Avrza a refreshment, which was called the morning meal and to which the tw_riends sat down at an hour when common mortals were abeady long past thei_idday prandium, Petronius proposed a light doze. According to him, it was to_arly for visits yet. "There are, it is true," said he, "people who begin t_isit their acquaintances about sunrise, thinking that custom an old Roma_ne, but I look on this as barbarous. The afternoon hours are most proper, — not earlier, however, than that one when the sun passes to the side of Jove'_emple on the Capitol and begins to look slantwise on the Forum. In autumn i_s still hot, and people arc glad to sleep after eating. At the same time i_s pleasant to hear the noise of the fountain in the atrium, and, after th_bligatory thousand steps, to doze in the red light which filters in throug_he purple half-drawn velarium."
Vinicius recognized the justice of these words; and the two men began to walk, speaking in a careless manner of what was to be heard on the Palatine and i_he city, and philosophizing a little upon life. Petronius withdrew then t_he cubiculum, but did not sleep long. In half an hour he came out, and, having given command to bring verbena, he inhaled the perfume and rubbed hi_ands and temples with it.
"Thou wilt not believe," said he, "how it enlivens and freshens one. Now I a_eady."
The litter was waiting long since; hence they took their places, and Petroniu_ave command to bear them to the Vicus Patricius, to the house of Aulus.
Petronius's "insula" lay on the southern slope of the Palatine, near the so- called Carinse; their nearest way, therefore, was below the Forum; but sinc_etronius wished to step in on the way to see the jeweller Idomeneus, he gav_he direction to carry them along the Vicus Apollinis and the Forum in th_irection of the Vicus Sceleratus, on the corner of which were many taberna_f every kind.
Gigantic Africans bore the litter and moved on, preceded by slaves calle_edisequii. Petronius, after some time, raised to his nostrils in silence hi_alm odorous with verbena, and seemed to be meditating on something.
"It occurs to me," said he after a while, "that if thy forest goddess is not _lave she might leave the house of Plautius, and transfer herself to thine.
Thou wouldst surround her with love and cover her with wealth, as I do m_dored Chrysothemis, of whom, speaking between us, I have quite as nearl_nough as she has of me."
Marcus shook his head.
"No?" inquired Petronius. "In the worst event, the case would be left wit_aesar, and thou mayst be certain that, thanks even to my influence, ou_ronzebeard would be on thy side."
"Thou knowest not Lygia," replied Vinicius.
"Then permit me to ask if thou know her otherwise than by sight? Mast spoke_ith her? hast confessed thy love to her?"
"I saw her first at the fountain; since then I have met her twice. Remembe_hat during my stay in the house of Aulus, I dwelt in a separate villa, intended for guests, and, having a disjointed arm, I could not sit at th_ommon table. Only on the eve of the day for which I announced my departur_id I meet Lygia at supper, but I could not say a word to her. I had to liste_o Aulus and his account of victories gained by him in Britain, and then o_he fall of small states in Italy, which Licinius Stolo strove to prevent. I_eneral I do not know whether Aulus will be able to speak of aught else, an_o not think that we shall escape this history unless it be thy wish to hea_bout the effeminacy of these days. They have pheasants in their preserves, but they do not eat them, setting out from the principle that every pheasan_aten brings nearer the end of Roman power. I met her a second time at th_arden cistern, with a freshly plucked reed in her hand, the top of which sh_ipped in the water and sprinkled the irises growing around. Look at my knees.
By the shield of Hercules, I tell thee that they did not tremble when cloud_f Parthians advanced on our maniples with howls, but they trembled before th_istern. And, confused as a youth who still wears a bulla on his neck, _erely begged pity with my eyes, not being able to utter a word for a lon_ime."
Petronius looked at him, as if with a certain envy. "Happy man," said he,
"though the world and life were the worst possible, one thing in them wil_emain eternally good, — youth!"
After a while he inquired: "And hast thou not spoken to her?"
"When I had recovered somewhat, I told her that I was returning from Asia, that I had disjointed my arm near the city, and had suffered severely, but a_he moment of leaving that hospitable house I saw that suffering in it wa_ore to be wished for than delight in another place, that sickness there wa_etter than health somewhere else. Confused too on her part, she listened t_y words with bent head while drawing something with the reed on the saffron- colored sand. Afterward she raised her eyes, then looked down at the mark_rawn already; once more she looked at me, as if to ask about something, an_hen fled on a sudden like a hamadryad before a dull faun."
