“Else why should you wish to see the coin?” said he. “But, look! Upon my soul it is false!” A little silence followed.
“’Tis false!” he repeated. “I swear the coin lies, for I do love you, dearly.”
“It does not lie,” she whispered.
He put his arm about her.
“And I know,” he answered, “why you think it cannot lie. It said, before, that you love me, and it was right.”
She thrust him away gently, and, rising, as if stricken with sudden fear of him, ran a few paces up the walk. She turned quickly, and looked back at him as he approached. Her face had grown pale.
“I—I shall never speak with you again,” she whispered.
“Oh, have mercy upon me, beautiful sister of Appius!” said the young knight, and there was a note of despair in his voice. “Have mercy upon me!”
“Young sir,” said she, retreating slowly, as he advanced, “I do not love you—I do not love you.”
She turned quickly, and ran to the peristyle, and, stopping not to glance back at him, entered the great marble home of her fathers.
He stood a moment looking at the sun-glow behind roof and dome and tower. A bridge of light, spanning the hollow of the city, had laid its golden timbers from hill to hill; and for a little the young man felt as if he were drowning in the shadows under it. He turned presently and hurried into the palace.
“He is more honored than Jupiter these days,” the philosopher was saying as Vergilius re-entered.
“Who?” inquired the young man.
“Who else but Caesar, and it is well. The gods—who are they?”
“The adopted children of Vergil and Homer,” said Appius, brother of Arria, who had just returned from the baths.
“But our great father Augustus—who can doubt that he deserves our worship?” said the philosopher, a subtle irony in his voice. It was this learned man who had long been the instructor of Vergilius.
“Who, indeed?” was the remark of another.
“But these gods!”
“At least they are not likely to cut off one’s head,” said Aulus.
“Speak not lightly of the gods,” said Vergilius. “They are still a power with the people, and the people have great need of them. What shall become of Rome when the gods fall?”
“It shall sicken,” said the philosopher, with a lift of his hand. “You that are young may live to see the end. It shall be like the opening of the underworld. Our republic is false, our gods are false, and, indeed, I know but one truth.”
“And what may it be?” said another.
“We are all liars,” he quickly answered.
“O tempora!” said the Lady Lucia. “It is an evil day, especially among men. When Quinta Claudia went with her noble sisters to meet the Idaean mother at Terracina they were able to find in Rome one virtuous man to escort them. But that was more than two hundred years ago.”