“We commend this letter to you as a sure proof that we ourselves are to be trusted, since, if it should fall into the hands of an informer by the way, our lives undoubtedly would pay the forfeit. We have not much money, but enough for the expenses of a journey to a foreign land. The place where we will hide near Tarentum is known to you. In deep anxiety, and not without such sacrifices to the gods and to the manes of your noble ancestors as means permit, we will await your coming.” —Rufus Glabrio “Freedman of the illustrious Galienus Maximus.”
Pertinax turned from the window. “The Jews have a saying,” he said, “that who keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from trouble. Often I warned Maximus that he was too free with his speech. He counted too much on my protection. Now it remains to be seen whether Commodus has not proscribed me!”
Sextus and Norbanus stood together, Scylax behind them, Norbanus whispering; plainly enough Norbanus was urging patience—discretion— deliberate thought, whereas Sextus could hardly think at all for anger that reddened his eyes.
“What can I do for you? What can I do?” wondered Pertinax.
Then Cornificia was on her feet.
“There is nothing—nothing you can do!” she insisted. She avoided Galen’s eyes; the old philosopher was watching her as if she were the subject of some new experiment. “Let Commodus learn as much as that Sextus was here in this pavilion and—”
Sextus interrupted, very proudly:
“I will not endanger my friends. Who will lend me a dagger? This toy that I wear is too short and not sharp. You may forget me, Pertinax. My slaves will bury me. But play you the man and save Rome!”
Then the tribune spoke up. He was younger than all of them.
“Sextus is right. They will know he was here. They will probably torture his slaves and learn about that letter that has reached him. If he runs and hides, we shall all be accused of having helped him to escape; whereas—”
“What?” Galen asked him as he hesitated.
“If he dies by his own hand, he will not only save all his slaves from the torture but remove the suspicion from us and we will still be free to mature our—”
“Cowardice!” Norbanus finished the sentence for him.
“Aye, some of us would hardly feel like noble Romans!” Pertinax said grimly. “Possibly I can protect you, Sextus. Let us think of some great favor you can do the emperor, providing an excuse for me to interfere. I might even take you to Rome with me and—”
Galen laughed, and Cornificia drew in her breath, bit her lip.
“Why do you laugh, Galen?” Pertinax strode over to him and stood staring.
“Because,” said Galen, “I know so little after all. I cannot tell a beast’s blood from a man’s. Our Commodus would kill you with all the more peculiar enjoyment because he has flattered you so often publicly and called you ‘father Pertinax.’ He poisoned his own father; why not you? They will tell him you have frequently befriended Sextus. They will show him Sextus’ father’s name on that list of names that you commended to his favor. Do you follow me?”