"She must have beautiful eyes."
"As the sea — and I was drowned in them, as in the sea. Believe me that th_rchipelago is less blue. After a while a little son of Plautius ran up with _uestion. But I did not understand what he wanted."
"O Athene!" exclaimed Petronius, "remove from the eyes of this youth th_andage with which Eros has bound them; if not, he will break his head agains_he columns of Venus's temple.
"O thou spring bud on the tree of life," said he, turning to Vinicius, "tho_irst green shoot of the vine! Instead of taking thee to the Plautiuses, _ught to give command to bear thee to the house of Gelocius, where there is _chool for youths unacquainted with life."
"What dost thou wish in particular?"
"But what did she write on the sand? Was it not the name of Amor, or a hear_ierced with his dart, or something of such sort, that one might know from i_hat the satyrs had whispered to the ear of that nymph various secrets o_ife? How couldst thou help looking on those marks?"
"It is longer since I have put on the toga than seems to thee," said Vinicius,
"and before little Aulus ran up, I looked carefully at those marks, for I kno_hat frequently maidens in Greece and in Rome draw on the sand a confessio_hich their lips will not utter. But guess what she drew!"
"If it is other than I supposed, I shall not guess."
"What dost thou say?"
"I say, a fish. What did that mean, — that cold blood is flowing in her veins?
So far I do not know; but thou, who hast called me a spring bud on the tree o_ife, wilt be able to understand the sign certainly."
"Carissime! ask such a thing of Pliny. He knows fish. If old Apicius wer_live, he could tell thee something, for in the course of his life he ate mor_ish than could find place at one time in the bay of Naples."
Further conversation was interrupted, since they were borne into crowde_treets where the noise of people hindered them.
From the Vicus Apollinis they turned to the Boarium, and then entered th_orum Rornanurn, where on clear days, before sunset, crowds of idle peopl_ssembled to stroll among the columns, to tell and hear news, to see note_eople borne past in litters, and finally to look in at the jewellery-shops, the book-shops, the arches where coin was changed, shops for silk, bronze, an_ll other articles with which the buildings covering that part of the marke_laced opposite the Capitol were filled.
One-half of the Forum, immediately under the rock of the Capitol, was burie_lready in shade; but the columns of the temples, placed higher, seemed golde_n the sunshine and the blue. Those lying lower cast lengthened shadows o_arble slabs. The place was so filled with columns everywhere that the eye wa_ost in them as in a forest.
Those buildings and columns seemed huddled together. They towered some abov_thers, they stretched toward the right and the left, they climbed toward th_eight, and they clung to the wall of the Capitol, or some of them clung t_thers, like greater and smaller, thicker and thinner, white or gold colore_ree-trunks, now blooming under architraves, flowers of the acanthus, no_urrounded with Ionic corners, now finished with a simple Done quadrangle.
Above that forest gleamed colored triglyphs; from tympans stood forth th_culptured forms of gods; from the Summits winged golden quadrig~ seemed read_o fly away through space into the blue dome, fixed serenely above tha_rowded place of temples. Through the middle of the market and along the edge_f it flowed a river of people; crowds passed under the arches of the basilic_f Julius C~zsar; crowds were sitting on the steps of Castor and Pollux, o_alking around the temple of Vesta, resembling on that great marble backgroun_any-colored swarms of butterflies or beetles. Down immense steps, from th_ide of the temple on the Capitol dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, cam_ew waves; at the rostra people listened to chance orators; in one place an_nother rose the shouts of hawkers selling fruit, wine, or water mixed wit_ig_juice; of tricksters; of venders of marvellous medicines; of soothsayers; of discoverers of hidden treasures; of interpreters of dreams. Here and there, in the tumult of conversations and cries, were mingled sounds of the Egyptia_istra, of tile sambuk‚, or of Grecian flutes. Here and there the sick, th_ious, or the afflicted were bearing offerings to the temples. In the midst o_he people, on the stone flags, gathered flocks of doves, eager for the grai_iven them, and like movable many-colored and dark spots, now rising for _oment with a loud sound of wings, now dropping down again to places lef_acant by people. From time to time the crowds opened before litters in whic_ere visible the affected faces of women, or the heads of senators an_nights, with features, as it were, rigid and exhausted from living. The many- tongued population repeated aloud their names, with the addition of some ter_f praise or ridicule. Among the unordered groups pushed from time to time, advancing with measured tread, parties of soldiers, or watchers, preservin_rder on the streets. Around about, the Greek language was heard as often a_atin.
Vinicius, who had not been in the city for a long time, looked with a certai_uriosity on that swarm of people and on that Forum Romanum, which bot_ominated the sea of the world and was flooded by it, so that Petronius, wh_ivined the thoughts of his companion, called it "the nest of the Quirites — without the Quiites." In truth, the local element was well-nigh lost in tha_rowd, composed of all races and nations. There appeared Ethiopians, giganti_ight-haired people from the distant north, Britons, Gauls, Germans, sloping- eyed dwellers of Lericum; people from the Euphrates and from the Indus, wit_eards dyed brick color; Syrians from the banks of the Orontes, with black an_ild eyes; dwellers in the deserts of Arabia, dried up as a bone; Jews, wit_heir flat breasts; Egyptians, with the eternal, indifferent smile on thei_aces; Numidians and Africans; Greeks from Hellas, who equally with the Roman_ommanjied the city, but commanded through science, art, wisdom, and deceit; Greeks from the islands, from Asia Minor, from Egypt, from Italy, fro_arbonic Gaul. In the throng of slaves, with pierced ears, were not lackin_lso freemen, — an idle population, which Caesar amused, supported, eve_lothed, — and free visitors, whom the ease of life and the prospects o_ortune enticed to the gigantic city; there was no lack of venal persons.
There were priests of Serapis, with palm branches in their hands; priests o_sis, to whose altar more offerings were brought than to the temple of th_apitoline Jove; priests of Cybele, bearing in their hands golden ears o_ice; and priests of nomad divinities; and dancers of the East with brigh_ead-dresses, and dealers in amulets, and snake-tamers, and Chaldean seers; and, finally, people without any occupation whatever, who applied for grai_very week at the storehouses on the Tiber, who fought for lottery-tickets t_he Circus, who spent their nights in rickety houses of districts beyond th_iber, and sunny and warm days under covered porticos, and in foul eating- houses of the Subura, on the Milvian bridge, or before the "insuhr" of th_reat, where from time to time remnants from the tables of slaves were throw_ut to them.
Petronius was well known to those crowds. Vinicius's ears were struc_ontinually by "Hic est!" (Here he is). They loved him for his munificence; and his peculiar popularity increased from the time when they learned that h_ad spoken before Caesar in opposition to the sentence of death issued agains_he whole "familia," that is, against all the slaves of the prefect Pedaniu_ecundus, without distinction of sex or age, because one of them had kille_hat monster in a moment of despair. Petronius repeated in public, it is true, that it was all one to him, and that he had spoken to Caesar only privately, as the arbiter elegantiarum whose aesthetic taste was offended by a barbarou_laughter befitting Scythians and not Romans. Nevertheless, people who wer_ndignant because of the slaughter loved Petronius from that moment forth. Bu_e did not care for their love. He remembered that that crowd of people ha_oved also Britannicus, poisoned by Nero; and Agrippina, killed at hi_ommand; and Octavia, smothered in hot steam at the Pandataria, after he_eins had been opened previously; and Rubelius Plautus, who had been banished; and Thrasea, to whom any morning might bring a death sentence. The love of th_ob might be considered rather of ill omen; and the sceptical Pctronius wa_uperstitious also. He had a twofold contempt for the multitude, — as a_ristocrat and an aesthetic person. Men with the odor of roast beans, whic_hey carried in their bosoms, and who besides were eternally hoarse an_weating from playing mora on the street-corners and peristyles, did not i_is eyes deserve the term "human." Hence he gave no answer whatever to th_pplause, or the kisses sent from lips here and there to him. He was relatin_o Marcus the case of Pedanius, reviling meanwhile the fickleness of tha_abble which, next morning after the terrible butchery, applauded Nero on hi_ay to the temple of Jupiter Stator. But he gave conimand to halt before th_ook-shop of Avirnus, and, descending from tile litter, purchased a_rnamented manuscript, which he gave to Vinicius.
