HotFreeBooks.com
Callista
by John Henry Cardinal Newman
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

He seemed to think awhile, and began again: "Enjoyment's the great rule; ask yourself, 'Have I made the most of things?' that's what I say to the rising generation. Many and many's the time when I have not turned them to the best account. Oh, if I had now to begin life again, how many things should I correct! I might have done better this evening. Those abominable pears! I might have known they would not be worth the eating. Mutton, that was all well; doves, good again; crane, kid; well, I don't see that I could have done much better."

After a few minutes he got up half asleep, and put out all the lights but one small lamp, with which he made his way into his own bed-closet. "All is vanity," he continued, with a slow, grave utterance, "all is vanity but eating and drinking. It does not pay to serve the gods except for this. What's fame? what's glory? what's power? smoke. I've often thought the hog is the only really wise animal. We should be happier if we were all hogs. Hogs keep the end of life steadily in view; that's why those toads of Christians will not eat them, lest they should get like them. Quiet, respectable, sensible enjoyment; not riot, or revel, or excess, or quarrelling. Life is short." And with this undeniable sentiment he fell asleep.



CHAPTER VII.

PERSECUTION IN THE OFFING.

Next morning, as Jucundus was dusting and polishing his statues and other articles of taste and devotion, supplying the gaps in their ranks, and grouping a number of new ones which had come in from his workmen, Juba strutted into the shop, and indulged himself from time to time in an inward laugh or snigger at the various specimens of idolatry which grinned or frowned or frisked or languished on all sides of him.

"Don't sneer at that Anubis," said his uncle; "it is the work of the divine Callista."

"That, I suppose, is why she brings into existence so many demons," answered Juba; "nothing more can be done in the divine line; like the queen who fell in love with a baboon."

"Now I come to think," retorted Jucundus, "that god of hers is something like you. She must be in love with you, Juba."

The youth, as was usual with him, tossed his head with an air of lofty displeasure; at length he said, "And why should she not fall in love with me, pray?"

"Why, because you are too good or too bad to need her plastic hand. She could not make anything out of you. 'Non ex quovis ligno.' But she'd be doing a good work if she wiled back your brother."

"He does not want wiling any more than I," said Juba, "I dare say! he's no Christian."

"What's that?" said his uncle, looking round at him in surprise; "Agellius no Christian?"

"Not a bit of it," answered Juba; "rest assured. I taxed him with it only last night; let him alone, he'll come round. He's too proud to change, that's all. Preach to him, entreat him, worry him, try to turn him, work at the bit, whip him, and he will turn restive, start aside, or run away; but let him have his head, pretend not to look, seem indifferent to the whole matter, and he will quietly sit down in the midst of your images there. Callista has an easy task; she'll bribe him to do what he would else do for nothing."

"The very best news I have heard since your silly old father died," cried Jucundus; "the very best—if true. Juba, I'll give you an handsome present the first sow your brother sacrifices to Ceres. Ha, ha, what fine fun to see the young farmer over his cups at the Nundinae! Ha, ha, no Christian! bravo, Juba! ha, ha, I'll make you a present, I say, an Apollo to teach you manners, or a Mercury to give you wit."

"It's quite true," said Juba; "he would not be thinking of Callista, if he were thinking of his saints and angels."

"Ha, ha! to be sure!" returned Jucundus; "to be sure! yet why shouldn't he worship a handsome Greek girl as well as any of those mummies and death's heads and bogies of his, which I should blush to put up here alongside even of Anubis, or a scarabaeus?"

"Mother thinks she is not altogether the girl you take her for," said his nephew.

"No matter, no matter," answered Jucundus, "no matter at all; she may be a Lais or Phryne for me; the surer to make a man of him."

"Why," said Juba, "mother thinks her head is turning in the opposite way. D'you see? Strange, isn't it?" he added, annoyed himself yet not unwilling to annoy his uncle.

"Hm!" exclaimed Jucundus, making a wry face and looking round at him, as if to say, "What on earth is going to turn up now?"

"To tell the truth," said Juba, gloomily, "I did once think of her myself. I don't see why I have not as much right to do so as Agellius, if I please. So I thought old mother might do something for me; and I asked her for a charm or love potion, which would bring her from her brother down to the forest yonder. Gurta took to it kindly, for she has a mortal hatred of Callista, because of her good looks, though she won't say so, and because she's a Greek! and she liked the notion of humbling the haughty minx. So she began one of the most tremendous spells," he shrieked out with a laugh, "one of the most tremendous spells in her whole budget. All and everything in the most exact religious way: wine, milk, blood, meal, wax, old rags, gods, Numidian as well as Punic; such names; one must be barbarian to boot, as well as witch, to pronounce them: a score of things there were besides. And then to see the old woman, with her streaming grey hair, twinkling eyes, and grim look, twirl about as some flute girl at a banquet; it was enough to dance down, not only the moon, but the whole milky way. But it did not dance down Callista; at which mother got savage, and protested that Callista was a Christian."

Jucundus looked much perplexed. "Medius fidius!" he said, "why, unless we look sharp, she will be converting him the wrong way;" and he began pacing up and down the small room.

Juba on his part began singing—

"Gurta the witch would have part in the jest; Though lame as a gull, by his highness possessed, She shouldered her crutch, and danced with the rest.

"Sporting and snorting, deep in the night, Their beards flashing fire, and their hoofs striking light, And their tails whisking round in the heat of their flight."

By this time Jucundus had recovered from the qualm which Juba's intelligence had caused him, and he cried out, "Cease your rubbish; old Gurta's jealous; I know her spite; Christian is the most blackguard word in her vocabulary, its Barbar for toad or adder. I see it all; no, Callista, the divine Callista, must take in hand this piece of wax, sing a charm, and mould him into a Vertumnus. She'll show herself the more potent witch of the two. The new emperor too will help the incantation."

"What! something is coming?" asked Juba, with a grin.

"Coming, boy? yes, I warrant you," answered his uncle. "We'll make them squeak. If gentle means don't do, then we'll just throw in another ingredient or two: an axe, or a wild cat, or a firebrand."

"Take care what you are about, if you deal with Agellius," said Juba. "He's a sawney, but you must not drive him to bay. Don't threaten; keep to the other line; he's weak-hearted."

"Only as a background to bring out the painting; the Muse singing, all in light, relieved by sardix or sepia. It must come; but perhaps Agellius will come first."



It was indeed as Jucundus had hinted; a new policy, a new era was coming upon Christianity, together with the new emperor. Christians had hitherto been for the most part the objects of popular fury rather than of imperial jealousy. Nero, indeed, from his very love of cruelty, had taken pleasure in torturing them: but statesmen and philosophers, though at times perplexed and inconsistent, yet on the whole had despised them; and the superstition of priests and people, with their "Christianos ad leones," had been the most formidable enemy of the faith. Accordingly, atrocious as the persecution had been at times, it had been conducted on no plan, and had been local and fitful. But even this trial had been suspended, with but few interruptions, during the last thirty, nay, fifty years. So favourable a state of things had been more or less brought about by a succession of emperors, who had shown an actual leaning to Christianity. While the vigorous rule of the five good emperors, as they are called, had had many passages in its history of an adverse character, those who followed after, being untaught in the traditions, and strangers to the spirit of old Rome, foreigners, or adventurers, or sensualists, were protectors of the new religion. The favourite mistress of Commodus is even said to have been a Christian; so is the nurse of Caracalla. The wretched Heliogabalus, by his taste for Oriental superstitions, both weakened the influence of the established hierarchy, and encouraged the toleration of a faith which came from Palestine. The virtuous Alexander, who followed him, was a philosopher more than a statesman; and, in pursuance of the syncretism which he had adopted, placed the images of Abraham and our Lord among the objects of devotion which his private chapel contained. What is told us of the Emperor Philip is still more to the point: the gravest authorities report that he was actually a Christian; and, since it cannot be doubted that Christians were persuaded of the fact, the leaning of his government must have been emphatically in their favour to account for such a belief. In consequence, Christians showed themselves without fear; they emerged from the catacombs, and built churches in public view; and, though in certain localities, as in the instance of Africa, they had suffered from the contact of the world, they spread far and wide, and faith became the instrument at least of political power, even where it was wanting in charity, or momentarily disowned by cowardice. In a word, though Celsus a hundred years before had pronounced "a man weak who should hope to unite the three portions of the earth in a common religion," that common Catholic faith had been found, and a principle of empire was created which had never before existed. The phenomenon could not be mistaken; and the Roman statesman saw he had to deal with a rival. Nor must we suppose, because on the surface of the history we read so much of the vicissitudes of imperial power, and of the profligacy of its possessors, that the fabric of government was not sustained by traditions of the strongest temper, and by officials of the highest sagacity. It was the age of lawyers and politicians; and they saw more and more clearly that if Christianity was not to revolutionize the empire, they must follow out the line of action which Trajan and Antoninus had pointed out.

