“News!” said Appius.
“’Tis of Vergilius—the apt and youthful Vergilius. How swift, industrious, and capable is he! How versatile! How varied his attainments!”
“I am delighted.”
The emperor turned his keen eyes on the young man, with a smile of amusement. Then he spoke, gently:
“’Tis only four months, and he has become a conspirator, and also a prophet, and is likely soon to be—what is that word they use in Judea?—an angel. You will start for Jerusalem to-morrow, my good Appius. And when you arrive there convey to him my congratulations.”
“That he is upon earth to receive them,” said the great man. He resumed his letters and continued speaking, slowly: “Tell him I have been asked to consider whether he should keep his head upon his shoulders, and that I have decided to refer the question to him. It will not come back to me. Say, also, that he should have more light upon his friends, and that I have withdrawn my consent to his marriage.”
The young man rose, a look of astonishment in his face.
“But shall I be in time?” said he, with some excitement.
“Learn composure, my good Appius. Herod may not be extremely polite to him, but—but he will wait.”
That odd man, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus, laughed silently as the youth was leaving. He beckoned to a slave, who halted Appius and turned him back.
“An escort will be on the campus at dawn,” said the emperor. “I wish you a pleasant journey and will write you when to return.”
Now there had been no changes of moment in the palace of the Lady Lucia, save one. The slave-girl, Cyran, had brought to Arria the inspiration of a new faith. The sister of Appius had begun to try it in secret prayers. Her mother had fallen ill of a deadly fever so that none had hope of her recovery, and the girl had prayed, and, lo! her prayer had been answered. Letters from Vergilius, full of the new light in him, had confirmed her faith. And Arria confided to her family and intimates knowledge of her devotion to the one God. Soon the religion of Judea had become a topic of patrician Rome.
When Vergilius had left the capital, Antipater came every day for a time to the palace of the Lady Lucia, and brought with him many beautiful gifts. But Arria refused to see him or to accept the gifts he had brought. Now the stubborn prince had faith that when he was made king she would no longer be able to resist him. If he failed with splendor, he was beginning to consider what he might do with power.
That day of the interview between youth and emperor a letter came to Arria from her lover. It began as follows: