"And poisoners of water."
"And murderers of children."
"How?" inquired Vestinius, with astonishment. "Thou hast said so thyself, and given them into the hands of Tigellinus."
"Therefore night has surrounded me, and death is coming toward me. At times it seems to me that I am dead already, and ye also."
"No! it is they who are dying; we are alive. But tell me, what do they see when they are dying?"
"That is their god. Is he a mighty god?"
But Chilo answered with a question,—
"What kind of torches are to burn in the gardens? Hast thou heard what Caesar said?"
"I heard, and I know. Those torches are called Sarmentitii and Semaxii. They are made by arraying men in painful tunics, steeped in pitch, and binding them to pillars, to which fire is set afterward. May their god not send misfortune on the city. Semaxii! that is a dreadful punishment!"
"I would rather see it, for there will not be blood," answered Chilo. "Command a slave to hold the goblet to my mouth. I wish to drink, but I spill the wine; my hand trembles from age."
Others also were speaking of the Christians. Old Domitius Afer reviled them.
"There is such a multitude of them," said he, "that they might raise a civil war; and, remember, there were fears lest they might arm. But they die like sheep."
"Let them try to die otherwise!" said Tigellinus.
To this Petronius answered, "Ye deceive yourselves. They are arming."
"That is a new kind of weapon."
"True. But can ye say that they die like common criminals? No! They die as if the criminals were those who condemned them to death,—that is, we and the whole Roman people."
"What raving!" said Tigellinus.
"Hic Abdera!" answered Petronius.
[A proverbial expression meaning "The dullest of the dull"—Note by the Author.]
But others, struck by the justice of his remark, began to look at one another with astonishment, and repeat,—
"True! there is something peculiar and strange in their death."
"I tell you that they see their divinity!" cried Vestinius, from one side. Thereupon a number of Augustians turned to Chilo,—
"Hai, old man, thou knowest them well; tell us what they see."
The Greek spat out wine on his tunic, and answered,—
"The resurrection." And he began to tremble so that the guests sitting nearer burst into loud laughter.
FOR some time Vinicius had spent his nights away from home. It occurred to Petronius that perhaps he had formed a new plan, and was working to liberate Lygia from the Esquiline dungeon; he did not wish, however, to inquire about anything, lest he might bring misfortune to the work. This sceptical exquisite had become in a certain sense superstitious. He had failed to snatch Lygia from the Mamertine prison, hence had ceased to believe in his own star.
Besides, he did not count this time on a favorable outcome for the efforts of Vinicius. The Esquiline prison, formed in a hurry from the cellars of houses thrown down to stop the fire, was not, it is true, so terrible as the old Tullianum near the Capitol, but it was a hundred times better guarded. Petronius understood perfectly that Lygia had been taken there only to escape death and not escape the amphitheatre. He could understand at once that for this very reason they were guarding her as a man guards the eye in his head.
"Evidently," said he to himself, "Caesar and Tigellinus have reserved her for some special spectacle, more dreadful than all others, and Vinicius is more likely to perish than rescue her."
Vinicius, too, had lost hope of being able to free Lygia. Christ alone could do that. The young tribune now thought only of seeing her in prison.
For some time the knowledge that Nazarius had penetrated the Mamertine prison as a corpse-bearer had given him no peace; hence he resolved to try that method also.
The overseer of the "Putrid Pits," who had been bribed for an immense sum of money, admitted him at last among servants whom he sent nightly to prisons for corpses. The danger that Vinicius might be recognized was really small. He was preserved from it by night, the dress of a slave, and the defective illumination of the prison. Besides, into whose head could it enter that a patrician, the grandson of one consul, the son of another, could be found among servants, corpse-bearers, exposed to the miasma of prisons and the "Putrid Pits"? And he began work to which men were forced only by slavery or the direst need.
When the desired evening came, he girded his loins gladly, covered his head with a cloth steeped in turpentine, and with throbbing heart betook himself, with a crowd of others, to the Esquiline.
The pretorian guards made no trouble, for all had brought proper tesserae, which the centurion examined by the light of a lantern. After a while the great iron doors opened before them, and they entered.
Vinicius saw an extensive vaulted cellar, from which they passed to a series of others. Dim tapers illuminated the interior of each, which was filled with people. Some of these were lying at the walls sunk in sleep, or dead, perhaps. Others surrounded large vessels of water, standing in the middle, out of which they drank as people tormented with fever; others were sitting on the grounds, their elbows on their knees, their heads on their palms; here and there children were sleeping, nestled up to their mothers. Groans, loud hurried breathing of the sick, weeping, whispered prayers, hymns in an undertone, the curses of overseers were heard round about it. In this dungeon was the odor of crowds and corpses. In its gloomy depth dark figures were swarming; nearer, close to flickering lights, were visible faces, pale, terrified, hungry, and cadaverous, with eyes dim, or else flaming with fever, with lips blue, with streams of sweat on their foreheads, and with clammy hair. In corners the sick were moaning loudly; some begged for water; others, to be led to death. And still that prison was less terrible than the old Tullianum. The legs bent under Vinicius when he saw all this, and breath was failing in his breast. At the thought that Lygia was in the midst of this misery and misfortune, the hair rose on his head, and he stifled a cry of despair. The amphitheatre, the teeth of wild beasts, the cross,—anything was better than those dreadful dungeons filled with the odor of corpses, places in which imploring voices called from every corner,—
"Lead us to death!"
Vinicius pressed his nails into his palms, for he felt that he was growing weak, and that presence of mind was deserting him. All that he had felt till then, all his love and pain, changed in him to one desire for death.
Just then near his side was heard the overseer of the "Putrid Pits",
"How many corpses have ye to-day?"
"About a dozen," answered the guardian of the prison, "but there will be more before morning; some are in agony at the walls."
And he fell to complaining of women who concealed dead children so as to keep them near and not yield them to the "Putrid Pits." "We must discover corpses first by the odor; through this the air, so terrible already, is spoiled still more. I would rather be a slave in some rural prison than guard these dogs rotting here while alive—"
The overseer of the pits comforted him, saying that his own service was no easier. By this time the sense of reality had returned to Vinicius. He began to search the dungeon; but sought in vain for Lygia, fearing meanwhile that he would never see her alive. A number of cellars were connected by newly made passages; the corpse-bearers entered only those from which corpses were to be carried. Fear seized Vinicius lest that privilege which had cost so much trouble might serve no purpose. Luckily his patron aided him.
"Infection spreads most through corpses," said he. "Ye must carry out the bodies at once, or die yourselves, together with the prisoners."
"There are only ten of us for all the cellars," said the guardian, "and we must sleep."
"I will leave four men of mine, who will go through the cellars at night to see if these are dead."
"We will drink to-morrow if thou do that. Everybody must be taken to the test; for an order has come to pierce the neck of each corpse, and then to the 'Putrid Pits' at once with it."
"Very well, but we will drink," said the overseer.
Four men were selected, and among them Vinicius; the others he took to put the corpses on the biers.
Vinicius was at rest; he was certain now at least of finding Lygia. The young tribune began by examining the first dungeon carefully; he looked into all the dark corners hardly reached by the light of his torch; he examined figures sleeping at the walls under coarse cloths; he saw that the most grievously ill were drawn into a corner apart. But Lygia he found in no place. In a second and third dungeon his search was equally fruitless.
Meanwhile the hour had grown late; all corpses had been carried out. The guards, disposing themselves in the corridors between cellars, were asleep; the children, wearied with crying, were silent; nothing was heard save the breathing of troubled breasts, and here and there the murmur of prayer.
Vinicius went with his torch to the fourth dungeon, which was considerably smaller. Raising the light, he began to examine it, and trembled all at once, for it seemed to him that he saw, near a latticed opening in the wall, the gigantic form of Ursus. Then, blowing out the light, he approached him, and asked,
"Ursus, art thou here?"
"Who art thou?" asked the giant, turning his head.
"Dost not know me?"
"Thou hast quenched the torch; how could I know thee?"
But at that moment Vinicius saw Lygia lying on a cloak near the wall; so, without speaking further, he knelt near her. Ursus recognized him, and said,—
"Praise be to Christ! but do not wake her, lord."
Vinicius, kneeling down, gazed at her through his tears. In spite of the darkness he could distinguish her face, which seemed to him as pale as alabaster, and her emaciated arms. At that sight he was seized by a love which was like a rending pain, a love which shook his soul to its uttermost depth, and which at the same time was so full of pity, respect, and homage that he fell on his face, and pressed to his lips the hem of the cloak on which rested that head dearer to him than all else on earth.
Ursus looked at Vinicius for a long time in silence, but at last he pulled his tunic.
"Lord," asked he, "how didst thou come, and hast thou come here to save her?"
Vinicius rose, and struggled for a time with his emotion. "Show me the means," replied he.
"I thought that thou wouldst find them, lord. Only one method came to my head—"
Here he turned toward the grating in the wall, as if in answer to himself, and said,—
"In that way—but there are soldiers outside—"
"A hundred pretorians."
"Then we cannot pass?"
The Lygian rubbed his forehead, and asked again,—
"How didst thou enter?"
"I have a tessera from the overseer of the 'Putrid Pits.'" Then Vinicius stopped suddenly, as if some idea had flashed through his head.
"By the Passion of the Redeemer," said he, in a hurried voice, "I will stay here. Let her take my tessera; she can wrap her head in a cloth, cover her shoulders with a mantle, and pass out. Among the slaves who carry out corpses there are several youths not full grown; hence the pretorians will not notice her, and once at the house of Petronius she is safe."
But the Lygian dropped his head on his breast, and said,—"She would not consent, for she loves thee; besides, she is sick, and unable to stand alone. If thou and the noble Petronius cannot save her from prison, who can?" said he, after a while.
