“It is now or never,” Marcia said, goading him. But Pertinax shook his head.
“I am not convinced, though I would do my best to save Rome from Severus. Dioscuri!—do you realize, this plot to make me emperor is known to not more than a dozen—”
“Therein safety lies,” said Marcia. “Yourself included there can only be a dozen traitors!”
“Rome is too much ruled by women! I will not kill Commodus, and I will give him this one chance,” said Pertinax. “I will protect him, unless and until I shall discover proof that he intends to turn on you, or me, or any of my friends.”
“You may discover that too late!” said Marcia; but she seemed to understand him and looked satisfied. “Come tonight to the palace— Galen,” she added, “come you also—and bring poison!”
Galen met her gaze and shut his lips tight.
“Galen,” she said, “either you will do this or—I have been your friend. Now be you mine! It is too risky to send one of my slaves to fetch a poison. You are to come tonight and bring the poison with you. Otherwise—you understand?”
“You are extremely comprehensible!” said Galen, pursing up his lips.
“You will obey?”
“I must,” said Galen. But he did not say whether he would obey her or his inclination. Pertinax, eyeing him doubtfully, seemed torn between suspicion of him and respect for long-tried friendship.
“May we depend on you?” he asked. He laid a hand on Galen’s shoulder, bending over him.
“I am an old man,” Galen answered. “In any event I have not long to live. I will do my best—for you.”
Pertinax nodded, but there was still a question in his mind. He bade farewell to Marcia, turning his back toward Galen. Marcia whispered:
“Be a man now, Pertinax! If we should lose this main, we two can drink the stuff that Galen brings.”
“There was a falling star last night,” said Pertinax. “Whose was it?”
Marcia studied his face a moment. Then:
“There will be a rising sun tomorrow!” she retorted. “Whose will it be? Yours! Play the man!”
Galen’s house was one he rented from a freedman of the emperor—a wise means of retaining favor at the palace. Landlords having influence were careful to protect good tenants. Furthermore, whoever rented, rather than possessed, escaped more easily from persecution. Galen, like Tyanan Apollonius, reduced his private needs, maintaining that philosophy went hand in hand with medicine, but wealth with neither.