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 hi_and, he approached the curtains.
"Thou hast had a pleasant dream, I trust, and a happy one!" cried he, laughin_t sight of the slumbering Petronius.
"Oh, is it thou?" said Petronius, waking up. "Yes; I dropped asleep for _oment, as I passed the night at the Palatine. I have come out to bu_omething 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 _pecial supply for the journey. It is likely that some new things of Musoniu_nd Seneca have come out. I am looking also for Persius, and a certain editio_f the Eclogues of Vergilius, which I do not possess. Oh, how tired I am; an_ow my hands ache from covers and rings! For when a man is once in a book-sho_uriosity seizes him to look here and there. I was at the shop of Avirnus, an_t 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 hear_here? Or, knowest what? — send home the litter and the tubes with books, an_ome 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 th_ews to thee. Yes; be ready for the day after to-morrow in the morning. Pea_n 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. H_urses Rome and its atmosphere, with what the world stands on; he would b_lad to level it to the earth or to destroy it with fire, and he longs for th_ea at the earliest. He says that the smells which the wind brings from th_arrow streets are driving him into the grave. To-day great sacrifices wer_ffered in all the temples to restore his voice; and woe to Rome, bu_specially 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 'Burnin_f Troy'; as a charioteer, as a musician, as an athlete, — nay, even as _ancer, 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 Pari_n dancing, and danced for us the adventures of Leda, during which he sweate_nd caught cold. He was as wet and slippery as an eel freshly taken fro_ater. He changed masks one after another, whirled like a spindle, waved hi_ands like a drunken sailor, till disgust seized me while looking at tha_reat stomach and those slim legs. Paris taught him during two weeks; bu_magine 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 i_hat pantomime, — first in Antium, and then in Rome."
"People are offended already because he sang in public; but to think that _oman 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 o_hanks to the 'Father of his country.' And the rabble will be elated becaus_aesar is its buffoon."
"Say thyself, is it possible to be more debased?"
Petronius shrugged his shoulders. "Thou art living by thyself at home, an_editating, 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 an_erformed the ceremony with solemnity. I was present. I can endure much; stil_ thought, I confess, that the gods, if there be any, should give a sign. Bu_aesar 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; bu_he 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 th_ods, and this god who reviles the gods, fears them in his character o_theist."
"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 suppe_oyously; then, turning to Petronius he said, — "No, my dear, society must b_enewed."
"We shall not renew it," answered Petronius, "even for the reason that i_ero's time man is like a butterfly, — he lives in the sunshine of favor, an_t 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 _an as Lucius Saturninus been able to reach the age of ninety-three, t_urvive Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius? But never mind. Wilt thou permit me t_end thy litter for Eunice? My wish to sleep has gone, somehow, and I shoul_ike to be joyous. Give command to cithara players to come to the supper, an_fterward we will talk of Antium. It is needful to think of it, especially fo_hee."
Vinicius gave the order to send for Eunice, but declared that he had n_hought of breaking his head over the stay in Antium.
"Let those break their heads who cannot live otherwise than in the rays o_aesar's favor. The world does not end on the Palatine, especially for thos_ho have something else in their hearts and souls."
He said this so carelessly and with such animation and gladness that his whol_anner struck Petronius; hence, looking for a time at him, he asked, — "Wha_s taking place in thee? Thou art to-day as thou wert when wearing the golde_ulla on thy neck."
"I am happy," answered Vinicius. "I have invited thee purposely to tell the_o."
"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 hi_and, 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, tha_ne more beautiful than our maidens and our goddesses?"
Petronius looked at him with astonishment, as if he wished to make sure tha_is 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 swarmin_ith 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, al_ook their places in rows at the walls and among the columns. Vinicius, standing near the impluvium, turned to Demas, the freedman, and said, — "Thos_ho have served twenty years in my house are to appear tomorrow before th_retor, where they will receive freedom; those who have not served out th_ime will receive three pieces of gold and double rations for a week. Send a_rder to the village prisons to remit punishment, strike the fetters fro_eople's feet, and feed them sufficiently. Know that a happy day has come t_e, and I wish rejoicing in the house."
For a moment they stood in silence, as if not believing their ears; then al_ands 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 than_im and to fall at his feet, they went away hurriedly, filling the house wit_appiness 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 wh_raw a fish."
Petronius, who never wondered long at anything, had grqwn indifferent, an_sked, — "A fish, is it? Ah, ha! According to Chio, that is the sign of _hristian, I remember." Then he extended his hand to Vinicius, and said:
"Happiness is always where a man sees it. May Flora strew flowers under th_eet 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 tho_eest, would be time lost."
"I? Dissuade? By no means. On the contrary, I tell thee that thou art doin_ell."
"Ha, traitor!" answered Vinicius, joyfully; "hast forgotten what thou dids_ell me once when we were leaving the house of Pomponia Graecina?"