Then both were silent.
"Christ could save all Christians," thought the Lygian, in his simple heart; "but since He does not save them, it is clear that the hour of torture and death has come."
He accepted it for himself, but was grieved to the depth of his soul for that child who had grown up in his arms, and whom he loved beyond life.
Vinicius knelt again near Lygia. Through the grating in the wall moonbeams came in, and gave better light than the one candle burning yet over the entrance. Lygia opened her eyes now, and said, placing her feverish hand on the arm of Vinicius,
"I see thee; I knew that thou wouldst come."
He seized her hands, pressed them to his forehead and his heart, raised her somewhat, and held her to his breast.
"I have come, dearest. May Christ guard and free thee, beloved Lygia!" He could say no more, for the heart began to whine in his breast from pain and love, and he would not show pain in her presence.
"I am sick, Marcus," said Lygia, "and I must die either on the arena or here in prison—I have prayed to see thee before death; thou hast come,—Christ has heard me."—
Unable to utter a word yet, he pressed her to his bosom, and she continued,—
"I saw thee through the window in the Tullianum. I saw that thou hadst the wish to come to me. Now the Redeemer has given me a moment of consciousness, so that we may take farewell of each other. I am going to Him, Marcus, but I love thee, and shall love always."
Vinicius conquered himself; he stifled his pain and began to speak in a voice which he tried to make calm,—
"No, dear Lygia, thou wilt not die. The Apostle commanded me to believe, and he promised to pray for thee; he knew Christ,—Christ loved him and will not refuse him. Hadst thou to die, Peter would not have commanded me to be confident; but he said, 'Have confidence!'—No, Lygia! Christ will have mercy. He does not wish thy death. He will not permit it. I Swear to thee by the name of the Redeemer that Peter is praying for thee."
Silence followed. The one candle hanging above the entrance went out, but moonlight entered through the whole opening. In the opposite corner of the cellar a child whined and was silent. From outside came the voices of pretorians, who, after watching their turn out, were playing under the wall at scriptoe duodecim.
"O Marcus," said Lygia, "Christ Himself called to the Father, 'Remove this bitter cup from Me'; still He drank it. Christ Himself died on the cross, and thousands are perishing for His sake. Why, then, should He spare me alone? Who am I, Marcus? I have heard Peter say that he too would die in torture. Who am I, compared with Peter? When the pretorians came to us, I dreaded death and torture, but I dread them no longer. See what a terrible prison this is, but I am going to heaven. Think of it: Caesar is here, but there the Redeemer, kind and merciful. And there is no death there. Thou lovest me; think, then, how happy I shall be. Oh, dear Marcus, think that thou wilt come to me there."
Here she stopped to get breath in her sick breast, and then raised his hand to her lips,—
"What, dear one?"
"Do not weep for me, and remember this,—thou wilt come to me. I have lived a short time, but God gave thy soul to me; hence I shall tell Christ that though I died, and thou wert looking at my death, though thou wert left in grief, thou didst not blaspheme against His will, and that thou lovest Him always. Thou wilt love Him, and endure my death patiently? For then He will unite us. I love thee and I wish to be with thee."
Breath failed her then, and in a barely audible voice she finished,
"Promise me this, Marcus!"
Vinicius embraced her with trembling arms, and said,
"By thy sacred head! I promise."
Her pale face became radiant in the sad light of the moon, and once more she raised his hand to her lips, and whispered,—
"I am thy wife!"
Beyond the wall the pretorians playing scriptoe duodecim raised a louder dispute; but Vinicius and Lygia forgot the prison, the guards, the world, and, feeling within them the souls of angels, they began to pray.
FOR three days, or rather three nights, nothing disturbed their peace. When the usual prison work was finished, which consisted in separating the dead from the living and the grievously sick from those in better health, when the wearied guards had lain down to sleep in the corridors, Vinicius entered Lygia's dungeon and remained there till daylight. She put her head on his breast, and they talked in low voices of love and of death. In thought and speech, in desires and hopes even, both were removed unconsciously more and more from life, and they lost the sense of it. Both were like people who, having sailed from land in a ship, saw the shore no more, and were sinking gradually into infinity. Both changed by degrees into sad souls in love with each other and with Christ, and ready to fly away. Only at times did pain start up in the heart of Vinicius like a whirlwind, at times there flashed in him like lightning, hope, born of love and faith in the crucified God; but he tore himself away more and more each day from the earth, and yielded to death. In the morning, when he went from the prison, he looked on the world, on the city, on acquaintances, on vital interests, as through a dream. Everything seemed to him strange, distant, vain, fleeting. Even torture ceased to terrify, since one might pass through it while sunk in thought and with eyes fixed on another thing. It seemed to both that eternity had begun to receive them. They conversed of how they would love and live together, but beyond the grave; and if their thoughts returned to the earth at intervals, these were thoughts of people who, setting out on a long journey, speak of preparations for the road. Moreover they were surrounded by such silence as in some desert surrounds two columns far away and forgotten. Their only care was that Christ should not separate them; and as each moment strengthened their conviction that He would not, they loved Him as a link uniting them in endless happiness and peace. While still on earth, the dust of earth fell from them. The soul of each was as pure as a tear. Under terror of death, amid misery and suffering, in that prison den, heaven had begun, for she had taken him by the hand, and, as if saved and a saint, had led him to the source of endless life.
Petronius was astonished at seeing in the face of Vinicius increasing peace and a certain wonderful serenity which he had not noted before. At times even he supposed that Vinicius had found some mode of rescue, and he was piqued because his nephew had not confided his hopes to him. At last, unable to restrain himself, he said,—
"Now thou hast another look; do not keep from me secrets, for I wish and am able to aid thee. Hast thou arranged anything?"
"I have," said Vinicius; "but thou canst not help me. After her death I will confess that I am a Christian and follow her."
"Then thou hast no hope?"
"On the contrary, I have. Christ will give her to me, and I shall never be separated from her."
Petronius began to walk in the atrium; disillusion and impatience were evident on his face.
"Thy Christ is not needed for this,—our Thanatos [death] can render the same service."
Vinicius smiled sadly, and said,—"No, my dear, thou art unwilling to understand."
"I am unwilling and unable. It is not the time for discussion, but remember what I said when we failed to free her from the Tullianum. I lost all hope, and on the way home thou didst say, 'But I believe that Christ can restore her to me.' Let Him restore her. If I throw a costly goblet into the sea, no god of ours can give it back to me; if yours is no better, I know not why I should honor Him beyond the old ones."
"But He will restore her to me."
Pettonius shrugged his shoulders. "Dost know," inquired he, "that Christians are to illuminate Caesar's gardens to-morrow?"
"To-morrow?" repeated Vinicius.
And in view of the near and dreadful reality his heart trembled with pain and fear. "This is the last night, perhaps, which I can pass with Lygia," thought he. So bidding farewell to Petronius, he went hurriedly to the overseer of the "Putrid Pits" for his tessera. But disappointment was in waiting,—the overseer would not give the tessera.
"Pardon me," said he, "I have done what I could for thee, but I cannot risk my life. To-night they are to conduct the Christians to Caesar's gardens. The prisons will be full of soldiers and officials. Shouldst thou be recognized, I and my children would be lost."
Vinicius understood that it would be vain to insist. The hope gleamed in him, however, that the soldiers who had seen him before would admit him even without a tessera; so, with the coming of night, he disguised himself as usual in the tunic of a corpse-bearer, and, winding a cloth around his head, betook himself to the prison.
But that day the tesserae were verified with greater care than usual; and what was more, the centurion Scevinus, a strict soldier, devoted soul and body to Caesar, recognized Vinicius. But evidently in his iron-clad breast there glimmered yet some spark of pity for misfortunes. Instead of striking his spear in token of alarm, he led Vinicius aside and said,—
"Return to thy house, lord. I recognize thee; but not wishing thy ruin, I am silent. I cannot admit thee; go thy way, and may the gods send thee solace."
"Thou canst not admit me," said Vinicius, "but let me stand here and look at those who are led forth."
"My order does not forbid that," said Scevinus.
Vinicius stood before the gate and waited. About midnight the prison gate was opened widely, and whole ranks of prisoners appeared,—men, women, and children, surrounded by armed pretorians. The night was very bright; hence it was possible to distinguish not only the forms, but the faces of the unfortunates. They went two abreast, in a long, gloomy train, amid stillness broken only by the clatter of weapons. So many were led out that all the dungeons must be empty, as it seemed. In the rear of the line Vinicius saw Glaucus the physician distinctly, but Lygia and Ursus were not among the condemned.
DARKNESS had not come when the first waves of people began to flow into Caesar's gardens. The crowds, in holiday costume, crowned with flowers, joyous, singing, and some of them drunk, were going to look at the new, magnificent spectacle. Shouts of "Semaxii! Sarmentitii!" were heard on the Via Tecta, on the bridge of AEmilius, and from the other side of the Tiber, on the Triumphal Way, around the Circus of Nero, and off towards the Vatican Hill. In Rome people had been seen burnt on pillars before, but never had any one seen such a number of victims.
