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Quo Vadis, A Narrative of the Time of Nero
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IN fact, Petronius kept his promise. He slept all the day following his visit to
Chrysothemis, it is true; but in the evening he gave command to bear him to the
Palatine, where he had a confidential conversation with Nero; in consequence of
this, on the third day a centurion, at the head of some tens of pretorian soldiers,
appeared before the house of Plautius.
The period was uncertain and terrible. Messengers of this kind were more
frequently heralds of death. So when the centurion struck the hammer at Aulus's
door, and when the guard of the atrium announced that there were soldiers in the
anteroom, terror rose through the whole house. The family surrounded the old
general at once, for no one doubted that danger hung over him above all.
Pomponia, embracing his neck with her arms, clung to him with all her strength,
and her blue lips moved quickly while uttering some whispered phrase. Lygia,
with a face pale as linen, kissed his hand; little Aulus clung to his toga. From the
corridor, from chambers in the lower story intended for servant-women and
attendants, from the bath, from the arches of lower dwellings, from the whole
house, crowds of slaves began to hurry out, and the cries of "Heu! heu, me
miserum!" were heard. The women broke into great weeping; some scratched
their cheeks, or covered their heads with kerchiefs.
Only the old general himself, accustomed for years to look death straight in the
eye, remained calm, and his short eagle face became as rigid as if chiselled from
stone. After a while, when he had silenced the uproar, and commanded the
attendants to disappear, he said, -- "Let me go, Pomponia. If my end has come,
we shall have time to take leave."
And he pushed her aside gently; but she said, -- "God grant thy fate and mine to
be one, O Aulus!"
Then, failing on her knees, she began to pray with that force which fear for some
dear one alone can give.
Aulus passed out to the atrium, where the centurion was waiting for him. It was
old Caius Hasta, his former subordinate and companion in British wars.
"I greet thee, general," said he. "I bring a command, and the greeting of Caesar;
here are the tablets and the signet to show that I come in his name."
"I am thankful to Caesar for the greeting, and I shall obey the command,"
answered Aulus. "Be welcome, Hasta, and say what command thou hast
"Aulus Plautius," began Hasta, "Caesar has learned that in thy house is dwelling
the daughter of the king of the Lygians, whom that king during the life of the
divine Claudius gave into the hands of the Romans as a pledge that the
boundaries of the empire would never be violated by the Lygians. The divine
Nero is grateful to thee, O general, because thou hast given her hospitality in thy
house for so many years; but, not wishing to burden thee longer, and considering
also that the maiden as a hostage should be under the guardianship of Cirsar
and the senate, he commands thee to give her into my hands."
Aulus was too much a soldier and too much a veteran to permit himself regret in
view of an order, or vain words, or complaint. A slight wrinkle of sudden anger