But Lygia raised her finger with great and also childlike seriousness.
"Ursus, do not kill," said she.
Ursus put his fist, which was like a maul, to the back of his head, and, rubbing his neck with great seriousness, began to mutter. But he must rescue "his light." She herself had said that his turn had come. He will try all he can. But if something happens in spite of him? In every case he must save her. But should anything happen, he will repent, and so entreat the Innocent Lamb that the Crucified Lamb will have mercy on him, poor fellow. He has no wish to offend the Lamb; but then his hands are so heavy.
Great tenderness was expressed on his face; but wishing to hide it, he bowed and said,—"Now I will go to the holy bishop."
Acte put her arms around Lygia's neck, and began to weep. Once more the freedwoman understood that there was a world in which greater happiness existed, even in suffering, than in all the excesses and luxury of Caesar's house. Once more a kind of door to the light was opened a little before her, but she felt at once that she was unworthy to pass through it.
LYGIA was grieved to lose Pomponia Graecina, whom she loved with her whole soul, and she grieved for the household of Aulus; still her despair passed away. She felt a certain delight even in the thought that she was sacrificing plenty and comfort for her Truth, and was entering on an unknown and wandering existence. Perhaps there was in this a little also of childish curiosity as to what that life would be, off somewhere in remote regions, among wild beasts and barbarians. But there was still more a deep and trusting faith, that by acting thus she was doing as the Divine Master had commanded, and that henceforth He Himself would watch over her, as over an obedient and faithful child. In such a case what harm could meet her? If sufferings come, she will endure them in His name. If sudden death comes, He will take her; and some time, when Pomponia dies, they will be together for all eternity. More than once when she was in the house of Aulus, she tortured her childish head because she, a Christian, could do nothing for that Crucified, of whom Ursus spoke with such tenderness. But now the moment had come. Lygia felt almost happy, and began to speak of her happiness to Acte, who could not understand her, however. To leave everything,—to leave house, wealth, the city, gardens, temples, porticos, everything that is beautiful; leave a sunny land and people near to one—and for what purpose? To hide from the love of a young and stately knight. In Acte's head these things could not find place. At times she felt that Lygia's action was right, that there must be some immense mysterious happiness in it; but she could not give a clear account to herself of the matter, especially since an adventure was before Lygia which might have an evil ending,—an adventure in which she might lose her life simply. Acte was timid by nature, and she thought with dread of what the coming evening might bring. But she was loath to mention her fears to Lygia; meanwhile, as the day was clear and the sun looked into the atrium, she began to persuade her to take the rest needed after a night without sleep. Lygia did not refuse; and both went to the cubiculum, which was spacious and furnished with luxury because of Acte's former relations with Caesar. There they lay down side by side, but in spite of her weariness Acte could not sleep. For a long time she had been sad and unhappy, but now she was seized by a certain uneasiness which she had never felt before. So far life had seemed to her simply grievous and deprived of a morrow; now all at once it seemed to her dishonorable.
Increasing chaos rose in her head. Again the door to light began to open and close. But in the moment when it opened, that light so dazzled her that she could see nothing distinctly. She divined, merely, that in that light there was happiness of some kind, happiness beyond measure, in presence of which every other was nothing, to such a degree that if Caesar, for example, were to set aside Poppaea, and love her, Acte, again, it would be vanity. Suddenly the thought came to her that that Caesar whom she loved, whom she held involuntarily as a kind of demigod, was as pitiful as any slave, and that palace, with columns of Numidian marble, no better than a heap of stones. At last, however, those feelings which she had not power to define began to torment her; she wanted to sleep, but being tortured by alarm she could not. Thinking that Lygia, threatened by so many perils and uncertainties, was not sleeping either, she turned to her to speak of her flight in the evening. But Lygia was sleeping calmly. Into the dark cubiculum, past the curtain which was not closely drawn, came a few bright rays, in which golden dust-motes were playing. By the light of these rays Acte saw her delicate face, resting on her bare arm, her closed eyes, and her mouth slightly open. She was breathing regularly, but as people breathe while asleep.
"She sleeps,—she is able to sleep," thought Acte. "She is a child yet." Still, after a while it came to her mind that that child chose to flee rather than remain the beloved of Vinicius; she preferred want to shame, wandering to a lordly house, to robes, jewels, and feasts, to the sound of lutes and citharas.
And she gazed at Lygia, as if to find an answer in her sleeping face. She looked at her clear forehead, at the calm arch of her brows, at her dark tresses, at her parted lips, at her virgin bosom moved by calm breathing; then she thought again,—"How different from me!"
Lygia seemed to her a miracle, a sort of divine vision, something beloved of the gods, a hundred times more beautiful than all the flowers in Caesar's garden, than all the statues in his palace. But in the Greek woman's heart there was no envy. On the contrary, at thought of the dangers which threatened the girl, great pity seized her. A certain motherly feeling rose in the woman. Lygia seemed to her not only as beautiful as a beautiful vision, but also very dear, and, putting her lips to her dark hair, she kissed it.
But Lygia slept on calmly, as if at home, under the care of Pomponia Graecina. And she slept rather long. Midday had passed when she opened her blue eyes and looked around the cubiculum in astonishment. Evidently she wondered that she was not in the house of Aulus.
"That is thou, Acte?" said she at last, seeing in the darkness the face of the Greek.
"Is it evening?"
"No, child; but midday has passed."
"And has Ursus not returned?"
"Ursus did not say that he would return; he said that he would watch in the evening, with Christians, for the litter."
Then they left the cubiculum and went to the bath, where Acte bathed Lygia; then she took her to breakfast and afterward to the gardens of the palace, in which no dangerous meeting might be feared, since Caesar and his principal courtiers were sleeping yet. For the first time in her life Lygia saw those magnificent gardens, full of pines, cypresses, oaks, olives, and myrtles, among which appeared white here and there a whole population of statues. The mirror of ponds gleamed quietly; groves of roses were blooming, watered with the spray of fountains; entrances to charming grottos were encircled with a growth of ivy or woodbine; silver-colored swans were sailing on the water; amidst statues and trees wandered tame gazelles from the deserts of Africa, and rich-colored birds from all known countries on earth.
The gardens were empty; but here and there slaves were working, spade in hand, singing in an undertone; others, to whom was granted a moment of rest, were sitting by ponds or in the shade of groves, in trembling light produced by sun-rays breaking in between leaves; others were watering roses or the pale lily-colored blossoms of the saffron. Acte and Lygia walked rather long, looking at all the wonders of the gardens; and though Lygia's mind was not at rest, she was too much a child yet to resist pleasure, curiosity, and wonder. It occurred to her, even, that if Caesar were good, he might be very happy in such a palace, in such gardens.
But at last, tired somewhat, the two women sat down on a bench hidden almost entirely by dense cypresses and began to talk of that which weighed on their hearts most,—that is, of Lygia's escape in the evening. Acte was far less at rest than Lygia touching its success. At times it seemed to her even a mad project, which could not succeed. She felt a growing pity for Lygia. It seemed to her that it would be a hundred times safer to try to act on Vinicius. After a while she inquired of Lygia how long she had known him, and whether she did not think that he would let himself be persuaded to return her to Pomponia.
But Lygia shook her dark head in sadness. "No. In Aulus's house, Vinicius had been different, he had been very kind, but since yesterday's feast she feared him, and would rather flee to the Lygians."
"But in Aulus's house," inquired Acte, "he was dear to thee, was he not?"
"He was," answered Lygia, inclining her head.
"And thou wert not a slave, as I was," said Acte, after a moment's thought. "Vinicius might marry thee. Thou art a hostage, and a daughter of the Lygian king. Aulus and Pomponia love thee as their own child; I am sure that they are ready to adopt thee. Vinicius might marry thee, Lygia."
But Lygia answered calmly, and with still greater sadness, "I would rather flee to the Lygians."
"Lygia, dost thou wish me to go directly to Vinicius, rouse him, if he is sleeping, and tell him what I have told thee? Yes, my precious one, I will go to him and say, 'Vinicius, this is a king's daughter, and a dear child of the famous Aulus; if thou love her, return her to Aulus and Pomponia, and take her as wife from their house.'"
But the maiden answered with a voice so low that Acte could barely hear it,—
"I would rather flee to the Lygians." And two tears were hanging on her drooping lids.
Further conversation was stopped by the rustle of approaching steps, and before Acte had time to see who was coming, Poppaea Sabina appeared in front of the bench with a small retinue of slave women. Two of them held over her head bunches of ostrich feathers fixed to golden wires; with these they fanned her lightly, and at the same time protected her from the autumn sun, which was hot yet. Before her a woman from Egypt, black as ebony, and with bosom swollen as if from milk, bore in her arms an infant wrapped in purple fringed with gold. Acte and Lygia rose, thinking that Poppaea would pass the bench without turning attention to either; but she halted before them and said,—"Acte, the bells sent by thee for the doll were badly fastened; the child tore off one and put it to her mouth; luckily Lilith saw it in season."
"Pardon, divinity," answered Acte, crossing her arms on her breast and bending her head.
But Poppaea began to gaze at Lygia.
"What slave is this?" asked she, after a pause.
"She is not a slave, divine Augusta, but a foster child of Pomponia Graecina, and a daughter of the Lygian king given by him as hostage to Rome."
"And has she come to visit thee?"
