"Give the letter, lord,—give the letter!"
And snatching the tablet which Vinicius handed him, he made one obeisance to the Christians, another to the sick man, pushed along sidewise by the very wall, and hurried out through the door. In the garden, when darkness surrounded him, fear raised the hair on his head again, for he felt sure that Ursus would rush out and kill him in the night. He would have run with all his might, but his legs would not move; next moment they were perfectly uncontrollable, for Ursus stood near him really.
Chilo fell with his face to the earth, and began to groan: "Urban—in Christ's name"—
But Urban said: "Fear not. The Apostle commanded me to lead thee out beyond the gate, lest thou might go astray in the darkness, and, if strength failed thee, to conduct thee home."
"What dost thou say?" asked Chilo, raising his face. "What? Thou wilt not kill me?"
"No, I will not; and if I seized thee too roughly and harmed a bone in thee, pardon me."
"Help me to rise," said the Greek. "Thou wilt not kill me? Thou wilt not? Take me to the Street; I will go farther alone."
Ursus raised him as he might a feather, and placed him on his feet; then he conducted him through the dark corridor to the second court. From there was a passage to the entrance and the street. In the corridor Chilo repeated again in his soul, "It is all over with me!" Only when he found himself on the street did he recover and say, "I can go on alone."
"Peace be with thee."
"And with thee! and with thee! Let me draw breath."
And after Ursus had gone, he breathed with a full breast. He felt his waist and hips, as if to convince himself that he was living, and then moved forward with hurried step.
"But why did they not kill me?" And in spite of all his talk with Euricius about Christian teaching, in spite of his conversation at the river with Urban, and in spite of all that he had heard in Ostrianum, he could find no answer to that question.
NEITHER could Vinicius discover the cause of what had happened; and in the bottom of his soul he was almost as much astonished as Chilo. That those people should treat him as they had, and, instead of avenging his attack, dress his wounds carefully, he ascribed partly to the doctrine which they confessed, more to Lygia, and a little, also, to his great significance. But their conduct with Chilo simply went beyond his understanding of man's power of forgiveness. And the question thrust itself into his mind: Why did they not kill the Greek? They might have killed him with impunity. Ursus would have buried him in the garden, or borne him in the dark to the Tiber, which during that period of night-murders, committed by Caesar himself even, cast up human bodies so frequently in the morning that no one inquired whence they came. To his thinking, the Christians had not only the power, but the right to kill Chilo. True, pity was not entirely a stranger to that world to which the young patrician belonged. The Athenians raised an altar to pity, and opposed for a long time the introduction of gladiatorial combats into Athens. In Rome itself the conquered received pardon sometimes, as, for instance, Calicratus, king of the Britons, who, taken prisoner in the time of Claudius, and provided for by him bountifully, dwelt in the city in freedom. But vengeance for a personal wrong seemed to Vinicius, as to all, proper and justified. The neglect of it was entirely opposed to his spirit. True, he had heard in Ostrianum that one should love even enemies; that, however, he considered as a kind of theory without application in life. And now this passed through his head: that perhaps they had not killed Chilo because the day was among festivals, or was in some period of the moon during which it was not proper for Christians to kill a man. He had heard that there are days among various nations on which it is not permitted to begin war even. But why, in such a case, did they not deliver the Greek up to justice? Why did the Apostle say that if a man offended seven times, it was necessary to forgive him seven times; and why did Glaucus say to Chilo, "May God forgive thee, as I forgive thee"?
Chilo had done him the most terrible wrong that one man could do another. At the very thought of how he would act with a man who killed Lygia, for instance, the heart of Vinicius seethed up, as does water in a caldron; there were no torments which he would not inflict in his vengeance! But Glaucus had forgiven; Ursus, too, had forgiven,—Ursus, who might in fact kill whomever he wished in Rome with perfect impunity, for all he needed was to kill the king of the grove in Nemi, and take his place. Could the gladiator holding that office to which he had succeeded only by killing the previous "king," resist the man whom Croton could not resist? There was only one answer to all these questions: that they refrained from killing him through a goodness so great that the like of it had not been in the world up to that time, and through an unbounded love of man, which commands to forget one's self, one's wrongs, one's happiness and misfortune, and live for others. What reward those people were to receive for this, Vinicius heard in Ostrianum, but he could not understand it. He felt, however, that the earthly life connected with the duty of renouncing everything good and rich for the benefit of others must be wretched. So in what he thought of the Christians at that moment, besides the greatest astonishment, there was pity, and as it were a shade of contempt. It seemed to him that they were sheep which earlier or later must be eaten by wolves; his Roman nature could yield no recognition to people who let themselves be devoured. This one thing struck him, however,—that after Chilo's departure the faces of all were bright with a certain deep joy. The Apostle approached Glaucus, placed his hand on his head, and said,—"In thee Christ has triumphed."
The other raised his eyes, which were full of hope, and as bright with joy as if some great unexpected happiness had been poured on him. Vinicius, who could understand only joy or delight born of vengeance, looked on him with eyes staring from fever, and somewhat as he would on a madman. He saw, however, and saw not without internal indignation, that Lygia pressed her lips of a queen to the hand of that man, who had the appearance of a slave; and it seemed to him that the order of the world was inverted utterly. Next Ursus told how he had conducted Chilo to the street, and had asked forgiveness for the harm which he might have done his bones; for this the Apostle blessed him also. Crispus declared that it was a day of great victory. Hearing of this victory, Vinicius lost the thread of his thought altogether.
But when Lygia gave him a cooling draught again, he held her hand for a moment, and asked,—"Then must thou also forgive me?"
"We are Christians; it is not permitted us to keep anger in the heart."
"Lygia," said he, "whoever thy God is, I honor Him only because He is thine."
"Thou wilt honor Him in thy heart when thou lovest Him."
"Only because He is thine," repeated Vinicius, in a fainter voice; and he closed his eyes, for weakness had mastered him again.
Lygia went out, but returned after a time, and bent over him to learn if he were sleeping. Vinicius, feeling that she was near, opened his eyes and smiled. She placed her hand over them lightly, as if to incline him to slumber. A great sweetness seized him then; but soon he felt more grievously ill than before, and was very ill in reality. Night had come, and with it a more violent fever. He could not sleep, and followed Lygia with his eyes wherever she went.
At times he fell into a kind of doze, in which he saw and heard everything which happened around him, but in which reality was mingled with feverish dreams. It seemed to him that in some old, deserted cemetery stood a temple, in the form of a tower, in which Lygia was priestess. He did not take his eyes from her, but saw her on the summit of the tower, with a lute in her hands, all in the light, like those priestesses who in the night-time sing hymns in honor of the moon, and whom he had seen in the Orient. He himself was climbing up winding steps, with great effort, to bear her away with him. Behind was creeping up Chilo, with teeth chattering from terror, and repeating, "Do not do that, lord; she is a priestess, for whom He will take vengeance." Vinicius did not know who that He was, but he understood that he himself was going to commit some sacrilege, and he felt a boundless fear also. But when he went to the balustrade surrounding the summit of the tower, the Apostle with his silvery beard stood at Lygia's side on a sudden, and said:
"Do not raise a hand; she belongs to me." Then he moved forward with her, on a path formed by rays from the moon, as if on a path made to heaven. He stretched his hands toward them, and begged both to take him into their company.
Here he woke, became conscious, and looked before him. The lamp on the tall staff shone more dimly, but still cast a light sufficiently clear. All were sitting in front of the fire warming themselves, for the night was chilly, and the chamber rather cold. Vinicius saw the breath coming as steam from their lips. In the midst of them sat the Apostle; at his knees, on a low footstool, was Lygia; farther on, Glaucus, Crispus, Miriam, and at the edge, on one side Ursus, on the other Miriam's son Nazarius, a youth with a handsome face, and long, dark hair reaching down to his shoulders.
Lygia listened with eyes raised to the Apostle, and every head was turned toward him, while he told something in an undertone. Vinicius gazed at Peter with a certain superstitious awe, hardly inferior to that terror which he felt during the fever dream. The thought passed through his mind that that dream had touched truth; that the gray-haired man there, freshly come from distant shores, would take Lygia from him really, and take her somewhere away by unknown paths. He felt sure also that the old man was speaking of him, perhaps telling how to separate him from Lygia, for it seemed to him impossible that any one could speak of aught else. Hence, collecting all his presence of mind, he listened to Peter's words.
But he was mistaken altogether, for the Apostle was speaking of Christ again.
"They live only through that name," thought Vinicius.
The old man was describing the seizure of Christ. "A company came, and servants of the priest to seize Him. When the Saviour asked whom they were seeking, they answered, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' But when He said to them, 'I am He,' they fell on the ground, and dared not raise a hand on Him. Only after the second inquiry did they seize Him."
Here the Apostle stopped, stretched his hands toward the fire and continued:—"The night was cold, like this one, but the heart in me was seething; so, drawing a sword to defend Him, I cut an ear from the servant of the high-priest. I would have defended Him more than my own life had He not said to me, 'Put thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?' Then they seized and bound Him."
When he had spoken thus far, Peter placed his palm on his forehead, and was silent, wishing before he went further to stop the crowd of his recollections. But Ursus, unable to restrain himself, sprang to his feet, trimmed the light on the staff till the sparks scattered in golden rain and the flame shot up with more vigor. Then he sat down, and exclaimed:
"No matter what happened. I—"
He stopped suddenly, for Lygia had put her finger to her lips. But he breathed loudly, and it was clear that a storm was in his soul; and though he was ready at all times to kiss the feet of the Apostle, that act was one he could not accept; if some one in his presence had raised hands on the Redeemer, if he had been with Him on that night—Oi! splinters would have shot from the soldiers, the servants of the priest, and the officials. Tears came to his eyes at the very thought of this, and because of his sorrow and mental struggle; for on the one hand he thought that he would not only have defended the Redeemer, but would have called Lygians to his aid,—splendid fellows,—and on the other, if he had acted thus he would have disobeyed the Redeemer, and hindered the salvation of man. For this reason he could not keep back his tears.
