dispute. Our treasure once more in our hands, we hurried away to the tavern, and behind closed doors had a good laugh at the sharpness of the peasant and the crowd, who had combined by their cleverness to get us back our money.  6

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