“You are the first man I have spoken with. There are therefore only three who know, if you count the slave whom Marcia employed; four if you count Marcia. I had the great good luck not long ago to catch that slave in flagrante delicto—never mind what he was doing; that is another story altogether—and he gave me an insight into a number of useful secrets. The point is, that particular slave takes care not to run errands nowadays without informing me. There is not much that Marcia does that I don’t know about.” Livius’ eyes suggested gimlets boring holes into Pertinax’s face. Not a change of the other’s expression escaped him. Pertinax covered his mouth with his hand, pretending to yawn. He slapped his thighs to suggest that his involuntary shudder was due to having sat too long. But he did not deceive Livius. “It is known to me,” said Livius, “that you and Marcia are in each other’s confidence.”
“That makes me doubt your other information,” Pertinax retorted. “No man can jump to such a ridiculous conclusion and call it knowledge without making me doubt him on all points. You bore me, Livius. I have important business waiting; I must make haste into the sweating room and get that over with.”
But Livius’ sharp, nervous laugh arrested him.
“Not yet, friend Pertinax! Let Rome wait! Rome’s affairs will outlive both of us. I suspect you intend to tell Marcia to have my name included in the next proscription list! But I am not quite such a simpleton as that. Sit down and listen. I have proof that you plotted with the governor of Antioch to have an unknown criminal executed in place of a certain Norbanus, who escaped with your connivance and has since become a follower of the highwayman Maternus. That involves you rather seriously, doesn’t it! You see, I made sure of my facts before approaching you. And now—admit that I approached you tactfully! Come, Pertinax, I made no threats until you let me see I was in danger. I admire you. I regard you as a brave and an honorable Roman. I propose that you and I shall understand each other. You must take me into confidence, or I must take steps to protect myself.”
There was a long pause while a group of men and women came and chattered near by, laughing while one of the men tried to win a wager by climbing a marble pillar. Pertinax frowned. Livius did his best to look dependable and friendly, but his eyes were not those of a boon companion.
“You are incapable of loyalty to any one except yourself,” said Pertinax at last. “What pledge do you propose to offer me?”
“A white bull to Jupiter Capitolinus! I am willing to go with you to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and to swear on the altar whatever solemn oath you wish.”
Pertinax smiled cynically.