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Chapter 23

 

A PIERCING pain roused Vinicius. At the first moment he could not understand where he was, nor what was happening. He felt a roaring in his head, and his eyes were covered as if with mist. Gradually, however, his consciousness returned, and at last he beheld through that mist three persons bending over him. Two he recognized: one was Ursus, the other the old man whom he had thrust aside when carrying off Lygia. The third, an utter stranger, was holding his left arm, and feeling it from the elbow upward as far as the shoulder-blade. This caused so terrible a pain that Vinicius, thinking it a kind of revenge which they were taking, said through his set teeth, "Kill me!" But they paid no apparent heed to his words, just as though they heard them not, or considered them the usual groans of suffering. Ursus, with his anxious and also threatening face of a barbarian, held a bundle of white cloth torn in long strips. The old man spoke to the person who was pressing the arm of Vinicius, — "Glaucus, art thou certain that the wound in the head is not mortal?"

"Yes, worthy Crispus," answered Glaucus. "While serving in the fleet as a slave, and afterward while living at Naples, I cured many wounds, and with the pay which came to me from that occupation I freed myself and my relatives at last. The wound in the head is slight. When this one he pointed to Ursus with his head] took the girl from the young man, he pushed him against the wall; the young man while falling put out his arm, evidently to save himself; he broke and disjointed it, but by so doing saved his head and his life."

"Thou hast had more than one of the brotherhood in thy care," added Crispus, "and hast the repute of a skilful physician; therefore I sent Ursus to bring thee."

"Ursus, who on the road confessed that yesterday he was ready to kill me!"

"He confessed his intention earlier to me than to thee; but I, who know thee and thy love for Christ, explained to him that the traitor is not thou, but the unknown, who tried to persuade him to murder."

"That was an evil spirit, but I took him for an angel," said Ursus, with a sigh.

"Some other time thou wilt tell me, but now we must think of this wounded man." Thus speaking, he began to set the arm. Though Crispus sprinkled water on his face, Vinicius fainted repeatedly from suffering; that was, however, a fortunate circumstance, since he did not feel the pain of putting his arm into joint, nor of setting it. Glaucus fixed the limb between two strips of wood, which he bound quickly and firmly, so as to keep the arm motionless. When the operation was over, Vinicius recovered consciousness again and saw

Lygia above him. She stood there at the bed holding a brass basin with water, in which from time to time Glaucus dipped a sponge and moistened the head of his patient.

Vinicius gazed and could not believe his eyes. What he saw seemed a dream, or the pleasant vision brought by fever, and only after a long time could he whisper, — "Lygia!"

The basin trembled in her hand at that sound, but she turned on him eyes full of sadness.

"Peace be with thee!" answered she, in a low voice.

She stood there with extended arms, her face full of pity and sorrow. But he gazed, as if to fill his sight with her, so that after his lids were closed the picture might remain under them. He looked at her face, paler and smaller than it had been, at the tresses of dark hair, at the poor dress of a laboring woman; he looked so intently tha: her snowy forehead began to grow rose-colored under the influence of his look. And first he thought that he would love her always; and second, that that paleness of hers and that poverty were his work, — that it was he who had driven her from a house where she was loved, and surrounded with plenty and comfort, and thrust her into that squalid room, and clothed her in that poor robe of dark wool.

He would have arrayed her in the costliest brocade, in all the jewels of the earth; hence astonishment, alarm, and pity seized him, and sorrow so great that he would have fallen at her feet had he been able to move.

"Lygia," said he, "thou didst not permit my death."

"May God return health to thee," she answered, with sweetness.

For Vinicius, who had a feeling both of those wrongs which he had inflicted on her formerly, and those which he had wished to inflict on her recently, there was a real balsam in Lygia's words. He forgot at the moment that through her mouth Christian teaching might speak; he felt only that a beloved woman was speaking, and that in her answer there was a special tenderness, a goodness simply prcterhuman, which shook him to the depth of his soul. As just before he had grown weak from pain, so now he grew weak from emotion. A certain faintness came on him, at once immense and agreeable. He felt as if falling into some abyss, but he felt that to fall was pleasant, and that he was happy. He thought at that moment of weakness that a divinity was standing above him.

