“If Marcia should do it—?”
“That would be the end of Marcia.”
“If I should do it?”
“That would be the end of you, my Sextus.”
“Let us say farewell, then, Galen! This right hand shall do it. It will save my friends. It will provide a culprit on whom Pertinax may lay the blame. He will ascend the throne unguilty of his predecessor’s blood—”
“And you?” asked Galen.
“I will take my own life. I will gladly die when I have ridded Rome of Commodus.”
He paused, awaiting a reply, but Galen appeared almost rudely unconcerned.
“You will not say farewell?”
“It is too soon,” Galen answered, folding up his powder in a sheet of parchment, tying it, at great pains to arrange the package neatly.
“Will you not wish me success?”
“That is something, my Sextus, that I have no powders for. I have occasionally cured men. I can set most kinds of fractures with considerable skill, old though I am. And I can divert a man’s attention sometimes, so that he lets nature heal him of mysterious diseases. But success is something you have already wished for and have already made or unmade. What you did, my Sextus, is the scaffolding of what you do now; this, in turn, of what you will do next. I gave you my advice. I bade you run away—in which case I would bid you farewell, but not otherwise.”
“I will not run.”
“I heard you.”
“And you said you are sentimental, Galen!”
“I have proved it to you. If I were not, I myself would run!”
Galen led the way out of the room into the hall where the mosaic floor and plastered walls presented colored temple scenes—priests burning incense at the shrine of Aesculapius, the sick and maimed arriving and the cured departing, giving praise.
“There will be no hero left in Rome when they have slain our Roman Hercules,” said Galen. “He has been a triton in a pond of minnows. You and I and all the other little men may not regret him afterward, since heroes, and particularly mad ones, are not madly loved. But we will not enjoy the rivalry of minnows.”
He led Sextus to the porch and stood there for a minute holding to his arm.
“There will be no rivals who will dare to raise their heads,” said Sextus, “once our Pertinax has made his bid for power.”
“But he will not,” Galen answered. “He will hesitate and let others do the bidding. Too many scruples! He who would govern an empire might better have fetters on feet and hands! Now go. But go not to the palace if you hope to see a heroism—or tomorrow’s dawn!”