Caesar and Tigellinus, wishing to finish at once with the Christians and also to avoid infection, which from the prisons was spreading more and more through the city, had given command to empty all dungeons, so that there remained in them barely a few tens of people intended for the close of the spectacles. So, when the crowds had passed the gates, they were dumb with amazement. All the main and side alleys, which lay through dense groves and along lawns, thickets, ponds, fields, and squares filled with flowers, were packed with pillars smeared with pitch, to which Christians were fastened. In higher places, where the view was not hindered by trees, one could see whole rows of pillars and bodies decked with flowers, myrtle, and ivy, extending into the distance on high and low places, so far that, though the nearest were like masts of ships, the farthest seemed colored darts, or staffs thrust into the earth. The number of them surpassed the expectation of the multitude. One might suppose that a whole nation had been lashed to pillars for Rome's amusement and for Caesar's. The throng of spectators stopped before single masts when their curiosity was roused by the form or the sex of the victim; they looked at the faces, the crowns, the garlands of ivy; then they went farther and farther, asking themselves with amazement, "Could there have been so many criminals, or how could children barely able to walk have set fire to Rome?" and astonishment passed by degrees into fear.
Meanwhile darkness came, and the first stars twinkled in the sky. Near each condemned person a slave took his place, torch in hand; when the sound of trumpets was heard in various parts of the gardens, in sign that the spectacle was to begin, each slave put his torch to the foot of a pillar. The straw, hidden under the flowers and steeped in pitch, burned at once with a bright flame which, increasing every instant, withered the ivy, and rising embraced the feet of the victims. The people were silent; the gardens resounded with one immense groan and with cries of pain. Some victims, however, raising their faces toward the starry sky, began to sing, praising Christ. The people listened. But the hardest hearts were filled with terror when, on smaller pillars, children cried with shrill voices, "Mamma! Mamma!" A shiver ran through even spectators who were drunk when they saw little heads and innocent faces distorted with pain, or children fainting in the smoke which began to stifle them. But the flames rose, and seized new crowns of roses and ivy every instant. The main and side alleys were illuminated; the groups of trees, the lawns, and the flowery squares were illuminated; the water in pools and ponds was gleaming, the trembling leaves on the trees had grown rose-colored, and all was as visible as in daylight. When the odor of burnt bodies filled the gardens, slaves sprinkled between the pillars myrrh and aloes prepared purposely. In the crowds were heard here and there shouts,—whether of sympathy or delight and joy, it was unknown; and they increased every moment with the fire, which embraced the pillars, climbed to the breasts of the victims, shrivelled with burning breath the hair on their heads, threw veils over their blackened faces, and then shot up higher, as if showing the victory and triumph of that power which had given command to rouse it.
At the very beginning of the spectacle Caesar had appeared among the people in a magnificent quadriga of the Circus, drawn by four white steeds. He was dressed as a charioteer in the color of the Greens,—the court party and his. After him followed other chariots filled with courtiers in brilliant array, senators, priests, bacchantes, naked and crowned, holding pitchers of wine, and partly drunk, uttering wild shouts. At the side of these were musicians dressed as fauns and satyrs, who played on citharas, formingas, flutes, and horns. In other chariots advanced matrons and maidens of Rome, drunk also and half naked. Around the quadriga ran men who shook thyrses ornamented with ribbons; others beat drums; others scattered flowers.
All that brilliant throng moved forward, shouting, "Evoe!" on the widest road of the garden, amidst smoke and processions of people. Caesar, keeping near him Tigellinus and also Chilo, in whose terror he sought to find amusement, drove the steeds himself, and, advancing at a walk, looked at the burning bodies, and heard the shouts of the multitude. Standing on the lofty gilded chariot, surrounded by a sea of people who bent to his feet, in the glitter of the fire, in the golden crown of a circus-victor, he was a head above the courtiers and the crowd. He seemed a giant. His immense arms, stretched forward to hold the reins, seemed to bless the multitude. There was a smile on his face and in his blinking eyes; he shone above the throng as a sun or a deity, terrible but commanding and mighty.
At times he stopped to look with more care at some maiden whose bosom had begun to shrink in the flames, or at the face of a child distorted by convulsions; and again he drove on, leading behind him a wild, excited retinue. At times he bowed to the people, then again he bent backward, drew in the golden reins, and spoke to Tigellinus. At last, when he had reached the great fountain in the middle of two crossing streets, he stepped from the quadriga, and, nodding to his attendants, mingled with the throng.
He was greeted with shouts and plaudits. The bacchantes, the nymphs, the senators and Augustians, the priests, the fauns, satyrs, and soldiers surrounded him at once in an excited circle; but he, with Tigellinus on one side and Chilo on the other, walked around the fountain, about which were burning some tens of torches; stopping before each one, he made remarks on the victims, or jeered at the old Greek, on whose face boundless despair was depicted.
At last he stood before a lofty mast decked with myrtle and ivy. The red tongues of fire had risen only to the knees of the victim; but it was impossible to see his face, for the green burning twigs had covered it with smoke. After a while, however, the light breeze of night turned away the smoke and uncovered the head of a man with gray beard falling on his breast.
At sight of him Chilo was twisted into a lump like a wounded snake, and from his mouth came a cry more like cawing than a human voice.
In fact, Glaucus the physician looked down from the burning pillar at him. Glaucus was alive yet. His face expressed pain, and was inclined forward, as if to look closely for the last time at his executioner, at the man who had betrayed him, robbed him of wife and children, set a murderer on him, and who, when all this had been forgiven in the name of Christ, had delivered him to executioners. Never had one person inflicted more dreadful or bloody wrongs on another. Now the victim was burning on the pitched pillar, and the executioner was standing at his feet. The eyes of Glaucus did nor leave the face of the Greek. At moments they were hidden by smoke; but when the breeze blew this away, Chilo saw again those eyes fixed on him. He rose and tried to flee, but had not strength. All at once his legs seemed of lead; an invisible hand seemed to hold him at that pillar with superhuman force. He was petrified. He felt that something was overflowing in him, something giving way; he felt that he had had a surfeit of blood and torture, that the end of his life was approaching, that everything was vanishing, Caesar, the court, the multitude, and around him was only a kind of bottomless, dreadful black vacuum with no visible thing in it, save those eyes of a martyr which were summoning him to judgment. But Glaucus, bending his head lower down, looked at him fixedly. Those present divined that something was taking place between those two men. Laughter died on their lips, however, for in Chilo's face there was something terrible: such pain and fear had distorted it as if those tongues of fire were burning his body. On a sudden he staggered, and, stretching his arms upward, cried in a terrible and piercing voice,—
"Glaucus! in Christ's name! forgive me!"
It grew silent round about, a quiver ran through the spectators, and all eyes were raised involuntarily.
The head of the martyr moved slightly, and from the top of the mast was heard a voice like a groan,—
Chilo threw himself on his face, and howled like a wild beast; grasping earth in both hands, he sprinkled it on his head. Meanwhile the flames shot up, seizing the breast and face of Glaucus; they unbound the myrtle crown on his head, and seized the ribbons on the top of the pillar, the whole of which shone with great blazing.
Chilo stood up after a while with face so changed that to the Augustians he seemed another man. His eyes flashed with a light new to him, ecstasy issued from his wrinkled forehead; the Greek, incompetent a short time before, looked now like some priest visited by a divinity and ready to reveal unknown truths.
"What is the matter? Has he gone mad?" asked a number of voices.
But he turned to the multitude, and, raising his right hand, cried, or rather shouted, in a voice so piercing that not only the Augustians but the multitude heard him,—
"Roman people! I swear by my death, that innocent persons are perishing here. That is the incendiary!"
And he pointed his finger at Nero.
Then came a moment of silence. The courtiers were benumbed. Chilo continued to stand with outstretched, trembling arm, and with finger pointed at Nero. All at once a tumult arose. The people, like a wave, urged by a sudden whirlwind, rushed toward the old man to look at him more closely. Here and there were heard cries, "Hold!" In another place, "Woe to us!" In the throng a hissing and uproar began. "Ahenobarbus! Matricide! Incendiary!" Disorder increased every instant. The bacchantes screamed in heaven-piercing voices, and began to hide in the chariots. Then some pillars which were burned through, fell, scattered sparks, and increased the confusion. A blind dense wave of people swept away Chilo, and bore him to the depth of the garden.
The pillars began to burn through in every direction and fall across the streets, filling alleys with smoke, sparks, the odor of burnt wood and burnt flesh. The nearer lights died. The gardens began to grow dark. The crowds, alarmed, gloomy, and disturbed, pressed toward the gates. News of what had happened passed from mouth to mouth, distorted and increased. Some said that Caesar had fainted; others that he had confessed, saying that he had given command to burn Rome; others that he had fallen seriously ill; and still others that he had been borne out, as if dead, in the chariot. Here and there were heard voices of sympathy for the Christians: "If they had not burned Rome, why so much blood, torture, and injustice? Will not the gods avenge the innocent, and what piacula can mollify them now?" The words innoxia corpora were repeated oftener and oftener. Women expressed aloud their pity for children thrown in such numbers to wild beasts, nailed to crosses or burned in those cursed gardens! And finally pity was turned into abuse of Caesar and Tigellinus. There were persons, too, who, stopping suddenly, asked themselves or others the question, "What kind of divinity is that which gives such strength to meet torture and death?" And they returned home in meditation.
But Chilo was wandering about in the gardens, not knowing where to go or where to turn. Again he felt himself a weak, helpless, sick old man.
Now he stumbled against partly burnt bodies; now he struck a torch, which sent a shower of sparks after him; now he sat down, and looked around with vacant stare. The gardens had become almost dark. The pale moon moving among the trees shone with uncertain light on the alleys, the dark pillars lying across them, and the partly burnt victims turned into shapeless lumps. But the old Greek thought that in the moon he saw the face of Glaucus, whose eyes were looking at him yet persistently, and he hid before the light. At last he went out of the shadow, in spite of himself; as if pushed by some hidden power, he turned toward the fountain where Glaucus had yielded up the spirit.
Then some hand touched his shoulder. He turned, and saw an unknown person before him.
"Who art thou?" exclaimed he, with terror.
"Paul of Tarsus."
"I am accursed!—What dost thou wish?"