"No, Augusta. She is dwelling in the palace since the day before yesterday."
"Was she at the feast last night?"
"She was, Augusta."
"At whose command?"
"At Caesar's command."
Poppaea looked still more attentively at Lygia, who stood with bowed head, now raising her bright eyes to her with curiosity, now covering them with their lids. Suddenly a frown appeared between the brows of the Augusta. Jealous of her own beauty and power, she lived in continual alarm lest at some time a fortunate rival might ruin her, as she had ruined Octavia. Hence every beautiful face in the palace roused her suspicion. With the eye of a critic she took in at once every part of Lygia's form, estimated every detail of her face, and was frightened. "That is simply a nymph," thought she, "and 'twas Venus who gave birth to her." On a sudden this came to her mind which had never come before at sight of any beauty,—that she herself had grown notably older! Wounded vanity quivered in Poppaea, alarm seized her, and various fears shot through her head. "Perhaps Nero has not seen the girl, or, seeing her through the emerald, has not appreciated her. But what would happen should he meet such a marvel in the daytime, in sunlight? Moreover she is not a slave, she is the daughter of a king,—a king of barbarians, it is true, but a king. Immortal gods! she is as beautiful as I am, but younger!" The wrinkle between her brows increased, and her eyes began to shine under their golden lashes with a cold gleam.
"Hast thou spoken with Caesar?"
"Why dost thou choose to be here rather than in the house of Aulus?"
"I do not choose, lady. Petronius persuaded Caesar to take me from Pomponia. I am here against my will."
"And wouldst thou return to Pomponia?"
This last question Poppaea gave with a softer and milder voice; hence a sudden hope rose in Lygia's heart.
"Lady," said she, extending her hand to her, "Caesar promised to give me as a slave to Vinicius, but do thou intercede and return me to Pomponia."
"Then Petronius persuaded Caesar to take thee from Aulus, and give thee to Vinicius?"
"True, lady. Vinicius is to send for me to-day, but thou art good, have compassion on me." When she had said this, she inclined, and, seizing the border of Poppaea's robe, waited for her word with beating heart. Poppaea looked at her for a while, with a face lighted by an evil smile, and said,—"Then I promise that thou wilt become the slave of Vinicius this day." And she went on, beautiful as a vision, but evil. To the ears of Lygia and Acte came only the wail of the infant, which began to cry, it was unknown for what reason.
Lygia's eyes too were filled with tears; but after a while she took Acte's hand and said,—"Let us return. Help is to be looked for only whence it can come." And they returned to the atrium, which they did not leave till evening.
When darkness had come and slaves brought in tapers with great flames, both women were very pale. Their conversation failed every moment. Both were listening to hear if some one were coming. Lygia repeated again and again that, though grieved to leave Acte, she preferred that all should take place that day, as Ursus must be waiting in the dark for her then. But her breathing grew quicker from emotion, and louder. Acte collected feverishly such jewels as she could, and, fastening them in a corner of Lygia's peplus, implored her not to reject that gift and means of escape. At moments came a deep silence full of deceptions for the ear. It seemed to both that they heard at one time a whisper beyond the curtain, at another the distant weeping of a child, at another the barking of dogs.
Suddenly the curtain of the entrance moved without noise, and a tall, dark man, his face marked with small-pox, appeared like a spirit in the atrium. In one moment Lygia recognized Atacinus, a freedman of Vinicius, who had visited the house of Aulus.
Acte screamed; but Atacinus bent low and said,—"A greeting, divine Lygia, from Marcus Vinicius, who awaits thee with a feast in his house which is decked in green."
The lips of the maiden grew pale.
"I go," said she.
Then she threw her arms around Acte's neck in farewell.
THE house of Vinicius was indeed decked in the green of myrtle and ivy, which had been hung on the walls and over the doors. The columns were wreathed with grape vine. In the atrium, which was closed above by a purple woollen cloth as protection from the night cold, it was as clear as in daylight. Eight and twelve flamed lamps were burning; these were like vessels, trees, animals, birds, or statues, holding cups filled with perfumed olive oil, lamps of alabaster, marble, or gilded Corinthian bronze, not so wonderful as that famed candlestick used by Nero and taken from the temple of Apollo, but beautiful and made by famous masters. Some of the lights were shaded by Alexandrian glass, or transparent stuffs from the Indus, of red, blue, yellow, or violet color, so that the whole atrium was filled with many colored rays. Everywhere was given out the odor of nard, to which Vinicius had grown used, and which he had learned to love in the Orient. The depths of the house, in which the forms of male and female slaves were moving, gleamed also with light. In the triclinium a table was laid for four persons. At the feast were to sit, besides Vinicius and Lygia, Petronius and Chrysothemis. Vinicius had followed in everything the words of Petronius, who advised him not to go for Lygia, but to send Atacinus with the permission obtained from Caesar, to receive her himself in the house, receive her with friendliness and even with marks of honor.
"Thou wert drunk yesterday," said he; "I saw thee. Thou didst act with her like a quarryman from the Alban Hills. Be not over-insistent, and remember that one should drink good wine slowly. Know too that it is sweet to desire, but sweeter to be desired."
Chrysothemis had her own and a somewhat different opinion on this point; but Petronius, calling her his vestal and his dove, began to explain the difference which must exist between a trained charioteer of the Circus and the youth who sits on the quadriga for the first time. Then, turning to Vinicius, he continued,—"Win her confidence, make her joyful, be magnanimous. I have no wish to see a gloomy feast. Swear to her, by Hades even, that thou wilt return her to Pomponia, and it will be thy affair that to-morrow she prefers to stay with thee."
Then pointing to Chrysothemis, he added,—"For five years I have acted thus more or less with this timid dove, and I cannot complain of her harshness."
Chrysothemis struck him with her fan of peacock feathers, and said,—"But I did not resist, thou satyr!"
"Out of consideration for my predecessor—"
"But wert thou not at my feet?"
"Yes; to put rings on thy toes."
Chrysothemis looked involuntarily at her feet, on the toes of which diamonds were really glittering; and she and Petronius began to laugh. But Vinicius did not give ear to their bantering. His heart was beating unquietly under the robes of a Syrian priest, in which he had arrayed himself to receive Lygia.
"They must have left the palace," said he, as if in a monologue.
"They must," answered Petronius. "Meanwhile I may mention the predictions of Apollonius of Tyana, or that history of Rufinus which I have not finished, I do not remember why."
But Vinicius cared no more for Apollonius of Tyana than for the history of Rufinus. His mind was with Lygia; and though he felt that it was more appropriate to receive her at home than to go in the role of a myrmidon to the palace, he was sorry at moments that he had not gone, for the single reason that he might have seen her sooner, and sat near her in the dark, in the double litter.
Meanwhile slaves brought in a tripod ornamented with rams' heads, bronze dishes with coals, on which they sprinkled bits of myrrh and nard.
"Now they are turning toward the Carinae," said Vinicius, again.
"He cannot wait; he will run to meet the litter, and is likely to miss them!" exclaimed Chrysothemis.
Vinicius smiled without thinking, and said,—"On the contrary, I will wait."
But he distended his nostrils and panted; seeing which, Petronius shrugged his shoulders, and said,—"There is not in him a philosopher to the value of one sestertium, and I shall never make a man of that son of Mars."
"They are now in the Carinae."
In fact, they were turning toward the Carinae. The slaves called lampadarii were in front; others called pedisequii, were on both sides of the litter. Atacinus was right behind, overseeing the advance. But they moved slowly, for lamps showed the way badly in a place not lighted at all. The streets near the palace were empty; here and there only some man moved forward with a lantern, but farther on the place was uncommonly crowded. From almost every alley people were pushing out in threes and fours, all without lamps, all in dark mantles. Some walked on with the procession, mingling with the slaves; others in greater numbers came from the opposite direction. Some staggered as if drunk. At moments the advance grew so difficult that the lampadarii cried,—"Give way to the noble tribune, Marcus Vinicius!"
Lygia saw those dark crowds through the curtains which were pushed aside, and trembled with emotion. She was carried away at one moment by hope, at another by fear.
"That is he!—that is Ursus and the Christians! Now it will happen quickly," said she, with trembling lips. "O Christ, aid! O Christ, save!"
Atacinus himself, who at first did not notice the uncommon animation of the street, began at last to be alarmed. There was something strange in this. The lampadarii had to cry oftener and oftener, "Give way to the litter of the noble tribune!" From the sides unknown people crowded up to the litter so much that Atacinus commanded the slaves to repulse them with clubs.
Suddenly a cry was heard in front of the procession. In one instant all the lights were extinguished. Around the litter came a rush, an uproar, a struggle.
Atacinus saw that this was simply an attack; and when he saw it he was frightened. It was known to all that Caesar with a crowd of attendants made attacks frequently for amusement in the Subura and in other parts of the city. It was known that even at times he brought out of these night adventures black and blue spots; but whoso defended himself went to his death, even if a senator. The house of the guards, whose duty it was to watch over the city, was not very far; but during such attacks the guards feigned to be deaf and blind.
Meanwhile there was an uproar around the litter; people struck, struggled, threw, and trampled one another. The thought flashed on Atacinus to save Lygia and himself, above all, and leave the rest to their fate. So, drawing her out of the litter, he took her in his arms and strove to escape in the darkness.
But Lygia called, "Ursus! Ursus!"
