Quo Vadis, A Narrative of the Time of Nero
No one stopped Ursus, no one inquired even what he was doing. Those guests
who were not under the table had not kept their own places; hence the servants,
seeing a giant carrying a guest on his arm, thought him some slave bearing out
his intoxicated mistress. Moreover, Acte was with them, and her presence
removed all suspicion.
In this way they went from the triclinium to the adjoining chamber, and thence to
the gallery leading to Acte's apartments. To such a degree had her strength
deserted Lygia, that she hung as if dead on the arm of Ursus. But when the cool,
pure breeze of morning beat around her, she opened her eyes. It was growing
clearer and clearer in the open air. After they had passed along the colonnade
awhile, they turned to a side portico, coming out, not in the courtyard, but the
palace gardens, where the tops of the pines and cypresses were growing ruddy
from the light of morning. That part of the building was empty, so that echoes of
music and sounds of the feast came with decreasing distinctness. It seemed to
Lygia that she had been rescued from hell, and borne into God's bright world
outside. There was something, then, besides that disgusting tricliium. There was
the sky, the dawn, light, and peace. Sudden weeping seized the maiden, and,
taking shelter on the arm of the giant, she repeated, with sobbing, -- "Let us go
home, Ursus! home, to the house of Aulus."
"Let us go!" answered Ursus.
They found themselves now in the small atrium of Acte's apartments. Ursus
placed Lygia on a marble bench at a distance from the fountain. Acte strove to
pacify her; she urged her to sleep, and declared that for the moment there was
no danger, -- after the feast the drunken guests would sleep till evening. For a
long time Lygia could not calm herself, and, pressing her temples with both
hands, she repeated like a child, -- "Let us go home, to the house of Aulus!"
Ursus was ready. At the gates stood pretorians, it is true, but he would pass
them. The soldiers would not stop out-going people. The space before the arch
was crowded with litters. Guests were beginning to go forth in throngs. No one
would detain them. They would pass with the crowd and go home directly. For
that matter, what does he care? As the queen commands, so must it be. He is
there to carry out her orders.
"Yes, Ursus," said Lygia, "let us go."
Acte was forced to find reason for both. They would pass out, true; no one would
stop them. But it is not permitted to flee from the house of Caesar; whoso does
that offends Caesar's majesty. They may go; but in the evening a centurion at the
head of soldiers will take a death sentence to Aulus and Pomponia Graecina;
they will bring Lygia to the palace again, and then there will be no rescue for her.
Should Aulus and his wife receive her under their roof, death awaits them to a
Lygia's arms dropped. There was no other outcome. She must choose her own
ruin or that of Plautius. In going to the feast, she had hoped that Vinicius and
Petronius would win her from Caesar, and return her to Pornponia; now she