After a while Peter took his palm from his forehead, and resumed the narrative. But Vinicius was overpowered by a new feverish, waking dream. What he heard now was in his mind mixed up with what the Apostle had told the night previous in Ostrianum, of that day in which Christ appeared on the shore of the sea of Tiberius. He saw a sheet of water broadly spread out; on it the boat of a fisherman, and in the boat Peter and Lygia. He himself was moving with all his might after that boat, but pain in his broken arm prevented him from reaching it. The wind hurled waves in his eyes, he began to sink, and called with entreating voice for rescue. Lygia knelt down then before the Apostle, who turned his boat, and reached an oar, which Vinicius seized: with their assistance he entered the boat and fell on the bottom of it.
It seemed to him, then, that he stood up, and saw a multitude of people sailing after them. Waves covered their heads with foam; in the whirl only the hands of a few could be seen; but Peter saved the drowning time after time, and gathered them into his boat, which grew larger, as if by a miracle. Soon crowds filled it, as numerous as those which were collected in Ostrianum, and then still greater crowds. Vinicius wondered how they could find place there, and he was afraid that they would sink to the bottom. But Lygia pacified him by showing him a light on the distant shore toward which they were sailing. These dream pictures of Vinicius were blended again with descriptions which he had heard in Ostrianum, from the lips of the Apostle, as to how Christ had appeared on the lake once. So that he saw now in that light on the shore a certain form toward which Peter was steering, and as he approached it the weather grew calmer, the water grew smoother, the light became greater. The crowd began to sing sweet hymns; the air was filled with the odor of nard; the play of water formed a rainbow, as if from the bottom of the lake lilies and roses were looking, and at last the boat struck its breast safely against the sand. Lygia took his hand then, and said, "Come, I will lead thee!" and she led him to the light.
Vinicius woke again; but his dreaming ceased slowly, and he did not recover at once the sense of reality. It seemed for a time to him that he was still on the lake, and surrounded by crowds, among which, not knowing the reason himself, he began to look for Petronius, and was astonished not to find him. The bright light from the chimney, at which there was no one at that time, brought him completely to his senses. Olive sticks were burning slowly under the rosy ashes; but the splinters of pine, which evidently had been put there some moments before, shot up a bright flame, and in the light of this, Vinicius saw Lygia, sitting not far from his bedside.
The sight of her touched him to the depth of his soul. He remembered that she had spent the night before in Ostrianum, and had busied herself the whole day in nursing him, and now when all had gone to rest, she was the only one watching. It was easy to divine that she must be wearied, for while sitting motionless her eyes were closed. Vinicius knew not whether she was sleeping or sunk in thought. He looked at her profile, at her drooping lashes, at her hands lying on her knees; and in his pagan head the idea began to hatch with difficulty that at the side of naked beauty, confident, and proud of Greek and Roman symmetry, there is another in the world, new, immensely pure, in which a soul has its dwelling.
He could not bring himself so far as to call it Christian, but, thinking of Lygia, he could not separate her from the religion which she confessed. He understood, even, that if all the others had gone to rest, and she alone were watching, she whom he had injured, it was because her religion commanded her to watch. But that thought, which filled him with wonder for the religion, was disagreeable to him. He would rather that Lygia acted thus out of love for him, his face, his eyes, his statuesque form,—in a word for reasons because of which more than once snow-white Grecian and Roman arms had been wound around his neck.
Still he felt all at once, that, were she like other women, something would be lacking in her. He was amazed, and knew not what was happening in him; for he saw that new feelings of some kind were rising in him, new likings, strange to the world in which he had lived hitherto.
She opened her eyes then, and, seeing that Vinicius was gazing at her, she approached him and said,—"I am with thee."
"I saw thy soul in a dream," replied he.
NEXT morning he woke up weak, but with a cool head and free of fever. It seemed to him that a whispered conversation had roused him; but when he opened his eyes, Lygia was not there. Ursus, stooping before the chimney, was raking apart the gray ashes, and seeking live coals beneath them. When he found some, he began to blow, not with his mouth, but as it were with the bellows of a blacksmith. Vinicius, remembering how that man had crushed Croton the day before, examined with attention befitting a lover of the arena his gigantic back, which resembled the back of a Cyclops, and his limbs strong as columns.
"Thanks to Mercury that my neck was not broken by him," thought Vinicius. "By Pollux! if the other Lygians are like this one, the Danubian legions will have heavy work some time!"
But aloud he said, "Hei, slave!"
Ursus drew his head out of the chimney, and, smiling in a manner almost friendly, said,—"God give thee a good day, lord, and good health; but I am a free man, not a slave."
On Vinicius who wished to question Ursus touching Lygia's birthplace, these words produced a certain pleasant impression; for discourse with a free though a common man was less disagreeable to his Roman and patrician pride, than with a slave, in whom neither law nor custom recognized human nature.
"Then thou dost not belong to Aulus?" asked he.
"No, lord, I serve Callina, as I served her mother, of my own will."
Here he hid his head again in the chimney, to blow the coals, on which he had placed some wood. When he had finished, he took it out and said,—"With us there are no slaves."
"Where is Lygia?" inquired Vinicius.
"She has gone out, and I am to cook food for thee. She watched over thee the whole night."
"Why didst thou not relieve her?"
"Because she wished to watch, and it is for me to obey." Here his eyes grew gloomy, and after a while he added:
"If I had disobeyed her, thou wouldst not be living."
"Art thou sorry for not having killed me?"
"No, lord. Christ has not commanded us to kill."
"But Atacinus and Croton?"
"I could not do otherwise," muttered Ursus. And he looked with regret on his hands, which had remained pagan evidently, though his soul had accepted the cross. Then he put a pot on the crane, and fixed his thoughtful eyes on the fire.
"That was thy fault, lord," said he at last. "Why didst thou raise thy hand against her, a king's daughter?"
Pride boiled up, at the first moment, in Vinicius, because a common man and a barbarian had not merely dared to speak to him thus familiarly, but to blame him in addition. To those uncommon and improbable things which had met him since yesterday, was added another. But being weak and without his slaves, he restrained himself, especially since a wish to learn some details of Lygia's life gained the upper hand in him.
When he had calmed himself, therefore, he inquired about the war of the Lygians against Vannius and the Suevi. Ursus was glad to converse, but could not add much that was new to what in his time Aulus Plautius had told. Ursus had not been in battle, for he had attended the hostages to the camp of Atelius Hister. He knew only that the Lygians had beaten the Suevi and the Yazygi, but that their leader and king had fallen from the arrows of the Yazygi. Immediately after they received news that the Semnones had set fire to forests on their boundaries, they returned in haste to avenge the wrong, and the hostages remained with Atelius, who ordered at first to give them kingly honors. Afterward Lygia's mother died. The Roman commander knew not what to do with the child. Ursus wished to return with her to their own country, but the road was unsafe because of wild beasts and wild tribes. When news came that an embassy of Lygians had visited Pomponius, offering him aid against the Marcomani, Hister sent him with Lygia to Pomponius. When they came to him they learned, however, that no ambassadors had been there, and in that way they remained in the camp; whence Pomponius took them to Rome, and at the conclusion of his triumph he gave the king's daughter to Pomponia Graecina.
Though only certain small details of this narrative had been unknown to Vinicius, he listened with pleasure, for his enormous pride of family was pleased that an eye-witness had confirmed Lygia's royal descent. As a king's daughter she might occupy a position at Caesar's court equal to the daughters of the very first families, all the more since the nation whose ruler her father had been, had not warred with Rome so far, and, though barbarian, it might become terrible; for, according to Atelius Hister himself, it possessed an immense force of warriors. Ursus, moreover, confirmed this completely.
"We live in the woods," said he, in answer to Vinicius, "but we have so much land that no man knows where the end is, and there are many people on it. There are also wooden towns in the forest, in which there is great plenty; for what the Semnones, the Marcomani, the Vandals, and the Quadi plunder through the world, we take from them. They dare not come to us; but when the wind blows from their side, they burn our forests. We fear neither them nor the Roman Caesar."
"The gods gave Rome dominion over the earth," said Vinicius severely.
"The gods are evil spirits," replied Ursus, with simplicity, "and where there are no Romans, there is no supremacy."
Here he fixed the fire, and said, as if to himself,—"When Caesar took Callina to the palace, and I thought that harm might meet her, I wanted to go to the forest and bring Lygians to help the king's daughter. And Lygians would have moved toward the Danube, for they are virtuous people though pagan. There I should have given them 'good tidings.' But as it is, if ever Callina returns to Pomponia Graecina I will bow down to her for permission to go to them; for Christus was born far away, and they have not even heard of Him. He knew better than I where He should be born; but if He had come to the world with us, in the forests, we would not have tortured Him to death, that is certain. We would have taken care of the Child, and guarded Him, so that never should He want for game, mushrooms, beaver-skins, or amber. And what we plundered from the Suevi and the Marcomani we would have given Him, so that He might have comfort and plenty."
Thus speaking, he put near the fire the vessel with food for Vinicius, and was silent. His thoughts wandered evidently, for a time yet, through the Lygian wildernesses, till the liquid began to boil; then he poured it into a shallow plate, and, cooling it properly, said,—"Glaucus advises thee, lord, to move even thy sound arm as little as possible; Callina has commanded me to give thee food."
Lygia commanded! There was no answer to that. It did not even come to Vinicius's head to oppose her will, just as if she had been the daughter of Caesar or a goddess. He uttered not a word, therefore; and Ursus, sitting near his bed, took out the liquid with a small cup, and put it to his mouth. He did this so carefully, and with such a kindly smile, that Vinicius could not believe his own eyes, could not think him the same terrible Titan who the day before had crushed Croton, and, rushing on him like a storm, would have torn him to pieces but for Lygia's pity. The young patrician, for the first time in life, began to ponder over this: What can take place in the breast of a simple man, a barbarian, and a servant?
