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Chapter 8

  • No one stopped Ursus, no one inquired even what he was doing. Those guests wh_ere not under the table had not kept their own places; hence the servants, seeing a giant carrying a guest on his arm, thought him some slave bearing ou_is intoxicated mistress. Moreover, Acte was with them, and her presenc_emoved all suspicion.
  • In this way they went from the triclinium to the adjoining chamber, and thenc_o the gallery leading to Acte's apartments. To such a degree had her strengt_eserted Lygia, that she hung as if dead on the arm of Ursus. But when th_ool, pure breeze of morning beat around her, she opened her eyes. It wa_rowing clearer and clearer in the open air. After they had passed along th_olonnade awhile, they turned to a side portico, coming out, not in th_ourtyard, but the palace gardens, where the tops of the pines and cypresse_ere growing ruddy from the light of morning. That part of the building wa_mpty, so that echoes of music and sounds of the feast came with decreasin_istinctness. It seemed to Lygia that she had been rescued from hell, an_orne into God's bright world outside. There was something, then, besides tha_isgusting tricliium. There was the sky, the dawn, light, and peace. Sudde_eeping seized the maiden, and, taking shelter on the arm of the giant, sh_epeated, with sobbing, — "Let us go home, Ursus! home, to the house o_ulus."
  • "Let us go!" answered Ursus.
  • They found themselves now in the small atrium of Acte's apartments. Ursu_laced Lygia on a marble bench at a distance from the fountain. Acte strove t_acify her; she urged her to sleep, and declared that for the moment there wa_o danger, — after the feast the drunken guests would sleep till evening. Fo_ long time Lygia could not calm herself, and, pressing her temples with bot_ands, she repeated like a child, — "Let us go home, to the house of Aulus!"
  • Ursus was ready. At the gates stood pretorians, it is true, but he would pas_hem. The soldiers would not stop out-going people. The space before the arc_as crowded with litters. Guests were beginning to go forth in throngs. No on_ould detain them. They would pass with the crowd and go home directly. Fo_hat matter, what does he care? As the queen commands, so must it be. He i_here to carry out her orders.
  • "Yes, Ursus," said Lygia, "let us go."
  • Acte was forced to find reason for both. They would pass out, true; no on_ould stop them. But it is not permitted to flee from the house of Caesar; whoso does that offends Caesar's majesty. They may go; but in the evening _enturion at the head of soldiers will take a death sentence to Aulus an_omponia Graecina; they will bring Lygia to the palace again, and then ther_ill be no rescue for her. Should Aulus and his wife receive her under thei_oof, death awaits them to a certainty.
  • Lygia's arms dropped. There was no other outcome. She must choose her own rui_r that of Plautius. In going to the feast, she had hoped that Vinicius an_etronius would win her from Caesar, and return her to Pornponia; now she kne_hat it was they who had brought Caesar to remove her from the house of Aulus.
  • There was no help. Only a miracle could save her from the abyss, — a miracl_nd the might of God.
  • "Acte," said she, in despair, "didst thou hear Vinicius say that Caesar ha_iven me to him, and that he will send slaves here this evening to take me t_is house?"
  • "I did," answered Acte; and, raising her arms from her side, she was silent.
  • The despair with which Lygia spoke found in her no echo. She herself had bee_ero's favorite. Her heart, though good, could not feel clearly the shame o_uch a relation. A former slave, she had grown too much inured to the law o_lavery; and, besides, she loved Nero yet. If he returned to her, she woul_tretch her arms to him, as to happiness. Comprehending clearly that Lygi_ust become the mistress of the youthful and stately Vinicius, or expose Aulu_nd Pomponia to ruin, she failed to understand how the girl could hesitate.
  • "In Caesar's house," said she, after a while, "it would not be safer for the_han in that of Vinicius."
  • And it did not occur to her that, though she told the truth, her words meant,
  • "Be resigned to fate and become the concubine of Vinicius."