She was dressed in white; hence it was easy to see her. Atacinus, with his other arm, which was free, was throwing his own mantle over her hastily, when terrible claws seized his neck, and on his head a gigantic, crushing mass fell like a stone.
He dropped in one instant, as an ox felled by the back of an axe before the altar of Jove.
The slaves for the greater part were either lying on the ground, or had saved themselves by scattering in the thick darkness, around the turns of the walls. On the spot remained only the litter, broken in the onset. Ursus bore away Lygia to the Subura; his comrades followed him, dispersing gradually along the way.
The slaves assembled before the house of Vinicius, and took counsel. They had not courage to enter. After a short deliberation they returned to the place of conflict, where they found a few corpses, and among them Atacinus. He was quivering yet; but, after a moment of more violent convulsion, he stretched and was motionless.
They took him then, and, returning, stopped before the gate a second time. But they must declare to their lord what had happened.
"Let Gulo declare it," whispered some voices; "blood is flowing from his face as from ours; and the master loves him; it is safer for Gulo than for others."
Gulo, a German, an old slave, who had nursed Vinicius, and was inherited by him from his mother, the sister of Petronius, said,—
"I will tell him; but do ye all come. Do not let his anger fall on my head alone."
Vinicius was growing thoroughly impatient. Petronius and Chrysothemis were laughing; but he walked with quick step up and down the atrium.
"They ought to be here! They ought to be here!"
He wished to go out to meet the litter, but Petronius and Chrysothemis detained him.
Steps were heard suddenly in the entrance; the slaves rushed into the atrium in a crowd, and, halting quickly at the wall, raised their hands, and began to repeat with groaning,—"Aaaa!—aa!"
Vinicius sprang toward them.
"Where is Lygia?" cried he, with a terrible and changed voice.
Then Gulo pushed forward with his bloody face, and exclaimed, in haste and pitifully,—
"See our blood, lord! We fought! See our blood! See our blood!"
But he had not finished when Vinicius seized a bronze lamp, and with one blow shattered the skull of the slave; then, seizing his own head with both hands, he drove his fingers into his hair, repeating hoarsely,—"Me miserum! me miserum!"
His face became blue, his eyes turned in his head, foam came out on his lips.
"Whips!" roared he at last, with an unearthly voice.
"Lord! Aaaa! Take pity!" groaned the slaves.
Petronius stood up with an expression of disgust on his face. "Come, Chrysothemis!" said he. "If 'tis thy wish to look on raw flesh, I will give command to open a butcher's stall on the Carinae!"
And he walked out of the atrium. But through the whole house, ornamented in the green of ivy and prepared for a feast, were heard, from moment to moment, groans and the whistling of whips, which lasted almost till morning.
VINICIUS did not lie down that night. Some time after the departure of Petronius, when the groans of his flogged slaves could allay neither his rage nor his pain, he collected a crowd of other servants, and, though the night was far advanced, rushed forth at the head of these to look for Lygia. He visited the district of the Esquiline, then the Subura, Vicus Sceleratus, and all the adjoining alleys. Passing next around the Capitol, he went to the island over the bridge of Fabricius; after that he passed through a part of the Trans-Tiber. But that was a pursuit without object, for he himself had no hope of finding Lygia, and if he sought her it was mainly to fill out with something a terrible night. In fact he returned home about daybreak, when the carts and mules of dealers in vegetables began to appear in the city, and when bakers were opening their shops.
On returning he gave command to put away Gulo's corpse, which no one had ventured to touch. The slaves from whom Lygia had been taken he sent to rural prisons,—a punishment almost more dreadful than death. Throwing himself at last on a couch in the atrium, he began to think confusedly of how he was to find and seize Lygia.
To resign her, to lose her, not to see her again, seemed to him impossible; and at this thought alone frenzy took hold of him. For the first time in life the imperious nature of the youthful soldier met resistance, met another unbending will, and he could not understand simply how any one could have the daring to thwart his wishes. Vinicius would have chosen to see the world and the city sink in ruins rather than fail of his purpose. The cup of delight had been snatched from before his lips almost; hence it seemed to him that something unheard of had happened, something crying to divine and human laws for vengeance.
But, first of all, he was unwilling and unable to be reconciled with fate, for never in life had he so desired anything as Lygia. It seemed to him that he could not exist without her. He could not tell himself what he was to do without her on the morrow, how he was to survive the days following. At moments he was transported by a rage against her, which approached madness. He wanted to have her, to beat her, to drag her by the hair to the cubiculum, and gloat over her; then, again, he was carried away by a terrible yearning for her voice, her form, her eyes, and he felt that he would be ready to lie at her feet. He called to her, gnawed his fingers, clasped his head with his hands. He strove with all his might to think calmly about searching for her,—and was unable. A thousand methods and means flew through his head, but one wilder than another. At last the thought flashed on him that no one else had intercepted her but Aulus, that in every case Aulus must know where she was hiding. And he sprang up to run to the house of Aulus.
If they will not yield her to him, if they have no fear of his threats, he will go to Caesar, accuse the old general of disobedience, and obtain a sentence of death against him; but before that, he will gain from them a confession of where Lygia is. If they give her, even willingly, he will be revenged. They received him, it is true, in their house and nursed him,—but that is nothing! With this one injustice they have freed him from every debt of gratitude. Here his vengeful and stubborn soul began to take pleasure at the despair of Pomponia Graecina, when the centurion would bring the death sentence to old Aulus. He was almost certain that he would get it. Petronius would assist him. Moreover, Caesar never denies anything to his intimates, the Augustians, unless personal dislike or desire enjoins a refusal.
Suddenly his heart almost died within him, under the influence of this terrible supposition,—"But if Caesar himself has taken Lygia?"
All knew that Nero from tedium sought recreation in night attacks. Even Petronius took part in these amusements. Their main object was to seize women and toss each on a soldier's mantle till she fainted. Even Nero himself on occasions called these expeditions "pearl hunts," for it happened that in the depth of districts occupied by a numerous and needy population they caught a real pearl of youth and beauty sometimes. Then the "sagatio," as they termed the tossing, was changed into a genuine carrying away, and the pearl was sent either to the Palatine or to one of Caesar's numberless villas, or finally Caesar yielded it to one of his intimates. So might it happen also with Lygia. Caesar had seen her during the feast; and Vinicius doubted not for an instant that she must have seemed to him the most beautiful woman he had seen yet. How could it be otherwise? It is true that Lygia had been in Nero's own house on the Palatine, and he might have kept her openly. But, as Petronius said truly, Caesar had no courage in crime, and, with power to act openly, he chose to act always in secret. This time fear of Poppaea might incline him also to secrecy. It occurred now to the young soldier that Aulus would not have dared, perhaps, to carry off forcibly a girl given him, Vinicius, by Caesar. Besides, who would dare? Would that gigantic blue-eyed Lygian, who had the courage to enter the triclinium and carry her from the feast on his arm? But where could he hide with her; whither could he take her? No! a slave would not have ventured that far. Hence no one had done the deed except Caesar.
At this thought it grew dark in his eyes, and drops of sweat covered his forehead. In that case Lygia was lost to him forever. It was possible to wrest her from the hands of any one else, but not from the hands of Caesar. Now, with greater truth than ever, could he exclaim, "Vae misero mihi!" His imagination represented Lygia in Nero's arms, and, for the first time in life, he understood that there are thoughts which are simply beyond man's endurance. He knew then, for the first time, how he loved her. As his whole life flashes through the memory of a drowning man, so Lygia began to pass through his. He saw her, heard every word of hers,—saw her at the fountain, saw her at the house of Aulus, and at the feast; felt her near him, felt the odor of her hair, the warmth of her body, the delight of the kisses which at the feast he had pressed on her innocent lips. She seemed to him a hundred times sweeter, more beautiful, more desired than ever,—a hundred times more the only one, the one chosen from among all mortals and divinities. And when he thought that all this which had become so fixed in his heart, which had become his blood and life, might be possessed by Nero, a pain seized him, which was purely physical, and so piercing that he wanted to beat his head against the wall of the atrium, until he should break it. He felt that he might go mad; and he would have gone mad beyond doubt, had not vengeance remained to him. But as hitherto he had thought that he could not live unless he got Lygia, he thought now that he would not die till he had avenged her. This gave him a certain kind of comfort. "I will be thy Cassius Chaerea!" [The slayer of Caligula] said he to himself in thinking of Nero. After a while, seizing earth in his hands from the flower vases surrounding the impluvium, he made a dreadful vow to Erebus, Hecate, and his own household lares, that he would have vengeance.
And he received a sort of consolation. He had at least something to live for and something with which to fill his nights and days. Then, dropping his idea of visiting Aulus, he gave command to bear him to the Palatine. Along the way he concluded that if they would not admit him to Caesar, or if they should try to find weapons on his person, it would be a proof that Caesar had taken Lygia. He had no weapons with him. He had lost presence of mind in general; but as is usual with persons possessed by a single idea, he preserved it in that which concerned his revenge. He did not wish his desire of revenge to fall away prematurely. He wished above all to see Acte, for he expected to learn the truth from her. At moments the hope flashed on him that he might see Lygia also, and at that thought he began to tremble. For if Caesar had carried her away without knowledge of whom he was taking, he might return her that day. But after a while he cast aside this supposition. Had there been a wish to return her to him, she would have been sent yesterday. Acte was the only person who could explain everything, and there was need to see her before others.
