“I will do it, Julia,” he agreed; “tonight at two o’clock I will be at the back door with two slaves whom I can trust. I will have a place prepared to which I can take the girl till it is safe to carry her from the city.”
CHAPTER XXII: THE LION
Malchus was sleeping soundly that night when he was awakened by a low angry sound from the lion.
He looked up, and saw by the faint light of a lamp which burned in the hall, from which the niche like bed chambers of the principal slaves opened, that the animal had risen to its feet. Knowing that, docile as it was with those it knew, the lion objected to strangers, the thought occurred to him that some midnight thief had entered the house for the purpose of robbery. Malchus took his staff and sallied out, the lion walking beside him.
He traversed the hall and went from room to room until he entered the portion of the house inhabited by Flavia and the female slaves. Here he would have hesitated, but the lion continued its way, crouching as it walked, with its tail beating its sides with short quick strokes.
There was no one in the principal apartment. He entered the corridor, from which as he knew issued the bed chambers of the slaves. Here he stopped in sudden surprise at seeing a woman holding a light, while two men were issuing from one of the apartments bearing between them a body wrapped up in a cloak. Sempronius stood by the men directing their movements. The face of the person carried was invisible, but the light of the lamp fell upon a mass of golden brown hair, and Malchus knew at once that it was Clotilde who was being carried off.
Malchus sprang forward and with a blow of his staff levelled one of the slaves to the ground; Sempronius with a furious exclamation drew his sword and rushed at him, while the other slave, dropping his burden, closed with Malchus and threw his arms around him. For a moment Malchus felt powerless, but before Sempronius could strike there was a deep roar, a dark body sprang forward and hurled itself upon him, levelling him to the ground with a crushing blow of its paw, and then seized him by the shoulder and shook him violently. The slave who held Malchus loosed his hold and fled with a cry of affright, the female slave dropped the light and fled also. Clotilde had by this time gained her feet.
“Quick, love!” Malchus said; “seize your disguise and join me at the back gate. Sempronius is killed; I will join you as quickly as I can.”
By this time the household was alarmed, the shout of Malchus and the roar of the lion had aroused everyone, and the slaves soon came hurrying with lights to the spot. Malchus checked them as they came running out.
“Fetch the net,” he said. The net in question had been procured after the lion had before made an attack upon the slave, but had not since been required.