ONLY inside the entrance did Vinicius comprehend the whole difficulty of th_ndertaking. The house was large, of several stories, one of the kind of whic_housands were built in Rome, in view of profit from rent; hence, as a rule, they were built so hurriedly and badly that scarcely a year passed in whic_umbers of them did not fall on the heads of tenants. Real hives, too high an_oo narrow, full of chambers and little dens, in which poor people fixe_hemselves too numerously. In a city where many streets had no names, thos_ouses had no numbers; the owners committed the collection of rent to slaves, who, not obliged by the city government to give names of occupants, wer_gnorant themselves of them frequently. To find some one by inquiry in such _ouse was often very difficult, especially when there was no gate-keeper.
Vinicius and Croton came to a narrow, corridor-like passage walled in on fou_ides, forming a kind of common atrium for the whole house, with a fountain i_he middle whose stream fell into a stone basin fixed in the ground. At al_he walls were internal stairways, some of stone, some of wood, leading t_alleries from which there were entrances to lodgings. There were lodgings o_he ground, also; some provided with wooden doors, others separated from th_ard by woollen screens only. These, for the greater part, were worn, rent, o_atched.
The hour was early, and there was not a living soul in the yard. It wa_vident that all were asleep in the house except those who had returned fro_strianum.
"What shall we do, lord?" asked Croton, halting.
"Let us wait here; some one may appear," replied Vinicius. "We should not b_een in the yard."
At this moment, he thought Chio's counsel practical. If there were some ten_f slaves present, it would be easy to occupy the gate, which seemed the onl_xit, search all the lodgings simultaneously, and thus come to Lygia's; otherwise Christians, who surely were not lacking in that house, might giv_otice that people were seeking her. In view of this, there was risk i_nquiring of strangers. Vinicius stopped to think whether it would not b_etter to go for his slaves. Just then, from behind a screen hiding a remote_odging, came a man with a sieve in his hand, and approached the fountain.
At the first glance the young tribune recognized Ursus.
"That is the Lygian!" whispered Vinicius.
"Am I to break his bones now?"
Ursus did not notice the two men, as they were in the shadow of the entrance, and he began quietly to sink in water vegetables which filled the sieve. I_as evident that, after a whole night spent in the cemetery, he in-tended t_repare a meal. After a while the washing was finished; he took the wet siev_nd disappeared behind the screen. Croton and Vinicius followed him, thinkin_hat they would come directly to Lygia's lodgings. Their astonishment wa_reat when they saw that the screen divided from the court, not lodgings, bu_nother dark corridor, at the end of which was a little garden containing _ew cypresses, some myrtle bushes, and a small house fixed to the windowles_tone wall of another stone building.
Both understood at once that this was for them a favoring circumstance. In th_ourtyard all the tenants might assemble; the seclusion of the little hous_acilitated the enterprise. They would set aside defenders, or rather Ursus, quickly, and would reach the street just as quickly with the captured Lygia; and there they would help themselves. It was likely that no one would attac_hem; if attacked, they would say that a hostage was fleeing from Caesar.
Vinicius would declare himself then to the guards, and summon thei_ssistance.
Ursus was almost entering the little house, when the sound of steps attracte_is attention; he halted, and, seeing two persons, put his sieve on th_alustrade and turned to them.
"What do ye want here?" asked he.
"Thee!" said Vinicius.
Then, turning to Croton, he said in a low, hurried voice:
Croton rushed at him like a tiger, and in one moment, before the Lygian wa_ble to think or to recognize his enemies, Crown had caught him in his arms o_teel.
Vinicius was too confident in the man's preternatural strength to wait for th_nd of the struggle. He passed the two, sprang to the door of the littl_ouse, pushed it open and found himself in a room a trifle dark, lighted, however, by a fire burning in the chimney. A gleam of this fire fell o_ygia's face directly. A second person, sitting at the fire, was that old ma_ho had accompanied the young girl and Ursus on the road from Ostrianum.
Vinicius rushed in so suddenly that before Lygia could recognize him he ha_eized her by the waist, and, raising her, rushed toward the door again. Th_ld man barred the way, it is true; but pressing the girl with one arm to hi_reast, Vinicius pushed him aside with the other, which was free. The hoo_ell from his head, and at sight of that face, which was known to her an_hich at that moment was terrible, the blood grew cold in Lygia from fright, and the voice died in her throat. She wished to summon aid, but had not th_ower. Equally vain was her wish to grasp the door, to resist. Her finger_lipped along the stone, and she would have fainted but for the terribl_icture which struck her eyes when Vinicius rushed into the garden.
Ursus was holding in his arms some man doubled back completely, with hangin_ead and mouth filled with blood. When he saw them, he struck the head onc_ore with his fist, and in the twinkle of an eye sprang toward Vinicius like _aging wild beast.
"Death!" thought the young patrician.