"I wish to save thee," answered the Apostle.
Chilo supported himself against a tree. His legs bent under him, and his arms hung parallel with his body.
"For me there is no salvation," said he, gloomily.
"Hast thou heard how God forgave the thief on the cross who pitied Him?" inquired Paul.
"Dost thou know what I have done?"
"I saw thy suffering, and heard thy testimony to the truth."
"And if a servant of Christ forgave thee in the hour of torture and death, why should Christ not forgive thee?"
Chilo seized his head with both hands, as if in bewilderment.
"Forgiveness! for me, forgiveness!"
"Our God is a God of mercy," said Paul.
"For me?" repeated Chilo; and he began to groan like a man who lacks strength to control his pain and suffering.
"Lean on me," said Paul, "and go with me."
And taking him he went to the crossing of the streets, guided by the voice of the fountain, which seemed to weep in the night stillness over the bodies of those who had died in torture.
"Our God is a God of mercy," repeated the Apostle. "Wert thou to stand at the sea and cast in pebbles, couldst thou fill its depth with them? I tell thee that the mercy of Christ is as the sea, and that the sins and faults of men sink in it as pebbles in the abyss; I tell thee that it is like the sky which covers mountains, lands, and seas, for it is everywhere and has neither end nor limit. Thou hast suffered at the pillar of Glaucus. Christ saw thy suffering. Without reference to what may meet thee to-morrow, thou didst say, 'That is the incendiary,' and Christ remembers thy words. Thy malice and falsehood are gone; in thy heart is left only boundless sorrow. Follow me and listen to what I say. I am he who hated Christ and persecuted His chosen ones. I did not want Him, I did not believe in Him till He manifested Himself and called me. Since then He is, for me, mercy. He has visited thee with compunction, with alarm, and with pain, to call thee to Himself. Thou didst hate Him, but He loved thee. Thou didst deliver His confessors to torture, but He wishes to forgive and save thee."
Immense sobbing shook the breast of the wretched man, sobbing by which the soul in him was rent to its depths; but Paul took possession of him, mastered him, led him away, as a soldier leads a captive.
After a while the Apostle began again to speak:—
"Come with me; I will lead thee to Him. For why else have I come to thee?
"Christ commanded me to gather in souls in the name of love; hence I perform His service. Thou thinkest thyself accursed, but I say: Believe in Him, and salvation awaits thee. Thou thinkest that thou art hated, but I repeat that He loves thee. Look at me. Before I had Him I had nothing save malice, which dwelt in my heart, and now His love suffices me instead of father and mother, wealth and power. In Him alone is refuge. He alone will see thy sorrow, believe in thy misery, remove thy alarm, and raise thee to Himself."
Thus speaking, he led him to the fountain, the silver stream of which gleamed from afar in the moonlight. Round about was silence; the gardens were empty, for slaves had removed the charred pillars and the bodies of the martyrs.
Chilo threw himself on his knees with a groan, and hiding his face in his hands remained motionless. Paul raised his face to the stars. "O Lord," prayed he, "look on this wretched man, on his sorrow, his tears, and his suffering! O God of mercy, who hast shed Thy blood for our sins, forgive him, through Thy torment, Thy death and resurrection!"
Then he was silent; but for a long time he looked toward the stars, and prayed.
Meanwhile from under his feet was heard a cry which resembled a groan,—
"O Christ! O Christ! forgive me!"
Paul approached the fountain then, and, taking water in his hand, turned to the kneeling wretch,—
"Chilo!—I baptize thee in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen!"
Chilo raised his head, opened his arms, and remained in that posture. The moon shone with full light on his white hair and on his equally white face, which was as motionless as if dead or cut out of stone. The moments passed one after another. From the great aviaries in the gardens of Domitian came the crowing of cocks; but Chilo remained kneeling, like a statue on a monument. At last he recovered, spoke to the Apostle, and asked,—
"What am I to do before death?"
Paul was roused also from meditation on the measureless power which even such spirits as that of this Greek could not resist, and answered,—
"Have faith, and bear witness to the truth."
They went out together. At the gate the Apostle blessed the old man again, and they parted. Chilo himself insisted on this, for after what had happened he knew that Caesar and Tigellinus would give command to pursue him.
Indeed he was not mistaken. When he returned home, he found the house surrounded by pretorians, who led him away, and took him under direction of Scevinus to the Palatine.
Caesar had gone to rest, but Tigellinus was waiting. When he saw the unfortunate Greek, he greeted him with a calm but ominous face.
"Thou hast committed the crime of treason," said he, "and punishment will not pass thee; but if to-morrow thou testify in the amphitheatre that thou wert drunk and mad, and that the authors of the conflagration are Christians, thy punishment will be limited to stripes and exile."
"I cannot do that," answered Chilo, calmly.
Tigellinus approached him with slow step, and with a voice also low but terrible,—
"How is that?" asked he. "Thou canst not, Greek dog? Wert thou not drunk, and dost thou not understand what is waiting for thee? Look there!" and he pointed to a corner of the atrium in which, near a long wooden bench, stood four Thracian slaves in the shade with ropes, and with pincers in their hands.
But Chilo answered,—
Rage seized Tigellinus, but he restrained himself yet.
"Hast thou seen," inquired he, "how Christians die? Dost wish to die in that way?"
The old man raised his pale face; for a time his lips moved in silence, and he answered,—
"I too believe in Christ."
Tigellinus looked at him with amazement. "Dog, thou hast gone mad in fact!"
And suddenly the rage in his breast broke its bounds. Springing at Chilo, he caught him by the beard with both hands, hurled him to the floor, trampled him, repeating, with foam on his lips,—
"Thou wilt retract! thou wilt!"
"I cannot!" answered Chilo from the floor.
"To the tortures with him!"
At this command the Thracians seized the old man, and placed him on the bench; then, fastening him with ropes to it, they began to squeeze his thin shanks with pincers. But when they were tying him he kissed their hands with humility; then he closed his eyes, and seemed dead.
He was alive, though; for when Tigellinus bent over him and inquired once again, "Wilt thou retract?" his white lips moved slightly, and from them came the barely audible whisper,—
Tigellinus gave command to stop the torture, and began to walk up and down in the atrium with a face distorted by anger, but helpless. At last a new idea came to his head, for he turned to the Thracians and said,—
"Tear out his tongue!"
THE drama "Aureolus" was given usually in theatres or amphitheatres, so arranged that they could open and present as it were two separate stages. But after the spectacle in the gardens of Caesar the usual method was omitted; for in this case the problem was to let the greatest number of people look at a slave who, in the drama, is devoured by a bear. In the theatres the role of the bear is played by an actor sewed up in a skin, but this time the representation was to be real. This was a new idea of Tigellinus. At first Caesar refused to come, but changed his mind at persuasion of the favorite. Tigellinus explained that after what had happened in the gardens it was all the more his duty to appear before the people, and he guaranteed that the crucified slave would not insult him as had Crispus. The people were somewhat sated and tired of blood-spilling; hence a new distribution of lottery tickets and gifts was promised, as well as a feast, for the spectacle was to be in the evening, in a brilliantly lighted amphitheatre.
About dusk the whole amphitheatre was packed; the Augustians, with Tigellinus at the head of them, came to a man,—not only for the spectacle itself, but to show their devotion to Caesar and their opinion of Chilo, of whom all Rome was then talking.
They whispered to one another that Caesar, when returning from the gardens, had fallen into a frenzy and could not sleep, that terrors and wonderful visions had attacked him; therefore he had announced on the following morning his early journey to Achaea. But others denied this, declaring that he would be all the more pitiless to the Christians. Cowards, however, were not lacking, who foresaw that the accusation which Chilo had thrown into Caesar's face might have the worst result possible. In conclusion, there were those who through humanity begged Tigellinus to stop persecution.
"See whither ye are going," said Barcus Soranus. "Ye wished to allay people's anger and convince them that punishment was falling on the guilty; the result is just the opposite."
"True!" added Antistius Verus, "all whisper to one another now that the Christians were innocent. If that be cleverness, Chilo was right when he said that your brains could be held in a nutshell."
Tigellinus turned to them and said: "Barcus Soranus, people whisper also to one another that thy daughter Servilia secreted her Christian slaves from Caesar's justice; they say the same also of thy wife, Antistius."
"That is not true!" exclaimed Barcus, with alarm.
"Your divorced women wished to ruin my wife, whose virtue they envy," said Antistius Verus, with no less alarm.
But others spoke of Chilo.
"What has happened to him?" asked Eprius Marcellus. "He delivered them himself into the hands of Tigellinus; from a beggar he became rich; it was possible for him to live out his days in peace, have a splendid funeral, and a tomb: but, no! All at once he preferred to lose everything and destroy himself; he must, in truth, be a maniac."
"Not a maniac, but he has become a Christian," said Tigellinus.
"Impossible!" said Vitelius.
"Have I not said," put in Vestinius, "'Kill Christians if ye like; but believe me ye cannot war with their divinity. With it there is no jesting'? See what is taking place. I have not burned Rome; but if Caesar permitted I would give a hecatomb at once to their divinity. And all should do the same, for I repeat: With it there is no jesting! Remember my words to you."
"And I said something else," added Petronius. "Tigellinus laughed when I said that they were arming, but I say more,—they are conquering."
"How is that? how is that?" inquired a number of voices.
"By Pollux, they are! For if such a man as Chilo could not resist them, who can? If ye think that after every spectacle the Christians do not increase, become coppersmiths, or go to shaving beards, for then ye will know better what people think, and what is happening in the city."
"He speaks pure truth, by the sacred peplus of Diana," cried Vestinius.
But Barcus turned to Petronius.
"What is thy conclusion?"
"I conclude where ye began,—there has been enough of bloodshed."
Tigellinus looked at him jeeringly,—"Ei!—a little more!"
"If thy head is not sufficient, thou hast another on thy cane," said Petronius.
Further conversation was interrupted by the coming of Caesar, who occupied his place in company with Pythagoras. Immediately after began the representation of "Aureolus," to which not much attention was paid, for the minds of the audience were fixed on Chilo. The spectators, familiar with blood and torture, were bored; they hissed, gave out shouts uncomplimentary to the court, and demanded the bear scene, which for them was the only thing of interest. Had it not been for gifts and the hope of seeing Chilo, the spectacle would not have held the audience.
At last the looked-for moment came. Servants of the Circus brought in first a wooden cross, so low that a bear standing on his hind feet might reach the martyr's breast; then two men brought, or rather dragged in, Chilo, for as the bones in his legs were broken, he was unable to walk alone. They laid him down and nailed him to the wood so quickly that the curious Augustians had not even a good look at him, and only after the cross had been fixed in the place prepared for it did all eyes turn to the victim. But it was a rare person who could recognize in that naked man the former Chilo. After the tortures which Tigellinus had commanded, there was not one drop of blood in his face, and only on his white beard was evident a red trace left by blood after they had torn his tongue out. Through the transparent skin it was quite possible to see his bones. He seemed far older also, almost decrepit. Formerly his eyes cast glances ever filled with disquiet and ill-will, his watchful face reflected constant alarm and uncertainty; now his face had an expression of pain, but it was as mild and calm as faces of the sleeping or the dead. Perhaps remembrance of that thief on the cross whom Christ had forgiven lent him confidence; perhaps, also, he said in his soul to the merciful God,
"O Lord, I bit like a venomous worm; but all my life I was unfortunate. I was famishing from hunger, people trampled on me, beat me, jeered at me. I was poor and very unhappy, and now they put me to torture and nail me to a cross; but Thou, O Merciful, wilt not reject me in this hour!" Peace descended evidently into his crushed heart. No one laughed, for there was in that crucified man something so calm, he seemed so old, so defenceless, so weak, calling so much for pity with his lowliness, that each one asked himself unconsciously how it was possible to torture and nail to crosses men who would die soon in any case. The crowd was silent. Among the Augustians Vestinius, bending to right and left, whispered in a terrified voice, "See how they die!" Others were looking for the bear, wishing the spectacle to end at the earliest.
The bear came into the arena at last, and, swaying from side to side a head which hung low, he looked around from beneath his forehead, as if thinking of something or seeking something. At last he saw the cross and the naked body. He approached it, and stood on his hind legs; but after a moment he dropped again on his fore-paws, and sitting under the cross began to growl, as if in his heart of a beast pity for that remnant of a man had made itself heard.
Cries were heard from Circus slaves urging on the bear, but the people were silent.
Meanwhile Chilo raised his head with slow motion, and for a time moved his eyes over the audience. At last his glance rested somewhere on the highest rows of the amphitheatre; his breast moved with more life, and something happened which caused wonder and astonishment. That face became bright with a smile; a ray of light, as it were, encircled that forehead; his eyes were uplifted before death, and after a while two great tears which had risen between the lids flowed slowly down his face.
And he died.
At that same moment a resonant manly voice high up under the velarium exclaimed,—
"Peace to the martyrs!"
Deep silence reigned in the amphitheatre.
AFTER the spectacle in Caesar's gardens the prisons were emptied considerably. It is true that victims suspected of the Oriental superstition were seized yet and imprisoned, but pursuit brought in fewer and fewer persons,—barely enough for coming exhibitions, which were to follow quickly. People were sated with blood; they showed growing weariness, and increasing alarm because of the unparalleled conduct of the condemned. Fears like those of the superstitious Vestinius seized thousands of people. Among the crowds tales more and more wonderful were related of the vengefulness of the Christian God. Prison typhus, which had spread through the city, increased the general dread. The number of funerals was evident, and it was repeated from ear to ear that fresh piacula were needed to mollify the unknown god. Offerings were made in the temples to Jove and Libitina. At last, in spite of every effort of Tigellinus and his assistants, the opinion kept spreading that the city had been burned at command of Caesar, and that the Christians were suffering innocently.
But for this very reason Nero and Tigellinus were untiring in persecution. To calm the multitude, fresh orders were issued to distribute wheat, wine, and olives. To relieve owners, new rules were published to facilitate the building of houses; and others touching width of streets and materials to be used in building so as to avoid fires in future. Caesar himself attended sessions of the Senate, and counselled with the "fathers" on the good of the people and the city; but not a shadow of favor fell on the doomed. The ruler of the world was anxious, above all, to fix in people's minds a conviction that such merciless punishments could strike only the guilty. In the Senate no voice was heard on behalf of the Christians, for no one wished to offend Caesar; and besides, those who looked farther into the future insisted that the foundations of Roman rule could not stand against the new faith.
The dead and the dying were given to their relatives, as Roman law took no vengeance on the dead. Vinicius received a certain solace from the thought that if Lygia died he would bury her in his family tomb, and rest near her. At that time he had no hope of rescuing her; half separated from life, he was himself wholly absorbed in Christ, and dreamed no longer of any union except an eternal one. His faith had become simply boundless; for it eternity seemed something incomparably truer and more real than the fleeting life which he had lived up to that time. His heart was overflowing with concentrated enthusiasm. Though yet alive, he had changed into a being almost immaterial, which desiring complete liberation for itself desired it also for another. He imagined that when free he and Lygia would each take the other's hand and go to heaven, where Christ would bless them, and let them live in light as peaceful and boundless as the light of dawn. He merely implored Christ to spare Lygia the torments of the Circus, and let her fall asleep calmly in prison; he felt with perfect certainty that he himself would die at the same time. In view of the sea of blood which had been shed, he did not even think it permitted to hope that she alone would be spared. He had heard from Peter and Paul that they, too, must die as martyrs. The sight of Chilo on the cross had convinced him that even a martyr's death could be sweet; hence he wished it for Lygia and himself as the change of an evil, sad, and oppressive fate for a better.
At times he had a foretaste of life beyond the grave. That sadness which hung over the souls of both was losing its former burning bitterness, and changing gradually into a kind of trans-terrestrial, calm abandon to the will of God. Vinicius, who formerly had toiled against the current, had struggled and tortured himself, yielded now to the stream, believing that it would bear him to eternal calm. He divined, too, that Lygia, as well as he, was preparing for death,—that, in spite of the prison walls separating them, they were advancing together; and he smiled at that thought as at happiness.
In fact, they were advancing with as much agreement as if they had exchanged thoughts every day for a long time. Neither had Lygia any desire, any hope, save the hope of a life beyond the grave. Death was presented to her not only as a liberation from the terrible walls of the prison, from the hands of Caesar and Tigellinus,—not only as liberation, but as the hour of her marriage to Vinicius. In view of this unshaken certainty, all else lost importance. After death would come her happiness, which was even earthly, so that she waited for it also as a betrothed waits for the wedding-day.
And that immense current of faith, which swept away from life and bore beyond the grave thousands of those first confessors, bore away Ursus also. Neither had he in his heart been resigned to Lygia's death; but when day after day through the prison walls came news of what was happening in the amphitheatres and the gardens, when death seemed the common, inevitable lot of all Christians and also their good, higher than all mortal conceptions of happiness, he did not dare to pray to Christ to deprive Lygia of that happiness or to delay it for long years. In his simple barbarian soul he thought, besides, that more of those heavenly delights would belong to the daughter of the Lygian chief, that she would have more of them than would a whole crowd of simple ones to whom he himself belonged, and that in eternal glory she would sit nearer to the "Lamb" than would others. He had heard, it is true, that before God men are equal; but a conviction was lingering at the bottom of his soul that the daughter of a leader, and besides of a leader of all the Lygians, was not the same as the first slave one might meet. He hoped also that Christ would let him continue to serve her. His one secret wish was to die on a cross as the "Lamb" died. But this seemed a happiness so great that he hardly dared to pray for it, though he knew that in Rome even the worst criminals were crucified. He thought that surely he would be condemned to die under the teeth of wild beasts; and this was his one sorrow. From childhood he had lived in impassable forests, amid continual hunts, in which, thanks to his superhuman strength, he was famous among the Lygians even before he had grown to manhood. This occupation had become for him so agreeable that later, when in Rome, and forced to live without hunting, he went to vivaria and amphitheatres just to look at beasts known and unknown to him. The sight of these always roused in the man an irresistible desire for struggle and killing; so now he feared in his soul that on meeting them in the amphitheatre he would be attacked by thoughts unworthy of a Christian, whose duty it was to die piously and patiently. But in this he committed himself to Christ, and found other and more agreeable thoughts to comfort him. Hearing that the "Lamb" had declared war against the powers of hell and evil spirits with which the Christian faith connected all pagan divinities, he thought that in this war he might serve the "Lamb" greatly, and serve better than others, for he could not help believing that his soul was stronger than the souls of other martyrs. Finally, he prayed whole days, rendered service to prisoners, helped overseers, and comforted his queen, who complained at times that in her short life she had not been able to do so many good deeds as the renowned Tabitha of whom Peter the Apostle had told her. Even the prison guards, who feared the terrible strength of this giant, since neither bars nor chains could restrain it, came to love him at last for his mildness. Amazed at his good temper, they asked more than once what its cause was. He spoke with such firm certainty of the life waiting after death for him, that they listened with surprise, seeing for the first time that happiness might penetrate a dungeon which sunlight could not reach. And when he urged them to believe in the "Lamb," it occurred to more than one of those people that his own service was the service of a slave, his own life the life of an unfortunate; and he fell to thinking over his evil fate, the only end to which was death.
But death brought new fear, and promised nothing beyond; while that giant and that maiden, who was like a flower cast on the straw of the prison, went toward it with delight, as toward the gates of happiness.
ONE evening Scevinus, a Senator, visited Petronius and began a long conversation, touching the grievous times in which they were living, and also touching Caesar. He spoke so openly that Petronius, though his friend, began to be cautious. Scevinus complained that the world was living madly and unjustly, that all must end in some catastrophe more dreadful still than the burning of Rome. He said that even Augustians were dissatisfied; that Fenius Rufus, second prefect of the pretorians, endured with the greatest effort the vile orders of Tigellinus; and that all Seneca's relatives were driven to extremes by Caesar's conduct as well toward his old master as toward Lucan. Finally, he began to hint of the dissatisfaction of the people, and even of the pretorians, the greater part of whom had been won by Fenius Rufus.
"Why dost thou say this?" inquired Petronius.
"Out of care for Caesar," said Scevinus. "I have a distant relative among the pretorians, also Scevinus; through him I know what takes place in the camp. Disaffection is growing there also; Caligula, knowest thou, was mad too, and see what happened. Cassius Chaerea appeared. That was a dreadful deed, and surely there is no one among us to praise it; still Chaerea freed the world of a monster."
"Is thy meaning as follows: 'I do not praise Chaerea, but he was a perfect man, and would that the gods had given us as many such as possible'?" inquired Petronius.
But Scevinus changed the conversation, and began all at once to praise Piso, exalting his family, his nobility of mind, his attachment to his wife, and, finally, his intellect, his calmness, and his wonderful gift of winning people.
"Caesar is childless," said he, "and all see his successor in Piso. Doubtless, too, every man would help him with whole soul to gain power. Fenius Rufus loves him; the relatives of Annaeus are devoted to him altogether. Plautius Lateranus and Tullius Senecio would spring into fire for him; as would Natalis, and Subrius Flavius, and Sulpicius Asper, and Afranius Quinetianus, and even Vestinius."
"From this last man not much will result to Piso," replied Petronius. "Vestinius is afraid of his own shadow."
"Vestinius fears dreams and spirits," answered Scevinus, "but he is a practical man, whom people wish wisely to make consul. That in his soul he is opposed to persecuting Christians, thou shouldst not take ill of him, for it concerns thee too that this madness should cease."
"Not me, but Vinicius," answered Petronius. "Out of concern for Vinicius, I should like to save a certain maiden; but I cannot, for I have fallen out of favor with Ahenobarbus."
"How is that? Dost thou not notice that Caesar is approaching thee again, and beginning to talk with thee? And I will tell thee why. He is preparing again for Achaea, where he is to sing songs in Greek of his own composition. He is burning for that journey; but also he trembles at thought of the cynical genius of the Greeks. He imagines that either the greatest triumph may meet him or the greatest failure. He needs good counsel, and he knows that no one can give it better than thou. This is why thou art returning to favor."
"Lucan might take my place."
"Bronzebeard hates Lucan, and in his soul has written down death for the poet. He is merely seeking a pretext, for he seeks pretexts always."
"By Castor!" said Petronius, "that may be. But I might have still another way for a quick return to favor."
"To repeat to Bronzebeard what thou hast told me just now."
"I have said nothing!" cried Scevinus, with alarm.
Petronius placed his hand upon the Senator's shoulder. "Thou hast called Caesar a madman, thou hast foreseen the heirship of Piso, and hast said, 'Lucan understands that there is need to hasten.' What wouldst thou hasten, carissime?"
Scevinus grew pale, and for a moment each looked into the eyes of the other.
"Thou wilt not repeat!"
"By the hips of Kypris, I will not! How well thou knowest me! No; I will not repeat. I have heard nothing, and, moreover, I wish to hear nothing. Dost understand? Life is too short to make any undertaking worth the while. I beg thee only to visit Tigellinus to-day, and talk with him as long as thou hast with me of whatever may please thee."
"So that should Tigellinus ever say to me, 'Scevinus was with thee,' I might answer, 'He was with thee, too, that very day.'"
Scevinus, when he heard this, broke the ivory cane which he had in his hand, and said,—"May the evil fall on this stick! I shall be with Tigellinus to-day, and later at Nerva's feast. Thou, too, wilt be there? In every case till we meet in the amphitheatre, where the last of the Christians will appear the day after tomorrow. Till we meet!"
"After to-morrow!" repeated Petronius, when alone. "There is no time to lose. Ahenobarbus will need me really in Achaea; hence he may count with me."
And he determined to try the last means.
In fact, at Nerva's feast Caesar himself asked that Petronius recline opposite, for he wished to speak with the arbiter about Achaea and the cities in which he might appear with hopes of the greatest success. He cared most for the Athenians, whom he feared. Other Augustians listened to this conversation with attention, so as to seize crumbs of the arbiter's opinions, and give them out later on as their own.
"It seems to me that I have not lived up to this time," said Nero, "and that my birth will come only in Greece."
"Thou wilt be born to new glory and immortality," answered Petronius.
"I trust that this is true, and that Apollo will not seem jealous. If I return in triumph, I will offer him such a hecatomb as no god has had so far."
Scevinus fell to repeating the lines of Horace:—
"Sic te diva potens Cypri, Sic fratres Helenae, lucida sidera, Ventorumque regat Pater-"
"The vessel is ready at Naples," said Caesar. "I should like to go even tomorrow."
At this Petronius rose, and, looking straight into Nero's eyes, said,
"Permit me, O divinity, to celebrate a wedding-feast, to which I shall invite thee before others."
"A wedding-feast! What wedding-feast?" inquired Nero.
"That of Vinicius with thy hostage the daughter of the Lygian king. She is in prison at present, it is true; but as a hostage she is not subject to imprisonment, and, secondly, thou thyself hast permitted Vinicius to marry her; and as thy sentences, like those of Zeus, are unchangeable, thou wilt give command to free her from prison, and I will give her to thy favorite."
The cool blood and calm self-possession with which Petronius spoke disturbed Nero, who was disturbed whenever any one spoke in that fashion to him.
"I know," said he, dropping his eyes. "I have thought of her and of that giant who killed Croton."
"In that case both are saved," answered Petronius, calmly.
But Tigellinus came to the aid of his master: "She is in prison by the will of Caesar; thou thyself hast said, O Petronius, that his sentences are unchangeable."
All present, knowing the history of Vinicius and Lygia, understood perfectly what the question was; hence they were silent, curious as to the end of the conversation.
"She is in prison against the will of Caesar and through thy error, through thy ignorance of the law of nations," said Petronius, with emphasis. "Thou art a naive man, Tigellinus; but even thou wilt not assert that she burnt Rome, and if thou wert to do so, Caesar would not believe thee."
But Nero had recovered and begun to half close his near-sighted eyes with an expression of indescribable malice.
"Petronius is right," said he, after a while.
Tigellinus looked at him with amazement.
"Petronius is right," repeated Nero; "to-morrow the gates of the prison will be open to her, and of the marriage feast we will speak the day after at the amphitheatre."
"I have lost again," thought Petronius.
When he had returned home, he was so certain that the end of Lygia's life had come that he sent a trusty freedman to the amphitheatre to bargain with the chief of the spoliarium for the delivery of her body, since he wished to give it to Vinicius.
Evening exhibitions, rare up to that period and given only exceptionally, became common in Nero's time, both in the Circus and amphitheatre. The Augustians liked them, frequently because they were followed by feasts and drinking-bouts which lasted till daylight. Though the people were sated already with blood-spilling, still, when the news went forth that the end of the games was approaching, and that the last of the Christians were to die at an evening spectacle, a countless audience assembled in the amphitheatre. The Augustians came to a man, for they understood that it would not be a common spectacle; they knew that Caesar had determined to make for himself a tragedy out of the suffering of Vinicius. Tigellinus had kept secret the kind of punishment intended for the betrothed of the young tribune; but that merely roused general curiosity. Those who had seen Lygia at the house of Plautius told wonders of her beauty. Others were occupied above all with the question, would they see her really on the arena that day; for many of those who had heard the answer given Petronius and Nerva by Caesar explained it in two ways: some supposed simply that Nero would give or perhaps had given the maiden to Vinicius; they remembered that she was a hostage, hence free to worship whatever divinities she liked, and that the law of nations did not permit her punishment.
Uncertainty, waiting, and curiosity had mastered all spectators. Caesar arrived earlier than usual; and immediately at his coming people whispered that something uncommon would happen, for besides Tigellinus and Vatinius, Caesar had with him Cassius, a centurion of enormous size and gigantic strength, whom he summoned only when he wished to have a defender at his side,—for example, when he desired night expeditions to the Subura, where he arranged the amusement called "sagatio," which consisted in tossing on a soldier's mantle maidens met on the way. It was noted also that certain precautions had been taken in the amphitheatre itself. The pretorian guards were increased; command over them was held, not by a centurion, but by the tribune Subrius Flavius, known hitherto for blind attachment to Nero. It was understood, then, that Caesar wished in every case to guard himself against an outburst of despair from Vinicius, and curiosity rose all the more.
Every eye was turned with strained gaze to the place where the unfortunate lover was sitting. He was exceedingly pale, and his forehead was covered with drops of sweat; he was in as much doubt as were other spectators, but alarmed to the lowest depth of his soul. Petronius knew not what would happen; he was silent, except that, while turning from Nerva, he asked Vinicius whether he was ready for everything, and next, whether he would remain at the spectacle. To both questions Vinicius answered "Yes," but a shudder passed through his whole body; he divined that Petronius did not ask without reason. For some time he had lived with only half his life,—he had sunk in death, and reconciled himself to Lygia's death, since for both it was to be liberation and marriage; but he learned now that it was one thing to think of the last moment when it was distant as of a quiet dropping asleep, and another to look at the torment of a person dearer to one than life. All sufferings endured formerly rose in him anew. Despair, which had been set at rest, began again to cry in his soul; the former desire to save Lygia at any price seized him anew. Beginning with the morning, he had tried to go to the cunicula to be sure that she was there; but the pretorians watched every entrance, and orders were so strict that the soldiers, even those whom he knew, would not be softened by prayers or gold. It seemed to the tribune that uncertainty would kill him before he should see the spectacle. Somewhere at the bottom of his heart the hope was still throbbing, that perhaps Lygia was not in the amphitheatre, that his fears were groundless. At times he seized on this hope with all his strength. He said in his soul that Christ might take her to Himself out of the prison, but could not permit her torture in the Circus. Formerly he was resigned to the divine will in everything; now, when repulsed from the doors of the cunicula, he returned to his place in the amphitheatre, and when he learned, from the curious glances turned on him, that the most dreadful suppositions might be true, he began to implore in his soul with passionateness almost approaching a threat. "Thou canst!" repeated he, clenching his fists convulsively, "Thou canst!" Hitherto he had not supposed that that moment when present would be so terrible. Now, without clear consciousness of what was happening in his mind, he had the feeling that if he should see Lygia tortured, his love for God would be turned to hatred, and his faith to despair. But he was amazed at the feeling, for he feared to offend Christ, whom he was imploring for mercy and miracles. He implored no longer for her life; he wished merely that she should die before they brought her to the arena, and from the abyss of his pain he repeated in spirt: "Do not refuse even this, and I will love Thee still more than hitherto." And then his thoughts raged as a sea torn by a whirlwind. A desire for blood and vengeance was roused in him. He was seized by a mad wish to rush at Nero and stifle him there in presence of all the spectators; but he felt that desire to be a new offence against Christ, and a breach of His command. To his head flew at times flashes of hope that everything before which his soul was trembling would be turned aside by an almighty and merciful hand; but they were quenched at once, as if in measureless sorrow that He who could destroy that Circus with one word and save Lygia had abandoned her, though she trusted in Him and loved Him with all the strength of her pure heart. And he thought, moreover, that she was lying there in that dark place, weak, defenceless, deserted, abandoned to the whim or disfavor of brutal guards, drawing her last breath, perhaps, while he had to wait, helpless, in that dreadful amphitheatre, without knowing what torture was prepared for her, or what he would witness in a moment. Finally, as a man falling over a precipice grasps at everything which grows on the edge of it, so did he grasp with both hands at the thought that faith of itself could save her. That one method remained! Peter had said that faith could move the earth to its foundations.
Hence he rallied; he crushed doubt in himself, he compressed his whole being into the sentence, "I believe," and he looked for a miracle.
But as an overdrawn cord may break, so exertion broke him. The pallor of death covered his face, and his body relaxed. He thought then that his prayer had been heard, for he was dying. It seemed to him that Lygia must surely die too, and that Christ would take them to Himself in that way. The arena, the white togas, the countless spectators, the light of thousands of lamps and torches, all vanished from his vision.
But his weakness did not last long. After a while he roused himself, or rather the stamping of the impatient multitude roused him.
"Thou art ill," said Petronius; "give command to bear thee home."
And without regard to what Caesar would say, he rose to support Vinicius and go out with him. His heart was filled with pity, and, moreover, he was irritated beyond endurance because Caesar was looking through the emerald at Vinicius, studying his pain with satisfaction, to describe it afterwards, perhaps, in pathetic strophes, and win the applause of hearers.
Vinicius shook his head. He might die in that amphitheatre, but he could not go out of it. Moreover the spectacle might begin any moment.
In fact, at that very instant almost, the prefect of the city waved a red handkerchief, the hinges opposite Caesar's podium creaked, and out of the dark gully came Ursus into the brightly lighted arena.
The giant blinked, dazed evidently by the glitter of the arena; then he pushed into the centre, gazing around as if to see what he had to meet. It was known to all the Augustians and to most of the spectators that he was the man who had stifled Croton; hence at sight of him a murmur passed along every bench. In Rome there was no lack of gladiators larger by far than the common measure of man, but Roman eyes had never seen the like of Ursus. Cassius, standing in Caesar's podium, seemed puny compared with that Lygian. Senators, vestals, Caesar, the Augustians, and the people gazed with the delight of experts at his mighty limbs as large as tree-trunks, at his breast as large as two shields joined together, and his arms of a Hercules. The murmur rose every instant. For those multitudes there could be no higher pleasure than to look at those muscles in play in the exertion of a struggle. The murmur rose to shouts, and eager questions were put: "Where do the people live who can produce such a giant?" He stood there, in the middle of the amphitheatre, naked, more like a stone colossus than a man, with a collected expression, and at the same time the sad look of a barbarian; and while surveying the empty arena, he gazed wonderingly with his blue childlike eyes, now at the spectators, now at Caesar, now at the grating of the cunicula, whence, as he thought, his executioners would come.
At the moment when he stepped into the arena his simple heart was beating for the last time with the hope that perhaps a cross was waiting for him; but when he saw neither the cross nor the hole in which it might be put, he thought that he was unworthy of such favor,—that he would find death in another way, and surely from wild beasts. He was unarmed, and had determined to die as became a confessor of the "Lamb," peacefully and patiently. Meanwhile he wished to pray once more to the Saviour; so he knelt on the arena, joined his hands, and raised his eyes toward the stars which were glittering in the lofty opening of the amphitheatre.
That act displeased the crowds. They had had enough of those Christians who died like sheep. They understood that if the giant would not defend himself the spectacle would be a failure. Here and there hisses were heard. Some began to cry for scourgers, whose office it was to lash combatants unwilling to fight. But soon all had grown silent, for no one knew what was waiting for the giant, nor whether he would not be ready to struggle when he met death eye to eye.
In fact, they had not long to wait. Suddenly the shrill sound of brazen trumpets was heard, and at that signal a grating opposite Caesar's podium was opened, and into the arena rushed, amid shouts of beast-keepers, an enormous German aurochs, bearing on his head the naked body of a woman.
"Lygia! Lygia!" cried Vinicius.
Then he seized his hair near the temples, squirmed like a man who feels a sharp dart in his body, and began to repeat in hoarse accents,—
"I believe! I believe! O Christ, a miracle!"
And he did not even feel that Petronius covered his head that moment with the toga. It seemed to him that death or pain had closed his eyes. He did not look, he did not see. The feeling of some awful emptiness possessed him. In his head there remained not a thought; his lips merely repeated, as if in madness,—
"I believe! I believe! I believe!"
This time the amphitheatre was silent. The Augustians rose in their places, as one man, for in the arena something uncommon had happened. That Lygian, obedient and ready to die, when he saw his queen on the horns of the wild beast, sprang up, as if touched by living fire, and bending forward he ran at the raging animal.
From all breasts a sudden cry of amazement was heard, after which came deep silence.
The Lygian fell on the raging bull in a twinkle, and seized him by the horns.
"Look!" cried Petronius, snatching the toga from the head of Vinicius. The latter rose and bent back his head; his face was as pale as linen, and he looked into the arena with a glassy, vacant stare.
All breasts ceased to breathe. In the amphitheatre a fly might be heard on the wing. People could not believe their own eyes. Since Rome was Rome, no one had seen such a spectacle.
The Lygian held the wild beast by the horns. The man's feet sank in the sand to his ankles, his back was bent like a drawn bow, his head was hidden between his shoulders, on his arms the muscles came out so that the skin almost burst from their pressure; but he had stopped the bull in his tracks. And the man and the beast remained so still that the spectators thought themselves looking at a picture showing a deed of Hercules or Theseus, or a group hewn from stone. But in that apparent repose there was a tremendous exertion of two struggling forces. The bull sank his feet as well as did the man in the sand, and his dark, shaggy body was curved so that it seemed a gigantic ball. Which of the two would fail first, which would fall first,—that was the question for those spectators enamoured of such struggles; a question which at that moment meant more for them than their own fate, than all Rome and its lordship over the world. That Lygian was in their eyes then a demigod worthy of honor and statues. Caesar himself stood up as well as others. He and Tigellinus, hearing of the man's strength, had arranged this spectacle purposely, and said to each other with a jeer, "Let that slayer of Croton kill the bull which we choose for him"; so they looked now with amazement at that picture, as if not believing that it could be real.
In the amphitheatre were men who had raised their arms and remained in that posture. Sweat covered the faces of others, as if they themselves were struggling with the beast. In the Circus nothing was heard save the sound of flame in the lamps, and the crackle of bits of coal as they dropped from the torches. Their voices died on the lips of the spectators, but their hearts were beating in their breasts as if to split them. It seemed to all that the struggle was lasting for ages. But the man and the beast continued on in their monstrous exertion; one might have said that they were planted in the earth.
Meanwhile a dull roar resembling a groan was heard from the arena, after which a brief shout was wrested from every breast, and again there was silence. People thought themselves dreaming till the enormous head of the bull began to turn in the iron hands of the barbarian. The face, neck, and arms of the Lygian grew purple; his back bent still more. It was clear that he was rallying the remnant of his superhuman strength, but that he could not last long.
Duller and duller, hoarser and hoarser, more and more painful grew the groan of the bull as it mingled with the whistling breath from the breast of the giant. The head of the beast turned more and more, and from his jaws crept forth a long, foaming tongue.
A moment more, and to the ears of spectators sitting nearer came as it were the crack of breaking bones; then the beast rolled on the earth with his neck twisted in death.
The giant removed in a twinkle the ropes from the horns of the bull and, raising the maiden, began to breathe hurriedly. His face became pale, his hair stuck together from sweat, his shoulders and arms seemed flooded with water. For a moment he stood as if only half conscious; then he raised his eyes and looked at the spectators.
The amphitheatre had gone wild.
The walls of the building were trembling from the roar of tens of thousands of people. Since the beginning of spectacles there was no memory of such excitement. Those who were sitting on the highest rows came down, crowding in the passages between benches to look more nearly at the strong man. Everywhere were heard cries for mercy, passionate and persistent, which soon turned into one unbroken thunder. That giant had become dear to those people enamoured of physical strength; he was the first personage in Rome.
He understood that the multitude were striving to grant him his life and restore him his freedom, but clearly his thought was not on himself alone. He looked around a while; then approached Caesar's podium, and, holding the body of the maiden on his outstretched arms, raised his eyes with entreaty, as if to say,—
"Have mercy on her! Save the maiden. I did that for her sake!"
The spectators understood perfectly what he wanted. At sight of the unconscious maiden, who near the enormous Lygian seemed a child, emotion seized the multitude of knights and senators. Her slender form, as white as if chiselled from alabaster, her fainting, the dreadful danger from which the giant had freed her, and finally her beauty and attachment had moved every heart. Some thought the man a father begging mercy for his child. Pity burst forth suddenly, like a flame. They had had blood, death, and torture in sufficiency. Voices choked with tears began to entreat mercy for both.
Meanwhile Ursus, holding the girl in his arms, moved around the arena, and with his eyes and with motions begged her life for her. Now Vinicius started up from his seat, sprang over the barrier which separated the front places from the arena, and, running to Lygia, covered her naked body with his toga.
Then he tore apart the tunic on his breast, laid bare the scars left by wounds received in the Armenian war, and stretched out his hands to the audience.
At this the enthusiasm of the multitude passed everything seen in a circus before. The crowd stamped and howled. Voices calling for mercy grew simply terrible. People not only took the part of the athlete, but rose in defense of the soldier, the maiden, their love. Thousands of spectators turned to Caesar with flashes of anger in their eyes and with clinched fists.
But Caesar halted and hesitated. Against Vinicius he had no hatred indeed, and the death of Lygia did not concern him; but he preferred to see the body of the maiden rent by the horns of the bull or torn by the claws of beasts. His cruelty, his deformed imagination, and deformed desires found a kind of delight in such spectacles. And now the people wanted to rob him. Hence anger appeared on his bloated face. Self-love also would not let him yield to the wish of the multitude, and still he did not dare to oppose it, through his inborn cowardice.
So he gazed around to see if among the Augustians at least, he could not find fingers turned down in sign of death. But Petronius held up his hand, and looked into Nero's face almost challengingly. Vestinius, superstitious but inclined to enthusiasm, a man who feared ghosts but not the living, gave a sign for mercy also. So did Scevinus, the Senator; so did Nerva, so did Tullius Senecio, so did the famous leader Ostorius Scapula, and Antistius, and Piso, and Vetus, and Crispinus, and Minucius Thermus, and Pontius Telesinus, and the most important of all, one honored by the people, Thrasea.
In view of this, Caesar took the emerald from his eye with an expression of contempt and offence; when Tigellinus, whose desire was to spite Petronius, turned to him and said,—
"Yield not, divinity; we have the pretorians."
Then Nero turned to the place where command over the pretorians was held by the stern Subrius Flavius, hitherto devoted with whole soul to him, and saw something unusual. The face of the old tribune was stern, but covered with tears, and he was holding his hand up in sign of mercy.
Now rage began to possess the multitude. Dust rose from beneath the stamping feet, and filled the amphitheatre. In the midst of shouts were heard cries: "Ahenobarbus! matricide! incendiary!"
Nero was alarmed. Romans were absolute lords in the Circus. Former Caesars, and especially Caligula, had permitted themselves sometimes to act against the will of the people; this, however, called forth disturbance always, going sometimes to bloodshed. But Nero was in a different position. First, as a comedian and a singer he needed the people's favor; second, he wanted it on his side against the Senate and the patricians, and especially after the burning of Rome he strove by all means to win it, and turn their anger against the Christians. He understood, besides, that to oppose longer was simply dangerous. A disturbance begun in the Circus might seize the whole city, and have results incalculable.
He looked once more at Subrius Flavius, at Scevinus the centurion, a relative of the senator, at the soldiers; and seeing everywhere frowning brows, excited faces, and eyes fixed on him, he gave the sign for mercy.
Then a thunder of applause was heard from the highest seats to the lowest. The people were sure of the lives of the condemned, for from that moment they went under their protection, and even Caesar would not have dared to pursue them any longer with his vengeance.
FOUR Bithynians carried Lygia carefully to the house of Petronius. Vinicius and Ursus walked at her side, hurrying so as to give her into the hands of the Greek physician as quickly as possible. They walked in silence, for after the events of the day they had not power to speak. Vinicius so far was as if half conscious. He kept repeating to himself that Lygia was saved; that she was threatened no longer by imprisonment, or death in the Circus; that their misfortunes had ended once and forever; that he would take her home and not separate again from her. This appeared to him the beginning of some other life rather than reality. From moment to moment he bent over the open litter to look on the beloved face, which in the moonlight seemed sleeping, and he repeated mentally, "This is she! Christ has saved her!" He remembered also that while he and Ursus were carrying her from the spoliarium an unknown physician had assured him that she was living and would recover. At this thought delight so filled his breast that at moments he grew weak, and being unable to walk with his own strength leaned on the arm of Ursus. Ursus meanwhile was looking into the sky filled with stars, and was praying.
They advanced hurriedly along streets where newly erected white buildings shone brightly in the moonlight. The city was empty, save here and there where crowds of people crowned with ivy, sang and danced before porticos to the sound of flutes, thus taking advantage of the wonderful night and the festive season, unbroken from the beginning of the games. Only when they were near the house did Ursus stop praying, and say in a low voice, as if he feared to waken Lygia,—
"Lord, it was the Saviour who rescued her from death. When I saw her on the horns of the aurochs, I heard a voice in my soul saying, 'Defend her!' and that was the voice of the Lamb. The prison took strength from me, but He gave it back in that moment, and inspired that cruel people to take her part. Let His will be done!"
And Vinicius answered,—
"Magnified be His name!"
He had not power to continue, for all at once he felt that a mighty weeping was swelling his breast. He was seized by an overpowering wish to throw himself on the earth and thank the Saviour for His miracles and His mercy.
Meanwhile they had come to the house; the servants, informed by a slave despatched in advance, crowded out to meet them. Paul of Tarsus had sent back from Antium the greater part of those people. The misfortune of Vinicius was known to them perfectly; therefore their delight at seeing those victims which had been snatched from the malice of Nero was immense, and increased still more when the physician Theocles declared that Lygia had not suffered serious injury, and that when the weakness caused by prison fever had passed, she would regain health.
Consciousness returned to her that night. Waking in the splendid chamber lighted by Corinthian lamps, amidst the odor of verbena and nard, she knew not where she was, or what was taking place with her. She remembered the moment in which she had been lashed to the horns of the chained bull; and now, seeing above her the face of Vinicius, lighted by the mild rays of the lamp, she supposed herself no longer on earth. The thoughts were confused in her weakened head; it seemed to her natural to be detained somewhere on the way to heaven, because of her tortures and weakness. Feeling no pain, however, she smiled at Vinicius, and wanted to ask where they were; but from her lips came merely a low whisper in which he could barely detect his own name.
Then he knelt near her, and, placing his hand on her forehead lightly, he said,—
"Christ saved thee, and returned thee to me!"
Her lips moved again with a meaningless whisper; her lids closed after a moment, her breast rose with a light sigh, and she fell into a deep sleep, for which the physician had been waiting, and after which she would return to health, he said.
Vinicius remained kneeling near her, however, sunk in prayer. His soul was melting with a love so immense that he forgot himself utterly. Theocles returned often to the chamber, and the golden-haired Eunice appeared behind the raised curtain a number of times; finally cranes, reared in the gardens, began to call, heralding the coming day, but Vinicius was still embracing in his mind the feet of Christ, neither seeing nor hearing what was passing around him, with a heart turned into a thanksgiving, sacrificial flame, sunk in ecstasy, and though alive, half seized into heaven.
PETRONIUS, after the liberation of Lygia, not wishing to irritate Caesar, went to the Palatine with other Augustians. He wanted to hear what they were saying, and especially to learn if Tigellinus was devising something new to destroy Lygia. Both she and Ursus had passed under the protection of the people, it is true, and no one could place a hand on them without raising a riot; still Petronius, knowing the hatred toward him of the all-powerful pretorian prefect, considered that very likely Tigellinus, while unable to strike him directly, would strive to find some means of revenge against his nephew.
Nero was angry and irritated, since the spectacle had ended quite differently from what he had planned. At first he did not wish even to look at Petronius; but the latter, without losing cool blood, approached him, with all the freedom of the "arbiter elegantiarum," and said,—
"Dost thou know, divinity, what occurs to me? Write a poem on the maiden who, at command of the lord of the world, was freed from the horns of the wild bull and given to her lover. The Greeks are sensitive, and I am sure that the poem will enchant them."
This thought pleased Nero in spite of all his irritation, and it pleased him doubly, first, as a subject for a poem, and second, because in it he could glorify himself as the magnanimous lord of the earth; hence he looked for a time at Petronius, and then said,—
"Yes! perhaps thou art right. But does it become me to celebrate my own goodness?"
"There is no need to give names. In Rome all will know who is meant, and from Rome reports go through the whole world."