At his palace a letter had been waiting for the tribune. It was from his friend Appius. “My excellent and beloved Vergilius,” it said, “I address you with a feeling of deep concern for your safety. To-night by tabellarius, my letter shall go down to the sea on its way to Jerusalem. And now to its subject. This morning I went to the public games, and, returning, I was near my palace when a messenger, bearing the command of Augustus, overtook and stopped me. Quickly I made my way to The Laurels. Our great imperator was in his chamber and reading letters. He gave me a glance and greeted me. I saw he wished me to come near, and I stood close beside him. Then, with that slow, gentle tone, he hurled his lightning into me—you remember his way. He told me, as he read, that you were making rapid progress in Jerusalem; that you had become a conspirator, a prophet, and were likely soon to be an angel. And he bade me go to you with his congratulations that you have succeeded so long in keeping your head upon your shoulders. Oh, deep and cunning imperator! Said he: ’I cannot tell you the name of my informant; and really, my good son, why—why should I?’ There, spread before me on the table, so I knew he wished me to see it, was a letter which bore the signature of Manius and gave information of a certain council. I could not make out the name, but I was able to recall how the great father had said to me, once, that when a man secretly puts blame upon another, the infamy he charges shall be only half his own. Our imperator is no fool, my friend. ’A ship will be leaving the seventh day before the ides,’ said he. ’You will not be able to make it.’ His meaning was clear. It could bear my warning, if not me, and here it is. With the gods’ favor, soon, also, I shall be able to say to you, here am I. To-morrow at dawn I leave for Jerusalem.”
Beneath the signature these words were added: “As soon as possible I wish to know all and to speak my heart to you. The emperor has withdrawn his consent to your marriage with Arria. I shall explain everything but the purpose of the emperor, and who may understand him? If it be due to caprice or doubt or anger he will do you justice. But if a deeper motive is in his mind who knows what may happen?”
This letter kindled a fire in the heart of Vergilius. It burned fiercely, so that prudence and noble feeling were driven out. In spite of the warning of the young tribune, Manius had remained in Jerusalem. Vergilius had delayed action, dreading to bring the wrath of Rome upon one so young, so well born, so highly honored, and possibly so far misled. Therefore, he had held his peace and waited patiently for more knowledge. Now the evil heart of the assessor was laid bare, his infamy proven. Vergilius reread the letter with flashing eyes. Then he summoned his lecticarii and set out for the palace of the plotter. Manius approached him, a kindly greeting on his lips.