"Here is a gift for thee," said he.
"Thanks!" answered Vinicius. Then, looking at the title, he inquired,
"'Satyricon'? Is this something new? Whose is it?"
"Mine. But I do not wish to go in the road of Rufinus, whose history I was t_ell thee, nor of Fabricius Veiento; hence no one knows of this, and do tho_ention it to no man."
"Thou hast said that thou art no writer of verses," said Vinicius, looking a_he middle of tile manuscript; "but here I see prose thickly interwoven wit_hem."
"When thou art reading, turn attention to Trimalchion's feast. As to verses, they have disgusted me, since Nero is writing an epic. Vitelius, when h_ishes to relieve himself, uses ivory fingers to thrust down his throat; others serve themselves with flamingo feathers steeped in olive oil or in _ecoction of wild thyme. I read Nero's poetry, and the result is immediate.
Straight-way I am able to praise it, if not with a clear conscience, at leas_ith a clear stomach."
When he had said this, he stopped the litter again before the shop o_domeneus the goldsmith, and, having settled the affair of the gems, gav_ommand to bear the litter directly to Aulus's mansion.
"On the road I will tell thee the story of Rufinus," said he, "as proof o_hat vanity in an author may be."
But before he had begun, they turned in to the Vicus Patricius, and soon foun_hemselves before the dwelling of Aulus. A young and sturdy "janitor" opene_he door leading to the ostium, over which a magpie confined in a cage greete_hem noisily with the word, "Salve!"
On the way from the second antechamber, called the ostium, to the atriu_tself, Vinicius said, — "Flast noticed diat tile doorkeepers are withou_hains!" "This is a wonderful house," answered Petronius, in an undertone. "O_ourse it is known to thee that Pomponia Griecina is suspected of entertainin_hat Eastern superstition which consists in honoring a certain Chrestos. I_eems that Crispinilla rendered her this service, — she who cannot forgiv_omponia because one husband has sufficed her for a lifetime. A one-man Woman!
To-day, in Rome, it is easier to get a half-plate of fresh mushrooms fro_oricum than to find such. They tried her before a domestic court —"
"To thy judgment this is a wonderful house. Later on I will tell thee what _eard and saw in it."
Meanwhile they had entered the atrium. The slave appointed to it, calle_tricnsis, sent a nomenclator to announce the guests; and Petronius, who, imagining that eternal sadness reigned in this severe house, had never been i_t, looked around with astonishment, and as it were with a feeling o_isappointment, for the atrium produced rather an impression of cheerfulness.
A sheaf of bright light falling from above through a large opening broke int_ thousand sparks on a fountain in a quadrangular little basin, called th_mpluvium, which was in the middle to receive rain falling through the openin_uring bad weather; this was surrounded by anemones and lilies. In that hous_ special love for lilies was evident, for there were whole clumps of them, both white and red; and, finally, sapphire irises, whose delicate leaves wer_s if silvered from the spray of the fountain. Among the moist mosses, i_hich lily-pots were hidden, and among the bunches of lilies were littl_ronze statues representing children and water-birds. In one corner a bronz_awn, as if wishing to drink, was inclining its greenish head, grizzled, too, by dampness. The floor of the atrium was of mosaic; the walls, faced partl_ith red marble and partly with wood, on which were painted fish, birds, an_riffins, attracted the eye by the play of colors. From the door to the sid_hamber they were ornamented with tortoise-shell or even ivory; at the wall_etween the doors were statues of Aulus's ancestors. Everywhere calm plent_as evident, remote from excess, but noble and self-trusting.
Petronius, who lived with incomparably greater show and elegance, could fin_othing which offended his taste; and had just turned to Vinicius with tha_emark, when a slave, the velarius, pushed aside the curtain separating th_trium from the tablinum, and in the depth of the building appeared Aulu_lautius approaching hurriedly.
He was a man nearing the evening of life, with a head whitened by hoar frost, but fresh, with an energetic face, a trifle too short, but still somewha_agle-like. This time there was expressed on it a certain astonishment, an_ven alarm, because of the unexpected arrival of Nero's friend, companion, an_uggester.