"No," answered Petronius, with cool blood; "but I have changed my opinion. M_ear," added he after a while, "in Rome everything changes. Husbands chang_ives, wives change husbands; why should not I change opinions? It lacke_ittle of Nero's marrying Acte, whom for his sake they represented as th_escendant of a kingly line. Well, he would have had an honest wife, and we a_onest Augusta. By Proteus and his barren spaces in the sea! I shall change m_pinion as often as I find it appropriate or profitable. As to Lygia, he_oyal descent is more certain than Acte's. But in Antium be on thy guar_gainst 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 whenc_ast thou that certainty?"
"The Apostle Peter told me so."
"Ah, the Apostle Peter told thee! Against that there is no argument; permi_e, however, to take certain measures of precaution even to this end, that th_postle Peter may not turn out a false phophet; for, should the Apostle b_istaken, perchance he might lose thy confidence, which certainly will be o_se to him in the future."
"Do what may please thee, but I believe him. And if thou think to turn m_gainst 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 o_hrist, and afterward I will receive baptism; for thy statement that they ar_nemies of life and pleasantness is not true."
"All the better for thee and Lygia," answered Petronius; then, shrugging hi_houlders, he said, as if to himself, "But it is astonishing how skilled thos_eople are in gaining adherents, and how that sect is extending."
"Yes," answered Vinicius, with as much warmth as if he had been baptize_lready; "there are thousands and tens of thousands of them in Rome, in th_ities of Italy, in Grecce and Asia. There are Christians among the legion_nd among the pretorians; they are in the palace of Caesar itself. Slaves an_itizens, poor and rich, plebeian and patrician, confess that faith. Dost tho_now that the Cornelii are Christians, that Pomponia Graecina is a Christian, that likely Octavia was, and Acte is? Yes, that teaching will embrace th_orld, and it alone is able to renew it. Do not shrug thy shoulders, for wh_nows 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 i_he truth and wisdom of gods and men were contained in it. That would requir_abor, and I have no fondness for labor. Labor demands self-denial, and I wil_ot deny myself anything. With thy nature, which is like fire and boilin_ater, something like this may happen any time. But I? I have my gems, m_ameos, my vases, my Eunice. I do not believe in Olympus, but I arrange it o_arth for myself; and I shall flourish till the arrows of the divine arche_ierce me, or till Caesar commands me to open my veins. I love the odor o_iolets too much, and a comfortable triclinium. I love even our gods, a_hetorical figures, and Achcea, to which I am preparing to go with our fat, thin-legged, incomparable, godlike Caesar, the august period-compellin_ercules, Nero."
Then he was joyous at the very supposition that he could accept the teachin_f Galilean fishermen, and began to sing in an undertone, —
"I will entwine my bright sword in myrtle, After the example of Harmodius an_ristogiton."
But he stopped, for the arrival of Eunice was announced. Immediately after he_oming 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 o_oing to the Apostles directly, — an idea which came to him while they wer_logging Chilo.
At mention of this, Petronius, who began to be drowsy, placed his hand on hi_orehead, and said, — "The thought was good, since the object was good. But a_o Chilo, I should have given him five pieces of gold; but as it was thy wil_o flog him, it was better to flog him, for who knows but in time senator_ill bow to him, as to-day they are bowing to our cobbler-knight, Vatinius.
And, removing his wreath, he, with Eunice, prepared for home. When they ha_one, 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! t_hee. Hence I write now, though I shall see thee tomorrow. Caesar will go t_ntium after to-morrow, — and I, eheu! must go with him. I have told the_lready that not to obey would be to risk life — and at present I could no_ind courage to die. But if thou wish me not to go, write one word, and I wil_tay. Perronius will turn away danger from me with a speech. To-day, in th_our of my delight, I gave rewards to all my slaves; those who have served i_he house twenty years I shall take to the pretor to-morrow and free. Thou, m_ear, shouldst praise me, since this act as I think will be in accord wit_hat mild religion of thine; secondly, I do this for thy sake. They are t_hank thee for their freedom. I shall tell them so to-morrow, so that they ma_e grateful to thee and praise thy name. I give myself in bondage to happines_nd thee. God grant that I never see liberation. May Antium be cursed, and th_ourney of Ahenobarbus! Thrice and four times happy am I in not being so wis_s Petronius; if I were, I should be forced to go to Greece perhaps. Meanwhil_he moment of separation will sweeten my memory of thee. Whenever I can tea_yself away, I shall sit on a horse, and rush back to Rome, to gladden my eye_ith sight of thee, and my ears with thy voice. When I cannot come I shal_end a slave with a letter, and an inquiry about thee. I salute thee, divin_ne, and embrace thy feet. Be not angry that I call thee divine. If tho_orbid, I shall obey, but to-day I cannot call thee otherwise. I congratulat_hee on thy future house with my whole soul."