Now he drove his heels into the Cappadocian with vigor, for the die was cast. The stallion, impatient of new mastery, reared and plunged, snorted, came back on the bit in an attempt to get it in his teeth, and bolted straight for the group of roisterers, who scattered away, men swearing, women screaming. Throwing back his weight against the reins, he brought the stallion to a plunging, snorting, wheeling halt in the midst of men and women—a terrifying monster blowing clouds of mist out of his nostrils! As they ran he let the brute rear—pulled him over— rolled from under him, and lay still, with goat’s blood from the broken bottle splashed around his face and seeming to flow from his mouth. One woman stooped to look, groped for a purse or anything of value, screamed and ran.
“Sextus!” she yelled. “Sextus who was dining in the white pavilion!”
Sextus crawled among the oleanders. Presently Norbanus came, hurrying out of gloom, accompanied by Cadmus, the slave who had brought from Antioch the letter that came from Rome. They were dragging a body between them. They laid it down exactly where Sextus had fallen from the horse. There was a sickening thwack as Cadmus made the face unrecognizable. Then came the lanky, hurrying figure of Pertinax leading a group of people, Cornificia among them—Galen last.
Sextus lay still until all their backs were toward him. Then he crept out of the oleanders and walked along the river-bank in no haste, masking his face with a fold of his toga. He chose a path that wound amid the shrubbery, where marble satyrs grinned in colored lantern light. He had to avoid couples here and there. A woman followed him, laying a hand on his arm; he struck her, and she ran off, screaming for her bully.
Presently he reached the winding track that led toward the high-road, with the gloom of cypresses on either hand and, beyond that, the glow of the lights in the caterers’ booths. He was as safe now as if he were fifty miles away; none noticed him except the beggars at the bridges, who exposed maimed limbs and whined for charity. A leper, banking on his only stock in trade—the dread men had of his affliction—cursed him.
“You waste breath,” said Sextus and passed on. He was smiling to himself—sardonically. “Lepers live by threats—” he thought.
No more than any leper now could he expect protection from society beyond what he could force society to yield. He had no name, for he was dead; that thought amused him. Suddenly it dawned on him how safe he was, since none in Antioch would dare to question the word of Pertinax, backed by Galen and all the witnesses whom Pertinax would be sure to summon. He remembered then to protect the honest freedmen who had sent him warning—strode to a fire near a caterer’s booth and burned the letter, stared at by the slaves who warmed their shins around the embers.
One of those might have recognized him, in spite of the toga drawn over his face.