Convinced of this, he commanded the slaves to hasten; and along the road he thought without order, now of Lygia, now of revenge. He had heard that Egyptian priests of the goddess Pasht could bring disease on whomever they wished, and he determined to learn the means of doing this. In the Orient they had told him, too, that Jews have certain invocations by which they cover their enemies' bodies with ulcers. He had a number of Jews among his domestic slaves; hence he promised himself to torture them on his return till they divulged the secret. He found most delight, however, in thinking of the short Roman sword which lets out a stream of blood such as had gushed from Caius Caligula and made ineffaceable stains on the columns of the portico. He was ready to exterminate all Rome; and had vengeful gods promised that all people should die except him and Lygia, he would have accepted the promise.
In front of the arch he regained presence of mind, and thought when he saw the pretorian guard, "If they make the least difficulty in admitting me, they will prove that Lygia is in the palace by the will of Caesar."
But the chief centurion smiled at him in a friendly manner, then advanced a number of steps, and said,—"A greeting, noble tribune. If thou desire to give an obeisance to Caesar, thou hast found an unfortunate moment. I do not think that thou wilt be able to see him."
"What has happened?" inquired Vinicius.
"The infant Augusta fell ill yesterday on a sudden. Caesar and the august Poppaea are attending her, with physicians whom they have summoned from the whole city."
This was an important event. When that daughter was born to him, Caesar was simply wild from delight, and received her with extra humanum gaudium. Previously the senate had committed the womb of Poppaea to the gods with the utmost solemnity. A votive offering was made at Antium, where the delivery took place; splendid games were celebrated, and besides a temple was erected to the two Fortunes. Nero, unable to be moderate in anything, loved the infant beyond measure; to Poppaea the child was dear also, even for this, that it strengthened her position and made her influence irresistible.
The fate of the whole empire might depend on the health and life of the infant Augusta; but Vinicius was so occupied with himself, his own case and his love, that without paying attention to the news of the centurion he answered, "I only wish to see Acte." And he passed in.
But Acte was occupied also near the child, and he had to wait a long time to see her. She came only about midday, with a face pale and wearied, which grew paler still at sight of Vinicius.
"Acte!" cried Vinicius, seizing her hand and drawing her to the middle of the atrium, "where is Lygia?"
"I wanted to ask thee touching that," answered she, looking him in the eyes with reproach.
But though he had promised himself to inquire of her calmly, he pressed his head with his hands again, and said, with a face distorted by pain and anger,—"She is gone. She was taken from me on the way!"
After a while, however, he recovered, and thrusting his face up to Acte's, said through his set teeth,—"Acte! If life be dear to thee, if thou wish not to cause misfortunes which thou are unable even to imagine, answer me truly. Did Caesar take her?"
"Caesar did not leave the palace yesterday."
"By the shade of thy mother, by all the gods, is she not in the palace?"
"By the shade of my mother, Marcus, she is not in the palace, and Caesar did not intercept her. The infant Augusta is ill since yesterday, and Nero has not left her cradle."
Vinicius drew breath. That which had seemed the most terrible ceased to threaten him.
"Ah, then," said he, sitting on the bench and clinching his fists, "Aulus intercepted her, and in that case woe to him!"
"Aulus Plautius was here this morning. He could not see me, for I was occupied with the child; but he inquired of Epaphroditus, and others of Caesar's servants, touching Lygia, and told them that he would come again to see me."
"He wished to turn suspicion from himself. If he knew not what happened, he would have come to seek Lygia in my house."
"He left a few words on a tablet, from which thou wilt see that, knowing Lygia to have been taken from his house by Caesar, at thy request and that of Petronius, he expected that she would be sent to thee, and this morning early he was at thy house, where they told him what had happened."
When she had said this, she went to the cubiculum and returned soon with the tablet which Aulus had left.
Vinicius read the tablet, and was silent; Acte seemed to read the thoughts on his gloomy face, for she said after a while,—"No, Marcus. That has happened which Lygia herself wished."
"It was known to thee that she wished to flee!" burst out Vinicius.
"I knew that she would not become thy concubine." And she looked at him with her misty eyes almost sternly.
"And thou,—what hast thou been all thy life?"
"I was a slave, first of all."
But Vinicius did not cease to be enraged. Caesar had given him Lygia; hence he had no need to inquire what she had been before. He would find her, even under the earth, and he would do what he liked with her. He would indeed! She should be his concubine. He would give command to flog her as often as he pleased. If she grew distasteful to him, he would give her to the lowest of his slaves, or he would command her to turn a handmill on his lands in Africa. He would seek her out now, and find her only to bend her, to trample on her, and conquer her.
And, growing more and more excited, he lost every sense of measure, to the degree that even Acte saw that he was promising more than he could execute; that he was talking because of pain and anger. She might have had even compassion on him, but his extravagance exhausted her patience, and at last she inquired why he had come to her.
Vinicius did not find an answer immediately. He had come to her because he wished to come, because he judged that she would give him information; but really he had come to Caesar, and, not being able to see him, he came to her. Lygia, by fleeing, opposed the will of Caesar; hence he would implore him to give an order to search for her throughout the city and the empire, even if it came to using for that purpose all the legions, and to ransacking in turn every house within Roman dominion. Petronius would support his prayer, and the search would begin from that day.
"Have a care," answered Acte, "lest thou lose her forever the moment she is found, at command of Caesar."
Vinicius wrinkled his brows. "What does that mean?" inquired he.
"Listen to me, Marcus. Yesterday Lygia and I were in the gardens here, and we met Poppaea, with the infant Augusta, borne by an African woman, Lilith. In the evening the child fell ill, and Lilith insists that she was bewitched; that that foreign woman whom they met in the garden bewitched her. Should the child recover, they will forget this, but in the opposite case Poppaea will be the first to accuse Lygia of witchcraft, and wherever she is found there will be no rescue for her."
A moment of silence followed; then Vinicius said,—"But perhaps she did bewitch her, and has bewitched me."
"Lilith repeats that the child began to cry the moment she carried her past us. And really the child did begin to cry. It is certain that she was sick when they took her out of the garden. Marcus, seek for Lygia whenever it may please thee, but till the infant Augusta recovers, speak not of her to Caesar, or thou wilt bring on her Poppaea's vengeance. Her eyes have wept enough because of thee already, and may all the gods guard her poor head."
"Dost thou love her, Acte?" inquired Vinicius, gloomily.
"Yes, I love her." And tears glittered in the eyes of the freedwoman.
"Thou lovest her because she has not repaid thee with hatred, as she has me."
Acte looked at him for a time as if hesitating, or as if wishing to learn if he spoke sincerely; then she said,—"O blind and passionate man—she loved thee."
Vinicius sprang up under the influence of those words, as if possessed. "It is not true."
She hated him. How could Acte know? Would Lygia make a confession to her after one day's acquaintance? What love is that which prefers wandering, the disgrace of poverty, the uncertainty of to-morrow, or a shameful death even, to a wreath-bedecked house, in which a lover is waiting with a feast? It is better for him not to hear such things, for he is ready to go mad. He would not have given that girl for all Caesar's treasures, and she fled. What kind of love is that which dreads delight and gives pain? Who can understand it? Who can fathom it? Were it not for the hope that he should find her, he would sink a sword in himself. Love surrenders; it does not take away. There were moments at the house of Aulus when he himself believed in near happiness, but now he knows that she hated him, that she hates him, and will die with hatred in her heart.
But Acte, usually mild and timid, burst forth in her turn with indignation. How had he tried to win Lygia? Instead of bowing before Aulus and Pomponia to get her, he took the child away from her parents by stratagem. He wanted to make, not a wife, but a concubine of her, the foster daughter of an honorable house, and the daughter of a king. He had her brought to this abode of crime and infamy; he defiled her innocent eyes with the sight of a shameful feast; he acted with her as with a wanton. Had he forgotten the house of Aulus and Pomponia Graecina, who had reared Lygia? Had he not sense enough to understand that there are women different from Nigidia or Calvia Crispinilla or Poppaea, and from all those whom he meets in Caesar's house? Did he not understand at once on seeing Lygia that she is an honest maiden, who prefers death to infamy? Whence does he know what kind of gods she worships, and whether they are not purer and better than the wanton Venus, or than Isis, worshipped by the profligate women of Rome? No! Lygia had made no confession to her, but she had said that she looked for rescue to him, to Vinicius: she had hoped that he would obtain for her permission from Caesar to return home, that he would restore her to Pomponia. And while speaking of this, Lygia blushed like a maiden who loves and trusts. Lygia's heart beat for him; but he, Vinicius, had terrified and offended her; had made her indignant; let him seek her now with the aid of Caesar's soldiers, but let him know that should Poppaea's child die, suspicion will fall on Lygia, whose destruction will then be inevitable.
