Caesar, on returning to Rome, was angry because he had returned, and after some days was filled anew with a wish to visit Achaea. He even issued an edict in which he declared that his absence would be short, and that public affairs would not be exposed to detriment because of it. In company with Augustians, among whom was Vinicius, he repaired to the Capitol to make offerings to the gods for an auspicious journey. But on the second day, when he visited the temple of Vesta, an event took place which changed all his projects. Nero feared the gods, though he did not believe in them; he feared especially the mysterious Vesta, who filled him with such awe that at sight of the divinity and the sacred fire his hair rose on a sudden from terror, his teeth chattered, a shiver ran through his limbs, and he dropped into the arms of Vinicius, who happened there behind him. He was borne out of the temple at once, and conveyed to the Palatine, where he recovered soon, but did not leave the bed for that day. He declared, moreover, to the great astonishment of those present, that he deferred his journey, since the divinity had warned him secretly against haste. An hour later it was announced throughout Rome that Caesar, seeing the gloomy faces of the citizens, and moved by love for them, as a father for his children, would remain to share their lot and their pleasures. The people, rejoiced at this decision, and certain also that they would not miss games and a distribution of wheat, assembled in crowds before the gates of the Palatine, and raised shouts in honor of the divine Caesar, who interrupted the play at dice with which he was amusing himself with Augustians, and said:
"Yes, there was need to defer the journey. Egypt, and predicted dominion over the Orient, cannot escape me; hence Achaea, too, will not be lost. I will give command to cut through the isthmus of Corinth; I will rear such monuments in Egypt that the pyramids will seem childish toys in comparison; I will have a sphinx built seven times greater than that which is gazing into the desert outside Memphis; but I will command that it have my face. Coming ages will speak only of that monument and of me."
"With thy verses thou hast reared a monument to thyself already, not seven, but thrice seven, times greater than the pyramid of Cheops," said Petronius.
"But with my song?" inquired Nero.
"Ah! if men could only build for thee a statue, like that of Memnon, to call with thy voice at sunrise! For all ages to come the seas adjoining Egypt would swarm with ships in which crowds from the three parts of the world would be lost in listening to thy song."
"Alas! who can do that?" said Nero.
"But thou canst give command to cut out of basalt thyself driving a quadriga."
"True! I will do that!"
"Thou wilt bestow a gift on humanity."
"In Egypt I will marry the Moon, who is now a widow, and I shall be a god really."
"And thou wilt give us stars for wives; we will make a new constellation, which will be called the constellation of Nero. But do thou marry Vitelius to the Nile, so that he may beget hippopotamuses. Give the desert to Tigellinus, he will be king of the jackals."
"And what dost thou predestine to me?" inquired Vatinius.
"Apis bless thee! Thou didst arrange such splendid games in Beneventum that I cannot wish thee ill. Make a pair of boots for the sphinx, whose paws must grow numb during night-dews; after that thou will make sandals for the Colossi which form the alleys before the temples. Each one will find there a fitting occupation. Domitius Afer, for example, will be treasurer, since he is known for his honesty. I am glad, Caesar, when thou art dreaming of Egypt, and I am saddened because thou hast deferred thy plan of a journey."
"Thy mortal eyes saw nothing, for the deity becomes invisible to whomever it wishes," said Nero. "Know that when I was in the temple of Vesta she herself stood near me, and whispered in my ear, 'Defer the journey.' That happened so unexpectedly that I was terrified, though for such an evident care of the gods for me I should be thankful."
"We were all terrified," said Tigellinus, "and the vestal Rubria fainted."
"Rubria!" said Nero; "what a snowy neck she has!"
"But she blushed at sight of the divine Caesar—"
"True! I noticed that myself. That is wonderful. There is something divine in every vestal, and Rubria is very beautiful.
"Tell me," said he, after a moment's meditation, "why people fear Vesta more than other gods. What does this mean? Though I am the chief priest, fear seized me to-day. I remember only that I was falling back, and should have dropped to the ground had not some one supported me. Who was it?"
"I," answered Vinicius.
"Oh, thou 'stern Mars'! Why wert thou not in Beneventum? They told me that thou wert ill, and indeed thy face is changed. But I heard that Croton wished to kill thee? Is that true?"
"It is, and he broke my arm; but I defended myself."
"With a broken arm?"
"A certain barbarian helped me; he was stronger than Croton."
Nero looked at him with astonishment. "Stronger than Croton? Art thou jesting? Croton was the strongest of men, but now here is Syphax from Ethiopia."
"I tell thee, Caesar, what I saw with my own eyes."
"Where is that pearl? Has he not become king of Nemi?"
"I cannot tell, Caesar. I lost sight of him."
"Thou knowest not even of what people he is?"
"I had a broken arm, and could not inquire for him."
"Seek him, and find him for me."
"I will occupy myself with that," said Tigellinus.
But Nero spoke further to Vinicius: "I thank thee for having supported me; I might have broken my head by a fall. On a time thou wert a good companion, but campaigning and service with Corbulo have made thee wild in some way; I see thee rarely.
"How is that maiden too narrow in the hips, with whom thou wert in love," asked he after a while, "and whom I took from Aulus for thee?"
Vinicius was confused, but Petronius came to his aid at that moment. "I will lay a wager, lord," said he, "that he has forgotten. Dost thou see his confusion? Ask him how many of them there were since that time, and I will not give assurance of his power to answer. The Vinicius are good soldiers, but still better gamecocks. They need whole flocks. Punish him for that, lord, by not inviting him to the feast which Tigellinus promises to arrange in thy honor on the pond of Agrippa."
"I will not do that. I trust, Tigellinus, that flocks of beauty will not be lacking there."
"Could the Graces be absent where Amor will be present?" answered Tigellinus.
"Weariness tortures me," said Nero. "I have remained in Rome at the will of the goddess, but I cannot endure the city. I will go to Antium. I am stifled in these narrow streets, amid these tumble-down houses, amid these alleys. Foul air flies even here to my house and my gardens. Oh, if an earthquake would destroy Rome, if some angry god would level it to the earth! I would show how a city should be built, which is the head of the world and my capital."
"Caesar," answered Tigellinus, "thou sayest, 'If some angry god would destroy the city,'—is it so?"
"It is! What then?"
"But art thou not a god?"
Nero waved his hand with an expression of weariness, and said,—"We shall see thy work on the pond of Agrippa. Afterward I go to Antium. Ye are all little, hence do not understand that I need immense things."
Then he closed his eyes, giving to understand in that way that he needed rest. In fact, the Augustians were beginning to depart. Petronius went out with Vinicius, and said to him,—"Thou art invited, then, to share in the amusement. Bronzebeard has renounced the journey, but he will be madder than ever; he has fixed himself in the city as in his own house. Try thou, too, to find in these madnesses amusement and forgetfulness. Well! we have conquered the world, and have a right to amuse ourselves. Thou, Marcus, art a very comely fellow, and to that I ascribe in part the weakness which I have for thee. By the Ephesian Diana! if thou couldst see thy joined brows, and thy face in which the ancient blood of the Quirites is evident! Others near thee looked like freedmen. True! were it not for that mad religion, Lygia would be in thy house to-day. Attempt once more to prove to me that they are not enemies of life and mankind. They have acted well toward thee, hence thou mayst be grateful to them; but in thy place I should detest that religion, and seek pleasure where I could find it. Thou art a comely fellow, I repeat, and Rome is swarming with divorced women."
"I wonder only that all this does not torture thee yet?"
"Who has told thee that it does not? It tortures me this long time, but I am not of thy years. Besides, I have other attachments which are lacking thee. I love books, thou hast no love for them; I love poetry, which annoys thee; I love pottery, gems, a multitude of things, at which thou dost not look; I have a pain in my loins, which thou hast not; and, finally, I have found Eunice, but thou hast found nothing similar. For me, it is pleasant in my house, among masterpieces; of thee I can never make a man of aesthetic feeling. I know that in life I shall never find anything beyond what I have found; thou thyself knowest not that thou art hoping yet continually, and seeking. If death were to visit thee, with all thy courage and sadness, thou wouldst die with astonishment that it was necessary to leave the world; but I should accept death as a necessity, with the conviction that there is no fruit in the world which I have not tasted. I do not hurry, neither shall I loiter; I shall try merely to be joyful to the end. There are cheerful sceptics in the world. For me, the Stoics are fools; but stoicism tempers men, at least, while thy Christians bring sadness into the world, which in life is the same as rain in nature. Dost thou know what I have learned? That during the festivities which Tigellinus will arrange at the pond of Agrippa, there will be lupanaria, and in them women from the first houses of Rome. Will there be not even one sufficiently beautiful to console thee? There will be maidens, too, appearing in society for the first time—as nymphs. Such is our Roman Caesardom! The air is mild already; the midday breeze will warm the water and not bring pimples on naked bodies. And thou, Narcissus, know this, that there will not be one to refuse thee,—not one, even though she be a vestal virgin."
Vinicius began to strike his head with his palm, like a man occupied eternally with one thought.
"I should need luck to find such a one."
"And who did this for thee, if not the Christians? But people whose standard is a cross cannot be different. Listen to me: Greece was beautiful, and created wisdom; we created power; and what, to thy thinking, can this teaching create? If thou know, explain; for, by Pollux! I cannot divine it."
"Thou art afraid, it seems, lest I become a Christian," said Vinicius, shrugging his shoulders.
"I am afraid that thou hast spoiled life for thyself. If thou canst not be a Grecian, be a Roman; possess and enjoy. Our madnesses have a certain sense, for there is in them a kind of thought of our own. I despise Bronzebeard, because he is a Greek buffoon. If he held himself a Roman, I should recognize that he was right in permitting himself madness. Promise me that if thou find some Christian on returning home, thou wilt show thy tongue to him. If he be Glaucus the physician, he will not wonder.—Till we meet on the pond of Agrippa."