But Ursus proved to be a nurse as awkward as painstaking; the cup was lost among his herculean fingers so completely that there was no place left for the mouth of the sick man. After a few fruitless efforts the giant was troubled greatly, and said,—"Li! it would be easier to lead an aurochs out of a snare."
The anxiety of the Lygian amused Vinicius, but his remark did not interest him less. He had seen in circuses the terrible urus, brought from wildernesses of the north, against which the most daring bestiarii went with dread, and which yielded only to elephants in size and strength.
"Hast thou tried to take such beasts by the horns?" inquired he, with astonishment.
"Till the twentieth winter passed over me, I was afraid," answered Ursus; "but after that it happened."
And he began to feed Vinicius still more awkwardly than before.
"I must ask Miriam or Nazarius," said he.
But now Lygia's pale face appeared from behind the curtain.
"I will assist directly," said she. And after a while she came from the cubiculum, in which she had been preparing to sleep, as it seemed, for she was in a single close tunic, called by the ancients capitium, covering the breast completely, and her hair was unbound. Vinicius, whose heart beat with more quickness at sight of her, began to upbraid her for not thinking of sleep yet; but she answered joyously,—"I was just preparing to sleep, but first I will take the place of Ursus."
She took the cup, and, sitting on the edge of the bed, began to give food to Vinicius, who felt at once overcome and delighted. When she inclined toward him, the warmth of her body struck him, and her unbound hair fell on his breast. He grew pale from the impression; but in the confusion and impulse of desires he felt also that that was a head dear above all and magnified above all, in comparison with which the whole world was nothing. At first he had desired her; now he began to love her with a full breast. Before that, as generally in life and in feeling, he had been, like all people of that time, a blind, unconditional egotist, who thought only of himself; at present he began to think of her.
After a while, therefore, he refused further nourishment; and though he found inexhaustible delight in her presence and in looking at her, he said,—"Enough! Go to rest, my divine one."
"Do not address me in that way," answered Lygia; "it is not proper for me to hear such words."
She smiled at him, however, and said that sleep had fled from her, that she felt no toil, that she would not go to rest till Glaucus came. He listened to her words as to music; his heart rose with increasing delight, increasing gratitude, and his thought was struggling to show her that gratitude.
"Lygia," said he, after a moment of silence, "I did not know thee hitherto. But I know now that I wished to attain thee by a false way; hence I say, return to Pomponia Graecina, and be assured that in future no hand will be raised against thee."
Her face became sad on a sudden. "I should be happy," answered she, "could I look at her, even from a distance; but I cannot return to her now."
"Why?" inquired Vinicius, with astonishment.
"We Christians know, through Acte, what is done on the Palatine. Hast thou not heard that Caesar, soon after my flight and before his departure for Naples, summoned Aulus and Pomponia, and, thinking that they had helped me, threatened them with his anger? Fortunately Aulus was able to say to him, 'Thou knowest, lord, that a lie has never passed my lips; I swear to thee now that we did not help her to escape, and we do not know, as thou dost not, what has happened to her.' Caesar believed, and afterward forgot. By the advice of the elders I have never written to mother where I am, so that she might take an oath boldly at all times that she has no knowledge of me. Thou wilt not understand this, perhaps, O Vinicius; but it is not permitted us to lie, even in a question involving life. Such is the religion on which we fashion our hearts; therefore I have not seen Pomponia from the hour when I left her house. From time to time distant echoes barely reach her that I am alive and not in danger."
Here a longing seized Lygia, and her eyes were moist with tears; but she calmed herself quickly, and said,—"I know that Pomponia, too, yearns for me; but we have consolation which others have not."
"Yes," answered Vinicius, "Christ is your consolation, but I do not understand that."
"Look at us! For us there are no partings, no pains, no sufferings; or if they come they are turned into pleasure. And death itself, which for you is the end of life, is for us merely its beginning,—the exchange of a lower for a higher happiness, a happiness less calm for one calmer and eternal. Consider what must a religion be which enjoins on us love even for our enemies, forbids falsehood, purifies our souls from hatred, and promises happiness inexhaustible after death."
"I heard those teachings in Ostrianum, and I have seen how ye acted with me and with Chilo; when I remember your deeds, they are like a dream, and it seems to me that I ought not to believe my ears or eyes. But answer me this question: Art thou happy?"
"I am," answered Lygia. "One who confesses Christ cannot be unhappy." Vinicius looked at her, as though what she said passed every measure of human understanding.
"And hast thou no wish to return to Pomponia?"
"I should like, from my whole soul, to return to her; and shall return, if such be God's will."
"I say to thee, therefore, return; and I swear by my lares that I will not raise a hand against thee."
Lygia thought for a moment, and answered,—"No, I cannot expose those near me to danger. Caesar does not like the Plautiuses. Should I return—thou knowest how every news is spread throughout Rome by slaves—my return would be noised about in the city. Nero would hear of it surely through his slaves, and punish Aulus and Pomponia,—at least take me from them a second time."
"True," answered Vinicius, frowning, "that would be possible. He would do so, even to show that his will must be obeyed. It is true that he only forgot thee, or would remember thee, because the loss was not his, but mine. Perhaps, if he took thee from Aulus and Pomponia, he would send thee to me and I could give thee back to them."
"Vinicius, wouldst thou see me again on the Palatine?" inquired Lygia.
He set his teeth, and answered,—"No. Thou art right. I spoke like a fool! No!"
And all at once he saw before him a precipice, as it were without bottom. He was a patrician, a military tribune, a powerful man; but above every power of that world to which he belonged was a madman whose will and malignity it was impossible to foresee. Only such people as the Christians might cease to reckon with Nero or fear him,—people for whom this whole world, with its separations and sufferings, was as nothing; people for whom death itself was as nothing. All others had to tremble before him. The terrors of the time in which they lived showed themselves to Vinicius in all their monstrous extent. He could not return Lygia to Aulus and Pomponia, then, through fear that the monster would remember her, and turn on her his anger; for the very same reason, if he should take her as wife, he might expose her, himself, and Aulus. A moment of ill-humor was enough to ruin all. Vinicius felt, for the first time in life, that either the world must change and be transformed, or life would become impossible altogether. He understood also this, which a moment before had been dark to him, that in such times only Christians could be happy.
But above all, sorrow seized him, for he understood, too, that it was he who had so involved his own life and Lygia's that out of the complication there was scarcely an outcome. And under the influence of that sorrow he began to speak:
"Dost thou know that thou art happier than I? Thou art in poverty, and in this one chamber, among simple people, thou hast thy religion and thy Christ; but I have only thee, and when I lacked thee I was like a beggar without a roof above him and without bread. Thou art dearer to me than the whole world. I sought thee, for I could not live without thee. I wished neither feasts nor sleep. Had it not been for the hope of finding thee, I should have cast myself on a sword. But I fear death, for if dead I could not see thee. I speak the pure truth in saying that I shall not be able to live without thee. I have lived so far only in the hope of finding and beholding thee. Dost thou remember our conversations at the house of Aulus? Once thou didst draw a fish for me on the sand, and I knew not what its meaning was. Dost thou remember how we played ball? I loved thee then above life, and thou hadst begun already to divine that I loved thee. Aulus came, frightened us with Libitina, and interrupted our talk. Pomponia, at parting, told Petronius that God is one, all-mighty and all-merciful, but it did not even occur to us that Christ was thy God and hers. Let Him give thee to me and I will love Him, though He seems to me a god of slaves, foreigners, and beggars. Thou sittest near me, and thinkest of Him only. Think of me too, or I shall hate Him. For me thou alone art a divinity. Blessed be thy father and mother; blessed the land which produced thee! I should wish to embrace thy feet and pray to thee, give thee honor, homage, offerings, thou thrice divine! Thou knowest not, or canst not know, how I love thee."
Thus speaking, he placed his hand on his pale forehead and closed his eyes. His nature never knew bounds in love or anger. He spoke with enthusiasm, like a man who, having lost self-control, has no wish to observe any measure in words or feelings. But he spoke from the depth of his soul, and sincerely. It was to be felt that the pain, ecstasy, desire, and homage accumulated in his breast had burst forth at last in an irresistible torrent of words. To Lygia his words appeared blasphemous, but still her heart began to beat as if it would tear the tunic enclosing her bosom. She could not resist pity for him and his suffering. She was moved by the homage with which he spoke to her. She felt beloved and deified without bounds; she felt that that unbending and dangerous man belonged to her now, soul and body, like a slave; and that feeling of his submission and her own power filled her with happiness. Her recollections revived in one moment. He was for her again that splendid Vinicius, beautiful as a pagan god; he, who in the house of Aulus had spoken to her of love, and roused as if from sleep her heart half childlike at that time; he from whose embraces Ursus had wrested her on the Palatine, as he might have wrested her from flames. But at present, with ecstasy, and at the same time with pain in his eagle face, with pale forehead and imploring eyes,—wounded, broken by love, loving, full of homage and submissive,—he seemed to her such as she would have wished him, and such as she would have loved with her whole soul, therefore dearer than he had ever been before.
All at once she understood that a moment might come in which his love would seize her and bear her away, as a whirlwind; and when she felt this, she had the same impression that he had a moment before,—that she was standing on the edge of a precipice. Was it for this that she had left the house of Aulus? Was it for this that she had saved herself by flight? Was it for this that she had hidden so long in wretched parts of the city? Who was that Vinicius? An Augustian, a soldier, a courtier of Nero! Moreover he took part in his profligacy and madness, as was shown by that feast, which she could not forget; and he went with others to the temples, and made offerings to vile gods, in whom he did not believe, perhaps, but still he gave them official honor. Still more he had pursued her to make her his slave and mistress, and at the same time to thrust her into that terrible world of excess, luxury, crime, and dishonor which calls for the anger and vengeance of God. He seemed changed, it is true, but still he had just said to her that if she would think more of Christ than of him, he was ready to hate Christ. It seemed to Lygia that the very idea of any other love than the love of Christ was a sin against Him and against religion. When she saw then that other feelings and desires might be roused in the depth of her soul, she was seized by alarm for her own future and her own heart.
