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Antonina

'Alas, yes! For a senator he is dreadfully wanting in caution! A few days since, in
a fit of passion, he flung a drinking-cup at one of his female slaves. The girl died
on the spot, and her brother, who is also in his service, threatened immediate
vengeance. To prevent disagreeable consequences to his body, Pomponius has
sent the fellow to his estates in Egypt; and now, from the same precaution for the
welfare of his soul, he goes to demand absolution from our holy and beneficent
Church.'
'I am afraid these incessant absolutions, granted to men who are too careless even
to make a show of repentance for their crimes, will prejudice us with the people at
large.'
'Of what consequence are the sentiments of the people while we have their rulers
on our side! Absolution is the sorcery that binds these libertines of Rome to our
will. We know what converted Constantine-- politic flattery and ready absolution;
the people will tell you it was the sign of the Cross.'
'It is true this Pomponius is rich, and may increase our revenues, but still I fear the
indignation of the people.'
'Fear nothing: think how long their old institutions imposed on them, and then
doubt, if you can, that we may shape them to our wishes as we will. Any
deceptions will be successful with a mob, if the instrument employed to forward
them be a religion.'
The voices ceased. Gordian, who still cherished a vague intention of denouncing
the fugitive landholder to the senatorial authorities, employed the liberty afforded
to his attention by the silence of the priests in turning to look after his intended
victim. To his surprise he saw that the man had left the auditors to whom he had
before addressed himself, and was engaged in earnest conversation in another part
of the portico, with an individual who seemed to have recently joined him, and
whose appearance was so remarkable that the bailiff had moved a few steps
forwards to gain a nearer view of him, when he was once more arrested by the
voices of the priests.
Irresolute for an instant to which party to devote his unscrupulous attention, he
returned mechanically to his old position. Ere long, however, his anxiety to hear
the mysterious communications proceeding between the landholder and his friend
overbalanced his delight in penetrating the theological secrets of the priests. He
turned once more, but to his astonishment the objects of his curiosity had
disappeared. He stepped to the outside of the portico and looked for them in every
direction, but they were nowhere to be seen. Peevish and disappointed, he
returned as a last resource to the pillar where he had left the priests, but the time
consumed in his investigations after one party had been fatal to his reunion with
the other. The churchmen were gone.
Sufficiently punished for his curiosity by his disappointment, the bailiff walked
doggedly off towards the Pincian Hill. Had he turned in the contrary direction,
towards the Basilica of St. Peter, he would have found himself once more in the
neighbourhood of the landholder and his remarkable friend, and would have
gained that acquaintance with the subjects of their conversation, which we intend
that the reader shall acquire in the course of the next chapter.
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