Petronius was too much a man of the world and too quick not to notice this; hence, after the first greetings, he announced with all the eloquence and eas_t his command that he had come to give thanks for the care which his sister'_on had found in that house, and that gratitude alone was the cause of th_isit, to which, moreover, he was emboldened by his old acquaintance wit_ulus.
Aulus assured him that he was a welcome guest; and as to gratitude, h_eclared that he had that feeling himself, though surely Petronius did no_ivine the cause of it.
In fact, Petronius did not divine it. In vain did he raise his hazel eyes, endeavoring to remember the least service rendered to Aulus or to any one. H_ecalled none, unless it might be that which he intended to show Vinicius.
Some such thing, it is true, might have happened involuntarily, but onl_nvoluntarily.
"I have great love and esteem for Vespasian, whose life thou didst save," sai_ulus, "when he had the misfortune to doze while listening to Nero's verses."
"He was fortunate," replied Petronius, "for he did not hear them; but I wil_ot deny that the matter might have ended with misfortune. Bronzebeard wishe_bsolutely to send a centurion to him with the friendly advice to open hi_eins."
"But thou, Petronius, laughed him out of it."
"That is true, or rather it is not true. I told Nero that if Orpheus put wil_easts to sleep with song, his triumph was equal, since he had put Vespasia_o sleep. Ahenobarbus may be blamed on condition that to a small criticism _reat flattery be added. Our gracious Augusta, Poppae, understands this t_erfection."
"Alas! such are the times," answered Aulus. "I lack two front teeth, knocke_ut by a stone from the hand of a Briton, I speak with a hiss; still m_appiest days were passed in Britain."
"Because they were days of victory," added Vinicius.
But Petronius, alarmed lest the old general might begin a narrative of hi_ormer wars, changed the conversation.
"See," said he, "in the neighborhood of Prirneste country people found a dea_olf whelp with two heads; and during a storm about that time lightning struc_ff an angle of the temple of Luna, — a thing unparalleled, because of th_ate autumn. A certain Cotta, too, who had told this, added, while telling it, that the priests of that temple prophesied the fall of the city or, at least, the ruin of a great house, — ruin to be averted only by uncommon sacrifices."
Aulus, when he had heard the narrative, expressed the opinion that such sign_hould not be neglected; that the gods might be angered by an over-measure o_ickedness. In this there was nothing wonderful; arid in such an even_xpiatory sacrifices were perfectly in order.
"Thy house, Plautius, is not too large," answered Petronius, "though a grea_an lives in it. Mine is indeed too large for such a wretched owner, thoug_qually small. But if it is a question of the ruin of something as great, fo_xample, as the doinus transitoria, would it be worth while for us to brin_fferings to avert that ruin?"
Plautius did not answer that question, — a carefulness which touched eve_etronius somewhat, for, with all his inability to feel the difference betwee_ood and evil, he had never been an informer; and it was possible to talk wit_im in perfect safety. He changed the conversation again, therefore, and bega_o praise Plautius's dwelling and the good taste which reigned in the house.
"It is an ancient seat," said Plautius, "in which nothing has been change_ince I inherited it."
After the curtain was pushed aside which divided the atrium from the tablinum, the house was open from end to end, so that through the tabhinum and th_ollowing peristyle and the hail lying beyond it which was called the aecus, the glance extended to the garden, which seemed from a distance like a brigh_mage set in a dark frame. Joyous, childlike laughter came from it tmm th_trium.
"Oh, general!" said Petronius, "permit us to listen from near by to that gla_aughter which is of a kind heard so rarely in these days."
"Willingly," answered Plautius, rising; "that is my little Aulus and Lygia, playing ball. But as to laughter, I think, Petronius, that our whole life i_pent in it."
"Life deserves laughter, hence people laugh at it," answered Petronius, "bu_aughter here has another sound."
"Petronius does not laugh for days in succession," said Vinicius; "but then h_aughs entire nights."
Thus conversing, they passed through the length of the house and reached th_arden, where Lygia and little Aulus were playing with balls, which slaves, appointed to that game exclusively and called spherist~, picked up and place_n their hands. Petronius cast a quick passing glance at Lygia; little Aulus, seeing Vinicius, ran to greet him; but the young tribune, going forward, ben_is head before the beautiful maiden, who stood with a bali in her hand, he_air blown apart a little. She was somewhat out of breath, and flushed.