Emotion began to force its way through the anger and pain of Vinicius. The information that he was loved by Lygia shook him to the depth of his soul. He remembered her in Aulus's garden, when she was listening to his words with blushes on her face and her eyes full of light. It seemed to him then that she had begun to love him; and all at once, at that thought, a feeling of certain happiness embraced him, a hundred times greater than that which he desired. He thought that he might have won her gradually, and besides as one loving him. She would have wreathed his door, rubbed it with wolf's fat, and then sat as his wife by his hearth on the sheepskin. He would have heard from her mouth the sacramental: "Where thou art, Caius, there am I, Caia." And she would have been his forever. Why did he not act thus? True, he had been ready so to act. But now she is gone, and it may be impossible to find her; and should he find her, perhaps he will cause her death, and should he not cause her death, neither she nor Aulus nor Pomponia Graecina will favor him. Here anger raised the hair on his head again; but his anger turned now, not against the house of Aulus, or Lygia, but against Petronius. Petronius was to blame for everything. Had it not been for him Lygia would not have been forced to wander; she would be his betrothed, and no danger would be hanging over her dear head. But now all is past, and it is too late to correct the evil which will not yield to correction.
"Too late!" And it seemed to him that a gulf had opened before his feet. He did not know what to begin, how to proceed, whither to betake himself. Acte repeated as an echo the words, "Too late," which from another's mouth sounded like a death sentence. He understood one thing, however, that he must find Lygia, or something evil would happen to him.
And wrapping himself mechanically in his toga, he was about to depart without taking farewell even of Acte, when suddenly the curtain separating the entrance from the atrium was pushed aside, and he saw before him the pensive figure of Pomponia Graecina.
Evidently she too had heard of the disappearance of Lygia, and, judging that she could see Acte more easily than Aulus, had come for news to her.
But, seeing Vinicius, she turned her pale, delicate face to him, and said, after a pause,—"May God forgive thee the wrong, Marcus, which thou hast done to us and to Lygia."
He stood with drooping head, with a feeling of misfortune and guilt, not understanding what God was to forgive him or could forgive him. Pomponia had no cause to mention forgiveness; she ought to have spoken of revenge.
At last he went out with a head devoid of counsel, full of grievous thoughts, immense care, and amazement.
In the court and under the gallery were crowds of anxious people. Among slaves of the palace were knights and senators who had come to inquire about the health of the infant, and at the same time to show themselves in the palace, and exhibit a proof of their anxiety, even in presence of Nero's slaves. News of the illness of the "divine" had spread quickly it was evident, for new forms appeared in the gateway every moment, and through the opening of the arcade whole crowds were visible. Some of the newly arrived, seeing that Vinicius was coming from the palace, attacked him for news; but he hurried on without answering their questions, till Petronius, who had come for news too, almost struck his breast and stopped him.
Beyond doubt Vinicius would have become enraged at sight of Petronius, and let himself do some lawless act in Caesar's palace, had it not been that when he had left Acte he was so crushed, so weighed down and exhausted, that for the moment even his innate irascibility had left him. He pushed Petronius aside and wished to pass; but the other detained him, by force almost.
"How is the divine infant?" asked he.
But this constraint angered Vinicius a second time, and roused his indignation in an instant.
"May Hades swallow her and all this house!" said he, gritting his teeth.
"Silence, hapless man!" said Petronius, and looking around he added hurriedly,—"If thou wish to know something of Lygia, come with me; I will tell nothing here! Come with me; I will tell my thoughts in the litter."
And putting his arm around the young tribune, he conducted him from the palace as quickly as possible. That was his main concern, for he had no news whatever; but being a man of resources, and having, in spite of his indignation of yesterday, much sympathy for Vinicius, and finally feeling responsible for all that had happened, he had undertaken something already, and when they entered the litter he said,—"I have commanded my slaves to watch at every gate. I gave them an accurate description of the girl, and that giant who bore her from the feast at Caesar's,—for he is the man, beyond doubt, who intercepted her. Listen to me: Perhaps Aulus and Pomponia wish to secrete her in some estate of theirs; in that case we shall learn the direction in which they took her. If my slaves do not see her at some gate, we shall know that she is in the city yet, and shall begin this very day to search in Rome for her."
"Aulus does not know where she is," answered Vinicius.
"Art thou sure of that?"
"I saw Pomponia. She too is looking for her."
"She could not leave the city yesterday, for the gates are closed at night. Two of my people are watching at each gate. One is to follow Lygia and the giant, the other to return at once and inform me. If she is in the city, we shall find her, for that Lygian is easily recognized, even by his stature and his shoulders. Thou art lucky that it was not Caesar who took her, and I can assure thee that he did not, for there are no secrets from me on the Palatine."
But Vinicius burst forth in sorrow still more than in anger, and in a voice broken by emotion told Petronius what he had heard from Acte, and what new dangers were threatening Lygia,—dangers so dreadful that because of them there would be need to hide her from Poppaea most carefully, in case they discovered her. Then he reproached Petronius bitterly for his counsel. Had it not been for him, everything would have gone differently. Lygia would have been at the house of Aulus, and he, Vinicius, might have seen her every day, and he would have been happier at that moment than Caesar. And carried away as he went on with his narrative, he yielded more and more to emotion, till at last tears of sorrow and rage began to fall from his eyes.
Petronius, who had not even thought that the young man could love and desire to such a degree, when he saw the tears of despair said to himself, with a certain astonishment,—"O mighty Lady of Cyprus, thou alone art ruler of gods and men!"
WHEN they alighted in front of the arbiter's house, the chief of the atrium answered them that of slaves sent to the gates none had returned yet. The atriensis had given orders to take food to them, and a new command, that under penalty of rods they were to watch carefully all who left the city.
"Thou seest," said Petronius, "that they are in Rome, beyond doubt, and in that case we shall find them. But command thy people also to watch at the gates,—those, namely, who were sent for Lygia, as they will recognize her easily."
"I have given orders to send them to rural prisons," said Vinicius, "but I will recall the orders at once, and let them go to the gates."
And writing a few words on a wax-covered tablet, he handed it to Petronius, who gave directions to send it at once to the house of Vinicius. Then they passed into the interior portico, and, sitting on a marble bench, began to talk. The golden-haired Eunice and Iras pushed bronze footstools under their feet, and poured wine for them into goblets, out of wonderful narrow-necked pitchers from Volaterrae and Caecina.
"Hast thou among thy people any one who knows that giant Lygian?" asked Petronius.
"Atacinus and Gulo knew him; but Atacinus fell yesterday at the litter, and Gulo I killed."
"I am sorry for him," said Petronius. "He carried not only thee, but me, in his arms."
"I intended to free him," answered Vinicius; "but do not mention him. Let us speak of Lygia. Rome is a sea-"
"A sea is just the place where men fish for pearls. Of course we shall not find her to-day, or to-morrow, but we shall find her surely. Thou hast accused me just now of giving thee this method; but the method was good in itself, and became bad only when turned to bad. Thou hast heard from Aulus himself, that he intends to go to Sicily with his whole family. In that case the girl would be far from thee."
"I should follow them," said Vinicius, "and in every case she would be out of danger; but now, if that child dies, Poppaea will believe, and will persuade Caesar, that she died because of Lygia."
"True; that alarmed me, too. But that little doll may recover. Should she die, we shall find some way of escape."
Here Petronius meditated a while and added,—"Poppaea, it is said, follows the religion of the Jews, and believes in evil spirits. Caesar is superstitious. If we spread the report that evil spirits carried off Lygia, the news will find belief, especially as neither Caesar nor Aulus Plautius intercepted her; her escape was really mysterious. The Lygian could not have effected it alone; he must have had help. And where could a slave find so many people in the course of one day?"
"Slaves help one another in Rome."
"Some person pays for that with blood at times. True, they support one another, but not some against others. In this case it was known that responsibility and punishment would fall on thy people. If thou give thy people the idea of evil spirits, they will say at once that they saw such with their own eyes, because that will justify them in thy sight. Ask one of them, as a test, if he did not see spirits carrying off Lygia through the air, he will swear at once by the aegis of Zeus that he saw them."
Vinicius, who was superstitious also, looked at Petronius with sudden and great fear.
"If Ursus could not have men to help him, and was not able to take her alone, who could take her?"
Petronius began to laugh.
"See," said he, "they will believe, since thou art half a believer thyself. Such is our society, which ridicules the gods. They, too, will believe, and they will not look for her. Meanwhile we shall put her away somewhere far off from the city, in some villa of mine or thine."
"But who could help her?"
"Her co-religionists," answered Petronius.
"Who are they? What deity does she worship? I ought to know that better than thou."
"Nearly every woman in Rome honors a different one. It is almost beyond doubt that Pomponia reared her in the religion of that deity which she herself worships; what one she worships I know not. One thing is certain, that no person has seen her make an offering to our gods in any temple. They have accused her even of being a Christian; but that is not possible; a domestic tribunal cleared her of the charge. They say that Christians not only worship an ass's head, but are enemies of the human race, and permit the foulest crimes. Pomponia cannot be a Christian, as her virtue is known, and an enemy of the human race could not treat slaves as she does."
"In no house are they treated as at Aulus's," interrupted Vinicius.
"Ah! Pomponia mentioned to me some god, who must be one powerful and merciful. Where she has put away all the others is her affair; it is enough that that Logos of hers cannot be very mighty, or rather he must be a very weak god, since he has had only two adherents,—Pomponia and Lygia,—and Ursus in addition. It must be that there are more of those adherents, and that they assisted Lygia."
"That faith commands forgiveness," said Vinicius. "At Acte's I met Pomponia, who said to me: 'May God forgive thee the evil which thou hast done to us and to Lygia.'"
"Evidently their God is some curator who is very mild. Ha! let him forgive thee, and in sign of forgiveness return thee the maiden."