PRETORIANS surrounded the groves on the banks of the pond of Agrippa, lest over-numerous throngs of spectators might annoy Caesar and his guests; though it was said that everything in Rome distinguished for wealth, beauty, or intellect was present at that feast, which had no equal in the history of the city. Tigellinus wished to recompense Caesar for the deferred journey to Achaea, to surpass all who had ever feasted Nero, and prove that no man could entertain as he could. With this object in view, while with Caesar in Naples, and later in Beneventum, he had made preparations and sent orders to bring from the remotest regions of the earth beasts, birds, rare fish, and plants, not omitting vessels and cloths, which were to enhance the splendor of the feast. The revenues of whole provinces went to satisfy mad projects; but the powerful favorite had no need to hesitate. His influence grew daily. Tigellinus was not dearer than others to Nero yet, perhaps, but he was becoming more and more indispensable. Petronius surpassed him infinitely in polish, intellect, wit; in conversation he knew better how to amuse Caesar: but to his misfortune he surpassed in conversation Caesar himself, hence he roused his jealousy; moreover he could not be an obedient instrument in everything, and Caesar feared his opinion when there were questions in matters of taste. But before Tigellinus, Nero never felt any restraint. The very title, Arbiter Elegantiarum, which had been given to Petronius, annoyed Nero's vanity, for who had the right to bear that title but himself? Tigellinus had sense enough to know his own deficiencies; and seeing that he could not compete with Petronius, Lucan, or others distinguished by birth, talents, or learning, he resolved to extinguish them by the suppleness of his services, and above all by such a magnificence that the imagination of Nero himself would be struck by it. He had arranged to give the feast on a gigantic raft, framed of gilded timbers. The borders of this raft were decked with splendid shells found in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, shells brilliant with the colors of pearls and the rainbow. The banks of the pond were covered with groups of palm, with groves of lotus, and blooming roses. In the midst of these were hidden fountains of perfumed water, statues of gods and goddesses, and gold or silver cages filled with birds of various colors. In the centre of the raft rose an immense tent, or rather, not to hide the feasters, only the roof of a tent, made of Syrian purple, resting on silver columns; under it were gleaming, like suns, tables prepared for the guests, loaded with Alexandrian glass, crystal, and vessels simply beyond price,—the plunder of Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor. The raft, which because of plants accumulated on it had the appearance of an island and a garden, was joined by cords of gold and purple to boats shaped like fish, swans, mews, and flamingoes, in which sat at painted oars naked rowers of both sexes, with forms and features of marvellous beauty, their hair dressed in Oriental fashion, or gathered in golden nets. When Nero arrived at the main raft with Poppaea and the Augustians, and sat beneath the purple tent-roof, the oars struck the water, the boats moved, the golden cords stretched, and the raft with the feast and the guests began to move and describe circles on the pond. Other boats surrounded it, and other smaller rafts, filled with women playing on citharae and harps, women whose rosy bodies on the blue background of the sky and the water and in the reflections from golden instruments seemed to absorb that blue and those reflections, and to change and bloom like flowers.
From the groves at the banks, from fantastic buildings reared for that day and hidden among thickets, were heard music and song. The neighborhood resounded, the groves resounded; echoes bore around the voices of horns and trumpets. Caesar himself, with Poppaea on one side of him, and Pythagoras on the other, was amazed; and more especially when among the boats young slave maidens appeared as sirens, and were covered with green network in imitation of scales, he did not spare praises on Tigellinus. But he looked at Petronius from habit, wishing to learn the opinion of the "arbiter," who seemed indifferent for a long time, and only when questioned outright, answered,—"I judge, lord, that ten thousand naked maidens make less impression than one."
But the "floating feast" pleased Caesar, for it was something new. Besides, such exquisite dishes were served that the imagination of Apicius would have failed at sight of them, and wines of so many kinds that Otho, who used to serve eighty, would have hidden under water with shame, could he have witnessed the luxury of that feast. Besides women, the Augustians sat down at the table, among whom Vinicius excelled all with his beauty. Formerly his figure and face indicated too clearly the soldier by profession; now mental suffering and the physical pain through which he had passed had chiselled his features, as if the delicate hand of a master had passed over them. His complexion had lost its former swarthiness, but the yellowish gleam of Numidian marble remained on it. His eyes had grown larger and more pensive. His body had retained its former powerful outlines, as if created for armor; but above the body of a legionary was seen the head of a Grecian god, or at least of a refined patrician, at once subtle and splendid. Petronius, in saying that none of the ladies of Caesar's court would be able or willing to resist Vinicius, spoke like a man of experience. All gazed at him now, not excepting Poppaea, or the vestal virgin Rubria, whom Caesar wished to see at the feast.
Wines, cooled in mountain snow, soon warmed the hearts and heads of the guests. Boats shaped as grasshoppers or butterflies shot forth from the bushes at the shore every moment. The blue surface of the pond seemed occupied by butterflies. Above the boats here and there flew doves, and other birds from India and Africa, fastened with silver and blue threads or strings. The sun had passed the greater part of the sky, but the day was warm and even hot, though in the beginning of May. The pond heaved from the strokes of oars, which beat the water in time with music; but in the air there was not the least breath of wind; the groves were motionless, as if lost in listening and in gazing at that which was happening on the water. The raft circled continually on the pond, bearing guests who were increasingly drunk and boisterous.
The feast had not run half its course yet, when the order in which all sat at the table was observed no longer. Caesar gave the example, for, rising himself, he commanded Vinicius, who sat next to Rubria the vestal, to move. Nero occupied the place, and began to whisper something in Rubria's ear. Vinicius found himself next to Poppaea, who extended her arm and begged him to fasten her loosened bracelet. When he did so, with hands trembling somewhat, she cast at him from beneath her long lashes a glance as it were of modesty, and shook her golden head as if in resistance.
Meanwhile the sun, growing larger, ruddier, sank slowly behind the tops of the grove; the guests were for the greater part thoroughly intoxicated. The raft circled now nearer the shore, on which, among bunches of trees and flowers, were seen groups of people, disguised as fauns or satyrs, playing on flutes, bagpipes, and drums, with groups of maidens representing nymphs, dryads, and hamadryads. Darkness fell at last amid drunken shouts from the tent, shouts raised in honor of Luna. Meanwhile the groves were lighted with a thousand lamps. From the lupanaria on the shores shone swarms of lights; on the terraces appeared new naked groups, formed of the wives and daughters of the first Roman houses. These with voice and unrestrained manner began to lure partners. The raft touched the shore at last. Caesar and the Augustians vanished in the groves, scattered in lupanaria, in tents hidden in thickets, in grottos artificially arranged among fountains and springs. Madness seized all; no one knew whither Caesar had gone; no one knew who was a senator, who a knight, who a dancer, who a musician. Satyrs and fauns fell to chasing nymphs with shouting. They struck lamps with thyrses to quench them. Darkness covered certain parts of the grove. Everywhere, however, laughter and shouts were heard, and whispers, and panting breaths. In fact Rome had not seen anything like that before.
Vinicius was not drunk, as he had been at the feast in Nero's palace, when Lygia was present; but he was roused and intoxicated by the sight of everything done round about, and at last the fever of pleasure seized him. Rushing into the forest, he ran, with others, examining who of the dryads seemed most beautiful. New flocks of these raced around him every moment with shouts and with songs; these flocks were pursued by fauns, satyrs, senators, knights, and by sounds of music. Seeing at last a band of maidens led by one arrayed as Diana, he sprang to it, intending to examine the goddess more closely. All at once the heart sank in his bosom, for he thought that in that goddess, with the moon on her forehead, he recognized Lygia.
They encircled him with a mad whirl, and, wishing evidently to incline him to follow, rushed away the next moment like a herd of deer. But he stood on the spot with beating heart, breathless; for though he saw that the Diana was not Lygia, and that at close sight she was not even like her, the too powerful impression deprived him of strength. Straightway he was seized by such yearning as he had never felt before, and love for Lygia rushed to his breast in a new, immense wave. Never had she seemed so dear, pure, and beloved as in that forest of madness and frenzied excess. A moment before, he himself wished to drink of that cup, and share in that shameless letting loose of the senses; now disgust and repugnance possessed him. He felt that infamy was stifling him; that his breast needed air and the stars which were hidden by the thickets of that dreadful grove. He determined to flee; but barely had he moved when before him stood some veiled figure, which placed its hands on his shoulders and whispered, flooding his face with burning breath, "I love thee! Come! no one will see us, hasten!"
Vinicius was roused, as if from a dream.
"Who art thou?"
But she leaned her breast on him and insisted,—"Hurry! See how lonely it is here, and I love thee! Come!"
"Who art thou?" repeated Vinicius.
As she said this, she pressed her lips to his through the veil, drawing toward her his head at the same time, till at last breath failed the woman and she tore her face from him.
"Night of love! night of madness!" said she, catching the air quickly. "Today is free! Thou hast me!"
But that kiss burned Vinicius; it filled him with disquiet. His soul and heart were elsewhere; in the whole world nothing existed for him except Lygia. So, pushing back the veiled figure, he said,—
"Whoever thou be, I love another, I do not wish thee."
"Remove the veil," said she, lowering her head toward him.
At that moment the leaves of the nearest myrtle began to rustle; the veiled woman vanished like a dream vision, but from a distance her laugh was heard, strange in some way, and ominous.
Petronius stood before Vinicius.
"I have heard and seen," said he.
"Let us go from this place," replied Vinicius.
And they went. They passed the lupanaria gleaming with light, the grove, the line of mounted pretorians, and found the litters.
"I will go with thee," said Petronius.
They sat down together. On the road both were silent, and only in the atrium of Vinicius's house did Petronius ask,—"Dost thou know who that was?"
"Was it Rubria?" asked Vinicius, repulsed at the very thought that Rubria was a vestal.
Petronius lowered his voice. "The fire of Vesta was defiled, for Rubria was with Caesar. But with thee was speaking"—and he finished in a still lower voice, "the divine Augusta."
