“My beloved Appius,” said he, in a gentle tone, as he rose. “And this—let me think—ah, it is Vergilius, the son of Varro.”
“It is wonderful you should remember me,” said Vergilius.
“Wonderful? No. I could tell your age, your misdeeds, your virtues, and how often you failed to answer the roll-calls in Cappadocia. Well, I dare say they were pretty girls. But I forget; I am to-day seeking alms, my good children, for the poor of Rome. I am as ten thousand of the hungry standing before you here and asking for bread. In their name I shall receive, thankfully, what you may bestow.”
Appius gave a handful of coins; Vergilius emptied his purse.
“’Tis not enough,” said the latter. “Your words have touched me. To-night I shall send five thousand denarii to your palace.”
“Well given, noble youth! It is generous. I like it in you. Say that I may have you to feast with me the first day before the ides—both of you. Say that I may have you.”
“We humbly wait your commands,” said Vergilius, kissing his hand.
“Now tell me, handsome son of Varro, have you found no pretty girl to your liking? Know you not, boy, ’tis time you married?” He held the hand of the young knight and spoke kindly, his cunning eyes aglow, and smiled upon him, showing his teeth, set well apart.
“Such an one I have found, good sire. Under the great purple dome there is none more beautiful, and with your favor and that of the gods I hope to make her my wife.”
“Ah, then, I know her?”
“It is Arria, sister of Appius.”
“And daughter of my beloved prefect. You are ambitious, my good youth.”
The emperor stood a moment, looking downward thoughtfully. He felt his retreating chin. His smooth-shaven face, broad from bone to bone above the cheeks, quickly grew stern. His mind, which had the world for its toy and which planned the building or the treading down of empires, had turned its thought upon that little kingdom in the heart of the boy. And he was thinking whether it should stand or fall.
“It may be impossible,” said he, turning to the young man. “Say no more to her until—until I have thought of it.”
And Appius observed, as he went away with his friend: “You will be a statesman, my dear Vergilius; you gave him just the right dose of religion, flattery, and silver.”
“I must succeed or I shall have no heart to live,” said the other, soberly.
That evening Vergilius went to feast with the young Herodian prince, Antipater of Judea. The son of Herod was then a tall, swarthy, robust young man, who had come to see life in Rome and to finish his education. He would inherit the crown—so said they who knew anything of Herodian politics; but he was a Jew, and deep in the red intrigue of his father’s house. So, therefore, he was regarded in Rome with more curiosity than respect. Augustus himself had said that he would rather be the swine of Herod than Herod’s son, and he might have added that he would rather be the swine of Antipater than his father. But that was before Augustus had learned that even his own household was unworthy of full confidence.