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Quo Vadis, A Narrative of the Time of Nero
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PETRONIUS went home shrugging his shoulders and greatly dissatisfied. It was
evident to him that he and Vinicius had ceased to understand each other, that
their souls had separated entirely. Once Petronius had immense influence over
the young soldier. He had been for him a model in everything, and frequently a
few ironical words of his sufficed to restrain Vinicius or urge him to something. At
present there remained nothing of that; such was the change that Petronius did
not try his former methods, feeling that his wit and irony would slip without effect
along the new principles which love and contact with the uncomprehended
society of Christians had put in the soul of Vinicius. The veteran sceptic
understood that he had lost the key to that soul. This knowledge filled him with
dissatisfaction and even with fear, which was heightened by the events of that
night. "If on the part of the Augusta it is not a passing whim but a more enduring
desire," thought Petronius, "one of two things will happen, -- either Vinicius will
not resist her, and he may be ruined by any accident, or, what is like him to-day,
he will resist, and in that event he will be ruined certainly, and perhaps I with him,
even because I am his relative, and because the Augusta, having included a
whole family in her hatred, will throw the weight of her influence on the side of
Tigellinus. In this way and that it is bad." Petronius was a man of courage and felt
no dread of death; but since he hoped nothing from it, he had no wish to invite it.
After long meditation, he decided at last that it would be better and safer to send
Vinicius from Rome on a journey. Ah! but if in addition he could give him Lygia for
the road, he would do so with pleasure. But he hoped that it would not be too
difficult to persuade him to the journey without her. He would spread a report on
the Palatine then of Vinicius's illness, and remove danger as well from his
nephew as himself. The Augusta did not know whether she was recognized by
Vinicius; she might suppose that she was not, hence her vanity had not suffered
much so far. But it might be different in the future, and it was necessary to avoid
peril. Petronius wished to gain time, above all; for he understood that once
Caesar set out for Acbaea, Tigellinus, who comprehended nothing in the domain
of art, would descend to the second place and lose his influence. In Greece
Petronius was sure of victory over every opponent.
Meanwhile he determined to watch over Vinicius, and urge him to the journey.
For a number of days he was ever thinking over this, that if he obtained an edict
from Caesar expelling the Christians from Rome, Lygia would leave it with the
other confessors of Christ, and after her Vinicius too. Then there would be no
need to persuade him. The thing itself was possible. In fact it was not so long
since, when the Jews began disturbances out of hatred to the Christians,
Claudius, unable to distinguish one from the other, expelled the Jews. Why
should not Nero expel the Christians? There would be more room in Rome
without them. After that "floating feast" Petronius saw Nero daily, both on the
Palatine and in other houses. To suggest such an idea was easy, for Nero never
opposed suggestions which brought harm or ruin to any one. After mature
decision Petronius framed a whole plan for himself. He would prepare a feast in