Help via Ko-Fi

"I was free born in Judea."

SIMON UNOCULUS sat at the gate. He restrained himself. Life was risky in Rome, where the emperor was bestially crazy, which was bad enough; but his ministers were bestially sane, which was much worse. However, a man could be safely obscure in Rome; but, out here in the suburbs, where the great estates lay boundary on boundary and the rich had locked their back gates to prevent espionage, not even a modest tradesman's life was safe from one hour to another.

"I wish to see the steward, and I only wish to buy skins," he repeated.

"I don't believe you," said Boas. He kept the gate, his qualification for the job being a knack of insolence toward the wrong people and obsequious servility toward the right ones. He lolled on a marble bench beneath the stucco arch and, with the ferrule of an ivory-handled stick, lazily drew patterns in the dust that kept on covering the tiles however often less important slaves might sweep it away at his command.

"I am an honest man," Simon insisted. "I seek leave from the steward to show my dressed leopard-skins to your master Fastidius Flaccus. I sell cheap, and I buy raw hides, skins, pelts and castoff clothing at good prices."

"You look like a Jew to me," said Boas.

"I AM a Roman citizen. I was free born in Judea."

"Much good may that do you," Boas retorted. "Jews are Christians. Only yesterday I saw a slave beaten to death for being A Christian—and serves the tool right. I myself overheard him saying that one man is as good as another. I suppose you rate yourself as good as Caesar."

Julius Verres Vulpes overhead that. As a member of the Equestrian order he was entitled to display himself on horseback; but as a matter of convenience he was being carried in his much more comfortable litter by eight matched Egyptian slaves —to dine with Fastidius Flaccus. Vulpes was the last man in the world to overlook moral turpitude. His huge belly shook with indignation. He put himself to the trouble of turning his fat-jowled face to summon the four slave-gladiators, without whom he never ventured beyond the walls of his own villa.

"Seize me that infamous Jew!" he commanded. "Seize him,I say! Cudgel him! I heard him say he is as good as Caesar! I say, I heard him. Hercules! My ears are split by his abominable words! Is a patrician's gate a meeting place for Christians? It is time these Christians were dealt with as a public danger. Cudgel him!"

The leopard-skin cloaked gladiators ran to obey; but before they could get near Simon they had to scatter to avoid the horse of Vergilius Cleander, who cantered up with an armed attendant running beside him. Simon appealed to him instantly, clutching the narrow purple border of Cleander's tunic, although the attendant tried to prevent that.

"Most illustrious Cleander! Just and generous Cleander! You remember me? I am Simon, who buys hides from your honor's steward."

"Yes, I know you. What is it, Vulpes? Usurping the rights of magistrates, as usual? However, it so happens I protect this man. Now what about it, Vulpes?"

"Oh, if I had known he was one of your boon companions," Vulpes sneered, his big jowls blue with anger, "I would have invited him into my litter! Open me that gate, fellow! Is Julius Verres Vulpes to be kept waiting while Vergilius Cleander gossips with Caesar's enemies?"

THE opened gate revealed a tiled walk, framed in the pastel hues of flowers. It was lined with statuary plundered from the groves of Greece in Sulla's day. Beyond a well spaced group of shade-trees the wall of a great house stood silhouetted against a blood-red sunset. Vergilius Cleander lingered and spoke with Simon.

"Most illustrious Cleander, business is terrible in Rome. They are slaying no more animals in the arena. It is said that a dozen recent shipments of lions and leopards have been lost in a storm at sea. So they send in only unarmed victims against the few mean animals that are left; and because meat is dear, Caesar has ordered them to be fed on the flesh of the victims, which is economical in one sense only, since it makes the pelts worthless. So now is the time to buy good ones before the price goes higher. My artificers have dressed a hundred leopard-skins, all slain in the animals' prime. I have them with me, at the inn."

"That inn is a horrible place," said Cleander.

"True. But I must lodge my porters somewhere."

"Very well. But let them first carry your bales to my house. My steward will give you a place to sleep, and in the morning I will see what you have to offer."

Cleander left his horse outside the gate in charge of his attendant and walked up the path to the house. He was not particularly respectful of his wealthy host, and he was too contemptuous of men like Vulpes to permit himself even to seem to imitate them. So he walked. One half of him loved luxury, devouring beauty with discerning eyes; the other, more stoical half of his nature mocked not only luxury but men who cultivated it, himself included. He knew he was good looking, because he had so often been flattered about it; but the knowledge failed to interest him. He was athletic and in the pink of condition because he despised effeminacy. He was perfectly turned out, and rode the best horse on the countryside, because he could not endure less than the best; but he was inconsistent enough to loathe the airs and graces of the newly rich. Cleander himself was newly poor, for the third or fourth time; he was so extravagant that he could not keep money, no matter how his steward pleaded and economized; and he was so contemptuous of money that it seemed to ?ow to him of its own accord and beg to be allowed to refill empty coffers.

Unmarried at thirty, he had never persuaded himself that marriage was desirable, or even tolerable; he considered the modern Roman women vulgar, graceless and immodest. They had broken with the old conventions and ideals, so he went them one better and was devoted to a slave named Marcia, whom he had bought because she could play stringed instruments and sing the songs he wrote when he could think of nothing else to pass the time. Her beauty and artistic talent had made him fall deeply in love with her. He was amused, too, by the naively optimistic notions of eternal life that she had learned from a Jew named Paulus.

HOWEVER, Marcia's charms did not prevent him from enjoying the reception in Fastidius Flaccus' vestibule. There was the usual swarm of slaves to wipe his sandals and offer him scented water for his hands; but there were two most sensually charming slave-girls one of whom crowned him with a chaplet of flowers, while the other handed him a small crystal goblet full of the sharp wine that arouses appetite. He did not mind Fastidius Flaccus doing that kind of thing. Flaccus was a patrician, although a man of scant personality, who tried to compensate for that lack by lavish hospitality. The girls might be rather outrageous, but as a foretaste of an evening's entertainment they were beyond criticism. It was such upstarts as Vulpes that Cleander could not tolerate—Vulpes who was so rich that few men dared to defy him, and who had had the insolence to try to buy Cleander's small estate in order to add it to his own, which was growing constantly.

There were seven guests. Vulpes had the seat of honor at his host's right hand; Cleander's couch was at the middle of the table, on the left hand side. It was annoying to have to sit facing Vulpes; one could not look at one's host without being offended by the sight oi Vulpes' gluttony, nor speak to one's host without seeming to bespeak Vulpes also. Even the bouquet and the flavor of the wine were ruined for Cleander by the sight of Vulpes swilling the precious stuff as if it were nothing wonderful. And for the same reason he could not enjoy the dancing girls, who had been sent from Rome by a contractor. They were marvelously trained; they knew every sensuous and suggestive trick, and how to beautify it with an air of innocence; to Cleander they were vastly more attractive than the wine or the endless procession of rich viands, cooked by a. slave who was said to have been bought for twenty thousand sesterces. But Vulpes looked at them with gloating eyes that filled Cleander with disgust; he could not endure to share even an emotion with Vulpes.

S0 the conversation developed, before long, into a duel between them, encouraged by the other guests, who were afraid of Vulpes but well pleased to watch Cleander thrust at the man's offensive purse-pride. And Fastidius Flaccus, though irritated, and even alarmed, was an easygoing man who had no notion how to keep a conversation within limits. Vulpes was in a mood to show his statesmanship.

"I tell you," he insisted, "Christians are a public menace. They are most of them slaves and the scrapings of debtors' prisons, who have been promised by Jews that slavery and wealth shall be abolished. Naturally slaves like the prospect of that." He glared at Cleander. "Men who have squandered their fortunes are the next to listen."

"Poor fat Vulpes!" Cleander sympathized. "How that great paunch of yours is full of dreads!"

"You will see," Vulpes insisted; for the wine was taking hold of him, and he was showing o?, too, for the benefit of a dancing girl who might be one of Caesar's spies, so flatteringly attentive she was. "There will be another slave war. Mark my prophetic word. There was unrest in Augustus' reign. There was worse unrest under Tiberius. Today, there are three or four slaves to every free man, and the unrest has become conspiracy incited by these Christians. It will end by our having to crucify a hundred thousand of them."

"Too much wealth and too much gluttony bring bad dreams," said Cleander. "There are not a thousand Christians in all Rome—not many more than a thousand in all Italy. Of what are you afraid?"

"Of men like you," Vulpes answered. "It is true I have had bad dreams, but such are sent to us as warnings. I fear for the imperium, and for the life of our beloved Caesar. Caesar should be warned against the Christians. And let me warn you, young man! The provinces are safer—do you understand me?"

"Perfectly. You bought my debts once, but I disappointed you by paying them. So now I am to be scared into flight, in order that Caesar's friend Vulpes may be appointed custodian of my estate?" A sudden recklessness began to riot in Cleander's veins. "Too complicated, Vulpes—too contemptible—too stupid. How much is my estate worth?"

"FIVE hundred thousand sesterces," Vulpes answered promptly. He knew the forced sale value of every property he craved to own.

"That is about half its value. However, let the gods decide between your greed and my contempt tor it. One throw of the dice! Win, you own my house and lands. Lose, and you pay me five hundred thousand sesterces."

"Throw in Marcia," said Vulpes.

"Not for a million sesterces. Are you afraid?"

"Not I. Bring on the dice. Bear witness, all of you: Cleander's house and lands against five hundred thousand sesterces. Who shall throw first?"

There was argument about that, but Fastidius Flaccus decided it, by throwing the dice the gamblers were to use, and the first throw fell to Vulpes, who called on the goddess Venus:

"I was ever loyal to you. I have had your shrine re-gilded. I will give a necklace of choice jewels for your statue. Only favor me against that unbeliever!"

Suddenly he threw—two fives and a four. "Not bad," he said, but he was disappointed. "Beat that if you can, Cleander."

Even the female tumbler, who was dancing naked amid upturned knives, stood still while a slave took the dice to Cleander. The wild string-music ceased. Cleander seemed the only person unconcerned.

"Two fives and a four? Yours, Vulpes, looks like Caligula's luck," he remarked. The emperor notoriously cheated at the game. "You will all pardon me if I examine the dice?"

"They are mine. They are new," said Fastidius Flaccus. So Cleander waived examination— "unless Vulpes gave them to you?" he suggested.

"Call on Christ!" sneered Vulpes. "I am told your Marcia is a Christian. Hasn't she taught you how to shake the box?"

Cleander showed exasperating calm. He threw two sixes and a three, and hardly glanced at them.

"You may draw me a bill of exchange on Rome. I will be waiting for it at my house tomorrow morning, Vulpes."

"Double! I dare you to double it! One throw for the doubled stake. Venus against your Christ again." Vulpes was scowling, but he did his best to imitate Cleander's coolness.

"No. I call you all to witness, I said one throw. And now I go home. Vulpes is a poor loser and I don't enjoy his lamentations. However, I thank you, Vulpes; your immodest money will pay my modest debts twice over."

He waived aside protests, but he took the trouble to be courteous to his host, who liked him too well to take serious offense at his leaving a meal half finished. Besides, Flaccus had resources. As Cleander wrapped his toga around him and stepped forth into the moonlight, Flaccus whispered to a servant. Hardly a moment later, one of Rome's least innocent entertainers threw her arm around Cleander's shoulder. She looked lovelier, because more living, than the statue of Leda bathed in moonlight at the tum of the path, and she was scented with Egyptian perfume.

"Lover, return and love me by and by," she whispered. "I know all the elegancies—all the subtleties."

"Try them on Vulpes," he answered. He shoved her away, and she cursed him in a low voice, with ingenious profanities such as Arabs address to stray dogs. She was valuable; she knew that her contractor-master would protect her for his own sake, provided there were no witnesses to convict her of insolence. Cleander knew it, too, and, with a twist of his toga, shrugged her out of mind.

"I keep some promises."

THERE was a summer-house in his garden and Cleander went there instead of to the house. He sat drinking in the midnight silence, his eyes excited by the beauty of the scene on which he had galed a thousand times. He almost forgot he had offended Vulpes; he entirely forgot his attendant Strabo, whom he had told to go to bed and who, he knew, if he had thought about it, would be news on the wing. Swift as a bat, he would go straight to the steward Giton and regale him with a garbled account of the evening's events, gleaned piecemeal from Flaccus' servants.

However, Cleander was in one of his restlessly poetic moods in which nothing of that sort mattered. He was in a mood to watch the stars and speculate on the meaning of life and death. He was displeased when he saw Marcia coming—displeased, that is, until the beauty of her movement and the almost spectral marvel of her outline made imagination leap. He could forgive anyone anything who could do that. By the time she reached him he had recalled the hours they had spent in that place together, and he even mocked himself as he remembered he had never thought at all about the stars until Marcia sang a hymn about them that she had learned from a Jew in Rome.

