Quo Vadis, A Narrative of the Time of Nero
NEXT morning he woke up weak, but with a cool head and free of fever. It
seemed to him that a whispered conversation had roused him; but when he
opened his eyes, Lygia was not there. Ursus, stooping before the chimney, was
raking apart the gray ashes, and seeking live coals beneath them. When he
found some, he began to blow, not with his mouth, but as it were with the bellows
of a blacksmith. Vinicius, remembering how that man had crushed Croton the
day before, examined with attention befitting a lover of the arena his gigantic
back, which resembled the back of a Cyclops, and his limbs strong as columns.
"Thanks to Mercury that my neck was not broken by him," thought Vinicius. "By
Pollux! if the other Lygians are like this one, the Danubian legions will have
heavy work some time!"
But aloud he said, "Hei, slave!"
Ursus drew his head out of the chimney, and, smiling in a manner almost
friendly, said, -- "God give thee a good day, lord, and good health; but I am a free
man, not a slave."
On Vinicius. who wished to question Ursus touching Lygia's birthplace, these
words produced a certain pleasant impression; for discourse with a free though a
common man was less disagreeable to his Roman and patrician pride, than with
a slave, in whom neither law nor custom recognized human nature.
"Then thou dost not belong to Aulus?" asked he.
"No, lord, I serve Callina, as I served her mother, of my own will."
Here he hid his head again in the chimney, to blow the coals, on which he had
placed some wood. When he had finished, he took it out and said, -- "With us
there are no slaves."
"Where is Lygia?" inquired Vinicius.
"She has gone out, and I am to cook food for thee. She watched over thee the
"Why didst thou not relieve her?"
"Because she wished to watch, and it is for me to obey." Here his eyes grew
gloomy, and after a while he added:
"If I had disobeyed her, thou wouldst not be living."
"Art thou sorry for not having killed me?"
"No, lord. Christ has not commanded us to kill."
"But Atacinus and Croton?"
"I could not do otherwise," muttered Ursus. And he looked with regret on his
hands, which had remained pagan evidently, though his soul had accepted the
cross. Then be put a pot on the crane, and fixed his thoughtful eyes on the fire.
"That was thy fault, lord," said he at last. "Why didst thou raise thy hand against
her, a king's daughter?"
Pride boiled up, at the first moment, in Vinicius, because a common man and a
barbarian had not merely dared to speak to him thus familiarly, but to blame him
in addition. To those uncommon and improbable things which had met him since
yesterday, was added another. But being weak and without his slaves, he