His wealth and rank and influence might, if used with diplomacy, have kept him at home, for, after all, he was a Varro; but Arria had been used to press him into bondage.
“Another test!” he said to himself. “Ah, what a cunning old fox! He needed a spy, and one of character and noble blood. How well he tested my cleverness! And now I am his, body and soul.”
While Vergilius, going slowly, was thinking of these things, Vanity, the only real goddess who, in Rome, managed the great theatre of fashion, had her stage set for a love scene. It was to occur in the triclinium, or great banquet-hall, of a palace—that of the Lady Lucia. There were portrait-masks and mural paintings on either wall; ancestral statues of white marble stood in a row against the red wall; there were seats and divans of ebony enriched by cunning hands; lamp-holders of wrought metal standing high as a man’s head, and immense violet rugs on the floor. The heroine wore a white robe banded low with purple, and her jewelled hair was in fillets of gold. There was always a pretty artfulness in the match-making of a patrician beauty and her mother. Indeed, life had grown far from elemental emotions.
“Now, when he enters,” said the girl, turning to the Lady Lucia, “I shall bring him here at once and sit down by this heap of cushions, and then—Oh, god of my heart! What shall I do with that big man—what shall I say to him?”
“My dear, he will speak, and then you will know what to say,” said the matron. “Only do not let him know that you love him—at least, not for a time yet.”
“Too late; I fear he knows it now—the wretch!” said Arria, rubbing her cheeks to make them glow.
“But mind you hold him off, and do not let him caress you for an hour at least. One kiss and one only.”
“One!” the girl repeated, with contempt. “How ungenerous are the old!”
“Hard to count are a lover’s kisses,” her mother answered, with a sigh. “But you can use them up in a day. Really, you can use them up all in a day.”
“A day full of kisses! Oh, heart of me! Think of it!” said the beautiful girl, covering her face a moment. “I will not have the yellow cushions,” she added, quickly. “Here, take these and bring me two violet ones, and that cushion of gauze filled with rose leaves. I will have that in my lap when we are sitting here. Now what do you think of the colors?” she demanded.
“Beautiful! And best of all that in your cheeks. I doubt not he will worship you.”
“Or he is no kind of a man,” said Arria, thoughtfully. “Oh, son of Varro! come, I am waiting. If he takes me in his arms, what shall I do?”
“Thrust him aside—tell him that you do not like it.”
“And what shall I do if he does not?”
“Bid him go at once. We have no need of any half-men.”