As his slave—his marketable chattel—it was not within the scope of even her wide privilege to bring him down to earth too soon. She was not his wife. She had to yield, first, to his caresses and to guide him, subtlety by subtlety, until in the end he almost asked her outright for the words she was bursting to speak.

"Marcia, your eyes are lovelier than stars Your body is more beautiful than—"

"Confess, my master! Did you even notice I was beautiful until I sang to you one night, and then you asked about the song, and I told you? Then you gave me leave to speak such words as those to you at all times, even though they should amount to reproof, because. you said, wisdom and beauty are one?"

"Oh, am I to be scolded?"

"Never! But do you think it just, most generous Cleander, to fill me with such great happiness, so that I love you more than all the world; and then to crown that happiness by saying that I make you happy; but then—on a throw of the dice—to risk such happiness ?"

"Who told you, Marcia? Have Vulpes' lamentations fouled the midnight air already?"

"Strabo awoke Giton, who awoke me. Vulpes—"

"Hah! I wager that malice is burning that great belly of his!"

"Watch, Cleander, lest it burn you also. Is it not the law, that if anyone'a possessions become forfeited to the emperor for treason, the informer shall receive one half? That is how Vulpes has grown rich."

"Who told you?"

"Simon Unoculus."

"And where did omniscient one-eyed Simon get his information?"

"Let him speak for himself."

SHE was gone before Cleander could protest, and she was back again with Simon much too soon for Simon not to have been waiting near at hand.

"Most gracious Cleander—"

"You may omit the list of my alleged virtues for the moment, Simon. Cut short your story, too, I pray you. What is this you have been telling Marcia about Julius Verres Vulpes? And where did you learn it?"

Simon's unembarrassment was almost as dramatic as the scene itself. He was a veteran who had seen all sorts of intimacies, and to whom a love-nest was only one more ninepin for the ball of Jehovah's hurling.

"Most noble Cleander, I am only a poor tradesman, but sometimes even the poor can do little favors for one another. Those condemned to die have hopes and fears and hatreds just like anybody else. So Gains Ruber the lanista—he who has charge of the dungeons and of the sendings into the arena—your honor knows him?"

"No. I have heard he is popular."

"He is successful; and like all successful men, he has a system. Even I, who deal in leopard-pelts, succeeding only in a small way, have a system. Gains Ruber is successful because so many of his prisoners go forth splendidly to die. It grows monotonous if all of them die like sheep in a shambles; the public likes to see some of them die bravely. And I must confess, it seems better to me to die cheerfully than miserably."

"On with your story, Simon. You begin to bore me."

"Patience, excellency, I am coming to it. Why should I waste your valuable moments? I, who buy the pelts of leopards that are slain in the arena, keep my peace with Gains Ruber, who attends to it that the best ones fall to my share. Gaius Ruber gives me access to the dungeons, where men of high rank, whom Caesar has degraded and condemned, lie crowded together with common criminals. Some of them are no worse than you and I, if you will forgive the comparison; and the gentler they are, the more they Crave little favors, down there in the stinking darkness. I am a good listener. And it is easy to promise. Many a victim has faced the lions and leopards gallantly because he thought he had sown the seeds of vengeance in my ears and believed I would inform against informers. Such tales I have heard—such tales—eh-yeh!"

"A oontemptible system, Simon."

"Is it? I keep some promises. Some of them send only farewell messages to them they love. But I have heard tales even against the magistrates, and against the friends of Caesar. It so happens that I spoke, in the dungeons, shortly before they died, with Livius Carfax, and with Titus Iturbius Varro, and with Coriolanns Nepos—men of high rank, as your honor doubtless knows, whom Caesar had degraded that they might be slain with ignominy. They were accused of having slandered Caesar; and all three told me that their secret accuser was Julius Verres Vulpes. Furthermore, they gave me information against Vulpes, thinking I would wreak their vengeance on him in the hope of an informer's share of the spoils, not suspecting that I prefer to mind my own business, as being very much safer in the long run. It is possibly within your honor's competence to find out whether Vulpes came into possession of the halt of those three men's estates."

CLEANDER nodded. "He is supposed to have purchased them."

"Yes," said Marcia, "he did. At the price of his soul he bought them. There was a man named Judas—"

"Eh-eh-eh-eh!" Simon plucked At Cleander's toga that he had thrown over Marcia's naked shoulders. "None of that talk, it is dangerous; I have seen as many as nineteen Christians sent into the arena in one party, condemned for having said that God will deal with the tax—gatherers. Caesar's spies have long ears."

"Asses' ears," said Marcia.

"But I was saying: Livius Carfax, Titus Varro and Coriolanus Nepos, all three, told me that the cause of Vulpes' hatred of them was merely some hot words passed amid the wine cups."

Marcia stood with clenched hands, staring at the stars, Cleander wishing he were a sculptor that he might catch that subtly sensuous outline and record it. Suddenly she turned and faced him.

"I am your slave, but you have said you love me. And I love you so, that I would rather die at your hands than not say what I know. Beat me—crucify me if you will—but listen first."

"Don't be ridiculous, Marcia. You may say what you wish."

"Cleander—Vulpes craves to own this villa. And he hates you. We all know it. Strabo has told us how you won from him tonight. But do you think that Vulpes would have risked his money if he had not known that it was no real risk? What if he has already informed against you? What if Caesar's lictors reach your house before Vulpes an have time to pay the money? Or what if he pays the money, but the lictors come then? Is the price too high? Suppose Caasar takes the money; and Vulpes, for having informed against you, receives land, house, slaves and furniture? Will Vulpes not have bought a bargain?"

"This is a nightmare," said Cleander, "a mere nightmare." But he was growing thoughtful. He remembered Vulpes' diatribe against the Christians and his sneer, at Flaccus' front gate, about talking with Caesar's enemies.

MARCIA bared her breast to him, and in the moonlight it looked lovelier than Grecian marble. "If you love me, as I truly think you do, Cleander, slay me rather than let Vulpes—"

"Cover yourself, child, and don't talk nonsense. Let me think a moment." He got up and began pacing the floor of the summer-house, pausing, each time he turned, to gaze at the shadowy landscape and the clouds reflected in the star-lit pond.

"It is too bad that the Christians make such trouble for us all," said Simon. "It is known that the Christians teach each other that Caesar is no god, though he pretends he is and invites the moon to come and share his bed. And that makes trouble for all Jews, because we think the same, so they accuse us of being Christians, which we are not."

"I am known to be a Christian," laid Marcia. "And so are many other of your slaves, because I taught them. Have you not permitted that, Cleander? And have I not tried to teach you also? If you are accused, and you deny you are a Christian, they will put all your slaves to torture. And though those of us who are Christians will tell the truth, that you are not one, there will be others, who will say what the magistrates wish to to say, so it will do you no good."

"And that," said Simon, "means the dungeons and the lions." He lowered his voice. "For me also, if I am found here. They will accuse me also. Noble Cleander, I warn you: I am not one who can endure the torture. I have seen a black slave, with a hot iron through his foot, who refused, nevertheless, to change his testimony; and it was false testimony, that he gave to protect his master; and though they crucified him on the Via Appia he never changed one word of it. But not I—nay, nay—I have not that fortitude."

"If you are so afraid, then why not go?" Cleander asked him.

"But my leopard pelts? I brought them, as you commanded."

"Choose then between the leopards' skins and your own!" said Cleander, smiling. "No, no, Simon, I was jesting. Go to the columbaria. Tell my steward Giton he is to give you porters to carry your bundles, and he is also to lend you my four gladiators to protect you from thieves until daylight. Then bring me pen and ink and I will write you a pass, saying that you travel on honest business; nobody will question that."

"May I live to reward your kindness!" Simon thrust his one eye closer to Cleander's than was good manners. "May I live to recompense you!" Then he vanished in the direction of the "dovecote," where, because he preferred a contented household, Cleander's slaves were quartered better than some men's horses. Even the so-called gladiators, whose real duty was to keep their athletic master in good physical condition, slept on good straw pallets in a comfortable hut. Cleander turned to Marcia:

"Is there no lamp here? Can you light it? As soon as Simon brings pen and ink I will write your manumission. That will save you from Vulpes in any event; it will make you legally free, even if there isn't time to take you before the praetor and confirm it. And it there is nothing in this fear of Vulpes' treachery, no matter, since I had intended to set you free on my birthday. It comes a little sooner, that is all."

"Oh, Cleander! If your vision were only as perfect as your virtue! Why have I not Paulus' eloquence, that I might give you faith in Paulus' teachings of eternal life?"

"Eternal life, I think, would be a bore," he answered. "Even old age is a bore. Imagine an eternity of that—growing older and older! No, no. I enjoy some phases of existence, such as loving you, and being generous and virile. I enjoy being just, or I would certainly be unjust. And I loathe some other phases, such as breathing the same air with swine like Vulpes, and saluting such an animal as Caesar, on whom any man of character would sooner spit. On the whole, I believe I will greet death rather tolerantly when it comes. A moment's agony, perhaps, and after that, eternity of nothing. I shall not even miss you, Marcia; there will be nothing of me left with which to miss you."

SIMON came, and with him, Giton and the gladiators, Giton fussily concerned and the gladiators wide-eyed with curiosity, their coppery bodies sheening in the lamp-light. Cleander wrote Simon's permit.

"There is nothing to worry about, Giton."

"Oh, there is—there is!" said Marcia. And that loosed Giton's tongue:

"Most generous master, if you are accused of being a Christian, or even of favoring Christians, they will torture all of us for evidence against you."

Simon had grown speechless; he mistrusted the four gladiators, having had lots of experience of men of that dreaded profession. Even his gestures were restrained, but he frowned at Giton as at a fool who lacked discretion. However, Giton had responsibilities, which Simon had not:

"Is it true," he asked, "that Lucius Verres Vulpes lost to you five hundred thousand sesterces, which he is to pay in the morning?"

"Yes, true," Cleander answered. He was busy writing. "Is there anything in that to disturb you, of all people? Haven't you bedeviled me for money all this past year? In the morning, you will have half a million with which to pay my debts and—by the way, take care that when Vulpes comes to pay me we treat him courteously. I might forget myself unless reminded."

"Master! Must you stay to meet him? I can be here to receive the money; that is a steward's duty."

"What do you want me to do?" Cleander had a disconcerting way of asking that, although he almost never took advice when Giton gave it.

"Go to Rome, master! Go now. Get Caesar's ear, before it is too late. Go now, and break the spokes of Vulpes' wheel—before he breaks you, chariot and all!"

"Not a bad thought, Giton. Here, Marcia my dear, accept your manumission. Bear witness, all of you, that with this document I now set Marcia free. Simon, you are a free man; can you write your name? Well, never mind; bear witness. Marcia, be free."

There were formalities—sudden—emotional—Marcia on her knees to kiss Cleander's hands. The gladiators expected gifts from Marcia's peculium, it being reckoned wise to share good fortune so that when the inevitable day of ill luck comes there may be friends to share that also. But the manumission had been unexpected and Marcia had no money with her, so Cleander relieved her embarrassment at the extended right hands and the greedy grins:

"Give them what is customary, Giton, out of my purse. And now, Giton, for once I will take your advice, because it happens to agree with my own. And besides, to make that mantunission absolutely legal, I should take Marcia before the praetor and record it. I will leave for Rome at daybreak. Get me together what money I have, and pack me enough clothing for a week or ten days; getting audience with Caesar is not always done in a moment."

"DO IT swiftly, master—swiftly! Use bribes, but be economical, otherwise they will keep you waiting all the longer, to extort more bribes. Browbeat all the underlings and give than nothing. Then, when you reach the assistant chamberlain, make no bones about it but drive your bargain. Ask him. how much? And when he tells you, offer him about the half of what he demands. He will be insulted, but he will gladly compromise for two thirds. Then promise him the other third—afterwards—provided that the audience goes well. Then he will speak to Caesar's women, who will drop hints, and Caesar will be predisposed in your favor."

"Very well, Giton. Simon, will you wait and travel with me?"

"Not I—not if I can help it, excellent Cleander! I am a poor man, who can ill afford to be seen with one who is perhaps to be accused of who knows what. I would be grateful for the loan of the gladiators as far as the door of the inn, and a mile beyond it. If they awaken the innkeeper he will make no trouble for me. And when my own porters take over the loads, and we march away with gladiators guarding us, the robbers who sleep at the inn will believe we are well protected; so they will not follow. I will send the gladiators back a long time before daylight."

"Very well, Simon. Farewell, and be prosperous. Go and attend to the packing, Giton. Don't send too many servants with me; I will stay at the house of Fabius Arbiter, who is always hospitable, even at a moment's notice, but has not much room for an extra retinue.—And now, Marcia—as a freedwoman—do you love me—or am I—?"

"Cleander, I know not what to think, or say, or do! I only know I love you with every breath I breathe."