At this moment of internal struggle appeared Glaucus, who had come to care for the patient and study his health. In the twinkle of an eye, anger and impatience were reflected on the face of Vinicius. He was angry that his conversation with Lygia had been interrupted; and when Glaucus questioned him, he answered with contempt almost. It is true that he moderated himself quickly; but if Lygia had any illusions as to this,—that what he had heard in Ostrianum might have acted on his unyielding nature,—those illusions must vanish. He had changed only for her; but beyond that single feeling there remained in his breast the former harsh and selfish heart, truly Roman and wolfish, incapable not only of the sweet sentiment of Christian teaching but even of gratitude.
She went away at last filled with internal care and anxiety. Formerly in her prayers she had offered to Christ a heart calm, and really pure as a tear. Now that calmness was disturbed. To the interior of the flower a poisonous insect had come and began to buzz. Even sleep, in spite of the two nights passed without sleep, brought her no relief. She dreamed that at Ostrianum Nero, at the head of a whole band of Augustians, bacchantes, corybantes, and gladiators, was trampling crowds of Christians with his chariot wreathed in roses; and Vinicius seized her by the arm, drew her to the quadriga, and, pressing her to his bosom, whispered "Come with us."
FROM that moment Lygia showed herself more rarely in the common chamber, and approached his couch less frequently. But peace did not return to her. She saw that Vinicius followed her with imploring glance; that he was waiting for every word of hers, as for a favor; that he suffered and dared not complain, lest he might turn her away from him; that she alone was his health and delight. And then her heart swelled with compassion. Soon she observed, too, that the more she tried to avoid him, the more compassion she had for him; and by this itself the more tender were the feelings which rose in her. Peace left her. At times she said to herself that it was her special duty to be near him always, first, because the religion of God commands return of good for evil; second, that by conversing with him, she might attract him to the faith. But at the same time conscience told her that she was tempting herself; that only love for him and the charm which he exerted were attracting her, nothing else. Thus she lived in a ceaseless struggle, which was intensified daily. At times it seemed that a kind of net surrounded her, and that in trying to break through it she entangled herself more and more. She had also to confess that for her the sight of him was becoming more needful, his voice was becoming dearer, and that she had to struggle with all her might against the wish to sit at his bedside. When she approached him, and he grew radiant, delight filled her heart. On a certain day she noticed traces of tears on his eyelids, and for the first time in life the thought came to her, to dry them with kisses. Terrified by that thought, and full of self-contempt, she wept all the night following.
He was as enduring as if he had made a vow of patience. When at moments his eyes flashed with petulance, self-will, and anger, he restrained those flashes promptly, and looked with alarm at her, as if to implore pardon. This acted still more on her. Never had she such a feeling of being greatly loved as then; and when she thought of this, she felt at once guilty and happy. Vinicius, too, had changed essentially. In his conversations with Glaucus there was less pride. It occurred to him frequently that even that poor slave physician and that foreign woman, old Miriam, who surrounded him with attention, and Crispus, whom he saw absorbed in continual prayer, were still human. He was astonished at such thoughts, but he had them. After a time he conceived a liking for Ursus, with whom he conversed entire days; for with him he could talk about Lygia. The giant, on his part, was inexhaustible in narrative, and while performing the most simple services for the sick man, he began to show him also some attachment. For Vinicius, Lygia had been at all times a being of another order, higher a hundred times than those around her: nevertheless, he began to observe simple and poor people,—a thing which he had never done before,—and he discovered in them various traits the existence of which he had never suspected.
Nazarius, however, he could not endure, for it seemed to him that the young lad had dared to fall in love with Lygia. He had restrained his aversion for a long time, it is true; but once when he brought her two quails, which he had bought in the market with his own earned money, the descendant of the Quirites spoke out in Vinicius, for whom one who had wandered in from a strange people had less worth than the meanest worm. When he heard Lygia's thanks, he grew terribly pale; and when Nazarius went out to get water for the birds, he said,—"Lygia, canst thou endure that he should give thee gifts? Dost thou not know that the Greeks call people of his nation Jewish dogs?"
"I do not know what the Greeks call them; but I know that Nazarius is a Christian and my brother."
When she had said this she looked at Vinicius with astonishment and regret, for he had disaccustomed her to similar outbursts; and he set his teeth, so as not to tell her that he would have given command to beat such a brother with sticks, or would have sent him as a compeditus [A man who labors with chained feet] to dig earth in his Sicilian vineyards. He restrained himself, however, throttled the anger within him, and only after a while did he say,—"Pardon me, Lygia. For me thou art the daughter of a king and the adopted child of Plautius." And he subdued himself to that degree that when Nazarius appeared in the chamber again, he promised him, on returning to his villa, the gift of a pair of peacocks or flamingoes, of which he had a garden full.
Lygia understood what such victories over himself must have cost him; but the oftener he gained them the more her heart turned to him. His merit with regard to Nazarius was less, however, than she supposed. Vinicius might be indignant for a moment, but he could not be jealous of him. In fact the son of Miriam did not, in his eyes, mean much more than a dog; besides, he was a child yet, who, if he loved Lygia, loved her unconsciously and servilely. Greater struggles must the young tribune have with himself to submit, even in silence, to that honor with which among those people the name of Christ and His religion was surrounded. In this regard wonderful things took place in Vinicius. That was in every case a religion which Lygia believed; hence for that single reason he was ready to receive it. Afterward, the more he returned to health, the more he remembered the whole series of events which had happened since that night at Ostrianum, and the whole series of thoughts which had come to his head from that time, the more he was astonished at the superhuman power of that religion which changed the souls of men to their foundations. He understood that in it there was something uncommon, something which had not been on earth before, and he felt that could it embrace the whole world, could it ingraft on the world its love and charity, an epoch would come recalling that in which not Jupiter, but Saturn had ruled. He did not dare either to doubt the supernatural origin of Christ, or His resurrection, or the other miracles. The eye-witnesses who spoke of them were too trustworthy and despised falsehood too much to let him suppose that they were telling things that had not happened. Finally, Roman scepticism permitted disbelief in the gods, but believed in miracles. Vinicius, therefore, stood before a kind of marvellous puzzle which he could not solve. On the other hand, however, that religion seemed to him opposed to the existing state of things, impossible of practice, and mad in a degree beyond all others. According to him, people in Rome and in the whole world might be bad, but the order of things was good. Had Caesar, for example, been an honest man, had the Senate been composed, not of insignificant libertines, but of men like Thrasea, what more could one wish? Nay, Roman peace and supremacy were good; distinction among people just and proper. But that religion, according to the understanding of Vinicius, would destroy all order, all supremacy, every distinction. What would happen then to the dominion and lordship of Rome? Could the Romans cease to rule, or could they recognize a whole herd of conquered nations as equal to themselves? That was a thought which could find no place in the head of a patrician. As regarded him personally, that religion was opposed to all his ideas and habits, his whole character and understanding of life. He was simply unable to imagine how he could exist were he to accept it. He feared and admired it; but as to accepting it, his nature shuddered at that. He understood, finally, that nothing save that religion separated him from Lygia; and when he thought of this, he hated it with all the powers of his soul.
Still he acknowledged to himself that it had adorned Lygia with that exceptional, unexplained beauty which in his heart had produced, besides love, respect, besides desire, homage, and had made of that same Lygia a being dear to him beyond all others in the world. And then he wished anew to love Christ. And he understood clearly that he must either love or hate Him; he could not remain indifferent. Meanwhile two opposing currents were as if driving him: he hesitated in thoughts, in feelings; he knew not how to choose, he bowed his head, however, to that God by him uncomprehended, and paid silent honor for this sole reason, that He was Lygia's God.
Lygia saw what was happening in him; she saw how he was breaking himself, how his nature was rejecting that religion; and though this mortified her to the death, compassion, pity, and gratitude for the silent respect which he showed Christ inclined her heart to him with irresistible force. She recalled Pomponia Graecina and Aulus. For Pomponia a source of ceaseless sorrow and tears that never dried was the thought that beyond the grave she would not find Aulus. Lygia began now to understand better that pain, that bitterness. She too had found a being dear to her, and she was threatened by eternal separation from this dear one.
At times, it is true, she was self-deceived, thinking that his soul would open itself to Christ's teaching; but these illusions could not remain. She knew and understood him too well. Vinicius a Christian!—These two ideas could find no place together in her unenlightened head. If the thoughtful, discreet Aulus had not become a Christian under the influence of the wise and perfect Pomponia, how could Vinicius become one? To this there was no answer, or rather there was only one,—that for him there was neither hope nor salvation.
But Lygia saw with terror that that sentence of condemnation which hung over him instead of making him repulsive made him still dearer simply through compassion. At moments the wish seized her to speak to him of his dark future; but once, when she had sat near him and told him that outside Christian truth there was no life, he, having grown stronger at that time, rose on his sound arm and placed his head on her knees suddenly. "Thou art life!" said he. And that moment breath failed in her breast, presence of mind left her, a certain quiver of ecstasy rushed over her from head to feet. Seizing his temples with her hands, she tried to raise him, but bent the while so that her lips touched his hair; and for a moment both were overcome with delight, with themselves, and with love, which urged them the one to the other.
Lygia rose at last and rushed away, with a flame in her veins and a giddiness in her head; but that was the drop which overflowed the cup filled already to the brim. Vinicius did not divine how dearly he would have to pay for that happy moment, but Lygia understood that now she herself needed rescue. She spent the night after that evening without sleep, in tears and in prayer, with the feeling that she was unworthy to pray and could not be heard. Next morning she went from the cubiculum early, and, calling Crispus to the garden summer-house, covered with ivy and withered vines, opened her whole soul to him, imploring him at the same time to let her leave Miriam's house, since she could not trust herself longer, and could not overcome her heart's love for Vinicius.
