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A Roman Antique



IT WAS a warm day in Summer, and I seated myself for a moment on one of the benches in Washington Square. A few minutes later an old, white-haired Negro came hobbling along with the aid of a stick, and seated himself at the other end of the bench, lifting his battered hat to me deferentially as he did so.

I was both surprised and flattered at such a manifestation of politeness in New York, and remarked to the old man in a friendly tone:

"A fine day, Uncle."

"Yas, suh, it is a fine day, boss, sho' 'nuff. Dish yer weathah min's me er de kin' er weathah we useter hab in Rome."

"So you have lived in Rome, have you? I came from Rome myself."

"Lawd, boss, you doan' look ner talk lack no Roman. Anybody 'ud take you ter be'n bawn en raise' in dis country."

"Certainly I was, " I replied. "I was born in Rome, New York."

The old man made no rejoinder, and struck by his apparent great age, I asked:

"How old are you, Uncle?"

"Lawd, chile," he answered with a silent chuckle, which exposed his toothless gums, "I doan' know—I done los' track un it. I wuz fifteen year old w'en de wah broke out."

"That's impossible," I replied; "that would n't make you over forty, and you can't be less than seventy-five."

"I reckon I 's 'bout nineteen hund'ed," said the old man, reflectively, after a short pause. "I uster be Mars Julius Cæsar's fav'rite body-sarven', en I reckon you knows 'bout how long he's be'n dead. I wuz fifteen years ole w'en de las' wah wid Gaul broke out. I kin 'member de battle ob Alesia des ez well ez ef it wuz yistiday. De arrers wuz flying thoo de aiah thick ez flies 'roun' a merlasses jug, de jav'lins wuz w'izzin', en I wuz lookin' on fum de rare, w'en I seed a archer aim a arrer at Mars Julius. I grab' up a shiel', en rush inter de thick er de fight, en wuz des in time ter ketch 'im ez he fell fum his hoss.   I got a arrer thoo my side ez I wuz totin' 'im off, en wuz laid up fer two or th'ee mont's atterwuds. W'en I got well, Mars Julius gun me a quartah, en w'en he died, he lef' directions in his will fer me ter be gradu'lly 'mancipated, so I 'ud be free w'en I wuz a hund'ed years ole. Ah, but dem wuz good ole times!" he added, with a sigh of regret.

"I 's done spent de quartah Mars Julius gun me," he remarked, giving me a sidelong look, "en I needs ernudder fer ter git some liniment fer my rheumatiz. Is yer got any small change 'bout yo' clo's, boss?"

A vision of imperial Rome rose up before me, with all its glory and magnificence and power. In a fit of abstraction I handed the old man a twenty-dollar gold piece, and when I started from my reverie, he had disappeared behind a clump of shrubbery in the direction of Sixth Avenue.