Decius then had scarcely assumed the purple, when he commenced that new policy against the Church which was reserved to Diocletian, fifty years later, to carry out to its own final refutation. He entered on his power at the end of the year 249; and on the January 20th following, the day on which the Church still celebrates the event, St. Fabian, Bishop of Rome, obtained the crown of martyrdom. He had been pope for the unusually long space of fourteen years, having been elected in consequence of one of those remarkable interpositions of Divine Providence of which we now and then read in the first centuries of the Church. He had come up to Rome from the country, in order to be present at the election of a successor to Pope Anteros. A dove was seen to settle on his head, and the assembly rose up and forced him, to his surprise, upon the episcopal throne. After bringing back the relics of St. Pontian, his martyred predecessor, from Sardinia, and having become the apostle of great part of Gaul, he seemed destined to end his history in the same happy quiet and obscurity in which he had lived; but it did not become a pope of that primitive time to die upon his bed, and he was reserved at length to inaugurate in his own person, as chief pastor of the Church, a fresh company of martyrs.

Suddenly an edict appeared for the extermination of the name and religion of Christ. It was addressed to the proconsuls and other governors of provinces; and alleged or implied that the emperors, Decius and his son, being determined to give peace to their subjects, found the Christians alone an impediment to the fulfilment of their purpose; and that, by reason of the enmity which those sectaries entertained towards the gods of Rome,—an enmity which was bringing down upon the world multiplied misfortunes. Desirous, then, above all things, of appeasing the divine anger, they made an irrevocable ordinance that every Christian, without exception of rank, sex, or age, should be obliged to sacrifice. Those who refused were to be thrown into prison, and in the first instance submitted to moderate punishments. If they conformed to the established religion, they were to be rewarded; if not, they were to be drowned, burned alive, exposed to the beasts, hung upon the trees, or otherwise put to death. This edict was read in the camp of the praetorians, posted up in the Capitol, and sent over the empire by government couriers. The authorities in each province were themselves threatened with heavy penalties, if they did not succeed in frightening or tormenting the Christians into the profession of paganism.

St. Fabian, as we have said, was the first-fruits of the persecution, and eighteen months passed before his successor could be appointed. In the course of the next two months St. Pionius was burned alive at Smyrna, and St. Nestor crucified in Pamphylia. At Carthage some perplexity and delay were occasioned by the absence of the proconsul. St. Cyprian, its bishop, took advantage of the delay, and retired into a place of concealment. The populace had joined with the imperial government in seeking his life, and had cried out furiously in the circus, demanding him "ad leonem," for the lion. A panic seized the Christian body, and for a while there were far more persons found to compromise their faith than to confess it. It seemed as if Aristo's anticipation was justified, that Christianity was losing its hold upon the mind of its subjects, and that nothing more was needed for those who had feared it, than to let it die a natural death. And at Sicca the Roman officials, as far as ever they dared, seemed to act on this view. Here Christians did no harm, they made no show, and there was little or nothing in the place to provoke the anger of the mob or to necessitate the interference of the magistrate. The proconsul's absence from Carthage was both an encouragement and an excuse for delay; and hence it was that, though we are towards the middle of the year 250, and the edict was published at Rome at its commencement, the good people of Sicca had, as we have said, little knowledge of what was taking place in the political world, and whispered about vague presages of an intended measure, which had been in some places in operation for many months. Communication with the seat of government was not so very frequent or rapid in those days, and public curiosity had not been stimulated by the facilities of gratifying it. And thus we must account for a phenomenon, which we uphold to be a fact in the instance of Sicca, in the early summer of A.D. 250, even though it prove unaccountable, and history has nothing to say about it, and in spite of the Acta Diurna.

The case, indeed, is different now. In these times, newspapers, railroads, and magnetic telegraphs make us independent of government messengers. The proceedings at Rome would have been generally and accurately known in a few seconds; and then, by way of urging forward the magistracy, a question of course would have been asked in the parliament of Carthage by the member for Sicca, or Laribus, or Thugga, or by some one of the pagani, or country party, whether the popular report was true, that an edict had been promulgated at Rome against the Christians, and what steps had been taken by the local authorities throughout the proconsulate to carry out its provisions. And then the "Colonia Siccensis" would have presented some good or bad reason for the delay: that it arose from the absence of the proconsul from the seat of government, or from the unaccountable loss of the despatch on its way from the coast; or, perhaps, on the other hand, the under-secretary would have maintained, amid the cheers of his supporters, that the edict had been promulgated and carried out at Sicca to the full, that crowds of Christians had at once sacrificed, and that, in short, there was no one to punish; assertions which at that moment were too likely to be verified by the event.

In truth, there were many reasons to make the magistrates, both Roman and native, unwilling to proceed in the matter, till they were obliged. No doubt they one and all detested Christianity, and would have put it down, if they could; but the question was, when they came to the point, what they should put down. If, indeed, they could have got hold of the ringleaders, the bishops of the Church, they would have tortured and smashed them con amore, as you would kill a wasp; and with the greater warmth and satisfaction, just because it was so difficult to get at them. Those bishops were a set of fellows as mischievous as they were cowardly; they would not come out and be killed, but they skulked in the desert, and hid in masquerade. But why should gentlemen in office, opulent and happy, set about worrying a handful of idiots, old, or poor, or boys, or women, or obscure, or amiable and well-meaning men, who were but a remnant of a former generation, and as little connected with the fanatics of Carthage, Alexandria, or Rome, as the English freemasons may seem to be with their namesakes on the continent? True, Christianity was a secret society, and an illegal religion; but would it cease to be so when those harmless or respectable inhabitants of the place had been mounted on the rack or the gibbet?

And then, too, it was a most dangerous thing to open the door to popular excitement;—who would be able to shut it? Once rouse the populace, and it was all over with the place. It could not be denied that the bigoted and ignorant majority, not only of the common people, but of the better classes, was steeped in a bitter prejudice, and an intense, though latent, hatred of Christianity. Besides the antipathy which arose from the extremely different views of life and duty taken by pagans and Christians, which would give a natural impulse to persecution in the hearts of the former, there were the many persons who wished to curry favour at Rome with the government, and had an eye to preferment or reward. There was the pagan interest, extended and powerful, of that numerous class which was attached to the established religions by habit, position, interest, or the prospect of advantage. There were all the great institutions or establishments of the place; the law courts, the schools of grammar and rhetoric, the philosophic exedrae and lecture-rooms, the theatre, the amphitheatre, the market—all were, for one reason or another, opposed to Christianity; and who could tell where they would stop in their onward course, if they were set in motion? "Quieta non movenda" was the motto of the local government, native and imperial, and that the more, because it was an age of revolutions, and they might be most unpleasantly compromised or embarrassed by the direction which the movement took. Besides, Decius was not immortal; in the last twelve years eight emperors had been cut off, six of them in a few months; and who could tell but the successor of the present might revert to the policy of Philip, and feel no thanks to those who had suddenly left it for a policy of blood.

In this cautious course they would be powerfully supported by the influence of personal considerations. The Roman officia, the city magistrates, the heads of the established religions, the lawyers, and the philosophers, all would have punished the Christians, if they could; but they could not agree whom to punish. They would have agreed with great satisfaction, as we have said, to inflict condign and capital punishment upon the heads of the sect; and they would have had no objection, if driven to do something, to get hold of some strangers or slaves, who might be a sort of scapegoats for the rest; but it was impossible, when they once began to persecute, to make distinctions, and not a few of them had relations who were Christians, or at least were on that border-land which the mob might mistake for the domain of Christianity—Marcionites, Tertullianists, Montanists, or Gnostics. When once the cry of "the gods of Rome" was fairly up, it would apply to tolerated religions as well as to illicit, and an unhappy votary of Isis or Mithras might suffer, merely because there were few Christians forthcoming. A duumvir of the place had a daughter whom he had turned out of his house for receiving baptism, and who had taken refuge at Vacca. Several of the decurions, the tabularius of the district, the scriba, one of the exactors, who lived in Sicca, various of the retired gentry, whom we spoke of in a former chapter, and various attaches of the praetorium, were in not dissimilar circumstances. Nay, the priest of Esculapius had a wife, whom he was very fond of, who, though she promised to keep quiet, if things continued as they were, nevertheless had the madness to vow that, if there were any severe proceedings instituted against her people, she would at once come forward, confess herself a Christian, and throw water, instead of incense, upon the sacrificial flame. Not to speak of the venerable man's tenderness for her, such an exposure would seriously compromise his respectability, and, as he was infirm and apoplectic, it was a question whether Esculapius himself could save him from the shock which would be the consequence.