A moment of silence followed.
"Caesar," said Petronius, "was unable to hide from Poppaea his desire for Rubria; therefore she wished, perhaps, to avenge herself. But I hindered you both. Hadst thou recognized the Augusta and refused her, thou wouldst have been ruined beyond rescue,—thou, Lygia, and I, perhaps."
"I have enough of Rome, Caesar, feasts, the Augusta, Tigellinus, and all of you!" burst out Vinicius. "I am stifling. I cannot live thus; I cannot. Dost understand me?"
"Vinicius, thou art losing sense, judgment, moderation."
"I love only her in this world."
"What of that?"
"This, that I wish no other love. I have no wish for your life, your feasts, your shamelessness, your crimes!"
"What is taking place in thee? Art thou a Christian?"
The young man seized his head with both hands, and repeated, as if in despair,—"Not yet! not yet!"
PETRONIUS went home shrugging his shoulders and greatly dissatisfied. It was evident to him that he and Vinicius had ceased to understand each other, that their souls had separated entirely. Once Petronius had immense influence over the young soldier. He had been for him a model in everything, and frequently a few ironical words of his sufficed to restrain Vinicius or urge him to something. At present there remained nothing of that; such was the change that Petronius did not try his former methods, feeling that his wit and irony would slip without effect along the new principles which love and contact with the uncomprehended society of Christians had put in the soul of Vinicius. The veteran sceptic understood that he had lost the key to that soul. This knowledge filled him with dissatisfaction and even with fear, which was heightened by the events of that night. "If on the part of the Augusta it is not a passing whim but a more enduring desire," thought Petronius, "one of two things will happen,—either Vinicius will not resist her, and he may be ruined by any accident, or, what is like him to-day, he will resist, and in that event he will be ruined certainly, and perhaps I with him, even because I am his relative, and because the Augusta, having included a whole family in her hatred, will throw the weight of her influence on the side of Tigellinus. In this way and that it is bad." Petronius was a man of courage and felt no dread of death; but since he hoped nothing from it, he had no wish to invite it. After long meditation, he decided at last that it would be better and safer to send Vinicius from Rome on a journey. Ah! but if in addition he could give him Lygia for the road, he would do so with pleasure. But he hoped that it would not be too difficult to persuade him to the journey without her. He would spread a report on the Palatine then of Vinicius's illness, and remove danger as well from his nephew as himself. The Augusta did not know whether she was recognized by Vinicius; she might suppose that she was not, hence her vanity had not suffered much so far. But it might be different in the future, and it was necessary to avoid peril. Petronius wished to gain time, above all; for he understood that once Caesar set out for Achaea, Tigellinus, who comprehended nothing in the domain of art, would descend to the second place and lose his influence. In Greece Petronius was sure of victory over every opponent.
Meanwhile he determined to watch over Vinicius, and urge him to the journey. For a number of days he was ever thinking over this, that if he obtained an edict from Caesar expelling the Christians from Rome, Lygia would leave it with the other confessors of Christ, and after her Vinicius too. Then there would be no need to persuade him. The thing itself was possible. In fact it was not so long since, when the Jews began disturbances out of hatred to the Christians, Claudius, unable to distinguish one from the other, expelled the Jews. Why should not Nero expel the Christians? There would be more room in Rome without them. After that "floating feast" Petronius saw Nero daily, both on the Palatine and in other houses. To suggest such an idea was easy, for Nero never opposed suggestions which brought harm or ruin to any one. After mature decision Petronius framed a whole plan for himself. He would prepare a feast in his own house, and at this feast persuade Caesar to issue an edict. He had even a hope, which was not barren, that Caesar would confide the execution of the edict to him. He would send out Lygia with all the consideration proper to the mistress of Vinicius to Baiae, for instance, and let them love and amuse themselves there with Christianity as much as they liked.
Meanwhile he visited Vinicius frequently, first, because he could not, despite all his Roman selfishness, rid himself of attachment to the young tribune, and second, because he wished to persuade him to the journey. Vinicius feigned sickness, and did not show himself on the Palatine, where new plans appeared every day. At last Petronius heard from Caesar's own lips that three days from then he would go to Antium without fail. Next morning he went straightway to inform Vinicius, who showed him a list of persons invited to Antium, which list one of Caesar's freedmen had brought him that morning.
"My name is on it; so is thine," said he. "Thou wilt find the same at thy house on returning."
"Were I not among the invited," replied Petronius, "it would mean that I must die; I do not expect that to happen before the journey to Achaea. I shall be too useful to Nero. Barely have we come to Rome," said he, on looking at the list, "when we must leave again, and drag over the road to Antium. But we must go, for this is not merely an invitation, it is a command as well."
"And if some one would not obey?"
"He would be invited in another style to go on a journey notably longer,—one from which people do not return. What a pity that thou hast not obeyed my counsel and left Rome in season! Now thou must go to Antium."
"I must go to Antium. See in what times we live and what vile slaves we are!"
"Hast thou noticed that only to-day?"
"No. But thou hast explained to me that Christian teaching is an enemy of life, since it shackles it. But can their shackles be stronger than those which we carry? Thou hast said, 'Greece created wisdom and beauty, and Rome power.' Where is our power?"
"Call Chilo and talk with him. I have no desire to-day to philosophize. By Hercules! I did not create these times, and I do not answer for them. Let us speak of Antium. Know that great danger is awaiting thee, and it would be better, perhaps, to measure strength with that Ursus who choked Croton than to go there, but still thou canst not refuse."
Vinicius waved his hand carelessly, and said,—"Danger! We are all wandering in the shadow of death, and every moment some head sinks in its darkness."
"Am I to enumerate all who had a little sense, and therefore, in spite of the times of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, lived eighty and ninety years? Let even such a man as Domitius Afer serve thee as an example. He has grown old quietly, though all his life he has been a criminal and a villain."
"Perhaps for that very reason!" answered Vinicius.
Then he began to glance over the list and read: "Tigellinus, Vatinius, Sextus Africanus, Aquilinus Regulus, Suilius Nerulinus, Eprius Marcellus, and so on! What an assembly of ruffians and scoundrels! And to say that they govern the world! Would it not become them better to exhibit an Egyptian or Syrian divinity through villages, jingle sistra, and earn their bread by telling fortunes or dancing?"
"Or exhibiting learned monkeys, calculating dogs, or a flute-playing ass," added Petronius. "That is true, but let us speak of something more important. Summon thy attention and listen. I have said on the Palatine that thou art ill, unable to leave the house; still thy name is on the list, which proves that some one does not credit my stories and has seen to this purposely. Nero cares nothing for the matter, since for him thou art a soldier, who has no conception of poetry or music, and with whom at the very highest he can talk only about races in the circus. So Poppaea must have seen to putting down thy name, which means that her desire for thee was not a passing whim, and that she wants to win thee."
"She is a daring Augusta."
"Indeed she is daring, for she may ruin herself beyond redemption. May Venus inspire her, however, with another love as soon as possible; but since she desires thee thou must observe the very greatest caution. She has begun to weary Bronzebeard already; he prefers Rubria now, or Pythagoras, but, through consideration of self, he would wreak the most horrible vengeance on us."
"In the grove I knew not that she was speaking to me; but thou wert listening. I said that I loved another, and did not wish her. Thou knowest that."
"I implore thee, by all the infernal gods, lose not the remnant of reason which the Christians have left in thee. How is it possible to hesitate, having a choice between probable and certain destruction? Have I not said already that if thou hadst wounded the Augusta's vanity, there would have been no rescue for thee? By Hades! if life has grown hateful to thee, better open thy veins at once, or cast thyself on a sword, for shouldst thou offend Poppaea, a less easy death may meet thee. It was easier once to converse with thee. What concerns thee specially? Would this affair cause thee loss, or hinder thee from loving thy Lygia? Remember, besides, that Poppaea saw her on the Palatine. It will not be difficult for her to guess why thou art rejecting such lofty favor, and she will get Lygia even from under the earth. Thou wilt ruin not only thyself, but Lygia too. Dost understand?"
Vinicius listened as if thinking of something else, and at last he said,—
"I must see her."
"Dost thou know where she is?"
"Then thou wilt begin anew to search for her in old cemeteries and beyond the Tiber?"
"I know not, but I must see her."
"Well, though she is a Christian, it may turn out that she has more judgment than thou; and it will certainly, unless she wishes thy ruin."
Vinicius shrugged his shoulders. "She saved me from the hands of Ursus."
"Then hurry, for Bronzebeard will not postpone his departure. Sentences of death may be issued in Antium also."
But Vinicius did not hear. One thought alone occupied him, an interview with Lygia; hence he began to think over methods.
Meanwhile something intervened which might set aside every difficulty. Chilo came to his house unexpectedly.
He entered wretched and worn, with signs of hunger on his face and in rags; but the servants, who had the former command to admit him at all hours of the day or night, did not dare to detain him, so he went straight to the atrium, and standing before Vinicius said,—"May the gods give thee immortality, and share with thee dominion over the world."
Vinicius at the first moment wished to give the order to throw him out of doors; but the thought came to him that the Greek perhaps knew something of Lygia, and curiosity overcame his disgust.
"Is that thou?" asked he. "What has happened to thee?"
"Evil, O son of Jove," answered Chilo. "Real virtue is a ware for which no one inquires now, and a genuine sage must be glad of this even, that once in five days he has something with which to buy from the butcher a sheep's head, to gnaw in a garret, washing it down with his tears. Ah, lord! What thou didst give me I paid Atractus for books, and afterward I was robbed and ruined. The slave who was to write down my wisdom fled, taking the remnant of what thy generosity bestowed on me. I am in misery, but I thought to myself: To whom can I go, if not to thee, O Serapis, whom I love and deify, for whom I have exposed my life?"
"Why hast thou come, and what dost thou bring?"
"I come for aid, O Baal, and I bring my misery, my tears, my love, and finally the information which through love for thee I have collected. Thou rememberest, lord, I told thee once how I had given a slave of the divine Petronius one thread from the girdle of the Paphian Venus? I know now that it helped her, and thou, O descendant of the Sun, who knowest what is happening in that house, knowest also what Eunice is there. I have another such thread. I have preserved it for thee, lord."
Here he stopped, on noticing the anger which was gathering on the brows of Vinicius, and said quickly, so as to anticipate the outburst,—
"I know where the divine Lygia is living; I will show thee the street and the house."
Vinicius repressed the emotion with which that news filled him, and said,—"Where is she?"
"With Linus, the elder priest of the Christians. She is there with Ursus, who goes as before to the miller, a namesake of thy dispensator Demas. Yes, Demas! Ursus works in the night; so if thou surround the house at night, thou wilt not find him. Linus is old, and besides him there are only two aged women in the house."
"Whence dost thou know all this?"
"Thou rememberest, lord, that the Christians had me in their hands, and spared me. True, Glaucus was mistaken in thinking that I was the cause of his misfortunes; but he believed that I was, poor man, and he believes so yet. Still they spared me. Then be not astonished, lord, that gratitude filled my heart. I am a man of former, of better times. This was my thought: Am I to desert friends and benefactors? Would I not have been hard-hearted not to inquire about them, not to learn what was happening to them, how health was serving them, and where they were living? By the Pessinian Cybele! I am not capable of such conduct. At first I was restrained by fear that they might interpret my wishes incorrectly. But the love which I bore them proved greater than my fear, and the ease with which they forgive every injustice lent me special courage. But above all I was thinking of thee, lord. Our last attempt ended in defeat; but can such a son of Fortune be reconciled with defeat? So I prepared victory for thee. The house stands apart. Thou mayst give command to thy slaves to surround it so that not a mouse could escape. My lord, on thee alone it depends to have that magnanimous king's daughter in thy house this very night. But should that happen, remember that the cause of it is the very poor and hungry son of my father."
The blood rushed to Vinicius's head. Temptation shook all his being again. Yes; that was the method, and this time a certain one. Once he has Lygia in his house, who can take her? Once he makes Lygia his mistress, what will be left to her, unless to remain so forever? And let all religions perish! What will the Christians mean to him then, with their mercy and forbidding faith? Is it not time to shake himself free of all that? Is it not time to live as all live? What will Lygia do later, save to reconcile her fate with the religion which she professes? That, too, is a question of inferior significance. Those are matters devoid of importance. First of all, she will be his,—and his this very day. And it is a question, too, whether that religion will hold out in her soul against the world which is new to her, against luxury, and excitements to which she must yield. All may happen to-day. He needs only to detain Chilo, and give an order at dark. And then delight without end! "What has my life been?" thought Vinicius; "suffering, unsatisfied desire, and an endless propounding of problems without answer." In this way all will be cut short and ended. He recollected, it is true, that he had promised not to raise a hand against her. But by what had he sworn? Not by the gods, for he did not believe in them; not by Christ, for he did not believe in him yet. Finally, if she feels injured, he will marry her, and thus repair the wrong. Yes; to that he feels bound, for to her he is indebted for life. Here he recalled the day in which with Croton he had attacked her retreat; he remembered the Lygian's fist raised above him, and all that had happened later. He saw her again bent over his couch, dressed in the garb of a slave, beautiful as a divinity, a benefactress kind and glorified. His eyes passed to the lararium unconsciously, and to the little cross which she left him before going. Will he pay for all that by a new attack? Will he drag her by the hair as a slave to his cubiculum? And how will he be able to do so, since he not only desires but loves her, and he loves her specially because she is as she is? All at once he felt that it was not enough for him to have her in the house, it was not enough to seize her in his arms by superior force; he felt that his love needed something more,—her consent, her loves and her soul. Blessed that roof, if she come under it willingly; blessed the moment, blessed the day, blessed his life. Then the happiness of both will be as inexhaustible as the ocean, as the sun. But to seize her by violence would be to destroy that happiness forever, and at the same time to destroy, and defile that which is most precious and alone beloved in life. Terror seized him now at the very thought of this. He glanced at Chilo, who, while watching him, pushed his hands under his rags and scratched himself uneasily. That instant, disgust unspeakable took possession of Vinicius, and a wish to trample that former assistant of his, as he would a foul worm or venomous serpent. In an instant he knew what to do. But knowing no measure in anything, and following the impulse of his stern Roman nature, he turned toward Chilo and said,—
"I will not do what thou advisest, but, lest thou go without just reward, I will command to give thee three hundred stripes in the domestic prison."
Chilo grew pale. There was so much cold resolution in the beautiful face of Vinicius that he could not deceive himself for a moment with the hope that the promised reward was no more than a cruel jest.
Hence he threw himself on his knees in one instant, and bending double began to groan in a broken voice,—"How, O king of Persia? Why?—O pyramid of kindness! Colossus of mercy! For what?—I am old, hungry, unfortunate—I have served thee—dost thou repay in this manner?"
"As thou didst the Christians," said Vinicius. And he called the dispensator.
But Chilo sprang toward his feet, and, embracing them convulsively, talked, while his face was covered with deathly pallor,—"O lord, O lord! I am old! Fifty, not three hundred stripes. Fifty are enough! A hundred, not three hundred! Oh, mercy, mercy!"
Vinicius thrust him away with his foot, and gave the order. In the twinkle of an eye two powerful Quadi followed the dispensator, and, seizing Chilo by the remnant of his hair, tied his own rags around his neck and dragged him to the prison.
"In the name of Christ!" called the Greek, at the exit of the corridor.
Vinicius was left alone. The order just issued roused and enlivened him. He endeavored to collect his scattered thoughts, and bring them to order. He felt great relief, and the victory which he had gained over himself filled him with comfort. He thought that he had made some great approach toward Lygia, and that some high reward should be given him. At the first moment it did not even occur to him that he had done a grievous wrong to Chilo, and had him flogged for the very acts for which he had rewarded him previously. He was too much of a Roman yet to be pained by another man's suffering, and to occupy his attention with one wretched Greek. Had he even thought of Chilo's suffering he would have considered that he had acted properly in giving command to punish such a villain. But he was thinking of Lygia, and said to her: I will not pay thee with evil for good; and when thou shalt learn how I acted with him who strove to persuade me to raise hands against thee, thou wilt be grateful. But here he stopped at this thought: Would Lygia praise his treatment of Chilo? The religion which she professes commands forgiveness; nay, the Christians forgave the villain, though they had greater reasons for revenge. Then for the first time was heard in his soul the cry: "In the name of Christ!" He remembered then that Chilo had ransomed himself from the hands of Ursus with such a cry, and he determined to remit the remainder of the punishment.
With that object he was going to summon the dispensator, when that person stood before him, and said,—"Lord, the old man has fainted, and perhaps he is dead. Am I to command further flogging?"
"Revive him and bring him before me."
The chief of the atrium vanished behind the curtain, but the revival could not have been easy, for Vinicius waited a long time and was growing impatient, when the slaves brought in Chilo, and disappeared at a signal.
Chilo was as pale as linen, and down his legs threads of blood were flowing to the mosaic pavement of the atrium. He was conscious, however, and, falling on his knees, began to speak, with extended hands,—"Thanks to thee, lord. Thou art great and merciful."
"Dog," said Vinicius, "know that I forgave thee because of that Christ to whom I owe my own life."
"O lord, I will serve Him and thee."
"Be silent and listen. Rise! Thou wilt go and show me the house in which Lygia dwells."
Chilo sprang up; but he was barely on his feet when he grew more deathly pale yet, and said in a failing voice,—"Lord, I am really hungry—I will go, lord, I will go! but I have not the strength. Command to give me even remnants from the plate of thy dog, and I will go."
Vinicius commanded to give him food, a piece of gold, and a mantle. But Chilo, weakened by stripes and hunger, could not go to take food, though terror raised the hair on his head, lest Vinicius might mistake his weakness for stubbornness and command to flog him anew.
"Only let wine warm me," repeated he, with chattering teeth, "I shall be able to go at once, even to Magna Graecia."
He regained some strength after a time, and they went out.
The way was long, for, like the majority of Christians, Linus dwelt in the Trans-Tiber, and not far from Miriam. At last Chilo showed Vinicius a small house, standing apart, surrounded by a wall covered entirely with ivy, and said,
"Here it is, lord."
"Well," said Vinicius, "go thy way now, but listen first to what I tell thee. Forget that thou hast served me; forget where Miriam, Peter, and Glaucus dwell; forget also this house, and all Christians. Thou wilt come every month to my house, where Demas, my freedman, will pay thee two pieces of gold. But shouldst thou spy further after Christians, I will have thee flogged, or delivered into the hands of the prefect of the city."
Chilo bowed down, and said,—"I will forget."
But when Vinicius vanished beyond the corner of the street, he stretched his hands after him, and, threatening with his fists, exclaimed,—"By Ate and the Furies! I will not forget!"
Then he grew faint again.
VINICIUS went directly to the house in which Miriam lived. Before the gate he met Nazarius, who was confused at sight of him; but greeting the lad cordially, he asked to be conducted to his mother's lodgings.
Besides Miriam, Vinicius found Peter, Glaucus, Crispus, and Paul of Tarsus, who had returned recently from Fregellae. At sight of the young tribune, astonishment was reflected on all faces; but he said,—"I greet you in the name of Christ, whom ye honor."
"May His name be glorified forever!" answered they.
"I have seen your virtue and experienced your kindness, hence I come as a friend."
"And we greet thee as a friend," answered Peter. "Sit down, lord, and partake of our refreshment, as a guest."
"I will sit down and share your repast; but first listen to me, thou Peter, and thou Paul of Tarsus, so that ye may know my sincerity. I know where Lygia is. I have returned from before the house of Linus, which is near this dwelling. I have a right to her given me by Caesar. I have at my houses in the city nearly five hundred slaves. I might surround her hiding-place and seize her; still I have not done so, and will not."
