greater the tranquillity which prevailed everywhere abroad after these successful operations so much the greater became the violence of the patricians and the miseries of the plebeians, since the ability to pay their debts was frustrated by the very fact that payment had become necessary.
They had no means left on which to draw, and after judgment had been given against them they satisfied their creditors by surrendering their good name and their personal liberty; punishment took the place of payment.
To such a state of depression had not only the humbler classes but even the leading men amongst the plebeians been reduced, that there was no energetic or enterprising individual amongst them who had the spirit to take up
or become a candidate even for the plebeian magistracies, still less to win a place amongst the patricians as consular tribune, an honour which they had previously done their utmost to secure. It seemed as though the patricians had for all time won back from the plebs the sole enjoyment of a dignity which for the last few years had been shared with them.
As a check to any undue exaltation on the part of the patricians, an incident occurred which was slight in itself, but, as is often the case, led to important results. M. Fabius Ambustus, a patrician, possessed great influence amongst the men of his own order and also with the plebeians, because they felt that he did not in any way look down on them. His two daughters were married, the elder one to Ser. Sulpicius, the younger to C. Licinius Stolo, a distinguished man, but a plebeian.
The fact that Fabius did not regard this alliance as beneath him had made him very popular with the masses. The two sisters happened to be one day at Ser. Sulpicius' house, passing the time in conversation, when on his return from the Forum the tribune's apparitor gave the customary knocks on the door with his rod. The younger Fabia was startled at what was to her an unfamiliar custom, and her sister laughed at her and expressed surprise that she was ignorant of it. That laugh, however, left its sting in the mind of a woman easily excited by trifles.
I think, too, that the crowd of attendants coming to ask for orders awoke in her that spirit of jealousy which makes every one anxious to be surpassed as little as possible by one's neighbours. It made her regard her sister's marriage as a fortunate one and her own as a mistake.
Her father happened to see her whilst she was still upset by this mortifying incident and asked her if she was well. She tried to conceal the real reason, as showing but little affection for her sister and not much respect for her own husband.
He kindly but firmly insisted upon finding out, and she confessed the real cause of her distress; she was unwed to one who was her inferior in birth, married into a house where neither honour nor political influence could enter.
Ambustus consoled his daughter and bade her keep up her spirits; she would very soon see in her own house the same honours which she saw at her sister's. From that time he began to concert plans with his son-in-law;
they took into their counsels L. Sextius, a pushing young man who regarded nothing as beyond his ambition except patrician blood.