"I would offer him a hecatomb to-morrow! I have no wish for food, or the bath, or sleep. I will take a dark lantern and wander through the city. Perhaps I shall find her in disguise. I am sick."
Petronius looked at him with commiseration. In fact, there was blue under his eyes, his pupils were gleaming with fever, his unshaven beard indicated a dark strip on his firmly outlined jaws, his hair was in disorder, and he was really like a sick man. Iras and the golden-haired Eunice looked at him also with sympathy; but he seemed not to see them, and he and Petronius took no notice whatever of the slave women, just as they would not have noticed dogs moving around them.
"Fever is tormenting thee," said Petronius.
"Then listen to me. I know not what the doctor has prescribed to thee, but I know how I should act in thy place. Till this lost one is found I should seek in another that which for the moment has gone from me with her. I saw splendid forms at thy villa. Do not contradict me. I know what love is; and I know that when one is desired another cannot take her place. But in a beautiful slave it is possible to find even momentary distraction."
"I do not need it," said Vinicius.
But Petronius, who had for him a real weakness, and who wished to soften his pain, began to meditate how he might do so.
"Perhaps thine have not for thee the charm of novelty," said he, after a while (and here he began to look in turn at Iras and Eunice, and finally he placed his palm on the hip of the golden-haired Eunice). "Look at this grace! for whom some days since Fonteius Capiton the younger offered three wonderful boys from Clazomene. A more beautiful figure than hers even Skopas himself has not chiselled. I myself cannot tell why I have remained indifferent to her thus far, since thoughts of Chrysothemis have not restrained me. Well, I give her to thee; take her for thyself!"
When the golden-haired Eunice heard this, she grew pale in one moment, and, looking with frightened eyes on Vinicius, seemed to wait for his answer without breath in her breast.
But he sprang up suddenly, and, pressing his temples with his hands, said quickly, like a man who is tortured by disease, and will not hear anything,—"No, no! I care not for her! I care not for others! I thank thee, but I do not want her. I will seek that one through the city. Give command to bring me a Gallic cloak with a hood. I will go beyond the Tiber—if I could see even Ursus."
And he hurried away. Petronius, seeing that he could not remain in one place, did not try to detain him. Taking, however, his refusal as a temporary dislike for all women save Lygia, and not wishing his own magnanimity to go for naught, he said, turning to the slave,—"Eunice, thou wilt bathe and anoint thyself, then dress: after that thou wilt go to the house of Vinicius."
But she dropped before him on her knees, and with joined palms implored him not to remove her from the house. She would not go to Vinicius, she said. She would rather carry fuel to the hypocaustum in his house than be chief servant in that of Vinicius. She would not, she could not go; and she begged him to have pity on her. Let him give command to flog her daily, only not send her away.
And trembling like a leaf with fear and excitement, she stretched her hands to him, while he listened with amazement. A slave who ventured to beg relief from the fulfilment of a command, who said "I will not and I cannot," was something so unheard-of in Rome that Petronius could not believe his own ears at first. Finally he frowned. He was too refined to be cruel. His slaves, especially in the department of pleasure, were freer than others, on condition of performing their service in an exemplary manner, and honoring the will of their master, like that of a god. In case they failed in these two respects, he was able not to spare punishment, to which, according to general custom, they were subject. Since, besides this, he could not endure opposition, nor anything which ruffled his calmness, he looked for a while at the kneeling girl, and then said,—"Call Tiresias, and return with him."
Eunice rose, trembling, with tears in her eyes, and went out; after a time she returned with the chief of the atrium, Tiresias, a Cretan.
"Thou wilt take Eunice," said Petronius, "and give her five-and-twenty lashes, in such fashion, however, as not to harm her skin."
When he had said this, he passed into the library, and, sitting down at a table of rose-colored marble, began to work on his "Feast of Trimalchion." But the flight of Lygia and the illness of the infant Augusta had disturbed his mind so much that he could not work long. That illness, above all, was important. It occurred to Petronius that were Caesar to believe that Lygia had cast spells on the infant, the responsibility might fall on him also, for the girl had been brought at his request to the palace. But he could reckon on this, that at the first interview with Caesar he would be able in some way to show the utter absurdity of such an idea; he counted a little, too, on a certain weakness which Poppaea had for him,—a weakness hidden carefully, it is true, but not so carefully that he could not divine it. After a while he shrugged his shoulders at these fears, and decided to go to the triclinium to strengthen himself, and then order the litter to bear him once more to the palace, after that to the Campus Martius, and then to Chrysothemis.
But on the way to the triclinium at the entrance to the corridor assigned to servants, he saw unexpectedly the slender form of Eunice standing, among other slaves, at the wall; and forgetting that he had given Tiresias no order beyond flogging her, he wrinkled his brow again, and looked around for the atriensis. Not seeing him among the servants, he turned to Eunice.
"Hast thou received the lashes?"
She cast herself at his feet a second time, pressed the border of his toga to her lips, and said,—"Oh, yes, lord, I have received them! Oh, yes, lord!" In her voice were heard, as it were, joy and gratitude. It was clear that she looked on the lashes as a substitute for her removal from the house, and that now she might stay there. Petronius, who understood this, wondered at the passionate resistance of the girl; but he was too deeply versed in human nature not to know that love alone could call forth such resistance.
"Dost thou love some one in this house?" asked he.
She raised her blue, tearful eyes to him, and answered, in a voice so low that it was hardly possible to hear her,—"Yes, lord."
And with those eyes, with that golden hair thrown back, with fear and hope in her face, she was so beautiful, she looked at him so entreatingly, that Petronius, who, as a philosopher, had proclaimed the might of love, and who, as a man of aesthetic nature, had given homage to all beauty, felt for her a certain species of compassion.
"Whom of those dost thou love?" inquired he, indicating the servants with his head.
There was no answer to that question. Eunice inclined her head to his feet and remained motionless.
Petronius looked at the slaves, among whom were beautiful and stately youths. He could read nothing on any face; on the contrary, all had certain strange smiles. He looked then for a while on Eunice lying at his feet, and went in silence to the triclinium.
After he had eaten, he gave command to bear him to the palace, and then to Chrysothemis, with whom he remained till late at night. But when he returned, he gave command to call Tiresias.
"Did Eunice receive the flogging?" inquired he.
"She did, lord. Thou didst not let the skin be cut, however."
"Did I give no other command touching her?"
"No, lord," answered the atriensis with alarm.
"That is well. Whom of the slaves does she love?"
"No one, lord."
"What dost thou know of her?"
Tiresias began to speak in a somewhat uncertain voice:
"At night Eunice never leaves the cubiculum in which she lives with old Acrisiona and Ifida; after thou art dressed she never goes to the bath-rooms. Other slaves ridicule her, and call her Diana."
"Enough," said Petronius. "My relative, Vinicius, to whom I offered her to-day, did not accept her; hence she may stay in the house. Thou art free to go."
"Is it permitted me to speak more of Eunice, lord?"
"I have commanded thee to say all thou knowest."
"The whole familia are speaking of the flight of the maiden who was to dwell in the house of the noble Vinicius. After thy departure, Eunice came to me and said that she knew a man who could find her."
"Ah! What kind of man is he?"
"I know not, lord; but I thought that I ought to inform thee of this matter."
"That is well. Let that man wait to-morrow in my house for the arrival of the tribune, whom thou wilt request in my name to meet me here."
The atriensis bowed and went out. But Petronius began to think of Eunice. At first it seemed clear to him that the young slave wished Vinicius to find Lygia for this reason only, that she would not be forced from his house. Afterward, however, it occurred to him that the man whom Eunice was pushing forward might be her lover, and all at once that thought seemed to him disagreeable. There was, it is true, a simple way of learning the truth, for it was enough to summon Eunice; but the hour was late, Petronius felt tired after his long visit with Chrysothemis, and was in a hurry to sleep. But on the way to the cubiculum he remembered—it is unknown why—that he had noticed wrinkles, that day, in the corners of Chrysothemis's eyes. He thought, also, that her beauty was more celebrated in Rome than it deserved; and that Fonteius Capiton, who had offered him three boys from Clazomene for Eunice, wanted to buy her too cheaply.
NEXT morning, Petronius had barely finished dressing in the unctorium when Vinicius came, called by Tiresias. He knew that no news had come from the gates. This information, instead of comforting him, as a proof that Lygia was still in Rome, weighed him down still more, for he began to think that Ursus might have conducted her out of the city immediately after her seizure, and hence before Petronius's slaves had begun to keep watch at the gates. It is true that in autumn, when the days become shorter, the gates are closed rather early; but it is true, also, that they are opened for persons going out, and the number of these is considerable. It was possible, also, to pass the walls by other ways, well known, for instance, to slaves who wish to escape from the city. Vinicius had sent out his people to all roads leading to the provinces, to watchmen in the smaller towns, proclaiming a pair of fugitive slaves, with a detailed description of Ursus and Lygia, coupled with the offer of a reward for seizing them. But it was doubtful whether that pursuit would reach the fugitives; and even should it reach them, whether the local authorities would feel justified in making the arrest at the private instance of Vinicius, without the support of a pretor. Indeed, there had not been time to obtain such support. Vinicius himself, disguised as a slave, had sought Lygia the whole day before, through every corner of the city, but had been unable to find the least indication or trace of her. He had seen Aulus's servants, it is true; but they seemed to be seeking something also, and that confirmed him in the belief that it was not Aulus who had intercepted the maiden, and that the old general did not know what had happened to her.