The same sort of feeling operated with our good friend Jucundus. He was attached to his nephew; but, be it said without disrespect to him, he was more attached to his own reputation; and, while he would have been seriously annoyed at seeing Agellius exposed to one of the panthers of the neighbouring forest, or hung up by the feet, with the blood streaming from his nose and mouth, as one of the dogs or kids of the market, he would have disliked the eclat of the thing still more. He felt both anger and alarm at the prospect; he was conscious he did not understand his nephew, or (to use a common phrase) know where to find him; he was aware that a great deal of tact was necessary to manage him; and he had an instinctive feeling that Juba was right in saying that it would not do to threaten him with the utmost severity of the law. He considered Callista's hold on him was the most promising quarter of the horizon; so he came to a resolution to do as little as he could personally, but to hold Agellius's head, as far as he could, steadily in the direction of that lady, and to see what came of it. As to Juba's assurance that Agellius was not a Christian at heart, it was too good news to be true; but still it might be only an anticipation of what would be, when the sun of Greece shone out upon him, and dispersed the remaining mists of Oriental superstition.

In this state of mind the old gentleman determined one afternoon to leave his shop to the care of a slave, and to walk down to his nephew, to judge for himself of his state of mind; to bait his hook with Callista, and to see if Agellius bit. There was no time to be lost, for the publication of the edict might be made any day; and then disasters might ensue which no skill could remedy.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE NEW GENERATION.

Jucundus, then, set out to see how the land lay with his nephew, and to do what he could to prosper the tillage. His way led him by the temple of Mercury, which at that time subserved the purpose of a boy's school, and was connected with some academical buildings, the property of the city, which lay beyond it. It cannot be said that our friend was any warm patron of literature or education, though he had not neglected the schooling of his nephews. Letters seemed to him in fact to unsettle the mind; and he had never known much good come of them. Rhetoricians and philosophers did not know where they stood, or what were their bearings. They did not know what they held, and what they did not. He knew his own position perfectly well, and, though the words "belief" or "knowledge" did not come into his religious vocabulary, he could at once, without hesitation, state what he professed and maintained. He stood upon the established order of things, on the traditions of Rome, and the laws of the empire; but as to Greek sophists and declaimers, he thought very much as old Cato did about them. The Greeks were a very clever people, unrivalled in the fine arts; let them keep to their strong point; they were inimitable with the chisel, the brush, the trowel, and the fingers; but he was not prepared to think much of their calamus or stylus, poetry excepted. What did they ever do but subvert received principles without substituting any others? And then they were so likely to take some odd turn themselves; you never could be sure of them. Socrates, their patriarch, what was he after all but a culprit, a convict, who had been obliged to drink hemlock, dying under the hands of justice? Was this a reputable end, a respectable commencement of the philosophic family? It was very well for Plato or Xenophon to throw a veil of romance over the transaction, but this was the plain matter of fact. Then Anaxagoras had been driven out of Athens for his revolutionary notions; and Diogenes had been accused, like the Christians, of atheism. The case had been the same in more recent times. There had been that madman, Apollonius, roaming about the world; Apuleius, too, their neighbour, fifty years before, a man of respectable station, a gentleman, but a follower of the Greek philosophy, a dabbler in magic, and a pretender to miracles. And so, in fact, of letters generally; as in their own country Minucius, a contemporary of Apuleius, became a Christian. Such, too, had been his friend Octavius; such Caecilius, who even became one of the priests of the sect, and seduced others from the religion he had left. One of them had been the public talk for several years, and he too originally a rhetorician, Thascius Cyprianus of Carthage. It was the one thing which gave him some misgiving about that little Callista, that she was a Greek.

As he passed the temple, the metal plate was sounding as a signal for the termination of the school, and on looking towards the portico with an ill-natured curiosity, he saw a young acquaintance of his, a youth of about twenty, coming out of it, leading a boy of about half that age, with his satchel thrown over his shoulder.

"Well, Arnobius,"(2) he cried, "how does rhetoric proceed? are we to take the law line, or turn professor? Who's the boy? some younger brother?"

"I've taken pity on the little fool," answered Arnobius; "these schoolmasters are a savage lot. I suffered enough from them myself, and 'miseris succurrere disco.' So I took him from under the roof of friend Rupilius, and he's under my tutelage. How did he treat thee, boy?"

"He treated me like a slave or a Christian," answered he.

"He deserved it, I'll warrant," said Jucundus; "a pert, forward imp. 'Twas Gete against Briton. Much good comes of schooling! He's a wicked one already. Ah, the new generation! I don't know where the world's going."

"Tell the gentleman," said Arnobius, "what he did first to you, my boy."

"As the good gentleman says," answered the boy, "first I did something to him, and then he did something to me."

"I told you so," said Jucundus; "a sensible boy, after all; but the schoolmaster had the best of it, I'll wager."

"First," answered he, "I grinned in his face, and he took off his wooden shoe, and knocked out one of my teeth."

"Good," said Jucundus, "the justice of Pythagoras. Zaleuchus could not have done better. The mouth sins, and the mouth suffers."

"Next," continued he, "I talked in school-time to my chum; and Rupilius put a gag in my jaws, and kept them open for an hour."

"The very Rhadamanthus of schoolmasters!" cried Jucundus: "and thereupon you struck up a chant, divine though inarticulate, like the statue of Memnon."

"Then," said the boy, "I could not say my Virgil, and he tore the shirt from off my back, and gave it me with the leather."

"Ay," answered Jucundus, " 'arma virumque' branded on your hide."

"Afterwards I ate his dinner for him," continued the boy, "and then he screwed my head, and kept me without food for two days."

"Your throat, you mean," said Jucundus; "a cautious man! lest you should steal a draught or two of good strong air."

"And lastly," said he, "I did not bring my pence, and then he tied my hands to a gibbet, and hung me up in terrorem."

"There I came in," said Arnobius; "he seemed a pretty boy, so I cut him down, paid his aera, and took him home."

"And now he is your pupil?" asked Jucundus.

"Not yet," answered Arnobius; "he is still a day-scholar of the old wolf's; one is like another; he could not change for the better: but I am his bully, and shall tutorize him some day. He's a sharp lad, isn't he, Firmian?" turning to the boy; "a great hand at composition for his years; better than I am, who never shall write Latin decently. Yet what can I do? I must profess and teach, for Rome is the only place for the law, and these city professorships are not to be despised."

"Whom are you attending here?" asked Jucundus, drily.

"You are the only man in Sicca who needs to ask the question. What! not know the great Polemo of Rhodes, the friend of Plotinus, the pupil of Theagenes, the disciple of Thrasyllus, the hearer of Nicomachus, who was of the school of Secundus, the doctor of the new Pythagoreans? Not feel the presence in Sicca of Polemo, the most celebrated, the most intolerable of men? That, however, is not his title, but the 'godlike,' or the 'oracular,' or the 'portentous,' or something else as impressive. Every one goes to him. He is the rage. I should not have a chance of success if I could not say that I had attended his lectures; though I'd be bound our little Firmian here would deliver as good. He's the very cariophyllus of human nature. He comes to the schools in a litter of cedar, ornamented with silver and covered with a lion's skin, slaves carrying him, and a crowd of friends attending, with the state of a proconsul. He is dressed in the most exact style; his pallium is of the finest wool, white, picked out with purple; his tresses flow with unguent, his fingers glitter with rings, and he smells like Idalium. As soon as he puts foot on earth, a great hubbub of congratulation and homage breaks forth. He takes no notice; his favourite pupils form a circle round him, and conduct him into one of the exedrae, till the dial shows the time for lecture. Here he sits in silence, looking at nothing, or at the wall opposite him, talking to himself, a hum of admiration filling the room. Presently one of his pupils, as if he were praeco to the duumvir, cries out, 'Hush, gentlemen, hush! the godlike'—no, it is not that. I've not got it. What is his title? 'the Bottomless,' that's it—'the Bottomless speaks.' A dead silence ensues; a clear voice and a measured elocution are the sure token that it is the outpouring of the oracle. 'Pray,' says the little man, 'pray, which existed first, the egg or the chick? Did the chick lay the egg, or the egg hatch the chick?' Then there ensues a whispering, a disputing, and after a while a dead silence. At the end of a quarter of an hour or so, our praeco speaks again, and this time to the oracle. 'Bottomless man,' he says, 'I have to represent to you that no one of the present company finds himself equal to answer the question, which your condescension has proposed to our consideration!' On this there is a fresh silence, and at length a fresh effatum from the hierophant: 'Which comes first, the egg or the chick? The egg comes first in relation to the causativity of the chick, and the chick comes first in relation to the causativity of the egg,' on which there is a burst of applause; the ring of adorers is broken through, and the shrinking professor is carried in the arms or on the shoulders of the literary crowd to his chair in the lecture-room."

Much as there was in Arnobius's description which gratified Jucundus's prejudices, he had suspicions of his young acquaintance, and was not in the humour to be pleased unreservedly with those who satirized anything whatever that was established, or was appointed by government, even affectation and pretence. He said something about the wisdom of ages, the reverence due to authority, the institutions of Rome, and the magistrates of Sicca. "Do not go after novelties," he said to Arnobius; "make a daily libation to Jove, the preserver, and to the genius of the emperor, and then let other things take their course."

"But you don't mean I must believe all this man says, because the decurions have put him here?" cried Arnobius. "Here is this Polemo saying that Proteus is matter, and that minerals and vegetables are his flock; that Proserpine is the vital influence, and Ceres the efficacy of the heavenly bodies; that there are mundane spirits, and supramundane; and then his doctrine about triads, monads, and progressions of the celestial gods?"

"Hm!" said Jucundus; "they did not say so when I went to school; but keep to my rule, my boy, and swear by the genius of Rome and the emperor."

"I don't believe in god or goddess, emperor or Rome, or in any philosophy, or in any religion at all," said Arnobius.

"What!" cried Jucundus, "you're not going to desert the gods of your ancestors?"

"Ancestors?" said Arnobius; "I've no ancestors. I'm not African certainly, not Punic, not Libophoenician, not Canaanite, not Numidian, not Gaetulian. I'm half Greek, but what the other half is I don't know. My good old gaffer, you're one of the old world. I believe nothing. Who can? There is such a racket and whirl of religions on all sides of me that I am sick of the subject."

"Ah, the rising generation!" groaned Jucundus; "you young men! I cannot prophesy what you will become, when we old fellows are removed from the scene. Perhaps you're a Christian?"

Arnobius laughed. "At least I can give you comfort on that head, old grandfather. A pretty Christian I should make, indeed! seeing visions, to be sure, and rejoicing in the rack and dungeon! I wish to enjoy life; I see wealth, power, rank, and pleasure to be worth living for, and I see nothing else."

"Well said, my lad," cried Jucundus, "well said; stick to that. I declare you frightened me. Give up all visions, speculations, conjectures, fancies, novelties, discoveries; nothing comes of them but confusion."

"No, no," answered the youth; "I'm not so wild as you seem to think, Jucundus. It is true I don't believe one single word about the gods; but in their worship was I born, and in their worship I will die."

"Admirable!" cried Jucundus in a transport; "well, I'm surprised; you have taken me by surprise. You're a fine fellow; you are a boy after my heart. I've a good mind to adopt you."

"You see I can't believe one syllable of all the priests' trash," said Arnobius; "who does? not they. I don't believe in Jupiter or Juno, or in Astarte or in Isis; but where shall I go for anything better? or why need I seek anything good or bad in that line? Nothing's known anywhere, and life would go while I attempted what is impossible. No, better stay where I am; I may go further, and gain a loss for my pains. So you see I am for myself, and for the genius of Rome."

"That's the true principle," answered the delighted Jucundus. "Why, really, for so young a man, surprising! Where did you get so much good sense, my dear fellow? I've seen very little of you. Well, this I'll say, you are a youth of most mature mind. To be sure! Well! Such youths are rare now-a-days. I congratulate you with all my heart on your strong sense and your admirable wisdom. Who'd have thought it? I've always, to tell the truth, had a little suspicion of you; but you've come out nobly. Capital! I don't wish you to believe in the gods if you can't; but it's your duty, dear boy, your duty to Rome to maintain them, and to rally round them when attacked." Then with a changed voice, he added, "Ah, that a young friend of mine had your view of the matter!" and then, fearing he had said too much, he stopped abruptly.

"You mean Agellius," said Arnobius. "You've heard, by-the-bye," he continued in a lower tone, "what's the talk in the Capitol, that at Rome they are proceeding on a new plan against the Christians with great success. They don't put to death, at least at once; they keep in prison, and threaten the torture. It's surprising how many come over."

"The Furies seize them!" exclaimed Jucundus: "they deserve everything bad, always excepting my poor boy. So they are cheating the hangman by giving up their atheism, the vile reptiles, giving in to a threat. However," he added gravely, "I wish threats would answer with Agellius; but I greatly fear that menace would only make him stubborn. That stubbornness of a Christian! O Arnobius!" he said, shaking his head and looking solemn, "it's a visitation from the gods, a sort of nympholepsia."

"It's going out," said Arnobius, "mark my words; the frenzy is dying. It's only wonderful it should have lasted for three centuries. The report runs that in some places, when the edict was published, the Christians did not wait for a summons, but swept up to the temples to sacrifice, like a shoal of tunnies. The magistrates were obliged to take so many a day; and, as the days went on, none so eager to bring over the rest as those who have already become honest men. Nay, not a few of their mystic or esoteric class have conformed."

"If so, unless Agellius looks sharp," said Jucundus, "his sect will give him up before he gives up his sect. Christianity will be converted before him."

"Oh, don't fear for him!" said Arnobius; "I knew him at school. Boys differ; some are bold and open. They like to be men, and to dare the deeds of men; they talk freely, and take their swing in broad day. Others are shy, reserved, bashful, and are afraid to do what they love quite as much as the others. Agellius never could rub off this shame, and it has taken this turn. He's sure to outgrow it in a year or two. I should not wonder if, when once he had got over it, he went into the opposite fault. You'll find him a drinker and a swaggerer and a spendthrift before many years are over."

"Well, that's good news," said Jucundus; "I mean, I am glad you think he will shake off these fancies. I don't believe they sit very close to him myself."

He walked on for a while in silence; then he said, "That seems a sharp child, Arnobius. Could he do me a service if I wanted it? Does he know Agellius?"

"Know him?" answered the other; "yes, and his farm too. He has rambled round Sicca, many is the mile. And he knows the short cuts, and the blind ways, and safe circuits."

"What's the boy's name?" asked Jucundus.

"Firmian," answered Arnobius. "Firmian Lactantius."

"I say, Firmian," said Jucundus to him, "where are you to be found of a day, my boy?"

"At class morning and afternoon," answered Firmian, "sleeping in the porticoes in midday, nowhere in the evening, and roosting with Arnobius at night."

"And you can keep a secret, should it so happen?" asked Jucundus, "and do an errand, if I gave you one?"

"I'll give him the stick worse than Rupilius, if he does not," said Arnobius.

"A bargain," cried Jucundus; and, waving his hand to them, he stept through the city gate, and they returned to their afternoon amusements.



CHAPTER IX.

JUCUNDUS BAITS HIS TRAP.

Agellius is busily employed upon his farm. While the enemies of his faith are laying their toils for him and his brethren in the imperial city, in the proconsular officium, and in the municipal curia,—while Jucundus is scheming against him personally in another way and with other intentions,—the unconscious object of these machinations is busy about his master's crops, housing the corn in caves or pits, distilling the roses, irrigating the khennah, and training and sheltering the vines. And he does so, not only from a sense of duty, but the more assiduously, because he finds in constant employment a protection against himself, against idle thoughts, wayward wishes, discontent, and despondency. It is doubtless very strange to the reader how any one who professed himself a Christian in good earnest should be open to the imputation of resting his hopes and his heart in the tents of paganism; but we do not see why Agellius has not quite as much right to be inconsistent in one way as Christians of the present time in another, and perhaps he has more to say for himself than they. They have not had the trial of solitude, nor the consequent temptation to which he has been exposed, of seeking relief from his own thoughts in the company of unbelievers. When a boy he had received his education at that school in the Temple of Mercury of which we heard in the foregoing chapter; and though happily he had preserved himself from the contagion of idolatry and sin, he had on that very account formed no friendships with his schoolfellows. Whether there were any Christians there besides himself he did not know; but while the worst of his schoolfellows were what heathen boys may be supposed to be, the lightest censure which could be passed on any was that they were greedy, or quarrelsome, or otherwise unamiable. He had learned there enough to open his mind, and to give him materials for thinking, and instruments for reflecting on his own religion, and for drawing out into shape his own reflections. He had received just that discipline which makes solitude most pleasant to the old, and most insupportable to the young. He had got a thousand questions which needed answers, a thousand feelings which needed sympathy. He wanted to know whether his guesses, his perplexities, his trials of mind, were peculiar to himself, or how far they were shared by others, and what they were worth. He had capabilities for intellectual enjoyment unexercised, and a thirst after knowledge unsatisfied. And the channels of supernatural assistance were removed from him at a time when nature was most impetuous and most clamorous.

It was under circumstances such as these that two young Greeks, brother and sister, the brother older, the sister younger, than Agellius, came to Sicca at the invitation of Jucundus, who wanted them for his trade. His nephew in time got acquainted with them, and found in them what he had sought in vain elsewhere. It is not that they were oracles of wisdom or repositories of philosophical learning; their age and their calling forbade it, nor did he require it. For an oracle, of course, he would have looked in another direction; but he desiderated something more on a level with himself, and that they abundantly supplied. He found, from his conversations with them, that a great number of the questions which had been a difficulty to him had already been agitated in the schools of Greece. He found what solutions were possible, what the hinge was on which questions turned, what the issue to which they led, and what the principle which lay at the bottom of them. He began better to understand the position of Christianity in the world of thought, and the view which was taken of it by the advocates of other religions or philosophies. He gained some insight into its logic, and advanced, without knowing it, in the investigation of its evidences.