Meanwhile Glaucus had finished washing the wound in his head, and had applied a healing ointment. Ursus took the brass basin from Lygia's hands; she brought a cup of water and wine which stood ready on the table, and put it to the wounded man's lips. Vinicius drank eagerly, and felt great relief. After the operation the pain had almost passed; the wound and contusion began to grow firm; perfect consciousness returned to him.

"Give me another drink," said he.

Lygia took the empty cup to the next room; meanwhile Crispus, after a few words with Glaucus, approached the bed saying, —

"God has not permitted thee, Vinicius, to accomplish an evil deed, and has preserved thee in life so that thou shouldst come to thy mind. He, before whom man is but dust, delivered thee defenceless into our hands; but Christ, in whom we believe, commanded us to love even our enemies. Therefore we have dressed thy wounds, and, as Lygia has said, we will implore God to restore thy health, but we cannot watch over thee longer. Be in peace, then, and think whether it beseems thee to continue thy pursuit of Lygia. Thou hast deprived her of guardians, and us of a roof, though we return thee good for evil."

"Do ye wish to leave me? inquired Vinicius.

"We wish to leave this house, in which prosecution by the prefect of the city may reach us. Thy companion was killed; thou, who art powerful among thy own people, art wounded. This did not happen through our fault, but the anger of the law might fall on us."

"Have no fear of prosecution," replied Vinicius; "I will protect you."

Crispus did not like to tell him that with them it was not only a question of the prefect and the police, but of him; they wished to secure Lygia from his further pursuit.

"Lord," said he, "thy right arm is well. Here are tablets and a stilus; write to thy servants to bring a litter this evening and bear thee to thy own house, where thou wilt have more comfort than in our poverty. We dwell here with a poor widow, who will return soon with her son, and this youth will take thy letter; as to us, we must all find another hiding-place."

Vinicius grew pale, for he understood that they wished to separate him from Lygia, and that if he lost her now he might never see her in life again. He knew indeed that things of great import had come between him and her, in virtue of which, if he wished to possess her, he must seek some new methods which he had not had time yet to think over. He understood too that whatever he might tell these people, though he should swear that he would return Lygia to Pomponia Graecina, they would not believe him, and were justified in refusing belief. Moreover, he might have done that before. Instead of hunting for Lygia, he might have gone to Pomponia and sworn to her that he renounced pursuit, and in that case Pomponia herself would have found Lygia and brought her home. No; he felt that such promises would not restrain them, and no solemn oath would be received, the more since, not being a Christian, he could swear only by the immortal gods, in whom he did not himself believe greatly, and whom they considered evil spirits.

He desired desperately to influence Lygia and her guardians in some way, but for that there was need of time. For him it was all-important to see her, to look at her for a few days even. As every fragment of a plank or an oar seems salvation to a drowning man, so to him it seemed that during those few days he might say something to bring him nearer to her, that he might think out something, that something favorable might happen. Hence he collected his thoughts and said, —

"Listen to me, Christians. Yesterday I was with you in Ostrianum, and I heard your teaching; but though I did not know it, your deeds have convinced me that you are honest and good people. Tell that widow who occupies this house to stay in it, stay in it yourselves, and let me stay. Let this man turned to Glaucus], who is a physician, or at least understands the care of wounds, tell whether it is possible to carry me from here to-day. I am sick, I have a broken arm, which must remain immovable for a few days even; therefore I declare to you that I will not leave this house unless you bear me hence by force!"

Here he stopped, for breath failed in his breast, and Crispus said, — "We will use no force against thee, lord; we will only take away our own heads."

At this the young man, unused to resistance, frowned and said, — "Permit me to recover breath"; and after a time he began again to speak, — "Of Croton, whom Ursus killed, no one will inquire. He had to go to-day to Beneventum, whither he was summoned by Vatinius, therefore all will think that he has gone there. When I entered this house in company with Croton, no one saw us except a Greek who was with us in Ostrianum. I will indicate to you his lodgings; bring that man to me. On him I will enjoin silence; he is paid by me. I will send a letter to my own house stating that I too went to Beneventum. If the Greek has informed the prefect already, I will declare that I myself killed Croton, and that it was he who broke my arm. I will do this, by my father's shade and by my mother's! Ye may remain in safety here; not a hair will fall from the head of one of you. Bring hither, and bring in haste, the Greek whose name is Chilo Chionides!"