In the garden trichinium, shaded by ivy, grapes, and woodbine, sat Pornponi_raecina; hence they went to salute her. She was known to Petronius, though h_id not visit Plautius, for he had seen her at the house of Antistia, th_aughter of Rubehius Plautus, and besides at the house of Seneca and Polion.
He could not resist a certain admiration with which he was filled by her face, pensive but mild, by the dignity of her bearing, by her movements, by he_ords. Pomponia disturbed his understanding of women to such a degree tha_hat man, corrupted to the marrow of his bones, and self-confident as no on_n Rome, not only felt for her a kind of esteem, but even lost his previou_elf-confidence. And now, thanking her for her care of Vinicius, he thrust in, as it were involuntarily, "domina," which never occurred to him when speaking, for example, to Calvia Crispinilla, Scribonia, Veleria, Solina, and othe_omen of high society. After he had greeted her and returned thanks, he bega_o complain that he saw her so rarely, that it was not possible to meet he_ither in the Circus or the Amphitheatre; to which she answered calmly, layin_er hand on the hand of her husband:
"We are growing old, and love our domestic quiet more and more, both of us."
Petronius wished to oppose; but Aulus Plautius added in his hissing voice, —
"And we feel stranger and stranger among people who give Greek names to ou_oman divinities."
"The gods have become for some time mere figures of rhetoric," replie_etronius, carelessly. "But since Greek rhetoricians taught us, it is easie_or me even to say Hera than Juno."
He turned his eyes then to Pomponia, as if to signify that in presence of he_o other divinity could come to his mind: and then he began to contradict wha_he had said touching old age.
"People grow old quickly, it is true; but there are some who live another lif_ntirely, and there are faces moreover which Saturn seems to forget."
Pctronius said this with a certain sincerity even, for Pomponia Graecina, though descending from the midday of life, had preserved an uncommon freshnes_f face; and since she had a small head and delicate features, she produced a_imes, despite her dark robes, despite her solemnity and sadness, th_mpression of a woman quite young.
Meanwhile little Aulus, who had become uncommonly friendly with Viniciu_uring his former stay in the house, approached the young man and entreate_im to play ball. Lygia herself entered the triclinium after the little boy.
Under the climbing ivy, with the light quivering on her face, she seemed t_etronius more beautiful than at the first glance, and really like some nymph.
As he had not spoken to her thus far, he rose, inclined his head, and, instea_f the usual expressions of greeting, quoted the words with which Ulysse_reeted Nausikaa, — "I supplicate thee, O queen, whether thou art some goddes_r a mortal! If thou art one of the daughters of men who dwell on earth, thrice blessed are thy father and thy lady mother, and thrice blessed th_rethren."
The exquisite politeness of this man of the world pleased even Pomponia. As t_ygia, she listened, confused and flushed, without boldness to raise her eyes.
But a wayward smile began to quiver at the corners of her lips, and on he_ace a struggle was evident between the timidity of a maiden and the wish t_nswer; but clearly the wish was victorious, for, looking quickly a_etronius, she answered him all at once with the words of that same Nausikaa, quoting them at one breath, and a little like a lesson learned, —
"Stranger, thou seemest no evil man nor foolish."
Then she turned and ran out as a frightened bird runs.
This time the turn for astonishment came to Petronius, for he had not expecte_o hear verses of I lomer from the lips of a maiden of whose barbaria_xtraction he had heard previously from Vinicius. Hence he looked with a_nquiring glance at Pomponia; but she could not give him an answer, for sh_as looking at that moment, with a smile, at the pride reflected on the fac_f her husband.
He was not able to conceal that pride. First, he had become attached to Lygi_s to his own daughter; and second, in spite of his old Roman prejudices, which commanded him to thunder against Greek and the spread of the language, he considered it as the summit of social polish. He himself had never bee_ble to learn it well; over this he suffered in secret. He was glad, therefore, that an answer was given in the language and poetry of Homer t_his exquisite man both of fashion and letters, who was ready to conside_lautius's house as barbarian.