Nor was this all; he acquired by means of his new friends a great deal also of secular knowledge as well as philosophical. He learned much of the history of foreign countries, especially of Greece, of its heroes and sages, its poets and its statesmen, of Alexander, of the Syro-Macedonic empire, of the Jews, and of the series of conquests through which Rome advanced to universal dominion.

To impart knowledge is as interesting as to acquire it; and Agellius was called upon to give as well as to take. The brother and sister, without showing any great religious earnestness, were curious to know about Christianity, and listened with the more patience that they had no special attachment to any other worship. In the debates which ensued, though there was no agreement, there was the pleasure of mental exercise and excitement; he found enough to tell them without touching upon the more sacred mysteries; and while he never felt his personal faith at all endangered by their free conversation, his charity, or at least his good-will and his gratitude, led him to hope, or even to think, that they were in the way of conversion themselves. In this thought he was aided by his own innocence and simplicity; and though, on looking back afterwards to this eventful season, he recognized many trivial occurrences which ought to have put him on his guard, yet he had no suspicion at the time that those who conversed so winningly, and sustained so gracefully and happily the commerce of thought and sentiment, might in their actual state, nay, in their governing principles, be in utter contrariety to himself when the veil was removed from off their hearts.

Nor was it in serious matters alone, but still more on lighter occasions of intercourse, that Aristo and Callista were attractive to the solitary Agellius. She had a sweet thrilling voice, and accompanied herself on the lyre. She could act the improvisatrice, and her expressive features were a running commentary on the varied meaning, the sunshine and the shade, of her ode or her epic. She could relate how the profane Pentheus and the self-glorious Hippolytus gave a lesson to the world of the feebleness of human virtue when it placed itself in opposition to divine power. She could teach how the chaste Diana manifests herself to the simple shepherd Endymion, not to the great or learned; and how Tithonus, the spouse of the Morn, adumbrates the fate of those who revel in their youth, as if it were to last for ever; and who, when old, do nothing but talk of the days when they were young, wearying others with tales of "their amours or their exploits, like grasshoppers that show their vigour only by their chirping."(3) The very allegories which sickened and irritated Arnobius when spouted out by Polemo, touched the very chords of poor Agellius's heart when breathed forth from the lips of the beautiful Greek.

She could act also; and suddenly, when conversation flagged or suggested it, she could throw herself into the part of Medea or Antigone, with a force and truth which far surpassed the effect produced by the male and masked representations of those characters at the theatre. Brother and sister were OEdipus and Antigone, Electra and Orestes, Cassandra and the Chorus. Once or twice they attempted a scene in Menander; but there was something which made Agellius shrink from the comedy, beautiful as it was, and clever as was the representation. Callista could act Thais as truly as Iphigenia, but Agellius could not listen as composedly. There are certain most delicate instincts and perceptions in us which act as first principles, and which, once effaced, can never, except from some supernatural source, be restored to the mind. When men are in a state of nature, these are sinned against, and vanish very soon, at so early a date in the history of the individual that perhaps he does not recollect that he ever possessed them; and since, like other first principles, they are but very partially capable of proof, a general scepticism prevails both as to their existence and their truth. The Greeks, partly from the vivacity of their intellect, partly from their passion for the beautiful, lost these celestial adumbrations sooner than other nations. When a collision arose on such matters between Agellius and his friends, Callista kept silence; but Aristo was not slow to express his wonder that the young Christian should think customs or practices wrong which, in his view of the matter, were as unblamable and natural as eating, drinking, or sleeping. His own face became almost satirical as Agellius's became grave; however, he was too companionable and good-natured to force another to be happy in his own way; he imputed to the extravagance of his friend's religion what in any but a Christian he would have called moroseness and misanthropy; and he bade his sister give over representations which, instead of enlivening the passing hour, did but inflict pain.

This friendly intercourse had now gone on for some months, as the leisure of both parties admitted. Once or twice brother and sister had come to the suburban farm; but for the most part, in spite of his intense dislike of the city, he had for their sake threaded its crowded and narrow thoroughfares, crossed its open places, and presented himself at their apartments. And was it very strange that a youth so utterly ignorant of the world, and unsuspicious of evil, should not have heard the warning voice which called him to separate himself from heathenism, even in its most specious form? Was it very strange, under these circumstances, that a sanguine hope, the hope of the youthful, should have led Agellius to overlook obstacles, and beguile himself into the notion that Callista might be converted, and make a good Christian wife? Well, we have nothing more to say for him; if we have not already succeeded in extenuating his offence, we must leave him to the mercy, or rather to the justice, of his severely virtuous censors.

But all this while Jucundus had been conversing with him; and, unless we are quick about it, we shall lose several particulars which are necessary for those who wish to pursue without a break the thread of his history. His uncle had brought the conversation round to the delicate point which had occasioned his visit, and had just broken the ice. With greater tact, and more ample poetical resources than we should have given him credit for, he had been led from the scene before him to those prospects of a moral and social character which ought soon to employ the thoughts of his dear Agellius. He had spoken of vines and of their culture, apropos of the dwarf vines around him, which stood about the height of a currant-bush. Thence he had proceeded to the subject of the more common vine of Africa, which crept and crawled along the ground, the extremity of each plant resting in succession on the stock of that which immediately preceded it. And now, being well into his subject, he called to mind the high vine of Italy, which mounts by the support of the slim tree to which it clings. Then he quoted Horace on the subject of the marriage of the elm and the vine. This lodged him in medias res; and Agellius's heart beat when he found his uncle proposing to him, as a thought of his own, the very step which he had fancied was almost a secret of his own breast, though Juba had seemed to have some suspicion of it.

"My dear Agellius," said Jucundus, "it would be a most suitable proceeding. I have never taken to marrying myself; it has not lain in my way, or been to my taste. Your father did not set me an encouraging example; but here you are living by yourself, in this odd fashion, unlike any one else. Perhaps you may come in time and live in Sicca. We shall find some way of employing you, and it will be pleasant to have you near me as I get old. However, I mean it to be some time yet before Charon makes a prize of me; not that I believe all that rubbish more than you, Agellius, I assure you."

"It strikes me," Agellius began, "that perhaps you may think it inconsistent in me taking such a step, but—"

"Ay, ay, that's the rub," thought Jucundus; then aloud, "Inconsistent, my boy! who talks of inconsistency? what superfine jackanapes dares to call it inconsistent? You seem made for each other, Agellius—she town, you country; she so clever and attractive, and up to the world, you so fresh and Arcadian. You'll be quite the talk of the place."

"That's just what I don't want to be," said Agellius. "I mean to say," he continued, "that if I thought it inconsistent with my religion to think of Callista—"

"Of course, of course," interrupted his uncle, who took his cue from Juba, and was afraid of the workings of Agellius's human respect; "but who knows you have been a Christian? no one knows anything about it. I'll be bound they all think you an honest fellow like themselves, a worshipper of the gods, without crotchets or hobbies of any kind. I never told them to the contrary. My opinion is, that if you were to make your libation to Jove, and throw incense upon the imperial altar to-morrow, no one would think it extraordinary. They would say for certain that they had seen you do it again and again. Don't fancy for an instant, my dear Agellius, that you have anything whatever to get over."

Agellius was getting awkward and mortified, as may be easily conceived, and Jucundus saw it, but could not make out why. "My dear uncle," said the youth, "you are reproaching me."

"Not a bit of it," said Jucundus, confidently, "not a shadow of reproach; why should I reproach you? We can't be wise all at once; I had my follies once, as you may have had yours. It's natural you should grow more attached to things as they are,—things as they are, you know,—as time goes on. Marriage, and the preparation for marriage, sobers a man. You've been a little headstrong, I can't deny, and had your fling in your own way; but 'nuces pueris,' as you will soon be saying yourself on a certain occasion. Your next business is to consider what kind of a marriage you propose. I suppose the Roman, but there is great room for choice even there."

It is a proverb how different things are in theory and when reduced to practice. Agellius had thought of the end more than of the means, and had had a vision of Callista as a Christian, when the question of rites and forms would have been answered by the decision of the Church without his trouble. He was somewhat sobered by the question, though in a different way from what his uncle wished and intended.

