“If one were to find him now, and he were to go,” said the philosopher, “by the gods above us! I fear he would return a sad rake indeed.”
“’Tis not a pleasant theme,” said the Lady Lucia, by way of introducing another.
“The dear old girl!” said young Gracus, in a low tone, as he turned to the senator. “Her hair is a lie, her complexion is a lie, her lips are a lie.”
“And her life is a lie,” said the other.
“You enjoyed your walk?” asked the mother of Arria, addressing Vergilius.
“The walk was a delight to me and its end a sorrow,” he answered.
“And you obeyed me?”
“To the letter.” It is true, he thought, we are a generation of liars, but how may one help it? Then, quickly, a way seemed to suggest itself, and he added: “Madame, forgive me. I do now remember we had a word or two about love; but, you see, I was telling the legend of this coin. It has the power to show one if he be loved.”
“By tossing. Head, yes; the reverse, no.”
“Let me try.” She flung it to the oaken beams and it fell on the great rug beside her.
“Madame, the hand is up,” said Vergilius. “I fear it is not infallible.”
“Let me see,” she answered, stooping gravely to survey the coin. Something passed between her and her pleasure, and for one second a shadow wavered across her face.
“It is Death’s hand, of course,” she remarked, sadly. “Love is for the young and death is for the old.”
“Old, madame! Why, your cheeks have roses in them.”
“Good youth, you are too frank,” said she, with a quick glance about her. “Did the coin say that she loved you?”
“And what did she say?”
The young man hesitated.
“Come, you innocent! Of course, I knew that you would talk of nothing but love. What said she?”
“That she does not love me; but I am sure it is mere coquetry.”
“Dear youth! You have a cunning eye. This very day speak, my brave Vergilius—speak to her brother Appius. To-night take him to dine with you.”
“I had so planned.”
A gong of silver rang in the palace halls. It was the signal to prepare for dinner, and the guests made their farewells. Soon Appius and the young lover walked side by side in the direction of the Palatine.
“And what have you been doing?” the former inquired, presently.
“Of love and happiness, and your sister.”
“Yes; I love her and wish to make her my wife.”
“You have wealth and birth and wit and good prospects. I can see no objection to you. But love—love is a thing for women to talk about.”
“You are wrong, Appius. I can feel it in my soul. And, believe me, I am no longer in Rome. I have found the gateway of a better world—like that heaven they speak of in the Trastevere—full of peace and beauty.”