"For this reason the blessing of the Lord will be upon thee, and thy heart will be purified," said Peter.
"I thank thee. But listen to me further: I have not done so, though I am living in suffering and sadness. Before I knew you, I should have taken her undoubtedly, and held her by force; but your virtue and your religion, though I do not profess it, have changed something in my soul, so that I do not venture on violence. I know not myself why this is so, but it is so; hence I come to you, for ye take the place of Lygia's father and mother, and I say to you: Give her to me as wife, and I swear that not only will I not forbid her to confess Christ, but I will begin myself to learn His religion."
He spoke with head erect and decisively; but still he was moved, and his legs trembled beneath his mantle. When silence followed his words, he continued, as if wishing to anticipate an unfavorable answer,—
"I know what obstacles exist, but I love her as my own eyes; and though I am not a Christian yet, I am neither your enemy nor Christ's. I wish to be sincere, so that you may trust me. At this moment it is a question of life with me, still I tell you the truth. Another might say, Baptize me; I say, Enlighten me. I believe that Christ rose from the dead, for people say so who love the truth, and who saw Him after death. I believe, for I have seen myself, that your religion produces virtue, justice, and mercy,—not crime, which is laid to your charge. I have not known your religion much so far. A little from you, a little from your works, a little from Lygia, a little from conversations with you. Still I repeat that it has made some change in me. Formerly I held my servants with an iron hand; I cannot do so now. I knew no pity; I know it now. I was fond of pleasure; the other night I fled from the pond of Agrippa, for the breath was taken from me through disgust. Formerly I believed in superior force; now I have abandoned it. Know ye that I do not recognize myself. I am disgusted by feasts, wine, singing, citharae, garlands, the court of Caesar, naked bodies, and every crime. When I think that Lygia is like snow in the mountains, I love her the more; and when I think that she is what she is through your religion, I love and desire that religion. But since I understand it not, since I know not whether I shall be able to live according to it, nor whether my nature can endure it, I am in uncertainty and suffering, as if I were in prison."
Here his brows met in wrinkle of pain, and a flush appeared on his cheeks; after that he spoke on with growing haste and greater emotion,—
"As ye see, I am tortured from love and uncertainty. Men tell me that in your religion there is no place for life, or human joy, or happiness, or law, or order, or authority, or Roman dominion. Is this true? Men tell me that ye are madmen; but tell me yourselves what ye bring. Is it a sin to love, a sin to feel joy, a sin to want happiness? Are ye enemies of life? Must a Christian be wretched? Must I renounce Lygia? What is truth in your view? Your deeds and words are like transparent water, but what is under that water? Ye see that I am sincere. Scatter the darkness. Men say this to me also: Greece created beauty and wisdom, Rome created power; but they—what do they bring? Tell, then, what ye bring. If there is brightness beyond your doors, open them."
"We bring love," said Peter.
And Paul of Tarsus added,—"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass."
But the heart of the old Apostle was stirred by that soul in suffering, which, like a bird in a cage, was struggling toward air and the sun; hence, stretching his hand to Vinicius, he said,—"Whoso knocketh, to him will be opened. The favor and grace of God is upon thee; for this reason I bless thee, thy soul and thy love, in the name of the Redeemer of mankind."
Vinicius, who had spoken with enthusiasm already, sprang toward Peter on hearing this blessing, and an uncommon thing happened. That descendant of Quirites, who till recently had not recognized humanity in a foreigner, seized the hand of the old Galilean, and pressed it in gratitude to his lips.
Peter was pleased; for he understood that his sowing had fallen on an additional field, that his fishing-net had gathered in a new soul.
Those present, not less pleased by that evident expression of honor for the Apostle of God, exclaimed in one voice,—"Praise to the Lord in the highest!"
Vinicius rose with a radiant face, and began,—"I see that happiness may dwell among you, for I feel happy, and I think that ye can convince me of other things in the same way. But I will add that this cannot happen in Rome. Caesar is going to Antium and I must go with him, for I have the order. Ye know that not to obey is death. But if I have found favor in your eyes, go with me to teach your truth. It will be safer for you than for me. Even in that great throng of people, ye can announce your truth in the very court of Caesar. They say that Acte is a Christian; and there are Christians among pretorians even, for I myself have seen soldiers kneeling before thee, Peter, at the Nomentan gate. In Antium I have a villa where we shall assemble to hear your teaching, at the side of Nero. Glaucus told me that ye are ready to go to the end of the earth for one soul; so do for me what ye have done for those for whose sake ye have come from Judea,—do it, and desert not my soul."
Hearing this, they began to take counsel, thinking with delight of the victory of their religion, and of the significance for the pagan world which the conversion of an Augustian, and a descendant of one of the oldest Roman families, would have. They were ready, indeed, to wander to the end of the earth for one human soul, and since the death of the Master they had, in fact, done nothing else; hence a negative answer did not even come to their minds. Peter was at that moment the pastor of a whole multitude, hence he could not go; but Paul of Tarsus, who had been in Aricium and Fregellae not long before, and who was preparing for a long journey to the East to visit churches there and freshen them with a new spirit of zeal, consented to accompany the young tribune to Antium. It was easy to find a ship there going to Grecian waters.
Vinicius, though sad because Peter, to whom he owed so much, could not visit Antium, thanked him with gratitude, and then turned to the old Apostle with his last request,—"Knowing Lygia's dwelling," said he, "I might have gone to her and asked, as is proper, whether she would take me as husband should my soul become Christian, but I prefer to ask thee, O Apostle! Permit me to see her, or take me thyself to her. I know not how long I shall be in Antium; and remember that near Caesar no one is sure of to-morrow. Petronius himself told me that I should not be altogether safe there. Let me see her before I go; let me delight my eyes with her; and let me ask her if she will forget my evil and return good."
Peter smiled kindly and said,—"But who could refuse thee a proper joy, my son?"
Vinicius stooped again to Peter's hands, for he could not in any way restrain his overflowing heart. The Apostle took him by the temples and said,—"Have no fear of Caesar, for I tell thee that a hair will not fall from thy head."
He sent Miriam for Lygia, telling her not to say who was with them, so as to give the maiden more delight.
It was not far; so after a short time those in the chamber saw among the myrtles of the garden Miriam leading Lygia by the hand.
Vinicius wished to run forth to meet her; but at sight of that beloved form happiness took his strength, and he stood with beating heart, breathless, barely able to keep his feet, a hundred times more excited than when for the first time in life he heard the Parthian arrows whizzing round his head.
She ran in, unsuspecting; but at sight of him she halted as if fixed to the earth. Her face flushed, and then became very pale; she looked with astonished and frightened eyes on those present.
But round about she saw clear glances, full of kindness. The Apostle Peter approached her and asked,—"Lygia, dost thou love him as ever?"
A moment of silence followed. Her lips began to quiver like those of a child who is preparing to cry, who feels that it is guilty, but sees that it must confess the guilt.
"Answer," said the Apostle.
Then, with humility, obedience, and fear in her voice, she whispered, kneeling at the knees of Peter,—"I do."
In one moment Vinicius knelt at her side. Peter placed his hands on their heads, and said,—"Love each other in the Lord and to His glory, for there is no sin in your love."
WHILE walking with Lygia through the garden, Vinicius described briefly, in words from the depth of his heart, that which a short time before he had confessed to the Apostles,—that is, the alarm of his soul, the changes which had taken place in him, and, finally, that immense yearning which had veiled life from him, beginning with the hour when he left Miriam's dwelling. He confessed to Lygia that he had tried to forget her, but was not able. He thought whole days and nights of her. That little cross of boxwood twigs which she had left reminded him of her,—that cross, which he had placed in the lararium and revered involuntarily as something divine. And he yearned more and more every moment, for love was stronger than he, and had seized his soul altogether, even when he was at the house of Aulus. The Parcae weave the thread of life for others; but love, yearning, and melancholy had woven it for him. His acts had been evil, but they had their origin in love. He had loved her when she was in the house of Aulus, when she was on the Palatine, when he saw her in Ostrianum listening to Peter's words, when he went with Croton to carry her away, when she watched at his bedside, and when she deserted him. Then came Chilo, who discovered her dwelling, and advised him to seize her a second time; but he chose to punish Chilo, and go to the Apostles to ask for truth and for her. And blessed be that moment in which such a thought came to his head, for now he is at her side, and she will not flee from him, as the last time she fled from the house of Miriam.
"I did not flee from thee," said Lygia.
"Then why didst thou go?"
She raised her iris-colored eyes to him, and, bending her blushing face, said,—"Thou knowest—"
Vinicius was silent for a moment from excess of happiness, and began again to speak, as his eyes were opened gradually to this,—that she was different utterly from Roman women, and resembled Pomponia alone. Besides, he could not explain this to her clearly, for he could not define his feeling,—that beauty of a new kind altogether was coming to the world in her, such beauty as had not been in it thus far; beauty which is not merely a statue, but a spirit. He told her something, however, which filled her with delight,—that he loved her just because she had fled from him, and that she would be sacred to him at his hearth. Then, seizing her hand, he could not continue; he merely gazed on her with rapture as on his life's happiness which he had won, and repeated her name, as if to assure himself that he had found her and was near her.
"Oh, Lygia, Lygia!"
At last he inquired what had taken place in her mind, and she confessed that she had loved him while in the house of Aulus, and that if he had taken her back to them from the Palatine she would have told them of her love and tried to soften their anger against him.
"I swear to thee," said Vinicius, "that it had not even risen in my mind to take thee from Aulus. Petronius will tell thee sometime that I told him then how I loved and wished to marry thee. 'Let her anoint my door with wolf fat, and let her sit at my hearth,' said I to him. But he ridiculed me, and gave Caesar the idea of demanding thee as a hostage and giving thee to me. How often in my sorrow have I cursed him; but perhaps fate ordained thus, for otherwise I should not have known the Christians, and should not have understood thee."
"Believe me, Marcus," replied Lygia, "it was Christ who led thee to Himself by design."
Vinicius raised his head with a certain astonishment.
"True," answered he, with animation. "Everything fixed itself so marvellously that in seeking thee I met the Christians. In Ostrianum I listened to the Apostle with wonder, for I had never heard such words. And there thou didst pray for me?"
"I did," answered Lygia.
They passed near the summer-house covered with thick ivy, and approached the place where Ursus, after stifling Croton, threw himself upon Vinicius.
"Here," said the young man, "I should have perished but for thee."
"Do not mention that," answered Lygia, "and do not speak of it to Ursus."
"Could I be revenged on him for defending thee? Had he been a slave, I should have given him freedom straightway."
"Had he been a slave, Aulus would have freed him long ago."
"Dost thou remember," asked Vinicius, "that I wished to take thee back to Aulus, but the answer was, that Caesar might hear of it and take revenge on Aulus and Pomponia? Think of this: thou mayst see them now as often as thou wishest."
"I say 'now,' and I think that thou wilt be able to see them without danger, when thou art mine. For should Caesar hear of this, and ask what I did with the hostage whom he gave me, I should say 'I married her, and she visits the house of Aulus with my consent.' He will not remain long in Antium, for he wishes to go to Achaea; and even should he remain, I shall not need to see him daily. When Paul of Tarsus teaches me your faith, I will receive baptism at once, I will come here, gain the friendship of Aulus and Pomponia, who will return to the city by that time, and there will be no further hindrance, I will seat thee at my hearth. Oh, carissima! carissima!"
And he stretched forth his hand, as if taking Heaven as witness of his love; and Lygia, raising her clear eyes to him, said,—
"And then I shall say, 'Wherever thou art, Caius, there am I, Caia.'"
"No, Lygia," cried Vinicius, "I swear to thee that never has woman been so honored in the house of her husband as thou shalt be in mine."
For a time they walked on in silence, without being able to take in with their breasts their happiness, in love with each other, like two deities, and as beautiful as if spring had given them to the world with the flowers.
They halted at last under the cypress growing near the entrance of the house. Lygia leaned against his breast, and Vinicius began to entreat again with a trembling voice,—"Tell Ursus to go to the house of Aulus for thy furniture and playthings of childhood."
But she, blushing like a rose or like the dawn, answered,—"Custom commands otherwise."
"I know that. The pronuba [The matron who accompanies the bride and explains to her the duties of a wife] usually brings them behind the bride, but do this for me. I will take them to my villa in Antium, and they will remind me of thee."
Here he placed his hands together and repeated, like a child who is begging for something,—"It will be some days before Pomponia returns; so do this, diva, do this, carissima."
"But Pomponia will do as she likes," answered Lygia, blushing still more deeply at mention of the pronuba.
And again they were silent, for love had begun to stop the breath in their breasts. Lygia stood with shoulders leaning against the cypress, her face whitening in the shadow, like a flower, her eyes drooping, her bosom heaving with more and more life. Vinicius changed in the face, and grew pale. In the silence of the afternoon they only heard the beating of their hearts, and in their mutual ecstasy that cypress, the myrtle bushes, and the ivy of the summer-house became for them a paradise of love. But Miriam appeared in the door, and invited them to the afternoon meal. They sat down then with the Apostles, who gazed at them with pleasure, as on the young generation which after their death would preserve and sow still further the seed of the new faith. Peter broke and blessed bread. There was calm on all faces, and a certain immense happiness seemed to overflow the whole house.
"See," said Paul at last, turning to Vinicius, "are we enemies of life and happiness?"
"I know how that is," answered Vinicius, "for never have I been so happy as among you."
ON the evening of that day Vinicius, while returning home through the Forum, saw at the entrance to the Vicus Tuscus the gilded litter of Petronius, carried by eight stalwart Bithynians, and, stopping it with a sign of his hand, he approached the curtains.
"Thou hast had a pleasant dream, I trust, and a happy one!" cried he, laughing at sight of the slumbering Petronius.
"Oh, is it thou?" said Petronius, waking up. "Yes; I dropped asleep for a moment, as I passed the night at the Palatine. I have come out to buy something to read on the road to Antium. What is the news?"
"Art thou visiting the book-shops?" inquired Vinicius.
"Yes, I do not like to bring disorder into my library, so I am collecting a special supply for the journey. It is likely that some new things of Musonius and Seneca have come out. I am looking also for Persius, and a certain edition of the Eclogues of Vergilius, which I do not possess. Oh, how tired I am; and how my hands ache from covers and rings! For when a man is once in a book-shop curiosity seizes him to look here and there. I was at the shop of Avirnus, and at that of Atractus on the Argiletum, and with the Sozii on Vicus Sandalarius. By Castor! how I want to sleep!"
"Thou wert on the Palatine? Then I would ask thee what is it to be heard there? Or, knowest what?—send home the litter and the tubes with books, and come to my house. We will talk of Antium, and of something else."
"That is well," answered Petronius, coming out of the litter. "Thou must know, besides, that we start for Antium the day after to-morrow."
"Whence should I know that?"
"In what world art thou living? Well, I shall be the first to announce the news to thee. Yes; be ready for the day after to-morrow in the morning. Peas in olive oil have not helped, a cloth around his thick neck has not helped, and Bronzebeard is hoarse. In view of this, delay is not to be mentioned. He curses Rome and its atmosphere, with what the world stands on; he would be glad to level it to the earth or to destroy it with fire, and he longs for the sea at the earliest. He says that the smells which the wind brings from the narrow streets are driving him into the grave. To-day great sacrifices were offered in all the temples to restore his voice; and woe to Rome, but especially to the Senate, should it not return quickly!"
"Then there would be no reason for his visit to Achaea?"
"But is that the only talent possessed by our divine Caesar?" asked Petronius, smiling. "He would appear in the Olympic games, as a poet, with his 'Burning of Troy'; as a charioteer, as a musician, as an athlete,—nay, even as a dancer, and would receive in every case all the crowns intended for victors. Dost know why that monkey grew hoarse? Yesterday he wanted to equal our Paris in dancing, and danced for us the adventures of Leda, during which he sweated and caught cold. He was as wet and slippery as an eel freshly taken from water. He changed masks one after another, whirled like a spindle, waved his hands like a drunken sailor, till disgust seized me while looking at that great stomach and those slim legs. Paris taught him during two weeks; but imagine to thyself Ahenobarbus as Leda or as the divine swan. That was a swan!—there is no use in denying it. But he wants to appear before the public in that pantomime,—first in Antium, and then in Rome."
"People are offended already because he sang in public; but to think that a Roman Caesar will appear as a mime! No; even Rome will not endure that!"
"My dear friend, Rome will endure anything; the Senate will pass a vote of thanks to the 'Father of his country.' And the rabble will be elated because Caesar is its buffoon."
"Say thyself, is it possible to be more debased?"
Petronius shrugged his shoulders. "Thou art living by thyself at home, and meditating, now about Lygia, now about Christians, so thou knowest not, perhaps, what happened two days since. Nero married, in public, Pythagoras, who appeared as a bride. That passed the measure of madness, it would seem, would it not? And what wilt thou say? the flamens, who were summoned, came and performed the ceremony with solemnity. I was present. I can endure much; still I thought, I confess, that the gods, if there be any, should give a sign. But Caesar does not believe in the gods, and he is right."
"So he is in one person chief priest, a god, and an atheist," said Vinicius.
"True," said Petronius, beginning to laugh. "That had not entered my head; but the combination is such as the world has not seen." Then, stopping a moment, he said: "One should add that this chief priest who does not believe in the gods, and this god who reviles the gods, fears them in his character of atheist."
"The proof of this is what happened in the temple of Vesta." "What a society!"
"As the society is, so is Caesar. But this will not last long."
Thus conversing, they entered the house of Vinicius, who called for supper joyously; then, turning to Petronius he said,—"No, my dear, society must be renewed."
"We shall not renew it," answered Petronius, "even for the reason that in Nero's time man is like a butterfly,—he lives in the sunshine of favor, and at the first cold wind he perishes, even against his will. By the son of Maia! more than once have I given myself this question: By what miracle has such a man as Lucius Saturninus been able to reach the age of ninety-three, to survive Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius? But never mind. Wilt thou permit me to send thy litter for Eunice? My wish to sleep has gone, somehow, and I should like to be joyous. Give command to cithara players to come to the supper, and afterward we will talk of Antium. It is needful to think of it, especially for thee."
Vinicius gave the order to send for Eunice, but declared that he had no thought of breaking his head over the stay in Antium.
"Let those break their heads who cannot live otherwise than in the rays of Caesar's favor. The world does not end on the Palatine, especially for those who have something else in their hearts and souls."
He said this so carelessly and with such animation and gladness that his whole manner struck Petronius; hence, looking for a time at him, he asked,—"What is taking place in thee? Thou art to-day as thou wert when wearing the golden bulla on thy neck."
"I am happy," answered Vinicius. "I have invited thee purposely to tell thee so."
"What has happened?"
"Something which I would not give for the Roman Empire."
Then he sat down, and, leaning on the arm of the chair, rested his head on his hand, and asked,—"Dost remember how we were at the house of Aulus Plautius, and there thou didst see for the first time the godlike maiden called by thee 'the dawn and the spring'? Dost remember that Psyche, that incomparable, that one more beautiful than our maidens and our goddesses?"
Petronius looked at him with astonishment, as if he wished to make sure that his head was right.
"Of whom art thou speaking?" asked he at last. "Evidently I remember Lygia."
"I am her betrothed."
But Vinicius sprang up and called his dispensator.
"Let the slaves stand before me to the last soul, quickly!"
"Art thou her betrothed?" repeated Petronius.
But before he recovered from his astonishment the immense atrium was swarming with people. Panting old men ran in, men in the vigor of life, women, boys, and girls. With each moment the atrium was filled more and more; in corridors, called "fauces," voices were heard calling in various languages. Finally, all took their places in rows at the walls and among the columns. Vinicius, standing near the impluvium, turned to Demas, the freedman, and said,—
"Those who have served twenty years in my house are to appear tomorrow before the pretor, where they will receive freedom; those who have not served out the time will receive three pieces of gold and double rations for a week. Send an order to the village prisons to remit punishment, strike the fetters from people's feet, and feed them sufficiently. Know that a happy day has come to me, and I wish rejoicing in the house."
For a moment they stood in silence, as if not believing their ears; then all hands were raised at once, and all mouths cried,—"A-a! lord! a-a-a!"
Vinicius dismissed them with a wave of his hand. Though they desired to thank him and to fall at his feet, they went away hurriedly, filling the house with happiness from cellar to roof.
"To-morrow," said Vinicius, "I will command them to meet again in the garden, and to make such signs on the ground as they choose. Lygia will free those who draw a fish."
Petronius, who never wondered long at anything, had grown indifferent, and asked,—"A fish, is it? Ah, ha! According to Chilo, that is the sign of a Christian, I remember." Then he extended his hand to Vinicius, and said: "Happiness is always where a man sees it. May Flora strew flowers under thy feet for long years. I wish thee everything which thou wishest thyself."
"I thank thee, for I thought that thou wouldst dissuade me, and that, as thou seest, would be time lost."
"I? Dissuade? By no means. On the contrary, I tell thee that thou art doing well."
"Ha, traitor!" answered Vinicius, joyfully; "hast forgotten what thou didst tell me once when we were leaving the house of Pomponia Graecina?"
"No," answered Petronius, with cool blood; "but I have changed my opinion. My dear," added he after a while, "in Rome everything changes. Husbands change wives, wives change husbands; why should not I change opinions? It lacked little of Nero's marrying Acte, whom for his sake they represented as the descendant of a kingly line. Well, he would have had an honest wife, and we an honest Augusta. By Proteus and his barren spaces in the sea! I shall change my opinion as often as I find it appropriate or profitable. As to Lygia, her royal descent is more certain than Acte's. But in Antium be on thy guard against Poppaea, who is revengeful."
"I do not think of doing so. A hair will not fall from my head in Antium."
"If thou think to astonish me a second time, thou art mistaken; but whence hast thou that certainty?"
"The Apostle Peter told me so."
"Ah, the Apostle Peter told thee! Against that there is no argument; permit me, however, to take certain measures of precaution even to this end, that the Apostle Peter may not turn out a false prophet; for, should the Apostle be mistaken, perchance he might lose thy confidence, which certainly will be of use to him in the future."
"Do what may please thee, but I believe him. And if thou think to turn me against him by repeating his name with irony, thou art mistaken."
"But one question more. Hast thou become a Christian?"
"Not yet; but Paul of Tarsus will travel with me to explain the teachings of Christ, and afterward I will receive baptism; for thy statement that they are enemies of life and pleasantness is not true."
"All the better for thee and Lygia," answered Petronius; then, shrugging his shoulders, he said, as if to himself, "But it is astonishing how skilled those people are in gaining adherents, and how that sect is extending."
"Yes," answered Vinicius, with as much warmth as if he had been baptized already; "there are thousands and tens of thousands of them in Rome, in the cities of Italy, in Greece and Asia. There are Christians among the legions and among the pretorians; they are in the palace of Caesar itself. Slaves and citizens, poor and rich, plebeian and patrician, confess that faith. Dost thou know that the Cornelii are Christians, that Pomponia Graecina is a Christian, that likely Octavia was, and Acte is? Yes, that teaching will embrace the world, and it alone is able to renew it. Do not shrug thy shoulders, for who knows whether in a month or a year thou wilt not receive it thyself?"
"I?" said Petronius. "No, by the son of Leto! I will not receive it; even if the truth and wisdom of gods and men were contained in it. That would require labor, and I have no fondness for labor. Labor demands self-denial, and I will not deny myself anything. With thy nature, which is like fire and boiling water, something like this may happen any time. But I? I have my gems, my cameos, my vases, my Eunice. I do not believe in Olympus, but I arrange it on earth for myself; and I shall flourish till the arrows of the divine archer pierce me, or till Caesar commands me to open my veins. I love the odor of violets too much, and a comfortable triclinium. I love even our gods, as rhetorical figures, and Achaea, to which I am preparing to go with our fat, thin-legged, incomparable, godlike Caesar, the august period-compelling Hercules, Nero."
Then he was joyous at the very supposition that he could accept the teaching of Galilean fishermen, and began to sing in an undertone,—
"I will entwine my bright sword in myrtle, After the example of Harmodius and Aristogiton."
But he stopped, for the arrival of Eunice was announced. Immediately after her coming supper was served, during which songs were sung by the cithara players; Vinicius told of Chilo's visit, and also how that visit had given the idea of going to the Apostles directly,—an idea which came to him while they were flogging Chilo.
At mention of this, Petronius, who began to be drowsy, placed his hand on his forehead, and said,—"The thought was good, since the object was good. But as to Chilo, I should have given him five pieces of gold; but as it was thy will to flog him, it was better to flog him, for who knows but in time senators will bow to him, as to-day they are bowing to our cobbler-knight, Vatinius. Good-night."
And, removing his wreath, he, with Eunice, prepared for home. When they had gone, Vinicius went to his library and wrote to Lygia as follows:—
"When thou openest thy beautiful eyes, I wish this letter to say Good-day! to thee. Hence I write now, though I shall see thee tomorrow. Caesar will go to Antium after to-morrow,—and I, eheu! must go with him. I have told thee already that not to obey would be to risk life—and at present I could not find courage to die. But if thou wish me not to go, write one word, and I will stay. Petronius will turn away danger from me with a speech. To-day, in the hour of my delight, I gave rewards to all my slaves; those who have served in the house twenty years I shall take to the pretor to-morrow and free. Thou, my dear, shouldst praise me, since this act as I think will be in accord with that mild religion of thine; secondly, I do this for thy sake. They are to thank thee for their freedom. I shall tell them so to-morrow, so that they may be grateful to thee and praise thy name. I give myself in bondage to happiness and thee. God grant that I never see liberation. May Antium be cursed, and the journey of Ahenobarbus! Thrice and four times happy am I in not being so wise as Petronius; if I were, I should be forced to go to Greece perhaps. Meanwhile the moment of separation will sweeten my memory of thee. Whenever I can tear myself away, I shall sit on a horse, and rush back to Rome, to gladden my eyes with sight of thee, and my ears with thy voice. When I cannot come I shall send a slave with a letter, and an inquiry about thee. I salute thee, divine one, and embrace thy feet. Be not angry that I call thee divine. If thou forbid, I shall obey, but to-day I cannot call thee otherwise. I congratulate thee on thy future house with my whole soul."
IT was known in Rome that Caesar wished to see Ostia on the journey, or rather the largest ship in the world, which had brought wheat recently from Alexandria, and from Ostia to go by the Via Littoralis to Antium. Orders had been given a number of days earlier; hence at the Porta Ostiensis, from early morning, crowds made up of the local rabble and of all nations of the earth had collected to feast their eyes with the sight of Caesar's retinue, on which the Roman population could never gaze sufficiently. The road to Antium was neither difficult nor long. In the place itself, which was composed of palaces and villas built and furnished in a lordly manner, it was possible to find everything demanded by comfort, and even the most exquisite luxury of the period. Caesar had the habit, however, of taking with him on a journey every object in which he found delight, beginning with musical instruments and domestic furniture, and ending with statues and mosaics, which were taken even when he wished to remain on the road merely a short time for rest or recreation. He was accompanied, therefore, on every expedition by whole legions of servants, without reckoning divisions of pretorian guards, and Augustians; of the latter each had a personal retinue of slaves.
Early on the morning of that day herdsmen from the Campania, with sunburnt faces, wearing goat-skins on their legs, drove forth five hundred she-asses through the gates, so that Poppaea on the morrow of her arrival at Antium might have her bath in their milk. The rabble gazed with delight and ridicule at the long ears swaying amid clouds of dust, and listened with pleasure to the whistling of whips and the wild shouts of the herdsmen. After the asses had gone by, crowds of youth rushed forth, swept the road carefully, and covered it with flowers and needles from pine-trees. In the crowds people whispered to each other, with a certain feeling of pride, that the whole road to Antium would be strewn in that way with flowers taken from private gardens round about, or bought at high prices from dealers at the Porta Mugionis. As the morning hours passed, the throng increased every moment. Some had brought their whole families, and, lest the time might seem tedious, they spread provisions on stones intended for the new temple of Ceres, and ate their prandium beneath the open sky. Here and there were groups, in which the lead was taken by persons who had travelled; they talked of Caesar's present trip, of his future journeys, and journeys in general. Sailors and old soldiers narrated wonders which during distant campaigns they had heard about countries which a Roman foot had never touched. Home-stayers, who had never gone beyond the Appian Way, listened with amazement to marvellous tales of India, of Arabia, of archipelagos surrounding Britain in which, on a small island inhabited by spirits, Briareus had imprisoned the sleeping Saturn. They heard of hyperborean regions of stiffened seas, of the hisses and roars which the ocean gives forth when the sun plunges into his bath. Stories of this kind found ready credence among the rabble, stories believed by such men even as Tacitus and Pliny. They spoke also of that ship which Caesar was to look at,—a ship which had brought wheat to last for two years, without reckoning four hundred passengers, an equal number of soldiers, and a multitude of wild beasts to be used during the summer games. This produced general good feeling toward Caesar, who not only nourished the populace, but amused it. Hence a greeting full of enthusiasm was waiting for him.
Meanwhile came a detachment of Numidian horse, who belonged to the pretorian guard. They wore yellow uniforms, red girdles, and great earrings, which cast a golden gleam on their black faces. The points of their bamboo spears glittered like flames, in the sun. After they had passed, a procession-like movement began. The throng crowded forward to look at it more nearly; but divisions of pretorian foot were there, and, forming in line on both sides of the gate, prevented approach to the road. In advance moved wagons carrying tents, purple, red, and violet, and tents of byssus woven from threads as white as snow; and oriental carpets, and tables of citrus, and pieces of mosaic, and kitchen utensils, and cages with birds from the East, North, and West, birds whose tongues or brains were to go to Caesar's table, and vessels with wine and baskets with fruit. But objects not to be exposed to bruising or breaking in vehicles were borne by slaves. Hence hundreds of people were seen on foot, carrying vessels, and statues of Corinthian bronze. There were companies appointed specially to Etruscan vases; others to Grecian; others to golden or silver vessels, or vessels of Alexandrian glass. These were guarded by small detachments of pretorian infantry and cavalry; over each division of slaves were taskmasters, holding whips armed at the end with lumps of lead or iron, instead of snappers. The procession, formed of men bearing with importance and attention various objects, seemed like some solemn religious procession; and the resemblance grew still more striking when the musical instruments of Caesar and the court were borne past. There were seen harps, Grecian lutes, lutes of the Hebrews and Egyptians, lyres, formingas, citharas, flutes, long, winding buffalo horns and cymbals. While looking at that sea of instruments, gleaming beneath the sun in gold, bronze, precious stones, and pearls, it might be imagined that Apollo and Bacchus had set out on a journey through the world. After the instruments came rich chariots filled with acrobats, dancers male and female, grouped artistically, with wands in their hands. After them followed slaves intended, not for service, but excess; so there were boys and little girls, selected from all Greece and Asia Minor, with long hair, or with winding curls arranged in golden nets, children resembling Cupids, with wonderful faces, but faces covered completely with a thick coating of cosmetics, lest the wind of the Campania might tan their delicate complexions.
And again appeared a pretorian cohort of gigantic Sicambrians, blue-eyed, bearded, blond and red haired. In front of them Roman eagles were carried by banner-bearers called "imaginarii," tablets with inscriptions, statues of German and Roman gods, and finally statues and busts of Caesar. From under the skins and armor of the soldier appeared limbs sunburnt and mighty, looking like military engines capable of wielding the heavy weapons with which guards of that kind were furnished. The earth seemed to bend beneath their measured and weighty tread. As if conscious of strength which they could use against Caesar himself, they looked with contempt on the rabble of the street, forgetting, it was evident, that many of themselves had come to that city in manacles. But they were insignificant in numbers, for the pretorian force had remained in camp specially to guard the city and hold it within bounds. When they had marched past, Nero's chained lions and tigers were led by, so that, should the wish come to him of imitating Dionysus, he would have them to attach to his chariots. They were led in chains of steel by Arabs and Hindoos, but the chains were so entwined with garlands that the beasts seemed led with flowers. The lions and tigers, tamed by skilled trainers, looked at the crowds with green and seemingly sleepy eyes; but at moments they raised their giant heads, and breathed through wheezing nostrils the exhalations of the multitude, licking their jaws the while with spiny tongues.
Now came Caesar's vehicles and litters, great and small, gold or purple, inlaid with ivory or pearls, or glittering with diamonds; after them came another small cohort of pretorians in Roman armor, pretorians composed of Italian volunteers only;* then crowds of select slave servants, and boys; and at last came Caesar himself, whose approach was heralded from afar by the shouts of thousands.
[* The inhabitants of Italy were freed from military service by Augustus, in consequence of which the so-called cohors Italica, stationed generally in Asia, was composed of volunteers. The pretorian guards, in so far as they were not composed of foreigners, were made up of volunteers.]
In the crowd was the Apostle Peter, who wished to see Caesar once in life. He was accompanied by Lygia, whose face was hidden by a thick veil, and Ursus, whose strength formed the surest defence of the young girl in the wild and boisterous crowd. The Lygian seized a stone to be used in building the temple, and brought it to the Apostle, so that by standing on it he might see better than others.
The crowd muttered when Ursus pushed it apart, as a ship pushes waves; but when he carried the stone, which four of the strongest men could not raise, the muttering was turned into wonderment, and cries of "Macte!" were heard round about.
Meanwhile Caesar appeared. He was sitting in a chariot drawn by six white Idumean stallions shod with gold. The chariot had the form of a tent with sides open, purposely, so that the crowds could see Caesar. A number of persons might have found place in the chariot; but Nero, desiring that attention should be fixed on him exclusively, passed through the city alone, having at his feet merely two deformed dwarfs. He wore a white tunic, and a toga of amethyst color, which cast a bluish tinge on his face. On his head was a laurel wreath. Since his departure from Naples he had increased notably in body. His face had grown wide; under his lower jaw hung a double chin, by which his mouth, always too near his nose, seemed to touch his nostrils. His bulky neck was protected, as usual, by a silk kerchief, which he arranged from moment to moment with a white and fat hand grown over with red hair, forming as it were bloody stains; he would not permit epilatores to pluck out this hair, since he had been told that to do so would bring trembling of the fingers and injure his lute-playing. Measureless vanity was depicted then, as at all times, on his face, together with tedium and suffering. On the whole, it was a face both terrible and trivial. While advancing he turned his head from side to side, blinking at times, and listening carefully to the manner in which the multitude greeted him. He was met by a storm of shouts and applause: "Hail, divine Caesar! Imperator, hail, conqueror! hail, incomparable!—Son of Apollo, Apollo himself!"
When he heard these words, he smiled; but at moments a cloud, as it were, passed over his face, for the Roman rabble was satirical and keen in reckoning, and let itself criticise even great triumphators, even men whom it loved and respected. It was known that on a time they shouted during the entrance to Rome of Julius Caesar: "Citizens, hide your wives; the old libertine is coming!" But Nero's monstrous vanity could not endure the least blame or criticism; meanwhile in the throng, amid shouts of applause were heard cries of "Ahenobarbus, Ahenobarbus! Where hast thou put thy flaming beard? Dost thou fear that Rome might catch fire from it?" And those who cried out in that fashion knew not that their jest concealed a dreadful prophecy.
These voices did not anger Caesar overmuch, since he did not wear a beard, for long before he had devoted it in a golden cylinder to Jupiter Capitolinus. But other persons, hidden behind piles of stones and the corners of temples, shouted: "Matricide! Nero! Orestes! Alcmaeon!" and still others: "Where is Octavia?" "Surrender the purple!" At Poppaea, who came directly after him, they shouted, "Flava coma (yellow hair)!!" with which name they indicated a street-walker. Caesar's musical ear caught these exclamations also, and he raised the polished emerald to his eyes as if to see and remember those who uttered them. While looking thus, his glance rested on the Apostle standing on the stone.
For a while those two men looked at each other. It occurred to no one in that brilliant retinue, and to no one in that immense throng, that at that moment two powers of the earth were looking at each other, one of which would vanish quickly as a bloody dream, and the other, dressed in simple garments, would seize in eternal possession the world and the city.
Meanwhile Caesar had passed; and immediately after him eight Africans bore a magnificent litter, in which sat Poppaea, who was detested by the people. Arrayed, as was Nero, in amethyst color, with a thick application of cosmetics on her face, immovable, thoughtful, indifferent, she looked like some beautiful and wicked divinity carried in procession. In her wake followed a whole court of servants, male and female, next a line of wagons bearing materials of dress and use. The sun had sunk sensibly from midday when the passage of Augustians began,—a brilliant glittering line gleaming like an endless serpent. The indolent Petronius, greeted kindly by the multitude, had given command to bear him and his godlike slave in a litter. Tigellinus went in a chariot drawn by ponies ornamented with white and purple feathers, They saw him as he rose in the chariot repeatedly, and stretched his neck to see if Caesar was preparing to give him the sign to go his chariot. Among others the crowd greeted Licinianus with applause, Vitelius with laughter, Vatinius with hissing. Towards Licinus and Lecanius the consuls they were indifferent, but Tullius Senecio they loved, it was unknown why, and Vestinius received applause.
The court was innumerable. It seemed that all that was richest, most brilliant and noted in Rome, was migrating to Antium. Nero never travelled otherwise than with thousands of vehicles; the society which accompanied him almost always exceeded the number of soldiers in a legion. [In the time of the Caesars a legion was always 12,000 men.] Hence Domitius Afer appeared, and the decrepit Lucius Saturninus; and Vespasian, who had not gone yet on his expedition to Judea, from which he returned for the crown of Caesar, and his sons, and young Nerva, and Lucan, and Annius Gallo, and Quintianus, and a multitude of women renowned for wealth, beauty, luxury, and vice.
The eyes of the multitude were turned to the harness, the chariots, the horses, the strange livery of the servants, made up of all peoples of the earth. In that procession of pride and grandeur one hardly knew what to look at; and not only the eye, but the mind, was dazzled by such gleaming of gold, purple, and violet, by the flashing of precious stones, the glitter of brocade, pearls, and ivory. It seemed that the very rays of the sun were dissolving in that abyss of brilliancy. And though wretched people were not lacking in that throng, people with sunken stomachs, and with hunger in their eyes, that spectacle inflamed not only their desire of enjoyment and their envy, but filled them with delight and pride, because it gave a feeling of the might and invincibility of Rome, to which the world contributed, and before which the world knelt. Indeed there was not on earth any one who ventured to think that that power would not endure through all ages, and outlive all nations, or that there was anything in existence that had strength to oppose it.
Vinicius, riding at the end of the retinue, sprang out of his chariot at sight of the Apostle and Lygia, whom he had not expected to see, and, greeting them with a radiant face, spoke with hurried voice, like a man who has no time to spare,—"Hast thou come? I know not how to thank thee, O Lygia! God could not have sent me a better omen. I greet thee even while taking farewell, but not farewell for a long time. On the road I shall dispose relays of horses, and every free day I shall come to thee till I get leave to return.—Farewell!"