Jucundus proceeded—"First, there is matrimonium confarreationis. You have nothing to do with that: strictly speaking, it is obsolete; it went out with the exclusiveness of the old patricians. I say 'strictly speaking'; for the ceremonies remain, waiving the formal religious rite. Well, my dear Agellius, I don't recommend this ceremonial to you. You'd have to kill a porker, to take out the entrails, to put away the gall, and to present it to Juno Pronuba. And there's fire, too, and water, and frankincense, and a great deal of the same kind, which I think undesirable, and you would too; for there, I am sure, we are agreed. We put this aside then, the religious marriage. Next comes the marriage ex coemptione, a sort of mercantile transaction. In this case the parties buy each other, and become each other's property. Well, every man to his taste; but for me, I don't like to be bought and sold. I like to be my own master, and am suspicious of anything irrevocable. Why should you commit yourself (do you see?) for ever, for ever, to a girl you know so little of? Don't look surprised: it's common sense. It's very well to buy her; but to be bought, that's quite another matter. And I don't know that you can. Being a Roman citizen yourself, you can only make a marriage with a citizen; now the question is whether Callista is a citizen at all. I know perfectly well the sweeping measure some years back of Caracalla, which made all freemen citizens of Rome, whatever might be their country; but that measure has never been carried out in fact. You'd have very great difficulty with the law and the customs of the country; and then, after all, if the world were willing to gratify you, where's your proof she is a freewoman? My dear boy, I must speak out for your good, though you're offended with me. I wish you to have her, I do; but you can't do impossibilities—you can't alter facts. The laws of the empire allow you to have her in a certain definite way, and no other; and you cannot help the law being what it is. I say all this, even on the supposition of her being a freewoman; but it is just possible she may be in law a slave. Don't start in that way; the pretty thing is neither better nor worse for what she cannot help. I say it for your good. Well, now I'm coming to my point. There is a third kind of marriage, and that is what I should recommend for you. It's the matrimonium ex usu, or consuetudine; the great advantage here is, that you have no ceremonies whatever, nothing which can in any way startle your sensitive mind. In that case, a couple are at length man and wife praescriptione. You are afraid of making a stir in Sicca; in this case you would make none. You would simply take her home here; if, as time went on, you got on well together, it would be a marriage; if not,"—and he shrugged his shoulders—"no harm's done; you are both free."

Agellius had been sitting on a gate of one of the vineyards; he started on his feet, threw up his arms, and made an exclamation.

"Listen, listen, my dear boy!" cried Jucundus, hastening to explain what he considered the cause of his sudden annoyance; "listen, just one moment, Agellius, if you can. Dear, dear, how I wish I knew where to find you! What is the matter? I'm not treating her ill, I'm not indeed. I have not had any notion at all even of hinting that you should leave her, unless you both wished the bargain rescinded. No, but it is a great rise for her; you are a Roman, with property, with position in the place; she's a stranger, and without a dower: nobody knows whence she came, or anything about her. She ought to have no difficulty about it, and I am confident will have none."

"O my good, dear uncle! O Jucundus, Jucundus!" cried Agellius, "is it possible? do my ears hear right? What is it you ask me to do?" and he burst into tears. "Is it conceivable," he said, with energy, "that you are in earnest in recommending me—I say in recommending me—a marriage which really would be no marriage at all?"

"Here is some very great mistake," said Jucundus, angrily; "it arises, Agellius, from your ignorance of the world. You must be thinking I recommend you mere contubernium, as the lawyers call it. Well, I confess I did think of that for a moment, it occurred to me; I should have liked to have mentioned it, but knowing how preposterously touchy and skittish you are on supposed points of honour, or sentiment, or romance, or of something or other indescribable, I said not one word about that. I have only wished to consult for your comfort, present and future. You don't do me justice, Agellius. I have been attempting to smooth your way. You must act according to the received usages of society! you cannot make a world for yourself. Here have I proposed three or four ways for your proceeding: you will have none of them. What will you have? I thought you didn't like ceremonies; I thought you did not like the established ways. Go, then, do it in the old fashion; kill your sheep, knead your meal, light your torches, sing your song, summon your flamen, if he'll come. Any how, take your choice; do it either with religion or without."

"O Jucundus!" said the poor fellow, "am I then come to this?" and he could say no more.

His distress was not greater than his uncle's disappointment, perplexity, and annoyance. The latter had been making everything easy for Agellius, and he was striking, do what he would, on hidden, inexplicable impediments, whichever way he moved. He got more and more angry the more he thought about it. An unreasonable, irrational coxcomb! He had heard a great deal of the portentous stubbornness of a Christian, and now he understood what it was. It was in his blood, he saw; an offensive, sour humour, tainting him from head to foot. A very different recompense had he deserved. There had he come all the way from his home from purely disinterested feelings. He had no motive whatever, but a simple desire of his nephew's welfare; what other motive could he have? "Let Agellius go to the crows," he thought, "if he will; what is it to me if he is seized for a Christian, hung up like a dog, or thrown like a dead rat into the cloaca of the prison? What care I if he is made a hyaena's breakfast in the amphitheatre, all Sicca looking on, or if he is nailed on a cross for the birds to peck at before my door? Ungrateful puppy! it is no earthly concern of mine what becomes of him. I shall be neither better nor worse. No one will say a word against Jucundus; he will not lose a single customer, or be shunned by a single jolly companion, for the exposure of his nephew. But a man can't be saved against his will. Here am I, full of expedients and resources for his good; there is he, throwing cold water on everything, and making difficulties as if he loved them. It's his abominable pride, that's the pith of the matter. He could not have behaved worse though I had played the bully with him, and had reproached him with his Christianity. But I have studiously avoided every subject which could put his back up. He's a very Typhon or Enceladus for pride. Here he'd give his ears to have done with Christianity; he wants to have this Callista; he wants to buy her at the price of his religion; but he'd rather be burned than say, I've changed! Let him reap as he has sown; why should I coax him further to be merciful to himself? Well Agellius," he said aloud, "I'm going back."

Agellius, on the other hand, had his own thoughts; and the most urgent of them at the moment was sorrow that he had hurt his uncle. He was sincerely attached to him, in consequence of his faithful guardianship, his many acts of kindness, the reminiscences of childhood, nay, the love he bore to the good points of his character. To him he owed his education and his respectable position. He could not bear his anger, and he had a fear of his authority; but what was to be done? Jucundus, in utter insensibility to certain instincts and rules which in Christianity are first principles, had, without intending it, been greatly dishonouring Agellius, and his passion, and the object of it. Uncle and nephew had been treading on each other's toes, and each was wincing under the mischance. It was Agellius's place, as the younger, to make advances, if he could, to an adjustment of the misunderstanding; and he wished to find some middle way. And, also, it is evident he had another inducement besides his tenderness to Jucundus to urge him to do so. In truth, Callista exerted a tremendous sway over him. The conversation which had just passed ought to have opened his eyes, and made him understand that the very first step in any negotiations between them was her bona fide conversion. It was evident he could not, he literally had not the power of marrying her as a heathen. Roman might marry a Roman; but a degradation of each party in the transaction was the only way by which a Roman could make any sort of marriage with a Greek. If she were converted, they would be both of them under the rules of the Catholic Church. But what prospect was there of so happy an event? What had ever fallen from her lips which looked that way? Could not a clever girl throw herself into the part of Alcestis, or chant the majestic verses of Cleanthes, or extemporize a hymn upon the spring, or hold an argument on the pulchrum and utile, without having any leaning towards Christianity? A calm, sweet voice, a noble air, an expressive countenance, refined and decorous manners, were these specific indications of heavenly grace? Ah, poor Agellius! a fascination is upon you; and so you are thinking of some middle term, which is to reconcile your uncle and you; and therefore you begin as follows:—

"I see by your silence, Jucundus, that you are displeased with me, you who are always so kind. Well, it comes from my ignorance of things; it does indeed. I ask your forgiveness for anything which seemed ungrateful in my behaviour, though there is not ingratitude in my heart. I am too much of a boy to see things beforehand, and to see them in all their bearings. You took me by surprise by talking on the subject which led to our misunderstanding. I will not conceal for an instant that I like Callista very much; and that the more I see her, I like her the more. It strikes me that, if you break the matter to Aristo, he and I might have some talk together, and understand each other."

Jucundus was hot-tempered, but easily pacified; and he really did wish to be on confidential terms with his nephew at the present crisis; so he caught at his apology. "Now you speak like a reasonable fellow, Agellius," he answered. "Certainly, I will speak to Aristo, as you wish; and on this question of consuetudo or prescription. Well, don't begin looking queer again. I mean I will speak to him on the whole question and its details. He and I will talk together for our respective principals. We shall soon come to terms, I warrant you; and then you shall talk with him. Come, show me round your fields," he continued, "and let me see how you will be able to present things to your bride. A very pretty property it is. I it was who was the means of your father thinking of it. You have heard me say so before now, and all the circumstances.

