It was the day before the nones of November in Rome. The emperor had returned to his palace after opening the Ludi Plebeii. The people had hailed him as father, forgiver, peace-maker. A softened spirit, sweeping over the world, was come upon them. That day they had put in his hands a petition for new laws to limit the power of men over slaves. But in that matter he was bound to ancient custom by fetters of his own making. Once -- he was then emperor of Rome but not of his own spirit -- he had punished a slave by crucifixion for killing a pet quail. For that act, one cannot help thinking, he must have been harassed with regret. The sting of it tempered his elation that November day. He was, however, pleased with the spirit of the people and his heart was full of sympathy and good-will.
On his table were letters from the south. He lay comfortably in his great chair and began to read them. Presently his body straightened, the wrinkles deepened in his brow. Soon he flung the letter he had been reading upon his table and leaned back, laughing quietly as he remarked to himself:
|Innocent, beautiful son of Varro! He is making progress.|
An attendant came near.
|Find my young Appius at once and bring him to me,| said the emperor, as he went on reading his letters.
Appius, quickly found, came with all haste to the great father of Rome.
|I have news for you,| said the latter, quietly, with a glance at his young friend. He continued to read his letters.
|News!| said Appius.
|'Tis of Vergilius -- the apt and youthful Vergilius. How swift, industrious, and capable is he! How versatile! How varied his attainments!|
|I am delighted.|
The emperor turned his keen eyes on the young man, with a smile of amusement. Then he spoke, gently:
|'Tis only four months, and he has become a conspirator, and also a prophet, and is likely soon to be -- what is that word they use in Judea? -- an angel. You will start for Jerusalem to-morrow, my good Appius. And when you arrive there convey to him my congratulations.|
|That he is upon earth to receive them,| said the great man. He resumed his letters and continued speaking, slowly: |Tell him I have been asked to consider whether he should keep his head upon his shoulders, and that I have decided to refer the question to him. It will not come back to me. Say, also, that he should have more light upon his friends, and that I have withdrawn my consent to his marriage.|
The young man rose, a look of astonishment in his face.
|But shall I be in time?| said he, with some excitement.
|Learn composure, my good Appius. Herod may not be extremely polite to him, but -- but he will wait.|
That odd man, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus, laughed silently as the youth was leaving. He beckoned to a slave, who halted Appius and turned him back.
|An escort will be on the campus at dawn,| said the emperor. |I wish you a pleasant journey and will write you when to return.|
Now there had been no changes of moment in the palace of the Lady Lucia, save one. The slave-girl, Cyran, had brought to Arria the inspiration of a new faith. The sister of Appius had begun to try it in secret prayers. Her mother had fallen ill of a deadly fever so that none had hope of her recovery, and the girl had prayed, and, lo! her prayer had been answered. Letters from Vergilius, full of the new light in him, had confirmed her faith. And Arria confided to her family and intimates knowledge of her devotion to the one God. Soon the religion of Judea had become a topic of patrician Rome.
When Vergilius had left the capital, Antipater came every day for a time to the palace of the Lady Lucia, and brought with him many beautiful gifts. But Arria refused to see him or to accept the gifts he had brought. Now the stubborn prince had faith that when he was made king she would no longer be able to resist him. If he failed with splendor, he was beginning to consider what he might do with power.
That day of the interview between youth and emperor a letter came to Arria from her lover. It began as follows:
|DEAR LOVE, -- It has been a day illumined with new honor and the praises of a king. Now, before sleeping, I send these words to tell you that I have not forgotten. Every day I think of you, and my love grows. I see your face full of honor and the will to give all for me. Because it is in you, I love honor beyond all my hope of it, and -- that look in your eyes -- oh, it has made me to think gently and be kind! Now I tell you of a wonderful thing -- this feeling is the very seed of friendship. The legate, the procurator, the high priest, and Herod himself, are my friends. I had only the will to serve, and now they insist that I shall command. After all, it is in no way remarkable -- there be so few here who forget themselves for the good of the service. It all leads to a new and a great law -- think of the good of others and you need have no thought of yourself. Consider this, my beloved, if every man loved a good woman as I love you a new peace would fill the world.|
Then he told her of his discovery of David, the brother of Cyran, and their friendship.