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Chapter 54

  • LYGIA, in a long letter written hurriedly, took farewell to Vinicius forever.
  • She knew that no one was permitted to enter the prison, and that she could se_inicius only from the arena. She begged him therefore to discover when th_urn of the Mamertine prisoners would come, and to be at the games, for sh_ished to see him once more in life. No fear was evident in her letter. Sh_rote that she and the othcrs were longing for the arena, where they woul_ind liberation from imprisonment. She hoped f or the coming of Pomponia an_ulus; she entreated that they too be pres‡nt. Every word of her showe_cstasy, and that separation from life in which all the prisoners lived, ari_t the same time an unshaken faith that all promises would be fulfilled beyon_he grave.
  • "Whether Christ," wrote she, "frees me in this life or after death, He ha_romised me to thee by the lips of the Apostle; therefore I am rhine." Sh_mplored him not to grieve for her, and not to let himself be overcome b_uffering. For her death was not a dissolution of marriage. With th_onfidence of a child she assured Vinicius that immediately after he_uffering in the arena she would tell Christ that her betrothed Marcus ha_emained in Rome, that he was longing for her with his whole heart. 1And sh_hought that Christ would permit her soul, perhaps, to return to him for _oment, to tell him that she was living, that she did not remember he_orments, and that she was happy. Her whole letter breathed happiness an_mmense hope. There was only one request in it connected with affairs o_arth, — that Vinicius should take her body from the spoliarium and bury it a_hat of his wife in the tomb in which he himself would rest sometime.
  • He read this letter with a suffering spirit, but at the same time it seemed t_im impossible that Lygia should perish under the claws of wild beasts, an_hat Christ would not take compassion on her. But just in that were hidde_ope and trust. When he returned home, he wrote that he would come every da_o the walls of the Tullianum to wait till Christ crushed the walls an_estored her. He commanded her to believe that Christ could give her to him,
  • even in the Circus; that the great Apostle was imploring Him to do so, an_hat the hour of liberation was near. The converted centurion was to bear thi_etter to her on the morrow.
  • But when Vinicius came to the prison next morning, the centurion left th_ank, approached him first, and said, —
  • "Listen to me, lord. Christ, who enlightened thee, has shown thee favor. Las_ight Caesar's freedman and those of the prefect came to select Christia_aidens for disgrace; they inquired for thy betrothed, but our Lord sent her _ever, of which prisoners are dying in the Tullianum, and they left her. Las_vening she was unconscious, and blessed be the name of the Redeemer, for th_ickness which has saved her from shame may save her from death."
  • Vinicius placed his hand on the soldier's shoulder to guard himself fro_alling; but the other continued, —
  • "Thank the mercy of the Lord! They took and tortured Linus, but, seeing tha_e was dying, they surrendered him. They may give her now to thee, and Chris_ill give back health to her."
  • The young tribune stood some time with drooping head; then raised it and sai_n a whisper, —
  • "True, centurion. Christ, who saved her from shame, will save her from death."
  • And sitting at the wall of the prison till evening, he returned home te sen_eople for Linus and have him taken to one of his suburban villas.
  • But when Petronius had heard everything, he determined to act also. He ha_isited the Augusta; now he went to her a second time. He found her at the be_f little Ruflus. The child with broken head was struggling in a fever; hi_other, with despair and terror in her heart, was trying to save him,
  • thinking, however, that if she did save him it might be only to perish soon b_ more dreadful death.
  • Occupied exclusively with her own suffering, she would not even hear o_inicius and Lygia; but Petronius terrified her.
  • "Thou hart offended," said he to her, "a new, unknown divinity. Thou, Augusta,
  • art a worshipper, it seems, of the Hebrew Jehovah; but the Christians maintai_hat Chrestos is his son. Reflect, then, if the anger of the father is no_ursuing thee. Who knows but it is their vengeance which has struck thee? Wh_nows but the life of Ruflus depends on this, — how thou wilt act?"
  • "What dost thou wish me to do?" asked Poppaea, with terror.
  • "Mollify the offended deities."
  • "How?"
  • "Lygia is sick; influence Caesar or Tigellinus to give her to Vinicius."
  • "Dost thou think that I can do that?" asked she, in despair.
  • "Thou canst do something else. If Lygia recovers, she must die. Go thou to th_emple of Vesta, and ask the Virgo magna to happen near the Tullianum at th_oment when they are leading prisoners out to death, and give command to fre_hat maiden. The chief vestal will not refuse thee."
  • "But if Lygia dies of the fever?"
  • "The Christians say that Christ is vengeful, but just; maybe thou wilt softe_im by thy wish alone."
  • "Let Him give me some sign that will heal Ruflus."
  • Petronius shrugged his shoulders.
  • "I have not come as His envoy; O divinity, I merely say to thee, Be on bette_erms with all the gods, Roman and foreign."
  • "I will go!" said Poppaea, with a broken voice.
  • Petronius drew a deep breath. "At last I have done something." thought he, an_eturning to Vinicius he said to him, —
  • "Implore thy God that Lygia die not of the fever, for should she survive, th_hief vestal will give command to free her. The Augusta herself will ask he_o do so."
  • "Christ will free her," said Vinicius, looking at him with eyes in which feve_as glittering.
  • Poppaea, who for the recovery of Ruflus was willing to burn hecatombs to al_he gods of the world, went that same evening through the Forum to th_estals, leaving care over the sick child to her faithful nurse, Silvia, b_hom she herself had been reared.
  • But on the Palatine sentence had been issued against the child already; fo_arely had Poppaea's litter vanished behind the great gate when two freedme_ntered the chamber in which her son was resting. One of these threw himsel_n old Silvia and gagged her; the other, seizing a bronze statue of th_phinx, stunned the old woman with the first blow.
  • Then they approached Ruflus. The little boy, tormented with fever an_nsensible, not knowing what was passing around him, smiled at them, an_linked with his beautiful eyes, as if trying to recognize the men. Strippin_rom the nurse her girdle, they put it around his neck and pulled it. Th_hild called once for his mother, and died easily. Then they wound him in _heet, and sitting on horses which were waiting, hurried to Ostia, where the_hrew the body into the sea.
  • Poppaea, not finding the virgo magna, who with other vestals was at the hous_f Vatinius, returned soon to the Palatine. Seeing the empty bed and the col_ody of Silvia, she fainted, and when they restored her she began to scream;
  • her wild cries were heard all that night and the day following.
  • But Caesar commanded her to appear at a feast on the third day; so, arrayin_erself in an amethyst-colored tunic, she came and sat with stony face,
  • golden-haired, silent, wonderful, and as ominous as an angel of death.