"We have in the house a pedagogue, a Greek," said he, turning to Petronius,
"who teaches our boy, and the maiden overhears the lessons. She is a wagrai_et, but a dear one, to which we have both grown attached."
Petronius looked through the branches of woodbine into the garden, and at th_hree persons who were playing there. Vinicius had thrown aside his toga, and, wearing only his tunic, was striking the ball, which Lygia, standing opposite, with raised arms was trying to catch. The maiden did not make a grea_mpression on Petronius at the first glance; she secirmed to hhrm too slender.
But from the moment when he saw her more nearly in the triclinium he though_o himself that Aurora might look like her; and as a judge he understood tha_n her there was something uncommon. He considered everything and estimate_verything; hence her face, rosy and clear, her fresh lips, as if set for _iss, her eyes blue as the azure of the sea, the alabaster whiteness of he_orehead, the wealth of her dark hair, with the reflection of amber o_orinthian bronze gleaming in its folds, her slender neck, the divine slope o_er shoulders, the whole posture, flexible, slender, young with the youth o_ay and of freshly opened flowers. The artist was roused in him, and th_orshipper of beauty, who felt that beneath a statue of that maiden one migh_rite "Spring." All at once he remembered Chrysothemis, and pure laughte_eized him. Chrysothemis seemed to him, with golden powder on her hair an_arkened brows, to be fabulously faded, — something in the nature of _ellowed rose-tree shedding its leaves. But still Rome envied him tha_hrysothemis. Then he recalled Poppza; and that most famous Poppae also seeme_o him soulless, a waxen mask. In that maiden with Tanagrian outlines ther_as not only spring, but a radiant soul, which shone through her rosy body a_ flame through a lamp.
"Vinicius is right," thought he, "and my Chrysothemis is old, old! — as Troy!"
Then he turned to Pomponia Graecina, and, pointing to the garden, said, — "_nderstand now, domina, why thou and thy husband prefer this house to th_ircus and to feasts on the Palatine."
"Yes," answered she, turning her eyes in the direction of little Aulus an_ygia.
But the old general began to relate the history of the maiden, and what he ha_eard years before from Atelius Hister about the Lygian people who lived i_he gloom of the North.
The three outside had finished playing ball, and for some time had bee_alking along the sand of the garden, appearing against the dark background o_yrtles and cypresses like three white statues. Lygia held little Aulus by th_and. After they had walked a while they sat on a bench near the fishpond, which occupied the middle of the garden. After a time Aulus sprang up t_righten the fish in the transparent water, but Vinicius continued th_onversation begun during the walk.
"Yes," said he, in a low, quivering voice, scarcely audible; "barely had _ast aside the pretexta, when I was sent to the legions in Asia. I had no_ecome acquainted with the city, nor with life, nor with love. I know a smal_it of Anacreon by heart, and Horace; but I cannot like Petronius quot_erses, when reason is dumb from admiration and unable to find its own words.
While a youth I went to school to Musonius, who told me that happines_onsists in wishing what the gods wish, and therefore depends on our will. _hink, however, that it is something else, — something greater and mor_recious, which depends not on the will, for love only can give it. The god_hemselves seek that happiness; hence I too, O Lygia, who have not known lov_hus far, follow in their footsteps. I also seek her who would give m_appiness —"
He was silent — and for a time there was nothing to be heard save the ligh_lash of the water into which little Aulus was throwing pebbles to frighte_he fish; but after a while Vinicius began again in a voice still softer ami_ower, — "But thou knowest of Vespasian's son Titus? They say that he ha_carcely ceased to be a youth when he so loved Berenice that grief almost dre_he life out of him. So could I too love, O Lygia! Riches, glory, power ar_ere smoke, vanity! The rich man will find a richer than himself; the greate_lory of another will eclipse a man who is famous; a strong man will b_onquered by a stronger. But can Caesar himself, can any god even, experienc_reater delight or be happier than a simple mortal at the moment when at hi_reast there is breathing another dear breast, or when he kisses beloved lips?
Hence love makes us equal to the gods, O Lygia."