  • As to Lygia, who felt on her lips yet his kisses, burning as coals and full o_eastly desire, the blood rushed to her face with shame at the mere thought o_hem.
  • "Never," cried she, with an outburst, "will I remain here, or at the house o_inicius, — never!"
  • "But," inquired Acte, "is Vinicius hateful to thee?"
  • Lygia was unable to answer, for weeping seized her anew. Acte gathered th_aiden to her bosom, and strove to calm her excitement. Ursus breathe_eavily, and balled his giant fists; for, loving his queen with the devotio_f a dog, he could not bear the sight of her tears. In his half-wild Lygia_eart was the wish to return to the tridinium, choke Vinicius, and, should th_eed come, Caesar himself; but he feared to sacrifice thereby his mistress, and was not certain that such an act, which to him seemed very simple, woul_efit a confessor of the Crucified Lamb.
  • But Acte, while caressing Lygia, asked again, "Is he so hateful to thee?"
  • "No," said Lygia; "it is not permitted me to hate, for I am a Christian."
  • "I know, Lygia. I know also from the letters of Paul of Tarsus, that it is no_ermitted to defile one's self, nor to fear death more than sin; but tell m_f thy teaching permits one person to cause the death of others?"
  • "Then how canst thou bring Caesar's vengeance on the house of Aulus?" A momen_f silence followed. A bottomless abyss yawned before Lygia again.
  • "I ask," continued the young freedwoman, "for I have compassion on thee — an_ have compassion on the good Pomponia and Aulus, and on their child. It i_ong since I began to live in this house, and I know what Caesar's anger is.
  • No! thou art not at liberty to flee from here. One way remains to thee: implore Vinicius to return thee to Pomponia."
  • But Lygia dropped on her knees to implore some one else. Ursus knelt dow_fter a while, too, and both began to pray in Caesar's house at the mornin_awn.
  • Acte witnessed such a prayer for the first time, and could not take her eye_rom Lygia, who, seen by her in profile, with raised hands, and face turne_eavenward, seemed to implore rescue. The dawn, casting light on her dark hai_nd white peplus, was reflected in her eyes. Entirely in the light, she seeme_erself like light. In that pale face, in those parted lips, in those raise_ands and eyes, a kind of superhuman exaltation was evident. Acte understoo_hen why Lygia could not become the concubine of any man. Before the face o_ero's former favorite was drawn aside, as it were, a corner of that vei_hich hides a world altogether different from that to which she wa_ccustomed. She was astonished by prayer in that abode of crime and infamy. _oment earlier it had seemed to her that there was no rescue for Lygia; no_he began to think that something uncommon would happen, that some aid woul_ome, — aid so mighty that Caesar himself would be powerless to resist it; that some winged army would descend from the sky to help that maiden, or tha_he sun would spread its rays beneath her feet and draw her up to itself. Sh_ad heard of many miracles among Christians, and she thought now tha_verything said of them was true, since Lygia was praying.
  • Lygia rose at last, with a face serene with hope. Ursus rose too, and, holdin_o the bench, looked at his mistress, waiting for her words.
  • But it grew dark in her eyes, and after a time two great tears rolled down he_hecks slowly.
  • "May God bless Pomponia and Aulus," said she. "It is not permitted me to brin_uin on them; therefore I shall never see them again."
  • Then turning to Ursus she said that he alone remained to her in the world; that he must be to her as a protector and a father. They could not seek refug_n the house of Aulus, for they would bring on it the anger of Caesar. Bu_either could she remain in the house of Caesar or that of Vinicius. Let Ursu_ake her then; let him conduct her out of the city; let him conceal her i_ome place where neither Vinicius nor his servants could find her. She woul_ollow Ursus anywhere, even beyond the sea, even beyond the mountains, to th_arbarians, where the Roman name was not heard, and whither the power o_aesar did not reach. Let him take her and save her, for he alone had remaine_o her.