Then he heard, as through a dream, the scream of Lygia, "Kill not!" He fel_hat something, as it were a thunderbolt, opened the arms with which he hel_ygia; then the earth turned round with him, and the light of day died in hi_yes… … … … … … … . .
Chilo, hidden behind the angle of the corner house, was waiting for what woul_appen, since curiosity was struggling with fear in him. He thought that i_hey succeeded in carrying off Lygia, he would fare well near Vinicius. H_eared Urban no longer, for he also felt certain that Croton would kill him.
And he calculated that in case a gathering should begin on the streets, whic_o far were empty, — if Christians, or people of any kind, should offe_esistance, — he, Chio, would speak to them as one representing authority, a_n executor of Caesar's will, and if need came, call the guards to aid th_oung patrician against the street rabble — thus winning to himself fres_avor. In his soul he judged yet that the young tribune's method was unwise; considering, however, Croton's terrible strength, he admitted that it migh_ucceed, and thought, "If it go hard with him, Vinicius can carry the girl, and Croton clear the way." Delay grew wearisome, however; the silence of th_ntrance which he watched alarmed him.
"If they do not hit upon her hiding-place, and make an uproar, they wil_righten her."
But this thought was not disagreeable; for Chilo understood that in that even_e would be necessary again to Vinicius, and could squeeze afresh a goodl_umber of sestertia from the tribune.
"Whatever they do," said he to himself, "they will work for me, though no on_ivines that. O gods! O gods! only permit me—"
And he stopped suddenly, for it seemed to him that some one was bendin_orward through the entrance; then, squeezing up to the wall, he began t_ook, holding the breath in his breast.
And he had not deceived himself, for a head thrust itself half out of th_ntrance and looked around. After a while, however, it vanished.
"That is Vinicius, or Croton," thought Chilo; "but if they have taken th_irl, why does she not scream, and why are they looking out to the street?
They must meet people anyhow, for before they reach the Carmn~ there will b_ovement in the city — What is that? By the immortal gods!"
And suddenly the remnant of his hair stood on end.
In the door appeared Ursus, with the body of Croton hanging on his arm, an_ooking around once more, he began to run, bearing it along the empty stree_oward the river.
Chilo made himself as flat against the wall as a bit of mud.
"I am lost if he sees me!" thought he.
But Ursus ran past the corner quickly, and disappeared beyond the neighborin_ouse. Chio, without further waiting, his teeth chattering from terror, ra_long the cross street with a speed which even in a young man might hav_oused admiration.
"If he sees mc from a distance when he is returning, he will catch and kil_e," said he to himself. "Save me, Zeus; save me, Apollo; save me, Hermes; save me, O God of the Christians! I will leave Rome, I will return t_esembria, but save me from the hands of that demon!"
And that Lygian who had killed Croton seemed to him at that moment som_uperhuman being. While running, he thought that lie might be some god who ha_aken the form of a barbarian. At that moment he believed in all the gods o_he world, and in all myths, at which he jeered usually. It flew through hi_ead, too, that it might be the God of the Christians who had killed Croton; and his hair stood on end again at the thought that he was in conflict wit_uch a power.
Only when he had run through a number of alleys, and saw some workmen comin_oward him from a distance, was he calmed somewhat. Breath failed in hi_reast; so he sat on the threshold of a house and began to wipe, with a corne_f his mantle, his sweat-covered forehead.
"I am old, and need calm," said he.
The people coming toward him turned into some little side street, and agai_he place round about was empty. The city was sleeping yet. In the mornin_ovement began earlier in the wealthier parts of the city, where the slaves o_ich houses were forced to rise before daylight; in portions inhabited by _ree population, supported at the cost of the State, hence unoccupied, the_oke rather late, especially in winter. Chio, after he had sat some time o_he threshold, felt a piercing cold; so he rose, and, convincing himself tha_e had not lost the purse received from Vinicius, turned toward the river wit_ step now much slower.
"I may see Croton's body somewhere," said he to himself. "O gods! that Lygian, if he is a man, might make millions of sestertia in the course of one year; for if he choked Croton, like a whelp, who can resist him? They would give fo_is every appearance in the arena as much gold as he himself weighs. He guard_hat maiden better than Cerberus does Hades. But may Hades swallow him, fo_ll that! I will have nothing to do with him. He is too bony. But where shal_ begin in this case? A dreadful thing has happened. If he has broken th_ones of such a man as Croton, beyond a doubt the soul of Vinicius is pulin_bove that cursed house now, awaiting his burial. By Castor! but he is _atrician, a friend of Caesar, a relative of Petronius, a man known in al_ome, a military tribune. His death cannot pass without punishment. Suppose _ere to go to the pretorian camp, or the guards of the city, for instance?"
Here he stopped and began to think, but said after a while, — "Woe is me! Wh_ook him to that house if not I? His freedmen and his slaves know that I cam_o his house, and some of them know with what object. What will happen if the_uspect me of having pointed out to him purposely the house in which his deat_et him? Though it appear afterward, in the court, that I did not wish hi_eath, they will say that I was the cause of it. Besides, he is a patrician; hence in no event can I avoid punishment. But if I leave Rome in silence, an_o far away somewhere, I shall place myself under still greater suspicion."
It was bad in every case. The only question was to choose the less evil. Rom_as immense; still Chilo felt that it might become too small for him. An_ther man might go directly to the prefect of the city guards and tell wha_ad happened, and, though some suspicion might fall on him, await the issu_almly. But Chilo's whole past was of such character that every close_cquaintance with the prefect of the city or the prefect of the guard mus_ause him very serious trouble, and confirm also every suspicion which migh_nter the heads of officials.
On the other hand, to flee would be to confirm Petronius in the opinion tha_inicius had been betrayed and murdered through conspiracy. Petronius was _owerful man, who could command the police of the whole Empire, and who beyon_oubt would try to find the guilty parties even at the ends of the earth.
Still, Chilo thought to go straight to him, and tell what had happened. Yes; that was the best plan. Petronius was calm, and Chilo might be sure of this, at least, that he would hear him to the end. Petronius, who knew the affai_rom its inception, would believe in Chio's innocence more easily than woul_he prefects.
But to go to him, it was needful to know with certainty what had happened t_inicius. Chilo did not know that. He had seen, it is true, the Lygia_tealing with Crown's body to the river, but nothing more. Vinicius might b_illed; but he might be wounded or detained. Now it occurred to Chilo for th_irst time, that surely the Christians would not dare to kill a man s_owerful, — a friend of Caesar, and a high military official, — for that kin_f act might draw on them a general persecution. It was more likely that the_ad detained him by superior force, to give Lygia means to hide herself _econd time.
This thought filled Chilo with hope.
"If that Lygian dragon has not torn him to pieces at the first attack, he i_live, and if he is alive he himself will testify that I have not betraye_im; and then not only does nothing threaten me, but —O Hermes, count again o_wo heifers — a fresh field is opening. I can inform one of the freedmen wher_o seek his lord; and whether he goes to the prefect or not is his affair, th_nly point being that I should not go. Also, I can go to Petronius, and coun_n a reward. I have found Lygia; now I shall find Vinicius, and then agai_ygia. It is needful to know first whether Vinicius is dead or living."
Here it occurred to him that he might go in the night to the baker Deinas an_nquire about Ursus. But he rejected that thought immediately. He preferred t_ave nothing to do with Ursus. He might suppose, justly, that if Ursus had no_illed Glaucus he had been warned, evidently, by the Christian elder to who_e had confessed his design, — warned that the affair was an unclean one, t_hich some traitor had persuaded him. in every case, at the mere recollectio_f Ursus, a shiver ran through Chio's whole body. But he thought that in th_vening he would send Euricius for news to that house in which the thing ha_appened. Meanwhile he needed refreshment, a bath, and rest. The sleeples_ight, the journey to Ostrianum, the flight from the Trans-Tiber, had wearie_im exceedingly.
One thing gave him permanent comfort: he had on his person two purses, — tha_hich Vinicius had given him at home, and that which he had thrown him on th_ay from the cemetery. In view of this happy circumstance, and of all th_xcitement through which he had passed, he resolved to eat abundantly, an_rink better wine than he drank usually.
When the hour for opening the wine-shop came at last, he did so in such _arked measure that he forgot the bath; he wished to sleep, above all, an_rowsiness overcame his strength so that he returned with tottering step t_is dwelling in the Subura, where a slave woman, purchased with money obtaine_rom Vinicius, was waiting for him.
When he had entered a sleeping-room, as dark as the den of a fox, be thre_imself on the bed, and fell asleep in one instant. He woke only in th_vening, or rather he was roused by the slave woman, who called him to rise, for some one was inquiring, and wished to see him on urgent business.
The watchful Chilo came to himself in one moment, threw on his hooded mantl_astily, and, commanding the slave woman to stand aside, looked ou_autiously.
And he was benumbed! for he saw before the door of the sleeping-room th_igantic form of Ursus.
At that sight he felt his feet and head grow icy-cold, the heart ceased t_eat in his bosom, and shivers were creeping along his back. For a time he wa_nable to speak; then with chattering teeth he said, or rather groaned, —
"Syra — I am not at home — I don't know that — good man—"
"I told him that thou wert at home, but asleep, lord," answered the girl; "h_sked to rouse thee."
"O gods! I will command that thou —"
But Ursus, as if impatient of delay, approached the door of the sleeping-room, and, bending, thrust in his head.
"O Chilo Chilonides!" said he.
"Pax tecum! pax! pax!" answered Chio. "O best of Christians! Yes, I am Chilo; but this is a mistake, — I do not know thee!"
"Chilo Chilonides," repeated Ursus, "thy lord, Vinicius, summons thee to g_ith me to him."