"Make music then. Sing me one of those curious Christian hymns. I am in a curious mood."

"We might be overheard. Are you not afraid, Cleander?"

"1 am afraid of nothing—except, perhaps, of having to bend my stiff neck before Caligula. Have you a song that makes such exercises seem becoming to a man of my temperament?"

"Only men in trouble visit Rome."

GITON the steward gloomed and shuddered, saying the omens were unpropitious. Birds had flown too low at daybreak. A slave had smashed a clay lamp.

"Whip the slave, and net the birds for dinner," Cleander retorted. If he must go and humble himself before Caligula, that was no reason why he should let superstition trouble him. He had his own ideas of dignity and of what made life worth living. "Get out the litter for Marcia."

"But master, it is unlawful for a freedwoman to ride in a litter. You will only make more trouble for yourself."

"A little more won't matter. Argue with me, Giton, and I will have her ride to Rome on horseback."

Even Marcia protested, but Cleander had his own way, though he would have resented another man's freedwoman traveling like a lady of rank. It was a case of inconsistent obstinacy that would have made him laugh if he had really thought about it. As it was, it served to bolster up his recklessness. He led the way on horseback; pack-mules followed with the luggage, and then the slave-home litter with its red crushed-leather curtains, guarded by four gladiators, trudging two on either hand. Thinking of arrogant phrases with which to browbeat the guard at the city gate if they should dare to question Marcia's rank; and what with the glorious weather, and the thought that Giton presently would pay his debts with Vulpes' money, Cleander grew more and more cheerful until they readied the execution place, at a crossroads, on rising ground within a furlong of the city wall. There was a small inn near by where breakfasted the soldiers, whose duty it was to see that no living victims were removed from the gibbets. Only a few slaves writhed in torment, although there was nearly an acre of crucifixes occupied by ravens waiting for their meal of festered carrion.

That changed his mood again. As a Roman, he was hardly squeamish; and he knew what drastic means are some times needed if a hundred thousand freemen are to keep in subjection four times their number of slaves. But there was something horribly contemptible about that shambles. It made him loathe life. He was angry by the time he noticed Simon Unoculus in the dust near the door of the inn. They had beaten the Jew and taken away his bales of leopard skins; his porters were carrying water to fill a great clay cistern for the soldiers' bath.

"Worshipful Cleander, they refused even to read your honor's letter. They accused me of being a thief, and a runaway slave, and I know not what else. I am beaten until my bones are powder."

So Cleander again earned Simon's gratitude. There was only a decurion in charge of that execution guard—a man of merely eight or ten years' service who had not yet learned the sort of iron insolence centurions achieve. He wilted under the flail of Cleander's vehemence. He even begged Simon's pardon. He restored his loads. He paid his porters for the trifle of carrying water. He pressed wine on Simon, and a gift of reeking cheese and too-ripe olives. He implored Cleander not to report him to his legion commander. He was voluble, penitent; not worth vengeance; a mere coward turned into a bully by the sight of writhing victims. And all Simon said was:

"Good Cleander, may I live to recompense you."

But Marcia used her skill on Simon's bruises, so Simon had word with her, while Cleander persuaded the decurion to go and cut the throats of the crucified slaves before the sun should get strong enough to make their torment unimaginable. It was none of Cleander's business. It was even an act of contempt of Roman law. Expression of contempt is a luxury against which there are subtly self-enforcing penalties that no man ever wrote into a statute book. The stinking purlieus of the city gate increased and fed contempt and he was primed now—ready for the dangerous gratification of insulting the guards at the gate if they should dare to so much as notice Marcia.

BUT because Marcia loved him, and Simon had repaid kindness with a little whispered advice, she deceived Cleander. In the crowd outside the gate, where the rough guards bullied peasants and the lines of laden slaves poured in and out, she stepped down from the litter and walked behind it, through the gate, on foot. Safely inside the city she climbed in again, and Cleander never knew he had not successfully defied the sumptuary laws of Rome.

His was the disgust of a young philosopher who felt that the most important city in the world should be a decent place to live in, but who could not see how to make it so. The narrow lanes resembled sewers pouring streams of human riff-raff into sunlit spaces where plundered foreign marbles shouldered wooden busts of yesterday's mob-orators and splendid buildings stood wedged between reeking tenements. Yelling tradesmen stormed and chaffered. Black slaves, standing on barrels, bellowed forth the alleged amusement to be had in stenching brothels. Blood-smeared butchers. shouldering newly quartered beef, struggled for right of way against tides of laden slaves amid the booths of vegetable sellers. Din—savage laughter—brawling—money changers, testing coin by coin the debased, clipped currency.

A cohort of praetorian guardsmen clanked down-street, led by a centurion who almost looked like an old time Roman, save for a sly uncertainty about his eyes. Two Vestal Virgins on some unimaginable errand, preceded by lictors who caused twice the commotion the guardsmen did. A tenement on fire; dogs and children chasing the evicted rats; slaves of the municipium, armed with pikes and ladders, withstanding all attempts to save surrounding buildings while their officer made his bargain with the owners. A magistrate's court, and the screams of a tortured witness, with women and children peering through the narrow windows for a glimpse of someone's agony, while armed guards leaned on their spears outside and joked with one another.

Fabius Arbiter's house at last, at the end of a cul-de-sac near the Saepta Julia, fronting on a small tiled courtyard and protected by a high wall. A Nubian slave at the gate gave ample waming; Fabius Arbiter came hurrying through the vestibule to greet Cleander midway oi the courtyard and embrace him.

"Welcome, and welcome again." He took him by the shoulders. "But what brings you? Only men in trouble visit Rome; only criminals, paupers and madmen remain here. By the Genius of Caesar—that is the only safe oath nowadays—it I could sell my house for a fair price, I would look for less undignified annoyances in Gaul or Egypt. However, enter. All that I have is yours."

"There is no use in arguing with a lovestruck man."

ARBITER'S was an old fashioned house, partly altered and redecorated, built around a central atrium that could be protected by a canvas awning drawn on ropes. As a young widower of moderate means he lived without much regularity and his slaves showed the lack of a feminine hand to control them; such women as sometimes visited the house were likelier than not to loosen discipline, and the steward was an Egyptian with Alexandrian ideas of extravagance, so that with Arbiter, as with Cleander, debt was a normal condition. There were luxuries, whether or not they were paid for.

They sprawled on couches in the atrium, with a breakfast table between them and a wine-slave in attendance; but the slave was presently dismissed while Cleander told his story.

"What a man will not do for a woman!" said Arbiter. "And you say Marcia is a Christian? At the moment that is your principal danger. We are beginning to be really disturbed about the Christians, because of the risk of another slave war; and Caligula is especially angry with them because someone told him that the Christians say it is wicked to try to make gold from arsenic, which is his obsession just now. They rounded up some Christians for him, and he made them swallow arsenic, to show him what they could do with it. On the other hand, he has equally monstrous moods of an opposite sort. You know the Christians are supposed to practice necromancy? Yes they do, I tell you. Nine tenths of their talk is of raising the dead. Well—when the informers told that to Caligula, in the hope that for a change he might get after the Christians and leave the rest of us to our own devices, he disappointed them. He said, 'We will see if they can raise the dead. I will give them plenty of Romans to practice on.' There is never any guessing what surprise Caligula will spring next."

"Nevertheless, I must have an audience with him. How else shall I forestall Vulpes?"

"I can get you an audience. I stand with Caesar's chamberlain. But remember the name Caligula and drive the thought of Caesar from your mind. He is not Caesar. He is a madman who uses a Caesar's opportunities and preys of Roman cowardice and we are all such cowards that we can't get rid of him, and he heaps one imposition upon another. He invites the moon to sleep with him, to say nothing of senators' wives, whose husbands have to smile and tell him they are greatly honored. He has set his statue in the temples, next to those of the gods. He has made his horse a consul. If he hears a man has money, his only concern is how to confiscate it. He is money-crazy. Yes, I can get you an audience, but—"

"How else shall I protect myself from Vulpes?"

"True! True! Vulpes is a very dangerous informer, who has been useful to Caligula. Informers are about the only people whose lives and possessions seem absolutely safe. You would better have your audience, because Caligula may take a momentary liking to you. His likes never last long; only his dislikes appear permanent. But that won't be enough. We must use backstairs influence as well. Has Vulpes not an enemy or two? I must find out. I know a woman who might help us—Chloe—a contractors' slave—a bad devil if ever there was one, but clever; if she is in Rome I will have her sent here. Now and then she takes part in the palace orgies. She might whisper to Vulpes' enemies that his estates are well worth confiscating. Perhaps, too, she will be able to think of something else. We will have to pay her master handsomely. Well, go to your room and get some sleep, Cleander. I will send for Chloe and I will send word, too, to the praetor's office that we will call there to manumit a slave on our way to the thermae this afternoon. But by the way: warn Marcia to keep her mouth shut in the praetor's office. My man Ossianus says he saw a she-slave manumitted not long since, and the fool knelt down and praised Christ in the praetor's presence. She was crucified, of course. What else could the praetor do? Tell Marcia to hold her tongue."

IN a room where painted Fauns pursued Nymphs on the stucco walls and a voluptuous looking Venus leered down from the ceiling, Cleander slept considerably longer than he had intended. He was awakened by the sound of wrestling. In the atrium, Fabius Arbiter was vainly striving to put Cleander's gladiator Spicillus on his back; Cleander watched his chance and threw them both into the fountain, to save his friend from the embarrassment of failure. They fooled for a while. Then Cleander took wooden sword and buckler and fought Thrax, his favorite, promising the man five sesterces for every blow that he could strike home with edge or point; but Thrax earned nothing, though they strove until master and man were bathed in sweat and Arbiter said it was time for the thermae.

"The aediles—asses!—say that to light up the baths after dusk might lead to immorality. The result is, darkness sees men and women flitting out of the place like bats to go and be immoral elsewhere. What is it that makes aediles idiots? And what is immorality? Don't answer, because I'm sure you don't know. Tell me something you do know. How did you ever learn how to drub such a swordsman as Thrax? I tried him before I tried to wrestle with Spicillus. I can handle a sword better than most men of my age, but I couldn't touch him and he landed on me as he pleased."

"Speed," Cleander answered. "That's the secret of it. I wish I could put such speed into by business with Vulpes. Learn from the animals, Fabius. A quick blow is worth two slow ones. A quick thrust, followed thrice as quickly by another, then another—Hercules! I grudge the time we are to squander at the thermae."

"Ingrate! In the thermae we will do your business. Let your gladiators follow us and protect Marcia; that girl is too good looking."

Two of Arbiter's servants followed also. Suitably cloaked to avoid attention, Marcia followed midst six men to the praetor's office, where the gladiators forced an opening through the crowd that was reading posted notices and clamoring for access to the office that was guarded by red-cloaked lictors. There was more business to be done by that one office than could have been handled by all the offices in Rome, and there was a swarm of lawyers who specialized in getting precedence for claims of one sort or another. However, Arbiter had influence enough to force his way in and the ceremony of manumission was soon over. In the presence of a bored assistant of the praetor he turned Marcia around three times, pushed her away from him and said, ‘Go free, Marcia, I manumit you.‘ The assistant recorded the act in a file, a fee changed hands, and there was a short delay while Marcia's certificate of freedom was sent into another room for the praetor's signature. But the delay was fraught with an incident that made Fabius Arbiter bite his finger nails, although Cleander thought nothing of it.

A slightly built, gray-bearded Jew with lustrous eyes was led into the room. His name was announced as Paulus. He was chained to an ex-legionary who wore the badge of the praetor's office, and who seemed, not exactly afraid of his prisoner, but remarkably deferent to him. The official showed impatience:

"I am tired of you, Paulus."

"May the Lord relieve your weariness," the prisoner answered; and he had a voice that disarmed irritation. "But I think that neither you nor I can be as weary as this good fellow must be of the useless chain that makes him more a prisoner than me."

THE official fell back on bureaucratic arrogance. "Such a complaint is insolence. You are fortunate not to be held in the dungeon."

"Fortunate indeed," said Paulus.

"I only wish Caesar would appoint a day for your trial—and to the lions with you! Only Jupiter himself could any what secret influence you have. A Christian—are you not a Christian?"

"I have made no secret of it," Paulus answered.

"Christians have been crucified in dozens. They have been thrown to the lions in dozens. Nevertheless, you, who are the ringleader of them all, are allowed to wander where you please—"

"Provided I report here frequently," said Paulus. "l have wronged no man by remarking that this chain is even more troublesome to the guard than to me. I will not seek to escape. l came to Rome because I appealed to Caesar, having that right, being a Roman citizen. I will await my turn for Caesar's judgment."

"Meanwhile, preaching to runaway slaves and criminals in catacombs and tombs and such-like hiding places?"