Crispus, an old man, severe and absorbed in endless enthusiasm, consented to the plan of leaving Miriam's house, but he had no words of forgiveness for that love, to his thinking sinful. His heart swelled with indignation at the very thought that Lygia, whom he had guarded since the time of her flight, whom he had loved, whom he had confirmed in the faith, and on whom he looked now as a white lily grown up on the field of Christian teaching undefiled by any earthly breath, could have found a place in her soul for love other than heavenly. He had believed hitherto that nowhere in the world did there beat a heart more purely devoted to the glory of Christ. He wanted to offer her to Him as a pearl, a jewel, the precious work of his own hands; hence the disappointment which he felt filled him with grief and amazement.
"Go and beg God to forgive thy fault," said he, gloomily. "Flee before the evil spirit who involved thee bring thee to utter fall, and before thou oppose the Saviour. God died on the cross to redeem thy soul with His blood, but thou hast preferred to love him who wished to make thee his concubine. God saved thee by a miracle of His own hands, but thou hast opened thy heart to impure desire, and hast loved the son of darkness. Who is he? The friend and servant of Antichrist, his copartner in crime and profligacy. Whither will he lead thee, if not to that abyss and to that Sodom in which he himself is living, but which God will destroy with the flame of His anger? But I say to thee, would thou hadst died, would the walls of this house had fallen on thy head before that serpent had crept into thy bosom and beslimed it with the poison of iniquity."
And he was borne away more and more, for Lygia's fault filled him not only with anger but with loathing and contempt for human nature in general, and in particular for women, whom even Christian truth could not save from Eve's weakness. To him it seemed nothing that the maiden had remained pure, that she wished to flee from that love, that she had confessed it with compunction and penitence. Crispus had wished to transform her into an angel, to raise her to heights where love for Christ alone existed, and she had fallen in love with an Augustian. The very thought of that filled his heart with horror, strengthened by a feeling of disillusion and disappointment. No, no, he could not forgive her. Words of horror burned his lips like glowing coals; he struggled still with himself not to utter them, but he shook his emaciated hands over the terrified girl. Lygia felt guilty, but not to that degree. She had judged even that withdrawal from Miriam's house would be her victory over temptation, and would lessen her fault. Crispus rubbed her into the dust; showed her all the misery and insignificance of her soul, which she had not suspected hitherto. She had judged even that the old presbyter, who from the moment of her flight from the Palatine had been to her as a father, would show some compassion, console her, give her courage, and strengthen her.
"I offer my pain and disappointment to God," said he, "but thou hast deceived the Saviour also, for thou hast gone as it were to a quagmire which has poisoned thy soul with its miasma. Thou mightst have offered it to Christ as a costly vessel, and said to Him, 'Fill it with grace, O Lord!' but thou hast preferred to offer it to the servant of the evil one. May God forgive thee and have mercy on thee; for till thou cast out the serpent, I who held thee as chosen-"
But he ceased suddenly to speak, for he saw that they were not alone. Through the withered vines and the ivy, which was green alike in summer and winter, he saw two men, one of whom was Peter the Apostle. The other he was unable to recognize at once, for a mantle of coarse woollen stuff, called cilicium, concealed a part of his face. It seemed to Crispus for a moment that that was Chilo.
They, hearing the loud voice of Crispus, entered the summer-house and sat on a stone bench. Peter's companion had an emaciated face; his head, which was growing bald, was covered at the sides with curly hair; he had reddened eyelids and a crooked nose; in the face, ugly and at the same time inspired, Crispus recognized the features of Paul of Tarsus.
Lygia, casting herself on her knees, embraced Peter's feet, as if from despair, and, sheltering her tortured head in the fold of his mantle, remained thus in silence.
"Peace to your souls!" said Peter.
And seeing the child at his feet he asked what had happened. Crispus began then to narrate all that Lygia had confessed to him,—her sinful love, her desire to flee from Miriam's house,—and his sorrow that a soul which he had thought to offer to Christ pure as a tear had defiled itself with earthly feelings for a sharer in all those crimes into which the pagan world had sunk, and which called for God's vengeance.
Lygia during his speech embraced with increasing force the feet of the Apostle, as if wishing to seek refuge near them, and to beg even a little compassion.
But the Apostle, when he had listened to the end, bent down and placed his aged hand on her head; then he raised his eyes to the old presbyter, and said,—"Crispus, hast thou not heard that our beloved Master was in Cana, at a wedding, and blessed love between man and woman?"
Crispus's hands dropped, and he looked with astonishment on the speaker, without power to utter one word. After a moment's silence Peter asked again,—"Crispus, dost thou think that Christ, who permitted Mary of Magdala to lie at his feet, and who forgave the public sinner, would turn from this maiden, who is as pure as a lily of the field?"
Lygia nestled up more urgently to the feet of Peter, with sobbing, understanding that she had not sought refuge in vain. The Apostle raised her face, which was covered with tears, and said to her,—"While the eyes of him whom thou lovest are not open to the light of truth, avoid him, lest he bring thee to sin, but pray for him, and know that there is no sin in thy love. And since it is thy wish to avoid temptation, this will be accounted to thee as a merit. Do not suffer, and do not weep; for I tell thee that the grace of the Redeemer has not deserted thee, and that thy prayers will be heard; after sorrow will come days of gladness."
When he had said this, he placed both hands on her head, and, raising his eyes, blessed her. From his face there shone a goodness beyond that of earth.
The penitent Crispus began humbly to explain himself; "I have sinned against mercy," said he; "but I thought that by admitting to her heart an earthly love she had denied Christ."
"I denied Him thrice," answered Peter, "and still He forgave me, and commanded me to feed His sheep."
"And because," concluded Crispus, "Vinicius is an Augustian."
"Christ softened harder hearts than his," replied Peter.
Then Paul of Tarsus, who had been silent so far, placed his finger on his breast, pointing to himself, and said,—"I am he who persecuted and hurried servants of Christ to their death; I am he who during the stoning of Stephen kept the garments of those who stoned him; I am he who wished to root out the truth in every part of the inhabited earth, and yet the Lord predestined me to declare it in every land. I have declared it in Judea, in Greece, on the Islands, and in this godless city, where first I resided as a prisoner. And now when Peter, my superior, has summoned me, I enter this house to bend that proud head to the feet of Christ, and cast a grain of seed in that stony field, which the Lord will fertilize, so that it may bring forth a bountiful harvest."
And he rose. To Crispus that diminutive hunchback seemed then that which he was in reality,—a giant, who was to stir the world to its foundations and gather in lands and nations.
PETRONIUS to VINICIUS:—"Have pity, carissime; imitate not in thy letters the Lacedemonians or Julius Caesar! Couldst thou, like Julius, write Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered), I might understand thy brevity. But thy letter means absolutely Veni, vidi, fugi (I came, I saw, I fled). Since such a conclusion of the affair is directly opposed to thy nature, since thou art wounded, and since, finally, uncommon things are happening to thee, thy letter needs explanation. I could not believe my eyes when I read that the Lygian giant killed Croton as easily as a Caledonian dog would kill a wolf in the defiles of Hibernia. That man is worth as much gold as he himself weighs, and it depends on him alone to become a favorite of Caesar. When I return to the city, I must gain a nearer acquaintance with that Lygian, and have a bronze statue of him made for myself. Ahenobarbus will burst from curiosity, when I tell him that it is from nature. Bodies really athletic are becoming rarer in Italy and in Greece; of the Orient no mention need be made; the Germans, though large, have muscles covered with fat, and are greater in bulk than in strength. Learn from the Lygian if he is an exception, or if in his country there are more men like him. Should it happen sometime to thee or me to organize games officially, it would be well to know where to seek for the best bodies.
"But praise to the gods of the Orient and the Occident that thou hast come out of such hands alive. Thou hast escaped, of course, because thou art a patrician, and the son of a consul; but everything which has happened astonishes me in the highest degree,—that cemetery where thou wert among the Christians, they, their treatment of thee, the subsequent flight of Lygia; finally, that peculiar sadness and disquiet which breathes from thy short letter. Explain, for there are many points which I cannot understand; and if thou wish the truth, I will tell thee plainly, that I understand neither the Christians nor thee nor Lygia. Wonder not that I, who care for few things on earth except my own person, inquire of thee so eagerly. I have contributed to all this affair of thine; hence it is my affair so far. Write soon, for I cannot foresee surely when we may meet. In Bronzebeard's head plans change, as winds do in autumn. At present, while tarrying in Beneventum, he has the wish to go straightway to Greece, without returning to Rome. Tigellinus, however, advises him to visit the city even for a time, since the people, yearning overmuch for his person (read 'for games and bread') may revolt. So I cannot tell how it will be. Should Achaea overbalance, we may want to see Egypt. I should insist with all my might on thy coming, for I think that in thy state of mind travelling and our amusements would be a medicine, but thou mightst not find us. Consider, then, whether in that case repose in thy Sicilian estates would not be preferable to remaining in Rome. Write me minutely of thyself, and farewell. I add no wish this time, except health; for, by Pollux! I know not what to wish thee."
Vinicius, on receiving this letter, felt at first no desire to reply. He had a kind of feeling that it was not worth while to reply, that an answer would benefit no one in any way, that it would explain nothing. Discontent, and a feeling of the vanity of life, possessed him. He thought, moreover, that Petronius would not comprehend him in any case, and that something had happened which would remove them from each other. He could not come to an agreement with himself, even. When he returned from the Trans-Tiber to his splendid "insula," he was exhausted, and found for the first days a certain satisfaction in rest and in the comfort and abundance about him. That satisfaction lasted but a short time, however. He felt soon that he was living in vanity; that all which so far had formed the interest of his life either had ceased to exist for him or had shrunk to proportions barely perceptible. He had a feeling as if those ties which hitherto had connected him with life had been cut in his soul, and that no new ones had been formed. At the thought that he might go to Beneventum and thence to Achaea, to swim in a life of luxury and wild excess, he had a feeling of emptiness. "To what end? What shall I gain from it?" These were the first questions which passed through his head. And for the first time in life, also, he thought that if he went, the conversation of Petronius, his wit, his quickness, his exquisite outlining of thought, and his choice of apt phrases for every idea might annoy him.
But solitude, too, had begun to annoy him. All his acquaintances were with Caesar in Beneventum; so he had to stay at home alone, with a head full of thoughts, and a heart full of feelings which he could not analyze. He had moments, however, in which he judged that if he could converse with some one about everything that took place in him, perhaps he might be able to grasp it all somehow, bring it to order, and estimate it better. Under the influence of this hope, and after some days of hesitation, he decided to answer Petronius; and, though not certain that he would send the answer, he wrote it in the following words:—
"It is thy wish that I write more minutely, agreed then; whether I shall be able to do it more clearly, I cannot tell, for there are many knots which I know not myself how to loosen. I described to thee my stay among the Christians, and their treatment of enemies, among whom they had a right to count both me and Chilo; finally, of the kindness with which they nursed me, and of the disappearance of Lygia. No, my dear friend, I was not spared because of being the son of a consul. Such considerations do not exist for them, since they forgave even Chilo, though I urged them to bury him in the garden. Those are people such as the world has not seen hitherto, and their teaching is of a kind that the world has not heard up to this time. I can say nothing else, and he errs who measures them with our measure. I tell thee that, if I had been lying with a broken arm in my own house, and if my own peoples, even my own family, had nursed me, I should have had more comforts, of course, but I should not have received half the care which I found among them.
"Know this, too, that Lygia is like the others. Had she been my sister or my wife, she could not have nursed me more tenderly. Delight filled my heart more than once, for I judged that love alone could inspire the like tenderness. More than once I saw love in her look, in her face; and, wilt thou believe me? among those simple people then in that poor chamber, which was at once a culina and a triclinium, I felt happier than ever before. No; she was not indifferent to me—and to-day even I cannot think that she was. Still that same Lygia left Miriam's dwelling in secret because of me. I sit now whole days with my head on my hands, and think, Why did she do so? Have I written thee that I volunteered to restore her to Aulus? True, she declared that to be impossible at present, because Aulus and Pomponia had gone to Sicily, and because news of her return going from house to house, through slaves, would reach the Palatine, and Caesar might take her from Aulus again. But she knew that I would not pursue her longer; that I had left the way of violence; that, unable to cease loving her or to live without her, I would bring her into my house through a wreathed door, and seat her on a sacred skin at my hearth. Still she fled! Why? Nothing was threatening her. Did she not love me, she might have rejected me. The day before her flight, I made the acquaintance of a wonderful man, a certain Paul of Tarsus, who spoke to me of Christ and His teachings, and spoke with such power that every word of his, without his willing it, turns all the foundations of our society into ashes. That same man visited me after her flight, and said: 'If God open thy eyes to the light, and take the beam from them as He took it from mine, thou wilt feel that she acted properly; and then, perhaps, thou wilt find her.' And now I am breaking my head over these words, as if I had heard them from the mouth of the Pythoness at Delphi. I seem to understand something. Though they love people, the Christians are enemies of our life, our gods, and our crimes; hence she fled from me, as from a man who belongs to our society, and with whom she would have to share a life counted criminal by Christians. Thou wilt say that since she might reject me, she had no need to withdraw. But if she loved me? In that case she desired to flee from love. At the very thought of this I wish to send slaves into every alley in Rome, and command them to cry throughout the houses, 'Return, Lygia!' But I cease to understand why she fled. I should not have stopped her from believing in her Christ, and would myself have reared an altar to Him in the atrium. What harm could one more god do me? Why might I not believe in him,—I who do not believe overmuch in the old gods? I know with full certainty that the Christians do not lie; and they say that he rose from the dead. A man cannot rise from the dead. That Paul of Tarsus, who is a Roman citizen, but who, as a Jew, knows the old Hebrew writings, told me that the coming of Christ was promised by prophets for whole thousands of years. All these are uncommon things, but does not the uncommon surround us on every side? People have not ceased talking yet of Apollonius of Tyana. Paul's statement that there is one God, not a whole assembly of them, seems sound to me. Perhaps Seneca is of this opinion, and before him many others. Christ lived, gave Himself to be crucified for the salvation of the world, and rose from the dead. All this is perfectly certain. I do not see, therefore, a reason why I should insist on an opposite opinion, or why I should not rear to Him an altar, if I am ready to rear one to Serapis, for instance. It would not be difficult for me even to renounce other gods, for no reasoning mind believes in them at present. But it seems that all this is not enough yet for the Christians. It is not enough to honor Christ, one must also live according to His teachings; and here thou art on the shore of a sea which they command thee to wade through.
"If I promised to do so, they themselves would feel that the promise was an empty sound of words. Paul told me so openly. Thou knowest how I love Lygia, and knowest that there is nothing that I would not do for her. Still, even at her wish, I cannot raise Soracte or Vesuvius on my shoulders, or place Thrasymene Lake on the palm of my hand, or from black make my eyes blue, like those of the Lygians. If she so desired, I could have the wish, but the change does not lie in my power. I am not a philosopher, but also I am not so dull as I have seemed, perhaps, more than once to thee. I will state now the following: I know not how the Christians order their own lives, but I know that where their religion begins, Roman rule ends, Rome itself ends, our mode of life ends, the distinction between conquered and conqueror, between rich and poor, lord and slave, ends, government ends, Caesar ends, law and all the order of the world ends; and in place of those appear Christ, with a certain mercy not existent hitherto, and kindness, opposed to human and our Roman instincts. It is true that Lygia is more to me than all Rome and its lordship; and I would let society vanish could I have her in my house. But that is another thing. Agreement in words does not satisfy the Christians; a man must feel that their teaching is truth, and not have aught else in his soul. But that, the gods are my witnesses, is beyond me. Dost understand what that means? There is something in my nature which shudders at this religion; and were my lips to glorify it, were I to conform to its precepts, my soul and my reason would say that I do so through love for Lygia, and that apart from her there is to me nothing on earth more repulsive. And, a strange thing, Paul of Tarsus understands this, and so does that old theurgus Peter, who in spite of all his simplicity and low origin is the highest among them, and was the disciple of Christ. And dost thou know what they are doing? They are praying for me, and calling down something which they call grace; but nothing descends on me, save disquiet, and a greater yearning for Lygia.
"I have written thee that she went away secretly; but when going she left me a cross which she put together from twigs of boxwood. When I woke up, I found it near my bed. I have it now in the lararium, and I approach it yet, I cannot tell why, as if there were something divine in it,—that is, with awe and reverence. I love it because her hand bound it, and I hate it because it divides us. At times it seems to me that there are enchantments of some kind in all this affair, and that the theurgus, Peter, though he declares himself to be a simple shepherd, is greater than Apollonius, and all who preceded him, and that he has involved us all—Lygia, Pomponia, and me—with them.
"Thou hast written that in my previous letter disquiet and sadness are visible. Sadness there must be, for I have lost her again, and there is disquiet because something has changed in me. I tell thee sincerely, that nothing is more repugnant to my nature than that religion, and still I cannot recognize myself since I met Lygia. Is it enchantment, or love? Circe changed people's bodies by touching them, but my soul has been changed. No one but Lygia could have done that, or rather Lygia through that wonderful religion which she professes. When I returned to my house from the Christians, no one was waiting for me. The slaves thought that I was in Beneventum, and would not return soon; hence there was disorder in the house. I found the slaves drunk, and a feast, which they were giving themselves, in my triclinium. They had more thought of seeing death than me, and would have been less terrified by it. Thou knowest with what a firm hand I hold my house; all to the last one dropped on their knees, and some fainted from terror. But dost thou know how I acted? At the first moment I wished to call for rods and hot iron, but immediately a kind of shame seized me, and, wilt thou lend belief? a species of pity for those wretched people. Among them are old slaves whom my grandfather, Marcus Vinicius, brought from the Rhine in the time of Augustus. I shut myself up alone in the library, and there came stranger thoughts still to my head; namely, that after what I had heard and seen among the Christians, it did not become me to act with slaves as I had acted hitherto—that they too were people. For a number of days they moved about in mortal terror, in the belief that I was delaying so as to invent punishment the more cruel, but I did not punish, and did not punish because I was not able. Summoning them on the third day, I said, 'I forgive you; strive then with earnest service to correct your fault!' They fell on their knees, covering their faces with tears, stretching forth their hands with groans, and called me lord and father; but I—with shame do I write this—was equally moved. It seemed to me that at that moment I was looking at the sweet face of Lygia, and her eyes filled with tears, thanking me for that act. And, proh pudor! I felt that my lips too were moist. Dost know what I will confess to thee? This—that I cannot do without her, that it is ill for me alone, that I am simply unhappy, and that my sadness is greater than thou wilt admit. But, as to my slaves, one thing arrested my attention. The forgiveness which they received not only did not make them insolent, not only did not weaken discipline, but never had fear roused them to such ready service as has gratitude. Not only do they serve, but they seem to vie with one another to divine my wishes. I mention this to thee because, when, the day before I left the Christians, I told Paul that society would fall apart because of his religion, as a cask without hoops, he answered, 'Love is a stronger hoop than fear.' And now I see that in certain cases his opinion may be right. I have verified it also with references to clients, who, learning of my return, hurried to salute me. Thou knowest that I have never been penurious with them; but my father acted haughtily with clients on principle, and taught me to treat them in like manner. But when I saw their worn mantles and hungry faces, I had a feeling something like compassion. I gave command to bring them food, and conversed besides with them,—called some by name, some I asked about their wives and children,—and again in the eyes before me I saw tears; again it seemed to me that Lygia saw what I was doing, that she praised and was delighted. Is my mind beginning to wander, or is love confusing my feelings? I cannot tell. But this I do know; I have a continual feeling that she is looking at me from a distance, and I am afraid to do aught that might trouble or offend her.
"So it is, Caius! but they have changed my soul, and sometimes I feel well for that reason. At times again I am tormented with the thought, for I fear that my manhood and energy are taken from me; that, perhaps, I am useless, not only for counsel, for judgment, for feasts, but for war even. These are undoubted enchantments! And to such a degree am I changed that I tell thee this, too, which came to my head when I lay wounded: that if Lygia were like Nigidia, Poppaea, Crispinilla, and our divorced women, if she were as vile, as pitiless, and as cheap as they, I should not love her as I do at present. But since I love her for that which divides us, thou wilt divine what a chaos is rising in my soul, in what darkness I live, how it is that I cannot see certain roads before me, and how far I am from knowing what to begin. If life may be compared to a spring, in my spring disquiet flows instead of water. I live through the hope that I shall see her, perhaps, and sometimes it seems to me that I shall see her surely. But what will happen to me in a year or two years, I know not, and cannot divine. I shall not leave Rome. I could not endure the society of the Augustians; and besides, the one solace in my sadness and disquiet is the thought that I am near Lygia, that through Glaucus the physician, who promised to visit me, or through Paul of Tarsus, I can learn something of her at times. No; I would not leave Rome, even were ye to offer me the government of Egypt. Know also, that I have ordered the sculptor to make a stone monument for Gulo, whom I slew in anger. Too late did it come to my mind that he had carried me in his arms, and was the first to teach me how to put an arrow on a bow. I know not why it was that a recollection of him rose in me which was sorrow and reproach. If what I write astonish thee, I reply that it astonishes me no less, but I write pure truth.—Farewell."
VINICUS received no answer to this letter. Petronius did not write, thinking evidently that Caesar might command a return to Rome any day. In fact, news of it was spread in the city, and roused great delight in the hearts of the rabble, eager for games with gifts of grain and olives, great supplies of which had been accumulated in Ostia. Helius, Nero's freedman, announced at last the return in the Senate. But Nero, having embarked with his court on ships at Misenum, returned slowly, disembarking at coast towns for rest, or exhibitions in theatres. He remained between ten and twenty days in Minturna, and even thought to return to Naples and wait there for spring, which was earlier than usual, and warm. During all this time Vinicius lived shut up in his house, thinking of Lygia, and all those new things which occupied his soul, and brought to it ideas and feelings foreign to it thus far. He saw, from time to time, only Glaucus the physician, every one of whose visits delighted him, for he could converse with the man about Lygia. Glaucus knew not, it is true, where she had found refuge, but he gave assurance that the elders were protecting her with watchful care. Once too, when moved by the sadness of Vinicius, he told him that Peter had blamed Crispus for reproaching Lygia with her love. The young patrician, hearing this, grew pale from emotion. He had thought more than once that Lygia was not indifferent to him, but he fell into frequent doubt and uncertainty. Now for the first time he heard the confirmation of his desires and hopes from strange lips, and, besides, those of a Christian. At the first moment of gratitude he wished to run to Peter. When he learned, however, that he was not in the city, but teaching in the neighborhood, he implored Glaucus to accompany him thither, promising to make liberal gifts to the poor community. It seemed to him, too, that if Lygia loved him, all obstacles were thereby set aside, as he was ready at any moment to honor Christ. Glaucus, though he urged him persistently to receive baptism, would not venture to assure him that he would gain Lygia at once, and said that it was necessary to desire the religion for its own sake, through love of Christ, not for other objects. "One must have a Christian soul, too," said he. And Vinicius, though every obstacle angered him, had begun to understand that Glaucus, as a Christian, said what he ought to say. He had not become clearly conscious that one of the deepest changes in his nature was this,—that formerly he had measured people and things only by his own selfishness, but now he was accustoming himself gradually to the thought that other eyes might see differently, other hearts feel differently, and that justice did not mean always the same as personal profit.
He wished often to see Paul of Tarsus, whose discourse made him curious and disturbed him. He arranged in his mind arguments to overthrow his teaching, he resisted him in thought; still he wished to see him and to hear him. Paul, however, had gone to Aricium, and, since the visits of Glaucus had become rarer, Vinicius was in perfect solitude. He began again to run through back streets adjoining the Subura, and narrow lanes of the Trans-Tiber, in the hope that even from a distance he might see Lygia. When even that hope failed him, weariness and impatience began to rise in his heart. At last the time came when his former nature was felt again mightily, like that onrush of a wave to the shore from which it had receded. It seemed to him that he had been a fool to no purpose, that he had stuffed his head with things which brought sadness, that he ought to accept from life what it gives. He resolved to forget Lygia, or at least to seek pleasure and the use of things aside from her. He felt that this trial, however, was the last, and he threw himself into it with all the blind energy of impulse peculiar to him. Life itself seemed to urge him to this course.
THE APPIAN WAY. From the painting by G. Boulanger.
The city, torpid and depopulated by winter, began to revive with hope of the near coming of Caesar. A solemn reception was in waiting for him. Meanwhile spring was there; the snow on the Alban Hills had vanished under the breath of winds from Africa. Grass-plots in the gardens were covered with violets. The Forums and the Campus Martius were filled with people warmed by a sun of growing heat. Along the Appian Way, the usual place for drives outside the city, a movement of richly ornamented chariots had begun. Excursions were made to the Alban Hills. Youthful women, under pretext of worshipping Juno in Lanuvium, or Diana in Aricia, left home to seek adventures, society, meetings, and pleasure beyond the city. Here Vinicius saw one day among lordly chariots the splendid car of Chrysothemis, preceded by two Molossian dogs; it was surrounded by a crowd of young men and by old senators, whose position detained them in the city. Chrysothemis, driving four Corsican ponies herself, scattered smiles round about, and light strokes of a golden whip; but when she saw Vinicius she reined in her horses, took him into her car, and then to a feast at her house, which lasted all night. At that feast Vinicius drank so much that he did not remember when they took him home; he recollected, however, that when Chrysothemis mentioned Lygia he was offended, and, being drunk, emptied a goblet of Falernian on her head. When he thought of this in soberness, he was angrier still. But a day later Chrysothemis, forgetting evidently the injury, visited him at his house, and took him to the Appian Way a second time. Then she supped at his house, and confessed that not only Petronius, but his lute-player, had grown tedious to her long since, and that her heart was free now. They appeared together for a week, but the relation did not promise permanence. After the Falernian incident, however, Lygia's name was never mentioned, but Vinicius could not free himself from thoughts of her. He had the feeling always that her eyes were looking at his face, and that feeling filled him, as it were, with fear. He suffered, and could not escape the thought that he was saddening Lygia, or the regret which that thought roused in him. After the first scene of jealousy which Chrysothemis made because of two Syrian damsels whom he purchased, he let her go in rude fashion. He did not cease at once from pleasure and license, it is true, but he followed them out of spite, as it were, toward Lygia. At last he saw that the thought of her did not leave him for an instant; that she was the one cause of his evil activity as well as his good; and that really nothing in the world occupied him except her. Disgust, and then weariness, mastered him. Pleasure had grown loathsome, and left mere reproaches. It seemed to him that he was wretched, and this last feeling filled him with measureless astonishment, for formerly he recognized as good everything which pleased him. Finally, he lost freedom, self-confidence, and fell into perfect torpidity, from which even the news of Caesar's coming could not rouse him. Nothing touched him, and he did not visit Petronius till the latter sent an invitation and his litter.
On seeing his uncle, though greeted with gladness, he replied to his questions unwillingly; but his feelings and thoughts, repressed for a long time, burst forth at last, and flowed from his mouth in a torrent of words. Once more he told in detail the history of his search for Lygia, his life among the Christians, everything which he had heard and seen there, everything which had passed through his head and heart; and finally he complained that he had fallen into a chaos, in which were lost composure and the gift of distinguishing and judging. Nothing, he said, attracted him, nothing was pleasing; he did not know what to hold to, nor how to act. He was ready both to honor and persecute Christ; he understood the loftiness of His teaching, but he felt also an irresistible repugnance to it. He understood that, even should he possess Lygia, he would not possess her completely, for he would have to share her with Christ. Finally, he was living as if not living,—without hope, without a morrow, without belief in happiness; around him was darkness in which he was groping for an exit, and could not find it.
Petronius, during this narrative, looked at his changed face, at his hands, which while speaking he stretched forth in a strange manner, as if actually seeking a road in the darkness, and he fell to thinking. All at once he rose, and, approaching Vinicius, caught with his fingers the hair above his ear.
"Dost know," asked he, "that thou hast gray hairs on thy temple?"
"Perhaps I have," answered Vinicius; "I should not be astonished were all my hair to grow white soon."
Silence followed. Petronius was a man of sense, and more than once he meditated on the soul of man and on life. In general, life, in the society in which they both lived, might be happy or unhappy externally, but internally it was at rest. Just as a thunderbolt or an earthquake might overturn a temple, so might misfortune crush a life. In itself, however, it was composed of simple and harmonious lines, free of complication. But there was something else in the words of Vinicius, and Petronius stood for the first time before a series of spiritual snarls which no one had straightened out hitherto. He was sufficiently a man of reason to feel their importance, but with all his quickness he could not answer the questions put to him. After a long silence, he said at last,—
"These must be enchantments."
"I too have thought so," answered Vinicius; "more than once it seemed to me that we were enchanted, both of us."
"And if thou," said Petronius, "were to go, for example, to the priests of Serapis? Among them, as among priests in general, there are many deceivers, no doubt; but there are others who have reached wonderful secrets."
He said this, however, without conviction and with an uncertain voice, for he himself felt how empty and even ridiculous that counsel must seem on his lips.
Vinicius rubbed his forehead, and said: "Enchantments! I have seen sorcerers who employed unknown and subterranean powers to their personal profit; I have seen those who used them to the harm of their enemies. But these Christians live in poverty, forgive their enemies, preach submission, virtue, and mercy; what profit could they get from enchantments, and why should they use them?"
Petronius was angry that his acuteness could find no reply; not wishing, however, to acknowledge this, he said, so as to offer an answer of some kind,—"That is a new sect." After a while he added: "By the divine dweller in Paphian groves, how all that injures life! Thou wilt admire the goodness and virtue of those people; but I tell thee that they are bad, for they are enemies of life, as are diseases, and death itself. As things are, we have enough of these enemies; we do not need the Christians in addition. Just count them: diseases, Caesar, Tigellinus, Caesar's poetry, cobblers who govern the descendants of ancient Quirites, freedmen who sit in the Senate. By Castor! there is enough of this. That is a destructive and disgusting sect. Hast thou tried to shake thyself out of this sadness, and make some little use of life?"
"I have tried," answered Vinicius.
"Ah, traitor!" said Petronius, laughing; "news spreads quickly through slaves; thou hast seduced from me Chrysothemis!"
Vinicius waved his hand in disgust.
"In every case I thank thee," said Petronius. "I will send her a pair of slippers embroidered with pearls. In my language of a lover that means, 'Walk away.' I owe thee a double gratitude,—first, thou didst not accept Eunice; second, thou hast freed me from Chrysothemis. Listen to me! Thou seest before thee a man who has risen early, bathed, feasted, possessed Chrysothemis, written satires, and even at times interwoven prose with verses, but who has been as wearied as Caesar, and often unable to unfetter himself from gloomy thoughts. And dost thou know why that was so? It was because I sought at a distance that which was near. A beautiful woman is worth her weight always in gold; but if she loves in addition, she has simply no price. Such a one thou wilt not buy with the riches of Verres. I say now to myself as follows: I will fill my life with happiness, as a goblet with the foremost wine which the earth has produced, and I will drink till my hand becomes powerless and my lips grow pale. What will come, I care not; and this is my latest philosophy."
"Thou hast proclaimed it always; there is nothing new in it."
"There is substance, which was lacking."
When he had said this, he called Eunice, who entered dressed in white drapery,—the former slave no longer, but as it were a goddess of love and happiness.
Petronius opened his arms to her, and said,—"Come."
At this she ran up to him, and, sitting on his knee, surrounded his neck with her arms, and placed her head on his breast. Vinicius saw how a reflection of purple began to cover her cheeks, how her eyes melted gradually in mist. They formed a wonderful group of love and happiness. Petronius stretched his hand to a flat vase standing at one side on a table, and, taking a whole handful of violets, covered with them the head, bosom, and robe of Eunice; then he pushed the tunic from her arms, and said,—
"Happy he who, like me, has found love enclosed in such a form! At times it seems to me that we are a pair of gods. Look thyself! Has Praxiteles, or Miron, or Skopas, or Lysias even, created more wonderful lines? Or does there exist in Paros or in Pentelicus such marble as this,—warm, rosy, and full of love? There are people who kiss off the edges of vases, but I prefer to look for pleasure where it may be found really."
He began to pass his lips along her shoulders and neck. She was penetrated with a quivering; her eyes now closed, now opened, with an expression of unspeakable delight. Petronius after a while raised her exquisite head, and said, turning to Vinicius,—"But think now, what are thy gloomy Christians in comparison with this? And if thou understand not the difference, go thy way to them. But this sight will cure thee."
Vinicius distended his nostrils, through which entered the odor of violets, which filled the whole chamber, and he grew pale; for he thought that if he could have passed his lips along Lygia's shoulders in that way, it would have been a kind of sacrilegious delight so great that let the world vanish afterward! But accustomed now to a quick perception of that which took place in him, he noticed that at that moment he was thinking of Lygia, and of her only.
"Eunice," said Petronius, "give command, thou divine one, to prepare garlands for our heads and a meal."
When she had gone out he turned to Vinicius.
"I offered to make her free, but knowest thou what she answered?—'I would rather be thy slave than Caesar's wife!' And she would not consent. I freed her then without her knowledge. The pretor favored me by not requiring her presence. But she does not know that she is free, as also she does not know that this house and all my jewels, excepting the gems, will belong to her in case of my death." He rose and walked through the room, and said: "Love changes some more, others less, but it has changed even me. Once I loved the odor of verbenas; but as Eunice prefers violets, I like them now beyond all other flowers, and since spring came we breathe only violets."
Here he stopped before Vinicius and inquired,—"But as to thee, dost thou keep always to nard?"
"Give me peace!" answered the young man.
"I wished thee to see Eunice, and I mentioned her to thee, because thou, perhaps, art seeking also at a distance that which is near. Maybe for thee too is beating, somewhere in the chambers of thy slaves, a true and simple heart. Apply such a balsam to thy wounds. Thou sayest that Lygia loves thee? Perhaps she does. But what kind of love is that which abdicates? Is not the meaning this,—that there is another force stronger than her love? No, my dear, Lygia is not Eunice."
"All is one torment merely," answered Vinicius. "I saw thee kissing Eunice's shoulders, and I thought then that if Lygia would lay hers bare to me I should not care if the ground opened under us next moment. But at the very thought of such an act a certain dread seized me, as if I had attacked some vestal or wished to defile a divinity. Lygia is not Eunice, but I understand the difference not in thy way. Love has changed thy nostrils, and thou preferrest violets to verbenas; but it has changed my soul: hence, in spite of my misery and desire, I prefer Lygia to be what she is rather than to be like others."
"In that case no injustice is done thee. But I do not understand the position."
"True, true!" answered Vinicius, feverishly. "We understand each other no longer."
Another moment of silence followed.
"May Hades swallow thy Christians!" exclaimed Petronius. "They have filled thee with disquiet, and destroyed thy sense of life. May Hades devour them! Thou art mistaken in thinking that their religion is good, for good is what gives people happiness, namely, beauty, love, power; but these they call vanity. Thou art mistaken in this, that they are just; for if we pay good for evil, what shall we pay for good? And besides, if we pay the same for one and the other, why are people to be good?"
"No, the pay is not the same; but according to their teaching it begins in a future life, which is without limit."
"I do not enter into that question, for we shall see hereafter if it be possible to see anything without eyes. Meanwhile they are simply incompetents. Ursus strangled Croton because he has limbs of bronze; but these are mopes, and the future cannot belong to mopes."
"For them life begins with death."
"Which is as if one were to say, 'Day begins with night.' Hast thou the intent to carry off Lygia?"
"No, I cannot pay her evil for good, and I swore that I would not."
"Dost thou intend to accept the religion of Christ?"
"I wish to do so, but my nature cannot endure it."
"But wilt thou be able to forget Lygia?"
At that moment the slaves announced that the repast was ready; but Petronius, to whom it seemed that he had fallen on a good thought, said, on the way to the triclinium,—"Thou has ridden over a part of the world, but only as a soldier hastening to his place of destination, and without halting by the way. Go with us to Achaea. Caesar has not given up the journey. He will stop everywhere on the way, sing, receive crowns, plunder temples, and return as a triumphator to Italy. That will resemble somewhat a journey of Bacchus and Apollo in one person. Augustians, male and female, a thousand citharae. By Castor! that will be worth witnessing, for hitherto the world has not seen anything like it!"
Here he placed himself on the couch before the table, by the side of Eunice; and when the slaves put a wreath of anemones on his head, he continued,—"What hast thou seen in Corbulo's service? Nothing. Hast thou seen the Grecian temples thoroughly, as I have,—I who was passing more than two years from the hands of one guide to those of another? Hast thou been in Rhodes to examine the site of the Colossus? Hast thou seen in Panopeus, in Phocis, the clay from which Prometheus shaped man; or in Sparta the eggs laid by Leda; or in Athens the famous Sarmatian armor made of horse-hoofs; or in Euboea the ship of Agamemnon; or the cup for whose pattern the left breast of Helen served? Hast thou seen Alexandria, Memphis, the Pyramids, the hair which Isis tore from her head in grief for Osiris? Hast thou heard the shout of Memnon? The world is wide; everything does not end at the Trans-Tiber! I will accompany Caesar, and when he returns I will leave him and go to Cyprus; for it is the wish of this golden-haired goddess of mine that we offer doves together to the divinity in Paphos, and thou must know that whatever she wishes must happen."
"I am thy slave," said Eunice.
He rested his garlanded head on her bosom, and said with a smile,—"Then I am the slave of a slave. I admire thee, divine one, from feet to head!"
Then he said to Vinicius: "Come with us to Cyprus. But first remember that thou must see Caesar. It is bad that thou hast not been with him yet; Tigellinus is ready to use this to thy disadvantage. He has no personal hatred for thee, it is true; but he cannot love thee, even because thou art my sister's son. We shall say that thou wert sick. We must think over what thou art to answer should he ask thee about Lygia. It will be best to wave thy hand and say that she was with thee till she wearied thee. He will understand that. Tell him also that sickness kept thee at home; that thy fever was increased by disappointment at not being able to visit Naples and hear his song; that thou wert assisted to health only by the hope of hearing him. Fear no exaggeration. Tigellinus promises to invent, not only something great for Caesar, but something enormous. I am afraid that he will undermine me; I am afraid too of thy disposition."
"Dost thou know," said Vinicius, "that there are people who have no fear of Caesar, and who live as calmly as if he were non-existent?"
"I know whom thou hast in mind—the Christians."
"Yes; they alone. But our life,—what is it if not unbroken terror?"
"Do not mention thy Christians. They fear not Caesar, because he has not even heard of them perhaps; and in every case he knows nothing of them, and they concern him as much as withered leaves. But I tell thee that they are incompetents. Thou feelest this thyself; if thy nature is repugnant to their teaching, it is just because thou feelest their incompetence. Thou art a man of other clay; so trouble not thyself or me with them. We shall be able to live and die, and what more they will be able to do is unknown."
These words struck Vinicius; and when he returned home, he began to think that in truth, perhaps, the goodness and charity of Christians was a proof of their incompetience of soul. It seemed to him that people of strength and temper could not forgive thus. It came to his head that this must be the real cause of the repulsion which his Roman soul felt toward their teaching. "We shall be able to live and die!" said Petronius. As to them, they know only how to forgive, and understand neither true love nor true hatred.