When Tiresias announced to him, then, that there was a man who would undertake to find Lygia, he hurried with all speed to the house of Petronius; and barely had he finished saluting his uncle, when he inquired for the man.
"We shall see him at once, Eunice knows him," said Petronius. "She will come this moment to arrange the folds of my toga, and will give nearer information concerning him."
"Oh! she whom thou hadst the wish to bestow on me yesterday?"
"The one whom thou didst reject; for which I am grateful, for she is the best vestiplica in the whole city."
In fact, the vestiplica came in before he had finished speaking, and taking the toga, laid on a chair inlaid with pearl, she opened the garment to throw it on Petronius's shoulder. Her face was clear and calm; joy was in her eyes.
Petronius looked at her. She seemed to him very beautiful. After a while, when she had covered him with the toga, she began to arrange it, bending at times to lengthen the folds. He noticed that her arms had a marvellous pale rose-color, and her bosom and shoulders the transparent reflections of pearl or alabaster.
"Eunice," said he, "has the man come to Tiresias whom thou didst mention yesterday?"
"He has, lord."
"What is his name?"
"Who is he?"
"A physician, a sage, a soothsayer, who knows how to read people's fates and predict the future."
"Has he predicted the future to thee?"
Eunice was covered with a blush which gave a rosy color to her ears and her neck even.
"What has he predicted?"
"That pain and happiness would meet me."
"Pain met thee yesterday at the hands of Tiresias; hence happiness also should come."
"It has come, lord, already."
"I remain," said she in a whisper.
Petronius put his hand on her golden head.
"Thou hast arranged the folds well to-day, and I am satisfied with thee, Eunice."
Under that touch her eyes were mist-covered in one instant from happiness, and her bosom began to heave quickly.
Petronius and Vinicius passed into the atrium, where Chilo Chilonides was waiting. When he saw them, he made a low bow. A smile came to the lips of Petronius at thought of his suspicion of yesterday, that this man might be Eunice's lover. The man who was standing before him could not be any one's lover. In that marvellous figure there was something both foul and ridiculous. He was not old; in his dirty beard and curly locks a gray hair shone here and there. He had a lank stomach and stooping shoulders, so that at the first cast of the eye he appeared to be hunchbacked; above that hump rose a large head, with the face of a monkey and also of a fox; the eye was penetrating. His yellowish complexion was varied with pimples; and his nose, covered with them completely, might indicate too great a love for the bottle. His neglected apparel, composed of a dark tunic of goat's wool and a mantle of similar material with holes in it, showed real or simulated poverty. At sight of him, Homer's Thersites came to the mind of Petronius. Hence, answering with a wave of the hand to his bow, he said,—
"A greeting, divine Thersites! How are the lumps which Ulysses gave thee at Troy, and what is he doing himself in the Elysian Fields?"
"Noble lord," answered Chilo Chilonides, "Ulysses, the wisest of the dead, sends a greeting through me to Petronius, the wisest of the living, and the request to cover my lumps with a new mantle."
"By Hecate Triformis!" exclaimed Petronius, "the answer deserves a new mantle."
But further conversation was interrupted by the impatient Vinicius, who inquired directly,—"Dost thou know clearly what thou art undertaking?"
"When two households in two lordly mansions speak of naught else, and when half Rome is repeating the news, it is not difficult to know," answered Chilo. "The night before last a maiden named Lygia, but specially Callina, and reared in the house of Aulus Plautius, was intercepted. Thy slaves were conducting her, O lord, from Caesar's palace to thy 'insula,' and I undertake to find her in the city, or, if she has left the city—which is little likely—to indicate to thee, noble tribune, whither she has fled and where she has hidden."
"That is well," said Vinicius, who was pleased with the precision of the answer. "What means hast thou to do this?"
Chilo smiled cunningly. "Thou hast the means, lord; I have the wit only."
Petronius smiled also, for he was perfectly satisfied with his guest.
"That man can find the maiden," thought he. Meanwhile Vinicius wrinkled his joined brows, and said,—"Wretch, in case thou deceive me for gain, I will give command to beat thee with clubs."
"I am a philosopher, lord, and a philosopher cannot be greedy of gain, especially of such as thou hast just offered magnanimously."
"Oh, art thou a philosopher?" inquired Petronius. "Eunice told me that thou art a physician and a soothsayer. Whence knowest thou Eunice?"
"She came to me for aid, for my fame struck her ears."
"What aid did she want?"
"Aid in love, lord. She wanted to be cured of unrequited love."
"Didst thou cure her?"
"I did more, lord. I gave her an amulet which secures mutuality. In Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, is a temple, O lord, in which is preserved a zone of Venus. I gave her two threads from that zone, enclosed in an almond shell."
"And didst thou make her pay well for them?"
"One can never pay enough for mutuality, and I, who lack two fingers on my right hand, am collecting money to buy a slave copyist to write down my thoughts, and preserve my wisdom for mankind."
"Of what school art thou, divine sage?"
"I am a Cynic, lord, because I wear a tattered mantle; I am a Stoic, because I bear poverty patiently; I am a Peripatetic, for, not owning a litter, I go on foot from one wine-shop to another, and on the way teach those who promise to pay for a pitcher of wine."
"And at the pitcher thou dost become a rhetor?"
"Heraclitus declares that 'all is fluid,' and canst thou deny, lord, that wine is fluid?"
"And he declared that fire is a divinity; divinity, therefore, is blushing in thy nose."
"But the divine Diogenes from Apollonia declared that air is the essence of things, and the warmer the air the more perfect the beings it makes, and from the warmest come the souls of sages. And since the autumns are cold, a genuine sage should warm his soul with wine; and wouldst thou hinder, O lord, a pitcher of even the stuff produced in Capua or Telesia from bearing heat to all the bones of a perishable human body?"
"Chilo Chilonides, where is thy birthplace?"
"On the Euxine Pontus. I come from Mesembria."
"Oh, Chilo, thou art great!"
"And unrecognized," said the sage, pensively.
But Vinicius was impatient again. In view of the hope which had gleamed before him, he wished Chilo to set out at once on his work; hence the whole conversation seemed to him simply a vain loss of time, and he was angry at Petronius.
"When wilt thou begin the search?" asked he, turning to the Greek.
"I have begun it already," answered Chilo. "And since I am here, and answering thy affable question, I am searching yet. Only have confidence, honored tribune, and know that if thou wert to lose the string of thy sandal I should find it, or him who picked it up on the street."
"Hast thou been employed in similar services?" asked Petronius.
The Greek raised his eyes. "To-day men esteem virtue and wisdom too low, for a philosopher not to be forced to seek other means of living."
"What are thy means?"
"To know everything, and to serve those with news who are in need of it."
"And who pay for it?"
"Ah, lord, I need to buy a copyist. Otherwise my wisdom will perish with me."
"If thou hast not collected enough yet to buy a sound mantle, thy services cannot be very famous."
"Modesty hinders me. But remember, lord, that to-day there are not such benefactors as were numerous formerly; and for whom it was as pleasant to cover service with gold as to swallow an oyster from Puteoli. No; my services are not small, but the gratitude of mankind is small. At times, when a valued slave escapes, who will find him, if not the only son of my father? When on the walls there are inscriptions against the divine Poppaea, who will indicate those who composed them? Who will discover at the book-stalls verses against Caesar? Who will declare what is said in the houses of knights and senators? Who will carry letters which the writers will not intrust to slaves? Who will listen to news at the doors of barbers? For whom have wine-shops and bake-shops no secret? In whom do slaves trust? Who can see through every house, from the atrium to the garden? Who knows every street, every alley and hiding-place? Who knows what they say in the baths, in the Circus, in the markets, in the fencing-schools, in slave-dealers' sheds, and even in the arenas?"
"By the gods! enough, noble sage!" cried Petronius; "we are drowning in thy services, thy virtue, thy wisdom, and thy eloquence. Enough! We wanted to know who thou art, and we know!"
But Vinicius was glad, for he thought that this man, like a hound, once put on the trail, would not stop till he had found out the hiding-place.
"Well," said he, "dost thou need indications?"
"I need arms."
"Of what kind?" asked Vinicius, with astonishment.
The Greek stretched out one hand; with the other he made the gesture of counting money.
"Such are the times, lord," said he, with a sigh.
"Thou wilt be the ass, then," said Petronius, "to win the fortress with bags of gold?"
"I am only a poor philosopher," answered Chilo, with humility; "ye have the gold."
Vinicius tossed him a purse, which the Greek caught in the air, though two fingers were lacking on his right hand.
He raised his head then, and said: "I know more than thou thinkest. I have not come empty-handed. I know that Aulus did not intercept the maiden, for I have spoken with his slaves. I know that she is not on the Palatine, for all are occupied with the infant Augusta; and perhaps I may even divine why ye prefer to search for the maiden with my help rather than that of the city guards and Caesar's soldiers. I know that her escape was effected by a servant,—a slave coming from the same country as she. He could not find assistance among slaves, for slaves all stand together, and would not act against thy slaves. Only a co-religionist would help him."
"Dost hear, Vinicius?" broke in Petronius. "Have I not said the same, word for word, to thee?"