  • The Lygian was ready, and in sign of obedience he bent to her feet an_mbraced them. But on the face of Acte, who had been expecting a miracle, disappointment was evident. Had the prayer effected only that much? To fle_rom the house of Caesar is to commit an offence against majesty which must b_venged; and even if Lygia succeeded in hiding, Caesar would avenge himself o_ulus and Pomponia. If she wishes to escape, let her escape from the house o_inicius. Then Caesar, who does not like to occupy himself with the affairs o_thers, may not wish even to aid Vinicius in the pursuit; in every case i_ill not be a crime against majesty.
  • But Lygia's thoughts were just the following: Aulus would not even know wher_he was; Pomponia herself would not know. She would escape not from the hous_f Vinicius, however, but while on the way to it. When drunk, Vinicius ha_aid that he would send his slaves for her in the evening. Beyond doubt he ha_old the truth, which he would not have done had he been sober. Evidently h_imself, or perhaps he and Petronius, had seen Caesar before the feast, an_on from him the promise to give her on the following evening. And if the_orgot that day, they would send for her on the morrow. But Ursus will sav_er. He will come; he will bear her out of the litter as he bore her out o_he triclinium, and they will go into the world. No one could resist Ursus, not even that terrible athlete who wrestled at the feast yesterday. But a_inicius might send a great number of slaves, Ursus would go at once to Bisho_inus for aid and counsel. The bishop will take compassion on her, will no_eave her in the hands of Vinicius; he will command Christians to go wit_rsus to rescue her. They will seize her and bear her away; then Ursus ca_ake her out of the city and hide her from the power of Rome.
  • And her face began to flush and smile. Consolation entered her anew, as if th_ope of rescue had turned to reality. She threw herself on Acte's nec_uddenly, and, putting her beautiful lips to Acte's cheek, she whispered:
  • "Thou wilt not betray, Acte, wilt thou?"
  • "By the shade of my mother," answered the freedwoman, "I will not; but pray t_hy God that Ursus be able to bear thee away."
  • The blue, childlike eyes of the giant were gleaming with happiness. He had no_een able to frame any plan, though he had been breaking his poor head; but _hing like this he could do, — and whether in the day or in the night it wa_ll one to him! He would go to the bishop, for the bishop can read in the sk_hat is needed and what is not. Besides, he could assemble Christians himself.
  • Are his acquaintances few among slaves, gladiators, and free people, both i_he Subura and beyond the bridges? He can collect a couple of thousand o_hem. He will rescue his lady, and take her outside the city, and he can g_ith her. They will go to the end of the world, even to that place from whic_hey had come, where no one has heard of Rome.
  • Here he began to look forward, as if to see things in the future and ver_istant.
  • "To the forest? Al, what a forest, what a forest!"
  • But after a while he shook himself out of his visions. Well, he will go to th_ishop at once, and in the evening will wait with something like a hundred me_or the litter. And let not slaves, hut even pretorians, take her from him!
  • Better for any man not to come under his fist, even though in iron armor, — for is iron so strong? When he strikes iron earnestly, the head underneat_ill not survive.
  • But Lygia raised her finger with great and also childlike seriousness.
  • "Ursus, do not kill," said she.
  • Ursus put his fist, which was like a maul, to the back of his head, and, rubbing his neck with great seriousness, began to mutter. But he must rescue
  • "his light." She herself had said that his turn had come. He will try all h_an. But if something happens in spite of him? In every case he must save her.
  • But should anything happen, he will repent, and so entreat the Innocent Lam_hat the Crucified Lamb will have mercy on him, poor fellow. He has no wish t_ffend the Lamb; but then his hands are so heavy.
  • Great tenderness was expressed on his face; but wishing to hide it, he bowe_nd said, — "Now I will go to the holy bishop."
  • Acte put her arms around Lygia's neck, and began to weep. Once more th_reedwoman understood that there was a world in which greater happines_xisted, even in suffering, than in all the excesses and luxury of Caesar'_ouse. Once more a kind of door to the light was opened a little before her, but she felt at once that she was unworthy to pass through it.