"He was at Carthage at this time, undecided what to do with himself. It so happened that Julia Clara's estates were just then in the market. An enormous windfall her estates were. Old Didius was emperor just before my time; he gave all his estates to his daughter as soon as he assumed the purple. Poor lady! she did not enjoy them long; Severus confiscated the whole, not, however, for the benefit of the state, but of the res privata. They are so large in Africa alone, that, as you know, you are under a special procurator. Well, they did not come into the market at once; the existing farmers were retained. Marcus Juventius farmed a very considerable portion of them; they were contiguous, and dovetailed into his own lands, and accordingly, when he got into trouble, and had to sell his leases, there were certain odds and ends about Sicca which it was proposed to lease piecemeal. Your employer, Varius, would have given any money for them, but I was beforehand with him. Nothing like being on the spot; he was on business of the proconsul at Adrumetum. I sent off Hispa instantly to Strabo; not an hour's delay after I heard of it. The sale was at Carthage; he went to his old commander, who used his influence, and the thing was done.

"I venture to say there's not such a snug little farm in all Africa; and I am sanguine we shall get a renewal, though Varius will do his utmost to outbid us. Ah, my dear Agellius, if there is but a suspicion you are not a thorough-going Roman! Well, well,—here! ease me through this gate, Agellius; I don't know what's come to the gate since I was here. Indeed!—yes! you have improved this very much. That small arbour is delicious; but you want an image, an Apollo or a Diana. Ah! do now stop for a moment; why are you going forward at such a pace? I'll give you an image: it shall be one that you will really like. Well, you won't have it? I beg you ten thousand pardons. Ha, ha! I mean nothing. Ha, ha, ha! Oh, what an odd world it is! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Well, I am keeping you from your labourers. Ha, ha, ha!"

And having thus smoothed his own ruffled temper, and set things right, as he considered, with Agellius, the old pagan took his journey homewards, assuring Agellius that he would make all things clear for him in a very short time, and telling him to be sure to make a call upon Aristo before the ensuing calends.



CHAPTER X.

THE DIVINE CALLISTA.

The day came which Agellius had fixed for paying his promised visit to Aristo. It is not to be denied that, in the interval, the difficulties of the business which occasioned his visit had increased upon his apprehensions. Callista was not yet a Christian, nor was there any reason for saying that a proposal of marriage would make her one; and a strange sort of convert she would be, if it did. He would not suffer himself to dwell upon difficulties which he was determined never should be realized. No; of course a heathen he could not marry, but a heathen Callista should not be. He did not see the process, but he was convinced she would become a Christian. Yet somehow so it was, that, if he was able to stultify his reason, he did not quite succeed to his satisfaction with his conscience. Every morning found him less satisfied with himself, and more disposed to repent of having allowed his uncle to enter on the subject with Aristo. But it was a thing done and over; he must either awkwardly back out, or he must go on. His middle term, as he hastily had considered it, was nothing else than siding with his uncle, and committing himself to go all lengths, unless some difficulty rose with the other party. Yet could he really wish that the step had not been taken? Was it not plain that if he was to put away Callista from his affections, he must never go near her? And was he to fall back on his drear solitude, and lose that outlet of thought and relief of mind which he had lately found in the society of his Greek friends?

We may easily believe that he was not very peaceful in heart when he set out on that morning to call upon Aristo; yet he would not allow that he was doing wrong. He recurred to the pleasant imagination that Callista would certainly become a Christian, and dwelt pertinaciously upon it. He could not tell on what it was founded; he knew enough of his religion not to mean that she was too good to be a heathen; so it is to be supposed he meant that he discerned what he hoped were traces of some supernatural influence operating upon her mind. He had a perception, which he could not justify by argument, that there was in Callista a promise of something higher than anything she yet was. He felt a strange sympathy with her, which certainly unless he utterly deceived himself, was not based on anything merely natural or human,—a sympathy the more remarkable from the contrariety which existed between them in matters of religious belief. And hope having blown this large and splendid bubble, sent it sailing away, and it rose upon the buoyant atmosphere of youth, beautiful to behold.

And yet, as Agellius ascended the long flight of marble steps which led the foot-passenger up into that fair city, while the morning sun was glancing across them, and surveyed the outline of the many sumptuous buildings which crested and encircled the hill, did he not know full well that iniquity was written on its very walls, and spoke a solemn warning to a Christian heart to go out of it, to flee it, not to take up a home in it, not to make alliance with anything in it? Did he not know from experience full well that, when he got into it, his glance could no longer be unrestrained, or his air free; but that it would be necessary for him to keep a control upon his senses, and painfully guard himself against what must either be a terror to him and an abhorrence, or a temptation? Enter in imagination into a town like Sicca, and you will understand the great Apostle's anguish at seeing a noble and beautiful city given up to idolatry. Enter it, and you will understand why it was that the poor priest, of whom Jucundus spoke so bitterly, hung his head, and walked with timid eyes and clouded brow through the joyous streets of Carthage. Hitherto we have only been conducting heathens through it, boys or men, Jucundus, Arnobius, and Firmian; but now a Christian enters it with a Christian's heart and a Christian's hope.

Well is it for us, dear reader, that we in this age do not experience—nay, a blessed thing that we cannot even frame to ourselves in imagination—the actual details of evil which hung as an atmosphere over the cities of Pagan Rome. An Apostle calls the tongue "a fire, a world of iniquity, untameable, a restless evil, a deadly poison;" and surely what he says applies to hideous thoughts represented to the eye, as well as when they are made to strike upon the ear. Unfortunate Agellius! what takes you into the city this morning? Doubtless some urgent, compulsive duty; otherwise you would not surely be threading its lanes or taking the circuit of its porticoes, amid sights which now shock and now allure; fearful sights—not here and there, but on the stateliest structures and in the meanest hovels, in public offices and private houses, in central spots and at the corners of the streets, in bazaars and shops and house-doors, in the rudest workmanship and in the highest art, in letters or in emblems or in paintings—the insignia and the pomp of Satan and of Belial, of a reign of corruption and a revel of idolatry which you can neither endure nor escape. Wherever you go it is all the same; in the police-court on the right, in the military station on the left, in the crowd around the temple, in the procession with its victims and its worshippers who walk to music, in the language of the noisy market-people; wherever you go, you are accosted, confronted, publicly, shamelessly, now as if a precept of religion, now as if a homage to nature, by all which, as a Christian, you shrink from and abjure.

It is no accident of the season or of the day; it is the continuous tradition of some thousands of years; it is the very orthodoxy of the myriads who have lived and died there. There was a region once, in an early age, lying upon the Eastern Sea, which is said at length to have vomited out its inhabitants for their frightful iniquity. They, thus cast forth, took ship, and passed over to the southern coast; and then, gradually settling and spreading into the interior, they peopled the woody plains and fertile slopes of Africa, and filled it with their cities. Sicca is one of these set up in sin; and at the time of which we write that sin was basking under the sun, and rioting and extending itself to its amplest dimensions, like some glittering serpent or spotted pard of the neighbourhood, without interposition from heaven or earth in correction of so awful a degradation. In such scenes of unspeakable pollution, our Christian forefathers perforce lived; through such a scene, though not taking part in it, Agellius, blessed with a country home, is unnecessarily passing.

He has reached the house, or rather the floor, to which he has been making his way. It is at the back of the city, where the rock is steep; and it looks out upon the plain and the mountain range to the north. Its inmates, Aristo and Callista, are engaged in their ordinary work of moulding or carving, painting or gilding the various articles which the temples or the private shrines of the established religion required. Aristo has received from Jucundus the overtures which Agellius had commissioned him to make, and finds, as he anticipated, that they are no great news to his sister. She perfectly understands what is going on, but does not care to speak much upon it, till Agellius makes his appearance. As they sit at work, Aristo speaks:—

"Agellius will make his appearance here this morning. I say, Callista, what can he be coming for?"

"Why, if your news be true, that the Christians are coming into trouble, of course he means to purchase, as a blessing on him, some of these bits of gods."

"You are sharp enough, my little sister," answered Aristo, "to know perfectly well who is the goddess he is desirous of purchasing."

Callista laughed carelessly, but made no reply.

"Come, child," Aristo continued, "don't be cruel to him. Wreath a garland for him by the time he comes. He's well to do, and modest withal, and needs encouragement."

"He's well enough," said Callista.

"I say he's a fellow too well off to be despised as a lover," proceeded her brother, "and it would be a merit with the gods to rid him of his superstition."

"Not much of a Christian," she made answer, "if he is set upon me."

"For whose sake has he been coming here so often, mine or yours, Callista?"

"I am tired of such engagements," she replied. She went on with her painting, and several times seemed as if she would have spoken, but did not. Then, without interrupting her work, she said calmly, "Time was, it gratified my conceit and my feelings to have hangers on. Indeed, without them, how should we have had means to come here? But there's a weariness in all things."