"Do they not need the Word of the Spirit that altars men's hearts and minds?"

"Perverting than with eastern doctrine that makes than traitors, worthy of no other fate than death in the arena!"

Paulus smiled at him. His eyes, and his smile, and the confident calm of his persuasive shoulders were as eloquent as his voice. "You say, they are criminals," he answered. "Would your law, then, spare them in any event? Then do I wrong them, or the law, if I persuade them of eternal life?"

"Oh, go your way," the official answered. "It is a mystery to me that you were not tried and executed long ago. No, I will not remove the chain. I have no authority to do that. If I might, I would not. Go your way."

He turned to attend to the business of important citizens and Paulus led rather than followed his custodian toward the door. But on his way Marcia interrupted him. She knelt, and Paulus blessed her, touching her bowed head with his right hand.

Outside, on the edge of the crowd, hugging her certificate of freedom, Marcia blessed Cleander, as she had right to do, and as convention obliged that she should. There were no words too extravagant, nor any place too public, for the gratitude of a slave set free.

"Oh generous Cleander—"

However, Arbiter interrupted. "Just the very thing I warned you to beware of! Justus Cassius and Comelius Varro were in the praetor's office. They saw her kneel to that Jew. Cassius is one of Caligula's backstairs panders, and Varro is about the vilest spy in Rome! Get rid of the woman—tell her to go and hide before she gets us all in trouble."

"She has nowhere to go," said Cleander. The thought of losing sight of Marcia disturbed him more than danger did.

"Nonsense. Give the girl some money. Give it to her now—don't argue." He turned on Marcia: "Listen. Understand this: it is the law that no slave may be manumitted to avoid her giving evidence against her master. If Virgilius Cleander should be charged with an offense against the State, your manumission would be canceled and you would be tortured, just like any other slave, for evidence against him."

"I would not give evidence against him. I would rather die," said Marcia. "And besides, he has done no wrong to anyone."

"Who cares? Let them catch you, and then see what happens! Hide, I tell you, until we know what Vulpes has contrived against Cleander. When we have defeated Vulpes, come back."

CLEANDER protested, but Arbiter stuck to his point and Marcia had no option but to do what she was told. Cleander gave her money and, in spite of Arbiter's objections, ordered two of his gladiators to escort her to whatever hiding place she might decide on; they were to return to Arbiter's house with news of her whereabouts, and to take more money to her as soon as she should need it.

"Dangerous! However, there is no use in arguing with a love-struck man, said Arbiter. "I have yet to hear of a gladiator who could keep a secret. In or out of the arena they are good for nothing except their own grim trade; and they would be no good for that unless the penalty for flinching were worse than the chances they have to take. Your gladiators follow Marcia—someone will follow and watch the gladiators—wait and see.

"I think you are unduly nervous," said Cleander.

"Am I? Well, don't you be nervous in the thermae. Flaminius Glaucus, Caligula's chamberlain, will be there and I intend to introduce you to him. He is usually in a vicious temper until after he has been scraped down with the strigil, so let us hope we catch him in the tepidarium, well oiled and for the time being almost human. And by the way, when you take off your clothes in the cloakroom and the slave gives you a token for them, give the blackguard an as for himself and threaten him with mayhem; otherwise you will get the wrong clothes back and have no remedy. I don't know where they find such shameless thieves as they employ in the thermae cloakroom."

"Chloe is quite an experience."

"OBSERVE," said Arbiter, as they threaded their way through the crowd of slaves outside the then-nae. "Everybody's slaves, eh? Everybody's secrets being told. Inside, the masters who make the scandal and the mistresses who cause it; outside, the servants who multiply rumor. How long do you think it will be before you and Marcia are hot news?"

However, he threw off gloom inside the thermae. Everybody did. The sheer physical comfort of leaving one's clothes in are of the attendant and strolling naked amid tiled luxury where, at least for the moment, there were no social distinctions, had a peculiar mental effect on Romans. The right of entry was a zealously guarded social privilege, the more appreciated since, once inside, all were more nearly equal than anywhere else in Rome.

"I don't know whether we are wise or not to admit women," Arbiter remarked as they strolled into the tepidarium and stood on the marble brink of the plunge. Around all four sides of the great room was a colonnade, beneath which men and women strolled like gods and goddesses, the sheer grace of the Roman stride and gesture, and the broken light that filtered through thick glass making even corpulent shapes look beautiful. "It is possibly good for the women, since it may make them understand us better; and the act of walking naked among naked men obliges them to practice modesty. Nevertheless, I think I liked it better when they were not admitted."

Certainly it made for decency and self-restraint. A man who stared, or a woman who appeared self-conscious would have been promptly excluded and never allowed to return. There was a valuable atmosphere of mutual tolerance, and of comradeship between the sexes, that existed nowhere else in Rome.

THEY plunged, swam the length of the pool a time or two, and strolled into the tepidarium, deciding to omit the usual routine of sweating and being scraped and rubbed, because Flaminius Glaucus was in the tepidarium, holding a court of his own on a marble seat within one of the arched alcoves. He was being flattered and regaled with gossip, but he looked bored, although his crocodilish eyes glanced with swift interest and appraisal at each new arrival. He was an athletic man himself—or rather, had been, and he instantly noticed Cleander's muscular physique and seemed pleased when Arbiter came near to introduce him. He had, too, a marvelous gift for dismissing men who had a perfect right to remain where they were if they wished; it was only a few moments before he, Arbiter and Cleander had the alcove to themselves.

"How now, Arbiter? Tell me about your friend. He wants something, of course, all do, who get themselves introduced to me. If he doesn't want my post as chamberlain, such a handsome fellow may have anything I can do for him in reason—mind you, I said, in reason. Come now, what does he want?"

"An audience with Caesar."

Who is he, you say? The son of—oh yes, I remember; let me write that on my tablet. But why an audience? Caesar detests them, since he has to endure so many. However much he might otherwise like a man, he always hates him at an audience. What does Cleander want with Caesar?"

"Good standing, that is all," said Arbiter. "How else shall a man establish his position?"

"True. True. What else has he besides breeding and good looks to recommend him?"

"He writes poems. I have never read them, but—"

"Neither will Caesar read them. Can he talk intelligently? Has he humor?"

"He can converse," said Arbiter, "like a son of Aspasia by Pericles."

"A very dangerous ability! However, he seems also to have a gift of silence. And a new, good looking face—how long, Arbiter, since you were at Caesar's dinner-table?"

"More than a year. I can't afford such privileges. The last occasion cost me more than two months' income in gifts to assistant chamberlains."

"Assistant chamberlains must live. You should have pressed your opportunity and reimbursed yourself by means of Caesar's favor. However, opportunities recur. It happens that two members of the senate lost their heads last night; or, at least, I suppose they lost them; they were ordered to be tortured first. 'Let them feel themselves die,' said Caesar. But they were not the type of men who can endure prolonged pain. And they were fools. They are not, perhaps, worth mentioning except that they serve to point a moral. Did you know them? Tullius Faltonius and Lucius Salinator."

"By sight," said Arbiter. "Did not Salinator marry quite recently."

"Yes, that was the beginning of it. Salinator invited Caesar to the wedding. Caesar admired the wife and took her home with him; but he did not enjoy her much, she was too readily complaisant, so he banished her to one of the islands, I forget which. Salinator thought he had better remove from Caesar's mind any suspicion that he might be feeling resentful, so he and his friend Faltonius sought an audience. They thought they had caught Caesar in a mood to be beguiled by abject flattery."

"Isn't flattery what he demands?" asked Arbiter.

"He likes it subtle. Faltonius asked him, would it not be better to abolish all law than to have to be constantly changing it? Caesar was silent; he sat leaning on his elbow with his right hand covering his mouth and his head moving slowly from side to side, the way he always does when his mood is deadly. However, that fool Salinator piped up: 'Let the world know that all of us live and manage our affairs at Caesar's sole caprice.' Caesar smiled then. I knew what was coming. 'I have a caprice now,' he remarked, and he summoned the guards. 'You wish to see me so disliked that the Roman mob will tear me into pieces. I will teach you what that feels like.' He followed them out, to make sure that slaves were not substituted for them. That has been done, you know; they peel the slave's face to make it unrecognizable. Caesar enjoyed Salinator's agony so much that he has been in a good mood ever since. I want to keep him in a good mood."

"And the moral?"

"There are several. One is, that if Caesar takes your wife or your mistress, don't try to presume on the strength of it. Ignore the incident. Forget the woman. Another is, never suggest to Caesar a course of conduct; he can think of quite enough disturbing novelties without anyone's assistance. And a third is, that the easiest way to arouse his suspicion, which is the same thing as his deadly enmity, is to try to avoid doing it. Now it happens that those two fools were hidden to tomorrow's banquet. How would you two like to take their places?"

CLEANDER and Arbiter glanced at each other—glances that did not escape Flaminius Glaucus, court chamberlains being nothing if not observant. He read, and understood their hesitation, so he went on:

"Caesar is growing weary and suspicious of his present intimates. He is secretly very nervous about plots against his life. He may take a fancy to you two youngsters. Who knows? So I will set down your names now and you shall have your formal invitations in the morning. I think it is a bright idea; you may serve, so to speak, to counterbalance the effect of one of those dreadful people whom one can't avoid inviting now and then. There is a man named—"

He was interrupted by a slave who brought a whispered message that sent him hurrying to be dressed and gone, clutching his tablets and muttering imprecations.

"Now," exclaimed Arbiter, grinning wryly, "we are in for it. The next thing is to—"

He had no time to continue just then. Men who had never thought him worth consideration, and who did not even know Cleander's name, pressed forward to ingratiate themselves with two such fortunate: as had the private ear of Caesar's chamberlain. It was hard work to escape them without making enemies. They were followed to the cloakroom. Three men even followed to the street and, by offering their company on the way home on the excuse that the streets were unsafe after dark, tried to get themselves invited to Arbiter's house for the evening meal.

"Thanks," said Arbiter, "we have two gladiators and our servants. And besides, we have an assignation."

That excuse was valid. Everyone knew the details of everyone else's love affairs, but it was good form, nevertheless, to go through the outward gestures of observing secrecy. So, arm-in-arm, the two walked home alone, protected by their servants.

"You will miss your Marcia tonight," said Arbiter, "but never mind. I have sent for Chloe, who will probably amuse you. She has been out of Rome on some debauch or other, but her master promised to send her to my house this evening. Use her well, because she is the ablest backstairs intriguer in Rome and she will do anything—literally anything, for a man she likes. The thing for you to do, is so to endear Chloe to you that she will whisper in Caesar's women's ears, and in the ears of his eunuchs and bedroom slaves. She must do all that not later than tomorrow afternoon, so that when Caesar finds you at his dinner table he will be already predisposed in your favor. However, let me have the first talk with her —alone is better. I will explain to her what is expected, promise her a big reward for herself in addition to her master's fee for her services, and I will sing your praises to her. You do the rest."

"I will try," said Cleander.

"Nonsense! Are you so love-sick for Marcia that you can't amuse yourself with Chloe to preserve your own neck? Let me tell you, Chloe is quite an experience. There isn't a worse devil or a more amusing baggage in Rome, and she can talk and joke more entertainingly than any honest woman in the world—supposing, I mean, that there were such a thing as an honest woman. She knows everybody's secrets. She knows all the scandal. And she has brains. So mind you rise to the occasion."

CLEANDER went to his own room, rather gloomily, wondering where Marcia was and trying to make himself look forward to the opportunity of worsting Vulpes by obtaining Caesar's favor. He detested the thought of bowing his stiff neck in Caesar's presence. He would vastly have preferred, if that were possible, to leave the whole intrigue in Chloe': hands; whatever he might have to pay her and her Alexandrian owner would be cheap as the price of avoiding the humiliation of having to ingratiate himself with such a monster as Caligula was said to he. Cleander's pride was about the only thing he dreaded losing, and he told himself that, were it not for Marcia, he would keep the pride and let the fortune go. He wondered whether Marcia would turn out to be worth it after all.

"Freedom sometimes makes the best of them ungrateful. And hers is a strange superstition. Who knows what a Christian will do when placed in a dilemma? Am I a madman? Well—"

A servant summoned him to drink an appetizer with his host beside the lamp-lit fountain in the atrium. He shrugged away his gloom and strode forth, his artistic eye observing the slim, supple figure of a Greek slave girl who stood answering Arbiter's questions.

"This is Chloe," said Arbiter. "Let us take our cups and let her pour the wine; she will inspire it with Hellenic zest."

Chloe took the wine jar in her hands and turned as gracefully as a bramble swaying in the wind. Cleander almost gasped. She was the woman who had followed him from Fastidius Flaccus' house, and who had cursed him in Flaccus' garden because he had told her to go and offer her obscenities to Vulpes. She smiled as mischievously sweetly as if they shared a good joke.

"I have told her all about your feud with Vulpes and what you and I expect of her," said Arbiter.

"Love me—and let tomorrow bring forth what it may!"

SHE was an artist in her own way, Chloe. She enjoyed Cleander's consternation, and let him know she did. Nevertheless, her attitude was perfectly respectful and she left it to Cleander to decide whether or not to try to make his peace with her. Meanwhile, as a hired out entertainer, she was obviously pleased to sing, dance, gossip and be complaisant. Alexandria had taught Rome what to expect from dancing girls and Chloe followed the two friends into the dining room with the air of being soul and body at their service and delighted to oblige them.

For a while, as they reclined on couches and the slaves brought wine and viands fit for far more wealthy men than those two, she sang to them, plucking a strange stringed instrument. Her songs were chaste and lyrical; her voice was low, well trained and pleasing. Told by Arbiter to make herself at ease, she reclined on a heap of cushions and presented an apparently unstudied picture of rather experienced innocence. She could not have been less than thirty years old, and the life she had been trained and forced to lead would have taxed a lioness' strength, yet, dim light favoring perhaps, she looked no more than twenty-two or -three; and though she had come that day from entertaining Flaccus and his friends, she looked gay and tireless. If she tried to listen to the conversation, she gave no sign of it; and as long as she sang, there was not much risk of her overhearing Cleander's low voiced comments on the situation.

"Has she spoken with anyone other than you?"

"Undoubtedly. She came in through the servants' entrance."

"And you say she is bad?"

"There is not a worse devil in Rome." A sort of pride stirred Arbiter as he admitted that. By no means every Roman knew the ins and outs of life so well that he could summon Chloe for the service of his guest.

"You have told her about Vulpes? She has very likely spoken to my gladiators. And she may have learned that Marcia is in hiding. We are undone, my friend, before we begin. Unless—" He paused, because her song ceased.

"Sing again," said Arbiter.

"Unless you know some way of—"

"Two ways," said Arbiter, "love her or kill her."

"If she has the brains you intimate she has. then she understands perfectly that I am telling you why she is my enemy."

"You have not yet told me."

CLEANDER described the incident in Flaccus' garden. "I told her to take her blandishments to Vulpes, and she very likely did. What more natural than that Vulpes should have commissioned her to betray me by some means or other? She was as angry as a kicked she-wolf. She knew Vulpes is my enemy. She probably went straight to him and offered herself as an ally against me."

"Cleander—whom the gods would ruin, it is true they first make mad. Are you so young and innocent that you parade your virtue before a dancing girl? Oh, Vanity, what next? Have you not learned that such as she must think us lecherous and despicable, even if we are not, otherwise they set to work at once to make us so; and if they fail they hate us to the death? Dioscuri! She has learned, I suppose, about Marcia being a Christian?"

"Vulpes will have told her that. He accused me of the same thing."

"Jupiter! You will need omniscience, my friend, to get you out of this mess. True, I have a small ergastulum, but if I should imprison her, her owner would be here by noon to ?nd out why she has not returned to him. Her services are usually spoken for n week or ten days in advance. Caligula': master of ceremonies may have engaged her for tomorrow night. I know her sort; if we should beat or bribe her she would agree to anything, and betray us with the next breath. No, Cleander, you have one chance. You must make her love you."

"If she were a child I might," Cleander answered. "But she is a grown woman. If I should feign love, she would see through that and hate me all the more."

"It is either that, or kill her," Arbiter advised, "or else she will destroy you. You might order Thrax to break her neck and throw her into the street for the slaves of the municipium to carry away at daybreak. But the worst of that is, that her owner is a Roman citizen—a spiteful fellow with an Alexandrian's intelligence. She cost him an enormous sum of money and is a good investment. He would set enquiries going and would presently sue one or other of us for her value. He would have the right to post a bond of indemnity in case of destruction of their market value and then order our slaves tortured before the magistrate for evidence against us. And you know what gladiators are. Under torture Thrax would tell the truth and add to it. On the other hand, if you should send Thrax to the country that would be regarded as suspicious: and even if they should never be able to produce Thrax, they would torture your other servants, who would—Go on singing, Chloe."

"No, her singing irritates me," said Cleander. "I will talk to her. Let her come and sit here between us."

ANOTHER slave brought cushions. Chloe curled on them between the couches, chastely unchaste, eager to entertain them both or to be a bone of contention between them, whichever course events might indicate. Cleander studied her a long while, until at last he held his wine cup for a slave to fill and passed it to her.

"Drink, girl."

"My name is Chloe," she said smiling, answering his gaze over the brim of the cup. But she only sipped the wine.

"Chloe, did you ever forgive anyone in all your life?" Cleander asked her.

"No. How should I? Slaves have no forgiveness to give to anyone. I was slave-born. Who would want my forgiveness—saying that I had it in my gift? What I am—what I can—what I do—is for hire. And I am worth the money."

"Do you mean I can buy your interest?"

"I have none for sale. I am a slave. I work in my master's interest."

"And your owner—?"

"Hires me to the highest bidder."

"I am not a rich man. I can not afford to bid high," said Cleander. "However, I know that my enemy Vulpes has persuaded you to help him to destroy me. And I know you hate me because I treated you without much consideration the other night. You are probably quite justified in hating me. It is not my habit to be insolent to men or women who are not entitled to retaliate, but I forgot myself that night because of mixed emotions. What I wish to learn is, how to make such amends as you consider suitable; and how to get you to work for me, not Vulpes. Tell me."

Chloe showed him her beautiful teeth, in a smile that was worthy of Leda seducing the swan. "You are the handsomest man I have ever seen, most marvelous Cleander!"

"Let us forget that for a moment."

"How can I forget it when you have shoulders like Apollo and arms like Zeus himself, O lover of lovers, O—"

"Listen to me," said Cleander.

"Thou whose voice is like the warm wind calling forth the scented blossom on Hymettus!"

"I am calling forth your better nature, Chloe."

"Humming happiness, as bees amid the blossom, Chloe is already yours. And the night is young; why waste it speaking of unpleasant things? O glorious Cleander, such a torso as you have—such muscles—such thighs of sculpted marble! Did Praxiteles carve you out of Parian stone, O stoney-hearted one? You speak to Chloe of forgiveness? You with such lips as can tempt her to die for the bliss of enjoying them! You—"

"It is of death I would speak," said Cleander. "I have a friend—"

"I doubt not that the whole world loves you."

"I have a friend who would avenge me on the body of my betrayer."

"Friends die also; it is only life that is worth thinking about—life while it lasts," said Chloe. "Love me, and let tomorrow bring forth what it may."

STRANGE, gray-iron notions held Cleander in a grip that he felt no wish to break. He was no more virginal in thought or deed than any other Roman, but his pride stirred strongly and contempt, which is an unwise impulse, smiled along the thin line of his lips. By law and immemorial custom Marcia, whom he had set free, nevertheless was almost more his than she had been; gratitude and a kind of freedom both gave dignity to what the law of ownership had merely licensed. The weird, un-Roman, unconventional idea played with him and pleased him, that he was bound to Marcia as much as Marcia to him. And the good, old-Roman manhood in him rigidly refused to risk his dignity in Chloe's arms. Daylight would find her as free as ever to serve Vulpes and to whisper calumnies up palace backstairs; she would probably take exquisite delight in the double treachery. However, he knew that Arbiter would urge him to accept that risk; and he did not care to speak, even with Arbiter, about the veiled, dim Christian ideals that he had mocked with tolerant good humor but that actually, he knew, made Marcia something dearer to him than a boughten bed-mate. It was disagreeable to analyze his motives. So he rode rash impulse—gave full rein to contempt that he knew he should have been too proud to feel.

"Hands off me!" he commanded, frowning. "Again I tell you: you may take your blandishments to Vulpes. He may value them. As for your hatred of me, I prefer it to the thought of accepting favors from you."

Arbiter's lips moved, framing the words that leaped to them: "You idiot!" But he made no sound; he was watching Chloe scramble to her feet and by sheer will power mask such hatred as almost tums breath into viperous mist. She backed away and stooped for her stringed instrument.

Then suddenly, beside the screen that concealed the service door, stood Ajax, the least pleasing of Cleander's gladiators—a great—shouldered man with hairy legs and eyes too closely set. And Chloe's self restraint broke down; she let escape one damning sarcasm that convicted her once and for all of having used her charms on the gladiators in the kitchen.

"He brings you tidings of your Marcia."

Arbiter summoned his steward. "Turn her out of the house!"

The steward bowed. "But it was stipulated in the terms of hire that if dismissed by night she should not be sent home unprotected. Whom, sir, shall I send with her?"

"Take her away. I will tell you presently. Meanwhile, let her talk to no one. Send the other servants from the room and let Ajax approach."

Ajax told his story bluntly. "Marcia found that one-eyed Jew named Simon, who directed her to a house in a street where armorers ply their trade. She drove her bargain and found lodging with a maker of tents. There we left her and returned hither by a round-about way, as your honor commanded."

"Are the wine shops open at this hour?" Cleander wondered. He could smell the man's breath. "Where is Murmur?"

"In the servants' quarters. He has colic."

"Too drunk to stand up, I suppose. If your men can't go on a simple errand without guzzling wine in every den you pass, I shall have to sell you for the arena. Wait outside the door until I send for you again."

ARBITER finished the wine in the goblet in front of him, draining it to the last drop. "You are quite right," he said, nodding. "It is the only thing to do. Send Ajax, and let Ajax kill her in some dark corner; afterwards he can say that she gave him the slip to go wantoning on her own account. If she should live until the morning she will inform against you as surely as you have earned her enmity. Her master will get the information money, and she will keep a small percentage for her own peculium. She will probably link you up in some way with the Christians; or she may prefer to say she hard you criticizing Caesar. Very likely she will make both accusations. So let Ajax kill her. Call him in and give him orders."

"She may live, for all I care, until the Greek Kalends," Cleander answered. "Let Rome rot, and Caesar with it! I would rather die than have to live by such means. No, no, friend of mine; if my affairs have made you timid I will leave your house and so absolve you from all risk on my account. You may say you turned me out because you doubted my—"

"Jupiter capitolinus! Silence, will you! I will not permit my friendship to be spurned in that way! If you insist on dying like a fool, then I will die with you, that is all. Let us open our veins and have done with it—as Horatius Scipio did quite recently, and Claudius Tormentor, and at least a dozen others. Why give that beast Caligula the pleasure of killing us?"

"Let us give him the chance to play the man before we play the weakling," Cleander answered. "No, no. Let us attend his banquet. Life is not worth much, but it is ours and it involves our dignity. Let us preserve it by all honorable means before we let a cur like Vulpes and a meretrix like Chloe frighten us to an ignoble end. I would as soon be crucified. Let Ajax take that strumpet home and tell her owner she was not worth table-leavings."

"She is a Christian."

DAYLIGHT renewed optimism. On a sunny morning, listening to the caged birds sing beside the flower-decked fountain in Arbiter's atrium, it appeared ridiculous that destiny, Caligula or any other monstrous force should have horrors in store. Fleecy white clouds idled in a clear blue sky and the breakfast fruit tasted Olympian. After all, this was Rome, and they Patricians. It was nonsense to suppose that Caligula, a mere youth of no particular talent and no especial breeding, could destroy the traditional rights of men whose ancestors had conquered nearly all the known world. Men who are born with a sense of dignity revert to that as instinctively as other men, who have none, hate it and react against it.

The invitations to the banquet arrived early and threw the entire household into half hysterical excitement. Slaves are the establishers of routine. Slaves are the creators of social distances; they are the drawers of the veils of mystery that hide mere human vanities from human eyes and make impossible absurdities not only possible but unavoidable. It was Arbiter's and Cleander's slaves, from the Alexandrian steward downward, who made an invitation to a meal in Ceasar's palace seem like a summons to some unearthly sphere. And unearthly it was, since Caesar's slaves insisted that it should be.

Litters home on solemn shoulders through the torch-lit streets toward a Capitol that uprose like the ghost of history against a star-lit sky. A dark gate made mysterious by lantern light. A quiet challenge, and the clank of armor from the darkness where the picked practorian guard stood motionless. A lantern home by an orderly. A veteran officer who peered into the lantern light to scrutinize the written invitations.

"Eja!—age! You may pass in."

Darkness again for a moment where an archway cast its shadow on square flagstones. Then, suddenly, no longer Rome—the orient. Not even Roman statuary—Greek and Egyptian gods—a marble stairway plundered from Cleopatra's waterfront. Not even Roman insolence as blunt and wholesome as an onion, but a new sort, sly-eyed and obsequious, arrayed in scented silk that came from who-knew-where by way of Trebizond. Politeness vaguely veiling greedy and suspicious smiles and not a trace—none—none whatever of the great Augustian simplicity. The grimness of Tiberius was gone. The gilt-and-marble stairway and the columned corridor beyond it leading to the great reception room, were lined with more attendants than a company of kings should need and not one face was frankly hostile or indifferently friendly, as a stranger's should be; they were curious, alert, sly, opportunist.

CLEANDER and Arbiter, striding down the corridor with the masculine grace of old-time Romans, were led by a silk-robed effeminate freedman who stank of exotic perfume. He led on past the door of the great reception room toward a curtained antechamber. Slaves drew back the curtains as if they were revealing unchaste mysteries. The freedman led toward a desk of rare, carved wood where a freedman secretary wrote on parchment by the light of an oil lamp set inside a gilded human skull. He demanded the invitations.

"Are you Fabius Arbiter? Are you Vergilius Cleander? Very well."

He nodded, checked off the names on a tablet and resumed his writing. Two slaves at the far end of the anteroom drew crimson curtains clashing on a bronze rod; a double door opened suddenly, and they strode through into the small reception room where Greek erotic legends were depicted on the walls and Flaminius Glaucus, the palace chamberlain, a trifle pompous and a bit too genial, was doing the preliminary honors for about two dozen guests, of whom six were women. He greeted Arbiter without fuss, but he was so immediately cordial to Cleander that everyone else in the room turned and stared at him. He demanded that:

"Look, all of you! The handsomest young Roman who has come to court since I was chamberlain! Vergilius Cleander. Husbands, guard your wives!"

He may have thought Cleander's obvious embarrassment was due to bashfulness under the gaze of six beautiful women. He laughed with evident, but otherwise not easily explained amusement as he took Cleander's arm. He seemed almost excited—turned so suddenly that he bumped into the slave who has carrying a tray of glasses, followed by another who bore the sharp tanged appetizer wine; in spite of the slave's adroitness half a dozen glasses fell and were smashed to splinters on the floor, where they were pounced on by a third slave and swept out of sight in an instant.

"Bacchus! I trust that is not an evil omen—are you readily disturbed by omens?—Whip that clumsy duffer—take him out and whip him as he deserves—give him two hundred strokes of the cane. The rogue is fortunate; if Caesar had seen him make that blunder—Did I tell you that we have with us tonight a neighbor of yours—do you know him?—"

But Cleander had seen Vulpes almost before the doors had closed behind him and Arbiter. The sight had chilled his skin. It almost sickened him. He guessed that Glaucus' cordiality was due to I desire to cover up intrigue—his chuckle an indication of malicious zest for arranging stupefying shocks. However, Vulpes seemed equally taken aback. Cleander walked straight up to him.

"How are you, Vulpes? Did you pay that money to my steward?"

"I am well, Cleander, thank you. Yes, I paid him—though I thought it rank discourtesy in you to absent yourself and leave only a servant to greet me."

"Did you go to my house alone?"

"I never move unattended. In spite of Caesar's constant vigilance in our behalf, the roads are unsafe."

"Of course you had your gladiators with you. Whom else?"

"My attendants."

"Your's or Caesar's? Fox! I know you. I stole a move on you. Do now what you dare, and you shall find me ready for you."

HE WAS not ready. He had no notion how to protect himself, except, perhaps, by making a good impression on Caligula. But he hoped to stir in Vulpes a suspicion that a well timed counter-move was under way; it might cause Vulpes to delay his own plans. Anything to gain time.

"You talk," said Vulpes, "like a cockerel. However, I have eaten cockerels that crowed before their spurs were ready." He thrust out his great belly and his lower lip, rubbing his chin with the palm of his right hand and looking slyly sideways at Cleander, who resisted the impulse to tell him he looked like a seller of horse-meat. He made, instead, a shrewd, sneering foray for information:

"I had your pet meretrix, Chloe, with me last night."

"Yes," said Vulpes. "Yes, yes. But not all last night, Cleander. Chloe was dismissed by you at—what hour was it? She is a girl who knows the difference between an onion and a bunch of grapes, as you may have noticed."

Cleander turned his back and looked for Arbiter, who was conversing, with what seemed like genuine gaiety, with two women. He wanted to break to Arbiter the grim news that already Chloe had done mischief. But he had no chance to get near him. Opulently dressed slaves took their places at the top of three steps at the far end of the room, and Glaucus began reading the order of precedence from his tablet, rather roughly ordering the guests to line up as he called their names. Cleander's place was last; he would be at the foot of the table. Arbiter would be near the middle of the table, facing Vulpes.

The tall doors opened wide, revealing Caesar's banquet hall. In spite of his patrician tastes, Cleander had always thought himself a rather modern minded man, but his emotions instantly rebelled at the sight of that extravagance of oriental luxury. There was nothing Roman about it, no simplicity and no concession to the stern idealism of the days gone by. There was no harmony, no beauty. It was a lurid splurge of grossness, scowled on by a marble statue of Publius Scipio Africanus at the far end of the hall. The other statues were of naked women. Almost naked slave girls, with their arms outstretched, upheld a sort of pergola of woven flowers, under whose overpoweringly scented arches the guests must pass to reach the table. Slave musicians in a balcony discoursed some sort of oriental music with a maddeningly suggestive lilt. Beneath the balcony, upended, three Egyptian mummy-cases stood like curiously observant sentinels, one between, and one on either side of two doors through which entertainers presently would come, and facing those, at a gilded door at the back of a high dais, stood two lictors and four plumed guardsmen, in armor, with spears and shields.

The scene so jarred Cleander's nerves that he forgot his own fear for the moment. He felt as if Rome's neck were under an alien heel. He felt it even more as he stood at the end corner of the long dinner table, beside his couch, with the scented breath of Caesar's boughten women in his ears. and waited in humble, indecorous silence for the tyrant.

SUDDENLY a golden trumpet sounded. The gilded door opened and Caesar strode on to the dais. He was not alone; he had a leopard with him and was followed by two black slaves, of whom one kept an eye on the leopard and held a noose in his gloved hand, with which to subdue the animal in case of need.

Of the two, the leopard looked by far the nobler, although Caligula wore an imperator's cloak over his silken garments and carried in his right hand a caduceus to suggest that he was something more than mortal. He was a scrawny, tall young man, with so much hair on his body that he could not by any means conceal it; but he was clean-shaven and, despite his youth, his head was almost bald. He had pale eyelashes that made his green-gray eyes, red-rimmed from lechery and lack of sleep, look like those of a fish. He glanced down at the leopard and grinned. He seemed to try to imitate the leopard's sneer as he swung the caduceus to and fro in a probably half-unconscious simulation of the movements of the leopard's tail. The guests bowed, silent. Cleander was the only one whose eyes met Caligula's, and they stared at each other for nearly a minute, until at last Caligula stepped down to his own wide divan, draped in silks and leopard skins, at the head of the table. Prodding the couch with the caduceus, as if he thought there might be snakes concealed, he presently sat down and sprawled with the insolence of a barrack room bully, clucking and snapping his fingers to persuade the leopard to leap up and lie beside him.

"If my leopard were more obedient I would make him a senator," he remarked. That was all. No greeting to his guests. That was their permission to take their places, and they all did.

Suddenly the music struck up wildly and the flower girls leaped into movement, dancing with their ropes of flowers around and around the table. They were marvelously trained, but Caligula took no notice of them. Under slightly lowered eyelids he observed his guests, staring them one at a time out of countenance, but paying most attention to the women, craning his long neck to see them better, until at last his judgment fell on the youngest matron in the room.

"Is that your wife, Gratillus? I never suspected you of such good taste." His not unpleasant voice was vibrant and it carried through the music and the thump of bare feet dancing on the carpets. "Send her here to me. Let me see if she looks as lovely at close quarters."

The husband smiled. The wife obeyed. She went and stood before him, and he signed to her to sit beside him on the divan. But she feared the leopard. Caligula laughed. For a minute he went through the farce of trying to persuade her; then he suddenly grew tired of it, prodded her with the caduceus and sent her, looking foolish and humiliated, to her husband.

"Good enough for you, Gratillus; but I like them twice as bold as leopards. Then I have some fun. And by my Genius, I tell you, there is not enough fun. There are too few Romans who have throats worth slitting."

Having made that offering to the evening's entertainment, he grew genial and began to talk to the guest at his right hand, joking with him about the dozens of new horses he had bought in the hope of entering at least one winning team in the chariot races. Conversation became general. Aurelius, a senator, whose place was at Cleander's left hand, talked with him sotto voce:

"Our Caligula is virginal tonight. He usually gives a pretty woman's husband more than that to remember him by. I have seen him—"

"Gaiety! More gaiety!" Caligula shouted. He was already drinking like a dry sponge. "Drive out these fools!" One gesture and the dancing girls all fled like frightened children through a door between the mummy-cases. A long line of slaves came through another door carrying mounds of food. "Bring on your entertainers! Jupiter! I have had no sleep for three nights. Does nobody care? Am I to sit here mocked by melancholy?"

"As for me," said Aurelius, "I am one of those who refuse to marry, lest Caligula should hear of it. He might bid my wife to a banquet. But did you hear about Marcus Longinius? Thinking to ingratiate himself with Caesar he married a woman and sent out tempting rumors. Sure enough, Caligula invited them. But he is shrewd; he can see through subtler schemes than that. He gave the woman one glance and then banished them both to an island to endure each other's company. He said he could imagine no worse fate for anyone, nor anyone more worthy of a worse if only that could be invented."

CONJURERS came in, and tumblers, to whom impossibilities seemed commonplace. Caligula looked bored. He began to fool with the leopard beside him until the slave whose business it was to guard him from the animal crouched nearer to the throne on tiptoe, with his noose in both hands, ready. Then a slave behind the dais whispered, and Caligula remembered something.

"Is that not Virgilius Cleander at the far end?" he demanded. "By the Dioscuri, you are too good looking! It is small wonder that women love you. I am told you have a slave whose beauty has even made you write bad poems! Let us see this Venus. Where is she?"

"I don't know," said Cleander.

"Don't you? I do. Bring the woman in!"

Cleander almost groaned aloud. Aurelius, beside him, chuckled in a sort of helpless sympathy, half cynical, half fearful to betray itself. Arbiter, on the far side of the table, met Cleander's eyes; he had turned ashen gray.

"She is a Christian," said Vulpes, smirking.

"Is she?" asked Caligula. "I am told that Christians don't believe in Roman gods, in which they are not far from being wise. If they should say there is no god but Caesar I would pack the senate with them and we might see decent government for once. However, bring the woman in!"

"I accuse myself"

MARCIA came in between two guardsmen. Someone had dressed her in yellow linen, with a chaplet of rose-buds and a chain of flowers around her shoulders. That was Glaucus' doing; he looked proud of his showmanship; he eyed Cleander sideways, not yet openly, but obviously gloating at the chagrin of a man whom he had been at such pains to flatter. Vulpes lolled and looked self-consciously important—virtuous—triumphant. To Cleander now the whole plot was as plain as if written in words on the wall: Chloe had traced Marcia and connected her with the outlaw Christians—Marcia was to be the bait for Caesar's gluttony—he, Cleander, was to be humiliated in exchange for the humiliation he had tendered Vulpes in the house of Flaccus—he was then to be accused of treason.

Marcia met his eyes. She loved him. For the first time in his life he knew what love was. She was loyal to the death; he understood that—thrilled so to the understanding of it that he hardly heard Aurelius' low voice:

"Have you poison with you? If so, swallow it. Caligula hates a handsome man. It is too bad, but the dice seem loaded."

Cleander glanced at Arbiter, whose pallor betrayed the fear that gripped him. He decided to save Arbiter at all costs. He could see no hope of saving Marcia from the clutches of Caesar, who already was leering at her, licking his lips, oblivious for the moment of everything except her. He enjoyed unwilling women. Modesty enflamed his madness.

Suddenly a sort of madness seized Cleander. Dignity seemed better to him than any prize that lite could offer. Marcia had dignity. Had he none? His was a Roman's heritage. Such swine as Vulpes—such a bestial tyrant as Caligula might rob him of money and lands. Could they rob him of valor. He, too, could spring surprises. He arose from his couch. His voice was as abrupt and vibrant with authority as some scarred tribune's on parade.

"Caesar, that women is free. I freed her yesterday. She is no man's property. As her patron, I appeal on her behalf to Roman law."

He sat down, cool, in spite of the sensation he had caused. He smiled at Caesar's answering oath; it was a fight now, and the fight was on; he had never yet flinched in action. He stood up again; that oath had ripped aside Caligula's mask; the coward showed within the monster:

"The law is your own. You have used it scores of times. I defy you to dare to ignore it now."

The guards clanged shields on armor to remind Caligula that they were there to do his Caligula scowled like a maniac. There was silence for at least a dozen deep-drawn bruths. Even the music eased. Then Vulpes croaked his contribution to the climax:

"Is the law not, that a slave may not be freed to save her from being tortured to give evidence against her master?"

Again Cleander stood up. "Evidence on what charge?" he demanded. "I am a Roman. It is my right to know who my accusers are."

"I have heard it said," said Vulpes, sticking out his lower lip, "Virgilius Cleander is accused of having said that Caesar a traitor to Rome because he ignores our Roman laws and destroys our Roman institutions. If to speak such words is treason, then the Roman law is that the man's slaves all may be examined under torture. If convicted, the man's possessions are forfeit—and the man's life also."

ARBITER was whispering to Glaucus, who nodded repeatedly. Glaucus somehow seemed aware of humor in the situation—sardonic humor; but then, Glaucus understood Caligula. Cleander, knowing he had called down death on his own head, faced it mockingly—a mood that made him swift to snatch at chances; there was one chance in a million that Arbiter had thought of something. so Cleander sparred to give him time:

"Are you my accuser, Vulpes?" he demanded.

Glaucus gave him no time to deny it; craning his neck to miss nothing of what Arbiter was saying, he tossed his scrap of fuel in the flame:

"Yes, Vulpes is your accuser."

"I am more amused," announced Caligula, "than I have been for weeks. Vulpes is a fine fat pigeon."

"He is very rich," said Glaucus. Even Marcia smiled at that remark; it meant that Arbiter would make no claim for a percentage of the fat man's plunder. Arbiter had given information—true or false, no matter—deadly.

"Is the law not, that a false informer stands convicted of the crime he charged?" Cleander asked. "I charge you, Vulpes, on two counts. Deny one, and you prove the other. How long since you accused me?"

Vulpes made no answer; he was watching Caesar's face; and Caesar's face was uglier than the leopard's on the throne beside him. Glaucus began studying his tablet.

"It was Vulpes," he remarked, "who wrote suggesting that Cleander's Marcia might make a welcome gift for Caesar."

"Pluto!" exclaimed Caligula. "You knew she was a Christian and you recommended her for me? Did you wish to see me murdered? Poisoned? Done to death by magic?"

Vulpes stammered: "Imperator, I have thought of nothing but your welfare."

"Toad!" Cleander interrupted. "You accused me. Nevertheless, you sat at table with me in Flaccus' house; and yesterday you paid to my steward five hundred thousand sesterces. I denounce you as a liar or else as one who knowingly consorts with traitors!"

"I denounce you as a Christian," said Vulpes.

"Excellent. They both stand charged with treason. We will torture them all," said Caligula. "Slaves first, masters afterwards, Cleander being such a stickler for our cherished forms of law."

"Then you, too, appeal to the law?" Cleander asked him.

Caligula glanced at Glaucus: "How long is it since I put two senators to death for daring to advise me to abolish law?"

"They are probably more or less dead by now," said Glaucus.

"Oh, yes, I remember, we invented a new way of killing them. We will begin by torturing Cleander's lady-love, whom he has manumitted too late. Are his other slaves in custody? Where are they? By my Genius, if one escapes me I will punish someone! Where are Vulpes' servants? Round up all of them."

Four guards strode forward, eyebrows raised, eyes watchful for the first hint.

"Yes, yes, put them both in fetters. Traitors at Caesar's banquet table—this is the most interesting moment since—"

Cleander interrupted him, although he no longer troubled himself to look at Vulpes or at Caesar. His eyes met Marcia's; he knew no torture in the world could make her say one word against him, and he knew the thought of death was hugely sweeter to her than the prospect of an hour in Caesar's clutches—one of her strange, chaste, Christian principles that had no taint of pride—incomprehensible, but rather beautifully blameless; her astonishing ideals were what he loved best. She would welcome death, if she might meet it unpolluted by Caligula, and he, Cleander, had it in his mind to give her that gift. In addition, it was not within his estimate of dignity to let slaves suffer for their master's ill luck. With a characteristic Roman gesture of the right arm he appealed to his fellow guests, inviting their opinion and daring Caesar to defy it:

"May the slaves of a man whose guilt is self-confessed before more than a dozen witnesses be put to torture?" he demanded.

THERE was a murmur. One answer was possible, and only one.

"May a freedwoman be tortured if she has confessed her guilt? Marcia, are you a Christian?"

"All know I am," said Marcia. "l have not denied it. I will be a Christian with my last breath."

"You have heard her," said Cleander. "I, too, am a Christian. I accuse myself." His gestures were as eloquent as only Roman charm could make them, as he turned toward Caligula. "That all may know me guilty, I accuse you, Caesar, of usurping powers not entrusted to you by the people. Let the law pursue its course. I have a Roman's right to die in the arena—as has Marcia also. Vulpes, who pretends he is a guiltless paragon of virtue, you may torture as you see fit."

That was the one sure thrust Cleander made. Caligula's insomnia-maddened brain was fertile with expedients for making law submit to his caprices; he had fifty laws he could have cited, passed by a servile senate and forgotten until Caesar chose to use them. It would add to his enjoyment to torture them, master and slave, in each othcr's presence, if that might lawfully be done. But Vulpes saved that moment for them all, intending nothing of the kind.

He rose and flung himself at Caesar's feet. He groveled. He offered money. Utterly losing his head, he vowed he would reveal the names of plotters against Caesar's life. He would surrender his estates and all his wealth to Caesar—"

"They are mine already," Caesar answered. stroking his leopard and licking his lips.

"But not the lions, Caesar—not the lions!"

There was possibly remaining in Caligula some remnant of appreciation for a manly attitude, some measure of contempt for cowardice. More probably a sense of drama lingered in his mad mind. Contrast stirred in him sardonic humor. And he may have thought of the political advantage to himself, of glutting the eyes of the Roman mob with the sight of a beautiful woman and two men of rank done shamefully to death in the arena.

"To the lions with them—all three! Drag that fool out! Secretary—where is that slow drudge? Write the order—make haste—all three to the carceres—for treason—to be torn by lions in the next games."

"Which way do you like death!"

GAIUS RUBER, the lanista, was a man whose charity was tempered by the obvious responsibilitis of his profession, and by his own cupidity, which was no less obvious. His wintry blue eyes were too close-set to he those of a generous man; and, commonly with executioners and jailers of all times, it was not a soft heart that had earned him his peculiar distinction. He had seen too many die to care a clipped ax for the rank, sex, guilt or innocence of victims. But his pay was nothing much and, under Caligula, he did not always get it; so, within extremely rigid limits set by knowledge that the last lanista had been beaten to death by Caligula's order for permitting prisoners to escape, he was not above persuasion if it took the form of something he could use for money.

Down in the reeking darkness of the dungeons underneath the Circus, Maximus Cleander spoke with him through the small iron grating of a cell door. There was a fire in a brazier, at the end of the stone passage, but that was not for anybody's comfort; it was to heat the irons with which to keep the prisoners in order in the event they made unnecessary noises or indulged despair with attempts at mutiny. Its red light glowed on Gaius Ruber's face and made one half of it look like a sardonyx cameo.

"A well born gentleman might lie to me," said Ruber. "I have known them to do it."

"Yes, and I could hold my tongue," Cleander answered. "I am telling you the truth, and what I ask will cost you nothing; so that even if you should get nothing you would not be out of pocket. You will be running no risk—none whatever."

"How do you propose to pay me?"

"You may pay yourself. Like most men with their life and liberty at stake in these uncertain times, I buried a considerable sum of money. I can tell you where I buried it."

"Go on then, tell me."

"I will tell you at the moment when I enter the arena—not until then—and then only if you have done what I ask you to do."

"You want poison, I suppose," said Ruber, "or an opiate. Well, you can't have either. I send in my prisoners to amuse the people, not to die drunk."

"Pluto take you and your opiates! For myself I want very little—nothing but my own clean clothing."

"It is usual to sell good clothing to a dealer."

"You may sell mine after I am dead."

"All torn and bloody? Bacchus! Do you take me for a born fool?"

"All right then. My money can stay where I buried it."

"Don't get testy. What else do you want?"

"I want Marcia to enter the arena with me—"

"She will do that anyhow. Vulpes, she, you and a dozen others; but the others are all prisoners from Sicily—according to the execution warrant, bandits."

"I want Marcia unviolated, unharmed and decently dressed."

"Hey! Hey! Are you crazy? That's a good looking girl, that Marcia. I can sell her favors for a fine price to the merry lads who like to brag about that sort of pastime from their seats in the stadium. They pay well, since it gives them a peculiar emotion to see a woman they have violated torn by lions."

"My buried hoard would pay you ten times better. Much more than ten times better."

"If I thought it weren't a mare's nest at a rainbow's end."

"It is all gold money of Augustus' minting. And its secret shall die with me unless you do exactly as I ask. But if you do exactly as I ask, then I will tell you, just before we enter the arena, where the money is and how to get it."

"Bacchus! Almost I believe you. Well, as you say, it will cost me nothing. I will chance it—maybe. I will think it over. Pluto! Tell me an unlikely story when the time comes, and I will give you a touch of the hot iron as you enter the arena that will make you crave the lions as a quick way out of anguish! Hey-yeh, I have heard so many stories. On the warrant you are called a Christian. Do you swear by the God of the Christians ?"

"No? By my father's hearth and by my manes."

"Well, that sounds convincing. And you look honest. Maybe I will risk it—maybe."

ARBITER, by some strange freak of destiny, had not been charged with harboring a traitor. Possibly the total of his debts was known to exceed his assets, so that his estate was not worth confiscating. And Cleander knew that Arbiter would leave no ingenuity untried to effect a rescue, even though the odds against it were a million to one. All other friendship failing, Arbiter would very likely smuggle in some poison. But Cleander, if so, was determined not to use it, since he knew that Marcia would refuse to use it. that being one of her incomprehensible rules of conduct; and the poet in him made it almost seem a privilege to die with Marcia, since both of them must die in any ease. He could comfort her and lend her courage; that was something. Thirty thousand mocking voices—thirty thousand staring faces—that would be the worst of the ordeal. Hungry lions do their business fairly quickly.

He could hear the lions. He could smell them. There was an air-shaft leading from the dens up through the dungeons. When the trainers went in to enrage the hungry brutes by offering them meat and then withdrawing it, only to crack them instead on the nose with a stick, he wondered about lions. There was not much else to think about. He wondered how the hunters faced them in their native deserts—how much fight one man could offer twenty of them, if he had a weapon—and what sort of weapon? There was no more skillful swordsman than himself in all Rome—

That brought Arbiter to mind again. He wondered whether Arbiter would realize that next to an actual rescue, which was so nearly impossible as not to be worth considering, the greatest service he would do would be to smuggle in some sort of weapon, if only a dagger. He dared not try to send him word to that effect. He could only hope that Arbiter would think of it. To go down fighting would make death easier even though the fight were hopeless. He began to wonder how much truth there was in stories he had heard of sending thought through stone walls. How was the trick done? He began to try to do it—frowning—concentrating.

"Arbiter! Arbiter! Send me a weapon!"

But the days and nights dragged on without a sign from Arbiter, until the morning came when thunder on the wooden platforms of the stadium announced that the people were taking their seats. The unfed, irritated lions roared in darkness. Leopards yowled. There was a din of voices like the far-off frenzy of the sea, ascending to a burst of greeting as the people recognized some favorite official. It was almost possible to tell when Caesar took his place. And there was no doubt when the master oi ceremonies gave the signal to begin. There was a sudden silence, lasting all the while the gladiators marched past Caesar's box and halted to salute him:

"Caesar! nos moriluri te salutamus!"

Then the short, sharp bursts of mob excitement, as the gladiators fought in pairs, and the exultant shout of "Habet!" when a man lay bleeding on the sunlit sand.

At last the summons. Hastily Cleander donned the clean and neatly folded clothing that Gaius Ruber sent to him by the hand of a dungeon guard. So Gains Ruber kept faith? He had even sent the beautifully woven toga that Cleander wore the night of his arrest. Cleander smiled; he wondered what Caligula and all his intimates would say to a man being sent to execution in a toga! But had Ruber kept the bargain about Marcia? If so, he should have the secret of the buried hoard—not otherwise. Up then, out of stenching darkness to the fresher air and dim light of the arched enclosure beneath Caesar's royal box; he stumbled over corpses of seven gladiators in a row that had been dragged out by the masked slaves—two with throats cut—three marked by the hot iron to determine whether they were actually dead or only shamming.

THERE was din in the arena; thirty Spanish bulls were being done to death by men on horseback, and were giving a gory account of themselves according to the comments of a guard who peered through a knot hole in the high, wide entrance door.

"Hercules! Seven—no, eight horses slain—and six men!"

Vulpes stepped forth from a group of prisoners—a pale, emaciated Vulpes in the unbleached smock served out to such criminals as had clothes worth taking from them. There was no sign yet of Marcia. A slave-guard with a hot iron brandished it at Vulpes, driving him back to the group he had left; but other slaves with hot irons drove the entire group toward the dingy corner where Cleander stood; he found himself face to face with Vulpes, hemmed in by the other hopeless wretches, hungry, verminous and clothed like Vulpes in the smocks that were to be their shrouds.

