There were forty men riding in the troop, all lancers, saving a few slingers and bowmen. They rattled over the hard Way at a pace of fifteen miles an hour. It was an immense, rock-paved road—this Appian Way—straight, wide, and level, flinging its arches over fen, river, and valley, and breaking through hill and mountain to the distant sea. No citizen might bring his horse upon it unless a diploma had been granted him—it was, indeed, for the larger purposes of the government. After two hours they drew up at a posting-house and changed horses. They rode this mount some forty miles, halting at a large inn, its doors flush with the road. A transport and postal train bound for Rome was expected shortly, and, before eating, Vergilius wrote a letter and had it ready when the wagons came rattling in a deep-worn rut, behind teams of horses moving at a swift gallop. There were five wagons in the train, bearing letters and light merchandise from the south. Hard by was one of the wheelwright-shops that lined the great thoroughfare. The train stopped only a moment for water and a new wheel, then rushed along on its way to the capital. A light meal of bread and porridge, half an hour of rest, and again, with new horses, the troop was in full career. A sense of loneliness grew in the heart of the youth as he journeyed. Lover and soldier had fought their duel, and the latter was outdone. But the lover’s courage was now sorely tried. Every mounted courier hastening to Rome on the south road bore a letter from the young man to her he loved. He met a legion of infantry going north, and envied every soldier, sweating under a set pace of four miles to the hour and a burden of sixty pounds—shield, helmet, breast-plate, pilum, swords, intrenching tools, stakes for a palisade, and corn for seventeen days.
A trireme was waiting for them on the Adriatic Sea, and Vergilius, Manius, and their escort sailed to northwestern Macedonia, mounted horses again, galloping over the great highway to Athens; crossed by trireme to Ephesus, thence to Antioch by the long sea-road, and, agreeably with orders, they began to leave their men at forts along the frontier.
Events on the way filled him with contempt for his country and for himself. Here and there he met people travelling under imperial passes that gave them the use of the road and a right of free levy for subsistence, often much abused. These travellers were people of leisure from the large cities, wont to stretch their power to the point of robbery. He saw them seizing slaves and cattle from terrified agrarians; he saw Manius strike a man down for resenting insults to his daughter; he saw the deadly toil of the oarsmen, the bitter punishment of the cross.