"Then Glaucus will remain with thee," said Crispus, "and the widow will nurse thee."

"Consider, old man, what I say," said Vinicius, who frowned still more. "I owe thee gratitude, and thou seemest good and honest; but thou dost not tell me what thou hast in the bottom of thy soul. Thou art afraid lest I summon my slaves and command them to take Lygia. Is this true?"

"It is," said Crispus, with sternness.

"Then remember this, I shall speak before all to Chilo, and write a letter home that I have gone to Beneventum. I shall have no messengers hereafter but you. Remember this, and do not irritate me longer."

Here he was indignant, and his face was contorted with anger. Afterward he began to speak excitedly, — "Hast thou thought that I would deny that I wish to stay here to see her?

A fool would have divined that, even had I denied it. But I will not try to take her by force any longer. I will tell thee more: if she will not stay here,

I will tear the bandages with this sound hand from my arm, will take neither food nor drink; let my death fall on thee and thy brethren. Why hast thou nursed me? Why hast thou not commanded to kifi me?" He grew pale from weakness and anger.

Lygia, who had heard all from the other room and who was certain that Vinicius would do what he promised, was terrified. She would not have him die for anything. Wounded and defenceless, he roused in her compassion, not fear. Living from the time of her flight among people in continual religious enthusiasm, thinking only of sacrifices, offerings, and boundless charity, she had grown so excited herself through that new inspiration, that for her it took the place of house, family, lost happiness, and made her one of those Christian maidens who, later on, changed the former soul of the world. Vinicius had been too important in her fate, had been thrust too much on her, to let her forget him. She had thought of him whole days, and more than once had begged God for the moment in which, following the inspiration of religion, she might return good for his evil, mercy for his persecution, break him, win him to Christ, save him. And now it seemed to her that precisely that moment had come, and that her prayers had been heard.

She approached Crispus therefore with a face as if inspired, and addressed him as though some other voice spoke through her, — "Let him stay among us, Crispus, and we will stay with him till Christ gives him health."

The old presbyter, accustomed to seek in all things the inspiration of God, beholding her exaltation, thought at once that perhaps a higher power was speaking through her, and, fearing in his heart, he bent his gray head, saymg, — "Let it be as thou sayest."

On Vinicius, who the whole time had not taken his eyes from her, this ready obedience of Crispus produced a wonderful and pervading impression. it seemed to him that among the Christians Lygia was a kind of sibyl or priestess whom they surrounded with obedience and honor; and he yielded himself also to that honor. To the love which he felt was joined now a certain awe, in presence of which love itself became something almost insolent. He could not familiarize himself, however, with the thought that their relations had changed: that now not she was dependent on his will, but he on hers; that he was lying there sick and broken; that he had ceased to be an attacking, a conquering force; that he was like a defenceless child in her care. For his proud and commanding nature such relations with any other person would have been humiliating; now, however, not only did he not feel humiliated, but he was thankful to her as to his sovereign. In him those were feelings unheard-of, feelings which he could not have entertained the day before, and which would have amazed him even on that day had he been able to analyze them clearly. But he did not inquire at the moment why it was so, just as if the position had been perfectly natural; he merely felt happy because he remained there.

And he wished to thank her with gratefulness, and still with a kind of feeling unknown to him in such a degree that he knew not what to call it, for it was simply submission. His previous excitement had so exhausted him that he could not speak, and he thanked her only with his eyes, which were gleaming from delight because he remained near her, and would be able to see her — to-morrow, next day, perhaps a long time. That delight was diminished only by the dread that he might lose what he had gained. So great was this dread that when Lygia gave him water a second time, and the wish seized him to take her hand, he feared to do so. He feared! he, that Vinicius who at CTsar's feast had kissed her lips in spite of her! he, that Vinicius who after her flight had promised himself to drag her by the hair to the cubiculum, or give command to flog her!