She drew closer to him, looked up again, and said- “Why trust you make her your enemy? Why not rather make peace with her, and be at rest? You have had many ills, and borne them; you have survived the snares laid for you by foes. Sorrow has consumed your youth; is it well to give it the remainder of your days?”
The girlish face under his eyes seemed to come nearer and get whiter as the pleading went on; he stooped towards it, and asked, softly, “What would you have me do, Esther?”
She hesitated a moment, then asked, in return, “Is the property near Rome a residence?”
“It is beautiful- a palace in the midst of gardens and shell-strewn walks; fountains without and within; statuary in the shady nooks; hills around covered with vines, and so high that Neapolis and Vesuvius are in sight, and the sea an expanse of purpling blue dotted with restless sails. Caesar has a country-seat near-by, but in Rome they say the old Arrian villa is the prettiest.”
“And the life there, is it quiet?”
“There was never a summer day, never a moonlit night, more quiet, save when visitors come. Now that the old owner is gone, and I am here, there is nothing to break its silence- nothing, unless it be the whispering of servants, or the whistling of happy birds, or the noise of fountains at play; it is changeless, except as day by day old flowers fade and fall, and new ones bud and bloom, and the sunlight gives place to the shadow of a passing cloud. The life, Esther, was all too quiet for me. It made me restless by keeping always present a feeling that I, who have so much to do, was dropping into idle habits, and tying myself with silken chains, and after a while- and not a long while either- would end with nothing done.”
She looked off over the river.
“Why did you ask?” he said.
“Good, my master- ”
“No, no, Esther- not that. Call me friend- brother, if you will; I am not your master, and will not be. Call me brother.”
He could not see the flush of pleasure which reddened her face, and the glow of the eyes that went out lost in the void above the river.
“I cannot understand,” she said, “the nature which prefers the life you are going to- a life of- ”
“Of violence, and it may be of blood,” he said, completing the sentence.
“Yes,” she added, “the nature which could prefer that life to such as might be in the beautiful villa.”
“Esther, you mistake. There is no preference. Alas! the Roman is not so kind. I am going of necessity. To stay here is to die; and if I go there, the end will be the same- a poisoned cup, a bravo’s blow, or a Judge’s sentence obtained by perjury. Messala and the procurator Gratus are rich with plunder of my father’s estate, and it is more important to them to keep their gains now than was their getting in the first instance. A peaceable settlement is out of reach, because of the confession it would imply. And then- then- Ah, Esther, if I could buy them, I do not know that I would. I do not believe peace possible to me; no, not even in the sleepy shade and sweet air of the marble porches of the old villa- no matter who might be there to help me bear the burden of the days nor by what patience of love she made the effort. Peace is not possible to me while my people are lost, for I must be watchful to find them. If I find them, and they have suffered wrong, shall not the guilty suffer for it? If they are dead by violence, shall the murderers escape? Oh, I could not sleep for dreams! Nor could the holiest love, by any stratagem, lull me to a rest which conscience would not strangle.”