"A weariness! Where is this bad humour to end?" cried Aristo; "it has been a long fit; shake it off while you can, or it will be too much for you. What can you mean? a weariness! You are over young to bid youth farewell. Aching hearts for aching bones. So young and so perverse! We must take things as the gods give them. You will ask for them in vain when you are old. One day above, another day beneath; one while young, another while old. Enjoy life while you have it in your hand." He had said this as he worked. Then he stopped, and turned round to her, with his graving-tool in his hand. "Recollect old Lesbia, how she used to squeak out to me, with her nodding head and trembling limbs"—here he mimicked the old crone—" 'My boy, take your pleasure while you can. I can't take pleasure—my day is over; but I don't reproach myself. I had a merry time of it while it lasted. Time stops for no one, but I did my best; I don't reproach myself.' There's the true philosopher, though a slave; more outspoken than AEsop, more practical than Epictetus."

Callista began singing to herself:—

"I wander by that river's brink Which circles Pluto's drear domain; I feel the chill night breeze, and think Of joys which ne'er shall be again.

"I count the weeds that fringe the shore, Each sluggish wave that rolls and rolls; I hear the ever-splashing oar Of Charon, ferryman of souls.

"Heigho!" she continued, "little regret, but much dread. The young have to fear more than the old have to mourn over. The future outweighs the past. Life is not so sweet as death is bitter. It is hard to quit the light, the light of heaven."

"Callistidion!" he said, impatiently; "my girl, this is preposterous. How long is this to go on? We must take you to Carthage; there is more trade there, if we can get it; and it will be on the bright, far-resounding sea. And I will turn rhetorician, and you shall feed my classes."

"O beautiful, divine light," she continued, "what a loss! O, to think that one day I must lose you for ever! At home I used to lie awake at night longing for the morning, and crying out for the god of day. It was like choice wine to me, a cup of Chian, the first streaks of the Aurora, and I could hardly bear his bright coming, when he came to me like Semele, for rapture. How gloriously did he shoot over the hills! and then anon he rested awhile on the snowy summit of Olympus, as in some luminous shrine, gladdening the Phrygian plain. Fair, bright-haired god! thou art my worship, if Callista worships aught: but somehow I worship nothing now. I am weary."

"Well," said her brother in a soothing tone, "it is a change. That light, elastic air, that transparent heaven, that fresh temperate breeze, that majestic sea! Africa is not Greece; O, the difference! That's it, Callista; it is the nostalgia; you are home-sick."

"It may be so," she said; "I do not well know what I would have. Yes, the poisonous dews, the heavy heat, the hideous beasts, the green fever-gendering swamps. This vast thickly-wooded plain, like some mysterious labyrinth, oppresses and disquiets me with its very richness. The luxuriant foliage, the tall, rank plants, the deep, close lanes, I do not see my way through them, and I pant for breath. I only breathe freely on this hill. O, how unlike Greece, with the clear, soft, delicate colouring of its mountains, and the pure azure or the purple of its waters!"

"But, my dear Callista," interrupted her brother, "recollect you are not in those oppressive, gloomy forests, but in Sicca, and no one asks you to penetrate them. And if you want mountains, I think those on the horizon are bare enough."

"And the race of man," she continued, "is worse than all. Where is the genius of our bright land? where its intelligence, playfulness, grace, and noble bearing? Here hearts are as black as brows, and smiles as treacherous as the adders of the wood. The natives are crafty and remorseless; they never relax; they have no cheerfulness or mirth; their very love is a furnace, and their sole ecstasy is revenge."

"No country like home to any of us," said Aristo; "yet here you are. Habit would be a second nature if you were here long enough; your feelings would become acclimated, and would find a new home. People get to like the darkness of the extreme north in course of time. The painted Britons, the Cimmerians, the Hyperboreans, are content never to see the sun at all, which is your god. Here your own god reigns; why quarrel with him?"

"The sun of Greece is light," answered Callista; "the sun of Africa is fire. I am no fire-worshipper."

"I suspect even Styx and Phlegethon are tolerable, at length," said her brother, "if Phlegethon and Styx there be, as the poets tell us."

"The cold, foggy Styx is the north," said Callista, "and the south is the scorching, blasting Phlegethon, and Greece, clear, sweet, and sunny, is the Elysian fields." And she continued her improvisations:—

"Where are the islands of the blest? They stud the AEgean sea; And where the deep Elysian rest? It haunts the vale where Peneus strong Pours his incessant stream along, While craggy ridge and mountain bare Cut keenly through the liquid air, And, in their own pure tints arrayed, Scorn earth's green robes which change and fade, And stand in beauty undecayed, Guards of the bold and free."

"A lower flight, if you please, just now," said Aristo, interrupting her. "I do really wish a serious word with you about Agellius. He's a fellow I can't help liking, in spite of his misanthropy. Let me plead his cause. Like him or not yourself, still he has a full purse; and you will do a service to yourself and to the gods of Greece, and to him too, if you will smile on him. Smile on him at least for a time; we will go to Carthage when you are tired. His looks have very little in them of a Christian left; you may blow it away with your breath."

"One might do worse than be a Christian," she answered slowly, "if all is true that I have heard of them."

Aristo started up in irritation. "By all the gods of Olympus," he said, "this is intolerable! If a man wants a tormentor, I commend him to a girl like you. What has ailed thee some time past, you silly child? What have I done to you that you should have got so cross and contrary and so hard to please?"

"I mean," she said, "if I were a Christian, life would be more bearable."

"Bearable!" he echoed; "bearable! ye gods! more bearable to have Styx and Tartarus, the Furies and their snakes, in this world as well as in the next? to have evil within and without, to hate one's self and to be hated of all men! to live the life of an ass, and to die the death of a dog! Bearable! But hark! I hear Agellius's step on the staircase. Callista, dear Callista, be yourself. Listen to reason."

But Callista would not listen to reason, if her brother was its embodiment; but went on with her singing:—

"For what is Afric but the home Of burning Phlegethon? What the low beach and silent gloom, And chilling mists of that dull river, Along whose bank the thin ghosts shiver, The thin, wan ghosts that once were men, But Tauris, isle of moor and fen; Or, dimly traced by seaman's ken, The pale-cliffed Albion?"

Here she stopped, looked down, and busied herself with her work.



CHAPTER XI.

CALLISTA'S PREACHING, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.

It is undeniably a solemn moment, under any circumstances, and requires a strong heart, when any one deliberately surrenders himself, soul and body, to the keeping of another while life shall last; and this, or something like this, reserving the supreme claim of duty to the Creator, is the matrimonial contract. In individual cases it may be made without thought or distress, but surveyed objectively, and as carried out into a sufficient range of instances, it is so tremendous an undertaking that nature seems to sink under its responsibilities. When the Christian binds himself by vows to a religious life, he makes a surrender to Him who is all-perfect, and whom he may unreservedly trust. Moreover, looking at that surrender on its human side, he has the safeguard of distinct provisos and regulations, and of the principles of theology, to secure him against tyranny on the part of his superiors. But what shall be his encouragement to make himself over, without condition or stipulation, as an absolute property, to a fallible being, and that not for a season, but for life? The mind shrinks from such a sacrifice, and demands that, as religion enjoins it, religion should sanction and bless it. It instinctively desires that either the bond should be dissoluble, or that the subjects of it should be sacramentally strengthened to maintain it. "So help me God," the formula of every oath, is emphatically necessary here.

But Agellius is contemplating a superhuman engagement without superhuman assistance; and that in a state of society in which public opinion, which in some sense compensates for the absence of religion, supplied human motives, not for, but against keeping it, and with one who had given no indication that she understood what marriage meant. No wonder then, that, in spite of his simplicity, his sanguine temperament, and his delusion, the more he thought of the step he had taken, the more unsatisfactory he found it, and the nearer he grew to the time when he must open the subject with Aristo, the less he felt able to do so. In consequence he was in a distress of mind, as he ascended the staircase which led to his friend's lodging, to which his anxiety, as he mounted the hill on the other side of the city, was tranquillity itself; and, except that he was coming by engagement, he would have turned back, and for the time at least have put the whole subject from his thoughts. Yet even then, as often as Callista rose in his mind's eye, his scruples and misgivings vanished before the beauty of that image, as mists before the sun; and when he actually stood in her sweet presence, it seemed as if some secret emanation from her flowed in upon his heart, and he stood breathless and giddy under the intensity of the fascination.

However, the reader must not suppose that in the third century of our era such negotiations as that which now seems to be on the point of coming off between Callista and Agellius, were embellished with those transcendental sentiments and that magnificent ceremonial with which chivalry has invested them in these latter ages. There was little occasion then for fine speaking or exquisite deportment; and if there had been, we, who are the narrators of these hitherto unrecorded transactions, should have been utterly unable to do justice to them. At that time of day the Christian had too much simplicity, the heathen too little of real delicacy, to indulge in the sublimities of modern love-making, at least as it is found in novels; and in the case before us both gentleman and lady will be thought, we consider, sadly matter-of-fact, or rather semi-barbarous, by the votaries of what is just now called European civilization.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse