The stage ride from Verona to Venice was slow, dusty, bumpy and tiring, especially for the young, attractive and very pregnant U. of Verona co-ed, Sophia. Her attempts to sleep were frustrated by the ham actor who boarded the stage at some obscure stop and proceeded to regale, he thought, his fellow passengers with soliloquies from epic plays. For nearly sixty minutes, non-stop, he blustered up and down the aisle, alternately portraying sorrow and ecstasy despite heckling from his captive audience. When he finally left the stage the gentleman seated next to Sophia had to say it:
"Why did we let that punk strut and fret for an hour upon the stage?"
The unpleasant theatrics had so upset Sophia that she nearly fainted. When her seat mate asked if she was all right, she mumbled in a barely audible whisper:
"The stage is all awhirl."
A sip of water and the quiet that ensued when the actor departed allowed Sophia to regain her composure. A few miles outside Venice the stage made an unscheduled stop to drop off Sophia at the Caesars' country villa, situated on a bluff overlooking the sea. The child Sophia carried was not the victim of date rape nor of promiscuous consensual sex. Instead, Sophia was a surrogate mother, employed after a meticulous search by Julius and Calpurnia to bear their child.
While some young women might have been elated to carry the unborn child of a powerful Roman such as Julius, Sophia was motivated by a more tangible reason.
"You expect Caesar to offer you a position on his household staff and that's why you're doing this?" inquired a classmate.
"No," Sophia replied, "The pay's the thing."
The pay was ten thousand denari that the Caesars offered to the surrogate they chose. For an undergrad from a large lower plebeian family without a father, and largely on her own financially, the money was the attraction. She would have acted as a surrogate for a barbarian if the price was right. In fact, the five thousand denari that Julius advanced to her at the beginning of the pregnancy was already gone, used to pay dorm fees, buy books, and with only a little left over for the few amusements she allowed herself.
Sophia's arrival had been meticulously planned to coincide with the anticipated week of delivery. As she stood at the villa doorway, she was almost radiant. Not so much over the excitement of the forthcoming birth but more in anticipation of the final payment of the remaining five thousand denari, desperately needed to cover tuition for the term starting in two weeks.
She was met at the door by the Caesars' butler, who announced her arrival in a voice that carried throughout the villa:
"One gentle lady from Verona!"
Almost instantaneously Julius appeared at the door and she greeted him with "Hail, Caesar," in a joyful voice. She had practiced the line numerous times on her trip from Verona. The greeting, however, was marred by the yowling and hissing of a large cat, with a beautiful coat of fur, that had accompanied Julius to the door.
"Ignore Antony," apologized Julius. "He's just full of sound.... and furry. If you think he's furry now, see him in January when he has his winter's tail."
"You're right on time," he continued, "And from your looks so is the child."
Julius couldn't resist staring at the very pregnant but otherwise extremely comely young woman who reminded him of a not-so-pregnant Doris Day. Seeing that she was aware that he was staring, Julius told her how much she would look like the actress if she weren't pregnant:
"Shall I compare thee to a slimmer Day?"
Numerous servants found an opportunity to pass by the doorway, all more obvious with their staring than Julius had been. Several even gathered in the entryway, gawking as a group. Julius quickly detected a bit of nervousness in Sophia and turned around, confronting the gawking crowd. In a commanding voice, he successfully dispersed them with an order to his chief of staff, one of the gawkers: If they don't disband immediately,
"Send me your leerers."
At this point, while still standing in the doorway, their conversation was interrupted by the noisy chanting of a group of women protesters marching by the villa. Caesar turned to a nearby aide.
"Why the disturbance?"
"They're mothers who live with their families in the field workers' hovels, and they're complaining that wind whips so fiercely through cracks in the walls of their shacks that they can't even keep fires burning under kettles. They're wives weary of wind, sir."
"I'll look into it," replied Julius, who continued, fumbling over a word, "but it sounds like a whatever in a teapot."
Sensing her discomfort, Julius then escorted Sophia to her room. They stopped on a veranda on the second floor, from which much of the estate was visible. Ina pasture nearby, Caesar's herd of Angus cattle munched away. Sophia had seen Angus before, but only in black. Caesar's Angus were green, as was the herd of Guernseys. Julius explained that they were dyed green to distinguish them from other nearby herds in case one of the animals strayed.
"But the dye will come off. How many times must you dye a cow in its lifetime?" asked Sophia.
"I'm not sure of the exact number, but our cow herds dye many times before their deaths."
While they watched the cattle, a mother cow seemed to be having trouble with a disobedient calf, scolding the belligerent off-spring rather loudly.
"Almost sounds like poetry," said Julius. "The cattle moo, and doggerel have its day."
When several of Calpurnia's pigeons landed on the railing nearby. Julius, cautioning Sophia about the pigeon droppings on the tile, shook his head in disgust and muttered:
"Birds! Birds! Birds!"
Leaving the veranda, they entered Julius' den. One wall was covered with what appeared to be maps locating lost Etruscan treasure.
"One of my hobbies," Julius explained. "I hunt for fun. Treasure for pleasure."
The other walls held his prize collection of knots, each tied meticulously by Julius, each one a different knot. Perhaps unaware that Sophia was more interested in relaxing in her room after an arduous journey, Julius proceeded to describe each knot by type, with a word about its origin. One housekeeper, observing Sophia's obvious boredom, remarked to another servant:
"Such a to do about knotting."
Caesar was explaining that he had intended to leave the collection upon his death to one of his nephews but efforts to write that into his will had met with such bickering among potential inheritors that it amused Julius.
"It's been nothing but a comedy of heirs."
His lecture on knotting ended abruptly when he felt his cell phone vibrate. An irritated Julius cut the caller off abruptly, rudely.
"One of my pushy neighbors. He calls repeatedly, upset because I'm suing a timber company that wants to log the local forest.
"The pest is pro-log."
Julius led Sophia down a long hallway with doors to many guest bedrooms. Each room was identified by a letter, "2A" through "2H." Julius seemed unsure of the room Calpurnia had chosen for Sophia, mumbling as he opened doors and looked inside for her luggage: "Not 2F. No, neither 2E nor 2D. 2C or not 2C?"
"Is that a question?" blurted Sophia.
No, I'm sure it's 2C." And when he opened the door, it was.
Within a few minutes Sophia was settled in a spacious, elegantly furnished room with a view of the ocean. Tired and sweaty from the long summer ride, she looked forward to a refreshing bath in her own private bathroom. To her dismay, there was no bath tub, only a shower.
Half dressed, she wandered through the villa calling for Julius. Calpurnia met her in one of the hallways.
"I really need a bath, with salts and bubbles and all that stuff. Which of your eight bathrooms has a walk-in tub?"
Calpurnia suppressed a snicker as the scantily-clad co-ed stood before her.
"Julius and I are shower buffs, no pun intended." Calpurnia suppressed another snicker over her comment. "We just have showers here. If we were in Rome you'd find our house full of tubs. But, then, it's a Victorian and showers weren't much in style then."
"You mean this place is without a bathtub?"
"That's true of nearly all the villas in this tract. The developer found it cheaper to put in showers."
"These expensive villas have no tubs?"
"Ay, rare's the tub," smiled Calpurnia.
Before leaving, Calpurnia cautioned Sophia that the salad they would have at dinner would be concocted by Julius.
"He was the garden manager - that means he was the salad chef - at a chariot drive-in during his college years. All the famous guys knew him: Ben, Messala, all of them. So the story goes, one evening he got flustered, and while in this salad daze he accidentally cut up oranges and put them in the mixture. Turned out to be a big hit. Ben always asked for it thereafter, and even gave it a name."
"I'll bet he called it 'Julius' Salad.' "
"No, Orange Caesar."
Calpurnia excused herself, and Sophia, having resigned herself to a shower, waddled off to her private bathroom.
Somewhat relaxed after the shower, she went out on the balcony overlooking the beach below just as a group of college kids appeared a short distance away on the bluff. "Surfers," Sophia said to herself, wishing that she was one of the girls among them. A tall, blond boy with a crew cut seemed to be their leader and she thought she recognized him as one of the pseudo-Greeks in U. V.'s health insurance claims adjustment course and head of their mock fraternity, Cigna Fie Nothing.
They stood briefly on the bluff, admiring the surf. The swells that rolled in were somewhat disappointing in their size until the final one in that set appeared, a challenging six or seven footer.
"Ah, swell, that end swell," the Greek shouted, then exhorted his companions with:
"Once more, dear friends, unto the beach, once more."
Sophia's reverie was interrupted when a servant called her to the living room where she expected to get instructions regarding the doctor, medical facility and other information pertaining to the delivery. What she found on entering the room was a somewhat distraught Julius and a feisty Calpurnia. It was Calpurnia who spoke for the Caesars.
"We appreciate your cooperation regarding the birth of the child. You have been especially good at following our instructions for nearly nine months, and we are truly grateful for that. But Julius and I, rather I and Julius, have decided not to accept the child as ours. The baby will be yours. Under the law, you will be expected to raise him"
Flabbergasted, Sophia was speechless. But only for a moment. Her academic training - she was a rhetoric major with a near 4.0 GPA at Verona - was quickly evident. After recounting the difficulties she had endured during the previous months of pregnancy, she now insisted that the contract she had signed be honored. The child would be theirs. To clinch her point, she looked Julius squarely in the face:
"I came to bear a Caesar, not to raise him."
When it became apparent that the Caesars would not relent, she threatened to abandon the baby on their doorstep. Julius quoted Roman law, which clearly made a newborn the responsibility of the mother in cases such as hers.
Faced with the opening of her final semester at Verona and the possibility that she would not get a degree because of her obligation to raise the child, she suddenly recalled that the Caesars owed her the remaining five thousand denari.
Before she could remind them of that, Calpurnia offered some consolation.
"We will, of course, provide you with suitable quarters elsewhere between now and delivery, and will arrange a place for you to go live for a short while after birth, before you return to Verona."
"You owe me five thousand denari."
"Actually," said Julius, "We owe you nothing since you are keeping the child. We could demand the first five thousand back, but under the circumstances we won't. We'll call it even."
An outraged Sophia, with her winter and spring dreams of financial aid suddenly turning into a late summer nightmare, returned to her room, removed her I-phone from her luggage, and began texting to her friends, posting her anger on her Facebook page, and twitting to her thousands of followers.
Within a few minutes Julius received a twit from Brutus, informing him of the girl's obnoxious texting. Brutus, it seems, was one of those followers.
"The lady protexts too much methinks. Sophia hasn't learned that not all those twitters should be told. She's stirring up a lot of angry tweets, mainly from the plebes, by the shaming of you two."
Julius replied: "Babble, babble, roil the rabble."
Soon Brutus arrived to offer advice to a befuddled Julius. He convinced Caesar that it would be easier and less embarrassing to simply pay off the girl.
"Give her the five thousand. In fact, to really be sure she shuts up, give her ten."
With that, Julius headed for his hidden vault, accompanied by Brutus.
"As I recall," said Brutus, "the entrance to your vault is concealed in the wall papered with stars."
"No, the vault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. It's on the wall covered with moons."
Caesar opened the vault and withdrew five thousand denari, hoping that the girl would accept it, stop her twitting and texting, and leave for the lodgings that had been arranged. As suggested by Brutus, he pulled out an extra five thousand, without telling Calpurnia, and gave it all to Sophia. Within a short time she was gone, but not before a final texting, announcing what sounded like a victory party, details to follow.
"Partying 'n such, tweets tomorrow."