Quo Vadis, A Narrative of the Time of Nero
ONLY inside the entrance did Vinicius comprehend the whole difficulty of the
undertaking. The house was large, of several stories, one of the kind of which
thousands were built in Rome, in view of profit from rent; hence, as a rule, they
were built so hurriedly and badly that scarcely a year passed in which numbers of
them did not fall on the heads of tenants. Real hives, too high and too narrow, full
of chambers and little dens, in which poor people fixed themselves too
numerously. In a city where many streets had no names, those houses had no
numbers; the owners committed the collection of rent to slaves, who, not obliged
by the city government to give names of occupants, were ignorant themselves of
them frequently. To find some one by inquiry in such a house was often very
difficult, especially when there was no gate-keeper.
Vinicius and Croton came to a narrow, corridor-like passage walled in on four
sides, forming a kind of common atrium for the whole house, with a fountain in
the middle whose stream fell into a stone basin fixed in the ground. At all the
walls were internal stairways, some of stone, some of wood, leading to galleries
from which there were entrances to lodgings. There were lodgings on the ground,
also; some provided with wooden doors, others separated from the yard by
woollen screens only. These, for the greater part, were worn, rent, or patched.
The hour was early, and there was not a living soul in the yard. It was evident
that all were asleep in the house except those who had returned from Ostrianum.
"What shall we do, lord?" asked Croton, halting.
"Let us wait here; some one may appear," replied Vinicius. "We should not be
seen in the yard."
At this moment, he thought Chio's counsel practical. If there were some tens of
slaves present, it would be easy to occupy the gate, which seemed the only exit,
search all the lodgings simultaneously, and thus come to Lygia's; otherwise
Christians, who surely were not lacking in that house, might give notice that
people were seeking her. In view of this, there was risk in inquiring of strangers.
Vinicius stopped to think whether it would not be better to go for his slaves. Just
then, from behind a screen hiding a remoter lodging, came a man with a sieve in
his hand, and approached the fountain.
At the first glance the young tribune recognized Ursus.
"That is the Lygian!" whispered Vinicius.
"Am I to break his bones now?"
Ursus did not notice the two men, as they were in the shadow of the entrance,
and he began quietly to sink in water vegetables which filled the sieve. It was
evident that, after a whole night spent in the cemetery, he in-tended to prepare a
meal. After a while the washing was finished; he took the wet sieve and
disappeared behind the screen. Croton and Vinicius followed him, thinking that
they would come directly to Lygia's lodgings. Their astonishment was great when
they saw that the screen divided from the court, not lodgings, but another dark
corridor, at the end of which was a little garden containing a few cypresses, some