"Cleander, I have poison. I will share it with you."

"Swallow it yourself, you blackguard. Offer some to those poor devils."

"No, no, I have barely enough for two of us."

"Then swallow it all. And may the Harpies hound your shade forever!"

"Is that generous, Cleander?"

It was Marcia at last, edging her way between the prisoners, wearing the same light yellow costume they had decked her with for Caesar's banquet—pale from the dungeon darkness, but as gay as if bound to her wedding.

"How have they treated you, Marcia?"

"Almost kindly. It is very sweet to die with you, Cleander."

"No humiliation?"

"No, none. Gaius Ruber—"

Gaius Ruber, looking worried—as a man must he on whom, in part, depends the entertainment of a candid audience—came near them, from behind Cleander, standing half invisible within the shadow of the wall. He had left a narrow, wooden door in the wall half open, for a swift retreat in case some notable should chance to pas through, as they sometimes did for the sake of sneering at an enemy condemned to die.

"What of it?" he demanded. "Do you keep that promise?"

Cleander nodded. "At the north end of my farm, eleven paces from the great oak, stands a granite landmark. Stand exactly midway of the line between than. Take eleven paces southward. Dig—and you have it."

"May your shade know never a resting place if you have lied to me," said Gains Ruber. Then he vanished and the door shut squeaking on a hinge innocent of oil. Cleander then took Marcia in his arms, but he embraced her almost sternly; he was afraid to let emotion master him, lest dignity should suffer. He wanted to keep calm for Marcia's sake. No word—no sign from Arbiter. That stung him; he supposed that even Arbiter was faithless, like the others. Just one word by the mouth of a slave from Arbiter, and he could have met death gaily; stoically.

"You are a brave girl, Marcia. I love you, and I die with you without regret."

He did not hear her answer; it was smothered in a half-sob on his shoulder. And besides, he had a glimpse just then of the arena and the tiers on tiers of crowded seats, as the door swung wide to let them drag out mangled carcasses of bulls and horses—presently of men, too. He wondered whether Arbiter was up there among the spectators—hoped he was—then hoped he was not. Slaves went hurrying out with bags of sand to cover up the bloodstains, and the door swung shut. Another moment now. Marcia, with her face against his breast, was praying; he patted her and stroked her hair, but he was thinking about Arbiter.

"Farewell to friendship, friend of mine. Though you have failed me, may you not know—"

THE hinge of the door in the shadow behind him creaked again and premonition stirred him. He could not well move, because of Marcia, but he turned his head; the door was partly open, and he thought he saw someone's figure crouching in the deepest darkness. However, there was no time to look twice. A brazen trumpet blared in the arena and the voice of Gains Ruber shouted: "Victims for the lions next! Step forward, all of you. The moment the door opens, out with you!" A masked slave rattled his iron against a brazier. "And remember: hot iron for whichever of you halts before you reach the middle of the arena!"

Something touched Cleander's left hand, and a voice said: "Take it—make haste—don't look!" He groped, gripped, heard the hinge squeak—and hugged Marcia—a new man! Then he let go of her, he needed both hands for a moment: somehow he must manage to conceal a long sword and a long stiletto in his toga; he found he could do it by letting the toga fall unevenly, the longer portion hanging from his left arm.

"O ye gods, if ye are gods, be good to Arbiter who did not fail his friend!" be prayed—the first time he had prayed uncynically since he had been old enough to reason. Then the door swung wide again. saluted by a mocking roar from thirty thousand throats. He threw his right arm around Marcia and led the way in boldly—careless—reckless—he could die now as a man should. He was eager to get well into the center before any of the guards should see that good long sword and take it from him—not that anyone would get it without a hot fight. Nor until he reached the center, practising his eyes to get them used to the glare of the sand, his fellow victims trailing in a miserable group behind him, did he turn and stare at the Imperial suite, where he could see Caligula and Glaucus and a dozen others lolling on golden cushions beneath a purple awning.

IT was then that he took his first look at the fine Damascus blade and once more blessed his good friend Arbiter. The stiletto was no less perfect; it was such a dagger as had once slain Caesar beneath Pompey's statue on the Ides of March. He wrapped his toga thoughtfully around his left arm and explained to Marcia how to tuck the ends in, so that it would serve him as a sort of armor and better, at that, than a shield that would have made his left hand useful only for defense. He laughed, remembering his own advice to Arbiter: "Speed! A swift blow is worth two slow ones—a quick thrust, followed thrice as swiftly by another—"

They on the high-banked seats had seen his sword. There was a murmur, and then tumult. Scornfully his brave eyes answered as he gazed around him to mark the openings through which the lions would come. Then Vulpes:

"Pity me and run me through with that, Cleander!" He was on his knees, baring his gray-haired breast.

"Swallow your poison, you vermin!"

"I did—I have-it was not poison—Gaius Ruber fooled me!"

"Go and complain to Caesar. There he sits. Salute him—offer to betray another dozen Romans."

Mad with terror, Vulpes leaped at that idea. Raising his smock to let his fat legs run the faster, he almost scampered toward Caesar's awninged seat. The first lion, blinking at the sunlight as he stole forth from an opening, gave chase and slew him before Vulpes knew that they had pulled the cords and loosed the lions for their meal. Applause—yells—catcalls from the mob. Then silence.

Marcia's voice: "The lions are coming now, Cleander. I am sorry you were not baptised; but neither was the thief who died beside the Saviour on the cross, and he was promised he should be that night in paradise. Die fighting, if it makes death easier; but die remembering the Lord, who died that we might have eternal life."

He had no heart to undeceive her. Let her die believing him a Christian; it might make death easier for her, too.

"Marcia, keep close behind me. Do you hear me? Move swiftly whenever I turn, and keep behind me. Keep close, but keep away from my sword arm."

"Brave Cleander, I fear not death."

He knew that—knew that unless he could think of good reasons she would not try to prolong life. And there was no real reason. He imagined one:

"You know how to bless me as I die. I don't. So you must die last, Marcia."

He felt the pressure of her hand but did not hear her answer. He did not even see the spectators; they had merged into a splurge of sunlit color. He was not really aware of the other victims, except vaguely. He had concentrated all his faculties. There was a male lion sniffng at the blood beneath the freshly strewn land; several more, crouching, stalked from one direction; three were on his right hand, heads high, staring at their prey and wondering, apparently, where to begin. One famished looking female, on his left hand, crouching by herself, suddenly made up her mind and came on swiftly, belly to the sand. Cleander made his mind up also; for a swordsman, determined attack is the essence, the heart of defense.

He met that lioness midway of her spring, side-stepping, stabbing her three times before she could correct her impetus. There came a sea roar from the tiers of seats, but it did not drown Marcia's quiet voice behind him:

"On your right, Cleander!"

Three together now—three male lions, ravening with hunger. He attacked the foremost; it rose and struck him on the forearm, but the folded toga deadened the terrific shock. The sword went home like lightening. One lion jumped the stricken one to come at him in flank. Cleander jumped, too—forward. The third lion sprang at Marcia; he slew it as it passed him, with a blow of the edge of his sword that severed the neck vertebrae—turned swiftly as Marcia screamed to him and drove his point home down the throat of the second lion, then closing—stabbing with the long stiletto, all but disarmed by the death throes of the beast. He had to set his left foot on the lion's head to drag the sword free. Time then—three breaths—for a glance around him.

THERE was havoc among the other victims. Most of them were down, being rent, but four still stood, half dead with horror, awaiting death like dumb sheep in a shambles. Cleander slew one lion from behind as it tore at a victim's entrails. Marcia screamed again and he turned in time to attack an old lion that had left his meal to deal with danger first; he charged in, crouching low, but the sword point pierced his right eye and as he rolled in agony the next stab pierced his lungs.

Speed—speed! "Keep close, Marcia!" The wild thought flashed into Cleander's mind that if he should slay all those lions then the crowd might acclaim him pardoned and perhaps Caligula would yield to the crowd's demand. He might save Marcia, himself and those four wretches who remained. But even as he sprang to defend those four they were dragged down all in a heap and five lions fought with one another for the spoil. Of the five lions he slew three; two more fled from him, and then he paused again. The crowd was frantic with excitement, but there was no more thrill to offer them; the remaining lions had dragged their victims in all directions, to be away from one another, and the tumult lessened. He held up his sword to appeal to the crowd, but there was no such response as would force Caligula to let him go free. He glanced toward the Vestal Virgins in their box near Caesar's suite, but there was no sign from the Vestals either.

"Marcia, if the crowd grow weary of us—"

Even as he spoke the pike-armed keepers of the lions came in through half a dozen doors and drove the lions snarling to their dens, where live goats bleated. Suddenly a new excitement stirred the crowd. One voice like a cry in a wilderness yelled "Murmex!" In a moment the whole stadium was yelling "Murmex! Munnex!" And then sudden silence as the great door at the far end opened and a gladiator strode in, armed with helmet, shield and sword.

He was a giant. He was the hated favorite of Rome. Three years invincible—swaggering—insolent—loathed for his vanity—loved for his fighting genius—contemptuous of the crowd that praised him, of the women who flung their flowers to him, and of all opponents, he strode in, faced the imperial awning and saluted Caesar. Someone tossed a jeweled bracelet to him, and he stooped and clasped it on his left wrist, leering, gesturing with his thumb at Marcia. Then he turned to face Cleander. But Cleander offered Caesar no salute. Holding sword and dagger in his left hand for a moment, he raised his right arm toward the Vestal Virgins, marveling at their pale, impassive faces. They made no response.

Murmex gestured to Cleander with an insolent jerk of the head to go back to the center of the arena and be slain there; but Cleander saw fit not to humor him.

"I earn the wench for my reward," said Murmex. "Which way do you like death—edge or point?"

"Wait and see," said Cleander, and Murmex waited just one second too long. He was forced on the defensive before he could turn with his back to the sun, and he found that buckler small use against the swift stiletto. Blood came streaming from his ribs before his weight was off his heels. His heavy bronze sword found no room to swing; he needed every ounce of strength he had to spring back and recover balance, and Cleander kept on leading—lunging at him, using lightning speed against the big man's weight and huge strength; forcing him to give ground—backward—backward—until the mob's excitement sounded like a storm at sea, and Murmex, trying the ancient ruse of suddenly retreating to gain footroom for a whirlwind charge, slipped sideways on the blood from Vulpes' lion-rent corpse and fell dead, with Cleander's sword-point thrust into his heart. "Habet! Murmex habet! Habet!"

THE stadium went mad. Cleander threw his left arm around Marcia. He thrust his thrumming sword-point in the sand and, turning, raised his right arm toward the Vestal Virgins.

"Thumbs up! Thumbs up!" Thirty thousand throats were one in thunderous applause as the Vastals, all together, made the sign that neither Caesar, mob nor senate would have dared to challenge. Caesar waved a purple handkerchief. The great, grim gate beneath the imperial box, through which so many victims went, so few returned, swung wide and someone in the dimness beckoned:

"Haste! Haste! You are delaying business!"

Masked slaves hurried in with hooks and bags of sand, to drag the carcasses away and cover the bloodstains. Murmex' body, drawn by hooks beneath the armpits, passed through ahead of Marcia and Cleander, so swift was the disciplined service—even swifter than the changing moods of Rome's impatient mob.

And in the shadow of the gloom within, beside a charcoal brazier, stood Arbiter, his arms outreaching. He embraced Cleander. He was neither dry-eyed nor articulate. "Away—away from here," he urged. He took their arms and shoved them toward the exit, past the locked cells where gladiators waited for their cues—then found speech: "But where did you get your weapons?"

"You—did you not send me sword and dagger?" asked Cleander.

"I? No—"

"It was God," said Marcia.

"—I did work all avenues to reach the Vestals. I got word to them at last through Flavius Augustus Nepos, father of the youngest Vestal, who has recently donated a million sesterces to the temple funds."

They passed two shadowy forms within the gloom of the passage entrance. Gaius Ruber held a small man by the throat and shook him:

"Answer me! By Bacchus, I will make you answer. Did you give that sword to him? I swear to Pluto I will have you crucified!"

"What does it matter who gave him the sword?" asked Simon's voice. "Has Caesar not been satisfied, and does he not go free? Let go of me."

"Jupiter! Why did you do it? You dog of an impudent Jew! You—"

"How else should I buy lion skins, if nobody kills lions? And what have you lost? Don't I pay good prices?"

Quietly Cleander laid his hand on Gaius Ruber's shoulder. "Gently, Ruber. As he says, what has my life cost you? You shall have your pot of money without digging for it. Pass us out. Let Simon follow. Simon—"

"Has been a Christian for seven years," said Marcia, whispering in Cleander's ear.