"That is an honor for me," said Chilo. "The maiden, lord," continued he, turning again to Vinicius, "worships beyond a doubt the same divinity as that most virtuous of Roman ladies, that genuine matron, Pomponia. I have heard this, too, that Pomponia was tried in her own house for worshipping some kind of foreign god, but I could not learn from her slaves what god that is, or what his worshippers are called. If I could learn that, I should go to them, become the most devoted among them, and gain their confidence. But thou, lord, who hast passed, as I know too, a number of days in the house of the noble Aulus, canst thou not give me some information thereon?"
"I cannot," said Vinicius.
"Ye have asked me long about various things, noble lords, and I have answered the questions; permit me now to give one. Hast thou not seen, honored tribune, some statuette, some offering, some token, some amulet on Pomponia or thy divine Lygia? Hast thou not seen them making signs to each other, intelligible to them alone?"
"Signs? Wait! Yes; I saw once that Lygia made a fish on the sand."
"A fish? A-a! O-o-o! Did she do that once, or a number of times?"
"And art thou certain, lord, that she outlined a fish? O-o?"
"Yes," answered Vinicius, with roused curiosity. "Dost thou divine what that means?"
"Do I divine!" exclaimed Chilo. And bowing in sign of farewell, he added: "May Fortune scatter on you both equally all gifts, worthy lords!"
"Give command to bring thee a mantle," said Petronius to him at parting.
"Ulysses gives thee thanks for Thersites," said the Greek; and bowing a second time, he walked out.
"What wilt thou say of that noble sage?" inquired Petronius.
"This, that he will find Lygia," answered Vinicius, with delight; "but I will say, too, that were there a kingdom of rogues he might be the king of it."
"Most certainly. I shall make a nearer acquaintance with this stoic; meanwhile I must give command to perfume the atrium."
But Chilo Chilonides, wrapping his new mantle about him, threw up on his palm, under its folds, the purse received from Vinicius, and admired both its weight and its jingle. Walking on slowly, and looking around to see if they were not looking at him from the house, he passed the portico of Livia, and, reaching the corner of the Clivus Virbius, turned toward the Subura.
"I must go to Sporus," said he to himself, "and pour out a little wine to Fortuna. I have found at last what I have been seeking this long time. He is young, irascible, bounteous as mines in Cyprus, and ready to give half his fortune for that Lygian linnet. Just such a man have I been seeking this long time. It is needful, however, to be on one's guard with him, for the wrinkling of his brow forebodes no good. Ah! the wolf-whelps lord it over the world to-day! I should fear that Petronius less. O gods! but the trade of procurer pays better at present than virtue. Ah! she drew a fish on the sand! If I know what that means, may I choke myself with a piece of goat's cheese! But I shall know. Fish live under water, and searching under water is more difficult than on land, ergo he will pay me separately for this fish. Another such purse and I might cast aside the beggar's wallet and buy myself a slave. But what wouldst thou say, Chilo, were I to advise thee to buy not a male but a female slave? I know thee; I know that thou wouldst consent. If she were beautiful, like Eunice, for instance, thou thyself wouldst grow young near her, and at the same time wouldst have from her a good and certain income. I sold to that poor Eunice two threads from my old mantle. She is dull; but if Petronius were to give her to me, I would take her. Yes, yes, Chilo Chilonides, thou hast lost father and mother, thou art an orphan; therefore buy to console thee even a female slave. She must indeed live somewhere, therefore Vinicius will hire her a dwelling, in which thou too mayest find shelter; she must dress, hence Vinicius will pay for the dress; and must eat, hence he will support her. Och! what a hard life! Where are the times in which for an obolus a man could buy as much pork and beans as he could hold in both hands, or a piece of goat's entrails as long as the arm of a boy twelve years old, and filled with blood? But here is that villain Sporus! In the wine-shop it will be easier to learn something."
Thus conversing, he entered the wine-shop and ordered a pitcher of "dark" for himself. Seeing the sceptical look of the shopkeeper, he took a gold coin from his purse, and, putting it on the table, said,—"Sporus, I toiled to-day with Seneca from dawn till midday, and this is what my friend gave me at parting."
The plump eyes of Sporus became plumper still at this sight, and the wine was soon before Chilo. Moistening his fingers in it, he drew a fish on the table, and said,—"Knowest what that means?"
"A fish? Well, a fish,—yes, that's a fish."
"Thou art dull; though thou dost add so much water to the wine that thou mightst find a fish in it. This is a symbol which, in the language of philosophers, means 'the smile of fortune.' If thou hadst divined it, thou too mightst have made a fortune. Honor philosophy, I tell thee, or I shall change my wine-shop,—an act to which Petronius, my personal friend, has been urging me this long time."
FOR a number of days after the interview, Chilo did not show himself anywhere. Vinicius, since he had learned from Acte that Lygia loved him, was a hundred times more eager to find her, and began himself to search. He was unwilling, and also unable, to ask aid of Caesar, who was in great fear because of the illness of the infant Augusta.
Sacrifices in the temples did not help, neither did prayers and offerings, nor the art of physicians, nor all the means of enchantment to which they turned finally. In a week the child died. Mourning fell upon the court and Rome. Caesar, who at the birth of the infant was wild with delight, was wild now from despair, and, confining himself in his apartments, refused food for two days; and though the palace was swarming with senators and Augustians, who hastened with marks of sorrow and sympathy, he denied audience to every one. The senate assembled in an extraordinary session, at which the dead child was pronounced divine. It was decided to rear to her a temple and appoint a special priest to her service. New sacrifices were offered in other temples in honor of the deceased; statues of her were cast from precious metals; and her funeral was one immense solemnity, during which the people wondered at the unrestrained marks of grief which Caesar exhibited; they wept with him, stretched out their hands for gifts, and above all amused themselves with the unparalleled spectacle.
That death alarmed Petronius. All knew in Rome that Poppaea ascribed it to enchantment. The physicians, who were thus enabled to explain the vanity of their efforts, supported her; the priests, whose sacrifices proved powerless, did the same, as well as the sorcerers, who were trembling for their lives, and also the people. Petronius was glad now that Lygia had fled; for he wished no evil to Aulus and Pomponia, and he wished good to himself and Vinicius; therefore when the cypress, set out before the Palatine as a sign of mourning, was removed, he went to the reception appointed for the senators and Augustians to learn how far Nero had lent ear to reports of spells, and to neutralize results which might come from his belief.
Knowing Nero, he thought, too, that though he did not believe in charms, he would feign belief, so as to magnify his own suffering, and take vengeance on some one, finally, to escape the suspicion that the gods had begun to punish him for crimes. Petronius did not think that Caesar could love really and deeply even his own child; though he loved her passionately, he felt certain, however, that he would exaggerate his suffering. He was not mistaken. Nero listened, with stony face and fixed eyes, to the consolation offered by knights and senators. It was evident that, even if he suffered, he was thinking of this: What impression would his suffering make upon others? He was posing as a Niobe, and giving an exhibition of parental sorrow, as an actor would give it on the stage. He had not the power even then to endure in his silent and as it were petrified sorrow, for at moments he made a gesture as if to cast the dust of the earth on his head, and at moments he groaned deeply; but seeing Petronius, he sprang up and cried in a tragic voice, so that all present could hear him,—"Eheu! And thou art guilty of her death! At thy advice the evil spirit entered these walls,—the evil spirit which, with one look, drew the life from her breast! Woe is me! Would that my eyes had not seen the light of Helios! Woe is me! Eheu! eheu!"
And raising his voice still more, he passed into a despairing shout; but Petronius resolved at that moment to put everything on one cast of the dice; hence, stretching out his hand, he seized the silk kerchief which Nero wore around his neck always, and, placing it on the mouth of the Imperator, said solemnly,—"Lord, Rome and the world are benumbed with pain; but do thou preserve thy voice for us!"
Those present were amazed; Nero himself was amazed for a moment. Petronius alone was unmoved; he knew too well what he was doing. He remembered, besides, that Terpnos and Diodorus had a direct order to close Caesar's mouth whenever he raised his voice too much and exposed it to danger.
"O Caesar!" continued he, with the same seriousness and sorrow, "we have suffered an immeasurable loss; let even this treasure of consolation remain to us!"
Nero's face quivered, and after a while tears came from his eyes. All at once he rested his hands on Petronius's shoulders, and, dropping his head on his breast, began to repeat, amid sobs,
"Thou alone of all thought of this,—thou alone, O Petronius! thou alone!"
Tigellinus grew yellow from envy; but Petronius continued,—
"Go to Antium! there she came to the world, there joy flowed in on thee, there solace will come to thee. Let the sea air freshen thy divine throat; let thy breast breathe the salt dampness. We, thy devoted ones, will follow thee everywhere; and when we assuage thy pain with friendship, thou wilt comfort us with song.
"True!" answered Nero, sadly, "I will write a hymn in her honor, and compose music for it."
"And then thou wilt find the warm sun in Baiae."
"And afterward—forgetfulness in Greece."
"In the birthplace of poetry and song."
And his stony, gloomy state of mind passed away gradually, as clouds pass that are covering the sun; and then a conversation began which, though full of sadness, yet was full of plans for the future,—touching a journey, artistic exhibitions, and even the receptions required at the promised coming of Tiridates, King of Armenia. Tigellinus tried, it is true, to bring forward again the enchantment; but Petronius, sure now of victory, took up the challenge directly.