And she listened with alarm, with astonishment, and at the same time as if sh_ere listening to the sound of a Grecian flute or a cithara. It seemed to he_t moments that Vinicius was singing a kind of wonderful song, which wa_nstilling itself into her ears, moving the blood in her, and penetrating he_eart with a faintness, a fear, and a kind of uncomprehended delight. I_eemed to her also that he was telling something which was in her before, bu_f which she could not give account to herself. She felt that he was rousin_n her something which had been sleeping hitherto, and that in that moment _azy dream was changing into a form more and more definite, more pleasing, more beautiful.
Meanwhile the sun had passed the Tiber long since, and had sunk low over th_aniculum. On the motionless cypresses ruddy light was falling, and the whol_tmosphere was filled with it. Lygia raised on Vinicius her blue eyes as i_oused from sleep; and he, bending over her with a prayer quivering in hi_yes, seemed on a sudden, in the reflections of evening, more beautiful tha_ll men, than all Greek and Roman gods whose statues she had seen on th_a‡ades of temples. And with his fingers he clasped her arm lightly just abov_he wrist and asked, — "Dost thou not divine what I say to thee, Lygia?"
"No," whispered she as answer, in a voice so low that Virsicius barely hear_t.
But he did not believe her, and, drawing her hand toward him more vigorously, he would have drawn it to his heart, which, under the influence of desir_oused by the marvellous maiden, was beating like a hammer, and would hav_ddressed burning words to her directly had not old Aulus appeared on a pat_et in a frame of myrtles, who said, while approaching them, — "The sun i_etting; so beware of the evening coolness, and do not trifle
"No," answered Vinicius; "I have not put on my toga yet, and I do not feel th_old."
"But see, barely half the sun's shield is looking from behind the hill. Tha_s a sweet climate of Sicily, where people gather on the square before sunse_nd take farewell of disappearing Phothus with a choral song."
And, forgetting that a moment earlier he had warned them against Libitina, h_egan to tell about Sicily, where he had estates and large cultivated field_hich he loved. He stated also that it had come to his mind more than once t_emove to Sicily, and live out his life there in quietness. "He whose hea_inters have whitened has bad enough of hoar frost. Leaves are not fallin_rom the trees yet, and the sky smiles on the city lovingly; but when th_rapevines grow yellow-leaved, when snow falls on the Alban hills, and th_ods visit the Campania with piercing wind, who knows but I may remove with m_ntire household to my quiet country-seat?"
"Wouldst thou leave Rome?" inquired Vinicius, with sudden alarm. "I hav_ished to do so this long time, for it is quieter in Sicily and safer." An_gain he fell to praising his gardens, his herds, his house hidden in green, and the hills grown over with thyme and savory, among which were swarms o_uzzing bees. But Vinicius paid no heed to that bucolic note; and fro_hinking only of this, that he might lose Lygia, he looked toward Petronius a_f expecting salvation from him alone.
Meanwhile Petronius, sitting near Pomponia, was admiring the view of th_etting sun, the garden, and the people standing near the fish-pond. Thei_hite garments on the dark background of the myrtles gleamed like gold fro_he evening rays. On the sky the evening light had begun to assume purple an_iolet hues, and to change like an opal. A strip of the sky became lily- colored. The dark silhouettes of the cypresses grew still more pronounced tha_uring bright daylight. In the people, in the trees, in the whole garden ther_eigned an evening calm.
That calm struck Petronius, and it struck him especially in the people. In th_aces of Pomponia, old Aulus, their son, and Lygia there was something such a_e did not see in the faces which surrounded him every day, or rather ever_ight. There was a certain light, a certain repose, a certain serenity, flowing directly from the life which all lived there. And with a species o_stonishment he thought that a beauty and sweetness might exist which he, wh_hased after beauty and sweetness continually, had not known. He could no_ide the thought in himself, and said, turning to Pomponia, — "I a_onsidering in my soul how different this world of yours is from the worl_hich our Nero rules."
She raised her delicate face toward the evening light, and said wit_implicity, — "Not Nero, but God, rules the world."
A moment of silence followed. Near the triclinium were heard in the alley, th_teps of the old general, Vinicius, Lygia, and little Aulus; but before the_rrived, Petronius had put another question, — "But believest thou in th_ods, then, Pomponia?"
"I believe in God, who is one, just, and all-powerful," answered the wife o_ulus Plautius.